IN the summer of 1544, a pious man of about thirty-one years, named George Wishart, returned from England to eastern Scotland. He was a brother of the laird of Pittarow, in the county of Mearns. While at Montrose, six years earlier, he had read the Greek New Testament with several youths whom he was educating, and had been cited by the bishop to appear before him. Wishart had then prudently retired to Cambridge, in England, where he devoted himself to study for six years. In 1544, some Scottish commissioners who came into England respecting a treaty with Henry VIII took him back with them to Scotland. He went first to Montrose, his old abode, and thence to Dundee, where he wished to preach the Word of God.
His personal appearance was entirely prepossessing. He was amiable, unassuming, polite. His chief delight was to learn and to teach. He was tall; his black hair was cut short, his beard was long. His physiognomy was indicative of a somewhat melancholy temperament. He wore a French cap of the best material, a gown which fell to his heels, and a black doublet. There was about his whole person an air of decorum and grace. He spoke with modesty and with great seriousness. He slept on straw, and his charity had no end, night nor day. He loved all men. He gave gifts, consolation, assistance: he was studious of all means of doing good to all and hurt to none. He distributed periodically among the poor various articles of clothing, always saving his French cap.
DRIVEN FROM DUNDEE
Wishart's reputation having preceded him, a multitude of hearers gathered about him at Dundee. He expounded in a connected series of discourses the doctrine of salvation, according to the Epistle to the Romans, and his knowledge and eloquence excited general admiration. But the priests declared everywhere that if he were allowed to go on, the Roman system must inevitably fall to the ground. They therefore sought the assistance of an influential layman, Robert Mill, who had once professed the truth, but had since forsaken it. One day, just as Wishart was finishing his discourse, Mill rose in the church and forbade him in the queen's name and the regent's to trouble them any more.
Wishart was silent for awhile, with his eyes turned heavenward, and then looking sorrowfully on the assembly he said "God is witness that I never intended your trouble, but your comfort. But I am assured that to refuse God's Word and to chase from you his messenger shall not preserve you from trouble, but shall bring you into it. I have offered unto you the word of salvation, and with the hazard of my life I have remained among you. But and if trouble unlooked-for apprehend you, turn to God, for He is merciful. But if ye turn not at the first he will visit you with fire and sword." When he had thus spoken, he came down from the pulpit and went away at once into the western part of Scotland.
PREACHING IN THE WEST
Having arrived at Ayr, he preached there to large numbers of people who gladly received his words. Dunbar, bishop of Glasgow, as soon as he was informed of it, hastened to the town with a body of men and took possession of the church in order to prevent Wishart from preaching. The reformer's friends were indignant at this step. The earl of Glencairn, the laird of Loch Norris, and several gentlemen of Kyle went to Wishart and offered to get possession of the church and to place him in the pulpit. "No," said the evangelist, wisely, "the bishop's sermon will not much hurt: let us go to the market cross." They did so, and he there preached with so much energy and animation that some of his hearers, who were enemies of the truth till that day, received it gladly. Meanwhile the bishop was in the church with a very small audience. There was hardly anyone to hear him but some vestry attendants and some poor dependents. They were expecting a sermon, but he had forgotten to put one in his pocket. He made them the best excuses he could. "Hold us still for your bishop," he said, "and we shall provide better the next time." He then with haste departed from the town, not a little ashamed of his enterprise!
PREACHING TO THE PLAGUE-STRICKEN
The reformer heard on a sudden that the plague had broken out at Dundee four days after he left the town, and that it was raging cruelly. He resolved instantly to go there. "They are now in trouble and will need comfort," he said to those who would fain hold him back; "perchance this hand of God will make them now to magnify and reverence that word which before, for the fear of men, they set at light part." He reached Dundee in August, 1544, and announced the same morning that he would preach. It was necessary to keep apart the plague-stricken from those who were in health, and for that purpose he took his station at the east gate of the town. Those who were in health had their place within the city, and those who were sick remained without. Such a distribution of an audience was surely never seen before!
