John Knox

Many, many years ago, about the year 1505, a man was born in Scotland in whose hands rested the continuation and success of the Reformation. His name was John Knox. The parents of Knox were well off financially enough to give him a liberal education.

He first entered grammar school in Hadington where he learned the principles of the Latin language. From there his father, in 1524, sent him to St. Andrews to the University of Glasgow, the most celebrated seminary in Scotland. The curriculum in this institution of learning consisted of the philosophy of Aristotle, scholastic theology, along with canon and civil law, and the study of Latin.

The studies in scholastic philosophy were not satisfying, so he turned to the study of Divine truth and the labor of the ministry. At the end of his studies he received the Master of Arts degree. He then taught philosophy for a time, and his abilities excelled those of his master in the dialectic art. In 1530, at the age of 25, he was ordained a priest before he had reached the age required by the canons of the church.

Not satisfied with the things he was reading from the excerpts of the ancient authors, he decided he would go to the authors themselves. Jerome and Augustine appealed to him. Jerome led him to read the Scriptures in their original language. In the works of Augustine he discovered sentiments quite opposite to the Papal church. “Augustine and Jerome led Knox to the feet of a Greater. The future Reformer now opens the Sacred Oracles, and he who had once wandered in the dry and thirsty wilderness of scholasticism finds himself at the fountain and well-head of Divine knowledge.” J. A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, 483. As a result of this study, Knox in 1535, turned from scholastic theology to evangelical religion. He renounced the Roman Catholic church and commenced his career as a Reformer.

The corruptions within the Roman church reached greater heights in Scotland than any where else within the western church. “Superstition and religious imposture, in their grossest forms, gained an easy admission among a rude and ignorant people. By means of these, the clergy attained to an exorbitant degree of opulence and power; which were accompanied, as they always have been, with corruption of their order, and of the whole system of religion.” Thomas M’Crie, The Life of John Knox, 20.

Half of the wealth of Scotland belonged to the clergy, although most of it was in the hands of a few who had control of the larger body, because they had taken advantage of the ignorance and superstition of the masses. “The ignorance of the clergy respecting religion was as gross as the dissoluteness of their morals. Even bishops were not ashamed to confess that they were unacquainted with the canon of their faith, and had never read any part of the sacred Scriptures, except what they met with in their missals.” Ibid., 21.

Reforms Begin

A light was beginning to shine in Scotland, and, before Knox had embraced the Reform doctrine, a young man by the name of Patrick Hamilton was moved by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Reformed doctrine. He went to Germany and spoke with Martin Luther, then went to the Protestant university in Marburg to study the Scriptures.

After completing his studies, Hamilton had an irresistible desire to return to Scotland where he exposed the corruption of the popish clergy. Because of this work he soon came to the attention of the Roman Catholic authorities. He was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake in 1528.

Knox began his career as an educator at the seminary of St. Andrews in 1547, which lasted only a short time. A call came to him from the Protestant ministers of Scotland to join them as a public speaker. He at first declined, saying that he had not been called to that employment, but shortly accepted. His preaching was so successful that many at St. Andrews, and in the towns surrounding the university, were won to the Protestant cause.

In June of that year, a French fleet appeared and captured the Castle of St. Andrews, and Knox was taken prisoner and confined to the galleys for the next two years. The Reformation in Scotland seemed to came to a standstill with Knox out of the country.

He was released in 1549, and he repaired to England where he preached for a time in Berwick. It was here he met and married Marjory Bowes who bore him three children before her death. From Berwick, Knox went to London and busied himself with preaching against the corruption within the church as well as nurturing the followers of the reform.

Because of the anger he aroused in the leadership of the Roman church, Knox left England in 1554, and sailed to Dieppe in France. He remained there for a time before going to Geneva, Switzerland, meditating, preaching, studying and writing letters of encouragement to those reformers remaining in Scotland.

In 1555, Knox returned to Scotland for a brief visit, but it was long enough to consolidate and advance the Reformation in that land. He left Scotland in 1556 because he felt his continued presence would draw strong persecution upon this young community of believers. He went to Geneva once more to pastor an English church.

In April of 1557, two men from Edinburgh arrived with a letter of invitation to return to Scotland and continue the work of reform. They told him that the followers of the reform doctrine remained steadfast, and their adversaries were rapidly losing credibility among the Scottish people. He accordingly secured a replacement for himself in the church, set his affairs in order, and returned to Dieppe, in preparation for sailing to Scotland.

