Birth, education, conversion, call to the ministry, and early labors in Scotland and England.
This section consists of the Preface, table of Contents, and Chapters 1-3. They are listed below. To go directly to any particular chapter click on the link to that chapter. Otherwise you can scroll down as you read chapter by chapter.
- Table of Contents
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
The Reformation from Popery marks an epoch unquestionably the most important in the history of modern Europe. The effects of the change which it produced, in religion, in manners, in politics, and in literature, continue to be felt at the present day. Nothing, surely, can be more interesting than an investigation of the history of that period, and of those men who were the instruments, under Providence, of accomplishing a revolution which has proved so beneficial to mankind.
Though many able writers have employed their talents in tracing the causes and consequences of the Reformation, and though the leading facts respecting its progress in Scotland have been repeatedly stated, it occurred to me that the subject was by no means exhausted. I was confirmed in this opinion by a more minute examination of the ecclesiastical history of this country, which I began, for my own satisfaction, several years ago. While I was pleased at finding that there existed such ample materials for illustrating the history of the Scottish Reformation, I could not but regret that no one had undertaken to digest and exhibit the information on this subject which lay hid in manuscripts, and in books which are now little known or consulted. Not presuming, however, that I had the ability or the leisure requisite for executing a task of such difficulty and extent, I formed the design of drawing up memorials of our national Reformer, in which his personal history might be combined with illustrations of the progress of that great undertaking, in the advancement of which he acted so conspicuous a part.
A work of this kind seemed to be wanting. The name of Knox, indeed, often occurs in the general histories of the period, and some of our historians have drawn, with their usual ability, the leading traits of a character with which they could not fail to be struck; but it was foreign to their object to detail the events of his life, and it was not to be expected that they would bestow that minute and critical attention on his history, which is necessary to form a complete and accurate idea of his character. Memoirs of his life have been prefixed to editions of some of his works, and inserted in biographical collections and periodical publications; but in many instances their authors were destitute of proper information, and in others they were precluded, by the limits to which they were confined, from entering into those minute statements, which are so useful for illustrating individual character, and which render biography both pleasing and instructive. Nor can it escape observation that a number of writers have been guilty of great injustice to the memory of our Reformer, and from prejudice, from ignorance, or from inattention, have exhibited a distorted caricature, instead of a genuine portrait.
I was encouraged to prosecute my design, in consequence of my possessing a manuscript volume of Knox’s Letters, which throw considerable light upon his character and history. The advantages which I have derived from this volume will appear in the course of the work, where it is quoted under the general title of MS. Letters.
The other manuscripts which I have chiefly made use of are Calderwood’s large History of the Church of Scotland, Row’s History, and Wodrow’s Collections. Calderwood’s History, besides much valuable information respecting the early period of the Reformation, contains a collection of letters written by Knox between 1559 and 1572, which, together with those in my possession, extended over twenty years of the most active period of his life. I have carefully consulted this history as far as it relates to the period of which I write. The copy which I most frequently quote belongs to the Church of Scotland. In the Advocates’ Library, besides a complete copy of that work, there is a folio volume of it, reaching to the end of the year 1572. It was written in 1634, and has a number of interlineations and marginal alterations, differing from the other copies, which, if not made by the author’s own hand, were most probably done under his eye. I have sometimes quoted this copy. The reader will easily discern when this is the case, as the references to it are made merely by the year under which the transaction is recorded, the volume not being paged.
Row, in composing the early part of his Historie of the Kirk, had the assistance of Memoirs written by David Ferguson, his father-in-law, who was admitted minister of Dunfermline at the establishment of the Reformation. Copies of this History seem to have been taken before the author had put the finishing hand to it, which may account for the additional matter to be found in some of them. I have occasionally quoted the copy which belongs to the Divinity Library in Edinburgh, but more frequently a copy transcribed in 1726, which is more full than any other that I have had access to see.
The industrious Wodrow had amassed a valuable collection of manuscripts relating to the ecclesiastical history of Scotland, the greater part of which is now deposited in our public libraries. In the library of the University of Glasgow, there is a number of volumes in folio containing collections which he had made for illustrating the lives of the Scottish reformers and divines of the sixteenth century. These have supplied me with some interesting facts, and are quoted under the name of Wodrow MSS. in Bibl. Coll. Glas.
For the transactions of the General Assembly, I have consulted the Register commonly called the Book of the Universal Kirk. There are several copies of this manuscript in the country, but that which is followed in this work, and which is the oldest that I have examined, belongs to the Advocates’ Library.
I have endeavored to avail myself of the printed histories of the period, and of books published in the age of the Reformation, which often incidentally mention facts that are not recorded by historians. In the Advocates’ Library, which contains an invaluable treasure of information respecting Scottish affairs, I had an opportunity of examining the original editions of most of the Reformer’s works. The rarest of all his tracts is the narrative of his Disputation with the Abbot of Crossraguel, which scarcely any writer since Knox’s time seems to have seen. After I had given up all hopes of procuring a sight of this curious tract, I was accidentally informed that a copy of it was in the library of Alexander Boswell, Esq. of Auchinleck, who very politely communicated it to me.
In pointing out the sources which I have consulted, I wish not to be understood as intimating that the reader may expect in the following work, much information which is absolutely new. He who engages in researches of this kind must lay his account with finding the result of his discoveries reduced within a small compass, and should be prepared to expect that many of his readers will pass over with a cursory eye, what he has procured with great, perhaps with unnecessary labor. The principal facts respecting the Reformation and the Reformer are already known. I flatter myself, however, that I have been able to place some of these facts in a new and more just light, and to bring forward others which have not hitherto been generally known.
The reader will find the authorities, upon which I have proceeded in the statement of facts, carefully marked; but my object was rather to be select than numerous in my references. When I had occasion to introduce facts which have been often repeated in histories, and are already established and unquestionable, I did not reckon it necessary to be so particular in producing the authorities.
After so many writers of biography have incurred the charge either of uninteresting generality, or of tedious prolixity, it would betray great arrogance were I to presume that I had approached the due medium. I have particularly felt the difficulty, in writing the life of a public character, of observing the line which divides biography from general history. Desirous of giving unity to the narrative, and at the same time anxious to convey information respecting the ecclesiastical and literary history of the period, I have separated a number of facts and illustrations of this description, and placed them in notes at the end of the Life. I am not without apprehensions that I may have exceeded in the number or length of these notes, and that some readers may think, that, in attempting to relieve one part of the work, I have overloaded another.
No apology will, I trust, be deemed necessary for the freedom with which I have expressed my sentiments on the public questions which naturally occurred in the course of the narrative. Some of these are at variance with opinions which are popular in the present age, but it does not follow from this that they are false, or that they should have been suppressed. I have not become the indiscriminate panegyrist of the Reformer, nor have I concealed or thrown into shade his faults; but, on the other hand, the apprehension of incurring these charges has not deterred me from vindicating him wherever I considered his conduct to be justifiable, or from apologizing for him against uncandid and exaggerated censures. The attacks which have been made on his character from so many quarters, and the attempts to wound the Reformation through him, must be my excuse for having so often adopted the language of apology.
In the Appendix, I have inserted a number of Knox’s letters, and other papers relative to that period, none of which, as far as I know, have formerly been published. Several others, intended for insertion in the same place, have been kept back, as the work has swelled to a greater size than was expected. A very scarce Poem, written in commendation of the Reformer, and published in the year after his death, is reprinted in the Supplement.
The prefixed portrait of Knox is engraved from a painting in the possession of the Right Honorable Lord Torphichen, with the use of which his Lordship, in the most obliging manner, favored the publishers. There is every reason to think that it is a genuine likeness, as it strikingly agrees with the print of our Reformer, which Beza, who was personally acquainted with him, published in his Icones. There is a small brass medal, which has on one side a bust of Knox, and on the other the following inscription:
Joannes Knoxus Scotus Theologus Ecclesle Edimburgensis Pastor. Obiit Edimburgi an. 1572. æt. 57.
It appears to have been executed at a period much later than the Reformer’s death. There is an error of ten years as to his age; and as Beza has fallen into the same mistake, it is not improbable that the inscription was copied from his Icones, and that the medal was struck on the Continent.
Edinburgh, November 14, 1811
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
In preparing this work for a second impression, I have endeavored carefully to correct mistakes which had escaped me in the first, both as to matter and language. I have introduced accounts of the principal public transactions of the period, which a desire of being concise induced me formerly to exclude, but which serve to throw light on the exertions of the Reformer, and ought to be known by those who read his Life. And I have entered into a more full detail of several parts of his conduct than was practicable within the limits of a single volume. Such additional authorities, printed or manuscript, as I have had access to, since the publication of the former edition, have been diligently consulted; and I flatter myself that the alterations and additions which these have enabled me to make, will be considered as improvements.
I have added to the Supplement a number of original Latin Poems on the principal characters mentioned in the course of the work, which may not be unacceptable to the learned reader.
Edinburgh, March 1, 1813
ADVERTISEMENT TO THE FIFTH EDITION
Besides the additional matter introduced into the Fourth Edition, the present contains a variety of new facts and documents, the most interesting of which will be found in the Note concerning Scottish Martyrs. The portrait of the Regent Murray, engraved for this edition, is taken from the original in Holyrood Palace.
Edinburgh, February 14, 1831
Birth and Parentage of Knox — His Education — State of Literature in Scotland — Introduction of Greek Language — Political and Ecclesiastical Opinions of John Major — Their Probable Influence on Knox and Buchanan — Knox Teaches Scholastic Philosophy at St. Andrews — Is Admitted to Clerical Orders — Change in His Studies and Sentiments — State of Religion in Scotland — Urgent Necessity of a Reformation — Gratitude Due to the Reformers — Introduction of Reformed Opinions into Scotland — Patrick Hamilton — Martyrs — Exiles for Religion — Reformation Promoted by the Circulation of the Scriptures — By Poetry — Embraced by Persons of Rank — its Critical State at the Death of James V
Knox Retires from St. Andrews and Joins Himself to the Reformed — Is Degraded from the Priesthood — Reformation Favored by Regent Arran — Scottish Parliament Authorize the Use of the Scriptures in the Vulgar Language — The Regent Abjures the Reformed Religion — Thomas Guillaume — George Wishart — Knox Enters the Family of Langniddrie as a Tutor — Cardinal Beatoun Assassinated — Knox Persecuted by Archbishop Hamilton — Averse to Go to England — Takes Refuge in the Castle of St. Andrews — His Sentiments Respecting the Assassination of Beatoun — Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount — Henry Balnaves of Halhill — John Rough — Knox’s Call to the Ministry — His Reluctance to Comply with It — Reflections on This — His First Sermon — His Disputation before a Convention of the Clergy — The Clergy Begin to Preach at St. Andrews — Success of Knox’s Labors — Castle Taken and Knox Confined in the French Galleys — His Health Injured — His Fortitude of Mind — Writes a Confession of Faith — Extract from His Dedication to a Treatise of Balnaves — His Humane Advice to His Fellow Prisoners — His Liberation
Knox Arrives in England — State of the Reformation in that Kingdom — Knox Sent by the Privy Council to Preach at Berwick — His Great Exertions — Character of Bishop Tonstal — Knox Defends his Doctrine before Him — Is Removed to Newcastle — Made Chaplain to Edward VI — Consulted in the Revisal of the Liturgy and Articles — Makes Proposals of Marriage to Marjory Bowes — Receives Marks of Approbation from the Privy — Council Incurs the Displeasure of Earl of Northumberland — Is Honorably Acquitted by the Privy Council — Bad State of his Health — Preaches in London — Declines Accepting a Benefice — Refuses a Bishopric — His Objections to the Worship and Government of the Church of England — Private Sentiments of English Reformers Similar to His — Plan of Edward VI for Improving the Church of England — State of His Court — Boldness and Honesty of the Royal Chaplains — Knox’s Sermons at Court — His Distress at the Death of Edward — He Retires to the North of England on the Accession of Mary — Returns to the South — His Prayer for the Queen — Marries Marjory Bowes — Displeasure of Some of Her Relations at This — Roman Catholic Religion Restored by Parliament — Knox Continues to Preach — His Letters Are Intercepted — He Is Forced to Abscond — And Retires to Dieppe in France
Knox’s Uneasy Reflections on his Flight — Letters to his Friends in England — His Eloquent Exhortation to Religious Constancy — He Visits Switzerland — Returns to Dieppe with the Intention of Venturing into England — Visits Geneva — Forms an Intimate Friendship with Calvin — Returns to Dieppe — Distressing Tidings from England — Writes His Admonition — Apology for the Severity of its Language — Devotes Himself to Study at Geneva — His Means of Subsistence — Called to Be Minister to the English Exiles at Frankfort — Dissensions among Them about the Liturgy — Moderation with which Knox Acted in These — Harmony Restored — Disorderly Conduct of the Sticklers for the Liturgy — Rebuked by Knox — He Is Accused of High Treason — Retires to Geneva — Turns His Thoughts to His Native Country — Retrospect of Ecclesiastical Transactions in Scotland from the Time He Left It — Triumph of the Popish Clergy — Execution of Melville of Raith — Martyrdom of Adam Wallace — Provincial Councils of the Clergy — Canons Enacted by Them for Reforming Abuses — Catechism in the Vulgar Language — Queen Dowager Made Regent — She Privately Favors the Protestants — Violence of English Queen Drives Preachers into Scotland — William Harlow — John Willock — Knox Visits his Wife at Berwick — Preaches Privately in Edinburgh — John Erskine of Dun — William Maitland of Lethington — Knox’s Letter to Mrs. Bowes — He Prevails on the Protestants to Abstain from Hearing Mass — Preaches at Dun — At Calderhouse — Sir James Sandilands — John Spotswood — Lord Lorn — Lord Erskine — The Prior of St. Andrews — Knox Dispenses the Sacrament of the Supper in Ayrshire — Earl of Glencairn — First Religious Covenant in Scotland — Conversation at Court about Knox — He Is Summoned before a Convention of the Clergy — Appears — Preaches Publicly in Edinburgh — His Letter to Mrs. Bowes — His Letter to the Queen Regent — He Receives a Call from the English Congregation at Geneva — Leaves Scotland — Clergy Condemn Him as a Heretic and Burn his Effigy — Summary of the Doctrine which He Had Taught — Estimate of the Advantages which Accrued to the Reformation from this Visit — Letter of Instruction which He Left behind Him
Knox Arrives at Geneva — Happiness which He Enjoyed in that City — His Passionate Desire to Preach the Gospel in his Native Country — He Receives an Invitation from the Protestant Nobles in Scotland — Leaves Geneva — Receives Letters at Dieppe Dissuading Him from Prosecuting the Journey — Animated Letter to the Nobility — Persecution of the Protestants in France — Knox Preaches in Rochelle — And at Dieppe — Reasons which Induced Him not to Proceed to Scotland — He Writes to the Protestants of Scotland — Warns Them against the Anabaptists — Writes to the Nobility his Prudent Advice Respecting Resistance to the Government — He Returns to Geneva — Assists in an English Translation of the Bible — Publishes his Letter to the Queen Regent — And his Appellation from the Sentence of the Clergy — And his First Blast of the Trumpet — Reasons which Led to the Publication against Female Government — Aylmer’s Answer to It — Knox Receives a Second Invitation from the Protestant Nobility of Scotland — Progress which the Reformation Had Made — Formation of Private Congregations — Resolutions of a General Meeting — Protestant Preachers Taken into the Families of the Nobility — Correspondence Between the Archbishop of St. Andrews and Earl of Argyle — Martyrdom of Walter Mill — Important Effects of This — Protestants Present a Petition to the Regent — Her Fair Promises to Them — Death of Queen Mary of England and Accession of Elizabeth — Knox Leaves Geneva for Scotland — Is Refused a Passage through England — Grounds of This Refusal — Knox’s Reflections on It — Reason for his Wishing to Visit England — He Writes to Cecil from Dieppe — Arrives in Scotland
Critical Situation in which Knox Found Matters at his Arrival — Dissimulation of the Queen Regent — Differences Between Her and Archbishop Hamilton Accommodated — A Provincial Council of the Clergy — Reconciliation of the Two Archbishops — Remonstrance Presented by Some Members of the Popish Church — Canons of the Council — Treaty Between the Regent and Clergy for Suppressing the Reformation — Proclamation by the Queen against the Protestants — the Preachers Summoned to Stand Trial — Knox’s Letter to Mrs. Locke — Clergy Alarmed at His Arrival — He Is Outlawed — He Repairs to Dundee — Protestants of the North Resolve to Attend the Trial of their Preachers — Send Information of This to the Regent — Her Duplicity — Knox Preaches at Perth — Demolition of the Monasteries in that Town — Unjustly Imputed to Knox — Regent Threatens the Destruction of Perth — Protestants Resolve to Defend Themselves — A Treaty — Knox’s Interview with Argyle and Prior — Treaty Violated by the Regent — The Name of the Congregation Given to the Protestant Association — Lords of the Congregation Invite Knox to Preach at St. Andrews — Archbishop Opposes This by Arms — Intrepidity of Knox — He Preaches at St. Andrews — Magistrates and Inhabitants Agree to Demolish the Monasteries and Images and to Set up the Reformed Worship — Their Example Followed in other Parts of the Kingdom — Apology for the Destruction of the Monasteries — Lords of the Congregation Take Possession of Edinburgh — Knox Is Chosen Minister of that City — Willock Supplies his Place after the Capital Was Given up to the Regent — Archbishop Hamilton Preaches — Knox Undertakes a Tour of Preaching Through the Kingdom — His Family Arrive in Scotland — Christopher Goodman — Settlement of Protestant Ministers in Principal Towns — French Troops Come to the Assistance of the Regent — Knox Persuades the Congregation to Seek Assistance from the Court of England — Apologizes to Elizabeth for his Book against Female Government — Undertakes a Journey to Berwick — Succeeds in the Negotiation — Reasons for his Taking a Part in Political Managements — Embarrassments in which This Involved Him — Prejudices of the English Court against Him — Their Confidence in his Honesty — His Activity and Danger — Lords of Congregation Consult on the Deposition of the Regent — Knox Advises her Suspension — Influence of the Reformation on Civil Liberty — Political Principles of Knox — Resistance to Tyrants not Forbidden in the New Testament — Disasters of the Congregation — Their Courage Revived by the Eloquence of Knox — His Exertions in Fife — Treaty Between Elizabeth and Congregation — Expedition of the French Troops against Glasgow — English Army Enter Scotland — Death of the Queen Regent — Intrigues of the French Court — Civil War Concluded — Exertions of Protestant Preachers During the War — Increase of their Number — Conduct of Popish Clergy — Their Pretended Miracle of Musselburgh — Meeting of Parliament — Petition of Protestants — Protestant Confession of Faith Ratified by Parliament — Retrospective View of the Advancement of the Reformation
Knox Resumes His Situation in Edinburgh — Urges the Settlement of Ecclesiastical Polity — Aversion to This on the Part of the Nobles — Knox Is Employed in Compiling the Book of Discipline — This Is Approved by General Assembly and Subscribed by Greater Part of Privy Council — Sketch of the Form and Order of the Reformed Church of Scotland — Attention to Education — Avarice of the Nobility — Influence of the Reformation on Literature — Introduction of Hebrew into Scotland — John Row — Return of Buchanan — Remarks on Mr. Hume’s Representation of the Rudeness of Scotland — Literary Hours in a Scottish Minister’s Family — Cultivation of the Vernacular Language — David Ferguson — First General Assembly — Knox Loses his Wife — Corresponds with Calvin — His Anxiety for the Safety of the Reformed Church — Queen Mary Arrives in Scotland — Her Education — Her Fixed Determination to Restore Popery — Alarm Excited by her Setting up of Mass — Behavior of Knox on this Occasion — Remarks on This — Sanguinary Spirit and Proceedings of Roman Catholics — Hostile Intentions of the Queen against Knox — First Interview Between Them — Knox’s Opinion of her Character — His Austerity and Vehemence Useful — He Vindicates the Right of Holding Ecclesiastical Assemblies — Inveighs against the Inadequate Provision Made for the Ministers of the Church — His Own Stipend — Attention of Town — Council to his Support and Accommodation — He Installs Two Superintendents — Is Employed in Reconciling the Nobility — The Queen Is Offended at One of his Sermons — Second Interview between Them — His Great Labors in Edinburgh — He Obtains a Colleague — Incidents in the Life of John Craig — The Prior of St. Andrews Created Earl Murray and Made Prime Minister — Insurrection Under Huntly — Conduct of Knox on that Occasion — Quintin Kennedy — Dispute Between Him and Knox — Ninian Wingate — Excommunication of Paul Methven — Reflections on the Severity of the Protestant Discipline — Third Interview between Knox and the Queen — Artifice of Mary — She Prevails on the Parliament not to Ratify the Protestant Religion — Indignation of Knox at This — Breach Between Him and Earl of Murray — His Sermon at the Dissolution of Parliament — Fourth Interview between Him and the Queen — Apology for the Sternness of his Behavior — Slander against his Character — He Is Accused of High Treason — The Courtiers Endeavor to Intimidate Him into a Submission — His Trial and Defense — Indignation of the Queen at his Acquittal.
