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THE Scottish Reformation, and the great central figure which it presents, remain for our consideration. The field opened to our view is comparatively limited, but it is singular in the completeness and intensity of its interest. The area over which the reforming movement is seen sweeping is but a narrow one in contrast with that of Germany or France or England, but it is more deeply moved; and the gathering impulses of the religious excitement swell into a highly expressed, definite, and powerful nationality.

As we cast our glance upon Scotland towards the end of the first quarter of the sixteenth century, we see a very disturbed picture,—the King, the great nobles, and the clergy sharing between them an authority which has not worked itself into any consistent and beneficent form of national order. In comparison with the well developed, massive, and richly pictured life of England at the same period, there is great rudeness and disorder, and, in a word, barbarism in Scotland. This is obviously true of all elements of political strength and stability; while in 358regard to the Church it is no less really true. Poor and corrupt as the clergy were in England in the earlier reign of Henry VIII., they yet retained, in some instances, a moral spirit and influence of which we can detect no trace in the sister country.

The Reformation in each is found strongly contrasted, according to these differing circumstances of the two countries. In England there were powerful forces both of political and moral resistance to it; but in Scotland, when the front of rude authority with which it was at first violently met was once broken down, there was no power left to stay nor even to guide it. The kingly influence was entirely prostrated in the untimely death of James V. after the disaster of Solway Moss; the nobles, in their savage enmities and factions, possessed no intelligent or steady power of control. The hierarchy was the single authority that remained to encounter a movement against which it was wholly incapable of effective resistance; its palsied and corrupt grandeur was no match for the rising spirit of national indignation.

While in England, accordingly, we see a balanced movement proceeding gradually and under royal sanction, in Scotland we behold an insurrectionary impulse long repressed, but at length gathering force till it breaks down and sweeps away all barriers before it. It might seem on the first glance we get of the hierarchy of Scotland, that it constituted a formidable power: externally it appeared strong; it showed the craft, the subtlety, and the swift unrelenting vengeance which at first easily mastered and crushed its enemies. But these were in reality the mere fangs of a brute 359strength surviving the decay of all true national life in the system. The apparent influence and barbaric splendour of such men as the Beatons covered a rottenness at the heart more extreme than could be found in any other country of the Reformation. Nowhere else had the clergy reached such a pitch of flagrant and disgraceful immorality, and the Roman Catholic religion become such an utter corruption and mockery of all that is good and holy. The bishops and archbishops lived in open concubinage, and gave their daughters in marriage to the sons of the best families in the kingdom; livings were transmitted from father to son in the most shameless manner; the monasteries were, in popular belief and in reality, to a degree beyond what we can indicate, sinks of profligacy. A darker and more hideous picture, when we think of it as the formal representative of religion to a people, we cannot conceive, than that which is suggested in the scattered but sufficiently broad hints of Knox.192192   In his History. Whatever undue severity there may be here and there in Knox’s descriptions, there is no reason to doubt their general accuracy. The immoralities of such men as the Beatons, and the clerical caste in Scotland of which they stood at the head, are unhappily as well established as any such facts can be.

And while such was the moral state of the hierarchy, it scarcely preserved even the pretence of religious service. The churches, save on festival days, were abandoned the priests were unable to understand a single word of the prayers which they mumbled over; and preaching was entirely unknown. Every element of religion was materialised to the last degree and blessings sold for so much, and cursings for so much. 360The clergy were the traffickers—they seem really to have been little more—in such supposed spiritual charms the people were the victims, in some cases honestly so, but in others obviously with a sufficiently clear view of the absurdity, if not impiety, of the whole affair. Knox gives a ludicrous picture of what went on in this way, drawn from the preaching of William Airth, a friar of Dundee, who distinguished himself temporarily by his keen exposure of the papistical system. “The priest,” said he, “whose duty and office it is to pray for the people, stands up on Sunday and cries, ‘Ane has tynt a spurtill; there is a flail stollen beyond the burn; the goodwife of the other side of the gait has tynt a horn-spoon: God’s malison and mine I give to those who know of this gear and restores it not.” And the appreciation the people often had of this preaching is thus shown. After sermon that the friar “had at Dunfermline,” Knox says, “he came to a house whare gossips were drinking their Sunday penny and he, being dry, asked drink. ‘Yes, father,’ said ane of the gossips, ‘ye shall have drink; but ye must first resolve a doubt which has risen among us—to wit, what servant will serve a man best on least expense.’ ‘The good angel,’ said I, ‘who is man’s keeper—who makes great service without expense.’ ‘Tush!’ said the gossip, ‘we mean no such high matters; we mean, what honest man will do greatest service for least expense?’ And while I was musing, said the friar, what that should mean, she said, ‘I see, father, that the greatest clerks are not the wisest men. Know ye not how the bishops and their officials serve us husbandmen? 361Will they not give us a letter of cursing for a plack to last for a year, to curse all that look over our dyke? and that keeps our corn better nor the sleepy boy that will have three shillings of fee, a sark, and a pair of shoon in the year.’”193193   History, Book I.

A system whose most familiar and popular expressions had sunk into such absolute dotage, whose dishonesty and immorality were so widespread and prominent, might seem powerful, but in point of fact it had no permanent elements of strength. It was a mere repressive machinery lying on the heart of the nation, so far as there was in it any true heart and living growth of moral intelligence. And not only so,—not only had the Catholic hierarchy in Scotland become a mere incubus, but an incubus in no small degree of foreign character and pretensions. Many of the higher clergy received their education in France;194194   Keith's Scottish Bishops, pp. 21-24. they had engrafted on their natural rudeness and fierceness of character the polish of a culture formed in the most licentious and perfidious Court in Europe—a polish which not only left their native and essential savageness untamed, but sharpened it into some of its worst features of cruelty and baseness, This may serve to explain the striking alienation between the Catholicism in Scotland and the genuine and growing national feeling. There were no points of attraction, nor even of tolerance, between them; only the hardest attitude of unreasoning authority on the one hand, and of utter contempt and hatred on the other. Among the poorest classes there may have been a kind of sympathy with the clergy, and certain relations of 362goodwill on the one side and the other. The monasteries, in the very worst point of view, must have been centres of beneficence, whose influence stretched towards many humble cottages; and the bishops had each their numerous dependants, who, with their friends and relatives, mingled among the people. Bad as the system was, it must have possessed such points of support, and might have strengthened itself in some degree on them, had any wisdom been left to it; but ignorance and mere selfish instinct were, after all, but a poor stay for profligacy, while all the intellectual and moral interests of the country were uniting against it.

Standing between the clergy and the lowest orders, there had grown up during the preceding century or more, in Scotland, a class of traders in the towns and of gentry in the country, bound to each other by intimate ties and it was in the growing enlightenment of this class that the future of Scotland lay. These burghers and gentry constituted young Scotland in the. sixteenth century. They had the intelligence to understand to the full the corruptions of the Papacy; they had gathered to themselves such spiritual life as remained in the country, and this rose in horror at the immoralities which the Church embodied. They were a rising and vigorous class, proud of their sharp-wittedness and the influence which their position and resources gave them; they were well informed, through their connection with the Continent, with regard to the progress of the reformed doctrines; they had high character, earnest feelings, and political as well as religious aims; and they naturally ranged themselves against the hierarchy as its strong and avowed enemies.


Between these two powers the conflict of the Scottish Reformation was really waged: It was a conflict not merely in the interest of religion, although this it was eminently, but moreover, and in a higher and more remarkable degree than elsewhere, a conflict on behalf of the independence and integrity of national life. The spiritual impulse was strongly present, but inseparably bound up, with it was a political feeling, which gave characteristic impress to the general movement. Amid the decay of the old political influences in the country, and the corruption of its social and ecclesiastical bonds, there was a fresh and compact vigour in the middle orders that rendered them more capable in moral strength than any party opposed to them; and not only did the reforming ‘activity mainly proceed from them, but, in virtue of their self-consistency and hardihood of character, they retained the main guidance of it in their hands. They impressed their own character upon it; they gave to it, both as a doctrine and a discipline, a shape removed as far as possible from the hated hierarchical system which they subverted. Altogether unlike the growth of the English Church, the Scottish Reformed Kirk became an entirely new expression of religious life in Scotland. The old had passed away,—all things had become new,—when the reforming tide settled down, and the face of religious order reappeared. Scotland was not merely reformed, it was revolutionised. Catholicism had vanished into obscure corners, from which no royal nursing. could ever again evoke it, save as a poor ghost of its former self, destined to vanish again before every fresh outburst of the national feeling.


This complete change, wrought by the Reformation in Scotland, can only be explained in the light of the peculiar crisis which the national history had then reached. A new political and social influence was at the time waiting to start into vigorous development: it met the Reformation, embraced it, moulded it to its own inspirations and aims, and carried itself triumphantly forward in its advance. It is very true that some of the greater nobles soon saw reason to join themselves to the reformed cause, and in various ways to aid or hinder it; but in the beginning, and at the end, the Scottish Reformation continued essentially a middle-class movement, with all the hardy virtue belonging to its parentage, yet also with the parental defects—sturdy and uncompromising in its faith, and free in its instincts, but with no sacred inheritance of traditionary story binding it by beautiful links. to the great Catholic past; and further, as has been long sadly apparent, with no sympathetic expansiveness capable of moulding into religious unity classes widely separated in material rank and in intellectual and artistic culture.

It is sufficiently singular, and so far in corroboration of the view now presented, that the Scottish reformers, one and all of them of any note, sprung from the class of gentry to which we have referred. Patrick Hamilton, indeed, was immediately connected with the higher nobility, and, through his mother, with the royal family;195195   He was the son of Sir Patrick Hamilton of Kincavel, an illegitimate son of the first Lord Hamilton, and of Catherine Stewart, (illegitimate?) daughter of Alexander Duke of Albany, second son of King James II. On the mother’s side the illegitimacy merely followed an act of ecclesiastical divorce. His father perished in the conflict between the Hamiltons and Douglases, known as Cleanse the Causeway, which took place in Edinburgh in 1520. but the fact of his being a 365younger son, and the illegitimacy that attached to the descent of both his parents, rendered his own social position certainly not higher than that of the lairds or gentry. George Wishart, again, was brother to the Laird of Pittarrow, and Knox was the son of a younger brother of the house of Ranfurly.

Patrick Hamilton is the first prominent name that meets us in the Scottish Reformation. His brief and sad, yet beautiful story, has been told anew in our day in a very interesting manner.196196   Lorimer’s Patrick Hamilton, &c. Edinb., 1857. For the first time we are able to trace, in a clear and consistent light, the course of his education, first in Paris, then in St Andrews, and lastly in Germany, in the very heart of the reforming influences; his return to his native country, and marriage (a fact not previously known); and then his preaching, and seizure and trial by the elder Beaton,—a narrative which serves to deepen the affecting story of his martyrdom in front of the gate of the old college of St Andrews on the 29th of February 1528. Hamilton no doubt caught his first reforming impulse during the years that he studied in Paris (1519-20), when the university was all astir on the subject of Luther’s doctrines. His subsequent studies in Germany confirmed the early impulse thus communicated; and the proto-reformer of Scotland was thus substantially Lutheran in the origin and character of his teaching.


This foreign influence in the rise of the Reformation in Scotland deserves to be noticed. But it would be wrong to attribute too much importance to it. An awakening, half literary, half spiritual, had already begun during the preceding ten years in St Leonard’s College, St Andrews; and Hamilton was in the very midst of this new excitement while pursuing his studies there. We get, also, in Knox’s History, one clear glimpse of an earnest Lollardism towards the end of the preceding century, in the reign of James IV.197197   History, Book I. The spirit which he describes, and the articles which he gives in detail, recall strongly the spirit and doctrines which we have seen to characterise the surviving Wickliffite influence in England—the same broad and somewhat crude apprehension of Scriptural truth—the same scornful humour—the same strong, yet retiring piety—with the remarkable difference, that the “thirty persons” called “Lollards of Kylle” seem to have belonged, not to the peasantry, as in England, but to the better-classes of society. At this single point, a line of antecedent religious life in Scotland rises into brief and impressive prominency. And it no doubt continued to some extent during the next thirty years, and helped in the advance of the Reformation; but in what degree or through what connections it did this, we cannot distinctly trace, either in the case of Hamilton or of any of the chief reformers.

The zeal of Patrick Hamilton, although quenched in cruel flames, lived after him. His teaching, enhanced by the noble and pathetic courage of his death, made a 367deep impression on the national mind. The reforming spirit spread on all sides. “Men began,” says Knox, “very liberally to speak.” The bishops had only one weapon with which to encounter the rising spirit. They bethought themselves of burning some more heretics. “New consultation was taken that some should be burned;” but a “merrie gentleman,” a familiar of the bishop, was heard to say, “Gif ye burn more, let them be burnt in how cellars; for the reik of Mr Patrick Hamilton has infected as many as it did blow upon.”

Such was the state of affairs while Knox was rising into full manhood, and beginning with his steady and long-piercing glance to look forth upon the world, and note the circumstances and signs of the times amidst which he found himself. At the time of Hamilton’s death he was twenty-three years of age, and about terminating his studies in the University of Glasgow. He was born in 1505, in Haddington or its neighbourhood,198198   So much is admitted by all. As to whether the epithet, “Giffordiensis,” applied to him by Beza in his Icones of 1580, is to be explained by reference to a village or lands in the neighbourhood of Haddington bearing the name of Gifford, or by reference to Giffordgate, a suburb of Haddington, is a question which has been much disputed. of parents whose ancestry and social position have been subjects of dispute, although the evidence seems conclusive that his father belonged to the Knoxes of Ranfurly, an old and respectable family of Renfrewshire.199199   M‘Crie’s Life of Knox, p. 2. His own statement, that “his great-grandfather, gudeschir, and father, served under the 368Earls of Bothwell, and some of them have died under their standards,”200200   M‘Crie’s Life of Knox. is perfectly consistent with this. He received his preliminary education at the Grammar-School of Haddington, and in the year 1521 was sent to the University of Glasgow, where he had, therefore, been a considerable number of years at the time that the reforming opinions began to spread rapidly throughout the country.

