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Letters to His Brethren,
and the Lords Professing
the Truth in Scotland

John Knox

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

Editor's Note

In May 1557, "two citizens of Edinburgh, James Syme and James Barron, arrived at Geneva with a letter and credentials, from the Earl of Glencairn, and Lords Lorn, Erskine, and James Stuart, informing him, that the professors of the reformed doctrine remained steadfast, that its adversaries were daily losing credit in the nation, and that those who possessed the supreme authority, although they had not yet declared themselves friendly to it, continued to refrain from persecution; and inviting him, in their own name, and in that of their brethren, to return to Scotland, where he would find them ready to receive him, and to spend their lives and fortunes in advancing the cause they had espoused.

"Knox, at the same time that he laid this letter before his congregation, craved the advice of Calvin and the other ministers of Geneva. They gave it as their opinion, 'that he could not refuse the call without showing himself rebellious to God and unmerciful to his country.' His congregation agreed to sacrifice their particular interest to the greater good of the church; and his own family silently acquiesced. The congregation chose as his successor William Whittingham, a learned Englishman, with whom he had been long united by the ties of friendship and congeniality of sentiment. Having settled his other affairs, he took an affectionate leave of his friends at Geneva, and went to Dieppe in the month of October. But on his arrival there, he received letters from Scotland, written in a very different strain from the former. By these he was informed, that new consultations had been held among the Protestants in that country; that some of them began to repent of the invitation which they had given him to return; and that the greater part seemed irresolute and faint-hearted.

"This intelligence exceedingly disconcerted and embarrassed him. He instantly dispatched a letter to the nobility who had invited him, upbraiding them for their timidity and inconstancy" (M'Crie's Life of Knox [Edinburgh, 1855], pages 97-98.)

In December Knox sent a general letter to his brethren in Scotland, warning them to avoid the pernicious influences of the Anabaptists. He sent an additional letter to the nobility, exhorting them to undertake their duties to foster reform in Scotland. The reformer remained in France for several months, labouring among Protestants there. Then, early in 1558, he returned to Geneva.

Letters to His Brethren,
and the Lords Professing
the Truth in Scotland


The Spirit of wisdom, constancy, and strength be multiplied with you, by the favour of God our Father, and by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

According to my promise, right honourables, I came to Dieppe, the 24th of October, of full mind, by the good will of God, with the first ships to have visited you. But because two letters, not very pleasing to the flesh, were presented unto me there, I was compelled to stay for a time. The one was directed to myself from a faithful brother, which made mention, that new consultation was appointed for final conclusion of the matter before purposed, and willed me therefore to abide in these parts, till the determination of the same. The other letter was direct from a gentleman to a friend, with charge to advertise me, that he had communed with those that seemed most frank and fervent in the matter; and that in none did he find such boldness and constancy as was requisite for such an enterprise; but that some did (as he writes) repent that every any such thing was moved; some were partly ashamed; and others were able to deny that they ever did consent to any such purpose, if any trial or question should be taken thereof, etc. Which letters, when I had considered, I partly was confounded, and partly was pierced with anguish and sorrow. Confounded I was, that I had travelled so far in the matter, moving the same to the most godly and most learned [men] that this day we know to live in Europe, to the effect that I might have their judgments and grave counsels, for assurance (as well of your consciences as of mine) in all enterprises. And then that nothing should succeed [follow] so long consultation, cannot but redound either to your shame or mine. For either it shall appear that I was marvelously vain, being so solicitous where no necessity required; or else, that such as were my movers thereto lacked the ripeness of judgment in their first vocation [calling].

To some it may appear a small and light matter, that I have cast off, and as it were abandoned, as well my particular care, as my public office and charge, leaving my house and poor family destitute of all head, save God only, and committing that small (but to Christ dearly beloved) flock, over the which I was appointed one of the ministers, to the charge of another. This, I say, to worldly men may appear a small matter, but to me it was, and yet is such, that more worldly substance than I will express, could not have caused me willingly [to] behold the eyes of so many grave men weep at once for my cause, as that I did, in taking of my last good night from them. To whom, if it please God that I return, and question be demanded, what was the impediment of my purposed journey? Judge you what I shall answer.

The cause of my dolour and sorrow (God is witness) is for nothing pertaining either to my corporeal contentment or worldly displeasure; but it is for the grievous plagues and punishments of God, which assuredly shall apprehend not only you, but every inhabitant of that miserable realm and isle, except that the power of God, by the liberty of his evangel, deliver you from bondage. I mean not only that perpetual fire and torment, prepared for the devil, and for such, as denying Christ Jesus and his known verity, do follow the sons of wickedness to perdition (which most is to be feared); but also that thralldom and misery shall apprehend your own bodies, your children, subjects, and posterity, whom you have betrayed (in conscience, I can except none that bear the name of nobility), and presently do fight to betray them and your realm to the slavery of strangers.[1] The war begun (although I acknowledge it to be the work of God) shall be your destruction, unless that, betimes [soon], remedy is provided. God open your eyes, that you may espy and consider your own miserable estate.

My words shall appear to some sharp and indiscreetly spoken; but as charity ought to interpret all things to the best, so ought wise men to understand, that a true friend cannot be a flatterer, especially when the questions of salvation (both of body and soul) are moved ­ and not that of one nor of two, but as it were of a whole realm and nation. What are the sobs, and what is the affection of my troubled heart, God shall one day declare. But this will I add to my former rigour and severity, to wit, if any persuade you (for fear of dangers that may follow) to faint in your former purpose, be he never esteemed so wise and friendly, let him be judged of you both foolish and your mortal enemy: foolish, for because he understands nothing of God's approved wisdom; and enemy unto you, because he labours to separate you from God's favour ­ provoking his vengeance and grievous plagues against you, because he would that you should prefer worldly rest to God's praise and glory, and the friend ship of the wicked to the salvation of your brethren.

[2]I am not ignorant that fearful troubles shall ensue your enterprise (as in my former letters I did signify unto you); but O joyful and comfortable are those troubles and adversities which man sustains for accomplishment of God's will, revealed by his word! For how terrible that ever they appear to the judgment of the natural man, yet they are never able to devour nor utterly to consume the sufferers. For the invisible and invincible power of God sustains and preserves, according to his promise, all such as with simplicity do obey him.

