Mary Wilson Saves James Nisbet at Renwick’s Field Preaching in July, 1685 #History #Scotland
After few days after the beginning of May, 1685, James Nisbet was consumed by a fever. Soon after he found sheltered in poor man and woman’s house, Colonel Buchan found him. Convinced he was ‘a young creature dying’, he left him for dead…
Although Nisbet was desperately ill, the poor woman would not let him stay in case it brought further trouble on the household. He was immediately removed ‘great way to another poor woman’s house’.
Nisbet gives no locations for where what follows happened. Most of it probably took place in Ayrshire -he was from near Newmilns- where he hid, but there are clues buried in the text that hint at a general location.
He takes up his tale:
‘On the ninth day [of his fever in about mid May], I got a cool and continued languishing for seven days; during which time I was exercised with such impressions of hell’s torments as the due desert of sin, […] But at the seventh day’s end, I relapsed a second time into the fever, and continued in it eight days more; all which time, from the beginning of the first fever, I wanted the use of my limbs; and then I got a cool the second time, and recovered the use of my limbs a little. But, after seven or eight days more, I was seized with the fever a third time, wherein I continued ten or twelve days, and then recovered some health. During all this time, from the letter end of April to the latter end of June, I was greatly impressed, and had strong presages or sensations of much affliction attending me, and of a long and troublesome life in this world, and that I would be squeezed through one trouble to another, while in this world, as water from one vessel to another. […]’
Nisbet’s illness of over forty days meant that he completely missed the Argyll Rising, between mid May and mid June. After that Nisbet travelled fourteen miles to meet with ‘several serious Christians’:
‘After the third cool of my fever, it pleased the wise and kind Lord that I recovered my health and strength in some measure. After which, I travelled [from the second poor woman’s house] about fourteen miles to another place of the country; where I met with several serious Christians, not guilty of a censorious spirit, but much exercised in the realities of religion, with whose converse I was much refreshed and comforted.’
The serious Christians were Society people who followed James Renwick. Nisbet still faced dangers, due to his status as a fugitive:
‘But one day, as I was walking with some of them, upon a high-way, (which was seldom my custom,) there came up to us a profligate man that knew me, of whom I was afraid. But, behold! a wonder-working God so moulded his disposition at that time, that he only spoke to those who were with me; and, pointing to me with his hand, said, that youth is the son of as religious a man as is in Scotland [i.e., the son of John Nisbet of Hardhill], be kind to the lad for the good man’s sake.
We all wondered to hear such an ill man speak after such a friendly manner, for he left us without saying any more. […]
After this, I went sixteen miles with some of those good people, to hear a sermon preached by the great Mr. James Renwick, a faithful servant of Christ Jesus, who was a young man, endued with great piety, prudence, and moderation. The meeting was held in a very large desolate moor. The minister appeared to be accompanied with much of his master’s presence. He prefaced on the 7th Psalm, and lectured on the 2 Chron. chap. xix; from which he raised a sad applicatory regret, that the rulers of our day were as great enemies to religion as those of that day were friends to it.
He preached from Mark, xii, 34, in the forenoon. After explaining the words, he gave thirteen marks of a hypocrite, backed with pertinent and suitable applications.’
The forenoon sermon Nisbet heard is very similar to Renwick’s undated sermon on Mark 12.34 printed in A Choice Collection of Very Valuable Prefaces, Lectures and Sermons, 348-55.
‘In the afternoon, he gave two marks of a sound believer, backed with a large, full, and free offer of Christ to all sorts of perishing sinners that would come and accept of him for their Lord and Saviour, and for their Lord and Law-giver. His method was both plain and well digested, suiting the substance and simplicity of the gospel. This was a great day of the Son of Man to many serious souls, who got a Pisgah view of the Prince of Life, and of that pleasant land that lies beyond the banks of death, Jordan.’
The afternoon sermon Nisbet heard is very similar to the second of Renwick’s undated lecture and sermon on Mark 12.34 printed in A Choice Collection of Very Valuable Prefaces, Lectures and Sermons, 356-64.
The ‘meeting’ held ‘in a very large desolate moor’ appears to have been either one of the two conferences between James Renwick’s Society people and the followers of the Argyll faction just before the United Societies’ twenty-second convention, or the convention itself, which was held at Knypes on Friday 24 July, 1685. (Shields, FCD, 167.)
Knypes is part of the name of three hills: High and Low Knypes that lie on Friarminnan Moor, and Meikle Knypes by the Spango Water.
Aerial View of High Knypes
The fact that Renwick preached both fore and after noon sermons probably indicates that Nisbet was there on a Sunday when one of the conferences before the twenty-second convention were held. Renwick often preached on the Sabbath before conventions in 1685, usually at a different location in the general vicinity to avoid drawing the attention of soldiers to the convention site. The Sabbath before the twenty-second convention at Knypes fell on 19 July, 1685.
‘But, alas! I got my comforts a little lowered this day, upon the reason following:— There came to that meeting some of the worthy gentlemen who came home this year with the Earl of Argyle on his expedition; and they, and some other of our Christian friends [from the Societies], looked shy and cold upon one another, upon the account of some difference in judgment and opinion that was among them; which was matter of sorrow of heart to me now; but much more so afterwards, when I saw the woful consequences thereof; for I quickly observed, that these differences of opinion occasioned much alienation of affection, even among those who were otherwise truly religious; likewise, it served much to eat out the vitals of religion, in the waste of much precious time, which was spent in debating and contending, which might otherwise have been very usefully spent, in seeking after and in pursuit of the one thing needful, the better part, which could not have been taken from them.
This day [Sunday 19 July?], I was seized with the fever a fourth time; and the enemy having gotten notice of that meeting, came towards the place at night; and meeting with some of the people travelling homewards through the moor, they took about fifteen prisoners, who were afterwards, with others, banished to the foreign plantations.’
A large number of people, both Society people and Argyll rebels, were banished to the plantations at the end of July. It is difficult to discern which prisoners were the fifteen taken after Renwick’s field preaching.
Nisbet escaped capture due to the assistance of Mary Wilson, who appears to have calmly guided him away from danger and to a safe refuge.
The Bravery of Mary Wilson
‘All friends left me, and went to shift for themselves, because I was not able to travel so swiftly as they, except only a godly woman, whose name was Mary Wilson: her I desired also to leave me, and shift for her own safety, telling her, I was in a good hand, where I could not miscarry, come life, come death; but she would not part with me: so we travelled about four miles, as I was able to walk, discoursing to one another upon the nature and suitableness of the subject that was preached to us, and what reach of experience we had anent those marks which he laid before us in time of sermon, and what part of them were borne home upon our souls for conviction, for confirmation, and for consolation. And all the way that we travelled, the Lord was remarkably kind to us; for, although we were last in the moor, yet there was not one of the enemy came near us, because they were gone in pursuit of those who were first out of the moor.
And thus, after we had travelled four miles slowly, my friend brought me to a house, where I lay twenty days [to c.8 August], in a very sore and heavy fever; and yet, as at the first three times when in the fever, so at this time, I got nothing to drink but whiged sour milk all the time of my sickness. But, after twenty days, it pleased the Lord, who casteth down and raiseth up, that I recovered, and shifted the best way I might, to escape the enemy’s hands, as Providence directed, without any visible danger, till in the month of August;’ (Nisbet, Private Life of the Persecuted, 110-16.)
For more on the life of James Nisbet, see here.
Additional Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free 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