It is not very clear when or under what special influences Knox first began to incline towards these opinions. He had gone to Glasgow University with the view of being trained for the Church, and there, under Major, he soon proved himself an apt and distinguished pupil of the scholastic theology. He was considered as equalling, if not excelling, his master in the subtleties of the dialectic art. To this teacher also he probably owed the first impulse to that remarkable freedom of political opinion which afterwards characterised him. He is said to have been ordained before the year 1530; but at this time, and for twelve years onward, there is a great gap in his life, which his biographers have been wholly unable to fill up. We only know that, some time after taking his degree, he removed to St Andrews, and taught there; although in what college does not clearly appear; and that, about 1535, especially by the study of the Fathers, his traditionary opinions had become thoroughly shaken. Not till eight years later, however, or in 1543, did he become an avowed and marked reformer.

This year is in every way memorable in the history 369of the Scottish Reformation. The death of the King, after the disastrous defeat of Solway Moss, in the end of the previous year, and the consequent accession of the Earl of Arian to the regency, produced at first a change favourable to the views of the reformers. Negotiations were renewed with England; Protestant preachers were taken under special protection by the Regent, and a measure passed the Committee of Parliament, known by the name of the Lords of the Articles, and received his sanction, authorising the reading of the Scriptures in the common tongue. Everything seemed for the moment to indicate the goodwill of the Regent, and to tend to the advance of the Reformation. The favour of Arran, however, was but short-lived. The French and Papal party, with Cardinal Beaton at their head, soon regained their ascendancy. Just as under the previous interregnum, fifteen years before, all the efforts of Henry VIII. defeated to some extent by his own injustice and violence—were unsuccessful to bind any section of the Scottish nobles permanently to his interest; and the renewed connection with France laid the foundation for confusion and misery to the country for more than another half-century.

So soon as Beaton attained his object, and once more held the substantial power of the kingdom in his grasp, he resolved to crush his enemies with no sparing hand. His bloodthirsty vengeance had been baffled by the reluctant pity of the late king, who had shrunk with horror from the atrocity, suggested to him by the clergy, of exterminating by a single stroke two or three hundred of the most influential of the reformers, 370whose names they had presented to him in a list.201201   Knox, Book I.; Pitscottie, p. 164. The numbers vary; Knox speaks of “a hundred land men, besides others of meaner degree”; Pitscottie says “seventeen score.” There seemed no obstacle now, however, to the full gratification of his vengeance, while the instinct of self-preservation probably combined with that of his natural imperiousness and cruelty to direct him to the special object of his attack. Whatever be the credit due to Tytler’s special insinuations against Wishart—which appear to rest on very slender evidence—Beaton, no doubt, identified this courageous preacher with his political as well as religious enemies. He was the intimate associate, and, by his eloquence and activity, the most powerful support of the anti-Papal or English party. The cardinal knew this well, and aimed accordingly, by his apprehension and death, to strike the most fatal blow he could at the party.

George Wishart, as he stands depicted in the pages of Knox and Calderwood, is a singularly interesting character; of gentle, winning, and unassuming disposition, with a strange wild tinge of enthusiasm, an intense spirit of devotion, and a commanding eloquence; “a man of sic graces as before him were never heard in this realm, yea, and rare to be found yet in ony man.” Obliged to seek refuge some time before in England from the persecution of the Bishop of Brechin, he returned to Scotland in 1543,202202   Knox says 1544. with the commissioners who had been sent to negotiate a treaty with Henry VIII. He had been dwelling for some time in 371the very centre of the Anglican reform movement at Cambridge, where the influence of Bilney and Latimer still lived; and he seems to have caught some share of the spirit of both—the mild rapture of the one, and the hasty denunciatory zeal of the other. On his return to Scotland he travelled from town to town, and county to county; preaching the truth which had become precious to his own soul. He made a deep impression wherever he went. His words wrought with a marvellous persuasiveness on some even of the most hardened and wicked in the land—such men, for example, as the Laird of Schein, described by Knox, who, as the preacher on a “hette and pleasant day” of summer addressed the crowd from a “dyke on a muir edge, upon the south-west side of Mauchlin,” was so affected that “the tears rane fra his eyne in sic abundance that all men wondered,” and who by his future life, moreover, showed that “his conversion then wrought was without hypocrisy.”203203   History, Book I.

In his preaching excursions, Wishart gathered around him devoted followers, and was the inspiring mind of the Protestant party, now adding rapidly to its numbers. It is as one of these followers that Knox first clearly appears upon the scene of the Reformation, and in a very characteristic attitude. He tells us himself, that from the time that the zealous preacher came to Lothian, he waited carefully upon him, bearing “a twa-handed sword.” This precaution had been used since an attempt had been made to assassinate the preacher; and the bold spirit of Knox, now kindling into its full ardour, rejoiced in the attendant 372post of danger. At this very time, however, the machinations of the Cardinal against Wishart had reached their completion; and while he rested at Ormiston, after his last remarkable sermon at Haddington, he was made a prisoner by the Earl of Bothwell; while Beaton himself lay within a mile, at the head of 500 men, in case any attempt should be made to rescue him. There is a strange weird interest in Knox’s description of his last interview with the preacher, and his final sermon. Disappointed at not meeting with the friends he expected,—the Earl of Cassius and others,—and disheartened by the apparent decline of the popular interest in the reformed cause, he spoke to his intrepid sword-bearer of his weariness with the world, and “as he pacit up and doun behind the hie altar, mair than half an hour before sermon, his verie countenance and visage declarit the grief and alteration of his mind.” The shadow of his approaching doom had crept upon him; and when Knox wished to share his fate, and accompany him to Ormiston, he said, “Nay, return to your bairnes, and God bless you; ane is sufficient for a sacrifice.”204204   History, Book I.

Knox’s “bairnes” were his pupils, the sons of the lairds of Niddrie and Ormiston. In default of any more definite occupation, he had settled as a quiet tutor to the sons of these families. From the time of his quitting St Andrews up to this time, when, in his fortieth year, he first publicly appears in connection with Wishart, we can scarcely be said to know anything 373further of him. As has been pointed out, there is considerable significance in this long period of silence in Knox’s history. It speaks strongly of his naturally peaceful disposition, of the patient maturity with which he formed his opinions, and of the consequent absurdity of the notion that would fix him down at once as a mere ambitious and turbulent partisan. It may serve also to explain the singular decision and completeness of his views when the outburst of his reforming zeal at length came.

Now, after the apprehension of Wishart, he seems to have remained cautiously in his retirement, mourning the dreadful fate of his friend, till the great event, perpetrated at the old castle of St Andrews, on the morning of the 29th May 1546, summoned him from his privacy, and imparted a new direction and a nobler interest to his life. This event lives nowhere so vividly and powerfully as in his own wonderful narrative,205205   History, Book I. in which the horror of the circumstances is wildly relieved by a stern glee, kindling in the writer as he tells them in careful outline. It is equally needless to condemn the spirit of the historian, or to find excuses for it. If the horror of the transaction obscures in our minds all feeling of pleasantry as we look back upon it, we have to thank Knox, and such men as Knox, that there is left to us no occasion of any other feeling. To him, and to all honest and patriot hearts in Scotland in the middle of the sixteenth century, the death of Cardinal Beaton, under whatever circumstances of atrocity, could not, unfortunately, 374be anything else but a circumstance of gratulation. It is the divine doom of tyranny, in whatever shape, that men should rejoice at its murder, even if that murder be “foully done.” The joy is not in fault, but the cause of it. The former is a pure manifestation of human feeling, the latter an eternal blasphemy and violation of human right. Knox is gleeful, therefore, with a scornful laughter, over the assassination of Beaton, simply because he realised all the meaning of the event for his country, and could not see the downfall of a power so hateful without a natural impulse of jubilee. As we look back into the dim grey of that May morning, we only see the solitary and helpless man raised from his bed, and in the murderous grip of his assassins. Knox remembered, as if it had happened yesterday, the proud and imperious tyrant, who reclined on velvet cushions at the castle window, to feast his eyes on the torments of his martyred friend. A life of such dazzling strength as Beaton's, terminating so swiftly in an abject and miserable death, may well move us to pity—it could only move Knox to irony; and if the event be not one for irony, we may say with Mr Froude, “we do not, know what irony is for.”

Nearly a year subsequent to the death of Beaton (April 1547), Knox took refuge with his pupils in the castle of St Andrews, which continued to be held against the Regent notwithstanding his efforts to reduce it. It became the temporary stronghold of the reforming interest, and many resorted to it for protection. Here Knox began, he tells us, “to exercise his pupils after his accustomed manner. Besides their 375grammar and other human authors, he read unto them a Catechism, account whereof he caused them to give publickly in the parish kirk of St Andrews. He read, moreover, unto them the evangel of John, proceeding where he had left at his departing from Langniddrie, and that lecture he read in the chapel within the castle at a certain hour.” In this modest way Knox introduces us to the great epoch of his life which was approaching. Now in his forty-second. year, with his convictions fully formed, and with obvious powers of expressing and defending them beyond those of any other man of his time, he had yet remained, as we have seen, silent. The awe and responsibility of speaking to the people in God’s stead weighed heavily on his mind as on Luther’s, and the arguments of his friends failed to move him. Struck with the “manner of his doctrine,” they “began earnestly to travail with him that he would take the preaching place upon him.” John Rough, who was preacher in the castle, and who seems honestly to have felt his own weakness in comparison with the gifts of the reformer, and Henry Balnaves, a Lord of Session, and one of the most influential of the early reformers, joined in urging this request. But he tells us “he utterly refused, alleging that he would not run where God had not called him.” This refusal, however, only sharpened the desire of his friends to see him in his natural vocation, and they devised, in company with Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, equally eager with themselves, a plan by which they hoped to surprise him into compliance with their designs. The story is one of the most singular and characteristic in all the 376reformer’s life, and can only be told in his own language: “Upon a certain day a sermon was had of the election of ministers, what power the congregation (how small soever it was, passing the number of two or three) had above any man in whom they supposed and espied the gifts of God to be, and how dangerous it was to refuse, and not to hear the voice of such as desire to be instructed. These and other heads declared, 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 as ye tender the glory of God, the increase of Christ’s kingdom, the edification of your brethren, and the comfort of me, whom ye understand well enough to be oppressed by the multitude of labours, that ye take upon you the public office and charge of preaching, even as ye 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 who were present, ‘Was not this your charge to me, and do you not approve the 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 377mirth of him, neither yet had he pleasure to accompany any man many days together.”206206   History, Book I.

A special necessity soon occurred to him to enter upon his vocation. Dean John Arran, “a rotten Papist, had long troubled John Rough in his preaching,” and Knox was roused to vindicate the doctrine of his friend “in open audience in the parish church of St Andrews.” The people heard him gladly, and called upon him with one consent to give them by his preaching “probation of what he had affirmed; for if it was true, they had been miserably deceived.” And so the next Sunday Knox preached the parish church, and expounded at length his views of the Papacy. He at once urged the most decided opinions, and supported his assertions under the different heads of life, doctrine, laws, and subjects. The sermon made a great noise, as may be imagined; and on the remonstrance of Hamilton, the bishop-elect (not yet “execrated”—“consecrated,” they call it, bitterly remarks Knox), with Winram, the sub-prior and vicar-general during the vacancy of the see, Knox and Rough were summoned to give an account of their doctrine in a convention of grey-friars and black-friars appointed in St Leonard’s Yards. Certain articles were read to them, and are admitted by Knox to contain a fair representation of his views. They are preserved in his History, and enable us to understand very clearly, in connection with the dispute which followed, the position which he now occupied. The Pope is asserted to be Antichrist, the mass abominable idolatry, purgatory a falsehood, and bishops, except as ordinary preachers, to 378have no function, When we contrast such views with those of Luther or Latimer at the outset, we perceive at once what comparatively clear and determinate ground, as opposed to the old Catholic system, was taken up by our reformer. He offered no points of mere advance and improvement upon that system; he showed no regretful dealing nor sympathetic connection with it—but a complete and decisive reaction against it. It was not merely corrupt, but absolutely abandoned to evil—the Church not of God, but of the devil. “Ye will leave us no kirk,” said the grey-friar (Arbugkill) who rashly entered the lists with the reformer on the occasion, and, driven to shifts by his arguments, had nothing to reply but that “the apostles had not receaved the Holy Ghost when they did write their Epistles”—“Ye will leave us no kirk,” urged the friar. “Indeed,” said Knox, “in David I read that there is a Church of the malignants; for he says, ‘Odi Ecclesiam Malignantium.’” It was clear that there was no room for compromise here. Knox could recognise no authority, no sanctity, no respectability in the Papacy of his country. The, very order of bishops, as identified with it, had already become undivine to his mind. He was a Presbyterian, all at once, by the mere force of antipathy to Catholicism as it presented itself to his view. The absence of positive doctrinal sentiments in these articles is observable; but too much is not to be made of this. The points of definite negation to the papal system were necessarily those which came into most prominence; and in the sermon which was the occasion of them, he tells us that he spoke also of the “doctrine of justification expressed 379in Scripture, which teach that man is justified by faith alone—that the blood of Jesus Christ purges us from all our sins.”207207   Book I.

