Where Can Your Soul Thirst Be Satisfied?
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
15 Jul, 2016

In an empty and dry world, your soul is certainly thirsty. The world knows how to create thirst but not how to satisfy the thirst of the soul. Only God can satisfy this thirst. The soul that has tasted that the Lord is gracious has a constant desire for the presence of God. The puritan  Thomas Shepard put it this way: “There is in true grace an infinite circle; a man by thirsting receives, and receiving thirsts for more.”

Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross (c.1578-c.1640) was one of the godliest women of her time in Scotland. Alexander Hume, minister of Logie described her as “a lady chosen of God to be one of his saints”. She was “oft sighing and weeping through the conscience of sin”. She was also the first woman in Scotland to have her writing published. John Livingstone wrote of her:

Of all that ever I saw, she was most unwearied in religious exercises; and the more she attained access to God therein, she hungered the more.

Here was someone always thirsting for God. Not after mere knowledge about God but God Himself. Samuel Rutherford (who corresponded with Lady Culross) identified this as a sign of true grace.

In all the means of the worship of God, whether you have the use of them or lack the use of them, seek ever God rather than the means, whether it be in preaching, praying, hearing, reading etc. Strive to be in at God Himself. And this is the difference between an hypocrite and a true seeker of God, for the hypocrite  seeks after the means, and no more. That is enough for him if he hear the word, and get the communion, …But the true seeker of God learns to miss Him in the means of His service, and he thinks he has not things well at that time, when he finds not Himself; and, therefore, let us remember that praying, preaching, praising, reading, hearing, even all the means, they are as chariots and torches to carry us to God.

John Livingstone is well known as the preacher at the revival at the Kirk of Shotts in June 1630 when 500 were converted under one sermon. There had been services associated with the Lord’s Supper during the days preceding that Monday thanksgiving sermon. The nights were spent in prayer together, particularly the night before Monday dawned. Lady Culross was at the centre of this:

a great many Christians in a large room, where her bed was; and in the morning all going apart for their private devotion, she went into the bed, and drew the curtains, that she might set herself to prayer. William Rigg of Athernie coming into the room, and hearing her have great motion upon her, although she spoke not out, he desired her to speak out, saying that there was none in the room but him and her woman, as at that time there was no other. She did so, and the door being opened, the room filled full. She continued in prayer, with wonderful assistance, for large three hours’ time.

She wrote to give great encouragement to those who suffered for faithfulness to God. These included William Rigg, John Welsh of Ayr and Andrew Melville. When Rigg was imprisoned in Blackness Castle her encouragement was “that the darkness of Blackness was not the blackness of darkness.” She was similarly witty to John Livingstone in his trials. “You must be hewn and hammered down, and dressed and prepared before you be a living stone fit for his building. And if he be minded to make you meet to help to repair the ruins of his house, you must look for other manner of strokes than you have yet felt”.

Melville expressed her desires in poetry.  Alexander Hume of Logie (a poet himself) commended the spirituality of her compositions: “I doubt not but it is the gift of God in you”. One of her most famous poems was published in 1603 is called Ane Godlie Dreame. This popular poem was like an early Scottish Pilgrim’s Progress. In her dream she is taken safely over spiritual dangers represented as high mountains, vast deserts, great waters and wild woods. Ultimately the dazzling sight of the celestial city meets her eyes.

Recently much more of Melville’s poetry has been discovered in manuscript and edited by Jamie Reid Baxter under the title Poems of Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross (Solsequium, 2010). One of them is the following heartfelt prayer which is a meditation on the opening verses of Psalm 42. It is similar to those by the Reformer James Melville. In it she expresses her desire for God’s presence. Great poetic skill is used to express her spiritual desires with melodious but direct language. The speaker seems out of breath and in haste. [The following is only the first 70 lines of the 285 lines of this poem. The spelling and some Scots words have been updated].

Meditation on Psalm 42

As harts full fant [very weakened]
doth breathe and pant
for running rivers clear
oppressed with woe
I sigh also
for thee my God most dear.
My heart doth burst,
my soul doth thirst
for thee the well of life.
When shall I see
thy majesty
and leave this vale of strife?

This vale of tears,
this vale of fears,
this vale of dangers deep,
this vale of woe
wherein my foe
doth catch me whilst I sleep.
This vale of care
and sighing sare [sore]
wherein my soul does burn.
This vale so dry
wherein I cry,
until the springs return.

O lovely spring
my soul doth sing
to think upon thy glore [glory].
This barren hell
wherein I dwell
doth dry me up full sore.
The soul is brunt [burnt]
that once was wont
to taste thy heav’nly dew.
O turn again
and ease my pain,
O God my God most true.

I grant my guilt
has almost spilt
thy goodly gifts of grace.
I must confess
my wickedness
thy image doth deface.
My soul within
is full of sin
that weighs me down full sore.
But come convert
this stubborn heart.
Then shall I sin no more.

My loving Lord
to hear accord
thy captive’s careful cry.
Look on thy Lamb,
whose child I am,
His blood is never dry.
Thy majesty
first formed me
and when I fully fell,
that Prince of Glore
did me restore,
and vanquish death and hell.

Let not thine ire
consume like fire
the work that thou hast wrought.
Since I am thine
why wilt thou tyne [lose]
the soul so dearly bought.
Thou choosed me
and I not thee
before the world began.
Thy thoughts are sure
and shall endure,
thou changest not as man.

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