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Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah—Psalm 37:4, KJV
It wasn’t the case that John Knox had not been a pastor before this date. After all, he has served as a pastor in a couple of congregations in his Anglican days. Further, during his time of exile, he had been a undershepherd in Germany and Geneva. But now, having returned to his beloved Scotland, John Knox was called to St. Giles, the mother church of Presbyterianism, the High Kirk of Edinburgh on this day, July 7, 1559. He was to serve the people of God there, except for a brief stint in St. Andrews, Scotland, for the next twelve years, until his death in 1572.
St. Giles was a historic church in many ways. It went back to the Middle Ages. In more recent times, the National Covenant was signed there in 1638. There is a framed copy of it in one of the rooms. Even the Solemn League and Covenant was drawn up in 1643 when the General Assembly met there at the church. Oh yes, this was also the church in which one Jenny Geddes threw her stool at an Anglican leader when he tried to lead the worship from the new Anglican Prayer Book, which action in turn led to a riot. Supposedly, there is a stool present within the church there to remember that celebrated incident. Then in 1904, a statue of John Knox himself was presented by Scots people from all over the world for the church.
Knox was a busy pastor during these years at St. Giles. He preached twice on Sunday. Another day of the week had him preaching three times. He met with the Session of Elders weekly for discipline purposes. Still others of the congregation met with him for what is described as “exercises in the Scriptures.” The regional and national meetings of the church were not neglected by the Reformer. And of course, he was invited to preach the Word all over the kingdom during those years. In fact, so busy was he that the Town Council in 1562 brought in another pastor by the name of John Craig to assist Knox in the ministrations of the ministry.
As far as books were concerned, in 1652, the First Book of Discipline was written there by Pastor Knox. Five years later, his Reformation in Scotland was completed while a pastor there.
And most of all, his celebrated conversation with Mary, Queen of Scots, all took place during these twelve years. He wanted to lead her to Jesus as Lord and Savior. She wanted to get rid of him out of the kingdom!
He was to take one sabbatical for his own safety to St. Andrews for a while. Someone tried to kill him as he sat in his study at his table. The bullet missed him. So he went to this other pulpit for a time. After several months, the Session re-called him as their pastor. He went back, but with little strength for the work of the pastor.
John Knox went to be with the Lord in 1572, the details of which this author will write on that date in Presbyterian History.
Words to Live By:
It has been said that John Knox was the Scotsman to whom the whole world owes a debt. Certainly, we Christian Presbyterians need to celebrate what the Holy Spirit did through him in Scotland and our land, considering that 2014 is the 500th anniversary of his birth. Is your church planning any sort of celebration of his life and ministry? It is not too late to plan one for your people’s appreciation of this Reformer, not to elevate the man, but to praise the Lord who so powerfully worked through him.
My Life is in the Custody of Him Whose Glory I Seek
The great Reformer, John Knox, had been in the land of Scotland for a mere six weeks, arriving on May 2, 1559. He had been preaching continuously along the coast of the kingdom when there came to him an invitation from the Protestant Lords of the congregation.
The invitation took place in a historical context. On May 31 of that year, the Second Covenant had been signed by these very same Lords which pledged them to mutual support and defense in the cause of religion, and by that, they meant the Protestant religion. There were also certain promises made by the Queen Regent with respect to the town of Perth and its people, who had demonstrated against the Roman Catholic faith and life. As soon as she took possession of the town with the help of French troops, she began to violate every promise she had made, excusing her actions by stating that she was not bound to keep promises made to heretics.
In reaction to that, the Protestant Lords invited John Knox to come to St. Andrews to preach the Word in the Abbey Church there. The Reformed accepted the invitation. When the Archbishop heard of this invitation and its acceptance, he informed John Knox that his military forces would seek to stop him by force should he appear in the pulpit. Further, the Queen regent herself was but a dozen miles away with French troops who were hostile to the Reformation cause.
