General Assembly (1596)

Six years after Mr Bruce began his ministry (actually he began it in 1587-8), there was a lively movement from the Holy Spirit on the whole General Assembly of the Church, while their devotions were conducted by an intimate friend and fellow-labourer of Bruce, the Rev. Mr Davidson,

This memorable occurrence is related by Mr Fleming nearly in the following words : — " In the year 1596, upon Tuesday the 30th of March, the ministers and other commissioners of the General Assembly, met at Edinburgh, found it a duty by themselves to convene in the church at nine o'clock, one of the doors being shut, and the other kept open for the meeting only. Their object was to humble themselves and wrestle with God, to pursue a national as well as a personal reconciliation. The whole number amounted to four hundred ministers and some select Christians and elders of the church with them. After prayer, Mr John Davidson was chosen to preside amongst them. He caused the third and thirty-fourth chapters of Ezekiel to be read, and then said, ( Since it pleased the Lord to move them to choose him who was the unworthiest and unmeetest of the number, for the place of a preacher that day, they were not to look * that he came to be censured by them, but to use the authority of a teacher to hearers, without any prejudice to that liberty given them of the Lord, to try the spirits whether they be of God or not.

" He showed what was the end of their meeting, that it was the confession of sins, and to promise a forsaking thereof, to turn unto the Lord, and enter into a new Covenant and league with him, that thus by repentance they might he the meeter to provoke others to the same. In which he was followed with that power for moving of their spirits in application, that within an hour after they were entered into the church, they looked with another countenance than that wherewith they entered. He exhorted them to that retired work of meditation and acknowledgement of their sins, even whilst they were together, that for the space of a quarter of an hour they were thus humbling themselves " (during which time it is probable the preacher was silent), " yea, with such a joint concurrence with those sighs and groans, and with shedding of tears amongst the most, every one provoking another by their example, and the teacher himself by his, so as the very church resounded, and that place might worthily be called a Bochim, for the like of that day had not been seen in Scotland since the Reformation, as every one that was present confessed. There have been many days of humiliation for present judgments, or imminent dangers, but the like for sin and defection was never seen since the Reformation. After prayer and public confession, Mr Davidson treated on Luke, xii. 22, ' Take no thought for your life,' &c, wonderfully assisted by God's spirit, to cast down and raise up again the brethren. The exercise continued till near one afternoon.

When the brethren were to dissolve they were stayed by the Moderator and desired to hold up their hands to testify their entering into a new league and covenant with God. They held up their hands presently and readily, which was a moving spectacle to all who were present."

And that afternoon, by the General Assembly, was the renewing of the covenant in particular synods resolved upon.

'History of Revivals of Religion in the British Isles, Especially in Scotland ' by Mary Grey Lundie Duncan 1836, p188-9.

Another account which can be seen under 'Church in Scotland to 1625' - biography.

The General Assembly of March/April 1596 was a time when the first revival may have taken place in Scotland, although the time of Knox was clearly an incredible one. John Davidson was very concerned with the religious state of the Church and the country, even though it was only thirty years since the Reformation. This was a time of a new generation; few of those who experienced the Reformation were still alive. Davidson, through his Presbytery, put to the General Assembly that there was a need for ‘universal repentance and earnest turning to God.’ The Assembly agreed to address this, meeting from March 24th 1596 at St Giles in Edinburgh. The following was reported in a book by David Calderwood, As the Holy Spirit pierces their hearts with razor sharp conviction, John Davidson concludes his message, steps down from the pulpit, and quietly returns to his seat. With downcast eyes and heaviness of heart, the assembled leaders silently reflect upon their lives and ministry. The words they have just heard are true and the magnitude of their sin is undeniable. As the minutes pass, a growing sense of God’s presence and holiness intensifies, and a spirit of deep repentance breaks in upon them, disrupting their silence. Suddenly loud sighs and groans reverberate throughout the Cathedral as proud men donning long beards and clerical garb begin to shake uncontrollably in tearful sobbing, melting under profound conviction of their sin.’

The main subject of this General Assembly was the way that ministers lived their lives. The Holy Spirit brought a wave of ‘Holiness’ into that Assembly, and everybody (except one) held up their hands ‘to testify their entering in a new league with God.’. This repentance was re-created in most of the Synods, many of the Presbyteries and some of the Congregations throughout Scotland. Unfortunately, there seems to be no proof that this ‘Spirit of Holiness’ went across the nation, but Calderwood again in his ‘History of the Church of Scotland’, published in 1678 says, a remarkable year of the Kirk of Scotland, both for the beginning and for the end of it. The Kirk of Scotland was now come to her perfection, and the greatest purity that she ever attained unto, both in doctrine and discipline, so that her beauty was admirable to foreign kirks. The assemblies of the saints were never so glorious, nor profitable to every one of the true members thereof than in the beginning of this year.’