William Chambers.

The Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral online

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Edinburgh into a bishopric, for, strange to say, while such
paltry towns as Dunkeld and Dunblane were bishops' seats,
the metropolis, up to that day, was not. As the bishop must
have a cathedral, the Collegiate Church of St Giles was by
royal charter erected into the Cathedral Church of the diocese,
with all the rights, liberties, and immunities belonging to a
cathedral. There was still another thing which I suppose I
must also say was good, though the Presbyterian writers of the
time are against me. ' He did cause demolish the partition
wall betwixt the Great and Little Kirk. Neither ministers
nor magistrates in Edinburgh,' said honest Row the historian,
' did shew tokens of grief or sorrow for this ; but many good
Christians, both in Edinburgh and the country, did heavily
complain of it to God, knowing it to be an evident beginning
of a huge desolation to come, for Edinburgh had too few
kirks before, and now this was unfitter for hearing nor it was
before.' But more than this. In order that the new cathedral
might be made in every way worthy of its position, the Town

178 Si ales' Lectures.

Council despatched the Dean to Durham, to sketch the choir of
the cathedral there ; but before these plans were carried out the
country was in confusion ; and it has been reserved for Dr
Chambers to restore this noble church to its pre-Reformation

But another matter was arranged during the royal visit which
led to much more important results than all the others. The
Scotch bishops were instructed to prepare a Liturgy, after the
model of the Anglican one, and transmit it to London for
revisal. It was this which had brought William Laud to

No student of Scotch history now makes the mistake of sup-
posing that up to this time there was no Liturgy in the Scotch
Church. Knox's Book of Commofi Order had been in ordinary
use from the Reformation down to the time we speak of. It was
read every Sunday morning by the Reader in this church, and
in almost every other church in the kingdom ; only the rubric
gave -the officiating clergyman liberty to diverge from it. There
was, therefore, no national prejudice against a liturgical service ;
but there was a nervous dread of Popery, and a nervous dread
that the national usages were to be abolished, and Anglican ones
substituted in their stead, without the sanction of Parliament
or Assembly, and simply by a stretch of the royal prerogative.
The old stubborn spirit of independence — bred in the bone
and hardened by the wars of Wallace and Bruce — could not
stand that.

It was July 1637 before the Prayer-book was prepared and
revised, and all the arrangements made for its introduction.
But on the 23d of that month it was to be used for the first
time in this church. At ten o'clock, the dean, in his surplice,
entered the reading-desk, but he had scarcely begun to read
when the congregation was in a state of wild uproar. The
storm which had been slowly gathering since 161 8 now burst
out. 'They are bringing in Popery,' shouted some. 'Woe,
woe ! ' cried others. The shrill voices of women were upper-

Episcopacy, Presbytery, and Puritanism in Scotland. 179

most. The half-mythical, half-historical Jenny Geddes hurled
the stool upon which she had been sitting at the dean's head,
screaming : ' Fause loon, dost thou say mass at my lug ? '
Other missiles of a similar character went hurtling through
the air. Spottiswood, the Archbishop of St Andrews, who
was present, and Forbes, the new Bishop of Edinburgh,
tried to appease the people, but they only made matters
worse. At length the magistrates managed to eject the
principal rioters ; and Forbes preached a short sermon, with
closed doors, and amid comparative quietness. But when
the church dignitaries came out to the street, they were
mobbed by the people, hooted, hustled, stoned, and glad
to escape with their lives. Sitting where you are, you must
have a dull imagination if you cannot realise the whole scene
as if it were happening before your eyes.

This riot was the spark which set the whole country in a
blaze, and indeed kindled the civil war in England as well as
Scotland. Knowing what they had to fear, the people began
to organise themselves for defence. The Tables were formed ;
these being, in fact, four Committees representative of the
Nobles, the Gentry, the Clergy, and the Burghers. But as
the sky grew darker — and everything looked more threatening
— it was felt this was not enough. The whole nation must
be bound together in a religious covenant — such covenants
having been well known and often used before this time, both
for good purposes and for bad. The National Covenant was
accordingly framed, in which the Covenanters swore by the
great name of the Lord their God that they would continue
faithful to the doctrine and discipline of the Church against
all errors and corruption, that they would be loyal to his
Majesty in defence of the laws, and true to one another.