Wishart opened the Bible and read these words "He sent his word and healed them." (Psalm 107:20) "The mercy of God," said he, "is prompt to fall on all such as truly turn to Him, and the malice of men can neither add to nor diminish his gentle visitation." "We do not fear death," said some of his hearers; "nay, we judge them more happy that should depart, than such as should remain behind." That east gate of Dundee (Cowgate) was left standing in memory of Wishart when the town walls were taken down at the close of the eighteenth century, and it was still carefully preserved as late as 1875. Wishart was not satisfied with speech alone, he personally visited the sick, fearlessly exposing himself to infection in the most extreme cases. He took care that the sick should have what they needed, and the poor were as well provided for as the rich. The town was in great distress lest the mouth from which so much sweetness flowed should be closed.
ATTEMPTS ON HIS LIFE
Nevertheless, at the cardinal's instigation, says Knox, a priest named Wighton took a sword, and concealing it under his gown mixed with the crowd as if he were a mere hearer, and stood waiting at the foot of the steps by which Wishart must come down. The discourse was finished, the people dispersed. Wishart, whose glance was keen and whose judgment was swift, noticed as he came down the steps a priest who kept his hand under his gown, and as soon as he came near him he said, "My friend, what would ye do?" At the same moment he laid hold of the priest's hand and snatched the weapon from him. The assassin fell at his feet and confessed his fault.
Swiftly ran the report that a priest had attempted to kill the reformer, and the sick who heard it turned back and cried, " Deliver the traitor to us, or else we will take him by force." And so indeed they rushed on him. But Wishart put his arms round the assassin. "Whosoever troubles him," said he, "shall trouble me, for he has hurt me in nothing." His friends however insisted that for the future one of them, in arms, should accompany him wherever he went.
When the plague had ceased at Dundee, Wishart thought that, as God had put an end to that battle, he called him to another. It was indeed proposed that he should hold a public disputation. He inquired of the bishops where he should be heard. But first he went to Montrose "to salute the kirk there," and although sometimes preaching the Gospel, he was "most part in secret meditation, in the which he was so earnest, that night and day he would continue in it."
While there, he received a letter purporting to be written by his friend the laird of Kynneir, who being sick desired him to come to him. But it was a trick of the cardinal. Sixty armed horsemen were lying in wait behind a hill to take him prisoner. He set out unsuspecting, but when he had gone some distance, he suddenly stopped in the midst of the friends who were accompanying him and seemed absorbed in deep musing. Then he turned and went back. "What mean you?" said his friends, wondering. "I will go no further," he replied: "I am forbidden of God. I am assured there is treason." Pointing to the hill he added, "Let some of you go to yon place, and tell me what they find." These brave men reported with all speed what they saw. "I know," said he, "that I shall end my life in that bloodthirsty man's hands, but it will not be of this manner."
HIS NIGHT OF PRAYER
Shortly after, he set out for Edinburgh in spite of the entreaties of the laird of Dundee, and went to lodge at Innergowrie at the house of a Christian man named James Watson. A little after midnight two men of good credit who were in the house, William Spalding and John Watson, heard him open his door and go down stairs. They followed him secretly, and saw him go into the garden and walk for some time up and down an alley.
Wishart, persuaded that he was drawing near to his end, and thinking of the horrors of martyrdom and of his own weakness, was greatly agitated and felt the need of calling upon God that he might not fail in the midst of the conflict. He was heard sighing and groaning, and just as day began to dawn, he was seen to fall on his knees and afterwards on his face. For a whole hour his two friends heard confused sounds of his prayer, interrupted now and then by his tears. At length he seemed to grow quiet and to have found rest for his soul. He rose and went quietly back to his chamber.
In the morning his anxious friends began to ask him where he had been. He evaded the question. "Be plain with us," they said, "for we heard your groans, yea, we heard your mourning, and saw you both upon your knees and
upon your face." "I had rather ye had been in your beds," said he, "for I was scarce well occupied." And as they urged him, he spoke to them of his approaching death and of his need of God's help. They were much saddened and wept.
Wishart said to them "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 built into it : yea, it shall not want, whatsoever the enemy imagine to the contrary, the very top-stone. Neither shall this be long to; there shall not many suffer after me, till that the glory of God shall evidently appear and shall once triumph in despite of Satan. But alas! If the people shall be afterwards unthankful, then fearful and terrible shall the plagues be that after shall follow." Wishart soon after went into the Lothians, that is, into the shires of Linlithgow, Edinburgh, and Haddington.
