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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admirable. But the course of events naturally drew the English
Puritans and Scotch Presbyterians closer and closer together.
Most of the Puritans were in fact Presbyterians ; and the anti-
Episcopal policy of Melville naturally widened the gap between
the two national Churches. Bancroft's pamphlet — Dangerous
Positions, or Scottish Genevatiiig and English Scott izing for Dis-
cipline — betrays the jealousy of the Anglican prelate. The
Scotch Church was regarded as exercising a bad influence upon
England, and as fostering Puritanism. It is evermore to be
regretted that this rupture between the two Churches began,
for otherwise they might have acted and reacted beneficially
on one another. From this time a somewhat gloomy view of
Christianity — a somewhat stern conception of Sabbath-keeping
and church-going — began to grow up. What we now call the
sesthetical was banished more and more from the Church
services, and great virtue was attached to long sermons and
prayers almost as long.

In so far as the clergy of those days did their best to enforce
the Ten Commandments, we must heartily applaud them ; and
there was need for their severity ; but some of their efforts in
this direction seem strange to us now. They had great faith
in the power of shame ; and the pillory, the jougs, and the
cutty-stool were the instruments they employed for reforming
the manners of the age. Their excommunication was as terrible
as the anathemas or interdicts of Rome. We see them busy
at work in the minutes of the Assembly and of the inferior
courts. The elders and deacons who attended Robin Hood
Plays on the Sunday were put under discipline. All markets
and fairs on the Sunday — all work, even in harvest-time — were
forbidden. And the Church was no respecter of persons.
Earls and Countesses frequently appeared before the kirk-
session, and had to stand at the church-doors clothed in sack-
cloth for their sins. The ministers, as often as occasion
presented, took it upon them to rebuke King James for his

I go S^ Giles^ Lectures.

swearing propensity ; and he seems generally to have taken it
well, and to have laughed at them good-naturedly. In 1591,
a deputation of ministers visited Holyrood to see if the royal
household was religiously conducted, and they urged upon
James to have the Scriptures read at table both at dinner and
supper. In 1596, he again had his sins set before his face,
for he does not seem to have benefited by the advice he had
received five years before. It would appear he frequently
omitted to say grace before and after meat, that he rarely came
to the week-day sermon, that he was 'bloated with banning
and swearing,' and encouraged his courtiers by his evil example
to do the like. It would further appear that the queen was
little better than himself; for she did not repair to the Word
and Sacraments as regularly as she might, and was fond of balls
and such-like amusements.

In the Assembly of 1638, among the crimes charged upon
the bishops was Sabbath-breaking, playing at cards and dice,
dancing, and the omission of worship in their families. It
would appear the doing or not doing these things distinguished
the Episcopalians and Presbyterians of those days. When
Episcopacy was brushed away, and the high-flying Remon-
strants and Protesters ruled the country, still stricter notions of
Sabbath-keeping and church-going began. It was not unusual
for the elders to make a round of the public-houses during
divine service to see if there were any delinquents who preferred
tippling beer to hearing the word ; and private houses were
sometimes visited in this way too, and lazy housewives without
an excuse were summoned before the session. The well-mean-
ing but somewhat officious elders never hesitated to penetrate
into the sanctities of domestic life ; and these intrusions were
generally meekly submitted to.

But perhaps the most characteristic feature of the time was
the stress laid upon days of fasting, preaching, and prayer. The
diaries of the time are full of notices of such days with their
protracted services. Spalding says ' the people were " vexed to

