J. T. Mawson.
1. THE BAFFLED FOES; or, The Escape of Robert Bruce
2. AN UNHEEDED WARNING; or, The End of the Carnival
3. A USELESS SACRIFICE; or, The Murder of the King
4. NO FORGIVENESS; or, The Death of the Marquis of Argyll
5. PEACE; or, Argyll's last Sleep
6. OWN THE RIGHTFUL KING; or, The Rebellious Soldier
7. HOW TO HOLD THE FORT; or, How Edinburgh Castle was Taken
8. DEBTS CANCELLED; or, The Goldsmith's Costly Fire
9. TWO FEASTS; or, The Death of the Chief Guest
10. UNABLE TO SAVE; or, The Death of Rizzio
11. FAVOUR SOUGHT AND REFUSED; or, An Ungracious Monarch
12. UNABLE TO KEEP; or, A Mother Robbed of her Children
13. PRISONERS RELEASED; or, Two Escapes
14. FORGIVENESS REFUSED; or, The Remorse of a King
15. A NOBLE CONFESSION; or, The Wigtown Martyr
16. THE DANGER OF DELAY; or, Mac Ian's Fatal Mistake
I invite you, my reader, to accompany me through the pages of this book. Imagine, if you care so to do, that we are visiting the places of historic interest of which I write, but do not fail to apply to yourself every pointed question, and take home every application.
I will not hide from you on its first page that the object in the issue of this book is your soul's eternal blessing. That this may be brought about is my prayer.
The Baffled Foes; or, the Escape of Robert Bruce.
The field of Bannockburn is one of the most interesting spots on Scottish soil, for here Bruce established his claim to the throne of the land by right of arms. Everyone knows how the heavy English battalions were foiled and beaten by the fierce and determined Scots. There is one point, however, in connection with this defeat and victory to which I would call your attention. The English did not know the ground on which they stood. Robert Bruce had had pits dug all over the field, and these were covered with branches and turf, giving the field the appearance of solid ground, and here his foes were ensnared.
Be sure, every one of you, that you have the solid rock beneath your feet. If you wish to be safe, you must stand upon the merits of Christ, and not on your own. Your works may appear better than the works of others; but if you are trusting to them you are resting upon unworthy ground, and it will prove to be a snare of the devil. If you trust to your works you will be lost for ever. Christ Jesus Himself is the only safe and certain resting-place upon which sinners can stand before God.
The day is coming — swiftly coming — when you will need a firm foothold, when to be upon the immovable rock will alone be safe. If you stand upon the ground of your own merits in that day — the day that will test every man and all his works — great and final will be the catastrophe that will overtake you. You will be overwhelmed by foes infinitely more fierce and relentless than those that overthrew the English at Bannockburn. Those who have taken their stand, and staked their eternal all, upon Christ and His work, will be for ever safe.
I want to recall an incident which occurred in the career of Bruce before he became the conqueror of Bannockburn, when constant defeat dogged his steps.
He was a fugitive. The English were on his track, but he evaded all their attempts to capture him. At length they hit upon a plan of great ingenuity. Securing his favourite bloodhound, they unleashed it and put it upon his track. That dog had never been known to lose a trail, and yard by yard it now tracked down its fugitive owner. Bruce, with his solitary attendant, heard the baying of the hound in the distance, and it seemed as though all was lost. How could he escape?
He was fleet of foot, and could doubtless have out-distanced the swiftest of his foes, but the hound was more fleet than he. His pursuers knew not the country, and he could have easily hidden in the forest; but the hound could trace him along the most circuitous path that he chose to take, and find him out in the most secluded spot in which he chose to hide, and behind the hound came his foes eager for his life-blood.
But stay! He has it: a way of escape is close at hand, for yonder through the forest runs a deep and broad stream. Into that stream he will plunge, and there the hound shall lose the track. Quickly Bruce put his thought into action. Into the water he plunged, and waded up the stream some distance; then regaining the depths of the forest, he was safe from his pursuers. The hound followed its master to the bank of the stream, but no further; the scent was broken.
"Drive the dog across the stream," cried the baffled foes of Bruce but all was in vain, for the trail was lost, and Bruce was safe — safe to become the victor of Bannockburn and gain the crown of Scotland!
* * * * * *
This story of those far-off times will serve our purpose well to-day. There is upon the track of each unconverted man, woman, and child that which will find them out and deliver them to judgment unless a way of escape is found.
"Be sure your sin will find you out" is not the most pleasing statement from the Word of God for those who are still unforgiven but there it stands, and, being there, is true.
Oh, think of it, dear unconverted souls! Your sins are upon your track! YOUR SINS! YOUR SINS! Like a relentless bloodhound they follow your steps, tracking you down — down — down. To use our illustration, can you not hear the baying of them in the distance? "They are following after to judgment," saith the Scripture. A terrible consideration for you who have so many. "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23) "After this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27).
One hound was sufficient to jeopardise Bruce's safety. One sin is sufficient to destroy your soul for ever. You have many, many sins — sins of thought and word and deed. What can you do? You cannot outstrip the consequences of them; you may for a time, and in life, evade them, but when death finds you out, then they too will find you, and where death leaves you judgment will take you up. You cannot destroy your tracks. What will you do? Oh, listen! There is a way of escape.
"There is a stream . . . " not of water, but of blood. The blood of Jesus has been freely shed, and it is here and through this blood that you may be delivered for ever from the sins which have made you deserve the judgment, and the judgment which the sins have made you deserve. No judgment can reach the blood-washed sinner, the baying hounds of sin no longer track him to his doom. The trail is broken and lost the flood of judgment which rolled over the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary has met the claims of justice, and those who trust in Jesus are made clean and free from sin by His precious blood.
O sinner, trust in Jesus this day. May the voice of sin and judgment in your case be silenced now, because Jesus died, and you have put your trust in Him.
An Unheeded Warning; or, The End of the Carnival.
A gay cavalcade they made — the handsome James, first of his name, of Scotland, his beautiful wife Joan, and their retinue, as they sped towards the Firth of Forth to hold the Christmas carnival in the large monastery at Perth.
Those were troublous times, when men loved fighting and bloodshed; but James and his companions were fearless and light-hearted as they that day approached the ferry.
Suddenly, from out the gathering darkness there appeared a strange and gaunt figure with uplifted hands. "Halt!" cried the foremost rider, "who goes there?"
As they drew near they found an aged highland woman standing full in their pathway.
Above the clamouring of the horsemen before, and the moaning of the waves behind, her shrill voice rang out, "Go back! go back!" In answer to their questions, she refused all explanation, save to the King himself. Thinking she had news of some conspiracy, he rode towards her, and, in answer to his enquiries, the old woman waved her hand towards the restless waves, and cried:
"King, if you once cross those waters you will never return alive." The King laughed aloud at the warning turning it into a jest, and shaking the old woman's hand from his bridle, cried, "Forward!"
* * * * * *
It was not wisdom on the part of the King to laugh at the warning, for he knew that in his kingdom there were many who did not wish him well, and dangers were thick in his path. Undoubtedly it appeared to be a braver course to go forward to the revelries at Perth, rather than, filled with craven fears, to return to Edinburgh.
Whither are you bound, my reader, and what is your objective? Are you light-hearted and gay and do you mean to make merry, heedless of the dangers that gather round your way? We do not wish to see you morose and gloomy, but rather that true and eternal gladness may be yours. We must, however, sound a warning. To go forward on the road of careless pleasure, heedless of danger, is to land full soon in utter destruction.
* * * * * *
And so they passed the ferry, and reached their destination. The old woman's warning was forgotten, and King James was the merriest of a merry party. The days passed by until the last was reached, and that had drawn to its close, for the clock was about to strike the midnight hour.
The King had taken his harp, and, running his fingers across the strings, he started the last song, when there came a loud and peremptory knocking at the outer door.
The King paused in his song, greatly annoyed by the interruption and demanded to know who was there.
It proved to be the old woman of the ferry. She sought an audience with his majesty, for she had news of great importance, for his ear alone.
"To-morrow I will see her, but not to-night," was the King's answer to her entreaties.
So she was turned away, and driven forth into the night, wringing her hands as she went, and crying, "To-morrow I shall not see his face."
The Queen trembled with fear at this strange incident, and the King, now far from at ease, himself closed the festivities, and the party broke up for the night.
"To-morrow!" Ah, how treacherous, how illusive is that word. It seems to dance before the eyes, and hold out bright prospects. But how often it has proved a will-o'-the-wisp, luring men to destruction. "To-morrow I will see her," said the King, and that fateful word was the sealing of his doom.
