Tuesday, May 01, 2007

300 years ago today

On 1 May 1707 England and Scotland became the ‘United Kingdom of GREAT BRITAIN’. The new united kingdom was to be represented by a ‘union’ flag and governed by a British parliament at Westminster and a shared head of state. The Act of Union of 1707 provided security for the Church of Scotland by legislating to "establish and confirm the said true Protestant religion, and the worship, discipline, and government of this Church to continue without any alteration to the people of this land in all succeeding generations". The Act also "ratifies, approves, and forever confirms the fifth Act of the first Parliament of King William and Queen Mary, entitled " Act Ratifying the Confession of Faith, and Settling Presbyterian Church Government," with the whole other Acts of Parliament relating thereto, in prosecution of the Declaration of the Estates of this kingdom". Some felt that whatever the union sacrificed it functioned as a bulwark against the Roman Catholic threat.

The idea was not completely popular in Scotland, however. Presbyterian stalwarts like the historian, Robert Wodrow feared for the safety of presbyterianism after the union. Wodrow together with Thomas Halyburton were concerned that liberal bishops in England and their Episcopal friends in Scotland were adopting Socinian as well as Arminian doctrines. Writing after the union of the two kingdoms, Halyburton worried that the “Times are infectious, and Deism is the Contagion that spreads” (Natural religion insufficient, and revealed necessary to man’s happiness in his present state or a rational enquiry into the principles of the modern deists, Edinburgh, 1714, p.15. It is fair to say that the effects of the union were that the Church of Scotland did witness a liberalisation in terms of the theological views embraced within it as Moderatism developed.

There had been rioting in Glasgow and Edinburgh in 1706. The most vociferous protests were in the most strongly Presbyterian areas. There was strong Covenanter opposition, and on 20 November 1706 300 armed Cameronians entered Dumfries, ceremonially burnt the articles of union as ‘utterly destructive of the nation's independency, crown rights, and our constitute laws, both civil and sacred’, and denounced those in the Scots parliament who ‘shall presume to carry on the said Union by a supream power, over the belly of the generality of this nation’ (W. Ferguson, Scotland's relations with England: a survey to 1707, 1977, p.268). Covenanters believed the Union betrayed the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 and instead of establishing Presbyterianism throughout the kingdoms it would place 'an eternal embargo upon all such endeavours.'

In Providence it was the 1 May 1707 that Thomas Boston was inducted to Ettrick. He writes: "On the first day of May I was admitted minister of Ettrick; a day remarkable to after ages, as the day in which the union of Scotland and England commenced, according to the articles thereof agreed upon by the two parliaments. And on that very account I had frequent occasion to remember it; the spirits of the people of that place being embittered on that event against the ministers of the church; which was an occasion of much heaviness to me, though I never was for the Union, but always against it from the beginning unto this day."

On the Sabbath after his admission, he began his ministry at Ettrick by preaching from the text, 1 Sam. 7:12, “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”
Thus began a most notable and fruitful ministry. It was hard, however. Hard to leave his previous congregation:“Thus, I parted with a people
whose hearts were knit to me, and mine to them; nothing but the sense of God’s
command that took me there making me to part with them.”

It was also hard ground to till after 3 years the first communion witnessed only 57 communicants. Boston had privately interviewed each candidate to determine their fitness for the sacrament. By the time of Boston's last communion in 1731, however, there were 777 communicants — including all four of his surviving children.

Yet it was also hard personally for Boston. The same year 1707 he writes: "It pleased the Lord, for my further trial, to remove by death, on the 8th September,
my son Ebenezer. Before that event, I was much helped of the Lord; I had never
more confidence with God in any such case, than in that child’s being the Lord’s. I
had indeed more than ordinary, in giving him away to the Lord, to be saved by the
blood of Jesus Christ. But his death was exceeding afflicting to me, and matter of
sharp exercise. To bury his name, was indeed harder than to bury his body; and so
much the heavier was it, that I could fall upon no scripture example parallel to it; but I saw a necessity of allowing a latitude to sovereignty. I could not charge myself with rashness in giving him that name. But one thing was plain as the sun to me, that day eight days before, my heart was excessively led away from God towards the creature; and I had not visited my pillar so often and seriously as I ought to have done." This was a reference to the first text he had preached on after his induction, 1 Sam. 7:12, “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

Scotland may say the same over these 300 years. "Except Jehovah of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, we should have been like unto Gomorrah." {Isa 1:9}.