Robert Hamilton’s Relentless Letter Against Union

Sometimes, context is king when it comes to the interpretation of the contents of a letter. In the following letter, Robert Hamilton, the Societies’ commissioner in Leeuwarden in the United Provinces, briefly mentions the issue of ‘union’, a reference to the ongoing discussions between the Societies and the former followers of Argyll to reunite following the defeat of the Argyll Rising in mid 1685.

Leeuwarden 2

Leeuwarden

Aerial View and Street Map of Leeuwarden

The letter was sent on 16 October, 1685, to the United Societies Convention in Scotland. It does not appear to have reached the hands of the Societies’ before the twenty-fourth convention on 21 October, 1685, but it would have informed the decision taken at the twenty-fifth convention at Friarminnan to reject union with the former followers of the earl of Argyll.

It is clear from the opening line of the letter that Hamilton he had been briefed about the negotiations in a letter which was probably sent from the Societies’ twenty-third convention at Blackgannoch on 1 October. There is no mention of a letter to Hamilton in the brief record of the twenty-third convention in Faithful Contendings Displayed, but the convention did discuss the drafting of a formal relation of their conferences Robert Langlands and George Barclay, two of the ministers who had joined with Argyll, and sending Colin Alison over to Hamilton to confer on the issue of union. (Shields, FCD, 169.)

On 28 September, a few days before the twenty-third convention, Langlands and Barclay had written to David Steel, Andrew Wylie, John Dick, John Campbell and John Cochran. (‘Letter Mr Rob Langlands to Dav: Steil &c. Sept. 28. 1685.’, EUL MSS. La.III.350. No. 162.)

David Steel, who may have been the preses of the convention, was a significant figure on the United Societies. After the schism in the Societies at the beginning of 1686, he continued to support Renwick. He was summarily executed in Lesmahagow parish in late 1686.

Andrew Wylie is perhaps the same individual as the fugitive named ‘Andrew Wylie of Logan’ in Sorn parish who was seized at  David Houston’s preaching in January, 1687. If so, it appears that Wylie also continued to support Renwick.

John Dick, who was from Benbain in Dalmellington parish, Ayrshire, did not attend the twenty-third convention and would go on to lead a breakaway section of Societies in support of Langlands and Barclay after the twenty-fifth convention. (Shields, FCD, 227.)

John Campbell is perhaps the John Campbell in Over Wellwood in Muirkirk parish who joined the former followers of Argyll in late 1685.

John Cochran is probably the most difficult to identify. He may be John Cochran of Craigie, a forfeited laird from Evandale parish in Lanarkshire. Cochran of Cragie and several other forfeited individuals, including David Steel’s cousin, John Steel in Over Waterhead, accepted a safe conduct from the Restoration regime in mid 1686.

It is reasonably clear that at the time that Hamilton wrote that pressures were building within the United Societies over union with the former followers of Argyll. At almost exactly the same time that Hamilton wrote, James Renwick was involved in discussions over the issue with two moderate presbyterians, Robert Boyd of Trochrague and John Maxwell of Nether Pollock. When he wrote, Hamilton did not know the outcome of those discussions.

What Hamilton also did not know when he composed it was that at the same time his pro-Argyll opponents in the United Provinces were plotting to undermine Hamilton’s reputation. John Haddow, who appears to have been in exile in Utrecht, delivered a series of charges about Hamilton’s scandalous conduct at Bothwell and over his use of the Societies’ money. Those charges were read at the twenty-fourth convention on 21 October and Hamilton invited to respond. Although Renwick made considerable efforts to save Hamilton’s reputation, including telling Hamilton how to respond, the damage was done. Hamilton never enjoyed the same influence over the convention again. From then on, Hamilton became more guarded about his opinions he offered the convention and more sporadic in his correspondence with them.

His letter of 16 October, 1685, testifies to the influence of Hamilton before his reputation was traduced.

The letter was not included in Faithful Contending Displayed, but it was printed in a rare volume of Hamilton’s correspondence, The Christian’s Conduct: Or, A Witness For the Truth against Error (Edinburgh, 1762), 35-40. The manuscript of it is held in the University of Edinburgh Special Collections. (‘R. H. [Robert Hamilton] Letter Octob. 16. 1685’, EUL MSS. La.III.344. Vol 2. No. 174.)

Letter of Robert Hamilton in Leeuwarden to the United Societies’ Convention of 16 October, 1685.

