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

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

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AFTER the death of Oliver Cromwell a “strange frenzy of extravagant royalty seized upon the whole kingdom like some uncontrollable epidemic,” and Charles was placed upon the throne without the exaction from him of any of the promises or conditions that had been demanded of his predecessors. Against this fatal error the Church of Scotland could make no successful resistance, owing to its weakness, caused by internal dissensions. The power most dreaded by politicians being thus paralyzed, measures were almost immediately taken to establish an arbitrary government. A Council of State was formed for Scotland, composed of men hostile to Presbyterianism and in favor of the prelatic system. As preparatory to its attempted introduction, some of the most powerful supporters of the Covenant had to be removed out of the way; and orders were therefore given for the imprisonment of certain of the chief nobles and ministers. Proclamations were issued against the holding of what were designated as unlawful meetings, and the people were commanded to bring all seditious books in their possession that they might be burned. Those who were suffering from any grievance whatever were prohibited from presenting addresses or petitions to any source for redress, but to the Parliament or the Committee of Estates.

A new but clearly an illegal Parliament was held in 1661, and its members took an oath of allegiance which acknowledged the king’s supremacy in ecclesiastical as well as civil affairs. Having accorded this, they proceeded at once with their despotic acts. Among these it was declared to be the prerogative of the king to choose all officers of the State, to call and dissolve all Parliaments and meetings, and that no convocations or leagues could be made without the sovereign. And to remove every obstruction, so that absolute despotism might have unimpeded sway, the members of Parliament were absolved from the obligation to subscribe the Solemn League and Covenant, and were required, if they filled any public office, to take the oath of allegiance and acknowledge the king’s prerogative. As if this were not sufficient to bind the yoke upon the necks of submissive subjects, these minions of arbitrary power annulled all the proceedings of the Parliaments held since 1633; thus by a single stroke abolishing not only all the laws made in favor of the Church of Scotland, but also those in favor of civil liberty, which had been passed during the late reign.

Should it seem impossible that acts like these could be passed by any Parliament composed of men not themselves slaves, the solution is to be sought in what Burnet has to say of the morals of the people: “Vices of all sorts were the open practices of those about the earl of Middleton.[1] Drinking was the most notorious of all, which was often continued through the whole night till the next morning. This extravagant act was only fit to be concluded after a drunken bout.” The purpose was to destroy the Presbyterian Church, but in attempting this they were compelled to destroy all the existing laws of the land, as well as all the security which law itself can give. It is no wonder that such vile creatures as these were the active enemies of religious freedom, and stood ready to sacrifice civil liberty also at the bidding of a despot, and the fact that it was necessary to make use of such agencies to introduce prelacy into Scotland, places the stamp of infamy upon the system itself. The next step was to inflict the extreme penalty of these destructive acts upon some of the most honored of the Presbyterians.

The marquis of Argyle and James Guthrie, minister of Stirling, were the first victims. The first, when he received his sentence, said, “I had the honor to set the crown upon the king’s head, and now he hastens me to a better crown than his own;” and on taking leave of his friends on the day of execution, with a calm courage that justified his words, he said, “I could die like a Roman, but choose rather to die as a Christian.” The second, when condemned to die as a traitor, said to the judge, “My conscience I cannot submit, but this old crazy body and mortal flesh I do submit to do with it whatsoever you will; only I beseech you to ponder well what profit there is in my blood. My blood will contribute more for the propagation of the Covenant and the work of reformation than my life or liberty could do;” and when standing on the scaffold and about to yield to the axe of the executioner, he lifted the napkin from his face, and cried, “The covenants, the covenants shall yet be Scotland’s reviving.”

The next victim marked for slaughter was “the heavenly-minded Rutherford.” But death cheated his enemies. In answer to their summons to appear at Edinburgh and stand trial for high treason, he replied: “I have received a summons already to appear before a superior Judge and judicatory, and I behove to answer my first summons; and ere your day arrive I will be where few kings and great folks come.” Other ministers distinguished for their piety and talents were apprehended and imprisoned by the order of Parliament, and finally banished.

In the judgment of many persons, the time had now fully come when it would be safe to attempt to introduce episcopacy into Scotland. They pressed the king to proceed with the intended change, and he, disregarding his many oaths and declarations to maintain and defend the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, sent a letter to the privy-council, in which he declared it “his firm resolution to interpose his royal authority for restoring the Church of Scotland to its rightful government by bishops.” Four men were consecrated to the episcopal office, at the head of whom was James Sharp, a renegade Presbyterian. Following this was a letter from the king to his council, prohibiting the meeting of synods, presbyteries and sessions, unless authorized by the bishops, and requiring all persons to respect their office and the authority entrusted to them. On the arrival of the bishops at Edinburgh a deputation from Parliament was sent to invite them to take their seats as the third estate of the realm, and the first act passed—and that on the very next day—restored them to their ancient prerogatives, spiritual and temporal.

Other acts of Parliament made all covenants and leagues for reformation treasonable, and prohibited any person to teach in universities or to preach, keep schools or to be tutors to persons of quality, who did not admit the prelatic government and obtain a license from the bishops. Notwithstanding these grievous oppressions, the ministers continued to occupy their pulpits, and refused to acknowledge the authority of the bishops. An act was passed at the instigation of the archbishop of Glasgow requiring them to attend the bishops’ courts under pain of being held contemners of royal authority, and the council enforced the order by decreeing banishment against all ministers who refused to comply. The latter, rather than violate their conscience, submitted to the cruel penalty. Nearly four hundred resigned their livings and bade farewell to their congregations, who, in parting with their loved pastors, could not repress their feelings, but wept aloud. A third part of the pulpits of Scotland were in the course of a few months vacated.

To supply the place of these exiled ministers was an impossibility. The attempt to do so, resulted in bringing into the parishes many persons who were a reproach to the profession. “They were the worst preachers I ever heard,” says Bishop Burnet. “They were ignorant to a reproach, and many of them were openly vicious. They were a disgrace to their orders and the sacred functions, and indeed were the dregs and refuse.” These were not the men to reconcile the people to the loss of their beloved pastors. It is not strange that their entrance to the churches should have been resisted, or that they were very soon left without hearers. The bishops, in forcing them upon the unwilling people, only made themselves more odious. At Edinburgh only a single pulpit continued to be occupied by the former incumbent. Large numbers of the pastors retired to the most secluded parts of the country, while not a few fled to Holland.

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[1] The commissioner for holding the Parliament.