Covenanter History

The Tomb of Alexander Linn - Shepherd, Covenanter, Martyr

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Alexander Linn was shot on the spot on Craigmoddie Fell, a remote part of Wigtownshire, in 1685 after being found with a pocket Bible. In May 1827, 142 years later, the Stranraer minister William Symington preached a sermon at the spot. A stone wall was built around the grave, its stone placed in the wall, and a new stone added.

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According to one contemporary account, ‘it is so remote a place, that nothing but the hottest spirit of persecution could have pursued its victims into such a wild. It was a matter of surprise, that a congregation could be collected there to hear sermon. Yet, says an eye witness, we had a large and most attentive audience, people having gathered from a wide circle of the surrounding country’.

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‘It was with great difficulty that Dr. Symington could find his way to the spot on the Sabbath morning; but as he approached it, he perceived people streaming towards it from all quarters. A temporary pulpit was erected near the martyr’s grave. The audience listened with much pleasure to a long and moving discourse from Jude 3’.

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The Dumfries & Galloway Courier (29 May 1827) reported that there were at least 1000 people there - and that Symington spoke for four hours!

‘The preacher and his audience, which could not be under 1,000 souls, had to travel through bogs for many a weary mile, and when the voice of the Psalms rose in the wilderness, and matrons, maids, and reverential men were seen streaming from every neighbouring height, the spectators had a living example before them of a conventicle held in the days of persecution. We need not eulogise the talents of the preacher. As a divine he has very few equals, whether among Dissenters or in the Established Church; and although he spoke for four hours, a more attentive and enthusiastic congregation never assembled on a hill-side. The inscription on the humble tomb of Linn furnished the Rev. Gentleman with a text, “contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints,” and never was a text more interestingly illustrated. The remoteness of the spot — the tent planted in the open wild — the monotonous aspect of external nature as contrasted with the pious worshippers around — the burn stealing through the heathery waste, and the curlew complaining that her wilderness had been invaded — all contributed to subdue the mind to a holy calm, to banish for a time every worldly feeling, and produce impressions which only the poet could have adequately described’.

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One tradition states that Linn was from New Luce, and would have been a parishioner of Alexander Peden’s - however it is more likely that he was a fugitive from elsewhere.

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Further memorial services were held in 1887, 1911 and 1912. According to another source, ‘additional commemoration services were held at the tomb in 1972 and 1985, the latter marking the 300th anniversary of the death of Alexander Linn. The 1972 service was recorded by an addendum to his original 1685 stone in which two numbers in the date were transposed, reading 1927 instead of 1972’.

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“Contend for the faith that was once for all given to the saints” - Jude 3

“Happy is that people whose God is the LORD” - Psalm 144:15

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John Livingstone Commemorated

Last month a new plaque was unveiled marking the ministry of the Covenanter John Livingstone in Stranraer from 1638-48.

His ministry up to and including his time in Stranraer is summarised in the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology as follows:

The plaque on the church street wall - an identical plaque is on the gate of the High Kirk

The plaque on the church street wall - an identical plaque is on the gate of the High Kirk

‘Licensed to preach in 1625, Livingstone quickly gained a reputation as a powerful preacher, but he refused to enter the parish ministry through opposition to the Five Articles of Perth. In 1630, after being instrumental in a revival at the Kirk of Shotts (Lanarkshire), he crossed to Ireland and became minister of Killinchy in County Down, but he was deposed for nonconformity in 1632. In 1637 Livingstone returned to Scotland to support the Covenanters against Charles I, and became minister of Stranraer, Wigtownshire. He played a notable part in the tumultuous events of the following years. He joined those who demanded the abolition of some traditional practices in worship as unwarranted, and insisted on the right of the godly to hold prayer meetings in addition to attending public worship.’

Livingstone himself recounts how in 1638 he received calls from both ‘Stranrawer in Galloway’ and Straiton in Carrick. He would have chosen Straiton, but sought the advice of six ministers (Robert Blair, David Dickson, Andrew Cant, Alexander Henderson, Samuel Rutherford and his own father) who advised him to choose Stranraer, because it was within four miles of Portpatrick ‘and so nearer for the advantage of our people in Ireland’.

He recounts the 3-day boat journey from Irvine to Stranraer, including a whole day without food or water, concluding ‘yet it pleased the Lord we came safe to Lochryen’. And in words quoted in the newspaper report above, he writes: ‘Some of our friends out of Ireland came and dwelt at Stranraer, and at our communions twice in the year great numbers used to come; at one time 500 persons; and at one time I baptized towards twenty-eight children brought out of Ireland’.

You can read more about Livingstone in:

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W, K. Tweedie, Select Biographies edited for the Wodrow Society (2 vols, Edinburgh, 1845-7), i, 127-370

(republished by Banner of Truth in 2008 as Scottish Puritans).

