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The Scottish Reformation
Chapter II.—The Wishart Period, a. d. 1543—1554.
Section 4. Wishart's Preaching in Dundee and Ayrshire. 1544—1545


Happily for the cause of the Reformation in the evil days upon which it had again fallen, there was still one powerful living preacher who stood forth to defend it in one of its chief strongholds, and whose fervent appeals from the pulpit could do more to plead for it, and sustain the sinking hearts of its friends, than any letters, however excellent, from reformers in distant exile. George Wishart was still preaching on the Epistle to the Romans, in the zealous burgh of Dundee, and multitudes were hanging upon the lips of the greatest pulpit orator that Scotland had seen for centuries.

Wishart had no doubt fled for a time from Dundee, when it was occupied by the governor and the cardinal, in February, 1544; but returning again with his fugitive flock, when the danger was over, he continued for several months longer to preach to them without interruption. His position in Dundee was a very strong one. The most powerful man in the town was the hereditary constable of the Castle, Sir John Scrymgeour of Dudhope, and Sir John was a steady friend of the Reformation. In his father, Sir James, Alesius had found a friend as early as 1531, on his flight from St Andrews; and the whole influence of the family had been ever since employed on the side of the truth. They were the chief ecclesiastical patrons of the town; a large proportion of its chapelries and altarages were in their gift; and by the judicious use of this power, they were able to render important services to the cause of Reform.

Still Wishart had an enemy to contend with, who was more than a match for all the power of his patrons and friends. What an eyesore such a preacher was to Beaton may be easily imagined, and the all-powerful cardinal was now resolved to put a stop to his labours. From about the middle of 1544, we can trace the hand of this resolute and unscrupulous churchman in a series of attempts, either to stifle the Reformer's preaching, or to deprive him of life, which were continued with unrelenting pertinacity, till they took effect at last in his apprehension and death.

The cardinal's first design was to drive him from Dundee, and in this he succeeded for a time, by working upon the fears of some of its magistrates. Reminding them of the troubles which their heretical preacher had already brought upon the town, he menaced them with the terrors of a second visit, unless they used their authority to put an end to his harangues. In the name of the queen and the governor, they must charge him to depart. In truth, the governor was now so entirely at the cardinal's devotion, that the town was completely at Beaton's mercy. The magistrates were overawed by his threats, and Robert Mill, a man who had himself been formerly a sufferer for the truth, consented to be the instrument of carrying out his demands. Wishart was in the pulpit, surrounded by a great congregation, including the Earl Mareshal and others of the nobility, when Mill entered the Church, and charged him, in the queen and governor's name, to depart from the town and trouble it no more. "Whereupon, he mused a little space with his eyes bent unto the heavens, and then looking sorrowfully to the people, he said, i God is my witness that I minded ever your comfort and not your trouble, which to me is more grievous than to yourselves. But, sure I am, to reject the Word of God and drive away his messengers is not the way to save you from trouble. When I am gone, God will send you messengers who will not be afraid either for horning or banishment. I have with the' hazard of my life remained among you, preaching the word of salvation; and now, since yourselves refuse me, I must leave my innocency to be declared by God. If it be long well with you, I am not led by the Spirit of truth; and if trouble unexpected fall upon you, remember this is the cause, and turn to God by repentance, for He is merciful.' These words pronounced, he came down from the pulpit, and declining the earnest request of Earl Mareshal to accompany him into the northern parts of the king* dom, * with all possible expedition, he passed to the westland.'"

Our historians have accustomed us to associate with the name of George Wishart, mainly the two ideas of heroism and gentleness; heroism as a confessor, and gentleness as a man. But it is plain from the above address, and from several Other incidents of his life, that upon just occasions he could be stern as well as gentle, and that he could speak as firmly and faithfully of the duty of others, as he could act heroically in fulfilment of his own. According to Tylney's account of him, he was a strict disciplinarian as a college regent, and the remains of his sermons show that he was a disciplinarian in the pulpit as well as in the schools. His voice had often the solemn tones of a prophet, as well as the gentler notes of an evangelist