Episcopacy, Presbytery, and Pziritanism in Scotland. 191

death " with their continual fastings and thanksgivings.' Bishop
Burnet tells us of his uncle Johnstone of Warriston, that ' he
would often pray in his family two hours at a time,' and that ' he
had very high notions of lengthened devotions, in which he
continued many hours a day.' And speaking elsewhere of the
Presbyterians, he remarks : ' Long sermons and much longer
prayers came to be the distinction of the party. This they
carried even to the saying grace before and after meat some-
times to the length of a whole hour.' It is probable there is a
little exaggeration in this, but it is certain there is much truth
in it, and the practices of those days have in some quarters
floated down to our own. We should not wonder at these
excesses in fasting, preaching, and praying, when we remember
how heated the atmosphere was both politically and ecclesias-
tically. They were the natural outcome of the existing condi-
tions. It was an earnest age, and required to be so. These
men who thus fasted and preached and prayed all the day long,
were not vulgar ranters or hollow hypocrites ; they were terribly
in earnest, and they were wrestling with God for the salvation of
their country and their Church. And we must remember that
preaching then — when the country was all astir with emotion —
must have been much more exciting than it is now. There
were then no penny papers — no political leaders — no letters
from special correspondents. The pulpit was the only source
of ' light and leading.' The burghers in the towns, and the
farmers in the rural parishes, sat for hours while the ministers
declaimed against the vices of kings and courts and parliaments,
or described the marching and the fighting of the Covenanted
armies, or bewailed the victories of Montrose, or gave thanks
to God for his defeat at Philiphaugh. The preachers of those
days preached to the times, and therein lay their power. They
educated the whole people to think as they did. It is impos-
sible to deny that the influence of the pulpit was in the main
good. It was all on the side of morality and liberty. It has
never been charged with venality or time-serving.

192 Si Giles' Lectures.

The counsels of the Church during these stormy days were
guided by a band of men, undoubtedly distinguished for learn-
ing and eloquence, though none of them rose to the rare alti-
tude of greatness. The times were scarcely such as to make
greatness possible. Knox and Melville were both great, partly
from the times in which they lived. Knox pulled down
Romanism, Melville set up Presbyterianism ; and these were
feats which could not be performed every day. Henderson,
Douglas, Gillespie, Rutherford, Baillie, all did their part well ;
but after all, it was only in the see-saw struggle of Presbyterian-
ism and Episcopacy. They were all ardent lovers of liberty,
and Rutherford is well known to have been in principle a
republican. It was in their time the great party-name of Whig
was first used.

The fierce controversies and civil strifes I have described were
only the ground-swell which necessarily followed the storm of
the Reformation. It was impossible that after such a terrible
upheaval, things should settle down all at once into calm, and
contentment, and order. The Reformation in Germany was
followed by the Thirty Years' War, the traces of which are said
to be visible still, in tracts of land previously cultivated but
now lying waste, and villages then burned and still unbuilt.
Let us be thankful that though Montrose swept over our
country like a fiery meteor, and though Cromwell made many a
gallant though fanatic Scotchman bite the dust at Dunbar, all
the physical vestiges of the struggle have long since dis-
appeared ; and though we may be still to some extent influenced
by the traditions of the times, it is not altogether to be regretted,
for they have given intensity to our religious faith and feelings.
We are none the worse of having a little of the Covenanter in
us to modify the indifferentism of the nineteenth century.




THE COVENANT, 1660 to 1690 a.d.

By the Rev. Robert Flint, D.D., LL.D., Professor of Divinity in the
University of Edinburgh.

nPHE later, like the earlier, stages of the Covenanting period
•^ of Scottish Church History still awaken very different
feelings in those who contemplate them from different party
points of view. But, of course, the true point of view from
which to contemplate them — the only properly historical point
of view — is one higher and more general than any which can
be appropriated by a party. To this point we must seek to
rise. The views obtained from lower elevations will be com-
paratively narrow and perverted ; and we may be assured that
in so far as they do not include truth they cannot be useful,
and that in so far as they contain error they must be hurtful.
Few things are likely to injure a people more than the mis-
interpretation of any important chapter of its own history.
How much humiliation and unhappiness has France suffered
during the last fifty years because large classes of her citizens

194 'S'/ Giles' Lectures.

would persist in looking back at her first Revolution and the
career of her first Napoleon from the low levels of party pre-
judice, and through the distorting media of passion, exaggera-
tion, and fiction. No social organisation is more dependent
for its welfare on the recognition of historical truth than the
Church, which, in so far as it truly lives at all, lives by the
truth. Nothing but the truth in regard to its history will do
any honest Church real good ; and the whole truth, pure and
simple, will be always more welcome and more profitable to
such a Church than a part of the truth or a mixture of truth
and error.

