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FROM HIS BIRTH TO HIS EMBRACING OF THE REFORMED RELIGION John Knox was born in the year 1505. The place of his nativity has been disputed. That he was born at Gifford, a village in East Lothian, has been the most prevailing opinion; but the tradition of the country fixes his birth at Haddington, the principal town of the county. The house in which he is said to have been born is still shown by the inhabitants, in one of the suburbs of the town, called the Gifford-gate. This house, with some adjoining acres of land, continued to be possessed by the family until about fifty years ago, when it was purchased from them by the Earl of Wemyss.
The name of his mother was Sinclair. His father was descended from an ancient and respectable family, who possessed the lands of Knock, Ranferly, and Craigends, in the shire of Renfrew. The descendants of this family have been accustomed to claim him as a cadet, and to enumerate among the honors of their house, that it gave birth to the Scottish Reformer, a bishop of Raphoe, and of the Isles. At what particular period his ancestors removed from their original seat and settled in Lothian, I have not been able exactly to ascertain.
Obscurity of parentage can reflect no dishonor upon him who has raised himself to distinction by his virtues and talents. But the assertion of some writers, that our Reformer’s parents were in poor circumstances, is contradicted by facts. They were able to give their son a liberal education, which, in that age, was far from being common. In his youth he was put to the grammar-school of Haddington; and, after acquiring the principles of the Latin language there, was sent, by his father, to the university of St.
Andrews, at that time the most celebrated seminary in the kingdom. This was about the year 1524; at which time George Buchanan commenced his studies, under the same masters, and in the same college of St. Salvador.
The state of learning in Scotland at this period, and the progress which it made in the subsequent part of the century, have not been examined with the attention which they deserve, and which has been bestowed on contemporaneous subjects of inferior importance. There were unquestionably learned Scotsmen in the early part of the sixteenth century; but the most of them owed their chief acquirements to the advantage of a foreign education. Those improvements, which the revival of literature had introduced into the schools of Italy and France, were long in reaching the universities of Scotland, originally formed upon their model, and, when they did arrive, were regarded with a suspicious eye.
The principal branches cultivated in our universities were the Aristotelian philosophy, scholastic theology, with canon and civil law. The schools erected in the principal towns of the kingdom afforded the means of instruction in the Latin tongue, the knowledge of which, in some degree, was requisite for enabling the clergy to perform the religious service. But the Greek language, long after it had been enthusiastically studied on the continent, and after it had become a fixed branch of education in the neighboring kingdom, continued to be almost unknown in Scotland.
Individuals acquired the knowledge of it abroad; but the first attempts to teach it in this country were of a private nature, and exposed their patrons to the suspicion of heresy. The town of Montrose is distinguished by being the first place, as far as I have been able to discover, in which Greek was taught in Scotland; and John Erskine of Dun is entitled to the honor of being regarded as the first of his countrymen who patronized the study of that polite and useful language. As early as the year 1534, that enlightened and public-spirited baron, on returning from his travels, brought with him a Frenchman, skilled in the Greek tongue, whom he settled in Montrose; and upon his removal, he liberally encouraged others to come from France and succeed to his place. From this private seminary many Greek scholars proceeded, and the knowledge of the language was gradually diffused through the kingdom. After this statement, I need scarcely add, that the oriental tongues were at this time utterly unknown in this country. It was not until the establishment of the Reformation, that Hebrew began to be studied; and John Row was the first who taught it, having opened a class for this purpose in the year 1560, immediately upon his settlement as minister in Perth. From that time, the knowledge of Greek and the Eastern languages advanced among our countrymen with a rapid pace.
Knox acquired the Greek language before he reached middle age; but we find him acknowledging, as late as the year 1550, that he was ignorant of Hebrew, a defect in his education which he exceedingly lamented, and which he afterwards got supplied during his exile on the Continent.
