SCOTLAND and THE COVENANT (1625-1688)
The death of James was probably cause for rejoicing amongst the reformers, but they would have been rejoicing for another reason – revival had come to Scotland. For the details of the Stewarton Revival of 1625 see this website. It probably went on for a few years, but the scope of it is unknown. The Kirk O’Shotts Revival of 1630 can also be found on this website. Although it only lasted a couple of days, its influence spread around the Clydesdale area.
Unfortunately for the citizens of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland, Charles was his father’s son. James had left behind him a book called ‘Basilicon Doron’ which laid out his view of government. The two main doctrines were the Divine right of kings; and the anarchical and destructive nature of Presbyterianism. James wrote, ‘Monarchy, is the true pattern of the Divinity; kings sit upon God's throne on the earth; their subjects are not permitted to make any resistance but by flight.’
When a deputation of the Scottish ministers waited upon Charles to urge the relaxation or withdrawal of the Articles of Perth, they found that not only had he grown up in love with all the ceremonial and ritual of the English Church, but that he had inherited in full his father's despotic ideas, and that like him he was determined that his personal will should be the determining principle in the government both of Church and State. Instead of listening to the grievances of the ministers, the young king wrote to Archbishop Spottiswoode to proclaim publicly that he was determined that the ordinances and injunctions of his father with regard to church policy and forms of worship should be strictly carried out. The bishops were now in a position to assert their most extravagant claims without restraint. They had no longer the check of General Assemblies. No one could obtain admission to any office of trust unless the bishops certified him as one who had conformed to the Episcopal government of the Church. Even the Town Council of Edinburgh was ordered by the king to elect only such magistrates as had agreed to the Articles of Perth.
Charles was prepared to go even further than his father. He nominated some of the Scottish bishops to the highest offices of state, and assigned to the Court of High Commission, in which four of the bishops sat, an authority to fine and imprison in the most arbitrary way without any proper legal process.
A further worrying development was Charles’ marriage to Henrietta Maria, daughter of the king of France. Charles promised her that she and her household could practise Roman Catholicism and that she could bring their children up in that faith until they were thirteen. She arrived with a bishop, twenty nine priests and four hundred attendants. A secret treaty said that Roman Catholics would not be persecuted. This would all have been looked on by the Protestants as a considerable threat to them.
In 1628 there was a meeting of conforming and non-conforming ministers to try to sort out the differences between them. There was a general acknowledgement that half the people of Edinburgh did not go to communion in 1627, so the ministers agreed to petition Charles to allow people to take communion without kneeling as this was one of the main reason for people not taking communion. The king was angry at the ministers and refused point blank. The following year communion was held with some kneeling, some standing and some sitting; confusion reigned.
Archbishop Laud was an Armenian and did all he could to erase Calvinism from the colleges and the pulpits. He was the main adviser to the king; a convinced Episcopalian who was more Catholic than Anglican. Some good men left Scotland rather than bow the knee to Laud. One of these was Robert Blair, who was a professor at the University of Glasgow. When a new Principal arrived who supported the new doctrines and Episcopacy, he left for Ireland where he soon became involved in a revival (see this website) there.
Scotland was different from England in that the preservation of the people’s freedom was done through the Church (Kirk) rather than through Parliament. All these rules that prevented ministers having a voice, putting them under the complete control of the bishops, meant that the freedoms of the people were attacked. The king, ignoring the presbytery and the assembly, and assuming that the Presbyterian system did not exist, imposed a new liturgy in place of Knox's Liturgy or the Book of Common Order. It was the composition of archbishop Laud, and in several respects it was distinctly more hierarchical than the authorised books of the English Church. The new Service Book had more than a smattering of Roman Catholic doctrine; in fact some words were taken directly from the mass. The 23rd of July, 1637, was fixed on for beginning the use of the new Service Book.
Those who had grown up after the Reformation saw this as returning to the days of Roman Catholicism. Everything that had been fought for: through the death of the Martyrs, the banishment of reformed ministers, the persecution of many; seemingly looked lost. Some of the Scottish bishops knew the mood of the people and advised Charles to hold back for a while, but they were told that the liturgy had to be enforced.
The first instance of the introduction of the new Liturgy was at St Giles, Edinburgh. There was a vast crowd both inside and outside the church as the dean went into the pulpit to start the service. As he began people cried out from every direction, and one threw her stool at him. The dean was frightened, so he fled. The bishop thought that the people would give him greater respect, so he went up to start the service, but he was greeted with even louder shouts, including, ‘A Pope – a Pope – Antichrist! Pull him down!’ He managed to escape and was escorted home by magistrates. These outbursts were the only way the citizens could express their feelings about their liberties being taken away. The Privy Council wrote to the king to tell him of the true feeling of the Scots, but as usual Charles would not listen to anyone questioning his divine majesty and responded by insisting on the Liturgy being enforced, saying that it was treason for anyone to oppose it. This was all that was needed to rouse the Scots. Noblemen, gentlemen and burgesses flocked from all the cities and shires of the Lowlands to Edinburgh, to concert united action.
There were four committees; one of nobles, one of barons, one for the boroughs and one for the Church, and they all put forward recommendations to a General Committee. There were attempts to divide them, so it was decided to renew the National Covenant of Scotland that had been signed so many years ago. They promised and swore, ‘all the days of our life constantly to adhere unto and to defend the true religion; and to labor by all means lawful to recover the purity and liberty of the Gospel as it was established and professed before the introduction of the late innovations; and that we shall defend the same, and resist all these contrary errors and corruption, according to our vocation, and to the utmost of that power which God hath put into our hands, all the days of our life.’ The Covenant further pledged its swearers to support ‘the king's majesty, and one another, in the defence and preservation of the aforesaid true religion, liberties, and laws of the kingdom.’ It was signed March 1st, 1638 in the graveyard of St Giles, Edinburgh.
