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The Second Reformation of Scotland: An Overview of Scottish Presbyterian History - Part Five

L. Anthony Curto

In the previous installment, Queen Mary had abdicated her throne (1567) to be filled by regents until her son James VI assumed it in 1587. Knox's spiritual successor, Andrew Melville, soon came into conflict with King James's absolutism. Tensions between James and the Presbyterians eased for a while following the re-establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland (1592), but were soon ignited again when James ascended the English throne in 1603, thereafter exiling many leading Presbyterians (including Melville) and re-imposing the rule of bishops. King James bequeathed his son Charles I a kingdom tensing for a fight.

A New Liturgy for Scotland

In 1625, Charles I assumed the throne of his father, James VI. Charles was like his father in many ways. Most importantly he shared his father's belief in the divine right of kings. Charles was a thorough-going Anglo-Catholic who despised the Puritans both religiously and politically. He was married to Henrietta Maria, daughter of Henry IV of France, who appears to have exercised tremendous influence upon her husband. She was a devout Roman Catholic and surrounded herself with Roman Catholic counselors concerned with their own schemes within the King's court.[1]

The Scottish people at first believed that the new king would be an improvement over his father, since James had created a sharp division between the people and the crown. Even though James believed he knew "the stomach" of the Scottish people (a phrase James used to tell Archbishop Laud that he understood what made the Scottish people tick), he was a despot who alienated the people through his circuitous dealings.[2]

In turn, Charles I wanted complete control of both the church and state, and this desire lead him, in his inaugural year 1625, to make one the most serious lapses of his reign. Charles I imposed the Act of Revocation. This act reclaimed for the crown all Church land given to the nobles since 1542. By this act Charles came into conflict with the Lords who held ancient church properties erected into temporal lordships and the nobles who now were suspicious of his every move.[3]

Charles I finally came to Scotland in 1635 to be crowned King of Scotland, nearly ten years after he had succeeded his father. The coronation was to take place at the Church of Holyrood. William Laud, the king's chief advisor for ecclesiastical affairs, accompanied the king to organize the ceremonial events. The city of Edinburgh was delighted over the series of events, and the king aimed to favor them for this response. At the prompting of a petition from the Archbishop of St. Andrews, Charles created a new bishopric of Edinburgh. Now Edinburgh became an episcopal city with its own bishop and St. Giles Church became a cathedral.[4]

As if this were not enough to raise the ire of the Scottish Presbyterians, Charles went on to push them even further. The Book of Common Order was distasteful to the King. So when many of the Bishops provided the king with a Book of Canons for his consideration, Charles passed this draft onto Laud asking him to revise it so that it would "be well fitted for Church government, and as near as conveniently may be to the Canons of the Church of England."[5] Laud's revision of the work was called Canons and Constitution Ecclesiastical and appeared in 1636. Charles approved it at once and ordained that it should be observed by clergy and all whom it concerned. These canons set forth an office of deacon and calls church ministers "presbyters," but there is no mention of elders, church sessions, presbyteries or a general assembly.

Even more, shortly after the new canons appeared, Laud under the direction of Charles, issued a book of common prayer. Though the text aimed to be the Scottish Book of Common Prayer, it was generally known as "Laud's Liturgy." Charles wanted the English prayer book accepted without change but was advised that a Scottish prayer book might win him some support.

Obviously, these actions did not please many in Scotland. Some Scots were willing to go along with these alterations as long as Charles would have them ratified by a General Assembly, but other believers resisted these alterations to the point of death. These who resisted were the spiritual heirs of Knox and Melville and would lead the Scottish people in what has come to be called the "Second Reformation of Scotland."

Days of Spiritual Refreshing

The years of 1625-1638 were oppressively bleak, but they were also years in which the Spirit of God moved in amazing ways. Under the preaching and ministering of such men as David Dickson, John Livingstone, Robert Bruce, and Alexander Henderson, God blessed His people with extraordinary times of spiritual refreshing.

David Dickson

David Dickson was ordained to the ministry and began to serve the Lord in the town of Irvine in 1618. It appears that Dickson was not settled in his mind at this time about the question of Episcopacy. When "The Articles of Perth"[6] were imposed by James VI, he began to seriously search the Scriptures on the matter. Through this study, he became convinced of Presbyterianism and when an illness brought him close to death, he began to preach openly against Episcopacy.[7] In January of 1622, Dickson was summoned to appear before the High Commission of Scotland for his teaching. After a trial, he was given the choice to recant Presbyterianism or be banished from his ministry at Irvine. The Archbishop of St. Andrews was so incensed at Dickson's attitude at the meeting that he rebuked Dickson: "These men will speak of humility and meekness, and talk of the Spirit of God, but ye are led by the spirit of the devil; there is more pride in you, I dare say, than in all the Bishops of Scotland."[8] What the Archbishop mistook as pride, however, was really Dickson's resolve and fortitude to serve Christ faithfully. He was ordered to be out of Irvine in twenty days.

