Posted in discernment, theology

Puritan Wives: Anne Hutchinson- Screeching usurper, or passionate devotee?

By Elizabeth Prata

You know how some people jokingly say he or she ‘broke the internet’? Well, Anne Hutchinson broke the colony.

History hasn’t been that kind to Puritan wife Anne Hutchinson. She is either portrayed as an oppressed early feminist denied her identity, or a screeching harridan who deserved what she got. She has been called a heroine, an American Jezebel, an instrument of satan, poison, and a great imposter (the negative ones were all from John Winthrop).

Of course the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The introductory entry in this series on Puritan Wives is here. If you’d like to read some background to the Puritan emigration and founding of Massachusetts Bay Colony, you can read that link.

Sometimes we think of our historical brethren as backward or uneducated, but in fact Puritan Massachusetts was populated with highly literate people, and that included the women, unusual for the time. The 1600s was an era when women were mainly quiet at home, revered, but out of the public eye. However, Hutchinson was loud and active. An intelligent, complex, wayward mother of 15 children, she was tried and banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Exiled at age 47 in 1638 and left with nowhere to go, she traipsed to Rhode Island where she was welcomed by that colony’s founder, also-exiled Roger Williams.

That was the end of the end of the Antinomian controversy but not the end of Anne Hutchinson.

Anne was born Anne Marbury in 1591 in Alford, England. Her father was an Anglican cleric. Being literate himself and a teacher, he educated Anne to the fullest.

The family moved to London and lived there a while, tbut when Anne married childhood friend William Hutchinson she moved back to Alford. There, they enjoyed John Cotton’s sermons. Cotton was an outstanding theologian and a dynamic preacher, a combination not often found. Cotton was extremely well thought of.

Cotton was an Anglican preacher who had served for 20 years by the time the Hutchinsons met up with him. He believed the Church needed reforms, such as divesting itself of ritual and ceremony, but did not want to separate from it. He wanted to change it from within. As time went on, though, his consistent attitude against the framework of the Anglican church and his continual speaking against it eventually exceeded the leniency his overseers gave him, and pressure forced him out. He sailed for Massachusetts in 1633.

Devastated, Anne prompted her husband to follow Cotton. In 1634, the Hutchinsons packed up their 14 children and decided to follow Cotton to the new Colony that had been established just 13 years prior.

The Hutchinsons and William’s brother-in-law, John Wheelwright, were quickly accepted into the life of the colony. Anne was a midwife, and she met and discipled many women on her normal rounds. Being articulate and a deep thinker, many women sought her commentary on the Bible. Anne soon began holding weekly meetings at her home, commenting on Cotton’s sermons.

So far, so good. A woman ministering to her fellow sisters in body and soul is what the Bible tells us ladies to do. (Titus 2:3-4). Mothering in midwifery and ministering spiritually to sisters in the colony is a good thing.

However, it wasn’t long before notoriety and interest caused men to attend her meetings, which were ever-expanding. Anne’s commentary was insightful, but a woman leading men in preaching and teaching, even in the privacy of a home, is a dangerous endeavor spiritually. The tendency to usurp is great, and that is what Anne did when she taught and preached to men.

Does sin ever only get worse? Yes. Eventually, Anne did not restrict her home meetings’ topics solely to dissecting/discussing her pastor’s sermons, she strayed into dissecting other ministers’ sermons, too, usually negatively. She criticized heavily.

More men began showing up, women too. Her ‘talks’ gravitated to mainly criticism of everyone else besides her favorite, John Cotton. She began to call names, and impugn character. She hinted that some were antichrists. She said that these other pastors were preaching a covenant of works, while the only true pastor, Cotton, was preaching rightly, the covenant of grace.

In looking at the two sides of the theological debate, it seems to me that both sides were right and both sides were wrong. However, the nuances of this soon-to-be schism are not the purview of this essay, and besides, many other people smarter than me have written on it.

My goal is to look at Anne Hutchinson’s life, and the effects of a rebellious woman’s actions and how they harm the body.

Several of the named pastors naturally took a dim view of her preaching, and there was a meeting held to discuss what to do. John Winthrop, the spiritual leader of the Puritans at that time, was equally, if not more angered.

And the sin deepened. Soon Hutchinson began to encourage women to rise up and walk out of sermons that preached doctrines with which she did not agree. Walking out is a disdainful, rebellious act. But many women did it.

The meetings continued, only growing in number. Anne dissections of others’ sermons, were not God-glorifying nor encouraging to pastors. Nor did they educate the attendees and enlighten them as to Jesus as our Savior. Nor did they prompt the people to good works. They were simply to point out the pastor’s errors and to cement her own position which she believed to be righteous. Think of the worst discernment ministries running today, who lack love, and who never lift up but only tear down, and that was the situation between 1636-1638.

Anne was spurred on by people who should know better.

A male admirer put it this way-

“I’ll bring you to a woman who preaches better gospel than any of your black-coats who have been at the ninnyversity, a woman of another kind of spirit who has had many revelations of things to come….I had rather such a one who speaks from the mere notion of the Spirit without any study at all than any of your learned scholars.”

One of Anne’s doctrines was that a person did not need any clergy, but could be guided by their own inner light. Anne was correct that the Spirit dwelling in us illuminates the scriptures to our mind, but incorrect that we need no clergy at all to explain the scriptures to us.

Note that “Inner light” is a Quaker term. Quakerism was rising at the time, in fact, another woman, Mary Dyer, supported Hutchinson but was later hanged as a rebel. The Quakers did not believe in baptism, formal prayer and the Lord’s Supper, nor did they believe in an ordained ministry. Each member was a minister in his or her own right, women were essentially treated as men in matters of spirituality, and they relied on an “Inner Light of Christ” as their source of spiritual inspiration, according to Dyer’s Wiki entry.

The equality of men and women in Quakerism, the lack of ordained ministry (to whom church members submit) and the inner light were all things Hutchinson would have been attracted to. It was this the admirer above was hinting at. Quakerism was anathema to Puritans and they enacted many laws against it.

Right, the statue of Hutchinson on the Massachusetts State House at 24 Beacon Street, Boston, MA. Still so controversial 375 years after death, and almost 100 years after the statue was commissioned, the original recipient, the Public Library, refused it and the Legislature ignored it for 2 years. It was finally installed in 2005. Story here: A heretic’s overdue honor

And the sin just deepened and deepened. It wasn’t long before Hutchinson began spouting personal revelations. The apex of this was at her trial for sedition and heresy. Anne’s behavior had spawned a schism, had encouraged women to rebel, and caused a region-wide argument on the finer points of works v. grace. It also exiled her brother-in-law, John Wheelwright. It damaged Cotton’s reputation for years to come. The colony itself was suffering over this to the point of collapse. Winthrop’s “city on a hill” was only after a few years mired in petty bickering and politically unstable, caused no less by a woman. She had to be stopped.

Hutchinson was put on trial, after various attempts to get her to stop, recant, and repent. Hutchinson held firm. In her trial, she bested every single man in a theological debate, including Winthrop, who never forgave her as we’ll see later.

It might have gone her way, except at the last, she overstepped, and claimed that God Himself had told her these things. The initial charge of sedition was not met with a preponderance of evidence, due to her skill in theological combat. However when Hutchinson insisted God spoke ot her personally, she was charged with blasphemy and exiled. In the spring, she moved to nearby Rhode Island and founded Portsmouth. Her husband and many of her children were already there.

Anne Hutchinson is noted as “a woman of conscience who yielded to no authority”, as quoted in this book about fellow Puritan preacher William Wentworth. Today’s feminists laud Hutchinson’s stance, but Christians know that is not the way. Of course we yield ot authority.

