We are largely indebted to his Letters for much of the information we possess regarding that famous (Westminster) Assembly.
Robert Baillie was born at Glasgow on Friday the 30th of April, 1602. His father was a citizen there, being lineally descended from Baillie of Jerviston, a brother of the house of Carphin, and a branch of the ancient house of Lamington, all in the county of Lanark. By his mother’s side, he was of the same stock with the Gibsons of Durie, who have made such a figure in the law. He received his education at Glasgow; and at that university plied his studies so hard, that by his industry and uncommon genius, he attained to the knowledge of twelve or thirteen languages, and could write a Latin style, that, in the opinion of the learned, might well become the Augustan age.
After his study of divinity, he took orders from Archbishop Law, about the year 1621, and was soon after presented by the Earl of Eglinton to the living of Kilwinning. When the Reformation began in the year 1637, he wanted not his own difficulties, from his education, and tenderness of the King’s authority, to see through some of the measures then taken. Yet, after reasoning, reading, and prayer (as he himself expressed it), he came heartily into the Covenanting interest about that time.
Being a man of distinct and solid judgment, he was often employed in the public business of the Church. In the year 1638, he was chosen by his presbytery to be a member of that memorable Assembly held at Glasgow, where he behaved himself with great wisdom and moderation.
He was also one of those who attended as chaplains to the army in 1639 and 1640, and he was present during the whole treaty begun at Ripon and concluded at London. What comfort he had in these things, he describes in these words,
“As for myself, I never found my mind in a better temper than it was all that time, from my outset until my head was again homeward. I was as one who had taken leave of the world, and resolved to die in that service. I found the favour of God shining on me, and a sweet, meek, and humble, yet strong and vehement spirit leading me along.”
The same year, 1640, he was, by the covenanting Lords, sent to London, to draw up an accusation against Archbishop Laud, for the innovations he had obtruded upon the Church of Scotland.
[In the year 1642 he accepted an invitation to become Dickson’s colleague as Professor of Divinity in the University of Glasgow. The following year he was sent as a Commissioner from the Church of Scotland to the Westminster Assembly at London, where he remained the most of the time. As he himself modestly tells us, he did not take that action and prominent part in the deliberations which was done by his colleagues Rutherford and Gillespie. Still, we are largely indebted to his Letters for much of the information we possess regarding that famous Assembly. The following is the interesting and graphic sketch he gives of its appearance and order of procedure:
“The like of that Assembly I did never see, and as we hear say, the like was never in England, nor anywhere is shortly like to be. They did sit in Henry VII’s chapel, in the place of the convocation; but since the weather grew cold, they did go to Jerusalem chamber, a fair room, in the abbey of Westminster, about the bounds of the college forehall, but wider. At the one end, nearest the door, and on both sides, are stages of seats, as in the new Assembly house at Edinburgh, but not so high, for there will be room but for five or six score. At the upmost end, there is a chair, set on a frame, a foot from the earth, for the master prolocutor Dr Twisse. Before it, on the ground, stand two chairs, for the two master assessors Dr Burgess and Mr White; before these two chairs, through the length of the room, stands a table, at which sit the two scribes, Mr Byfield and Mr Roborough. The house is all well hung, and has a good fire, which is some dainties at London. Foranent the table, upon the prolocutor’s right hand, there are three or four ranks of forms. On the lowest, we five do sit; upon the other at our backs, the members of Parliament deputed to the Assembly. On the forms foranent us, on the prolocutor’s left hand, going from the upper end of the house to the chimney, and at the other end of the house, and backside of the table till it come about to our seats, are four or five stages of forms, whereupon the divines sit as they please, albeit commonly they keep the same place. From the chimney to the door, there are no seats, but a void space for passage. The lords of Parliament used to sit on chairs in that end about the fire. We meet every day of the week, except Saturday. We sit commonly from nine to two or three afternoon. The prolocutor, at beginning and end, has a short prayer. . . .
“Ordinarily, there will be present about threescore of their divines. These are divided in three committees; in one whereof, every man is a member. No man is excluded who pleases to come to any of the three. Every committee, as the Parliament gives orders in writing to take any purpose to consideration, takes a portion, and on the afternoon meeting, prepares matters for the Assembly, sets down its mind in distinct propositions, backing these propositions with texts of Scripture. After the prayer, Mr Byfield, the scribe, reads the propositions, and Scriptures, whereupon the Assembly debates, in a most grave and orderly way. No man is called upon to speak; but whosoever stands up of his own accord speaks so long as he will without interruption. If two or three stand up at once, then the divines confusedly call on his name whom they desire to hear first. On whom the loudest and maniest voices call, he speaks. No man speaks to any, but to the prolocutor. They harangue long, and very learnedly. They study the question well beforehand, and prepare their speeches, but withal, the men are exceedingly prompt and well spoken. I do marvel at the very accurate and extemporal replies that many of them usually make.
