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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 3 — Wishart is burned, and Knox comes forward

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Growing Discredit of the Hierarchy — Martyrs — Henry Forrest — David Straiton and Norman Gourlay — Their Trial and Burning — Thomas Forrest, Vicar of Dollar — Burning of Five Martyrs — Jerome Russel and Alexander Kennedy — Cardinal David Beaton — Exiles — Number of Sufferers — Plot to Cut off all the Nobles favorable to the New Opinions — Defeat at the Solway, and Discovery of the Plot — Ministry and Martyrdom of George Wishart — Birth and Education of Knox

Between the death of Hamilton and the appearance of Knox there intervenes a period of a chequered character; nevertheless, we can trace all throughout it a steady onward march of Scotland towards emancipation. Hamilton had been burned; Alesius and others had fled in terror; and the priests, deeming themselves undisputed masters, demeaned themselves more haughtily than ever. But their pride hastened their downfall. The nobles combined to set limits to an arrogance which was unbearable; the greed and profligacy of the hierarchy discredited it in the eyes of the common people; the plays of Sir David Lindsay, and the satires of the illustrious George Buchanan, helped to swell the popular indignation; but the main forces in Scotland, as in every other country, which weakened the Church of Rome, and eventually overthrew it, were the reading of the Scriptures and the deaths of the martyrs.

The burning of Patrick Hamilton began immediately to bear fruit. From his ashes arose one to continue his testimony, and to repeat his martyrdom. Henry Forrest was a Benedictine in the monastery of Linlithgow, and had come to a knowledge of the truth by the teaching and example of Hamilton. It was told the Archbishop of St. Andrews that Forrest had said that Hamilton "was a martyr, and no heretic," and that he had a New Testament in his possession, most probably Tyndale's, which was intelligible to the Scots of the Lowlands. "He is as bad as Master Patrick," said Beaton; "we must burn him." A "merry gentleman," James Lindsay, who was standing beside the archbishop when Forrest was condemned, ventured to hint, "My lord, if ye will burn any man, let him be burned in how [hollow] cellars, for the reek [smoke] of Patrick Hamilton has infected as many as it did blow upon." The rage of Beaton blinded him to the wisdom of the advice. Selecting the highest ground in the immediate neighborhood of St. Andrews, he ordered the stake of Forrest to be planted there (1532), that the light of his pile, flashing across the Tay, might warn the men of Angus and Forfarshire to shun his heresy. [1]

The next two martyrs were David Straiton and Norman Gourlay. David Straiton, a Forfarshire gentleman, whose ancestors had dwelt on their lands of Laudston since the sixth century, was a great lover of field sports, and was giving himself no concern whatever about matters of religion. He happened to quarrel with Patrick Hepburn, Prior of St. Andrews, about his ecclesiastical dues. His lands adjoined the sea, and, daring and venturous, he loved to launch out into the deep, and always returned with his boat laden with fish. Prior Hepburn, who was as great a fisher as himself, though in other waters and for other spoil, demanded his tithe. Straiton threw every tenth fish into the sea, and gruffly told the prior to seek his tithe where he had found the stock. Hepburn summoned the laird to answer to a charge of heresy. Heresy! Straiton did not even know what the word meant. He began to inquire what that thing called heresy might be of which he was accused. Unable himself to read, he made his nephew open the New Testament and read it to him. He felt his sin; "he was changed," says Knox, "as if by miracle," and began that course of life which soon drew upon him the eyes of the hierarchy. Norman Gourlay, the other person who now fell under the displeasure of the priesthood, had been a student at St. Andrews, and was in priest's orders. The trial of the two took place in Holyrood House, in presence of King James V, "clothed all in red;" and James Hay, Bishop of Ross, acting as commissioner for Archbishop Beaten. They were condemned, and in the afternoon of the same day they were taken to the Rood of Greenside, and there burned. This was a high ground between Edinburgh and Leith, and the execution took place there "that the inhabitants of Fife, seeing the fire, might be stricken with terror." To the martyrs themselves the fire had no terror, because to them death had no sting. [2]

