Bible and sword : the Cameronian contribution to freedom of religion
Thesis (DTh (Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology))—University of Stellenbosch, 2008.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Stewart rulers of Scotland and England endeavoured to enforce Royal Absolutism on both countries. This included ecclesiastical pressure on the Scottish Presbyterians, giving rise to a movement known as the Covenanters. One identifying aspect was their fieldpreachings, or Conventicles, held in secret, frequently on the moors. As persecution increased, worshippers took weapons to these Conventicles for selfdefence in case of attack during the service. Royal efforts to impose Episcopalianism on Scotland intensified after the Restoration of 1660 and were met with resistance. In 1666 open revolt broke out in The Pentland Rising, which was put down with great severity after the Covenanters were defeated at Rullion Green. Open revolt broke out again in 1679, when some Covenanters defeated a small royalist force at Drumclog, but they were soundly defeated by the royal army at Bothwell Brig shortly afterwards. The Covenanters split into two factions, moderate and extreme; the extreme element becoming known as Cameronians after the martyred covenanting preacher Rev Richard Cameron, “The Lion of the Covenant.” The hypothesis researched was that; The development and actions of the Cameronian movement made a significant contribution to Freedom of Religion in Scotland. The hypothesis rests on whether Cameronian influence was significant, and to what degree. Subsequent to Bothwell Brig, the Covenanting movement virtually collapsed in Scotland. The leaders fled to Holland and the common people who remained were severely persecuted. But by early 1680, two covenanting ministers, Richard Cameron and Donald Cargill, had returned from Holland to preach in the fields against Erastian limitations on doctrine, worship, discipline, and church government. They were hunted down and killed, but their followers (now called Cameronians) formed their own ecclesiastical polity known as the United Societies. This was a presbyterial Church, separate but not sundered from the Church of Scotland (The Kirk), which had by now largely accepted a considerable degree of Erastianism. The Cameronians became a small but vociferous pressure group, not only persecuted, but denigrated by moderate Presbyterians. Throughout this period they ensured a considerable degree of freedom of religion for themselves, despite the ever intensifying persecution. Their stance was vindicated at the Glorious Revolution of 1688/9, one outcome being the raising of both a guard, and a regiment, of Cameronians, both of which enabled a period of comparative calm and safety to prevail, thus allowing Parliament and the General Assembly to finalise the Revolution Settlement for both Church and State, without any external threat from Jacobitism. The Cameronian clergy then became reconciled with the Kirk in 1690, and brought two-thirds of the United Societies with them, thus ending their period of isolation, and once more presenting a (virtually) united Presbyterian front to the world. Rev Alexander Shields was critical to both the formation of the regiment and reconciliation with the Kirk. The thesis demonstrates that the Cameronians made four significant contributions to freedom of religion in Scotland. Firstly, they made a significant contribution to freedom of religion by their struggle to protect the right to retain their own freedom of doctrine, worship, discipline and church government, resisting every effort to remove these by force. In 1690 they secured these freedoms. Secondly by their new-found military effectiveness, they secured a climate of comparative peace and stability in the latter half of 1689 and 1690, during which both Parliament and General Assembly were able to carry through vital legislation for Church and State, without any external threat. Thirdly, through the reconciliation of their clergy with the Kirk, the Cameronians were catalytic in the establishment of a [virtually] united Presbyterian front in Scotland,1 thereby ensuring that the Kirk was strong enough to accept the existence of other denominations without feeling unduly threatened. Fourthly, Rev Alexander Shields stands out as catalytic in the achievement of the Second and Third significant contributions. It can be argued that his behaviour, in itself, was a significant contribution to Freedom of Religion.