PREVIOUS CHAPTER - NEXT CHAPTER - HELP - FB - TWITTER - GR VIDEOS - GR FORUMS - GR YOUTUBE
FROM HIS EMBRACING THE REFORMED RELIGION TO HIS RELEASE FROM THE FRENCH GALLEYS While this fermentation of opinion was spreading through the nation, Knox, from the state in which his mind was, could not remain long unaffected. The Reformed doctrines had been imbibed by several of his acquaintances, and they were the topic of common conversation and dispute among the learned and inquisitive at the university. His change of views first discovered itself in his philosophical lectures, in which he began to forsake the scholastic path, and to recommend to his pupils a more rational and useful method of study. Even this innovation excited against him violent suspicions of heresy, which were confirmed, when he proceeded to reprehend the corruptions which prevailed in the Church. It was impossible for him, after this, to remain in safety at St. Andrews, which was wholly under the power of Cardinal Beatoun, the most determined supporter of the Romish Church, and enemy of all reform. He left that place, and retired to the south, where, within a short time, he avowed his full belief of the Protestant doctrine. Provoked by his defection, and alarmed lest he should draw others after him, the clergy were anxious to rid themselves of such an adversary. Having passed sentence against him as a heretic, and degraded him from the priesthood, says Beza, the Cardinal employed assassins to way-lay him, by whose hands he must have fallen, had not Providence placed him under the protection of the laird of Langniddrie.
Thomas Guillaume, or Williams, was very useful to Knox, in leading him to a more perfect acquaintance with the truth. He was a friar of eminence, and along with John Rough, acted as chaplain to the Earl of Arran, during the short time that he favored the Reformation, at the beginning of his regency, by whom he was employed in preaching in different parts of the kingdom. But the person to whom our Reformer was most indebted, was George Wishart, a gentleman of the house of Pittarow, in Mearns. Being driven into banishment by Cardinal Beatoun, for teaching the Greek New Testament in Montrose, he had resided for some years at the university of Cambridge. In the year 1544, he returned to his native country, in the company of the commissioners who had been sent to negotiate a treaty with Henry VIII. of England. Seldom do we meet, in ecclesiastical history, with a character so amiable and interesting as that of George Wishart.
Excelling the rest of his countrymen at that period in learning, of the most persuasive eloquence, irreproachable in life, courteous and affable in manners; his fervent piety, zeal, and courage in the cause of truth, were tempered with uncommon meekness, modesty, patience, prudence, and charity. In his tour of preaching through Scotland, he was usually accompanied by some of the principal gentry; and the people, who flocked to hear him, were ravished with his discourses. To this teacher Knox attached himself and profited greatly by his sermons and private instructions. During his last visit to Lothian, he waited constantly on his person, and bore the sword, which was carried before him, from the time that an attempt was made to assassinate him at Dundee. Wishart was highly pleased with the zeal and talents of Knox, and seems to have presaged his future usefulness, at the same time that he labored under a strong presentiment of his own approaching martyrdom. On the night in which he was apprehended by Bothwell, at the instigation of the Cardinal, he directed the sword to be taken from him, and while he insisted for liberty to accompany him to Ormiston, dismissed him with this reply, “Nay, return to your bairns (meaning his pupils), and God bless you: one is sufficient for a sacrifice”.
Having relinquished all thoughts of officiating in that Church which had invested him with clerical orders, Knox had entered as tutor into the family of Hugh Douglas of Longniddrie, a gentleman in East Lothian, who had embraced the Reformed doctrines. John Cockburn of Ormiston, a neighboring gentleman of the same persuasion, also put his son under his tuition. These young men were instructed by him in the principles of religion, as well as of the learned languages. He managed their religious instruction in such a way as to allow the rest of the family, and the people of the neighborhood, to reap advantage from it. He catechized them publicly in a chapel at Longniddrie, in which he also read to them, at stated times, a chapter of the Bible, accompanied with explanatory remarks. The memory of this has been preserved by tradition, and the chapel, the ruins of which are still apparent, is popularly called John Knox’s kirk.
