Mr. M'Kail was born about the year 1640, and was educated at the university of Edinburgh, under the inspection of his uncle Mr. Hugh M'Kail (in whose family he resided). In the winter 1661, he offered himself to trials for the ministry, before the presbytery of Edinburgh, (being then about 20 years old) and being by them licensed he preached several times with great applause. He preached his last public sermon from Cant. i.7. in the great church of Edinburgh, upon the Sabbath immediately preceding the 8th of Sept.1662, the day fixed, by the then parliament, for the removal of the ministers of Edinburgh.
In this sermon, taking occasion to speak of the great and many persecutions to which the church of God has been and is obnoxious, amplifying the point from the persons and powers that have been instrumental therein, he said, That the church and people of God had been persecuted both by a Pharaoh on the throne, a Haman in the state, and a Judas in the church, &c.; which case, to the conviction of his adversaries, seemed so similar to the state and condition of the then rulers of church and state, that though he made no particular application, yet was he reputed guilty; whereupon, a few days after, a party of horse was sent to the place of his residence near Edinburgh, to apprehend him; but, upon little more than a moment's advertisement, he escaped out of bed into another chamber, where he was preserved from the search. After this, he was obliged to return home to his father's house, and, having lurked there a-while, he spent other four years before his death in several other places.
While he lived at his father's house, troubles arose in the west; and the news thereof having alarmed him, with the rest of that country, upon the 18th of November, for such motives and considerations as he himself afterwards more fully declares, he joined himself to those who rose in these parts, for the assisting of that poor afflicted party. -- Being of a tender constitution, by the toil, fatigue, and continual marching in tempestuous weather, he was so disabled and weakened, that he could no longer endure; and upon the 27th of the said month, he was obliged to leave them near Cramond water; and, in his way to Libberton parish, passing through Braid's craigs, he was taken without any resistance, (having only a small ordinary sword) by some of the countrymen who were sent out to view the fields. -- And here it is observable, that his former escape was no more miraculous than his present taking was fatal; for the least caution might have prevented him this inconveniency; but God who gave him the full experience of his turning all things to the good of them that love him, did thus, by his simplicity, prepare the way for his own glory, and his servant's joy and victory.
He was brought to Edinburgh, first to the town-council house, and there searched for letters; but none being found, he was committed prisoner to the tolbooth. Upon wednesday the 28, he was, by order of the secret council, brought before the earl of Dumfries, lord Sinclair, Sir Robert Murray of Priest-field, and others, in order to his examination; where, being interrogate, concerning his joining the west-land forces, he, conceiving himself not obliged by any law or reason, to be his own accuser, did decline the question. After some reasoning, he was desired to subscribe his name, but refused; which, when reported to the council, gave great offence, and brought him under some suspicion of a dissembler. On the 29, he was again called before them, where, for allaying the council's prejudice, he gave in a declaration under his own hand, testifying that he had been with the west land forces, &c. Though it was certainly known, that he had both formed and subscribed this acknowledgment the night before, yet they still persisted in their jealousy, suspecting him to have been privy to all the designs of that party, and dealt with him, with the greater importunity, to declare an account of the whole business, and upon Dec.3, the boots (a most terrible instrument of torture) were laid on the council-house table before him, and he was certified, that if he would not confess, he should be tortured to-morrow; accordingly he was called before them, and being urged to confess, he solemnly declared, that he knew no more than what he had already confessed; whereupon they ordered the executioner to put his leg to the boot, and to proceed to the torture, to the number of ten or eleven strokes, with considerable intervals; yet all did not move him to express any impatience or bitterness.
This torture was the cause of his not being indicted with the first ten, who were arraigned and sentenced on Wednesday Dec.5. to be hanged on the Friday following. Many thought, that his small accession to the rising, and what he had suffered by torture, should have procured him some favour, but it was otherwise determined; nor was his former sermon forgot, and the words Achab on the throne. On Monday the 10, he and other seven received their indictment of treason, and were summoned to appear before the justices on Wednesday Dec.12; but his torture and close imprisonment (for so it was ordered) had cast him into a fever, whereby he was utterly unable to make his appearance; therefore, upon Tuesday the 11, he gave in to the lords of the council a supplication, declaring his weak and sickly condition, craving that they may surcease any legal procedure against him, in such a weak and extreme condition, and that they would discharge him of the foresaid appearance. Hereupon the council ordered two physicians and two chirurgeons to visit him, and to return their attestations, upon soul and conscience, betwixt and to-morrow at ten o'clock, to the justices.
Upon Dec.8, his brother went from Edinburgh to Glasgow, with a letter from the lady-marquis of Douglas, and another from the duchess of Hamilton to the lord commissioner in his favour, but both proved ineffectual; his cousin Mr. Matthew M'Kail carried another letter from the lady-marquis of Douglas, to the arch-bishop of St. Andrews, for the same purpose, but with no better success.
