Two Early Scottish Reformers - Rev Innes MacRae
25 Oct 1999
From time to time God, in His inscrutable wisdom and sovereign mercy, sends to His church in different parts of the world, glorious revival blessing. He arises and has mercy on Zion. His time to favour her, the set time, arrives. His servants prophesy to the dry bones, they come together, flesh and skin cover them, and He breathes into them the breath of life. They stand up an exceeding great army. In the history of the Scottish nation there has been no more remarkable revival than the Reformation of the sixteenth century.
The Reformation came after many centuries of appalling spiritual darkness. The old celtic church, that had developed from the work of Columba in the sixth century and other missionaries, possessed much true spiritual vitality. The influence of the Roman Church, however, with its preposterous claims for its Bishop of Rome, the Pope, steadily increased. By the twelfth century, after Queen Margaret, the wife of Malcolm Canmore, and particularly her two sons, Alexander the First and the famous David the First, had done their worst, the Romanisation of the Scottish Church was complete. By the sixteenth century the Scottish Church was as corrupt as any in Christendom. Her doctrine was a sorry mixture of biblical truth and superstitious error. While there were a few learned clerics, ignorance among the ordained clergy was widespread.
A provincial council of the church tried, unsuccessfully, to rectify matters by issuing a catechism, prepared by Archbishop Hamilton, to instruct people in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. Vicars and curates were instructed to read from it publicly each Sunday. Obviously, many of them were nearly illiterate for the council instructed them to rehearse the lessons daily, lest they expose themselves to ridicule by stuttering and stumbling through their reading.
Thomas Forrest was the Vicar of Dollar. He was a good and cultured minister who was taken to task by his bishop, the Bishop of Dunkeld, for preaching each Sunday from an Epistle or Gospel. "I thank God I never knew what the Old and New Testament was", declared the Bishop. The Pope had condemned the Bible in the vulgar tongue, and Dean Thomas, as Forrest is usually called, was burned at the Castle Hill of Edinburgh in 1539.
Irreverence was widespread too. One example of this was the yearly revelries associated with a festival called "The Abbot of Unreason". The people would elect some "Lord of the Revel". The churches would be occupied and there would be mock imitations of the sacred rites, and indecent parodies of the hymns would be sung. The church amassed to itself great wealth. The Prelates often lived lives of great luxury, while the ordinary priests were paid a pittance. Members of noble families were frequently appointed to titular positions in the church so that the revenues of those positions would accrue to those families. There was dreadful immorality practiced among the clergy. Cardinal Beaton, who condemned George Wishart to death, had numerous illegitimate children. The church's own provincial council of 1549, presided over by Beaton's successor as Archbishop of St Andrews, John Hamilton, deplored the corruption of morals, and profound lewdness of life in churchmen of almost all ranks.
The Lord, however, did have his witnesses in the centuries immediately preceding the Reformation. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Lollards, disciples of John Wickcliffe the Oxford scholar, often referred to as the Morning Star of the Reformation, were active in various parts of Scotland, particularly in the south west. One of them, John Resby, an Englishman, was burnt at Perth in 1407. He had denied the Pope was Christ's Vicar on earth. Paul Craw, a Bohemian doctor, was burned at St Andrews in 1433 for denying the doctrines of transubstantiation and of purgatory, and for advocating the Bible be available in the language of the people. Resby and Craw were martyrs of pre-reformation days. It is Patrick Hamilton who is recognised as the proto-martyr of the Reformation in Scotland.
The Renaissance, a remarkable revival of learning in Europe, had prepared men's minds to question the dogmas of the Roman Catholic church, and to welcome different doctrines. Martyn Luther's nailing of his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg in 1517 was the signal to many to propagate his teaching. Lutheran books and tracts began to make their way into Scotland via the east coast ports of Leith, Dundee and Montrose. Tyndale's translation of the New Testament into English was also brought in. The Scottish Parliament made it an offence to import, or even to possess such heretical writings, but they continued to circulate. God was at work amongst the Scottish people.
The three premier Scottish Reformers were Patrick Hamilton, George Wishart, and pre-eminently John Knox. This paper is concerned with Hamilton and Wishart.