The subtle craft of Pharaoh, many years joined with his bloody cruelty, was not able to destroy the male children of Israel; neither were the waters of the Red Sea, much less the rage of Pharaoh, able to confound Moses and the company which he conducted; and that because the one had God's promise that they should multiply, and the other had his commandment to enter into such dangers. I would your wisdoms should consider, that our God remains one, and is immutable; and that the church of Christ Jesus has the same promise of protection and defence that Israel had of multiplication. And further, that no less cause have you to enter in your former enterprise, than Moses had to go to the presence of Pharaoh; for your subjects (yea, your brethren) are oppressed, their bodies and souls held in bondage. [3] And God speaks to your consciences (unless you are dead with the blind world), that you ought to hazard your own lives (be it against kings or emperors) for their deliverance. For only for that cause are you called princes of the people, and you receive of your brethren honour, tribute, and homage at God's commandment: not by reason of your birth and progeny (as the most part of men falsely do suppose), but by reason of your office and duty, which is to vindicate and deliver your subjects and brethren from all violence and oppression, to the uttermost of your power. [4]Advise diligently, I beseech you, with the points of that letter, which I directed to the whole nobility, and let every man apply the matter and case to himself; for your conscience shall one day be compelled to acknowledge, that the reformation of religion, and of public enormities, does appertain to more than the clergy, or chief rulers called kings.[5] The mighty Spirit of the Lord Jesus rule and guide your counsels, to his glory, your eternal comfort, and to the consolation of your brethren. Amen.

From Dieppe, the 27th of October 1557.
[John Knox]



1. Marginal note: The matrimonial crown was granted, and French bands were arrived

2. Marginal note: Let the Papists themselves judge of what spirit those sentences could proceed

3. Marginal note: The duty of the nobility

4. Marginal note: That letter lost by negligence and troubles

5. Marginal note: God grant that our nobility would yet understand


Grace mercy, and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, with perpetual increase of the Holy Spirit.

Albeit of diverse letters written unto you, dearly beloved brethren, since the month of May last bypast, I have received no answer to this hour (which more I impute to the troubles of these wicked times than to any negligence and oblivion [forgetfulness] in you); yet, coming to Dieppe for the performance of my promise and satisfaction of your requests (if God so permits), I could not but renew somewhat of my former rude writing, the tenor whereof was, in effect: that you ­ considering, by the signs forespoken of our Master Christ Jesus (which for the most part are now present), the days of this most corrupt world to be short, and therefore the joyful deliverance of that oppressed and afflicted flock to approach ­ may walk in God's presence as becomes his saints and chosen children; having your consciences assuredly grounded upon the free mercy promised to the faithful in Christ Jesus; and also, that your conversation among men be such as it becomes the children of light, having a testimony by your fruits that your faith is not dead.

And as this is a thing most acceptable before God, so it is not a little necessary in these most wretched and wicked days. For, as some (never taking trial of the ground of their faith) have shamefully slidden back, to the great offence of many, openly denying the eternal verity [truth] of God, the sweetness and power whereof (by all appearance) they never tasted (whatsoever thereof they babbled with their tongues); so has the dissolute life of such as have professed Christ's holy evangel been the occasion of two extreme evils.

Former [first], thereby have the conjured enemies of Christ's truth taken a boldness to blaspheme the same as a diabolical doctrine, which looses the bridle of all impiety. For the pestilent Papists, perceiving the licentious and inordinate life of some professors, did not only judge the whole number to be likewise infected, but also did neither fear nor shame to accuse the doctrine as the principal cause of such enormities. And thus, alas! do we expose the sacred and blessed word of God to opprobrium and rebuke by our inordinate lives.

The second inconvenience which is ensued of our riotous and light behaviour is no less to be lamented. For thereby some, which began with us to follow God, to profess Christ Jesus and to abhor superstition, are declined from the sincerity and simplicity which is in Christ Jesus; and have separated themselves from the society and communion of their brethren, in sects damnable and most pernicious; being bold to affirm, that among us there is no true church, by reason that our lives do not agree with the word which we profess.

Albeit I am not ignorant that neither of these two sorts of men shall escape sharp judgment (except by repentance God speedily calls them to better mind and purpose), yet ought we, dear brethren, take diligent heed that we be not offensive ­ neither to Jew, neither to Gentile ­ as we shall hear and, I hope, consider after that I have touched wherein this last sort of men do err. God is witness I am not their enemy, neither do I write of malice towards any person; but rather lamenting their blindness, I desire to communicate with them the light which God has offered and revealed unto me in Christ Jesus his Son. Of some of them, I trust, I may witness, as man may judge of man, that they have a zeal toward godliness; but alas! it is not according to knowledge, for they do stumble at the same stone which offended the Jews.

But to the purpose: that this sort of men fall from the society of Christ's little flock, with contempt of his sacraments and holy ordinances by us truly ministered (because some men, having a knowledge of the truth, do abuse the sweet liberty of the same), they are abused and deceived in two points. Former [first], they do judge and pronounce of the doctrine and religion by the lives of the professors. Secondly, they require a greater purity and justice (denying any true kirk to be where vices are known) than ever was found in any congregation since the beginning. Of which two errors must needs follow most horrible absurdities; for first, if the life of man (be it good or be it bad) were either assurance, either yet any just condemnation of any doctrine or religion, then were the ancient idolatry of the Gentiles and the blasphemous law of Mohammed to be approved for good religion. And by the contrary, the holy law and ordinances of God were and are to be rejected as false and vain; for in the ancient idolatry, men of most singular virtues, temperance and external justice, did live, as faithful histories do witness unto us. And this day, amongst the Turks, the common multitude do live a more straight life in many things than God's word does require; yea, and some of them, as concerning their external behaviour, may be judged irreprehensible.

