« PreviousContinue »
ploy all others ; and when he was a Bishop, he chose to preach to small
; auditories, and would never give notice beforehand; he had indeed a very low voice, and so could not be heard by a great crowd.” Baillie, in speaking of Andrew Gray, one of the most extraordinary young ministers that has appeared in the Church of Scotland, whose memory is yet fresh in the west, and whose sermons, published under every possible disadvantage, evince that it deserves to be so, thus obliquely gives the opinion he and his moderate brethren held of Leighton's ministerial instructions : “He has the new guise of preaching, which Mr Hugh Binning and Mr Robert Leighton began, containing the ordinary way of expounding and dividing a text, of raising doctrines and uses ; but runs out a discourse on some common head, in a high romancing and inscriptural style, tickling the ear for the present, and moving the affections in some, but leaving little or nought to the memory and understanding."
That Gray and Binning were amazingly popular, is well attested ; that Leighton deserved to be equally or more so, will appear evident from a comparison of the remains they have left behind them; for all have left written specimens of their sermons, and respecting the merit of our author's we shall afterwards speak. But those only who heard the living preachers could tell us of their eloquence : They who know—and what clown does not know ?—the power of the keen language of the eye, the emphasis of countenance, the varied tone and energy of voice, even the influence of grave appropriate action, can note the difference between the living and the dead. In the Church of Scotland when in her glory, reading was unknown, and would not have been tolerated : the ministers were too much alive to the importance of their subjects to waste much time upon the “ conning of nice phrases," and depended more upon the vigour than the polish of their language; yet were they not inelegant or careless, as the posthumous works of all these eminent three bear ample evidence :--but their usual method appears to have been, first they studied their subject fully, then wrote a few notes, in modern terms made a skeleton of their discourse, and left the filling up to the fulness of their heart at the time of the delivery. This appears to have been the case especially with Andrew Gray, but in some instances the sermons appear to have been fully written out, although not slavishly delivered, as in the case of Hugh Binning. And it is a curious fact, that the whole of Durham's elaborate Commentary on the Revelations, forming a folio volume, containing many calculations, and several profound disquisitions, was delivered without having been committed to paper, but taken down as he delivered it, was copied out afterwards, and brought to himself for correction, except a very few of the last sheets. Indeed, it appears strange, that the reading of sermons should ever have found practitioners or advocates, except among the indolent or imbecile; and I apprehend with scarcely an exception it will be found, that either want of capacity or want of diligence is at the root of the practice, and in either case, such a person ought not to be a public speaker. · Where God has withheld the talents for public speaking from a man, it needs no revelation to tell
us that that man was never intended for a public speaker. If God have bestowed the talents, and he refuse to cultivate them, it is as clear that that man is unworthy of exercising the office of a Gospel minister. If, after a man has been duly called to his office, and if, after having exercised it faithfully, it has pleased the inscrutable wisdom of Heaven to deprive him of any of his faculties, it becomes then a question whether he ought to retire. And if this be impossible or improper, say that merely memory has failed, and there be no funds for his support, and his people be unwilling to dispense with his services; the case is altered-let him read. But I believe it will in general be found in the cases of conversion, that often comparatively weak discourses have been blessed, while the most elaborately composed discourses, and the most beautifully read, have been merely listened to as elegant essays, or praised as the lovely works of art. And it is natural that it should be so; God is the God of means, as well as of grace, and he has appointed the living voice, the “ foolishness of preaching, whereby to save them that believe; and his approbation, not the applause of elegant or crowded auditories, cught to be the grand end and aim of a minister. Leighton was an enemy to reading. “I know," he said, “that weakness of memory is pleaded in excuse for this custom, but better minds would make better memories. Such an excuse is unworthy of a man, and much more of a father, who may want vent indeed in addressing his children, but ought never to want matter :-Like Elihu, he should be refreshed by speaking."