Four years elapsed after the death of Straiten and Gourlay till another pile was raised in Scotland. In 1538, five persons were burned. Dean Thomas Forrest, one of the five martyrs, had been a canon regular in the Augustinian monastery of St. Colme Inch, in the Frith of Forth, and had been brought to a knowledge of the truth by perusing a volume of Augustine, which was lying unused and neglected in the monastery. Lest he should infect his brethren he was transferred to the rural parish of Dollar, at the foot of the picturesque Ochils. Here he spent some busy years preaching and catechizing, till at last the eyes of the Archbishop of St. Andrews were drawn to him. There had been a recent change in that see -- the uncle, James Beaten, being now dead, the more cruel and bloodthirsty nephew, David Beaten, had succeeded him. It was before this tyrant that the diligent and loving friar of Dollar was now summoned. He and the four companions who were tried along with him were condemned to the stake, and on the afternoon of the same day were burned on the Castle-hill of Edinburgh. Placed on this elevated site, these five blazing pile., proclaimed to the men of Fife, and the dwellers in the Lothians, how great was

the rage of the priests, but how much greater the heroism of the martyrs which overcame it. [3]

If the darkness threatened to close in again, the hierarchy always took care to disperse it by kindling another pile. Only a year elapsed after the bunting of the five martyrs on the Castle-hill of Edinburgh, when other two confessors were called to suffer the fire. Jerome Russel, a Black Friar, and Alexander Kennedy, a gentleman of Ayrshire, were put on their trial before the Archbishop of Glasgow and condemned for heresy, and were burned next day. At the stake, Russel, the more courageous of the two, taking his youthful fellow-sufferer by the hand, bade him not fear. "Death," he said, "cannot destroy us, seeing our Lord and Master has already destroyed it."

The blood the hierarchy was spilling was very fruitful. For every confessor that perished, a little company of disciples arose to fill his place. The martyr-piles, lit on elevated sites and flashing their gloomy splendor over city and shire, set the inhabitants a-talking; the story of the martyrs was rehearsed at many a fire-side, and their meekness contrasted with the cruelty and arrogance of their persecutors; the Bible was sought after, and the consequence was that the confessors of the truth rapidly increased.

The first disciples in Scotland were men of rank and learning; but these burnings carried the cause down among the humbler classes. The fury of the clergy, now presided over by the truculent David Beaten, daily waxed greater, and numbers, to escape the stake, fled to foreign countries. Some of these were men illustrious for their genius and their scholarship, of whom were Gawin Logic, Principal of St. Leonard's College, the renowned George Buchanan, and McAlpine, or Maccabaeus, to whom the King of Denmark gave a chair in his University of Copenhagen. The disciples in humble life, unable to flee, had to brave the terrors of the stake and cord.

The greater part of their names have passed into oblivion, and only a few have been preserved. [4] In 1543, Cardinal Beaten made a tour through his diocese, illustrating his pride by an ostentatious display of the symbols of his rank, and his cruelty by hanging, burning, and in some cases drowning heretics, in the towns where it pleased him to set up his tribunal. The profligate James V had fallen under the power of the hierarchy, and this emboldened the cardinal to venture upon a measure which he doubted not would be the death-blow of heresy in Scotland, and would secure to the hierarchy a long and tranquil reign over the country. He meditated cutting off by violence all the nobles who were known to favor the Reformed opinions. The list compiled by Beaten contained above 100 names, and among those marked out for slaughter were Lord Hamilton, the first peer in the realm, the Earls of Cassillis and Glencairn, and the Earl Marischall — a proof of the hold which the Protestant doctrine had now taken in Scotland. Before the bloody plot could be executed the Scottish army sustained a terrible defeat at the Solway, and the king soon thereafter dying of a broken heart, the list of the proscribed was found upon his person after death. The nation saw with horror how narrow its escape had been from a catastrophe which, beginning with the nobility, would have quickly extended to all the favorers of the Protestant opinions. [5] The discovery helped not a little to pave the way for the downfall of a hierarchy which was capable of concocting so diabolical a plot.

