The online Bible teaching ministry of John Brand

This Day in HIS-story: May 11

1685

HT: Dan Graves

UNDER CHARLES I, Charles II, and James II, staunch Scottish Presbyterians suffered greatly. Many firmly believed no earthly king could be head of the church—as the Stuart kings claimed they were. That role was reserved for Jesus Christ alone. Many Scots (Covenanters) signed a covenant in 1638 denying that the Stuarts had authority over the Scottish church. Some strict Calvinists went so far as to say that it was wrong even to say “God save the king!” because if the king was not among those whom God had predestined for salvation, that would be defying God’s will. Years of persecution and of warfare caused rebels to retaliate against anyone who betrayed a Covenanter to the government.

Nonetheless persecution raged unabated in 1685. Today, 11 May 1685, “was made remarkable by more than one great crime,” wrote historian Thomas Babington Macaulay. Musketeers in Clydsdale executed three laborers who refused to pray for the king unless he was among the elect. In Eskdale the Lord of Westerhall tore down the home of a woman who had harbored a refugee, and his soldiers shot her teenage son. He died bravely, holding a Bible. “I can look you in the face,” he said; “I have done nothing of which I need be ashamed. But how will you look in that day when you shall be judged by what is written in this book?” 

But the most famous of the judicial murders of this day took place at Wigton, Scotland.  Sixty-three-year-old Margaret Lachlane and young Margaret Wilson, perhaps eighteen or twenty years old, were tied to stakes in Wigtown’s mudflats to drown as the tide came in.

Both could have saved themselves by repeating an oath against the rebel Covenanters, swearing allegiance to the king as head of the church, and promising to attend Episcopal services. The headship of Christ was the issue in a nutshell, so they could not comply with that demand. And as they considered oaths to be against Christ’s command, they refused the first condition. Finally, since Episcopal churches (i.e., Church of England) accepted the headship of the king, they could not comply with the last condition, either. 

Lachlane had been seized while holding a Sunday service at home instead of attending the government’s approved church. She was staked farthest out so that her death would serve as a warning to the younger woman. 

Wilson with her siblings had defied her parents and attended Covenanter services held in wilderness places. As a consequence, her parents had been ruined by fines, but the father was still able to raise £100 to free a younger daughter, Agnes, arrested with Margaret. He also persuaded the privy council at Edinburgh to grant a reprieve to the other two women (or so was later claimed) but if this was so, the authorities at Wigton ignored the order.

While Lachlane was losing her struggle against the water, a bystander asked Wilson what she saw. “What do I see?” she countered, “Christ, in one of His members, wrestling there. Think you that we are the sufferers? No, it is Christ in us; for He sends none a warfare upon their own charges.”

While the flood rose around her she sang a psalm and quoted Scripture. When she had passed out under the rising water, she was released, restored to consciousness, and given another chance to conform. At the urging of friends, she brought herself to say, “May God save him [the king], if He will, for it is his salvation I desire.” 

“She has said it, indeed sir, she has said it!” cried the friends.

But Sir Robert Grierson of Lagg, who led the persecution against Wilson, demanded she take the oath. She refused, saying, “I will not; I am one of Christ’s children; let me go.” Major Windram then ordered his soldiers to fasten her again to the stake. And so she died. After the tide retreated, the bodies of the two victims were recovered and interred in a nearby cemetery.

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