John Knox

While visiting Scotland this past August, my wife Leeta and I enjoyed learning more about John Knox, primary leader of the sixteenth-century Scottish Protestant Reformation. Here’s a bit of what we learned, along with some of the indicators we saw of the high honor in which Knox has been held in Scotland in the centuries since his ministry there. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with this outstanding Christian Reformer.

Knox was born about 1514 and ordained as a Roman Catholic priest around 1536, after studying at St. Andrews University. But a decade later (1546) he had become a supporter of the Reformation and was acting as a bodyguard for George Wishart who was spreading Protestant doctrines. After the archbishop of St. Andrews had Wishart burned at the stake, Knox became a preacher in St. Andrews before being taken prisoner and put to work on a French galley ship.

Following his release, he went to England where he served as chaplain to the young English king Edward VI. During Mary Tudor’s reign (1553-1558) Protestantism was suppressed in England, and Knox went into exile on the European continent, eventually settling in John Calvin’s Geneva, Switzerland. In 1855 Knox spent six months in southern Scotland where he had many supportive followers who repeatedly encouraged him to return to his homeland. But he was also condemned to death and burned in effigy by Scottish Catholic authorities.

When Knox did return permanently to Scotland in May 1559 he was promptly outlawed by royal decree. Nevertheless Knox and his supporters marched into St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, and he preached there for the first time. The following week he was elected as the congregation’s minister. The cathedral was stripped of its Catholic icons and the church became a Protestant congregation. The following year the Scottish Parliament abolished papal authority throughout Scotland.

St. Giles Cathedral aka The High Kirk of Edinburgh

Knox and five other Protestant leaders soon produced the Scottish Confession of Faith, which remained the doctrinal standard of the Church of Scotland until replaced by the Westminster Confession in 1647. He also helped produce the First Book of Discipline, which sought to promote uniformity in doctrine, sacraments, election, and support of ministers, equality of all before God, church discipline, the assistance of the poor and advancement of education.

Knox and his colleagues emphasized four primary positive principles, which were in marked contrast to Roman Catholic teaching and practices of the time: (1) Holy Scripture is the sole and sufficient rule of Christian faith and practice; (2) People are justified (declared righteous by God) through faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation; (3) The Christian minister is simply teacher of the Gospel, servant, and steward; (4) The people have a voice in electing pastors and church office-bearers.

John Knox statue in St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

Knox and the Scottish Reformation had tremendous success despite strong opposition from the crown (Mary Queen of Scots was Catholic) and many of the top nobility, both of which had vested interests in getting their hands on considerable revenues that historically had belonged to Catholic churches (now become Protestant congregations). Knox’s life was often in danger. Ambushes were laid for him and he was repeatedly shot at. Despite those dangers, he uniformly spoke out courageously in promoting the Reformation. God preserved Knox through the many perils he faced, and he died of natural causes in Edinburgh on November 24, 1572.

Significantly, the most prominent memorial in the Glasgow Necropolis, a Victorian-era cemetery that honors thousands of Scotland’s outstanding citizens from past centuries, is an impressive statue of John Knox atop a towering sandstone Doric column and base. The memorial to Knox was erected in 1825, some two and a half centuries after his death.

Leeta at the base of the John Knox monument in the Glasgow Necropolis

All four sides of the monument’s base bear inscriptions, some of which read: “To testify Gratitude for inestimable Services in the Cause of Religion, Education, and Civil Liberty; To awaken Admiration of that Integrity, Disinterestedness, and Courage which stood unshaken in the midst of Trials, and in the Maintenance of the highest Objects; Finally, To Cherish unceasing Reverence for the Principles and Blessings of that Great Reformation, by the influence of which our Country, through the Midst of Difficulties, has arisen to Honour, Prosperity, and Happiness. This monument is Erected by Voluntary Contribution to the Memory of John Knox, the Chief Instrument under God of the Reformation in Scotland.

