Reformation History


After 3 solid months in the Autumn spent writing the content, and then handing it over to professional web designers, Synod finally saw the launch of


The brainchild of SAQ, the website aims to be an accessible introduction to Scottish and Irish Reformation and Covenanter history – while pointing users to the resources needed for further study.

Have a look and see what you think!

A history of Scotland: God’s chosen people

“We utterly detest and abhor that hellish principle of killing all who differ in judgement or persuasion from us” (The Covenanters, 1684).

I started writing this post about two weeks ago, and have been meaning to finish it off ever since, but I’ve finally been spurred into action after reading on the RP church’s second favourite blog that the programme in question is to be aired in the homeland tomorrow night at 8pm.
In short it’s good visually and could even be quite entertaining if you ignore the thinly veiled hatred of the Covenanters and the odd historical inaccuracy/untruth. It will quite probably make you angry, so it may be useful to have something handy to take your frustration out on (ig a cat*). Although some of the stuff that makes you angry may not be historically inaccurate (we might not be used to hearing it told from the perspective of the Stuart kings – especially James VI and (even) Charles I who weren’t as bad as those who followed – but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that; or the fact that the Covenanters aren’t portrayed as the heroes of religious liberty that they have been in most books written since the 19th century, but more on that later).

So back in the day I would’ve probably written a massive post about this**, but those days are gone now so here’s just a few thoughts on BBC Scotland’s A history of Scotland which began its second series the other week with an episode on ‘God’s Chosen People’ – ig the Covenanters. As a series, it’s already been attacked by Scotland’s foremost historian, Tom Devine, as ‘fatally flawed’ and resembling a ‘mediocre B movie’. But in a strange way I did quite like the episode on the Covenanters. Like it’s very, very wrong and I get pretty annoyed thinking about it. But I liked bits of it too! As Mark Thompson of Low Country Boys fame has noted, it was ‘visually stunning’ but with major flaws in the rest of it. However maybe I wasn’t overly outraged as I wasn’t really expecting anything too sympathetic to the Covenanters. It was terrible like. Even the visuals weren’t enough to ignore the historical inaccuracies and unashamed bias against the Covenanters (as was made particularly clear in the closing lines). But as I wasn’t particularly outraged, maybe this won’t turn into a rant.

Anyway, you can watch the programme here until the 13th of December.

Here’s the synopsis.

Neil Oliver continues his journey through Scotland’s past with the story of the Covenanters, whose profound religious beliefs were declared in the National Covenant of 1638. This document licensed revolution, started the Civil War that cost King Charles I his head, cost tens of thousands of Scots their lives and led to Britain’s first war on terror.

War on Terror: Before we even start on the historical inaccuracies in that sentence, you need to realise that when they talk about Britain’s first war on terror, they’re not talking about the terror the Covenanters went through when many were shot on sight in the fields for reading their Bibles. They’re not talking about the terror the Covenanters went through during the period of persecution from 1660-1688 (when c. 18,000 were killed/banished/severely persecuted for their faith) or during the Killing Times from 1685-88. They’re calling the Covenanters the terrorists. The ‘war on terror’ was required to deal with the Covenanters.

Rebellion: Their whole premise is that the National Covenant was a revolutionary document, which they state repeatedly. That would make the Covenanters rebels against the king and the law of the land. So I’ll just quote a few real historians:

The National Covenant was ‘a constitutional, and not a revolutionary document’ (W. C. Dickinson and G. Donaldson, A Source Book of Scottish History (Edinburgh, 1961), iii, 104)

…What Charles I called ‘those impertinent and damnable demands constituted no violation of statute law, and the king’s legal experts told him so. Archibald Johnston of Wariston cited more than 60 Acts of Parliament in defence of the Covenanters’ action. (Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology)

Started the Civil War and cost Charles I his head: I’m pretty sure Charles I and his relationship with the English parliament was more important. Not that it really matters, but it’s just another example of twisting things to sound spectacular. And the Covenanters in no way supported the killing of the king!