Knox’s activity at this period was but shortlived. A French squadron appeared before the Castle of St Andrews in the end of June of the same year; and the brave garrison who had held out so long, being now pressed both by sea and land, were forced to capitulate. The honourable terms on which they had surrendered were speedily violated; and Knox, who had shared the fate of his comrades, was transported along with them to France, and then confined as a prisoner on board the French galleys.

This may be said to close the first great period in Knox’s life—the period of his preparation for, and commencement of, his reforming work. The second period, which embraces his more or less complete exile from Scotland for a space of twelve years, or on to 1559, shows the working of his reforming zeal on an extended field, and amid the most strange vicissitudes. We can only here indicate its various points of interest.

His imprisonment in the French galleys for two years, and the sufferings he there endured, served to deepen, and render still more dear to him, his religious convictions, and also to give some tinge of sadness and asperity to his character. Then his residence in England for four years, from 1549 to the beginning of 1554, was a time fruitful to him in work and experience. He was brought, as one of Edward VI.’s chaplains, into immediate contact with the great 380agents of the Anglican Reformation—with Cranmer—probably (nay, certainly, we may say) with Latimer, who during this period was a regular inmate of Cranmer’s house at Lambeth. If they did meet, the two bold preachers, they must have talked, and talked with a heartiness and a vehemence that doubtless did the archbishop, among his court movements, some good to hear. It is understood that Knox had considerable influence in producing the liberal changes in the service and prayer-book of the Church of England which characterised the last years of Edward’s reign. Unquestionably, any influence he did exert must have been in this direction, and indeed in a still more radical direction for he leaves us in no doubt as to his views of the partial and imperfect character of the English Reformation. Both he himself and Beza lead us to suppose that he was offered a bishopric;208208   There is no doubt that the Duke of Northumberland urged his appointment to the bishopric of Rochester. In a letter of his to Secretary Cecil, preserved in the Records, he says, “I would to God it might please the King’s Majesty to appoint Mr Knox to the office of Rochester bishopric, which for three purposes would be very well.” The “purposes” are remarkable, and well deserve to be quoted as illustrative of the reformer’s character and position: “First, He would not only be a whetstone to quicken and sharp the Bishop of Canterbury, whereof he hath need, but also he would be a great confounder of the Anabaptists lately sprung up in Kent. Secondly, He should not continue his ministrations contrary to those set forth here. Thirdly, The family of the Scots now in Berwick and in Newcastle, chiefly for his fellowship, would not continue there.” but his conscientious doubts as to the divine authority of the Episcopal order, and his general dissatisfaction with the state of ecclesiastical affairs in England, led him to reject this as well as another offer which was shortly afterwards made to him. It was proposed to 381present him to the “vicarage or parsonage of All-hallows,” vacant by “the preferment of Thomas. Sampson to the deanery of Chichester.” Knox’s refusal to accept this latter promotion was made a subject of inquiry before the Privy Council, when he urged his scruples as to the existing order of the Church of England, and after “some gentle speeches” was dismissed. He had no such scruples as to preaching. In Berwick—where we first hear of him after his liberation—in Newcastle, in London before the King and Council, in Buckinghamshire, where he seems to have spent a considerable part of the summer of 1553, he preached with incessant activity, awakening a wide interest everywhere, as we may gather from his future letters and admonition to the faithful in England. Long afterwards he especially congratulated himself on the review of his labours in Berwick, and the success which attended his efforts to maintain order among the lawless garrisons of the Border.209209   History, Book IV. In an interview which he held with the Queen in 1561. He says on the same occasion, “In Berwick I abode two years, so long in Newcastle, and a year in London.”

At Berwick our reformer fell in love, and entered into an engagement which, some years after, notwithstanding the strong opposition of certain relatives of the lady, terminated in marriage. The lady was a Miss Marjory Bowes, daughter of Richard Bowes, the youngest son of Sir Ralph Bowes of Streatham. Her mother was the daughter and one of the co-heirs of Sir Richard Aske of Aske, and Knox’s connection with the family seeing to have arisen through this lady. It is to Mrs Bowes that his letters, which have 382been recently published in full in the edition of Dr Laing,210210   Vol. iii. are chiefly written. She is addressed as his mother, and in the most confidential and intimate terms. The letters as a whole are remarkable. They prove the deep sincerity of Knox’s piety,—his intense absorption in the realities of the spiritual life, while yet mingling with so busy and apparently combative an activity in the affairs of the world around him. They are, in truth, rather the communings of one earnest and strongly moved soul with another, than letters in any ordinary sense. We certainly miss in them some mixture of mere human interest with the uniform and intense cast of the religious phraseology in which they abound. The world is out of sight altogether, save as the stern battle-ground of certain shadowy forms of good and evil; at least the forms have become shadowy to us, although no doubt they were more real and living than anything else to Knox. In vain we try to catch any sunlight of happy feeling—any lively trace of the affection associated with them, if not originating them—any glimpse of her to whom his heart was bound. The mother appears in a sufficiently distinct aspect, a timid, self-conscious, and despairing soul, ever seeking strength and counsel from the more assured spirit of the reformer. The unyielding insolence of the uncle (Sir Robert Bowes) also comes into light: his “disdainful, yea, despiteful words,” Knox writes to his “dear mother,” “have so pierced my heart, that my life is bitter unto me. I bear a good countenance with a sore troubled heart; while he that ought to consider matters with a deep judgment is become not 383only a despiser, but also a taunter of God’s messengers. (God be merciful unto him!) Among other his most unpleasing words, while that I was about to have declared my part in the whole matter, he said, ‘Away with your rhetorical reasons, for I will not be persuaded with them.’ God knows I did use no rhetoric or coloured speech, but would have spoken the truth, and that in most simple manner. It is supposed that all the matter comes by you and me.”211211   Works, vol. iii. p. 378, Laing’s Edition. There would almost seem some ground for this suspicion of the uncle, in the comparative obscurity which surrounds the daughter throughout the correspondence. She scarcely comes into faint outline—scarcely moves even in shadow across the scene; and we nowhere learn anything of her. There are no surviving traits in his letters or elsewhere that enable us to start any picture of her. Calvin, indeed, talks of her as “suavissima,” in a letter to Christopher Goodman after her death; and the manner in which he deplores to Knox himself her loss, indicates his very high opinion of her worth and amiability; but still we do not get any living likeness of her anywhere. Their marriage is supposed to have taken place in 1553, just before he was driven abroad by the Marian persecution.212212   Dr Laing seems to think (Knox’s Works, vol. p. 334) that the marriage did not take place till the summer of 1555, when Knox visited Scotland. The point must remain doubtful. It is a singular enough fact that both Knox’s sons by this his first marriage went to England, were educated at Cambridge, and entered the English Church. They both died comparatively young, without issue.
   Knox married as his second wife Margaret Stewart, daughter of Lord Ochiltree, so that both his wives were of superior rank; and indeed the superiority of rank in the latter case gave rise to the most ridiculous rumours (see Nicol Burne’s “Disputation,” quoted by M‘Crie in his Appendix, and Chambers in his Domestic Annals of Scotland). This second marriage took place in 1564, when the reformer was in his fifty-eighth year; and Mrs Welch (whose heroic answer to King James is well known) and two other daughters were the fruit of this marriage.


On the accession of Queen Mary, Knot was driven from England. He was reluctant to take flight—for “never could he die,” he said, “in a more honest quarrel;” but some of his friends impelled him, “partly by advice and partly by tears,” to consult his own safety. He took refuge in Dieppe, where we find him at frequent intervals during the next four years of his life. Many of his letters, and his “Admonition to the Professors of God’s Faith in England,” bear the date of Dieppe. It served to him as a convenient post of observation, as well as a secure place of shelter: he could hear of his friends in England and Scotland, and hold intercourse with them from this place more readily than from any other point of the Continent. After his arrival he wrote to his mother-in-law, anxious to hear of her steadfastness in the faith—her “continuance with Christ Jesus, in the day of this His battle,” and to vindicate himself from the charge of cowardice in flying from the scene of danger. “Some will ask,” he says, “then why did I flee? Assuredly, I cannot tell; but of one thing I am sure, the fear of death was not the chief cause of my fleeing.”

After making a brief journey through Switzerland, visiting the different churches, and conferring with “all the pastors and many other excellently learned men,” he returned to his place of refuge, with some intention of hazarding a visit to his friends in Berwick; 385but he was dissuaded from this, and appears to have settled for some months in Dieppe,213213   Dr M‘Crie considers him to have made an additional journey to Switzerland, and to have returned to Dieppe, for the second time, in July (1554); but Dr Laing has shown (Works of Knox, vol. iii. p. 253) that there is no adequate ground for this second journey during the same summer to Switzerland. from which we find him sending forth in July (1554) his “Admonition.” This famous tract is written with great vehemence, rising here and there into fierce objurgation, called forth by the threatening aspect of affairs in England. Cranmer and Ridley and Latimer had been imprisoned; the Queen was on the eve of her marriage with Philip of Spain. Knox deeply felt for the sufferings of the faithful; he groaned to think of the trials to which their constancy would be exposed; he saw no less all the calamities and dangers of the Spanish alliance; and he gives full vent to his feelings on both subjects. He spares no language that may awaken and impress his friends, or convey his sense of the wickedness of the royal combination against their liberties and religion. A tone of wild sadness mingles with his violence, under the influence of which he judges himself as well as others. There is a grave severity in his personal strictures that may at least convince us of his honesty. If he was harsh to others, he was no less so to himself: “Alas! this day,” he says, “my conscience accuseth me that I spake not so plainly as my duty was to have done. . . . The blind love that I did bear to this my wicked carcass was the chief cause that I was not fervent and faithful enough in that behalf. Remaining in one place, I was 386not so diligent as my office required; but sometime, by counsel of carnal friends, I spared the body; some time I spent in worldly business; and some time in taking recreation and pastime by exercise of the body. And besides,” he adds, “I was assaulted, yea infected with more gross sins—that is, my wicked nature desired the favours, the estimation, and praise of men; and so privily and craftily did they enter into my breast, that I could not perceive myself to be wounded till vainglory almost got the upper hand.” These are surely clear and honest words, if ever there were such, Speaking of the unselfish simplicity and stern conscientiousness of the man!

Returning to Switzerland in the end of summer, he remained there only a short time when he set out for Frankfort-on-the-Main, on an invitation from a party of English Protestant exiles who had settled in this city, to become one of their ministers. Having formed themselves into a congregation, these exiles had obtained from the magistrates the joint use of the French Protestant church for their worship, on the condition that it should conform as nearly as possible to that of the French Church. This arrangement was displeasing to many of the exiles in other places, and became the source of a very painful and perplexing series of “troubles.” Knox would seem to have had apprehensions of the difficulty of the position, and to have manifested accordingly some reluctance to embrace the invitation addressed to him; but his assent was secured through the intervention of Calvin, and in October 1554 he arrived in Frankfort. The seeds of discord had been already sown before his arrival; but he had, through 387the timely and sensible representations ‘of Calvin,214214   In his well-known letter addressed to Knox and Whittingham, January 1555. wellnigh succeeded in arranging the matter satisfactorily, when all his efforts were interrupted and brought to an end. A new party of exiles among the most conspicuous of whom was Dr Cox, who had been preceptor to Edward VI.,215215   Jewel was also of the party, and Lever, Bale, and Turner. arrived in Frankfort in March. They were violently determined to uphold the order of service as it had been “set forth by King Edward.” On the very first Sunday after their arrival they made the responses aloud, contrary to what had been agreed upon; and on the following Sunday one of their number intruded into the pulpit and read the Litany, to which Cox and his companions responded audibly. The result, as may be imagined, was a violent contention between the parties. It was nothing less than the Puritan quarrel, already begun in King Edward’s reign, carried abroad; and Knox did not hesitate, in his sermon in the afternoon of the same-day, to characterise it as such, and to condemn the whole spirit and manner of the English Reformation as inadequate. Cox and his friends, finding themselves unable to contend with the reformer, supported as he was by the chief body of the congregation, had recourse to a somewhat disgraceful act to get rid of them. They represented to the magistrates that in his “Admonition,” published the year before, he had used treasonable language regarding the Queen of England and her husband, Philip of Spain. The magistrates, after some perplexity, requested Whittingham to advise 388Knox to take his departure; and he accordingly returned to Geneva again for a brief interval.

These “Frankfort Troubles,” it must be confessed, form a somewhat melancholy illustration of the pettiness as well as violence of religious feeling which marked some of the English reformers; and whatever may have been the unjustifiable vehemence of Knox’s language in the “Admonition,” and in some of his other writings, his conduct certainly appears with advantage on the present occasion in contrast with that of his opponents. He was far more magnanimous in his defeat than they were in their equivocal victory. The only excuse that can be urged for them is the feeling of just resentment which they may have had towards Knox for his unwarrantable language in the “Admonition,” which, so far from proving of service to the cause of the Reformation in England, there is reason to believe had excited the Government to more violent persecution, and helped to kindle the fires of martyrdom that consumed Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley.216216   See the evidence of this in Original Letters relative to the English Reformation, vol. p. 672, quoted by Dr Laing, Knox’s Works, vol. iii.

