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Old Church Life in Scotland
By Andrew Edgar, Minister at Mauchline (1885)


The Lectures published in this volume were in their first draught delivered in Mauchline during the spring of 1884. They formed part of a course of lectures on "Our Parish Church and Parish Records," and the object originally contemplated by them was to furnish the people of Mauchline with such scraps of Parochial History and illustrations of Old Church Life as could be gleaned from the Records of Mauchline Kirk Session.

After I had agreed to publish some of the lectures, it occurred to me that it would be desirable to recast them and widen their scope, so that interest in them might not be limited to people connected with Mauchline Parish. The lectures now published are accordingly altered from what they were when delivered. They are also very much lengthened, and although like a house that has been repaired and added to, they may shew more trace than is desirable of their original design, it is hoped that on the subjects of which they treat they will give a fairly full and correct account of Church Life in Scotland during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

I am aware that the title chosen for this volume is not free from objection, but it was the best title I could think of. There is a great deal of old Church Life that is not described in this volume. The higher forms and aspects of Church Life are little noticed, but that is because the traces and evidences of such life are not to be found in the official records I have had mainly to deal with. It has to be remembered also, that the lectures now published formed only the half of a course, so that the volume viewed as a treatise is incomplete. It was thought that the publication of all the lectures would make too large a book on a subject that is not of very general interest. The topics treated in the lectures not published were, I may here state, the Church's provision for the Poor, the Church's work in providing Education for the people, Marriages, regular and irregular, Baptisms and Burials, and the roll of Mauchline Ministers since the Reformation.

Besides having carefully read over all the extant records of Mauchline Kirk Session from 1669 to the present day of grace, I have had the privilege of examining the Records of the Presbytery of Ayr from 1642 to 1650 and from 1687 to 1796. I have also been favoured with a perusal of the Session Records of Galston from 1626 to (about) 1750, the Session Records of Fen wick from 1645 to 1699, and the Session Records of Rothesay from 1658 to 1662. I have not literally ransacked these Recorcs. but I have appropriated all that on a cursory examination caught my eye as bearing on the several subjects discussed in the lectures. To those who favoured me with an inspection of these valuable documents—my fathers and brethren of the Presbytery of Ayr, the Rev. John Brown of Galston, the Rev. J. K. Hewison of Rothesay, the Rev. John Hall of Fenwick, and Mr. Macnair, Session-clerk, Fenwick—I have publicly to express my thanks and obligations.

It is not necessary to enumerate the printed books that have been consulted and drawn from, in the compilation of the lectures now published, because these books are for the most part indicated by name in the passages where extracts from them are given. It may be stated, however, that as this volume is meant for the general public, and not for such readers only as are well versed in Church history and church law, I have not hesitated, wherever I deemed it advantageous for the purpose of exposition, to make quotations not only from books that might be counted rare, but even from some that are well known and easy of access to people in towns. I have also purposely violated what may be termed one of the canons of literature, by engrossing into the text of the lectures many and sometimes large extracts from session books. This plan of composition, I am well aware, interrupts the flow of writing, and produces dull and heavy reading; but if I should succeed in making my meaning clear and in fully explaining all I attempt to expound, I shall not be dissatisfied with the result.

Nearly half of the volume is taken up with the subject of Church discipline, but in dealing with cases of scandal I have generally withheld the names of persons involved, when I thought it possible that such names could be identified with families still represented in the district of Mauchline. To this rule, however, I have made one notable exception. The public interest in the national poet is so absorbing, and people are so anxious to know the whole truth about his bright and sad career, that I have thought proper to tell nearly all that the Session Records of Mauchline have to say about him and the persons that figure in his poems. And the cause of this insatiate curiosity regarding all places and persons associated with Burns is not far to seek. The poetry of Burns more than that of any British poet, except perhaps Wordsworth, was the outcome of his own life and surroundings. An intimate knowledge of that life and of these surroundings is craved therefore by every one who makes the poems of Burns a study ; and although it is not in Session Records that we can expect to meet with what was best and greatest in the poet's life, we still long to hear from these Records the minutest facts they contain about him and his contemporaries.

I have only to add that although I have been at much pains to be accurate, I cannot flatter myself with the expectation that in a book containing so many statements as this does, both on matters of fact and on matters of opinion, no slip nor misjudgment will be found. One point on which, from following with unquestioning faith the statements made in popular works, my remarks are open to criticism and doubt, is the old monastic life at Mauchline. In Appendix F, I have done what I could to set what may be termed the new state of this question impartially before the public.

A. E.

The Manse, Mauchline,
2nd May, 1885.


