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Scottish Nationality
By Rev John Ker D.D.


These reprints belong to a period of our history which marks very strongly the character of the people, and which has done much to fix it; and it may not be out of place, in this Introduction, to make some remarks on Scottish Nationality, as to how it took its rise and came to be what it is, both socially and religiously.

While we believe in an overruling guidance which divides to the nations their inheritance, and moulds their character, we can see that it makes use of means to gain the result. The features of the country have, no doubt, had their influence. The brown moorlands and misty hills are in harmony with the grave, and sometimes sombre, temperament of the people; and the sweet romantic dells and hidden nooks of beauty that surprise one, ever and again, in the midst of the barest stretches, are reflected in the tenderness and picturesqueness of the national lyrics, and in the latent poetry which breaks the hard surface of prevailing reserve among the country population, wherever they are found in their old simplicity. Yet it is easy to make too much of this. The magnificent scenery of Switzerland has produced no great poet, no outbreak of song and romance, even equal to what has come from the flats of the Netherlands and the sandy downs of Denmark.

The mixture of races that has gone to form the Scottish people might be made use of to account for many of their characteristics; but here, too, it is possible to exaggerate. Some generalizing historians, for example, have laid it down as a rule that the Teutonic nations must necessarily be Protestant, and the Celtic, Roman Catholic ; but the reverse might be argued as plausibly. Scotland, which is more Celtic than England, is more intensely Protestant, and no part of it more markedly so than that which contains the pure Celtic element. It was the Saxon Wilfrid, and, later, the English Margaret, Queen of Malcolm Canmore, who helped to supersede the simpler system of the Culdees by the government and ritual of Rome. If the Celts of Ireland have become the ardent retainers of the Papal chair, the Celts of "Wales, a kindred branch of the same great stock, have shaken off its influence more thoroughly than their English neighbours; and if Brittany is devoted to the Mass, nowhere, in England proper, is there a population more hostile to it than their kinsmen of Armoric blood in Cornwall. The truth is that many of these generalizations are based upon selecting half the facts. The two districts in Scotland that stood most sternly to the Covenanted cause were probably Galloway and Fife—the one of Celtic race, the other of Teutonic. There may be a portion of truth in the theory that the ‘ very fervid genius; of the Scots, spoken of by Buchanan, comes from the Celtic subsoil in the nation, and that the stubborn perseverance, the cool determination, is from Scandinavia,—flame fusing iron, —but even to this many exceptions would need to be taken. The fiery Knox came from the Saxon Lothians; the calm, scholarly Buchanan from the Highland border; and, in later times, the Celtic Mackintosh, with his philosophic balance, is a marked contrast to the lurid genius of Carlyle. On the whole, while natural scenery and blood have their influence on national character, there is an agency more powerful than either—that of history. The determining factor in the sphere of humanity is not materialistic, but a free personality, working under the arrangements of a Divine Providence.

In the dawn of history, the country we inhabit was on the remotest verge of the known world. When the conquering Romans entered the island, those who were not disposed to submit were driven northward, and forced to stand at bay. With their back to the sea, and their home among the hills, the first rudiments of character began, and the historian Tacitus has traced the outlines of it. The walls of Hadrian and Antoninus, built to hold the unsubdued races in check, are the still-existing witnesses. It was like air compacted into a power of resistance by force of pressure, and the national spirit of antipathy to foreign domination was probably laid in that first struggle. Once begun, successive contests came to strengthen it. The Saxon, the Danish, the Norman invasions overflowed the southern part of the island, but failed in securing any general or permanent hold upon the North. All these elements entered the land, and changed and elevated the social condition of the people ; but they came as friendly guests. The efforts which they frequently made to gain a lodgment by the armed hand, and their failure, confirmed the obstinate antipathy to foreign rule. The change of the old Celtic tongue into the Saxon of the Lowlands, and the entrance of the Norman feudalism, were accomplished peacefully, under the rule of native monarchs. These are facts entirely untouched by the monkish legends of over-lordship on the part of the English kings insisted on by Palgrave and Freeman.

