The Protesters stood for all that the Covenant embodied. The Covenant lay heavy upon their conscience; they trembled at its violation. They saw in the breach of the Covenant the wrath of God against themselves, against the Church, and against the nation. They believed that nothing could compensate for the loss incurred by forsaking the Covenant. They trusted in God with absolute faith; would not resort to expediency for any purpose; temporized with no principle, no, not for greatest advantages. They knew that God could send peace, victory, and prosperity to their country through the Covenant; and that He would send defeat, distress, and desolation through the breach of it.
The Resolutioners grew more and more lax. They may have dreaded to be termed narrow-minded; they may have sought to be reputed broad and charitable. They weakened in morals and influence, and lost power and position when tried by the fires of persecution. They finally melted away and disappeared among the enemies of the Covenant, as snowflakes falling on the mire.
The Protesters were the Covenanters who continued with the Lord Jesus Christ in His temptation. When the Covenant called for martyrs, they were the martyrs. When the cause of Christ demanded witnesses, they were the witnesses. They gave their testimony with a clear voice, and sealed it with their blood. These are they whose crimson path we will now follow, our Lord Jesus permitting, till we come to the last of Scotland's honored roll—the pleasant, youthful, innocent James Renwick.
God requires His Church to receive, proclaim, and defend the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as it is in the Lord Jesus Christ. This obligation is weighty, and the duty is difficult, yet no release is granted. The Church that holds most truth should draw most people; the Church that abandons any truth for any reason must be unsatisfying to honest souls. The organization that embodies the largest measure of God's Word is the largest Church; that which contains the smallest is the least. "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven." These are the words of Jesus. In His sight a Church is measured, not by the number enrolled, but by the truth professed, incarnated, and proclaimed.
* * * * *
POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. How long did Oliver Cromwell rule Scotland?
2. How did he deal with the Covenanted Church?
3. How had the General Assembly previously deteriorated?
4. Give the downward steps.
5. What two parties henceforth in the Church?
6. By whom was the truth preserved?
7. What principle governs the true followers of Christ?
8. What distinguishes the largest Church?
AN ILLUSTRIOUS MARTYR.—A.D. 1660.
Archibald Campbell, the Marquis of Argyle, was the first martyr to suffer at the hand of King Charles II. Twenty-two years had this illustrious nobleman been in special training for the honors of a martyr. He became identified with the Covenanters at the General Assembly of 1638. From that time he brought his influence, wealth, power, and office into the service of his Covenant Lord, and grew mighty in the cause of God. He ripened early in convictions and hallowed experiences, which won for him the highest distinction conferred upon mortals—martyrdom. He was in the prime of his years, at the summit of his earthly career, when he gave his life for the cause of Christ. He was a true warrior; every drop of his blood was electrified with heroism. In meeting death he felt the military spirit throb, but suppressing it he calmly said, "I could die as a Roman, but choose to die as a Christian."
This was a cedar of Lebanon, a choice tree of God, distinguished for its grace, strength, and height, towering above the trees of the forest. Therefore the first blast struck it with such deadly force. Then descended the terrific storm upon the lesser trees, and the mountain of God's house was strewn with them. The next twenty-eight years were filled with lamentation, and mourning, and woe. Let us look at the condition of the Covenanted Church, as this age of horror settles down upon Scotland.
When Cromwell had reduced Scotland, he attempted to convert the Covenanted Church to Congregationalism. Though he possessed some amiable qualities, yet this ignoble work was attempted in the spirit of a Turk—with the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other. A resolution in favor of Congregationalism was introduced in the General Assembly of 1652. This was voted down. The military suppression of the Assembly at its next meeting was Cromwell's bitter revenge. Yet we must not fail to see the hand of God in the overthrow of the Supreme Court of His House. As with the Temple at Jerusalem before its destruction, this Temple was already desolate; the glory had departed ere the storm of Divine wrath smote it. The resolution of the "Resolutioners," some years previous, favoring the repeal of the "Act of Classes," was a gross violation of the Covenant, and the proceedings in the Assembly had thereby degenerated into bitter debate. The Assembly had lost its power for good and, therefore, its right to exist; this part of the golden candlestick had exhausted its oil and God removed the useless part.
The Church did not seem to be seriously affected by the abolition of the Assembly. The process was more like the removal of a tumor than of a vital organ. God can do without the most excellent parts of the Church's organization, when they become diseased and endanger the system with blood poisoning. During the rule of Cromwell, the subordinate courts were mostly unmolested. The synods flourished; the presbyteries were uninterrupted in their work; the congregations enjoyed quietness and refreshing. The strife that existed in the Church was chiefly among the shepherds, not among the sheep. There were 14 synods, 68 presbyteries, and 900 congregations, when the persecution began under King Charles II.
During Cromwell's administration the land had rest; unusual quietness prevailed among the clans; there was a great calm. The four angels were holding the four winds of the earth, till the servants of God were sealed in their foreheads. The people were diligent in waiting upon the Lord; the Holy Spirit fell upon them with power, they became intensely interested in the ordinances of grace. They clustered around the family altar, through the House of God, hallowed the Sabbath, observed the Sacraments, and tarried much in secret prayer. Thus they were unwittingly preparing to enter the dreadful cloud. The vine was taking deep root, anticipating the storm that was in the air.
When Cromwell died the public mind experienced a strange reaction. The politicians of the two kingdoms, Scotland and England, reverting from the severe discipline of the "Protector," launched into every excess of luxuriousness and dissipation. A cry for the return of the profligate king swept the country from London to Edinburgh. Even the Covenanters were loud in calling for the banished monarch. They determined not to be last in bringing back the king. They would, however, renew their allegiance to him only on condition that he would renew the Covenant with them. From France, where he had found an asylum, came his captivating reply, "I am a Covenanted king." He was received with enthusiastic demonstrations.
King Charles organized his government in Scotland by immediately placing in power the most virulent enemies of the Covenanters. Within one month they were ready to execute whomsoever they would. The Earl of Middleton was the head official. When off his guard by indulging in drink, he divulged the king's secret instructions, confessing that he had been commissioned to do three things: (1) Rescind the Covenant; (2) Behead Argyle; (3) Sheath every man's sword in his brother's breast.
Argyle in those days was one of the great men of Scotland, if not the greatest. He was recognized in the Council as overshadowing his associates, in personal excellence, public-spiritedness, trustworthiness, and executive ability. He was a fine scholar, masterly statesman, wealthy landlord, brave soldier, and faithful Covenanter. His magnificent estate lay in Argyleshire, where the mountains are fringed with lochs in the most picturesque manner. The scenery is charming. One summer evening as our ship passed along the broken coast, a sunset of surpassing beauty scattered its blending colors in rich profusion over clouds, hills, vales, and lochs. The scenery was panoramic and enchanting. But greater gorgeousness than a thousand sunsets fell upon the outlook, at the remembrance of the famous Argyle, himself and his wife and children; his home, hearth, altar, Covenant, and martyrdom What incomparable grandeur where such hallowed associations throw their colors!
When Charles had first been placed on the throne, ten years previous, Argyle had the honor of setting the crown upon his head. The king at that time feigned great friendship and respect for him. He sought, and received, counsel from Argyle in apparent meekness and with evident appreciation. On one occasion he remained nearly all night with him in prayer, for preparation and fitness to rule the kingdom. He even sought Argyle's daughter in marriage. Such was the former intimacy of the king with Argyle. But once again on the throne, he determined to crush the Covenanters, and Argyle was his first victim.
When Cromwell was conquering Scotland, Argyle fought him till further resistance was useless. He even then refused to sign the declaration of submission, but agreed to keep the peace. This agreement with Cromwell was the main charge preferred against Argyle. He was tried and convicted. The sentence was passed upon him on Saturday; he was executed on the following Monday. He eloquently defended himself. It was a scene highly tragical—this calm, innocent, dignified man, looking into the face of his accusers and over-awing them with his bold vindication, and pathetic appeal for justice. Kneeling down he received his sentence, which was death by decapitation, his head to be placed above one of the city gates, as a gruesome warning to all Covenanters. Argyle arose from his knees and, looking upon his judicial murderers, calmly said, "I had the honor to set the crown on the king's head, and now he hastens me to a better crown than he owns." The real cause of his death was his devotion to the Covenant, and the solemn admonitions he had tendered the king.
His wife, hearing of the decree of death, hastened to his prison. "They have given me till Monday to be with you," said he. The stricken woman was overcome. "The Lord will require it; the Lord will require it;" said she in tumultuous grief. "Forbear, forbear!" replied Argyle, "for I truly pity them: they know not what they do." He was filled with inexpressible joy at the thought of honoring Christ with his blood The fear of death was gone Heaven was so near; glory was ready to break upon him; the Lord was soon to be seen face to face. He went to his execution like a prince to his coronation This was the Stephen of that age, and this the persecution that scattered the Covenanters.
We are soft and puny for lack of hardships. The difficult places and dreaded conditions, through which Christians pass, make life strong, sublime, triumphant, fruitful in good work, resourceful in the Holy Spirit, and glorifying to God.
