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John Knox, A Biography
Chapter X - Preparing for Scotland


EVENTS were now hastening; on, and the way was being rapidly paved for Knox's appearance in Scotland. He did not know that within a year Queen Mary of England would be dead and his native country ready to receive him. Still he must have been glad to get back to Geneva, for his wife and family were there; his congregation, too, and his many friends would cordially welcome him. There is little record of his work during this period, but one or two events of a domestic nature happened which must have been of considerable interest. During his residence in Geneva two sons were born to him, Nathaniel and Eleazer. Whittingham stood as god-father for the first, and Miles Coverdale for the second. Only on two occasions afterwards do we find any reference to these sons, one in an account which he gives in his History of an interview with Queen Mary, and another in his last will and testament.

It would also seem that during this year his friend

Mrs. Anne Locke, with her son and daughter, accompanied by a maid-servant, joined the Church of the exiles. Of all his women friends she was the one with whom he corresponded on a footing almost of equality, and his letters to her reveal, as we have seen, not a little of his mind and policy.

It is not generally believed that Knox took any part in the translation of the Bible, which was being done at that time by the English Reformers in Geneva. Among his fellow-exiles there were a number of eminent scholars who would be better able for the task. He was essentially a preacher and a man of action, but one work he must have begun during his last stay in Geneva, and that was his pamphlet on Predestination. It is supposed that he was interrupted in the task by the death of Queen Mary on the 17th of November 1558. This broke up the English congregation in Geneva. Everyone was eager to return to England, where, under the rule of Elizabeth, freedom to worship after the Reformed fashion would be granted.

It is possible that many of them would experience not a little disappointment in the forms of service and the Articles of Belief of the English Church, for these remained pretty much what they were in the time of Edward vi. The purity of doctrine and ritual which they enjoyed in Geneva was not to be permitted them in England, but they did not renounce their convictions all the same. These convictions spread, and, a few generations later, found full expression in the religious and political revolution which sent Charles I. to the scaffold.

Knox also left Geneva, intending to go first to England and then to Scotland. His declared object in visiting England was to come face to face with his old congregations at Newcastle, Berwick, and "other parties in the North." It is not unlikely that he had a deeper object. It was a part of his policy to come to an understanding with England, and gain its support on behalf of the Reformation in Scotland. His residence in the former country, and the important posts which he held, enabled him to form acquaintances with its leading men. They knew his value and the weight of his character, and were prepared, should the coast be clear, to exchange opinions with him on the political and religious outlook.

He accordingly journeyed to Dieppe, intending to cross to England at the earliest opportunity, but he found his farther progress stopped, not, as on the previous occasion, by letters from Scotland, but by the lack of a letter from England. He wrote to Cecil asking for a passport, but both his request and his letter were ignored. He was now beginning to reap in a very real fashion the fruits of his First Blast. It had indeed, as he himself was forced to admit, "blown all his friends from him." It besides turned against him, among others, Queen Elizabeth, who ever afterwards regarded Knox as the incarnation of all that was detestable in religion. She would have none of him in England, and for three months he had to cool his heels in Dieppe, writing meanwhile letters to Cecil of the strongest possible character.

But Knox could not be idle, he filled in his time by preaching to the Protestant congregation which he himself practically formed, and which in a very short time became one of the largest in any town in France. It was there at this time, also, that he probably finished his pamphlet on Predestination, the one theological treatise of any size and importance ever written by him. The subject was not of Knox's own choosing, nor was the task undertaken at his own desire. A request had come from England to the Reformers in Geneva asking them to prepare a reply to a certain Englishman who had written against the subject. The work was the production of an Anabaptist. We do not know its title nor its author. Knox calls it "The Careless by Necessity." The Anabaptists were, as we have seen, the freethinkers of the period, and, like all free-thinkers, objected to dogma. They glorified the freedom of the will, and, true to their doctrine, the lives of many were as loose as their views. In these days of a more liberal theology we are apt to agree with the Anabaptists in their revolt against the hard-and-fast system of the early Reformers. It is quite true that we can do so with an impunity which they could not. Luther and Zwingli, Calvin and Knox, had broken away from the Roman Catholic Church, from its creed, its worship, and itself as an institution and organisation, and the practical question faced them, "What are we going to put in place of all these?"