The people came to church to sign the Covenant, several signing it with their blood. This appears to have sparked off a significant revival in Scotland. Robert Fleming in his ‘Fulfilling of the Scriptures’ wrote a little over thirty years later, ‘the Lord let forth much of the Spirit on his people, when this nation solemnly entered into covenant; the spirits of men were raised and wrought on by the word, the ordinances were lively and longed after, for then the nation owned the Lord, and was visibly owned by him; much zeal and an enlarged heart appeared for the public cause, personal reformation was seriously set about, and there was a remarkable spirit that attended the actings of his people which astonished their adversaries, and forced many of them to feign subjection. Alas! how is our night come on, for the Lord has in anger covered the face of the daughter of Zion with a dark cloud! Since the land was engaged by covenant to the Lord in these late times, what a solemn outletting of the Spirit has been seen; a large harvest with much of the fruit of the Gospel discernible; which has been proved in the bringing thousands to Christ, a part whereof are now in glory, and many yet live who are a visible seal to this truth; of whom I am sure some will not lose the remembrance of those sweet refreshing times which the land for several years enjoyed, when a large blessing, with much of the Spirit and power of God, was felt accompanying the ordinances; if it were expedient to set down circumstances, I could here point at many such remarkable times and places which would clearly demonstrate this.’ (I wish he had.)
North of the Grampians the people were largely Catholic sympathisers, but the rest of the country was generally behind the Covenant. John Spottiswoode, archbishop of St Andrews, who had been the monarchs’ tool for many years to bring Episcopacy in to Scotland, on hearing the news, said that all the work of thirty years had been overturned, and he fled to England where he was to die in the following year. The king realised the difficult situation he was in. He offered concessions, promises and threats, but the Covenanters would not budge from their goal, and Charles knew that they were prepared to back their demands for a free General Assembly and a Parliament with force, so he gave in. The General Assembly was held in Glasgow on November 21st and was the first free assembly to be held in forty years.
Charles sent the Marquis of Hamilton down as commissioner, with instructions what to do if things went against him. He was told that whatever happened, the bishops must remain untouched. The battle between the king and the Assembly turned mainly on the question of the bishops. The Assembly decided to sweep away the king's claim to ecclesiastical supremacy, and along with it the agents by whom he hoped to establish both ecclesiastical and civil supremacy in Scotland. Hamilton strenuously resisted this decision. He was met by the firmness, tact, and eloquence of the moderator, Alexander Henderson. The commissioner promised, protested, and at last shed tears. All was in vain; the Assembly, unmoved, proceeded to depose the bishops, so Hamilton dissolved the meeting.
The crisis was a great one; for the question at issue was not merely whether Scotland should have free Assemblies, but whether it should have free Parliaments, free laws, and free subjects, or whether all these should give way and the king's sole and arbitrary prerogative should come in their place. The king's act dissolving the Assembly was illegal, for neither the constitution nor the law of Scotland gave him supremacy in ecclesiastical affairs; had the Assembly broken up, the king's claim would have been acknowledged and the liberties of the country laid at the feet of the tyrant. Hamilton left, but the Assembly just carried on its business as if nothing had happened. They tried fourteen bishops, who were charged with several moral as well as ecclesiastical errors. The two archbishops and six bishops were excommunicated -- four deposed and two suspended. So the fabric of prelacy which had taken thirty years to build was overturned. The Assembly closed on December 20th, having passed 72 Acts. The historian Kirkland wrote that this time was one of real spiritual awakening in Scotland. They could not help but feel the presence of the Lord among them.
Both sides knew that war was inevitable. Charles demanded money from Parliament to pay for the troops, but many of them were Puritans and in sympathy with the Presbyterians of Scotland, so they refused. Charles got his money instead from the bishops and the Roman Catholics. His army did not perform well and a treaty was soon signed. The following year Charles tried again, with the same result.
Parliament in England was not happy with Charles’ despotic actions, nor those of Laud. The Parliament was full of Puritans who were as concerned about freedom to worship as were the Scots. They were on a head-on collision course that could not be avoided, so civil war was the result. The Scots and the English Protestants had a common cause, so they got together to unite against Charles. The result was the Solemn League and Covenant on August 17th, 1643. Two of those called to draw up the document were Alexander Henderson and Samuel Rutherford, the two pre-eminent Scots of their time. The signatories were still loyal to Charles so long as he acted within the law.
In July 1643 an Assembly met at Westminster to discuss the government and Liturgy of the Church of England. 121 divines met, together with seven guests from Scotland; Henderson, Rutherford, George Gillespie, Robert Baillie, Earl Cassilis, Lord Maitland and Sir Archibald Johnstone. These were all the top men of their field and the results of their labours were the Confession of Faith, the Form of Church Government, the Directory for Public Worship, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. These Acts were afterwards ratified by the Estates in Parliament, and sworn to by all ranks and classes in the kingdom. Scotland laid aside her simple creed, and accepted in its place an elaborate "Confession of Faith," composed by an Assembly of English divines. She put her rudimental catechisms on the shelf, and began to use those of the "Larger and Shorter" which had first seen the light in Henry VII's Chapel! Her "Book of Common Order" no longer regulated her public worship, which was now conducted according to a "Directory," also framed on English soil and by English minds. Scotland was prepared to make compromises to bring a unity of faith with her southern neighbours. England dropped Episcopacy and took up the Presbyterian format created by the Westminster Assembly. This was all Scotland could ask for, but unfortunately it only lasted a while in England, whereas in Scotland it modified the Presbyterianism of John Knox, and stamped it with the mark of Westminster.
The war went badly for Charles and the Presbyterians in England. Oliver Cromwell, who was an Independent, became the dominant force in England, so the Independents took over from the Presbyterians. In the autumn of 1647 Charles signed an ‘Engagement’ with the Parliament of Scotland under which he agreed to give parliamentary sanction to the Solemn League and Covenant, to establish Presbyterianism in England for three years (the royal household being allowed to observe their own form of worship) and to call a meeting of divines at the end of the three years to determine upon a scheme of ecclesiastical polity in accordance with the Word of God. This Engagement split the country. Once again, people who had signed the Covenant had, for political reasons, turned their back on it. The division was generally one between Parliament and the Church. Having signed the document, Hamilton raised an army of 40,000 to attack Cromwell, but he was soundly beaten at Preston; and Hamilton was executed. Argyll raised an army of Covenanters and marched on Edinburgh where he took over the government. He passed an act that excluded from office anyone who supported the Engagement, which unfortunately led to some people claiming support when their heart was not in it, so that they would not be excluded from office.
