The epitaph of John Knox appropriately reads, “There lies he who never feared the face of man.” Mary, Queen of Scots, summoned Knox to meet with her on five separate occasions. Each time he unfailingly stood for the Gospel truth, which he regularly preached. His opponents extended far beyond the Queen.
Knox was born in Scotland into the turbulent early years of the 16th century. His youthful education followed the path of Roman Catholic study. Having read the original works of Jerome and Augustine, he realized the Roman Catholic Church of his day was far removed from the early church. God brought him to the Protestant faith, a faith that altered the rest of his life. Surrounded by a superstitious people, a clergy that owned half of the country’s wealth, and a people who did not have a Bible in their own language, Knox struggled to answer those who scoffed at church and national reform.
Yet, Knox did not fear man. He began to faithfully teach Protestant doctrine. He was declared a heretic. Captured by the French, he served as a galley slave for nineteen months. His release allowed him to minister in England and serve as a chaplain for Edward VI. He turned down an offer to become bishop because he did not believe in episcopacy. After Mary came to the throne, he had to flee to France. On the continent he was befriended by John Calvin and later pastored a church in Geneva. During this time he carried on communications of advice and counsel to the leaderless laity in Scotland.
Upon his return to Scotland, he regularly battled the political schemes of Queen Mary. This led to civil war in Scotland, face-to-face meetings with her, and his fleeing Edinburgh. Against the Queen’s wishes, Parliament adopted Protestantism as Scotland’s national religion. Opposition to this did not die.
The author, Thomas McCrie, opens up for the reader the ongoing intrigue, plotting, and murder that occurred in order to bring Catholicism back to the forefront.
Knox continued to preach the Gospel to a people whom God had prepared to hear it and love it. He returned to his Edinburgh pastorate after the final civil war. In weakened health he had to be carried to the pulpit. There he came to life — once again able to preach the unfailing truths of his unfailing God. He died in l572.
McCrie has written an absorbing history. What a wealth of information! Over one hundred pages of endnotes add to the depth of the material from which the reader can glean. This is a must read for those interested in digging into the life and times of John Knox.
Knox remains an important study in our day. He brought Presbyterianism to Scotland. He constantly taught the role and relationship of church and state in society. He laid the foundation for the freedoms on which America was established. He worked to establish schools where students could learn to read. He saw the importance of applying Christianity to all of life and society.
The reader also learns how Knox faced great trials faithfully — the death of his first wife, separation from his wife and children, friends who turned against Protestant doctrine, captivity, and flight for safety’s sake.
The author rightly points out that Knox was a flawed human being. He was a sinner saved by grace. By reading this biography, we can gain a better understanding of his trials and faithful stand. We can be encouraged to stand for the Lord in the difficulties we face, whether they come in church, family, or society.
- Byron Snapp
Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia. He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina. He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren.