A Cauld Coal at The End: Cargill’s Preaching at Loudoun Hill

On Thursday 5 May, 1681, the Covenanter Donald Cargill preached at Loudoun Hill, a spectacular volcanic plug on the boundary of Ayrshire and Lanarkshire which is connected in historical memory with Robert Bruce’s victory in 1307 and the battle of Drumclog in 1679. The preaching marks a significant moment in the story of the Society people, as it defined the first schism within their ranks.

Loudoun Hill © Iain Thompson and licensed for reuse.

Loudoun Hill lay at the eastern tip of the Covenanters’ stronghold of Loudoun parish, Ayrshire. On 1 May, 1679, it was the site of Thomas Douglas’s field preaching prior to the battle of Drumclog, and James Renwick preached there in February, 1685. It is not clear precisely where Cargill’s preaching took place, but it was probably in the area behind the hill, as viewed from the A71, which had convenient escape routes into the muirs and bogs to the north and east. At most preachings, pickets would have been posted on the hill.

Map of Loudoun Hill     Street View from ‘behind’ Loudoun Hill.

According to Wodrow, the preaching was held ‘near Loudon hill’. (Wodrow, History, III, 278-9.)

It followed Cargill’s preaching at Underbank Wood on Sunday 1 May. According to Patrick Walker, who may have been present:

‘After Mr. Cargill left the Under-bankwood, he preached at Loudoun-hill upon a Week-day, the [Thursday] 5th of May. [The] Historian Wodrow says, that it was a Fastday; but it was not an appointed Fast, however some of them might be obliged to fast. He designed only to preach once, and baptize some Children: His Text was, No Man that hath followed me in the Regeneration, shall be a Loser, but great Gainers.’ (Walker, BP, II, 30.)

Cargill’s sermon was on the apocalyptic content of Matt. 19.28-30.:

‘And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.’

‘A Cald Coal to Blow At in The End’
According to Walker, the Loudoun Hill sermon was influenced by Cargill’s recent encounter with the Sweet Singers (aka. The Gibbites). They were led by John Gibb and had emerged in the port of Bo’ness in early 1681 during the period of Cargill’s exile in England. Their beliefs appear to have been influential among the Society people until Cargill returned in April.

Cargill clearly had some plain speaking to do on his return to Scotland on the emerging divisions within the Society people and the failure of the presbyterian ministry to maintain field preaching. The latter was, in part, Cargill’s own failure for five months, as he had fled into exile after his near capture at the Mutton Hole near Edinburgh in mid November, 1680.

His Loudoun Hill sermon was the last of three consecutive sermons in which he addressed those concerns. In his sermon at Darmead on 24 April, he warned of the dangers of presbyterian divisions, and at Underbank Wood on 1 May, he had tackled the problem of the failure of the ‘watchmen’, or presbyterian ministers, to maintain field preaching.

According to Walker:

‘In his Conference lately with the Gibbites [at Darngavel], finding so much of Peter’s Religion among them, that they had left all and followed him, made him to insist in shewing that it was not every pretended Way of following Christ that he would either regard or reward; holding forth the Danger and Ruin to place so much, if not all, of Religion in these external Parts of Christianity, as Prayers, Fastings and Mournings, and Contendings for the Testimony: For Sufferings for the same, tho’ they were Duties in themselves, yet whoever rested upon them would have a cald Coal to blow at in the End: Nothing is ours but Sin, nor due to us, but the Wages of it, Death.’ (Walker, BP, II, 30-1.)

According to Walker, Cargill drew parallels between the emerging exclusive beliefs of the Sweet Singers and ‘Peter’s Religion’, an alternate and more exclusive early form of Christianity, i.e., Jewish Christians. In the face of the Sweet Singer’s radical beliefs and recent rejection of all presbyterian ministers, Walker’s account casts Cargill in the role of the apostle Paul, who in the ‘Incident at Antioch’ confronted Peter over his maintaining that Mosaic Jewish law applied to non-Jewish Christians. The Pauline interpretation lay at the root of Western Christianity.

Walker’s account of the sermon records Cargill’s first public antipathy to the Sweet Singers:

‘In the Application of that Sermon, he gave Warning. of the Snares and Sins of the [Sweet Singers or] Gibbites and their Actings, and how dangerous it was to cast off all Ministers; and exhorted us to pray for faithful Ministers to ourselves, and never content ourselves without them; for we would not continue long sound in the Faith, and straight in the Way, if we wanted faithful Guides.’ (Walker, BP, II, 31.)

For Cargill, the Sweet Singers’ rejection of all ministers had led to dangerous courses which would deny those who followed Christ the promises of Matt. 19.28-30 in ‘the End’, i.e., the Apocalypse. The Society people would have to ‘pray for faithful ministers’ and be ‘never content … without them’. The United Societies would later remain firm in their commitment to the office of the presbyterian minister. After Cargill’s sermon, the Sweet Singers were no longer regarded as brethren.

The influence of Cargill’s preaching against the Sweet Singers is highlighted by the testimony of Patrick Foreman, who was present at Loudoun Hill. According to Foreman’s later testimony:

‘evil company hath been made useful to me. Yea, these antiscripturists [of the Sweet Singers] were made instructive to me; for I saw these four men (I mean John Gib and his followers) were once as fair on the way, by appearance, as any I knew. But I see gifts are not graces; and now, I think, they are hopeless; and I advise none that tenders [i.e., regards] the glory of God to meddle with them; for they are turned horrid blasphemers and deniers of the Scriptures.’ (Thompson (ed.), CW, 206.)