When it became clear that Charles had lost the war he gave himself up to the Scots, but they had had a lot of experience with the deviousness of Charles, and so they knew they could not trust his word. Anyway, the king would not agree to the Scots terms, which were those agreeing with the English, so they handed him over to Parliament after receiving assurances about his safety. However there were splits in England Cromwell was in control, not Parliament, so the assurances were not worth anything. Charles tried to play one side against the other; promising things to Cromwell while negotiating the opposite with the Scots. In the end Cromwell realised that nothing he said was worth the paper it was written on, so there was only one solution; the king was executed on January 30th, 1649.
On news of the death of Charles the church and state in Scotland set about finding a successor to the throne. They did not approve of England’s anti-monarchial stance or the Independent form of church that was favoured by Cromwell, so the two countries were no longer on the same path. King Charles II was declared successor to his father. The Covenanters were determined that the king and his government should individually declare their acceptance of the covenant and undertake to secure the enforcement of its principles and requirements throughout the land. They insisted that the new king should solemnly promise to admit no supporter of the Engagement to office.
Unfortunately, the Covenanters had lost two of their ablest leaders. Alexander Henderson died in 1646 and George Gillespie, his obvious successor, died in 1648. The lack of an alternative Church leader was probably the reason why the Marquis of Argyll took up the role. The Parliament sent commissioners to treat with Charles in Holland, but it became obvious that Charles had all the perfidiousness of the Stuarts, and they found out that Montrose was already in Scotland trying to raise an army to take power for the king so that Charles would not have to agree to any terms. Most of the commissioners were not of a very could quality and a couple wanted Charles at virtually any price. Eventually, Charles did sign the Covenant and landed in Scotland in June 1650.
Cromwell considered the acceptance of Charles as a reason for war, so he marched his army to Scotland, defeating the Scots army soundly at Dunbar. Meanwhile, the frivolous and licentious nature of Charles had alienated many of the Covenanters, to such an extent that several decided to look for help from Cromwell. Charles’ supporters oraganised for him to be crowned king on the first day of 1651. The coronation oath sworn to by the prince bound himself to maintain the principles of the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant, undertaking to support and establish the Presbyterian government, the Directory of Worship, the Confession of Faith and Catechisms, as agreed on by the Assembly and Parliament, promising to observe these in his own practice and family, and never to do anything in opposition to them.
A serious breach occurred among the ministers and church members, as a result of those who supported the Engagement being welcomed back. Those who supported this decision were called Resolutioners and those who opposed it were called Protesters. Charles was severely beaten at Worcester in September, so he fled to the Continent, but this did not help in reconciling the parties. The General Assembly met in July 1652, but 65 ministers, including Rutherford, protested that the meeting was unlawful and not free. The Assembly of 1653, which was attended only by Resolutioners, was violently broken up before it began by one of Cromwell’s officers.
With the support of Cromwell, the Protestors, although the minority, were the dominant force in the Church. They included Rutherford, James Gillespie and included the ablest men in the country. The men that stood out on the Resolutioners side were David Dickson and Baillie; both these men later regretted the position they had taken. Apart from the disputes in the Church, the next few years were peaceful ones. General Monk subdued all resistance from supporters of the king, and the agents of Cromwell ruled Scotland (on the whole) fairly. However the calm ended on the death of Cromwell in September 1658.
The death of Cromwell changed the balance of power so that the Resolutioners took to the fore. In February 1660 a meeting of their ministers, led by Robert Douglas, sent James Sharp to London to represent them in discussions about any settlement that might be discussed. It is difficult to understand why they sent just one man to represent their position on such a crucial issue. Different factions were trying to get the ascendancy in the discussions. The Presbyterians wanted the Westminster Confession to be accepted, but the supporters of hierarchy wanted Episcopacy to be restored. Sharp kept sending back reports of how hard he was working on behalf of the Presbyterian cause. He later returned to Scotland in August, bearing with him a letter from Charles to Douglas, in which the king assured the covenanter of his determination to protect and preserve the government of the Church of Scotland. Nobody knew at this time that Sharp had been negotiating something different to Presbyterianism with Charles.
Charles landed in England in May. He was received with no condition whatever as to the type of Church government, only that he would allow freedom of worship. Scotland and England were soon to find out that like his father, Charles’ promises meant nothing. Argyll and other nobles went down to London to see Charles, but he was arrested and put in the Tower for high treason. He was there for five months while evidence was collected of his so-called treason from his former friends and colleagues who now wanted to ingratiate themselves with the new king. He was handed over to Parliament who knew what was expected of them. He was found guilty and the man who had actually placed the crown on Charles’ head was executed at Edinburgh Cross on May 27th, 1661; the first of many innocents to die as a result of the king’s perfidy.
There was a desire for the Resolutioners and Protesters to unite, but Sharp knew that this would harm his plans, so he told Douglas and the others that it would harm their chances with the king if they joined forces with the Protesters. The Protesters realised that they needed to make representations to the king for themselves, so James Guthrie, together with nine ministers and two elders met in August, drew up an address to the king, congratulating him on his return, assuring him of their loyalty and reminding him of his Covenant engagement. By order of the Chancellor and Parliament, the house where they had met was entered; all the papers found were seized, and before the day closed all that was present at the meeting, with the exception of one of the elders who escaped, were committed to prison.
Charles was determined to bring prelacy to Scotland with the help of Sharp who was to become archbishop of St Andrews. This dreadful man sold his whole country for a bishopric. Away from the church, John Middleton was Charles’ instrument to bend Parliament to his will. Middleton used to fight for Parliament, but later switched sides. He was from very humble origins, a daring soldier who retained the coarse, brutal, overbearing habits of the camp. In January, 1661, the Scottish Parliament was assembled and opened by Middleton, as royal commissioner. ‘Middleton's Parliament’ was filled through wholesale bribery and open force. The press was gagged, many gentlemen known to be zealous Presbyterians were imprisoned and some popular ministers were banished. The Parliament rescinded all Acts that had been passed since 1638. This outrageous Act opened the door for the king to call to account anybody for any word or action of his during the past ten years, which it might please the Government to construe unfavourably.
