The King in Scotland
The Life of Alexander Henderson – Part 9
Rev. K. D. Macleod
The kingdoms of Charles I were unsettled politically
and religiously. Henderson was involved in negotiations with the King which
brought him in the end to London. There he also threw himself into efforts
to promote Presbyterianism in England.
HENDERSON came home to Edinburgh towards the end of July 1641.
The King wished to have the Earl of Southesk as his commissioner to that year’s
General Assembly, but Henderson was able to persuade him not to appoint a man
whom the Covenanters could not trust. The General Assembly had already begun,
in St Andrews, some days before Henderson returned from London. However, because
Parliament was then also in session, it was agreed to move to Edinburgh for
the convenience of those who were members of both bodies. The Assembly decided
that on moving to the capital Henderson would become moderator.
When the Assembly met in Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh,
Fairfoul, who had been given the chair in case Henderson would not arrive,
proposed that Henderson take his place. However, David Calderwood, author of
the eight-volume History of the Kirk of Scotland, objected strongly.
Calderwood could not have been opposed to Henderson’s ecclesiastical stance,
for he too was strongly opposed to the innovations in the Church, but he did
not accept that the Assembly could at that stage accept Henderson’s commission.
The objections were overruled, though Henderson also spoke against him being
appointed Moderator. Calderwood continued to insist that the Assembly had acted
irregularly in not appointing a moderator for the whole series of meetings,
and in choosing someone who had no valid commission. We are told that most
members of the Assembly thought that Calderwood spoke unreasonably and peevishly,
but Henderson treated him with great respect and patience.
The main reason why members of Assembly were so anxious
to have Henderson in the chair was a matter that was again to be before them,
which had been discussed at the Glasgow Assembly and had caused considerable
heat at the 1640 Assembly in Aberdeen – whether private meetings for spiritual
edification, apart from the normal services of public worship, should be permitted.
A number of people whose sympathies were in favour of Independent church government
had become involved in such meetings and some ministers were afraid that division
and error would creep into the Church as a result. Henderson was himself conscious
that all was not well in these meetings. In 1639 he published an exhortation
on the subject of family worship and he believed that this practice was one
remedy for what was amiss in these private meetings. A document drawn up by
Henderson and giving cautions as to how such meetings should be conducted had
been before the Aberdeen Assembly, but no decision was reached. The debate
in 1641, under Henderson’s chairmanship, was much more harmonious, and the
court adopted a statement which he drew up. It was printed among the Acts of
the Assembly under the title Acts Against Impiety and Schism.
The Westminster Assembly now began to cast its shadows
forward. Henderson brought to Edinburgh a letter from some of the ministers
in the London area asking the advice of their Scottish brethren on church polity. "These
Churches of England and Scotland", they wrote, "may seem both to be embarked
in the same bottom, to sink or swim together, and are so nearly conjoined by
many strong ties not only as fellow members under the same head Christ, and
fellow subjects under the same king, but also by such neighbourhood and vicinity
of place that, if any evil shall infest the one, the other cannot be altogether
free." The London ministers had hopes that Episcopacy might soon be abolished
and they wanted the judgement of the Scots on the matter of Independency as
they had heard that some of the leading Scottish ministers had Independent
sympathies. This was not in fact so, only that some of them were more sympathetic
to the private meetings than others, and the Assembly was unanimous in support
They declared, in opposition to Congregationalism, that "the
execution of ecclesiastical power and authority properly belongs to the officers
of the Kirk", but that "the officers of a particular congregation may not exercise
this power independently, but with subordination unto greater Presbyteries
and Synods, provincial and national". This they believed to be "grounded on
the Word of God and to be conform to the pattern of the primitive and apostolical
kirks, and without which neither could the kirks in this kingdom have been
reformed, nor were we able for any time to preserve truth and unity among us".
The Assembly approved a proposal from Henderson that a
new confession of faith, catechism, directory of public worship and platform
of church government should be drawn up, and laid the responsibility for doing
so on Henderson himself. He was given permission to lay aside his preaching
duties while engaged in this enormous project. On further reflection, however,
Henderson realised that, if England was to adopt such a set of documents, the
initiative must come from England itself. "This must be brought to pass by
common consent," he told Baillie the following year, "and we are not to conceive
that they will embrace our form, but a new form must be set down for us all."
Before this Assembly ended, Henderson petitioned the Assembly
for permission to leave Edinburgh on the grounds of ill health. To keep him
there, he argued, would be to kill him. And he maintained that his voice was
too weak to be heard in any of the churches in the town. He would remind the
Assembly that they had agreed to such a move when he was translated from Leuchars.