Patrick Hamilton was born in 1504. He was a younger son of Sir Patrick Hamilton of Kincavill in Linlithgowshire. He was of noble birth, being connected through his father with the powerful House of Hamilton, one of the premier Scottish families. He had royal blood in his veins for his mother, Catherine Stuart, was a grand daughter of King James the second. At the age of thirteen he was appointed titular Abbot of Fearn in Easter Ross. The revenues that would have accrued to him from this benefice would have financed his education abroad. He studied first at the University of Paris. Its theology faculty, the Sorbonne, was the most famous school of theology and philosophy in Christendom. Hamilton graduated with distinction in 1520.
While at Paris, he was greatly influenced by the writings of Luther, which were being earnestly studied and discussed by many there. Clearly, Hamilton was greatly attracted to Luther's doctrine. From Paris he went to Louvre to study at the university there and to make the acquaintance of Erasmus, the famous humanist scholar. At Louvre he distinguished himself in philosophy and in languages.
From there, he returned to Scotland for further study at the University of St Andrews. He enrolled at St Andrews on the 9th of June 1523 - four days after James Beaton had been installed as the Archbishop of St Andrews and Primate of the Scottish Church. It was this same James Beaton who was to have Hamilton sentenced to death.
While at St Andrews, Patrick Hamilton freely discussed the new religious ideas he had imbibed on the continent and distributed the New Testament in the vulgar tongue. This incurred the wrath of James Beaton who, early in 1527, cited Hamilton to appear before him to answer a charge of propagating the Lutheran doctrine. Hamilton fled to Germany.
He wished to go to Wittenberg and meet Luther, but that city was closed to him because of the plague. Instead he went to Marburg, where Philip of Hesse, one of the German princes who supported the Reformation, had recently founded a Protestant University. Hamilton enrolled as a student there. While there he became friendly with Francis Lambert, an eminent French Reformer, who had been expelled from France on account of his religious views and who was commissioned by Philip of Hesse to promote the Reformation there. Lambert further fired Hamilton with zeal for the Protestant doctrine. It was he who encouraged Hamilton to publish there a series of doctrinal theses in Latin. They were later published in English under the title, Patrick's Places - a series of common places of Evangelical truth. They give us a valuable insight into Hamilton's teaching. They lay great stress on the doctrine of Justification By Faith Alone.
But Hamilton longed that his own fellow countrymen should have the light of the Gospel. He therefore returned to Scotland in the autumn of 1527. He preached in the area around his own home in Linlithgowshire. His own brother and sister were converted under his preaching. Archbishop Beaton, who was keen to show his zeal for the Roman Catholic Church in the hope of achieving his ambition of being made a cardinal, treacherously inveigled him across the Forth to St Andrews, supposedly to confer with him. For about a month, Hamilton was courteously treated and encouraged to state his views. He was even allowed to teach openly in the university, but it was all a plot to incriminate him. He knew he was in danger, but refused to heed the advice of friends who urged him to flee.
One Alexander Alane, a Canon of the Augustinian Priory of St Andrews, tried to get him to recant but was himself converted. After Hamilton's death he escaped to the continent where he became a distinguished Professor of Theology under the name of Alesius, meaning Wanderer. Another, Friar Campbell, a Dominican friar, was encouraged to confer with Hamilton in order to gather evidence that could be used at his trial. The hierarchy laid their plans very carefully. The young King, James the Fifth, was known at this stage (he was only sixteen) to favour free discussion and to be open to the Renaissance outlook. He was therefore persuaded to go on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Duthac in Ross-shire (St Duthac, of course is Tain). On the night of the 28th of February 1528 Patrick Hamilton was arrested in his room by the Archbishop's men, and carried to St Andrews castle. The following forenoon he was put on trial at the cathedral. Many were the bishops, abbots, friars and doctors present at the trial. Friar Campbell and others testified against him: Hamilton, himself, appealing always to the Scriptures in defence of his doctrine. He was declared to be a heretic, guilty of "disputing, holding and maintaining diverse heresies of Martin Luther and his followers". He was sentenced to death by burning.
No time was lost in carrying out the sentence. At noon that day he was led to the stake outside St Salvador’s College. That spot is still marked by the letters P.H. in the stonework. To his faithful servant he gave his gown, his coat and bonnet, saying, "These will not profit me in the fire: they will profit thee. After this, of me thou canst receive no commodities except the example of my death, which I pray thee bear in mind. Albeit it be bitter to the flesh and fearful before men, yet it is the entrance into eternal life, which none shall possess who deny Christ Jesus before this wicked generation".