Instead of the nobility and gentry of Scotland, it was the king himself whom the priests had brought to destruction; for, hoping to prevent the Reformed opinions entering Scotland from England, the priests had instigated James V to offer to Henry VIII the affront which led to the disaster of Solway-moss, followed so quickly by the death-bed scene in the royal palace of Falkland. The throne now vacant, it became necessary to appoint a regent to govern the kingdom during the minority of the Princess Mary, who was just eight days old when her father died, on the 16th of December, 1542. The man whose name was first on the list of nobles marked for slaughter, was chosen to the regency, although Cardinal Beaten sought to bar his way to it by producing a forged will of the late king appointing himself to the post. [6] The fact that Arran was a professed Reformer contributed quite as much to his elevation as the circumstance of his being premier peer. Kirkaldy of Grange, Learmonth of Balcomy, Balnaves of Halhill, Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, and other known friends of the Reformed opinions became his advisers. He selected as his chaplains Thomas Guilliam and John Rough, and opening to them the Church of Holyrood, they there preached "doctrine so wholesome," and so zealously reproved "impiety and superstition," that the Gray Friars, says Knox, "rowped as they had been ravens," crying out, "Heresy! Heresy!

Guilliam and Rough will carry the governor to the devil!" [7] But the most important of all the measures of the regent was the passing of the Act of Parliament, 15th of March, 1543, which made it lawful for every subject in the realm to read the Bible in his mother tongue. Hitherto the Word of God had lain under the ban of the hierarchy; that obstruction now removed, "then might have been seen," says Knox, "the Bible lying upon almost every gentleman's table. The New Testament was borne about in many men's hands." And though, as Knox tells us, some simulated a zeal for the Bible to make court to the governor, "yet thereby did the knowledge of God wondrously increase, and God gave his Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance. Then were set forth works in our own tongue, besides those that came from England, that did disclose the

pride, the craft, the tyranny and abuses of that Roman Antichrist." [8]

It was only four months after Scotland had received the gift of a free Bible, that another boon was given it in the person of an eloquent preacher. We refer to George Wishart, who followed Patrick Hamilton at an interval of seventeen years. Wishart, born in 1512, was the son of Sir James Wishart of Pitarrow, an ancient and honorable family of the Mearns. An excellent Grecian, he was the first who taught that noblest of the tongues of the ancient world in the grammar schools of Scotland. Erskine of Dun had founded an academy at Montrose, and here the young Wishart taught Greek, it being then not uncommon for the scions of aristocratic and even noble families to give instructions in the learned languages. Wishart, becoming "suspect" of heresy, retired first to England, then to Switzerland, where he passed a year in the society of Bullinger and the study of the Helvetic Confession. Returning to England, he took up his abode for a short time at Cambridge. Let us look at the man as the graphic pen of one of his disciples has painted him. "He was a man," says Tylney — writing long after the noble figure that enshrined so many sweet virtues, and so much excellent learning and burning eloquence, had been reduced to ashes — "he was a man of tall stature, polled-headed, and on the same a round French cap of the best. Judged of melancholy complexion by his physiognomy, black-haired, long-bearded, comely of personage, well-spoken after his country of Scotland, courteous, lowly, lovely, glad to teach, desirous to learn, and was well-traveled; having on him for his habit or clothing never but a mantle, frieze gown to the shoes, a black Milan fustian doublet, and plain black hosen, coarse new canvass for his shirts, and white falling bands and cuffs at the hands." [9]

Wishart returned to Scotland in the July of 1543. Arran's zeal for the Reformation had by this time spent itself; and the astute and resolute Beaton was dominant in the nation. It was in the midst of perils that Wishart began his ministry. "The beginning of his doctrine" was in Montrose, at that time the most Lutheran town perhaps in Scotland. He next visited Dundee, where his eloquence drew around him great crowds.

