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FROM HIS BEING STRUCK WITH APOPLEXY TO HIS DEATH Those who flattered themselves that the Reformer’s disorder was mortal were disappointed; for he convalesced, recovered the use of his speech, and was able, in the course of a few days, to resume preaching, at least on Sabbath days. He never recovered, however, from the debility which was produced by the stroke. The confusions which he had augured from the death of the good Regent soon broke out, and again spread the flames of civil discord through the nation. The Hamiltons openly raised the Queen’s standard. Kircaldy of Grange, governor of the castle of Edinburgh, who had been corrupted by Maitland, after concealing his defection for a time under the flag of neutrality, declared himself on the same side, and became the principal agent in attempting to overturn the government which he had been so zealous in erecting.
The defection of Grange was a source of great injury to the inhabitants of Edinburgh, and of distress to Knox. He had a warm affection for the governor, on account of the important services which he had rendered to the Reformation; and he continued always to think that he was at bottom, a sincere friend to religion. Under this conviction, he spared no pains in endeavoring to prevent him from renouncing his fidelity to the King, and afterwards to reclaim him from his apostasy. But in both he was unsuccessful.
In the end of the year 1570, he was personally involved in a disagreeable quarrel with Grange. A servant of the latter having been imprisoned on a charge of murder, he sent a company of soldiers from the castle, who forced the prison, and carried off the criminal. Knox, in his sermon on the following Sabbath, condemned this riot, and violation of the house of justice. Had it been done by the authority of a bloodthirsty man, and one who had no fear of God, he would not, he said, have been so much moved at it; but he was affected to think that one of whom all good men had formed so great expectations, should have fallen so far as to act such a part; one who, when formerly in prison, had refused to purchase his own liberty by the shedding of blood. An exaggerated report of this censure being conveyed to the castle, the governor, in great rage, made his complaint, first to Knox’s colleague, and afterwards formally to the kirk session, that he had been traduced as a murderer, and required that his character should be vindicated as publicly as it had been calumniated.
Knox explained and vindicated what he had said. On a subsequent Sabbath, Grange, who had been absent from the church nearly a whole year, came down to it, accompanied with a number of the persons who had been active in the murder and riot. Knox, looking upon this as an attempt to out-brave the scandal which his conduct had given, took occasion to discourse particularly of the sin of forgetting benefits received from God, and warned his hearers against confiding in the divine mercy while they were knowingly transgressing any of the commandments, or proudly defending their transgression.
Grange was much incensed at these warnings, which he considered as leveled at him, and in speaking of the preacher, made use of very threatening language. The report having spread that the governor of the castle was become a sworn enemy to Knox, and intended to kill him, several of the noblemen and gentlemen of Kyle and Cunningham sent a letter to Grange, in which, after mentioning his former appearances for religion, and the reports which had reached their ears, they warned him against doing any thing to the prejudice of the man whom “God had made the first planter and chief waterer of His Church among them”, and protested that “his death and life were as dear to them as their own deaths and lives”.
Knox was not to be deterred, by threatenings, from doing what he considered to be his duty. He persisted in warning his hearers to avoid all participation with those, who, by supporting the pretensions of the Queen, prevented the punishment of notorious crimes, and sought the overthrow of the King’s authority, and the Reformed religion. When the General Assembly met in March 1571, anonymous libels were thrown into the assembly house, and placards fixed on the church door, accusing him of seditious railing against their sovereign the Queen, refusing to pray for her welfare and conversion, representing her as a reprobate, whose repentance was hopeless, and uttering imprecations against her. The Assembly having, by public intimation, required the accusers to come forward and substantiate their charges, another anonymous bill appeared, promising that the writer would do so against next Assembly, if the accused continued his offensive speeches, and was “then law-biding, and not fugitive according to his accustomed manner”.
Several of his friends dealt with him to pass over these anonymous libels in silence, but he refused to comply with this advice, considering that the credit of his ministry was implicated. Accordingly, he produced them in the pulpit, and returned a particular answer to the accusations which they contained. That he had charged the late Queen with the crimes of which she had notoriously been guilty, he granted, but that he had railed against her, they would not, he said, be able to prove, without proving Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other inspired writers, to be railers. “He had learned plainly and boldly to call wickedness by its own terms, a fig, a fig, and a spade a spade”. He had never called her reprobate, nor said that her repentance was impossible; but he had affirmed that pride and repentance could not remain long together in one heart. He had prayed that God, for the comfort of His Church, would oppose His power to her pride, and confound her, and her assistants, in their impiety: this prayer, let them call it imprecation or execration, as they pleased, had stricken, and would yet strike, whoever supported her. To the charge of not praying for her, he answered, “I am not bound to pray for her in this place, for sovereign to me she is not; and I let them understand that I am not a man of law that has my tongue to sell for silver, or favor of the world”. What title she now had, or ever had to the government, he would not dispute: the estates had deprived her of it, and it belonged to them to answer for this: as for him, he had hitherto lived in obedience to all lawful authority within this kingdom. To the insinuation that he might not be “law-biding” against next Assembly, he replied, that his life was in the custody of Him who had preserved him to that age at which he was not apt to flee, nor could any yet accuse him of leaving the people of his charge, except at their own command.
After these defenses, his enemies fled, as their dernier resort, to an attack upon his “Blast of the Trumpet”, and accused him of inconsistency in writing against female government, and yet praying for Queen Elizabeth, and seeking her aid against his native country. This accusation he also met in the pulpit, and refuted with great spirit. After vindicating his consistency, he concludes in the following manner: “One thing, in the end, I may not pretermit, that is, to give him a lie in his throat, that either dare, or will say, that ever I sought support against my native country. What I have been to my country, albeit this unthankful age will not know, yet the ages to come will be compelled to bear witness to the truth. And thus I cease, requiring of all men that has to oppose any thing against me, that he will do it so plainly as I make myself and all my doings manifest to the world; for to me it seems a thing most unreasonable, that, in my decrepit age, I shall be compelled to fight against shadows and houlets, 1 that dare not abide the light.”
The conduct of our Reformer at this time affords a striking display of the unextinguishable ardor of his mind. He was so debilitated in body, that he never went abroad except on Sabbath days, to preach in the forenoon. He had given up with attendance upon Church courts. He had, previous to the breaking out of the last disturbances, weaned his heart from public affairs.
But whenever he saw the welfare of the Church and commonwealth threatened, he forgot his resolutions and his infirmities, and entered into the cause with all the keenness of his more vigorous days. Whether the public proceedings of the nation, or his own conduct, were arraigned and condemned, whether the attacks upon them were open or clandestine, he stood prepared to repel them, and convinced the adversaries, that they could not accomplish their designs without opposition, as long as he was able to move a tongue.
His situation in Edinburgh became very critical in April 1571, when Grange received the Hamiltons, with their forces, into the castle. Their inveteracy against him was so great, that his friends were obliged to watch his house during the night. They wished to form a guard for his protection when he went abroad; but the governor of the castle forbade this, as implying a suspicion of him, and offered to send Melvill, one of his officers, to conduct him to and from Church. “He would give the wolf the wedder 2 to keep,” says Bannatyne. The duke and his friends refused to pledge their word for his safety, because “there were many rascals among them who loved him not”. Intimations were often given him of threatenings against his life; and one evening, as he sat in his house, a musket ball was fired in at the window, and lodged in the roof of the room.
It happened that he sat at the time in a different part of the room from his usual, otherwise the ball, from the direction which it took, must have struck him. Upon this a number of the inhabitants, along with his colleague, repaired to him, and renewed a request which they had formerly made, that he would remove from Edinburgh, to a place where his life would be in greater safety, until such time as the Queen’s party should evacuate the town. But he refused to yield to them, apprehending that his enemies wished to intimidate him into flight, that they might carry on their designs more quietly, and then accuse him of cowardice. Being unable to persuade him by any other means, they at last had recourse to an argument which prevailed. They told him that they were determined to defend him, if attacked, at the peril of their lives, and if blood was shed in the quarrel, which was highly probable, they would leave it on his head. Upon this, he consented, “sore against his will” to leave that city.
On the 5th of May he left Edinburgh, and crossing the Firth at Leith, traveled by short stages to St. Andrews, which he had chosen as the place of his retreat. Alexander Gordon, Bishop of Galloway, occupied his pulpit. He preached and prayed in a manner more acceptable to the Queen’s party than his predecessor, but little to the satisfaction of the people, who despised him on account of his weakness, and disliked him for supplanting their favorite pastor. The Church of Edinburgh was for a time dissolved. A great number of its most respectable members either were driven from the city, or left it through dissatisfaction. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper was suspended. During a whole week “there was neither preaching nor prayer, neither was there any sound of bell heard in all the town, except the ringing of the cannon”.
Amidst the extreme hostility by which both parties were inflamed, and which produced several disgraceful acts of mutual retaliation, many proofs were exhibited of the personal antipathy which the Queen’s adherents bore to the Reformer. An inhabitant of Leith was assaulted, and his body mutilated, because he was of the same name with him. A servant of John Craig being met one day by a reconnoitering party, and asked who was his master, answered in his trepidation, Mr. Knox, upon which he was seized; and, although he immediately corrected his mistake, they desired him to “hold at his first master”, and haled him to prison. Having fortified St.