Oh, reader! will you put off until to-morrow that which you can do today? Will you refuse to face the question of your soul's great danger now?
Your sins and death and Satan all conspire to bring your soul to hell. Will you treat this grave question with indifference, and say "Tomorrow"?
To-day is the day on which to heed the warning, for to-day is God's day of Salvation; but hope in a false to-morrow will be your eternal undoing, as it has been of thousands more.
The wild winds howled outside the monastery of the Black Friars of Perth, and strange forebodings filled the hearts of the King's party within. The Queen's chambermaids were preparing her sleeping couch, when one of them drew aside a curtain and looked forth into the black night. To the dismay of the company she announced the fact that the courtyard beneath was lurid with the flare of torches. Presently the clash of steel, and the shoutings of armed men, told only too truly that the assassins were upon the track of the King.
"Shut the bolts," cried the startled monarch. But, alas! he found when it was too late that there had been traitors within as well as without; for the bolts had all been wrenched from the doors, and he was without protection.
One hour afterwards sixteen mortal wounds in the breast of the King spoke plainly of the folly of treating warnings with scorn and putting off the seeking of safety until "to-morrow."
Will you not take warning then to-day, my hitherto heedless friend, and seek a place of safety?
I have more to tell you of King James and how he met his death but will you not perceive in your procrastination a folly like unto his, and turn to Him who can save you from your woes.
Only the Saviour — Jesus, God's beloved Son — can save you. He can, and will, if you turn to Him. Then sin and death and hell and Satan shall all be put to flight. Oh! turn to Him now, before your foes thrust you down to hell for ever.
A Useless Sacrifice; or, The Murder of the King.
"Shut the bolts," cried the King, as the tramp of heavy-booted men was heard along the distant corridors. The ladies of the chamber hurried to the door, but found bolts and bars alike gone. The King looked round for some weapon of defence, but none could be found. His treacherous foes had laid their plans well, and he was left without a way of escape.
Then the full truth dawned upon him. Sir Robert Groeme, who had sworn to dye his best blade in the King's blood, was at last about to carry out his threat. He had induced Sir Robert Stewart, the King's chamberlain, to join him in the conspiracy the success of which through the King's indifference to warning, seemed to be complete.
There stood the King with folded arms, at his feet the Queen knelt and in her terror entreated him to fly.
Then one of the ladies, Catherine Douglas by name, remembered that beneath the flooring of the room there ran some vaults which might afford a chance of escape, and, quicker than it takes to tell the story, she seized the tongs from the fireplace, and, putting them into the hand of the King, besought him to wrench up the planks and escape by way of the vaults.
The King tore away at the boards until one of them yielded, just as the shoutings of his foes reached the passage leading to the room where he was.
"Can you keep the door just for one moment," cried the Queen to Catherine Douglas.
Could she keep the door — a weak woman, against the strength of men in mail? It seemed impossible but the danger sharpened her wits, and in her brave desire for the safety of her monarch she thrust her arm into the staples of the door from which the bolts had been torn. Then, grasping the empty staple on the doorpost, she waited with set face for what would follow.
Heavy blows came thundering at the door, but for some intense moments that bolt of woman's flesh stood the strain. Long enough, in fact, for the ladies of the chamber to put back the plank in the floor and cover it with the rushes which served to carpet the floor.
Then snap! and that human barrier, the arm of Catherine Douglas, gave way, and a brave, true-hearted woman fell fainting to the floor.
"Where's the King?" cried Groeme and his followers, as they crowded into the apartment. "Tell us where he hides!"
They searched, but failed to find him, and, leaving the apartment, it seemed as though the arm of Catherine Douglas had not been sacrificed in vain.
No nobler sacrifice than that does Scottish history record and how fully did Catherine Douglas prove her devotion to the King.
Foes — bitter foes — are seeking your destruction. If left to yourself you are without a way of escape, and without defence. Is there anyone to deliver you?
Yes, thank God, there is! One whose love was great enough to lead Him to stand between us and the foe, and He has given His life to save us.
Will His great sacrifice be in vain? Ah! no; for all who trust in Him are put for ever out of the reach of the foes. By dying He destroyed him that had the power of death — that is, the devil that He might deliver those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
* * * * *
But what of the King? He might have escaped had it not been for one sad thing. There was a hole in the wall of the vault leading to the open-air, but he had had it filled up only three days before, because, when playing tennis, the balls rolled through it and were lost. Thus his only way of escape was cut off. How he must have blamed the folly that led him, for such a trifle, to close the only way of escape.
But King James did not know the straits into which he would be brought, or he would never have closed the hole in the wall for the sake of a few tennis balls.
With you it is different. You are warned of your danger, and as plainly as possible. God has set forth Christ Jesus as the only way of escape; the only door of salvation. Are you putting anything between your soul and Him? Many are blocking their way to life by the most empty trifles. Some allow the applause of men, the prizes of the world, their friends, their pleasures, their lusts, to stand between them and the way of blessing. May such folly be far removed from you, my reader!
Those who sought the life of the King rushed to other parts of the monastery in search of him and he, hearing their footsteps die away in the distance, thought himself safe, and commanded the women to help him from the vault. While they were doing so his foes returned, and the dark tragedy closed in his death. He might have been saved if only he had heeded the timely warning which, alas! he refused to listen to.
May you, my reader, never have to say with bitter remorse, when for ever beyond the reach of mercy, "Oh, if I had only heeded the warning given me!"
No Forgiveness; or the Death of the Marquis of Argyll
Let us turn our steps towards Edinburgh Castle. Rising sheer up three hundred feet from the valley around, it is the first thing the eye sees on entering the city. Many tales of deepest interest gather round this grey and rambling pile of buildings. It was here that the imprisonment, trial, and condemnation of the first Marquis of Argyll took place.
He was a friend of Oliver Cromwell, and when Cromwell visited Edinburgh he feasted him in the large banqueting hall the finest room in the Castle. It is said that he had agreed with Cromwell in the execution of Charles I. If that were so he certainly repented of it afterwards, for he put the crown of Scotland on the head of Charles II. at the Restoration, and he was the first of the Scottish nobles to swear allegiance to him.
He travelled to London in order to welcome the King, but there, on the charge of being concerned in the death of Charles I., he was seized and cast into prison.
After spending five months in the Tower of London, he was sent to Edinburgh to be tried by his peers for treason, and was lodged in the state prison in the Castle.
Argyll had many enemies amongst his judges, and they found no difficulty in bringing him in guilty, and at once the sentence of death was pronounced upon him.
He found that it was of no use to appeal to the King, for that unscrupulous monarch cared little for the fate of either friend or foe so long as he was able to have his fill of pleasure. There was to be no mercy — no forgiveness for him.
How different are God's ways from man's! He offers a free pardon to all; yea, he finds His great delight in forgiving poor guilty rebels.
Now there may be a question as to Argyll's guilt, but there can be none at all as to ours. By nature we are all rebels against God; our sins and self-willed ways prove this, and every sin that we have committed is an act of rebellion — it is high treason against God Himself. But how great is the grace of God! He does not condemn us as we justly deserve, but is sending forth to all the proclamation of forgiveness.
How can God's forgiveness be obtained? By simply bowing to the One through whom God sends it. "Christ died for the ungodly" and it is because of what He has done, and through Him, that God can save and bless poor sinners; but those who want the blessing must, trusting in this Saviour, bow heart and knee to Him.
Argyll put the crown upon the brow of Charles II. He acknowledged him as his rightful lord; he was certainly not a rebel then; and you must treat the Lord Jesus in the same way: own Him as your Lord crown Him in your heart.
If you do this I can assure you that He will never play you false, as the King did the first Marquis of Argyll; for He loveth at all times, and never leaves or forsakes those who belong to Him.
I am thankful to be able to tell you that Argyll was a Christian, so that death to him was not so terrible as it would otherwise have been. When the sentence was passed upon him, and he realised that it would be vain to hope for mercy, he said to those who had condemned him: "I placed the crown upon the King's head, and this is my reward. He does but hasten me to a better crown than his own. Nor can you, my lords, deprive me of that eternal portion which one day you may require for yourselves."
He had evidently learnt that the treasures of heaven were better than the treasures of earth, or he could not have spoken of the crowns of heaven as being better than the crowns of earth. In this he spoke truly, for all earthly glory will become dim and fade away, but the crown which the Lord's hand gives is incorruptible, and can never tarnish or be spoilt.
How good, too, for the Christian to know that death cannot deprive him of his eternal portion. Death is the end of every earthly possession, and those whose possessions are only in the earth have a very very dark prospect.
