The Fourth Convention of the Society people in Edinburgh, 11 August, 1682
The fourth convention of the Society people, which was held in Edinburgh in August, 1682, would lead to a schism in the militant movement that led to the formation of a second, little-known, Cameronian faction, the Russellites. However, it also led to rapprochement between those who supported and opposed Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun’s mission to the United Provinces.
A second significant development at the fourth convention was the emergence of James Renwick, the clerk of the convention, as a major figure within the United Societies.
One curious aspect of the fourth convention was its location. The first three conventions had probably witnessed around up to a hundred delegates meeting in remote muirs and, at least in the case of the third convention, they had come heavily armed. However, the fourth convention was held ‘in’ Edinburgh, the heart of the Scottish regime and a dangerous location for a large body of armed men. At some point in the proceedings, an alarm led to the meeting dissolving back into the streets before reconvening ‘at night’ outside of the burgh.
That suggests that the number of delegates attending the convention was small enough to be able to secretly convene in a private space somewhere in the crowded buildings of the burgh. Probably only a few more than the sixteen or so delegates of the core decision-making body that was chosen to represent all the shires participating in the convention attended the fourth convention. At the fifth convention, which followed a similar pattern, a letter from it was subscribed by twenty-one delegates on behalf of the clerk, James Renwick. (Wodrow, History, IV, 502-3.)
Michael Shields recorded the fourth convention as follows:
‘According to the appointment of the last meeting [i.e., the third convention], a General Meeting did conveen at Edinburgh, upon the 11th of August, 1682. consisting of persons who were for, and also such as were against the foresaid conclusion.
It might have been expected, that at this time the spirits of both parties should have been meek and mild, having so much time, calmly and deliberately to think upon matters, and that passion should have been guarded against, having seen so much of the bad effects of it formerly [at the third convention]. But as confusions and divisions were at the last meeting, so they were at this; which was matter of humiliation to behold, and is ground [>p.26.] of sorrow to think upon; a part of which was thus occasioned: As Mr. James Renwick and James Russel, with some others, were coming home from the last meeting [in mid June], being all for the conclusion which was dissented from, it was judged necessary by them, that an answer should be written to the letters sent from Glasgow by some of the dissenters; intending thereby further to clear and confirm those who adhered to the conclusion, and for convincing and reclaiming those who were against if, or for rendering the obstinate more inexcusable: and to do this, Mr. James Renwick and James Russel were employed, who undertook to write each of them one, and promised to meet two or three days before the meeting [c.8 or 9 August], for revising each other’s papers, and if needful to put them both in one.
Accordingly they did meet, and read each other’s papers; but Mr. James [Renwick], though he agreed with the scope and matter of the other’s writing, yet not with some expressions in it, so it was concluded that each should be kept by itself.
However, upon the foresaid day of meeting [11 August], after the commissioners had given in their commissions, as was usual, and the preses chosen [probably George Hill], Mr. James’s paper against the dissentment was read, containing an answer to the objections of the opponents, and likewise some reasons inducing to foresaid conclusion. But as he was of a meek and tender spirit, so in this paper, tho’ the reasons were solid, weighty, and sharp, yet the strain of it was condescending and gaining, whereby there was nothing said against it; but when James Russel’s (who was of a fiery and hot spirit) his paper came to be read, the most part of the meeting as well those who were for the conclusion as those who were against it, except two or three, condemned it, as having too much bitterness, untenderness and reflections in it. But in the time of his and the meeting’s contending about that paper and other things, an alarm coming, they parted at that time, and at night met again without the town, where after long, reasoning and. debating betwixt the meeting and him, and two with him, viz, John Henderson [in Kilbrackmont] and Patrick Grant, in which the heat was not small, nor the confusions few, upon which he and these two gave in a written protestation (which they had drawn up before) to the meeting, intitled, “The Protestation of the Societies of true Presbyterians in the shire of Fife and Perth, against disorderly persons.” In which, adhering to foresaid conclusion at [>p27.] the last meeting, they protest against admitting any to sit as members of the meeting, contrary to the conclusion of the last, and then mention several things, whereof if any were guilty, they were not to be admitted as members of a Convention, (so term they the General Meeting [as did James Renwick]) some of which the meeting did look upon as causes of withdrawing, and some not.
