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Significant Scots
John Davidson


DAVIDSON, JOHN, an eminent divine, was born, we may suppose, some time about the year 1550, as he was enrolled a student of St Leonard’s college in the university of St Andrew, in the year 1567; where he continued until 1570. Being educated for the ministry, he early displayed much fervour in his piety, and a fearless boldness and constant zeal in the cause of the reformation in Scotland. When the regent Morton, in the year 1573, obtained an order in the privy council, authorizing the union of seven parishes into one, Davidson, then a regent in St Leonard’s college, expressed his opposition to, and displeasure at that crying abuse in the church, in poem, which, although printed without his knowledge, brought him into great trouble. He was summoned to a justice-ayre held at Haddington, when sentence of imprisonment was pronounced against him; he was, however, soon after liberated on bail, in the hope that the leniency thus shown would induce him to retract what he had written, or at least that his brethren might be prevailed upon to condemn the poem. But these expectations were disappointed and Davidson, finding the intercession even of some of the principal gentry in the country unavailing, and that nothing but a recantation would save him from punishment, fled to the west of Scotland, and thence into England, where he remained until the degradation of the regent, when he returned home. He ultimately attended the earl, along with other clergymen, when his lordship was about to suffer on the scaffold, and on that occasion a reconciliation took place between them.

Davidson again involved himself in difficulties by the active part which he took against Robert Montgomery, minister of Stirling. Robert Montgomery it appears, had made a Simoniacal purchase of the archbishopric of Glasgow from the earl of Lennox; after which, accompanied by a number of soldiers Montgomery came to Glasgow, and proceeded to the church. He there found the incumbent in the pulpit, when going up to him he pulled him by the sleeve, and cried "Come down, sirrah." The minister replied, "He was placed there by the Kirk, and would give place to none who intruded themselves without orders." Thereupon much confusion and bloodshed ensued. The presbytery of Stirling suspended Montgomery, and were supported in their authority by the General Assembly; but the earl of Lennox, not inclined to submit to this opposition, obtained a commission from the king, to try and bring the offenders to justice. Before this court could be held, however, the earl of Gowrie and other noblemen seized upon the young king, and carried him to the castle of Ruthven, and there constrained him to revoke the commission, and to banish the earl of Lennox from the kingdom. But the king having afterwards made his escape from his rebel nobles, banished all those who had been engaged in this treasonable enterprise. Montgomery, who in the meanwhile had made submission to the church, again revived his claim to the archbishopric of Glasgow, whereon Mr Davidson, then minister of Libberton, was appointed by the presbytery of Edinburgh to pronounce sentence of excommunication against him; which duty he performed with great boldness. He was also appointed one of the commission sent to Stirling to remonstrate with the king on account of this measure in favour of Montgomery. In consequence, however, of the faithfulness with which he had admonished his majesty, Davidson found it expedient to make a hurried journey into England, where he remained for a considerable time.

Having returned to Scotland, Mr Davidson signalized himself in the year 1590, by his letter in answer to Dr Bancroft’s attack on the church of Scotland. In 1596, while minister of Prestonpans he took an active part in accomplishing the renewal of the national covenant. He was chosen to mister unto the assemblage of divines and elders which congregated for confession and prayer in the Little Church of Edinburgh, as a preparatory step to the introduction of the overture for that purpose into the general assembly; and on this occasion "he was so assisted by the spirit working upon their hearts, that within an hour after they had convened, they began to look with quite another countenance than at first, and while he was exhorting them, the whole assembly melted into tears before him." "Before they dismissed, they solemnly entered into a new League and Covenant, holding up their hands, with such signs of sincerity as moved all present." And "that afternoon, the (general) assembly enacted the renewal of the covenant by particular synods." "There have been many days of humiliation for present judgments or imminent dangers; but the like for sin and defection was never seen since the Reformation."—. Calderwood’s Church History.

In the general assembly, held at Dundee in the year 1698, it was proposed that the clergy should vote in Parliament in the name of the church. Davidson, looking upon this measure as a mere device for the introduction of bishops, opposed it violently. "Busk, busk, busk him," he exclaimed, "as bonnily as you can, and fetch him in as fairly as you will, we see him weel enough—we can discern the horns of his mitre." He concluded by entreating the assembly not to be rash; for, "brethren," said he, "see you not how readily the bishops begin to creep up." He would have protested against the measure—which, notwithstanding the efforts to pack the assembly, was earned only by a majority of ten—but the king, who was present, interposed and said, "That shall not be granted: see, if you have voted and reasoned before." "Never, Sir," said Davidson, "but without prejudice to any protestation made or to be made." He then tendered his protestation, which, after having been past from one to another, was at last laid down before the clerk; whereon the king took it up, and, having showed it to the moderator and others who were around him, he put it in his pocket. The consequences of this protest did not, however, end here; Davidson was charged to appear before the council, and was by Order of the king committed prisoner to the castle of Edinburgh; but, on account of the infirm state of his health, the place of his confinement was changed to his own manse. Afterwards his liberty was extended to the bounds of his own parish, in which he was allowed to perform the duties of his charge: and there, after labouring in his vocation for some years, during which be suffered much from bad health, he died at Prestonpans in the year 1604.

He was a man of sincere piety, and of an ardent and bold disposition, which fitted him to take a leading part in the great movements of the period. Davidson is particularly deserving of notice on account of the exertions which he made for the religious and literary instruction of his parishioners in Prestonpans. At his own expense he built the church, the manse, and the school, and schoolmaster’s house. The school was erected for teaching the three learned languages, and he bequeathed all his heritable and movable property for its support. But by much the most extraordinary feature in his character was his reputation for prophecy. Calderwood tells, that Davidson "one day seeing Mr John Kerr, the minister of Prestonpans, going in a scarlet cloak like a courtier, told him to lay aside that abominable dress, as he (Davidson) was destined to succeed him in his ministry; which accordingly came to pass." On another occasion, when John Spottiswood,. minister of Calder, and James Law, minister of Kirkliston, were called before the synod of Lothian, on the charge of playing at foot-ball on Sabbath, Davidson, who was acting as moderator, moved that the culprits should be deposed from their charges. The synod, however, awarded them a slighter punishment; and when they were ordered in to receive their sentence, Davidson called out to them, "Come in, you pretty foot-ball men, the synod ordains you only to be rebuked." Then, addressing the meeting in his usual earnest and prophetic manner, he said, "And now, brethren, let me tell you what reward you shall get for your lenity; these two men shall trample on your necks, and the necks of the whole ministry of Scotland." The one was afterwards archbishop of St Andrews, and the other of Glasgow.—We quote the following from Wodrow’s MS. "Lives of Scottish Clergymen." When Davidson was about to rebuild the church of Prestonpans, "a place was found most convenient upon the lands of a small heritor of the parish, called James Pinkerton. Mr Davidson applied to him, and signified that such a place of his land, and five or six acres were judged most proper for building the church and churchyard dyke, and he behoved to sell them." The other said "he would never sell them, but he would freely gift those acres to so good a use;" which he did. Mr Davidson said, "James, ye shall be no loser, and ye shall not want a James Pinkerton to succeed you for many generations:" and hitherto, as I was informed some years ago, there has been still a James Pinkerton succeeding to that small heritage in that parish, descending from him; and after several of them had been in imminent danger when childless.


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