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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 11 — Andrew Melville — the Tulchan Bishops

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The Tulchan Bishops — Evils that grew out of this Arrangement — Supported by the Government — A Battle in Prospect — A Champion Wanting — Andrew Melville — His Parentage — Education — Studies Abroad — Goes to Geneva — Appointed Professor of Humanity in its Academy -- Returns to Scotland in 1574 — State of Scotland at his Arrival — War against the Tulchan Bishops — The General Assembly Abolishes the Order — Second Book of Discipline — Perfected Polity of the Presbyterian Kirk — The Spiritual Independence — Geneva and Scotland — A Great Struggle

The same year (1572) which saw Knox descend into the grave beheld the rise of a system in Scotland, which was styled episcopacy, and yet was not episcopacy, for it possessed no authority and exercised no oversight. We have already indicated the motives which led to this invasion upon the Presbyterian equality which had till now prevailed in the Scottish Church, and the significant name borne by the men who filled the offices created under this arrangement. They were styled Tulchan bishops, being only the image or likeness of a bishop, set up as a convenient vehicle through which the fruits of the benefices might flow, not into the treasury of the Church, their rightful destination, but into the pockets of patrons and landlords.

We have seen that Knox resisted this scheme, as stained with the double guilt of simony and robbery. He held it, moreover, to be a violation of one of the fundamental laws of the Presbyterian polity, so far as the new bishops might possess any real superiority of power or rank. This they hardly did as yet, for the real power of the Church lay in her courts, and the Tulchan bishops were subject to the jurisdiction of the Synods and Assemblies equally with their brethren; but the change was deemed ominous by all the more faithful ministers, as the commencement of a policy which seemed certain in the end to lay prostrate the Presbyterianism of the Church of Scotland, and with it the Reformed religion and the liberties of the country.

Meanwhile, numerous other evils grew out of this arrangement. The men who consented to be obtruded into these equivocal posts were mostly unqualified, some by their youth, others by their old age; some by inferior talents, others by their blemished character. They were despised by the people as the tools of the court and the aristocracy. Hardly an Assembly met but it had to listen to complaints against them for neglect of duty, or irregularity of life, or tyrannical administration. The ministers, who felt that these abuses were debasing the purity and weakening the influence of the Church, sought means to correct them. But the Government took the side of the Tulchan dignitaries. The regent, Morton, declared the speeches against the new bishops to be seditious, threatened to deprive the Church of the liberty of her Assemblies, and advanced a claim to the same supremacy over ecclesiastical affairs which had been declared an inherent prerogative in the crown of England. [1] Into this complicated and confused state had matters now come in Scotland.

The man who had so largely contributed by his unwearied labors to rear the Scottish ecclesiastical establishment, and who had watched over it with such unslumbering vigilance, was now in his grave. Of those who remained, many were excellent men, and ardently attached to the principles of the Presbyterian Church; but there was no one who possessed Knox's sagacity to devise, or his intrepidity to apply, the measures which the crisis demanded. They felt that the Tulchan episcopacy which had lifted up its head in the midst of them must be vigorously resisted if Presbyterianism was to live, but a champion was wanting to lead in the battle.

At last one not unworthy to succeed Knox came forward to fill the place where that great leader had stood. This man was Andrew Melville, who in 1574 returned from Geneva to Scotland. He was of the Melvilles of Baldovy, in the Mearns, and having been left an orphan at the age of four years, was received into the family of his elder brother, who, discovering his genius and taste for learning, resolved to give him the best education the country afforded. He acquired Latin in the grammar-school of Montrose, and Greek from Pierre de Marsilliers, a native of France, who taught in those parts; and when the young Melville entered the University of St. Andrews he read the original text of Aristotle, while his professors, unacquainted with the tongue of their oracle, commented upon his works from a Latin translation. [2] From St. Andrews, Melville went to prosecute his studies at that ancient seat of learning, the University of Paris. The Sorbonne was then rising into higher renown and attracting greater crowds of students than ever, Francis I, at the advice of the great scholar Budaeus, having just added to it three new chairs for Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

These unlocked the gates of the ancient world, and admitted the student to the philosophy of the Greek sages and the diviner knowledge of the Hebrew prophets. The Jesuits were at that time intriguing to obtain admission into the University of Paris, and to insinuate themselves into the education of youth, and the insight Melville obtained abroad into the character and designs of these zealots was useful to him in after-life, stimulating him as it did to put the colleges of his native land on such a footing that the youth of Scotland might have no need to seek instruction in foreign countries. From Paris, Melville repaired to Poictiers, where, during a residence of three years, he discharged the duties of regent in the College of St. Marceon, till he was compelled to quit it by the troubles of the civil war. Leaving Poictiers, he journeyed on foot to Geneva, his Hebrew Bible slung at his belt, [3] and

in a few days after his arrival he was elected to fill the chair of Humanity, then vacant, in the famous academy which Calvin had founded ten years before, and which, as regards the fame of its masters and the number of its scholars, now rivaled the ancient universities of Europe. [4] His appointment brought him into daily intercourse with the scholars, ministers, and senators of Geneva, and if the Scotsman delighted in their urbanity and learning, they no less admired his candor, vivacity, and manifold acquirements. The Massacre of St. Bartholomew took place during Melville's residence in Geneva, and that terrible event, by crowding Geneva with refugees, vastly enlarged his acquaintance with the Protestants of the Continent. There were at one time as many as 120 French ministers in that hospitable city, and among other learned strangers was Joseph Scaliger, the greatest scholar of his age, with whom Melville renewed an acquaintance which had been begun two years before. The horrors of this massacre, of which he had had so near a view, deepened the detestation he felt for tyranny, and helped to nerve him in the efforts he made in subsequent years for the liberties of his native land.

