Recently, my wife and I spent nine days in London and traveled out each day to various cities such as Bristol, Bedford, Cambridge, Oxford, and Edinburgh, Scotland.  Upon our return home, I decided to write a series of posts on the lives of specific people from church history that left us with testimonies of genuine faith in the gospel, perseverance under persecution, and remained steadfast to the end.  The goal in this series of articles is to lightly explore their lives and focus on their perseverance in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  A life that finished well in the gospel is a life worth remembering.  We have already looked at the lives of John BunyanCharles Spurgeon, George Muller, the Oxford martyrs, and John Rogers.  Today’s focus is on a man named John Knox.

John Knox’s Early Life and Conversion

John Knox was born near Edinburgh, Scotland 1515, and we don’t know much about his early life until he bursts from the pages of history in his 30s.  He was ordained as a Catholic priest and at some point in the 1540s he was converted to Christianity.  He was greatly influenced by Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart.  Hamilton was martyred for his faith and Wishart would be burned at the stake for his Protestant doctrine too.  However, as Wishart traveled and preached, he needed a bodyguard to travel with him.  He hires John Knox as the sword bearer.  After Wishart is arrested and martyred, Knox goes into hiding.  These two men had a profound impact upon his life and greatly influenced his doctrine and desire to enter the cause of the Reformation.

John Knox’s Courageous Ministry

The time of Knox’s life marks a low in Scotland spiritually.  Corrupt ministers and evil Roman Catholic methods and beliefs prevailed.  However, through the thundering voice of Knox, Scotland would be turned toward God.  From the preaching of John Knox, we have some juicy quotes, but we likewise have some embarrassing moments as well.  With his courageous heart came a tongue that was difficult to tame.

Some juicy quotes from the preaching and writing ministry of John Knox:

  • I have never once feared the devil, but I tremble every time I enter the pulpit.
  • A man with God is always in the majority.
  • I am no master of myself, but must obey him who commands me to speak plain and to flatter no flesh upon the face of the earth.
  • The prayers of the great cloud of witnesses rebuke us in our prayerlessness.

John Knox was not afraid of the devil, and he wasn’t afraid of any person in the flesh – including royalty.  He had the ear of King Edward VI, the king of England, and he preached a sermon condemning the Book of Common Prayer’s assertion that we must receive communion on our knees.  Knox insisted that it had zero Scriptural grounds.

On another occasion, Knox stood before Queen Mary of Scots, and he actually caused her to burst into tears.  She was 18 years of age and Knox at that time was in his mid 40s.  She was angry with Knox’s rumors about her marriage plans, and if the truth were known, she greatly feared Knox.  In fact, at one point, this Roman Catholic Queen said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.”  Nevertheless, Knox insulted her as well as other women in his booklet titled, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.  Although he had good reason to oppose Mary I (Bloody Mary) and others such as Mary Queen of Scots, he could have approached it in a more careful manner than he did.  He wrote, “Nature, I say, doth paint [women] forth to be weak, frail, impatient, feeble and foolish, and experience hath declared them to be inconstant, variable, cruel and lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment. And these notable faults have men in all ages espied.”

John Knox was not perfect, but he was a man who loved God.  He prayed, “Give me Scotland, or I die!”  God raised up Knox for a unique purpose at a unique juncture in church history and Scotland’s history.  It would be through his praying, his preaching, and his work as a reformer that the Presbyterian Church would be founded.  A staunchly Reformed preacher and anti-Catholic, Knox would devote his life to the Reformation of Scotland and beyond.  Mary Queen of Scots went on record in 1561 as stating that John Knox was the most dangerous man in her Kingdom.  Burk Parsons writes:

He reinvigorated God’s shepherds throughout the nation; this, in turn, reformed the church and, thus, in God’s providence, revived the country. Most notably, what inspired the pastors perhaps more than any other characteristic in Knox was that he did not fear men, because he feared God—he was a man willing to offend men, because he was unwilling to offend God. [1]

John Knox’s Legacy of Faithfulness

According to a Roman Catholic chronicler, “John Knox, a Scotsman by nation and a great enemy of the Catholic Church, arrived in the town.  This man was so audacious and learned and factious, and so eloquent that he managed men’s souls as he wished.” [2]  Knox stood firm in a time of spiritual compromise, national conflict, and religious persecution.  He would travel across Scotland preaching the gospel and many people were saved.  Through the unflinching resolve of Knox and others who helped in the cause, the people of Scotland could worship freely, sing hymns of the faith, and hear the preaching of the Word in their language.  The tyranny of the Roman Catholic Church was overcome and the work of Reformation spread.  This caused the church to bloom across Scotland.

When John Knox died in 1572, he was buried on what is today known as “The Royal Mile” in Edinburgh, Scotland.  At his burial, it was said of Knox, “Here lies a man who in his life never feared the face of man.”  Today, if you visit Edinburgh, you will find a small museum in the house on the main stretch that leads up to the castle called The Knox House.  It was here in this house that John Knox lived for the remaining 18 months of his life.  If you travel up toward the castle from there, you will come to St Giles’ Cathedral approximately 1/4 of a mile from The Knox House.  If you walk behind the Cathedral and look in parking place #23, you will see a stone marker with these words, “The above stone marks the approximate site of the burial in St Giles graveyard of John Knox the great Scottish Divine who died 24 Nov 1572.”

Knox-23

It’s not about the nobility of your gravesite 500 years after your birth, but about the nobility of your legacy for Christ that matters most.  Some of us will lie beneath parking lots 500 years after our life ends, but will our legacy survive?  For Knox, a parking lot could not extinguish the flames of his legacy for Jesus.  What about your legacy?  Will your life be remembered or will you be another worthless life among the archives of human history?  Spend your life for King Jesus and die without regret.  It’s not about how you’re buried, it’s about how you die.


  1. Burk Parsons, “Give Me Scotland, or I Die
  2. Taken from “The Ancient Chronicles of Dieppe”