‘Kind and Christian friends,
As to the union of thir [these] lands you mention in yours, I know that they are walking by the same rules and measures that our plotters did, and are yet doing, viz. To an association of all whatsoever against the common enemy. I think indeed that the Lord, as he is now to bundle Antichrist, and all that side of the house; so all the Protestant churches, with her sons and her daughters, that have not been zealous for his declarative glory: and as he will utterly destroy the one; so the other he shall so purge, that there shall be but a poor handful left. And O! who shall be able to abide the day of his coming? Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision, for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision; but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel, &c. [Mal. 3.2; Joel 3.14,16.] As it will not be the strength of man, nor of princes, nor the wisdom of men, nor silver or gold, that will help; neither will it be a well stated cause, profession, &c., that will help in that day, if not found within the city of refuge, under the shadow of the wings of the Almighty. I confess for a soul to have it to say, that they were embarked in his cause, and contenders for him in the day of trial, will say much; yet this is not all: it is these that follow him in the regeneration, that shall sit with him on his throne of glory, judging the twelve tribes of Israel; even those which are come out of great tribulation, must have their robes washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.

O! Christianity is a great mystery, and the reality thereof little known; many have conceptions thereof within their hearts; but alas! the thing itself is but little known. Who knows what it meaneth to have an interest in the Lord God, thro’ the Saviour Jesus Christ? Who knows what this is, with boldness to approach the throne of grace, thro’ a Mediator? Who is it, that hath experience what it is, to have an heavenly and spiritual fellowship, a spiritual and hidden union and marriage with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, thro’ the alone Saviour, the Lord Jesus? Who knows the true excellency of an heavenly conversation, what it is to trade with heaven, and to entertain a daily fellowship with God, as our God in Christ? Alas! we are fair to deceive ourselves with a name, and some such like fancy; O what a plague is this? And what an evidence gives it of our deceitful hearts? O what need have we to look round about us, and consider seriously where we are, and on what ground we stand? for many undoubtedly deceive themselves, and know not that there is a lie in their right hand, [Isa. 44.20]; they rejoice often in a thing of nought, and hope nevertheless that all is well: they promise themselves assuredly heaven, without the least ground of solid hope. It is indeed a wonder to see how ready we are to sit down under the shadow of our gourd, [Jonah 4], and so to build mere castles in the air, and to found our eternal salvation and well-being on I know not what; and then to cry out, Peace, peace, [Jer. 6.14], to our soul, without laying to heart, that the very next hour we may be cast into everlasting ruin.

O! what an alarming passage is that of the five foolish virgins, who waited long, and no suspicion of being cast out; who rested assured, as it seems, in their hope and expectation, and none of the wise ones that conversed with them had jealousy of them; and were inferior to none, (so far as could be noticed) in zeal and diligence, and had a general longing to enjoy the Bridegroom’s presence eternally; crying, Lord, open unto us; and who nevertheless, after all this, got no other answer, than this, Depart from me, I know you not.

Were we but comparing our case with these, and how we are exercised in these matters; what could we do but burst out in wondering how it is possible that we are not more diligent in making our calling and election sure. [2 Pet. 1.10.] Heaven and eternal salvation will not come to us in our sleep. Shall many seek to enter in, and yet be debarred? and shall we imagine to enter, without the least trouble and pains? Alas! we spend our days, as if heaven were not worth the seeking, or needed not be enquired after by us. Ah! What do we for it? Is there a crown? Is there an eternal inheritance? Is there a kingdom to obtain? And are we slippery and careless, not once to try if we have any interest therein? Doth our days, weeks, months, and years, so pass over our heads, without once asking ourselves, how it is as to our state; without once sitting down, and asking our soul, O soul! where shall you lodge at the evening of this day, when it shall come to a close? Where will you live eternally? Shall you be in God’s presence everlastingly; or shall you inhabit with devils; and shall you be everlastingly banished from the blessed presence of God, and from the glory of his strength? [2 Thess. 1.9.] Determine ye, O soul, for heaven? What are your grounds? Are you certain that you shall not be deceived? Have you seen your name in the book of life? Are you assured that your hope shall not fail you? Have ye assurance, that providing death seized upon you in a moment, that ye should be carried up by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: Is it not possible that ye can be deceived? &c. I am confident, if eternity were really believed, and we had that impression on our hearts, as it ought, we could not live at random, and so great uncertainty in such a high and concerning business. Should we not be daily enquiring, Where our hearts are; where our treasure, crown, and our all is?