Other historical inaccuracies/inventions:
– Jenny Geddes threw s[censored for my GAC readers] at the first Dean to read the prayer book. Pure invention. Probably just so he could get to say the s word. I’ve read A LOT of history books about this in the last coupla months (like proper history books, not in any way sympathetic to the Covenanters) and none of them have come across this remarkable fact. Like, unless they read that she threw a stool and assumed it was the less well known meaning of the word…
– They mix up those who supported the Engagement (in 1648) and those who didn’t with the debate between the Protestors and Resolutions (from 1650 onwards). Doesn’t make a huge amount of difference, but it does a bit, and shows that their research isn’t up to scratch.
– Sharpe’s death was planned. It was a planned as a ‘spectacular act of rebellion’ apparently. Whether it was right or not, one thing that’s certain is that Sharpe’s death was not planned. See his biography in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for real history.
– Renwick shot someone when he was being arrested (and more than that, he actually wanted to be arrested because he wanted to be a martyr). Although if you think about it, if he wanted to be a martyr why would he have shot someone to try and avoid arrest? But in actual fact he didn’t want to be a martyr – he was only arrested when customs people came to search the house he was in for illegal goods. And according to the only source historians have – The Life and Death of…Mr James Renwick by Alexander Shields (1724): “Whereupon Mr. Renwick discharged a pistol, which made the assailants retire”. And I think it might have been mentioned at Renwick’s trial if he had shot one of those who came to arrest him! Again, embellishing facts, and just pure making up stuff.

The Rule of the Saints: Then there’s all the nasty stuff about when the Covenanters were in power – “The rule of the saints” as the programme denotes it. So all they have to do is say the phrase, play spooky music, show a clip of an axe dripping with blood and make a few unsupported statements about what the Covenanters mutilating offenders – and we’re supposed to believe them. Sadly, most people will. Now I really don’t know much about what actually happened when the Covenanters were in power. Partly because there hasn’t been much written. And so I’m open to correction. But as far as I can see, all they actually did was kill some witches.

David Stevenson’s Revolution and Counter Revolution was in 2003 ‘still the fullest account of the period’ [Since then there’s been a chapter in a book co-edited by Crawford Gribben (‘Enforcing Reformation in Ireland and Scotland, 1500-1700’) on the Covenanters] and was written by an atheist in no way sympathetic to the Covenanters.

And all Stevenson really says is: “The most unpleasant aspect of the assault on sin was the great increase in the persecution of witches in 1649-50.” (p. 118). A severe lack of mutilating being mentioned. And everybody was into killing witches at the time – king James VI famously wrote a book on the subject.
The Covenanters are accused of having a lack of mercy – but absolutely no evidence is produced for this.

Incidentally, Stevenson mentions that “The increased concern of the kirk for the poor and the oppressed was connected with a new urgency shown in the work of moral reform” (p. 118) – but unsurprisingly there was no mention in the programme of the Covenanters caring for the poor and attacking injustice.

Worst of all: The worst thing of all about the programme however is the continual suggestion that the Covenanters wanted to kill those who disagreed with them religiously. So if you watch it, make sure and have the words of the Covenanters’ Apologetic Declaration and Admonitory Vindication (1684) ringing in your ears:

Therefore, that therein our mind may be the more clearly understood, and for preventing further mistakes anent [concerning] our purposes, we do hereby jointly and unanimously testify and declare, that as we utterly detest and abhor that hellish principle of killing all who differ in judgement or persuasion from us, it having no bottom upon the word of God, or right reason…

No, the Covenanters weren’t champions of religious liberty (for those who didn’t hold to the true religion) as is often claimed in history books and by well-meaning Christians. And they weren’t advocates of religious toleration, no matter how much you wish they had been. But they did not plan to go round killing those who disagreed with them, simply because they had different religious convictions.

But anyway, that’s enough. No wonder I don’t write blog posts anymore – takes ages! There’s more online on a BBC-hosted debate here – under the balanced title of “Did the Covenanters’ religious fundamentalism scar Scotland’s psyche?”. It’s actually amazing to see how many Scots came out in favour of the Covenanters. (Where are they the rest of the time?!) Many commentors note that the programme tried to impose modern categories on events that happened over 300 years ago.

So yeah that’s probably a bit of a rant. I really wasn’t that annoyed at the time. Like at least the BBC got the main point of it – King Jesus (even if they say it contemptuously) against king James and king Charles. And it’s pretty entertaining. And they may have made Johnston of Wariston sound like a nutter – but then, he WAS a nutter at least a little eccentric! So it’s enjoyable enough viewing if you’ve got all the real facts in your head. But the vast majority of people are just going to accept it as true. And that’s what’s annoying.

But to paraphrase that oft-used sermon anecdote, King Jesus will still reign when the final nail is driven into the BBC’s coffin.

“Let King Jesus Reign, and all his enemies be scattered.”


* actually maybe not as I quite like cats – and comments like that may stop my one remaining reader (a Mrs HG from Rathfriland) from returning.

