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An Epistle to the Inhabitants
of Newcastle and Berwick

by John Knox

Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire (Matthew 7:19).

Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven; but whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven (Matthew 10:32-33).

Extracted from: Selected Writings of John Knox: Public Epistles, Treatises, and Expositions to the Year 1559

Editor's Note

During the "wicked days" of Mary's reign in England, many Protestants defected from the faith. Others displayed a compromising and timid disposition, which implied acquiescence to the evil deeds of the tyrants who ruled in civil and ecclesiastical matters.

No doubt, the news from England was grievous to Knox, who never relinquished his concern for the people in Newcastle and Berwick, among whom he had previously ministered during the reign of Edward vi. With intense pastoral zeal, the reformer sent this epistle, calling upon the people to repent of their apostasy and diffidence, and urging them to defend the true religion in the face of adversity.

This letter and the Brief Exhortation to England (see p. 579ff.) were subsequently published in Geneva, together with the list of the martyrs following the Brief Exhortation.

An Epistle to the Inhabitants
of Newcastle and Berwick

John Knox to the inhabitants of Newcastle and Berwick, and unto all others, who sometime in the realm of England professed Christ Jesus, and now be returned to the bondage of idolatry, wishes true and earnest repentance by the power and operation of that same Spirit who called from death Jesus, the only pastor of our souls.

[1]If the reason of man shall be called to judge what fruit ensues the painful travail of God's most faithful servants (who at his commandment study to repair his city, and to purge his temple), not only shall their labours be esteemed for a time to be vainly spent, but scarcely shall the wisdom of God, through man's rash judgment, escape condemnation; neither shall the verity of his promises be free from suspicion of falsehood and vanity. [2]For to man's reason nothing appears more absurd, foolish, nor unreasonable, than that God (whose power no creature is able to resist) shall send forth his messengers to perform his work and will, and that the same shall be so impugned, that their building in their own eyes shall be overthrown and destroyed; and that the natural man cannot see how the promises of Christ Jesus, made to his apostles (and under their names to all true preachers of his holy gospel), in these words, can be proven constant and true: "I have," says he, "appointed you to go and to bring forth fruit, and that your fruit shall abide" (John 15:16).

The stability and truth (I say) of this promise does not suddenly appear, but rather the plain contrary. For if the fruit of the gospel and glad tidings preached are first, in this life, the glory of God (I mean such good works as may declare the spirit of regeneration) shining in man after he is planted in Christ Jesus; and, after this battle, the joy prepared for God's children; if these (I say) are the fruits of Christ Jesus preached, then the most part of trees appear to be destroyed before the time of fruit does appear. For some by tyranny and violence are rooted out from the society of earthly creatures before they begin to flourish (and so is their fruit to man's judgment impeded and hindered), some are blasted and withered with stormy winds, and some are corrupted eitherby vermin or by venomous humours proceeding from a corrupt fountain, so that the fruit of none almost does appear to our eyes. To speak the matter simply and without figure, the men that appeared to the fruitful labourers to have been planted in Christ ­ who calls himself the very vine, and those that profess his truth the vine branches ­ are subject to many temptations, that scarcely amongst a thousand does one take root and bring forth fruit with patience.

[3]Notwithstanding, such as by tyranny and violent persecution are suddenly reft from this life, do nevertheless produce and bring forth fruit delectable and pleasing in the sight of him, who has appointed an end to the travail and miseries of his dear children, albeit this fruit to the natural man is so sour and unsavoury, so hard and unpleasant, that only the sight of it not only gives occasion to the reprobate to utter their venom and malice against Christ Jesus, but also for a season it vexes God's most dear children. For as the one does insolently rejoice (as though God did favour and maintain their tyranny), so does the other indiscreetly lament and pronounce wrong judgment, esteeming that it should more stand with God's glory and honour, and more also with the profit of his church, that such as to whom he has of mercy granted notable graces should rather be preserved in life, than permitted and given over to the wicked appetites of cruel persecutors. Howbeit, as the fruit of these trees is best known to God alone, so is it justified and approved by him, whatsoever the foolish wisdom of the natural man shall judge in the contrary. For the prophet Isaiah pronounces, "that the just perishes (so does it appear to man's judgment), and yet that no man puts it in heart" (Isa. 57:1): that is, does earnestly consider it, that "the men of mercy are taken away," and the world nevertheless does rejoice and triumph. [4]But the Holy Ghost assigns another cause: "that the just is taken away before his eyes behold greater miseries," that he enters into his peace before God's vengeance begins to be poured forth upon the proud and disobedient. And so does their fruit abide and continue, not only to their perpetual joy, but also to the comfort and consolation of the afflicted that suffer for righteousness sake, even to the end. For the same God that of mercy had respect to their infirmity, and so did prevent the dangers that might have apprehended them, provided also for his church above the expectation of mortal man, [and] will not despise the sobs of his afflicted now in these most wretched and most wicked days. But of these trees and of their fruit I cease at this time further to speak, because the dolorous estate of many that are alive causes me sometimes to give thanks unto God for the happy deliverance of such as constantly departed in the Lord, whether it was by persecution of tyrants or by natural death.

