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The Scottish Reformation
Chapter I.—The Hamilton Period, a. d. 1515—1543.
Section 2. Patrick Hamilton. 1515—1528


All that was wanting now was the voice of the living Reformer. Luther's Tracts and Tyndale's Testaments could do much, but they could not do every thing. The evangelical preacher, the godly confessor, the invincible Martyr of Christ's Holy Gospel must speak to the nation, before the nation's heart could be stirred to its depths. And already such a man stood ready to enter upon his work. Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called to such service ; but one such had been chosen to be the First Preacher and Martyr of the Scottish Reformation.

Patrick Hamilton was of noble birth and lineage; his father, Sir Patrick, was an illegitimate son (afterwards legitimated) of the first Lord Hamilton who received in marriage the Princess Mary, daughter of king James the Second ; his mother was Catherine Stewart, daughter of Alexander, Duke of Albany, second son of the same king. One of his uncles, by the father's side, was James Hamilton, first Earl of Arran, one of the most powerful nobles of the kingdom, and closely allied to the royal family; and he stood in a similar relation, by the mother's side, to John, Duke of Albany, a prince of the blood, who was Regent of the kingdom during the minority of James V.

Neither the date nor the place of his birth is accurately known ; but there is good ground to believe that he was born at Stonehouse, near Glasgow, in the year 1504. He enjoyed every advantage of early education which the country could afford. In his father, he had before his eye the brightest example in the kingdom of all knightly qualities ; and in his relatives, Gavyn Douglas, Provost of the Collegiate Church of St. Giles', Edinburgh, and Lord Sinclair of Newburgh, he had opportunities of conversing with two of the most learned and accomplished of Scottish scholars.

As a younger son of the family he was early destined to the Church. In 1517, he was appointed Titular Abbot of Feme, a Praemonstratensian Abbey in Rosshire; and probably in the same year, he left Scotland to prosecute his studies in the University of Paris. It had always been supposed that he was a student of the University of St. Andrews, but quite recently his name was discovered in a register of the Magistri Jurati of Paris, under the year 1520; and this discovery throws important light upon the way in which he arrived at the knowledge of evangelical truth. There were numerous disciples both of Erasmus and Luther in that great school, at the time of Hamilton's residence there. The flames of controversy, enkindled by the new learning and the new theology, were raging in Paris during those very years; and when Hamilton returned to Scotland in 1523, he was already a pronounced Erasmian, in regard not only to his love of ancient literature, but also to his conviction of the need of Ecclesiastical Reform. We are told by Alexander Alesius, that "he was a man of excellent learning, and was for banishing all sophistry from the schools, and recalling philosophy to its sources; i. e. to the original writings of Aristotle and Plato." The same author informs us that though Hamilton was an Abbot, he never assumed the monastic habit; "such," he remarks, "was his hatred of monkish hypocrisy." Instead of going to reside with the monks of his own Abbey of Feme, he was incorporated, in 1523, as a Master of Arts with the University of St. Andrews, and took up his abode in that city.

It required the study and reflection of several years to develop the young disciple of Erasmus into the decided adherent of Luther. Hamilton could not have yet openly declared for the Reformation, when he was admitted to Priest's Orders, probably in 1526 ; but the motives which induced him to take upon him priesthood, reveal the evangelical spirit which was secretly gathering strength in his heart. "It was," says John Frith, the English Martyr, "because he sought all means to testify the truth, even as Paul circumcised Timothy to win the weak Jews." He did not yet understand that the faithful ministry of God's word was utterly irreconcilable with the service of the Church of Rome. It was about the beginning of 1527, that rumours first reached the Archbishop of St. Andrews that Hamilton had openly espoused the cause of Luther; and Beaton instantly took steps to bring him to a strict account. Such a preacher of heresy was formidable indeed. In a country where noble birth and powerful connexions had still more influence in society than in any other kingdom of Europe, a preacher of Lutheranism, with royal blood in his veins, and all the power of the Hamiltons at his back, was a more dangerous enemy of the Church than Martin Luther himself, in person, would have been. The moment was critical; no time must be lost. Beaton made immediate inquisition into the truth of the information which had reached him, and having found the young preacher "infamed with heresy, disputing, holding, and maintaining divers heresies of Martin Luther and his followers, repugnant to the faith," he summoned him to appear before his tribunal. Patrick Hamilton had prepared himself to preach the truth, but he did not yet feel himself able to die for it. He had already the faith of an Evangelist, but not quite yet the faith of a Martyr. Early in 1527 he withdrew from Scotland, and repaired to the evangelical schools of Germany; two friends and an attendant accompanied him.

