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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 7 — Constitution of the "Kirk" — arrival of Mary stuart

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A Second Battle — Knox's Idea of the Church — Spiritual Independence Essential — Differs from Popish Independence — Calvin demanded a Pure Communion-table; Knox, a Free Assembly — Organization of Scottish "Kirk" — Ministers, Doctors, Elders, and Deacons — Kirk Session — Presbytery, Synod, and Assembly — Knox's Educational Plan — How Defeated — Mary Stuart — Her Accomplishments — Her Beauty — Her Life in France — Her Widow-hood — Invited to Return to Scotland — Sails from France — Arrives at Leith — Enters Holyrood.

Knox had now the sublime satisfaction of thinking that his country was emancipated from the superstition and thralldom of Popery, and illumined in no small degree with the light of the "Evangel." But not yet had he rest; no sooner had he ended one battle than he had to begin another; and the second battle was in some respects more arduous than the first. He had called the Reformation into being, and now he had to fight to preserve it. But before following him in this great struggle, let us consider those organizations of an ecclesiastical and educational kind which he was called to initiate, and which alone could enable the Reformation to spread itself over the whole land, and transmit itself to after-ages.

Knox's idea of a Church was, in brief, a divinely originated, a divinely enfranchised, and a divinely governed society. Its members were all those who made profession of the Gospel; its law was the Bible, and its King was Christ. The conclusion from these principles Knox did not hesitate to avow and carry out, that the Church was to be governed solely by her own law, administered by her own officers, whose decisions and acts in all things falling within the spiritual and ecclesiastical sphere were to be final.

This freedom he held to be altogether essential to the soundness of the Church's creed, the purity of her members, and that vigor and healthfulness of operation without which she could not subserve those high ends which she had been ordained to fulfil to society. This independence he was careful to confine to the spiritual sphere; in all other matters the ministers and members of the Church were to be subject to the civil law of their country. He thus distinguished it from the independence of the Romish Church, which claimed for its clergy exemption from the civil tribunals, and exalted its jurisdiction above the power of the crown. The beginning of this theory was with Wicliffe; Calvin developed it; but in a little city like Geneva, where the same persons nearly composed both the Church and the State, it was neither very easy nor very necessary to draw the line between the two jurisdictions. The power of admitting or excluding members from the Communion-table was all that Calvin had demanded; and he had a hard battle to fight before he could obtain it; but having won it, it gave a century of glory to the Church of Geneva. Knox in Scotland had more room for the development of all that is implied in the idea of a Church with her own law, her own government, and her own monarch. An independent government in things spiritual, but rigidly restricted to things spiritual, was the root-idea of Knox's Church organization. Knox hinged this independence on another point than that on which Calvin rested it. Calvin said, "Take from us the purity of the Communion-table, and you take from us the Evangel." Knox said, "Take from us the freedom of Assemblies, and you take from us the Evangel." It was, however, the same battle on another fold: the contest in both cases had for its object the freedom of the Church to administer her own laws, without which she could exist for no useful end.

A few sentences will enable us to sketch the Church organization which Knox set up. Parliament had declared Protestantism to be the faith of the nation: Knox would make it so in fact. The orders of ecclesiastical men instituted by him were four — 1st, Ministers, who preached to a congregation; 2nd, Doctors, who expounded Scripture to the youth in the seminaries and universities; 3rd, Elders, who were associated with the minister in ruling, though not in teaching, the congregation; and, 4th, Deacons, who managed the finance, and had the care of the poor. In every parish was placed a minister; but as the paucity of ministers left many places without pastoral instruction meanwhile, pious persons were employed to read the Scriptures and the common prayers; and if such gave proof of competency, they were permitted to supplement their reading of the Scriptures with a few plain exhortations. Five Superintendents completed the ecclesiastical staff, and their duty was to travel through their several districts, with the view of planting Churches, and inspecting the conduct of ministers, readers, and exhorters. [1]

The government of the Church, Knox regarded as hardly second to her instruction, believing that the latter could not preserve its purity unless the other was maintained in its rigor. First came the Kirk Session, composed of the minister and elders, who managed the affairs of the congregation; next came the Presbytery, formed by the delegation of a minister and elder from every congregation within the shire; above it was the Synod, constituted by a minister and elder from each congregation within the province, and having, like the court below it, power to decide on all causes arising within its bounds. Last of all came the General Assembly, which was constituted of a certain number of delegates from every Presbytery. This scheme gave to every member of the Church, directly or indirectly, a voice fix her government; it was a truly popular rule, but acting only through constitutional channels, and determining all cases by the laws of Scripture.

