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Scottish Stories from the Treasure Chest
Renwick at Priesthill

DURING the persecuting period of 1680-1686 in Scotland, many were the wanderers among the mountains and the moorlands from the ranks of those who felt it their duty “to obey God rather than men.” These poor wanderers were accustomed, in the darkness of night, to leave their hiding-places, and to seek food, shelter, and consolation in the houses of friends. The following quaint poem (author unknown) describes such a scene: Renwick, in “the dark and bloody year” of 1685, leaves his hiding-place, and, in a stormy night, seeks the house of his former friend, John Brown, of Priesthill.

In order to fully enjoy the description, we must transport ourselves in imagination to a thatched cottage on the bleak moorland, on a cold, stormy night, and see the blazing ingle on the clean hearth, and the glimmering oil-lamp hanging on the wall; the mother, with the babe on her knee, sitting before the fire, thinking on the poor wanderers out in such a night; and her daughter, sitting on a stool, watching the curling flame as it ascends the chimney from the burning peat, and wondering how soon father will be home.

The weary wanderer enters. Suspicion is aroused; he may be one of the ruthless soldiery hunting for some of God’s faithful ones. But soon his sad and weary look shows that he belongs not to Claverhouse’s band, and he is made comfortable by the blazing fire. John Brown, the patriarch of Priesthill, returns, and discovers his former much-loved friend and the faithful minister of Christ. Gladness fills their hearts, and, after the temporal wants of their guest are provided for, the leather-bound Bible is placed on the stand, and

“The priest-like father reads the sacred page,
And, kneeling, prays to heaven’s Eternal King.”

Afterward they have much converse about heavenly things — and, doubtless, all the more sweet that both these men of God were near a martyr’s crown.

It was a night in which no man
Might safely be without;
The storm was there, and, worse than storm,
The persecutor’s shout:

The minions of a cruel king,
'Mid thunder and the flame,
Were thirsting for the blood of saints—
Such task the men became.

While thus, on an apostate land,
The face of heaven frowned,
The dwellings of the righteous ones
God’s loving kindness crowned:

Unheeded was the sound of storm—
Of wrathful man the sword—
Bright shone, in Priesthill’s lowly cot,
The candle of the Lord.

Why from his lattice breaks so late
A tiny stream of light?
Say who beneath his cottage-roof
Keep watch and ward to-night?

A babe upon a mother’s knee;
The mother by the fire;
A daughter waiting wistfully
The coming of her sire.

Intensely Scottish was the scene:—
In red wreaths mount the flames;
The crooning of a lullaby
The mother’s task proclaims.

The storm was raging wild without—
The ingle blazed within,
And full upon the girl’s fair face
Reflects a ruddy sheen.

Few summer suns, with radiance bright,
And all their influence mild,
The thoughtful eye had gladdened yet
Of that high-hearted child.

No play-things had the children then—
No play-things would she ask:
To mourn for broken covenants
And Scotland was her task.

The latch is up; the girl leaped forth
To clasp her sire at last;
Then back she drew—upon the group
A stranger’s eye is cast.

But, O! the sight that met their gaze;
It might have melted stone
I have seen thy sad, heart-broken look,
Thou worn and wasted one.

And still they pondered anxiously—
A friend or foe was he?
A world of caution and of care
Deep-working you might see;

For they, in persecution’s school,
Full sorely tried had been—
The frank look joined to foulest heart,
Not seldom had they seen.

They looked upon the stranger;
They saw his upturned eye,
The moving lip, the starting tear;
They heard the deep-drawn sigh:

The child’s young heart anticipates
The mother’s cooler thought;
She guides the stranger to the fire,
And fear she sets at naught

Her kindness touched the pilgrim’s heart—
’T was heaven unto his soul;
From out his lips these burning words
Like sweetest music stole:

“The blessings of the perishing
Upon thee rest, dear child;
Thou hast a heart to feel for me,
The hunted, the reviled.”

That’s not an unbeliever’s prayer—
No persecutor’s voice:
Doubt vanishes—the mother bids
The pilgrim to rejoice;

And when she saw the grateful look
Of her wet and weary guest,
A fountain deep of love sincere
Came gushing from her breast

Another form is in the room:
O, let us mark him well!
Rich in faith and in good works was
The patriarch of Priesthill:

Time on his furrowed countenance
Her influence had wrought,
But calm his eye—his manly brow
A temple of high thought.

He gazes on the stranger now
With keen and searching look,
Whose mild and mournful countenance
Could inquisition brook.

Lo! Priesthill names the long-lost one,
The anointed of the Lord.
It was a high and honored name,
And Renwick was the word!

On who can tell the joy that then
Descended like the sun
Upon the sad and weary heart
Of that wayfaring one?

For trials long in every shape
Had he been forced to brave;
He had the gait of one whose feet
Seemed staggering to the grave.

Long nights upon the mountains,
Long days upon the moor—
Storm, sleet, and foul apostasy,
’T was his lot to endure;

Yet God upon his chosen one
Divinest influence shed,
And oft in desert wilderness
A table for him spread.

Like him who guided Israel
In wilderness of old,
Or him whose eagle thoughts sublime
No prison-isle could hold,

Poor Renwick saw in rocky cleft
God’s glory pass him by,
And visions of celestial things
With rapture lit his eye.

They’ve stripped him of his dripping garb;
They've bathed the wanderer’s feet;
God’s word is read—the prayer begun.
Unutterably sweet

His eloquent outpourings were:
Yes, sweeter to God’s ear
Than organ’s pealing anthem
His pious hraftthingn were.

On high this incense of the heart
Was borne on tempest’s wings;
And afterward they talk of friends,
Of those who’ll soon be kings,

And Cargill’s polished eloquence,
And Camerou’s ardent soul,
Devout McKail, and murdered Kid-
All reached the martyr’s goal.

The loved Argyle, and Guthrie dear,
And Hackston’s butchered corpse,
Whose souls beneath the altar lay,
Were themes of his discourse.

The converse sweet must have an end—
The pilgrim needs repose;
Through bog and fen had he to go
Long ere the morning rose.

But first he to his weeping friends
A fervent blessing gave:
“O God! be with this family;
From every ill them save I.

“And should it be thy will its head
A martyr’s death should dree,
A father to the fatherless,
A mate to widow be.”

The time to favor Zion came—
The set time of the Lord—
But murdered Priesthill sleeping lay
Beneath his own green sward;

The pilgrim gained a martyr’s crown—
The last of that bright band
Whose blood-proved faithfulness to Christ
Has glorified our land.

O Scotland! *twas thy peasantry
Who, breathing thoughts so high,
Girt up their loins rejoicingly,
For thee to do or die!

Sons of the Covenant, awake!
Be what your fathers were;
For “Christ, his Crown and Covenant"*
The same attachment bear.

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