In the midst of his work he found time, however, to draw up a memorial against the abuses of the bishops, which later discoveries show to have been more than justified. As he says himself, ‘I laid my foundation on the constitution of the primitive church, and showed how they had departed from it.’ Whether he would have done this had he not been secure of the approbation of Lauderdale may be doubted. In any case it was a bold and a striking act in a young man of twenty-three, and still bolder was the step he took in signing the copies and forwarding them to all the bishops whom he knew. It is not surprising that he was called before the bishops, when he defended himself with spirit and success against the hectoring of Sharp, who proposed that he should be excommunicated; to this, however, the other bishops would not consent. He refused to ask pardon, and the matter dropped; but Burnet, having delivered his mind, thought it now the best course to confine himself strictly to the functions of his ministry. For some while he lived the life of an ascetic, to such an extent that he twice became dangerously ill.
Burnet continued in the confidence of the moderate men, who at that time adhered to Lauderdale. As early as April 1667 he was informed by Kincardine of the meditated coup d'état by which, a month or two later, Lauderdale dismissed Rothes from the commissionership, and thus broke the strength of the extreme church party. Burnet was consulted by Tweeddale and Kincardine with reference to their desire to give Leighton influence in the church, and to induce as many of the presbyterian clergy as possible to waive their non-Erastian principles and to accept the council's appointment to preach in vacant parishes. He participated, however, in the coldness which, under the influence of Lady Dysart, Lauderdale now showed to Moray.
It would appear that Burnet was already on terms of confidence with both the king and the Duke of York and with many court officials. In nothing, indeed, is his freedom from the narrowness of interest usual among his brethren more displayed than in the fact that, whether from ambition or from the natural inclination of a mind widened by culture and conscious of its own power, he kept himself as well informed of the politics of the English court as of those of his own country. He was applied to both by Lauderdale and Sir Robert Moray to give an opinion upon the question how far the queen's barrenness would justify a divorce or polygamy on the part of Charles. He himself states that he answered in the negative. There is, however, a paper extant, supposed to be by him, in which the affirmative is maintained; but it is impossible that this can really have been from his hand.
In 1669 Burnet was intimately concerned with the scheme of conciliation, involving a great diminution of the power of the bishops, which Leighton, now archbishop of Glasgow, especially desired to set on foot, and was employed as his agent to treat with the presbyterians. He went in the first place to Hutcheson, the leader of the moderate presbyterian party; and, when the treaty hung fire, was sent into the west to report upon the feeling of the more discontented districts. At Hamilton he made the acquaintance of the duchess, who advised the planting of a number of presbyterian ministers in vacant parishes, and he wrote a long letter to Tweeddale urging the plan. Burnet adds that the letter was read to the king, and that, through the advice it contained, some forty ministers, thence called ‘king's curates,’ were permitted to take the vacant parishes, with a pension of 20l. a year each. His visit to Hamilton resulted in a great change for himself. He there made the acquaintance of the regent of the university of Glasgow, who, when a vacancy occurred shortly afterwards in the divinity professorship, obtained the post for Burnet. His hesitation in leaving Saltoun (Bannatyne Club Miscell. iii.), to which parish at his death he bequeathed 20,000 merks for useful and charitable objects, was overcome by Leighton, and in 1669 he began residence at Glasgow, where he remained four years and a half ‘in no small exercise of my patience.’ As was but natural, his late action had earned him the distrust and dislike both of strong presbyterians and of strong episcopalians. He carried, however, to this new work exactly the same zeal and thoroughness that he had displayed at Saltoun, devoting the hours from four to ten in the morning to his own study, and from ten till late at night in the active work of teaching. Throughout life, aided by magnificent health, he did a stupendous amount of work, and always did it well. His ‘Modest and Free Conference between a Conformist and a Nonconformist’ was written at this time. It is an able exposition of the liberal principles regarding church government which he upheld through life. Being now in a position of influence, Burnet was frequently applied to both by the clergy who found their churches deserted, and by the gentry who came to complain of the foolish conduct of the clergy. Conventicles were increasing rapidly, and the disorder threatened to be so serious that at Burnet's proposal a committee of council was sent into the west to ascertain the state of