Giles’ steeple, to overawe the town, the soldiers baptized one of the cannons by the name of “Knox” which they were so fond of firing, that it burst, killed two of the party, and wounded others. They circulated the most ridiculous tales respecting his conduct at St. Andrews. John Law, the letter carrier of St. Andrews, being in the castle of Edinburgh, “the Lady Home and others would needs thraip 3 in his face, that “John Knox” was banished the said town, because that in the yarde 4 he had raised some saints, amongst whom there came up the devil with horns, which when his servant Richard saw, [he] ran woode, 5 and so died”.
Although he was free from personal danger, Knox did not find St.
Andrews that peaceful retreat which he had expected. The Kircaldys and Balfours were a considerable party in that quarter, and the Hamiltons had their friends both in the university and among the ministry. These were thorns in the Reformer’s side, and made his situation uneasy, as long as he resided among them. Having left Edinburgh, because he could not be permitted to discharge his conscience, in testifying against the designs of persons whom he regarded as conspirators against the legal government of the country, and the security of the Reformed religion, it was not to be expected that he would preserve silence on this subject at St. Andrews. In the discourses which he preached on the eleventh chapter of Daniel’s prophecy, he frequently took occasion to advert to the transactions of his own time, and to inveigh against the murder of the late king, and the regent.
This was very grating to the ears of the opposite faction, particularly to Robert and Archibald Hamilton, the former a minister of the city, and the latter a professor in one of the colleges. Displeased with his censures of his relations, and aware of his popularity in the pulpit, Robert Hamilton circulated in private, that it did not become Knox to exclaim so loudly against murderers, for he had seen his subscription, along with that of the Earl of Moray, to a bond for assassinating Darnley. But when the Reformer applied to him, Hamilton denied that he had ever spoken such words.
Archibald Hamilton being complained of for withdrawing from Knox’s sermons, and accusing him of intolerable railing, endeavored to bring the matter under the cognition of the masters of the university, among whom his influence was great. Knox did not scruple to give an account of his conduct before the professors, for their satisfaction; but he judged it necessary to enter a protestation, that his appearance should not prejudge the liberty of the pulpit, nor the authority of the regular Church courts, to whom, and not to any university, the judgment of religious doctrine belonged. This incident accounts for the zeal with which he expresses himself on this subject, in his letter to the General Assembly which met in August 1572; in which he exhorts them, above all things, to preserve the Church from the bondage of the universities, and not to exempt them from ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
Another source of distress to the Reformer, at this time, was a scheme which the courtiers had formed for altering the policy of the Church, and securing to themselves the principal part of the ecclesiastical revenues.
This plan seems to have been concerted under the regency of Lennox; it began to be put into execution during that of Mar, and was afterwards completed by Morton. We have already had occasion to notice the aversion of many of the nobility to the “Book of Discipline”, and the principal source from which this aversion sprung. While the Earl of Moray administered the government, he prevented any new encroachments upon the rights of the Church; but the succeeding regents were either less friendly to them, or less able to bridle the avarice of the more powerful nobles. Several of the richest benefices becoming vacant by the decease, or by the sequestration of the popish incumbents, who had been permitted to retain them, it was necessary to determine in what manner they should be disposed of for the future. The Church had uniformly required that their revenues should be divided, and applied to the support of the religious and literary establishments; but with this demand the courtiers were by no means disposed to comply. At the same time, the total secularization of them was deemed too bold a step; nor could laymen, with any shadow of consistency, or by a valid title, hold benefices which the law declared to be ecclesiastical. The expedient resolved on was, that the bishoprics and other livings should be presented to certain ministers, who, previous to their admission, should make over the principal part of their revenues to such noblemen as had obtained the patronage of them from the court.
Accordingly, in a convention of certain ministers and courtiers, held at Leith in January 1572, it was agreed that the name and office of archbishop, bishop, etc., should be continued during the king’s minority, and that qualified persons from among the ministers should be advanced to these dignities. No greater power, however, was allotted to them than to superintendents, with whom they were equally subject to the assemblies of the Church. Such was the origin and nature of that species of episcopacy which was introduced into the Reformed Church of Scotland, in the minority of James VI. It does not appear to have proceeded in any degree from predilection to hierarchical government, but from the desire which the courtiers had to secure to themselves the revenues of the Church. This was emphatically expressed by the name of tulchan bishops,6 which was commonly applied to those who were at this time admitted to the office.
Encroachments were, however, made upon the jurisdiction of the Church in different ways, particularly by the presentation of unqualified persons, who were sometimes continued in the enjoyment of livings, without the admission of the Church; by the granting of pluralities, and even by civil courts assuming the cognizance of causes of an ecclesiastical nature. Of all these we find the ministers complaining about this time.
It has been insinuated, that Knox approved of the resolutions of the convention at Leith to restore the episcopal office; and the articles sent by him to the General Assembly, August 1572, have been appealed to as a proof of this. But all that can be deduced from these articles is, that he desired the conditions and limitations agreed upon by that convention to be strictly observed, in the election of bishops, in opposition to the granting of bishoprics to laymen (of which one glaring instance had just taken place), and also to the simoniacal pactions which the ministers made with the nobles on receiving presentations. Provided one of the propositions made by him to the Assembly had been enforced, and the bishops had been bound to give an account of the whole of their rents, and either to support ministers in the particular places from which they derived these, or else to pay into the funds of the Church the sums requisite for this purpose, it is evident that the mercenary views both of the patrons and presentces would have been defeated, and the Church would have gained her object, the use of the episcopal revenues. It was the prospect of this that induced some honest ministers to agree to the proposed regulations, at the convention held in Leith. But it required a greater portion of disinterested firmness than falls to the most of men to act upon this principle, and the nobles were able to find, even at this period, a sufficient number of pliant, needy, or covetous ministers, to be the partners or the dupes of their avarice.
There is no reason, however, to think that our Reformer departed, on this occasion, from his principles, which, as we have already seen, were hostile to episcopacy. At this very time he received a letter from his friend Beza, expressing his satisfaction that they had banished the order of bishops from the Scottish Church, and admonishing him and his colleagues to beware of suffering it to re-enter under the deceitful pretext of preserving unity. In the General Assembly which met at St. Andrews in March 1572, the “making of bishops” was introduced, and he directly opposed himself unto it.
He had an opportunity of declaring his mind more publicly on this head.
The Earl of Morton, who had obtained from the crown a gift of the archbishopric of St. Andrews, bargained for it with John Douglas, rector of the university, and provost of the new college, “a good upright hearted man, but ambitious and simple”, and now superannuated. Knox was offended with this appointment in every point of view. Having preached on the day appointed for the inauguration of the new archbishop, Morton desired him to preside in the service; but he positively refused, and pronounced an anathema against both the donor and the receiver. The provost of St. Salvador having said that his conduct proceeded from disappointment, because the bishopric had not been conferred on himself, he, on the following Sabbath, repelled the invidious charge. He had refused, he said, a greater bishopric than that of St. Andrews, which he might have had by the favor of greater men than Douglas had his; what he had spoken was for the exoneration of his conscience, that the Church of Scotland might not be subject to that order, especially after a very different one had been established in the “Book of Discipline”, had been subscribed by the nobility, and ratified by Parliament. He lamented also that a burden should be laid upon one old man, which twenty men of the best gifts could not sustain. At the meeting of the General Assembly, he entered a formal protest against this procedure. In a private letter written by him about this time to Wishart of Pittarrow, as well as in his public letter to the Assembly which met at Stirling, in 1571, he expressed his strong disapprobation of the new plans for defrauding the Church of her patrimony, and encroaching upon her free jurisdiction.
While he was engaged in these contests, his bodily strength was every day sensibly decaying. Yet he continued to preach, although unable to walk to the pulpit without assistance; and, when warmed with his subject, he forgot his weakness, and electrified the audience with his eloquence. James Melville, afterwards minister of Anstruther, was then a student at the college, and one of his constant hearers. The account which he has given of his appearance is exceedingly striking; and as any translation would enfeeble it, I shall give it in his own words. “Of all the benefits I haid that year , was the coming of that maist notable profet and apostle of our nation, Mr. Jhone Knox, to St. Andrews, who, be the faction of the queen occupeing the castell and town of Edinbrugh, was compellit to remove therefra, with a number of the best, and chusit to come to St. Andrews. I heard him teache there the prophecies of Daniel, that simmer, and the wintar following. I haid my pen and my litle buike, and tuk away sic things as I could comprehend. In the opening up of his text, he was moderat the space of an half houre; but when he enterit to application, he made me so to grew, and tremble that I could not hald a pen to wryt... . He was very weik. I saw him, everie day of his doctrine, go hulie 7 and fear, with a furring of marticks 8 about his neck, a staffe in the an hand, and gud godlie Richart Ballanden, his servand, haldin up the uther oxter, 9 from the abbey to the parish kirk, and, be the said Richart, and another servant, lifted up to the pulpit, whar he behovit to lean, at his first entrie; bot, er he haid done with his sermone, he was sa active and vigorous, that he was lyk to ding the pulpit in blads, 10 and flie out of it.”
During his stay at St. Andrews, he published a vindication of the Reformed religion, in answer to a letter written by a Scots Jesuit, called Tyrie. The argumentative part of the work was finished by him in 1568; but he sent it abroad at this time, with additions, as a farewell address to the world, and a dying testimony to the truth which he had so long taught and defended. Along with it he published one of the religious letters which he had formerly written to his mother-in-law, Mrs. Bowes; and, in an advertisement, prefixed to this, he informs us that she had lately departed this life, and that he could not allow the opportunity to slip of acquainting the public, by means of this letter, with the principal cause of that intimate Christian fellowship which had so long subsisted between them.
