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.

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.

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.

George Blaurock Initiates Re-Baptism

This is the day that … George Blaurock was burned to death, in 1529.

Blaurock was born Jörg vom Hause Jakob, in 1492 in Bonaduz, a village in Grisons, Switzerland.

An ex-Roman Catholic priest, he had been converted to Protestantism when he was about 34 years of age.

That same year Conrad Grebel debated Ulrich Zwingli on the issue of infant baptism. Both were Protestant, but Grebel had become convinced that baptism was for believers only. Zwingli held to the belief that children of Christians were to be baptised as infants, on the same basis that the Old Testament required circumcision. Nothing was resolved by the debate.

Blaurock (so named because of a blue coat he wore on one occasion) went to Zurich to consult with Zwingli, but was disappointed in him. He then met with Grebel and Felix Manz and resonated with their commitment to Biblical truth.

Blaurock was already married at this time, so it appears that he had already abandoned the non-biblical practices of the Catholic church.

In a meeting in which the small group discoursed on their commitment to Biblical practice, rather than church tradition, they were deeply moved by this new conviction and Blaurock asked to be baptised as a believer, as the New Testament recorded. Once George was baptised the others asked him to baptize them.

Thus George Blaurock not only became an associate of Grebel but instigated the practice of re-baptism, becoming a vigorous preacher in the newly formed Anabaptist movement. At the time this rebaptism was performed by pouring, rather than total immersion.

There followed “tireless evangelism” around Switzerland, and clashes with the followers of Zwingli. Eventually Blaurock was arrested (on 8 October, 1525), escaped (on 21 March, 1526), re-arrested (in December, 1526) and sentenced to death (on 5 January, 1527). This sentence was, however, altered to a public flogging and exile from Zurich.

He maintained most of his ministry by dodging those who opposed him, preaching in a variety of places and using remote locations. His itinerant preaching ministry continued until he was arrested again in August, 1529. Death came at the age of 38.

A German historian identified Blaurock’s ideals as “freedom of religion, liberty of conscience, (and) the equality of all citizens before the law”. He also composed hymns which have endured in German worship to this day.

Georg Blaurock was one of the noblest martyrs of the Christian Church. For the brotherhood he helped to found he cheerfully sacrificed everything, honor and respect, freedom and comfort, property and goods, wife and child, body and life for the sake of his Lord and Saviour. Under the sign of adult baptism he gave the brotherhood its actual reason for existence in the world.

It was Blaurock’s falling away from the Catholic priesthood and from the Catholic Church, with his repudiation of the Mass, the confessional, and the adoration of Mary that marked him as a criminal worthy of death.

His biographer writes: “George Blaurock was a pioneer evangelist. His methods were sometimes crude and his remarks impolite. But he was sincere, untiring and courageous in spreading the gospel as he understood it. He was the apostle of the Anabaptists to the common people.”

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.

J S Bach the Believer

This is the day that … Johann Sebastian Bach died in 1750.

He was taught violin by his father, became a choirboy at St Michael’s Church, then organist … and so his musical career began to flourish.

He has been described as “the outstanding member of the greatest musical family the world has ever known” (A Gift of Music, by Smith & Carlson). Over 50 musicians bearing that name are remembered by musicologists today” (The Spiritual Lives of Great Composers, by P. Kavanagh).

“I have read countless books and articles,” continues one biographer, “discussing the mystery of Bach’s greatness, and the authors rarely mention his self-acknowledged indebtedness to his Lord and Saviour.”

He was “the greatest organist, not only of his own time, but of all time,” writes another. And as a composer “his lofty genius was wholly consecrated to the service of God in the church that held his heart, and what Palestrina was to the Roman Church Bach became to Protestantism” (Handbook to Church Hymnary, page 257). He was a devout Lutheran.

Some consider his name to be “the greatest in all the history of music, whether sacred or secular.” Whilst he was recognised as the outstanding organist of his day (and many would say “of all time”), it is as a composer that he is now acclaimed.

During his lifetime only ten of his compositions were published, and it was not until a century after his death that the greatness of his musical composition was acknowledged.

Many of his melodies and arrangements are to be found in our hymnals, and his cantatas are still sung by many a church choir, including Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

Blind, and on his deathbed, he dictated to his son-in-law, his final chorale, Before Thy Throne I Come…!

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.