« PreviousContinue »
The father of Archbishop Leighton was one of those conscientious but somewhat violent men, who in the calamitous times of Charles I. brought themselves under the displeasure of the star-chamber and experienced its cruelty. About the year 1613 he left Scotland his native country, and took up his residence in London, where in 1629 he published two works, the one entitled “The Looking-glass of Holy War," and the other“ Zion's Plea or Appeal to the Parliament.” The freedom or, as it might perhaps be justly termed, the virulence with which he attacked the advocates of episcopacy in these works, was not allowed to pass with impunity. A most cruel punishment was awarded him. He was severely whipped, and twice pat in the pillory ; his ears were cut off, bis nose slit, his face branded, and, in addition to these barbarities, he underwent an imprisonment for eleven years.
In the year 1613 bis son Robert, the future Archbishop, was born. Of the early years of this revered man we know but little. After he had finished his academical studies, he spent some years on the continent, where he seems to have remained till 1643. About this time he settled in Scotland, and was ordained, according to the presbyterian form, minister of Newbottle near Edinburgh. The subsequent events of his life were very diversified. The times were troublous, and he shared in the general agitation. The most enlarged account of his character and actions will be found in a life of him written by Dr. Jerment, and prefixed to a late edition of his works. The following sketch is extracted chiefly from the Biographical Dictionary edited by the judicious Mr. Chalmers.
In his charge near Edinburgh Dr. Leighton remained several years, and was most assiduous in discharging the various duties of bis office. He did not however conceive it to be any part of that office to add to the distractions of that unhappy period, by making the pulpit the vehicle of political opinions. His object was to exert bis parishioners to live in charity, and not to trouble themselves with religious and political disputes. But such was not the common practice. It was at that period the custom of the presbytery to inquire of the several brethren twice a year“ Whether they preached to the times?" Leighton, upon being thus interrogated, is said on one occasion to have answered, “If all the brethren have preached to the times, may not one poor brother be suffered to preach on eternity ?" Such moderation could not fail to give offence; and finding his labours of no service, he retired to a life of privacy. His mind was not however indifferent to what was passing in the political world. He was one of those who dreaded the downfall of the monarchy, and the subsequent evils of a republican tyranny; and having probably declared with frankness his sentiments on these subjects, he was solicited by his friends, and particularly by his brother Sir Elisha Leighton, to change his connexions. He yielded to their advice, and for this part of his conduct was denounced by the presbyterians as an apostate, and welcomed by the episcopalians as a convert. In his first outset however, it is denied that he was a thorough presbyterian, or in his second entirely an episcopalian; and and it is certain that his becoming the latter could not be imputed to motives of ambition or interest, for episcopacy was at that time the profession of the minority and extremely unpopular. His design however of retiring to a life of privacy was prevented by a circumstance, which proved the high opinion entertained of his integrity, learning, and piety. The office of principal in the university of Edinburgh becoming vacant soon after Leighton's resignation of his ministerial charge, the magistrates who had the presentation to this office, unanimously chose bim to fill the chair, and pressed his acceptance of it by urging that he might thereby be of great service to the church, without taking any part in public measures. Such a motive to a man of bis moderation was irresistible. He accordingly accepted the office, and executed the duties of it for ten years with great reputation. It was the custom then for the principal to lecture to the students of theology in Latin, and Leighton's
lectures delivered at this period, which are extant both in Latin and English, are very striking proofs of the ability and assiduity with which he discharged this part of his duty.
After the death of the king, Dr. Leighton sometimes visited London during the vacations, but was disgusted with the proceedings there, and conceived a particular dislike to the conduct of the independents, as well as to their form of church government. He made several excursions likewise to Flanders, that he might observe the actual state of the Roinish church on the spot, and carried on a correspondence with some of his relations at Douay, who were in popish orders, but with the exception of some Jansenists, of whom he entertained a favourable opinion, his general aversion to popish divines and popery appears to have been increased rather than diminished by his experience abroad.
When Charles II. after the restoration determined to establish episcopacy in Scotland, Dr. Leighton was persuaded to accept a Bishoprick. This his presbyterian biographers seem to consider as a part of his conduct which is not to be reconciled with his general character of wisdom and caution. They deduce however from the following circumstances, that he did not enter cordially into the plan, and was even somewhat averse to it. “He close,” says Dr. Jerment, “the most obscure and least lucrative see, the diocess of Dumblane; disapproved of the feasting at the time of consecration, and testified plainly against it; objected to the title of Lord; refused to accompany the other Scotch bishops in their pompous entry into Edinburgh, hastening privately to Dumblane. He did not accept of the invitation to parliament, almost the only time he took his seat there being for the purpose of urging lenity toward the presbyterians. He detested all violent mea
He persecuted no man, upbraided no man; held little correspondence with his brethren, and incurred their deep resentment by his reserve and strictness. In the end he acknowledged that Providence frowned both on the scheme and the instruments, and confined himself to his diocess.”
Now all this might be true, and yet not interfere with the conclusion, that Dr. Leighton saw nothing in the character and office of a Bishop, which could hinder the success of the gospel. On the contrary, he exhibited such an example of pious diligence, as could not be exceeded by the divines of any church; and although during his holding this see, the presby..
terians were persecuted with the greatest severity in other diocesses, not one individual was molested at Dumblane on account of bis religious principles. But as he had no power beyond his own boundaries, and could not approve the conduct of Sharp and others of his brethren, he certainly became in time dissatisfied with his situation and, it is possible, with himself for having accepted it. In an address to his clergy in 1665, not four years after bis settlement at Dumblanc, he intimated to them that it was his intention to resign, assigning as a reason that he was weary of contentions.
Before taking this step however, he had the courage to try the effect of a fair representation of the state of matters to the king, and, notwithstanding his natural diffidence, went to London, and being graciously received by Charles, detailed to him the violent and cruel proceedings in Scotland; protested against any concurrence in such measures; declared that being a Bishop he was in some measure accessary to the rigorous deeds of others in supporting episcopacy, and requested permission to resign bis Bishoprick. The king beard him with attention and with apparent sorrow for the state of Scotland; assured him that lenient measures should be adopted; but positively refused to accept his resignation, Leighton appears to have credited his Majesty's professions, and returned home in hopes that the violence of persecution was over ; but finding himself disappointed, be made a second attempt in 1667, and was more urgent with the king than before, although still without effect.
It may seem strange that Leighton, who was so disgusted with the proceedings of bis brethren as now to think it a misfortune to belong to the order, and who had so earnestly tendered his resignation, should at no great distance of time, in 1670, be persuaded to remove from his sequestered diocess of Dumblane to the more important province of Glasgow. This however may be accounted for to his honour, and not to the discredit of the court which urged him to accept the Archbishoprick. The motive of the king and his ministers was, that Leighton was the only man qualified to allay the discontent wbich prevailed in the west of Scotland; and Leighton thought he might now have an opportunity of bringing for. ward a scheme of accommodation between the episcopalians and presbyterians, which had been for years the object of his study and the wish of bis heart. The king examined this