John Knox was born in Scotland about 1514. So he was only about three years old when the Protestant reformation started in Germany in 1517. Converted to Protestantism from Roman Catholicism in 1543, Knox lived during the time when it was often very dangerous to be a follower of Christ. When the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor (also known as “Bloody Mary” because of her ruthless persecution of the Protestants) became queen in 1553, Knox, who was in England at this time, was forced to hide. He eventually landed in Geneva where he met John Calvin, who became his mentor. Knox retuned to Scotland in 1559, the year after Queen “Bloody Mary” died and was succeeded by the Protestant Queen Elizabeth. He remained in Scotland, bringing reformation to the church until his death in 1572.
Today people remember Knox as the leader of the Protestant reformation in Scotland and the founder of Scottish Presbyterianism. But what others don’t realize is that by the end of his ministry, he became more well known for his prayer than for his other ministries. The devout Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, is reputed to have said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.” Why do you think the Queen said this? Well, because she saw the impact of Knox’s prayer. From a human point of view, it was the prayer of Knox that sparked the Reformation in Scotland. His prayer became the fuel of the ongoing reformation during his time. His prayer shook the land of Scotland, causing a revival among God’s people.
Perhaps of all the prayers of Knox, “Give me Scotland, or I die” is the most quoted one. It was not an arrogant prayer but a passionate plea, showing his intense desire for the conversion of the people of Scotland. His prayer was an expression of his great confidence in God. One of Knox’s mottos was “one man with God is always in the majority.” His prayer also echoes the Apostle Paul’s prayer in Romans 10:1, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” I wonder if we have the same desire for our fellow countrymen. When was the last time you prayed for your country like Knox did for his? Do we sincerely pray for our fellow countrymen’s conversion?
Knox remained prayerful even to death. During his dying hours, “he was much engaged in meditation and prayer. These words were often in his mouth”: “Come, Lord Jesus. Sweet Jesus into Thy hand I commend my spirit. Be merciful, Lord, to Thy Church, which Thou hast redeemed. Give peace to this afflicted commonwealth. Raise up faithful pastors who will take charge of Thy Church. Grant us, Lord, the perfect hatred of sin, both by evidences of Thy wrath and mercy.”
“Grant us, Lord, the perfect hatred of sin.” What a godly prayer of Knox! Indeed, after he died on November 24, 1572 (at about age 58), Principal Smeaton, one of Knox’s contemporaries, said of him, “I know not if ever God placed a more godly and great spirit in a body so little and frail.” Knox was not perfect, but we can definitely learn from his prayer life.
To learn more about Knox’s theology, spirituality, and practice of prayer, see The Collected Prayers of John Knox (Reformation Heritage Books, 2019).