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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 6 — Establishment of the reformation in Scotland

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Peace between the Queen and the Reformers — Consultation — The Lords of the Congregation Resolve to Set up the Protestant Worship — Knox Preaches at St. Andrews — His Sermon — St. Andrews Reformed — Glasgow, Edinburgh, etc., Follow — Question of the Demolition of the Images and Monasteries — The Queen and her Army at Leith — The Lords Evacuate Edinburgh — Knox Sets out on a Preaching Tour — His Great Exertions — Scotland Roused — Negotiations with England — England Aids Scotland — Establishment of the Reformation in Scotland.

When the queen regent arrived before Perth at the head of 8,000 men, she found the Reformers so well prepared to receive her that, instead of offering them battle as she had intended, she agreeably surprised them with overtures of peace. Although fully resolved to repel by arms an assault which they deemed none the less illegal and murderous that it was led by the queen, the lords of the Congregation joyfully accepted the olive-branch now held out to them. "Cursed be he," said they, "that seeks effusion of blood, war, or dissension. Give us liberty of conscience, and the free profession of the `Evangel,' [1] and none in all the realm will be more loyal subjects than we." Negotiations were opened between the regent and the Reformers, which terminated amicably, and the strife ceased for the moment. The lords of the Congregation disbanded their army of about 5,000, and the queen took peaceable possession of the city of Perth, where her followers began to make preparations for mass, and the altars having been overturned, their place was supplied by tables from the taverns, which, remarks Knox, "were holy enough for that use."

The Reformers now met, and took a survey of their position, in order to determine on the course to be adopted. They had lost thirty years waiting the tardy approach of the reforms which the queen had promised them. Meanwhile the genius, the learning, the zeal which would have powerfully aided in emancipating the country from the sin and oppression under which it groaned, were perishing at the stake. Duped by the queen, they had stood quietly by and witnessed these irreparable sacrifices. The reform promised them was as far off as ever. Abbot, bishop, and cowled monk were lifting up the head higher than before. A French army had been brought into the country, and the independence and liberties of Scotland were menaced. [2] This was all the Reformers had reaped by giving ear to the delusive words of Mary of Guise. While other countries had established their Reformation Scotland lingered on the threshold, and now it found itself in danger of losing not only its Reformation, but its very nationality. The lords of the Congregation, therefore, resolved to set up the Reformed worship at once in all those places to which their authority extended, and where a majority of the inhabitants were favorable to the design. [3]

A commencement was to be made in the ecclesiastical metropolis of Scotland. The Earl of Argyle and Lord James Stuart, Prior of St. Andrews, arranged with Knox to meet in that city on an early day in June, and inaugurate there the Protestant worship. The archbishop, apprised of Knox's coming, hastened in from Falkland with 100 spears, and sent a message to him on Saturday night, that if he dared to appear in the pulpit of the cathedral tomorrow, he would cause his soldiers to shoot him dead. The lords, having consulted, agreed that Knox should forego the idea of preaching. The resolution seemed a prudent one. The dispositions of the townspeople were unknown; the lords had but few retainers with them; the queen, with her French army, was not more than fifteen miles off; and to preach might be to give the signal for bloodshed. Knox, who felt that to abandon a great design when the moment for putting it in execution had arrived, and retire before an angry threat, was to incur the loss of prestige, and invite greater attacks in future, refused for one moment to entertain the idea of not preaching. He said that when lying out in the Bay of St. Andrews in former years, chained to the deck of a French galley, his eye had lighted on the roof of the cathedral, which the sun's rays at that moment illuminated, and he said in the hearing of some still alive, that he felt assured that he should yet preach there before closing his career; and now when God, contrary to the expectations of all men, had brought him back to this city, he besought them not to hinder what was not only his cherished wish, but the deep-rooted conviction of his heart. He desired neither the hand nor weapon of man to defend him; He whose glory he sought would be his shield. "I only crave audience," said he, "which, if it be denied here unto me at this time, I must seek where I may have it." [4]

The intrepidity of Knox saved the Reformation from the; brand of timidity which the counsel of the lords, had it been followed, would have brought upon it. It was a display of courage at the right time, and was rewarded with a career of success. On the morrow Knox preached to perhaps the most influential audience that the Scotland of that day could furnish; nobles, priests, and townspeople crowding to hear him. Every part of the vast edifice was filled, and not a finger was lifted, nor a word uttered, to stop him. He preached on the cleansing of the Temple of old, picturing the crowd of buyers and sellers who were busy trafficking in that holy place, when One entered, whose awful glance, rather than the scourge of cords which he carried, smote with terror the unholy crew, and drove them forth a panic-stricken crowd. The preacher then called up before his hearers a