These events in the dim porch of history were a preparation for the bitter and decisive struggle which made Scotland a nation, and put one conscious heart and will into its separate races. This struggle was the war for Scottish independence, under Wallace and Bruce, against the Anglo-Norman domination attempted by the Edwards. It was, above all, the spirit formed by Wallace, and the loving memory of his name and self-devotion, which began the nationality that has continued from that time to this, in the varied forms of political, religious, and literary life. He was a man of the people, and, so far as can be inferred, neither Saxon nor Norman, but of the old native race; no savage bandit, nor mere chivalrous swordsman, but possessed of heart and brain, as well as force and courage—a general and a statesman. No less a man could have left the impress he did on the history of his country, and all the traces we have of him in authentic documents bear out this view. We are far enough now from the time when it was customary to speak of our ‘ auld enemies of England ’ to be able to estimate what the success of that struggle did for England as well as for Scotland—how it prepared the way for an equal and honourable union, which has left no grudge, which has made England strong in the attachment of the old Northern Kingdom, while it has made the British Empire richer by all the contributions of literature and social character which a separate history has enabled Scotland to give. It has been a barrier to the spread of that system of centralization which is not only dangerous to liberty, but detrimental to healthy progress, and yet it has not weakened the United Kingdom by any divided allegiance. A great people is stronger, and more permanently fertile, from the variety of its component parts, and from the friendly play of the electric currents that have their origin in a diversity that is held in friendship. Some flippant London journalists, and a few denationalized Scotchmen who cultivate their good opinion, may express the belief that it would have been better if the Edwards had succeeded; but candid and liberal Englishmen now look on the result at Bannockburn as a benefit to England itself, while Scotsmen, on their part, can share in their admiration of the stout yeomen who conquered, though with little fruit, at Cressy and Poictiers.

These truths are coming to be admitted, but less attention has been bestowed on the bearing which this struggle had on the religious history of Scotland. It was the preservation of its independence that prepared the way for the development of the Re formation principles in the form they have taken in the Northern Kingdom. The two periods are in close, one may say logical, connection, and the men who filled them had the same spirit and sinew. "Wallace made a nation and Knox a people. The one secured the soil on which the other built up the church polity, and in which he implanted the religious principles that have since been associated with the name of Scotland wherever it is known, and that have given it a place in the world out of all proportion to its extent, or population, or material resources. But for the war for national independence, the battle for spiritual freedom would have been fought at a great disadvantage, and we should now have been among those in England who are struggling with an overmastering prelatie establishment which denies to all outside of it the most common rights of citizenship, and sends off its recruits in increasing numbers to the Church of Rome. Any one who knows how our forefathers defied the Papal interdict in 1317, when it was used against their just rights, or who has read the memorable letter of the barons to the Pope, will discern the same spirit which came out in the Solemn League and Covenant, when the Word of God had opened to the Commons of Scotland the conception of a higher freedom than had been fought out, centuries before, by their forefathers on many a bloody field. The true inheritors of the old Scottish chivalry, who held out on the grim edge of despair till native endurance conquered, were the Camerons and Cargills, who wandered in the very haunts of Ayrshire and the Torwood where Wallace had his retreats; and the Lauderdales and Rotheses, the Middletons and Claverhouses, were the successors of the recreant nobles who betrayed their country and its liberty to the foreigner and the tyrant. There are, of course, men among us who regret the turn that history then took,—the followers of Laud and Strafford cannot well do otherwise,—but those who set some value on the great principles of civil and religious freedom can never regard the men of the Scottish Reformation but with admiration and gratitude. It was Knox, as Carlyle and Froude have shown, who saved England from the league against her, headed by Philip II.; it was the attitude of the Covenanters which roused the opposition of the Long Parliament to the arbitrary schemes of Charles I.; and it was the long-drawn-out agony of twenty-eight years of suffering in Scotland that made the people of England so weary of the profligate despotism of the last of the Stuarts, and so ready to welcome the arrival of "William III. "When one remembers how the religion of Scotland has aided the noble English Nonconformists, and even the Evangelical party in the Church of England, how it has given to the British Government in Ireland its one loyal foothold, how it has told upon the United States and our Colonies, with their many thousands of Presbyterian churches, we begin to feel the importance of the separate citadel that was maintained in Scotland, first for national, and then for spiritual independence. Such considerations may, at least, be allowed to have some weight with those of us to whom the principles of freedom, the rights of the Christian people, and the simplicity of the Gospel of the New Testament, are more interesting than the virtue of apostical succession, the difference between copes and chasubles, and the grand distinction of lighted or unlighted candles upon the altar.