** Oops.

Remarks on preaching and praying in public

by Mr John Livingstone [1603-1672, minister in Killinchy, Stranraer and Ancrum]

[The first in a series of potential actually useful to somebody posts of things that aren’t available anywhere else]

It is most probable that no gift, no pains, a man takes to fit himself for preaching, shall ever do good to the people or himself, except a man labour to have and keep his heart in a spiritual condition before God, depending on him always for furnishing and blessing. Earnest faith and prayer, a single aim at the glory of God and good of people, a sanctified heart and carriage, shall avail much for right preaching. There is sometimes somewhat in preaching that cannot be ascribed either to the matter or expression, and cannot be described what it is, or from whence it cometh, but with a sweet violence it pierceth into the heart and affections, and comes immediately from the Lord. But if there be any way to attain to such thing, it is by a heavenly disposition of the speaker. A man should especially read the writings, and labour to follow the gifts of those who God hath, in the most eminent manner, blessed with the converting and confirming of their hearers, rather than those who seem to have rare gifts for learning and delectation, without such success.
It is very neefdul that a man prudently discern what is the nature and extent of the gift that God hath given him, that in offering to imitate others he does not stretch beyond his own line, but only corrects the defects of his own gift; and what is good therein, labour to improve and exalt that.
It is very fitting that a man have plenty and choice words, that as need requires, he may vary his expression; and sometimes the enforcing of the same thing with diverse words to the same purpose hath its own use, especially to a dull auditory; and so we find, that often in the Prophets and Psalms, and poetic Scriptures, the same thing will be twice expressed only in different words. But a custom of multiplying synonymous words and epithets, and sentences to the same purpose, is very unsavoury to an understanding hearer, that seeks matter and not words, and would feign to proceed from scarcity of matter, and a desire to fill the hour any way.
The light of nature, which is a spark of the will of God, hath taught many useful rules, even to Pagans, [concerning] the right way of making solemn speeches before others, the most of which are to be applied to preaching with due discretion; so that what is thought unseemly in the one is to be avoided in the other. But the best rulers are taken from the preachings of Christ, of the apostles and prophets.


I. For Matter.

1. A mediocrity should be kept, that there be not too much matter in one sermon, which but overburdeneth the memory of the hearers, and would seem to smell of ostentation [“pretentious display meant to impress others”]; and, on the other hand, that there be not too little, which hungers the auditory, and argues an empty gift.
2. The matter should not be too exquisite and fine, with abstruse learning and quaint notions, which go beyond the capacity of the vulgar, and also savoureth of ostentation; nor yet too common, and such as most of the auditory might themselves devise, for it procures careless hearing, and despising of the gift.

Moreover, these faults should be shunned:
1. Too many particular points, reckoned as 8, 10, &c., loads memory, and too few is flat.
2. Too exquisite method, and none almost at all.
3. Too much should not be left to [the Spirit’s] assistance in the time, and yet not all premeditated.
4. Ordinarily go not beyond the hour.
5. Not too much Scripture cited, nor too little.
6. Not to insist long in proving clear doctrines.
7. Not too few doctrines, nor too many.
8. Not to insist on points that may be spoken to on any text.
9. Neither too many similitudes, nor none at all.

II. Words.

1. Not too fine, nor too common.
2. Avoid many synonymous words and sentences.

III. Utterance and Voice.

1. Not like singing.
2. Not long-drawn words.
3. Not affect at a weeping-like voice.
4. Not too loud, nor too low.
5. Not to speak too fast, or too slow.
6. Not to interrupt with oft sighing.

Livingstone said, approaching his death, “I cannot say much of great services; yet if ever my heart was lifted up, it was in preaching of Jesus Christ”.

Taken from Thomas Houston, Life of Rev. John Livingstone, Works, iv, pp 320-3.

See also: Stuart Olyott – Reading the Bible and praying in public

Covenanter Tour Highlights – Day 1

A couple of weeks ago we did the full-blown Covenanter Tour. Here are some photos, courtesy of everyone.

Castle Campbell


1 - castle campbell castle
Home of Archibald Campbell, Marquess of Argyll

Do you know anyone who would drive a people carrier down a road like that?!

