Cloud of Witnesses

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Hugh McKail

It is scarcely possible to conceive a case more deeply affecting than that of this youthful martyr. Having finished his education, he was taken on trials, and licensed as a preacher in 1661, when only twenty years of age. After officiating several times, much to the benefit and gratification of those who heard him, he was called to preach in the great church of Edinburgh on the Sabbath immediately preceding the day fixed for the arbitrary removal of its ministers.

And having in his sermon been led to remark, that “the people of God had been persecuted by a Pharaoh on the throne, a Haman in the state, and a Judas in the church,” he was thought to have alluded to the then rulers; and a party was sent next day to apprehend him. He escaped, however; and concealed himself for about four years.

The people in the south and west being at length roused in defence of their rights, he joined them early on the 18th November. But at last worn out, and rendered useless through fatigue, he was in the act of leaving them in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, on the 27th of that month, when, unhappily, he was taken and lodged in prison.

After being again and again examined, he was, along with Neilson of Corsack, subjected to the torture of the boots, on the 4th of December. On the 18th he was arraigned with other eight for the crime of rebellion, and, being found guilty, was executed on the 22d of that month, in company with five of these, the others being reprieved.

His Sayings in Prison

During his abode in prison, the Lord was very graciously present with him, both to sustain him against the fear of death, and to dispel all these clouds of terror, unto which the frailty of flesh and blood hath sometimes exposed the best of men; and also in assisting him in prayer and praises, to the admiration of all his hearers, especially on the Thursday night, December 20th, whereon being set at supper with his fellow prisoners and his father, and one or two besides, he requested his fellow-prisoners, saying merrily, “Eat to the full, and cherish your bodies, that we may all be a fat Christmas pie to the prelates.”

After supper, in thanksgiving, he burst forth in blessing God, that had made him such a fool as to come to that prison; and after many gracious words, continued saying, “Many crosses have come our way, and wrought but weakly upon us, but here is a cross that has done more good than all that befell us before.”

Then lamenting the condition of the church of God, with much earnestness, he used that exclamation in the last of Daniel, “What, Lord, shall be the end of these wonders!”

The last night of his life, being Friday, December 2Ist, he proposed and answered himself several questions, to the strengthening of his fellow prisoners, and great refreshing of all his hearers.

He inquired, “How should he, going from the tollbooth through a multitude of gazing people and guards of soldiers, to a scaffold and gibbet, overcome the impression of all these?

To which he answered, “By conceiving a deeper impression of a multitude of angels, who are also on-lookers; according to that, ‘We are a gazing stock to the world, angels, and men:’ for the angels rejoicing at our good confession, are present to convey and carry our souls, as the soul of Lazarus, unto Abraham’s bosom; not to receive them, for that is Jesus Christ’s work alone, who will welcome them to heaven Himself, with the songs of angels and blessed spirits; but the angels are ministering spirits, always ready to serve and strengthen all dying believers: and as Stephen saw the heavens opened, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, who then said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit;’ so,” said he, “do I believe that Jesus Christ is also ready to receive the souls of his dying sufferers.”

He inquired, “What is the way for us to conceive of heaven, who are hasting unto it, seeing the word saith, ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him ?‘“ Whereunto he answered, “That the scripture helps us two, ways to conceive of heaven.

The first is, by way of similitude, as in Revelation Chapter 21 where heaven is held forth, by the representation of a glorious city, there described; and, in the same place, it is also termed the bride; but O! how unlike are these two, a bride and a city! Which doth clearly evidence the insufficiency and vast disproportion of all such similitudes; and therefore,” he added, “the scripture furnishes yet a more excellent way to conceive of heaven; and that is, by conceiving the love of Christ to us, even what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and immenseness of that love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, which is also the highest and sweetest motive of praise, ‘ Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins with His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God, and his Father, to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever, Amen.’

By holding forth the love of the saints to Jesus Christ, and teaching us to love him in sincerity, which is the very joy and exultation of heaven :Rev v. 12. ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.’ And no other thing than the soul breathing forth love to Jesus Christ, can rightly apprehend the joys of heaven.”

The last words which he spoke at supper, were in the commendation of love above knowledge, saying, “O but notions of knowledge without love, are of small worth, vanishing in nothing, and very dangerous.”