The Courtiers Charge Knox with Usurping a Papal Power — The General Assembly Vindicate Him — He Marries a Daughter of Lord Ochiltree — Splenetic Reflections of the Papists on This Alliance — Dissensions between the Court and Preachers — Apology for the Liberty of the Pulpit — Debate Between Knox and Secretary Maitland — On Knox’s Form of Prayer for the Queen — And on His Doctrine Respecting Resistance to Civil Rulers — Craig’s Account of a Similar Dispute in Bologna — The Queen Marries Lord Darnley — Change in the Court — Reasons which Induced the Nobles who Opposed the Marriage to Take up Arms — Queen Amuses the Protestant Ministers — Knox Is Reconciled to Earl of Murray — Gives Offense to the King — Is Inhibited from Preaching — Town Council Remonstrate against This — He Resumes His Employment — Goodman Leaves St. Andrews — Petition for Knox’s Translation to that Town Refused by Assembly — He Is Employed to Write Different Treatises for the Church — Extract from the Treatise of Fasting — Measures Taken by the Queen for Restoring Popery — Assassination of Rizzio — Sudden Changes in the Court — Knox Retires to Kyle — Queen Refuses to Permit his Return to the Capital — He Resolves to Visit his Sons in England — Receives a Recommendation from the General Assembly — Carries a Letter to the English Bishops — Archbishop Hamilton Restored to his Ancient Jurisdiction — Spirited Letter of Knox on that Occasion — Alienation between Mary and her Husband — The King Murdered by Bothwell — The Queen’s Participation in the Murder — Her Marriage to Bothwell — Independent Behavior of John Craig — The Queen Resigns the Crown to her Son — Knox Returns to Edinburgh — Preaches at the Coronation of James VI — His Opinion Concerning the Punishment of Mary — The Earl of Murray Is Installed in the Regency — Act of Parliament in Favor of the Protestant Church — State of the Church during the Regency of Murray — Knox Cherishes the Desire of Retiring from Public Life — The Regent Opposed by a Party Attached to Mary — Attempts Made on his Life — He Is Assassinated by Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh — National Grief at This Event — Character of Murray — Knox Bewails his Loss — Fabricated Conference between Them — Thomas Maitland Insults over the Death of the Regent — Knox’s Denunciation against Him — His Pathetic Sermon before the Regent’s Funeral — Is Struck with Apoplexy.
Knox Recovers from the Apoplectic Stroke — Kircaldy of Grange Joins the Queen’s Party — Knox Involved in a Personal Quarrel with Him — Interposition of the Gentlemen of the West in His Favor — Anonymous Libels against Him — His Spirited Answers from the Pulpit — Queen’s Party Take Possession of the Capital — Danger to which Knox Is Exposed — He Is Prevailed on to Retire to St. Andrews — Civil War — Hostility of the Queen’s Faction against Knox — He Is Opposed by their Adherents at St. Andrews — John Hamilton — Archibald Hamilton — Execution of Archbishop Hamilton — The Regent Lennox Slain — Is Succeed by Earl of Mar — Invasion on the Jurisdiction of the Church — Tulchan Bishops — Not Approved of by the General Assembly — Knox’s Letter to the Assembly at Stirling — His Sentiments Respecting Episcopacy — He Refuses to Install Douglas as Archbishop of St. Andrews — Gradual Decay of his Health — Striking Description of His Appearance and Pulpit Eloquence — His Familiarity with the Students at the University — He Publishes an Answer to a Scots Jesuit — Ardently Desires his Dissolution — His Last Letter to the General Assembly — His Subscription to Ferguson’s Sermon — He Returns to Edinburgh — Requests a Smaller Place of Worship — Craig Removes from Edinburgh — Lawson Chosen as Successor to Knox — Knox’s Letter to Him — Bartholomew Massacre in France — Knox’s Denunciation against Charles IX — He Begins to Preach in the Tolbooth Church — His Last Sermon — His Sickness — Interview Between Him and his Session — His Message to Kircaldy — His Religious Advices, Meditations, and Comfort during his Last Illness — His Death — His Funeral — Opinions Entertained respecting Him by the Papists — By Foreign Reformers — By Scottish Protestants — By Divines of the Church of England — Origin and Cause of Prejudices against Him — His Character — Reflections on the Prophecies Ascribed to Him — Account of His Family — Sufferings of John Welch, His Son-in-Law, Interview between him and Louis XIII — Interview Between Mrs. Welch and James VI — Character of Knox’s Writings — Conclusion
From the year 1505, in which he was born, to the year 1542, when he embraced the reformed religion
John Knox was born in the year one thousand five hundred and five. The place of his nativity has been disputed. That he was born at Gifford, a village in East Lothian, has long been the prevailing opinion; but some late writers, relying upon popular tradition, have fixed his birth-place at Haddington, the principal town of the county. The house in which he is said to have been born is still shown by the inhabitants, in one of the suburbs of the town called the Gifford-gate. This house, with some adjoining acres of land, continued to be possessed, until about fifty years ago, by a family of the name of Knox, who claimed affinity with the Reformer. I am inclined, however, to prefer the opinion of the oldest and most credible writers, that he was born in the village of Gifford.
His father was descended from an ancient and respectable family, who possessed the lands of Knock, Ranferly, and Craigends, in the shire of Renfrew. The descendants of this family have been accustomed to enumerate among the honors of their house, that it gave birth to the Scottish Reformer, a bishop of Raphoe, and a bishop of the Isles. At what particular period his paternal ancestors removed from their original seat, and settled in Lothian, I have not been able exactly to ascertain. His mother’s name was Sinclair.
In times of persecution or war, when there was a risk of his letters being intercepted, the Reformer was accustomed to subscribe, “John Sinclair.” Under this signature at one of them, in the collection of letters in my possession, is the following note: “Yis was his mother’s surname, wlk he wrait in in time of trubill.”
Obscurity of parentage can reflect no dishonor upon the man who has raised himself to distinction by his virtues and talents. But though our Reformer’s parents were neither great nor opulent, the assertion of some writers that they were in poor circumstances is contradicted by facts. They were able to give their son a liberal education, which, in that age, was far from being common. In his youth, he was put to the grammar school of Haddington; and, after he had acquired the principles of the Latin language, his father sent him, to the year 1521, to the University of Glasgow.
The state of learning in Scotland at that period, and the progress which it made in the subsequent part of the century, have not been examined with the attention which they deserve, and which has been bestowed on contemporaneous objects of inferior importance. There were unquestionably learned Scotsmen in the early part of the sixteenth century, but most of them owed their chief acquirements to the advantage of a foreign education. Those improvements which the revival of literature had introduced into the schools of Italy and France, were long in reaching the universities of Scotland, though originally formed upon their model; and, when they did arrive, they were regarded with a suspicious eye, and discountenanced by the clergy. The principal branches cultivated in our universities were the Aristotelian philosophy, scholastic theology, and canon law.
Even in the darkest ages, Scotland was never altogether destitute of schools for teaching the Latin language. It is probable that these were at first attached to monasteries, and it was long a common practice among the barons to board their children with the monks for their education. When the regular clergy had degenerated, and learning was no longer confined to them, grammar schools were erected in the principal towns, and taught by persons who had qualified themselves for this task in the best manner that the circumstances of the country admitted. The schools of Aberdeen, Perth, Stirling, Dumbarton, Killearn, and Haddington are particularly mentioned in writings about the beginning of the sixteenth century.
The two first of these acquired the greatest celebrity, owing to the skill of the masters who presided over them. In the year 1520, John Vaus was rector of the school of Aberdeen, and is commended by Hector Boece, the learned principal of the university, for his knowledge of the Latin tongue, and his success in the education of youth. At a period somewhat later, Andrew Simson acted as master of the school of Perth, where he taught Latin with applause. He had sometimes three hundred boys under his charge at once, including sons of the principal nobility and gentry, and from his school proceeded many of those who afterwards distinguished themselves both in Church and State.
These schools afforded the means of instruction in the Latin tongue, the knowledge of which, in some degree, was requisite for enabling the clergy to perform the religious service. But the Greek language, long after it had been enthusiastically studied on the Continent, and after it had become a fixed branch of education in the neighboring kingdom, continued to be almost unknown in Scotland. Individuals acquired the knowledge of it abroad, but the first attempts to teach it in this country were of a private nature, and exposed their authors to the suspicion of heresy. The town of Montrose is distinguished by being the first place, as far as I have been able to discover, in which Greek was taught in Scotland; and John Erskine of Dun is entitled to the honor of being regarded as the first of his countrymen who patronized the study of that elegant and useful language. As early as the year 1534, this enlightened and public spirited baron, on returning from his travels, brought with him a Frenchman, skilled in the Greek tongue, whom he settled in Montrose; and, upon his removal, he liberally encouraged others to come from France and succeed to his place. From this private seminary many Greek scholars proceeded, and the knowledge of the language was gradually diffused over the kingdom. After this statement, I need scarcely add, that the Oriental tongues were at this time utterly unknown in Scotland. I shall afterwards have occasion to notice the introduction of the study of Hebrew.
Knox acquired the Greek language before he arrived at middle age; but we find him acknowledging, as late as the year 1550, that he was ignorant of Hebrew, a defect in his education which he exceedingly lamented, and which he afterwards got supplied during his exile on the Continent.
John Mair, better known by his Latin name, Major, was professor of philosophy and theology at Glasgow when Knox attended the university. The minds of young men and their future train of thinking often receive an important direction from the master under whom they are educated, especially if his reputation be high. Major was at that time deemed an oracle in the sciences which he taught; and as he was the preceptor of Knox, and of the celebrated scholar Buchanan, it may be proper to advert to some of his opinions. He had received the greater part of his education in France, and acted for some time as a professor in the University of Paris, where he acquired a more liberal habit of thinking and expressing himself on certain subjects than was yet to be met with in his native country and in other parts of Europe. He had imbibed the sentiments concerning ecclesiastical polity, maintained by John Gerson and Peter D’Ailly, who so ably defended the decrees of the Council of Constance and the liberties of the Gallican Church, against the advocates for the uncontrollable authority of the Sovereign Pontiff. He taught that a General Council was superior to the pope, and might judge, rebuke, restrain, and even depose him from his dignity; denied the temporal supremacy of the bishop of Rome, and his right to inaugurate or dethrone princes; maintained that ecclesiastical censures, and even papal excommunications, had no force, if pronounced on irrelevant or invalid grounds; he held that tithes were not of divine right, but merely of human appointment; censured the avarice, ambition, and secular pomp of the Court of Rome, and of the Episcopal order; was no warm friend of the regular clergy; and advised the reduction of monasteries arid holydays.
His opinions respecting civil governments were analogous to those which he held as to ecclesiastical polity. He taught that the authority of kings and princes was originally derived from the people; that the former are not superior to the latter, collectively considered; that if rulers become tyrannical, or employ their power for the destruction of their subjects, they may lawfully be controlled by them, and proving incorrigible may be deposed by the community as the superior power; and that tyrants may be judicially proceeded against, even to capital punishment.
The affinity between these sentiments and the political principles afterwards avowed by Knox, and defended by the classic pen of Buchanan, is too striking to require illustration. Some of them, indeed, had been taught by at least one Scottish author, who flourished before the time of Major; but it is most probable that the oral instructions and writings of their master first suggested to them the sentiments which they so readily adopted, and which were afterwards confirmed by mature reflection, and more extensive reading; and that, consequently, the important changes which these contributed to accomplish, should be traced, in a certain measure, to this distinguished professor. Nor, in such circumstances, could his ecclesiastical opinions fail to have a proportionate share of influence on their habits of thinking with respect to religion and the Church.
But though, in these respects, the opinions of Major mere more free and rational than those generally entertained at that time, it must be confessed that the portion of instruction which his scholars could derive from him was extremely small, if we allow his publications to be a fair specimen of his academical prelections. Many of the questions which he discusses are utterly useless and trifling; the rest are rendered disgusting by the most servile adherence to all the minutia of the scholastic mode of reasoning. The reader of his works must be content with painfully picking a grain of truth from the rubbish of many pages; nor will the drudgery be compensated by those discoveries of inventive genius and acute discrimination, for which the writings of Aquinas, and some others of that subtle school, may still deserve to be consulted. Major is entitled to praise for exposing to his countrymen several of the more glaring errors and abuses of his time, but his mind was deeply tinctured by superstition, and he defended some of the absurdest tenets of popery by the most ridiculous and puerile arguments. His talents were moderate; with the writings of the ancients he appears to have been acquainted only through the medium of the collectors of the middle ages, nor does he ever hazard an opinion, or pursue a speculation, beyond the limits which had been marked out by some approved doctor of the Church. Add to this that his style is, to an uncommon degree, harsh and forbidding: “exile, aridum, conscissum, ac minutum.”
Knox and Buchanan soon became disgusted with such studies, and began to seek entertainment more gratifying to their ardent and inquisitive minds. Having set out in search of knowledge, they released themselves from the trammels and overleaped the boundaries prescribed to them by their timid conductor. Each following the native bent of his genius and inclination, they separated in the prosecution of their studies. Buchanan, indulging in a more excursive range, explored the extensive fields of literature, and wandered in the flowery mead of poesy, while Knox, passing through the avenues of secular learning, devoted himself to the study of divine truth, and the labors of the sacred ministry. Both, however, kept uniformly in view the advancement of true religion and liberty, with the love of which they were equally smitten; and as, during their lives, they suffered a long and painful exile, and were exposed to many dangers, for adherence to this kindred cause, so their memories have not been divided in the profuse but honorable obloquy with which they have been aspersed by its enemies, and in the deserved and grateful recollections of its genuine friends.