Had they followed the course adopted by the Anabaptists, and simply left their adherents to the freedom of their own will with regard to doctrine and worship, the Reformation would have collapsed. What they had to do was to form a strong theological phalanx which would act as a defence against all attacks from the outside; to prepare forms of belief upon which the people could take their stand. It was impossible for them to organise in a few months, or years, a great Church like the Roman Catholic, which of itself gave a strength to its members which the Reformers were not completely able to break down. Hence the absolute necessity which devolved upon the leaders of the new movement to discover a substitute for that Church, and they found it in the theology of their Confessions and Creeds, and particularly in the system of Calvin, which is as difficult to break down as was the Romish Church itself.

It is easy for us in these days to find fault with what we are pleased to term the narrowness and intolerance of the theological views of the leaders of the Reformed Church. But they could not afford to be broad and tolerant, although we can. It was what we term the "harshness" of their theology. that made the Reformed Church itself possible, and has preserved it for us to this hour. Now the head and front of that system is the doctrine of Predestination, and it shows the confidence which his fellow Reformers had in Knox that they asked him to prepare the reply desired by their co-religionists in England. The book was published in Geneva with the full authority of Calvin and his friends, to whom it gave entire satisfaction.

Predestination was a late arrival among the doctrines of the Reformed Church. Although presupposed in most of the early Lutheran and Reformed Confessions it did not appear prominently in them, but by the time Calvin wrote his Institutes it was advancing to a leading position. In the earlier editions of his famous work he deals with the subject somewhat briefly, but in the later editions he stated it at length, and wrote elaborate replies to attacks that were made upon it. During the time that Knox was in Geneva it formed the chief subject of controversy, and all the resources of the Reformed Theology were strained to vindicate it. It would be beyond our present purpose to discuss this doctrine at length. It finds a modified place in the Scots Confession of 1560, from which its most repellent features are absent, thus showing that though Knox could write a vigorous controversial pamphlet of some four hundred pages on the subject, he did not think it necessary or advisable to include its most doubtful and objectional features in the Confession which he prepared for his own Church. In the Westminster Confession these features appear in full elaboration, and they are responsible for the strong desire on the part of many at the present moment to have that Confession recast or its terms of subscription relaxed.

But viewing the subject of Predestination in its broadest aspect there are few who will not be ready to admit that it is the only theological and philosophical explanation of the universe that can recommend itself to the mind of man. It places all under the sovereign rule and grace of God, it claims that nothing happens by chance, that the world and human life are ordered by design, that religion and history are subject to the law of development, that there is an end towards which the whole creation is moving, that there is a unity amidst all the differences that exist around us, and that "the whole round earth is every way bound by gold chains about the feet of God." This, indeed, is the most modern theory of the universe, it is the final word of the scientist, the historian, the moralist, and the philosopher, as well as the theologian. Determinism, as it is called, or in other words Predestination, is accepted by the profoundest thinkers of the day. Calvin and Darwin, Zwingli and Hegel, are at one on this point, and where they agree who will dare to differ? What has brought the Reformed view of the subject into disrepute is the doctrine of Reprobation, or the dualism which differentiates between the saved and the lost in the future world.

But the latest word of the Reformed Theology has not yet, we are told, been spoken. The view of the world which prevailed at that time has changed, and with it has also changed the Reformed eschatology, whose ideal, says Dr. Hastie, "is an endless progression in the future life under conditions modified by the result of the present development, and carrying that development forward under new conditions of divine determination. The Reformed Theology has not yet fully solved this profoundest problem of all, but it is passing in this connection through a new period of vital development, and the issue shall be a deepened belief in the endless development of all created souls, till the absolute purpose of God shall be realised in an infinitely diversified spirit world, reconciled, perfected, and unified in eternal harmony through spiritual communion with Christ around the throne of God."

We should not blame Knox for his defective eschatology, it is enough for us to know that he held with a firm grasp a doctrine which has so much to commend it, and which is now, in one form or another, almost universally accepted by thinking men. He showed thorough familiarity with it in his reply to his Anabaptist adversary. We have travelled far from the points that were so bitterly discussed between them, and we should be satisfied that in the controversy he proved himself a champion of whom neither his country nor his colleagues had any reason to be ashamed.

Events had been proceeding at . a rapid pace in Scotland from July 1556, when Knox left it, to the 2nd of May 1559, when he landed at Leith to be the head and front of the movement which was soon to be carried to a successful issue. The whole nation had, in the interval, become involved in the revolution that was agitating the country, and every force—political, religious, and social—was engaged in it.