John Knox House and Museum, Edinburgh

“The Reformation produced a revolution in the sentiment of mankind, the greatest as well as the most beneficial that has happened since the publication of Christianity. John Knox became then a Minister of Edinburgh, where he continued to his death, the incorruptible guardian of our best interests. ‘I can take God to witness,’ he declared, ‘that I never preached in contempt of any man – and Wise men will consider that a true friend cannot flatter, especially in a case that involves the salvation of the bodies and souls, not only of a few persons but of a whole Realm.’ When laid in the grave, the Regent said, ‘There lieth he who never feared the face of man; who was often threatened with dag and dagger, yet hath ended his days in peace and honour.’ ” 

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Some of the information for this blog was gleaned from J.D. Douglas’ chapter on John Knox in John Woodbridge’s outstanding volume, Great Leaders of the Christian Church (Moody Press, 1988).

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

This past August my wife Leeta and I visited Edinburgh, Scotland for two days. We happened to be there during a month-long festival that takes place around that same time each year in Edinburgh. The festival used to feature classical dramatic productions – think Shakespeare. But in more recent years it has come to highlight modern, indie drama presentations. For that reason, the festival has been named Fringe.

The Fringe outside St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

After taking a bus to the center of Edingburgh’s famed tourist district, the Royal Mile, Leeta and I began making our way up the hill toward Edinburgh Castle. In many places the streets and sidewalks were quite literally wall-to-wall people. Along the way street entertainers drew crowds by performing music, magic, mime and the like. The large public square outside St. Giles Cathedral was dotted with canopies under which street merchants sold their wares. A sizeable pair of temporary columns supporting a wide beam stood on the square, advertising the Fringe festival.

Countless large posters advertised the seemingly-innumerable plays that were being offered during the festival. Scores of promoters of the various shows energetically offered tickets to passersby. From the poster-advertisements I saw, it seemed the large majority of the dramatic presentations were of a morally-degraded nature – not what I would recommend as good, moral entertainment viewing.

As we walked along the crowded thoroughfare near the cathedral I suddenly spotted a large white cross up ahead in the middle of the street. “Why?” was printed in large letters atop the cross, and an arrow pointed to the words of John 3:16 which were printed on the crossbar. Two brief parenthetical statements highlighted in red lettering were inserted in the verse by way of explanation and invitation: “For God so loved the world (that’s you) that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him (will you???) shall not perish but have eternal life.”

   A tall, pleasant-looking man stood quietly beside the cross with both his arms extended. In each hand he held out a Christian pamphlet entitled “Father’s Love Letter: An Intimate Message from God to You.” The pamphlet, which is saturated with more than fifty Bible references, very winsomely communicates God’s complete knowledge of us as well as His desire to have a personal relationship with us and to bless us abundantly in this life and throughout eternity. In definite but non-pushy fashion the tract invites people to enter God’s spiritual family through personal, saving faith in Jesus Christ.

My heart was moved by the sight of this faithful ambassador of Christ quietly holding out the Gospel (Good News) of salvation to anyone who would care to take the pamphlet or to stop and talk in order to learn more about it. I was especially struck by the contrast of this evangelist offering the message of God’s spiritual light and life in the public square where secularism and even plenty of godlessness were very much in evidence.

We stopped and introduced ourselves to this fellow Christian and thanked him for his commendable public witness. He introduced himself simply as Steve (sorry I didn’t get his last name). Steve was friendly and engaging. After visiting a few minutes, he suggested we pray together, which we did. Steve prayed God’s blessing on us in our ministry, thanked the Lord for the encouragement our brief visit had been to him, and asked God to make his outreach efforts there that day spiritually fruitful. Steve’s earnest prayerful dependence on the Lord in carrying out his evangelistic ministry was obvious.

Vance with Steve the faithful evangelist
Father’s Love gospel tract

I later visited the website of the ministry organization Steve is part of, Joy on the Streets. I would have a degree of reservation toward some of the perspectives I saw promoted there. But the foundational desire of that Christian ministry to passionately, publicly, joyfully and urgently share the Good News of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is spot-on. Their zeal in that regard is an encouragement (and something of a rebuke) to me to be more faithful and earnest in sharing the Gospel myself. Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

While visiting in Scotland a couple of months ago my wife Leeta and I had the privilege of meeting two faithful Scottish pastors (and one of their wives). As an evangelical pastor myself, I have a definite affinity and appreciation for fellow evangelical ministers who are faithfully serving the Lord and His people. Though my interaction with these two brother pastors was only brief, I wanted to share the blessing that meeting them was to us.

