Mr. Robert Bruce was born about the year 1554. He was second son to the laird of Airth (of whom he had the estate of Kinnaird), who being at that time a baron, of the best quality in the kingdom, educated Mr. Robert with intention of being one of the lords of session, and for his better accomplishment, sent him to France to study the civil law. After his return home, his father injoined him to wait upon some affairs of his that were then before the court of session, as he had got a patent insured for his being one of these lords. But God's thoughts being not as mens thoughts, and having other designs with him, he began then to work mightily upon his conscience, that he could get no rest till he was suffered to attend Mr. Andrew Melvil at St. Andrews to study divinity under him; but to this his mother was averse, for she would not condescend until he first gave up some lands and casualities wherein he was infest: This he most willingly did, and shaking off all impediments he fully resolved upon an employment more fitted to the serious turn of his mind.
He went to St. Andrews sometime before Mr. Andrew Melvil left the country, and continued there until his return. Here he wanted not some sharp conflicts on this head, insomuch that upon a certain time, walking in the fields with that holy and religious man Mr. James Melvil, he said to him, |Before I throw myself again into such torment of conscience which I have had in resisting the call to the ministry, I would rather choose to walk through a fire of brimstone, even tho' it were half a mile in length.| After he was accomplished for the ministry, Mr. Andrew Melvil perceiving how the Lord wrought with him, brought him over to the general assembly in 1587, and moved the church of Edinburgh to call him to a charge there.
And although he was moved by some brethren to accept the charge of the ministry in place of Mr. James Lawson, yet he could not be prevailed upon to take the charge simpliciter (although he was willing to bestow his labour thereon for a time), until by the joint advice of the ministry of the city, and this stratagem, he was as it were trapped into it: thus, on a time, when the sacrament was to be dispensed at Edinburgh, one of the ministers desired Mr. Bruce, who was to preach in the afternoon, to sit by him, and after he had served two or three tables, he went out of the church, as if he had been to return in a little, but instead of that he sent notice to Mr. Bruce, that unless he served the rest of the tables the work behoved to stop; Mr. Bruce not knowing but the minister had been seized on a sudden with some kind of sickness, and, the eyes of all the people being fixed on him, many intreating him to supply the minister's place, he proceeded to the administration of the remainder, and that with such assistance to himself and emotion amongst the people, that the like had never before been seen in that place.
When he was afterward urged by the rest of his brethren to receive, in the ordinary way, the imposition of hands, he refused it, because he wanted not the material part of ordination, viz. the call of the people and the approbation of the ministry, and besides he had already celebrated the sacrament of the supper, which was not, by a new ordination to be made void. -- -- So having made trial of the work, and found the blessing of God upon his labours, he accepted the charge, and was from that time forth principal actor in the affairs of the church, and a constant and strenuous maintainer of the established doctrine and discipline thereof.
While he was minister at Edinburgh he shined as a great light through all these parts of the land, the power and efficacious energy of the Spirit accompanying the word preached by him in a most sensible manner, so that he was a terror to evil doers, the authority of God appearing with him, in so much that he forced fear and respect even from the greatest in the land. Even king James himself and his court had such high thoughts of him, that when he went to bring home his queen anno 1590, at his departure, he expressly desired Mr. Bruce to acquaint himself with the affairs of the country and the proceedings of the council, professing that he reposed more in him than the rest of his brethren, or even all his nobles; and indeed in this his hopes were not disappointed, for the country was more quiet during his absence than either before or afterward: In gratitude for which Mr. Bruce received a congratulatory letter dated February 19th, 1590, wherein the king acknowledgeth, |He would be obligated to him all his life for the pains he had taken in his absence to keep his subjects in good order.| Yea, it is well known that the king had that esteem for Mr. Bruce, that, upon a certain time before many witnesses, he gave him this testimony, That he judged him worthy of the half of his kingdom; but he proved in this, as in others of his fair promises, no slave to his word, for not many year's after he obliged this good man, for his faithfulness, to depart and leave the kingdom.
