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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 10 — The last days of Queen Mary and John Knox

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Prosperous Events — Ratification of the Protestant Establishment by Parliament — Culmination of Scottish Reformation — Knox Wishes to Retire -- New Storms — Knox Retires to St. Andrews — Knox in the Pulpit — Tulchan Bishops — Knox's Opposition to the Scheme -- The St. Bartholomew Massacre -- Knox's Prediction — His Last Appearance in the Pulpit -- Final End of Mary's Crimes — Darnley — Rizzio — Kirk-of- Field — Marriage with Bothwell — Carberry Hill — Lochleven Castle — Battle of Langside — Flight to England — Execution — Mary the Last Survivor of her Partners in Crime — Last Illness of Knox -- His Death — His Character

The dangerous crisis was now past, and a tide of prosperous events began to set in, in favor of the Scottish Reformation. The rising of the Earl of Huntly, in the north who, knowing the court to be secretly favorable, had unfurled the standard for Rome — was suppressed. The alienation which had parted Knox and Lord James Stuart, now Earl of Murray, for two years was healed; the Protestant spirit in the provinces was strengthened by the preaching tours undertaken by the Reformer; the jealousies between the court and the Church, though not removed, were abated; the abdication of the queen, which grew out of the deplorable occurrences that followed her marriage with Darnley, and to which our attention must briefly be given, seeing they were amongst the most powerful of the causes which turned the balance between Protestantism and Romanism, not in Scotland only, but over Europe; and, as a consequence of her abdication, the appointment, as regent of the kingdom, of the Earl of Murray, the intimate friend of Knox, and the great outstanding patriot and Reformer among the Scottish nobles -- all tended in one direction, to the establishment, namely, of the Scottish Reformation. Accordingly, in 1567, the infant James being king, and Murray regent, the Parliament which met on the 15th of December ratified all the Acts that had been passed in 1560, abolishing the Papal jurisdiction, and accepting the Protestant faith as the religion of the nation. Valid legal securities were thus for the first time reared around the Protestant Church of Scotland. It was further enacted, "That no prince should afterwards be admitted to the exercise of authority in the kingdom, without taking an oath to maintain the Protestant religion; and that none but Protestants should be admitted to any office, with the exception of those that were hereditary, or held for life. The ecclesiastical jurisdiction, exercised by the Assemblies of the Church, was formally ratified, and commissioners appointed to define more exactly the causes which came within the sphere of their judgment." [1]

The Scottish Reformation had now reached its culmination in that century, and from this point Knox could look back over the battles he had waged, and the toils he had borne, and contemplate with thankfulness their issue in the overthrow of the Papal tyranny, and the establishment of a Scriptural faith in Scotland. He had, too, received legal guarantees from the State that the abolished jurisdiction would not be restored, and that the Protestant Church would have liberty and protection given it in the exercise of its worship and the administration of its discipline. The two years that followed, 1568 and 1569, were perhaps the happiest in the Reformer's life, and the most prosperous in the history of his country during that century. Under the energetic and patriotic administration of the "Good Regent" Scotland enjoyed quiet. The Reformed Church was enlarging her borders; all was going well; and that yearning for rest which often visits the breasts of those who have been long tossed by tempests, began to be felt by Knox. He remembered the quiet years at Geneva, the loving flock to whom he had there ministered the Word of Life, and he expressed a wish to return thither and spend the evening of his life, and lay his wearied body, it might be, by the side of greater dust in the Plain-palais.

But it was not to be so. Other storms were to roll over him and over his beloved Church before he should descend into his grave. The assassination of the Regent Murray, in January, 1570, was the forerunner of these evils. The tidings of his death occasioned to Knox the most poignant anguish, but great as was his own loss, he regarded it as nothing in comparison with the calamity which had befallen the country in the murder of this great patriot and able administrator. Under the Earl of Lennox, who succeeded Murray as regent, the former confusions returned, and they continued under Mar, by whom Lennox was succeeded. The nobles were divided into two factions, one in favor of Mary, while the other supported the cause of the young king. In the midst of these contentions the life of the Reformer came to be in so great danger that it was thought advisable that he should remove from Edinburgh, and take up his residence for some time at St. Andrews. Here he often preached, and though so feeble that he had to be lifted up into the pulpit, before the sermon had ended his earnestness and vehemence were such that, in the words of an eye-witness, "He was like to ding the pulpit in blads [2] and flie out of it."

