John Knox
by A. Taylor Innes
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Famous Scots: Series

Published by Oliphant Anderson Ferrier Edinbvrgh and London

The designs and ornaments of this volume are by Mr Joseph Brown, and the printing from the press of Messrs Turabull & Spears, Edinburgh.

May 1896.












The century now closing has redeemed Knox from neglect, and has gathered around his name a mass of biographical material. That material, too, includes much that is of the nature of self-revelation, to be gleaned from familiar letters, as well as from his own history of his time. Yet, after all that has been brought together, Knox remains to many observers a mere hard outline, while to others he is almost an enigma—a blur, bright or black, upon the historic page.

There is one real and great difficulty. For the first forty years of his life we know absolutely nothing of the inner man. Yet at forty most men are already made. And in the case of this man, from about that date onwards we find the character settled and fixed. Henceforward, during the whole later life with its continually changing drama, Knox remains intensely and unchangeably the same. It is the contrast, perhaps the crisis, which is worth studying. The contrast, indeed, is not unprecedented. More than one Knox-like prophet, in the solemn days of early faith, 'was in the desert until the time of his shewing unto Israel'; and not the polished shaft only, but the rough spear-head too, has remained hid in the shadow of a mighty hand until the very day when it was launched. But each such case impels us the more to inquire, What was it after all which really made the man who in his turn made the age?

* * * * *

Knox was born in or near Haddington in 1505. Of his father, William Knox, and his mother, whose maiden name was Sinclair, nothing is known, except that the parents of both belonged to that district of country, and had fought under the standard of the House of Bothwell. We shall never know which of the two contributed the insight or the audacity, the tenacity or the tenderness, the common-sense or the humour, which must all have been part of Knox's natural character before it was moulded from without. His father was of the 'simple,' not of the gentle, sort; possibly a peasant, or frugal cultivator of the soil. But he saved enough to send one of his two sons, John, now in the eighteenth year of his age, and having, no doubt, received his earlier education in the excellent grammar school of Haddington, to the University of Glasgow. Haddington was in the diocese of St Andrews, but a native of Haddington, John Major, was at this time Regent in Glasgow. He had brought from Paris, four years before, a vast academical reputation, and Knox now 'sat as at his feet' during his last year of teaching in Glasgow. In 1523, however, Major was transferred to St Andrews, and there he taught theology for more than a quarter of a century, during the latter half of which time he was Provost or Head of St Salvator's College. Whether Knox at any time followed him there does not appear. Beza, Knox's earliest biographer, thought he did. But Beza's information as to this portion of the life, though apparently derived from Knox's colleague and successor,[1] is so extremely confused as to suggest that the Reformer was equally reticent about it to those nearest him as he has chosen to be to posterity. For nearly twenty years of manhood, indeed, Knox disappears from our view. And when, in 1540, he emerges again in his native district, it is as a notary and a priest. 'Sir John Knox' he was called by others, that being the style by which secular priests were known, unless they had taken not only the bachelor's but also the master's degree at the University.[2] Knox in after years never alluded to his priesthood, though his adversaries did; but so late as 27th March 1543 he describes himself in a notarial deed in his own handwriting as 'John Knox, minister of the sacred altar, of the Diocese of St Andrews, notary by Apostolical authority.' Apostolical means Papal, the notarial authority being transmitted through the St Andrews Archbishop; and Knox at this time does not shrink from dating his notarial act as in such a year 'of the pontificate of our most holy Father and Lord in Christ, the Lord Paul, Pope by the Providence of God.' Only three years later, in 1546, he was carrying a two-handed sword before Wishart, then in danger of arrest and condemnation to the stake at the hands of the same Archbishop Beaton under whom Knox held his orders. And in the following year, 1547, Knox is standing in the Church of St Andrews, and denouncing the Pope (not as an individual, though the Pope of that day was a Borgia, but) as the official head of an Anti-Christian system.

This early blank in the biography raises questions, some of which will never be answered. We do not know at all when Knox took priest's orders. It was almost certainly not before 1530, for it was only in that year that he became eligible as being twenty-five years old. It may possibly have been as late as 1540, when his name is first found in a deed. In that and the two following years he seems to have resided at Samuelston near Haddington, and may have officiated in the little chapel there. But he was also at this time acting as 'Maister' or tutor to the sons of several gentlemen of East Lothian, and he continued this down to 1547, the time of his own 'call' to preach the Evangel. Nor do we know whether the change in his views, which in 1547 was so complete, had been sudden on the one hand or gradual and long prepared on the other. Knox's own silence on this is very remarkable. A man of his fearless egoism and honesty might have been expected to leave, if not an autobiography like those of Augustine and Bunyan, at least a narrative of change like the Force of Truth of Thomas Scott, or the Apologia of John Henry Newman. He has not done so; indeed, the author who preserved for us so much of that age, and of his own later history in it, seems for some reason to have judged his whole earlier period unworthy of record—or even of recal. For we find no evidence of his having been more confidential on this subject with any of his contemporaries than he has been with us. This certainly suggests that the change may have been very recent—determined, perhaps, wholly through the personal influence of Wishart, whom Knox so affectionately commemorates. Or, if it was not recent, it is extremely unlikely that it can have been detailed, vivid, and striking, as well as prolonged. Knox was not the man to suppress a narrative, however painful to himself, which he could have held to be in a marked degree to the glory of God or for the good of men. But whatever the reason was, the time past of his life sufficed this man for silence and self-accusation. We may be sure that it would have done so (and perhaps done so equally), no matter whether those twenty years had been spent in the complacent routine of a rustic in holy orders; in the dogmatism, defensive or aggressive, of scholastic youth; in fruitless efforts to understand the new views of which he was one day to be the chief representative; or in half-hearted hesitation whether, after having so far understood them, he could part with all things for their sake. Which of these positions he held, or how far he may have passed from one to another, we may never be able to ascertain. But there is one too clear indication that Knox disliked, not only to record, but even to recal, his life in the Catholic communion. His greatest defect in after years, as a man and a writer, is his inability to sympathise with those still found entangled in that old life. He absolutely refuses to put himself in their place, or to imagine how a position which was for so many years his own could be honestly chosen, or even honestly retained for a day, by another. This would have been a misfortune, and a moral defect, even in a man not naturally of a sympathetic temper. But Knox, as we shall see, was a man of quick and tender nature, and had rather a passion for sympathising with those who were not on the other side of the gulf he thus fixed. And this one-sided incapacity for sympathy must certainly be connected with his one-sided reticence as to the earlier half of his own autobiography.

Incapacity to sympathise with persons entangled in a system is one thing, and disapproval of that system, or even violent rejection of it, is another. Knox, as is well known, broke absolutely with the church system in which he was brought up. What was that system, and what was Knox's individual outlook upon the Church—first, of Western Europe, and secondly of Scotland?

We know at least that Knox, before breaking with the church system of mediaeval Europe, was for twenty years in close contact with it. And his was no mere external contact such as Haddington, with its magnificent churches and monasteries, supplied. It commenced with study, and with study under the chief theological teacher of the land and the time. Major was the last of the scholastics in our country. But the energy of thought of scholasticism, marvellous as it often was, was built upon the lines and contained within the limits of an already existing church system. And that system was an authoritative one in every sense. The hierarchy which governed the Church, and all but constituted it, was sacerdotal; that is, it interposed its own mediation at the point where the individual meets and deals with God. But it interposed correspondingly at every other point of the belief and practice of the private man, enforcing its doctrine upon the conscience, and its direction upon the will, of every member of the church. Nor was the system authoritative only over those who received or accepted it. Originally, indeed, and even in the age when the faith was digested into a creed by the first Council, the emperor, himself an ardent member of the Church, left it free to all his subjects throughout the world to be its members or not as they chose. But that great experiment of toleration lasted less than a century. For much more than a thousand years the same faith, slowly transformed into a church system under the central administration of the Popes, had been made binding by imperial and municipal law upon every human being in Europe.

Major, not only by his own earlier writings, but as the representative in Scotland of the University of Paris, recalled to his countrymen the great struggle of the Middle Age in favour of freedom—and especially of church freedom against the Popes. That struggle indeed had Germany rather than France for its original centre, and it was under the flag of the Empire that the progressive despotism of Hildebrand and his successors over the feudal world was chiefly resisted. The Empire, however, was now a decaying force. Europe was being split into nationalities; and national churches—a novelty in Christendom—were, under various pretexts, coming into existence. For the last two centuries France had thus been the chief national opponent of the centralising influence of Rome, and the University of Paris was, during that time, the greatest theological school in the world. As such it had maintained the doctrine that the church universal could have no absolute monarch, but was bound to maintain its own self-government, and that its proper organ for this was a general council. And in the early part of the fifteenth century, when the schism caused by rival Popes had thrown back the Church upon its native powers, the University of Paris was the great influence which led the Councils of Constance and of Basle, not only to assert this doctrine, but to carry it into effect.