John Mair, better known by his Latin name, Major, was professor of philosophy and theology at St. Andrews, when Knox attended the university. The minds of young men, and their future train of thinking, often receive an important direction from the master under whom they were first trained to study, especially if his reputation be high. Major was at that time deemed an oracle in the sciences which he taught; and as he was the preceptor of Knox and the celebrated scholar Buchanan, it may be proper to advert to some of his opinions. He had received the greater part of his education in France, and acted for some time as professor in the university of Paris. In that situation, he had acquired a habit of thinking and expressing himself on certain subjects more liberally than was adopted in his native country and other parts of Europe. He had imbibed the sentiments concerning ecclesiastical polity, maintained by John Gerson, Peter D’Ailly, and others who defended the decrees of the Council of Constance, and liberties of the Gallican Church, against those who asserted the uncontrollable authority of the sovereign pontiff. He taught that a general council was superior to the Pope, might judge, rebuke, restrain, and even depose him from his dignity; denied the temporal supremacy of the Bishop of Rome, and his right to inaugurate or dethrone princes; maintained that ecclesiastical censures and even papal excommunications had no force, if pronounced on invalid or irrelevant grounds; he held that tithes were merely of human appointment, not divine right; censured the avarice, ambition, and secular pomp of the court of Rome and the episcopal order; was no warm friend of the regular clergy; and advised the reduction of monasteries and holidays.
His opinions respecting civil government were analogous to those which he held as to ecclesiastical policy. He taught that the authority of kings and princes was originally derived from the people; that the former are not superior to the latter collectively considered; that if rulers become tyrannical, or employ their power for the destruction of their subjects, they may lawfully be controlled by them, and, proving incorrigible, may be deposed by the community as the superior power; and that tyrants may be judicially proceeded against, even to capital punishment.
The affinity between these, and the political principles afterwards avowed by Knox, and defended by the classic pen of Buchanan, is too striking to require illustration. Though Major was not the first Scottish writer who had expressed some of these sentiments, it is highly probable, that the oral instructions and writings of their teacher first suggested to them those principles which were confirmed by subsequent reading and reflection; and consequently contributed to bring about those great changes which were afterwards effected by means of them. Nor would his ecclesiastical opinions fail to have their share of influence upon the train of their thoughts.
But though, in these respects, the opinions of Major were more free and rational than those generally entertained at that time, it must be confessed that the portion of instruction which his scholars could derive from him was extremely small, if we allow his publications to be a fair specimen of his academical prelections. Many of the questions which he discusses are utterly useless and trifling; the rest are rendered disgusting by the most servile adherence to all the minutiae of the scholastic mode of reasoning.
The reader of his works must be content with painfully picking a grain of truth from the rubbish of many pages; nor will the drudgery be compensated by those discoveries of inventive genius and acute discrimination, for which the writings of Aquinas, and some others of that subtle school, may still deserve to be consulted. Major is entitled to praise, for exposing to his countrymen several of the more glaring errors and abuses of his time; but his mind was deeply tinctured with superstition, and he defended some of the absurdest tenets of popery by the most ridiculous and puerile arguments. His talents were moderate; with the writings of the ancients he appears to have been acquainted only through the medium of the collectors of the Middle Ages; nor does he ever hazard an opinion, or pursue a speculation beyond what he found marked out by some approved doctor of the Church. Add to this, that his style is, to an uncommon degree, harsh and forbidding; “exile, aridum, conscissum, ac minutum”. Knox and Buchanan soon became disgusted with such studies, and began to seek entertainment more gratifying to their ardent and inquisitive minds.
Having set out in search of knowledge, they released themselves from the trammels, and overleaped the boundaries, prescribed to them by their timid conductor. Each following the native bent of his genius and inclination, they separated in the prosecution of their studies; Buchanan, indulging in a more excursive range, explored the extensive fields of literature, and wandered in the flowery mead of poesy; while Knox, passing through the avenues of secular learning, devoted himself to the study of divine truth, and the labors of the sacred ministry. Both, however, kept uniformly in view the advancement of true religion and liberty, with the love of which they were equally smitten; and as they suffered a long and painful exile, and were exposed to many dangers during their lives, for adherence to this kindred cause, so their memories have not been divided, in the profuse but honorable obloquy with which they have been aspersed by its enemies; or in the deserved grateful recollection of its genuine friends.
