Jenny Geddes War: Providence, the Machinations of Government, and the Silencing of a Voice. Part 6


Looking at the King’s letter to the Presbytery of Edinburgh…

…which came down on the 3rd of September 1660, seems to have been written by the desire of Sharp, who played so great a part in overturning the Presbyterian government of the Church, though he was highly trusted by that party at first. He desired the establishment of Episcopacy as a means to his own advancement, and knew the King was in favor of it, but saw that His Majesty feared what effect such a change might have in alienating the affections of his northern subjects. It was accordingly Sharp’s whole study to prevent the King from becoming aware of the true state of feeling in Scotland, while he diligently told him that the great body of the people there would welcome the proposed change.

It was possible, however, that this policy might be overturned in a moment by some appeal on the part of the Church, which should show the false part Sharp was playing them, and therefore he persuaded the King to send a letter which should keep the Presbyterians quiet. The expressions which His Majesty was thus made to use were indeed most reassuring: for, while he spoke harshly of the Protesting party, he declared it to be his purpose to maintain the government of the Church as by law established. So satisfactory did the Presbytery think this letter that they ordered a silver box in which it might be kept as the palladium of their liberties.

Middleton, who seems to have been a man less subtle in his policy than Sharp, was highly displeased with what had been done, as if the royal letter might prove an obstacle to the carrying out of the designs then on foot at Court in favor of Episcopacy. When he came down to hold the Parliament of 1661, he resolved on a bold stroke of policy, hoping to outdo his rival and at the same time procure favor with the King by setting His Majesty free from all obligation to the Presbyterians. His purpose was to pass an Act by which all the proceedings of Parliament since the troubles of 1637 should be declared null and void.

So extravagant did this proposal seem, however, that at first no one would consent to it. Middleton laid it aside for a time, and then, when his private Council had drunk heavily –for this kind of debauchery was was but too common under his government –he brought them to consent to it. Lord Clerk Register Primrose, who had indeed the honor of suggesting such an Act to Middleton, was ordered to draw it up in due form, and it passed by a majority in the pliable House of Estates, not however without strong opposition and under protest from the Presbytery of Edinburgh, who now began to see how little their cherished letter would serve them as a defense.

When Parliament rose the Scottish Council met in London to advise with the King, Middleton was there, and Rothes, and Lauderdale, who out did each other in their purpose of persuading the King to see no reason for apprehension or delay, assuring His Majesty he might now proceed to carry out his wishes in Scotland without fear of the consequences. Parliament had determined that it lay in the King’s power to order the constitution of the Church. The ‘Act Rescissory’ had cleared the way of all former engagements, and nothing was now required but a sign of the royal pleasure.

The Privy Council by which Scotland was now governed would answer for the carrying out of the King’s purpose. The Council continued their deliberations in Edinburgh on the 5th of September. At that diet a letter was read from the King which accorded exactly with the advice that had been given him. He referred to the pledge granted to the Presbytery, but said that since the passing of the Act Rescissory, the Church “as by law established” could mean no other than that of his father’s time, when the ecclesiastical order was Episcopal. This then was the Church he had promised to uphold, and it was his royal will that Presbytery should now give way to Prelacy. Next day the Council made proclamation in terms of the King’s letter.

Now arose the question of the bishoprics, and who should be appointed to fill them. It is somewhat remarkable that two of the new prelates came from the Merse part of the country, Mr David Fletcher of Melrose, and Mr Andrew Fairfoul of Duns. The former was a mere worldling, the latter a man of some note. Indeed, Fairfoul had been chosen by Sharp’s advice, in the hope that his shrewdness might do the Court party much service.

No sooner, however, had he been consecrated, which happened in December, than he was as it were changed into another man, from the utter failure of his intellect. One may imagine how this was remarked on in the Merse, where indeed the memory of Fairfoul’s incumbency was highly scandalous, as the whole country talked of the criminal correspondence he had kept with a lady of great beauty in that neighborhood. If any thing could have reconciled Scotland to the change from Presbytery to Prelacy it would have been the choice of able and respectable men to preside over the new order. None of this character, however, unless it were the saintly and ascetic Leighton, was willing to lend himself for such a purpose, and the cause of Episcopacy, already deeply prejudiced in the country from the manner of its introduction, was now universally condemned in the persons of its most prominent ministers.

The Parliament which sat in May 1662 was remarkable, as we have already seen, for the fines then inflicted upon Presbyterians in all parts of the country. Much more serious, however, were the Acts then passed censoring the Church. The establishment of Episcopacy was affirmed,the Bishops were received in state to sit and vote as constituent members of the House, and, most serious of all, it was determined that, before the 20th of September next, all those ministers who had been settled in their parishes since 1649 should take presentation to the living from the patron, and collection to the spiritual office of their cure from the Bishop of the diocese.

Hitherto the clergy had felt no concern but that of apprehension in the great changes which had been made in the ecclesiastical Constitution, but now they must either express an actual submission to Episcopacy or prepare to quit their churches.

The reason alleged for restricting the operation of the Act to the case of those who had been settled since 1649 was the fact that patronage had been abolished in that year, but we are assured that a deep stroke of policy was intended here. Sharp, now promoted to the Primacy, thought it best to proceed by degrees, and to make the first attempt with the younger ministers. These he supposed would be more pliable than the veterans of 1638, and their submission might secure the success of the whole scheme. His expectations were entirely disappointed. The Presbyterian clergy had now an understanding among themselves, and remained quietly in their places, doing nothing indeed to offend the Government unnecessarily, but giving no sign of obedience to the late Act.

