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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 21 — Establishment of prelacy in Scotland

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Destruction of Scottish Protestantism — Marquis of Argyle — His Character — His Possessions — His Patriotism — His Service to Charles II — How Requited — He is Condemned as a Traitor — His Demeanor in Prison — on the Scaffold — Mr. James Guthrie — His Character — Sentenced to be Hanged — His Behavior on the Scaffold — His Head Affixed to the Netherbow — Prelacy set up — The New Bishops — Their Character — Robert Leighton — The Ministers required to Receive Presentation and Collation Anew — Will Scotland Submit?

We have seen the scheme resumed, after a short pause, of seating a Popish prince upon the throne of England, and carrying over the whole power and influence of the three kingdoms to the interests of Rome. A beginning had been made of the bold project in the restoration of Charles II, whose concealed Popery better served the purpose of the men who were behind the scenes than an open profession of the Romish faith would have done. The next part of the program was the destruction of the Protestantism of Scotland. The three infamous edicts passed in the Parliament of 1661 had stripped the Presbyterian Church of Scotland of every legal security, had imposed upon the Scots a virtual abjuration of Presbyterianism, and left the Protestant Church of the northern country little better than a wreck. A fourth edict was about to complete the work of the former three. But at this stage it was found necessary to set up the scaffold. There were two men in Scotland of pre-eminent position and influence, who must be taken out of the way before it would be safe to proceed with the measure now contemplated, namely, that of abolishing Presbyterianism and substituting prelacy. These two men were the Marquis of Argyle and Mr. James Guthrie, minister at Stirling.

Archibald, Marquis of Argyle, stood conspicuous among the nobles of Scotland; in grandeur and influence he towered high above them all. Nature had endowed him with excellent talents, which a careful education had developed and trained. He was cautious, eminently wise, liberal in politics, eloquent in discourse, and God-fearing, and to the graces of the true Christian he added the virtues of the patriot. His inheritance was a magnificent one. From those western isles which receive the first shock of the Atlantic wave as it rushes toward the mainland, his possessions stretched southward to the Clyde, and away towards the Tay on the east, comprehending many a grand mountain, many a far-extending forest, many a strath and moorland, watered by great rivers, and dotted with meadow and corn land — the seat of a mighty clan, who knew no king but the Maccallum-More. To his Highland princedom he added many an acre of the richer south, and he owned many a mansion in the great cities, where he occasionally kept court. In those years when Scotland had no king, Argyle bore the burden of the State, and charged himself with the protection of the Presbyterian interests.

That he was wholly free from the finesse of the age, that threading his way amid the snares and pitfalls of the time he never deviated from the straight road, and that amid his many plans he never thought of the aggrandizement of his own family, we will not venture to affirm; but in the main his designs were noble, and his aims steadily and grandly patriotic. He had rendered some important services to Charles Stuart when the fortunes of the royal house were at the lowest. Argyle had protested against the execution of Charles I, and when England rejected the son, Argyle was the first to invite Charles to Scotland, and he it was who placed the crown of that ancient kingdom upon his head. He naturally expected that these services, done at a time which made them trebly valuable, would not be wholly forgotten. Argyle posted up to London to congratulate the king on his restoration. It was now that he discovered the utter baseness of the man by whose side he had stood when so many had forsaken him. Without even being admitted into Charles's presence, he was seized, and sent down by sea to Scotland, to be tried by the Parliament for high treason. On Saturday, the 25th of May, 1661, he was sentenced to be beheaded on the Monday following. He was the most prominent Protestant in Scotland, and therefore he must die.

Argyle shrank from physical suffering; but now, sentenced to the ax, he conquered his constitutional weakness, and rose above the fear of death. A deep serenity filled his mind, which imparted a calmness, and even majesty, to his demeanor during the hours between his sentence and its execution. In his prison he had a ravishing sense of God's love, and a firm assurance of his admission into the heavenly joys. All night through he slept sweetly, and rose refreshed in the morning. He dined with his friends on the day of his execution, discoursing cheerfully with them, and retiring after dinner for secret prayer. The procession to the scaffold being formed, "I could die like a Roman," said he, "but choose rather to die as a Christian. Come away, gentlemen; he that goes first goes cleanest." He stopped a moment on his way to execution, to greet James Guthrie, now under sentence of death, and confined in the same prison. They embraced.

"Were I not under sentence of death myself," said the minister to the marquis, "I would cheerfully die for your lordship." They parted as men do who are soon to meet again, and Argyle, his step firm, and the light of triumph on his brow, went on his way. On the scaffold he addressed the people with great composure, bidding them prepare for times which would leave them only this alternative, to "sin or suffer." When about to lay his head on the block his physician approached him

and touched his pulse, and found that it was beating at its usual rate, calm and strong. [1] He kneeled down, and after a few minutes' prayer, he gave the signal, the ax fell, and that kingly head rolled on the scaffold. [2] It was affixed to the west end of the Tolbooth, "a monument," says Wodrow, "of the Parliament's injustice and the land's misery." [3]

