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Significant Scots
Robert Blair


BLAIR, ROBERT, an eminent divine of the seventeenth century, was the sixth and youngest son of John Blair of Windyedge in Ayrshire, and Beatrix Muir, a lady of the honourable house of Rowallan. He was born at Irvine in 1593, and received his education at the college of Glasgow. After acting for some time as assistant to a teacher in that city, he was appointed, in the twenty-second year of his age, to be a regent or professor in the college. In 1616, he was licensed as a minister of the gospel. Happening soon after to preach before the celebrated Robert Bruce, and being anxious to have the judgment of so great and good a man upon his discourse, he took the liberty of directly asking him how he liked the sermon: Bruce said, "I found your sermon very polished and well digested, but there is one thing I did miss in it—to wit, the spirit of God; I found not that." This criticism made a deep and useful impression upon the young preacher. The prospects of Mr Blair at Glasgow were clouded in 1622, by the accession of Cameron to the office of Principal in the College. This divine, having been imbued in France with the tenets of Arminius, became a zealous promoter of the views of the court, for the introduction of Episcopacy into Scotland. Blair speedily became obnoxious to his evil offices, and found it necessary to resign his charge. For some years he officiated to a Presbyterian congregation at Bangour in Ireland, but, in 1632, was suspended, along with the equally famous preacher Livingstone, by the Bishop of Down. He then went over to court, to implore the interference of the King, who at length gave a favourable answer to his petition, writing with his own hand upon the margin, "Indulge these men, for they are Scotsmen;" an expression certainly honourable to the heart of the unfortunate monarch. Blair was one of those divines, who were reputed in Scotland to have direct communications with heaven, and a power of prophetic vision. While waiting anxiously for the return of his petition, he asked, and, as it is recorded by his biographer, received, a sign from heaven, assuring him that his wishes would be realised. He also "had from Ezekiel xxiv. 16, a strange discovery of his wife’s death, and the very bed whereon she was lying, and the particular acquaintances attending her; and although she was in good health at his return home, yet in a little all this came to pass," [Scots Worthies, new edition, 1827, p. 302.] He had not been long re-established at Bangour, when the bishop found further fault with him, and again sentenced him to be expelled. He now joined in a scheme set on foot by various Presbyterian clergymen in similar circumstances, for fitting up a ship, and emigrating to New England. But being driven back by a storm, they conceived that the Almighty will was opposed to their resolution, and accordingly abandoned the scheme. Blair returned to Scotland to mingle in the tumultuous scenes of the covenant. He preached for some time at Ayr, and was afterwards settled by the General Assembly at St Andrews. In 1640, he accompanied the Scottish army into England, and assisted at the negotiations for the peace of Rippon. After the first burst of the Irish rebellion of 1641, when the Presbyterians supplicated the General Assembly for a supply of ministers, Blair was one of those who went over. He soon returned, however, to his charge at St Andrews. In autumn 1645, when the Scottish estates and General Assembly were obliged by the prevalence of the plague at Edinburgh to sit in St Andrews, Blair took a conspicuous part in the prosecution of Sir Robert Spottiswoode and other adherents of Montrose, who had been taken prisoners at Philiphaugh. Sir Robert, who had accompanied Montrose as a mere civilian, upon an ernbassage from the King, was sentenced, by a flagrant violation of the law, to be beheaded as a traitor. In reality this dignified and respectable person was sacrificed as an atonement for the exertions of his father, Archbishop Spottiswoode, to introduce Episcopacy. At this period, when toleration was sincerely looked upon as a fatal and deadly error, it was conceived, that to permit this person to escape would draw down the wrath of God upon the land. Blair, who entertained all these notions in the most earnest manner, was nevertheless anxious that an exertion should be made to turn Sir Robert from the errors of his faith, so that he might at least die in the profession of the true religion. He therefore attended him in jail, and even at the scaffold, trying all his eloquence to work a conversion. Spottiswoode, who was one of the most learned and enlightened men of his age, appears to have looked upon these efforts in a different spirit from that in which they were made. He was provoked, upon the very scaffold, to reject the prayers of his pious monitor, in language far from courtly. Mr. Blair was equally unsuccessful with Captain Guthrie, son of the ex-bishop of Moray; who was soon after executed at the same place.

Blair was one of the Scottish divines appointed, in 1645, to reason the King out of his Episcopal prepossessions at Newcastle. The celebrated Cant, one of his co-adjutors in this task, having one day accused his Majesty of favouring Popery, Mr Blair interrupted him, and hinted that this was not a proper time or place for making such a charge. The unfortunate monarch, who certainly had a claim to this amount upon the gratitude of Blair, appears to have felt the kindness of the remark. At the death of Henderson, his Majesty appointed Blair to be his successor, as chaplain for Scotland. In this capacity, he had much intercourse with the King, who, one day, asked him if it was warrantable in prayer to determine a controversy. Blair, taking the hint, said, that in the prayer just finished, he did not think that he had determined any controversy. "Yes," said the King, "you determined the Pope to be Antichrist, which is a controversy among divines." Blair said he was sorry that this should be disputed by his Majesty; for certainly it was not so by his father. This remark showed great acuteness in the divine, for Charles, being a constant defender of the opinions of his father, whose authority he esteemed above that of all professional theologians, was totally unable to make any reply. The constancy of the King in his adherence to a church, which his coronation oath had obliged him to defend, rendered, as is well known, all the advices of the Scottish divines unavailing. After spending some months with his Majesty, in his captivity at Newcastle, Mr Blair returned to Scotland.

In 1648, when Cromwell came to Edinburgh for the first time, the Commission of the Church sent three divines, including Mr Blair, to treat with him for a uniformity of religion in England. The sectarian general, who looked upon the Scottish Presbytery as no better than English Episcopacy, but yet was anxious to conciliate the northern divines, entertained this legation with smooth speeches, and made many solemn appeals to God, as to the sincerity of his intentions. Blair, however, had perceived the real character of Cromwell, and thought it necessary to ask explicit answers to the three following categories: 1, What was his opinion of monarchical government? To this he answered, that he was for monarchial government; which exactly suited the views of the Scottish Presbyterians. 2, What was his opinion anent toleration? He answered confidently that he was altogether against toleration; which pleased, if possible, still better. 3, What was his opinion concerning the government of the church? "Oh, now," said Cromwell, " Mr Blair, you article me too severely; you must pardon me that I give you not a present answer to this." When the deputation left him Mr David Dickson said to Mr Blair, " I am glad to hear this man speak no worse; " to which the latter replied, " If you knew him as well as I, you would not believe a word he says; for he is an egregious dissembler."

Blair continued to be a zealous and useful minister during the usurpation of Cromwell, but after the Restoration, fell speedily under the censure of his metropolitan, Archbishop Sharpe. For some years, he had no regular place of worship, but preached and ministered when he met with a favourable opportunity. During his later years, being prohibited from coming within twenty miles of St Andrews, he lived at Meikle Couston, in the parish of Aberdour, where he died, August 27, 1666, in the 73d year of his age. He was buried in the church-yard of Aberdour, where there is a small tablet to his memory.

Robert Blair was the author of a Commentary on the Book of Proverbs, and also of some political pieces, none of which have come down to modern times. His abilities were singularly revived in more than one branch of his numerous progeny, particularly in his grandson, the author of "The Grave," and his two great-grandsons, Dr Hugh Blair, and the late Robert Blair, President of the Court of Sessions.


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