Alarmed at the circumstances which had arisen from their invitation to the Reformer, and unwilling to have his life in imminent peril, they communicated with Knox their concern for his life if he agreed to their invitation. His answer to them was typical of the great Reformed and should serve as an example to all entrusted with the gospel. He replied:
“As for the fear of danger that may come to me, let no man be solicitous; for my life is in the custody of Him whose glory I seek. I desire the hand and weapon of no man to defend me. I only crave audience; which, if it be denied here unto me at this time, I must seek farther where I may have it.”
This was clearly the man who never feared the fact of man. Knox preached at St. Andrews on June 16, 1559. His audience not only included the town people, but also the arch bishop, and “scowling bands of armed retainers prepared for the assassination of the fearless preacher.” (Rev. W. M. Hetherington, “History of the Church of Scotland” (p. 45)
His theme was that of the Lord Jesus ejecting the money changers out of the temple in Jerusalem, which he applied as a necessity of the true church in removing the corruptions of the Roman Catholic church, and purifying the church. Such was the effect of this sermon, and three like it in the same pulpit, was that the inhabitants of the area set up Reformed worship in the town.
Words to Live By:
When Scotland was on Fire
In this dear land in days of yore,
God moved in mighty power;
His Word He blessed and souls found rest,
When Scotland was on fire.
And in those days of yesteryear,
Men loved the Word of God;
They preached it true and lived it too,
When Scotland was on fire.
Once more Lord, once more Lord;
As in the days of yore;
On this dear land, Thy Spirit pour,
Set Scotland now on fire.
There were Welsh and Peden, Craig and Knox;
McCheyne and Rutherford;
Bonar and Wishart, Livingston,
These loved the Word of God,
And many others of renown,
For Christ their lives laid down;
When Scotland was on fire for God,
When Scotland was on fire.
In this dear land in days of yore,
Men honoured Christ the Lord;
They followed him, come loss or gain,
When Scotland was on fire.
In castle grand and but’n ben,
God had the chiefest place,
Nor stake nor rack could hold them back,
When Scotland was on fire.
Once more, once more, once more Oh Lord,
On this dear land of heather and glens
And lochs and hills,
Set Scotland now on fire.
Anyone who has been called into the ministry of the Word of God prays for a godly response in the hearts of the listeners. Certainly this was the desire of the Reformers in Scotland in the sixteenth century. To put away all things that dishonor His name was the prayer of those who entered into the sacred calling. But it didn’t always work out that way in practice.
John Knox had returned to Scotland from Geneva Switzerland on May 2, 1559 (See that post on TDPH for a review). Beginning to preach the Reformed Faith to his fellow Scotsmen, John Knox had preached a thunderous sermon to the citizens of Perth, Scotland. The subject of his sermon exposed the idolatry of the Roman Church which included the worship of images.
Immediately following that message, a Roman Catholic priest unwisely attempted to serve mass. A young boy showed his displeasure at the attempt, for which he was struck by the priest. The boy retaliated by throwing a stone, which broke one of the images on the altar. Soon, the spectators of the altercation proceeded to favor the young boy’s action, by breaking all the images in the church. It turned into a riot when a mob proceeded to enter into all the Roman Catholic churches and even the monasteries, and lay them to ruins. Even John Knox, who tried to stop the unruly mob, referred to them as “a rascal multitude.”
Queen Mary of Guise, the queen regent, responded by calling forth her army, augmented by French troops in the area, and advanced to the city of Perth, threatening to lay waste the town and the citizens of it. The Protestant Lords of the congregation were able to assembly 25,000 soldiers to protect the Protestants. Obviously, a military showdown was about to take place. The queen regent, Mary, anxious to avoid such a showdown, entered then into an agreement that the town would be left open to the Queen, that none of its inhabitants would be interfered with, that the French troops would not enter the city, and that when the Queen would leave, there would be no garrison of troops left in the town.
All of these actions led to that which has been called the Second Covenant, signed and sealed on May 31, 1559. By this, those who signed the covenant resolved 1) to maintain their evangelical confederation; 2) to do all things required by God in the Scriptures; 3) to observe true worship; 4) to preserve the liberty of the Congregation and each member of it. These four points made up this Second Covenant, which was signed in the name of the whole Congregation, with the specific names of the Earls of Argyle and Glencairn, Lord James Stewart, Lord’s Boyd and Ochiltree, and Matthew Campbell.
The Second Covenant was immediately put to the test as the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise, turned her back on all of her promises to the Protestants. The battle for the soul of the nation was set to continue in the land.
Words to Live By:
It would be easy to resort to fleshly means to bring about the spiritual kingdom of God in a land. Our spiritual ancestors in Scotland were under a different standard as they sought to put away all things that dishonor His name. That is what this Second Covenant was all about on this day in 1559. Through godly prayer and spiritual works, as our Confessional Fathers put it, we are to destroy the kingdom of Satan, advance the kingdom of grace, and hasten the kingdom of glory.
An excerpt from Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, edited by Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet (Baker, 1983), vol. 7, p. 183.
“There exists but a small number of letters exchanged between Knox and Calvin. Those of the Scotch Reformer alluded to [earlier in this letter] in Calvin’s answer, have been lost and the letters of the Reformer of Geneva have not had a better fate. Dr. McCrie, the learned historian of Knox, affords no explanation of the loss of this precious correspondence, which leaves in history a void so much to be regretted.”
Geneva, 23d April 1561.
“. . . I come now to your letter, which was lately brought to me by a pious brother who has come here to pursue his studies. I rejoice exceedingly, as you may easily suppose, that the gospel has made such rapid and happy progress among you. That they should have stirred up violent opposition against you is nothing new. But the power of God is the more conspicuously displayed in this, that no attacks either of Satan or of the ungodly have hitherto prevented you from advancing with triumphant constancy in the right course, though you could never have been equal to the task of resistance, unless He who is superior to all the world had held out to you from heaven a helping hand. With regard to ceremonies, I trust, even should you displease many, that you will moderate your rigor. Of course it is your duty to see that the church be purged of all defilements which flow from error and superstition. For it behooves us to strive sedulously that the mysteries of God be not polluted by the admixture of ludicrous or disgusting rites. But with this exception, you are well aware that certain things should be tolerated even if you do not quite approve of them. I am deeply afflicted, as you may well believe, that the nobles of your nation are split into factions, and it is not without reason that you are more distressed and tormented, because Satan is now plotting in the bosom of your church, than you were formerly by the commotions stirred up by the French. But God is to be intreated that he may heal this evil also. Here we are exposed to many dangers. Nothing but our confidence in the divine protection exempts us from trepidation, though we are not free from fears.
Farewell, distinguished sir and honored brother. May the Lord always stand by you, govern, protect, and sustain you by his power. Your distress for the loss of your wife justly commands my deepest sympathy. Persons of her merit are not often to be met with. But as you have well learned from what source consolation for your sorrow is to be sought, I doubt not but you endure with patience this calamity. You will salute very courteously all your pious brethren. My colleagues also beg me to present to you their best respects.”
Words to Live By:
In my younger years in the ministry, this verse never failed to temper my agitated feelings against those who were my opponents in doctrine and life:
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness, God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” — (2 Timothy 2:24-26, ESV)
The Holy Spirit of God has often used various circumstances to call His own into ministry. In the case of John Knox, it was a public challenge delivered by a small congregation in a castle in Scotland by the voice of their Protestant pastor, John Rough.
John Knox was approximately 42 years of age. We don’t know when this future Reformer saw the light of the Reformed faith, but George Wishart likely had something to do with it. Knox had been his body-guard as Wishart powerfully preached the gospel throughout Scotland. When the latter was martyred, Knox in time became a religious tutor to three children—two sons of Hugh Douglas of Longniddry, as well as the son of John Cockburn of Ormiston. The two fathers, Douglas and Cockburn, had embraced the truths of the Reformation, and desired their children to be taught of Knox. So, not only in elementary truths like grammar, but also in Scriptural readings and catechising, Knox led his young pupils as he stayed in their homes. When it became evident that Knox became more and more a marked man by the Roman Catholic authorities, the parents urged Knox to take their children into St. Andrews Castle, where a number of people had fled for their lives.
