John Knox

1513-1572: Scottish reformer and preacher. 

Biography (these are the pastor's notes for a Bible Study: please excuse their crude formatting and limited grammar)

  1. "Minister of the sacred altar in the diocese of St. Andrews, notary by apostolic authority"- ie a legal witness to conytrats and wills etc.
  2. Catholic Church held half the land, its income being £400,000 pa, in contrast to the king’s £40,000.
  3. Many priests ill-educated- several of them believing that Martin Luther had 'written' the New Testament.
  4. Influenced by George Wishart, a reformer, whose bodyguard he was –‘bearing a two-handed sword in order to defend him’, and Patrick Hamilton, a young men burned ‘from noon until 6pm’ outside St Salvatore’s chapel, St Andrews.
  5. Cardinal Beaton, his judge, was advised ‘to burn any other heretics in deep cellars as the reek of Patrick Hamilton has infected all it blew upon’.
  6. St Andrews' castle captured by five nobles in revenge for Wishart’s death, and the cardinal murdered, Knox moved in with them to become their chaplain & then elected pastor: according to his own account, he burst into tears and fled to his room. In his first sermon, he expounded on the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel, comparing the Pope with the Antichrist. His sermon was marked by his consideration of the Bible as his sole authority and the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
  7. Marie de Guise captured the castle, the lairds were sent to various French castles and the rest were used as galley slaves in the French navy, chained to benches performing back-breaking work. They were threatened with torture if they did not give proper signs of reverence when Mass was performed on the ship. Knox recounted an incident in which one Scot—possibly himself, as he tended to narrate personal anecdotes in the third person—was required to show devotion to a picture of the Virgin Mary. The prisoner was told to give it a kiss of veneration. He refused and when the picture was pushed up to his face, the prisoner seized the picture and threw it into the sea, saying, "Let our Lady now save herself: she is light enough: let her learn to swim." After that, according to Knox, the Scottish prisoners were no longer forced to perform such devotions.
  8. In February 1549, after spending a total of 19 months in the galley-prison.
  9. On release, was exiled to England. He became minister at Berwick on Tweed, and then Newcastle, helping to make the Book of Common Prayer more Protestant by objecting to the requirement to kneel during communion. The Black Rubric was thus added explaining the practice. 

 Catholicism Returns to England

  1. Mary Tudor ascends the throne. 'Sometime I have thought that impossible it had been, so to have removed my affection from the realm of Scotland, that any realm or nation could have been equal dear to me. But God I take to record in my conscience, that the troubles present (and appearing to be) in the realm of England are double more dolorous unto my heart than ever were the troubles of Scotland'- on the return of Catholicism to England.
  2. Moved to Geneva. He preached three sermons a week, each lasting well over two hours. Learned much from John Calvin and Bullinger in Zurich. 
  3. Returned to Scotland on the request of his wife’s family. Though the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise, made no move against Knox, his activities caused concern among the church authorities. The bishops of Scotland viewed him as a threat to their authority and summoned him to appear in Edinburgh on 15 May 1556. He was accompanied to the trial by so many influential persons that the bishops decided to call the hearing off. Knox was now free to preach openly in Edinburgh.
  4. Returned again to Geneva: wrote The first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women, to demonstrate "how abominable before God is the Empire or Rule of a wicked woman, yea, of a traiteresse and bastard". A year later Elizabeth Tudor came to the throne, and she never forgave him for this publication, later refusing him a passport.
  5. On Calvin’s Geneva: I neither fear nor eschame to say, is the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the apostles. In other places I confess Christ to be truly preached; but manners and religion so sincerely reformed, I have not yet seen in any other place ...
  6. Helped to bring about the removal of the French; Mary Stewart installed as queen. 
  7. Parliament established the Kirk: it was to be run on democratic lines. Each congregation was free to choose or reject its own pastor, but once he was chosen he could not be fired. Each parish was to be self-supporting, as far as possible. The bishops were replaced by ten to twelve "superintendents".
  8. Mary Queen of Scots arrives:
  9. The following Sunday, he protested from the pulpit of St Giles' at her attending Mass at Holyrood House. As a result, just two weeks after her return, Mary summoned Knox. She accused him of inciting a rebellion against her mother and of writing a book against her own authority. Knox answered that as long as her subjects found her rule convenient, he was willing to accept her governance, noting that Paul the Apostle had been willing to live under Nero's rule. Mary noted, however, that he had written against the principle of female rule itself. He responded that she should not to be troubled by what had never harmed her. When Mary asked him whether subjects had a right to resist their ruler, he replied that if monarchs exceeded their lawful limits, they might be resisted, even by force.
  10. On Mary’s proposed marriage to the king of Spain’s son, against which Knox had preached: When Mary started to cry again, he said, "Madam, in God's presence I speak: I never delighted in the weeping of any of God's creatures; yea I can scarcely well abide the tears of my own boys whom my own hand corrects, much less can I rejoice in your Majesty's weeping." He added that he would rather endure her tears, however, than remain silent and "betray my Commonwealth". At this, Mary ordered him out of the room.
  11. Mary’s husband Lord Darnley murdered- she abdicates and imprisoned, civil war breaks out in Scotland.
  12. She flees to England, allowing relative peace in Scotland. Knox has a stroke at which his enemies rejoice, but recovers. 
  13. Left Edinburgh but then returned and died- his wife reading the scriptures to him. "Here lies one who never feared any flesh"- the Scottish Regent


In his will, Knox claimed: "None have I corrupted, none have I defrauded; merchandise have I not made."

“Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”

“A man with God is always in the majority.”

“‎Prayer is an earnest and familiar talking with God.”

“Although I never lack the presence and plain image of my own wretched infirmity, yet seeing sin so manifestly abounds in all estates, I am compelled to thunder out the threatenings of God against the obstinate rebels.”

“To promote a woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion, or empire above any realm, nation, or city, is repugnant to nature; contumely to God, a thing most contrary to his revealed will and approved ordinance; and finally, it is the subversion of good order, of all equity and justice.”

“The testimony of scripture is so plain that to add anything were superfluous, were it not that the world is almost now come to that blindness, that whatsoever pleases not the princes and the multitude, the same is rejected as doctrine newly forged, and is condemned for heresy.”

“The man who stands with God is always in the majority.”

“Considering myself called of my God to instruct the ignorant, comfort the sorrowful, confirm the weak, and rebuke the proud; by tongue and lively voice in these corrupt days rather than to compose books for the age to come, seeing that so much is written, and yet so little well observed, I decree to contain myself within the bounds of that vocation whereunto I found myself especially called.”

“No man is so regenerate, but that continually he has need of the means which Christ Jesus has appointed to be used in his kirk.”

“All that the Lord thy God commands thee to do, that do thou to the Lord thy God: add nothing to it, diminish nothing from it.' By this rule, think I, the Kirk of Christ will measure God's religion, and not by that which seems good in their own eyes.”


Discussion Questions:

Should we obey an unchristian government? Should we obey an anti-Christian government?

Sources: John Knox, by John J Murray; various websites.