Thornleigh Seventh-day Adventist Church (Sydney, Australia)

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 32 - December 2009 / January 2010 > A History of the Christian Church - Part Twenty One

A History of the Christian Church

Part Twenty One

compiled by Denis Jenkins

Title      A History of the Christian Church
Part       Twenty One
Theme   John Knox's Life; Understanding The Man

This is Part 21 in the series. Parts 1 to 20 can be found by referring to the index of articles via this link --> Index to Articles

Unlike the mild mannered and considerate Tyndale, John Knox thundered his way into the reformation in Scotland.  Some of his critics questioned whether John Knox was really a man of God, as he did not show a lot of love towards people around him.  Knox's personality was a persona of toughness, unswerving determination and fearless to face anybody no matter their rank or seniority.  Knox was single minded, narrow minded and lacked tolerance.  Knox was impetuous and at times did not take counsel from those who were more even handed. The question is how could God use a man who was so obviously flawed and did not give God's work a good image?  

We turn to scripture for this answer.  Moses was a man God called to service in a miraculous way at the burning bush, where God appeared to him and gave Moses his mission.  Moses had killed an Egyptian who was poorly treating an Israelite.  What a poor image Moses had from the start.  Moses felt in human terms his unsuitability for God's cause.  God told Moses that he would support him and make up for all his deficiencies which was partly addressed through engaging Aaron, his brother; God also promised to put words and direction in his mind.  Despite all of Moses' faults even through his ministry for God, God was able to use this man of steel. 

Samson walked right away from God as a young man but when he had realised his wrong doing, he pleaded with God in the depth of his depravity.  God forgave him but the only sermon Samson ever preached was a severe thundering sermon that brought the house down killing some hundreds of important people of his day. 

When Jesus chose his disciples, among them were the "sons of thunder"; men who could not control their temper.  King David fell short as God's leader.  He killed an innocent man for his own sexual desires.  David when faced by the prophet repented and was even prepared die for his wrong doing. But God forgave him; David continued to be a man championing God's cause. Peter fell short in character and denied Christ to his face at Christ's trial before Pilate. But Peter repented here again. Peter did not show humility and love when he cut off an authority's ear who was with the group of Sanhedrin coming to arrest Jesus.  In this case Jesus reprimanded Peter by restoring the ear.  Peter again was prepared to repent and accept Christ's leading.  Paul did not have such a smart history either.  Before Paul was called in such a miraculous way on the road to Emaus, he was on the way to kill Christians. 

We might ask, does God have trouble choosing the right people?  The answer is that so long as he uses human beings in his work, he will continue to face problems of human weakness.  The scripture reveals to us that there is no human being who is righteous no not one.  We all have righteousness of filthy rags.  We all come short of God's glory and the model of God's character. 

What, then, makes the difference between men and women of God and those who do wrong who are not accepted by God?  King Saul was not accepted by God because when he did wrong he was not repentant.  He was arrogant before God and justified his wrong doing.  Judas was arrogant before God in not being repentant and took his own life because he could not stand facing his human failure in his own strength and by his own devising.  Peter, on the other hand, repented for his wrong doing; David repented for his wrong doing.  Paul also repented of his wrongdoing.  All these people sought forgiveness, humbly accepted forgiveness and acted as forgiven people then got on with focusing on God's will and work through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, instead of looking at their human failure.   Accepting forgiveness, for a potentially proud impetuous man or woman, in human terms, is the Gospel in action.  God being willing to use imperfect human beings in his work of salvation is an example of his guarantee of forgiveness.    The stories of mighty men of God who are imperfect provide encouragement to each one of us that we too are worthy for God's cause if we come to the Lord in humility and repentance and are prepared to have our own human natures tempered by the Holy Spirit and the mind of Christ.

Like the apostle Peter, John Knox was totally focused on God's purpose and will.  Like Peter he was prepared to sacrifice his life for God's cause. Like Peter and King David, John Knox made mistakes in his life but when realising his wrong he sought forgiveness.  But like Peter, King David and Moses, John Knox did a mighty work for God despite his human failings. 