Weary of the world, and longing to depart, he had nevertheless to wage battle to the very close of his life. His last years were occupied in opposing the introduction into the Presbyterian Church of an order of bishop known only to Scotland, and termed Tulchan. [3] Several rich benefices had become vacant by the death of the incumbents, and other causes; and the nobles, coveting these rich living, entered into simoniacal bargains with the least worthy of the ministers, to the effect that they should fill the post, but that the patron should receive the richest

portion of the income: hence the term Tulchan Bishops. Knox strongly objected to the institution of the new order of ecclesiastics — first, because he held it a robbery of the Church's patrimony; and secondly, because it was an invasion on the Presbyterian equality which had been settled in the Scottish Kirk. His opposition delayed the completion of this disgraceful arrangement, which was not carried through till the year in which he died.

In August, 1572, he returned to Edinburgh, and soon thereafter received the news of the St. Bartholomew Massacre. We need not say how deeply he was affected by a crime that drowned France in Protestant blood, including that of many of his own personal friends. Kindling into prophet-like fire, he foretold from the pulpit of St. Giles's a future of revolutions as awaiting the royal house and throne of France; and his words, verily, have not fallen to the ground.

His last appearance in public was on the 9th of November, 1572, when he preached in the Tolbooth Church on occasion of the installation of Mr. Lawson as his colleague and successor. At the close of the service, as if he felt that no more should flock see their pastor, or pastor address his flock, he protested, in the presence of Him to whom he expected soon to give an account, that he had walked among them with a good conscience, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all sincerity, and he exhorted and charged them to adhere steadfastly to the faith which they had professed. The services at an end, he descended the pulpit-stairs, with exhausted yet cheerful look, and walked slowly down the High Street leaning on the arm of his servant, Richard Bannatyne; his congregation lining the way, reverently anxious to have their last look of their beloved pastor. He entered his house never again to pass over its threshold, [4] was meet he should now depart, for the shadows were falling thickly, not around himself only, but around Christendom.

While the events we have so rapidly narrated were in progress, Mary Stuart, the other great figure of the time, was pursuing her career, and it is necessary that we should follow — not in their detail, for that is not necessary for our object, but in their outline and issue — a series of events of which she was the center, and which were acting with marked and lasting effect on both Romanism and Protestantism. We have repeatedly referred to the league of the three Papal Powers France, Spain, and Rome — to quench the new light which was then dawning on the nations, and bring back the night on the face of all the earth. We have also said that of this plot Mary Stuart had become the center, seeing the part assigned her was essential to its success. It is surely a most instructive fact, that the series of frightful crimes into which this prince as plunged was one of the main instrumentaries that Providence employed to bring this plot to nought. From the day that Mary Stuart put her hand to this bond of blood, the tide in her fortunes turned, and all things went against her. First came her sudden and ill-starred affection for Lord Darnley, the son of the Earl of Lennox; then followed her marriage with him, accomplished through treachery, and followed by civil war. The passion which Mary felt for Darnley, a weak, vain, and frivolous youth, and addicted to low company, soon gave place to disgust. Treated with neglect by her husband, Mary was thrown upon others, and then came her worse than unseemly intimacy with the low-born and low-bred Italian, David Rizzio. This awakened a fierce and revengeful jealousy in the breast of Darnley, which led to the midnight assassination in the palace. A band of vizored barons, with naked swords, suddenly appeared in the supper-chamber of the queen, and seizing her favorite, and loosening his grasp on the dress of his mistress, which he had clutched in despair, they dragged him out, and dispatched him in the ante-chamber, his screams ringing in the ears of the queen, who was held back by force from rescuing him. Then came the settled purpose of revenge in the heart of Mary Stuart against her husband, for his share in the murder of Rizzio. This purpose, concealed for a time under an affectation of tender love, the more effectually to lure the vain and confiding Lord Darnley into the snare she had set for him, was steadily and coolly pursued, till at last it was consummated in the horrible tragedy of the "Kirk-of-Field." The lurid blaze which lighted the sky of Edinburgh that night, and the shock that roused its sleeping citizens from their beds, bring upon the stage new actors, and pave the way for outrages that startle the imagination and stupefy the moral sense. Darnley has disappeared, and now an infamous and bloody man starts up by the side of Mary Stuart.

