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Life Sketches from Scottish History of Brief Biographies of the Scottish Presbyterian Worthies
George Wishart


Emery Tylney, one of Wishart’s friends, thus describes him in a letter:— “About the year 1543, there was in the University of Cambridge, one Master George Wisehart, commonly called Master George of Belief’s College, who was a man of tall stature, polled-headed, and on the same a round French cap of the best; judged to be 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 travelled; having on him for his habit or clothing, never but a mantle or frieze gown to the shoes, a black millian fustian doublet, (12) and plain black hosen, coarse new canvass for his shirts, and white falling bands and cuffs at his hands. All the which apparel he gave to the poor, some weekly, some monthly, some quarterly, as he liked, saving his French cap, which he kept the whole year of my being with him.

“He was a man modest, temperate, fearing God, hating covetousness for his charity had never end, night, noon, nor day; he forbare one meal in three, one day in four for the most part, except something to comfort nature. He lay hard upon a puff of straw and coarse new canvass sheets, which, when he changed, he gave away. He had commonly by his bed-side a tub of water, in the which (his people being in bed, the candle put out, and all quiet) he used to bathe himself, as I, being very young, being assured, often heard him and in one light night discerned him. He loved me tenderly, and I him, for my age, as effectually. lie taught with great modest}' and gravity, so that some of his people thought him severe, and would have slain him; but the Lord was his defence. But he, after due correction, amended them and went his way. that the Lord had left him to me, his poor boy, that he might have finished that he had begun! his learning was no less sufficient than his desire; always pressed and ready to do good in that he was able, both in the house privately and in the school publicly, professing and reading divers authors.

“If I should declare his love to me and all men; his charity to the poor, in giving, relieving, caring, helping, providing, yea, infinitely studying how to do good unto all, and hurt to none, 1 should sooner want words, than just cause to commend him.”

We learn that he first began to preach the gospel in Ross, after that in Dundee, hut the truth which he taught had too much of the fire of God’s word in it, and because it burned into their consciences, he was publicly required to leave. Before leaving Dundee, he uttered words which were really prophetic of the evils which would soon befall them. He said, “God is my witness that I never intended you trouble, but your comfort; yea, your trouble is more dolorous to me than it is to yourselves; but I am assured that to refuse God’s word, and to chase me, his messenger, from you, shall not preserve you from trouble, but shall bring you into it: for God shall send you ministers that shall neither fear burning nor banishment. I have offered you the word of salvation; with the hazard of my life I have remained among you; now ye yourselves refuse me; and I must leave my indecency to be declared by my God. If it be long prosperous with you, I am not led by the spirit of truth; but if unlooked trouble come upon you, acknowledge the cause, and turn to God who is gracious and merciful; but if you turn not at the first warning, he will visit you with fire and sword.”

From Dundee, Wishart went to Ayrshire, where, being prevented from preaching in the church, he went into the fields, saying, “Jesus Christ is as mighty in the fields as in the church, and himself often preached in the desert, at the sea-side, and other places.” His preaching in this place seems to have been wonderful in its glowing zeal and pathos, and it is related that one of the most wicked men in all the town was converted, the tears bursting from his eyes and running down his cheeks under the powerful appeals, to the astonishment of all. And this was not a single case.

It was now four clays since lie had been ejected from Dundee, and the curse which he had predicted fell upon that city. The pestilence appeared amongst them, and one witnessing at the time, says—“It raged so extremely that it is almost beyond credit, how many died in twenty-four hours’ space.” The true Christian spirit of the noble Wishart shone forth in this emergency, and he determined to go back to them in them sufferings. Coming to Dundee, the joy of the faithful was exceeding great, and without delay he signified that he would preach the next day; and because most of the inhabitants were sick or employed about the sick, he chose the east gate for the place of his preaching, so that the whole were within and the sick without the gate. His text was, Psalm cvii. 20. He sent Ms word and heeded them, &c. This sermon seems to have had an almost supernatural effect upon the multitude. They lost all fear of death, desiring rather to die then, while they had such a comforter to soothe their dying pillows, than to live longer and perhaps die without him. Day and night did this holy man stand by the side of the sick and dying, administering all that was necessary for their comfort.