Surrounded with congenial friends and occupied in important labors, that land he had all but forgotten, till it was recalled to his heart by a visit from two of his countrymen, who, struck with his great capabilities, urged him to return to Scotland. Having obtained with difficulty permission from the Senate and Church of Geneva to return, he set out on his way homeward, with a letter from Beza, in which that illustrious man said that "the Church of Geneva could not have a stronger token of affection to her sister of Scotland than by despoiling herself of his services that the Church of Scotland might therewith be enriched." [5] Passing through Paris on the very day that Charles IX died in the Louvre, he arrived in Edinburgh in July, 1574, after an absence of ten years from his native country. "He brought with him," says James Melville, "an inexhaustible treasury of learning, a vast knowledge both of things human and divine, and, what was better still, an upright and fervent zeal for true religion, and a firm resolution to devote all his gifts, with unwearied painfulness, to the service of his Kirk and country without recompense or gain. [6]

On his arrival in Scotland he found the battle against the Tulchan episcopate, so incongruously joined on to the Presbyterian Church, halting for one to lead. Impressed with the simple order which Calvin had established in Geneva, and ascribing in large degree to that cause the glory to which that Church had attained, and the purity with which religion flourished in it, and believing with Jerome that, agreeably to the interchangeable use of the words "bishop" and "presbyter" in the New Testament, all ministers of the Gospel were at first equal, Melville resolved not to rest till he had lopped off the unseemly addition which avaricious nobles and a tyrannical Government had made to the Church of his native land, and restored it to the simplicity of its first order. He began the battle in the General Assembly of 1575; he continued it in following Assemblies, and with such success that the General Assembly of 1580 came to a unanimous resolution, declaring "the office of a bishop, as then used and commonly understood, to be destitute of warrant from the Word of God, and a human invention, tending to the great injury of the Church, and ordained the bishops to demit their pretended office simpliciter, and to receive admission as ordinary pastors de novo, under pain of excommunication." [7] Not a holder of a Tulchan mitre but bowed to the decision of the Assembly.

While, on the one hand, this new episcopacy was being cast down, the Church was laboring, on the other, to build up and perfect her scheme of Presbyterian polity. A committee was appointed to prosecute this important matter, and in the course of a series of sittings it brought its work to completion, and its plan was sanctioned by the General Assembly which met in the Magdalene Chapel of Edinburgh, in 1578, under the presidency of Andrew Melville. "From this time," says Dr. McCrie, "the Book: of Policy, as it was then styled, or Second Book of Discipline, although not ratified by the Privy Council or Parliament, was regarded by the Church as exhibiting her authorized form of government, and the subsequent Assemblies took steps for carrying its arrangements into effect, by erecting presbyteries throughout the kingdom, and committing to them the oversight of all ecclesiastical affairs within their bounds, to the exclusion of bishops, superintendents, and visitors." [8]

It may be well to pause and contemplate the Scottish ecclesiastical polity as now perfected. Never before had the limits of the civil and the ecclesiastical powers been drawn with so bold a hand as in this Second Book of Discipline. In none of the Confessions of the Reformation had the Church been so clearly set forth as a distinct and, in spiritual matters, independent society as it was in this one. The Second Book of Discipline declared that "Christ had appointed a government in his Church, distinct from civil government, which is to be executed in his name by such office-bearers as he has authorized, and not by civil magistrates or under their direction." This marks a notable advance in the Protestant theory of Church power, which differs from the Popish theory, inasmuch as it is co-ordinate with, not superior to, the civil power, its claims to supremacy being strictly limited to things spiritual, and subject to the State in things temporal. Luther had grasped the idea of the essential distinction between the two powers, but he shrank from the difficulty of embodying his views in a Church organization. Calvin, after a great battle, had succeeded in vesting the Church

of Geneva with a certain measure of spiritual independence; but the State there was a theocracy with two branch — the spiritual administration of the consistory, and the moral administration of the senate — and hence the impossibility of instituting definite boundaries between the two. But in Scotland there was more than a city; there were a kingdom, a Parliament, a monarch; and this not only permitted, but necessitated, a fuller development of the autonomy of the Church than was possible in Geneva. Hence the Scottish arrangement more nearly resembles that which obtained in France than that which was set up in Geneva; besides, Mary Stuart was Romish, and Knox could not give to a Popish sovereign the power which Calvin had given to the Protestant senate of Geneva. Still the First Book of Discipline was incomplete as regards its arrangements. It was compiled to meet an emergency, and many of its provisions were necessarily temporary. But the Second Book of Discipline contained a scheme of Church polity, developed from the root idea of the supernatural origin of the Church, and which alike in its general scope and its particular details was framed with the view of providing at once for the maintenance of the order, and the conservation of the liberty of the Church. The Parliament did not ratify the Second Book of Discipline till 1592; but that was a secondary matter with its compilers, for in their view the granting of such ratification could not add to, and the withholding of it could not take from, the inherent authority of the scheme of government, which had its binding power from the Scriptures or had no binding power whatever. Of what avail, then, was the ratification of Parliament. Simply this, that the State thereby pledged itself not to interfere with or overthrow this discipline; and, further, it might be held as the symbol of the nation's acceptance of and submission to this discipline as a Scriptural one, which, however, the Church neither wished nor sought to enforce by civil penalties.

It was out of this completed settlement of the Presbyterian polity that that great struggle arose which ultimately involved both England and Scotland in civil war, and which, after an immense effusion of blood, in the southern kingdom on the battle-field, and in the northern on the scaffolds of its martyrs, issued in the Revolution of 1688, which placed the Protestant House of Orange on the throne of Great Britain, and secured, under the sanction of an oath, that the constitution and sovereigns of the realm should in all time coming be Protestant.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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