Mr. Blair was born at Irvine anno
1593. His father was John Blair of Windyedge, a younger brother of the ancient and honourable family of Blair of that ilk; his mother was Beatrix Muir of the ancient family of Rewallan. His father died when he was young, leaving his mother with six children (of whom Robert was the youngest). She continued near fifty years a widow, and lived till she was an hundred years old.
Mr. Robert entered into the college of Glasgow, about the year 1608, where he studied hard and made great progress; but lest he should have been puffed up with his proficiency (as he himself observes) the Lord was pleased to visit him with a tertian fever, for full four months, to the great detriment of his studies.
Nothing remarkable occurred till the 20th year of his age, when he gave himself sometimes to the exercise of archery and the like recreations; but lest his studies should have been hindered, he resolved to be busy at them every other night, and for that purpose could find no place so proper as a room whereinto none were permitted to go, by reason of an apparition that was said to frequent it, yea, wherein it is also said, that he himself had seen the devil, in the likeness of one of his fellow-students, whom he took to be really his companion, but when he, with a candle in his hand, chased him to the corner of the room, offering to pull him out, he found nothing; after which he was never more troubled, studying the one night without fear, and the other he slept very sweetly, believing in him, who was still his great Preserver and Protector for ever.
Having now finished his course of philosophy under the discipline of his own brother, Mr. William Blair (who was afterwards minister at Dumbarton). He engaged for some time to be an assistant to an aged schoolmaster at Glasgow, who had above 300 scholars under his instruction, the half of whom were committed to the charge of Mr. Blair. At this time he was called, by the ministry of the famous Mr. Boyd of Trochrigg (then principal of the college of Glasgow), in whose hand, the Lord, as he himself observes, did put the key of his heart, so that whenever he heard him in public or private he profited much, being as it were sent to him from God to speak the words of eternal life.
Two years after he was admitted in the room of his brother Mr. William, to be regent in the college of Glasgow, though not without the opposition of arch-bishop Law, who had promised that place to another. -- -- But neither the principal nor regents giving place to his motion, Mr. Blair was admitted. After his admission, his elder colleagues, perceiving what great skill and insight he had in humanity, urged him to read the classical authors; whereupon he began and read Plautus, but the Lord, being displeased with that design, diverted him from this, by meeting with Augustine's confession, wherein he inveighs sharply against the education of youth in heathen writings. -- -- Whereupon he betook himself to the reading of the holy scriptures and the ancient fathers, especially Augustine, who had another relish; and though he perceived that our reformed divines were more sound than several of the ancient, yet in his spare hours he resolved to peruse the ancient monuments, wherein he made a considerable progress.
In summer 1616, he entered on trials for the ministry, and it was laid upon him to preach in the college-kirk the first Sabbath after his licence; and some years after, being told by some of the hearers (who were better acquainted with religion, than he was then) that in his sermon the Lord did speak to their hearts, which not only surprized him, but also stirred him to follow after the Lord.
Upon an evening, the same year, having been engaged with some irreligious company, when he returned to his chamber to his wonted devotion, he was threatened to be deserted of God, had a restless night, and to-morrow resolved on a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, and towards the end of that day he found access to God with sweet peace, through Jesus Christ, and turned to beware of such company; but running into another extreme of rudeness and incivility to profane persons, he found it was very hard for short-sighted sinners to hold the right and the straight way.
While he was regent in the college, upon a report that some sinful oath was to be imposed upon the masters, he enquired at Mr. Gavin Forsyth, one of his fellow-regents, What he would do in this? He answered, By my faith I must live. -- -- Mr. Blair said, |Sir, I will not swear by my faith, as you do, but, truly, I intend to live by my faith. You may choose your own way, but I will adventure on the Lord.| -- -- And so this man did continue (to whom the matter of an oath was a small thing) after he was gone, but it is to be noticed, that Mr. Forsyth was many years in such poverty as forced him to supplicate the general assembly for some relief, when Mr. Blair (who was chosen moderator) upon his appearing in such a desperate case, could not shun observing that former passage of his, and upon his address to him in private, with great tenderness, put him in mind, that he had been truly carried through by his faith, at which he formerly had scoffed.
