Scotland was known at one time as the ‘Land of the Book’, with Glasgow’s motto in AD1631, “Lord, let Glasgow flourish through the preaching of thy word and praising thy name”.
Scotland has a rich Christian heritage, of which sadly, many today are unaware. Few nations in this world have been as blessed as much as Scotland or have contributed as much to the world of Engineering, Science, Medicine and Economics. Many missionaries also left Scotland for foreign lands and in 1910 Edinburgh held the first world missionary conference.
Early Christian History
Christianity came to Britain immediately after the time of Christ, in the time of the Romans. About AD 200 Tertullian wrote that Christianity had spread even into the most northern areas of Britain. It is possible that the first Christians who came to Scotland were Roman soldiers. The early Church in Britain was persecuted by the Saxons invaders and Christianity only managed to survive in the Celtic fringes in Wales and some parts of Scotland.
Ireland became Christianised through the efforts of St. Patrick (AD387-461). St Columba (AD521-597) was an Irish abbot and missionary and in 563 AD Columba left Ireland and settled with the Celts of Scotland. He was based on the Island of Iona, just off the coast of Scotland. He founded a monastery in Iona in AD 563, and from here he converted the Celts and the Picts to Christianity by his preaching and example. By AD 397 Ninian (AD 360 – 432) had built a stone church north of Hadrian’s Wall and Christianity was spreading in Scotland. He also appears to have set up a mission based at Abercorn, about 12 miles from Edinburgh and from there many missionaries started to reach the Celts, Picts and Scots.
By AD 424 St Serf had already established a monastery at Culross in Fife.
St Mungo, who eventually became the apostle of the Strathclyde district and Bishop of Cumbria in AD 543, established the Church in Glasgow but preached all the way from Galloway to the Orkneys. Glasgow’s motto for many years was: Lord, let Glasgow flourish through the preaching of thy Word and the praise of thy name. Patrick, Columba and Mungo were part of the Celtic church which was established in Britain long before the arrival of the Roman Catholic Church in 597 AD.
St Cuthbert (AD 634-687) was born near the River Tweed in AD 635. There is a strong tradition that Cuthbert used to preach in the Grass Market area below what is now Edinburgh Castle. In AD 685 he became Bishop of Holy Island (Lindisfarne) and died AD 687 on Inner Farne in Northumbria.
Patrick Hamilton, an abbot from a monastery, had been converted in Germany; he returned to Britain and began preaching in Scotland. He was burnt at the stake as a heretic, outside the front entrance to St Salvator’s Chapel in St Andrews in 1528. With calm assurance he spoke of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Christ alone.
One of the early evangelists in Scotland was George Wishart (1513 – 1546). As a young man, he had been ordained as a priest but he resigned to preach the Gospel. John Knox was converted by Wishart’s preaching and he became Wishart’s bodyguard. George Wishart was arrested by Cardinal Beaton and was condemned to be burnt at the stake in St Andrew’s on 1st March 1546 (a cross marks the spot on the road outside the castle and bottle dungeon).
John Knox( 1514 – 1572) became a powerful leader in the Scottish Reformation. A man of action and passion, he preached against the established church for its unscriptural doctrines, and also challenged the excesses of Mary Queen of Scots. He was captured by the French at St Andrew’s and sent to a French Galley for being a part of a rebellion against Mary but John Knox did not give up hope that he would one day preach in Scotland again. John Knox was released from the galley through public pressure in England and a ransom was also paid. After his release he spent time in England and Geneva, learning much from John Calvin before he was able to return to Scotland and lead the Reformation. From 1560 he preached in St Giles Cathedral and lived on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. No other Reformer wielded as much influence as John Knox; the whole nation of Scotland felt his presence. John Knox influence brought Church leaders, together along with dignitaries to rebuild a new society for Scotland.
Whilst St Giles’ in the High Street was the preaching centre of the Reformation, the Magdalen Chapel in the Cowgate became the workshop for the transformation of our culture in Scotland. From here the blueprint for a Scotland built on Christian values, democracy, freedom of speech, education for all (from primary school to university), was published in 1560 which impacted Scotland and the world and heralded the Reformation in Scotland. As a result the University of Edinburgh began with two Professors and a handful of students based in the Magdalen Chapel. In 1572, John Knox was laid to rest in the graveyard behind St Giles’ Cathedral.
