When Mr. Alexander Henderson had passed his degrees at the university with great applause, he was by the bishop of St. Andrews, about the year 1620, preferred to be minister of Leuchars, in the shire of Fyfe. But being brought in there against the consent of that parish unto such a degree, that on the day of his ordination, the church-doors were shut so fast by the people, that they were obliged to break in by a window.
And being very prelatical in his judgment at this time, until a little after, that upon the report of a communion to be in the neighbourhood, where Mr. Bruce was to be an helper, he went thither secretly, and placed himself in a dark corner of the church, where he might not be readily seen or known. When Mr. Bruce was come to the pulpit, he did for some time keep silence (as his usual manner was) which did astonish Mr. Henderson, but it astonished him much more, when he heard him begin with these words, He that entereth not in by the door, but climbeth some other way, the same is a thief and a robber -- which words, by the blessing of God, and the effectual working of the Holy Spirit, took such hold on him at that very instant, and made such impressions on his heart afterward, as proved the very first mean of his conversion unto Christ.
After this he became not only a most faithful and diligent minister of the gospel, but also a staunch presbyterian, and had a very active hand in carrying on the covenanted work of reformation, from the year 1638, to the day of his death, and was among the very first who got a charge of horning from the bishop of St. Andrews, for refusing to buy and use the service-book, and book of canons then imposed by the king upon the church; which occasioned him and some others to give in several petitions and complaints to the council, both craving some mitigation therein, and shewing the sinfulness thereof, for which and some other considerations and overtures for relief, (mostly compiled by Mr. Henderson) they were by order of proclamation charged, within twenty-four hours, to leave the town of Edinburgh under the pain of rebellion.
Again in the year 1638, when the national confession or covenant was agreed upon and sworn unto by almost all ranks in the land, the marquis of Hamilton being sent by the king to suppress the covenanters, who having held several conferences with him to little or no purpose, at last, he told them that the book of canons and liturgy should be discharged, on condition they should yield up their covenants, which proposition did not only displease them, but also made them more vigilant to support and vindicate that solemn deed. Whereupon Mr. Henderson was again set to work, and in a short time savoured the public with sufficient grounds and reasons why they could not recede from any part of that covenant.
Some time after this, the table (so called) which was erected at Edinburgh for carrying on the reformation, being sorry that the town and shire of Aberdeen, (excited by the persuasion of their doctors) stood out and opposed the covenant and work of reformation, sent some earls with Messrs. Henderson, Dickson and Cant, to deal with them once more, and to see if they could reclaim that town and country. -- -- But upon their arrival there, they could have no access to preach in any church; whereupon the three ministers resolved to preach in the earl of Marshal's close and hall as the weather favoured them. Accordingly they preached by turns, Mr. Dickson preached in the morning to a very numerous multitude, at noon Mr. Cant preached, and Mr. Henderson preached at night to no less an auditory than in the morning; and all of them pressed and produced arguments for subscribing the covenant; which had such effect upon the people, that, after public worship was over, about 500 persons subscribed the covenant, at one table there, of whom severals were people of the best quality in that place.
And here one thing was very observable, that while Mr. Henderson preached, the crowd being very great, there were several mockers, and among the rest, one John Logie a student threw clods at the commissioners, but it was remarked, that within a few days after, he killed one Nicol Torrie, a young boy, because the boy's father had beat him for stealing his pease, and though at that time he escaped justice, yet he was again taken and executed in the year 1644. Such was the consequence of disturbing the worship of God, and mocking at the ambassadors of Jesus Christ.
