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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 12 — Battles for Presbyterianism and Liberty

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James VI — His Evil Counselors — Love of Arbitrary Power and Hatred of Presbyterianism — State of Scotland — The Kirk its One Free Institution — The Presbyterian Ministers the Only Defenders of the Nation's Liberties — The National Covenant — Tulchan Bishops — Robert Montgomery — His Excommunication — Melville before the King -- Raid of Ruthyen — The Black Acts — Influence of the Spanish Armada on Scotland — Act of 1592 Ratifying Presbyterian Church Government — Return of Popish Lords — Interview between Melville and James VI at Falkland — Broken Promises — Prelacy set up — Importance of the Battle — James VI Ascends the Throne of England

In 1578, James VI, now twelve years of age, took the reins of government into his own hand. His preceptor, the illustrious Buchanan, had labored to inspire him with a taste for learning — the capacity he could not give him — and to qualify him for his future duties as a sovereign by instructing him in the principles of civil and religious liberty. But unhappily the young king, at an early period of his reign, fell under the influence of two worthless and profligate courtiers, who strove but too successfully to make him forget all that Buchanan had taught him. These were Esme Stuart, a cousin of his father, who now arrived from France, and was afterwards created Earl of Lennox; and Captain James Stuart, a son of Lord Ochiltree, a man of profligate manners, whose unprincipled ambition was rewarded with the title and estates of the unfortunate Earl of Arran. The sum of what these men taught James was that there was neither power nor glory in a throne unless the monarch were absolute, and that as the jurisdiction of the Protestant Church of his native country was the great obstacle in the way of his governing according to his own arbitrary will, it behoved him above all things to sweep away the jurisdiction of Presbyterianism. An independent Kirk and an absolute throne could not co-exist in the same realm. These maxims accorded but too well with the traditions of his house and his own prepossessions not to be eagerly imbibed by the king. He proved an apt scholar, and the evil transformation wrought upon him by the counselors to whom he had surrendered himself was completed by his initiation into scenes of youthful debauchery.

The Popish politicians on the Continent foresaw, of course, that James VI would mount the throne of England; and there is reason to think that the mission of the polished and insinuating but unprincipled Esme Stuart had reference to that expectation. The Duke of Guise sent him to restore the broken link between Scotland and France; to fill James's mind with exalted notions of his own prerogative; to inspire him with a detestation of Presbyterian Protestantism, the greatest foe of absolute power; and to lead him back to Rome, the great upholder of the Divine right of kings.

Accordingly Esme Stuart did not come alone. He was in due time followed by Jesuits and seminary priests, and the secret influence of these men soon made itself manifest in the open defection of some who had hitherto professed the Protestant faith. In short, this was an off-shoot of that great plot which was in 1587 to be smitten on the scaffold in Fotheringay Castle, and to receive a yet heavier blow from the tempest that strewed the bottom of the North Sea with the hulks of the "Invincible Armada," and lined the western shores of Ireland with the corpses of Spanish warriors.

The Presbyterian ministers took the alarm. This flocking of foul birds to the court, and this crowding of "men in masks" in the kingdom, fore-boded no good to that Protestant establishment which was the main bulwark of the country's liberties: The alarm was deepened by intercepted letters from Rome granting a dispensation to Roman Catholics to profess the Protestant faith for a time, provided they cherished in their hearts a loyalty to Rome, and let slip no opportunity their disguise might offer them of advancing her interests. [1] Crisis was evidently approaching, and if the Scottish people were to hold possession of that important domain of liberty which they had conquered they must fight for it. Constitutional government had not indeed been set up as yet in full form in Scotland; but Buchanan, Knox, and now Melville were the advocates of its principles; thus the germs of that form of government had been planted in the country, and its working initiated by the erection of the Presbyterian Church Courts; limits had been put upon the arbitrary will of the monarch by the exclusion of the royal power from the most important of all departments of human liberty and rights; and the great body of the people were inflamed with the resolution of maintaining these great acquisitions, now menaced by both the secret and the open emissaries of the Guises and Rome. But there were none to rally the people to the defense of the public liberties but the ministers. The Parliament in Scotland was the tool of the court; the courts of justice had their decisions dictated by letters from the king; there was yet no free press; there was no organ through which the public sentiment could find expression, or shape itself into action, but the Kirk. It alone possessed anything like liberty, or had courage to oppose the arbitrary measures of the Government. The Kirk therefore must come to the front, and give expression to the national voice, if that voice was to be heard at all; and the Kirk must put its machinery in action to defend at once its own independence and the independence of the nation, both of which were threatened by the same blow. Accordingly, on this occasion, as so often afterwards, the leaders of the opposition were ecclesiastical men, and the measures they adopted were on their

outer sides ecclesiastical also. The circumstances of the country made this a necessity. But whatever the forms and names employed in the conflict, the question at issue was, shall the king govern by his own arbitrary irresponsible will, or shall the power of the throne be limited by the chartered rights of the people?