There comes next, her strange passion for Bothwell, a man without a single spark of chivalry or honor in him — coarse-minded, domineering, with an evil renown haning about him for deeds of violence and blood, and whose gross features and badly-molded limbs did not furnish Mary with the poor apology of manly beauty for the almost insane passion for him to which she abandoned herself. Then, before the blood of her husband was dry, and the ruins of the Kirk-of-Field had ceased to smoke, came her marriage with Bothwell, whom the nation held to be the chief perpetrator of the cruel murder of her former husband. To take in marriage that hand which had spilt her husband's blood was to confess in act what even she dared not confess in words. From this moment her fatuous career becomes more reckless, and she rushes onward with awful speed towards the goal.

Aghast at such a career, and humiliated by being ruled over

by such a sovereign, her subjects broke out in insurrection. The queen flew to arms; she was defeated on the field of Carberry Hill and brought as a captive to Edinburgh; thence sent to Lochleven Castle, where she endured a lonely imprisonment of some months. Escaping thence, she fled on horseback all night long, and at morning presented herself at the castle-gates of the Hamiltons. Here she rallied round her the supporters whom her defeat had scattered, and for the last time tried the fortune of arms against her subjects on the field of Langside, near Glasgow. The battle went against her, and she fled a second time, riding night and day across country towards the Border, where, fording the Solway, she bade adieu to Scottish soil, nevermore to return. She had left her country behind, not her evil genius, nor her ill-fortune; these, as a terrible Nemesis, accompany her into England. There, continuing to be the principal card in the game the Popish Powers were playing, she was drawn to conspire against the life and throne of Elizabeth. It was now that doom overtook her. On a dull winter morning, on the 8th of February, she who had dazzled all eyes by her beauty, all imaginations by her liveliness and gaiety, and who had won so many hearts by her fascinating address -- the daughter of a king, the wife of a king, and the mother of a king, and who herself had sat on two thrones — laid her head, now discrowned, gray with sorrows, and stained with crimes, upon the block. At the very time that the Armada was being built in the dockyards of Spain, and an immense host was being collected in the Netherlands, with the view of making vacant Elizabeth's throne, and elevating Mary Stuart to it, the head of the latter princess fell on the scaffold.

It is noteworthy that Queen Mary survived all who had been actors along with her in the scenes of crime and blood in which she had so freely mingled. Before she herself mounted the scaffold, she had seen all who had sided with her in Scotland against Knox and the Reformation, die on the gallows or in the field. Before her last hour came the glory of the House of Hamilton had been tarnished, and the member of that house who fired the shot that deprived Scotland of her "Good Regent" had to seek asylum in France. Kirkaldy of Grange, who espoused Mary's quarrel at the last hour, and held the Castle of Edinburgh in her behalf, was hanged at the Market Cross; and Maitland of Lethington, who had lent the aid of his powerful talents to the queen to bring Knox to the block, died, it is supposed, by his own hand, after living to witness the utter wreck of all Mary's interests in Scotland. Bothwell, who had stained his life and conscience with so many horrid deeds to serve her, rotted for years in a foreign dungeon, and at last expired there. The same fatality attended all in other lands who took part with her or embarked in her schemes. Her co-conspirators in England came to violent ends. The Earls of Westmoreland and Northumberland were executed. The Duke of Norfolk, the premier peer, was beheaded in the Tower. All concerned in the Babington plot were swept off by the ax. In France it was the same. Her uncles had died violent and bloody deaths; Charles IX expired, blood flowing from every opening in his body; Catherine de Medici, after all her crimes, trod the same road; and last of all Mary herself went to her great audit. As she stands this dark morning beside the block in Fotheringay Castle, it could hardly fail to put a double sting into death to reflect that she had seen the ruin of all her friends, and the utter overthrow of all her projects, while the Reformation against which she had so sorely combated was every year striking its roots deeper in her native land.