But we must not suppose that Knox was able at once to divest himself of the prejudices of his education and of the times. Barren and repulsive as the scholastic studies appear to our minds, there was something in the intricate and subtle sophistry then in vogue calculated to fascinate the youthful and ingenious mind. It had a show of wisdom; it exercised, although it did not enrich, the understanding; it even gave play to the imagination, while it served to flatter the pride of the learned adept. Once involved in the mazy labyrinth, it was no easy task to break through it, and to escape into the open field of rational and free inquiry. Accordingly, Knox continued for some time captivated with these studies, and prosecuted them with great success. After he was created master of arts, he taught philosophy, most probably as a regent of one of the classes in the university. His class became celebrated, and he was considered as equaling, if not excelling, his master in the subtleties of the dialectic art. About the same time, although he had no interest but what was procured by his own merit, he was advanced to clerical orders, and was ordained a priest, before he reached the age fixed by the canons of the church. This must have taken place previous to the year 1530, at which time he had arrived at his twenty-fifth year, the canonical age for receiving ordination.
It was not long, however, till his studies received a new direction, which led to a complete revolution in his religious sentiments, and had an important influence on the whole of his future life. Not satisfied with the excerpts from ancient authors, which he found in the writings of the scholastic divines and canonists, he resolved to have recourse to the original works. In them he found a method of investigating and communicating truth to which he had hitherto been a stranger, and the simplicity of which recommended itself to his mind, in spite of the prejudices of education and the pride of superior attainments in his own favorite art. Among the fathers of the Christian Church, Jerome and Augustine attracted his particular attention. By the writings of the former, he was led to the Scriptures as the only pure fountain of divine truth, and instructed in the utility of studying them in the original languages. In the works of the latter, he found religious sentiments very opposite to those taught in the Romish Church, who, while she retained his name as a saint in her calendar, had banished his doctrine, as heretical, from her pulpits. From this time, he renounced the study of scholastic theology, and although not yet completely emancipated from superstition, his mind was fitted for improving the means which Providence had prepared for leading him to a fuller and more comprehensive view of the system of evangelical religion. It was about the year 1535 when this favorable change commenced, but it does not appear that he professed himself a Protestant before the year 1542.
As I am now to enter upon that period of Knox’s life at which he renounced the Roman Catholic communion and commenced Reformer, it may not be improper to take a survey of the state of religion in Scotland at that time. Without an adequate knowledge of this, it is impossible to form a just estimate of the necessity and importance of that Reformation in the advancement of which he labored with so great zeal, and nothing has contributed so much to give currency, among Protestants, to prejudices against his character, as ignorance, or a superficial consideration of the enormous and almost incredible abuses which then prevailed in the Church. This must be my apology for a digression which might otherwise be deemed superfluous or disproportionate.
The corruptions by which the Christian religion was universally disfigured, before the Reformation, had grown to a greater height in Scotland than in any other nation within the pale of Western Church. Superstition and religious imposture, in their grossest forms, gained an easy admission among a rude, ignorant people. By means of these, the clergy attained to an exorbitant degree of opulence and power, which were accompanied, as they always have been, with the corruption of their order, and of the whole system of religion.
The full half of the wealth of the nation belonged to the clergy, and the greater part of this was in the hands of a few individuals, who had the command of the whole body. Avarice, ambition, and the love of secular pomp reigned among the superior orders. Bishops and abbots rivaled the first nobility in magnificence, and preceded them in honors; they were Privy-Counselors, and Lords of Session, as well as of Parliament, and had long engrossed the principal offices of state. A vacant bishopric or abbacy called forth powerful competitors, who contended for it as for a principality or petty kingdom; it was obtained by similar alts, and not unfrequently taken possession of by the same weapons. Inferior benefices were openly put to sale or bestowed on the illiterate and unworthy minions of courtiers; on dice players, strolling bards, and the bastards of bishops. Pluralities were multiplied without bounds, and benefices, given in comrnendam, were kept vacant during the life of the commendator—nay, sometimes during several lives, so that extensive parishes were frequently deprived for a long course of years of all religious service, if a deprivation it could be called—at a time when the cure of souls was no longer regarded as attached to livings originally endowed for that purpose. The bishops never, on any occasion, condescended to preach; indeed, I scarcely recollect an instance of it mentioned in history, from the erection of the regular Scottish Episcopacy down to the era of the Reformation. The practice had even gone into desuetude among all the secular clergy, and was wholly devolved on the mendicant monks, who employed it for the most mercenary purposes.
The lives of the clergy, exempted from secular jurisdiction, and corrupted by wealth and idleness, were become a scandal to religion, and an outrage on decency. While they professed chastity, and prohibited, under the severest penalties, any of the ecclesiastical order from contracting lawful wedlock, the bishops set an example of the most shameless profligacy before the inferior clergy, avowedly kept their harlots, provided their natural sons with benefices, and gave their daughters in marriage to the sons of the nobility and principal gentry, many of whom were so mean as to contaminate the blood of their families by such base alliances for the sake of the rich dowries which they brought.
Through the blind devotion and munificence of princes and nobles, monasteries, those nurseries of superstition and idleness, had greatly multiplied in the nation; and though they had universally degenerated, and were notoriously become the haunts of lewdness and debauchery, it was deemed impious and sacrilegious to reduce their number, abridge their privileges, or alienate their funds. The kingdom swarmed with ignorant, idle, luxurious monks, who, like locusts, devoured the fruits of the earth, and filled the air with pestilential infection; with friars white, black, and gray; canons regular, and of St. Anthony; Carmelites, Carthusians, Cordeliers, Dominicans, Franciscan Conventuals and Observantines, Jacobins, Premonstratensians, monks of Tyrone, and of Vallis Caulium, and Hospitallers, or Holy Knights of St. John of Jerusalem; nuns of St. Austin, St. Clair, St. Scholastica, and St. Catherine of Sienna, with canonesses of various clans.
The ignorance of the clergy respecting religion was as gross as the dissoluteness of their morals. Even bishops were not ashamed to confess that they were unacquainted with the canon of their faith, and had never read any part of the sacred Scriptures, except what they met with in their missals. Under such masters the people perished for lack of knowledge. That book, which was able to make them wise unto salvation, and intended to be equally accessible to “Jew and Greek, Barbarian and Scythian, bond and free,” was locked up from them, and the use of it in their own tongue prohibited under the heaviest penalties. The religious service was mumbled over in a dead language which many of the priests did not understand, and some of them could scarcely read; and the greatest care was taken to prevent even catechisms, composed and approved by the clergy, from coming into the hands of the laity.
Andrew Forman, bishop of Murray, and papal legate for Scotland, being obliged to say grace, at an entertainment which he gave to the pope and cardinals in Rome, blundered so in his latinity, that his holiness and their eminences lost their gravity, which so disconcerted the bishop, that he concluded the blessing by giving all the false carles to the devil, in nomine patris, filii et sancti spiritus, to which the company, not understanding his Scoto-Latin, said “Amen.” “The holy bishop,” says, Pitscottie, “was not a good scholar, and had not good Latin.”
Scotland, from her local situation, had been less exposed to disturbance from the encroaching ambition, the vexatious exactions, and fulminating anathemas of the Vatican court, than the countries in the immediate vicinity of Rome. But from the same cause, it was more easy for the domestic clergy to keep up on the minds of the people that excessive veneration for the Holy See, which could not be long felt by those who had the opportunity of witnessing its vices and worldly politics. The burdens which attended a state of dependence upon a remote foreign jurisdiction were severely felt. Though the popes did not enjoy the power of presenting to the Scottish prelacies, they wanted not numerous pretexts for interfering with them. The most important causes of a civil nature, which the ecclesiastical courts had contrived to bring within their jurisdiction, were frequently carried to Rome. Large sums of money were annually exported out of the kingdom, for the confirmation of benefices, the conducting of appeals, and many other purposes, in exchange for which were received leaden bulls, woolen palls, wooden images, old bones, and similar articles of precious consecrated mummery.
It is schort time sen ony benefice Was sped in Rome, except great bishoprics, But now, for ane unworthy vickarage, A priest will rin to Rome in Pilgrimage.
Ane cavill quhilk was never at the schule Will rin to Rome, and keep ane bischopis mule, And syne come hame with mony a colorit crack, With ane burden of benificis on his back.
Of the doctrine of Christianity almost nothing remained but the name. Instead of being directed to offer up their adorations to one God, the people were taught to divide them among an innumerable company of inferior divinities. A plurality of mediators shared the honor of procuring the divine favor with “one Mediator between God and man,” and more petitions were presented to the virgin Mary, and other saints, than to “Him whom the Father heareth always.” The sacrifice of the mass was represented as procuring forgiveness of sins to the living and the dead, to the infinite disparagement of the sacrifice by which Jesus Christ expiated sin and procured everlasting redemption; and the consciences of men were withdrawn from faith in the merits of their Savior to a delusive reliance upon priestly absolutions, papal pardons, and voluntary penances. Instead of being instructed to demonstrate the sincerity of their faith and repentance by forsaking their sins, and to testify their love to God and man by practicing the duties of morality, and observing the ordinances of worship authorized by Scripture, they were taught that, if they regularly said their aves and credos, confessed themselves to a priest, punctually paid their tithes and church offerings, purchased a mass, went to the shrine of some celebrated saint, refrained from flesh on Fridays, or performed some other prescribed act of bodily mortification, their salvation was infallibly secured in due time; while those who were so rich and so pious as to build a chapel or an altar, and to endow it for the support of a priest, to perform masses, obits, and dirges, procured a relaxation of the pains of purgatory for themselves or their relations, in proportion to the extent of their liberality. It is difficult for us to conceive how empty, ridiculous, and wretched those harangues were which the monks delivered for sermons. Legendary tales concerning the founder of some religious order, his wonderful sanctity, the miracles which he performed, his combats with the devil, his watchings, fastings, flagellations; the virtues of holy water, chrism, crossing, and exorcism; the horrors of purgatory, and the numbers released from it by the intercession of some powerful saint; these, with low jests, table-talk, and fireside scandal, formed the favorite topics of thepreachers, and were served up to the people instead of the pure, salutary, and sublime doctrines of the Bible.
The beds of the dying were besieged, and their last moments disturbed, by avaricious priests, who labored to extort bequests to themselves or to the Church. Not satisfied with exacting tithes from the living, a demand was made upon the dead; no sooner had the poor husbandman breathed his last, than the rapacious vicar came and carried off his corpse-present, which he repeated as often as death visited the family. Ecclesiastical censures were fulminated against those who were reluctant in making these payments, or who showed themselves disobedient to the clergy; and, for a little money, they were prostituted on the most trifling occasions. Divine service was neglected; and, except on festival days, the churches, in many parts of the country, were no longer employed for sacred purposes, but served as sanctuaries for malefactors, places of traffic, or resorts for pastime.
Persecution, and the suppression of free inquiry were the only weapons by which its interested supporters were able to defend this system of corruption and imposture. Every avenue by which truth might enter was carefully guarded. Learning was branded as the parent of heresy. The most frightful pictures were drawn of those who had separated from the Romish Church, and held up before the eyes of the people, to deter them from imitating their example. If any person, who had attained a degree of illumination amidst the general darkness, began to hint dissatisfaction with the conduct of churchmen, and to propose the correction of abuses, he was immediately stigmatized as a heretic, and, if he did not secure his safety by flight, was immured in a dungeon, or committed to the flames. And when, at last, in spite of all their precautions, the light which was shining around did break in and spread through the nation, the clergy prepared to adopt the most desperate and bloody measures for its extinction.
From this imperfect sketch of the state of religion in this country, we may see how false the representation is which some persons would impose on us—as if popery were a system, erroneous, indeed, but purely speculative, superstitious but harmless, provided it had not been accidentally accompanied with intolerance and cruelty. The very reverse is the truth. It may be safely said that there is not one of its erroneous tenets, or of its superstitious practices, which was not either originally contrived, or afterwards accommodated, to advance and support some practical abuse; to aggrandize the ecclesiastical order, secure to them immunity from civil jurisdiction, sanctify their encroachments upon secular authorities, vindicate their usurpations upon the consciences of men, cherish implicit obedience to the decisions of the Church, and extinguish free inquiry and liberal science.
It was a system not more repugnant to the religion of the Bible, than incompatible with the legitimate rights of princes, and the independence, liberty, and prosperity of kingdoms; not more destructive to the souls of men, than to domestic and social happiness, and the principles of sound morality. Considerations from every quarter combined in calling aloud for a radical and complete reform. The exertions of every description of persons, of the man of letters, the patriot, the prince, as well as the Christian, each acting in his own sphere for his own interests, with the joint concurrence of all as in a common cause, were urgently required for extirpating abuses, of which all had reason to complain, and for effectuating a revolution, in the advantages of which all would participate. There was, however, no reasonable prospect of accomplishing this without exposing, in the first place, the falsehood of those notions which have been called speculative. It was principally by means of these that superstition had established its empire over the minds of men; behind them the Romish ecclesiastics had entrenched themselves and defended their usurped prerogatives and possessions; and had any prince or legislature endeavored to deprive them of these, while the great body of the people remained unenlightened, it would soon have been found that the attempt was premature in itself, and replete with danger to those by whom it was made. To the revival of the primitive doctrines and institutions of Christianity, by the preaching and writings of the reformers, and to those controversies by which the popish errors were refuted from Scripture (for which many modern philosophers seem to have a thorough contempt), we are chiefly indebted for the overthrow of superstition, ignorance, and despotism; and in fact, all the blessings, political and religious, which we enjoy, may be traced to the Reformation from popery.
How grateful should we be to Divine Providence for this happy revolution! For those persons do but sport with their own imaginations, who flatter themselves that it must have taken place in the ordinary course of human affairs, and overlook the many convincing proofs of the superintending direction of superior wisdom in the whole combination of circumstances which contributed to bring about the Reformation in this country, as well as throughout Europe. How much are we indebted to those men, who, under God, were the instruments in effecting it; men who cheerfully hazarded their lives to achieve a design which involved the felicity of millions unborn; who boldly attacked the system of error and corruption, though fortified by popular credulity, by custom, and by laws, fenced with the most dreadful penalties; and who, having forced the stronghold of superstition, and penetrated the recesses of its temple, tore aside the veil that concealed the monstrous idol which the world had so long ignorantly worshipped, dissolved the spell by which the human mind was bound, and restored it to liberty! How criminal must those be, who, sitting at ease under the vines and fig trees—planted by the labors and watered with the blood of these patriots—discover their disesteem of the invaluable privileges which they inherit, or their ignorance of the expense at which they were purchased, by the most unworthy treatment of those to whom they owe them; misrepresent their actions; calumniate their motives; and load their memories with every species of abuse!
Patriots have toiled, and in their country’s cause Bled nobly, and their deeds, as they deserve, Receive proud recompense. But fairer wreaths are due, though never paid, To those who, posted at the shrine of truth, Have fallen in her defence. Yet few remember them.
With their names No bard embalms and sanctifies his song, And history, so warm on meaner themes, Is cold on this. She execrates, indeed, The tyranny that doomed them to the fire, But gives the glorious sufferers little praise.
The reformed doctrine had made considerable progress in Scotland before it was embraced by Knox. Patrick Hamilton, a youth of royal lineage, obtained the honor, not conferred upon many of his rank, of first announcing its glad tidings to his countrymen, and of sealing them with his blood. He was born in the year 1504, and being designed for the Church by his relations, the abbacy of Ferne was conferred upon him in his childhood, according to a ridiculous custom which prevailed at that period. But, as early as the year 1526, and previous to the breach of Henry VIII with the Romish see, a gleam of light was, by some unknown means, imparted to his mind, amidst the darkness which brooded around him. His recommendations of ancient literature, at the expense of the philosophy which was then taught in the schools, and the free language which he used in speaking of the corruptions of the Church had already drawn upon him the suspicions of the clergy, when he resolved to leave Scotland, and to improve his mind by traveling on the Continent. He set out with three attendants, and, attracted by the fame of Luther, repaired to Wittenberg. Luther and Melancthon were highly pleased with his zeal, and, after retaining him a short time with them, they recommended him to the university of Marburg. This university was newly erected by that enlightened prince, Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, who had placed at its head the learned and pious Francis Lambert of Avignon. Lambert, who had left his native country, and sacrificed a lucrative situation, from love to the reformed religion, conceived a strong attachment to the young Scotsman, who imbibed his instructions with extraordinary avidity. While he was daily advancing in acquaintance with the Scriptures, Hamilton was seized with an unconquerable desire of imparting to his countrymen the knowledge which he had acquired. In vain did Lambert represent to him the dangers to which he would be exposed; his determination was fixed, and taking along with him a single attendant, he left Marburg and returned to Scotland.
The clergy did not allow him long time to disseminate his opinions. Pretending to wish a free conference with him, they decoyed him to St. Andrews, where he was thrown into prison by Archbishop Beatoun, and committed to the flames on the last day of February, 1528, and in the twenty-fourth year of his age. On his trial he defended his opinions with firmness, yet with great modesty; and the mildness, patience, and fortitude which he displayed at the stake, equaled those of the first martyrs of Christianity. He expired with these words in his mouth: “How long, O Lord, shall darkness cover this realm! How long wilt thou suffer this tyranny of men! Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” “The murder of Hamilton,” says a modern historian, “was afterwards avenged in the blood of the nephew and successor of his persecutor,” and the flames in which he expired were, “in the course of one generation, to enlighten all Scotland, and to consume, with avenging fury, the Catholic superstition, the papal power, and the prelacy Itself.”
The good effects which resulted from the martyrdom of Hamilton soon began to appear. Many of the learned, as well as of the common people, in St. Andrews, beheld with deep interest the cruel death of a person of rank, and could not refrain from admiring the heroism with which he endured it. This excited inquiry into the opinions for which he scattered, and the result of inquiry, in many cases, was a conviction of their truth. Gawin Logie, principal of St. Leonard’s College, was so successful in instilling them into the minds of the students under his care, that it became proverbial to say of anyone who was suspected of Lutheranism, that he “had drunk of St. Leonard’s well.” Under the connivance of John Winram, the subprior, they also secretly spread among the novitiates of the abbey.
