SKETCHES OF THE COVENANTERS
J. C. McFEETERS, D.D.
Minister of the Second Church of the Covenanters, Philadelphia
"That ye may tell it to the generations following; For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even unto death."
THE UNCONQUERABLE COVENANTERS
"We bind and obligate ourselves to defend ourselves and one another, in our worshiping of God, and in our natural, civil, and divine rights and liberties, till we shall overcome, or send them down under debate to posterity, that they may begin where we end."—Queensferry Paper.
This book is a spontaneous growth, being without pre-meditation or original intention. A visit to Scotland was the embryo; out of this seed sprang a stereopticon lecture on "The Martyrs of Scotland;" the lecture developed into an illustrated serial which was published in the CHRISTIAN NATION; and the serial, at the request of many readers, developed into this volume. The book, therefore, was not originally contemplated; it is a providential growth, rather than a human conception; and we sincerely trust that it is one of God's eternal thoughts, blossoming in the sunlight of its own appointed time.
May our Lord Jesus Christ add His blessing, and commission these Sketches to do Him service and glorify His exalted name.
Philadelphia, March 1, 1913.
Chapter I. The Land of the Covenants In the Highlands
Chapter II. The Battle-field of Presbyterianism Flag of the Covenanters
Chapter III. Some Early Martyrs George Wishart
Chapter IV. Knox in the Field of Conflict Knox Administering the Lord's Supper
Chapter V. Foundation Stones Mary, Queen of Scots
Chapter VI. The National Covenant King James VI.
Chapter VII. Contending with the King Melville before King James
Chapter VIII. Men of Might Edinburgh Castle
Chapter IX. Darkness Brooding Over the Land Souvenirs of the Covenanters
Chapter X. Approaching a Crisis Alexander Henderson
Chapter XI. The Advance Guards Jean Geddes
Chapter XII. Gathering of the Hosts Greyfriars Church
Chapter XIII. Renewing the Covenant Signing the Covenant
Chapter XIV. The Covenanters at Work Archibald Johnston (Lord Warriston)
Chapter XV. The King Wages War Captain Paton's Grave
Chapter XVI. The Solemn League and Covenant The Martyrs' Monument
Chapter XVII. High Ideals by the Covenanted Fathers Rutherford in Prison
Chapter XVIII. The Westminster Assembly Westminster Assembly
Chapter XIX. Division in the Covenanted Ranks King Charles I.
Chapter XX. Crowning the Prince Archbishop Sharp
Chapter XXI. A Sifting Time King Charles II.
Chapter XXII. An Illustrious Martyr Argyle's Daughter Pleading
Chapter XXIII. Resisting Unto Blood James Guthrie
Chapter XXIV. Source of the Covenanters' Power The Grassmarket
Chapter XXV. Expelling the Ministers John Welch Ejected
Chapter XXVI. The Field-meetings Preaching in the Mountains
Chapter XXVII. The Covenanters' Communion The Covenanters' Communion
Chapter XXVIII. The Home Invaded Home of the Howies
Chapter XXIX. The Battle of Rullion Green Gravestone at Rullion Green
Chapter XXX. The Oppressor's Revenge Rutherford's Monument
Chapter XXXI. Indulgence, the Six-fold Snare A Conventicle Anniversary
Chapter XXXII. The Field Meetings Under Fire Battle of Drumclog
Chapter XXXIII. A Massacre Battle of Bothwell Bridge
Chapter XXXIV. The Covenanters' Prison Dunnottar Castle
Chapter XXXV. Declaration of Independence Claverhouse
Chapter XXXVI. Ayrsmoss Monument at Ayrsmoss
Chapter XXXVII. The Cameronians Young Covenanters Discovered
Chapter XXXVIII. The Lone Star Donald Cargill
Chapter XXXIX. An Extraordinary Service Earlston Castle
Chapter XL. The Societies St. Sebastian Church, Rotterdam, Holland
Chapter XLI. The Daughters of the Covenant Consolation in Prison
Chapter XLII. Young Life Under Persecution Andrew Hislop's Martyrdom
Chapter XLIII. The Covenanters' Bible Covenanters Bibles
Chapter XLIV. The Scottish Seer Peden at Cameron's Grave
Chapter XLV. Scotland's Maiden Martyr Choosing Death Rather Than Life
Chapter XLVI. The Eldership—A Wall of Defence John Brown of Priesthill
Chapter XLVII. A Home Desolated A Widow's Sorrow
Chapter XLVIII. Last, But Not Least James Renwick
Chapter XLIX. The Shepherdless Flock Martyrdom of Renwick
Chapter L. The Voice of the Martyrs' Blood The Burial
Chapter LI. The Old Blue Banner Yet Banner of the Covenant
THE LAND OF THE COVENANTS.
All history is interesting and much of it is inspiring. Scotland furnishes a large measure of that quality of history, that awakens the soul, and appeals to the faculties by which life is transfigured with moral grandeur.
History yields its best results when we use our best powers in pursuing its paths. Let the creative genius, a healthy imagination, be employed restoring the scenes of former times, mingling with the people and participating in their high endeavors; then will the quiet page of history become a world of thrilling activity. In this manner let us here endeavor to follow the chain of events which gave Scotland two Reformations and a Revolution. Let us keep our horizon wide by resuscitating the former generations and associating with the Covenanted fathers, who, in their faithfulness to God and loyalty to Jesus Christ, were like the burning bush, enswirled with fire but not consumed.
Scotland—the very name awakens fondest memories, revives holiest scenes, makes dearest associations throb with life. Scotland—charming in her romances of love, mighty in her struggles for freedom, pathetic in her sufferings for Christ, and glorious in her oft-renewed covenant with God—Scotland in many respects is incomparable among the nations. The Covenanted Church of Scotland, coming up from the wilderness leaning upon her Beloved in holy dependence and dauntless faith, while heaven looks down with admiration—how beautiful, how instructive, how inspiring!
Extending from the north boundary of England, Scotland thrusts her rocky shores with rugged irregularity into the deep sea on three sides. Her granite cliffs, resisting the ceaseless waves, teach her people the lesson of constant vigilance and unconquerable courage.
In this country the summer days are long and delightful, the echoes of good-night linger till the voice of good-morning may be heard. The days almost touch each other, twilight scarcely leaves the sky. The winter reverses the order, making the path of the sun short and, bringing it down close to the hilltops. The storm loves the long night; the winds rise and sift the treasures of hail and snow over mountain and meadow.
Scotland contains about 30,000 square miles and 4,000,000 souls. The shores, especially the western and northern, are beautifully fringed with narrow lochs and steep indentures of the sea, making the coast picturesque beyond description. The surface is mostly mountainous and rugged, presenting to the eye natural scenery, which for beauty and magnificence can scarcely be surpassed. On the mountain side mists suddenly form, dense as thunder-clouds and bright as snow-drifts. We were one day pointed to a certain hill where, it is said, Peden was hunted by dragoons, and found shelter in the heart of a mist-cloud, which he called "the lap of God's cloak." In answer to prayer he thus found safety in the secret place of the Most High; heaven seemed to touch earth where he knelt upon the dripping grass.
These mountainous grounds furnish luxuriant pasture for numerous flocks of sheep. Here is the shepherd's paradise, who, with his dog and crook, keeps careful watch. While the brow of the mountain is white with mist, its cheeks are often crimsoned with heather, and its breast verdant with pasture. The associated colors are very grateful to the eye, while the sublimity ennobles the heart.
Many picturesque lochs nestle among the hills, in whose placid waters is mirrored the sky in the brilliant variations of day and night. Poets and novelists have thrown a charm over these waters, and their shady isles—and deep coves, relating the stories of love and the tragedies of war. Castles, some in ruins, some in excellent preservation, dot the country from sea to sea, crowning prominent hill tops, and grimly telling of the era of savage strife and imperiled life. Splendid cities, thrifty towns, and modest country homes are an index of the present prosperous and peaceful conditions. The industry, intelligence, and happiness of the people are everywhere apparent. Numerous churches, schools, and colleges bear testimony to the high tide of Christian civilization, which, through the labors and fidelity of the fathers, have carried the present generation into enviable prominence.
The climate is pleasant and healthful. The asperity of winter is softened by the ocean streams coming from the south; the heat of summer is reduced by the high latitude and the mountains. Withal the Lord has blessed this celebrated country with rare natural advantages for producing an indomitable and resourceful race. Something in their environment seems to have given the people more than ordinary qualities of mind and heart. Through the centuries they listened to the deep music of the sea, gazed upon the majesty of the mountains, meditated upon the solitude of the moors, kept vigil over their flocks in the fields, laboriously tilled the rugged soil; and grew solemn, vigorous, magnanimous, and unconquerable; they became a distinguished people.