Consider with me, dear brethren (I speak to you of Newcastle and Berwick), your miserable estate and most dolorous condition. [5]Your profession did once declare before men that you were branches planted and engrafted in Christ Jesus, whose holy gospel (which is the power of God to the salvation of all that believe it [Rom. 1:16]) you appeared to have received with all reverence and gladness. The displeasure of your natural and carnal friends, who then were enemies of Christ Jesus and to his eternal verity, some of you did patiently bear. You feared not to go before statutes and laws, yea, openly and solemnly you did profess, by receiving the sacraments (not as man had appointed, but as Christ Jesus the wisdom of God the Father had instituted), to be subject in all things concerning religion to his yoke alone, to acknowledge and avouch him before the world to be your only lawgiver, sovereign prince, and only Saviour. Thus, I say, you appeared at that time to have been the delicate plants of the Eternal, the workmanship of his own hands, and the trees that in season and time should have produced good fruit in abundance.

But oh, alas! how are you changed? How are you corrupted? Whitherunto are you fallen? And how have you deceived the expectation of those that then did labour in planting and watering you, and now do sob unto God for your ingratitude, calling with tears unto his mercy for your conversion, and that unfeigned repentance may suddenly appear in you? O, miserable change! that you who were once fervent professors of Christ Jesus, and of his gospel, should now be subjects to Antichrist, giving obedience to his false and deceitful doctrine. O, grievous fall! and more than grievous! that from the dignity of the sons of God (which prerogative you had by grace and not by nature) you have become slaves to Satan, justifying by your presence most abominable idolatry.

If you see not the danger which hereupon depends, you are more than blind; and if you see it, and study not with all diligence to avoid it, you are not only foolish, but altogether bewitched and enraged. God did not call you from darkness to light; he did not send his Son Christ Jesus unto you, contemning and refusing many thousands more noble, more wise, more ancient, and more puissant [mighty] than you are or ever were (1 Cor. 1:26); God (I say) did not so familiarly communicate himself with you, in his only beloved Son Christ Jesus, to the end that you at your pleasure and appetite, or for the fear of worldly men, for losing of goods or corporeal life, should return to darkness, and that you should refuse to serve that sovereign Prince in the day of his battle, before whom all knees shall bow (Phil. 2).

But contrariwise, that according as you were called to the participation of light, that so constantly you should walk in the same; that as you were appointed soldiers to fight against Satan (the prince of this world), and against his progeny (enemies to Christ Jesus), so should you boldly abide in the rank in which God had placed you; further, being most certainly persuaded that he that flees the battle and denies Christ Jesus before men, shall be denied before his heavenly Father; yea, also "that such as refuse not father, mother, sister, and brother, are not worthy of him" (Matt. 10); and, moreover, that such as do not boldly confess him before this wicked generation, shall never be confessed to appertain to him, nor to the glory of his kingdom, when he shall be accompanied with his angels. Which things I thought once had been so deeply grafted into your hearts, that albeit angels from heaven should have persuaded you to the contrary, that you should have held them accursed, and so in that behalf rejected their persuasion and doctrine as a most pestilent poison, which is death and damnation to all that receive it. For so did you once profess, and such was my hope of you, that so in heart you had determined: for Christ Jesus was not preached among you without his cross.

[6]How oft has it been beaten in your ears, "that the servant cannot be above the Lord" (Matt. 10:24); "that the members must be conformed to the Head" (John 13:16); "that by many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22); "that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12); and that partly because Satan, the prince of this world, can never be so bridled during this battle, but that he will strive to recover strength (Eph. 4:15; Col. 2:19); and partly, because sin remains in us, he is permitted to sting with his venomous tail when his head is bruised. Was not this doctrine common unto you? Yea, have you not heard more often than once, that your eyes should see Christ Jesus persecuted in his poor members? that his verity should be oppugned? that superstition, lies, and idolatry should prevail and have the upper hand? that the kingdom of heaven, [and] the true preaching of his evangel, should be taken from you for the ingratitude and stubbornness of men, who more delighted in darkness than in light? None of these things at that time did appear strange unto you, neither did they discourage you; but you seemed (being admonished what danger it was to refuse Christ Jesus) most steadfastly to cleave to the verity, notwithstanding that the whole world should have refused the same.