Sadly, there was no Knox or Melville to stand up to tyranny at this new crisis in the life of the Church. The leading nobles who were Covenanters had by now died and their sons were eager to embrace the libertine spirit of the Reformation. The great scholars and divines that had taken part in the Covenant were dead; Rutherford dying in 1660 before he could present himself to answer a charge of treason.
The Act of Supremacy was passed, which transferred the whole power of the Church to the king by making him absolute judge in both civil and ecclesiastical matters. At a blow, the independence of the Kirk, that had been fought for so hard, was gone. Next was the Oath of Allegiance. The new oath bound the swearer to uphold the supremacy of the king in all religious, as well as all civil matters. To refuse the oath, or deny the principle it contained, was declared to be high treason. The whole Scottish nation, only twenty-three years before, had taken an oath which declared that ‘the Lord Jesus Christ is the only King and Head of His Church,’ an expression which was meant to repudiate and shut out the ecclesiastical supremacy of the monarch. No Scot with a conscience could take this oath without perjuring themselves. Scotland, up to this hour, was enjoying a liberty which was fenced round on all sides by legal securities: a single edict laid them all in the dust and confiscated all the liberty which they protected. What had taken 150 years to achieve took two years to destroy.
James Guthrie was then taken from his cell to be tried for treason. From all accounts, he seems to have put up a very eloquent defence against all the charges made against him - all to no avail. He was hanged at Edinburgh Cross on June 1st, 1661. James Gillespie was ‘guilty’ of even more than Guthrie, but he submitted, so was saved from death. Sir Archibald Johnston escaped to the continent, but somewhat lost his mind after some treatment from a doctor. When in Rouen, he was handed over to the English and despite his pitiful condition he was executed in Glasgow. Baillie and Dickson, two leading Resolutioners, died in 1662; Robert Blair was removed from ministry in 1662 and died in 1666.
In September Charles’ restored the prelacy as it had been in 1637. Another Act 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 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, but hardly anyone came. Middleton called a Privy Council meeting to decide what to do. After a considerable amount of drinking they issued a proclamation, to be known as the ‘Drunken Act of Glasgow,’ which removed from their livings and banished 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. Hamilton told someone that they were all so drunk that they could not consider anything that day.
The ministers were given around four weeks to make their decision. 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 with their families into banishment. Middleton and the bishops thought that the ministers would submit and Presbyterianism would lie in ashes, but they had missed the point that persecution strengthens rather than destroys. The final services performed by these ministers evinced much emotion from the various congregations. In their places young men were drafted from the northern counties to act as curates so that services could be performed. Most of these men had little education and many had few morals. Middleton’s failure caused his downfall; Rothes replaced him and he was made Governor of Tangier where he died.
The Scottish people did not accept these curates. On Sunday most churches were empty because the congregation was out in a field somewhere listening to one of the legitimate ministers or in some secret place listening to one of the ejected ministers. The bishops obtained an Act forbidding anyone 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. Sharp went to London for new powers, coming back with the Court of High Commission which was rather like the Inquisition. Soldiers were sent out to scour the country; if anyone was found who had been absent from the parish church, or who had given a little aid to any of the banished ministers, or was suspected of the sin of Presbyterianism, he was dragged to the bar of the High Commission Court. Their process was simple and swift. The work 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, and kept no record of their proceedings; all who came to that bar left it under condemnation. The punishments could be a heavy fine, a public whipping, banishment, prison, branding on the cheek or being sent to Barbados as a slave. This court lasted for two years.
There were no Parliaments for six years. Sharp had already been made the foremost person in the Council of State, but he wanted to be Chancellor. This was refused, so he asked that Rothes be made Chancellor, knowing that Rothes spent most of his time doing anything but work, he knew that he would have all the power.
In November 1666 the persecution that the people were under caused a ‘rebellion.’ Four of the excluded ministers came to the village of Dalry, in Kirkcudbrightshire for food, but came across a party of Sir James Turner's soldiers levying fines in the village; having seized an old man whose poverty rendered him unable to pay his fine, they were binding him hand and foot and threatening to strip him naked and roast him on a gridiron. Shocked at the threatened barbarity, the wanderers intervened on behalf of the man. The soldiers drew upon them, and a scuffle ensued. One of the rescuing party fired his pistol, wounding one of the soldiers, whereupon the party gave up their prisoner and their arms. Having been informed that another party of Turner's men was at that moment engaged in similar outrages a little way from the village, they went there. With the help of some country people who had joined them on the way, they killed one of the soldiers who had offered resistance.
They then sat down to discuss what to do next. They knew Turner was a vindictive man and would most likely take out his anger on the local people. In order to forestall this, they went to Dumfries and captured Turner. They then went north with him with more and more people joining them as they went. On reaching Lanark they were 1,500 to 3,000 strong. They heard that people in the Lothians and Edinburgh would support them, so they continued east, but Edinburgh closed the city to them. It was winter; people were cold and tired, so some of them started to leave the band. They decided to go home, but on the way they came to a force that had been sent against them. About 900 fought a battle at Rullion Green, winning three skirmishes, but they allowed another force to join up with their opponents, so they were beaten. Most escaped in the dark, but 100 were captured. They were imprisoned, and despite promises on the battlefield that they would not be executed; the Council, mainly through the persistence of Sharp; condemned them and hanged them in batches of ten.
A soldier called Dalziel was sent with his men to punish the people of the West of Scotland. Bishop Burnet wrote, ‘The forces were ordered to be in the west, where Dalziel acted the Muscovite too grossly. He threatened to spit men and to roast them; and he killed some in cold blood, or rather in hot blood, for he was then drunk when he ordered one to be hanged because he would not tell where his father was, for whom he was in search. When he heard of any who did not go to church, he did not trouble himself to set a fine upon him, but he set as many soldiers upon him as should eat him up in a night...The clergy (the curates) never interceded for any compassion to their people. Nor did they take care to live more regularly, or to labour more carefully. They looked on the soldiery as their patrons, they were ever in their company, complying with them in their excesses; and if they were not much wronged, they rather led them into them, than checked them for them.’