But above all this, God in the early ages gave them the Scriptures, and the Truth made them free. From the dawn of the evangelization of Scotland there has ever been a band, and sometimes a host, whose heart God touched, whose lives He enswathed with the fire of zeal for Christ and His royal rights. They grasped the meaning of the Word of God, heard His voice calling them into the marvelous light, and lived in the radiance of His dreadful presence. They stood upon the solid foundation of the infallible Book, and grew solid as the rocks of granite in their conviction of truth and right. How much of this Scotch granite is apparent in the faith and firmness of the present generation?
The matchless inheritance we have received from our Covenanted ancestors, an inheritance of truth, liberty, and high example, should be more inspiring to us than nature's grandest scenery. Our eyes should be open to the moral significance of present conditions. We should be alive to the weighty obligations transmitted by the fathers to their children. Filled with the spirit and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and enthusiastic in our work for God, we should throw our strength into the service of our Lord Jesus, striving to bring all people into Covenant with God. The Covenant relation is the normal state of human society.
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. Locate Scotland on the map.
2. What is the size? What the population?
3. Mention the main physical features.
4. Give some characteristics of the people.
5. What contributed much to their prominence in history?
6. What moral inheritance did the Covenanted fathers leave their children?
7. What obligation comes with the inheritance?
8. How should the obligation be met in our day?
THE BATTLEFIELD OF PRESBYTERIANISM.—A.D. 200.
The beginning of Scotland's evangelization is pre-historic. The records fail to give any satisfaction concerning the entrance of the Gospel into that lovely land. The ruins of numerous altars of stone bear grim testimony to the idolatrous worship practiced by the early inhabitants. These are known in history as the Druids. They held their religious meetings in groves, and evidently offered human sacrifices to their gods. The oak was accounted by them a sacred tree, and the mistletoe, when growing upon it, was worshiped. Thus the land of our forefathers, in the far off ages, was without a ray of Gospel light. The people sat in darkness, in the region and shadow of death.
In the first three centuries of the Christian era, the successive persecutions at Rome drove many Christians out from that Gospel center, to wander in all directions over the world. They suffered banishment for Christ's sake. In their wanderings they became great missionaries. They loved Jesus more than their lives, and their religion more than their homes. By them the Gospel was carried to the ends of the earth. It seems that some of them drifted into Scotland and brought to that land the bright morning of a day that carried storms in its bosom, and after the storms, peace, quietness, prosperity, Christian civilization—an inheritance of light and liberty unparalleled in history.
As these witnesses of Jesus told the story of God's love and of Christ's death, the Holy Spirit came down with power and wrought wondrously upon the people. They readily believed the faithful saying, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."
In the later centuries the Gospelized communities developed into an organized Church, with doctrine, worship, and government based upon God's Word. These primitive Christians were careful to preserve the apostolic simplicity, purity, manner, and substance, of Divine service. The Infallibility of the Bible, the Divinity of Christ, the Inspired Psalmody, and the Presbyterian form of government, were fundamentals in the faith of the Church of Scotland from her youth. She appears exceedingly beautiful in her first love, coming up from the wilderness with her right hand taking firm hold upon the Lord Jesus Christ, her gracious Redeemer and mighty Protector.
The Church of Scotland was then known as the Church of the Culdees. They had a flourishing Theological Seminary on the Isle of Iona. The ruins of it still remain.
Papal Rome however quickly scented this noble vine, with its rich, ripe clusters of grapes. Embassies were sent to win these children of light over to the Papacy. But they had tasted of the freedom and blessedness in Christ and refused. A long sanguinary struggle ensued, which resulted in the apparent suppression of the Protestant faith in the Twelfth century. The ministers in general, under the severity of prolonged persecution, surrendered their liberty and became servants of the Roman pontiff.
Yet were there always some to resist the cruel conqueror. The excellent of the earth are always to be found at their unpurchasable value, when mankind is on the market selling cheap. These had the courage to challenge popes and kings, who dared to assume the power or the prerogatives of Jesus Christ. They believed that Christ was the Head of the Church, and were willing to yield up their lives rather than their convictions. The doctrine of Christ's supremacy was incarnated in these worthies, and they became invincible in its defence. As the granite rocks, beneath whose shelter they worshiped, withstood the blasts of winter, so these insuppressible men withstood the storms of persecution. The sovereignty of Christ over Church and nation was dearer to them than life. They saw the glory of God involved in this fundamental truth, also the honor of Jesus Christ, and the liberty, purity, and permanence of the Church. They counted the pre-eminence of the Lord Jesus Christ worthy of every sacrifice. They suffered bonds and imprisonment, exile and slavery, torture and death, for its sake. Their blood watered the moss of the moors and the heather of the mountains. Thousands and tens of thousands of Scotland's noblest sons and purest daughters gave their lives freely for the contested doctrine of Christ's crown rights and royal supremacy. As these valiant soldiers of the cross fell, their children arose, and, grasping the banner of the Covenant crimsoned with the blood of their fathers, carried it defiantly along the firing line of the fierce battle. The dreadful conflict continued while century followed century.
Victory finally crowned the martyrs' cause, and peace spread her white wings over the crimson field, which in our day yields a rich harvest of happiness and prosperity. Out of that great struggle we have inherited the civil and religious liberty, which to-day is the crowning glory of Great Britain and America.
But the victories of our fathers were not final: they only placed us on vantage ground to continue the struggle, until the whole world shall be redeemed from every system of false religion and despotic power. Much land yet remains to be possessed. Animated by their noble example and encouraged by their success, we should press forward in the same cause, for the glory of Christ and the salvation of souls. How can we hesitate? Great obligations have descended from the fathers to us as their successors; future generations are dependent on our faithfulness.
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. Describe the religion that prevailed in Scotland before the Gospel was introduced.
2. What is known concerning the beginning of the Church in this country?
3. What was the success of the Gospel during the early centuries?
4. What were the chief doctrines of the Church in those times?
5. What foe attempted her suppression?
6. Describe the resistance offered by the martyrs.
7. What was the great doctrine around which the battle was waged?
SOME EARLY MARTYRS.—A.D. 1200.
The Roman hierarchy, having gained a foothold on the shores of Scotland, pushed hard for the ascendancy. At length the Papal religion prevailed. The black wings of apostasy, as of an ominous bird, were stretched from sea to sea. Dense darkness fell upon Scotland. The Thirteenth century was the horrible midnight, during which the people slept helpless in the grasp of a terrorizing nightmare. Kings combined with priests to crush all who asserted their right to a free conscience in the worship of God. The Bible was officially condemned and publicly burned; its perusal by the people was accounted a crime worthy of death. Poor Scotland! how ruinously overwhelmed beneath the briny waters of adversity.
The providences of God are mysterious. We become mystified and distressed when we ask for reasons. God's circles are vast; we cannot take in His horizon. We know however that all His works are done in truth and righteousness. The wheels of Christ's chariot never move backward. In getting over the rough places, progress may seem to be reversed, yet this is an illusion. In every such case the mysterious operation of providence is merely preparation for advancement. The great work of redemption goes forward through all stages to perfection. The storms that dash against the face of spring prevent not the coming of summer with its abundant harvests and songs of joy.
The light of the Gospel seemed to have been quenched beneath the seething tide of Papal corruption. Still there were incorruptible men and women here and there, who devoutly worshiped God according to His Word. Their hearthstone was their church. There may have been many in those days deeply rooted in the faith, but for most part they remained invisible. To be known as true to Christ imperiled life. Not many had the courage to publish their convictions. Yet there were some who arose in the majesty of redeemed manhood and confessed Jesus, testifying to His truth in defiance of the powers of darkness. To them truth was sweeter than life.
John Resby is on record as one among the first witnesses, who heralded a glorious reformation for Scotland. He was a voice crying in the wilderness, proclaiming the sovereignty of Christ over the Church and denouncing the pope who claimed to be the representative of the Lord Jesus. He was quickly silenced by death at the stake. This occurred in 1407 The spirit of religious liberty was thereby crushed and disappeared for twenty-five years.
Paul Craw was the next to be lifted into prominence by the power of the Gospel, and thrust into publicity by the courage of his convictions. The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him. His love for the truth of the Gospel filled him with abhorrence of Roman errors; his pity for souls carried him into the fight for their freedom. He testified boldly against Papal idolatry, prayer to saints, and the confessional. For this he was sentenced to suffer in the flames. His martyrdom took place in 1432.
