By Liana McKown
“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
We can see the working out of this passage in the life and ministry of John Knox. God used Knox to accomplish His will, bear fruit, and have long-term impact. John Knox was committed to reforming Scotland, and, because of God’s blessing and his determination to preach the truth, the Reformation was brought to Scotland and the country was forever changed.
Although John Knox was bothered by the ignorance of the Catholic Church, he became a priest. When George Wishart, a Protestant teacher, for whom he served as a bodyguard, was arrested and burned at the stake for heresy, Knox finally converted to Protestantism. His first call to preach took place when he was asked to substitute at St. Andrews, a place of safety for Protestants at that time. At first, Knox said no, but was eventually moved to tears and accepted the call. Knox was imprisoned as a galley slave for nineteen months a short time later.
He was released in 1549, and served in England for five years. This is when Knox first spoke out about the idolatry of the Catholic Mass. He said, “All worshipping, honoring, or service invented by the brain of man in the religion of God, without his own express commandment, is idolatry. The Mass is invented by the brain of man, without any commandment of God; therefore it is idolatry.” Knox justified this statement by recounting the story of Saul and the battle with the Amalekites. God had told Saul to kill everything, but Saul disobeyed. Saul had good intentions, but it was still transgression of God’s command, just like the Mass. Knox also spoke out against the English Second Book of Common Prayer, which directed the parishioners to kneel before the bread and wine. According to the Catholics, the elements physically turned into Christ’s flesh and blood, but Knox wholeheartedly disagreed. He stated that the bread and wine were only physical objects and should not be worshipped. Knox had such a great influence that the book was recalled from the printers until it could be re-evaluated.
Knox fled to Geneva in 1553, when Roman Catholic Mary Tudor was crowned queen of England. He met John Calvin and ministered to the people. He also wrote about the risks of Papist rule. With love for his countrymen, Knox wrote that he hoped Jesus would appear to his feeble disciples and grant peace to them. He rejoiced that many people were anxious to hear the true Word, even though they faced persecution. Knox continued to teach that the practices of the Catholic Church were unacceptable and not endorsed by Scripture.
When Knox returned to Scotland in 1559, he was deemed an outlaw and a rebel. However, he still preached to the people of Scotland and eventually became the pastor of the largest church in the country’s capitol city, even speaking before Queen Mary Stuart of Scotland several times. One of his well-known sermons was based on the Bible passage about Christ’s cleansing of the temple. He referred to this Scripture to condemn the corruptions of the Roman Catholic church. Based on this message, a Reformed worship service was set up in the town, and a few priests became believers. Reformed worship was ratified, but Queen Mary was still permitted to perform the Mass in her private chapel. Knox was infuriated by this and proclaimed that one mass was more fearful to him than 10,000 men “landed in any part of the realm, of purpose to suppress the whole religion.”
Knox’s influence during this period was critical as reformers battled against the religious traditions of the day. The reigning monarch of the time dictated the “favored” religion. The schools and churches taught that official religion. There were many consequences if you did not adhere to this particular religion, including risks of personal wealth, freedom, and even imprisonment, torture, and execution. The Catholics believed that the priests were the link between God and people, and that the pope was ordained by God. Conversely, the Protestants believed that people could find Christ without a priest or pope and that ministers were ordinary people. The Catholics also believed that the priest or pope were able to forgive sins for a price, while the Protestants believed that only God could forgive sins. Knox fought for the church to be free of the pope and cardinals, and introduced elected representatives instead.
Even today, we can learn lessons from John Knox. He was raised out of a church that ignored the Bible and did things their own way. We too must know the Bible, so that we might live in a way pleasing to God. Another lesson we can learn from Knox is to not fear man in this temporary life, but to fear the eternal God. Knox put his faith in the Lord, and God blessed his faith and used him to effect changes. Many of the people in the church of Knox’s day just blindly went through the motions; they didn’t know what the Bible taught about the sacraments. It is important for us to know why we conduct corporate worship the way we do.
Through Knox, reformed Protestantism began to have widespread acceptance in Scotland. John Knox said, “I love to blow my Master’s trumpet.” His strong desire for the people to know God’s Word brought the Gospel and proper worship back to Scotland.