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Spiritual Rest During Trials

Hugh MacKail (Edited Dickie/Vogan and Rev D Campbell Foreword)

Published by Reformation Press

What an attractive title to a book, when the whole world is being turned upside down with this virus. All around us we see the devastation that can be caused by the loss of jobs, the closing of workplaces, the isolation of individuals, as well as the obvious fears that affect those who are infected or who have relatives who would be in real danger if they were. The book is really a sermon preached by a young minister in a different time of trial and upheaval.

Hugh MacKail is not necessarily a name that will be immediately identifiable by all my readers. Reformation Press, doubtless with this in mind, have published a long foreword (26 pages of a 69 page book) to explain the context of the sermon that forms the bulk of the book. Rev. David Campbell is to be commended for the pithy and simple way in which he charts the life of MacKail in fifteenth century Scotland. MacKail was licensed in 1661, shortly before Episcopacy was imposed on the Scottish Church (May 1662). David Campbell outlines, a little of the intrigues that accompanied this change, with the undoing of Covenanter legislation, the burning of the National Covenant, the executions and the guile of the 1st Duke of Rothes working on behalf of Charles.

David Campbell notes that some of the references in the sermon are directly linked to this historical context, with Rothes being identified as Haman and the Judas references probably applying to Archibishop James Sharp. Following the sermon, MacKail wisely fled to the safety of Holland, but would return to his native shores in 1665. He was involved in the Pentland Rising, where a large number of Covenanters marched to Edinburgh to petition the government. The 900 covenanters were tracked and then attacked by 3000 troops led by General Dalziel. MacKail was captured and tortured, and despite the King ordering no more executions, he was hung at the Mercat Cross, Edinburgh on 22nd December 1666.

The Sermon that forms the bulk of this book is from the Song of Solomon 1 v 7. The sermon begins with a set of assertions, that there are those who in the face of trial turn aside, that those turning aside may have many followers, that there may be strong temptations in us to turn aside yet, we must not turn for the Lord Jesus who loves us and from his sheep.

The sermon then draws out the unreasonableness of turning aside in the face of trial. It guides us to see that we should take our doubts and fears to Christ, it prompts us that our afflictions are within his providential care, it reminds us that all trials will end and that we can look forward to a rest from sin, peace with God, peace of conscience and ultimately the hope of eternal rest.

This type of sermon was clearly written for a very different historical context to our own, but there are many parallels for those who may be in fear of losing their employments or concerned about the danger to their lives. ‘The conclusion of a believing soul under affliction is: if God punishes me so sharply for those sins that I have already committed against him, shall I not be stricken much more if I revolt any more?’. Should not this guidance by echoing in our prayers for national repentance in the face of national sins and judgements.

‘The liberty you see reserved to the Church. Even at a noontide of tribulation, she may say, ‘Tell me’. Enemies cannot obstruct these lines of communication that are between God and his people. Yea, I may say, there is one more fold of the door [leaf of the door] opened in a time of adversity than in a time of prosperity. There is a particular charge [command] to approach him at such a time, and a particular promise annexed to obedience: “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” (Psalm 50:15)’ This book is a helpful read in these current times.

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