Part 2 of a series on the life of Alexander Henderson
Rev. K. D. Macleod
The first article introduced Henderson as the unconverted minister of Leuchars in Fife who, probably in 1615, was spiritually changed under the preaching of the great Robert Bruce of Edinburgh. From then on, Henderson separated from the Episcopal party and, in spite of strong opposition, stood for scriptural principles in the Scottish Church.
REPEATED efforts were made to persuade Henderson to move from Leuchars to other charges, including Aberdeen, Stirling and Dumbarton. But, as he told the Countess of Mar, who apparently had written to suggest that he move to a parish of which her husband was patron, he believed that “it was nearest the will of God and most for the well [being] of the Kirk that I should not remove, wherein I behoved to rest and must entreat your Ladyship to do the like”. He had no desire to thrust himself into the limelight; indeed Baillie was to claim after his death, “A more modest and humble spirit of so great parts and deserved authority . . . lives not this day in the Reformed Churches”. And John Livingstone, himself a noted minister, refers to him as one of the “godly and able ministers” he had been meeting at communion seasons between 1626 and 1630, “the memory of whom is very precious and refreshing”. The years he spent in Leuchars were spent quietly in study and prayer and in the normal duties of his parish. His extensive reading at this time was to serve him well in years to come, when he had to take a more public role in the Church.
The only letter from Samuel Rutherford to Henderson which has been preserved begins, “I received your letters. They are as apples of gold to me.” Clearly Hendersons faithful stand for the truth was making him more prominent, for Rutherford warns him, “As for your cause, my reverend and dearest brother, ye are the talk of the north and the south; and looked to, so as if ye were all crystal glass. Your motes and dust would soon be proclaimed and trumpets blown at your slips. But I know that ye have laid help upon One that is mighty. Intrust not your comforts to mens airy and frothy applause, neither lay your down-castings on the tongues of salt mockers and reproachers of godliness. As deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known. God hath called you to Christs side, and the wind is now in Christs face in this land; and seeing ye are with Him, ye cannot expect the lee-side or the sunny side of the brae. But I know that ye have resolved to take Christ on any terms whatsoever. I hope that ye do not rue, though your cause be hated and prejudices are taken up against it. The shields of the world think our Master cumbersome wares and that He maketh too great din and that His cords and yokes make blains and deep scores in their neck. Therefore they kick. Therefore they say, This man shall not reign over us. Let us pray for one another. He who hath made you a chosen arrow in His quiver, hide you in the hollow of His hand.”
Marcus Loane points out, “Rutherford knew, as others knew, that Henderson combined a clear mind with a firm grasp of affairs. He was known as a man with a high-minded sense of courtesy in debate and a clear-sighted gift for promptitude in action. He was quiet and grave in manner, but he spoke with fluent ease and authority. He had always excelled as a spontaneous speaker, yet his utterances were so clear and rounded that they always seemed to suggest full and careful preparation.”
During the years till 1637, the scriptural character of the Church in Scotland came under increasing threat. The bishops grew in number and in power. King Charles and his henchman William Laud, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, pushed towards their objective of bringing the Church in Scotland into line with the English Church, which itself was being given a more ritualistic face. But it was when matters came to a head that Henderson came into public view. In 1633 the Scottish bishops were directed to prepare a new service book “as near that of England as might be”, which was then to be revised by Laud. It was to be imposed on the Church by the authority of the King only; the courts of the Church were to be completely ignored. In the middle of November 1636 the King wrote to the Privy Council “commanding the publication, use and practice of the Book of Public Service” and directing that every parish must obtain two copies of the book before Easter. However, the service book had not appeared by the time appointed; possibly the Scottish bishops were finding it difficult to come to an agreement on the details, and the King himself had his own contribution to make.
Robert Baillie reports the verdict of the Scots on the final version: “They find no difference betwixt it and the English Service save in one, to wit, in addition of sundry more Popish rites”. The most flagrant of these additions was the petition in the communion service: “We most humbly beseech Thee, and of Thy almighty goodness vouchsafe to bless and sanctify with Thy Word and the Holy Spirit these Thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine that they may be unto us the body and blood of Thy most dearly beloved Son”. Echoes of transubstantiation indeed!