The ardent desire which he felt to be released, by death, from the troubles of the present life, appears in all that he wrote about this time. “Weary of the world”, and “thirsting to depart”, are expressions frequently used by him. The dedication of the above work is thus inscribed: “John Knox, the servant of Jesus Christ, now weary of the world, and daily looking for the resolution of this my earthly tabernacle, to the faithful that God of His mercy shall appoint to fight after me.” In the conclusion of it he says, “Call for me, dear brethren, that God, in His mercy, will please to put end to my long and painful battle. For now being unable to fight, as God sometimes gave strength, I thirst [for] an end, before I be more troublesome to the faithful. And yet, Lord, let my desire be moderate by Thy Holy Spirit.” In a prayer subjoined to the dedication are these words. “To Thee, O Lord, I commend my spirit. For I thirst to be resolved from this body of sin, and am assured that I shall rise again in glory; howsoever it be that the wicked for a time shall tread me and others Thy servants under their feet. Be merciful, O Lord, unto the Kirk within this realm; continue with it the light of Thy evangel; augment the number of true preachers. And let Thy merciful Providence look upon my desolate bedfellow, the fruit of her bosom, and my two dear children, Nathanael and Eleazer. Now, Lord, put end to my misery.” The advertisement “to the Faithful Reader”, dated from St. Andrews, 12th July 1572, concludes in the following manner: “I heartily salute and take my good night of all the faithful in both realms, earnestly desiring the assistance of their prayers, that, without any notable slander to the evangel of Jesus Christ, I may end my battle. For as the world is weary of me so am I of it.”
The General Assembly being appointed to meet at Perth on the 6th August, he took his leave of them in a letter, along with which he transmitted certain articles and questions which he recommended to their consideration. The Assembly returned him an answer, declaring their approbation of his propositions, and their earnest desires for his preservation and comfort. The last piece of public service which he performed at their request, was examining and approving a sermon which had been lately preached by David Ferguson, minister of Dunfermline. His subscription to this sermon, like every thing which proceeded from his mouth or pen, about this time, is uncommonly striking. “John Knox, with my dead hand, but glad heart, praising God, that of His mercy He leaves such light to His Kirk in this desolation.”
From the rapid decline of our Reformer’s health, in spring 1572, there was every appearance of his ending his days in St. Andrews; but it pleased God that he should be restored once more to his flock, and allowed to die peaceably in his own bed. In consequence of a cessation of arms agreed to, in the end of July, between the Regent and the adherents of the Queen, the city of Edinburgh was abandoned by the forces of the latter, and secured from the annoyance of the garrison in the castle. As soon as the banished citizens returned to their houses, they sent a deputation to St. Andrews, with a letter to their minister, expressive of their earnest desire “that once again his voice might be heard among them”, and entreating him immediately to come to Edinburgh, if his health would at all permit him.
After reading the letter, and conversing with the commissioners, he agreed to return, but under the express condition, that he should not be urged to observe silence respecting the conduct of those who held the castle against the Regent; “whose treasonable and tyrannical deeds,” he said, “he would cry out against, as long as he was able to speak.” He, therefore, desired them to acquaint their constituents with this, lest they should afterwards repent of his austerity, and be apprehensive of ill treatment on his account. This he repeated upon his return to Edinburgh, before he entered the pulpit. Both the commissioners and the rest of their brethren assured him, that they did not mean to put a bridle in his mouth; but wished him to discharge his duty as he had been accustomed to do.
On the 17th of August, to the great joy of the Queen’s faction, whom he had overawed during his residence among them, the Reformer left St.
Andrews, along with his family, and was accompanied on his journey by a number of his brethren and acquaintances. Being obliged by his weakness to travel slowly, it was the 23rd of the month before he reached Leith, from which, after resting a day or two, he came to Edinburgh. The inhabitants enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing him again in his own pulpit, on the first Sabbath after he arrived; but his voice was now so enfeebled that he could not be heard by the half of the congregation. Nobody was more sensible of this than himself. He therefore requested his session to provide a smaller house in which he could be heard, if it were only by a hundred persons; for his voice, even in his best time, was not able to extend over the multitude which assembled in the large church, much less now when he was so debilitated. This was done accordingly.
During his absence, a coolness had taken place between his colleague and the parish, who found fault with him for temporizing during the time that the Queen’s faction retained possession of the city. In consequence of this, they had separated, and Craig was gone to another part of the country. Knox, perceiving that he would not long be able to preach, and that he was already incapacitated for all other ministerial duties, was extremely solicitous to have one settled as his colleague, that the congregation might not be left “as sheep without a shepherd”, when he was called away. The last General Assembly having granted to the Church of Edinburgh liberty to choose any minister within the kingdom, those of Dundee and Perth excepted, they now unanimously fixed upon James Lawson, sub-principal of the college of Aberdeen. This choice was very agreeable to the Reformer, who, in a letter sent along with those of the superintendent and session, urged him to comply with the call without delay. Though this letter has already appeared in print, yet as it is not long, and is very descriptive of his frame of mind at this interesting period, I shall lay it before the reader. “All worldly strength, yea even in things spiritual, decays; and yet shall never the work of God decay. Beloved brother, seeing that God of His mercy, far above my expectation, has called me once again to Edinburgh, and yet that I feel nature so decayed, and daily to decay, that I look not for a long continuance of my battle, I would gladly once discharge my conscience into your bosom, and into the bosoms of others, in whom I think the fear of God remains. If I hath had the ability of body, I should not have put you to the pain to the which I now require you, that is, once to visit me, that we may confer together of heavenly things; for into earth there is no stability, except the Kirk of Jesus Christ, ever fighting under the cross, to whose mighty protection I heartily commit you. Of Edinburgh the 7th of September, 1572. John Knox.”
In a postscript these expressive words were added, “Haste, brother, lest you come too late.”
In the beginning of September, intelligence came to Edinburgh, that the Admiral of France, the brave, the generous, the pious Coligni was murdered in the city of Paris, by the orders of Charles IX. Immediately on the back of this, tidings arrived of that most detestable and unparalleled scene of barbarity and treachery, the general massacre of the Protestants throughout that kingdom. Post after post brought fresh accounts of the most shocking and unheard-of cruelties. Hired cut-throats, and fanatical cannibals marched from city to city, paraded the streets, and entered into the houses of those that were marked out for destruction. No reverence was shown to the hoary head, no respect to rank or talents, no pity to tender age or sex. Aged matrons, women upon the point of their delivery, and children, were trodden under the feet of the assassins, or dragged with hooks into the rivers; others, after being thrown into prison, were instantly brought out, and butchered in cold blood. Seventy thousand persons were murdered in one week. For several days the streets of Paris literally ran with blood. The savage monarch, standing at the windows of the palace, with his courtiers, glutted his eyes with the inhuman spectacle, and amused himself with firing upon the miserable fugitives who sought shelter at his merciless gates.
The intelligence of this massacre (for which a solemn thanksgiving was offered up at Rome by order of the Pope) produced the same horror and consternation in Scotland as in every other Protestant country. It inflicted a deep wound on the exhausted spirit of Knox. Besides the blow struck at the whole Reformed body, he had to lament the loss of many individuals eminent for piety, learning, and rank, whom he numbered among his acquaintances. Being conveyed to the pulpit, and summoning up the remainder of his strength, he thundered the vengeance of Heaven against that cruel murderer and false traitor, the King of France, and desired Le Croc, the French ambassador, to tell his master, that sentence was pronounced against him in Scotland, that the divine vengeance would never depart from him, nor from his house, if repentance did not ensue; but his name would remain an execration to posterity, and none proceeding from his loins would enjoy that kingdom in peace. The ambassador complained of the indignity offered to his master, and required the Regent to silence the preacher; but this was refused, upon which he left Scotland.
Lawson, having received the letters of invitation, hastened to Edinburgh, and had the satisfaction to find that Knox was still able to receive him.
Having preached to the people, he gave universal satisfaction. On the following Sabbath, 21st September, Knox began to preach in the Tolbooth Church, which was now fitted up for him. He chose for the subject of his discourses, the account of our Savior’s crucifixion, as recorded in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, a theme upon which he often expressed a wish to close his ministry. On Sabbath the 9th of November, he presided in the installation of Lawson as his colleague and successor. The sermon was preached by him in the Tolbooth Church; after it was ended, he removed, with the audience, to the large church, where he went through the accustomed form of admission, by proposing the questions to the minister and people, addressing an exhortation to both, and praying for the divine blessing upon the connection. Upon no former occasion did he deliver himself more to the satisfaction of those who were able to hear him. After declaring the mutual duties of pastor and congregation, he protested, in the presence of Him before whom he expected soon to appear, that he had walked among them with a good conscience, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in all sincerity, not studying to please men nor to gratify his own affections; he praised God, that he had been pleased to give them a pastor in his room, when he was now unable to teach; he fervently prayed, that any gifts which had been conferred on himself might be augmented a thousand fold in his successor; and, in a most serious and impressive manner, he exhorted and charged all present to adhere steadfastly to the faith which they had professed. Having finished the service, and pronounced the blessing with a cheerful but exhausted voice, he came down from the pulpit, and, leaning upon his staff, crept down the street, which was lined with the audience, who, as if anxious to take the last sight of their beloved pastor, followed him until he entered his house, from which he never again came out alive.
