THE INFLUENCE OF JOHN CALVIN ON THE SCOTTISH REFORMATION

October is “Reformation Month” – a time set for Reformed Christians to reflect on the great 16th Century movement that brought the truth of the gracious gospel out of the darkness of blind legalism. This month, our bulletin articles will focus on themes related to the Reformation.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to John Knox of the Scottish Reformation and Calvin’s influence on him.

Calvin and Knox first met in 1554. Knox, like other Protestants in England, had taken refuge in Switzerland during the reign of Catholic (“Bloody”) Mary Tudor. 

Calvin described Knox as a “brother … laboring energetically for the faith.” Knox, for his part, was impressed with Calvin’s Geneva, calling it “the most perfect school of Christ that was ever on earth since the days of the apostles.”

For a time, Knox pastored the English congregation in Geneva, where he soaked in the orderly Protestant theology of Calvin’s famous Institutes (first published in 1536 and enlarged throughout Calvin’s lifetime). Thus Calvin, via Knox, gave Scotland the rudiments of its Presbyterian system of church government, its Bible-centered love of learning, its concern for strict morality, and its ceremonial, sermon-centered worship.

One secular historian described Knox as “Calvin with a sword.” Indeed, John Calvin, the great theologian and leader of the Reformation in Switzerland, gave Knox his theology. But in one significant respect, Knox outpaced his mentor.

When it came to the relationship of the Christian to the state, however, Knox was more radical than his mentor. Where Calvin merely permitted disobedience to an ungodly ruler or immoral law, Knox championed armed rebellion—a type of Calvinism that made religious revolution in Scotland possible.

John Knox was a man of many paradoxes, a “Hebrew Jeremiah set down on Scottish soil.” In a relentless campaign of fiery oratory, he sought to destroy what he felt was idolatry and to purify Scotland's religion.

A strand of our Presbyterianism came from Scotland. So, we should thank God for men like John Knox.

Pastor Robert Chew

(With information from the Christian History Institute)