"What gave the Scottish Reformation its character, and what has marked it throughout is, that it was, and is, a movement of the people. The sympathies of the men who were its great leaders, and the essence of its truths, carried it straight to the popular heart. It took men at once to the Word of God, and taught them to read their rights as Christians and citizens, with a definite place in the Church and the Commonwealth, and its effect was marvellous in the new spirit it breathed into the old, rude clay of the Scottish nation. But the appeal to the people was in the circumstances a matter of necessity. The Reformation had to meet the frown of royalty in Mary of Guise, her daughter, and her grandson, and was compelled to speak God’s Word to kings without fear. The nobles at first aided the cause,—some, whose names shine out with honour, from conviction, but many more from a love of the broad lands of the old Church, and, when the booty was secured, and persecution arose because of the Word, they soon became offended. The seals of most of those who signed the Covenant in Greyfriars Churchyard are found, after the Restoration, attached to the document which denounces pains and penalties on all who should remain faithful to it. In the face of these things, the Reformers had to fall back upon the people for support, to enlighten and animate them, to impress on them what one of themselves has called a ‘creat awe of God’ against the fear of man.

Happily they were allowed breathing time for this. The old woe to ‘the land whose king is a child ’ was reversed, for it was the minority, first of Mary, and then of James VI., that gave the opportunity. While the Hamiltons and Mars and Mortons were contending fiercely for place and spoil, there were men busy in the towns and villages, and remotest rural districts, preaching the newly-recovered Gospel with its creative power. Beneath the great names of Ivnox and Melville there are many, known to the student of Scottish Church History, who, from Ross-shire to Galloway, were the lights of their own neighbourhood, and whose memories, without canonization, are still hallowed in the breasts of the people. They succeeded so well that, when the day of trial came, the humblest ranks stood firm amid the defection of those whom they had been accustomed to follow as their natural leaders; and they could neither be broken by persecution nor beguiled by snares. The manner in which plain countrymen argued from the New Testament struck the Episcopalian historian, Burnet, when he met the people of the western shires to discuss a plan for the settlement of the Church. ‘The Episcopal clergy' he says, 'who were yet in the country, could not argue much for anything, and would not at all argue in favour of a proposition that they hated. The people of the country came generally to hear us, though not in great crowds. We were indeed amazed to see a poor commonalty so capable to argue upon points of government, and on the bounds to be set to the power of princes in matters of religion. Upon all these topics they had texts of Scripture at hand, and were ready with their answers to anything that was said to them. This measure of knowledge was spread even among the meanest of them, their cottagers and their servants.5 We may give here the dying testimony of one of these cottagers, John Clyde, as an example of the spirit which their religion had breathed into many of the poor commonalty of Scotland at that time: ‘I bless the Lord for keeping me straight, I desire to speak it to the commendation of free grace, and this I am speaking from my own experience, that there are none who will lippen (trust) to God, and depend upon Him for direction, but they shall be keeped straight and right; but to be promised to be kept from tribulation, that is not in the bargain, for He hath said that through much tribulation we must enter the Kingdom. He hath promised to be with us in it, and what needs more ? I bless the Lord for keeping of me to this very hour; for little would I have thought a twelvemonth since that the Lord would have taken a poor ploughman lad, and have honoured me so highly, as to have made me first appear for Him, and then keep me straight, and now hath keeped me to this very hour to lay down my life for Him.’ At the ladder foot he said to his brother: ‘Weep not for me, brother, but weep for yourself and the poor land, and seek God, and make Him sure for yourself, and He shall be better to you than ten brethren. Now, farewell all friends and relations, farewell brother, sister, and mother; and welcome Lord Jesus Christ, into thy hands I commit my spirit.’ And, lifting up the napkin off his face, lie said: ‘Dear friends, be not discouraged because of the cross, nor at this ye see in me, and you shall see no more.’ One cannot help thinking of the mean and selfish tyrant who then sat on the throne, with his saying that ‘ Presbyterianism is not the religion of a gentleman,’ when we see the nobility of soul it could bestow on one of the poorest of his subjects. Compare this life and death with that of him who spent the pensions of Louis XIV. On his infamous pleasures, and sought to make atonement with the Jesuits’ wafer when in extremis. It was this spirit, diffused among numbers of the people, that brought them out victorious from a struggle of more than a hundred years for their religion. ‘Let me make the songs of a country,’ Fletcher of Saltoun, or some one before him, has said, ‘and I care not who makes its laws.’ These men were too busy or too earnest to make many songs, and the poetry of the time that has come down to us is from another school; but the psalm has vanquished the song, and given us the laws under which we live.