On the Tuesday following (11th November) he was seized with a severe cough, which together with the defluxion, greatly affected his breathing.
When his friends, anxious to prolong his life, proposed to call in the assistance of physicians, he readily acquiesced, saying, that he would not neglect the ordinary means of health, although he was persuaded that the Lord would soon put an end to all his troubles. It was his ordinary practice to read every day some chapters of the Old and New Testaments; to which he added a certain number of the Psalms of David, the whole of which he perused regularly once a month. On Thursday the 13th, he sickened, and was obliged to desist from his course of reading; but he gave directions to his wife, and to his secretary Richard Bannatyne, that one of them should every day read to him, with a distinct voice, the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel according to John, the fifty-third of Isaiah, and a chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians. This was punctually complied with during the whole time of his sickness; so that scarcely an hour passed in which some part of Scripture was not read. Besides the above passages, he at different times fixed on certain Psalms, and some of Calvin’s French sermons on the Ephesians. Sometimes as they were reading these sermons, thinking him to be asleep, they asked him if he heard, to which he answered, “I hear (I praise God), and understand far better”, which words he uttered for the last time, about four hours before his death.
The same day on which he sickened, he desired his wife to discharge the servants’ wages; and next day wishing to pay one of his men servants himself, he gave him twenty shillings above his fee, adding, “Thou wilt never receive more of me in this life”. To all his servants he gave suitable exhortations to walk in the fear of God, and as became Christians who had been educated in his family.
On Friday the 14th, he rose from bed sooner than his usual hour; and, thinking that it was the Sabbath, said that he meant to go to church, and preach on the resurrection of Christ, upon which he had meditated through the whole night. This was the subject upon which he should have preached in his ordinary course. But he was so weak, that he needed to be supported from his bedside by two men, and it was with great difficulty that he could sit on a chair.
Next day at noon, John Durie, and Archibald Steward, two of his intimate acquaintances, came into his room, not knowing that he was so sick. He rose, however, on their account; and having prevailed on them to stay dinner, he came to the table, which was the last time that he ever sat at it.
He ordered a hogshead of wine which was in his cellar to be pierced; and, with a hilarity which he delighted to indulge among his friends, desired Archibald Steward to send for some of it as long as it lasted, for he would not tarry until it was all drunk.
He was very anxious to meet once more with the session of his Church, to leave them his dying charge, and bid them a last farewell. In compliance with his wish, his colleague, the elders, and deacons, with David Lindsay, one of the ministers of Leith, assembled in his room on Monday the 17th, when he addressed them in the following words, which made a deep and lasting impression on the minds of all. “The day now approaches and is before the door, for which I have frequently and vehemently thirsted, when I shall be released from my great labors and innumerable sorrows, and shall be with Christ. And now, God is my witness, whom I have served in spirit, in the gospel of His Son, that I have taught nothing but the true and solid doctrine of the gospel of the Son of God, and have had it for my only object to instruct the ignorant, to confirm the faithful, to comfort the weak, the fearful, and the distressed, by the promises of grace, and to fight against the proud and rebellious, by the divine threatenings. I know that many have frequently and loudly complained, and do yet complain, of my too great severity; but God knows that my mind was always void of hatred to the persons of those against whom I thundered the severest judgments. I cannot deny but that I felt the greatest abhorrence at the sins in which they indulged, but I still kept this one thing in view, that if possible I might gain them to the Lord. What influenced me to utter whatever the Lord put into my mouth so boldly, without respect of persons, was a reverential fear of my God, who called, and of His grace appointed me to be a steward of divine mysteries, and a belief that He will demand an account of my discharge of the trust committed unto me, when I shall stand before His tribunal. I profess, therefore, before God, and before His holy angels, that I never made merchandise of the sacred Word of God, never studied to please men, never indulged my own private passions or those of others, but faithfully distributed the talent instrusted to me, for the edification of the Church over which I watched. Whatever obloquy wicked men may cast on me respecting this point, I rejoice in the testimony of a good conscience. In the mean time, my dearest brethren, do you persevere in the eternal truth of the gospel; wait diligently on the flock over which the Lord hath set you, and which He redeemed with the blood of His only begotten Son. And thou my brother, Lawson, fight the good fight, and do the work of the Lord joyfully and resolutely. The Lord from on high bless you, and the whole Church of Edinburgh, against whom, as long as they persevere in the word of truth which they have heard of me, the gates of hell shall not prevail.” Having warned them against countenancing those who disowned the King’s authority, and made some observations on a complaint which Maitland had lodged against him before the session, he was so exhausted that he was obliged to desist from speaking. Those who were present were filled with both joy and grief by this affecting address. After reminding him of the warfare which he had endured, and the triumph which awaited him, and joining in prayer, they took their leave of him in tears.
When they were going out, he desired his colleague and Lindsay to remain behind, to whom he said: “There is one thing that greatly grieves me. You have been witnesses of the former courage and constancy of Grange in the cause of God; but now, alas! into what a gulf has he precipitated himself? I intreat you not to refuse to go, and tell him from me, that John Knox remains the same man now, when he is going to die, that ever he knew him when able in body, and wills him to consider what he was, and the estate in which he now stands, which is a great part of his trouble. Neither the craggy rock in which he miserably confides, nor the carnal prudence of that man (Maitland) whom he esteems a demi-god, nor the assistance of strangers, shall preserve him; but he shall be disgracefully dragged from his nest to punishment, and hung on a gallows before the face of the sun, unless he speedily amend his life, and flee to the mercy of God. That man’s soul is dear to me, and I would not have it perish, if I could save it.”
The ministers undertook to execute this commission, and going up to the castle, obtained an interview with the governor, and delivered their message. He at first exhibited some symptoms of relenting, but having consulted with Maitland, he returned and gave them a very unpleasant answer. This being reported to Knox, he was much grieved, and said, that he had been very earnest in prayer for that man, and he still trusted that his soul would be saved, although his body should come to a miserable end.
After his interview with the session, he was much worse: his difficulty of breathing increased, and he could not speak without obvious and great pain. Yet he continued still to receive persons of every rank, who came, in great numbers, to visit him, and he suffered none to go away without exhortations, which he uttered with such variety and suitableness as astonished those who waited upon him. Lord Boyd came in and said, “I know, Sir, that I have offended you in many things, and am now come to crave your pardon”. His answer was not heard, as the attendants retired and left them alone. But his lordship returned next day, in company with the Earl of Morton and the laird of Drumlanrig. His conversation with Morton was very particular, as related by the Earl himself before his death. He asked him, if he was previously acquainted with the design to murder the late king. Morton having answered in the negative, he said, “Well, God has beautified you with many benefits which He has not given to every man; as He has given you riches, wisdom, and friends, and now is to prefer you to the government of the realm. And therefore, in the name of God, I charge you to use all these benefits aright, and better in time to come than ye have done in times bypast; first to God’s glory, to the furtherance of the evangel, the maintenance of the Church of God, and His ministry; next for the weal of the King, and his realm, and true subjects. If so ye shall do, God shall bless you, and honor you; but if ye do it not, God shall spoil you of these benefits, and your end shall be ignominy and shame.”
On Thursday the 20th, Lord Lindsay, the bishop of Caithness, and several gentlemen visited him. He exhorted them to continue in the truth which they had heard, for there was no other word of salvation, and besought them to have nothing to do with those in the castle. The Earl of Glencairn (who had often visited him) came in, with Lord Ruthven. The latter, who called only once, said, “If there be any thing, Sir, that I am able to do for you, I pray you charge me”. His reply was, “I care not for all the pleasure and friendship of the world”.
A religious lady of his acquaintance desired him to praise God for what good he had done, and was beginning to speak in his commendation, when he interrupted her. “Tongue, tongue, lady, flesh of itself is over-proud, and needs no means to esteem itself.” He put her in mind of what had been said to her long ago, “Lady, lady, the black one has never tramped on your foot”, and exhorted her to lay aside pride, and be clothed with humility.
He then protested as to himself, as he had often done before, that he relied wholly on the free mercy of God, manifested to mankind through His dear Son Jesus Christ, whom alone He embraced for wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. The rest of the company having taken their leave of him, he said to the laird of Braid, “Everyone bids me good night, but when will you do it? I have been greatly indebted unto you, for which I shall never be able to recompense you; but I commit you to One that is able to do it, to the eternal God.”
Upon Friday the 21st, he desired Richard Bannatyne to order his coffin to be made. During that day he was much engaged in meditation and prayer.
These words were often in his mouth; “Come, Lord Jesus. Sweet Jesus, into Thy hands I commend my spirit. Be merciful, Lord, to Thy Church which Thou hast redeemed. Give peace to this afflicted commonwealth.
Raise up faithful pastors who will take the charge of Thy Church. Grant us, Lord, the perfect hatred of sin, both by the evidences of Thy wrath and mercy.” In the midst of his meditations, he would often address those who stood by, in such sentences as these: “O serve the Lord in fear, and death shall not be terrible to you. Nay, blessed shall death be to those who have felt the power of the death of the only begotten Son of God.”
On Sabbath 23rd (which was the first day of the national fast), during the afternoon sermon, he, after lying a considerable time quiet, suddenly exclaimed, “If any be present, let them come and see the work of God”.
