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The Scottish Reformation
Chapter II.—The Wishart Period, a. d. 1543—1554.
Section 6. Wishart's Apprehension, Trial, and Martyrdom. 1546


Before setting out to Ormiston, where he was to spend the night, Wishart took an affectionate leave of Hugh Douglas and John Knox at Haddington. The latter pressed to be allowed to accompany him to Ormiston, but Wishart said, "Nay ! return to your bairns (meaning his pupils), and God bless you; one is sufficient for a sacrifice." Knox with great reluctance gave up the sword which he had carried before him, and returned to Longniddry, never to see him again in this world.

He was accompanied on foot to Ormiston by John Cockburn of Ormiston, Alexander Crichton of Brunston, and John Sandelands, younger, of Calder; and after supper addressed them in cheerful terms on the death of God's chosen children. He then added, "Methinks that I desire earnestly to sleep. Shall we sing a psalm V and so he selected the 51st Psalm, in Scottish metre, beginning thus:—

Have mercy on me now, good Lord,
After thy great mercy, &c.

Which being ended, he passed to his chamber, and sooner than his common time was, passed to bed, with these words, " God grant quiet rest" But the hour which he had long anticipated was now come. Before midnight the house was beset with horsemen, and the Reformer was demanded to be given up in the queen's name.

On the sixteenth day of January, 1546, the Regent and cardinal arrived after night-fall at Elphingston Tower, in the neighbourhood of Ormiston, with five hundred men, and despatched the Earl of Bothwell to apprehend Wishart, holding themselves in readiness, if need were, to support him by force. As soon as the Reformer became aware of his errand, he cried out to Cockburn and his other friends, "Open the gates), the blessed will of my God be done." The earl being admitted with some other gentlemen who accompanied him, Wishart addressed him thus: "I praise my God that so honourable a man as you, my lord, receives me this night in the presence of these noblemen, for now I am assured, that for your honour's sake, you will suffer nothing to be done unto me contrary to the order of law. I am not ignorant that their law is nothing but corruption, and a cloak to shed the blood of the saints; but yet I less fear to die openly, than secretly to be murdered."

Bothwell gave a solemn promise that he would not only preserve his body from all violence that might be purposed against him, without order of law, but also that neither the governor nor the cardinal should have their will of him; "but I shall retain you," he added, "in my own hands, and in my own place, till that either I shall make you free, or else restore you in the same place where I receive you." As resistance was hopeless, Wishart's friends were glad to receive these assurances from BothwelL Their revered preacher, they thought, would at least be safer in his hands than in those of the cardinal; and after solemn promises made, and "hands struck" in the presence of God, they sorrowfully surrendered him into his power.

Wishart was first conveyed to Elphingston Tower, then on the morrow to Edinburgh, and next, in fulfilment of Bothwell's engagement, to Hailes Castle in East Lothian, the principal residence of that nobleman. This last move, however, was only a blind to conceal his real design. Wishart was a valuable prize in Bothwell's hands, and the earl, a man without principle or honour, was only solicitous to sell him into the hands of his enemies at the highest price. The cardinal, the Regent, and the queen dowager, all joined in soliciting him to give up the prisoner; and as early as the 19th of January, he was induced to appear before the Regent and lords of council, and "bound and obliged himself to deliver Maister George Wishart to my lord governor, or any others in his behalf, whom he will depute to receive him, betwixt this and the penult day of January, and shall keep him surely and answer for him in the mean time, under all the highest pain and charge that he may incur, if he fails herein." The Reformer was accordingly brought back from Hailes, in terms of this infamous pact, and first lodged as the governor's prisoner in the Castle of Edinburgh; and then, soon afterwards, transferred to the hands of his deadly enemy the cardinal. What treachery and baseness in Both-well ! What criminal weakness in the Regent! What eager thirst for Protestant blood in the cardinal, and what craft and address in using other men to work out the purposes of his own hate and revenge!