How oft have you assisted to baptism? How oft have you been partakers at the Lord's Table, prepared, used, and ministered in all simplicity, not as man had devised, neither as the king's proceedings did allow, but as Christ Jesus did institute, and as it is evident that St. Paul did practice? These two sacraments, seals of Christ's evangel, you commonly used: baptism for your children, and the table of the Lord to your own comfort, and for the open confession of your religion. And so oft, I say, dear brethren, did you witness before men, and swear before God, that you would die with Christ Jesus, to the end that you might live by him; that you would refuse the doctrine of men and the participation of all idolatry, and would constantly stand and stick fast to that religion which then you professed and approved. But O, alas! what miserable ruin has this sudden and short storm made of that building that was begun amongst you! The winds have blown, and the floods are come, and the walls are fallen in one heap. (God grant that the foundation abide!) The fire is come, but in you, alas! is neither found gold, silver, nor precious stone, but all is burnt and consumed; so that if I shall judge the fruit of my poor labours amongst you by mine own judgment, reason, or apprehension, I should judge myself and my labours accursed of God, for that I see not better success. [7]O consider, dear brethren, what grief it is, that in such a multitude none shall be found faithful, none constant, none bold in the cause of the Lord Jesus, whom they had professed so boldly before.

God is witness, and I refuse not your own judgments, how simply and uprightly I conversed and walked amongst you; though in his presence I was and am nothing but a mass of corruption, rebellion, and hypocrisy; yet as concerning you and the doctrine taught amongst you, as then I walked, so now do I write in the presence of him who only knows, and shall reveal the secrets of all hearts, [8]that neither for fear did I spare to speak the simple truth unto you; neither for hope of worldly promotion, dignity, or honour, did I willingly adulterate any part of God's scriptures, whether it were in exposition, in preaching, contention, or writing; but that simply and plainly, as it pleased the merciful goodness of my God to give unto me utterance, understanding, and spirit, I did distribute the bread of life (I mean God's most holy word) as of Christ Jesus I had received it. I sought neither preeminence, glory, nor riches; [9]my honour was that Christ Jesus should reign; my glory that the light of his truth should shine in you; and my greatest riches that in the same you should be constant. Let him amongst you that is farthest declined, convict me if he can, if that ever he did perceive me, by crafty or unlawful means, to seek the substance or riches of any; yea, if I have not refused that which by diverse has been offered, and that also by the common opinion might lawfully have been received.

But to what purpose is this recited? Is it to brag of my own justice, or yet to defend my own innocence? Not so, dear brethren, not so (for what I acknowledge myself to be before God, I have already confessed), but to let you understand, that if I have this testimony of conscience concerning my office, ministry, and doctrine, [10]and am notwithstanding wounded almost to death, for that my labours have not better succeeded: what ought to be your fear, lamentation, and trembling? I fear that God has cursed you, because he has not better blessed my labours amongst you; and yet in that behalf I have the common lot and sort with the most part of God's true prophets, and the like condition with St. Paul, to comfort me in my greatest desperation. For Elijah did think that he alone amongst the Israelites was left alive to worship God truly (1 Kings 19:10). And Paul did complain that all that were in Asia had left him. He did see in his own days his beloved church of Galatia bewitched by false teachers; and also that most notable congregation of Corinth, shortly after his departure from the same, he saw divided into sects, corrupted in life, given to debate, contention, and strife, yea, to be infected with most pestilent heresy ­ I mean with the denial of the resurrection of the dead (2 Tim. 3).

These and other like examples teach us how God's most true and painful servants have been frustrated of their expectation (and so humbled before God); whose fruits I have to pull, and (as it were) by violence to draw me from the bottom of hell, to the which sometimes I sink for remembrance of your fall, and for my other offences committed against God. But these examples cannot so remedy my wound, but that from time to time I feel the prick of God's heavy displeasure. And ought you then to live void of all fear, as men that had nothing offended? My conscience does neither accuse me, that amongst you was I a false prophet, mercenary nor idle person; and yet I quake, I fear and tremble, remembering your horrible fall; and ought you to rest, be quiet, and rejoice, against whom God's vengeance is so plainly pronounced? For if no realm, no nation, city, nor particular person, traitorously declining from God, and obstinately remaining in rebellion after the truth [is] known and professed, has escaped God's vengeance; flatter not yourselves as that your treason and rebellion should or can be overseen [overlooked] by his justice, which from the beginning is one, and to the end shall remain inviolable.