His death was agonising. The faggots were damp (not intentionally so), and an east wind from the sea did not help matters. The flame did not kindle readily - it just severely scorched him until a fresh supply of powder was brought from the castle. For six hours he endured what must have been agonising torture. "But", says Alesius who was an eyewitness, "the martyr never gave one sign of impatience or anger, nor ever called to heaven for vengeance on his persecutors. So great was his faith, so strong his confidence in God!"
Friars taunted him, urging him to call upon the Virgin. The only one to whom he spoke really severely was friar Campbell, who arrogantly taunted him as he suffered. "Thou wicked man," declared Hamilton. "Thou knowest that I am not an heretic and that it is the truth of God for which I now suffer; So much didst thou confer unto me in private, and thereupon I appeal thee to answer before the Judgement Seat of Christ." A few days later, Campbell died in Glasgow in a deranged state of mind.
One of the crowd called on the dying Hamilton, if he still believed the doctrines for which he was condemned, to make a sign. He raised three fingers of his scorched hand to heaven and said, "How long, Oh Lord, shall darkness oppress this realm? How long wilt Thou suffer this tyranny of men? Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." These were the last words he uttered.
The martyrdom of Patrick Hamilton had a most powerful effect. The authorities thought that by meting out such severe treatment to a man of such high rank they would deter others, and halt or turn back the rising tide of unrest. The effect was precisely the reverse. Many were roused to indignation and anger; and interest in and discussion of the reformed doctrine increased an hundred-fold. People were outraged at the treatment given to one so young - he was not yet twenty-five. When they considered his unquestioned powers of intellect, his noble birth, his beautiful character, and the courage with which he faced a cruel death, they were filled with revulsion. His death was of immense importance in advancing the cause of the Reformation in Scotland. One of the Archbishop's own friends said to him, "My lord, if ye burn any more, except ye follow my counsel, ye will destroy yourselves. If ye will burn them, let them be burned in how [deep] cellars, for the reek [smoke] of Master Patrick Hamilton has infected as many as it blew upon."
What was Patrick Hamilton's doctrine? He had been very greatly influenced by Luther and his teaching. He hammered home the Doctrine of Justification By Faith Alone. In Patrick's Places he wrote, "Whosoever believeth or thinketh to be saved by his works denieth that Christ is the Saviour, that Christ died for him, and that all sins pertained to Christ. For how is He thy Saviour if thou mightest save thyself by thy works? Or whereto should He die for Thee if thy works might have saved thee?" He taught that the Law condemns, but the Gospel shows us our redemption; that the Law is the word of "I"; the Gospel, the word of "Grace".
At his trial in St Andrews, among the accusations against him were that he taught a doctrine of remaining corruption in infants after baptism, the entire corruption of the human will, the possibility of an assurance of salvation for every true Christian, and Justification By Faith Alone. He taught no man can be made good by good works, but that good works are the fruit of saving faith. He was accused of teaching that Auricular Confession is not necessary for salvation, that there is no purgatory, and that the Pope is the Anti-Christ. Clearly he had espoused the distinctively Protestant doctrine at this early stage of the Reformation. The doctrine of Justification By Faith Alone was to him absolutely basic. We can say that he was a thorough-going Lutheran. The French Reformer, Lambert, considered "his judgement in divine truth very sure and solid." He declared, "I can surely testify that I have scarcely met another who conversed with more spirituality and sincerity about the Word of God". Such was the godly man the Roman Catholic hierarchy condemned to a cruel death for what they termed heresy.
The best known of the Scottish martyrs of Reformation times were Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart. Wishart was born probably in 1513, the year of the battle of Plodder. He was the son of Sir James Wishart of St Arrow, in the Nairn Forfar-shire. He studied at Kings College, Aberdeen, where he distinguished himself in Greek. Indeed, he became one of the best Greek scholars in Britain. He became a teacher of Greek at the grammar school of Montrose - a school founded by Laird Erskine of Dun, who had now espoused the Protestant doctrine. Cardinal David Beaton, who had succeeded his uncle as Archbishop of St Andrews in 1537, and who was elevated to the position of Cardinal by the Pope in 1538, was alarmed to learn that Wishart was studying the Greek New Testament with his pupils. And at his instigation, the Bishop of Brechin summoned Wishart to answer before him. Wishart fled to England.