From this time until July of 1623, Dickson was not allowed in Irvine. Due to the constant intercession of the Earl of Eglinton and the town of Irvine, Dickson was finally allowed to return to his pulpit until the King would rule otherwise. It was at this time that God's singular care was placed upon Dickson's ministry. Multitudes from all over Scotland came to Irvine to hear this man of God preach. In fact, so many were convicted and converted that the vintage of Irvine in Dickson's time was said to be nothing less than the gleanings of Ayr in Mr. Welch's time, where the Gospel triumphed in conviction, conversion, and confirmation.[9] Even more blessed than his Lord's day administrations was his week-day sermon in Irvine's market place. Satan tried to thwart this work by leading some into unbridled enthusiasm. Yet the Lord gave Dickson great wisdom and enabled him to withstand such unbridled enthusiasm and instead direct the revival so as to produce solid and serious Christianity among his listeners at Irvine.[10] Even under the persecution of Episcopacy and the King, Scottish Presbyterianism continued to flourish.

John Livingstone

John Livingstone had been a Christian as long as he could remember. As a boy, he found that communion seasons were a special blessing to him. At his first communion, Livingstone writes that as he sat down at he table "there came such a trembling upon me that all my body shook, yet thereafter the fear departed, and I got some comfort and assurance."[11] Livingstone was ordained in 1625 and almost immediately came under severe persecution, which required him to travel from place to place to work for the Savior. During this time he was invited to preach at many churches and was especially used to preach at communion services in Lanark, Irvine, Newmilns and Kinniel.[12]

Notably, in June of 1630 he was invited to proclaim God's Word at the communion services of the Kirk of Shotts. He had been there before and particularly liked the congregation. He was to preach at the Monday service following the Communion Sabbath. He had spent the night before with some fellow laborers in prayer asking for God's blessing, but when morning came, he believed he could not preach. He was so over-burdened with his own unworthiness and dread of the people that he wanted only to flee and be gone. Yet he could not desert his Master's call for he "durst not so far distrust God...."[13] He went to preach that morning and was powerfully anointed by the Holy Spirit as he taught from Exodus 36:25 -- "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you." Livingstone preached that day for about more than an hour and claimed to have an unction Holy Spirit as he had never had before. In his own account he writes, "I was led on about one hour's time in one strain of exhortation and warning, with such liberty and melting of heart as I never had the like in publick all my life."[14] The windows of heaven had truly been opened. No less than five hundred persons were convicted and converted showing forth true change of life with real evangelical repentance.

The following Monday, he was to preach at Irvine but felt as if he had been so deserted by God that he decided to never preach again, but Dickson persuaded him otherwise, and the following Sabbath he once again was able to preach with freedom.[15] News travelled quickly about what had happened at the Kirk of Shotts. Almost immediately Livingstone was invited by Viscount Clanniboy to come to North Ireland and take a call to the Scottish mission of Killinchie. Livingstone took the call for about one year, until he was suspended, along with Robert Blair, for non-conformity.

Robert Bruce

In 1587, Andrew Melville knew that the proper man to follow James Lawson in the pulpit of the Church of Edinburgh was Robert Bruce. The General Assembly agreed and forthwith initiated the ministry of one who would cause the rising and falling of many in Scotland. Robert Bruce would minister in the Church of Scotland until his death in 1631. During his life, he encountered both James VI and Charles I, who knew that this man was surely one to be seriously reckoned with. He was a man of public spirit and a heroic mind. [16] It was Robert Bruce who, for the Council of Regency in 1584, secured the vow of James VI to be a good husband and king. His greatest legacy to the church was his preaching ministry. Living through tumultuous times, he was called upon to be at the helm of the great master ship.

Bruce was a great man of prayer, and many admirers describe him as a faithful "wrestler" with God. People from all over Scotland would come so that this man of God could pray for them. It is even said that those who had incurable diseases were healed as a result of this man's praying for them. [17] At a point near the end of his life, Bruce prayed for the Scottish ministers, and a Mr. Wemyss of Lathocker reports "O how strange a man is this, for he knocked down the Spirit of God upon us all! This is said because Bruce in the time of that prayer, diverse times knocked with his fingers on the Table."[18]

In August of 1631 Bruce was very elderly and weak in body. At breakfast one morning having eaten his normal portion of eggs, he asked his daughter for more. As she went to prepare it, he called her to wait for his master was calling. After a short time of meditation he asked his daughter to get his Bible and open it to Romans 8. Having read the chapter he turned to his family and said "Now God be with you, my children; I have breakfasted with you, and shall now sup with my Lord Jesus Christ this night." He died shortly thereafter.

