JAMES RENWICK

From: A CLOUD OF WITNESSES, by Rev. John H. Thomson - Posted at CRTA:

ON A MONUMENT AT MONIAIVE: In memory of the late Reverend James Renwick, the last who suffered to death for attachment to the Covenanted Cause of Christ in Scotland — born near this spot, 15th February 1662, and executed at the Grassmarket, Edinburgh, 17th February 1688. 

JAMES RENWICK was born February 15, 1662, at Moniaive, in the parish of Glencairn, Dumfriesshire. His father, Andrew Renwick, was a weaver, and in profession and practice a fervent and faithful Christian, which was enough, says Alexander Shields in his Life of Renwick, to nobilitate the birth of his worthy son, who had what honor was wanting in his first birth made up in the second. He died as he lived, in the Lord, February 1st, 1676, the same day twelve years after that his son was taken to die for the Lord [age 26].

His mother, Elizabeth Corsan, was of like piety with her husband. She had several children, but all died previous to the birth of James. Their loss filled her with grief. Her husband tried to comfort her by declaring that he was well satisfied if his children, die when they might, were heirs of glory. Her prayer, however, was Hannah like, for a child from the Lord that might not only be an heir of glory, but live to serve Him on earth. When James was born, she received him as an answer to prayer, and felt herself bound to dedicate him to the Lord. It soon appeared that the dedication was accepted. As he learned to speak he learned to pray. His mother lovingly tells, that, by the time he was but two years of age, he was discerned to be aiming at prayer even in the cradle and about it. Along with the work of grace on his soul, his natural faculties came to early ripeness. He could read the Bible in his sixth year, a wonderful attainment in that century, when learning was not made easy as it is now; and' ' "his inclination was constant for his book."

With some difficulty his parents kept him at the parish school, for they were poor, until means were found, through the assistance of friends who admired the good parts of the boy, of sending him to Edinburgh. Here he remained until ready for the University, which he attended until he passed through the classes necessary for a degree. The piety of his childhood was not cast aside by him when a student at college. He resisted the temptations that abound in a city, and at the close of his curriculum such was his tenderness of conscience, that he would not take the oath of allegiance required before the degree of Master of Arts could be conferred.

But shortly afterwards, by some means not mentioned by his first biographer, he, along with other two students, obtained the degree privately, without taking the oath of allegiance.

After taking his degree he remained in the capital for some time, prosecuting his studies in theology, and associating with the indulged ministers, or with those who, unable to comply with the Erastian demands of the government, lived in retirement in Edinburgh or in its neighborhood. Their silence respecting the sins of the time, and the spectacle of the frequent martyrdoms that took place, set him a thinking, and led him to inquire after ministers who had not in any form consented to the supremacy exercised by the crown over the church. These he could not find, while he at the same time came to the conclusion that he could no longer attend the ministrations of the indulged. The execution of Donald Cargill, at which he was present, so moved him that he determined to adopt the martyrs' testimony, and to cast in his lot with the persecuted. He entered heartily into the plan formed in the close of 1681, by those who sympathized with the cause for which the martyrs suffered, of establishing societies throughout the country, to meet at regular intervals for prayer and conference.

He was present at the publication of the Declaration at Lanark, January 12, 1682, although he had no share in drawing it up, otherwise he would have softened some of its expressions. In the same year, the Societies sent Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun to the United Provinces, in order to vindicate themselves from the slanders that had been circulated, to their discredit, among the foreign churches. One result of this mission was, that steps were taken to send young men abroad to study for the Christian ministry. In the "Faithful Contendings," in the account of the fifth General Meeting of the Societies, held at Edinburgh, October 11, 1682, is recorded what was done to send out Renwick and three companions. Twenty-five pounds Scots were voted to each to defray the expenses of the voyage, as well as what was needful to provide them in clothes and other necessaries. Renwick sailed in December, and went to Groningen, where John a Marck, the author of the "Medulla Theologia" —a favorite text book with Dr. Chalmers — was at that time Professor of Divinity and Church History. Here he made such progress in his studies, that, at the recommendation of Marck himself, he was ordained by the Classis of Groningen, 10th May 1683. He left Holland early in the following August, and, after a long and stormy passage, in which the vessel had to put into Rye, in Sussex, where he narrowly escaped apprehension, he reached Dublin. Here, after a short stay, he found friends who procured him a passage to Scotland. But his difficulties were not at an end, for all the harbors were then strictly watched, and the captain at first would not land him but at a regular port. At last he was prevailed to put him ashore, tradition says, somewhere below Gourock.

