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History of Montrose
Chapter V. - Meeting of General Assembly at Montrose in 1600


WE come now, in the order of events, to notice the Meeting of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which took place at Montrose on March, 28, 1600, at which King James VI. was present. Very great interest was felt in this Assembly, because it was expected to decide the continually recurring question as to the respective claims of Presbyterianism or Episcopacy to be the National Religion. Not but what this was settled long before, for Presbytery had received Parliamentary sanction in 1592 by an act which confirmed the Church of Scotland’s liberties, and before that, in an Assembly held at Edinburgh, on the 4th of August, 1590, the King stood up, and taking off his bonnet, with his hands and eyes lifted up to Heaven, he broke out as it were in an extacy of praises and thanksgivings to God—1, That he was bom into the world at a time when the light of God’s word shone clearly forth, eclipsed neither with the mists of ignorance, nor the false lights of superstition; 2, He blessed God that had honoured him to be a King over such a Kirk, # the sincerest Kirk in the world, repeating it three times. Notwithstanding this, the King soon afterwards made innovations upon this “ pure Church.”

It was no sooner known that Andrew Melville h&d come to Montrose than the King sent for him. His Majesty asked him why he was so troublesome, by persisting to attend Assemblies after he had prohibited him. He replied, that he had a commission from the Church, and that he behoved to discharge it, under the pain of incurring the displeasure of one who was greater than any earthly monarch. Recourse was then had to menaces, but they only served to rouse Melville's spirit On quitting the royal apartment, he put his hand to his throat and said, “Sir, is it this you want) Take this head, and cut it off: you shall have it before I will betray the cause of Christ.” He was not allowed to take his seat in the Judicatory; but it was judged unadvisable to order him out of the town, as had been done on a former occasion. He accordingly remained, and assisted his brethren with arguments and advice during the sitting of the Assembly.

We cannot help thinking that if Melville had united more the suaviter in modo with the fortiter in re, he would have made more of the King. He might have addressed him thus:—“Most High and Mighty Prince, it becomes all in this land to ‘ honour the King,’ and more especially is it the duty of Ministers to show a good example to their flock in this respect; they are indeed enjoined in Scripture to do so, but we think we honour your Majesty most, when we obey Him by whom Kings reign, and Princes decree justice. Now we think that we have more warrant in the New Testament for Presbyterianism than for Episcopacy; and the early Reformers in this country had most fruits of their ministry amongst the humbler classes, and we crave your Majesty’s forbearance in the prosecution of our labours amongst them; and your Majesty will find it a wiser policy to have the foundation of society laid broad and deep, for when there is a solid substratum, the upper may rest upon it, but cannot displace it. We find the upper classes not so amenable to discipline as the middle and lower classes, and without strict order, no church can exist. Give us, therefore, all the countenance and aid you can in our work, and we will do our endeavour to make the people happy and contented under your Majesty’s sway.” If Melville had spoken thus, the King might have dismissed him, as the Bishop did John Wesley, with, “well, Mr Wesley, you are a good man.”

