[There is a tendency when we think of Christian persecutions and war, to think only of the men who have sacrificed and died for Christ. But I believe that women, throughout the ages, have suffered more than men and in more ways; yet their lives and stories have always remained in the background. Sometimes stories of their trials and tortures are trotted out for purposes of titillation and sensation, but the real persecution of women often comes in less conspicuous forms. This post is in tribute to those women and daughters who have faithfully kept the home fires burning, while suffering for Christ in the wilderness, and to the women who still do so. –MWP]
“But if the members [of the body of Christ] are unacquainted with the particular history of their own body, they are in a great measure disqualified for discharging their duties as members. Every parent in the whole nation of Israel was required to explain to his children, the meaning and design of every historical monument that was erected to perpetuate any of God’s mercies wrought for that people. That parent in Israel, who could not do so, was incapable of performing his duty to his children, whose right it was to be instructed in the use and design of those things. Yea, he was incapable of discharging his duty to God, who required him thus to instruct his children.” –James Patterson Miller
The persecution of the Covenanters brought into display the rarest virtues and highest qualities of womanhood.
Many women chose to give up their happy homes, and wander in solitudes, dwell in caves, suffer in prisons, bear the death sentence, and go to the gallows, rather than violate their Covenant with God. They cheerfully accepted their full share of service and sacrifice in Scotland’s struggle for civil and religious liberty. They faced the terrors of that conflict with a noble spirit; they were man’s worthy helpers in those trying times.
Thousands of incidents of feminine heroism might be cited; we have room for merely a few. The Covenanter’s marriage, in those days, was both serious and romantic. The bride always loves to open her eyes upon rosy prospects, but persecution in that generation shattered those beautiful dreams. Her bleak future was then like a landscape, over which storm followed storm, with only alternate blinks of sunlight. Husband and wife were in jeopardy every hour; today’s wedding gown might be tomorrow’s winding sheet.
When John Knox found the woman of his choice, he said, “My bird, are you willing to marry me?” She replied, “Yes, Sir.” Then tenderly and firmly he added, “My bird, if you marry me, you must take your venture of God’s providence, as I do. I go through the country on foot, with a wallet on my arm, and in it a Bible, a shirt, and a clean band; you also may put some things in for yourself; and you must go where I go, and lodge where I lodge.” “I’ll do all this,” she blithely answered. They lived long, and were happy in the bonds of that blessed wedlock. Once as they journeyed across the county she took the hand-baggage, and hastening ahead sat on the hilltop awaiting his coming. As he came up she humorously said, “Am not I as good as my word?”
These Covenanter women often showed fidelity to Jesus Christ and His Covenant that amazed their persecutors. They scorned the suggestion of relief for themselves or their families that would compromise the truth of Christ. John Welch, of Ayr, lay in prison fifteen months because his preaching did not please the king. The dungeon in which he was confined is yet pointed out in Blackness Castle, a dark, dismal, pestilential vault. A visitor to him said that he had gotten enough of its horrors in five minutes to do him. But poor Welch had to abide there “five quarters of ane yier.” Mrs. Welch visited the king while her husband was in person to plead for his release. “Yes,” said the king, “if he will submit to the bishops.” “Please Your Majesty,” said Mrs. Welch, holding up the corners of her apron, “I’d rather keep his head here.” The faithful wife was willing to witness her husband’s execution, rather than have him betray the cause of Christ or break his Covenant with God.
Many a martyr got his inspiration for duty to God, through his noble wife. When James Guthrie came to a difficult task, he seemed to hesitate. Great interests were involved. May he not modify a certain ministerial action so as to save his life, provide for his family, and continue to shepherd his flock? Who would not pause in presence of such a serious consideration? His wife, observing his perplexity, came into his presence with a cheery countenance and an assuring voice, saying, “My heart, what the Lord gives you light and clearness to do, that do.” The light carried him into the service; the conscience was set free from the temporary disturbance; yet the decision brought him to the scaffold; it placed upon his brow the martyr’s crown. The worthy wife sadly went into widowhood, and the children into orphanage, through that strong, womanly spirit which could brook no deviation from duty.