Richard Bannatyne thinking that his death was at hand, sent to the church for Johnston of Elphingston. When they came to his bedside, he burst out in these rapturous expressions: “I have been these two last nights in meditation on the troubled state of the Church of God, the spouse of Jesus Christ, despised of the world, but precious in the sight of God. I have called to God for her, and have committed her to her Head, Jesus Christ. I have fought against spiritual wickedness in heavenly things, and have prevailed. I have been in heaven, and have possession. I have tasted of the heavenly joys, where presently I am.” He then repeated the Lord’s prayer and creed, interjecting some devout aspiration at the end of every petition, and article.
After sermon many came in to visit him. Perceiving that he breathed with great difficulty, some of them asked if he felt much pain. He answered that he was willing to lie there for years, if God so pleased, and if He continued to shine upon his soul, through Jesus Christ. When they thought him asleep, he was employed in meditation, and at intervals exhorted and prayed. “Live in Christ. Live in Christ, and then flesh need not fear death.
Lord, grant true pastors to Thy Church, that purity of doctrine may be retained. Restore peace again to this commonwealth, with godly rulers and magistrates. Once, Lord, make an end of my trouble.” Stretching his hands toward heaven, he said, “Lord, I commend my spirit, soul, and body, and all, into Thy hands. Thou knowest, O Lord, my troubles: I do not murmur against thee.” His pious ejaculations were so numerous, that those who waited on him could recollect only a part of them, for seldom was he silent, when they were not employed in reading or in prayer. During the course of that night his trouble greatly increased.
Monday, the 24th of November, was the last day that he spent on earth.
That morning he would not be persuaded to lie in bed, but, though unable to stand alone, rose between nine and ten o’clock, and put on his stockings and doublet. Being conducted to a chair, he sat about half an hour, and then went to bed again. In the progress of the day it appeared evident that his end drew near. Besides his wife and Richard Bannatyne, Campbell of Kinyeancleugh, Johnston of Elphingston, and Dr. Preston, three of his most intimate acquaintances, waited by his bedside. Mr. Campbell asked him, if he had any pain. “It is no painful pain, but such a pain as shall, I trust, put end to the battle. I must leave the care of my wife and children to you,” continued he, “to whom you must be a husband in my room.”
About three o’clock in the afternoon, one of his eyes failed, and his speech was considerably affected. He desired his wife to read the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians. “Is not that a comfortable chapter?” said he, when it was finished. “O what sweet and salutary consolation the Lord hath afforded me from that chapter!” A little after, he said, “Now, for the last time, I commend my soul, spirit, and body,” touching three of his fingers, “into thy hand, O Lord.” About five o’clock he said to his wife, “Go read where I cast my first anchor”; upon which she read the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel, and afterwards a part of Calvin’s sermons on the Ephesians.
After this he appeared to fall into a slumber, during which he uttered heavy groans. The attendants looked every moment for his dissolution. At length he awaked as if from sleep, and being asked the cause of his sighing so deeply, replied, “I have formerly, during my frail life, sustained many contests, and many assaults of Satan; but at present that roaring lion hath assailed me most furiously, and put forth all his strength to devour, and make an end of me at once. Often before has he placed my sins before my eyes, often tempted me to despair, often endeavored to ensnare me by the allurements of the world; but with these weapons, broken by the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, he could not prevail. Now he has attacked me in another way; the cunning serpent has labored to persuade me that I have merited heaven and eternal blessedness, by the faithful discharge of my ministry. But blessed be God who has enabled me to beat down and quench this fiery dart, by suggesting to me such passages of Scripture as these: What hast thou that thou hast not received? By the grace of God I am what I am: Not I, but the grace of God in me. Being thus vanquished, he left me. Wherefore I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ, who was pleased to give me the victory; and I am persuaded that the tempter shall not again attack me, but, within a short time, I shall, without any great bodily pain, or anguish of mind, exchange this mortal and miserable life for a blessed immortality through Jesus Christ.”
He then lay quiet for some hours, except that now and then he desired them to wet his mouth with a little weak ale. At ten o’clock, they read the evening prayer, which they had delayed beyond their usual hour, from an apprehension that he was asleep. After they concluded, Dr. Preston asked him, if he had heard the prayers. “Would to God,” said he, “that you and all men had heard them as I have heard them: I praise God for that heavenly sound.” The doctor rose up, and Mr. Campbell sat down before the bed. About eleven o’clock, he gave a deep sigh, and said, “Now it is come”. Richard Bannatyne immediately drew near, and desired him to think upon those comfortable promises of our Savior Jesus Christ, which he had so often declared to others; and, perceiving that he was speechless, requested him to give them a sign that he heard them, and died in peace.
Upon this he lifted up one of his hands, and sighing twice, expired without a struggle.
He died in the sixty-seventh year of his age, not so much oppressed with years, as worn out and exhausted by his extraordinary labors of body and anxieties of mind. Few men ever were exposed to more dangers, or underwent such hardships. From the time that he embraced the Reformed religion, till he breathed his last, seldom did he enjoy a respite from these, and he emerged from one scene of difficulties, only to be involved in another, and a more distressing one. Obliged to flee from St. Andrews to escape the fury of Cardinal Beatoun, he found a retreat in East Lothian, from which he was hunted by Archbishop Hamilton. He lived for several years as an outlaw, in daily apprehension of falling a prey to those who eagerly sought his life. The few months during which he enjoyed protection in the castle of St. Andrews were succeeded by a long and rigorous captivity. After enjoying some repose in England, he was again driven into banishment, and for five years wandered as an exile on the Continent. When he returned to his native country, it was to engage in a struggle of the most perilous and arduous kind. After the Reformation was established, and he was settled in the capital, he was involved in a continual contest with the court. When he had retired from warfare, and thought only of ending his days in peace, he was again called into the field; and, although scarcely able to walk, was obliged to remove from his flock, and to avoid the hatred of his enemies, by submitting to a new banishment.
Often had his life been threatened; a price was publicly set upon his head; and persons were not wanting who were disposed to attempt his destruction. No wonder that he was weary of the world, and anxious to depart. With great propriety might it be said, at his decease, that he rested from his labors.
On Wednesday the 26th of November, he was interred in the churchyard of St. Giles. His funeral was attended by the newly elected regent, Morton, the nobility who were in the city, and a great concourse of people. When his body was laid in the grave, the Regent pronounced his eulogium, in the well known words, “There lies he, who never feared the face of man”.
CONCLUSION The character of this extraordinary man has been drawn with very opposite colors, by different writers, and at different times. The changes which have taken place in the public opinion about him, with the causes which have produced them, form a subject not uncurious nor unworthy of attention. The interest excited by the ecclesiastical and political revolutions of Scotland, in which he acted so conspicuous a part, caused his name to be known throughout Europe, more extensively than those of most of the Reformers. When we reflect that the Roman Catholics looked upon him as the principal instrument of the overthrow of their religious establishment in this country, we are prepared to expect that the writers of that persuasion would represent his character in an unfavorable light; and that, in addition to the common charges of heresy and apostasy, they would describe him as a man of a restless, turbulent spirit, and of rebellious principles. We will not even be greatly surprised though we find them charging him with whoredom, because, being a priest, he entered into wedlock, once and a second time; or imputing his change of religion to a desire of throwing off the bonds of chastity by which the popish clergy were so strictly tied. But all this is nothing to the portraits which they have drawn of him, in which he is unblushingly represented, to the violation of all credibility, as a man, or rather a monster, of the most profligate character, who gloried in depravity, avowedly indulged in the most vicious practices, and to crown the description, upon whom Providence fixed an evident mark of reprobation at his death, which was accompanied with circumstances which excited the utmost horror in the beholders. This might astonish us, did we not know, from undoubted documents, that there were a number of writers, at that time, who, by inventing or retailing such malignant calumnies, attempted to blast the fairest and most unblemished characters among those who appeared in opposition to the Church of Rome, and that, ridiculous and outraged as the accusations were, they were greedily swallowed by the slaves of prejudice and credulity.
The memory of none was loaded with a greater share of this obloquy than our Reformer’s. But these accounts have long ago lost every degree of credit; and they now remain only as a proof of the spirit of lies, or of strong delusion, by which these writers were actuated, and of the deep and deadly hatred which was conceived against the accused, on account of his strenuous and successful efforts to overthrow the fabric of papal superstition and despotism.
Knox was known and esteemed by the principal persons among the Reformed in France, Switzerland, and Germany. We have had occasion repeatedly to mention his friendship with the Reformer of Geneva. Beza, the successor of Calvin, was personally acquainted with him; in the correspondence which was kept up between them by letters, he expressed the warmest regard, and highest esteem for him; and he afterwards raised an affectionate tribute to his memory, in his “Images of Illustrious Men”.
This was done, at a subsequent period, by the German biographer, Melchior Adam, the Dutch van Heiden, and the French La Roque. The late historian of the literature of Geneva (whose religious sentiments are very different from those of his countrymen in the days of Calvin), although he is displeased with the philippics which Knox sometimes pronounced from the pulpit, says, that he “immortalized himself by his courage against popery, and his firmness against the tyranny of Mary”, and that though a violent, he was always an open and honorable enemy to the Catholics.
