I pushed the girl out of my mind as we walked toward home down the Royal Mile. I intended only to poke my head in the kirk and perhaps persuade John Knox to come home early, take some supper, get some more rest. But as I entered there were five or six young men seated in the south transept of St. Giles, John Knox seated before them.
My mind flashed back to my youth when my brother Francis, Alexander, and I sat before Master Knox. I used to feel jealous of his attentions to us. There was no place for that now. He often said that he’d had rather spend fifteen hours interpreting a text of Holy Scripture with young men preparing for the ministry than an hour doing anything else. This appeared to be one such earnest discussion. I was about to go, when the words of one of the young men arrested my attention. I lingered, the boys weary and fidgety at my side, I hoping it would not be prolonged for fifteen hours, but eager to hear their debate.
“But will not such teaching loosen the reins of lusts?” asked the young man. “If we instruct the ignorant that salvation is entirely an unconditional free gift—they’ll be no restraint on manners and behavior. Law is smashed and Antinomianism shall prevail.”
“Do you imagine that any of us can earn God’s favor by keeping God’s law?” said John Knox. “Do you imagine that salvation is mostly of God’s grace, mostly of Christ’s merits, but that we must be his partners in our own salvation, then?”
“But you cannot deny, Master Knox, that huge tracts of Holy Scripture address the members of the visible kirk as responsible partners in covenant with God, whose destiny is determined by our faith and our obedience or lack thereof.”
At the young man’s words, I saw the vitality of John Knox’s convictions rising up in him, his forehead seeming to become more broad and set, his eyebrows overshadowing his features like dark clouds before a tempest; his eyes flashed like lightning, and his in-drawing of breath seemed as if it would burst forth like thunderclaps in his reply.
“Every papist, man, would agree with you,” he said. “The only way huge tracts of Holy Scripture say such nonsense, however, is if you make a mingle mangle out of law and gospel, that is, if you get the cart of good works before the horse of electing grace. You must not separate the things that God has joined together. The cause of good works, my friend, is not our free will, but when the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, whom God's elect children receive by true faith, takes possession of the heart of any man, the Spirit regenerates and renews the man, so that he begins to hate what before he loved, and to love what before he hated.
“If you make the believer’s good works, his sanctification, a condition of his justification, you mistake the evangel and make man’s faithfulness a means of meriting or of maintaining the salvation of God. If we determine our destiny by anything in us, faith, faithfulness, obedience, free will, good works, anything by which we partner with God, then you must say, as the papists say, that God has come down to save the just. But Jesus the Son of God came not in the flesh to call the just, but to call sinners, surely not to abide in their old iniquity, but to true repentance, true dying to sin. The Christian’s hope of mercy and forgiveness before God is not in his faith and obedience, but in the redemption that is in Christ’s blood alone, by which alone a man’s imperfection has no power to damn him, for Christ's perfection is reputed to be his by the regenerating and renewing of the Spirit which alone engenders faith in us, faith which he has in Christ’s blood. God has received already at the hands of his only Son all that is due for our sins, and so cannot his justice require or crave any more of us. There is no other satisfaction or recompense required for our sins.”
“You said the same today on the mount,” said Nathaniel as we left the kirk and walked home.
“Aye, you said Jesus came to seek and to save the lost,” continued the boy, “the lost, like the wee lamb on the precipice. It was the same as father was speaking of.”
“Aye, so it was,” I said.
Several times over the next weeks, I saw the haddock lass, as I at first termed her. Then I came to call her in my mind, the generous lass. At last I learned her name.
“I’m Margaret Stewart, Lord Ochiltree’s daughter,” she told me.