ABOUT the commencement of the persecution in Scotland, nearly three hundred and fifty ministers were ejected from their churches, in the severity of winter, and driven with their families to seek shelter among the peasants. These ministers were forbidden to preach even in the fields, or to approach within twenty miles of their former charges; and all the people, as well as their pastors, who were not prepared to abjure their dearest rights, and submit to the most galling and iniquitous civil and religious despotism, were denounced as traitors.
None were allowed in any way to assist them, or even to supply them with food, or to shelter them in their houses; and those whose humanity or Christian principle inclined them to show kindness to those friendless followers of Christ, exposed their property and their persons to the rapacity and cruelty of a wicked and injurious policy. The apostle's description of the destitute condition of the ancient people of God, in persecuting times, is literally true of our forefathers: "They wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and in caves of the earth;" but "they took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that in heaven they had a better and an enduring substance."
Often in the moorland solitudes, concealed from the vigilant eye of their persecutors, did these devoted servants of the Redeemer open the wells of salvation for the refreshment of God's weary heritage, who, thirsting for the water of life, resorted to them in crowds; and many a blessed outpouring of the gracious Spirit of God was experienced by them, when, in the hallowed retreat of the wilderness, they congregated at the risk of all that was dear to them on earth, to worship the God of their fathers - the enemies of God and His Holy Evangel not permitting them to assemble in temples made with hands. The Saviour, however, bore testimony to the word of His own grace, and to the worthiness of that cause for which His people were suffering, by filling the hearts of His followers with comfort, and in crowning the ministrations of His servants with success.
The desolation and distress of many a family, after the standard of the Gospel was reared in the fields, were unutterable. The tenderhearted wife knew not how it fared with her husband traversing the waste, or lodged in the cold damp cave; and many a disconsolate hour did she spend in weeping over helpless children, who had apparently nothing before them but starvation and scorn; and the affectionate husband, far from his dearly cherished home, was full of the bitter remembrance of his beloved family, and picturing to himself their many wants which he could not now relieve, and their many sorrows which he could not soothe, and the many insults from which he could not defend them; but, notwithstanding all this, they had peace, for God was with them; and, though their hearts sometimes misgave them, yet, through the grace of Him with whose cause they were identified, their faith recovered its proper tone, and their despondency vanished.
One of the most renowned of those worthies who persisted in preaching the Gospel in the wilds of his native land, at the constant hazard of his life, was the venerable Peden, whose history is familiar in almost every cottage in Scotland. Many incidents in the life of this good man have already been collected, but something new may be still added. There are to be found a few stray anecdotes of him here and there in the remote parts of the country, which, for his sake, may be deemed worthy of record.
Few persons possessed a more saintly character than did this man of God. He was full of faith and of the Holy Ghost. Entirely devoted to his Master's service, he counted not his own life dear unto him, that he might maintain the cause of truth in the face of the abounding iniquity of a degenerate age. His solitary wanderings, his destitution, his painful perseverance in preaching the Gospel, the peril in which he lived, his prayerful spirit, and the homeliness of his manners, greatly endeared him to the people among whom he sojourned. He had no home, and therefore spent much of his time in the fields. The caves by the mountain stream, the dense hazel wood in the deep glen, the feathery brackens on the hill, the green corn when it was tall enough to screen him from observation, afforded him by turns, when necessary, a retreat from his pursuers, and a place for communing with his God.
Among the many hiding-places to which this man, of whom the world was not worthy, occasionally retreated, was the solitude of Glendyne, about three miles to the east of Sanquhar. A more entire seclusion than this is rarely to be found. Glendyne stretches eastward, winding among the hills for nearly three miles. The width of the glen at the bottom is in many places little more than five or six times the breadth of the brawling torrent that rushes through it. Dark precipitous mountains, frowning on either side, rise from the level of the valley to a great height. On the eastern extremity of the glen a cluster of hills gathers to a point, and forms an eminence of great altitude, from which a noble prospect of a vast extent of country is obtained.
