The Fifth Convention of the Society people at Edinburgh, 11 to 12 October, 1682
The fifth convention in Edinburgh is unusual in that much of the correspondence about it was written before it took place, which suggests that key decisions about the Societies had been taken by a small cabal involving James Renwick prior to the convention. The survival of that correspondence casts the discussions at the convention in a different light.
Andrew Young, who was excluded from the fifth convention, had already been active in promoting opposition in Glasgow to Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun’s mission to London and the United Provinces immediately after the second convention.
Prior to the convention, Renwick had written to the societies in Newcastle on 3 October warnng them about hearing John Hepburn and of Andrew Young’s activities.
On the same day he also wrote to Robert Hamilton about what would be done at the convention and mentioned that William Brackel’s letter sent in the later summer had been translated from Latin for circulation through the Societies.
Renwick also wrote in reply to Brackel on 5 October.
Shields’ account of the fifth convention is as follows:
‘A General Meeting did conveen at the time and place above-mentioned; where, after these representing the respective societies had given in their commissions, and the Præses chosen [which was George Hill], he enquired, in order to the knowing that none were there who were guilty of scandal, if any person had ought to object against any present: At which some rose up, and said that Andrew Young who was there representing, the society of Teviotdale had revealed that which he was engaged not to discover; which thing he denied. save only his telling to some, not concerned, of some persons who were present at the publishing of the Lanerk Declaration [in January, 1682]: As also, that he had heard Mr. John Hepburn, against whom there were reasons of withdrawing; which the said Andrew Young granted he did, and yet resolved to go on in the same. After long and hot debating and jangling betwixt him and severals of the meeting, it was at last conducted by them, that the said Andrew Young should be suspended from sitting there, upon the account of joining and resolving to join with the said Mr. John Hepburn, against whom there were several reasons of withdrawing, particularly his not joining and concurring with our late Martyr minister [Donald Cargill and Richard Cameron], in rejecting and disowning the authority of Charles Stuart [i.e., Charles II].— By which joining, he had broken that conclusion of the General Meeting, viz. That nothing should be done by any particular person without the consent os the Society whereof he was a member, in things wherein their knowledge and consent was necessary to be had, &c. After he was acquainted with this, he went away greatly enraged, saying he would oppose himself to them and their doings, which he hath in some measure made out since.
When the confusion occasioned by this debate was over, and nothing found against any of the rest of the [>p.43.] meeting, they proceeded in order to the choosing of the young men who were to go abroad to follow their studies, the doing of which was a great end of appointing this meeting so soon; which was gone about after this manner: First, praying that the Lord would direct them in that weighty affair. Then the young men who were present, arid to be put in the list, were desired to speak their minds, which they did satisfyingly, first of the work they were, to go about; next of the going in such a manner, which was not ordinary. There was six put in the list, (all of a blameless life, and not only of one judgment with themselves, but forward and zealous then, in adhering to, and promoting the Testimony) of whom four were present, viz. Mr. James Renwick, John Smith, Mr. John Flint, and Mr. William Hardy; and two absent, viz. Mr. William Boyd and John Nisbet.
Then there was six pieces of paper taken, all of one magnitude and form; and upon four of them were four figures, each of them having a figure a-piece, and two wanted, in order to the electing of four out of the six, which was the number judged fit to be sent abroad at that time [to Groningen]. Whereupon the four young men were called in (being before desired to remove) and gave an account of their ages to the meeting. Then after praying again that the Lord would determine as he saw fit; these young men presenting themselves, drew the pieces of paper out of a bonnet, the oldest being still preferred to draw first. As for those who were absent, two drew for them. Those, who got the papers wanting the figures were to stay at home, which fell to be John Smith and Mr. William Hardy; and those who got the papers with the figures were to go abroad, two of them were present, viz, Mr. James Renwick, and Mr. John Flint, and two were absent, viz. Mr, William Boyd and John Nisbet [who was in London], for whom two drew. Then praying that the Lord would bless those on whom the lots had fallen, this work was closed.
Thereafter it was concluded, that 100 Pound Scots, should be allowed to the four young men called to go abroad, (to each 25 Pound Scots) in order to defray their expences in their voyage, and that what was needful to provide them in cloaths and other necessaries, was, over and above, to be taken off for them at Edinburgh: And the collection for this effect, was to be sent with those who were to come from the Societies to the next General Meeting [the sixth convention in January, 1683]; aud the young Men were desired [>p44.] to be ready for their voyage betwixt and the second week of November, This conclusion was chearfully consented unto; and as willingly and readily, put in practice; for immediately thereafter, not only the money was given to the young men which was allowed them, but also what was needful was provided for them at Edinburgh, two cf them, Mr, William Boyd and John Flint, in November thereafter; took ship, and went to the Netherlands, to the University of Groningen; but Mr. James Renwick was not ready to go until December [as he was briefly in the United Provinces in November before returning], However, though he went, not as soon as the other two, yet in the short time he was there, the Lord so fitted and. qualified him for the great work which afterward he undertook, and finished with joy, that he was sooner ready, for the work he was sent about than any of them; for on 10 May thereafter, he was ordained by the Presbytery of Groningen, in whom, they had great satisfaction, and to whom they gave no small commendation, as may be seen in their testificate to him.
As for John Nisbet being at that time at London, where Earlstoun had left him, he was written unto, shewing him of that business, and a testificate sent him; but he delaying to go [due to his involvement in the Rye House Plots], was not long after taken and imprisoned [in Mid 1683].