WISHART AND KNOX
A man like Wishart assuredly belongs to the history of the Reformation. But there is another motive leading us to narrate these circumstances. The great reformer of Scotland was trained in the school of Wishart. Among those who followed the latter from place to place as he preached the Gospel was John Knox. He had left St. Andrews because he could not endure either the superstition of the Romish system or the cardinal's despotism, and having betaken himself to the south of Scotland he had been for some time tutor in the family of Douglas of Langniddrie. He had openly professed the evangelical doctrine, and the clergy in their wrath had declared him a heretic and deprived him of the priesthood. Knox, attracted by the preaching and the life of Wishart, attached himself to him and became his beloved disciple. In addition to his public discourses, to which he listened with eager attention, he received also instructions in private. He undertook for Wishart a duty which was full of danger, but which he discharged joyfully. During Wishart's evangelical excursions he kept watch for the safety of his person, and bore the sword which his friends had provided after the attempt of the Dundee priest to assassinate him. Knox was soon to bear another sword, the sword of the Spirit, like his master.
MINISTRY NEAR EDINBURG
The earl of Cassilis and some other friends of Wishart had appointed to meet him at Leith, and as that town is very near Edinburgh, they had advised him not to show himself until their arrival. After awaiting them for a day or two he fell into a deep melancholy. "What differ I from a dead man," said he, "except that I eat and drink? To this time God has used my labours to the disclosing of darkness, and now I lurk as a man that was ashamed and durst not show himself before men." "You know," said his friends, "the danger wherein ye stand." "Let my God," he replied, "provide for me as best pleases him."
On the following Sunday, fifteen days before Christmas, he preached on the parable of the sower. From Leith he went to Brownston, Lanooniddrie and Ormiston, and preached on the Sunday, both morning and afternoon, at Inveresk to a large concourse of people. Two Franciscan friars came and stood by the church door, and whispered some thing to those who were going in to turn them back. Wishart observing this said to some who were near the pulpit, "I heartily pray you to make room to these two men; it maybe that they be come to learn." Then addressing the monks he said, "Come near, for I assure you ye shall hear the word of verity, which shall either seal unto you this same day your salvation or your condemnation."
He continued his discourse, but the two friars, who had taken up their places, did not cease whispering right and left, and troubling all that stood near them. Wishart turned sharply to them and said "O sergeants of Satan, and deceivers of the souls of men, will ye neither hear God's truth nor suffer others to hear it? Depart, and take this for your portion; God shall shortly confound and disclose your hypocrisy within this realm; ye shall be abominable unto men, and your places and habitations shall be desolate."
He then resumed his sermon, and preached with so much power that Sir George Douglas, brother of the earl of Angus, who was present at the meeting, said publicly after the sermon, "I know that my lord governor and my lord cardinal shall hear that I have been at this preaching (for they were then in Edinburgh). Say unto them that I will avow it, and will not only maintain the doctrine that I have heard, but also the person of the teacher to the uttermost of my power." Those who were present greatly rejoiced at these words, spoken by so influential a man.
As for Wishart, it was enough for him to know that God keeps his own people for the end to which he calls them. He preached in other places to large numbers, and with all the more fervour, for his persuasion and assertion that the day of his death was at hand. After Christmas he passed into Haddingtonshire. The cardinal, hearing of his purpose, had informed the earl of Bothwell, who immediately let it be known, both in the town and in the country, that no one was to go and hear that heretic under pain of his displeasure. The prohibition of this powerful lord had its effect. The first day there was a large gathering to hear Wishart, but the next day his audience was very small.
HIS LAST SERMON
A new trial now came to afflict him. His friends in western Scotland had promised to come to Edinburgh to discuss with him the means of advancing the cause of the Gospel. Now on the third day after his arrival in Haddingtonshire, when he had already entered the church and was about to go into the pulpit, a messenger approached and handed him a letter. He opened it. His friends at Ayr and other places wrote to tell him that certain obstacles prevented them from fulfilling their promises.
Struck with sorrow, he called for John Knox, who had waited upon him carefully from the time he came to Lothian. "I am wearied of the world," said he, "for I perceive that men begin to be wearied of God." Knox wondered that Wishart should enter into conversation with him before the sermon, which he was never accustomed to do, and said to him, "Sir, the time of sermon approaches, I will leave you for the present to your meditations.” He then took the letter and withdrew.
Wishart, left to himself, began to walk about slowly at the back of the high altar. He paced to and fro, sadness depicted on his countenance, and everything about him revealing the deep grief that was in his soul. This lasted about half an hour.
