Renwick was the last of the field preachers to be put to death. He was ordained as a minister in Holland in 1683, before coming back to Scotland to begin preaching. He was just twenty six when he was executed in the Grassmarket.
The flocks to which Renwick returned were, in his own words, “a poor, wasted, wounded, afflicted, bleeding, misrepresented, and reproached remnant and handful of suffering people”. They had no congregations and no buildings in which to worship. Conventicles or illegal worship services in the fields and hills were held at the risk of their lives, liberty and livelihoods.
Renwick preached intensively and travelled incessantly across the country. For his safety he had to take shelter in moors and caves and travel under cover of darkness. It broke his health – he said that “Excessive travel, night wanderings, unseasonable sleep and diet, and frequent preaching in all seasons of weather, especially in the night, have so debilitated me that I am often incapable for any work”.
“Lord, I die in the faith that Thou wilt not leave Scotland, but that Thou wilt make the blood of Thy witnesses the seed of Thy Church, and return again, and be glorious in our land. And now, Lord, I am ready — ‘the bride, the Lamb’s wife, hath made herself ready.'”
– James Renwick, before his execution in 1688
“As to the remnant I leave, I have committed them to God. Tell them from me not to weary, nor be discouraged in maintaining the testimony. Let them not quit nor forego one of these despised truths. Keep your ground, and the Lord will provide you teachers and ministers, and when He comes, He will make these despised truths glorious upon the earth…’Lord, into Thy hands I commit my spirit, for Thou hast redeemed me, Lord God of truth'”
– James Renwick (His very last words before being executed, 17 February 1688)
Fears are all around us, especially during a time of upheaval and uncertainty. In spiritual terms, we can also be fearful of the future and various threats. But Christ gives us encouragement not to fear.
When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what James Renwick has to say.
It is easy to see the Church as weak when viewed outwardly. But we must see the Church from Christ’s perspective rather than look through the blurred lens of unbelief.
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