It was not to be expected, that he would long be suffered to continue this employment, under a government which was now entirely at the devotion of Cardinal Beatoun, who had gained over to his measures the timid and irresolute regent. But in the midst of his cruelties and while he was planning still more desperate deeds, the Cardinal was himself suddenly cut off. A conspiracy was formed against his life; and a small, but determined band (some of whom seem to have been instigated by resentment for private injuries, and the influence of the English court, others animated by a desire to revenge his cruelties, and deliver their country from oppression) on the 29th of May 1546, seized upon the castle of St. Andrews, in which he resided, and put him to death.
The death of Beatoun did not, however, free Knox from persecution. John Hamilton, an illegitimate brother of the Regent, who was nominated to the vacant bishopric, sought his life with as great eagerness as his predecessor.
He was obliged to conceal himself, and to remove from place to place, to provide for his safety. Wearied with this mode of living, and apprehensive that he would some day fall into the hands of his enemies, he came to the resolution of leaving Scotland. He had no desire to go to England, because, although “the Pope’s name was suppressed” in that kingdom, “his laws and corruptions remained in full vigor”. His determination was to visit Germany, and prosecute his studies in some of the Protestant universities, until he should see a favorable change in the state of his native country.
The lairds of Longniddrie and Ormiston were extremely reluctant to part with him, and, by their importunities prevailed with him to take refuge, along with their sons, in the castle of St. Andrews, which continued to be held by the conspirators.
Writers unfriendly to our Reformer have endeavored to fix an accusation upon him, respecting the assassination of Cardinal Beatoun. Some have ignorantly asserted that he was one of the conspirators. Others, better informed, have argued that he made himself accessory to their crime, by taking shelter among them; with more plausibility, others have appealed to his writings, as a proof that he vindicated the deed of the conspirators as laudable, or at least innocent. I know that some of Knox’s vindicators have denied this charge, and maintain that he justified it only in as far as it was the work of God, or a just retribution in Providence for the crimes of which the Cardinal had been guilty, without approving the conduct of those who were the instruments of punishing him. The just judgment of heaven is, I acknowledge, the chief thing to which he directs the attention of his reader; at the same time, I think no one who carefully reads what he has written on this subject, can doubt that he justified the action of the conspirators. The truth is, he held the opinion that persons who, by the commission of flagrant crimes, had forfeited their lives, according to the law of God, and the just laws of society, such as notorious murderers and tyrants, might warrantably be put to death by private individuals; provided all redress, in the ordinary course of justice, was rendered impossible, in consequence of the offenders having usurped the executive authority, or being systematically protected by oppressive rulers. This was an opinion of the same kind with that of tyrannocide, held by so many of the ancients, and defended by Buchanan in his dialogue, “De jure regni apud Scotos” 1 It is a principle, I confess, of dangerous application, extremely liable to be abused by factious, fanatical, and desperate men, as a pretext for perpetrating the most nefarious deeds. It would be unjust, however, on this account, to confound it with the principle, which, by giving to individuals a liberty to revenge their own quarrels, legitimates assassination, a practice which was exceedingly common in that age. I may add, that there have been instances of persons, not invested with public authority, executing punishment upon flagitious offenders, as to which we may scruple to load the memory of the actors with an aggravated charge of murder, although we cannot approve of their conduct.
Knox entered the castle of St. Andrews, at the time of Easter, 1547, and conducted the education of his pupils after his accustomed manner. In the chapel within the castle, he read to them his lectures on the Scriptures, beginning at the place in the Gospel according to John, where he had left off at Longniddrie. He catechized them in the parish church belonging to the city. A number of persons attended both these exercises. Among those who had taken refuge in the castle (though not engaged in the conspiracy against the Cardinal) were John Rough, who, since his dismissal by the Regent, had lurked in Kyle, Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, and Henry Balnaves of Halhill. These persons were so much pleased with Knox’s doctrine and mode of teaching, that they urged him to preach publicly to the people, and to become colleague to Rough, who acted as chaplain to the garrison. But he resisted all their solicitations, assigning as a reason, that he did not consider himself as having a call to this employment, and would not be guilty of intrusion. They did not, however, desist from their purpose; but, having consulted with their brethren, came to a resolution, without his knowledge, that a call should be publicly given him, in the name of the whole, to become one of their ministers.
