The Thundering Scot: John Knox
by Daniel Scheiderer
If you could look below deck on a particular French ship during an eighteen-month period in the middle of the sixteenth-century, with the Reformation in Europe well underway, you may well have encountered a haggard man among the many from Scotland. Yes, this galley slave would be working as hard as others to row the ship, but he would also be sharing Scripture with the men and throwing idolatrous images of Mary overboard.
John Knox was likely born in the year 1514 and was one of many to embrace the Reformation sweeping Europe. His initial role was as the bodyguard for the famed George Wishart (who was martyred in 1546), but later took on the ministry of chaplain to the Protestant rebels. It was in this position that he was captured by the French Navy and placed below deck for a year and a half, developing ailments that would aggravate the rest of his years. Upon release from slavery in England, Knox took up a pulpit under the Protestant King Edward, only afterward to be forced into exile under wicked Queen (Bloody) Mary. He found refuge in the city of Geneva, which he called “the most perfect school of Christ since the days of the Apostles.” There, he was able to see Reformed theology put into practice while pastoring various English-speaking churches. He returned to Scotland when Mary died, and he and five other Johns put together the Scots Confession of Faith. With right doctrine and faithful people in place, Knox was able to oversee the reformation of Scotland until his death in 1572.
While Knox is not famous for any particular doctrine, he is the father of the Presbyterian church. He adapted what he saw in Geneva, both practically and theologically, to the state Church (Kirk) of Scotland. Presbyterian form and intense devotion to scriptural doctrines characterized this great institution. This church remained extremely faithful to the doctrines of the Reformation for many years after his death, playing a major role in the development of British theology and the Westminster Confession of Faith in the following century, not to mention all the places Presbyterianism has found a home.
Two of Knox’s major works are his Trumpet Blast Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women and History of the Reformation in Scotland. The first, which he wrote against Bloody Mary and other torturous monarchs, put him in disfavor with Queen Elizabeth who replaced Mary as soon as the work was published. It has also served to tarnish his reputation as a misogynist. This and other factors have gone to ensure that the great Reformer, the Thundering Scot, has been relegated to obscurity, even in Scotland where his grave is under a single yellow brick in a parking lot.
To learn more about John Knox, you can read the short biography by Douglas Bond, The Mighty Weakness of John Knox, the shorter John Knox: Fearless Faith by Steven Lawson, or the large academic work John Knox by Jane Dawson.