The partisan spirit in dealing with the period of history
under consideration shews itself by deviation from the line of
historical justice towards one or other of these extremes — a
judgment wholly favourable to the Royalist and Episcopal side,
or to the popular and Presbyterian side. It is, in consequence,
apt to flatter itself that it is promoting the interests either of
monarchy and Episcopacy or of popular freedom and Pres-
bytery. In thus judging, however, it is mistaken. No great
cause or party can at the present day be benefited by its
advocacy. Monarchy and Episcopacy have certainly nothing
to gain by defending the conduct of the last two Stuart kings
and of Sharp and his coadjutors. The men who sought to
force Episcopacy on Covenanting Scotland by physical con-
straint and pressure were the worst enemies Episcopacy has
ever had in Scotland. No Episcopalian need feel specially
concerned to defend their memories ; and no fair-minded Pres-
byterian will hold Episcopacy responsible for their measures.
On the other hand, it only tends to discredit Presbyterianism
in the eyes of persons Avho care for truth and accuracy, to
indulge in those indiscriminate and unqualified panegyrics on
the Covenanters which conceal the fact that some of their
principles and many of their proceedings were unjustifiable.
Every Presbyterian denomination in this country now rejects
doctrines which the Covenanters deemed of vital importance.

The Covenant. 195

Few Presbyterian Christians, it is to be hoped, would now,
under any circumstances, commit some of the actions which the
Covenanters thought they were bound by the law of God to

In order to follow intelligently the course of events in Scot-
land from 1660 to 1690, the state of the country at the
Restoration must be clearly realised. At that date, then,
Presbyterian Scotland had been held for nine years as a
conquered province by Puritan England. The strong man
armed, who humbled the military pride of the nation at Dunbar
and Worcester, remained its absolute master to the day of his
death, and left it in the power of his soldiers. The rule of the
alien was as just and lenient, perhaps, as the circumstances
allowed, but, of course, it was hated, although outwardly
obeyed. The nation, notwithstanding its sharp controversies
with its kings, was, on the whole, sincerely Royalist. Few of
the people of Scotland did not wish to have their own heredi-
tary monarch, although many of them wished to have him only
if he would subscribe the Covenant and obey the Kirk. The
soldiery maintained order in the land, so that life and property
were perhaps safer than they had ever been before; the civil
and judicial administrations were vigorous and impartial ; but
the statement of various historians that the condition of the
country was one of physical prosperity, must be rejected. That
trade and agriculture were in a most depressed state; that
taxation was felt to be intolerably severe, although the revenue
raised by it was only about half of what was required to meet the
civil and military expenditure ; that great poverty prevailed ; that
a gloomy despondency overspread the community — might be
shewn by a mass of evidence. The nobility had suffered most.
Its chief representatives had been slain or had fled the country,
or were lying imprisoned in England, or were hiding in the
Highlands. The rest were living in obscurity, afraid to make
a movement which would remind their enemies of their exist-
ence. Most of them had been spoiled of their estates ; hardly

196 Sf ales' Lectures.

any of them were not overwhelmed with debt. Argyll alone,
perhaps, had been able to keep hold of what belonged to him ;
and even he was ' drowned in debt and obloquy.'

The religious condition of the country was less lamentable
than the political, but it was utterly unlike the picture which
Kirkton and other historians have drawn of it. Gross wicked-
ness and great crimes were not rare. Cloaks of piety were
worn by many whose ungodly passions they only partially
concealed. Religious profession was general, and religious
sincerity was, as the subsequent history fully proved, the rule
and not the exception; but there was a terrible lack of that
highest Christian grace, the charity so worthily eulogised by St
Paul. Presbyterianism was dominant, but, as explained in the
previous lecture, was broken up into parties which hated and
reviled one another. The enthusiasm for Presbyterianism had
greatly declined in consequence of its internal dissensions and
the national misfortunes to which they had led. The clergy
were, however, in general, notably faithful and earnest ministers
of the Word ; and their flocks were sincerely attached to them.
The favourers of Episcopacy were numerous in the North, and
increased among the upper classes as it became more and more
obvious that their only hope of deliverance from worldly ruin
lay in the success of a Royalist reaction. The 'sectaries,'
as they were called, came in with, and' were almost confined
to, Cromwell's troopers ; their doctrines made few converts.
Religious toleration was enforced ; but this was felt to be a
sore grievance and a deadly sin.

