Andrew Melville was born near Montrose in 1545. Before Melville, the Reformers had been mostly concerned with how people were saved and that they worshipped God in the right way. However Melville wanted to make sure that the church was organised the way it was in the New Testament. He said that the church should be Presbyterian. Like John Knox, Melville also strongly believed that the government should have no control over the church.
Melville went to university in St Andrews before going to Geneva in Switzerland to study the Bible and teach Latin. He returned to Scotland in 1574 and became principal of the University of Glasgow. The next year he attended the General Assembly and spoke out against the ‘Tulchan’ bishops that had recently been brought into the church. John Knox had also argued against bishops. Melville said that there was no such thing in the Bible as a bishop who had power over other ministers. He showed the Assembly that in the Bible, ‘bishop’ was just another name for a minister.
In 1578, Melville was Moderator of the General Assembly which accepted the Second Book of Discipline. This book set out Presbyterianism as the way the church should be run. In 1581 the King’s Confession against Roman Catholicism was signed by the king and people across Scotland, but in 1584 Melville had to leave the country after getting in trouble for a sermon he had preached. He refused to accept the authority of the government to make judgements on his preaching as he said he was the messenger of a King ‘far above them’ – The Lord Jesus Christ. He then clanked his Hebrew Bible down on the table in front of them and told them that it was what gave him his authority. With Melville gone, Parliament passed the Black Acts against Presbyterianism.
In 1592, king James VI was pleased with the church, got rid of the Black Acts and passed the Golden Act. Although this didn’t give the church all that they wanted, it was a big improvement. In 1596 Melville made a famous speech where he reminded the king again that ‘there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland.’ As well as king James ‘There is Christ Jesus, the King of the Church, whose subject James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member.’
The king didn’t listen however. In 1599 more bishops were introduced and in 1604 the king tried to stop the General Assembly [link to General History – General Assembly] from meeting. The next year the Assembly met without his permission and in 1606 the ministers signed a paper protesting against Episcopacy. Melville’s name was the first on the list and for this he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
In 1611, Melville was released from the Tower so that he could go and teach the Bible to Protestants in France. He was never allowed to return to Scotland.
In 1612, full Episcopacy was introduced in Scotland. In 1618, James brought in his worst laws yet – The Five Articles of Perth. These forced five episcopal and Roman Catholic worship practices on the church, including kneeling at communion and celebration of Christmas and Easter. Ministers who refused to accept them were removed from their churches or put in prison.
Melville died in France in 1622. King James died three years later. But things would get worse before they got better.
Andrew Melville reminds us that God has given us instructions in His Word about how the church should be run, so we shouldn’t ignore them. He also wasn’t afraid to stand up to people who didn’t accept what the Bible said – even if it was the king himself. The church must do what Jesus says and not any earthly ruler.
John Howie, ‘Andrew Melville’ in The Scots Worthies (Edinburgh, 2001 ), pp 91-100.
Thomas M’Crie, The Life of Andrew Melville (Edinburgh, 1819)
Autobiography and Diary of James Melville (2 vols, 1842)
DSCHT: Melville, Andrew; Perth, Five Articles of; Episcopalianism; Golden Act; Tulchan Bishops
James Kirk, ‘Melville, Andrew (1545–1622)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
Jenny Wormald, ‘James VI and I (1566–1625)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008