Near the lower end of this defile, which in ancient times was thickly covered with wood, - and where it terminates its sinuous course with one majestic sweep, reaching forward to the bleak moorlands beneath, our revered worthy had selected for himself a place of refuge. This spot, concealed by the dark mantling of the forest, was known only to a few who made the cause of these sufferers their own. It happened, on one occasion, that this honoured servant of Christ, having emerged from his covert, stood by the margin of the forest, on the beautiful slope of the mountain above. It was the balmy month of May, and Nature had just put on her loveliest attire. The forest was vocal with the sweetest music. The blackbird and the thrush were piping their richest notes on the "greenwood tree;" the gentle cooing of the wood-dove issued with a delicious softness from the grove; and the joyous lark, high in the air, was pouring a flood of melody down upon the wilderness. The wild bees were humming among the honeyed blossoms of the hawthorn; the scented wind, breathing over the fragrant heath, was playing with the rustling foliage; the brook was murmuring in the ravine below; the lambkins were gamboling on the verdant lea, and the sheep were grazing quietly by their side; while on the distant hill the shepherd was seen, wrapped in his plaid, with his sportive dog at his foot, slowly winding his way up the steep ascent. The good man's heart beat high with rapture - his delighted eye roamed over the charming variety of hill and dale - he contemplated the glorious sun, and all the splendid scenery of the sky - he felt as if he were standing on holy ground, in the midst of the great temple of Nature - he experienced an unusual elevation of mind, and all the freshness and buoyancy of youth seemed once more to take possession of his aged frame. Full of devout sentiments, he uncovered his head, the silvery hairs of which were streaming on his shoulders, and, lifting up his hands, he "praised, and honoured, and extolled the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and whose ways are judgment."
He had fixed his eye on a cottage far off in the waste, in which lived a godly man with whom he had frequent intercourse; and there being nothing within view calculated to excite alarm, he resolved to pay his friend a visit. With his staff in his hand he wended his way to the low grounds to gain the track which led to the house. He reached it in safety, was hospitably entertained by its kind occupant, and spent the time with the household, in pious conversation and prayer, till sunset. Not daring to remain all night, he left them, to return to his dreary cave. As he was trudging along the soft footpath, and suspecting no harm, all at once several moss-troopers appeared coming over the bent, and advancing directly upon him. He fled across the moor, and when about to pass a mountain streamlet, he accidentally perceived a cavity underneath its bank, that had been scooped out by the running brook. Into this he instinctively crept, and stretching himself at full length lay hidden beneath the grassy coverlet, waiting the result. In a short time the dragoons came up, and having followed close in his track, reached the rill at the very spot where he was ensconced. As the heavy horses came thundering over the smooth turf on the edge of the rivulet, the foot of one of them sank quite through the hollow covering, under which the object of their pursuit lay. The hoof of the animal grazed his head, and pressed his bonnet deep into the soft clay at his pillow, but left him entirely uninjured. His persecutors, having no suspicion that the poor fugitive was so near them, crossed the stream with all speed, and bounded away in quest of him whom God had thus hidden as in His pavilion, and in the secret of His tabernacle.
A man like Peden, who read the hand of God in everything, could not fail to see and to acknowledge that divine goodness which was so eminently displayed in this instance; and we may easily conceive with what feelings he would return to his retreat in the wood, and with what cordiality he would send up the voice of thanksgiving and praise to the God of his life. Castle Gilmour, as its name imports, was an old baronial residence in the moors, about three miles to the east of Sanquhar; it is now a farm-house. The locality must in ancient times have been very dreary and desolate; for even yet its general aspect is anything but interesting.
