Saturday, April 5, 2014

Knox's Pen dipped not in venom but in comfort

My hastily scribbled notes  with my friend Eric MacCallum at the Reformation Society Knox conference at Faith Mission Edinburgh (encouraged not to applaud so as to spare the speakers of embarrassment).

The conferences (organized by the dear man who invited me to attend John Murray holding his new EP book on Knox) commenced with the singing of Psalm 124. Without ornament or artifice, one man rose to his feet and began singing. One phrase into the Psalm everyone joined in without accompaniment, without "the tinsel of eloquence." And then one of the men prayed, a prayer full of gospel grace and truth, theological and deeply passionate and Christ-exalting. There is a certain solemnity about the gathering, and it is possible to imagine how moderns devoted to materialist secularism might dismiss these dear folks as "dour Scots Presbyterians," but no one could fault them for their heart-felt passion for Christ and his gracious gospel.

Matthew Vogan: Was Knox a writer? No. He did not consider himself a writer per se. Published writings were comparatively few, yet Knox did leave six volumes of substantial material. He seemed aware that compared to continental reformers he was producing little written material. Self effacing comments we must look past to the substance itself. He also considered himself not a good orator of the cause, which he most definitely was. He used imaginative comparison powerfully. Odiferous herbs send forth their pleasing aromas when they are disturbed, touched. And many maritime metaphors, perhaps from his months as a galley slave.

Even CS Lewis commended Knox for his skill with his pen, words put forth with passion. Rugged authenticity marks his prose. Writing was a form of preaching in print.

Knox as a preacher: the caricature of Knox as a preacher as a cross between Ian Paisley and the Ayatollah Khomeini. False. His goal was to feed sheep not terrify the populace. Thundering against the obstinate but not to the tender hearted. He thundered to himself. Never exalted himself. 

Comfort as key theme of Knox:
His was a ministry of. Encouragement. Remembered as the light of Scotland and the comfort of the kirk. Hs pen was not dipped in venom but in comfort. Confessional and consolation focused. Pastor of souls he was called. 

Exposition of Psalm 6:
Historical context, near the end of his time in England, when Mary Tudor is about o ascend the throne. In Buckinghamshire and Kent, came his sermons based on Psalm 6. Written to his mother in law who was often troubled and anxious. Perhaps finished in Dieppe. 1554, addressed to his mother in law, but clearly intended for a wider audience.

Penitential concluding with praise and confident of God arising and bringing his enemies to heel. A Fort for the Afflicted was the title given by the printer not by Knox. He seemed to use the Great Bible of 1535, associated with Miles Coverdale. The Psalmist breaks out in a seeming anger to God, sobbing unto God, and Knox argues for the legitimacy of this kind of address to God. Elizabeth Bowes was often in despair and he uses this exposition of the Psalm to encourage her, to take heart as one of Gods elect, to be encouraged by her afflictions that God loves her and will deliver her. We are encouraged and called to cry out to the Lord in our troubles. The Psalm calls for spiritual perseverance, an effectual medicine to heal. We place our confidence in the enduring goodness of God alone. 

Conclusion: Knox as a writer has been seriously underestimated. Our biblical convictions have been treated as beneath contempt. We will need this comfort in days ahead.

Dolorous, grief grievous. Common Knox word.

Gavin Beers on Knox and his political implications.

The relation between church and state. Richard Kyle observes the dearth of writing on this critical topic.

General views of church state relation:

RRC 11th century view that the church has authority over the state.

Erastian principle, state dominates the church, reformation in England is example

Anabaptist view where there is no relation between church and state, the voluntary principle

National principle, establishment principle, two distinct entities, independent, two gov divinely appointed and church, no encroachments, church cannot wield the sword of justice, the state cannot interfere in church in any way. The state, however, can and must support the moral law, not be opposed to it.

The establishment principle was Knox's view. Scottish kings and nobles as secular rulers used their power to appoint their favorites to clerical offices. John Major taught at St Andrews, so Knox might have studied under him. Major denied the civil authority of Rome. Major taught that the church had the right to depose unjust rulers. Major must have played some role in the formation of Knox's views.

Fundamentally his views on church and state were grounded on the word of God. He refused to deviate from the Bible. Though Calvin was a clear influence on Knox, Knox deviates from his contemporary in somer respects, based on his hermeneutic, his way of interpreting the Bible. Gavin makes the argument that Knox had an integrated view of the Old Testament, his equating of Israel and Scotland. Knox is sometimes criticized for failing to subordinate the Old Testament to the New. National application of moral law. Law is not cut in half giving half to state and half to church. Continuity of both civil and moral law to all nations.

Knox's doctrine of the church. Preaching, sacraments, and discipline. The church had a prophetic function to the state, hence, he was duty bound to proclaim the whole counsel of God to all men, including the unbelieving in the nation, and its magistrates. All human authority was derived from God. So Knox had a high view of civil authority, and that it was to be by the authority of the church, required to conform to the Word of God.

The promotion of true religion, is required of just civil government. Suppress all disobedience to God's law in the realm, is the role of civil government. Civil nobility are obligated to uphold the moral law in society. But we are not Jews, not kings? But all are to kiss the Son lest hebe angry. 

So was Knox Erastian? Problem of historians not getting the theology, and theologians not getting the history.  But Knox is imminently clear that neither sphere is to dominate the other. No Erastian. Christ is head of the church, not the state head of the church. And Christ is head of civil authority.

Hence, for Knox idolatry was a capital offense, the murder of the soul. So he urged the civil government to condemn and punish idolatry. It is to be treated as a capital offense.

So was Knox a tyrant? What about toleration? In the modern mind this is extreme. How do we present this to a post Christian world? Not by dismissing Knox as a man of his day. So are we, of our day. God is Lord of the conscience. Mary Queen of Scots resorted to her own individual conscience. Conscience requires knowledge, Madam, of which you have none. 

Knox saw it as the requirement of the state to act and punish idolatry when it publicly impugns on the law of God. Liberty yes, but within the boundaries of God's reviewed will. He envisioned a state that was under the authority of God, including the establishment of Christian schools throughout the realm, Christian schools. Rejected entirely the idea of a civil sphere that was secular. Establish a Christian commonwealth. 

Knox would say to us today. Make sure your political theory is biblical, which has a great deal to say to nations about their responsibilities to his law. Our political structure must kiss the Son. Whois king? Jesus! 

In a disestablishment age, keep the ideal in view. Yes, the reality is other, but hold fast to the ideal as given in the Bible. We must not over emphasize this because it is not essential to the role, mission, and authority of the church. The church is built by God through the means of evangelism, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in all the world.

Pray for the reformation of both church and state. 

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