It was on April 10, 1547 that John Knox arrived at St. Andrews Castle with his three pupils. It is recorded that he began at the same place in their instruction that he had left off in the home of their parents. Their names, for the record, were Francis Douglas, George Douglas, and Alexander Cockburn. Soon that private tutoring became known to the Protestant pastor of the congregation now gathered in the castle, the Rev. John Rough. He came to Knox and urged him to take on what we would call today an associate pastor’s position, as Rough was weary in the work. Knox turned him down flat, saying that he would not do anything without a lawful calling from God.
At this, Rough, with the support of two or three others, decided to challenge Knox publicly. John Rough, on the following Sunday, preached a message on the election of ministers as his theme. At its close, he, in the name of the small castle congregation, addressed John Knox with the following words, which we find recorded in Knox’s book, The History of the Reformation in Scotland, (p. 72):—
“Brother, ye shall not be offended, albeit that I speak unto you that which I have in charge, even from all those here present: — In the name of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ, and in the name of these that presently call you by my mouth, I charge you, that ye refuse not this holy vocation, but, as ye tender the Glory of God, the increase of Christ His kingdom, the edification of your brethren, and the comfort of me, oppressed by the multitudes of labours, that ye take upon you the public office of preaching, even as ye look to avoid God’s heavy displeasure, and desire that He shall multiply his graces upon you.”
The future Reformer left the worship time in tears and spent many days and night in grief and trouble of heart. Eventually, he came to believe that the call came from God.
His first sermon was in the parish church of St. Andrews, where he took as his text that of Daniel 7:24, 25. Laying open the false doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, he compared their justification by works with the justification by faith alone as expressed in the Word of God. The hearers said that while others lop off the branches of Romanism, Knox had struck at the root to destroy the whole.
The author of The History of the Church of Scotland, W. M. Hetherington, writes on page 34 that such preaching by Knox was the real beginning of the Reformation in Scotland. From that time forth, no appeal was made by the Reformers to any other standard except the Word of God.
Yet before John Knox could move on in his fledgling ministry to declare the unsearchable riches of the gospel, the castle was attacked and captured by French naval forces, and forced to surrender on July 31 of the same year. Knox would spend the next 19 months as a galley-slave on a French ship, which we will consider in a future post.
Words to Live By: The inspired New Testament writer James leaves the church a sober warning in chapter 3, verse 1 of his letter, when he wrote “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (ESV) Whether it was this which prompted John Knox to respond with great tears, we know not. But he obviously believed that any call for him to minister the Word of God had to come from God’s Spirit, and not merely by a group of men. Readers, remember the words of the unknown author to the Hebrews, who wrote in Hebrews 13:7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (ESV)
Image sources: Two different conceptions of what John Knox looked like. The first is a bit “unorthodox”—an image from a cigarette trading card, specifically, Ogden’s “Leaders of Men” series, no. 27, issued in 1924. The second is from a postcard bearing only the attribution “A. H., édit.” to designate the publisher. Both cards are among a small collection preserved at the PCA Historical Center.
A True Portrait of the Man
Mention the name of John Knox, and what comes to your mind? Founder of Presbyterianism, the land of Scotland, Protestant Reformer, author, rigid leader, ever ready to prove his preaching orthodox by “apostolic blows and knocks”? Such is the picture which we have of this sixteenth century individual.
We always could expect negative views of him from his enemies in those centuries in assailing the character of this leader. They didn’t want his brand of Reformation truths and practices to become the norm in the Kingdom of Scotland. But often his friends in both those years and today have felt that they must apologize for his fierce statements and actions, where and when no apology was needed. Of course, what doesn’t help is the familiar picture of John Knox, so familiar in all our minds, where his expression and especially his beard makes the present day characters of Duck Dynasty tame by comparison. And then there was that sermon written overseas entitled “First Draft of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regimen of Women,” which diatribe was against the female rulers of England. All this causes us to be thankful for the result of the establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland, and our country, but sometimes apologetic about the instrument used to bring it about.
