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Significant Scots
Calderwood, David


CALDERWOOD, DAVID, an eminent divine and ecclesiastical historian. The year of his birth, the place of his education, and the character of the family from which he was descended, are all alike unknown. The earliest ascertained fact of his life is his settlement, in 1604, as minister of Crailing, in Roxburghshire.

Being a zealous supporter of the principles of presbytery, he set himself with all his might to oppose the designs of the court, which aimed at the introduction of a moderate episcopacy. In 1608, when the Bishop of Glasgow paid an official visit to the synod of Merse and Teviotdale, Mr. Calderwood gave in a paper declining his jurisdiction. For this act of contumacy, he was confined for several years to his parish, so as to prevent his taking any share in the public business of the church. In the summer of 1617, king James paid a visit to Scotland, for the purpose of urging forward his episcopal innovations. On this occasion, while the parliament was considering how to intrust powers of ecclesiastical supremacy to the king, the clergy were convened to deliberate in a collusive manner, so that every thing might appear to be done with the consent and approbation of the church. This assemblage was attended by the bishops, who affected to consider it an imitation of the convocations of the English church.

Calderwood, being now permitted to move about, though still forbidden to attend synods or presbyteries, appeared at this meeting, which he did not scruple to proclaim as in no respect a convocation, but simply a free assembly of the clergy. Finding himself opposed by some friends of the bishops, Mr. Calderwood took leave of them in a short but pithy speech, allusive to the sly attempts of the king to gain the clergy, by heightening their stipends: - "It was absurd," he said, "to see men sitting in silks and satins, crying poverty in the kirk, while purity was departing." He assisted, however, at another meeting of the clergy, where it was resolved to deliver a protest to parliament, against a particular article, or bill, by which the power of framing new laws for the church was to be intrusted to an ecclesiastical council appointed by the king. This protest was signed by Mr. Archibald Simpson, as representing all the rest, who, for his justification, furnished him with a roll containing their own signatures. One copy of the document was intrusted to a clergyman of the name of Hewat, who, having a seat in parliament, undertook to present it. Another remained with Mr. Simpson, in case of accident. Mr Hewat's copy having been torn in a dispute with Archbishop Spottiswoode, Mr. Simpson presented his, and was soon after called before the tyrannical court of High Commission, as a stirrer up of sedition.

Being pressed to give up the roll containing the names of his abettors, he acknowledged it was now in the hands of Mr. David Calderwood, who was then cited to exhibit the said roll, and, at the same time, to answer for his seditious and mutinous behaviour. The Commission court sat at St. Andrews, and the king having come there himself, had the curiosity to examine Mr. Calderwood in person. Some of the persons present came up to the peccant divine, and, in a friendly manner, counselled him to "come in the king's will," that his majesty might pardon him. But Mr. Calderwood entertained too strong a sense of the propriety and importance of what he had been doing, to yield up the point in this manner. "That which was done," he said, "was done with deliberation." In the conversation which ensued betwixt the king and him, the reader will be surprised to find many of the most interesting points of modern liberty, asserted with a firmness and dignity worthy of an ancient Roman.

King. What moved you to protest?

Calderwood.. An article concluded among the laws of the articles.

King. But what fault was there in it?

Calderwood. It cutteth off our General Assemblies.

King. (After inquiring how long Mr. Calderwood had been a minister,) Hear me, Mr. David, I have been an older keeper of General Assemblies than you. A General Assembly serveth to preserve doctrine in purity, from error, and heresy, the kirk from schism, to make confessions of faith, to put up petitions to the king in parliament. But as for matters of order, rites, and things indifferent in kirk policy, they may be concluded by the king, with advice of bishops, and a choice number of ministers.

Calderwood. Sir, a General Assembly should serve, and our General Assemblies have served these fifty-six years, not only for preserving doctrine from error and heresy, but also to make canons and constitutions of all rites and orders belonging to the kirk. As for the second point, as by a competent number of ministers may be meant a General Assembly, so also may be meant a fewer number of ministers than may make up a General Assembly.

The king then challenged him for some words in the protestation.

Calderwood. Whatsoever was the phrase of speech, we meant nothing but to protest that we would give passive obedience to his majesty, but could not give active obedience to any unlawful thing which should flow from that article.

King. Active and passive obedience!

Calderwood. That is, we will rather suffer than practise.

King. I will tell thee, man, what is obedience. The centurion, when he said to his servants, to this man, go, and he goeth, to that man, come, and he cometh: that is obedience.

Calderwood. To suffer, Sir, is also obedience, howbeit, not of that same kind. And that obedience, also, was not absolute, but limited, with exception of a countermand from a superior power.

