1902 Encyclopedia > Alexander Henderson

Alexander Henderson
Scottish theologian

ALEXANDER HENDEBSON, (1583-1646), a celebrated Scottish ecclesiastic, was born in 1583. He wras educated at the university of St Andrews, where he was appointed professor of rhetoric and philosophy and questor of the faculty of arts in 1610. A year or two after this he was presented to the living of Leuchars by Archbishop Glad-staues. As Henderson was forced upon his parish by an archbishop, and as he was known to sympathize with Episcopacy, his settlement was at first extremely unpopular; but he subsequently changed his views, and became a Presbyterian in doctrine and church government, and one of the most esteemed ministers in Scotland. He early made his mark as a church leader, and took an active part in petitioning against Episcopal innovations. On the 1st of March 1638 the public signing of the "National Covenant" began in Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh. Henderson is mainly responsible for this document; and he seems always to have been applied to when any mani-festo of unusual ability was required. In July of the same year he proceeded to the north, to debate on the "Covenant" with the famous Aberdeen doctors; but he was not well received by them. " The voyd church was made fast, and the keys keeped by the magistrate," says Baillie. Henderson's next public appearance was in the famous Assembly which met in Glasgow on the 21st of November 1638. He was chosen moderator by acclamation, being, as Baillie says, " incomparablie the ablest man of us all for all things." The marquis of Hamilton was the king's commissioner; and, when the Assembly insisted on proceed-ing with the trial of the bishops, he formally dissolved the meeting under pain of treason. Nothing daunted, however, they sat till the 20th of December, deposed all the Scottish bishops, excommunicated a number of them, repealed all acts favouring Episcopacy, and reconstituted the Scottish Kirk on thorough Presbyterian principles. During the sitting of this Assembly it was carried by a majority of seventy-five votes that Henderson should be transferred to Edinburgh. He had been at Leuchars for about twenty-three years, and was extremely reluctant to leave it. While Scotland and England were preparing for the "Eirst Bishops' War," Henderson drew up two papers, entitled respectively—The Remonstrance of the Nobility, and Instructions for De-fensive Arms. The first of these documents he published himself; the second was published against his wish by Corbet, a deposed minister. The " First Bishops' War " did not last long. At the Pacification of Birks the king had virtually to grant all the demands of the Scots. In the negotiations for peace Henderson was one of the Scottish commissioners, and made a very favourable impres-sion on the king. In 1640 Henderson was elected by the town council rector of Edinburgh university-—an office to which he was annually re-elected till his death. The Pacification of Birks had been wrung from the king; and the Scots, seeing that he was preparing for the " Second Bishops' War," took the initiative, and pressed into England so vigorously that Charles had again to yield everything. The maturing of the treaty of peace took a considerable time; and Henderson was again active in the negotiations, first at Bipon, and afterwards at London. While he was in London he had a personal interview with the king, with the view of obtaining assistance for Edinburgh university from the money formerly applied to the support of the bishops. On Henderson's return to Edinburgh in July 1641, the Assembly was sitting at St Andrews. To suit the convenience of the parliament, however, it removed to Edinburgh; and Henderson was elected moderator of the Edinburgh meeting. In this Assembly he proposed that "a confession of faith, a catechism, a directory for all the parts of the public worship, and a platform of government, wherein possibly England and we might agree," should be drawn up. This was unanimously approved of, and the laborious undertaking was left in Henderson's hands; but the "notable motion" did not lead to any immediate re-sults. During Charles's second state-visit to Scotland, in the autumn of 1641, Henderson acted as his chaplain, and managed to get the funds, formerly belonging to the bishopric of Edinburgh, applied to the metropolitan uni-versity. In 1642 Henderson was engaged in corresponding with England on ecclesiastical topics; and, shortly after-wards, he went to Oxford to mediate between the king and his parliament; but his mission proved a failure. A memorable meeting of the General Assembly was held in August 1643. Henderson was elected moderator for the third time. He presented a draft of the famous " Solemn League and Covenant," which was received with great enthusiasm. Unlike the "National Covenant" of 1638, which applied to Scotland only, this document was common to the two kingdoms. Henderson, Baillie, Butherford, and others were sent up to London to represent Scotland in the Assembly at Westminster. The " Solemn League and Covenant," after undergoing some slight alterations, passed the two Houses of Barliament and the Westminster Assembly, and thus became law for the two kingdoms. By means of it Henderson has had an extra-ordinary influence on the history of Great Britain. As Scottish commissioner to the Westminster Assembly, he was in England from August 1643 till August 1646; and the action of the Scottish commissioners gave a fresh impulse to English Bresbyterianism. Early in 1645 Henderson was sent to Uxbridge to aid the commissioners of the two parliaments in negotiating with the king; but nothing came of the conference. In 1646 the king joined the Scottish army; and, after retiring with them to Newcastle, he sent for Henderson, and discussed with him the two systems of church government in a number of papers. Meanwhile Henderson was failing in health. He sailed to Scotland, and eight days after his arrival died on the 19th of August 1646. He was buried in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh; and his death was the occasion of national mourning in Scotland. An absurd story was at once invented to the effect that, after recanting to the king's views, he had died of remorse. A document was forged, purporting to be a " Declaration of Mr Alexander Henderson;" and, although this paper was disowned, denounced, and shown to be false in the General Assembly of August 1648, the fiction was used by Clarendon, and still finds a place in professedly historical compilations.

Henderson is one of the greatest men in the history of Scotland, and, next to Knox, is certainly the most famous of Scottish ecclesiastics. He had great political genius; and his statesmanship was so influential that "he was," as Professor Masson well observes, "a cabinet minister without office." He has made a deep mark on the history, not only of Scotland, but of England; and the existing Presbyterian Churches in Scotland are largely indebted to him for the forms of their dogmas and their ecclesiastical organization. He is thus justly considered the second founder of the Eeformed Church in Scotland.
For further information about Henderson reference may be made to M'Crie's Life of Alexander Henderson, 1846; Aiton's Life and Tiines of Alexander Henderson, J 836; The Letters and Journals of Robert Baillie, 1841-2 (an exceedingly valuable work, from an historical point of view); Burton's History of Scotland; Masson's Life of Drummo)ul of Hawthornden; and, above all, Masson's Life of Milton. (T. GI.)

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