The affectionate veneration in which his memory was held in Scotland, after his death, evinces that the influence which he possessed among his countrymen during his life was not constrained, but founded on the opinion which they entertained of his virtues and talents. Bannatyne has drawn his character in the most glowing colors; and, although allowances must be made for the enthusiasm with which a favorite servant wrote of a beloved and revered master, yet, as he lived long in his family, and was himself a man of respectability and learning, his testimony is by no means to be disregarded. “In this manner,” says he, “departed this man of God: the light of Scotland, the comfort of the Church within the same, the mirror of godliness, and pattern and example to all true ministers, in purity of life, soundness in doctrine, and boldness in reproving of wickedness; one that cared not the favor of men, how great soever they were. What dexterity in teaching, boldness in reproving, and hatred of wickedness was in him, my ignorant dullness is not able to declare, which if I should preis to set out, it were as one who would light a candle to let men see the sun; seeing all his virtues are better known and notified to the world a thousand fold than I am able to express.”
Principal Smeton’s character of him, while it is less liable to the suspicion of partiality, is equally honorable and flattering. “I know not,” says he, “if ever so much piety and genius were lodged in such a frail and weak body.
None spared himself less in enduring fatigues of body and mind; none was more intent on discharging the duties of the province assigned to him.”
And again, addressing Hamilton, he says, “This illustrious, I say — illustrious — servant of God, John Knox, I will clear from your feigned accusations and slanders, rather by the testimony of a venerable assembly than by my own denial. This pious duty, this reward of a well spent life, all of them most cheerfully discharge to their excellent instructor in Christ Jesus. This testimony of gratitude they all owe to him, who, they know, ceased not to deserve well of all, till he ceased to breathe. Released from a body exhausted in Christian warfare, and translated to a blessed rest, where he has obtained the sweet reward of his labors, he now triumphs with Christ. But beware, sycophant, of insulting him when dead; for he has left behind him as many defenders of his reputation as there are persons who were drawn, by his faithful preaching, from the gulf of ignorance to the knowledge of the gospel.”
The divines of the Church of England who were contemporary with our Reformer, or who survived him, entertained a great respect for his character. I have already produced the mark of esteem which Bishop Bale conferred on him. Aylmer, in a work written to confute one of his opinions, bears a voluntary testimony to his learning and integrity. Bishop Ridley, who stickled more for the ceremonies of the Church than any of his brethren at that period, and was displeased with the opposition which he made to the introduction of the English liturgy at Frankfurt, expressed his high opinion of him, as “a man of wit, much good learning, and earnest zeal”. Whatever dissatisfaction they felt at his pointed reprehensions of several parts of their ecclesiastical establishment, the English dignitaries rejoiced at the success of his exertions, and without scruple expressed their approbation of many of his measures which were afterwards severely censured by their successors. I need scarcely add, that his memory was held in veneration by the English Puritans. Some of the chief men among them were personally acquainted with him during his residence in England, and on the Continent; others corresponded with him by letters. They greatly esteemed his writings, procured his manuscripts from Scotland, and published several of them.
But towards the close of the sixteenth century, there arose another race of prelates, of very different principles from the English Reformers, who began to maintain the divine right of diocesan episcopacy, with the intrinsic excellency of a ceremonious worship, and to adopt a new language respecting other Reformed Churches. Dr. Bancroft, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, was the first writer among them who spake disrespectfully of Knox, after whom it became a fashionable practice among the hierarchical party. This was resented by the ministers of Scotland, who warmly vindicated the character of their Reformer. King James, who began to long for his accession to the throne of England, and carried on a private correspondence with Bancroft for introducing episcopacy into Scotland, took great offense at this, and said that Knox, Buchanan, and the Regent Moray, “could not be defended, but by traitors and seditious theologues”.
Andrew Melville told him that they were the men who set the crown on his head, and deserved better than to be so traduced. James complained that Knox had spoken disrespectfully of his mother; to which Patrick Galloway, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, replied, “If a king or a queen be a murderer, why should they not be called so?” Walter Balcanquhal, another minister of the city, having, in a sermon preached 29th October 1590, rebuked those who disparaged the Reformer, the King sent for him, and in a passion protested, that “either he should lose his crown, or Mr.
Walter should recant his words”. Balcanquhal “prayed God to preserve his crown, but said, that if he had his right wits, the King should have his head, before he recanted any thing he spake”. Long after the government of the Church of Scotland was Conformed to the English model, the Scots prelates professed to look back to their national Reformer with gratitude and veneration; and as late as 1639, Archbishop Spottiswood described him as “a man endued with rare gifts, and a chief instrument that God used for the work of those times”.
Our Reformer was never a favorite with the friends of absolute monarchy.
The prejudices which they entertained against him were taken up in all their force, subsequent to the revolution, by the adherents of the Stuart family, whose religious notions approximating very nearly to the popish, joined with their slavish principle respecting non-resistance of kings, led them to disapprove of almost every measure adopted at the time of the Reformation, and to condemn the whole as a series of disorder, sedition, and rebellion against lawful authority. The spirit by which the Jacobitish fiction was actuated, did not become extinct with the family which was so long the object of their devotion: it has only changed its object. The alarm produced by that revolution which of late has shaken the thrones of so many of the princes of Europe, has greatly increased this party; and with the view of preserving the present constitution of Britain, principles have been widely disseminated, which, if they had been generally received in the sixteenth century, would have perpetuated the reign of popery and arbitrary power in Scotland. From persons of such principles, nothing favorable to our Reformer can be expected. But the greatest torrent of abuse, poured upon his character, has proceeded from those literary champions who have come forward to avenge the wrongs, and vindicate the innocence of the peerless, and immaculate Mary, Queen of Scots.
Having conjured up in their imagination the image of an ideal goddess, they have sacrificed, to the object of their adoration, all the characters which, in that age, were most estimable for learning, patriotism, integrity, and religion. As if the quarrel which they had espoused exempted them from the ordinary laws of controversial warfare, and conferred on them the absolute and indefeasible privilege of calumniating and defaming at pleasure, they have pronounced every person who spake, wrote, or acted against that queen, to be a hypocrite or a villain. In the raving style of these writers, Knox was “a fanatical incendiary, a holy savage, the son of violence and barbarism, the religious Sachem 2 of religious Mohawks”.
The increase of infidelity, and of indifference to religion in modern times, especially among the learned, has contributed, in no small degree, to swell the tide of prejudice against our Reformer. Whatever satisfaction such persons may express, or feel, at the reformation from popery, as the means of emancipating the world from superstition and priestcraft, they must necessarily despise, or dislike men who were inspired with the love of religion, and who sought the acquisition of civil liberty, and the advancement of literature, in subordination to the propagation of the doctrines and institutions of Jesus Christ. Nor can it escape observation, that even among the friends of the Reformed doctrine, in the present day, prejudices against the characters and proceedings of our Reformers are far more general than they were formerly. Impressed with the idea of the high illumination of the present age, and having formed a correspondingly low estimate of the attainments of those which preceded it; imperfectly acquainted with the enormity and extent of the corrupt system of religion which existed in this country at the era of the Reformation; inattentive to the spirit and principles of the adversaries with which our Reformers were obliged to contend, and to the dangers and difficulties with which they struggled — they have too easily received the calumnies which have been circulated to their prejudice, and hastily condemned measures which may be found, upon examination, to have been necessary to secure, and to transmit the invaluable blessings which they now enjoy.
Having given this account of the opinions entertained respecting our Reformer, I shall endeavor to sketch, with as much truth as I can, the leading features of his character.
That he possessed strong natural talents is unquestionable. Inquisitive, ardent, acute; vigorous and bold in his conceptions; he entered into all the subtleties of the scholastic science then in vogue, yet, disgusted with its barren results, sought out a new course of study, which gradually led to a complete revolution in his sentiments. In his early years he had not access to that finished education which many of his contemporaries obtained in the foreign universities, and he was afterwards prevented, by his unsettled and active mode of life, from prosecuting his studies with leisure; but his abilities and application enabled him in a great measure to surmount these disadvantages, and he remained a stranger to none of the branches of learning cultivated in that age by persons of his profession. He united the love of study with a disposition to active employment, two qualities which are seldom found in the same person. The truths which he discovered he felt an irresistible impulse to impart unto others, for which he was qualified by a bold and fervid eloquence, singularly adapted to arrest the attention, and govern the minds of a fierce and unpolished people.
From the time that he embraced the Reformed doctrines, the desire of propagating them, and of delivering his countrymen from the delusions and corruptions of popery, became his ruling passion, to which he was always ready to sacrifice his ease, his interest, his reputation, and his life. An ardent attachment to civil liberty held the next place in his breast, to love of the Reformed religion. That the zeal with which he labored to advance these was of the most disinterested kind, no candid person who has paid attention to his life can doubt for a moment, whatever opinion he may entertain of some of the means which he employed for that purpose. “In fact, he thought only of advancing the glory of God, and promoting the welfare of his country”. Intrepidity, a mind elevated above sordid views, indefatigable activity, and constancy which no disappointments could shake, eminently qualified him for the hazardous and difficult post which he occupied. His integrity was above the suspicion of corruption; his firmness proof equally against the solicitations of friends, and the threats of enemies. Though his impetuosity and courage led him frequently to expose himself to danger, we never find him neglecting to take prudent precautions for his safety. The opinion which his countrymen entertained of his sagacity, as well as honesty, is evident from the confidence which they reposed in him. The measures taken for advancing the Reformation were either adopted at his suggestion, or submitted to his advice; and we must pronounce them to have been as wisely planned as they were boldly executed.