But Major, when Knox met him, represented in this matter a cause already lost. Even in the previous century the decrees of the reforming Councils were at once frustrated by the successors of the Popes whom they deposed, and in this sixteenth century a Lateran Council had already anticipated the Vatican of the nineteenth by declaring the Pope to be supreme over Council and Church alike. Even the anti-Papal Councils themselves, too, were exclusively hierarchical, and accordingly they opposed any independent right on the part of the laity, as well as all serious enquiries into the earlier practice and faith of the Church. So at Constance the Chancellor of Paris, Doctor Christianissimus as well as statesman and mystic, compensated for his successful pressure upon Rome by helping to send to the stake, notwithstanding the Emperor's safe-conduct, the pure-hearted Huss. The result was that, even before the time of Major, the expectation, so long cherished by Europe, of a great reform through a great Council had died out. And the University of Paris, instead of continuing to act in place of that coming Council as 'a sort of standing committee of the French, or even of the universal, Church,'[3] had become a reactionary and retarding power. It opposed Humanism, and was the stronghold of the method of teaching which the new generation knew as 'Sophistry.' It opposed Reuchlin, and was preparing to oppose Luther, and to urge against its own most distinguished pupils the law of penal fire. It continued to oppose the despotism of the Pope, but it did so rather from the standpoint of a narrow and nationalist Gallicanism, based largely upon the counter-despotism of the King. This selfish policy attained in Major's own time its fitting result and reward. The despotic King and despotic Pope found it convenient for their interests to partition between them the 'liberties' of the Gallican Church; and by the Concordat of Bologna in 1516, Leo gained a huge revenue from the ecclesiastical endowments of France, while Francis usurped the right of nominating all its bishops. The University, as well as the Parliaments, resisted, and Major, who now lectured in the Sorbonne as Doctor in Theology, and had become famous as a representative of the anti-Papal school of Occam, took his share in the work. He was preparing for publication a Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, and he now added to it four Disputations against the arbitrary powers of Popes and Bishops, and especially against the authority of Popes in temporal matters over Kings, and in spiritual matters over Councils. It was all in vain. In 1517 the University was forced by the Crown to submit, after a protest of the broadest kind;[4] and in 1518 Major returned to his native country a famous teacher, but a defeated churchman. Yet the grave fact for Scotland was that Major and his old University, and the Western hierarchy everywhere, henceforward practically acquiesced in their own defeat. A greater question had arisen, and one which they were unwilling to face. On the other side of the Rhine, Luther and his friends now claimed for the individual Christian the same kind of freedom against Councils and Bishops which the previous century had claimed for Councils and Bishops against Popes. Paris took the lead in opposition to the new Evangel by its Academic decrees of 1521. And when Major, in 1530, republished his Commentary, he not only omitted from it his Disputations against Papal absolutism, but dedicated it to Archbishop James Beaton as the 'supplanter' and 'exterminator' of Lutheranism, and, above all, as the judge who, amid the murmurings of many, had recently[5] and righteously condemned the nobly-born Patrick Hamilton.

It may be well thus to represent to ourselves what must have been the outlook into the Western Church of Major, or of any one who looked through Major's eyes, in that year 1523. But I think it very unlikely that Knox could have derived from such an outlook, or from Major in any aspect, a serious impulse to his career as Reformer. Knox no doubt learned from him scholastic logic, and turned it in later days with much vigour to his own purposes. Major, too, may have unconsciously revealed to his pupils with how much hope the former generation had looked forward to a council. We find afterwards that Knox and his friends, like Luther in his earlier stages, when appealing against the hierarchy, sometimes appealed to a General Council. But neither side regarded this as serious. It would have been more important if we could have shown that Major transmitted to his pupil the opposition maintained for centuries by his university to an ultramontane Pontiff as the hereditary opponent of all Church freedom and all Church reform. But Luther and the German Reformers had already exaggerated this view, so far as to suggest that the usurping chief of the Church must be the scriptural Antichrist. And their views, brought direct to Scotland by men like Hamilton, had, as we have seen, immensely increased the reaction in the mind of Major, which was begun abroad before 1518. It is, indeed, curious to notice how in his later writings the old university feeling against tyranny in the Church almost disappears, while the equally old and honourable feeling of the learned Middle Age, and especially of its universities, against the tyranny of kings and nobles, finds expression alike in his history and his commentaries. Buchanan, who proclaimed to all Europe the constitutional rights, even against their sovereign, of the people of Scotland, and Knox, the 'subject born within the same,' who was destined to translate that Radical theory so largely into fact, were both taught by Major. And they may well have been much influenced on this side by a man who had long before written that 'the original and supreme power resides in the whole of a free people, and is incapable of being surrendered,' insomuch that an incorrigible tyrant may always be 'deposed by that people as by a superior authority.'[6] For even Fergus the First, he narrates, 'had no right' other than the nation's choice, and when Sir William Wallace was yet a boy, he was taught by his Scottish tutor to repeat continually the rude inspiring rhyme, 'Dico tibi verum Libertas optima rerum.'[7] These views as to the rights of man, and of Scottish men, may well have fanned, or even kindled, the strong feeling of independence in secular matters and as a citizen, which burned in the breast of Knox. But as to spiritual matters and the Church universal, the only feelings which we can imagine Major, on his return from abroad, to have impressed upon the younger man from Haddington are a despair of reform, and a disbelief in revolution.

Let us turn, therefore, from abroad to the Church at home. It is admitted on all hands that the clergy of this age in Scotland were extraordinarily corrupt in life, a reproach which applied eminently to the higher ranks and the representative men. But corruption of churchmen is always a symptom of deeper things. It does not appear that Scotland was much influenced by the spirit of the Renaissance, whether you apply that term to the intellectual passion for both knowledge and beauty which spread over most parts of Europe during the three previous centuries, or to the more specific and half-Pagan culture which in some parts of Europe was the result. It may be more important to observe that the Church in Scotland had not enjoyed any period of inward religious revival—any which could be described as native to it or original. On the contrary its great epoch had been its transformation, through royal and foreign influence, into the likeness of English and continental civilisation, as civilisation was understood in the Middle Age. And that transformation in the days of Queen Margaret and her sons was accompanied, and to a large extent compensated, by a less desirable incorporation into the western ecclesiastical system. The later 'coming of the Friars' had not the same powerful effect in the remote north which it had in some other realms. And in any case that impulse too had long since yielded to a strong reaction, and the preachers were now regarded with the disgust with which mankind usually resent the attempt to manipulate them by external means without a real message. But there were two great sources of ruin to the Scottish church, both connected with its relation to a powerful aristocracy. One was the extraordinary extent to which its high offices were used as sinecures for the favourites, and the sons of favourites, of nobles and of kings. This did not tend to impoverish the church; on the contrary, it made it an object to all the great families to keep up the wealth on which they proposed that their unworthy scions should feed. 'In proportion to the resources of the country the Scottish clergy were probably the richest in Europe.'[8] But the wealth, accumulated in idle and unworthy hands, was now a scandal to religion, and a constant fountain of immorality. Still worse was the extent to which that wealth was in Scotland diverted from its best uses to the less desirable side—the monastic side—of the mediaeval church. In the revival which came from England before the twelfth century, a great impulse had been given to the parochialising of the country, and to keeping up religious life in every district and estate. But a prejudice running back to very early centuries branded the parish priests as seculars, and gradually drew away again the devotion and the means of the faithful from the parishes where they were needed, and to which they properly belonged. It drew them away, in Scotland, not only to rich centres like cathedrals, with their too wasteful retinue, but far more to the great monasteries scattered over the land. Kings and barons, who proposed to spend life so as to need after its close a good deal of intercession, naturally turned their eyes, even before death-bed, to these wealthy strongholds of poverty and prayer; and of a hundred other places besides Melrose, we know 'That lands and livings, many a rood, had gifted the shrine for their soul's repose.' But the transfer, to such centres, of lands (which were supposed, by the feudal law, to belong to chiefs rather than to the community), was not so direct an injury to the people of Scotland, as the alienation to the same institutions of parochial tithes—sometimes under the form of alienating the churches to which the tithes were paid. These parochial tithes all possessors of land in the parish were bound by law to pay, whether they desired it or not. And, strictly, they should have been paid to the pastor of the parish and for its benefit. But by a scandalous corruption, often protested against by both Parliament and the Church, the Lords of lands were allowed to divert the tithes, which they were already bound to pay, to congested ecclesiastical centres, sometimes to cathedrals, more often to religious houses of 'regulars.' After this was done the monastery or religious House enjoyed the whole sheaves or tithes of the land in question; the local vicar, if the House appointed one, being entitled only to the 'lesser tithes' of domestic animals, eggs, grass, etc. This robbery of the parishes of Scotland—parishes which were already far too large and too scattered, as John Major points out—was carried on to an extraordinary extent. Each of the religious houses of Holyrood and Kelso had the tithes of twenty-seven parishes diverted or 'appropriated' to it. In some districts two-thirds of the whole parish churches were in the hands of the monks, and no fewer than thirty-four were bestowed on Arbroath Abbey in the course of a single reign. When we remember that the Lords of these great houses were generally members—often unworthy members—of the families which were thus enriching them to the detriment of the country, we can imagine the complicated corruption which went on from reign to reign. Unfortunately the nepotism and simony which resulted had direct example and sanction in the relation to Scotland of the Head of the Church at Rome.[9] The most ardent Catholics admit this as true in relation to Europe generally in the time with which we deal;[10] and the Holy See had been allowed some centuries before to claim Scotland as a country which belonged to it in a peculiar sense, and the Church of Scotland as subject to it specially and immediately. The jealousy of an Italian potentate which was always powerful in England, and which had now, under Henry the Eighth, made it possible to reject the Romish supremacy while retaining the whole of Roman Catholic doctrine, had little influence farther north. Scotland followed the Pope, even when he went to Avignon, and when England had accepted his rival or Anti-Pope. And while in this it sympathised with France, it had little of that traditional dislike to high Ultramontane claims which we saw to have been so strong in Paris. The Pope remained the centre of our church system, and there were in Scotland no projects of serious reform except those which went so deep as (in the case of the Lollards and other precursors of the Reformation) to break with the existing ecclesiastical machine as a whole, and so to challenge the deadliest penalties of the law.

