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John Knox, A Biography
Chapter IV - Religious Views

KNOX on regaining liberty would naturally have returned to Scotland, but had he done so he would have courted the fate of George Wishart. The country was in a very unsettled condition, and the policy of the governing classes was dead against the Reformation. He accordingly went to England, where he was welcomed by the Duke of Somerset as one likely to aid him in spreading the Protestant religion.

England at this time possessed very few capable preachers. Its parochial clergy were for the most part ignorant priests, who ought to have been living in retirement on their pensions, but who had been allowed by Henry viii. to serve their cures and draw their stipends in order to save his Exchequer. The reaction which took place under Bloody Mary would perhaps never have succeeded had it not been that in most parishes the ministers were Roman Catholic at heart, and ready to support a revival of the old superstition.

Knox was sent to Berwick-on-Tweed as a licensed preacher. The place was well chosen. There he had a congregation composed partly of Scotsmen from across the border, who had repaired thither for safety. Knox's fame afterwards drew more of his countrymen to that town. In Berwick there was also a garrison, and the Reformer's experience in the Castle of St. Andrews, among the rough soldiery, would stand him in good stead. We can well believe that his simple and direct method of address, his graphic style, forcible delivery and clear, strong, and burning convictions, would have great power over those who were placed under his care. "Though the Battle appears strong, your Captain is inexpugnable;" "Abide, stand, and call for His support, and so the enemies which now affray you shall be confounded," are specimens of the kind of imagery which he employed, and indicate how vivid and real his preaching must have been.

Knox's Scottish admirers forget that he spent what must have been the ten best years of his life among Englishmen. Five were passed in England preaching in different parts of the country, and to the Court, and in taking his part in framing the Articles of Belief and the Prayer Book. Knox, wherever he was, invariably was the real head of the table. In other words, he possessed a personality so strong that it influenced all who came into contact with him, and his convictions were so definite and his courage so marked that he never allowed his conscience to be wounded by timid silence. It is now seen that the part which he played in shaping the Reformation in England was very considerable, and that he was instrumental in imparting to it a spirit of pure and sturdy Puritanism which in a later age burst forth in all its power and saved the country from ruin. It seems to us, therefore, somewhat necessary that we should at this stage try to understand what Knox's religious views really were.

It is the fashion to discount him as a systematic theologian, and he himself in the Letter of Commendation which he wrote to Balnaves' Treatise makes no claim to scientific scholarship; for he remarks: "It is no speculative Theolog which desires to give you courage, but even so, a brother in affliction, which partly hath experienced what Satan's wrath may do against the chosen of God." With the exception of St. Paul, none of the Apostles pretended to be systematic theologians, and yet we hear of the Petrine and Johannine Gospels. It is the "affliction of experience," after all, to which Knox refers, that makes the true teacher and preacher. For Theology, we are told, is as much of the heart as of the head. In this respect Knox stands out pre-eminent, and to it he owed the tremendous power which he had over his hearers, and it was in virtue of it that he afterwards moved Scotland and conquered it for Protestantism.

Dr. M`Crie, the first formal biographer of Knox, treats at considerable length of his religious views, and we are bound to say that he seems to us to be nearer the truth than Dr. Hume Brown, Knox's later biographer. The latter, in a very interesting chapter on Knox's "Religious Opinions," gives far too much weight to the supposed influence which Balnaves' Treatise on Justification by Faith had on the Reformer. He imagines that because Knox wrote the Note of Commendation to the book it therefore expresses his entire religious views. Now, as a matter of fact, although with all the other Reformers he attached great importance to the doctrine of Justification by Faith, he did not by any means regard it as the leading doctrine of Protestantism. Dr. Hume Brown would be the first to admit that, like Knox himself, he is no "speculative Theolog," and therefore cannot speak with supreme authority on this question.

To discover the Reformer's position we have not only to read his works, but to interpret them in the light of scientific knowledge of the subject. This, fortunately, has recently been done by one of the greatest Scottish theologians of recent times, the late Professor Hastie of Glasgow University. In his Croall Lectures on the "Theology of the Reformed Church," a work published after his death, Dr. Hastie gives a luminous sketch of Knox's religious opinions, and he shows that he accepted the Reformed rather than the Lutheran view of the Protestant Faith.