But we must not suppose, that Knox was able at once to divest himself of the prejudices of his education and of the times. Barren and repulsive as the scholastic studies appear to our minds, there was something in the intricate and subtle sophistry then in vogue, calculated to fascinate the youthful and ingenious mind. It had a show of wisdom; it exercised although it did not feed the understanding; it even gave play to the imagination, while it exceedingly flattered the pride of the adept. Nor was it easy for the person who had suffered himself to be drawn in, to break through or extricate himself from the mazy labyrinth. Accordingly, Knox continued for some time captivated with these studies, and prosecuted them with great success. After he was created Master of Arts, he taught philosophy, most probably as an assistant, or private lecturer in the university. His class became celebrated; and he was considered as equaling, if not excelling, his master, in the subtleties of the dialectic art. About the same time, he was advanced to clerical orders, and ordained a priest, before he reached the age fixed by the canons of the Church; although he had no other interest, except what was procured by his own merit, or the recommendations of his teachers. This must have taken place previous to the year 1530, at which time he was twenty-five years of age.
It was not long, however, till his studies received a new direction, which led to a complete revolution in his religious sentiments, and had an important influence on the whole of his future life. Not satisfied with the excerpts from ancient authors, which he found in the writings of the scholastic divines and canonists, he resolved to have recourse to the original works. In them he found a method of investigating and communicating truth to which he had hitherto been a stranger; the simplicity of which recommended itself to his mind, in spite of the prejudices of education, and the pride of superior attainments in his own favorite art. Among the fathers of the Christian Church, Jerome and Augustine attracted his particular attention. By the writings of the former, he was led to the Scriptures as the only pure fountain of divine truth, and instructed in the utility of studying them in the original languages. In the works of the latter, he found religious sentiments very opposite to those taught in the Romish Church, who, while she retained his name as a saint in her calendar, had banished his doctrine, as heretical, from her pulpits.
From this time, he renounced the study of scholastic theology; and, although not yet completely emancipated from superstition, his mind was fitted for improving the means which Providence had prepared, for leading him to a fuller and more comprehensive view of the system of evangelical religion. It was about the year 1535, when this favorable change of his sentiments commenced; but, until 1542, it does not appear that he professed himself a Protestant.
As I am now to enter upon that period of Knox’s life, in which he renounced the Roman Catholic communion, and commenced Reformer, it may not be improper to take a survey of the state of the Church and of religion at that time in Scotland. Without an adequate knowledge of this, it is impossible to form a just estimate of the necessity and importance of that Reformation, in the advancement of which he labored with so great zeal; and nothing has contributed so much to give currency, among Protestants, to prejudices against his character and actions, than ignorance and a superficial consideration of the enormous and almost incredible abuses which reigned in the Church. This must be my apology, for what otherwise might be deemed a superfluous and disproportioned digression.
The corruptions by which the Christian religion was universally depraved before the Reformation, had grown to a greater height in Scotland than in any other nation within the pale of the Western Church. Superstition and religious imposture, in their grossest forms, gained an easy admission among a rude and ignorant people. By means of these, the clergy attained to an exorbitant degree of opulence and power; which were accompanied, as they always have been, with the corruption of their order, and of the whole system of religion.
The full half of the wealth of the nation belonged to the clergy; and the greater part of this was in the hands of a few of their number, who had the command of the whole body. Avarice, ambition, and the love of secular pomp, reigned among the superior orders. Bishops and abbots rivaled the first nobility in magnificence, and preceded them in honors: they were privy-councilors and Lords of Session, as well as of Parliament, and had long engrossed the principal offices of state. A vacant bishopric or abbacy called forth powerful competitors, who contended for it as for a principality or petty kingdom; it was obtained by similar arts, and not infrequently taken possession of by the same weapons. Inferior benefices were openly put to sale, or bestowed on the illiterate and unworthy minions of courtiers; on dice-players, strolling bards, and the bastards of bishops. Pluralities were multiplied without bounds, and benefices given “in commendam” 2 were kept vacant, during the life of the commendatory, sometimes during several lives, to the deprivation of extensive parishes of all provision of religious service; if a deprivation it could be called, at a time when the cure of souls was no longer regarded as attached to livings, originally endowed for this purpose. There was not such a thing known as for a bishop to preach; indeed, I scarce recollect a single instance of it, mentioned in history, from the erection of the regular Scottish episcopate, down to the period of the Reformation. The practice was even gone into desuetude among all the secular clergy, and was wholly devolved on the mendicant monks, who employed it for the most mercenary purposes.
