John Blackadder – North Berwick – SFH006

John Blackadder – North Berwick – SFH006

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

Simeon Ashe – Basinghall St, London – SFH005

Simeon Ashe – Basinghall St, London – SFH005

It’s worth knowing that some of those who had an impact in Scotland’s forgotten history were not necessarily Scottish or those who visited Scotland. Matthew Vogan explains more from Basinghall Street in the city of London.

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Welcome to Scotland’s Forgotten History. On this episode we are in the City of London on Basinghall Street. Today it is a bustling street with modern buildings with few traces of history. On the 14th January 1645, however, it would have witnessed a different kind of activity.  All the dignitaries of the local government in London were making their way here to the church of Michael Basing-shaw for a service. The Lord Mayor of London, the Sherriffs and Aldermen and the whole council of London were there. The purpose of the service was prayer and fasting and to have the Solemn League and Covenant renewed.


A sermon from that occasion by Edmund Calamy (the most popular preacher in London) would be reprinted at various times in Scotland in future generations. The other preacher was the minister of that church and (like Calamy) a member of the Westminster Assembly, the puritan Simeon Ashe. His sermon on Psalm 76:11 reveals the degree of commitment to the Solemn League and Covenant at the time. In fact the sermon mentions the nation of Scotland regularly. The obvious reason for this was that this covenant solemnly bound the two nations together in seeking reformation.


Ashe presses these requirements on the assembled dignitaries.

Are you not guilty of sinful declinings in a great degree from your former engagements unto the Lord? (he asks). Have you not lost your first love?…Hath not your care to preserve the truth of Religion from corruption been much abated? (and then he asks) Is not your love towards our Brethren of Scotland in a great measure lessened? …Doubtless these and such like backslidings from former engagements, may well warrant your Covenant-renewing with your God.


Later he says that:

The soul should with love, joy and longings, work towards the speedy settling of Church-government according to the word of God, and towards the maintaining of brotherly union between the two Kingdoms of England and Scotland, together with the more full reformation of ourselves and families.


Say thus unto your own souls seriously in secret;…I will stir up my best friends by importunity, and I will industriously take all courses within the compass of my general and particular calling, that myself and my family, that this Church and Common-wealth may be reformed, and that unity betwixt England and Scotland, may be preserved according to the solemn League and Covenant.


Perhaps an additional aspect of Ashe’s concern for Scotland was the friendship that he formed with the Scottish commissioners to the Westminster Assembly. In later years Robert Baillie and Samuel Rutherford continued to correspond with Ashe.


You can imagine that Ashe and Rutherford had much in common because one of his great concerns was that Christ would be preached as much as possible.  Samuel Rutherford spoke of him as the “Gracious and zealous Mr. Ashe”.


When Baillie and Rutherford were estranged by the wider disagreements within the Scottish Church of the 1650s, Ashe tried to do what he could to help. Baillie acknowledged to his “very loving brother”, that Ashe had on past occasions written to the Scots looking for prayer and help in times of trouble. Now he himself was able to demonstrate his sincere affection for the cause of Christ in Scotland. Others also wrote to Ashe saying that they still remembered his “brotherly kindness” and would do so “so long as we shall live”.



It’s worth knowing that some of those who had an impact in Scotland’s Forgotten history were not necessarily Scottish or those who visited Scotland. The faithful and affectionate prayers, longings and words of godly men such as Simeon Ashe are not to be forgotten.