The restoration in 1660 of Charles II. to the throne of his
ancestors was hailed in Scotland as in England with enthusiastic
joy. England welcomed it as a deliverance from the military
despotism, the severe morality, and the religious peculiarities of
Puritanism, all of which had gradually become hateful to the
large majority of Englishmen. Scotland welcomed it as the
recovery of national independence and the commencement of
an era of peace and prosperity. In the month of June 1660,

The Covenant. 197

Scotland was in great excitement. In the churches there were
thanksgivings ; in pubUc halls there were banquets ; at the
market crosses there were crowds drinking claret to the health
of the king and the Duke of York ; bonfires blazed on the hill-
tops, and the streets were gay with flags by day and brightly
illuminated by night ; over all the land there were piping and
dancing and immoderate mirth ; and on the roads to London
there were numbers of Scotchmen of all ranks and degrees
eager to congratulate his Majesty, and anxious to secure prefer-
ment and emolument. At the fireworks on the Castle-hill, an
effigy of Cromwell chased by an effigy of the devil till the
former was blown up, gave particular satisfaction. At a bonfire
near the Tron Church, the Janet Geddes who in 1637 threw a
stool at the head of a dean, now presided at the burning of
her ' chair of state ' and ' all her creels, baskets, creepies,
and furms.' Times had changed, and men and women had
changed with them. In the minds of the thoughtful, how-
ever, joy was not unmixed with disquietude. This question
could not be evaded : What will be done as to religion ? And
the consideration of it could not fail to produce anxiety.
Probably no person or party either in Scotland or in England
anticipated what really and speedily happened, but every
sincere and intelligent Presbyterian must have felt in some
measure that the situation was a critical one.

The Resolutioners, who formed the largest and most mode-
rate Presbyterian party, had, as soon as they perceived it to be
likely that the monarchy would be restored, intrusted the repre-
sentation of their interests with the king and his advisers, to
one of their number who had acquired by his conduct in foniier
difficult transactions a reputation among them as a trusty
and skilful negotiator. This dexterous ecclesiastical diploma-
tist was the Rev. James Sharp of Crail ; and his instructions
were, in the main, these : ' To use his endeavours that the
Church of Scotland should enjoy the freedom and privileges of
its judicatories, as ratified by law ; to represent by all prudent

198 S^ Giles' Lectures.

and lawful means the sinfulness and offensiveness of the
toleration then established ; and to attempt to secure the right
application and increase of the ministers' stipends.' From the
middle of February to the end of August he was out of
Scotland, and chiefly about the Court at Breda and London,
professedly carrying out these instructions. According to the
view given in the numerous letters which he wrote to the Rev.
Robert Douglas and other leaders of the Resolutioners, he
soon saw that the idea of getting Presbyterianism established
in England was altogether chimerical, and that even its claims
to establishment in Scotland must be urged with caution and
moderation ; found, as time went on, the gale always blowing
stronger for Prelacy and Erastianism; was much thwarted
by influential persons, lay and clerical, who wished to bring in
Episcopacy into Scotland ; much saddened and wearied out by
what he heard and saw ; but at length obtained from the
king, who was personally averse to meddling with the Church
government, a promise that Scottish Presbyterianism would not
be disturbed.