The policy of the Queen Regent, which had all along been in favour of France, was strained to the point of breaking. Henry Jr. was anxious to involve Scotland in the war which, along with Paul iv., he was waging against Philip of Spain. It was necessary for success that England should be kept in check, and he looked to Scotland to effect this for him. He reminded the Scottish nobles of their engagement, ratified at Haddington, to aid him in the case of such an emergency, but when the Queen Regent solicited their support on his behalf they coldly refused. They had become suspicious of France, resented the promotion to the chief offices in the State of Frenchmen, and were in no mood to enter into a conflict with England. Mary of Guise, seeing their temper, abetted Henry in hastening on the marriage of the young Queen of Scots to the Dauphin, in the hope of making Scotland an appanage of France. Eight Commissioners were appointed to represent Scotland at the ceremony, which took place on the 4th of April 1558, and of these only four returned. It was supposed that the rest had been poisoned. Henry, too, to make the French rights to the Scottish crown thoroughly secure, entered into a private treaty with the young Queen; and not content with all the advantages that he had already gained, he asked for the crown to be sent over to France in order to be placed on the head of the Dauphin. But an event took place on the 17th of November of this year which diverted the course of European politics, and in the end freed Scotland from the dominance of France; for on that date Mary Tudor (lied, and was succeeded by the Protestant Elizabeth. This gave hope to the friends of the Reformation, who looked to England for support, that the cause which they had at heart would now triumph.

It will be recollected that Knox, before he left the country in 1556, wrote a letter of "Wholesome Counsel" to his friends and adherents, directing and encouraging them to hold fast to their convictions, and to conduct worship in their own households, at least, should a more public place be denied them. In a letter which was sent to him by the leading Protestants in the country, a year later, to Geneva, it is pointed out that the good work begun was progressing. The Protestant religion was spreading, and the face of a Church was gradually appearing in the land. In his reply from Dieppe he lays before them their duty as the leaders of the people, and, partly owing to his advice and to the favourable conditions which then prevailed, those whom he addressed formed themselves into a body, and signed a Covenant—the first of many of its kind in Scotland —binding themselves, at the risk of life and limb, to adhere to, and assist by every means in their power, the religious Reformation. They at the same time drew up resolutions laying bare the evils that were in the Church, and approving of the use of Common Prayers on Sundays and Holy Days.

The Lords of the Congregation, as they now for the first time called themselves, pressed on the advantages which they had already gained. They, through Sir James Sandilands, presented a petition to the Regent claiming the right of public and private prayer in the common tongue. Some of them also kept preachers in their household, for the twofold object of defending the ministers against the tyranny of the Romish Church and of instructing both themselves and their families in the truths of the new religion. It is a cause of no surprise, accordingly, to learn that Archbishop Hamilton and his clergy became alarmed at the progress which the new views were making, and that they had recourse, fortunately for the last time in the history of Scotland, to the only method for suppressing heresy known to the Romish Church. The victim on this occasion was Walter Mill, who was burned at St. Andrews on or about the 80th of April 1558. Pitscottie says that Mill "was warming him in a poor woman's house in Dysart, and teaching the commandments of God to her and her bairns, and learning her how she should instruct her house to bring up her bairns in the fear of God" when arrested. It was while performing this sacred duty that the poor old man was seized. The sympathies of the people were so strong in his favour that "neither a cord to bind him to the stake nor a tar barrel to burn him could be got for the buying." On being consigned to the flames, and while expiring, lie uttered these pathetic and prophetic words: "As for me, I am fourscore and two years old, and cannot live long by the course of nature, but a hundred better shall arise out of the ashes of my bones. I trust in God I shall be the last to suffer death in Scotland in this cause." Immediately after his death a cairn of stones was erected on the spot to his memory.

The feelings of the people on this occasion show in what direction their opinions were tending. No one could remain any longer blind to the fact that the revolutionary party was backed up by strong popular sympathy and force. The Queen Regent, accordingly, felt that the time had at last come for making a determined effort to suppress Protestantism. She had for a considerable time tried to conciliate those who were favourable to the new views for the purpose of gaining their support in the prosecution of her policy, but the chief aim of that policy having now been attained by the marriage of her daughter to the Dauphin, she felt that there was no need for temporising any longer. She must also have perceived that if she was to maintain her authority the new movement must be suppressed, for those who were heading it clearly aimed at the overthrow of her government.