For it is a mistake to suppose that heresy, in the modern misuse of the word (as equivalent to false doctrine), was greatly dreaded in the Roman Catholic Church, or savagely punished by our ancient code. In Scotland, as elsewhere, the fundamental law was that of Theodosius and the empire, that every man must be a member of the Catholic Church, and submit to it. That law was indeed the original establishment of the Church, and for many centuries there had been in Scotland no penalty for breaking it except death. But the Church, when its authority was thus once for all sufficiently secured, was, in the early Middle Age, rather tolerant of theological opinion. And not until error had been published and persisted in, in face of the injunctions of authority—not until the heresy thus threatened to be internal schism, or repudiation of that authority—was the secular power usually invoked. Unfortunately Western Europe as a whole, ever since its intellectual awakening three or more centuries ago, was moving on to precisely this crisis; and the very existence of the Church, in the sense of a body of which all citizens were compulsorily members, was now felt to be at stake. The Scottish sovereign had long since been taken bound, by his coronation oath, to interpose his authority; and the present King, delivered in 1528 from the tutory of the Douglases by the Beatons, had thrown himself into the side of those powerful ecclesiastics. A statute, the first against heresy for nearly a century, was passed two years after Knox went to college. When he was twenty-three years old, England was preparing to reject the Pope's supremacy; but Scotland was so far from it that this year Patrick Hamilton was burned at St Andrews. When he was thirty-four years old, the English revolution had been accomplished by the despotic Henry; but his Scottish nephew had refused to follow the lead, and in that year five other heretics were burned on the Castle-hill of Edinburgh, the popular 'Commons King' looking on. On James V.'s death there was a slight reaction under the Regent, and Parliament even sanctioned the publication of the Scriptures. But Arran made his peace with the Church in 1543, and Beaton, the able but worldly Archbishop of St Andrews, and as such Knox's diocesan, became once more the leader of Scotland. He had already instituted the Inquisition throughout his see; he was now advanced to be Papal Legate; and he was fully prepared to press into execution the Acts which a few years before he and the King had persuaded the Parliament to pass. Not to be a member of the Church had always meant death. But now it was death by statute to argue against the Pope's authority; it was made unlawful even to enter into discussion on matters of religion; and those in Scotland who were merely suspected of heresy were pronounced incapable of any office there. And, lastly, those who left the country to avoid the fatal censure of its Church on such crimes as these, were held by law to be already condemned. The illustrious Buchanan was one of those who thus fled. Knox remained, and suddenly becomes visible.

[1] Knox's later biographer, Dr Hume Brown, has given to the world a letter from Sir Peter Young to Beza, transmitting a posthumous portrait of Knox, which is thus no doubt the original of the likeness in Beza's Icones, and makes the latter our only trustworthy representation of him. The letter adds, 'You may look for (expectabis) his full history from Master Lawson'; and this raises the hope that Beza's biography, founded upon the memoir of Knox's colleague, James Lawson, as the icon probably was upon the Edinburgh portrait, would be of great value. In point of fact Beza's biography does give great prominence to Knox's closing pastorate and last days, as his newly-appointed colleague might be expected to do. But about his early years it is hopelessly inaccurate, to say the least.

[2] So, in Shakespeare, Sir Hugh, who is 'of the Church'; Sir Topas the curate, whose beard and gown the clown borrows; Sir Oliver Martext, who will not be 'flouted out of his calling;' and Sir Nathaniel, who claims to have 'taste and feeling,' and whose female parishioners call him indifferently the 'Person' or the 'Parson.'

[3] Rashdall's 'Universities of Europe,' i. 525.

[4] The Act of Appeal of the University lays down principles which apply far beyond the bounds of Gallicanism; that 'the Pope, although he holds his power immediately from God, is not prevented, by his possession of this power, from going wrong'; that 'if he commands that which is unjust, he may righteously be resisted'; and 'if, by the action of the powers that be, we are deprived of the means of resisting the Pope, there remains one remedy, founded on natural law, which no Prince can take away—the remedy of appeal, which is competent to every individual, by divine right, and natural right, and human right.' And, accordingly, the University, protesting that the Basle Council's decrees of the past have been set aside, Appeals to a Council in the future.—Bulaeus' 'Hist. of the University of Paris,' vol. viii. p. 92.

[5] This uncompromising preface took the place of one in which Major, on his arrival in Scotland in 1518, praised the same Archbishop, then in Glasgow, for his many-sided and 'chamaelon-like mildness.' It is generally recognised that the stern policy latterly carried on under the nominal authority of James Beaton was really inspired by his nephew and coadjutor, David Beaton, the future cardinal.

[6] 'Expositio Matt.' fol. 71. (Paris.)

[7] 'I tell the truth to thee, there's nought like Liberty!'—Major's 'History of Greater Britain.'

[8] Hume Brown's 'Knox,' i. 44.

[9] See Scots Acts, A.D. 1471, c. 43.


An Petrus Romae fuerit, sub judice lis est: Simonem Romae nemo fuisse negat.



On this dark background Knox for the first time appears in history. But we catch sight of him merely as an attendant on the attractive figure of George Wishart. At Cambridge Wishart had been 'courteous, lowly, lovely, glad to teach, and desirous to learn'; when he returned to Scotland, Knox and others found him 'a man of such graces as before him were never heard within this realm.' He had preached in several parts of Scotland, and was brought in the spring of 1546 by certain gentlemen of East Lothian, 'who then were earnest professors of Christ Jesus,' to the neighbourhood of Haddington. On the morning of his last sermon in that town he had received (in the mansion-house of Lethington, 'the laird whereof,' father of the famous William Maitland, 'was ever civil, albeit not persuaded in religion') a letter, 'which received and read, he called for John Knox, who had waited upon him carefully from the time he came to Lothian.' And the same evening, with a presentiment of his coming arrest, he 'took his good-night, as it were for ever,' of all his acquaintance, and

'John Knox pressing to have gone with the said Master George, he said, "Nay, return to your bairns, and God bless you! One is sufficient for one sacrifice." And so he caused a two-handed sword (which commonly was carried with the said Master George) be taken from the said John Knox, who, although unwillingly, obeyed, and returned with Hugh Douglas of Longniddrie.'[11]

The same night Wishart was arrested by the Earl of Bothwell, and afterwards handed over to the Cardinal Archbishop, tried by him as a heretic, and on 1st March 1546 burned in front of his castle of St Andrews. Ere long this stronghold was stormed, and the Cardinal murdered in his own chamber by a number of the gentlemen of Fife, whose raid was partly in revenge for Wishart's death. They shut themselves up in the castle for protection, and we hear no more of John Knox till the following year. Then we are told that, 'wearied of removing from place to place, by reason of the persecution that came upon him by the Bishop of St Andrews,' he joined Leslie's band in their hold in St Andrews, in consequence of the desire of his pupils' parents 'that himself might have the benefit of the castle, and their children the benefit of his doctrine [teaching].' It is plain that by this time what Knox taught was the doctrine of Wishart. Indeed he had not been long in St Andrews when, urged by the congregation there, he consented to become its preacher. And his very first sermon in this capacity rang out the full note of the coming reform or rather revolution in the religion of Scotland.

Now, this is a startlingly sudden transition. The change from the position of a nameless notary under Papal authority, who is in addition a minister of the altar of the Catholic Church, to that of a preacher in the whole armour of the Puritan Reformation, is great. Was the transition a public and official one only? Was it a change merely ecclesiastical or political? Or was it preceded by a more private change and a personal crisis? And was that private and personal crisis merely intellectual? Was it, that is, the adoption of a new dogma only, or perhaps the acceptance of a new system? Or if there was something besides these, was it nothing more than the resolve of a very powerful will—such a will as we must all ascribe to Knox? Was this all? Or was there here rather, perhaps, the sort of change which determines the will instead of being determined by it—a personal change, in the sense of being emotional and inward as well as deep and permanent—a new set of the whole man, and so the beginning of an inner as well as of an outer and public life?

The question is of the highest interest, but as we have said, there is no direct answer. It would be easy for each reader to supply the void by reasoning out, according to his own prepossessions, what must have been, or what ought to have been, the experience of such a man at such a time. It would be easy—but unprofitable. Far better would it be could we adduce from his own utterances evidence—indirect evidence even—that the crisis which he declines to record really took place; and that the great outward career was founded on a new personal life within. Now there is such an utterance, which has been hitherto by no means sufficiently recognised. It is 'a meditation or prayer, thrown forth of my sorrowful heart and pronounced by my half-dead tongue,' on 12th March, 1566, at a moment when Knox's cause was in extremity of danger. Mary had joined the Catholic League and driven the Protestant Lords into England, and their attempted counter-plot had failed by the defection of Darnley. Knox had now before him certain exile and possible death, and on the eve of leaving Edinburgh he sat down and wrote privately the following personal confession. Five years later, when publishing his last book, after the national victory but amid great public troubles, he prefixed a preface explaining that he had already 'taken good-night at the world and at all the fasherie of the same,' and henceforward wished his brethren only to pray that God would 'put an end to my long and painful battle.' And with this preface he now printed the old meditation or confession of 1566. It is therefore autobiographical by a double title. And it is made even more interesting by the striking rubric with which the writer heads it.