While visiting Glasgow Cathedral (also called the High Kirk of Glasgow) we met two very helpful tour guides, Rev. David Easton and Mr. Bill Lintoft. They answered our questions about the cathedral and a number of its features.

Vance with Rev. David Easton and Mr. Bill Lintoft
Vance with Rev. David Easton and Mr. Bill Lintoft

For some forty years, David Easton served as a minister in the Church of Scotland, serving two long pastorates in the Glasgow area. Recently, in his (partial) retirement, David served for two years as the interim minister at Glasgow Cathedral, until that congregation of about 300 people called its next full-time resident pastor.

Glasgow Cathedral
Glasgow Cathedral

The Church of Scotland has around 1,350 congregations. Like a number of church denominations in America, the Church of Scotland has embraced liberalism in various theological and social-moral issues in recent decades. Faithful evangelical ministers like David Easton are rightly grieved over that decline in their denomination and have been led of God to continue steadfastly promoting sound doctrinal and moral truth in the Church of Scotland. May the Lord encourage and strengthen them as they do so, and use them to have a positive leavening influence in the congregations and ministry circles in which they serve.

The one Sunday we were in Scotland we worshiped at the Fearn Free Church in Hilton, a small seaside town on the western edge of the Moray Firth in the Scottish Highlands. That congregation is part of the Free Church of Scotland, one of several smaller thoroughly-evangelical denominations that faithfully proclaim God’s inerrant Word and the Christian Gospel in Scotland.

Vance & Leeta at Fearn Free Church of Scotland
Vance & Leeta at Fearn Free Church of Scotland

 Our hearts were blessed by the beautiful Psalm-singing we heard and the welcoming individuals we met at that church. In addition, we appreciated the capable public ministry of Rev. Andrew MacLeod, the congregation’s young minister, who presented the Scripture reading, pastoral prayer, and sermon in the worship service. Andrew is in his second or third year of pastoral ministry.

Rev. Andrew MacLeod ministering at Fearn Free Church
Rev. Andrew MacLeod ministering at Fearn Free Church

After the morning worship service Andrew’s newlywed wife, Eilidh, invited us to their home for Sunday dinner. We requested, instead, the privilege of hosting them out to dinner at a restaurant. While Andrew finished up some further ministerial responsibilities at church, Eilidh invited us to join her at their home until he was available. As circumstances turned out, Andrew wasn’t able to join us for quite some time, during which period Eilidh went ahead and prepared a lovely dinner, which the four of us enjoyed together when Andrew returned home.

Andrew and Eilidh MacLeod ministering in their home
Andrew and Eilidh MacLeod ministering in their home

We felt somewhat bad about imposing on this young couple in the midst of the full weekend of ministry responsibilities they were carrying out. But, though we were complete strangers to them, they extended warm, gracious hospitality to us. We were further blessed to hear their Christian testimonies and to perceive their earnest desire to actively, appropriately serve Christ and His followers. Their youthful willingness and diligence in service reminded us of our own early years of ministry, and also how that we want to continue to serve with those commendable qualities throughout our ministry career.

Andrew and Eilidh MacLeod, along with David Easton, present attractive pictures of willing, active and faithful service of Jesus our Savior, both early in adulthood and clear through to the end of one’s ministerial career and life. They are positive examples for vocational and lay ministers alike. 

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

While in Scotland last month, my wife Leeta and I had the pleasure of visiting the headquarters of my primary publisher, Christian Focus Publications. Since 2008 I’ve had the privilege of publishing six books with CFP, and we’re presently collaborating on a seventh volume, a comprehensive biography on David Livingstone. Through those years I’ve interacted with a number of the CFP staff via email about a variety of matters. But this was my first opportunity to visit CFP’s lovely premises and meet several of its cordial staff members in-person. To follow are several highlights of our visit to CFP.

View of Moray Firth, Scotland’s North Sea

Christian Focus Publications is located on a scenic country estate on the western edge of the Moray Firth, an inlet of Scotland’s North Sea. CFP is a couple miles up the shoreline from the seaside village of Hilton and approximately a one-hour drive northeast of Inverness.

View of Moray Firth from cliffside
View of Moray Firth from cliffside

The CFP offices are housed in a portion of Geanies House, a handsome, substantial manor built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Another part of the house is used as a private residence.