If the remark hold true of private, as of public affairs, that the years which afford fewest materials for the historian, are generally those that have been the happiest, the years which Leighton spent at Newbottle must have been among the most pleasant of his life ; but towards their close, the political state of the country invaded even his peaceful retirement. It is well known that the troubles of Scotland, from the Reformation till the final expulsion of the Stuarts, arose from contests for religious and civil liberty on the part of the people, and for priestly power and absolute despotism on the part of the Crown. By treachery and deceit, the British Solomon, styled Kingcraft, James the I. had during a long reign attempted, and nearly accomplished, the overthrow of the constitution of his native land, the task of completing the destruction of his people's liberty, he left as a legacy to his son; this Charles rashly endeavoured to accomplish, while his hands were fully occupied with his English subjects, and, by introducing the liturgy among a people who detested it, he put the match to a train that lay ready for explosion,—the consequence was, that after an idle parade of royal weakness, when opposed to the universal wish of a people, he was forced to give a free and fair constitution, securing the rights of his subjects from princely or prelatic invasion. Of this constitution the Covenant was at once the cause, the consequence, and the guarantee; in it the King and People swore to the performance of their various duties, and among others, to preserve the religion as then established, and to resist all innovations tending to re-introduce the prelacy.
A multiplication of oaths to men in public life, besides being one of the slenderest of all ties to unprincipled men, is one of the worst in Christian nations, as it uniformly involves them in varied and multiplied iniquity ; it distresses: binds, and debilitates the minds of the conscientious, while it is frail as Sampson's green withs to the sturdy politician. But if ever there was a time, when a solemn declaration of principles, and an explicit promise or vow to observe them, were called for, it was just about the period when Leighton entered upon the pastoral office at Newbottle; and I think it plain from his own writings, that he conscientiously viewed the Covenant in this light, and subscribed it at his ordination without scruple. Had Charles I. been sincere when he ratified the acts of the Scottish Parliament, he might have reigned a powerful monarch, and died a better man; but his duplicity led to the great civil war, and forced Scotland and England to join together for mutual preservation from threatened tyranny. They did so, in an agreement known by the name of the Solemn League and Covenant, in which they pledged themselves to endeavour uniformity in religion according to the word of God, and the extirpation of Prelacy; and this, in the form of an oath, was forced upon almost every inhabitant of Scotland. But it deserves especial notice, that the zealots who were most forward in pressing this oath, were the political presbyterians, men whose exuberance of fire, like that of all violent partizans, was exactly in proportion to their lack of principle; and they who were then the chief instruments of covenanting oppression, were the very persons who turned apostates, and were the chief instruments of Prelatical persecution.
Leighton, whose aversion to the lordly pomp of the English Hie rarchy was undoubtedly as sincere as it was well founded, unhesitatingly subscribed this bond himself, and afterwards administered it to the students in Edinburgh University. And he thus explains the reason of his facility “ for it would be noted, that when the Covenant was framed, there was no Episcopacy at all in being in Scotland, but in England only, so that the extirpation of that frame only could then be merely intended.” It may be difficult, however, to exculpate him from the error of having first vowed and then made inquiry ; ner, when he attempts it himself, is he very successful,—but great allowance must be made for the gentleness of his natural disposition, and his most amiable desire for peace, especially when his whole life evinced that he was neither actuated by motives of covetousness or ambition ; and whether we agree with him or not, we must agree, that as his life was holy, there can be little doubt but his motives were pure. Let us however hear himself, though in this case he appears to have lost something of his sweetness of temper.
“ The truth is, that besides many other evils, the iniquity and unhappiness of such oaths and covenants lie much in this, that, being commonly framed by persons, that even amongst themselves are not fully of one mind, but have their different opinions and interests to serve,--and it was so even in this,-they commonly patched up so many several articles and clauses, and these too of so versatile and ambiguous terms, that they prove most wretched snares, and thickets of briars and thorns to the consciences of those who are engaged in them, and matter of endless contentions and disputes amongst them, about the true sense and intendment, and the ties and obligations of those doubtful clauses, especially in such alterations and revolutions of affairs, as always may, and often do, even within few years, follow after them, for the models and productions of such devices are not usually long-lived. And whatsoever may be said for their excuse, in whole or in part, who, in yielding to the power that pressed it, and the general opinion of this Church at that time, did take that covenant in the most moderate and least schismatical sense that the terms can admit; yet I know not what can be said to clear them of a very great sin, that not only framed such an engine, but violently imposed it upon all ranks of men, not ministers and public persons only, but the whole body and community of the people, thereby engaging such droves of poor ignorant persons, to they knew not what; and, to speak freely, to such a hodge-podge of things of various concernments, religious and civil, as church discipline and government, the privileges of Parliaments, and liberties of subjects, and condign punishment of malignants, things hard enough for the wisest and learnedest to draw the just lines of, and to give plain definitions and decisions of them, and therefore certainly as far off from the reach of poor country people's understanding, as from the true interest of their souls, and yet to tie them by a religious oath, either to know all, or to contend for them blindfold, without knowing of them."