Her friend and pastor John Cotton noted the missteps and sins Hutchinson committed,

Three things I told her made her spiritual estate unclear to me.
1. That her Faith was not begotten nor (by her relation) scarce at any time strengthened, by publicke Ministry, but by private Meditations, or Revelations, onely….
2. That she clearly discerned her Justification (as she professed:) but little or nothing at all, her Sanctification: though (she said) she believed such a thing there was by plain Scripture….
3. That she was more sharply censorious of other men’s spiritual estates and hearts, then the servants of God are wont to be, who are more taken up with judging of themselves before the Lord, then of others. Source: The New England Antinomian Controversy, Monergism

The first two are part of the theological controversy, but it’s the third I’d like to draw your attention to. Hutchinson rebelled against the scriptures, namely 1 Timothy 2:12 by teaching men. She and was unconcerned and unrepentant about it. She also failed to submit to her leaders, as Hebrews 13:17 says to do. Open and constant criticism of your leaders by disparaging them and encouraging walk-outs, is sin. (Also 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 1 Corinthians 16:16). Anne seems to have been unconcerned about the rift she was causing, and the word submit didn’t seem to be in her vocabulary. When she knew she was causing a problem, she did not repent, but persisted. This violated Romans 12:16, as she did not live in harmony with one another and failed to be humble. See also 1 Peter 3:8.

Left, John Cotton by John Smibert

Hutchinson was seen even by her lone supporter as overly judgmental and critical, as John Cotton enumerated in his list, #3.

How many Proverbs did Anne Hutchinson violate? She was not the meek, kind, quiet woman Proverbs calls us to be. She did not tend to her house (Prov 14:1). She was contentious, quarrelsome, and loud.

The woman of folly is boisterous, She is naive and knows nothing. (Proverbs 9:13).

When we step outside God’s ordained spheres for us, chaos ensues. I’m not speaking solely of women stepping into leadership or usurping men. Children are called to live in obedience to their parents. Men are supposed to lead the household. John Winthrop wrote of Anne’s husband William,

a man of very mild temper and weak parts, and wholly guided by his wife,

Of interest: Where is Beth Moore’s Husband? 90-second NoCo Radio video clip

There are spheres for all of us, and when we set them aside for our own glory or our own purposes, even for a deeply held conviction or our conscience, chaos comes.

Anne’s positive influence could have been great. She was mother of 15 children, many of them boys. Her insights and strong theological knowledge could have raised up a new generation of founding fathers for our nation. If Anne had remained in her mid-wifery and women’s Bible study sphere, and tended to her home, who knows what might have come of it.

As it was, there were a few positives from the negatives of the Anne Hutchinson controversy. Winthrop sought a colonial confederation to unite the colonies. The men banded together and established Harvard College, initially a seminary to train up the generation of men, as this quote indicates,

To provide a bulwark against remnants of Hutchinson’s free-grace theology, just two weeks after she was banished the General Court of Massachusetts finally released funds in November 1637 to establish the “College at Newtowne” (renamed Harvard in 1639)

Third, it spurred Roger Williams to deepen his conviction that there should be a “wall of separation” between church and state. Hutchinson was tried as a seditionist and a heretic, and eventually convicted of blasphemy. Williams thought that-

the magistrate should not punish religious infractions—meant that the civil authority should not be the same as the ecclesiastical authority. The second idea—that people should have freedom of opinion on religious matters—he called “soul-liberty.” It is one of the foundations for the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Williams’ use of the phrase “wall of separation” in describing his preferred relationship between religion and other matters is credited as the first use of that phrase, and Thomas Jefferson’s source in later writing of the wall of separation between church and state in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802.

It was effectively the end of the city on the hill Winthrop had wanted to establish. His theocracy was no more.

banished
Banishment from Mass. Bay Colony. Wikimedia. It took 6 days to walk to RI

Hutchinson was not the only bad actor in this debacle. John Winthrop behaved badly too. (Among others). Anne was in her mid-forties when the trial occurred. She was either pregnant during the trial or shortly after. She emigrated to Rhode Island the spring after the trial ended and shortly afterward, gave birth. The issue from the birth was not a baby but what is believed to have been a hydatidiform mole, or molar pregnancy. It was a mass of tumors, not a baby. Knowing the outcome of it being publicly known, the Hutchinsons had it quickly and secretly buried. However, Winthrop heard about it, sought the grave, got it exhumed, and used the tragedy as ‘proof’ that his stance was right. He wrote of it widely: ‘see how the wisdom of God fitted this judgment to her sin every way, for look—as she had vented misshapen opinions, so she must bring forth deformed monsters.”