[11]Many have offended, and upon repentance have obtained mercy and grace; but I demand and ask: who contemning mercy offered, and, as the apostle speaks, despising the lenity and long-suffering of God, has in the end escaped vengeance! Your treasonous fall is manifest, but the signs of your repentance do not yet appear; and, therefore, I say, flatter not yourselves, as that you had made pact with death, with hell and destruction, as the prophet Isaiah (28:15) accuses those of his time, who disdainfully did answer when he called them to sackcloth and ashes: that is, to show forth the tokens of true repentance and conversion unto God. In despite (I say) they answered, "Let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel come; in the meantime, let us eat and drink, and make merry days, for tomorrow we shall die, if the words of these babblers (so were God's servants termed) be true, and take effect. But we are out of danger; destruction nor death shall not apprehend us. The accomplishment of their visions is far off. Jerusalem is the pot and we are the flesh" (Isa. 5:19; 22:13; cf. Ezek. 11:3): meaning thereby that they would die and live in their native country. But the prophets boldly against such proud contempt did affirm, that their "league and covenant made (as they supposed) with death and devastation should be dissolved and broken" (Isa. 28:18). For the floods of vengeance should carry them to perdition, strangers should inherit their land, and they should die in miserable bondage, in a land polluted with all idolatry, because they refused to serve the Lord their God in the land which he had given to them in possession, and because they would neither give reverence nor credit to his servants the prophets, whom from time to time he sent unto them. And further, the prophets did affirm that those poor afflicted servants of God, who cruelly were murdered in their presence by those cruel persecutors that then bore dominion in tyranny, were only they amongst the Israelites that should die with honour in their own country (Ezek. 11). As for the rest, they should either be led captives, or else die by hunger, pestilence, or sword, and so leave their names in execration and contempt to the posterity following.

Beware, dear brethren, that you be not like to these men in stubbornness, in continuance of sin, and in contempt of grace. You have declined, yea, and traitorously fallen back from God, and from his verity once professed (as they did). But beware (I say) that you defend not your impiety, that you contemn not the threatenings of God, promising to yourselves felicity and life, when he by his word and holy prophets pronounces against you woe, death, and severe judgment. For then be you most assured that you shall not escape the irrevocable sentence of God once pronounced by the mouth of Jeremiah, in these words: "Every nation like unto this shall I judge," says the Eternal (Jer. 5:9). Then shall you feel in the end, how horrible and fearful it is to fall in the hands of the Omnipotent. Then shall you grope and wander to and fro seeking remedy, but shall find none; you shall be like blind men in extreme darkness; you shall stumble; you shall fall; you shall cry and roar for anguish, but none shall be able to relieve your miseries. All creatures shall be enemies unto you, because you have despised the goodness and mercy of him who so lovingly has entreated you: first, in opening unto you the true knowledge of himself, and now, after your horrible defection, so mercifully calling you to repentance again.

O, call to mind, dear brethren, that fearful sentence pronounced against that fig tree which did occupy the ground, but was unfruitful (Luke 13:6-9). The request and earnest supplication of the gardener could obtain no more, but that he might dig about her, and lay dung to the roots thereof the space of one year; but then if it produced no fruit, he was compelled to give place by his own sentence to the wisdom and justice of his lord, who would not suffer such an unprofitable tree to occupy place in his chosen and delectable garden or vineyard. This was not spoken by Christ, nor meant (dear brethren) of dead and insensible trees, but under the most lively similitude is painted and set forth what shall be the end of those that by vocation [calling] and external profession are planted in the church of God, and so made members of Christ Jesus, who is the very vinestock; and such as do profess him are called branches grafted in him (John 15). This similitude (I say) does express what shall be the end of such as bring not forth fruit in him: to wit, they shall be cut [out] of the stock, whom by barrenness they dishonour; they shall wither and dry, and so be cast on the fire to burn for ever.

