Life of Wishart as told by Knox (and re-told)
George Wishart was a man so full of grace there was none
that had come before to whom we could compare him. He was unusually gifted
intellectually, excelling not only in general studies but also in spiritual
insight. In fact, we came to recognize that he was also endowed with the spirit
of prophecy, and some of his predictions that were later fulfilled were heard
firsthand by many.
One instance was what happened at Dundee. He was at Dundee teaching from the Epistle to the Romans. But Cardinal Beaton recruited a leading citizen of Dundee, Mr. Robert Myll, to publicly interrupt Wishart's teaching and warn him in front of everyone gathered that he was to stop preaching and stop troubling the town right away - that they would put up with no more of it. Wishart paused a long time, looked up to heaven, then looked upon Myll and the crowd that gathered and said: "God knows that I came here not to trouble anyone but to bring comfort. If you are being troubled, I assure you that bothers me more than it does you. But you must realize that to silence me from explaining to you God's word, and to chase me out of town, is not going to preserve you from trouble. It is just the opposite. It will increase your troubles."
So he left and went to the western region where his teaching was received warmly by many. But again the Cardinal stepped in and influenced the Bishop of Glasgow to interfere. This kind of opposition spread so that George was not allowed to enter churches to teach. Local parishioners who wanted to hear him got so upset they were ready to take over the churches by force to allow him place to teach. But Wishart would not hear of it. There was to be no bloodshed for the sake of gaining a place to preach the Word. He was bringing a word of peace. He reminded them how the Lord Christ Jesus was just as potent in the open fields as inside the walls of a synagogue.
So on a pleasant and hot day he went up upon a dyke at a moor's edge on the southwest side of Mauchline and preached for over three hours. There was a large and attentive turnout, and the power of God was manifested. In fact one of the most wicked nobles in the area, Lawrence Rankin, was wonderfully converted that day, tears streaming down his face even in front of the others gathered. And I can tell you even now that his conversion was genuine and has lasted right up till this time.
"More Trouble" Back at Dundee
Four days after he was forced to leave Dundee, the terrible plague broke out there. The death count grew rapidly. Every day more people were dying. When Master George heard of this he went back there right away against the advice of his colleagues. Many rejoiced at his return to minister to them again. He preached at the East Port of the town and taught how death need not be feared if God be trusted. And he did more than preach. Master George attended to the sick, rich and poor alike, tending both body and soul, without concern for his own well being.
Murder Attempt on His Life
During this time, the Cardinal was not idle. He paid a desperate priest named John Wigton to kill Wishart. One day after Wishart had preached, the priest waited until the people disbursed with a dagger in his hand concealed underneath his garment. As George came near to the priest, he perceived something amiss. He said to him, "My, friend, what do you want to do?" As he said that, he rammed his hand upon the priest's concealed hand, shaking loose the dagger which fell to the ground. The priest knew he had been caught and fell down before George and confessed. Some nearby overheard what was going on and started crying for the priest to be delivered into their hands. Master George protected the priest. He put his arms around him and warned the angry mob that if they were going to hurt the priest, they would have to hurt him also and said, "I am not hurt. But this priest has really done us all a great favor, showing us what we are up against. Now we will know to be more careful and vigilant." That subdued the crowd, and thus both Wishart and the priest had their lives spared that day.
Another Plot Fails
The Cardinal would not give up though. On another occasion he had a false letter written to Wishart as if it were from his friend, a nobleman John Kinnear, saying he had been taken suddenly sick and urging George to come to him right away. The cardinal had about sixty armed men hidden along the road a mile and a half from Kinnear's house. George left without delay but en route suddenly stopped. "I will not go on. God is restraining me," he exclaimed. Knowing that George was the one they wanted, his companions went on ahead and discovered the gang waiting to finish off George. When the news got back to him, George replied: "I know that I shall finish my life in that bloodthirsty man's hands; but it will not be of this manner."
George was now outlawed and had to be careful where he went. He stayed briefly at different places with those who supported his preaching and teaching. He spent a night with James Watson. Let me tell you what happened there, which I know to be reliable because it was reported by John Watson and William Spadin, both credible men who saw this with their own eyes. It was before sunrise and Master George Wishart got up and went outside. John and William were awake and followed him secretly. George went some distance away and entered an alley where he fell down on his knees and began sobbing and groaning. It became more intense. He fell on his face upon the ground. The men who followed, hidden away at a discreet distance, could hear him praying and crying to the Lord. This went on for about an hour. Then he finished, and as he began to get up the two men slipped out of sight and hurried back to the house. George soon returned and headed back to bed. The two men, not acknowledging that they had followed him, questioned him as to where he had gone. He didn't want to answer, but they told how they had observed him and asked why he was in such an emotional state while praying. George related how in that time God showed him, "My end is drawing close." He added: "So pray with me that I will not shrink from the test when things really get tough." These words deeply upset John and William, who began weeping themselves. Master George consoled them with these words: "God shall send you comfort after me. Our homeland shall be illuminated by the light of Christ's Gospel as clearly as any nation has ever experienced since the days of the apostles. And," he added, "this is all going to happen rather soon."
