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Covenanters

RM 6:20-23

Reformation Sabbath

09/12/93

by Tony Grant

The Two Margarets

Margaret Wilson was only eighteen years old. Margaret Lachlan was sixty-three and a widow. In all the persecutions of the Presbyterians in Scotland, their execution was so brutish and so well documented that it moves us to this day.

Their crime was that they were Covenanters. They signed a covenant that refused to accept the king of England as head of the church of Scotland. They believed that only Christ is head of the church.

Margaret was the daughter of Gilbert Wilson. The elder Wilson accepted the king’s commands, but his children, Margaret aged eighteen, Thomas aged sixteen, and Agnes aged thirteen refused to adopt the creed of the parents and to take the Abjuration Oath rejecting the Covenant.

As a result the children were outlawed, their friends were forbidden to help them; people were required to report them to the authorities. They were compelled to leave their comfortable home in February, 1685, to hide in the caves and moors of the countryside.

While Thomas continued to hide in the hills, the downfall of Margaret and Agnes was to try and find food and warmth in Wigtown. They were, recognized, seized, and cast into prison. They remained in prison for six or seven weeks, without any privacy, subject to the harshness of prison life, and banned by law from receiving help from their friends.

Eventually they were tried, found guilty and sentenced to die. The minutes of Penningham Kirk record that the judge sentenced them to be "ty`d to palisados fixed in the sand, within the flood mark, and there to stand till the flood overflowed them and drowned them".

Agnes was saved from execution by her father travelling to Edinburgh and making a payment of 100, but there was no reprieve for Margaret who steadfastly resisted all calls to recant her faith. Margaret Lachlan and Margaret Wilson were led to the sea on May 11, 1685.

The women were tied to stakes some distance apart. Margaret Wilson being tied closer to the shore. Perhaps the executioners thought that when this teenager saw the approaching tide drowning the older Margaret Lachlan that she would collapse and renounce her faith. After all, so they thought, she was only a young, weak girl. So they thought, but they did not reckon with Margaret Wilson.

Put yourself in her place. You see the incoming tide. You know that it is going to drown you. But all that you can do is watch as the water rises inch by inch up your body getting finally to your mouth and nose. It was a terribly cruel way of killing those two poor women. When the water was almost in Margaret Wilson's mouth, the town officer pushed her head under the water, with his halbert saying, "Tak` anither drink, hinny!" And so both women perished. They died for their faith in Christ, for their hope of salvation.

Covenanters

To understand their martyrdom, we need some background. In 1625 James I, king of Scotland and England, died, and his son Charles became King. Although Charles had been born in Scotland, he had spent little time there and knew little about the Scots.

In England, the monarch was, and is, head of the church. It is still that way. Queen Elizabeth II is head of the church of England—usually called the Anglican Church. In England, King Charles appointed the bishops, and the bishops in turn appointed priests, and so he controlled the church. He wanted to adopt a similar organization in Scotland. Scotland was Presbyterian--which is to say that the people elected their own ministers and elders and ran their own church. The Scots pledged allegiance to Charles as their earthly king, but the only monarch they recognized of the church was Jesus Christ.

In 1637 Charles ordered that the English prayer book be used in Scottish kirks. This caused a riot in St Giles in Edinburgh. More riots followed as the people rose in protest. On 28th February 1638, the National Covenant was signed in the graveyard of Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh. This covenant stated that the signatories would resist any attempt by the civil government to take over the church. Copies of the National Covenant were soon signed all over Scotland, and the Covenanters prepared for war

In 1643, the Covenanters made an alliance with the English Parliament. Together they launched the English Civil War that resulted in victory for Parliament, and death for king Charles. Obviously, the Covenanters won that round.

When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, Scotland was overjoyed. Charles II promised to attempt no changes in the Scottish church, to accept the Presbyterian system. He lied. The Rescissory Act passed in 1662 attempted again to establish the king as head of the Scottish church. The Church of Scotland again became a church governed by bishops and by the king. Over 300 ministers gave up their churches rather than accept this change. They held services in the hills, known as 'conventicles'. The people stopped going to the regular Scottish church where the king was installing his own ministers. Instead they slipped away into the hills to attend a "conventicles" where Christ was king.

