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The Scottish Reformation
Chapter II.—The Wishart Period, a. d. 1543—1554.
Section 5. Wishart's Last Labours. 1545—1546


Wishart continued his labours in Dundee till the plague ceased. The date of his departure has not been given, but it was probably late in the year 1545. "God," he remarked on leaving, "has almost put an end to the battle in Dundee, I find myself called to another."

The new battle he alluded to was a public disputation which he expected soon to maintain with the Romish bishops and doctors in Edinburgh. A provincial Council was to assemble there, in January, 1546, and "the Gentlemen of the West," including the Earl of Cassilis, had resolved to appear before the council -and demand a public disputation between the Romish theologians and Wishart They had previously written to the Reformer, and obtained his consent The risks, or rather the certain dangers of such a "battle," to a man who was under the ban of the church, were indeed obvious; but the effects of a public discussion could not fail to be beneficial to the cause of truth. The battle, however, soon proved to be of another kind; not a public disputation, but a public martyrdom. Every day that such a man was suffered to live, was a day of new losses to the church, and the cardinal was on the watch for the first opportunity of seizing his prey.

Before proceeding to Edinburgh, Wishart passed from Dundee to Montrose,"to salute the Kirk" there. During his stay he occupied himself sometimes in preaching, but, for the most party "in meditation, in which he was so earnest, that night and day he would continue in it" He was, no doubt, preparing himself (or the conflict 6f argument to which he was looking forward, arranging his plans of attack and defence, and making ready the weapons of Scripture and learning, by which he hoped to prevail "While he was thus occupied with his God," a letter was put into his hand, purporting to come from his most familiar friend, the Laird of Kinneir, in Fife, and desiring him to come to him with all possible diligence, "for he was stricken with a sudden sickness." The messenger brought a horse for his use, which he mounted without delay, and, accompanied by a few of his friends, he rode out of the town. But after going a little way, he suddenly stopped short, and exclaimed, "I will not go; I am forbidden of God; I am sure there is treason; let some of you go to yonder place," pointing, as he spoke, to a particular spot near the road, about a mile and a half from the town, "and tell me what you find." Astonished at his words, his friends moved forward upon the road to ascertain their truth. They found the treason, as he had said. An ambush had been laid for him: threescore men, armed with jacks and spears, were lying in wait to dispatch him. And who was the author of the treason? Who had forged the letter, and suborned the assassins? It was the implacable and unscrupulous cardinal. "I know," said Wishart, as he turned his horse's head back again to the town; "I know that I shall finish my life in that bloodthirsty man's hands, but it will not be after this manner." God had rescued him from the hands of hired assassins, that his death might take place in circumstances where the sacrifice would be more honourable to the martyr, and more useful to the cause of truth.

The time now drew near when he had engaged to meet the gentlemen of Kyle and Cunningham in the capital, and he prepared to take leave of his friends in Montrose. The narrow escape which he had just made alarmed them for his safety in undertaking such a journey, and John Erskine of Dun, and others, did their utmost to dissuade him from the design. But he felt bound by his engagement He must go where public duty calls him, at whatever risk. Christ-like, and with all a martyr's constancy and courage, "he steadfastly set his face to go up to Jerusalem."

But the martyr after all is still only a man. He has his hours of weakness like other men, to remind him that he can only be strong in the strength of God, and to remind posterity that even an Elijah and a John the Baptist, though seemingly of more than mortal mould, are, in truth, only men of like passions and infirmities with ourselves. On his way to the prison and the stake, George Wishart felt, for a time, the inward recoil of nature from sufferings so full of anguish to flesh and blood; and it was only after a struggle with all the weakness of the man, that he was raised by Divine might to all the strength of the martyr. This touching incident befel him upon his road to Edinburgh; at Invergowry, a village two miles west of Dundee. Spending a night in the house of James Watson, "a faithful brother" there, it was observed by two of his friends that he passed forth from his chamber into the garden a little before sunrise ; and there, says Knox, relating the story as he had it from William Spadin and John Watson, the two friends referred to, "when he had gone up and down in an alley for a reasonable space, with many sobs and deep groans, he sunk down upon his knees, and sitting- thereon his groans increased,, and from- his knees-he fell upon his face, and then they heard weeping, and an indigest sound, as it were of prayer, in the which he continued near an hour, and after began to be quiet; and so arose and came in to his bed. Then began they to demand, as though, they had been ignorant, where he had been ; but that night he would answer nothing. Upon the morrow they urged him again.; 'Maister George/ said they, 'be plain with us, for we heard your groans ; yea, we heard your bitter mourning, and saw you both. upon your knees and upon your face/ With dejected visage' he said,' I had rather you had been in your beds, and it had, been more profitable to you, for I was scarce weill occupied.' When they pressed him to let them know some comfort, he said,, ' I will tell you that I am assured my travail is near an end, and therefore call to God with me, that now I shrink not when the, battle waxes hot*" These words revealed the nature of the struggle through which he had passed. But he had left his weakness at God's feet; he had risen from the 'earth with renovated strength, like a giant refreshed with wine ; and the interesting dialogue with his two friends ended with these, remarkable words: "'God shall send you comfort after me. This realm shall be illuminated with the light of Christ's Evangel, as clearly as ever was any realm since the days of the apostles.; The house of God shall be builded in it; yea, it shall not lack (whatsoever the enemy imagine to the contrary) the very cope stone. Neither,' continued he, shall this be long delayed. There shall not many suffer after me, till that the glory of God shall evidently appear, and shall once for all triumph in despite of Satan. But alas ! if the people shall afterwards be unthankful, then fearful and terrible shall the plagues be that shall follow; after it' And with these words he marched forwards on his* journey towards St Johnston, and so to Fife, and then to Leith." "He marched forward," says Knox, a man of kindred spirit, who knew the right word to use upon such an occasion. It was-the only word that could express the now firm and bounding step with which the "good soldier of Jesus Christ, enduring hardness," went forward to meet danger and death at the bidding of the Great Captain.

