James Skene’s Missing Martyrs’ Testimony of 1680 #History #Scotland

The martyrs’ testimony of James Skene is truly remarkable for the insight that it gives into the mind set of militant presbyterians at a moment of crisis for them in late 1680. At that time, key figures in the core of the network that was protecting Donald Cargill, the most sought after fugitive in the kingdom, had been captured following an ambush at the Mutton Hole outside of Edinburgh. Among those taken was James Skene, who was executed in Edinburgh.

Many letters and testimonies from him were published over three hundred years ago. Cloud of Witnesses (1714) published Skene’s letter on his interrogation before the Privy Council (CW, 82-86.), two letters from Skene to a fellow prisoner ‘N’ (CW, 90-92.), and his gallows speech/testimony written on 30 November (CW, 92-98.). The other document published by Cloud was his letter to the professors in the shire of Aberdeen, i.e., of the North, of 17 November. (CW, 86-90.)

However, Skene’s letter to the professors of the South of 19 November was not included in Cloud of Witnesses. Whether it was deliberately omitted or not, the content of his letter to the professors of the South was highly contentious. In particular, its naming and shaming of well-known Presbyterian divines highlights how splits had emerged between Cargill’s followers and other ministers.

What Skene meant by ‘professors’ was the community of Presbyterians, i.e., mainly ordinary folk who professed “true” religion (as understood by Skene), rather than those who held elite posts in universities as we would understand that term to mean today.

His testimony to the professors of the South is as follows:

The last testimony to the cause and interest of Christ from Ja[mes]: Skeen, brother to the late Laird of Skeen, being close prisoner in Edinburgh for the same.

To all and sundry professors in the South, especially Mr Ro[ber]t. M’Waird, in Holland, Mr Tho[mas]. Hog, Mr Archibald Riddell, Mr Alexander Hasty, preachers, who now have mad defection by loving their quiet so much, and so complying fully with the stated enemys of Jesus, fearing the offending of them who ar pretended magstrats.

Dear Freinds,—The Lord, in his holy wisdome for trying and purging of a people for himselfe, is as permited the dovill raise the kingdom of Antichrist to a dreadfull hight, so that in these sad trying times many ar impudently bold to deny their master. Of nonconformists ministers, not only these who have taken leicence from the usurpers of our Lord’s croun and so becom indulged ministers, by which means they acknowled a tirrant on the thron to be head of the Church, which properly belongeth to our Lord Jesus Christ, as Psal. 2. 8, Ephes. 1. 22; but also there ar of minister that say a confedaracy with them, that consult to banishe quite our blesed Lord of Scotland, by sheding the blood of the saints and making armed forces presecute and bear doun the Gospell ordinances in the feilds. For after Bothweell [in June, 1679,] many ar gaping for indulgence, and all the whole ministers are content to be ordered by the enemies of Christ and to keep only house conventicles; and, in short, there is not a feild conventicle in all Scotland. Mr Richard Cameron, who now is in glory, being most solitious with Mr [Thomas] Hog and Mr John Dickson to go out to the feilds [in October, 1679], they told they thought too great a hazard. The wrath of the adversary, and the Declaration of Sanquhar [on 22 June, 1680] (by which we declar the usurper Charles Stewart by vertue of perjury, oppresion and tyrrany, to have forfeited his right to the kingdom and croun of Scotland, being him (sic) only on that head that he might maintian the covenant and the reformed religion by Presbetry, discharging Prelacy as on of the daughters of Bablon under which Popry had ever a kindly grouth) mad them cast all freindship of, they being mad tender of keeping up their oun reput of being loyall for the opresor they’r zealous for maintianing their loyallty. Aledgeance they swor to our best Lord Jesus Christ, quher he never brake to them, they ar unconcerned, and will not contend with this generation of his wrath who aserts they will not have him to reign over him (sic).