The scene now shifts to St Andrews, where Wishart lay for a month in irons in the Sea-tower of the Castle. The cardinal had appointed his trial to take place on the last day of February, and had summoned all the bishops and other dignitaries of the church, to be present at the solemn auto da fe, on which he was now resolved. It was in vain that the governor had sent him word, "that he should do well not to precipitate the man's trial, but to delay it until his coming; for as to himself, he would not consent to his death before the cause were truly examined, and if the cardinal should do otherwise, he would make protestation that the man's blood should be required at.his hands." Beaton haughtily replied that he had not written unto the governor to ask his concurrence, "as though he depended in any matter upon his authority, but out of a desire he had that the heretic's condemnation might proceed with a show of public consent, which, since he could not obtain, he would himself do that which he held most fitting."

On the morning of the 28th day of February, 1546, the Tribunal of Heresy was constituted with great pomp and solemnity in the cathedral; and George Wishart was brought from the Sea-tower by the Captain of the Castle at the head of a hundred men, armed with jacks, spears, and axes. As he entered the church, he threw his purse to a poor man lying at the door, who asked alms. John Wynram, sub-prior of the Abbey and dean of the Cathedral, opened the proceedings with a sermon, which formed a singular prelude to what followed. He took for his text the parable of the sower, and explained it in a way which must have been much more satisfactory to the Reformer at the bar, than to the prelates and doctors on the tribunal. The good seed, he said, was the Word of God, and the evil seed was heresy. But what was heresy "Heresy," said Wynram, "is a false opinion, defended with pertinacity, clearly repugnant to the Word of God;" a definition which entirely ignored the dogmas of the church. Passing to the cause of heresy within that realm, and all other realms, he declared it to be the ignorance of those who had the care of men's souls; "to whom," said he, "it necessarily belongeth to have the true understanding of the Word of God> that they may be able to win again the false teachers of heresies with the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God; and not only to win again, but also to overcome, as saith Paul, "a bishop must be faultless, as becometh the minister of God, and such as cleaveth unto the true word of doctrine, that he may be able to exhort with wholesome learning, and to reprove that which they say against him.'" If Sir David Lindsay had been in the pulpit, he could not have spoken more plainly what the bishops needed to hear. Once more demanded the preacher, how heresies should be known and "heresies," quoth he, "rnay be known in this manner : As the goldsmith knoweth the fine gold from the imperfect by the touchstone, so likewise may we know heresy by the undoubted touchstone; that is, the true, sincere, and undefiled Word of God."

Never was a tribunal of bishops so unfortunate in their preacher. It was a wonder that the cardinal, in the plenitude of his legantine powers, did not command Wynram to go down from the pulpit, and take his place beside Wishart at the bar. The truth is, the dean was a reformer at heart, and had long been so; and he lived to become one of the first Superintendents of the Reformed church.

The sermon over, the reading of the "articles" of the accused began. Eight over against Wishart stood John Lauder, Archdeacon of Teviotdale, holding in his hand a long roll, from which he commenced to read a series of accusations of heresy, accompanied with so many heavy maledictions, and "hitting him so spitefully with the pope's thunder, that the ignorant people dreaded lest the earth would have swallowed him up alive on the spot" At last Lauder concluded by demanding, in the most violent manner, "What answerest thou to these sayings, thou runnigat, traitor, thief, which we have duly proved by sufficient witness against thee ?" Wishart, who had listened to the accuser with great patience, "not once moving or changing his countenance, fell down upon his knees on hearing these last words, and made his prayer to God," which done, he rose again, and made answer in this manner: "Many and horrible sayings unto me, a Christian man; many words abominable to hear ye have spoken here this day, which not only to teach, but also to think, I ever thought it great abominatioa Wherefore, I pray your discretions quietly to hear me, that ye may know what were my sayings, and the manner of my doctrine. This my petition, my lords, I desire to be heard for three causes ; the first, for the glory and honour of God, which is made manifest through preaching of his word; the second, for your own health, because your health springeth of the Word of God; and the third, for the safeguard of my life, that I perish not unjustly to the great peril of your souls. Wherefore I beseech your discretions to hear me, and in the meantime I shall recite my doctrine without any colour." The Reformer was then proceeding to declare what doctrine he had taught ever since he came into the realm, when Lauder suddenly interrupted him, crying out with great vehemence, " Thou heretic, runnigat, traitor, and thief, it was not lawful for thee to preach. Thou hast taken the power at thine own hand without any authority of the church; we repent that thou hast been a preacher so long." And then said the whole congregation of the prelates and their accomplices these words: "If we give him license to preach, he is so crafty, and in Holy Scriptures so exercised, that he will persuade the people to his opinion, and raise them against us."

