The Life of Alexander Henderson Part 9
by 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 years 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 Hendersons 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 Hendersons 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 Hendersons 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 of Presbyterianism.
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 Hendersons 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 Kings 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 Kings 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 calumnies”.
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