Archbishop Robert Leighton in Turbulent Times

This is the day that … Archbishop Robert Leighton died in London, in 1684.

He was born in 1611 … the exact date being unknown. Nor are we sure of the place. His father, Alexander Leighton, was an outspoken Puritan who incurred the wrath of the infamous Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. As a result, Laud had him branded on the forehead, fined 10,000 pounds Sterling, publicly whipped, one ear cut off and one nostril split. Oh, yes, and life imprisonment! (Fathers of the Kirk, page 85).

Son, Robert, attended Edinburgh University from whence he was nearly expelled for writing “witty verse” in which the red nose of one of the faculty figured!

He entered the Church of Scotland (which at the time had bishops), spending 10 years on the Continent. He returned in 1641 to a Church of Scotland that had rejected episcopacy in favour of Presbyterianism. For seven years he fitted in, but in 1648 he resigned and became principal of Edinburgh University.

The year 1660 saw Charles II on the throne and episcopacy was re-introduced into the Scottish church. Two-thirds of the ministers accepted the change – including Leighton, who was consecrated as a bishop. Three hundred ministers refused to accept the king as “supreme in all causes civil and ecclesiastical” and were ejected from their parishes. History knows these faithful pastors and their followers as ‘the Covenanters’.

Robert Leighton met with some of these “non-conformists and sought to heal the breach, to no avail.”

Robert was also a writer of great influence. He was devotional in style and his works impacted many, including Coleridge.

Some quotes from Leighton. Faith is an humble, self-denying grace; it makes the Christian nothing in himself, and all in God. God’s sweet dews and showers of grace slide off the mountains of pride, and fall on the low valleys of humble hearts, and make them pleasant and fertile. Were the visage of sin seen at a full light, undressed and unpainted, it were impossible, while it so appeared, that any one soul could be in love with it, but would rather flee from it as hideous and abominable.

In 1674 he resigned his archbishopric and passed his final decade “in quiet study and meditation!”

On his tombstone is the inscription: “In an age of utmost strife, he adorned the doctrine of God his Saviour by a holy life and the meek and loving spirit which breathes through his writings.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

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