These sentiments were not long confined to St. Andrews, and everywhere persons were to be found who held that Patrick Hamilton had died a martyr. Alarmed at the progress of the new opinions, the clergy adopted the most rigorous measures for their extirpation. Strict inquisition was made after heretics; the flames of persecution were kindled in all quarters of the country; and, from 1530 to 1540, many innocent and excellent men suffered the most inhuman death. Henry Forrest, David Straiton, Norman Gourlay, Jerom Russel, Kennedy, Kyllor, Beveridge, Duncan Sympson, Robert Forrester, and Thomas Forrest were the names of those early martyrs, whose sufferings deserve a more conspicuous place than can be given to them in these pages. A few, whose constancy was overcome by the horrors of the stake, purchased their lives by abjuring their opinions. Numbers made their escape to England and the Continent, among whom were the following learned men—Gawin Logie, Alexander Seatoun, Alexander Aless, John Macbee, John Fife, John Macdowal, John Macbray, George Buchanan, James Harrison, and Robert Richardson. Few of these exiles afterwards returned to their native country. England, Denmark, Germany, France, and even Portugal offered an asylum to them, and foreign universities and schools enjoyed the benefit of those talents which their bigoted countrymen were incapable of appreciating. To maintain their authority, and to preserve those corruptions from which they derived their wealth, the clergy would willingly have driven into banishment all the learned men in the kingdom, and quenched forever the light of science in Scotland.
Various causes contributed to prevent these measures from arresting the progress of the truth. Among these, the first place is unquestionably due to the circulation of the Scriptures in the vulgar language. Against this the patrons of ignorance endeavored to guard with the utmost jealousy. But when the desire of knowledge has once been excited among a people, they easily contrive methods of eluding the vigilance of those who would prevent them from gratifying it. By means of merchants who traded from England and the Continent to the ports of Leith, Dundee, and Montrose, Tyndale’s translations of the Scriptures, with many Protestant books, were imported. These were consigned to persons of tried principles and prudence, who circulated them in private with great industry. One copy of the Bible, or of the New Testament, supplied several families. At the dead hour of night, when others were asleep, they assembled in a private house; the sacred volume was brought from its concealment, and while one read, the rest listened with mute attention. In this way the knowledge of the Scriptures was diffused, at a period when it does not appear that there was a single public teacher of the truth in Scotland.
Nor must we overlook another means which operated very extensively in alienating the public mind from the established religion. Those who have investigated the causes which led to the Reformation on the Continent, have ascribed a considerable influence to the writings of the poets and satirists of the age. Poetry has charms for persons of every description; and in return for the pleasure which it affords them, mankind have in all ages been disposed to allow a greater liberty to poets than to any other class of writers. Strange as it may appear, the poets who flourished before the Reformation used very great freedom with the Church, and there were not wanting many persons of exalted rank who encouraged them in this species of composition. The same individuals who were ready, at the call of pope and clergy, to undertake a crusade for extirpating heresy, entertained poets who inveighed against the abuses of the court of Rome, and lampooned the religious orders. One day they assisted at an auto de féˆˆ, in which heretics were committed to the flames for the preservation of the Catholic Church; next day they were present at the acting of a pantomime or a play, in which the ministers of that Church were held up to ridicule. Intoxicated with power, and lulled asleep by indolence, the clergy had either overlooked these attacks, or treated them with contempt; it was only from experience that they learned their injurious tendency, and before they made the discovery, the practice had become so common that it could no longer be restrained. This weapon was wielded with much success by the friends of the reformed doctrine in Scotland. Some of their number had acquired great celebrity among their countrymen as poets; and others, who could not lay claim to high poetical merit, possessed a talent for wit and humor. They employed themselves in writing satires, in which the ignorance, the negligence, and the immorality of the clergy were stigmatized, and the absurdities and superstitions of the popish religion exposed to ridicule. These poetical effusions were easily committed to memory, and were circulated without the intervention of the press, which was at that time entirely under the control of the bishops. An attack still more bold was made upon the Church. Dramatic compositions, partly written in the same strain, were repeatedly acted in the presence of the royal family, the nobility, and vast assemblies of people, to the great mortification, and the still greater disadvantage, of the clergy. The bishops repeatedly procured the enactment of laws against the circulation of seditious rhymes and blasphemous ballads; but metrical epistles, moralities, and psalms of the Scottish language continued to be read with avidity, notwithstanding prohibitory statutes and legal prosecutions.
In the year 1540, the reformed doctrine could number among its converts, besides a multitude of the common people, many persons of rank and external respectability, among whom were William, Earl of Glencairn; his son Alexander, Lord Kilmaurs; William, Earl of Errol; William, Lord Ruthven; his daughter Lilias, wife of the Master of Drummond; John Stewart, son of Lord Methven; Sir James Sandilands; Sir David Lindsay; Campbell of Cesnock; Erskine of Dun; Melville of Raith; Balnaves of Halhill; Straiton of Laurieston, with William Johnston; and Robert Alexander, advocates. The early period at which they were enrolled as friends to the Reformation renders these names more worthy of consideration. It has often been alleged that the desire of sharing in the rich spoils of the Popish Church, together with the intrigues of the Court of England, engaged the Scottish nobles on the side of the Reformed religion. At a later period, there is reason to think that this allegation was not altogether groundless. But at the time of which we now speak, the prospect of overturning the Established Church was too distant and uncertain to induce persons, who had no higher motive than to gratify avarice, to take a step by which they exposed their lives and fortunes to the most imminent hazard; nor had the English monarch yet extended his influence in Scotland by those arts of political intrigue which he afterwards employed.
During the two last years of the reign of James V, the numbers of the reformed rapidly increased. Twice did the clergy attempt to cut them off by a desperate blow. They presented to the king a list containing the names of some hundreds, possessed of property and wealth, whom they denounced as heretics, and endeavored to procure his consent to their condemnation by flattering him with the immense riches which would accrue to him from the forfeiture of their estates. When this proposal was first made to him, James rejected it with strong words of displeasure, but so violent was the antipathy which he at last conceived against his nobility, and so much did he fall under the influence of the clergy, that it is highly probable he would have yielded to the solicitations of the latter, if the disgraceful issue of an expedition, which they had instigated him to undertake against the English, had not impaired his reason, and put an end to his unhappy life on the thirteenth of December, 1542.
From the year 1542, when he embraced the Reformed religion, to the year 1549, when he was released from the French galleys
While this fermentation of opinion was spreading through the nation, Knox, from the state of his mind, could not remain long unaffected. The reformed doctrines had been imbibed by several persons of his acquaintance, and they were the topic of common conversation and dispute among the learned and inquisitive at the university. His change of views first discovered itself in his philosophical lectures, in which he began to forsake the scholastic path, and to recommend to his pupils a more rational and useful method of study. Even this innovation excited against him violent suspicions of heresy, which were confirmed when he proceeded to reprehend the corruptions that prevailed in the Church. He was then teaching at St. Andrews; but it was impossible for him to remain long in a town which was wholly under the power of Cardinal Beatoun, the chief supporter of the Romish Church, and a determined enemy to all reform. Accordingly, he left that place, and retired to the south of Scotland, where he avowed his belief of the Protestant doctrine. Provoked by his defection, and alarmed lest he should draw others after him, the clergy were anxious to rid themselves of such an adversary. Having passed sentence against him as a heretic, and degraded him from the priesthood, the cardinal employed assassins to waylay him, by whose hands he must have fallen, had not Providence placed him under the protection of Douglas of Langniddrie.
The change produced in the political state of the kingdom by the death of James V had great influence upon the Reformation. After a bold but unsuccessful attempt by Cardinal Beatoun to secure to himself the government during the minority of the infant queen, the Earl of Arran was peaceably established in the regency. Arran had formerly shown himself attached to the reformed doctrines, and he was now surrounded with counselors who were of the same principles. Henry VIII laid hold of this opportunity for accomplishing his favorite measure of uniting the two crowns, and eagerly pressed a marriage between his son Edward, and Mary, the young Queen of Scots. Notwithstanding the determined opposition of the whole body of the clergy, the Scottish Parliament agreed to the match; commissioners were sent into England to settle the terms; and the contract of marriage was drawn out, subscribed, and ratified by all the parties. But through the intrigues of the cardinal and queen-mother, the fickleness and timidity of the regent, and the violence of the English monarch, the treaty, after proceeding thus far, was broken off; and Arran not only renounced connection with England, but abjured the reformed religion publicly in the church of Stirling. The Scottish queen was soon after betrothed to the dauphin of France, and sent into that kingdom, a measure which, at a subsequent period, nearly accomplished the ruin of the independence of Scotland, and the extirpation of the Protestant religion.
The Reformation had, however, made very considerable progress during the short time that it was patronized by the regent. In 1542, the Parliament passed an act declaring it lawful for all the subjects to read the Scriptures in the vulgar language. This act, which was proclaimed in spite of the protestations of the bishops, was a signal triumph of truth over error. Formerly, it was reckoned a crime to look on the sacred books; now, to read them was safe, and even the way to honor. The Bible was to be seen on every gentleman’s table; the New Testament was almost in everyone’s hands. Hitherto, the Reformation had been advanced by books imported from England, but now the errors of popery were attacked in publications which issued from the Scottish press. The reformed preachers, whom the regent had chosen as chaplains, disseminated their doctrines throughout the kingdom, and, under the sanction of his authority, made many converts from the Roman Catholic faith.
One of these preachers deserves particular notice here, as it was by means of his sermons that Knox first perceived the beauty of evangelical truth, and had deep impressions of religion made upon his heart. Thomas Guillaume, or Williams, was born at Athelstoneford, a village in East Lothian, and had entered into the order of Black Friars, or Dominican monks, among whom he rose to great eminence. But having embraced the sentiments of the reformers, he threw off the monkish habit. His learning and elocution recommended him to Arran and his Protestant counselors; and he was much esteemed by the people as a clear expositor of Scripture. When the regent began to waver in his attachment to the Reformation, Guillaume was dismissed from the court, and retired into England, after which I do not find him noticed in history.
But the person to whom our Reformer was most indebted, was George Wishart, a brother of the laird of Pittarrow in Mearns. Being driven into banishment by the Bishop of Brechin, for teaching the Greek Testament in Montrose, he had resided for some years at the university of Cambridge. In the year 1544, he returned to his native country, in the company of the commissioners who had been sent to negotiate a treaty with Henry VIII of England. Seldom do we meet, in ecclesiastical history, with a character so amiable and interesting as that of George Wishart. Excelling all his countrymen at that period in learning, of the most persuasive eloquence, irreproachable in life, courteous and affable in manners, his fervent piety, zeal, and courage in the cause of truth were tempered with uncommon meekness, modesty, patience, prudence, and charity. In his tour of preaching through Scotland, he was usually accompanied by some of the principal gentry, and the people who flocked to hear him were ravished with his discourses. To this teacher Knox attached himself, and profited greatly by his sermons and private instructions. During the last visit which Wishart paid to Lothian, Knox waited constantly on his person, and bore the sword, which was carried before him, from the time that an attempt was made to assassinate him in Dundee. Wishart was highly pleased with the zeal of his faithful attendant, and seems to have presaged his future usefulness, at the same time that he labored under a strong presentiment of his own approaching martyrdom. On the night on which he was apprehended by Bothwell at the instigation of the cardinal, he directed the sword to be taken from Knox, and, on the latter insisting for liberty to accompany him to Ormiston, the martyr dismissed him with this reply, “Nay, return to your bairnes (meaning his pupils), and God bless you; ane is sufficient for a sacrifice.”
Having relinquished all thoughts of officiating in that Church which had invested him with clerical orders, Knox had entered as tutor into the family of Hugh Douglas of Langniddrie, a gentleman in East Lothian, who had embraced the reformed doctrines. John Cockburn of Ormiston, a neighboring gentleman of the same persuasion, also put his son under his tuition. These young men were instructed by him in the principles of religion, as well as in the learned languages. He managed their religious instruction in such a way as to allow the rest of the family, and the people of the neighborhood, to reap advantage from it. He catechized them publicly in a chapel at Langniddrie, in which he also read, at stated times, a chapter of the Bible, accompanied with explanatory remarks. The memory of this fact has been preserved by tradition, and the chapel, the ruins of which are still apparent, is popularly called John Knox’s Kirk.
It was not to be expected that he would be suffered long to continue this employment, under a government which was now entirely at the devotion of Cardinal Beatoun, who had gained a complete ascendant over the mind of the timid and irresolute regent. But, in the midst of his cruelties, and while he was planning still more desperate deeds, the cardinal was himself suddenly cut off. A conspiracy was formed against his life, and a small but determined band (some of whom seen to have been instigated by resentment for private injuries and the influence of the English court, others animated by a desire to revenge his cruelties and deliver their country from his oppression) seized upon the castle of St. Andrews, in which he resided, and put him to death on the twenty-ninth of May, 1546.
In his progress through the kingdom with the governor, he instigated him “to hang (at Perth) four honest men, for eating of a goose on Friday; and drowned a young woman, because she refused to pray to our lady in her birth.”
Knox says that the woman, “having an soucking babe upon her briest, was drounit.”
The death of Beatoun did not, however, free Knox from persecution. John Hamilton, an illegitimate brother of the regent, who was nominated to the vacant bishopric, sought his life with as great eagerness as his predecessor. He was obliged to conceal himself, and to remove from place to place, to provide for his safety. Wearied with this mode of living, and apprehensive that he would someday fall into the hands of his enemies, he came to the resolution of leaving Scotland.
England presented the readiest and must natural sanctuary to those who were persecuted by the Scottish prelates. But though they usually fled to that kingdom in the first instance, they did not find their situation comfortable, and the greater part, after a short residence there, proceeded to the Continent. Henry VIII, from motives which, to say the least, were highly suspicious, had renounced subjection to the Roman see, and compelled his subjects to follow his example. He invested himself with the ecclesiastical supremacy, within his own dominions, which he had wrested from the Bishop of Rome; and in the arrogant and violent exercise of that power, the English pope was scarcely exceeded by any of the pretended successors of St. Peter. Having signalized himself at a former period as a literary champion against Luther, he was anxious to demonstrate that his breach with the court of Rome had not alienated him from the Catholic faith, and he would suffer none to proceed a step beyond the narrow and capricious line of reform which he was pleased to prescribe. Hence, the motley system of religion which he established, and the contradictory measures by which it was supported. Statutes against the authority of the pope, and against the tenets of Luther, were enacted in the same parliament, and Papists and Protestants were alternately brought to the same stake. The Protestants in Scotland were universally dissatisfied with this bastard reformation, a circumstance which had contributed not a little to cool their zeal for the lately proposed alliance with England. Sir Ralph Sadler, his ambassador, found himself in a very awkward predicament on this account, for the Papists were offended because he had gone so far from Rome, the Protestants because he had gone no further. The latter disrelished, in particular, the restrictions which he had imposed upon the reading and interpretation of the Scriptures, and which he urged the regent to imitate in Scotland. And they had no desire for the king’s book, of which Sadler was furnished with copies to distribute, and which lay as a drug upon his hands.
On these accounts Knox had no desire to go to England, where, although “the pope’s name was suppressed, his laws and corruptions remained in full vigor.” His determination was to visit Germany, and to prosecute his studies in some of the Protestant universities, until he should see a favorable change in the state of his native country. But the lairds of Langniddrie and Ormiston, who were extremely reluctant to part with him, prevailed on him to relinquish his design, and to repair, along with their sons, to the castle of St. Andrews.
The conspirators against Cardinal Beatoun kept possession of the castle after his death. The regent had assembled an army and laid siege to it, from a desire not so much to avenge the murder of the cardinal, at whose fall he secretly rejoiced, as to comply with the importunity of the clergy, and to release his eldest son, who had been retained by Beatoun as a pledge of his father’s fidelity, and had now fallen into the hands of the conspirators. But the besieged, having obtained assistance from England, baffled all his skill; and a treaty was at last concluded, by which they engaged to deliver up the castle to the regent, upon his procuring to them from Rome a pardon for the cardinal’s murder. The pardon was obtained, but the conspirators, alarmed, or affecting to be alarmed, at the contradictory terms in which it was expressed, refused to perform their stipulation, and the regent felt himself unable, without foreign aid, to enforce a compliance. In this interval, a number of persons who were harassed for their attachment to the reformed sentiments, repaired to the castle where they enjoyed the free exercise of their religion.
Writers, unfriendly to Knox, have endeavored to fix an accusation upon him respecting the assassination of Cardinal Beatoun. Some have ignorantly asserted, that he was one of the conspirators. Others, better informed, have argued that he made himself accessory to their crime, by taking shelter among them. With more plausibility, others have appealed to his writings, as a proof that he vindicated the deed of the conspirators as laudable, or at least innocent. I know that some of Knox’s vindicators have denied this charge, and maintain that he justified it only so far as it was the work of God, or a just retribution in Providence for the crimes of which the cardinal had been guilty, without approving the conduct of those who were the instruments of punishing him. The just judgment of Heaven is, I acknowledge, the chief thing to which he directs the attention of his readers; at the same time, I think no one who carefully reads what he has written on this subject, can doubt that he justified the action of the conspirators. The truth is, he held the opinion, that persons who, according to the law of God, and the just laws of society, have forfeited their lives by the commission of flagrant crimes, such as notorious murderers and tyrants, may warrantably be put to death by private individuals, provided all redress, in the ordinary course of justice, is rendered impossible, in consequence of the offenders having usurped the executive authority, or being systematically protected by oppressive rulers. This is an opinion of the same kind with that of tyrannicide, held by so many of the ancients, and defended by Buchanan, in his dialogue, De jure regni ayud Scotos. It is a principle, I confess, of very dangerous application, and extremely liable to be abused by factious, fanatical, and desperate men, as a pretext for perpetrating the most nefarious deeds. It would be unjust, however, on this account, to confound it with the principle, which, by giving to individuals a liberty to revenge their own quarrels, legitimates assassination, a practice which was exceedingly common in that age. I may add that there have been instances of persons, not invested with public authority, taking the execution of punishment into their own hands, whom we may scruple to load with an aggravated charge of murder, although we cannot approve of their conduct.