Mr. Bruce being a man of public spirit and heroic mind, was always on that account pitched upon to deal in matters of high moment, and amongst other things, upon the 19th of November 1596, he, Messrs. Andrew Melvil and John Davidson, were directed by the counsel of the brethren, to deal with the queen concerning her religion, and, for want of religious exercises and virtuous occupation amongst her maids to move her to hear now and then the instructions of godly and discreet men; they went to her, but were refused admittance until another time.
About the same time he was sent to the king then sitting with the lords in session, to present some articles for redress of the wrongs then done to the church; but, in the mean time, a bustle falling out at Edinburgh by the mob, he removed to Linlithgow. Upon the Sabbath following, Mr. Bruce preaching upon the 51st psalm said, |The removal of your ministers is at hand, our lives shall be bitterly fought after, but ye shall see with your eyes, that God shall guard us, and be our buckler and defence &c.| and the day following, this was in part accomplished, for the king sent a charge from Linlithgow to Mr. Bruce and the rest of the ministers of Edinburgh, to enter in ward at the castle there within six hours after the proclamation, under pain of horning. The rest of the ministers, knowing the king's anger was kindled against them, thought proper to withdraw, but Mr. Bruce knowing his own innocency, stayed, and gave in an apology for himself and the rest of his faithful brethren. In April 13th 1599, the king returned to Edinburgh, and was entertained in the house of Mr. Bruce, although he himself was not yet released.
But all this was nothing more than the drops before the shower, or as the gathering of waters before an inundation breaks forth, for the king, having for some time laboured to get prelacy established in Scotland, and because Mr. Bruce would not comply with his measures, and refused to give praise to God in public for the kings deliverance from the pretended conspiracy in the year 1600, until he was better ascertained of the fact, he not only discharged him from preaching in Edinburgh, but also obliged him to leave the kingdom. When he embarked at the queen's ferry on the 3d of November the same year, there appeared such a great light as served him and the company to sail, although it was near midnight. He arrived at Dieppe on the eight of November.
And although, by the king's permission, he returned home the year following, yet because he would not, (1.) Acknowledge Gowrie's conspiracy; (2.) Purge the king in such places as he should appoint; and (3.) Crave pardon of the king for his long distrust and disobedience, &c. he could not be admitted to his place and office again, but was commanded by the king to keep ward in his own house of Kinnaird. After the king's departure to England, he had some respite for about a year or more, but in the year 1605, he was summoned to compear at Edinburgh on the 29th of February, before the commission of the general assembly, to hear and see himself removed from his function at Edinburgh; they had before, in his absence, decerned his place vacant, but now they intimated the sentence, and Livingston had a commission from the king to see it put in execution; he appealed; they prohibited him to preach; but he obeyed not. In July thereafter, he was advertized by chancellor Seaton, of the king's express order, discharging him to preach any more, and said, He would not use his authority in this, but only request him to desist for nine or ten days; to which he consented, thinking it but of small moment for so short a time. But he quickly knew, how deep the smallest deviation from his Master's cause and interest might go; for that night (as he himself afterward declared) his body was cast into a fever, with such terror of conscience, that be promised and fully resolved to obey their commands no more.
Upon the 18th of August following, he was charged to enter in ward at Inverness, within the space of ten days, under pain of horning, which he obeyed upon the 17th following. And in this place he remained for the space of four years, teaching every Wednesday and Sabbath forenoon, and was exercised in reading public prayers every other night, in which his labours were blessed, for this dark country was wonderfully illuminated, and many brought to Christ by means of his ministry, and a seed sown in these remote places, which remained for many years afterwards.
When he returned from Inverness to his own house, and though his son had obtained a licence for him, yet here he could find nothing but grief and vexation, especially from the ministers of the presbyteries of Stirling and Linlithgow, and all for curbing the vices some of them were subject to. -- At last he obtained liberty of the council to transport his family to another house he had at Monkland, but, because of the bishop of Glasgow, he was forced to retire back again to Kinnaird. Thus this good man was tossed about, and obliged to go from place to place.