But what folly it were to prove [test] and allow therefore their damnable doctrine and false religion. And on the other part, what age shall we find ­ from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to David, and from David to Christ ­ in which iniquity did not abound, yea, even in the household of God? Abraham himself, the father of the faithful, denied Sarah his lawful wife, which, no doubt, was a horrible sin; but was therefore his religion vain? God forbid. The patriarchs, moved by envy, sold their brother. The Israelites, after deliverance from Egypt, and after they had received the law, fell to idolatry, grudged, murmured, and committed horrible fornication. David was found guilty in adultery and murder. And finally, the Holy Ghost does witness, by the mouths of the prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and of the rest), that the people under the most godly kings, and when religion was in the greatest purity ­ then, I say, do the prophets witness that the people were most infected with vices, and so continued until the time of captivity. Yea, and after their reduction, their lives did nothing amend till the days of our Saviour Christ Jesus. But did this common iniquity of the people prove or argue the religion, which was established by God and was taught amongst them, to be false and vain? Far be such cogitations from the hearts of Christians.

Further, let men consider if it was lawful for any man to have despised God's holy ordinances (appointed to be used in his assembly), because that wicked men were participants thereof; yea, or if such as separated themselves apart in sects (as did the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others) did lack their just punishment. Plain it is they did not; for they all, in process of time, declining from the simplicity which God had approved by his law and prophets, fell into damnable idolatry and errors: some arrogantly pretending to be saved not only by the works of the law, but also by such constitutions as they themselves had invented; others denying the immortality of the soul, the substance of angels or spirits, and the resurrection of the flesh; and others contemning and refusing holy matrimony. Thus, I say, did God revenge the contempt of his holy ordinances upon such as would not humble themselves under the same, but dividing themselves from the society of his congregation, pretended to a greater perfection than the law prescribed.

I would that every man should diligently mark this argument of the apostle: "If he," says Paul, "who despised the law of Moses, by the testimony of two or three witnesses, did suffer death without mercy, with how greater torments, trust you, shall he be punished who treadeth under foot the Son of God, and esteemeth the blood of his testament as a profane thing?" (Heb. 10:28-29). The Son of God, who is the wisdom of his Father, has commanded us to assemble together in his name. He has appointed his holy word to be preached, and his sacraments to be ministered, and to be received of such as profess him to be their sovereign Lord and Saviour: which sacraments he has sanctified to us, not as was the book of the law, with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own precious blood, once shed for our redemption ­ the memorial and remembrance whereof he has straightly commanded us (convened together in his name) to celebrate to his gaincoming [return].

These things being weighed, do we think that such as contemn this his precept (withdrawing themselves from the congregation, where they cannot deny but Christ Jesus is preached without all mixture, and sacraments ministered according to his word) shall escape judgment? How the Papists are plagued for the like pride and disobedience, the most part of men do see. And evident it is, that the origin of diversities of their religion amongst them had the same end which men now seek: to wit, they would not stand content with the common justice [righteousness] promised to the members of Christ's body by faith in him, but they would aspire and contend for a greater perfection than the common believers could have; and therefore did they divide themselves apart, contemning Christ's flock and ordinances. But to what holiness they are attained, let the world witness. I am sure God is immutable, and does no less abhor the sectaries of this age than he has done those of former times; and would God that such as most brag of perfection in these our days had not given so manifest declaration of their own blindness as that they have done.

If any think and object: the kirk after Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension, is of greater purity and perfection than was the kirk under the law ­ for it is called the holy and undefiled spouse of Christ, without spot and blemish (Eph. 5:27), and therefore where vices do reign and openly be known, that there cannot be the true kirk ­ let that same man consider that the holy apostle, yea, the Holy Ghost speaking in him, did salute and acknowledge the congregations of Corinth, Galatia, and Thessalonica, for the true kirks of Christ Jesus, in which not the less were crimes most grievous: fornication, adultery, incest, strife, debate, contention, and envy. Yea, some had declined and were bewitched by false apostles, some denied the resurrection, some were idle bellies, and some affirmed circumcision after Christ a thing necessary to salvation. True it is, that the apostle sharply reprehended as well the wicked life as the erroneous opinions, affirming that such persons, without repentance, could not enter in the kingdom of God. But, in the meantime, he did reverence and acknowledge (as I have said) the same congregations to be the true kirks of Christ Jesus; and therefore, I say, that neither the life, neither the opinion of particular persons, is (nor can be) either sufficient approbation, either yet just condemnation of any doctrine or religion.

The iniquity of man declares himself to be wicked, but it is not able to deface the religion which God has approved by his expressed word; for if [it] were so, as before I have touched, then has no religion been sincere and pure from the beginning, for that age has never been in which wicked men did not abound, even in the bowels of the external kirk of Christ. And therefore I say, that the life and conversation of men is no assured note, sign, or token of Christ's visible kirk. But the substance of that doctrine and religion which is publicly preached and universally received in any congregation, assembly, or company does witness and declare, whether the Spirit of the Lord Jesus does there rule the kirk or not. Wheresover God's word has supreme authority; where Christ Jesus is affirmed, preached, and received to be the only Saviour of the world; where his sacraments are truly ministered; and finally, where his word rules, and not the vain fantasy of man: there is the true kirk of Christ Jesus. From the society and ordinances whereof (I mean such as Christ has commanded to be used) ought no man to separate himself, notwithstanding that in the same the darnel and cockell appear to surmount the wheat and good seed.

But here do such as will join themselves to no congregation, except with that which is perfect in all things, object to us, "But you have left the assembly of Papists, and have gathered yourselves in companies apart." I answer, "Just cause have we and all men to flee from the synagogue of Satan, not only because of the wickedness of the lives of such as therein be assembled, but chiefly because that our sovereign captain Christ Jesus is therein blasphemed, his sacraments and holy ordinances being altogether polluted and profaned by the vain inventions of men." Let them convict us and our congregations (as they never shall be able to do) of these crimes, or else they shall not escape judgment and condemnation, because they do despise Christ Jesus and his holy ordinances.

