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Significant Scots
John Sage


SAGE, (the Right Reverend) JOHN, was born in 1652, in the parish of Creich, in the north-east part of the county of Fife, where his ancestors had lived with much respect, but little property, for seven generations; his father was a captain in lord Duffus’s regiment, which was engaged in the defence of Dundee, when it was stormed and taken by the partilamentary general, Monk, on the 30th August, 1651. Captain Sage’s property was diminished in proportion to his loyalty, and all the fortune he had to bestow on his son was a liberal education and his own principles of loyalty and virtue. Young Sage received the rudiments of his education at the school of his native parish, and at a proper age was removed to the university of St Andrews, where he remained during the usual course, performing the exercises required by the statues of the Scottish universities, and where he took the degree of master of arts in the year 1672. He made letters his profession; but, his means being narrow, he was compelled to accept the office of parochial schoolmaster of Bingry in Fife, from which parish he was soon afterwards removed to the same office in Tippermuir, near Perth. Though, in these humble stations, he wanted many of the necessaries, and all the comforts of life, he prosecuted his studies with unwearied dilgence; unfortunately, however, in increasing his stock of learning, he imbibed the seeds of several diseases, which afflicted him through the whole of his life, and, notwithstanding the native vigour of his constitution, tended ultimately to shorten his days. To the cultivated mind of such a man as Sage, the drudgery of a parish school must have been an almost intolerable slavery; he therefore readily accepted the offer from Mr Drummond of Cultmalundie, of a situation in his family, to superintend the education of his sons. He accompanied these young persons to the grammar school of Perth, and afterwards attended them in the same capacity of tutor to the university of St Andrews. At Perth, he acquired the esteem of Dr Rose, who was afterwards bishop of Edinburgh, and one of the most distinguished men of his age; and at St Andrews, he obtained the friendship and countenance of all the great literary characters of the period.

In 1684, the education of his pupils was completed, and he was again thrown on the world without employment, without prospects, and without any means of subsistence. His friend, Dr Rose, however, having been promoted from the station of parish minister at Perth to the chair of divinity at St Andrews, did not forget young Sage at this moment of indecision and helplessness, but recommended him so effectually to his uncle, Dr Rose, then archbishop of Glasgow, that he was by that prelate admitted into priest’s orders, and presented to one of the city churches. At the period of his advancement in the church he was about thirty-four years of age: his knowledge of the Scriptures was very great; and he had studied ecclesiastical history, with the writings of all the early fathers of the church: he was thorough master of school divinity, and had entered deeply into the modern controversies, espeelally those between the Romish and the Protestant churches, and also into the disputes among the rival churches of the Reformation. He was in consequence very highly esteemed by his brethren, and was soon after appointed clerk of the diocesan synod of Glasgow, an office of great responsibility.

During the establishment of episcopacy in Scotland, from the Restoration of Charles II. till the year 1690, the authority of the bishops in the government of the church was exceedingly limited; they possessed indeed the sole power of ordination, but their government was shared by presbyteries and diocesan synods, in which they presided as perpetual moderators, having only the insignificant prerogative of a negative voice over these assemblies. The bishop delivered also a charge to the presbyters at the opening of these meetings, which, with the acts of the synodal or presbyterial meetings, was registered by the clerk, who was always one of the most eminent of the diocesan clergy. In all this period there were neither liturgy, nor forms, nor ceremonies, nor surplices, nor black gowns, nor any mark whatever by which a stranger, on entering a parish church, could discover that any difference in worship or external appearance existed between the established episcopal church and the tolerated presbyterian chapel; and we believe it is an established fact, that so much were the minds of the moderate presbyterians reconciled to episcopacy, that almost all the indulged ministers, with their congregations, took the communion at the parish churches with the episcopal clergy, towards the latter end of the reign of Charles II.

Mr Sage continued to officiate as clerk of the diocese, and as a minister in Glasgow, till the Revolution in 1688. In executing the duties of his pastoral office, he gained the esteem and affection not only of his own parishioners, but even of the presbyterians; so much so, that when the common people took the reformation of the church into their own hands, and, with no gentle means, turned the episcopal clergy of the western shires out of their churches and livings, he was treated in a manner which was considered as comparatively lenient and humane, being warned privately "to shake off the dust from his feet and withdraw from Glasgow, and never venture to appear there again." Many of his brethren were trimmers both in ecclesiastical as well as political affairs; they had been presbyterians and republicans in the days of the Covenant, and when, from the signs of the times in the short reign of the infatuated and ill-advised James, a change in the establishment seemed to be approaching, these over-zealous converts to episcopacy suddenly became all gentleness and condescension to the presbyterians, whom they now courted and caressed. Sage’s conduct was the reverse of this; he was heartily and from conviction an episcopalian and a royalist; and in all his discourses in public and private he laboured to instil those principles into the minds of others. To the persecution of others for difference of opinion he was always steadily opposed, not from any indifference to all opinions, but from a spirit of perfect charity, for he never tamely betrayed through fear what he knew it was his duty to maintain, notwithstanding his indulgence to the prejudices of others.