In a few days Mr. James Guthrie was brought forth to die. Guthrie was descended from an ancient Scottish family, and was distinguished for his piety, his learning, his eloquence, and his sweetness of disposition, combined with great firmness of principle. His indictment charged him with a variety of offenses, amounting in the eyes of his enemies to high treason; but his real offense was his being a consistent, eloquent, and influential Protestant, which made it necessary that he should be put out of the way, that Middleton might rule Scotland as he liked, and that James Sharp might march in and seize the mitre of St. Andrews. He was sentenced to be "hanged at the Cross of Edinburgh as a traitor, on the 1st of June, 1661, and thereafter his head to be struck off and affixed on the Netherbow, his estate to be confiscated, his coat-of-arms torn and reversed, and his children declared incapable, in all time coming, to enjoy any office, dignities, etc., within this kingdom." His composure was not in the least disturbed by hearing this sentence pronounced as doom; on the contrary, he expressed, with much sweetness, a hope that it would never affect their lordships more than it affected him, and that his blood would never be required of the king's house. On the day of his execution he dined with his friends in prison, diffusing round the table the serenity and joy that filled his own soul, and cheering the sorrow of his guests by the hopes that found eloquent expression form his lips. The historian Burner, who witnessed his execution, says that "on the ladder he spoke an hour with the composedness of one who was delivering a sermon rather than his last words." [4] The martyr himself said that he had often felt greater fear in ascending the pulpit to preach than he now did in mounting the gallows to die. "I take God to record upon my soul," said he in conclusion, "I would not exchange this scaffold with the palace or mitre of the greatest prelate in Britain." his face was now covered with the fatal napkin; he made it be lifted a moment, and said, "The Covenants shall yet be Scotland's reviving." [5]

His head was affixed to the Netherbow, and there it remained, blackening in the sun, through all the dark years of persecution that followed. The martyrs on their way to the Grass Market to die passed the spot where these honored remains were exposed. They must have felt, as they looked up at them, that a ray of glory wins cast athwart their path to the scaffold, though the persecutor had not meant it so. "Courage," would these moldering lips seem to say, and strengthened by the thought that James Guthrie had trodden this road before them, the martyrs passed on to the gallows. Raving hung all these mournful years, and been observed of many martyr processions, Guthrie's head was at last taken down by a young man named Hamilton, who was at the time a student in Edinburgh, and afterwards became successor at Stirling to the man to whose remains he had performed this kind office.

The two men of all living Scotsmen whom Middleton and Sharp most feared were now in their grave, and the way was open for the execution of the project on which their heart, as well as that of the king, was so much set — the institution of prelacy in Scotland. Accordingly, on the 6th of September, 1661, Charles II issued a proclamation, restoring "the ancient and legal government of the Church by archbishops and bishops, as it was exercised in the year 1637." The only reason assigned for so vast a change was the king's good pleasure. The royal mandate must serve for the wishes of the people, the law of the country, and the warrant of Scripture. In the December following, five ministers set out for London, and got themselves appointed bishops, and consecrated in Westminster. The first was James Sharp, who now, as the reward of his treachery, obtained the archiepiscopal mitre of St. Andrews. The second was Fairfoul, who was made Bishop of Glasgow. If a slender theologian, he had some powers as a humorist; but his censors said that his morals were not so pure as his lawn.

The third was Wishart, who had the See of Edinburgh. He, too, was of damaged character, and had a habit, when he had drunk freely, of emphasizing his talk with oaths. The fourth was Sydserf, now in his dotage, and made Bishop of Orkney. The fifth was a man of pure character, and fine genius, who was thrown in to reconcile the Scots to the new Establishment. This was Robert Leighton, appointed to the Episcopal chair of Dunblane. His exposition of the first Epistle of Peter, so chaste and graceful in style, and so rich in evangelical truth, will long remain a monument of his fervent piety. Leighton held that nothing had been laid down, even inferentially, in Scripture on the subject of Church government; and he looked on episcopacy as the best form, but he knew that, as matters then stood in Scotland, the liberties of the nation were bound up with the maintenance of the Presbyterian government; and that government, moreover, he had sworn to maintain. This, if nothing else, ought to have inspired him with a salutary fear of becoming the tool of the tyrant and the partner of renegades in a traitorous scheme for sapping the ancient liberties of his

native land, and overthrowing the sacred independence of his Church. His genius and piety but made the part he acted the more criminal, seeing they were employed to support measures which he condemned. The blood of Argyle and Guthrie had to be poured out before he could wear his mitre, and one would have thought that never could he put it on his head without feeling that it imprinted its red marks on his brow. In those days there were few genuine honors to be gained in Scotland save those which the headsman bestowed.

