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Significant Scots
Alexander Henderson

Alexander HendersonHENDERSON, ALEXANDER, one of the most eminent of the many eminent men whose names are interwoven with the annals of Scotland at probably the most interesting period of her history, (the middle of the17th century,) was born about the year 1583. He is supposed to have been descended from the Hendersons of Fordel, "a house," says Wodrow, "of good quality of Fife." Of his early life there is little farther known than that he was distinguished for his assiduity and progress in learning, in which he greatly excelled all his school fellows. Having been sent to the university of St Andrews to complete his studies, he there went through the ordinary routine of learning, but with much more than ordinary reputation, a circumstance sufficiently evinced by his having been made master of arts, and soon after admitted regent or professor of philosophy. As this appointment took place previous to the year 1611, when he could not be more than eight and twenty years of age, it is evident that Henderson was already considered a man of no common attainments. The situation of professor of philosophy he held for several years, discharging its duties with a zeal and ability which acquired him much reputation.

It is not surprising to find, that at this period of his life he was a strenuous advocate for the dominant or Episcopal party in the church. His patrons hitherto were of that party. He had long associated with men who entertained its principles, and, unable to foresee the great changes which were about to take place in the civil and religious polity of the kingdom, as well as that which afterwards happened in his own private sentiments, he naturally enough, while perfectly sincere in the opinions which he then entertained on religious matters, conceived besides, that in the direction of these opinions, and in that direction alone, lay the road to preferment. Inspired by the ambition of a mind conscious of its powers, Henderson, after the lapse of a few years, becoming impatient of the circumscribed sphere to which a professorship of philosophy confined him, turned his attention to divinity, as opening a wider field for the exercise of his talents.

After preparing himself for the ministerial calling, he was appointed to the church of Leuchars, in Fife, through the patronage of archbishop Gladstanes. His appointment, however, was exceedingly unpopular: all his talents and learning could not reconcile his parishioners to a man introduced amongst them by episcopal influence, and who was known to be himself of that detested party. The consequence was, that on the day of his ordination he was received with every mark of popular dislike. The church doors were shut against him and carefully secured in the inside, to prevent all possibility of admittance. Determined, however, in despite of these very manifest tokens of public feeling, to perform the ceremony of ordination, Hendersonís party entered the church by a window, and proceeded with the business of the day.

Whatever were Mr Hendersonís other merits, and these were certainly of no ordinary kind, it is known that any extraordinary anxiety about the spiritual interests of his parishioners was not amongst the number. At this period of his life, in short, although not remarkable for the reverse, he seems to have been but slightly impressed with the sacredness of his new calling, and to have taken but little farther interest in matters of religion, than abiding by the general principles in which he had been educated. This conduct, however, and these sentiments were soon to undergo a remarkable change, and that under circumstances in themselves not less remarkable. Having learned that the celebrated Mr Bruce of Kinnaird was to assist at a communion in the neighbourhood or Leuchars, Henderson, desirous of hearing the preaching of a man who had long been conspicuous as an opponent of the court measures, and whose fame for peculiar gifts in matters of theology was widely spread, repaired to the church where he was officiating. Not choosing, however, to be recognized, he sought to conceal himself in a dark corner of the building. Bruce, nevertheless, seems to have been aware of his presence; or, if not, there was a singular coincidence in the applicability of the text which he chose, to the remarkable circumstances which attended Hendersonís induction to his charge. Be this as it may, the sermon which followed made such a powerful impression upon him as effected an entire change in his religious conduct and sentiments; and from being a careless and indifferent pastor over his flock, and an upholder of a system odious in the highest degree to the people, he became a watchful and earnest minister, and a resolute champion in the cause of presbyterianism.

