Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bruce, Robert (1554-1631)

1316482Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 07 — Bruce, Robert (1554-1631)1886William Garden Blaikie

BRUCE, ROBERT (1554–1631), theological writer, second son of Sir Alexander Bruce of Airth, who claimed descent from the royal family of Bruce, studied jurisprudence at Paris, and on his return practised law, and was on the way to becoming a judge. But a very remarkable inward experience oonstrained him to give himself to the church. He went to St. Andrews to study, and on becoming a preacher (1587) was forthwith called to be a minister in Edinburgh. On 6 Feb. 1587-8 he was chosen moderator of the general assembly-a rare and singular testimony to the wisdom, the stability, and the business capacity of one so young. In 1589, when the king went to Norway to fetch his bride, and parties in Edinburgh were somewhat excited, the king appointed Bruce an extraordinary privy-councillor, and such was his influence that he kept all quiet, and on the king's return received from his majesty a cordial letter of thanks (19 Feb. 1589-90). The queen was crowned at Holyrood and anointed by Bruce on 17 March following. He again became moderator of the general assembly 22 May 1592. His power and success as a preacher were very remarkable; and he continued to enjoy the king's favour till 1596, when, giving offence to his majesty by his opposition to certain arbitrary proceedings, he, with others, was banished from Edinburgh. The king desired to introduce episcopal government into the church, and the disinterested character of Bruce's opposition is apparent, for had he consented, no man would have been more sure to benefit by the change. This quarrel with the king was for the time made up; but soon after a new bone of contention arose. After the Gowrie conspiracy the king ordered the ministers to give thanks for his release (6 Aug. 1600), and to specify certain grounds of thanksgiving about which some of them had doubts. Bruce and others gave thanks, but in terms more general than the king desired. After much negotiation, and many efforts of friends to get the matter settled, the king carried his point, and ordered Bruce to leave Edinburgh. The prospect of his leaving was felt profoundly by the christian community, who hung on his lips, and enjoyed in a rare degree his eloquent and powerful preaching. But the king was inexorable, and Bruce's ministry in Edinburgh came to an end.

The last thirty years of his life were spent here and there. From 1605 to 1609 he was confined to Inverness, where he met with much harsh treatment from Lord Enzie and others, but where his preaching was a singular refreshment to his friends. In 1609 he was at Aberdeen, the atmosphere of which was very uncongenial, for it was a stronghold of the episcopalians. Sometimes he was at his patrimonial estate of Kinnaird, near Stirling, where he repaired at his own expense the parish church of Larbert, and discharged all the duties of the ministry; and occasionally at his other estate, at Monkland, near Glasgow. Wherever he had an opportunity of preaching, great crowds attended he preached with remarkable power, and his own life being in full accord with his preaching, the influence he attained was almost without a parallel in the history of the Scottish church. In 1620 he was again banished to Inverness, and begged very hard that, owing to his infirmities and weakness, he might be allowed to remain at home. The king was obdurate, and the request was refused. In 1624 he was allowed to return to Kinnaird, where he died 13 July 1631. His remains were accompanied to the grave by four or five thousand persons of all ranks and classes, from the nobility downwards. From his very youth he had been regarded with remarkable esteem and affection, and the bitter trials that chequered the last half of his life commended him all the more to the esteem of those who were like-minded. It was this chequered mode of life, this moving about from place to place without any settled charge, that prevented him, as the like causes prevented Richard Baxter in England, from leaving on his country so deep a mark as his character and abilities were fitted to make. Andrew Melville described him as a 'hero adorned with every virtue, a constant confessor and almost martyr to the Lord Jesus.' Livingstone, another contemporary, said, 'Mr. Robert Bruce I several times heard, and in my opinion never man spoke with greater power since the apostles' days.'

As an author Bruce is best known by his 'Way to True Peace and Rest: delivered at Edinburgh in sixteen sermons on the Lord's Supper, Hezekiah's sickness, and other select scriptures.' This book appeared in 1617, and bore the motto, significant of its author's experience, 'Dulcia non meruit, qui non gustavit amara.' The sermons are in the Scottish dialect, and are remarkable as a singularly clear and able exposition of the scriptural doctrine of the Lord's Supper, enforced with great liveliness and power.

Bruce's conduct in his conflicts with the king and in some other matters has been placed in a somewhat less favourable light in Spottiswood's 'History of the Church of Scotland' and in Maitland's 'History of Edinburgh.' These views are controverted in Wodrow's 'Life of Bruce' and in M'Crie's 'Life of Melville.'

[Row's, Spottiswood's, and Calderwood's Histories of the Church of Scotland; Autobiography and life of Robert Blair; Livingstone's Memorable Characteristics; Melville's Autobiography; Wodrow's Collections as to the Life of Mr. Robert Bruce; Wodrow Society's Life and Sermons of Rev. Robert Bruce, edited by Principal Cunningham, D.D.; Scott's Fasti, i. 4, 17.]

W. G. B.