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Book of Scottish Story
The Baptism


by Professor Wilson

It is a pleasant and impressive time, when, at the close of divine service, in some small country church, there takes place the gentle stir and preparation for a baptism. A sudden air of cheerfulness spreads over the whole congregation; the more solemn expression of all countenances fades away; and it is at once felt that a rite is about to be performed which, although of a sacred and awful kind, is yet connected with a thousand delightful associations of purity, beauty, and innocence. Then there is an eager bending of smiling faces over the humble galleries—an unconscious rising up in affectionate curiosity—and a slight murmuring sound, in which is no violation of the Sabbath sanctity of God’s house, when, in the middle passage of the church, the party of women is seen, matrons and maids, who bear in their bosoms, or in their arms, the helpless beings about to be made members of the Christian communion.

There sit, all dressed becomingly in white, the fond and happy baptismal group. The babies have been intrusted, for a precious hour, to the bosoms of young maidens, who tenderly fold them to their yearning hearts, and with endearments taught by nature, are stilling, not always successfully, their plaintive cries. Then the proud and delighted girls rise up, one after the other, in sight of the whole congregation, and hold up the infants, arrayed in neat caps and long flowing linen, into their fathers’ hands. For the poorest of the poor, if he has a heart at all, will have his infant well dressed on such a day, even although it should scant his meal for weeks to come, and force him to spare fuel to his winter fire.

And now the fathers were all standing below the pulpit, with grave and thoughtful faces. Each has tenderly taken his infant into his toil-hardened hands, and supports it in gentle and steadfast affection. They are all the children of poverty, and if they live, are destined to a life of toil. But now poverty puts on its most pleasant aspect, for it is beheld standing before the altar, of religion with contentment and faith. This is a time when the better and deeper nature of every man must rise up within him, and when he must feel, more especially, that he is a spiritual and immortal being making covenant with God. He is about to take upon himself a holy charge ; to promise to look after his child’s immortal soul ; and to keep its little feet from the paths of evil, and in those of innocence and peace. Such a thought elevates the lowest mind above itself, diffuses additional tenderness over the domestic relations, and makes them who hold up their infants to the baptismal font, better fathers, husbands, and sons, by the deeper insight which they then possess into their nature and their life.

The minister consecrates the water ; and, as it falls on his infant’s face, the father feels the great oath in his soul. As the poor helpless creature is wailing in his arms, he thinks how needful indeed to human infancy is the love of Providence ! And when, after delivering each his child into the arms of the smiling maiden from whom he had received it, he again takes his place for admonition and advice before the pulpit, his mind is well disposed to think on the perfect beauty of that religion of which the Divine Founder said, " Suffer little children to be brought unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven!”

The rite of baptism had not thus been performed for several months in the kirk of Lanark. It was now the hottest time of persecution; and the inhabitants of that parish found other places in which to worship God and celebrate the ordinances of religion. It was now the Sabbath-day, and a small congregation of about a hundred souls had met for divine service in a place of worship more magnificent than any temple that human hands had ever built to Deity. Here, too, were three children about to be baptised. The congregation had not assembled to the toll of the bell, but each heart knew the hour and observed it; for there are a hundred sun-dials among the hills, woods, moors, and fields, and the shepherd and the peasant see the hours passing by them in sunshine and shadow.

The church in which they were assembled was hewn by God’s hand out of the eternal rocks. A river rolled its way through a mighty chasm of cliffs, several hundred feet high, of which the one side presented enormous masses, and the other corresponding recesses, as if the great stone girdle had been rent by a convulsion. The channel was overspread with prodigious fragments of rock or large loose stones, some of them smooth and bare, others containing soil and verdure in their rents and fissures, and here and there crowned with shrubs and trees. The eye could at once command a long stretching vista, seemingly closed and shut up at both extremities by the coalescing cliffs. This majestic reach of river contained pools, streams, rushing shelves, and waterfalls innumerable; and when the water was low, which it now was in the common drought, it was easy to walk up this scene, with the calm blue sky overhead, an utter and sublime solitude. On looking up, the soul was bowed down by the feeling of that prodigious height of unscaleable and often overhanging cliff. Between the channel and the summit of the far-extended precipices were perpetually flying rooks and wood-pigeons, and now and then a hawk, filling the profound abyss with their wild cawing, deep murmur, or shrilly shriek. Sometimes a heron would stand erect and still on some little stone island, or rise up like a white cloud along the black wall of the chasm and disappear. Winged creatures alone could inhabit this region. The fox and wild-cat chose more accessible haunts. Yet there came the persecuted Christians and worshipped God, whose hand hung over their heads those magnificent pillars and arches, scooped out those galleries from the solid rock, and laid at their feet the calm water in. its transparent beauty, in which they could see themselves sitting in reflected groups, with their Bibles in their hands.