Knox entered the castle of St. Andrews at the time of Easter, 1547, and conducted the education of his pupils after his accustomed manner. In the chapel within the castle, he read to them lectures upon the Scriptures, beginning at the place in the Gospel according to John, where he had left off at Langniddrie; and he catechized them publicly in the parish-church belonging to the city. Among the refugees in the castle who attended these exercises, and who had not been concerned in the conspiracy against Beatoun, there were three persons who deserve to be particularly noticed.
Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, Lyon King at Arms, had been a favorite at the court both of James IV, and of his son James V. He was esteemed one of the first poets of the age, and his writings had contributed greatly to the advancement of the Reformation. Notwithstanding the indelicacy which disfigures several of his poetical productions, the personal deportment of Lindsay was grave, his morals were correct, and his writings discover a strong desire to reform the manners of the age, as well as ample proofs of true poetical genius, extensive learning, and wit the most keen and penetrating. He had long lashed the vices of the clergy, and exposed the absurdities and superstitions of popery, in the most popular and poignant satires, being protected by James V, who retained a strong attachment to the companion of his early sports, and the poet who had often amused his leisure hours. After the death of that monarch, he entered zealously into the measures pursued by the Earl of Arran at the commencement of his government, and when the regent dismissed his reforming counselors, Sir David was left exposed to the vengeance of the clergy, who could never forgive the injuries which they had received from his pen.
Henry Balnaves of Halhill had raised himself, by his talents and probity, from an obscure situation to the highest honors of the state, and was justly regarded as one of the principal ornaments of the reformed cause in Scotland. Descended from poor parents in the town of Kirkaldy, he traveled, when only a boy, to the Continent, and hearing of a free school in Cologne, he gained admission to it, and received a liberal education, together with instruction in the principles of the Protestant religion. Returning to his native country, he applied himself to the study of law, and practiced for some time before the consistorial court of St. Andrews. Notwithstanding the jealousy of the clergy, his reputation daily increased, and he at length obtained a seat in parliament and in the court of session. James V employed him in managing public affairs of great importance, and at the beginning of Arran’s regency he was made secretary of state. The active part which he at that time took in the measures for promoting the Reformation, rendered him peculiarly obnoxious to the administration which succeeded, and obliged him to seek shelter within the walls of the castle.
John Rough, having conceived a disgust at being deprived of some property to which he thought himself entitled, had left his parents and entered a monastery in Stirling when he was only seventeen years of age. During the time that the light of divine truth was spreading through the nation and penetrating even the recesses of cloisters, he had felt its influence and became a convert to the reformed sentiments. The reputation which he had gained as a preacher was such, that in the year 1543, the Earl of Arran procured a dispensation for his leaving the monastery and appointed him one of his chaplains. Upon the apostasy of Arran from the reformed religion, he retired first into Kyle, and afterwards into the castle of St. Andrews, where he was chosen preacher to the garrison.
These persons were so much pleased with Knox’s talents and his manner of teaching his pupils, that they urged him strongly to preach in public, and to become colleague to Rough. But he resisted all their solicitations, assigning as his reason that he did not consider himself as having a call to this employment and would not be guilty of intrusion. They did not, however, desist from their purpose, but having consulted with their brethren, came to a resolution without his knowledge that a call should be publicly given him, in the name of the whole, to become one of their ministers.
Accordingly, on a day fixed for the purpose, Rough preached a sermon on the election of ministers, in which he declared the power which a congregation, however small, had over any one in whom they perceived gifts suited to the office, and how dangerous it was for such a person to reject the call of those who desired instruction. Sermon being concluded, the preacher turned to Knox, who was present, and addressed him in these words: “Brother, you shall not be offended, although I speak unto you that which I have in charge, even from all those that are here present, which is this: In the name of God and of his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the name of all that presently call you by my mouth, I charge you that you refuse not this holy vocation, but, as you tender the glory of God, the increase of Christ’s kingdom, the edification of your brethren, and the comfort of me, whom you understand well enough to be oppressed by the multitude of labors, that you take the public office and charge of preaching, even as you look to avoid God’s heavy displeasure, and desire that he shall multiply his grace unto you.” Then, addressing himself to the congregation, he said, “Was not this your charge unto me? and do ye not approve this vocation?” They all answered, “It was, and we approve it.” Overwhelmed by this unexpected and solemn charge, Knox, after an ineffectual attempt to address the audience, burst into tears, rushed out of the assembly, and shut himself up in his chamber. “His countenance and behavior, from that day till the day that he was compelled to present himself in the public place of preaching, did sufficiently declare the grief and trouble of his heart; for no man saw any sign of mirth from him, neither had he pleasure to accompany any man for many days together.”
This proof of the sensibility of his temper, and the reluctance which he felt at undertaking a public office, may surprise those who have carelessly adopted the common notions respecting our Reformer’s character, but we shall meet with many examples of the same kind in the course of his life. The scene, too, will be extremely interesting to such as are impressed with the weight of the ministerial function, and will naturally awaken a train of feelings in the breasts of those who have been entrusted with the Gospel. It revives the memory of those early days of the Church, when persons did not rush forward to the altar, nor beg to “be put into one of the priest’s offices, to eat a piece of bread,” when men of piety and talents, deeply affected with the awful responsibility of the office, and with their own insufficiency, were with great difficulty induced to take on them those orders which they had long desired, and for which they had labored to qualify themselves. What a contrast did this exhibit to the conduct of the herd, which at that time filled the stalls of the Popish Church! The behavior of Knox serves also to reprove those who become preachers of their own accord; and who, from vague and enthusiastic desires of doing good, or a fond conceit of their own gifts, trample upon good order, and thrust themselves into employment without any regular call.
We must not, however, imagine that his distress of mind, and the reluctance which he discovered to comply with the call which he had received, proceeded from consciousness of its invalidity, through the defect of certain external formalities which had been usual in the church, or which, in ordinary cases, may be observed with propriety in the installation of persons into sacred offices. These, as far as warranted by Scripture, or conducive to the preservation of order, he did not contemn, and his judgment respecting them may be learned from the early practice of the Scottish Reformed Church, in the organization of which he had so active a share. In common with all the original reformers, he rejected the order of episcopal ordination, as totally unauthorized by the laws of Christ, nor did he even regard the imposition of the hands of presbyters as a rite essential to the validity of orders, or of necessary observance in all circumstances of the Church. The Papists, indeed, did not fail to declaim on this topic, representing Knox, and other reformed ministers, as destitute of all lawful vocation. In the same strain did many hierarchical writers of the English Church afterwards learn to talk, not scrupling, by their extravagant doctrine, of the absolute necessity of ordination by the hands of a bishop, who derived his powers by uninterrupted succession from the apostles, to invalidate and nullify the orders of all the reformed churches, except their own—a doctrine which has been revived in the present enlightened age, and unblushingly avowed and defended, with the greater part of its absurd, illiberal, and horrid consequences. The fathers of the English Reformation, however, were very far from entertaining such contracted and unchristian sentiments. When Knox afterwards went to England, they accepted his services without the smallest hesitation. They maintained a constant correspondence with the reformed divines on the Continent, and cheerfully owned them as brethren and fellow-laborers in the ministry. And they were not so ignorant of their principles, nor so forgetful of their character, as to prefer ordination by popish prelates to that which was conferred by protestant presbyters. I will not say that our Reformer utterly disregarded his early ordination in the Popish Church, although, if we may credit the testimony of his adversaries, this was his sentiment; but I have little doubt that he looked upon the charge which he received at St. Andrews as principally constituting his call to the ministry.
His distress of mind, on the present occasion, proceeded from a higher source than the deficiency of some external formalities in his call. He had now very different thoughts as to the importance of the ministerial office, from what he had entertained when ceremoniously invested with orders. The care of immortal souls, of whom he must give an account to the Chief Bishop; the charge of declaring “the whole counsel of God, keeping nothing back,” however ungrateful it might be to his hearers; the manner of life, afflictions, persecutions, imprisonment, exile, and violent death, to which the preachers of the Protestant doctrine were exposed; the hazard of his sinking under these hardships, and “making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience”—these, with similar considerations, rushed into his mind, and filled it with anxiety and fear. Satisfied, at length, that he had the call of God to engage in this work, he composed his mind to a reliance on Him who had engaged to make his “strength perfect in the weakness” of his servants, and resolved, with the apostle, “not to count his life dear, that he might finish with joy the ministry which he received of the Lord, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” Often did he afterwards reflect with lively emotion upon this very interesting step of his life, and never, in the midst of his greatest sufferings, did he see reason to repent of the choice which he had so deliberately made.
An occurrence which took place about this time contributed to fix his wavering resolution, and induced an earlier compliance with the call of the congregation than he might otherwise have been disposed to yield. Though sound in doctrine, Rough’s literary acquirements were moderate. Of this circumstance the patrons of the established religion in the university and abbey took advantage; and among others, Dean John Annand had long proved vexatious to him, by stating objections to the doctrine which he preached, and entangling him with sophisms, or garbled quotations from the fathers. Knox had assisted the preacher with his pen, and by his superior skill in logic and the writings of the fathers, had exposed Annand’s fallacies, and confuted the popish errors. This polemic being one day, at a private disputation in the parish church, driven from all his usual defenses, fled, as his last refuge, to the infallible authority of the church, which, he alleged, had rendered all farther debate on these points unnecessary, in consequence of its having condemned the tenets of the Lutherans as heretical. To this Knox replied that, before they could submit to such a summary determination of the matters in controversy, it was requisite to ascertain the true Church by the marks given in Scripture, lest they should blindly receive, as their spiritual mother, “a harlot instead of the immaculate spouse of Jesus Christ.” “For,” continued he, “as for your Roman Church, as it is now corrupted, wherein stands the hope of your victory, I no more doubt that it is the synagogue of Satan, and the head thereof, called the pope, to be that man of sin of whom the apostle speaks, than I doubt that Jesus Christ suffered by the procurement of the visible church of Jerusalem. Yea, I offer myself, by word or writing, to prove the Roman Church this day farther degenerate from the purity which was in the days of the apostles, than were the Church of the Jews from the ordinances given by Moses, when they consented to the innocent death of Jesus Christ.” This was a bold charge, but the minds of the people were prepared to listen to the proof. They exclaimed that, if this was true, they had been miserably deceived, and insisted that, as they could not all read his writings, he should ascend the pulpit, and give them an opportunity of hearing the probation of what he had so confidently affirmed. The request was reasonable, and the challenge was not to be retracted. The following Sabbath was accordingly fixed for making good his promise.
On the day appointed, he appeared in the pulpit of the parish church, and gave out the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth verses of the seventh chapter of Daniel as his text. After an introduction, in which he explained the vision and showed that the four animals hieroglyphically represented four empires—the Babylonian, Persian, Grecian, and Roman—out of the ruins of the last of which rose the empire described in his text, he proceeded to show that this was applicable to no power but the papal. He compared the parallel passages in the New Testament, and showed that the king mentioned in his text was the same elsewhere called the Man of Sin, the Antichrist, the Babylonian harlot; and that, in prophetical style, these expressions did not describe a single person, but a body or multitude of people under a wicked head, including a succession of persons occupying the same place. In support of his assertion, that the papal power was antichristian, he described it under the three heads of life, doctrine, and laws. He depicted the scandalous lives of the popes from records published by Roman Catholic writers, and contrasted their doctrine and laws with those of the New Testament, particularly on the heads of justification, holydays, and abstinence from meats and from marriage. He quoted from the canon law the blasphemous titles and prerogatives ascribed to the pope, as an additional proof that he was described in his text. In conclusion, he signified that, if any of his hearers thought that he had misquoted or misinterpreted the testimonies which he had produced from the Scriptures, ecclesiastical history, or the writings of the fathers, he was ready, upon their coming to him, in the presence of witnesses, to give them satisfaction. Among the audience were his former preceptor, Major, and the other members of the university, the sub-prior of the abbey, and a great number of canons and friars of different orders.
This sermon, delivered with a considerable portion of that popular eloquence for which Knox was afterwards so celebrated, made a great noise, and excited much speculation among all classes. The preachers who had preceded him, not even excepting Wishart, had contented themselves with refuting some of the grosser errors of the established religion; Knox struck at the root of popery, by boldly pronouncing the pope to be antichrist, and the whole system erroneous and antiscriptural. The report of this sermon, and of the effects produced by it, having reached Hamilton, the bishop-elect of St. Andrews, he wrote to Winram, who was vicar-general during the vacancy of the see, expressing his surprise that such heretical and schismatical tenets were allowed to be taught without opposition. Winram was at bottom friendly to the reformed doctrine, but he durst not altogether disregard this admonition, and, therefore, appointed a convention of the learned men of the abbey and university to be held in St. Leonard’s Yards, to which he summoned Knox and Rough.
“Sum said, utheris hued the branches of papistry, bot he straiketh at the rute, to destroye the whole.”
The two preachers appeared before that assembly. Nine articles, drawn from their sermons, were exhibited, “the strangeness of which,” the sub-prior said, “had moved him to call for them to hear their answers.” Knox conducted the defense, for himself and his colleague, with much acuteness and moderation. He expressed high satisfaction at appearing before an auditory so honorable, modest, and grave. As he was not a stranger to the report concerning the private sentiments of Winram, and nothing was more abhorrent to his own mind than dissimulation, he, before commencing his defence, obtested him to deal uprightly m a matter of such magnitude. “The people,” he said, “ought not to be deceived or left in the dark; if his colleague and he had advanced anything unscriptural, he wished the sub-prior by all means to expose it; but, if, on the other hand, the doctrine taught by them was true, it was his duty to give it the sanction of his authority.” Winram cautiously replied that he did not come there as a judge, and would neither approve nor condemn; he wished a conference, and, if Knox pleased, he would reason with him a little. Accordingly, he proceeded to state some objections to one of the propositions maintained by Knox, “that, in the worship of God, and especially in the administration of the sacraments, the rule prescribed in the Scriptures is to be observed, without addition or diminution; and that the Church has no right to devise religious ceremonies, and impose significations upon them.” After maintaining the argument for a short time, the sub-prior devolved it on a gray friar, named Arbukgill, who took it up with great confidence, but was soon forced to yield with disgrace. He rashly engaged to prove the divine institution of ceremonies, and, being pushed by his antagonist from the Gospels and Acts to the Epistles, and from one epistle to another, he was driven at last to affirm “that the apostles had not received the Holy Ghost when they wrote the Epistles, but they afterwards received him, and ordained ceremonies.” Knox smiled at the extravagant assertion. “Father!” exclaimed the sub-prior, “what say ye? God forbid that ye say that! for then farewell the ground of our faith.” Alarmed and abashed, the friar attempted to correct his error, but in vain. He could not afterwards be brought to argument upon any of the articles, but resolved all into the authority of the Church. His opponent urging that the Church could have no authority to act in opposition to the express directions of Scripture, which enjoined an exact conformity to the divine laws respecting worship. “If so,” said Arbukgill, “you will leave us no Church.” “Yes,” rejoined Knox, sarcastically, “in David I read of the church of malignants, Odi ecclesiam malignantium; this church you may have without the word, and fighting against it. Of this church if you will be, I cannot hinder you, but as for me I will be of no other church but that which has Jesus Christ for pastor, hears his voice, and will not hear the voice of a stranger.” For purgatory, the friar had no better authority than that of Virgil in the sixth Æneid; and the pains of it, according to him, were—a bad wife.
Solventur risu tabulæ; to missus abibis.
Instructed by the issue of this convention, the Papists avoided for the future all disputation, which tended only to injure their cause. Had the castle of St. Andrews been to their power, they would soon have silenced these troublesome preachers, but as matters stood, more moderate and crafty measures were necessary. The plan adopted for counteracting the popular preaching of Knox and Rough was artfully laid. Orders were issued that all the learned men of the abbey and university should preach by turns every Sunday in the parish church. By this means the reformed preachers were excluded on those days when the greatest audiences attended, and it was expected that the diligence of the established clergy would conciliate the affections of the people. To avoid offense or occasion of speculation, they were also instructed not to touch in their sermons upon any of the controverted points. Knox easily saw through this artifice, but he contented himself with expressing a wish, in the sermons which he still delivered on weekdays, that the clergy would show themselves equally diligent in places where their labors were more necessary. He, at the same time, expressed his satisfaction that Christ was preached, and that nothing was spoken publicly against the truth; if anything of this kind should be attempted, he requested the people to suspend their judgment, until they should have an opportunity of hearing him in reply.