In three years after his appointment to Leuchars parish, which took place some time previous to the year 1615, Mr Henderson, though sedulous in the discharge of his ministerial duties since the period of his conversion, made no public appearance on the side of that party whose principles he had embraced. The opportunity, however, which was all that was wanting for his making such an appearance, at length presented itself. In August, 1618, the celebrated Five articles of Perth, which occasioned so much clamour in Scotland, from their containing as many points of episcopal worship, which James was desirous of thrusting on the people of that kingdom, having been carried by a packed majority in an assembly held at Perth, Henderson stood among the foremost of those who opposed, though unsuccessfully, the obnoxious measure; and this too, in defiance of the kingís utmost wrath, with which all who resisted the adoption of the Five articles were threatened. "In case of your refusal," said the archbishop of St Andrews, addressing the assembled clergymen, "the whole order and estate of your church will be overthrown, some ministers will be banished, others will be deprived of their stipends and office, and all will be brought under the wrath of authority."

Not at all intimidated by this insolent and indecent threat, Henderson with several of his brethren courageously opposed the intended innovations. For this resistance, to which was added a charge of composing and publishing a book against the validity of the Perth assembly, he was with other two ministers summoned in the month of August, 1619, to appear before the court of High Commission in St Andrews. Obeying the summons, Henderson and his brethren presented themselves before the bishops, when the former conducted himself with such intrepidity, and discussed the various matters charged against him and his colleagues with such talent and force of reasoning, that his judges, though they eagerly sought it, could gain no advantage over him, and were obliged to content themselves with threatening, that if he again offended he should be more hardly dealt with. With this intimation Henderson and his friends were dismissed. From this period to the year 1637, he does not appear to have meddled much with any transactions of a public character. During this long period he lived retired, confining his exertions within the bounds of his own parish, in which he found sufficient employment from a careful and anxious discharge of his pastoral duties. Obscure and sequestered, however, as the place of his ministry was, his fame as a man of singular capacity, and as an eloquent and powerful debater, was already abroad and widely known; and when the hour of trial came, those talents were recollected, and their possessor called upon to employ them in the behalf of his religion.

Before, however, resuming the narrative of Mr Hendersonís public career, it may be necessary to give a brief sketch of the circumstances which induced him to leave his retirement and to mingle once more in the religious distractions of the times. The unfortunate Charles I. inheriting all the religious as well as political prejudices of his father James VI. had, upon the moment of his accession to the throne, entertained the design of regulating church worship in Scotland by the forms observed in that of England. In this attempt he was only following out an idea of his fatherís; but what the one with more wisdom had little more than contemplated, the other determined to execute. Unfortunately for Charles he found but too zealous an abettor of his dangerous and injudicious designs in his favourite counsellor in church affairs, Laud, archbishop of Canterbury. Encouraged in the schemes of violence which he meditated against the religious principles of Scotland, and urged on to their execution by Laud, Charles, after a series of lesser inroads on the presbyterian mode of worship in Scotland, finally, and with a rash hand fired the train which he had prepared, and by which he set all Scotland in a blaze. This was the imposition of the Liturgy or Service Book on the church of Scotland. This celebrated book, which was principally composed by Wedderburn, bishop of Dunblane, and Maxwell, bishop of Ross, and afterwards revised by Laud, and Wren, bishop of Norwich, was grounded upon the book of common prayer used in England, but contained, besides, some parts of the catholic ritual, such as the benediction or thanksgiving for departed saints, the use of the cross in baptism and of the ring in the celebration of marriage, the consecration of water at particular times by prayer, with many other ordinances of a similar character. Most of these observances were introduced by Laud when revising the original work. When the book was completed, the king gave instructions to the archbishops and bishops regarding its introduction; and immediately after issued a proclamation requiring his subjects, both ecclesiastical and civil, to conform to the mode of worship which it enjoined, concluding with an order that every parish should be furnished with two copies, between the publication of the injunction and Easter. The book itself, a large folio, was prefaced by a charge from the king, denouncing as rebels all who refused it. To complete the measure of Charlesís rashness on the subject of the service book, it was introduced into Scotland without having been submitted to presbyteries, and without the sanction of the General Assembly.