With this promise in the form of a letter from the king,
directed to Mr Douglas, to be communicated to the Presbytery
of Edinburgh, Mr Sharp returned to Scotland, reaching Edin-
burgh on the last day of August, On the 3d of September the
letter was read. In it the king said : * We do resolve to
protect and preserve the government of the Church of Scotland,
as it is settled by law, without violation.' He also stated
that he intended to call a General Assembly as soon as affairs
permitted, and to consult with Mr Robert Douglas and some
other ministers as to what might further concern the affairs
of the Church. This letter, in accordance with a command
which it contained, was transmitted by the Presbytery of Edin-
burgh to all the other Presbyteries in the kingdom, and was, of
course, received by them with great satisfaction. It was a dis-
tinct pledge that the existing Church government would not be

The Covenant. 199

Just a week before Sharp reached Edhiburgh, a few zealous
Protesters — ten clergymen and two laymen — met in a private
house in the city. Among them was Mr James Guthrie,
the .leader of the Protesters. They drew up a very char-
acteristic document in the form of a supplication and address
to the king. In it they implored his Majesty to ' extirpate
Popery, Prelacy, superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and
everything contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godli-
ness ; ' to ' fill all places of trust, not only in Scotland but
in England and Ireland, with those who had taken the Covenant
and were of known affection to the cause of God ; ' and to
'remove the beginnings of stumbling that had already been
given, by taking away the ceremonies and Service-book from
his own chapel and family, and other places of his dominions.'
This was still the Protesters' ideal of good government. But
the general body of Presbyterians had not been so blind to the
teaching of experience. If the king and his councillors had left
the Presbyterian government of the Church undisturbed, and
the petitions of the Protesters unnoticed, Protesters would have
rapidly diminished. Unfortunately this was not the course they

It so happened that the Committee of Estates began to sit
on the day on which the Supplication mentioned was being
drawn up, and one of its first acts was to cause the assembled
Protesters to be arrested and imprisoned. On the following
day a proclamation was issued against meetings and conven-
tions which had not been specially authorised by his Majesty,
and against seditious petitions and remonstrances. Later, the
Committee imprisoned various other Protesters, prohibited the
owning or promoting the Remonstrance, ordered the Lex Rex
of Rutherford and the Causes of God's Wrath of Guthrie to be
called in and burned, and shewed in various ways that the
spirit of the governing classes was now very different from what
it had been on the day when the National Covenant was signed
in the Greyfriars Churchyard.

200 Sf ales' Lectures.

The Scottish Parliament, with the Earl of Middleton, a
rough, imperious, dissolute soldier, as Royal Commissioner, met
on the I St of January 1661. It shewed itself slavishly and
madly Royalist. It proclaimed the supremacy of the king
over all persons and causes. It forbade the renewing of the
Covenant. It passed a marvellous Rescissory Act which
expunged from the statute-book all legislation later than 1633.
Thus at one stroke every law which the Presbyterians and
Covenanters had passed was swept away. This Act was carried
on the 28th of March, almost unanimously. As early as the
loth of January there had been eager Royalists to suggest this
measure, but Middleton checked their zeal.

On the 1 6th of April, the Marquis of Argyll was brought
before the bar of the House on the charge of high treason.
The trial ended on the 25th of May with his condemnation
to death. The sentence was executed two days thereafter.
Argyll had played such a part in the history of his country that
his trial and condemnation seemed to be the trial and con-
demnation of Covenanting Scotland. There may easily be
different opinions as to various parts of his conduct. There
can be but one as to the moral grandeur of his death. That
death freed the king from the only man in Scotland whose
intellect and power he had much reason to dread ; and yet,
perhaps, it injured him more than anything Argyll could have
done against him. For years before the Restoration, Argyll
was generally distrusted and disliked ; his death gratified many
personal enemies, but it caused multitudes to remember only
his services and great qualities.

Four days after it, Mr James Guthrie was executed. He had
done more, I think, than any man of his time to divide and
weaken the Presbyterianism which he loved so well ; he was a
persecutor in principle, and ready to be so in fact; he had
clamoured for the blood of conscientious men whom he called
malignants ; but he was a sincere and heroic man, and, accord-
ing to the light he had, a most pious man, He was willing to

The Covenant. 201

sacrifice everything, even to the laying down of his life, for
every principle which he held. He had certainly been very
troublesome to the Royalist cause in Scotland ; but he had also
been warmly attached to it, and had done much to keep affec-
tion for it alive when the hearts of less courageous men were
failing them for fear of Cromwell. Nothing on earth could
frighten James Guthrie. In London, four years before the
Restoration, he had stood up in public debate against Hugh
Peters, Cromwell's chaplain, and had, in the presence of

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 21 of 37)