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Scots Humour and Heroism
Chapter XIV - The Covenants


In all her contests with England or when she clung to the fortunes of the Pretenders, Scotland’s firm and consistent ally was France. But in her great religious struggles when she suffered for the Covenants, it was Holland that was her best helper and her most sympathetic friend.

These Covenants were solemn religious vows in which the participants — mostly Lowlanders — while still acknowledging the authority of the Crown, pledged themselves to abide by the worship and doctrine of their choice. The National Covenant (1637) was exclusively Scottish. By it the people claimed the right to decide on their own form of worship, and strengthened themselves against the arbitrary interference of the First Charles. Its aim was defensive and idealistic; and it stirred the whole nation.

The Solemn League and Covenant (1643) was political as well as religious.

Accepted at first by England, it was little by little abandoned there abandoned to those stubborn Scots who never forgot it, never denied it, but held fast to it as their creed their rallying cry perhaps, at times, their boast. Of course opposition came.

The worst troubles arose when Charles the Second became King. Then the Royal Party endeavoured by outlawry and persecution to subdue the Lowlands to their will, and stamp out a free and simple faith. Here and there the Covenanters resisted, but were broken and banished. Executions were numerous; multitudes fled. The twenty worst years still go by the name of the Killing Time. It was then that the Netherlands came to the rescue and opened wide their doors. With characteristic generosity Holland bade glad welcome to all sufferers for conscience’ sake. And for years the stream of fugitives poured into the Low Countries, all peer and peasant, young and old, rich and poor to find in the free Dutch cities, not toleration merely, but sympathy, unstinted hospitality, and effective help. Scotland never can forget what Holland did for her exiled sons in their hour of need.

They were given a home everywhere they came. And at the end of the Seventeenth Century there were something like a score of Scotch Churches in the Netherlands.

So we have two long tragedies one of the Highlands, and one of the Lowlands.

On the side of the Highlands, we can see the outcome of Celtic loyalty to the Stuart monarchs and the younger members of their Line; a sentiment associated, though by no means exclusively, with Prelacy and with the Older Faith, and which ever rose superior to disaster. That was a fidelity to be entertained by none but high and noble spirits; and they have handed on their tradition so that the fire still smoulders underneath its ashes.

On the other side we may see the Lowland Ideal, followed with a still intenser zeal, and demanding yet more heroic sacrifices; where stern and inflexible attachment to principle was ennobled and sustained by a Spiritual Mysticism and a sense of the Unseen as exalted as it is rare.

The nation was divided, but it was by no selfish dividing-line. For no base or material ends drew the Jacobites to the one side to uphold the honour of a Royal House, to fight and die for their King.

And no base or material ends, nor any worldly motives whatsoever, constrained the Men of the Covenant to espouse the other side to resist their Sovereign to maintain their purpose and their faith, and refusing spiritual submission to any but the Heavenly Powers, to preserve unsullied, amid persecution and loss, their own and their nation’s Hope.

Before their eyes, dazed with grief and trial, and blinded not seldom with the prejudices of the time, there floated a vision a mystic vision of Heaven on earth a revelation of what might one day be a picture that enthralled them and subdued them and led them on, stumbling sometimes, as in the dark, but always resolute, towards the sublime but ever-receding goal.

They were content to endure all things for it. And from first to last they were called upon to suffer.

There is Scotland’s pathos. It is in that dream the dream of heaven on earth, with the nation covenanted under the Most High, the dream of a people consecrated, set apart, to live for spiritual certainties, for eternal realities.

There have been Utopias since man began to think, when brave, young, hopeful, spirits tried to paint a good. time coming and bring it near.

But no Utopia has ever surpassed this; for none was loftier, none more supremely audacious, and none nearer fulfilment.

The genius of the race came to flower in that concept a Covenanted Kingdom under Christ as King.

And when it faded as dreams must fade and died away on the purple mountain into the light of common day, it was not that despotism destroyed it; it was not that the flame died out in faithful hearts; it was that the ideal was too vast, the aim too lofty, for any nation, for any race, as yet.

As yet; for it is carried on, not to fade, in generous minds wherever the strange story is told.

And the granite hills, and the desolate or smiling lochs, and the wild wash of the North-Sea billows, and the cloud shadows that play, amethyst and purple, on the moors and moss hags of Galloway, and the Bass Rock and the Pentland Hills, bear witness not alone to the resolution of a race, but to the power of ideals everywhere to ennoble and exalt the souls of men.

And if Pagan Literature supplied the nation with its motto, Nemo me imjune lacessit, it was Sacred Literature that gave her Capital one of the fairest surely that the sun shines upon the watchword, Nisi Dominus frustra, Except the Lord do keep the city the watchman waketh but in vain.

And it was from Scripture that motto was derived for her Church and Faith Nec tamen consumebatur Burning but not consumed.


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