Wishart had made the acquaintance of the Earl of Glencairn in England, and it was probably this tie, as well as the Lollard traditions of Kyle, " that ancient receptacle of God's people," which drew him to the west. During his sojourn there, he preached commonly at the kirk of Galstone, and was frequently a guest at the house of John Lockhart of Barr. Interesting notices have also been preserved of his preachings in Ayr and Mauchline. In Ayr he was obliged to preach at the market-cross, because the Archbishop of Glasgow had first got possession of the church. Instigated by the cardinal to a new effort of reluctant zeal, Dunbar had hastened from Glasgow, "with his jackmen," to oppose and apprehend the Reformer, and had hoped by the aid of these carnal weapons at once to end the strife. But upon the first notice of his arrival, Glencairn and other barons hurried into the town to defend the preacher, and proposed to dispute possession of the church with the Archbishop by force of arms. " But to this Maister George utterly repugned, saying, ' Let him alone, his sermon will not much hurt; let us go to the market-cross/ And so they did; where he made so notable a sermon, that the very enemies themselves were confounded."

•As for Dunbar, he had few to hear him but his own jackmen, and his sermon was notable only for its weakness. "The sum of all his sermon was,' They say that we should preach—why not. Better late thrive than never thrive. Hold us still for your bishop, and we shall provide better the next time.' . This was the beginning and end of the bishop's discourse, who with haste departed the town, but returned not again to fulfil his promise."

Wishart gave another example of the same noble moderation, and confidence in the unaided power of Gospel truth, in what took place soon after at Mauchline. Having been invited to preach there, he consented to do so; but Sir Hugh Campbell of Loudoun, who was sheriff of the county, took possession of the church with a band of armed men, in order to exclude him from the pulpit Sir Hugh feared for the safety of a beautiful tabernacle which stood upon the altar. "Some zealous men, among whom was Hugh Campbell of Kinzean-cleugh, offended that they should be debarred their own parish kirk, concluded to enter by force. But Maister George withdrew him, and said unto him,' Brother, Christ Jesus is as potent upon the fields as in the kirk, and he himself preached oftener in the desert, at the sea-side, and in other places judged profane, than he did in the temple of Jerusalem. It is the word of peace which God sends by me. The blood of no man shall be shed this day for the preaching of it.' And so withdrawing the whole people, he came to a dyke in the edge of a moor, upon the south-west side of Mauchline, upon the which he ascended. The whole multitude stood and sat about him: God gave the day pleasing and hot. He continued in preaching more than three hours. In that sermon, God wrought so wonderfully with him, that one of the most wicked men in that country, the Laird of Scheill, was converted. The tears ran down from his eyes in such abundance that all men wondered; and his conversion was without hypocrisy, for his life and conversation witnessed it in all time to come."

This is the first time we read of field-preaching in the history of Scottish evangelism; the stones of a " dry dyke" serving for a pulpit, and the tufts of moss and moor-heather for benches and faldstools. And was not that scene at Mauchline— a fervent evangelist preaching for three hours at a time, and a vast congregation of worshippers fixed to the turf in mute attention, and God "working wonderfully " with the word, and tears of repentance rolling down the cheeks of stalwart men and hardened sinners—was it not what Christian men in our own time would call a revival.  Yes; the Reformation of the sixteenth century was undoubtedly a great movement of religious revival. Its aspect as a mighty work of ecclesiastical reform was only the outside manifestation of its inner soul and spirit as a wide-spread spiritual awakening; and if there had been no spiritual awakening, there would have been no effectual ecclesiastical reform. With regard to Scotland, in particular, nobody can doubt that if the Spirit of God had not breathed the breath of new religious life into a large number of souls throughout the kingdom, a Reformation of the Church would have been impossible. There was no country in Christendom where the Papal Church was so rich and powerful in proportion to the wealth and influence of the rest of the nation; and there was none where the struggle, which issued in its downfal, was so long protracted. It required no less than thirty-five years of conflict and suffering to work out the great change. Could anything less than a mighty re-quickening of religious feeling in the heart of the nation, have carried it successfully through such a conflict, and given it the victory over such a gigantic foe? If ever there were preachers of the Gospel who were eminently godly and devoted men, Hamilton, Wishart, and Knox, were a trio of such men. And their word was with power. Great numbers who heard them woke up to " newness of life," and it was the power of this new life, in the party of the Reformers, which at last achieved the ecclesiastical revolution of the Reformation.

While Wishart was thus occupied in the west of Scotland, rumours ere long reached him that the plague had broken out in Dundee. One of those "messengers of God "which he had forewarned its citizens of," not to be effrayed for horning, nor yet for banishment,'' had been sent to them sooner than he expected. The fatal disease had begun to show itself only a few days after his departure, and it shortly became so vehement, that the numbers who died every four and twenty hours were almost incredible. The pestilence would seem to have followed upon the heels of a famine, for a contemporary chronicler informs us that " in this time many people died with great scant and want of victuals, and the pest was wonder great in all boroughs-towns of this realm."

