John Knox (1505?-1572)
John Knox, descended from the Knoxes of Ranferly, was born in Giffordgate, Haddington, between 1505-1515; his father was probably a farmer. From Grammar School he went in 1522 to the University of Glasgow, then to the University of St Andrews where he was under the celebrated John Major, then Principal Regent, or Professor of Philosophy and Divinity. He got the degree of Master of Arts very young, specialising in philosophy and polemic divinity. After leaving college he passes out of view for ten or a dozen years. About this time he would seem to have taken priest’s orders and to have been connected with one of the religious establishments in the neighbourhood of Haddington for up to ten years. In 1543 he describes himself as a notary.
While at university he would have followed the trial and burning in 1527 of the first Reformation martyr, Patrick Hamilton. From that time the new reformation teaching would have come in from England, with more and more people understanding the truth of the Gospel. As the prelates burned the believers more people started to look into the reason why such men and women were being executed. Unfortunately it is unknown how or when Knox came to the Lord. It is likely that because of his belief in the new faith that he would have been stripped of his priesthood. Anyway, around 1543 he became tutor to the sons of Hugh Douglas of Longniddry and John Cockburn of Ormiston. He probably took this position to keep out of the limelight for a while. While there he spoke the Gospel truths he had learned and people from the district came to hear him.
One of the people who influenced him greatly was George Wishart. Knox was with him constantly for the five weeks preceding his martyrdom. He actually acted as his bodyguard, carrying a two-edged sword, after an assassination attempt in Dundee. He was with Wishart when he gave his final sermon at St Mary’s, Haddington, in December 1545 and would have gone with Wishart to the house where he was arrested. However, Wishart suspected that he was going to be arrested, so prevented his friends from accompanying him, saying, ‘Return to your bairns, and God bless you! One is sufficient for a sacrifice.’
Knox must have been high on Cardinal Beaton’s list himself, so was probably saved persecution by the Cardinal being killed by people who were angry at Wishart’s death. For the next fifteen months, though Knox had to move from place to place as he knew he was in danger. Strangely, his pupils went with him. Those who had killed Beaton at St Andrew’s Castle fortified themselves there and resisted all attempts to drive them out by the Regent, Arran. Others who had been persecuted joined the force there, so it became a kind of ‘cause celebre.’ In January 1547 there was a truce whereby the Regent withdrew and tried to secure a pardon from the Pope for the Cardinal’s killing, whilst the occupiers promised not to hand the fortress to the English. Knox was tired of trying to avoid the authorities, so he decided to leave Scotland for Germany; however, the fathers of his pupils persuaded him to join those at St Andrew’s Castle. During the time of truce, people were able to come and go as they pleased.
Knox arrived on April 10th with his pupils and immediately began to teach and talk about the new faith. By now there were about 150 in the castle, who immediately understood the quality of Knox’s ideas and teachings. Two men asked him to help with the preaching, but Knox refused, believing that God had not called him to this. The two men were not put off, asking everyone what they thought. At one church meeting the preacher gave a sermon on the election of ministers; then turned to Knox, calling him again to preach. The whole congregation concurred. Knox burst into tears and locked himself in his room for several days trying to discover the will of God. Finally, he accepted the commission which began his career as a preacher.
His first sermon was in the parish church, which included university staff and a number of clergy. He spoke powerfully about the abuses of the Pope and the papal system. This caused a sensation, ‘Others lopped the branches of the Papistrie,’ said some of his hearers, ‘but he strikes at the root to destroy the whole.’ Hamilton and Wishart had stopped short of this. They had condemned abuses, pointed out the doctrinal errors in which these abuses had their source and called for a purging out of scandalous persons — in short, a reform of the existing Church. Knox came with the axe in his hand to cut down the rotten tree. The authorities were worried, so they arranged for the parish church pulpit to be filled every Sunday to prevent the majority of people hearing Knox. However, Knox preached every weekday to large crowds, giving the Protestant communion to those inside and outside the walls of the castle.