She accordingly summoned to her presence the Protestant preachers. They, knowing the strength of their backing, were quite prepared to obey her, and supported by a great many friends and followers they appeared in Edinburgh. She was alarmed at their numbers and was anxious to have them dispersed, but before this could be done several made their way into the chamber where the Regent and the leading clergy were assembled, and one of them, James Chalmers of Gadgirth, addressed her as follows: "Madam, we vow to God we shall make ane day of it. They oppress us and our tenants for feeding of their idle bellies; they trouble our preachers, and would murder them and us: shall we suffer this any longer? No, Madam, it shall not be," and therewith every man put on his steel bonnet. There was heard nothing on the Queen's part but "My joys, my heart, what ails you? Me means no evil to you nor to your preachers." With these and suchlike fair words, as Knox, who gives a very graphic account of the interview, remarks, "she kept the peace at that time."

But perhaps the incident which shows the extent and character of the religious revolt more than any other, is the treatment accorded to St. Giles, the patron saint of Edinburgh. In the previous year his image had been stolen from the church and cast into the Nor' Loch, and this year the clergy, in order to celebrate his day with due honour, had to borrow money to buy a new one. The Queen herself honoured the occasion and took part in its festivities, but she retired to dine at the house of Sandie Carpetyne "betwixt the Bowes," in time to escape a great tumult, for the populace attacked the procession, made short work of the idol, and chased the priests as hard as they could run to sanctuary. It may be true that the lower classes are always ready to take part in a riot, but the treatment meted out on this occasion to young St. Giles clearly shows the way the wind was blowing, for when the religious observances of a Church can be treated in this fashion it is a clear sign that that Church is doomed.

The Protestants, in order to bring matters to a point, petitioned Parliament through the Queen Regent, claiming absolute freedom of worship, and on her declining to accept their petition they determined to approach Parliament themselves. But the social discontent which characterised the movement has still to be mentioned. 'There is a popular belief that the Reformation in Scotland was entirely carried through by those who called themselves the Lords of the Congregation. Undoubtedly they took a leading part in its inception, but unless the movement had been national it would never have reached its dimensions nor attained its results. The common people, and even the lower classes, had their share in its accomplishment. Nor was the revolution entirely religious, as some think, or partly religious and partly political only, as others imagine; it was social as well, and in this we see its not least hopeful sign. Indeed, that element in it which then, for the first time, found articulate expression is the one that has had least justice done to it, and, at the same time, it is the one which perhaps was the deepest of all. The condition of the working classes and of the poor was miserable in the extreme, and that condition was due in no small measure to the Church, which ought to have made every effort to improve it.

This is brought out in what a recent historian has declared to have been the most remarkable document produced by the Reformation, "The Beggars' Summonds," which on the 1st of January 1559 was stuck on the gates of all the Religious Houses in Scotland. In was a striking and significant paper, purporting to be from "the blind, crooked, beggars, widows, and all other poor," accusing the clergy of having "falsely stolen the wealth given by the pious for the service of the poor," and concluding with the threat, "We have thought good, therefore, to warn you that you remove forth of our said hospitals betwixt this and the feast of Whitsunday next, certifying you if ye fail we will at the said term in whole number, with the help of God and assistance of His saints on earth, of whose ready support we doubt not, enter and take possession of our said patrimony and eject you utterly forth of the same. Let him, therefore, that before hath stolen, steal no more, but rather let him work with his hands that he may be helpful to the poor." It is not known who wrote this document. It is written with a strong hand, and breathes the spirit of revolution. It must have been the production of someone who was in the secret counsels of the leaders of the movement, for it in a sense reveals their plan. The menace with which it ends was fulfilled almost to the letter.

A Provincial Council of the clergy was held about this time. The ecclesiastical authorities evidently saw that unless something were done speedily, in the way of drastic reform, the Church would be overthrown. The recommendations which it made were, for the Romish Church, searching and far-reaching, and if they had been carried out a generation or two earlier the religious revolution might never have been attempted; but it was now too late, and the Queen Regent, seeing that it was quite impossible to regain the sympathies of the Protestants for the Church, turned once more to her policy of suppression, and shortly before Easter issued an order for the observance of that festival after the Roman manner, strictly forbidding the preaching of unauthorised persons. The Protestants, in alarm, made a representation to her through the Earl of Glencairn and Sir Hew Campbell, Sheriff of Ayr, to whom she replied in memorable words: "In despite of you and of your ministers both, they shall be banished out of Scotland albeit they preached as truly as ever did St. Paul." On having her previous promises recalled she replied in words that have become historical, "it became not subjects to burden their princes with promises further than it pleased them to keep the same." At last the die was cast, and the preachers were summoned to appear at Stirling on the 10th of May.


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