10 Sep 2017

RPCS Reformation Tour

Five hundred years ago this October, Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses (topics for discussion) to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  This sparked a Reformation that swept across Europe and the British Isles.  To commemorate that event and to remember the start of the Reformation in Scotland, the RPCS organised a Reformation Tour day trip to St. Andrews on Saturday the 9th September.  Over 100 people, from a wide age range, from Airdrie, Glasgow, North Edinburgh, and Stranraer congregations were there as well as friends from other churches.

After a particularly rainy summer, the Lord blessed us with beautiful weather for this day, for which we were very thankful.  Everyone met at St Andrews at 1pm and enjoyed eating our pack lunches together before we headed out to tour the town.


Our first stop was St. Salvator’s Chapel where Mr Jimmy Fisher spoke of the life of Patrick Hamilton, the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation.  We learned how Patrick Hamilton first heard of the teachings of Martin Luther while at university in Paris, how he returned to be a professor at the University of St Andrews, became convinced that the teachings of Luther were Biblical, and promoted the translation of the Bible into English.  This put him in danger with the Archbishop of St. Andrews and he fled to Germany.  While in Germany he wrote a book called Patrick’s Places which made it clear that salvation was through faith in Christ not through good works.  He determined to go back to Scotland and preach the gospel even though he knew it would put his life at risk.  Many people were converted through his preaching, but he was arrested, put on trial, and put to death outside St Salvator’s on 29 February 1528 at the age of 24.  His death was slow and painful because the fire kept going out, and it took him six hours to die.  Instead of stopping the Reformation, Patrick Hamilton’s death had the opposite effect and the Reformation grew and spread throughout Scotland.  Archbishop Beaton was advised that if he had to burn any more heretics, he should do it in deep cellars so that no-one would know, because ‘the reek of Mister Patrick Hamilton has infected as many as it blew upon’.

Outside St Salvator’s

We then walked over to the Castle, and Rev Stephen Steele told us about the life of George Wishart.  He spoke of how Wishart trained to be a priest and taught young men to read the Bible.  He preached throughout Scotland and was well known for his generosity to the poor.  In 1545, 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. He told them how there was a worse disease than the plague – sin – which could only be healed by the Lord Jesus Christ.  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.  John Knox was Wishart’s bodyguard, but when Wishart was finally arrested, he sent Knox away saying, “one is sufficient for a sacrifice.”  Wishart was kept in the bottle dungeon of St Andrew’s Castle until his trial.  He was found guilty and hanged and burnt at the stake outside the castle on the 1st March 1546.  His preaching had helped unite believers across Scotland, and like Patrick Hamilton, his death actually furthered the spread of the gospel.

Rev Stephen Steele speaking outside the Castle

We then walked down to the Cathedral, and Rev. Peter Loughridge spoke about John Knox.  He reminded us that Knox was Wishart’s bodyguard, and he told us of how after Wishart’s death, the Castle in St. Andrews was seized by men who were angry over the death of Wishart and the corruption and false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.  John Knox joined these men in the Castle, and they asked him to be their minister.  But in 1547 French warships attacked the Castle and Knox was captured and made a galley slave for 19 months before getting his freedom and returning to England.  Rev. Loughridge made the point that this severe hardship was a turning point for John Knox and he emerged as a leader in the reforming church of Scotland, a leader who in God’s providence had exactly the character that was needed for that time.  Knox preached throughout Scotland and became a minister in St Andrews for a time.  God used him to save many people and to reform the church and bring it back to Biblical practices and teaching.

Rev. Peter Loughridge speaking at the Cathedral.

We then returned to the church hall in St. Andrews, and Rev. Kenneth Stewart spoke on the benefits of the Reformation for Scotland.  He spoke of the great blessing of having a Bible that is in our language, that can be read and understood.  There is also the benefit of having a true church that is faithful to the Word of God and governed by the Word of God.  There is the benefit of pure worship that is glorifying to God.  Rev. Stewart also brought out the civil benefits of the Reformation – education in every parish so men and women could read the Word of God for themselves; constitutional limits imposed on the monarchy, so it was no longer absolute; and a heavy emphasis on care for the poor in each community.

Whenever we look back at Scotland’s history, we are conscious that the number of believers in our land is so small in comparison to what it was at the height of the Reformation and Covenanting times.  We have a natural longing to see the Holy Spirit sweep through Scotland, to see men and women repenting and embracing Christ in the gospel, and the church reforming as it did all those years ago.  But when we look back we are also thankful.  Thankful to have a Bible in the English language; thankful to have ministers preaching salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone; thankful for the purity and simplicity of worship and church government; thankful that we can come to Christ directly without needing a priest to pray on our behalf; thankful for the confessions and catechisms and covenants – the list of things to be thankful for could go on and on.  So, it’s good to have a day to look back at Scotland’s past both to remind us of all we have to be thankful for and to drive us to pray for a powerful, reforming work of God for our future.

Beth Bogue, Airdrie RPCS