THE STORY OF A HIGHLAND KITCHEN MAID
The well-known story of the Highland Kitchen-maid is the basis of this post taken from It is Your Life (1872) by Rev. James Barber Johnstone. The subtitle of the book is ‘Preaching for People’.
‘Know ye not your own selves?’ (2 Corinthians 13:5)
‘And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent’ (John 17:3)
I need make no apology to you for telling you a grand story, first told by an old fellow-student, about a poor servant-maid; how she got to see her sad sinful state, and how she afterwards got another great sight, which met this and filled her heart with .peace unspeakable.
About one hundred years ago there lived in the parish of Resolis, on the southern shore of the Firth of Cromarty, a minister of the name of Hector McPhail. He was one of those men of mark who become such a power for good, that their names become dear household words over the wide districts where they have lived. Truly, that is a fame to be coveted above all.
An ardent man of God he was, ever instant in his work. He himself had passed through a long period of sore trial ere he found rest for his soul. That spiritual distress seems ever after to have made souls very precious to him, so that his one great work was to seek to win them to the Saviour.
Appointed one year as a member of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, he set out to ride to Edinburgh on his shaggy white pony, his constant companion. The journey was a long one, and consequently he was often obliged to lodge in inns by the way. His invariable custom was to have family worship in these houses. Resting one night on his way in a small inn amid the wild hills of Inverness-shire, he desired that all should come in to worship. When they had taken their seats, he asked the landlord if all were in. He answered rather hesitatingly, ‘Yes,’ ‘All?’ asked Mr. McPhail. ‘Yes,’ said the landlord, ‘we are all here. There is a little lassie in the kitchen, but we never think of asking her in, for she is so dirty that she is not fit to be seen.’
‘Call in the lassie,’ said Mr. McPhail, laying down his Bible, ‘we will wait till she comes.’ The landlord still wished her excused. No; she must come. Scullery-maid though she is, she has a precious soul. If she has been excluded before from worship, all the more need for her being present now. She must come. He will take no denial.
The poor girl, for whose soul no one had cared, comes and takes her place, and so the worship proceeds. After he had finished, Mr. McPhail called the little girl aside, and sought to know her state. As was to be expected, in the case of one so overlooked, he found her deplorably ignorant.
He asked her who made her. She did not know. ‘Do you know you have a soul?’ ‘No: I never heard that I had one. What is a soul?’
‘Do you ever pray?’ ‘I don’t know what you mean.’
Saddened at heart to find her mind such a blank, the good man gave her some instruction, and said to her, ’Now, I am going to Edinburgh, and I will bring you a little neckerchief if you promise to say a prayer night and morning that I will teach you. It is a very short one. There are only four words in it: Lord, show me myself.’
The girl entered heartily into this, and promised not to fail to say this prayer, which, no doubt, the minister would explain somewhat to her. He retired to rest, leaving in the morning.
When in Edinburgh, amid all his duties there, he did not forget the girl at the Highland inn. He purchased the small present for her, and, I doubt not, besought God in his own prayers on her behalf.
The meetings over, he turned his face towards the north again. Again he stops to lodge for the night at the small inn. As before, he calls for the presence of the household to worship. He misses the little maid. Why has she not come in? Ah! there is a different reason now from the former time.
‘Indeed, sir,’ said the landlady, ‘she has been of little use since you were here. She has done nothing but sit and cry night and day, and now she is so weak and exhausted, that she cannot rise from her bed.’
The minister knowing well what would be the reason, begged to be taken to the poor girl at once. He was led to a miserable hole beneath the stairs, where the girl lay upon her straw-bed, full of agony of soul.
‘Well, my child,’ said Mr. McPhail, ‘here is the neckerchief I have brought you from Edinburgh. I hope you have done what you promised, and said the prayer.’
‘O no, sir, no,’ she cried out, ‘I can never take your present. A dear gift it has been to me. You taught me a prayer that God has answered in an awful way. He has shown me myself, and oh what a sight it is! Minister, minister, what shall I do?’
Yes, the Lord had heard the girl’s prayer, and had made her see what she really was in his sight, who is the just and holy One, and the sight appalled her. She saw only sin, sin, and her conscience aroused and enlightened cried out. Hence her grievous distress, issuing even in bodily exhaustion. The sight of herself was too sad – the burden of her sins too heavy for her to bear.
This good minister knew well what the girl’s feelings were, and while he felt deeply for her distress, he must have blessed God that He had wrought so powerfully in her heart. He knew well that wounding must go before a cure – casting down before any one can truly be raised up. And he was greatly encouraged to direct her again to that God who had opened her eyes to see herself. He knew that what she wanted to give rest to her troubled heart was a discovery of God himself in the fulness of his love and grace in Jesus. Speaking to her much, therefore, of God, he taught her another prayer, which he begged her not to fail now to use: ‘Lord, show me thyself.’ He left in the morning, commending the little troubled maid unto the God of all grace. How hopefully he must have turned away from that inn, believing that grace was working powerfully there, and that light and joy would assuredly arise upon that troubled heart!
Many years passed over this minister of Christ. Removed far from the inn in Inverness-shire, he neither had seen nor heard of the maid since. He had become old in his Master’s service. One day his servant came in to tell him that a woman wished to see him. She was ushered in, bringing a large parcel with her.
‘You will scarcely know me, Mr. McPhail,’ said she. He did not. ‘Do you remember a little scullery-maid, some years ago, at an inn, in whose soul you took a deep interest upon your journey to Edinburgh?’’ He perfectly recollected the incident. ‘I was that girl,’ said she; ‘you taught me two short but expressive prayers. By the first, I was brought to feel my need of a Saviour; by the second, I was led to behold that Saviour himself, and to view Jehovah in the character of a reconciled God and Father in Christ. I am now respectably married and comfortably settled in life; and although the mother of a numerous family, have travelled far to see your face and to cheer you, by telling with my own lips the glorious things which, by your means, the Lord has been pleased to do for my soul.’ She begged him to accept the parcel which she carried, which contained a large web of linen, which she had made for the man who, under God, had done her soul so much good.
We may well imagine how the old minister rejoiced, and gave God thanks for that striking display of his grace. The woman lived to an old age, still holding fast and greatly adorning her profession by a holy life.
How striking a story is this! How it comes home to every heart, powerful in its very simplicity, impressing us deeply with the importance of both these prayers! Lord, show me myself. Lord, show me thyself.