A Sermon Too Far
‘When the Sermon was ended, and Children baptized, there came up mo[re] Children. Friends prest him to preach in the Afternoon, contrary to his Inclination; which he did, upon that Text, Weep not for me, &c.’ (Walker, BP, II, 32.)

Cargill’s afternoon sermon was on a passage concerning Jesus being taken to crucifixion in Luke 23.28-31.:
[And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him.]
‘But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.
For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.
Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.
For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?’

Walker does not give any interpretation of the afternoon sermon. However, it is possible that the reference to the ‘Daughters of Jerusalem’ may have been aimed as the Sweet Singers, as they were a predominantly female sect. In the weeks that followed the sermon, Cargill and others made a determined effort recover Gibb’s female followers from their perceived error. It may also have related to the contemporary fears of famine and disease that Cargill had heard at Underbank Wood due to the drought conditions, as the text ends on ‘what shall be done in the dry?’


Whatever the intended meaning of the sermon, it was cut short by the arrival of government dragoons. According to Wodrow, troops based in Glasgow were quick to respond to intelligence of Cargill’s preaching:

‘No sooner were any notices got of his being in a place, but presently all the soldiers round were in arms, and searched all the country about for him. Upon the 5th of May this year, he kept a fast in the fields, near Loudon-hill: the soldiers at Glasgow getting notice of this, immediately seized all the horses in town, and about it, and mounted in quest of him; but he got off at this time: yea, such was their haste and fury, that one of them who happened to be behind the rest, and furiously riding down the street called the Stockwell, in the middle of the day, rode over a child, and killed her on the spot.’ (Wodrow, History, III, 278-9.)

Walker paints a picture of the panic which ensued when the dragoons arrived:

‘When praying, there came a Herd-Lad, crying, The Enemies are coming upon you. They had out no Sentinels that Day, which was not their ordinary; they were so surprized, that some that had been at Pentland, Bothwel, and Airdsmoss, and in other great Dangers, were never so seized with Fear: Some of the Women threw their Children from them, and Mr. Cargill in the Confusion was running straight upon the Enemy. Gavin Wotherspoon and other Friends gripped him, and hal’d him into the Moss to which the People fled; also the Dragoons, fired hard upon them, but there were none either kill’d or taken that Day. The Ball went through Patrick Foreman’s Hair, but his Head was safe, his Hour not being yet come’. (Walker, BP, II, 32.)

The dragoons seem to have had accurate intelligence for the location of Cargill’s preaching. If Walker’s account is accurate, it appears that the dragoons may have made a determined effort to approach the preaching site unobserved in an attempt to capture or kill Cargill, as the congregation had little warning and the dragoons patently came close to Foreman and Cargill.

Patrick Foreman, who was from Alloa, was captured a few months later and was executed outside of Edinburgh on 10 October, 1681. Gavin Witherspoon of Heatheryknowe, a farm in Old Monkland parish, Lanarkshire, was a prominent activist within the United Societies until at least 1686. At some point in the weeks after Loudoun Hill, Cargill preached in the South West for ‘a short time’ before he returned to Lanarkshire and preached at Coulter Heights. (Walker, BP, II, 34.)

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on August 25, 2011.

10 Responses to “A Cauld Coal at The End: Cargill’s Preaching at Loudoun Hill”

  1. […] Blog Search- Pastor Leaders: A Cauld Coal at The End: Cargill's Preaching at Loudoun Hill … Category: Blog News, Tweets, Uncategorized | Tags: children, […]

  2. […] to the west. In that year Cargill preached at Darmead (24 April), Underbank Wood (1 May), Loudoun Hill (5 May), toured the South West (c.12 May- c.5 June), Coulter Heights (12 June), Benry Bridge (19 […]

  3. […] then publicly preached against the Sweet Singers at Underbank Wood on 1 May and at Loudoun Hill on 5 […]

  4. […] of the aftermath of Cargill’s preaching against the Sweet Singers at Underbank Wood (1 May) and Loudoun Hill (5 […]

  5. […] preaching at Underbank Wood, Cargill preached at Loudoun Hill on 5 May and then toured the South West of […]

  6. […] views on the Sweet Singers was almost certainly due to Cargill’s recent preaching against them at Loudoun Hill following the conference with them at […]

  7. […] of Cargill’s preachings in 1681, which were held at Darmead (24 April), Underbank Wood (1 May), Loudoun Hill (5 May) or at Auchengilloch (3 July). The latter two preachings are probably the strongest […]

  8. […] Cargill also preached at Loudoun Hill on Thursday 5 May, 1681. After that he is said to have ‘passed through the Shire of Air, Carrick, and into Galloway, […]

  9. […] Cargill preached at Loudon Hill on Thursday 5 May, he moved through Ayrshire, Carrick and Galloway before he returned to Lanarkshire and preached at […]

  10. […] Pentlands in mid May. Before that, Cargill had preached against them at Underbank Wood on 1 May and at Loudoun Hill on 5 May. Some of Cargill’s letter is taken up with refuting the Sweet Singers’ views as expressed at a […]

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