Friday, 10 March 2017

Women of the Scottish Reformation (6) - the poem of John Davidson

In the first blog in this series we mentioned a couple, John Campbell of Cesnock and his wife Janet Montgomery, who had connections to the Lollards. Their granddaughter Elisabeth was married to a Robert Campbell and they were the subjects of a poem written by John Davidson, the well-known minister of Prestonpans, who dedicated it to their daughter.  He composed the poem in 1574, although it was not published until 1595. The year in which he composed the poem was the year in which they died, which means that much of their involvement with the Reformed Faith took place before 1560.

Davidson published the poem because he thought that the church in Scotland was losing its first love, a possibility that both George Wishart and John Knox had observed was likely. The author also seemed concerned that the daughter of the couple was in danger of being one such person, but that is difficult to prove.

Robert Campbell was one of three men who sat by Knox on his deathbed and it was to his care that Knox bequeathed his wife and children. He had been an ardent supporter of the Reformation and so had his wife. When they were married, probably in the 1550s, the Reformation was not guaranteed because those supporting the Protestant cause were in danger of punishment by the authorities. They bravely opened their castle for preaching occasions, and those who were present were encouraged to hope for success.

Davidson, in his poem, affirms that Mrs Campbell was exceptionally gifted in understanding and explaining the doctrines of the Bible. She did not object to her husband’s frequent travels in support of the Reformed cause and she was noted for her care of the poor. Anderson mentions that she housed many poor nightly in the castle, and her care was not limited to their physical needs. In addition, those who received her hospitality were examined on the knowledge of the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. As we know, the Shorter Catechism was shaped around those three areas, so Mrs Campbell’s catechising of the poor was not in any way shallow, and indicated that she wanted them to find salvation.

Davidson himself had written the poem shortly after experiencing the brave help of this couple. He had composed the poem against the policy of the Reformed government which was trying to take hold of the resources of the church. One of the policies was to unite parishes under the care of one minister, which meant that the church did not need the same amount to meet stipends. Davidson found himself in trouble over this with the government and the General Assembly, while agreeing with him, were too frightened to disagree with the policy of the Protestant government. One member of the Assembly who was appalled by its lack of courage was Robert Campbell – he described it as a pack of traitors. He took Davidson home with him, which would have been a dangerous thing to do, and his wife did not object to his actions. 

Around that time, Robert took ill and died of a fever. Shortly afterwards, his wife also succumbed to a fever. Davidson was of the opinion that their removal was an indication that God was going to punish the nation for its rapid turning away from God after the deliverance it had experienced fourteen years before in 1560. The poet had such an estimation of their Christian qualities that he regarded their deaths as indicating things would not go well for the church or the country in the years ahead, which turned out to be the case.

This couple were obviously important in the Reformed movement. Their story reminds us that it does not take long for something that was good to become listless. Although they remained devoted to the Lord’s cause, many others did not. Perhaps the time of ease that followed the difficult years prior to 1560 made many lose their first love. Davidson mentions that many of the ministers were prepared to compromise. The times that Robert and Elizabeth lived to see highlights the dangers that can occur when an evangelical church and politics become entwined.

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