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The Scottish Reformation
Chapter III.—The Knox Period, a. d. 1555—1560.
Section 2. The First Protestant "Band." 1556—1558

The hand of an overruling God was as conspicuous in the act of withdrawing Knox trom the kingdom in 1556, as it had been in bringing him to it in the preceding year. His departure averted the storm of persecution that would otherwise have burst upon the revived cause; and the principles which he had laboured so hard to impress upon its adherents, not being subjected to a premature trial of their strength, had time to root themselves deeply in the conviction of their minds. The congregations which he had organized continued to meet in secret in their several districts, and to edify and strengthen themselves by the Word of God, and by prayer.

The best illustration of these remarks is furnished by the contents of a short letter, which was written to the Reformer by some of the Protestant nobles in the spring of 1557; in which, though little more than nine months had elapsed since his departure, they expressed their earnest desire for his return. It was signed by Glencairn, Lorn, Erskine, and Lord James Stuart "The faithful that are of your acquaintance in these parts," they said, "thanks be to God, are steadfast in the belief whereinto ye left them, and have ane godly thirst and desire day by day of your presence again; whilk, if the Spirit of God will so move and permit time unto you, we will heartily desire you, in the name of the Lord, that ye will return again into these parts, where ye shall find all faithful that ye left behind you; not only glad to hear your doctrine, but will be ready to jeopard lives and goods in the setting forward of the glory of God, as He will grant opportunity; and albeit the magistrates in this country be as yet but in the state ye left them, yet at the making hereof, we have no experience of any mair cruelty to be used than was before, but rather we have belief that God will augment his flock, because we see daily the freirs, enemies to Christ's Evangel, in less estimation, baith with the queen's grace, and the rest of the nobility of our realm. Off Stirling, the 10th of March, 1557."

This letter, which was conveyed to Knox's hands in Geneva by his friends James Syme and James Barron, had arisen out of a conference of the leading Reformers, held in Stirling in the beginning of March. The question moved in this conference had been one of the utmost importance. It was, whether the time had not now come for united public action, both in the way of defence and aggression. Their meetings for evangelical worship had hitherto been private, and their aims as congregations had been restricted to their own religious instruction and improvement; but they had now come to consider the duty which was incumbent on them as Christian men to make a public confession of the truth of Christ, and to appear openly for its defence and advancement, and the duty, too, which as citizens, and many of them nobles of the realm, they owed to the common weaL Could they be content in either character to possess the truth themselves? Must they not do their utmost to procure the public setting forth of it by faithful preachers to their countrymen at large? Must they not stand prepared to defend their preachers and congregations from the oppression and persecution of the dominant Church? And ought they not to use all their power and authority as barons and magistrates, in their several localities, to promote and protect that work of Reformation, which was the one great necessity of the country and of the times? Such were the weighty questions which were discussed and concluded in the conference of Stirling; and the conclusion unanimously arrived at was, that they would accept these public duties however dangerous, and proceed in " the enterprise," as they bravely called it, however difficult It was no wonder that at such a time they wished to have Knox at their head. They needed an intrepid captain like him to lead them in such a battle. They needed a prophet's voice like his to strengthen and inspire them in the conflict which was now at hand.

