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John Knox, A Biography
Chapter V - In England


KNOX, holding these views, found himself in very congenial surroundings when, in 1549, he was appointed by the Privy Council of England, as one of their licensed preachers, to minister to the garrison and people of Berwick. Henry viii. had been two years dead, and those who were responsible for the government of the Church held much more drastic views regarding the reform of religion than he had ever entertained. The English monarch was content for the most part to break with the Church of Rome, and to apportion between himself and his favourites among the nobility the wealth and lands of the Church. He did not interfere much with its doctrine or ritual, but since his death these had been taken in hand, and the signs were auspicious for a thoroughgoing religious revolution.

It is true that the bulk of the people loved the old ways, and clung, as their custom is, to use and wont; but London, whose influence was very predominant in this and other matters at that time, was strongly in favour of the Reformation, and the aristocracy, who had shared in the property of the Church, were not only loth to give up what they had already grabbed, but were very anxious to secure as large a share as possible of the remaining spoils.

Knox accordingly experienced great freedom in his ministry at Berwick, and it would seem that he discharged his duties entirely according to his own light and convictions. Proof of this is found in a letter written by him at a later date, in which he declares that he dispensed the Communion in exactly the same fashion as he did in St. Andrews. We know that on that occasion the manner in which he administered the sacred rite was in accordance with Scriptural simplicity, and it may be taken for granted that in conducting the service on the Sundays, and in the general discharge of his duties, he adhered to the forms which had received the approval of Zwingli, Calvin, and the other leaders of the Reformed Church on the Continent.

His great desire was to remove every obstacle that might stand between the soul of the believer and his God. He was anxious that nothing should intervene between the suppliant and his Maker; and it must have been his public insistence on this which brought him under the unfavourable notice of Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, and others in that diocese, who in their hearts still clung to the old ways. In any care, as has already been indicated, he was asked to give an account to the Bishop of the

doctrine which he taught, and he himself in somewhat triumphant terms describes the occasion, when before a notable gathering at Newcastle on the 4th of April 1550 he proved to his own satisfaction, at least, that the sacrifice of the Mass is idolatry. So pleased was he with this performance that he afterwards published it as a separate work, under the title, A Vindication of the Doctrine that the Sacrifice of the Mass is Idolatry. This being the first independent work which he gave to the world, it may not be unfitly regarded as his manifesto.

Knox was not allowed to remain long in Berwick. In 1551 he was removed, presumably by the order of the Privy Council, to Newcastle. During the two years he was in the Border town he had proved himself to be one of the outstanding champions of the new religion. He would feel himself on safer ground in Newcastle, for not a little progress had been made in putting into force the views which he himself advocated. An Act of Parliament, for instance, had recently been passed ordering the removal of images and paintings from the churches. Altars also were being condemned, and Cranmer and his household had celebrated the season of Lent in 1550 by eating meat.

Knox, however, was not by any means satisfied with what had been accomplished, and he was looking forward with eagerness to the appearance of the Second Prayer Book of Edward vi., which he hoped would put a true face on the Church of England, and in this he was not to be altogether disappointed. He was riot, however, blind to the existing condition of affairs in the country, but clearly saw that before a thoroughgoing Reformation could be accomplished in England, if indeed it ever would be accomplished, those who advocated the new ways would have to pass through a fiery furnace.

On this, as on other occasions, he had a vigilant eye for the signs of the times, and his capacity to understand current events and the trend of affairs gave him, in the eyes of contemporaries, the character of a prophet. He indeed was no prophet in the vulgar acceptance of the term, but if penetration, shrewdness, and absence of cant and humbug, go to the making of a prophet, then he certainly was one. It was because of his singular power of detachment, and ability to see things as they really were, that he was able to forecast coming events and earn for himself a reverence and a notoriety which stood him in very good stead, and helped not a little to give divine sanction to his words and actions.

He saw, for one thing, that the Reformation in England depended on young King Edward's life, that the statesmen who for the time being advocated it were governed purely by selfish motives, and that even the two men, Somerset and Northumberland, who were all powerful in the Councils of the nation, were not the inspired religionists which some imagined, but—especially the latter — calculating schemers, who managed the popular movement for their own ends. Somerset, who a year earlier had fallen into disfavour, was in January 1552, shortly after Knox came to Newcastle, beheaded, and the Reformer, who was far from being whole-hearted in his admiration of the Protector, yet openly lamented his death, and was "compelled of conscience to condenin" the means invented by Northumberland "to take away his innocent friend."

