By J.B. McLachlan
Scotsmen everywhere will, on the 25th, be celebrating the hundred and forty-ninth anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. He is more of a patron saint to Scotsmen than St. Andrew, his name and life being better known and his anniversary more generally kept. Not more than one Scotsman in a hundred, if asked when is St. Andrew’s Day, could answer correctly straightaway, while ninety-nine out of every hundred of them could do so in regard to Burns Day.
Why the memory of Burns should thus be enshrined in the hearts of his countrymen seems the more strange when it is remembered that Scotland more than all nations was and is Calvinist in her thinking and Presbyterian in her church government, both of which Burns satirized unmercifully. See his burlesque lamentations on a quarrel between two reverend Calvinists in his poem “The Holy Tulzie.” “The Ordination” was a bold satire in ridicule of Calvinism and in commendation if not Socinianism, something near thereto. “The Kirk’s Alarm” was really written in defense of Dr. McGill, one of the parish ministers of the town of Ayr, who had published a work impregnated with Socinian doctrine, and for which he was brought before the church courts.
Not only did Burns defend Socinian writers when in the clutches of the church, but even free-thinkers had his sympathy when the church attacked them. John Goudie, a tradesman in Kilmarnock, a free-thinker and a well-read man, published a volume of “Essays on Various Subjects, Moral and Divine” that became so popular that the book was termed “Goudie’s Bible.” In a letter addressed to that worthy on the mischief done by his book, and on the way the church would restore matters, Burns says:
But, win the Lord’s ain falk get leave
A toom [empty] tar-barrel
And twa red peats wad send relief
An’ end the quarrel.
Not only what Burns has written against Calvinism, and in defense of Socinians and free-thinkers, but his profound silence on the awful struggle the Church of Scotland passed through from the coronation of Charles II till James VII retreated from the Boyne, makes one wonder why Presbyterians now make so much ado about him on the “25th.”Continue reading