In the same year, at that famous general assembly convened at Glasgow (where many of the nobility were present) Mr. Henderson, without one contrary vote, was chosen moderator, when he did by solemn prayer, constitute that assembly de novo in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; for |among that man's other qualifications (saith Mr. Bailey) he had a faculty of grave, good and fervent prayer, which he exercised without fainting unto the end of that assembly.|
It was in the 20th session of this assembly, that Mr. Henderson the moderator, after a most pious and learned sermon (to a very great auditory) from Psal. cx.1. The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, &c. did in a most grave and solemn manner, excommunicate and depose the bishops, according to the form published among the printed acts of that assembly. In the 21st session, a supplication was given in for liberty to transport him from Leuchars to Edinburgh, but this he was unwilling to do, having been near eighteen years minister there. -- He pled that he was now too old a plant to take root in another soil, &c. yet, after much contest betwixt the two parties for some day, Edinburgh carried it by 75 votes, very much against his own inclination. However he submitted, on condition that when old age should overtake him, he should be again removed to a country charge. At the conclusion of this assembly he said, |We have now cast down the walls of Jericho (meaning prelacy) let him that buildeth them beware of the curse of Hiel the Bethelite, &c.|
In the year 1639. he was one of those commissioned for the church, to treat upon the articles of pacification with the king and his commissioners at Birks near Berwick, where he behaved with great prudence and candor. And when the general assembly, the same year, sat down at Edinburgh, August 12, Mr. Henderson (having been the former moderator) preached to them from Acts v.33 when they heard that, they were cut to the heart, &c. did towards the close of his discourse, address John earl of Traquair, his majesty's commissioner, in these words, -- |We beseech your grace to see that Caesar have his own, but let him not have what is due to God, by whom kings reign. God hath exalted your grace unto many high places, within these few years, and is still doing so. Be thankful and labour to exalt Christ's throne. -- -- Some are exalted like Haman, some like Mordecai, &c. When the Israelites came out of Egypt, they gave all the silver and gold they had carried thence for the building of the tabernacle: in like manner, your grace must employ all your parts and endowments for the building up the church of God in this land, &c.|
And to the members chosen, he said, |Right honourable, worshipful, and reverend, go on in your zeal and constancy: true zeal doth not cool, but the longer it burns, the more fervent it will grow: if it shall please God that by your means the light of the gospel shall be continued, and that you have the honour of being instrumental of a blessed reformation, it shall be useful and comfortable to yourselves and your posterity. But let your zeal be always tempered with moderation; for zeal is a good servant but a bad master; like a ship that hath a full sail but no rudder. We had much need of Christian prudence, for we know what advantage some have attempted to take of us this way. For this reason let it be seen to the world, that presbytery, the government we contend for in the church, can consist very well with monarchy in the state; and thereby we shall gain the favour of our king, and God shall get the glory.| After this discourse and the calling of the commissions, Traquair desired that Mr. Henderson might be continued moderator. Whether this was to corroborate his master's design, or from a regard to Mr. Henderson's abilities (as he himself professed) is not certain, but the assembly opposed this as favouring too much of the constant moderator, the first step taken of late to introduce prelacy; and no man opposed Traquair's motion more than Mr. Henderson himself, and by that means it was over-ruled.
Mr. Henderson was one of those ministers who went with the Scots army to England in the year 1640, every regiment having one of the most able ministers in the bounds where they were raised as chaplain, and when the treaty was set on foot which began at Rippon, and ended at London, he was also one nominated as commissioner for the church, the duties of which he discharged with great prudence and advantage, and the very next year, he was, by the commission of the general assembly, authorized to go with lord Loudon, Warriston and Barclay, to the king, to importune him to call his English parliament, as the only and best expedient to obtain an honourable and lasting peace; but his embassy had not the desired effect.