The King, it will be observed, was very vacillating in his policy towards the Church. He believed, indeed, that bishops would be more subservient to his arbitrary rule than the ministers; and, above all, it is thought, and not without reason, that he had always an eye to succession to the throne of England, and wished to pave the way for it by pleasing the bishops there. Now, keeping this in view, we have a key to what passed at the Assembly at Montrose. The first question discussed was the one which was left over from the Conference at Holyrood House, viz.—whether the ministers should have a vote in Parliament. This would have been the first step towards making them bishops, and then they would have ruled the Church as the King had a mind, and abrogated the laws in favour of Presbytery. The staunch Presbyterians in the Assembly had no wish to rule in Church and State, arguing that “the duties of the ministerial office are so great and manifold, and the injunctions to constant and unremitted diligence in discharging them so numerous, so solemn, and so urgent, that no minister who is duly impressed with these will accept of another function, which must engross much of his time and attention.” In corroboration of these arguments a paper was given in, consisting of extracts from the writings of reformed divines and of the fathers, with the decisions of the most ancient and renowned general councils. The Court party, who took the affirmative side of the debate, were not able to reply to these arguments, and were forced to give up the ground they had taken up, and affecting now to condemn the union of sacred and civil offices, pleaded that the ministers who were to sit in Parliament would have no civil charge, but were merely to be present to watch over the interests of the Church, and give their advice in important cases. When it was urged that the ministerial voter must be employed in making laws for the whole kingdom, they took refuge under one of the worst of James’s political maxims, that the King alone makes laws, and the Estates merely give their advice. It would take up too much of our space to put down all that was said at this Assembly ; but the conclusion come to was, that the General Assembly, with the advice of Synods and Presbyteries, should nominate six individuals in each province, from which number his Majesty should choose one as the ecclesiastical representative of that province. These Commissioners of the Church to Parliament were bound down by the act which ratified this decision, as well as by oath, not to do anything in the exercise of this office contrary to the mind of the Church, or without its sanction, notwithstanding which caveats, the Archbishop and his colleagues were afterwards deposed and excommunicated by the General Assembly for violating them.

It must be allowed, from the records of history, that it would have been better if James and his immediate successors had meddled less than they did with the affairs of the Church in this land; for the early Reformers of the Church were men of deep and serious convictions, who could not be turned aside de tramite recto, as George Buchanan says in the first Psalm, by motives of worldly policy; indeed, if the King had had any such convictions himself, he would not have expected it of them. And, after all, what did it avail? for as often as he built up a castle of cards, it was demolished by the Church. But James thought himself an adept at kingcraft, and wrote a book entitled “Basilicon Doron, or Kingly Gift,” by which it is to be feared the two Charleses were too much guided, and so that dynasty lost, as Dr. M‘Crie says, a triple crown in the end. James’s motto was, “No Bishop, no King;” but that was a mistake, for the ministers repeatedly assured him that they would lay down their lives in defence of his crown and dignity; and all good men love order and good government, and there have been many good bishops in the Church of England and in the sister Church of Scotland, as Archbishop Leighton in this country, not to speak of modem times; although it may be mentioned, to the praise of the present Bishop of St Andrews, that he ardently desires union among the Churches, if a solid basis could be found, and Dean Ramsay is another bright example of a liberal Churchman. He always speaks in most respectful terms of other Churches, and co-operates with them in every good work around him. There is nothing to hinder a good and pious bishop, a man of apostolic fervour, to be of immense benefit to the Church, for he can draw up pastors of a like spirit, and in his hands is the power of ordaining them, so that if he himself is one of whom it may be said he walks in the light, or “in the Spirit,” which are synonymous terms, then he will have in lively exercise all the graces of the Spirit. These are—(Gal v. 22, 23)—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. These may be said to be the component parts of spiritual light, as the colours of the rainbow are the elements of natural light, for the God of nature is also the God of grace. Most school-boys know that if the seven primitive colours are put in their due proportions on a round card, quickly moving round a centre, they will be white as light, so the fruits of the spirit, when blended together in the same way, produce that spiritual light in which we are expected to walk.

There is this salutary lesson to be learned from the eventful and useful life of Andrew Melville—the power which his early and successful training at the Montrose Grammar School gave him over all his contemporaries. This vantage-ground enabled him to take a firm hold of truth, and to combat successfully all opposing forces; only, at the same time, it carried him just a little too far in the end, when he made that Latin epigram on the King, for which he was confined in the Tower, though he did it not from any ill, but just as a good swimmer is sometimes, from his knowledge of the art, tempted to go beyond his depth ; and who can read without emotion with what a longing, lingering look his kind-hearted, guileless nephew, James Melville, saw receding from his view the place where his “beloved unde was confined.”

The young academicians of Montrose would act wisely if they would lay as good a foundation in Latin, Greek, and French as Andrew Melville did; and it may be said they have now, if possible, better opportunities, and by the profitable use of their time now they will save themselves in after life many a weary hour of study.


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