Accordingly, on a day fixed for the purpose, Rough preached a sermon on the election of ministers, in which he declared the power which a congregation, however small, had over any one in whom they perceived gifts suited to the office, and how dangerous it was for such a person to reject the call of those who desired instruction. Sermon being ended, the preacher turned to Knox, who was present, and addressed him in these words: “Brother, you shall not be offended, although I speak unto you that which I have in charge, even from all those that are here present, which is this: In the name of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ, and in the name of all that presently call you by my mouth, I charge you that you refuse not this holy vocation, but as you tender the glory of God, the increase of Christ’s kingdom, the edification of your brethren, and the comfort of me, whom you understand well enough to be oppressed by the multitude of labors, that you take upon you the public office and charge of preaching, even as you look to avoid God’s heavy displeasure, and desire that He shall multiply His graces unto you.” Then addressing himself to the congregation, he said, “Was not this your charge unto me? and do ye not approve this vocation?” They all answered, “It was; and we approve it.” Abashed and overwhelmed by this unexpected and solemn charge, Knox was unable to speak, but bursting into tears, retired from the assembly, and shut himself up in his chamber. “His countenance and behavior from that day, till the day that he was compelled to present himself in the public place of preaching, did sufficiently declare the grief and trouble of his heart; for no man saw any sign of mirth from him, neither had he pleasure to accompany any man for many days together.”
This scene cannot fail to interest such as are impressed with the weight of the ministerial function, and will awaken a train of feelings in the breasts of those who have been intrusted with the gospel. It revives the memory of those early days of the Church, when persons did not rush forward to the altar, nor beg to “be put into one of the priests’ offices, to eat a piece of bread”; when men of piety and talents, deeply impressed with the awful responsibility of the office, and their own insufficiency, were, with great difficulty, induced to take on those orders, which they had long desired, and for which they had labored to qualify themselves. What a glaring contrast to this was exhibited in the conduct of the herd, which at this time filled the stalls of the popish Church! The behavior of Knox also reproves those who become preachers of their own accord; who, from vague and enthusiastic desires of doing good, or a fond conceit of their own gifts, trample upon good order, and thrust themselves into a sacred public employment, without any regular call.
We are not, however, to imagine that his distress of mind, and the reluctance which he discovered in complying with the call which he had now received, proceeded from consciousness of its invalidity, by the defect of certain external formalities which had been usual in the Church, or which, in ordinary cases, might be observed with propriety, in the installation of persons into sacred offices. These, as far as warranted by Scripture, or conducive to the preservation of decent order, he did not contemn: his judgment respecting them may be learned from the early practice of the Scottish Reformed Church, in the organization of which he had so active a share. In common with all the original Reformers he rejected the necessity of episcopal ordination, as totally unauthorized by the laws of Christ; nor did he regard the imposition of the hands of presbyters as a rite essential to the validity of orders, or of necessary observance in all circumstances of the Church.
The papists, indeed, did not fail to declaim on this topic, representing Knox, and other Reformed ministers, as destitute of all lawful vocation. In the same strain did many hierarchical writers of the English Church afterwards learn to talk, not scrupling, by their extravagant doctrine, of the absolute necessity of ordination by the hands of a bishop, who derived his powers by uninterrupted succession from the apostles, to invalidate and nullify the orders of all the Reformed Churches, except their own; a doctrine which has been revived in the present enlightened age, and unblushingly avowed and defended, with the great part of its absurd, illiberal, and horrid consequences. I will not say that Knox paid no respect whatever to his early ordination in the popish Church (although, if we credit the testimony of his adversaries, this was his opinion); but I have little doubt that he looked upon the charge which he received at St.
