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Puritan Memoirs - Mr. Robert Ballie

Puritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers

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The life and death of Mr. Robert Ballie.

THE English parliament having called together an assembly of divines, on purpose to rectify the disorders, and settle the discipline and government of the church, it was thought expedient to solicit the assistance of some of the Scottish divines in’ that important undertaking. Their request was granted, and Messrs Alexander Henderson, Robert Douglas, Samuel Rutherford, George Gillespie, and Robert Baillie, were appointed, by the general assembly of the church of Scotland, as their commissioners to the assembly of divines at Westminster, in the year 1643, who, with the exception of Mr. Robert Douglas, proceeded to Westminster, and took their places in that famous assembly.

ROBERT BAILLIE, one of the above commissioners, was born at Glasgow in the year 1599. He was descended from the Baliols, lords of Galloway. According to Nisbet’s Heraldry, Baillie of Hoprig was a branch of the Baliol family, who, by marrying the daughter of the patriotic Sir William Wallace, regent of Scotland, obtained the estate of Lamington. Their second son was the first of the House of Carfin; of which Baillie of Jerviston was a branch; and Mr. Thomas Baillie, a citizen of Glasgow, and father of the subject of our present memoir, was son of Baillie of Jerviston, and related to the Gibsons of Durie, some of whom have made a distinguished figure in law. Robert had his education at the university of Glasgow, where, by his uncommon assiduity, and the efforts of a lively genius, he made great proficiency in useful learning. Such was his facility in acquiring the languages, that he left his fellows far behind him, and could speak at least in twelve or thirteen different tongues, and write in Latin with a purity and elegance of style worthy of the most improved period of Roman elocution. After taking his degrees in arts, he turned his thoughts to the study of divinity; which he prosecuted with great resolution and success. About 1622 he took orders from archbishop Law, and became regent of philosophy in the university of Glasgow. While in this situation he had charge of the education of lord Montgomery, who carried him along with him to Kilwinning; to which church Mr. Baillie was soon after presented by the earl of Eglinton; where he was beloved by his people, lived in cordial friendship, and held a literary correspondence with his ordinary, the archbishop of Glasgow. In 1633 he had the offer of one of the churches of Edinburgh; which he declined from a principle of modesty. In the year 1637, when the reformation from prelacy began, he had many doubts and difficulties to overcome, chiefly arising from his tenderness to the king’s authority; but after much reading, reasoning, and prayer, as he himself informs us, he cordially embraced the cause, and supported the interest of the covenanters. About this time, being requested, by the archbishop of Glasgow, to preach a sermon before the general assembly, in recommendation of the Book of Common Prayer, and the .canon of the church, then lately established in Scotland, and published by authority—Mr. Baillie declined the service, and, in a handsome letter addressed to the archbishop, assigned the reasons of his refusal. The letter is dated at Kilwinning, August 19th, 1637, and runs as follows:

“Your lordship’s letter, of the 7th instant, I received on the 13th bite, wherein I am desired to preach, the last Wednesday of this instant, before the assembly, and to frame my sermon so as to unite my hearers in the obedience and practice of the Canons and Service book of our church, published and established by authority. I am much obliged to your lordship’s estimation of my poor gifts, and humbly thank your lordship for intending to honor me with so great a service; but, withal, J am sorry that my present disposition necessitates me to decline the charge. The truth is, I have not as yet studied the matters contained in our Canons and Common Prayer; but merely taken a slight view of them; by which, for the present, my mind is in no way satisfied. Yea, the little pleasure I have in these books, and the great aversion manifested against them, both by pastors and people, wherever I come, has so grieved my heart, that I am scarcely able to preach to my own flock; but to preach to another congregation upon these matters, and before so famous an auditory, I am utterly unable.”

