The Gallows Speech of a Schoolteacher in 1684

Execution Seventeenth Century

George Martin was a notary public with, what we would call, a social conscience. Before his capture in 1679, he taught at the school in Dailly parish in Ayrshire. He was a reader in the kirk and worked recording legal deeds for local people…

In his martyrs’ testimony, which was probably his gallows speech delivered at his execution in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh, he outlined why he would not pray for King Charles II or say ‘God save the King’, and countered the charges on which he was condemned.

He clearly saw the assassination of Archbishop Sharp in May, 1679, as the judgement of God for spilling the blood of God’s people. He weighed the execution of Charles I in 1649 against the thousands killed by the King’s forces in the Civil Wars. Adhering to the Covenants of 1638 and 1643, he condemned the public burning of them. He accused those who condemned him of murder. Martin also gave advice to his audience to use ‘what ye spare of your ordinary diet, bestow it upon the poor and needy’.

Martin’s is the only testimony to have survived from the three men executed that day. There is a hint in the text, the occasional use of ‘we’, that he, as an educated man, may have spoken at length in part on behalf of his executed brethren, John Kerr/Gilry, possibly a ferryman, and James Muir, possibly a wright, who were also condemned for refusing to acknowledge the authority of Charles II. Neither Kerr, nor Muir, left a martyrs’ testimony.

His testimony is printed Thomson (ed,) Cloud of Witnesses, 321-5.

The Last Testimony of George Martin, who suffered at the Grassmarket of Edinburgh, upon the 22d of February 1684.

My Dear Friends,—After four years’ and near four months’ captivity and bondage, for this glorious and honourable cause of Jesus Christ, for which I have been kept sometimes in bolts and fetters night and day, without fire, and other necessaries; and now at the end of the foresaid space, being sentenced to die; I thought it fit to signify to you why I was so sentenced, as the adversaries gave it forth. And it is this; I could not own, nor allow of the king’s authority, as it is now established, nor pray for him in a superstitious, idolatrous manner, nor call the late Prelate of St Andrews’ and the late king’s death murder, nor Bothwell Bridge rebellion, and abjure the Covenant. All which I refused, and could do upon no terms.

As to the first, I could not own, nor allow of the present government, as it is now established, because it is derogatory to the crown and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, in robbing Him of His royal prerogatives, ‘In their setting of their threshold by My thresholds, and their post by My posts, and the wall between Me and them, they have even defiled My holy name by their abominations that they have committed: wherefore I have consumed them in mine anger’ (Ezek. xliii. 8).
And thou shalt say to the rebellious, even to the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God, O ye house of Israel, let it suffice you of all your abominations, in that ye have brought into my sanctuary strangers, uncircumcised in heart, and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary, to pollute it, even my house, when ye offer my bread, the fat and the blood, and they have broken my covenant, because of all your abominations. And ye have not kept the charge of mine holy things; but ye have set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary for yourselves’ (Ezek. xliv. 6-8).
Shall even he that hateth right govern? and wilt thou condemn him that is most just?’(Job xxxiv. 17).
Who durst do it, and be guiltless? And moreover, ‘Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the holy One of Israel to cease from before us’ (Isa. xxx. 10, 11).

And I cannot, nor dare not pray for him so superstitiously:

1. Because it imports a set form of prayer, which is most superstitious, and that which is their dreadful design.

2. It imports idolatry, like unto the cry of the people made mention of in Acts xix. 34, who had a cry for the space of two hours, of that idol, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians,’ which was rejected, with some kind of reason, by some of their own sort, though heathens, and much more ought it here.

3. Another reason why I cannot pray after such a manner is; I find when prayer is rightly discharged, and seriously gone about, in the manner, time, and place, as is warranted by the Word of God, that God is thereby worshipped and honoured; and if irreverently gone about, He is dishonoured, and His name profaned, and taken in vain, which is abomination to Him, and which He saith His enemies do, and for which He will not hold them guiltless.

4. I dare not pray so superstitiously for him, because I find Jeremiah three times expressly forbidden to pray for a people, not guilty of all the things that he is guilty of, though he be guilty of all their sins, and many others also. See for this, Jer. vii. 16, where it is said, ‘Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee.’
Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a cry or prayer for them: for I will not hear them in the time that they cry unto me for their trouble’ (Jer. xi. 14).
Then said the Lord unto me, Pray not for this people for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry’ (Jer. xiv. 11, 12).
‘If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god; shall not God search this out? for He knoweth the secrets of the heart’ (Ps. xliv. 20, 21).
If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it’ (1 John v. 16).
I fear some sins in this land have too near bordering with that sin. Innumerable Scriptures are to this purpose, but these may suffice at present.

Another thing makes me scruple, because they command no more prayers to be prayed, save unto thee, O king (Dan. vi. 7).

And lastly, I dare not pray it, because all the profane profligate persons have it always in their mouth, especially when they are drunk; and if I do what they do, I fear I go where they go. But blessed be the Lord, who has yet prevented me from the paths of these destroyers. Much of this was spoken when I was before them, and so I shall forbear to speak any more as to this question.

The next question is, in order to the Prelate’s death [i.e., the assassination of James Sharp,, Archbishop of St Andrews, in May 1679[, whether it was murder or not? Murder, I dare not call it, more than Eglon’s, Sisera’s, and Balaam’s deaths, but the just judgment of God for his fearful apostacy and backsliding, together with the horrid murders committed by him upon the saints and servants of God.

