Eight Lessons from The Scots Worthies

John Howie was apparently an illiterate farmer (xii) who gathered the papers of many men and republished them. The Scots Worthies (627 pages, reprinted by Banner of Truth) covers about 200 years of great men from 1500-1700.

1. Many highly gifted men who may even have been celebrated in their time are yet entirely unknown today.

The book has 71 different biographies.

Of these, I was only familiar with Knox, Welch, Rutherford, and Wishart.

Sometimes, the book recorded that a certain man was the greatest preacher or the most educated or the most spiritual, and yet I never even heard of them.

Count it most likely that God will call you to a life of faithful obscurity, and be glad with that as long as He is glorified.

2. 22 of the 71 were martyred in Scotland for their faith.

David Hackston was appointed to be executed before his trial. Then they cut off his right hand, then his left hand, then they dropped him by a pulley three times, and finally cut his heart still beating from his chest.

“Whether his courage, constancy, or faithfulness had the pre-eminence, it is hard to determine.”

Hugh M’Kail was killed at 26 for political comments he made in a sermon at 22.

“Farewell father and mother, friends and relations; farewell the world and all delights; farewell meat and drink; farewell sun, moon, and stars; welcome God the Father; welcome sweet Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant; welcome blessed Spirit of grace, and God of all consolation; welcome glory; welcome eternal life; and welcome death!”

Prepare your mind to suffer for Christ.

3. These Scotsmen preached about politics and even took up swords and guns for politics.

The king claimed to be head over the church so that he could bring in Catholicism.

Towards the end of the book, many of the men were preachers who turned to field marshals in order to fight for their religious freedom.

When Richard Cameron was executed for both political preaching and for taking up arms against the government, his enemy said, “There’s the head and hands of a man who lived praying and preaching, and died praying and fighting.”

Proclaim Christ king of the Church, but also the Lord of life who has His will for governments and kings as much as for pastors and people.

4. They spoke the truth no matter the earthly consequence.

William Row was called upon to preach in 1607 at the Synod, but the captain of the king’s guards told him that if he spoke one word against the king’s policies in the church, he would be shot in the face. Knowing the captain was a wicked man, Row preached against his sins and against the king’s policies but inserted the Latin names instead of the English. When the captain discovered what had happened he cursed Row in front of all the others. Row not disheartened began calling out the names of the true pastors, and the captain attempted to take it from him. But Row holding off the captain with one hand, went on reading from the list in the other.

Brothers Andrew and James Melville were invited to speak privately with the king of England about Scotland’s concerns with his authority over the church. When the king became angry, James began to speak very softly, but his brother interrupted, “This is not a time to flatter, but to speak plainly, for our commission is from the living God, to whom the king is subject…”

“Sire, I must tell you, that there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is King James, the head of the Commonwealth, and there is Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, whose subject King James VI is, and of whose kingdom he is not a head, nor a lord, but a member.”

Janet Geddes, when she was forced to hear a Catholic mass brought in to her Christian church in 1637, picked up the stool on which she sat in the church and threw it at the minister.

Take courage from their examples to speak the truth motivated by the fear of God and a living faith while remembering what a terrible sin it is to be controlled by the fear of man.

5. Special works of grace came to Scotland several times during the 1500-1600’s.

John Livingstone preached for 90 minutes in 1630, apparently in a field, and saw 500 converted. Before this remarkable event, they had spent the night in prayer. In the morning, Livingstone was overwhelmed with “his own unworthiness and weakness” yet he eventually was persuaded to preach. John Howie writes, “It is a question if any one, since the primitive times, can produce so many convincing and confirming seals of his ministry” as John Livingstone.

John Welch, the son-in-law of John Knox, “wondered how a Christian could lie in bed all night, and not rise to pray.” A Catholic friar was converted merely hearing Welch pray. “If either his spiritual experiences in seeking the Lord, or his fruitfulness in converting souls, be considered, they will be found unparalleled in Scotland.” A pastor friend once said, “No man could hear him and forbear weeping.”

The Scottish Presbyterians prepared a Covenant with God and then signed it on 28 Feb. 1638. Some families even signed with their blood.

Imitate their faith and zeal if by any means God may be pleased to send the same seasons of refreshing to their spiritual descendants.

6. These men revealed all the evils of spiritual compromise so that Satan would be robbed of one of his temptations.

Indulgences: In the 1660’s, the king offered to permit some true pastors to return if they would submit to his authority.

Robert Garnock disagreed even with his father and friends over the indulgences, and eventually suffered death rather than compromise.

Robert Blair wrote, “Then I found that the Spirit of holiness, whose immediate and appropriate work was to sanctify, had been slighted, and so grieved. For though the Holy Spirit had been teaching, and I had been speaking of Him and to Him frequently, and seeking the pouring out of the same, and urging others to seek the same, yet that discovery appeared to me a new practical lesson; and so I labored more to crave, cherish, and not grieve or quench the Holy Spirit…”

John Knox wrote, “I am not ignorant that many have blamed me, and yet do blame my too great rigour and severity; but God knoweth, that in my heart I never hated the persons of those against whom I thundered God’s judgments; I did only hate their sins…”

Be both discerning and unbending in the cause of truth.

7. They were men nearly intoxicated with the joy of Heaven.

The day of his execution, James Renwick told his mother and sisters who visited him, “O Lord, Thou has brought me within two hours of eternity, and this is no matter of terror to me… How can I contain this, to be within two hours of the crown of glory!”

Renwick had been strengthened a few years earlier when he was at the execution of Garnock whose last words included, “Oh! Will ye love Him, sirs? Oh! He is well worth the loving and quitting all for. Oh! For many lives to seal the sweet cause with! If I had as many lives as there are hairs on my head, I would think them all too little to be martyrs for truth. I bless the Lord I do not suffer unwillingly nor by constraint, but heartily and cheerfully.”

Train your soul to be satisfied with God until an exit from earth is a desirable blessing.

8. God protected them constantly in unexpected ways.

Donald Cargill was preaching morning and evening, and yet the authorities consistently missed him when they came to make the arrest.

Once as Cargill preached in a packed house, the police arrived. They stuffed Cargill into a window and closed it with books. The search was so exhaustive that while going through the ceiling of the house, one of the policemen fell through. When a policeman tried to move a book that covered the window the maid called out that they were trying to steal books, and so the policeman stopped and Cargill was spared.

Sometimes he even gave his name to the police, and yet for some reason they forgot that he was their man. Cargill escaped repeatedly in this way.

Robert Fleming made a list of 38 kind providences in his life.

While John Craig was hiding from the murderous soldiers, he had nothing to eat until a dog brought him a purse with gold in it upon which he lived until the soldiers had grown tired.

Settle your soul in God’s kind care for His children.


Courage, boldness, and devotion are best learned by living examples retold in the pages of history.

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