* * * * *
POINTS FOR THE CLASS
1 Who was Marquis Argyle?
2 What service had he formerly rendered the king?
3 Describe the return of the king from banishment.
4 How did the Covenanters receive him?
5 What was the nature of the government he established?
6 What was his attitude toward the Covenanters?
7 Who was his first victim?
8 Describe Argyle's trial and execution.
RESISTING UNTO BLOOD.—A.D. 1661.
King Charles had put Argyle to death. The head of the martyred nobleman had been placed above the prominent gate, called the Netherbow Port of Edinburgh. There it remained four years, meeting the public gaze in the glare of day and in the gloom of night. And yet the sight had its charms. The broad brow and beneficent countenance still retained the expression of goodness and greatness. The sun-browned features and the wind-shaken locks, the motionless face and silent lips, made a touching appeal to the passers-by as they filed through the gateway. Many hearts were softened, many eyes were moistened, many serious thoughts were awakened.
The death of Argyle only fired the ferocious spirit of the king. The tiger had tasted blood; now he must drink deeply of the crimson flood and satiate his cruel heart. With vengeful hatred he reached for Samuel Rutherford, the venerable minister of Anwoth. Neither feeble health nor grey hairs could elicit, the king's compassion. A rock never pulsates with kindness. But ere the officer could lay his hand upon this man of God, his Lord and Master took him home to heaven.
James Guthrie of Stirling, a distinguished minister of Christ, was the next upon whom the king set his cruel eyes. He was seized and thrust into prison to await trial for "high treason." High treason! What was high treason in those days? What had Guthrie done to merit the king's mortal displeasure? Here is the sum of his crimes:
James Guthrie had preached, spoken, written, voted, and protested against the "Resolution" and the "Resolutioners," because they had approved of the suspension of the Moral Test for office.
He had written and published a message to the nation, entitled "The Causes of God's Wrath", pointing out the many breaches of the Covenant, and pleading for repentance.
He had declined the king's authority, when cited to be tried for ministerial services which his enemies accounted treasonable.
He had advocated Christ's supremacy over the Church and over the nation, and had disputed the king's authority in ecclesiastical matters.
For pursuing this course of action, James Guthrie was charged with "high treason." But the rudest terms of the world and the basest charges made by men are often turned into heaven's fairest badges. The iron chains that manacled Rutherford he called "gold"; he called his prison "The King's Palace."
How could Guthrie have done otherwise, as a faithful minister of Christ Jesus, in the high calling of the Gospel? Was he not responsible for the honor of the Church? Was he not entrusted with the truth and claims and glory of Christ? Was he not accountable for the souls that waited on his ministry?
Guthrie had an exalted view of the Gospel ministry. He had the eagle's eye to take in a wide horizon, and the lion's heart to meet dangers and difficulties. He took his instructions from the Lord, and stood above the fear of man. He lived with the open Bible in his hand; his soul delighted in the deep, broad sublime truths of salvation. The ministers of the Covenant in those days dwelt in the bosom of Jesus Christ, breathed His spirit, saw His glory, pulsated with His love, and were irresistibly carried forward in the discharge of the duties of their high office. They served as the ambassadors of the King of heaven. Only by dishonoring their office, vitiating their conscience, shrivelling their manhood, disowning their Lord, and imperiling their souls, could Christ's ministers do less than James Guthrie had done. Yet he was charged with "high treason."
The trial was set for April 11, 1661. Guthrie came before the tribunal, full of peace and comfort. He answered for himself in a masterly speech. His pleading was deeply felt; some members of the court arose and walked out, saying, "We will have nothing to do with the blood of this righteous man."
He was urged to retract. He was offered a high office in the Episcopal Church if he would accede to their terms. Such inducements he held in contempt. Neither threat nor reward could weaken his loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Covenant. The closing sentence of his defence was tender, fearless, and sublime:
"My lords, my conscience I cannot submit; but this old crazy body and mortal flesh I do submit, to do with it whatever ye will, whether by death, or banishment, or imprisonment, or anything else; only I beseech you to ponder well what profit there is in my blood. It is not the extinguishing of me, or many others, that will extinguish the Covenant and the work of Reformation. My blood, bondage, or banishment will contribute more for the propagation of these things, than my life or liberty could do, though I should live many years."
The death sentence was passed upon him. He was condemned to be hanged, his head to be placed above the city gate beside Argyle's. He received the sentence with great composure. The execution was fixed for the first day of June. To those who sat in judgement on his case, he replied:
"My lords, let this sentence never affect you more than it does me; and let my blood never be required of the king's family."
In such cases doubtless the wife through sympathy is the greater sufferer. But Mrs. Guthrie was strong in the Lord, and had courage equal to her trials. She was her husband's faithful helper in the difficult places. Once when duty imperiled his life, and he was in danger of halting, she urged him on, saying, "My heart, what the Lord gives you light and clearness to do, that do." Noble words! nothing wiser or greater could come from consecrated lips.
Just before his death Guthrie was permitted to see his son, Willie, at that time five years old. The father tenderly fondled his child, so soon to become an orphan, and spoke words adapted to the innocent heart. So little did the child comprehend the terrible tragedy, that he could scarcely be restrained from playing on the street while his father was dying. But the meaning soon dawned upon him with melancholy effect. It is said that he never played again.
The execution was public and the streets were thronged. Guthrie mounted the scaffold with a cheerful spirit. He spoke with great deliberation and earnestness for one hour to the immense throng that crowded close to hear his last words. He then yielded himself to the executioner, who placed the death cap over his face. But, as the light of that bright June day was shut out from his eyes, a vision of entrancing joy seemed to break upon his soul. In that flash of inspiration he saw Scotland: The land was covered with the glory of Christ; peace filled all her borders, and prosperity crowned her industries; churches and schools adorned her hills and valleys; the mountains and moors were filled with devout worshipers; the Sabbath poured forth its weekly blessings; the Psalms arose with solemn music in praise to the Lord Jesus. The Covenanted Reformation, in that vision, was triumphant. Lifting the cap from his eyes, he exclaimed with the rapture of a prophet, and with the shout of a conqueror:
"The Covenants, the Covenants shall yet be Scotland's reviving."
Thus he died in the full assurance of victory. His head was affixed over the gate, where it remained many years. The sun bronzed the face, the storms smote it, the rains drenched it, the snows dashed against it, the winds swirled the white locks, the stars looked down in silence, the people looked up in sadness, but James Guthrie was heedless of all. The soul was mingling with the redeemed in heaven and rejoicing in the presence of God. Guthrie had gone home to be forever with the Lord.
Little Willie often came and sat near the gate, gazing up at the silent motionless head. He would stay there till night veiled the sombre features of his father. He seemed to be communing with the spirit that now lived above the stars.
"Where have you been, Willie?" his mother would say, on his return. "I have been looking at father's head," he would sadly reply. The intense strain sapped his vitality and he died in early manhood.
Have we a conscience like that of the Covenanted fathers? a conscience that cannot submit to a man? a conscience that can take instructions only from God? The surrender of conscience to man imperils the soul.
* * * * *
POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. How did Argyle's death seem to affect the king?
2. Whom did he seize next?
3. What charge was preferred against Guthrie?
4. What was the nature of that "high treason?"
5. How did he defend himself in court?
6. What sentence did he receive?
7. How did he reply?
8. Relate an incident about his wife; his child.
9. What was his death cry?
10. What lesson here regarding a pure conscience?
SOURCE OF THE COVENANTERS' POWER.—A.D. 1661.
The death of Marquis Argyle was the signal for the utter overthrow of the Covenanted Church in Scotland. He was chief among the nobles who in those days stood by the Covenant, and James Guthrie was chief among the ministers. These mighty men quickly followed each other in watering God's vineyard with their own blood.
The issue now between the king and the Covenanters was clear, direct, unmistakable, beyond the possibility of evasion. Both parties set themselves for the desperate struggle; henceforth compromise was out of the question.
The king was determined to abolish the Covenant, obliterate Presbyterianism, establish Episcopacy, and assume to himself the place, power, and prerogatives of the Lord Jesus Christ, as head of the Church.
The Covenanters disputed his right to these pretentious claims at every point. Especially did they challenge his authority over the Church, and testify against his blasphemous presumption. They looked with horror upon his attempt to grasp the crown of Christ, that he himself might wear it. This they resented and resisted as treason against the KING OF KINGS. They could not submit to the man who clothed himself with Christ's supremacy; that robe of royal priesthood must not be worn by mortal man.
The Covenanters grew very spirited and fearless in defence of the independence of the Church. When these two leaders, Argyle and Guthrie, had been sacrificed, their enemies doubtless thought the people would be as sheep scattered upon the mountains without a shepherd. But the Good Shepherd was ever with them and gave them faithful ministers, who fed the flock amidst their wintry desolations. The Covenanted Church had noble sons to lift up the head of their fainting mother even when persecution was at its worst.