'Be merciful unto me, O Lord, and call not into judgment my manifold sins; and chiefly those whereof the world is not able to accuse me. In youth, mid age, and now after many battles, I find nothing in me but vanity and corruption. For, in quietness I am negligent; in trouble impatient, tending to desperation; and in the mean [middle] state I am so carried away with vain fantasies, that alas! O Lord, they withdraw me from the presence of thy Majesty. Pride and ambition assault me on the one part, covetousness and malice trouble me on the other; briefly, O Lord, the affections of the flesh do almost suppress the operation of Thy Spirit. I take Thee, O Lord, who only knowest the secrets of hearts, to record, that in none of the foresaid do I delight; but that with them I am troubled, and that sore against the desire of my inward man, which sobs for my corruption, and would repose in Thy mercy alone. To the which I clame [cry] in the promise that Thou hast made to all penitent sinners (of whose number I profess myself to be one), in the obedience and death of my only Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ. In whom, by Thy mere grace, I doubt not myself to be elected to eternal salvation, whereof Thou hast given unto me (unto me, O Lord, most wretched and unthankful creature) most assured signs. For being drowned in ignorance Thou hast given to me knowledge above the common sort of my brethren; my tongue hast Thou used to set forth Thy glory, to oppugne idolatry, errors, and false doctrine. Thou hast compelled me to forespeak, as well deliverance to the afflicted, as destruction to certain inobedient, the performance whereof, not I alone, but the very blind world has already seen. But above all, O Lord, Thou, by the power of Thy Holy Spirit, hast sealed unto my heart remission of my sins, which I acknowledge and confess myself to have received by the precious blood of Jesus Christ once shed; in whose perfect obedience I am assured my manifold rebellions are defaced, my grievous sins purged, and my soul made the tabernacle of Thy Godly Majesty—Thou, O Father of mercies, Thy Son our Lord Jesus, my only Saviour, Mediator, and Advocate, and Thy Holy Spirit, remaining in the same by true faith, which is the only victory that overcometh the world.'[12]

This window into the heart of a great man is not less transparent because it opens upwards. Its revelation of an inner life, with the alternations proper to it of struggle and victory, will receive confirmation as we go on. As we go on too we shall be arrested by the intense personal sympathy which Knox showed in helping those around him who were still weaker and more tempted than himself—a sympathy in which many will find a surer proof of the existence of a life within, than even in this record of his deliberate and devotional mind. What this record now suggests to us is that the personal life which it reveals had a foundation in some personal and moral crisis. The truth and light came to him when he was 'drowned in ignorance,' and the change cannot have originated in any fancy as to his own predestination, or in any foresight by himself of his own public services. The foundation, as it is put by Knox, was deeper, and was, in his view, common to him with all Christian men. It is a transaction of the individual with the Divine, in which the man comes to God by 'true faith.' And this faith is, or ought to be, absolute and assured, simply because it is faith in the offer and promise of God himself in his Evangel. This was the teaching of Wishart, as it had been of Patrick Hamilton before him. It was the teaching which Hamilton had derived from Luther, and Wishart from both Luther and the Reformers of Switzerland. Later on, when the minor differences between the two schools of Protestantism had declared themselves, it might fairly be said that Knox, and with him Scotland, founded their religion not so much (with Luther) on the central doctrine of immediate access to God through his promise, as (with Calvin) on the more general doctrine of the immediate authority of God through his word. But the former—the Evangel—was the original life and light of the Reformation everywhere, and its glow as of 'glad confident morning' now flushed the whole sky of Western Europe.[13] Knox himself always preached it, and on the day before his death he let fall an expression which indicates that his acceptance of it had rescued him at this very date from the tossings of an inward sea. 'Go, read where I cast my first anchor!' he said to his wife. 'And so she read the seventeenth of John's Gospel.' Now the 'Evangel of John' was what Knox tells us he taught from day to day in the chapel, within the Castle of St Andrews, at a certain hour; and when on entering the city he took up this book of the New Testament, he took it up at the point 'where he left at his departure from Longniddry where before his residence was,' and whither Wishart had sent him back to his pupils a year before. And of all parts of this Evangel the rock-built anchorage of the seventeenth chapter may surely best claim to be that commemorated in Knox's stately and deliberate words.

But these conjectures must not make us forget the fact that Knox himself places an undoubted and great crisis at the threshold of his public life. His teaching in 1547 of John's Gospel, and of a certain 'catechism,' though carried on within the walls, sometimes of the chapel, and sometimes of the parish kirk, of St Andrews, was supposed to be private or tutorial. Soon, however, the more influential men there urged him 'that he would take the preaching place upon him. But he utterly refused, alleging that he would not run where God had not called him.... Whereupon, they privily among themselves advising, having with them in council Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, they concluded that they would give a charge to the said John, and that publicly by the mouth of their preacher.' And so, after a sermon turning on the power of the church or congregation to call men to the ministry,

'The said John Rough, preacher, directed his words to the said John Knox, saying, "Brother, ye shall not be offended, albeit that I speak unto you that which I have in charge, even from all those that are here present, which is this: In the name of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ, and in the name of these that presently call you by my mouth, I charge you that you refuse not this holy vocation, but ... that you take upon you the public office and charge of preaching, even as you look to avoid God's heavy displeasure, and desire that He shall multiply His graces with you." And in the end, he said to those that were present, "Was not this your charge to me? And do ye not approve this vocation?" They answered, "It was: and we approve it." Whereat the said John, abashed, burst forth in most abundant tears, and withdrew himself to his chamber. His countenance and behaviour, from that day till the day that he was compelled to present himself to the public place of preaching, did sufficiently declare the grief and trouble of his heart; for no man saw any sign of mirth in him, neither yet had he pleasure to accompany any man, many days together.'[14]

There is no reason to think that Knox exaggerates the importance of this scene in his own history. A man has but one life, and the choosing even of his secular work in it is sometimes so difficult as to make him welcome any external compulsion. But the necessity of an external and even a divine vocation, in order to justify a man's devoting his life to handling things divine, has long been a tradition of the Christian Church—and especially of the Scottish church, which in its parts, and as a whole, has been repeatedly convulsed by this question of 'The Call.' And in Knox's time, as in the earliest age of Christianity, what is now a tradition was a very stern fact. The men who were thus calling him knew well, and Knox himself, more clear of vision than any of them, knew better, that what they were inviting him to was in all probability a violent death. Rough himself perished in the flames at Smithfield; and four months after this vocation Knox was sitting chained and half-naked in the galleys at Rouen, under the lash of a French slave-driver. He did not perhaps himself always remember how the future then appeared to him. Old men looking back upon their past are apt 'to see in their life the story of their life,' and the Reformer, after his later amazing victories, sometimes speaks as if these had been his in hope, or even in promise, from the outset of his career. But it is plain to us now, as we study his letters in those early years, that he was repeatedly brought to accept what we know to have been the real probability—viz., that, while the ultimate triumph of the Evangel would be secure, it might be brought about only after his own failure and ruin. Such were the alternatives which Knox—a man of undoubted sensitiveness and tenderness, and who describes himself as naturally 'fearful'[15]—had to ponder during those days of seclusion at St Andrews. Of one thing he had no doubt. The call, if once he accepted it, was irrevocable;[16] and he must thenceforward go straight on, abandoning the many resources of silence and of flight which might still be open to a private man.

But this was not all. It would be doing injustice to Knox, and to our materials, to suppose that personal considerations were the only ones which pressed upon him in this crisis. He never, in any circumstances, could have been a man of 'a private spirit,' and his present call was expressly to bear the public burden. But the burden so proposed was overwhelming. Was it by his mouth that his countrymen were to be urged to expose themselves, individually, to certain danger and possible ruin? Was it upon his initiative that his country was to be divided, distracted, and probably destroyed—deprived of its old faith, severed from its old alliances, and hurled into revolt from its five hundred years of Christian peace?[17] The risk to his country was extreme. And if, by some marvellous conspiration of providences, Scotland passed through all this without ruin, was Knox prepared to face the more tremendous responsibilities of success? Did he hear in that hour the voice by which leaders of Movements in later days have been chilled, 'Thou couldst a people raise, but couldst not rule?' For if we assume that he felt entitled to back this weight of leadership upon God and Evangel, the question still remained, Was even the Evangel strong enough to bear this burden of a nation's future? That it was able to guide and save the individual man, through all changes and chances of this life and the life beyond, Knox may have been assured. But the questions which rose behind were those of Church organisation and social reconstruction. Was it possible, and was it lawful, to accept the existing Church system, in whole or in part, and to build upon that? And if this was impossible, if Christ's Church must go back to the Divine foundation in His new-discovered Word, was that Word sufficient, not for foundation merely, but for all superstructure—for doctrine, discipline, and worship alike? Or would the Church be entitled to impose its own wise and reasonable additions to the recovered statute-book of Scripture? Lastly, if such a new Church shone already in 'devout imagination' before Knox, he must have also had some forecast of its new relations to feudal and royal Scotland. Was he to plead merely for freedom, under a neutral civil authority? Or in the event of the chiefs of the nation, or some of them, individually adopting the new faith, were they to adopt it for themselves alone; or for subjects and vassals too, as under the former regime? And were they to enforce it, by feudal or royal or even legislative authority, on unwilling subjects and unwilling vassals too?