Patrick Hamilton was another distinguished hero in this age of darkness. Nearly a century had passed between the last mentioned martyr and this. Doubtless lesser lights had appeared, for the record cannot possibly be complete. Winter snows and summer showers often fell on smoking embers, where the charred bones and precious names of martyrs are now forgotten, and the annual sward of green conceals the sacred grounds from the knowledge of man. Hamilton was a young man of education and refinement having fairest worldly prospects. However, the Lord showed him "the way, the truth, and the life," and his soul was fired with the love of God. He counted all things but "loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ." His enthusiasm carried him boldly into controversy with the enemies of his Lord, and won for him the honors of a noble martyr. As the flames leaped around him at the stake, his voice rose calm and clear on the crisp winter air, exclaiming, "How long, O Lord, shall darkness cover this realm? How long wilt thou suffer this tyranny of man?" This man was sacrificed in 1528.
The light was rising; spring-time was coming, the early rain of God's grace was falling upon Scotland. Godly lives now sprang up thick as flowers in the meadow. They must be uprooted in bunches, thought the Romanists, or the people, gaining light, will cast off the Papal religion and be free to worship God according to His Word. During the next few years many were condemned and executed for their faith.
Helen Stark deserves honorable mention. She and her husband were sentenced to death for their fidelity to Jesus. She begged for the poor consolation of dying with her husband, pleading that the flames that would consume his flesh might also consume hers. The privilege was denied. She stood by him while the fire did its work, and the chariot of flame bore his soul to heaven. She encouraged him to endure bravely and glorify God. When life had departed from his quivering body, she was pushed aside and hastened to a pond of deep water. Withdrawing a babe from her warm breast where it would never again rest, she gave it to a woman near by, resigning it to the loving Father of orphans. She was then plunged into the water where death quickly ended her sorrows. This martyrdom was in 1543.
George Wishart arose at this time in the spirit and majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ, and displayed the banner of truth with an invincible faith. His heart was true, pure, fresh, and fragrant as the heart of a rosebud, through the indwelling Spirit of God. His life was wonderfully attractive. His eloquence was seraphic; his lips had been touched with a live coal from the altar of God; his soul was aflame with the Gospel. He was animated with transfiguring revelations of Christ and His redeeming truth. He was a burning and shining light. The light he shed was too bright to last long in those dangerous times. The cardinal, prelates, and priests consulted for his overthrow. He fell suddenly into their hands and his death was decreed. To the stake he was hurried where the flames once more did their work, and another faithful soul appeared before the Throne, washed in the blood of the Lamb, and arrayed in a white robe, rejoicing in the victory won through Jesus Christ. At the stake his executioner begged forgiveness. Wishart kissed his cheek, saying, "Go, here is a token that I forgive thee; do thine office." One standing near said to him, "Be of good courage." He replied, "This fire torments my body, but in no way abates my spirit." This execution was in 1546.
The success of life is not measured by the years we live, but by loyalty to Jesus Christ and service in the Gospel; the might of our faith, the healthiness of the soul, the greatness of the heart, and the intensity of the light shining from a character radiant with the presence and glory of Jesus Christ.
Are we every day trying to make our lives rich, radiant, successful, and certain of reward, through earnest effort to bring others into the possession of the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. What was Scotland's condition when over-ridden by the Roman religion?
2. How was the true Church kept alive?
3. Describe the sufferings endured by the witnesses of Jesus.
4. Give the death scene of John Resby, Paul Craw, Patrick Hamilton, Helen Stark, George Wishart.
5. How may the study of the martyrs' lives purify, strengthen, and ennoble our lives?
KNOX IN THE FIELD OF CONFLICT.—A.D. 1547.
"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." This crimson adage is a striking truth. "If ye burn any more," quaintly said one who had observed the effects of the martyrdom of Wishart on the public mind, "burn them in your cellar, for the smoke infects all upon whom it is blown."
John Knox was then a young man preparing for service in the priesthood of Rome. He had met Wishart and felt the glow of his warm heart and the power of his inspiring fellowship. He was a man of eminent natural abilities to which was added a liberal education. He was recognized as one who would be a mighty champion on whatever side he took his stand. God was rich in mercy to Scotland when He caused the Gospel to shine into the heart of Knox, giving him "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." His towering intellect, through the study of the Word of God, caught the morning glory of the Reformation, like a mountain that catches the first rays of the rising sun. He broke all the bonds that bound him to Papacy, and entered into the liberty of the children of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
When Knox received his first call to become a pastor, he was overwhelmed with anxiety at the awful responsibility of preaching the Gospel. He stood in amazement, but dared not refuse. His humility and self-abasement prepared him, through the grace of the Lord Jesus, for heights of power and honor seldom reached by ministers. From that crucial day he devoted all the energies of body and soul to the preaching of the Word of God. His public services covered a quarter of a century.
This mighty man of valor threw himself immediately into the thickest of the fight against Romanism. He struck at the root of the evil. Instead of skirmishing along the borders about rituals, ceremonies, and perversion of doctrines, he boldly challenged the Papal system as Antichrist, and the Pope as "The man of sin." In his estimation the Romish Church was a fallen Church and had become "The Synagogue of Satan." He entered the field of conflict clad in the armor of God and wielded the sword of the Spirit with precision and terrible effect. In prayer lay the secret of his power. He knew how to take hold upon God, and prevail like a prince. The Queen Regent, who in those times mustered the forces of the government at her pleasure, said, "I am more afraid of the prayers of John Knox than of any army of ten thousand men."
The very name of Knox was enough to strike terror into the hearts of his enemies. On one occasion, having been in Geneva for a time, he returned unexpectedly. Just then a number of the Reformed ministers, who had been arrested for preaching against Popery, were approaching their trial. The court had assembled and were attending to the preliminaries. Suddenly a messenger rushed into the hall of justice, breathless with haste, exclaiming, "John Knox! John Knox is come! he slept last night in Edinburgh!" The court was stunned and immediately adjourned.
The life of Knox was often in danger. Once as he sat in his room reading by candle light a shot was fired at him from the street through the window. It went harmlessly past him and struck his candle.
He received a request on a certain occasion to preach in a city that was a stronghold of Romanism. He accepted, glad of the opportunity, knowing also the peril. The archbishop of the city, having an army at his bidding, sent Knox a warning, saying, that if he preached, the soldiers would receive orders to fire upon him. His friends urged him not to go. He replied, "As for the fear of danger that may come to me let no man be solicitous, for my life is in the custody of Him whose glory I seek. I desire the hand and weapon of no man to defend me. I only crave audience, which, if it be denied here unto me at this time, I must seek farther where I may have it." He went and preached and returned unharmed. His great courage infused itself into other hearts, and a multitude of invincible men stood forth with him in the struggle for liberty and conscience, which he so fearlessly advocated. Every sublime life is a mighty power for the uplifting of others into the same region of healthy action.
The throne of Scotland, with its machinery of government, was against Knox all his days. Queen Mary was determined to keep the people in subjection to her own arbitrary will, and the Church subject to her authority. Knox had several personal interviews with her, taking occasion at the risk of his life to speak candidly and solemnly, applying the Word of God to her life and conscience. At one time, remonstrating against her persecuting rage, he said to her, "Even so, Madam, if those who are in authority, being stricken with a frenzy, will murder the children of God, who are their own subjects, the sword may be taken from them, and they may be imprisoned till they be brought to a sober mind." The queen was much amazed and her face changed color, but she was powerless to do him harm.
During the lifetime of Knox, the Church of the Reformation grew rapidly and became mighty in numbers and influence. The first General Assembly was held in 1560, having 6 ministers and 32 other members, 38 in all. In 1567, just seven years later, the Assembly numbered 252 ministers, 467 readers, and 154 exhorters. This, too, was in a time of distress the conditions were unfavorable, the opposition was very strong. How account for the success? "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord."
The Church contended for the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ, even unto death.
The Church pursued unswervingly the course marked out for her in the Word of God, in doctrine, worship, and discipline, not troubled at the cost nor fearing results.
The Church refused to be guided by human wisdom or temporizing methods, either to win numbers or gain favor, depending for success upon the wisdom that cometh from above.
The Church sought to glorify God with simplicity of faith, holiness of life, purity of worship, and loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence the invincible energy, the wonderful achievements, the magnificent victories, and the amazing increase. Would not the Church of Christ take on like activities, proportions, and strength, by following the same course of fidelity in our own times?
John Knox died in 1572, at the age of 67. His last words were, "Come, Lord Jesus, sweet Jesus; receive my spirit." His latter end was peace.
Will we strive to emulate Knox in prayer, courage, self-denial, and pure-heartedness? Will not his example be to us an inspiration to work with faith and might, to build up the Church and enlarge the Kingdom of Christ? He was great because he was humble and trusted in the Lord. The same way is still open to all who would do great things for God. Humility, prayer, faith, activity, courage, honor, glory—these are the successive steps upward. There is yet room in the high places. Knox's place seems to be vacant. Who will fill it? What an opportunity for young men to bring their noblest powers into action!