The Church of Christ was very dear to these Covenanters. They gazed with rapturous eyes upon her high origin, her mysterious character, her indescribable glory. She dwelt in the very heart of God; she was the Bride of the Son of God; she was clothed with the righteousness of God; she was adorned with all the excellencies of character God could lavish upon her. The Church was the habitation of the Holy Spirit. The Covenant was the marriage bond joining her to her Lord and Husband. The love of the Covenanters for the Church of the Lord Jesus arose in flames of jealousy when they saw a mere man, a dissolute and sinful man, attempt to woo her heart and alienate her affections from her Lord and King. They could not endure it. Her honor and purity were worth more to them than life itself.
The testimony of the Covenanters against the wrongs done the Church was both pathetic and vehement, ranging all the way from tender tearful supplication, to pointed fearless denunciation. At times they spoke with meekness and hope, as if standing on the Mount of Beatitudes; again with severity and sadness, as if the voice came from the fiery summit of Sinai. Their eloquence in the sacred office matched the tenderness of the dove and the terribleness of thunder; distilled like the dewdrop and smote like pointed lightning. The sword of burnished steel they wielded to good purpose in self-defence, and the sword of the Word they used with telling effect in the spiritual warfare for their Lord and His Church.
The strength which the Covenanters possessed and employed in battling for the rights of the Church, and the prerogatives of their Lord, amazes the contemplative mind. Their power was always sufficient, new every morning, fresh every hour, inexhaustible under most excessive strains, and mighty to win moral victories everywhere. Whence the power? What was its source?
Explain as we may the fortitude, inspiration, enthusiasm, exalted purpose, indestructible hope, and unconquerable faith of the Covenanters under the cruel treatment and prolonged persecution they endured, we must reach the conclusion that their strength lay in their Covenanted union with the Lord Jesus Christ. Being thus united, the God's strength was theirs.
Their Covenant they cherished with holy awe; its sacredness lay heavy upon their hearts. It lifted the conscience up into the presence of God. His throne of judgment was continually flashing its brightness upon their eyes. A deep consciousness of God's presence, power, and approval, grew upon them. The dreadful majesty of God overawed them. The sacrificial love of Jesus Christ set their hearts on flames. The Bible to them was teeming with promises, shining with doctrines, and terrible with fiery warnings. They walked on the border line, being often times even more in the other world than in this. The glory of the Lord fell upon them, till some of them were compelled to cry out, "Withhold, Lord; it is enough." Their trials drove them into the arms of their Father; and, oh, how sweet it was to lie on His bosom when cold and hungry, weary and sobbing, amidst the sorrows of this world!
But was this the happy condition of many, or merely of a few, in those days of sad adversity? How with the 100,000 Covenanters while suffering in their homes, or roaming through the mountains, or hiding in the caves? We have a record of a few only, but we are persuaded that many others enjoyed an equal portion of the abounding love of Christ. The promise of God is ever sure: "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." Terrible days insure extraordinary strength. The Lord had a great harvest in those times, ministers and people, men and women, parents and children—a generation of honored worthies.
Samuel Rutherford was one of that mighty host. His life reveals the secret and source of the Covenanter's strength. He was a small man, not built to endure hardships. He was of a fair complexion, denoting gentleness and a tender heart. He was roughly tossed from his earliest years upon the billows of trouble. An invalid wife claimed his kindliest attention and received it with utmost care. The children were laid in short graves, one after another till only a little daughter remained. The persecutor drove him from home, and Church, and people, to live an exile in an unfriendly city. At the age of sixty-one, the wrath of King Charles fell upon him and his life was demanded, but God sheltered him from the gallows.
Through all these trials the heart of this little fair man, with shrill voice, rapid step, and quick eye, was ever an overflowing well of joy and praise. He seemed to live in the very heart of God, walked hand-in-hand with Jesus Christ, and was continually wrapped in the flames of holiest love. It is said that he rose at three in the morning to have five hours of prayer and study of the Word in preparation for the day's work. He seemed to be always among his flock, yet was he ever ready for the pulpit.
This minister, like his blessed Master, could be seen, early and late, "leaping upon the mountains, and skipping upon the hills," in his eagerness to visit his people who were scattered widely over the country.
As he walked, his head was erect and his face heavenward; his eyes were feasting on the glory above the sky. His musings cast him into transports of joy in Christ. His Covenant with God exalted his soul into sweetest familiarity with the Lord. The Holy Spirit came upon him in great power and with superabundance of gifts.
Rutherford, having a high-keyed voice, was a poor speaker; but that did not prevent him from holding multitudes spell-bound. They came from afar to hear him tell of the love of Christ. He gazed upon visions of Christ's loveliness, arose in raptures of joy as he discoursed on Christ's glory, and seemed at times as if he would fly out of the pulpit in his animation. He was so full of life, of power, of heaven, of glory, and of God, that his words and thoughts and teachings were pictures, revelations, inspirations, apocalypses, scenes in the eternal world, glimpses of the glory of Immanuel and Immanuel's land.
Here are some of his spiritual chromos as they took color and language from his soul:
"My one joy, next to the flower of my joys, Christ, was to preach my sweetest, sweetest Master, and the glory of His kingdom.
"I would beg lodging, for God's sake, in hell's hottest furnace, that I might rub souls with Christ.
"Were my blackness and Christ's beauty carded through other, His beauty and holiness would eat up my filthiness.
"Christ's honeycombs drop honey and floods of consolation upon my soul; my chains are gold."
When Rutherford was on his deathbed, his enemies sent for him to stand trial for treasonable conduct. His treasonable conduct was his fearless preaching of the Gospel and heralding the royal glory of Christ, which included severest denunciation of the king's arrogant claim of authority over the Church. He replied, "Tell them I have got a summons already before a Superior Judge, and I behoove to answer my first summons; and ere your day come, I will be where few kings and great folks come." As he lay dying, he opened his eyes, and his familiar vision of Christ and the world of glory breaking upon him with unclouded luster, he exclaimed: "Glory, glory in Immanuel's land." With this outburst of joy on his lips, he joined the white-robed throng to take up the heavenly song.
The same source of strength is yet available. Power comes through holy familiarity with God, personal relation to Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Are we full of power in the Lord's service?
* * * * *
POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. What event intensified the issue between the king and the Covenanters?
2. Wherein lay the moral strength of the Covenanters?
3. How did they show their love for the Church of Christ?
4. What aroused their jealousy for the Church?
5. How numerous were the Covenanters at this time?
6. Give the character of Rutherford as a typical Covenanter.
7. Quote some of his sayings.
8. Relate his triumphant death.
9. On what condition may we expect to be strong in the Lord?
EXPELLING THE MINISTERS.—A.D. 1662.
"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." In the martyrdom of Argyle and Guthrie blood of the best quality had been shed, and the most precious seed had been sown. Therefore the harvest will surely be great, the field will yield an hundredfold.
The fidelity of Argyle and of Guthrie, their devotion to Christ and the Covenant, reappeared in hundreds of noblemen and in hundreds of ministers all over Scotland. Overawe and subdue the Covenanters by sacrificing their prominent leaders? Their foes mistook their spirit and underestimated their strength, knowing little of the deathless principles of the Covenant that carried them into the service of the Lord, not counting their lives dear for Christ's sake. The Covenanters overawed! Will the sun faint and fail beneath the gale? Will the oak wither at the loss of a few boughs? Will veterans recoil at the first fire? Rather, will not the fighting spirit be roused?
At this time the Covenanters numbered about 1,000 ministers, and 100,000 communicants. They had 900 congregations. The ministers were not all staunch; the leaven of compromise had been working; half the number had become more or less infected. They had weakened in the Covenant and yielded to King Charles under his vicious administration. The political whirlpool in its outside circles was drawing them slowly yet surely toward its horrible vortex.
The sifting time had come for the Covenanters. God knows how to shake His sieve to clean the wheat. He seeks not bulk, but value. Numbers are nothing to Him; character is everything. He would rather have Gideon with 300 men up to the standard, than thirty regiments below it. He preferred one-tenth of Israel to the whole number, and sifted the nation in Nebuchadnezzar's sieve to get the good wheat separated from the inferior.
The Covenanted Church became loaded down with chaff, weevil, shrunken grains, and broken kernels—low grades of religious life—and the Lord shook the bad out of the Church by making it exceedingly painful and difficult to stay in. The way of faithfulness was filled with hardships. God made Covenant-keeping dangerous and expensive. The followers of Christ were compelled to take up the cross and carry it. If true to their Lord, they must go outside the camp, bearing His reproach. If they keep conscience pure, they must accept cruel mockings, scourging, imprisonment, banishment, and death. In this way would God separate unto himself a "peculiar people, zealous of good works." The others may be of use in degree, yet to prevent general defection and universal declension, God winnows the wheat.