When he reached Leith he found that his Ayrshire correspondents had not yet arrived; and being now entirely without protection, he was willing for a day or two to keep himself secret "But beginning to wax sorrowful in spirit, and being demanded of the cause, he said, ' What differ I from a dead man, except that I eat and drink? To this time God has used my labours to the instruction of others, and unto the disclosing of darkness; but now I lurk as a man that were ashamed, and durst not show himself/ By these and like words they that heard him understood that his desire was to preach, and therefore said,' Maist comfortable it were unto us to hear you, but because we know the danger wherein ye stand, we dare not desire you.' 'But dare you and others hear/ said he, 'and then let my God provide for me as best pleaseth him/ Finally it was concluded that the next Sunday he should preach in Leith, which he did, and took for his text the parable of the sower that went forth to sow."

It was now the 12th of December, and the Regent and cardinal were expected shortly in Edinburgh to keep Yule, and prepare for. the coming council. It was not deemed expedient therefore that Wishart should continue any longer in Leith, and he went in succession to the houses of Alexander Crichton of Brunston, Hugh Douglas of Longniddry, and John Cockburn of Ormiston. It was at this time that John Knox was first introduced to Wishart. He was already "an earnest professor of Christ Jesus," and' was employed as a tutor in the family of Hugh Douglas. Sharing warmly in the attachment of his patron to the Reformer's person and ministry, he waited constantly upon him from the time of his arrival in Lothian, and obtained the singular honour of carrying before him, wherever he went, a large two-handed sword.

Wishart had a presentiment that his time was short, and he filled up every day with godly labours. Before another Sunday came round the Regent and cardinal had arrived in Edinburgh; but this did not deter him from preaching on that day, which was the 18th of December, in the church of Inveresk, where there was a great gathering to hear him. His discourse was a vehement denunciation of the idolatrous worship of Rome. Sir George Douglas, brother of the Earl of Angus, was present, and openly declared at the end of the service, that he would not only maintain the doctrine he had heard, but also the person of the teacher to the uttermost of his power. " I know," said he, " that my lord governor and my lord cardinal will hear that I have been at this preaching. Say unto them that I will avow it." As he spoke these last bold words of defiance, Douglas glared at two grey friars who had entered the church while Wishart was preaching, and who were no doubt spies sent by the vigilant cardinal to report to him the preacher's words.

Still looking for intelligence from the west, Wishart's next remove was to Longniddry; and on the two following Sundays he preached at Tranent, "with the like grace and the like confluence of people. In all his sermons after his departure from Angus, he forespoke the shortness of the time that he had to travail, and of his death, the day whereof he said approached nearer than any would believe."

