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LEIGHTON, ALEXANDER, D.D., a divine and physician, celebrated for being the victim of a most cruel persecution, was descended from an ancient family who possessed the estate of Ulysses-haven, now Usan, near Montrose, in Forfarshire, and was born in Edinburgh in 1568. He received his education, and the degree of D.D., at the university of St. Andrews, and afterwards studied medicine at Leyden, where he graduated. He was subsequently minister of the Scottish church at Utrecht. Resigning his charge, he came over to London, where he intended to practice medicine, but was interdicted by the college of physicians. Having published two works against episcopacy, the one entitled ‘The Looking-Glass of the Holy War,’ and the other, ‘Zion’s Pica against Prelacy,’ he was prosecuted in the Star Chamber, June 4, 1630, at the instance of the bigot Land, and, being found guilty, was sentenced by that iniquitous court to pay a fine of £10,000 to stand in the pillory, to have his ears cut off, his nose slit, first on the one nostril, and then on the other, his face branded, and to be publicly whipped. Between the sentence and the execution, Dr. Leighton escaped out of the Fleet prison, but was retaken in Bedfordshire, and endured the whole of this shocking and atrocious punishment. His sentence included also imprisonment for life; and he was closely immured for eleven years in the Fleet, so that, when at length released, he could neither walk, see, nor hear. This act of barbarous atrocity, committed by the great upholders of episcopacy in England, is without a parallel even in the annals of the Popish Inquisition of Spain, black and blood-stained as the pages of that dread tribunal are! The Long Parliament declared the entire proceedings against him illegal, and voted him £6,000 as some solatium for his sufferings; but it is doubtful if this sum was ever paid. In 1642, Lambeth House being converted into a state prison, he was appointed its keeper, and thus, by a strange retribution, came to preside in the palace of his great enemy Land, soon after the execution of that arch-bigot and persecutor. Dr. Leighton died, insane, in 1644.

LEIGHTON, ROBERT, D.D., a prelate of singular learning, piety, and benevolence, the eldest son of the preceding, was born in Edinburgh in 1611, and received his education at the university there. He entered it as a student in 1627, and took his degree of M.A. in 1631. He was subsequently sent to Douay in France, and, on his return, obtained, in 1641, Presbyterian ordination, and was settled minister of the parish of Newbattle in Mid Lothian. Neither his mind nor his disposition was fitted for the stormy times in which he lived; and an anecdote is related of him which strikingly exemplifies this. It was the custom of the presbytery to inquire of its members whether they had preached to the times, and when the question was put to Leighton, he replied, with a kind of play upon the word, “For God’s sake, when all my brethren preach to the times, suffer one poor priest to preach about eternity.” His dislike to the covenant, and some early predilections in favour of Episcopacy, which he had imbibed at college, caused him to resign his living, and he was soon after chosen principal of the university of Edinburgh, in which situation he remained for ten years. Here he wrote his ‘Praelectiones Theologicae,’ printed in 1693; and reprinted at Cambridge in 1828.

      After the Restoration, when Charles II. resolved to force Episcopacy on the people of Scotland. Mr. Leighton was persuaded by his friends, and particularly by his brother, Sir Elisha Leighton, who was secretary to the duke of York, to accept of a bishopric. Accordingly, he and Archbishop sharp, with two other newly created Scottish bishops, were consecrated at Westminster, December 12, 1661. The inconsistency of his conduct on this occasion can by no means be reconciled with his general character for wisdom and caution. He chose, however, the humblest see of the whole, namely, Dunblane, to which the deanery of the Chapel Royal was annexed, as also the priory of Monymusk, in Aberdeenshire. He objected to be addressed by the title of lord, and refused to accompany the other Scottish bishops in their pompous entry into Edinburgh. Finding that the moderate measures which he recommended were not approved of by his more violent brethren, he retired to his diocese, resolved to devote himself entirely to his episcopal and ministerial duties.