At length he passed into the pulpit. The audience was small, as it had been the day before. He had not power to treat the subject he had proposed: his heart was too full, and he must needs unburden it before God. "O Lord," said he, "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's play two or three thousand people, and now to hear the messenger of the eternal God, of all the town or parish cannot be numbered one hundred persons. Sore and fearful shall the plagues be that shall ensue this thy contempt, with fire and sword shalt thou be plagued. And that because ye have not known nor will not know the time of God's merciful visitation."
After saying these words he made a short paraphrase of the second table of the law. He exhorted to patience, to the fear of God, and to works of mercy; and impressed by the presentiment that this was the last time he should publicly preach, he made (so to speak) his last testament, declaring that the spirit of truth and judgment were both in his heart and on his lips.
He quitted the church, bade farewell to his friends, and then prepared to leave the town. "I will not leave you alone," said Knox to him. But Wishart, who had his approaching end constantly before his eyes, said "Nay, return to your bairns [his pupils], and God bless you. One is sufficient for a sacrifice." He then compelled Knox to give up the sword, and parted with him. The laird of Ormiston, who was at the time with Wishart, had invited him to his house in the country. They set out on their journey with several gentlemen of the neighbourhood. The cold was severe, and they therefore travelled on foot. While at supper Wishart spoke of the death of God's children. Then he said with a cheerful smile "Methinks that I desire earnestly to sleep. We'll sing a psalm." He chose Psalm 51, and struck up the tune himself: "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness." As soon as the psalm was ended, he went to his chamber and to bed.
A little before midnight a troop of armed men silently approached, surrounded the house that no one might escape, and demanded Wishart. But neither promises nor threats could induce Ormiston to deliver up his guest. They then went for the earl of Bothwell, the most powerful lord of that region. Bothwell came, and said to the laird, "It is but vain to make him to hold his house, for the governor and the cardinal with all their power are coming. But and if you will deliver the man unto me, I will promise upon my honour that he shall be safe and sound, and that it shall pass the power of the cardinal to do him any harm or scathe." Ormiston, confiding in this promise, told Wishart what had occurred.
"Open the gates," replied he, immediately; "the blessed will of my God be done." Bothwell entered, with several gentlemen who accompanied him. Wishart said to him, "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, ye will suffer nothing to be done unto me besides the order of law." The earl replied "I shall preserve your body from all violence, neither shall the governor nor cardinal have their will over you: but I shall retain you in my own hands till that either I shall make you free or else restore you in the same place where I receive you." Immediately after giving this promise, the earl set out with Wishart for Elphinston. The cardinal, bent on getting possession of Wishart's friends, sent five hundred horsemen to Ormiston to seize the laird, together with the lairds of Brownston and Calder. Brownston fled through the woods, but the other two were carried off to Edinburgh castle. Wishart was removed to the strong castle of Hailes on the banks of the Tyne, the principal mansion of Bothwell in the Lothians.
BOTHWELL SELLS OUT
That did not satisfy the cardinal, who wanted Wishart more than all. The queen-mother, Mary of Guise, who was not on friendly terms with Bothwell, promised him her support if he would give up the evangelist. The cardinal, on his part, "gave gold, and that largely." Gold and women have corrupted all worldly and fleshly men from the beginning," says Knox. The earl raised some objections: "but an effeminate man", adds Knox, "cannot long withstand the assaults of a gracious queen."
Wishart was first taken to Edinburgh castle, and at the end of January, 1546, the regent gave him up to the cardinal, who confined him at St. Andrews, in the sea tower. The assistance of a civil judge was, it seems, necessary to give validity to the judgment. The cardinal requested one of the regent, Arran, but one of his councillors, Hamilton of Preston, said to him "What, will you deliver up to wicked men those whose uprightness is acknowledged even by their enemies? Will you put to death those who are guilty of no more crime than that of preaching the Gospel of Christ? What ingratitude towards God!"
The regent consequently wrote to the cardinal that he would not consent that any hurt should be done to that man without a careful investigation of his cause. The cardinal, on receiving this letter, flew into a violent passion. "It was only for civility's sake" said he, "that I made the request. I and my clergy have the power in ourselves to inflict on Wishart the chastisement which he deserves." He invited the archbishop of Glasgow, and all bishops and other dignitaries of the Church, to assemble at St. Andrews on February the 27th to consult on the matter, although it was already decided in his own mind.