In June the Regent attacked the castle again. This time a French fleet came to help, so the castle was unable to resist such forces, and a surrender was negotiated. Those who had not been killed, including Knox, were put on French ships as prisoners. They were told that they were being taken to France, from where they could go anywhere except Scotland. However they were deceived, some being imprisoned in Rouen, while others, like Knox, were chained to an oar in a galley ship. The conditions on the galleys were dire, some dying of fever or from their bodies just breaking down. In the nineteen months Knox was a galley slave he became very weak, almost dying, and his experiences did lasting damage to his health. Knox was always sure that he would preach again in Scotland and so it proved as he and the others were released after nineteen months.
It was too dangerous for Knox to go home, so he went to England where, by 1549, the Reformation was in full flow after the death of Henry VIII. He obtained a licence to preach and was appointed to the small parish church at Berwick-on-Tweed. The vicar was absent, the curate ignorant, so the people certainly needed him. His two year ministry there was a powerful one; many were converted and many lives were changed. It was an appointment of particular blessing to him as he met his wife Marjory there. Knox was then moved to St Nicholas, Newcastle, where he was very popular. His reputation was such that he was made one of the king’s six chaplains. Later he was offered the bishopric of Rochester, but refused it, as he did that of rector of All Hallows, Bread Street in London; probably because he did not want to be put in a position where he had to conform to Anglican rules. In 1553 Edward VI died, with his Catholic sister, Mary, acceding. It was clear that persecution was going to begin, so Knox, feeling in danger, left for France in January 1554. He was very sad to leave, having enjoyed his time in England.
Knox went to Switzerland where he spoke to the Protestant leaders, including Calvin. He then went to Dieppe, where he stayed until August. While there he wrote ‘Admonition to England’ in which he really attacked Mary I and her prelates. It was a dreadful time in England, Mary having burned many. Knox then went back to Geneva, and from there to Frankfurt in September, where an English congregation had called on him to be their pastor. Unfortunately, Knox walked into a controversy that was soon to cause him to leave. It was over some modifications to the English Prayer Book (such as responses) that the church had to make as a condition of being allowed to have services. Some Protestants in Europe did not like these modifications, and they tried to stir up trouble in the church. Peace only came at the intervention of Calvin. Then some men arrived in the church intent on stirring up trouble, encouraging the congregation to get rid of Knox and use the full version of the Prayer Book. In order to keep the peace he left Frankfurt.
Knox went to Geneva where he set up a church with those who followed him from Frankfurt. His friends then encouraged him to return to Scotland. Arriving towards the end of 1555, he had private meetings in Edinburgh. He wrote at this time, ‘If I had not seen it with my own eyes in my own country, I could not have believed it…The fervency here doth far exceed all others that I have seen.’ The seeds he and others had sown had clearly done their work in the years of his absence. While in Edinburgh he successfully persuaded some of the leading nobles to stop going to Roman Catholic worship or mass. They showed their resolve by receiving the Lord’s Supper from Knox. The first foundations of the Reformed Church of Scotland had been laid. Knox then spent several months preaching around the country. The Popish clergy complained bitterly to their bishops which resulted in Knox being called before the Black Friars’ Church of Edinburgh. However, on hearing that Knox was coming, they cancelled the inquiry. He then answered a call from his church in Geneva in July 1556. This was probably wise, as the prelates were very angry at the response to his preaching and Knox would probably have come to harm had he stayed in Scotland.
Knox had a very contented time with his church until he received a call to return to Scotland from the Earls of Glencairn, Erskine, Argyle and Moray. On the advice of Calvin and others he decided to return in October 1557, but at Dieppe he found more letters back tracking on their invitation. Knox wrote to get some clarity of the situation, but on not receiving any reply he returned to Geneva in March 1558.
