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November 19th 1685

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The Alyth minister

Thomas Robertson was a minister at Alyth from 1669 to 1685. He was a man of somewhat delicate constitution but for all that outlived two wives and begat eight children.

Because by this time Charles 2nd was in power, it became necessary to embrace Episcopalianism if one wished to retain one’s charge, and this Mr Robertson seemed quite prepared to do. There is evidence that his congregation was a good deal less enthusiastic. There was, for instance, an annual service of thanksgiving “concerning the restitution of the King” , but it was noticeable that collections on such occasions were rather less than half the normal collections.

There was also the problem of William Dick “who hath had two children baptised disorderly already (that is to say by a dissenting minister) and whose wife was near her time and as he feared would take the same method with that child when born if it were not some way prevented.”  Advice was sought from the Bishop of Dunkeld.

Mr Robertson was also interesting in his choice of sermons. Week after week he would preach on the same text. Thus there were four sermons on the text “God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.”  Ecclesiastes 7 verse 29. There were seven on “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.”  Job 14 verse 4. But it was on the Psalms that he lavished the most care. For instance he preached no fewer than thirty sermons on Psalm 78 including sixteen alone on verse 32. Later, over a period of four years he preached one sermon for every Psalm from 1 to 119, though as Psalm has 22 parts this necessitated 22 sermons.

Later in his ministry he turned to the New Testament, though once again he was selective in his choice of subjects. The gospel according to St Luke was his favourite with 161 sermons alone on chapter 15. But even this was eclipsed by his assault on the Epistle of James, the five chapters of which generated no fewer than 300 sermons.

With such intense concentration on certain favourite texts it was inevitable that there were vast tracts of the Bible that were never mentioned. However it is unlikely that the favoured texts would be examined in such minute detail as would be implied by the series of sermons preached upon them. More likely they were used as a peg on which to hang the minister’s thoughts for that Sunday.

To use the same text for so many weeks at a time would more likely be an exercise of spiritual and intellectual ingenuity enjoyed both by the minister and his congregation.

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