In England, he was befriended by Bishop Latimer of Worcester, and under his patronage, lectured and preached for a time in various churches in Bristol. From there he travelled to the continent. He went to the headquarters of the Reformed Church in Switzerland, where he studied the doctrines of the Swiss Reformed Church. While there, he translated into English the First Helvetic Confession and brought it back with him eventually to Scotland. This is of great significance, for it meant that the Scottish Reformation came under the influence of the more radical Swiss teaching, rather than of the Lutheran doctrine.
In 1543, he returned to England where he became a tutor at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University. His later cruel death is commemorated on one of the windows of Corpus Christi College. In 1545 he returned to Scotland and gave himself to the preaching of the Gospel. He was an eloquent, popular preacher; and God set his seal upon Wishart's preaching in the conversion of sinners to Christ. At Montrose he expounded the essentials of the faith, as set forth in the Ten Commandments, the Apostle Creed and the Lord's Prayer.
From there he moved to Dundee, the Scottish city in which the Reformed doctrines received their most ready acceptance. There in the Geneva of Scotland, as Dundee was sometimes called, he preached fervently from the Epistle to the Romans, and the crowds flocked to hear him. The city magistrate, at Cardinal Beaton's instigation, banished him from the city, informing him he could be arrested at any time. He moved to the west, to Ayr. He preached with great success in Ayr itself, and in the surrounding area. There was, of course, much opposition, but the crowds listened attentively as from pulpits that were opened to him, and from the Mercat Cross in Ayr, and on open air sites like the drystone dyke at Mauchline, he preached the glorious Gospel of redeeming grace. The Spirit of God was at work in the hearts of men and women. On one hot day while he preached on the moor outside Mauchline, God helped him marvellously, and he continued preaching more than three hours. Knox says, "In that sermon, God walked so wonderfully with him, that one of the most wicked men in that country, Lawrence Rankin, Laird of Sheil, was converted." Knox goes on, "The tears ran from Rankin's eyes in such abundance that all men wondered. His conversion was without hypocrisy, for his life and conversation witnessed it in all time to come."
On learning that the plague had broken out in Dundee, Wishart hurried back to that city to minister what comfort he could to the sick and dying, and to preach the Gospel to all who would hear. He used to stand on the top of the East Port (that is the east gate) and preach to the people on either side. Those afflicted with the disease were on the outside of the gate, the others inside. His first sermon to them was taken from Psalm 107 "He sent his word, and healed them". "It is neither herb nor plaster, O Lord, but thy Word healeth all," he prayed. He reminded the people of the worth of God's Word; of the punishment awaiting those who despised it; and of the certainty of God's mercy for those who heed that Word and turn to Him. He spoke of the eternal happiness awaiting those plague-stricken believers whom God would take to Himself. "By which sermon," says Knox, "he so raised up the hearts of all that heard him, that they regarded not death, but judged them 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."
He tirelessly ministered to the sick and dying, moving amongst them regardless of the danger of infection. He saw to it that food and drink were available for those who could take it, and he helped the poor in any way he could. To dying sinners he spoke of Christ and His finished work to such effect that not a few found peace with God, ere they departed this life.
On one occasion after he had finished preaching, he noticed a priest at the foot of the steps, and was suspicious. Going up to him, he said, "My friend, what would you do?" At the same time he took from him the dagger the priest was hiding under his gown. The priest was taken aback, and confessed he had been bribed by Cardinal Beaton to assassinate Wishart. The people were enraged against the priest and would have slain him, had not Wishart prevented it. He saved his life by taking the would-be assassin in his arms. "No," he said, "he has done me no harm, but rather good; he has let us understand what we may fear; in times to come we will watch better."