The mountains, however, by which it is encompassed on the east and on the north, are of a very different description. Few scenes, on a small scale, present a more agreeable spectacle than that which meets the view from the northern limits of Sanquhar town common, between the parallel streams of the Mennock and the Crawick. The uncultivated moorlands are flanked by hills whose summits rise like lofty colonnades to the clouds, and remind one of the sublime Scripture expression: "The pillars of heaven." The beautiful Knockenhair, in the western corner of the circular range, clad in velvet green, and topped with its ancient warder cairn, stands a stately cone detached from the neighbouring mountains, and presenting itself in advance, invites the first glance of the spectator's eye. In the eastern corner stands the grey-clothed height of Auchengrouch, the frequent sanctuary of the worthy Peden, and to which the memory of that venerable saint has imparted a hallowed interest. The traveler in the bleak dale land which stretches from the base of these mountains to the south, often meets with the plover and the peesweep, which, in their aërial gyrations, dive downwards, and flap with their broad wings his head and shoulders, as a chastisement for intruding on their solitary retreats. In this way, it is said, they were occasionally unconscious informers to the enemy of the wanderers who, in the open field, had concealed themselves in the heart of the thick bracken, or among the green coverts of the spratty bent.
In the stillness of a sweet, summer evening, when, in meditative mood, one surveys the entire scene, and gathers in all its associations, there is felt a kind of enchantment, which one is unwilling to dissipate. We think on the incidents of former times; we reflect on the wanderings and the prayers of our suffering forefathers, who made the solitudes their home, and who, when farthest from men, were nearest God. We think on the times of a still more remote ancestry, and picture the ancient Celtic people who claimed these mountains and wilds as their own, and who traversed these territories as free and as light as the fitful breeze that streams along the heath; and we ruminate on times that are yet to come, when righteous generations shall arise, for whose sake God will remove the curse from the barren wilderness; and when, under the culture of their skilful hands, that same desert, over which the eye roams, will "rejoice and blossom as the rose." An age of millennial blessedness shall arrive, in which changes and improvements shall take place of which we have little anticipation. But we who live shall have passed away with the former generations that are already in the dust, and our eyes shall not behold among the living, the goodness which God has provided for those who shall come after, and whom He will render more worthy of its enjoyments than we are.
If, however, our hope be in heaven, and if after death our souls have their dwelling there, we shall enjoy a better millennium and a higher blessedness than they of earth can boast. Only be it our care to secure, by faith in the Redeemer, an entrance into that rest which remaineth for the people of God, and then we shall have occasion to sing: "O how great is Thy goodness which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee, which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men!"
Castle Gilmour is in the immediate vicinity of Auchengrouch, the tenant of which was Andrew Clark, a good man, a zealous Covenanter, and one who readily afforded shelter to the outcasts, and about whom we shall have something to say in a later chapter. The occupant of Castle Gilmour was no less attached to the good cause than his neighbour in Auchengrouch, and no less hospitable to those who were suffering for Christ's sake; and to his friendly house Mr. Peden and a few friends, overcome with fatigue and hunger by their wanderings in the moors, had come seeking rest and refreshment. They were partaking of a repast after their long fasting; and, dreading no harm, were discoursing freely on the subjects that were most interesting to them, when, to their surprise, and without the least warning, a company of dragoons rode into the enclosure before thc dwelling-house, and drew up at the door. On the farm of Castle Gilmour the dwelling-house and offices were so constructed as to form an exact square, with openings at the corners, through which one individual or two could pass at a time. The party within, seeing no way of escape except in the very face of the enemy, made a simultaneous rush to the door, and waving with their bonnets, ran here and there among the horses before the riders got time to dismount, and escaped, every one of them, through the narrow passages at the angles of the square. The troopers were confounded at an occurrence so unexpected; for they, thinking that their prey was sure, were very much at their ease, and were making no great haste to enter the house. The dragoons, when they understood the true position of matters, and having learned that the persons who had just now issued with so much impetuosity and disorder from the dwelling-house were the very individuals of whom they were in quest, wheeled round, and departing by the way they entered, pursued with all speed. Meanwhile the fugitives had reached Auchengrouch Burn, and arrived at the other side in safety.