Knox had scarcely once more settled in Geneva when he received information which led him to undertake a visit to his native country. Amid all his journeyings and troubles he had, never forgotten the interests of religion in Scotland. The thought which had sustained him amidst his captivity in the galleys, as he saw in the distance the spires of St Andrews, where God had first opened his mouth in public to His 389glory—“And I am fully persuaded that I shall not depart this life till that my tongue shall glorify His godly name in the same place”—this thought, no doubt, often recurred to him; and circumstances seemed now to point towards its fulfilment. The accession of the Queen-Dowager to the regency in 1554 had proved partially favourable to Protestantism. The persecutions of Mary in England, and her alliance with Spain in opposition to France, and the natural interests of the Queen-Dowager, had contributed in some degree to the same end. A spirit of inquiry, for the time unrestrained, was spreading among many of the nobles and burgesses. These favourable signs drew Knox to the scene of movement. He arrived in Scotland in the end of autumn 1555, and soon after repaired to Edinburgh, where he held many private conferences with Erskine of Dun, young Maitland of Lethington, and others. His reception was very warm, and the desire to hear the truth from his lips very encouraging, according to his own statement in his letters to his mother-in-law. “The fervency here doth far exceed all others that I have seen. If I had not seen it with my eyes in my own country, I could not have believed it.” He held a remarkable debate with Maitland on the subject of the mass,217217   History, Book I. in which he disputed the opinion ingeniously held by the latter that it was warrantable for the Protestants to continue their attendance upon it. He succeeded in convincing his hearers, and even Maitland acknowledged himself refuted; but we may trace already in their respective positions, and the arguments used by each, the strong 390contrasts of character which separated the subtle and accommodating politician from the outspoken and unbending reformer.

Knox continued throughout the winter in Scotland, and earnestly prosecuted the work on which he had entered. He came into contact with all or most of the men who were afterwards associated with the progress of the Scottish Reformation,—Lord Lorn (Argyll), the Prior of St Andrews (Murray), the Earl of Glencairn, and others. Under the protection of the latter, he preached in Kyle and Cunningham, where the still unspent spirit of Lollardism must have proved a receptive soil for the new doctrines. Erskine carried him to Angus, where the feeling of dislike and opposition to the corrupt prelacy, which was lording it over the country, was of a peculiarly strong and intelligent character. His preaching in Angus especially appears to have aroused the clergy. He was summoned before a convention of them appointed to meet in Edinburgh in May, and so strongly did he feel himself supported for the time, that he made up his mind to obey the summons. This was more than they anticipated, and setting aside the summons, they deserted the diet. His success for a while seemed to carry everything before it, and his heart was lifted up at the prospect with more joy than he could express. “O sweet were the death,” he writes to his mother-in-law, “that should follow such forty days in Edinburgh as here I have had three! Rejoice, mother: the time of our deliverance approacheth.”

Calmer reflection, however, convinced Knox that this “time of deliverance” was not so closely at hand. 391He had ventured to address a letter to the Queen-Regent, urging the necessity of a reform of religion, and representing the hopelessness of any improvement in the existing prelacy. The Earl Marischal, along with Glencairn, had urged this duty upon him, and the latter delivered it into her hand. Glancing carelessly over it, she handed it to the Archbishop of Glasgow beside her, with the remark, “Please you, my lord, to read a pasquil.” Knox was very indignant when this remark was reported to him, and afterwards, in publishing the letter, he made some additions to it in a less courtly and specious style than had characterised the original. In, the meantime, an invitation from the English exiles at Geneva had reached him, to undertake the pastoral charge among them; and he does not appear to have hesitated in accepting the offer. Doubtless he felt the expediency of it, not merely in reference to his own comfort, but to the progress of the Reformation in Scotland. He felt that the spirit which he had kindled would live on, and less provoke interference in his absence, till the time for a more effective movement came. The imputation of anything like cowardice on Knox’s part is ridiculous. He was the last man to shrink from a struggle where it was necessary and likely to prove useful. Accompanied by his wife and mother-in-law, and “a pupil named Patrick,” he accordingly set out from Scotland, and arrived in Geneva on the 13th September 1556. With a true instinct of cowardly vengeance, the clergy renewed their summons against him when he had left the country, and passed sentence on him, adjudging his body to the flames, and his soul to damnation.


The years that our reformer now spent at Geneva, were probably among the happiest of his life. Calvin had just then attained to the summit of his power after the expulsion of the Libertines. He and Beza exercised virtual rule in all things civil and ecclesiastical; and the city, under their control, had assumed an order and apparent purity of manners that rejoiced the heart of Knox. He wrote to a friend that it was “the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on earth since the days of the apostles. In other places I confess Christ to be truly preached; but manners and religion, to be so sincerely reformed, I have not yet seen in any other place beside.”

In Calvin and Beza, and his colleague Christopher Goodman, Knox found a thoroughly congenial society, and they found in him an earnest and devoted fellow-labourer. It would be interesting to contemplate their relation more narrowly, and to speculate on the influence, they may have exerted on one another. Especially it would be important as well as interesting to trace the connection between the two great reformers—to what extent the Scottish reformer may have been influenced by the Genevan, and a Calvinistic impress stamped upon him in the home of Calvinism. It cannot be said that we have any adequate means of reaching clear and definite conclusions an this subject. We have already seen that Knox’s Presbyterianism was in some degree at least of native growth. He did not need to go to Geneva to learn to doubt the divine authority of Episcopacy. A certain hostility to the episcopal office mingled itself with his very first views of reform, and so far from being moderated, seems 393rather to have been increased by his English experience. Probably, however, he had formed no definite and well-conceived plan of Church polity, as opposed to Episcopacy, before his residence in Geneva; and there is every reason to believe that the system he beheld in operation there with so much admiration, served to give consistency and plan to his own previously vague conceptions. As to the doctrinal influence of Calvinism upon him, we can appreciate this, perhaps, still less accurately. It met in him a kindred soil—the same bent of religious thought, and especially that deep feeling of sin, out of which its most distinctive doctrines grew; and here too, therefore, we may suppose a certain clearness and coherence to have been given to his views. Yet Knox’s mind was not characteristically doctrinal. Theological controversy could never absorb him as it did Calvin. Subtle as he may have once been as a scholastic teacher, dialectics was a play in which he had little delight, and his writings discover few traces of it. A healthy reality and honest sense, and living practical interest, are everywhere conspicuous, and banish out of view the mere controversialist and logician.

It is to be remembered, too, in estimating the relation between Knox and Calvin, that Knox was really the older man of the two (a fact somehow apt to be forgotten), and that he had at this time reached an age—upwards of fifty—when men are not easily moulded by influences that may be even akin to them.218218   Knox’s famous ‘First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women’ serves clearly to prove the intellectual independence of the Scottish reformer—under the very shadow of Calvin. It was published anonymously at Geneva, in the beginning of the year 1558; and, according to Calvin’s own statement (Zurich Letters, second series, p. 35), he knew nothing of it at the time, nor “for a whole year afterwards.” He adds, “When I was informed by certain parties, I sufficiently showed my displeasure that such paradoxes should be published.” The whole tone as well as argument of this remarkable book was evidently displeasing to Calvin; and when he found that its publication at Geneva interfered with the reception of his own works by the Queen of England, he did not hesitate, in allusion to it, to speak of the “thoughtless arrogance of one individual.” Calvin himself could be sufficiently vehement in argument, but he had no toleration for such unreasoning and impolitic vehemence as that of Knox. The ‘First Blast,’ &c., is often a mere passionate tirade, obscuring all sense and reason. Its publication was beyond doubt a blunder, the inconvenience of which Knox felt repeatedly in the course of his after career. “My first blast,” he himself said, “has blown all my friends in England from me.” We 394must certainly hold, therefore, that there is no sense in which Geneva can be said to have made Knox, although it found him of kindred material, and fashioned him more completely into its own likeness. Especially, we are inclined to think, it strengthened in him a certain sternness of moral spirit, and its own strong theocratic confidence, so that he went forth from it more fully equipped for the great work before him in Scotland. Calvin and Knox suggest not so much the relation of disciple and master as of brother disciples in the same school, with the same severe type of character, and many of the same religious tendencies; but the one more intellectual, the other more passionate—the one more consistent and powerful in argument, the other more intrepid and masterly in action—the one the greater mind, the other the larger heart.

Knox returned to Scotland in the beginning of May 1559. During his absence the Reformation had been making silent but sure progress. The war with England 395required the Queen-Regent to temporise with its leaders, and to allow a certain liberty of opinion and worship. A letter which Knox had addressed to the Protestant Lords in 1557, from Dieppe (whither he had proceeded so far with the intention of returning to his native country), had exercised a happy influence in uniting them more firmly, and inspiring them with a more courageous resolution in defence of the truth. At a meeting which they held in Edinburgh, in December 1557, they mutually bound themselves to uphold the common cause,219219   The beginning of those covenants which make, for more than a century, such a marked feature in the history of Scottish Protestantism. and at the same time renewed the invitation which they had formerly given to the reformer to return to his native country. It was in compliance with this invitation, which did not reach Geneva till the following year, that Knox now reappeared finally in Scotland. Nothing could be more opportune than his arrival. The course of events seemed prepared as if to give to it the greatest importance. A crisis was at hand; a leader was needed. It was the very turning-point in the balance of parties which had been swaying to and fro during the last four years, and Knox’s strong hand was the only one which could have carried aloft the cause of reform, and give to it the triumph which, through all temporary reverses, it has ever since maintained.

The Queen-Regent, relieved from the political pressure which had induced her to temporise, had at length thrown off all disguise. United cordially with the Hamiltons, she appeared in her true colours as a 396determined opponent of the Reformation, and at this very moment had, with the well-dissembled craft of her race, laid her plans for its forcible overthrow. Certain preachers who, during the previous year, had become objects of marked hostility to the clergy, were summoned to take their trial at Stirling for usurping the ministerial office, and seducing the people by erroneous doctrines. A convention of the nobility and clergy was held in Edinburgh, where the very moderate demands of the Protestants were not only refused, but all the main abuses of the Popish system were confirmed, and an inquisition appointed to be made of all who absented themselves from mass, or were in any way privy to the new worship. It was obvious that a struggle could no longer be delayed. Parties were taking their sides, and resolutely awaiting its outbreak. Knox congratulated himself that he had come at the ‘very hour of need. “I see the battle shall be great,” he wrote to his wife, who remained behind at Geneva, “but I am come, I thank my God, even in the brunt of the battle.”

He resolved to appear at Stirling on the 10th of May, along with the reforming preachers. He hastened to Dundee, where the chiefs of the party were assembled in great numbers, Erskine of Dun at their head—a wise and moderate as well as intrepid counsellor in this great exigency. From Dundee the reformers proceeded to Perth, and instead of advancing directly to Stirling, paused here, apparently at the suggestion of Erskine, who went forward by himself to intimate to the Queen-Regent the peaceable intentions of the party, formidable as they might seem in 397numbers and combination. Alarmed at the prospect of such an invasion, she had recourse to her usual tactics of dissimulation, persuaded Erskine to write to his friends in Perth to check their advance, and promised to put a stop to the trial. On the day of trial, however, the accused ministers were summoned, and outlawed for not appearing, and all who should harbour them denounced as rebels. The national excitement, which had continued to gather force, was greatly strengthened by this flagrant act of perfidy; and an event which now occurred in Perth served to kindle it into a flame.

On the very day on which the news of the Regent’s conduct came, Knox preached a sermon on the idolatry of the mass and of image-worship. At the close of the sermon, and while the people still lingered under the warm emotion of the preacher’s words, an encounter took place between a boy and a priest, who, with a singular deadness to the signs around him, had uncovered a rich altar-piece, and was making preparations to celebrate mass. The boy threw a stone, which overturned and destroyed one of the images. The act operated like a spark laid to a train. The suppressed indignation of the multitude burst forth beyond all control: the consecrated imagery was broken in pieces; the holy recesses invaded; the pictures and ornaments torn from the walls and trampled in the dust; and, rising with the agitation, the spirit of disorder spread and the “rascal multitude,” as Knox afterwards called them, having completed their work of destruction in the church, proceeded to the houses of the Grey and Black Friars, and the Charterhouse or Carthusian 398Monastery, and violently ransacked them and laid them in ruins.

This iconoclasm is a notable feature in the Scottish Reformation. Something of the same sort is to be found in Germany, and even in England; but in Scotland this destructive aspect of the Reformation was more general, prominent, and lawless than elsewhere,. and nothing connected with it has given rise to more invidious and severe animadversion. To our educated feelings and artistic sympathies, it can only appear as a very ugly and sad blot in a great cause. We mourn, and cannot but mourn, a mere violence of demolition, in which God was not served, while the fair work of man was dishonoured and destroyed. There is no friend of the Reformation called upon to defend such excesses, even on Knox’s plea, that the “best way to keep the rooks from returning, was to pull down their nests;” for, on the one hand, we know that the rooks. will return even if you pull down their nests; and, on the other hand, it is a poor revenge against a living evil to attack its dead symbol. The spirit of the highest reform is everywhere the reverse of this. It attacks the corrupt life, or seeks to breathe health into it. It busies itself with essentials, and lets alone accidents. The forms will by-and-by adapt themselves to the altered and higher spirit. It was not merely a misfortune, therefore—it was a mistake, this iconoclasm of the Reformation. There is nothing to say for it on any general grounds of reason.

But the explanation of it, and so far the defence of it, as a historical adjunct of the Reformation, is its very irrationality. Who were to blame for such a 399state of irrational and violent feeling among the people? Surely not Knox. Even if it be allowed that he did not discountenance, but rather approved of, the iconoclastic excitement, this merely shows that he did not so far rise above the rude social spirit of his country. He can in no way be held responsible for the existence and outbreak of the spirit. In point of fact, the blame of this, if it lie anywhere save with the general barbarism of the people, must lie with the very system against which it was directed: It was this system which, after centuries of unlimited rule, had left the people so untrained in orderly instinct—so coarse and undisciplined in moral feeling. This was all that its elaborate training and service, its conventual education and beneficence, had come to. It had inspired the people so little with any spirit of order, or respect even to the usages of worship, that when for the first time they heard of a living God and Saviour, and a divine righteousness and truth in the world, they could do nothing but rise up against the churches and demolish them. If this be not one of the worst condemnations of the old Catholicism of Scotland, condemnation certainly ceases to have any meaning. It is hard, certainly, to blame the Reformation for an odious inheritance of social disorder transmitted to it by the corrupt system which it displaced. A system which not only left a people unblessed with truth, but failed even to animate them with any instincts of self-control, is twice condemned, and was well hurled from its’ place of pride and power with an indignation not more than it merited, and a lawlessness which had grown up under its own shadow.