It was September when he arrived, but he refrained from preaching until the tenth General Meeting — October 3, 1683 — at Darmead, in Cambusnethan parish, where he gave an account of his studies; and handed in his testimony to the truths of God, and to His cause; a document drawn up by him before he left Groningen, and containing some expressions which he afterwards regretted, but valuable as showing how well acquainted he was, at that early age, with the true state of the controversy between the persecuted and the Government, and how earnestly he had espoused the cause for which the martyrs suffered. At this meeting they gave him a call to be their minister, which he accepted, and entered on his ministry by preaching at the same place, Sabbath, November 23.

William Wilson, in his collection of sermons by Renwick, has given notes of the discourses he preached that day. After a short preface he lectured on Isaiah 40:1-8: "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God," etc.; and preached two sermons on Isaiah 26:20:

"Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast."

The notes of the lecture are meager: they occupy little more than two octavo pages; but those of the sermons are much fuller: they extend to seventeen pages, and are evidently a faithful report of what he said. They are remarkable sermons for one so young in years, and more than justify the recommendation of Marck, that he should be ordained as speedily as possible.

Those who fancy that the burden of Renwick's preaching was upon matters of church government, and declamation against the tyranny of the time, will have their fancies sent to the winds when they read such a statement of the Gospel message, and such impassioned pleading that men would come to Christ, as are contained in the following paragraphs, in illustration of the proposition — "There is both ability and willingness in the Lord to give you whatsoever your necessity requires."

"There is Ability. What would you have? Salvation and deliverance? then He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto Him. Lift up your eyes, and behold a wonder which you cannot know, and put forth this question, 'Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? — this that is glorious in His apparel, travelling in the greatness of His strength?' [Isa 63:1] And His answer will be unto you: 'It is I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.' Gainsay it who will, the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied.

"And now, methinks, I hear some of you saying, All this is true; we can set to our seals to it. But is He willing? This is our question.

"Willing He is indeed. He is not more able than He is willing. What are all His promises, but declarations of His free willingness? What are all His sweet invitations, but to tell you that He is willing, and ye are welcome. 'Let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will, let him come, and take of the water of life freely.' [Rev 22:17] Ah! what say you to it? Give us your seal to His willingness also. Go, say you, why not? you have it. Then come away, there is no more wanting, save, Come; we know He is willing, and we set to our seal to His willingness. But is He willing to receive me? Satisfy me in this, and then I will be right. Ah cheat! ye are taking your word back again now, and lifting off your seal. If ye except not yourself, He will not except you. His invitation is unto all: 'Every one, come; he that thirsteth, come; he that hath no money, come.' [Isa 55:1]

"Now, why will ye be so ill to yourselves, as to debar yourselves? for He doth not do it. Ye may as well and as rationally say, that ye are not a body as to say He debars you. His invitation is to every one. Now assent to this; and then, before you except yourself: out of this invitation, you must first say you have not a being, neither of soul nor body. We say, for you to think that He excepts you, it is all one as to deny yourself to be one of the children of Adam.

"Now, O come, come niggard! what aileth thee? Come, what would ye have that is not in Christ? Oh! that sweet invitation, Come! we cannot tell you what is in it. There is a depth in it that all the angels in heaven cannot fathom. It is no less than Jesus Christ, who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification, [Rom 4:25] spreading forth His arms and inviting you. He is opening up Himself — His all-sufficiency and super-transcendent excellency — and calling to all poor, needy things, 'Come, here is enough for you; give in your desires, and you shall have them satisfied to the full.' What, then, have ye to say to the bargain? Come, come; it is a rich commodity, and there is no sticking at the price; only receive and have — the easiest of all terms. There is no more required at your hands.