In the lowest court the laity greatly outnumbered the ministers; in all the others the two were equal. This gradation of Church power, which had its bases

in the Kirk Sessions distributed all over the land, found its unity in the General Assembly; and the concentrated wisdom and experience of the whole Church were thus available for the decision of the weightiest causes.

The Reformer no more overlooked the general tuition of the people than he did their indoctrination in the faith. He sketched a scheme of education more, complete and thorough than any age or country had ever yet been privileged to enjoy. He proposed that a school should be planted in every parish, that a college should be erected in every notable town, and a university established in the three chief cities of Scotland. [2] He demanded that the nobility and gentry should send their sons to these seminaries at their own expense, and that provision should be made for the free education of the entire youth of the humbler classes, so that not a child in all Scotland but should be thoroughly instructed, and the path of all departments of knowledge and the highest offices of the State opened to every one who had inclination or talent for the pursuit. Such was the scheme proposed by Knox in the First Book of Discipline. In order to carry it out, the Reformer proposed that the funds set free by the fall of the Romish Church, after due provision for the dismissed incumbents, should be divided into three parts, and that one-third should go to the support of the Protestant Church, another to the endowment of the schools and colleges, and the remaining portion to the support of the deserving poor. Could these funds have been devoted to worthier objects? Was there any class in the country who had a prior or a stronger claim upon them? How then came it that a third only of the revenues of the fallen establishment was given to these objects, and that the munificent scheme of Knox was never carried out, and to this day remains unrealized?

The answer of history to this question is that the nobles rapaciously seized upon these lands and heritages, and refused to disgorge their plunder. The disappointment must have been unspeakably bitter to the great patriot who devised the plan: but while disgusted at the greed which had tendered it frustrate, he places his scheme sorrowfully on record, as if to challenge future ages to produce anything more perfect.

Had the grand and patriotic device of Knox been fully carried out, Scotland would have rivaled, it may be eclipsed, the other kingdoms of Europe, in the number of its educational institutions, and in the learning of its sons. As it was, an instantaneous impulse was given to all its energies, intellectual and industrial. Learning and art began to flourish, where for four centuries previously nothing had prospered save hierarchic pride and feudal tyranny. And if Scotland has attained no mean rank among the nations despite the partial and crippled adoption of the Reformer's plan, how much more brilliant would have been its place, and how much longer the roll of illustrious names which it would have been to letters and science, to the senate, the army, and the State, had the large-hearted plan of Knox been in operation during the three following centuries?

The Reformer was yet smarting from the avariciousness of those who preferred the filling of their purses and the aggrandizing of their families to the welfare and grandeur of their country, when another powerful adversary stood up in his path. This new opponent sought to strip him of all the fruits of his labor, by plucking up by the very roots the ecclesiastical and educational institutions he had just planted in Scotland.

On the 19th of August, 1561, Mary Stuart arrived at Holyrood from France. There are few names in Scottish history that so powerfully fascinate to this day as that of Mary Stuart. She could have been no common woman to have taken so firm a hold upon the imaginations of her countrymen, and retained it so long. Great qualities she must have possessed, and did no doubt possess. Her genius was quick and penetrating; she was an adept in all field exercises, more particularly those of riding and hunting; she was no less skilled in the accomplishments of her age. She was mistress of several languages, and was wont, when she lived in France, to share with her husband, Francis II, the cares of State, and to mingle in the deliberations of the Cabinet. In person she was tall and graceful: the tradition of her beauty, and of the fascination of her manners, has come down to our days. Had Mary Stuart known to choose the better part, had she taken the side of her country's religion and liberty, she might, with her many valuable and brilliant qualities, her wit, her penetration, her courage, her capacity for affairs, her power of awakening affection and winning homage, have been one of the happiest of women, and one of the best of sovereigns. But these great faculties, Perverted by a sinister influence, led her first of all into hurtful follies, next into mean deceptions and debasing pleasures, then into dark intrigues, and at of last into bloody crimes. The sufferings of Mary Stuart have passed into a proverb. Born to a throne, yet dying as a felon: excelling all the women of her time in the grace of her person and the accomplishments of her mind, and yet surpassing them in calamity and woe as far as she did in beauty and talent! Unhappy in her life — every attempt to retrieve her fallen fortunes but sank her the deeper in guilt; and equally unhappy in death, for whenever the world is on the point of forgetting a life from the odiousness of which there is no escape but in oblivion, there comes forward, with a certainty almost fated — the Nmesis, one might say, of Mary Stuart — an apologist to rehearse the sad story over again, and

to fix the memory of her crimes more indelibly than ever in the minds of men.

