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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Cromwell's officers, maintained the right of the king. That
might have been remembered now. He died despising death ;
speaking for an hour on the ladder as calmly as if he had been
preaching in the pulpit; reasserting the principles to which
he had so often testified and from which he had never
wavered ; and declaring that ' the covenants could be loosed or
dispensed with by no person or power on earth, but were still
binding upon the three kingdoms, and would be so for ever
hereafter.' His last words were : ' The Covenants, the Cove-
nants, shall yet be Scotland's reviving.'

The Synods of the Church met in April and May. The
southern Synods protested, some]^niore and some less decidedly,
against the Rescissory Act, but even at this critical time there
was bitter strife in them between Resolutioners and Protesters.
Some of these Synods were forcibly dissolved by Royalist noble-
men. The northern Synods were in favour of the restoration of
Episcopacy, or, at least, not opposed to it. Presbyterianism
had been forced upon the North, and had no claim to expect
support from that quarter.

In the month of August Charles intimated to the Privy
Council his intention to interpose his royal authority to establish
government by bishops, as it was previous to the late troubles ;
and in doing so he actually referred to his letter of the previous
August to the Presbytery of Edinburgh, as if he were now
implementing the promise it contained, seeing that Parliament
by its Rescissory Act had rendered the Presbyterian form of

202 Sf ales' Lectures.

Church government no longer that which was settled by law.
The moral obtuseness and shamelessness thus displayed tended
to confirm the opinion that his letter to the Presbytery had been
a deliberate falsehood, never meant to be fulfilled in its plain
literal sense, but craftily contrived to throw Presbyterians off
their guard. This is the view generally held ; but it cannot, I
think, be said to have been proved, and, of course, we are not
entitled to believe even the most despicable man more guilty
than the evidence shews him to have been. Admitting, how-
ever, that his letter was probably not the treacherous lie
commonly supposed, his conduct in regard to the promise
which it contained was disgraceful.

The new system was rapidly set up and brought into opera-
tion. Long before the year 1662 was out, it was complete and
vigorously at work. Bishops were selected, and consecrated,
and seated in Parliament, and all the rights and powers of the
judicatories of the Church were put into their hands, as being
the agents and officers of the king ; the royal supremacy in all
matters spiritual was affirmed ; and when that was done, the
task of Charles and his councillors was accomplished. A
simpler system than the new one there could not be. It needed
no change in creed or liturgy, and little or no change in organ-
isation. It needed only a king and bishops. The absolute
obedience of the clergy and laity to the bishops, and of the
bishops to the king — that was its sum and substance. Recog-
nition of the royal supremacy in all religious and ecclesiastical
questions — that was its life and soul. Erastianism, naked and
not ashamed, was what the Church of Scotland now found itself
confronted with.

Could the disastrous revolution which had been thus rapidly
effected have been prevented ? Not in the actual circum-
stances. To have prevented it, the Presbyterians of Scotland
would have required to have been more united and better
led, and at once more reasonable and more decided, than
they were. The strife of Protesters and Resolutioners, the

The Covenant, 203

demand of the Protesters to have the Covenants everywhere
enforced in their entirety, and the mistake of the Resolutioners
in trusting to negotiations with the king, instead of arousing by
every means in their power the people to a sense of the serious-
ness of the situation, and to a recognition of their duties to the
Church and nation, were ruinous errors. Had there been a
Knox or a Henderson in the country, affairs would doubtless
have been differently managed, but no man of their stamp
was vouchsafed at this crisis. The fanaticism of the loyalist
and irreligious reaction, instead of being restrained and coun-
teracted, was allowed almost free course.