See to it, dear friend, that you secure for yourself treasure in heaven. We thank the Marquis for his speech, and earnestly hope that everyone who reads these lines may be able to speak with the same confidence about the future.
He was removed from the Castle and placed in the common prison at the Tolbooth, and here Lady Argyll was permitted to visit him. She was very indignant at the way he was being treated, and in her grief exclaimed, The Lord will requite it."
He replied, "Forbear, Margaret. I pity my enemies, and am as contented in this common prison as in the Castle or the Tower of London."
When he ascended the scaffold on which he was to be beheaded he proved the reality of his profession by displaying a truly Christian spirit. There he publicly expressed his abhorrence of the execution of Charles I. and said he forgave all his enemies. Then, with great composure, he placed his head on the block, and in an instant was launched into eternity.
This story, then, shall illustrate for us two things; first, the blessed prospect that lies before the Christian, and, then, how the Christian ought to act in the present. If we are to be with the Lord Jesus Christ for ever, we ought to be like Him now; and it is our blessed privilege to display His character in this world, and treat others as we have been treated by Him. All we have and hope for as Christians we owe to God's free grace, for we had merited nothing but judgment, and because of this we are exhorted to forgive others also,
Then see to it that God's pardoning grace is yours; then rejoice in the bright prospect before you, and, last of all, while you wait for the bright and glorious future, do not forget to show forth the praises of the One who has called you out of darkness and blessed you so greatly.
Peace; or, Argyll's Last Sleep.
In the state prison of Edinburgh castle the second Marquis of Argyll was imprisoned before his execution.
Like his father, he was a staunch Protestant, and when the "test oath" which was looked upon as a pledge of loyalty to Charles II., but it insisted that the King should be acknowledged as head of the Church — was tendered to him, he declared that he took it in so far as it was consistent with the Protestant religion. The Duke of York, afterwards King James, was at this time Administrator of Affairs in Scotland; he was a bigoted Papist, and, as the heir to the throne, took this qualification as directed against himself. Argyll was charged with high treason, and condemned to be beheaded.
He escaped from the castle, however, disguised as the page of his daughter-in-law, Lady Sophia Lindsay, who had obtained permission to visit him while awaiting execution.
Going over to Holland, he remained there until the accession of James, when he joined the Duke of Monmouth in an insurrection. Misfortune dogged his footsteps everywhere, and he was taken captive near Kilpatrick on the Clyde, and was again condemned to death.
His peace of mind surprised everybody, for, like his father, he proved himself to be a true Christian, finding much solace and comfort from the Lord his Saviour.
On the day of his execution (June 30th, 1685) he dined very cheerfully, and, being used to sleep awhile after dinner, he retired to the couch in his cell, and fell into a peaceful slumber. An officer of State called to see him, and was shown into his cell. At the sight of the condemned man sleeping so pleasantly only an hour before his execution he was greatly perturbed, and, hurrying away to the house of a relative, in great distress, he exclaimed, "I have seen a man within an hour of eternity sleeping as sweetly as an infant!"
He evidently trembled as he looked into eternity, for he was a stranger to the peace which the Christian enjoys. But there are those who sleep, in a spiritual sense, who may be nearer to eternity than the condemned Marquis was. They have never been awakened to the sense of what it is to be guilty before God. They have not realised that to die in their sins means to be lost for ever. They do not think that death may choose them as its prey at any moment, and so they are undisturbed. Oh, if only they saw their great danger, they would awake from their slumber, and marvel that they had been indifferent for so long.
Argyll's sleep was not one of indifference; he enjoyed the peace which is the Christian's secret.
Yes, Christians have the secret! The sting has been taken out of death for them by the Lord Jesus Christ. He destroyed him who had the power of death that He might deliver those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. And the Christian can say: "We know if our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved we have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" Knowing, too, that the shedding of the precious blood of Jesus has atoned for their many sins, they have every right to be happy and peaceful in the presence of death — that which is such a terror to those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour.
* * * * * *
On awaking from that peaceful slumber the Marquis was led out to execution but his peace and joy did not forsake him at this last great test.
He mounted the scaffold with great firmness, and on seeing the instrument which was to take off his head called "the maiden" he embraced it, saying: "This is the sweetest maiden that I ever kissed, and it will finish my misery, and be my inlet to glory." Then, placing his head upon the block, the instrument did its work. Evidently for him it was far better to be with Christ, and he knew it.
Thank God, salvation and fitness for heaven are offered to everyone! They cannot be obtained by works of righteousness which we can do. If Argyll had built his hopes upon his own goodness or works he would have proved them to be the shifting sand in the hour of his trial. And the best of men will prove the same. But though salvation and fitness for heaven cannot be secured by the works of men, they can be found in Christ Jesus; in Him all is freely offered to whosoever will. Take it, for, whether you are noble-born or of lowly birth, your need is the same. If unsaved you must be shut out of heaven for ever. Rich and poor alike may have salvation and fitness without money and without price.
"Who (Christ) of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption." (1 Cor. 1:30.)
May every dear reader of this page be found resting in Christ as the second Marquis of Argyll was.
Own the Rightful King; or, the Rebellious Soldier.
A very remarkable story is related as having taken place in Edinburgh Castle in connection with the restoration of Charles II.
Cromwell's soldiers still formed the garrison, and they were ordered by the Governor to parade and fire a salute in honour of the restoration. All obeyed with the exception of one of Cromwell's veterans; he bluntly refused to obey the order, saying he hoped he might be blown into the air if he fired a cannon that day.
To fire a salute meant to acknowledge the King, and to refuse to do so was to be guilty of rebellion. Rebellion against the rightful earthly sovereign is a serious offence; but who shall measure the enormity of rebellion against the Lord Jesus Christ? Yet there are heedless multitudes to-day who are in rebellion against His rule.
The soldier of our story was compelled, however, to take his stand at one of the guns overlooking the West Church and to apply the match; strangely enough, the cannon burst and blew him to atoms. Of course, such an occurrence may be accounted for in many ways, and it was but a coincidence that this man should have fired the one cannon that burst that day. But the story shall serve as an illustration to press home a solemn truth.
Those soldiers had to acknowledge Charles II. as King some did it willingly but this unfortunate soldier was compelled to do it, and he was destroyed in the very act.
* * * * *
Now God has set His beloved Son upon the throne He who was once despised and rejected. "God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:9-11.)
This is God's unchanging decree. All must acknowledge Jesus as Lord. We learn from God's Word that those who do this in the day of God's grace will be saved and blessed for ever; for there is no blessing too great for God to give to those who honour His dear Son by bowing the knee to Him. If you have not done this as yet, do it — do it to-day. He is worthy that all should bow to Him and own Him Lord and they are wise indeed who do it willingly.
But, alas! many refuse to bow to Christ; they love their sins, their self-willed ways, the world — its pleasures and its prizes. They will not turn from these to Jesus, and they manifest the rebellion of their hearts against God by refusing to own His Son as their Lord. They will not have Him to reign over them.
How great is their folly, since God has declared that all must submit to Christ! Those who refuse, while mercy lingers, and grace can save, will be compelled by the almighty power of God in the day of judgment; but, bowing in that terrible day will only be followed by banishment from the presence of God and the glory of His power.
O reader, bow to the Saviour to-day! Learn a lesson from the story of the rebellious soldier in Edinburgh Castle: do not refuse to own the rightful Lord and King until you are compelled by the power of God, lest you perish for ever in your folly.
How to Hold the Fort; or, How Edinburgh Castle was Taken.
To whom do you belong? Are you for Christ or the world? It is well that in this matter your testimony should be distinct and plain, for there are many who would like to be on the right side, but love the wrong. They are ready to acknowledge Christ in a certain measure, but do not care to make a clean cut with the world. Whichever side seems, for the moment, to offer the best advantage is the side on which they are found.
The well-known story of the armourer of Perth shall illustrate. King Robert III. was on a visit to that town, and a desperate feud between the Clan Key and the Clan Chuttan was to be settled in his presence. Thirty combatants were chosen from each clan, and these were to try their skill, blade to blade, until all on one side or other were slain. The space was cleared, and the fight about to commence, when one of the chosen champions was seized with fear, and, breaking away from his fellows, plunged into the River Tay, swam across, and escaped.
It seemed as though the fight would not take place, when the armourer of Perth presented himself before the King.
"I will take the coward's place," he said.
"And on which side will you fight?" asked the King.
"On either side, for half a mark, please your Majesty," was the armourer's reply.
And so the fight commenced. The armourer went into it, laying about him here and there, on either side, for half a mark.
