On November 24, 1572, Scottish clergyman and reformer John Knox died in Edinburgh.
God’s Firebrand Finally Extinguished
The nickname for John Knox, as used in our title above, was bestowed on him by no less a fellow Reformer than John Calvin. It correctly characterized his life and ministry from the time he strapped on a literal sword to defend the life and ministry of George Wishart to the times of the Scottish Reformation to the very day he went home to receive his eternal rewards. That time came on November 24, 1572 in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Oppressed with the infirmities of old age, Knox recognized that in God’s providence his time had come to depart this old earth. Sensing that, he prevailed upon the elders of that church to call as the new pastor the Rev. James Lawson as his successor. Lawson was at that time the professor of philosophy in the college of Aberdeen. Not satisfied with a “mere” letter from the Session, Knox followed up their letter with one of his own, urging Lawson to receive the call and come quickly, stressing that if he delayed too long in answering, he might find Knox dead! When Dr. Lawson arrived, he promptly preached two sermons to the congregation. On November 9, the call was placed in his hands. As the successor to John Knox answered in the affirmative, Knox then preached his last sermon to the congregation, exhorting them to stand fast in the faith, and with that, his farewell was given to the congregation.
On the 17th of November, the Session of St. Giles was called to his bedside. The parting words of the Reformer are too important to be absent here, so here they are:
“The time is approaching, for which I have long thirsted, wherein I shall be relieved and be free from all cares, and be with my Savior forever; and now, God is my witness, whom I have served with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that I have taught nothing but the true and solid doctrines of the gospel, and that end which I purposed in all my doctrine, was to instruct the ignorant, to confirm the weak, to comfort the consciences of those that were humbled under the sense of their sins, and to denounce the threatening of God’s Word against such as were rebellious. I am not ignorant, that, in my heart, I never hated the persons of those against whom I thundered God’s judgments; I did only hate their sins, and labored, according to my power, to gain them to Christ; that I did forbear none of whatsoever condition, I did it out of fear to my God, who placed me in this function of the ministry, and I know will bring me to an account.” After some words to the new pastor, he commended the whole Session to the grace of God.
From that day until the day of his death, there was read daily to him by his wife a chapter from the Epistle to the Ephesians, the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, 1 Corinthians chapter 15, and John 17, from where, he said to his wife, he had first cast his anchor. Sermons from John Calvin in French were read to him by his assistant, John Bannatyne.
A difficult life of ministry brought to a close, John Knox departed this world in peace and honor.
Words to Live By:
How a person dies is noteworthy to the overall testimony of his life. Once, when a religious lady of his acquaintance entered his sick room, she began to commend him for the work of the Protestant Reformation. He protested her words, saying that he “wholly relied on the free mercy of God, manifesting to mankind through his dear Son, Jesus Christ, whom alone [he] embrace[d] for wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” That should be every reader’s hope and assurance. Is it yours, reader?
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