500 Years of the Reformation - George Wishart (1513-1546)The Magisterial Reformation - Post Tenebras Lux - Out of Darkness Light
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GEORGE WISHART, the Scottish martyr, was the son of a country gentleman, the laird of Pittarrow in Mearns, and was born about the beginning of the sixteenth century. Nothing is known of his early years. He first appears as a teacher of Greek at Montrose; but he was soon obliged to leave the country, in consequence of a threatened prosecution by Hepburn, bishop of Brechin, for instructing his pupils in the Greek Testament.
He is next heard of in Bristol, where he became is preacher, and was brought before the ecclesiastical authorities and condemned as a heretic, on account of his denunciations of the worship paid to the Virgin. His confidence in his opinions at this period does not appear to have been strong, for he recanted, and burned a faggot in the church of St. Nicholas. He then went abroad, and spent some time in Germany and Switzerland. On his return he entered Corpus Christi college, Cambridge, where he diligently prosecuted his own studies, and faithfully superintended the studies of others. One of his pupils, Emery Tylney—who has given a graphic portrait of Wishart’s appearance and manners, as a “man of tall stature, black-haired, long-bearded, comely of personage, well spoken after his country of Scotland, and courteous, lowly, lovely, glad to teach, and desirous to learn”—bears affectionate testimony to his piety, self-denial, and extra-ordinary charity and kindness to the poor.
In 1543 Wishart returned to his own country, in company with the commissioners who had been sent to conclude the treaty between England and Scotland, and preached with great earnestness and success in Montrose and Dundee, and their neighbourhoods. In consequence of the opposition of the Romish party, he was compelled to withdraw from Dundee, and proceeding to the west country, preached to great multitudes in Ayr, and the other principal towns in that district. Intelligence having reached him that the plague had broken out in Dundee, he immediately returned to that place, and remained there ministering both to the spiritual and temporal necessities of the afflicted, until the pestilence had almost wholly disappeared.
He next proceeded to Montrose, and then turning his steps southward, preached in Leith, Inveresk, and Haddington. Knowing well the inveteracy of his enemies, and especially of Cardinal Beaton, whose influence was now paramount in the country, Wishart seems to have had a premonition that his end was not far off; for on leaving Haddington he said to John Knox, who was preparing to accompany him as usual, “Nay, return to your pupils; one is enough at this time for a sacrifice.”
A few days later, he was arrested at Ormiston house during the night by the earl of Bothwell, who however pledged his honour for the safety of Wishart’s person. But the cardinal and queen-dowager prevailed upon the earl to violate his pledge, and to deliver his prisoner into the hands of Beaton, who confined him in the castle of Edinburgh, and a few days later had him transferred to St. Andrews. No time was lost in bringing Wishart to trial, and through the earl of Arran, regent of the kingdom, refused his sanction, the cardinal proceeded with the case on his own authority.
Wishart denied the competency of the court before which he was brought (28th February, 1546), and appealed to the lord-governor as supreme authority in the kingdom, but his appeal was disregarded. Eighteen charges were brought against him, relating to the number of the sacraments, auricular confession, extreme unction, prayer to saints, the marriage of priests, and other dogmas of the Romish church; and though he made a vigorous and impressive defence, he was of course found guilty, and condemned to be burned. His execution took place on the following day (March 1st), in front of the castle of St. Andrews; and the cardinal who had previously forbidden by proclamation any person to pray for the heretic, under pain of the severest censures of the church, caused the guns of the castle to be directed towards the scaffold, lest any attempt at rescue should be made.
Wishart bore his agonizing sufferings with great fortitude, and died expressing his confident hope of a reward in heaven. There can be little doubt that the public indignation excited by his martyrdom, contributed to hasten both the death of Beaton, and the downfall of popery in Scotland. It has been alleged that Wishart was a party to the plot against the cardinal; but the evidence adduced to prove this assertion is of the most trifling character.—J. T.
[from “The Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography” 14 vols., published between1878-1880AD)]
GEORGE WISHART’s arrest, trial & martryrdom.
The reader will now be introduced to George Wishart, or Wisehart, another Scottish martyr, who suffered in 1546 at St. Andrews; but before we enter upon the examination of this bright luminary of the church of Christ, we will give a testimonial of his manners, written by one of his scholars to Mr. Fox. He was commonly called Mr. George, of Bennet’s college, was a man of tall stature, bald-headed, and wore a round French cap: 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, wearing never but a mantle or frieze gown to the shoes, and plain black hose, coarse canvass for his shirts, and white falling bands. All this apparel he gave to the poor, some weekly, some monthly, some quarterly, as he liked, saving his French cap, which he kept at least a whole year.