Andrews as principally constituting his call to the ministry.
His distress of mind on the present occasion proceeded from a higher source than the deficiency of some external formalities in his call. He had now very different thoughts as to the importance of the ministerial office, from what he had entertained when ceremoniously invested with orders.
The care of immortal souls, of whom he must give an account to the Chief Bishop: the charge of declaring “the whole counsel of God, keeping nothing back”, however ungrateful to his hearers, and of “preaching in season and out of season”; the manner of life, afflictions, persecutions, imprisonment, exile, and violent death, to which the preachers of the Protestant doctrine were exposed; the hazard of his sinking under these hardships, and “making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience”; these, with similar considerations, rushed into his mind, and filled it with agitation and grief. At length, satisfied that he had the call of God to engage in this work, he composed his mind to a reliance on Him who had engaged to make His “strength perfect in the weakness” of His servants, and resolved, with the apostle, “not to count his life dear, that he might finish with joy the ministry which he received of the Lord, to testify the gospel of the grace of God”. Often did he afterwards reflect with lively emotion upon this very interesting step of his life, and never, in the midst of his greatest sufferings, did he see reason to repent the choice which he had so deliberately made.
An occurrence which took place about this time contributed to fix his wavering resolution, and induced an earlier compliance with the call of the congregation than he might otherwise have been disposed to yield. Though sound in doctrine, Rough’s literary acquirements were moderate. Of this circumstance, the patrons of the established religion in the university and abbey took advantage; among others, one called Dean John Annan, had long proved vexatious to him, by stating objections to the doctrine which he preached, and entangling him with sophisms, or garbled quotations from the Fathers. Knox had assisted the preacher with his pen, and by his superior skill in logic and the writings of the Fathers, exposed Annan’s fallacies, and confuted the popish errors. One day at a public disputation in the parish church, in the presence of a great number of people, Annan being beat from all his defenses, fled, as his last refuge, to the infallible authority of the Church, by which the tenets of the Lutherans being condemned as heretical, all further disputation, he alleged, was unnecessary. To this Knox’s reply was, that before they could submit to this summary determination of the matters of controversy, it was previously requisite to ascertain the true Church by the marks given in Scripture, lest they should blindly receive, as their spiritual mother, a harlot instead of the immaculate spouse of Jesus Christ. “For,” continued he, “as for your Roman Church as it is now corrupted, wherein stands the hope of your victory, I no more doubt that it is the synagogue of Satan, and the head thereof, called the Pope, to be that man of sin, of whom the apostle speaks, than I doubt that Jesus Christ suffered by the procurement of the visible Church of Jerusalem. Yea, I offer myself, by word or writing, to prove the Roman Church this day farther degenerate from the purity which was in the days of the apostles, than were the Church of the Jews from the ordinances given by Moses, when they consented to the innocent death of Jesus Christ.” This was a bold charge; but the minds of the people were prepared to listen to the proof. They exclaimed, that if this was true, they had been miserably deceived, and insisted, as they could not all read his writings, that he should ascend the pulpit and give them an opportunity of hearing the probation of what he had so confidently affirmed. The challenge was not to be retracted, and the request was reasonable. The following Sabbath was fixed for making good his promise.
On the day appointed, he appeared in the pulpit of the parish church, and gave out Daniel 7:24-25 as his text. After an introduction, in which he explained the vision, and showed that the four empires, emblematically represented by four different animals, were the Babylonian, Persian, Grecian, and Roman, out of the ruins of the last of which empires, the power described in his text arose, he proceeded to show that this was applicable to no other power but that of the degenerate Romish Church.