The lives of the clergy, exempted from secular jurisdiction, and corrupted by wealth and idleness, were become a scandal to religion, and an outrage on decency. While they professed chastity, and prohibited, under the severest penalties, any of the ecclesiastical order from contracting lawful wedlock, the bishops set the example of the most shameless profligacy before the inferior clergy; avowedly kept their harlots; provided their natural sons with benefices; and gave their daughters in marriage to the sons of the nobility and principal gentry; many of whom were so mean as to contaminate the blood of their families by such base alliances, for the sake of the rich dowries which they brought.
Through the blind devotion and munificence of princes and nobles, monasteries, those nurseries of superstition and idleness, had greatly multiplied in the nation; and though they had universally degenerated, and were notoriously become the haunts of lewdness and debauchery, it was deemed impious and sacrilegious to reduce their number, abridge their privileges, or alienate their funds. The kingdom swarmed with ignorant, idle, luxurious monks, who, like locusts, devoured the fruits of the earth, and filled the air with pestilential infection: friars, white, black, and gray; canons regular, and of St. Anthony, Carmelites, Carthusians, Cordeliers, Dominicans, Franciscan Conventuals and Observantines, Jacobines, Premonstratensians, monks of Tyrone, and of Vallis Caulium, Hospitallers, and Holy Knights of St. John of Jerusalem; nuns of St.
Austin, St. Clare, St. Scholastica, and St. Catherine of Sienna, with canonesses of various clans.
The ignorance of the clergy respecting religion was as gross as the dissoluteness of their morals. Even bishops were not ashamed to confess that they were unacquainted with the canon of their faith, and had never read any part of the sacred Scriptures, except what they met with in their missals. Under such pastors the people perished for lack of knowledge.
That book which was able to make them wise unto salvation, and intended to be equally accessible by “Jew and Greek, barbarian and Scythian, bond and free”, was locked up from them, and the use of it, in their own tongue, prohibited under the heaviest penalties. The religious service was mumbled over in a dead language, which many of the priests did not understand, and some of them could scarce read; and the greatest care was taken to prevent even catechisms, composed and approved by the clergy, from coming into the hands of the laity.
Scotland, from her local situation, had been less exposed to disturbance from the encroaching ambition, vexatious exactions, and fulminating anathemas of the Vatican court, than the countries in the immediate vicinity of Rome. But from the same cause, it was more easy for the domestic clergy to keep up on the minds of the people that excessive veneration for the Holy See, which could not be long felt by those who had the opportunity of witnessing its vices and worldly politics. The burdens which attended a state of dependence upon a remote foreign jurisdiction, were severely felt. Though the popes did not enjoy the power of presenting to the Scottish prelacies, they wanted not numerous pretexts for interfering with them. The most important causes of a civil nature, which the ecclesiastical courts had contrived to bring within their jurisdiction, were frequently carried to Rome. Large sums of money were annually exported out of the kingdom, for the purchasing of palls, the confirmation of benefices, the conducting of appeals, and for many other purposes, in exchange for which were received leaden bulls, woolen palls, wooden images, plenty of old bones, with similar articles of precious consecrated mummery.
Of the doctrine of Christianity, scarce any thing remained but the name.
Instead of being directed to offer up their adorations to one God, the people were taught to divide them among an innumerable company of inferior objects. A plurality of mediators shared the honor of procuring the divine favor, with the “one Mediator between God and men”; and more petitions were presented to the Virgin Mary and other saints, than to “Him whom the Father heareth always”. The sacrifice of the mass was represented as procuring forgiveness of sins to the living and the dead, to the infinite disparagement of the sacrifice by which Jesus Christ expiated sin, and procured everlasting redemption, and the consciences of men were withdrawn from faith in the merits of their Savior, to a delusive reliance upon priestly absolutions, papal pardons, and voluntary penances.