The consequence of the introduction of the liturgy, aggravated as it was by the manner of its introduction, was, as might have been expected, in the last degree serious and important. The country rose nearly to a man against the popish innovation. In Edinburgh the bishops who presided at the ceremony of its first introduction were mobbed and maltreated: and the ministers everywhere carefully prepared their congregations to resist the obnoxious volume. The whole land, in short, was agitated by one violent commotion, and the minds of men were roused into a state of feverish excitement, which threatened the most serious results. It was at this critical moment that Henderson came again upon the stage. In the same predicament with other clergymen, Henderson was charged to purchase two copies of the liturgy for the use of his parish within fifteen days, under the pain of rebellion. On receiving the charge, Henderson immediately proceeded to Edinburgh and presented a petition to the privy council, representing that the service book had not received the sanction of the General Assembly nor was authorized by any act of parliament; that the church of Scotland was free and independent, and ought not to be dictated to except through her own pastors, who were the proper and the best judges of what was for her benefit; that the form of worship received at the Reformation was still sanctioned by the legislature and the supreme ecclesiastical judicatory, and could not be invaded excepting by the same authority; that some of the ceremonies enjoined by the book had occasioned great divisions, and were extremely obnoxious to the people, who had been taught to hold them in abhorrence. This bold statement Henderson concluded by soliciting a suspension of the charge. What hope Henderson entertained that this supplication or rather remonstrance would be formally listened to by the privy council, cannot now be ascertained. There is no reason, however, to conclude, that he possessed any secret intelligence regarding the real dispositions of that body. The credit, therefore, must be awarded him of having come forward on this perilous occasion trusting to the strength of his cause alone, and fully prepared to meet the consequences, whatever they might be, of the step which he had taken. The result was more favourable than probably either Henderson or the country expected. The council granted the suspension required, until the kingís further pleasure should be known; but, for the remuneration of the kingís printer, ordained by an express act, as the decision in Hendersonís case was of course understood to apply to the whole kingdom, that each parish should provide itself with two copies of the book, but without any injunction to make use of them. The order for reading the liturgy was also suspended, until new instructions on the subject should be received from his majesty. The kingís answer, however, to the representations of the privy council, at once overturned all hopes of concession in the matter of the liturgy. Instead of giving way to the general feeling, he repeated, in a still more peremptory manner than at first, his commands that the service book should be read, and farther ordered that no burgh should choose a magistrate which did not conform. This uncompromising and decided conduct on the part of the king was met by a similar spirit on the part of the people, and the path which Henderson had first taken was soon crowded by the highest and mightiest in the land, all pushing onward with the utmost eagerness and zeal to solicit the recall of the obnoxious liturgy, and discovering on each repulse and on the appearance of each successive obstacle to their wishes, a stronger and stronger disposition to have recourse to violence to accomplish their object, if supplication should fail. On the receipt of the kingís last communication on the all-engrossing subject of the service book, the nobility, barons, ministers, and representatives of boroughs, presented a supplication to the privy council, intreating that the matter might be again brought before the king. In this and in all other matters connected with it, Henderson took a leading part: he suggested and directed all the proceedings of the nonconformists; drew up their memorials and petitions, and was, in short, at once the head and right hand of his party, the deviser and executor of all their measures.

The result of this second supplication to the king was as unsatisfactory as the first. The infatuated monarch, urged on by Laud, and in some measure by erroneous impressions regarding the real state of matters in Scotland, still maintained his resolutions regarding the liturgy. He, however, now so far acknowledged the appeals which had been made to him, as to have recourse to evasion instead of direct opposition as at first, a course at all times more dangerous than its opposite; inasmuch, as while it exhibits all the hostility of the latter, it is entirely without its candour, and is destitute of that manfulness and promptitude, which, if it does not reconcile, is very apt to subdue.

In place of giving any direct answer to the supplication of the nobility and barons, the king instructed his privy council in Edinburgh to intimate to the people by proclamation, that there should be nothing regarding church matters treated of in the council for some time, and that, therefore, all persons who had come to Edinburgh on that account, should repair to their homes within twenty-four hours, on pain of being denounced rebels, put to the horn, and all their movable goods being escheat to the king. This proclamation was immediately followed by another, announcing an intended removal of the court of session from Edinburgh to Linlithgow, and this again by a third, calling in, for the purpose of being burned, a pamphlet lately published against the service book.