The women frequently were placed in embarrassing positions. In marriage they were not always equally yoked. When the husband was a persecutor, faithfulness in the house and fidelity to Jesus required the highest wisdom on the part of the wife. Lady Anne Rothes occupied such a home. Both she and her husband were born Covenanters. The Covenant principles were bred in the bone, instilled into the thoughts, and impressed on the conscience, at the parental fireside, at the family altar, in the house of God, and at the Table of the Lord, while they were under the care of their parents; but the young man forsook his father’s God, dishonored the Covenant, and cast off religion. He became a profligate and persecutor. The woman, through the abundant grace of God, remained true to the Covenant. Her position, however, involved her in many a dilemma. The wedlock that promised to be a blessed union proved to be a galling yoke. The husband was placed in power by the king, and granted the title of duke. On one occasion, when entertaining Archbishop Sharp, the two grew merry over their plan to put certain Covenanters to death. The tender-hearted woman, sitting with them at the table, was greatly distressed, yet she wisely concealed her feelings. Having the information, however, she was able to send out timely warning to the Covenanters. In this way she saved their lives, not once, nor twice.
Rothes, too, in his better moments, assisted her in protecting the persecuted. When about to send his soldiers to apprehend the Covenanters, at times he would say to her with a twinkle in his eye, “My lady, the hawks will be out to-night, so you had better take care of your chickens.”
The women of the Covenant were compelled to pass through many painful scenes. Often their hearts were heavily burdened, yet they were mightily sustained by the Holy Spirit. Captain John Paton, after a wonderful record on the battlefield in defense of the Covenant, won his last fight on the scaffold. He went joyfully to his death, glorying in victory through his Lord Jesus Christ. As he stood on the platform from which he would soon step into eternity, he held forth his well-worn Bible, from which he addressed the crowd that stood around the gallows. Then bidding farewell to earth, and welcome to heaven, he commended his wife and their six children to the care of his Covenant God. At that moment, the sorrow-stricken woman, reaching up her trembling hand, received from him his Bible with a blessing–a double token of her husband’s deathless love. Then in the twinkling of an eye, she saw his body twirling in the death struggle, while his soul entered into glory. That Bible is still preserved at Lochgoin.
The horrors which women deliberately faced, in their devotion to Christ and His servants, seem almost incredible. How great the love of woman whose heart God’s love has filled! How deep, how tranquil, how inexhaustible, how majestic, how like the love of Jesus is the love of that woman whose heart rests in her Covenant God! It is measured in part by the stupendous tasks she accepts and the crucial emergencies she endures for the sake of others.
When Robert Baillie, burdened with years and weakened with disease, lay in prison waiting for his sentence, his wife was ill and unable to visit him. But the angelic heart of her sister, Lady Graden, then found its opportunity. The authorities would permit her to visit the dying man, only on her consent to become a prisoner with him. She agreed to the conditions, and entered the dark sickly cell. His pale face was quickly lighted up with her presence, and the Word of God, which she read to him in the dim candle-light. Night and day she watched over him with sympathetic interest. At length he was brought out for trial, and sentenced to die. She accompanied him to the gallows, stood by him when swung off; saw him cut down, watched while his body was quartered and prepared for shipment, to be placed on exhibition in four cities. And when the service of love was fully finished, and neither hand, nor tongue, nor eye could do anything further, she went home to console her sick sister.
And what shall we say more of: Isabel Alison, Marion Harvie, Margaret Dun, Barbara Cunningham, Janet Livingston, Anne Hamilton, Margaret Colville, Marion Veitch, and the long list of worthy women, which the pen of man will never complete?
The Covenanted Church is largely dependent on the women for spirit, courage, fidelity, and activity in the service of Christ. The grace of God, abounding in the women, will cause the Church to arise and do valiant work. When mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters beam with devotion to Christ and His Covenant; when their voice is resonant with holy courage in the Lord’s cause; when their lives are sublime with deeds of heroic faith; then will the Church become “beautiful as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.” Jesus said unto her, “O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”
Taken from, “Sketches of the Coventers”
Written by J. C. McFeeters
Edited for thought and sense by Michael W. Pursley