Index for Chapters XXI-XXIX

Previous page

Chapter XXIX

Chapter XXVIII: Witchcraft

The minutes of Presbytery after this for some time continue to be filled with notices of their inquisition for witches, and when they were ordered by the Assembly to send ministers to preach in the north of Scotland, which continued to adhere to Episcopacy, they excused themselves on account of the sad condition of the country through “diabolical molestations.” It has been our duty in the course of this history to shew the persecuting spirit of the different sections of clergy, Episcopal and Presbyterian alike, who succeeded the monks in the possession of the Abbey ; but the story we have just narrated exceeds every other as an exhibition of ignorance, superstition, and cruelty.

Mr. Blackwell, who distinguished himself so mightily in the suppression of these “diabolical manifestations,” was translated to Aberdeen on the 9th October, 1700. His brethren were opposed to his removal, as “the condition of the Parish of Paisley is of such consideration and importance as requires the greatest talents of the most accomplished ministers.” Aberdeen, however, secured Mr. Blackwell. In that city he filled successively the situations of Professor of Divinity and Principal of the University. With his departure the “raging of Satan within the bounds” appears to have greatly calmed down, and the great adversary confined himself to those ordinary methods of operation which he employs in modern times. Presbyterial and Parochial ecclesiastical life moved along more smoothly than before. Mr. Thomas Brown was promoted from the second charge to fill the place vacated by Mr. Blackwell. No one appears to have been placed in the second charge for nearly twenty-two years.

We may close this chapter by an extract from the Minutes of the Kirk Session which show how the spiritual concerns of the Abbey Parish were looked after in the days of Mr. Thomas Blackwell and Mr. Thomas Brown.

“Nov. 2, 1699.—After prayers,
“This day the Session taking under consideration how great need there is, in this dead and declining day, of singular faithfulness and diligence, both in ministers and elders, for the suppressing of abounding sins and profanity, and reviving the power and practice of godliness in this congregation, they unanimously do conclude upon the following rules and directions, as so many acts to be observed by them in time coming, and appoints each elder to have a copy thereof so that none may pretend ignorance. ”1st. That every elder visit their respective proportion twice in the year, viz., once in July and once in January.
“2d. That in their visiting their respective proportion two of them always join together.
“3d. That in their visiting of the families of their bounds they particularly, seriously, and gravely, inquire—firstly, if the worship of God be observed morning and evening, secondly, if all the family seek God in secret ; thirdly, if all in the family can read the Holy Scriptures; fourthly, if all in the family attend the public ordinances; and, lastly, if all the family be sober and blameless, not given to lying, swearing, obscene discourses, mocking at God and godliness, or any other piece of profanity.
“4th. That the Session meet for prayer and privie censures twice in the year, viz., once upon the last Tuesday of July, and again upon the last Tuesday of January.
“5th. That the Session meet the last Monday of every month together with the ministers, and spend some hours thereof in prayer.
“6th. That the elders notice vagers and idlers after services upon Sabbath, and acquaint the ministers with the names of the persons observed by them.
“7th. That elders particularly inquire for testimonials from all that come to live within their bounds, and if not produced within a fortnight after, they are required, or some convincing reason why they are not, that in that case they give up the persons named unto the first Session.
“8th. That no elder delate any scandal to the Session till once he acquaint the ministers with it.”

The Presbytery, had previously ordered all ministers to have a magistrate in each of their Sessions, to commit to prison all contumacious persons. Between the zeal of the eldership and the terrors of the magistrate, evildoers must have had a hard time in Paisley. It is worth while noticing here, especially when we recollect the tenacity with which the people of the place clung for long to the old faith, that in 1704 the Presbytery reported only one “Papist” in Paisley—Joan Scougall, spouse to Robert Sempill, sheriff-depute of Renfrewshire.