But now, dear brethren, let us return to ourselves, for albeit that neither Papist, neither the other sort, shall escape God's judgment and vengeance, yet it becomes us ever to bear in mind the sentence which our Master by himself, and his Holy Spirit by his apostles, have pronounced in these words: "Let so your light shine before men that they may see your good works, and that they may glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). "Be ye holy as I am holy, for I have chosen and appointed you to go forth and to produce fruit" (1 Pet. 1:16). "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, to whom I leave my own example, that ye love one another" (cf. John 15:16; 13:15, 34; 15:12). "For you I pray (but for the world I pray not) that ye may be sanctified in the verity [truth]; and the word and doctrine which ye have heard and professed is the verity, by which ye have learned to put off the old man with his lusts and concupiscences, and to put on the new man, which is according to the image of him who hath created you to walk in justice and cleanness of life; that ye refusing yourselves, may unfeignedly study to obey the good will of God, which is your sanctification: abstaining from all filthiness and impiety, giving occasion and offence to none, knowing that woe and malediction are pronounced against such as by whom slander cometh" (cf. John 17:9, 17; Eph. 5:3-6; Col. 3:5-6; Luke 17:1-2; Matt. 18:7).

By these and like sentences, dear brethren, it becomes us to consider the excellency of our vocation, and the due and voluntary obedience which we as children ought to render to so loving and gracious a Father, who of his free grace has called us from darkness of error, and from bondage of Satan, to the bright knowledge of his glory, and to the glorious liberty of his saints, whose kingdom, and glory, and joy he has appointed most assured and triumphant with Christ Jesus his only beloved. In consideration, I say, of this our glory to come, and of that excellent our present dignity, which assuredly we possess in hope (for even now are we the sons of God although our glory be hid), ought we with all diligence watch, lest that oblivion and forgetfulness of our God and of his kingdom creep into our minds; being also careful and vigilant in all assaults, as well to try and examine the infallible signs of our election (which thing St. Peter calls "the making of our election sure" [2 Pet. 1:10]), tempting [testing] if we stand in faith, and if our consciences do bear record that in vain we have not received the graces of God; as also, that we declare before this wicked generation, by the fruits which we produce, what trees we are: to wit, the faithful branches of the very vine. And in these two points ought our principal and chief study be occupied: considering, first, that without faith it is impossible to please God; and, on the other part, that the eyes of our enemies are ever bent upon us.

The Papists are busy to espy our offences, faults, and infirmities, to the end that, as is said, they may blaspheme the blessed word of the eternal God, by which is uttered and revealed to us his fatherly mercies, godly counsels, and free graces towards us ­ which as they never tasted, so they may not abide to be preached to the world. But as they shall bear their just condemnation, because they accuse us (not hating our sins, but hating our persons and the verity we profess), so are they not the enemies most to be feared. For [that] the venom and malice of Satan reigns in all Papists (for the most part) is now more evident, even to infants, than that it can greatly hurt any, except such as willingly, and with insatiable appetite, do drink the poison of that harlot's cup, either for fear of corporeal punishment, or else for hope of worldly promotion.

But of the other sort, of whom before we have somewhat spoken, the craft and malice of the devil fighting against Christ is yet more covert, and therefore it is more dangerous and more to be feared; for under the colour and cloak of mortification of the flesh, of godly life, and of Christian justice, they are become privy blasphemers of Christ Jesus, supplanters of his dignity, and manifest enemies to the free justification which comes by faith in his blood. For some of them do not fear to deny Christ Jesus to be the eternal Son of the eternal God, and so, with Arius, blasphemously deny his Godhead. Some do affirm that it is impossible but that a man may obey and perfectly fulfill the law of God in this life, in which he may attain to as great perfection of justice as ever Christ had. Others do hold for a sure conclusion, that Christ's justice [righteousness] avails us nothing except that we have a perpetual justice (as they term it) of their own. And finally, the general consent of all that sect is that God (by his foreknowledge, counsel, and wisdom) has no assured election, neither yet any certain reprobation, but that every man may elect or reprobate himself by his own free will, which he has (say they) to do good or evil. The rest of their opinions, most horrible and absurd, I omit at this present [time], touching only for your advertisement [notice] those which they think inexpugnable, and in which they glory as of most precious pearls, forged by their own brains, and polished by the finest of their wits, when yet in very deed they are but the rotten heresies of Arius and Pelagius, long ago confuted by Augustine, and by ancient writers before him.

And of such teachers or professors I beseech you, dear brethren, to take heed, for by them are not only the glory of Christ Jesus and his dignity trodden under foot, but also is God in effect denied to be God. For whosoever goes about to remove from God, either yet to call in doubt his wisdom and foreknowledge, his justice, power, mercy, goodness, or free election, goes about, so far as in them is, to destroy and call in doubt his whole Godhead. For if there is anything which he did not cause (yea, which he did not also predestinate and appoint), then lacked he wisdom and free regiment [rule]. Or, if anything was ever done, or yet after this shall be done, in heaven or in earth, which he might not have impeded if so had been his godly pleasure, then he is not omnipotent. Which three properties ­ to wit, wisdom, free regiment, and power ­ [if they are] denied to be in God, I pray you what rests in his Godhead?

But far be such blasphemous and impious cogitations from the hearts of such as hope to reign in the kingdom with Christ Jesus. The wisdom of our God we acknowledge to be such that it compels the very malice of Satan, and the horrible iniquity of such as are drowned in sin, to serve to his [God's] glory and to the profit of his elect. His power we believe and confess to be infinite, and such as no creature in heaven or earth is able to resist. And his regiment we acknowledge to be so free, that none of his creatures dare present themselves in judgment, to reason or demand the question, "Why hast thou done this or that?" But the fountain of this their damnable error ­ which is, that in God they can acknowledge no justice except that which their foolish brain is able to comprehend ­ at more opportunity, God willing, we shall treat.[1]

At this present [time], I thought it my duty, and very love constrained me thereto, to advertise you that Satan has sent forth his messengers almost in all quarters, to disperse and sow abroad these his pestilent opinions; and therefore, in the bowels of Christ Jesus, I exhort you to try the spirits of such as shall come unto you. Suffer no man without trial and examination to take upon him the office of a preacher, neither to travel amongst the simple sheep of Christ Jesus, assembling them in privy conventions. For if every man shall enter at his own appetite into the vineyard of the Lord, without just trial of his life, conversation, doctrine, and condition ­ as some, more to serve their own bellies than the Lord Jesus, will offer their labours ­ so no doubt shall Satan have his other supporters by whom he purposes to destroy the very plantation of our heavenly Father. And therefore my prayer is, and shall be unto our God, that in this behalf you be circumspect, prudent, and wary.

