Tuesday, August 17, 2010

450th Anniversary of the Scottish Reformation

O Lord, give me Scotland, or I die! -- John Knox

On August 17, 1560, the Scottish Parliament ratified a confession of faith that had only been prepared the week before but which was to change the course of Scottish history permanently. Authored by the Six Johns (John Knox, John Winram, John Spottiswoode, John Willock, John Douglas, and John Row), its 25 articles were read through twice, including its preface which calls on men to correct any false teaching contained therein by the word of God:

if any man will note in this our confession any article or sentence repugning to God's holy word, that it would please him of his gentleness, and for Christian charity's sake, to admonish us of the same in writing; and we, of our honour and fidelity, do promise unto him satisfaction from the mouth of God (that is, from his holy scriptures), or else reformation of that which he shall prove to be amiss.

John Knox gave an account of the matter (History of the Reformation in Scotland, Vol. 1, pp. 338f):

Our Confession was publicly read, first in audience of the Lords of Articles, and after in audience of the whole Parliament; where were present, not only such as professed Christ Jesus, but also a great number of the adversaries of our religion, such as the fore-named Bishops, and some others of the Temporal Estate, who were commanded in God's name to object, if they could, any thing against that doctrine. Some of our Ministers were present, standing upon their feet, ready to have answered, in case any would have defended the Papistry, and impugned our affirmatives: but while that no objection was made, there was a day appointed to voting in that and other heads. Our Confession was read, every article by itself, over again, as they were written in order, and the votes of every man were required accordingly. Of the Temporal Estate, only voted in the contrary the Earl of Atholl, the Lords Somerville and Borthwick; and yet for their dissenting they produced no better reason, but, "We will believe as our fathers believed." The Bishops (papistical, we man) spake nothing. The rest of the whole three Estates by their public votes affirmed the doctrine; and many, the rather, because that the Bishops would nor durst say nothing in the contrary.

Three dissented, but the Scots Confession of 1560 was adopted as an expression of the religion of the realm, marking the most significant victory of the Reformation to-date. A week later, on August 24, 1560, Parliament abolished both the mass and the jurisdiction of the Pope in Scotland. Mary, Queen of Scots, did not give royal consent to the Scots Confession, but in 1567 it received full legal recognition when it was reenacted by Parliament and confirmed by King James VI of Scotland (later King James I of England).

Thus, 450 years ago, the Reformed religion was professed by the Scottish nation. It is this anniversary which is worth noting today. John J. Murray has authored a book published by the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) called The Reformation 1560 - The Greatest Year in Scotland's History (2010), which is a helpful introduction to both the context and relevance of this history for today. He writes (pp. 5-6):

The year 2010 marks the 450th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation....

The situation prevailing in the Church and in the nation in 2010 is such as makes one wonder if the martyrs died in vain, if the labours of the Reformers were all for nothing. We are in a new age of darkness with the Gospel buried out of sight, not only by an unchanged Roman system, but by a Protestantism largely devoid of the authority of Scripture, the saving truths of the Gospel, and holiness of life. With the Church in such a weakened state, atheism, scepticism and secularism flourish. Scriptural illiteracy abounds. The moral structure has collapsed. Our culture is declining like some of the ancient civilisations. The liberties won for us at the Reformation are being eroded by government legislation.

As will be made clear in the following pages, the Reformation was first and foremost a mighty work of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual renewal lay at the heart of the transformation which took place. God had mercy on Scotland and delivered her from a dark night. As we face a similar situation today we need to humble ourselves before God and repent of our sins and the sins of the Church and nation. We need to cry to him to once again have mercy on our land. May the light which shone at the Reformation shine again and scatter the darkness of Romanism, unfaithful Protestantism and secularism from our land. ‘O send out thy light and thy truth’ (Psa 43:3).

Murray, in his concluding remarks, speaks of the need for spiritual renewal in Scotland and elsewhere today (pp. 57-58). Scotland's need is not unique to the land of John Knox.

We need men like Luther and Calvin and Knox who will speak that Word with boldness. These men took their stand against error and were prepared to put their lives at risk to do so. They did not shun controversy. Over a century ago C.H. Spurgeon said: 'We want John Knox back again. Do not talk to me of mild and gentle men, of soft manners and squeamish words; we want the fiery Knox, and even though his vehemence should "ding our pulpits into blads" it were well if he did but rouse our hearts to action.'

We need the Holy Spirit. The Reformation came about because, as John Knox said, 'God gave his Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance.' God worked mightily in him and through him. John Knox caught the fire and it burned brightly for God and His cause. The cry that needs to go our from our heart today is 'Where is the God of John Knox?'

The Scots Confession itself concludes thus with a similar prayer:

Arise, O Lord, and let thy enemies be confounded: Let them flee from thy presence that hate thy godly name: Give thy servants strength to speak thy word in boldness; and let all nations cleave to thy true knowledge.

So be it.

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