August 19: Scottish Commissioners to the Assembly
It was on this day, August 19, in 1643 that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland nominated and elected five ministers and three ruling elders to serve as non-voting members of Westminster Assembly.
The Westminster Assembly had convened its historic meeting in July 1, 1643, for the initial purpose of revising the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. During the course of the first three months, two events stood out. First, the Solemn League and Covenant were adopted by the Assembly. Second, and this is the topic of this day's post, the Scottish commissioners arrived to, "put the sickle into the great harvest" then coming into fruition.
Earlier, the Assembly of the Church of Scotland had responded to the call of the English church by nominating a number of commissioners to go to England, join the Westminster Assembly as non-voting members, and unify believers in both kingdoms in the common faith of the two churches. Those nominated included six ministers by the names of Robert Baillie, Robert Blair, Robert Douglas, George Gillespie, Alexander Henderson, and Samuel Rutherford. Blair and Douglas never attended the meetings, for reasons unknown to us. The ruling elders commissioned by the Church of Scotland were Archibald Campbell, John Campbell, John Elphinstone, Charles Erskine, Archibald Johnston, John Kennedy, John Maitland, Robert Meldrum, and George Winram. Of these elders, Kennedy and Meldrum never attended any sessions, again, for reasons unknown to us. Of the remaining elders, Archibald Campbell, and George Winram attended only one year of the sessions. The rest of them were actively involved and attended the sessions of the Assembly anywhere from three years to six years.
The purpose in so naming these men to this work was simple and direct. It was "to repair unto the Assembly of Divines and others of the Church of England now sitting at Westminster to propound, consult, treat, and conclude with them in all such things as may be conductive for the setting of the so much desired union of this whole island in one Form of Government, one Confession of Faith, and one Directory of the Worship of God."
When the first three Scottish elders arrived on September 15, 1643, in the persons of Alexander Henderson, George Gillespie, and John Lord Maitland, they were welcomed with great kindness and courtesy. In fact, they were officially welcomed with three sermons by the English divines! When did we who are elders ever show up at a Presbytery or General Assembly meeting, and find ourselves welcomed by the delivery of three addresses, presented for the occasion of our arrival? But as some of our previous posts have shown, and as future posts will prove, the presence of these Scots did accomplish that putting of the spiritual sickle into the great spiritual harvest of souls in both kingdoms.
Words to Live By:
As we read of the Scottish delegates, we cannot help but praise God for the gifts of Alexander Henderson, Samuel Rutherford, and George Gillespie. These men were spiritual giants in the faith and faithful pastors to the people of God. We have treated of them and will again in these posts. But then again, when we read the name of another—that of John Lord Maitland, the first Duke of Lauderdale, our spirits are saddened, for we know the end of his story as well. This elder who sat through years of Assembly speeches and conversations, nonetheless ended up a terrible persecutor of the Presbyterians in Scotland in later years. He showed his true colors at the last. There may very well be a Judas Iscariot in many a visible church. How we need to pray for one another. How we need to encourage one another. How we need to teach one another. As John put it, "beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1)