A new honour awaited Knox about this time. The Privy Council in1551 determined that six King's chaplains should be appointed, and the following year Knox was chosen one of them. Edward vi., in the private diary which he kept, explains the nature of the duties which these chaplains were expected to discharge. Two of them had to be in attendance at the Court, and the other four were to act as itinerant preachers, covering the whole country by their peregrinations and ministrations. Knox in due time was summoned to preach before the Court in the order and in virtue of his office, but previous to that he received a singular and additional mark of distinction by being offered the Bishopric of Rochester.

The proposal that he should be appointed to that See came from Northumberland. Some are at a loss to know whether it was his admiration for, or dislike of, Knox that prompted him. Northumberland, in virtue of his position as General Warden of the Marches, was brought in 1552 into close touch with Knox, and the Reformer was not slack to take advantage in his preaching on public affairs to drive home the truths which he felt commissioned to declare. He testifies himself to the nature of his utterances at this time, and some of them cannot have been very pleasing to Northumberland. The latter accordingly, wishing to get rid of Knox, made the proposal to which we have referred. The reasons with which he backed up the suggested appointment were that Knox would "whet Cranmer's appetite," put the Anabaptists to rout, get himself out of the north, and at the same time rid Newcastle of the Scots who had gathered round him.

But Northumberland did not know the man with whom he had to deal. Knox refused the Bishopric. It is not unfrequently alleged in this connection that the reason why he declined the See of Rochester was because he did not believe in bishops. He himself does not say so. It should not be forgotten that at this time the Church of England was not only in sympathy, but in communion with the Reformed Churches everywhere. The divine right of Episcopacy was not a part of its creed, and John Knox and other preachers, whose Orders were genuine but not hierarchical, were freely recommended and cordially welcomed, not only to the ministry but to the very highest positions in its command. It was only in later years, during the time of Laud, that the Anglican Church began to air those pretensions which have gradually alienated from it the other Churches of the Reformation with which in early times it was in communion.

Knox, it must be admitted, was never particularly in love with the office of a bishop. He knew what it had led to in the Romish Church. The wealth and the arrogance, the tyranny and the moral corruption of bishops, were largely due, he knew, to their office. This must have weighed with him no doubt in coming to a decision, but the real reason lay in the unreality and insecurity of the Reformation in England. Shortly after this he confessed as much. When in exile he wrote: "What moved me to refuse, and that with displeasure of all men, those high promotions ? Assuredly the foresight of troubles to come. How oft have I said that the time would not be long that England would give me bread."

In the autumn of 1552 Knox took his turn as Court preacher, and his first sermon created a sensation. In a letter, dated London, 12th October 155, received by Bullinger from a friend, there is the following passage: "Some disputes have arisen within these few days among the Bishops in consequence of a sermon of a pious preacher, chaplain to the Duke of Northumberland, preached by him before the King and Council, in which he inveighed with great freedom against kneeling at the Lord's Supper, which is still retained here by the English. This good man, however, a Scotsman by nation, has so wrought upon the minds of many persons that we may hope some good to the Church will at length arise, which I earnestly implore the Lord to grant."

To Knox the question of kneeling at the Lord's Supper was the question of the hour. At this very time the Second Prayer Book of Edward vi. was on the eve of being published, and the rubric on kneeling was the one to which Knox took most exception. Ridley and Peter Martyr supported him in his objection, but Cranmer could see no harm in the practice. Knox's protest, however, was so strong that in the end deference was paid to it. The publication of the book was stopped, a leaf was inserted into those already in type stating that no adoration was intended by kneeling, and in subsequent issues this declaration formed a part of the book, and has ever since been known as the "black rubric." That this concession was due to Knox is rendered almost certain by the statement of one Dr. Weston, a Catholic opponent, who in a dispute with Latimer at Oxford in 1554 said: "A renegade Scot did take away the adoration or worshipping of Christ in the Sacrament, by whose procurement it was put into the last Prayer Book."

It would almost seem as if for the moment Knox overlooked the great victory which he had gained, for this very question of kneeling was one of the main articles in dispute between the Church of Rome and the Reformed Churches,—so concerned was he as to the effect which the Prayer Book would have upon the worship of his old congregation at Berwick. We have seen the extreme simplicity of the ritual which he observed while ministering to them, and the new Prayer Book, although he admits that "at one time he had a good opinion of it," necessarily in some respects broke through that simplicity. He himself had determined to submit to it, and in the end he counselled them to do the same.