Fairfoul of Duns had been appointed to the see of Glasgow, a diocese comprehending that part of the west of Scotland where the Presbyterian feeling was particularly strong. The Commissioner now made a progress in the west, and the Archbishop took the opportunity of complaining to him that not one of the young ministers had yet acknowledged him in any way. A meeting of Council was accordingly convened at Glasgow, and upon the 1st of October they emitted an Act in accordance with the suggestions of Fairfoul, who assured them that not ten of the Presbyterian clergy would be found willing to brave their threats.

This famous Act, which was of such consequence to every part of the country, prohibited such of the ministers as had not already qualified in terms of the Act of Parliament from exercising any part of their function, and ordered them to remove from their churches and manses before the 1st of November.

The fatal consequences of this measure were perceived almost as soon as it was passed. Middleton regretted that he had lent an ear to the assurances of Fairfoul when he saw that these would not be fulfilled. Sharp was exceedingly angry at the false step that had been taken at the instance of his Ahithophel, whose counsel was now turned to folly. In the month of December the Council sought to repair matters a little by extending the time for submission until the first of February. All was in vain.

The Government had almost unwittingly –it was said in a state of disgraceful drunkenness –entered on what a well-known author has not unfitly called the ‘Thirty infamous years that completed the misfortunes and degradation of Scotland.”

While these oppressive Acts were passing in the Council, means were also starting to reach many of the older ministers as well. One of the first sufferers was Livingston of Ancrum. He had foreseen for some time the onset of the storm; and his last communion, which fell upon the 12th of October, is said to have been one of the most remarkable of that time and country. Many attended from far and near, indeed the concourse of people and ministers was so great that the Privy Council afterwards took notice of it, passing an Act which restricted the number of assistants to be employed on such occasions.

It had already become usual in these days to hold a thanksgiving service on the Communion Monday, a custom which is said to have dated from the remarkable revival under this minister at the Kirk of Shotts in 1630. Livingston, as he now entered the pulpit, must have done so with tender recollections of that early time. He had found it difficult to deliver his soul freely on the previous day, when he was occupied in the communion service itself, but now he took great liberty, choosing for his text the words –“Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in Heaven, but whosoever will deny Me before men, him will I deny before My Father.” After a brief introduction, the preacher came at once to speak of four things, which, he said, were the very pillars of Christianity” –Faith, wherein a man believeth with his heart ; Righteousness, which is received by that faith; Testimony, when a man confesses his faith with his mouth; and Salvation, the capital and consummation of all.

In handling these threads of discourse, Livingston went on to say that Satan often prevails by fear when he has failed to win souls by enticement, and added something concerning the awful sin of denying the Lord, which he said was to religion as poison is to the body or treason to the State. Then hastening to treat what had the most immediate interest for his hearers and himself, he reminded them of what we in our day should never forget, that the least encroachment on Christ’s absolute and kingly right in His own Church is a thing He will not suffer, and one which should be intolerable to His people also. The Government of the land, he said, should indeed be honored by all men as ordained of God; but when the King took upon him to appoint an order to the Church, as he was then doing in the matter of the Bishops, men were bound to resist such interference as they would be answerable to Christ; and not all the love he bore to his flock at Ancrum would tempt him to be silent in this case, or to purchase a new lease of his ministry there by denying his Master in that pulpit.

As to the future, he confessed he had as yet but little clearness on many questions of conduct that were likely to arise, but bade his hearers wait upon the Lord, Who would surely cause light to arise for the upright even out of darkness. With this word of hope he pronounced the benediction, and the great audience, deeply moved, broke up to carry over the country this parting message from the preacher who was so widely reverenced and deeply beloved.

In a little afterwards, Livingston had warning that mischief was indeed intended him. He went at once to Edinburgh that he might gain more exact information, and finding that nothing more serious than exile was the purpose of the Government he resolved to defer his intended flight.

On the 11th of December he came before the Council. They complained that he had neither observed the 29th of May, lately appointed as a yearly thanksgiving day for the Restoration, nor obeyed the summons to take his place as a member of the Bishop’s Synod. He could give them no satisfaction on either head, for, like the rest of his party, he was exceedingly jealous of the civil authority when it prescribed in matters of religion, and found he could not sit in the newly constituted Synod without thereby acknowledging the Episcopal government of the Church. The Council accordingly told him he must, as a suspected person, take the oath of allegiance, or remove from the country. Here also, he found a great difficulty, for, by this oath he was obliged to acknowledge the king as supreme, not only in civil matters, which he was most ready to do, but over the Church as well. He refused the oath, and fixed his dwelling for some months in Leith, till he should go abroad, as the Council would by no means allow him to return home even to bid his wife and family farewell.

Livingston’s exile was delayed till spring on account of a sharp attack of sciatica from which he now suffered. While thus confined to his lodging at Leith, he had the sympathy and affectionate regard of very many who came to see him before he left the country. On the 9th of April he sailed into Holland, and coming to Rotterdam, took up his abode there, where his wife and children shortly joined him. In this town he spent the rest of his days very peacefully till his death in 1672. He often preached in the Scottish Church at Rotterdam, and gave much of his time to critical studies on the text of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, with their modern versions, a congenial task in which he enjoyed the correspondence of the learned Leusden.

Thus a voice, often and gladly heard in Scotland as it pled for the truth, was silenced there for ever.

Thoughts and excerpts taken and adapted from, “The Covenanters of the Merse” 
Written by, James Wood Brown

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