John Knox and the Reformation eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 293 pages of information about John Knox and the Reformation.

Despite the uncommon length to which Knox carried the contemporary approval of persecution, then almost universal, except among the Anabaptists (and any party out of power), he was not personally rancorous where religion was not concerned.  But concerned it usually was!  He was the subject of many anonymous pasquils and libels, we know, but he entirely disregarded them.  If he hated any mortal personally, and beyond what true religion demands of a Christian, that mortal was the mother of Mary Stuart, an amiable lady in an impossible position.  Of jealousy towards his brethren there is not a trace in Knox, and he told Queen Mary that he could ill bear to correct his own boys, though the age was as cruel to schoolboys as that of St. Augustine.

The faults of Knox arose not in his heart, but in his head; they sprung from intellectual errors, and from the belief that he was always right.  He applied to his fellow-Christians—­Catholics—­the commands which early Israel supposed to be divinely directed against foreign worshippers of Chemosh and Moloch.  He endeavoured to force his own theory of what the discipline of the Primitive Apostolic Church had been upon a modern nation, following the example of the little city state of Geneva, under Calvin.  He claimed for preachers chosen by local congregations the privileges and powers of the apostolic companions of Christ, and in place of “sweet reasonableness,” he applied the methods, quite alien to the Founder of Christianity, of the “Sons of Thunder.”  All controversialists then relied on isolated and inappropriate scriptural texts, and Biblical analogies which were not analogous; but Knox employed these things, with perhaps unusual inconsistency, in varying circumstances.  His “History” is not more scrupulous than that of other partisans in an exciting contest, and examples of his taste for personal scandal are not scarce.


Our earliest knowledge of Knox, apart from mention of him in notarial documents, is derived from his own History of the Reformation.  The portion of that work in which he first mentions himself was written about 1561-66, some twenty years after the events recorded, and in reading all this part of his Memoirs, and his account of the religious struggle, allowance must be made for errors of memory, or for erroneous information.  We meet him first towards the end of “the holy days of Yule”—­Christmas, 1545.  Knox had then for some weeks been the constant companion and armed bodyguard of George Wishart, who was calling himself “the messenger of the Eternal God,” and preaching the new ideas in Haddington to very small congregations.  This Wishart, Knox’s master in the faith, was a Forfarshire man; he is said to have taught Greek at Montrose, to have been driven thence in 1538 by the Bishop of Brechin, and to have recanted certain heresies in 1539.  He had denied the merits of Christ as the Redeemer, but afterwards dropped that error, when persistence meant death at the stake.  It was in Bristol that he “burned his faggot,” in place of being burned himself.  There was really nothing humiliating in this recantation, for, after his release, he did not resume his heresy; clearly he yielded, not to fear, but to conviction of theological error. {15a}

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John Knox and the Reformation from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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