I have no pleasure (God is witness) to threaten you, much less to pronounce plagues and God's severe judgments against you; but seeing and considering your horrible defection from God, and from his verity known and professed, I dare not cease to exhort you to repentance. For although I should keep silence, yet should the stones accuse your unthankfulness. [12]If I should flatter you, and speak according to your appetites, saying, "Alas! we cannot redress the iniquity of these times; we have no pleasure in idolatry; we are sorry that the blood of innocents is shed in our land; we would be content that true religion should be used; but wicked men now bear dominion, and therefore we must serve and obey the time. When God shall please to restore his truth, we will be glad of it; but in the meantime, we must obey the laws set forth by our superiors. God knows our hearts, and we trust he will be merciful unto us." If on this manner (I say) I should flatter you, laying pillows under your heads, who already do sleep in a deadly security, should you therefore escape God's vengeance? No, no, dear brethren; but by such means be you assured that God's indignation is more kindled, both against the people and the prophet. For when all are conjured against his truth, then must his just judgments revenge his own cause. And therefore, brethren, suffer the words of exhortation; suffer it, [13]I say, with trembling and fear, not esteeming the threatenings pronounced against the disobedient forth of the book of God to be voices dispersed in the air, which suddenly shall vanish and take no effect. God forbid that such cogitations remain and prevail in your hearts, for then have you refused God, with whom you can have no society except you embrace and receive his word:[14] which threatens no less damnation, death, and shame, and destruction to proud contemners and obstinate refusers of grace and mercy offered, than that it does promise salvation, life, honour, and immortality to the penitent sinner, and unto such as unfeignedly mourn for their heinous offences against God committed.

It behooves you, therefore, dear brethren, to give this honour to your God, that the verity of his word be not measured by the weakness, frailty, or infirmity of the instruments which most commonly he uses in publication of the same. For his ministers are men subject to infirmities, but the word which they preach is the power of God to salvation of all that believe and obediently embrace the same. His ministers, as they are the sons of men, of nature they are liars, unstable, and vain; but his eternal word, which he puts in their mouths and whereof they are made ambassadors, is of such truth, stability, and assurance, that "albeit heaven and earth should vanish and perish, yet shall it abide and remain for ever" (Matt. 24:35); [15]and that in such sort, that the same men who (blinded by prosperity and carnal affections) could not believe God speaking by his ministers, are oft compelled in their own bodies, and in their posterity following, to feel the stripes and sustain the plagues which they contemned when they were first pronounced.

The prophet Zechariah, accusing the Jews of his time of negligence in reedifying the temple after they were delivered from the captivity and bondage of Babylon, says, "Where be your fathers to whom the prophets spake, and where be the prophets that spake to your fathers? Are not the one and the other dead? But my words and statutes (says the Eternal), which I have commanded to my servants the prophets, have not they apprehended your fathers? insomuch that they converted and said, 'As the Lord of Hosts hath determined to do unto us according to our ways, and according to our imaginations, so hath he done'" (Zech. 1:5-6). By which question and words the prophet evidently affirms that which I have said before: [16]to wit, that neither the mercy of God promised to the penitent, neither the severe punishments pronounced against the stubborn and disobedient, ought to be measured by the weakness and condition of the messenger whom God sends; but that whatsoever they bring forth of God's book against iniquity and sin, and chiefly against idolatry (which separates man altogether from God), shall be held so constant and so true, as though God from the heavens had given witness to the same by the presence of his own majesty.

The men to whom Zechariah did speak had never seen Isaiah the prophet; yea, Isaiah himself was dead long before his prophecy took full effect. Notwithstanding, as their fathers felt the plagues which he pronounced against them (and against that famous city Jerusalem for the bloodshed and idolatry in the same committed), so were the eyes of their children, to whom Zechariah speaks, witnesses that God's wrath was poured forth in perfection upon their fathers: which also did abide upon them, even unto that day that the prophet did admonish them. For they saw Jerusalem lie desolate and waste as the Chaldeans had left it; they saw the ruins and the miserable stones overcovered with powder of that beautiful and holy temple of God, which by Solomon was built. They further felt themselves in poverty and bondage of strangers. For albeit they had obtained liberty to return to their country, yet they perceived their condition to be little amended. Their enemies were more strong than they, even in their own land (Ezra 3-4). Their work was impeded, and they did live in greater fear than those which still remained in dispersion. And thus, I say, were both their fathers and they compelled to confess, in the end, that the words of the prophets were no vain threatenings (Neh. 4). For the fathers did feel in a strange country the heavy yoke of bondage the space of 70 years, after that the bodies of many thousands had fallen upon the edge of the sword; and the eyes of the children did see the force and vehemence of God's wrath once kindled.