Now this will not do in Christian warfare, for Christ has said, "He that is not with Me is against Me"; and you are surely on one side or the other.
To belong to Christ is to be safe for ever; to be on His side is to be on the side of blessing and victory; for He who was victorious at Calvary shall soon subdue every foe beneath His feet.
This is the time in which to bow to Him and own that you are His for ever. Then you will be freed from Satan's domination, and, instead of the citadel of your heart being held by the world and sin, the banner of the Lord will float above it.
Now, if you belong to Christ, you will need to be watchful, for Satan is a subtle foe, and, though he can never again hold you within his power, to destroy your soul, yet he will seek, and that constantly, to introduce something into your heart which will spoil your joy and mar your testimony for Christ.
In the stormy days of Scotland, five or six centuries ago, Edinburgh Castle often changed hands. At one time the flag of St. George would float proudly over its battlements and at another the banner more pleasing to Scottish eyes waved in the breeze.
Edward I. of England held it for a while by a strong garrison, but it was retaken in the reign of Edward III. by an extraordinary piece of strategy in the year 1341.
Sir William Douglas, the black knight of Hiddlesdale, was the chief actor in this affair, and he with others as shrewd as himself planned a bold and subtle raid upon the Castle.
They knew that the Governor of the Castle loved spiced wines and good fare. So one of them disguising himself as an English merchant gained admittance to the Castle, and producing a bottle of wine told the Governor that he had a cargo of it lying in the Firth, which he wanted to sell.
The price suited the Governor's pocket very well, and the wine suited his palate better, so he ordered the whole cargo to be delivered at the Castle; but early in the morning, said he, before those rascally Scots are moving.
At the appointed hour a cart laden with barrels and hogsheads was driven up to the Castle gates by the "merchant" and twelve sailors, who were, however, armed men in disguise. They gained admittance without delay, but no sooner were they inside the walls than they upset the cart, and in the confusion which followed made short work of the porter and sentinels.
A shrill blast from the horn of one of them brought Douglas and a band of followers through the open gate, for they had been hiding near awaiting the signal. A sharp conflict and the garrison was overpowered, and Sir William Douglas was master of the Castle.
This story illustrates how Satan works for the overthrow of those who belong to the Lord Jesus. You have owned Him as your Lord, and His flag waves over the citadel of your hearts. Take care that Satan does not succeed in introducing anything which will cause defeat.
He knows your tastes and tendencies and is well acquainted with all your weaknesses. He will tempt you by those things which you like best and which are most likely to deceive. Sir William Douglas deceived the Governor of the Castle by that brand of wine to which he was most partial; so Satan will, if he can, induce you to open your heart's door, and he will soon bring about your defeat. Very small things may do this. It is the thin end of the wedge that eventually splits the mighty beam; the little foxes that spoil the vines; by one bottle of wine the Governor was deceived, so that the English lost Edinburgh Castle.
Do not imagine that you can trifle with the things that the world and Satan can offer. If they gain an entrance it will be very difficult to turn them out again. THE CASTLE OF LINLITHGOW was on one occasion taken by the Scots, and in the following manner. A sturdy farmer and his sons appeared before the gates with a cartload of hay. It was what they were needing within the Castle, and they readily opened the gates. No sooner had they done so than from beneath the hay there leaped armed men. An attempt was made to drop the portcullis, but this they could not do, for the wily farmer had stopped the cart beneath it.
Your only chance of safety is dependence on the Lord. He alone can give you wisdom to discern between what is right and what is wrong. The Scriptures tell us that Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, and if you are to be saved from his snares you must have greater wisdom than your own.
Fear not, there is the throne of grace to which you may boldly go, and find mercy and grace to help in time of need.
Watch well the gates of your heart, eye gate and ear gate always need to be kept by watchful sentinels.
"Finally, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." Let these things which are the things of God and Christ fill your thoughts. Admit these things, and these alone, to your mind and heart, "and THE GOD OF PEACE SHALL BE WITH YOU." (Philippians 4:8, 9.)
Then peace, joy and victory will be constantly yours. You will be able to hold the fort, and to keep the flag flying for the One who loved you and gave Himself for you.
Debts Cancelled; or, The Goldsmith's Costly Fire.
Before James VI. of Scotland became King of England his resources were but small, and though he had not the burden of expensive wars to bear, as had some of his predecessors, his revenue was scarcely sufficient to enable him to keep up the state of a king at Holyrood Palace.
Moreover, the Queen, Anne of Denmark, had very extravagant tastes and was exceedingly fond of jewels and, consequently, she involved the King in heavy debts.
There was a man, George Heriot by name — the Heriot who founded the famous hospital in Edinburgh — to whom the King owed large sums of money. He was a goldsmith, and the Queen obtained all her jewels from him; and in addition to this he had often advanced money to the King.
Heriot plied his business in a small booth seven feet by seven in Parliament Square, just below St. Giles Church. Thither King James often resorted, no doubt thinking that if he honoured him with his friendship he would not be so pressing in his demands for payment. For James VI. was not without shrewdness of a certain kind.
Now, it is well to be reminded of the truth — the plain truth — no matter how unpalatable it may-be. Have you thought of it?
You are a debtor and God is your creditor. How do you think that your debt can be met and discharged?
George Heriot was on one occasion summoned to Holyrood, where he found King James sitting before a fire of scented wood, which filled the room with a delightful odour. He remarked to the King upon the pleasantness of it, and his Majesty replied, "Yes, it is very pleasant, but unfortunately it is also very costly."
"Ah," said Heriot, "if you will come down to my booth in Parliament Close to-morrow, sire, I will show you a far more costly fire."
"Say you so, my good fellow? Then I will be there without fail," was the King's reply.
On the morrow King James presented himself at Heriot's shop, and, seeing an ordinary coal fire in the grate, exclaimed, "Is this the fire of which you boast?"
"Wait until I get my fuel," said Heriot; and taking from a locker a bond for a sum of £2,000 which he had lent to the King, he laid it on the fire, exclaiming, "Now, is your Majesty's a more costly fire than mine?" As the flames curled up and destroyed the parchment, the King gave a sigh of relief, agreeing most readily that Heriot's fire was pleasanter and more costly than his own. The bond was burnt, the debt was cancelled, and that by the hand of the creditor, so that it stood no longer against the King.
Now let us speak of your debt. Have you faced it, and looked about for means wherewith to clear it? If you have, you must have found that you cannot do it. God's Word describes your case right truly when it says, "Nothing to pay."
There are some people in this world who were once poor bankrupt debtors, but they have witnessed, by faith, a wondrous transaction. They have beheld, to use our figure, the burning of the bond — their debts are all cancelled, they are clear of them for ever, having been freely forgiven by the creditor. But before this could be done there had to be the costly fire.
Oh, think of Calvary! There the Saviour passed through the fire of judgment, all that the sinful debtors deserved. It is by those sufferings and by that death that your creditor — God himself — is able righteously and for ever to remit His claims.
He can frankly forgive — He can freely justify, those that believe in Jesus.
Have you felt the weight of your liabilities — the extent of your indebtedness? If so, you must have groaned beneath it all and is it not good news to hear that God will find great delight to-day in pardoning you?
King James watched the bond consumed in the fire, and then warmly shook the hand of his creditor and thanked him for his kindness in cancelling the debt.
Will not you behold, with wondering eyes, the death of Him who died for sinners and say, "He died for me"? Then turn and thank Him for His love and owe a debt of gratitude to Him for ever,
Two Feasts; or, The Death of the Chief Guest.
A sumptuous feast was spread in the great banqueting hall of Edinburgh Castle. At the head of the table sat the boy King, James II. of Scotland; at his right hand the youthful Earl of Douglas, and at his left the Earl's only brother — a lad of fifteen years.
Many nobles gathered at the board, invited, in the King's name, by Crichton, the Chancellor, and Sir Alexander Livingston, the King's tutor to invest William, the sixth Earl of Douglas, with the office (held by his father before him) of Lieutenant-General of Scotland.
The King had not met his cousins before, but he was filled with admiration for them, and it was a change for him to have about his person those who were young and brave, and he enjoyed it right well.
Suddenly, above the laughter and the jests, there sounded forth the skirling of the war-pipes and the company, startled into silence, turned their gaze towards the entrance of the chamber. The doors swung back, and, with martial tread, a score of armed men filed in, and stood in silence. Again the doors opened, and two servitors approached the table, bearing on a silver platter a huge black bull's head.
This was the sign of swift and certain death for some one at the banquet, and at the sight of it each man rose up and drew his sword, save Livingston and Crichton, who sat with whitened cheeks and twitching lips.