His ministerial functions were discharged with the greatest assiduity, fidelity, and fervor. No avocation or infirmity prevented him from appearing in the pulpit. Preaching was an employment in which he delighted, and for which he was qualified by an extensive acquaintance with the Scriptures, and the happy art of applying them, in the most striking manner, to the existing circumstances of the Church, and of his hearers. His powers of alarming the conscience, and arousing the passions, have been frequently mentioned; but he excelled also in opening up the consolations of the gospel, and calming the breasts of those who were agitated with a sense of their sins. When he discoursed of the griefs and joys, the conflicts and triumphs of genuine Christians, he declared what he himself had known and felt. The letters which he wrote to his familiar acquaintances breathe the most ardent piety. The religious meditations in which he spent his last sickness were not confined to that period of his life; they had been his habitual employment from the time that he was brought to the knowledge of the truth, and his solace amidst all the hardships and perils through which he passed.
With his brethren in the ministry he lived in the utmost cordiality. We never read of the slightest variance between him and any of his colleagues.
While he was dreaded and hated by the licentious and profane, whose vices he never spared, the religious and sober part of his congregation and countrymen felt a veneration for him, which was founded on his unblemished reputation, as well as his popular talents as a preacher. In private life, he was both beloved and revered by his friends and domestics.
He was subject to the occasional illapses of melancholy, and depression of spirits, arising partly from natural constitution, and partly from the maladies which had long preyed upon his health; which made him (to use his own expression) “churlish”, and less capable of pleasing and gratifying his friends than he was otherwise disposed to be. This he confessed, and requested them to excuse; but his friendship was sincere, affectionate, and steady. When free from this morose affection, he relished the pleasures of society, and among his acquaintances, was accustomed to unbend his mind from severer cares, by indulging in innocent recreation, and the sallies of wit and humor, to which he had a strong propensity, notwithstanding the grave tone of his general character.
Most of his faults may be traced to his natural temperament, and the character of the age and country in which he lived. His passions were strong; he felt with the utmost keenness on every subject which interested him; and as he felt he expressed himself, without disguise or affectation.
The warmth of his zeal was apt to betray him into intemperate language; his inflexible adherence to his opinions inclined to obstinacy; and his independence of mind occasionally assumed the appearance of haughtiness and disdain. A stranger to complimentary or smooth language, little concerned about the manner in which his reproofs were received, provided they were merited, too much impressed with the evil of the offense, to think of the rank or character of the offender, he often “uttered his admonitions with an acrimony and vehemence more apt to irritate than to reclaim”. But he protested at a time when persons are least in danger of deception, and in a manner which should banish suspicions of the purity of his motives, that, in his sharpest rebukes, he was influenced by hatred of the vices, not the persons of the vicious, and that his aim was always to discharge his own duty, and, if possible, to reclaim the guilty.
Those who have charged him with insensibility and inhumanity, have fallen into a mistake very common with superficial thinkers, who, in judging of the characters of persons who lived in a state of society very different from their own, have pronounced upon their moral qualities from the mere aspect of their exterior manners. He was stern, not savage; austere, not unfeeling; vehement, not vindictive. There is not an instance of his employing his influence to revenge any personal injury which he had received. Rigid as his maxims as to the execution of justice were, there are more instances on record of his interceding for the pardon of criminals, than perhaps of any man of his time; and unless when crimes were atrocious, or the safety of the state was at stake, he never exhorted the executive authority to the exercise of severity. The boldness and ardor of his mind, called forth by the peculiar circumstances of the time, led him to push his sentiments on some subjects to an extreme, and no consideration could induce him to retract an opinion of which he continued to be persuaded; but his behavior after his publication against female government, proves he was not disposed to improve them to the disturbance of the public peace. His conduct at Frankfurt evinced his moderation in religious differences among brethren of the same faith, and that he was disposed to make all reasonable allowances for those who could not go the same length with him in reformation, provided they abstained from imposing upon the consciences of others. The liberties which he took in censuring from the pulpit the actions of individuals, of the highest rank and station, appear the more strange and intolerable to us, when contrasted with the silence of modern times; but we should recollect that they were then common, and that they were not without their utility, in an age when the licentiousness and oppression of the great and powerful often set at defiance the ordinary restraints of law.
In contemplating such a character as that of Knox, it is not the man, so much as the reformer, that ought to engage our attention. The admirable wisdom of Providence in raising up persons endued with qualities suited to the work allotted them to perform for the benefit of mankind, demands our particular consideration. The austere and rough reformer, whose voice once cried in the wilderness of Judea, who was clothed with camel’s hair, and girt about the loins with a leathern girdle, who came neither eating nor drinking, who, laying the axe to the root of every tree, warned a generation of vipers to flee from the wrath to come (Matthew 3), saying even to the tyrant upon the throne, “It is not lawful for thee” (Matthew 14:4); he, I say, was fitted for “serving the will of God in his generation”, and “wisdom was justified” in him, according to his rank and place, as well as in his divine Master, whose advent he announced, who did not strive, nor cry, nor cause His voice to be heard in the streets; nor break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax (Matthew 12:19-20). To those who complain, that they are disappointed at not finding, in our national Reformer, a mild demeanor, courteous manners and a winning address, we may say in the language of our Lord to the Jews concerning the Baptist: “What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously appareled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet” (Luke 7:24-26).
Those talents which fit a person for acting with propriety and usefulness in one age and situation, would altogether unfit him for another. Before the Reformation, superstition shielded by ignorance, and armed with power, governed with gigantic sway. Men of mild spirits, and gentle manners, would have been as unfit for taking the field against this enemy, as a dwarf or a child for encountering a giant. “What did Erasmus in the days of Luther? What would Lowth have done in the days of Wicliffe, or Blair in those of Knox?” It has been justly observed concerning our Reformer, that “those very qualities which now render his character less amiable, fitted him to be the instrument of providence for advancing the Reformation among a fierce people, and enabled him to face danger, and surmount opposition, from which a person of a more gentle spirit would have been apt to shrink back”. Viewing his character in this light, if we cannot regard him as an amiable man, we may, without hesitation, pronounce him a great Reformer.
There are perhaps few who have attended to the active and laborious exertions of Knox, who have not been led insensibly to form the opinion that he was of a robust constitution. This is however a mistake. He was of small stature, and of a weakly habit of body; a circumstance which serves to give a higher idea of the vigor of his mind. His portrait seems to have been taken more than once during his life, and has been frequently engraved. It continues still to frown in the bedchamber of Queen Mary, to whom he was often an ungracious visitor. We discern in it the traits of his characteristic intrepidity, austerity, and keen penetration. Nor can we overlook his beard, which, according to the custom of the times, he wore long, and reaching to his middle; a circumstance which I mention the rather, because some writers have assured us, that it was the chief thing which procured him reverence among his countrymen. A popish author has informed us, that he was gratified with having his picture drawn, and expresses much horror at this, after he had caused all the images of the saints to be broken.
There is one charge against him which I have not yet noticed. He has been accused of setting up for a prophet, of presuming to intrude into the secret counsel of God, and of enthusiastically confounding the suggestions of his own imagination, and the effusions of his own spirit, with the dictates of inspiration, and immediate communications from heaven. Let us examine the grounds of this accusation a little. It is proper to hear his own statement of the grounds upon which he proceeded in many of those warnings which have been denominated predictions. Having in one of his treatises, denounced the judgments to which the inhabitants of England exposed themselves, by renouncing the gospel and returning to idolatry, he gives the following explication of the warrant which he had for his threatenings. “Ye would know the grounds of my certitude. God grant that, hearing them, ye may understand, and steadfastly believe the same.
My assurances are not the marvels of Merlin, 3 nor yet the dark sentences of profane prophecies; but the plain truth of God’s Word, the invincible justice of the everlasting God, and the ordinary course of His punishments and plagues from the beginning are my assurance and grounds. God’s Word threateneth destruction to all disobedient; His immutable justice must require the same; the ordinary punishments and plagues show examples. What man then can cease to prophesy?” We find him expressing himself in a similar way in his defenses of the threatenings which he uttered against those who had been guilty of the murder of King Henry, and the Regent Moray. He denies that he had spoken “as one that entered into the secret counsel of God”, and insists that he had merely declared the judgment which was pronounced in the divine law. In so far then his threatenings, or predictions (for so he repeatedly calls them) do not stand in need of an apology.
There are, however, several of his sayings which cannot be vindicated upon these principles, and which he himself rested upon different grounds.