He was modest and temperate, fearing God and hating covetousness; his charity had never end, night, noon, nor day; he forbore one meal in three, one day in four, for the most part, except what was necessary to sustain nature. He lay upon straw, and coarse canvass sheets, which when he changed he gave away. He had commonly by his bedside a tub of water, in which he used to bathe himself. He taught the young with great modesty and gravity. Some of his people thought him severe, and would have slain him, but the Lord was his defence. And he, after due correction for their malice, by good exhortation amended them and went his way. 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 we should declare his love to 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, we should sooner want words than just cause to commend him. This is the testimony of a young servant and friend of the name of Tylney, who knew Wishart well, and who was every way worthy of credit and confidence.
Wishart was by birth a Scotchman, but received his education at Cambridge. The year before his death he returned to his own country, and on his way preached in many places against idolatry. He made some stay at Dundee; but by means of Beaton he was expelled thence, and at his departure, he denounced heavy judgment on them for rejecting the gospel. He then went and preached in many other places, and entrance to the churches being denied him, he preached in the fields. He would not suffer the people to open the church doors by violence, for that he said became not the gospel of peace which he preached. He heard the plague had broken out in Dundee, within four days after he was banished; so he returned thither, and took care of the sick, and did all the offices of a faithful pastor among them. He showed his gentleness towards his enemies, by rescuing a priest who was coming to kill him, but was discovered, and was almost torn in pieces by the people. He foretold several extraordinary things; particularly his own sufferings, and the spread of the reformation over the land. He preached last in Lothian, and there the earl of Bothwell took him, but promised upon his honour that no harm should be done him; yet he delivered him to the cardinal, who brought him to St. Andrews, and called a meeting of bishops thither to destroy him with the more solemnity.
While imprisoned in the castle, the dean of St. Andrews was sent by the cardinal to summon him to appear before the judge on the following morning, to render an account of his seditious and heretical doctrine, as they termed it. Wishart answered—“What need my lord cardinal to summon me, when I am thus in his power and bound in irons? Can he not compel me to answer; or does he believe that I am unprovided with the means of defending my doctrine? But to manifest yourselves, ye do well to keep your old ceremonies and constitutions made by men.”
The next morning, the lord cardinal caused his servants to clothe and arm themselves in their warlike array, with jack [protective jacket?], knapskal [helmet], splent [body armour], spear, and axe, more seeming for the battle, than for defending the true word of God. When the procession of these armed champions marching in warlike order had conveyed the bishops into the abbey church, they sent for Wishart, who was conducted into church by the captain of the castle accompanied by a hundred men thus equipped, like a lamb led to the sacrifice. As he entered the abbey church door, there was a poor man lying, vexed with great infirmities, asking of him alms, to whom he flung his purse. And when he came before the lord cardinal, the superior of the abbey, called dean John Winryme, stood up in the pulpit, and made a sermon to all the congregation, taking his matter out of the 13th chapter of Matthew, and dividing his sermon into four principal parts.
The first part was a brief and short declaration of the Evangelist. The second, part of the interpretation of the good seed. He called the word of God the good seed, and heresy the evil seed, and declared how heresy should be known; which he defined thus: “Heresy is a false opinion defended with pertinacity, clearly impugning the word of God.” The third part of the sermon was, the cause of heresy in that realm and all other realms. “The cause of heresy is the ignorance of them which have the cure of men’s souls: to whom it belongeth to have the true understanding of the word of God, that they may be able to refute heresies with the word of God; as saith St. Paul: “A bishop must be faultless, as becometh the minister of God, not stubborn nor angry, no drunkard, no fighter, not given to filthy lucre, but one that loveth goodness, sober-minded, righteous, holy, temperate, and that cleaveth to the true word, that he may be able to exhort with wholesome learning, and to answer that which they say against him.” The fourth part was, how heresies should be known. “Heresies are known after this manner; as the goldsmith knoweth fine gold by the touchstone; so likewise may we know heresy by the undoubted touchstone, the true and undefiled word of God.” At last he added, that heretics should be put down in this present life. Here he faltered, because the gospel said, “Let both grow together till the harvest,” and “The harvest is the end of the world.” Nevertheless, he affirmed that they should be put down by the civil magistrate and law in this life.