After supper, his father having given thanks, he read the 16th Psalm, and his first words thereafter were, “ If there were anything in this world sadly and unwillingly to be left, it were the reading of the scriptures :‘ I said, I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord, in the land of the living,’ but this needs not make us sad; for where we go, the Lamb is the book of scripture, and the light of that city, and there is life, even the river of the water of life, and living springs.’

To this he added many excellent observations, and making mention of the 23d verse of the 31st Psalm, “ O love the Lord, all ye his saints,” added,  ‘That where love was, it was so operative, that it made flesh spirit, and where it was not, there spirit was made flesh thereafter he sung a part of the same Psalm.

Supper being ended, he calls, smilingly, for a pen, saying, “it was to write his testament,” wherein he only ordered some few books, which he had, to be redelivered to several persons.

He went to bed a little after eleven o’clock, and having slept well till five in the morning, he arose and called to his comrade, John Wodrow, saying pleasantly, “Up, John, for you are too long in bed; you and I look not like men going this day to be hanged, seeing we lie so long.” Thereafter he said to him, in the words of Isaiah Chapter 42.

‘Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? Did not the Lord, he against whom we have sinned, for they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law.’ And I think, John,” said he, “I have not known, nor do I lay it to heart, as is said in the end of the 25th verse. But, John,” said lie, “for all this be not afraid, but read the 43rd chapter verses 1 & 2. For all will go well with us.”

John said to him, “You and I will be chambered shortly in heaven, beside Mr. Robertson.” He answered, “I fear, John, you bar me out, because you were more free before the council than I was; but I shall be as free as any of you upon the scaffold.” Before breakfast, he said, “he had got a clear ray of the majesty of the Lord after his awaking, but it was a little again overclouded.”

Thereafter he prayed, and attested the Lord, “that he had devoted himself to the service of God in the ministry of the Lord Jesus, and the edification of souls, very early“ adding, “Albeit, I have not been so with my God, yet ‘thou hast made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure; this is all my desire, joy, and salvation, albeit thou make me not a house to grow.’

Now, Lord, we come to Thy throne, a place we have not been acquainted with; earthly kings’ thrones have advocates against poor men, but Thy throne has Jesus, an advocate for us. Our supplication this day is not to be free of death, nor of pain in death, but that we may witness before many witnesses, a good confession.”

His father coming to him that morning to bid him farewell, his last words to him were, after prayer and a little discourse, “That his suffering would do more hurt to the prelates, and be more edifying to the Lord’s people, than if he were to continue in the ministry for twenty years.”

And then he desired his father to leave him, else he would but trouble him.“ And I desire it of you,” said he, “as the best and last service ‘you can do me, to go to your chamber, and pray earnestly to the Lord to be with me on that scaffold; for how to carry there is my care, even that I may be strengthened to endure to the end.”

About two o’clock in the afternoon, he was carried to the scaffold, with the other five that suffered with him; where he appeared, to the conviction of all that formerly knew him, with a fairer, better, and more stayed countenance than ever they had before observed.

Being come to the foot of the ladder, he directed his speech northward to the multitude; and premising, “That as his years in the world had been but few, so his words at that time should not be many,” he spoke to the people the following testimony, which he had before written and subscribed.

His Testimony

Being by a great surprisal of providence, thus staged before the world, in a matter of so universal concernment to all that fear God, and desire to be steadfast in His covenant, I could not forbear to leave behind me this standing testimony, concerning the occasion and uses thereof, for the glory of God, and the vindication of my profession from the aspersions cast thereon by men, and the edification of these by my death, to whom I had devoted my life in the work of the ministry.

“I have esteemed the government of this church by presbytery, to be among the chief of the ordinances of Jesus Christ, which by His blood He has purchased, and ascended up on high to bestow as a gift upon it; as being the very gospel ministry in its simplicity and purity from the inventions of men, and so the mean by which other ordinances are administered and the most fundamental truths made effectual in the hearts of His people, and therefore that it ought with that same carefulness to be contended for.

Experience, both of the having and wanting of it, hath given it this epistle of commendation, so that it may be both known and read of all men, which is also true of the solemn engagements of the nation thereto, by the national covenant, the solemn league and covenant, which I have esteemed in their rise and renewing, pregnant performances of that promise, Isaiah 64 verse 5.

Where it is evident, that where church reformations come to any maturity, they arrive at this degree of saying, ‘I am the Lord’s and subscribing with the hand unto the Lord.’ So was it in the days of the reforming kings of Judah, and after the restoration from the capitivity in the days of Nehemiah.

