Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Reformation Month: Biography of Andrew Melville (Part 1)

ANDREW MELVILLE, after finishing his classical studies, went abroad, and taught for some time, both at Poitiers in France, and at Geneva. He returned to Scotland in July 1574, after having been absent from his native country nearly ten years. Upon his return, the learned Beza, in a letter to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said, "The greatest token of affection the kirk of Geneva could show to Scotland was, that they had suffered themselves to be spoiled of Mr. Andrew Melville."

Soon after his return, the General Assembly appointed him to be the Principal of the College of Glasgow, where he continued for some years. In the year 1576, the Earl of Morton being then Regent, and thinking to bring Andrew Melville into his party, who were endeavouring to introduce Episcopacy, he offered him the parsonage of Govan, a benefice of twenty-four chalders of grain yearly, besides what he enjoyed as Principal, providing he would not insist against the establishment of bishops; but Melville rejected his offer with scorn.

He was afterwards translated to St. Andrews, where he served in the same station as he had done at Glasgow; and was likewise a minister of that city. Here he taught the divinity class, and, as a minister, continued to witness against the encroachments then making upon the rights of the Church of Christ.

When the General Assembly sat down at Edinburgh in 1582, Andrew Melville inveighed against the absolute authority which was making its way into the Church: whereby, he said, they intended to pull the crown from Christ's head, and wrest the sceptre out of His hand. When several articles, of the same tenor with his speech, were presented by the commission of the Assembly to King James VI and Council, craving redress, the Earl of Arran cried out, "Is there any here that dare subscribe these articles." Melville went forward and said, "We dare, and will render our lives in the cause;" and then took up the pen and subscribed. We do not find that any disagreeable consequences ensued at this time.

But in the beginning of February 1584, he was summoned to appear before the Secret Council, on the 11th of that month, to answer for some things said by him in a sermon on a fast-day, from Dan. iv. At his first compearance, he made a verbal defence; but being again called, he gave in a declaration, with a declinature, importing that he had said nothing, either in that or any other sermon, tending to dishonour King James VI, but had regularly prayed for the preservation and prosperity of his Majesty; that, as by acts of Parliament and laws of the Church, he should be tried for his doctrine by the Church, he therefore protested for, and craved, a trial by them, and particularly in the place where the offence was alleged to have been committed; and that as there were special laws in favour of St Andrews to the above import, he particularly claimed the privilege of them. He further protested, that what he had said was warranted by the word of God; that he appealed to the congregation who heard the sermon; that he craved to know his accusers; that, if the calumny was found to be false, the informers might be punished; that the rank and character of the informer might be considered, etc., after which he gave an account of the sermon in question; alleging that his meaning had been misunderstood, and his words perverted.

When he had closed his defence, the King, and the Earl of Arran, who was then Chancellor, raged exceedingly against him. Melville remained undisquieted, and replied, "You are too bold, in a constituted Christian kirk, to pass by the pastors, and take upon you to judge the doctrine, and control the messengers of a Greater than any present. That you may see your rashness, in taking upon you that which you neither ought, nor can do" (taking out a small Hebrew Bible, and laying it down before them), "there are," said he, "my instructions and warrant,—see if any of you can control me, that I have passed my injunctions." The Chancellor opening the book, put it into the King's hand, saying, "Sire, he scorneth your Majesty and the Council." "Nay," said Andrew Melville, "I scorn not, but I am in good earnest." He was, in the time of this debate, frequently removed, and instantly recalled, that he might not have time to consult with his friends. They proceeded against him, and admitted his avowed enemies to prove the accusation; and though the whole train of evidence which was led proved little or nothing against him, yet they resolved to involve him in troubles, because he had declined their authority, as the competent judges of doctrine, and therefore remitted him to ward in the Castle of Edinburgh, during the King's will. Being informed, that if he entered into ward, he would not be released, unless it should be to bring him to the scaffold, and that the decree of the Council being altered, Blackness was appointed for his prison, which was kept by some dependants of the Earl of Arran, he resolved to get out of the country. A macer gave him a charge to enter Blackness in twenty-four hours; and, in the meanwhile, some of Arran's horsemen were attending at the West Port to convoy him thither; but, by the time he should have entered Blackness, he had reached Berwick. Messrs Lawson and Balcanquhal gave him the good character he deserved, and prayed earnestly for him in public, in Edinburgh; which both moved the people and galled the Court exceedingly.

This biography is from, The Scot’s Worthies, by John Howie (1736-1793)

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