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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 22 — Four hundred ministers ejected

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The Bishops hold Diocesan Courts — Summon the Ministers to Receive Collation — The Ministers Disobey — Middleton's Wrath and Violence — Archbishop Fairfoul's Complaint — "Drunken Act of Glasgow " — The 1st of November, 1662 — Four Hundred Ministers Ejected — Middleton's Consternation — Sufferings of the Ejected — Lamentations of the People — Scotland before the Ejection — The Curates — Middleton's Fall — The Earl of Rothes made Commissioner — Conventicles — Court of High Commission — Its Cruelty — Turner's Troop — Terrible Violence

The Parliament, having done its work, dissolved. It had promulgated those edicts which placed the Church and State of Scotland at the feet of Charles II, and it left it to the Privy Council and the bishops to carry into effect what it had enacted as law. Without loss of tune the work was commenced. The bishops held diocesan courts and summoned the ministers to receive collation at their hands. If the ministers should obey the summons, the bishops would regard it as an admission of their office: they were not unnaturally desirous of such recognition, and they waited with impatience and anxiety to see what response their citation should receive from the Presbyterian pastors. To their great mortification, very few ministers presented themselves. In only a few solitary instances were the Episcopal mandates obeyed. The bishops viewed this as a contempt of their office and an affront to their persons, and were wroth at the recalcitrants. Middleton, the king's prime minister in Scotland, was equally angry, and he had not less cause than the bishops for being so. He had assured the king that the royal scepter once firmly stretched out would compel the Presbyterians of the North to bow to the crosier; and if, after all, his project should fail, he would be ruined in the eyes of Charles. To the irascibility and imperiousness with which nature had endowed him, Middleton added the training of the camp, and he resolved to deal with this matter of conscience as he would with any ordinary breach of military discipline. He did not understand this opposition. The law was clear: the king had commanded the ministers to receive collation at the hands of the bishop, and the king must be obeyed, and if not, the recusant must take the consequences — he must abide both Middleton's and the king's wrath.

Having made up his mind to decisive measures, Middleton and the other members of the Privy Council set out on a tour of inspection of the western counties, where the more contumacious lived. Coming to Glasgow, Archbishop Fairfoul complained that "not one minister in his whole diocese had presented himself to own him as bishop, and receive collation to his benefice; that he had only the hatred which attends that office in Scotland, and nothing of the power; and that his Grace behoved to fall upon some other and more effectual methods, otherwise the new-made bishops would be mere ciphers." [1] Middleton consoled the poor man by telling him that to the authority of his crosier he would add the weight of his sword, and he would then see who would be so bold as to refuse to own him as his diocesan. A meeting of the Privy Council was held in the College Hail of Glasgow, on the 1st of October, 1662. They met in a condition that augured ill for the adoption of moderate measures. The bishops urged them to extreme courses; with these counsels their own passions coincided; they drank till they were maddened, and could think only of vengeance. It was resolved to extrude from their livings and banish from their parishes all the ministers who had been ordained since 1649, and had not received presentation and collation as the king's Act required. In pursuance of this summary and violent decision a proclamation was drawn up, to be published on the 4th of October, commanding all such ministers to withdraw themselves and their families out of their parishes before the 1st of November next, and forbidding them to reside within the bounds of their respective presbyteries, They had three weeks given them to determine which they would choose, submission or ejection. [2]

This Act came afterwards to be known as the "Drunken Act of Glasgow." It is hardly conceivable that sober men would, in the circumstances, have issued so ferocious an edict. "Duke Hamilton told me," says Burner, "they were all so drunk that day that they were not capable of considering anything that was before them, and would hear of nothing but executing the law without any relenting or delay." [3] The one sober man at the board, Sir James Lockhart of Lee, remonstrated against the madness of his fellow councilors, but he could recall them neither to sobriety nor to humanity. Their fiat had gone forth: it had sounded, they believed, the knell of Scottish Presbyterianism. "There are not ten men in all my diocese," said Bishop Fairfoul, "who will dare to disobey." Middleton was not less confident. That men should cast themselves and their families penniless upon the world for the sake of conscience, was a height of fanaticism which he did not believe to be possible even in Scotland. Meanwhile the day drew on.

The 1st of November, to which Middleton had looked forward as the day that was to crown his bold policy with success, and laying the Presbyterianism of Scotland in the dust, to establish on its ruins prelacy and arbitrary government, was, to the contrary, in the issue to hurl him from power, and lift up that Presbyterianism which he thought to destroy.

But to Middleton retribution came in the guise of victory. Hardly four weeks had he given the ministers to determine the grave question whether they should renounce their Presbyterianism or surrender their livings. They did not need even that short space to make up their minds. Four hours — four minutes —

were enough where the question was so manifestly whether they should obey God or King Charles. When the 1st of November came, four hundred ministers — more than a third of the Scottish clergy — rose up, and quitting their manses, their churches, and their parishes, went forth with their families into banishment. Middleton was astounded. He could never have believed that the gauntlet he had flung down would be taken up so boldly. It was submission, not defiance, he had looked for from these men. The bishops shared his consternation. They had counseled this violent measure, and now they trembled when they saw how well it had succeeded. They had thought that the Scotland of Knox was dead, and this Act was meant to consign it to its sepulcher; the Act, on the contrary, had brought it to life again; it was rising in the strength of old days, and they knew that they must surely fall before it. Middleton's rage knew no bounds: he saw at a glance all the fatal consequences to himself of the step he had taken — the ultimate failure of his plans, the loss of the royal favor, and the eventual triumph of that cause to which he thought he had given the death-blow.

