History of the Scottish Church from the Charter to the renewing of the Covenant (2)

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

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CHAPTER II.continued

The permission of the Assembly, which had been secured chiefly through the votes of the elders, was guarded by many wise restrictions, but the king disregarded them whenever it was his interest so to do. These restrictions were designed to protect the liberties of the Church, especially against the encroachments of prelacy. The title of bishop was not to be applied to those holding a seat in Parliament, but that of commissioner. Six were to be nominated by the Assembly in each province, one of whom should be chosen by the king, as its ecclesiastical representative, and it was provided that they were not to propose anything to Parliament without the Church’s express warrant and direction. They were also to render an account of their work to the Assembly, and in all parts of ecclesiastical government and discipline they were not to claim any more power than what belonged to other ministers.

All these restrictions, however, availed nothing. At a meeting of the commissioners in the following October, while certain of the most decided opponents of the king’s scheme were absent from the house, James summarily nominated David Lindsay, Peter Blackburn and George Gladstanes to the vacant bishoprics of Ross, Aberdeen and Caithness. These men afterward took their place in Parliament, and voted in direct violation of the “caveats” or cautions to which they had but recently consented. Still, the free spirit of the Assembly was a great check upon them. The struggle went on for the next twenty years with scarcely an intermission. Leading ministers were either banished or imprisoned, many others were intimidated or bribed, until, by the aid of the nobility and a subservient Parliament, the king won a victory disgraceful alike to the vanquished and to the victor.

One of the first measures of the monarch in this long tissue of trickery was to summon and dismiss Assemblies by virtue of his royal prerogative. This was a plain infringement of the rights of the Church, for the act of 1592 stipulated that the Assembly should meet at least once a year, and that the commissioners were annually to render to it an account of their conduct. After proroguing and altering the times of Assemblies at pleasure, James at last ventured to prorogue indefinitely the one which should have met at Aberdeen in 1605.

To all persons it was now clear that the king was resolved to suppress the Presbyterian Church and to set up prelacy in its place. But a few faithful men were determined that the liberties of the Church should not be surrendered without one more struggle, and accordingly they met at Aberdeen at the time appointed. When the king heard of the meeting, he ordered his commissioner to dissolve it. But the Assembly resolved to constitute itself before reading the communication. A moderator was chosen, and the message was then listened to. But while the reading was going on a messenger-at-arms arrived and ordered the Assembly to disperse on pain of rebellion. The members consented to do so if the commissioner would name a place for the next meeting of the Assembly. This he refused to do. The reason was obvious, and the Assembly itself made an appointment.

When informed of their action, His Majesty was greatly incensed. Such a bold measure could not be overlooked. By his orders fourteen of the ministers, including John Forbes, the moderator, and John Welsh, son-in-law of Knox, were apprehended, cast into prison, and put on trial before the privy-council for high treason. A packed jury, by a majority of three, found six of them guilty, who, after suffering fourteen months’ confinement in the castle of Blackness, were banished to France. The others, by a like perversion of law and justice would have shared their fate had not public sympathy for the sufferers made it evident that it was unsafe to proceed with their trial. For most of them, however, the respite was very brief. Before the next Parliament six of the most distinguished of them, including both the Melvilles, were commanded to meet the king in London (for James was now king both of England and Scotland), on the pretext that he wished to treat with them “respecting such things as would settle the peace of the Church.”

When admitted to an audience, they were questioned about the Aberdeen Assembly, and such a construction put upon their replies as furnished the desired pretence for instituting judicial proceedings. On a despicable charge Andrew Melville was arraigned for trial; and, notwithstanding his able and eloquent defence, he was committed to the Tower of London. After four years’ imprisonment he was banished to France, where he remained until his death. His nephew, James Melville, was prohibited from returning to Scotland, and the remaining four ministers to their parishes. In this way the perfidious monarch was enabled to secure the triumph of his scheme by striking down the free-spirited men who had resisted it. Surely nothing more is needed to form a correct judgment between the two systems of presbytery and prelacy than the methods which it was found necessary to employ to establish each in Scotland. The former won the hearts of the people by the faithful preaching of the word and by the pure, pious and self-sacrificing lives of its ministers; the latter was forced upon them by arbitrary power, by treachery, by corruption and by persecution.

Other steps in this succession of intrigue, intimidation and bribery were to appoint the bishops constant moderators in all meetings of presbyteries and synods, to restore to the bishops the civil jurisdiction formerly held by the popish prelates; and that they might exercise the power thus conferred, the COURT OF HIGH COMMISSION was instituted.

This court was composed of prelates, noblemen, knights and ministers. It was regulated by no fixed laws or forms of justice, and was armed with all the power of civil and ecclesiastical despotism. It could receive appeals from church courts, depose and excommunicate, fine and imprison. But such was the public feeling excited by these measures of the prelates that for several years the court prudently did but little business. Thus one right of the Church after another was trampled under foot by the imperious monarch and his obsequious retainers. The bishops acknowledged themselves his creatures. Archbishop Gladstanes crouched before the king with all the menial servility of an Eastern slave. He repaired, he said, to His Majesty’s most gracious face, “that so unworthy a creature might both see, bless and thank my earthly creator.”

In 1617 the king indulged what he called his “natural and salmon-like affection to see the place of his breeding” by a visit to his native and ancient kingdom. The chapel of Holyrood House was repaired, an organ was sent down from London, and English carpenters began to set up carved and gilded statues of the apostles. The people murmured, the bishops were alarmed, and at their solicitation the apostles were dispensed with. The liturgy, however, was daily read, and the purpose was openly avowed that the royal example should be imitated throughout the kingdom. An obsequious Parliament, aided and abetted by venal bishops, gave him full authority to enact ecclesiastical laws for the government of the Church. With this sanction of his power, he no longer concealed his plans. He declared he would never more consent to have matters ruled as they had been in General Assemblies. “The bishops,” he said, “must rule the ministers, and the king rule both.”

Against all these usurpations a large body of ministers protested. The cowardice of one, however, prevented their petition from being placed in the hands of the king. But meeting with a copy of it, he flew into a great passion and denounced the petitioners. Some of the ministers were subsequently treated with great cruelty, and even the bishops were severely reprimanded and called dolts and deceivers for inducing him to believe that the people of Scotland were in favor of prelacy.

In the Assembly which met at Aberdeen in 1616 the prelatical party presented a new Confession of Faith. The articles were afterward put into form and submitted for adoption to the Assembly of Perth, 1618, which was ordered to meet by royal mandate. Every possible device which a despot could employ was brought into requisition to ensure a majority of commissioners favorable to his scheme. The prelates addressed the Assembly in a domineering tone, and in the name of their master threatened those who should refuse to adopt the articles, that their names would be marked and sent to His Majesty for punishment. Though thus menaced, there were forty-five ministers who stood true to their principles, and the Five Articles of Perth, as they are called, were adopted by but a small majority. These articles were kneeling at the communion, the observance of holidays, episcopal confirmation and the private dispensation of the Lord’s Supper. Parliament three years after sanctioned these rites, and thus by its vote was the constitution of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland subverted. This day, the 25th of July, 1621, was marked by lowering clouds, deepening gloom, hail and tempest, and was long known as the Black Saturday—“black,” says Calderwood, “with man’s guilt and with the frowns of Heaven.”

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