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History Of The Scottish Nation
Vol 2, Chapter 3 - A Second Morning in Scotland


We have seen the Goths summoned from their native forests to shake into ruin the heavens and the earth of the ancient world. These structures had served their end, and must now be removed to make room for a political and social constitution better fitted for the development of the race, and the wider and more varied career on which they were about to enter. So vast a change could not be accomplished without the destruction of much that was intrinsically valuable, as well as of much that was no better than superannuated lumber. It was a world that was to be destroyed. The authority of ancient schools, the sanctity of ancient religions, and the prestige of ancient empires, round which had gathered the glory of arms and of arts—on all had doom been pronounced, and all must go down together into destruction, and lie whelmed in a common ruin. Like the house of the leper, the old world of Paganism and paganised Christianity must be razed to its very foundations, its stones and timber removed, and the ground on which it stood purified by fire, before the new structure can safely be set up.

For two whole centuries the sky of Europe was darkened by storm after storm. The northern hail did its work with impartial and unpitying thoroughness. It fell alike on Pagan shrine and Christian sanctuary, on Arian and orthodox, on the man of equestrian rank and the tiller of the soil, on the proud trophies of war and the beautiful creations of genius. What the Hun had spared the Vandal destroyed, and what escaped the rage of the Vandal perished by the fury of succeeding hordes. The calamity was tremendous, and seemed irreparable. Yet no shock less terrible could have lifted the world out of the groove in which it had been working three thousand years, in the course of which it had so stereotyped its methods, both of thought and of action, that progress had become impossible to it. If affairs had been left to their ordinary course, instead of pushing boldly on into the future, the human race would have dwelt with morbid tenacity upon its past, ever attempting to come up to the tide-mark of former achievement, but ever falling short of it, yet working on under a growing languor, till, wearied out by its abortive efforts, it would have sunk at last into the slumber of senility and dotage.

We have seen races first stagnate, then rot, and finally pass out of sight. "Turkey is dying for want of Turks." The exhaustion, physical, intellectual, and moral, which is rapidly converting into a desert a region once so populous in men and cities, and still so highly favoured by nature, would have been the fate of both the Eastern and Western worlds. The work of Rome in years to come would have been to bury the nations she had conquered; and this task performed, there would have remained to her but one other, even that of digging her own grave and celebrating her own obsequies. This catastrophe, which so surely impended over the world, was averted by the terrific blasts which rushed down upon the dying nations, bringing life upon their wings, by mingling or replacing the corpse-like men with new races, whose bodies were hardy, whose minds wore no fetters, who courted danger, loved freedom, and who saw before them the inspiring vision of a grand future

A comprehensive survey of the whole terrible drama, from the first bursting of the northern barrier to the final settlement of the ten Gothic kingdoms, warrants the conclusion that the latter and nobler half of the work, that even of building up and restoring, was allotted to the Scots. The other races, it is true, were permitted to share so far in the good work of restoration, though the burden of their mission was mainly to destroy. The Franks, the Lombards, and the Ostro-Goths set up in their several provinces the land-marks of political order after the deluge had subsided. The new Italian race resumed the work of the ancient Greeks, following them longo intervallo in the arts of music, of sculpture, and of painting. The Franks, too, though not till after the renaissance, aspired to imitate the old masters in the drama, in history, and in philosophy. The schoolmen of the twelfth and the succeeding century strove to awaken the mind of Europe from its deep sleep, by speculations and discussions which were as ingenious and subtle as they were unquestionably barren of fruit. But in truth the glory of these ages was outside the Gothic world. It was then while the modern European intellect lay folded up, or rather had not yet opened, that the Saracenic genius blossomed. The renown of this people in arms was succeeded by a yet higher fame won in the fields of the severer sciences. To their knowledge of algebra and chemistry they added an enviable acquaintance with ancient letters and learning, and no country did they conquer on which they have not left the marks of their original intellect and their exquisite taste. All these labourers contributed to the setting up of the modern world. And yet into how small a compass have all these labours now come. The Saracenic noon, which shed a short but brilliant day on the south of Europe and the north of Africa, has set in the night of Islam. The political institutions of the Goths, found to be incompatible with the modern liberties, are now in course of removal. Even their architecture, the earliest and the loveliest product of the northern mind, is unsuited for a worship in spirit: and its imposing majesty and grandeur can never again be united with utility unless adoration should be replaced with pomp, and a worship of soul by a ceremonial performed solely by the body. But there is one notable exception to the stamp of futility and transitoriness borne by all the labours of the world from the fifth to the fifteenth century. And these were ages during which man never rested. He toiled and warred: for, in truth, there was a seed of unrest at the heart of the nations, a principle of agitation at the centre of Europe, which made it impossible that its kingdoms should know repose. This incessant conflict and friction would have worn out the world a second time but for one remarkable fact, which merits our attention; for it is here that we discern the first signs that the storm is to abate, and that out of the night of dark ruin is to emerge the fair morning of a new creation.