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. What great reformer appeared at this stage of the conflict?
2. What was the attitude of Knox toward Romanism?
3. How was his power dreaded by his enemies?
4. What was his demeanor in danger?
5. Describe his interviews with the rulers.
6. Tell how the Church prospered during his ministry; explain the cause.
7. What effect should such a life have on us as we study it?
FOUNDATION STONES.—A.D. 1550.
During the first half of the Sixteenth century the Church struggled strenuously for a more complete organization. The Word of God was quietly circulated and believers in Jesus Christ were growing numerous. But hitherto they had to worship God at their own fireside or burn at the stake. In the humble cottage, while the raging storm kept spies away, the father read from the Book of God to his children as they huddled around the turf fire, and the mother sang Psalms to the little ones as she knit their stockings or baked the oaten bread. Thus pious parents instilled into their sons and daughters the truth of Christ which stirred their blood, and prepared a generation to emerge from the bondage of Papacy.
THE FIRST COVENANT—1557.
During these times the Church was found chiefly in groups of Christians who met secretly for prayer. A company of devout believers came together to spend the evening hours, or the Sabbath day, in the worship of God. The meeting was called a Society. In these places prayer was offered in faith, the Psalms were sung with grave melody, and the Bible was read with reverence. These hungry souls fed upon the Word. Sometimes the meetings were held in caves for fear of the enemy. Once a minister, being pursued, entered one of these caves for safety. As he sat down in its shelter, he was surprised at hearing soft melody farther back in that dark retreat. Following the sound of the voices he found a company of devout worshipers.
In those troublous times the Holy Spirit, in His own mysterious way, electrified the hearts of these hidden ones with the thought of Covenanting with each other and with God, to stand for life, liberty, and religion. A day was set and a place appointed for entering into the holy bond. Notwithstanding the danger incurred, a large concourse of people assembled and solemnly entered into the Covenant. This occurred in the city of Edinburgh, December 3, 1557. This Covenant embodied their purpose, thus, "We by His grace, shall, with all diligence, continually apply our whole power, substance, and our very lives, to maintain, set forward, and establish the most blessed Word of God and His Church." This is known as The First Covenant of Scotland. Two years later, another bond of agreement was subscribed, on behalf of the Church, by her most prominent leaders, which was called The Second Covenant.
THE FIRST GENERAL ASSEMBLY—1560.
The First Covenant was a formidable bulwark of defence against Papacy. The young Protestant Church found in it a strong tower. The battle grew fiercer. Many of the nobles joined the Covenanted ranks. Two years later this Covenant was renewed and the cause gained great strength. Among other leaders Lord James Stuart, the queen's brother, subscribed. He was a daring defender of the Reformed faith. He stood as a wall of adamant between the Reformation and his sister, Mary, Queen of Scots, who employed the government and army to destroy it. After her overthrow he became regent, ruling the nation with kingly power and extraordinary ability, having the fear of God and the welfare of the people at heart. His home was like a sanctuary; the fire burned on the family altar, the Bible was read at the table, the beauty of holiness graced the household. In history he is known as Lord Murray, the "Good Regent." He was assassinated by an ingrate, whom he had pardoned and saved from execution. Much credit for the First Reformation must be given to Murray in the State and Knox in the Church, each peerless in his place. In their day the Church became an organized power and assumed the appearance of "an army with banners." The First General Assembly met in Edinburgh, December 20, 1560. The purpose was, "To consult upon those things which are to forward God's glory and the well-being of His Kirk." The glory of God! the honor of Christ! the exaltation of the supreme Name! that is the purpose that sends fire through the veins and sweeps the soul with holy flames. Give this its true place, and the best work of life will be done. Then did the Church arise and shine in the glory of the Lord. Then did she develop in size, strength, and courage, as in the days of the apostles. Seven years later when the General Assembly met, the members numbered 773, with a prosperous Church of proportionate size. The Reformers entered into the work of the Lord with heartiness and reaped a plentiful harvest.
THE FIRST BOOK OF DISCIPLINE—1561.
The high principles governing the First General Assembly are seen in the effort to preserve the purity of the young Church, springing up under the care of these "valiant men of Israel." One of the first steps taken was the appointment of a committee to prepare a Book of Discipline. These devout men copied from no existing form of Church government. They did not draw even upon Holland or Geneva for resources. They went directly to the Word of God, as the fountain of all knowledge for the task on hand. They took counsel and instruction from God in prayer, placed mind and heart under the guiding power of the Holy Spirit. The book that came forth was such as we would expect at the hands of such men, working with such spirit and purpose. Its statements were truth; its rules were wisdom; its censures were a sword; its authority was Christ. The General Assembly adopted it. However, it was not in favor with all. Its standard of doctrine and discipline was too high to please some. Knox gives the reason: "Everything that impugned their corrupt affections was mockingly termed 'devout imaginations.' The cause was, some were licentious, some had greedily gripped the possessions of the Church, and others thought they would not lack their part of Christ's coat." Discipline was applied to the Church according to the book. The unworthy were suspended, and those who failed to measure up to the standard of knowledge, character, and spiritual life, were refused. Could there be a clearer demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Jesus Christ, than the discipline that removed the unworthy and refused the unfit, when the Church was so weak in number and assailed by hordes of enemies? Yet during the first seven years of this Book of Discipline, the General Assembly grew from 6 to 252 ministers, and the Church in the same marvelous proportion. Behold God's seal placed on strict discipline. There is power in purity; vitality depends much on sanitation.
THE FIRST SCHOOLS—1561.
The Public School system is the offspring of Protestantism. The human mind, when liberated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, aspires after education, as the eagle soars into the upper air when set free from its cage. Freedom in Christ Jesus awakens consciousness of rights, powers, privileges, obligations, and the immeasurable boundaries of mind and spirit. With such breathings and aspirations these Presbyterian fathers planted free schools over their country and set the example for the world. The General Assembly authorized a school for every "parish", and made attendance imperative. The children of the poor were instructed free, the rich contributed support. The studies covered "religion, grammar, and Latin." Also in every "notable town, a college was to be erected for instruction in logic, rhetoric, and the learned languages." Such was the work of the General Assembly in the year of our Lord 1561. Our system of Public Schools is but the extension of the orchard these fathers planted, in their far-reaching plans and great-hearted purposes.
Such were some of the steps taken by the fathers, in the Church of Scotland, at the dawn of the First Reformation. They were master builders in laying foundation stones. They were preparing for the onward movement, which gave to the world the most brilliant example of Church and State in Covenant with God. The like has not been witnessed since the days of Jesus of Nazareth. These beginnings were the stately steppings of God within His sanctuary. The Lord raised up men after His own heart, and empowered them by the Holy Spirit to perform this stupendous task. They were men of like passions with others, yet possessing the rare quality of an inviolate conscience. They were governed by principle, not expediency; were guided by truthfulness, not diplomacy; consulted God's law, not convenience; accepted duty at God's command, not at man's dictate. Not all who were enrolled in the Church stood the test; some grew faint and fell back from the firing line. But enough were ever there to glorify God and do His service at any cost. Scotland's First Reformation reached its climax in 1567.
The diligence and success of the fathers in the Lord's work should inspire us to do the best within our power for the enlargement of the Church. Are we building, as they built, upon the true foundation, which is Jesus Christ? Is our building material like theirs—gold, silver, and precious stones? Are we zealous in making the Church of Christ appear the glorious Temple of truth, the Sanctuary of the living God, the Habitation of the Holy Spirit? Are we so consumed with the holy passion of love, that we cannot rest till we bring others into the house of God? Are we worthy of our relation to the Covenanted fathers?
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. Give an account of the First Covenant.
2. Describe the First General Assembly.
3. What was the value of the First Book of Discipline?
4. Describe the founding of Public Schools in Scotland.
5. When was the First Reformation at its climax?
6. How should the success of the fathers inspire us?
SCOTLAND'S NATIONAL COVENANT.—A.D. 1581.
During the sixties of the Sixteenth century, the Presbyterian Church had her beautiful summer. The winter seemed to be past and the storms over and gone; the time of the singing of birds had come.
Hitherto the Church had been as a lily among thorns: now instead of thorns were fir trees, and instead of briers, myrtle trees, to the glory of the Lord, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.
Among the matchless sayings of Jesus, one specific word resounds through all the ages and falls upon listening ears like thunder from heaven: "WATCH". Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, the price of purity, the price of honor, the price of every thing worth having. The young Church, vigorous, victorious, and enthusiastic, seems to have been off her guard at a critical moment and while she slept the enemy sowed tares among the wheat.