Master George added a word of warning to us that if, after the great visitation of grace comes to our land, the people should prove to be unthankful, then there would be consequences - fearful and terrible plagues would come. Wishart then took up the journey to Edinburgh. It was Christmas season. He had to travel carefully and secretly. He was heard to ask: "What's the difference between me and a dead man, except that I eat and drink? At least before I could bring the light of God's Word through teaching and preaching. Now I have to creep around as if I were ashamed to show myself in public!"
(Editor's note-- John Knox at this point introduces himself into the story) Knowing how much he longed to minister, they arranged some occasions for him to preach, but kept a careful eye out for his safety and did not stay at one place too long. To inject a personal note, it was at this time that Master George requested that I personally stay with him, as a kind of bodyguard, as I had been attending him for a while. He now was feeling heavy in spirit. One reason was that the opportunity for speaking and debate at Edinburgh had been cancelled. I was with him during this time of distress and could tell by looking at him that he was feeling tormented within.
We were at the town of Haddington. It was about time for him to give a sermon. I said I would leave him alone to meditate and gather his thoughts. He paced back and forth behind the high altar in the church for half and hour. He finally entered the pulpit and then did not preach as planned on the Ten Commandments. He saw that the attendance was very small and remarked how two or three thousand people would turn out if it were a play, but there were not even a hundred who showed up to hear the Word of God. Nevertheless he preached for an hour and a half. It was a message filled with warnings and threats of God's judgment. It would turn out to be his last sermon.
As he prepared to go to Ormiston, I made ready to go too but he wouldn't let me. I pressed him urgently to let me come. "No," he said, "one person is sufficient for a sacrifice." He even compelled me to surrender my two handed sword. I was sent on my way and Master George went on to Ormiston with a few prominent supporters. I found out later that they subsequently stopped for the night at the home of John Cockburn, one of the leaders (or as they were called - "Lairds") homes, had supper, and then at George's request sang the 51st Psalm together. Then they went to bed. It was sometime before midnight when they were suddenly awakened to find the place surrounded. There was no way to escape. Earl Bothwell, another local leader stepped forward and called for Laird Cockburn and told him that they were there to apprehend Master George, and if they surrendered Wishart unto them, then Bothwell would personally guarantee his safety. He warned that the Cardinal was on his way and was less than a mile away.
George overhearing this told the Laird to open the gates, saying, "the blessed will of my God be done." So they let Bothwell in to arrest him. George actually said to him how that he praised God that so honourable man as he was the one who came to take him and that he was confident that he would see to it that he would be tried according to law. Then George added that he had no illusions and knew full well the corruption of the court and the law but at least he would have the benefit of a public trial rather than being ambushed and killed in secret. Bothwell insisted no harm would come to him. He promised before those gathered: "I shall not only preserve your body from all violence that shall be devised against you without order of law, but also I promise, here in the presence of these gentlemen, that neither shall the Governor nor the Cardinal have their will over you." He added: "I shall retain you in my own hands, and in my own place, until one of two things happen: Either I shall make you free, or else I will restore you to this same place where I receive you." It looked like they had an agreement. Everyone shook hands on it and they took Master George away.
(Editors note. The account continues and explains how Cardinal Beaton bribed Bothwell and Master George was taken confined at the Castle of Edinburgh. He was kept there from January 1, 1546 to March 1 of the same year, when he was strangled and burned at the stake at the age of 33.)
Notes from the Knox's preface in which he describes the spiritual state of Scotland prior to the Reformation. This preface was selected for inclusion in the Harvard Classics volume on Great Prefaces.
It is not unknown, Christian reader, that the same cloud of ignorance, that long hath darkened many realms under this accursed kingdom of that Roman Anti-Christ, also covered this poor Realm. Idolatry has been maintained, the blood of innocents has been shed, and Christ Jesus - his eternal truth has been abhorred, detested and blasphemed. But the same God that caused light to shine out of darkness, in the multitude of his mercies, hath of long time opened the eyes of some within this Realm, to see the vanity of that which then was universally embraced for true religion; and he has given unto them strength to oppose this and now he has made his truth so to triumph among us, that, in spite of Satan efforts, hypocrisy is exposed, and true worship of God is manifested to all the inhabitants of this nation whose eyes are not blinded by Satan, either by their filthy lusts, or else by ambition, and insatiable covetousness, which make them resist the power of God working by his words. Wishart wasn't the only one thinking reform at the time. The Reformation dramatically changed the course of Christian history and Western civilization. Many of the issues faced then still confront us today.
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