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Chapter 13


KNOX AND THE BOOK OF DISCIPLINE


This Book of Discipline, containing the model of the Kirk, had been seen by Randolph in August 1560, and he observed that its framers would not come into ecclesiastical conformity with England. They were "severe in that they profess, and loth to remit anything of that they have received." As the difference between the Genevan and Anglican models contributed so greatly to the Civil War under Charles I., the results may be regretted; Anglicans, by 1643, were looked on as "Baal worshippers" by the precise Scots.

In February 1561, Randolph still thought that the Book of Discipline was rather in advance of what fallen human nature could endure. Idolatry, of course, was to be removed universally; thus the Queen, when she arrived, was constantly insulted about her religion. The Lawful Calling of Ministers was explained; we have already seen that a lawful minister is a preacher who can get a local set of men to recognise him as such. Knox, however, before his return to Scotland, had advised the brethren to be very careful in examining preachers before accepting them. The people and "every several Congregation" have a right to elect their minister, and, if they do not do so in six weeks, the Superintendent (a migratory official, in some ways superior to the clergy, but subject to periodical "trial" by the Assembly, who very soon became extinct), with his council, presents a man who is to be examined by persons of sound judgment, and next by the ministers and elders of the Kirk. Nobody is to be "violently intrused" on any congregation. Nothing is said about an university training; moral character is closely scrutinised. On the admission of a new minister, some other ministers should preach "touching the obedience which the Kirk owe to their ministers. . . . The people should be exhorted to reverence and honour their chosen ministers as the servants and ambassadors of the Lord Jesus, obeying the commandments which they speak from God's mouth and Book, even as they would obey God himself. . . . " {182}

The practical result of this claim on the part of the preachers to implicit obedience was more than a century of turmoil, civil war, revolution, and reaction. The ministers constantly preached political sermons, and the State--the King and his advisers--was perpetually arraigned by them. To "reject" them, "and despise their ministry and exhortation" (as when Catholics were not put to death on their instance), was to "reject and despise" our Lord! If accused of libel, or treasonous libel, or "leasing making," in their sermons, they demanded to be judged by their brethren. Their brethren acquitting them, where was there any other judicature? These pretensions, with the right to inflict excommunication (in later practice to be followed by actual outlawry), were made, we saw, when there were not a dozen "true ministers" in the nascent Kirk, and, of course, the claims became more exorbitant when "true ministers" were reckoned by hundreds. No State could submit to such a clerical tyranny.

People who only know modern Presbyterianism have no idea of the despotism which the Fathers of the Kirk tried, for more than a century, to enforce. The preachers sat in the seats of the Apostles; they had the gift of the Keys, the power to bind and loose. Yet the Book of Discipline permits no other ceremony, at the induction of these mystically gifted men, than "the public approbation of the people, and declaration of the chief minister"--later there was no "chief minister," there was "parity" of ministers. Any other ceremony "we cannot approve"; "for albeit the Apostles used the imposition of hands, yet seeing the miracle is ceased, the using of the ceremony we judge it not necessary." The miracle had not ceased, if it was true that "the commandments" issued in sermons--political sermons often--really deserved to be obeyed, as men "would obey God himself." C'est la le miracle! There could be no more amazing miracle than the infallibility of preachers! "The imposition of hands" was, twelve years later, restored; but as far as infallible sermons were concerned, the State agreed with Knox that "the miracle had ceased."

The political sermons are sometimes justified by the analogy of modern discussion in the press. But leading articles do not pretend to be infallible, and editors do not assert a right to be obeyed by men, "even as they would obey God himself." The preachers were often right, often wrong: their sermons were good, or were silly; but what no State could endure was the claim of preachers to implicit obedience.

The difficulty in finding really qualified ministers must be met by fervent prayer, and by compulsion on the part of the Estates of Parliament.

Failing ministers, Readers, capable of reading the Common Prayers (presently it was Knox's book of these) and the Bible must be found; they may later be promoted to the ministry.

Stationary ministers are to receive less sustenance than the migratory Superintendents; the sons of the preachers must be educated, the daughters "honestly dowered." The payment is mainly in "bolls" of meal and malt. The state of the poor, "fearful and horrible" to say, is one of universal contempt. Provision must be made for the aged and weak. Superintendents, after election, are to be examined by all the ministers of the province, and by three or more Superintendents. Other ceremonies "we cannot allow." In 1581, a Scottish Catholic, Burne, averred that Willock objected to ceremonies of Ordination, because people would say, if these are necessary, what minister ordained you? The query was hard to answer, so ceremonies of Ordination could not be allowed. The story was told to Burne, he says, by an eyewitness, who heard Willock.

Every church must have a schoolmaster, who ought to be able to teach grammar and Latin. Education should be universal: poor children of ability must be enabled to pass on to the universities, through secondary schools. At St. Andrews the three colleges were to have separate functions, not clashing, and culminating in Divinity.