But who were thrown out of the Presbyterian Church in the reign of Charles II.? Were they not the strong, unyielding, uncompromising Covenanters? Who are these separated from their brethren, and driven like chaff before the wind over mountains and moors? Are they not the zealous defenders of the Reformed faith? the true soldiers of Jesus Christ? To the casual eye the scrupulous, strong-headed, hard-fighting Covenanters were tossed out, and the rest remained at home to distribute the prey; the lax party had the organization and held the Church; the strict party suffered disintegration and were banished. But such a view is only superficial; yea, it is a visual illusion.
The Church of Christ depends not on external organization. She can live without assemblies, presbyteries, or sessions. She can enjoy the fullest measure of the love of Christ without chapels, masses, or glebes. She can have power and render service in any community, without ministers, elders, or deacons.
When the Covenanters were driven out by the persecutor, the Covenanted Church went forth into the wilderness, leaning upon the Lord Jesus Christ her Beloved. She brought with her all the essentials. She had the Bible, the Covenant, the faith, the sacraments, the Holy Spirit, the love of God, and the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. The valleys were her places of worship; her meeting houses were fitted up with stone seats, rock pulpits, granite walls, green carpets, and azure ceilings. A row of stones was her sacramental table, and the purling stream her baptismal bowl. The mountains round about were filled with angelic hosts, and the plains were covered with the manna of heaven; the banner of Christ's love waved over the worshipers, and the glory of God filled the place. Such was the Church of the Covenanters in the times of persecution.
The king and his advisers in 1662 required of the Covenanted Church what no faithful self-respecting Covenanter could render. The demands in substance were:
That the oath of allegiance, embodying the king's supremacy over Church and State, shall be taken.
That the ministers in preaching and praying shall not refer to public sins, whether committed by the king or his parliament.
That the administration of the Church shall be, to some extent, according to the Prelatic form.
That the edicts of the king and the enactments of parliament shall not be questioned, even in the light of God's Word.
That the ministers shall comply with these demands, or be banished from their respective homes, parishes, and presbyteries.
Such was the sieve that did the work. What loyal heart could brook these terms? What minister of Christ, bent on preserving honor and conscience, could remain in charge of his church? In comparison with the Covenant, all earthly inducements were as rotten straw, in the judgment of those whose eyes took in the world of glory and rested on the Lord.
Two hundred Covenanted ministers quietly accepted the penalty. On the last Sabbath of October, 1662, they preached their farewell sermons. The churches were crowded; the grief of the people was indescribable, heart-groans broke into loud lamentations. "There was never such a sad day in Scotland as when the poor persecuted ministers took their leave of their people." Two hundred more stood their ground and fought the battle a little longer. These were forcibly ejected. Thus that desolating blast smote four hundred congregations of Covenanters.
The minister with his wife and children departed in deep sorrow from the pleasant manse and the loving people. Tender ties were sundered and holy endearments sacrificed; the comforts of life were abandoned, and safety, shelter, and supplies left behind. The minister could have retained all had not his conscience been so tender. But the servant of the Lord may not be bribed. Offer the true minister of Jesus Christ money, comfort, pleasure, honor, houses, lands—all that the world can give to corrupt his conscience in his calling, and you will get a laugh of scorn that will freeze the blood.
The winter storms were descending upon the man of God and his unprotected family, as they walked across the glebe to return no more. They went out, not knowing where they were going. Night may fall upon them in a dreary place; to-morrow may come to them without a roof, or a table, or a fire. Winter may drive them into a cold cave, where possibly some good-hearted shepherdess may find them, and share with them her pail of milk and oaten cakes. Withal no complaints. They have taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods for the sake of Christ. By them the reproach of Christ was accounted better than the riches of Egypt.
Alexander Peden was one of the fighting ministers. He preached till forced to leave his pulpit. On the day of his farewell service the congregation was convulsed with grief. Peden had to restrain the wails of the people again and again. Coming down from the pulpit after service, he shut the pulpit door and struck it three times with his Bible, saying with great emphasis, "I charge thee, in my Master's name, that no man ever enter thee, but such as come in by the door as I have done." The pulpit kept the solemn charge; no one entered there till after the persecution; it remained empty twenty-six years.
Prelatic ministers were sent to fill the 400 vacant pulpits, but the people refused to hear them. The time of field-preaching had now come; the Conventicles in the mountains and moors became the order of the day.
The ministration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—that river of God which makes glad the city of the Lord—had now reached the precipitous places where it was broken upon the rocks; yet it continued to flow, and even increase in volume and strength. The preaching by these ministers in the desolate places was powerful, impetuous, majestic, thunder-like amid the mountains, making the kingdom tremble. Great trials make great men.
We live in an easy age. Ministers may now have pulpit and salary on easy terms. They can preserve a good conscience without special self-denial. No providential issue now to separate the false from the true. But the ease of conscience in the Church's ministry, and the easy terms of communion in her membership, may change God's gold and make it dim with dross, and thus necessitate a furnace. The Lord may suddenly spring an event upon His Church, that will compel the true to be very true, and the false to be very false. Where will we stand in case the trial come?
* * * * *
POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. What effect had the death of Argyle and Guthrie on the Covenanters?
2. How does God keep His Church pure?
3. Why is the sifting process needed?
4. Can the Church survive the loss of her external organization?
5. Describe the Covenanted Church in the mountains and moors of Scotland.
6. What did the king require of the ministers?
7. How did the Covenanters receive his restrictions?
8. How many pastors were driven from their churches?
9. What may again occasion a sifting time?
THE FIELD-MEETINGS.—A.D. 1663.
Middleton, the king's commissioner, had dictated to the Covenanted ministers how they should conduct their ministry. They boldly declined his authority over their work in the Gospel. He then laid down conditions upon which their pastoral relation must depend. These conditions have been stated in the foregoing chapter. They may be summed up in three brief sentences: Acknowledgement of the king's supremacy over the Church; Agreement to refrain from all public criticism of the king; Willingness to conduct public worship as the king directed.
Such were the terms on which the Covenanted ministers might continue their work. They were given one month to reach a decision. The conflict of interests that tried the famous 400 ministers none knew but God. Home, wife, children, salary, comfort, tender ties, future supplies, and the welfare of the congregation—oh, how much was involved in that decision! Can the husband, the father, the shepherd, the watchman arise and forsake all? Can he suspend the high calling, sunder the holy ties, abandon the field and flock, and go forth, not knowing whither he goeth? can flesh and blood endure the ordeal?
But look at the other side. Will the servant of the Lord take orders from man? Will the ambassador of God submit to be muzzled? Will a pastor of Christ's flock hold his position for what he finds in the flesh-pot? Will the preacher of righteousness connive at wickedness? Will the herald of Gospel liberty become a slave to vilest men? Such was the other outlook. Which way will the man of God take?
The Lord made the way of faithfulness hard to travel. Only they, who, like Caleb, followed the Lord wholly, could walk therein. To make this choice, the love of the Lord Jesus Christ had to arise in the heart and surge through all the veins, above love for wife, or children, or house, or lands, or brethren, or sisters, or self; and it must consume all these in the flames of its vehemence.
And the Lord made the wrong way, also, hard to travel; yea, impassable, except for those whose sin against light made them exceeding sinful. What more vile, degraded, contemptible, and criminal, than a minister of Christ, that is leased to an earthly power, purchased with things that perish, and controlled by designing men? In this manner would God separate the precious from the vile and put them far apart.
On November 1, 1662, three-fourths of the Covenanted ministers were brought to this valley of decision. The king's edict took effect upon those who had been settled within the past thirteen years; the others, for the time, were exempted. About 700, therefore, stood at the parting of the ways. Of this number about sixty per centum chose to suffer with Christ, that they might reign with him; the rest, being faint-hearted, abode by the stuff. All honor to the Church that could muster such a proportion of self-sacrificing, ministers! These men accepted the challenge and went forth, like soldiers, into the field of action, saying, "We will continue the conflict till we overcome, or hand it down in debate to posterity."
Four hundred ministers expelled from their congregations! four hundred churches left vacant! four hundred families rendered desolate! forty thousand of God's sheep, and as many lambs, left to wander in the wilderness without a shepherd! who can estimate the extent of such a calamity? who can reckon the sorrows, sufferings, and stupendous losses, public and private, caused by this iniquitous act of the king?
But the four hundred ministers were not silenced. Who can silence tongues of fire? They were scattered, but not conquered. They took shelter where it could be found—under friendly roofs, within dismal caves, under dripping moss-hags, in the open fields, and on mountain tops. They wandered over desolate moors and on lonely ridges. They suffered hunger, weariness, sickness, exposure. The rains of summer drenched them and the snows of winter stiffened them. They were clothed with plaids, shawls, and threadbare garments. They hastened from place to place to elude pursuers, and wherever they went they carried their Bibles. The Bible to them in their desolation was meat, drink, light, shelter, fellowship,—everything the soul could wish.
These men of God were devoted preachers, they loved to preach, had a passion for preaching. The Word of God that carried them into such excess of suffering was in their bones as fire, an unquenchable flame; and in their hearts as rising waters, an overflowing river. As Christ their Lord and Master preached in summer and in winter, in the house and in the field, to as many as came, so preached they to one soul, or to ten thousand.
