As the Reformation literature spread throughout Europe, so did the Reformation itself, arriving in the country of Scotland through the Reformer named John Knox.
John Knox was born in 1514 in a small town south of Edinburgh. When he was old enough, he entered the school of St. Andrews to study theology, as most students did. He was actually ordained as a minister, but did not serve as a pastor or minister until years later.
During Knox’s younger years, the country of Scotland was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the Catholic Church. The same problems that existed in Germany, England, and Switzerland existed in Scotland too. Priests and bishops were not placed in their positions because of their holiness or call to ministry, but for political appointments. This led to all kinds of immoral sins of the priests being open and well-known. The priests in Scotland were openly consorting with concubines and fathering illegitimate children. The Catholic Church, as an entity, owned more than half the real estate in the country! The ‘church’ was, in essence, a corporation not a religious entity.
Also at this time, the literature of Martin Luther was being smuggled into Scotland with many agreeing with his positions. The Reformation was spreading. But the Catholic Church would not allow this ‘heresy’ to continue and wanted to suppress it. They burned a man named Patrick Hamilton at the stake for being a protestant. This move ironically did not suppress anything, but actually ignited the passions of the Protestants and Reformers in Scotland. Knox began studying and learning from Scottish reformers and even became a bodyguard under a preacher named George Wishart. But, Wishart too, was arrested and burned at the stake.
During a Protestant church service one Sunday after this event, the preacher named John Rough publicly asked John Knox to take over as the preacher. Knox was so overwhelmed and so shaken at this tremendous responsibility that he actually broke down into tears at the thought of him preaching God’s Word. He actually declined the offer, but then later accepted, feeling the tug of God that this was what he must do.
Knox actually traveled to Geneva and met John Calvin, having high praise for his ministry there. When he returned to Scotland, he published a number of tracts and treatises. These tracts were not quite politically correct as he essentially lobbied for the right of the people to overthrow an unrepentant monarch, like Mary Tudor the queen of England who was called the name ‘Bloody Mary’ for her persecution of Protestants. Knox also co-wrote the Scots Confession which basically abolished the authority of the Pope and the Catholic mass. While his writings spread his fame, Knox became more infamous for his amazing preaching.
In his sermons, Knox would calmly exegete a passage of Scripture for about a half hour. Then, he would turn on the afterburners and become loud and raucous, pounding the pulpit, and even inciting a riot after one of his sermons. One of his note takers commented that he could barely hold the pen because Knox was making him tremble so much.
I have 3 main lessons we can learn from John Knox. First, would be the seriousness of preaching. I wonder if there are many men who would break down into tears if you asked them to preach. It was such a serious matter to Knox that he felt totally unqualified to do it, except for the fact he felt it was the calling of God for him to preach. The second lesson would be to follow his example and not have a fear of man. He was courageous and passionate and desired to please God above all. One man said that John Knox neither “flattered nor feared any flesh.” May that be true of us as well. The last lesson is one I have not discussed yet: the prayer life of John Knox. He famously prayed to God, “give me Scotland or I die.” That was not an arrogant demand but a passionate plea for God to save people in Scotland. He wanted to be used by God as an instrument of salvation. ‘Bloody Mary’ once commented on his prayer life, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the armies of Europe.” Let us too be people of aspiring, lofty, passionate prayers.
Pastor Mark Scialabba