Perceiving that a fair and impartial hearing was to be denied him, the Reformer appealed from the cardinal to an indifferent and equal judge. Whereupon, Lauder exclaimed, "Is not my lord cardinal the second person within this realm? Chancellor of Scotland, Archbishop of St Andrews, Bishop of Miropoix, Xegatus natus, Legatus a latere Is not he an equal judge, apparently, to thee? whom other desirest thou to be thy judge To whom Wishart mildly replied, "I refuse not my lord cardinal, but I desire the Word of God to be my judge, and the temporal estate with some of your lordships to be mine auditors; because I am here my lord governors prisoner." The plea was a good one. Wishart had been given up by Bothwell to the Regent, not to the cardinal, and it was contrary to the Regent* s desire that the cardinal had hurried on the present trial. But his appeal to the governor was received with derision by the tribunal. "Such man, such judge," some exclaimed, meaning the governor to be a heretic as well as himself. "And immediately the tribunal would have given sentence upon the accused, and that without farther process, had not certain men counselled my lord cardinal to read again the articles, and to hear his answers thereupon, that the people might not complain of his wrongful condemnation."

His Articles were eighteen in number, and turned chiefly upon the doctrine which he was alleged to have taught respecting the seven sacraments of the Church of Rome. The third article was this, "Thou, false heretic, preachest against the sacraments, saying that there are not seven sacraments;" to which Wishart replied, "My lords, if it be your pleasure, I taught never of the number of the sacraments, whether they were seven or eleven. So many as are instituted by Christ, and are shown to us by the Evangel, I profess openly. Except it be the Word of God I dare affirm nothing." The fourth ran thus, " Thou, false heretic, hast openly taught that auricular confession is not a blessed sacrament, and thou sayest that we should only confess us to God, and to no priest" He answered, "My lords, I say that auricular confession, seeing that it hath no promise of the Evangel, cannot therefore be a sacrament Of the confession to be made to God there are many testimonies in Scripture, as when David saith,' I thought that I would acknowledge my iniquity unto the Lord, and He forgave the trespasses of my sins/ Here confession signifieth the secret acknowledgment of our sins before God. When I exhorted the* people on this manner, I reproved no manner of confession. And farther St James saith,' Confess your sins one to another.' Here the apostle meaneth nothing of auricular confession, but that we should acknowledge and confess ourselves to be sinners before our brethren and before the world, and not to esteem ourselves as the Grey Friars do, thinking themselves already purged." When he had said these words, the horned bishops and their accomplices cried out, and grinned with their teeth, saying, " See ye not what colours he hath in his speech, that he may beguile us and seduce us to his opinion." When accused of having preached plainly that there is no purgatory, his reply was equally explicit and characteristic. "My lords, as I have oftentimes said heretofore, without express witness and testimony of Scripture I dare affirm nothing; I have oft and divers times read over the Bible, and yet such a term found I never, nor yet any place of Scripture applicable thereunto; therefore, I was ashamed ever to teach of that thing which I could not find in Scripture." Then said he to Lauder, his accuser, "If you have any testimony of the Scripture by the which ye may prove any such place, show it now before this auditory." But Lauder was dumb. At last the bishops grew impatient of his "witty and godly answers." John Scot, a Grey Friar and a notorious deceiver of the people, who was standing behind Lauder, "hasted him to read the rest of the articles, and not to tarry upon his answers." "For we may not abide them," quoth he, a no more than the devil may abide the sign of the cross."