Some time after he was a regent in the college, he was under deep exercises of soul, wherein he attained unto much comfort. -- Amongst other things, that great oracle, the just shall live by faith, sounded loudly in his ears, which put him on a new search of the scriptures, in which he went on till Mr. Culverwal's treatise of faith came out; which being the same with what is since published by the Westminster assembly, he was thereby much satisfied and comforted.
|By this study of the nature of faith, and especially of the text before mentioned; (says he) I learned, 1st, That nominal Christians or common professors were much deluded in their way of believing; and that not only do Papists err who place faith in an implicit assent to the truth which they know not, and that it is better defined by ignorance than knowledge, (a way of believing very suitable to Antichrist's slaves, who are led by the nose they know not whither); but also secure Protestants, who, abusing the description of old given of faith, say that it implies an assured knowledge in the person who believes of the love of God in Christ to him in particular: this assurance is no doubt attainable, and many believers do comfortably enjoy the same, as our divines prove unanswerably against the Popish doctors who maintain the necessity of perpetual doubting, and miscall comfortable assurance the Protestant's presumption. But notwithstanding that comfortable assurance doth ordinarily accompany a high degree of faith, yet that assurance is not to be found in all the degrees of saving faith: so that by not adverting to that distinction many gracious souls and sound believers, who have received Jesus Christ and rested upon him, as he is offered to them in the word, have been much puzzled, as if they were not believers at all: on the other hand, many secure and impenitent sinners, who have not yet believed the Lord's holiness, nor abhorrence of sin, nor their own ruined state and condition, do from self-love imagine, without any warrant of the word, that they are beloved of God, and that the foresaid description of faith agrees well to them.
|2dly, I perceived, that many that make a right use of faith, in order to attain to the knowledge of their justification, make no direct use of it in order to sanctification, and that the living of the just by faith, reacheth further than I formerly conceived, and that the heart is purified by faith. If any say, Why did I not know, that precious faith, being a grace, is not only a part of our holiness, but does promote other parts of holiness, I answer, that I did indeed know this, and made use of faith as a motive to stir me up to holiness, according to the apostle's exhortation, Having therefore these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord. But I had not before learned to make use of faith as a mean and instrument to draw holiness out of Christ, though, it may be, I had both heard and spoken that by way of a transient notion; but then I learned to purpose that they who receive forgiveness of sin, are sanctified through faith in Christ, as our glorious Saviour taught the apostle, Acts xxiv.18. -- Then I saw, that it was no wonder that my not making use of faith for sanctification, as has been said, occasioned an obstruction in the progress of holiness, and I perceived that making use of Christ for sanctification without direct employing of faith to extract the same out of him, was like one seeking water out of a deep well without a long cord to let down the bucket, and draw it up again. -- Then was I like one that came to the storehouse, but got my provision reached unto me, as it were, through a window: I had come to the house of mercy, but had not found the right door; but by this discovery, I found a patent door, at which to go in, to receive provision and furniture from Christ Jesus. Thus the blessed Lord trained me up, step by step, suffering many difficulties to arise, that more light from himself might flow in.
|I hoped then to make better progress with less stumbling; but shortly after I met with another difficulty; and wondering what discovery would next clear the way, I found that the spirit of holiness whose immediate and proper work was to sanctify, had been slighted, and thereby grieved: for though the Holy Spirit had been teaching, and I had been speaking of him and to him frequently, and had been seeking the outpouring thereof, and urging others to seek the same; yet that discovery appeared unto me a new practical lesson: and so I laboured more to cherish and not quench the Holy Spirit, praying to be led unto all truth, according to the scripture, by that blessed guide; and that by that heavenly Comforter, I might be encouraged in all troubles, and sealed up thereby in strong assurance of my interest in God.
|About that time, the Lord set me to work to stir up the students under my discipline, earnestly to study piety, and to be diligent in secret seeking of the Lord: and my endeavours this way were graciously blessed to severals of them.|
Dr. John Cameron, being brought from France, and settled principal of the college in Mr. Boyd's place, and being wholly set on to promote the cause of episcopacy, urged Mr. Blair to conform to Perth articles, but he utterly refused. -- -- And, it being a thing usual in these days, for the regents to meet to dispute some thesis, for their better improvement, Mr. Blair had the advantage of his opponent (who was a French student), who maintained that election did proceed upon foreseen faith; but the doctor stated himself in the opposition to Mr. Blair, in a way which tended to Arminianism; and Mr. Blair being urged to a second dispute by the doctor himself, did so drive him to the mire of Arminianism, as did redound much to the doctor's ignominy afterward, and although he and Mr. Blair were afterward reconciled, yet he, being so nettled in that dispute, improved all occasions against him; and, for that purpose, when Mr. Blair was on a visit to some of his godly friends and acquaintances, he caused one Garner search his prelections on Aristotle's ethics and politics, and finding some things capable of wresting, he brought them to the doctor, who presented them to the arch-bishop of Glasgow; which coming to Mr. Blair's ears, he was so far from betraying his innocence, being assured the Lord would clear his integrity, that he prepared a written apology, and desired a public hearing before the ministers and magistrates of the city; which being granted, he managed the points so properly, that all present professed their entire satisfaction with him; yea, one of the ministers of the city (who had been influenced against him formerly) said in the face of that meeting, Would to God, king James had been present, and heard what answers that man hath given. Such a powerful antagonist rendered his life so uneasy, that he resolved to leave the college and go abroad; which resolution no sooner took air than the doctor and the arch-bishop (knowing his abilities) wrote letters to cause him stay; but he, finding that little trust was to be put in their fair promises, and being weary of teaching philosophy, demitted his charge, took his leave of the doctor, wishing him well (although he was the cause of his going away) and left the college, to the great grief of his fellow-regents and students, and the people of Glasgow.
Though he had several charges in Scotland presented him, and an invitation to go to France, yet, the next day after his leaving Glasgow, he had an invitation to go and be minister of Bangor in the county of Down in Ireland, which call he, for some time, rejected, until he was several times rebuked of the Lord, which made him bound in spirit to set his face towards a voyage to that country; and although he met with a contrary wind, and turned sea-sick, yet he had such recourse to God, that upon the very first sight of that land, he was made to exult for joy; and whilst he came near Bangor, he had a strong impression borne in upon him, that the dean thereof was sick; which impression he found to be true when he came thither, for Mr. Gibson, the incumbent, being sick, invited him to preach there (which he did for three sabbaths, to the good liking of the people of that parish); and, though he was formerly but a very naughty man, yet he told Mr. Blair, he was to succeed him in that place, and exhorted him, in the name of Christ, not to leave that good way wherein he had begun to walk, professing a great deal of sorrow that he had been a dean; he condemned episcopacy more strongly than ever Mr. Blair durst, and drawing his head toward his bosom, with both his arms he blessed him; which conduct being so unlike himself, and speaking in a strain so different from his usual, made a gentlewoman standing by say, An angel is speaking out of the dean's bed to Mr. Blair; thinking it could not be such a man. Within a few days he died, and Mr. Blair was settled minister there, whose ordination was on this manner -- He went to bishop Knox, and told him his opinions, and withal said, That his sole ordination did contradict his principles. -- But the bishop, being informed before-hand of his great parts and piety, answered him both wittily and submissively, saying, |Whatever you account of episcopacy, yet, I know, you account presbytery to have a divine warrant -- Will ye not receive ordination from Mr. Cunningham and the adjacent brethren, and let me come in among them in no other relation than a presbyter;| for on no lower terms could he be answerable to law. This Mr. Blair could not refuse; he was accordingly ordained about the year 1623.
Being thus settled, his charge was very great, having above 1200 persons come to age, besides children, who stood greatly in need of instruction; and in this case, he preached twice a week, besides the Lord's day; on all which occasions, he found little difficulty either as to matter or method.
He became the chief instrument of that great work which appeared shortly thereafter at Six-mile water, and other parts in the counties of Down and Antrim, and that not only by his own ministry, wherein he was both diligent and faithful, but also in the great pains he took to stir up others unto the like duty.
While he was at Bangor, there was one Constable, in that parish, who went to Scotland with horses to sell, and at a fair sold them all to one, who pretended he had not that money at present, but gave him a bond till Martinmass. -- The poor man, suspecting nothing, returned home; and one night, about that time, going homeward near Bangor, his merchant (who was supposed to be the devil) meets him; |Now, says he, you know my bargain, how I bought you at such a place, and now am come, as I promised, to pay the price.| Bought me! said the poor man trembling, you bought but my horses. Nay, said the devil, I will let you know I bought yourself and farther said, He must either kill somebody, and the more excellent the person, the better it would be for him; and particularly charged him to kill Mr. Blair, else he would not free him. The man was so overcome with terror, thro' the violence of the temptation, that he determined the thing and went to Mr. Blair's house, with a dagger in his right hand, under his cloke, and though much confounded, was moving to get it out, but, on Mr. Blair's speaking to him, he fell a-trembling, and on inquiry declared the whole fact, and withal said, He had laboured to draw out the dagger but it would not come from the scabbard, though he knew not what hindered it; for when he essayed to draw it forth, again, it came out with ease. Mr. Blair blessed the Lord, and exhorted him to choose him for his refuge; after which, he departed.
But two weeks afterwards (being confined to his bed) he sent for Mr. Blair, and told him, That the night before as he was returning home, the devil appeared to him, and challenged him for opening to Mr. Blair what had passed betwixt them, claiming him as his, and putting the cap off his head and the band from his neck, said, That on hallow-evening he should have him soul and body, in spite of the minister and all others, and begged Mr. Blair, for Christ's sake, to be with him against that time. Mr. Blair instructed him, prayed with him, and promised to be with him against the appointed time; but, before that time, he had much hesitation in his own mind, whether to keep that appointment or not: Yet, at last, he took one of his elders with him, and went according to promise, and spent the whole night in prayer, explaining the doctrine of Christ's temptation, and praising with short intermissions, &c. -- And in the morning they took courage, defying Satan and all his devices: the man seemed very penitent, and died in a little after.
It was during the first year of his ministry, that he resolved not to go through a whole book or chapter, but to make choice of some passages which held forth important heads of religion, and to close the course with one sermon of heaven's glory, and another of hell's torments; but when he came to meditate on these subjects, he was held a whole day in great perplexity, and could fix upon neither method nor matter till night, when, after sorrowing for his disorder, the Lord, in great pity, brought both matter and method unto his mind, which remained with him until he got the same delivered.
About this time he met with a most notable deliverance, for, staying in a high house at the end of the town until the manse was built, being late at his studies, the candle was done, and calling for another, as the landlady brought it from a room under which he lay, to her astonishment, a joist under his bed had taken fire, which, had he been in bed as usual, the consequence, in all probability, had been dreadful to the whole town, as well as to him, the wind being strong from that quarter; but, by the timeous alarm given, the danger was prevented; which made him give thanks to God for this great deliverance.
When he first celebrated the Lord's supper, his heart was much lifted up in speaking of the new covenant, which made him, under the view of a second administration of that ordinance, resolve to go back unto that inexhaustible fountain of consolation; and coming over to Scotland about that time, he received no small assistance from Mr. Dickson, who was then restored unto his flock at Irvine, and was studying and preaching on the same subject.
But it was not many years that he could have liberty in the exercise of his office, for in harvest 1631, he and Mr. Livingston, were, by Ecklim bishop of Down, suspended from their office, but, upon recourse to Dr. Usher, who sent a letter to the bishop, their sentence was relaxed, and they went on in their ministry, until May 1632, that they were by the said bishop, deposed from the office of the holy ministry.
After this, no redress could be had; whereupon Mr. Blair resolved on a journey to court to represent their petitions and grievances to the king; but, after his arrival at London, he could have no access for some time to his majesty, and so laboured under many difficulties with little hopes of redress, until one day, having gone to Greenwich park, where, being wearied with waiting on the court, and while at prayer, the Lord assured him that he would hunt the violent man to destroy him. And while thus in earnest with the Lord for a favourite return, he adventured to propose a sign, that if the Lord would make the reeds, growing hard by, which were so moved with the wind, as he was tossed in mind, to cease from shaking, he would take it as an assurance of the dispatch of his business; unto which the Lord condescended; for in a little time it became so calm, that not one of them moved; and in a short time he got a dispatch to his mind, wherein the king did not only sign his petition, but with his own hand wrote on the margin (directed to the depute) Indulge these men, for they are Scotchmen.
It was while in England, that he had from Ezekiel xxiv.16. a strange discovery of his wife's death, and the very bed whereon she was lying, and particular acquaintances attending her; and although she was in good health at his return home, yet, in a little, all this exactly came to pass.
And yet, after his return, the king's letter being slighted by the depute, who was newly returned from England, he was forced to have recourse to arch-bishop Usher; which drew tears from his eyes, that he could not help them, and yet, by the interposition of lord Castle-Stuart with the king, they got six months liberty; but upon the luck of this in Nov.1634, he was again conveened before the bishop, and the sentence of excommunication pronounced against him, by Ecklin bishop of Down. -- After the sentence was pronounced, Mr. Blair rose up and publicly cited the bishop to appear before the tribunal of Jesus Christ, to answer for that wicked deed; whereupon he did appeal from the justice of God to his mercy; but Mr. Blair replied, Your appeal is like to be rejected, because you act against the light of your own conscience. In a few months after he fell sick, and the physician inquiring of his sickness, after some time's silence, he, with great difficulty, said, It is my conscience, man -- To which the doctor replied, I have no cure for that; -- and in a little after he died.
After his ejection, he preached often in his own house, and in others houses, until the beginning of the year 1635, that he began to think of marriage again with Catherine Montgomery, daughter to Hugh Montgomery, formerly of Busbie in Ayr-shire (then in Ireland) for which he came over to Scotland with his own and his wife's friends. -- And upon his return to Ireland, they were married in the month of May following.
But matters still continuing the same, he engaged with the rest of the ejected ministers in their resolution in building a ship, called the Eagle-wings, of about 115 tons, on purpose to go to New-England. But about three or four hundred leagues from Ireland, meeting with a terrible hurricane, they were forced back unto the same harbour from whence they loosed, the Lord having work for them elsewhere, it was fit their purposes should be defeated. And having continued some four months after this in Ireland, until, upon information that he and Mr. Livingston were to be apprehended, they immediately went out of the way, and immediately took shipping, and landed in Scotland anno 1631.
All that summer after his arrival, he was as much employed in public and private exercises as ever before, mostly at Irvine and the country around, and partly at Edinburgh. But things being then in a confusion, because the service-book was then urged upon the ministers, his old inclination to go to France revived, and upon an invitation to be chaplain of col. Hepburn's regiment in the French service (newly inlisted in Scotland), with them he imbarked at Leith; but some of these recruits, who were mostly highlanders, being desperately wicked, upon his reproofs, threatening to stab him, he resolved to quit that voyage, and calling to the ship-master to set him on shore, without imparting his design, a boat was immediately ordered for his service; at which time he met with another deliverance, for his foot sliding, he was in danger of going to the bottom, but the Lord ordered, that he got hold of a rope, by which he hung till he was relieved.
Mr. Blair's return gave great satisfaction to his friends at Edinburgh, and, the reformation being then in the ascendant, in the spring of 1638, he got a call to be colleague to Mr. Annan at Ayr; and upon May 2, a meeting of presbytery, having preached from 2 Cor. iv.5. he was, at the special desire of all the people there, admitted a minister.
He stayed not long here, for, having, before the general assembly held at Glasgow 1638, fully vindicated himself, both anent his affair with Dr. Cameron, while regent in the university, and his settlement in Ireland, he was, for his great parts and known abilities, by them ordered to be transported to St. Andrews; but the assembly's motives to this did prove his determent for some time, and the burgh of Ayr, where the Lord had begun to bless his labours, had the favour for another year. But the assembly held at Edinburgh 1630, being offended for his disobeying, ordered him peremptorily to transport himself thither.
Anno 1640, when the king had, by the advice of the clergy, caused burn the articles of the former treaty with the Scots, and again prepared to chastise them with a royal army, the Scots, resolving not always to play after-game, raised an army, invaded England, routed about 4000 English at Newburn, had Newcastle surrendered to them, and within two days, were masters of Durham; which produced a new treaty, more favourable to them than the former; and with this army was Mr. Blair, who went with lord Lindsay's regiment; and, when that treaty was on foot, the committee of estates and the army sent him up to assist the commissioners with his best advice.
Again after the rebellion in Ireland 1641, those who survived the storm, supplicated the general assembly 1642, for a supply of ministers, when severals went over, and among the first Mr. Blair. During his stay there, he generally preached once every day, and twice on Sabbath, and frequently in the field, the auditors being so large, and in some of these he administered the Lord's supper.
After his return, the condition of the church and state was various during the years 1643, and 1644; and particularly in Aug.1643, the committee of the general assembly, whereof Mr. Blair was one, with John earl of Rutland, and other Scots commissioners from the parliament of England, and Messrs. Stephen Marshal and Philip Nye, ministers, agreed to a solemn league and covenant betwixt the two kingdoms of Scotland and England; and in the end of the same year, when the Scots assisted the English parliament, Mr. Blair was, by the commission of the general assembly, appointed minister to the earl of Crawford's regiment; with whom he stayed until the king was routed at Marston-muir July 1644, when he returned to his charge at St. Andrews.
The parliament and commission of the kirk sat at Perth in July 1645. The parliament was opened with a sermon by Mr. Blair; and, after he had, upon the forenoon of the 27th, a day of solemn humiliation preached again to the parliament, he rode out to the army, then encamped at Torgondermy, and preached to Crawford's and Maitland's regiments, to the first of whom he had been chaplain: -- He told the brigade, That he was informed that many of them were turned dissolute and profane, and assured them, that though the Lord had covered their heads in the day of battle (few of them being killed at Marston-muir), they should not be able to stand before a less formidable foe, unless they repented. Though this freedom was taken in good part from one who wished them well, yet was too little laid to heart; and the most part of Crawford's regiment were cut off at Kilsyth in three weeks afterwards.
After the defeat at Kilsyth, severals were for treating with Montrose, but Mr. Blair opposed it, so that nothing was concluded until the Lord began to look upon the affliction of his people; for the committee of estates recalled general Leslie, with 4000 foot and 1000 dragoons, from England, to oppose whom Montrose marched southward; but was shamefully defeated at Philiphaugh Sept.13, many of his forces being killed and taken prisoners, and he hardly escaped. On the 26, the parliament and commission of the general assembly sat down at St. Andrews (the plague being then in Edinburgh); here Mr. Blair preached before the parliament, and also prayed before the several sessions thereof; and when several prisoners, taken at Philiphaugh, were tried, three of them, viz. Sir Robert Spotiswood, Nathaniel Gordon, and Mr. Andrew Guthrie, were to be executed on the 17th of January thereafter, Mr. Blair visited them often, and was at much pains with them: He prevailed so far with Gordon, that he desired to be relaxed from the sentence of excommunication which he was under; and accordingly Mr. Blair did the same: The other two, who were bishops sons, died impenitent. -- Mali corvi malum ovum.
Anno 1646, the general assembly, sitting at Edinburgh ordered Mr. Blair (who was then moderator), with Mr. Cant and Mr. Robert Douglas, to repair to the king at Newcastle, to concur with worthy Mr. Alexander Henderson and others, who were labouring to convince him great bloodshed in these kingdoms, and reconcile him to presbyterian church-government and the covenants. When these three ministers got a hearing, the room was immediately filled with several sorts of people to see their reception; Mr. Andrew Cant, bring eldest, began briskly to insinuate, with his wonted zeal and plainness, that the king favoured popery; Mr. Blair interrupted him, and modestly hinted, That it was not a fit time nor place for that. -- The king, looking on him earnestly, said, |That honest man speaks wisely and discreetly; therefore I appoint you three to attend me to-morrow at ten o'clock in my bed-chamber.| They attended, according to appointment, but got little satisfaction; only Mr. Blair asked his majesty, If there were not abominations in popery, &c. The king, lifting his hat, said, |I take God to witness that there are abominations in popery, which I so much abhor, that ere I consent to them, I would rather lose my life and crown.| Yet after all this, Mr. Blair and Mr. Henderson (for these two he favoured most) having most earnestly desired him to satisfy the just desires of his subjects, he obstinately refused, though they besought it on their knees with tears. Renewed commissions for this end, were sent from Scotland, but to no good purpose, and Mr. Blair returned home to St. Andrews.
Mr. Henderson died at Edinburgh, Aug.19, which the king no sooner heard, than he sent for Mr. Blair to supply his place, as chaplain in Scotland; which Mr. Blair, thro' fear of being insnared, was at first averse unto, but having consulted with Mr. David Dickson, and reflecting that Mr. Henderson had held his integrity fast unto the end, he applied himself to that employment with great diligence, every day praying before dinner and supper in the presence chamber; on the Lord's day lecturing once and preaching twice; besides preaching some week days in St. Nicholas's church; as also conversing much with the king, desiring him to condescend to the just desires of his parliament, and at other times debating concerning prelacy, liturgies and ceremonies.
One day after prayer, the king asked him, If it was warrantable in prayer to determine a controversy? -- Mr. Blair, taking the hint, said, He thought he had determined no controversy in that prayer. Yes, said the king, you have determined the pope to be antichrist, which is a controversy among orthodox divines. To this Mr. Blair replied, To me this is no controversy, and I am sorry it should be accounted so by your majesty, sure it was none to your father. This silenced the king, for he was a great defender of his father's opinions; and his testimony, Mr. Blair knew well, was of more authority with him than the testimony of any divine. After a few months stay, Mr. Blair was permitted to visit his flock and family.
After the sitting of the Scots parliament, Mr. Blair made another visit to the king at Newcastle, where he urged him with all the arguments he was master of, to subscribe the covenants, and abolish Episcopacy in England, and he was confident all his honest Scotsmen would espouse his quarrel against his enemies in England, &c. To which the king answered, That he was bound by his great oath to defend Episcopacy, &c. in that church, and ere he wronged his conscience by violating his coronation-oath, he would lose his crown. Mr. Blair asked the form of that oath; he said, It was to maintain it to the utmost of his power. -- Then, said Mr. Blair, you have not only defended it to the utmost of your power, but so long and so far, that now you have no power, &c. But by nothing could he prevail upon the king, and left him with a sorrowful heart, and returned to St. Andrews.
Again in the year 1648, when Cromwel came to Edinburgh, the commission of the kirk sent Mr. Blair and Messrs. David Dickson and James Guthrie to deal with him, for an uniformity in England. When they came, he entertained them with smooth speeches and solemn appeals to God as to the sincerity of his intentions. Mr. Blair being best acquaint with him, spoke for all the rest; and among other things, begged an answer to these three questions: (1.) What was his opinion of monarchical government? He answered, He was for monarchical government, &c. (2.) What was his opinion anent toleration? He answered confidently, That he was altogether against toleration. (3.) What was his opinion concerning the government of the church? O now, said Cromwel, Mr. Blair, you article me too severely; you must pardon me, that I give you not a present answer to this, &c. This he shifted, because he had before, in conversation with Mr. Blair, confessed he was for independency. When they came out, Mr. Dickson said, I am glad to hear this man speak no worse; whereunto Mr. Blair replied, If you knew him as well as I, you would not believe one word he says, for he is an egregious dissembler and a great liar.
When the differences fell out betwixt the protestors and resolutioners, Mr. Blair was at London, and afterward for the most part remained neuter in that affair; for which he was subjected to some hardships; yet he never omitted any proper place or occasion for the uniting and cementing these differences, none now in Scotland being more earnest in this than he and the learned and pious Mr. James Durham minister at Glasgow. These two, meeting at St. Andrews, had the influence to draw a meeting of the two sides to Edinburgh, where harmony was like to prevail; but the Lord's anger, being still drawn out for the prevailing sins of that time, all promising beginnings were blasted, and all hopes of agreement did vanish.
Thus affairs continued until the year 1660, that the kingdom, being quite sick of distractions, restored again Charles II.; the woeful consequences are otherwise too well known; And, on this last occasion, Mr. Blair again began to bestir himself to procure union betwixt the two foresaid parties, and for that end obtained a meeting; but his endeavours were frustrated, and no reconciliation could be made, till both sides were cast into the furnace of a sore and long persecution.
For in Sept.1661, Mr. Sharp came to St. Andrews, and the presbytery, having had assurance of his deceitful carriage at court, and of the probability of his being made arch-bishop of St. Andrews, sent Mr. Blair, and another, to him, to discharge their duty, which they did so faithfully, that Sharp was never at ease till Mr. Blair was rooted out.
Mr. Blair taking occasion, in a sermon from 1 Pet. iii.13 &c. to enlarge on suffering for righteousness sake, giving his testimony to the covenants and work of reformation, against the sinful and corrupt courses of the times, he was called over before the council Nov.5. when the advocate and some noblemen were appointed to converse with Mr. Blair, where they posed him on the following points: (1.) Whether he had asserted presbyterial government to be jure divino? (2.) Whether he had asserted, that suffering for it was suffering for righteousness-sake? And, (3.) Whether in his prayers against Popery, he had joined Prelacy with it? Having answered all in the affirmative, professing his sorrow that they doubted his opinions in these points, he was first confined to his chamber in Edinburgh; and afterward, upon supplication, and the attestation of physicians on account of his health, he was permitted to retire to Inveresk about the 12th of January, 1662.
Mr. Blair continued here till Oct. following, enjoying much of God's presence amidst his outward trouble; but, being again commanded before the council, by the way, he took a sore fit of the gravel, and was for that time excused; and afterward, through the chancellor's favour, got liberty to go where he pleased, except St. Andrews, Edinburgh and the west country; -- he went to Kirkaldy.
While at Kirkaldy, he lectured and prayed often to some Christian friends in his own family; and for his recreation taught his younger son the Greek language and logic. But the arch-bishop, envying the repose Mr. Blair and some others had in these circumstances, procured an act, that no outed minister should reside within 20 miles of an arch-bishop's see; and Mr. Blair removed from Kirkaldy to meikle Couston, in the parish of Aberdour, an obscure place, in Feb.1666, where he continued till his death, which was shortly after.
For, upon the 10th of Aug. Mr. Blair, being now worn out with old age, and his spirits sunk with sorrow and grief for the desolations of the Lord's sanctuary in Scotland, took his last sickness, and entertained most serious thoughts of his near approaching end, ever extolling his glorious and good Master whom he had served. His sickness increasing, he was visited by many Christian friends and acquaintances, whom he strengthened by his many gracious and edifying words.
At one time, when they told him of some severe acts of council newly made upon arch-bishop Sharp's instigation, he prayed that the Lord would open his eyes, and give him repentance, &c. And to Mrs. Rutherford, at another time, he said, I would not exchange conditions with that man (though he was now on his bed of languishing, and the other possest of great riches and revenues) though all betwixt them were red gold, and given him to the bargain. When some ministers asked him, If he had any hopes of deliverance to the people of God, he said, He would not take upon him to determine the times and seasons the Lord keeps in his own hand, but that it was to him a token for good, that the Lord was casting the prelates out of the affections of all ranks and degrees of people, and even some who were most active in setting them up, were now beginning to lothe them for their pride, falsehood and covetousness.
To his wife and children he spake gravely and Christianly, and after he had solemnly blessed them, he severally admonished them as he judged expedient. His son David said, The best and worst of men have their thoughts and after thoughts; now, Sir, God having given you time for after-thoughts on your way, we would hear what they are now. -- He answered, I have again and again thought upon my former ways, and communed with mine heart; and as for my public actings and carriage, in reference to the Lord's work, if I were to begin again, I would just do as I have done. He often repeated the 16th and 23d psalm, and once the 71st psalm, which he used to call his own psalm. About two days before his death, his speech began to fail, and he could not be well heard or understood; however some things were not lost; for, speaking of some eminent saints then alive, he prayed earnestly that the Lord would bless them; and, as an evidence of his love to them, he desired Mr. George Hutcheson (then present) to carry his Christian remembrance to them. When Mr Hutcheson went from his bed-side, he said to his wife and others who waited on him, That he rejoiced in suffering as a persecuted minister. Is it not persecution, added he, to thrust me from the work of the ministry, which was my delight, and hinder me from doing good to my people and flock, which was my joy and crown of rejoicing, and to chase me from place to place, till I am wasted with heaviness and sorrow for the injuries done to the Lord's prerogative, interest and cause. What he afterwards said was either forgot or not understood, till at length, about four o'clock in the morning, he was gathered to his fathers, by a blessed and happy death (the certain result of a holy life).
His body lies near the kirk-wall, in the burial place at Aberdour, and upon the church-wall above his grave, was erected a little monument, with this inscription,
Hic reconditae iacent mortuae
Exuviae D. Roberti Blair, S. S.
Evangelii apud Andreapolin
Praedicatoris fidelissimi. Obiit
Augusti 27, 1666. Aetatis suae 72.
Mr. Blair was a man of a fine constitution, both of body and mind, of a majestic but amiable countenance and carriage, thoroughly learned, and of a most public spirit for God. He was of unremitting diligence and labour, in all the private as well as public duties of his station. He did highly endear himself to the affection of his own people, and to the whole country wherein he lived, and their attachment to him was not a little strengthened by his conduct in the judicatories of the church, which indeed constituted the distinguishing part of his character.
When the general assembly resolved upon a new explication of the holy bible, and among others of the godly and learned in the ministry, Mr. Blair had the book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes assigned to him for his part, but he neglected that task, till he was rendered useless for other purposes, and then set about and finished his commentary on the Proverbs in 1666. He composed also some small poetical pieces, as a poem in commendation of Jesus Christ, for the confutation of Popish errors; with some short epigrams on different subjects.