These proclamations, which but too plainly intimated that nothing would be conceded to supplication, and that there was no hope of any change in the sentiments of the king, instantly called forth the most decided expressions of popular resentment and determination. The city was at this moment filled with strangersónoblemen, gentlemen, clergymen, and commissioners from the different parishes, besides immense numbers of persons of inferior rank, whom curiosity or interest in the engrossing topic of the day, had assembled in the metropolis from all parts of the country. The town, thus surcharged, as it were, with inflammable matter, soon became a scene of violence and insubordination. The leaders of the nonconformists again met in the midst of the storm, and in defiance of the proclamation, which enjoined their departure, proceeded to deliberate upon the question of what was next to be done. The result was some farther supplications and petitions to the privy council and to the king. These, however, being still unsuccessful, were followed up some months afterwards by a determination to appeal to the people, to unite them in one common bond, and to make the cause at once and unequivocally, the cause of the whole nation. The leaders resolved to adopt a measure which should involve all in its results, be it for good or for evil; by which, in short, not a leader or leaders, nor a party, but an entire kingdom should stand or fall, by swearing before their God to peril the alternative.

This measure was a renewal of the national covenant of 1580 and 1581, adapted, by changes and additions, to the existing circumstances. The remodeled document was drawn up by Mr Henderson, with the assistance of the celebrated Archibald Johnstone, an advocate, and was first exhibited for signature, February 28th, 1638, in the Grey Friarsí church in Edinburgh, where an immense multitude had assembled, for the purpose of hailing the sacred document, and of testifying their zeal in the cause which it was intended to support, by subscribing it. On this occasion Henderson addressed the people with so much fervour and eloquence, that their feelings, already excited, were wound up to the highest pitch, and a degree of enthusiasm pervaded the multitude which sufficiently assured their leaders of the popularity of their cause. The instrument itself, which was now submitted for signature, was a roll of parchment four feet long and three feet eight inches broad; yet such was the general zeal for the covenant, that this immense sheet was in a short time so crowded with names on both sides throughout its whole space, that there was not room latterly for a single additional signature; even the margin was scrawled over with subscriptions, and as the document filled up, the subscribers were limited to the initial letters of their names. Copies were now sent to different parts of the kingdom, and met every where, excepting in three places to be afterwards named, with the same enthusiastic reception which had marked its appearance in Edinburgh, receiving thousands of signatures wherever it was exhibited. The three excepted places were Glasgow, St Andrews, and Aberdeen. In the two former, however, the feeling regarding the covenant amounted to little more than indifference; but in the latter city it was absolutely resisted. Anxious to have the voice of all Scotland with them, and especially desirous that there should not be so important an exception as Aberdeen, the leaders of the covenanters despatched several noblemen and two clergymen, one of whom was Henderson, to that city, to attempt to reclaim it; and this object, chiefly through the powerful eloquence of the subject of this memoir, they accomplished to a very considerable extent, obtaining no less than five hundred signatures, many of them of the highest respectability, immediately after the close of a discourse by Mr Henderson, in which he had urged the most irresistible arguments for the subscribing of the covenant. Mr Henderson was now universally acknowledged as the head of the nonconforming Scottish clergy. On his moderation, firmness, and talent, they reposed their hopes; and to his judgment they left, with implicit confidence, the guidance and direction of their united efforts. Of this feeling towards him they were now about to afford a remarkable proof. The king, though still without any intention of yielding to the demands of the covenanters, having consented that a General Assembly should be held, empowered his commissioner, the marquis of Hamilton, to convoke it. On the second day of the meeting of this celebrated assembly, which sat down at Glasgow on the 21st November, 1638, Mr Henderson was chosen moderator, without one single dissenting voice. To form a correct idea of the general esteem for his amiable qualities, and the appreciation of his abilities which this appointment implied, it is necessary to consider all the singular and important circumstances connected with it -circumstances which altogether rendered it one of the utmost delicacy, difficulty, and hazard. He was, at a moment of the most formidable religious distraction, called upon to preside over an assembly whose decisions were either to allay or to promote that distraction; who were to discuss points of serious difference between their sovereign and the nation; who were to decide, in short, whether the nation was to proclaim open war against their sovereign - a sovereign backed by a nation of much greater power and larger population; an assembly by whose proceedings the religious liberties of the kingdom were either to stand or fall, and one, in consequence, on which the eyes of the whole people were fixed with a gaze of the deepest and most intense interest. Important, however, and responsible as the appointment was, Henderson was found more than equal to it, for he conducted himself on this trying occasion not only with a prudence and resolution which increased the respect and admiration of his own party for his character and talents, but with a forbearance and urbanity which secured him also the esteem of these who were opposed to them. "We have now" said Henderson at the conclusion of the eloquent and impassioned address which terminated the sittings of the assembly, "we have now cast down the walls of Jericho; let him that rebuildeth them beware of the curse Hiel of Bethelite:" a sentence which comprised typically all that had been done and all that would be done in the event of such an attempt being made. Episcopacy was overthrown, the kingís authority put at defiance, and such an attitude of hostility to the court assumed as fell short only of a declaration of open war.