The servitors advanced to where Douglas sat, and, placing the grim death token on the table before him, withdrew. Ah! then 'twas he who had to die. He had been trapped, invited to a banquet, the end of which was to be death to him.
The house of Douglas was at its zenith, both powerful and rich, one thousand sturdy men composed the retinue of the Earl. Jealousy and fear had caused their enemies to plot against them.
Unsuspecting and true of heart, believing in the laws of hospitality, they had come to Edinburgh almost unattended to receive honour, as they thought, but instead found themselves completely in the power of their treacherous foes.
While the mirth ran high and they feasted fearlessly, the axe was being sharpened in the Castle yard, and the executioner was preparing for his deadly work.
In vain the youthful King pleaded for his cousins, in vain he wept and scolded, and commanded. William and David Douglas were seized, and ere night closed in they were slain.
A feast which cost the chief guests their lives! Do you know the like of that to-day? There is a table spread — spread before the eyes of all — and the world, the flesh, and the devil serve the feast, Fame, wealth, pleasure, power, and lust are set upon the board but the guests go down to hell — the dead are there.
There is another feast, so different to this — a feast of living bread — where joy and peace and everlasting satisfaction are for all; where life eternal is the gift of God for those who otherwise must die. This feast cost the Host His life ere it could be spread, for in no other way could the need of men be met.
The Son of God has bowed His head in death and shed His precious blood to break the power of death and put away man's sin.
Have you, my reader, feasted at this table, where living bread is found?
The feast is great — great because of Him who has provided it, and great also because of those who shall sit down to it. For they shall come from the east and the west and the north and the south in multitudes which no man can number. But, above all things, the feast is great because of its stupendous cost. God's banqueting house has been thrown open, the tables are spread, and all things are now ready, and from His throne God invites all men to come and feast on living bread and drink of the water of life freely.
James, second Earl of Douglas, lay dying on the battle-field of Otterburn; around him raged the fight. With glazing eyes he saw that his men were pressing on to victory, and he cried to those around him, "Keep up my standard, and let the battle cry, 'A Douglas,' ring throughout the field. For there is a saying in my family that a dead Douglas shall win a field, and I trust it shall be accomplished this day." And it was, indeed, for the men who fought for Douglas won the fight.
But I have a better story to relate. The Lord Jesus by His dying crushed His foes at Calvary. He died that we might be victorious. Foes strong and cruel must have held us in their grasp had He not died. His death has set us free — He paid the ransom price. A feast is spread, and God commends His wondrous love to every man.
The Mighty Victor lives on high who died at Calvary. He lives to call you to the feast. His love has spread, to bless you with His blessing, which maketh rich and addeth no sorrow.
Fear not to trust His word to-day; He will not treat you falsely. Come now; now is the accepted time.
To slight the invitation, to refuse, is but to court disaster; to turn away from living bread that satisfies is to perish with hunger.
Men, women, and children, whether noble bred or of lowly birth, what will you do? Weigh well the issues. Will you refuse God's invitation? Shall the death of the Son of God be in vain for you? Shall others feast in heaven while you are lost in hell? Will you to-day reject the grace of God and His salvation, which can give you satisfaction, and choose the things which do but disappoint and bring destruction in their train?
If you are wise you will turn to God through Christ, and take the blessing freely offered. Then from your lips eternal praise will ring to the ONE WHO DIED TO SPREAD A FEAST OF LOVE FOR HUNGRY, STARVING, SINFUL MEN.
Unable to Save; or, The Death of Rizzi.
Not so conspicuous in Edinburgh as the Castle, but certainly not less interesting, is Holyrood Palace.
The tragic history of the beautiful, but unfortunate, Mary Queen of Scots is linked inseparably with this historic pile; and the suite of rooms which she occupied during the time of her power and trouble, are preserved to-day pretty much as they were in those sad days long ago.
We will mount the spiral staircase leading from the "Lord Darnley" rooms and enter a small apartment known as Queen Mary's small supping-room. It was here, in this tiny apartment, that the terrible incident which we relate took place.
THE YOUNG QUEEN HAD AN ITALIAN FAVOURITE NAMED RIZZIO. He had come to Holyrood first as a musician, but he quickly ingratiated himself into the Queen's favour, and was at last made her private secretary. He was a Roman Catholic, and was suspected of being an agent of the Pope. This turned the rugged Scotch Protestants against him; then his overbearing conduct towards the nobles of the land greatly angered them. Lord Darnley, the Queen's husband, hated him bitterly, and a conspiracy was formed to kill him, and to do this in the very presence of the Queen.
Thursday night, March 9th, 1565, was the time chosen for the carrying out of this deed. The Queen was sitting in her room surrounded by a few of her special friends, amongst whom was Rizzio, when suddenly the tapestry that concealed the private stairway was thrust aside, and Darnley strode into the room to the side of the Queen. He was followed almost immediately by the gaunt figure of the Earl of Ruthven, with drawn sword in hand. The little party was thrown into great confusion at this threatening intrusion, and the Queen angrily demanded to know the cause thereof.
Shaking his finger at Rizzio, Ruthven replied, "We intend your Majesty no harm, but send that villain forth; he has been here long enough."
Other armed men pressed into the chamber, and Rizzio, who doubtless was a consummate coward, rushed behind the Queen, and clutching her skirts in terror, implored her protection. No doubt she would have saved him if she could, but the odds were too many for her, and he was stabbed to the heart while he clung to the Queen; then, dragging him from the apartment, the murderers finished their terrible work outside the door at the head of the main stairs.
It was a terrible deed, committed by brutal men but let us forget that side of it and try to learn a lesson from the story. Rizzio was threatened rightly or wrongly, it matters not — by merciless foes. In the moment of his terrible danger he fled for refuge to one whom, he hoped, would afford him protection; but he fled and hoped in vain. The Queen was willing, no doubt, to shield him from his enemies, but she was powerless to do so.
Now here we will point our application and press home our lesson. A relentless foe is on the track of every unconverted sinner. Tramp, tramp, tramp, ever, nearer draw the footsteps of D-E-A-T-H. And hell follows after.
You maybe living in perfect serenity, enjoying the pleasure of the world and following the devices and ambitions of your own heart; but in the midst of it all the curtain may be lifted, and, even as Ruthven with drawn sword broke in upon Rizzio's pleasure, so may grim death break in upon you; and with one fell stroke launch you into ETERNITY. After death the judgment.
It is a serious matter; it would be serious even if it were not so certain; but seeing that there is absolutely no question about it, that this terrible danger lurks beside every unsaved soul, there is no room for trifling. Haste, oh! haste away to a place of safety; flee for refuge from the avenging sword. But whither will you fly? Is there a secure hiding-place? There is. In olden days the poet-prophet sang, "A man shall be as an hiding-place from the storm, and a covert from the tempest." The Blessed Man of the prophet's song is Jesus. He spake not of himself, but of God's beloved Son who was led as a lamb to the slaughter, that He might become the Saviour of death-hunted, sin-burdened, judgment-deserving sinners.
Never did soul of man seek Him in vain. In days gone by He cried, "How often would I have gathered you as a hen her brood beneath her wings, but ye would not!" He is still offering perfect safety from all judgment to "whosoever will." Millions have fled to His spear-rent side for refuge; welcome they all have been. Will not you seek safety there yourself, seek it speedily, seek it now? O sinner, with sin and death and judgment encompassing your soul, flee to Christ; be in time.
He is willing to save you, and unlike poor Queen Mary, He is able also. The sword cannot touch those who are hid in Him, for He bared His bosom to its stroke; His death has answered every claim of the avenger. Hallelujah! Jesus is a perfect and eternal Saviour.
Just outside the Door of Queen Mary's Room, on the spot where Rizzio fell, a dark stain is pointed out. It is said to be the stain of Rizzio's blood, and cannot be washed out. Well, it requires a very credulous mind to believe that it has been there for more than three hundred years. But if the murder of Rizzio did not leave an indelible stain upon the spot where he fell, it left a stain upon the souls of his murderers that no washing by men could cleanse.
And every sin leaves a stain, deep and dark, upon the soul of the person who commits it. The reader's soul, if uncleansed, is dark and blotted in the eye of God. How shall the foul sins be washed away?
No human ablution, no earthly device can bring it about. There is nothing but the BLOOD: the blood of Jesus Christ. "Without shedding of blood is no remission," is the word of God. "The blood of Jesus Christ God's Son cleanseth from all sin," is also His blessed declaration.
Oh that we may be all cleansed and saved by the blood of Jesus! Then we shall be able to sing —
"My sins are forgotten, forgiven, and cleansed, and gone,
My sins are remembered no more,
For Jesus has taken them all away,
My sins are remembered no more."