For as the matter and business you have in hand is high, and to the advancement of God's glory, and to no small comfort and consolation of your brethren; if in the same constancy with godly wisdom you proceed, so shall Satan be the most vigilant to trouble and impede the same, by all means possible; the powers of the earth shall no doubt stand against you; and the dissolute life and ungodly behaviour, perchance, even of some preachers, may slander and offend weak ones in Christ. But neither of both (except, as God forbid, you turn back from your godly enterprise) do I so much fear as the assault of Satan by false teachers or dissembling brethren; for seldom it is that open tyranny does utterly suppress (in any realm or province) the true religion earnestly received by a multitude. And albeit the ungodly life of preachers for a time troubles the quietness of some consciences, yet such is the mercy of our God towards his own elect, that by his Holy Spirit he comforts the simple; and by the power of his blessed word, in the end, he confounds the dissembling preacher or professor (I mean him that is the mercenary, who seeks the belly, and not the glory of Christ Jesus [Phil. 3:19]), so that neither the open tyranny, neither yet the cloaked and disguised preacher, can hurt much.

But deceitful and false doctrine is a poison and venom which, under the taste and name of verity [truth], once drunk and received, with great difficulty can afterward be purged ­ as the epistles of St. Paul, and the history of all ages, entreating the estate and matters of religion, do teach us. If, therefore, the doctrine and persuasion of any man tend to the exaltation and advancement of any justice [righteousness] or perfection, except Christ Jesus alone; if any affirm that Christian justice, which is available before God, is any other perfection than remission of our sins, which we have only by faith in Christ's blood; or if any promise such perfection in this life, that unfeignedly we need not to say, "Remit to us our offences, for we are unprofitable servants" (Luke 17:10); and finally, if any [would] persuade that our merits, good works, or obedience are any cause, either of our justification, or yet of our election; let him be accursed, suppose that he were an angel from heaven. For he preaches to us another evangel than the Son of God has revealed to the world, and the Holy Ghost has sealed up to us, by the mouths and writings of the apostles, which plainly affirm: "that there is no other name given to men under the heaven in which they may be saved, except in the name (that is, in the power and virtue) of Jesus crucified, who is made to us from God, justice, wisdom, and sanctification, and redemption (Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 1:30); "by whom alone we have access to the throne of God's mercy" (Heb. 4:16); as by [the] one [and] only propitiator and obtainer of grace to us that of nature are sinful, the flesh (even after our regeneration) ever rebelling against the spirit during the travail of this life, in such sort that, with the apostle Paul, the rest of God's children are compelled to confess, "that in them, that is, in their flesh, there remaineth no good" (Rom. 7:18); and therefore shame they not to confess (and that openly and from the heart), "that not of the works of righteousness which we have done, but of his mere mercy and grace, who loving us when we were enemies, did give to the death of the cross his only Son for us, are we saved" (Titus 3:5; Rom. 5:10).

And further, they acknowledge that this salvation does not proceed of our works, neither yet that it was appointed to us in time, but that before the foundation of the world was laid did God elect us in Christ Jesus, that we should be holy and blameless before him by love, by the which he loved us even when we were dead in sin, and did predestinate us, and freely chose us to be his inheritors with Christ according to the good pleasure of his will. So that we are his creation, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has prepared that we should walk in them, so that through grace, and that by free and undeserved favour are we saved, by faith, neither of ourselves, neither yet of our works, lest that any should glory (Eph. 2:8-10). But all the children of God do acknowledge and confess that salvation and the life everlasting are the gift of God the Father, freely given with Christ his Son ­ as the twenty-four elders, casting their crowns before him that sits upon the throne, with one voice do cry, giving glory and praise to him, in these words: "Worthy art thou, O Lord, to receive glory, honour, and empire: for thou wert killed and hast redeemed us, and hast made us to our God priests and kings" (Rev. 4:11; 5:10).

This doctrine, I say, has the Holy Ghost sealed up unto us, which Satan from the beginning has impugned; but now in these last days most cruelly does he rage, omitting no occasion by the which he is able to deface the same; so that what he cannot do by open tyranny, that he travails to bring to pass by false doctrine and damnable errors: that is, Satan continually labours to intermeddle and mix somewhat [something] proceeding from us, besides Christ Jesus and his justice, in the cause and matter of our redemption and salvation; for nothing to him is more despiteful than Christ Jesus exalted, truly preached, and constantly affirmed to be the only Saviour of the world. For that word of verity, being the power of God to the salvation of all those that believe it, is the plain subversion of his [Satan's] kingdom; and therefore he, our mortal enemy (the old serpent) ­ perceiving his head to be bruised by the power of Christ Jesus so preached, that he [Christ] alone may be known conqueror ­ [Satan] does now spit forth his deadly venom, and fiercely stirs his terrible tail, to the end that he may trouble for a time the very elect, and utterly blind, envenom, and deceive those whose names are not written in the Book of Life.

But my hope is good of you, dearly beloved in the Lord Jesus, that even to the end you shall continue in that doctrine which once you have professed, notwithstanding that the winds of unstable and deceitful opinions are blown in your ears; and also, that you shall proceed and march forward in the battle begun (remember, I beseech you, with what conditions we did first break bread together in the name of the Lord Jesus), whatsoever impediments be prepared in you contrary; that so doing, at the last you may attain to the participation of that kingdom, the possession whereof is not gotten but by the suffering of many tribulations. The mighty power, illumination, and grace of the same Spirit, who raised from the death the Lord Jesus (the great Bishop of our souls), move, illuminate, and inspire your hearts, senses, and understandings, that clearly you may behold the length, breadth, the height and deepness of that love of God our Father, shown and confirmed to us in Jesus Christ; and so enlighten the eyes of your inward man, that continually you may contemplate the unspeakable riches of that glorious inheritance, prepared for such as believe and profess him in the presence of men, and of this wicked generation; that you, in deep consideration of the same, may contemn and despise the deceitful and transitory pleasures that are present, in a sure hope to possess with the Lord Jesus those things that are permanent and eternal. Amen.

