Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/221

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.



to return to their ordinary affairs. Taking advantage of this change, the two Melvilles resolved on resuming their labours, and accordingly entered on their respective duties about the middle of March. In the beginning of April the Synod of Fife convened, and it was the duty of James Melville, as moderator at the last meeting, to open their proceedings with a sermon. He chose for his text that part of the twelfth chapter of St Paul's Epistle to the Romans, in which the Christian church is compared to the human body, composed, like it, of many members, the harmonious operation of which is essential to the health of the whole. After showing by reference to Scripture what was the constitu tion of the true church, refuting the doctrine of " the human and devilish bishopric," adverting to the purity of the reformed constitution of their church, and proving that the inordinate ambition of a few had been in all ages the destruction of that purity he turned towards the archbishop, who was sitting with great pomp in the assembly, charged him with the overthrow of the goodly fabric, and exhorted the brethren to cut off so unwor- thy a member from among them. Notwithstanding the remonstrances and pro- tests of the prelate, the Synod immediately took up the case, went on, with an inattention to all the forms of decency and some of those of justice which their warmest advocates do not pretend to vindicate, an:l ordered him to be ex- communicated by Andrew Hunter, minister of Carnbee. Thus, by the fervour of their zeal, and perhaps goaded on by personal wrongs, did an Assembly, composed, in the main, of worthy men, subject themselves to censure in the case of a man of a character disgraceful to his profession ; and whom, had they been content to act with more moderation, nothing but the strong hand of civil power could have screened from their highest censures, while even it could not have defended him from deserved infamy.

But the informality of the Synod's proceedings gave their enemies an unfor- tunate hold over them, and was the means of baffling their own ends. By the influence of the king, the General Assembly, which met soon afterwards, an- nulled their sentence, and the Melvilles, being summoned before the king, were commanded to confine themselves, Andrew to his native place, and James to his college. Thus did matters continue during that summer. James Melville lectured to a numerous audience on the sacred history, illustrating it by reference to geography and chronology. On each alternate day he read lectures on St Paul's Epistle to Timothy, in the course of which he took many oppor- tunities of attacking the hated order of bishops.

Melville was now to obtain what had all along been the object of his highest wishes a settlement as minister of a parish. In 1583, the charge of the con- junct parishes of Abercrombie, Pittenweem, Anstruther, and Kilrenny, became vacant by the decease of the incumbent, and thus they continued for several years. When the Presbytery of St Andrews resumed their meetings on the re- turn of the banished ministers, commissioners were appointed to visit these parishes, and to bring them, if possible, to the unanimous choice of a minister. James Melville, who had been nominated one of these commissioners, soon gained the affections of the people insomuch that they unanimously requested the Presbytery to send him among them. That court no less warmly urged his acceptance, and he accordingly removed to his charge in July, 1586.

It may be readily conceived, that to perform the duties of four parishes was a task far beyond the moral and physical capabilities of any single individual, more especially after they had so long wanted the benefit of a regular ministry. Their conjunction was the result of the mercenary plans of Morton and his friends, but no man MIS less actuated by such motives than Melville. No sooner did he become acquainted with the state of these parishes thjui he