He compared the parallel passages in the New Testament, and showed that the king mentioned in his text was the same elsewhere called the man of sin, the antichrist, the Babylonian harlot; and that this did not mean any single person, but a body or multitude of people under a wicked head, including a succession of persons, occupying the same station. In support of his assertion that the papal power was antichristian, he described it under the three heads of life, doctrine, and laws. He depicted the lives of the popes from ecclesiastical history, contrasted their doctrine with that of the New Testament, particularly in the article of justification, and their laws enjoining holy days, abstinence from meats, from marriage, etc., with the laws of Christ. He quoted from the canon law the blasphemous titles and prerogatives ascribed to the Pope, as an additional proof that he was described in his text. In conclusion, he signified that if any present thought that he had misquoted, or misinterpreted the testimonies which he had produced from the Scriptures, history, or writings of the doctors of the Church, he was ready upon their coming to him, in the presence of witnesses, to give them satisfaction. There were among the audience, his former preceptor, Major, the members of the university, the sub-prior of the abbey, and a great number of canons and friars of different orders.
This sermon, delivered with a great portion of that popular eloquence for which Knox was afterwards so celebrated, made great noise, and excited much speculation among all classes. The former Reformed preachers, not excepting Wishart, had contented themselves with refuting some of the grosser errors of the established religion. Knox struck at the root of popery, by bolding pronouncing the Pope to be antichrist, and the whole system erroneous and antiscriptural. The report of the sermon, and the effects produced by it, was soon conveyed to the elect bishop of St.
Andrews, who wrote to Winram, the sub-prior and vicar-general during the vacancy of the see, that he was surprised he would allow such heretical and schismatical doctrine to be taught without opposition. Winram was at bottom friendly to the Reformed tenets; but he durst not altogether disregard this admonition, and therefore appointed a convention of the most learned men to be held in St. Leonard’s Yards, to which he summoned the preachers. Nine articles drawn from their sermons were exhibited, “the strangeness of which (the sub-prior said) had moved him to call for them to hear their answers”.
Knox, when called, expressed his satisfaction at appearing before an auditory so honorable and apparently so modest and grave. As he was not a stranger to the report concerning the private sentiments of Winram, and nothing was more abhorrent to his mind than dissimulation, he, before commencing his defense, obtested him to deal uprightly in a matter of such magnitude; if he advanced any thing which was contrary to Scripture, he desired the sub-prior to oppose it, that the people might not be deceived, but if he was convinced that what he taught was true and scriptural, it was his duty to give it the sanction of his authority. To this Winram cautiously replied, that he did not come there as a judge, and would neither approve nor condemn; he wished a free conference, and, if Knox pleased, he would reason with him a little. Accordingly, he proceeded to state some objections to one of the propositions maintained by Knox, “that in the worship of God, and especially in the administration of the sacraments, the rule prescribed in the Scriptures is to be observed without addition or diminution; and that the Church has no right to devise religious ceremonies, and impose significations upon them”. After maintaining the argument for a short time, the sub-prior devolved it on a grey-friar, named Arbugkill, who took it up with great confidence, but was soon forced to yield with disgrace. He rashly engaged to prove the divine institution of ceremonies; and being pushed by his antagonist from the Gospel and Acts to the Epistles, and from one Epistle to another, he was driven at last to affirm, “that the apostles had not received the Holy Ghost when they wrote the Epistles, but they afterwards received Him and ordained ceremonies”. “Father!” exclaimed the sub-prior, “what say ye? God forbid that ye say that; for then farewell the ground of our faith!” The friar, abashed and confounded, attempted to correct his error, but in vain. Knox could not afterwards bring him to the argument upon any of the articles.
He resolved all into the authority of the Church. His opponent urging that the Church had no power to act contrary to the express directions of Scripture, which enjoined an exact conformity to the divine laws respecting worship; “if so,” said Arbugkill, “you will leave us no Church”. “Yes,” rejoined Knox, sarcastically, “in David I read of the Church of malignants, ‘Odi ecclesiam malignantium’; 2 this Church you may have without the word, and fighting against it. Of this Church if you will be I cannot hinder you; but as for me, I will be of no other Church but that which has Jesus Christ for pastor, hears His voice, and will not hear the voice of a stranger.” For purgatory, the friar had no better authority than that of Virgil in the sixth Aeneid; and the pains of it according to him were — a bad wife.
