John Knox Trumpets Protestantism

John Knox died on November 25 in 1572.

The exact date of his birth, even the year, is unknown. Biographers range from 1505 to 1514, but nobody knows for sure. His birth is generally accepted to be at Giffordgate, 16 miles east of Edinburgh, in 1513 to 1514.

John entered the University of Glasgow in 1522, where he studied under John Major, one of the greatest scholars of the time. In 1540 he was already ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Church and that he was a priest before he was 25 years of age.

John’s conversion to the Protestant faith likely came through the influence of George Wishart, the leader among the Scottish reformers, who met him in late 1545 and was burned at the stake shortly afterward. Wishart met Knox in December 1545.

John then spent some months as bodyguard (“drawn sword in hand”) to George Wishart. But on 29 February, 1546, Wishart was martyred.

John Knox was first called to the Protestant ministry at St. Andrews, which was throughout his life intimately associated with the Reformer’s career. The castle of St Andrews was attacked in July 1547 and Knox was arrested by the Roman Catholic authorities. Thus it was for 18 months that Knox found himself as a galley-slave on a French ship, the “Notre Dame”. The experience permanently injured his health.

In 1549 we find him preaching up a storm both in the British Isles and on the Continent. He then spent some years in Geneva, where Calvin was exercising a remarkable influence.

Knox returned to his native land “a Calvinist of the Calvinists”, and found himself in head-on collision with the Roman Catholic queen. When Mary, Queen of Scots, had mass celebrated in her palace chapel, the “thundering Scot” made known his feelings on this ‘sin of idolatry’ from the pulpit of St Giles.

His denunciations of the mass and Roman Catholicism in general did much to bring about a law, passed by the Scottish Parliament on 1 August, 1560, establishing Protestantism as the religion of that country. It is probably true to say that Knox was a stern man, but he lived in an age that needed someone of his character to stem the inroads of Romanism.

Among his writings are: “History of the Reformation in Scotland”, “Against the Monstrous Rule of Women” and a long and elaborate treatise on predestination published in 1560.

Shortly before his death he asked his wife to read him John 17 – “for that is where I first cast my anchor”.

At his graveside the Earl of Mortoun, regent of Scotland, in the presence of an immense funeral procession, declared: “Here lyeth a man who in his life never feared the face of man, who hath been often threatened with dagger, but yet hath ended his dayes in peace and honour.”

Speaking of John Knox, Thomas Carlyle said: “And to be sure there is a power in unswerving conviction that inevitably arrests the attention of both men and nations. There is an almost indescribable appeal that attaches itself to uncompromising vision and principled passion. This fact was undoubtedly illustrated quite vividly all throughout the life and work of John Knox.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Jacob Arminius in Pursuit of Doctrinal Truth

This is the day that … Jacob Arminius was born in 1560.

Born Jacob Harmenszoon in Oudewater, Holland, the death of his father during Jacob’s infancy devastated the middle-class family. Then the Spanish massacre of Oudewater in 1575 claimed the lives of his mother and siblings.

Raised by friends, he eventually Latinized his name, after a 1st Century Germanic leader who resisted the Romans. Thus the Arminius name became a rallying point for those who resist Calvinist teachings, as Jacob did during his life.

During his studies he spent time in Geneva from 1592, under Beza, the 62 year-old who succeeded Calvin. Beza is responsible for introducing into Calvinist thought the particular emphases of predestination, the sovereignty of God and various ritualistic practices.

He later returned to Amsterdam and pastored the Old Church congregation. In 1590 he married the aristocratic Lijsbet Reael who ensured he kept close contact with the most influential merchants and leaders of the city.

He ministered in Amsterdam for 15 years and in Leiden for 6. He practiced his belief that being a pastor does more for the minister’s holiness than engagement in theological wrangling.

During that time he began to question the distinctive teachings of John Calvin, of which Holland was a stronghold.

Aminius left the pastorate and became Professor of Theology at Leiden, where his attack on Calvin’s view of predestination led to violent controversy.  The student body and Reformed pastors became polarised over the issue.

After his death in 1609 his followers issued a “Remonstrance” – so called because it remonstrated with Calvin’s teaching.  And the Reformed churches countered with their “Synod of Dort” condemning Arminians as heretics.

They were stormy days indeed, and in some circles today the battle still rages.

Note that Arminius had great regard for Calvin’s teachings in general. It seems that the points emphasised by Beza distorted something of the spirit of Calvin’s own insights. In affirmation of Calvin note this quote from Arminius. “I recommend that the Commentaries of Calvin be read…. For I affirm that in the interpretation of the Scriptures Calvin is incomparable and that his Commentaries are more to be valued than anything that is handed to us in the writings of the Fathers.”

Note too that Arminius, although a highly intellectual and widely studied man, was not distracted with theology for its own sake. His sole ambition was “to inquire in the Holy Scriptures for divine truth…for the purpose of winning some souls for Christ.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Felix Neff Spends Himself in the High Alps

This is the day that … Felix Neff was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1798. His father died when he was young and his mother denied him expressions of motherly affection, hoping to increase his manliness. She was a deist, having no interest in worship of God, yet her son displayed a ready keenness for worship and faith.

Despite his religious interests and attendance he was not converted until he read Honey from the Rock by Thomas Willcock. He was struck by the fact that he could bring nothing to God and yet receive everything from Him. He wrote in the book, “Felix Neff has found peace here on these two pages”.