The regent, the person who was acting as king while the coming king was a child, called a convention of ministers and others who favored the king's supremacy over the Church. The convention at his dictation introduced Prelacy. This occurred on January 12, 1572, a dark day for Scotland.
Prelacy is little else than Popery modified; Popery in another dress, trained and taught to speak a softer dialect. The power of Popery had been broken, but the residuum still remained, and now there appeared "the strange heterogeneous compound of Popery, Prelacy, and Presbyterianism" in the Church.
The Church awoke to find herself in the grasp of a horrible octopus, from which she did not escape for three generations, and only then at the loss of much precious blood.
The first effort of the Church, when awakened to her real condition, was to control the bishops that had come into her ministry, and whom she was powerless to remove. The next step was to attempt their removal, on the ground that the office of the bishop was unscriptural. Difficulties rapidly increased; opposing forces were daily growing stronger; the Civil government was against the Church; the regent, Scotland's chief ruler, bent all his energies in the defence of the bishops. From whence shall light and deliverance now come? Listen to the words that seem to be on ten thousand lips: "The Covenants; the Covenants shall be Scotland's reviving!" "The Covenants" now became the watchword of the faithful. A wave of hopefulness and enthusiasm spread over the Church; gladness wreathed the faces that had gathered blackness, and strength throbbed in hearts that were faint.
The General Assembly, given strength from the Lord for the occasion, adopted a form of Covenant for the nation. The Covenant, as written by Rev. John Craig, was the product of a cultured brain and pious heart. It is unsurpassed in clear diction, high purpose, majestic spirit, heroic decision, and solemn appeal to God. It became the ground-work of all Scotland's subsequent Covenants.
But Craig had to meet the test of faith required by his own Covenant. King James VI., who was now on the throne, after subscribing the bond, repudiated it, and commanded its author to do the same. Craig replied that he would never repudiate anything approved by the Word of God. The Court, in which he was on trial, ordered his head to be shaved, and other indignities to be done to his person.
Again when on trial he was treated with utmost contempt by his judge, to whom he said, "There have been as great men set up higher than thou, that have been brought low." The judge, mockingly, sat down at his feet, saying, "Now I am humbled." "Nay," said Craig, "mock God's servants as thou wilt, God will not be mocked, but shall make thee find it in earnest, when thou shalt be cast down from the high horse of thy pride." A few years later he was thrown from his horse and killed.
The fervor aroused by the Covenant swept the Church like a Pentecostal fire, and spread over all the kingdom as a storm of holy excitement. The Covenant bond, being signed by the king, the nobles, and a great multitude of people, was called, The First National Covenant of Scotland.
No greater event had ever stirred the kingdom, no deeper joy had lighted up her coasts, no higher honor had exalted her people, no brighter glory had overspread her mountains and moors. That holy Covenant had lifted her into relationship with God; the kingdom had become Hephzibah, and the land, Beulah; the nation was married to the Lord.
The Covenant bound the Covenanter, the Church, the nation, and posterity, under a solemn oath,—
To adhere to the Reformed religion with all the heart through all time to come;
To labor with all lawful means to recover the purity and liberty of the Gospel, by removing all human innovations from the Church;
To abhor and detest the corrupt doctrines and practices of Romanism;
To resist under the oath of God all the evils and corruptions contrary to the Reformed religion;
To defend the country and support the government, while country and government defend and preserve true religion;
To stand in mutual defence of one another in maintaining the Gospel and the Reformed Church;
To permit nothing to divide the Covenanted ranks, or diminish their power, or swerve them from their high purpose;
To become good examples of Godliness, soberness, and righteousness in the performance of every duty due to God and man;
To fear none of the foul aspersions that may be cast upon this Covenant, seeing it is warranted by the Word of God, and is for the maintenance of His Church;
To recognize the LIVING GOD as the Searcher of hearts, and Jesus Christ as the Judge, before whom all shall stand in judgment.
Such was the high range of thought, motive, purpose, and action reached by this Covenant of the fathers, who called upon God in the day of trouble, and were heard in that they feared. The men who led in this solemn transaction were distinguished for learning, piety, high-souled purpose, devotion to their country, and zeal for the glory of Christ. They were among the excellent of the earth. But the mighty current of religious enthusiasm that had set in drew to itself, and carried on its bosom, multitudes who were superficial and vacillating. These quickly fell away when the counter current set forward; some of them even became violent persecutors of the Covenanters.
The king was among the first to vitiate his oath, and break the Covenant. His weakness was pitiful; he seemed to turn with every gale that struck him. The next year he mustered the strength of his government to overthrow the Presbyterian Church, and reverse the workings of the Covenant. The Church was aroused and resolute, Andrew Melville being her recognized leader. A delegation was sent to the king to remonstrate; Melville was the spokesman. The king was confronted like a lion in his den. He listened to the following message: "Your majesty, by device of some counselors, is caused to take upon you a spiritual power and authority, which properly belongs unto Christ, as the only King and Head of the Church. Through your highness, some men are trying to erect a new Popedom, as though your majesty could not be king and head of this commonwealth, unless the spiritual sword, as well as the temporal, be put into your hands; unless Christ be bereft of His authority, and the two jurisdictions which God separated be confounded. All this tends to the wreck of true religion."
Melville sent the truth, like a lancet, into the inflated ambition of the young king. He winced in the agony of the keen surgery. But Melville had to meet the consequences of his faithfulness. He was taken to the tower of London, where he lay in a dismal cell four years. He was afterward banished and died in a strange land.
This Covenant of 1851 placed posterity, equally with the Covenanters of that day, in oath-bound relation to God. A Public Covenant with God continues in its moral obligation until its terms are fulfilled. Are we lifting up our lives into relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ through our inherited Covenant? Are we fulfilling our sworn duties to our country, our Church, and our Lord? Are we using all lawful means to cause true religion to prevail? Are we employing our strength against all opposing evils? Are we keeping step in the Covenanted ranks that are marching on, assured that the principles of the Reformation will yet prevail in every land?
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. What was the condition of the Presbyterian Church during 1560-1570?
2. How did the Church thereafter decline?
3. To what did the Church resort for her reviving?
4. What effect had the Covenant on the Church?
5. Mention some of the main points in the Covenant.
6. How did the king regard the Covenant?
7. How was his opposition resisted by the Covenanters?
8. In what way do the former Covenants bind the present generation?
CONTENDING WITH THE KING—A.D. 1582.
The Covenanted Church flourished under the care of the General Assembly like a well-watered garden. The small band of ministers and elders, who had organized the Assembly, were richly blest in their labors. They had assembled at the risk of their lives to give the supremacy of Jesus Christ its loudest utterance, and the unity of the Church its grandest expression; and the signal favor of God was their reward. The first ten years of the General Assembly were the halcyon days of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Under the showers of the Holy Spirit, pious people sprang up "as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses." The power of the Papacy was broken and its horrors checked.
The clear sky, however, soon gathered blackness. The first cloud was, in size, and in cunning, too, as a man's hand. The national government had condemned Popery as a religion, and had confiscated the vast wealth which the priesthood had amassed and had long enjoyed. This immense property, including rich revenues, large buildings, broad fields, and annual harvests, was held for distribution. How shall it be distributed? That was the burning question of the day, and it started a conflagration in the Church, that kindled many a fire at the stake. The Civil court decided that one-sixth should be given to the Church. The Church accepted the allowance. It was a sweet morsel in her mouth; but bitter, oh, how bitter in her bowels!
Regent Morton held the reins of government at that time. That cunning ruler in bestowing this gift expected large returns. If the Church get gold at his hand, she must make concessions on his demand. From that day the Covenanted Church was in trouble. She was compelled to keep up a constant warfare for her heaven-given independence, a bitter fight at the cost of much blood for the right of self-government under her Lord. The Bride of the Son of God had linked arms with an earthly suitor, and leaned on him for support, to her shame and sorrow. The Church of Christ, free-born and independent, endued with divine power, enriched with the indwelling Spirit, and sufficiently resourceful for all conditions and obligations, now depended on the State for financial help. The mistake grew more evident, and its correction more difficult, as time rolled on.
The sovereignty of Jesus Christ is one of the cardinal doctrines of Presbyterianism. Christ in this form of Church government is glorified as Lord over all, and blessed forever. Enthroned on the right hand of the Majesty on high, He rules over a dominion whose limits include the utmost bounds of creation. On earth He has organized the Church, of which He is the only Head and King. He has also established the State, of which He is both King and Judge. The Church and State under Jesus Christ are mutually independent; each should be cordial and co-operative with the other; both are directly accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Morton saw his opportunity when the Church took the money. In those days the ruler of Scotland insisted on being recognized as the head of the Church. Morton put forth his claim of control; the faithful ministers of Christ resisted. Since the reign of Henry VIII., the Episcopal Church has acknowledged the reigning sovereign as supreme in her government. In this position the ruler can use the Church as an arm of his government, a handmaid in his administration, an instrument in carrying out his designs, an ally in supporting whatsoever may originate in his heart.
