Heroes of the Faith: John Knox, founder of Presbyterian Church

John Knox is the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

John Knox was born between 1505-1515 near Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland. His father was William Knox, who worked as a merchant. The only thing known about his mother is that she died when he was a child.

Upon finishing grammar school he is believed to have attended either the University of St. Andrews or the University of Glasgow.

As a young man, he saw many angry with the Catholic Church for their political and financial greediness.

His first appearance in public records is in 1540, when he is noted as a priest and notary.

George Wishart arrived in East Lothian around 1544, where he was preaching for the illegal reformation of the church. Knox acted as his body guard and the two became friends. In 1545, he first publicly professed the Protestant faith.

Knox was present in December 1545, when Wishart was arrested. Knox was prepared to follow him into captivity, but Wishart persuaded him to return to his home.

John Knox

Knox took Wishart’s advice and returned to tutoring.

He gained the attention of a chaplain, John Rough, who proposed that he pastor a parish church. Knox wrote that he “burst into tears and fled to his room”. He preached that the Bible was his sole authority and doctrine of justification by faith alone.

A debate was staged days later in which he laid down additional theses including the rejection of the Mass, Purgatory and prayers for the dead.

Mary of Guise {mother of the young Mary, Queen of Scots} partnered with the King of France, Henry II, to take the castle garrison by force. Knox and others were threatened with torture if they did not give the proper signs of reverence during mass and taken prisoner.

John Knox

During his time of imprisonment, Knox’s health failed considerably. He was released nineteen months after taken prisoner.

After his release, he sought refuse in England. He was licensed to work in the Church of England.

While in England, Knox met Margery Bowes. The couple would eventually marry. In 1551, he was appointed one of six royal chaplains serving the young King Edward VI {son of Henry VIII}. He delivered several sermons before the court. He continued to preach at Buckinghamshire until Edward’s death.

When Edwards half sister, Mary Tudor, became Queen she restored Roman Catholicism to England. Knox felt it was no longer safe for Protestant preachers and in January 1554 left for the European continent.

John Knox preaching

Knox traveled to Geneva, Switzerland where John Calvin had established his authority. He received cautious replies from Calvin and other reformers. On July 20, 1554, Knox published a pamphlet attacking Mary Tudor, her bishops and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.

In September 1554, he accepted an invitation from a congregation of English exiles in Frankfort, Germany. However, religious believes lead to more conflict.

John Knox

He returned to his Scottish home on the request of his wife or her family and toured the country preaching. The bishops of Scotland viewed him as a threat to their authority and he was summoned to appear in court. However, so many influential supporters were with him that the trial was dismissed.

He sent a letter to Queen Mary to support the reformation, but it was ignored. Shortly thereafter, he returned to Geneva. While there, he preached three sermons a week. While in Geneva, two of his sons were born.

In 1558, he published his best known pamphlet. He tauted his prejuidces of women, which were common of the day. He especially targated Queen Mary of England and Mary of Guise. Queen Mary condemned the pamphlet by royal proclamation. The soon to be Queen Elizabeth I never forgave Knox, although she was not targeted in the writings.

John Knox

He returned to Scotland in 1559, where he was soon declared an outlaw. Knox went to Perth where he preached a “fiery sermon”. He soon preached in St. Andrews and later St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

On October 24, 1559, the Protestants {with help from the English, which Knox did under an assumed name} deposed Mary of Guise from her regency. Mary of Guise would suddenly die on June 10, 1560.

On July 19, 1560, Knox held a National Thanksgiving Service at St. Giles.

On August 1, 1560, the Scottish Parliament called on Knox and five other ministers to draw up a new confession of faith. Within four days the Scots Confession was written, presented to Parliament, voted on and approved. Knx and the ministers were given the task of organizing the newly formed church {Kirk in Scotland}.

John Knox and Mary, Queen of Scots Stained Glass

For months the ment worked on the Book of Discipline.

In December 1560, Margery Knox died, leaving John Knox to care for their two sons, both under the age of four.

Mary, Queen of Scotland returned to Scotland in August 1561. Two weeks later, she summoned Knox. She accused him of inciting rebellion against her mother and writing a book against her authority. Knox responded she should not worry about it and as the Apostle Paul lived under Nero’s rule, so would he live under hers.

He would appear before Queen Mary of Scotland four more times.

On March 26, 1564, he married Margaret Stewart, daughter of a friend. He was fifty and she was seventeen. The couple would have three daughters together.

John Knox Statue at New College in Edinburgh

After Mary, Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate and flee for her safety, Knox preached against her often and at times even called for her death. Her life was spared and she escaped {eventually finding refuge with her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England. Elizabeth would later have Mary beheaded for treason.}

John Knox preached at the coronation of King James VI’s coronation sermon in Stirling. {James VI would become James I of England following the death of Elizabeth I. This would lead to the unification of England and Scotland to become the United Kingdom. This is the same King James for whom we have the King James Version of the Bible.}

During Scotland’s Civil War, Knox was forced to leave Edinburgh for St. Andrews. He continued to preach, teach and worked on his autobiography.

John Knox statue

In July 1572, a truce was called to the war and Knox returned to Edinburgh. He resumed preaching at St. Giles.

John Knox died on November 24, 1572. He is buried in St. Giles Churchyard. When he was buried, it was said that ‘Here lies a man who in his life never feared the face of man’.

One source stated, ” However, what the rulers feared were Knox’s ideas more than Knox himself. He was a ruthless and successful revolutionary and it was this revolutionary philosophy that had a great impact on the English Puritans. Despite his strictness and dogmatism, he has also been described by partisans as contributing to the struggle for genuine human freedom, by teaching a duty to oppose unjust government in order to bring about moral and spiritual change.”

“John Knox saw how important it was for the church to do what the Bible said, and not just

St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh where Knox preached

what they thought was right. He wasn’t afraid to stand up to anyone, even kings and queens, for what he knew was right. His preaching was used by God to transform the whole of Scotland.”

The principals John Knox established grew into what became the Presbyterian Church. For that reason, he is considered that notional founder of the Presbyterian denomination.




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