This led to the swearing of the National Covenant. It is only ignorance of the great conflict of the sixteenth century that would represent this as a mere Scottish peculiarity. We have Already met with repeated instances, in the course of our history, in which this expedient for cementing union and strengthening confidence amongst the friends of Protestantism was had recourse to. The Lutheran princes repeatedly subscribed not unsimilar bonds. The Waldenses assembled beneath the rocks of Bobbio, and with uplifted hands swore to rekindle their "ancient lamp" or die in the attempt. The citizens of Geneva, twice over, met in their great Church of St. Peter, and swore to the Eternal to resist the duke, and maintain their evangelical confession. The capitals of other cantons also hallowed their struggle for the Gospel by an oath. The Hungarian Protestants followed this example. In 1561 the nobles, citizens, and troops in Erlau bound themselves by oath not to forsake the truth, and circulated their Covenant in the neighboring parishes, where also it was subscribed. [2] The Covenant from which the Protestants of Scotland sought to draw strength and confidence has attracted more notice than any of the above instances, from this circumstance, that the Covenanters were not a party but a nation, and the Covenant of Scotland, like its Reformation, was national. The Covenanters swore in brief to resist Popery, and to maintain Protestantism and constitutional monarchy. They first of all explicitly abjured the Romish tenets, they promised to adhere to and defend the doctrine and the government of the Reformed Church of Scotland, and finally they engaged under the same oath to defend the person and authority of the king, "with our goods, bodies, and lives, in the defense of Christ's Evangel, liberties of our country, ministration of justice, and punishment of iniquity, against all enemies within this realm and without." It was subscribed (1581) by the king and his household and by all ranks in the country. The arrangement with Rome made the subscription of the courtiers almost a matter of course; even Esme Stuart, now Earl of Lennox, seeing how the tide was flowing, professed to be a convert to the Protestant faith. [3]

The national enthusiasm in behalf of the Reformed Church was greatly strengthened by this solemn transaction, but the intrigues against it at court went on all the same. The battle was begun by the appointment of a Tulchan bishop for Glasgow. The person preferred to this questionable dignity was Robert Montgomery, minister of Stirling, who, said the people, "had the title, but my Lord of Lennox (Esme Stuart) had the milk."

The General Assembly of 1582 were proceeding to suspend the new-made bishop from the exercise of his office, when a messenger-at-arms entered, and charged the moderator and members, "under pain of rebellion and putting them to the horn," to stop procedure. The Assembly, so far from complying, pronounced the heavier sentence of excommunication on Montgomery; and the sentence was publicly intimated in Edinburgh and Glasgow, in spite of Esme Stuart, who, furious with rage, threatened to poignard the preacher. It shows how strongly the popular feeling was in favor of the Assembly, and against the court, that when Montgomery came soon after to pay a visit to his patron Lennox, the inhabitants of Edinburgh rose in a body, demanding that the town should not be polluted with his presence, and literally chased him out of it. Nor was he, with all his speed, about to escape a few "buffets in the neck" as he hastily made his exit at the wicket-gate of the Potter Row.

The matter did not end with the ignominious expulsion of Montgomery from the capital. The next General Assembly adopted a spirited remonstrance to the king, setting forth that the authority of the Church had been invaded, her sentences dissanulled, and her ministers obstructed in the discharge of their duty, and begging redress of these grievances. Andrew Melville with others was appointed to present the paper to the king in council; having obtained audience, the commissioners read the remonstrance. The reading finished, Arran looked round with a wrathful countenance, and demanded, "Who dares subscribe these treasonable articles?" "We dare," replied Melville, and, advancing to the table, he took the pen and subscribed. The other commissioners came forward, one after another, and appended their signatures. Even the insolent Arran was abashed; and Melville and his brethren were peaceably dismissed. Protection from noble or from other quarter the ministers had none; their courage was their only shield. [4]

There followed some chequered years; the nobles roused by the courageous bearing of the ministers, made all attempt to free themselves and the country from the ignominious tyranny of the unworthy favorites, who were trampling upon their liberties. But their attempt, known as the "Raid of Ruthven," was ill-advised, and very unlike the calm and constitutional opposition of the ministers. The nobles took possession of the king's person, and compelled the Frenchmen to leave the country. The year's peace which this violence procured for the Church was dearly purchased, for the tide of oppression immediately returned with all the greater force. Andrew Melville had to retire into England, and that intrepid champion off the scene, the Parliament (1584) overturned the independence of the Church. It enacted that no ecclesiastical Assembly should meet without the king's leave; that no one should decline the judgment of the king and Privy Council on any matter whatever, under peril of treason, and that all ministers should acknowledge the bishops as their ecclesiastical superiors. These decrees were termed the Black Acts.