When the plague had abated, Wishart paid another visit to Montrose. While there, he received a letter supposedly from a friend, informing him he was ill, and asking him to come immediately. Wishart and a few friends set out, but after they had gone a quarter of a mile he stopped and said, "I am forbidden of God to go this journey. Will some of you be pleased to ride to yonder place," he pointed to a little hill, "and see what you find, for I apprehend there is a plot made against my life." At the hill they found some sixty horsemen waiting for him. The letter had been a forgery of Cardinal Beaton. "I know," said Wishart, "I shall end my life in the hands of that bloodthirsty man, but it will not be after this manner. He predicted too, correctly on another occasion, that not many would suffer after him, and that soon the reformation would triumph in Scotland. Knox wrote of Wishart in his History of the Reformation in Scotland, "Also he was so clearly illuminated with the spirit of prophesy, that he saw not only things pertaining to himself, but also such things as some towns, and the whole realm after him felt; which he forespake, not in secret but in the audience of many."
Shortly after this, Wishart was preaching in East Lothian. At this time there appeared on the scene one John Knox, a priest of the Roman Church who had been converted and embraced the Reformed doctrine. He was employed at Longniddry House as a tutor to the boys of the Lairds of Ormiston and Longniddry. He accompanied Wishart on his preaching tour of East Lothian bearing a two-handed sword, with which to defend Wishart. Knox was now forty: eight or nine years older than Wishart. The Lairds of Longniddry and of Ormiston were of Reformed opinion. Clearly, Knox was an ardent disciple of Wishart. It is arguable, that were it not for Wishart's influence and his tragic death, Knox would never have assumed a leading role in the Reformation movement. Wishart's influence upon Knox meant that it was the more radical teaching of the Swiss Reformation, rather than the German Lutheranism that dominated in Scotland.
After preaching in Haddington in East Lothian one day at the end of December 1545, Wishart retired for the night to Ormiston House. Knox wished to continue to accompany Wishart on his travels, but Wishart would not allow him, and bade him and affectionate farewell. He bade him lay aside his sword, and said to him, "Nay, return to your bairns", (meaning his pupils), "and God bless you. One is sufficient for a sacrifice." Knox and Wishart never met again in this world.
Cardinal Beaton and the Governor, the Earl of Arran, were hot on the trail. They arrived that night at Elphinstone Tower, less than a mile from Ormiston House, accompanied by the Earl of Bothwell, whose son Mary Queen of Scots was later to marry, and some soldiers. Around midnight Bothwell and his horsemen surrounded Ormiston House. Wishart surrendered himself to them, having obtained from Bothwell a solemn promise that he would not be handed over either to the Governor or to Cardinal Beaton. Bothwell, however, proved false to his pledged word. Attracted by the gold of the Cardinal, and the promise of the favour of the Queen mother, he handed Wishart over to Cardinal Beaton. By the end of January 1546, Wishart was a prisoner in the dreadful bottle dungeon at St Andrews castle.
He was brought out to be tried before an impressive array of leading churchmen at St Andrews cathedral on the 28th of February, with Beaton presiding. Eighteen articles were read, accusing Wishart of various heresies. Those articles demonstrate how thoroughly Protestant was the teaching of George Wishart. At the trial, Wishart was subjected to abuses of various kinds. The judges even spat upon him, yet he conducted himself with great meekness and dignity, appealing constantly to the Word of God in support of his teaching. He was, nevertheless, found guilty and condemned to be burned at the stake. Because the King was still a minor and unable to rule, Beaton desired the Governor, the Earl of Arran, to supply a criminal judge to pass sentence, to give a greater appearance of legality to the execution. But Arran refused, asking Beaton to delay proceedings until Wishart's case was properly examined. Arran himself, had started off supporting the Reformers but recanted and went back to the Roman Catholic faith. He told Beaton that if he acted otherwise the blood would be upon his own head. The unscrupulous prelate, however, was determined that Wishart should die.
On the 1st of March 1546, the saintly George Wishart was let to the stake that had been erected just outside the castle. The guns of the castle were trained upon him, lest any attempt be made to rescue the victim. Cardinal Beaton and his friends reclined on velvet cushions at the windows of the castle, in order to gloat over the dying agonies of this man of God. Wishart was led forth from the castle with a rope around his neck, and a chain around his waist.