Alexander Henderson

Robert Bruce was an Elijah to Scotland and in his passing God was pleased to raise another, Alexander Henderson, to take his place. Bruce knew this man and, in fact, had been the instrument in God's hand for Henderson's conversion. In 1615, the young Henderson was appointed as minister at Leuchars in the shire of Fife (this was a small village about six miles northeast of St. Andrews). He was an unconverted man and one who held to Episcopacy. The people of Leuchars did not want him to be their pastor. Robert Bruce had many times preached to these people and they had been soundly converted and did not want a hireling in their church. One morning when the young man was to arrive, the people locked all the doors so that he could not enter. The youth, annoyed and disgruntled, persisted and found an unlatched window by which to enter. Scarcely anyone came to hear him preach, though he still received his stipend anyway.

A while later news came that Robert Bruce would be preaching nearby at a communion service in the Church of Forgan. This young preacher decided to go and investigate as to why his congregation found this man so engaging. Henderson stole his way into the back of the church so as not to be seen. In a short time Robert Bruce came to the pulpit, and looking around the congregation, he hesitated to begin preaching. When Bruce finally began, he read his text, John 10:1, -- "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." This sermon hit young Henderson like a thunderbolt from heaven. The sermon was so searching and unsettling that Henderson attributes it to be his point of saving conversion. Thomas McCrie, the Scottish historian, writes "[h]e worshipped God and going away, reported that God was of a truth in those whose ways were so opposite to his own." [19] With a spiritual beginning similar to the Apostle Paul, and a mantle passed as spokesman for the Church of Scotland, Alexander Henderson would become "Chief of the Covenant."[20]

The Second Reformation of Scotland

By 1607, King James VI had once again reversed the church from Presbyterianism to Episcopacy by refusing to call a General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and by forming a puppet parliament to carry out his wishes. When, in 1610, he felt that he had firm control, James finally called a General Assembly. This carefully orchestrated assembly fell right into line with the King's Episcopal wishes. The next General Assembly would not occur until 1616, after Alexander Henderson had been converted and espoused Presbyterian principles.

Henderson attended this assembly of 1616 as a representative of the Presbytery of St. Andrews. He was given opportunity to publicly declare his new allegiance to Presbyterianism, and the King now realized that he had a formidable opponent in this young man.

The subsequent assembly of 1618, held at Perth, was much more controversial since it, by means of the Articles of Perth, once again imposed degenerate (English) forms of worship into the Scottish church (as discussed in the previous installment in this series). These events inaugurated a struggle that would last for the next twenty years into the reign of Charles I.

Henderson was the leading spokesman for a minority group of Presbyterians at this assembly. As a result of his firm opposition and criticism of the Perth assembly, he and two others were charged with treason before the High Commission of St. Andrews. But because there was not enough evidence to convict these men of seditious acts, they were acquitted.

Some months later in St. Andrews, the Bishops and some preachers who refused to submit to the Perth articles held a debate. Henderson emerged as the chief spokesman of the group and vowed that he would not submit to the article because of his allegiance to King Jesus.

In 1621 James VI once again renewed his attack on all who opposed him, but this attack did not since he died four years later. Charles I, as we have seen, picked up where his father left off. This was especially true with regard to Henderson. In 1627 Charles I sought to demand that all ministers adhere to the Perth Articles. Henderson was unyielding, and at a conference in Edinburgh in 1627, he publicly came forward to stand for the truth of God's Word regarding this issue in the face of great mortal danger. Many at this time tried to get Henderson to take a pulpit at more influential churches in Scotland. Henderson refused to do so because of his great love for the people at Leuchars.

When, in 1635, Charles I and William Laud came to Scotland and tried to impose the new form of worship upon the Church of Scotland, it was evident that the day for peaceful change had passed. Henderson was ready for the occasion. The King had finally determined that on July 23, 1637 all Scottish congregations were to follow the Laudian order under penalty of death. The Scottish people assembled to withstand such an usurpation of authority. At St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, the people filled the church to standing room only. When the new book was introduced, it is reported that one Jenny Geddes stood and flung her stool at the Bishop saying "Villain, dost thou says mass at my lug [ear]?"[21] The congregation bursted into an uproar and the war had begun.

