…and it was also sung at the death of Cuthbert. This missionary of the seventh century is first heard of as a shepherd boy on the hills of Gala Water, then known as Wedale. The religious movement among the Celtic races under Columba and his followers laid hold of the Saxons, and Cuthbert became the apostle of the glens of south Scotland and north of England. Lindisfarne, or Holy Isle, which he chose as his center, and the lona of the eastern coast.
Numerous stories of courage and God’s providence have gathered round Cuthbert’s life. But in the midst of all the stories and legends, we can see even from the churches that bear his name between the Forth and Tyne, and down into Galloway, that he was an unwearied traveler and preacher. The seed he sowed in troublous times took vital hold and sprang up in after ages. The account of his death has been given by Bede, who received it from Herefrid, an eye-witness. When Herefrid came out and announced his death, two lighted torches were held up, a signal to their friends in Lindisfarne that Cuthbert had departed. The accents of the psalm and the wail for the dead were carried with the signal across the sea.
It was in Cuthbert’s time, 685, that the Pictish monarch, after a great victory over the Saxons, crossed the Forth, took possession of Edinburgh and the Lothians, and prepared the way for an independent nationality and Church, the Church of Knox, Henderson, and the Covenanting struggle.
The 60th Psalm had a place in one of the incidents after that history. Robert Douglas gave it out to be sung when he preached the coronation sermon of Charles II at Scone, January 1, 1651, the Marquis of Argyle putting the crown on the head of the ungrateful monarch –who afterwards sent him to the block. The text for the coronation was 2 Kings 11:12, 17, was most appropriately chosen. However, the sermon very long and filled with uncourtly truths. The earnestness of the preacher and the duplicity of the chief hearer, –if hearer he was, are one of the historical contrasts of the time; but there was a true word of prophetic insight in the close of the discourse, when the text which sealed the Solemn League and Covenant, in the East Church of Edinburgh, was again quoted, Neh. 5:13, ‘ Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labor, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out and emptied.’ Nearly forty years of broken pledges and of profligacies’ lapsed till the threatening was made good for the Covenanters.
The 60th Psalm is also memorable in the history of the Secession Church of Scotland. When Ebenezer Erskine, in 1740, had to leave his church, he took his place with an immense multitude below the battlements of Stirling Castle, and sang the first five verses of this psalm. Looking down on the field where the heroic Wallace gained a decisive victory for his country, the words have in them the ring of battle:
‘And yet a banner thou hast given
To them who thee do fear;
That it by them, because of truth,
Displayed may appear.
That thy beloved people may
Delivered be from thrall,
Save with the power of thy right hand,
And hear me when I call.’
The psalm of his friend, Wilson of Perth, in similar circumstances, had a quieter tone, though scarcely less appropriate, Ps. 55:6-8 and 12-14. His text was fittingly chosen, Heb. 13:13. Both of these leaders were children of the Covenanters. When the Secession and Relief Churches of Scotland were joined in 1847, in Tanfield Hall, Edinburgh, the 60th Psalm was again sung, and with it Ps. 147: 1-3, division ending in reconstruction:
‘God doth build up Jerusalem,
And he it is alone
That the dispersed of Israel
Doth gather into one.’
Written by John Ker, D. D.
Taken from, “The Psalms in History and Biography”
Edited for thought and sense.