His labors were so successful during the few months that he preached at St. Andrews, that, besides the garrison in the castle, a great number of the inhabitants of the town renounced popery and made profession of the Protestant faith by participating of the Lord’s Supper. This was the first time that the sacrament of the supper was dispensed after the reformed mode in Scotland, if we except the administration of it by Wishart in the same place, which was performed with great privacy immediately before his martyrdom. Those who preceded Knox appear to have contented themselves with preaching, and such as embraced their doctrine had most probably continued to receive the sacraments from the popish clergy, at least from such of them as were most friendly to the reformation of the Church. The gratification which he felt in these first fruits of his ministry, was considerably abated by instances of vicious conduct in the persons under his charge, some of whom were guilty of those acts of licentiousness which are too common among soldiery when placed in similar circumstances. From the time that he was chosen to be their preacher, he had openly rebuked these disorders; and when he perceived that his admonitions failed in putting a stop to them, he did not conceal his apprehensions of the unsuccessful issue of the enterprise in which they were engaged.
In the end of June, 1547, a French fleet, with a considerable body of land forces, under the command of Leo Strozzi, appeared before St. Andrews to assist the governor in the reduction of the castle. It was invested both by sea and land; and, being disappointed of the expected aid from England, the besieged, after a brave and vigorous resistance, were under the necessity of capitulating to the French commander on the last day of July. The terms which they obtained were honorable; the lives of all in the castle were to be spared; they were to be transported to France, and if they did not choose to enter into the service of the French king, were to be conveyed to any country which they might prefer, except Scotland. John Rough had left them previous to the commencement of the siege and retired to England. Knox, although he did not expect that the garrison would be able to hold out, could not prevail upon himself to desert his charge, and resolved to share with his brethren in the hazard of the siege. He was conveyed along with them on board the fleet, which, in a few days, set sail for France, arrived at Fecamp, and, going up the Seine, anchored before Rouen. The capitulation was violated, and they were all detained prisoners of war at the solicitation of the pope and Scottish clergy. The principal gentlemen were incarcerated in Rouen, Cherburg, Brest, and Mont St. Michel. Knox, with, a few others, was confined on board the galleys; and in addition to the rigors of ordinary captivity, was loaded with chains, and exposed to all the indignities with which Papists were accustomed to treat those whom they regarded as heretics.
Rough continued to preach in England until the death of Edward VI when he retired to Borden in Friesland. There he was obliged to support himself and his wife (whom he had married in England) by knitting caps, stockings, &c. Having come over to London in the course of his trade, he heard of a congregation of Protestants which met secretly in that city, to whom he joined himself, and was elected their pastor. A few weeks after this, the conventicle was discovered by the treachery of one of their own number, and Rough was carried before Bishop Bonner, by whose orders he was committed to the flames on the twenty-second of December, 1557.
From Rouen they sailed to Nantes, and lay upon the Loire during the following winter. Solicitations, threatenings, and violence were all employed to induce the prisoners to change their religion, or at least to countenance the popish worship. But so great was their abhorrence of that system, that not a single individual of the whole company, on land or water, could be induced to symbolize in the smallest degree with idolaters. While the prison-ships lay on the Loire, mass was frequently said, and salve regina sung on board, or on the shore within their hearing. On these occasions, they were brought out and threatened with the torture, if they did not give the usual signs of reverence, but instead of complying, they covered their heads as soon as the service began. Knox has preserved in his history a humorous incident which took place on one of these occasions, and although he has not said so, it is highly probable that he himself was the person concerned in the affair. One day a fine painted image of the Virgin was brought into one of the galleys, and a Scotch prisoner was desired to give it the kiss of adoration. He refused, saying that such idols were accursed, and he would not touch it. “But you shall,” replied one of the officers roughly, at the same time forcing it towards his mouth. Upon this the prisoner seized the image, and throwing it into the river, said, “Lat our Ladie now save hirself; sche is lycht enoughe, lat hir leirne to swyme.” The officers with difficulty saved their goddess from the waves and the prisoners were relieved for the future from such troublesome importunities.
In summer 1548, as nearly as I can collect, the galleys in which they were confined returned to Scotland, and continued for a considerable time on the east coast, watching for English vessels. Knox’s health was now greatly impaired by the severity of his confinement, and he was seized with a fever, during which his life was despaired of by all in the ship. But even in this state his fortitude of mind remained unsubdued, and he comforted his fellow prisoners with hopes of release. To their anxious desponding inquiries (natural to men in their situation), “if he thought they would ever obtain their liberty,” his uniform answer was, “God will deliver us to his glory, even in this life.” While they lay on the coast between Dundee and St. Andrews, Mr. (afterwards Sir) James Balfour, who was confined in the same ship with him, pointed to the spires of St. Andrews, and asked him if he knew the place. “Yes,” replied the sickly and emaciated captive, “I know it well, for I see the steeple of that place where God first opened my mouth in public to his glory; and I am fully persuaded, how weak soever I now appear, that I shall not depart this life, till that my tongue shall glorify his godly name in the same place.” This striking reply Sir James repeated in the presence of a number of witnesses many years before Knox returned to Scotland, and when there was very little prospect of his words being verified.
We must not, however, think that he possessed this tranquility and elevation of mind during the whole period of his imprisonment. When first thrown into fetters, insulted by his enemies, and deprived of all prospect of release, he was not a stranger to the anguish of despondency, so pathetically described by the royal Psalmist of Israel. He felt that conflict in his spirit, with which all good men are acquainted, and which becomes peculiarly sharp when aggravated by corporal affliction; but having had recourse to prayer, the never-failing refuge of the oppressed, he was relieved from all his fears, and reposing upon the promise and the providence of the God whom he served, he attained to “the confidence and rejoicing of hope.” Those who wish for a more particular account of the state of his mind at this time, will find it in the notes, extracted from a rare work which he composed on Prayer, and the chief materials of which were suggested by his own experience.
When free from fever, he relieved the tedious hours of captivity by committing to writing a confession of his faith, containing the substance of what he had taught at St. Andrews, with a particular account of the disputation which he had maintained in St. Leonard’s Yards. This he found means to convey to his religious acquaintances in Scotland, accompanied with an earnest exhortation to persevere in the faith which they had professed, whatever persecutions they might suffer for its sake. To this confession I find him referring in the defense which he afterwards made before the Bishop of Durham. “Let no man think, that because I am in the realm of England, therefore so boldly I speak. No, God hath taken that suspicion from me. For the body lying in most painful bands, in the midst of cruel tyrants, his mercy and goodness provided that the hand should write and bear witness to the confession of the heart, more abundantly than ever yet the tongue spake.”
Notwithstanding the rigor of their confinement, the prisoners who were separated found opportunities of occasionally corresponding with one another. Henry Balnaves of Halhill had composed, in his prison, a treatise on Justification, and the Works and Conversation of a Justified Man. This having been conveyed to Knox, probably after his return from the coast of Scotland, he was so much pleased with the work, that he divided it into chapters, and added some marginal notes, and a concise epitome of its contents; to the whole he prefixed a recommendatory dedication, intending that it should be published for the use of his brethren in Scotland, as soon as an opportunity offered. The reader will not, I am persuaded, be displeased to have some extracts from this dedication, which represent, more forcibly than any description of mine can do, the pious and heroic spirit which animated the Reformer, when “his feet lay in irons,” and I shall quote more freely, as the book is rare.
It is thus inscribed: “John Knox, the bound servant of Jesus Christ, unto his best beloved brethren of the congregation of the castle of St. Andrews, and to all professors of Christ’s true evangel, desireth grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father, with perpetual consolation of the Holy Spirit.” After mentioning a number of instances in which the name of God had been magnified, and the interests of religion advanced, by the exile of those who were driven from their native countries by tyranny, as in the examples of Joseph, Moses, Daniel, and the primitive Christians, he goes on thus: “Which thing shall openly declare this godly work subsequent. The counsel of Satan in the persecutions of us, first, was to stop the wholesome wind of Christ’s evangel to blow upon the parts where we converse and dwell; and, secondly, so to oppress ourselves by corporal affliction and worldly calamities, that no place should we find to godly study. But by the great mercy and infinite goodness of God our Father, shall these his counsels be frustrate and vain. For, in despite of him and all his wicked members, shall yet that same word (O Lord, this I speak, confiding in thy holy promise) openly be proclaimed in that same country. And how that our merciful Father, amongst these tempestuous storms, by all men’s expectation, hath provided some rest for us, this present work shall testify, which was sent to me in Roane, lying in irons, and sore troubled by corporal infirmity, in a galley named Nostre Dame, by an honorable brother, Mr. Henry Balnaves of Halhill, for the present holden as prisoner (though unjustly) in the old palace of Roane. Which work after I had once and again read, to the great comfort and consolation of my spirit, by counsel and advice of the foresaid noble and faithful man, author of the said work, I thought expedient it should be digested in chapters, &c. Which thing I have done as imbecility of ingine and incommodity of place would permit; not so much to illustrate the work (which in the self is godly and perfect) as, together with the foresaid noble man and faithful brother, to give my confession of the article of justification therein contained. And I beseech you, beloved brethren, earnestly to consider, if we deny any thing presently (or yet conceal and hide) which any time before we professed in that article. And now we have not the castle of St. Andrews to be our defense, as some of our enemies falsely accused us, saying, if we wanted our walls, we would not speak so boldly. But blessed be that Lord whose infinite goodness and wisdom hath taken from us the occasion of that slander, and hath shown unto us, that the serpent hath power only to sting the heel, that is, to molest and trouble the flesh, but not to move the spirit from constant adhering to Christ Jesus, nor public professing of his true word. O blessed be thou, Eternal Father! which, by thy only mercy, hast preserved us to this day, and provided that the confession of our faith (which ever we desired all men to have known) should, by this treatise, come plainly to light. Continue, O Lord! and grant unto us that, as now with pen and ink, so shortly we may confess with voice and tongue the same before thy congregation; upon whom, look, O Lord God! with the eyes of thy mercy, and suffer no more darkness to prevail. I pray you, pardon me, beloved brethren, that on this manner I digress; vehemency of spirit (the Lord knoweth I lie not) compelleth me thereto.”
The prisoners in Mont St. Michel consulted Knox as to the lawfulness of attempting to escape by breaking their prison, which was opposed by some of them, lest their escape should subject their brethren who remained in confinement to more severe treatment. He returned for answer, that such fears were not a sufficient reason for relinquishing the design, and that they might, with a safe conscience, effect their escape, provided it could be done “without the blood of any shed or spilt, but to shed any man’s blood for their freedom, he would never consent.” The attempt was accordingly made by them, and successfully executed, “without harm done to the person of any, and without touching any thing that appertained to the king, the captain, or the house.”
At length, after enduring a tedious and severe imprisonment of nineteen months, Knox obtained his liberty. This happened in the month of February 1549, according to the modern computation. By what means his liberation was procured I cannot certainly determine. One account says that the galley in which he was confined was taken in the Channel by the English. According to another account, he was liberated by order of the King of France, because it appeared, on examination, that he was not concerned in the murder of Cardinal Beatoun, nor accessory to other crimes committed by those who held the castle of St. Andrews. In the opinion of others, his liberty was purchased by his acquaintances, who fondly cherished the hope that he was destined to accomplish some great achievements, and were anxious, by their interposition in his behalf, to be instrumental in promoting the designs of Providence. It is more probable, however, that he owed his deliverance to the comparative indifference with which he and his brethren were now regarded by the French court, who, having procured the consent of the Parliament of Scotland to the marriage of Queen Mary to the dauphin, and obtained possession of her person, felt no longer any inclination to revenge the quarrels of the Scottish clergy.
From the year 1549, when he was released from the French galleys, to the year 1554, when he fled from England
Upon regaining his liberty, Knox immediately repaired to England. The objections which he had formerly entertained against a residence in that kingdom were now in a great measure removed. Henry VIII had died in the year 1547, and Archbishop Cranmer, released from the severe restraint under which he had been held by his tyrannical and capricious master, now exerted himself with much zeal in advancing the Reformation. In this he was cordially supported by those who governed the kingdom during the minority of Edward VI. But the undertaking was extensive and difficult, and, in carrying it on, he found a great deficiency of ecclesiastical coadjutors. Although the most of the bishops had externally complied with the alterations introduced by authority, they remained attached to the old religion, and secretly thwarted, instead of seconding, the measures of the primate. The inferior clergy were, in general, as unable as they were unwilling to undertake the instruction of the people, whose ignorance of religion was in many parts of the country extreme, and whose superstitious habits had become quite inveterate. This evil, which prevailed universally throughout the Popish Church, instead of being corrected, was considerably aggravated by a ruinous measure adopted at the commencement of the English Reformation. When Henry suppressed the monasteries and seized their revenues, he allowed pensions to the monks during life, but, to relieve the royal treasury of this burden, small benefices in the gift of the crown were afterwards substituted in the place of pensions. The example of the monarch was imitated by the nobles who had procured monastic lands. By this means a great part of the inferior livings were held by ignorant and superstitious monks, who were a dead weight upon the English Church, and a principal cause of the nation’s sudden relapse to Popery at the subsequent accession of Queen Mary.
Cranmer had already adopted measures for remedying this alarming evil with the concurrence of the protector and privy council; he had invited a number of learned Protestants from Germany into England, and had placed Peter Martyr, Martin Bucer, Paul Fagius, and Emanuel Tremellius as professors in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. This was a wise measure, which secured a future supply of useful preachers, trained up by these able masters, but the necessity was urgent and demanded immediate provision. For this purpose, instead of fixing a number of orthodox and popular preachers in particular charges, it was judged most expedient to employ them in itinerating through different parts of the kingdom, where the clergy were most illiterate or disaffected to the Reformation, and where the inhabitants were most addicted to superstition.
In these circumstances, our zealous countryman did not remain long unemployed. The reputation which he had gained by his preaching at St. Andrews and his late sufferings recommended him to the English council, and soon after his arrival in England he was sent down from London to preach in Berwick.
The council had every reason to be pleased with the choice which they had made of a northern preacher. He had long thirsted for the opportunity which he now enjoyed. His love for the truth, and his zeal against Popery, had been inflamed during his captivity, and he spared neither time nor labor in the instruction of those to whom he was sent. Regarding the worship of the Romish Church as idolatrous, and its doctrines as damnable, he attacked both with the utmost fervor, and exerted himself in drawing his hearers from the belief of the one, and from the observance of the other, with as much eagerness as if he had been saving their lives from a devouring flame or flood. Nor were his efforts fruitless. During the two years that he continued in Berwick, numbers were converted by his ministry from ignorance and the errors of Popery, and a visible reformation of manners was produced upon the soldiers of the garrison, who had formerly been noted for licentiousness and turbulence.
The popularity and success of a Protestant preacher were very galling to the clergy in that quarter, who were, almost to a man, bigoted Papists, and enjoyed the patronage of the bishop of the diocese. Tonstal, Bishop of Durham, like his friend Sir Thomas More, was one of those men of whom it is extremely difficult to give a correct idea, qualities of an opposite kind being mixed and blended in his character. Surpassing all his brethren in polite learning, he was the patron of bigotry and superstition. Displaying, in private life, that moderation and suavity of manners which liberal studies usually inspire, he was accessory to the public measures of a reign disgraced throughout by the most shocking barbarities. Claiming our praise for honesty by opposing in parliament innovations which his judgment condemned, he forfeited it by the most tame acquiescence and ample conformity, thereby maintaining his station amidst all the revolutions of religion during three successive reigns. He had paid little attention to the science immediately connected with his profession, and most probably was indifferent to the controversies then agitated; but, living in an age in which it was necessary for every man to choose his side, he adhered to those opinions which had been long established, and which were friendly to the power and splendor of the ecclesiastical order. As if anxious to atone for his fault, in having been instrumental in producing a breach between England and the Roman see, he opposed in parliament all the subsequent changes. Opposition awakened his zeal; he became at last a strenuous advocate for the popish tenets, and wrote a book in defense of transubstantiation, of which, says Bishop Burnet, “the Latin style is better than the divinity.”
The labors of one who exerted himself to overthrow what the bishop wished to support, could not fail to be very disagreeable to Tonstal. As Knox acted under the authority of the protector and council, he durst not inhibit him, but he was disposed to listen to the informations which were lodged against him by the clergy. Although the town of Berwick was Knox’s principal station during the years 1549 and 1550, it is probable that he was appointed to preach occasionally in the adjacent country. Whether, in the course of his itinerancy, he had preached in Newcastle, or whether he was called up to it in consequence of complaints against the sermons which he had delivered at Berwick, it is difficult to ascertain. It is, however, certain, that a charge was exhibited against him before the bishop for teaching that the sacrifice of the mass was idolatrous, and that a day was appointed for him publicly to assign his reasons for this opinion.
Accordingly, on the fourth of April, 1550, a large assembly being convened in Newcastle, among whom were the members of the council, the Bishop of Durham, and the learned men of his cathedral, Knox delivered in their presence an ample defense of his doctrine. After an appropriate exordium, in which he stated to the audience the occasion and design of his appearance, and cautioned them against the powerful prejudices of education and custom in favor of erroneous opinions and corrupt practices in religion, he proceeded to establish the doctrine which he had taught. The manner in which he treated the subject was well adapted to his auditory, which was composed both of the learned and the illiterate. He proposed his arguments in the syllogistic form, according to the practice of the schools, but illustrated them with a plainness level to the meanest capacity among his hearers. The propositions on which he rested his defense are very descriptive of his characteristic boldness of thinking and acting. A more cautious and timid disputant would have satisfied himself with attacking the grosser notions which were generally entertained by the people on this subject, and exposing the glaring abuses of which the priests were guilty in the lucrative sale of masses. Knox scorned to occupy himself in demolishing these feeble and falling outworks, and proceeded directly to establish a principle which overthrew the whole fabric of superstition. He engaged to prove that the mass, “even in her most high degree,” and when stripped of the meretricious dress in which she now appeared, was an idol struck from the inventive brain of superstition, which had supplanted the sacrament of the supper, and engrossed the honor due to the person and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “Spare no arrows,” was Knox’s motto; the authority of Scripture and the force of reasoning, grave reproof and pointed irony were weapons which he alternately employed. In the course of this defense, he did not restrain those sallies of raillery, which the fooleries of the popish superstition irresistibly provoke, even from such as are deeply impressed with its pernicious tendency. Before concluding his discourse, he adverted to certain doctrines which he had heard in that place on the preceding Sabbath, the falsehood of which he engaged to demonstrate; but, in the first place, he said he would submit the notes of the sermon, which he had taken down, to the preacher, that he might correct them as he saw proper, for his object was not to misrepresent or captiously entrap a speaker by catching at words unadvisedly uttered, but to defend the truth and warn his hearers against errors destructive to their souls. The defense, as drawn up by Knox himself, is now before me in manuscript, and the reader who wishes a more particular account of its contents, will find it in the notes.