It is at the tragic death-bed of her father, James V, in the palace of Falkland, that we first hear the name of Mary Stuart. A funeral shadow rests above her natal hour. She was born on the 8th of December, 1542, in the ancient palace of Linlithgow. The infant had seen the light but a few days when, her father dying, she succeeded to the crown. While only a girl of six years of age, Mary Stuart was sent to France, accompanied by four young ladies of family, all of her own age, and all bearing the same name with their royal mistress, and known in history as the "Queen's Maries."

Habituated to the gallantry and splendor of the French court, her love of gaiety was fostered into a passion; and her vanity and self-will were strengthened by the homage constantly paid to her personal charms. Under the teaching of her uncles, the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine, she contracted a blind attachment to the religion of Rome, and an equally blind detestation of the faith of her future subjects. So had passed the youth of Mary Stuart. It is hardly possible to conceive a course of training that could have more unfitted her to occupy the throne of a Protestant nation, and that nation the Scots.

Fortune seemed to take a delight in tantalizing her. A mishap in the tournament field suddenly raised her to the throne of France. She had hardly time to contemplate the boundless prospect of happiness which appeared to be opening to her on the throne of a powerful, polished, and luxurious nation, when she was called to descend from it by the death of her husband. It was now that the invitation reached her to return to her native country and assume its government. No longer Queen of France, Mary Stuart turned her face towards the northern land which had given her birth. She set sail from Calais on the 15th of August, 1561. The anguish that wrung her heart in that hour it is easy to conceive, and impossible not to sympathize with. She was leaving a land where the manners of the people were congenial to her tastes, where the religion was dear to her heart, and where the years as they glided past brought her only new pleasures and brighter splendors. Mary took her stand on the deck of the vessel that was bearing, her slowly away, and fixed her eyes on the receding shores of France. The sun sank in the ocean; the shades of evening descended; but the queen made her couch be placed on the vessel's deck.

The morning dawned: Mary was still there, gazing in the direction of the shore, which was still in sight. But now a breeze springing up, she was quickly borne away into the North Sea. "Farewell," said she, as the land sank finally beneath the wave, "farewell, happy France! I shall nevermore see thee." [3]

The queen arrived at Leith on the 19th of August. The citizens, who had not reckoned on the voyage being completed in four days, were not prepared to receive her, and they had to extemporize a cavalcade of ponies to convey their queen to the palace of Holyrood. This simplicity could be no agreeable surprise to the young sovereign. Nature seemed as much out of unison with the event as man. It had dressed itself in somber shadows when Mary was about to step upon the ancient Scottish shore. A dull vapor floated over-head. [4] The shores, islands, and bold rocky prominences that give such grandeur to the Frith of Forth were wholly hidden; a gray mist covered Arthur Seat, and shed a cold cheerless light upon the city which lay stretched out at its feet. Edinburgh, which in romantic beauty throws even the Paris of today into the shade, was then by no means imposing, and needed all the help which a bright sun could give it; and the region around it, which in our times much excels in rich and careful cultivation the country around the French capital, must then to an eye accustomed to the various fruitage of France have looked neglected and wild; for the principle from which were to spring all the marvels which now adorn this same spot had not yet had time to display its plastic energy. Nevertheless, despite this conjunction of untoward circumstances, which made Mary's arrival so unlike the first entrance of a sovereign into the capital of her dominions, the demonstrations of the people were loyal and hearty, and the youthful queen looked really pleased, as surrounded by her Scottish nobles and her French attendants, and dressed in widow's weeds, she passed in under those gray towers, which were destined to wear from this day the halo of a tragic interest in all coming time.


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Wednesday, December 12th, 2018
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