From this blood-stained block, with the headless corpse of a queen beside it, we turn to another death-scene, tragic too — not with horrors, as the other, but with triumph. We stand in a humble chamber at the foot of the High Street of Edinburgh. Here, on this bed, is laid that head over which so many storms had burst, to find at last the rest which, wearied with toil and anxiety, it had so earnestly sought. Noblemen, ministers, burgesses pour in to see how Knox will die. As he had lived so he dies, full of courage. From his dying bed he exhorted, warned, admonished all who approached him as he had done from the pulpit. His brethren in the ministry he adjured to "abide by the eternal truth of the Gospel." Noblemen and statesmen he counseled to uphold the "Evangel" and not forsake the Church of their native land, if they would have God not to strip them of their riches and honors. He made Calvin's sermons on the Ephesians be read to him, as if his spirit sought to commune once more on earth with that mightier spirit.

But the Scriptures were the manna on which he mostly lived: "Turn," said he to his wife, "to that passage where I first cast anchor, the seventeenth of the Gospel of John." In the midst of these solemn scenes, a gleam of his wonted geniality breaks in. Two intimate friends come to see him, and he makes a cask of French wine which was in his cellar be pierced for their entertainment, and hospitably urges them to partake, saying that "he will not tarry till it be all drunk." He was overheard breathing out short utterances in prayer: "Give peace to this afflicted commonwealth; raise up faithful pastors." On the day before his death, being Sunday, after lying some time quiet, he suddenly broke out, "I have fought against spiritual wickedness in heavenly

things," referring to the troubled state of the Church, "and have prevailed; I have been in heaven and taken possession, I have tasted of the heavenly joys." At eleven o'clock in the evening of the 24th of November, he heaved a deep sigh, and ejaculated, "Now it is come." His friends desired of him a sign that he died in peace, whereupon, says the chronicler of his last hours, "As if he had received new strength in death, he lifted one of his hands towards heaven, and sighing twice, departed with the calmness of one fallen into sleep." [5]

The two master-qualities of Knox were faith and courage. The fundamental quality was his faith, courage was the noble fruit that sprang from it. The words of Regent Morton, spoken over his dust, have become proverbial, "There lies one who never feared the face of man." John Knox never feared man because he never mistrusted God. His faith taught him, first of all, a fearless submission of his understanding to the Word of God. To this profound submission to the Bible we can trace all the noble and rare qualities which he displayed in his life. To this was owing the simplicity, the clearness and the vigor of all his views, his uniform consistency, and that remarkable foresight which to his countrymen appeared to approach almost to prophecy. Looking along the lines of the Divine government, as revealed in the Scriptures, he could fortell what would inevitably be the issue of a certain course of conduct or a certain train of events. It might come sooner or it might come later, but he no more doubted that it would come than he doubted the uniformity and equity of God's rule over men.

To this too, namely, his submission to the Bible, was owing at once the solidity and the breadth of his Reform. Instead of trammeling himself by forms he threw himself fearlessly and broadly upon great principles. He spread his Reformation over the whole of society, going down till he had reached its deepest springs, and traveling outwards till he had regenerated his country in all departments of its action, and in all the spheres of its well-being. He was all advocate of constitutional government, and a friend, as we have seen, of the highest and widest intellectual culture. It is no proof of narrowness, surely, but of insight and breadth, that he discerned the true foundation on which to build in order that his Reformation might endure and extend itself, he placed it upon the Bible. His wide and patriotic views on public liberty and education, which he held and inculcated, we gratefully acknowledge; but the great service which he rendered to Scotland was the religious one — he gave it liberty by giving it the "Evangel." It would have but little availed Scotsmen in the nineteenth century if Knox had wrought up their fathers to a little political enthusiasm, but had failed to lead them to the Bible, that great awakening of the human soul, and bulwark of the rights of conscience. If this had been all, the Scots, after a few abortive attempts, like those of misguided France, to reconcile political freedom with spiritual servitude, would assuredly have fallen back under the old yoke, and would have been lying at this day in the gulf of "Papistrie." Discarding this narrow visionary project, Knox grasped the one eternal principle of liberty, the government of the human conscience by the Bible, and planting his Reformation upon this great foundation-stone, he endowed it with the attribute of durability.

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Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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