I think it clear that all these questions must have passed before the mind of Knox during that week of agitated seclusion within the castle walls. Not only so. There is evidence in his own writings that when at the close of that time he came forth to take up the public work, he had already formed his conclusions as to all the main principles on which it was to proceed. And from these he never afterwards varied. Thirteen years were still to elapse before they resulted in Scotland in a religious revolution; and during those years of wandering and exile Knox learned much from the wisest and best of the new leaders—much from them; and much, too, from his own experience, which he was in the future to reduce to details of practice. But his principles were the same from the first. He believed fundamentally in the gracious Word of God revealed to man, as overriding and over-ruling all other authorities. His first sermon denounced the whole existing church system as an Anti-Christian substitute, interposed between man and that original message. But, strange to say, the part of the discourse which at once aroused controversy was his sweeping denial of the Church's right to institute ceremonies, the ground of denial being that 'man may neither make nor devise a religion that is acceptable to God.' He was thus Protestant and Puritan[18] from the first, as his master Wishart was before him, and his choice had now to be made according to his convictions. We, looking back upon the past at our ease, may recognise that on some of these matters he was too hasty in his conclusions—especially in his conclusions as to his opponents, and the duty towards them which the party now oppressed would have, in the unlikely event of its coming into power. But we are bound to remember—Knox himself insists upon it—that he did not take up the function of guide to his people at his own hand, or accept it at his own leisure. He was suddenly called upon in God's name to accept or refuse an almost hopeless task, but one in which success and failure involved the greatest alternatives to him. That preaching the Gospel to which he was called, if it meant on the one hand, in the event of failure, exile or death, meant on the other, in case of success, the salvation of a whole people now sitting in darkness. But he had to accept the task as a whole or to refuse it; and his conclusions as to what that task involved were fused into unity—in some respects into premature unity—in the glow of a supreme moral trial. For the week of deliberation before he emerged as the teacher of the Congregation was certainly not spent upon detailed difficulties either of future legislation or present consistency. It prolonged itself rather in poise and struggle against the more obvious and tremendous obstacles, reinforced no doubt by a thousand more remote behind them. But the ultimate question was whether the gigantic strain of all of these combined would be too much for an anchor dropped by one strong hand into the depths of the Evangel.

And so that week saved a nation—perhaps a man.

For I think it quite a possible thing that this crisis in St Andrews, the only one recorded or even suggested by Knox himself, may have been the one personal crisis of his life. I cannot indeed say with Carlyle, that before this Knox 'seemed well content to guide his own steps by the light of the Reformation, nowise unduly intruding it on others ... resolute he to walk by the truth, and speak the truth when called to do it; not ambitious of more, not fancying himself capable of more.'[19] Of all men living or dead, this is the one whom it is most impossible to think of as acquiescing in such an easy relation to those around him, or even as attempting so to acquiesce—at least without inward self-question and torture. We must remember that Knox had undoubtedly before this time embraced the doctrinal system of the Reformation, no doubt in the form taught by Wishart. And a catechism of that doctrine, perhaps founded upon or identical with that which Wishart brought from Basel, he gave to his East Lothian pupils. Long before his external 'call' at St Andrews, the inward impulse to preach the message to his fellow-men, and to champion their right to receive it, must have pressed upon his conscience. Was this pearl worth the price of selling all to buy it? And was such a price demanded of him individually? If these questions were still unanswered—for that they had been put, and put incessantly, I have no doubt—then the Knox whom we know was still waiting to be born, and the representative of Scotland was like Scotland itself, 'as yet without a soul.'[20] He had carried a sword before Wishart, and he and the gentlemen of East Lothian would have defended their saintly guest at the peril of their lives. He had been followed thereafter by the persecution of his bishop, until he made up his mind for exile in Germany (rather than in England, where he heard that the Romish doctrine flourished under Royal Supremacy). And after the 'slaughter of the Cardinal,' he took refuge within the strong walls of the vacant castle, like other men whose sympathies made them, in the quaint words of the chronicler[21], 'suspect themselves guilty of the death' of Beaton, though they might not have known of it before the fact. But all this Knox might conceivably have done, and still have borne about with him a troubled and divided mind, until the address of Rough flashed out upon his conscience his true vocation, and sent him in tears and solitude to make proof of the Evangel—and of the Evangel in that form which takes hold of both eternities. This final crisis may thus have been the only one. And if it were so, Knox would not be the first man who has found in self-consecration a new birth; nor the first prophet whose 'Here am I' has been answered by fire from the altar and the assurance that iniquity is purged.

But even if we assume, what is more probable, that the crisis in St Andrews was not the first, but the second, in Knox's religious life, the result for the purposes of critical biography is the same. For the later crisis resumed and gathered up into itself, on a higher plane, and with more intensity, the elements of the change which went before. It was, on this assumption, a new call; and a call to higher and public work. But it was a call in the same name, and to the same man, to do new work on the strength of principles and motives to which he had already committed himself. It was, in short, a greater strain, but upon the first anchor.

This point has acquired more importance since Carlyle, and so many of us who follow him as admirers of Knox, have adopted the modern trick of speech of calling him a Prophet to his time. It is assumed that Knox took the same view,[22] and that he held himself to have had, if not a prophet's supernatural endowment and vocation, at least a special mission and an extraordinary call. The question is complicated by other things than the special and extraordinary work which he, in point of fact, achieved. We find that, in the course of that work, Knox, a man of piercing intuitions in personal and public matters, repeatedly committed himself to judgments, and even predictions, which were unexpectedly verified. And some of these he himself regarded, as we have seen already in his deliberate Meditation, as not intuitions merely, but private intimations given by God to his own heart and mind. Naturally, too, a man of Knox's devout and yet passionate temper was disposed to lay as much stress upon these incidents as they would bear; while the marvel-mongers around him, and in the next generation, went farther still. But the main fact to remember is, that Knox all his life insisted that such incidents, whatever their occasional value, were no part of his original mission, and were outside the bounds of his life-long vocation. The passage in which he is disposed to make most of them is the following; and it is worth quoting also, because of the striking terms in which he incidentally describes his real work and permanent call. He is explaining why, after twenty years' preaching, he has never published even a sermon, and now publishes one with nothing but wholesome admonitions for the time. (This wholesome sermon was the one which so much offended Darnley.)

'Considering myself rather called of my God to instruct the ignorant, comfort the sorrowful, confirm the weak, and rebuke the proud, by tongue and lively voice in these most corrupt days, than to compose books for the age to come: seeing that so much is written (and that by men of most singular condition), and yet so little well observed; I decreed to contain myself within the bonds [bounds?] of that vocation, whereunto I found myself specially called. I dare not deny (lest that in so doing I should be injurious to the giver), but that God hath revealed to me secrets unknown to the world; and also that he hath made my tongue a trumpet, to forewarn realms and nations, yea, certain great personages, of translations and changes, when no such things were feared, nor yet were appearing; a portion whereof cannot the world deny (be it never so blind) to be fulfilled, and the rest, alas! I fear shall follow with greater expedition, and in more full perfection, than my sorrowful heart desireth. Those revelations and assurances notwithstanding, I did ever abstain to commit anything to writ, contented only to have obeyed the charge of Him who commanded me to cry.'[23]

And when he did 'cry,' from the pulpit or elsewhere, he was careful to found his claim to be heard, not on private intimations, but on God's open word. As early as 1554 he denounces judgment to come upon England (which, by the way, was not fulfilled in the sense which he expected), but he adds immediately—

'This my affirmation proceedeth, not from any conjecture of man's fantasy, but from the ordinary course of God's judgments against manifest contemners of his precepts from the beginning;'[24]

and more fully in another contemporary document—

'But ye would know the grounds of my certitude: God grant that hearing them ye may understand and steadfastly believe the same. My assurances are not the marvels of Merlin, nor yet the dark sentences of profane prophesies; but, 1. the plain truth of God's word, 2. the invincible justice of the everlasting God, and 3. the ordinary course of his punishments and plagues from the beginning, are my assurance and grounds.'[25]

This was early in his career. At its close Knox, now very frail, was deeply aggrieved by the troubles caused by Lethington and Kirkaldy, who held the castle of Edinburgh. His verbal predictions of their coming end, as reported (after the event however) by those around his death-bed, and his assurance at the same time of 'mercy to the soul' of the chivalrous Kirkaldy, are among the most striking incidents of this kind in his life. But in his Will, written contemporaneously on 13th May 1572, he says,

'I am not ignorant that many would that I should enter into particular determination of these present troubles; to whom I plainly and simply answer, that, as I never exceeded the bounds of God's Scriptures, so will I not do, in this part, by God's grace.'[26]

This did not prevent him from freely describing his old friends in the Castle as murderers, and predicting their destruction, especially as they seemed now to be planning a counter-revolution in the interest of the exiled Queen of Scots. They retorted by accusing him, among other things, of prejudging her and 'entering into God's secret counsel.' Knox roused himself to answer the charges in detail. But there remained, he adds,

'One thing that is most bitter to me, and most fearful, if that my accusers were able to prove their accusation, to wit, that I proudly and arrogantly entered into God's secret counsel, as if I were called thereto. God be merciful to my accusators, of their rash and ungodly judgment! If they understood how fearful my conscience is, and ever has been, to exceed the bounds of my vocation, they would not so boldly have accused me. I am not ignorant that the secrets of God appertain to Himself alone: but things revealed in His law appertain to us and our children for ever. What I have spoken against the adultery, against the murder, against the pride, and against the idolatry of that wicked woman, I spake not as one that entered into God's secret counsel, but being one (of God's great mercy) called to preach according to His blessed will, revealed in His most holy word.'[27]