Among the new races now occupying Europe, there was one race of marked and peculiar idiosyncrasy. This race had been the first to leave their original country—the spacious region which stretched northward from the Rhine and the Danube, and which was then the dwelling-place of numerous but as yet nameless nations. There the earth, held in the chains of winter, save for a brief month or two in the year, brings few of its products to maturity; but the same rigours that stunt the creations of the vegetable world, nourish into strength the body of man. From this land of shrubless plains and icy skies came the Scots, with frames of iron, and souls of singular intensity and ardour. To care for their flocks, or do battle with their enemies, was alike easy and welcome to them. Today, it was the more peaceful part of the shepherd or husbandman which they were called to enact; tomorrow, it was that of the invader and warrior. Thus did they journey onward: feeling the attraction which every new day brought with it of richer pastures, and fearing no enemy who might dispute their advance. Their wandering steps brought them to the Rhine. Its banks were not yet clothed with the vine, nor its waters reddened with the slaughter which Csar was to carry into this region of physical beauty, but tragic memories, at a future day. An extemporised fleet of canoes and rafts transports their families, their camp equipage, and their numerous herds across the "milk-white" river: and now the tops of the Vosges attract their eyes and draw them onward. From the summit of these hills the grassy plains of Gaul are seen spreading out at their feet. Their flocks now depasture the plains which the Soane and Rhone water, and on which the Burgundians are afterwards to find a seat. The Pyrenees are the limits of their farthest wanderings to the south, and from the shores of Spain they pass across the sea to Ireland. In that thinly-peopled country they find room for themselves, and abundant pasturage for their flocks,—and here their long journey terminates.

By-and-by this people began to addict themselves to other pursuits. In the parts into which they have come the first disciples of the Gospel, fleeing from the sword of the Roman emperors, have found refuge. From these early Christians they learn a purer faith than any they have brought with them from their northern home. It is now that it begins to be seen that to them a higher mission has been assigned than to the other tribes, which by this time have begun to pour down upon the Roman empire. To the latter it had been said, ''Go scatter the fires of judgment over the earth;" to the Scots was the command given, "Go forth and sow the seeds of new and better institutions." For a work of this importance a special preparation was needed. The seed with which the fields, plowed by the sword, was to be sown, had to be got ready. A remote and solitary retreat, from which the sound of battle and the wrangle of the schools were shut out, must be found for the future "sowers" of Europe. With a view to this the Scots were not permitted to settle within the limits of the empire. They were passed on from country to country, and at last were compelled to fix their permanent home at what was styled "the extremities of the earth." There they could pursue without distraction their work of preparing the seed for their future sowing. The rising glory of the Roman church could not dazzle them; the Greek and Oriental philosophies, which had begun again to fascinate so many minds, could not withdraw them from the study of that one Book with which they were here shut in. Their thoughts were left free; their conclusions were unfettered; and their theology, drawn from its original source, was the same with that which the twelve fishermen had brought from the shores of Galilee in the first century. Christianity had lost its power in the schools of Alexandria and Jerusalem; but it recovered its first purity and vigour in the silence of Iona; and, when all was ready, its disciples came forth from their school amid the western seas to preach throughout Europe a purified and reinvigorated Gospel. It is the men whom we see in the seventh and following centuries traversing Europe in the simple attire of sandals, of pilgrim staff, and long woollen garments, who turned the tide a second time in the great conflict betwixt Christianity and Paganism. Victory had forsaken the standards of Christianity in the seats of her first triumphs. The theories of Origen had covered the East with anchorites; Rome was planting the West with colonies of monks. From the school of Iona came forth missionaries and teachers who laid anew the foundations of law and order. These were the first builders, after the Gothic deluge, of the "new heavens and the new earth," wherein were to dwell the inductive sciences, the constitutional liberties, and a purified Christianity; and, wherever in after ages these blessings shall extend, it will be acknowledged that the march of the new civilization was led by the missionaries of Iona.

