Some people in Scotland think too highly of John Knox; others think ill of him. A Scottish cab driver was driving an American up the hill to Edinburgh Castle: “That is the house of John Knox.” The visitor replied: “And who was John Knox?” The driver said in disgust: “Go home, man, and read your bible!” The cab driver thought too much of Knox.
John Knox was converted by the Holy Spirit as he read John 17. He was discipled by “Master” George Wishart, whom Knox wielded a two-handed claymore sword for so that Wishart could preach the Gospel without being attacked in Scotland. When Wishart was summed to die as a martyr Knox asked to accompany Wishart, but Wishart said: “Nay, return to your bairns, and God bless you. One is sufficient for a sacrifice.”
Knox was called to preach in front of a congregation of Protestant refugees in St Andrew’s castle by another preacher (Mr. Rough), and Knox burst forth into an abundance of tears. The French brigaded the castle, seized Knox as a galley slave for 19 months, and burned Rough at the stake.
The English rescued Knox from the French, and for ten year Knox was a pastor-preacher in exile from Scotland because he was a Protestant (1549-1559). He served in Berwick & Newcastle (England), Frankfurt (Germany), and Geneva (Switzerland). Looking back over the years in England Knox imagined Christ saying to him something like Christ would have said to Peter: “Yet art thou too proude to be a pastour, thou canste notstoupe, nor bowe thy backe down to take up the weake shepe;thou does not yet knowe thine own infirmitie and weakness,and therefore canst thou do nothing but despise the weak ones.” (Dawson, p. 69)
When Knox returned to Edinburgh, Scotland on May 2, 1559. The bishops assembled in the Monastery of the Black Friars to discuss improvements to the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. For example, any priest caught in adultery loses 1/3 of pay; and priests could not put their sons in their wills (not supposed to have any sons in the first place). For example, Cardinal Beaton had 8 illegitimate sons. While meeting, a messenger unannounced entered the meeting and shouted: “Knox is returned to Edinburgh!” We read: “at once they closed their meeting & arose hastily.”
The Summer of 1559 was an extraordinary time of revival. Knox preached in the major cities, and promoted reformation of the church. Knox said he was: “Churching it like a Scythian.” (There was no watering down of the wine among the Scythians of Ancient Greece.)
In the summer of 1559 when he first returned to St Andrews, warning was sent to him by the bishop that if he dared to preach the next Sunday there would be a dozen hand guns discharged in his face. His friends advised delay, but he went ahead and took for his text Christ driving the buyers and sellers out of the temple. The famous painting above is of the scene of Knox leaning out over the pulpit before the Dutchess of Arguile holding her baby by Sir David Wilkie captured something of that day, June 11, 1559, and the effect of it at the time can be seen in the 14 priests of the Roman Church, who confessed the faith.
Five Swift Reforms that Year 1559
- By the 1560 the French forces were defeated.
- Parliament adopted laws
- RCC was replaced with Presbyterianism
- A Nat’l Confession of Faith established by 6 men named “John” in five days. The closing words of the Scots Confession—a prayer: “Arise, O Lord, and let Thine enemies be confounded; let them flee from thy presence that hate thy godly name. Give thy servants strength to speak thy word with boldness, and let all nations cleave to the true knowledge of thee.”
- Book of Discipline
How was Scotland Reformed into Presbyterianism so Fast?
“In Scotland the whole nation was converted by lump; and within ten years after popery was discharged in Scotland, there were not ten persons of quality to be found in it who did not profess the true reformed religion, and so it was among the commons in proportion. Lo! Here a nation born in one day.’” ( Kirkton’s History)
Calvin wrote to Knox: “We wonder at success so incredible and in so short a time.”
Knox explained the success of the Reformation in Scotland in his History: (Citing Isaiah 40 in Geneva Bible) . . . “This promise has been performed for us Christians here in the realm of Scotland. For what was our force or strength? What was our number? Yea, what was our wisdom or worldly policy was to us to have brought to a good end so great an enterprise?”
Knox replied to Calvin: “God gave His Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance.”
Three Broad Lessons from the Ministry of John Knox
- The Logos, Ethos, and Pathos of Reformation Preaching
Logos: “Unto me…is this grace given that I should preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Ephesians 3:8
“God is friendly minded to sinners”
“We opened more fully the fountain of God’s grace to sinners”
“Christ so tender towards those who put Him to death that He first sent unto them the ministry of reconciliation.”
Ethos: The primacy of preaching over writing (“I consider myself rather called by my God to instruct the ignorant, comfort the sorrowful, confirm the weak, and rebuke the proud, by tongue and living voice, in these corrupt days, than to compose books for the age to come.”)
“It hath pleased God of his superabundant grace to make me, most wretched of many thousands, a witness, minister and preacher.”
Used Plain speech – Puritans loved this word plain. “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” 1 Corinthians 14:8
Pathos: (“A dinging the pulpit”) – To Ding is to hit the pulpit hard and almost seem to be flying out of it.
A student there at the time was fifteen-year-old James Melville, and he would see Knox walking to church from the old priory, a staff in one hand and held under his other armpit by a friend, with furs wrapped round his neck. It was the year before his death and his strength was gone. Melville wrote in his Autobiography:
“Of all the benefits I had that year  was the coming of that most notable prophet and apostle of our nation, Mr John Knox, to St Andrews . . . I heard him teach there the prophecy of Daniel that summer and winter following. I had my pen and my little book, and took away such things as I could comprehend. In the opening up of his text he was moderate the space of an half hour; but when he entered to application, he made me so grew [shudder] and tremble, that I could not hold a pen to write.”
Melville says further that Knox had to be lifted up into the pulpit “where it behoved him to lean at his first entry; but before he had done with his sermon he was so active and vigorous, that he was like to ding that pulpit in blads and fly out of it!”
English Ambassador—Knox “put life into them more than 500 trumpets.”
- A Love for the Church and the Courage to Reform Her
Two days before his death—“I have been in meditation these last two nights [concerning] the troubled church of God, the spouse of Jesus Christ, despised of the world but precious in his sight. I have called to God for it, and have committed it to her head, Jesus Christ.”
Earl of Morton at Knox’s funeral—“Here lies one who neither feared nor flattered any flesh.”
- Faith in the Promises of God through Prayer
“Let us now humble ourselves in the presence of our God, and, from the bottom of our hearts, let us desire him to assist us with the power of his Holy Spirit . . . that albeit we see his Church so diminished, that it shall appear to be brought, as it were, to utter extermination, that yet we may be assured that in our God there is power and will to increase the number of his chosen, even while they be enlarged to the uttermost coasts of the earth.”
Prayer From John Knox for the Holy Spirit: “Because we have need continually to crave many things at your hands, we humbly beg you, O heavenly Father, to grant us your Holy Spirit to direct our petitions, that they may proceed from such a fervent mind as may be agreeable to your holy will. Amen.”