Yet all these negatives were challenged by the discovery of four unpublished papers of John Knox in a collegiate library in London near the close of the nineteenth century. These papers were not originals to be sure, but transcripts from the originals written in the sixteenth century. And from them, we get a true portrait of the character of John Knox.
In addition, they reveal a little more of his ministry spent—are you ready for this?—in England. In fact, half of his ministry was spent either in England, or among English exiles in Germany and Geneva. Further, today in April 7, 1549, we remember his license being issued as a priest of the Church of England.
John Knox himself in his great work, The History of the Reformation in Scotland, describes his time in the Church of England with a very succinct paragraph on page 98. He said, “The said John Knox was first appointed Preacher to Berwick; then to Newcastle; last he was called to London and to the south parts of England, where he remained to the death of King Edward the Sixth.” His whole five years of ministry was reduced to thirty-seven words.
The footnote under that quotation reads on the same page, “In this modest sentence John Knox disposes of his English residence of five years, making no reference to his appointment as a Royal Chaplain to Edward the Sixth, before whom he frequently preached at Windsor, Hampton Court, St. James’s and Westminster, nor to the share he took in preparation of the Book of Common Prayer and the Articles to the Church of England, nor to his declination first of the Bishopric of Rochester, and afterward of the vicarage of All Hallows in London. His appointment as preacher to Berwick and Newcastle was made by the Privy Council of England.”
As the English Reformer, the papers referenced above reveal the true character of Knox as exhibiting “a combination of tenderness with strength, of playful humor with the profoundest seriousness, of all genial sympathies with fervor of devotional and burning zeal for truth.” (p. 443) Knox is shown as a guide of souls in trouble, with remarkable wisdom and moderation. To be sure, John Knox did not compromise his divine calling as a pastor in the Church of England. He stood fast by his conviction that Scripture alone must command his actions as a servant of God.
Suffice to say, while this author rejoices in the Scottish Reformation, with no little gratitude that his ancestors were members of the Church of Scotland on his mother’s side, we must also rejoice in the influence that John Knox had on the English Reformation, where, preaching from the Word of God, he proclaimed the unsearchable riches of God’s grace, while defending the historic Christian faith from those who would seek to destroy it.
Then too, in cooperation with those Reformed members of the Church of England, Knox was a powerful influence in framing the Book of Common Prayer and the English Articles of Religion. It was only with the death of Edward the Sixth that Mary Tudor came to the throne with the intention of restoring Romanism to the realm, which in turn forced Knox to flee to the Continent with countless other Protestants.
Words to Live By: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness, God may perhaps grant them repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” — 2 Timothy 2:24 – 26, ESV.
He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord. (Proverbs 18:22, ESV)
It isn’t often that someone in the rough and tumble of ministry in Reformation Scotland would even think of finding a wife. But our Presbyterian founder, John Knox himself, found in God’s providence, two wives who were willing to take his life as their own.
His first wife was Marjorie Bowes. We don’t know much about her history, and no date on which to place down a separate post on her. She is mentioned twice in “The Reformation in Scotland.” The first reference is on page 119 where it states that John Calvin invited him to Geneva. Knox sent on his wife and her mother there, and followed them after a time. Then on page 240, it is stated that Knox “was in no small heaviness by reason of the late death of “his dear bed-fellow”, Marjorie Bowes. A footnote mentions John Calvin writing to a Christopher Goodman on 23rd April, 1564, “I am not a little grieved that our brother Knox has been deprived of the most delightful of wives.” This note spoke of the grief of our Reformer, for his wife had died four years earlier in 1560. This first marriage union brought into the family two sons, who were both youngsters at the time of her death, namely Nathaniel and Eleazer. Both would grow up, but not leave any heirs due to their singleness.