[17]Of one thing be assured, dear brethren, that the selfsame God who then spoke by his prophets does now speak to you by his messengers, how contemptible soever they are in your eyes. And further be assured, that in all his properties he remains immutable for ever and ever. And therefore persuade yourselves that what he hated in them, he cannot love in you; and what he punished in them, he cannot spare nor pardon in you. In them he hated murder, deceit, oppression, licentious life, declining from the true religion, and manifest idolatry committed and suffered in all their land. In them he punished (and that most extremely) defence of their sins, contempt of mercy, and persecution of his prophets. If these things are common amongst you, as, alas! they are too manifest, flatter not yourselves as that your posterity should long continue. No, brethren, but rather let the sharp judgments of God, already executed against the like offenders, put you in mind that the plagues and vengeances which are contained in his holy law, and which your ears have often heard, do presently hang over your heads; that the blood of God's innocent children, which is cruelly shed in your land (whereof you are all guilty by reason of your permission and silence)[18] does continually cry in the ears of our most just God, "How long shall it be, O Lord, that thou wilt not revenge our blood upon these that dwell in the earth?" (Rev. 6:10) that the tears of widows oppressed, of orphans left comfortless, of prisoners wrongfully tormented, and of the banished (who sustain hunger and other calamities in strange countries, only because they would avoid such abominations as amongst you are committed) ­ you ought, I say, to be most assuredly persuaded that the lamentable voices of all these have so beaten the ears of our God (and that the tears, which in anguish they poured forth, have so replenished and filled the bottle which hangs continually in the eyes of the Almighty), that he has sworn by his holiness, that he will arise in his hot fury, that he will revenge their cause (and that speedily), and that he will also confound his enemies (the persecutors of his church) as fire consumes stubble and straw.

No time will I appoint to these the judgments of our most just God. But this I fear not to affirm, in the assurance of his Spirit who of mercy has called me to be a minister of his word and verity, that as you have heard the days of these present dolours forespoken, when you could fear no such dangers to come ­ [19]for Berwick and Newcastle, be you both witnesses how oft and how plainly you have heard [it] affirmed ­ that the light which the most part hated (or at least did not follow), should be taken from you, and that you, for your unthankfulness should be left in uttermost darkness to your destruction; that strangers should bear rule over you; and that you should of all nations be most miserable and accursed of God; because you did not know the time of your merciful visitation. How oft have you heard proclaimed in your ears, O England, if you did know the honour whereof this day you are called, if you did consider the graces and benefits of God this day offered unto you, you should be most happy and most blessed of all realms! [20]For within your land God has erected his sanctuary, built his temple, and chosen his habitation and dwelling-place. From amongst you has God, by the power of his word, driven out devils, superstition, and idolatry; but, alas! for your unthankfulness your God will depart from you; he will give you over again to the bondage of Satan. You delight in lies, and therefore shall the verity be taken from you. Which sentences and threatenings, albeit then you feared not, yet dare you not deny in God's presence (howsoever you dissemble in the face of the wicked world), but that amongst you spoke the Spirit of truth, how weak that ever the instrument was whom it pleased his wisdom to use for your advertisement, as your eyes do this day behold the accomplishment and execution of one part of God's most just judgments. [21]For the verity (in which a small number did delight) is taken from you, and idolatry (which many gaped for) is erected, to your confusion and shame. God has removed the presence of his glory from you, and the devil has taken his full possession.

[22]As this part (I say) of God's judgments (which before were pronounced) is executed in your eyes, so shall some of you that this day behold the tyranny that is used, maintained and permitted amongst you, likewise behold the terrible plagues and severe judgments of God poured forth in full perfection, not only upon the cruel murderers, but also upon such as by silence and flattery consent to their impiety. If you are not more than blind, you may evidently see the potent hand of God displayed and stretched out against you. [23]Does not the sudden and miserable fall of Calais, sometimes called the key of England, yea, and the open door into foreign countries, move you to consider what is God's power, and how easy it is to him to overthrow all the pride of man in one moment? If it moves not others, yet let it move you, [24]O Berwick! She was your sister, and your condition was one, except that as in strength, order, and civil policy, you were nothing comparable. So in theft, debate, hatred, and all iniquity, you did far surmount her; and yet she has drunken the cup of God's vengeance, because that, being admonished, she did not repent. [25]And shall or can you escape the same, if you continue as you have begun? No, albeit man and angel would promise the assurance, your pride shall be beaten down to hell; your treasonous defection from God shall be punished, as before has been pronounced in your ears, except that by speedy repentance you prevent God's judgments.

And therefore, dear brethren, if you intend or think to escape God's vengeance, his heavy hand and hot displeasure, delay no time to return unto him; call upon him while he is nigh; seek him unfeignedly while he is to be found (Ps. 82); harden not your hearts when he rebukes your unthankfulness. Now he offers himself unto you; now he is near; now he is to be found, while he calls you to repentance by his messengers and word. Which occasion and opportunity if you omit, as God's justice shall shine in your punishment and just condemnation, so shall it be that you howl and cry for anguish and pain, and yet shall find neither counsel nor comfort; for so does God often revenge the contempt of his graces offered (Jer. 11).