On learning the certainty of these evil tidings, Wishart instantly took leave of his friends and followers in Kyle. They lamented his departure, and entreated him to remain, but no urgency could constrain him to delay his return to Dundee. "They are now in trouble," said he, "and they need comfort. Perchance this hand of God will make them now to magnify and reverence that Word, which before, for fear of men, they set at light price." The joy of the plague-smitten town, on hearing of his arrival, was exceeding great. Without delay, he announced that he would preach on the morrow. The most part of the inhabitants were either sick themselves, or in attendance upon their sick relatives and friends. They could not assemble in the church. They were crowded in and about the5 lazar-houses, near " the East Port" of the town, and Wishart chose for his preaching place the top of the Cowgate port or gate. "The sick and suspected sat without the port, the healthy sat or stood within." The text of his first sermon was these words of the 107 th Psalm, "He sent his Word and healed them? "O Lord," he began, "it is neither herb nor plaster, but thy Word that healeth all." "In the which sermon," says Knox, "he most comfortably did treat of the dignity and utility of God's Word, the punishment that comes for contempt of the same, the promptitude of God's mercy to such as truly turn to Him; yea, the great happiness of those whom God takes from this misery, even in his own gentle visitation, which the malice of man can neither add to, nor take from. By the which sermon he so raised up the hearts of all that heard him, that they regarded not death, but judged those more happy that should depart than such as should remain behind, considering that they knew not if they should have such a comforter with them at all times."

It has not been noticed by our historians that the locality where Wishart preached during this season of public distress, gave a peculiar significance to the text of his first address from the top of the East Port. Just outside the gate stood the ancient Chapel of St. Roque; and St. Roque, in popular belief) was the helper of men in time of plague and pestilence. Hence the erection of the ancient lazar-houses of the town in that locality; and hence, too, in all probability, the choice of. the Reformer's first text, "' He sent his Word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.' It is God, not St Roque, who is the healer of the plague-stricken; look unto Him and be ye saved. It is to Him you must turn your languid eyes, not to the image and shrine of St Roque."

It was not only, however, by his. powerful and consoling preaching, that Wishart ministered on this occasion to the sick and dying inhabitants of Dundee. He was equally assiduous in his attentions to their bodily wants. Regardless of the danger of contagion, "he spared not to visit those that lay in the very extremity, he comforted them as well as he might in such a multitude, and he caused all things necessary to be ministered to those who were well enough to eat and drink taking care, so to apply the beneficent aid which was obtained from the public funds of the town, "that the poor were no more neglected than were the rich."

Prodigal of his life in this public mortality, Wishart entirely forgot not only the peril of contagion, but also the hazards which he ran at the hand of the fanatic and assassin. He forgot that he had been placed by the ban of the Church, and the outlawry of the state, beyond the protection of law, and that any man might take his life without a crime. In truth, his enemy the cardinal was again upon his track, and, thirsting for his blood, had suborned a wretched priest to dispatch him with a dagger, in the very midst of his labour of love. u Upon a day, the sermon being ended, and the people departing, no man suspecting danger, and therefore not heeding Maister George, a priest, called John Wighton, stood waiting at the foot of the steps which led up to the top of the gate; his gown loose, and his dagger drawn in his hand under his gown. Maister George, being most sharp of eye and judgment, marked him, and as he came near, he said, *My friend, what would ye do?" and therewith he clapped his hand upon the priest's hand wherein the dagger was, which he took from him. The priest abashed, fell down at his feet and openly confessed the verity as it was. The noise rising and coming to the ears of the sick, they cried out, *Deliver the traitor to us, or else we will take him by force,* and so they burst in at the gate. But Maister George took him in his arms, and said, 'Whosoever troubles him, shall trouble me, for he has hurt me in nothing, but he has done great comfort both to you and to me; to wit, he has letten us understand what we may fear in times to come: we will watch better.' And so he appeased both the one part and the other, and saved the life of him that sought his."

