William Guthrie : 1620-1665
The century or so of upheaval which followed the Reformation in Scotland and the change over from mediaeval to modern learning, was but part of the movements which were reshaping the whole of the pattern of the Western European way of life. With the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire through the impact of the rising spirit of nationalism, kings strove to establish absolute monarchies, to be opposed in some cases, as in England and Scotland,. by resolute peoples influenced by the emergence of ideas of popular sovereignty. Charles II sought to emulate the dictatorship of Louis XIV, and planned to establish an Episcopal form of Church government amenable to the Royal will, with the king as the head of the Church. The relations between Church and State, and the consequent Erastian controversy were thus no mere academic issue in the seventeenth century. England and Scotland, in common with Holland, had religious divisions, with Protestantism uppermost, while of the parties of Protestantism the more vital Calvinism grew in numbers and influence. It has been said that the Covenanting movement, which is the great background of our study, was the outcome of the differing developments of the Reformation in England and Scotland. The growth of Puritanism was an important feature of the period and, with the emergence of the Independents, including the Quakers, created problems for the churchmen, in the British kingdoms, especially England. Within the Churches the spread of the Puritan spirit led to divisions; in the Roman Church the Jansenist controversy; in England, Puritan am Anglican gradually became two instead of one, while in Scotland the Covenanters divided into Resolutioners and Protesters. The social contract philosophy and its spiritual counterpart, the Covenants, formed part of the thinking of the men of the period. The illiteracy of the common people, and the low moral standards inherited from the sixteenth century, were accompanied by a recrudescence of superstition, especially the cult of witchcraft which the Church throughout Europe sought to stamp out. On the other hand, the enormous increase in the influence of the Bible on all aspects of life, and of the pulpit on morality and liberty, made the moral power of a really popular preacher, such as William Guthrie, incalculable. Our period opens with the last years of James VI of Scotland, am closes after the Restoration of Charles II, and includes great events in the life of Scotland. It covers the reaction of the resolute Northerners against the absolutist pretensions of their king and the ancillary prelatical Episcopacy, with its instrument the Book of Common Prayer, which led to the National Covenant of 1638, and the Solemn League and Covenant with England, the spirit of which was shattered by the execution of Charles I in 1649. Wars against the King's men, including the struggle of the Covenanted Kingdom against Montrose, the invasion of Scotland by Cromwell, the Cromwellian Union, the Commonwealth, the Restoration of Charles II, with the disestablishment of Presbyterianism and the beginnings of the great sufferings which did not end till the Revolution, are all part of the background of our story. The so-called Second Reformation was a time of consolidating the work begun by the Reformers, by men equally great in their day and generation.