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Wilson's Border Tales
Gleanings of the Covenant

No. 3. Peden's Farewell Sermon


We believe there never was such a sad Sabbath witnessed as that upon which nearly four hundred of the established clergy of Scotland preached their farewell sermons and addresses to their several congregations. It was a day, as the historians of that period express it, of "wailing, and of loud lamentation, as the weeping of Jazer, when the lords of the heathen had broken down her principal plants; and as the mourning of Rachel, who wept for her children, and would not be comforted."

On the 4th day of October 1662, a council, under the commission of the infatuated and ill-advised Middleton, was held at Glasgow; and, in an hour of brutal intoxication, it was resolved and decreed that all those ministers of the Church of Scotland who had, by a popular election, entered upon their cures since the year 1649, should, in the first instance, be arrested, nor permitted to resume their pulpits, or draw their stipends, till they had received a presentation at the hands of the lay patrons, and submitted to induction from the diocesan bishop. In other words, Presbytery, which had been so dearly purchased, and was so acceptable to the people of Scotland, was to be superseded by Prelacy and the mandate of the prince, or of his privy council, was to be considered in future as law, in all matters whether civil or ecclesiastical. It was not to be supposed that the descendants and admirers of Knox, and Hamilton, and Welsh, and Melville, would calmly and passively submit to this; and accordingly the 20th day of October—the last Sabbath which, without conformity to the orders in council, the proscribed ministers were permitted to preach— was a day anticipated with anxious feelings, and afterwards remembered to their dying day, by all who witnessed it. It was our fortune, in our early life, to be acquainted with an old man, upwards of ninety, an inhabitant of the village of Glenluce, whose grandfather was actually present at the farewell or parting sermon which Mr Peden, the author of the famous prophecies which bear his name, delivered on this occasion to his parishioners. We have conversed with this aged chronicler so frequently and so fully upon the subject, that we believe we can give a pretty faithful report of what was then delivered by Peden.

"I remember well," continued, according to my authority, the old chronicler, " I mind it well—it seems but as yesterday, the morning of this truly awful and not-to-be-forgotten day. It had been rain in the nighttime, and the morning was dark and cloudy—the mist trailed like the smoke o’ a furnace, white and ragged, alang the hill taps. The heavens above seemed, as it were, to scowl upon the earth beneath. I rose early, as was my wont on the Sabbath morning, and hitched away towards the tap o’ the Briock. I had only continued, it micht be, an hour, in private meditation and prayer when I heard the eight-o’clock bells beginning to toll. Indeed, I could hear, from the place where I was, I may say, every bell in the Presbytery. The sound o’ these is still in my ears—it was unusually sweet and melodious, and yet there was something very melancholy in the sound. I thought on the blood of the saints by which these bells had been purchased; upon the many souls, now gone to a better place, who had been summoned to a preached gospel by these bells; and I thought, too, on the sad alteration which a few hours would produce, when the pulpits would be deserted by the worthy Presbyterian ministers who filled them, and be filled, it might be, by Prelatical curates—wolves in sheep’s clothing, and fushionless preachers at the best. Even at this early hour, I could see, every here and there, blue bonnets, and black and white plaids, and scarlet mantles, mixing with and coming forth every now and then from the broken and creeping mist. The Lord’s covenanted flock were e’en gaun awa to pluck a mouthfu (it micht be the last) o’ halesome and sanctified pasture.

"The doors of the kirk of New Luce had been thrown open early in the morning; but, owing to an immense concourse of people, a tent had been latterly erected on the brow face, immediately opposite to the kirk-stile, and the multitude had settled, and were, when we arrived, settling down, like bees around their queen, on all sides of it. Having advanced suddenly over the height, and come all at once within view of this goodly assembly, I found them engaged, as was their customary, till the rninister’a appearance, in psalm-singing. A portion of the thirty-second psalm had been selected by the precentor, and he was in the act of giving out, as it is termed, these appropriate and comforting lines—