When he ended his sermon, they caused Wishart to ascend the pulpit, there to hear his accusation and articles. Over against him stood one of the fed flock, John Lauder, laden full of cursings written on paper. Of these he took out a roll, both long and also full of devilish spite and malice, saying to the innocent George so many cruel and abominable words, and striking him so spitefully with the pope’s thunder, that the ignorant people dreaded lest the earth would have swallowed him up quick. Notwithstanding he stood still with great patience, hearing the dreadful sayings, not once moving or changing his countenance. When Lauder had read throughout his menacings, he spat in Wishart’s face, saying, “What answerest thou to these sayings, thou runagate, traitor, which we have duly proved thee to be by sufficient witness?” Wishart hearing this, kneeled down in the pulpit, making his prayer to God. When he had ended his prayer, sweetly and Christianly, he answered as follows:—“Many horrible sayings unto me a Christian man, many words abominable to hear, ye have spoken this day, which not only to teach, but also to think, must be great abomination. Wherefore I pray your discretion quietly to hear me, that ye may know what were my sayings, and the manner of my doctrine. This my petition, my lord, I desire to be heard for three causes. First, because by means of preaching the word of God, his glory is made manifest. It is reasonable therefore, for advancing the glory of God, that ye hear me, teaching truly, as I do, the pure word of God without any dissimulation. Second, because your health springeth of the word of God; for he worketh all things by his word. It were therefore an unrighteous thing if ye should stop your ears from me, teaching truly the word of God. Third, because you utter many blasphemous and abominable words, not coming of the inspiration of God, but of the devil, with no less peril than of my life. It is just therefore and reasonable, that your discretion should know what my words and doctrine are, and what I have ever taught in this realm, that I perish not unjustly to the great peril of your souls. Wherefore both for the glory and honour of God, your own health, and safeguard of my life, I beseech your patience to hear me, and in the meantime I shall recite my doctrine without any colour.”
“Since the time I came into this realm, I taught nothing but the ten commandments of God, the twelve articles of the faith, and the prayer of the Lord in the mother tongue. Moreover, in Dundee, I taught the epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. And I shall show you faithfully what manner I used when I taught without any human dread; so that your discretion give your ears benevolence and attention.” This was more than his enemies could endure, and with a high voice the accuser cried out, “Thou heretic, runagate, traitor, and thief, it was not lawful for thee to preach. Thou hast taken the power in thine own hand, without any authority of the church. We forethink that thou hast been a preacher so long.” Then all the congregation of the prelates, with their accomplices, said “If we give him licence to preach, he is so crafty, and in the Holy Scriptures so exercised, that he will persuade the people to his opinion, and raise them against us.”
Seeing their malicious and wicked intent, Wishart appealed from the lord cardinal to the lord governor, as to an indifferent and equal judge. To whom Lauder answered, “Is not my lord cardinal the second person within this realm, chancellor of Scotland, archbishop of St. Andrews, bishop of Meropois, commendator of Aberbroshok, Legatus natus, Legatus a Latere?” thus reciting all his unworthy honours. “Is not he an equal judge of thy cause and conduct? what other desirest thou to be thy judge!” “I refuse not my lord Cardinal,” said Wishart, “but I desire the word of God to be my judge, and the temporal estate, with some of your lordships mine auditors, because I am here my lord governor’s prisoner.” Whereupon the proud and scornful people that stood by, mocked him, saying, “Such man, such judge! speaking seditious and reproachful words against the governor and other nobles meaning them also to be heretics.” Then without delay and without further process they would have given sentence upon him, had not certain men present counselled the Cardinal to read again the articles, and to hear his answers thereupon, that the people might not complain of his unjust condemnation.
These were the articles following, with his answers, so far as they would give him leave to speak. For when he intended to mitigate their falsehoods, and show the manner of his doctrine, they stopped his mouth with some new charge. Thus ran their bitter invectives—“Thou false heretic, runagate, traitor, and thief, deceiver of the people, thou despisest the holy church, and contemnest my lord governor’s authority. And this we know, that when thou didst preach in Dundee, and wast charged by my lord’s authority to desist, nevertheless thou wouldst not obey, but persevered in the same; and therefore the bishop of Brothen cursed thee, and delivered thee into the devil’s hands, and gave thee in commandment that thou should preach no more: notwithstanding, thou didst continue obstinately.”