Four years after the death of his first wife, John Knox met his second soon-to-be wife, Elizabeth Stewart, youngest daughter of Andrew Stewart. Their family was staunchly Protestant, though related to Queen Mary at the time. And indeed, she was taken in marriage on March 26, 1564, when she was but 19 years of age, by the Reformer when he was in his late fifties. Their “courtship” was interesting to say the least.
In the Introduction of the “Ladies of the Covenant.” it was described by Mr. Robert Millar, minister of Paisley, to the historian of “The Sufferings of the Church of Scotland,” Mr. Wodrow, on November 15, 1722. It follows:
“John Knox, before the light of the Reformation broke up, traveled among several honest families in the West of Scotland, who were converts to the Protestant religion. Particularly he visited often Steward, Lord Ochiltree’s family, preaching the gospel privately to those who were willing to receive it. The Lady and some of the family were converts.
“Her ladyship had a chamber, table, stool, and a candlestick for the prophet, and one night about supper, says to him, ‘Mr Knox, I think that you are at a loss by want of a wife,’ to which he said, ‘Madam, I think nobody will take such a wanderer as I;’ to which she replied, ‘Sire, if that be your objection, I’ll make inquiry to find an answer, ‘gainst our next meeting.’
“The Lady accordingly addressed herself to her eldest daughter, telling her she might be very happy if she could marry Mr. Knox, who would be a great Reformer, and a credit to the church; but she despised the proposal, hoping that her ladyship wished her better than to marry a poor wanderer.
“The Lady addressed herself to her second daughter, who answered as the eldest.
“Then the Lady spoke to her third daughter, Elizabeth, about nineteen years of age, who very frankly said, ‘Madam, I’ll be very willing to marry him, but I fear that he’ll not take me,’ to which the Lady replied, ‘If that be all your objection, I’ll soon get an answer.’
“Next night, at supper, the Lady said to Mr. Knox, ‘Sir, I have been considering upon a wife for you, and find one very willing.’ To which Knox said, ‘Who is it Madam?’
She answered, ‘My younger daughter sitting by you at the table.’
“Addressing himself to the young lady, he said ‘My bird, are you willing to marry me?’ She answered, “Yes, Sir, only I fear you’ll not be willing to take me.’ He said, ‘My bird, if you be willing to take me, you must take your venture of God’s providence, as I do. I go through the country sometimes on my foot, with a wallet on my arm, a shirt, a clean band, and a Bible in it; you may put some things in it for yourself, and if I bid you take the wallet, you must do it, and go where I go, and lodge where I lodge.’ ‘Sir,’ says she, ‘I’ll do all this.’ ‘Will you be as good as your word?’ ‘Yes, I will.’
Upon which, the marriage talk was concluded, and she lived happily with him, and had three daughters from him. She afterward lived with him when he was minister at Edinburgh.”
Now this marriage does not resonate with twenty-first century standards of American Christians, nor did their age difference resonate with seventeenth century Scottish Christians. But she lived as his wife, with a family of five, three daughters and two adopted sons, for the next eight years. All three daughters married and brought forth children of their own to continue the line of John Knox. After his death, the General Assembly granted her his pension for a year. She married again and went to be with the Lord in 1612.
Words to Live By: God often works by mysterious providence to accomplish His sovereign purposes, including that of the bond of marriage.
Tags: John Knox
The Gospel, for All Peoples, Everywhere.
We are privileged to have as our guest author this day John Knox . . . yes, that John Knox . . . of sixteenth century Scotland. Writing in chapter 2 of his History of the Reformation of Religion in Scotland, the Protestant and Presbyterian Reformer of Scotland describes for us the beginnings of “the People’s Bible” on pages 37 and following. It was the day when the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in English were made available to the masses, instead of only been printed in Latin and chained to ancient churches of the realm. Knox writes:
“Men began to inquire, if it were not as lawful to men that understood no Latin to use the Word of their Salvation in the tongue (i.e. language) they understood, as it was for Latin men to have it in Latin, and Grecians to Hebrews in their languages. It was answered, that the Kirk had forbidden all kinds of languages but these three, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. But men demanded when that inhibition was given, and what Council had ordained it, considering that in the days of Chrysostom, he complained that the people used not the psalms, and other Holy Books, in their own languages? And if you say they were Greeks, and understood the Greek language, we answer that CHRIST JESUS HAS COMMANDED HIS WORD TO BE PREACHED TO ALL NATIONS. Now if it ought to be preached to all nations, it must be preached in the language they understand; and if it be lawful to preach it, and to hear it preached in all languages, why shall it not be lawful to read it, and to hear it read in all languages, to the end that the people may ‘try the spirits,’ according to the commandment of the Apostle?
