Mr. Black was for some time colleague to the worthy Mr. Andrew Melvil minister at St. Andrews. He was remarkable for zeal and fidelity in the discharge of his duty as a minister, applying his doctrine closely against the corruptions of that age, prevailing either among the highest or lowest of the people; in consequence of which, he was, in the year 1596, cited before the council for some expressions uttered in a sermon, alledged to strike against the queen and council. But his brethren in the ministry thinking, that, by this method of procedure with him, the spiritual government of the house of God was intended to be subverted, they resolved that Mr. Black should decline answering the king and council, and, that in the mean time, the brethren should be preparing themselves to prove from the holy scriptures, That the judgment of all doctrine in the first instance, belonged to the pastors of the church.
Accordingly Mr. Black, on the 18th of Nov 1596. gave in a declinature to the council to this effect, That he was able to defend all that he had said, yet, seeing his answering before them to that accusation, might be prejudicial to the liberties of the church, and would be taken for an acknowledgment of his majesty's jurisdiction in matters merely spiritual, he was constrained to decline that judicatory.1. Because the Lord Jesus Christ had given him his word for a rule, and that therefore he could not fall under the civil law, but in so far as, after trial, he should be found to have passed from his instructions, which trial only belonged to the prophets, &c.2. The liberties of the church and discipline presently exercised, were confirmed by divers acts of parliament, approved of by the confession of faith, and the office-bearers of the church, were now in the peaceable possession thereof; that the question of his preaching ought first, according to the grounds and practice foresaid, to be judged by the ecclesiastical senate, as the competent judges thereof at the first instance. This declinature, with a letter sent by the different presbyteries, were, in a short time, subscribed by between three and four hundred ministers, all assenting to and approving of it.
The commissioners of the general assembly then sitting at Edinburgh, knowing that the king was displeased at this proceeding, sent some of their number to speak with his majesty, unto whom he answered, That if Mr. Black would pass from his declinature he would pass from the summons; but this they would not consent to do. Upon which, the king caused summon Mr. Black again on the 27th of November, to the council to be held on the 30th. This summons was given with sound of trumpet and open proclamation at the cross of Edinburgh; and the same day, the commissioners of the assembly were ordered to depart thence in twenty-four hours, under pain of rebellion.
Before the day of Mr. Black's second appearance before the council, he prepared a still more explicit declinature, especially as it respected the king's supremacy, declaring, That there are two jurisdictions in the realm, the one spiritual and the other civil; the one respecting the conscience and the other concerning external things; the one persuading by the spiritual word, the other compelling by the temporal sword; the one spiritually procuring the edification of the church, the other by justice procuring the peace and quiet of the commonwealth, which being grounded in the light of nature, proceeds from God as he is Creator, and is so termed by the apostle, 1 Pet. ii. but varying according to the constitution of men; the other above nature grounded upon the grace of redemption, proceeding immediately from the grace of Christ, only king and only head of his church, Eph.1. Col. ii. Therefore in so far as he was one of the spiritual office-bearers, and had discharged his spiritual calling in some measure of grace and sincerity, he should not, and could not lawfully be judged for preaching and applying the word of God by any civil power, he being an ambassador and messenger of the Lord Jesus, having his commission from the king of kings, and all his commission is set down and limited in the word of God, that cannot be extended or abridged by any mortal, king or emperor, they being sheep, not pastors, and to be judged by the word of God, and not the judges thereof.
A decree of council was passed against him, upon which his brethren of the commission directed their doctrine against the council. The king sent a message to the commissioners, signifying, That he would rest satisfied with Mr. Black's simple declaration of the truth; but Mr. Bruce and the rest replied, That if the affair concerned Mr. Black alone, they should be content, but the liberty of Christ's kingdom had received such a wound by the proclamation of last Saturday, that if Mr. Black's life and a dozen of others besides, had been taken, it had not grieved the hearts of the godly so much, and that either these things behoved to be retracted, or they would oppose so long as they had breath. But, after a long process, no mitigation of the council's severity could be obtained, for Mr. Black was charged by a macer to enter his person in ward, on the north of the Tay, there to remain on his own expence during his majesty's pleasure; and, though he was, next year, restored back to his place at St. Andrews, yet he was not suffered to continue, for, about the month July that same year, the king and council again proceeded against him, and he was removed to Angus, where he continued until the day of his death. He had always been a severe check on the negligent and unfaithful part of the clergy, but now they had found means to get free of him.
After his removal to Angus he continued the exercise of his ministry, preaching daily unto such as resorted to him, with much success, and an intimate communion with God, until a few days before his death.
In his last sickness, the Christian temper of his mind was so much improven by large measures of the Spirit, that his conversation had a remarkable effect in humbling the hearts and comforting the souls of those who attended him, engaging them to take the easy yoke of Christ upon them. He found in his own soul also, such a sensible taste of eternal joy, that he was seized with a fervent desire to depart and to be with the Lord, longing to have the earthly house of this his tabernacle put off, that he might be admitted into the mansions of everlasting rest. In the midst of these earnest breathings after God, the Lord was wonderfully pleased to condescend to the importunity of his servant, to let him know that the time of his departure was near. Upon which, he took a solemn farewel of his family and flock with a discourse, as Mr. Melvil says, that seemed to be spoken out of heaven, concerning the misery and grief of this life, and the inconceivable glory which is above.
The night following, after supper, having read and prayed in his family with unusual continuance, strong crying and heavy groans, he went a little while to bed, and the next day, having called his people to the celebration of the Lord's supper, he went to church, and having brought the communion-service near a close, he felt the approaches of death, and all discovered a sudden change in his countenance, so that some ran to support him; but pressing to be at his knees, with his hands and eyes lifted up to heaven in the very act of devotion and adoration, as in a transport of joy, he was taken away, with scarce any pain at all. Thus this holy man, who had so faithfully maintained the interest of Christ upon earth, breathed forth his soul in this extraordinary manner, that it seemed rather like a translation than a real death. See more of him in Calderwood's history, page 335. De Foe's memoirs, page 138. Hind let loose, page 48, old edit.