James Sharp was placed at the head of the new ecclesiastical
establishment as Archbishop of St Andrews and Primate of
Scotland. Soon after his return from London, on the occasion
already mentioned, the rumour began to circulate that he had,
while professing to act zealously on behalf of the Church of
Scotland, been, in reality, selfishly undermining it and joining
in a plot against its existence. This rumour continued to
spread in spite of the many contradictions which he gave to it ;
and when he accepted the Archbishopric, few Presbyterians, at
least, doubted its truth, and Protesters and Resolutioners alike
looked on him with horror as a perjured traitor of the deepest
dye. It is still the prevalent view taken of his conduct. My
time does not allow me to discuss the question of its truth or
falsity ; but I have considered the evidence which bears on it
with some care, and have only been able to come to the con-
clusion that the common opinion is not warranted ; that Sharp's
decision to abandon Presbyterianism was only made after Pres-
bytery had been disestablished by the Scottish Parliament, and
the strength of the royalist and anti-covenanting reaction had
plainly declared itself; and that, consequently, perjury cannot,
in this connection, be justly imputed to him. Scotland was, at
this time, untrue to herself, and therefore disposed to believe
that she had been betrayed by individuals. Sharp's desertion
of the Presbyterian cause, however, cannot be excused. Self-

204 Si Giles' Lectures.

interest was obviously his chief inducement to the step. He
must have foreseen that he would carry to the archiepiscopal
throne a reputation for treachery, which would blacken and dis-
credit it, and that, as the Primate of the new system, he would
be required to labour for the destruction of the independence
and liberty to which the Church was entitled. His own letters
shew us that he believed the sphere of the Church to be an
independent kingdom on which the State ought not to encroach,
and he had no riglit to accept a position in which his practice
could not fail to be in continual contradiction to this belief.

The other bishops were much inferior to Sharp in practical
ability. Some of them were in every way unworthy of their
positions. Only one of them was eminently endowed with
ministerial gifts and graces. He was so pre-eminently. As
far as I can judge, a purer, humbler, holier spirit than that of
Robert Leighton never tabernacled in Scottish clay. He was
* like a star which dwelt apart,' while the storm raged below ;
or, like a fair flower of Paradise dropped amidst the thorns
and thistles on some bleak mountain-side. His character was
of an almost ideal excellence, and so divinely beautiful, that
men, while attracted by it, were also awed by it, as beyond what
imitation could hope to reach in the earthly state of being.
His works, owing to the marvellous fullness and perfection of
the spiritual life which pervades them, are worth many times
over all the writings of all his Scottish contemporaries. There
is nothing nearly equal to them in our devotional literature from
its rise until now. Once minister of Newbattle, afterwards
Principal of Edinburgh University, he was at this time per-
suaded, or rather constrained, to accept the bishopric of Dun-
blane. There is no room for doubt as to the purity or disin-
terestedness of his motives. He looked on his office not as an
object of ambition, but as a heavy cross which Providence called
him for a season to bear. He cared little for forms of ecclesi-
astical polity, but rather preferred the episcopal, and he believed
that the bishops could, by humility, gentleness, moderation, and

The Covenant. 205

the maintenance of the rights of the Christian people, unite all
ranks and classes of men in Scotland in the acceptance of a
mild and modified Episcopacy, whereas adherence to simple or
strict Presbyterianism would keep them divided. He failed to
understand the circumstances of the time and the characters of
the men around him, but was not chargeable with any graver

What, now, was to be done with the clergy of the dis-
established Church? Three methods presented their competing
claims. The first was Leighton's. Displace no one ; coerce
and oppress no one ; enact and enforce no subscription which
can offend any man's conscience ; let the bishops renounce
all pomp and pride of office, and confine themselves strictly to
spiritual duties; let them be guided by the clergy in their
deliberations, and by the people in their presentations; and
let their great aim be to secure, by example and persuasion,
that pubhc worship be more beautiful, preaching simpler and
less controversial, individual piety more diffused, and religious
divisions gradually healed. This was the method which he
sought to commend to his colleagues, as he and they journeyed
from London to Scotland to take possession of their bishoprics ;
but he soon found that he would receive no help from them
in carrying it out ; and hearing that they intended to make a
grand entry into Edinburgh, he quitted them at Morpeth, * very
weary of them, as he supposed them to be of him,' and went
quietly to the sphere of work which had been assigned to him.
There he practised his method, not without success ; and
to his dying day he believed that it might have succeeded
over all Scotland, if it had been patiently and consistently
tried. Possibly it might, if the other bishops had been Robert
Leightons, or his equals ; but being only what they were, this
plan had no chance. The second method was Sharp's. Self-
sacrifice was not one of its principles. He meant to take full
advantage of his position, and to rise in the world as high as
he could. So far from despising even pomp and parade, when

