Alexander Henderson Steers Scotland Through Troubled Waters

This is the day that …Alexander Henderson died in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1646.

Henderson was born in 1583 at Criech, Fifeshire. He graduated at the University of St Andrews in 1603 and in 1610 was appointed professor of rhetoric and philosophy. Shortly after this he was appointed to the parish of Leuchars by Archbishop George Gladstanes.

Henderson’s sympathies were with the organised church, which made him extremely unpopular at first. He subsequently changed his views about church government and became a Presbyterian in doctrine and order. This paved the way for him becoming an outstanding leader and statesman for the Presbyterian cause in the resultant clashes with the English monarchy.

He was a natural leader and was eloquent and effective in dealing with the Crown. When King Charles I sought to impose episcopacy (the rule of bishops) upon the Church of Scotland, it was Henderson who led the fight against it. He helped with the final draft of the “National Covenant” which began its public signing at Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh on March 1st, 1638. He debated the famous Aberdeen Doctors and was later chosen Moderator of the Scottish churches at the Glasgow Assembly on 21st of November 1638. That gathering deposed all the Scottish bishops, excommunicated a number of them, repealed all acts favouring episcopacy, and reconstituted the Scottish Kirk on thorough Presbyterian principles.

As leader of the Covenanters he steered the Scottish Church as their elected moderator (1638-1658) through twenty stormy years. Through his handling of the First Bishop’s War he made a favourable impression on King Charles. When the Scots saw that the King was preparing for the Second Bishop’s War they took the initiative and invaded England, securing a decisive victory. King Charles acceded to all their demands, however the formal development of the treaty was a long process, which was overseen by Henderson.

His crowning achievement could well be that he oversaw the establishment of the Solemn League and Covenant, which passed through both houses of the British Parliament, which thus allowed for the two systems of church government to co-exist.

For the last six years of his life he was rector at Edinburgh University.

“His name,” writes W. Barker, is “revered as second only to John Knox in the Church of Scotland”.

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.

Andrew Melville’s Unrestrained Tongue

This is the day that … Andrew Melville was born in 1545. His family displayed the fighting Scottish spirit and his father died in battle when Andrew was just 2 years old. His mother died soon after and the lad was raised by his older brother.

With an aptitude for scholarship he outshone his peers in classic languages, studied abroad and became an educator himself. On his return to Scotland he was so effective in upgrading the universities there that they could not contain the students who wished to come.

Yet while this Scottish Reformer has been called “the father of Presbyterianism”, he was direct of speech and unafraid to speak roughly where he felt it appropriate.

As John Knox had withstood Queen Mary’s Romanist tendencies a generation previous, now the battle was with King James IV who declared that he was supreme “over all persons and causes, civil and ecclesiastical alike” (Fathers of the Kirk, page 48).

At an historic meeting in 1596 Andrew Melville called the King, to his face, “God’s sillie vassal,” and taking the king by the sleeve went on to remind him that there were two kingdoms in Scotland … and one of those was ruled by King Jesus, to whom King James IV must bow as a subject!

This fearless Scot was imprisoned in the Tower of London (1609-1611), in response to his writing a sarcastic review of English ecclesiastical practices. Then, at the request of a French noble, he was released to take up a professorship on the Continent. There he died, in Sedan, France, in 1622.

J.D. Douglas writes: “It was Presbyterianism of the type Melville had forged that ultimately won the victory some 80 years after his banishment and which still forms the basis of the national Church of Scotland today” (and of Presbyterian churches around the world). (Who’s Who in Church History, page 469).

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.

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.

Ebenezer Erskine, Contending for Truth

This is the day that … Ebenezer Erskine was born in Berwickshire, Scotland, in 1680.

His father was a Church of Scotland minister. Ebenezer, and his young brother Ralph, followed suit. But their respective ministries encountered stormy days.

The republishing of a volume that had first appeared 73 years earlier – The Marrow of Modern Divinity – was condemned as heretical by the General Assembly of the Scottish Church. Ebenezer Erskine, by this time a well-known preacher who oft-times resorted to open air meetings because his church could not accommodate the crowds, defended the Marrow volume. As a result he, and three other ministers, were suspended (August, 1733) and eventually deposed from the State Church.

Ebenezer Erskine became the leader of the Associate Presbytery, later known as the Secession Church, founded on 5 December, 1733 (The Cambaslung Revival, A. Fawcett, page 26). And he invited fellow open-air preacher, George Whitefield, to visit Scotland … on the condition that Whitefield would not align himself with the State Church. This Whitefield declined to do… “If the Pope himself were to lend me his pulpit,” he replied, “I would gladly proclaim the righteousness of Jesus Christ therein” (George Whitefield, by A. Belden, page 124). Thus the Secession Church began to denounce Whitefield – “and even called him an agent of the devil” (ibid, page 125).

Ralph and Ebenezer are counted among the great Puritan preachers and their published sermons display their engagement of the souls of men to command faith-filled holy living, such as in Ebenezer’s “The Wind of the Holy Ghost Blowing upon the Dry Bones in the Valley of Vision”. “What is the reason why many professors of religion have lost their wonted vigour in the way of the Lord, and are in such a languishing condition as to their soul-matters? The plain reason of it is this, they are glutting themselves with the pleasures of sense.”

Ebenezer Erskine died on 2 June, 1754, and within about 200 years “most of the ‘seceders’ had found their way back into the national church” (Who’s Who in Christian History? page 237).

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.