John Knox, Pastor Of Souls -- By: W. Stanford Reid

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 40:1 (Fall 1977)
Article: John Knox, Pastor Of Souls
Author: W. Stanford Reid


John Knox, Pastor Of Souls

W. Stanford Reid

John Knox has been called everything from a “trumpeter of God” to a “nasty old man” since his death in 1572. While some have held him In deep reverence, as in his own day, believing that he was the man who brought about the Reformation in Scotland, others have declared him to be vain, inconsistent, uxorious, and a jackal.1 It is not, therefore, easy to sum up his character or his achievements in a few well chosen words which everyone will accept. One side of his personality, however, has been frequently overlooked by both his admirers and his detractors, that is, his role as a pastor of souls. It is to this aspect of the man that this article would draw attention.

As one reads his letters, whether to individuals or to congregations and nations, one gains the impression that he had a very great interest in the spiritual welfare of those who were facing problems either spiritual or political. He genuinely sought to understand and enter into the doubts and difficulties of those whom he was seeking to assist. At the same time, he sought to bring to bear on their questions and situations the teachings of the Scriptures from a Reformed perspective in order that they might find help, consolation, and encouragement which would enable them to deal with their problems. His approach was not, however, what might be called a purely “spiritual” one, for in much of what he said one finds a hard-headed Lowland Scottish common sense, often tinged with humor and irony, which went right to the point of the matter at hand. By these means he was able to offer help when it was needed.

Yet, while one may speak in this way of Knox, very little direct information concerning his pastoral activities is available

from the reformer himself. He sometimes complains that he cannot do all that he would because of physical weakness or lack of time, but that is as far as he goes.2 Nor do we have much direct information from others, with perhaps the exception of James Melville, who in his memoirs tells its something of Knox’s dealings with the students at St. Andrews when he was in exile there from Edinburgh during the last year or so of his life. To understand his interest in and performance of his pastoral work one must look elsewhere and hope to find indirect evidence which will give some indication of his attitudes and endeavors.

Fortunately, we do have a source which gives this indirect information concerning his pastoral activity: a considerable collection of letters which he wrote in response to specific questions submitted to him by var...

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