If 50 soldiers were sent into town to arrest you, would you be bold enough to invite them into your church so you could preach the Gospel to them? That’s what John Blackadder did. After being expelled from his pulpit for refusing to comply with the government imposition of the Episcopacy, he turned to preaching in the fields and a life on the run from the authorities. Matthew Vogan explains more from North Berwick.
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Welcome to Scotland’s Forgotten History. On this episode we are in the seaside town of North Berwick. We’re at the ruins of the Old St Andrew’s Church with the churchyard. One interesting tombstone marks the burial place of John Blackadder, one of the most prominent field preachers during the times of persecution.
He was resolute from the start. He refused to take part in the anniversary celebrations of the Restoration of Charles II in Dumfries. Fifty soldiers were sent to the town. Blackadder insisted on preaching and also on the soldiers coming in to listen. He spent time exposing the way that biblical principles in the Church were being overturned by the Restoration. He was arrested the next day and imprisoned in Edinburgh but later released.
Blackadder continued to preach after being forced out of his parish near Dumfries by the government. The very next Lord’s Day after preaching his farewell sermon in the church he preached in his own house to a full congregation. It was not long before the authorities were alerted to this and ultimately Blackadder had to take his preaching into the fields.
He preached at some of the conventicles where there was greatest attendance including various communion occasions. John Welsh of Irongray was a frequent companion. Together they helped to organize the underground Church so as to be able to ensure preachers for the future.
Blackadder’s preaching was greatly blessed. Blackadder himself wrote in 1679 that “there are more converts in Scotland than ever”. This was despite the deepening suffering. The Borders especially witnessed the powerful blessing of God on this preaching in the fields.
Alexander Shields said: “I doubt if ever there was greater days of the Son of man upon the earth, since the apostolic times”. “The word of God grew exceedingly and went through at least the southern borders of the kingdom like lightning or like the sun in its meridian beauty; discovering the wonders of God’s law, the mysteries of his gospel, and the secrets of his covenant, and the sins and duties of that day, that a numerous issue was begotten to Christ, and his conquest was glorious, captivating poor slaves of Satan, and bringing them from his power unto God, and from darkness to light, wherein many were truly converted, more convinced, and generally all reformed from their former immoralities: that even robbers, thieves, and profane men, were some of them brought to a saving subjection to Christ”.
Blackadder had moved his family to Edinburgh where (ironically) it was easier to be concealed. But in 1681 he was arrested at his Edinburgh home and sentenced to be imprisoned on the Bass Rock. He spent five years on this desolate sea-beat prison and his health suffered drastically. One of the rooms in the Bass castle known as Blackadder’s Lodging can still be seen. His second request for being moved from the rock was granted but he died there at the age of 69 before he could leave.
And that is why his remains were buried here in the churchyard at North Berwick. The preacher John Rae who also perished on the Rock was buried here likewise. The inscription on Blackadder’s tombstone is both interesting and moving. It makes the connection between John Blackadder and John the Apostle and the Isle of Patmos and the Isle of the Bass.
His body suffer’d but no chains could bind
His heaven-aspiring soul
It also gives us a description of Blackadder’s character
Meek in his own concerns – in’s Master’s bold
Passions to Reason chained, Providence did lead –
Zeal warm’d his breast, and Reason cool’d his head
Five years on the lone rock, yet sweet abode,
He Enoch-like enjoyed, and walkd with God;
Till by long living on this heavenly food
His soul by love grew up too great, too good
To be confined to jail, or flesh and blood
Death broke his fetters off, then swift he fled
From sin and sorrow;
His dust here rests till Jesus come again
Even so blest Jesus come come Lord Amen