The whole demeanour of Wishart throughout these proceedings was worthy of the man whom Tylney describes as "a man modest, courteous, lowly, lovely, and well spoken after his country of Scotland." He had as much the advantage of his accuser and judges in good breeding, as in the goodness of his cause, "not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but, contrariwise, blessing—if God, peradventure, would give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.,> But his answers and his bearing could do nothing to prevent an issue which was foregone and inevitable. He was in the power of men who both hated and feared him, and he must be destroyed to gratify their hatred and relieve their fear. The tribunal was unanimous in condemning him to die the death of a heretic in the flames.

His prayer on hearing the sentence pronounced was affecting and sublime. "O, immortal God! how long shalt thou suffer the madness and great cruelty of the ungodly to exercise their fury upon thy servants which do further thy Word in this world O Lord, we know surely that thy true servants must needs suffer, for thy name's sake, persecution, affliction, and trouble in this present life which is but a shadow, as thou hast showed to us by thy prophets and apostles; but yet we desire thee, merciful Father, that thou conserve, defend, and help thy congregation which thou hast chosen before the beginning of the world, and give them thy grace to hear thy Word, and to be thy true servants in this present life."

The execution was appointed to take place on the following day, and the Reformer was led back to the castle to await his doom. His calmness and self-possession never forsook him. The prayers, which he had often put up that his heart might not shrink when the battle waxed hot, were answered. The battle was now at the hottest, and his heart was fixed, trusting in the Lord.

Early next morning he had an interview with John Wynram, who came to the Castle at his desire. The spectacle of so much worth and wisdom, doomed in a few hours to suffer such extremity of anguish, overcame the feelings of the good Sub-prior, who was melted into tears. At last recovering himself, and "as soon as he was able to speak," he asked him, "If he would receive the communion?" "Yea, gladly," said he, "if I might have it as Christ instituted it" "Then the Sub-prior returned to the bishops," continues Lindsay of Pitscottie, "and showed them that he had conferred with Mr. George, and asked if they would consent that he should have the sacrament The bishops, after consultation, concluded that, since he was condemned as a heretic, he should have no benefit of the Kirk. With this answer the Sub-prior returned to Mr. George, and having promised to pray each one for the other, they parted with shedding of tears." A little after, the Captain of the Castle, with some other friends, came to Wishart and asked if he would eat with them. He answered, "With ase I perceive ye are good men and godly, and that this shall be my last meal on earth. But I exhort you that you would give me audience with silence for a little time, while I bless this meat, which we shall eat as brethren in Christ, and thereafter I will take my leave of you." So the table being covered, and bread set thereon, Mr. George discoursed half an hour of Christ's last supper, death, and passion, exhorting them to leave malice and envy, and to fix love and charity in their hearts, one towards another, as the members of Christ Thereafter he blessed the bread and drink, and ate and drank himself, and desired the rest to do so, for they should drink no more with him, for he was to taste a bitter cup; "But," said he,"pray ye for me, and I for you, that our meeting may be in the joys of heaven with our Father, since there is nothing in earth but anxiety and sorrow." Having thus said, he gave thanks to God, and retired to his devotion"

Immediately after, his room was entered by two executioners; one brought him a coat of linen dyed black, and put it upon him; the other carried some bags full of powder, which he tied to several parts of his body. Thus arrayed for the fire, they brought him forth to an outer room, near the gate of the castle. Meanwhile, the artillery of the block houses was charged and pointed in the direction of the scaffold, and cushions and green-cloths were spread upon the wall-heads, for the cardinal and bishops to sit upon. "When all things were made ready," says Spottiswoode, "he was led forth, with his hands tied behind his back, and a number of soldiers guarding him, to the place of execution. As he was going forth at the castle-gate, some poor creatures who were lying there, did ask of him some alms for God's sake, to whom he said, 'I have not the use of any hands wherewith I should give you alms, but our merciful God, who out of his abundance feedeth all men, vouchsafe to give you the things which are necessary both for your bodies and for your souls! "

