We are fascinated with heroes. Their stories inspire us; their stories encourage us; their exploits and their deeds captivate our imagination and give us hope. Heroes seem larger-than-life. They stand against seemingly overwhelming odds; yet, they persevere. They maintain their focus on their task and stand against daunting opposition to the end. We want to be like them!
Heroes can be found in almost any area of life. Some people have political champions; others look up to those who are successful in sports. The Medal of Honor is given to military heroes; those who risk their lives for brothers in arms.
But of all the heroes we may read about and seek to emulate, none stands taller, at least in my mind, than the heroes of the Church—the Captains of the Kirk! I admire the zeal and commitment of my Scottish and Presbyterian forefathers. Their example challenges me as I seek to walk faithfully before the Lord, because heroism is indeed contagious! Let me share with you some stories.
The seed of the Reformation in Scotland first sprouted in the preaching of a young man by the name of Patrick Hamilton. Hamilton was a member of the Scottish royalty; he was the grandson of King James II. In the early 16th century he learned of the German Reformation while studying in Paris. He brought these doctrines back to his native country, as well as a desire to give the Holy Scriptures to the people of Scotland. This zeal consumed him; yet, it also led to his arrest, trial, condemnation, and execution, all of which happened in one day. However, as Hamilton languished at the stake, one of his opponents said, “I fear the smoke of Patrick Hamilton will affect all that it blows upon.”
And Hamilton’s influence did indeed carry on after his death in the work of George Wishart. Like Hamilton, Wishart learned of the doctrines of the Reformation while studying for the ministry. He was later accused of heresy and fled for safety in England. But he had a heart for his people; he had a desire to see his country freed from religious tyranny.
So he returned to Scotland and conducted a clandestine itinerant ministry. The religious authorities tried to find him, even employing spies and assassins to kill him. But George Wishart providentially evaded capture time and again. In one incident, when a rogue priest was apprehended in a failed attempt to stab Wishart with a dagger, Wishart interceded for the man’s life. Nevertheless, George Wishart was eventually arrested, tried, and put to death. But his life did have a purpose, and God used him to expand the glory of His Kingdom. Because, before he died, he was able to influence one of his bodyguards, a man by the name of John Knox.
John Knox would become the father of Presbyterianism. His was a life full of adventure, full of excitement, and full of dedication. John Knox would experience the drama of a castle siege, the horror of a slave ship, the loneliness of exile, and the intrigue of international politics. And through it all, Knox would carry with him a zeal for biblical truth that was rooted in the work of Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart. God used Knox to establish the Scottish Church and to codify a summary of biblical doctrine and church polity.
And the legacy of Knox continued on in the work of Samuel Rutherford and George Gillespie at the Westminster Assembly. Knox’s influence carried over in the American colonies through the ministry of men like John Witherspoon and Samuel Davies. The same zeal for doctrinal purity, and the acknowledgment of Jesus’ reign over all areas of life, became the resonating chord of the American War for Independence. And it is indeed that same spiritual flame that is needed in our era today.
The men listed above represent only a small portion of my heroes of the faith. But what we can see by examining their lives is that their zeal, their commitment, and their dedication was carried on by others. And it continues to live on in the hearts of faithful men and women even to this day.
That is why their stories are so exciting to me. The work is not finished, the Kingdom is advancing, and there is much work to do. And as God used them, He could use you and me. May it be! Let us live our lives empowered by the Holy Spirit, like the heroes of old, for the glory of God and the expanse of the Kirk!
Originally published in the June, 2012 edition of Every Thought Captive.
And to make it legal, the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the other elders or members of Providence Church.