12. At the End of the Race
Henderson had been the leading figure in the Scottish Church during the Second Reformation. He had been a commissioner to the Westminster Assembly and had played an important part in its discussions. Now, with his health deteriorating, he had arrived home from London. He was sad at heart; further negotiations with the King had shown that only one thing mattered to Charles I: supreme power over the Church as well as over the state. This is the final article in the series.
During these last days, his fellow-minister John Livingstone paid him a number of visits and found him in great peace of mind. One evening Henderson dined out with Sir James Stewart and asked him, “Do I not seem more than ordinarily cheerful?” Sir James agreed. Henderson explained: “I am near the end of my race, hasting home, and there was never a schoolboy more desirous to have his play than I am to have leave of this world. In a few days I will sicken and die. In my sickness I will be much out of ease to speak anything, but I desire you may be with me as much as you can, and you will see all will end well.”
It happened just as he said. Sir James and another friend were standing at the foot of Hendersons bed as he lay dying. Suddenly he opened his eyes and with a glance upward “brighter than any sparkle of a diamond” he expired. As to his soul he passed into his eternal reward and two days later his body was laid to rest in Greyfriars churchyard. It was a great loss to Scotland, not only because of his great services to his Church and his country, but because of his sincere godliness; a brother minister in Fife once told him, “I love you, sir, because I think you are a man in whom I see much of the image of Christ, and who fears God”.
After Henderson reached Edinburgh, Baillie wrote, in what was probably his last letter to his friend, “Your weakness is much regretted by many here. To me it is one of the sad presages of the evils coming. If it be the Lords will, it is my hearty prayer ofttimes, you might be left to us yet some time.” But it was not the Lords will, and the evils Baillie feared came upon Scotland. Especially after the Restoration, the work of the Second Reformation was pulled down in drastic and sudden fashion. Even in the year after Hendersons death, some of the Scottish nobles entered into what became known as the Engagement, a treaty with Charles which the General Assembly condemned. Someone complained to Baillie, “O, we miss now that precious servant of Christ, Mr Alexander Henderson! He would have been a man fit for this purpose.” Yet the efforts of men like Henderson were not in vain; they never are. A later generation was able to build on the foundations he and his fellow workers laid.
Some time after Hendersons death, Baillie told the General Assembly, “This glorious soul of blessed memory who now is crowned with the reward of all his labours for God and for us, I wish his remembrance may be fragrant among us so long as free and pure Assemblies remain in this land, which we hope shall be to the coming of our Lord. You know he spent his life and wore out his days, he breathed out his life in the service of God and of his Church. This binds it on our back, as we would not prove ungrateful, to pay him his due. If the thoughts of others be conform to my inmost sense in duty and reason, he ought to be accounted by us and posterity the fairest ornament, after John Knox of incomparable memory, that ever the Church of Scotland did enjoy.”
This fairest ornament of the Church of Scotland, after John Knox, played his part in the great work we know as the Second Reformation. It was a noble work, but a work which, for various reasons, was arrested and before long reversed. We in our time wish to see the Cause of Christ make real progress. We may, or may not, see this, but let us listen to Henderson, in the dedication of a sermon preached before both Houses of Parliament in 1644: “The course of general providence in the world, and of special providence in the Kirk, goeth on constantly according to the eternal decrees of God, which men may oppose and clamour against, but can no more hinder than the rising sun and his ascending to his strength. So doth the course of particular providence [go on] in the lives of men, which he cutteth off or continueth at his pleasure. Nor should any man who hath seen the beginning of this work offend or be displeased that his days are ended before it end more than others, who shall be honoured to be the witnesses of the conclusion thereof, have cause to be grieved that they have not seen or had a hand in the beginnings of it.”
The period of time when we have our place in the world is not under our control, but the Cause of Christ will in Gods time assuredly prosper throughout the world on an unprecedented scale, whether we will see it or not. Preaching on the fall of the walls of Jericho on one occasion, Henderson applied the matter in a way that is highly relevant to our times also: “Now, what comfort is it to us that by faith the walls of Jericho fell, for [the Israelites] had a particular promise for this? Its true indeed that, where God has made a special and particular promise, we are bound to believe. But, without that, its presumption. Or, if we had the faith of miracles, then we might remove mountains; but, where none of these are, what better can we be?