On the ist of March a solemn fast was called, and a vast
assemblage gathered in the Church of the Greyfriars. After
the religious services usual on such occasions, the Covenant
was produced and eagerly subscribed by all who were present,

i8o Sf Giles' Lecher es.

amid immense enthusiasm. It was then hawked through the
city, then despatched to every Presbytery in the provinces, and
everywhere it was received and signed amid prayers and tears.
There was a volcanic outburst of religious feeling, and in the
white heat generated thereby the whole population was welded
together and became as one man. The excitement was not
confined to any one class — almost all the nobles, the barons,
the burgesses, as well as the clergy, had signed the Covenant.
Aberdeen only and some of the Glasgow professors held
back, and they were regarded as the opprobrium of the nation.

News of all this was swiftly carried to London, where some
advised that fire and sword should be used as a remedy ; but
it was felt that this might be a dangerous experiment, more
especially as the king ' had fish to fry at home,' as the people
said, and so it was thought safer to send down the Marquis
of Hamilton as a royal commissioner, to do what he could to
punish or appease the rebels. The people demanded that
there should be a General Assembly and a Parliament to
settle their affairs \ and after long hesitation and with much
reluctance, the commissioner made the concession.

On the 2 1 St November 1638, the General Assembly met
in the Cathedral Church of Glasgow. No Assembly had met
for twenty years, or, as many said, for more than thirty years ;
for they would not recognise as Assemblies the meetings from
1606 to 16 18, which, at the dictation of the king, had over-
turned Presbytery and set up Episcopacy. But now there was
a General Assembly once more. It was a wonderful gathering
of all the notables of the kingdom. It consisted of one hundred
and forty ministers, seventeen nobles, nine knights, twenty-
five landed proprietors, and forty-seven burgesses. No Parlia-
ment which could have been convened at that time would
have so fully represented the national feeling. The Marquis
of Hamilton acted as the Lord High Commissioner ; Alexander
Henderson, minister of Leuchars, was raised to the Moderator's
Chair ; and he had deserved the honour by his heroic defence

Episcopacy, Presbytery, and Puritanism in Scotland. 1 8 1

of Covenanting principles, as well as by his moderation and
learning. He is still honoured as one of the chief worthies
of the Covenanting time.

The temper of the Assembly was evident from the first. It
resolved to put the bishops on their trial ; and when the Lord
High Commissioner found he could not prevent this, he dis-
solved the Assembly in the king's name, and withdrew. But
there was not a moment's hesitation — the business went on just
as before. The Five Articles of Perth, the Book of Canons,
and the Service-book were abjured and condemned. The
bishops were all deposed from their bishoprics, and eight of
them were excommunicated — * given over to the devil for the
destruction of their flesh, that their souls might be saved in the
day of the Lord.' The whole fabric of Episcopacy was thrown
down, and Presbyterianism in its power and purity restored.

It was indeed a remarkable Assembly — remarkable for its
courage, its thoroughness, its contempt of all authority but its
own. It can only be compared to the French Convention at
the outbreak of the Revolution. What did it matter to it that
the hierarchy had been established by Acts of Parliament ? It
crumpled up Acts of Parliament like waste-paper. It treated
king and council and the whole Three Estates as if they had no
voice in the government of the realm. But it had good reason
for its high-handedness. The country was with it.

Another thing is very remarkable about this Assembly — the
rancorous hatred exhibited against Episcopacy. Episcopacy
had now existed in Scotland for upwards of thirty years — the
lifetime of a generation. Three-fourths of the clergy must have
entered the Church during its existence, and received ordination
from the bishops. The remaining fourth must at least have
acknowledged the jurisdiction of their diocesans in many ways,
and lived at peace with them, though it is possible some old
men may have looked back with longing to 'the former days.'
But now they were one and all seized with a revolutionary
fury, and not only overturned the religious system under which

1 82 Si Giles^ Lectures.

