Why We Need John Knox

Throughout his life he was sustained by the conviction that he was, “called by God to instruct the ignorant, comfort the sorrowful, confirm the weak and rebuke the proud by tongue and lively voice.”

Dawson. John Knox. p. 38.

Christian history is filled with tremendous men of courage and thunderous passion. Men who mustered the gall to defy tyranny, to challenge the status-quo, to lead others in a zealous pursuit of faith, and to trail-blaze a path back towards pure Biblical Christianity. Of course the term “pure Biblical Christianity” will be sure to ruffle somebody’s feathers. Dare I suggest that the doctrine of Biblical Clarity is to be believed? Indeed I dare. While this side of heaven we will always strain for clearer Biblical interpretation, we must believe that the words of Scripture were intended to be understood. It is here in the great doctrine of Biblical Clarity where so much conviction finds its potency.

John Knox famously pray the words, “Give me Scotland, or I die.” These historic words were no mere religious fantasy. Through John Knox, Scotland was indeed reformed. The old vestiges of Catholic idolatry were spurned, and Scotland became a haven of early puritanism, the very puritanism that would shape the world we’re living in today. During the pinnacle of Knox’s ministry the Queen of Scotland was quoted as saying, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the armies of England.” Oh that the President of the United States of America would fear the prayers of America’s Pastors as Mary Queen of the Scots feared John Knox.

John Knox was raised in Catholicism, but under the powerful preaching of George Wishart, who was burned for heresy in 1546, he abandoned the teachings of the Catholic Church and clung to the five solas of the Reformation. He began his new faith operating security for Wishart which is undoubtedly where some of his pastoral-brawler’s spirit derived from. He eventually became a preacher in St. Andrews. After Knox’s death it was said that, “Knox loved St. Andrews above all the rest because in that burgh he had first routed antichrist and preached that only Christ could save (Dawson, John Knox, 52). From St. Andrews Knox would be exiled multiple times, forced to flee for his life from the place he loved. At one point under threat of death he stated, “I could wish my name to perish so that God’s book and his glory might only be sought among us (Knox, Works, vol. IV, p. 46).” Yes—it is convictions and confessions like these that Christ so often uses to shake the pillars of the Earth. In Exile, he would spend time in England where he made both friends and enemies as he confronted the remaining vestiges of popery in the English Church. He would further travel to Geneva where he developed a powerful relationship with John Calvin and his illustrious cohort of Reformers. Knox considered Geneva, while under Calvin’s leadership to be, “the most perfect school of Christ (Dawson, 110).” He wasn’t wrong.

As a Pastor Knox was a man deeply embedded in the issues of his day. He held the proper Biblical worldview that since Jesus truly reigns as King over all of creation, every issue no matter its sphere, is a Biblical issue into which right theology must provide the basis for progress. “Knox assumed that one aspect of his duties as a pastor was to utilize such a mighty struggle against Satan as a model for others of how the true Christian could be tempted and suffer (Dawson, 66).” Knox not only led his congregation faithfully as they pursued Biblical Christianity, but he simultaneously took on the political powers of his day. His religion was not one to hide behind the safety of the walls of a chapel. His religion, like Christ’s, was one of cultural transformation. He truly believed that Christians were to shape the world for Christ, and that Pastors played a front and center role in calling their leaders to repentance and reformation. Knox had apparently failed to attend the most recent “seeker sensitive church growth” conference.

John Knox lived as walking image of holistic faith. Who he was in private was exactly who he was in the pulpit. “Was John Knox a mate, friendly, nice chap with whom you could have a discussion? Thank God he was not! Scotland would not be what she has been for four centuries if John Knox had been that kind of man. He preached… with fire and power, alarming sermons, convicting sermons, humbling sermons, converting sermons, and the face of Scotland was changed (Lloyd Jones, John Knox and the Reformation, p. 30).” It was a dangerous thing to be around John Knox—He was the kind of man that made as many enemies as he did friends. He was a bare knuckle, fist fighting, theological brawler who very rarely lost a fight. But he was also a Pastor who knew how to comfort the broken-hearted and lead a flock with a humble shepherd’s heart towards green pasture.

Knox is certainly a hero of mine. He belongs in that category of great men of faith who had the courage to unashamedly get his instructions from Christ alone. As I look at the world we are living in today I am convinced that we are in desperate need for the Lord to raise up a few men with the courage and conviction of John Knox. I pray for myself that I might be that man—though I confess the battles in our culture that must take place are far easier to write about than to practice. One of the greatest obstacles I have found hindering good Christians and faithful Pastors from boldly stepping into the historic boots of John Knox is the fear of friendly fire. Ours is a day where a person can hardly take a step without commentary on whether their shoes were tied in a way that insulted somebody. I see this fear in the eyes of so many good men. This, my dear brothers and sisters, must be repented of before any progress can be made. The battle ahead will make us many enemies. So be it, so long as Christ gets the glory.

To those faithful readers who might do well by having their shins bruised by a kick from John Knox, I beseech you to remember his words:

A man with God is always in the majority.

John Knox

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