"‘Thou art my hiding-place; thou shalt
From trouble set me free;
And with songs of deliverance
About shalt compass me’—

when Peden made his appearance above the brow of the adjoining linn, where he had probably been engaged for some time in preparatory and private devotion. He advanced with the pulpit Bible under his arm, and with a rapid, though occasionally a hesitating step. All eyes were at once turned upon him; but he seemed lost in meditation, and altogether careless or unconscious of his exposed situation. His figure was diminutive, but his frame athletic, and his step elastic. He wore a blue bonnet, from beneath which his dark hair flowed out over his shoulders, long, lank, and dishevelled. His complexion was sallow, but his eyes dark, keen, and penetrating. He had neither gown nor band; but had his shirt-neck tied up with a narrow stock of uncommon whiteness. Thus habited, he approached the congregation, who rose up to make way for him; ascended the ladder attached to the back-door of the tent; and forthwith proceeded to the duties of the day.

‘Therefore watch and remember; for the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one, night and day, with tears.’

"These words of the text were read out in a firm, though somewhat shrill and squeaking tone of voice; and as he lifted up his eyes from the sacred page, and looked east and west around him, there was a general preparatory cough, and adjustment of position and dress, which clearly bespoke the protracted attention which was about to be given. And, truly, although he continued to discourse from twelve o’clock till dusk, I cannot say that I felt tired or hungry. Nor did it appear that the speaker’s strength or matter failed him— nay, he even rose into a degree of fervid and impressive eloquence towards the close, which none who were present ever heard equalled.

"‘And now, my friends,’ continued he, in a concluding appeal to their consciences—‘and now I am gaun to warn ye anent the future, as weel as to admonish you of the past. Ye’ll see and hear nae mair o’ puir Sandy Peden after this day’s wark is owre. See ye that puir bird’—(at this moment a hawk had darted down, in view of the whole congregation. in pursuit of its prey)—‘see ye that puir panting laverock, which has now crossed into that dark and deep linn, for safety and for refuge from the claws and the beak of its pursuer? I’ll tell ye what, my friends—the twasome didna drift down this way, frae that dark clud, and along that bleak heathery brae-face, for naething. They were sent, they were commissioned; and if ye had arisen to your feet, ere they passed, and cried ‘Shue!’ ye couldna hae frightened them oot o’ their mission. They cam to testify o’ a persecuted remnant, an’ o’ a cruel pursuin foe—of a kirk which will soon hae to betak hersel, like a bird, to the mountains, and of an enemy which will not allow her to rest, by night nor by day, even in the dark recesses o’ the rocks, or amidst the damp an’ cauld mosses o’ the hills. They cam, an’ they war welcome, to gie auld Sandy a warnin too, an’ to bid him tak the bent as fast as possible; to flee, even this very night, for the pursuer is even nigh at hand. But, hooly, sirs, we maunna pairt till oor wark be finished; as an auld writer has it—‘till our work is finished, we are immortal.’ I has e’en dune my best, as saith an apostle, amang ye; an’ I hae this day the consolation, an’ that’s no sma’, to think that my puir exertions hae been rewarded wi’ some sma’ success. An’ had it been His plan, or His pleasure, to have permitted me to lay doon my auld banes, whan I had nae mair use for them, beneath ane o’ the through-stanes there, I canna say but I wad hae been content. But, since it’s no His guid an’ sovereign pleasure, I hae ae request to mak before we separate this nicht, never in this place to meet again.’ (Hereupon the sobbing and the bursting forth of hitherto suppressed sorrow was almost universal.) ‘Ye maun a’ stand upon your feet, an’ lift up your hands, an’ swear, before the great Head an’ Master o’ the Presbyterian Kirk of Scotland,’ (there was a general rising and show of hands, whilst the speaker continued,) ‘that, till an independent Presbyterian minister ascend the pulpit, you will never enter the door o’ that kirk mair; an’ let this be the solemn league an’ covenant betwixt you an’ me, an’ betwixt my God an’ your God, in all time coming. Amen!—so let it be!’

