With this post, we are pleased to note that we are entering on our third year here at This Day in Presbyterian History.
Men of Principle and Men of Expediency
What more could the people of God in Scotland in the mid-seventeenth century want than the future king of England, Scotland, and Ireland signing a historic covenant favorable to Presbyterian doctrine, government, and confession? Ah, if it could be that simple of a case.
This post is the first this year of a series of posts from “across the pond” on Presbyterianism in other lands than America. By focusing in on their history, we will understand our American Presbyterian history better if we behold what our spiritual forefathers had to experience in these mother countries.
Scotland was the place where God raised up a Presbyterian testimony. At first, it was in the form of the Protestant Reformation which was taking place in Germany and Switzerland in the sixteenth century. Eventually, as young men traveled to these countries and returned home, the first opposition against both Romanism and Anglicanism came into the open. Likewise, persecution entered into history from these errors against the Reformed faith. When these terrible sifting times against the true church was over, upwards to 18,000 men and women, fathers and mothers, and young men and young women in the British Isles suffered martyrdom in what is known as “the killing times.” Others were sent in slavery to the American colonies, or forced to flee to other lands.
It is a wonder that these citizens would at all honor the earthly kings over them, especially as they proclaimed the divine right of kings over the kirk or church. But they sought to honor those in these positions of power, provided such submission did not deny Jesus Christ as head of the church. When January 1, 1651 dawned upon the land of Scotland, the first and the last coronation of a king in Scotland would be history. In the ceremony, young King Charles the Second promised to abide by two historic covenants of the Presbyterian faith, namely, the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant. He promised not to establish papacy or prelacy, but instead establish Presbyterianism in the nation. (Note: the Coronation of King Charles the Second is on line here)
Mind you, he was not yet king over the British Isles. Oliver Cromwell was the number one guy in the kingdom. But Charles the Second had come to Scotland to conquer England with the Scottish army under his control. But it was not to be for another decade, as Charles the Second and his Scot Army was defeated by Cromwell at the battle of Worchester later that year.
One Scottish commissioner who was sent originally to gather the king’s commitment to Presbyterianism and the historic Covenants named Alexander Jaffray, wondered aloud if their sin as Presbyterians was not greater than his, for forcing him to sign the Covenants when they knew that he hated them in his heart. Indeed, other Presbyterians like Samuel Rutherford, tried to delay the plans of their insistence about his signing these historic covenants until he evidenced by his actions that there was both a heart as well as a verbal commitment. They failed in their attempt to delay this action. Yet they were shown to be in the right as Charles the Second later on, after his coronation of England, Scotland, and Ireland, became well known as a brutal persecutor of the Scot Presbyterians. And we will look on that awful period in future posts this year.
Words to Live By: W. M Hetherington says in his history of the church of Scotland, “There were then, as there always have been, two great parties of public men; the one composed of those who judge and act according to principle; the other, of those who are guided by expediency.” (p. 199) Let us be among the former, not the latter, in this new year in which we live and work in the kirk (church) of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.