The same scenes which had occurred at Perth followed at Stirling, Lindores, Cupar, St Andrews, and elsewhere. Knox almost immediately repaired to St Andrews, rejoicing to verify his own prediction, that he would yet again glorify the name of God in that place. Here, in the very centre of the old ecclesiastical influence, and under the very eyes of Hamilton, the Reformation proceeded with an equal vehemence and completeness. The magistracy took the lead in it. The cathedral was devastated; the monasteries pulled down; and the reformed discipline began to be established.

In the meantime, and as the consequence of these movements, a civil war raged throughout the kingdom—the Regent on the one hand, assisted by French troops; and the Lords of the Congregation, as the heads of the Protestant party were called, on the other hand, backed by Elizabeth. The details of this conflict are beyond our scope. Knox not only joined in it, but was the great animating spirit of the reformed army—counselling its leaders, writing letters to Cecil, maintaining his dignity in the midst of entreaty, and, upon the whole, his fairness and uprightness in the midst of intrigue. Some unfortunate expressions indeed escaped him, in a letter to Sir James Croft, about the mode of sending English troops into Scotland, without incurring a breach of treaty with France; but the necessities of his position must excuse, if not altogether justify, any “political casuistry” to which he was driven. At length, after not a few reverses sustained by the Protestant party, the vigorous assistance rendered by Elizabeth, and the death of the Queen-401Regent at the very time that the English troops had invested Edinburgh, led to a truce, and the summons of a Free Parliament to settle differences. All the triumph remained in the hands of the reformers. So soon as the withdrawal of the French troops, according to the conditions of the treaty, took place, the ecclesiastical interests which they had upheld fell prostrate. A tyranny, unnational in spirit and disreputable in character, collapsed before the free breath of the country, like an old and mouldy garment upon which the air has been let in. Scarcely anywhere else is there an instance of a national revolution at once so summary and complete; and instead of wondering that blood was shed while a corrupt system sought to maintain itself by foreign interference, the wonder really is, that so soon as this interference was withdrawn, so great a change should have taken place, upon the whole, so peacefully and well.

The Reformation, which had now triumphed in Scotland, immediately sought to establish itself by a series of important acts. At the command of Parliament, which met in August (1560), “certain barons and ministers” drew up, in the course of four days, a Confession of Faith, which, having been submitted to Parliament, and “read every article by itself over again,” was, with the exception of one or two dissentient voices,220220   History, Book III. Knox’s statement is, “Of the temporal estate, only voted in the contrary the Earl of Atholl, the Lords Somerville and Borthwick; and yet for their dissenting they produced no better reason but we will beleve as our fathers beleved. The bishops (papistical we mean) spake nothing.” universally accepted as a dogmatic basis 402of the Reformed Church. Three measures of a negative character were also forthwith passed,—one for the abolition of the power and jurisdiction of the Pope; a second, for the repeal of all former statutes in favour of the Roman Catholic Church; and a third, for the infliction of severe penalties, even to the extent of death, upon all who should either say mass or be present at its celebration. The intolerance of this last enactment may fill us with pain, but can scarcely surprise us. In the Scottish Reformation, still more than in the Lutheran or Genevan, the struggle was not between mere freedom on the one hand and ecclesiastical oppression on the other; but between two positive systems of religious opinion, equally dogmatic in their presumed possession of the truth. We have seen how, from the beginning, Knox had identified the mass with idolatry; and in now interdicting its celebration under such stringent penalties, he and others conceived themselves to be merely carrying out the denunciations of the Divine Word against idolatry. Any suspicions that these denunciations could be no fair weapons in their fallible hands, and in wholly dissimilar circumstances, never crossed them. The Bible was to Knox, as it was to Calvin, and perhaps even more strongly, a modern statute-book, of which he and his brethren were the authorised interpreters. They had no perception of the hopeless confusion and difficulty involved in such a notion. They had no idea of any religious dissent from their opinions. They knew (and this is their only justification) that the re-establishment of the mass would prove ruinous both to the political and religious welfare of their country; and so they 403denounced against it confiscation, banishment, and finally death.

These measures, conclusive as they were so far, by no means satisfied the ministers and more zealous reformers. It was not enough to destroy the old ecclesiastical fabric, and lay the dogmatic foundation of a new one; they desired, moreover, to define’ and confirm the plan of the new Reformed Kirk. They urged upon Parliament, accordingly, the necessity of establishing a new rule of worship and discipline, and with this view prepared the well-known “Book of Policy,” or “First Book of Discipline.” The greedy barons of Scotland, however, were by no means disposed to relax their hold of the Church revenues to the extent which would have been necessary in carrying out some of the wise and enlightened provisions of this scheme of Church polity;221221   “Some were licentious,” says Knox, “some had greedily gripped to the possessions of the Kirk, and others thought they would not lack their part of Christ’s coat.” and notwithstanding, the urgency of the clergy, it never received the sanction of Parliament. The great designs of the reformer in the arrangement of Church offices, in the maintenance of discipline, and, above all, in the reform and re-endowment of the universities and the institution of parish schools, were termed in the “mockage” of such members of Parliament as young Maitland of Lethington,222222   When Knox first proposed his schemes of Church reform, Maitland is reported to have said, “Heh, then, we must forget ourselves now; we mun a’ bear the barrow, and build the house of God.” “Devout imaginations.” And so Knox was made to feel thus early the difficulties which from such men were soon to spring up around 404the progress of Protestantism in Scotland, and plunge him anew into contention. Disappointed in his hopes so far, however, he had the satisfaction of seeing the Book of Discipline approved of by the General Assembly,223223   The five ministers besides himself engaged in the composition of the Book of Discipline are said by Knox to have been John Winram, John Spottiswoode, John Willock, John Douglas, and John Row. It is supposed to have been first approved by the General Assembly which met 5th January 1561. and ratified by a considerable proportion of the members of the Privy Council.

We cannot pause to criticise at length the special features of the Scottish Reformation as exhibited in the Confession of Faith and Book of Discipline, whose origin has been now described. Doctrinally and ecclesiastically, it bears an analogy to the Genevan Reformation, although by no means a close and servile analogy. It presents, upon the whole, a milder type of doctrine, of which every student may satisfy himself by the study of the different articles of the “Confession,” as contained in Knox’s History. The eighth article on Election is itself decisive upon this point. Not only is the rigour of the Calvinistic tenet modified, but it can scarcely be said to come into prominence. The language has a Biblical softness and simplicity, by no means recalling the stern, logical phraseology of Geneva. The sacramental doctrine, and the views as to the duties of the “civil magistrate,” are more closely allied to those of Calvin;—there is the same strong assertion of the reality of a spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the same confusion as to the relation of the political power to the purgation and chastisement of religious error.


In the system of Church government presented in the Book of Discipline, there is at least equal evidence of a free and independent spirit. Instead of the mere pastors, doctors, and elders of the Genevan polity, there are superintendents and pastors and readers, and then elders and deacons. The superintendents were certainly not bishops in the old and Catholic sense of the word. Knox, we have already seen, was hostile to the pretensions of the episcopal order from the beginning, and neither now nor at any time did he regard with the slightest feelings of complacency its institution in the Protestant Church of Scotland. Still, apart from such priestly usurpations as had become strongly identified with the episcopal office in his mind, he evidently recognised, in the appointment of superintendents, the right of a semi-episcopal function of supervision and arrangement throughout the Church. If no believer in the divine right of Episcopacy, he was no more a believer in the divine right of Presbyterian parity; but he, and those who acted with him, “thought it a thing most expedient at this time, that from the whole number of godly and learned men, now presently in this realme, should be selected ten or twelve (for in so many provinces we have divided the whole), to whom charge and commandment should be given to plant and erect kirks, to set order, and appoint ministers as the former order prescribes, to the countries that shall be appointed to their care where none are now.”224224   First Book of Discipline, chap. vi. I. Against the recognition of this semi-episcopal function in the early Reformed Kirk of Scotland, it is not of the least importance to urge, as Dr M‘Crie has done, 406that it was a mere temporary expedient—for, in point of fact, the ground of Christian expediency is distinctly laid down in the twentieth article of the Confession of Faith, as the main guide of Church order and policy altogether. “In the Church, as in the house of God,” it bears, “it becometh all things to be done decently and in order—not that we think that one policy and one order in ceremonies can be appointed for all ages, times, and places; for as ceremonies such as men have devised are but temporal, so may and ought they to be changed when they rather foster superstition than edify the Church using the same.”

In the more special arrangements of public worship there is the same flexible and adaptive freedom within certain limits. Certain things are stated to be utterly necessary, “as that the Word be truly preached, the sacraments rightly administered, common prayers publickly made, that children and rude persons be instructed in the chief points of religion, and that offences be corrected and punished.”225225   First Book of Discipline, chap. xi. Without these things, “there is no face of a visible kirk.” But as to further details of service, the singing of psalms, the reading of certain places of Scripture when there was no sermon “this day or that, or how many days in the week the kirk should assemble,” there is no certain order laid down, except that “in every notable town it is required that one day beside Sunday be appointed to the sermon, which, during the time of sermon and prayer, must be kept free from all exercise of labour.” Baptism was allowed to be ministered “wheresoever the Word was preached.” The administration of the Lord’s Supper 407was to take place four times in the year; the Scriptures were to be read in order; and both in public and private worship the “common prayers” were to be used.

It becomes a question what was meant by the expression “common prayers,” so frequently used in the Book of Discipline. Does it refer to the service-book of Edward VI., the Book of Common Prayer? This view has been vigorously defended, and is supported by the language used in the resolution of the heads of the Congregation in 1557, that “the common prayer be read weekly on Sunday, and on other festival days, in the churches, with the lessons of the Old and New Testament, conform to the order of the Book of Common Prayer.” According to this view, the English service-book is supposed to have been used by the Scottish Protestants during a period of seven years—viz., from 1557 to 1564, when it was superseded by the “Order of Geneva,”226226   It seems beyond question that the ‘Book of Common Prayer’ referred to by the heads of the Congregation was the ‘Service of the Church of England according to King Edward’s book.’ A letter from Cecil to Throgmorton (July 1559) plainly states this.—(Forbes’s State Papers, i. 155, quoted by Dr M’Crie in the notes to his Life of Knox, p. 425.) This does not, however, settle the question whether the ‘Common Prayers’ of the Book of Discipline referred to the same ‘Service.’ It is certain that the ‘Book of Common Order’ is called the ‘Order of Geneva’ and the ‘Book of our Common Order’ by the compilers of the Book of Discipline (chaps. vii. and xi.); and that the ‘Order of Geneva’ is expressly stated to be “used in some of our churches” (chap. ii.) This strongly suggests the identity of the ‘Common Prayers’ with the ‘Genevan Order’; and the evidence appears to me clearly to incline to this conclusion. or what is called John Knox’s Liturgy, which he had prepared for the use of the Church at Frankfort, and subsequently employed in his congregation in Geneva. In 408any case there can be doubt that the early Presbyterian service of Scotland, as in the case of every other Reformed Church, was in the main liturgical,—that certain “common prayers,” carefully prepared and stamped with the sanction of the reformers, were generally used throughout the Church. The idea of extemporaneous prayer as an appropriate vehicle of public devotion was one quite unknown to the Reformation. In the reformed Discipline which sprang from Geneva, a certain latitude was permitted to the minister; but in no Church of the Reformation was public religious service entirely liberated from authorised forms of devotional expression. Freedom carried to this extent was a growth of later Puritanism, already beginning to corrupt in its arbitrary excesses; and in Scotland the general tendency was hardened into a fierce and defiant negativism by the insane prelatical despotism of Laud and his associates.

(But we must how hasten onwards in our sketch. On the 19th of August 1561, Queen Mary arrived in Scotland. French in education and Popish in religion—accustomed to the refinements of a luxurious court, the polish of artificial manners, and the admiration and flatteries which her youthful beauty had everywhere excited—Mary certainly entered on a task of unusual difficulty when she assumed the reins of government in her native country. The sorrow that darkened her heart as she watched, from the vessel that conveyed her, the receding shores of her beloved France, was only too sure a presage of the perils and calamities of her new career. Scarcely had she settled in her palace at Holyrood when difficulties arose. Was she to be permitted 409to celebrate mass, against which the punishment of death had been denounced? “Shall that idol be suffered again to take place within this realm?"227227   Knox, History, Book IV. The difficulty was not a new one. It had presented itself to Knox from the first; and when the invitation was sent her to return to Scotland, he had strongly urged upon her brother, the prior of St Andrews, that she should be required to discontinue the offensive rite. Neither the prior nor the rest of the council, however, entered into Knox’s views, anti he predicted that “her liberty would prove their thraldom.” On the Sunday after her arrival she gave orders for a solemn mass to be performed in the chapel of Holyrood. Some of the more violent of the Protestants threatened to interfere by force to prevent it; but the discretion of her brother in stationing himself at the entrance to the chapel door was successful in preserving peace. Knox discountenanced all violence; but in his sermon on the following Sunday he entered upon the subject, and vehemently inveighed against the evils of idolatry.