In order to arrive at a clear knowledge of Knox's theological views it is necessary to bear in mind a fundamental distinction between the Lutheran and Reformed presentations of Protestantism. While Luther, and those who sided with him, protested with all their might against the doctrine of Works or the Judaic element in the Romish Church, Zwingli and Calvin raised their voices with equal vehemence against the doctrine of image worship or the pagan element in that Communion. Now while all the Reformers accepted the two positions of Protestantism thus stated, the Lutherans emphasised the former distinction and the Reformed theologians the latter: and it is quite impossible to understand the governing principles of the two Reforming parties in Protestantism without bearing these divisions constantly in mind. Knox, as can be clearly shown, was from the very beginning an ardent disciple of the Reformed theologians, and from the first sermon which he preached in St. Andrews to his last he never ceased to denounce the pagan or idolatrous element in the Romish Church, which made it, in his eyes, no Church at all, but a monstrosity that ought at whatever cost to be got rid of.

Indeed, Knox's watchword of "No idolatry," sounded in his famous sermon at Perth, was also the watchword of the Lollards of Kyle, who in the fifteenth century, during the reign of James IV., introduced into Scotland the religious teaching of John Wycliff. We find that among the thirty-four Articles of Heresy charged against them there were several that clearly foreshadowed the position of Knox. One of them was that "images were not to be had nor yet to be worshipped." A second, that "the relics of saints are not to be worshipped," and a third that "after the consecration in the Mass there remains but bread."

The next great movement in the religious life of Scotland is represented by Patrick Hamilton, the protomartyr of the Reformation, who was burned at St. Andrews in 1528. He had as a young man imbibed the Lutheran teaching at Wittenberg; and as was then the fashion, he embodied his theological convictions in a thesis or set of articles which were published after his death under the title of Patrick's Places, or, as we would say, "Commonplaces" or "Heads" of 'Theology. This treatise is thoroughly Lutheran in standpoint, form, and expression, and it would seem as if it was to be the divine of Erfurt and not the theologian of Geneva who was to give his impress to the Reformation movement in Scotland.

But after Hamilton came George Wishart. Eighteen years divided the two, and during that period the religious views of Scotland were being moulded afresh by the influences that were bearing upon the country from the Continent and England. Wishart gave a new direction to the religious revival, for he was a believer in the Reformed Theology. He had come under its influence while travelling on the Continent, and bore testimony to his convictions by translating into English the first Helvetic Confession. Indeed one of the Articles for which he sufflered martyrdom was his repudiation of transubstantiation and the Mass. And we read that one of the results of his preaching was an attack by the men of Dundee and Montrose on some of the religious houses of these towns, which were gloriously bedecked, and full of those images the worship of which the Reformed 'Theologians declared to be gross idolatry.

Knox had, by the time he began his duties as a licensed preacher in England, written almost nothing. His introduction to and synopsis of Balnaves' Treatise on Justification would seem to have been his sole literary venture, his only other record being one sermon preached by him, that in St. Andrews, and his disputations with the leaders of the Romish Church there. But these are quite enough to show the quality of the man both as a speaker and as a writer, and it is hard for us to believe that they were his first ventures in either capacity, for they display a knowledge of the subject, a maturity of thought, a directness and ease of expression that would do no discredit to a past master. What Knox was then he remained ever after, and we find that in the sermon he enunciated those opinions which he ever held by.

Thus from the very beginning he was an adherent of the Reformed rather than of the Lutheran conception of the Protestant Faith. He declared the Pope to be "that Man of Sin" and the Romish Church to be "the Synagogue of Satan," and deplored the degeneracy of the Roman Church as compared with the purity which was in the days of the Apostles. While lying in irons in the French galley on the Loire he flung overboard the image of the Virgin which he was asked to worship, declaring it to be "but a pented brod."

In his defence at Newcastle on the 4th April 1550, he made a powerful indictment against the idolatry of the Roman Church as seen in the sacrifice of the Mass, declaring it to be idolatry; and in a "Summary according to the Holy Scriptures of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper," drawn up about the same time, he distinctly throws in his lot with the upholders of the Reformed Theology, repudiating the doctrine not only of transubstantiation but that of consubstantiation as well, and declaring the Sacrament to be altogether spiritual. His notable stand against the rubric in the Second Prayer Book of Edward vi. (October 1552), enjoining kneeling as the proper attitude for receiving the Sacrament, resulted in a note being inserted that in such a posture no "adoration" is intended.

In subsequent publications written while in England, and before he came under the personal influence of Calvin, who is supposed to have moulded him to his own sweet will, we find the same principle laid down, and his whole position may be summed up in his declaration that "all worshipping, honouring, or service of God invented by the brain of man in the religion of God without His own express command is idolatry."

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