January 19: Death of James Melville (1614)

A good sentence found on Page 287 in McCrie’s Lives of the Scottish Reformers, which might be used as an opener on some post:

“The year 1596 is memorable in the history of the church of Scotland. “It had,” says James Melville, “a strange variety and mixture; the beginning thereof with a shew of profit in planting the churches with perpetual local stipends; the midst of it very comfortable for the exercise of reformation and renewing the covenant; but the end of it tragical in wasting the Zion of our Jerusalem, the church of Edinburgh, and threatening no less to many of the rest.”

James Melville (26 July 1556 – 1614) was a Scottish divine and reformer, son of the laird of Baldovie, in Forfarshire. He was educated at Montrose and St Leonard’s College, St Andrews.

In 1574 he proceeded to the University of Glasgow. There his uncle, Andrew Melville, the reformer and scholar, was principal. Within a year James became one of the regents.

When, in 1580, Andrew became Principal of St Mary’s College, St Andrews (then called New College), James accompanied him, and acted as Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages. For three and a half years he lectured in the university, chiefly on Hebrew, but he had to flee to Berwick in May 1584 (a few months after his uncle’s exile) to escape the attacks of his ecclesiastical enemy, Bishop Patrick Adamson. After a short stay there and at Newcastle-on-Tyne, and again at Berwick, he proceeded to London, where he joined some of the leaders of the Scottish Presbyterian party.

The taking of Stirling Castle in 1585 having changed the political and ecclesiastical positions in the north, he returned to Scotland in November of that year, and was restored to his office at St Andrews. From 1586 to his death he took an active part in Church controversy.

In 1589 he was moderator of the General Assembly and on several occasions represented his party in conferences with the court. Despite his antagonism to James’s episcopal schemes, he appears to have won the king’s respect. He answered, with his uncle, a royal summons to London in 1606 for the discussion of Church policy.

The uncompromising attitude of the kinsmen, though it was made the excuse for sending the elder to the Tower, brought no further punishment to James than easy detention within ten miles of Newcastle-on-Tyne. During his residence there it was made clear to him by the king’s agents that he would receive high reward if he supported the royal plans. In 1613 negotiations were begun for his return to Scotland, but his health was broken, and he died at Berwick in January 1614.

Melville has left ample materials for the history of his time from the Presbyterian standpoint, in (a) correspondence with his uncle Andrew Melville (MS. in the library of the university of Edinburgh), and (b) a diary (MS. in the Advocates Library, Edinburgh). The latter is written in a vigorous, fresh style, and is especially direct in its descriptions of contemporaries. His sketch of John Knox at St Andrews is one of his best passages. It is an original authority for the period, written with much naïveté, and revealing an attractive personality.

As a writer of verse he compares unfavourably with his uncle. All his pieces, with the exception of a libellus supplex to King James, are written in Scots. He translated a portion of the Zodiacus vitae of Palingenius, and adapted some passages from Scaliger under the title of Description of the Spainyarts naturall. His Spiritual Propine of a Pastour to his People (1598), The Black Bastill, a lamentation for the kirk (1611), Thrie may keip Counsell, give Twa be away, The Beliefe of the Singing Soul, Davids Tragique Fall, and a number of sonnets show no originality and indifferent technical ability.

The Diary was printed by the Bannatyne Club in 1829, and by the Wodrow Society in 1842. Large portions of it are incorporated in David Calderwood’s (1575-1650) History of the Kirk of Scotland (first printed in 1678). For the life and times, see Thomas McCrie’s Life of Andrew Melville.

 

Page 350 – death of Melville, January 19th, 1614.

“A letter from Sir James Fullerton, which he received in the month of April, 1614, gave a shock to his feelings which it required all his fortitude to bear. His dearest friend, and most affectionate and dutiful nephew, James Melville, was no more. His health had for some time been in a state of decline, which was accelerated by grief at the issue of public affairs in Scotland, which his extreme sensibility disposed him to brood over with too intense and exclusive an interest. In consequence of the importunity of his friends and an apparent earnest invitation from archbishop Gladstanes, he set out for Edinburgh, in the beginning of the year 1614, to arrange matters for his return to Kilrinny, or, if this was found impracticable, to resign his charge and make permanent provision for that parish. But he had not gone far when he was taken so ill as to be unable to proceed on the journey, and with difficulty returned to Berwick. The medicines prescribed by the physicians failed in arresting the progress of the distemper, which soon exhibited alarming symptoms. He received the intimation of his danger with the most perfect composure, and told his friends that he was not only resigned to the will of God, but satisfied that he could not die at a more proper season. On Wednesday the 19th of January, he “set his house in order;” and all his children being present, except his son Andrew, (who was prosecuting his theological studies at Sedan,) he gave them his dying charge and parental blessing. His friend Joshua Drury, minister of St. Andrews, and Patrick Hume of Ayton, a gentleman who had shown him great kindness during his residence at Berwick, waited by his bed-side. The greater part of his time was spent in prayer. When he mentioned the Church of Scotland, he prayed for repentance and forgiveness to those who had caused a schism in it by overturning its reformed discipline; and, addressing those around him, he said: “In my life I ever detested and resisted the hierarchy, as a thing unlawful and antichristian, for which I am an exile, and I take you all to witness that I die in the same judgment.” He made particular mention of his uncle at Sedan; gave him a high commendation for learning, but still more for courage and constancy in the cause of Christ; and prayed that God would continue and increase the gifts bestowed on him. In the midst of the acute pain which he endured during that night and the succeeding morning, he expressed his resignation and confidence chiefly in the language of Scripture, and often repeated favourite sentences from the Psalms in Hebrew. Being reminded by some of his attendants of the Christian assurance which the apostle Paul had expressed in the prospect of his death, he replied: “Every one is not a Paul; yet I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, and I am assured that I shall enter into glory.” — “Do you not wish to be restored to health?” said one of the attendants. “No; not for twenty worlds.” Perceiving nature to be nearly exhausted, his friends requested him to give them a token that he departed in peace; upon which he repeated the last words of the martyr Stephen, and breathed gently away.

[McCrie, Life of Andrew Melville, pp. 350-351; cf. Calderwood, MS. vii. 505-513.]

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