Other causes, too, operated in the way of perfecting the isolation of the Scots during this eventful and formative period of European history. At nearly the same time when the Romans were taking their final departure from Britain, the Scots were crossing the Irish Channel to take possession of that country which was to be the permanent seat of their nation. Immediately consequent on these movements, came another great change which tended still farther to limit, if not extinguish for the time, the intercourse betwixt Scotland and the Continent, and especially betwixt Scotland and that city which was now to reign by her arts as her predecessor had reigned by her arms. The Frank rushed down and occupied Gaul. Next came the Goth, who pushed his bands across the Pyrenees into Spain. Thus, suddenly a wall of barbarism arose between the Scots and the nations of the Continent. That wall kept them separate for well nigh two centuries. The cessation of intercourse betwixt them and their continental neighbours is strikingly marked by the mystery, and even awe with which the writers of the period refer to Britain when it happens to them to mention its name. They speak of it as a land which men trembled to visit, which was overhung by a cloud like that of night, and in which walked the doleful shapes which haunt the darkness. But, in truth, nothing better could have happened for British Christianity. Barbarous tribes were rushing to and fro upon the continent of Europe, giving its cities to sack, its fields to devastation, and extinguishing the lights of human learning and divine revelation. In Rome, the ancient saying was being fulfilled, "the day goeth away." The churches, now beginning to gather beneath her sceptre, sat in deep eclipse. She had wandered from the evangelical path, and could not show the true road to others. Nevertheless, in proportion as she became unfit to lead, the more ambitiously did she aspire to that high office. It was at this moment, when the prestige of her great name, and the arts she had begun to employ, might have wielded a seductive influence upon the Christians of Britain, that this partition wall of heathen barbarism suddenly rose between them and Rome. For two whole centuries they were shut in with the Bible—the book which Augustine boasted had in his day been translated into all the languages of the world. They drew their system of Christian doctrine from the Scriptures, and they framed their simple ecclesiastical polity on rules borrowed from the same divine source. They asked Rome to tell them neither what they should believe, nor how they should govern themselves. They had found a better instructor, even the Spirit speaking in the Scriptures; and they neither owed nor owned subjection to any authority on earth.

These two centuries of isolation were a singularly fruitful period in Britain, and in particular in the northern half of the island. They were a spring-time thrice welcome after the long dark winter of heathenism which had gone before. Christianity, indeed, had been planted in the country some centuries previously, but its organization was feeble, the times were unsettled, the spirit of ancient Paganism was still in the air; and, as the result of these hostile influences there had set in a period of decay. But now there came a second morning to Scottish Christianity. That morning broke on our country not from the Seven Hills; it descended upon it from the skies. Vigorous evangelistic agencies sprang up, one after the other, on our soil, by which the Christianisation of our land was carried to its northernmost shore.

The tempests of Gothic invasion were overturning the Roman empire in continental Europe; and although it could not be said to be peace in Britain, yet, compared with the furious storms that were raging abroad, the convulsions that agitated the atmosphere of our country might almost be termed a calm. We had no Attila or Alaric, but the Picts from the north, and Scots from Ireland, were making periodic raids into the British kingdom of Strathclyde; and the pagan Jutes, Angles, and Saxons, were ravaging the eastern border of England. Nevertheless, in the midst of these convulsions and alarms, the good work of evangelization went on in our land, and the foundations of the Christian Church were laid deeper than before.