The third is, that of the death of the late king [Charles I]: Whether it was murder or not? I am not much to meddle with it. But the many thousands that were slain in England, the horrid murder committed by the Irish in Ireland, and the dreadful slaughter of the Protestants in Scotland, cause great thoughts of heart, that it was a fatal stroke.

A fourth thing, whether Bothwell Bridge was rebellion? which, whether it was so or not, may appear, if ye consider our former engagements to that effect.

And fifthly, anent owning and adhering to the Covenants? We answered publicly before the Court, That in all the Scripture it was warrantable, both to make covenants, and also to keep them, and that there was never a covenant so broken, but that which was punished by signal judgments and plagues by the Lord.

These were the answers to the indictment, and whereupon the sentence of death passed, or for not answering to some of these questions; for which I must lay down my life, and if this be not murder, let the Christian nations bear witness, if ever the like was done in any Christian kingdom heretofore.

But now, being straitened for want of time, and other inconveniences, I cannot say much more to you. Only I leave it with you as my last advice, that ye would endeavour to keep the way of the Lord sincerely, and not to meddle with them that are given to such changes, which alas! too many plead for, and are given to this day; and that ye would not be so formal in many things, concerning godliness, and the work and worship of God. Formality, [it] may be feared, will give many a beguile, when it cannot be mended.

As first, I beseech you, be more observant in keeping the Lord’s Day, in rising betimes in the morning, and in spending the whole time in worshipping of God sincerely. Take heed to your thoughts, words, and actions. And when ye set a day apart—I mean of humiliation—give God the whole day, and notice what success ye have had, and how you have found the work thrive and prosper among you. And use less disputings, even in things seemingly necessary; and be more in examination and edification, both of yourselves and others. And believe it, a well-spent Sabbath will be helpful to spend the week well And also labouring to have your conversation aright through the week will be a noble presage to begin the Sabbath.

And what ye spare of your ordinary diet, bestow it upon the poor and needy. There is this among many who profess to be religious, which is odious, that they take well with it to be called religious, and yet they have little or no scruple to do wrong, and speak wrong of others, and towards them. I beseech you, sin not, though there were no eye to see you but God, either by doing or suffering. Ye will never perform religious duties aright, till ye be at this, that ye dare do wrong in no kind to any. Do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. Alas! it is sad to see and hear judgments and plagues multiplied, and sin so much increasing.

O for more tenderness one towards another, and of a spirit of meekness and zeal for God ; give yourselves to be ever in prayer one with another, and one for another. Wrestle with Him in behalf of His Church and ruined work now borne down, and that He may return to the land and pity His people; and be importunate with Him in this, lest the ruin thereof be found to be under your hand. I fear ye may expect judgments to come suddenly upon this sinful land; so that ye will think, happy were they that wan away before they came. Therefore, so many of you as would in any measure escape the deluge of wrath, that is coming on this sinful generation, keep clean hands, and be free of the sinful abominations committed therein; and for witnessing against them, we are to lay down our lives this day.

And now, as a dying man, and a dying Christian, I join with, and approve of all the Holy Scriptures both of the Old and New Testaments, both of threatenings and promises therein. As also, I agree with, and allow of that excellent book, called the Confession of Faith, with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, Sum of Saving Knowledge, Directory for Worship; and particularly I adhere to, and allow of the two Covenants, both National and Solemn League and Covenant, Acknowledgment of Sins and Engagement to Duties, with all other contained in the forenamed book. As also, I do witness and testify my dislike of the breaches and burnings of these Covenants and of all other horrid abominations of that nature. And, likewise, I abhor and detest all compliance or joining with the enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ; and more particularly of bonding, bargaining, and informing, or putting them to do hurt, any manner of way, to any of the Lord’s poor afflicted, borne-down, wandering, and distressed people. And in like manner, I hate and detest all communing with, speaking favourably of, or eating or drinking with any such, except in case of necessity. And, in like manner, I testify my dislike of that dreadful, blasphemous, and abominable unparallelled Test, and all pretended magistrates or ministers, which have taken the same, and of all that meddle and join with them, or of payers of fines, for hearing the Gospel, or transacting or colleaguing with any such, any manner of way, upon the foresaid account.

And lastly, I hate too much covetousness in prisoners who are in any capacity to maintain themselves, and are yet burdensome to other poor, mean (though charitable) people. And I join heartily with the testimonies of our dear suffering brethren, who suffered either formerly or of late. And, likewise, I join my testimony to a faithful preached Gospel by faithful Presbyterian, lawfully called, and authorised ministers, and lawful magistrates placed and empowered, as is agreeable and warranted by the Word of God, and none other. And notwithstanding I be branded with not admitting of magistracy and kingly authority, I do hereby declare and make it known to the world, that I do allow of lawful authority, agreeable and conformable to the will and command of God, the only lawgiver, as much as any man in my station in Scotland, and account a land happy and blessed in having and enjoying of such.

And now, being honoured to die for adhering to the truth, and to die this same day, being the 22d of February 1684, I do hereby forgive all persons all wrongs done to me, and wish them forgiveness, as I desire to be forgiven of God.

And now I leave all friends and Christian relations to the good guiding of Almighty God, and bid all of you farewell in the Lord. Farewell all worldly enjoyments and created comforts; and welcome Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, into whose hands I commit my spirit.

George Martin.’

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

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~ by drmarkjardine on February 10, 2015.

One Response to “The Gallows Speech of a Schoolteacher in 1684”

  1. […] in the same parish. Also in the graveyard is a monument to George Martin, a schoolteacher who delivered a fine gallows speech on behalf of himself and his brethren hanged in Edinburgh in […]

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