they had lived all their days, but charged their former patrons
and friends with all imaginable and unimaginable crimes. The
only possible explanation is, that the chief motive power in the
Assembly was lay rather than clerical. The one hundred and
forty ministers, though forming a majority of the Assembly, were
scarcely a full representation of the Church; and scarcely a
match for all the baronial and burghal power of the kingdom.
We know that before the Assembly met, the Clerical Table had
more than once come nearly to a rupture with the other Tables,
more especially regarding the method of choosing represent-
atives. That the laity, and especially the great landed pro-
prietors, had for the nonce conceived a violent dislike of the
bishops, is certain. Episcopal writers assert that the revocation
of the Act of Annexation, and the fear of losing their Church-
lands, lay at the bottom of the whole matter. There is cer-
tainly a curious contrast between the subserviency of the nobles
in helping on the Episcopal schemes of James, when he was
silent regarding the episcopal revenues, and their opposition to
the schemes of Charles, when he told them that if there were to
be bishops, they must be supported by the bishops' lands.
However this may have been, it is certain the great body of the
people still retained their affection for Presbytery and its simple
ritual, or there would never have been such a general revolt.
Episcopacy in their minds was associated with despotism and
the loss of national independence.

When the Assembly had done its work and dissolved, a
humble petition to the king, which had been agreed upon, was
despatched to London, and the Marquis of Hamilton, after
some hesitation, presented it on his bended knees. On hearing
it, Charles said : * When they have broken my head, they will
put on my cowl;' and would not vouchsafe any other reply.
Civil war was inevitable, and the Scotch army was soon
encamped on Dunse Law Hill overlooking the Tweed. His
Excellency Field-Marshal Leslie — ' a little crookit soldier,' who
had been trained to war under Gustavus Adolphus, and borne a

Episcopacy, Presbytery, and Puritanism in Scotland. 183

distinguished 'part in the terrible battles with Wallenstein and
Tilly — held the chief command. Almost all the colonels were
noblemen, who led their own vassals. At each tent-door there
floated a flag, with the motto, * For Christ's Crown and
Covenant.' There was psalm -singing everywhere ; preaching
continually ; but still strict discipline and daily drill were
maintained ; and the king, who was on the other side of the
river with an English army, not very enthusiastic in his cause,
began to think it would not be wise to test the fighting powers
of the Covenanters. Accordingly, after some negotiation, articles
of peace were agreed upon, the king undertaking to call
a General Assembly and Parliament to settle the affairs of the
country. It is characteristic of the time that the obligation to
disband the forces and deliver up the sti'ongholds of the country
to the king, was signed by three noblemen, two ministers, and
the Clerk of the Assembly. Things being thus arranged, the
wags in the English camp said the Scotch bishops had been
sent about their business, neither by canon law nor civil law,
but by Dunse law.

Next year (1639) the General Assembly met, and Lord
Traquair appeared as the Lord High Commissioner, to give
to its proceedings the stamp of regal authority. As the king
persistently declined to acknowledge the Assembly of 1638,
this Assembly, to pleasure his Majesty, did all its work over
again. It declared the Assemblies of 1606, 1608, 16 10, 16 16,
and 1 6 18 to be no Assemblies; it condemned the Book of
Canons and the Service-book ; it declared Episcopal government
unlawful ' in this Kirk ; ' it revived the Presbyterian polity. The
Parliament afterwards virtually ratified all that had been done
by the General Assembly. They went further ; they declared
that the country was threatened both by land and by sea, and
appointed a committee to look to its defence.

In 1640 it was known that the king was doing his best to muster
forces for the invasion of the kingdom ; and the Covenanters
resolved to anticipate him. In the month of August they were

184 Sf Giles' Lectures.

again marching southward, and now crossed the Tweed — the
Marquis of Montrose being the first to dash into the river ; and
in a few days more they Avere in possession of Newcastle. This
bold step compelled the king to call the Parliament, now so
well known as the Long Parliament. In the troubles which
ensued, and which were daily becoming more menacing,
Charles now saw that it was clearly his interest to conciliate his
Scotch subjects. In 1641 he came to Scotland — a different
man from what he was in 1633. He humbly took part in the
Presbyterian worship ; he agreed that none should sit in Parlia-
ment till they had signed the Covenant ; he gave his sanction
to the Acts of the Parliament of 1640 ; and finally showered
honours and Church-lands on those who had thwarted him in
everything. It must have been a bitter draught for him.