And Baillie wrote perceptively, if rather more pessimistically than the outcome justified, “I am afraid sore that there is a storm raised which will not calm in my days.” Archibald Johnston of Warriston described the service on one of the fiercest days of the storm, 23 July 1637, when the attempt was made to use the new service book in St Giles Church: “At the beginning thereof there rose such a tumult, such an outcrying, what by the peoples murmuring, mourning, railing, stool-casting as the like was never seen in Scotland, the bishop both after the forenoon sermon was almost trampled under foot, and afternoon . . . was almost stoned to death; the dean was forced to cage himself in the steeple.”
King Charles, far away in London, wrote repeatedly demanding action to bring the Scots into line by forcing them to use the service book. The Privy Council, however, conscious of the strength of the opposition, made no more than feeble efforts to carry out his demands. But about August 10 Archbishop Spottiswood acted against Henderson and two other Fife ministers, James Bruce and George Hamilton. Spottiswood seems to have assumed that if Henderson could be made to conform, many others would follow, for he was now highly regarded in the Church. The three ministers were proclaimed rebels because they had not purchased the statutory two copies of the service book for their parishes. On August 23 the three ministers presented a petition to the Privy Council asking them to reverse the policy on the service book. They stated in their defence that they were willing enough to buy the books to find out what was in them, and they submitted reasons why they should not be expected to use them:
“1. Because the said service book is not warranted by general assemblies, which is the representative kirk of this kingdom, and hath ever since the Reformation given direction in matters of Gods worship, nor by any act of parliament which in things of this kind hath ever been thought necessary by His Majesty and estates.
“2. Because the liberties of the true Kirk and the form of worship and religion received at the Reformation and universally practised since then are warranted by acts of general assemblies, and divers acts of parliament 1567, and of the late parliament 1633.
“3. The kirk of Scotland is an independent kirk, and her own pastors should be most able to discern and direct what do best seem our measure of reformation and what may serve most for the good of the people.
“4. It is not unknown to your Lordships what disputing division and trouble hath been in the Kirk about some few of the many ceremonies contained in this book, which being examined, as we shall be ready at a competent time assigned by your Lordships to show, will be found to depart far from the worship and reformation of this Kirk, and in points most material, for the Kirk of Rome, for her hierarchy and doctrine, superstition and idolatry in worship, tyranny in government and in wickedness, every way as anti-christian now as when it came out of her.
“5. The people hath been otherwise taught by us and our predecessors in our places ever since the Reformation; and so it is likely they will be found unwilling to the change whenever they be essayed, even when their pastors are willing; in respect whereof the said letters of horning, whole effect and execution, ought to be simpliciter suspended in time coming.”
This was clearly to refuse the authority of the King in matters ecclesiastical. The Privy Council, in spite of the clear intention of the Kings decree, accepted that it was sufficient for the petitioners to buy the service books; they were not under any obligation to use them. It is clear that the majority of the Privy Council had taken fright at the strength of opposition in Scotland against the service book, in spite of pressure coming from London to press on regardless. Besides, a number of noblemen and others wrote to the Council objecting to the imposition of the service book, and many of them appeared in Edinburgh when the Council met. The bishops attempted to sweep aside all the protests. One of them declared, “There was only some few ministers and two or three Fife gentlemen in town, and what needed all that stir?” But he was told “that a great many of the best of the country resented these matters”. And the Kings representative in Scotland went to the extent of commenting, “This business is, by the folly and misgovernment of some of our clergymen, come to that height that the like has not been seen in this kingdom for a long time.”
King Charles was not impressed at the decision of the Privy Council. “Either we have a very slack Council,” he wrote, “or very bad subjects.” And he repeated his instruction that every bishop was to see that the service book was used in his diocese. In fact, opposition to the service book only increased, and in October the whole of the Lowlands were aflame with open dissent. A Supplication, drawn up by David Dickson of Irvine and revised by Lord Loudoun, was presented to the Privy Council, 500 having signed it in one day. By November the Privy Council was negotiating with representatives of those who opposed the new measures. Both Henderson and Dickson were among the leaders of this opposition. Henderson had been forced by the course of events to leave his seclusion and studies in rural Leuchars and take a leading part in the affairs of his country, for the great issue of the time had to do with the Cause of Christ.
He later commented, “When from my sense of myself and of my own thoughts and ways, I begin to remember how men, who love to live obscurely and in the shadow, are brought to light to the view and talking of the world; how men that love quietness are made to stir and to have a hand in public business, how men that love soliloquies and contemplations are brought upon debates and controversies; and generally, how men are brought to act the things which they never determined, nor so much as dreamed of, before; the words of Jeremiah come to my remembrance, O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. Let no man think himself master of his own actions or ways: When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.”
continued next month