This to me, is a total lack of charity and speaks ill of his own character. Later, when it appeared that Massachusetts was set to annex Rhode Island (it never happened), fearing reprisals, Anne and her children (her husband had passed away by then) moved out of Winthrop’s reach and into New York, the Netherlands’ territory. A year later, Anne and all but one of her children were killed in an Indian massacre. Many New England pastors wrote gloating reports of her death. Winthrop called her upon her death “An American Jezebel.” I pray that any today’s pastors are more charitable and loving.

If you’re a woman beset by conscience due to doctrinal difference with your pastor, what should you do? Well, not usurp the men, criticize openly, and encourage walkouts. Certainly don’t put words into God’s mouth that your stance is directly from Him.

First, decide if your difference is a salvific one or a secondary or tertiary issue. Next, pray, for your pastor, but for yourself too. Pray for wisdom and enlightenment. Perhaps you are wrong!

Then, be patient. You’re not the only one to have spotted an issue that threatens the church. Perhaps other men are working on it behind the scenes. Not everything depends on you. Be patient.

If it continues or worsens, then make an appointment to see the pastor, with your husband if possible. Ask questions to learn, don’t go in with guns blazing thinking you know it all. Ask, be an eager hearer.

Return home and be more patient. Let the information you’ve gained sink in, consult your husband, and read the Bible. Pray some more. Resist the temptation to gossip about it to mount up soldiers for your side.

As time goes on you might be relieved to find the Lord has resolved this issue, or you might find it worsening and have to make decisions. If you decide to leave your church, leave well.

Anne Hutchinson was an amazing colonialist who had much to offer the colony and her church. Unfortunately, she went outside the bounds of the ordained spheres for a woman and she caused upset, schism, and was a negative role model. There’s no doubt though, she was formidable and earned a place in American history. As a wife, though, the more negative Proverbs speak of her and women like her than do the positive ones.

Be peaceable,And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, (2 Timothy 2:24)

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A few resources I used for background, sources for you too

Revising what we have done amisse’: John Cotton and John Wheelwright, 1640
The William and Mary Quarterly

The Antinomian Controversy 1636-1638: A Documentary History, by David D. Hall, Editor

William Wentworth: Puritan Preacher by Susan Ostburg

Rebels and Renegades: A Chronology of Social and Political Dissent in the United States by Neil Hamilton

Anne Hutchinson Preaching in Her House in Boston, illustration published in Harper’s Monthly, circa February 1901 http://historyofmassachusetts.org/anne-hutchinson/

Posted in encouragement, theology

How to read the Puritans

On blind spots…JD Greear said,

Our Christian forebears were fallible men and women, but so are we. And we fool ourselves to simply assume that we would have had the courage to act differently when every societal pressure was pushing one direction. They had blind spots which we see clearly now. But we too have blind spots that our children and grandchildren will speak of with shame.

Greear was specifically speaking of slavery, but his concept applies to theology too. There has never been a time when the fundamentals and the tangential items of the faith were completely settled. During Jesus’ day, His ‘new’ theology, which was really the original theology, was misapplied, misunderstood, and rejected. Even Nicodemus, THE Teacher of Israel, whiffed the concepts of suffering servant/sacrificial atonement/new birth. The Pharisees certainly didn’t get it and at one point even John the Baptist, who’d had the Spirit in him since the womb, asked if Jesus was the one or should they wait for another.

During the Apostolic age, there were many points of theology to be settled, and the succeeding councils during the centuries after to hash them out are testament to the fluid nature of man’s understanding of the Kingdom. Early church fathers were certainly fallible men. Origen’s theology (c. 184-c. 253) was hailed either as the “height of faithful theology or the depth of horrendous error.

Augustine (354-430) adhered to many theologies that were solid but he clung to many that were not. Hailed as a brilliant thinker, at the same time, his philosophies “also considerably skewed the Christian vision.”

I could go on, but far be it for anyone to think that the faith delivered once for all to the saints is understood widely by all the saints for all time. In every era men struggle with certain elements of it due to their cultural blind spots of the time in which we live.

jedwards
Jonathan Edwards

By the time of the Reformation, the understanding of the faith delivered once for all to the saints had been polluted beyond saving, and the Puritans started afresh, breaking completely with the Roman Catholic Church.