Mary was no doubt well informed of the influence of the bold reformer, and she sent for him to the palace, and held a long interview with him in the presence of her brother, “the Lord James.” His famous book, ‘The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women,’ which had no less provoked Elizabeth, was the first subject of her animadversion. It was a delicate topic, beyond doubt, for the reformer; but he defended himself with great skill and sense. “Please your Majesty,” said he, “learned men in all 410ages have had their judgments free, and most commonly disagreeing from the common judgments of the world. Such also have they published, both with pen and tongue; and yet, notwithstanding, they themselves have lived in the common society with others, and have borne patiently with the errors and imperfections which they could not amend. . . . Even so, madam, am I content to do in uprightness of heart and with a testimony of a good conscience.” He enforced this by a not very happy allusion to Paul’s living under Nero, and then explained that his book was written especially “against that wicked Jezebel of England.” “But ye speak of women in general,” retorted the Queen. “Most true it is, madam,” was his reply; “and yet it appeareth to me that wisdom should persuade your Grace never to raise trouble for that which to this day has not troubled your Majesty neither in person nor in authority.” The topic was then changed to the more pressing one of the rights of subjects towards their princes in the matter of religion. Knox firmly expressed his well-known sentiments, and referred to the case of the Hebrews in Babylon and the early Christians under the Roman Emperors. The Queen could not deny the force of the representation; but she urged, “Yea, but none of these men raised the sword against their princes.” “Yet, madam,” said he, “ye cannot deny but that they resisted, for those that obey not the commandments given them do in some sort resist.” “But yet,” she replied, “they resisted not by the sword.” “God had not given them the power,” said the reformer. “Think you,” asked Mary, “that subjects having the power may resist their princes?" 411“If princes exceed their bounds, madam,” unhesitatingly answered the reformer, “no doubt they may be resisted even by power.”

The whole of this interview, as well as the others that took place between Knox and Mary, are very interesting, and serve to bring into strong relief the characters of the two speakers. They clearly enough show Knox’s suspicions of the Queen from the first, but they do not at all warrant the picture that has been sometimes drawn from them to the prejudice and disadvantage of the reformer. A beautiful and accomplished woman, and that woman a queen, confronted in her hereditary palace by a gloomy and frowning preacher, is an interesting and exciting picture of the imagination; but it is in reality nothing more. The mind that cannot see deeper below the surface than the mere grace and beauty and queenly majesty of Mary on the one side, and the rigour and uncourtly rudeness of Knox on the other, proves itself so little capable of historical penetration, that it must be allowed simply to please itself with its own delusions. The slightest glimpse below the’ surface reveals to us in Mary and in Knox respectively the impersonation of two great principles then fighting for mastery not only in Scotland, but throughout Europe. Mary was not merely herself a Romanist by education, by sympathy, by that intense and unreasoning instinct with which a certain kind of nature always clings to traditionary beliefs and associations—she might have been all this, and been, if not a happy and beneficent, yet a tolerated governor of Scotland; and in such a view Knox’s molestation of her for her 412own opinions, and the private observances of. her own religion, would have excited our indignation and pity. But Mary was far more than this, and no man knew it better than John Knox. She was the niece of the Guises, and the daughter-in-law of Catherine de Medicis; and she was. not only sympathetic with their aims, but. It is impossible to doubt she was privy to their most deeply laid schemes. She knew the great and crafty game they were then playing, and she was prepared, with profound skill and persevering energy, to aid it.228228   Mary’s letters leave no doubt of this.—Labanoff, vol. i. pp. 200, 282. Her signature of the treaty of Bayonne (1566), for the extirpation of the Protestant religion, was merely a formal step in a course in which she had been long engaged.

It requires us, in order rightly to appreciate the position of either, thus to look below their immediate circumstances, and bring into view the principles they represented, and. especially the character of that great Catholic reaction which had now set in so strongly against the Reformation. There is nothing more certain, and few things more terrible in history, than this movement, in the deliberate villany with which it was planned, and the secret, powerful, and elaborate perfidy and cold-blooded massacre with which it was so far prosecuted. Its centre was in Paris, although its inspiration was from Rome; and Italian craft and subtlety in the Guises were its leaders. Scotland possessed a peculiar and unexampled interest to it, not only or chiefly from its old relations to France, but especially as a basis and means of operation against England. The stock of Henry VIII. 413seemed likely to die out; Elizabeth alone, in her solitary majesty, stood between Mary. and the throne of England; and with Mary as sovereign head of England and Scotland, the triumph of Rome was again secure over all the West. Mary’s position, then, was in reality the key to the whole movement,—the full combination, treachery, and strength of which Knox saw and Calvin saw, as but few men of their time did.229229   Knox “had then great intelligence both with the Kirk and some of the court of France.”—History, Book IV. It is no great wonder, then, that the reformer was suspicious from the first, and that he tried to animate the milder Murray with a persuasion of the danger which he himself understood and felt. He knew that the only security of Scotland was in its complete exemption from papal influence, and that the mass, once re-established by the Court, would certainly prove an opening for the reascendancy of this influence. This was the secret of his strong protestations to Murray, and of his saying, in the clear knowledge of all that it meant, and towards which it pointed, that “one mass was more fearful to him than ten thousand armed enemies.”

It must be observed that it is not here a question of toleration between man and man, or party and party, but a question of urgent national expediency. Scotland could then be only peaceably governed. as a Protestant country, and Mary of Guise had virtually admitted this as with her last breath. She deplored the fatal advice of her brothers which she had followed, and counselled the removal of the French troops from the kingdom. A free and lawful Parliament had since 414then established the new religion, and interdicted the old; and whatever may be the intolerance of this interdiction in our modern point of view—and neither this nor any intolerance is to be defended, however it may be explained—yet practically, so far as the head of the Government was concerned, it was impossible to set it aside, or even infringe or show disrespect to it, without utter confusion and disorder, as the events proved, and everything showed at the time to those who had any eyes to see. Apart from all ideas of modern constitutionalism, it was yet only possible to be a sovereign even in Mary’s time, at the expense of some personal liberty, and as representing a predominant national feeling. War was the only alternative of the disturbance of the practical representative relations of sovereign and people. But Mary had no perception of this, and notwithstanding her pretences, showed no honest desire to govern the country in the spirit of its own will declared through Parliament, and set before her in the counsels of her brother. How could she, when her movements were secretly dictated from Paris, and her whole aim was to advance Catholicism through the subversion of the existing ecclesiastical order of the country? Had she been less crafty and more wise—had she recognised her position and accepted it with its restraints, and sought to rule according to them—Knox’s interferences might have continued to annoy, but could not have imperilled her. No Stewart, however, was capable of this; and that Mary acted as she did, and embroiled the country in worse confusion than before her mother’s death, simply proved that there was no possible, not to say no rightful, place for 415her at that time in Scotland. A “divine power to govern ill” had become even then intolerable to the Scottish people; and surely we are not to blame but to commend Knox and others, that they saw thus early through so false and miserable a fiction as the divine right of kings. In Mary’s question and Knox’s reply as to the mutual relations of power between subjects and princes, we see the essential contrast presented by the two, and the principles which they professed. “Power is mine,” Mary meant: “God has given it to me, and I can use it as I will. It is divine simply according to my best judgment and opinion of its mode of exercise.” “Not in the least,” urged Knox; “first right and then might, national interest and then royal pleasure; and there is no other way of governing the world.”

In all we have six interviews recorded by Knox himself as occurring between the Queen and him. And in all his own accounts of these interviews, or of Randolph the English ambassador’s allusions, there is no evidence of incivility or rudeness on the part of the reformer. There is harshness in his tone afterwards, and in the way in which he speaks of her “owling,” but—in so far as his own speech and action in her presence are concerned—there appears a dignified courtesy in the manners of the reformer, and a sincere and respectful regard to her lawful authority.230230   It is clear, however, that Randolph interpreted her weeping in the same way as Knox: “Knox hath spoken to the Queen, and he made her weep, as well you know there be of that sex that will do that for anger or for grief.” The violence of debate and passion of speech are more on 416her side than on his, as she tried in vain to move his calm resoluteness. “But what have you to do with my marriage?” she angrily urged in their fifth interview, after he had preached a sermon reflecting on her proposed marriage, “or what are you in this commonwealth?” “A subject born within the same, madam,” calmly replied the reformer; “and albeit I be neither, earl, lord, nor baron in it, yet has God made me (how abject that ever I be in your eyes) a profitable member within the same.” If this be not courtesy combined with dignity under all the circumstances, we are at a loss to understand what the qualities mean.

It is not to be denied that Knox was stern and uncomplying, and to some extent unfeeling, in his dealings with the Queen. There was much that was really beautiful and interesting in Mary and her position that the reformer did not and could not comprehend. The gay festivities of her life, the grace of her exquisite manners, the charms of her queenly womanhood, and the social elegancies of her Court, were unintelligible to him. He could see nothing in the gay gear, the garnishing, targetting, and pearls of the Court ladies, as he stood in Mary’s ante-chamber, but the fleshly vanity destined to be consumed by “that knave death, that will come whether we will or not.” It was the same narrow spirit that kept him from pitying her fallen beauty and forlorn helplessness when her day of adversity came—when her fair name lay sullied in the dust, and her beauty was no more a power to steal men’s hearts away. Then, beyond doubt, his judgments were unpityingly severe. But 417to condemn him for this harsh sternness, and to forget all the genuine feeling and heartiness and patriotism of the man, is to be guilty at once of a crying injustice, and a weak, unhistorical judgment. Knox was not, indeed, a man in gay clothing, to be found in kings’ palaces, nor fitted for them; but he was a true man,—he saw the reality of life, although not all that reality. Mary saw something in it that he did not see; but she missed the living fact, which was clear and open to his honest vision. With her higher tastes, she was false,—false to herself and her position; with his narrower sympathies, he was faithful to his country, to his God, to his own dignity and self-respect.

So long as Mary committed herself to the advice of her brother, her affairs prospered upon the whole; and there is every reason to conjecture that if she had persevered in this course of conduct, she might have averted the disasters of her reign. But then such a course would have implied totally different views and intentions from those we have ascribed to her. It would have required her to break with her uncles and their schemes, and to lay aside, if not her religion, yet her blind devotion to its ascendancy. It would have required, in fact, a quite different spirit and character from what she really possessed. So long as it seemed to serve her purposes, she maintained her cordiality with her brother and the Protestant nobles; she could even condescend, as in her fourth interview with him at Kinross, to flatter Knox, and try to put to sleep his vigilance—an effort in which she was partially successful. To take the most favourable view of her motives and conduct during the first eighteen months 418of her reign, she may as yet have been somewhat unfixed as to her plans. Her claims to the crown of England, and the necessities of her position in Scotland, made it necessary for her to temporise; but there is no evidence that she had ever really made up her mind to accept her position in good faith—to sanction the establishment of the Protestant religion, and to govern in the spirit suggested by this legislation. On the contrary, the Parliament of 1563 conclusively showed that she desired to evade the ratification of all that had passed in 1560, and to leave things in the state of suspense that might ultimately form a pretext for the reversal of the whole religious policy of the country.

What took place at this Parliament fully opened the eyes of Knox, if they had ever been shut, to the real meaning of the course of events. He saw at once “that nothing was meant but deceit”; and so strongly did he resent the temporising conduct of Murray and the Protestant nobles, that he had a hot altercation with him and “others of the Court,” which estranged him from them for more than a year and a half.231231   “In all that time, the Earl of Murray was so formed to John Knox that neither by word nor writing was there any communication between them.”—Knox’s History, Book IV. Not only in private but in public he denounced what he considered their vacillation and weakness; and in the fervent excess of his mournful feeling, never was he more wildly eloquent than in the sermon which he preached before the dissolution of the Parliament, in presence of “the most part of the nobility.”232232   This Parliament of 1563 was evidently a sore subject with Knox at the time and afterwards. It opened his eyes completely, not only to the real designs of the Queen, but also to the very selfish aims of many of the nobles and professed friends of the Reformation. He speaks very bitterly of what he considered their weak enthusiasm, and devotion to Mary. “There might have been heard vox Diana, the voice of a goddess, and not of a woman: God save that sweet face!” “Such stinking pride of women as was teen at that Parliament, was never seen before in Scotland.”—History, Book IV.


A circumstance which occurred in the summer of the same year brought the Queen and the reformer into open collision. She had gone to Stirling, and in her absence the Popish service had been performed at the palace with more openness and extravagance than before. A riot had ensued; and the Queen, expressing great indignation when she. heard what had occurred, refused to return to Edinburgh unless the chief rioters were punished. Two burgesses of Edinburgh were accordingly summoned to take their trial for “felony, hamesucken, and violent invasion of the Queen’s palace.” The “Brethren” consulted with Knox on the subject, and at their advice he addressed a circular letter to the chief Protestant noblemen and gentlemen throughout the country, giving information how the matter stood, and requiring their assistance. This was, beyond doubt, a bold step on the part of the reformer. Mary resented it as a treasonable interference with her prerogative, and prepared to make the most of it to his prejudice. He was indicted for the offence, and a meeting of council convened in Edinburgh for his trial. Every formality was given to the meeting. The Queen took her seat at the head of the council-table with no “little worldly pomp”; the reformer stood at the other end of the table, with his head uncovered; while Maitland conducted the prosecution. 420The Queen plainly thought that she had secured her tormentor, and could not conceal her satisfaction.233233   “Her pomp,” says Knox himself, “lacked one principal point, to wit, womanlie gravity for when she saw John Knox at the other end of the table, she first smiled, and after gave ane gawf lauchter. ‘Yon man gart me greit,’ she said, ‘and grat never teir himself: I will see gif I can gar him greit.’”—History, Book IV. But whether it was that her undue eagerness to have him condemned excited the suspicions of the Lords; or that the distinctions urged by the reformer in his defence between “lawful” and “unlawful” convocations really impressed them;234234   Knox implies that they were all influenced by his “plain and sensible answers.” or that the excitement of the “Brethren of the Kirk,” who had followed Knox to the palace, and crowded the inner close and “all the stairs,” was somewhat alarming; or probably all the three causes combined,—the council refused unanimously to condemn him. Lethington was enraged, and tried to overawe them by the presence of the Queen; but this only strengthened them in their resolution. “That night,” concludes Knox, “was neither dancing nor fiddling in the Court; for Madam was disappointed of her purpose.”

