Knox, John (1)
Knox, John (1), the Reformer of Scotland. I. Early Life. — He was born in Gifford, a village in East Lothian, in 1505, of respectable parents, members of the Romish Church, who were able to give their soin a liberal education. After spending some time at the grammar-school of Haddington, he was sent by his father, in 1521, to the University of Glasgow. Here he studied under Mayor, a famous professor of philosophy and theology. A disciple, by the way, of Gerson and Peter d'Ailly, he advocated the supremacy of general councils over the popes, and, carrying this view into politics, held also that the king's authority is derived from the people-a doctrine which he inculcated in his pupils (Knox as well as Buchanan), and which fully explains the democratic tendencies of the Scottish reformer. Soon after taking the degree of M.A., Knox became an assistant professor, and rivalled his master in the subtleties of the dialectic art. He obtained clerical orders even before he reached the age fixed by the canons, and about 1530 went to St. Andrew's, and began to teach there. A veil of obscurity hangs over his life for several of the following years. It is supposed, however, that the study of the fathers, especially Jerome and Augustine, shook his attachment to the Romish Church as early as 1535, but he did not become an avowed Protestant until 1542 -a fact which shows that lie did not act from hasty or turbulent impulses, but with prudence and deliberation. His reproof of existing corruptions compelled him to retire from St. Andrew's to the south of' Scotland, and he was degraded from his orders as a heretic. He now became a tutor to the sons of two noble families, and occasionally preached to the people in the neighborhood. During this period he became a frequent companion of the reformer and martyr Geo. Wishart, to whose instructions he was greatly indebted. When Wishart was apprehended, Knox would fain have clung to him and shared his fate, but his friend refused, saying, " Nay, return to your barns, and God bless you; one is sufficient for a sacrifice." Wishart was burnt at the stake, under cardinal Beaton's orders, in March. 1516, and within two months afterwards the cardinal was put to death in his own castle of St. Andrew's by a band of nobles and others who held the castle as a stronghold of the reforming interest. Knox, who was daily in danger of his life from Beaton's successor, determined to go to Germany to pursue his studies, but was induced by the parents of his pupils to give up his purpose and take refuge in the castle, which he did with many other Protestants in Easter, 1547. Here for the first time he entered upon the public ministry of the Gospel, and he distinguished himself both as a powerful preacher and a fearless opponent of the papacy. But this did not continue long.
II. His Exile.-The arrival of a French fleet enabled the regent of Scotland to invest the castle by sea and by land, and on the last day of July the garrison was compelled to surrender, which they did upon honorable terms. But instead of being simply expatriated according to the engagement. they were taken to France, where the principal gentlemen were hell as prisoners, and Knox and others were made galley-slaves. The following winter the galleys lay on the Loire, but the next summer they cruised on the east coast of Scotland, often in sight of the steeple of St. Andrew's. Knox's constancy continued unshaken under all toils and trials, which were greatly increased at one time by disease, until in Feb. 1549, after nineteen months of bondage, he was released through the personal interposition of Edward V1 of England with the king of France. He immediately repaired to England, where he was warmly welcomed by Cranmer and the council. He was stationed in the north at Berwick, and afterwards at Newcastle, where he labored indefatigably, preaching often every day in the week, notwithstanding many bodily infirmities. He enjoyed the confidence of the English reformers, was made one of king Edward's chaplains, was consulted in the revision of the Prayer-book, and also of the Articles of Religion, and was offered the bishopric of Rochester, but declined it from scruples as to the divine authority of the office. After five years of great and faithful activity, at the end of which he married a Miss Bowes, of Berwick, the accession of Mary to the throne put an end to his usefulness and endangered his life. His own desire was to remain and meet the issue, for, as he said, "never could he die in a more honest quarrel," but the tears and importunity of friends prevailed on him to fly. Accordingly, in January, 1554, he took ship to Dieppe, where he spent his first leisure in writing suitable advices to those whom he could no longer reach by his voice. Afterwards he travelled in France and Switzerland, visiting particular churches and conferring with the learned. At Geneva he studied Hebrew, and formed with the celebrated Calvin an intimate friendship, which ended only with Calvin's death. By Calvin's influence he was induced to take charge of the Church of English exiles at Frankfort-on-the-Main, but unhappy disputes about the service-book led to his withdrawal after less than six months' service, in March, 