William Symington, RP minister in Stranraer 1819-39

On Thursday evening, Stephen gave a talk at the Wigtownshire Antiquarian and Natural History Society on Rev. William Symington, who was ordained in Stranraer 200 years ago this year. You can listen to the talk above, and view the accompanying presentation below:

A number of sources mentioned in the talk are available to read on our website. They are:

We have previously made available the contemporary account of his preaching mentioned in the talk, and the entry on Symington in the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology.

Yesterday, just three days after Stephen’s talk, Roy Blackwood (whose PhD thesis on Symington is invaluable) passed away. You can read a tribute to him on the Gentle Reformation website.

St Andrews Reformation Day Trip

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On Saturday, we joined with over 100 others from the RP churches of Glasgow, North Edinburgh and Airdrie (and friends from elsewhere) on a Reformation day trip to St Andrews to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

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With heavy rain the day before and the day after, we were grateful to God for a dry and sunny day for the trip. We arrived in St Andrews in time for lunch, before heading out to tour the town and hear talks on three famous Reformers who are associated with it.

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The first talk was given by Jimmy Fisher of Reformation Tours. He spoke about Patrick Hamilton, who first heard of the teachings of Martin Luther when at university in Paris. After returning home to teach at the University of St Andrews, he became convinced that Luther's teachings were Biblical. He began to preach and saw many people converted before being arrested, tried and burnt at the stake in 1528. However rather than stopping the progress of the Reformation, his death helped spread it.

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We then moved from St Salvator's to the Castle where Stephen spoke about George Wishart, whose theological ability and preaching around Scotland gave the Reformation both depth and breadth. Wishart too was martyred in St Andrews, being hanged and burnt outside the Castle in 1546.

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The final spot we visited was St Andrews' Cathedral where Peter Loughridge (North Edinburgh RP Church) spoke on the most famous Reformer of all - John Knox. Knox has many critics but Peter showed how he was just the man who God had shaped for such a time. Knox, like the other Reformers spent time abroad and had many contacts outside Scotland. Being part of this wider network benefitted the work of the gospel in their homeland.

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While at the Cathedral, we had the opportunity to visit the grave of Samuel Rutherford, someone who would be greatly used by God the century after Hamilton, Wishart and Knox.

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We then returned to our our starting point where Kenneth Stewart of Glasgow RPC gave a short talk on the benefits of the Reformation for Scotland. Overall it was a great day and we are thankful to God for safety in travel, fellowship, and the opportunity to learn more about the great heritage that Scotland has.

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Mission team wrap-up

Previously:
- Encouraging first full day with Mission Team
- Mission Team: Monday and Tuesday

WEDNESDAY
Having finished distributing leaflets to homes in Stranraer, the team did the villages of Castle Kennedy, Stoneykirk and Sandhead.

In the afternoon two of the team came with Stephen to the Cafe N-Spire recovery cafe he helps out with - sadly the weather meant we weren't able to go fishing as planned, but it was still a good opportunity to chat to those there - and experience some Scottish culture!

The rest of the team did practical work, such as getting the church hall ready for the first night of the mission and gardening. They then went to different peoples houses for dinner, before meeting back at the church hall in time for the first of our special services.

THURSDAY
With the leaflets finished, the team had the opportunity to see some of the many sites around us associated with the Scottish Covenanters, the forerunners of the RP Church.

We were thankful to the Baptist church for the use of their minibus, which meant we could go to Anwoth (where Samuel Rutherford preached about Jesus in the early 1600s) and then Wigtown (where the two Margarets were martyred for Jesus in the late 1600s). Again, the team members were divided between two different homes for dinner before the second night of the Mission.

FRIDAY
In the morning we practiced some songs that we were planning to sing at Belmont Care Home. On arrival however we found that because of illness to some residents, we wouldn't be able to perform. The weather meant we were unable to do any psalm singing in the town centre either, but it did give the team a chance to see round the Castle of St John in the middle of Stranraer. The Castle is also associated with the Covenanting era as government troops were stationed here during the 'Killing Times' in the 1680s.

In the afternoon, the team cleaned seats at Stair Park, where Stephen serves as chaplain to Stranraer FC, in preparation for the new season. After having dinner together in Kirkcolm, the team attended the final of our three special services. Audio of all the talks is available here on our website and on iTunes.

SATURDAY
In the morning the team went to Galloway Forest Park and walked to the monument set up to mark the deaths of six Covenanter martyrs. The monument was originally set up by the Whithorn Reformed Presbyterian congregation during the ministry of Gavin Rowatt, who died at the young age of 30, six years after becoming a minister.

In the afternoon the team attended the baptism of Willow Steele, before heading back to base with those who had come down from Airdrie for the baptism. We're thankful for all the work the team members did and pray that God will use it. We're also thankful for the opportunity to renew friendships from last year, and make new ones. The team came from many different places and churches, but in Christ there is far more that unites us than divides us.

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