The Stout Scot

The life of John Knox can only be defined as “extraordinary.”  He was born around the year 1514 and died in November 24, 1572.  He was raised in Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland, located about fifteen miles from Edinburgh.  His early education took place at the Haddington Grammar School and in 1536 he obtained his M.A. from the prestigious University of St. Andrews.  He taught briefly here, but not much is known about this time in his life.

In April of 1536, he was ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic church. Later he would begin to see that the Catholic dogma is what robbed the Scottish people of the saving knowledge of God. The Catholic Church, during this time, was very powerful, owning more than half the land in Scotland. From 1540-1543, Knox served as a private tutor of two families in East Lothian.  These families were both known for their Protestant beliefs and would have exerted some initial gospel influence on this young teacher.[1]

While the early part of Knox’s life is unclear, it was crystal clear that he was committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Through the teaching of Thomas Guillanne, through whom Knox had been exposed to the reformed doctrine for the first time, Knox embraced Christ and thus was converted by the very gospel that he would dedicate his life to.  It was here that he devoted his life to the study of the Word of God.

Another influential character in the life of Knox was a reformed preacher by the name of George Wishart.  Knox became a devoted disciple of Wishart and learned boldness and courage in ministry from this man who would later give his life for the truth of the Gospel.  Not only was Knox a student of Wishart, but he was also his bodyguard.  Armed with his two-handed sword, Knox protected Wishart, and it was during this time his boldness and courage, to stand for the faith would emerge.  During a very tense period, where persecution reached a breaking point, Wishart was arrested (December 1545).  When going to defend him, Wishart told Knox ‘return to your bairns, and God bless you.’[2]  March 1, 1546, Wishart was burned at the stake and with these dying words, “I beseech Thee, Father of heaven, to forgive them that have any ignorance or else of any evil mind, forged any lies upon me.  I forgive them with all my heart.  I beseech Christ to forgive them that have condemned me to death this day ignorantly,[3] passed the baton to John Knox.

In his first publicly preached sermon on Daniel 7:24-25, the roots of the papistry were shaken.  It was said to have been delivered with the force of a lightning bolt from heaven and it shook the foundation of the Catholic Church.  While others may have lopped off branches, Knox struck the root with a force to destroy the whole.[4]  It was this passion for, no this fear for the Word the Lord that drove him to rightly handle the Word of Truth.  It was his ability to handle the Word of God that led people to believe he had been divinely called to preach the Word of God, and he was asked to do so for the people gathered at St. Andrews Castle.  “In a sermon preached by John Rough, Knox was publicly charged before the congregation to answer what the former believed to be a divine call upon his life.”[5]  What a fearful thing to have done, those affirm that you have been called to preach.  John did not take this lightly, in fact, he was brought to tears, not of happiness but fear, for he would not run where God did not call him and for days, with abundant tears, prayed and sought counsel from the Lord.  At last, he stepped forward, as David stepped forward, as the Apostle Paul stepped forward and answered the call to preach. 

He was gripped by a direct sense of accountability to God and that needs to be the attitude of every preacher.  He was one of the most heroic leaders in church history.  He was a fiery Reformer who through the divine call, “established his native land as an impenetrable fortress of biblical truth, one that would reverberate throughout the whole world.”[6]  The Reformation had many heroes in it, Martin Luther the hammer, John Calvin the pen, and John Knox the trumpet, for he came loudly proclaiming the truth of God.

What a life to study and one that I recommend you do, but for the sake of this article, I am going to look at one of many things that would allow this article to fit into Mission-Minded Monday.  I could take from the fact that he was imprisoned as a galley slave.  Through the most severe condition efforts were made to drive him back to Catholicism, and yet still vowed to proclaim His Holy name with the steeple of St. Andrews in mind.  He never broke and even throwing a statue of Mary overboard, stood firm in the faith.  I could pull from the trial that he stood in April of 1550, where he presented a robust biblical defense of Reformed Doctrine to the Council of the North, where he stated: “All worshipping, honoring, or service invented by the brain of man in the religion of God, without his [God’s] own express commandment, is idolatry.”[7]  This eventually led to his release.  These two accounts alone are worth a study and accounting for missionary work, but I am going to choose one from the year 1560.  It was in this year that Knox returned to his homeland. 

A life worth writing about had already been lived, but God was not finished with him yet.  In this year when he came home, there were only twelve ministers.  Think about that for a moment, in the land of Scotland twelve ministers and seven years later, through his High view of the Word of God, His high view of Divine calling, this powerful and prolific preacher did what he was called to do, preach.  It was with the same devotion and fear that caused him to withdraw for days to affirm, with God, his calling to preach that those seven years produced 250 ministers, 150 exhorters, 450 lay leaders who ministered to the Scriptures.  Some would say that it was his influence, his bold preaching, and I would agree, but I am also sure that if we asked him, he would humbly proclaim that it was by the will of God that this happened. 

If someone were to ask me how John Knox lived such an effective and extraordinary life, I would tell them, “Because he devoted himself to studying the unique and extraordinary life of Jesus Christ.  He spent time with Christ in a way that we all should, and it was because of his relationship with Christ that he was able to live a life of a Stout Scot.”

[1] Steven J. Lawson, John Knox: Fearless Faith (Christian Focus Publications Ltd, 2017), 18.

[2] John Knox, The History of the Reformation of Religion within the Realm of Scotland (1898, repr.; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2010), 58

[3] Ibid., 65

[4] Ibid., 75

[5] Steven J. Lawson, John Knox: Fearless Faith (Christian Focus Publications Ltd, 2017), 21.

[6] Ibid,. 15

[7] Ibid,. 30

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