On Dec.18, he, being indifferently recovered, was with other three brought before the justices, where the general indictment was read, founded both on old and late acts of parliament, made against rising in arms, entering into leagues and covenants, and renewing the solemn league and covenant without and against the king's authority, &c. Mr. Hugh was particularly charged with joining the rebels at Ayr, Ochiltry, Lanerk and other places, on horseback, &c.; whereupon, being permitted to answer, he spoke in his own defence, both concerning the charge laid against him, and likewise of the ties and obligations that were upon this land to God; commending the institution, dignity, and blessing of presbyterial government; he said, The last words of the national covenant had always a great weight upon his spirit. Here he was interrupted by the king's advocate, who bade him forbear that discourse, and answer the question for the crime of rebellion. -- Unto which he answered, The thing that moved him to declare as he had done, was that weighty and important saying of our Lord Jesus, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God, &c. After this confession, and the depositions of those examined anent him were read, with his replies to the same, the assize was inclosed; after which they gave their verdict una voce, and by the mouth of Sir William Murray their chancellor, reported him guilty, &c. The verdict being reported, doom was pronounced, declaring and adjudging him, and the rest, to be taken, on Saturday Dec.20. to the market cross of Edinburgh, there to be hanged on a gibbet till dead, and his goods and lands to be escheated and forfeited for his Highness use. At the hearing of this sentence, he cheerfully said, The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away: blessed be the name of the Lord. He was then carried back to the tolbooth through the guards, the people making lamentation for him by the way. After he came to his chamber, he immediately addressed himself to God in prayer, with great enlargement of heart, in behalf of himself, and those who were condemned with him. Afterwards, to a friend he said, |O how good news! to be within four days journey to enjoy the sight of Jesus Christ;| and protested |he was not so cumbered how to die, as he had sometimes been to preach a sermon.| To some women lamenting for him, he said, |That his condition, though he was but young, and in the budding of his hopes and labours in the ministry, was not to be mourned; for one drop of my blood, through the grace of God, may make more hearts contrite, than many years sermons might have done.|
This afternoon he supplicated the council for liberty to his father to come to him; which being granted, his father came next night, to whom he discoursed a little concerning obedience to parents from the fifth commandment, and then, after prayer, his father said to him, |Hugh, I called thee a goodly olive tree, of fair fruit, and now a storm hath destroyed the tree and his fruit.| -- -- He answered, That his too good thought of him afflicted him. His father said, |He was persuaded God was visiting not his own sins, but his parents sins, so that he might say, Our fathers have sinned, and we have borne their iniquity.| -- He further said, |I have sinned, thou poor sheep, what hast thou done.| Mr. Hugh answered, with many groans, |That, through coming short of the fifth commandment, he had come short of the promise, That his days should be prolonged in the land of the living, and that God's controversy with him was for over-valuing his children, especially himself.|
Upon the 20 of December, through the importunity of friends, more than his own inclination, he gave in a petition to the council, craving their clemency after having declared his own innocence; but it proved altogether ineffectual. During his abode in prison, the Lord was very graciously present with him, both to sustain him against the fears of death, and by expelling the overcloudings of terror, that some times the best of men, through the frailty of flesh and blood, are subject unto. He was also wonderfully assisted in prayer and praise, to the admiration of all the hearers, especially on Thursday's night, when, being set at supper with his fellow-prisoners, his father and one or two more, he requested his fellow-prisoners, saying merrily, eat to the full, and cherish your bodies, that we may be a fat Christmass-pye to the prelates. After supper in thanksgiving, he broke forth into several expressions, both concerning himself and the church of God, and at last used that exclamation in the last of Daniel, What, Lord, shall be the end of these wonders!
The last night of his life he propounded and answered several questions for the strengthening of his fellow prisoners: How should he go from the tolbooth thro' a multitude of gazing people, and guards of soldiers to a scaffold and gibbet, and overcome the impressions of all this? He answered, By conceiving a deeper impression of a multitude of angels, who are on-lookers; according to that, We are a gazing-flock to the world, angels and men, for the angels, rejoicing at our good confession, are present to convoy and carry our souls, as the soul of Lazarus, to 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 ministring spirits, always ready to serve and strengthen all dying believers, &c. What is the way for us to conceive of heaven, who are hastening to it, seeing the word faith, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, &c.? To this he answered, That the scripture helps us two ways to conceive of heaven; (1.) By way of similitude, as in Rev. xxi, where heaven is held forth by the representation of a glorious city, there discoursed, &c. (2.) 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. and no other thing than the soul breathing forth love to Jesus Christ, can rightly apprehend the joys of heaven.
