THE first Covenanter to
be honoured with a costly monument is Alexander Peden, and the place
that has honoured itself in so honouring him, is Cumnock, at whose
gallows-foot he has now been resting for over 200 years. Peden was often
in Carrick, and the other day I made a pilgrimage to the various places
in our midst that are hallowed by connection with his name. Until about
30 years ago, a Thorn bush stood on Baltersan farm, near Maybole, which
went by the name of Peden's Thorn, as marking probably one of the places
where he preached, as Cargill's Stone marks the spot where he preached.
And it is a pity that the old tree was not allowed to remain, as relics
like these make a countryside dearer to those who live in it.
About 6½ miles from
Girvan, and 1½ from Barr village, there stands on a hillside, near the
Lane Toll, a large whin boulder which goes under the name of Peden's
Stone', as marking the site of one of his conventicles. This stone is 5
feet in height and 15 in circumference, and looks down on the Stinchar
valley in front, with Auchensole hill on the immediate right, and
Shalloch-on-Minnoch on the remote left.
About 2½ miles from
Colmonell village there is, on the banks of the Water-of-Tig, a knoll
known by the name of Pederis Pulpit It is a rock carpeted with heather
and whin, with the stony channel of the Tig in front, and a small
wimpling burn behind, while all around the ground rises like an
amphitheatre. The road to it is a rough track across the moor, but the
place possesses the merit of seclusion, which was of importance in those
days, while it has also a certain lonely charm of its own, which would
doubtless touch the heart of the prophet-preacher.
Right in front of Peden's
Pulpit is the farm of Gtenower, with whose laird Peden and John Welsh
were riding one day (1666) in these moors, when a party of dragoons
suddenly appeared. The laird fainted, fearing they would all be taken.
But Peden whispered to him to keep up his heart, as God had laid an
arrest on them. The soldiers, in fact, had lost their way, and Peden at
once volunteered to guide them to the ford of the Tig, which lies a few
hundred yards above the Pulpit. When he returned, the laird said— "Why
did you go with them? You might have sent the lad." But Peden shrewdly
replied—"It was safer for me, for they might have asked questions at the
lad which would have discovered us."
But chief of all in
interest is the farm house of Knockdow, about two miles from Glenower,
where. Peden was taken prisoner by Major Cock burn and a party of
troopers. And yet Knockdow is secluded enough, one might have supposed.
It is now a small one-storey house in the Stinchar valley, well up the
hill side, 4 miles from Ballantrae and 3 from Colmonell. The farmer at
that time (June, 1673) was one Hugh Ferguson, who had invited the
wandering preacher to his house. But watchful eyes had been upon them,
and that night the house was surrounded, and both host and guest hurried
off to Edinburgh. After trial, Peden was sentenced to five years'
imprisonment on the Bass Rock, and the farmer to a ruinous fine of 1000
merks. The gallant captors got ^50 sterling out of the fine divided
among them for their night's work.
There are various other
places in Carrick reputedly connected with Peden, but the above may
serve as specimens. And what concerns us most is that all through, Peden
showed himself not only a true-hearted Covenanter, but a shrewd,
far-seeing man. He was not afraid to speak blunt, homely truths in a
blunt, homely way—"Quit the Devil's service: you will never make your
plack into a bawbee by him? "Some of you will greet more for the
drowning of a bit calf or stirk than for all the tyranny and defections
of Scotland." I like his prayer for the old man who could not run from
the dragoons—" Lord, we hear tell that Thy enemies and ours are coming
upon us, and Thou hast laid Thy hand of affliction on old John. Have
pity upon him, for Thy enemies will have none. Spare him at this time :
we know not if he be ready to die." And I like best of all his cry to
God in dire extremity among these hills of ours—"Lord, it is Thy enemy's
day and power. They may not be idle, but hast Thou no other work for
them but to send them after us? Send them after those to whom Thou wilt
give power to flee, for our strength is gone. Twine them about the hill,
Lord, and cast the lap of Thy cloak over auld Sandy and thir poor
things; and save us this one time, and we will keep it in remembrance,
and tell it to the commendation of Thy goodness, pity, and compassion."
The tradition is that a mist came down and hid them till their pursuers
It was both interesting
and profitable for a modern Preacher of the Gospel thus to trace the
footmarks of this persecuted preacher of former days, and try to realise
his thoughts and feelings. For one thing, Religion must have been a
reality to Peden, else he could not have endured what he did at its
call. Then, God must have made up for his hardships by His nearer
presence, else his heart must have failed him altogether. And finally,
we see how it is not possible to enter into the highest life except
through suffering. We in these days are not called to wear the martyr's
crown, but that is not all gain. He who saves his life loses it; and it
is only he who casts it away for Christ's sake that finds it.
For all through life I see
Where sons of God yield up their breath;
There is no gain except by loss,
There is no life except by death.