Scotland´s Christian Heritage
Few nations in this world have been as blessed as much as Scotland has. The history of this small country is so rich with our Christian ancestry that volumes could and have been written about it. God’s special plan for the Scots is evident from the many revivals which it has seen, and the many missionaries which it has sent to foreign lands. Indeed, half of the founding fathers of the United States had Scottish ancestry.
The history of Scotland has been both tragic and glorious. It has been oppressed by bishops and liberated by Godly giants like Wishart, Knox and Buchanan. Its history contains many parallels to the biblical pattern of Israel falling from God, being cursed, and then being restored.
The origins of the Scottish nation have been preserved in folklore and documentary form. One such document, one of Scotland’s most famous national documents, is “The Declaration of Arbroath”. It has long been taught in Scotland’s schools that the Scots were travellers who came from far across Europe to rest in their northern home. The Declaration of Arbroath has recorded this for all time:
“…the Scots have been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today. The Britons they first drove out, Picts they utterly destroyed, and, even though very often assailed by the Norwegians, the Danes and the English, they took possession of that home with many victories and untold efforts; and, as the historians of old time bear witness, they have held it free of all bondage ever since.” 1
Greater Scythia includes modern-day Greece and the Tyrrhenian Sea, and also includes part of the west coast of Italy. Yet the Scottish origins can be traced further south-east to the land of Israel. The similarity between Scotland’s Royal Flag, “The Lion Rampant”, which pre-dates the Saltire Flag (a white St. Andrew’s Cross on a blue background) and the tribal banner of Judah are no coincidence. Compare below, the tribal banner of Judah with the modern Scottish Royal Flag, which is flown on every official building in Scotland.
Early Christian History
Christianity came to Britain immediately after the time of Christ, when the disciples were dispersed by persecution in Jerusalem. (See article Britain’s Christian Heritage or Was There a British Church Before Augustine Came? As the centuries passed in Europe “Christianity was amalgamated with the pagan religions to produce the compromised state religion of Roman Catholicism under Emperor Constantine…” The Christian Church in Britain became greatly persecuted, and with the invasions by the ‘pagan’ Angles, Saxons, Friesians and Jutes, Christianity managed to only survive in the Celtic fringes; in Wales and some parts of Scotland.
Ireland became Christianised through the efforts of St. Patrick, a British Christian, whose monastic Celtic Christianity was responsible for sending Columba as a missionary to the Celts of Scotland. Columba came from Ireland to the Island of Iona, just off the coast of Scotland. Here he founded a monastery, and from here he converted the Celts and the Picts to the faith of Christ by his preaching and example. Another early Christian who made a great impact on Scotland was St. Mungo, also known as St. Kentigern. He preached around the area which is now Glasgow. Glasgow’s motto, adopted in 1633, is attributed to a sermon, which was preached by St. Mungo. It is, “Lord, let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of Thy Word.” Neither Patrick, Columba or Mungo were Catholic: they were part of the Celtic church which was established in Britain long before the arrival of the Roman Catholic Church in 597 AD with Augustine, who was commissioned by Pope Gregory.
From the arrival of Augustine onwards, the Roman Catholic Church worked to bring the Celtic Church into line with its own beliefs and errors. In 664 AD one event, which had a long-lasting negative effect on Christianity in Scotland, was the Synod of Whitby:
“In principle, the synod was about which method to use for dating Easter. The King’s choice of Rome’s method was based on the superiority of Peter as the ‘gatekeeper of Heaven’. The ‘superiority’ of Peter to the British saints was exploited by Rome to impress a ‘superstitious’ elite that remained pagan in its attitudes to choose the church with the more ‘powerful’ patron saint. Rome spread its practices through Britain, although individual ‘traditions’ still continued within different monasteries and the Celtic Christian influence remained.” 2
This compromise of the church led to a long period of spiritual darkness, which was only broken by the Reformation.
Though the Roman Catholic Church had for centuries attempted to prevent the common people from reading the Scriptures, they were unsuccessful, due to the efforts of men like John Wycliffe (1330-1384) and William Tyndale (1484-1536), who translated the Bible into English and dispersed it as widely as possible. It was only through the truth of the Word of God, that centuries of man-made tradition and superstitions could be done away with. The availability of the Word of God, such as Tyndale’s printed translation of the Bible, paved the way for the Reformation. Tyndale held a deep conviction that the Scriptures should be available to all. Many of his Bibles were burned and, for his efforts, he also was burned at the stake in October 1536. 3
One of the early evangelists in Scotland was George Wishart. As a young man, he had been ordained as a priest, but he cut ties with the Roman Catholic Church when its errors were expounded by a Protestant preacher. John Knox was so convicted by Wishart’s preaching and character that he became Wishart’s bodyguard. When Knox had to return to his work as a tutor, Wishart was arrested by Cardinal David Beaton and was condemned to be burnt at the stake. With great zeal, Wishart preached all the way to the stake and, even as he burned, loudly cried out forgiveness for his murderers.