While in Geneva he wrote a great deal, including ‘First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.’ He basically said that women should not be in positions of authority. This was aimed primarily at Mary of England, who had been so cruel in her persecution of Protestants, several of whom were Knox’s friends. Knox expected a storm to come at him over this publication and he was right. He was attacked from all sides, losing several friends at the same time. If he had waited a few months before publishing he may have cancelled it, because Mary died and Elizabeth came to the throne. Elizabeth really resented the publication and never forgave Knox for writing it. It was undoubtedly a mistake and he knew it, as he cancelled his plan to write a second and third ‘Trumpet Blast.’ Knox was also one of the contributors to the ‘Geneva Bible’ which became the most popular Bible of its time. It was hatred of this Bible, due to it not supporting Episcopacy, that prompted James VI of Scotland and first of England to arrange for a new Bible to be produced, the ‘King James Version.’
Knox again received a call from the lords to return to Scotland. By now the lords had drawn up a covenant, swearing to put their all into the Reformation. The English were returning home now that Mary was dead, so at the beginning of 1559 Knox left Geneva to return home. He wanted to visit his old congregations in England on the way home, but he was refused permission twice, owing to his ‘First Trumpet Blast’; so he went directly to Edinburgh, arriving there in May.
There had been a short time of favour for the reformers in Scotland. The Queen Regent had needed the support of Parliament for the passing of some Acts, so she had spoken with soft words to the Protestant nobles, tricking them into believing that she supported them. However, once the Acts had been passed she showed her true colours. The Catholic party was emboldened by her support. They could not hide from themselves that the Reformation was advancing with rapid strides. The people were deserting the mass; little companies of Protestants were forming in all the leading towns; the Scriptures were being interpreted and the Lord’s Supper dispensed according to the primitive order; many of the nobles were sheltering Protestant preachers in their castles. It was clear that Scotland was going the same road as Wittenberg and Geneva had gone; and it was equally clear that the champions of the Papacy must strike at once and with decision, or surrender the battle. A few days before Knox arrived Walter Mill, a man of 82, was burned at the stake, the first of many as far as the Catholic party were concerned.
Also, shortly before Knox’s arrival, the regent issued a proclamation prohibiting all persons from preaching or dispensing the Sacraments without authority from the bishops. Paul Methven, John Christison, William Harlow, and John Willock, four reformed preachers disobeyed the proclamation. The Regent, on learning this, summoned them to appear before her at Stirling, on the 10th of May, and answer to a charge of heresy and rebellion. At the same time France and Spain had concluded a peace and formed a league for the suppression of the Reformation by force of arms. The French Queen Regent was formulating plans to have French soldiers occupy Scotland. This was a pivotal time for the Reformation and in walked John Knox. A messenger came to the provincial council meeting, to say that Knox had arrived. The meeting broke up in disarray, a sign of what even the name of Knox could do. A message was sent to the Regent in Glasgow and Knox was declared a rebel and outlaw.
Knox was the man sent by God to lead the Reformation. His devotion and zeal, now fully matured in the school of suffering; his sincerity and uprightness; his magnanimity and courage; his skill in theological debate and his political insight, in which he excelled all living Scotsmen; the confidence and hope with which he was able to inspire his fellow-countrymen; and the terror in which the prelates stood of his very name, all marked him out as the chosen instrument for his country’s deliverance. The result was very much in doubt. Half the nobles, the church and the Highlands were for Catholicism. Of the half of the nobles who supported the Reformation, most were more interested in personal gain than faith. The greatest support for the Reformation came from the merchants and traders.
Knox went to join the four preachers at Perth before going on to Stirling. A large band of men form Dundee and Angus also came to Perth to support the preachers. John Erskine went ahead to assure the Regent that the men came in peace, but she panicked, telling Erskine that the men did not need to appear before her. Erskine returned to tell the men to go home, but the Regent was lying again. As soon as nobody showed for the trial, the four were outlawed. On hearing the news Knox preached a powerful sermon at St John’s, Perth, denouncing lies and the idolatry of the mass. After the service a monk, very unadvisedly, celebrated mass. A boy threw a stone at the monk; it missed, hitting and breaking an image and a riot ensued where everything in the church was destroyed. Others joined in, destroying three monasteries in the town. It had not been Knox’s sermon that had brought about the destruction, but the lies and perfidy of the Regent and the Catholic party.