Although this sending of those young men abroad in order to the obtaining of ordination was much condemned; yet in the circumstances they were then stated in, it was justifiable. The reasons moving to it, with a short vindication of the same, may be seen in the Informatory Vindication (1687), but more in the. account of Mr: Renwick’s life and death [by Alexander Shields, composed in 1688].
Also it was concluded, that Mr. James Renwick, John Smith, and Mr. John Flint should each of them draw wp a paper declaring the grounds whereupon, and the reasons why, the United Societies did withdraw from those who had made defection in this backsliding time, withal inviting (the reasons of withdrawing from them being removed) upon their owning the Testimony, to come and join with them, yet testifying the lawfulness of standing at a distance from those who will not; and also clearing themselves of the foul aspersions and sad reproaches cast upon them. Which papers were to be given in to the next meeting, who were to consider upon the same; and these of the foresaid persons who were to go abroad, were desired to have theirs in readiness to be left when they departed, [>p.45.]
This conclusion at the time seemed necessary; and the motives pressing thereunto very weighty, (albeit it produced some bitter effects, occasioned by the mismanaging of the same, as shall be shewed afterward) for being upon the one hand traduced as Separatists, Schismatics, and Rejecters of the gospel, &c. which was wounding to hear, and grievous to bear, though their innocency of the thing made it the more supportable. And upon the other hand, longing for this gospel, of which they had long had a famine, and being desirous to have the opportunity of hearing it from these, from whom they had withdrawn upon valid grounds, and in hearing some of whom formerly, their souls had been refreshed, and whom they followed while they continued preaching freely, and faithfully, as becomes ambassadors of Christ: They judged this the most rational way to clear themselves of these grievous imputations, and also to declare their willingness to join with and hear these ministers from whom they had withdrawn, tho’ they were (as they should have been) dear to them, providing the cause of withdrawing were removed, to call and invite them, with whom then they would with heart and hand, thereby testifying that their withdrawing was not obstinate.
According to the desire of the meeting, the three young men wrote each of them a paper; and the. two who went abroad [Flint and Boyd], left theirs, before they took voyage. That which followed upon this resolution, the account of the following meetings will make manifest.
Further it was concluded, that the much honoured Mr. Robert Hamilton should be conjunct with his brother, the honourable Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun, in his commission. And therefore the meeting gave full power to Mr. James Renwick to write in their names, unto both the foresaid persons, in order to this appointment.
The reasons inducing to this resolution, were Earlstoun’s great desire that it should be so, knowing that, as in managing that affair, two would be better than one; so, that Mr. Hamilton would be a good second, whereof he had already gotten several experiences. Also, [>p.46.] considering his being conjunct with Earlstoun, he would prove advantageous to the cause, in order to the obtaining of strangers to have a good impression of the same, and sympathy with its owners, at the time in distress; he having, both before, and after Earlstoun went there, laid out himself very much for that end; and it was hoped that he would do it more, when the same was laid on him by them. As likewise when Earlstoun should return home, to which he was desired by the last meeting, he might the better supply his place. In pursuance of this conclusion, and of the meetings desire to Mr. Renwick, he wrote abroad to both the foresaid persons.
[Later in his narrative, Michael Shields mentions that the fifth convention also replied to William Brackel’s summer letter to them. The convention’s reply is probably ‘An Informatory letter from the United Societies to Mr William Brackel minister in Holland 1682’, EUL MSS. La.III.350. No. 57. However, after it was posted, that letter was intercepted or lost. Brackel eventually received a ‘copy’ of it in February, 1683, perhaps via Renwick’s arrival in Groningen or via Earlstoun. As a result, the convention did not receive another letter from Brackel until Earlstoun brought two letters from him to the ninth convention in May. That convention replied to Brackel, but the letter from it was not delivered as the courier, Earlstoun, was captured with it.]
Moreover, it was concluded, that the 24th of that month [October] should be observed by all the societies, a day of thanksgiving unto the Lord for his known mercies received at the meeting. Which in particular, was the getting such a demonstration of the sympathy of strangers with them in their distressed case, as that they had access to send young men to an University, where they would have opportunity of learning: And when fit, get the benefit of ordination, whereby they were in expectation of attaining the great privilege of hearing the gospel, within a short time: A mercy to be highly prized, much valued, and to be thankful for, when they have ground of expecting it, as well as fruitful under it, when enjoying the same.
It was also concluded that the 16th of November  should be observed by the societies as a day of humiliation, upon the account of the many provocations that the holy Lord gets; lest that he should withdraw from them. And likewise that the 12th of December should be observed by the societies, as a day of fasting and prayer, to seek earnestly of the Lord that he would remove Satan’s fire and fury; which (alas) was too much to be seen among them, and that he would endue them with the spirit of meekness and patience.
The occasion of making this a cause of a fast was, at the preceding meeting [i.e., the fourth convention], in contending with James Russel, there was too much of a spirit of bitterness on both sides evidenced, as also at this meeting [the fifth convention], in debating with Andrew Young: therefore having a sight of the evil thereof, they desired to mourn for the same, and to seek of the Lord that he would be graciously pleased to remove it; and endue them with a spirit of meekness and patience, which are among the fruits of the Spirit, and suitable [>p47.] to appear in contending for the cause with opposites either upon the right hand, or on the left.’ (Shields, FCD, 42-7.)
For the previous, fourth, convention, see here.
For more on the fifth convention, see here.
For the next, sixth, convention, see here.
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