"But say ye, ha! sir, ye go without your bounds; the invitation in your text is to His people only: ye are, then, all wrong. We are not so far wrong as ye trow [i.e., believe], for the invitation is to His people to enter into their chambers, and to all who will come and become His people to enter into their chambers; and so this is a free market. We must invite all to come. Ye who are enemies, lay down your arms against Him, and come. Ye who are upholding His enemies, and complying with them in their sinful courses and abominations, by paying them cess and locality, and by furnishing them meat and drink (which is more than a bidding them God speed, which the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of John, forbids), quit the putting of the sword into God's enemies' hands, and come. Ye who have given bonds to the adversary; break your covenant with hell and death, and come; break your sworn allegiance to the devil, and come and swear a new allegiance to Jesus Christ, and ye shall never rue it. Ye who compear [i.e., appear] before their courts, and pay them fines, whereby ye both acknowledge them who are robbers of God, and call your duty your sin, quit these courses, and come. Ye who go to the curates, leave these perjured, blind guides, and come. Ye who go to the indulged, leave these traitors to God. Ye who go to the backslidden, silent ministers, leave these betrayers of the cause, and deserters of the cross of Christ, and come; leave all these, and follow Him; He is a true guide, and will be so to you. Ye who any ways seek or take the enemy's protection, leave it, and come; come to Him, and ye shall find chambers indeed both for safety and delight. All ye that are strangers to Him, come; ye that are in nature, come; and ye that know Him, come. We must preach this word 'Come' unto you so long as ye are here, until ye be transplanted out of this spiritual warfare into celestial triumph. Oh! sirs, come, come, ask what ye will, and He shall give it. Oh! come, come!

The reader of these paragraphs will not wonder that Renwick at once became a favorite preacher among the persecuted Covenanters, and that there were demands for his services from many quarters. In a few months, in the first year of his ministry, he is said to have baptized no less than six hundred children. His fame as a preacher soon came to the ears of the enemies of liberty then in power, and August 30th, 1684, the form of summoning him before the Privy Council was gone through at the Cross of Edinburgh and the Pier of Leith; and, in the following month, letters of intercommuning were issued against him, in which he is called, after the fashion in which the Government of the time were wont to speak of the salt of the earth, a seditious vagabond and pretended preacher, is accused of debauching some of our unwary subjects into the same wicked, unnatural, and seditious principles with himself, and closing with the following sentences, as notable for their virulence as for their grammar:

"We command and charge all and sundry our lieges and subjects that they nor none of them presume, nor take upon hand to reset, supply or intercommune with the said Mr. James Renwick, rebel foresaid; nor furnish him with meat, drink, house, harbor, victual nor no other thing useful or comfortable to him; or to have intelligence with him by word writ or message or any other manner of way whatsoever under pain of being esteemed art and part with him in the crimes foresaid, and pursued therefore with all rigor to the terror of others. And we hereby require all our Sheriffs to apprehend and commit to prison, the person of the said Mr. James Renwick wherever they can find or apprehend him."

Renwick and the Societies answered the Letters of Intercommuning by the Apologetic Declaration. The Government rejoined by a proclamation, characterized by the same wild fury of expression as the Letters of Intercommuning, in which 'the Societies are styled insolent and desperate rebels, and the Declaration execrable and treasonable. At the same time, sterner and more relentless measures than ever were taken to suppress the meetings of the Societies, and to seize the persons of their members. The Lords of the Privy Council asked the opinion of the Court of Session whether an owning of the Apologetic Declaration was an act of treason, and received as answer that it was. Fortified by this answer, it was resolved that all who owned, or would not disown, the Apologetic Declaration, whether they had arms or not, should be immediately put to death, wherever persons holding the commission of the Council might find them; provided two witnesses were present. The result of these steps was that of all the twenty-eight years of persecution, 1685 was the most terrible and most marked by the cruelty of the persecutor. Renwick himself had many a hairbreadth escape, yet none of his meetings was ever surprised by the emissaries of Government; and persecution had no other effect upon him than to strengthen his conviction that the work he was engaged in was the Lord's. And by the grace and goodness of God, says his biographer and companion in tribulation, Alexander Shields, he was still more animated and enlarged in spirit, and enabled in body to increase his diligence in preaching, baptizing, and examining every week once at least; which had such success, that a great and effectual door was opened to the bringing in of many to Christ, out of ignorance and darkness of nature, and bringing back many from the times' sins and compliances, and calling out such multitudes, flocking after the persecuted Gospel ordinances in the open fields, that it was impossible for him to answer all the calls he received from all parts to preach to them.