This same promise did the Lord Jesus make yea and amen to us, when He redeemed us from spiritual Babylon; which is so much the greater evidence, that these were the very motions of God’s Spirit in our first reformers, that they were expressly designed against the greatest motions of the spirit of darkness in antichrist and his supporters, and against the greatest confirmations that ever these abominations attained by the decrees of the council of Trent, and that bloody bond called the Holy League.

And therefore, whatever indignity is done unto these covenants, I do esteem to be no less than doing despite unto the Spirit of grace in his most eminent exerting of himself, but especially, declaring against the same as flowing from a spirit of sedition and rebellion, to be a sin of the same nature with theirs, who ascribed Christ’s casting out of devils to Beelzebub; and that, with this aggravation, that these Scribes and Pharisees came never the length of professing Christ, and submitting themselves to Him and His ways.

“But we are condemned to death upon the account of this covenant, for adhering to the duties therein sworn to, by such as once did as much themselves as we have done, and some of them, more than some of us: which considerations have moved me to great fears of God’s wrath against the land, according to the curse that we are bound under, if we should break that covenant, and in the fear of it, many times to pour out my soul before the Lord.

And as soon as I heard of a party up in arms in behalf of the covenant, (all other doors being shut, whereby the redress of the manifest violations of it might be obtained; and these by manifest and unheard of violence obtruded upon others to go along with them,) being bound by that covenant against detestable indifference and neutrality in this matter, and to esteem every injury, done to any engaged in this covenant upon account of it, as done to myself; very conscience of duty urged me to this against some reluctance of fear of what might follow.

Upon the same reasons, at Lanark, with the rest I declared my adherence to the covenant, by my lifting up of my hand, after the articles thereof were read.

And here I cannot but with grief of heart acknowledge my faint­ing in a day of trial, that being engaged with them upon such accounts, I many times in fear designed to withdraw, and at length did, which, as it was the occasion of my falling into the hands of the enemy, so I think among other things it was the cause why God delivered me into their hands.

Upon the same fear, in all my examinations, I have denied my engagement with them, and endeavoured to vindicate myself by asserting the real designs I had to part from them, and have utterly cast away the glory of a testimony, which my very being in their company, as a favourer of the ends of the covenant, and as one willing to contribute my best endeavours for the promoting of them, but especially my declaring for the covenant, did bear unto the truth and ordinances of Jesus Christ against this untoward generation.

This I confess to be no less than a denying of Jesus Christ, and a being ashamed of His words before men; but I hope the Lord, who remembers that we are but frail dust, shall not lay it to my charge, and according to His faithfulness and grace will forgive me, who by this public confession, take to myself shame and confusion of face, and flee to the propitiation offered to all sinners in Jesus Christ.

And these things as they have procured this death unto me, as an act of God’s justice; so they remind me of other evils in mine own heart, that have been the source of this my unwillingness, to take on Christ’s cross.

My heart has not studied to maintain that spirituality in walking with God, and edifying exemplariness with others, that became one that had received the first-fruits of the Spirit, and aimed at the ministry of the gospel, living in times of so much calamity for the church of God, and particular afflictions as to myself.

If I had spent my days in groaning after my house from heaven, would I have shifted so fair occasion of being clothed with it? Alas, that I have loved my Lord and Master Jesus Christ so little!

Alas, that I have done so little service to Him, that I have so little labour to follow me, to my everlasting rest! This I speak to these especially, with whom I have familiarly conversed in my pilgrimage, that seeing the Lord will not grant me life to testify my real reformation of these things. My acknowledgment at death may have influence upon them, to study not only godliness.

“As I acknowledge that I have not been free and ingenuous in these particulars aforementioned, so in other things, wherein I interponed that holy name of God, as to the not being upon the contrivance of this rising in arms, nor privy to any resolution there, nor conscious of any intelligence at home or abroad concerning it.

I was most ingenuous: and they have wronged me much, who said that I denied upon oath, that which they were able to make out against me, or knew to be truth; but none allege perjury against me, but such as are so manifestly guilty of it before the world, that their tongues in such allegations are no slander.

“Although I be judged and condemned as a rebel amongst men, yet I hope, even in order to this action to be accepted as loyal before God. Nay, there can be no greater act of loyalty to the king, as the times now go, than for every man to do his utmost for the extirpation of that abominable plant of prelacy, which is the bane of the throne, and of the country: which, if it be not done, the throne shall never be established in righteousness, until the wicked be removed from before it.