Next year the great Rebellion broke out in England. It is
not for me to trace the ebb and flow of the bloody tide ; but I
may mention that even before the royal standard was erected at
Nottingham in August 1642, the English Parliament had sent
commissioners to the Scotch Assembly, craving its sympathy
and friendship. Again, in 1643, commissioners from the
English Parliament appeared in the General Assembly, asking
its prayers and its help in the struggle they had begun. They
narrated their achievements — how they had ejected the bishops
from the House of Lords, overthrown Episcopacy, summoned
an assembly of learned divines to meet at Westminster and
settle the doctrine and worship of the Church. All this was
music to the ears of the Scotch Covenanters. It is true the
king had granted them all they had desired. But these Parlia-
mentary commissioners promised them still more. There was to
be Presbytery not only in Scotland, but in England and Ireland
too. And had they not shewn they were in earnest by what
they had already done ! And what a proud thing it would be
for Scotland — for the General Assembly to give religion and
law to the three kingdoms ! The Scotch divines became
drunken -with the thought. The English deputies hinted at a

Episcopacy, Presbytery, and Puritanism in Scotland. 185

civil alliance ; but no — it must be a religious covenant which
would bind the nations into one. The Solemn League and
Covenant was accordingly framed, and the Assembly with one
voice gave it their assent. The Estates were sitting at the
same time, and they also, on the same afternoon, gave it their
sanction ; for the Parliament in those palmy days existed only
to register the decisions of the Church. Next month it was
sworn to by the English Parliament and the Westminster
divines, and thus a solemn league, a holy alliance, was formed
to extirpate every form of religious faith but one, and to drive
Papistical Irishmen, Prelatic Englishmen, and Presbyterian
Scotchmen into the one Church — by fire and sword if needful.
The full meaning of the International Covenant was seen when
in January 1644 — two or three months after it was sworn to — the
Scotch army crossed the Tweed and marched into England.

It would not become me, in this place, to follow the fortunes
of the war — to describe the battle-fields in England and Scot-
land, where Cavaliers and Roundheads, King's-men and Cove-
nanters struggled together. I would rather sit as an auditor in
the Jerusalem Chamber at Westminster, and report the debates
of the assembled divines when they were formulating the faith,
worship, and discipline which our Church has inherited, though
the Church of England has repudiated them. But neither my
time nor my text allows me to go beyond Scottish ground.
I can only look at these stirring incidents from this side of the
Border, In 1645, the Directory for the Public Worship of God
was laid before the General Assembly, and accepted by it, with
a trifling exception regarding the administration of the I^ord's
Supper. It is curious that the Assembly never once refers to
its own Book of Common Order — the Liturgy of the Church up
to that time. But that book seems never to have taken a hold
on the Scottish heart ; it had fallen in estimation since the
disputes about prayer-books had begun and extempore prayer
had come into vogue, and so its very existence was ignored.

The same Assembly gave its sanction in a general way not

1 86 Sf Giles' Lectures.

exactly to the Westminster form of Church government, but
to ' the propositions concerning the officers, AssembUes, and
government of the Church, and concerning the ordination of
ministers brought unto us as the results of the long and learned
debates of the Assembly of Divines sitting at Westminster.' It
protested, however, that certain points were to be open
questions — admitting further discussion ; for the Scotch Church
did not wish to bind itself hand and foot for ever. The fact is,
there had been bitter disappointment that the Presbyterian
polity had not been settled more definitely and declared to be
jure divino. We may be glad it was as it was, thanks to the
Independents and Erastians.

It was not till 1647 the Confession of Faith was laid before
the Assembly. The Assembly approved of it, but in a very
guarded away. They found it ' agreeable to the Word of God,'
' in nothing contrary to the received doctrine ' necessary ' for the
intended uniformity in religion.' They further judge it to be
' most orthodox,' and agree that it be a ' Common Confession of
Faith for the three kingdoms.' They, however, take exception
to its teaching on two different points, more especially regard-
ing the authority of the civil power in ecclesiastical affairs.
Knox's Confession is never referred to. Everything was to be
sacrificed to the mad desire for Uniformity.