Meanwhile, the sufferings of the ejected ministers were far from light. The blow had come suddenly upon them, and left them hardly any time to provide accommodation for themselves and their families.

It was the beginning of winter, and the sight of the bare earth and the bleak skies would add to the gloom around them. They went forth not knowing whither they went. Toiling along on the rough miry road, or laying them down at night under the roof of some poor hovel, or seated with their little ones at some scantily furnished table, they nevertheless tasted a joy so sweet that they would not have exchanged their lot for all the delights of their persecutors. They had their monarch's sore displeasure, but they knew that they had the approval of their heavenly King, and this sweetened the bitter cup they were drinking. The sacrifice they were now making had only added to their guilt in the eyes of their monarch, and they knew that, distressing as was their present condition, their future lot was sure to be more wretched; but rather than take their hands from the plough they would part with even dearer possessions than those of which they had been stripped. They had counted the cost, and would go forward in the path on which they had set out, although they plainly descried a scaffold at the end of it.

The religious people of Scotland followed with their affection and their prayers the pastors who had been torn from them. The throne had loosened its hold, prelacy had sealed its doom, but the firmness of principle shown by the ministers had exalted the cause of Presbytery, and rallied once more round it the better portion of the Scottish people. The shepherds had been smitten, but the flocks would not long escape, and they prepared to suffer when their day of trial should come. Meanwhile, lamentation and woe overspread the country. "Scotland," says Wodrow, "was never witness to such a Sabbath as the last on which these ministers preached; and I know no parallel to it save the 24th of August to the Presbyterians in England. Tears, loud wailings, and bursts of sorrow broke in many cases upon the public service. It was a day not only of weeping but howling, like the weeping of Jazer, as when a besieged city is sacked."

The Sunday that followed the ejection was sadder even than that on which the pastors had bidden their congregations farewell. The silence as of death brooded over a large portion of Scotland. All over the western counties of Ayr and Lanark; over many parts of Lothian, Fife, Eskdale, Teviot-dale, and Nithsdale the churches were closed. To quote "Naphtali's" song of Lamentation (a well-known book in Scotland) — " Then might we have seen the shepherds smitten and the flocks scattered, our teachers removed into corners, and the Lord's vineyard and sanctuary laid most desolate, so that in some whole counties and provinces no preaching was to be heard, nor could the Lord's Day be otherwise known than by the sorrowful remembrance of those blessed enjoyments whereof now we are deprived."

From this scene of desolation let us turn to the Scotland of only two years before, as graphically depicted by an old chronicler. "At the king's return every parish had a minister, every village had a school, every family almost had a Bible, yea, in most of the country all the children of age could read the Scriptures, and were provided of Bibles, either by their parents, or by their ministers... I have lived many years in a parish where I never heard an oath, and you might have ridden many miles before you heard one; also you could not for a great part of the country have lodged in a family where the Lord was not worshipped by reading, singing, and public prayer.

Nobody complained more of our Church government than our taverners; whose ordinary lamentation was — their trade was broke, people were become so sober." [4] It was from this flourishing condition that Scotland, in the short space of two years, was plunged into her present desolation. The numerous vacant pulpits had to be filled. The bishops turned their eyes to the northern counties in quest of men to succeed the pious and learned ministers who had been ejected. Some hundreds of raw untaught young men were brought from that part of Scotland, drafted into the Church, and taught to do duty as curates. The majority of them were as incapable as they were unwelcome. They were all of them without liberal education, and many of them lacked morals as well as letters. "They were ignorant to a reproach,"

says Bishop Burnet, "and many of them openly vicious; they were a disgrace to the order and the sacred functions, and were indeed the dregs and refuse of the northern parts." [5] In some cases their arrival in the parish was met by a shower of stones; the church door was barricaded on Sunday morning, and they had to make their entrance by the window.

Middleton was now drawing near the close of his career. He had dragged Argyle to the block and Guthrie to the gallows, and he had filled up his cup by extruding from their charges four hundred of the best ministers of Scotland, and now his fall followed hard on the heels of his great crime. But in his case, as in so many similar ones, infatuation preceded destruction. Middleton had now few sober hours; for no sooner had the fumes of one debauch been dissipated than those of another began to act upon him. Even Charles became disgusted at his habitual intoxication. His passionate violence and drunken recklessness had completely lost the opportunity for the peaceable establishment of prelacy in Scotland. He had but damaged the king's interests by his precipitation, and the Earl of Rothes was sent down to supersede him. The new commissioner was a son of that Earl Rothes who had been one of the early leaders of the Covenanters. The son was as distinguished for his profligacy as the father had been for his piety and his talents. He was coarse, avaricious, licentious, and the policy of violence which had been inaugurated under Middleton was continued under Rothes.