Morton attempted to introduce Episcopacy into the General Assembly. Even there he found some ready to do his bidding; and thus began the long controversy between Presbyterianism and Episcopacy. The struggle of Protestantism with Romanism had well-nigh disappeared; the fight was now between the Presbyterian and the Episcopalian.
Morton's leaven quickly did its work; the Assembly became deeply infected. For more than an hundred years the terrible struggle continued. In the early years of this fierce conflict, Andrew Melville, mighty in the power of Jesus, stood in the forefront of the battle. Melville was scholarly, intrepid, adventurous, highly emotional, and vehement in the cause of the Church's independence. He had some sharp encounters with Morton. Morton in a rage said to him one day, "The country will never be in quietness till half a dozen of you be hanged or banished." Melville, looking him in the face with his piercing eyes, replied, "Tush, man, threaten your courtiers after that manner. It is the same to me whether I rot in the air or in the ground. The earth is the Lord's. My country is wherever goodness is. Let God be glorified, it will not be in your power to hang or exile His truth." Morton felt himself outdared and outdone by the courage and calmness of this humble servant of Christ.
Morton resigned the regency in 1578, to make way for James VI. to ascend the throne, who continued the war against the Presbyterians. He asserted that his crown depended on the office of the bishop. "No bishop, no king," was his motto. He aspired to become dictator to the Church. The General Assembly resisted his claim. A delegation was sent to the king with a strong remonstrance against his tyrannic course. Melville was a member of the delegation, and his energetic spirit constituted him speaker. The delegation appeared in the royal court where the king sat among his advisers. The remonstrance was read; it filled the king with rage. "Who dare subscribe this treasonable paper?" was asked. "We dare," replied Melville, taking hold of the pen and calmly writing his name. The others followed the bold example. The king and his company were overawed by their holy bravery.
At another time Melville became so animated in his remonstrance against the despotic monarch, that he took hold of his arm, and gave him an admonition such as few kings have ever heard. His passionate eloquence flowed in a torrent: "I must tell you, Sir, there are two kings, and two kingdoms in Scotland. There is King James VI., head of the commonwealth; and there is Christ Jesus, the King of the Church, whose subject King James is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member. Sir, when you were in your swaddling clothes, Christ Jesus reigned freely in this land, in spite of all his enemies." The words penetrated the guilty soul like flashes from the eye of God. For the time the men had exchanged places; Melville was king.
Melville suffered for his faithfulness; he was banished. Yet he was rewarded with a green old age and a triumphant death. At the age of sixty-eight he wrote from the land of his exile, "I thank God, I eat, I drink, I sleep, as well as I did thirty years bygone, and better than when I was young. My heart is yet a Scotch heart, and as good, or better than ever, both toward God and man. The Lord only be praised for this, to whom belongs all glory." He died in France in 1622.
The supremacy of Christ is the glory of the Church. Jesus is the Fountain-Head of life, love, law, government, and authority. Are we maintaining this exalted truth with the courage of our ancestors? The zeal of our fathers, if revived in these days, would electrify the world.
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. What financial question in those days ensnared the Church?
2. How was her independence affected by state patronage?
3. What was the great question in controversy?
4. How did the state make use of Episcopacy in the battle with Presbyterianism?
5. How did Melville resist the king's attempt to rule the Church?
6. What did Melville's faithfulness cost him?
7. What need now to advocate the supremacy of Jesus, and the independence of the Church?
MEN OF MIGHT.—A.D. 1596.
Jesus Christ is "the King of glory; the Lord strong and mighty; the Lord mighty in battle." His servants, filled with the Holy Spirit and devoted to His cause, grow like Him in moral courage and irresistible action. Every age supplies the opportunity for heroic service.
The Church has always had mighty men willing to venture their lives, when religion and liberty were attacked; but at no time has there gone forth a more illustrious band whose heart God touched, than in the last years of the Sixteenth century. The tide of defection was then rolling in upon the Church with desolating violence. The truth of Christ's supremacy was being submerged beneath the waves of Episcopacy. The right of Christ to rule His Church was disputed by King James, and claimed as his own prerogative. The true servants of God writhed in shame and sorrow, as they saw the diadem of Christ snatched from His brow and clutched by a presumptuous man. The times demanded men who would not quail in the presence of the sceptered monarch; or at his threats of imprisonment, banishment and death. The soldiers of the cross stepped forth. The "threescore valiant men of the valiant of Israel" were there, standing about the KING OF KINGS; "every man with his sword on his thigh, because of fear in the night."
Andrew Melville was chief among the captains in those days. His face was luminous with an inner light; his eye pierced through the countenance of his adversaries; his bearing overwhelmed his enemies with the innate majesty of truth and holiness. What a torrent his electrified soul poured forth when he opened his mouth and protested against the wrongs done to Jesus Christ and the Church! His eloquence was like a rushing river, an irresistible Niagara. Like Knox, it was said, "He never feared the face of man." In private and in public, in the pulpit and through the press, he reproved kings, princes, judges, and nobles for their sins. He did his best work when he met them face to face. The dishonor done to Christ by denying His royal rights made his blood boil, and fired his soul with vehement love in defence of his Lord and Master. But he suffered for his faithfulness. He was imprisoned; yet four years spent in jail, eating bad bread, breathing foul air, sleeping on a hard bed, groping in the darkness, lonesome in the pest-room, brought him no regret for preaching Christ. From prison he went into banishment, and from banishment, home to heaven. In his last illness he was asked if he desired the return of health. "No, not for twenty worlds," was his spirited reply.
John Davidson also shines in history as a minister of dauntless courage. He breasted the destructive flood of declension, and endured the buffeting of the waves. His humility prepared him for great service in the kingdom of God. He was deeply grieved by reason of the loose doctrines and practices prevailing within the ministry. The Church was infected and corrupted with the inventions of man. Through his effort the General Assembly held a special meeting in 1596, to observe a fast and renew the Covenant of 1581. The meeting was held on the 30th of March of that year. The showers of spring were falling, the mountain streams were flowing, the fields were putting on their soft verdure, the flowers were appearing in their beauty—all nature seemed to be breaking forth into holy laughter through her tears. How impressive this emblem of the memorable meeting, where earnest men prayed and wept and sobbed and sat in sadness and silence, in the presence of God confessing their sins! Then, with uplifted hands, they "made promise before the Majesty of heaven to amend their ways." A great reviving followed, and many hearts were made glad. Two years later Mr. Davidson met the king, and, refusing to submit conscience to his tyrannic will, was cast into prison.
John Welch, too, is found in the front ranks of the Church's noblest defenders. His wife, Elizabeth, daughter of John Knox, was his equal in courage and steadfastness. His life caught high inspiration from her faith, and her heart gloried in his heroic spirit; the two mountains were alike high.
King James had determined to crush the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. That Assembly stood in his way as he strode toward despotic power. He must remove the hindrance, or fail in his ambition. He commanded the Assembly to hold no more meetings, except by his permission. Against his royal decree, a few bold-hearted men met on the first Tuesday of July, 1605. This was the last free General Assembly for a whole generation. In 1618 this court of God's house disappeared altogether under the king's despotic rule, till 1638, when Scotland arose once more in the power of the Lord, and renewed her Covenant.
John Welch was one of the few ministers who braved the king's wrath, and approved of the forbidden meeting. Within a month he was in jail. The place of his detention was called "Blackness." In his little cell, damp, dark, foul, and lonely, he had time to reflect. He remembered his happy home, faithful wife, loving children, garden walks, sweet sunshine, soft breezes, pleasant Sabbaths, inspiring pulpit, glowing audience—he could now think of all, and see the cost of fidelity to Jesus. Did it pay? He could lay his aching head on its hard pillow, and dream of the happiness that was gone, and awaken to ask if it had been worth while. Did it pay to be true to Christ? Listen; he speaks from his prison: "We have ever been waiting with joyfulness to give the last testimony of our blood to Christ's crown, scepter, and kingdom."