The old man's irritation was most natural. For, on the one hand, his accusers had hit a blot. He was sometimes extremely dogmatic, imperious, and rash in his application of 'God's revealed will' both to persons and things. But the form in which they put it—that he posed as a prophet, as one having a special message from God's secret counsel, instead of a general commission to proclaim that revealed will—was not only false, but struck at the roots of his whole life and work. It is demonstrable that from Knox's first teaching in East Lothian and first preaching in St Andrews onwards, the meaning of both teaching and preaching was a call to the common Scottish man, and to every man, to go to God direct without any intermediation except God's open word.[28] And I think it plain that this direct and divine call to all was not only the meaning but the strength of the message in Scotland as elsewhere. It seems to us now as if the burden which it laid on the individual—on frail and feeble women, for example, in that time of persecution—was overwhelming. It is most pathetic to find Knox, when sitting down to write tender and consoling messages to those in such circumstances, pre-occupied with urging the obligation of each one of them individually to hold fast, against possible torture or death, that which each one had individually received. But he never shrank from it, or from pointing out that such relation to God himself was the noblest privilege. And the evidence is plain that all over the Europe of that age this reception of a Divine message direct to the individual, in the newly opened Scriptures, was, not a burden, but a source of incomparable energy and exhilaration—alike to men and women, to the simple and the learned, to the young and—stranger still—to the old. Knox knew it; and he knew that his claiming a special message or ambassadorship would be, not so much 'exceeding the bounds' of his vocation, as denying it altogether. He was imperious and dogmatic by nature; and he took these natural qualities with him into his new work. But he would have shuddered at the idea of formally interposing his own personality between the hearers of that time and the message which they received. And he would have regarded the office of a mere prophet—the bearer, that is, of a special message, even though that message be divine—as a degradation, if, in order to attain it, he had to lay down the preaching of 'that doctrine and that heavenly religion, whereof it hath pleased His merciful providence to make me, among others, a simple soldier and witness-bearer unto men.'[29]

Does it follow that Knox—who thus rejected strongly the idea of being a prophet to his time, and insisted instead upon his merely receiving and transmitting the one message which was common to all—that this man was therefore little more to his age than any other might be? By no means. The same message comes to all men in an age, and is received by many, but it is received by each in a different way.[30] And the way in which this message was then received by one man in East Lothian made all the difference to Scotland, and perhaps to Europe. It must not be forgotten, indeed, that the result of it upon Knox himself was to transform him. So certain is this that some have felt as if this were the case of one who, up to about his fortieth year, was an ordinary, commonplace, and representative Scotsman, and was thereafter changed utterly, but only by being filled with the sacred fire of conviction. This is only about half the truth, though it is an important half—to Knox himself by far the more important. But it is not the whole, and it is far from the whole for us. The author who has enabled us to see his own confused and changing age under 'the broad clear light of that wonderful book'[31] the 'History of the Reformation in Scotland,' and who outside that book was the utterer of many an armed and winged word which pursues and smites us to this day, must have been born with nothing less than genius—genius to observe, to narrate, and to judge. Even had he written as a mere recluse and critic, looking out upon his world from a monk's cell or from the corner of a housetop, the vividness, the tenderness, the sarcasm and the humour would still have been there. But Knox's genius was predominantly practical; and the difference between the transformation which befell him, and that which changed so many other men in his time, was that in Knox's case it changed one who was born to be a statesman. He probably never would have become one, but for the light which for him as for the others made all things new. But in the others it resulted in a self-consecration whose outlook was chiefly upon the next world, and in the present was doubtfully bounded by possible martyrdom and possible evasion or escape. In the case of Knox the instinctive outlook was not for himself only, but for others and for his country. And while he saw from the first, far more clearly than they, the embattled strength of the forces with which they all had to contend, the unbending will of this man rejected all idea of concession or compromise, evasion or escape. And his native sagacity (made keener as well as more comprehensive now that it looked down from that remote and stormless anchorage), revealed to him that there was at least the possibility of the mightiest earthly fabric breaking up before him in unexpected collapse.

Our conclusion then must be that the call which Knox received was one common to him with every man and woman of that time—to accept the Evangel—and common to him with every preacher of that time—to preach the Evangel; but that this man's large conception of what such a call practically meant, not for himself alone, but for all around him and for his country, made it from the first for him a public call, and compelled him to hear in the invitation of the St Andrews congregation the divine commission for his life-long work. From the first, and in conception as well as execution, that work was great and revolutionary. And from the first, and in its very plan, it involved serious errors. But Knox himself, in this and every stage of his career, claimed to be judged by no lower tribunal than that Authority whose dread and strait command he at the first accepted. And if there are some things in that career which his country has simply to forgive, we shall not reckon among these the original resolve of that day in St Andrews—a resolve which has made Knox more to Scotland 'than any million of unblameable Scotchmen who need no forgiveness.'

* * * * *

But there are few who will doubt the sincerity, or the strength, of the impulse which launched Knox upon his public career. There are many however who, recognising that he was a great public man, doubt persistently whether he was anything more. They are not satisfied with the evidence of trumpet-tones from the pulpit, or of solemn and passionate prayer at some crisis of a career. These are part of the furniture of the orator, the statesman, and the prophet. Was there a private life at all, as distinguished from the inner side of that which was public? And was that private life genuine and tender and strong? Have we another window into this man's breast—opening in this case, not upwards and Godwards, but towards the men—or women—around him? We have: and it is fortunate that the evidence on this subject is found, not at a late date in Knox's life, as is the Meditation of 1563, but close to the threshold of his career.

[11] The quotations are from Knox himself—in the first book of his 'History of the Reformation in Scotland.'

When quoting from any part of Knox's 'Works' (David Laing's edition in six volumes), I propose to modernise the spelling, but in other respects to retain Knox's English. It will be found surprisingly modern.

[12] 'Works,' vi. 483

[13] 'The end and intent of the Scripture,' according to the translation by George Wishart, Knox's earliest master, of the First Helvetic or Swiss Confession, is, 'to declare that God is benevolent and friendly-minded to mankind; and that he hath declared that kindness in and through Jesu Christ, his only Son; the which kindness is received by faith; but this faith is effectuous through charity, and expressed in an innocent life.' And even more strikingly, the very first question of the famous Palatinate Catechism for Churches and Schools, though that catechism is Calvinistic in its conception rather than Lutheran, and came out so late as 1563, bursts out as follows:—

'What is thy only comfort in life and death?

'Ans. That I, with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the Devil.'

[14] 'Works,' i. 187.

[15] On his death-bed. The Regent Morton's famous epitaph spoken by Knox's grave, is an imperfect echo of what the Reformer ten days before, in bidding farewell to the Kirk (Session) of Edinburgh, had said of his own past career:—'In respect that he bore God's message, to whom he must make account for the same, he (albeit he was weak and an unworthy creature, and a fearful man) feared not the faces of men.'—'Works,' vi. 637.

[16] One of the most eloquent documents of the time is the address in 1565 to the half-starved ministers of the Kirk (inspired and perhaps written by Knox), urging that having put their hands to the plough, they could not look back:—

'God hath honoured us so, that men have judged us the messengers of the Everlasting. By us hath He disclosed idolatry, by us are the Wicked of the world rebuked, and by us hath our God comforted the consciences of many.... And shall we for poverty leave the flock of Jesus Christ before that it utterly refuse us?... The price of Jesus Christ, his death and passion, is committed to our charge, the eyes of men are bent upon us, and we must answer before that Judge.... He preserved us in the darkness of our mothers' bosom, He provided our food in their breasts, and instructed us to use the same, when we knew Him not, He hath nourished us in the time of blindness and of impiety; and will He now despise us, when we call upon Him, and preach the glorious Gospel of His dear Son our Lord Jesus?'—'Works,' vi. 425.

[17] Seven years after this time, Knox, writing from abroad to 'his sisters in Edinburgh,' tells of the 'cogitations' which God permitted Satan even at that late date to put into his mind—

'Shall Christ, the author of peace, concord, and quietness, be preached where war is proclaimed, sedition engendered, and tumults appear to rise? Shall not His Evangel be accused as the cause of all calamity which is like to follow? What comfort canst thou have to see the one-half of the people rise up against the other; yea, to jeopard the one to murder and destroy the other? But above all, what joy shall it be to thy heart to behold with thine eyes thy native country betrayed into the hands of strangers, which to no man's judgment can be avoided, because they who ought to defend it and the liberties thereof are so blind, dull, and obstinate that they will not see their own destruction?'—'Works,' iv. 251.

[18] The two sources which, next to his own report of this sermon, best indicate his earliest standpoint, are (1) the (second) Basel Confession—better known as the First Confession of Helvetia—which Wishart had brought with him from the Continent, and before his death had translated into English, and which Knox, therefore, must have known and may have used; and (2) the treatise of his friend, the layman and lawyer, Balnaves, written two years later, and which Knox then sent from Rouen to St Andrews with his own approval and abridgement. The former is distinctly 'Reformed' and Puritan, and lays down that all ceremonies, other than the two instituted sacraments and preaching, 'as vessels, garments, wax-lights, altars,' are unprofitable, and 'serve to subvert the true religion'; while Balnaves repeats the more fundamental principle of Knox's sermon (that all religion which is 'not commanded,' or which is 'invented' with the best motives, is wrong). And both treatises shew that Knox must have had also before him from the first the thorny question of the relation of the Church and the private Christian to the civil magistrate—for both solve it, like Knox himself (but unlike Luther in his original Confession of Augsburg), by giving the Magistrate sweeping and intolerant powers of reforming alike the religion and the Church.

[19] 'Lectures on Heroes: The Hero as Priest.

[20] Carlyle, as above.

[21] Lindsay of Pitscottie.

[22] Thus, Mrs M'Cunn, in her charming volume on Knox as a 'Leader of Religion,' says that he 'constantly claimed the position accorded to the Hebrew prophets, and claimed it on the same grounds as they.' And even Dr Hume Brown, when narrating Knox's refusal in the Galleys to kiss the 'Idol' presented to him, adds: 'It is in such passages as these that we see how completely Knox identified his action with that of the Hebrew prophets' (vol. i. 84), the passage founded upon being one in which Knox points out that 'the same obedience that God required of his people Israel,' even in idolatrous Babylon, was required by Him of the 'Scottish men' in France, and was actually given by 'that whole number during the time of their bondage,' not merely by the one unnamed prisoner who flung the painted 'board' into the Loire. One reason why the prisoner is unnamed is no doubt that here, as in a hundred other places more explicitly, Knox would impress us with the feeling that no other or higher obedience in such matters is required of minister or prophet or apostle, than is required of the humblest man or the youngest child in God's people.