Their effect was to lay at the feet of the

king that whole machinery of ecclesiastical courts which, as matters then stood, was the only organ of public sentiment, and the only bulwark of the nation's liberties. The General Assembly could not meet unless the king willed, and thus he held in his hands the whole power of the Church. This was in violation of repeated Acts of Parliament, which had vested the Church with the power of convoking and dissolving her Assemblies, without which her liberties were an illusion.

The Reformed Church of Scotland was lying in what seemed ruin, when it was lifted up by an event that at first threatened destruction to it and to the whole Protestantism of Britain. It was at this time that the storm-cloud of the Armada gathered, burst, and passed away, but not without rousing the spirit of liberty, in Scotland. The Scots resolved to set their house in order, lest a second Armada should approach their shores, intercepted letters having made them aware that Huntly and the Popish lords of the north were urging Philip II of Spain to make another attempt, and promising to second his efforts with soldiers who would not only place Scotland at his feet, but would aid him to subjugate England. [5] Even James VI paused in the road he was traveling towards that oldest and staunchest friend of despotic princes, the Church of Rome, seeing his kingdom about to depart from him. His ardor had been cooled, too, by the many difficulties he had encountered in his attempts to impose upon his subjects a hierarchy to which they were repugnant; and either through that fickleness and inconstancy which were a part of his nature, or through that incurable craft which characterized him as it had done all his race, he became for the time a zealous Presbyterian. Nay, he "praised God that he was born in such a place as to be king in such a Kirk, the purest Kirk in the world. I, forsooth," he concluded, "as long as I brook my life and crown shall maintain the same against all deadly. [6] Andrew Melville had returned from London after a year's absence, and his first care was to resuscitate the Protestant liberties which lay buried under the late Parliamentary enactments. Nor were his labors in vain. In 1592, Parliament restored the Presbyterian Church as it had formerly existed, ratifying its government by Kirk-sessions, Presbyteries, Provincial Synods, and National Assemblies.

This Act has ever been held to be the grand charter of Presbyterianism in Scotland. [7] It was hailed with joy, not as adding a particle of inherent authority to the system it recognized — the basis of that authority the Church had already laid down in her Books of Discipline — but because it gave the Church a legal pledge that the jurisdiction of the Romish Church would not be restored, and by consequence, that of the Reformed Church not overthrown. [8] This Act gave the Church of Scotland a legal ground on which to fight her future battles.

But James VI was incapable of being long of one mind, or persevering steadily in one course. In 1596 the Popish lords, who had left the country on the suppression of their rebellion, returned to Scotland.

Notwithstanding that they had risen in arms against the king, and had continued their plots while they lived abroad, James was willing to receive and reinstate these conspirators. His Council were of the same mind with himself. Not so the country and the Church, which saw new conspiracies and wars in prospect, should these inveterate plotters be taken back.

Without loss of time, a deputation of ministers, appointed at a convention held at Cupar, proceeded to Falkland to remonstrate with the king on the proposed recall of those who had shown themselves the enemies of his throne and the disturbers of his realm. The ministers were admitted into the palace. It had been agreed that James Melville, the nephew of Andrew, for whom the king entertained great respect, being a man of courteous address, should be their spokesman. He had only uttered a few words when the king violently interrupted him, denouncing him and his associates as seditious stirrers up of the people. The nephew would soon have succumbed to the tempest of the royal anger if the uncle had not stepped forward. James VI and Andrew Melville stood once more face to face. For a few seconds there was a conflict between the kingly authority of the sovereign and the moral majesty of the patriot. But soon the king yielded himself to Melville. Taking James by the sleeve, and calling him "God's sillie vassal," he proceeded, says McCrie, "to address him in the following strain, perhaps the most singular, in point of freedom, that ever saluted royal ears, or that ever proceeded from the mouth of loyal subject, who would have sprit his blood in defense of the person and honor of his prince: "Sir," said Melville, "we will always humbly reverence your Majesty in public, but since we have this occasion to be with your Majesty in private, and since you are brought into extreme danger both of your life and crown, and along with you the country and the Church of God are like to go to wreck, for not telling you the truth and bring you faithful counsel, we must discharge our duty or else be traitors, both to Christ and you. Therefore, sir, as divers times before I have told you, so now again I must tell you, there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is Christ Jesus the King of the Church, whose subject King James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member... We will yield to you your place, and give you all due obedience; but again I say, you are not the head of the Church; you cannot give