Stirred by the corruption evident in the Roman Catholic Church, and with an unshakeable belief in the truth of God’s Word, John Knox became a powerful leader in the Scottish Reformation. A man of action and passion, he was not content to sit on the sidelines: he preached searing messages exposing the Roman Catholic Church for its unscriptural doctrines, and showing the Pope to be the antichrist. When he was sent to a French Galley for being a part of a rebellion against the Catholic Regent Mary, Knox did not give up hope that he would one day preach in Scotland again. The following prayer reveals his determination, “God, give me Scotland or I die.” When the galley slaves were all ordered to kiss a statue of Mary, Knox not only refused to kiss it, he threw the statue overboard saying, “Now let our lady save herself…” Amazingly, he got away with this and no further attempts were made to force the Protestant galley slaves into idolatry.
John Knox was released from the galley through public pressure in England, and spent time in England and Geneva, learning much from John Calvin before he was able to return to Scotland and lead the Reformation there. One of his most famous sayings was “Spare no arrows”, which sums up John Knox’s method of battle. He tirelessly preached and wrote to teach people the truth and expose error. Because of his passionate ways, much controversy followed John Knox throughout his life. Even to this day, few other men have had the strength and courage to oppose both royalty and the powerfully entrenched Roman Catholic system, or have been willing to give their life entirely, as John Knox did, to stand up for the Truth. No other Reformer wielded as much influence as Knox; the whole nation of Scotland felt his presence, as under his bold leadership it threw off the bondage of a false religion. 4
King James and the Bible
The Word of God, which was the power behind the Reformation, also became its fruit (MATTHEW 7:16-20) as it became more readily available throughout Europe in the language of the people. In 1604, King James VI of Scotland (King James I of England) ordered the translation of God’s Word into English. Using original Hebrew and Greek texts, as well as pure vernacular translations from the time of the disciples onwards, the translators polished the previous English translations.
The 54 translators, all men with extensive knowledge of languages and known for their Christian character, were divided into 6 different groups located in three different places. With the method of translation set out by the king, each word would be checked at least 14 times. The 400 years of fruit from the Authorised King James Version of the Holy Bible, reveals God’s anointing on His Word, and this translation remains the best English translation to this day. 5
Following the Reformation came the Scottish Covenanters, a Protestant group which was committed to the freedom of the Church. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Covenanters experienced great persecution from those who wished to limit their freedom. In order to avoid the errors seen in the Church of England, the Covenanters fought in coalition with the parliament of England against Charles I. They were not much interested in politics as they were in obtaining freedom to worship as they chose. As children and grandchildren of those who went through the Reformation, they were not keen to return to the bondage and superstition of religion, having found freedom in Christ through the Word. They were known for their devotion to God, and refused to return to what they saw as a more “Roman system” instituted by Charles I and Charles II. They held illegal “conventiclers”, which were meetings often held in the open air. “Government efforts to crush these [meetings] led to ‘the killing times’ when hundreds of Covenanters were hunted down and executed.” These men, women and even children, ‘counted the cost’ and chose to live for Christ even though it would cost them their lives. Some of their main meetings were held in the town of Abernethy.
Following the Reformation, Scotland was used mightily by God in sending out many missionaries to all parts of the world to spread the Gospel of Christ. Two of these missionaries were David Livingstone and Eric Liddell.
David Livingstone: Africa’s explorer and missionary
While he didn’t have any outstanding talents, David Livingstone earned his place as one of the most notable missionaries in modern history by shear hard work and perseverance. 6
David started working at the age of ten in a cotton mill in Blantyre, Lanarkshire. Even with 14-hour workdays starting at 6am he would still study until midnight. This was no ordinary boy. David had self-discipline at this young age that would have shamed any soldier. This combined with his calm and self-reliant nature would make him one of the most highly regarded missionaries of modern times.
When he reached the age of 20, David became convicted “that the salvation of men ought to be the chief desire and aim of every Christian”. Initially China was his desired mission field, but this was impossible due to the opium war that was raging at the time. Africa then became his vision, when he heard that “in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages, where no missionary had ever been” could be seen. This phrase from Dr. Robert Moffat captured David’s imagination and became his heart’s desire.
His first trip lasted 16 years. During this time he married; had children; discovered the Victoria Falls, among many other wonders: and suffered terrible illness, including 31 fevers, almost losing his sight in one eye and his hearing. He was also very nearly killed by a lion.
“Dr. Livingstone I presume?” is the quote that everyone familiar with his life will know; words that came from a meeting with Henry M. Stanley of the New York Herald, who had been sent by his paper to find him. The truth is that many in Britain thought that he had been killed long before, since he had no way of communicating while on his journeys.
It was his third trip to Africa that cost him his life. Exhausted and drained from travelling while suffering the effects of years of disease and incredible hardships, Dr. David Livingstone died during an expedition at the village of Luapula. He was discovered on his knees praying to his master Jesus Christ.