In 1667 it was politic for Charles to be more light-handed on the Presbyterians of Scotland. It became clear that the bishops, who were advocating stronger and stronger measures, were only interested in personal ambition, so the army in the west was disbanded. The archbishop of Glasgow remarked, ‘Now that the army is disbanded the Gospel will go out of my diocese.’Sharp was told to keep to his diocese and the cruel Rothes was replaced with Lauderdale. Lauderdale was slightly better than Rothes. He wanted to bring reconciliation between the Presbyterians and the Prelates, so in 1669 a letter arrived from the king, granting a qualified liberty to the excluded ministers. If willing to receive collation from the bishop, the ministers were to be inducted into vacant parishes and to enjoy the whole benefice; if unwilling to acknowledge the bishop, they were nevertheless to be at liberty to preach, but were to enjoy no salary except their home. The government had realised that their policy to force people into church had failed. They were hoping that the Indulgence would bring division amongst the ministers, and sadly it did.
Over the years of banishment, some of the ministers would hold regular services on mountains or on the moors. Thousands would sometimes come to hear the preachers. There would be lines of watchmen surrounding the meeting; looking out for any troops that might be sent against them, so that they could give warning to the assembled masses. Through the persecution that was suffered, Presbyterianism was growing stronger. In England the non-conformists would meet similarly; the preachers there, like George Fox and John Bunyan were also risking imprisonment or even death.One of the most famous men who preached in the fields and on the mountains was John Welch, the grandson of John Welch of Ayr. He was ejected from his church at Irongray in 1662, and despite the large bounty on his head, the soldiers looking for him, the dangers and discomforts; Welsh preached many times to many thousands, for nearly twenty years. Nobody gave him up. A friend reported that he had known Welsh to ride for three days and two nights and then preach on a mountain at midnight! He was at Rullion Green, but managed to escape. He was later declared an outlaw and sentenced to death. In 1674 three men from Fife were given heavy fines for harbouring the brave minister.
The government really feared these outdoor meetings. Lauderdale's parliament of 1670 passed severe measures against ministers and others who went to meetings held either in houses or in the fields, that were not services of the established clergy or of the ministers who had accepted the Indulgence. Even reading of Scripture in a house to a company other than the members of the family was regarded as illegal, and field meetings were treated as acts of rebellion. The fine exacted of those attending field conventicles was double of that levied on those who had been convicted of holding or attending a house conventicle. There were other laws of oppression such as leading Presbyterians being cut off from society. They were forbidden help from anyone; no shelter, no food, no drink and no speech. The nation was divided into two classes, the oppressors and the oppressed. Government had become a system of lawless tribunals, arbitrary edicts, spies, imprisonment and murder. Such was the state of Scotland in the year 1676. Nevertheless, the conventicle still flourished.
Sharp was responsible for the most terrible edict of them all. The edict in question was no less than to make it a capital crime on the part of any to attend a field-preaching with a weapon. This applied to most of those who went to such meetings, because those dangerous times required people to have arms to protect themselves. Sharp received his reward on May 3rd, 1679 when he was dragged from his coach at a lonely spot and murdered. No Presbyterian supported this act, but they were of course blamed for it.
10,000 men were sent from the Catholic Highlands to subdue the areas of Ayr and Lanark. However, nobody stood against them, so instead the men robbed and bullied the people of the whole area, and after two months the government withdrew them. Next James Graham of Claverhouse and his dragoons were sent against the saints. They attacked field-meetings, dyeing the heather with the blood of the worshippers; they shot the peasants in cold blood in the fields, and murdered them at their own doors. On June 1st, 1679 there was a field-meeting going on near Loudoun Hill, Avondale, when the watchmen signalled that Graham was coming to attack them. Those with arms, about 250, went out to meet him at the Morass of Drumclog. Due to their heroism and determination the Covenanters won the battle, only six were killed. People flocked to their banner until they were 5,000 strong, but they had no leader. When a force of 15,000 came against them a few weeks later at Bothwell Bridge they were soundly beaten, with 400 of their number being killed and 1,200 captured and taken to Edinburgh. They were treated very cruelly, being locked up in Greyfriars’ Churchyard in the open air for five months. Some made their escape; others were released on signing a bond of non-resistance; others were freed when found to be dying from their wounds, or diseases contracted by exposure, and seven were executed. After five months the remaining 250 were sent as slaves to Barbados.
The years that followed are known as ‘the killing times.’ The Presbyterians were hunted on the mountains and tracked by the bloodhounds of the Privy Council to the caves and dens where they had hidden themselves. Claverhouse and his dragoons were continually on the pursuit, shooting down men and women in the fields and on the highways. As fast as the prisons could be emptied they were filled with fresh victims brought in by spies. Several gentlemen and many learned and venerable ministers were confined in the dungeons of Blackness, Dunottar and the Bass Rock. Old matrons and pious girls were executed on the scaffold, or tied to stakes in the sea and drowned. The persecution fell with equal severity on all classes. Some of high intellect and renowned statesmanship were hanged and quartered on the gallows and the ghastly spectacle of their heads and limbs were seen in the chief cities of the kingdom. It is calculated that during the twenty-eight years of persecution in Scotland, 18,000 persons suffered death, or hardships approaching it.
There was a small party of men who subscribed exactly to the provisions of the Covenant, who thought that the Stuart monarchs were so treacherous that Scotland would be better without them and therefore be a republic. A band of about twenty men from this party rode into Sanquhar, Dumfries on June 22nd, 1680 and read out their proclamation. ‘We do by these presents disown Charles Stuart, that has been reigning, or rather tyrannizing, on the throne of Britain these years bygone, as having any right, title, or interest in the crown of Scotland, for government — as forfeited several years since, by his perjury and breach of covenant both to God and His Kirk, and by his tyranny, and breach of the essential conditions of reigning in matters civil. We do declare a war with such a tyrant and usurper’ Two of the leaders of this party were Donald Cargill, who was later captured and executed and Richard Cameron, who died in a fight with soldiers who were trying to capture them.