“(After further discussion) the conclusion was ‘by Act of Parliament (15th March 1543) ‘it was made free to all men and women to read the Scriptures in their own language, or in the English language, and so were all Acts made in contrary abolished.’
“This was no small victory of Christ Jesus, fighting against the conjured enemies of his Verity, no small comfort to such as before were holden in such bondage . . . “
Words to Live By: If we are indeed in that period of our history which is being called post-Christian, where the Biblical principles of ethics can no longer be assumed to be believed and practiced, then it is imperative to have a new emphasis on Bible memorization by all Christian people, young and old alike. Question: if your Bible was taken away, labeled perhaps as a terrorist book, by the authorities, how much of it could you quote to the edification of your souls, your family’s growth in Christian faith and living, to say nothing of your fellow Christians, and the world at large?
PART II of Today’s Post:
To Treasure that Which Cost So Many Lives and Dear
Reinforcing the above account, the following anecdote in found on the pages of The Charleston Observer on this same date, 15 March, in 1834 (vol. 8, no. 2, page 41, columns 4-5) :—
THE OLDEST ENGLISH BIBLE.
[now preserved at the British Library as “Egerton 617”]
Anecdote of Dr. Adam Clarke.
During his first three years’ residence in London, (from 1795 to 1798,) Dr. Adam Clarke, amidst all his labors, began to amass that choice and valuable library which eventually became second to few private collections in the kingdom. He was eminently skilful in matters of bibliography–as indeed his published works abundantly show–and he spared neither labor nor expense in seeking out and getting possession of literary treasures. One of the literary purchases which Dr. Clarke made during his first London residence deserves to be particularly mentioned, more especially as this propitious acquisition was the nest-egg of his future library, and no doubt greatly influenced that book collecting propensity of which it was itself in part the fruit. The valuable biblical acquisition to which we have alluded, is thus noticed by his biographer.—London Chr. Obs.
“On the publication of the catalogue of the library of the Rev. Mr. Fell, Principal of the Dissenting College at Hackney, Mr. Clarke observed advertised “A black letter Bible.” The day fixed for the sale happening to be on what was termed among the Methodists a quarterly meeting day, which is a time appointed by that body for the adjustment of their accounts, &c., &c., and which required his personal attendance during the very hours of sale; he therefore desired his friend and bookseller, Mr. William Baynes, to attend the auction, and purchase for him ‘the black-letter Bible, if it went any thing in reason;’ he did so, the book was put up, and Baynes had only one competitor, and on a trifling advance, on a moderate last bid, it was knocked down to the bookseller. On inquiry Mr. Baynes found that his opponent was by trade a gold-beater, and that he had bid for the book merely on account of the skins on which it was written, and as soon as he had gone to the extent of their value for the purpose of his calling, he had given up the contest; hence the trifling advanced secured its higher destiny and better fate.
“When Mr. Clarke had concluded the quarterly meeting, he went from the City Road, where it was held, to Paternoster Row, to inquire after the chances of the auction; he found that the book he desired was secured, and on the slightest examination discovered that it was indeed ‘a black-letter Bible,’ but of so ancient a date as to constitute it a great literary treasure; he had it immediately packed up in a parcel (and it made no small dimensions, being an hundred weight) and putting it on his shoulder, walked beneath his burden to his own house in Spitalfields. [Ed.: a distance of about 18 miles!] He lost no time in making a more minute examination of his purchase, the result of which he has inserted with his own hand in the flyleaf.