At the nineteenth general meeting of the Societies, held May 28, 1685, at Blackgannoch, on the Spango Water, in the parish of Kirkconnel, the second Sanquhar Declaration was agreed upon.

Immediately after the meeting, about two hundred and twenty men drew up in arms, and marched to Sanquhar, five miles to the south of Blackgannoch, where, after a psalm and prayer by Renwick, the Declaration was published, and a copy left on the Cross. The Declaration is manifestly from the pen of Renwick, and is a well expressed vindication of the Societies from the charge of encouraging assassination brought against them by their enemies, as well as a protestation against the illegality of the Duke of York, a professed Papist, ascending the throne as James II. Defiant as was this Declaration, the Government found it most prudent to take no notice of it. They evidently felt that the less said about the religion of the new king the better.

But the misrepresentations of Renwick and the Societies by their enemies did not cease. The failure of the Earl of Argyle's enterprise, which Renwick had refused to join until its aims were stated more in harmony with the principles he had been accustomed to maintain, increased the numbers of those who misrepresented him, but his usual answer, when told of their misrepresentations was, "I will not say so of them," while he charged his friends not to contend with such weapons, and to have a care not to render railing for railing. Slanders, too, rose up among the members of the Societies, but he pursued his course undeterred by all that might be said against him.

In December 1686, a reward of 100 pounds sterling was offered to any one who should bring in James Renwick dead or alive, but it had no effect in leading any of his followers to betray him.

In 1687, three successive proclamations were issued, allowing Presbyterians to meet in their private houses for worship and preaching, but field meetings were strictly forbidden. The object of Government in these proclamations was to prepare the way for the legal toleration of Popery. Many, however, took advantage of these proclamations, and some ministers went so far as, in rather a fulsome manner, to thank the Government for the fettered permission afforded them to preach. Renwick drew up an answer to the proclamations, came into Edinburgh, January 1688, and gave a copy of it to Mr. Hugh Kennedy, then indulged minister in Edinburgh, to be communicated to the rest of his brethren. From Edinburgh he went to Fife, where he preached in several places, and for the last time at Borrowstounness on January 29. Notes of a sermon preached on January 24, from Psalm 45:10: "Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine eye; forget also thine own people and thy father's house," of a second, preached January 27 from Luke 12:32: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom,' and of his last sermon, from Isaiah 53:1:" Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed," are in Wilson's collection. They are obviously not so well reported as the notes of his first sermon, but they are full enough to show the expository, the evangelical, and earnest character of his preaching up to his last days, If there be any change in these later sermons from the first, it is to the better, for they present more exhaustively the lessons taught in the text.

He returned to Edinburgh, January 31. He lodged in the Castle Hill, at the head of the Bow, in the house of a friend, John Lookup, near where Free St. John's Church now stands. The house was that of a trader in what were called "uncustomed goods from England," a profession in that age, from the character of the men then in power, by no means looked upon with disfavor by patriotic Scotsmen. An excise officer on the watch for contraband goods heard family prayer in the house, and suspected the voice was that of Renwick. He had the house surrounded next morning about daybreak. An entrance was soon made, when the excise officer exclaimed, "My life for it, this is Mr. Renwick," and declared that all within must go to the guardhouse, to show what trade they were of. Renwick rejoined, "I shall soon show you what is my trade."

The excise officer now went out to the street and called for assistance to carry the dog Renwick to the guardhouse. Meanwhile Renwick, with two friends in the house, tried to escape by another door, but it was found watched by the excise officers, and when one of the two sought to break through he was driven back. At this Renwick fired a pistol, which at once opened a way for himself and friends, but as they went out he received a blow from a staff that partly stunned him, and made him fall once or twice as he ran down the Castle Wynd towards the head of the Cowgate, where he lost his hat. By his falls the pursuers gained on him, and the loss of his hat marked him out, so that he was soon caught by a person on the street, but his two friends made their escape. He was taken to the guardhouse, and put in irons by the order of a committee of Council. He was examined on February 3. He himself has given an account of his examination in a letter contained in the Collection of his Letters, (Letter 55) When he was searched, his pocket-book was taken from him, but it contained nothing but a few names in full, as many more in the first letter only, and notes of two sermons which he had preached January 18, at the Braid Craigs, two miles south from Edinburgh, at a place still pointed out. These names, as their owners were out of danger, he readily explained.