1 - castle campbell out the back window

St Andrews


Patrick Hamilton



George Wishart



Stephen's Pics 008
Samuel Rutherford


The beach used in the filming of Chariots of Fire




Magus Muir

Revenge for Sharpe



Stephen's Pics 011
“The original Cameron House”

Stephen's Pics 010

Stephen's Pics 013

Stephen's Pics 014
Falkland Palace

Stephen's Pics 016
The way home: the last photo ever taken with my camera

More Photos


Just posting a few mildly interesting (to me at least) things as my brain continues to recover from the stress that was finals. Hopefully I’ll manage to pull out a good post between now and camp…


There’s still loadsa spaces on this year’s GO teams – including 5 in Faughan. Here’s a quote from a forthcoming edition of the Messenger (to celebrate 50 years of Campaigns & GO teams) to encourage anyone who’s free to think about applying:

God describes the church as His darling bride, the apple of His eye. If God has such a high view of the church where then do you think he wants us to focus our energies? … Why sign up for a GO Team? Why be involved in the life and ministry of your church? Because if you don’t you’re saying to God, ‘I don’t really care about your church’. You’re putting God’s most treasured possession on a par with your summer job in Tescos, or your two week vacation in Italy. Nothing wrong with these things in themselves, but if they overshadow your commitment to Christ be prepared to become lukewarm. You cannot and will not grow as a Christian sitting on a deck chair developing your tan (much better to develop it through door-to-door). Service to Christ is the practical outworking of saving faith.

(John George)


I was given a free year’s membership of the Presbyterian Hysterical Society a while ago, due to being young. I think they’re hoping that I’ll go round promoting it, which I’m not really planning to, although here are a few interesting things they have:

First up is the world’s smallest psalter!

Beside my phone for size-comparison


They also have a big collection of communion tokens, if you’re into that sort of thing, including Faughan, Airdrie and some lesser congregations.


Faughan – has ‘RS’ on the back, possibly for ‘Reformed Society’


RP standard issue (still in use in some congregations apparently…)


In commemoration of Daniel’s retirement from blogging, here’s a quote I came across recently. It’s from Joseph Boyse, a Presbyterian minister in Dublin who although theologically orthodox, was a non-subscriber (and wrote hymns!) so not exactly on the extreme right-wing of the denomination. It was written in 1694 in a pamphlet he wrote in response to one by William King, Bishop of Derry. Here, the Presbyterians are being reproached by a Bishop of all people for sitting during public prayer. Boyse replies:

As to this account, I shall only briefly subjoin that I am truly sorry there are so many that by sitting in public prayer have given some occasion for this censure of the Bishop’s. For thought I doubt not real infirmity is a just excuse for not standing; yet it is too probable that too many under that notion too far consult their ease; for standing is generally used by Dissenters in England, even in those places where many of the people go as far to their meetings. And for that passage alleged, 2 Sam. vii. 8, I do truly think there is some weight in what the Bishop has offered to render it probable that the word should be translated, David stayed or abode. And certainly so many plainer and more numerous examples of kneeling or standing are to be rather imitated by us, than this doubtful one if sitting. So that for such as use this slothful posture without real necessity, to indulge their east, I cannot excuse them from irreverence in it, and hope they will not persist in a practice so offensive to their brethren elsewhere, and disliked by their pastors. And methinks they should be sensible of the indecency of it, if they consider that they themselves universally kneel or stand in closet and family prayer, and it is unaccountable why they should not as universally do it in public prayer, where their bodily strength will permit. But then I must add, as to his Lordship, that as he has no reason to reproach the Dissenters in general with the unseemly practice, so, since the ministers in the North have so faithfully declared to their people their dislike of it, they can no more justly be upbraided with it, than the conforming clergy with all that toying and trifling, and that more open irreverence, that is too common in many parish churches, and much more in the cathedrals.

Works (London, 1728), ii, pp 98-99.


Right you don’t even need to read this bit, but seeing someone took it on themselves to edit my Messenger article I feel the need to post what I actually wrote just in case some people from the historical committee come after me. The part about how long we’ve been vacant should read ‘our longest gap without a minister for 204 years’. The way they have it in the magazine makes it look like (i) It’s our longest gap without a minister ever. That record is still standing, and at 10 years hopefully it’ll never be broken. (ii) We’ve only been about for a mere 204 years like some crowd of upstarts :-P
It’s a very minor point of course but as (nearly) history graduate I can’t be letting such misquotes go!

Airdrie GO Team 2007

Or ‘Jonny goes to Glasgow’ or ‘Ulsterville Gardens on Tour 2007’ or ‘The most hyped GO Team ever’ or ‘The Renwick back 5 and 1 midfielder and 1 striker plus Katherine ‘Token Ginger’ Lyons, Walker ‘Token Baptist’ Walker, Chris ‘Is Kit really the best we could come up with?’ Carson, Rachel ‘Was nearly token girl’ McCollum and of course Willy ‘Bapman’ Tait. Apologies if this is sounding like a Messenger report already.

We arrived in Cairnryan on Wednesday, but couldn’t resist a detour to Stranraer, as you’ll have noticed from the last post. Who would have thought Matt Jess would be so keen to drive 6 miles in the wrong direction just to get his photo taken outside an RP church?!


