The Life of Alexander Henderson Part 10
Rev. K. D. Macleod
In the early 1640s there were high of hopes of bringing about a uniformity of doctrine and practice between the churches of Scotland and England. Henderson brought forward a proposal for a new Confession of Faith in Scotland, and the General Assembly appointed him to the task. Further reflection led him to see the desirability of such an initiative coming from south of the Border.
IN early 1643 the Scottish Parliament sent the Earl of Loudon to Oxford to offer his services to the King as a mediator between himself and the English Parliament. The Commission of Assembly sent Henderson along with him to press for uniformity of church government between Scotland and England and requesting a meeting of an assembly of divines in England together with commissioners from Scotland. Henderson and Loudon commented, “We are not ignorant that the work is great, the difficulties and the impediments many, and that there be both mountains and lions in the way”.
When they reached Oxford, their reception convinced them that they had come to an enemys headquarters. As Henderson walked through the Oxford streets, people mocked him from their windows, and some of his friends seem to have hinted to him that his life was in danger. At first Charles made Henderson very welcome as he tried to convince him of the justice of his cause, but when the King realised he was less than successful his attitude changed. He kept the Scots waiting for nearly two months and then scornfully sent them away, telling them that it was unwarranted and unbecoming for them to intermeddle with affairs so foreign to their jurisdiction. Henderson left Oxford convinced that there was no possibility that the freedom of the Scottish Church could ever be secured from the King.
In June and July 1643 the Parliamentary troops in the Civil War were experiencing their darkest hour; they had suffered repeated defeats against the Kings forces, and their eyes turned northwards in the hope of obtaining support from the Scots. On July 19 the English Parliament dispatched six commissioners to seek the help of a Scottish army. But Pym, the English leader, realised that the Scots would be unwilling to give the help they so desperately needed unless there was some progress in the question of church government. “If in this he bring no satisfaction to us quickly,” wrote Baillie as he and his fellow Scots awaited the appearance of the English commissioners in Edinburgh, “it will be a great impediment to their affairs here.” With this in mind two members of the Westminster Assembly, Stephen Marshall and Philip Nye, were added to the party.
The Commissioners found the General Assembly in session, with Henderson again their moderator in view of the seriousness of the business before them. “Mr Henderson was the only man meet for the time”, explained Baillie. They asked the Assembly to send to Westminister “such number of godly and learned divines as they shall think most expedient for the furtherance of the work of reformation in ecclesiastical matters in this Church and kingdom, and a nearer conjunction between both Churches”. There was a general willingness in Scotland to help the English, but the great impediment which Baillie referred to stood in the way; the English were for “a civil league” rather than for what the Scots wanted, “a religious covenant”.
Eventually the English commissioners realised that they could not have a Scottish army unless they accepted a religious covenant. Henderson submitted a draft of what was to become known as The Solemn League and Covenant, in which he had been assisted by Johnston of Wariston. In signing this document people bound themselves to “endeavour the preservation of the reformed religion in the Church of Scotland in doctrine, worship, discipline and government, the reformation of religion in the Church of England according to the example of the best reformed Churches, and as may bring the Churches of God in both nations to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, confession of faith, form of church government, directory of worship and catechising, that we and our posterity after us may as brethren live in faith and love”. They swore also “that we shall in like manner without respect of persons endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy, superstition, heresy, profaneness,” and to defend the Kings person and authority in the preservation and defence of the true religion; they asserted their loyalty and stated that they had no intention to diminish His Majestys just power and greatness. And finally they made confession of sin before God.
Vane argued in favour of leaving the door in England more open to Independency, but succeeded only in securing agreement for having the expression “according to the Word of God” added to the basis for reforming the Church of England. Unquestionably the Scots wished to reform the English Church according to the Word of God, but from the Independents point of view the addition of this phrase left them free to argue for their interpretation of Scripture.