The king sent detachments of his army over the country to compel the people, who had lost their pastors, to attend services under the ministers of the Episcopal Church. They refused. The new clergymen preached to empty pews in many of the Covenanted parishes. The Covenanters instinctively discovered the haunting places of their own ministers, and thither they repaired for their preaching. They traveled far that they might hear the precious Gospel, in its richness and fulness from consecrated lips. They were hungry for the Word of God and willingly incurred hardships and dangers to get a feast. These meetings at first were small; in time they developed into the great Conventicles at which thousands assembled to worship God.
A Conventicle Sabbath was a solemn day. The time and place having been fixed beforehand, the people were notified in a very private manner. A kind of wireless telegraphy seemed to have been operated by the Covenanters. The news spread and thousands came at the call. The place selected was usually in the depression of a lonely moor, or under the shelter of a desolate mountain; yet any spot was dangerous. The king had issued successive proclamations against the Conventicles, and his troops were constantly scouring the country in search of them.
The services were of necessity sensational. At the appointed time the people were on the ground. Many came a great distance, some of them traveling under the shades of night. From every direction they converged. Fathers and mothers with their sons and daughters were there. The young and the old were equally full of zeal, and the women were courageous as the men. On the way they would cannily scan the country from the hilltop, to see if the dreaded dragoons were in sight.
The hour for the service having arrived, the audience sat down upon the grass or on the rocks. The minister took his stand on a prominent spot. Sentinels occupied elevated points, from whence they could detect and report the approach of troops. The mountain extended its friendly shelter over the congregation. The sun shed its light upon them like the smile of their heavenly Father. The sky spread over them as the canopy of God's high throne. The winds swept through the bushes and over the heather with regaling freshness. This was God's sanctuary built without hands; here His people worshiped in spirit and in truth.
The minister from his granite pulpit would catch the inspiration. The waiting people, the earnest faces, the gleaming eyes, the solemn hour, the charming scenery, the occasion, the danger, the privilege, the responsibility, the presence of God, the nearness of heaven—how much here to awaken all that was noble, courageous, and overpowering in God's messenger! The fiery, pathetic, powerful eloquence, that echoed among those rocks and swept through the coves, was beyond the reporter's skill. Here heaven touched earth; eternity overlapped time; glory overspread the worshipers. These were days when that which is most sacred, awful, and sublime burdened men's souls. Here holy oratory distilled like dew, breathed like zephyrs, crashed like storms, leaped like devouring flames. The recorded sermons of these ministers are yet regarded as the very marrow of Christian literature.
Have we the zeal of these fathers for the house of our God? Are we carried to the place of worship at the appointed hour by our love for Jesus Christ? One glance at the enthusiasm of the Conventicle Covenanters would surely make the present generation blush.
* * * * *
POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. State the demands Commissioner Middleton made upon the Covenanted ministers.
2. How would such a demand agitate the mind?
3. How long had they to decide?
4. What proportion remained faithful under the trial?
5. In what way did these continue their ministry?
6. Describe a Conventicle service.
7. How will present zeal for Divine services compare with their zeal?
THE COVENANTERS' COMMUNION.—A.D. 1664.
The Lord Jesus Christ loves His Church with love that arises into flames. "I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy." The Church is His Bride, His well-beloved, His only one; He has bestowed His heart upon her.
The love of Jesus for His Church has ever been excessive in intensity. His blood was shed for her redemption. Love laid Him on the altar, where His life was consumed for her sake. It laid all Covenant blessings at her feet, placed the angelic hosts at her service, made the universe tributary to her welfare, opened heaven for her admission, prepared her throne at the right hand of God, and gave the eternal ages to her for service and enjoyment, in Jesus Christ her Lord. And this love has never abated; His voice resounds across the centuries, falling upon her ears in sweetest accents, saying, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love."
The Lord Jesus asks the Church for reciprocal love. It is His due; Christ is worthy; nothing less than vehement love will satisfy the Divine heart. The apostle, in dread of its subsidence, cries out, "Keep yourselves in the love of God." How readily the Church, in interest and zeal, becomes cold. Her spiritual pulse sinks till it is scarcely perceptible; the flames disappear, and the coals lie hidden in their own grey ashes.
With such conditions the Lord is vexed. He gently chides His inconstant Bride, saying, "Thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen; repent, and do the first works." Then in unwaning faithfulness He tenderly soliloquizes: "Behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her; and she shall sing as in the days of her youth." The Covenanted Church was now in the wilderness; the Lord had brought her hither, that He might woo her back to Himself, and revive her first love. Here He spake to her heart the words that rekindled the fires of her earliest and strongest devotion to the Covenant, that holy contract of her marriage to the Lord.
The loving fidelity of the 40,000 Covenanters, or more, who had been deprived of their ministers by King Charles, was severely tested. The Lord Jesus, in His crucial providence, was to them as a refiner's fire; their love was sorely tried in the terrible heat.
The first question that appealed to the heart was concerning comfort and convenience. Their churches were occupied by other ministers. There the people could have preaching, hear the Word, listen to prayers, sing Psalms, and receive baptism and the Lord's Supper. True, the services were spiced and ornamented with details, which the Covenanters disliked, because they were unscriptural. But could they not find hidden manna on the sand, and kernels of wheat in the chaff? Could they not get sufficient food in the new ministrations to sustain their souls? Could they not reach heaven by the new road as certainly as by the old? Such were the inquiries that appealed to their love of ease. These sturdy sons of the Covenant said, "NO." They said it, too, with emphasis like the lightning that strikes the oak. They said, "Public worship, not in all parts according to the Book of God, is corrupt; we will not participate in such services, for the Lord has said, 'Cursed be the deceiver, that sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing.'"
The second question was concerning the imminent dangers that attended their own services. Their meetings were held in distant places; in the lonely mountain, on the homeless moor, in the swampy moss, in the dark glen, among the rugged rocks, and in the dreary cave—just wherever they could find a place to worship God in peace. They had no roof for shelter, no walls to break the storm, no fires for heat. Attending these meetings involved travel, weariness, hunger, exposure, loss of sleep, shivering in the cold, every physical strain, besides the risk of life, liberty, and property, at the hands of the enemy. These heroic sons and daughters of the Covenant said, "We will go; if we perish, we perish; though He slay us, yet will we trust in Him." These Covenanters would not habituate themselves to sinful conditions, nor permit their conscience to be drugged with the love of ease. They had much of the spirit of Paul; they counted all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. They consulted not with flesh and blood; not even with their own flesh, which was often wasted with hunger, fatigue, and pain; nor with their own blood, which was frequently sprinkled on the heather and mingled with the mountain rill.
The Conventicles, held in these desolate resorts, were awe inspiring, especially the Communions. Many of the people journeyed at night toward the selected spot, for troops were overrunning the country to shoot them down, and day travel was extremely dangerous. They therefore followed their path in the light of the stars, or under the pale moon. They came from all directions, converged like streams at the place appointed, and spread out like an overflowing tide. Sometimes they numbered 5,000, and more. Men and women, young and old, came and sat down on the broad green, in quietness and with unwonted gravity. The men in their kilts, plaids, and caps; the women in shawls and plain clothes; the boys and girls beaming and bright, and dressed in their best—all gathered together, sitting down on the grass or on the rocks. What an inspiration to the minister, when opening his Bible he gazed upon the earnest faces and caught the gleam of those expectant eyes!
Saturday was Preparation day for the Communion. Preparation services sometimes lasted till sunset Several ministers were usually in attendance. At night the grave old elders would meet in clusters, under the shadow of a rock, or in a cave, or beside the murmuring brook, and spend hours in prayer. With the dawn of Sabbath the people were astir, and soon appeared again on the grounds. Then began the solemn services that lifted their souls into the heavens of joy, and brought them into the glorious presence of Jesus Christ.
We may receive an impression of the greatness of these occasions, from memorials yet to be seen on some of the sacred places where the Communions were held. Certain stones near the town of Irongrey remain as witnesses of these inspiring solemnities. The stones were evidently on the ground, as witnesses of the wonderful doings of God and His people, in the days of the Conventicles. Oh, that they could speak! This place is in the bosom of a mount. Here we find an open space, like unto an amphitheater, large enough to seat thousands. On this ground are two rows of stones each row high enough for a seat, and long enough to accommodate fifty persons. Between them, other stones stand upright, which evidently supported planks, on which the bread and wine were passed in front of the communicants. At a little distance are two other rows of similar construction. Here were accommodations for 200 at one table service. On one occasion, it is said, sixteen tables were served, the number of communicants on that day being no less than 3,000.