We stopped off in Ayr for some supplies:

Jonny Matt Irn Bru

And eventually made it to Airdrie. It’s great going back on a GO team and immediately meeting people who have only been converted in the past year. We then laid down a challenge for the locals, which sadly found no takers:


After tea we played some Switch If with the locals and found out far more than we ever wanted to know about My (not mine specifically) Chemical Romance.

On Thursday morning we did the first of our studies on 1 Peter. Rather interactive it was too! (Not shown in photo)


Then it was into the mission booklets. We got about 5,000 of the 16,000 given out on the first day, and members of the congregation had already taken a couple of thousand to give out around where they lived. We were helped by members of the CY, and though the church members had only been asked to come out and help on the Saturday, a number of them were helping us anyway.

After tea we went to the park and played some continuous cricket and stuff with the Airdrie young people:


Friday saw us fly through some more leaflet distribution, with the photo below showing all the boxes that were left at lunchtime:


After the afternoon session, there was only one solitary box left intact in the hall, and they had to ring up members of the congregation and tell them they wouldn’t be needed on the Saturday after all. My prediction of half an hour for it all wasn’t that far off!

One of the highlights of the team was being schooled by Sir Andrew Q on some vital issues:


Joel and Walker listen intently

On the Friday night we went to Glasgow to see ‘Amazing G’ in the cinema. We tried to leave the girls behind (they should have seen it coming from that photo up there) but were unsuccessful. The cinema was absolutely massive with about a million floors and even more screens. I couldn’t even fit it all into one photo!




Then we went back and visited Mr. K-BOB!!! Yooooooooo. What a nice man.

On Saturday morning we finished off the leaflets and then had lunch with a growing number of hangers-on, including Alicia from Cyprus!

Then, GO Team, CY, hangers-on, Beth and the Alexanders went to Edinburgh where Dick Noodle gave us a Covenanter Tour on Jan Knax and other men and women greatly used of God in Scaatland’s past. It seems that the responsibilities of a Presbytery teacher involve giving Covenanter Tours, laughing at Andrew’s jokes, preaching, wearing dickie-bows and leading METs.


Up to mischief no doubt, safely out of the gaze of Uncle Andrew




This year’s award for best named shop went to the purveyors of…


Walker wanted to know whether the Covenanters’ Prison was where the Covenanters put Baptists, or where the Covenanters were imprisoned


He wasn’t laughing when we put him in it

walker prison

We got a quick trip to the National Museum of Scotland but had to bomb round it in 5 minutes as it was about to shut. Having seen Peden’s house, we now got to see his mask, sword and ‘snuff mull’!




Then out again and past where J. K. Rowling used to write the Harry Potter books:



And then we hit Pizza Hut, where they surprisingly managed to fit in all 25 of us at 2 tables!



The waiter said it was the longest bill he’d ever seen!


Then we sung Happy Birthday to David for about the 15th time that day and the nice Pizza Hut people gave him a wee cake



On the bus home and during the rest of the evening we compiled an Ultimate XI, Heroes XI (captained by Dennis Irwin), Most Overrated XI…

On the Sabbath morning we had our latest start – breakfast wasn’t till 9:15! Rad! We then went to the Bible class, followed by the prayer meeting. It’s pretty class being in a prayer meeting with just about every possible member of the church at it and the church hall completely bunged. It’s a pity that many over here don’t see the involvement of the congregation in activities other than the Sunday morning service as of utmost importance – and important enough to challenge those who don’t go about how they’re harming both themselves and the body life of the church. Same for the midweek and evening service.

Andrew preached on Haggai 2, with a children’s address on Charles Eleven, and then we had lunch in the hall and went for a cold walk to the park. After we had washed up of course. Me an Jonny slaving away as usual!


Dick preached in the evening, then we had pizza and popcorn and stuff made for us in the hall (class!) and then we went to the Manse for another session. I also managed to add to my collection of Willy T with flowers:



On Monday it was back to the early starts as we had a fry, did our last study on 1 Peter, and made lunch to eat on the way to the boat. On the boat we came up with a Biblical Names XI and then a Biblical Books XI.


Walker laughing is a sight to behold

And that was about it. Best Airdrie team ever, and up there for best GO team ever. Now all that remains is to pray earnestly for the Mission they’re having from Monday 16th – Friday 20th April, and the rest of the work in Airdrie. Here’s some group photos (thanks to Matt and Strob for some of the photos above):


Joined by 2 delegates from the Chinese RPC



All the Photos
Related posts: Airdrie GO Team 2006