Secretary. Mr. David, let alone [cease]; confess your error.

Calderwood. My lord, I cannot see that I have committed any fault.

King. Well, Mr. Calderwood, I will let you see that I am gracious and favourable. That meeting shall be condemned before ye be condemned; all that are in the file shall be filed before ye be filed, provided ye will conform.

Calderwood. Sir, I have answered my libel. I ought to be urged no further.

King. It is true, man, ye have answered your libel; but consider I am here; I may demand of you when and what I will.

Calderwood. Surely, Sir, I get great wrong, if I be compelled to answer here in judgment to any more than my libel.

King. Answer, Sir! ye are a refractor: the Bishop of Glasgow, your ordinary, and the Bishop of Caithness, the moderator of your presbytery, testify ye have kept no order; ye have repaired neither to presbyteries nor synods, and in no wise conform.

Calderwood. Sir, I have been confined these eight or nine years; so my conformity or non-conformity, in that point, could not be well known.

King. Good faith, thou art a very knave. See these self-same puritans; they are ever playing with equivocations.

Finally, the King asked, "If ye were relaxed, will ye obey or not?"

Calderwood. Sir, I am wronged, in that I am forced to answer questions beside the libel; yet, seeing I must answer, I say, Sir, I shall either obey you, or give a reason wherefore I disobey; and, if I disobey, your Majesty knows I am to lie under the danger as I do now.

King. That is, to obey either actively or passively.

Calderwood. I can go no further.

He was then removed. Being afterwards called up, and threatened with deprivation, he declined the authority of the bishops to that effect; for which contumacy, he was first imprisoned in St. Andrews, and then banished from the kingdom. When we read such conversations as the above, we can scarcely wonder at the civil war which commenced twenty years afterwards, or that the efforts of the Stuarts to continue the ancient arbitrary government of England were finally ineffectual.

Mr. Calderwood continued to reside in Holland from the year 1619, till after the death of king James, in 1625. Before leaving his country, he published a book on the Perth assembly, for which he would certainly have been visited with some severe punishment, if he had not been quick to convey himself beyond seas. In 1623, he published, in Holland, his celebrated treatise, entitled, "Altare Damascenum," the object of which was to expose the insidious means by which the polity of the English church had been intruded upon that of Scotland. King James is said to have been severely stung in conscience by this work. He was found very pensive one day by an English prelate, and being asked why he was so, answered, that he had just read the Altar at Damascus. The bishop desired "his majesty not to trouble himself about that book, for he and his brethren would answer it. "Answer that, man!" cried the king sharply; "how can ye? there is nothing in it but scripture, reason, and the fathers." An attempt was made, however, to do something of this kind. A degraded Scottish gentleman, named Scott, being anxious to ingratiate himself at court, published a recantation as from the pen of Mr. Calderwood, who, he believed, and alleged, was just dead. There was only one unfortunate circumstance against Mr. Scott. Mr. Calderwood soon let it be known that he was still alive, and of the same way of thinking as ever. The wretched impostor is said to have then gone over to Holland and sought for Mr. Calderwood, in order to render his work true by assassinating him. But this red ink postscript was never added, for the divine had just returned to his native country.

Mr. Calderwood lived in a private manner at Edinburgh for many years, chiefly engaged, it is supposed, in the unobtrusive task of compiling a history of the church of Scotland, from the death of James V. to that of James VI. His materials for this work lay in Knox's History, Mr. James Melville's Observations, Mr. John Davidson's Diary, the Acts of Parliament and Assembly, and other state documents. The work, in its original form, has hitherto been deemed too large for publication; but manuscript copies are preserved in the archives of the church, Glasgow University, and in the Advocates' Library. On the breaking out of the troubles in 1638, Mr. Calderwood appeared on the public scene, as a warm promoter of all the popular measures. At the Glasgow assembly in that year, and on many future occasions, his acquaintance with the records of the church proved of much service. He now also resumed his duty as a parish minister, being settled at Pencaitland, in East Lothian. In 1643, he was appointed one of the committee for drawing up the directory for public worship; and, in 1646, an abstract of his church history was published under the care of the General Assembly. At length, in 1651, while Cromwell’s army occupied the Lothians, Mr. Calderwood retired to Jedburgh, where, in the immediate neighbourhood of the scene of his earliest ministrations, he sickened and died at a good old age.

Both his "Altare Damascenum," and his "True History of the Church of Scotland," have been printed oftener than once; but an edition of his larger history, is still a desideraturm in Scottish literature.


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