Sure I am, that those who are now condemned as rebels against him, are such as have spent much time in prayer for him, and do more sincerely wish his standing, and have endeavoured it more by this late action so much condemned, than the prelates by condemning them to death.

“This disaster has heightened greatly the afflictions of our church, and ought to teach all of you to drink the wine of astonishment: ye have not known tribulation till now. Now we judge them happy that are fallen asleep, and removed far away, and know that God has been taking away His servants from the evils that were to come.

Know that God’s design is, to make many hearts contrite, that have been formerly too whole, and have not lamented sufficiently the removal of His ordinances and ministry, and the reproach upon the work of reformation.

Beware that your sorrow be not a momentary motion of common compassion, that vanishes when it may be, there is some intermission in this violent course of shedding innocent blood. But labour to have a constant impression that may sanctify the heart, nay, you should live much in the apprehension of approaching judgment.

Certainly the withdrawing of many from us, and not contributing their help to the great work they were engaged to, as well as we; the general rising against us in many places of the country, but, above all, this open shedding of the blood of the saints, which involves the land in the guiltiness of all the righteous blood sited from the foundation of the world, have made Scotland fit fuel for the fire of God’s wrath.

I can say nothing concerning times to come, but this, ‘All things shall work together for good to them that love God,’ and so this present dispensation.

And they shall have most comfort in this promise, who are most willing that such afflictions as we are brought to, be the way that God chooses to work their good.

“Commit wholly the management of all matters to God, and make it your entire study, night and day, to keep your very garments clean. It is hard in times of general corruption not to be defiled one way or other. Be free of the sins as you would be of the judgments, which will certainly be such as will make ‘all the churches know, that God is the searcher of the hearts, and trier of the reins,’ Revelation chapter 2 verse 23.

And so will not be mocked by these pretences, whereby men colour their going along in an evil course, from the real love that they have to a present world.

If simple presence amongst them who are esteemed rebels by men, be ‘sufficient to engage them in the crime and punishment, (for that is all the ground of my condemnation,) shall not God be much more zealous of His own glory, against all who so much as seem to go along with this course of backsliding.

“As a good mean and encouragement, to all the duties of our time, labour to be rooted and grounded in the love of Jesus Christ. This will be tender of anything, that may have the least reflection upon Him, His words or works, and will prompt the soul to zealous appearing, for Him at the greatest hazard, and to as much willingness to die for Him, as to live that they may glorify Him.

And for the encouragement of you all in this matter, I do declare, that ever since the day of my coming into prison, God has kept my soul free from all amazement or fear of death; that since my indictment and sentence, God hath so manifested himself at several times, that He has lifted up my soul above prelates, principalities, and powers, death, and hell, to rejoice and be glad in His salvation; and from my soul to account Him worthy, for whom, in this His cause, I should undergo the greatest shame or pain; and to the assured hopes of eternal communion with Him in heaven: and that nothing has more given me peace, than shifting an open and free testimony before my examiners, to the work that I was engaged in.

I do freely pardon all that have accession to my blood, and wish that it be not laid to the charge of this sinful land, but that God would grant repentance to our rulers, that they may obtain the same reconciliation with Him, whereof I myself do partake.

Truly, I believe many of them, if not instigated by the cruel prelates, (at whose door our blood doth principally lie) would have used more mitigation: but that reluctant of mind to shed blood, will be so far from vindicating of them, that, upon the contrary, it will be a witness against them in the day of the Lord.

I heartily submit myself to death, as that which God hath appointed to all men because of sin, and to this particular way of it, as deserved by my particular sins. I praise God for this Fatherly chastisement, whereby He has made me in part, and will make me perfectly partaker of His holiness.

I glorify Him that called me forth to suffer for His name and ordinances, and the solemn engagements of the land to Him, and that He has taken this way to take me away from the evil to come. The Lord bless all his poor afflicted groaning people that are left behind.

“Hereafter, I will not talk with flesh and blood, nor think on the world’s consolations. Farewell my friends, whose company hath been refreshing to me in my pilgrimage. I have done with the light of the sun and moon.

Welcome eternal life, everlasting love, everlasting praise, everlasting glory!’