“Beloved, there is a special promise made to the Kirk of God, that she shall never perish, but shall continue to all generations, that she shall never be moved because she is built on the rock hewn without hands. Secondly, there is another special promise made, that the true Kirk of God shall prevail over the false Kirk of Antichrist; and so you know that there is a threatening in the Revelation that Babel, the mother of fornications, shall be destroyed. So then, albeit all the kings and princes in the earth should join and band themselves together against the true Kirk of God, which is built on the rock, they may well persecute her for a while, but they shall never extinguish her, nor put her clean out; yea, indeed, by persecution the true Kirk does rather increase than decrease. If all the kings and princes in the earth should turn (as they wrongfully call them) Catholic kings, and join all their forces together for the holding up of Babel, yet, in despite of them all, it shall fall to the ground; and He who has begun to make religion to shine shall in His appointed time make Babel to fall to the ground and set up His own Kirk. Whatever be the power the Lord will choose for the doing of it, yet we are sure He will do it.”
He went on to say, “Certainly, beloved, in beating down the walls of spiritual Jericho and Babel, the Lord uses very weak means. What was it that made the kingdom of Satan to fall as lightning in the beginning of the Christian religion? No great strength, but only the preaching of some few weak apostles. And in the beginning of the Reformation there were but few for religion, but now it has spread itself very far, and many are for it. And at the beginning of this same great work in the land few did appear for it at first, and these were not mighty ones, yet now it has spread throughout the whole land. And therefore consider of this when you come to hear the Word and to receive the sacraments. You may think, What needs me to go out of my own house for these things? I may get all at home that I see there. Yet consider that it is a compassing of the walls of spiritual Jericho and a sounding of trumpets against it and, if you will use these things in faith and in obedience to the commandment of God, you shall find the success thereof answerable to all that is spoken of them. . . .
“The people might have thought, We have gone about once, and yet there is not one stone fallen yet. Yea, when they had gone about six days, there was not a stone fallen nor loosed; yea, when they went about the sixth time the seventh day, all was as at the beginning; and the reason of it was, because the appointed time was not yet come. So when we are discouraged that we have been long using the means of grace, and we see not a stone of our spiritual corruptions falling to the ground more than at the first day, but they stand; and when we have opposed them, no prevailing over them, but rather they have prevailed over us. Yet for all that, let us still believe in faith and use the means; and if we will do so constantly, let us resolve that the time is coming when all these walls shall fall and we shall get the victory over our enemies.”
Henderson was looking forward to the time when the Church would obtain a spiritual victory over her enemies. In spite of the darkness of our day also, the Church is to go on in the same way: looking to the God who brought down the walls of Jericho. As we go on, let us express our thankfulness for what the Lord has yet left with us, and for the work of the great men of the past to whom under God we owe the rich spiritual heritage of this country. And let us rejoice in the sure prospect of universal spiritual blessedness for this world. May the Lord hasten it in His time!
The most recent full scale biography of Henderson is Alexander Henderson: Churchman and Statesman by R L Orr (1919). An older work is The Life and Times of Alexander Henderson by John Aiton (1836). Thomas MCrie wrote a useful sketch which was published along with two of Hendersons London sermons in Lives of Henderson and Guthrie (1846). More recently Marcus L Loane included Henderson in his Makers of Religious Freedom (1960). Sketches also appear in James Reids Memoirs of the Westminster Divines and in The Scots Worthies, both republished by The Banner of Truth Trust. Three sermons Henderson preached while at the Westminster Assembly appeared in the first issue of the Naphtali Press Anthology. Issue 2 of volume 3 of this Anthology carried six sermons besides table addresses and prayers; these were first published in the volume of Hendersons Prayers, Sermons and Pulpit Addresses, edited by R Thomas Martin (1867).