Favour Sought and Refused; or, An Ungracious Monarch.
In the warlike days of old, Stirling Castle played an important part in the history of Scotland. It was here, for instance, that the great power of the house of the Red Douglases was broken. James V., a mere youth, had been practically their prisoner in Edinburgh Castle since he commenced his reign. Wherever he went he had an escort of their retainers, and they ruled the country in his name. This became intolerable to the King, and he often sought to escape from their hands, but it was not until the month of July, 1528, that he was successful. Then, by night, he eluded the sentries, and rode as hard as one of the best horses in the country could carry him towards Stirling. The Governor of the Castle, an enemy of the Douglases, received him gladly, and there he assumed the power as well as the name of King. His first act was to issue a proclamation banishing the Douglases from the country for ever, and ordering that none of the family should come within twelve miles of his person under pain of being charged with treason.
Driven from their lands, they became exiles in a strange country, and there seemed to be no way of return for them.
There was one member of the family, Archibald Douglas of Kilspindle, who, before the downfall of the house, had been a great favourite with the King, because of his great strength and remarkable prowess in all warlike exercises. He longed for his native land, and, at length, determined to cast himself upon the clemency of the King. Accordingly he appeared in the neighbourhood of Stirling during one of the King's hunting expeditions. The King recognised him at once, and seemed taken aback at seeing his old favourite but, checking an exclamation of surprise, he turned from him with a dark frown upon his brow, and, putting spurs to his horse, rode for the Castle. Archibald Douglas was an old man, and clad in heavy mail, but he ran alongside the King and kept pace with his horse until the Castle gates were reached. Here he sank down in the road, completely exhausted, and the King ordered the gates to be closed upon him, nor dare any of his servants give the old man the refreshment that he so sorely needed. He waited in the hope that the King's heart would be softened towards him, but instead he received a peremptory order to return to his exile immediately.
How ungracious was the King's act! Henry VIII. of England, who holds no reputation for tenderness of heart, was much displeased on hearing of the incident, and quoted some old lines
"A King's face should show grace."
So it should, but there was no grace for Archibald Douglas in the face of James V. of Scotland, and he retired from his native land to the distant place of exile, to die shortly afterwards, a broken-hearted old man.
Our story shall serve as a contrast: There is a King in whose face there is naught but grace to-day. It is the face of the Lord Jesus — King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We were all afar from God and home, and deservedly so too, for our sins had put us there. Did we seek reconciliation with God as Douglas did with his King? Nay! We were rebels and loved the distance. But when we would not seek God and His pardoning grace He sent forth His beloved Son to seek us. Into the land of distance He came that we might be brought to God by Him. And now because He sought us we may seek Him, and if we seek Him we shall find that His face is full of grace; no frowns are upon His brow. His great delight is to receive sinful men. Instead of closing His doors upon us and refusing to supply us with that which we need so much, we find that His doors are open wide and the banquet is prepared, and we are freely invited to sit down to His feast and refresh our hungry souls on living bread. We had not to run to seek Him, He ran to seek us; we had not to wait at His door hungry and weak in the hope that He would send out some refreshment for us. Ah! no, before ever we felt the pinch of hunger or our helplessness He had provided a feast to satisfy our hearts, and a home where we may dwell with Him and taste His love for ever.
Archibald Douglas had laboured hard to seek the face of James, hoping for grace, but he was cast out and refused. But will Jesus treat you like that if you come to Him? Oh, no! He has said, "Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out." How great the joy and blessing when a seeking sinner and a seeking Saviour meet. There is joy in the sinner's heart, for the grace in the Saviour meets his need and stills his fears, and pardons all his sins. There is joy also in the Saviour's heart. His meat and drink is to pour blessing into the souls of those who are needy and empty. The angels rejoice, for they share God's joy in the blessing of men.
Take advantage, dear soul, of the open door of mercy; take advantage of the open arms of Jesus. Do not miss the wondrous grace that shines in his face to-day.
"Oh, be saved, He died for thee;
Oh, be saved, His grace is free."
Unable to keep; or, A Mother Robbed of her Children.
When James V. brought home his bride to Edinburgh, an order was issued that all beggars were to be banished from the streets; distress and need had to be kept out of sight, as the King and Queen made their royal progress through the streets.
What a contrast is this to the way in which the true and heavenly King treated the poor when He came down to earth. As he passed by in the streets they brought out the sick and lame and blind, and those possessed with devils, and He healed them all. The beggars came to His feet and were fed and filled. He did not drive the troubled and needy away. He stood and cried, saying, "If any man thirst let Him come unto Me and drink." (John 7:37.)
The heart of Jesus is just the same to-day; if you are needy, helpless and distressed, He will welcome you to Himself. He will save you and feed your poor hunger-stricken soul with bread that satisfies.
Jesus not only saves; He is able also to keep. Those who trust in Him are safe for ever, for He has said, "Neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand." (John 10:28.) And, further, He assures us that we are not only in His hand, but kept safely in His Father's hand also.
When James IV. was overthrown and slain upon the field of Flodden, the Queen and her two children were living in Edinburgh Castle. The heir to the throne was a mere child, and a regent was appointed to rule the land in his name. The Scottish nobles thought that Queen Margaret might come too much beneath the influence of her brother, Henry VIII. of England, in the training of the future King, so they decided to demand of her to allow them the custody and training of the children.
In consequence of this, four of the nobles were deputed to wait upon her, and insist that she should accede to their proposals.
The Queen guessed the purpose of their visit, and she waited to receive them at the gate of the Castle, her two sons standing by her side. When they arrived she demanded to be told what had brought them to the Castle. With due care they at length made known their mission. Upon hearing what they had to say she sharply ordered the portcullis to be dropped. It was put down immediately, and having thus protected herself the Queen replied: —
"This castle and these children have been committed to my care by the late King; I am sole governess here, and I will never yield such an important trust to any mortal."
That was well said, and we can understand that the widowed Queen meant every word, for a mother's love made her cling to her beloved charge. But, although she had the heart to protect the young princes, she had not the power to do so for long.
Very shortly she was compelled to give up her children to the Lords of Scotland. After the lapse of only a few weeks the younger of the two princes was found dead, and it was feared that he was murdered by his guardians. Thus you see that whilst a mother's love was great, she was not strong enough to do all she wished to do.
Now the Lord Jesus loves His own with a love greater than a mother's love, and He has the power to keep us and to protect us against any and every foe.
How blessed it is to belong to Him; His love is unchanging, His arm is omnipotent, and His word is faithful. He has said: —
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father which gave them Me is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one." (John 10:27-30.)
Every child of God has been committed to His care, and He will safely lead them home. At the end He will be able to say to His Father, "Of those that Thou gavest Me I have lost none."
He takes care of those whom He saves, because He loves them, and He takes care of them because He loves His God and Father who gave them to Him.
Prisoners Released; or, Two Escapes.
"I, the Lord, have called thee . . . to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house." — Isaiah 42:6, 7.
"The Lord hath anointed me . . . to proclaim liberty to captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound." — Isaiah 41:1.
Such were the precious words of prophecy spoken by a man of God in ancient days — words full of hope and light, which find their fulfilment to-day in God's dear Son. Yes! Jesus is the One who sets the captive free. He is the Lord "who looseth the prisoners."
There are captives who are not conscious of their captivity, and prisoners who will not believe that they are bound. Yet the chains that hold them are stronger than any forged on blacksmith's anvil, and their prison is worse by far than the most noisome dungeon.
The captives are sinners undelivered, their chains are chains of sin and Satan holds them in his power. Many there are who dream of freedom, and boast loudly of their liberty, who are enslaved, and do not know the joy of true deliverance, Many feel the bitterness of their bondage, and cry to Him who sets the captives free; and, blessed be His name, they do not cry in vain, for "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Rom. 10:13.)
I will try and illustrate to you how this is brought about.
There is at the Castle of St. Andrews the famous Bottle dungeon, hewn out of the solid rock, in shape like a huge round bottle. We can well believe that its ingenious design would baffle the prisoners in their attempts to escape. The guide who takes visitors over the castle now will tell you, however, that one prisoner did escape in spite of this; and it occurred in the following manner.
During the time of his confinement, before the day of execution arrived, his sister gained permission to see him in the dungeon once more before he died. She had devised a daring plan, and no sooner was she lowered into the dreadful place than she insisted upon changing clothes with her doomed brother so that he might escape. When the time allowed for the interview came to an end he, in her apparel, was drawn up from the dungeon. The night was so dark, or else the guards so careless, that his features were not noticed, and he got away. But all through the dreary night his brave and devoted sister had to stay in the dungeon. When the morning dawned it was discovered that the prisoner had escaped, and that someone else had taken his place.