This defense had the effect of extending Knox’s fame through the north of England, while it completely silenced the bishop and his learned assistants. He continued to preach at Berwick during the remaining part of this year, and in the following was removed to Newcastle, and placed in a sphere of greater usefulness. In December, 1551, the privy council conferred on him a mark of their approbation, by appointing him one of King Edward’s chaplains in ordinary. “It was appointed,” says his majesty, in a journal of important transactions which he wrote with his own hand, “that I should have six chaplains ordinary, of which two ever to be present, and four absent in preaching; one year, two in Wales, two in Lancashire and Derby; next year, two in the marches of Scotland, and two in Yorkshire; the third year, two in Norfolk and Essex, and two in Kent and Sussex. These six to be Bill, Harle, Perne, Grindal, Bradford, and…” The name of the sixth has been dashed out of the journal, but the industrious Strype has shown that it was Knox. “These, it seems, were the most zealous and readiest preachers, who were sent about as itinerants, to supply the defects of the greatest part of the clergy, who were generally very faulty.” An annual salary of forty pounds was allotted to each of the chaplains.
“October 2 (1552), a letter was directed to Messrs. Harley, Bill, Horn, Grindal, Pern, and Knox, to consider certain articles exhibited to the king’s majesty, to be subscribed by all such as shall be admitted to be preachers or ministers in any part of the realm, and to make report of their opinions touching the same.”
In the course of this year, Knox was consulted about the Book of Common Prayer, which was undergoing a revisal. On that occasion, it is probable that he was called up for a short time to London. Although the persons who had the chief direction of ecclesiastical affairs were not disposed, or did not deem it as yet expedient, to introduce that thorough reform which he judged necessary, in order to reduce the worship of the English Church to the Scripture model, his representations on this head were not altogether disregarded. He had influence to procure an important change in the communion office, completely excluding the notion of the corporal presence of Christ in the sacrament, and guarding against the adoration of the Elements, which was too much countenanced by the practice, still continued, of kneeling at their reception. In his Admonition to the Professors of the Truth in England, Knox speaks of these amendments with great satisfaction. “Also God gave boldness and knowledge to the court of parliament to take away the round clipped god, wherein standeth all the holiness of the Papists, and to command common bread to be used at the Lord’s table, and also to take away the most part of superstitions (kneeling at the Lord’s table excepted) which before profaned Christ’s true religion.” These alterations gave great offense to the Papists. In a disputation with Latimer, after the accession of Queen Mary, the prolocutor, Dr. Weston, complained of our countryman’s influence in procuring them: “A runnagate Scot did take away the adoration or worshipping of Christ in the sacrament, by whose procurement that heresy was put into the last communion book; so much prevailed that one man’s authority at that time.” In the following year, he was employed in revising the Articles of Religion, previous to their ratification by parliament.
During his residence at Berwick, he had formed an acquaintance with Marjory Bowes, a young lady who afterwards became his wife. Her father, Richard Bowes, was the youngest son of Sir Ralph Bowes of Streatlem; her mother was Elizabeth, the daughter and one of the co-heirs of Sir Roger Aske of Aske. Before he left Berwick, Knox had paid his addresses to this young lady, and met with a favorable reception. Her mother also was friendly to the match, but, owing to some reason, most probably the presumed aversion of her father, it was deemed prudent to delay solemnizing the union. But having come under a formal promise to her, he considered himself, from that time, as sacredly bound, and in his letters to Mrs. Bowes always addressed that lady by the name of mother.
Without derogating from the praise justly due to those worthy men who were at this time employed in disseminating religious truth through England, I may say that our countryman was not behind the first of them in the unwearied assiduity with which he labored in the stations assigned to him. From an early period his mind seems to have presaged that the golden opportunity now enjoyed would not be of long duration. He was eager to “redeem the time,” and indefatigable both in his studies and in teaching. In addition to his ordinary services on Sabbath, he preached regularly on weekdays, frequently on every day of the week. Besides the portion of time which he allotted to study, he was often employed in conversing with persons who applied to him for advice on religious subjects. The council were not insensible to the value of his services, and conferred on him several marks of their approbation. They wrote different letters to the governors and principal inhabitants of the places where he preached, recommending him to their notice and protection. They secured him in the regular payment of his salary until he should be provided with a benefice. And out of respect to him, they, in September 1552, granted a patent to his brother, William Knox, a merchant, giving him liberty, for a limited time, to trade to any port of England, in a vessel of a hundred tons burden.
William Knox afterwards became a preacher, and was minister of Cockpen, in Mid-Lothian, after the establishment of the Reformation in Scotland. No fewer than fourteen ministers of the Church of Scotland are numbered among his descendants.
But the things which recommended Knox to the council, drew upon him the hatred of a numerous and powerful party in the northern counties, who remained addicted to Popery. Irritated by his boldness and success in attacking their superstition, and sensible that it would be vain, and even dangerous, to prefer an accusation against him on that ground, they watched for an opportunity of catching at something in his discourses or behavior, which they might improve to his disadvantage. He had long observed, with great anxiety, the impatience with which the Papists submitted to the present government, and their eager desires for any change which might lead to the overthrow of the Protestant religion—desires which were expressed by them in the north, without that reserve which prudence dictated in places adjacent to the seat of authority. He had witnessed the joy with which they received the news of the protector’s fall, and was no stranger to the satisfaction with which they circulated prognostications as to the speedy demise of the king. In a sermon preached by him about Christmas 1552, he gave vent to his feelings on this subject; and, lamenting the obstinacy of the Papists, asserted, that such as were enemies to the gospel then preached in England, were secret traitors to the crown and commonwealth, thirsted for nothing more than his majesty’s death, and cared not who should reign over them, provided they got their idolatry again erected. The freedom of this speech was immediately laid hold of by his enemies and transmitted, with many aggravations, to some great men about court, secretly in their interest, who, thereupon, accused him of high misdemeanors before the privy council.
In taking this step, they were not a little encouraged by their knowledge of the sentiments of the Duke of Northumberland, who had lately come down to his charge as warden-general of the northern marches. This ambitious and unprincipled nobleman had affected much zeal for the reformed religion, that he might the more easily attain the highest preferment m the State, which he had recently secured by the ruin of the Duke of Somerset, the protector of the kingdom. Knox had offended him by publicly lamenting the fall of Somerset as dangerous to the Reformation, of which this nobleman had always shown himself a zealous friend, however blamable his conduct might have been in other respects. Nor could the freedom which the preacher used in reproving from the pulpit the vices of great as well as small, fail to be displeasing to a man of Northumberland’s character. On these accounts, the duke was desirous to have Knox removed from that quarter, and had actually applied for this, by a letter to the council, previous to the occurrence just mentioned, alleging, as a pretext for this, that great numbers of Scotsmen resorted to him, as if any real danger was to be apprehended from this intercourse with a man of whose fidelity the existing government had so many strong pledges, and who uniformly employed all his influence to remove the prejudices of his countrymen against England.
In consequence of the charge exhibited against him to the council, he was summoned to repair immediately to London, and answer for his conduct. The following extract of a letter, written by him to Miss Bowes, will show the state of his mind on receiving this citation. “Urgent necessity will not suffer that I testify my mind unto you. My Lord of Westmoreland has written unto me this Wednesday, at six of the clock at night, immediately thereafter to repair unto him, as I will answer at my peril. I could not obtain license to remain the time of the sermon upon the morrow. Blessed be God who does ratify and confirm the truth of his word from time to time, as our weakness shall require! Your adversary, sister, doth labor, that you should doubt whether this be the word of God or not. If there had never been testimonial of the undoubted truth thereof before these our ages, may not such things as we see daily come to pass prove the verity thereof? Doth it not affirm, that it shall be preached, and yet contemned and lightly regarded by many, that the true professors thereof shall be hated by father, mother, and others of the contrary religion, that the most faithful shall be persecuted? And cometh not all these things to pass in ourselves? Rejoice, sister, for the same word that forespeaketh trouble doth certify us of the glory consequent. As for myself, albeit the extremity should now apprehend me, it is not come unlooked for. But, alas! I fear that yet I be not ripe, nor able to glorify Christ by my death, but what lacketh now, God shall perform in his own time. Be sure I will not forget you and your company, so long as mortal man may remember any earthly creature.
Upon reaching London, he found that his enemies had been uncommonly industrious in their endeavors to excite prejudices against him. But the council, after hearing his defense, were convinced of the malice of his accusers and gave him an honorable acquittal. He was employed to preach before the court, and his sermons gave great satisfaction to his majesty, who contracted a favor for him, and was anxious to have him promoted in the Church. The council resolved that he should preach in London and the southern counties during the following year, but they allowed him to return for a short time to Newcastle, either that he might settle his affairs in the north, or that a public testimony might be borne to his innocence in the place where it had been attacked. In a letter to his sister, dated Newcastle, 23d March 1553, we find him writing as follows: “Look farther of this matter in the other letter, written unto you at such time as many thought I should never write after to man. Heinous were the delations laid against me, and many are the lies that are made to the council. But God one day shall destroy all lying tongues, and shall deliver his servants from calamity. I look but one day or other to fall in their hands, for more and more rageth the members of the devil against me. This assault of Satan has been to his confusion, and to the glory of God. And therefore, sister, cease not to praise God, and to call for my comfort, for great is the multitude of enemies, whom every one the Lord shall confound. I intend not to depart from Newcastle before Easter.”
His confinement in the French Galleys, together with his labors in England, had considerably impaired the vigor of his constitution and brought on the gravel. In the course of the year 1553, he endured several violent attacks of this acute disorder, accompanied with severe pain in his head and stomach. “My daily labors must now increase,” says he, in the letter last quoted, “and therefore spare me as much as you may. My old malady troubles me sore, and nothing is more contrarious to my health than writing. Think not that I weary to visit you, but unless my pain shall cease, I will altogether become unprofitable. Work, O Lord, even as pleaseth thy infinite goodness, and relax the troubles, at thy own pleasure, of such as seeketh thy glory to shine. Amen!” In another letter to the same correspondent, he writes, “The pain of my head and stomach troubles me greatly. Daily I find my body decay, but the providence of my God shall not be frustrate. I am charged to be at Widdrington upon Sunday, where, I think, I shall also remain Monday. The Spirit of the Lord Jesus rest with you. Desire such faithful with whom ye communicate your mind, to pray that, at the pleasure of our good God, my dolour both of body and spirit may be relieved somewhat, for presently it is very bitter. Never found I the spirit, I praise my God, so abundant, where God’s glory ought to be declared, and, therefore, I am sure there abides something that yet we see not.” “Your messenger,” says he, in another letter, “found me in bed, after a sore trouble and most dolorous night, and so dolour may complain to dolour when we two meet. But the infinite goodness of God, who never despiseth the petitions of a sore troubled heart, shall, at his good pleasure, put end to these pains that we presently suffer, and, in place thereof, shall crown us with glory and immortality for ever. But, dear sister, I am even of mind with faithful Job, yet more sore tormented, that my pain shall have no end in this life. The power of God may, against the purpose of my heart, alter such things as appear not to be altered, as he did onto Job; but dolour and pain, with sore anguish, cries the contrary. And this is more plain than ever I spake, to let you know ye have a fellow and companion in trouble. And thus rest in Christ, for the head of the serpent is already broken down, and he is stinging us upon the heel.”
About the beginning of April, 1553, he returned to London. In the month of February preceding, Archbishop Cranmer had been directed by the council to present him to the vacant living of All-Hallows, in the city. This proposal, which originated in the personal favor of the young king, was very disagreeable to Northumberland, who exerted himself privately to hinder the appointment. But the interference of this nobleman was unnecessary, for Knox declined the living when it was offered to him, and, being questioned as to his reasons, readily acknowledged that he had not freedom in his mind to accept of a fixed charge in the present state of the English Church. His refusal, with the reasons which he had assigned for it, gave offense, and, on the fourteenth of April, he was called before the privy council. There were present the Archbishop of Canterbury, Goodrick Bishop of Ely and Lord Chancellor, the Earls of Bedford, Northampton, and Shrewsbury, the Lords Treasurer and Chamberlain, and the two Secretaries of State. They asked him why he had refused the benefice provided for him in London. He answered that he was fully satisfied that he could be more useful to the Church in another situation. Being interrogated, if it was his opinion that no person could lawfully serve in ecclesiastical ministrations according to the present laws of that realm; he frankly replied that there were many things in the English Church which needed reformation, and that unless they were reformed, ministers could not, in his opinion, discharge their office conscientiously in the sight of God, for no minister had authority, according to the existing laws, to prevent the unworthy from participating of the sacraments, which was “a chief point of his office.” Being asked, if kneeling at the Lord’s table vas not a matter of indifference, he replied that Christ’s action at the communion was most perfect, and in it no such posture was used, that it was most safe to follow his example, and that kneeling was an addition and invention of men. On this article, there was a smart dispute between him and some of the members of the council. After long reasoning, he was told that they had not sent for him with any bad design, but were sorry to understand that he was of a judgment contrary to the common order. He said he was sorry that the common order was contrary to Christ’s institution. The council dismissed him with soft words, advising him to use all means for removing the dislike which he had conceived to some of the forms of their Church, and to reconcile his mind, if possible, to the idea of communicating according to the established rites.
Scruples which had resisted the force of authority and argument, have often been found to yield to the more powerful influence of lucrative and honorable situations. But whether, with some, we shall consider Knox’s conduct on this occasion as indicating the poverty of his spirit, or shall regard it as a proof of true independence of mind, the prospect of elevation to the episcopal bench could not overcome the repugnance which he felt to a closer connection with the Church of England. Edward VI, with the concurrence of his privy council, offered him a bishopric. But he rejected it, and in the reasons which he gave for his refusal, declared the episcopal office to be destitute of divine authority in itself, and its exercise in the English Church to be inconsistent with the ecclesiastical canons. This is attested by Beza, a contemporary author. Knox himself, in one of his treatises, speaks of the “high promotions” offered him by Edward, and we shall find him, at a later period of his life, expressly asserting that he had refused a bishopric. Tonstal having been sequestered upon a charge of misprision of treason, the council came to a resolution, about this time, to divide his extensive diocese into two bishoprics, the seat of one of which was to be at Durham, and of the other at Newcastle. Ridley, Bishop of London, was to be translated to the former, and it is highly probable that Knox was intended for the latter. “He was offered a bishopric,” says Brand, “probably the new founded one at Newcastle, which he refused—revera noluit episcopari.”
It may be proper, in this place, to give a more particular account of Knox’s sentiments respecting the English Church. The reformation of religion, it is well known, was conducted on very different principles in England and in Scotland, both as to worship and ecclesiastical polity. In England, the papal supremacy was transferred to the prince; the hierarchy, being subjected to the civil power, was suffered to remain, and, the grosser superstitions having been removed, the principal forms of the ancient worship were retained, whereas, in Scotland, all of these were discarded as destitute of divine authority, unprofitable, burdensome, or savoring of Popery, and the worship and government of the Church were reduced to the primitive standard of scriptural simplicity. The influence of Knox in recommending this establishment to his countrymen is universally allowed, but, as he officiated for a considerable time in the Church of England, and on this account was supposed to have been pleased with its constitution, it has been usually said that he afterwards contracted a dislike to it during his exile on the Continent, and having imbibed the sentiments of Calvin, brought them along with him to his native country, and organized the Scottish Church after the Genevan model. This statement is inaccurate. His objections to the English liturgy were increased and strengthened during his residence on the Continent, but they existed before that time. His judgment respecting ecclesiastical government and discipline was matured during that period, but his radical sentiments on these heads were formed long before he saw Calvin, or had any intercourse with the foreign reformers. At Geneva he saw a Church, which, upon the whole, corresponded with his idea of the divinely authorized pattern, but he did not indiscriminately approve, nor servilely imitate, either that or any other existing establishment.
As early as the year 1547, he taught, in his first sermons at St. Andrews, that no mortal man could be head of the Church; there mere no true bishops, but such as preached personally without a substitute; that in religion men were bound to regulate themselves by divine laws; and that the sacraments ought to be administered exactly according to the institution and example of Christ. We have seen that, in a solemn disputation in the same place, he maintained that the Church has no authority, on pretext of decorating divine service, to devise religious ceremonies, and impose upon them arbitrary significations. This position he also defended in the year 1550, at Newcastle, and on his subsequent appearance before the privy council at London. It was impossible that the English Church, in any of the shapes which it assumed, could stand the test of these principles. The ecclesiastical supremacy, the various orders and dependencies of the hierarchy, crossing in baptism, and kneeling in the eucharist, with other ceremonies—the theatrical dress, the inimical gestures, the vain repetitions used in religious service—were all condemned and repudiated by the cardinal principle to which he steadily adhered, that, in the Church of Christ, and especially in the acts of worship, everything ought to be arranged and conducted, not by the pleasure and appointment of men, but according to the dictates of inspired wisdom and authority.