He prayed to God to have mercy upon him, and then addressed the people. He urged them to be loyal to Christ, whatever persecution came to them. "Consider and behold my visage," he said. "You shall not see me change my colour. This grim fire I fear not." He urged them not to fear those who slay the body, but have no power to slay the soul. "I surely know that my soul shall sup with my Saviour this night, ere it be six hours." He forgave with all his heart his enemies who had witnessed against him and condemned him. The executioner knelt before him, begging forgiveness. "Come hither to me," said Wishart. He kissed his cheek and said, "Lo, here is a token that I forgive thee. . . Do thine office." He was tied to the stake and the fire was lit. There were bags of power tied to his body. "This flame hath scorched my body," he said, "yet it hath not daunted my spirit. But he who from yonder high place beholdeth us with such pride, shall, within a few days, lie in the same as ignominiously as now he is seen proudly to rest himself." Wishart was then hanged, and his body burned to ashes.
Three months later, a group of conspirators gained entry into the castle and murdered the Cardinal in his own room. They displayed his corpse from the very window from which he had watched Wishart die. It was a foul deed of desperate men, who harboured a personal hatred for the Cardinal. Not for a moment would any right thinking person try to justify it. Cardinal Beaton was, of course, a bloodthirsty persecutor and a notoriously immoral man. Sir David Lindsay, the premier Scottish poet of the time, expressed how many felt:
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.
Attempts have been made to implicate Wishart in the conspiracy, but they are without foundation. Wishart was a gentle man of peace, who always deplored violent actions. The true explanation of his prediction of Beaton's tragic end is surely that given by Knox, that he was illuminated with the spirit of prophecy. Ponder the words of Thomas M'Crie in his fine work, The Story of the Scottish Church:
"To hold that this opinion is inconsistent with the perfection of the Holy Scriptures, is to mistake the matter entirely. Our worthies never pretended to be endowed with the spirit of prophecy, in the sense in which this is true of the ancient prophets; they did not lay claim to inspiration, nor require implicit faith to be placed in their sayings as divine; they did not propose them as rules of duty, nor appeal to them as miraculous evidences of the doctrines they taught. But they regarded such presentiments as gracious intimations of the will of God, granted to them in answer to prayer, for their own encouragement or direction; and they delivered them as warnings to others, leaving the truth of them to be ascertained and proved by the event."
All the accounts we have of George Wishart unite in testifying to his godliness; his learning; his graciousness; and his benevolence. Sometimes he spent whole days and nights in prayer and meditation. He was exceedingly generous to the poor, giving to them not only his money, but even some of the garments he wore. Knox says of him:
"He was a man of such graces as, before him, were never heard in this realm, yea, and are rare to be found yet in any man, notwithstanding the great light of God that since his day hath shined unto us."
One of his students at Cambridge said, "He was courteous, lowly, lovely, glad to teach, desirous to learn. If I should declare his love to me and all men, his charity to the poor in giving, relieving, caring, helping, providing. . . it were just cause to commend him."
Such was the saintly preacher who the Roman Catholic Primate of Scotland burned in St Andrews.
The martyrdom of George Wishart led to widespread mourning, and provoked intense indignation on the part of many against those responsible. It led to a more thorough study of the doctrines he taught, and undoubtedly hastened the victory of the Reformation in Scotland. As a Reformer, his influence has been of monumental importance.
What was his teaching?
Wishart was greatly influenced by the Reformation in Switzerland and in the south of Germany, where the break with medieval traditions was more thorough going than in the areas where Lutheran teaching predominated. His appeal was always to Scripture alone. He translated into English the First Helvetic Confession, which laid great stress upon the authority of Holy Scripture. There was clear teaching on God, man, original sin, and on salvation only by God's grace through faith in Christ, who shed His blood for the redemption of sinners. Faith is God's gift. The Confession teaches that the minister's duty is primarily to preach. He is to administer the two sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. "The sacraments are not," says the Confession in a significant statement, "naked signs, but they are signs and verities together". "It is the chief duty of magistrates to defend and procure true religion." In so many respects the teaching is similar to John Calvin, which would be systematised even more plainly in the Second Helvetic Confession, compiled some time after Wishart's death.