Instead of being instructed to demonstrate the sincerity of their faith and repentance, by forsaking their sins, and to testify their love to God and man, by observing the ordinances of worship authorized by Scripture, and practicing the duties of morality, they were taught, that, if they regularly said their “aves” 3 and “credos”, 4 confessed themselves to a priest, purchased a mass, went in pilgrimage to the shrine of some celebrated saint, or performed some prescribed act of bodily mortification — if they refrained from flesh on Fridays, and punctually paid their tithes and other Church dues, their salvation was infallibly secured in due time: while those who were so rich and pious as to build a chapel or an altar, and to endow it for the support of a priest, to perform masses, obits, 5 and dirges, procured a relaxation of the pains of purgatory for themselves or their relations, according to the extent of their mortifications. It is difficult for us to conceive how empty, ridiculous, and wretched those harangues were, which the monks delivered for sermons. Legendary tales concerning the founder of some religious order, his wonderful sanctity, the miracles which he performed, his combats with the devil, his watchings, fastings, flagellations; the virtue of holy water, chrism, crossing, and exorcism; the horrors of purgatory, with the numbers released from it by the intercession of some powerful saint; these, with low jests, table-talk, and fireside scandal, formed the favorite topics of these preachers, and were served up to the people instead of the pure, solid, and sublime doctrines of the Bible.
The beds of the dying were besieged, and their last moments disturbed, by avaricious priests, who labored to extort bequests to themselves or to the Church. Not satisfied with the exacting of tithes from the living, a demand was made upon the dead: no sooner had a poor husbandman breathed his last, than the rapacious vicar came and carried off his corpse-present, which he repeated as often as death visited the family. Ecclesiastical censures were fulminated against those who were reluctant in making these payments, or who showed themselves disobedient to the clergy; and, for a little money, were prostituted on the most trifling occasions. Divine service was neglected; the churches were deserted (especially after the light of the Reformation had discovered abuses and pointed out a more excellent way); so that, except on a few festival days, the places of worship, in many parts of the country, served only as sanctuaries for malefactors, places of traffic, or resorts for pastime.
Persecution, and the suppression of free inquiry, were the only weapons by which its interested supporters were able to defend this system of corruption and imposture. Every avenue by which truth might enter was carefully guarded. Learning was branded as the parent of heresy. The most frightful pictures were drawn of those who had separated from the Romish Church, and held up before the eyes of the people, to deter them from imitating their example. If any person who had attained a degree of illumination amidst the general darkness, began to hint dissatisfaction with the conduct of the clergy, and to propose the correction of abuses, he was immediately stigmatized as a heretic, and, if he did not secure his safety by flight, was immured in a dungeon, or committed to the flames. When at last, in spite of all their precautions, the light which was shining around did break in and spread through the nation, they prepared to adopt the most desperate and bloody measures for its suppression.
From this imperfect sketch of the state of religion in this country, we may see how false the representation is which some persons would impose on us; as if popery were a system, erroneous indeed, but purely speculative; superstitious, but harmless; provided it had not been accidentally accompanied with intolerance and cruelty. The very reverse is the truth. It may be safely said, that there is not one of its erroneous tenets, or of its superstitious practices, which was not either originally contrived, or artfully accommodated, to advance and support some practical abuse; to aggrandize the ecclesiastical order, secure to them immunity from civil jurisdiction, sanctify their encroachments upon secular authorities, vindicate their usurpation upon the consciences of men, cherish implicit obedience to the decisions of the Church, and extinguish free inquiry and liberal science.