Praise to him that sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb forever! Though I have not been so with Thee as I ought to have been in the house of my pilgrimage, yet ‘thou hast made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure: and this is all my salvation, and all my desire.’ Bless the Lord, O my soul! that hath pardoned all mine iniquities in the blood of his Son, and healed all my diseases!’

‘Bless him, O all ye his angels that excel in strength, ye ministers that do his pleasure! Bless the Lord, O my soul! Hallelujah!’

Hugh McKail

Edinburgh Tolbooth

December 22nd, 1666.

His Last Words

Having done speaking to the people, who heard him with great attention, he sung a part of the 31st Psalm, and then prayed with such power and fervency, as forced many to weep bitterly. Having ended, he took off his cloak and hat and when he turned himself, and took hold of the ladder to go up, he said with an audible voice.

“I care no more to go up this ladder, and over it, than if I were going home to my Father’s house.“ And as he went up, hearing a great noise amongst the people, he called down to his fellow sufferers, saying, “Friends and fellow sufferers, be not afraid, every step of this ladder is a degree nearer heaven.”

Then having seated himself, he said, “I do partly believe, that the nobles, counsellors, and rulers of the land, would have used some mitigation of this punishment, had they not been instigated by the prelates; so our blood lies principally at the prelates’ door.

But this is my comfort now, that ‘I know my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth, and though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold,’ pointing to his eyes, ‘and not another, though my reins be consumed in me.’

And now I do willingly lay down my life for the truth and cause of God, the covenant, and work of reformation, which were once counted the glory of this nation. And it is for endeavouring to defend this, and to extirpate that bitter root of prelacy, that I embrace this rope,” (the executioner putting the rope about his neck.)

Then hearing the people weep, he said, “Your work is not to weep, but to pray that we may be honourably borne through; and blessed be the Lord, that supports me. Now, as I have been beholden to the prayers and kindness of many since my imprisonment and sentence, so I hope you will not be wanting to me now, in this last step of my journey.

That I may witness a good confession: and that you may know the ground of my encouragement in this work, and what my hope is, I will read to you the last chapter of the Bible. And having read it, he said, “Here you see the glory that is to be revealed upon me, ‘a. pure river of water of life, and so forth (reading the passage) ‘where the throne of God is, and the Lamb is in it, where his servants serve him and see his face, and his name is in their foreheads, and the Lord God give to them light, and they shall reign for ever and ever;’ and here you see my access to my glory and reward.

‘Let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.’ And here you see also my welcome, ‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come.’” Then he said, “ I have one word more to say to my friends, (looking down from the scaffold).

Where are you?

You need neither lament me nor he ashamed of me in this condition, for I may make use of that expression of Christ. ‘ I go to your Father and my Father, to your God and my God, to your King and my King, to the blessed apostles and martyrs, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.’

And so I bid you all farewell: for God will be more comfortable to you than I could be; and He will also now be more refreshing to me than you can be. Farewell, farewell in the Lord.

Then the napkin being put on his face, he prayed a space within himself, after which he put up the cloth from his face, with his own hand, and said, “He had one word more to say, and that was to show them the comfort he had in his death,” saying, “I hope you perceive no alteration or discouragement in my countenance and carriage, and as it may be your wonder, so I profess it as a wonder to myself, and I will tell you the reason of it.

Besides the justness of my cause, this is my comfort, which was said of Lazarus when he died, that ‘the angels did carry his soul into Abraham’s bosom;’ so, that as there is a great solemnity here, of a confluence of people, a scaffold, a gallows, and people looking out of windows; so is there a greater and more solemn preparation in heaven of angels to carry my soul to Christ’s bosom.

Again, this is my comfort, to come into Christ’s hands, and He will present me blameless and faultless to the Father, and ‘then shall I be ever with the Lord.’

And now I leave off to speak any more to creatures, and turn my speech to thee, O Lord! And now I begin my intercourse with God, which shall never be broken off. Farewell father and mother, friends and relations; farewell the world and all delights; farewell meat and drink; farewell sun, moon, and stars.

Welcome God and Father; welcome sweet Lord Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant; welcome blessed Spirit of grace, and God of all consolation; welcome glory; welcome eternal life; welcome death.”

Then he desired the executioner not to turn him over, until he should himself put over his shoulders, which, after praying a little within himself, he did, saying, “O Lord, into thy hands I commit my spirit: for thou hast redeemed my soul, Lord God of truth.”

Thus at the age of 26 years, he died, as he lived, in the Lord.