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Life Sketches from Scottish History of Brief Biographies of the Scottish Presbyterian Worthies
Robert and John Forest


John Forest, the Covenanter, lived in the parish of Carluke, in Lanarkshire. Scotland. John followed the humble occupation of a tailor, and was, with his wife, truly religious, and devoted to the cause of civil and religious liberty. He had two sons and one daughter, a family that was subjected to much annoyance and distress on account of their father’s principles. Robert, the eldest son, was a youth of great piety, and firmly attached to the cause to which his father was so warmly devoted. He accompanied him to the various conventicles in the neighbourhood, and was much profited by the ministrations of such men as Cameron and Cargill, whom he followed into the solitudes, and around whose tents he, with many others, gathered the manna that was so sweet to their taste. Robert was present on the memorable occasion at Airsinoss, when the renowned Cameron, and other worthies, fell in self-defence, against the troops of Earlshall, who came upon them as they were hiding in the moss, and sought to run them down like the grass of the field. After the skirmish, Robert fled to Galloway, where, among its dark and rugged mountains, he contrived to conceal himself from the face of the foe.

John, the younger brother, was a man of a very different cast from Robert. His mind was not seriously impressed, and having become impatient of parental restraint, he left the home of his father, became a trooper, and associated himself with those who, in those unhappy times, persecuted the Church of God, and grievously oppressed the virtuous peasantry throughout the land. This step was a matter of great distress to Robert, who could not brook the idea of his brother being in alliance with the persecutors, who were seeking, by the most unrighteous and cruel means, to suppress the cause which his father and himself, in common with the great body of the Covenanters, were labouring to maintain. Accordingly, he proceeded to seek out John, with a view to remonstrate with him—an adventure fraught with no small peril to himself; but his heart preached over his brother, who had so grievously erred as to connect himself with the enemies of the Lord’s people, and who might probably stain his hands with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. Robert was solicitous for the credit of his father’s house, and especially for the soul of his brother, whose eternal interests were so deeply endangered. Having travelled from place to place, he at length found him with a party of troopers.

John met the kindly admonitions of Robert in a very unbecoming temper— he was greatly displeased at the interference of his brother. Stung to the heart with the reproofs which he administered, (for his own conscience upbraided him, and his conduct appeared nefarious even to himself,) his indignation rose to the highest pitch, and he left his poor and kindly brother with oaths and imprecations, and vowing vengeance. He instantly repaired to the commander of the garrison and lodged information against his own brother. In the meantime Robert had withdrawn, and knowing the temper of his brother, he was aware that mischief was pending. He sought a retreat somewhere in the wilds, and eluded the danger. John, however, was intent on his mission of evil, and traversed the moors, and glens, and mountains of several contiguous parishes, in quest of the harmless object of his hatred, but without success; though he had received a party of troopers from his commander to apprehend his brother. Indignant at the failure of his first enterprise, he separated the dragoons into three small divisions, with strict injunctions to search every heath, and wood, and cottage, on their way back, and to leave no means untried to accomplish the end. Having thus arranged matters, and appointed the soldiers to meet on the evening of the second day, at a place called Braecleuch, he resolved to proceed alone, and to wend his way through the valleys of the Ken and the Deuch, if perchance he might meet with the object of his search. As he was advancing, singly and alone, along a remote glen, in the romantic parish of Kells, he came all at once on a young man stretched at his full length on the heathy turf, with a hook open before him. The thundering step of the trooper’s horse roused the youth from his meditations, and, little expecting such an unseasonable intrusion, he sprang to his feet, and, seeing it impossible to escape, he stood still. Our adventurer, conceiving that a person found in such a situation must necessarily be an obnoxious Covenanter, and thinking that his new commission more especially bound him to execute vengeance on all such, prepared for the onslaught, and aimed at the life of an innocent man. lie drew a pistol from his holster and, having asked sundry questions the answers to which he deemed unsatisfactory, he attempted to shoot, but the instrument missing fire, he drew his sword and advanced furiously to the slaughter. The young man remonstrated on the injustice and folly of such an aggression, and requested his assailant to listen to him for a moment. He stayed his hand for an instant, and listened to the young man while he uttered, with an uncommon energy and impressiveness of manner, the following words of holy writ: “No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him,” and, f who so sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Just as the youth had finished the utterance of these awful words, a company of colts, that were grazing on the side of the hill, having observed the trooper’s war steed in the glen below, rushed in a body down the steep, and Forest’s horse began to neigh and prance at the approach of the sportive animals. This trifling incident arrested his attention, and his mind being impressed with the alarming threatenings which had just been sounded in his ears, he restored his sword to its scabbard, and rode away, leaving the stranger unscathed and astonished at the unexpected deliverance.