O how sad is it so many professors hath fallen from that tenderness and zeale for God, they once have been honoured for, to a lukewarmnes and indeference how the Lord’s intrest be promoted, counting it their duty to hide themselves from duty; byt wrath shall not overpass untill it make some of them mourn for their reproaching of the remnant, quhom the Lord hath only honoured to be faithfull and stedfast to his covenant. As Mr Hog, my somtims revernd and dear freind, should so vilifie and reproach Archbald Stewart and William Jack, whom the Lord hath honored with suffering and tendernes beyond many, that they should not die [in] peace: O quhat shall be don? Rather he should said—O these men quhom blesed King Jesus delighteth to honour. I am much afraid his contumulis and reproaches, and Mr Ro[ber]t McWaird in Holland—quho, in a letter to profesors at Borrowstounness, writs he wold for their cause be forced to retrat of that he had writen— shall bring much sorrow and greife to themselves. O quhat a greife may I write it with to these men and others, quho hath been honoured instruments in the Lord’s hands to converts soulls, [and] turn their back on witneseing for their wronged Master. Mr [Archibald] Riddell, willing to oblige under a consent neer to preach in the feilds against; Mr Hasty by his complements and dignites; and never on put the enemies in aprehension he wold do any thing for them; and so, having offered him the Declaration, he confess the Lords vengence that followed on Prelat Sharp to be a murther, and that litle handfull that followed Mr [Donald] Gargils ministery to be rebels. O poor backsliders, quhat will ye do in the end therof, and quher will ye leave your glory without the Lord? Ye shall fall under the prisoners.

How dreadfully did Mr Hog advise a charitable const no wt [? construction] to be had on that bloody trator Duke Hamiltoun, to cause his tenents to deny harboring to the Lord’s people; and he advised to keep a distance from a society of lads, who following ministery of the favours of the justified, he said he doubt much if they had the root of the matter in them. [I] am clear in that matter. And, at my last coming south, within few moneths, I found him clear of that mind, the indulged ministers should not be left, because of a sad tendency it had to a further defection; but he said he had advised to seek the favors of the indulged, but to do it secretly and queitly, and no let any know of it. O how sad and lamentable this is. I had not set it doun in writ; but I think quhen he may converse these severall expresions, he may mourn for them and the Lord may here forgive.

This is another sad evill among profesours, they ar mor for keeping up the credit of men as great preachers, as Mr [John] Welch and Mr [John] Carstairs, etc., quho hath dreadfully encouraged the indulged, than the honor of God, and Christ quho is denyd to be a king for which he was panel’d befor Pontus Pilate. Others of the profesors cannot relish Mr Welch and Mr Carstairs way; but entertian mo favorable thoughts of them than befor; they presse zealously to keep up Mr McWaird’s credit and Mr Hog’s. O, say they, Mr McWaird and Mr Hog is of that mind. Of the numbr of those Messrs Simpson and Messrs Ross, O how do they reproach the poor handfull that ar most tender of the Lord’s honor, by cuting contradictions of their oun coyning, falaciously taken upon a discource, as these reproaches cast on them quho hath been honoured of the Lord to seall the cause with their blood. I verily beleive I shall have reflections quhen I am gon; but I blam not their censures. If my Lord justifie me, how dare they condemne me ? I’le say on word yet, I look on Mr Donald Gargil as the only faithfull minister in the nation.