In this manner he continued, until he was by the king's order summoned before the council in September the 19th, 1621, to answer for transgressing the law of his confinement, &c. When he compeared, he pleaded the favour granted him by his majesty when in Denmark, and withal purged himself of the accusation laid against him, and yet notwithstanding of all these (said he), the king hath exhausted both my estate and person, and has left me nothing but my life, and that apparently he is seeking; I am prepared to suffer any punishment, only I am careful not to suffer as a malefactor or evil doer. -- -- A warrant was delivered to him to enter in ward in the castle of Edinburgh, where he continued till the first January; the bishops absented from the council that day, however they were his delators. He was again brought before the council, where the king's will was intimate to him, viz. That he should return to his own house until the 21st of April, and then transport himself again to Inverness, and remain within four miles thereof during the king's pleasure.
Here he remained, for the most part, until September 1624, when he obtained licence again to return from his confinement to settle some of his domestic affairs; the condition of his licence was so strait, that he purposed with himself to return back to Inverness, but in the mean time the king died, and so he was not urged to go back to his confinement; and although king Charles I. did again renew this charge against him some years after this, yet he continued mostly in his own house, preaching and teaching wherever he had occasion.
About this time the parish of Larber, having neither church nor stipend, Mr. Bruce repaired the church and discharged all the parts of the ministry there, and many besides the parish attended upon his ministry at that place with great success; and it would appear, that about this time Mr. Henderson then minister at Leuchars, (afterward the famous Henderson) was at first converted by his ministry.
At this place it was his custom after the first sermon to retire by himself some time for private prayer, and on a time some noblemen who had far to ride, sent the beadle to learn if there was any appearance of his coming in; -- the man returned, saying, I think he shall not come out this day, for I overheard him say to another, |I protest, I will not go unless thou goest with me.| However, in a little time he came, accompanied by no man, but in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ; for his very speech was with much evidence and demonstration of the Spirit. It was easy for his hearers to perceive that he had been in the mount with God, and that indeed he had brought that God whom had met in private, unto his mother's house, and unto the chambers of her that conceived him.
Mr. Bruce was also a man who had somewhat of the spirit of discerning future events, and did prophetically speak of several things that afterward came to pass, yea, and divers persons distracted (says an author) and those who were past recovery with the epileptical disease, or falling sickness, were brought to Mr. Bruce, and were, after prayer by him in their behalf, fully restored from that malady. This may seem strange (but true), for he was such a wrestler with God, and had more than ordinary familiarity with him.
Some time before his death, being then at Edinburgh, where through weakness he often kept his chamber, whither a meeting of godly ministers, anent some matter of church-concernment, (hearing he was in town), came and gave him an account of the prelates actings. After this, Mr. Bruce prayed, in which he repeated over again to the Lord the very substance of their discourse (which was a very sad representation of the case of the church), all which time there was an extraordinary motion in all present, and such a sensible down-pouring of the Spirit, that they could hardly contain themselves. Mr. Weemes of Lathockar being occasionally present, at departing said, O how strange a man is this, for he knocketh down the Spirit of God upon us all; this he said, because Mr. Bruce, in the time of that prayer, divers times knocked with his fingers upon the table.
About this time he related a strange dream; how he had seen a long broad book with black boards, flying in the air, with many black fowls like Crows flying about it; and as it touched any of them, they fell down dead; upon which he heard an audible voice speak to him, saying, Haec est ira Dei contra pastores ecclesiae Scoticanae; upon which he fell a-weeping and praying that he might be kept faithful, and not be one of these who were thus struck down by a torch of his wrath, through deserting the truth. He said, when he awakened, he found his pillow all wet and drenched with tears. -- The accomplishment of this dream, I need not describe: all acquainted with our church-history, know, that soon after that, prelacy was introduced into Scotland. Bishops set up, and with them ushered in Popish and Arminian tenets, with all manner of corruptions and profanity, which continued in Scotland a number of years.
