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Were the Solway Martyrs martyred for the Judicial Laws of Moses?

By Angela Wittman

"Were the Solway Martyrs martyred for the Judicial Laws of Moses?  No.  They were martyred for a very specific liturgical reason:  they would not say 'God save the King.'  While it is true that they believed God was Lord over the State, the specific context dealt with God's lordship over the Church." - Jacob Aitken (Bayou Huguenot) in response to the article Covenanter Theonomy

I recently came across the article "Covenanter Theonomy" posted at the blog Theonomy Resources and while I agreed with the history presented of the Scottish Covenanters, I almost fell out of my chair when I perceived the author to be linking the "two Margarets" martyrdom to theonomy. So, out of respect for the memories of those two noble "Ladies of the Covenant" I feel compelled to present their story as history records.

First of all, let's define the term "theonomy" as it is used today:
Theopedia defines theonomy as "a view of Christian ethics associated with Christian Reconstructionism, most noted for its attempts to show how the ethical standards of the Old Testament are applicable to modern society, including the Standing Laws of the Old Testament, as well as its general ethical principles."

Wikipedia defines it as: Theonomy, from theos (god) and nomos (law) is the idea, espoused by Christian Reconstructionists, that Mosaic law should be observed by modern societies.[1] Theonomists reject the traditional Reformed belief that the civil laws of the Mosaic Law are no longer applicable.[2] This idea is not to be confused with the idea of "theonomous ethics" proposed by Paul Tillich.[3]

As a former theonomist, I used a very broad definition in order to support my erroneous position that theonomy was historically a reformed position that could be proven by historical documents such as various Reformed Confessions, especially those from the 16th century. A vague definition of it just meaning "God's Law" held up fine until I began actually reading and studying the Confessions of the 16th Century and compared them to today's theonomic beliefs. I then discovered that there are different views of the law and just what is applicable for Christians. For example, are we discussing "General Equity" of the Law as stated in the Law of God, Chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession of Faith [emphasis mine.]:
I. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.[1]

II. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables:[2] the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.[3]

III. Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits;[4] and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties.[5] All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the New Testament.[6]

IV. To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.[7]
As you can see, a clear definition of what is meant by the term "theonomy" is imperative. It has been said that he who defines the terms wins the argument.

But what do historical accounts of the Solway Martyrs reveal were their last words as the two Margarets were drowning in the Solway Tide?  Was it the Judicial Law of Moses? I think not, their last words were of the love of Christ - their martyrdom was for religious liberty to Worship God in truth and without fear of persecution.

Here is an excerpt from "The Maiden Martyrs" posted at Electric Scotland :
A cruel sentence. What had they done to deserve such a doom? They had done much, in the estimation of ungodly despots. They had contended for the right to worship God in accordance with the dictates of their own conscience; they refused to subscribe to the doctrine that the authority of the Church was derived from the king. They even held the opposite doctrine, that the Lord Jesus Christ was the source of the Church’s authority; and this was regarded as treason by the king and his minions. Hence their cruel sentence. But what was accounted treason by the king of Britain was, they were persuaded, counted loyalty to the King of heaven, and they preferred his favor—they knew that it was life, and that his loving-kindness was better than life. Hence, with brave hearts they had gone to prison, as they felt, upon their Master’s service and now, with firm step, they march to the place of execution. The elder, Margaret McLaughlin, was first fastened to the stake farther down the beach than her younger companion, that her death, if she refused to retract, might have that effect upon her more youthful friend.

But their persecutors knew nothing about the power of principle, or the influence of the love of Christ on the hearts of Christians. Accordingly, when the tide was rising, she was besought to give up her principles and acknowledge the supremacy of the king; but she replied: “Unless with Christ’s dear servants we have a part, we have no part with him and then she encouraged herself, singing the old Psalm: “To thee I lift my soul, O God.” And Margaret Wilson, instead of being frightened by the sight of her fellow-sufferer’s death, was only emboldened to hold fast her profession. Said she, looking upon her dying friend: “What do I see but Christ in one of his members wrestling there? Think you that we are the sufferers? No, it is Christ in us; for he sends none a warfare upon their own charges.” Brave words from so young a martyr; but she was inured to suffering, for though now only eighteen years of age, she had for five long years been a wanderer from home and friends for the cause of her Master. Like the martyrs of old, she had wandered about in dens and caves of the earth the greater part of the time since her thirteenth year, that she might escape the wrath of the enemies of Christ and his truth, and she is not now likely to desert it; consequently, when the water had reached her face, and she had been loosed and asked to disavow the doctrine of Christ’s supremacy and acknowledge that of King James, she replied: “I will not—I am one of God’s children—let me alone.” Yes, she was a child of God, and nobly was she acting in her high position, and bright will be her crown in the kingdom above.
The account of The Maiden Martyrs at Electric Scotland concludes with these thoughts:
In Christian lands no king would now claim the prerogatives that were claimed by King James; and how much we are indebted to these humble martyrs for the increased religious liberty—aye, and civil liberty, too, for both will stand or fall together—which is now enjoyed in English-speaking Christian lands, we can not tell; but the seed thus sown and watered with blood was doubtless not in vain. And their story still teaches and inspires its readers with loftier purpose and increased determination to live and witness for Christ and his truth.
The book  "Scottish Heroines of the Faith" by Donald Beaton (1872) gives us more insight into the lives of the "two Margarets" [emphasis mine]:
Margaret Lachlison was the widow of John Milliken, carpenter, a tenant in the parish of Kirkinner, Galloway. In her petition to the Privy Council she says that she is " about the age of three score [and] ten years," though on her gravestone in the churchyard of Wigtown her age is given as sixty-three years. She lived a quiet life, but " superior," says Anderson, " to most women of her station in religious knowledge; blameless in her deportment; and a pattern of virtue and piety." But these virtues did not appeal to the ruling powers in Scotland at this time. Margaret Lachlison had been guilty of absenting herself from the services of the curate, and she had attended the services of the outed ministers. She had also given shelter to some of the persecuted. In the eyes of those in power this conduct was considered highly reprehensible and criminal, and the strong hand of the law arrested all further attentions that this good woman might be inclined to show to her persecuted countrymen. While engaged at family worship on the Lord s day in her own house she was apprehended and carried to prison, where " she lay for a long time," says Anderson, " and was treated with great harshness, not being allowed a fire to warm her, nor a bed upon which to lie, nor even an adequate supply of food to satisfy the cravings of nature." (pages 25 & 26)