Wishart availed himself of a pause and said—“My lords, I have read in the Acts of the Apostles, that it is not lawful to desist from preaching the gospel for the threats and menaces of men. There it is written, ‘We should rather obey God than man.’ I have also read in the prophet Malachi, ‘I shall curse your blessings, and bless your cursings;’ and I believe firmly that the Lord will turn your cursing into blessings.”
No longer could he speak, for they cried out—“Thou false heretic didst say that the priest, standing at the altar saying mass, was like a fox wagging his tail in July.” Wishart answered—“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: for God is a secret searcher of men’s hearts; therefore whoever will truly adore and honour God, must in spirit and verity serve and worship him.”
Again they sought a new charge, and said—“Thou preachedst against the sacrament, saying, that there were not seven sacraments.” To this absurdity he replied with caution and wisdom.—“My lords, if it be your pleasure, I never taught the number of the sacraments, whether they were seven or eleven. So many as are instituted by Christ are showed to us by the evangelists, and all these I profess openly. Except it be the word of God, I dare affirm nothing.”
Without striving to refute him, they railed again—“Thou hast openly taught that auricular confession is not a blessed sacrament, and sayest that we should only confess to God, and not to any priest.” To this he answered—“My lords, I say that auricular confession, seeing that it hath no promise of the gospel, it therefore cannot be a sacrament. Of the confession to be made to God, there are many testimonies in scripture, as when David saith, ‘I said I would acknowledge mine iniquity unto the Lord, and he forgave the punishment of my sin.’ In this Psalm xxxii, David’s confession signifieth the secret knowledge of our sins before God. When I exhorted the people in this manner I reproved no manner of confession; but I taught what St. James saith, ‘Acknowledge your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed.’ On his speaking thus cautiously, the bishops and their accomplices cried and grinned, saying—“See ye not what colour he hath in his speaking, that he may beguile and seduce us to his opinion?” One of them said, “Heretic, thou didst say openly, that it was necessary to every man to know and understand his baptism, and what it was, contrary to general councils and the estate of the holy church.”
He answered—“My lords, I believe there be none so unwise here that will make merchandise with a Frenchman, or any other unknown stranger, except he know and understand first the condition or promise made by such foreigners: so likewise I would that we understood what thing we promise in the name of the infant unto God in baptism. For this cause I believe ye have confirmation.” Bleiter, the chaplain, then furiously interposed, and insinuated that he had the devil within him, and the spirit of error. On which a little child who was present, and heard the chaplain, said, “The devil cannot speak such words as yonder man doth speak.”
This enraged his foes to madness, and one cried out—“Heretic, traitor, thief, thou saidst that the sacrament of the altar was but a piece of bread baked upon the ashes, and no other thing; and that all which is there done is but a superstitious rite against the commandment of God.” To this abuse he boldly replied thus—“As concerning the sacrament of the altar, my lords, I never taught anything against the Scripture, which I shall, by God’s grace, make manifest this day, being ready therefore to suffer death.”
No one interposing, he went on—“The lawful use of the sacrament is most acceptable unto God; but the great abuse of it is very detestable unto him. But what occasion they have to say such words of me, I shall shortly show your Lordships. I once chanced to meet with a Jew when I was sailing upon the Rhine. I did enquire of him what was the cause of his pertinacity, that he did not believe that the true Messiah was come, considering that he had seen all the prophecies which were spoken of him to be fulfilled. Moreover the prophecies taken away, and the sceptre of Judah departed; and by many other testimonies of scripture I convinced him that Messiah was come, whom they called Jesus of Nazareth. This Jew answered me that ‘when the Messiah cometh, he shall restore all things, and he shall not abrogate the law, which was given to our fore-fathers, as ye do. For why? ye see the poor almost perish through hunger amongst you; yet you are not moved with pity toward them: but amongst us, though we be poor Jews, there are no beggars found.’
“It is forbidden by the law to feign any kind of imagery of things in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the sea under the earth; but one God only is to be honoured: while your sanctuaries and churches are full of idols. Moreover, I must repeat what the Jew said, that a peace of bread baked upon the ashes ye adore and worship, and say, that it is your God. I have rehearsed here but the sayings of the Jew, which I never affirmed to be true.” Someone replied—“Thou saidst, that extreme unction was not a sacrament.” He denied the charge,” I never taught any thing of extreme unction in my doctrine, whether it were a sacrament or not.” Again they accused him—“Thou saidst that holy water is not so good as wash, and such like. Thou condemnest conjuring, and saidst holy churches’ cursings avail not.” To this he was as usual quick in answering—“As for holy water, what strength it is of I never taught in my doctrine. Conjurings, and exorcisms, if they are conformable to the word of God, I would commend them; but insomuch as they are not conformable to the commandment and word of God, I reprove them.”
