August 13: The Mile Act (1663)
Starting with this post today, we begin to look at the Great Ejection of Presbyterian ministers, among others, from Anglican pulpits and schools in the British Isles. This ejection brought great hardship, including death, to those people who had committed themselves to the Reformed faith, and Presbyterianism in particular. Today’s post is the attempt to render powerless those pesky Presbyterian pastors who continued in one way or another to have a godly influence upon their parishes and their people. It took place on August 13, 1663 in Britain, Ireland, and Ulster. This author will focus today on just the kingdom of Scotland.
Known as the Act of Glasgow from which it emanated, it was summarized also as “The Mile Act.” It commanded all Presbyterian ministers to “remove themselves and their families, within twenty days, out of the parishes where they were incumbents, and not to reside within twenty miles of the same, nor within six miles of Edinburgh or any cathedral church, nor within three miles of any royal burgh within the kingdom.” (W. M. Hetherington, “History of the Church of Scotland,” p. 223.)Now for those of our readers who live and move within the confines of these United States, this might be possible, given our wide open spaces. But in the kingdom of Scotland, with its narrow land masses and close population centers, such an act was prohibitive beyond description. As Hetherington points out on the same page, “four hundred spots such as this act describes could not have been found within the kingdom, though all of its lowly wilds had been selected with geographical exactness.” (p. 223) What made the particular act very grievous was that its origin was found in one who used to be a Presbyterian and for that matter, was elected to the Westminster Assembly of Divines. This was the Duke of Lauderdale. He knew Presbyterian doctrine and government from the inside, and now in his authority as an Anglican archbishop, he sought to make his former friends miserable by authoritarian acts to prove to his new-found friends his complete dedication in their efforts to suppress the Presbyterian church.What he and the rest of the Anglican hierarchy failed to realize however was the depth of love to the Reformed Faith among the common folks of the kirk. When their beloved pastors were kept by law away from the parishes, the people simply went to their former pastors as they set up worship anywhere in the kingdom to hear the spiritual message of their hearts and lips. This might mean a worship service in the hills and valleys of Scotland, with a huge rock for a pulpit and stones on the pastures for communion observance. But these circumstances did not matter for the people of God. Soon their very attendance meant fines and even death for their attendance.