The last words he spoke at supper were in the commendation of love above knowledge, |O but notions of knowledge without love are of small worth, evanishing in nothing, and very dangerous.| After supper, his father having given thanks, he read the 16th psalm, and then said, |If there were any thing in the world sadly and unwillingly to be left, it were the reading of the scriptures. I said, I shall not see 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, &c.| Supper being ended, he called for a pen, saying, It was to write his testament; wherein he ordered some few books he had, to be re-delivered to several persons. He went to bed about eleven o'clock, and slept till five in the morning; then he arose, and called for his comrade John Wodrow, saying pleasantly, |Up, John, for you are too long in bed; you and I look not like men going to be hanged this day, seeing we lie so long.| Then he spake to him in the words of Isaiah xlii.24. and after some short discourse, John said to him, You and I will be chambered shortly beside Mr. Robertson. -- He answered, |John, I fear you bar me out, because you was more free before the council than I was; but I shall be as free as any of you upon the scaffold. He said, He had got a clear ray of the majesty of the Lord after his awakening, but it was a little over-clouded thereafter.| He prayed with great fervency, pleading his covenant-relation with him, and that they might be enabled that day to witness a good confession before many witnesses. Then his father coming to him, bade him farewel. His last word to him, after prayer, was, That his sufferings would do more hurt to the prelates, and be more edifying to God's people, than if he were to continue in the ministry twenty years. Then he desired his father to leave him, and go to his chamber, and pray earnestly to the Lord to be with him on the scaffold; for how to carry there is my care, even that I may be strengthened to endure to the end.
About two o'clock afternoon he was brought to the scaffold (with other five who suffered with him), where, to the conviction of all that formerly knew him, he had a fairer and more stayed countenance than ever they had before observed. Being come to the foot of the ladder, he directed his speech to the multitude northward, saying, |That as his years in the world had been but few, his words then should not be many;| and then spoke to the people the speech and testimony which he had before written and subscribed.
Having done speaking, he sung a part of the 31st psalm, and then prayed with such power and fervency, as caused many to weep bitterly. Then he gave his hat and cloke from him, and when he 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.| Hearing a noise among 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: and then, having seated himself thereon, he said, |I do partly believe that the noble counsellors and rulers of this land would have used some mitigation of this punishment, had they not been instigated by the prelates, so that our blood lies principally at the prelates door; but this is my comfort now, that I know that my Redeemer liveth, &c. And now I do willingly lay down my life for the truth and cause of God, the covenants 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 then 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, ye will not be wanting to me now in the last step of my journey, that I may witness a good confession, and that ye may know what the ground of my encouragement in this work is, I shall read to you in the last chapter of the bible;| which having read, he said, |Here you see the glory that is to be revealed on me, a pure river of water of life, &c. and here you see my access to my glory and reward, Let him that is athirst come, &c. And here you see my welcome, the Spirit and the bride say, Come. Then he said, I have one word more to say to my friends (looking down to the scaffold), Where are ye? Ye need neither lament nor be ashamed of me in this condition, for I may make use of that expression of Christ, I go to our 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 of the first-born, to God the judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant; and I bid you all farewel, for God will be more comfortable to you than I could be, and he will be now more refreshing to me than you can be: -- Farewel, farewel in the Lord.| Then, the napkin being put on his face, he prayed a little, and put it up with his hand, and said, he had a word more to say concerning what comfort he had in his death, |I hope you perceive no alteration or discouragement in my countenance and carriage, and as it may be your wonder, so I profess it is a wonder to myself; and I will tell you the reason of it; beside the justice of my cause, this is my comfort, what was said of Lazarus when he died, That the angels did carry his soul to Abraham's bosom, so that as there is a great solemnity here, of a confluence of people, a scaffold, a gallows, a people looking out at windows; so there is a greater and more solemn preparation of angels to carry my soul to Christ's bosom; again this is my comfort, that it is to come to Christ's hand, and he will present it 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 begin my intercourse with God, which shall never be broken off: -- Farewel father and mother, friends and relations; farewel the world and all delights; farewel meat and drink; farewel sun, moon and stars; welcome God and Father; welcome sweet Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant; welcome blessed Spirit of grace, and God of all consolation; welcome glory; welcome eternal life; and welcome death.|
Then he desired the executioner not to turn him over until he himself should put over his shoulders, which, after praying a little in private he did, saying, |O Lord, into thy hands I commit my spirit, for thou hast redeemed my soul, O Lord God of truth.| And thus in the 26th year of his age he died, as he lived, in the Lord.
His death was so much lamented by the on-lookers and spectators, that there was scarce a dry cheek seen in all the streets and windows about the cross of Edinburgh, at the time of his execution. A late historian gives him this character, that |he was a youth of 26 years of age, universally beloved, singularly pious, of very considerable learning; he had seen the world, and travelled some years abroad, and was a very comely and graceful person. I am told, saith he, that he used to fast one day every week, and had frequently, before this, signified to his friends his impression of such a death as he now underwent. His share in the rising was known to be but small; and when he spoke of his comfort and joy in his death, heavy were the groans of those present.|