He was for a short time at Wittemberg, but unfortunately no particulars have been preserved of his intercourse with Luther and Melancthon. From Wittemberg he proceeded to Marburg, and was present at the inauguration of the new university of Philip the landgrave. His name still stands enrolled on the earliest page of the academic album. Here he attached himself with peculiar love to Francis Lambert, who presided over the Theological Faculty, and under whose teaching his progress in evangelical divinity was signally rapid. The master became as much attached to his disciple, as the disciple was to the master. Lambert has left on record a highly valuable testimony to his talents and character. "His learning," he says, "was of no common kind for his years, and his judgment in divine truth was eminently clear and solid ; his object in visiting the university was to confirm himself more abundantly in the truth, and I can truly say that I have seldom met with any one who conversed on the word of God with greater spirituality and earnestness of feeling; he was often in conversation with me upon those subjects." "He was the first man, after the erection of the university, who put forth a series of theses to be publicly defended; these theses were conceived in the most evangelical spirit, and were maintained by him with the greatest learning; it was by my advice that he published them." The theses here referred to were afterwards translated into English by John Frith, and in that form have been preserved both by Fox, the English martyrologist, and by John Knox, the historian of the Scottish Reformation, under the name of Patrick's Places. They form an interesting and important monument of the earliest teaching of the Scottish reformers. Their doctrine is purely evangelical, without exhibiting the peculiarities of either the Lutheran or the Helvetic confession.

At the end of a six months' residence in evangelical Germany, Hamilton felt that the time had arrived when the duty he owed to God and his country obliged him to return home. His two friends appear to have shrunk from the peril of accompanying him, but no prospect of danger could now turn him aside from his high purpose of becoming an evangelist to his native land. What a change! Six months ago he was a fugitive, escaping from his country, because he felt himself unequal to the mission of a Gospel martyr. But now he is in haste to face the perils which he was then in haste to shun. How surprising ! And yet the explanation is easy. These six months had been spent among the most illustrious teachers and heroes of the Reformed faith. His teachers had been all evangelical doctors of the highest eminence, and they were all evangelical heroes, as well as doctors. It was impossible for a soul like his to be so long in communion with souls like theirs, without catching their spirit, and being overmastered by their inspiration.

On his arrival in Scotland, Hamilton repaired to the family mansion of Kincavel, near Linlithgow, and it was there that he found his first congregation. His elder brother, Sir James, was now in possession of the family estates and honours; his mother still survived, and he had a sister named Katherine, a lady of spirit and talent. These near relatives and the servants of the family made up his first audience, and his labours among them were blessed with signal success. Both his brother and sister welcomed the truth, and were honoured in after years to suffer much for its sake.

But he did not confine himself to the circle of Kincavel; he began to preach the long-lost Gospel in all the country round. "The bright beams of the true light," says Knox, "which by God's grace were planted in his heart, began most abundantly to burst forth, as well in public as in secret"—"Wheresoever he came," says another historian, "he spared not to lay open the corruptions of the Roman Church, and to show the errors crept into the Christian religion; whereunto many gave ear, and a great following he had, both for his learning and courteous demeanour to all sorts of people."

What he preached with so much success we may gather from his "Places." In that little tract we come into communion with the very soul and spirit of his brief but fruitful ministry. He preached faith in Jesus Christ to his countrymen, as the living root of hope and charity. He aimed at a reformation of the national Church which began at the root, not at the branches. It was by making the root of his country's religion and life good, that he expected to make the tree good and its-fruit good. And his hope did not deceive him. The preacher himself, indeed, was soon silenced and cut off, but his doctrine lived after him, and wrought with a leaven-like virtue in the nation's heart, till it leavened the whole lump.

Soon after his return from Germany, Hamilton, though a priest and an abbot, took the decisive step of entering into matrimony. His bride was a young lady of noble rank, whose name, unfortunately, has not been preserved. The motive which Alesius assigns for this step, was the Reformer's hatred of the hypocrisy of the Roman Church. He seems to have felt on the occasion very much as Luther did in similar circumstances. He wished to show by deed, as well as by word, how entirely he had cast off the usurped and oppressive authority of the Roman See.

But both his married life and his career as a preacher were destined to be very brief. Early in 1528 the Archbishop of St. Andrews resumed the proceedings against him which had been interrupted by his flight to Germany a year before. Affecting a tone of candour and moderation, Beaton sent him a message, desiring a conference with him at St. Andrews, on such points of the Church's condition and administration as might seem to stand in need of reform. Hamilton was not deceived by this dissimulation; he perceived clearly the policy of his enemies, and foresaw and foretold the speedy issue of their proceedings.- Like St. Paul, he knew well that bonds and imprisonment awaited him in the city of the chief priests and. Pharisees; but he felt bound in the spirit to go thither notwithstanding, not counting his life dear unto him, that he might finish his course with joy, and the ministry which he had received to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.