The final version of The Solemn League and Covenant was then brought before the Assembly on August 17. Henderson began with a “most grave oration”. Twice he read the document over distinctly. Then he called on a number of the leading ministers and elders to express their opinions. All of them spoke in favour and the Assembly went on to accept the Solemn League and Covenant unanimously. That afternoon it secured political approval; the Commissions of Estates also passed it.
The General Assembly appointed eight commissioners to represent them in the Westminster Assembly: Henderson, Baillie, Rutherford, Gillespie, Lord Maitland, Johnston and two others who never actually went to London. Henderson was very reluctant to leave home, he protested that he was not even likely to survive till he would reach London his health was so poor. However, he consented to go, and at the end of the month set sail for London with Gillespie and Maitland, who as the Duke of Lauderdale was to be at the head of the persecuting Scottish Government for most of the reign of Charles II. Henderson was allowed a sum of £1 sterling per day while he was away and £30 for his extraordinary charges.
The Solemn League and Covenant had already reached England and created a favourable impression. It was accepted by the Westminster Assembly as it stood, except that they spelt out what was meant by Prelacy; the only change made in the House of Commons was to add Ireland to Scotland and England, and the House of Lords accepted it without further change. On September 25 it was subscribed by the House of Commons and the Westminster Assembly after being addressed by both Henderson and Nye.
Henderson, in enthusiastic and hopeful terms, told them, “When the prelates were grown . . . intolerably insolent, and when the people of God . . . were brought so low that they chose rather to die than live in such slavery . . . then did the Lord say, I have seen, I have seen the affliction of My people, and have heard their groaning and am come down to deliver them. The beginnings were small and contemptible in the eyes of the presumptuous enemies . . . but were so seconded and continually followed by the undeniable evidence of divine providence, leading them forward from one step to another, that their mountain became strong in the end. No tongue can tell what motions filled the hearts, what tears poured from the eyes . . . when they found an unwonted flame warming their breasts and creating for them a new world wherein should dwell religion and righteousness. When they were destitute of monies and munition . . . the Lord brought them forth out of His hid treasures, which was wonderful in their eyes and matter of astonishment to their hearts. When they were many times at a pause in their deliberations and brought to such perplexity that they knew not what to choose to do for prosecuting the work of God (only their eyes were toward Him) . . . their devices were turned upon their own heads and served for the promoting of the work of God. . . . All which were sensible impressions of the good providence of God and legible characters of His work, which, as the Church and kingdom of England, exercised at this time with greater difficulties than theirs, have in part already found, so shall the parallel be perfected to their greater comfort in the faithful pursuing of the work unto the end.”
Then on October 13 the Commissions of both the Estates and the Assembly gathered in St Giles Church, with those commissioners from England who were still in Scotland, to put their signatures also to this covenant. The English Parliament got the Scottish army which it so desperately wanted and the Scots got the commitment to advance towards religious uniformity that some of them so much desired. There could be no question of forcing the English to accept the Scottish form of church government. Writing a few years later, Rutherford made it clear that “as for the forcing of our opinions upon the consciences of any . . . it was not in our thoughts or intentions to obtrude by the sword and force of arms any church government at all on our brethren in England”.
While the Westminster Assembly was in progress, the Parliamentary army took control of the military situation and Cromwell, with his strongly Independent outlook, rose to prominence on the field and in the House of Commons. Then all hopes that Presbyterianism would be set up in England, and that the Scottish and English Churches might come into closer union, were doomed to disappointment. Parliament did indeed vote in January 1645 that the Church of England should become Presbyterian, but Baillie believed it was only “a kind of nominal presbytery”. And, except for London and Lancashire, the scheme never really got off the ground. Yet a scheme was floated and the original idea seems to have been Hendersons of the union of Protestant Churches throughout Christendom, not only to counter-balance Roman Catholicism, but in order to strengthen and purify all Christian Churches and to unite them in the Great Commission to go forth and make disciples of all nations.
To be continued