It was now Christmas-tide, and during the holy-days of Yule the people were accustomed to resort to the churches daily. To make the most of such an opportunity, Wishart moved forward to Haddington, where the largest congregation in that district might be expected. Knox accompanied him as before, and his narrative of what passed at Haddington has all the graphic vividness which might be looked for from an eye and ear-witness; for it is to be remembered that Wishart's enthusiastic sword-bearer was also his first and only biographer. "The first day, before noon, the audience in the great church of the town was reasonably large, and yet nothing in comparison of that which used to be in that kirk; but the afternoon and the next day following, before noon, the auditure was so slender that many wondered. The cause was judged to have been that the Earl of Bothwell, who in those bounds had great credit and obedience, by procurement of the cardinal had given inhibition, as well to the town as to the country, that they should not hear him under the pain of his displeasure. The first night he lay within the town, in the house of David Forres, a man that long had professed the truth. The second night he lay in Lethington, the laird whereof—Sir Richard Maitland —was ever civil, albeit not persuaded in religion. The day following, before the said Maister George passed to the sermon, there came to him a boy with a letter from the West land, which received and read, he called for John Knox, with whom he began to enter in purpose, that he wearied of the world, for he perceived that men began to weary of God. The cause of his complaint was, the gentlemen of the west had written to him that they could not keep diet at Edinburgh. The said John Knox, wondering that he desired to keep any purpose (i e. hold any conversation) before sermon, (for that was never his accustomed use before) said, ' Sir, the time of sermon approaches; I will leave you for the present to your meditation/ and so took the bill containing the purpose aforesaid, and left him.

"The said Maister George spaced up and down behind the high altar more than half an hour. His very countenance and visage declared the grief and alteration of his mind. At last he passed to the pulpit, but the auditure was small. He should have begun to have entreated the second table of the law. But thereof in that sermon he spake very little, but began on this manner; 'O Lord, how long shall it be that thy holy word shall be despised, and men shall not regard their own salvation. I have heard of thee, Haddington, that in thee would have been at a vain clerk-play two or three thousand people; and now to hear the messenger of the eternal God of all thy town and parish cannot be numbered a hundred persons. Sore and fearful shall the plague be that shall ensue this thy contempt. With fire and sword thou shalt be plagued. Yea ! thou Haddington in special, strangers shall possess thee, and you, the present inhabitants, shall either in bondage serve your enemies, or else ye shall be chased from your own habitations, and that because ye have not known, nor will not know, the time of God's merciful visitatioa* In such vehemency and threatening continued that servant of God near an hour and a half, in the which he declared all the plagues that ensued, as plainly as after our eyes saw them performed. In the end, he said,' I have forgotten myself and the matter that I should have entreated ; but let these my last words, as concerning public preaching, remain in your minds till that God send you new comfort/ Thereafter he made a short paraphrase upon the second table, with an exhortation to patience, to the fear of God, and unto the works of mercy; and so put end, as it were making his last testament; as the issue declared that the spirit of truth and of true judgment was both in his heart and head; for that same night was he apprehended before midnight in the house of Ormiston."

John Knox, it will be observed, regarded these predictions of Wishart as true and proper prophecies. Tytler and others explain them on the unsupported assumption that Wishart was privy to the hostile plans of England, through Brunston and others who were in correspondence with Henry's officers; an explanation which implies the offensive imputation that, while he assumed the air and tone of a prophet, he was availing himself of the secrets of a treasonable correspondence. For ourselves, we utterly disbelieve that such a man as Wishart was capable of practising upon the people such a dishonourable deception; or that such a man as Knox was capable, in his history, of abetting and carrying on the delusion. But we do not think it necessary to adopt the view of Knox, any more than we can concur for a moment in the unworthy imputations of Tytler. There was entire earnestness and good faith in Wishart's predictions, but they can be sufficiently accounted for without referring them to supernatural foresight The language of such predictions as those of Wishart and of Knox himself, is no more than the vivid and graphic utterance of a strong and earnest faith in the presence and providence of God as a ruler among men. "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" was, with them, a truth as real and a fact as certain, as the truth and the fact that earthly governments are bound, and have the right and power, to execute just judgment upon transgressors. Will God let sin go unpunished, either in individuals, or churches, or political communities, even in this world? No! He will not; He cannot As God liveth, the wickedness of a corrupt, and cruel, and oppressive Church shall assuredly be brought to nought The carelessness and unbelief of any city or people that despiseth the word and the salvation of God shall assuredly be punished, as God liveth. The punishment is as certain as God's own being. It may be still future ; but it is as sure to come as if it were actually present In the sense of a faith in God like this, a faith in things unseen which makes them as real as the things of sight, every true minister of God's word is a prophet and a seer, and not only sees what is coming, but foreshows and foretells it And the only difference between prophet-preachers like Wishart and Knox, and the more ordinary homilists of our own time, is, that their faith in God and his moral government was a great deal stronger and more realizing than that of their successors. They believed as though they beheld, and therefore they both foresaw clearly and foretold distinctly; we believe much less strongly and vividly, and therefore, though the sons of the prophets, and proud of our descent, we have much less of the prophetic spirit ourselves.


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