John Knox: Fearless Faith by Steven Lawson. Christian Focus Publications. 128 pages. 2015
I have very much enjoyed Steven Lawson’s short A Long Line of Godly Men series biographies published by Reformation Trust, the latest of which is on William Tyndale. This new biography is not part of that series but is in every way identical to those books (which already had a biography of John Knox written by Douglas Bond). Lawson dedicates this book to his “fellow laborer and friend” Sinclair Ferguson. It was encouraging to see Lawson sitting in the first row at Saint Andrews Chapel on February 22 when Dr. Ferguson preached on Galatians 2:20.
This book is in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Knox, born 1514. He is known as “the Father of the Scottish Reformation” and “the Founder of the Scottish Protestant Church”. Martyn Lloyd-Jones called Knox the founder of the English Puritan movement.
Lawson writes: “If Martin Luther was the hammer of the Reformation and John Calvin the pen, John Knox was the trumpet”.
Lawson tells us that Knox was ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church by the Bishop of Dunblane in April, 1536, and that by the end of March 1543 he was committed to the Christian gospel. George Wishar was a powerful Reformed preacher who began a preaching itinerancy in southern Scotland. Knox became one of his closest disciples and followers. From Wishart, Knox learned boldness and courage in ministry, as well as faithfulness to Reformed doctrine in preaching.
Lawson recounts the details of Knox’s life and ministry in this fast moving account of his life as England and Scotland go from Roman Catholic to Protestant leadership. You will read about Knox as a pastor and his friendship with John Calvin in Geneva. Knox sat under the teaching of Calvin and also studied Greek and Hebrew in Geneva.
You will read about him serving as a galley slave in the hull of a French battleship for nineteen months, during which there were repeated efforts made by his French captors to drive Knox back to Catholicism. You’ll read about his many confrontations with Scotland’s brutal Roman Catholic Queen Mary, known as “Bloody Mary”. Lawson writes: “Throughout Knox’s tempestuous life, this rugged Scot was never any bolder than when he stood before Mary, Queen of Scots. Whenever summoned to appear in her royal presence, Knox asserted that he spoke to her in God’s presence. He never once backed down from her, nor did he ever hesitate to speak frankly. Knox was raised up by God to be the primary instrument in the preservation of the Protestant cause in Scotland.”
Knox was married to Marjory. In December 1560, she would die at only twenty-seven years of age. She left behind their two young sons, Nathanael and Eleazar. His mother-in-law, Mrs. Bowes, would continue to live in the household and assist in raising the children. On Palm Sunday, 25 March 1564, Knox married his second wife, Margaret Stewart, the daughter of his old friend Lord Ochiltree. Knox was aged fifty and Margaret just seventeen. During the sixteenth century, this age discrepancy was not uncommon. Margaret Stewart would bear Knox three daughters and would survive her husband by some forty years.
Knox was associated with a new English version of the Bible known as the Geneva Bible. This translation would be the Bible of choice for the Reformers and Puritans during the next century and the Bible that the Pilgrims would take to the New World in 1620. In 1995, R.C. Sproul would serve as the General Editor for the New Geneva Study Bible (later renamed as The Reformation Study Bible).
Lawson concludes the book with the lasting impact of John Knox: “The strong character of John Knox’s ministry of the Word resonates across the centuries. The commitments described below are worthy guideposts for later generations of preachers as well.
- First, Knox believed he had been personally called by God to preach the Word.
- Second, Knox believed that the Bible is the infallible Word of the living God.
- Third, Knox was profoundly aware that on the last day, he must give an account of himself as a preacher to the One who had called him into the ministry. This sobering reality filled him with reverential awe for God and made him unshakable before men and women. Because Knox feared God, he did not fear humans. He preached so strongly because he feared God so deeply.
- Fourth, Knox was gifted with a brilliant mind, which he devoted to the diligent study of Scripture.
- Fifth, Knox often preached through entire books of the Bible, or at least through extended sections of them.
- Sixth, Knox was firmly committed in his preaching to the sound doctrine of the Reformers.
- Seventh, Knox strongly asserted the absolute sovereignty of God over all things.
- Eighth, Knox believed that the highest aim of preaching the Scripture must be the proclamation of Jesus Christ.