However, before he sailed, further news arrived of a different nature from the first intelligence he had received, telling him the Roman church had gained new power in Scotland and things were not as good as first related to him. Therefore, Knox spent some time traveling in France and preaching.

In December, he returned to Geneva. During the following year he was engaged, along with several other men, in translating the Bible into English. Their Bible became known as the Geneva Bible.

In January of 1559, Knox left Geneva for the last time. “The nation had now found what it needed, a man able to lead it in the great war in which it was entering.” J. A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, 490.

Battles and Victories

Mary, the Queen regent, was a strong supporter of the Roman Catholic church and did all she could to stop the Reformation in Scotland. She used everything within her power to gain her ends, not excluding deceit, flattery, and force. She would stop at nothing to get what she wanted. Knox met with her on several occasions to answer the charges laid against him, but he felt no fear because he knew that he stood on the banner of truth.

On one occasion the queen arrived before the city of Perth with an army of 8000 men, but the reformers were so well prepared that she readily saw that any attempt to take the city was useless. She offered to make a peace settlement with them which they accepted, and the queen entered Perth without any resistance.

Knox preached a sermon describing the corruptions which had been introduced into the church by the papacy, using the story of Christ cleansing the temple. “When he had ended, and sat down, it may be said that Scotland was Reformed.” Ibid., 493.

Following this famous sermon, Knox spent the next year in incessant labor. He spent the days in preaching and the nights in writing. By this means he aroused and kept the country awake. “His voice like a great trumpet rang through the land, firing the lukewarm into zeal, and inspiring the timid into courage.” Ibid., 494.

On August 24, 1560, Parliament abolished the Pope’s jurisdiction, abolished the mass, and rescinded the laws in favor of the Romish church.

“Knox’s idea of the church was, in brief, a divinely originated, a divinely enfranchised, and a divinely governed society. Its members were all those who made profession of the Gospel; its law was the Bible, and its king was Christ.” Ibid., 496.

August of 1561, Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland, arrived and took the reins of government in her hands. She proceeded to consolidate her power and establish the Roman Catholic religion as supreme in the land. In December of 1563, Knox was put on trial, before the council and queen Mary, for treason. He was acquitted by a unanimous vote.

By the year 1567, a new monarch, the infant James, came to the throne of Scotland with the Earl of Murray, a close friend of Knox, as regent. The parliament ratified all the acts that had been passed in 1560, accepting the Protestant faith as the religion of the country, and abolishing the Papal jurisdiction. “From this point Knox could look back over the battles he had waged, and the toils he had borne, and contemplate with thankfulness their issue in the overthrow of the Papal tyranny, and the establishment of a Scriptural faith in Scotland.” Ibid., 511.

The years 1568 and 1569, were the happiest years in the life of the reformer and the most prosperous for his beloved country in that century. All was going well for the church, and she was enlarging her borders. His last years were spent in opposing the introduction into the Presbyterian church of the Tulchan bishops, which were unique to Scotland.

He objected to the institution of this new order of ecclesiastics into the church because he believed it to be a robbery of the patrimony of the church, and because it was an invasion of the Presbyterian equality which had been settled in the Scottish Kirk. His opposition delayed the introduction of this arrangement until the year of his death.

In 1570, Knox, never enjoying a strong constitution, became very feeble. A stroke of apoplexy affected his speech and necessitated his removal to St. Andrews where he had to be lifted up into the pulpit to preach. He continued preaching until he could no longer do so due to weakness. On the 24th of November, 1572, John Knox breathed his last and was laid to rest.

“From the time that he embraced the Reformed doctrines, the desire of propagating them, and of delivering his countrymen from the delusions and corruptions of popery, became his ruling passion, to which he was always ready to sacrifice his ease, his interest, his reputation and his life. An ardent attachment to civil liberty held the next place in his breast, to love of the reformed religion. ” Thomas M’crie, The Life of John Knox, 207.

“His ministerial functions were discharged with the greatest assiduity, fidelity, and fervour. No avocation or infirmity prevented him from appearing in the pulpit. Preaching was an employment in which he delighted, and for which he was qualified by an extensive acquaintance with the Scriptures, and the happy art of applying them, in the most striking manner, to the existing circumstances of the Church, and of his hearers.” Ibid., 208.

“The two master-qualities of Knox were faith and courage. The fundamental quality was his faith; courage was the noble fruit that sprang from it.” The History of Protestantism, 514.

Ken McGaughey