This letter is more ample than was that which I sent first, and therefore, notwithstanding the copies of the other, I pray you provide that the double of this be sent to our brethren in Kyle, and to the others that shall require it. The grace of the Lord Jesus rest with you.

From Dieppe, the first of December 1557.

Your brother to command in godliness,
John Knox



1. Knox fulfilled this intention, by providing an extensive treatise on the errors of the Anabaptists in his Answer to the Blasphemous Cavillations Written by an Anabaptist (1560).


The secrets of the Lord are revealed to those that fear him (cf. Ps. 25:14).

The Holy Ghost, by the mouth of David and Solomon (right honourable lords), for two reasons, calls "the fear of the Lord, the beginning of all wisdom" (Prov. 9:10): first, because without the same, all that appears to be wisdom perishes, and most commonly turns to the perdition of those that are esteemed and do esteem themselves most wise; for natural wisdom, not ruled nor bridled by the fear of God, as it is but extreme foolishness, so it is a poison and venom most deadly, which in the end commonly brings the worldly wise to worldly confusion, as the experience of all ages has taught us; where by the contrary, the fear of the Lord preserves his servants in their greatest extremities even before the world. But this is not the chief cause why the fear of the Lord has the forenamed title; for it is evident that not only the worldly wise once suffer death and come to confusion, but also, as David does witness, even those that altogether be full and enraged with madness; yea, it is a statute to all men once to die. But because that where the fear of the Lord is once deeply grafted in the heart, there also are the graces of the Holy Spirit from time to time added to the further instruction, comfort, and confirmation of God's chosen children in all godliness; therefore it is justly and chiefly called "the beginning of wisdom," by which man attains to eternal felicity, and so does escape death and confusion. For this is the conclusion of the Holy Ghost, most certain and infallible, that where God of his great mercy and infinite goodness once begins to touch the heart with his true fear, and, as it were, to change it from the natural rebellion to give unfeigned reverence to his holy Majesty, that there he will (yea, even against the puissance [power] and rage of the ports of hell) perform the work of our redemption, to the manifestation of his own glory, and to the everlasting joy of those to whom he appoints his Holy Spirit schoolmaster and instructor.

And albeit that his favour and fatherly care are common to all his children in things appertaining to life everlasting (every one receiving such portion and measure of his grace as his wisdom knows to be expedient for finishing and confirmation of that good work begun), yet in distributing temporal benedictions, his Majesty takes most especially care upon those whom he has determined and appointed to be rulers, comforters, and maintainers of others. To Joseph he gave not only favour in the eyes of strangers in time of his bondage, but also in his young age he did show unto him most notable visions, to the perfect understanding and knowledge whereof did neither his father, neither yet himself, fully attain many days after. To Solomon, likewise, were superabundantly given riches, honour, and worldly rest, besides the wisdom which he required. And to Daniel, above all mortal men of that age, was given the knowledge and revelation of secret and hidden things to come. Which singular privileges (in which they did far excel their brethren) did not so much serve for themselves as for the commodity and profit of others, to whom God made them instructors, rulers, defenders and stewards. For the interpretation of dreams and visions given unto Joseph did more profit the commonwealth of Egypt than it did serve for his eternal salvation. And the same may be said of those notable prerogatives given to Solomon and Daniel; for by the felicity of the one were the people of Israel living in his age reputed blessed; and by the revelation granted to the other, is the whole kirk of God this day assured of things bypast and that are to come. And, therefore, I say, that such singular and rare privileges and graces are given to a few, for the comfort, instruction, and defence of many.

But one thing is to be here marked and diligently to be observed, which is this: that before all these super-excellent graces, we plainly may perceive that the fear of God was planted in their hearts. For in Joseph we may espy a hatred of sin and iniquity which his brethren committed, insofar as he reveals the same to his (and their) father, whose authority he judged sufficient to have repressed the same (Gen. 37:2). In Solomon we see a desire of wisdom, whereby he might rule and govern with equity and justice the people committed to his charge (1 Kings 3:7-9). And in Daniel does evidently appear the horror and fear that he had to pollute and defile himself with meats forbidden by the law of the Lord his God (Dan. 1:8). And this, I say, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning and continuance of wisdom: of wisdom, I say, which is worthy of the name wisdom, and is the most singular gift of God given to those by whom he purposes to work any notable work to his glory.

But further must I admonish, that I mean not that only those who have these singular privileges or revelations of secret things given unto them, immediately given of God, have in their hearts his true fear, and that no other besides has any motion thereof. But I mean also, that they whose hearts God does so mollify and move, that with reverence they receive the counsel and admonitions given unto them by God's messengers, and do determine with themselves to obey his holy will revealed unto them, albeit the same appears far to pass their power or engine ­ these men, I say, how ignorant that ever they appear to be of God, cannot be judged altogether empty and void of his true fear; neither shall they be destitute of wisdom and power to perform the things which God requires of them. For insofar as Pharaoh did fear the things that were not seen, and at the counsel and commandment of Joseph did make provision for the danger which the natural man could neither have believed nor feared (Gen. 41) ­ in so doing, I say, he did declare himself much to esteem the messenger of God, by whose Spirit, power, and providence were such things not only revealed, but also should be performed and brought to pass. Which things I mean, to reverence God's messengers, heartily to embrace and study to obey the precepts and charges which they give, to study also to magnify God and to make his providence and wondrous works known unto men, can no man do from an unfeigned heart, except that some spark of God's true fear rest in the same.