Notwithstanding this deliverance, Knox’s alienation from Murray and many of his old friends continued. He had taken up an attitude of unyielding opposition the Queen, and in his sermons and prayers indulged freely in the expression of his feelings. They could not approve his conduct, and he would not abandon the freedom of preaching as he considered it. The consequence was that, during the next few years, he 421retired comparatively from the scene of affairs. Maitland, along with others, evidently aimed for some time to construct a Protestant party in connection with the Court—a party opposed to the extreme views of the ministers; and in the Assembly of 1564 he attended, and vigorously and ingeniously defended his course of policy. If we look at the matter with a merely speculative eye, it was no doubt an instinct of larger freedom that animated Maitland than that which governed Knox and the ministers; but scarcely any doubt can exist that the latter far more clearly appreciated the character of Mary, and discerned the real necessities of the times.

During the crowning series of events which followed Mary’s marriage with Darnley (July 1565)—the revolt of the dissatisfied nobles, with Murray at their head—Mary’s brief dream of happy wedlock; and then the rapid turns of the gloomy tragedy—the murder of Rizzio the murder of Darnley (Feb. 1567)—the marriage of the Queen with Bothwell—her defeat at Carberry Hill and imprisonment at Lochleven Castle—our reformer nowhere appeared prominent. He had become reconciled to Murray on the eve of his revolt, the necessity for which he would feel to be a vindication of his conduct during the preceding years. He was no doubt privy to the schemes of the revolted nobles, and their negotiations with the English Court. Suspicions even attach to his name and Craig’s in regard to the murder of Rizzio, which, it must be confessed, are not without foundation, countenanced as they are by his subsequent’ absence from Edinburgh. Throughout this dreadful period, however, he was by 422no means an active or notable figure. Characters far more fierce and turbulent than him occupy the scene, and bring to a close the dark procession of events which terminated in Mary’s flight to England and the establishment of a regency under Murray.

The two years that followed (Aug. 1567–Jan. 1570) were the happiest that the reformer knew in Scotland. Murray and he were perfectly reconciled, and their policy at one. The kingdom enjoyed comparative quietness, and the work of reform proceeded with regularity. At a Parliament held on the 18th of December 1567, the power and jurisdiction of the Pope were finally abolished; all the enactments of the reformed Parliament of 1560 were for the first time ratified, and an important Act added, to the effect that every future sovereign of the realm should swear to maintain the Protestant religion in its purity. Favourable, although still imperfect, arrangements were made as to the endowment of the clergy, and regulations passed as to their induction. The General Assembly followed up the work of the Parliament, and rectified divers social and ecclesiastical abuses which had been long subjects of complaint with the reformers. Knox felt for a time as if his work was accomplished, and the idea crossed him of returning to Geneva and ending his days in peace.

But dark and stormy days yet awaited the reformer. After somewhat more than two years’ firm and peaceable possession of the government, Murray was assassinated. No event perhaps in all the reformer’s life filled him with deeper and more painful sorrow. His heart was crushed by the suddenness of the blow, and 423he poured forth the anguish that he felt in a wild and pathetic prayer that has been preserved.235235   “O Lord, in what misery and confusion found he this realm! To what rest and quietness now by his labours suddenly he brought the same, all the estates, but especially the poor commons, can witness. Thy image, O Lord, did so clearly shine in that personage, that the devil and the people to whom he is prince could not abide it; and so to punish our sins and our ingratitude (who did not so rightly esteem so precious a gift), Thou hast permitted him to fall, to our great grief, in the hands of cruel and traitorous murderers. He is at rest, O Lord; we are left in extreme misery!"

Things returned to their old confusion under the regency of Lennox (who, too, was soon murdered), and then of Mar. Friends who had been dear to him—Kirkcaldy of Grange, and others—forsook the cause of the Reformation altogether, and sought to re-establish a Marian party in Edinburgh. He had the misfortune, also, to differ from his brethren in the Assembly about praying for the Queen. Maitland tried to improve this difference to his own advantage: dark charges were uttered against the reformer, as to his having wished to betray his country to the English; an attempt was even made to assassinate him, by firing a ball in at the window of the room where he usually sat. The heart of the old man, weakened as he was by paralysis, was deeply wounded. He felt bitterly the cowardice of the accusations made against him, and answered in the proud and noble words"—What I have been to my country albeit this unthankful age will not know, yet the age to come will be compelled to bear witness to the truth; and thus I cease, requiring all men that have anything to oppose against me, that they will do it so plainly as I 424make myself and all my doings so manifest to the world; for to me it seems a thing most unreasonable that in this, my decrepid age, I shall be compelled to fight against shadows and howlettes that dare not abide the light.”

In May (5th) 1571 he left Edinburgh for St Andrews reluctantly, urged by his-friends to take some-means for his safety. James Melville was then a student in. St Leonard’s College, and we are indebted to his gossipy pen for a very graphic and interesting account of Knox’s appearance and preaching. The picture—of the old man in the College Yards of St Leonard’s calling the students about him, and blessing them; his weakness, needing the support of his servant on his way to preach; his vigour and warmth when once in the pulpit and kindled with his theme—is very striking and memorable. “He lodged down in the Abbey beside our college,” says Melville, “and would some time come in and repose him in our college yard, and call us scholars unto him, and bless us, and exhort us to know God and His work in our country, and stand by the good cause. Our whole college was sound and zealous for the good cause; the other two colleges not so. . . . I heard him preach the prophecies of Daniel that summer and the winter following. I had my pen and my little book, and took away such things as I could comprehend. In the opening of the text he was moderate the space of half-an-hour; but when he entered to application, he made me so to grew and tremble that I could not hold a pen to write. . . . He was very weak. I saw him every day of his doctrine go hulie and fear [slowly and warily], with a 425furring of martriks about his neck, a staff in the one hand, and good godly Richard Ballanden, his servant, holding up the other oxter, from the Abbey to the parish kirk, and by the said Richard and another servant lifted up to the pulpit, where he behoved to lean at his first entry; but ere he has done with his sermon he was so active and vigorous that he was lyke to ding the pulpit in blads and.flie out of it.”

Such is the living glimpse we get of the reformer in these last days. Weak and ill, his last energies were expended in the cause so dear to him. He flinched not then from the battle that he had waged so long; and yet at heart he was sick, and “wearie of the world.” He subscribed himself to a book which he now published against a Scottish Jesuit of the name of Tyrie, “John Knox, the servant of Jesus Christ, now wearie of the world, and daily looking for the resolution of this my earthly tabernacle,” and asked his brethren to pray for him, “that God would put an end to his long and painful battle; for now being unable to fight as God some time gave strength, I thirst an end.”

In August 1572, he was enabled, by a truce between the contending parties, to return to Edinburgh. He was no longer able to preach in his old church, and the Tolbooth was fitted up for him. Here, in the course of September, he thundered his dying denunciations against the perpetrators of the massacre of St Bartholomew. This crowning stroke of the great reactionary party in France touched him to the quick, verifying all his predictions, and plunging him in the deepest sadness for his many martyred friends. He 426imprecated, with his last breath, the vengeance of Heaven upon the accursed murderers; and his cry, with that of others, went up before the throne with an “Avenge, O Lord, Thy slaughtered saints.”

In the second week of November he was seized with a severe cough, and his end visibly drew near. He arranged his affairs, paid his servants’ wages, with twenty shillings over, as the last they would ever receive from him; and so set his house in order. There was no darkness in these last moments: although the sadness of the time touched him, his own spirit was cheerful, as the eternal day began to break, and the shadows to flee away. Two friends, not knowing of his illness, came to dine with him, and he insisted upon being present at table, and piercing for them a hogshead of wine which was in the cellar, and which might as well be drunk by his friends, now that he was going the way when he would no more need it. “He willed them to send for the same so long as it lasted, for that he would not tarry till it was drunken”;—as beautiful a picture of generous friendliness and “cheery social” disposition, as one can anywhere contemplate. On the 17th, and some of the following days, he received his friends, his colleague, his brethren in the ministry, and among others the Earl of Morton, whom he charged to be faithful to God and the Evangel in the elevation to the regency which he saw was awaiting him. On the evening before his death he was tempted to think of himself and of what he had done. But he repelled the temptation with the sentence, Quid habes, quod non accepisti? The next day, the 24th, he got up and partially dressed himself—427put on his hose and doublet: but the effort was too much; weakness overcame him, and he was forced to lie down again. His wife and faithful servant sat beside him reading the Bible. He asked his wife to read the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians, and said when it was finished, “Is not that a beautiful chapter? What sweet consolation the Lord hath given me!” Later he said, “Go, read where I first cast anchor”; and she read the 17th chapter of St John’s Gospel. He fell into a trance at the time of evening prayer, and when the physician inquired if he had heard their prayers, he replied, “Would God that you and all men had heard them as I have heard them. I praise God for that heavenly sound.” About eleven o’clock he gave a deep sigh, and said, “Now it is come.” Then Richard Bannatyne, sitting down before him, said, “Now, sir, the time that you have long called for—to wit, an end of your battle—is come; and seeing all natural power now fails, remember the comfortable promise which ofttime ye have shown to us of our Saviour Christ: and that we may understand and know that ye hear us, make us some sign;” and so he lifted up his hand, and incontinent thereafter rendered up the spirit, and slept away without any pain.

A stern reality, a vivid and strong and somewhat harsh sense, lies at the basis of Knox’s character. He saw life equally in its individual and national aspects as a great fact before God—a fact which could only be falsified or trifled away and abused in blasphemy of Him who gave it, and who would require an account of it. It was this feeling of the awful reality and 428responsibility of life as a divine trust and discipline which, growing up in that long time of quietness and obscurity from about his twentieth to his fortieth year, served more than anything else to kindle his undying zeal against the. Papacy of his country. Strong religious convictions no doubt animated him in his reforming career. It is impossible. to read the ac- count he himself has given of his early sermons in St Andrews, as well as his subsequent letters to his mother-in-law, and not see that the fresh and living study of Scripture had led him to very definite conclusions as to the unchristian character of Romanism, and the perversion of doctrinal truth that its teaching and practices presented. Still he did not, like Luther, primarily attack Romanism from a dogmatic point of view, nor perhaps were its doctrinal perversions ever the main’ cause of his intense and growing hatred of it. It was rather its utter immorality and godlessness as a practical governing institution—its contradictions to the truth of life and the plainest instincts of duty at every point—that provoked his indignation and nerved his destructive energy. He felt that in his own time and country it had become a great embodied lie, dead in trespasses and sins, out of which no good could come, and that therefore it could only be trodden down and buried out of sight.

This was no doubt a stern view of life and of the world around him. It is a view with which we may have some difficulty in sympathising, as we look back upon it from the free and tolerant atmosphere of this nineteenth century. It covers an element of iconoclasm which could only justify itself in the face of the 429most obvious and unquestionable facts. But the facts are beyond question. The view was one sternly demanded by the necessities of Scotland in the sixteenth century. Nothing but its absolute truthfulness forced it upon Knox. Other men, of less power and penetration than he was—of a less open and piercing glance, searching not only the manifest but the hidden things of dishonesty amidst which he stood—might have been deceived by certain fair appearances in the aspects of Scottish Romanism; but no varnishings and no artifices could beguile him. No social pretensions, no conventional dignities, could impose upon him, or blind his strong, clear vision. He had learned plainly and boldly, as he himself says, to “call wickedness by its own terms, a fig a fig, and a spade a spade.” The Roman hierarchy, therefore, was Antichrist, and the mass idolatry, simply because, in Scotland et least, they had in his time become absolutely unmoral. All divine good they had ever possessed had gone out of them, and left only a noxious carcass—a mere tyranny in the one case, a mere falsehood in the other.

This spirit of severe reality animated him alike in his political as in his religious views. It gave a hardness, some will say a harshness, to his personal demeanour. No form of civil polity was anything to him, save in so far as it conserved the true dignity and earnest and pious uses of life. Mary was only Queen in so far as her government was good for the country. He recognised no divine right in her or any one to govern, save in so far as they were fit for it. The mere trappings of rule, its artificial splendours, its proud adornments, had 430no interest, and certainly no awe for him. He stood unmoved before them, and his stern simplicity remained imperturbable alike under the blandishments and the tears of royalty. As on one occasion he left the room where he had been holding interview with the Queen, and passed out with a “reasonable merry countenance,” some of them whispered, “He is not afraid.” “What! should the pleasing face of a gentlewoman affray me?” was his reply. “I have looked in the face of many angry men, and yet have not been afraid above measure.” He did not know, indeed, what fear meant, and his heart leapt up at the sound of danger. Never were truer words than those of the Earl of Morton, as they laid him in the old churchyard of St Giles, “He never feared the face of man.” Even Luther was not more courageous in the midst of actual conflict and in the boldness of consistent self-respect, and of undeviating adhesion to what he considered principle, Knox was the superior of Luther. Knox would never have written such letters as Luther did, both to the Pope and Henry VIII. and he never would have acted as the German reformer did in the affair of the Landgrave of Hesse. No consideration ever moved him to servility, and no power on earth would have extorted from him unchristian submission.