Now, dear friends, to know if we can answer these questions aright, and not with the foolish virgins build our hope on the sand, I judge these, or such things, ought often to be put to our souls. My soul, Have ye made choice of the Lord Jesus, as the only way to the Father? Are ye really married unto him? Is there an inviolable marriage and contract betwixt you both? Stands it firm, that he is yours, and you are his? Lieth he the whole night betwixt your breasts as a bundle of myrrh? Is he the standard-bearer in you, the chiefest among ten thousand? Hath he set up his throne in you? and is he the chiefest in your affections and estimation? And is it all your desire, to please, honour, and glorify him? Or, at least, is it your exercise to regret that you cannot love him more? Have you a continual filial fear to sin against his love, his unchangeable love; his inexpressible and endless love? O what shall I do for him? How shall I exalt him, as prince and king in my heart, that he may reign and rule in me without a competitor? And what is there, wherein I may acknowledge in any measure, his matchless infinite love and excellencies? O what an heaven is it, to have Christ thus in the soul? What a glory is it, to have the King of glory living and abiding in the heart? O what an unspeakable happiness is it, to have the Prince of the kings of the earth; the Prince of life, light, immortality, and eternity, lodging in our souls? If we know what this is, we are frequenters of heaven, and its glory. Christ in the soul, shewing his sceptre, as King, Lord, and Head, is heaven in the soul: Where he is and dwells, there also dwells the Father, and the Holy Ghost. Have we Christ? we have the Trinity, all the glory, all the happiness, with all the glory and refreshing that can be named. Wherefore then [are we] not more busy to seek after this JESUS. Know we not, that he who hath seen him, hath seen the Father also? Are we yet to know, that He is in the Father, and the Father in him; and that he and the Father is one? [John 14.9; 17.21; 10.30.] Wherefore are we not then always saying, Sweet Lord Jesus, Come; come, and take possession of the whole soul; come, and dwell; come, and rule; come, and take possession for ever; come, and command all; and let there be none besides thee; as also, none to partake with thee; none to oppose thee; none to grieve thee. O! let all be thine; thine for now and for ever, Amen. Let my soul cleave to, and embrace thee continually. Let my soul love thee, and I am made up. Let my soul seek after thee, and I am satisfied. Let my soul hunger and thirst after thee, and I am refreshed. Let my soul follow hard after thee, and I possess thee. Let my soul fear thee, and I am preserved from sin. Let my soul contemplate thee, and I behold God. Let my soul dwell in thee and with thee, and I am in heaven. Let my soul glorify thee, and I am glorified. Let my soul be one with thee, and I am one with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. O! come, come and make no longer tarrying. Make haste that I may see thy lovely countenance. Come, come, sweet Lord Jesus, that I may once be possessed of thee, and in thee, and may be with thee for ever. Let my soul be married unto thee, and be continually in love with thee; and then farewell all creatures, and all treasures and riches, for I have all in Jesus: possessing him, I possess all things. One beam of his lovely, shining, enlightening countenance, how would it darken all the other glories under the sun, and make its leaves to wither in a moment. O here is the fairest flower that ever did grow in the Lord’s paradise! O here is the chiefest of the pleasures in heaven! Let us here take a stand, and sit down and sing, and look upon it as all our joy and satisfaction. If we can but please him, let us not be troubled whom we offend, providing we can but glorify him. O! this is enough: in his glory is both our happiness and glory folded up. If we can but love him, all is well. O! will the Lord bestow his love on such as we? Will he bestow such an heaven, crown, and glory, on such as we? O wonderful and inexpressible free, free grace! O wonderful preventing love! Now I see that he is a God that doth wonders, and that all his works are wonders; for he is Wonderful. Let then all the angels wonder over this wonderful Wonder; and, O my soul, behold it, and wonder also, and long to be there, where ye shall have more will and capacity to wonder, and chant and sing over your wonders as new. I shall say no more, but the eternal blessing of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, be with you, and all the sweet and pleasant remnant ye are going to, and my blessing so far as it will reach, who desires to be a sympathizer, and a servant unto you all, in the blessed and glorious work of our sweet Lord Jesus.
Rob. Hamilton.’

Additional Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

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~ by drmarkjardine on April 24, 2013.

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