The Regent was so angry when she heard the news that she said she would destroy every man woman and child in the town and raze it to the ground. She sent an army of 8,000 French soldiers to attack Perth, but the Protestant lords knew what was planned and raised up an army of their own. The Regent was forced to make terms; the lords withdrawing to allow her to enter Perth.
The lords, now known as the Lords of Congregation, took stock of their situation. They realised that they had to move forward, whatever the consequences. They resolved to set up the Reformed worship at once in all those places to which their authority extended and where a majority of the inhabitants were favourable to the idea. The Earl of Argyle and Lord James Stuart, Prior of St. Andrews, both new converts, arranged with Knox to meet in that city on an early day in June, and inaugurate Protestant worship there. Having learned of the plan, the archbishop sent a message to Knox that he would be shot if he came to St Andrews to preach. The Lords agreed that the risk was too great; especially as the French army was only fifteen miles away. However, Knox was determined to go as to give way under threats would encourage more of the same later. Years earlier Knox, while chained to an oar, had seen the cathedral and promised himself that he would preach there before his career ended.
Knox discerned that this was a time for courage and boldness, not timidity. He preached on June 11th in the parish church to perhaps the most influential audience that the Scotland of that day could furnish; nobles, priests, and townspeople crowding to hear him. Every part of the vast edifice was filled; not a finger was lifted, nor a word uttered, to stop him. He preached on the cleansing of the Temple. This one sermon in the parish church of St. Andrews, followed by a sermon in the same place on three consecutive days, cast the die and determined that the Reformation of Scotland should go forward. The magistrates and townspeople assembled and came to a unanimous resolution to set up the Reformed worship in the city. The church was stripped of its images and pictures and the monasteries were pulled down. The example of St. Andrews was quickly followed by many other places in the kingdom. Protestant worship was set up at Craft, Cupar, Lindores, Linlithgow, Scone, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The Regent was furious and marched against the Lords of Congregation. This was the beginning of a year of civil war. Knox had been appointed pastor of St Giles, Edinburgh, but the proximity of the Regent’s forces made it dangerous for him, so he went to travel around the country, where he saw the Reformation advancing everywhere. That year was one of incessant and Herculean labour. His days were spent preaching, his nights writing letters; rousing the country, he kept it awake. His voice like a great trumpet rang throughout the land, firing the lukewarm into zeal and inspiring the timid into courage. When friends of the Reformation quarrelled he reconciled and united them; when they sank into despondency he rallied their spirits. He himself never despaired. His sermon at the Church of the Holy Rude, in Stirling, was an example of this, driving away the depression that was on the congregation.
The Lords of the Congregation tried to get help from Elizabeth I to expel the French troops from Scotland. Her tardiness in making a decision could have been due to her dislike of Knox, who helped in the negotiations. It was clearly in England’s interest to help, as she would not have wanted a threat of invasion by French troops who were sitting in Scotland. At the end of February 1560 a treaty was signed and the English and Scottish troops united to besiege Leith. This was quite an extraordinary event after centuries of warfare between the two nations. The united armies were unsuccessful, but peace came after the Regent died in June. A treaty was signed on July 6th whereby French and English troops left Scotland. Amnesty was given to all those who had resisted the Regent.
The Scottish Parliament was to meet to settle affairs, and when it met on the 8th of August 1560, they simply gave expression to the nation’s choice when they authoritatively decreed the suppression of the Romish hierarchy and the adoption of the Protestant faith. A short summary of Christian doctrine had been drawn up by Knox and five of his colleagues; and being read article by article in the Parliament, it was adopted on the 17th of August by the Parliament. It is commonly known as the First Scots Confession. Only three temporal lords voted in the negative, saying “that they would believe as their fathers believed.” The bishops, who had seats as temporal lords, were silent. On the 24th of August, Parliament abolished the Pope’s jurisdiction; forbade, under certain penalties, the celebration of mass; and rescinded the laws in favour of the Romish Church and against the Protestant faith.