During this period the persecution continued and in 1534 David Stratton and Norman Gourlay were hanged and burnt at Greenside on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. On 28th February, 1538, six more were executed by burning just outside Edinburgh Castle. Their ‘crime’ had been to preach the message of God.
The Martyrs’ Monument was built in St Andrews to commemorate four men executed during the 16th Century for their Protestant beliefs. St Andrews, which at that time had the largest cathedral in Scotland and one of the most celebrated in Europe, was, somewhat inevitably, drawn into the events leading up to the Protestant Reformation.
Patrick Hamilton was first to be burnt at the stake, in 1527, after he promoted the doctrines of Martin Luther. Henry Forest was executed in 1533 for owning a copy of the New Testament in English. George Wishart was burnt at the stake for defying the Catholic Church and Walter Myln followed in 1558, having advocated married clergy.
THE COVENANTERS – ‘Freedom is a noble thing and usually it comes at a great price’
Charles I tried to reaffirm his own authority as Head of the Scottish Church. The final straw was when he forced the Scottish people to have an Anglicised Prayer Book. When it was read in St Giles’ on 23rd July 1637 a riot broke out. According to tradition, Jenny Geddes flung her prayer stool at the dean of the High Kirk of St Giles in Edinburgh on 23 July 1637 when he tried to read from the new prayer book for the first time and said “whae dor say mass in my lug” In February 1638, at a ceremony in Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, large numbers of Scottish noblemen, gentry, clergy and burgesses signed the Covenant, committing themselves under God to preserving the purity of the Kirk. Copies were distributed throughout Scotland for signing on a wave of popular support.
Charles II declared private gatherings (Conventicles) of Christians unlawful and began persecuting the Church. So from AD1670 any Minister caught preaching in these gatherings would be executed. Thus began the ‘Killing Times’ began in which over 18,000 Covenanters perished, over 100 of them being executed in Edinburgh.
• James White was caught at a prayer meeting near Kilmarnock and the soldiers shot him, then the Captain cut off his head with an axe and used his head as a makeshift ‘football’ on the grass.
Their memorial at Wigton.
• In 1686 David Steel was caught at his farmhouse by soldiers who said he would have a fair trial. Instead they took him outside and blew off his head with their guns in front of his wife and child.
• In 1661 Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll, was led to his execution by guillotine in the Edinburgh Grassmarket.
• The Rev James Guthrie tried everything to bring about peace, but as he would not compromise his faith he was executed, and his head was driven onto a spike on the Netherbow Port (the city gates next to John Knox’s House). He said before he died ” I set the crown on the Kings Head. He hastens me to a better Crown than his own”
• Many Covenanters thought it was their duty to defend freedom of speech with arms and several battles ensued. The last one, the Battle of Bothwell Brig in 1679, was a great tragedy. They were defeated and the 1400 survivors were rounded up and taken to a makeshift prison next to Greyfriars Kirk, where the National Covenant had been signed. Crowded in what has been called the ‘world’s first concentration camp’, many died of suffocation. The rest were either executed or sold into slavery, where most perished in a shipwreck.
• Finally, in 1688, with the arrival of William of Orange, ‘The Glorious Revolution’ ensured the freedom of speech and religion that the Covenanters had longed for.
If you go to Greyfriars Kirk you can visit the monument to the Covenanters.
Further information on the Covenanters
THE GREAT AWAKENING: THE 19th CENTURY
Under in influence of David Hume, Charles Darwin and others based in Edinburgh, the Athens of the North, the Enlightenment Movement had influenced the clergy, many of whom were now more interested in philosophy, gambling, drinking and the theatre, than looking after the poor and needy. A growing number of devout Christians were determined to do something about it.
• David Nasmith (1799-1839) was born and brought up in Glasgow and founded over sixty Christian societies in his dynamic, but short life. He is particularly remembered for pioneering the YMCA and City Missions. In 1832 he came to this city and set up the Edinburgh City Mission in a shop at 375 High St (Royal Mile), opposite St Giles’ Cathedral. He gathered together ministers who had a real heart for God and people and set about commissioning men and women in the city to transform the darkest slums into places of heaven. In 1841 Edinburgh City Mission was started and many prostitutes, criminals and drunkards in the Grassmarket were dramatically changed through the preaching of these missionaries.
• This then prepared the way for a larger movement in 1859 that deeply impacted the poor in the Royal Mile area, and indeed the city, as a whole. The huge ingathering into the Church in the 1873 Revival was an accumulation of the previous waves, and led to an astounding transformation of the city in every section of the populace.