This spirited refusal served strongly to establish his reputation amongst the opposers of prelacy; and being greatly distinguished for prudence and solid judgment, with a very peaceable and .healing disposition, he was much employed afterwards in the public and important concerns of the church. In 1638 he was chosen, and appointed by his own presbytery, to represent them in the memorable assembly held at Glasgow, which was a prelude to the civil war. Here he conducted himself with becoming prudence, and advocated the Presbyterian cause with great learning and zeal. He was also a member of all the succeeding general assemblies, till the year 1653, excepting when commissioner to the assembly of divines at Westminster. He was appointed one of the chaplains to the Scotch army in the years 1639 and 1640, and present during the whole treaty, begun at Rippon, and concluded at London. Of his feelings in this situation, he himself says, “I never found my mind in a better frame than it was, during the whole time, till my face was again turned homeward. I had furnished half a dozen of good fellows with muskets and pikes, and my boy with a broad sword; and to be in the fashion myself, I carried a sword, and had a pair of Dutch pistols stuck in my saddle; but for the offence of no man, unless it ,were a robber in the way. It was our part alone to pray and to preach for the encouragement of our countrymen; which I did to the uttermost of my power. Every company had a brave new color waving at the captain’s tent door, stamped with the Scotch arms, and this motto, in gold letters, For Christ’s Crown and Covenant. For my part, I had taken leave of the world, resolved to die in the service; and found the favor of God shining on me, and a meek and humble, yet strong and vehement, spirit leading me along.” During the same year, 1640, he was sent to London by the covenanting lords, to draw up an accusation against archbishop Laud, for the innovations he had obtruded upon the Church of Scotland. While in England, on this occasion, he addressed, to the presbytery of Irvine, a lengthy and regular account of public affairs, together with a journal of the proceedings in the trial of the earl of Strafford.

In 1642, soon after his return to Scotland, he was appointed joint professor of divinity with Mr. David Dickson, in the university of Glasgow. Some time before this he had received invitations from each of the other three universities; which he modestly declined. He held his professorship till the reformation, though the duties of it were interrupted for a considerable time while he attended the assembly at Westminster; to which he was chosen one of the commissioners, for his great learning and approved orthodoxy, in the year 1643. Though he did not distinguish himself as a speaker in the assembly, he appears to have been a very useful member, and gained great reputation by his writings; and when the assembly rose, the English parliament made him a handsome present of silver plate; with an inscription, intimating, that it was a token of their respect for him, and to be considered as an acknowledgment of his good services. It was long carefully preserved in the house of Carnbrae, in the county of Lanark, an ancient seat of the Baillies.

Mr. Baillie was a confidant of the marquis of Argyle, of the earls of Cassils, Lauderdale, and Loudon, of lord Balmarino, lord Warriston, sir Archibald Johnston, and others of the chief managers among the covenanters. He had thereby an opportunity of being correctly informed with respect to the papers, and all the important transactions of that troublesome period, which he collected and preserved with particular care. He was strongly opposed to prelacy, but by no means deficient in loyalty. The general assembly of the church had so much confidence in his attachment to the Stuart family, that they appointed him one of their embassy to Charles II. at the Hague, after he was proclaimed in Scotland. On that occasion Mr. Baillie addressed the king in a loyal speech, expressing his joy, and that of his brethren, on his accession to the throne of his ancestors, and their abhorrence of the murder of his royal father. It would appear, that the Presbyterian divines, both at home and abroad, were generally agreed on this point. Under the government of Cromwell, he joined with the party called resolutioners, and wrote several of the papers on that side. *He had a strong aversion to toleration, and took every opportunity, that fell in his way, to testify against it. Mr. Gillespie, who had been patronized by Cromwell, was removed from the university of Glasgow at the restoration, and Mr. Baillie made principal by the interest of the earl of Landerdale, with whom he was a great favorite. About this time, it is said, he had the offer of a bishopric; which he refused, because, as he says himself, “Jesus Christ had no lord bishops amongst his disciples.” Mr. Baillie continued firmly attached to the Presbyterian mode of church government to the last day of his life, as evidently appears from his own letters, particularly one to Lauderdale on this subject, a little before his death; wherein he thus expresses himself: “Having the opportunity of this bearer, I tell you my heart is broken with grief, and I find the burden of the public so weighty, that it will hasten me to my grave. What need you do that disservice to the king, which all of you cannot recompense, to grieve the hearts of all your godly friends in Scotland, by pulling down all our laws at once, which concerned our church since 1633? Was this good advice, or will it thrive? Is it wisdom to bring back upon us the Canterburian times, the same designs, the same practices? Will they not bring on the same effects, whatever fools may dream?” And, again, in the same letter, he says, “My lord, you are the nobleman in all the world I love best, and esteem most. I think I may say, I write to you what I please, if you have gone with your heart and free will to forsake your covenant, to countenance the reintroduction of bishops and books, and strengthen the king by your advice in these things. I think you a prime transgressor, and liable among the first to answer for that great sin, etc.” Mr. Baillie was much opposed to the practice of funeral sermons, as appears from one of his letters, dated from London, in which, speaking of the death and funeral of Mr. Pym, he says, “Marshall had a most eloquent and pertinent funeral sermon, which we would not go to hear; for funeral sermons are some of the things we must have put down.” He was twice ‘married, first to Lillas Fleming, by whom he had several children, and afterwards to the daughter of principal Strang, by whom he had one daughter, Margaret, who was married to Mr. Walkinshaw of Barrowfield. Mr. Baillie having joined the public resolutioners, he became so zealous in their cause, that the self same nobleman and ministers, whom he had formerly praised as the prime instruments, in the hand of God, for forwarding the reformation from 1638 to 1649, had no sooner declared themselves inimical to the admission of the malignants into the bosom of the church, and to places of power and trust in the state, than, with unsparing severity, he misrepresented their characters, and attempted to diminish the importance of all their faithful contendings. From a mistaken view of this controversy, he charges all the calamities of the church, the state, arid also those of the army, during Cromwell’s usurpation, to the account of the Remonstrants, because they refused to concur with his party, and would not twist their consciences into a compliance with measures, which, with their hands lifted lip to the most high God, they had So lately sworn to oppose. The sequel, however, proved the absurdity of the charge, and fully demonstrated, that the resolutioners, who forsook the covenant of their God, arid, in the mania of their ill directed loyalty, admitted into the bosom of the church Charles II., and his faction of irreligious scoffers and malignants, brought tyranny arid persecution, with all their concomitant evils, oppression, plunder, racks, gibbets, and cold-blooded murders’, without even the formalities of trial by law, which, till the extirpation of the Stuart family, and the accession of king William, rendered Great Britain a scene of suffering, lamentation, and terror.

