George Wishart was born in Scotland in 1513. He was tall, with black hair and a long beard. He went to university in France (Louvain) and then became a priest.. By 1538 he was back in Scotland as a school teacher in Montrose, where he taught his students the New Testament in Greek. When the Bishop of Brechin heard that Wishart was teaching young men to read the Bible in its original language he was furious. Wishart fled to Bristol, where he got in trouble for his preaching, and he spent the next three years in Switzerland and Germany. In 1542 he taught at Cambridge University, where he was well known for his kindness and generosity towards others. He often gave his clothes and bed-sheets to the poor.
In 1543, Wishart returned to Scotland where he preached in Montrose, Dundee and the West.
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. Wishart survived another attack on his life by Beaton before finally being arrested near Edinburgh in 1546. By this time, a man called John Knox was following Wishart round as a bodyguard, carrying a large two-handed sword. However Wishart wouldn't let Knox come with him to his trial and execution. "One is sufficient for one sacrifice", he said.
Wishart was taken to St Andrews and kept in prison in the dungeon of the castle. At his trial, he was found guilty of being a heretic because of what he had been preaching, even though he answered all the accusations against him by quoting from the Bible. He was then hanged and burnt at the stake outside the castle. His preaching had helped unite believers across Scotland, and like Patrick Hamilton, his death actually furthered the spread of the gospel.
George Wishart was prepared to die rather than stop believing in the truth, once he had found it in the Bible. His life shows us the importance of preaching. His preaching around Scotland for over two years helped to transform the nation. Preaching is still what we need to change our country today. But as well as preaching to people, Wishart also cared for the physical needs of those who were poor and sick. Like Jesus and the apostles we should care for people's physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. Wishart also knew his Bible so well he could quote from it during his trial and prove that what he had been teaching was from God's Word. How well would we know God's Word if we didn't have it in front of us?
Thomas M'Crie, The Life of John Knox (Edinburgh, 1811).
John Knox, History of the Reformation in Scotland ed. W. C. Dickinson (2 vols, 1949).
John Howie, 'George Wishart' in The Scots Worthies (Edinburgh, 1995 ), pp 18-32.
Martin Holt Dotterweich, ' Wishart, George ( c. 1513?-1546) ', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , Oxford University Press, 2004