• Rev Dr Thomas Guthrie (1792–1873). He was shocked by the bad behaviour of the children who were left to roam the streets in wild, filthy gangs. Working together with the churches and the Edinburgh City Mission, Guthrie pioneered the Ragged Schools for the poor children, in which they were educated, fed, clothed and given medical care. The first school was at St Columba’s Free Church near the Castle, where Thomas Guthrie was the minister. These schools multiplied and eventually became part of the foundation for the State Education System.
• Rev. Professor Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847) was also a great pioneer in education and social welfare.
Medical and Scientific Discoveries
Edinburgh University became a leading world centre in the sciences, particularly in medicine. Amongst the famous pioneers of science in this period were several Christians.
• Thomas Young (1773–1829) studied at Edinburgh University where he also became a Professor of Medicine. He invented the double-slit experiment for studying light.
• Sir David Brewster (1781–1868) was Principal at Edinburgh University. He invented the kaleidoscope and refined the science of microscopes.
• Sir James Young Simpson (1811– 1870) trained as an obstetrician and became a Professor of Midwifery at Edinburgh University. He pioneered the medical use of chloroform. He was a very dedicated Christian who led the Medical Dispensary work for the poor at Carrubbers Close Mission on the Royal Mile. When asked what his greatest discovery was, he cheerfully replied that it was finding Christ as his Saviour.
• Lord Joseph Lister (1827–1912) discovered antiseptics and hugely advanced surgical methods.
• James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879), alongside Newton and Einstein, has been regarded as one of the greatest scientists of all time. He is famous for Maxwell’s equations in physics. His work paved the way for Einstein’s theory of relativity, radio, television, radar, satellite communication and x-ray.
Revivals – There have been many revivals throughout the centuries in Scotland
• In 1859 in Edinburgh – Everywhere in the city there was talk about God’s visit to the city. Daily prayer meetings took place, packing the Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile and crowds of up to 10,000 would turn up to hear gospel preaching in places like Queen’s Park, the Grassmarket, Parliament Square and Calton Hill. The most remarkable thing about this movement was the way in which the children, the marginalised, the poor, the criminals and alcoholics were totally transformed.
• George Whitfield preached to 100,000 people in Cambuslang.
• Robert Murray McCheyne 1840’s. A great Scottish preacher
• In 1873 Moody and Sankey, two Americans hit Scotand like a whirlwind: In Edinburgh the tour was so effective that by the end the only place big enough for the crowds was the field below Arthur’s Seat, at the bottom of the Royal Mile. Moody and Sankey came across the work of the Carrubbers Close Mission in the Royal Mile and were so impressed that they decided to raise funds for a new building. Eventually, after more fundraising, a new building was established and in 1884 was consecrated. Today it is known as Carrubbers Christian Centre.
• More recently, in 1949, a revival came to Hebrides Islands in Northern Scotland. Peggy and Christine Smith (aged 84 and 82) prayed constantly for a revival, and God showed Peggy in a dream that a revival was coming. They asked their minister to call the church leaders to prayer, and three nights every week the leaders would come together for prayer. This went on for months, until one night God’s awesome presence filled the barn where they prayed. Rev. Duncan Campbell was invited to come to lead the meetings. After the first meeting he was invited to an all-night prayer meeting. Walking home at 3 am in the morning, there were already signs of what was to come: men and women were seeking God, and no-one seemed interested in sleep. By the next morning, the church was packed with people who were repentant and convicted of sin. For five weeks, meetings continued night and day, and the presence of God, was overwhelming. The revival spread throughout the Islands, bringing change and a new life to many.
• David Livingstone (1813–1873), from an earlier period, had established the Church in parts of Africa.
• Mary Slessor (1849-1915) from Dundee who served in Calabar. She was known by the Africans as ‘The Great White Queen’ because she was so respected by all who knew her.
• Eric Liddell (1905 – 1945) made memorable by the film Chariots of Fire, was an Olympic gold medallist (1924), who studied at Edinburgh University, and who died for his faith as a missionary in China. It was said that ‘all Scotland mourned his death’.
• In 1910 an extraordinary meeting took place in Edinburgh. It was billed as The World Missionary Conference. The slogan of the week was ‘Evangelising the world in our generation’. Missionaries poured in from 120 countries around the globe in what was the first world missionary conference.