Monday, October 20, 2014

Robert Hamilton: First 'Reformed Presbyterian'

To Sir Robert Hamilton of Preston (1650-October 20/21, 1701) is credit given for the first recorded instance of the term "Reformed Presbyterian,"* which he wrote of himself in his dying declaration. He was:
  • A leader of the Scottish Covenanters;
  • A combatant at the Battle of Drumclog (June 22, 1679);
  • A fugitive from English justice, who was exiled in Holland for many years for his Covenanter convictions;
  • The man whose influence led to the Dutch Presbyterian ordination of James Renwick, the last Scottish Covenanter minister to be publicly executed; and he was
  • An author of the 1679 Rutherglen Declaration and the 1692 Sanquhar Declaration.
John Howie, biographer of the Covenanters, devoted a chapter to the record of his life in his famous "Scots Worthies." His life indeed was the stuff of heroic adventure novels. Much maligned, ever zealous, hunted and on the run, willing to sacrifice lands and title, "with Moses he made that noble choice, rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than enjoy the pleasure of sin for a season, and did esteem a stedfast adherence to the cause of Christ, (with all the reproaches that followed thereon) greater riches than all his brother's estate. For out of a true love to Jesus Christ, his covenanted cause, interest and people, he laid his worldly honour in the dust, continuing still a companion in the faith, patience, affliction and tribulation of that poor, mean and despised handful of the Lord's witnesses in these lands, who still owned and adhered unto the state of the Lord's covenanted cause in Scotland" (John Howie, Scots Worthies, p. 600).

When he finally returned to Scotland in 1689, he could not in good conscience accede to the Erastian Revolution Settlement. On account of his involvement in publishing the 1692 Sanquhar Declaration, he was arrested and spent some eight months in prison until he was released upon the magistrates' prerogative. After a life spent in the service of Christ's covenanted cause in Scotland, he left this world with a dying testimony in which he stated:
I die a true Protestant, and to my knowledge a reformed Presbyterian, in opposition to popery, prelacy, and malignancy, and whatever is contrary to truth, and the power of godliness, as well against flattering pretenders to unwarrantable zeal on the right hand, as against lukewarmness on the left; adhering with my soul to the holy sweet scriptures, which have often comforted me in the house of my pilgrimage, our confession of faith, our catechisms, the directory for worship, covenants, national and solemn league and covenant, acknowledgment of sins and engagement to duties, with the causes of God's wrath, and to all the faithful public testimonies given against defections of old or late, particularly these contained in the informatory vindication, and that against the toleration, and the two last declarations emitted since this fatal revolution, which testimonies I ever looked upon as a door of hope of the Lord's returning again to these poor backslidden lands.
And now, my dear friends, let nothing discourage you in that way. The Lord will maintain his own cause, and make it yet to triumph. The nearer to-day it may be the darker, but yet in the evening time it shall be light, and the farther distant ye keep from all the courses and interests of this generation, the greater will your peace and security be. O! labour to be in Christ, for him, and like him, much in reading of the holy scriptures, much in prayer and holy unity among yourselves. Be zealous and tender in keeping up your private fellowship for prayer and Christian conference, as also your public correspondences and general meetings, go to them and come from them as these intrusted, really concerned and weighted with Christ's precious controverted truths in Scotland, and labour still to take Christ along with you to all your meetings, and to behave yourselves as under his holy and all-seeing eye when at them, that ye may always return with a blessing from his rich hand. Now farewell, my dear Christian friends, the Lord send us a joyful meeting at his own right hand after time; which shall be the earnest desire, while in time, of your dying friend,
Sic subscribitur,R. HAMILTON.
Matthew Hutchison wrote concerning this testimony:
In such sentiments as these we find the true inner spirit, the real sustaining power of these faithful men. Religion was to them after all much more than a public testifying for the truth; it was a living and walking by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the joy of his holy fellowship upheld them in all their sorrows and trials. 'In Christ, for Him, like Him,' that was the sum of their testimony, that was their aim and their glory.
James Renwick himself once wrote the following witness to the legacy of Robert Hamilton:
But let the world say what it they will, I must say this, and I say it without vanity or flattery, that a little of Robert Hamilton's spirit in such a day as this is very much worth.
John Howie adds:
The faithful Mr. Renwick called him Mi pater, my father, and ever had a high esteem and regard for him, as the contents of most part of his letters bear: Yea, in the very last letter he wrote, he accosts him thus, 'If I had lived and been qualified for writing a book, and if it had been dedicated to any, you would have been the man; for I have loved you, and I have peace before God in that; and I bless his name that ever I have been acquainted with you, &c.'
* "He left a written testimony to the cause for which he had laboured and suffered, urging his brethren to unwavering steadfastness and watchfulness against defections. In this deed, we find for the first time that we have noticed, the combination of the words that afterwards became the designation of the church, "I die a true Protestant, and to my knowledge a Reformed Presbyterian." (Matthew Hutchison, The Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland: Its Origin and History, 1680-1876, p. 138)

"How We Got the Name Reformed Presbyterian
The first recorded use of the term was in 1701. In that year Robert Hamilton died. Among his last words were these: 'I die a true Protestant, and to my knowledge a Reformed Presbyterian.'" (Peter Lippincott, ed., Psalm Singing of the Covenanters, p. 19)

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