1555. He immediately turned his steps to Geneva, where he took charge of an English congregation. But in the same year he made a flying visit to Scotland, during which he preached incessantly, and labored night and day. Among the many distinguished converts he made at this time figured three young lords, who afterwards played no unimportant part in the affairs of their country: Archibald Horn, later earl of Argyle; James Stuart, natural brother of Mary, and later earl of Murray, and regent during the minority of James VI; and John Erskine, who, under the title of earl of Marr, also acted as regent. His influence rendered the reformers more decided in their course, and he instituted in 1556 the first of those religious bonds' or covenants which are so marked a feature in Scottish ecclesiastical history. But he judged that the time was not ripe for a general movement, and accordingly returned to Switzerland. After his departure he was cited to appear before an assembly of the Romish clergy, and in his absence was condemned to be burnt as a heretic, and the sentence was executed upon his effigy. In Geneva he spent nearly three years, the happiest and most tranquil of his life. He counted it " the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the apostles." He was surrounded by his family, and lived in the greatest harmony with his colleague, Goodman, and the small flock under his charge. During his stay he took part in the preparation of what is called the Geneva Bible. He also wrote a number of letters and appeals which were forwarded to Scotland, and had great influence in guiding the counsels of the friends of the Reformation. His most singular treatise was a volume entitled The First Blast of the Trumpet against the monstrous Regiment of' Women. Although undoubtedly honest in his opinions, it is certain that he was led to them by his abhorrence of Bloody Mary, who was then wearying England by her cruelties. But it was an unfortunate publication, for it subjected him to the resentment of two queens, during whose reign it was his lot to live; the one his native princess, Mary, queen of Scots, and the other Elizabeth, exercising a sway in Scotland scarcely inferior to that of any of its own sovereigns. Although his residence at Geneva was so agreeable in many ways, yet duty to Scotland was always uppermost in his mind, and when a summons came from the leading Protestants there for his return, he yielded at once.
III. His Life work in Scotland.-The inducement for him to return was the concession of liberty of worship promised by the queen regent, but upon his arrival at Leith in May, 1559, he found that she had thrown off all disguises (she had just stipulated to assist the Guises in their plans against Elizabeth), and was determined to suppress the Reformation by force. Not only did she refuse the demands of the Protestants, but even summoned a number of the preachers for trial at Stirling. But Knox was not disheartened. He wrote to his sister, " Satan rageth to the uttermost, and I am come, I praise my God, even in the brunt of the battle." The regent, alarmed at the attitude of the Protestants, promised to put a stop to the trial, and induced the accused to stay away, and then outlawed them for not appearing. The news of this outrage came to Perth on the day when Knox preached against the idolatry of the mass and of image worship. At the conclusion of the service, an encounter between a boy and a priest who was preparing to celebrate mass led to a terrible riot. The altar, the images, and all the ornaments of the church were torn down and trampled under foot; nor did the rascall multitude," as Knox called them, stop till the houses of the Gray and Black Friars and the Carthusian Monastery were laid in ruins. Treating this tumult as a designed rebellion, the regent advanced upon Perth with a large force, but finding the Protestants prepared to resist, made an accommodation. Henceforth the latter came to be distinguished as the Congregation, and their leaders as the lords of the Congregation. Under the advice of Knox, they reformed the worship wherever their power extended, and the iconoclasm of Perth was repeated at St. Andrew's and many other parts of the kingdom, not, however, by a riotous proceeding, but by the harmonious action of the authorities and the people. The briefest and best defence of this course is the reformer's pithy saying, that ";the rookeries were demolished that the rooks might not return." The contest between the two parties went on for a year, during part of which Knox prosecuted a flaming evangelism in the southern and eastern counties, while at other times he acted as chief agent in securing foreign help for his oppressed countrymen. In this occurred the only serious blot on his fair fame. He wrote to the English governor of Berwick that England might send troops to their aid, and then, to escape reproach from France, might disown them as rebels. The rebuke which he received from Sir James Croft was well deserved. The civil war was at length terminated by the entrance of an English army, which invested Edinburgh, and by the death of the queen regent. These events led to a truce, and the calling of a free Parliament to settle religious differences.
