Knox’s failure in his admirable attempt to secure the wealth of the old Church for national purposes was, as it happened, the secular salvation of the Kirk. Neither Catholicism nor Anglicanism could be fully introduced while the barons and nobles held the tithes and lands of the ancient Church. Possessing the wealth necessary to a Catholic or Anglican establishment, they were resolutely determined to cling to it, and oppose any Church except that which they starved. The bishops of James I., Charles I., and Charles II. were detested by the nobles. Rarely from them came any lordly gifts to learning and the Universities, while from the honourably poor ministers such gifts could not come. The Universities were founded by prelates of the old Church, doing their duty with their wealth.
The arrangements for discipline were of the drastic nature which lingered into the days of Burns and later. The results may be studied in the records of Kirk Sessions; we have no reason to suppose that sexual morality was at all improved, on the whole, by “discipline,” though it was easier to enforce “Sabbath observance.” A graduated scale of admonitions led up to excommunication, if the subject was refractory, and to boycotting with civil penalties. The processes had no effect, or none that is visible, in checking lawlessness, robbery, feuds, and manslayings; and, after the Reformation, witchcraft increased to monstrous proportions, at least executions of people accused of witchcraft became very numerous, in spite of provision for sermons thrice a week, and for weekly discussions of the Word.
The Book of Discipline, modelled on the Genevan scheme, and on that of A’Lasco for his London congregation, rather reminds us of the “Laws” of Plato. It was a well meant but impracticable ideal set before the country, and was least successful where it best deserved success. It certainly secured a thoroughly moral clergy, till, some twelve years later, the nobles again thrust licentious and murderous cadets into the best livings and the bastard bishoprics, before and during the Regency of Morton. Their example did not affect the genuine ministers, frugal God-fearing men.
In discussing the Book of Discipline, that great constructive effort towards the remaking of Scotland, we left Knox at the time of the death of his first wife. On December 20, 1560, he was one of some six ministers who, with more numerous lay representatives of districts, sat in the first General Assembly. They selected some new preachers, and decided that the church of Restalrig should be destroyed as a monument of idolatry. A fragment of it is standing yet, enclosing tombs of the wild Logans of Restalrig.
The Assembly passed an Act against lawless love, and invited the Estates and Privy Council to “use sharp punishment” against some “idolaters,” including Eglintoun, Cassilis, and Quentin Kennedy, Abbot of Crosraguel, who disputed later against Knox, the Laird of Gala (a Scott) and others.