“When, upon every proposition by itself, and on every text of Scripture that is brought to confirm it, every man who will has said his whole mind, and the replies, and duplies, and triplies are heard, then the most part call ‘To the question.’ Byfield, the scribe, rises from the table, and comes to the prolocutor’s chair, who, from the scribe’s book, reads the proposition, and says, ‘As many as are in opinion that the question is well stated in the proposition, let them say Ay;’ when Ay is heard, he says, ‘As many as think otherwise say No.’ If the difference of ‘Ayes’ and ‘Noes’ be clear, as usually it is, then the question is ordered by the scribes, and they go on to debate the first Scripture alleged for proof of the proposition. If the sound of ‘Ay’ and ‘No’ be near equal, then says the prolocutor, ‘As many as say Ay stand up;’ while they stand, the scribe and others number them in their minds; when they are set down, the Noes are bidden stand, and they likewise are numbered. This way is clear enough, and saves a great deal of time, which we spend in reading our catalogue. When a question is once ordered, there is no more of that matter; but if a man will deviate, he is quickly taken up by Mr Assessor, or many others, confusedly crying, ‘Speak to order.’ No man contradicts another expressly by name, but most discreetly speaks to the prolocutor, and, at most, holds to general terms; ‘As the reverend brother who lately or last spoke on this hand, on that side, above or below.’ They follow the way of their Parliament.”
After more than a year’s absence from home, it was thought proper that some of the Scottish Commissioners should attend the General Assembly at Edinburgh, to report what progress had been made. Baillie and Gillespie, having been deputed for this purpose, set out from London on horseback on the 6th January, 1645, and reached Newcastle on the 18th, “verie wearie, and fashed with a long evil way.” On the evening of the 22nd, they arrived in Edinburgh, and in the course of a speech which he delivered next day before the General Assembly, after referring to the progress which had been made, Baillie proceeded to say:
“Such stories lately told would have been counted fancies, dreams, mere impossibilities; yet this day we tell them as deeds done for the great honour of God, and, we are persuaded, the joy of many a godly soul. If any will not believe our report, let them trust their own eyes; for, behold, here is the warrant of our words, written and subscribed by the hands of the clerks of the Parliament of England, and the scribes of the Assembly there.”
After visiting his family at Glasgow, he was obliged to return to London before the end of March; but two years afterwards we find him again in Scotland addressing the General Assembly. At the meeting of the Commission in January 1647, he presented the Confession of Faith and the new metrical version of the Psalms; and at the meeting of the Assembly in August, he gave an interesting account of their labours, in the course of which he said:
“It is one of the Lord’s promises to us, that they who sow in tears shall reap in joy: that they who go out weeping, and carry precious seed, shall return with rejoicing, and bring their sheaves. It was the General Assembly’s pleasure, some four years ago, to send some of us, their weak brethren and servants, to that venerable and worthy Synod at Westminster, to sow, in that famous place, some of the precious seed, not of our Church, as enemies do slander, but of God, the Father of all light and truth. Our poor labours in that service were so blessed by the good hand of our God, that although the sowing of the seed was often accompanied with much solicitude and perplexity of mind - yea, sometimes with great grief of heart, and tears in a good measure - yet the visible appearance of a fair harvest did bring a sensible joy, not only to ourselves, but to many thousands more on both sides the sea. The last Assembly wherein my present colleague (Gillespie) and I did appear in this place, we brought with us a bundle of so goodly sheaves as did revive the hearts of many in that very sad time. This day the Lord has sent us again to the same place, burdened with more of these precious fruits, which we trust shall help to refresh all honest spirits, though otherwise exceedingly saddened with the late unhappy and much unexpected occurrences.” - EDITOR]
When the Westminster Assembly terminated, the Parliament of England, as an acknowledgment of his good services, made him a handsome present of silver plate, with an inscription signifying it to be a token of their great respect to him. This, not long since, was to be seen in the house of Carnbroe, very carefully preserved; and perhaps it remains there to this day.
By his first wife, Lilias Fleming, he had one son and four daughters; by his second wife, Principal Strang’s daughter, he had one daughter, who was married to Walkinshaw of Barrowfield.
About this time he was a great confidant of the Marquis of Argyle, the Earls of Cassilis, Eglinton, Lauderdale, and Loudon, Lord Balmerino, and Sir Archibald Johnston (Lord Warriston), with others of the leaders amongst the Covenanters; whereby he obtained the most exact knowledge of the transactions of that time, which he has carefully collected in his Letters. As he expresses himself, there was no one from whom his correspondent could get a more full narrative under Cromwell’s usurpation. He joined with the Resolutioners, and composed several of the papers belonging to that party, 1661.