Having arrived at St. Andrews about the middle of January, the pretended conference took place, and was continued during several days. The Archbishop and his coadjutors seemed to approve of the Reformer's views on many points, and when the conference was ended, he was allowed to move freely through the city and university, and to declare his convictions without hindrance both in public and private. By this dissembling and procrastinating policy his enemies gained several important ends. They gained time for their intrigues with the political chiefs of the country, to secure their tacit acquiescence in the tragical issue which they were all the while preparing; and they gave Hamilton opportunity and inducement to declare his opinions without reserve, in a city which was crowded with their own abettors; where every new expression of his enmity to the Church would be instantly noted down, and converted into a weapon to destroy him.

But the cause of truth was also materially served by this delay. The zealous Reformer turned this unexpected opportunity to the best account. He taught and disputed openly in the university on all the points on which he conceived a reformation to be necessary in the Church's doctrines, and in her administration of the sacraments and.other rites; and he continued to do so for nearly a whole month. That busy month was a precious seed-time. At St. Andrews he was at ecclesiastical head-quarters, and was brought into communication with a larger variety of influential classes of men than he could have met with in any other city of the kingdom. Regents and students, doctors and lawyers, deans and canons, seculars and regulars, Augustinians, Dominicans and Franciscans, all alike were reached by his voice, and felt the power of his teaching.

At length the moment arrived when Beaton and his advisers felt that it was safe to throw off the mask. A summons was issued to Hamilton requiring him to appear before the Primate on a certain day, to answer to the charge of holding and teaching divers heretical opinions. His friends saw what was imminent, and entreated him while yet at liberty to save his life by flight. But he firmly declined to escape from St. Andrews. " He had come thither," he said, " to confirm the minds of the godly by his death as a martyr to the truth ; and to turn his back now would be to lay a stumbling-block in their path, and to cause some of them to fall."

When he appeared before the Archbishop, he was interrogated upon thirteen articles of heresy which were laid to his charge. He answered that several of these articles were " disputable points, but such as he could not condemn unless he saw better reasons than yet he had heard; but that the first seven were undoubtedly true, to which he was prepared to set his hand."

These seven were the following :—

That the corruption of sin remains in children after their baptism.

That no man, by the power of his free will, can do any good.

That no man is without sin so long as he liveth.

That every true Christian may know himself to be in the state of grace.

That a man is not justified by works, but by faith only.

That good works make not a good man, but that a good man doeth good works, and that an ill man doeth ill works; yet the same ill works truly repented make not an ill man.

That faith, hope, and charity, are so linked together, that he who hath one of them, hath all, and he that lacketh one, lacketh all.

The whole of the articles were then remitted to the judgment of a council of theologians, and Hamilton, in the meanwhile, was allowed to remain at liberty.

Within a few days more, everything was ready for the last acts of the tragedy. The Reformer was apprehended, and lodged in the Castle of St. Andrews, and on the last day of February he was brought before a tribunal, consisting of prelates, abbots, priors, and doctors, which sat in the metropolitan cathedral. The theologians presented to the tribunal their censure of the articles, "judging them all heretical, and contrary to the faith of the Church." Then Friar Campbell stood forward and read over the articles with a loud voice, and charged them, one by one, upon the Reformer. "I was myself," says Alesius, "an eye-witness of the tragedy, and heard him answering for his life to the charges of heresy which were laid against him : and he was so far from disowning them, that he defended and established them by clear testimonies of Scripture, and refuted the reasonings of his accuser." At length Campbell was silenced, and turned to the tribunal for fresh instructions. "Desist from reasoning," cried the bishops; "add new accusations— call him heretic to his face." "Heretic!" exclaimed the Dominican, turning again towards the pulpit where Hamilton stood. "Nay, brother," replied Hamilton mildly, "you do not think me heretic in your heart; in your conscience you know that I am no heretic." The appeal must have gone to the friar's heart, for he had professed to Hamilton, in several private interviews, that on many points he agreed with him. But Campbell had basely consented to be an actor, and he must needs go on with his part. "Heretic!" he exclaimed again, "thou saidst it was lawful to all men to read the Word of God, and especially the New Testament." "I wot not," replied Hamilton, "if I said so, but I say now, it is reason and lawful to all men to read the Word of God, and that they are able to understand the same; and in particular, the latter will and testament of Jesus Christ, whereby they may acknowledge their sins, and repent of the same, and amend their lives by faith and repentance, and come to the mercy of God by Jesus Christ.,, "Heretic ! thou sayest it is but lost labour to pray to or call upon saints, and in particular on the blessed Virgin Mary, as mediators to God for us." "I say with Paul, There is no mediator betwixt God and man, but Christ Jesus his Son, and whatsoever they be who call or pray to any saint departed, they spoil Christ Jesus of his office." "Heretic! thou sayest it is all in vain to sing soul-masses, psalms and dirigies for the relaxation of souls departed, who are continued in the pains of purgatory." "Brother, I have never read in the Scripture of God of such a place as purgatory, nor yet believe I that there is anything that may purge the souls of men but the blood of Christ Jesus, which ransom standeth in no earthly thing, nor in soul-mass, nor dirigie, nor in gold, nor silver, but only by repentance of sins, and faith in the blood of Jesus Christ."