2o6 Sf Giles^ Lectures.

he rode from Leslie to St Andrews to take possession of his
see, it was with an earl on each hand, and between seven and
eight hundred mounted gentlemen in his train. But Sharp was
a clear-headed, worldly-wise man, and he wished a cautious,
temporising, step-by-step procedure, which would result in
getting rid gradually of those most opposed to the new system,
and supplying their places with those more compliant. The
method actually adopted, however, was neither that of the
saintly pastor nor that of the politic ecclesiastic, but a high-
handed and reckless method which commended itself to the
domineering and inebriated minds of Middleton and his boon-
companions. They were under the delusion that by strongly
asserting the Royal Supremacy in ecclesiastical causes, by
enforcing the abjuration of the Covenants and adhesion to the
new system, by making it apparent to the Presbyterian clergy
that they were under the power of the civil rulers, and by
passing stringent laws accompanied with formidable threats,
they would prevent the rise of any serious opposition to the
government, however arbitrarily it might choose to act. The
whole legislation of the Parliament of 1662, and the whole
course of procedure of the Privy Council in connection there-
with, were expressions of this delusion.

That Parliament passed various laws which were insulting
and unjust to the Presbyterian part of the nation. The most
foolish of them was this Act : * All ministers entering in or
since the year 1649, at which time patronages were abolished,
are declared to have no right to benefice, stipend, manse or
glebe, for this year 1662, or hereafter; but their kirks to be
vacant, unless they receive presentation from the patron, and
collation from the bishop.' The clergy against whom this
enactment was directed, at first took no notice of it ; but the
Privy Council decided to enforce compliance. The immediate
result was one of those great incidents which nations remember
with a legitimate pride. Upwards of three hundred of the
ministers sacrificed their worldly all, rather than be untrue

The Cove?! (int. 207

to their principles. During the closing months of the year
1662, over large districts throughout all the Lowlands of
Scotland, the parish churches were shut, and the sounds of
public worship on the Lord's Day unheard. Edinburgh was
left with a single minister, Mr Robert Lawrie of the Tron
Church, who, on account of his conformity to Episcopacy, was
nicknamed the ' Nest Egg.' The men thus driven out of their
charges composed the great body of the younger and most
energetic portion of the clergy, and had gained the respect and
affection of their flocks. Their places had to be supplied ; and
this could only be done with men in all respects inferior to
their predecessors.

These new incumbents, or curates, as they were termed, were,
in fact, probably the worst set of clergymen which the Protestant
Church in Scotland has ever had. They were, for the most
part, needy, ignorant young lads, hurriedly drawn from the
northern parts of the kingdom, and thrust into positions for
which they had no intellectual, moral, or religious qualifications.
More difficult positions to fill, however, than those assigned
them can scarcely be conceived. Placed between hostile
parishioners, despising and hating them, frequently insulting
and occasionally assaulting them, and civil and ecclesiastical
superiors, commanding and constraining them to act as in-
formers against the disaffected and to aid in carrying out
oppressive measures, they would have required the most angelic
gentleness to gain the affections of the former, the most heroic
courage to resist the tyranny of the latter, and to mediate
between the parties a wisdom altogether superhuman. Being
only what they were, they, of course, sided with their own
supporters. Many of them, having probably no better society,
consorted with ' the baser sort of the gentry,' and fell into the
vicious habits so prevalent at this time.