He was, by Lauderdale’s interest, made Principal of the College of Glasgow, upon the removal of Mr Patrick Gillespie. About which time, it is commonly said that he had a bishopric offered him, but that he refused it; because, says the writer of the Memorial, he did not choose to enter into a dispute with those whom he had formerly lived with in friendship. But this was only a sly way of wounding an amiable character; for Baillie continued firmly attached to Presbyterian government, and in opposition to Prelacy, to the very last. Several instances could be brought, but a few extracts from some of his own letters, particularly one to Lauderdale, a little before his death, may effectually wipe away that reproach:
“Having the occasion of this bearer, I tell you my heart is broken with grief, and I find the burthen of the public weighty, and hastening me to my grave. What need you do that disservice to the King, which all of you cannot recompense, to grieve the hearts of all your godly friends in Scotland, with pulling down all our laws at once, which concerned our Church since 1633. Was this good advice, or will it thrive? Is it wisdom to bring back upon us the Canterburian times, the same designs, the same practices? Will they not bring on the same effects, whatever fools dream?”
And again, in the same letter, further on, he says,
“My lord, you are the nobleman in all the world I love best, and esteem most. I think I may say I write to you what I please. If you have gone with your heart to forsake your covenant, to countenance the re-introduction of bishops and books, and strengthen the King by your advice in those things, I think you a prime transgressor, and liable among the first to answer for that great sin.”
When the Archbishop came to visit him on his deathbed, he would not so much as give him the appellation of lord; yea, it appears that the introduction of Prelacy hastened his death, as appears evident from his last public letter to his cousin, Mr Spang, dated May 12, 1662. After some account of the west-country ministers being called into Edinburgh, he says,
“The guise is now, the bishops will trouble no man, but the states will punish seditious ministers. This poor Church is in the most hard taking that ever we have seen. This is my daily grief; this hath brought all my bodily trouble on me, and is like to do me more harm.”
Very shortly after that, in the month of July, he got to his rest and glorious reward, being aged sixty-three years.
Robert Baillie may very justly, for his profound and universal learning, exact and solid judgment, be accounted amongst the great men of his time. He was an honour to his country, and his works do praise him in the gates; among which are his Scripture Chronology, written in Latin; his Canterburian Self-conviction; his Parallels or Comparison of the Liturgy with the Mass Book; his Dissuasive against the Errors of the Times, and a large manuscript collection of Historical Papers and Letters, consisting of four volumes folio, beginning in the year 1637, and ending at the Restoration. To him is, by some, ascribed that book entitled “Historia Motuum in Regno Scotiae, annis 1634-1640;” and if he was the author of that, then he also wrote another anonymous paper, called “A Short Relation of the State of the Kirk of Scotland, from the Reformation of Religion to the month of October, 1638.” For, from the preface to the last-mentioned book, it appears that both were written by the same hand. He also wrote Laudensium, an Antidote against Arminianism, a Reply to the Modest Inquirer, with other tracts, and some sermons on public occasions.
In the Life and now published Letters of Principal Baillie, we have a striking proof of human frailty; nay, more, that even great and good men will be biassed in judgment, and prejudiced in mind at others more faithful than themselves. For instance, those very noblemen and ministers, to whom he gives the highest eulogiums of praise for being the prime instruments in God’s hand for carrying on the work of Reformation betwixt 1638 and 1639, no sooner took the Protesters’ side, than he not only represents some of them to be of such a character as I shall forbear to mention, but even gives us a very diminutive view of their most faithful contendings about that time; wherein the gallant Argyle, the courageous Loudon, the able statesman Warriston, faithful Guthrie, godly Rutherford, peaceable Livingstone, honest M‘Ward, etc, cannot escape their share of reflections.
This, no doubt, adds nothing to the credit of the last ten years of his history, and all from a mistaken view of the controversy betwixt these Protesters and his own party, the Resolutioners; taking, as he did, all divisions and calamities that befell the Church, State, and army, at that time, to proceed from the Protesters not concurring with them; whereas, it was just the reverse. The admission of Charles II, that atheistical wretch, and his malignant faction, into the bosom of the Church, proved the Achan in the camp that brought these evils upon the Church, State, and army, at and since that time. The Protesters could not submit their consciences to the arbitrary dictates of the public Resolutioners. They could not agree to violate their almost newly-sworn Covenant, by approving of the admission of these wicked malignants into public places of power and trust; in defence of which, many of them faced the awful gibbet, banishment, imprisonment, and other excruciating hardships. Whereas, several hundreds of the Resolutioners, on the very first blast of temptation, involved themselves in fearful apostacy and perjury; some of them becoming violent persecutors of their faithful brethren, and not a few of them absolute monsters of iniquity.
This article on Robert Baillie is from John Howie’s Scots Worthies, first published 1775, revised and enlarged 1781. Revised from the author’s original edition, by Rev W H Carslaw, (Edinburgh: Johnstone, Hunter and Company, 1870), pp 280-288.
Editorial notes in square brackets were inserted by Rev W H Carslaw, who stated in his preface:
“Nothing new has been inserted without being carefully marked; and even these insertions have been made as few and brief as possible, their principle object being to supply important historical links for the reader’s information and guidance. A few of Howie’s notes have also been put into the text where this could easily be done, and several verbal corrections have been made.”
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