It was a system not more repugnant to the religion of the Bible, than incompatible with the legitimate rights of princes, the independence, liberty, and prosperity of kingdoms; a system not more destructive to the souls of men, than to social and domestic happiness, and the principles of sound morality. Considerations from every quarter combined in calling aloud for a radical and complete reform. The exertions of all descriptions of persons, of the man of letters, the patriot, the prince, as well as the Christian, each acting in his own sphere for his own interests, with a joint concurrence of all as in a common cause, were urgently required for the extirpation of abuses of which all had reason to complain, and effectuating a revolution, in the advantages of which all would participate. There was, however, no reasonable prospect of accomplishing this, without exposing, in the first place, the falsehood of those notions which have been called speculative. It was principally by means of these that superstition had established its empire over the minds of men; behind them the Romish ecclesiastics had entrenched themselves, and defended their usurped prerogatives and possessions; and had any prince or legislature endeavored to deprive them of these, while the body of the people remained unenlightened, they would soon have found reason to repent the hazardous attempt. To the revival of the primitive doctrines and institutions of Christianity, by the preaching and writings of the Reformers, and to those controversies by which the popish errors were confuted from Scripture (for which many modern philosophers seem to have so thorough a contempt) we are chiefly indebted for the overthrow of superstition, ignorance, and despotism; and for the blessings, political and religious, which we enjoy, all of which may be traced to the Reformation from popery.
How grateful should we be to divine Providence for this happy revolution!
For those persons do but “sport with their own imaginations”, who flatter themselves that it must have taken place in the ordinary course of human affairs, and overlook the many convincing proofs of the superintending directions of superior wisdom, in the whole combination of circumstances which contributed to bring about the Reformation in this country, as well as throughout Europe. How much are we indebted to those men, who, under God, were the instruments in effecting it; who cheerfully jeoparded their lives, to achieve a design which involved the felicity of millions unborn; boldly attacked the system of error and corruption, fortified by popular credulity, custom, and laws, fenced with the most dreadful penalties; and having forced the stronghold of superstition, and penetrated the recesses of its temple, tore aside the veil which concealed that monstrous idol which the whole world had so long worshipped, and dissolving the magic spell by which the human mind was bound, restored it to liberty! How criminal must those be, who, sitting at ease under the vines and fig-trees planted by the unwearied labors, and watered by the blood of these patriots, discover their disesteem of the invaluable privileges which they inherit, or their ignorance of the expense at which they were purchased, by the most unworthy treatment of those to whom they owe them; misrepresent their actions, calumniate their motives, and cruelly lacerate their memories! Patriots have toiled, and in their country’s cause Bled nobly; and their deeds, as they deserve, Receive proud recompense... . But fairer wreaths are due, tho’ never paid, To those who, posted at the shrine of truth, Have fallen in her defense... . . . . Their blood is shed, In confirmation of the noblest claim, Our claim to feed upon immortal truth, To walk with God, to be divinely free, To soar, and to anticipate the skies.
Yet few remember them!... . . . With their names No bard embalms and sanctifies his song; And history, so warm on meaner themes, Is cold on this. She execrates indeed The tyranny that doom’d them to the fire, But gives the glorious sufferers little praise. The Reformed doctrine had made considerable progress in Scotland, before it was embraced by Knox. Patrick Hamilton, a youth of noble descent, obtained the honor, not conferred upon many of his rank, of first announcing its glad tidings to his countrymen, and sealing them with his blood. As early as the year 1526, previous to the breach of Henry VIII. with the Romish See, a gleam of light was, by some unknown means, imparted to the mind of that noble youth, amidst the darkness which brooded around him. Guided by this, he directed his course to Wittemberg; and, after conferring with the German Reformer, went to prosecute the study of the Scriptures in the Protestant university of Marburg, under the direction of Francis Lambert of Avignon. In that retreat, he was seized with such an irresistible desire to communicate to his countrymen the knowledge which he had received, that he left Marburg, contrary to the remonstrances of his acquaintances, and returned to Scotland. His freedom in exposing the reigning corruptions soon drew upon him the jealousy of the popish clergy, who decoyed him to St. Andrews; where, on the last day of February 1528, he obtained the crown of martyrdom, by the hands of Archbishop Beatoun. The murder of Hamilton was afterwards avenged in the blood of the nephew and successor of his persecutor; and the flames in which he expired were, “in the course of one generation, to enlighten all Scotland; and to consume, with avenging fury, the Catholic superstition, the papal power, and the prelacy itself”.