Such was the accession of popularity which Hendersonís conduct procured him on this occasion, that, a day or two before the rising of the assembly, two supplications were given in from two different places earnestly soliciting his pastoral services, the one from St Andrews, the other from Edinburgh. Henderson himself was extremely unwilling to obey either of these calls. Strongly attached to Leuchars, the charge to which he had been first appointed, and which he had now held for many years, he could not reconcile himself to the idea of a removal, pleading in figurative but highly expressive language, that "he was now too old a plant to take root in another soil." The supplicants, however, with a flattering perseverance pressed their suits, and after a strenuous contest between the two parties who sought his ministry, he acquiesced in a removal to Edinburgh; in favour of which the competition terminated by a majority of seventy-five votes. He only stipulated, that when old age should overtake him, he should be permitted to remove again to a country charge. Soon after his removal to Edinburgh, he was promoted to be, what was then called, first or kingís minister. This change, however, in no way abated his zeal in the cause of the covenant; he still continued to be the oracle of his party, and still stood with undisputed and unrivaled influence at the head of the church as now once more reformed.

In the year after his translation to Edinburgh (1639) he was one of the commissioners deputed by the Scottish army, then encamped on Dunse Law, to treat with the king, who, with his forces, had taken post at the Birks, a plain on the English side of the Tweed, within three or four miles of Berwick. During the whole of the various negotiations which took place at this critical and interesting conjuncture, Henderson conducted himself with his usual ability, and moreover with a prudence and candour which did not escape the notice of the king. One of the well known results of these conferences was the meeting in Edinburgh of the General Assembly in the following month of August. On this occasion the earl of Traquair, who was now his majestyís commissioner, was extremely desirous that Mr Henderson should be re-elected moderator, a sufficient proof of the estimation in which he was held by men of all parties. The idea, however, of a constant moderatorship was exceedingly unpopular, and contrary to the constitution of the church; and the suggestion of Traquair was overruled to the entire satisfaction of Mr Henderson himself, who was one of the most strenuous opponents of the proposition. As former moderator, however, he preached to the assembly, and towards the close of his discourse, addressed the earl of Traquairó"We beseech your grace," he said, "to see that Caesar have his own; but let him not have what is due to God, by whom kings reign. God hath exalted your grace unto many high places within these few years, and is still doing so. Be thankful, and labour to exalt Christís throne. When the Israelites came out of Egypt they gave all the silver and gold they had carried thence for the building of the tabernacle; in like manner your grace must employ all your parts and endowments for building up the church of God in this land." He next addressed the members, urging them to persevere in the good cause, but carefully inculcating prudence and moderation in all their doings; for zeal, he said, without these, was "like a ship that hath a full sail, but no rudder."

On the 31st of the same mouth, (August,) Mr Henderson was called upon to preside, in his clerical capacity, at the opening of the parliament, and on that occasion delivered a most impressive discourse, in which he treated of the duties and utility of governors with singular ability and judgment.

