Motherhood and Militancy: The “Children’s Covenant” of 1683 #History #Scotland


Children's Covenant Pentland

In 1683, a prayer society of ‘bairns’ created their own Covenant with God. All of those who subscribed it were girls and the first name listed on it is that of Beatrix Umpherston, the eight-year-old daughter of Helen Alexander in Pentland, Lasswade parish

Today, “Old Pentland” lies just south of Edinburgh’s bypass and between Hillend and Straiton.

Map of Old Pentland            Street View of Old Pentland

Alexander was a radical mother. In 1682, she hid Andrew Gullane, one of the assassins of Archbishop Sharp, in her house. In her spiritual autobiography, she briefly recorded her pivotal influence on the ‘bairn’s’ prayer society in Pentland:

‘About the time before Mr. [James] Renwick was taken [in 1688], there were in Pentland about 9 or 10 bairns, none of them above 14 years of age, mett together for prayer. And the Lord helped me to be very usefull among them, and I did encourage them, for which they had respect to me to my dying day.’ (Passages in the Lives of Helen Alexander and James Currie in Pentland, 10.)

The aim of Children’s Covenant was to create a new generation of Society people, at least among the bairns of Pentland, to take on the Restoration regime. It is as follows:

‘This is a Covenant made between the LORD and us, with our whole hearts, and to give up ourselves freely to Him, without reserve, soul and body, hearts and affections, to be His children, and Him to be our God and Father, if it please the holy Lord to send His Gospel to the land again. That we stand to this Covenant which we have written between the Lord and us, as we shall answer at the great day; that we shall never break this Covenant which we have made between the Lord and us. That we shall stand to this Covenant which we have made; and if not, it shall be a witness against us in the great day, when we shall stand before the Lord and His holy angels. O, Lord, give us real grace in our hearts to mind Zion’s breaches, that is in such a low case this day ; and make us to mourn with her, for Thou hast said, them that mourn with her in the time of her trouble, shall rejoice when she rcjoiceth ; when the Lord will come and bring back the captivity of Zion, when He shall deliver her out of her enemies’ hands; when her King shall come and raise her from the dust, in spite of all her enemies that will oppose her, either devils or men. Tho’ thus they have banished her King Christ out of the land, yet He will arise and avenge His children’s blood at her enemies’ hands, which cruel murderers have shed.

[On the reverse side]

Them that will not stand to every article of this Covenant, which we have made betwixt the Lord and us, that they shall not go to the Kirk to hear any of these soul-murdering Curates, we will neither speak nor converse with them. Any that breaks this Covenant they shall never come into our society. We shall declare before the Lord, that we have bound ourselves in Covenant, to be covenanted to Him all the days of our life, to be His children and Him our covenanted Father.
We subscribe with our hands these presents : —

Beatrix Umpherston.       Margaret Brown.
Janet Brown.                       Janet Brown.
Helen Moutray.                 Isobel Craig.
Marion Swan.                    Martha Logan.
Janet Swan.                        Agnes Aitkin.
Margaret Galloway.        Marian McMoren.
Helen Straiton.                Christian Laurie.
Helen Clark.’ (Passages in the Lives of Helen Alexander and James Currie in Pentland, 68-9.)

The Children’s Covenant predates the arrival of an ordained minister for the militant Society people, James Renwick, in late 1683. Helen Alexander initially refused to hear him due to a false allegation that he was ordained by Dutch hands. She reversed that stance in 1684, after she heard him preach, and recognised the legitimacy of his ministry. The Pentland prayer society of bairns presumably followed her example.

Adult Society people appear to have made personal covenants with God, sometimes several times in their lives. However, it is not clear whether children’s covenants were a common phenomenon among the Society people or not. It is possible that the Children’s Covenant was Alexander’s singular response to the circumstances to a time when she believed that no legitimate ministers were field preaching.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

~ by drmarkjardine on January 14, 2016.

One Response to “Motherhood and Militancy: The “Children’s Covenant” of 1683 #History #Scotland”

  1. […] the faulting of the free preaching of the Gospel led her to take the extraordinary step of getting the female bairns of Pentland to establish a prayer society and subscribe a “Children’s …. Her encounter with James Renwick would change that. In her spiritual autobiography, she recorded […]

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