[23] 'Works,' vi. 230.

[24] 'Works,' iii. 245.

[25] 'Works,' iii. 169.

[26] 'Works,' vi. p. lvi.

[27] 'Works,' vi. 592.

[28] The right of every man to do so, and his duty to do so, were both there: the only question might be whether, of the two, the right to do it (as with Luther), or the duty to do it (as with Calvin) was first and fundamental.

[29] 'Works,' iii. 155.

[30] Recipitur in modum recipientis.

[31] John Hill Burton's 'History of Scotland,' iii. 339. He adds, 'There certainly is in the English language no other parallel to it in the clearness, vigour, and picturesqueness with which it renders the history of a stirring period.



Before the age with which we are dealing there was, throughout Europe, a certain barrier between the religious life on the one hand and the domestic and private life—the ordinary vie intime—on the other. Among the men and women of the new era that barrier was broken down. The religious was no longer a recognised class: religion was no longer a luxury for the few, or to be partaken of in sacred places and at fixed days and hours. The common man, if a Christian man at all, was to be so now in his common and daily life, living it out from day to day on the deepest principles and from the highest motives. And the Christian woman, having a similar and an equal vocation, undertook the like responsibilities. But her responsibilities were in that age of transition very perplexing, and more than ever invited friendly counsel and pastoral care. Now what was John Knox's private life? He was twice married, and we know from his correspondence that even before his first marriage there were women of high position and character to whom he sustained what may be called personal and pastoral relations. Have we any documents from that time by which to illustrate, and perhaps to test, the principles of his inward and personal life, before we go on to find these written large in the scroll of his country's history?

Norham Castle, near Berwick, is still a very striking pile, especially to those who come upon it, as the writer did, after four days leisurely walking down the banks of the great border river. Every curve of the stream had its natural beauty intertwined with some association of history or the poets, from the first morning on Neidpath Fell, to the fourth evening when

'Day set on Norham's castled steep, And Tweed's fair river, broad and deep, And Cheviot's mountains lone. The battled towers, the donjon keep, The loophole grates where captives weep, The flanking walls that round it sweep'—

are all still there, though the inmates are no longer captives. Norham is, indeed, best known as the scene of the whole of the first canto of 'Marmion.' In that poem Sir Hugh the Heron is supposed to have been Lord of it, while his wife is away in Scotland, prepared to sing ballads of Lochinvar to the ill-fated King on his last evening in Holyrood. But when Knox, delivered from the galleys, preached in Berwick in 1549, the Captain of the Hold of Norham, only six miles off, was Richard Bowes. And his lady, born Elizabeth Aske, and co-heiress of Aske in Yorkshire (already an elderly woman and mother of fifteen children), became Knox's chief friend, and after he left Berwick for Newcastle his correspondent, chiefly as to her religious troubles. Most of the letters of Knox to her which are preserved are in the year 1553, and one of the earliest of these acknowledges a communication 'from you and my dearest spouse.' This means that Marjory Bowes, the fifth daughter in that large household, had already been sponsa or betrothed, with her mother's consent, to the Scottish preacher. Knox, now forty-eight years old, had recently declined an English bishopric, offered him through the Duke of Northumberland, but was still chaplain to the King. A letter to Marjory, undated, follows, in which he explains to his 'dearly beloved sister' some passages of Scripture, and adds—'The Spirit of God shall instruct your heart what is most comfortable to the troubled conscience of your mother.' This communication ends with the subdued or sly postscript, 'I think this be the first letter that ever I wrote to you.'[32] In July, while Knox was in London, Mary Tudor ascended the throne, and everything began to look threatening. In September Knox acknowledges the 'boldness and constancy' of Mrs Bowes in pushing his cause with her husband, who was as yet 'unconvinced in religion,' but he urges her not to trouble herself too much in the matter. He would himself press for the betrothal being changed into marriage, or at least acknowledged. 'It becomes me now to jeopard my life for the comfort and deliverance of my own flesh, as that I will do by God's grace; both fear and friendship of all earthly creature laid aside.'[33] Mrs Bowes suggested that, in addition to writing her husband, he should lay his case before an elder brother, Sir Robert Bowes, Warden of the Marches, who seems to have acted as head of the family. Sir Robert turned out to be more hostile to the perilous alliance proposed for his niece than even her father; and Knox wrote that 'his disdainful, yea, despiteful words have so pierced my heart that my life is bitter unto me.' When Knox was about to have 'declared his heart' in the whole matter, Sir Robert interrupted him with, 'Away with your rhetorical reasons! for I will not be persuaded with them.' Knox, indignant, predicted to the mother of his betrothed that 'the days should be few that England should give me bread,'[34] but adds again, 'Be sure I will not forget you and your company so long as mortal man may remember any earthly creature.'[35] He escaped from England very soon, and not till September 1555 did he return, and that on Mrs Bowes' invitation; and with the result that he brought off to Geneva, where he was now pastor of a distinguished English colony, not only his wife Marjory, but his wife's mother too. Here his two sons, Nathaniel and Eleazar, afterwards students at Cambridge and ministers of the Church of England, were born. But in 1559 wife and mother-in-law accompanied or followed him from the Continent to Edinburgh. During the anxious and critical winter which followed, Mrs Knox seems to have acted as her husband's amanuensis, but 'the rest of my wife hath been so unrestful since her arriving here, that scarcely could she tell upon the morrow what she wrote at night.'[36] Next year brought victory and peace, but too late for her; for in December 1560, about the time when the first General Assembly was sitting in Edinburgh, Knox's wife died. We learn this from the 'History of the Reformation,' in which Knox records a meeting of that date between himself and the two foremost nobles of Scotland, Chatelherault and Moray, upon public affairs, 'he upon the one part comforting them, and they upon the other part comforting him, for he was in no small heaviness by reason of the late death of his dear bedfellow, Marjorie Bowes.'[37] And of her we have no further record, except Calvin's epithet of suavissima,[38] and her husband's repetition years after, in his Last Will, of the 'benediction that their dearest mother left' to her two sons, 'whereto, now as then, I from my troubled heart say, Amen.'[39]

Four years passed, and Knox, still minister of Edinburgh, and now in his fifty-ninth year, was seen riding home with a second wife, 'not like a prophet or old decrepit priest as he was,' said his Catholic adversaries, 'but with his bands of taffetie fastened with golden rings.' The lady for whom he put on this state was Margaret Stewart, the daughter of his friend Lord Ochiltree, and the same critics assure us that 'by sorcery and witchcraft he did so allure that poor gentlewoman, that she could not live without him.' Queen Mary was angry when she heard of it, because the bride 'was of the blood,' i.e. related to the Royal house; and even Knox's friends did not like his union at that age with a girl of seventeen. Young Mrs Knox seems, however, to have played her part well, especially as mother of three daughters; she tended their father carefully in his last illness; and no one will regret that two years after his death she made a more suitable marriage as to years with Andrew Ker of Faudonside, one of the fierce band whose daggers had clashed ten years before in the body of David Rizzio.

Knox's liking for feminine society, and his suspicion that he had more qualifications for it than the world has believed, come out sometimes in a casual way. After one of his famous interviews with Queen Mary, he was ordered to wait her pleasure in the ante-room.

'The said John stood in the chamber, as one whom men had never seen (so were all afraid), except that the Lord Ochiltree bare him company; and therefore began he to forge talking of the ladies who were there sitting in all their gorgeous apparel; which espied, he merrily said, "O fair ladies, how pleasing were this life of yours if it should ever abide, and then in the end that we might pass to heaven with all this gay gear. But fye upon that knave Death, that will come whether we will or not! And when he has laid on his arrest, the foul worms will be busy with this flesh, be it never so fair and so tender; and the silly soul, I fear, shall be so feeble, that it can neither carry with it gold, garnassing, targetting, pearl, nor precious stones." And by such means procured he the company of women.'

These moralities, however merrily intended and at the time successful, would have perhaps been more appropriate in the Forest of Arden or the graveyard of Hamlet, than among the four Maries in Holyrood; and for anything that is to be of autobiographical value we must go elsewhere and go deeper. His wives contribute nothing; we may hope that they were as happy as the countries which have no history. And if that is too much to believe—or too little to hope—we shall find enough in the next few pages to satisfy us that they had near them in all their trials a strong and tender heart. But of their inward troubles, and of the sympathy these may have drawn forth, Knox is not the historian—he refuses to be the historian even of his own inner life. He unfolds himself in writing only to the women who are in trouble, and at a distance. And the only concession to domesticity is in the fact that his chief correspondent is, if not a wife, a prospective mother-in-law.

The letters to her are the most important of all, and the following extract is from one published among the letters of 1553 as 'The First to Mrs Bowes.' It was by no means the first, even in that year; but it is the one which Knox himself long afterwards selected as the first for republication and as best illustrating the original relation between himself and the lady recently deceased. In it he had said, writing from London to Norham:—

'Since the first day that it pleased the providence of God to bring you and me into familiarity, I have always delighted in your company; and when labour would permit, you know that I have not spared hours to talk and commune with you, the fruit whereof I did not then fully understand nor perceive. But now absent, and so absent that by corporal presence neither of us can receive comfort of other, I call to mind how that ofttimes when, with dolorous hearts, we have begun our talking, God hath sent great comfort unto both, which for my own part I commonly want. The exposition of your troubles, and acknowledging of your infirmity, were first unto me a very mirror and glass wherein I beheld myself so rightly painted forth, that nothing could be more evident to my own eyes. And then the searching of the Scriptures for God's sweet promises, and for his mercies freely given unto miserable offenders—(for his nature delighteth to shew mercy where most misery reigneth)—the collection and applying of God's mercies, I say, were unto me as the breaking and handling with my own hands of the most sweet and delectable unguents, whereof I could not but receive some comfort by their natural sweet odours.'[40]

The sympathy that flows through this beautiful passage comes out very strongly in another written in bodily illness. His importunate correspondent had proposed to call for him in Newcastle that very day. Knox suggests to-morrow instead.

'This day ye know to be the day of my study and prayer unto God; yet if your trouble be intolerable, or if ye think my presence may release your pain, do as the Spirit shall move you, for you know that I will be offended with nothing that you do in God's name. And O, how glad would I be to feed the hungry and give medicine to the sick! Your messenger found me in bed, after a sore trouble and most dolorous night, and so dolour may complain to dolour when we two meet.'[41]

Another letter, also to Mrs Bowes, is from London, and reveals a very remarkable scene. He acknowledges receiving one letter from Marjory, and one from her mother, the latter, as usual, full of complaint.

'The very instant hour that your letter was presented unto me, was I talking of you, by reason that three honest poor women were come to me, and were complaining their great infirmity, and were showing unto me the great assaults of the enemy, and I was opening the cause and commodities thereof, whereby all our eyes wept at once; and I was praying unto God that ye and some others had been there with me for the space of two hours. And even at that instant came your letters to my hands; whereof one part I read unto them, and one of them said, "O would to God I might speak with that person, for I perceive that there be more tempted than I."'[42]

The persuasive ingenuity which would suggest to the Lady of Norham that she was a source not only of comfort but of strength to those troubled like herself, turns out much to our advantage. For Knox puts himself, first of all, in the place of those whom he would either advise or console. And in the earliest dated letter of his which we possess there is a vivid picture of what took place between two people who were much in earnest, three and a half centuries ago, about this life and the next. Knox has written fully to Mrs Bowes, and adds—

'After the writing of these preceding, your brother and mine, Harry Wycliffe, did advertise me by writing that your adversary took occasion to trouble you, because that I did start back from you rehearsing your infirmities. I remember myself to have so done, and that is my common consuetude when anything pierceth or toucheth my heart. Call to your mind what I did standing at the cupboard at Alnwick: in very deed I thought that no creature had been tempted as I was. And when that I heard proceed from your mouth the very words that he troubles me with, I did wonder and from my heart lament your sore trouble, knowing in myself the dolour thereof.'[43]

What was the temptation which Knox thought no creature shared with him, but which he found, as he stood at the cupboard at Alnwick, had come to Mrs Bowes in the same form, and even in the same words? As it happens, we can answer with great certainty. It was a temptation to infidelity or 'incredulity': the adversary 'would cause you abhor that, and hate it, wherein stands only salvation and life,' viz., the name, as well as the whole message, of Jesus Christ. So it is put in this letter; and in others, apparently later, we read—

'That ye are of that foolish sort of men that say in their heart, "There is no God," I wonder that the Devil shames not to allege that contrary [to] you; but he is a liar, and father of the same. For if in your heart ye said there is no God, why then should ye suffer anguish and care by reason that the enemy troubles you with that thought? Who can be afraid, day and night, for that which is not?'[44]


'He would persuade you that God's Word is of no effect, but that it is a vain tale invented by man, and so all that is spoken of Jesus, the Son of God, is but a vain fable.... He says the Scriptures of God are but a tale, and no credit is to be given to them....[45] Before he troubled you that there is not a Saviour, and now he affirms that ye shall be like to Francis Spira, who denied Christ's doctrine.'[46]

In that age, which broke through the crust of mere authority to seek some 'foundation of belief, 'there must have been many of both sexes in this state of mind; though each doubter might think that 'no creature' shared it. The new doctrine of individual faith and individual responsibility was one for women as well as men, and they had a special claim on the sympathy of their teachers when central doubts attacked them. Whether these doubts in the case of Mrs Bowes, or in that of Knox, arose in the line of any particular enquiries does not appear. He treats them as if they were rather moral than intellectual, and born of the feebleness of the soul under temptation. And in this relation it says not a little for his estimate of Mrs Bowes, whom he was leaving behind under the Marian persecution, and with her husband and most of her family hostile to her, that, instead of attenuating, he rather magnifies the external difficulties she had to meet.

'Your adversary, sister, doth labour that ye should doubt whether this be the Word of God or not. If there had never been testimonial of the undoubted truth thereof before these our ages, may not such things as we see daily come to pass prove the verity thereof? Doth it not affirm that it shall be preached, and yet contemned and lightly regarded by many; that the true professors thereof shall be hated with [by] father, mother, and others of the contrary religion; that the most faithful shall cruelly be persecuted? And come not all these things to pass in ourselves?'[47]

But sceptical or speculative doubts were not Mrs Bowes' chief trouble. She writes Knox complaining of her temptations—even temptations of sense. And chiefly and continually she complained of past guilt and present sin, by reason of which she felt as if 'remission of sins in Christ Jesus pertained nothing to her.'[48] This was not a case for the 'sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort' which the Church of England ascribes to the doctrine of Predestination rightly used. Nor does Knox deal with it—at least in his letters—by the simple and peremptory preaching of the Evangel. He recognised it as a case calling for sympathy, and he does not find the sympathy hard. Knox, indeed, like the other Reformers, had parted for ever with the mediaeval idea of salvation by self-torture—even by self-torture for sin. Like all the wisest of the human race, too—even before Christianity came to sanction their surmise—he held that religion must be an objective thing, and that salvation lies in dealing, not with ourselves, but with One outside of us and above. Yet it is a salvation from sin, and the new life now springing up throughout Europe was intensely a moral life. The faith, too, on which the age laid so much stress as a 'coming' to God, involved repentance as a 'turning' to God. And while repentance no longer meant penance, whether of body or mind, it meant—and as Knox puts it repeatedly—'it contains within itself a dolour for sin, a hatred of sin, and yet hope of mercy'; and it is renewed as often as the occasion arises for renewed deliverance from the evil. Accordingly, Knox now acts on the principle which he announced years afterwards in a letter to another friend,[49] and again and again tears open his own heart to comfort others by shewing that he, with hope or assurance in Christ, still felt the burden and assault of sin.

'I can write to you by my own experience. I have sometimes been in that security that I felt not dolour for sin, neither yet displeasure against myself for any iniquity in that I did offend. But rather my vain heart did thus flatter myself, (I write the truth to my own confusion, and to the glory of my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ), 'Thou hast suffered great trouble for professing of Christ's truth; God has done great things for thee.'... O Mother! this was a subtle serpent who thus could pour in venom, I not perceiving it; but blessed be my God who permitted me not to sleep long in that estate. I drank, shortly after this flattery of myself, a cup of contra-poison, the bitterness whereof doth yet so remain in my breast, that whatever I have suffered, or presently do, I repute as dung, yea, and myself worthy of damnation for my ingratitude towards my God. The like Mother, might have come to you,' &c.[50]

Mrs Bowes lived in her famous son-in-law's house till close upon her death. By that time he had come to recognise that her experience was an exceptional[51] and, perhaps, a morbid one; and at a very early date he manifestly felt the pressure of her constant applications to him for help. Yet throughout the correspondence his unfailing attitude to her is that of admirably tender solicitude; and when he has to go into exile in the beginning of 1554 he first sits down and writes—still partly in the form of letters to her—a treatise on Affliction. It is of great and permanent value, the subject not being one which our race can as yet claim to have outgrown: but I shall make no reference to its contents. Even in his previous and ordinary letters, however, Knox had reached the conclusion that her case was one of inward Affliction, rather than, as she would have it, of sin. And the treatment of this great subject of 'desertion,' by one who was a standard-bearer of the new doctrine of faith and assurance, is remarkably beautiful. 'It is dolorous to the faithful,' he writes another friend, 'to lack the sensible feeling of God's mercy and goodness (and the sensible feeling thereof he lacketh what time he fully cannot rest and repose upon the same). And yet as nothing more commonly cometh to God's children, so is there no exercise more profitable for his soldiers than is the same.' But to Mrs Bowes he points out, what she certainly would not have observed, that 'it doth no more offend God's Majesty that the spirit sometimes lie as it were asleep, neither having sense of great dolour nor great comfort, more than it doth offend him that the body use the natural rest, ceasing from all external exercise.' And again, varying the figure, 'no more is God displeased, although that sometimes the body be sick, and subject to diseases, and so unable to do the calling; no more is he offended, although the soul in that case be diseased and sick. And as the natural father will not kill the body of the child, albeit through sickness it faint, and abhor comfortable meats, no more (and much less) will our heavenly Father kill our souls, albeit, through spiritual infirmity and weakness of our faith, sometimes we refuse the lively food of his comfortable promises....[52] 'You are sick, dear sister,' he had said elsewhere, 'and therefore,' alluding even to her confidences of scepticism as to Christian doctrine, 'you abhor the succour of most wholesome food.' 'Fear not,' he sums up in a subsequent letter, 'the infirmity that you find either in flesh or spirit. Only abstain from external iniquity'—which he supplements elsewhere with the more positive advice, 'Be fervent in reading, fervent in prayer, and merciful to the poor, according to your power, and God shall put an end to all dolours, when least is thought [according] to the judgment of man.' And in the meantime, 'Dear mother, he that is sorry for absence of virtue is not altogether destitute of the same ... our hunger cries unto God.' Knox himself, he assured his troubled friend, never ceased to pray for her; but 'although I would cease, and yourself would cease, and all other creature, yet your dolour continually cryeth and returneth not void from the presence of our God.'[53]

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