Jesus surely chose his disciples knowing that sooner or later most of us would identify with impetuous, impulsive Peter.

James Mitchell was a Peter: part preacher/part assassin—and perhaps with good reason for being both. He was a Covenanter, one of the Scottish Presbyterians who vowed to resist English efforts to impose Anglo-Catholic forms on their churches. Their resistance drew fire from the monarchy and from the church itself, the chief tormentor being the Prelate, Archbishop James Sharp, who caught and killed Presbyterians like dogs.

Something had to be done, Mitchell reasoned. On July 11, 1668, as the archbishop sat in his horse-drawn coach, Mitchell pointed a pistol at him and fired through the open door. He missed, hitting another bishop in the hand. Eventually Mitchell was captured, imprisoned, and tortured with the boot, a tight box fitted around the leg into which staves were slowly driven, shattering the leg an inch at a time. Mitchell and his crushed limb were then thrown into a series of squalid prisons where he subsisted on snow water sprinkled with oatmeal.

On January 18, 1678, the preacher and would-be assassin was taken to the center of Edinburgh for execution. Loud drumming drowned out his last words, but he had hidden away two copies of his message, and from the scaffold he flung them to the crowd. The next day these words were plastered across Scotland:

I acknowledge my private and particular sins have been such as deserved a worse death; but I hope in the merits of Jesus Christ to be free from the eternal punishment due me for sin. I am brought here that I might be a witness for his despised truths and interests in this land, where I am called to seal the same with my blood: and I wish heartily that my poor life may put an end to the persecution of the true members of Christ in this place, so much actuated by these perfidious prelates. …

The perfidious prelates, however, found more blood to drink in the years to come.

Simon Peter had brought along a sword. He now pulled it out and struck at the servant of the high priest. The servant’s name was Malchus, and Peter cut off his right ear. Jesus told Peter, “Put your sword away. I must drink from the cup that my Father has given me.” John 18:10,11

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Jan. 18.

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