The History of Leith

September 20, 2004

CALVINISM IN SCOTLAND

The best way to discover the practical fruits of a system of religion is to examine a people or a country in which for generations that system has held undisputed sway. In making such a test of Roman Catholicism we turn to some country like Spain, Italy, Colombia, or Mexico.

There, in the religious and political life of the people, we see the effects of the system. Applying the same test to Calvinism we are able to point to one country in which Calvinism has long been practically the only religion, and that country is Scotland. McFetridge tells us that before Calvinism reached Scotland, “gross darkness covered the land and brooded like an eternal nightmare upon all the faculties of the people.”1 “When Calvinism reached the Scotch people,” says Smith, “they were vassals of the Romish church, priest-ridden, ignorant, wretched, degraded in body, mind, and morals. Buckle describes them as ‘filthy in their persons and in their homes,’ ‘poor and miserable,’ ‘excessively ignorant and exceedingly superstitious,’ — ‘with superstition ingrained into their characters.’ Marvelous was the transformation when the great doctrines learned by Knox from the Bible in Scotland and more thoroughly at Geneva while sitting at the feet of Calvin, flashed in upon their minds. It was like the sun arising at midnight . . . Knox made Calvinism the religion of Scotland, and Calvinism made Scotland the moral standard for the world. It is certainly a significant fact that in that country where there is the most of Calvinism there should be the least of crime; that of all the people of the world today that nation which is confessedly the most moral is also the most thoroughly Calvinistic; that in that land where Calvinism has had supremest sway individual and national morality has reached its loftiest level.”2 Says Carlyle, “This that Knox did for his nation we may really call a resurrection as from death.” “John Knox,” says Froude, “was the one man without whom Scotland as the modern world has known it, would have had no existence.”

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