THE MOCK TRIAL
The next day the dean of St. Andrews went to the prison where Wishart was confined, and summoned him in the cardinal's name to appear before the judges on the morrow. "What needed" replied the prisoner, "my lord cardinal to summon me to answer for my doctrine openly before him, under whose power and dominion I am thus straitly bound in irons? May not my lord compel me to
answer to his extorted power?" On March 1st the cardinal ordered all the household servants of his palace to put themselves under arms. The civil power, it is remembered, had refused to take part in the proceedings, and therefore Beatoun took its place. His men at once equipped themselves with lances, swords, axes, and other warlike array. It might have been thought that some military action was in hand, rather than a gathering of priests who assumed to busy themselves about God's Church.
These armed champions, putting themselves in marching order, first escorted the bishops with great ceremony to the abbey church, and then went for Wishart. The governor of the castle put himself at the head of the band, and so they led the prisoner "like a lamb to sacrifice." As he entered the door of the abbey church, he threw his purse to a poor infirm man lying there, and at length he stood in the presence of the numerous and brilliant assembly. To invest the proceedings with due formality, Beatoun had caused two platforms to be erected, facing each other. Wishart was set on one of them, and the accuser, Lauder, took his place on the other.
The dean, Winryme, then appeared in the pulpit. This worthy churchman, who was charged to deliver the customary sermon, was secretly a friend to the Gospel. He read the parable of "the good seed and the tares" (Matthew 23:24-30), and set forth various pious considerations which told more against the judges than against the accused, and which the latter heard with pleasure.
When the sermon was ended, the bishops ordered Wishart to stand up on his platform to hear the accusation. Then rose the accuser, John Lauder, a priest whom the chronicler calls a monster, and, facing Wishart, unrolled a long paper full of threatenings and devilish maledictions; and, addressing the guiltless evangelist in cruel words, hurled pitilessly at him all the thunders of the papacy. The ignorant crowd who heard him, expected to see the earth open and swallow the unhappy reformer; but he remained quiet, and listened with great patience and without a change of countenance to the violent accusations of his adversary. When Lauder had finished reading at the top of his voice the threatening indictment, he turned to Wishart, his face "all running down with sweat," says the chronicler, "and frothing at the mouth like a boar, he spat at Mr. George's face, saying, 'What answerest thou to these sayings, thou renegade, traitor, and thief, which we have duly proved by sufficient witness against thee?'"
Wishart knelt down and prayed for the help of God. Then rising, he made answer with all sweetness, "My lords, I pray you quietly to hear me, so that instead of condemning me unjustly, to the great peril of your souls, you may know that I have taught the pure Word of God, and that you may receive it yourselves as the source from which health and life shall spring forth for you. In Dundee I taught the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, and shall show your discretions faithfully what fashion and manner I used when I taught, without any human dread..."
At these words the accuser interrupted him, and cried with all his might, "Thou heretic, renegade, traitor, and thief, it was not lawful for thee to preach,...
and we forethink that thou hast been a preacher too long." Then all the prelates, terrified at the thought that he was going to set before that vast audience the very substance and pith of his teaching, said one to another, "He is so crafty, and in Holy Scriptures so exercised, that he will persuade the people to his own opinion and raise them against us." Wishart, perceiving that he had no chance of a fair hearing before that ecclesiastical court, said, "I appeal from my lord cardinal to my lord the governor."
"What," replied Lauder, "is not my lord cardinal the second person within this realm, chancellor of Scotland, archbishop of St. Andrews, bishop of Mirepoix.. ?" He recited so many titles, says the chronicler, that you might have laden
a ship with them. "Whom desirest thou to be thy judge?" cried Lauder.
Wishart replied with meekness, "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 mine auditory; because I am here my lord governor's prisoner." But the priests mocked him, saying, "Such man, such judge!" According to them, the laymen who might have been appointed his judges were heretics also, like him.
The cardinal,without further delay, was going to have sentence of condemnation passed; but some who stood by counselled him to read the articles of accusation, and to permit Wishart to answer to them, in order that the people might not be able to say that he was condemned without a hearing.
