The past few days have been important anniversaries of major events in Scotland’s Reformation and Covenanter history. For it was on the 28th February 1638 that the National Covenant was read out and signed in Greyfriars in Edinburgh. Upwards of 60,000 people had gathered in the city for the event.
On a ram skin parchment, the people of Scotland pledged to defend the Scottish Church against any such innovations that were against the Word of Godand against anything that would undo the work of the Reformation and take the nation back to Roman Catholicism.
On the original Covenant there were more than 4000 names, hardly a space was left on it. In the days and weeks following hundreds of copies were made and sent throughout Scotland with hundreds of thousands flocking to sign them.
One minister describing the scene wrote “I have seen more than a thousand at once lifting up their hands and tears falling from their eyes, entering into Covenant.”
Also on the 28th February, this time 110 years earlier in 1528, Scotland’s first martyr for the Reformation, 24 year old Patrick Hamilton was killed for his faith. He was the first to bring Martin Luther’s teachings back to Scotland. Once here, his preaching brought him under the suspicion of the catholic authorities. He was arrested, taken to St Andrew’s and tried as a heretic and sentenced by Archbishop Beaton to be burnt at the stake. His agonising death took over 6 hours because the wood around the stake was wet. His brave stand against the catholic church in Scotland however was an act which ignited the flames of Reformation in our land. One of Beaton’s men told him after Patrick Hamilton’s execution that if he ”Was to kill any more Protestants he should do it in the cellars, because the reek of Master Patrick Hamilton has infected as many as it blew upon”.
The 1st March 1546 was the day another martyr was killed for the faith. George Wishart was a Schoolteacher in Montrose. He came under the suspicion of the Catholic Church and was charged with heresy for teaching the children the Greek New Testament. Forced to flee he wandered much in England and in Europe where he met the Reformers. In 1542 he taught at Cambridge University, where he was well known for his kindness and generosity towards others. He often gave his clothes and bed-sheets to the poor.
The following year he returned to Scotland and began preaching. In 1545, a plague broke out in Dundee and as soon as Wishart heard of it he went back there, preaching to everyone and caring for the sick. Cardinal David Beaton, nephew of the Archbishop who had put Patrick Hamilton to death, sent a priest to kill Wishart with a dagger. However Wishart took the dagger off the priest before defending him from the angry crowd. By this time, a man called John Knox was following Wishart round as a bodyguard, carrying a large two-handed sword for his protection. Whilst spending the night at a house in Ormiston in East Lothian, Wishart was arrested. Knox ready to defend him was told by Wishart that “One is sufficient for one sacrifice”.
He was taken to St Andrews and kept in prison in the dungeon of the castle. At his trial, he was found guilty of being a heretic because of what he had been preaching, even though he answered all the accusations against him by quoting from the Bible. He was then hanged and burnt at the stake outside the castle. His preaching had helped unite believers across Scotland, and like Patrick Hamilton, his death actually furthered the spread of the gospel.