Following the example of Zwingle at Zurich, and of Calvin at Geneva, instead of discoursing on desultory topics, he opened the Epistle to the Romans, and proceeded to expound it chapter by chapter to his audience. The Gospel thus rose before them as a grand unity. Beginning with the "one man" by whom sin entered, they passed on to the "one Man" by whom had come the "free gift." The citizens were hanging upon the lips of the greatest pulpit orator that had arisen in Scotland for centuries, when they were surprised by a visit from the governor and the cardinal, who brought with them a train of field artillery. Believing the town to be full of Lutherans, they had come prepared to besiege it. The citizens retired, taking with them, it is probable, their preacher, leaving the gates of the city open for the entrance of the Churchman and his unspiritual accompaniments. When the danger had passed Wishart and his flock returned, and, resuming his exposition at the point where the cardinal's visit had compelled him to break off, he continued his labors in Dundee for some months. Arran had sunk into the mere tool of the cardinal, and it was not to be expected that the latter, now all-powerful in Scotland, would permit the erection of a Lutheran stronghold almost at his very door. He threatened to repeat his visit to Dundee if the preacher were not silenced, and Wishart, knowing that Beaten would keep his word, and seeing some of the citizens beginning to tremble at the prospect, deemed it prudent to obey the charge delivered to him in the queen's name, while in the act of preaching, to "depart, and trouble the town no more."

The evangelist went on his way to Ayr and Kyle. That was soil impregnated with seed sown in it by the hands of the Lollards. The church doors were locked against the preacher, but it was a needless precaution, no church could have contained the congregations that flocked to hear him. Wishart went to the market crosses, to the fields, and making of a "dry dyke" [10] a pulpit, he preached to the eager and awed thousands seated round him on the grass or on the heather. His words took effect on not a few who had been previously notorious for their wickedness; and the sincerity of their conversion was attested, not merely by the tears that rolled down their faces at the moment, but by the purity and consistency of their whole after-life. How greatly do those err who believe the Reformation to have been but a battle of dogmas!

The Reformation was the cry of the human conscience for pardon. That great movement took its rise, not in the conviction of the superstitions, exactions, and scandals of the Roman hierarchy, but in the conviction of each individual of his own sin. That conviction was wrought in him by the Holy Spirit, then abundantly poured down upon the nations; and the Gospel which showed the way of forgiveness delivered men from bondage, and imparting a new life to them, brought them into a world of liberty. This was the true Reformation. We would call it a revival were it not that the term is too weak: it was a creation; it peopled Christendom with new men, in the first place, and in the second it covered it with new Churches and States.

Hardly had Wishart departed from Dundee when the plague entered it. This was a visitant whose shafts were more deadly than even the cardinal's artillery. The lazar-houses that stood at

the "East Port," round the shrine of St. Roque, the protector from pestilence, were crowded with the sick and the dying. Wishart hastened back the moment he heard the news, and mounting on the top of the Cowgate the healthy inside the gate, the plague-stricken outside — he preached to the two congregations, choosing as his text the words of the 107th Psalm, "He sent his Word and healed them." A new life began to be felt in the stricken city; measures were organized, by the advice of Wishart, for the distribution of food and medicine among the sick, [11] and the plague began to abate. One day his labors were on the point of being brought to an abrupt termination. A priest, hired by the cardinal to assassinate him, waited at the foot of the stairs for the moment when he should descend. A cloak thrown over him concealed the naked dagger which he held in his hand; but the keen eye of Wishart read the murderous design in the man's face. Going up to him and putting his hand upon his arm, he said, "Friend, what would ye?" at the same time disarming him. The crowd outside rushed in, and would have dispatched the would-be assassin, but Wishart threw himself between the indignant citizens and the man, and thus, in the words of Knox, "saved the life of him who sought his."