Likewise they gave in a paper about the names of the days of the week, and months of the year [which rejected the pagan names of the days and months in favour of using numbers], wherein were several unsuitable and unsavoury, unchristian expressions; and so he and his comrades left them, after he had occasioned some confusion, which otherwise might not have fallen out, as was evident both at the last meeting [i.e., the third convention] and this:
And after he [Russell] was parted from them [i.e., after the fourth convention] he was not idle; by taking trouble to himself, he created more to others; for he and some few with him, seeking to justify what they had done, were at no small pains to inform, or rasher misinform severals about the proceedings at the last and this meeting [i.e., the third and fourth conventions], in going through the country, reading his papers to sundry men and women. Yet he gained few to his party. Yea, he wrote abroad to [Alexander Gordon of] Earlstoun [in the United Provinces], misrepresenting the proceedings of this meeting and the last, whereby be and Mr. [Robert] Hamilton were in hazard (as no wonder) of being jealous of friends, and their doings at home: To know the certainly of which, he sent here [to Scotland] a copy of the information he had got [from Russell]; which when received, was both astonishing and wounding to look upon.
Whereupon it was judged necessary for the vindication of the cause, clearing of themselves, and better information of friends abroad, to send one to them who knew the whole affair, and was in some capacity to inform them of every circumstance relating to it, and expedient for them to know. So Mr. James Renwick was fixed upon as the fittest; who accordingly went, and by his true and clear information gained them to a better impression of those they were somewhat jealous of before; and immediately came home again.
However, as James Russel after this, much opposed the witnessing party [i.e., the United Societies] by word and writ, both at home and abroad; so in particular he opposed Mr. Renwick both before and after he was a minister [in May, 1683], against whom he alledges, that at this time, when he was abroad [in late 1682], he was guilty of perjury in acquainting Mr. Hamilton with matters, without taking the Engagement to secrecy, which was so far given heed to by some, through his influence, that they made it a cause [>p28.] of their not hearing him preach, until afterwards they came to be better informed, and then they did acknowledge their fault.
But as Mr. Renwick was sadly mistaken in other things, so also in this; for when the engagement was tendered to Mr, [Robert] Hamilton, he scrupled to take the same, which when considered by Mr. James, he judged it his duty notwithstanding thereof, not to keep up matters from him, which if he had done, would have tended to the prejudice of the cause, and thereby he would have made it a bond of iniquity, contrary to the intention of its first imposers.
Howbeit, if Mr. Renwick was wrong in this, James Russel was first in the fault, by his acquainting the said Mr. Hamilton, with matters before him, without the said engagement (viz. in his accusation, and misinformation written to him, which is yet extant.)
But to return from this unpleasant digression. After James Russel, and the other two [John Henderson and Patrick Grant] were gone, and day light being come, they were necessitate to part, for fear of danger. Yes that same day they met again within the town, where Alexander Gordon [of Kilsture], and some of the dissenters from the conclusion, above specified, being present, it was judged necessary that something should be done in relation to them. So concerning Alexander Gordon [of Kinsture], seeing he was suspended from the former meeting upon, the account of his baptizing his child with Mr [Alexander] Peden, this meeting upon the account that the enquiry about Mr. Peden was not made; enquired at him, if he was willing before them, to engage to acknowledge his offence, providing Mr. Peden, after trial, be not found to have been faithful when he joined with him; which he most willingly and chearfully did. And so upon this condition, he was received in, as a member of the meeting.
Likewise concerning the dissenters, the meeting proceeded thus, in order to them; asking if they were willing to acknowledge their offence in what they had done, which if not, they were not clear to act with them. To which, the dissenters said, that they desired to hear Earlstoun’s letter (which he had sent home, giving some account of his progress abroad [in London and the United Provinces]) because possibly thereby, they might be more convinced of their mistake, and cleared in their duty: which the meeting granted. And when they had heard the same, they acknowledged that the appointment of sending one abroad was duty: and that they were out of their duty in their dissenting [>p.29.] from it. And so jointly with the rest of the meeting, approved all the conclusions of the foregoing meetings, and so approved of the dissenting from them upon the account of declining the foresaid appointment. This was satisfying to all the meeting, whereupon they were received as members thereof; and in token of the burial of that dissentment, it was concluded unanimously, that the objections of the dissenters, together with all answers thereto, would be destroyed. After which, these conclusions were jointly by them concluded upon.’
After the loss of the ultra-militant Russellites and having “buried”the dispute with the more-moderate dissenters over Earlstoun’s mission abroad, the fourth convention finally agreed on the following resolutions
‘1st, It was concluded that a call should be sent to Mr, Thomas Douglas, [who had been a militant leader in the rising of 1679 and field preached with Richard Cameron and Donald Cargill in 1680] inviting him to come home [from his exile in England], and when come, if no exceptions be found against him, he is to be joined with, but if there be any just exceptions, his charges are to be paid and himself dismissed. The falling upon this resolution, proceeded from their longing to have the gospel freely preached by faithful ministers, which they had long been deprived of: and to have that foul stain, that they would hear no ministers, which was cast upon them removed. And from a desire in particular to have the benefit of his ministry, with which, they had been privileged before, having heard of his remaining affection to the cause, they judged it their duty to write to him, being at the time in England, in order to his home coming. Accordingly a letter was written, and sent, to which he returned an answer, giving some reasons of his not coming which were not very satisfying.