Great Christian individualities now appear on the historic stage. Of some the names still survive; and we can form to ourselves a tolerably well-defined picture both of the men and the work which they did. At the earlier epoch, that is, the first Christianisation of Scotland, although we were conscious that the light was growing, we could not discern the agencies by which it was being spread. But it is different now. Great personalities stand out before us in connection with the evangelization of our country. Simple in life and courageous in spirit, they are seen prosecuting their work with devoted zeal in the midst of manifold confusions and perils. We see them establishing centres, from which they attack and subjugate the heathenism of the surrounding district. We see them kindle with strategic tact a line of lights at certain intervals from end to end of our country; and the evangelic day steadily grows in brightness from the appearance of the first beacon on the shores of the Solway, to that greater lamp which burned at Iona, and in such splendour, that its light, shining beyond the shores of Britain, penetrated the darkness of Gaul, of Germany, and of regions lying still farther north.

No authority outside our island, no foreign church or bishop, originated or directed this movement. It arose on our own soil, and was carried out by our own sons. Its authors sought no permission to preach, to baptise, to plant churches, and to rule them, even from Rome. Their anointing was from a higher source. One of the earliest evangelists, as we shall afterwards see, is reputed to have visited Rome, with what benefit to himself or to his work is not apparent; but with this exception, the early Scottish preachers of the gospel learned it from the Bible, sitting at the feet of native doctors, who sent them forth to teach others so soon as they judged them qualified and to whom they returned to tell how they had sped in the discharge of their commission.

Thus the Church of Scotland, placed in isolation, and growing up under native tutorship, was independent from the first. She was free born. It never occurred to her to ask right to exist from any foreign church whatever. She found that right in her Heaven-bestowed charter; and the confirmation of a hundred pontiffs, or a hundred councils, would not have added one particle of weight to it. She honoured the Church of Gaul, and she honoured the Church of Rome, though her esteem of the latter might have been less, had she stood nearer to it and known it better; and she adopted what she believed to be good wherever she found it; but she called no church "mistress" in the way of framing herself on its model, much less of submitting to its government.

Awhile affirming the historic fact of the independence of the British churches of the period, we must add that it does not concern us to establish that the early Church of Scotland was not prelatic; nor does it even concern us to establish that it was Presbyterian. The men of that day are not our rule; their opinions and their actings do not bind us. We go higher—higher in time, and higher in authority—for examples to follow, and models on which to frame ourselves. It is the pattern shown to us on the page of the New Testament, and it alone, with which we have to do. There is our exampler. The early Scottish evangelists may have done right or they may have done wrong; that determines nothing as regards the divinely appointed method of conducting the affairs of what Holy Scripture calls the "kingdom of heaven." We have here to do with the question only as a historic one. And all history attests that the plan of evangelisation adopted by the earliest founders of the Scottish Church was simple, that it was the plan which they judged best adapted to the circumstances of their country, and that in following it out they acted with conscious and perfect independence of all exterior authority. Details will come before us afterwards. Meanwhile it deserves our notice, that by the opening of the seventh century the Church of Scotland was so consolidated in both her doctrine and her autonomy, that she was able to resist the wiles of Rome, which now, the wall of separation thrown down, approached her more closely than ever, and in vastly enhanced power. The stamp of independence impressed thus early on the Scottish Church she long continued to retain. Like the disciple, when she was "young she girded herself and walked whither she would;" like him too, when she was old, she stretched out her hands and another bound her, and carried her whither she would not. But the memory of her youth returned: the spirit of old days descended upon her; and under the influence of that spirit the fetters on her arms became but as "green withs," and rising up she came forth from captivity to challenge more boldly than ever her birthright, which was Freedom.


Editor's Note.

Only a small number of Scots left Ireland and settled in Scotland. Ireland was always their permanent home. The only difference between the two is this: the Scots of Ireland were brought under Roman sway in the 12th century, while their brethren in Scotland were never completely subjugated.