The cruel death of a person of rank, and the sufferings which he bore with the most undaunted fortitude and Christian patience, excited a general inquiry into his opinions among the learned, as well as the vulgar, in St.
Andrews. Under the connivance of John Winram, the sub-prior, they secretly spread among the noviciates of the abbey. Gawin Logie, rector of St. Leonard’s college, was so successful in instilling them into the minds of the students, that it became proverbial to say of any one suspected of Lutheranism, that “he had drunk of St. Leonard’s well”. The clergy, alarmed at the progress of the new opinions, adopted the most rigorous measures for their extirpation. Strict inquisition was made after heretics; the flames of persecution were kindled in all quarters of the country; and, from 1530 to 1540, many innocent and excellent men suffered the most cruel death. Several purchased their lives by recantation. Numbers made their escape to England and the Continent; among whom were the following learned men, Gawin Logie, Alexander Setoun, Alexander Aless, John M’Bee, John Fife, John Macdowal, John Mackbray, George Buchanan, James Harrison, and Robert Richardson.
These violent proceedings could not arrest the progress of truth. By means of merchants, especially those of Dundee, Leith, and Montrose, who carried on trade with England and the Continent, Tyndale’s translations of the Scriptures, and many Protestant books, were imported, and circulated through the nation. Poetry lent her aid to the opposers of ignorance and superstition, and contributed greatly to the advancement of the Reformation, in this as well as other countries. Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, a favorite of James V., and an excellent poet, lashed the vices of the clergy, and exposed to ridicule many of the absurdities and superstitions of popery, in the most popular and poignant satires. His satirical play, which, though professing to correct the abuses of all estates, was principally leveled against those of the Church, was repeatedly acted before the royal family, the court, and vast assemblies of people, to the great mortification, and still greater damage of the clergy; and copies of it were in the hands of ploughmen, artisans, and children. The royal poet was followed by others who wrote in the same strain, but more avowedly asserting the Protestant doctrines; and metrical epistles, moralities, and psalms, in the Scottish language, were every where disseminated and read with avidity, notwithstanding prohibitory statutes and prosecutions. In the year 1540, the Reformed doctrine could number among its converts, besides a multitude of the common people, many persons of rank and external respectability; as William Earl of Glencairn, Alexander Lord Kilmaurs, William Earl of Errol, William Lord Ruthven, his daughter Lillias, married to the Master of Drummond, John Stewart, son of Lord Methven, Sir James Sandilands, with his whole family, Sir David Lindsay, Erskine of Dun, Melville of Raith, Balnaves of Halhill, the laird of Lauriston, with William Johnston, and Robert Alexander, advocates. These names deserve more consideration from the early period at which they were enrolled as friends of the Reformed religion. It has often been alleged, that the desire of sharing in the rich spoils of the popish Church, together with intrigues of the court of England, engaged the Scottish nobles on the side of the Reformation. It is reasonable to think, that, at a later period, this was in so far true. But at the time of which we now speak, the prospect of overturning the established Church was too distant and uncertain, to induce persons, merely from cupidity, to take a step by which they exposed their lives and fortunes to the most imminent hazard; nor had the English monarch then extended his influence in Scotland, by the arts which he afterwards employed.
From the year 1540 to the end of 1542, the numbers of the Reformed rapidly increased. Twice did the clergy attempt to cut them off by one desperate blow. They presented to the King a list, containing the names of some hundreds, possessed of property and wealth, whom they denounced as heretics; and endeavored to procure his consent to their condemnation, by flattering him with the immense riches which would accrue to him from their forfeiture. The first time the proposal was made, James rejected it with strong marks of displeasure; but so violent was the antipathy which he at last conceived against his nobility, and so much had he fallen under the influence of the clergy, that it is highly probable he would have yielded to their solicitations, had not that disaster happened, which put an end to his unhappy life.