These sentiments are contained in his " modest defence of moderate Episcopacy," written after he was a bishop, and considering the cause he had to defend, might pass without much observation, although, if carried their proper length, they would exclude the people from any voice in the choice or conduct of their rulers, civil and ecclesiastical, and lead to the quietude of a settled despotism in the Church and State. But it is a painful example of how far partiality for a side, or the supposed necessity of advocating a bad cause, may carry a good man, when we hear him in the next sentence asking, " Where will be instanced a greater oppression and tyranny over consciences than this ?" and replying, “Certainly they that now govern in this Church, cannot be charged with anything near or like unto it, for whatsoever they require of intrants to the ministry, they require neither subscriptions nor oaths of ministers already entered, and far less of the whole body of the people.” Yet at this very time, had the whole ministry been required to acknowledge the royal supremacy in matters ecclesiastical, and own a power in the church, which they understood to be subversive of that of her Head and King : still there is no divine more clear upon the character of Christ, as the sole fawgiver and ruler of his people, than our author.
While Leighton's mind was hurt by the manner in which the Solemn League and Covenant was pressed, he naturally associated with those whose sentiments on this subject accorded with his own. Among them was the father of Dr Gilbert Burnet, of the Episcopalian persuasion, and particularly attached to the Hamilton family, with whose fortunes Leighton had almost associated his own. After the providence of God had declared against Charles, and he was a captive in the
hands of his opponents, still he might have returned to his throne with honour, could he have submitted to be honest, but he wished to Je-ascend it uncontrouled, and played a double game, that led him to the scaffold. Unfortunately the Duke of Hamilton was induced to second his efforts, by breaking the Solemn League and Covenant with England, and entering unto an Engagement with the captive monarch. This engagement,—which, if successful, would have laid the kingdoms prostrate at the feet of an incensed sovereign, who would give them no security for all they had been fighting for, except “ the word of a Prince,” and that had been forfeited at least a score of times,- divided Scotland ; part resolving to maintain the Covenant, and part entering into the engagement. Among those who favoured the last, were all who had any leaning towards episcopacy, and Leighton, who had hitherto kept aloof from the politics of the day, was most unfortunately induced by his new associates, to declare in favour of an Engagement, the terms of which were not fully known at the time, and which we would in charity hope were misrepresented to him, as they were to others : like every effort in favour of the unhappy Charles, the project failed, and involved hiinself and his adherents in deeper ruin.
The high character of Leighton, and the friendship of the Earl of Lothian, saved him from any very serious consequences of his conduct, while the dominant party showed their liberality, by sparing so conspicuous an opponent from any other punishment than appointing him to rebuke those of his parishioners who had accompanied the Duke in his disastrous expedition. There is more of policy than of godly simplicity in the manner in which he extricated himself from a dilemma that could not fail of being extremely irksome to an ingenuous mind; and when parties run so high, and the times were so perilous, it says a great deal for the forbearance of the Presbytery, that such an evasion of their injunctions was overlooked. When the parties ordered to make public profession of their repentance came before him, he told them they had been in an expedition in which he believed they had neglected their duty to God; and had been guilty of injustice and violence, of drunkenness and other immoralities, and he charged them to repent of these very seriously, without meddling with the quarrel or the ground of that war. This lesson seems to have cured Leighton of meddling with politics, as we hear no more upon this head till after the restoration ; but from the slight notices in Baillie's Letters,
1 it would appear that he associated with the high-flyers in the Church, who were evangelical in their preaching, and suspected of favouring the sectaries, a predilection which naturally arose from the inferior weight he gave to differences upon matters of church-government when put in competition with personal piety; and perhaps his laxness on that point, might be not a little increased by observing the pertinacity with which many contended for the form, who cared very little about the power of godliness, who were more anxious about the cut of their vestments than the conduct of their lives. The numerous sects, and varieties of opinion, which sprung up at this time, grievously unhinged men's minds on these subjects, and the bitterness with which the sections of the same party