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144 pages
Feb 2011
New Leaf Publishing

The Life of John Knox

by Paul Beck

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt


The Life of John Knox by the American Sunday School Union (now the American Missionary Fellowship) faithfully presents The Life of John Knox, the Scottish preacher and Reformer. In his life, Knox defended the Christian faith against all enemies, both secular and religious. The American Sunday School Union portrays this by showing his struggle against the Scottish government and the Roman Catholic Church.

Knox was born in 1505 in East Lothian, Scotland. Although his parents were poor, they were able to pay for his education; Knox studied at the University of Glasgow to become a Catholic priest. During his studies, he became convinced that Catholicism was wrong; in his mind, the growing Protestant movement, which believed in justification by faith alone, was biblical. Following his calling, Knox became a preacher and taught at the castle of St. Andrew’s. This castle was a Protestant refuge, and Mary of Guise, a Catholic Scottish Queen, sought to gain it. She could not, so she asked for help from Catholic France.

In 1547, a French fleet besieged the castle, and when they captured it Knox was taken prisoner. He was released in 1549 and went to London. Only four years later, Mary Tudor became the Queen of England, and she began a great persecution against the Protestants, which would give her the epithet, “Bloody Mary.” Knox fled London on her coronation day, but continued to preach in England until January 1554. By then the persecution had spread to all of England, and he was forced to leave.

Knox traveled to France and Switzerland. He was in those two cities until August 1555. Knox had been worried about the state of the Reformation in Scotland and resolved to return home and help the Protestants. His task was by no means easy; he was repeatedly summoned by the Roman Catholic clergy to defend his beliefs and struggled against two Scottish Queens. They were Mary of Guise and Mary, Queen of Scots, and they fought civil wars against the Protestants and persecuted them. Knox himself had a bounty on his head from Mary of Guise, and although he never fought in any of the battles, he was forced to carry a weapon as he traveled Scotland.

Anyone who has read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs will see a similarity in style to The Life of John Knox. The language is bold, and the writer does not pull any punches. Like Foxe, the writer of The Life of Knox has very strong opinions about the Roman Catholic Church, and is not afraid to communicate that through Knox's words and his own narration; for example, Catholicism is routinely called “popery” and addressed in very negative terms. Also, like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, The Life of Knox often gives short profiles of Christians who died for their faith. For example, in the Introduction, several Scottish reformers, such as John Resby and Paul Craw, were given short biographies before the author detailed their deaths. Another reformer, George Wishart, is given a stirring background, only for the writer to describe how the Catholic Church caught him and burned him at the stake.

Roman Catholics will find this book offensive to their faith because their beliefs are assaulted. In a public dispute with John Annan, the dean of St. Andrew’s, John Knox said, “Yea, I offer myself, by word or writing, to prove the Roman Church this day father degenerate from the purity which was in the days of the apostles, than was the church of the Jews from the ordinances given by Moses, when they consented to the innocent death of Jesus Christ.” Ecumenists will also dislike this book because in its criticism of the Catholic Church, The Life of John Knox rejects any notions that all Christian denominations need to be united.

There are some weaknesses to this book. I would have liked to have seen more detailed, theological reasons why Knox disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church. There are some details of what Knox believed; in Chapter Two, Knox was summoned for a Catholic trial, and the charge presented against him was that he had taught, “No mortal man can be the head of the church—that the pope is an anti-Christ, and so is no member of Christ’s mystical body… that the mass is abominable idolatry… there is no purgatory… and, that praying for the dead is vain, while to pray to the dead is idolatry.” That said, I would have preferred to see more of what Knox had believed, such as his ideas of justification by faith alone and predestination.

Knox fully believed that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38-39), and that is revealed in his bold confrontations with the Catholic clergy and Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox knew that he could do all things through Christ, who strengthened him (Philippians 4:13) and therefore boldly proclaimed the Gospel. This book will comfort and inspire persecuted Christians; this will also inspire those “sitting in the sidelines” to go out and proclaim the gospel, either through evangelism or by simply talking to a next door neighbor. – Scott Phillips,

Book Jacket:

Rare Vignettes Featuring the Protestant Reformation's Fiercest Defender!

A bold leader of the Scottish Reformation who saw fellow defenders tortured and executed

Enduring illness and brutality during 19 months of imprisonment aboard a French ship

Exile in England, domestic life, pastorates, and a triumphant return to power in Scotland

Forced to flee his enemies on many occasions, John Knox (c. 1505-1572) had a life of exciting adventure, harsh imprisonment, and brilliant scholarship. Fighting battles both political and religious, Knox bravely defied royalty, nobility, and the established power of the Papacy to speak the truth. A fiery and inspirational preacher, he fiercely upheld the authority of Scripture and salvation through Christ's sacrifice. In perilous times, Knox risked his life daily in a fearless and tireless defense of the faith!