When the excitement of the conference was over, and its members had dispersed to their own homes, it was natural enough that some of them should begin to feel misgivings as to the wisdom of the movement to which they had committed themselves, and that these doubts should at length find their way to the leaders who had communicated with Knox. It was equally natural that other friends of the cause, who had taken no part in the conference, should feel alarm at the magnitude and the perils of the contemplated undertaking, and should see all their influence with the leaders to induce them to postpone their purpose. The moment was one when nothing >ut intrepid constancy in the heads of the party could main-Lain the spirit, and reassure the courage of their followers. But in the absence of Knox himself, this constancy proved for a time to be wanting. The lords judged it necessary that "new consultation should be appointed for final conclusion of the matter before purposed," and when the Reformer arrived at Dieppe on the 23d of October, on his way to Scotland, he had the mortification of finding letters awaiting him there; in which they "willed him to abide in those parts till they saw their way to a final determination." He felt keenly the awkward position in which this vacillation placed him in relation to Calvin and his other friends in Geneva, whose counsel he had asked and followed in complying with "the vocation" which the lords had sent to him; and he was "pierced with anguish and sorrow" by the thought, that all hope of the deliverance of his country from bondage was gone, when even the best and stoutest of her sons lost heart and failed her in her hour of need. It was with these feelings that he wrote to the lords from Dieppe, on the 27th of October. He could not conceal from them how much he was "confounded" and troubled by their inconstancy; and reminding them that "wise men ought to understand that a true friend cannot be a flatterer," he told them plainly that in lending themselves, as he understood they were doing, to the public support of the Regent and the French faction, instead of following out faithfully their former purpose, they were betraying their country to "the slavery of strangers." "What are the sobs, and what is the affection of my troubled heart, God shall one day declare. But this will I add, to wit, if any persuade you for fear of dangers that may follow, to faint in your former purpose, be he esteemed never so wise and friendly, let him be judged of you both foolish, and your mortal enemy; foolish, because he understandeth nothing of God's approved wisdom; and enemy unto you, because he labouretji to separate you from God's favour; provoking his vengeance and grievous plagues against you, because he would that ye should prefer your worldly rest to God's praise and glory, and the friendship of the wicked to the salvation of your brethren. I am not ignorant that fearful troubles shall ensue your enterprise, as in my former letters I did signify unto you ; but O joyful and comfortable are those troubles and adversities which man sustaineth for accomplishment of God's will revealed by his word. For how terrible that ever they appear to the judgment of the natural man, yet are they never able to devour nor utterly to consume the sufferers, for the invisible and invincible power of God sustaineth and preserveth, according to his promise, all such as with simplicity do obey him." "God speaketh to your consciences, unless ye be dead with the blind world, that you ought to hazard your own lives, be it against kings or emperors, for the deliverance of your brethren; for only for that cause are ye called princes of the people, and ye receive of your brethren honour, tribute, and homage, at God's commandment; not by reason of your birth and progeny, but by reason of your office and duty, which is to vindicate and deliver your subjects and brethren from all violence and oppression, to the uttermost of your power. Advise diligently, I beseech you, with the points of that letter which I directed to the whole nobility; and let every man apply the matter and case to himself, for your conscience shall one day be compelled to acknowledge that the Reformation of religion and of public enormities doth appertain to more than to the clergy or chief rulers called kings. The mighty spirit of the Lord Jesus rule and guide your counsels, to his glory, your eternal comfort, and to the consolation of your brethren. Amen."

Words of prophet-like faith and power like these, could not fall upon the ears of Christian patriots without effect They rallied them at once to the battle, like the sound of a trumpet Immediately "new consultation was had what was best to be done, and in the end it was concluded that they would follow forward their purpose once intended, and would commit themselves, and whatsoever God had given them, in his hands, rather than they would suffer idolatry so manifestly to reign, and the subjects of that realm so to be defrauded, as long they had been, of the only food of their souls—the true preaching of Christ's Evangel. At Edinburgh, the 3d day of December, 1557, a "Common Band" was made, and by some subscribed, 'that every one should be the more assured of other,' the tenor whereof follows :—

"We, perceiving how Satan in his members, the antichrists of our time, cruelly doth rage seeking to downthring and to destroy the Evangel of Christ and his congregation, ought, according to our bounden duty, to strive in our Master's cause, even unto the death, being certain "of the victory in Him. The whilk our duty being weall considered, we do promise before the Majesty of God and his. congregation, that we, by his grace, shall with all diligence continually apply our whole power, substance, and our very lives, to maintain, set forward, and establish the most blessed Word of God and his congregation ; and shall labour at our possibility to have faithful ministers purely and truly to minister Christ's Evangel and Sacraments to his people. We shall maintain them, nourish them, and defend them, the haill congregation of Christ and every member thereof, at our haill powers and waring of our lives, against Satan and all wicked power that does intend tyranny or trouble against the foresaid congregation. Unto the whilk holy word and congregation we do join us, and also do forsake and renounce the congregation of Satan with all the superstitious abomination and idolatry thereof, and, moreover, shall declare ourselves manifestly enemies thereto, by this our faithful promise before God, testified to his congregation by our subscriptions at these presents. God called to witness—

A. Erle of Ergile.
Archibald, Lord of Lorne.
John Erskine of Doun."

Many other names besides these were subscribed to this solemn instrument, which was of the nature of a covenant, both with God and with each other, and the signing of which was solemnized "with humble confession of former offences, and with fasting and supplication unto God." The Reformers were the first Covenanters. They were now the sworn assertors and defenders of God's truth; and they felt themselves strengthened for their work and battle by that double pledge to God and to each other.