He rejoiced that liberty and encouragement were given to preach the pure word of God throughout the extensive realm of England; that idolatry and gross superstition were suppressed; and that the rulers were disposed to support the Reformation, and even to carry it farther than had yet been done. Considering the character of the greater part of the clergy, the extreme paucity of useful preachers, and other hindrances to the introduction of the primitive order and discipline of the Church, he acquiesced in the authority exercised by a part of the bishops, under the direction of the privy council, and endeavored to strengthen their hands in the advancement of the common cause, by painful preaching in the stations which were assigned to him. But he could not be induced to contradict or to conceal his fixed sentiments, and he cautiously avoided coming under engagements by which he must have assented to what, in his decided judgment, was either in its own nature unlawful, or injurious in its tendency to the interests of religion. Upon these principles, he never submitted to the unlimited use of the liturgy, during the time that he was in England, and refused to become a bishop or to accept a parochial charge. When he perceived that the progress of the Reformation was arrested by the influence of a popish faction, and the dictates of a temporizing policy; that abuses, which had formerly been acknowledged, began to be openly vindicated and stiffly maintained; above all, when he saw, after the accession of Elizabeth, that a retrograde course was taken, and a yoke of ceremonies, more grievous than that which the most sincere Protestants had formerly complained of, was imposed and enforced by arbitrary statutes, he judged it necessary to speak in a tone of more decided and severe reprehension.
Among other things which he censured in the English ecclesiastical establishment, were the continuing to employ a great number of ignorant and insufficient priests, who had been accustomed to nothing but saying mass and singing the litany; the general substitution of the reading of homilies, the mumbling of prayers, or the chanting of matins and even-song, in the place of preaching; the formal celebration of the sacraments, unaccompanied with instruction to the people; the scandalous prevalence of pluralities; and the total want of ecclesiastical discipline. He was of opinion that the clergy ought not to be entangled and diverted from the duties of their office by holding civil places; that the bishops should lay aside their secular titles and dignities; that the bishoprics should be divided, so that in every city or large town there might be placed a godly and learned man, with others joined with him, for the management of ecclesiastical matters; and that schools for the education of youth should be universally erected through the nation.
Nor did the principal persons who were active in effecting the English Reformation differ widely from Knox in these sentiments, although they might not have the same conviction of their importance, and of the expediency of reducing them to practice. We should mistake exceedingly, if we supposed that they were men of the same principles and temper with many who succeeded to their places, or that they were satisfied with the pitch to which they had carried the reformation of the English Church, and regarded it as a paragon and perfect pattern to other churches. They were strangers to those extravagant and illiberal notions which were afterwards adopted by the fond admirers of the hierarchy and liturgy. They would have laughed at the man who seriously asserted that the ecclesiastical ceremonies constituted any part of “the beauty of holiness,” or that the imposition of the hands of a bishop was essential to the validity of ordination; and they would not have owned that person as a Protestant who would have ventured to insinuate, that where these were wanting, there was no Christian ministry, no ordinances, no church, and perhaps, no salvation. Many things which their successors have applauded, they barely tolerated; and they would have been happy if the circumstances of their time would have permitted them to introduce alterations which have since been cried down as puritanical innovations. Strange as it may appear to some, I am not afraid of exceeding the truth when I say that if the English reformers, including the Protestant bishops, had been left to their own choice—if they had not been held back and retarded by a large mass of popishly affected clergy in the reign of Edward, and restrained by the supreme civil authority on the accession of Elizabeth—they would have brought the government and worship of the Church of England nearly to the pattern of other reformed churches. If the reader doubts this, he may consult the evidence produced in the notes.
Such, in particular, was the earnest wish of his majesty, Edward VI, a prince who, besides his other rare qualities, had an unfeigned reverence for the word of God and a disposition to comply with its precepts in preference to custom and established usages, and who showed himself uniformly inclined to give relief to his conscientious subjects, and sincerely bent on promoting the union of all the friends of the reformed religion at home and abroad. Of his intention on this head, there remain the most unquestionable and satisfactory documents. Had his life been spared, there is every reason to think that he would have accomplished the correction or removal of those evils in the English Church, which the most steady and enlightened Protestants have lamented. Had his sister Elizabeth been of the same spirit with him, and prosecuted the plan which he laid down, the consequences would have been most happy both for herself and for her people, for the government and for the Church. She would have united all the friends of the Reformation, who were the great support of her authority. She would have weakened the interest of the Roman Catholics, whom all her accommodating measures could not gain, nor prevent from repeatedly conspiring against her life and crown. She would have put an end to those dissensions among her Protestant subjects, which continued during the whole of her reign, which she bequeathed as a legacy to her successors, and which, being fomented and exasperated by the severities employed for their suppression, burst forth at length, to the temporary overthrow of the monarchy, as well as of the hierarchy, whose exorbitancies it had patronized, and whose corruptions it had sanctioned and maintained—dissensions which subsist to this day, which, though softened by the partial lenitive of a toleration, have gradually alienated from the communion of that Church, a large proportion of the people, and which, if a timely and suitable remedy be not applied, may ultimately undermine the foundations of the English establishment.
During the time that Knox was in London, he had full opportunity for observing the state of the court, and the observations which he made filled his mind with the most anxious forebodings. Of the piety and sincerity of the young king he entertained not the smallest doubt. Personal acquaintance heightened the idea which he had conceived of his character from report, and enabled him to add his testimony to the tribute of praise which all who knew that prince had so cheerfully paid to his uncommon virtues and endowments. But the principal courtiers, by whom he was at that time surrounded, were persons of a very different description, and gave proofs, too unequivocal to be mistaken, of indifference to all religion, and of a readiness to acquiesce, and even to assist, in the re-establishment of the ancient superstition, whenever a change of rulers should render this measure practicable and expedient. The health of Edward, which had long been declining, growing gradually worse, so that no hopes of his recovery remained, they were eager only about the aggrandizing of their families, and providing for the security of their places and fortunes.
The royal chaplains were men of a very different character from those who have usually occupied that place in the courts of princes. They were no time-serving, supple, smooth-tongued parasites; they were not afraid of forfeiting their pensions, or of alarming the consciences, and wounding the delicate ears, of their royal and noble auditors, by denouncing the vices which they committed, and the judgments of Heaven to which they exposed themselves. The freedom used by the venerable Latimer is well known from his printed sermons, which, for their homely honesty, artless simplicity, native humor, and genuine pictures of the manners of the age, continue still to be read with interest. Grindal, Lever, and Bradford, who were superior to Latimer in learning, evinced the same fidelity and courage. They censured the ambition, avarice, luxury, oppression, and irreligion which reigned in the court. As long as their sovereign was able to give personal attendance on the sermons, the preachers were treated with exterior decency and respect; but after he was confined to his chamber by a consumptive cough, the resentment of the courtiers vented itself openly in the most contumelious speeches and insolent behavior.
From what the reader has already seen of Knox’s character, he may readily conceive that the sermons delivered by him at court were not less free and bold than those of his colleagues. We may form a judgment of them from the account which he has given of the last sermon preached by him before his majesty, in which he directed several piercing glances of reproof at the haughty premier and his crafty relation, the Marquis of Winchester, lord high treasurer, both of whom were among his hearers. His text was John 13:18, “He that eateth bread with me, hath lifted up his heel against me.” It had been often seen, he said, that the most excellent and godly princes were surrounded with false and ungodly officers and counselors. Having inquired into the reasons of this, and illustrated the fact from the Scripture examples of Ahithophel under King David, Shebna under Hezekiah, and Judas under Jesus Christ, he added, “What wonder is it, then, that a young and innocent king be deceived by crafty, covetous, wicked, and ungodly counselors? I am greatly afraid that Ahithophel be counselor, that Judas bear the purse, and that Shebna be scribe, comptroller, and treasurer.”
On the sixth of July 1553, Edward VI departed this life, to the unspeakable grief of all the lovers of learning, virtue, and the Protestant religion, and a black cloud spread over England, which, after hovering a while, burst into a dreadful storm, that raged during five years with the most destructive fury. Knox was at this time in London. He received the afflicting tidings of his majesty’s decease with becoming fortitude and resignation to the sovereign will of Heaven. The event did not meet him unprepared; he had long anticipated it, with its probable consequences; the prospect had produced the keenest anguish in his breast, and drawn tears from his eyes, and he had frequently introduced the subject into his public discourses and confidential conversations with his friends. Writing to Mrs. Bowes, some time after this, he says, “How oft have you and I talked of these present days, till neither of us both could refrain tears, when no such appearance then was seen of man? How oft have I said unto you, that I looked daily for trouble, and that I wondered at it, that so long I should escape it! What moved me to refuse (and that with displeasure of all men, even of those that best loved me) those high promotions that were offered by him whom God hath taken from us for our offenses? Assuredly the foresight of trouble to come. How oft have I said unto you that the time would not be long that England would give me bread! Advise with the last letter that I wrote unto your brother-in-law, and consider what is therein contained.”
He remained in London until the nineteenth of July, when Mary was proclaimed queen, only nine days after the same ceremony had been performed in that city for the amiable and unfortunate Lady Jane Grey. The thoughtless demonstrations of joy given by the inhabitants, at an event which threatened such danger to the religious faith which they still avowed, affected him so deeply that he could not refrain, in his sermons, from publicly testifying his displeasure at their conduct, and from warning them of the calamities which they had reason to dread. Immediately after this, he appears to have withdrawn from London, and retired to the north of England, being justly apprehensive of the measures which might be pursued by the new government.
To induce the Protestants to submit peaceably to her authority, Mary amused them for some time with proclamations, in which she promised not to do violence to their consciences. Though aware of the bigotry of the queen, and the spirit of the religion to which she was devoted, the Protestant ministers reckoned it their duty to improve this respite. In the month of August, Knox returned to the South, and resumed his labors. It seems to have been at this time that he composed the Confession and Prayer, commonly used by him in the congregations to which he preached, in which he prayed for Queen Mary by name, and for the suppression of such as meditated rebellion. While he itinerated through Buckinghamshire, he was attended by large audiences, which his popularity and the alarming crisis drew together, especially at Amersham, a borough formerly noted for the general reception of the doctrines of Wickliffe, the precursor of the Reformation in England, and from which the seed sown by his followers had never been altogether eradicated. Wherever he went, he earnestly exhorted the people to repentance, under the tokens of divine displeasure, and to a steady adherence to the faith which they had embraced. He continued to preach in Buckinghamshire and Kent during the harvest months, although the measures of government daily rendered his safety more precarious, and in the beginning of November, returned to London, where he resided chiefly with Mr. Locke and Mr. Hickman, two respectable merchants of his acquaintance.
While the measures of the new government threatened danger to all the Protestants in the kingdom, and our countryman was under daily apprehensions of imprisonment, he met with a severe trial of a private nature. I have already mentioned his engagements to Miss Bowes. At this time, it was judged proper by both parties to avow the connection, and to proceed to solemnize their union. This step was opposed by the young lady’s father, and his opposition was accompanied with circumstances which gave much distress to Mrs. Bowes and her daughter, as well as to Knox. His refusal seems to have proceeded from family pride, but there is reason to think it was also influenced by religious considerations; as, from different hints dropped in the correspondence about this affair, he appears to have been, if not inclined to Popery in his judgment, at least resolved to comply with the religion now favored by the court. On this subject I find Knox writing from London to Mrs. Bowes, in a letter dated 20th September, 1553: “My great labors, wherein I desire your daily prayers, will not suffer me to satisfy my mind touching all the process between your husband and you touching my matter with his daughter. I praise God heartily both for your boldness and constancy. But I beseech you, mother, trouble not yourself too much therewith. It becomes me now to jeopard my life for the comfort and deliverance of my own flesh, as that I will do by God’s grace, both fear and friendship of all earthly creature laid aside. I have written to your husband, the contents whereof I trust our brother Harry will declare to you and my wife. If I escape sickness and imprisonment, [you may] be sure to see me soon.”
His wife and mother-in-law were anxious that he should settle in Berwick, or its neighborhood, where he might perhaps be allowed to reside peaceably, although in a more private way than formerly. To this proposal he does not seem to have been averse, provided he could have seen any prospect of his being able to support himself. Since the accession of Queen Mary, the payment of the salary allotted him by government had been stopped. Indeed, he had not received any part of it for the last twelve months. His father-in-law was abundantly able to give him a sufficient establishment, but Knox’s spirit could not brook the thought of being dependent on one who had treated him with coldness and disdain. Induced by the importunity of Mrs. Bowes, he applied to her brother-in-law, Sir Robert Bowes, and attempted, by a candid explanation of all circumstances, to remove any umbrage which had been conceived against him by the family, and to procure an amicable settlement of the whole affair. The unfavorable issue of this interview was communicated by him in a letter to Mrs. Bowes, of which the following is an extract:
“Dear mother—So may and will I call you, not only for the tender affection I bear unto you in Christ, but also for the motherly kindness ye have shown unto me at all times since our first acquaintance—albeit such things as I have desired (if it had pleased God), and ye and others have long desired, are never like to come to pass, yet shall ye be sure that my love and care toward you shall never abate, so long as I can care for any earthly creature. Ye shall understand that this sixth of November, I spake with Sir Robert Bowes on the matter ye know, according to your request, whose disdainful, yea, despiteful words, have so pierced my heart, that my life is bitter unto me. I bear a good countenance with a sore troubled heart, while he that ought to consider matters with a deep judgment is become not only a despiser, but also a taunter of God’s messengers. God be merciful unto him. Among other his most unpleasing words, while that I was about to have declared my part in the whole matter, he said, ‘Away with your rhetorical reasons, for I will not be persuaded with them.’ God knows I did use no rhetoric or colored speech, but would have spoken the truth, and that in most simple manner. I am not a good orator in my own cause. But what he would not be content to hear of me, God shall declare to him one day to his displeasure, unless he repent. It is supposed that all the matter comes by you and me. I pray God that your conscience were quiet and at peace, and I regard not what country consume this my wicked carcass. And were it not that no man’s unthankfulness shall move me (God supporting my infirmity) to cease to do profit unto Christ’s congregation, those days should be few that England would give me bread. And I fear that, when all is done, I shall be driven to that end, for I cannot abide the disdainful hatred of those of whom not only I thought I might have craved kindness, but also to whom God hath been by me more liberal than they be thankful. But so must men declare themselves. Affection does trouble me at this present, yet I doubt not to overcome by Him, who will not leave comfortless his afflicted to the end, whose omnipotent Spirit rest with you. Amen.”
He refers to the same disagreeable affair in another letter written about the end of this year. After mentioning the bad state of his health, which had been greatly increased by distress of mind, he adds, “It will be after the twelfth day before I can be at Berwick, and almost I am determined not to come at all. Ye know the cause. God be more merciful unto some than they are equitable unto me in judgment. The testimony of my conscience absolves me, before His face who looks not upon the presence of man.” These extracts show us the heart of the writer; they discover the sensibility of his temper, the keenness of his feelings, and his pride and independence of spirit struggling with a sense of duty, and affection to his relations.
About the end of November or the beginning of December, he retired from the South to Newcastle. The parliament had by this time repealed all the laws made in favor of the Reformation, and restored the Roman Catholic religion, but such as pleased were permitted to observe the Protestant worship until the twentieth of December. After that period they were thrown out of the protection of the law, and exposed to the pains decreed against heretics. Many of the bishops and ministers were already committed to prison; others had escaped beyond sea. Knox could not, however, prevail on himself either to flee the kingdom, or to desist from preaching. Three days after the period limited by the statute had elapsed, he says in one of his letters, “I may not answer your places of Scripture, nor yet write the exposition of the sixth Psalm, for every day of this week must I preach, if this wicked carcass will permit.”
His enemies, who had been defeated in their attempts to ruin him under the former government, had now access to rulers sufficiently disposed to listen to their information. They were not dilatory in improving the opportunity. In the end of December, 1553, or beginning of January, 1554, his servant was seized as he carried letters from him to his wife and mother-in-law, and the letters were taken from him in the hopes of finding in them some matter of accusation against the writer. As they contained merely religious advices, and exhortations to constancy in the Protestant faith, which he was prepared to avow before any court to which he might be called, he was not alarmed at their interception. But being aware of the uneasiness which the report would give to his friends at Berwick, he set out immediately with the design of visiting them. Notwithstanding the secrecy with which he conducted this journey, the rumor of it quickly spread, and some of his wife’s relations who had joined him, perceiving that he was in imminent danger, prevailed on him, greatly against his own inclination, to relinquish the design of proceeding to Berwick, and retire to a place of safety on the coast, from which he might escape by sea, provided the search for him was continued. From this retreat he wrote to his wife and her mother, acquainting them with the reasons of his absconding and the small prospect which he had of being able at that time to see them. “His brethren,” he said, “had, partly by admonition, partly by tears, compelled him to obey,” somewhat contrary to his own mind, for “never could he die in a more honest quarrel,” than by suffering as a witness for that truth of which God had made him a messenger. Notwithstanding this state of his mind, he promised, if Providence prepared the way, to “obey the voices of his brethren, and give place to the fury and rage of Satan for a time.”
Having ascertained that his friends were not mistaken in the apprehensions which they felt for his safety, and that he could not hope to elude the pursuit of his enemies if he remained in England, he procured a vessel which landed him safely at Dieppe, a port of Normandy in France, on the twentieth of January, 1554.