Again—“Heretic and runagate, thou hast said that every layman is a priest, and such like; thou saidst that the pope had no more power than any other man.” Wishart now felt greater need of prudence, and said—“My lords, I have taught nothing but the word of God; I remember that I have read in some places in St. John, and St. Peter, ‘He hath made us kings and priests,’ and ‘He hath made us a royal priesthood.’ Wherefore I have affirmed that any man wise in the word of God, and the true faith of Jesus Christ, hath this power given him from God; not by the power or violence of men, but by the virtue of the word of God, which word is called the power of God, as St. Paul witnesseth evidently enough. And again I say, that any unlearned man, not exercised in the word of God, nor yet constant in his faith, whatsoever estate or order he be of, I say, he hath no power to bind or loose, seeing he wanteth the instrument, by which he bindeth or looseth; that is to say, the word of God.”
After he had uttered this admirable speech, all the bishops laughed and mocked him. “Laugh ye, my lords?” said he; “though these sayings appear scornful and worthy of derision to your lordships, nevertheless they are very weighty to me, and of great value, because they stand not only upon myself, but also the honour and glory of God.” While many godly men beholding the obstinacy and cruelty of the bishops and invincible patience of Wishart, greatly mourned and lamented, his implacable foes added to their impieties and insults, and cried out— “False heretic, thou saidst that a man hath no free will, but like as the stoics say, that it is not in man’s will to do anything, but that all cometh by God, whatsoever kind it be of.” To which he wisely answered “My lords, I said not so, truly; but I said that as many as believe in Christ firmly, unto them is given freedom, conformable to the saying of St. John—‘If the Son make you free, then shall ye verily be free.’ Of the contrary, as many as believe not in Christ Jesus, they are bond-servants of sin—“He that sinneth is bound to sin.”
“Thou saidst,” they exclaimed again, “it is as lawful to eat flesh upon the Friday as on Sunday.” With another firm appeal to scripture, he replied—“I have read in the epistles of St. Paul, that ‘Whoso is clean, unto him all things are clean.’ On the contrary, ‘To the filthy man all things are unclean.’ A faithful man, clean and holy, sanctifieth by the word the creature of God; but the creature maketh no man acceptable unto God. So that a creature may not sanctify any impure and unfaithful man; but to the faithful man all things are sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”
At this all the bishops, with their accomplices, said—“What need we any witness against him? hath he not here openly spoken blasphemy? Heretic, thou dost say that we should not pray to saints, but to God only. Say whether thou hast said this or not?” To which he answered—“My lord there are two things worthy of note; the one is certain, the other uncertain. It is found plainly and certain in scripture, that we should worship and honour one God, according to the saying of the first commandment, thou shalt worship and honour thy Lord God only, with all thy heart. As for praying to and honouring saints, there is great doubt among many whether they hear or not any invocation made unto them. Therefore I exhorted all men equally in my doctrine, that they should leave the uncertain way, and follow that way which was taught us by our master Christ. He is the only mediator, and alone maketh intercession for us to God his father. He is the door by which we must enter in: he that entereth not by this door, but climbeth another way, is a thief and a murderer. He is the verity and life. Every one that goeth out of this way, there is no doubt but he shall fall into the mire; yea verily, is fallen into it already. This is the fashion of my doctrine, which I have ever followed. Verily, that which I have heard and read in the word of God I taught openly, and in no corners. And now ye shall witness the same, if your lordships will hear me. Except it stand by the word of God, I dare not be so bold as to affirm anything.”
Without attempting to answer these scriptural testimonies and appeals, his enemies multiplied their absurd accusations, and said—“Thou hast preached plainly, saying there is no purgatory, and that it is a feigned thing for any man after this life to be punished in purgatory.” Wishart reminded them of his former answers—“As I have said heretofore, without express witness and testimony of the scripture I dare affirm nothing. I have oft read over the bible, and yet such a term found I never, nor yet any place of scripture applicable to it. Therefore I was ashamed ever to teach that thing which I could not find in the scripture.” Then said he to Lauder, his accuser—“If you have any testimony of the scripture, by which you may prove any such place, show it now before this auditory.” Lauder had not a word to say for himself, but was as dumb as a beetle, except in devising a fresh charge.