Principal Baillie lived, however, to see and deplore a part, and only a small part, of the misery the mistaken views of his party had occasioned to the church arid civil constitution of his country. This appears from a letter to his cousin; Mr. Strang; dated in May 1st, 1662, wherein, sifter giving some account of the west country ministers being called up to Edinburgh, he says, “The guise now is, that the bishops will trouble none, but that seditious ministers will be punished by the states; and this poor church is now more grievously beset by her enemies than ever we have seen her heretofore. This is my daily grief, this has occasioned all my present bodily trouble, and will, most likely, do me still more harm.” Woodrow, in his history of this period, says, “I have it from one of Mr. Baillie’s scholars, who was afterwards his successor, and waited on him a few weeks before his death, that he died a firm Presbyterian, and under a rooted aversion to prelacy in this church.” Having requested Mr. Baillie’s judgment respecting the courses this church was running into, he replied, “Prelacy is now coming in like a land flood. For my part, I have examined that controversy as far as I was able, and, after all my inquiry, find t prelacy; and 1 am persuaded that it is inconsistent with scripture, contrary to pure and primitive Christianity, and diametrically opposed to the true interest of these lands.” During his last illness, when visited by the newly made archbishop of Glasgow, he is said to have addressed him in these words—” Mr. Andrew, I will not call you my lord King Charles would have made me one of these lords; but1 do not find in the New Testament that Christ has any lords in his house.” He treated the archbishop, however, with great courtesy. His health forsook him in the spring of 1662) arid in the month of July, the same year, he departed this life, aged sixty-three years.

The author of the Appendix to Spotswood’s History, says, “Robert Baillie, professor of divinity, and afterwards principal, a learned and modest man, who, though he published some Very violent writings, yet, these flowed more from the instigation of others, than his own inclination. He has left behind him’ a great evidence of his diligence had learning in his Opus.” And the celebrated Mr. Woodrow, in his History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland, says, “Mr. Robert Baillie may be most justly reckoned among the great men of these times and was an honor to his country for his profound and universal learning, his exact and solid judgment, the vast variety of languages he understood, and his Latin style, which might become the Augustine age. But I need not enlarge on his character, says he, his own works sufficiently praise him.”

His writings are, 1. A Defense of the Reformation of the Church of Scotland, against Mr. Maxwell, bishop of Ross.—2. A Parallel or Comparison of the Scottish Service book to the Rorilan Missal Breviary, etc.—3. Queries anent the Service book.—4. The Canterburian Self conviction.—5. Antidote to Arminianism.—6. A Treatise on Scottish Episcopacy.—7. Satan, the leader in chief of all who resist the reparation of Zion; a Sermon to the House of Commons, February 28th, 1644.—8. A Sermon to the Lords, July 30th, 1645.—9. A Dissuasive against the errors of the times.—10. Second part of the Dissuasive.—11. A reply to the modest Inquirer.—12. Opus Historicum et Chronologicum, folio, with a frontispiece, printed at Amsterdam, 1668.—13; Letters and Journals. The Journals contain the History of the General Assembly at Glasgow in 1638, and those of 1641 and 1643; also an account of the earl of Stafford’s trial at London.

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

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