Thus expelled from Glasgow, he sought shelter in Edinburgh, carrying with him the synodical books, which, it would appear, he had delivered to bishop Rose, for, after the death of that venerable ecclesiastic, they were found in his possession, and delivered by his nephew to the presbytery of Glasgow. These books had been repeatedly demanded by the new presbytery, but had always been refused from a hope still lingering in Sage’s mind that a second restoration should take place; but as the captivity of the Jews always increased in duration, in proportion to their number, so has that of the episcopal church of Scotland. Partly to contribute towards that restoration for which he ardently longed, and partly to support himself under that destitution to which he was now reduced, he commenced as polemical writer, to the infinite annoyance of his adversaries: the following is a list of his works, which are now scarce, and chiefly to be found in the libraries of those who are curious in such things:--

1. The second and third letters concerning the persecution of the episcopal clergy in Scotland, printed in London in 1689. The first letter was written by the Rev. Thomas Morer, and the fourth by professor Monro.

2. An Account of the late establishment of presbyterian government by the parliament of Scotland in 1690. London, 1693.

3. The Fundamental Charter of Presbytery. London, 1695.

4. The Principles of the Cyprianic age, with regard to episcopal power and jurisdiction. London, 1695.

5. A Vindication of the Principles of the Cyprianic Age. London, 1701.

6. Some Remarks on a letter from a gentleman in the city to a minister in the country, on Mr David Williamson’s sermon before the General Assembly Edinburgh, 1703.

7. A brief examination of some things in Mr Meldrum’s sermon preached on the 6th May, 1703, against a toleration to those of the episcopal persuasion. Edinburgh, 1703.

8. The reasonableness of a toleration of those of the episcopal persuasion, inquired into purely on church principles, 1704.

9. The Life of Gawin Douglas, 1710.

10. An introduction to Drummond’s History of the Five Jameses, Edinburgh, 1711.

He left, besides, several manuscripts on various subjects that are mentioned in his life by bishop Gillan, and which were published at London in 1714.

On his retirement to the metropolis, he began to officiate to a small body who still adhered to the displaced church; but, peremptorily refusing to take the oaths to the revolution government, such was then the rigour of the officers of state, and the violence of the populace, that he was ere long compelled at once to demit his charge, and to leave the city, his person being no longer deemed safe. In this extremity, he was received into the family, and enjoyed the protection and friendship of Sir William Bruce, then sheriff of Kinross, who approved of his principles, and admired his virtues. Here he remained till 1696. On the imprisonment of his patron, Sir William, who was suspected of disaffection to the government, he ventured in a clandestine manner to visit him in Edinburgh castle; but his persecutors would give him no respite; he was obliged again to flee for his life to the Grampian hills, where he lived destitute and pennyless under the assumed name of Jackson.

After he had wandered in a destitute state for some time among the Braes of Angus, the countess of Callander offered him an asylum, and the appointment of domestic chaplain for her family, and tutor for her sons. Here he continued for some time, and when the young gentlemen intrusted to his charge were no longer in want of his instructions, he accepted an invitation from Sir John Stewart of Grantully, who desired the assistance of a chaplain, and the conversation of a man of letters. In this situation he remained till the necessities of the church required the episcopal order to be preserved by new consecrations. The mildness of his manners, the extent of his learning, and his experience recommended him as a fit person on whom to bestow the episcopal character. He was accordingly consecrated a bishop, on the 25th January, 1705, when no temporal motives could have induced him to accept an office at all times of great responsibility, but at that time of peculiar personal danger. His consecrators were John Paterson, the deprived archbishop of Glasgow, Dr Alexander Rose, deprived bishop of Edinburgh, and Robert Douglas, deprived bishop of Dumblane.

Soon after his promotion, this illustrious man was seized with that illness, the seeds of which had been sown in the difficulties and privations of his youth. After patientiy lingering a considerable time in Scotland without improvement, the persecutions to which he was subjected increasing his malady he was induced to try the efficacy of the waters at Bath in 1709. But this also failed him: the seat of his disease lay deeper than medical skill could reach He remained a year at Bath and London, where the great recognized, and the learned caressed and courted him, and where it was the wish of many distinguished persons that he should spend the remainder of his life. The love of his country and of his native church, overcame all entreaties, and he returned to Scotland in 1710, with a debilitated body, but a mind as vigorous as ever. Immediately on his arrival, he engaged with undiminished ardour in the publication of Drummond’s Works, to which Ruddiman, whose friendship he had for many years enjoyed, lent his assistance. Worn out with disease and mental anguish, bishop Sage died at Edinburgh, on 7th June, 1711, lamented by his friends, and feared by his adversaries. His friend Ruddiman always spoke of him as a companion whom he esteemed for his worth, and as a scholar whom he admired for his learning. Sage was unquestionably a man of great ability, and even genius. It is to be lamented, however, that his life and intellect were altogether expended in a wrong position, and on a thankless subject. All the sophistical ingenuity that ever was exerted, would have been unable to convince the great majority of the Scottish people, that the order of bishops was of scriptural institution, or that the government of the two last male Stuarts, in which a specimen of that order had so notable a share, was a humane or just government. He was a man labouring against the great tide of circumstances and public feeling; and, accordingly, those talents, which otherwise might have been exerted for the improvement of his fellow creatures, and the fulfilment of the grand designs of providence, were thrown away, without producing either immediate or remote good. How long have men contended about trifles—what ages have been permitted to elapse uselessly—how many bright minds have been lighted up, and quenched—before even a fair portion of reason has been introduced into the habits of thinking, and the domestic practice of the race.


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