Soon after their consecration the new prelates arrived in Scotland. They entered Edinburgh with some little pomp, being not unwilling to air their new dignity — all except Leighton, who, as if ashamed of his companions, and unwilling to be paraded in the train of Sharp, stole away when the party approached the city, and made his entrance privately. One of their first acts after setting foot on their native soil was to ordain other ten bishops. These had till now been Presbyterian ministers; their anointing took place in the Chapel of Holyrood. Scotland was now divided into fourteen dioceses, and over each diocese was set a regularly consecrated bishop with jurisdiction. The new shepherds to whom the Scottish flock was committed by Charles II had all, before receiving their second consecration, renounced their Presbyterian ordination as null. This throws an interesting light on the mission they had now taken in hand, and the condition of that country, as it appeared in their eyes, in which they were to fulfill it. If their Presbyterian ordination was worthless, so was that of all Presbyters in Scotland, and equally worthless were the powers and ministrations of the whole Presbyterian Church. Scotland, in short, was a pagan country. It possessed neither valid pastors nor valid Sacraments, and had been without both since the Reformation; and these men, themselves consecrated in Westminster, now consecrated others in Holyrood, and came with the benevolent design of restoring to Scotland the valid orders of which Knox had deprived it. In short, they came to plant Christianity a second time in Scotland. Let us mark how they proceeded in their work.

On the 8th of May, 1662, the Scottish Parliament sat. The new bishops took their places in that Assembly, gracing it, if not by their gifts of learning and apostleship, on which history is silent, by their titles and official robes. Their presence reminded the Parliament of the necessity of showing its zeal in the king's service, and especially that branch of it on which Charles was at that time so intent, the transforming a Presbyterian country into a prelatic one, and changing a constitutional government into an arbitrary monarchy. The Parliament was servile and compliant. Act followed Act, in rapid succession, completing the work which the king had commenced in his proclamation of the September previous ordaining episcopacy. In the first Act of Parliament it was laid down that "the ordering and disposing of the external government and policy of the Church doth properly belong unto his Majesty as an inherent right of the crown, by virtue of his royal prerogative and supremacy in causes ecclesiastical." [6] The next Act restored the bishops to all their ancient privileges, spiritual and temporal; another Act was passed against all resistance to the king's government; another forbidding all attempts for any alteration in Church or State, and another declaring the Covenants unlawful and seditious. To this Act was added a curious appendage, which would not have been surprising had it issued from the Vatican, but coming from a temporal government was certainly a novelty. A dispensing clause was sent forth from Whitehall, releasing all who had taken the Covenant from the obligation of fulfilling the oath. That oath might or might not be valid, but for the government to publish a release of conscience to all who had sworn it was one of the startling assumptions of this extraordinary time.

One other edict remains to be specially noted. It required all ministers in Scotland ordained since 1649, on or before the 20th of September to present themselves before the patron to take presentation anew to their livings, and before the bishop of the diocese to receive collation. The year 1649 was fixed on as that from which commenced this second ordination because, the strict covenanting party being then in power, patronage had been abolished. But now, patronage being restored, those who had entered the Church by the free choice of the people, and not by the nomination of the patron, were called on to retrace their steps, and begin anew by passing through this ordeal. Collation from the bishop, which was also required of them, implied something more than that they had been informal ministers, namely, that they had not been ministers at all, nor had ever discharged one valid function. One of the clauses of that collation ran thus — "I do hereby receive him into the functions of the holy ministry." That certainly meant that the man now receiving collation had not till then been clothed with the ministerial office, and that for the first time was he now validly to discharge its functions. The principle on which all these changes proceeded was plainly this, that government was restoring to Scotland a true ministry, which it had lost when its ancient hierarchy was overthrown.

It was not necessary in order to the carrying out of these edicts that Charles II should leave London, the scene of his ease and of his pleasures, and visit the northern kingdom. The royal voluptuary, dearly as he loved power, would perhaps have foregone it in part, had he been required to earn it at the price of anxiety and drudgery. But there was no need he should submit to this sacrifice; he had zealous and trusty tools on the spot, who were but too willing to do the work which he was too indolent to undertake

himself. The Privy Council exercised supreme power in his name in Scotland, and he could safely leave with the members of that Council the prosecution of all the schemes of tyranny then on foot. There were men around him, too, of darker counsels and wider schemings than himself — men who, though he little suspected it, were just as ready to thrust him aside as they would have been to dispatch any Covenanter in all Scotland, should he stand in their way; these persons devised the steps which were necessary to be taken, the king sanctioned them, and the perjured and brutal junto who served Charles in Scotland carried them out.

We behold the work already almost completed. Only two years have elapsed since Charles II ascended the throne, and the liberties and religion of Scotland have been all but entirely swept away. What it had taken a century and a half to achieve, what had been painfully won, by the stake of Hamilton, the labors of Knox, and the intrepidity of Melville and Henderson, had, as it now seemed, been lost in the incredibly short space from 1600 to 1602. The tame acquiescence of Scotland at so great a crisis amazes us! Have all become unfaithful? Is there no one to fight the old battle? Of the tens of thousands who twenty-four years before assembled in the Grayfriars' Church-yard of Edinburgh, their hands lifted up to heaven, is there no select band — a thousand? a hundred? fifty? — willing to throw themselves into the breach, and stem the torrent of Popish intrigue and tyrannical violence that is flooding Scotland, and, having overwhelmed it, will next rush on England, burying beneath its swelling wave the Protestantism of the southern kingdom, and along with it the Protestantism of all Christendom? Is there none to avert a catastrophe so awful? We shall see.

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