      In 1665 he was induced to go to London to lay before the king a true representation of the severe and unjust proceedings of Sharp, and the other bishops in Scotland, towards the Presbyterians; on which occasion he declared to his majesty that he could not be a party “in the planting of the Christian religion itself in such a manner, much less a form of government;” and as he considered himself in some degree accessory to the violent measures of his brethren, he requested permission to resign his bishopric. Charles heard him with apparent regret for the oppressed state of the Scottish Presbyterians, and assured him that less rigorous measures should in future be adopted; but positively refused to accept his resignation. Deceived by the king’s hollow professions, Leighton returned to his see; but, two years after, finding the persecution raging as fiercely as ever, he again went to court, when he succeeded so far as to prevail on his majesty to write a letter to the privy council, ordering them to allow such of the Presbyterian ministers, as were willing to accept of the indulgence, to serve in vacant churches, although they did not conform to the episcopal establishment. In 1670, on the resignation of Dr. Alexander Burnet, Bishop Leighton was induced, at the king’s personal request, to accept of the archbishopric of Glasgow, chiefly impelled by the hope of accomplishing a long-cherished scheme of accommodation between the Presbyterians and Episcopalians, which had been examined and approved of by his majesty. “This was a work,” says Pearson, his biographer, “in which he had embarked with the spirit of a martyr, and which he strenuously followed up by labours and watchings, through conflicts, defamation, and outrages, with toil of body and anguish of heart; a dearer price than he would have consented to give for any worldly dignities.” His portrait is subjoined.

[portrait of bishop Robert Leighton]

      Disappointed, however, in his object, and continually thwarted in his plans of moderation by Sharp and his tyrannical coadjutors, Leighton finally resolved to resign his dignity, as it was a burden too great for him to sustain. With this view, he again proceeded to London in the beginning of 1673, and, after much solicitation, obtained the king’s reluctant consent to his retirement, on condition that he remained in office another year. That period having expired, and all prospect of reconciling the two parties being at an end, his resignation was at length accepted, when the former possessor of the see, Dr. Burnet, was restored to it. Bishop Leighton resided for some time within the college of Edinburgh, and afterwards removed to Broadhurst, in Sussex, the estate of his sister, the widow of Edward Lightmaker, Esq., where he lived for ten years in great privacy, spending his time in study, devotion, and acts of charity, and occasionally preaching. At the request of Bishop Burnet, he went to London to see the earl of Perth, and being seized with a pleurisy, died at the Bell Inn, in Warwick Lane, February 1, 1684, in the 71st year of his age.

      This distinguished prelate is celebrated for his gentleness, unfeigned piety, extensive learning, and great disinterestedness. Although his bishopric produced him only £200, and his archbishopric £400 per annum, he founded an exhibition or bursary in the university of Edinburgh, with two more in that of Glasgow, and gave £150 for the maintenance of two paupers in St. Nicholas’ Hospital, in the latter city. His writings still bear a high character; and some of them, particularly his admirable ‘Commentary on St. Peter,’ have been frequently reprinted.

      His works are:

      Sermons. London, 1692, 4to.

      Prelectiones Theologicae, quibus adjiciuntur Meditationes Ethico-Criticae in Psalmos iv. xxxii. cxxx. Lond. 1693, 4to.

      A Practical Commentary upon the two first chapters of the First Epistle of St. Peter. York, 1693, 2 vols. 4to. Also in 2 vols, 8vo.

      Three Posthumous tracts, viz. Rules for a holy Life; a Sermon; and a Catechism. Lond. 1708, 12mo.

      Works; with a Life of the Author, by the Rev. G. Jerment. 1808, 6 vols, 8vo. this is the most ample edition, including many pieces never before published.

You might like to download the following books in pdf format

Robert Leighton (1866)

Scotch Words
And the Bapteesement o' the Bairn by Robert Leighton, Fourth Edition (1870)

The Whole Works of the Most Reverend Father in God Robert Leighton D.D.
Archbishop of Glasgow in 4 volumes
Volume 1  |  Volume 2  |  Volume 3  |  Volume 4

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