The expulsion of the ministers and the intrusion of the curates
led to the parish churches being almost deserted, and to multi-
tudes attending religious services, conducted by the ejected

2o8 Sf Giles' Lectures.

clergy in their own houses or in the open air. How was this
fact to be dealt with ? Middleton was not required to consider
it, for he was supplanted by Lauderdale and replaced by one
of Lauderdale's faction, the Earl of Rothes. Lauderdale had
been a leading man among the Covenanters. Had he died
before the Restoration, or even before 1663, his life would
probably have been in The Scots Worthies, where it might have
been a suitable companion picture to that of the Earl of Loudon.
He lived too long, however, to have his name handed down to
us as that of a saint. He is known to us instead as what he
really was, a most unscrupulous and depraved man, hypocritical,
avaricious, licentious, a mass of vices associated with the abilities
most fitted to make them dangerous and disastrous — a man
whose soul was far more repulsive than his body was uncouth.
During the last twenty years of his life, he above all men was a
shame and curse to Scotland. Rothes was the son of the
celebrated Covenanting Earl. Both father and son were bad
men. The former made great religious professions and kept on
good terms with the clergy, but was a secret libertine. The
latter was openly dissolute. He was a favourite with the
king, and resembled him both in person and character. He
had alike the genial qualities of Charles and his shameful vices.
The fall of Middleton and the rise of Lauderdale and Rothes
promised little good, and brought none.

The history which we have to consider is from this point
onwards to the Revolution very easy to understand. It is, on
the one side, a continuous series of attempts made by the
government to force an ecclesiastical system of a kind incon-
sistent either with civil or religious liberty on a people to whom
it was obnoxious ; and, on the other side, the series of acts
by which that people resisted the pressure so long, so unin-
terruptedly, and so heavily brought to bear on them. The
government during the whole of this time treated the Presby-
terian community as if it were a piece of iron which had to be
beaten into a particular shape, and it transformed itself, as it

The Covenant. 209

were, into a hammer and anvil for the purpose; and the
question of questions for Scotland was just this : Will hammer
and anvil shape the iron, or will the iron break the hammer and
anvil ? On a people so circumstanced the chief demand is that
it be firm, tenacious, patient, or what the oppressor will call
stubborn, dour. That the Covenanters were so, is their glory.

As the history of the period is so simple, the rapid glance
along its course, which is all that my time permits me to
give, may be sufficient to shew its general drift. It was
resolved to compel attendance on the services of the Episcopal
clergy. Accordingly, the parliament of 1663 decreed as follows:
' Hereby it is ordained, that such as ordinarily absent them-
selves from their parish kirks on the Lord's Day incur these
penalties : each nobleman, gentleman, and heritor, the loss
of a fourth of each year's rent ; and each yeoman or tenant, the
loss of such a part of their movables as the Lords of Council
shall modify, not exceeding a fourth ; and every burgess his
liberty, and the fourth of his movables ; and the Council is to
execute this Act against all who, after admonition of the
minister before two sufficient witnesses, and by him so attested,
shall be given up to them, with power to them to inflict further
corporal pains, as they shall judge necessary, and to do every
other thing for procuring obedience to this Act, and for the
executing thereof The Council was quite willing to try its
utmost to execute the Act ; indeed, thought it not comprehen-
sive enough. It said nothing about women, who then as now
formed the largest portion of most religious assemblies, and
nothing about the ejected clergy, whose devotions and instruc-
tions were preferred to those of the 'curates.' The Council,
therefore, supplemented it by resolving that husbands were to
be held responsible for the church attendance of their wives,
and by enacting that no recusant minister should reside within
twenty miles of his old parish, six miles of Edinburgh or any
cathedral town, or three miles of any royal burgh, on pain
of being treated as a seditious person. With these appendices


210 Sf Giles^ Lectures.

of the Privy Council, the Act of Parliament was not badly
entitled to its familiar designation of ' the Bishops' drag-net'