Further I will take notice of Mr [Robert] McWairds in Holland, quho hath not so daviat as yet to oun the indulged ministers, so as to consent to union with them. He hath-writen to this purpose against Mr [Robert] Flemond, whose clear for ouning the indulged ministry; but yet though Mr Thomas Hog elder and Mr McWairds from this desents, they allow of cleaving to Mr Flemond, Mr [John] Welch, and Mr David Hume, Mr [Archibald] Riddell, Mr [Gabriel] Sempell, Mr [Samuel] Arenet, and Mr [Alexander] Hasty, and others quho are favor[er]s of the indulged party. And therefor that cause they preach not faithfully that this toleration of the tirranous usurper, their idoll king, is a sin, quherby the Lord his royall prerogatives is highly denyecl and provoked, and on this accout we ought to look on them quite such as these quho have, ministered themselvs. O this wofull dreadfull defection in these two emenent men is to be lamented; they are for ouning the ministery of these unfaithfull guids. Among them Mr Castairs elder is the most unsound and untender; and this is the reason, as I said befor, the shaking of their ministry, though they cannot quit go with lenght of acknowledging the indulged, hath a dreadfull tendency. As also Mr McWard and Mr [Thomas?] Hog [elder?] consents so far as to oun the unlawfull powers, making an idol of their oun credit. The word (loyall) being of great consequence to them they cannot disclaim their idoll king, lest lest (sic) they be counted disloyall. O quhat should we care quhat men reckon of us, quhen there is such indignation to the blessed Son of God? So Mr Castairs in publick gave the first vote to my condemnation, of quhom my blood shall be requird among the rest. For an answr for quhat he thought of my testifying against the king and counsell, the great God’s declared enemies, he said at the bar befor the councell, he was greived such principalls were ouned by men called Presbetrians, they seemed rather Jesuiticall or Popish.

Also Mr M’Wairds and Mr Hog ar so far unfaith[f ull] that they allow of obeying these tirrants opresors as to give over feild preachings; as it is too much seeking men quiet, so denys their churches principalles that the ordinances of God may be wher she pleases. If these usurpers should cry doun house mettings, that we may give a testimony for our Lord we ought to keep mettings in houses especially. Withall they reproach the Lord’s followers for Sanquhar Declaration, and the Toorwood excommunication, because it was not a competent duty to so few ether to dispose (sic) that trator on the thron, or et to declare war against him. But seriously consider, though there were ut on or two convinced of the trator’s stated enmity against Jesus Christ, and of his perjury, its duty to disoun him, and to declare to be his enemy; yea, and to put him to death, if the Lord give a convenient tim and place. David said — Do not I hate them that hate thee O Lord? yea I hate them with a perfected hatred, do I not count them my enemies? And the apostle says to his people—This day seperate your selves from that Babell’s brood, and com out from among them, and I will be a father unto you, and I will be your God and ye shall be my people. Thus in breife I have written my genuin thoughts of profesors in the South.

Now for encouragement to my dear brethren quho walk zealously in his wayes. I avere it, I am joyfull to venture my salvation on it that this way now contemned most is the Lord’s holy way. They overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their livs unto the death. Therefor its poor advantag to be diligent, the mor because there ar many backsliders now that hath been further advanced, adord with peity and parts than ever the most pretend to, hath fallen away, being left of the Lord quhom they had not honoured, but had too much eyid the credit of selfe. Finaly, brethren, be stedfast, unmoveable, of on mind, always abounding in the work of the Lord ; and the God of peace, quho gives us all peace and maintians its to his poor people, shall be with you, which is the firme perswasion and assurance of a dying witnes for Christ his cause and intrest. In witness quherof I subscrive it with my hand, in the close prison of Edinburgh, west side, and 2 storie from the hall, the 19 day of November 1680.
James Skeen.’

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~ by drmarkjardine on July 24, 2017.

2 Responses to “James Skene’s Missing Martyrs’ Testimony of 1680 #History #Scotland”

  1. […] day, 13 November, when he may have declared that it was lawful to kill Charles II. He wrote his remarkable testimony to ‘the professors of the South’ on 19 November. His capture was mentioned in the proclamation against ‘the Fanatical and Bloody Plot’ of 22 […]

  2. […] murderers to follow in their condemnations [i.e., Mr John Carstairs, elder, whom Skene mentioned in his unpubished testimony on 19 November], God shall require this, with his other doings, at his hands; and I am somewhat afraid, if he be […]

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