This was—“Thou hast taught against the vows of monks, friars, nuns, and priests; saying that whosoever was bound to such vows, vowed themselves to the estate of damnation. Moreover, that it was lawful for priests to marry.” In answer, he again appealed to scripture—“My lords, I have read in the gospel, that there are three kinds of chaste men: ‘some are eunuchs from their birth; some are made such by men; and some make themselves such for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.’ Verily, I say these men are blessed by the scripture of God. But as many as have not the gift of continence, nor yet for the gospel’s sake have overcome the concupiscence of the flesh, and have vowed chastity, ye have experience, although I should hold my peace, to what inconvenience they have vowed themselves.”
When he had said these words they were all dumb for a time, and then one broke out and said—“False heretic, thou sayest thou wilt not obey our general nor provincial councils.” Once more he took the sword of the Spirit: “My lords, what your general councils are I know not, I was never exercised in them; but to the pure word of God I gave my labours. Read here your general councils, or else give me a book wherein they are contained, that I may read them: if they agree with the word of God, I will not dispute or disobey them.”
Upon this they cried out—“Why do we suffer him to speak further? Read on the rest of the articles, and do not stay upon them.” Among the rest, John ‘Grey-fiend’ Scot, standing behind Lauder’s chair, hastened him to read the rest of the articles, and not to tarry upon answers. “For we may not abide them,” quoth he, “any more than the devil may abide the sign of the cross, when it is made.” Then he turned to Wishart “Thou sayest, that it is in vain to build to the honour of God costly churches, seeing that God remaineth not in the churches made with men’s hands, nor yet can God be in so little space as between the Priest’s hands.” He had now a sublime reply at hand—“My lords, Solomon saith, ‘If that the heaven of heavens cannot comprehend thee, how much less this house that I have built?’ and Job consenteth to the same sentence: ‘Seeing that he is higher than the heavens, therefore what canst thou build unto him? He is deeper than hell, then how shalt thou know him? He is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.’ So that God cannot be comprehended in any one place, because he is infinite. Notwithstanding, I never said that churches should be destroyed; but the contrary, I affirm ever, that churches should be sustained and upholden, that the people should be congregated into them, there to hear of God. Moreover, wheresoever is the true preaching of the word of God, and the lawful use of the sacraments, undoubtedly there is God himself: so that both these sayings are true together; God cannot be comprehended in any place, and wheresoever two or three are gathered together in his name, there he is present in the midst of them. If you think otherwise, show forth reasons before this auditory.” Then Lauder, not answering one word, proceeded forth in his articles—“False heretic, thou condemneth fasting, and sayest thou didst not fast.” Wishart could here be at no loss with scripture and reason before him—“My lords, I find that fasting is commended in the scripture; therefore I were a slanderer of the gospel, if I condemned fasting. And not so only, but I have learned that fasting is good for the health of the body: but God knoweth who fasteth the true fast.”
Lauder proceeded—“Thou hast preached openly, saying, that the soul of man shall sleep till the latter day of judgment, and shall not obtain life immortal until that day.” At this foul charge, Wishart was indignant, and said—“God full of mercy and goodness forgive them that say such things of me; I know surely by the word of God, that he which hath begun to have the faith of Jesus Christ, and believeth firmly in him, believeth that the soul of man shall never sleep, but ever shall live an immortal life; which life, from day to day, is renewed in grace and augmented; nor yet shall ever perish or have an end, but ever immortal shall live with Christ. To which life all that believe in him shall come, and rest in eternal glory. Amen.”
When the bishops with their accomplices had thus accused this innocent man, they next condemned him to be burnt as a heretic, not having respect to his godly answers and true reasons which he alleged, nor yet to their own consciences, thinking verily that they should do to God good sacrifice, conformable to the saying of St. John—“They shall excommunicate you: yea, and the time shall come that he which killeth you shall think that he hath done God service.” First they made the common people, whose desire was always to hear that innocent man speak, to disperse, after which these sons of darkness pronounced their sentence definitive, not having respect to the judgment of God. When all this was done and said, the cardinal caused his warders to return again with the prisoner into the castle, until such time as the fire was made ready. When he arrived at the castle there came Friar Scot and his mate, saying, “Sir, you must make your confession unto us.” “I will make no confession unto you. replied Wishart; “go fetch me yonder man that preached this day, and I will make my confession unto him.” Then they sent for the sub-prior of the abbey, who came to him with all diligence; but what was said in this confession is unknown.