Out of this fundamental feature of strong truthfulness sprang alike his humour and his bitterness—different manifestations of the same spirit. That Knox possessed a thoroughly hearty humour, it is impossible for any one to doubt who has ever read 431his History. Its narrative is touched everywhere by a humorous presence, giving life and colour and movement to it—lighting up, in picturesque and vivid gleams, the very image of the times. It is not indeed a simple humour, whose expressions you can detach, and look at, and feel their laughing charm by themselves, as are the manifold utterances of Luther’s rare and fertile power, or of Latimer’s narrower sympathy. It is rather, as we have said, a presence—a way in general of looking at things and telling about them, which shows you the deep nature of the man, and how keenly all the real aspects of life, its comedy as well as its tragedy, its familiarities as well as its grandeurs, touched him. There is but little geniality, and scarcely any tenderness in it. It is grotesque and scornful rather than smiling and kindly—passing, by an easy transition, into frequent bursts of bitter, and what we would now call violent and abusive invective. Still, even the bitterness is hearty, and not cold and merely mocking. It springs from the same full fountain of sympathy with all that is real in life; and where he scorns, and is wild with a kind of savage glee, it is in the main only against things that really deserved scorn, and were dead to all milder or more tolerant treatment. His soul was wearied with falsehoods; and if the sacred association was not spared in the fierce denunciation, it was simply because it had lost utterly for him all truth or beauty of holiness. Mr Carlyle’s version of his throwing an image of the Virgin into the Loire exactly illustrates this. “Mother! 432Mother of God, did you say? This is no mother of God, but a painted bredd—a piece of wood, I tell you, with paint on it;” and suiting the action to the language, he dashed the consecrated symbol into the water.

It must at once be admitted that there are aspects of life beautiful and really good that had little or no interest for Knox. The sweetness and grace and cultured refinement and charm of social politeness, that so mingle in our modern existence, and. which, from the polished capital where she had spent her youth, Mary sought to transplant into the harsher clime of her native land—those festive exuberances and “unconfined joys” and decorated gaieties, that, amid all their frivolity, speak of a right-hearted human gladness—and of which Mary, in her mere womanly perfections, may be said to remain the ideal and type—were unfelt and unacknowledged by him. Mere beauty in nature or in life had few attractions for him. Calvin is scarcely more insensible to such attractions, although Knox has a wider sympathy with the varied interests of humanity, and a far deeper and more appreciative feeling. There is a comparatively keen though rugged sensibility in the heart of the Scottish reformer, as passages in his sermons, and many facts of his life, show; and if he could be stern and even cruel as Calvin, he is yet never so cold and self-sustained in his polemical rigour. His harshness and narrowness were as much the misfortune of his time as his fault as a man; and while they cast a shade into his portrait, they yet ought 433not to destroy the noble and impressive lines that mark it.

His eloquence partook of the same stern, powerful, and scornful character: it must have been a grand thing to hear in those days, when great national interests hung upon his single utterances. His preaching, the English ambassador said, “put more life into him than six hundred trumpets,”—a headlong, vehement, swelling energy, ringing like a slogan cry, bursting in explosive shouts, and moving with passionate convictions thousands of hearts. A single brief passage from his famous sermon before the dissolution of the Parliament of 1563, when the arts of Mary were so successful in deluding the Protestant nobles, may give some idea of it. He is appealing to old associations, and his close union with the nobles in past times when he had shared their risks and dangers; and his wounded feelings swell into an impassioned sublimity, in which there mingles a wild yet softening touch of pathos. “I have been with you,” he says, “in your most desperate temptations in your most extreme dangers I have been with you. St Johnstone, Cupar Moor, and the Crags of Edinburgh are yet recent in my heart—yea, and that dark and dolorous night, wherein all ye, my lords, with shame and fear, left this town, is yet in my mind, and God forbid that I ever forget it. What was, I say, my exhortation to you, and what has fallen in vain of all that ever God promised unto you by my mouth, ye yourselves live to testify. . . . Shall this be the thankfulness that ye shall render unto God, to betray His cause, when ye have it in your hands to establish 434it?” There is something of the same pathetic sublimity in his prayer after the assassination of the Regent Murray.

Altogether, if we estimate him, as we are bound to do, in his historical position and circumstances, Knox appears a very great and heroic man—no violent demagogue, or mere stern dogmatist—although violence and sternness and dogmatism were all parts of his character. These coarser elements mingled with but did not obscure the fresh, living, and keenly sympathetic humanity beneath. Inferior to Luther in tenderness and breadth and lovableness, he is greatly superior to Calvin in the same qualities. You feel that he had a strong and loving heart under all his harshness, and that you can get near to it, and could have spent a cheery social evening with him in his house at the head of the Canongate, over. that good old wine that he had stored in his cellar, and which he was glad and proud to dispense to his friends. It might not have been a very pleasant thing to differ with him eyen in such circumstances; but, upon the whole, it would have been a pleasanter and safer audacity than to have disputed some favourite tenet with Calvin. There was in Knox far more of human feeling and of shrewd worldly sense, always tolerant of differences; and you could have fallen back upon these, and felt yourself comparatively safe in the utterance of some daring sentiment. And in this point of view it deserves to be noticed that Knox alone of the reformers, along with Luther, is free from all stain of violent persecution. Intolerant he was towards the mass, towards Mary, and towards the old Catholic 435clergy; yet he was no persecutor. He was never cruel in act, cruel as his language sometimes is, and severe as were some of his judgments. Modern enlightenment and scientific indifference we have no right to look for in him. His superstitions about the weather and witches were common to him with all men of his time. Nature was not to these men an elevated and beneficent idea, but a capricious manifestation of arbitrary supernatural forces. This was part of the intellectual furniture of the time, of which they could no more get rid than they could get rid of their social dress or usages. And Knox was here, as in other things, only a man of his time.

As a thinker, save, perhaps, on political subjects, he takes no rank; and his political views, wise and enlightened as they were, seem rather the growth of his manly instinctive sense than reasoned from any fundamental principles. Earnest, intense, and powerful in every practical direction, he was not in the least characteristically reflective or speculative. Everywhere the hero, he is nowhere the philosopher or sage. He was, in short, a man for his work and time—knowing what was good for his country there and then, when the old Catholic bonds had rotted to the very core. A man of God, yet with sinful weaknesses like us all. There is something in him we can no longer love,—a harshness and severity by no means beautiful or attractive; but there is little in him that we cannot in the retrospect heartily respect, and even admiringly cherish.

Of his special work we have already so far spoken. 436It was truly a great and noble work, though with harsh features in it, like the man himself. It was the result of no mere party motives, but the expression of a revived Christian interest, and of a new and healthy national feeling. Nowhere does the spiritual principle appear more prominently as the spring of the Reformation than in Scotland. The reawakened idea of individual relation and responsibility to God, and of the only possible realisation of both in Christ, is everywhere the living impulse, originating and carrying forward the movement. But there is also more than this. Alongside of the spiritual influence, and bound up with it in a very notable, expressive, and more complete form than elsewhere, is the principle of Nationalism. The Scottish Reformation was not merely a spiritual insurrection; it was a national revolution—the expression of a new social life, which now in the sixteenth century had become the most educated and intelligent in the country. The two influences, civil and religious, intersected and moulded one another in a marked degree, though in what degree exactly it is difficult to say. In no other way can we explain the radical change that then passed upon the face of Scotland, than by the fact that new social forces, which had been for some time working in the country, came now to the surface, and stamped themselves definitely upon its expanding civilisation. Knox was at once the preacher of a free Gospel, and the representative of this broader and freer nationality. And correspondently with this character, the movement which he headed, and which practically he carried forward 437to triumph, assumed from the beginning a marked political aspect, and sought to guarantee itself in new modes of political as well as spiritual action. The General Assembly of the Church was in reality a Commons’ House of Parliament, discussing the most varied interests of the country, and giving effect to the popular, or at least the middle-class feeling, on all the urgent questions of the day. It was the substantial national power which the Assemblies thus enjoyed which made them so prized on the one hand, and so feared and hated on the other. The clergy, and barons united with them, felt that with the right of free assembly they were powerful against any combination of their enemies. The sovereign and great nobles knew that in the face of these Assemblies they could never hold the country by the old feudal bonds of government. It was a life-and-death contention on either side; and Scottish Presbytery became thus, in the very circumstances of its origin, and still more in the progress of its history, intensely political, and could not help becoming so.

A Calvinistic creed and a Presbyterian ritual were the shapes into which the Scottish Reformation, not at once, but very soon, and from the growing necessities of its position, hardened itself. At first, we have seen, it did not bear any strong impress of Calvinism; the affinity was apparent, but the likeness was far from rigorous; and had it been left to its own free national development, undisturbed by royal despotism and ecclesiastical arbitrariness, it might have matured, both doctrinally and ritually, into a 438form comparatively expansive and catholic. It might have gradually penetrated the old historical families of the kingdom which had hitherto stood aloof from it, and moulded the nation,—people, barons, and nobles,—into religious unity. This, however, was not to be its fate. It was not destined to a quiet career of diffusion and growth, but to a career of tragic storm and struggle, in the course of which, while it kept its own with a brave tenacity and a grand heroism, which shed an undying glory amid the stormy gloom of its eventful history, it yet never fused itself more deeply than at first into the outlying sections of the national life. The original oppositions, after the lapse of a hundred and twenty years, reappear at the Revolution only more intensified and defined than ever; and to this day they remain uneffaced, and probably uneffaceable. Scotland presents, in this respect, a singular and original spectacle. While Presbyterianism, in its scarcely differing shades, keeps a vigorous and immovable hold of the heart of the nation, there are yet traces of genuine sentiment in the country transmitted by clear lines of descent from the sixteenth century, that not merely lie outside of it, but show no inclination to mingle with the main current of the national religious feeling.

In the course of the opposition which it encountered, Calvinism, in its most rigorous form, naturally became the dogmatic stronghold of the Scottish Reformation. Clearness, definiteness, and a bold and ready audacity of doctrinal opinion, became necessary elements of strength as the struggle went on; and when the Protestant 439influence in Scotland allied itself with English Puritanism, and, in fact, became one of the most prominent phases of the great Puritanic movement, it took up, of course, the doctrinal as well as the anti-ritual peculiarities of this movement, and the “Confession of Faith” and “Directory of Public Worship” are the remarkable monuments of this second stage of its history. Beyond doubt, also, the more rigorous Calvinism of the Confession was a natural expression of the Scottish mind applied to religious subjects, sharing, as this mind strongly does, with the French, in that “logical directness” which delights in constructive systems, and in the exhibition of coherency and theoretical order, rising from some single principle, rather than in an adaptive earnestness and manifoldness of opinion. It is nevertheless strange, considering the marked nationality of the religion of Scotland, that it is an English and not a Scottish document that remains the historical expression of the National Faith.

The Calvinism of Scotland seems at first sight to have enjoyed a more consistent and vigorous life than that either of Geneva or of Holland; but a nearer inspection proves that the difference is more apparent than real. Scottish Theology has, in truth, undergone a series of singular modifications during the last two hundred years, from the polemical hardness and spiritual sentimentalisms of Rutherfurd—the devotional and apologetic mildness of Halyburton—the fervid but untempered earnestness of Boston—the polite moralisms of Blair—and the conciliatory 440doctrinism of Hill and Campbell—to the genial but inconsistent theories of Chalmers. And of all these modifications none is more singular, and certainly none less understood, than that which sprang from the admission of Jonathan Edwards’s doctrine of philosophical necessity as constituting a renewed basis and point of defence for Calvinism. A meagre rationalism, under the name of moderatism, had in the last century eaten away the heart of the old Calvinistic religious when the cold breath of this new doctrine came as a bracing restorative to the logical mind of Scotland, and it was eagerly seized upon and embraced as a supposed mediatrix between philosophy and faith. It had an intrinsic charm to such a mind as Chalmers’s, and more than anything seemed to strengthen him in the old dogmatic pathways; but a union so unnatural could not even be blessed by his strong genius, and this theological necessitarianism is already giving place before the progress of a more spiritual philosophy.

Whether the Scottish mind is likely at length to free itself from its intense logical tendencies, and to expand into a broader, more learned, and more genial and comprehensive theological literature, it is somewhat difficult to say. Undoubtedly the higher intelligence of the country has shaken itself largely free from the old dogmatic bonds. A disintegrating process is at work in the forms of both its religious thought and life; and many, where their fathers found living wells, find only empty cisterns. The danger of this temper is, that it may become impatient 441and destructive, rather than inquiring and freely conservative, and thus, as in last century, that dogmatism may pass into rationalism, and spiritual earnestness into indifference. The best, indeed the only, safeguard against this is the growth of a critical and historical spirit, which, while looking back with reverence to the past, and appreciating all that is good and holy and great in it, is not yet absolutely wedded to it as a formula beyond which, or apart from which, there can be no life. There is some hopeful evidence of the rise of such a spirit spreading from the richer soil of the English theological mind, and quickened by the fertile seeds from Continental scholarship and thought. It were well that this spirit should ripen free from German arbitrariness or audacious self-confidence of any kind.

Perhaps the living study of such men as these pages have feebly endeavoured to sketch may be helpful in this direction—men whose example of Christian energy, and patriotism, and piety, is so much greater than their mere dogmatisms. The world may outlive the latter—nay, in so far as they were merely personal or intellectual, it has already outlived them; but the former are. the needful salt of its ever-freshening life. We have entered into the labours of these men, and fruits have sprung from them. in some respects of a richer and more enduring strength than they themselves dreamed of. Ours is the inheritance; theirs was the labour. While we rejoice in our higher heritage, let us not forget those who first broke the bonds of 442spiritual tyranny. Thought must advance, and none need try to check it. But while we move forward, let us revere the Past; and as we enter within the gates of a New era, let us look back with admiration, and, so far as we can, with love, if not with regret, to the great figures that stand at the illuminated portals of the Old.

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