The execution of leading Presbyterians and the general persecution went on, with only brief respites, through to Charles II’s death in 1685. He was succeeded by his Roman Catholic brother, James. Argyll and Monmouth attempted an overthrow of the king, but it failed miserably. Argyll went to Scotland to raise an army, but he did not get the support he was expecting; was captured and the good Protestant was executed. His last words were, ‘I die not only a true Protestant, but with a heart hatred of Popery, Prelacy, and all superstition whatsoever.’
The last Martyr was James Renwick, who had taken over the leadership of the group led by Cargill and Cameron. He was hanged at the Grassmarket in Edinburgh on February 17th, 1688. Meanwhile we see Scotland apparently crushed. All her noblemen and gentlemen who had taken the side of the nation against the court had died on the scaffold, or had been chased into exile; her people were lying by the thousands in their quiet graves among the moors or in the city churchyards; and when Renwick ascended the ladder to die, the last minister of the Presbyterian body standing out against the Government had fallen. Only a few country people were left to gather around the blue banner of the Covenant. Never did defeat appear more complete. As a nation Scotland seemed to be crushed, and as a Church it seemed utterly overthrown.
Much of this essay was taken from, ‘The History of Protestantism,’ Volume 3, Book 24 by J A Wylie Published around 1890. This can be seen at, http://whatsaiththescripture.com/Voice/History.Protestant.v3.b24.html#CHAPTER%201. and ‘A History of the Church in Scotland, from the earliest times down to the present day,’ by John Macpherson. Published 1901. This can be seen at http://www.archive.org/details/historyofchurchi00macpiala.
James wanted to be an absolute monarch, and his fight with the English Parliament to this end resulted in them inviting the Protestant William of Orange to take the throne. James fled.
William was brought up a Presbyterian, but he did not favour one form of Church government over another; choosing whichever was expedient. He was inclined at first to support Episcopacy in both England and Scotland, but on speaking to bishop Rose of Edinburgh he realised that most of the bishops were supporters of James, so would only give him a grudging allegiance. The nobles and clergy met in the Convention of the Estates, but many of James’ supporters felt that theirs was a lost cause, so they soon stopped coming. This left the new leader of Parliament with a sound majority to support the new king.
A Claim of Rights was drawn up that said, ‘prelacy and superiority of any office in the church above presbyters is, and hath been, a great and unsupportable grievance and trouble to this nation and contrary to the inclinations of the generality of the people ever since the Reformation, they having been reformed from popery by presbyters, and therefore ought to be abolished.’ William Carstares was a chaplain to the king, and gained increasing favour, so that he was responsible for the direction of Scottish affairs. Meanwhile, John Graham of Claverhouse went to the north to raise an army from the Highland clans.
The Cameronian party (followers of Richard Cameron) caused considerable trouble by making religious demands as the king’s army was formed. Eventually, a Cameronian regiment was formed and the army headed north to meet the rebels at Killiekrankie. The king lost the battle, but Claverhouse was killed. The Cameronian regiment was unpopular with everyone except confirmed Covenanters, so it was sent to Dunkeld much reduced in number (700) and provisions. It was probably the hope of some that the regiment would be wiped out. They met a force of 4,000 rebels, but after sixteen hours of fierce fighting, the rebels were routed and the rebellion ended.
The Scottish parliament met in April 1690 in order to determine the constitution of the Church of Scotland. It repealed the Act of 1669, which had declared the king's supremacy in matters civil and ecclesiastical; restored the parishes to those ministers who had been ejected in 1661 and removed the present incumbents, while those removed, who agreed to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary, were appointed to other vacancies. The General Assembly met on October 16th,1690, composed of the sixty ejected ministers who survived the twenty-eight years of Episcopacy, and such ministers as they approved. These sixty ministers had suffered torture, imprisonment and exile for their faith.
The Westminster Confession of Faith was accepted as the standard of doctrinal belief in the Church, and the Presbyterian form of church government and discipline was approved and adopted in accordance with the legislation of 1592. All those holding office in universities, colleges and schools were to be required to subscribe to the Confession of Faith, and take the oath of allegiance, otherwise they would be removed from office. Patronage was abolished, so ministers were to be elected by the presbytery and congregation. No mention was made in the settlement of the National Covenant or the Solemn League and Covenant.
Many decisions were made to try to ensure that all parties could be included. It was hoped that all genuine Presbyterians, on the basis of their common Presbyterianism, might be brought together in a workable and harmonious union. By taking a central path the strict Covenanters were bound to take offence, and so they did. They persistently maintained that they could recognise no prince except on the basis of the Covenant. They therefore repudiated William's government and refused to pay taxes, the payment of which involved recognition of his royal authority. Three of their number, Lining, Boyd and Shields, accepted the terms of the new government and became ministers of the Church of Scotland.The rest of the Covenanters in their Societies were uncompromising. William insisted that any Episcopalian who took the oath of loyalty and submitted to Presbyterian polity should remain a minister. This meant that mixed in with the covenanting ministers who were willing to die for their faith were a large group who were prepared to compromise their principles, so long as they kept their jobs. A watering down of the pure revivalist fire that was lit by Knox and others was the inevitable result. The Church of Scotland was never again to represent the fire; it would be left to breakaway groups to try to keep it alive.
William wanted Episcopalians to be accepted into the Church. He thought that by including within the Church all that would consent to do so, on conditions of the vaguest and most general sort, he could secure his position throughout the whole country. He was afraid that if ministers were rejected they would become Jacobites. Ministers were afraid that the Episcopalians would want to join in order to eventually take over the Church, so they resisted William’s demands. The Church found it difficult to put Presbyterian ministers in some parishes in the Episcopal north.Mobs frequently resisted the removal of their Episcopal minister. In 1697 the General Assembly passed the Barrier Act, which ensured that the Assembly could not pass any Act relating to the whole Church without the agreement of a majority of Presbyteries.
In 1702 William died and was succeeded by his sister-in-law, Anne, who favoured the Episcopacy. Anne’s first communication to the Parliament of Scotland was to ask them to consider the negotiations for unifying the two kingdoms. The idea of unification caused great concern within the Church, so an Act was passed, after considerable discussion; ratifying, establishing and confirming Presbyterian Church government and discipline by kirk sessions, presbyteries, provincial synods and general assemblies as agreeable to the Word of God, and the only government of Christ's church within the kingdom. There were several plots from parties opposed to the union, but these were dealt with and the union was consummated on May 1st, 1707. The union remained unpopular with many for some time. The Jacobites disliked it because it made even more distant their hopes of restoring the Stuarts; the Cameronians and some more moderate Presbyterians disliked it because they still feared that Episcopacy would be introduced.