A proof still more flattering, perhaps, than any he had yet received of the estimation in which his character and talents were held, was afforded him in the following year, (1640.) Previous to this period the college of Edinburgh was without any presiding officer to regulate its affairs, these receiving only such attention as might result from an annual visit of the town council. As this was little more than a visit of ceremony, the system of education, and almost every thing else connected with the university, was in a most deplorable condition. To remedy these evils the town council came to the resolution of having a rector appointed, to be chosen annually, and whose duty it should be to direct all matters connected with the college, to keep an eye on the conduct of the principal and professors, and to superintend the education of the students, and the disposal of the revenues.

To this honourable and highly responsible office Mr Henderson was unanimously elected; an appointment not more indicative of the general opinion entertained of his moral qualities, than of his learning and abilities; for besides the merely legislative duties which were connected with it, the rector, by the constitution of the office, was to be invited by the preses at all solemn meetings of the college, "to go before the rest in all public disputes of philosophy and divinity."

Mr Henderson, notwithstanding his other various and important avocations, discharged the duties of this office with an attention, ability, and judgment, which soon placed the university on a very different footing from what it had hitherto been. He added to and improved its buildings and its approaches, bestowed especial care on the education of candidates for the ministry, instituted a professorship of oriental languages, a department which had previously been greatly neglected, to the serious injury, in particular, of the students of divinity, whose knowledge of the Hebrew was left to be gleaned from one short weekly lecture on that language; and, in short, he overlooked nothing which could contribute to its interests and prosperity. His own personal influence, together with the high respectability which his sagacious administration had procured for the college, was so great, that the citizens of Edinburgh, with a spirit of emulation which was very far from existing before, strove who should most contribute to the accommodation of its members. The consequence of these judicious and important services was, that Mr Henderson was continued, by re-election, in the office of rector till his death.

From these peaceful pursuits Henderson was occasionally directed to take a share in the renewed distractions of the times. The king having refused to ratify some of the points agreed upon at the Birks, both parties again took up arms: Charles denouncing the covenanters as rebels, marched towards Scotland with an army; while the latter, with three or four and twenty thousand men, penetrated into England. Some partial successes of the Scottish army on this occasion, together with some defections in his own, again brought the unfortunate monarch to pacificatory terms with the covenanters. A conference was begun at Rippon, and afterwards, as the kingís presence was required in London, transferred to that city. The commissioners who were despatched thither by the covenanters to conclude the conference, took with them several of the most popular of the clergy, and amongst these was Mr Henderson, on whose talents they relied for all the subsidiary efforts which were at once to bring the conference to an issue satisfactory to themselves, and to impress the English with a favourable opinion of their cause. Both of these objects they accomplished, and that in no small measure by means of the impressive eloquence and literary talents of Mr Henderson, who, besides exerting himself in the pulpit and elsewhere in forwarding the views of the commissioners by discourses and lectures, wrote also several able tracts and papers which attracted much attention, and produced important effects in favour of the cause which he had come to support.

During Mr Hendersonís stay in London on this occasion, he had an interview with the king, by whom he was graciously received. The conference was a private one, and although on the part of Henderson it was sought specially for the purpose of soliciting a favour for the university of Edinburgh, it is not unlikely that it embraced objects of much greater interest. On his return to Edinburgh in July, 1641, having been detained in London nine months, he was again chosen moderator of the General Assembly, then sitting at Edinburgh, and which had removed thither from St Andrews, where it first met, for the greater conveniency of the nobles who were attending parliament, and, a striking proof of his importance, that it might at this critical period have the advantages of Mr Hendersonís services as moderator.

