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Reminiscences of Old Scots Folk
Sacrament Sunday


DEAREST OF ALL THE DAYS ON CHRIST'S calendar in Fairshiels is the holy day of the Sacrament. Since the time when our fathers held their conventicles in the wilderness, the Communion tables have been spread in many a strange place. Even yet, when the sun rises gloriously on a quiet Sabbath morning, one who has the seer's vision can see many a picture of the past as the homely Scots men and women come forward to pay their vows to the Lord.

There rises first the vision of a day long gone by when John Blackader of Troqueer and John Welsh of Irongray, two far-famed preachers of the Covenant, came to dispense the sacrament to Christ's outed folk at East Nisbet in the border country.

It is a heartsome, holy scene. The Communion tables are spread in a green haugh by a burnside, while all around the people are seated on a rising amphitheatre of heathery braes to hear the Word of God. High up above them, on the sky-line yonder, the sun glints on the arms of the guardsmen who have convoyed the worshippers to their place of prayer. They stand now to watch over them that they may worship God in peace.

Remembering the ark of Israel which sojourned in the desert for years, Scots men and women have ever been willing to worship in tabernacles not made with hands. These were the days when the Kirk was rich in Christ, when the people heard the Word from the lips of those very men who had lost all for Christ's sake, and when the tables were served by gentlemen and peasants side by side on the green pastures and by the still waters.

The communicants entered at one end of the two long linen-clad boards and passed out at the other, to make way for the constant stream of new-comers from the brae-face. A hundred sat at each table, and there were sixteen tables in all. About three thousand two hundred souls remembered Christ that day in the sequestered haugh by the burnside when John Black-ader and John Welsh fed the souls of God's own folk with the Bread of Life. Like a sough of summer winds, the sound of the psalm rose and fell in the green cup among the Border hills, and the sentries on the heights turned for a moment with breasts that heaved with holy pride to look on that huddled flock of the Covenant whose only crime was Christ, as one who has the true heart has so fitly said. Then, when the great day was over, the horsemen drew together into a body, and convoyed the worshippers back once more to their homes.

Again the vision changes, and when the youngest of the folks at Nisbet have passed away, a little wooden tent or preaching booth rises on a green field by the old draw-well at Fairshiels. It is called the Tent Field to this very day. For there the first Seceders came to hear the Word and to break bread in the name of Christ who had called them out. From north and south and east and west they came to the Tent Field on holy days, and once more the songs of Zion were borne a-down the summer breeze.

Yet again the vision changes, this time to Humbie Dean close by Fairshiels, where Christ's disrupted folk were forced to worship of their own will and conscience in the name of Him who had made them free. Up the bosky burnside to a green hazel dell these later children of the Covenant came as their forefathers had come before them, from the heathery Lammermoors and the farm places to the preachings and the Sacraments. For, ever since the cruel Grassmarket days, even until this present, God's own folk in Scotland have set conscience first and the world second.

It is with a solemn sense of all these things in his soul that the minister of Fairshiels stands up in his black gown and white bands to give out the opening psalm at the summer sacrament. He looks with pride on his flock as he sees them standing up to sing. They are the children of the Lord's inheritance in the grey Scots land—plain country men and women singing God's praise where their forebears in Christ sang before them. The psalm is sung with slow, solemn measure, unaided by instrument or organ. The snow-white cloth is spread on the plain old table, which has upheld the symbols of Christ's dying love for generations. The ancient pewter cups and flagons and the little wicker baskets are covered with fine linen napkins. Thevery plates on which the people's offerings to God are placed are hidden under snowy cloths. Everywhere—in the pew, on the table, at the doors of the kirk—is to be seen the fine white linen of the saints, which to Christ's Kirk in Scotland, as to the Israelites of old, has ever been the symbol of a clean heart and a right spirit.

In these present days of costly churches and elaborate ceremonial, it is like a rest to the weary spirit to enter Fairshiels Kirk on a Sacrament Sunday and hear the Word of God declared in peace, in quietness, and with reverence—to look upon the faces of the country folks who have travelled far to make their vows—and to hear the Communion paraphrase sung to the well-kenned tune—

'Twas on that night, when doom'd to know
The eager rage of ev'ry foe,
That night in which He was betray'd,
The Saviour of the world took bread.

How the heart wells up with pure emotion as the singing rises and falls! How the old days and the old folks live again, as the ancient custom of the song creates a whole world of holy memories and affections and resolves! And as it draws to a close, how full of fervent ecstasy is the soul of the minister as he sees the old elders reverently uncovering the sacred symbols of the Saviour's dying love, and hears his faithful flock singing these never-to-be-forgotten words—

With love to man this cup is fraught,
Let all partake the sacred draught;
Through latest ages let it pour,
In mem'ry of My dying hour.

In Fairshiels Kirk at communion seasons there are no external aids to devotion. There—while the low, even voice of the minister leads his people into something of the meaning of the mystery of Christ's love— each man and woman's soul is introduced to the very presence of the Eternal. And in the hush of silence that follows, the Spirit of God steals into the heart and works the mystic miracle of grace. In silence the bread is broken. In silence the wine is passed. In silence the sins are confessed. In silence the new vows are made. Here, surely, is the simplicity that is in Christ. Here, in this holy sacrament of silence, far from the sounds of the world, far from the crowded haunts of men, within the old plain kirk, and shut securely in the soul's secret audience chamber with themselves and God, some have been able to see God face to face, to hear as in a trance the accents of His still small voice, and to get wondrous close to the heart of the Eternal that lies beneath the wounded side of Christ.


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