But the trooper, who was about to smite to death an innocent man, was himself smitten with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Forest’s conscience was wounded, and he was thrown into great perplexity and disquietude. He was now impressed with a conviction of the sinfulness of his conduct, and alarmed at the danger to which his iniquities exposed him. His cheerfulness forsook him, and his mind became dark and melancholy; a weight pressed upon his heart, which no efforts of his could remove. He joined his companions on the evening of the day he had appointed at Braecleuch, and his saddened looks did not escape the notice of the soldiers, who, natural^ enough, attributed the circumstance to his unsuccessful adventure. They did what they could, in their own rude way, to comfort him, but Forest could not efface from his mind the attitude and the words of the young man in the glen, from the shedding of whose blood an overruling Providence had so signally restrained him. His spirit was bowed down under the load of mental affliction; and this sensibly affected his bodily frame. Under the pretence of feeling unwell, he asked of his commander a few days’ exemption from duty, which was readily granted. At the expiration of the time, however, his disorder was found to be nothing-abated, but rather to be on the increase; and, therefore, he requested the liberty of repairing foi a few weeks to the north, in hopes that, among his friends, and by means of his native air, his constitution might be strengthened. To this reasonable request the officer acceded, and Forest left the garrison, glad to escape from a situation that had yielded so much discomfort.

When he reached Carluke, he found that his worthy parents were in the dust, and how far his conduct had contributed to bring down their heads with sorrow to the grave, it was left to himself to conjecture. Jlis sister he found residing in a small cottage in the neighbourhood, alone, but not solitary, for God was with her, and in the midst of her sorrows her heart was at peace; and this her prodigal brother felt not his to be. When John saw his sister, his heart melted within him; the remembrance of his parents, and all their goodness and kindness, rushed upon his mind; he was oppressed with self-reproach on account of the base and ungracious part he Had acted in abandoning the parental roof, and connecting himself with the iniquitous persecutors. He opened his mind freely and fully to his sister, and acknowledged his grievous errors. His heart underwent a mighty revolution; he became, sincerely penitent, and a true believer in the Saviour, and, through divine grace, he was determined to pursue for the future a very different line of conduct.

After remaining awhile with his beloved sister, and having received from her pious conversation that instruction and consolation he so much needed, he resolved to search out- his brother, with an intent very different from that with which he went to seek him with his dragoons. He had now come to the full determination to unite himself to the persecuted people, and, for consciences sake, to endure the hardships to which, in their company, he might be subjected.

From his sister he could learn nothing respecting his brother, excepting that he had proceeded to the south on the errand already specified, and, for any thing she could tell, his blood might have by this time stained the heather-blooms on the waste; but John was determined to find out his honest brother, whom he now felt to be very dear to him, to confess the injury he had meditated against him, to ask his forgiveness, and to inform him of the change of views he had now experienced. For this purpose he travelled southward, conjecturing that probably he might be found among the wilds of Gallowav, not far from the scene of their interview at Carsphairn. In advancing across the country, It was now his solicitude to keep out of the way of the troopers, with whom, even though as yet they knew nothing of his change of sentiments, he wished to have no intercourse.