This body met in August, 1560, and, carrying out what was undoubtedly the wish of the greater part of the people, established the Reformed religion, and interdicted by law any performance of Roman Catholic worship. In all this Knox was not only an active agent, but the agent above all others. The Confession of Faith and the First Book of Discipline both bear the impress of his mind. Thus a great step was taken, from which there never afterwards was any serious recession. Knox did not attain all that he desired, especially in respect to the provision for the support of the Church and of education throughout the country. Still he accomplished a radical work, of which all that followed was only the expansion and consolidation. The arrival in the next year (1561) of the youthful queen Mary, who had high notions of prerogative, as well as an ardent attachment to Romanism, occasioned new difficulties, in which Knox, as minister in the metropolis, was actively engaged. He had prolonged interviews with her, in which she exerted all her wiles to win him to her side, but in vain. He was always uncompromising, and once drove her into tears, for which he has often been censured; but his own statement to Mary at the time was that he took no delight in any one's distress, that he could hardly bear to see his own boys weep when corrected for their faults, but that, since he had only discharged his duty. he was constrained, though unwillingly, to sustain her majesty's tears rather than hurt his conscience and betray the commonwealth through his silence. Meanwhile his activity in the pulpit was unabated. In the Church of St. Giles, where sometimes as many as three thousand hearers were gathered, he preached twice on Sundays, and thrice on other days of the week. To these were added other services in the surrounding country. The effect of these prodigious labors was immense, as we learn from what the English ambassador wrote to Cecil: Where your honor exhorteth us to stoutness, I assure you the voice of one man is able in an hour to put more life in us than six hundred trumpets continually blustering in our ears." The vehemence, however, of his public discourses offended some of his friends, and his unyielding opposition to the court led to his alienation from the more moderate party who tried to govern the country in the queen's name; so that from 1563 to 1565 he retired into comparative privacy, but he continued his labors in the pulpit and in the assembly of the kirk. The rapid series of events which followed Mary's marriage with Darnley in July, 1565, the murder of Rizzio in the next year, the murder of' Darnley in 1567, and the queen's marriage with Bothwell, brought Knox again to the front. Mary was compelled to abdicate in favor of her son, and Murray, Aug. 1567, became regent. Further reforms were effected by the Parliament of 1567. The sovereign was bound to be a Protestant, and some better provision was made for the support of the clergy. Knox and Murray were in complete accord, and the affairs of religion seemed so settled that the former deemed his work done, and thought of retiring to Geneva to end his days in peace. But in 1570 Murray was assassinated. Knox shared in the general grief, and this event, with the confusions that followed, led to a stroke of apoplexy, which affected his speech considerably. He recovered in part, and was able to resume preaching, but misunderstandings sprang up between him and the nobles, and even some of his brethren in the General Assembly. His life having been threatened, he, in 1571, by the advice of his friends, who feared bloodshed, retired to St. Andrew's, where he preached with all his former vigor, although unable to walk to the pulpit without assistance. In the latter part of 1572 he was recalled to Edinburgh, and came back to die, " weary of the world," and " thirsting to depart." One of his last public services was an indignant denunciation of the inhuman massacre of St. Bartholomew's. On the 24th of November he quietly fell asleep, not so much oppressed with years as worn out by his incessant and extraordinary labors of body and mind. In an interview with the session of his Church a few days before, he solemnly protested the sincerity of his course. Many had complained of his severity, but God knew that his mind was void of hatred to those against whom he had thundered the severest judgments, and his only object was to gain them to the Lord. He had never made merchandise of God's word, nor studied to please men, nor indulged his own or others' private passions, but had faithfully used whatever talent was given to him for the edification of the Church.
IV. His Character. — Knox was a man of small stature, and of a weakly habit of body, but he had a vigorous mind and an unconquerable will. Firmness and decision characterized his entire course. His piety was deep and fervent, and the zeal which consumed him never knew abatement. Yet it was not unintelligent. He was well educated for his time, and always endeavored to increase his knowledge, even in middle life seizing his first opportunity to learn Hebrew. Anl inward conviction of eternal realities inspired him with a bold and fervid eloquence which often held thousands of his countrymen as if under a spell. In dealing with men, he was shrewd and penetrating to the last degree. No outward show or conventional pretence deceived him. Whether he encountered queens, nobles, or peasants, he went straight to the heart of things, and insisted upon absolute reality. His mind was not of a reflective or speculative cast, and his writings, which are not few, have at this day mainly an antiquarian interest. His earnestness was all in a practical direction, as, indeed, his