Here, upon a semicircular ledge of rocks, over a narrow chasm, of which the tiny stream played in a murmuring waterfall, and divided the congregation into two equal parts, sat about a hundred persons, all devoutly listening to their minister, who stood. before them on what might well be called a small natural pulpit of living stone. Up to it there led a short flight of steps, and over it waved the canopy of a tall graceful birch-tree. This pulpit stood in the middle of the channel, directly facing that congregation, and separated from them by the clear deep sparkling pool into which the scarce-heard water poured over the blackened rock. The water, as it left the pool, separated into two streams, and flowed on each side of that altar, thus placing it on an island, whose large mossy stones were richly embowered under the golden blossoms and green tresses of the broom. Divine service was closed, and a row of maidens, all clothed in purest white, came gliding off from the congregation, and crossing the stream on some stepping-stones, arranged themselves at the foot of the pulpit, with the infants about to be baptised. The fathers of the infants, just as if they had been in their own kirk, had been sitting there during worship, and now stood up before the minister. The baptismal water, taken from the pellucid pool, was lying consecrated in a small hollow of one of the upright stones that formed one side or pillar of the pulpit, and the holy rite proceeded. Some of the younger ones in that semicircle kept gazing down into the pool in which the whole scene was reflected, and now and then, in spite of thegrave looks or admonishing whispers of their elders, letting a pebble fall into the water, that they might judge of its depth from the length of time that elapsed before the clear air-bells lay sparkling on the agitated surface. The rite was over, and the religious services of the day closed by a psalm. The mighty rocks hemmed in the holy sound, and sent it in a more compacted volume, clear, sweet, and strong, up to heaven. When the psalm ceased, an echo, like a spirit’s voice, was heard dying away up among the magnincent architecture of the cliffs, and once more might be noticed in the silence the reviving voice of the waterfall.

Just then a large stone fell from the top of the cliff into the pool, a loud voice was heard, and a plaid hung over on the point of a shepherd's staff. Their watchful sentinel had descried danger, and this was his warning. Forthwith the congregation rose. There were paths dangerous to unpractised feet, along the ledges of the rocks, leading up to several caves and places of concealment. The more active and young assisted the elder, more especially the old pastor, and the women with the infants; and many minutes had not elapsed, till not a living creature was visible in the channel of the stream, but all of them hidden, or nearly so, in the clefts and caverns.

The shepherd who had given the alarm had lain down again in his plaid instantly on the greensward upon the summit of these precipices. A party of soldiers were immediately upon him, and demanded what signals he had been making, and to whom; when one of them, looking over the edge of the cliff, exclaimed, "See, see, Humphrey! we have caught the whole tabernacle of the Lord in a net at last. There they are, praising God among the stones of the river Mouss. These are the Cartland Craigs. By my soul’s salvation, a noble cathedral !" "Fling the lying sentinel over the cliffs. Here is a canting Covenanter for you, deceiving honest soldiers on the very Sabbath-day. Over with him, over with him --out of the gallery into the pit." But the shepherd had vanished like a shadow; and, mixing with the tall green broom and brushes, was making his unseen way towards the wood. "Satan has saved his servant. But come, my lads, follow me; I know the way down into the bed of the stream, and the steps up to Wallace’s Cave. They are called the ‘Kittle Nine Stanes.’ The hunt’s up—we’ll be all in at the death. Halloo, my boys, halloo ! ”

The soldiers dashed down a less precipitous part of the wooded banks, a little below the "Craigs," and hurried up the channel. But when they reached the altar where the old gray-haired minister had been seen standing, and the rocks that had been covered with people, all was silent and solitary —not a creature to be seen.

"Here is a Bible dropped by some of them," cried a soldier; and with his foot spun it away into the pool.

"A bonnet! a bonnet! " cried another. "Now for the pretty sanctified face that rolled its demure eyes below it."

But after a few jests and oaths the soldiers stood still, eyeing with a kind of mysterious dread the black and silent walls of the rock that hemmed them in, and hearing only the small voice of the stream that sent a profounder stillness through the heart of that majestic solitude. "Curse these cowardly Covenanters! What if they tumble down upon our heads pieces of rock from their hiding-places? Advance? Or retreat?”

There was no reply ; for a slight fear was upon every man. Musket or bayonet could be of little use to men obliged to clamber up rocks, along slender paths, leading they knew not where; and they were aware that armed men now-a-days worshipped God,—men of iron hearts, who feared not the glitter of the soldier’s arms, neither barrel nor bayonet; men of long stride, firm step, and broad breast, who, on the open field, would have overthrown the marshalled line, and gone first and foremost if a city had to be taken by storm.

As the soldiers were standing together irresolute, a noise came upon their ears like distant thunder, but even more appalling; and a slight current of air, as if propelled by it, passed whispering along the sweetbriers and the broom, and the tresses of the birch-trees. It came deepening and rolling, and roaring on, and the very Cartland Craigs shook to their foundation as if in an earthquake. "The Lord have mercy upon us! —what is this?” And down fell many of the miserable wretches on their knees, and some on their faces, upon the sharp-pointed rocks. Now it was like the sound of many myriad chariots rolling on their iron axles down the stony channel of the torrent. The old grayhaired minister issued from the mouth of Wallace’s Cave, and said, with a loud voice, "The Lord God terrible reigneth!" A waterspout had burst up among the moorlands, and the river, in its power, was at hand. There it came —tumbling along into that long reach of cliffs, and in a moment filled it with one mass of waves. Huge agitated clouds of foam rode on the surface of a blood-red torrent. An army must have been swept off by that flood. The soldiers perished in a moment; but high up in the cliffs, above the sweep of destruction, were the Covenanters—men, women, and children, uttering prayers to God, unheard by themselves in that raging thunder.


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