Lecture I.—Churches, Manses, and Churchyards in Olden Times
Mauchline Session Records—The Present Church of Mauchline—The Old Church and its Outward Appearance—The Old Church as it was before the Reformation—The Surrounding Monastery— Changes on and in the Church at the Reformation—Few Fixed Seats—Fairs in Churches once—Introduction of Pew System—A Grievance in Connection with the Pew System—The Galleries and Common Loft—The Bell—The Clock—The Windows—Repair of Church Fabrics and Drink to Workmen—Manses of Old Date— Size of Old Manses—Manses Thatched with Straw, and Roughly Finished in many ways—Delivery of Manses by Executors of Former Ministers — Churchyards — Tombstones—Association of Mauchline Churchyard with Burns—Filthy Condition of Churchyards at One Time—Houses on Churchyard Dykes—The Ash Tree in Mauchline Churchyard.

Lecture II.—Public Worship in Olden Times
Readers—The Reader's Preliminary Service—Reading the Word—The Reader's Salary—Precentors—Music and Organs in Church— Amount of Psalm Singing — Mode of Singing—Doxologies— Hymns and Paraphrases—Preachers—Read Prayers and Extempore Prayers—The Bidding Prayers of the Ancient Church— Sermons on Sunday—Week-day Lectures and Sermons—Catechising on Sundays and Week-days—Form of Sermons—The Ordinary—Scottish and free Sermons—Silent Sundays—Disorder in Church—Hats on—Candles in Church—Hours of Divine Service.

Lecture III.—Communion Services in Olden Times
Preparatory and Accompanying Services on Week-days—Examination of Congregations—Reconciliations—Purging the Roll—The Preparation Sermon on Saturday—The Fast Day—Object of the Fast —Distribution of Tokens — Monday's Thanksgiving Service— Furnishings for the Sacrament — The Tables — Purchasing of Tokens—Communion Cups—Bread and Wine—.Service on Communion Sabbath—Frequency and Infrequency of Celebration— Communion Extended over Several Sabbaths—Communions Early in the Morning—Order of Service—Admission to the Table— Kneeling or Sitting—Assistants at Communion — Communion Crowds—Disorders at Communions—Mauchline Sacrament in Mr. Auld's Day—Number of Communicants and Tables—Month and Day of Communion often Changed.

Lecture IV.—Church Discipline in Olden Times
Institution of Kirk Sessions—Calderwood's opinion—A Session in Mauchline soon after Reformation—Constitution of Kirk Sessions —The Moderator—Elders—Their Election and Ordination—Subscription of Confession of Faith—Functions of Kirk Sessions— Discipline—Monk's views and Dr. Hill's statement—Complaints against Sessions for over-rigidness—Sessional inquiries : how instituted—All rumours reported—Libellers and consignations— Special districts for elders—Perambulations—Testimonials—Evidence taken—Oath of Furgation—Session's watchfulness over their own Members—Privy censures—Presbyterial visitations.

Lecture V.—Church Discipline in Olden Times
What scandals were investigated by Kirk Sessions—Insolence to, or slander of any member of Session—Disrespect for the rules or ordinances of the Church—Drunkenness —Broils and Bickerings— Theft—Murder—Sabbath breaking—Impurity—Witchcraft—Cursing—Heresy—Schism and Secession—Taking the bond.

Lecture VI.—Church Discipline in Olden Times
Censures—Rebukes—Sometimes in private and sometimes before Congregation—Delinquent sometimes stood in his own seat—Sometimes in the public place of Repentance—Sometimes in usual clothing and sometimes in sackcloth—Repeated compearances for rebuke, called a course of repentance—Cautioners for compearance and for subsequent conduct—Bands for good behaviour—Disuse of cutty stool—Excommunication—Corporal and pecuniary punishment— Session Bailies—Joggs—Fines—Warnings—Deference paid to Kirk Sessions—Cases of Disrespect and Disobedience—Aid of Magistrate needed—Insolence to the Session—State of Parochial morality at different dates—Street fight in Mauchline between a merchant and a lawyer, with the Bailie looking on—Village Rowdyism—Poosie Nansie and her household—Social Progress— Causes to which progress is due—Grounds of hope for the future.


Appendix A.—The Exercise, the Presbytery, and the Classical Assembly
Appendix B.—Fast Days and Days of Atonement
Appendix C.—Old Oaths of Purgation
Appendix D.—Presbyterial Visitations of Parishes
Appendix E.—Rev. Dr. Dairymple of Ayr
Appendix F.—Cell, Monastery, or Priory—which? at Mauchline
Appendix G.—Lecturing on Scripture Lessons

Old Church Life in Scotland
Lectures in Kirk-Session and Presbytery Records Second Series by Andrew Edgar D.D., Minister at Mauchline (1886) (pdf)
This volume is a sequel to one that last year was published under the same title. Both volumes consist of lectures which, in a shorter form, were given in Mauchline in the spring of 1884, with the view of exhibiting the Church life and Church rule that prevailed in the parish in days gone by.

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