It would be too long to follow the history of Scottish Christianity from that time till now, and its course is known to most. The principle of the New Testament, that there is no sacerdotal class in the Church of Christ, but that all its members belong to the priesthood, and have a right to share in the administration, has asserted itself in the dreariest times of stagnation. Its mode of service, in which instruction from the Bible is meant to be a prominent feature, has been a constant stimulus to the intellect of the hearers, and a school of thought about the highest and most interesting of all subjects. The saying of a German, that ‘theology is the metaphysics of the people,’ is largely true of Scotland. The very divisions that have taken place in the history of the Church, much as they are to be regretted otherwise, have had the effect of stirring inquiry. Every secession had to justify itself in the forum of the popular conscience from the 'Word of God. It has set men to discuss, to take up their ground on reasons of convincement, and to be able to defend their position against all comers. It must be admitted that this, like everything else, has not escaped its abuse. It has made numbers of its adherents hard - headed and opinionative, ready to split hairs and mistake points for principles; but it has made the people, as a whole, intelligent, self-reliant, and energetic, fitted to stand their own in fields of enterprise, at home or abroad, and ready to make sacrifices for what they believe to be the cause of God’s truth and man’s freedom, that will compare with those of any Church in the world. Buckle has asserted that the two most priest-ridden countries in Europe are Spain and Scotland. It is true that in both the mass of the people have been marked by strong attachment to one prevailing form of faith; but a philosophical historian might have observed that, in the one case, it is accompanied with the proscription of thought, in the other, with the constant stimulus and exercise of it: in the one case, the people are excluded from all share in the government of the Church ; in the other, the government is fully in their hands. Hence the different spirit of the two countries, and the fact that, while the people of Scotland are warmly attached to their ministers, they would resent any attempt to interfere with their political judgments, or to deal with them in any way beyond what can be justified by the open charter to which all alike have access—the Word of God. Mr. Buckle, too, might have remembered his own remark, made we believe also by Bemusat, that, wherever it has gone, in France, Switzerland, Holland, Britain, and America, the Calvinistic faith has shown itself the unfailing friend of constitutional liberty. Historians have found it difficult to account for this, while they admit its truth. We believe it has arisen not merely from the form of government with which it has linked itself, one of ordered freedom, but from the fact that it has always carried its appeal past human authority in religion to the Word of God ; that it has taught men to think for themselves as in his sight, and to seek that personal relation to Him which makes them free with the liberty of his children. It proclaims the grand Divine equality, ‘One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren,’ out of which are built up again service, and law, and comely order in Church and State, but now tempered by the action of reason and love. It may be said that this is simply Christianity, and so it is; but there are forms of Christianity more or less pronounced, and, while we have great respect for the contributions that other forms have brought in their own way, we believe that the Puritans of England, old and new, and the Presbyterians of Scotland have, with all their defects, led the van in the cause of human freedom.

