Christian History Home > Denominational Founders > John Knox
Presbyterian with a sword
Knox traveled on to Frankfurt am Main, where he joined other Protestant refugees—and quickly became embroiled in controversy. The Protestants could not agree on an order of worship. Arguments became so heated that one group stormed out of a church one Sunday, refusing to worship in the same building as Knox.
Back in Scotland, Protestants were redoubling their efforts, and congregations were forming all over the country. A group that came to be called "The Lords of the Congregation" vowed to make Protestantism the religion of the land. In 1555, they invited Knox to return to Scotland to inspire the reforming task. Knox spent nine months preaching extensively and persuasively in Scotland before he was forced to return to Geneva.
Fiery blasts of the pen
Away from his homeland again, he published some of his most controversial tracts: In his Admonition to England he virulently attacked the leaders who allowed Catholicism back in England. In The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women he argued that a female ruler (like English Queen Mary Tudor) was "most odious in the presence of God" and that she was "a traitoress and rebel against God." In his Appellations to the Nobility and Commonality of Scotland, he extended to ordinary people the right—indeed the duty—to rebel against unjust rulers. As he told Queen Mary of Scotland later, "The sword of justice is God's, and if princes and rulers fail to use it, others may."
Knox returned to Scotland in 1559, and he again deployed his formidable preaching skills to increase Protestant militancy. Within days of his arrival, he preached a violent sermon at Perth against Catholic "idolatry," causing a riot. captionars were demolished, images smashed, and religious houses destroyed.
In June, Knox was elected the minister of the Edinburgh church, where he continued to exhort and inspire. In his sermons, Knox typically spent half an hour calmly exegeting a biblical passage. Then as he applied the text to the Scottish situation, he became "active and vigorous" and would violently pound the pulpit. Said one note taker, "he made me so to grew [quake] and tremble, that I could not hold pen to write."
The Lords of the Congregation militarily occupied more and more cities, so that finally, in the 1560 Treaty of Berwick, the English and French agreed to leave Scotland. (The English, now under Protestant Elizabeth I, had come to the aid of the Protestant Scots; the French were aiding the Catholic party). The future of Protestantism in Scotland was assured.
The Parliament ordered Knox and five colleagues to write a Confession of Faith, the First Book of Discipline, and The Book of Common Order—all of which cast the Protestant faith of Scotland in a distinctly Calvinist and Presbyterian mode.
Knox finished out his years as preacher of the Edinburgh church, helping shape the developing Protestantism in Scotland. During this time, he wrote his History of the Reformation of Religion in Scotland.
Though he remains a paradox to many, Knox was clearly a man of great courage: one man standing before Knox's open grave said, "Here lies a man who neither flattered nor feared any flesh." Knox's legacy is large: his spiritual progeny includes some 750,000 Presbyterians in Scotland, 3 million in the United States, and many millions more worldwide.
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