- Ninth, Knox was known as a fiery preacher of the Word of God.
- Tenth, Knox was a preacher who regularly petitioned God in prayer to bless the proclamation of His Word.”
If you are looking for a great biography to read, check out John Knox: Fearless Faith by Steven Lawson.
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Studies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary last year I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London. This week we look at Chapter Five: Blessed are They That Mourn.
- This, like the first, stands out at once, and marks off the Christian as being quite unlike the man who is not a Christian and who belongs to the world.
- Once more it is clear, that we have here something which is entirely spiritual in its meaning.
- Those who are commended are those who mourn in spirit; they, says our Lord, are the happy people.
- This description of the Christian as one who `mourns’ is one that makes us feel that somehow or another this is not as evident in the Church today as it once was.
- The explanation of this is fairly obvious. It is partly a reaction against the kind of false puritanism that is often manifested itself in an assumed piety. It almost gave the impression that to be religious was to be miserable.
- But I also think that another explanation of this is the idea which has gained currency that if we as Christians are to attract those who are not Christian we must deliberately affect an appearance of brightness and joviality. Probably that is the main explanation of the absence of this characteristic of mourning in the life of the Church today.
- The final explanation of the state of the Church today is a defective sense of sin and it defective doctrine of sin. Coupled with that, of course, is a failure to understand the true nature of Christian joy. There is the double failure.
- There is not the real, deep conviction of sin as was once the case; and on the other hand there is this superficial conception of joy and happiness which is very different indeed from that which we find in the New Testament.
- Those who are going to be converted and who wish to be truly happy and blessed are those who first of all mourn. Conviction is an essential preliminary to true conversion.
- Let us start, for instance, with our Lord Himself. One thing we observe is that we have no record anywhere that He ever laughed.
- We are told He was to be a `man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’, that His visage would be so marred that none would desire Him. That is the prophecy concerning Him, and as you look at these accounts of Him in the New Testament Gospels you will see that the prophecy was literally fulfilled.
- To `mourn’ is something that follows of necessity from being `poor in spirit’. It is quite inevitable. As I confront God and His holiness, and contemplate the life that I am meant to live, I see myself, my utter helplessness and hopelessness. I discover my quality of spirit and immediately that makes me mourn.
- The man who is truly Christian is a man who mourns also because of the sins of others. He does not stop at himself. He sees the same thing in others.
- The man who mourns is really happy, says Christ; that is the paradox.
- The man who truly mourns because of his sinful state and condition is a man who is going to repent;
- And the man who truly repents as the result of the work of the Holy Spirit upon him, is a man who is certain to be led to the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Having seen his utter sinfulness and hopelessness, he looks for a Saviour, and he finds Him in Christ. No-one can truly know Him as his personal Saviour and Redeemer unless he has first of all known what it is to mourn.
- If we truly mourn, we shall rejoice, we shall be made happy, we shall be comforted.
- Your great sorrow leads to joy, and without the sorrow there is no joy.
- The man who mourns truly is comforted and is happy; and thus the Christian life is spent in this way, mourning and joy, sorrow and happiness, and the one should lead to the other immediately.
- He knows there is a glory coming; he knows that a day will dawn when Christ will return, and sin will be banished from the earth. There will be `new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness’. 0 blessed hope! ‘Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.’
- But what hope has the man who does not believe these things? What hope has the man who is not a Christian?
- There is no comfort for the world now. But for the Christian man who mourns because of sin and because of the state of the world, there is this comfort-the comfort of the blessed hope, the glory that yet remains.
- He is a man who looks at life seriously; he contemplates it spiritually, and he sees in it sin and its effects. He is a serious, sober-minded man. His outlook is always serious, but because of these views which he has, and his understanding of truth, he also has `a joy unspeakable and full of glory’.
- The Christian is not superficial in any sense, but is fundamentally serious and fundamentally happy.
- A deep doctrine of sin, a high doctrine of joy, and the two together produce this blessed, happy man who mourns, and who at the same time is comforted. The way to experience that, obviously, is to read the Scriptures, to study and meditate upon them, to pray to God for His Spirit to reveal sin in us to ourselves, and then to reveal to us the Lord Jesus Christ in all His fullness.