The penal legislation needed by the new ecclesiastical
establishment seemed now tolerably complete. The next
problem was how to apply it so as to secure the end its
authors desired. This was soon seen to be a most difficult
problem. The Privy Council, Court of Justiciary, and lower
tribunals were overburdened with the additional work the new
legislation imposed upon them. The Court of High Com-
mission was revived to deal with ecclesiastical offenders, but
the powers given to it were so large and so indefinite, its
proceedings were so harsh, and it was altogether so unpopular,
that it had speedily to be suppressed. Recourse had to be
taken to military law and military force. Troops of soldiers,
under the command of a fierce and drunken officer, Sir
James Turner, were sent to punish the disaffected Remon-
strants of the south-west, and, as was admitted some years
afterwards by the Privy Council itself, they conducted them-
selves in the most lawless and barbarous manner, fining and
plundering promiscuously in whole parishes where there were
no persons accused. Their severities occasioned the insur-
rection called the Western Rising, which broke out on the 1 2th
of November 1666, at Dairy in Galloway, and was completely
crushed down on the 28th of that month at RuUion Green.
Sir Thomas Dalziel, with his three thousand ' well-appointed
horse and foot,' took four or five hours of that ' fair frosty day '
before he could break and scatter the nine hundred almost
undisciplined and ill-armed men commanded by Colonel
Wallace. The eagerness shewn by the peasants of the neigh-
bourhood to capture or kill the fugitives was some evidence
that the revolt was premature, and also that Mid-Lothian was
far from as warmly Presbyterian in 1666 as it had been not
very long before. The prisoners were mercilessly treated
by the government. None shewed themselves more cruel
and revengeful than the Archbishops of St Andrews and

The Covenant. 211

Glasgow. None — it is right to add — shewed himself more
humane than Dr Wishart, the Bishop of Edinburgh. He
had been barbarously persecuted by the Covenanters in their
day of power, and yet he not only urged that the prisoners
should be forgiven, but daily supplied them with provisions.

The severities which had caused the insurrection were for a
time continued, and even increased and extended. Sir Thomas
Dalziel, a man of the sternest stamp, whose reputation as a
soldier had been gained by fighting for the Czar against Turks
and Tartars, and whose fanaticism for the royal cause almost
amounted to frenzy, was sent into the west with his forces, in
order to compel the people of Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire to
attend their parish churches. He did his work of violence and
extortion with zeal and thoroughness, and cut his mark so
very deep on these counties that it is hardly yet effaced. It
is admitted that he filled the churches.

The fall of Clarendon in England was followed by a change
for the better in Scotland. Rothes was dismissed from office ;
Sharp had to confine himself to his diocese ; the expostulations
of Leighton and others had some effect on the king ; worthy
men like the Earl of Tweeddale and Sir Robert Murray acquired
an influence in the conduct of affairs. About forty of the outed
ministers who had lived peaceably were indulged, as it was
termed, or allowed to go back to their charges, on condition of
not discussing public questions. Many of them were among
the most esteemed ; two of them, Robert Douglas and George
Hutcheson, were among the most eminent of the Presbyterian
ministers ; but by a large number of people their acceptance
of the Indulgence was regarded as a base compliance with a
sinful course of action. On the other hand, Archbishop Burnet
of Glasgow and many of the Episcopal clergy were enraged
because the Indulgence allowed benefices to be held without a
direct acknowledgment of the authority of the bishops. Burnet
pushed his opposition to the measure so far that he got ejected
himself. Leighton was put in his place, with permission to

212 Sf Giles' Lectures.

attempt to bring about an acconamodation between the two
conflicting parties.

Accordingly, in the year 1670, there was much negotiating
between Leighton and the most considerate and reasonable
of the Episcopalian clergy on the one side, and the Presby-
terian ministers on the other, with a view to agreement on
a scheme of comprehension. There was no difficulty as to
the mode of worship, the bishops having in that respect
introduced no innovations of consequence. The difficulty was
as to bishops themselves. Leighton was willing that they
should be little more than perpetual Moderators of the Church
courts ; that Presbyterians by conviction should not be required
to renounce their opinion about Church government ; that
intrants should be ordained at the parish churches and not at
the cathedrals ; and at their admissions should not be engaged
to any canonical oath. Leighton failed to bring about the
result which he desired. The Presbyterian brethren were not
prepared to concede even the requirements in his plan. Doubt-
less, they had little confidence that what was promised in it
would be performed, even if they did accept. Leighton could
be implicitly trusted so far as his power went, but to depend on
the king's sanction being given merely because it had been
pledged, was to trust to a reed very likely to break and wound
the hand which leaned on it. Sharp and most of the bishops
were keenly opposed to a scheme which implied their loss of
so much power and dignity. Leighton was sorely disappointed.
It was not long before he renewed a former request to the king
to be allowed to resign. With much difficulty he obtained the
royal permission; and with great thankfulness he retired to

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 22 of 37)