On leaving Dundee in the end of 1545, Wishart repaired to Edinburgh, and thence passed into East Lothian, preaching in its towns and villages. He had a deep presentiment that his end was near, and that he would fall a sacrifice to the wrath of Beaton. Apprehended at Ormiston on the night of the 16th of January, 1546, he was carried to St. Andrews, thrown into the Sea-tower, and brought to trial on the 28th of February, and condemned to the flames. Early next morning the preparations were begun for his execution, which was to take place at noon. The scaffold was erected a little way in front of the cardinal's palace, in the dungeons of which Wishart lay. The guns of the castle, the gunners by their side, were shotted and turned on the scaffold; an iron stake, chains, and gunpowder were provided for the martyr; and the windows and wall-tops were lined with cushions, and draped with green hangings, for the luxurious repose of the cardinal and bishops while witnessing the spectacle. At noon Wishart was led forth in the midst of soldiers, his hands tied behind his back, a rope round his neck, and an iron chain round his middle. His last meal in the hall of the castle before being led out he had converted into the "Last Supper," which he partook with his friends. "Consider and behold my visage," said he, "ye shall not see me change my color. The grim fire I fear not. I know surely that my soul shall sup with my Savior this night." Having taken his place at the stake, the powder-bags were first exploded, scorching him severely; the rope round his neck was then drawn tightly to strangle him, and last of all his body was burned to ashes." [12]

It was Wishart," says Dr. Lorimer, "who first molded the Reformed theology of Scotland upon the Helvetic, as distinguished from the Saxon type; and it was he who first taught the Church of Scotland to reduce her ordinances and Sacraments with rigorous fidelity to the standard of Christ's Institutions." [13]

It is at the stake of Wishart that we first catch sight as it were of Knox, for the parting between the two, so affectingly recorded by Knox himself, took place not many days before the death of the martyr. John Knox, descended from the Knoxes of Ranferly, was born in Gifford-gate, Haddington, [14] in 1505. From the school of his native town he passed (1522) to the University of Glasgow, and was entered under the celebrated John Major, then Principal Regent or Professor of Philosophy and Divinity. After leaving college he passes out of view for ten or a dozen years. About this time he would seem to have taken priest's orders, and to have been for upwards of ten years connected with one of the religious establishments in the neighborhood of Haddington. He had been enamoured of the scholastic philosophy, the science that sharpened the intellect, but left the conscience unmoved and the soul unfed; but now loathing its dry crusts, and turning away from its great doctors, he seats himself at the feet of the great Father of the West. He read and studied the writings of Augustine. Rich in evangelical truth and impregnate with the fire of Divine love, Augustine's pages must have had much to do with the molding of Knox's mind, and the imprinting upon it of that clear, broad, and heroic stamp which it wore all his life long.

Augustine and Jerome led Knox to the feet of a Greater. The future Reformer now opens the Sacred Oracles, and he who had once wandered in the dry and thirsty wilderness of scholasticism finds himself at the fountain and well-head of Divine knowledge. The wonder he felt when the doctrines of the schools vanished around him like mist, and the eternal verities of the Gospel stood out before him in the clear light of the Bible, we are not told. Did the day which broke on Luther and Calvin amid lightning and great thundering dawn peacefully on Knox? We do not think so. Doubtless the Scottish Reformer, before escaping from the yoke of Rome, had to undergo struggles of soul akin to those of his two great predecessors; but they have been left unrecorded. We of this age are, in this respect, free-born; the men of the sixteenth century had to buy their liberty, and ours at the same time, with a great sum.

From the doctors of the Middle Ages to the Fathers of

the first ages, from the Fathers to the Word of God, Knox was being led, by a way he knew not, to the great task that awaited him. His initial course of preparation, begun by Augustine, was perfected doubtless by the private instructions and public sermons of Wishart, which Knox was privileged to enjoy during the weeks that immediately preceded the martyr's death. That death would seal to Knox all that had fallen from the lips of Wishart, and would bring him to the final resolve to abandon the Roman communion and cast in his lot with the Reformers. But both the man and the country had yet to pass through many sore conflicts before either was ready for that achievement which crowned the labors of the one and completed the Reformation of the other.

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Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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