From the articles accusing Wishart at his trial, we can obtain a fairly comprehensive knowledge of his teaching. By their very nature, those articles are negative, but we can deduce from them the positive doctrine he taught. He was accused of denying that there were seven sacraments. He rejected auricular confession, extreme unction, and transubstantiation. He was accused of maintaining, "That the sacrament of the altar was but a piece of bread, baken upon the ashes, and no other thing else; nor yet can God be in so little space as betwixt the priest's hands." He denounced monastic vows, and taught the equal priesthood of all believers. He declared it lawful for priests to marry, and maintained the Pope had no more power than any other man. He denied the efficacy of holy water, the lawfulness of prayers to the saints, and the existence of purgatory. He taught the bondage of the human will. George Wishart discerned clearly the unbiblical nature of Rome's dogmas. He taught man's ruin by the fall, recovery solely by the work of Christ, and the necessity for God's working in the heart in order that the sinner may believe in the Saviour with a faith given him by God. He was a true man of God, who faithfully expounded the Scriptures.
Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart ought to occupy an honoured place among our heroes. The importance of those men is immense. By their work, and by means of their martyrdom, they played a hugely significant role in procuring for us a most glorious heritage: the Reformed Faith, which is the truth of God. Sadly, that heritage is not prized today as it should be, even amongst those who are professedly evangelical believers. The Roman Catholic Church has not changed. She is always the same. The doctrines against which those men protested are still the teachings of the Roman Church. Indeed, she has added since their day, other unbiblical dogmas. Rome's aim is to see this land brought back into the fold of Roman Catholicism; back to a system that is unbiblical; a system of spiritual darkness. Rome teaches another gospel. She does not believe in Justification By Faith Alone. Her central ceremony, the mass, is a terrible blasphemy. Mariolatry and the invoking of saints are still her practice. Her doctrine of purgatory, and that of Papal infallibility are blatantly unscriptural. These are soul-destroying doctrines. You and I need to be on our guard.
It is common today for Protestants to try to make common cause with Roman Catholics. Protestant and Roman Catholic churchmen frequently share in ecumenical services. This is a betrayal of a heritage handed on to us by men like Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart. While we are certainly called to love our Roman Catholic neighbours, and while we are to long for their conversion, and seek in love to make known to them the true Gospel, we cannot make common cause with them in worship or in Christian service. Roman Catholicism is a false system. It is contrary to the truth. We are called to separation from it. Its message is another gospel.
We ought to be well acquainted with the heroes of our faith. Surely the study of Hebrews 11 stirs our souls. The study of the testimony of men and women of God throughout the running centuries, who were prepared to lay down life itself for Christ and for His Truth, will surely do us much good in this lethargic age, when so many show themselves spineless, and are overawed by the fear of man. Polycarp, the Waldensians, John Huss of Bohemia, the French Huguenots, Cramner, Ridley, Latimer, the Marian martyrs in England, the Scottish Covenanting martyrs, and the two Margarets, to name but a few, are Christian martyrs whose testimony, even unto death, we should frequently contemplate and whose faithful witness should inspire us to greater constancy in face of opposition.
Among that faithful host are Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart. They are among the noblest men ever to have trod this earth. God gave them to His Son in the Eternal Covenant; Christ redeemed them by His blood; the Holy Spirit imparted life to them; and by God's enabling grace they bore a faithful witness to God and to His truth. They were faithful, even unto death, sealing their testimony with their very lives. They received, we are sure, an abundant entrance into the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Who can doubt, but that all the trumpets sounded for them on the other side!
May their example strengthen our faith, our hope, and our joy in the Lord. May it inspire us to a deeper devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ. To us it is given, in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake. May we ever count it a privilege to suffer shame for His blessed Name.
This article was transcribed from a recording of Two Early Scottish Reformers - a lecture given by Rev Innes MacRae, at a public meeting of the Inverness Branch of the Scottish Reformation Society, on Monday, 25 October 1999.
Rev Innes MacRae was the minister of Tain Free Church of Scotland. He passed away on 25th March 2000.
SCOTTISH REFORMATION SOCIETY
The Scottish Reformation Society was founded in 1851, following a protest against the re-establishment of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England. The original constitution of the Society set out its objectives as being “to resist the aggressions of Popery; to watch the designs and movements of its promoters and abettors; and to diffuse sound Scriptural teaching and information on the distinctive tenets of Protestantism and Popery”.
To these aims, the Society has maintained and promoted a faithful witness to the present time. A quarterly magazine, The Bulwark, is committed to the same principles as the Society and the material is drawn from a wide source of Reformed teachers and writers past and present.
Enquiries can be directed to:
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