One time, says Mr. Livingston, I went to Edinburgh to see him, in the company of the tutor of Bonington. When we called on him at eight o'clock in the morning, he told us, He was not for any company, and when we urged him to tell us the cause, he answered, That when he went to bed he had a good measure of the Lord's presence, and that he had wrestled with him about an hour or two before we came in, and had not yet got access; and so we left him. At another time I went to his house, but saw him not till very late; when he came out of his closet, his face was foul with weeping, and he told me, That, that day, he had been thinking on what torture and hardships Dr. Leighton our country-man had been put to at London; and added, If I had been faithful, I might have had the pillory, and some of my blood shed for Christ as well as he; but he hath got the crown from us all. I heard him once say, faith be, I would desire no more at my first appeal from king James, but one hour's converse with him: I know he hath a conscience; I made him once weep bitterly at Holyrood-house. About the year -- -- , I heard him say, I wonder how I am kept so long here; I have lived two years already in violence; meaning that he was then much beyond seventy years of age.
When the time of his death drew near (which was in the month of August 1631), through age and infirmity he was mostly confined to his chamber, where he was frequently visited by his friends and acquaintances; and being on a certain time asked by one of them, How matters stood betwixt God and his soul? He made this return, |When I was young, I was diligent, and lived by faith on the Son of God; but now I am old, and am not able to do so much, yet he condescends to feed me with lumps of sense.| And that morning before he was removed, his sickness being mostly a weakness through age, he came to breakfast and having as usual eaten an egg, he said to his daughters |I think I am yet hungry, ye may bring me another egg.| But instantly thereafter, falling into deep meditation, and after having mused a little he said, |Hold, daughter, my Master calls me.| With these words his sight failed him; and called for his family bible, but finding his sight had failed him, he said, |Cast up to me the eight chapter of the epistle to the Romans, and set my fingers on these words, I am persuaded that neither death nor life, &c. shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord. Now, said he, is my finger upon them?| and being told it was, he said, |Now God be with you my children; I have breakfasted with you, and shall sup with my Lord Jesus Christ this night.| And so like Abraham of old, he gave up the ghost in a good age, and was gathered to his people.
In this manner did this occidental star set in our horizon. There was none, in his time, who did speak with such evidence of the power of the Spirit; and no man had more seals of his ministry, yea many of his hearers thought, that no man since the apostles days ever spoke with such power. And although he was no Boanerges (as being of a slow but grave delivery), yet he spoke with such authority and weight as became the oracles of the living God: so that some of the most stout-hearted of his hearers were ordinarily made to tremble, and by having this door which had formerly been shut against Jesus Christ, as by an irresistable power broke open and the secrets of their hearts made manifest, they often times went away under deep convictions. He had a very majestic countenance, in prayer he was short, especially when in public, but every word or sentence he spoke was as a bolt shot from heaven; he spent much of his time in private prayer. He had a very notable faculty in searching the scriptures, and explaining the most obscure mysteries therein, and was a man who had much inward exercise of conscience anent his own personal case, and was oftentimes assaulted anent that grand fundamental truth, The being of a God, insomuch that it was almost customary to him to say when he first spoke in the pulpit, |I think it a great matter to believe there is a God,| and by this he was the more fitted to deal with others under the like temptations.
Mr. Bruce was also an eloquent and substantial writer, as the forementioned apology, and his excellent letters to M. Espignol, the duke of Parma, Col. Semple, &c. doth copiously evidence, Argal's sleep, &c. He was also deeply affected with the public cause and interest of Jesus Christ, and much depressed in spirit when he beheld the naughtiness and profanity of many ministers then in the church, and the unsuitable carriage and deportment of others to so great a calling, which made him express himself with much fear, that the ministry in Scotland would prove the greatest persecutors it had, which so lately came to pass.