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Battlefields and Churches—Principal Carstares—Interview with the King—James Robe—Presented by Lord Kilsyth—Parish Records—New Collections—The Communion Vessels—Church Repaired—Parish Administration — Compared with Edward Irving—A Faithful Ministry—Societies for Prayer—Pleurisy— Schismatical Controversy—A Period of Dearth—Operation of Holy Spirit—Sermons on Regeneration — Whitefield — The First Kilsyth Revival—Evidences of the Power of the Spirit— A Pleasant Work—Communion—A Gracious Time—Results— Testimonials—Opposition of Seceders—A Dignified Reply— Robe's Literary Activity and Death.
We feel a mantling pride when we point to the places where our fathers fought and fell in the cause of religious freedom. There is the experience of a secret thrill by the rudely lettered slab or grey cairn where the severe and stern Covenanter sleeps his last sleep. To the simple Christian there is, however, a purer joy. We may feel it is a proud thing to be able to say that for the Church this man fought and that man fell, but we also feel it is a far nobler thing that we can point here and there, and aver that this man and that man have been born within her. Scotland is not only a land of battlefields, it is also a procreant spiritual bed. And what is true of Scotland generally is true of the parish of Kilsyth particularly. There is the interest which attaches to the battle of Kilsyth, but there is the graver and deeper interest which attaches to those seasons of spiritual effluence which have so distinguished its history. The parish has had its Gilboa and its Pentecosts, and with the latter the public attention has been more concerned than the former. If the men of the West fought most stoutly for the cause of religious liberty, it has also been in the West where, by singular manifestations, the power of religion has been most abundantly proved. The very districts the most severely scourged by the troopers of Claverhouse, were in after years the most distinguished for the blessed and gracious visitations of the Holy Ghost. And the parish of Kilsyth being of all the parishes in Scotland the most heavily drenched with Covenanting blood, there is a certain spiritual propriety that it should also have been the scene of the richest outpourings of the heavenly Grace. When Robe entered on his ministry, the master-spirit of the Scottish Church was Principal Carstares. When William assumed the reins of Government, the National Scottish party had a king more in sympathy with their political aspirations than any other who had yet ruled. They found, however, a taint of poison in the cup of religious liberty he presented to Scotland, and, notwithstanding all the other good ingredients of which it was composed, they immediately, and without a moment's hesitation, rejected it. They bridled up and were prepared to fight William as stoutly as they had fought the last James and the two Charleses. Having required of the Assembly that the members should take an oath declaring him, both in fact and right, King of Great Britain, and having given orders that the Assembly was to be dissolved if they did not obey, the country received the peremptory order with consternation. The Assembly disobeyed. The Lord High Commissioner dissolved it in the King's name, and refused to name a day for the next meeting. But he had not taken the size of the men he had to deal with. The moderator rose after him and dissolved it in "the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the sole Head of the Church," and appointed the date of next meeting. And so once more affairs were brought to a desperate pass. The Crown would not yield. The Church would not yield. Years of strife and bloodshed apparently lay once more before hapless Scotland. At this juncture Principal Carstares was the saviour of his country. Taking advantage of his friendship with William, he hurried to London. There was not a moment to lose. The King was in bed and sound asleep, but he must see him. Drawing the curtains, Carstares touched the King and he awoke. What was his astonishment to see the Scotsman at his bedside! Carstares said he was there to beg his life, as he had taken it upon him to stop His Majesty's letter to the North confirming his former counsels. The King was furious. Carstares was, however, able to show him that all he had done was for the good of the new Government and the Church. William threw the letter in the fire; the crisis was overcome, and another prolonged struggle was thus averted. In the dead of night the two men drew up another commission, which the King signed. A messenger at once bore it northward, and it was placed in the Commissioner's hands just as the bells of St. Giles were ringing the meeting of the Assembly. And so it was that the Church had rest, and Robe was able to pursue his parochial labours in quietness, and free from that tumult of political strife so fatal to the nurture of the graces of the Christian life.
James Robe, M.A., was the son of " Michel" Robe, minister of Cumbernauld. He was educated at the University of Glasgow, and licensed by the Presbytery of Linlithgow, 30th November, 1709. His presentation to the parish of Kilsyth was amongst the last public acts of the third Viscount Kilsyth, before he fled the country after Sheriffmuir. His lordship clung so tenaciously to his right that he would not allow "the call" to be issued in his favour. The parish records during his incumbency are complete, and contained in four large volumes, bearing the appropriate motto from the 15 th Ode of Horace's 4th Book:
The weekly meetings of session are evidence of untiring diligence and long-continued faithfulness. When we read how a woman was brought before the session for having on the Lord's Day brought "a gang of water" from the well; and how another person was also dealt with for having visited Glasgow on the Sabbath for a secular purpose; and how a shoemaker was rebuked for giving out from his shop a shoe which he had repaired, and for which he had received the price of three halfpence, that the owner might be able to attend church; when we read of such things, we may form some idea of the watchfulness of the ecclesiastical authorities in the time of Robe.
When Robe entered on his ministry the collections were taken in the manner still prevalent. There was a plate at the church door, and those who felt inclined to aid the poor were at liberty to do so. The contribution was voluntary. There was no pressure, and there seems never to have been any real lack of funds. In addition to these, Robe instituted collections as the congregation withdrew in aid of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, and other Christian objects. The first collection so taken amounted to ^15 4s. 8d. Scots. The parish contained eleven hundred examinable persons, and the whole population would be nearly double that number. In 1742, Robe speaks of 200 as being the number of the communicants. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper was administered in 1665, when, for the first time, communion cups, table-cloths, and a basin were obtained. What came of the chalices procured by Gabriel Graham is made clear by the following Act of Session, of date 4th June, 1731:—" The Session also appointed the two cups to be put in the hands of Mr. Hamilton, Trader and Baillie on the estate of Kilsyth, and desired him to cause make two sufficient Communion cups, each of them containing a mutchkin and a half, the two cups to be weighed by the goldsmith, and that the new cups have engraven on the foot, 'For The Kirk of Monaebrugh, 1731.' Which desire being made to Mr. Hamilton, present at the time with the Session, he was pleased to grant the same, and promised to get the cups ready as soon as possible." On the 19th June there is the following record :—" Patrick Rankine gave an account to the Session that for the old Communion cups weighing sixteen ounces four drops net sterling, he had procured two new cups of sterling money weighing thirty-one ounces thirteen drops, and that he had delivered for the exchange eight pounds and eleven pence sterling, of which sum he had received seven pounds twelve shillings and eight pence, collected for the foresaid use, and that he has disbursed the rest, viz., eight shillings and three pence of his own. . . . The cups are delivered to the Treasurer to be kept for the use of the Parish." These cups are still in use, and although they have now served the church for one hundred and sixty-two years, they have only been once re