At that time, it was a crime for any person not licensed by the bishop to preach or to pray except with his own family. To preach or pray or witness for Christ outside one's house incurred fines, imprisonment, or banishment. To conduct a conventicle--that is an outlawed covenanter service--was punishable by death. A reward was offered to any person who could capture a field preacher. Any person supplying food or shelter to a Covenanter was also regarded as outside the law. The government sent troops into Scotland to crack down on the dissenters.

In this time of chaos and rebellion. Margaret Lachlan and Margaret Wilson stood firm in their witness to the covenant and were roped to posts and drowned in Wigtown Bay in May 1685. These years (1680-1688) are known in Scotland as "The Killing Times." These times of religious persecutions ended in 1688 with the Glorious Revolution and the ascension of William and Mary to the throne of England and Scotland.

Now what does this have to do with us? The Scottish Covenanters eventually changed their names to Reformed. In America, many of them joined with the Associates in 1792 to form the Associate Reformed Church. So the Covenanters are our spiritual ancestors. Margaret Lachlan and Margaret Wilson are our spiritual ancestors. They have a lesson to teach us about faith and salvation.

What is Salvation?

We should examine our own faith, to see if we have a faith worth dying for. Do we know what we believe? Those Covenanters certainly did. They wrote out their beliefs and signed them.

I once overheard a conversation between a young woman who was trying to witness for Jesus, and older man who was not very receptive of her witness. The young woman said, "What we all need to do is to give our hearts to Christ." "How can we give our hearts to him," the older man replied. "Should we take a knife and cut out our heart and hand it to him. Is Jesus collecting bloody human hearts?"

Now the older man was mocking the young woman, and I suppose that she should have just laughed off that remark and continued her witness. But she did not. Apparently the older man's reply had not been given to her in her training class for witnessing because it stopped her in her tracks. She was at a loss for words. And I thought, here is a young person who is trying to witness, and that is very admirable, but does she really know what she is witnessing about? Does she really know what salvation is?

Salvation, put simply, is deliverance from the state of sin. Now understand that when we speak of the state of sin, we are not talking about individual sins, we are talking about sin as a power, as a dominating force in our lives. We are all dominated by this force. RM 3:23 says, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." That means us. We have sinned, everyone of us. We live in the state of sin, but we do not need to remain in that state. Through the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we can be transformed into the state of salvation.

Two States

The Apostle Paul’s basic point in Rom. 6:20-23 is the absolute difference between these two states. Sin is totally, completely, absolutely separated from salvation.

In V20 he says, "When ye were servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness." The phrase "free from righteousness," does not mean that we are truly free. Those who serve sin and Satan, are free from obedience to God, but they are in bondage to Satan. This is the kind of freedom they used to have in the old Soviet Union. They were free to do whatever the Communist party told them to, but they are not free to do anything else. Even so, those who serve the devil are free to do what the devil says and nothing else.

The word "righteousness" in V20 is a reference to the state or condition of salvation. Since the "slaves of sin" are free of it--that is, they have none of it--this indicates that the state of sin and the state of salvation are so opposed to one another that the one has nothing to do with the other.

In v23, Paul makes the same point from the other side, saying that now we are "made free from sin and become servants of God." Now that we are in a state of salvation, we no longer have anything to do with the state of sin. So these are two different states, and no compromise, no mingling, is possible between them.

That is why, the gospel of Jesus Christ is such a shattering disturbance. That is why the Covenanters were determined to have no king but Christ in the church. The gospel is an assault that brings everything in our lives into question. It must be this way. The power of sin dominated everything in our lives. When the power of Christ comes in, it changes all of that, which means that everything in our lives must change. Everything is upset, everything is turned over. All the things that were important are no longer so, because what we were was dominated by a different power, with different aims and different ambitions. That is what we were. That is not what we are now. Now, as Christians, we are subject to the power of Christ. He is our king.

Telos

But, of course, most people do not know anything at all about this king. Most people proceed through life in a twilight of indifferent neutrality. Yes, they breathe and move and talk, but what is their life about? What is their end?

