A Field in Scotland: The Covenants Renewed at Borland-hill in 1689 #History #Scotland
The renewal of the Covenants at ‘Borland-hill’ on 3 March, 1689, was an important moment for the Society people in the wake of the Revolution. However, their plan to conduct renewals across the Societies’ heartlands was not carried to fruition. As Alexander Shields said of the renewal and the failure to hold other similar events, ‘from this day shall be dated either our reformation or deformation’…
One eyewitness to the events of that day was John Wilson, a gardener from Busbie in Kilmaurs parish, Ayrshire. Wilson wrote a personal covenant with the Lord on that day. In it he wrote ‘Let this Borland hill, where the covenants have been renewed this day, praise thee.’ (A Collection of Dying Testimonies, 140.)
One minor mystery about the event is where was ‘Borland-hill’? The ‘hill’ which lies in Lesmahagow parish in Lanarkshire is rather more obscure than one would imagine as it does not appear on modern maps under that name. Can it be tracked down?
An account of the renewal of the Covenants is found in Michael Shields, Faithful Contendings Displayed:
‘Eight or nine men who were chosen by the meeting, going aside privately, appointed the time and place of the renewing of the Covenants; lest being too public it should be opposed, viz. at Borland-hill in the parish of Lismahagow, upon the 3d of March next.
As the renewing of our covenants is a very great and solemn work, in doing whereof formerly much of the Lord’s presence and out-lettings of his Spirit was found and felt by his people; so at this time it was done in as public and solemn a manner as the present circumstances would admit of, and somewhat of the Lord’s presence and countenance was experienced by severals there present.— A short account of the management of that work I shall here give:
Up On Saturday, March 2d, (the morning was very tempestuous, whereby severals were stopt from coming) Mr. [Alexander] Shields lectured a little upon Deut. xxix 1. &c. in the Kirk of Lismahagow, but it could not contain the people;’
The kirk in Lesmahagow where Shields preached in was pulled down at the beginning of the nineteenth century and replaced on the same site with the present old parish church.
Shields decided to move out of the church and continue using a preaching tent set up ‘a place not far from the Miltoun’. Miltown/Milton, named after Lesmahagow Mill, lay a short walk to the north of Lesmahagow.
‘Wherefore they came out to a place not far from the Miltoun, where a tent being set up before, Mr Shields continued in his lecture, and then preached.— His text was Deut. xxix. 25. Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, &c. When sermon was ended, (wherein he showed the people several of the steps of defection this land was guilty of, and how they had forsaken and broken our covenants, and turned away from following the Lord) he began to read the Acknowledgment of Sins, &c, and continued until night coming on, stopt him.’
The next day was the day for renewing the Covenants. The place selected for that work was ‘Borland-hill’, which lay near to what is now Boreland, Low Boreland and Boreland Wood.
Map of Boreland Aerial View of Boreland and Low Boreland
‘Upon the morrow, being the Lord’s day, March 3d, the meeting conveened at Borland-hill, about a mile and an half [east] from the kirk, where was a great multitude of people. Mr. William Boyd preached first upon Jer L. 5. [‘They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.’] Then Mr. Thomas Lining upon — — .
When Mr. Lining ended his sermon, several persons (whose names were given up before in a paper, and the defections and scandals by themselves they were guilty of, and willing to acknowledge publicly; such as, hearing curates, paying of the Cess, and taking the oath of Abjuration, &c.) as they were called upon by him rose up, and before the congregation they shewed their sorrow and grief for these sins: To whom he had a discourse shewing the heinousness of the same. Likewise some [women] in the same manner manifested their grief for being guilty of extremes on the right hand in going a great length with that impostor John Gib. To whom also Mr. Lining shewed the several aggravations that were in that sin and scandal:’
Yea, several persons whose names were not given up, rose of their own accord, and acknowledged their being guilty of several steps of defection; and some confessed their being guilty of personal scandals, as theft, &c. And more would have done the like if they had been suffered; but time would not allow thereof.
This being done, Mr. Lining read before the congregation the Acknowledgment of Sins, and Engagement to Duties, and next the Covenants National and Solemn League, which were fairly written at length, with some alterations which the circumstance of the times of necessity called for, such as, when they mention the King, in place thereof is put the Civil Magistrate. Then after debarring all from holding up their hand, in swearing the covenants, who had not made conscience of mourning before God for all the breaches thereof, and for all their sins and defections, the oath was administrated by him, and taken by many in the meeting with hands lifted up.’
Where was ‘Borland-hill’?
‘Borland-hill’ clearly lay very close to the farm at Boreland, which lies just above ‘Laigh Borland’ aka. ‘Townhead of Boreland’ aka., now, Low Boreland.
The hill appears to be the hill rising beyond the two farms up the track beside Beeches Cottage Nursery that summits at Boreland Wood.
Somewhere on this slope was probably where the Society people gathered to renew the Covenants in 1689.
‘After this, the Meeting was dismissed, At night, Mr. Shields exercised upon — — —, in the Kirk of Lismahagow, where (after he had done) the covenants were subscribed by several hands. [Linning, Shields and Boyd, twelve elders and eighty-nine private men.]
Our ministers had laid down resolutions of renewing the covenants in other places of the country than at this place and time above-mentioned; but they got not the same put in practice; for they coming into Edinburgh at the down-sitting of the Convention of Estates, and several occurrences falling in, (of which that time was fertile) a stop was put thereto, and they diverted from setting about that great work.’ (Shields, FCD, 380-2.)
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