Suffice to say that the theologians in each era were duly conscientious of their thinking, striving to understand all that is required, and to explain it in ways the common man could understand, too. But they had blind spots, being products of their own generation. This is the way of it. We in this era have blind spots too, being products of our own generation. When we read a modern book, we nod and say, yes, yes, not realizing that the constructs of our own culture and time are blinding us to this or to that. Our grandchildren will look at our books of the millennium na shake their heads at us.

This is why it is important to read the products of the ancient and historical thinkers. We see their blind spots clearly, and we are happily exposed to theology that can and does enhance our understanding of the faith.

But oftentimes the ancients and historical fathers are difficult to read as well. Language changes. When reading Spurgeon, (1834 –1892) his words seem quaint. Backing up a hundred years, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is a bit more difficult. By the time we get to the Puritan John Owen, (1616-1683) his works present comprehension difficulties nearly impossible to overcome. Even the great theologian JI Packer called Owen “cumbersome” and Kris Lundgaard took an hour to read just 8 or so pages of Owen, re-reading sentences three and four times and using a dictionary to look up certain words. The common man who finds these hurdles insurmountable miss out on great thinkers and founding fathers of the past.

What to do?

I have a few tips on how to grapple the ancients and the historical men who’ve contributed mightily to the faith but whose works present difficulties.

I’ve found that pairing books helps. For example, this summer I read John Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners paired with A Pilgrim Who Made Progress, the Life Story of John Bunyan, by William Deal. I found that Deal’s book offered historical information that helped me understand some of Bunyan’s spiritual choices. That Deal’s book is aimed at the Youth demographic was actually a help.

If you’re interested in Augustine’s Confessions, the biography by Peter Brown is a good pairing. Brown’s treatment of Augustine seems to have become THE standard bio of Augustine since its publication nearly fifty years ago. Augustine of Hippo: A Biography.

Another kind of paring I’ve done is for example, I read Kris Lundgaard’s The Enemy Within paired with John Owen’s Indwelling Sin. Lundgaard’s book is essentially a re-write/Cliff’s Notes to Owen’s towering work. My version of Owen’s book was from the Puritan Paperback series. Where Lundgaard’s is a total re-write using modern examples, the PP series is a slightly edited and slightly modernized version of the original Puritan work. It’s put out by Banner of Truth Trust, an organization, you can, well, trust!

Fra_angelico_-_conversion_de_saint_augustin-e1440725829425
Fra Angelico, The Conversion of St. Augustine

I read Lundgaard on Mondays and the same Owen chapter the next day. I found that Lundgaard’s version helped me prepare my heart and my mind for the depth of the main meal Owen serves up.

 

Lundgaard also wrote Through the Looking Glass: Reflections on Christ that Change Us as a modernized re-write of Owen’s Glory of Christ, so that could be another pairing.

For Moby Dick, a theological but difficult book, (1851) there are many are study guides online. I used this one as I read the book itself.

For Pilgrim’s Progress, (a 1678 Christian allegory) there are study guides also. I bought The Pilgrim’s Progress Study Guide by Maureen L. Bradley.

Ligonier also has a wonderful teaching series on video by Derek Thomas, as well as a hard copy study guide by the same author. Ligonier says of the teaching series:

The Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan over 300 years ago, is one of the most widely-circulated books ever to be published in the English language. In spite of its popularity in the past, many people today are not familiar with this masterpiece. Join Dr. Derek Thomas as he leads a guided tour of this allegorical work, showing that Christians have as much to gain from this book today as they did hundreds of years ago.

The first video is free. The remainder of the series are fee-based.

So, you can pair books with re-writes of books. Or you can pair books with a biography of the author you’re trying to read. You can use a study guide. Go through a teaching series. Buy a Puritan Paperback which is lightly modernized and abridged.

Any way you do it, don’t let the classics languish. There is a multitude of good theology in them we should not lose our connection to. I’ve offered some ways to ease the difficulty so to speak. If you have ideas, please do share them.

