The Second Convention of the Society people at Priesthill, 15 March, 1682
Like his account of the first convention, Michael Shields’ narrative of the second convention is largely concerned with presenting the radical platform adopted by the Society people in their early conventions in a moderate light. He also reported that the societies were divided over Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun and John Nisbet’s mission to England and the United Provinces.
The Societies also decided that those attending future conventions, i.e., from the third convention, should come armed to defend themselves from government forces. John Graham of Claverhouse would nearly encounter the Society people at the third convention.
The second convention was held at Priesthill in Muirkirk parish, Ayrshire. It was the home of John Brown who was summary executed on the orders of Claverhouse in May, 1685.
His account of the second convention is as follows:
‘However, according to the appointment of the last general meeting did conveen at the Priest-hill, in the parish of Muir-kirk of Kyle, and sheriffdom of Air, upon the 15th of March 1682. After they were met, and prayer ended, this meeting (but especially afterward, method being attained by degrees, and not at the first) for order’s sake was thus modelled; when it was known who were these sent from the several societies (there being always more there than such) there was chosen of these sixteen, and sometimes more, to make up which number, every shire choosed some more, and some fewer, according to the number of societies therein, and where there was but one out of a shire, he was always of that number. Again out of these was chosen a Præses [such as George Hill]; not that to him was given (neither did they claim) any power or authority, over the rest, but for keeping of order, and avoiding of confusion, which was very incident among such a company. Sometimes the rest of the Commissioners were desired to go to another place, and spend the time in prayer; but what conclusions were requisite for them to know and obtain their consent unto, were signified to them, that they might acquaint their societies therewith when they went home; or if they had any thing to object, they might give it in; at other times they were present, that they might see and hear what past, and speak their mind, when they saw it necessary, that so they might the better give an account thereof when they went home to their societies.
Next when this was done, these were some questions enquired at every one of the selected number; such as, If they knew the mind of the society they were sent from? If they did, whether their society owned the Testimony against tyranny and defection? if they were free of scandal? as also if any there present, knew any of the rest, chargeable with such things? And if any were found so chargeable; they were in all sobriety desired to withdraw, but not to be offended, seeing what they did was out of love to them, and for their own exoneration, to manifest their hatred at the sin, and sense of the justness of the censure to be inflicted for such scandals by [>p17.] these who were competent for the same. This method hath been still followed. And about two years after this, these questions were written, which I shall insert when I come to the time in which the same was done. And albeit, this hath been exclaimed against by many, and called by some cannons; yet the same was, and is thought necessary, seeing, at the first beginning of these meetings, and since, many people were sadly involved, and insnared in the public defections, and gross compliances of the time; which would have been found censurable by church judicatories, in a peaceable and settled condition of the church, and in this confused and broken; time, wanting such judicatories to make application unto (however being willing to retain the sense of the justness of the censure, which should be inflicted upon the persons guiltv of public scandal.) Therefore out of love to their brethren, and fear of partaking of other men’s sins, they desired and endeavoured to have the members they concurred with in these meetings, in carrying on, and managing the Testimony in their stations, so qualified, as they might with comfort and confidence join with, being of one mind and judgment, as to the matter of the Testimony, and free of any public scandal; or if they, had been chargeable with any, confessed it, were sensible of the evil thereof, and willing to acknowledge offence they had given thereby, to such as were competent to take the same. This was, nor is not a taking upon them the trial of scandals, or scandalous persons; for all the trial which they did, and do judge incumbent for them being private persons in their private capacity notwithstanding of the greatest necessity, is not judicial and authoritative, but meerly private and popular, for information about the case and practice of the persons, in order to the regulating of their consciences, in their duty and carriage toward them; that so according to the judgment of discretion, they might be fully persuaded in their minds, as to what was right and wrong, true or false, and might not remain staggering or doubting in their duty toward them.
These questions being enquired, and what followed thereupon at an end; then what business they had to consult about, and to deliberate upon, came to be considered. The first thing done at the meeting, as likewise at several meetings afterwards, was the reading of the conclusions of the foregoing meeting, and it was enquired at every member, if he .approved of the same. [>p18.] At this meeting they did approve thereof. That which moved to this was, that in case any particular person,, or society had seen since the last meeting ground of objection against any of the resolutions therein concluded, they might give them in, that so, after due consideration, if it were found necessary, such resolutions might either be altered, or quite laid aside.
