Heroes of the Faith: John Knox

“Escaped the edge of the sword” Hebrews 11:34.

It is difficult to compress into one article some of the illustrious characters that were true heroes of faith. Only strengthened by the power of the Almighty could they conquer. We will briefly consider one of these choice and delightful characters, John Knox.

What Luther, Zwingle, and Huss were to Europe, the beloved John Knox was to Scotland and England. He was born in 1505, in the times of martyrdom when many a noble warrior of the Cross died by the sword, the torture chamber, the scaffold, or the fire. At a young age, John Knox was influenced by two veritable giants of his day, Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart. These two godly and able servants of Christ both went to the scaffold and, like their Master, they went willingly to the slaughter. Both were young when they sealed their testimony with their blood, leaving an indelible stamp upon Scottish history and Christianity. Patrick Hamilton was known for his brilliant mind and immense knowledge of the Scriptures, preaching free salvation through the work of Christ. The enemies of the cross hated this great man. He walked daily with death ever present. Finally, Patrick Hamilton was martyred a few weeks after he was married. Before mounting the scaffold, he gave his New Testament as a gift to his friend and his cap and gown he gave away also, saying “these will not profit the fire.” His final words: “How long, 0 Lord, shall darkness overwhelm this realm? How long wilt Thou suffer the tyranny of men? Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He was the first to enter the honor roll of martyrdom in those dark days.

George Wishart was known as one of the greatest pulpit orators for centuries. He preached a plain yet powerful gospel and his preaching bore much fruit. It is recorded that the people hung on every word of this mighty gospel preacher. He was known as a man of prayer and when the great plague entered Dundee, this man hastened to Dundee and prayed and preached. The text he used was Psalm 107, “He sent His word and healed them.” God mercifully answered Wishart’s pleadings, yet just as his Master experienced, those to whom he ministered consented later to his death.

John Knox was a lover and follower of this faithful servant of Christ. He witnessed his martyrdom which touched his heart. Knox would willingly have followed his mentor to martyrdom, but Wishart said to his young devoted friend, “The Lord hath need of you,” and added, “Lord, spare the green and take the ripe.” This short prayer was answered, for John Knox “escaped the edge of the sword.” This was a miracle, and only the Almighty could have protected this great man. Most historians agree that John Knox was “the spearhead, leader, and deliverer of Scotland and England from the tyranny and domination of the Roman system.” This system had ruled with a ruthless hand, filling its coffers with silver, depriving the people of the Bible, and preying on the ignorant. No artist could paint on canvas the horrific deeds committed by this system.

John Knox was raised up for such a time as this. He stood, a young man, on the threshold of a work commenced by the blood of fellow-soldiers of the cross: the insurmountable task of conquering Scotland for Christ. He embarked upon this work with fearlessness and fidelity. Every believer should humbly bow before God with thanksgiving and praise for the freedoms we enjoy through the instrumentality of these remarkable heroes of faith.

The ways of God with His servants are quite amazing. When all eyes looked for John Knox to bring deliverance to the nation, he was captured by the invading French on June 4th, 1547, becoming a slave on a French galley ship. As Moses needed the backside of the desert and Paul an Arabia, this man needed to be refined and prepared in the school of God for the task to deliver Scotland. He learned by suffering, patience, meekness, and endurance in God’s school! Two years in fetters produced self-control and a resolute resistance to opposition. After eight years away from his native land, he returned to Scotland. His presence imparted new life to the cause. It is rather interesting that Dundee, the town of Wishart’s labors, was the earliest and loveliest flower of springtime under John Knox.

When he defended the cause of Christ against great odds before Queen Mary, his very presence put fear into her. It has been said, “that she feared the prayers of John Knox more that an army of ten thousand.” What a testimony from a wicked Queen who tried to stamp out the Reformation!

Under John Knox the Scottish nation reached its highest spiritual stature, and as this tireless preacher looked over the battles fought and victories won he must have been thankful for the overthrow of the wicked system of Romish error. Historians tell us the 1568 –69 years were the happiest days of John Knox’s life and the most prosperous in the history of the country during that century. Yet, before him were other battles. Storms still swept across the land, but this weary servant remained faithful and unmoved by the winds of adversity. He preached to the end of his days, helped by others due to bodily weakness, yet retaining warmth and fire in his preaching. He was deeply touched in hearing of the slaughter in France at St. Bartholomew. It had a crushing effect upon him. He ended his days on earth on November 9, 1572. In his closing days he said to his beloved wife, “Take me to the scripture where I first cast my anchor.” She read John 17: 3, “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” He shortly thereafter passed into the realms of a perfect day where no storm clouds will ever gather and where all contentions cease.