Tour Reflections By A Student.
Books are sources of massive amounts of information, based upon the experiences and research of others. This is a good thing. It means that we in the modern age have the diverse perspectives of other people to inform our historical knowledge. As a college student devoted to the study of history, I have always felt right at home amidst the crowded and dusty shelves of a library or archive. I have spent many fond hours perusing shelves in research. But, books – though they are a profound blessing – can only give the information. Nothing quite compares to getting out and experiencing it for oneself. Learning from the lives of others often requires something a bit more personal. My experiences during a recently-completed Reformation Tour have made that all the more evident.
As Christians, we have a command from God to respect our elders and to submit to their teaching. Our elder brothers and sisters in Christ are intended to be mentors and teachers to the younger believers in the Church. Though no sincere Believer would oppose this, one thing that we may not always think about is how this applies to those that have lived before us. The writer of Hebrews affirms this in chapter eleven. The “Hall of Faith” chapter is totally composed of examples of faith in the Old Testament which the writer expounds on in order to instruct the Hebrew churches in their own Christian walk. Obviously, this mandate to learn from our elder brothers and sisters extends to Christians of the distant past. Their examples of faithfulness and devotion to Christ serve as shining examples to modern Christians who know very little about persecution and suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Through the Reformation Tour some other students and I were able to retrace the lives of a few giants of the faith during the Scottish Reformation and learn about their lives and work for the Truth of Scripture.
One famous name that we frequently encountered on the tour was John Knox. Educated in Geneva Switzerland regarding things of the Reformation, he returned to Scotland to begin the work of Reformation there. We saw where he lived in Edinburgh, and where he taught and fought in St. Andrews. The evidence for the impact of his preaching is seen in the city of St. Andrews and the absence of statues upon the churches. After hearing one of his sermons denouncing Catholicism, his listeners were so filled with zeal that they destroyed icons and demolished the Cathedral, which now stands in ruins just a short distance away. The impact of Scriptural teaching literally changed the landscape.
Another figure of the later Reformation is Samuel Rutherford. We saw the remains of a small country church in Anwoth where he labored to preach and where he wrote some of his most famous works. He was imprisoned by the king for refusing to recognize him as the head of the church rather than Jesus. He would have surely been executed if the Lord had not called him home before. The words inscribed upon his grave at St. Andrews testify to his commitment to the cause of Christ, the Higher King: “…For Zion’s King and Zion’s cause and Scotland’s covenanted laws most constantly he did contend until his time was at an end. At last he won to full fruition of that which he had seen in vision.”
Perhaps the most shocking reminder of the persecution faced by Scottish Covenanters during the Scottish reformation is the story of the two Margarets. Margaret Wilson was an eighteen-year old girl, arrested along with her little sister for attending a Presbyterian sermon and sentenced to death. She sacrificed herself to save her little sister, saying she was not afraid to die for Christ. Tied to a stake in the sea near Wigtown, she drowned along with her sixty-two year old friend Margaret McLaughlan. The unwavering faith of someone so young is a stunning example to us all. Standing the place where she and the elder Margaret were martyred for their belief in the absolute supremacy of Christ, my fellow students and I were all wondering whether we would have had the strength to do the same.
We all read the stories of Stephen being stoned in the book of Acts, or the persecutions of other Apostles like Peter and Paul. We often think of persecution as something that is confined to when the Church was yet in its infancy. Barbarities like Christians being fed to lions in Roman arenas or burned alive in ancient cities seem like distant echoes of a time long passed. We are comfortable and free here and now. But, the fact that we enjoy such luxuries is due mainly to those before us who suffered in the not-to-distant past. Such shocking cruelty and suffering actually occurred within what is considered the Modern Age. On the Reformation Tour, Christian persecution leaves the realms of the abstract and ethereal past and enters the realm of the immediate and personal. To stand on the very spot where a Reformer was martyred is worlds apart from reading about their lives in a book. Books on the subject can acquaint us with the event, but getting out of the classroom, library or the archive and seeing them for oneself can acquaint us with the people. Furthermore, these people are our brothers and sisters, and we have a command to learn from their examples.
I have had the privilege of knowing Jimmy and Helen Fisher. What they are doing with Scottish Reformation Tours is a noble work indeed. They are educating the Church and the public in things that should be well remembered for generations to come. God ordered Joshua and the Israelites to set up a stone monument where God had parted the rivers of the Jordan before the promised land, “so these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever” (Joshua 4:7). That is the precedent for remembering the faith of our forefathers; to remember God’s covenant faithfulness to his People. The knowledge of experience gained through Reformation Tours is a reflection of the mandate in Psalm 102: 18. “Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that people yet to be created may praise the Lord.” The lessons learned from the shining examples of the Scottish Covenanters in a time of danger and darkness need to be learned by experience. For that is how they make their deepest impression.
Lauren Della Piazza
Semester in Scotland