Is not this what Christ Jesus has done? There are many who can say, "He was delivered for our offences"; He went into our prison, and took our place in death. Yes, He clothed Himself with our sin; and our iniquities were laid upon Him that we might be free. Clothed in the garments which He gives. All His fitness ours before the face of God.
Many can say with joy that they have changed their rags for a spotless garment, and can sing —
"Clad in this robe how bright I shine.
Angels possess not such a dress;
Angels have not a robe like mine.
Jesus, the Lord, my righteousness."
But Jesus died for all! It is written in the Scripture: "Christ died for the ungodly"; and all who own that they are ungodly — captives to sin and Satan — can obtain the deliverance through Christ.
Will you reject Him? Think of the greatness of the love that brought Him down to die, to bear men's sins, and the judgment of a holy God against sin.
"His is love, 'tis love unbounded,
Without measure, without end;
Human thought is here confounded —
'Tis too vast to comprehend.
Praise the Saviour,
Magnify the sinners' Friend!
Those whom the Son of God sets free are free indeed, and need never be brought into Satan's captivity again.
* * * * * *
Mary Queen of Scots, the most interesting of all persons in Scottish history (with the possible exception of Robert Bruce) was a captive in Loch Leven Castle, kept there by order of the Earl of Murray, her half brother (who ruled the kingdom in her stead). She had many friends outside the castle, and what was more to her purpose, she had friends within its walls.
There was a youth, known to fame as "little Douglas," whose heart was softened by the Queen's distress; and, being a quick-witted lad, he plotted her deliverance.
One day, without being seen, he managed to secure the Castle keys, and when the darkness gathered he set Queen Mary free; then locked the gates behind him and threw the keys into the water. He assisted her into a boat which was ready and rowed to the main land, where anxious friends were waiting to receive them. To lock the doors and throw away the keys precluded all chance of pursuit and capture. It was a clever plan; the next best thing indeed to becoming master of the Castle in which the Queen was imprisoned.
Now, using this to illustrate our subject, it is good news to hear that the Lord and Saviour has secured the keys of Satan's stronghold, and by His power He holds them. "I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; AND HAVE THE KEYS OF HELL AND OF DEATH." (Rev. 1:18.) He is Master of the prison house; He holds the keys and none can take them from His hand; and He will keep His own safely evermore. He has put the waters of His death between His beloved ones and their foes, and none can reach them now, or take them from His hands.
It is well to be the Lord's freed men; to know the love that led Him to take our place and bear the penalty of our sins. To see Him risen in mighty power, holding in His victorious hands the keys of hell and of death. May you know Him thus, my reader, and rejoice in the great deliverance which He has brought.
Forgiveness Refused; or, The Remorse of a King.
Backwards and forwards, within a darkened chamber in the Castle of Stirling, paced a young man; the royal robes were wrapt about him, but there was no exultation in his heart. He was the undisputed King of the realm, but this yielded him no satisfaction. Beneath his robes, about his waist, he wore a heavy iron chain — his penance belt — but upon his mind and conscience there lay a heavier burden, for James IV. of Scotland was a prey to bitter remorse. He had been guilty of a fearful crime against one who loved him well, and now, when the enormity of his sin came home to him, it was too late for repentance — too late to hear words of forgiveness from the lips of the one whom he had wronged.
His father, James III. (like most of the ill-fated Stuart kings), was far from being an ideal monarch. He was weak in character, and had gathered around him many favourites who were not calculated to help him to govern, and the exaltation of these men to high offices had angered the proud and war-like nobles of the land, and they determined on rebellion.
By flattering words they induced the heir to the throne to head their army and fight against his father, the King.
Now, though James III. was a weak man, he was a very affectionate father, and this added greatly to the sin of his son, for he had no cause for his action, save that he was a conceited youth, and loved himself, and desired to be the greatest man within the kingdom.
Rebellion is a serious crime, but James of Rothesay is not the only one at whose door this crime lies. "All we like sheep have gone astray," and that means that we have rebelled — not against an earthly sovereign, but against God Himself; and if anything could aggravate our case, it is that He against whom we have sinned, loved us perfectly, and never gave us any cause for our sin.
Our foreparents listened to the flattery of the tempter when he told them that if they did but turn their backs on God, they would exalt themselves; they sinned and fell into rebellion, because they loved themselves instead of God, and we, like they, have walked in the same path, loving ourselves and living for ourselves, instead of for Him who has a right to claim our loyalty and obedience. In short, we are sinners and ungodly, and deserve the righteous judgment of the God against whose law and love we have sinned.
Now James III. sent offers of forgiveness to his son upon one condition only, namely, that he should lay down his arms. And his father's gracious message almost caused him to yield, but ill-advisers were at hand, who by more flatteries drowned the voice of conscience, and hardened him in his rebellion. They were his father's bitter foes, who hoped to strike a deadlier blow at the King through the son whom he loved So well.
How like to that is what we see around us to-day. God has sent an offer of free pardon to sinners on one condition only, and that condition is, that they bow to Him. God is graciously proclaiming salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, and all who come to God through Jesus are blessed for ever. How do you stand in this matter, dear reader? God commands you to repent, and commends His love to you. Have you done the one and received the other? Millions have, and throughout eternity they will never regret it.
You have heard the message of salvation, and it may be that God's grace, in spite of all your sinfulness, has almost persuaded you to be a Christian, but the devil has kept you back from that decision and induced you to continue in your sins and at a distance from God, and you have listened to his voice, as the youthful James listened to his evil counsellors.
Be sure of this, the devil does not seek your good. He hopes to rob God of the glory of pardoning a rebel sinner alike you, for He is God's foe, but do you not see that this must mean eternal sorrow for you. Oh, if you are still afar from God listen to the voice of mercy to-day; surrender yourself to God by bring to the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the case of the King's son, his father's foes prevailed, and a fierce battle was the result. Not more than a mile from the famous field of Bannockburn, the shameful sight was seen of a son leading an army against his father and his King. And in the fight the arms of the son prevailed, and the father fled from the battlefield a broken-hearted man. He was thrown from his horse in his mad gallop for safety, and in a fainting condition was carried into a miller's cottage near. When he recovered from his swoon he told the miller's wife that he was the King, and begged her to seek a priest to whom he could confess, for he was dying. In her astonishment she rushed to the door crying out for a priest to whom the King might confess, when a tall figure in a grey cloak appeared. "Where is His Majesty?" he asked "I am a priest."
He knelt by the couch where the King lay, and while pretending to speak kindly to him, he thrust a dagger into his heart; then in his haste to get away he dropped the dagger upon the cottage floor.
The news of this had just been brought to James IV., and it filled him with dismay, and when the dagger which had done the fearful deed was put into his hand, his horror was increased a hundredfold, for he discovered it to be his own, which he had missed from his belt early in the day of the battle. Ah! how he would have done anything to have recalled the words and undone the deeds of the weeks that were passed. He sought for a place of repentance but though he sought it carefully with tears, he could not find one. He rejected "the mighty boon of forgiveness," when he might have had it from his father's lips, and now it was too late.
He ordered the smith to forge a heavy chain, which he wore about his waist until he fell upon Flodden field, but this did not make him a happy man, nor could an act like that put away his guilt.
Too late for pardon, to be for ever a prey to the heart-tearing pangs of remorse! Can such a doom be the portion of any who read this book? Yes, it may be. To harden the heart against God and His wonderful mercy can but result in a harvest of sorrow, for if God's gift is refused, the wages of sin must be received. "He that being often reproved and hardeneth his neck shall be suddenly cut off, and that without remedy." After death the judgment.
The Lord Jesus, whose great love led Him to die, so that sinners might be pardoned, spoke of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Oh, hear the warnings of love to-day. Surrender yourself to God, bow the knee to Jesus, and thus secure the pardoning grace of a Saviour-God.
But how can the sins of the past be atoned for? James IV. hoped to shrive his soul by constant penance. But can our sins be put away by any effort of ours?
You have read the story of the Lady Macbeth who, having assisted her husband to murder the old King of Scotland, used to walk in her sleep, and dreaming that upon her hand she saw the stain of the murdered man's blood, cried out for some soap or perfume by which the stain could be erased. But neither our washing nor our suffering can put away our guilt. Cleansing power is to be found alone in the precious blood of Jesus, and His blood cleanseth from all sin.
