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.

Martin Luther Nails His Theses to the Door

This is the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenburg in 1517, and, let it be said, nailed his colours to the mast at the same time!

Every one of those 95 arguments – for that’s what they were – was aimed against the infamous doctrine of “indulgences”, and he even expected Papal support for his crusade against this unholy traffic (Documents of the Christian Church, page 260). Instead the wrath of Rome descended upon him.

Reformation Day – “The most momentous day, as yet, in the history of Europe” is how Basil Atkinson describes it (Valiant in Fight, page 128).

Pope Leo X had sent Johann Tetzel to Germany to raise money for the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. To do that Tetzel marched through the streets with his entourage – a drummer calling the people to come and hear this amazing ditty:
Once the coin in the coffer rings
A soul from purgatory heavenward springs.

Official indulgence certificates were sold – authorised by the Pope himself – declaring that the purchaser could go immediately to Heaven at death, bypassing purgatory on the way. Or an indulgence could be bought for a departed loved one, thus delivering them from purgatorial fires.

Luther’s protest included such sallies as the following:

No. 21: “Those preachers of indulgences are in error who allege that through the indulgence of the Pope, a man is freed from every penalty.”

No. 27: “Those who assert that a soul straightway flies out (of purgatory) as a coin tinkles in the collection box are preaching an invention of man.”

No. 37: “Any true Christian living or dead partakes of all the benefits of Christ and the Church, which is the gift of God, even without letters of pardon.”

No. 52: “Confidence in salvation through letters of indulgence is vain … even if the Pope himself should pledge his soul as a guarantee.”

No. 66: “The treasures of indulgences are nets, with which they now fish for the riches of men.”

No. 86: “The Pope’s riches at this day far exceed the wealth of the richest millionaires, cannot he therefore build one single basilica of St Peter out of his own money, rather than out of the money of the faithful poor?”

And so the die was cast. The Church of Rome took action. Luther remained adamant. The Protestant Reformation was under way.

And many a Protestant church (though alas, not as many as should) will give thanks to God this day for the brave stand taken by Martin Luther.

The Roman Church still teaches the value of indulgences to enable one to bypass the torments of purgatory, though not, let it be confessed, as blatantly as Tetzel propagated the doctrine.

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.

Lyman Beecher Heads West to Train Evangelists

This is the day that … Lyman Beecher was born in Connecticut, in 1775.

He has been described as “the father of more brains than any other man in America”, a reference to his 13 children.  These included the famous preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, and the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe.  As a matter of fact, “all his sons were well known as preachers” (Concise Universal Biography, page 222).

But Rev. Lyman Beecher was a giant among giants himself. He was educated at Yale in the days when it was barely above a secondary school in its facilities. The students were of dubious character at times.

Beecher was appalled by the example of his peers, but found his ideal in Timothy Dwight, the new President of Yale. It was Dwight who stirred Yale into a religious fervor that led to many revivals in the next twenty-five years. Lyman graduated in 1797 and spent the next year in Yale Divinity School under the tutelage of Dwight as his mentor.

Ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1797, he pastored three large churches (Litchfield, Connecticut; Boston; and Cincinatti), was well known as a revivalist, an educator and a social reformer.  He brought revival but also controversy. His preaching on temperance was just one of the themes that offended his parishioners at times.

He was one of the founders of the American Bible Society and President of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinatti.

Initially he opposed Charles Finney’s new revival techniques and theology, but a few years later he admitted his worth and even invited Finney to hold meetings in Boston.  Lyman Beecher found himself in ‘hot water’ with his Presbyterian brethren who had little time for the famous revivalist.  After all, Finney taught “man was able to repent in response to God’s grace” (Dictionary of American Biography, page 38).

As a result Beecher was actually tried for heresy … but acquitted.

He was already one of America’s best known preachers by the age of 50, when he moved to Boston, seeking better payment for his skills and status.

His next move, to Cincinatti, was motivated by his concern to sure up protestant preaching where the Catholics and Unitarians had already made inroads. His years there were controversial. He used his Presidency of Lane Theological Seminary to train ministers to win the West for Protestantism.

An inveterate opponent of Roman Catholicism and Unitarianism, it is said that one of his fiery sermons apparently helped incite a mob “that resulted in the burning of a convent”.

During those years he was charged with acts of heresy, slander and hypocrisy by opposing religious factions. He resigned from Lane in 1850 and went to live with his son, Henry Ward Beecher, in Brooklyn, where he died on 10 January, 1863, after a long and stormy ministry.

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.

John Coleridge Patteson Reaches Melanesia

This is the date that … John Coleridge Patteson was speared to death, in 1871.

He was born in London on 1 April, 1827, to devout upper-class parents, his father being a lawyer of good repute. Educated at Eton, he was elected captain of the College cricket team. Because it was the custom to sing ‘bawdy songs’ at the Eton Eleven’s annual dinner he resigned in protest. The team saw that he was right, asked him to remain as captain, and forsook their foolish and evil practice.

Eventually he was ordained to the Church of England ministry (14 September, 1853), and turned his eyes to the need of missionaries in the South Seas. He formed a strong friendship with Bishop Selwyn, Bishop to New Zealand, and learned from him the challenges taking the gospel to Melanesia. The multiplicity of languages was a major hurdle. Selwyn came up with the plan of taking youths to Auckland to be trained and then returned to their own islands.

When Patteson was asked to help he gladly did so and in 1855 he sailed for New Zealand with Bishop Selwyn. From Auckland the missionaries used a newly built schooner, the Southern Cross.

On May 1, 1856 the Southern Cross set sail for Melanesia. The trip took them to 66 islands, including 81 landings, and enabled them to collect a handful of young men to train back in New Zealand.

He writes to his father concerning a school he established: “I have the jolliest little fellows – about seven of them – fellows scarcely too big to take on my knee and talk to about God and Heaven and Jesus Christ…” Not all the boys survived the relocation to Auckland and the colder weather they were exposed to.

Visits to the Melanesian islands were made difficult by past violence from white men, including the Spaniards in the 1500’s. The islands were also troubled by the current practice of gathering slaves for the cane fields of Fiji and Queensland. Cannibalism was practiced on some islands as well.

In 1861 he was consecrated as the first Bishop of Melanesia. The French settlements promoted the Catholic faith and brought some opposition to the Protestant work of Patteson and his associates.

It was on a visit to the lonely island of Nukapu in the New Hebrides that his martyrdom took place a decade later. Hostile natives killed him – “in revenge for five natives who had recently died at the hands of white men…” traders who had no interest in the things of God. Apparently a ship had arrived at the island painted to resemble Patteson’s schooner, the Southern Cross. The deceivers kidnapped men and killed scores of others. Patteson had five wounds in his chest and his head had been dreadfully battered, but his face still retained its customary placid smile.

Bishop Patteson died at the age of 44.

Patteson’s death was used to urge the Queen to stop the illegal slave trade, referred to as “Blackbirding”. Britains were forbidden to enslave men, but they took them by force, supposedly as employees. The Pacific Islanders Protection Act of 1872 resulted.

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.