Who was John Knox?
The Protestant Reformation was no stranger to controversial figures. Among the ranks of John Calvin and Martin Luther stood another giant—this one Scottish, John Knox. He, like his predecessors and mentors, generated much contention, but also inspired many to preach a pure gospel and search the Scriptures.
Little is known about Knox’s early life, though many scholars agree that he was born circa 1514 in Haddington, near Edinburgh. At 25, he was suddenly and dramatically called to the preaching ministry—a calling that he responded to with reluctance and tears. His life was tumultuous, as were the times in which he lived and preached. As Reformed doctrine crept into Scotland, he was persuaded and joined the ranks of the reformers. In a short span, Knox went from a minister’s broadsword-bearing bodyguard, to a preacher, to a galley slave, to a student of John Calvin, to a traveling preacher, to a pen-wielding prophet decrying the bloody Queen of Scots, Mary Tudor.
In 1559, after extensive traveling and writing, he returned to Scotland and “deployed his formidable preaching skills to increase Protestant militancy.” His preaching both caused riots and drew souls to love Jesus Christ, nearly in the same breath. Knox was elected the minister of the Edinburgh church, and wielding his preaching prowess as a weapon to cut the quick, applying his biblical exposition to Scotland’s situation.
Scotland’s political-religious climate was rapidly shifting, and there was much work to be done in the upheaval. Knox and several others, in light of the massive number of Protestant conversions, took pen to paper and wrote The Book of Church Order—upon which the entire Presbyterian church would be based. Even today, Presbyterians look to The Book of Church Order for polity and church-administration issues, and they look to Knox as their founder.
Knox is often portrayed as a fiery, courageous prophet, standing Elijah-like at the pulpit, decrying God’s enemies with a broadsword in one hand and a Bible in the other. Yet the reality is something different. Knox, by all accounts, was a timid, frail, and fragile man, who when “stripped of his God-given might and the thundering power of his calling, what remains is a mere mortal, a small man, ‘low in stature, and of a weakly constitution’.”
“Knox is a model for the ordinary Christian, especially the one who feels his own weakness but who nevertheless wants to serve Christ in a troubled world. Knox is eminently relevant to all Christians who have ever been forced to come face to face with their own littleness” (Douglas Bond, The Mighty Weakness of John Knox).
Learn more about his life and legacy
To learn more about Knox’s life and thought, check out these helpful volumes: