Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
- Matthew 5:9
A week ago in Sunday school, we were studying the fruit of the Spirit. The teacher asked what we thought of “peace.” What was peace?
I was about to say something, and my wife kicked me in the shin, under the table. I thought better of my comments; besides, I had to confirm my notion and study the facts once more, review old notes.
My mother studied genealogies. She had no luck with her father and very little luck with her mother – too many courthouses that burned. She traced my Dad’s father’s family back to the Discovery, one of the first settlers in the Jamestown colony, before the Pilgrims landed. But my father’s mother was a Henderson. My mother traced the family line back to Scotland to the home of Alexander Henderson, but the records were unclear if we were descendants of the one that they called “The Divine,” or simply cousins or by some bizarre twist, a Henderson in the same home that wasn’t related.
As a result, I studied encyclopedias of religion and other history books to learn who Alexander Henderson was. He became a pastor in the Scottish church. The English government dictated an order of worship to all provinces at the time. He dutifully followed it. The rebellious Scots were at arms with him. On one occasion, he climbed through a window to reach the pulpit of his own church, and he preached his sermon while fending off his detractors by sword. That was the story. Actually, he went to church that morning, found the doors nailed shut, and then entered through the window and preached to his friends who had followed him through the window.
Soon after, in January 1614, he heard that Robert Bruce of Kinnaird was giving a communion service in a nearby church. He entered unannounced and hid, afraid of being recognized. In Bruce’s sermon, Bruce quoted John 10:1 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. (KJV)” I used the KJV here, published in 1611. Henderson remembered his recent escapade with a nailed door and climbing through a window. He was convicted at that point, and a transformation occurred in his sermons. He no longer followed the required order of worship. He no longer spoke in terms of political expedience. He spoke from the heart, a changed heart, and he spoke as God led him.
He became very popular at this point, and he became a great reformer of the church of Scotland, acting as the rector of the University of Edinburgh at one point. In the period between his spiritual conversion in 1614 until the “Five Articles” were sent from the English government, he had become outspoken against the king, the church leaders, and the like. He was threatened with being defrocked, his church overthrown, and the full weight of Authority leveled against him. He stood firm.
He came to the forefront in the church during these times of trouble. When King Charles followed King James, it was Alexander Henderson, as one among a few commissioners, who met with the king’s counsel to negotiate a peace. When the king refused to sign the treaty, the king prepared to invade Scotland, but a commission, including Henderson, was sent and the treaty was signed.
King Charles was king when the Westminster Confession of Faith was written. The king created this assembly as a political expedient due calm the unrest. The king had his doubts that everyone in his kingdom could agree on a single confession, and he stacked the deck to ensure that the various factions could never agree. There were the Scots, the Irish, the Welch, and the English. None could ever agree with one another, but to make it a perfectly impossible situation, the king had spies in the assembly. They were to do two things: Report the lack of progress to the king and push the extreme views of each faction so that everyone argued, and nothing was resolved. (Does that sound like the US Congress and the British Parliament today?) King Charles had insisted that Alexander Henderson would not be in the assembly, but when word from the assembly reached Henderson, he made the trip to Westminster. He preached a long sermon, but essentially said, “You are men of God and that should be your highest priority. What have you been doing?? You should be ashamed of yourselves.” He then returned to Scotland. Soon after Alexander Henderson’s departure, this group of church leaders started putting things together. The result, a few years later, is our present Westminster Confession of Faith, published near the end of Henderson’s life on earth.
During the Civil War of 1642, while the Westminster assembly was arguing, Henderson again negotiated with the king’s counsel for peace. When the king refused to sign, Henderson went to Oxford and addressed the king personally, but the king refused to accept the reformation of the church of England. This caused armed conflict between the reformers in Scotland and the church of England, loyal to the king’s decrees. In 1646, the king, who was with the army at the time, sent for Henderson specifically, and they had a private meeting, discussing the views of both sides, including the church government. Henderson was in poor health at the time, but he knew that he must meet with the king. He died nine days after his ship returned to Scotland.
Whether Alexander is great-great … grandpa, cousin, or simply someone from the same location with the same last name, Alexander Henderson was truly a peacemaker.
We may not have the ear of a king, but we can do as the members of the Westminster assembly did and set aside our extreme views and find a common ground. We might find that the common ground is simply to believe, trust, and obey Jesus, and try to be more like Jesus every day. In such a way, we can show God’s love without compromise.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.