Welch found his great strength in prayer. Prayer to him was conversation with God. His soul was familiar with Jesus. He often arose from his bed to talk with God. He kept a shawl at hand, when at home, to cast over his shoulders during these rapturous hours. In the summer nights he spent much time under the trees in communing with the Lord of heaven. To him the stars lost their brilliancy in the presence of the Bright and Morning Star. His soul took many a bath in the ocean of eternal light. On one occasion his wife listened to his mysterious talk with God. He was in the agony of earnestness. "Lord, wilt not Thou give me Scotland?" he cried. Then followed the outpouring of contentment: "Enough, Lord, enough." At another time, the awful glory of the Lord was let in upon his soul, till he called out, "O Lord, hold Thy hand; it is enough; Thy servant is a clay vessel and can hold no more."
Mrs. Welch was as heroic as her husband. When she pleaded with the king for his release, he consented, on condition that Welch would recede from his position. Mrs. Welch, lifting up her apron in the presence of the king, replied, "Please, your majesty, I would rather kep his head here!" referring to the axeman's block, and the head rolling from it into her apron.
The sovereignty of Jesus calls for heroic lives. This royal truth, defended by the fathers, at the cost of much blood, must yet be lifted up in the sight of the world. Brave men and women are needed now as much as ever, even those who count the honor of Jesus worth more than life, yea, more precious than all that the heart holds dear on earth.
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. What great principle in the Church was here at stake?
2. How did Christ's servants contend for His supremacy?
3. What notable men did God raise up for the occasion?
4. By what means was the Church again revived?
5. What violence did the Presbyterian Assembly suffer by the king?
6. How long was the Assembly suppressed?
7. What was the secret of power in these defenders of the truth?
8. State the present need of moral heroes.
DARKNESS BROODING OVER THE LAND.—A.D. 1600.
The Seventeenth century dawned upon Scotland amidst ominous clouds. Storms were gathering that swept the land for more than eighty years—storms of "fire, and blood, and vapors of smoke." The intervals of sunshine were few. The flock of God, the beautiful flock, suffered grievously by reason of wolves that entered into the fold in sheep's clothing.
"No bishop, no king," cried King James. He evidently meant, "No Prelacy, no despotism." He made the Prelatic form of Church government, of which he was the recognized head, the bulwark of his assumed supremacy over the Church and his tyranny over conscience, and took every occasion to assert his power.
The General Assembly had appointed the date and place for a meeting in 1604. The king arbitrarily postponed the meeting one year, and at the expiration of the year postponed it again. But there were high-principled men who resisted the domineering monarch. Nineteen faithful ministers had met with a number of elders, just as fearless and faithful as the ministers, and constituted the Assembly against the king's specific orders. Their defiance of the king's authority was at the risk of their lives. This was their last free Assembly for thirty years. These men were haled before the judges, and, being found guilty of disobeying the king, were sentenced. During the next twelve years the king dominated the Assembly, after which he dissolved it, permitting no more meetings while he lived. The Prelatic party henceforth held the power and ruled the Church with a high hand.
The form of worship was changed; human devices, in place of God's appointments flooded the Church. Departure from the old ways was especially marked by a measure known as the "Five Articles of Perth." These were sanctioned by the king, and rigorously enforced in his effort to subdue all who resisted or protested. Henceforth Presbyterians had to conform to the new mode of worship, or feel the weight of the law in confiscation, imprisonment, banishment, or death.
These Articles of Perth were sanctioned by the Parliament. This act of ratification was accompanied by a remarkable demonstration of Providence. Parliament was then evidently carrying out the will of the king, for the subversion of the Presbyterian Church, the Reformed religion, the liberty of conscience, and the rights of the people. Parliament met for this purpose in Edinburgh, August 4, 1621. The morning was gloomy. With the advancing hours the clouds grew denser and darker; the whole sky became covered with blackness; a storm of divine wrath seemed to bend the very heavens with its weight. Just at the moment when the Marquis of Hamilton, performing the final act of ratification in the name of the king, touched the official paper with the scepter, a streak of lightning blazed through the gloom, and another, and a third, blinding the guilty men in the presence of their awful deed. Three peals of thunder followed in quick succession, making every heart tremble. A momentary pang of conscience must have been felt, while the KING of heaven spoke in thunder that made their ears tingle, and in flames that dazzled their eyes. This dismal day, July 25, 1621, is remembered in Scotland as "Black Saturday." Oh, how black with storm clouds, with man's guilt, with heaven's rebukes, and with apprehensions of sorrow and suffering!
These were the days of Melville, Welch, and Boyd, who, with other men, mighty in the Lord, withstood the king to his face, and the government with its threats and penalties. When the Church was in jeopardy, the Lord Jesus Christ had His chosen servants, able and willing to defend the faith. Like the prophets of old, they lifted up their voices in the high places, wrestled with principalities and powers, uttered their testimony as with the voice of thunder, and cheerfully sealed their testimony with their blood.
Among the champions of that day, Robert Bruce, an eminent minister of the Gospel, took his place in the thickest of the fight. He was a large man, dignified and commanding in appearance; the countenance, physique, intellect, and spirit denoting true kingliness and strength. He may have been a descendant of his famous namesake, Robert Bruce, one of Scotland's great kings; his heart was just as heroic and patriotic. This soldier of the cross was strong because he lived in the bosom of God's love; his life was fragrant with heaven's atmosphere. He had a keen conscience. When urged to accept the ministry he at first refused, but that refusal caused such remorse that he said, he would rather walk through half a mile of burning brimstone than have the mental agony repeated.
Bruce, during his early ministry, was greatly beloved by the king. Such was his delight in him that he was chosen to anoint the king's bride and place the crown on her head. Three years after this pleasant event he incurred the king's wrath by discountenancing his majesty's authority over the Church. Being commanded to perform a certain service in the pulpit he resolutely refused. To forfeit thus the royal good will, and take the risk of consequences, required courage of the highest type. But Bruce was a man of public spirit and heroic mind, equal to the occasion, through the abiding Spirit of God, that wrought mightily in him.
When matters were going from bad to worse, in his relation to the king, he attended a meeting with a few other ministers, contrary to the king's proclamation, to take counsel concerning the Church. A delegation was appointed at this meeting to wait on the king, and urge their plea for relief. Bruce was the spokesman. The king received the delegates, but listened with impatience. He was in bad humor; anger flushed his face. "How durst you convene against my proclamation?" he said. "We dare more than that, and will not suffer religion to be overthrown," was the swift reply. Bruce, after this interview, quickly felt the power of the law. His property was seized; he was driven from home; and, on permission to return, was required to cease preaching. This he refused to do, finally consenting to quit for ten days. That night he fell into a fever, and suffered such terrors of conscience, that he resolved that he would die ere he would make a promise like that again.
Bruce's strength lay in his familiarity with Jesus Christ. His preaching was with power, because Christ was with him. On one occasion, being late for the service, a certain person reported, saying, "I think he will not come to-day, for I overheard him in his room say to another, 'I protest I will not go unless thou goest with me.'" He was talking with Jesus about going to preach. In his prayers he was brief, but "every word was as a bolt shot to heaven;" and in preaching he was slow and solemn, but "every sentence was as a bolt shot from heaven." He, having finished his work, entered into glory, saying pleasantly to his children, as the dying hour drew near, "I have breakfasted with you this morning, and I shall sup with my Lord Jesus Christ this night." That night he entered the heavenly city.
They who are truly alive to the holiness, justice, and goodness of God, and dwell in the radiance of His blessed face, will get views of the Church and her mission, that will inspire to greatest service and noblest sacrifices for Christ and His cause. They will arise far above ordinary life, in effort, enthusiasm, power, and stability in the Lord's work.
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. Why did the king insist on having bishops in the Church?
2. How did the Presbyterian ministers oppose them?
3. In what way did the king authorize that which corrupted Church services?
4. What device for public worship was ratified by parliament?
5. What significant providence accompanied this daring act?
6. What champion of freedom arose at this time?
7. Wherein lay Bruce's great strength?
8. How may we, too, become inspired for service?
APPROACHING A CRISIS—A.D. 1622.
The Church confronts greatest temptations and dangers when at peace with the world. A period of outward prosperity is almost certain to result in moral deterioration and produce membership of inferior mould. The appointments of God in divine worship being few, simple, and spiritual, are likely to be displaced by the showy, deceptive, sensuous inventions of man when the Church is honored with success. The Holy Spirit then withdraws in measure; frigid formality quickly follows; the services, however beautiful, become artificial and spiritless.
God has good reason for sending upon His Church periodical trials, hardships, persecutions—storms that winnow the wheat, fires that melt the gold. Such tests of faith purify the Church, run off the dross, throw out the counterfeits, break off the dead branches. The people of God are then distinguished; their heroic qualities are called into action; they become burning and shining lights in the surrounding darkness. This severe process may reduce the enrollment, yet it mightily strengthens the ranks. The Lord Jesus would rather have one of ten if true, than all the ten yea, ten times ten if untrue. Christ Jesus prefers 300 who can wield the sword of the Lord and of Gideon, to 30,000 who are indifferent or faint-hearted.