Lauder therefore began "Thou, false heretic, renegade, traitor, and thief, deceiver of the people, despisest the holy Church's, and in like case contemnest my lord governor's authority; for when thou preachedst in Dundee, and wert charged by my lord governor's authority to desist, thou wouldst not obey, but perseverest in the same. Therefore the bishop of Brechin cursed thee, and delivered thee into the hands of the devil, and gave thee commandment that thou shouldest preach no more; yet notwithstanding thou didst continue obstinately." Wishart replied, "My lords, I have read in the Acts of the Apostles that it is not lawful for the threatenings and menaces of men to desist from the preaching of the evangel."
Lauder continued, "Thou, false heretic, didst say that a priest standing at the altar saying mass was like a fox wagging his tail in July." Wishart denied it, ”My Lords, I said not so. These were my sayings: the moving of the body outward, without the inward moving of the heart, is nought else but the playing of an ape, and not the true serving of God."
Lauder again charged, "Thou false heretic, traitor and thief, thou saidst that the sacrament of the altar was but a piece of bread baken upon the ashes." Wishart answered, "I once chanced to meet a Jew when I was sailing upon the water of the Rhine. By prophecies and many other testimonies of scripture I approved that the Messiah was come, the which they called Jesus of Nazareth. He answered, 'You adore and worship a piece of bread baken upon the ashes, and say that is your God.' I have rehearsed here the sayings of the Jew, which I never affirmed to be true." At these words the bishops shook their heads, spitting on the ground and crying out, and showed in all ways that they would not hear him.
Lauder cried, "Thou, false heretic and renegade, hast said that every layman is a priest, and that the pope hath no more power than another man." Wishart boldly answered, "I have read in some places of St. John and St. Peter, of the which one sayeth, He hath made us kings and priests; the other sayeth, He hath made
us the kingly priesthood. Wherefore I have affirmed any man, being cunning and perfect in the Word of God and the true faith of Jesus Christ, to have his power given him of God. And again I say, any unlearned man, and not exercised in the Word of God, nor yet constant in his faith, whatsoever estate or order he be of, hath no power to bind nor to loose."
These words greatly amused the assembly; the reverends and the most reverends burst out laughing, mocking Wishart, and calling him an imbecile. The notion that a layman should have a power which the holy father had not seemed to them the very height of madness. "Laugh ye, my lords?" said the messenger of Christ. "Though that these my sayings appear scornful and worthy of derision to your lordships, nevertheless they are very weighty unto me and of great value, because they stand not only upon my life but also the honour and glory of God."
Some pious men who were in the assembly were indignant at the madness of the prelates and affected by the invincible patience of Wishart. But others cried aloud, "Wherefore let we him speak any further?" A man named John Scot, who stood behind Lauder, said to him, "Tarry not upon his witty and godly answers, for we may not abide them, no."
There was no due form of trial, nor any freedom of discussion, says Buchanan, but a great din of voices, shouts of disapprobation, and hateful speeches. The accuser thundered from his platform, but that was all. The bishops unanimously pronounced that the pious Wishart must be burnt.
Falling on his knees, Wishart prayed and said "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 persecution for thy name's sake, affliction and troubles in this present life which is but a shadow; but yet we desire thee, merciful Father, that thou defend thy congregation which thou hast chosen before the beginning of the world."
The sentence must be pronounced, but the bishops were afraid to pronounce it before the people. They therefore gave orders to have the church cleared, and
this could only be done slowly, as many of the people who had a wish to hear Wishart were removed with difficulty. At length, when the prelates and their
colleagues found themselves almost alone, sentence of death was passed on Wishart, and the cardinal ordered his guards to take him back to the castle. Confined in the governor's room, he spent the greater part of the night in prayer.
HIS LAST MEAL
The next morning the bishops sent to him two friars who asked him if he did not want a confessor." I will make no confession unto you," he answered; "go and fetch me yonder man that preached yesterday, and I will make my confession unto him." When Winryme was come, they talked together for some time. Then the Dean said, " Have you a wish to receive the sacrament of the supper?" "Assuredly," replied Wishart, "if it be administered according to the institution of the Lord, with the bread and the wine." Winryme then went to the cardinal and declared to him that the man was innocent. Beatoun, inflamed with anger, said, "And you, we have long known what you are!" Winryme having inquired if he might give the sacrament to the prisoner, "No," replied the cardinal,"it is not fitting to grant any of the benefits of the Church to a heretic."