Everyone looked to Henderson. Samuel Rutherford wrote to him at this time: "[a]s for your cause, my reverend and dearest brother, ye are the talk of the north and south; and looked to, so as if ye were all crystal glass. Your notes and dust would soon be proclaimed, and trumpets blown at your slips; but I know that ye have laid help upon One that is mighty....God hath called you to Christ's side, and the wind is now in Christ's face in the land; and seeing ye are with him, ye can not expect the lee-side or the sunny side of the brae....Let us pray for one another. He who hath made you a chosen arrow in His quiver and hide you in the hollow of His hand." [22]

Taking this exhortation to heart, Henderson, along with some leading men, sent a supplication to the King asking that the new liturgy be suspended. The King's reply was that all Presbyters in St. Andrews must buy and use the new liturgy within 15 days or suffer the consequences. Henderson openly refused saying he would buy the book but would not promise to it use in worship.

Henderson also filed a protest with the Privy Council to suspend the order because the book had not been approved by the General Assembly or the Scottish parliament. The Privy Council upheld his appeal and now Henderson would stand face to face with the King.

The King would not give into this "rebellious" Scotsman, and ordered, on October 17 1637, that all who refused to comply with the liturgy at once be found guilty of treason. In response, Henderson and his colleagues drafted a formal complaint and sent it to the Petitioners of Scotland. Not only did they ask that the new liturgy be suspended but also that the Bishops who enforced it be tried for sedition by putting forth demands beyond their authority over the Scottish people. The Petitioners pressured the Privy Council to take further action to address the grievances. They did so by appointing four tables consisting of nobles, the gentry, ministers and the burgesses. Each table was to have four members for a total of sixteen.[23] The table of ministers consisted of David Dickson, Alexander Henderson, Archibald Warriston, and John Loudon.

The King was outraged by the acts of the Privy Council and declared that they were all traitors. Charles I also sent the Marquis of Hamilton as a commissioner to Scotland. He did this so as to give himself time to prepare for war north of the border.

Alexander knew he had to rally Scotland for the coming storm. He did this by calling for a renewal of the National Covenant. On February 25, a day of mourning was called for Scotland to lament their unfaithfulness to the original National Covenant. On the 27th, the National Covenant was presented to the people. February 28th was the day fixed for signing the National Covenant at Greyfriars Church, and on that day, multitudes of people assembled for hours to sign their names to the document, some even signing it in blood. The National Covenant was sent around Scotland so that all who desired to sign it could do so. It was then sent to the King to read, who when he received it called it a "damnable covenant" and refused to read it.[24]

The King did not have time to make war preparations as he had hoped -- the Marquis of Hamilton had failed. Charles was now forced to call a General Assembly which was to meet at the Cathedral of Glasgow in November 1638. Henderson was elected Moderator. The Marquis of Hamilton called for the Assembly to adjourn in the King's name, but Henderson turned to the delegates to seek a vote, stating "all who are present, know how much power we allow to our sovereign in matters ecclesiastical."[25] The General Assembly voted to continue. The Glasgow Assembly reversed the work of all the General Assemblies since 1603. It also declared that the Episcopal form of Government was not consistent with the confessions of the Church of Scotland. It once again established Presbyterianism as the church government of Scotland and called for a complete reformation of the whole church in the realm. Scotland had once again been victorious. The Second Reformation was now underway. Alexander Henderson's parting words to the General Assembly, on December 20, 1638, were "[w]e have now cast down the walls of Jericho; let him that rebuildeth them beware of the curse of Hiel the Bethelite." [26]


Notes

[1] J.H.S. Burleigh, A Church History of Scotland (London: Oxford Univesity Press, 1973) p. 210.

[2] Hector Macpherson, Scotland's Battle for Spiritual Independence (Ediburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1905) pp. 81-82.

[3] Burleigh, History, p. 210.

[4] Ibid, pp. 211-213.

[5] Ibid, p. 213.

[6] See Antithesis Vol. 1 Number 4, p. 13.

[7] J. Howie, The Scots Worthies (Ediburgh: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1775) p. 284.

[8] Ibid, p. 290.

[9] Ibid. p. 291.

[10] Ibid. p. 292.

[11] Alexander Smellie, Men of the Covenant (Edingurgh: Banner of Truth, 1975) p. 121.

[12] Howie, Worthies, p. 369.

[13] Smellie, Covenant, p. 121.

[14] Ibid. p. 122.

[15] Howie, Worthies, p. 370.

[16] Ibid, p. 144.

[17] Ibid, p. 148.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Marcus L. Loane, Makers of Puritan History (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980) p. 21.

[20] Ibid, p. 15.

[21] J.C. McFerters, Sketches of the Covenanters (Philadelphia: Second Church of the Covenanters, N.D.) pp. 77-78.

[22] Loane, Makers, p. 28.

[23] Ibid, p. 31.

[24] Ibid, p. 35.

[25] Ibid. p. 38.

[26] Ibid, p. 39.


Tony Curto is a pastor of Covenant Community Church, a Doctor of Ministry Candidate at Westminswter Theological Seminary, California, and a senior editor of Antithesis.
Copyright © by Covenant Community Church of Orange County 1991
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