On this occasion Mr Henderson delivered to the assembly a letter from a number of ministers in London, requesting the advice of their Scottish brethren on certain points of church government. In some perplexity they had written, "That almighty God having now of his infinite goodness raised up our hopes of removing the yoke of episcopacy, (under which we have so long groaned,) sundry other forms of church government are by sundry sorts of men projected to be set up in the room thereof." Henderson was instructed to reply to this letter. In his answer he expressed, in the name of the assembly, the deep interest which they took in the state of what they called, by a somewhat startling association of words, the kirk of England, and earnestly urged a uniformity in church government throughout Britain. Soon after this (14th August) the unfortunate Charles arrived in Edinburgh. Foreseeing the approaching war between himself and his English parliament, he had come down to Scotland with the humiliating view of paying court to the headers of the presbyterian body, and of following up, by personal condescensions, the concessions by which he had already recovered, for the time at least, the favour of that party; thus hoping to secure the aid of Scotland when he should be assailed by his subjects at home;óthe unhappy monarchís situation thus much resembling that of a bird closely pursued by a hawk, and which, preferring a lesser to a greater evil, flies to man for protection. On this occasion the king appointed Mr Henderson his chaplain, and by this well judged proceeding at once gratified the people, whose favourite preacher he had long been, and not improbably also gratified his own predilection in his favour, resulting from Hendersonís temper and moderation in those instances where they had been brought in contact. Henderson constantly attended the king during the time of his residence in Edinburgh, praying every morning and evening before him, and preaching to him in the chapel royal at Holyrood house every Sunday, or standing by his chair when another performed that duty. Henderson, who, although of incorruptible integrity, and a zealous presbyterian, as the share which he took in the struggles of that party sufficiently witness, was yet a mild and humane man, could not help sympathizing with the sorrows of his unfortunate sovereign. The religion of which he was so eminent a professor, taught him to entertain charitable and benevolent feelings toward all mankind, and his was not the disposition to except an humbled and unhappy prince from this universal precept, whatever were the faults which had placed him in these melancholy circumstances, the mild and amiable disposition of the man, too, which frequent interviews must have forced upon Hendersonís notice, must have in some measure obliterated in his mind the errors of the monarch. It was hard, then, that Henderson for this sympathy, for opening his heart to the best feelings of humanity, for practising one of the first and most amiable virtues which the Christian religion teaches and enjoins, should have been, as he was, subjected to the most bitter calumnies of his character and motives. These calumnies affected his pure and generous nature deeply, and in the next assembly he entered into a long and impassioned defence of those parts of his conduct which slander had assailed. His appeal touched the hearts and excited the sympathy of his brethren who assured him of their unshaken confidence in his integrity.

This assurance restored the worthy divine to that cheerfulness of which the injurious reports which had gone abroad regarding him had for some time deprived him. If any thing were wanting to establish Hendersonís character for integrity besides the public testimony of his brethren, it is to be found in the opinion of one who widely differed from him regarding the measures of the day, bearing witness that "his great honesty and unparalleled abilities to serve this church and kingdom, did ever remain untainted."