The closer relationship between Scotland and England meant that more Englishmen were coming to Scotland. Some of those resident in Edinburgh wanted to worship according to the established Church of England, so in 1709 James Greenshields began services for them. These services were disputed by the Church of Scotland, so eventually the case went to the House of Lords, who had to decide in favour of toleration. In the circumstances, it would have been far wiser for the Presbytery to have ignored the services. However, the result of the case was the passing of the Act of Toleration for Episcopalians in Scotland in 1712.It secured for Episcopalians in Scotland the right of worshipping in their own way, with pastors ordained by a protestant bishop. An Act passed shortly afterwards restoring patronage to the parishes was objected to by the Church of Scotland, but to no effect. They had experienced the problems of patronage before; such as unqualified favourites being appointed; they had got rid of it once, but now it was being imposed again.Patronage was to cause lasting problems for many years to come.
The Cameronians, who still stood outside the Church of Scotland, held a united meeting of all their societies in August 1712 at Auchinsaugh, Lanarkshire, to renew the Covenant. The Lord’s Supper was celebrated for the first time since the formation of the Societies, and strangely, it was not to be celebrated amongst them for another thirty years.
Anne died in 1714, being succeeded by the Hanovarian: George I. Anne introduced several bills that were detrimental to Presbyterianism, so her death was probably opportune for Scotland. The Jacobite revolt in 1715 was very damaging to the Episcopalian cause in Scotland, as most of their supporters united behind James.
In 1717 the presbytery of Auchterarder was worried that a young man who was applying on trial for ordination might be infected with a heresy, so they asked him subscribe to the statement, ‘That I believe it is not sound and orthodox to preach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ and instating us in covenant with God.’ The General Assembly reproved the presbytery for requiring acknowledgement of such a statement. There were now in the Church of Scotland a considerable number of ministers warmly in sympathy with the views of divine truth expressed in this so-called Auchterarder Creed; while they characterised the dominant party in the Assembly as Neonomians.
Thomas Boston was the leader of the ‘Marrow Men’ who supported the Auchterarder Creed. He found a book written in 1616 by an English puritan, Edward Fisher, entitled ‘The Marrow of Modern Divinity.’He was so interested in it that he had the book re-published. In 1719 the Assembly appointed a Commission to look into the book. The main points were: 1. That one became saved through faith in Christ; 2. That the atonement is universal; 3. That holiness is not necessary to salvation; 4. That fear of punishment and hope of reward are not motives of a believer's obedience; 5. That the believer is not under the law as a rule of life. These points were considered the manifesto if the so-called heretical party. The following year the Assembly told their ministers to preach against the book. The discussions which had taken place on doctrinal questions resulted in the bringing together of the more evangelical ministers of the church and binding them in a confederacy for the defence of the truth, and the exposure of what they regarded as serious departures from orthodox or scriptural teaching. These men in fact believed in ‘Justification by Faith,’ something that John Wesley and George Whitefield were soon to highlight in England.
Meanwhile, disturbances broke out in different parts of the country as a result of unsuitable ministers being imposed on congregations. The problems of patronage had returned. The many disputes and problems over who should be the minister of a parish resulted in the beginning of agitation in favour of popular election; the right of those who are to be ministered to, to elect a minister of their choosing.
The first quarter of the eighteenth century was a time of declining morals among the young and a decline in spiritual matters. Part of the problem was the closer ties with England, which resulted in the importation of much that was immoral. England and her Church were in a terrible state at this time with, amongst other things, drunkenness a major problem everywhere and the Church was a disgrace. The morals of many bishops were open to question, there were many absentee ministers and patrimony in the Church hierarchy was rife.
At Glasgow University the Professor of Divinity was John Simson; a man completely unsuitable for the role, and one who for a long time faced charges of heresy in the church courts. He was suspended in 1729, so there was little theology taught until he died almost twelve years later. One of Simson’s students, Francis Hutcheson, was then appointed professor of philosophy, and he became the ‘father of Moderatism’ in the Church of Scotland. His religion was to do with morality, not forgiveness of sins for the poor sinner.
The Assembly of 1730 had taken away the rights of ministers to officially disagree with any decision of the Church courts, so that the pulpit was the only place where a minister might register his views. In 1733 Ebenezer Erskine, a leading evangelical, was asked to give the opening address to the Synod of Perth and Stirling. He took advantage of this to give a vigorous protest against the problems of the Church and society, speaking mainly about the evils of patronage. He was condemned by the Synod and told that he had to submit himself for rebuke. He refused to submit, and was joined in his protest by thirteen other ministers. He appealed to the General Assembly, but that body, which by now had a majority of compromising ministers, felt that he was disturbing the peace and good order of the Church, demanding too that he submit himself for censure. Three other ministers joined him in his protest, all four refusing to submit, and walked out of the building. They appeared before a commission which suspended them. Three months later another commission, through the casting vote of the moderator, expelled them from their churches, as they had not submitted to the previous sentence of suspension. Any organisation that cannot accept criticism from its members is authoritarian and on a very slippery path.
The four ministers began to meet together for prayer and discussion. The Assembly of 1734 authorised the Synod of Perth and Stirling to restore the ministers, but they refused the offer because the reasons for their protest, namely errors that were in the Church courts regarding doctrine, government and discipline, had not been addressed.The four decided in August 1735 to meet together as a Presbytery. After a while requests came in from all over the country for the supply of ordained ministers, so they started to train young men for the ministry. In December 1736 they issued a Judicial Testimony, a declaration of how the corrupt and unfaithful Church had diverted away from their original tenets. Unfortunately, their Testimony included a condemnation of the union of Scotland and England, something that increased the gulf between them and Church.