The question may be put: Is Presbyterianism likely to maintain its hold of the Scottish people ? So far as can be judged, the different Churches that represent it were never more active in efforts at extension, and in the cultivation of Christian thought and work, than they are at present. They contain four-fifths of the professed Christianity of the country; and, while there are some questions that have to be settled among them, there is a growing feeling of brotherhood, and tokens of a period coming when the divisions of past generations are to be repaired. The course of events will probably settle, ere very long, whether this is to be on the old lines of a National Establishment, or on the principle enunciated by Cargill for posterity, ‘that they may begin where we end.’ On this we shall not enter. But such a union is desirable for two great reasons — that there may be more combined and energetic effort for the reclamation of the large numbers who have been suffered to grow up in ignorance and vice outside of all the Churches; and, next, for the serious study of the questions that have risen in our day to make numbers of the educated class assume a neutral or half-hostile attitude to our common Christianity. These are arduous matters; but if we give ourselves to them with the faith and courage of our forefathers, we shall with God’s help succeed. Things are not so dark as they must have looked to them after Pentland and Bothwell.

On the whole, we believe that, while Scottish Christianity may widen out, as it has already done, it will maintain the same great centres. It will not forsake the vital truth of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, though it may make it prominent and supreme by lowering the importance of minor questions. It will not abandon its old model of government, so strong and flexible, but it will open its heart to all who love the Lord Jesus Christ, and will neither unchristianize nor unchurch them, although they do not admit the office of the ruling elder and the due subordination of Church Courts. It will cleave to the freedom and simplicity of its mode of worship, while it owns as brethren those who, from custom or constitution, can worship God more profitably through fixed forms. For the devoutness, the reverence, the gentleness of Christianity that is seen in many of these last we cannot but have the deepest esteem; and we cannot doubt that such men regret, as much as we do, the St. Bartholomew’s day of England, and the policy of Sheldon and his creature Sharp. It is unfortunate, however, for good feeling in this direction that the kind of Episcopacy chiefly prevalent in Scotland is that against which our fathers had to contend, and one which is still too little disposed to meet other Churches on terms of Christian equality. When it pleads that it is compelled to do so by its theory of what a Church is, we must regret the position of men whose heart cannot but be at war with their head, and we must honour all the more the spirit of such men as the late Bishop Ewing and others, in seeking to grasp the hands of fellow-Christians over such high and narrow walls. This situation is painful, in that it cuts off those who belong to it from the just influence they might otherwise exercise on the national life, and from the aid they might give in bridging across the chasms, already too wide, that divide society. The nobility of Scotland have ceased very much, with a few honourable exceptions, to be the Scottish nobility; and those who follow them in the fashion separate themselves from a share in the most thrilling and invigorating parts of the national history. 'Where this position is adopted on the conscientious ground that apostolical succession and sacerdotal virtue in the Sacraments are essential to a Christian Church, nothing more can be said ; where it is taken from taste, it is a poor ground in the midst of considerations infinitely more important; but where, as is too often the case, it is merely to be in the style, and keep aloof from the multitude, it is a hurtful imbecility, and accompanied with this inconvenience, that, if the multitude should follow, some other move will require to be made. But, after all, the multitude will not follow. They will be drawn to preaching, if it be only real and living, more than to ceremonies; and before it can be otherwise, the nature of the Scottish people must be made over again, their most hallowed associations destroyed, the most heroic pages of their history blotted out, and the last old stone dug up that lifts its head from the grey hillside to tell where martyred dust is sleeping. A nation’s life is a continuous growth, and has its roots in the past that it may have its fruit for the future. For larger ends than belong even to Scotland, we must hold fast what is native to the soil. "We shall do more for the British Empire as Scotsmen than as mongrel Englishmen, and more for Christianity as good Presbyterians than if, from indifference or affectation, we let slip the stimulating motives that come from such an ancestry.