yet greater crowd of traffickers, occupied in a yet unholier merchandise, therewith defiling, with immeasurably greater pollutions and abominations, the New Testament temple. As he described the corruptions which had been introduced into the Church under the Papacy — the great crowd of simonists, pardon-mongers, sellers of relics and charms, exorcists, and traffickers in the bodies and souls of men, with the sin and shame and ruin that followed — his eye began to burn, his words grew graphic and trenchant, the tones of his righteous yet terrible reproof rung out louder and fiercer, and rolled over the heads of the thousands gathered around him, till not a heart but quaffed under the solemn denunciations. It seemed as if past ages were coming up for trial; as if mitred abbots and bishops were leaving their marble tombs to stand at the judgment-seat; as if the voices of Hamilton, and Wishart, and Mill — nay, as if the voice of a yet Greater were making itself audible by the lips of the preacher. The audience saw as they had never done before the superstitions which had been practiced as religion, and felt the duty to comply with the call which the Reformer urged on all, according to the station and opportunity of each, to assist in removing these abominations out of the Church of God before the fire of the Divine wrath should descend and consume what man refused to put away. When he had ended, and sat down, it may be said that Scotland was reformed.

Knox, though he did not possess the all-grasping, all-subduing intellect of Calvin, nor the many-toned eloquence of Luther, which could so easily rise from the humorous and playful to the pathetic and the sublime, yet, in concentrated fiery energy, and in the capacity to kindle his hearers into indignation, and rouse them to action, excelled both these Reformers. This one sermon in the parish church of St. Andrews, followed as it was by a sermon in the same place on the three consecutive days, cast the die, and determined that the Reformation of Scotland should go forward. The magistrates and townspeople assembled, and came to a unanimous resolution to set up the Reformed worship in the city. The church was stripped of its images and pictures, [5] and the monasteries were pulled down. The example of St. Andrews was quickly followed by many other places of the kingdom. The Protestant worship was set up at Craft, at Cupar, at Lindores, at Linlithgow, at Scone, at Edinburgh and Glasgow. [6]

This was followed by the purgation of the churches, and the demolition of the monasteries. The fabrics pulled down were mostly those in the service of the monks, for it was the cowled portion of the Romish clergy whom the people held in special detestation, knowing that they often did the dishonorable work of spies at the same time that they scoured the country in quest of alms. A loud wail was raised by the priests over the destruction of so much beautiful architecture, and the echoes of that lamentation have come down to our day. But in all righteously indignant mobs there is excess, and however much it may be regretted that their zeal outran their discretion, their motives were good, and the result they helped achieve was enduring peace, progress, and prosperity.

The peace between the queen regent and the Reformers, agreed upon at Perth, was but short-lived. The queen, hearing of the demolition of images and monasteries at St. Andrews, marched with her French soldiers to Cupar-Moor, and put herself in order of battle. The tumult of a mob she held to be the rebellion of a nation, and threatened to chastise it as such. But when the lords of the Congregation advanced to meet her, she fled at their approach, and going round by Stirling, took refuge in Edinburgh. On being followed by the forces of the "Congregation," she quitted the capital, and marched to Dunbar. After a few weeks, learning that the soldiers of the Reformers had mostly returned to their homes, she set out with her foreign army for Leith, and took possession of it. The lords of the Congregation now found themselves between two fires: the queen threatened them on the one side, and the guns of the castle menaced them on the other, and their new levies having left them, they were forced to conclude a treaty by which they agreed to evacuate Edinburgh. The stipulation secured for the citizens the right of worshipping after the Protestant form, and Willock was left with them as their minister. Knox, who had preached in St. Giles's Cathedral, and in the abbey church, had been chosen as pastor by the inhabitants, but he was too obnoxious to Mary of Guise, to be left in her power, and at the earnest request of the; lords of the Congregation he accompanied them when they left the capital. On retiring from Edinburgh the Reformer set out on a preaching-tour, which embraced all the towns of note, and almost all the shires on the south of the Grampian chain.

From the time of his famous sermon in St. Andrews, Knox had been the soul of the movement. The year that followed was one of incessant and Herculean labor. His days were spent in preaching, his nights in writing letters, he roused the country, and he kept it awake. his voice like a great trumpet rang through the land, firing the lukewarm into zeal, and inspiriting the timid into courage. When the friends of the Reformation quarreled, he reconciled and united them. When they sank into despondency he rallied their spirits. He himself never desponded.

Cherishing a firm faith that his country's Reformation would be consummated, he neither sank under labor, nor fell back before danger, nor paused in the efforts he found it necessary every moment to put forth. He knew how precious the hours were, and that if the golden opportunity

were lost it would never return. He appealed to the patriotism of the nobles and citizens. He told them what an ignominious vassalage the Pope and the Continental Powers had prepared for them and their sons, namely, that of hewers of wood and drawers of water to France. He especially explained to them the nature of the Gospel, the pardon, the purity, the peace it brings to individuals, the stable renown it confers on kingdoms; he forecast to them the immense issues that hung upon the struggle. On the one side stood religion, like an angel of light, beckoning Scotland onwards; on the other stood the dark form of Popery, pulling the country back into slavery. The crown was before it, the gulf behind it. Knox purposed that Scotland should win and wear the crown.