This was a critical time for the Church of Scotland. There was a growing group that were sympathetic with the teachings of Hutcheson; a watered down, ineffective version of the Gospel. On the other hand, there were the extreme Cameronians who had limited appeal. In the middle was a large group that supported the views of their Covenanting ancestors, and they were unhappy with the way the Church was going. Some of those broke off to form the Seceders, but most of them were not happy with the idea of leaving the Church of Scotland. Many of this last group would probably have joined their friends in the Seceders had not revival come.
The Seceders carried on their work as a Church and were particularly active in evangelisation. God was about to do a wonderful work in the United Kingdom. The Holy Spirit was already at work in Wales, and was about to light revival fires in England through Wesley and Whitefield. It is most likely that the revival began around this time in Scotland. In so far as the Seceders were endeavouring to restore the religious spirit in Scotland and maintain purity of doctrine, the Scottish movement was very similar to the English evangelical movement led by Whitefield and Wesley.
The Seceders were in communication with Whitefield from 1739. Whitefield was Calvinistic, which explains why he had so much more success in Wales and Scotland than Wesley. He pointed out to Erskine that he would not approve of taking up arms such as the Cameronians did. Furthermore, he was concerned that they favoured only Presbyterian Church government, as this could lead to persecution of those favouring different forms of government. Whitefield was very supportive of the Seceders; but not so Wesley, who was much more connected to the Anglican Church and always would be. Erskine and his brother, Ralph, invited Whitefield in 1741 to come to help them, but they insisted that he should only work for them. Whitefield told them that he was unwilling to do this; however, he still went to Scotland, preaching his first sermon in Ralph Erskine’s meeting-house on July 31st, 1741. Whitefield’s attitude that he would take no party’s side resulted in the Seceders denouncing him as a Latitudinarian. This was a major error by the Seceders and so unnecessary. The Secession Church was to suffer several splits and unions over the coming two hundred years, but by 1956 all the different bodies were finally joined back into the Church of Scotland.
Willson of Dundee wrote, ‘In the year 1740 and afterwards, promising tokens began to appear of a revival of Christianity, for in Edinburgh and elsewhere some new praying societies were set up, and sundry students did associate with them.’ This is not surprising as the Holy Spirit was moving in many parts of the world at this time, but He needed someone to light the spark, and that was Whitefield. He preached to many thousands in Edinburgh a few days after being with Erskine. Many came to the Lord on his visit to Edinburgh, but Richard Owen Roberts, in his 1995 book, ‘Scotland Saw His Glory,’ concludes that Edinburgh ‘did little else than accept the good brought to its doors,’ declining to be a part in spreading the fire across the nation.
Whitefield did a tour across the centre of Scotland, returning then to England. A few months later, in February 1742 the fire began in Cambuslang and then a little later in Kilsyth (see this website for reports on both these revivals). In both these towns the ministers were interested in the newish doctrine of being ‘born again’ or as they called it, regeneration. They both eagerly followed the revivals that were taking place in America and elsewhere; reading accounts to their congregations. Both churches had started praying for revival and were expectant. The situation in Cambuslang was helped by several of the congregation going to see Whitefield in Glasgow and bringing back some of the Spirit’s anointing. The town was ripe for ignition, and this came on February 18th, 1742. People came from many parts to see what God was doing and many took something of it back to their churches. John Sutherland from Golspie wrote that he had visited both towns and Muthill, and then the revival broke out in his town. James Robe, the minister at Kilsyth, visited Cambuslang several times.
Whitefield returned to Scotland in June 1742, and in July he conducted a Communion service at Cambuslang. The revival was going well, but the arrival of Whitefield gave it an enormous boost. An estimated 20,000 attended the Communion and an estimated 30,000 were at the second celebration of Communion on the 15th August. I personally am quite sceptical of the numbers quoted at the meetings of both Whitefield and Wesley. John Wesley had a method of calculating numbers based on how many could get into a square yard, but the huge numbers he quotes as being at the meetings in Cornwall sometimes exceeded the number of people living in the area. The same is true here, as the whole population of Glasgow is estimated at this time to be only 17,000. I know from personal experience that everybody over estimates numbers at church meetings; not to deliberately deceive, but just because they do not count the numbers properly. Having said that, there were clearly a lot of people at these two Communion services.
These two revivals must be two of the most analysed revivals ever. We are very fortunate that William M’Culloch, the minister of Cambuslang, reviewed all the cases of conversion in his parish a few years after the event, recording them and recording the views of other ministers. James Robe of Kilsyth did likewise, and was the main historian of this period. Their books and reports can be viewed on the Internet. These reports, together with the many letters they sent out, were partly responsible for the word spreading around Scotland.
John Gilles, a Glasgow minister at this time, and the compiler of ‘Historical Collections,’ wrote, ‘there was but little revival here, comparatively speaking, when the Lord was watering His vineyard round about us.’ There were reports of 1,200 extra communicants at the Glasgow Communion of 1743; 7% of the population. It is probable that many of these new converts came to the Lord at Cambuslang or even Kilsyth; in this light it is easier to understand Gilles’ disappointment.
It is clear from the many reports of the revivals that the Spirit did a deep work in people. Although there were the usual backslidings, most of the converts showed good fruit in their lives and remained faithful to the Lord for the rest of their lives.
Of course, there was lots of opposition to the revival from people who thought they knew God’s ways, and those who expected God to move in a specific way. Every revival brings out these judgmental people. The Established Church had their critics, but they were fairly low key. The main opposition came from the Cameronians who as usual had tunnel vision, and from the Seceders who were jealous, rejecting anything to do with Whitefield, and could not tolerate all the emotion. Nobody heard much from the Cameronians, but the Seceders loudly decried the revival. They were quite vicious in what they said, which caused a lot of bitterness. Sadly, this increased the division between the Seceders and the Established Church, differences being more imagined than real. The later historians of the Seceders admitted that they had no justification for their position, acknowledging that the revival was a move of God.
Whitefield’s third visit was in 1748 when he preached at Cambuslang, Glasgow and Edinburgh. He received quite a lot of opposition on this trip. Initially, opposition to Whitefield could have been because he was English or because he was from the bishop-led Church of England. The Seceders fuelled any resentment as much as they could, with the result that many of the clergy refused to have anything to do with him, probably because they did not want to make the breach with the Seceders any larger. He wa