At one end of these four rows stands a small table of stone, from which, no doubt, the minister gave the bread and wine to the people. Here he made the table addresses, that were so sweet and refreshing to these weary souls. What solemn days these must have been. Hungry hearts found a feast in the desert. The wells of salvation overflowed; the palm trees of sacred ordinances shed their sweet fragrance, spread forth their shade, yielded their fruit, for these followers of the Lamb. The presence of the Lord was deeply felt. These Covenanters worshiped here in spirit and in truth. Their prayers ascended on the wings of the winds; the sound of the Psalms mingled with the song of the birds and the chant of the brooks. The eloquence of the preacher—now rising like the storm, now falling like a spring shower—now consoling the sad, now arousing the strong—now exhibiting the loveliness of Jesus, now depicting the woes of the lost—in its ever-varying notes of tenderness and power, echoed along the hillside, and died away in the distance. Some of these sermons are yet in print.
These have been regarded, by certain writers, as the greatest days of the Church since the times of the apostles. How bright and refreshing the sunshine that poured down from the spiritual heavens upon these Covenanters! The desert rejoiced and blossomed as the rose. Heaven was very near. One who survived the persecution said, that if he had any part of his life to live over again, he would choose these years.
* * * * *
POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. How should the Church respond to the love of Christ?
2. In what way does her love often fail?
3. How does Jesus reprove His people for growing feeble in love?
4. How has He sometimes undertaken to revive His Church's fidelity?
5. What two questions did the Covenanters face in attending Conventicle services?
6. Describe a Conventicle Communion.
7. What memorials are found at Irongrey?
8. How may we have the same rapturous joy at communions now?
THE HOME INVADED.—A.D. 1665.
Home, by Divine appointment, is a haven of rest for the weary father, a palace of honor for the virtuous mother, a citadel of defence for the helpless children. How sacred, pleasant, and ennobling is the Christian home, when modeled after the Divine pattern! It is a little paradise, a miniature heaven, a vestibule of the everlasting habitation; it fronts on the borders of the glory-world.
The home of the Covenanters in those days was mostly the abode of virtue and intelligence, of comfort in the Holy Spirit and abundant grace in the Lord Jesus Christ. The knowledge of God was the light in which the household dwelt. The language of the Shorter Catechism was the mother tongue; the children were dieted on Psalms and porridge; the family altar was indispensable; the Holy Bible was appreciated more than bread, and King David's poetry more than roast lamb. The father's prayer at the hearthstone was vital to the household as the breath of their nostrils; morning and evening the voice of parents and children mingled together in the worship of God.
To the family that kept Covenant with God the Sabbath came with peculiar loveliness and inspiration. On Saturday evening special preparation was made for the coming of the Lord's Day; even the turf was piled beside the fire, the potatoes were washed and in the pot, and the water carried from the spring; "the works of necessity and mercy" were reduced to a minimum. A solemn hush fell upon the fields, and a heavenly light gleamed upon the house, as the sun ascended the sky. The noise of labor had ceased, and the human voice was suppressed. The notes of a plover, or the bleating of a lamb, or the lowing of a cow, might be heard making the quietness all the more impressive. The morning came pouring out blessings upon the people, like Christ Jesus on the Mount of Beatitudes, filling every open heart with sweetness, holiness, and inspiration. The blessed morning came to lead the father and mother, with their sons and daughters, up into the mountain of God's House, to stand in the presence of the Lord of glory, and absorb the brightness that would shine in their faces for many days to come. The Sabbath was the great day of the week in the Covenanter's home.
Let us get a glimpse of these homes of the Covenanters, as they suffered when the storms of persecution swept the land. But will not the dwelling-place of the righteous be protected from harm? Will not the Lord, in His glorious presence, hover over them as a cloud by day and as a flaming fire by night? Hath He not said, "Upon all the glory shall be a defence?" Shall the cruel persecutor then have power to tread on that sacred threshold? May the ruthless slayer enter this little sanctuary, where God and His children dwell together in mutual and unquenchable love? Will the wicked be permitted to draw the sword, and quench the coals on the hearth, and the fire on the altar, with the blood of the worshipers? The answer is found in the story of the sufferings of the Covenanters.
God had now begun judgment at His own House. He was testing the fidelity of His people. The test must touch every point, cover every relation, and reach the degree of suffering that satisfies His mysterious will. God cares much, even for houses, fields, harvests, garners, comforts, conveniences, earthly ties—He cares much for all these as they affect His people. He cares infinitely more, however, for their moral cleanness, spiritual growth, untarnished fidelity, unconquerable faith, and everlasting honor. Therefore He permits the furnace to be heated, and sometimes heated sevenfold; yet He brings them out of the flames without the smell of fire on their garments.
The persecutors, heartless as the rocks and frigid as the iceberg, had equal disregard for the rights of men, the delicacy of women, and the innocency of children. A few incidents will show the general conditions. Nor are these exceptional cases; thousands, yea, tens of thousands suffered in like manner.
A Home at Lochgoin. This is a very ancient residence of the Covenanters. The Howies have lived here since 1178, the twenty-eighth generation now occupying the house. The building is stone, one story high, with a loft. While the persecution raged, this was a chief resort of the Covenanters. Occupying a solitary place, with a vast out-stretch of waste moorland on every side, this house was like the shadow of a great rock in a weary land: the pursued often found shelter under its roof. Hither Peden, Cameron, Renwick, Paton, and many others repaired, and found a cordial welcome. On one occasion a group had come to spend the night in prayer. They felt comparatively secure, because a storm was raging over the moor. The clouds were pouring down torrents, and the fitful gusts were playing wildly across the broad expanse of moss and heather. These men of God knew how to wrestle with the Angel of the Covenant, and betimes continued their prayers till the break of day. The pursuers had scented their game; in the morning a detachment of cavalry rode up to the house. The Covenanters escaped through the back door. To give them more time, Mrs. Howie stood in front of the soldiers, and disputed their entrance into the house. A burly dragoon attempted to push in. She grappled him by the shoulder, whirled him about, and shoved him out with such force that he fell to the ground. Her Covenanted guests all escaped, and the soldiers, after a fruitless pursuit, withdrew. For this heroic service Mrs. Howie suffered much and her life was sought. Often she had to leave her home, and spend whole nights in the cold, damp moor, with a tender babe on her breast.
A Home near Muirkirk. James Glendinning was a shepherd whose humble cottage escaped not the notice of the persecutor. Knowing the danger that enshrouded his home, he arose one evening from his knees after family worship, and, walking softly across the floor, uncovered the cradle and gently lifted the babe, which he tenderly placed on the mother's knee, saying, "I commit you, my dear wife, and this sweet babe to the fatherly care of the Great Shepherd of Israel. If my days be cut short, God, the God under whose shadow we have taken refuge, will be to you a Husband, and to this child a Father." Not long after this, the home was beset by a company of soldiers. That very night his wife had constrained him to retire to his hiding-place near by. The soldiers rudely rushed into the house, expecting to pounce upon him as their prey. Not finding him they were enraged. Seizing the infant, they held the struggling form up in the face of the frantic mother, and, flashing a glittering sword, threatened to cut it into pieces, if she did not reveal the hiding-place of her husband. At that moment the father, who had been attracted to the door, seeing the manoeuvres, rushed in. His soul was on fire; he was just then strong as ten men; he feared not consequences. "Hold, ye murderers! Back! back!" cried he, waving his sword in their faces. He sprang toward his babe and rescued it, while he used his sword with telling effect upon the intruders. The soldiers retreated, leaving the floor sprinkled with their blood. The family soon afterward removed to Holland.
A Home near Closeburn. James Nivison was a farmer whose hospitable home afforded comfort and shelter to many who were houseless. He was an unbending Covenanter. Nothing could daunt his noble soul. Being threatened with trouble and loss, he once replied, that if the turning of a straw, in obedience to unprincipled and arbitrary rulers, would save him from harm, he would not comply. His wife was of equal heroism. His home was so often beset by soldiers in search of him, that he had to retire to the solitudes. He one day said to his wife, "My dear wife, stern necessity demands our temporary separation. God will be with us both—you at the home, and me in the wilderness." "I will accompany you," she firmly replied; "I will accompany you. If the archers hit you, I will be there to staunch your wounds and to bind up your bleeding head. In whatever danger you may be, I will be at your side, your affectionate wife, in life or in death." They went out together. Sadly they closed the door of their pleasant home, to wander, not knowing where. The mother carried a tender little babe in her bosom. Their first retreat was found in the woods, then in different caves. They made a basket of twigs for the infant. The mother, sitting in the mouth of the cold cavern, would rock her little darling, and sing the soft lullabies that mingled with the sighing of the winds. They survived the persecution.
Sweet home! The Covenanted home is but an annex of heaven. Home is God's institution, endowed by Him with the wealth of infinite grace, furnished with holy ordinances, and consecrated with the blood of Christ. Do we appreciate the value, the dignity, and the advantage of a Covenanted home? Do we keep the home bright, cheerful, and inspiring, by worshiping our Covenant God, and honoring the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ?
* * * * *
POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. Describe a Covenanted home of the olden time.
2. What distresses fell upon these homes?
3. Can we account for these afflictive providences?
4. What is the explanation?
5. Give an incident at Lochgoin; Muirkirk; Closeburn.
6. How should a Covenanted home be appreciated?
THE BATTLE OF RULLION GREEN.—A.D. 1666.