On February 3, he received his indictment, which will be found in full in Wodrow. He was tried Wednesday, February 8, and was sentenced to be executed the following Friday. The Lord Justice General, Earl of Linlithgow, asked him if he desired longer time. He replied it was all one to him; if it was protracted it was welcome, if shortened it was welcome; his Master's time was the best time. Without his knowledge, however, the day of execution was delayed for another week.

During this week his friends were forbidden to see him, and every effort was made by the government to get him to petition for a reprieve. Writing materials were taken from him, but he managed to write the testimony and letter that follow. On the morning of execution he wrote a short letter to his dear friend Sir Robert Hamilton, full of faith and confidence. He says, "I go to your God and my God. Death to me is as a bed to the weary. Now, be not anxious, the Lord will maintain His cause and own His people; He will show His glory yet in Scotland; farewell." The compilers of the "Cloud" have given a short account of his last words, to which we have added Alexander Shields' narrative of what he said just before he was executed. He was buried in the Greyfriars Churchyard. A monument was erected to his memory in 1828, at Moniaive, near the farmhouse where tradition says he was born.

In 1687, James Renwick, in conjunction with Alexander Shields, drew up the only work ever published by him: "An Informatory Vindication of a Poor, Wasted, Misrepresented Remnant of the Suffering, Anti-popish, Anti-prelatic, Anti-erastian, Anti-sectarian, true Presbyterian Church of Christ in Scotland; United together in a General Correspondence; By way of Reply to various Accusations in Letters, Informations, and Conferences given forth against them." The first eighteen, or perhaps the first thirty, of its 108 pages bear traces of Alexander Shields, but the rest is evidently from Renwick himself. It is much to be regretted that the "Informatory Vindication" should be so little known, as its ability, its catholicity, and its terseness and clearness of statement make it one of the most readable documents of that age, and altogether worthy of its title. No one who reads it dispassionately, but will feel that a Government that could put to death the author of such a document, for no other crime than the avowal of its opinions, was deservedly overthrown in the Revolution of 1688.

In 1724 John M'Main, M.A, schoolmaster at Liberton's Wynd, published, in an 18mo volume of 248 pages, Alexander Shields' Life of Renwick. Shields finished it in September 1688, but it had lain in manuscript till it came into M'Main's hand. M'Main has added to it a preface of forty pages, in which he takes exception to Wodrow's history for doing scant justice to the sufferers whose testimonies are given in the "Cloud." Shields' Life contains more of characteristic declamation against the tyranny of the time than narrative. Nevertheless, it is one that the reader will be grateful for, and no doubt wish that we possessed similar lives of more than one of the sufferers of that age.

In 1748 William Wilson published two 18mo volumes, with the title, "A choice Collection of very valuable Prefaces, Lectures, and Sermons, preached upon the mountains and muirs of Scotland in the hottest time of the late persecution, by that faithful minister and martyr of Jesus Christ, the Reverend Mr. James Renwick." The collection has been several times reprinted in one octavo volume. Although printed from notes, taken by hearers, that are often obviously imperfect, the collection is yet one of interest and value.

In 1764 the Reverend John M'Millan, for many years minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Congregation that met at Sandhills, near Glasgow, published a 12mo volume, entitled "A Collection of Letters, consisting of ninety-three, sixty-one of which were wrote by the Reverend Mr. James Renwick." The first letter is dated July 1682, and the last is that written to Sir Robert Hamilton on the morning of his execution. Far more than his sermons, these letters reveal the character of Renwick, and show him to have been what Alexander Shields calls him, "a ripe Christian." Mr. M'Millan printed them from the manuscript, but not very accurately, and with the omission of the postscripts, which are at least as valuable as the rest of the letters. The original autographs of Renwick's last speech and testimony, and of his letter to his Christian Friends, are in the library of the Free College, Edinburgh. Through the kindness of the acting librarian, the Reverend John Laing, we have been permitted to examine them. The examination has shown a great many obvious misprints, or mistakes in the transcription, in all previous editions of the "Cloud." These we have corrected, and given an exact copy of what Renwick wrote. The handwriting shows marks of haste or of being under some restraint, but has much of the legibility, and even beauty, so characteristic of his earlier letters, at least twenty of which we have seen in his own autograph. — ED.]

Source: http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/misc/James_Renwick.html

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