UNDER THE SHADOW OF HIS WINGS
I am going to tell you about the Covenanter, John Paterson, of Penyvenie, a godly man, who counted not his life dear to him for the cause of his GodÂ—who was willing to suffer bonds and imprisonments, or even death itself, rather than do that which his Father in heaven had forbidden him to do. I will tell you how he was driven from his home, from his wife and children, hunted like a wild beast by the troopers of the king, and forced to find for himself a hiding-place, on the hill-side, in the glen, in the forest, or whithersoever the Lord led him. And once, when fleeing from the face of his enemies, when he was almost in their hands. God so directed his steps that he fell through a crevice in the rocks down into a large cavern, where he was for the time as safe as if the earth had opened her mouth and swallowed him up, and where he found for the future a far more secure and comfortable abiding place than he had before been able to devise. The cave was so large, dry, and airy, that he was able to make it quite a comfortable home, and the entrance to it was so small and so completely hidden among the confused blocks of granite that lay scattered around, that none of the inhabitants of the place had ever discovered its existence, not even those who had spent all their lives near the spot, and had supposed that no part of that crag of Benbeach was unknown to them.
Mrs. Paterson was a woman of the same spirit as her husband. Dearly as she loved him, she would rather, as she told him, see him beheaded on the scaffoldÂ—rather follow his bloody corpse to the graveÂ—than know that he had in anything acted against his conscience; and sorely as she missed him from his hearth and his home, faint and sick as her heart often was with longing for his dear presence, yet rather would she have borne to know that they were never again to enjoy each other’s company upon earth, than that he should buy a safe return to his family by denying, even in the smallest thing, the Lord who had bought him with His own most precious blood.
After that the Lord had shown them that sure hiding-place of which I told you, the husband and wife, the father and children, were able to enjoy much more of each other’s company. With the help of a little furniture brought from the farm-house, the cave was made quite comfortable.
Mrs. Paterson and the children could visit the poor wanderer there without much danger of discovery; and sometimes, when the pursuit after him was less hot than at others, the whole family spent days together in this new home, as happy as ever they had been in the farm house of Penyvenie, and far happierÂ—for did not God reward their fidelity to His cause by shining upon them with the light of His countenance, blessing them with His presence, and
with many sure and precious tokens of His love and favour? Then, besides being a happy home for themselves, this cave proved often a haven of refuge for many of their brethren persecuted like themselves for their faithfulness to their God. Many a happy meeting of God’s saints took place under its wide roof; many hours were there spent in sweet communion with God, and in joyful converse together, telling each other of God’s wonderful dealings towards them, of the marvellous deliverances He had wrought for them from the hands of their enemies.
There was one deliverance of this kind that John Paterson was particularly fond of relating to his children or his friends, as they sat round a fire kindled on the floor of the cave. He said that the recollection of it was so sweet and precious to himself, as reminding him of the Lord’s tender, loving care of His people, and was always a strengthener of his faith to trust that same loving God for the future; and therefore he was glad to give all whom He loved the pleasure of knowing it also. “I had gone,” he used to say, “to a preaching in the old black glen; while we were in the full enjoyment of the meeting, and our souls were being fed with the Word of our God from the mouth of His servant, the alarm was given that the troopers were coming down upon us. The meeting broke up at once, and we separated, each one taking the way that seemed to him safest and best. I was bent upon getting
back to this cave; indeed, I knew of no other hiding-place within my reach.
At first I thought that all the soldiers had gone off in different directions after the other people, but as I crossed the ridge above Longstone-moss, I heard a shout behind, and, looking back, I saw a party in full career after me, who evidently had me in full sight. I took the road straight over the bog, knowing that ground that would bear me as I ran lightly over it, would give way under the horses of the heavily-armed soldiers. It turned out in some measure as I had expected. All through the moss I kept my own with them, they gained nothing on me; but on the other hand, I gained nothing on them, and I knew that when the moss was once passed, the ground would allow them to get on more quickly than I could;
so I looked about for some hole or corner into which I might
creep, and, by the Lord’s good hand upon me, hide myself from the face of mine enemies.
As I sought and prayed the Lord to hide me under the shadow of His wings, I came upon a deep mossy furrow running across the bog. I lay down in the rushes, and the bents* closed over me, hiding me from view. And once again, as often before, I was made to know the joy there is in feeling that we are in our Father’s hands, that He is with us, and careth for us. But even while rejoicing in the safety I had found, I heard a sound that struck
upon my heart like a death knell. It was the baying of dogs, hot and keen on the scent of their prey, and I knew that from them there was no escape; no hole, however dark, no furrow, however deep, could hide me from them. That sense of smell which God had given them was sure and unerring, and these men were now using it to hunt God’s children to the death. ‘O Lord,’ I cried, ‘I am still in Thy hands, even yet canst Thou save me, if it so please Thee; but if it be Thy will that they should take my life, do Thou keep my soul fast resting on Thee, and let me meet death without fear, and without sin.’
Oh, my brethren, you know as well as I can tell you how sweet it is thus to cast oneself upon the Lord in the hour of danger;
how near He then seems to us; how calmly and peacefully the soul lies still in His everlasting arms! I heard the bark of the dogs come nearer and nearer. I raised my head a little, and looked through the rushes, and could see them not very many yards off, their heads down, their noses scenting out my very footsteps, and they coming straight and sure to their prey. Again, I cried to the Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit’; and I was preparing to rise that I might save myself at least from being torn by the dogs, when suddenly there was a whirr among the long grass at my head, and close past my face, like a flash of lightning, dashed a fox, frightened from his lair by the near approach of the dogs. With a loud yelp, the hounds turned from my track to rush after him, and the soldiers, too, in the eagerness of this unexpected chase, forgot the poor Covenanter whom they had been hunting. Fox, dogs, horses, and men dashed over the moor in wild excitement, and I was left to give praise and thanks to the Lord, who had again spread over me the shadow of His wings, and had again delivered me in safety from the hands of my enemies.
When they were fairly out of sight, I rose to go home. I passed round about the hill, walked up the burn to throw the hounds off my scent, and reached this sweet resting-place in safety, to find my dear wife waiting for me in sore anxiety and fear, and ready to join with me in wondering praises to the Lord, who had watched over His unworthy servant, and kept him even ‘as the apple of His eye.'”
John Paterson and his wife lived through all the years of persecution, and when liberty of conscience was once again allowed to God’s children in this land, they returned to their farm, and lived many years in peace and happiness, and in favour with God and man.