When the fire was made ready, and the gallows at the west part of the castle near to the priory, the lord cardinal, dreading that Wishart should have been taken away by his friends, commanded to bend all the ordnance of the castle right against that part, and all his gunners to be ready and stand beside their guns, until such time as he was burned. All this being done, they bound the martyr’s hands behind him, and led him forth with their soldiers from the castle to the place of execution. As he came out of the castle gate, there met him certain beggars, asking alms for God’s sake; to whom he answered, “I want my hands wherewith to give you alms, but the merciful Lord, of his benignity and abundance of grace that feedeth all men, vouchsafe to give you necessaries both unto your bodies and souls.” Then afterwards met him two fiends, called friars, saying, “Master George, pray to our lady, that she may be mediatrix for you to her Son.” To whom he answered meekly, “Cease, tempt me not, my brethren.” After this he was led to the fire with a rope about his neck, and a chain of iron for his girdle.
When he came to the fire he sunk down upon his knees, rose again, and thrice he repeated these words:— “O thou Saviour of the world, have mercy on me. Father of heaven, I commend my spirit into thy holy hands.” Then he turned him to the people and said—“I beseech you, Christian brethren and sisters, that ye be not offended with the word of God for the affliction and torments which ye see 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. Moreover, I pray you show my brethren and sisters, which have heard me oft before, that they cease not, nor leave off the word of God which I taught them, after the grace given to me, for any persecutions or troubles in this world, which last not; and show unto them that my doctrine was no old wives’ fable, after the constitution made by men. Had I taught men’s doctrine, I had gotten great thanks by men; but for the word’s sake and the true gospel, 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. Consider and behold my visage, ye shall not see me change my colour. This grim fire I fear not. If any persecution come to you for the word’s sake, do not fear them that slay the body, and afterward have no power to slay the soul. Some have said of me that I have 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. I beseech thee, Father of Heaven, to forgive them that have of any ignorance or of any evil mind forged lies upon me; for I forgive them with all my heart. I beseech Christ to forgive them that have condemned me to death this day ignorantly; and, last of all, I beseech you brethren and sisters, to exhort your prelates to the learning of the word of God, that they at the last may be ashamed to do evil, and learn to do good. And if they will not convert themselves from their wicked error, there shall hastily come upon them the wrath of God, which they shall not eschew.”
Many other faithful words said he in the mean time, taking no heed or care of the cruel torments which were then prepared for him. At last the hangman fell upon his knees and said—“I pray you forgive me, for I am not guilty of your death.” He answered—“Come hither to me.” When he was come to him, he kissed his cheek, and said, “Lo! there is a token that I forgive thee. My heart, do thine office;” and presently he was put upon the gibbet and hanged, and there burnt to ashes. The people beheld the glorious exit of this triumphant martyr with sentiments of mingled wonder, sorrow, and indignation.
The clergy rejoiced much at his death, and extolled the courage of the cardinal, for proceeding in it against the orders of the governor. But the people looked on Wishart as a martyr and a prophet. It was also said that his death was nothing less than murder, since no writ had been obtained for it; and the clergy had no right to burn anyone without a warrant from the secular power. It was therefore inferred that the cardinal deserved to die for his presumption; for if his dignity set him above the law, then private persons might execute that which the governor could not do. Such practices had been formerly too common in the kingdom; and upon this occasion some gentlemen of quality began to think it would be an heroical action to conspire his death. His insolence had rendered him generally hateful; thus public and private resentment concurring, twelve persons entered into an engagement to kill the cardinal privately in his house. On the 30th of May, they surprised the gate early in the morning; and though there were a hundred men in the castle, yet being all asleep, they came to them apart, and either turned them out, or shut them up in their chamber. Having made all sure, they proceeded to the cardinal’s chamber; who, perceiving they had a design upon his life, exclaimed, “Alas! alas! Slay me not, I am a priest:” but paying as little regard to him as he had done to Wishart, they immediately slew him, and laid out his body in the same window from which he had looked on Wishart’s execution. Some justified this act, as the killing of a robber and murderer; but it was generally condemned; yet the accomplishment of Wishart’s prediction made great impression on the people.
[FROM FOXE’S BOOK OF MARTYRS, 1889 EDITION]