A young Covenanter once stood on the battlefield of Rullion Green, pensively pondering over the battle and the heroes whose blood had watered this soil. Two centuries and more had fled since the engagement, yet the field appealed to the responsive heart with powerful eloquence. The beautiful slope, the verdant pasture, the grazing flocks, the broad valley, the distant hills, the expansive sky, the summer charms—all blended into a strange enchantment around the young man's soul. The quiet meditation quickened the heart; the heart aroused the imagination; the imagination revived the scenes of November 28, 1666, by which this field was made memorable in the struggle of the Covenanters for civil and religious liberty. He was deeply impressed with the value of the Covenant, which was sealed with the blood of the noble warriors who sleep on this hillside. There he vowed, that if God would ever give him a home of his own, the home would be called RULLION GREEN. God gave him a home; a beautiful residence, adorned with this name, graces the city of Airdrie to-day.
The battle of Rullion Green had its cause many days previous to the actual engagement. We will get the better view by following the chain of events.
Four years before this, to the very month, four hundred ministers had been expelled from their churches, because they would not forsake their Covenant, renounce Presbyterianism, and follow the instructions of King Charles and his Council, in the administration of God's House.
The Covenanted people, deeply in sympathy with their ministers, refused to wait on the preaching of the curates—the ministers of the Episcopal Church sent by the authority of the king to supply the vacant pulpits.
A series of proclamations was then issued to bring the Covenanters into subjection, each proclamation being severer than the one preceding.
The people were enjoined to attend their own parish church, warned against going to the Conventicles, and threatened with fines, imprisonment, and exile for frequenting what the king termed "unwarrantable preaching."
To enforce the royal will and overawe the Covenanters, troops were stationed among the people and commissioned to plunder and kill the disobedient at will.
The sufferings of the Covenanters, at the hands of the soldiers, were indescribable. Their homes were invaded; their property was confiscated; their flocks and herds were driven off; their families were broken up; the aged and delicate, the women and children—all who would not yield to their demands endured personal violence. The country groaned and staggered under the cruelty authorized by King Charles, and practiced by his agents.
Conditions became desperate; the wise were driven mad; patience ceased to be a virtue; endurance was at the point of conflagration. Thousands had to flee and keep in hiding, to escape personal harm and even the shedding of their blood.
At this juncture of events, four young Covenanters, fleeing from place to place for safety, came to a dwelling, where they found four dragoons preparing to roast an old man on a gridiron, to extract information concerning his money. The sight shocked every noble feeling; their manhood was aroused, and their courage was greater than their prudence. They challenged the conduct of the soldiers, and were answered with drawn swords. The Covenanters came off best. They rescued the aged victim, disarmed the soldiers, and marched them off at the point of their own sabers. In the fight one of the Covenanters fired a pistol, wounding a dragoon. That was "the shot that echoed around the world," and re-echoed, till it resounded over the green valley of the Boyne, among the rocks of Bunker Hill, and along the banks of the Appomattox.
The Covenanters knew that they had now precipitated a conflict, that would call armies into the field. The king's measures have hitherto been severe, but now the furnace will be heated seven fold. The Covenanters must now meet force with force, or be utterly crushed. They attempted to raise an army. Next morning, the four men were increased to ten, and a second encounter resulted in the capture of a detachment of the king's regulars, with one dead. The second day volunteers swelled the number to 250; the prospects were growing bright. Another engagement resulted in the surrender of Sir James Turner, the local commander of the royal forces. Thus far the operations greatly encouraged the Covenanters; they now hoped to be able to redress their grievances, and compel the king to withdraw his army, thus bringing the horrors of those times to an end.
King Charles hastily prepared to meet the new conditions. He termed the uprising, "A formidable insurrection." He massed his troops to crush "the rebels." The Covenanters spent their time moving from one town to another to increase their forces. Colonel James Wallace, a brave officer of considerable military experience, was chosen commander. The recruits were not numerous. They were also without discipline, and inefficiently armed, carrying muskets, pistols, swords, pikes, scythes, pitchforks, and flails.
At Lanark they remained a day, renewing their Covenant and issuing a Public Declaration, stating that the object of their appeal to arms was the redress of their grievances. The next day they manoeuvred, coming in contact with detachments of the enemy. The weather was unfavorable; rain, snow, sleet, and wind united in drenching, chilling, and depressing the unsheltered and underfed men, and turning the roads, over which they marched, into deep mire. When the morning of the 28th arrived, the day of the battle, Colonel Wallace had only 900 men at his command.
The Covenanters were moving around the foot of the Pentland hills, a few miles from Edinburgh, when General Dalziel, with 3000 of the king's troops, emerged from a pass behind them, and offered battle. Wallace accepted the challenge. He formed his men for action on the hillside, having the advantage of the higher ground. The gentle slope extended down to the spot where Dalziel's war-horse was pawing the ground. The sun was sinking behind the hills. The day was cold and the country was covered with sleet.
Dalziel ordered an attack by his cavalry. The horsemen formed, each with blade in hand, and moved rapidly up the rising ground. Colonel Wallace immediately placed his mounted men in readiness to receive them. The space between the armies was about half a mile. The Covenanters grimly watched their approach. The waiting moments were burdened with awe, but the Covenanters knew how to turn awful moments into power. They carried the Psalms in their hearts. Some one began to sing. The Psalm was pensive and the tune solemn. All hearts were responsive; from 900 voices a wave of sacred music rolled up the mountain-side against the heavens. The very sentiment seemed to be the stirring of hearts, that were consciously entering into a forlorn battle:
"O God, why hast Thou cast us off? Is it for evermore? Against Thy pasture-sheep why doth Thine anger smoke so sore?"
They sang three stanzas. While the echoes were dying away, the brave Colonel ordered a charge. Adown the field his horsemen dashed. They struck the enemy with terrific force, broke their ranks, and hurled them back upon their own base.
Dalziel ordered another charge. The troops plunge forward to retrieve their lost honor. Over the blood-stained snow they gallop; nearer and nearer they approach the stern line awaiting them on the hillside. Wallace gives the word, and the Covenanters again strike the gleaming column with clash of swords, once more rolling it back upon itself in confusion.
A third time the cavalry charged up the hill, and a third time the Covenanters hurled them back. Dalziel at last moved his entire force forward, which, like a tidal wave, carried all before it. The Covenanters were swept from the field leaving 50 dead. The battle was lost, but not the cause. These heroes fought well. The defeat was certain, in their own minds, even before a shot was fired; but believing that the cause of liberty now demanded a sacrifice, they freely offered up themselves on the altar.
Rullion Green! How euphonic the name! What music in the words! What clustering memories to awaken all that is heroic and ennobling in our hearts! De we appreciate the fruits of the fields, fertilized with the blood of the fathers? Are we loyal as they were to the Covenants? Do our lives arise into the heroic spirit, and take on the moral grandeur exhibited by them?
* * * * *
POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. What led to the battle of Rullion Green?
2. Who commanded on each side?
3. What was the respective strength of the forces?
4. Where was the engagement fought?
5. Describe the battle. How did it issue?
6. For what were the Covenanters contending?
7. What fruits of their sufferings do we now enjoy?
THE OPPRESSOR'S REVENGE.—A.D. 1667.
The sun was sinking behind the Pentland hills, when the last assault was made upon the Covenanters at the battle of Rullion Green. They, being driven from the field, were pursued without mercy till night kindly threw its shadow over the scene of carnage. About 30 were slaughtered in the flight, and 50 taken prisoners; many of these were speedily executed.
The stars timidly arose and shed their pale light over the crimsoned field. The night was bitterly cold. The dead lay scattered over the frosted ground, and the air was burdened with the groans of the dying. All had been barbarously stripped of their clothing by the ruthless conquerors. The blood of the dying was chilled in their veins, ere it oozed from their wounds and froze upon the ground. The tender-hearted women of Edinburgh came the next day, with clothes for the living and winding sheets for the dead. An upright stone, two feet by three, marks the place where these soldiers of Christ, in number about 50, calmly sleep, awaiting the resurrection of the just. Beautiful fir trees swaying their soft branches over the grave seem to be singing the dirge of the fallen heroes.
Heroes! This was a forlorn battle. The battle that must be lost, that other battles may be won, demands heroes of the noblest type; and here were the men. They were willing to fight in the presence of defeat. Listen to their resolution just before the battle: "We will follow on, till God shall do His service by us; and though we should all die at the end of it, we think the giving of a testimony enough for all."
The little army of the Covenanters, broken and bleeding, was now scattered upon the mountains and completely disorganized. One of these men, wandering alone, came to a cottage at midnight. He was bleeding, hungry, weary, utterly exhausted, ready to die. He asked for food and shelter. The pitiful request was denied, for such kindness, if the authorities were informed, would endanger the family; and the penalty might be expulsion, imprisonment, or death. No cup of cold water for this thirsty soul; no spark of charity to warm this shivering child of the Covenant. Feeling the chill of death already creeping through his veins, he touchingly said, "If you find me dead in the morning, bury me on the hillside, looking toward my home beyond the valley." In the morning he was found dead, under an oak beside the house. He was buried as he had requested. A stone, with an interesting inscription, marks the grave.