When Margaret Lachlison and Margaret Wilson were apprehended they were asked to take the Abjuration Oath. This was an Oath abjuring the manifesto published by the Cameronians, entitled The Apologetic Declaration and admonitory Vindication of the True Presbyterians of the Church of Scotland, especially anent Intelligencers and Informers. The Cameronians in this manifesto gave expression to their adherence to their renunciation of Charles; they also warn all who may give information against them that they shall punish them according to their power and the degree of the offence committed. " This step," says Dr. MacCrie, " we do not undertake to vindicate. ... At the same time it is impossible to condemn them with great severity, when we reflect that they were cast out of the protection of law, driven out of the pale of society, and hunted like wild beasts in the woods and on the mountains, to which they had fled for shelter" {Review of the Tales of My Landlord], When asked to take this Oath, Margaret Lachlison, Margaret Wilson, and her young sister, Agnes, refused to do so. (page 27)
And we are told this about their last words and moments on this earth:
On the nth of May, Margaret Lachlison and her companion were led out of their prison to die on the Solway sands. The officials who were entrusted with the cruel deed drove two stakes into the sand one being further out towards the sea than the other. To the former Margaret Lachlison was fastened, in the hope that the dying struggles of the aged martyr might weaken the resolution of the brave young girl as the remorseless waves rolled on. The fate of the sufferers for conscience sake appealed powerfully to the people gathered on the banks, and every effort was made to win them from their stern resolution to die rather than disown what they believed to be the truth of God. As the waters of the Solway Firth came on and did their pitiless work, some of the bystanders directed Margaret s attention to her aged companion, asking at the same time what she thought of her now.

" What do I see," came the reply, " but Christ wrestling there ? Think ye that we are the sufferers ? No, it is Christ in us ; for He sends none a warfare on their own charges." Then she opened her Bible and read aloud the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. And as she read those deeply comforting words with the light of eternity already shining upon the holy page, how unspeakably precious they must have been !

" Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword ? As it is written : For Thy sake we are killed all the day long ; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord."

Then she sang the 25th Psalm in the Scottish metrical version, beginning at the 7th verse :

My sins and faults of youth
Do Thou, O Lord, forget ;
After Thy mercy think on me,
And for Thy goodness great.

Ere the end came they pulled her out of the water, and, waiting until she was able to speak, they asked her if she would pray for King James. " I wish the salvation of all," she replied, " and the damnation of none." " Dear Margaret," pled one of the onlookers, "say God save the King. " "God save him if He will," she replied, " for it is his salvation I desire." (pages 27 & 28)

For an even more detailed account of these two martyrs and the historical events leading up to their arrest and persecution, please see Ladies of the Covenant: Memoirs of Distinguished Scottish Female CharactersMargaret McLauchlan and Margaret Wilson, by Rev. James Anderson (1850).

In conclusion, my impression of the martyrdom of these two godly women is they were unfairly charged as being some sort of revolutionaries, but in all truthfulness they were pious, gentle women who lived the Gospel of Jesus Christ and died for His glory. They weren't trying to turn the world upside down or dethrone the king. They were exemplary models of godly womanhood whose memories deserve to be honored and treated with the utmost respect. They should not be used as examples to make controversial ideological points.

Lord willing, my future installments in this series will explore the lives of Richard Cameron and Donald Cargill. We'll also take a look at  "An Informatory Vindication" and other primary documents written by the Scottish Covenanters, and try to discern what exactly is meant by "Historic Theonomy" and if this is an accurate term to describe the beliefs of the Reformers regarding the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the nations.*

May the good Lord bless you and keep you walking in His truth and may we one day have sweet fellowship with the "two Margarets" as we give all glory to God and affirm we had "No King but Christ!" - Amen.

Update: 4.01.2014 - After much thought and prayer, I've decided to let the historical accounts of the Covenanters speak for themselves. I've documented much information about them at the Reformed Christian Heritage Blog (* and feel that further discussion is a waste of my time. I previously made the statement that  whoever defines the terms wins the argument, and the term "theonomy" has been so broadened and watered down by it's adherents that they'll soon have every confessing evangelical included in their definition. I think this is deceptive and can only hope and pray that they will feel convicted in their hearts to stop trying to make theonomy fit into Reformation history.

God's truth will win out in the end.

In Christ alone, Angela Wittman

Scottish Covenanter Resources:

*Updated 8.6.2019 with corrected link.


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