He went on to various forms of ministry, but his serious approach to religion did not go down well with those more given to wordliness. After 2 years of ministry in France, facing various oppositions, he, at the age of 24, was ready to commence his remarkable ministry in the French Alps.

He appreciated the chance to minister where he did not have to confront the shallow state of other ministers.

From village to village he travelled – “in dead of winter through drifts, the thunder of avalanches alone awakening the alpine stillness.  In four years he did not sleep five nights successively in the same place.  His stomach was destroyed by poor food and the irregularity of meal times.  He was always alone …” (A Book of Protestant Saints, by E. Gordon, page 201).

But he persevered.  He saw a “marked improvement in the moral life of the people” as they responded to his Christian teaching.  He introduced irrigation, taught better methods of potato culture, worked alongside the men of the village, helped build school houses – and even founded a teachers’ training college.

He became known as “the Apostle of the High Alps” of France. He described the conditions of the people thus. “The work of an evangelist in High Alps greatly resembles that of a missionary among the savages; the almost equal degree of uncivilization that prevails among them both, being a great obstacle to missionary labours. Among the valleys, under my charge, that of Freyssinieres is the most backward. Architecture, agriculture, education of every sort is in its very earliest infancy.”

However he did see revival there. “All the people seemed to give themselves up to reading, meditation and prayer; the young people especially seemed animated by a holy spirit; a heavenly flame appeared to have communicated itself from one to another. I had scarcely thirty hours’ rest during the week.”

And on his deathbed he wrote his final letter:  “I ascend to our Father in entire peace.  Victory!  Victory!  Through Jesus Christ.”

Felix Neff died at the age of 31.

Neff is called by some the David Brainerd of the High Alps. He had much in common with Brainerd. Both laboured in primitive conditions. Both were young. Both came to their field of labour under a cloud of misrepresentation. Both were highly self-sacrificing. Both remained unmarried. Both died at an early age from over-exertion under conditions of extreme hardship. Both experienced a work of reviving grace. Both were men of prayer.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

William Farel Brings Calvin to Geneva

This is the day that … William Farel died in 1565.

Farel started his religious career as a disciple of Catholic priest Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples, who promoted reform within the Catholic Church. When Farel’s ideas became more strident he left for Switzerland.

He brought the teaching of the Reformers to Geneva (Switzerland) – even rejoicing to see the Town Council pronounce Protestantism as the official religion! (21 May, 1536). Thus Geneva became the ‘Protestant Rome’.

When he heard that John Calvin, already famous as author of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, was passing through, Farel confronted the 27 year-old theologian in an inn.

He demanded that Calvin remain there and lead in the spiritual life of the city. Calvin replied that he was on his way to Germany to further his studies.

“May God curse your studies,” Farel replied vehemently, “if now in her time of need you refuse to lend your aid to His church.”

Calvin was struck with terror, as he himself later recorded. He stayed!

And with Farel at his side they led Geneva in what has been called “Reformed Theology”.

The strictures of the new Protestant Republic which Farel and Calvin drew up created negative reaction, and so they both ended up leaving Geneva in 1538. However Farel persisted in working to get Calvin back to Geneva to lead the Reformation process from there. This he succeeded in doing in 1541.

The Reformation Wall in Geneva features statues of four men: Farel, Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox. William Farel outlived Calvin by 15 months – dying at the age of 76.

His biographer writes: “Those who visited him in his last illness had a foretaste of Heaven. Christ had been magnified in his body, both by life and by death…”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Calvinism is Born

This is the day that … John Calvin was born in 1509, in Noyon, France.

He was to become the outstanding theologian of the Protestant Reformation … although not all Protestants would agree with some of his doctrines. But it must be confessed that many a giant of Christian history acknowledges the impact of Calvinism upon his life. Knox, Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and James Packer are names that immediately spring to mind. “The longer I live,” wrote Spurgeon, “the clearer does it appear that John Calvin’s system (of theology) is the nearest to perfection.”

Calvin was one of the few reformers who were not an ex-priest. He studied law in France – had a “sudden conversion” in his early 20’s, and in 1536 published the first edition of his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion. This volume has been described as among the “world’s 10 most influential works”.

From 1541 until his death (on 27 May, 1564), Calvin dominated the social and religious life of Geneva … despite the fact that he held no government position, nor was an actual citizen until 1559.

From the pulpit of St Peter’s Cathedral he preached his way through book after book of Holy Writ, lecturing to theological students and preaching five times a week. Taken down by a stenographer, these messages have found their way into print. There is a commentary on every book of the Bible – except Revelation! For example, Calvin preached 200 consecutive sermons on the book of Deuteronomy – published by Banner of Truth in a 1,300 page facsimile edition of the 1583 original.

It was said by his friend, Beza, that when Calvin preached “every word weighed a pound”.

Harsh discipline was meted out (at least, by today’s standards) to law-breakers, a system of education was devised, a prosperous trade in cloth and velvet was established with other countries, even a sewerage system was introduced that made Geneva “one of the cleanest cities in Europe” (Who’s Who in Christian History, page 131).

And his Institutes grew from six chapters to 79.

W. Stanford Reid writes that Calvin became “the dominant figure of the Protestant Reformation in the middle of the (16th) century” (John Calvin – His Influence in the Western World) – an assessment surely none would question.

When he died in 1564 he was buried in a common cemetery without a headstone, according to his wishes. His gravesite is unknown to this day (Christian History magazine, Volume 5/4).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.