Posted in encouragement, Uncategorized

Reformation history; Jenny Geddes and her stool

the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. (1 Corinthians 14:34).

Paul was exhorting about orderly worship here. The women, who as Hebrews were not invited to participate in worship with the men or to be educated, were over-exuberant in their new found freedom as Christians. As a result, worship had gotten out of hand. Worship must be orderly, quiet, and respectful, that was the watchword. And Paul gave that word in this passage.

 

Is there a time for a woman to holler and throw stools at the pastor? Apparently there was for Jenny Geddes. She’s gone down in Reformation History as someone who stood up for Jesus. Here’s how.

Jenny Geddes (c. 1600 – c. 1660) was a Scottish market-trader in Edinburgh, who is alleged to have thrown her stool at the head of the minister in St Giles’ Cathedral in objection to the first public use of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in Scotland. The act is reputed to have sparked the riot which led to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which included the English Civil War.

Well, that’s some stool. It all happened on July 23, 1637 in Edinburgh.

Always independent, the Puritan Scots had become suspicious of the increasing encroachment of liturgy and rigid traditions a la the Roman Catholic Church. They had observed King Charles Is’ coronation rites and were displeased with his use of Anglican rituals. Next came forced use of the Book of Common Prayer, a high Episcopalian book, with its readings in the Apocrypha. King Charles issued a warrant in 1635 declaring his spiritual power over the Church of Scotland, insisting that the Church would be issued with a new book of liturgy which would be read at services. And on July 23, 1637 in St. Giles Cathedral, the Common Book of prayer was opened and John Hanna, Dean of Edinburgh, began to read.

It was all too much for Jenny. ScotClan has the history,

Jenny Geddes sat fuming on her “fald stool” or a “creepie-stool” meaning a folding stool. Finally she had heard enough and stood up and cried; “Deil colic the wame o’ ye, fause thief; daur ye say Mass in my lug?” meaning “Devil cause you severe pain and flatulent distension of your abdomen, false thief: dare you say the Mass in my ear?” And at that she hurled her stool straight at the Dean’s head. This sparked a full scale riot in the church. one congregation member who had been heard uttering a response to the liturgy was thumped with bibles. The Dean took cover and the Provost summoned his men to put down the disturbance. The rioters were soon ejected from St Giles and the Bishop of Edinburgh appealed for calm. However this was not going to end quietly…

The national spiritual unrest was real, but overlaid upon the spiritual unrest was political unrest too. Hence the riots that sparked the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, and then the English Civil War. You can read about that part of the history elsewhere.

Jenny Geddes’ anger at the encroachment of evil into the pure worship service reminded me of another, more recent ‘Jenny Geddes.’

On November 10, 2013, Memorial Church of the Reformation in the city of Speyer, Germany hosted Karl Jenkins’ performance piece, titled “A Mass for Peace- “The Armed Man” where as part of the performance, the Islamic call to prayer is performed by an Imam.

German woman Heidi Mund had heard of this performance, grabbed her flag on which is emblazoned “Jesus Christ is Lord” headed to the church, and bought her ticket. But first, Ms Mund said, she prayed. To make matters even more emotional, the church the performance was to be held at was the Memorial Church of the Protestation in Speyer Germany, constructed specifically in 1900 where,

Its construction was supposed to be a reminder of the protest action that the imperial evangelical states brought to bear in 1529 at the Reichstag in Speyer. The Luther memorial in the vestibule and the adjacent statues of local Protestant rulers serve as reminders of this event.

Having no particular plan, she quietly listened to the music and readings, but when the Imam began praying to Allah in Arabic and saying, “Allahu Akbar!” she felt what she called a holy anger rising up in her. Much like Jenny Geddes, who was righteously aggrieved with the blasphemy in her midst, Mund stood up at this “interfaith event” and fearlessly began shouting that Lord Jesus alone is God and proclaimed His supremacy over all the earth.

If we are confronted with something of like kind, what would be our reaction? There is a time to sit silently and submissively, but is there ever a time for disruption and holy anger? Jenny Geddes threw a stool, narrowly missing the preacher’s head. Physical violence is never appropriate. How would we react to the incursion of evil into a holy place, a place set aside for the proclamation of the pure word? Just food for thought.