Whence are the funds to be obtained? Here the authors bid "your Honours" "have respect to your poor brethren, the labourers of the ground, who by these cruel beasts, the papists, have been so oppressed . . . " They ought only to pay "reasonable teinds, that they may feel some benefit of Christ Jesus, now preached unto them. With grief of heart we hear that some gentlemen are now as cruel over their tenants as ever were the papists, requiring of them whatsoever they paid to the Church, so that the papistical tyranny shall only be changed into the tyranny of the landlord or laird." Every man should have his own teinds, or tithes; whereas, in fact, the great lay holders of tithes took them off other men's lands, a practice leading to many blood-feuds. The attempt of Charles I. to let "every man have his own tithes," and to provide the preachers with a living wage, was one of the causes of the distrust of the King which culminated in the great Civil War. But Knox could not "recover for the Church her liberty and freedom, and that only for relief of the poor." "We speak not for ourselves" the Book says, "but in favour of the poor, and the labourers defrauded . . . The Church is only bound to sustain and nourish her charges . . . to wit the Ministers of the Kirk, the Poor, and the teachers of youth." The funds must be taken out of the tithes, the chantries, colleges, chaplainries, and the temporalities of Bishops, Deans, and cathedrals generally.

The ministers are to have their manses, and glebes of six acres; to this many of the Lords assented, except, oddly enough, those redoubtable leaders of the Congregation, Glencairn and Morton, with Marischal. All the part of the book which most commands our sympathy, the most Christian part of the book, regulating the disposition of the revenues of the fallen Church for the good of the poor, of education, and of the Kirk, remained a dead letter. The Duke, Arran, Lord James, and a few barons, including the ruffian Andrew Ker of Faldonside, with Glencairn and Ochiltree, signed it, in token of approval, but little came of it all. Lethington, probably, was the scoffer who styled these provisions "devout imaginations." The nobles and lairds, many of them, were converted, in matter of doctrine; in conduct they were the most avaricious, bloody, and treacherous of all the generations which had banded, revelled, robbed, and betrayed in Scotland.

There is a point in this matter of the Kirk's claim to the patrimony of the old Church which perhaps is generally misunderstood. That point is luminous as regards the absolute disinterestedness of Knox and his companions, both in respect to themselves and their fellow-preachers. The Book of Discipline contains a sentence already quoted, conceived in what we may justly style a chivalrous contempt of wealth. "Your Honours may easily understand that we speak not now for ourselves, but in favour of the Poor, and the labourers defrauded . . . " Not having observed a point which "their Honours" were not the men to "understand easily," Father Pollen writes, "the new preachers were loudly claiming for themselves the property of the rivals whom they had displaced." {186} For themselves they were claiming a few merks, and a few bolls of meal, a decent subsistence. Mr. Taylor Innes points out that when, just before Darnley's murder, Mary offered "a considerable sum for the maintenance of the ministers," Knox and others said that, for their sustentation, they "craved of the auditors the things that were necessary, as of duty the pastors might justly crave of their flock. The General Assembly accepted the Queen's gift, but only of necessity; it was by their flock that they ought to be sustained. To take from others contrary to their will, whom they serve not, they judge it not their duty, nor yet reasonable."

Among other things the preachers, who were left with a hard struggle for bare existence, introduced a rule of honour scarcely known to the barons and nobles, except to the bold Buccleuch who rejected an English pension from Henry VIII., with a sympathetic explosion of strong language. The preachers would not take gifts from England, even when offered by the supporters of their own line of policy.

Knox's failure in his admirable attempt to secure the wealth of the old Church for national purposes was, as it happened, the secular salvation of the Kirk. Neither Catholicism nor Anglicanism could be fully introduced while the barons and nobles held the tithes and lands of the ancient Church. Possessing the wealth necessary to a Catholic or Anglican establishment, they were resolutely determined to cling to it, and oppose any Church except that which they starved. The bishops of James I., Charles I., and Charles II. were detested by the nobles. Rarely from them came any lordly gifts to learning and the Universities, while from the honourably poor ministers such gifts could not come. The Universities were founded by prelates of the old Church, doing their duty with their wealth.

The arrangements for discipline were of the drastic nature which lingered into the days of Burns and later. The results may be studied in the records of Kirk Sessions; we have no reason to suppose that sexual morality was at all improved, on the whole, by "discipline," though it was easier to enforce "Sabbath observance." A graduated scale of admonitions led up to excommunication, if the subject was refractory, and to boycotting with civil penalties. The processes had no effect, or none that is visible, in checking lawlessness, robbery, feuds, and manslayings; and, after the Reformation, witchcraft increased to monstrous proportions, at least executions of people accused of witchcraft became very numerous, in spite of provision for sermons thrice a week, and for weekly discussions of the Word.

The Book of Discipline, modelled on the Genevan scheme, and on that of A'Lasco for his London congregation, rather reminds us of the "Laws" of Plato. It was a well meant but impracticable ideal set before the country, and was least successful where it best deserved success. It certainly secured a thoroughly moral clergy, till, some twelve years later, the nobles again thrust licentious and murderous cadets into the best livings and the bastard bishoprics, before and during the Regency of Morton. Their example did not affect the genuine ministers, frugal God- fearing men.


Andrew Lang

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