‘This Bible, the first translated into the English language, and evidently, from the orthography and diction, the oldest copy of that translation, was once the property of Thomas A. Woodstock, youngest son of Edward III, King of England, and brother to Edward the black prince and John of Gaunt. Thomas A. Woodstock was born in 1355, and was supposed to have been smothered between two beds; or others say, causelessly beheaded at Calais, Sept. 8, 1397, in the 42d year of his age, by Thomas Mowbray, Earl Marshall of England, at the instance of his nephew, King Richard II. His arms appear on the shield at the top of the first page, and are the same as those on his monument in Westminster Abbey. In many respects the language of this MS. is older than that found in most of those copies which go under the name of John Wiclif. This MS. was once in the possession of the celebrated Dr. John Hunter. It was found in a most shattered condition, and from the hay and bits of mortar that were in it, leads to this most natural conclusion, that it had been hid, probably during the Maryan persecution, in stacks of hay, and at other times built up in walls, and not unfrequently, it would appear, that it had been secreted under ground, as was evinced from the decayed state of many of its pages, especially the early ones.
(Signed) Adam Clarke.
Again we say, hide the Word of God in your heart.
[To read the British Museum’s description of this black letter Bible, and to view a presentation of selected images, click here.]
One is Sufficient for a Sacrifice
It was at a Scot-Irish day of games in Central Pennsylvania that this author found a booth selling items from “across the pond.” I had gone there to get some Scot items which reflected my ancestry. But at the first booth, there was displayed a claymore. For our readers who may not be familiar with this term, it is a sharp two-edged sword which was the perfect weapon for close fighting in earlier days. Even though I thought I was of sufficient strength of arm (after all, I have moved theology books from shelves to shelves all my years!), I couldn’t even hold steady this sword. Then I remembered it was the weapon of choice for John Knox as he cleared the way through hostile crowds for George Wishart, our subject for this post.
It is true that George Wishart was an early Protestant reformer in Scotland, and not a Presbyterian. Yet he was instrumental in preparing the way for John Knox, who was the father of Scotland’s Presbyterians. Wishart was younger than Knox by a full eight years, if the reader takes the early date of the birth of John Knox. The former was born around 1513 in Pitarrow, Scotland. Studying at Kings College in Aberdeen, Scotland, Wishart became one of the best Greek scholars in the realm, teaching both adults as well as children in that biblical language. He also began to preach Protestant theology to the citizens of Scotland and England, and soon found it necessary to travel to Switzerland. He would be influenced by the Swiss Reformation instead of the German Reformation. Returning to the British Isles, he became a popular preacher of Reformation truths in Dundee, Scotland. Even when a plague hit the city, he remained steadfast, giving gospel comfort and consolation to sick people everywhere.
By this time, the authorities became aware of his gospel preaching, and death threats started rolling in. That is when John Knox began to carry the claymore for Wishart’s safety. Facing arrest, Knox wanted to accompany him to his eventual trial, but George Wishart wouldn’t let him, saying the words of our title, “return to your bairns (pupils). God bless you. One is sufficient for a sacrifice.” They would not see one another on this earth.
Arrested and charged with eighteen offenses, George Wishart was sentenced to death. His execution was carried out on this day, March 1, 1546, at St. Andrews Castle. It was a brutal death in that not only was he to be burned to death at the stake, but bags of gun powder were placed about his body. Still, he witnessed to the crowds attending the martyrdom with the precious words of Jesus Christ, forgiving even the executioner who was lighting the pile.
On one of the cobblestones outside St. Andrews castle today, can be found the initials GW, indicating the site where George Wishart was killed for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Words to Live By: It was said by several Reformation authors that John Knox would not have entered into the gospel ministry had it not been for the influence of the life and death of George Wishart. God has often used His people to disciple others for the eventual service of Christ. If our readers are parents this day, then you are called to be ones who disciple your children for work in the kingdom. But God may also call you to disciple still others outside the family, in the faith. Think and pray about this challenge. Then go and do it for God’s glory, for the spiritual good of that one whom you disciple in the faith.