During his life he was honoured by three universities, the public swarmed him and royalty admired him. He fought the slave trade, preached the Word in every village and opened the interior of Africa to all that came after him. His last public words in Scotland speak volumes for his character and the reason for his success: “work hard and fear God”. (See Christian History of South Africa for more information).
Eric Liddell: From Olympic Gold to China’s mission field
Eric Liddell’s story 7 is one that has endured the years because he was a man that really cared more for what God thought of him than what the public thought. During his life Eric competed in many running events and was famous for his preaching to the crowds after each event. He was more noted in the press for his refusal to compete on Sundays. On one occasion he actually did run on a Sunday while holding a very large Bible above his head for the entire race, which he still won. If one Scripture could be used to describe this Godly man, then this may fit the bill:
”… for them that honour me I will honour …” (1 SAMUEL 2:30).
Eric became a household name when he was chosen to represent Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. When it became clear that the qualifiers for the men’s 100 metres race would be held on “The Lord’s day” he quietly withdrew from what was his best event. This was seen by many as unpatriotic and gained him much criticism from peers and officials alike. Eric was given the chance of running in the 400 metres race, in which he triumphed over the competition to everyone’s amazement. He also won the bronze medal in the 200 metres race, which was more than enough to answer his critics and to make him a national hero and an example for every young man to follow.
Eric’s heart remained steadfast for God, and he soon returned to his passion of spreading the Gospel to anyone who would listen. This took him back to his birthplace of China, to become a missionary as his parents had been. Eric’s life ended in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in China after he chose to stay to continue his missionary work. He died of a brain tumour at the age of 43, leaving a wife and 3 children.
What made Eric Liddell so remarkable was that even with his newly found fame and the opportunities this created for him, he still remained faithful and devoted to doing the work of the Lord. Eric could have easily forgotten his calling and been enticed into an easy life as a celebrity. Yet he gave his life for others, just like his Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Many other missionaries of note could be written of here such as William Burns, John Alexander Dowie, Alexander Mackay and Mary Slessor .
There have been many revivals throughout the centuries in Scotland, from the times of the Covenanters through to George Whitfield 8 preaching to 100,000 people in Cambuslang to the revivals under Robert Murray McCheyne 9 in the 1840’s.
More recently, in 1949, a revival came to Hebrides Islands 10 in Northern Scotland. Peggy and Christine Smith (aged 84 and 82) prayed constantly for a revival, and God showed Peggy in a dream that a revival was coming. They asked their minister to call the church leaders to prayer, and three nights every week the leaders would come together for prayer. This went on for months, until one night God’s awesome presence filled the barn where they prayed. Rev. Duncan Campbell was invited to come to lead the meetings. After the first meeting he was invited to an all-night prayer meeting. Walking home at 3 am in the morning, there were already signs of what was to come: men and women were seeking God, and no-one seemed interested in sleep. By the next morning, the church was packed with people who were repentant and convicted of sin. For five weeks, meetings continued night and day, and the presence of God, was overwhelming. The revival spread throughout the Islands, bringing change and a new life to many.
At one time Scotland was a great nation that, though small, had a huge impact on the world, as we know it. Not only did they spread God’s Word, but the Scots were also mightily used in civilising the world and contributed largely to the founding of countries such as the United States of America, Canada and Australia.
Many of the modern inventions, which we take for granted today were invented and developed by the Scots: a tribute to their creative spirit. It was after the Reformation, when her heart was set on following God, that Scotland had her greatest impact on the world. Today Scotland has become a very secular society where Christianity has been pushed to one side, and thus Scotland itself has been pushed to the side: its people suffer from a high rate of alcoholism, and have one of the shortest average life-spans in the developed world.
God’s promise to Scotland can be seen in the Scripture,
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 CHRONICLES 7:14).
Our Commission from God
God has used the Scots to serve, explore, invent, renew, challenge, fight and die for something greater than themselves. One day, the Scottish nation will once again feel the shame of her reproach; she will see a great revival and a re-emergence of the fighting spirit that God used to spread His Word throughout the world. But until that day, the Scots will “teach the heathen to sin”.
"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me” (ISAIAH 6:8).
- 1. E.A. Capt, The Scottish Declaration of Independence, Covenant Publishing.
- 2. See Britain’s Christian Heritage.
- 3. G. Riplinger, In Awe of Thy Word: Understanding the King James Bible, Its Mystery and History, Letter by Letter, A.V. Publications Corp. (2003), p. 820.
- 4. R. Liardon, God’s Generals II: The Roaring Reformers, Whittaker House (2003), pp. 259-328.
- 5. G. Riplinger, In Awe of Thy Word: Understanding the King James Bible, Its Mystery and History, Letter by Letter, A.V. Publications Corp. (2003), pp. 578-617.
- 6. Robert E. Speer, Servants of the King, Eaton & Mains (1909).
- 7. Russell Ramsey, God's Joyful Runner, Bridge-Logos Publishers (1986).
- 8. Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, Banner of Truth (1971)
- 9. Andrew A. Bonar, Robert Murray McCheyne, Banner of Truth (1960)
- 10. Winkey Pratney, Revival, Whitaker (1984)