life was one long conflict from his flight from St. Andrew's in 1542 until his return thither in 1571. His language was such as became his thought-simple, homely, and direct. " He had learned," as he once said in the pulpit, "plainly and boldly to call wickedness by its own terms, a fig a fig, and a spade a spade." Nor did he ever quail. Nothing daunted him; his spirit rose high in the midst of danger. The day his body was laid in the grave, the regent Morton said truly, " There lies he who never feared the face of man." Just such a man was needed for the work to which Providence called him. To lay the axe to the root of the tree and warn a generation of vipers requires one stern as Elijah, vehement as John the Baptist. It has been asked if the work would not have been done better had the spirit of love and moderation, as well as of power, presided over it; the answer is that, considering the character of the times and the people, in that case perhaps. the thing would not have been done at all. But it was done, thoroughly done, and more effectually than in any other country in Europe. The First Book of Discipline required a school in every parish, a college in every "notable town," and three universities in the kingdom. The burst of Carlyle (Essay on Sir Walter Scott) is well deserved: "Honor to all the brave and true; everlasting honor to brave old Knox, one of the truest of the true ! That, in the moment while he and his cause, amid civil broils, in convulsion and confusion, were still but struggling for life, he sent the schoolmaster forth into all corners, and said, 'Let the people be taught;' this is but one, and, indeed, an inevitable and comparatively inconsiderable item in his great message to men. His message in its true compass was, Let men know that they are men; created by God, responsible to God; who work in any meanest moment of time what will last through eternity. This great message Knox did deliver with a man's voice and strength, and found a people to believe him.... The Scotch national character originates in many circumstances; first of all, in the Saxon stuff there was to work oni; but next, and beyond all else except that, in the Presbyterian Gospel of John Knox." Says Cunningham (Church Hist. of Scotland [Edinb. 1859, 2 vols. 8vo], i, 407 sq.), " Knox was not perfect, as no man is. He was coarse, fierce, dictatorial; but he had great redeeming qualities-qualities which are seldom found in such stormy, changeful periods as that in which he lived. He was consistent, sincere, unselfish. From first to last he pursued the same straight, unswerving course, turning neither to the righthand nor to the left; firm amid continual vicissitudes; and if he could have burned and disembowelled unhappy Papists, he would have done it with the fullest conviction that he was doing God service. He hated Popery with a perfect hatred; and regarding Mary and her mother as its chief personations in the land, he followed them through life with a rancor which was all the more deadly because it was rooted in religion. He was, perhaps, fond of power and popularity, but he gained them by no mean compliances. On a question of principle he would quarrel with the highest, and, having quarreled, he would not hesitate to vilify them to their face. His hands were clean of bribes. He did not grow rich by the spoils of the Reformation. He was content to live and die the minister of St. Giles's. Is not such a one, rough and bearish though he be, more to be venerated than the supple, time- serving Churchmen who were the tools of the English Reformation? Does he not stand out in pleasing relief from the grasping barons with whom he was associated, who hated monks because they coveted their corn-fields, and afterwards disgraced the religion they professed by their feuds, their conspiracies, and coldblooded assassinations ?" But perhaps the greatest tribute that has ever been paid to the memory of John Knox has of late been penned by Froude (Hist. of England, 10:457 sq.). Frequently the charge of fanaticism has been laid at the door of the great Scottish reformer; this Froude unhesitatingly refutes, and assures us that it was only against Popery, the system that enslaves both the Church and the State, that he fought. ' He was no narrow fanatic who, in a world in which God's grace was equally visible in a thousand creeds, could see truth and goodness nowhere but in his own formula. He was a large, noble, generous man, with a shrewd perception of actual fact, who found himself face to face with a system of hideous iniquity. He believed himself a prophet, with a direct commission from heaven to overthrow it, and his return to Scotland became the signal, therefore, for the renewal of the struggle."
V. Works and Literature.-Besides the Geneva Bible and occasional pamphlets, John Knox wrote, History of the Reformation of Religion within the Realm of Scotland from 1422 to 1567 (Lond. 1644, folio;
Edinb. 1732, folio). His Works have been collected and edited by Duv. Laing (Edinb. 1846, 8vo). See M'Crie, Life of John Knox (Edinb. 1814, and often since); Ch. Niemever, Knox Leben (Lpz. 1824, 8vo); T. Brandes, Life of' John Knox (London, 1863); Hetherington, list. o/' Ch. of Scotland; Burton, Hist. of Scotland, particularly ch. 38; Tytler, Hist. of Scotland, vols. vi and vii; Hardwick, Hist. of the Reformation, p. 142 sq.; Russell, Ch. in Scotland; Hallam, Const. Hist. Engl. i, 140, note, 171, 280; 3:210; Froude, Hist. of Engl. vols. 4:v, 6:7:9, and 10, and his Studies on great Subjects, series i and ii; Edinb. Rev. xcv, 236 sq.; Westminster Rev. 41:37 sq.; London Qu. Rev. 9:418 sq.; 85, 148 sq.; Meth. Qu. Rev. ii, 325 sq.; Edinb. Rev. July, 1853. (T.W. C.)