Of this kind were, the assurance which he expressed, from the beginning of the Scottish troubles, that the cause of the Congregation would ultimately prevail; his confident hope of again preaching in his native country, and at St. Andrews, avowed by him during his imprisonment on board the French galleys, and frequently repeated during his exile; with the intimations which he gave respecting the death of Thomas Maitland, and Kircaldy of Grange. It cannot be denied that his contemporaries considered these as proceeding from a prophetic spirit, and have attested that they received an exact accomplishment. The most easy way of getting rid of this delicate question is, by dismissing it at once, and summarily pronouncing that all pretensions to extraordinary premonitions, since the completing of the canon of inspiration, are unwarranted, that they ought, without examination, to be discarded and treated as fanciful and visionary. Nor would this fix any peculiar imputation on the character or talents of our Reformer, when it is considered that the most learned persons of that age were under the influence of a still greater weakness, and strongly addicted to the belief of judicial astrology. But I doubt much if this method of determining the question would be consistent with doing justice to the subject. I cannot propose to enter into it in this place, and must confine myself to a few general observations. On the one hand, the disposition which mankind discover to pry into the secrets of futurity, has been always accompanied with much credulity, and superstition; and it cannot be denied, that the age in which our Reformer lived was prone to credit the marvelous, especially as to the infliction of divine judgments upon individuals. On the other hand, there is great danger of running into skepticism, and of laying down general principles which may lead us obstinately to contest the truth of the best authenticated facts, and even to limit the Spirit of God, and the operation of providence. This is an extreme to which the present age inclines. That there have been instances of persons having presentiments and premonitions as to events that happened to themselves and others, there is, I think, the best reason to believe. The strong spirits, who laugh at vulgar credulity, and exert their ingenuity in accounting for such phenomena upon ordinary principles, have been exceedingly puzzled with these, a great deal more puzzled than they have confessed; and the solutions which they have given are, in some instances, as mysterious as any thing included in the intervention of superior spirits, or divine intimations. The canon of our faith is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments; we must not look to impressions or new revelations as the rule of our duty; but that God may, on particular occasions, forewarn persons of some things which shall happen, to testify His approbation of them, to encourage them to confide in Him in peculiar circumstances, or for other useful purposes, is not, I think, inconsistent with the principles of either natural or revealed religion.
If this is enthusiasm, it is an enthusiasm into which some of the most enlightened and sober men, in modern as well as ancient times, have fallen.
Some of the Reformers were men of singular piety; they “walked with God”; they were “instant in prayer”; they were exposed to uncommon opposition, and had uncommon services to perform; they were endued with extraordinary gifts, and, I am inclined to believe, were occasionally favored with extraordinary premonitions, with respect to certain events which concerned themselves, other individuals, or the Church in general.
But whatever intimations of this kind they enjoyed, they did not rest the authority of their mission upon them, nor appeal to them as constituting any part of the evidence of those doctrines which they preached to the world.
Our Reformer left behind him a widow, and five children. His two sons, Nathanael and Eleazer, were born to him by his first wife, Mrs. Marjory Bowes. We have already seen that, about the year 1566, they went to England, where their mother’s relations resided. They received their education at St. John’s College, in the University of Cambridge, and after finishing it, died in the prime of life. It appears that they died without issue, and the family of the Reformer became extinct in the male line. His other three children were daughters by his second wife. Dame Margaret Stewart, his widow, afterwards married Sir Andrew Ker of Fadounside, a strenuous supporter of the Reformation. One of his daughters was married to Mr. Robert Pont, minister of St. Cuthberts; another of them to Mr.
James Fleming, also a minister of the Church of Scotland; Elizabeth, the third daughter, was married to Mr. John Welch, minister of Ayr.
Mrs. Welch seems to have inherited a considerable portion of her father’s spirit, and she had her share of hardships similar to his. Her husband was one of those who resisted the arbitrary measures pursued by James VI. for overturning the government and liberties of the presbyterian Church of Scotland. For attending a meeting of the General Assembly at Aberdeen, in July 1605, when the King had sent directions for adjourning it, sine die 4 (in pursuance of a scheme laid for abolishing that court), he was imprisoned; and for afterwards declining the Privy Council, as not the proper judges of that cause, he, along with other five ministers, was arraigned, and, by a packed and corrupted jury, found guilty, and condemned to the death of traitors. Leaving her children at Ayr, Mrs. Welch attended her husband in prison, and was present at Linlithgow, with the wives of the other panels, on the day of trial. When informed of the sentence, these heroines, instead of lamenting their rite, praised God who had given their husbands courage to stand to the cause of their Master, adding that, like Him, they had been judged and condemned under the covert of night.
The sentence having been commuted into banishment, she accompanied her husband to France, where they remained for sixteen years. Mr. Welch, having lost his health, and the physicians informing him that the only prospect which he had of recovering it was by returning to his native country, ventured, about the year 1622, to come to London. His wife, by means of some of her mother’s relations at court, obtained access to the King, to petition for liberty to him to go to Scotland for the sake of his health. The following conversation is said to have taken place on that occasion. His Majesty asked her, who was her father. She replied, Mr.
Knox. “Knox and Welch!” exclaimed he, “the devil never made such a match as that.”... “It’s right like, Sir,” said she, “for we never speired 5 his advice.” He asked her, how many children her father had left, and if they were lads or lasses. She said, three, and they were all lasses. “God be thanked!” cried the King, lifting up both his hands; “for an 6 they had been three lads, I had never bruiked 7 my three kingdoms in peace.” She urged her request, that he would give her husband his native air. “Give him the devil!” — a morsel which James had often in his mouth. “Give that to your hungry courtiers,” said she, offended at his profanity. He told her at last that, if she would persuade her husband to submit to the bishops, he would allow him to return to Scotland. Mrs. Welch, lifting up her apron, and holding it towards the King, replied, in the true spirit of her father, “Please Your Majesty, I’d rather kep 8 his head there”.
The account of our Reformer’s publications has been partly anticipated in the course of the preceding narrative. Though his writings were of great utility, it was not by them, but by his personal exertions, that he chiefly advanced the Reformation, and transmitted his name to posterity. He did not view this as the field in which he was called to labor. “That I did not in writing communicate my judgment upon the Scriptures,” says he, “I have ever thought myself to have most just reason. For, considering myself rather called of my God to instruct the ignorant, comfort the sorrowful, confirm the weak, and rebuke the proud, by tongue, and lively voice, in these most corrupt days, than to compose books for the age to come (seeing that so much is written, and by men of most singular erudition, and yet so little well-observed); I decreed to contain myself within the bounds of that vocation, whereunto I found myself especially called.”
This resolution was most judiciously formed. His situation was very different from that of the early Protestant Reformers. They found the whole world in ignorance of the doctrines of Christianity. Men were either destitute of books, or such as they possessed were calculated only to mislead. The oral instructions of a few individuals could extend but a small way; it was principally by means of their writings, which circulated with amazing rapidity, that they benefited mankind, and became not merely the instructors of the particular cities and countries where they resided and preached, but the Reformers of Europe. By the time that Knox appeared on the field, their judicious commentaries upon the different books of Scripture, and their able defenses of its doctrines, were laid open to the English reader. What was more immediately required of him was to use the peculiar talent in which he excelled, and, “by tongue and lively voice”, to imprint the doctrines of the Bible upon the hearts of his countrymen.
When he was deprived of an opportunity of doing this, during his exile, there could not be a more proper substitute than that which he adopted, by publishing familiar epistles, exhortations, and admonitions, in which he briefly recalled to their minds the truths which they had received, and excited them to adhere unto them. These were circulated and read with far more ease, and to a far greater extent, than large treatises could have been.
Of the many sermons preached by him during his ministry, he never published but one, which was extorted from him by peculiar circumstances; and that one affords a very favorable specimen of his talents. If he had applied himself to writing, he was qualified for excelling in that department. He had a ready command of language, expressed himself with perspicuity, and with great animation and force. Though he despised the tinsel of rhetoric, he was acquainted with the principles of that art, and when he had leisure and inclination to polish his style, wrote both with propriety and eloquence. Those who read his letter to the Queen Regent, his answer to Tyrie, his papers in the account of the dispute with Kennedy, or even his sermon, will be satisfied of this. During his residence in England, he acquired the habit of writing the language according to the manner of that country, and in all his publications which appeared during his lifetime, the English and not the Scottish orthography, and mode of expression, are used. In this respect, there is a very evident difference between them and the vernacular writings of Buchanan.
The freedoms which have been used with his writings, in the editions commonly read, have greatly injured them. They were translated into the language which was used in the middle of the seventeenth century, by which they were deprived of the antique costume which they formerly wore, and contracted an air of vulgarity which did not originally belong to them. Besides this, they have been reprinted with innumerable omissions, interpolations, and alterations, which frequently affect the sense, and always enfeeble the language. Another circumstance which has impaired his literary reputation is, that the two works which have been most read, are the least accurate and polished, as to style, of all his writings. His tract against female government was hastily published by him, under great irritation of mind at the increasing cruelty of Queen Mary of England. His “History of the Reformation” was undertaken during the confusions of the civil war, and was afterwards continued, at intervals snatched from numerous avocations. The collection of historical materials is a work of labor and time; but the digesting and arranging of them into a regular narrative require much leisure, and undivided attention. The want of these sufficiently accounts for the confusion that is often observable in that work. But notwithstanding of this, and of particular mistakes, it still continues to be the principal source of information as to ecclesiastical proceedings in that period, and, in all the leading facts, has been confirmed by the examination of other documents, although great keenness has been discovered in attacking its genuineness and accuracy.
His defense of “Predestination” the only theological treatise of any size which was published by him, is rare, and has been seen by few. It is written with perspicuity, and discovers his controversial acuteness, with becoming caution, in handling that delicate question.
I have thus attempted to give an account of our national Reformer, of the principal events of his life, of his sentiments, his writings, and his exertions in the cause of religion and liberty. If what I have done shall contribute to set his character in a more just, or full light, than that in which it has been generally represented; if it shall be subservient to the illustration of the ecclesiastical history of that period, or excite others to pay more attention to the subject; above all, if it shall be the means of suggesting, or confirming proofs of the superintendence of a wise and merciful providence, in the accomplishment of a revolution of all others the most interesting and beneficial to this country, I shall not think any labor which I have bestowed on the subject to have been thrown away, or unrewarded.