After his return, he was chosen moderator to the general assembly anno 1643, and when the English commissioners, viz. Sir William Armyn, Sir Harry Vane the younger, Mr. Hatcher and Mr. Darly from the parliament, and two ministers, Mr. Stephen Marshal a presbyterian, and Philip Nye an independent, from the general assembly of divines at Edinburgh, where the general assembly of the church of Scotland was then fitting, craving their aid and counsel upon such an emergent occasion, he was among the first of those nominated as commissioners to go up to the parliament and assembly of England. And so in a little after, Mr. Henderson and Mr. Gillespie, with Mr. Hatcher and Mr. Nye, set out for London to get the solemn league ratified there (the rest of the commissioners staying behind until it should be returned). Upon their arrival at London, and having received a warrant from the parliament to sit in the next assembly (which warrant was presented by Mr. Henderson), the assembly sent out three of their number to introduce them; at their entry Dr. Twisse the prolocutor welcomed them unto the assembly, and complimented them for the hazard they had undergone on their account both by sea and land, in such a rigorous season (it being then November); after which they were led to a place the most convenient in the house, which they kept ever after.
Again in the year 1646, being sent down from London to attend the king, then with the Scots army at Newcastle, at which time the general Assembly appointed also Messrs. Robert Blair, James Guthrie, Robert Douglas, and Andrew Cant, to wait on his majesty; here Mr. Henderson officiated for some time as his chaplain; and although he and Mr. Blair, of all the presbyterians were the best beloved of the king, yet they could by no means prevail upon him to grant the first demand of his subjects, yea, he obstinately refused, though they besought him on their knees.
In the interval of these affairs, a series of letters was continued betwixt the king, assisted by Sir Robert Murray on the one hand, and Mr. Henderson on the other; the one in defence of Episcopacy, and the other of Presbytery, which were exchanged from the 10th of May to the midst of July as each person was in readiness.
But during this controversy, Mr. Henderson's constitution much worn out with much fatigue and travel, he was obliged to break off an answer to the king's last paper, and to return to Edinburgh, where, in a little time after his arrival, he laid down his earthly tabernacle in exchange for an heavenly crown, about the middle of August 1646.
Some of the abettors of prelacy, sensible of his great abilities, were earnestly desirous to bring him over to their side at his death, and for that purpose palmed upon the world most groundless stories of his changing his principles at his last hours; yea, the anonymous author of the civil wars of Great Britain goes farther, when he says, page 200. |Mr. Henderson had the honour to be converted by his majesty's discourse at Newcastle, and died reconciled to the church of England.| But from these false calumnies he hath been sufficiently vindicated a long time ago, by a declaration of the 9th act of the general assembly in 1648. See also Mr. Logan's letter in vindication of Mr. Henderson, from these aspersions cast on him by Messrs. Sage and Ruddiman.
Some time after his death a monument was erected on his grave in the Gray-friar's church-yard of Edinburgh, in form of a quadrangular urn, inscribed on three sides; and because there was some mention thereon of the solemn league and covenant (or rather because Mr. Henderson had done much for and in behalf of the covenant), commissioner Middleton, some time in the month of June or July 1662, stooped so low as to procure an order of parliament, to raze and demolish said monument, which was all the length their malice could go against a man who had been near sixteen years in his grave. Hard enough, if he had died in the prelatical persuasion, from those who pretended to be the prime promoters of the same.
Mr. Henderson was a man who spared no pains in carrying on the work of reformation in that period. -- -- For whether he was called forth to church-judicatories, to the pulpit, or any other business, no trouble or danger could make him decline the work. One of his colleagues and intimate acquaintances give him no mean testimony, when he says, |May I be permitted to conclude with my earnest wish, that that glorious soul of worthy memory, who is now crowned with the reward of all his labours for God and us, may be fragrant among us as long as free and pure assemblies remain in this land, which, I hope, shall be to the coming of our Lord. You know he spent his strength, wore out his days, and that he did breathe out his life in the service of God, and of this church; this binds it on us and posterity, to account him the fairest ornament after Mr. John Knox of incomparable memory, that ever the church of Scotland did enjoy.|
Beside the forenamed papers, with another intitled the remonstrance of the nobility, &c. a tract on church government, and an instruction for defensive arms, &c. the general assembly appointed him, Mr. Calderwood and Mr. Dickson, to prepare a directory for the worship of God, which not only had the desired effect, but at length brought about uniformity in all our churches. There are also some few of his sermons in print, some of which were preached before the parliament.