April 30: Birth of Robert Baillie, in Glasgow

Who am I?  Born in 1602 in Glasgow, Scotland, I graduated from the University there.  Through hard work, I gained a working knowledge of thirteen foreign languages.  Ordained into the Church of Scotland, I  came heartily into the Covenanters.  I served as a Presbyterian pastor, an Army chaplain, and a professor of divinity at Glasgow University.  I was a member of the Glasgow Assembly when Presbyterianism was reintroduced in Scotland.  Especially I enjoyed my time-serving as a non-voting member of the Westminster Assembly.  Through all of these experiences in my life, I wrote letters which today are studied by many to gain an  understanding of my times. Who am I?

If you, the reader, answered Robert Baillie, you are correct.

Robert Baillie was born on this day, April 30, 1602.   We could write many things about  his accomplishments in the churches in Scotland, but what stands out to this author is the informative letters which he wrote, not only describing Scottish life and times, but also his description of the Westminster Assembly, of which he was a non-voting attendee from Scotland.

Consider his graphic description of the appearance of the assembly as they held their discussions (Note: the term “prolocutor” means a chairman.)

“(The commissioners) did sit in Henry VII’s chapel, in the place of convocation; but since the weather grew cold, they did go to Jerusalem chamber, a fair room, in the abbey of Westminster, about the bounds of a college forehall, but wider.  At the one end, nearest the door, and on both sides, are stages of seats . . . . At the upmost end, there is a chair, set on a frame, a foot from the earth, for the master prolocutor Dr. Twisse.   Before it, on the ground, stand two chairs, for the two master assessors Dr. Burgess and Mr.  White; before these two chairs through the length of the room, stands a table, at which sit the two scribes, Mr Byfield and Mr Roborough.  Foranent the table, upon the prolocutor’s right hand, there are three or four ranks of forms.  On the lowest, we five (ie. Scottish commissioners) do sit; upon the other at our backs, the members of the Parliament deputed to the Assembly.  On the forms foranent us . . . the divines sit as they please, commonly they keep the same place.  The lords of Parliament used to sit on chairs in that end about the fire.  We meet every day of the week, except Saturday.  We sit commonly from nine to two or three afternoon.  The prolocutor, at beginning and end, has a short prayer . . . .”

As to the content of the Standards, this came in by parliament procedure, as is seen in the following descriptive paragraph by Mr. Baillie.  He writes:

“When, upon every proposition by itself, and on every test of Scripture that is brought to confirm it, every man who has said his whole mind, and the replies, the duplies, and triplies are heard, then the most part call ‘to the question,’ Byfield, the scribe, rises from the table and comes to the prolocutor’s chair, who, from the scribe’s book, reads the proposition, and says, ‘As many as are in opinion that the question is well stated in the proposition, let them say Ay;’ when Ay is heard, he says, ‘As many as think otherwise say No.’  If the difference of ‘Ayes’ and ‘Noes’ be clear, as usually it is, then the question is ordered by the scribes, and they go on to debate the first Scripture alleged for proof of the proposition. . . No man contradicts another expressly by name, but most discreetly speaks to the prolocutor, and, at most, holds to general terms, ‘As the reverent brother who lately or last spoke on this hand, on that side, above, or below . . . .”

Now to some of our readers, the above is boring, boring, boring!  But remember the momentous issues of theology were being carefully considers in these difficult days in England and Scotland.  Such carefulness was demanded by those times.

It is interesting that at the close of the Assembly, the Parliament of England made a handsome present of silver plate for Robert Baillie, with an inscription on it speaking of their great respect for him, even though by his own testimony, he did not participate in the verbal parts of the Assembly.

What is also interesting is that though firmly attached to Presbyterianism and against prelacy, he was a member of the Covenanter faction known as Resolutioners, and not the Protesters.  The latter two parties of Covenanters had separated from each other over the issue of how much power should be given to the king of England in the ordering of church affairs.  To the Protester Covenanters, the answer was simple — there is no king but King Jesus.  For that position, they were to suffer countless deaths at the hands of the government.  And yet Robert Baillie was featured in the book of Scot Worthies by John Howie.

Words to Live By: Reformed Christianity would not be privy to his detailed portrait of the Westminster Assembly were it not for his observations written and preserved for us online.  No man, and certainly not any minister, is perfect.  And neither was Robert Baillie.  This author does not agree with his stance in being a Resolutioner.  But we can rejoice in this seventeenth century  journalist in giving us a record of the makings of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.


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