The next morning at nine o"clock the governor of the castle informed Wishart that the communion was refused him. Then, as he was going to breakfast with his dependents and servants, he invited Wishart to join them at the meal. "Right willingly," he answered, "especially because I know that you and yours are good men and are united with me in the same body of Christ."
When the table was spread and the members of the household had taken their places, Wishart said to the governor, "Give me leave, for the Saviour's sake, to make a brief exhortation." It was to him an opportunity of celebrating the true Supper. He reminded his hearers of the institution of the sacred feast, and of the Lord's death. He exhorted those who sat at table with him to lay aside all hatred, to love one another and to lead a holy life. After this he gave thanks, and then took the bread and brake it, and gave of it to such as he knew were willing to communicate, and bade them feed spiritually on Christ. Taking a cup, he spoke of the blood shed for the remission of sins, drank of it and gave them to drink. "I shall no more drink of this cup," said he, "no more eat of this bread in this life; a bitterer draught is reserved for me, because I have preached Christ. Pray that I may take that cup with patience, as the Lord's appointment." He concluded with further giving of thanks and then retired to his chamber.
On a plot of ground to the west of the castle and not far from the priory, men were already busily engaged, some in preparing the pile, others erecting
the gallows. The place of execution was surrounded by soldiers, and the gunners had their cannon in position and stood beside them ready to fire. One
would have thought that preparations were making for a siege. The cardinal had ordered these measures, fearing lest Wishart's many friends should take him away, and perhaps still more for the sake of making a display of his own power. Meanwhile the windows in the castle-yard were adorned with hangings, silken draperies, and velvet cushions, that the cardinal and the prelates might enjoy at their ease the spectacle of the pile and of the tortures which they were going to inflict on that righteous man.
When all was ready, two of the deathsmen entered Wishart's prison. One of them brought and put on him a coat of black cloth, the other tied small bags of gunpowder to various parts of his body. Next they bound his hands firmly behind him, put a rope round his neck and a chain about his waist, and led him forth in the midst of a party of soldiers.
HIS BOLD CONFESSION
When he came to the pile he knelt down and prayed. Then he rose and said to the people "Christian brethren and sisters, be not offended in the Word of God for the affliction and torments which ye see already prepared for me; but I exhort you that you love the Word of God, and suffer patiently and with a comfortable heart, for the Word's sake which is your undoubted salvation and everlasting comfort. My doctrine was no old wives' fable, after the constitutions made by men. But for the true evangel, which was given to me by the grace of God, I suffer this day by men, not sorrowfully, but with a glad heart and mind. For this cause I was sent: that I should suffer this fire, for Christ's sake. This grim fire I fear not. Some have said of me that I taught that the soul of man should sleep until the last day. But I know surely and my faith is such that my soul shall sup with my Saviour Christ this night (ere it be six hours), for whom I suffer this." Then he prayed "I beseech thee, Father of heaven! to forgive them that have of any ignorance, or else have of any evil mind, forged any lies upon me: I forgive them with all my heart. I beseech Christ to forgive them that have condemned me to death this day ignorantly."
The hangman fell on his knees before him and said, "I pray you forgive me." "Come hither to me," replied Wishart; and he kissed him, and added, "Lo, here is a token that I forgive thee. My heart, do thine office." He was then bound with ropes to the stake, and said, "Saviour of the world, have mercy on me! Father of heaven, into thy hands I commit my spirit." The executioner lighted the fire.
The cardinal and his accomplices beheld from the windows the martyr and the fire which was consuming him. The governor of the castle watching the flames exclaimed, "Take courage." Wishart answered, "This fire torments my body, but noways abates my spirit." Then catching sight of the cardinal at the window with his courtiers, he added, "He who in such state, from that high place, feedeth his eyes with my torments, within few days shall be hanged out at the same window to be seen with as much ignominy as he now leaneth there in pride." This was literally fulfilled about two months later.
He had hardly uttered those words when the rope was tightened about his neck, so that he lost the power of speaking. The fire reduced his body to ashes; and the bishops, full of steadfast hatred of this servant of God, caused an order to be published that same evening through all the town, that no one should pray for their victim under the severest penalties. They knew what respect was felt for him by many even of the Catholics themselves.
There are people who say that religion is a fable. A life and a death such as those of Wishart show that it is a great reality.