This was a great point gained: for the place at which they passed the stream was so precipitous that the horsemen could not follow them. By the time, then, that they emerged on the opposite bank, the troopers, in full chase, were close to the brook; but their progress was instantly arrested by the descent, down which the horses could not march. The shot which they fired across the little ravine took no effect; and the covenanting friends pursued their way along the heath, to where Providence might be pleased to guide them. The soldiers, however, were not to be baffled by the obstacles which now crossed their path; and turning in another direction, cleared the bent with all the speed its rugged surface would permit, and were fast gaining ground. The fleeing party now perceived that there was little likelihood of escape. Mr. Peden, whose refuge in the midst of his distresses was prayer, and who used to remark that "it was only praying people that would get through the storm," requested the company to halt a little till he prayed, which he did in the words recorded by Patrick Walker, given below, and then he added: "Lads, the bitterest of this blast is over, we will be no more troubled with them this day." The occasion of their rescue was the mist which descended from the hills, and screened them from the view of their pursuers.
Old Patrick Walker's account of the same occurrence is related in the following words: "After this, in Auchengrouch Muirs in Nithsdale, Captain John Mathison and others being with him, they were alarmed with a report that the enemy were coming fast upon him; so they designed to put him in some hole, and cover him with heather. But he, not being able to run hard by reason of age, desired them to forbear a little until he prayed, when he said, 'Lord, we are ever needing at Thy hand, and if we had not Thy command to call upon Thee in the day of our trouble, and Thy promise of answering us in the day of our distress, we wot not what would become of us. If Thou have any more work for us in Thy world, allow us the lap of Thy cloak this day again; and if this be the day of our going off the stage, let us walk honestly off, and comfortably thorow, and our souls will sing forth Thy praises to eternity for what Thou hast done for us.' When ended, he ran alone a little, and came quickly back, saying: 'Lads, the bitterest of this blast is over; we will be no more troubled with them this day.' Foot and horse came the length of Andrew Clark's in Auchengrouch, where they were covered with a dark mist. When they saw it they roared like fleshly devils, as they were crying out: 'There's the confounded mist again!- we cannot get these execrable Whigs pursued for it.' I had these accounts from the said Captain John Mathison."
Such is the statement of the incident given by Walker; the local tradition, however, is much more circumstantial. It is recorded in the "Scots Worthies," that somewhere in Galloway he was favoured with a similar deliverance from the enemy, who were pursuing him, and a small company with him, after he came out of Ireland. When their hope of escape was almost cut off, he knelt down among the heather and prayed: "Twine them about the hill, Lord, and cast the lap of Thy cloak over old Sandy and thir poor things; and we will keep it in remembrance, and tell it to the commendation of Thy goodness, pity, and compassion, what Thou didst for us at such a time." Thus he prayed, and his supplication was recorded in heaven; for he had no sooner risen from his knees than dense volumes of snow-white mist came rolling down from the summit of the mountains, and shrouded them from the sight of their pursuers, who, like the men of Sodom when they were smitten with blindness, could not grope their way after them.
Some may be inclined to suppose that these incidents are put forth as something miraculous, and to say that the admission of a miracle vitiates the entire statement. There is, however, no occasion whatever to suppose a miracle in this, more than in other providential interferences in answer to prayer. Are we to say, that the Divine Being cannot in any case answer our prayers, in reference to external deliverances, without a miracle? The settling of the mist on the tops of these mountains is a very common occurrence, and could not He who "maketh the clouds His chariot, and who walketh upon the wings of the wind," in answer to the prayer of His servant in the day of his distress, send a stream of air from the mountain side, and spread the misty covering over His people who trusted in Him, without the introduction of a miracle?