After this battle the Covenanters were subjected to a period of horrors that exhaust description. This brief warlike demonstration was by the government called "The Pentland Rising." The men who had placed themselves under Colonel Wallace, for the redress of their wrongs, had come from the adjacent counties. General Dalziel was immediately sent with an army to punish the people of these districts. Here we must draw a veil and cover the more shocking barbarities and hideous indignities; the unmentionable crimes practiced upon these Covenanters, who already had suffered beyond the limit of patience; upon the men, women, and children who were as inoffensive, as they were helpless, beneath the monstrous tyranny of King Charles and his brutal soldiers.
The story of pillage may be painted in flames; the story of revenge may be recorded in vitriol; the story of carnage may be written in blood; but the story of the horrors that befell the Covenanted families, especially the delicate and helpless members of the household, must not be told. The manner in which fathers, husbands, and brothers stood and died on the door-step in defence of mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters may be related; but the inhumanity that followed must not be mentioned. Purity shudders at the horror; the heart sickens at the thought; the eyes instinctively turn away.
General Dalziel quartered his army upon the Covenanters, sent troops in all directions to raid the country, disinherited those who were engaged in the "Uprising", subjected to arrest all who were suspected, and reduced the people to extremest poverty. The soldiers lived in the homes of the Covenanters, compelled the family to provide boarding, and proudly tyrannized over the household. They devoured, or destroyed the crops; slaughtered, or drove off the flocks and herds; tortured, imprisoned, and shot the people according to their pleasure. The prisons were overcrowded with old and young, men and women, the sickly and the dying.
Three men under the king were chiefly responsible for these atrocities, and all three were reprobate Covenanters. Their names can be mentioned only with abhorrence and detestation; the Earl of Lauderdale, the Earl of Rothes, and Archbishop Sharp. Lauderdale, formerly known as John Maitland, one of the Scotch Commissioners at the Westminster Assembly, shined in that bright galaxy as a morning star; but like Lucifer, son of the morning, he fell from the glory-crested height. Rothes was the son of the Earl of Rothes, celebrated for his active part in the Covenant of 1638. Archbishop Sharp was a Covenanted minister, previous to the restoration of King Charles. Such were the chief actors in these scenes of infernal cruelty practiced upon the Covenanters. Surely they could not have been so atrociously wicked, had they not been previously exalted to heaven in privilege and by profession. Satan could not have been the devil, had he not first been an angel.
Some prisoners taken at Rullion Green were, after their execution, utilized by the government, for the intimidation of the Covenanters. Their heads were set up in public places in various cities, as a gruesome warning to all others. These men, when on the way to Rullion Green, had paused at Lanark to renew their Covenant. There they lifted up the right hand to heaven, making their appeal to God. Now those right hands are cut off and set up on spikes over the gates of the city—a grim admonition to the living.
Some of the prisoners were reserved for the slower process of law, and the severer operations of cruelty. John Neilson became conspicuous through the tortures he endured, the noble spirit he displayed, and the death by which he glorified God. He was a man renowned for his wealth, as well as for great-heartedness. The preceding year Sir James Turner, when commanding the king's troops, despoiled him of his property; yet when that lawless officer had been taken prisoner by the Covenanters, Neilson pleaded for him and saved his life. Now Neilson is in his hands. Will the kindness be returned? Ah, kindness returned! Rather feel for a pulse in the cold granite or look upon the white marble for a loving smile.
The Court questioned Neilson, but his answers were not satisfactory. They tortured him, but could extract nothing further. They thrust one of his legs into an iron boot, and crushed it with a wedge, driven between the flesh and the iron; yet nothing but groans were extorted from him. Filled with wrath, because a confession involving others could not be elicited, they passed the death sentence on him. He went cheerfully to the scaffold.
Hugh M'Kail, a young minister of Jesus Christ, was another victim. He was a man mighty in the Scriptures and full of the Holy Spirit. His lips were touched with a live coal from the altar of God, his eloquence was seraphic. In one of his impassionate outbursts he had said, "The Church in all ages has been persecuted by a Pharaoh on the throne, a Haman in the state, and a Judas in the Church." Archbishop Sharp heard of the terse statement. The lightning had struck the mark. Sharp appropriated the caricature, and saw Judas personified in his own character. He never forgave the young minister.
M'Kail was put on trial for his connection with the Pentland Rising. He candidly confessed his part in the insurrection. The Court then demanded information concerning the leaders; he had none to impart. They then tortured him with the iron boot; the only response was groans. He swooned in the dreadful agony.
This noble young minister was sentenced to die. He received the sentence with serene happiness. When on the scaffold, he was filled with unutterable joy; his victory over fear and death was complete; his soul was clothed with immortal bliss. His highest hopes were now turning into realizations that were ten thousand times brighter and more glorious than his most sanguine expectations. The Lord Jesus was at his side; the heavens were opening to receive him; in a few moments his face would shine in the light that dazzled angels, and his voice would mingle in the chorus of the redeemed round about the throne. What wonder that he poured forth the ecstasy of a transfigured soul in these his last words: "Welcome, God and Father; welcome, sweet Jesus, the Mediator of the new Covenant; welcome, blessed Spirit of grace, and God of all consolation; welcome, glory; welcome, eternal life; welcome, death. O Lord, into Thy hands I commit my spirit; for Thou hast redeemed my soul, Lord God of truth."
These were the winter days of the Church. But the winter was like summer in fruitfulness. How nobly did she endure the inclement season and produce fruit of excellent quality! We are enjoying the summer time of peace and comfort, of privileges and advantages. How much more abundant should be our labors of love than even theirs, in the Lord Jesus Christ! A comparison, we fear, would put us to great disadvantage, perhaps to shame.
* * * * *
POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. What cruelties practiced on the Covenanters on Rullion Green field?
2. Describe the wounded Covenanter seeking shelter.
3. What horrors followed the battle?
4. What atrocities committed by Gen. Dalziel's troops?
5. What three men were in great part responsible for the cruelties?
6. Describe the sufferings of John Neilson.
7. Relate the sufferings of Hugh McKail.
8. How did he meet his death?
9. What special advantages have we for serving God?
INDULGENCE, THE SIX-FOLD SNARE.—A.D. 1665.
The Covenanters, after the Pentland Rising, were placed under martial law. Every district was garrisoned and overrun with troops. The military, having been empowered to plunder, pillage, and punish at their caprice, did not hesitate to shoot down innocent people without trial, leaving them weltering in their own blood. King Charles accounted the Covenanters rebels to be subdued with fire and sword. He was determined upon their subjection, or destruction. "Better," said one in his service, "that the land bear whins than whigs." The Covenanters were called whigs; the whins were worthless bushes.
The Covenanters rebels! Be it remembered that Scotland was under a Constitutional government, and the Constitution was embodied in the Covenant. Also, the king and the people had accepted the Covenant on oath. Yet in the face of all this, King Charles attempted to rescind the Covenant, destroy the Constitution, and assume absolute power. Ah, was not Charles the rebel? Was not he the traitor, the revolutionist, the autocrat who attempted to turn things upside down? The Covenanters were the Old Guard, who stood for law, justice, government, and constitutional rights, on the accepted basis—God's law and Covenant. Nor did the Old Guard ever yield the field; they occupy it yet.
True, the Covenanters did decline the king's authority in certain particulars! But were they not justifiable? A glance at the situation will solve the question.
The king, having expelled the Covenanted ministers, substituted others of his own choice. The Covenanters refused to hear them.
The king restricted the Covenanters to their own parishes in public worship. They went where they pleased.
The king forbade marriages or baptisms, except by Episcopal ministers. The Covenanters went to their own ministers for these services.
The king ordered them to observe the Episcopal form of worship. They believed this to be unscriptural, and refused.
The king commanded the people to deliver up their ministers to the authorities for punishment. This they would in no wise do.
The Covenanters rebels, because they declined the king's authority in matters like these? How could they have done otherwise? Two courses lay before them; resist the tyrant's will, or submit as his slaves. Blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave them light, strength, courage, and victory. These fathers of the Covenant chose to suffer and be free; to endure the king's wrath and keep a pure conscience; to disdain every suggestion of compromise and continue the conflict. The invitation to come down, and consult on the plains of Ono, was answered by its own echo—O, no.
The Covenanters, like the Israelites, flourished while in this great tribulation. They were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. The more they were afflicted, the more they multiplied and grew. Their ministers were numbered by hundreds; the people, who assembled in Conventicles, by tens of thousands. Oppression could not crush them; the furnace, though heated seven times more than it was wont, could not singe their garments. Their adversaries became alarmed and began to devise other measures. Their device was diabolical wisdom. Satan, having had more than three thousand years since he failed on Israel in Egypt, was now better up to his work. The king proposed to indulge the ministers. The royal indulgence was surely a product of the bottomless pit. The snare was laid six times and caught many unwary souls.