Next, it was concluded by them, that the honourable Alexander Gordon of Earlston, attended by John Nisbet, should be commissionate to foreign nations, to represent their low case to the reformed churches there. And that money should be collected and brought into Edinburgh, betwixt and the 4th of April next thereafter, for helping to defray his expenses in that undertaking. [… >p19.] This conclusion was in pursuance of one in the former meeting, that every Commissioner there, should seek the advice of their societies about sending some abroad to reformed foreign churches, for making known to them the sad case of this church. And in a particular manner their own low case, and to come resolved about it to this meeting, which accordingly was done, and they thought the sending some abroad very rational and necessary. So at this meeting it was unanimously concluded upon; and Earlston as the man of greatest repute, and best qualified, among them, was jointly pitched upon. Notwithstanding whereof within a few days after, some (especially Andrew Young, a man of no despicable parts, and one who was then seemingly zealous in promoting the Testimony, yea and cordial in this conclusion) went to Glasgow, where consulting with some friends, they dissented from this resolution, alledging, among other things that the person nominate was not fit for managing of a matter of such importance. In which dissentment joyned several societies, refusing to concurr by collecting money for promoting it. And the rest being sent for the same, it occasioned no small division and contention [at the third convention], both by word and writ. But the conclusion was rational, and seemed necessary at the time, the reasons moving to the falling upon it, is somewhat shown above: In short, it was the endeavouring to represent the deplorable condition of this church, especially, the sad case themselves was redacted unto; and to seek the rolling away of reproaches industriously heaped upon them: and to shew the justness of their cause they were contending and suffering for, that so they might obtain that sympathy abroad, which was denied them at home, Howbeit this conclusion was dissented from and much opposed. Yet, Earlstoun, in April, went from this land for London with John Nisbet, where he left him, and went to the Netherlands [in the late summer of 1682].
Likewise it was concluded, that the Commissioners there present should acquaint and desire every man of his respective society, to provide for himself with weapons, in case there should be any need requiring the same.
The reasons moving to this resolution, were the endeavouring to retain, and maintain that principle of self defence whereupon it was founded, which nature teaches, yet it is contradicted and opposed by our unreasonable [>p20.] adversaries, from whose unjust violence (by whom they were killed all the day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter) they sought by this mean to defend themselves, and resist them; not only in their wanderings, but also when together in their meetings, in case they should be assaulted by enemies. As also. that they might be in some posture for their own defence, if bloody papists should make a massacre.
Moreover, it was concluded, that although persons having made defection from the way of God, or lying under public scandal, providing they be sensible of their sin, and give signs of their repentance, may be received into the society, upon engagement to make acknowledgment of their sin, according to the degree of their offence, and the satisfying of the offended, to these who are competent to receive the same. This conclusion since, hath many a time been put in practice; and that which gave the rise to this resolution, was, Many persons in the time of temptation, and hour and power of darkness, having made defection, who through grace attained not only the sense of the dishonour done to God thereby, but also of the offence done to their brethren, with whom they were willing to be reconciled, by acknowledging their offence: And in particular from the sense of the justness of the cause owned by the witnessing party, they were desirous to incorporate themselves with them, which they did signify to them; who though they were willing to encourage them all they could, in the way of duty, yet as to joining with them, being guilty of such scandals they knew not well what to do in it, so they represented the case to their brethren at this meeting to get their advice, about the same; who taking it to their serious consideration, resolved upon this conclusion, above mentioned, as the only expedient which they could fall upon, in their case, and circumstances: seeing albeit they wanted ministers, and were not themselves competent for the trial and removal of scandals; yet, that such an engagement should be required and obtained, was rational, they thereby declaring the justness of the censure to be inflicted, albeit they could not do it.’ (Shields, FCD, 16-20.)
Curiously, Shields does not record either if any fast days were appointed by the meeting, or that the third convention was set for 15 June at Talla Linn.
He does record that in the aftermath of the second convention that there were serious divisions within the Society people over the issue of sending Earlstoun and Nisbet to London, and possibly to the United Provinces, probably to open a pathway for the ordination of ministers:
‘Among other things, the dissentment from the conclusion of the last meeting [i.e., of the second convention] about Earlstoun’s going abroad, was very discouraging, and was the occasion of much, contention and division; for those who were for the conclusion, were bent for prosecuting it to the utmost of their power, and these who dissented were as much against it. There were several writings past between the one and the other: Some in Glasgow who were chief in the dissentment, wrote to those in Edinburgh, who were far the conclusion, giving reasons of their so doing, which was answered. And Mr. [Andrew] Young, a great stickler for the dissentment, with most of the society in Teviotdale wrote also to those in Edinburgh; so that the debate came to no small height, and was like to be the occasion of a greater rent than it produced, if it had not been timeously prevented [by the events at the third convention].’ (Shields, FCD, 21.)
For more on the second convention, see here.
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