us that eternal life which even in this world we seek for, and you cannot deprive us of it. Permit us then freely to meet in the name of Christ, and to attend to the interests of that Church of which you are the chief member. Sir, when you were in your swaddling-clothes, Christ Jesus reigned freely in this land, in spite of all his enemies; his officers and ministers convened for the ruling and the welfare of his Church, which was ever for your welfare, defense, and preservation, when these same enemies were seeking your destruction and cutting off. And now, when there is more than extreme necessity for the continuance of that duty, will you hinder and dishearten Christ's servants, and your most faithful subjects, quarreling them for their convening, when you should rather commend and countenance them as the godly kings and emperors did?" [9] The storm, which had risen with so great and sudden a violence at the mild words of the nephew, went down before the energy and honesty of the uncle, and the deputation was dismissed with assurances that no favor should be shown the Popish lords, and no march stolen upon the liberties of the Church.

But hardly were the ministers gone when steps were taken for restoring the insurgent nobles, and undermining the ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The policy adopted for accomplishing this was singularly subtle, and reveals the hand of the Jesuits, of whom there were then numbers in the country.

First of all, the king preferred the apparently innocent request that a certain number of ministers should be appointed as assessors, with whom he might advise in "all affairs concerning the weal of the Church." Fourteen ministers were appointed: "the very needle," says James Melville, "which drew in the episcopal thread." The second step was to declare by Act of Parliament that Prelacy was the third Estate of the Realm, and that those ministers whom the king chose to raise to that dignity should be entitled to sit or vote in Parliament. The third step was to enact that the Church should be represented in Parliament, and that the fourteen assessors already chosen should form that representation. The matter having reached this hopeful stage, the king adventured on the fourth and last step, which was to nominate David Lindsay, Peter Blackburn, and George Gladstanes to the vacant bishoprics of Ross, Aberdeen, and Caithness. The new-made bishops took their seats in the next Parliament. The art and finesse of the king and his counselors had triumphed; but his victory was not yet complete, for the General Assembly still continued to manage, although with diminished authority and freedom, the affairs of the Church.

The war we have been contemplating was waged within a small area, but its issue was world-wide. The ecclesiastical names and forms that appear on its surface may make this struggle repulsive in the eyes of some. Waged in the Palace of Falkland, and on the floor of the General Assembly, these contests are apt to be set down as having no higher origin than clerical ambition, and no wider object than ecclesiastical supremacy. But this, in the present instance at least, would be a most superficial and erroneous judgment. We see in these conflicts infant Liberty struggling with the old hydra of Despotism. The independence and freedom of Scotland were here as really in question as on the fields waged by Wallace and Bruce, and the men who fought in the contests which have been passing before us braved death as really as those do who meet mailed antagonists on the battlefield.

Nay, more, Scotland and its Kirk had at this time become the key-stone in the arch of European liberty; and the unceasing efforts of the Pope, the King of Spain, and the Guises were directed to the displacing of that keystone, that the arch which it upheld might be destroyed. They were sending their agents into the country, they were fomenting rebellions, they were flattering the weak conceit of wisdom and of arbitrary power in James: not that they cared for the conquest of Scotland in itself so much as they coveted a door by which to enter England, and suppress its Reformation, which they regarded as the one thing wanting to complete the success of their schemes for the total extermination of Protestantism. With servile Parliaments and a spiritless nobility, the public liberties as well as the Protestantism of Scotland would have perished but for the vigilance, and intrepidity of the Presbyterian ministers, and, above all, the incorruptible, the dauntless and unflinching courage and patriotism of Andrew Melville. These men may have been rough in speech; they may have permitted their temper to be ruffled, and their indignation to be set on fire, in exposing craft and withstanding tyranny; but that man's understanding must be as narrow as his heart is cold, who would think for a moment of weighing such things in the balance against the priceless blessing of a nation's liberties.

The death of Queen Elizabeth, in 1603, called James VI to London, and the center of the conflict, which widens as the years advance, changes with the monarch to England.


Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 19th, 2018
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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