Page images


Tus Lecture does not profess to rehearse the history of the Covenanters. It is not in my power-if it be in the power

of any one-to condense within such narrow limits, the history of fifty eventful years.

Moreover, had my space, and the patience of my auditors, been alike unlimited, I should still have declined to become the historian of those times. Were I not deterred from such a work by the conscious want of the natural qualities requisite to its performance, I should certainly be so by the lack of those special advantages -of access to independent sources of knowledge, and leisure for their investigation-which are equally indispensable. No information have I to communicate, beyond what is patent to every reader of published records. No unknown fact am I able to present. Mine is the humbler, though perhaps not less useful task, of calling attention to the more interesting and prominent events which others have narrated, in order that my hearers may feel the morally bracing influence which they supply.

Happily, in this case, my opportunities are almost parallel with my convictions and wishes. The functions of the historian and those of the lecturer, on such an occasion, are so distinct, it appears to me, that neither of them can occupy with advantage the sphere of the other. While the historian's work is to narrate facts, to account for their existence, and trace their issues, the lecturer has more especially to deduce and enforce the lessons with which they are pregnant. It cannot be supposed that a promiscuous audience has either the time or the temper for that patient research which is demanded of the historical student; and yet it may be possible to find in a history certain prominent and unquestionable facts which may be employed to quicken their better feelings, and stimulate them to copy the example of the good and true.

As the Society under whose auspices the lecture is published is eminently catholic, it may be proper to state, that while I mention facts concerning different religious parties by no means creditable to them, my statements involve no reflection on the men who now hear their name. Persecution is not peculiar to any sect, but springs out of the human nature of which all alike partake. Neither the Episcopalian nor the Presbyterian is responsible for the intolerance of his predecessors, except in so far as he endorses their procedure and breathes their spirit.


WHEN the health of our countrymen in India suffers from exposure to its climate,theyoftentimes derive great advantage from a temporary sojourn in the mountainous regions of the North-West. Enjoying the magnificent scenery of the Himalayan slopes, and the cool breezes which come sweeping down from the eternal snow, their physical system is braced, their shattered health recruited, and with invigorated constitution they return to their post, better prepared to resist the unhealthful influences of her burning plains. Some such provision, it seems to me, is, in these times, needed for our moral and spiritual nature. We are apt to become deteriorated by the maxims and customs which obtain in our modern English society; and may reap great benefit from an occasional excursion into the history of the times to which we now direct your attention. Familiarity with men who, sacrificing everything to principle, lived a life of heroism and died a martyr's death, is to those whose moral nature is depressed by the materialistic tendencies of the age, what a sojourn among the mountains is to the relaxed physical system of the residents in Hindostan. the cooling breeze braces and invigorates the body enfeebled by the effects of a tropical clime, so our fellowship with those "ancient worthies” lifts us above the low level of our ordinary business life, strengthens our souls for the resistance of its deteriorating influences, strings us up to the performance of nobler deeds. Receiving from our contact with them a healthier moral tone, we return to our ordinary avocations, prepared to do our daily duties in a devouter spirit, and to subordinate our secular work to highest Christian ends.

It is with the firmest belief in the attainableness of this result that I ask you to spend a short time in company with the Scottish Covenanters. I am convinced that their history cannot be approached in a reverent, sympathising spirit, without exerting a salutary influence. I know not where you can find so many of the virtues, which appeal to the sympathies and awaken the admiration of mankind, crowded together into so brief a space. Of course I speak with some exceptions; my admiration does not extend to the whole of their procedure; it relates chiefly to their conduct during the time of the persecution, and of that time I mean this lecture specially to treat. With an exception I which will come under our notice presently, their history previous to that has much less attraction for us. The qualities which they afterwards evinced no doubt slumbered in them then, but their circumstances had not brought them so fully into play. They were somewhat intolerant in success, as men generally are. They needed a fiery trial to make them appear, if not to render them, heroic. The Covenant, though right in spirit, and originated as a protection to liberty, became hostile to liberty when subsequently they sought to enforce it in the letter. In so far as it pledged them to resist the attempt of the king to impose upon them the Episcopalian polity and ritual, it was a gallant struggle for their rights. For certainly it is no part of the royal prerogative, that a king should provide his subjects with a religion in place of one which they conscientiously prefer. In their case, moreover, the tyranny was aggravated and rendered more obvious by the fact that

« PreviousContinue »