One word more before we close our chapter. You may be tempted to continue in your self-willed way, thinking it perhaps to be the freer and the happier path. Oh, remember that the sin of such a course can only recoil upon your own head. God must ever be victorious; in Him is the strength of almighty justice as well as omnipotent love. Bow to Him to-day and join the company of those who were once rebels, but who now find their joy in living for and serving the One whose grace has pardoned them.
A Noble Confession; or, The Wigtown Martyr.
"To be tied to a stake fixed within the flood mark in the water of Bladenoch, near Wigtown, there to be drowned."
Such was the terrible sentence passed by the agent of the last of the Stuart Kings upon Margaret Wilson, aged eighteen, and Wigtown became famous because of the heroic way in which that sentence was endured by the maiden martyr.
But what was the crime of which Margaret Wilson had been guilty? Had she been some powerful or treacherous leader of men who had darkly plotted against the life of the King, or sought to injure her fellow-subjects, such a sentence might have been deserved. But she was a simple young Christian. Her only desire was to be true to her Saviour, and she had refused to take the oath acknowledging the right of the King to dictate to his subjects in matters of religion, for she felt that it would be dishonouring to her Lord and Master.
A dissolute and bigoted King had sought to force his will upon the people and to make them accept a religion which was offensive to them, and altogether contrary to what they believed to be according to the Word of God. Charles II. and his successor entrusted the execution of the law to brutal and wicked men. One of the worst of these was Sir Robert Grierson, of Lagg, and he it was who tried Margaret Wilson and condemned her to so cruel a death.
On the 11th of May, 1685 ("the killing times of Scotland," as the year was called), the brave girl and an older woman who was to suffer at the same time and for the same offence, were led out to suffer according to the barbarous sentence which had been passed upon them.
Crowds with hearts full of sympathy and pain followed them, and when they came in sight sobs and tears and muttered curses broke from men and women alike.
When the place of execution was reached an effort was made to turn the young girl from her stedfastness — to renounce her faith and take the oaths required of her.
But clearly in reply her voice rang out, "We are called upon this day to give a worthy testimony to our Lord. He hath done us so much good and no ill these years we have served Him. This day shall we behold Him in the glory of His risen power, and I do rejoice the end is so near."
The older woman who was to suffer with her was bound to a stake thirty yards further out to sea in order that the sight of her suffering might make Margaret quail. But it had no such effect upon her. When she saw her companion bound to her stake she exclaimed, "The Lord will this day cleave the waters of death asunder for me, and I shall behold the Lamb in His beauty."
With ropes they roughly bound her to the upright beam at which she was to die.
Swiftly through the narrow channel of the Bladenoch ran the waves, and soon the older martyr was submerged and dead; and then in a triumphant voice, while the waves rolled round her, Margaret Wilson sang, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The waves had now begun to pass over her head, and half unconscious as she was they unbound her from the stake and brought her out of the water to see if she would at last recant.
Her weeping mother stood beside her, and pleaded with her to pray for the King. "Yes, that I will do," said Margaret.
"See!" cried the mother to Grierson "she prays for the King."
"Let us have less of her prayers," was his cruel reply, "and let her take the oath."
But this the noble girl refused to do, and she was flung back into the waters, sealing her faith and constancy by her death.
Life is full of sweet and pleasant prospects for those who are young; how great and blessed must have been the love and power of Margaret's Saviour to enable her thus to witness for Him, and truly she shall have her reward. The crown of glory, the harp of gold, and palm of victory await the bold confessor of Christ. To be confessed by Him before His Father and all the holy angels is their bright prospect. To have the joy of His approval now is their present position.
Our lot is cast in happy days! We are not called upon to face a martyr's death for the Saviour whom we love. But, Christian, we are called upon to confess Him, and this may mean the scoffs and jeers of those who know Him not. Ah, but if He is glorified what does it matter? Have we received eternal life of Him; did He lay down His life for us; and is it true that every joy in heaven above has been secured for us by His death and sufferings? Oh! then let us not be ashamed to own His lordship over us. If His love fills our hearts, His will must dominate our lives, and we shall then confess Him boldly, not fearing the results.
The Danger of Delay; or, Mac Ian's Fatal Mistake.
HOW often we find the sad consequences of delay recorded in history, and how many cases could be cited to illustrate the fact that procrastination is one of man's worst enemies.
We might fill a volume in recording instances where many lives have been thrown away because somebody was behind time. But I think we could not find any incident more striking than that which brought about the "massacre of Glencoe."
Glencoe is one of the wildest and most dreary valleys in all the west of Scotland; mists hang continually over its grey and barren rocks, and the uplifted voice of the tempest and the weird cry of the wild bird are the only sounds that break the stillness.
This wild district was inhabited by a proud and brave clan, named the Macdonalds, of Glencoe. In the reign of William and Mary the chief of this clan was an old man named Mac Ian: he was a rugged Highlander, with a spirit almost as untameable as the storms which so often raged about his home.
Mac Ian, like most of the Highland chiefs, sympathised with James II., who had been dethroned because of his adherence to Popery.
The Earl of Breadalbane had been appointed Governor of Scotland, and on him fell the work of bringing about a peaceful settlement with these Highland chiefs; but he was hated by them, and many difficulties arose between him and them until it seemed almost impossible that his purpose could be carried out.
While things were in this state, the English Government issued a proclamation calling upon all rebel chiefs to take an oath of allegiance to King William before the first January, 1692, and declaring that all who failed to do so would be looked upon as traitors and treated accordingly.
All the chiefs took care to take the oath before the time appointed, but Mac Ian, who, in the pride of his heart, imagined that it would be a fine thing to be the last to submit. Accordingly, he put off doing so until the 31st of December, when he presented himself at Fort William. To his dismay he was told he must go to Inverary, as only a magistrate could receive the oath, and there was none nearer. Then, for the first time, the awful folly of his vanity dawned upon him, for Inverary was six days journey from Fort William, and between the two places lay rugged mountains, snow clad and almost impassable. In his desparation the poor old man set out for Inverary, and reached that place on the 6th of January.
The day of grace was passed — he was behind time, and when the Governor of Scotland heard that he had not submitted at the appointed time, he determined on the destruction of the whole clan.
Treachery and infamy marked the carrying out of this order, it is true; but it never could have happened had not Mac Ian put off his submission until it was too late.
Early on the morning of February 13th the work of slaughter began. Many of the Macdonalds were slain in their beds, and their chief paid the penalty of his folly by being one of the first to fall.
Let not this sad story from Glencoe's dreary valley of weeping be lost upon us. Let us not forget that procrastination brought about all the desolation and death that was witnessed there on that fatal 13th of February and, while we think of all this, let us remember that the loss of a soul is an infinitely greater loss than merely that of life, for the one is for eternity and the other only for time; and yet we know that many have lost their souls and heaven for ever because they madly put off the question until it was too late.
Hear me out, for these things deeply concern you. God has sent forth a proclamation concerning His beloved Son. He has exalted Him to the highest place in heaven, and just as the Highland chiefs could only have peace by bowing to King William, so now, sinners can only have peace with God by bowing to the Lord Jesus Christ. For all who do bow there is forgivensss and eternal heaven, but for all who refuse there is nothing but the devouring fire of everlasting judgment. It is now the day of grace, and in long suffering mercy God is lingering over a rebellious world, and you may own Jesus as Lord and Saviour to-day; but remember, IT MAY BE TOO LATE TO-MORROW. A man once told me that he would never bow to Jesus, but he will, in spite of his foolish pride of heart which made him speak thus; for God has so decreed.
Breadalbane, who had to bring about the subjection of the chiefs, was hated by them all, and this, no doubt, kept Mac Ian from submitting sooner. But there is no reason why you should not submit to Jesus, for He is all love, and has proved His love by dying for us, while we were enemies of God.
I would beseech you not to let this love of Jesus — so wonderfully proved at Calvary — be in vain as far as you are concerned; but bow your knee to Him, trust Him as your Saviour, and confess that He alone has a right to you. Then, washed from your sins by His precious blood, you will be ready for the glory of God, and you will have no fear of being too late for the blessing and heaven.
How fearful will be the awakening of those whose love for the world has kept them away from Christ until the day of grace is passed! Alas! there will be many of this class. When the door of mercy is closed, they will stand outside with sorrow-charged hearts, begging for admittance; but there will be no mercy then! In righteousness that awful word "depart" will sound from within, blasting all their false hopes and sealing their eternal doom. Oh! look about you! See the danger of delay. Flee now to Christ.
"All things are ready, Come!
To-morrow may not be;
O sinner, come, the Saviour waits
This hour to welcome thee!"