The following year, accordingly, was one of great boldness and activity. It began with the nobles and barons carrying out in their several localities, in virtue of their territorial powers and jurisdictions, "Two heads concerning the religion, and others concerning the policy," upon which they had agreed before leaving Edinburgh in December. The chief of these were (1) That the English "Book of Common Prayer should be read publicly in the Parish Kirks on Sundays and other Festivals, with the lessons of the New and Old Testament; and if the curates of the parishes be qualified, to cause them to read the same, and if they be not, or if they refuse, that the most qualified in the parish use and read them. (2) That doctrine, preaching, and interpretation of Scriptures be had and used privately in quiet houses, without great conventions of the people thereto, till afterward God shall move the prince to grant public preaching by faithful and true ministers: and (3) That open crimes should be punished without respect of persons, by the exercise of ecclesiastical discipline.

In laying these first stones of the foundation of ecclesiastical reform, the old Earl of Argyle set a noble example. He took upon himself the maintenance of John Douglas, a zealous preacher, "and caused him preach publicly in his house, and reformed many things according to his counsel. The same boldness took divers others as well within towns as in landward parishes." For the ends of the new discipline elders were appointed by common election, to whom the whole brethren promised obedience; and in the general want of public ministers of the word, certain zealous men exhorted the congregations according to the gifts and grace granted unto them. Among these were John Erskine, of Dun, David Forres, Robert Lockhart, Robert Hamilton, and others. But shortly after "did God stir up his servant, Paul Methven, who in boldness of spirit began openly to preach Christ Jesus in Dundee, and in divers parts of Angus and Fife, and so did God work with him that many began openly to abrenounce their auld idolatry, and to submit themselves to Christ Jesus and his blessed ordinances; insomuch, that the town of Dundee began to erect the face of a public church reformed, in which the word was openly preached, and Christ's Sacraments truly ministered. The forwardness of the zealous burghers of Dundee procured for their good town the honourable name of the Geneva of Scotland; and its municipal records still contain interesting traces of the measures which were adopted by its magistrates, as early as 1558, to introduce the prescriptions and sanctions of the new discipline.

The clergy and their abettors could not fail to be greatly troubled and alarmed at these bold proceedings of the Reformers. They had but one weapon to fight the battle with—the old sword of persecution, already stained with the blood of so many martyrs—and they resolved again to unsheath it First, the primate of St Andrews resolved to summon the Earl of Argyle's preacher, John Douglas, and sent Sir David Hamilton to the stout old lord with a credence in six articles, to persuade him by every possible argument to dismiss the heretic from his house, and leave him unprotected to the extreme censures of the church. But the earl was too much of the Christian and the man of honour to listen to such a base demand. He sent back a lengthened and noble reply to the primate's articles, taking them up and disposing of them one by one; and John Douglas remained unscathed behind the targets and broadswords of the great Highland Chief

The primate's next attempt was as dastardly as his first was dishonourable. Recoiling from conflict with Argyle's lordly might, he was mean enough to make an attack upon old age and decrepitude, in the person of Walter Mill, "that blessed martyr of Christ," as Knox calls him. When Mill was brought forth to his trial at St Andrews, on the 20th of April, 1558, the old man was so feeble that he had to be helped up into the pulpit where he was to answer to his articles ; but when he began to speak, his voice "had so great courage and stoutness that the church rang again." His first words when he rose from his knees were, "We ought to obey God rather than man;" and his last on the same spot were, "I am accused of my life; I know I must die once, and therefore as Christ said to Judas, ' What thou doest do quickly.' Ye shall know that I will not recant the truth, for I am corn, I am no chaff; I will not be blown away with the wind, nor burst with the flail, but I will abide both."