Proud Esau, after he had sold his birthright, and had confirmed the bargain with a solemn oath, did eat and drink, regarding nothing his own foolishness; neither rightly did he esteem (for the time) the honour and dignity which he had lost. But after, when he perceived that his father (even against his promise and determined purpose) would still bless Jacob, he fretted, he fumed, he accused Jacob; he reasoned with his father, he begged but one blessing, and that with tears, with roaring and lamentable cries (Gen. 27). But all was in vain; he found no place of repentance. The door of mercy was shut up by his former contempt. He howled and cried, but not for his sin and former unthankfulness. He begged blessing, but his eye being fixed upon this present world, he remained accursed before God, burning in hatred, and imagining murder and the death of his brother, whom God had honoured with his spiritual benediction. [26]This history (as by the apostle we are taught) is not written for Esau only, but for example and admonition to all those that prefer the profane and contemptible pleasures of this earth to the benediction and inheritance promised to Abraham and unto his seed.

Enter in judgment with yourselves, dear brethren, and consider earnestly what exchange you have made. You have refused and denied God the Father and his dear Son Christ Jesus, and so the whole joy and comfort of his kingdom; you have quit the portion of your inheritance, and have despised the benediction promised to such as should abide in the truth to the end. And what reward have you received? A mess of pottage, yea, much less, if the matter shall be well considered. For the favour of your queen accursed by God, the friendship of the council destitute of wisdom, and your wretched and miserable lives, compared with the things which you have lost, are much inferior to the pottage for which Esau sold his birthright. For his appetites and lusts were satiated for a time, but I am assured that your bellies, for the which you have refused God, are more empty than they were before. [27]Now are you compelled to feed the proud Spaniard, both within and without your country. Tax follows tax, and one exaction calls for another. The lands and inheritances must pay at pleasure of the Parliament; the movable goods cannot escape valuation and censure, where oppression and extortion bear rule and dominion. These are the great benefits which of Jezebel you have received, for refusing of God, and bowing at her commandment to Baal.

But let it be that you had received, since your revolt and falling from God, the greatest riches, the greatest honour, the greatest victory, and the most established rest, that ever nation had since the beginning; yet had you changed your former glory for a mess of pottage. For do you not know that all these things shall vanish as a dream in the night season? And as concerning the preservation and safety of your lives, for the which you have refused God (who only is the author of life), the day shall shortly come when you shall prove this sentence of Christ Jesus to be in true experience, "That whosoever to keep or find his life denieth Christ Jesus before men, shall lose his life both corporeal and eternal" (Matt. 10:39; 16:25-26). [28]For as your Jezebel can [do] nothing without the will and permission of him who is omnipotent, so neither she nor you can retain nor hold the breath in her nor your most frail bodies, when that most potent Lord shall say, "Return to dust, O ye unthankful sons of mortal men."

Seeing it is so (dear brethren), that you cannot escape God's judgments, humble yourselves betimes [speedily], before his vengeance is armed to your destruction. If you continue in this deadly security, regarding nothing what honour you have lost, it shall be too late for you to howl and cry, when your blessing shall, in your own ears, be given to others. Repent therefore betimes, and as you have openly declined from God by refusal of his verity, so let your conversion be manifest by removing from amongst you all kinds of idolatry.

This, I know, appears to you so impossible to be performed, that you judge me rather to mock you than to exhort you to repentance by this means. [29]But, dear brethren, consider with me that the things which to man seem most impossible are easy to our God to bring to pass, if we will refuse ourselves, and only give obedience to his commandments. Impossible it appeared to the afflicted children of Israel, that they could be delivered from the tyranny of Pharaoh, and from the bondage of the Egyptians. And in very deed their yoke was augmented and their burdens made more grievous, many days after they had at Moses' commandment asked liberty to make sacrifice to the living God. But were they despised or frustrated of their expectation in the end? Or, did such as surpassed them, or assisted their king in persecution of God's people, escape vengeance? We know the contrary. [30]The hand of our God is no more feeble now than it was then; his good will and love remain one at all times toward such as depend upon him.

[31]Acknowledge then your sins; mourn for your unthankfulness; abstain from idolatry; call boldly that the liberty of Christ Jesus, of his holy gospel preached, may be restored unto you. Consent not by your silence to the shedding of the blood of innocents, which for the testimony of Christ's truth is shed amongst you in great abundance; but boldly bear witness that injury is done unto them. And so shall you know shortly in experience, that God is no vain promiser of support to such as shall be unjustly oppressed, especially for the cause of his evangel.