In contrast, those at the head of the Roman Church showed no repentance for their wrong deeds and the excesses of the church that they even committed in the name of God for their own benefit and advantage.  Their continual focus like the Pharisees in Christ's time was on personal power, pomp and ceremony to be seen as pious in the eyes of man but not God.  These are the people at the end time who are going to say "Lord, Lord we have done all these things in your name".  Christ will say "depart from me I never knew you.  You did not feed me when I was in need, you did not visit the fatherless…..."  In fact the Roman Church did the opposite; they made people desperately poor by misrepresenting the gospel.  They charged the people, through indulgences, for the forgiveness of sin when Christ had given salvation as a free gift.  They represented God not as a loving saviour but an exacting tyrant to be feared.  The Roman Church's general trend of working against the will and character of God demonstrates what Spirit is driving this organisation.  Through history, the Roman Church has not sought forgiveness of God for the atrocities they committed through the centuries.  Like King Saul, they justify their position and continue on in the same way unless subdued by God for the allotted time that God wishes to reveal himself to mankind. Truly pious men who were genuine ministers of God came out of that organisation once the error of their ministry was revealed to them, to join the reformation and the return from superstition to God's word.

Cardinal Beaton, in Scotland at the time of Knox, exemplified and symbolised the King Saul of Christendom in being a representative for the Roman Church and as did King Saul purporting to represent God.  In the name of God, Cardinal Beaton sought his own pleasure and indulgence at the expense of all around him.   He lived an indulgent life "Lording" it over the people from his castle.  He promoted the concept of celibacy among the clergy and behind everyone's back was indulging himself with a mistress.  He plotted against anyone who would dilute his power and even to killing them as he did with Wishart; burning him at the stake.   Cardinal Beaton was not remorseful for what he did.  He was so far from the knowledge of God and his character that Beaton even believed he was doing God's will; so great was his delusion. It is ironical how the character of the kingdom of evil in mans hearts often work against itself, for the anger generated in Scotland by Wishart's unjust execution in the hearts of unconverted nobles, caused Cardinal Beaton's end.  The Nobles stormed the Castle killing Beaton in his own bedroom where he had just been entertained by his mistress.

In contrast to the falsely pious, rebellious, self justifying attitude of Cardinal Beaton,   John Knox fully understood and repented of his own shortcomings as revealed in his following statement made in one of John Knox's letters to his mother:

"…..Although I never lack the presence and plain image of my own wretched infirmity, yet seeing sin so manifestly abounds in all estates, I am compelled to thunder out the threatenings of God against the obstinate rebels. In doing whereof (albeit, as God knoweth, I am no malicious nor obstinate sinner), I sometimes am wounded knowing myself to be criminal and guilty in many, yea, in all things … that I reprehend in others. Judge not, mother, that I write these things, debasing myself otherwise than I am-no, I am worse than my pen can express.

In body you think I am no adulterer. Let so be, but the heart is infected with foul lusts, and it will lust although I lament ever so much.  Externally I commit no idolatry, but my wicked heart loveth itself and cannot be refrained from vain imaginations, yea, not from such as were the fountain of all idolatry.  I am no man-killer with my hands, but I help not my needy brother so liberally as I may and ought.  I steal not horse, money, or clothes from my neighbor, …….".  John Knox provoked rulers, incited riots, and inspired a reformation in Scotland.

R. Tudur Jones is professor of history at Bangor University, Wales. He is author of The Great Reformation (1985).

As sinful men and women are exposed to the character of God in their minds through the Holy Spirit, this magnifies their awareness of their own sinfulness.  Since mankind is not fully re-created in mind until Christ's second coming, those who follow God will experience a continual battle between good and evil.  It is through surrender to the spirit that the evil propensities are avoided.  But until Christ comes, the battle will continue to rage in the Christian mind. 

The apostle Paul experienced this very battle,  as did John Knox, when he said' "the things that I would do, I don't do but the things that I don't want to do, this is what I do."  This led him to exclaim, "Oh! Wretched man that I am……!"  Paul then explains that while this is the way he feels, the reality in Christ is one of forgiveness so long as human beings we are prepared to acknowledge before God our frailty and propensity to fall into our natural sinful ways.  So long as we claim the promises of repentance and forgiveness and press on in the Lord, our human failures are not counted as sin or wrong doing in God's sight. The warning goes out to us all from scripture, "if you think you are without sin, the spirit of God is not within you…".  This is a warning to us all that if we are not aware of our sinfulness, we do not have the spirit of God speaking to us through his Spirit in our mind.  The Holy Spirit speaking to our mind is known as the New Covenant; the law or character of God in our mind. 

So with this understanding, we can reconcile the behaviour of John Knox, the thundering Jeremiah of the reformation.  A mighty man who fought a mighty battle in his own life, through the Holy Spirit, and at the same time on behalf of God faced the forces of Lucifer head on in public.

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 32 - December 2009 / January 2010 > A History of the Christian Church - Part Twenty One