Instructed by the issue of this convention, the papists avoided for the future all disputation, which tended only to injure their cause. Had the castle of St. Andrews been in their power, they would soon have silenced these troublesome preachers; but as matters stood, more moderate and crafty measures were necessary. The plan adopted for counteracting the popular preaching of Knox and Rough was politic. Orders were issued, that all the learned men in the abbey and university should preach by turns every Sabbath in the parish church. By this means the Reformed preachers were excluded on those days, when the greatest audiences attended; and it was expected that the diligence of the established clergy would conciliate the affections of the people. To avoid offense or occasion of speculation, they were directed not to touch in their sermons upon any of the controverted points. Knox easily saw through this artifice, but contented himself, in the sermons which he still delivered on week days, with expressing a wish that they would show themselves equally diligent in places where their labors were more necessary. At the same time, he rejoiced, he said, that Christ was preached, and nothing publicly spoken against the truth; if any thing of this kind should be advanced, he requested the people to suspend their judgment, until they should have an opportunity of hearing him.
His labors were so successful during the few months that he preached at St. Andrews, that, besides those in the castle, a great number of the inhabitants of the town renounced popery, and made profession of the Protestant faith, by participating of the Lord’s Supper, which he administered to them in the manner afterwards practiced in the Reformed Church of Scotland. The gratification which he felt in these first fruits of his ministry, was in some degree abated by instances of vicious conduct in those under his charge, some of whom were guilty of those acts of licentiousness too common among soldiery placed in similar circumstances. From the time that he was chosen to be their preacher, he openly rebuked these disorders, and when he perceived that his admonitions failed in putting a stop to them, he did not conceal his apprehensions of the issue of the enterprise in which they were engaged.
In the end of June 1547, a French fleet, with a considerable body of land forces, under the command of Leo Strozzi, appeared before St. Andrews, to assist the governor in the reduction of the castle. It was invested both by sea and land; and being disappointed of the expected aid from England, the besieged, after a brave and vigorous resistance, were under the necessity of capitulating to the French commander on the last day of July.
The terms of the capitulation were honorable; the lives of all that were in the castle were to be spared, they were to be transported to France, and if they did not choose to enter into the service of the French king, were to be conveyed to any other country which they might prefer, except Scotland.
John Rough had left the castle previous to the commencement of the siege, and retired to England. Knox, although he did not expect that the garrison would be able to hold out, could not prevail upon himself to desert his charge, and resolved to share with his brethren the hazard of the siege. He was conveyed along with the rest on board the fleet, which, in a few days, set sail for France, arrived at Fecamp, and, going up the Seine, anchored before Rouen. The capitulation was violated, and they were all detained prisoners of war, at the solicitation of the Pope and Scottish clergy. The principal gentlemen were incarcerated in Rouen, Cherbourg, Brest, and Mont St. Michel. Knox, with some others, was confined on board the galleys, bound with chains, and treated with all the indignities offered to heretics, in addition to the rigors of ordinary captivity.
From Rouen they sailed to Nantes, and lay upon the Loire during the following winter. Solicitations, threatenings, and violence, were all employed to make the prisoners recant their religion, and countenance the popish worship. But so great was their abhorrence of its idolatry, that not a single individual of the whole company, on land or water, could be induced to symbolize in the smallest degree. While the prison-ships lay on the Loire, mass was frequently said, and “Salve Regina” 3 sung on board or on the shore within their hearing: on these occasions they were brought out and threatened with torture, if they did not give the usual signs of reverence; but instead of complying, they covered their heads as soon as the service began. Knox has related a humorous incident which took place on one of these occasions; and although he has not named the person concerned in it, most probably it was himself. One day a fine painted image of the Virgin was brought into one of the galleys, and presented to a Scots prisoner to kiss. He desired the bearer not to trouble him, for such idols were accursed, and he would not touch it. The officers roughly replied, that he should; put it to his face, and thrust it into his hands.