The like is to be noted in Nebuchadnezzar, who being the golden head and only monarch of the earth in his days, ashamed not to stoop and to fall down (hearing the interpretation of his own dreams), before the feet of Daniel, and openly confess that there was no God who rules the heaven and earth except the God of Israel (Dan. 2:46-49). And, moreover, he did not only promote Daniel (being a stranger, captive, and prisoner) above all the princes of his realm, but also, at his request, the king promoted to honours and offices his fellows, and was beneficial to the rest of the Jews then afflicted in his dominions. Which confession, obedience, love, and liberality did, no doubt, spring from the secret and hidden fear of God which was planted in his heart, and, no doubt, had some root in the same, when he appeared ignorant of God, and greatest enemy to his people.

What further graces and commodities (not only to themselves, but also to many others) did ensue this their obedience, the Holy Ghost does not conceal. For by the one, to wit, by Pharaoh, were not only his own people fed and preserved in the days of famine, but also by that godly provision made in his realm were the livesof many others preserved (Gen. 45): yea, the lives of the whole kirk of God which that day was known to be upon the earth ­ I mean of Jacob and his household. And albeit that Nebuchadnezzar did fall, and in many things offend most horribly, yet still we find that the mercy of God did so overcome his malice, that after long punishment and dejection from all honours he was restored again, not only to the form, reason, and understanding of man (of which he was deprived for a time), but also to his former dignity, honours, and empire, to the great manifestation of God's glory, and to the most singular erudition, admonition, and comfort of others (Dan. 4). For what erudition and doctrine were preached to the world by the publication of his confession, and of the most wondrous work of God declared upon him (which he did notify to many realms and nations [which heretofore] were drowned in idolatry and did live without any perfect knowledge of the living God); what admonition might, and this day may and should, earthly rulers and princes receive by his punishment; and what singular comfort is left to penitent sinners in his most notable restitution to honours again?

The matter, I say, cannot be expressed by the wit or engine of man; and therefore yet again I say that wheresoever the true fear of God is planted in the heart, there shall also after be added wisdom and other graces, necessary and profitable, not only to the receiver, but also to others. But this root of virtue and wisdom (the true fear of God I mean) being absent from the heart ­ as there can be no obedience which is acceptable unto God, neither yet any love to his messengers of any long continuance ­ so can there be no wisdom to search and seek for things profitable, neither yet grace to follow God's will how manifestly that ever it is revealed. But rather are the wholesome counsels and admonitions (given for reformation of manifest iniquity, and also for temporal commodities and conservation of realms and commonwealths) not marked nor perfectly understood; or else when God's messengers do plainly speak to princes and rulers, their counsels and admonitions are disdainfully contemned. The counsel, no doubt, of Moses to proud Pharaoh had been to the salvation of himself and to the safeguard of his people, if after many plagues he could have given obedience. But as the sun did long shine before the blind, so in the end, without all light and wisdom, were he and his army, in their cruel rage, drowned by the waters of the Red Sea.

The admonition and counsel of Jeremiah to King Zedekiah, although it appeared sharp (for he commanded him to render and subject himself in the power of the king who besieged him), yet had it not been a little profitable to him and to that commonwealth, if he had obeyed and followed the commandment of the prophet (Jer. 38). But because the king and his council in the end agreed to follow their own imaginations, and so to rebel against God and his messenger Jeremiah, the one and the other (I mean the king and his counsellors) did taste the bitter cup of God's vengeance, which so often was pronounced by the mouth of the same prophet (Jer. 52). For the eyes of Zedekiah were compelled to behold his counsellors ­ yea, and his own sons ­ slain in his presence, and immediately were his own eyes put out, so that ever [after] that he never saw light nor comfort in earth. Jerusalem was burnt with fire and the whole land was laid waste; and all this calamity came upon them because the counsel of God, proclaimed by his prophets, was mocked and condemned. And yet in this most miserable and universal visitation, mercy was shown to such as feared God, and had been obedient and shown mercy to his prophet. For besides the multitude, which at the commandment of Jeremiah did subject themselves to the king of Babylon (and so were saved from that present vengeance), Ebed-melech, the black Moor or Ethiopian (by whose intercession and bold request unto the king, the prophet was delivered from death and prison), and Baruch, the scribe (by whom was written and presented to the prince and counsellors the sermons and preaching of Jeremiah): these two, I say, in the midst of that same fire of God's vengeance which consumed many thousands, found favour and grace, and did obtain their lives for a prey.

These things I briefly touch, right honourables, not so much to instruct you, as to animate and to encourage you in that most godly work which once you have purposed. You were of mind (and my good hope is that so you yet remain) to jeopardize and hazard (in the cause of Christ Jesus, and for the deliverance of your brethren from this Babylonian and Antichristian bondage) your lives, your honours, and whatsoever you have received in temporal things of God's hands. This matter you have communicated with me, and ­ as I must answer in the presence of the Lord Jesus ­ I have given unto you such counsel as his Holy Spirit assured me is for the manifestation of God's glory, and also to your eternal comfort, whatsoever flesh and blood do judge in the matter, as in my former letters is expressed more fully.

But this your former purpose, and my counsel also, notwithstanding, if the true fear of God has not some root in your hearts, all is vain and labour lost. For of this one thing I will, that assuredly you persuade yourselves that the floods shall come, the winds shall blow, the storms and tempests shall arise, and with violent rage they altogether shall assault your fortress; and then ­ except you be built upon the sure rock, Christ Jesus, who has commanded you to forsake yourselves and to follow him ­ impossible it is that you can remain constant in your godly purpose; but in a moment shall your whole building and house be overthrown. For flesh and blood cannot deny itself, neither yet can it be made able to endure and abide the fire of afflictions, except that it be convicted of its own infirmity, and therefore be strengthened and confirmed by the power of another. For this order does God most commonly keep in appointing and sending to battle his best and most approved soldiers: first, to deject them from all confidence which they may have, either in themselves, either yet in the arm of any man; and thereafter, to erect and raise them up in boldness of his strength, and by the free promises of his mercy, somewhat does he remedy the trouble of their conscience. And this dejection, humiliation, and refusal of themselves, he works both in conscience and in confidence of worldly power; he embarrasses [humbles] and beats down the conscience, opening the eyes of their minds that they may behold the miseries of their own nature, and their just condemnation which their sins deserve. In deep contemplation whereof, God brings them, as it were, to the ports of hell, to an unfeigned hatred of themselves and of sin (and this is the first entry to the true fear of God). But in this estate he leaves them not, but manifesting to them his undeserved love and favour in Christ Jesus, his only Son, he reveals and somewhat raises up their conscience, so that in all assaults they rest upon his free mercy.