But another triumph was in store for Knox as showing the profound influence which he had not only upon the ritual but upon the doctrine of the Church of England. Archbishop Cranmer had been engaged for the last four years in drawing up Articles of Belief, and had now all but finished his task, and they were on the point of publication. At first forty-five in number, they were afterwards reduced to forty-two, and finally to thirty-nine. These . Articles were submitted to the chaplains for their consideration, and Knox, among others, protested against the thirty-eighth Article, which expressly stated that the ceremonies enjoined in the new Prayer Book were in full accord with evangelical liberty. One of these ceremonies, of course, was this one of kneeling against which Knox had raised strong objections, and so persistent was he in his opposition, and determined in his efforts, that as in the case of the Prayer Book, so now in that of the Articles, he triumphed, for when they appeared a short time afterwards the obnoxious clause was omitted.

About this time he was offered the Vicarage of of All-Hallows in Bread Street, London, but this second offer of promotion he also declined. It would seem that the Council were not a little annoyed at Knox's repeated refusals, and they summoned him to state his reasons. On the 14th of April 1553 he appeared before them, and they demanded of him three questions: (1) Why he refused the benefice provided for him; (2) Whether he thought that no Christian might serve in the evangelic ministration according to the rights and laws of the realm of England; (3) If kneeling at the Lord's 'fable was not indifferent. To the first he answered that he thought he could be of more service in some other place than in London; to the second that discipline in the Church of England was lax, seeing that no minister had the power to separate the lepers from the "heal"; and to the third he answered that Christ dispensed the Communion without kneeling, and that His example ought to be followed.

Nothing further came of this, and we find him fulfilling his duties with a freedom and power which must have won him respect and even admiration. Plainness of speech was one of his great virtues, and we are not surprised to find that he practised it when addressing even the highest in the land. This was pretty much the fashion of the time among notable preachers in England, and in their sermons before the Court they spared not the proudest. In the last sermon which he himself preached before King Edward we find a specimen of his style, and of the way in which he attacked not only the corruptions but the corrupters of the time.

"I recited," he remarks, "the histories of Achitophel, Shebna, and Judas. The two former had high offices and promotions, with great authority, under the most godly princes David and Hezekiah, and Judas was purse master with Christ Jesus . . . Were David, said I, and Hezekiah, princes of great and godly gifts and experience, abused by crafty counsellors and dissembling hypocrites? What wonder is it, then, that a young and innocent king be deceived by crafty, covetous, wicked, and ungodly counsellors. I am greatly afraid that Achitophel be counsellor, that Judas bear the purse, and that Shebna be scribe, comptroller, and treasurer."

Under this transparent veil he described 'the characters of Northumberland, Winchester, and others who at the time were the leading councillors of Edward vi. Such boldness of speech necessarily endangered Knox's life, but exaggeration in the pulpit would seem to have been not only a habit of the time, but one that was tolerated, and as the sermons of the Court preachers usually lasted three or four hours it gave those who were being attacked ample opportunity of leaving the church, a privilege of which, we understand, they not unfrequently availed themselves.

Edward vi. died on the 6th of July 1553, and the country was thrown into confusion. Knox at the time was in Buckingham, and preaching on the 16th of July in Amersham Parish Church, before a large and excited congregation, he burst forth into one of the most eloquent passages that he ever spoke or penned. "Oh! England, England," he exclaims, "wilt thou yet obey the voice of thy God and submit thyself to His holy words? Truly if thou wilt thou shalt find mercy in His sight, and the state of thy commonwealth will be preserved." But the persecutions which marked the first year of Mary's reign gave no hope of God's voice being listened to. Many of the foreign divines were driven out of the country, and certain of the Bishops were in prison. Cranmer, however, quailed not, but remained steadfast at Lambeth, and so did others.

The 20th of December was the limit fixed for toleration of the Reformed views. Knox at the time was in Newcastle. He was poor and in ill health. He was being watched, and his servant was seized and his letters taken possession of. His friends implored him with tears to flee the country. He was loth to do this, but at last he yielded to their solicitations and quitted England at the beginning of the following year. "Some will ask," he says, "why did I fly. Assuredly I cannot tell, but of one thing I am sure, the fear of death was not the chief cause of my flying."

This we readily believe, and we must also believe that a higher Hand was guiding his destiny. The time was coming when Scotland would require him, and for the great work that he was to accomplish there the training which he was now undergoing was, under Providence, a necessary preparation.


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