61 Robert Traill

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Significant Scots
Robert Traill


TRAILL, REV. ROBERT.—The family of the Traills is of considerable antiquity, and was settled in Fifeshire, where they possessed the estate of Blebo. The first of the name who appears in Scottish history was Walter Traill, son of the laird of Blebo, who was appointed Archbishop of St. Andrews, by King Robert III., about the year 1385. The father of Robert Traill, who was minister of the Greyfriars’ Church, Edinburgh, was one of those bold witnesses for the Covenant, who lived during the stormy period of the Commonwealth, and the still more trying season of the Restoration, in which, at the age of sixty, he was banished from Scotland for life upon the charge of holding a conventicle, because he had read and expounded Scripture to a few friends who were assembled in his house. In consequence of this sentence he retired to Holland, the usual place of refuge for the exiled Presbyterians of Scotland, and there spent the rest of his life.

It was in the midst of these troubles that the subject of the present memoir was ushered into the world. He was born at Elie, in Fifeshire, of which parish his father at first was minister, in May, 1642. Being destined for the ministry, at a period when the office in Scotland possessed few secular attractions, and was best fitted to test the disinterestedness of its candidates, he prosecuted the usual course of study in the university of Edinburgh, and secured by his proficiency the approbation of the professors. While a divinity student, and as yet only nineteen years old, he evinced his sincerity and courage by attending James Guthrie, of Stirling, to the scaffold, when that faithful martyr was executed for his adherence to the persecuted Kirk of Scotland. It was easy to foresee from such a commencement that the course of the young man would be neither a profitable nor a safe one. On the banishment of his father two years afterwards, the circumstances of the family were so straitened, that Robert Trail, who shared in all their trials, was often without a home. Matters in 1666 became even worse, in consequence of some copies of the "Apologetic Relation"—a work obnoxious to the prelates and privy council, having been found in their house; for in consequence of this discovery, his mother, brother, and himself were obliged to hide themselves from pursuit. While he was thus a fugitive, the unfortunate rout at Pentland occurred; and—as in the trials that followed, all the homeless and persecuted in Scotland were assumed as being more or less implicated in the insurrection—Robert Traill, whether truly or falsely, was said to have been in the ranks of the insurgents, in consequence of which charge, he was liable every hour to be apprehended and executed as a traitor. In this difficulty he fled to Holland in 1667, and joined his father, who had been settled there four years. Here he resumed his studies in theology, and assisted Nethenus, professor of divinity at Utrecht, in publishing "Rutherford’s Examination of Arminianism."

The stay of Robert Traill in Holland must have been a short one, probably only till the close of 1668; for in April, 1669, he was preaching in London upon a Thursday previous to the administration of the Lord’s Supper. It is probable, that having completed his theological studies in Holland, he had come to England in the earlier part of the year, and received ordination from the London Presbytery. Here he preached for some time without any settled charge, and was afterwards permanently appointed to the Presbyterian Church at Cranbrook, a small town in Kent. In this retirement he could exercise his calling in safety, as the Presbyterianism of England was not regarded as either so formidable or so important as to provoke the interposition of state persecution. But the case was very different in his native Scotland, which he visited in 1677. During his sojourn in Edinburgh he privately preached there, notwithstanding the severe laws against conventicles; and as the privy council had their spies everywhere, he was soon arraigned for this highest of offences before their bar. His trial was a brief one. He was first accused as a holder of house-conventicles, and this he acknowledged to be true. He was then asked if he had also preached at field-conventicles; but as this was the trying question, upon what was a capital offence, he gave no answer; and when required to clear himself by oath, of having preached at, or attended such meetings, he refused to comply. For lack of witnesses or proof they would oblige him to be his own accuser, and were prepared to punish him whether he confessed or remained silent! But such was the law of Scotland in those days against the persecuted children of the Covenant. On further questioning, all that he acknowledged was, that he had been ordained a minister in London, and that he had conversed with Mr. John Welch, one whom they had proscribed, upon the English border. For these offences he was sentenced to imprisonment in the Bass—a punishment only short of the gallows; and here he remained three months, at the end of which period he was released by order of government. It is not impossible that he had some influential friends in the English metropolis, otherwise he might have remained in the Bass for years, had his life endured it so long. On being released from his damp and dismal dungeon, that was scooped in the bowels of the sea-girt rock, Traill returned to Cranbrook, and resumed his ministerial duties over his little flock, until he was called to a wider sphere in London. There he lived and laboured as a Presbyterian minister, until he died in May, 1716, at the ripe age of seventy-four, having witnessed before he closed his eyes the deposition of the Stuarts, the firm establishment of Presbyterianism in his native country, the union of the two kingdoms, and the prospect of peaceful days and more liberal principles of rule under the accession of the Hanoverian dynasty.

Such are the few particulars that can be ascertained of the life of Robert Traill; and from these it is evident that he was a man of peace, and that the persecutions he so manfully endured were not sought by him, but thrust upon him. It is easy, also, to perceive from his published works, that he was a thoughtful student, as well as one of large and vigorous intellect; and that his taste as a writer was greatly in advance of his contemporary countrymen. His writings are essentially English—clear, nervous, and Saxon—while the catholicity of their sentiments made them a favourite with every class of religious men both in England and Scotland. Although so well adapted, also, to obtain influence and distinction in authorship, he did not commit his first work to the press until he had attained the ripe age of forty, and even then, such was his modesty, that it was extorted from him by the importunity of his admirers; while his second publication did not follow till ten years after. The following is a list of his writings:—

Sermon on "How Ministers may best win Souls."

Letter on "Antinomianism."

Thirteen discourses on "The Throne of Grace; from Heb. iv. 16."

Sixteen sermons on "The Prayer of our Saviour; in John xvii. 24."

These works obtained such high popularity, and were found so useful, that after his death the following were also published from his manuscripts:--

Twenty-one sermons on "Steadfast Adherence to the Profession of our Faith; from Heb. x. 23."

Eleven sermons from 1 Peter i. 1-4.

Six sermons on Galatians ii. 21.

Ten sermons on various subjects. These were transcribed from family MSS., and issued by the Cheap Publication Society of the Free Church of Scotland in 1845.


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