IN THE CLEFT OF THE ROCK.
A widow on the northern shores of Sutherland left her home early one morning in order to reach, before evening, the residence of a kinsman who had promised to assist her to pay her rent. She carried on her back her only child, a boy two years old. The journey was a long one. The mountain track, after leaving the village where the widow lived, passes through a green valley watered by a peaceful stream which flows from a neighbouring lake; it then winds along the margin of the solitary lake, until, near its farther end it suddenly turns into an extensive copse-wood of oak and birch.
From this mountain pass the widow’s dwelling was ten miles off, and no human habitation was nearer than her own. She had undertaken a long journey indeed! The morning the widow left home gave promise of a lovely day. But before noon a sudden change took place in the weather. Sudden gusts of wind began to whistle among the rock and to ruffle, with black squalls, the surface of the loch. The wind was succeeded by sleet, and the sleet by a heavy fall of snow. It was the month of May – for that storm is yet remembered as the Great May Storm.
Weary, and wet, and cold, the widow reached the mountain-pass with her child. She knew that a mile beyond it there was a mountain shieling (a cleft in the rock) which would give her shelter. She crouched beneath a projecting, edge of rock. The storm continued to rage. The snow was accummulating overhead. It became bitterly cold, and the widow’s heart was sick with fear and anxiety. Her only child was all she thought of. She wrapped him in her shawl, which was thin and worn, and her clothing could hardly defend herself from the piercing cold of such a night.
The snow, in whirling eddies, entered the recess, which afforded them at best but miserable shelter. The night came on. The wretched mother stripped off almost all her own clothing and wrapped it round her child, whom, at last, she put into a deep crevice of the rock. And now she resolved, at all hazards, to brave the storm, and return home in order to get assistance for her babe, or to perish in the attempt.
That night of storm was succeeded by a peaceful morning. People from the village went out to search for the widow and her son. They have reached the pass, a cry is heard from one of the shepherds, as he sees a bit of tartan cloak among the snow. They found the widow – dead; her arms stretched forth as if imploring for assistance! Before noon, they discovered the child by his cries. The story of that woman’s affection for her child was soon read in language which all understood.
Many a tear was shed, and the aged Pastor gathered the villagers in the deserted house of mourning, and by prayer and exhortation, sought to improve for their soul’s good an event so sorrowful.
More than half a century passed away. That aged Pastor was long dead, though his memory still lingers in many a retired glen. His son, whose locks were white with age, was preaching to a congregation of Highlanders in one of the large cities.
The subject of his discource was the love of Christ. In illustrating the self-sacrificing nature of the love “which seeketh not her own,” he narrated the above story of the widow, whom he had himself known in his boyhood. And he asked, “If that child is now alive, what would you think of his heart if he did not cherish an affection for his mother’s memory, and if the sight of her poor tattered cloak, which she had wrapped round him in order to save his life at the cost of her own, did not fill him with gratitude and love too deep for words? Yet what hearts have you, my hearers, if over these memorials of your Saviour’s sacrifice of Himself, you do not feel them glow with deeper love, and with adoring gratitude?”
A few days after this, a message was sent by a dying man requesting to see this clergyman. The request was speedily complied with. The sick man seized the minister by the hand, and, gazing intently in his face, said, “You do not, you cannot recognize me. But I know you, and knew your father before you. I have been a wanderer in many lands. I have visited every quarter of the globe, and fought and bled for my king and country. I came to this town a few weeks ago in bad health.”
“Last Sabbath I entered your Church – the Church of my countrymen – where I could hear once more, in the language (Gaelic) of my youth and heart the Gospel preached. I heard you tell the story of the widow and her son”. Here the voice of the old soldier faltered, his emotion almost checked his utterance; but recovering for a moment, he cried, “I AM THAT SON!” and burst into a flood of tears.
“Yes,” he continued, “I AM THAT SON! Never, never did I forget my mother’s love. Well might you ask what a heart should mine have been if she had been forgotten by me! Though I never saw her, dear to me is her memory, and my only desire now is, to lay my bones beside hers in the old Churchyard among the hills.”
“But, sir, what breaks my heart, and covers me with shame, is this – until now, I never saw, with the eyes of the soul, the love of my Saviour in giving Himself for me – a poor, lost, hell-deserving sinner. I confess it! I confess it!” he cried looking up to heaven, his eyes streaming with tears. And pressing the minister’s hand close to his breast, he added, “It were God who made you tell that story. Praise be to His Holy Name, that my dear mother has not died in vain, and the prayers which I was told she used to offer for me, have at last been answered; for the love of my mother has been blessed by the Holy Spirit for making me see, as I never saw before, the love of the Saviour. I see it; I believe it. I have found deliverance in old age where I found it in my childhood – IN THE CLEFT OF THE ROCK; but it is THE ROCK OF AGES!”
Clasping his hands, he repeated with intense fervour, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee!”
Condensed from ‘The Christian TreasuryÂ’