Knox’s idea of a Church was; 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. The conclusion from these principles Knox did not hesitate to carry out; that the Church was to be governed solely by her own law, and;administered by her own officers, whose decisions and acts in all things falling within the spiritual and ecclesiastical sphere were to be final.
Parliament had declared Protestantism to be the faith of the nation: Knox would make it so in fact. The orders of ecclesiastical men instituted by him were four — 1st, Ministers, who preached to a congregation; 2nd, Doctors, who expounded Scripture to the youth in the seminaries and universities; 3rd, Elders, who were associated with the minister in ruling, though not in teaching the congregation; and, 4th, Deacons, who managed the finance and had the care of the poor. In every parish was placed a minister, but the paucity of ministers left many places without pastoral instruction. Pious persons were employed to read the Scriptures and the common prayers; and if such gave proof of competency, they were permitted to supplement their reading of the Scriptures with a few plain exhortations. Five Superintendents completed the ecclesiastical staff, whose duty was to travel through their several districts with the view of planting Churches and inspecting the conduct of ministers, readers and exhorters.
Knox regarded the government of the Church as hardly second to her instruction, believing that the latter could not preserve its purity unless the former was maintained in its rigor. First came the Kirk Session, composed of the minister and elders who managed the affairs of the congregation; next, the Presbytery, formed by the delegation of a minister and elder from every congregation within the shire; above it was the Synod, constituted by a minister and elder from each congregation within the province, and having, like the court below it, power to decide on all causes arising within its bounds. Last of all came the General Assembly, which was constituted of a certain number of delegates from every Presbytery. This scheme gave to every member of the Church, directly or indirectly, a voice in her government; it was a truly popular rule, acting only through constitutional channels and determining all cases by the laws of Scripture.
The Reformer no more overlooked the general tuition of the people than he did their indoctrination in the faith. He proposed that a school should be planted in every parish; that a college should be erected in every notable town, and a university established in the three chief cities of Scotland. He demanded that the nobility and gentry should send their sons to these seminaries at their own expense and that provision should be made for the free education of the entire youth of the humbler classes, so that every child in all Scotland should be thoroughly educated and the paths to the highest offices of the State should be open to every one who had inclination or talent. Unfortunately, the nobles were not prepared to divert the church income for these purposes, wanting the large share for themselves, so this education plan never happened. It was a bitter blow for Knox.
These plans for the new Church were set out in ‘The First Book of Discipline.’ While working on this with some others, Knox was fulfilling the role of pastor of St Giles, Edinburgh, and also spent a lot of time travelling the nation. Towards the end of 1560 his wife died at the age of 27, leaving very young sons, but their Grandmother was there to look after them.
In August 1561 Mary, the widow of the King of France, arrived in Scotland to take over her crown and to restore Roman Catholicism. She was a tall, beautiful, intelligent 19 year old who had spent most of her life in France. Her first Sunday in Scotland she celebrated mass in defiance of the Act passed the previous year. There was widespread outrage at this, Knox condemning it from the pulpit the following Sunday. Mary’s strategy was to turn the nobles to her side through blandishments and money. Several of the noble were ‘bewitched’ by her words. Knox writes, ‘Every man as he came up to court, accused them that were before him; but, after they had remained a certain space, they came out as quiet as the former. On perceiving this, Campbell of Kinyeancleugh, a man of some humor and zealous in the cause, said to Lord Ochiltree, whom he met on his way to court, “My lord, now ye are come last of all, and I perceive that the fire edge is not yet off you, but I fear that after the holy water of the court be sprinkled upon you, ye shall become as temperate as the rest. I think there be some enchantment by which men are bewitched.”’