Such was Patrick Hamilton's noble confession in the face of that solemn tribunal. He spoke out the whole truth of God as he knew it, and he spoke it in love, calling even his opprobrious and perfidious accuser, Brother.

Sentence of condemnation was pronounced, and execution was appointed to take place that very day, the bishops having reason to fear that an attempt would be made by armed men to rescue their prisoner by force. The usual formalities of degradation from the priesthood were dispensed with, and in an hour or two after Hamilton had heard his doom in the cathedral, executioners were preparing the stake at which he was to die, in front of the gate of St. Salvator's College.

At noon, when the martyr came in sight of the fatal spot, he uncovered his head, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, addressed himself in prayer to Him who alone could give him a martyr's strength and victory. On reaching the stake, he handed to one of his friends a copy of the New Testament which had long been his companion, and taking off his cap and gown, and other upper garments, he gave them to his servant, saying, "These will not profit in the fire, they will profit thee. After this, of me thou canst receive no commodity, except the example of my death, which I pray thee bear in mind. For, albeit it be bitter to the flesh, and fearful before man, yet is it the entrance to eternal life, which none shall possess that denies Christ Jesus before this wicked generation."

The officials of the Archbishop made a last attempt to overcome his constancy. They offered him his life if he would recant the confession which he had made in the cathedral. "As to my confession," he replied, "I will not deny it for the awe of your fire, for my confession and belief is in Christ Jesus. And as to the sentence pronounced against me this day, I here, in presence of you all, appeal contrary the said sentence and judgment, and take me to the mercy of God."

The executioners then stepped forward to do their office. Fire was laid to the pile, and exploded some powder which was placed among the faggots, but though thrice kindled, the flames took no steady hold of the pile. Dry wood and more powder had to be brought from the castle. The sufferings of the martyr were thus painfully protracted. Alesius, who was a witness of the whole scene, tells us that the execution lasted for nearly six hours; and during all that time, he assures us, the martyr never gave one sign of impatience or anger. When surrounded and devoured by fierce flames, he remembered, in his torment, his widowed mother, and commended her to the care of his friends with his dying breath. His last audible words were, "How long, Lord, shall darkness overwhelm this kingdom. How long wilt thou suffer this tyranny of men Lord Jesus, receive my spirit"

"Thus tragically, but gloriously, died on the 29th day of February, 1528, Patrick Hamilton, a noble martyr in a noble cause. At a time when the power of the Roman Church in Scotland was yet entire and overwhelming, it was not permitted him to serve the cause of the recovered Gospel by the labours of a long life, but he joyfully embraced the honour of serving it by the heroic constancy and devotion of his death. Such a martyrdom was precisely what Scotland needed to stir its heart Such a death had more awakening power in it than the labours of a long life. If his spoken words had been few, they had, at least, been pithy and pregnant, the words of the wise, which are as goads and as nails in a sure place' and his fiery martyrdom clenched and riveted them in the nation's heart for ever.

"At Marburg the grief of the Reformers was only equalled by their admiration. 'He came to your university,' exclaimed Lambert, addressing the Landgrave, not many months after, out of Scotland, that remote corner of the world, and he returned to his country again to become its first, and now illustrious apostle. He was all on fire with zeal to confess the name of Christ, and he has offered himself to God as a holy living sacrifice. He brought into the Church of God not only all the splendour of his station and gifts, but his life itself. Such is the flower of surpassing sweetness, yea, the ripe fruit, which your university has produced in its very commencement. You have not been disappointed of your wishes. You formed this school with the desire that from it might go forth intrepid confessors of Christ, and steadfast assertors of his truth. See ! you have one such already, an example in many ways illustrious. Others, if the Lord will, will follow soon.'


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