The Greek word for "end" is "telos" meaning the outcome or issue or fate of something. What then is the "telos" of our journey through life? What is the goal, the "telos" of all our striving? Most people never even think about questions like that. They simply proceed along in their twilight, thinking about the latest fad on TV or this and that and not much of anything.

The righteousness of God in Jesus Christ breaks through this twilight transforming us and freeing us. It was not possible that we could be saved from the dominating power of sin, but Christ has made the impossible possible.

And now we are under grace. We are "free from sin" and "servants of God." We were over there, and now we are over here. A great gulf is fixed between what we once were in sin and what we now are in Christ. Over there, the word at the end of the journey was "death." EZ 18:4, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." Over here, the word is "life." So salvation is nothing less that stepping from death to life.

Now the death that we are talking about here is not physical death, because obviously we are not delivered from the death of the body. For Christian and non-Christian alike, this body still dies. Paul is talking about spiritual death.

Here the Bible runs counter to what most people think. Most people think that everyone has an eternal soul. That is not what the Bible says. If salvation is saving from spiritual death and not everyone is saved, then obviously not everyone has an eternal soul. The soul is not endowed with eternal life as a part of its nature; rather, it receives eternal life through Jesus Christ.

A beautiful story in the Old Testament book of Numbers symbolizes the power of God to give life. Many Israelites questioned whether Aaron should be high priest. So Moses took all the staffs of the men of Israel. Everyone who walked in the desert in ancient times carried a staff. Moses took the staffs and wrote each man's name up on his staff and took them into the tabernacle. God indicated his choice. NM 17:8 "The rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms and yielded almonds." This shows us not only that God chose Aaron, but that God represents life, and not only physical life, but spiritual life.

Again, the Apostle Paul said in ICR 15:53, "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." He said, we are not immortal, we become immortal through Jesus Christ. He said the same thing in RM 6:23 "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Thus, the Bible does not teach that we have an immortal soul. The Bible teaches that without Christ we are lost in sin and death.

Paul reminds us that once we were under the "telos" of death. we were in a state of sin. Paul speaks of this past life in V21 as that "whereof ye are now ashamed." When we were in the state of sin, we were so wrapped up in the power of darkness that we could not see our uncleanness. The light of the Lord alone can open our eyes so that we can see the foulness of the state of sin. Thus, it is a mark of the state of salvation that we are ashamed of our former life without Christ, and we want nothing more to do with that kind of life.

Paul says that sin has its outcome, its "telos," and so does salvation. The outcome of sin is eternal death. The outcome of salvation is eternal life. Now, unless we are immeasurably stupid, that ought to create in our minds a hatred and horror of sin, and a love of and a desire for Christ.

MREs

The Greek word for wages is "Opsonion" which means among other things the rations of a soldier. Paul implies that sinners are on military-style rations. Today, our soldiers in the field have a type of rations called Meals, ready to eat--MREs. Soldiers who have eaten those things for awhile tell me that not only do they taste bad, they give you constipation. Paul’s point is that unbelievers are on that kind of food—not very satisfying, not very good for them. Now of course, unbelievers do not know that. They think everything is just fine. Unfortunately, they are going to find out that it is not.

RM6:23 is a conclusion and a repetition of V22. Paul repeats the same idea with the intention of making sin doubly horrible to us and with the intention of making Christ doubly desirable to us He teaches us in V23 what he has already taught us, that sin produces only death, and Christ produces only life. Those who inhabit the dim world of unbelief are not under grace cannot perceive the gulf that separates them from God; hence they go on in their twilight way along the road of sin, knowing nothing of that other realm—and their end is only death. But those who have crossed over the gulf have come into the presence of Jesus Christ and live forever. Thus, Paul challenges us to take the leap of faith and trust Christ to help us across the gulf that separates sin from salvation.

The two Margarets that I mentioned earlier-- eighteen year old Margaret Wilson and sixty-three year old Margaret Lachlan--took that leap, put their faith entirely in Christ, and died in that faith. There is no doubt about which side that they stood on. They were on the side of Christ. What about you today? Where do you stand with regard to Christ? With regard to eternal life? With regard to your soul? Amen.

 

 

If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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