The Reformer was declared an outlaw, and a price set upon his head; but the only notice we find him deigning to take of this atrocity of the regent and her advisers, was in a letter to his brother-in-law, in which with no nervous trepidation whatever, but good-humoredly, he remarks that he "had need of a good horse. [7] Not one time less did Knox preach, although he knew that some fanatic, impelled by malignant hate, or the greed of gain, might any hour deprive him of life. The rapidity of his movements, the fire he kindled wherever he came, the light that burst out all over the land — north, south, east, and west — confounded the hierarchy; unused to preach, unskilled in debate, and too corrupt to think of reforming themselves, they could only meet the attack of Knox with loud wailings or impotent threatenings.

A second line of action was forced upon Knox, and one that not only turned the day in favor of the Reformation of Scotland, but ultimately proved a protection to the liberties and religion of England. It was here that the knowledge he had acquired abroad came to his help, and enabled him to originate a measure that saved two kingdoms. Just the year before — that is, in 1558 — Spain and France, as we have previously mentioned, had united their arms to effect the complete and eternal extirpation of Protestantism. The plan of the great campaign — a profounder secret then than now — had been penetrated by Calvin and Knox, who were not only the greatest Reformers, but the greatest statesmen of the age, and had a deeper insight into the politics of Europe than any other men then living.

The plan of that campaign was to occupy Scotland with French troops, reduce it to entire dependency on the French crown, and from Scotland march a French army into England. While France was assailing England on the north, Spain would invade it on the south, put down the Government of Elizabeth, raise Mary Stuart to her throne, and restore the Romish religion in both kingdoms. Knox opened a correspondence with the great statesmen of Elizabeth, in which he explained to them the designs of the Papal Powers, their purpose to occupy Scotland with foreign troops, and having trampled out its religion and liberties, to strike at. England through the side of Scotland. He showed them that the plan was being actually carried out; that Mary of Guise was daily bringing French soldiers into Scotland; that the raw levies of the Reformers would ultimately be worsted by the disciplined troops of France, and that no more patriotic and enlightened policy could England pursue than to send help to drive the French soldiers out of the northern, country; for assuredly, if Scotland was put down, England could not stand, encompassed as she then would be by hostile armies. Happily these counsels were successful. The statesmen of Elizabeth, convinced that this was no Scottish quarrel, but that the liberty of England hung upon it also, and that in no more effectual way could they rear a rampart around their own Reformation than by supporting that of Scotland, sent military aid to the lords of the Congregation, and the result was that the French evacuated Scotland, and the Scots became once more masters of their own country. Almost immediately thereafter, Mary of Guise, the regent of the kingdom, was removed by death, and the government passed into the hands of the Reformers. The way was now fully open for the establishment of the Reformation. It is hardly possible to over-estimate the impotence of the service which Knox rendered. It not only led to the establishment of Protestantism in Scotland, and the perpetuation of it in England; but, in view of the critical condition in which Europe then was, it may indeed with justice be said that it saved the Reformation of Christendom. [8]

The fifteen months which Knox had spent in Scotland had brought the movement to its culminating point. The nation wag ready to throw off the Popish yoke; and when the Estates of the Realm met on the 8th of August, 1560, they simply gave expression to the nation's choice when they authoritatively decreed the suppression of the Romish hierarchy and the adoption of the Protestant faith. A short summary of Christian doctrine had been drawn up by Knox and his colleagues; [9] and being read, article by article, in the Parliament, it was on the 17th of August adopted by the Estates. [10] It is commonly known as the First Scots Confession. [11] Only three temporal lords voted in the negative, saying "that they would believe as their fathers believed." The bishops, who had seats as temporal lords, were silent.

On the 24th of August, Parliament abolished the Pope's jurisdiction; forbade, under certain penalties, [12] the celebration of mass; and rescinded the laws in favor of the Romish Church, and against the Protestant faith. [13]

Thus speedily was the work consummated at last. There are supreme moments in the life of nations, when their destiny is determined for ages.

Such was the moment that had now come to Scotland. On the 17th of August, 1560, the Scotland of the Middle Ages passed away, and a New Scotland had birth — a Scotland destined to be a sanctuary of religion, a temple of liberty, and a fountain of justice, letters, and art. Intently had the issue been watched by the Churches abroad, and when they learned that Scotland had placed itself on the side of Protestant truth, these elder daughters of the Reformation welcomed, with songs of joy, that country which had come, the last of the nations, to share with them their glorious inheritance of liberty.

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Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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