It was now that field-meetings termed conventicles arose. The greater part of the pious ministers cast out, and their places filled by incapable men, the people left the new preachers to hold forth within empty walls. It was in vain that the church doors were thrown open on Sunday morning, few entered save the curates' dependents, or the reprobates of the place; the bulk of the population were elsewhere, listening to those ministers who, not being comprehended in the Act of 1662, having been ordained before the year 1649, were still permitted to occupy their pulpits; or they had gathered by hundreds or by thousands, devout and reverend, on some moorland, or in some sequestered glen, or on some mountain-side, there to listen to one of the ejected ministers, who, taking his stand on some rock or knoll, preached the Word of Life. It was exceedingly mortifying to the bishops to see their curates despised, their churches empty, and the people traveling miles in all weathers to hear those whom they had extruded. They immediately obtained an Act forbidding any one to preach unless he had a license from a bishop, and commanding the people to attend their parish churches under the penalty of a fine. This Act was termed the "bishops' drag-net." It failed to fill the empty pews of the parish churches. One tyrannical measure only necessitates another and more tyrannical. Archbishop Sharp posted up to London to obtain additional powers. He returned, and set up the Court of High Commission.

This was the Star Chamber of England over again. In truth, it bore, in its flagrant defiance of forms, and its inexorably merciless spirit, a close resemblance to the "Holy Office" of the Inquisition. Soldiers were sent forth to scour the country, and if one was found who had been absent from the parish church, or had given a little aid to any of the outed ministers, or was suspected of the sin of Presbyterianism, he was dragged to the bar of the High Commission Court, where sat Sharp, like another Rhadaman-thus, ready to condemn all whom the soldiers had captured and baled to his dread tribunal. The lay-judges in disgust soon left the entire business in the hands of the archbishop and his assistant prelates. Their process was simple and swift. The labor of compiling an indictment, the trouble of examining witnesses, the delay of listening to pleadings were all dispensed with. The judges walked by no rule or statute, they kept no record of their proceedings, and they suffered no one to escape. All who came to that bar left it under condemnation. The punishments awarded from that judgment-seat were various. Some it amerced in heavy fines: some it ordered to be publicly whipped: some it sent into banishment: others it consigned to dungeons; and some it branded on the cheek with hot irons, and sold as slaves, and shipped off to Barbados. The times, bad as they were, were, not so bad as to suffer such a court to exist. In two years the High Commission sank under the, odium which its atrocious injustice, cruelty, and tyranny drew down upon it.

"Sir," said the minister of Colvend on the Solway, addressing Sharp one day from the bar of this terrible court. "Know you," growled Rothes, "to whom you speak?" "Yes," replied the undaunted pastor, "I speak to James Sharp, once a fellow-minister with myself." Without further inquiry into his offenses, he was laid in irons, thrown into the "Thieves' Hole" in the Tolbooth, with a lunatic for his companion, and ultimately banished to the Shetland Islands, where "for four years," says Wodrow, "he lived alone in a wild desolate island, in a very miserable plight. He had nothing but barley for his bread, and his fuel to prepare it with was sea-tangle and wreck; and had no more to preserve his miserable life."

In Scotland, Presbytery and Liberty, like the twins of classic story, have ever flourished and faded together. After 1663 no Parliament met in Scotland during six years. The laws were virtually defunct, and the will of the king was the sole authority in the State. Charles II issued proclamations, his Privy Council in Scotland turned them into Acts, and the soldiers executed them with their swords. It was in this way that the country was governed. Its Presbyterian religion and its constitutional liberties

had fallen together.

No part of the country south of the Grampian chain escaped this most terrible tyranny, but the south and west in particular were mercilessly scourged by it. The wretched inhabitants of these counties had been given into the hands of Sir James Turner. Turner was a man naturally of choleric temper, and when his passions were inflamed by drink, which often happened, his fury rose to madness. His troop was worthy of himself. Drawn from the dregs of the populace, they ruined the name, not of soldiers, but of ruffians, who were in their element only when carousing, pillaging, and shedding blood. It would be endless to recount the barbarities which Turner's troop exercised upon the poor peasantry.

The great public offense of each parish was still the empty church of the curate. To punish and so abate this scandal, the following device was fallen upon. After sermon the curate called over the roll of the parishioners, and marked those not present. A list of the absentees was given to the soldiers, who were empowered to levy the fine to which non-attendance at church rendered the person liable. If the family was not able to pay the fine, a certain number of the troop took up their quarters in the house, cursing, blaspheming, carousing, wasting by their riotous living the substance of the family, and, before taking leave, destroying what they had not been able to devour. Ruin was almost the inevitable consequence of such a visit, and members of families, recently in affluence, might now be seen wandering about the country in circumstances of destitution. After the landlord, it came to be the tenants turn to be eaten up. As the locust-swarms of the East, so passed these miscreant bands from parish to parish, and from family to family, leaving their track an utter waste. The sanctity of home, the services of devotion, the decencies of morality, respect to rank, and reverence for age, all perished in the presence of this obscene crew. Louder and louder every day waxed the cry of the suffering country.

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