Thus did he beat down the pride of Peter and the confidence which he had in his own strength; and the glory also which Paul had in the justice of the law; and yet was the one appointed preacher to the Jews, and the other chief apostle to the Gentiles. And such as it [pleased] God to appoint to deliver his people oppressed by worldly calamities, he commonly does so entreat for a long season, to the end that they have no cause to glory in anything appertaining to flesh. For albeit Moses in his youth was nourished in Pharaoh's house, yet before he was known to be the appointed messenger of God for the deliverance of afflicted Israel, he was banished forty years, yea, and ashamed not to keep the sheep of his father-in-law. The law and simple estate of Gideon, the contemned youth and infancy of David, are not concealed by the Holy Ghost, to instruct us: first, that the eye of God, in appointing of his messengers, looks not to such things as the world most esteems; and, secondly, to beat down the arrogance and pride of all flesh, that no man glory of such works as God does work by him whom he has chosen from the dunghill (as David speaks), and placed him with the princes of his people, without all merit or deserving of themselves, either yet of any of their progenitors.

The same I might prove by more examples; but these histories I may not apply, lest that I be compelled to exceed the measure of a missive. Those that thus are taught of God and, by plain and clear sight of their infirmity and wretched nature, are unfeignedly moved to rest upon the power of God (and upon his free and undeserved mercy), have from time to time augmentation and increase of his Holy Spirit, and wisdom in abundance (joined with constancy) ministered unto them in the midst of all afflictions, to perform the good work which in God's name they begin. And so potently does he sometimes work, even by such as have sometimes appeared abject, and of no estimation, that by one he comforts, maintains, and delivers many thousands. If you have tasted of this Spirit (right honourables), and by the motion of the same put your hands to the Lord's work, then whatsoever any creature imagines to the contrary, yet shall you so prosper, that in the end you shall be called the blessed of the Lord. For as such as labour to suppress God's glory shall leave their names in execration to the posterity following, so shall those that unfeignedly seek to promote the same have their names written, not only in the Book of Life, but also shall have them here kept and registered in special recommendation. But in all things I wish your eyes to be single, beholding only in your enterprise the glory of God, your duty, and the salvation of your brethren.

But now, no further to trouble you at this present [time], I will only advertise you of such bruit [report] as I hear in these parts uncertainly noised, which is this: that contradiction and rebellion is made to the authority by some in that realm. In which point my conscience will not suffer me to keep back from you my counsel, yea, my judgment and commandment, which I communicate with you in God's fear, and by the assurance of his truth, which is: that none of you that seek to promote the glory of Christ do suddenly disobey or displease established authority in things lawful; neither yet, that you assist or fortify such as for their own particular cause and worldly promotion would trouble the same. But in the bowels of Christ Jesus, I exhort you that, with all simplicity and lawful obedience, joined with boldness in God, and with open confession of your faith, you seek the favours of the authority, that by it (if [it] be possible) the cause in which you labour may be promoted, or at least not persecuted; which thing, after all humble request, if you cannot attain, then, with open and solemn protestation of your obedience to be given to the authority in all things not plainly repugnant to God, you lawfully may attempt the extremity, which is to provide (whether the authority will consent or not) that Christ's evangel may be truly preached, and his holy sacraments rightly ministered unto you, and to your brethren, the subjects of that realm.

And further, you may lawfully (yea, and thereto are bound to) defend your brethren from persecution and tyranny, be it against princes or emperors, to the utmost of your power, providing always, as I have said, that neither yourself deny lawful obedience, neither yet that you assist nor promote those that seek authority and preeminence of worldly glory, yea, of the oppression and destruction of others: I mean of him[1] who in the beginning of his authority and government began to profess Christ's truth, but suddenly sliding back became a cruel persecutor of Christ's members, a manifest and open oppressor of all true subjects, and a maintainer of all mischievous men; in which horrible vices he and his faction and assistants (I mean his nearest kinsmen), chiefest counsel to this day, do continue, and malign according to their power, which God of his just judgment shall shortly suppress. For not only the blood of those constant martyrs of Christ Jesus (Mr. George Wishart, simple Adam Wallace, and of others which did suffer for Christ's cause only), but also the blood of those which, under the title of civil crimes, were most unjustly shed, shall cry in the ears of the Lord of Hosts till a just and open vengeance is poured forth upon all those that sought the same ­ but chiefly upon him that then was in authority,[2] except that unfeigned and speedy repentance prevent God's judgments. I shall be judged sharp; but be you admonished to flee all confederacy with that generation (Ps. 72:14). For I speak and write in the presence of him before whose eyes the blood of his saints is so precious, that no worldly power was ever found able to maintain long (or defend) such as delighted in the shedding of the same. And therefore, unto such time as you see some signs of repentance in them, I say yet again, avoid over great familiarity with them.

That now I persuade you to give lawful obedience to the authority, is nothing repugnant to that which I wrote before, touching the war begun. For a great difference there is betwixt lawful obedience, and a fearful flattering of princes, or an unjust accomplishment of their desires in things which are required or devised for the destruction of a commonwealth. But this article I omit for this present [time].

The mighty Spirit of the Lord Jesus rule your hearts in the true fear of God, open your eyes to consider your duties, and give you strength to execute the same. Amen.

From Dieppe, the 17th of December 1557.

Yours to command in godliness,
John Knox



1. "James Duke of Châtelherault, governor of Scotland. In the History of the Reformation [Knox's Works, 1:93-105], under the year 1543, Knox has given some interesting details of his early inclination, when elected governor, to favour the reformed doctrines, until the arrival from France of his bastard brother, the abbot of Paisley (afterwards Archbishop of St. Andrews), who obtained such a pernicious influence over him." [D.L.]

2. "The Governor was superseded in his authority in April 1554, when the Queen Dowager was appointed Regent of Scotland." [D.L.]

Copyright © 1995 by Kevin Reed
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