In 1642, Mr Henderson conducted the correspondence with England which now took place on the subject of ecclesiastical reformation and union, and was soon after desired to hold himself in readiness with certain other commissioners to proceed to England, in the event of such a proceeding being necessary. After some delay, occasioned by the open rupture which took place between the king and the English parliament, Henderson, with the other commissioners, set out for the sister kingdom. While there he used every effort, but unfortunately to no purpose, to effect a reconciliation between Charles and his English subjects; he proposed to the king to send the queen to Scotland, with the view of exciting an interest in his behalf. He even went to Oxford, where the king then was, to endeavour to prevail upon him at a personal interview, to make some advances towards a reconciliation, and at the same time to offer him the mediation of Scotland. All his efforts, however, were unavailing; the king, in place of acknowledging error, endeavoured to defend the justice of his cause, and on better grounds expressed high indignation at the interference of the Scots in the church reformation of England. Finding he could be of no further service, Henderson, together with his colleagues, returned to Edinburgh, where his conduct throughout the whole of this delicate mission was pronounced by the General Assembly to have been "faithful and wise." In 1643, he was once more chosen moderator of the General Assembly under peculiar circumstances. This was the presence in that body of the English commissioners sent down to Scotland by the parliament of England, to solicit the aid and counsel of the former in their present emergency. Mr Henderson, with several other commissioners, was soon after sent up to London to attend the celebrated Westminster assembly of divines, to represent in that assembly the church of Scotland, and to procure its assent, with that of both houses of parliament, to the solemn league and covenant, all of which important duties, with the assistance of his colleagues, he discharged with his usual ability and judgment. On this occasion he remained for three years in London, during all which time he was unremittingly employed in assisting the assembly in preparing the public formularies of the religious union between the three kingdoms. In 1645, he was appointed to assist the commissioners of the Scottish and English parliaments to treat with the king at Uxbridge, and finally, was deputed to negotiate with the latter when his fortunes had reached a crisis, at Newcastle. Henderson arrived on his mission at Newcastle about the middle of May, 1646, and met with a cordial reception from his majesty. After some discussion of religious subjects, it was agreed that the scruples of the king should be treated of in a series of papers written alternately by his majesty and Henderson. In the last of these papers, addressed by the former to the latter, and all of which and on both sides were written with great talent, the king at once expressing his high opinion of Mr Henderson, and his determination to adhere to the sentiments which he had all along entertained, says, "For instance, I think you the best preacher in Newcastle, yet I believe you may err, and possibly a better preacher may come, but till then must retain my opinion." Immediately after this, Henderson, whose health was now much impaired, returned to Edinburgh by sea, being unable to bear the fatigue of travelling by land. The illness with which he was afflicted rapidly gained upon him, and he at length expired on the 19th of August, in the 63rd year of his age, and many days after his return from Newcastle. After the death of this celebrated man, his memory was assailed by several absurd and unfounded calumnies. It was alleged that he died of mortification at his having been defeated in the controversy with the king; others asserted that he had been converted by the latter, and that on his death-bed he had expressed regret for the part he had acted, and had renounced presbytery. All of these charges were completely refuted by the General Assembly, who, taking a becoming and zealous interest in the good name of their departed brother, established his innocence on the testimony of several clergymen, and still more decisively by that of the two who attended him on his death-bed, and who heard him in his last moments pray earnestly for a "happy conclusion to the great and wonderful work of Reformation." Henderson was interred in the Grayfriarsí church-yard, where a monument was erected to his memory by his nephew Mr George Henderson. This monument, which was in the form of an obelisk, with suitable inscriptions on its four sides, was, with others of the leading covenanters, demolished at the Restoration, but was again replaced at the Revolution.

This sketch of one of the greatest divines that Scotland has produced, cannot be better concluded than in the following estimate of his character by Dr Thomas MíCrie, who had intended to add a life of Henderson to his lives of Knox and Melville, but proceeded no further than the outline sketched in his miscellaneous writings:ó"Alexander Henderson was enriched with an assemblage of endowments which have rarely met in one man. He possessed talents which fitted him for judging and giving advice about the political affairs of a nation, or even for taking an active share in the management of them, had he not devoted himself to the immediate service of the Church, and the study of ecclesiastical business. He was not more distinguished by the abilities which he displayed in his public conduct, than by the virtues which adorned his private character. Grave, yet affable and polite; firm and independent, yet modest and condescending, he commanded the respect, and conciliated the affection, of all who were acquainted with him; and the more intimately his friends knew him, they loved him the more. The power of religion he deeply felt, and he had tasted the comforts of the gospel. Its Spirit, equally removed from the coldness of the mere rationalist, and the irregular fervours of the enthusiast, breathed in all his words and actions. The lose of liberty was in him a pure and enlightened flame; he loved his native country, but his patriotism was no narrow, illiberal passion; it opened to the welfare of neighbouring nations, and of mankind in general. . . . .Called forth by the irresistible cry of his dear country, when he found her reduced to the utmost distress, by the oppression of ambitious prelates, supported by an arbitrary court and corrupt statesmen, he came from that retirement which was congenial to him, and entered upon the bustle of public business, at a time of life when others think of retiring from it. Though he sighed after his original solitude, and suffered from the fatigues and anxiety to which he was subjected, yet he did not relinquish his station, nor shrink from the difficult tasks imposed upon him, until his feeble and shattered constitution sunk under them, and he fell a martyr to the cause."

Alexander Henderson
Churchman and Statesman by Sheriff Robert Low Orr, KC., M.A., LL.B. (1919) (pdf)

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