Upon this he took hold of the image, and watching his opportunity, threw it into the river saying, “Let our Lady now save herself: she is light enough, let her learn to swim”. After this, they were no more troubled in that way.
The galleys returned to Scotland in summer 1548, as near as I can collect, and continued for a considerable time on the east coast, to watch for English vessels. Knox’s health was now greatly impaired by the severity of his confinement, and he was seized with a fever, during which his life was despaired of by all in the ship. But even in this state, his fortitude of mind remained unsubdued, and he comforted his fellow-prisoners with hopes of release. To their anxious desponding inquiries (natural to men in their situation) “if he thought they would ever obtain their liberty”, his uniform answer was, “God will deliver us to His glory, even in this life”.
While they lay on the coast between Dundee and St. Andrews, Mr. (afterwards Sir) James Balfour, who was confined in the ship, desired him to look to the land, and see if he knew it. Though at that time very sick, he replied, “Yes, I know it well; for I see the steeple of that place where God first opened my mouth in public to His glory; and I am fully persuaded, how weak soever I now appear, that I shall not depart this life, till that my tongue shall glorify His godly name in the same place.” This striking reply Sir James repeated, in the presence of many witnesses, a number of years before Knox returned to Scotland, and when there was very little prospect of his words being verified.
We must not, however, think that he possessed this elevation and tranquillity of mind, during the whole time of his imprisonment. When first thrown into cruel bonds, insulted by his enemies, and without any apparent prospect of release, he was not a stranger to the anguish of despondency, so pathetically described by the royal psalmist of Israel. He felt that conflict in his spirit, with which all good men are acquainted; and which becomes peculiarly sharp when joined with corporate affliction.
But, having had recourse to prayer, the never-failing refuge of the oppressed, he was relieved from all his fears, and, reposing upon the promise and providence of the God whom he served, attained to “the confidence and rejoicing of hope”.
When free from fever, he relieved the tedium of captivity, by committing to writing a confession of his faith, containing the substance of what he had taught at St. Andrews, with a particular account of the disputation which he had maintained in St. Leonard’s Yards. This he found means to convey to his religious acquaintances in Scotland, accompanied with an earnest exhortation to persevere in the faith which they had professed, whatever persecutions they might suffer for its sake. To this confession I find him afterwards referring, in the defense of his doctrine before the Bishop of Durham, “Let no man think, that because I am in the realm of England, therefore so boldly I speak. No, God hath taken that suspicion from me. For the body lying in most painful bands, in the midst of cruel tyrants, His mercy and goodness provided that the hand should write and bear witness to the confession of the heart, more abundantly than ever yet the tongue spake.”
Notwithstanding the rigor of their confinement, the prisoners, who were separated, found opportunities of occasionally corresponding with one another. Henry Balnaves of Halhill composed in his prison a “Treatise on Justification and the Works and Conversation of a Justified Man”. This being conveyed to Knox, probably after his second return in the galleys from Scotland, he was so much pleased with it, that he divided it into chapters, added some marginal notes, and a concise epitome of its contents; to the whole he prefixed a recommendatory dedication, intending that it should be published for the use of their brethren in Scotland, as soon as an opportunity offered. The reader will not, I am persuaded, be displeased to breathe a little the spirit which animated this undaunted confessor, when “his feet lay fast in irons”, as expressed by him in this dedication; from which I shall quote more freely, as the book is rare.
It is thus described: “John Knox, the bound servant of Jesus Christ, unto his best beloved brethren of the congregation of the castle of St. Andrews, and to all professors of Christ’s true evangel, desireth grace, mercy and peace, from God the Father, with perpetual consolation of the Holy Spirit.” After mentioning a number of instances in which the name of God was magnified, and the interests of religion advanced, by the exile of those who were driven from their native countries by tyranny, as in the examples of Joseph, Moses, Daniel, and the primitive Christians; he goes on thus: “Which thing shall openly declare this godly work subsequent.