In looking back upon the period of the Second Reformation in Scotland, the lives of Peden and Benwick call for special notice. These two names were once known to every child in Scotland, and traditions of them are floating all over the. south-west; but wre doubt whether, in these days of newspapers and magazines, many know more of them than the mere names, or what is to be found in the Scots Worthies —a manual of which we would speak with all respect. There is something weird about the history of Alexander Peden. He was the John the Baptist of the Scottish Covenant. His lonely life for years, his wild hiding-places, his marvellous escapes, the timely descent of the mist, or ‘ the lap of the Lord’s cloak,’ as he called it, to screen him from his persecutors, the keen insight of his sayings, which amounted to foresight, his burial beneath the gallows at Cumnock and the change of the place thereby to a God’s acre, have thrown an air of mystery round his memory in the minds of the people. The sermons that remain are very fragmentary, like the panting words of a man in the intervals of flight, and are no doubt, besides, very imperfectly reported to us. There was no shorthand writer on the spot; and sometimes the more eccentric points would be best remembered. The stern Old Testament spirit comes out in Peden more than in any other of the time ; and, if the fierceness occasionally startles us, we must think of the old man with the bloody dragoons of Claverhouse on his trail, a tyrannical voluptuary on the throne, and the cause of God, for which he was very jealous, trampled in the mire. Charity is good; yet, with most men, it needs time for reflection, and a little sunshine. But there is a homely picturesqueness about many of his sayings, a pithy proverbiality, and sometimes a deep tenderness. £ I think God has a mind to search Jerusalem with lighted candles, and to go through the whole house to visit all your chambers, and there shall not be one pin within all your gates but God shall know whether it is crooked or even. He will never rest till He be at the bottom of men’s hearts. He has turned out some folks’ hearts already, and flitted others; it seems He has a mind to make the inside the outside.

There was but a weak wind in former trials, and therefore much chaff was sheltered and hid amongst corn ; but God now has raised a strong wind, and yet Christ’s own cannot be driven away. He will not lose one hair of his people’s heads ; He knows them all by hcad-mark. Oh, if our hearts and love were blazing after Him, wc would rather choose to die believing than to sin by compliance! ’ Or again: ‘Death and destruction shall be written witli broad letters on our Lord’s standard ; a look of Him shall be a dead stroke to any that runs in his gate. It is best for you to keep within the shadow of God’s ways, to cast Christ’s cloak over your head until you hear Him say, “ The brunt of the battle is over, and the shower is slacked.” And I am confident the fairest plan to check the way is to spiel (climb) out of God’s gate, and keep within the doors till the violence of the storm be gone, and begin to ebb, which is not yet full tide. Yet Christ deals tenderly with young plants, and waters them oft; but they go back. Be praiseful and love not life for the seeking.’ It is evident that God and eternity were intense realities to these men.

If Peden was the John the Baptist of the Covenant, Tienwick was John the Evangelist. There is something so touching in his whole story—so young and fair, so gentle and full of poetry, so devoted in his few brief years, and so firm that, when a word of compliance would have saved his life, he could not be induced to speak it—the last of the Scottish martyrs falling on the threshold of deliverance, and feeling the air that came through the opening door. Dying at twenty - five, exhausted with work and suffering, among his last words were: ‘Death is to me as a bed to the weary'. And on the scaffold, in a pause of the beating of the drums, his voice rose clear to the sky: 'I shall soon be above these clouds, I shall soon be above these clouds; then shall I enjoy Thee, and glorify Thee, 0 my Father! without interruption, and without intermission, for ever!’

The letters of Kenwick remind one not unfrequently of those of Rutherford, with a vein of melancholy in them, as if from a heart that felt the shadow of an early death. We shall close this paper with an extract from one addressed to friends in Holland.

‘Now, right honourable, as to news here, I know that the Lord is still increasing his people in number and spiritual strength; and many a sacrifice He is taking off their hands; for there are not many days wherein his truths are not sealed with blood, and that in all places, so that I think within a little there shall not be a moss or mountain in the West of Scotland which shall not be flowered with martyrs. Enemies think themselves satisfied that we are put to wander in dark, stormy nights through mosses and mountains; but if they knew how we were feasted when others are sleeping, they would gnash their teeth with rage. Oh, I cannot express how sweet times I have had when the curtains of heaven have been drawn ; when the quietness of all things in the silent watches of the night has brought to my mind the duty of admiring the deep, silent and inexpressible ocean of joy, wherein the whole family of the higher house are everlastingly drowned; each star leading me out to wonder what He must be who is the Star of Jacob, the bright and morning star, who maketh all his own to shine as stars in the firmament! The greatest wrong enemies can do is to be instrumental in bringing a chariot to carry us to that higher house, and should we not think this the greatest favour?


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