Homepage What We Believe Congregations Sermons Magazines Contact Us Church Bookshop Religion in the Highlands after 1688 – Part 1 (1)
A passing reference was made in my last paper to the religious destitution of the Highlands after the Revolution. The few clerical survivors of the killing times were most cordially welcomed back to the churches out of which they had been tyrannically thrust in 1662, but in most parishes the curates remained in undisturbed possession. Many of the influential proprietors regarded the old regime with favour. The sons and grandsons of earnest heritors who, in 1638 and succeeding years, had eagerly signed the Covenant had in too many cases gone with the prelatic tide, and did not welcome the re-establishment of Presbyterianism.
In looking over the Presbytery Records of the northern districts, one can hardly read a page without seeing the enormous difficulties the Church courts, weak in numbers and influence, but strong in faith and unflinching in devotion to the good cause, had for long years to encounter. Here and there ministers of apostolic zeal laboured on in the full assurance that God would build up the waste places, and they were not disappointed. Unwearied in ministerial duties, they toiled on cheerfully through good report and through bad report, undaunted in rebuking sin and spending much of their time in Presbytery meetings – which, of course, none of the Episcopal incumbents attended. When the careless curates ceased to occupy their manses and lift their stipends, the Presbyteries forthwith took steps to proclaim the neglected churches vacant, but very often the deputy appointed for this duty had to report that he could not obtain access to the vacant kirk, and had to encounter considerable opposition.
From 1690 to 1712 things were trying and perplexing enough, but patronage, then forced upon the Church in flagrant violation of the Treaty of Union, introduced a new hampering element. Sometimes for years two rival patrons battled as claimants for the obnoxious right of presenting a minister to a vacant charge, and thus prevented any settlement. The Highland presbyteries deplored the fatal Act of Queen Anne, and it is affecting to read the earnest words in which they annually enjoined their Commissioners to each successive Assembly “to move and press that the Assembly use all endeavours to get the great grievance of patronage, which is attended by so many evils, redressed”.
There was another Act of the dark year of 1712 which grieved our Northern presbyteries – the legal toleration of Episcopacy, and its exemption from the jurisdiction and discipline of Presbyterian church courts. The Jacobites, hoping to prostrate the national Church, now rising from the dust and putting on her beautiful garments, secretly and suddenly introduced this measure. A Highland minister, Mr Baillie of Inverness, had the high honour of being selected to accompany the eminent Carstairs, and Blackwell of Aberdeen, as a deputation to London to watch over the threatened interests of the Church, and to oppose the Toleration and Patronage Bills. Next year the Synod of Ross and Sutherland enjoined the presbyteries within their bounds to urge upon their Assembly commissioners as follows:
“In regard a great many erroneous and licentious persons, ill-affected to the present establishment in Church and State, do take occasion from the late toleration to disseminate erroneous principles to fortify persons in their wickedness, impieties and licentiousness; and to alienate the hearts of Her Majesty’s subjects from their affection to her person and government, that they move and press the Assembly to make application for having these grievances redressed. That in regard of the many signs of impending wrath which threaten the land, therefore that the Commissioners move and press that the Assembly appoint a National Fast, and that the fore-mentioned evils, together with the breach of our Covenants, be insisted on as some of the causes and grounds for the said Fast. That in regard of the many desolations of this Provincial Synod, the spaciousness of the bounds, the hardships under which the ministers planted here do labour, and the difficulties of getting young men to be planted among us because the legal allowance is taken away. Therefore that the Commissioners do move and press that the Assembly fall upon some method for encouraging young men to come to the bounds, and appoint for us some probationers, especially Messrs Robert Kirk and Walter Ross, and other young men well reported of.”
The probationers named were duly settled in Dornoch and Kilmuir-Easter respectively. Patronage is mentioned by the Synod as the foremost grievance in the list of evils affecting the welfare of the Church in the north, and complaints are made that men having the Gaelic language are settled in the Lowlands, contrary to Acts of Assembly. Reference is also made to the necessity of applying to The Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge for having some of “their free schools” settled in populous districts remote from the parish schools.
In Inverness, on the death of the persecuting curate, Gilbert Marshall, in 1691, “the magistrates would not suffer the vacancy to be declared; all avenues to the church were beset with armed men, and double sentinels placed at the doors that no minister might enter; and when Duncan Forbes of Culloden (father of the famous judge) sought to open the doors he was thrust back and struck with violence. This made him and others represent the case to the Privy Council, so that Lord Leven’s regiment sent north to protect the well-affected . . . but for ten years no admission was effected.”
In former papers we mentioned that the magistrates were powerful enough to resist the desire of the congregation of Inverness to have McKilligan and Fraser of Brea settled. Two other ministers similarly called failed to obtain admission. At length, in 1701, Mr Robert Baillie, translated from Lamington, was inducted. His influence for good was immense and during his 25 years’ ministry he received calls from Keith, Gladsmuir, London and Rotterdam. The call from the last place was before the Assembly of 1714. So strongly did the Assembly feel on the occasion (in refusing the call), that they requested their Moderator (Mr. William Mitchell) to intimate their resolution to the Consistory of Rotterdam, stating, “Such are the present circumstances of Inverness and of the country about, and such is his influence and usefulness there, that they could not, without great prejudice to the interests of religion in that country, remove him from that important post”. The Church in Rotterdam called him again without success in 1724. “He had indeed few equals then in the Church, was a solid, judicious, worthy man, so that he was exceedingly regretted in that town, and an extraordinary concern appeared at his death.” Along with Carstairs and Blackwell, he wrote The Humble Representation Concerning the Bill for Restoring Patronages.
1. This article is one of a series “by a Highland Minister” which appeared in The Original Secession Magazine in 1890. It has been slightly edited. Two articles by the same author, also on religion in the Highlands, appeared in the November 1998 and January 1999 issues.