JOHN KNOX, the great Scottish reformer, was born in the year 1505, in a suburb of Haddington called Gifford Gate. He is supposed to have come of an old and respectable family, the Knoxes of Ranfurly, in Renfrewshire. He received his early education at the grammar school of Haddington, and in the year 1521, went to the university at Glasgow. He was there a pupil under Major, and soon proved himself an apt and able disputant in the scholastic theology. His attachment to the Roman Church is supposed to have been shaken by the Fathers, about 1535; but he did not openly profess himself a Protestant until about 1543. He was degraded from his orders, and being even in danger of assassination, took refuge with Douglas of Longniddry, and there remained until the end of 1545.
Cardinal Beaton was at this time in the height of his power, and after seizing George Wishart at Ormiston, he had him brought to St. Andrew's, and burned there in front of his castle, in March 1546. Knox first clearly appears upon the scene of the Reformation as the companion of Wishart. On the morning of the 29th of May, 1546, Cardinal Beaton was murdered in his castle, from the windows of which he had witnessed the sufferings of the martyr. Taken possession of by the band of nobles and others who had so successfully accomplished so audacious a design, the castle of St. Andrew's became the temporary stronghold of the reforming interests, and Knox took refuge in it. Here his great gifts as a preacher were first discovered, and having found the secret of his influence, the parish church at St. Andrew's soon resounded with his indignant voice, denouncing the errors of the Roman Church. Shortly afterward the fortress was surrendered and Knox was imprisoned in the French galleys.
For two years he remained a prisoner, and underwent in the course of this time, many privations. He was then liberated, and allowed to depart for England, where he resided for four years, from 1549, to the beginning of 1554, a period of great and fruitful activity to him. He was appointed one of Edward VI's chaplains, and lived on terms of intimate intercourse with Cranmer and others of the English reformers.
The accession of Mary drove him and others to the continent. Towards the end of 1555, he made a rapid visit to Scotland, where he did much to encourage the cause of Reformation. Convinced, however, that the time of deliverance had not yet come for his country, he retired once more to Geneva, where he settled as pastor of a congregation for nearly three years, which were among the quietest and probably the happiest of his life.
Recalled to Scotland in 1559, he there entered upon his triumphant course as a reformer. The pent-up enthusiasm which had been long collecting, was roused into furious action by the preaching of Knox. The flame of religious revolution was kindled throughout tbe country, aggravating the civil war already raging. At length the assistance of Queen Elizabeth and the death of the Queen-regent, brought matters to a crisis; a truce was proclaimed, and a free parliament was summoned to settle differences. The result of the parliament, which met in 1560, was the overthrow of the old religion, and the establishment of the Reformed Kirk in Scotland. In all this, Knox was not only an active agent, but the agent above all others. The original Confession of Faith of the reformed Kirk, and the first Book of Discipline, bear the impress of his mind.
The arrival of the youthful Queen Mary in the course of 1561, brought many forebodings to the reformer; he apprehended great dangers to the Reformed cause, from her character and her well known devotion to the Roman Church. Misunderstandings soon sprang up between them. At length he came to an open rupture with the queen's party, including Murray and Maitland, and many of his former friends. The result was his temporary alienation from the more moderate Protestant party which tried to govern the country in the queen's name.
The rapid series of events which followed Mary's marriage with Darnley - the revolt of the dissatisfied nobles with Murray at their head, the murder of Rizzio, and then the murder of Darnley, the queen's marriage with Bothwell, her defeat and imprisonment, served once more to bring Knox into the field. He was reconciled with Murray, and strongly abetted him in all his schemes of policy during his regency. Knox seemed at length to have seen his great work accomplished, and is said to have entertained the idea of retiring to Geneva. But the bright prospect on which he gazed for a little was soon overcast - Murray's assassination, and the confusion and discord which sprung out of it, plunged the Reformer into profound grief. He once more became an object of suspicion and hostility to the dominant nobles, and misgivings even sprang up between him and some of his brethren in the General Assembly. He retired to St, Andrew's for awhile to escape the danger of assassination with which he had been threatened.
In the end of 1572, he returned to Edinburg to die; his strength was exhausted; he was "weary of the world," he said; and on the 24th of November he fell quietly asleep.
“Our duty as Christians is always to keep heaven in our eye and the earth under our feet.”
–Matthew Henry, Commentary, Genesis 1