John Knox: “My Tongue Shall Glorify His Goodly Name”

4 min

On a cold, miserable day, a French warship steadily made its way along the Scottish coastline. The warship was powered by human labor — the steady pull of many chained galley slaves.

Aboard the ship, performing backbreaking work at the oars, was a feeble man who was very near the point of death. It had been many months since the Scotsman had seen his native land. As the fog lifted from the sea, some of his companions lifted him up for a look toward the shore and asked him if he recognized the place. The weak and weary galley slave peered through the fog. His eyes beheld the skyline of Saint Andrews, with its imposing castle and towering cathedral spires.

The weary slave’s eyes brightened with a light of new hope. “Yes!” Knox exclaimed. “I know it well. For I see the steeple of that place where God first in public opened my mouth for His glory, and I am fully persuaded, how weak that ever I now appear, that I shall not depart this life till that my tongue shall glorify His goodly name in that same place.”

. . . . . . . .

Throughout his entire ministry, John Knox constantly sought to honor God and “glorify His goodly name.” Just as Esther and Mordecai were raised up in Persia for “such a time as this,” God raised up John Knox for the spiritual transformation of Scotland.

A former priest in the Church of Rome, John Knox was converted to the Lord Jesus Christ under the preaching and influence of the Protestant Reformer George Wishart. As a young man, Knox served as Wishart’s bodyguard, standing nearby with a two-handed sword as Wishart preached. When Wishart was finally apprehended and burned at the stake, Knox lived on to continue the work.

In the church at Saint Andrews, John Knox received the call to the public ministry of the Gospel. Already a priest in the Church of Rome, he now became a true Gospel preacher, always desiring the glory of God rather than his own advancement.

As mentioned in the opening paragraphs, Knox was taken prisoner when French warships captured Saint Andrews in 1547. For two years he labored as a galley slave. On one occasion, he was given an image of the Virgin Mary to venerate. When the image was pressed into his hands, he defiantly threw the painted statue overboard, declaring “Let our Lady now save herself. She is light enough. Let her learn to swim!” As he plied his oar day after day for nineteen long months, John Knox continually prayed that God’s name would yet be glorified in Scotland.

Sometimes, our Lord changes a culture, a nation, or a civilization slowly over the course of many centuries. But God Who delivered Israel from Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm can still work a tremendous change in a few short years. So it was in Scotland.

In 1549, when John Knox became a free man, he found that God was already beginning to answer his prayers. All across Scotland, the hearts of noblemen, farmers, merchants, seamen, fishermen, and soldiers were being opened to the Word of God, now available in the English language.

Just two years later, Knox was invited to London to become the chaplain for King Edward VI. He was offered a comfortable living by a respected bishop in England, but he turned it down. Never seeking to glorify himself, he always sought the honor of Christ and the good of Scotland. After Edward died, Mary Tudor, also known as “Bloody Mary,” took the throne. Knox was forced to flee to the continent of Europe.

In 1555, Knox secretly returned briefly to Scotland to marry his bride, Marjory, and to encourage the cause of truth among his countrymen. He urged the nobles of Scotland to do their duty and throw off the yoke of idolatry. He preached and taught wherever he had a hearing, sometimes right under the noses of his enemies! Then he was called back to the continent to pastor an English-speaking church in Geneva, Switzerland.

Psalm 110:3 declares, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power.” The Lord always moves His people to be willing to act when the day of His power comes. Indeed, several noblemen, soon to be called “the Lords of the Congregation,” were moved to write to John Knox in Geneva, asking him to return to Scotland.

John Knox returned in triumph to his native land in 1559. Only ten years earlier, he had been a galley slave on a French warship, peering through the fog at the Cathedral of Saint Andrews. Now, he was back! Knowing of Knox’s intention to come to St. Andrews, the Bishop of Saint Andrews threatened to have 100 spearmen outside the church to prevent Knox from entering that pulpit. Knox was not a man to quail in the face of danger. He said, “My life is in the hands of Him whose glory I seek, and therefore I fear not their threats.”

John Knox lived to see the triumph of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. In the home, in the church, and in the state, Knox advocated for the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ is King. He stood before hostile bishops — and even the Queen of Scotland — asserting that Jesus Christ is King of the Church and King of Kings.

The final resting place of John Knox is unknown. Reputed to be buried under an asphalt parking lot, his exact burial location is uncertain. No denomination bears his name, and no grand monument marks his achievements. John Knox lived for Jesus Christ “to glorify His goodly name.” Whether he was speaking to peasants, bishops, or monarchs, Knox always sought to exalt the name of the Lord Jesus.

May God give each one of us the grace, in the face of sickness, persecution, threats, and even death, to glorify the name of the Lord Jesus with every word we speak. If we follow the example set by Knox, we can say with him, “My life is in the hands of Him whose glory I seek, and therefore I fear not their threats.”

Sources and Further Reference:

  • Knox, John. The History of the Reformation in Scotland. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2000.
  • D’Aubigne, J. H. Merle. Germany, England, and Scotland. New York, NY: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1855.
  • Wilson, Douglas. For Kirk and Covenant. Nashville, TN: Cumberland House Publishing, 2000.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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