So great was the admiration and sympathy felt in St Andrews for the brave and good old priest, that not a man in the city would sell or lend a rope to bind him to the stake, or a tar-barrel to burn him; and when he died in the fire, " so great was the mourning and lamentation of the multitude, that they were not only moved and stirred up, but their hearts also were so inflamed, that he was the last martyr that died in Scotland for the religion."

This cruel execution gave a death-blow to the power of the Papal Church of Scotland, and disabled it for ever for inflicting any similar stroke. The feeling of the multitude at St Andrews became the feeling of the multitude everywhere. "Immediately after his death began a new fervency amongst the whole people;" and this fervency showed itself in a widespread iconoclasm. " The images were stolen away in all parts of the country, and in Edinburgh was that great idol St Gile first drowned in the North Loch and afterwards burnt" The friars ran upon the bishops with their complaints, "rowping like ravens," and the bishops ran upon the queen, who, though favourable enough to them, "yet thought it could not stand with her advantage to offend such a multitude as then took upon them the defence of the Evangel, and the name of Protestants." "But yet the bishops," continues Knox, in a passage of remarkable graphic force and humour, "could in no sort be quiet, for St. Gile's day approaching—the 1st of September, 1558 —they gave charge to the provost, bailies, and council of Edinburgh, either to get again the auld St Gile, or else upon their expenses to make ane new image. The council answered that to them the charge seemed very unjust, for they understood that God in some places had commanded idols and images to be destroyed; but where he had commanded images to be set up they had not read, and desired the bishop to find a warrant for his commandment; whereat the bishop offended, admonished them under pain of cursing—which they prevented by a formal appellation, appealing from him as a partial and corrupt judge unto the pope's holiness. Yet would not the priests and friars cease to have that great solemnity and manifest abomination which they accustomably had upon St Gile's day, to wit, they would have that idol borne, and therefore was all preparation necessary duly made. A marmouset idol," i. e. a little monkey-looking image, "was borrowed from the Grey friars, and was fast fixed with iron nails upon a barrow called a fertour. There assembled priests, friars, and canons, and rottin papists, with taborns and trumpets, banners and bag-pipes; and who was there to lead the ring but the queen regent herself, with all her shavelings, for honour of the feast The hearts of the brethren were wondrously inflamed, and seeing such abomination so manifestly maintained, they were decreed to be revenged. There were some temporizers that day who laboured to stay the brethren, but that could not be, for immediately after the queen was entered into the lodging where she was to dine, some of those that were of the enterprise drew nigh to the idol as willing to help to bear him, and getting the fertour upon their shoulders began to shudder, thinking that thereby the idol should have fallen; but that was provided and prevented by the iron nails, and so began one to cry, ' Down with the idol, down with it,' and so without delay it was pulled down. Some brag made the priests at first, but when they saw the feebleness of their god, for one took him by the heels, and dadding his head to the causeway, left Dagon without head or hands; this considered, we say, the priests and friars fled faster than they did at Pinkie Cleuch. Down go the crosses, off go the surplices, round caps, and cornered crowns. The Grey friars gaped; the Black friars blew; the priests panted and fled; and happy was he that first gat the house; for such ane sudden fray came never amongst the generation of antichrist within this realm before. Search was made for the doers, but none could be deprehended; for the brethren assembled themselves in such sort, in companies, singing psalms, and praising God, that the proudest of the enemies were astonied."

Such was what Knox calls "the tragedy of St Giles." It was a comedy rather than a tragedy; and it fulfilled a poetical prediction of Lindsay in reference to this very image of the patron saint of Edinburgh, sooner than the poet himself perhaps expected—

"Fy on you, fosterars of idolatrie!
That to ane deed stock does sic reverence
In presence of the people publiclie;
Fear ye nocht God, to commit sic offence?
I counsel you do yet your diligence,
To gar suppress sik great abusion;
Do ye nocht sa, I dreid your recompense,
Sail be nocht else but clean confusion."

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