2dly, Also, it was concluded upon the account of disability to manage the affair, that the honourable Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun [the Societies’ commissioner to the United Provinces], be desired to settle his affairs abroad, and to turn his commission into his much honoured brother[-in-law] Robert Hamilton his hand [then in Leeuwarden]; yet not to leave matters in confusion, which may prove disadvantageous to the [Societies’] cause, by rendering friends suspicious of them, but that these who know of his errand, and being there, may be also acquainted with his departure. And for that end what time he saw fit, was assigned to him to settle his affairs abroad, but with all expedition in his return home, was enjoined upon him. And for his more speedy, and better return: It was concluded that all the societies should collect money, according to their abilities, and bring the same timeously to their next adjacent societies that it might all come into Edinburgh betwixt and the last of that instant [i.e., by 31 August]. [>p.30.]
The reason of their desiring Earlstoun to return, is couched in the conclusion; in short, it was the maintaining him abroad far surmounted their ability, tho’ not their willingness.
However, having found some good effects his being there had produced, they saw it necessary that his place should not be left empty, so they condescended upon Mr, [Robert] Hamilton to supply the same, into whose hands they should turn his commission. Yet fearing lest friends abroad among whom he had been, conversant, might become thereby suspicious of them, that he should acquaint them therewith, but affixing him no time for his return, though their desire was, that he should hasten it. Albeit this was signified to him presently after the meeting, yet he did not return until the spring [of 1683].
Likewise it was concluded, that none thereafter should be admitted as Commissioners without written commissions, that so order may be kept, and counterfeits discovered. This was only that order might be observed, and for discovering any cheats or counterfeits, in case any such should endeavour to creep in among them, to get notice of what they were about.
As likewise it was concluded, that whatever is, hath been, or may be concluded by the General Meeting, may not be dissented from, but these who have any thing to object, let them come to the next meeting, and give in their reasons, that they may cognosce upon them, and determine as they may be found relevant. This was not, but that their conclusions might not be dissented from, not looking upon them as unalterable statutes; but their meaning and desire was, that off-hand, they should not be declined (especially by these who had been unanimous in making the same) in the interval between the meeting they were resolved at, and the other following, having before their eyes the sad effects which the dissenting from the conclusion about Earlstoun’s going abroad, had produced, And so for preventing the like in time coming, and out of love to have union preserved among them, they judged it necessary that in case any should come afterward to find ground of objections against any of the conclusions resolved upon at the present meeting, they had free liberty to give them in at the next, that so after consultation, and deliberation about the same, the conclusion might stand, be altered, or altogether laid aside, as the objections were found groundless, or relevant. [>p.31.]
Moreover, it was concluded that every society should bring the names of their places, and the names of the places of their next adjacent societies, to the next General Meetings that so a way may be fallen upon, which hitherto was neglected, to keep with their said next adjacent society, a Christian fellowship in prayer, according to the second conclusion of the first General Meeting which met at the Logan-house upon the 15th of December, 1681.
Though little or no effects followed upon this conclusion, according to the method laid down in it: yet that which was very advantageous to the cause and proved strengthening to the hands of the owners thereof, was the result, viz. the settling, and keeping a Correspondence of some societies together, which is commonly called Shire-Meetings, the manner of which is a little described above.
Lastly, It was concluded that the last Thursday of that instant, the last Thursday of September, and the second Thursday of October, were to be observed as days of fasting and prayer, by all the societies: and the next General Meeting was appointed to meet at Darmade, upon the 2d of November, which day, was to be kept a day of fasting and prayer by all remaining at home.’ (Shields, FCD, 25-31.)
Soon after the fourth convention, James Renwick replied to a lost letter from Robert Hamilton in Leeuwarden on 6 September.
Soon after that, both Renwick and the Convention received a second letter from Hamilton, which he had written on 22 August, and a letter from William Brakel, the minister of Leeuwarden, that announced a breakthrough that would allow the Societies to ordain ministers via their Dutch supporters.
Renwick replied to Hamilton of 3 October and to Brackel on 5 October, ahead of the Societies fifth convention. The stunning news of a breakthrough in the United Provinces resulted in the date and venue for the fifth convention being brought forward and changed back to Edinburgh.
For the previous, third, convention, see here.
For more on the fourth convention, see here.
For the next, fifth, convention, see here.
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