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.

Alexander Shields – Embroiderers’ Hall, London – SFH004

Alexander Shields – Embroiderers’ Hall, London – SFH004

What does the building of a multi-national asset management company near St Paul’s Cathedral in the financial district of London have to do with Scotland’s Forgotten History?   Matthew Vogan explains more in this week’s episode of the SFH podcast.

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Welcome to Scotland’s Forgotten History. On this episode we are in the very heart of the old City of London not far from St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s the historic and modern financial centre. In fact I’m standing outside the building of a multinational asset management company. What does all this have to do with Scotland’s Forgotten History? A lot more than you would realize. Our first clue is a plaque here which records that it was once the site of the Embroiderers Hall. This “small but very handsome building” (as it was described) was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666 but destroyed during the Blitz in 1940. It wasn’t just the broiderers that used it, a secret congregation (many of whom were probably Scots) met here during the 1680s.


In 1684 one young Scot, Alexander Shields became the regular preacher to this congregation. He also served as a scribe to the famous Puritan theologian John Owen. Shields was wanted by the government in Scotland as a rebel, presumably for attending illegal worship services. 


In January 1685 Shields was on his way to preach here as usual at the hall in Gutter Lane. As he walked along he says he received ‘a strong impression, with irresistible violence suggested to me which I endeavoured to check and divert as an idle vain thought, that I should be a prisoner that day’.


Shields was preaching on the stairs so as to be heard by the congregation who were in the two rooms on either side. The text for his sermon was Genesis 49:21, ‘Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words’. His subject was ‘the excellency of the blessing of liberty, the extent of Christian liberty, the preferableness of spiritual liberty beyond temporal freedom’. Nothing could have been more appropriate, but Shields reflected later that it was ‘a subject that I was very unfit to speak on, and therefore the Lord saw it good to interrupt me and send me to school to learn it better since’. He was to be brought by experience to value greatly ‘the excellency of that more lovely liberty of the spirit’.


The congregation had two men on watch for soldiers, and an alarm was given, but the city marshal gained access quietly. He interrupted the meeting with a drawn sword and commanded them to surrender in the king’s name. Shields replied, ‘What king do you mean? By whose authority do you disturb the peaceable ordinances of Jesus Christ? – Sir, you dishonour your king in making him an enemy to the worship of God’. The marshal dismissed this objection saying that he had ‘other business to do than to stand up pratting with him’. The congregation made their escape but Shields was arrested in the attempt together with a few others. They were brought before the Lord Mayor with whom Shields had a vigorous exchange of words. The charge against Shields was that of being assembled to disturb the peace of the kingdom under pretext of the exercise of religion, after another manner than according to the liturgy of the Church of England.


Shields defended himself ably against the invective of his prosecutors during his examination. He was detained in the horrible conditions of Newgate prison for some weeks; and eventually the decision was made, following the death of Charles II, to send Shields and the other prisoners to Scotland. When he was being led away towards the river Thames with his fellow- prisoners, a woman accompanying them addressed the watching crowd: ‘This is for being at a Protestant meeting; take heed to yourselves, good people. Ye see what times we live in.’


Well out of that sermon, the arrest and imprisonment grew a vital and important book. It was written in prison and it is called A Hind Let Loose referring to the words of the sermon preached. It is a stalwart defence of true civil and religious liberty from Scripture. As Shields puts it, he is speaking about a hind let loose from the yoke of Tyrannical slaverie. And as we’ve seen before, it directly influenced the Glorious Revolution which sought in large measure to overturn the tyranny of the Stuarts.


We don’t have a recorded of the sermon preached here. We can how conclude with an attractive echo from the preface to the treatise. “such hinds, so let loose, they make it their work, to give goodly words, for the worth and honour and Royalties of their Princely Master, and for the precious Liberties wherewith he hath endowed and entrusted his Spouse and Children, and to keep the goodly words of his patience”. We need more than ever for such hinds to be let loose.

Carnwath, Lanarkshire – SFH003

Carnwath, Lanarkshire – SFH003

Matthew Vogan is joined this week by Jimmy Fisher of Scottish Reformation Tours to uncover the story engraved on a moss covered wall in Carnwath, South Lanarkshire.

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