History of the Scotch Church from the Restoration of Charles II. to his Death, in 1685 (4)

From Scotch and Irish Seeds in American Soil by Rev. J. G. Craighead

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CHAPTER IV.concluded

Even yet the persecutors were not weary of their merciless but fruitless work. The following year they were allowed to glut their vengeance upon such distinguished victims as Richard Cameron, Donald Cargill and Hackson of Rathillet, whose heads and hands were cut off, and the former fixed on spikes above two of the gates of Edinburgh. In 1681 a new engine of tyranny was devised. This was the infamous Test Act—a long, complex oath, which bound those who took it to acknowledge the supremacy of the king in all cases, ecclesiastical as well as civil, to renounce the Covenants, and to promise that under no circumstances they would attempt the alteration of the government of either Church or State. This last of necessity implied on the part of Presbyterians a complete abandonment of the principles for which they had so long contended. Portions of the oath, moreover, were inconsistent with other parts, and a compliance with it was therefore impracticable. But it was required to be taken by all, papists alone excepted. Some of the prelatic clergy—to their credit be it said—refused to take the test, and resigned their livings rather than perjure themselves. Large numbers of the nobility, and some of the bishops even, had to take it with explanations. But these were not in all cases allowed.

The oath was designed originally only for persons occupying places of public trust, but it was discovered to be so comprehensive, and so convenient a tool of persecution, that it was determined to impose it upon all. The earl of Argyle, who had become suspected by the duke of York and the Scottish council of being too friendly to the Covenanters, was the first victim of the test act, and only escaped the vengeance of his enemies by flying in disguise to Holland. All his past services to his country, his high rank and that of his distinguished ancestors, availed nothing with those who sought his ruin. His offer to relinquish his hereditary possessions and evince his loyalty as a private citizen would not satisfy his enemies. His declining nature to take the absurd and impious bond was sufficient ground to proceed against him as a criminal, and to compel him to seek refuge in a foreign land.

Notwithstanding the espionage of the curates, who continued to be diligently employed as informers, and the activity of the civil magistrates, who were equally zealous in inflicting punishment upon all violators of the unjust and absurd acts of the king and council, field-meetings and meetings for consultation were occasionally held in the more secluded parts of the country. The holding of such a meeting in 1682 was made the occasion for issuing a violent proclamation, making the failure to give information of such assemblages a crime equal in magnitude to that of those who took part in them. As most persons objected to be employed as spies and informers, military officers were commissioned, on whom was conferred both judicial and executive authority. They could call before them any suspected person and pass sentence upon him, and even execute those whom they chose. Here we have the very essence of despotism. And our abhorrence is increased when we learn the nature of the offences which these military judges punished. By them it was adjudged a crime for any person not to attend on the ministry of the persecuting prelates, or to speak in terms of respect or pity of those who had suffered for their religion, or to be seen reading the Bible in private, or heard conducting family worship in one’s own house. For these and similar offences great numbers were impoverished by exorbitant fines, or thrown into prison, or banished. The estates of others were confiscated under the false charge of constructive treason, which latter proceeding caused such dismay among landholders that many of them seriously thought of abandoning their native land. The threat of the popish duke of York, that “Scotland would never have peace till the whole country south of the Forth was turned into a hunting-field,” was yet, they feared, to be put into execution.

An event occurred in 1684 which deserves special mention. It was a warning to all “intelligencers and informers,” by the persecuted and outlawed Covenanters, that the limits of Christian endurance had at last been reached, and that retaliation would follow any further acts of persecution. Having been hunted like wild beasts and obliged to make their abodes in caves upon the mountains, or in rocky glens and impenetrable thickets—and even in these their wild retreats they were not secure from the keen scent of the bloodhound informer—it is no wonder that they had finally, “like a stag at bay,” turned upon their pursuers. Their very remarkable paper, or “apologetical declaration,” they caused to be affixed on the market-crosses of the chief towns of Scotland.

The effect of this declaration upon the informers, curates and others was most salutary. These base emissaries showed a wholesome fear of men rendered desperate by long and intolerable oppression. They dared not follow them to their desolate retreats and furnish lists of them to the military judges. But the fury of the council knew no bounds, and it hastened to forge and put in operation another terrible weapon of persecution. This is known as “the Bloody Act” which ordained that every person should be put to death “who owns or does not disown the late traitorous declaration.” Commissions were issued to several noblemen, gentlemen and military officers, requiring them to assemble all the inhabitants, men and women, above fourteen years of age; and if any owned the late declaration, they were to be immediately executed; while those who were absent were to have their houses burned and their goods seized. The “abjuration oath” was also framed and put in force, and a proclamation issued forbidding any one to travel without having a certificate of his loyalty, which was based on his taking the last-named oath. All indulgences were recalled, and ministers were obliged to give bonds not to preach or teach in Scotland.

Nothing was now wanting, as it would seem, to ensure the work of exterminating the Presbyterians. If a minister preached the gospel, he was either imprisoned, exiled or hanged. Those who refused to take the impious and contradictory oath were visited with instant death by the lawless military commissions. Those who, on calls of duty or business, were obliged to travel, were in danger of being shot down by the soldiers, without even the formality of an inquiry as to whether they had the required pass. This may well be called, as it has been designated in the history of the period, “the killing-time.” Without a recital of individual instances of cruelty and slaughter, we will summarize what is needed to be said, and that in the words of another: “All the terrible enginery of persecution was now brought into full operation, and the practiced hands and callous hearts of the oppressors wielded their murderous weapons without remorse. When disappointed in one instance, their savage spirits thirsted the more intensely for a deeper draught of blood from some less protected source. Public judicial murders gave sanction and encouragement to that indiscriminate slaughter perpetrated by the soldiery throughout the country, till the entire west and south of Scotland was one field of blood.”

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