Some, again, may be inclined to consider the thing as a mere coincidence; but the question is, Who appointed the coincidence, or was it merely fortuitous - a thing of chance - and had the great Disposer of events no hand in it? No person will admit this who believes the Scripture doctrine of a providence - of a particular providence exercised over all creatures and all events. "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered." Now will they who believe in the efficacy of prayer be disposed to deny that the incident was really in answer to prayer: "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me." An infidel will no doubt laugh at this, but a serious Christian will rejoice in the fact that the Lord hears prayer, and that He is prompt to answer it. Prayer is a means of attaining an end; and if the end has a place in the Divine appointment, so has the means; and the former is not to be obtained without the latter. The people of God believe the Bible doctrine respecting prayer, both as a duty to be performed and as an instrument of obtaining blessings: "Ask, and ye shall receive." How much do they lose who restrain prayer before God! and what a difference in point of success in prayer is there between the man who prays with a weak and faltering confidence and the man who prays in strong faith! The one receives blessings, copious as the showers which descend from the teeming firmament when the windows of heaven are opened; and what the other receives is only like the scanty rain dripping reluctantly from the skirts of a transient cloud. We are bound to believe that when we ask blessings from God in the name of Christ, we shall receive them: "For this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us;" and, "He that cometh unto God, must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." Here, then, the secret of success in prayer, is the confidence that our prayers shall be heard for Christ's sake; for he that prays and believes, is answered; while he that prays and believes not, is not answered.
The farm-house of Auchentagart, which is in the vicinity of Castle Gilmour, was also, in the days of persecution, a place of refuge to the wanderers. The name of the place is Celtic, and signifies "the field of the priest." From this it would appear that the ancient Celtic people had somewhere in this locality a church, to which the lands of Auchentagart were attached - a proof that the Gospel in remote times was introduced into the neighbourhood, and that God was here worshipped by the people of a forgotten age, in a house of which there is not the least trace nor tradition. It is pleasant to think that the ancient inhabitants of this country, long prior to the times of Romish superstition, may have enjoyed a pure dispensation of Divine grace, and may in those times have been brought to the knowledge of the truth.
It happened one day that a few of the covenanting friends entered the house of Auchentagart, where they were cordially welcomed by its master, for the sake of Him in whose cause they were suffering hardship. As there were more households than one in this moorland district who kindly entertained the houseless wanderers, the dragoons must therefore have been frequently seen traversing the waste, and strolling from one hiding-place to another, for the purpose of seizing, in cave or shiel, any who might perchance be concealed in these retreats. In their ramblings from place to place, they were, on the very day on which the friends had taken refuge in Auchentagart, observed coming across the moor straight to the house. It was obvious that a visit was intended; and that the soldiers, if they met with no adventure in the way of their profession, would in all likelihood demand entertainment both for themselves and their horses, and would probably spend the greater part of the day on the premises.
On the first appearance of the dragoons, information was hastily communicated to the refugees who were receiving refreshment within. They instantly left the house, and fled in the direction of the wood of Glendyne. Their flight, however, was observed by the troopers, who immediately commenced a pursuit, but were not able to overtake them. It would appear that the dragoons had, in sallying out on this occasion, a double object in view; they were prepared for sport as well as for persecution - for hunting the timid hare as well as for pursuing men - and were accompanied with a pack of powerful and cruel dogs. These dogs were sent in chase of the fleeing Covenanters, and they tracked their path with fleetness and accuracy up to the mouth of the woody glen; but the fugitives plunged into it and concealed themselves, before their canine pursuers could overtake them. In this retreat they were safe, and were left without interruption, to render a grateful acknowledgment to Him who had once more shielded them in the time of danger.
One is ready to blush for human nature, when one class of men is seen employing animals in this way to pursue another class, as if they were beasts of prey, fit only to be torn in pieces by the fangs of the huntsman's dog. To such degradation, however, and even to worse, have the people of God been subjected in the treatment which they have received from their enemies. They have been regarded as the "filth of the world, and as the offscouring of all things;" but while they were thus disesteemed by men, they were honoured of God, and they deemed themselves happy in being counted worthy to be reproached and maltreated for His name.
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