At length, after many a weary step, and after many an anxious inquiry, he found his brother in a secluded spot in the southern part of the parish of Kells, plying industriously his occupation for the purpose of earning an honest livelihood. The meeting between them was of a very affecting nature. John hastened to make known his change of mind, and to solicit forgiveness for the contemptuous manner in which he had treated his remonstrances, and for the injury he had done him. Robert, on the other hand, was overpowered with amazement and gratitude for the grace bestowed on his wayward brother, and regarded this decided change as an answer to the prayers of himself and his parents, whose solicitude on his behalf was very great. The brothers were now united in the same bond of high Christian relationship, and in attachment to the covenanting cause, in the defence of which they were to abide by each other. As they were both of the same manual occupation, they lived together for some time, and followed their employment in the various houses where their services were required. At length it became known to the garrison at Carsphairn that Forest, the trooper, was in the district, that he had become a renegade from their party, and had attached himself to the obnoxious Covenanters. In those days, when spies and informers were so numerous, it was impossible tor persons in the covenanting interest to remain long concealed, and hence more than ordinary caution was requisite. The brothers, on learning that they were sought for, kept themselves as quiet as possible, though they never absented themselves from any of the prayer-meetings or conventicles that were held in the district.

On one occasion, a conventicle was kept by Mr. Hen wick, on the banks of the Cree, in a solitary place in that wild district ; and though it was in the depth of winter, and the spot many a long mile distant, they resolved to attend. They travelled all day, and reached the vicinity of the meeting-place in the dusk; and being afraid of discovery, they chose rather to seek a shelter in some woody retreat, or cave, during the night, them obtrude themselves into any hut where the inhabitants were strangers to them, seeing the search for the fugitive dragoon was very strict. When they issued from their resting-place in the morning, they observed a shepherd traversing the waste after his flock, whom they accosted, and were happy to find him a friend. He gave them information respecting the precise place of the meeting, and conducted them to his house, to bestow on them that hospitality which they no doubt needed. In a short time, the people convened in a suitable place, not far from the shepherd’s hut, and the worship commenced. During the time that Mr. Renwick was reading out the psalm, John Forest, whose eyes were rivetted on the youthful servant of Christ, fainted, and was conveyed to the outskirts of the assembly. The circumstance created a stir among the people, and was attributed to the cold and the fatigue which he had previously endured. lie was carried to the shepherd’s cottage, and carefully attended till he recovered. In the mean t-nne, the services went on at the conventicle, and Mr. Renwick, with his usual earnestness and sweetness, addressed them on the great matters of the gospel, to which the people listened with uncommon attention; for no person could avoid being attracted by Mr. Renwick’s manner, or fail to be impressed by the weighty truths which he uttered. The assembly was permitted to continue till the close of the services, and disperse without molestation—a circumstance more noticeable in those precarious times. After the dismission of the conventicle, Robert was desirous that the minister should see his brother, and accordingly he accompanied him to the hut. When Mr. Renwick entered, John started up in his bed, and stretching out his hand, he exclaimed, “Sir, do you not recognize me?” “No,” replied Mr. Ren wick, “I cannot say I do.” “What!” said Forest, “do you not recognize, in me, your intended murderer in the glen?” Mr. Renwick, supposing that the man was in a frenzy, desired him to compose himself, when he should pray in company with him. Forest, with great energy, recalled the circumstances to Mr. Ren wick’s mind, and craved his forgiveness, adding, CiI trust God has, for the ever blessed Redeemer’s sake, forgiven me.” This statement astonished every one present, and none more than Mr. Renwick, who saw, in this, an additional instance of the care of Providence over him, when in those days of Ceril, his life hung every hour in doubt before him; but what, doubtless, interested him more, was the grace bestowed on this poor man, who from being a persecutor, was become a lowly follower of the Saviour, and a member of that despised and wasted remnant, who strove, in the midst of the severest privations, to maintain the standard of the gospel on the mountains and solitudes of Scotland. Mr. Renwick did not fail to make a suitable improvement of the circumstance, and the little group rejoiced over the finding of this lost sheep, that had now returned to the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls.


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