Both Geddes and Mund knew of what was to happen during the service. Neither were surprised. Mund prayed ahead, one can surmise that perhaps Geddes had also prayed ahead. In one way or another, we are all confronted with false doctrine creeping in. Start praying ahead for strength in the Lord to react in ways that honor and glorify Him.

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Further Reading

Trivia: Scottish Poet Robert Burns named his mare Jenny Geddes

Excerpt from William Breed’s 1876 version of the story, from Jenny Geddes, or, Presbyterianism and its great conflict with despotism

It was in the month of July — a month since become so memorable in the history of human freedom — on the twenty-third day of the month, that Jenny emerged from domestic obscurity to historic celebrity and renown.

On that day there was a strange ferment throughout Scotland and a wild excitement in the city of Edinburgh. King Charles had resolved to make Presbyterianism give place to Prelacy throughout the realm. A book of canons had been prepared subversive of the whole system of Presbyterian government, and had been enjoined upon the realm by proclamation upon the king’s simple prerogative.

Following this book came a liturgy as a law of public worship, and a royal edict had commanded its introduction into all the churches of the realm on this memorable Sabbath day. Notice to this effect bad been given the Sabbath before, and hence this intense excitement. For the Scottish people knew that if this measure were carried into effect by the authorities, Presbyterianism was virtually in its grave.

As the hour of Sabbath service approached, the streets of Edinburgh were thronged with crowds of people — every bosom throbbing, every eye flaming with excitement. But whither were they directing their steps? Conspicuous from many a point in the city of Edinburgh is a lofty tower, terminating in an open, carved stonework, with arches springing from the four corners and meeting together at the top in the form of a crown.

Already more than three centuries were looking down from that tower-top. It rose from the centre of a vast and venerable pile, including the High Church at the eastern end, There Knox so often preached, and within which pile “forty altars” were at one time supported.

It was thither mainly the crowds were pressing, and among them Jenny Geddes. Not being overburdened with modesty, she elbowed her way through the crowd to a convenient place, her stool, in near proximity to the pulpit, and seated herself on her throne. The edifice was filled to repletion with titled nobility and the nobler untitled nobility of the Scottish Presbyterian masses. There were present archbishops, bishops, the lords of the session, the magistrates of the city, members of the council, “chief captains and principal men,” and Jenny Geddes and her stool.

The excitement was becoming every moment more intense. The minutes dragged themselves along with tormenting tardiness and the suspense was becoming almost breathless. When the feeling was wrought up to its highest tension the Dean of Edinburgh made his appearance, clad in immaculate surplice, book in hand — the fatal book of the liturgy — the device of English Prelacy for the reform of Scotch Presbytery. The book was opened and the service begun.

The cup was now full, though as yet no one pretended to know, no one dreamed, what form of expression the pent-up indignation of the outraged people would assume. The question was soon decided. No sooner had the first words of the book, through the lips of the clean, reached the ear of Jenny, the stern prophetess on her tripod, than a sudden inspiration seized her. In an instant she was on her feet, and her shrill, impassioned voice rang through the arches of the cathedral:

“Villain! dost thou say mass in my lug?’ and in another instant her three-legged stool was seen on its way, travelling through the air straight toward the head of the surpliced prayer-reader. The astounded dean, not anticipating such an argument, dodged it, but the consequences he could not dodge.

He had laid his book, as he thought, upon a cushion — the cushion proved a hornet’s nest. In an instant the assembly was in the wildest uproar. Hands were clapped; hisses and loud vociferations filled the house, and missiles, such as the hand could reach, filled the air. A sudden rush was made toward the pulpit by the people in one direction, and from the pulpit by the dean in the other. On the retreat of the dean, the Bishop of Edinburgh took his place in the pulpit, and solemnly commanded the winds and waves to be still, but no calm followed. He was as rudely handled as his brother in oppression, and nothing but a vigorous onset of the magistrates saved his lawn and mitre from the rough hands of Jenny Geddes’ soldiery.