It was while engaged in this self-denying labour, that Cardinal Beaton was plotting against his life. He incited a priest, named John Weightman, to put him to death; and on a day, the sermon being ended, and the people departed, suspecting no danger, the priest stood waiting at the bottom of the stairs with a naked dagger in his hand, under his gown; but Wishart being of a sharp, piercing eye, seeing the priest as he came down, said to him, “My friend, what will you have ?” at the same time clapping his hand upon the dagger, he took it from him: the priest being terrified, fell down upon his knees, confessed his intention, and craved pardon. A noise being raised by this time, and coming to the ears of those who were sick, they cried, “Deliver the traitor to us, or we will take him by force,” and so they burst in at the gate; but Wishart, taking him in his arms, said, “Whosoever hurts him shall hurt me, for he hath done me no harm, but much good, by teaching me more heedfulness for the time to come,” and so he appeased them and saved the priest’s life.

But Wishart did not long escape the malice of his enemies. In February, 1546, he was sent for by Cardinal Beaton, to give an account of his “seditious and heretical doctrines.” The cardinal caused all his retinue to appear at the place of sitting fully armed. As he entered the church, a beggar asked alms of him, to whom he threw his purse. John Knox, his constant friend, desired to attend him, but he said, “Go back to your pupils; one is sufficient for one sacrifice.” When brought before the cardinal, a priest named Lawder read a paper full of bitter accusations and curses, so that the ignorant thought that the ground would open and swallow up Wishart: but he stood with great composure, without moving, or changing his countenance. The priest having ended his curses, spit at Wishart’s face, saying, “Thou runagate, traitor, thief, what answerest thou?” lie answered all the charges mildly, yet with strong arguments, after which the cardinal passed sentence that he should be burned.

Wishart passed the intervening night in the chamber of the captain of the castle. In the morning, at breakfast he broke bread and drank wine with those present, in commemoration of the death of Christ. The cardinal had commanded a stake to be fixed in the ground, and combustible materials to be piled around it. The executioner then put upon Wishart a long black linen gown, and tied bags of gunpowder around his body. The windows of the castle were hung with rich curtains, velvet cushions were placed in them, upon which the cardinal and prelates reclined, feasting their eyes with the torments of this innocent man. The cardinal, fearing lest the friends of Wishart might attempt a rescue, caused all the ordnance in the castle to be pointed towards the place of execution, and commanded the gunners to stand ready all the time of the burning. Wishart was then led to the stake, with his hands bound behind him, a rope around his neck, and an iron chain around his waist.

On his way to the place of execution, some beggars asked alms for God’s sake, to whom he said, "My hands are bound wherewith I was wont to give you alms, but the merciful Lord, who of his abundant bounty and grace feeds all men, vouchsafe to give you necessaries both for your souls and bodies.”

When he reached the place of execution, he kneeled down and prayed alone, saying thrice, “O thou Saviour of the world, have mercy on me! Father of heaven, I commend my spirit into thy holy hands.” He then arose and addressed the people, exhorting them not to be offended with the word of God, notwithstanding the torments which they saw prepared for him; entreated them to accept, believe, and obey the word of God, and expressed entire forgiveness of his enemies and persecutors. Then the executioner, casting himself upon his knees before the martyr, begged to be forgiven for the deed he was about unwillingly to do. Wishart, desiring him to draw near him, kissed his cheek, saying. “Lo, here is a token that I forgive thee; my heart, do thy office.” The sounding of a trumpet gave the signal; the martyr was tied to the stake, and the fire was kindled around him, exploding the powder, but not putting an end to his sufferings. The captain perceiving him still alive, drew near the fire and bade him be of good courage. Wishart replied with an unfaltering voice, “This fire torments my body, but no way abates my spirit.” Then, looking towards the cardinal, he said, “He who in such state from that high place, feedeth his eye with my torments, shall be hanged out at the same window, to be seen with as much ignominy, as he now leans there with pride.” And so his breath being stopped he was consumed with the fire. These last words of Wishart were very remarkably fulfilled; for after the cardinal was slain, the provost raising the town came to the castle gates, crying, “What have you done with my lord cardinal?” To whom those within answered, “Return to your houses, for he hath received his reward and will trouble the world no more.” But they still cried, “We will never depart till we see him.” Then did they hang him out at the window to show that he was dead, and so the people departed.


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