What Should Presbyteries Do? (2)
Andrew Edgar in “"Old church life in Scotland : lectures on kirk-session and presbytery records" (1885) tells us about the spiritual conferences of the early presbyteries:
“The Exercise was a meeting of ministers and readers for the purpose of mutual instruction in Scripture and religion. There were two speakers previously appointed to expound and argue — the first "to exercise or prophesy" and the second "to add" — and in 1576 there were severe punishments ordained by the Assembly to be inflicted on all such as failed to fulfil these appointments. " It either of the two fail, for the first fault, they shall confess their offence upon their knees in presence of the brethren of the Exercise ; for the second, they shall make the like submission before the Synodal Assembly ; for the third, they shall be summoned before the General Assembly and receive discipline for their offence ; and for the fourth they shall be deprived of their offices and functions in the ministry."
After Presbyteries were erected, the Exercise continued to be regarded as something distinct from the Presbytery. In the General Assembly of 1582 there were several "articles" recorded as answers to certain doubts concerning Presbyteries, and from these we learn that ruling elders had seats in the Presbytery, but there is nothing said about their duty to attend the Exercise. Ministers, on the other hand, are declared to be subject to penalties if they do not resort to the Exercise and Presbytery. It was also thought meet that the day appointed for the Exercise be "in like manner the day of ecclesiastical processes," but if the brethren think it necessary they may appoint days and places for processes "by" or besides the day of the Exercise.
In 1610, the King and the Bishops, with the view of making the abolition of Presbyterial jurisdiction in the Church more easy, endeavoured to bring about the disuse of the word Presbytery, and for that unpleasant word the substitution of the phrase, " Brethren of the Exercise."
When Presbyterial government was restored in the Church in 1638 and 1639, Exercises and Presbyteries were held together on the same day and in the same place.
In the oldest extant records of the Presbytery of Ayr — those from 1642 to 1650 — we find that when there was to be an Exercise as well as a Presbytery held, it was commonly minuted, " The Exercise was established in the person of A. B., the first speaker, and of C. D., the second," or " C. D. to add."
While the Exercise was said to be established in the persons of only two speakers, there was an Act of Assembly, passed in 1598, that from its intrinsic reasonableness might be said to be of perpetual standing, which ordained "that every member of the Presbytery study the text whereupon the exercise is to be made." Another clause in the same Act ordained that "ane common head of religion be intreatit every moneth in ilk [each] Presbyterie, both by way of discourse and disputation," or by way of exercise and addition.