But, alas! dear brethren (I speak to you, of whose boldness I once rejoiced, and for whose fall, God knows, I now mourn), if you shall continue in rebellion against God, because you dare not displease men: as you shall not escape eternal damnation, so shall you feel in your own bodies ­ yea, the bodies of your posterity after you shall feel ­ that his prophets have not vainly threatened bondage and thralldom against the disobedient. [32]And be you assured, that by maintaining of idolatry you shall never attain to that quietness which you seek in this earth, but contrariwise God shall plague you, even by those whom you study to please. Therefore, in few words [to] conclude: if you intend to escape God's severe judgments, and if you look to find him favourable either to you or yet to your posterity, sleep no longer in your sin; consider from what honour you are fallen, what danger hangs over your heads. Remember how fearful and horrible it is to have God your enemy, and in deep consideration thereof, call for mercy. Study unfeignedly to rise again, profess the truth which you have denied, remove to your power iniquity from amongst you, and abstain in your bodies from idolatry committed and maintained by your wicked rulers. And in so doing, as you shall daily increase in knowledge and strength, so shall you find grace, which you have not deserved, and that by the means of our Lord Jesus Christ: whose omnipotent Spirit so illuminate your senses and understanding, that clearly you may see what are the riches of that glory which God has prepared for such as unfeignedly love him, and how horrible are the torments which the slaves of Satan (I mean idolaters, and such as for fear refuse the known verity) shall suffer with the devil, and with his angels, without end.

Further of my mind, concerning your duties in these most dolorous days, you may understand by my Appellation, and by my Admonition to the nobility and commonality of Scotland. God grant you his Holy Spirit rightly to consider and boldly to follow the way which leads to life everlasting. Amen.

From Geneva, the 10th of November 1558.

The days are so wicked, that I dare make special commendations to no man.

Your brother with troubled heart,

John Knox


1. Marginal note: The reason of man is not able to judge of the wonderful works of God towards his church

2. Marginal note: The preaching of the word seems foolish to the world

3. Marginal note: The death of the martyrs increases the rage and malice of the reprobate against Christ Jesus, and for a time troubles the hearts of the elect

4. Marginal note: The fruit and benefit of death unto the just

5. Marginal note: The outward profession of Newcastle and Berwick in the time of the gospel

6. Marginal note: The gospel of Christ has ever the cross following

7. Marginal note: In the time of persecution and trial, not one was found faithful and constant

8. Marginal note: This rule of all preachers ought to be observed

9. Marginal note: Behold wherein the preachers in Christ should rejoice

10. Marginal note: If he that is innocent has this fear, how ought the offenders to tremble?

11. Marginal note: Repentance is the means to find mercy

12. Marginal note: No vain excuses or flattery of the preachers can turn away God's vengeance

13. Marginal note: The threatenings of God's prophets are effectual

14. Marginal note: The word of God has two offices

15. Marginal note: Such as will not acknowledge God by his word shall know him by his judgments

16. Marginal note: The word is not to be measured by the messenger, but by the power of God who sends it

17. Marginal note: The same God that spoke in times past by his prophets, speaks as effectually now by his messengers

18. Marginal note: None can excuse themselves of the innocent blood that kept silence in such cruel murders

19. Marginal note: Berwick, Newcastle

20. Marginal note: England was made the sanctuary of God, which is a title most honourable and blessed

21. Marginal note: Because the multitude delights rather in lies than in truth, therefore they fall suddenly to errors

22. Marginal note: The plagues of God shall apprehend even such as by silence and flattery consent to the murder of his saints

23. Marginal note: Calais, called the key of England

24. Marginal note: Berwick, let the sudden fall of your sister move you to repentance

25. Marginal note: Note

26. Marginal note: All are Esau's children that prefer earthly pleasures to spiritual blessings

27. Marginal note: The fruit of Jezebel's reign

28. Marginal note: To take away life is only in the power of God who gave it

29. Marginal note: God easily brings to pass that which to man's reason is impossible

30. Marginal note: God's power is not diminished

31. Marginal note: Behold the means to attain God's favour and mercy

32. Marginal note: God many times plagues even by such as men seek to please

Copyright © 1995 by Kevin Reed
Presbyterian Heritage Publications
P.O. Box 180922
Dallas, Texas 75218

This edition has been edited to reflect contemporary spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Bracketed words are supplied where needed to complete the sense of a sentence. Bracketed words in italics are inserted following some antiquated terms or phrases as a convenience to the modern reader. Therefore, the words in brackets are not a part of the original text.

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