"He saved the life of him who sought his." "Whosoever troubles him, shall trouble me." Can the man who spoke and acted thus, have been the same man as "a Scotishman called Wishart," who is mentioned in a letter of the Earl of Hertford, dated the 17th of April, 1544, "as privy to a conspiracy to assassinate Cardinal Beaton, and as employed to carry letters between the conspirators and the English court "? So some of our historians have conjectured, especially in our own time. But never surely was there a conjecture (for it is nothing more) more violently improbable, or more injurious to the memory of a good man, and an eminent benefactor of his country. Certainly the spirit of moderation and forbearance, the disapprobation of violence, and the hatred of blood, manifested by Wishart in the affair of priest Wighton, in Dundee, and on several other occasions mentioned in the preceding narrative, were very unlike the fierce and violent passions which prompted some of the enemies of Beaton to enter into such a conspiracy. Is it conceivable, or without good evidence credible, that a man such as Tylney has described, with a character so lofty, so pure, so gentle, and so beneficent, would lend his sanction to a deliberate scheme of blood, and would even degrade himself to act a very subordinate part in the plot—to be a carrier of letters from men who were basely bargaining for the price of murder, to other men who were so ashamed to be seen in the conspiracy, that though they wished it for their own ends to be successful, they refused to give any formal promise of the price which was demanded % Surely, instead of "sorrowfully" confessing, as a recent historian does, that there is a "strong presumption" that George Wishart was connected with such a conspiracy, we ought to answer indignantly to such a charge, that the strong presumption is all the other way. For what is the whole basis of proof upon which this alleged presumption is made to rest % The only fact that is produced in support of it is, that Wishart was personally acquainted with several or all of the men who were engaged in the conspiracy, and that he sympathized generally in their ecclesiastical and political views. But is that fact a sufficient warrant for subjecting him to such a grave and injurious suspicion ? Is every individual of a whole party to be held capable of approving of, and taking part in, whatever extreme and desperate measures are suggested and plotted by any two or three of the party? Admitting that Wishart, as the great preacher of the Reforming party, was acquainted with all its leading men, is that to be considered adequate historical proof that he, and not some other person of the same family name, was the person alluded to in Hertford's letter? There were other members of the family of Pittarrow who shared in the same religious and political views; why should he be thus singled out for suspicion from all the rest? There were other Wisharts in Scotland besides the Wisharts of Pittarrow; why might not the individual alluded to have been one of them? Besides, there is good evidence to show that the Reformer was preaching in Dundee, at the very time when he is alleged to have been carrying letters to London. Knox informs us that he continued to preach there from the time of his first visit till he was charged by Robert Mill, in the queen's name, to depart But this took place shortly before the plague appeared in the town, and the date usually assigned, both by general and local historians, to that incident, is the summer of 1544. In the spring of that year, then, Wishart must have been still in Dundee; that is, at the very season when he is alleged to have been absent in England.

So much for the properly historical evidence bearing upon the question. As to the allegation made use of to weaken the 1 Rev. John Cunningham, in his Church History of Scotland. improbability of a man of Wishart's high religious character giving any countenance to such a plot, that religious fanaticism is able to blind the eyes of men to the most palpable distinctions between right and wrong, it is enough to reply, that before this general observation is directed against any particular historical personage, the fact should first be established that he was a fanatic. But no evidence of such a fact is produceable in the case of Wishart, unless we assume the very point which has to be proved—his complicity in this conspiracy. It may be true, also, that if this conspiracy had taken effect in Wishart's lifetime, he would have rejoiced, as Knox rejoiced, in the deliverance thus wrought for the afflicted cause of God, as a dispensation of Divine Providence. No doubt he would have seen the hand of God in it as an avenging judge and a righteous deliverer, as Knox saw it. But to show that eyen in that age of high-wrought feeling and religious passion, wise and good men made a distinction between what God permitted and overruled, and what was right for men to do and approve, it may suffice to refer to the judgment of Sir David Lindsay upon the assassination of Beaton, when it actually took place :—

"As for the Cardinal, I grant
He was the man we weel could want,
And we'll forget him soon;
And yet I think, the sooth to say,
Although the loon is weel away,
The deed was foully done."

But are we never to hear the last of this rash and groundless calumny upon the name and memory of one of the most honoured and beloved of our "Scottish Worthies"? We lament that it should still be repeated and countenanced by the writers of our time. Can they not condemn a guilty conspiracy without themselves seeming to conspire against a name which is justly dear to almost a whole nation? Where is the historical justice of blotting such a name upon mere suspicion; upon evidence which would be deemed in any court of law insufficient to convict any man, even the worst, of any crime, even the most insignificant?


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