It is clear from all this the Scotch Church did not view these
Westminster documents as absolutely true or as universally
binding. They were to form the common basis, the rallying-
point, the articles of union, the colours of the great united
Church of the three kingdoms — nothing more. No attempt
was made to compel every minister and elder to subscribe
them. The Westminster divines had themselves disclaimed
infallibility. Looked at in this light, they are worthy of high
praise. The Confession is a logical compendium of the Cal-
vinistic theology of the period ; while the Directory and Form of
Government are plainly a compromise between the ideas preva-
lent among the English Puritans and Scotch Presbyterians

Episcopacy, Presbytery, and Puritanism in Scotland. 187

regarding worship and discipline. They will ever form a great
landmark in the progress of religious thought ; but how long a
way have we travelled since they were set up ! Looking to the
new questions which have been opened since that time, they
look like the cast-off slough of controversies long since dead.

While divines at Westminster and Edinburgh were thus
fixing the religious faith and worship of a Church which was
never to exist, the terrible arbitrament of war was going against
the king. In May 1646, he came as a fugitive within the
Scotch lines ; on the 30th of January 1647, he was given over to
the tender mercies of his English subjects ; and on the same
day of the same month in 1649, he was beheaded in front of
Whitehall. Oliver Cromwell reigned in his stead as Lord Pro-
tector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
But the Scots were almost as loyal as they were religious. They
refused to acknowledge the new government. They proclaimed
Charles II. king, and invited him to come over from Holland
and be crowned. He came, professed himself a Presbyterian,
signed the Covenant, listened to no end of sermons in some of
which the blood-guiltiness of his father and mother was pro-
claimed, and promised everything he was asked. The less
shrewd of the Covenanters were rather proud of their convert ;
but they paid for it with their best blood at Dunbar and

Cromwell was now supreme; and as he knew the General
Assembly had for the last ten years overridden the Parliament
and managed everything, he resolved to put it down. As he
himself had shortly before entered the Long Parliament and
stamped on the floor, and put an end to its palaver, so now by
his orders one of his colonels in 1653 entered the Assembly,
asked by what authority they met, and then told them to be-
gone. And it was for this the Church of Scotland had given
up its own Confession, its own Prayer-book, its own traditions !
The glorious vision of a great united Church, on the Presby-
terian model, in Scotland, England, and Ireland, had vanished

1 88 Sf Giles' Lectures.

for ever ; and sectaries of every kind, who scorned the Covenants
and preached universal toleration, carried everything before

Under the stern rule of the Protector, the Church of Scotland
found the same liberty of faith and worship which was accorded
to all who did not violate the law or shew themselves danger-
ous to the state. But it was torn by internal dissensions. The
troublous times through which it had passed had left a legacy
of bitterness behind. The religion of Scotland at this unhappy
period, sometimes so much vaunted, consisted mainly in the
rival parties hating, cursing, and excommunicating one another.
There were Engagers, Remonstrants, Resolutioners, and Pro-
testers, all symbolising special feuds, and doing their best to
propagate them. The man who happened to differ from the
prevailing party in any political or ecclesiastical affair was
stigmatised as a Malignant, and compelled to do penance in
sackcloth at the church-door before he was admitted to the
meanest office in Church or State. And all this uncharitable-
ness blossomed and bore its fruit in an atmosphere heated with
religion, or at least what was thought religion at the time.
Some of our worst bigotries — still living, though now fast dying
— were generated amid these malarious exhalations.

Ever since the days of Melville, Presbyterian Scotland had
been gradually becoming more and more Puritanic. In the
days of Knox, our Church was emphatically a broad Church,
anxious to be on good terms with every reformed Church of
Europe, and more especially with the Church of England.
Untroubled itself with any controversy about Vestments, the
General Assembly in 1566 addressed a letter to the English
bishops begging them not to press the use of ' surcloath, cornet,
cape and tippet ' upon those whose consciences rebelled against
them. It speaks of these things as 'vain trifles' — will not
determine 'whether such apparel is to be counted among things
simple and indifferent or not;' but 'in the bowels of Jesus
Christ they crave that Christian charity may prevail,' seeing

Episcopacy, Presbytery, and Puritanism in Scotland. 189

' how tender a thing the conscience of man is.' This is truly

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersThe Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral → online text (page 20 of 37)