Over at Challies Dot Com, a Third Annual Reformation Day Symposium is being held, in which bloggers are encouraged to write articles about the Reformation. Always one to step up to such a challenge (perhaps the Covenanter in me?), here is my humble effort.
Most Reformed folks are aware that the birthday of the Reformation is generally considered to be October 31, 1517, the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was protesting, among other things, the audacity of papal indulgences, an insidious form of works-righteousness paperwork designed to generate money for the remodeling of St. Peter’s Basilica at the expense of human souls. Most folks also know that this had a profound impact upon Europe, Western society, and ultimately the world. What is not as readily known, however, is the impact Luther had upon the Reformation in such isolated places as Scotland. This, of course, is of particular interest to Presbyterians.
In his excellent book Luther’s Scottish Connection, James McGoldrick traces the roots of the Reformation in Scotland to a young man, descended from Scottish nobility, named Patrick Hamilton. It is likely that Hamilton first became exposed to the teachings of Luther while a student at the University of Paris in 1519. He later return to Scotland, modestly changed by the works he had come into contact with, but he had not fully rejected the Roman Catholic faith (it is believed that he may have been ordained to the priesthood sometime around or after 1523). He did begin railing against the immorality of the RC clergy, which eventually succeeded in his being branded a “Lutheran” (a charge roughly equivalent to “heretic” in those days). Hamilton made the charge a reality by fleeing to Wittenberg in May of 1527, where he became a devoted disciple of Luther. He again returned to Scotland later that year, and embarked on a campaign of preaching the true gospel of Jesus Christ. He was arrested after about a month of such activity, tried as a heretic, and burned at the stake in February of 1528. Thus, he has the distinction of being Scotland’s first Protestant martyr.
Patrick Hamilton’s influence on the Reformation in Scotland cannot be doubted. John Knox, in his History of the Reformation in Scotland, writes, “It pleased God of His great mercy … to raise up His servant Master Patrick Hamilton, at whom our history doth begin.” In addition to being Scotland’s first Protestant martyr, he was also her first Protestant theologian. He wrote a work that became known as Patrick’s Places (see this post below for an example of this work). In one place, Hamilton reminds his readers of the futility of works-righteousness and the need for justification through faith in Christ alone:
The law says, ‘Pay your debt.’ The gospel says, ‘Christ has paid it.’ … The law says, ‘Make amends for your sins.’ The gospel says, ‘Christ has made it for you.’ … The law says, ‘Where is your righteousness, your goodness, your satisfaction?’ The gospel says, ‘Christ is your righteousness, your goodness, your satisfaction.’ The law says, ‘You are bound and obliged to me, to the devil, and to hell.’ The gopsel says, ‘Christ has delivered you from them all.’
Elsewhere in Patrick’s Places, Hamilton writes:
Whosoever believes or thinks to be saved by his works denies that Christ is his Savior, that Christ died for him, and that all things pertain to Christ. For how is He your Savior, if you might save yourself by your works, or whereto should He die for you, if any works might have saved you?
During his trial, Hamilton (among other things) spoke out against the idolatry of the church, seen in its used of images. One of his interrogators stated that such images were necessary for “the common people, to put them in remembrance of holy saints who [wrought] for their salvation.” Hamilton’s reply? “Brother, it ought to be the preaching of the true Word of God that should put people in remembrance of Christ and their salvation.” When confronted with the false teaching of purgatory, Hamilton responded, “There is one thing that may purge the soul of man … the blood of Jesus Christ.” He then called upon his listeners to “repentance for sins and faith in the blood of Jesus.”
Hamilton, of course, died as a result of his faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Luther is famous for his “Here I stand” speech when called to recant of his teachings at the Diet of Worms; Hamilton also voiced a similar response:
As to my confession, I will not deny it for the fear of your fire, for my confession and belief is in Christ Jesus. Therefore I will not deny it. I will rather be content that my body burn in this fire for the confession of my faith in Christ, than my soul should burn in the fire of hell for denying the same.
Therefore, this October 31 of 2008, let us not forget the first of the Scottish martyrs who stood firm for the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is because men like Patrick Hamilton bled and died for the faith that we have the gospel set before us today. If you have not picked up a copy of McGoldrick’s book, you are encouraged to do so. And give thanks to the Lord that He raised up godly men like Patrick Hamilton to proclaim in boldness the marveous freedom that we have in Christ Jesus.