The Edinburgh representatives were totally opposed to Henderson’s request and
promised to buy a house for him "with good air and yards" and they would accept
that he need only preach when he felt able. There was also an application before
the Assembly from St Andrews asking that he be appointed Principal of the University
there. Henderson was not interested; if he left Edinburgh it must be for "some
quiet little landward charge". Although his petition was in the end granted,
Henderson yielded to the pressure from Edinburgh and agreed to remain among
them as long as his health kept up, and when he died five years later he was
still minister of the High Church of Edinburgh.
On August 14 King Charles arrived in Scotland. Things
were not going well with him in England and he hoped in particular that he
might be able to gain the support of the Scottish army. He declared that he
had come out of love for his native country and to complete what he had promised.
He passed into law all the recent acts of Parliament. He showered titles on
the great men of Scotland; it was said that "sundry earls and lords, but a
world of knights, were created". Henderson himself, as the leading churchman
in the Scotland of his time, could not be forgotten, although one of the King’s
Scottish supporters had only a few years before described him as "the prime
and most rigid Covenanter in the kingdom".
"Master Henderson is in great favour with the King", wrote
an Englishman who was spending some time in Edinburgh. He was appointed the
King’s personal chaplain and as such received a stipend of 4000 merks from
the revenues of the Chapel Royal at Holyrood. On his first Sabbath in Scotland,
Charles listened to Henderson preaching from the text, "For of Him, and through
Him, and to Him, are all things; to whom be glory for ever. Amen" (Rom 11:36).
In the afternoon Charles was on the golf course. But, after Henderson had spoken
to him, the King was faithful in his attendance on both services every Sabbath
and even attended his weekday lectures – all according to the forms of the
Church of Scotland. And as chaplain Henderson conducted family worship every
morning and evening in the palace while he remained in Edinburgh. On November
16 Charles returned to London; he had gained nothing from his trip to Scotland.
Henderson had to endure much criticism because he accepted
this appointment. Indeed there seems to have been rumblings of criticism over
a considerable period, which was not surprising considering how prominent he
had become. At the Commission of Assembly in September the following year he
felt obliged to make a long and passionate defence of his actions. He declared,
Baillie tells us, that "what himself had gotten from the King for his attendance
in a painful charge was no pension [presumably, in the sense of a payment to
secure his good will], that he had touched as yet none of it, that he was vexed
with injurious calumnies". His brethren acknowledged that his honour was unstained
and declared "his unparalleled abilities to serve the Church and kingdom".
And from then till the end of his life Henderson was to be free from such "injurious
At another time Henderson asked the question: why are
those who deserve best from the public always rewarded with ingratitude? After
giving some answers from philosophy he went on, "Such as have deserved well
come short of their rewards from men that they may learn, in serving of men,
to serve God, and by faith and hope to expect their reward from Himself, and
that, notwithstanding all the ingratitude of the world, the Lord giveth generous
spirits to His servants and stirreth them up by His Spirits (the motions whereof
they neither can nor will resist) to do valiantly in His cause".
The General Assembly of 1642 met in St Andrews. "We thought
ourselves much honoured", Baillie tells us, "by the respectful letters
both of the King and Parliament to us. It seems it concerned both to have our
good opinion." Henderson was given the task of replying and he set before both
parties the desirability of beginning the work of reformation by having uniformity
of church government between the two countries. There was also a letter from
some English ministers who indicated that a majority of them were for Presbyterianism
and wished Scotland and England to have the same confession of faith. They
had met Henderson in England and described him in their letter as "a brother
so justly approved by you and honoured by us".
The Assembly appointed a commission "for public affairs
of this Kirk and for prosecuting the desire of this Assembly to His Majesty
and the Parliament of England". The commission was given authority "for furtherance
for this great work in the union of this island in religion and kirk government
by all lawful ecclesiastical ways". Its first step was to petition the Privy
Council for their support in an approach to the English Parliament. In September
the House of Commons responded with a unanimous resolution that the existing
government of the Church of England must be swept away. The House of Lords
agreed and both Houses agreed to appoint an Assembly of Divines to advise them
in setting up the Church of England in a new form.
Earlier that year Henderson had written to a private correspondent, "I
cannot think it expedient that any such thing, whether the Confession of Faith,
directory for worship, form of government or catechism, less or more, should
be agreed upon and authorised by our Kirk till we see what the Lord will do
in England and Ireland, where I will wait for a reformation and uniformity
with us. But this must be brought to pass by common consent. We are not to
conceive that they will embrace our form, but a new form must be set down for
us all, and in my opinion some men must set apart some time for that work.
And although we should never come to this unity in religion and uniformity
in worship, yet my desire is to see what form they shall pitch upon before
we publish ours." He was very conscious that Scotland was the smaller and England
the larger kingdom.
To be continued
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