The Cotmuir Folk in the Canongate Tolbooth #History #Scotland

In the late 1690s, Elizabeth West encountered the radical Cotmuir Folk when they were imprisoned in the Canongate Tolbooth. West’s memoirs recall the pull of the Cotmuir Folk to those who wished to keep up the Covenanted testimony. It is worth noting that two women were involved in these visits and that women were influential in the Cotmuir Folk:

‘There is one thing which I cannot but remark: About this time I had a comrade, whose converse and company was very refreshful unto me sometime a-day: for she was the first that ever I opened my mind to, when first the Lord took a dealing with my soul (and found great satisfaction in so doing.) A great while before this, she tells me that she is going to desert the ordinances, and leave hearing of the ministers, and that because there were many faults among them, which conscience could not away with: they were not like the ministers in the late presbyterian times; they had made public defection from the truth in many things, and, in plain terms, she told me, that she thought it was neither her duty, nor the duty of any of the Lord’s people, to own them for ministers.

Now, I knowing she was a godly woman, and had known much of the Lord’s way on her own soul; she was also one that attended all occasions of preachings and communions, and spoke always very favourably of our ministers; and now to see such a sudden change, put me in a strait what to think. Then did I enquire at her, what she had a mind to do? or whom she would hear? She told me there were two or three singular ones (whom they call the Coto muir folk) who only had the testimony among them; these have kept their garments clean from all the pollutions of the times. These I resolved to hold for my ministers; for there are none in all the church of Scotland that keep so strong and true to the presbyterian interest and the covenanted work of reformation as they have done.

I hearing this, was somewhat curious to see them; when I came to the place where they were (which was in the Canongate Tolbooth) I conferred with them, and thought them good people; but for me to think them righter than all the ministers of the church of Scotland, this I could not understand. I visited them frequently, and great pains were they at to get me in among them; but this I could never think of, till one time I was in a very ill case, corruption growing On my hand, and I could find no strength to fight against ray predominant sin; I could find the Lord in no duty, neither in public, private, nor secret; then thought I with myself, what if it be true that these people say, that the Lord is not to be found in ordinances? So then it is needless for me to seek him where he is not to be found: may be this is the cause why the Lord is deserting me in public and secret duties. Then had I some thoughts of leaving the ministers, and following their way; so accordingly I went one Sabbath afternoon to spend it with them, and to see what I could get there; but, instead of meeting with the Lord, I met with many a sad challenge for abstaining from the public ordinances. Then thought I, what if the word has been preached this afternoon that would have done me good? This vexed me mightily.’ (West, Memoirs: Or Spiritual Exercises of ElizabethWest, 100-101.)

For more on the Cotmuir Folk, see here.


~ by drmarkjardine on October 29, 2017.

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