History of the Scottish Church from the Accession of James II. to the Revolution Settlement and the Emigration to America (2)

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

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CHAPTER V.continued

The monarch was undoubtedly much surprised at the opposition his scheme encountered from Episcopalians. He supposed—and not without good reason—from their passive obedience to the royal will heretofore, that they would not resist a change which simply made the pope instead of the king the head of the Church. In this he was greatly mistaken, for the Episcopal Church was still Protestant, though prelatic. The resistance of the prelates, joined with that of Parliament, determined James to make a total change in his mode of procedure. Instead of continuing a fierce persecutor of nonconformists, he adopted the policy of universal toleration. He was forced to this course as the only available way in which he could extend the protection he desired to those of his own faith. Three acts of indulgence were published, avowedly to relieve dissenters from the disabilities they were under, and to allow liberty of conscience to all, but evidently to render papists eligible to places of public trust; and hence care was taken, in the very first of these acts, to annul all laws that had been passed in Parliament against Roman Catholics. Each of these acts, too, affirmed in behalf of the king a dispensing and absolute power, at direct variance with all civil and religious liberty. Their language was, “By his sovereign authority, prerogative royal and absolute power” these favors were granted. The purpose was so plain that it would seem no one could be deceived by the king’s pretences. The despotic authority assumed in these acts of toleration should have induced their rejection by all who were unwilling to surrender the liberty of their country, and the favor shown to the papists should have led all true Protestants to combine in order to prevent the triumph of popery, and to save themselves from the thralldom of the papal yoke.

The last act of indulgence was framed with the intention of pleasing, and possibly winning over, the less scrupulous Presbyterians. Hence it suspended all penal laws made against nonconformity to the established religion, and allowed Presbyterians “to meet and serve God after their own way and manner, be it in private houses, chapels, or places purposely hired or built for that purpose.” The only limitation was that of field-preaching, against which the laws were left in full force. It should not surprise any one that this sudden deliverance from persecution, and the granting of these unusual privileges, made a deep impression upon those to whom they were extended, or that in the vehemence of their feelings, caused by the longing desire once more to preach the blessed gospel to their former congregations, some ministers overlooked the dangerous exertion of power to which they were indebted. A large portion of the Presbyterian ministers in Scotland embraced the opportunity to resume public worship and to collect again their scattered flocks. Several who had fled to Holland came back and renewed their labors in their former parishes. Many of the people, released from prison or coming from their places of concealment, returned to their former homes, and engaged anew in their work of building up the Presbyterian Church. And while, in accepting this clemency, they made at least a partial acknowledgment of the royal supremacy in matters spiritual, “they refused to make the slightest compliance which could give any advantage to popery, and they were even charged with ingratitude for the boldness and the success with which they warned their hearers against its introduction.”

But the strict Covenanters were more consistent in their course, and adhered more resolutely to Presbyterian principles. They promptly rejected every indulgence or toleration of “man’s inalienable right to worship God according to his revealed will and the dictates of an enlightened conscience,” especially when such indulgence is founded upon “the unlimited prerogative and absolute power of the monarch—a principle equally inconsistent with the laws of God and the liberties of mankind.” Defying the king’s threats and spurning his favors, they kept on their course. Their field-preaching was continued, and they disregarded the laws which were still in force against conventicles. Renwick, one of their most revered and courageous preachers, was apprehended and publicly executed—a man of heroic mould, “inflexible as Knox and vehement as Melville”—closing by his death that long list of martyrs who sealed with their blood their testimony in behalf of civil and religious liberty in Scotland.

While James was persecuting in Scotland all who dared oppose his wishes to introduce the Roman Catholic religion, whether Covenanters, the indulged ministers, or the seven prelatic bishops, whom he confined in the Tower for petitioning against being compelled to read one of his arbitrary indulgences from the pulpit, he was at the same time, by his despotic acts in England, alienating the feelings of the people and inciting them to resist his arbitrary rule. The nation was ready for a change, and the great majority of those who still loved freedom instinctively turned to William, prince of Orange, the son-in-law of James, as the defender of the Protestant faith and of constitutional law and liberty. That prince, having closely watched the state of affairs in Britain, was convinced that the favorable moment had come when it was his duty to attempt to save the nation.

Making his preparations as speedily as was possible, William set sail for England, and landed at Torbay, November 5, 1688, without opposition. He issued a proclamation which contained the reasons that had induced him to appear in arms. These were, in brief, his desire to preserve the Protestant religion and restore the laws and the liberties of the kingdom. At first few joined him and there seemed but little desire for the change which he sought to accomplish. The prospect, however, soon brightened. The proclamation was spread throughout the length and breadth of the land by the zealous Covenanters, and made a deep impression upon the public mind. Most of the nobility and gentlemen of Scotland declared for the prince, and these were followed by the army and navy of the kingdom. The king, after some feeble attempts to assert his authority and to regain the affection of his people, fled, an exile from his throne and kingdom, and the prince of Orange became the successful vindicator of the liberties of England. Thus the REVOLUTION was accomplished, and the Presbyterian Church was again established in Scotland. The formidable structure which the two tyrants, Charles and James, with the willing assistance of the prelates, had spent twenty-eight years in erecting, and which had been cemented with the blood of ten thousand victims, was thus overthrown almost in a moment.

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