"In this standing position, which we had thus, almost insensibly assumed, the last prayer or benediction was heard," and the concluding psalm was sung—

"‘For he in his pavilion shall
Me hide in evil days,
In secret of his tent me hide,
And on a rock me raise’

I never listened to a sound, or beheld a spectacle more overpowering. The night cloud had come down the hill above us—the sun had set. It was twilight; and the united and full swing of the voice of praise ascended through the veil of evening, from the thousands of lips, even to the gate of heaven. Whilst we continued singing, our venerable pastor descended from the tent—the Word of God in his hand, and the accents of praise on his lips; and, at the concluding line, he stood fairly and visibly out by himself; upon the entry towards the east door of the Kirk. Having shut the door and locked it, in the view and in the hearing of the people, he knocked upon it thrice with the back of the pulpit Bible, accompanying this action with these words, audibly and distinctly pronounced—

"‘I arrest thee, in my Master’s name, that none ever enter by thee, save those who enter by the door of Presbytery.’ So saying, he ascended the wall at the kirk-stile, spread his arms abroad to their utmost stretch, and, in the most solemn and impressive manner, dismissed the multitude."

Although Peden was thus banished from that pulpit to which, during the civil wars, he had been elected by the unanimous voice of a most attached people, he did not thereupon, or therefore, refrain entirely from exercising his function as a minister of the gospel; but, having betaken himself to those fastnesses which lie betwixt Wigton and Ayrshire, he was in the habit of assembling occasionally around him the greater part of his congregation, as well as many belonging to the neighbouring parishes. In the meantime, after several months’ vacancy, a young and half-educated lad from Aberdeen was appointed by the government in the capacity of curate. This person was, of course, hated by the parish; but this hatred was exalted to abhorrence, in consequence of his immoral and unclerical life and conversation.

William Smith and Jessie Lawson were the children, the first of a respectable farmer, and the other of a pious, though poor widow woman. There had been some difficulties in the way of the lovers—

"For the course of true love never yet run smooth;"

but these had at last been removed, and the young couple were about to be united, with the consent of relatives, in the honourable bands of matrimony. But the young and dissolute curate had caught a glimpse of Jessie; and, having been fascinated by her beauty, had not been backward in signifying, both to mother and daughter, his honourable (for they really were so in this case) intentions. Janet, however, was too sound a Covenanter to give her consent.

"Na; na," she continued; "my bairn, I wot weel, has been baptized by the holy Mr Welsh, and she has lang sucked on the milk of the true and Covenanted word, frae worthy and godly Mr Peden, and it will ill become her to turn her back on her first lover, for the sake o’ ony yearthly concern whatever."

In the meantime winter drew on, with its frosts, and its blasts, and its snows, and the lovers became more and more anxious to be united in the bands of hallowed love, in consequence of the pressing and importunate addresses of the curate. Here, however, a difficulty occurred; which was, however, overcome by bribing the schoolmaster, as session clerk, to proclaim them to empty benches, and by obtaining Peden’s consent to perform the marriage ceremony on their producing the requisite evidence of proclamation. The place appointed was the Bogle Glen, and the time midnight, on the second day of January 1684. The night— for such meetings were usually held during night—was stormy—there being a considerable degree of snowdrift; but Peden was not easily diverted from his purpose; nor was his audience unaccustomed to such exposures. So the night-meeting for religious worship took place beneath the Gleds’ Craig, from the brow or apron of which the minister officiated. Beneath him, huddled together under plaids, stood his devoted and attentive congregation, whilst the moon looked down, at intervals, on a landscape over which a frosty wind was ever and anon carrying the snowdrift. Beside the speaker were arranged, on chairs and stools, some young women bearing children to be baptized, and the youthful couple about to be united in marriage. The usual service proceeded; and the voice of psalms was heard amidst the solemn stillness of the midnight hour. The children were next baptized from an adjoining well, which presented itself opportunely, like the waters of Meribah, from a cleft of the rock. The young people had just been united, and Peden was in the act of pronouncing the usual benediction, when the tramp of horses’ feet was suddenly heard, and in an instant a discharge of muskets indicated but too surely the nature of the assault. All was challenge, capture, and dispersion; through which the screams of the young bride and the menacing voice of the curate were distinctly heard.

About four o’clock of the same eventful night, the manse of New Luce was discovered to be on fire, and some hundreds of figures were seen congregated in frantic and menacing attitudes around it. At last a form was discovered, bearing off from the flames something which appeared to be inanimate. The curate’s screams were heard from his bedroom window; and, by the assistance of the military, who had now arrived, he was relieved, by a rope, from his critical situation; and the young lovers were next morning discovered, safe and uninjured, in their own home, and in each other’s arms.


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