A few days after Knox’s sermon, the Queen commanded him to court. In the presence of James Stewart and two Ladies in Waiting, Knox had his first interview with his Queen. Mary was very unhappy with his book that attacked women, but Knox said that it was targeted at Mary of England and not her. Later she brought up the subject of rebellion, asking, ‘Think ye, that subjects having the power may resist their princes?’ The Reformer replied, ‘If princes exceed their bounds, madam, and do that which they ought not, they may doubtless be resisted even by power. For neither is greater honour nor greater obedience to be given to kings and princes, than God has commanded to be given to father and mother. But, madam, the father may be struck with a frenzy, in which he would slay his own children. Now, madam, if the children arise, join together, apprehend him, take the sword from him, bind his hands and keep him in prison till the frenzy be over, think ye, madam, that the children do any wrong? Even so is it, madam, with princes who would murder the children of God who are subject unto them. Their blind zeal is nothing but a mad frenzy; and, therefore, to take the sword from them, to bind their hands, and to cast them into prison till they be brought to a sober mind, is no disobedience against princes, but a just obedience, because it agreeth with the will of God.’ This was a remarkable thing to say to a monarch who lived in an age where they believed in the ‘divine right of kings.’ Mary, her son James and grandson Charles, all believed in the absolute power of the monarch; a doctrine that resulted in Charles losing his head. Mary was so taken aback by what Knox said that she was silent for fifteen minutes.
The conversation went on in like manner, with Mary taking the side of Rome and Knox forcefully attacking it. Again Knox acted with great courage. Several other Protestants had agreed to support her, so if Knox had not stood his ground the Reformation might have been lost just as it was beginning. The Reformation had happened through the 1560 Parliament, but Mary refused to ratify it. She had never consented to the treaty or the Parliament, so she considered their outcomes illegal. Knox saw the danger and warned the nobles before the sitting of Mary’s first Parliament. He told them that it was vital that Mary gave ratification, as until she did they could be ordered to take mass at any time. However, the nobles had been turned by Mary’s blandishments and promises, so did not press the matter.
It was astonishing that those nobles who had called on Knox to return, who had gone to battle, who had covenanted with one another to pursue the Reformation, could be so lacking in determination and courage; that they could prefer the goodwill of their sovereign and their own selfish interests to the defence of their religion and the welfare of their country. Knox poured out his disappointment in his sermons, laying forcefully on Papists and Protestants. His sermons were not popular, but he did not intend them to be; he just spoke the truth. He also spoke against the Queen’s planned marriage to the son of the king of Spain, pointing out the dangers to the Reformation of her marrying a Papist. Within hours he was summoned to Holyrood. Only Erskine of Dun was allowed to go to see the Queen with him. The Queen was crying with rage. She kept asking what right he had to talk about her marriage. The interview continued intermittently with Mary crying repeatedly. Knox was then ordered to the ante-room where there were several of his old friends, but they all (except Lord Ochiltree) turned their backs on him. It is difficult to know how heartbroken Knox must have felt by this action.
Sternly, uncompromisingly, Knox pursued his course! Not a discourteous, undignified, treasonable word did he speak; yet what iron inflexibility! He sacrificed friends, he incurred the mortal hatred of his sovereign, he restrained the desires of his own heart; the sacrifice was painful — painful to himself and to all about him, but it was the saving of his country.
Later in 1563 a mass was celebrated at Holyrood while the Queen was away. A couple of zealous Protestants forced their way in to see which citizens were attending. Mary indicted them for invading the palace, amongst other things. Some ministers were worried for the two accused, so they asked Knox to send a circular to Protestants, asking them to come to support the two at their trial. The Queen presented a copy of the letter to the Privy Council, who declared it treasonable. In December Knox appeared before the Council for trial. Mary was overjoyed at seeing him in this position. She said, ‘That man made me weep and shed never a tear himself; I will now see if I can make him weep.’ Knox defended himself so well that, much to the Queen’s dismay, he was acquitted. The battle between Mary and Knox was one of Rome against the Reformation. We do not know if there were any other voices speaking out at this time, but it is unlikely. There were no newspapers, radio or television in those days as mediums for people to speak out for liberty; there was only the pulpit. Knox used the only medium available to him to fight for the Reformation.
