January 29, 2014

1558: The Scottish Reformation, Part 2

Stephen Nichols
1558: The Scottish Reformation, Part 2


Last time together we looked at the beginnings of the Reformation in Scotland. It all started in the 1520's, culminating in the martyrdom of Patrick Hamilton on February 29, 1528.

Well, since 1528 George Wishart had come on the scene. He was martyred in 1546. And since then, Wishart's young disciple, John Knox, appeared on the scene also. For Knox's part in the Reformation he was sentenced to the drudgery of rowing on a galley ship in the last few years of the 1540's. And then Knox spent the 1550's in exile, first in Great Britain, and then in Geneva.

But I want to talk to you about an 82 year old minister named Walter Milne. Milne was summoned before the ecclesiastical court as a heretic. And he was condemned to die at the stake. His body was racked with illnesses. Back in the 16th century folks didn't live very long, and those who lived into their 80's were very rare. And mostly those who lived into their 80's tended to have a series of diseases and racked with illnesses. And so it is with Walter Milne. He was rather weak, and rather frail. In fact, witnesses speak of his tottering steps as he climbed the steps of the platform where he was bound to the stake.

As the fires were lit, Milne mustered the strength to declare, "I am fourscore and two years old, and could not live long by the course of nature, but a hundred better shall arise out of the ashes of my bones." And then he was martyred—burned at the stake in 1558. Well, little did Milne know how quickly those last words of his would become true.

See, in 1558 Bloody Mary was on the throne down in England, and Mary Queen of Scots, of course, ruled in Scotland. And it looked like there would be no prevailing of the Reformation—that the Roman Catholic Church would hold sway there in Scotland. But then Bloody Mary dies and her half sister Elizabeth comes to the throne. And when her half sister came to the throne, well this empowered those of the Reformation. Even John Knox felt emboldened by this and he goes back to Scotland. And 1559 then is the year of the Revolution as it were.  And in 1560, the Protestant church is firmly established in Scotland.

Well, in 1560, and even back in 1558 when Milne was martyred, there were only a handful of preachers who were willing to outwardly proclaim the gospel. But remember what Milne said, "a hundred shall come out of my ashes." Well, seven years later, right about 1567, seven years later after the church is established, we have on record that there were 257 ministers of the gospel. If you add another seven years and you go to 1574, the statistics tell us that there were 500 ministers of the gospel. So Milne didn't quite have it right. There were not a hundred who came from his ashes. In fact, there were 500—five hundred ministers who would faithfully proclaim the gospel in the lands of Scotland.

Well you know the parable that we can draw from this don’t you? You know from Milne's perspective of course we see this expression of hope that the gospel will prevail. But even in that expression of hope from this 82 year-old man we see a sort of under estimation don't we? It wasn't just the hundred, it was five hundred. And when things look one way we need to realize that we need to trust in God because God is in control; and God is bringing about his purposes; and God will see that the gospel will prevail and that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church.

So in 1558, an 82 year old man is martyred for his faith. And that's one of the significant events, a catalyst moment, in the Reformation in Scotland.