The counsel of Satan in the persecution of us, first, was to stop the wholesome wind of Christ’s evangel to blow upon the parts where we converse and dwell; and secondly, so to oppress ourselves by corporal affliction and worldly calamities, that no place should we find to godly study. But by the great mercy and infinite goodness of God our Father shall these his counsels be frustrate and vain. For, in despite of him and all his wicked members, shall yet that same word (O Lord! this I speak, confiding in thy holy promise) openly be proclaimed in that same country.
And how that our merciful Father, amongst these tempestuous storms, by all men’s expectation, hath provided some rest for us, this present work shall testify, which was sent to me in Rouen, lying in irons, and some troubled by corporal infirmity, in a galley named Nostre Dame, by an honorable brother, Mr. Henry Balnaves of Halhill, for the present holden as prisoner (though unjustly) in the old palace of Rouen. Which work after I had once again read to the great comfort and consolation of my spirit, by counsel and advice of the foresaid noble and faithful man, author of the said work, I thought expedient it should be digested in chapters, etc.
Which thing I have done as imbecility of ingine 4 and incommodity of place would permit; not so much to illustrate the work (which in the self is godly and perfect) as, together with the foresaid nobleman and faithful brother, to give my confession of the article of justification therein contained. And I beseech you, beloved brethren, earnestly to consider, if we deny any thing presently (or yet conceal and hide) which any time before we professed in that article. And now we have not the Castle of St.
Andrews to be our defense, as some of our enemies falsely accused us, saying, If we wanted 5 our walls, we would not speak so boldly. But blessed be that Lord whose infinite goodness and wisdom hath taken from us the occasion of that slander, and hath shown unto us, that the serpent hath power only to sting the heel, that is, to molest and trouble the flesh, but not to move the spirit, from constant adhering to Christ Jesus, nor public professing of His true word. O blessed be Thou, Eternal Father, which, by Thy only mercy, hast preserved us to this day, and provided that the confession of our faith (which ever we desired all men to have known) should, by this treatise, come plainly to light. Continue, O Lord, and grant unto us, that as now with pen and ink, so shortly we may confess with voice and tongue the same before Thy congregation; upon whom look, O Lord God, with the eyes of Thy mercy, and suffer no more darkness to prevail. I pray you, pardon me, beloved brethren, that on this manner, I digress; vehemence of spirit (the Lord knoweth I lie not) compelleth me thereto.”
The prisoners in Mont St. Michel consulted Knox, as to the lawfulness of attempting to escape by breaking their prison, which was opposed by some of their number, lest their escape should subject their brethren who remained in confinement to more severe treatment. He returned for answer, that such fears were not a sufficient reason for relinquishing the design, and that they might, with a safe conscience, effect their escape, provided it could be done “without the blood of any shed or spilt: but to shed any man’s blood for their freedom, he would never consent”. The attempt was accordingly made by them, and successfully executed, “without harm done to the person of any, and without touching any thing that appertained to the king, the captain, or the house”.
At length, after enduring a tedious and severe imprisonment of nineteen months, Knox obtained his liberty. This happened in the month of February 1549, according to the modern computation. By what means his liberation was procured, I cannot certainly determine. One account says, that the galley in which he was confined, was taken in the Channel by the English. According to another account, he was liberated by order of the king of France, because it appeared, on examination, that he was not concerned in the murder of the Cardinal, nor accessory to other crimes committed by those who held the castle of St. Andrews. Others say, that his acquaintances purchased his liberty, induced by the hopes which they cherished of great things to be accomplished by him. It is not improbable, however, that he owed his liberty to the circumstance of the French Court having now accomplished their great object in Scotland, by the consent of the parliament to the marriage of their young Queen to the Dauphin, and by obtaining possession of her person; after which they felt less inclined to revenge the quarrels of the Scottish clergy.