The Presbyterian Church made great progress under the Covenant of 1581 and overspread the kingdom. After ten years of prosperity came another declension. Again she was reclaimed and revived by the renewing of the Covenant of 1596. Once more she became exceedingly prosperous and popular; but her popularity resulted in weakness. Multitudes "joined the Church" merely for place, privilege, and power. These soon made themselves felt on the wrong side: they controlled the courts of God's House. Faithful ministers contended for the truth, resisted the innovations, protested in the name of Jesus, and suffered because they would not consent to do evil. They were overpowered and sometimes were displaced, sometimes imprisoned, sometimes banished. Their farewell sermons were heart-rending. Amid the sobs and wails of the affectionate people, the farewell exhortations came from these devoted men of God as words from heaven. Great excitement and sorrow prevailed in the churches, as the stricken congregations took leave of the pastors who loved the truth more than their own lives. Who can wonder at the indignation that arose like a storm, as the congregation witnessed their beloved pastor and his wife and children leave their home, and go forth to wander under the skies of summer or through the storms of winter, not knowing whither they were going! Should the people be censured for nailing the church doors against intruding ministers, and refusing to hear the hirelings sent to fill the pulpit against their will?
The Five Articles of Perth, adopted by those who were in power in the Church and enforced by Civil law, became the pastor's test. The Presbyterian minister who would not approve of the Five Articles was deposed. But how could a Covenanter give his approval without perjury? The Five Articles of Perth were these:
Kneeling at the Communion;
Observance of Holidays;
The first implied the worship of the bread; the second, the homage of saints; the third, the approval of Prelacy; the fourth, that baptism was necessary to salvation; and the fifth, that the communion opened heaven to the dying; all savored of Popery.
What minister having any regard for conscience could sign this list of errors, after swearing the Covenant? Would he not immediately feel his spiritual life sink below zero? Would not his heart chide him bitterly for the degradation of his office and manhood? And God is greater than the heart.
David Dickson was one of the ministers who had strength to endure, rather than bend. He was a young man full of fire and holy power. He had charge of a flourishing congregation at Irvine. His preaching swayed the people. They crowded the church to hear him. His appeals melted the heart and watered the cheeks. He was bold to denounce the Articles of Perth. The authorities called him up and commanded him to retract; he refused. A sad farewell to his flock followed. Rather than support error, however popular and profitable, he would sacrifice the dearest ties on earth and journey to parts unknown. And this he did.
Alexander Henderson, another minister, encountered the displeasure of the men in power and suffered much at their hands. In his early life he accepted the Prelatic creed and entered the ministry in favor with the party. He was sent to a church which, a short time previous, had experienced the violent removal of their beloved pastor. The people were indignant at Henderson's coming. They barricaded the door of the church. The delegates that had come to ordain him, not being able to effect an entrance through the door, entered by a window. Henderson was that day settled as the pastor of an absent congregation. In the lapse of time he won the people. He was faithful and powerful as a preacher of the Word, and the Lord Jesus honored him in the eyes of large audiences.
One day Henderson went to hear a Covenanted minister, Robert Bruce, at a communion. He was shy and concealed himself in a dark corner of the church. Mr. Bruce took for his text, "He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." The minister having read his text paused, and in dignified posture, with head erect, scanned his congregation with eyes that gleamed with holy fire. Such was his custom before beginning his sermon. Henderson felt the blaze of those eyes. He seemed to be the very man for whom they were searching. The recollection of having entered upon his ministry by climbing through a window horrified him. He went from that meeting determined to investigate Prelacy in the light of the Scriptures. The result was conviction of the truth and conversion to the Covenanted cause. Deportation from his devoted flock quickly followed. He was thereafter found in the forefront of the fight against the supremacy of the king over the Church, and against Prelacy that upheld the king in his arrogant assumption of the royal prerogative of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The minister of Christ is the watchman of the Church. He is placed upon Zion's walls to sound an alarm at the approach of danger. He is charged with responsibility for the people. If they perish through his neglect to give warning of dangers, his life for theirs. Faithful preaching may not be pleasant or profitable to the minister. Declaring the whole counsel of God may involve the pastor in trouble, demand sacrifices, result in hardships, controversies, separations; yet the Lord requires it, the people need it, no safety without it for either the flock or the shepherd. Without fidelity no power with God, no comfort of the Spirit, no approval from Christ. Are they who serve as ministers of Christ willing to sacrifice ministerial support, relationship, popularity, applause—everything temporal, rather than one jot or one tittle of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. Why does God send trials upon His Church?
2. Mention some of the fluctuations in the Church's condition.
3. What class of ministers then had the ascendancy?
4. How did the faithful ministers suffer?
5. What became the test for the pastorate?
6. What faithful young minister declined the test?
7. What was Alexander Henderson's experience?
8. Explain the responsibility of ministers.
THE ADVANCE GUARDS.—A.D. 1630.
King James VI. continued his warfare against Presbyterianism until his death. This occurred March 27, 1625. With advancing years he grew more bitter, using every means to coerce the Covenanters and bring them into submission. They stood as a wall of fire between him and his cherished ambition to rule supreme over Church and State. He resolved to break down that wall and quench that fire.
Covenanted Presbyterianism has always stood for liberty, conscience, enlightenment, progress, and exalted manhood, resisting all tyrants and oppressors. Presbyterianism recognizes as the crowning glory of man, his relation to God, all men alike being subjects of His government and accountable at His throne; all being under law to God and under law to no man, except in the Lord. Presbyterianism honors every honest man as a real king, clothed with innate majesty, crowned with native dignity, and exalted far above the conventional office of earth's highest monarch. Yet does Presbyterianism sustain all rightful rulers as ministers of God, and enjoin upon all people submission in the Lord.
In the beginning of 1625, while the snow was yet mantling the mountains in white, the symbol of moral purity and goodness, the king was grimly planning to debase and corrupt the best people in his realms. He gave orders to celebrate Easter with a Communion according to the Articles of Perth, announcing a severe penalty against all who would not comply. The decree was not enforced, for the Lord came suddenly to the unhappy monarch, saying, "Thy soul is required of thee." Easter came with its soft winds and opening buds, its singing brooks and flowery nooks, but King James was not there; the Judge had called him, death had conquered him, the grave had swallowed him; his miserable life was broken off under sixty years of age; and after death, eternity; the long, long eternity.
His Son, Charles I., inherited the father's troubled kingdom, despotic principles, and wilful doggedness. The young ruler began his reign by breathing out threatenings against the Covenanters. Yet the Lord in many ways strengthened His people. He gave them at this time some remarkable Communions and memorable seasons of refreshing. He pitied them for they were nearing the fiery trials that would try their faith to the utmost. To prepare them for the testing times. He led them up into the mountain of His loving favor and gave them another memorable privilege of renewing their Covenant.
John Livingston, an honored minister of Jesus Christ, was of great service to the Church at this time. He preached Christ and his contested truths with power and striking effect. He stood in the strength and majesty of the Chief Shepherd and fed the flock given into his care. This flock was very large. Multitudes gathered about him waiting for the Word at his lips; the church could not hold them. God gave the people spiritual hunger that brought them from afar; they came over the hills and along the vales, converging upon the place of worship as doves fly to their windows. They journeyed solemnly from their homes to the House of God, both in the calm of summer and in the storms of winter. They came in the dew of the morning and tarried till protected by the gloaming. Men and women, old and young, gathered around this man of God who ministered comfort, strength, and eternal life, through Jesus Christ, with wonderful power and grace unto their troubled souls.
Our Monday service of the Communion originated under Mr. Livingston. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper had been administered to a large congregation. The preaching and serving of tables filled the long summer Sabbath. It was June 20, 1630. The great congregation had come with souls lifted up to God in prayer; the church was not large enough to hold the people, and the churchyard was filled with devout worshipers. They sat upon the grass like the thousands that were fed by Christ in the days of old. The soft wind blew upon them as it listed, and the Holy Spirit, too, came with mysterious power; the vast assembly was deeply moved. The long Sabbath was followed by a short night. Monday came, and the people, having been profoundly affected by the services of the preceding day, were again early on the grounds. They felt that they could not separate without another day of worship—a day of thanksgiving to the Lord for the wondrous revelations of His love at His holy table. Mr. Livingston was constrained to preach, and that day proved to be the great day of the feast. An unusual awe fell upon the preacher and his hearers; the Holy Spirit wrought marvelously, melting the hearts of the vast congregation and filling them with comfort, strength, and thankfulness.