In these troubled times Knox re-married in March 1564 to the 17 year old daughter of Lord Ochiltree. They had three daughters, one of them marrying John Welch (see this website). These next few years were peaceful for Knox. The danger from Mary had subsided due to the appalling revelations of her private life. Her marriage to the weak Darnley, her passion for Rizzio, the murder of Rizzio, the murder of Darnley and marriage to the obnoxious Bothwell, all led her to lose the support of virtually everyone at Carberry Hill (1567), after which she was imprisoned. Scotland was then ruled by James Stewart, Lord Moray, who was well named ‘The Good Regent.’ Under his rule the Reformation expanded and the country was at peace until a disaster struck when he was assassinated in January 1570.
Knox continued to preach around the country, but the years were catching up on him and he longed for rest. The death of Moray was heartbreaking for Knox and the end of his peace. It was a time of civil war. The Queen’s supporters took EdinburghCastle, so Knox had to leave in May 1571 for St Andrews. Although old and tired, he still continued to fight for the Reformation from the pulpit. The latest danger was the introduction of Tulchan bishops. This idea was to appoint bishops who would receive a remuneration, but most of the income from their benefice went to the local lord. The whole idea of bishops was an anathema to Knox and the draining away of funds from the Church was a disaster. Knox managed to delay this novelty until the year of his death. He did much good with the students at St Andrews, teaching and encouraging them.
Knox returned to Edinburgh in August 1572. St Giles was too big for him to be heard thesedays, so he would preach in the TolboothChurch. His final appearance was on November 9th at the induction of his assistant. At the close of the service he descended the pulpit-stairs with an exhausted, yet cheerful look and walked slowly down the High Street leaning on the arm of his servant, Richard Bannatyne; his congregation lining the way, reverently anxious to have their last look of their beloved pastor. He entered his house for the last time. He died on November 24th and was buried at St Giles.
At his burial, the Earl of Moray, then the Regent of Scotland, said, ‘Here lyeth a man who in his life never feared the face of man, who hath been often threatened with dagge and dagger, but yet hath ended his days in peace and honour.’ Knox was a giant of his or any other time. Almost alone he stood up for the Reformation, and he won. He was crucial to its success. Before the Reformation, Scotland was a feudal country with little identity of its own. There were the nobles, the clergy and the people. The people were serfs, but the Reformation changed all that. The Reformation was a popular movement. Carlyle wrote, ‘Scotland was a poor, barren country, full of continual broils, dissensions, massacres; a people in the last stage of destitution. It is a country as yet without a soul, nothing developed in it but what is rude, external, and semi-animal. And now at the Reformation, the internal life is kindled, as it were, under the ribs of this outward material death.’ The Reformation called into being a nation. It awoke among the people a national consciousness. They were serfs, they were now citizens. Lord Burleigh wrote, ‘You would be astonished to see how men are changed here. There is little of that submission to those above them which there used to be. The poor think and act for themselves. They are growing strong, confident and independent.’
The Reformation also gave birth to a national Church where the poorest member recognised his responsibility to maintain its purity, promote its interests and share in its government. At the same time the expounding of Scripture helped in the education of the people. Knox introduced family worship, where the head of the family would lead worship in their home. This was very important in the spread of religion. No longer was the peasant reliant on the priest and the church; now everyone could have a relationship directly with their Lord and worship Him at home.
There were many battles ahead to preserve the Reformed Church, but Knox had laid a large part of the foundation stone. Some say he was the greatest ever Scotsman.
This essay was largely taken from ‘The History of Protestantism’ Vol 3, Book 24 by J A Wylie. Of great help was ‘Travel with John Knox’ by David Campbell, published by Day One.