When he ascended the scaffold, he fell upon his knees, and thrice he said these words, "O thou Saviour of the world, have mercy upon me. Father of heaven, I commend my spirit into thy holy hands." Then he turned to the people and said these words, aI beseech you, Christian brethren and sisters, that ye be not offended at the word of God, for the affliction and torments which ye see prepared for me, but I exhort you that ye love the word of God your salvation, and suffer patiently and with a comfortable heart, for the Word's sake. Moreover, I pray you, show my brethren and sisters which have heard me oft before, that they cease not to learn the word of God, which I taught unto them, for no persecutions nor troubles in this world which lasteth not For the Word's sake, and the true Evangel which was given to me by the grace of God, I suffer this day not sorrowfully, but with a glad heart and mind. Consider and behold my visage; ye shall not see me change my colour. This grim fire I fear not I know surely that my soul shall sup with my Saviour this night, for whom I suffer this." Then he prayed for his accusers, saying, " I beseech the Father of heaven to forgive them that have, of any ignorance, or else of any evil mind, forged lies upon me. I forgive them with all my heart I beseech Christ to forgive them that have this day ignorantly condemned me to death." And last of all he said to the people on this manner, "I beseech you, brethren and sisters, to exhort your prelates to the learning of the word of God, that they may be ashamed to do evil, and learn to do good; and if they will not convert themselves from their wicked error, there shall hastily come upon them the wrath of God, which they shall not eschew."

After these words, the martyr gave himself into the hands of the executioner. "Sir, I pray you forgive me," cried the tormentor, "for I am not guilty of your death;" to whom he answered, kissing his cheek, "Lo! here is a token that I forgive thee; my heart, do thine office." He carried a chain of iron at his middle, by which he was fastened to a gibbet which rose in the centre of the scaffold. Fire was then put to the pile; the powder-bags exploded, and enveloped him in fierce flames; a cord, which had been placed round his neck, was pulled tightly till he was suffocated, and the body of the lifeless martyr was speedily reduced to ashes. "When the people beheld his great tormenting, they might not withhold from piteous mourning, and complaining of the innocent lamb's slaughter." The cardinal and the bishops, unforgiving even in death, caused a proclamation the same night to be made throughout the city, that none should pray for the soul of the heretic, under pain of the heaviest censures of the church.

Thus mournfully ended the life and ministry of George Wishart, one of the truest evangelists and holiest confessors of Christ that the Church of Scotland ever produced. But his influence long survived his death. His characteristic teaching was reproduced in the confession of Adam Wallace, the martyr of 1550, and in the theology of Sir David Lindsay's "Monarchies," published in 1554. Wishart lived again in John Knox. Elijah's mantle fell upon the shoulders of Elisha. The zealous disciple who had counted it an honour to be allowed to carry a sword before his master, stood forth immediately to wield the spiritual sword which had fallen from the master's grasp, and to wield it with a vigour and trenchant execution superior even to his. In truth, the effects of Wishart's teaching, as conveyed onward through Knox, survive at the present day. It was Wishart, as already noticed, who first moulded 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. Wishart, in fact, died a martyr to the true doctrine of the Sacraments. When we compare his Articles with those of Patrick Hamilton, we become aware of the interesting fact that, while Hamilton gave up his life for those truths which were revived in the teaching of Luther and Melancthon, and which they held in common with all the Continental and British Reformers, Wishart gave up his, not only for these truths, but also for those principles which gave a distinctive character to the Reform which Zwingle began in Zurich and Calvin perfected in Geneva.


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