Geanies House
Office Entrance at Christian Focus Publications

The manor is surrounded by several acres of beautiful, well-tended lawns and gardens. Walking paths wind through those and the surrounding woods, which stretch to the nearby cliffs overlooking the Moray Firth.

Gardens at Geanies House 1
Gardens at Geanies House 2

On the shoreline at the base of those 200-foot cliffs is the bothy, a small stone cottage. Leeta and I enjoyed spending part of a day exploring the seashore as the tide was going out. An additional treat was sharing a picnic lunch at the bothy with Willie and Kate Mackenzie (of CFP), along with their lively young boys.

The Bothy by the seashore
Leeta at the seashore

Leeta and I stayed in the CFP’s Caretakers Cottage for several nights. Half of that cottage is a charming three-bedroom guest house which can be rented out by tourists in the summer months. The other half of the duplex is the private residence of one of the estate’s friendly groundskeepers.

Keeper’s Cottage

Meeting the cordial staff at Christian Focus Publications was truly one of the highlights of our visit there. Several years ago I had met William and Willie Mackenzie (uncle and nephew to each other), who serve, respectively, as CFP’s General Director and Publications Director. In addition to renewing my acquaintance with them, it was a delight to meet their staff members, who were all very friendly and helpful. They provided us with some great advice and assistance concerning some choice sights to visit while in their area.

Some of the Christian Focus Publications Staff

Christian Focus Publications has a room in its office building where copies of all the nearly 1,500 titles it has published through the years are displayed and available for purchase. People are welcome to stop by and browse through the books in this home-office bookstore. Each year CFP publishes scores of highly worthwhile books on a wide variety of topics for adults, youth and children. You can learn much more about Christian Focus Publications and its titles by visiting its website.

Some of the many CFP books
Christian Focus for Kids Books

The good folks at the CFP home office enjoy having people stop by to say “Hi” and to check out their great selection of books. If you ever have the opportunity to do so, it will be well worth your while.

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

Scottish Cultural Festival

My dear wife Leeta and I celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary this August 25th. As a special celebration of that exceptional blessing we are going on our first-ever overseas trip to Scotland, August 5-17.

We plan to visit a number of Scotland’s scenic and historic sights. We hope to observe one of the Scottish cultural festivals that are held in various locations during the month of August. (Think traditional Scottish dress, music, folk dances, food, athletic competitions, etc.)  High on Leeta’s priority list, and I’ll enjoy it too, is the opportunity to visit a couple of Scotland’s noble historic castles.

Scotland has a rich Christian history, and we’re looking forward to learning more about that and to visiting some of its related sites. We’re also desirous to learn more about the status of Christianity and the professing Christian Church in modern Scotland – various Christian denominations, their convictions, ministries, challenges and influence in society.

David Livingstone Centre Blantyre, Scotland

For the past three and a half years I’ve been working on a comprehensive biography on the life and ministry of David Livingstone, the eminent nineteenth century missionary explorer to southcentral Africa (“Doctor Livingstone, I presume”). One of the highlights of our Scotland trip will be spending a day at the David Livingstone Centre and Birthplace Museum in Blantyre, South Lanarkshire.

We’re also greatly looking forward to meeting several of the people who minister at Christian Focus Publications, my primary publisher in Fearn, Ross-shire, in the Scottish Highlands. I’ve interacted via email with a number of those individuals for several years, but this will be our first opportunity to meet most of them in-person. We’re keenly anticipating worshiping at the church that some of the CFP staff attend, and to receiving a “wee ecclesiastical tour” of the region presented by William Mackenzie, the CFP Publisher.

Geanies Keeper’s Cottage at Christian Focus Publications

Christian Focus has a “cottage” (a cozy two-bedroom house overlooking the North Sea) which we’ll be staying at our second week in Scotland. From there we plan to make several day trips to see various sights in the north of Scotland.

So much to see and take in, so little time! But we’re looking forward to taking in as much as we can while enjoying what we are able to see and experience. I’ll plan to share some highlights from our Scotland trip in future Perspectives blogs. Your prayers for the Lord’s manifold blessings on all aspects of our trip will be greatly appreciated.

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

Mary Slessor (seated) with a Nigerian family

Mary Slessor (seated) with a Nigerian family

Throughout her thirty-eight year missionary career in southern Nigeria, West Africa, Mary Slessor (1848-1915) exhibited the spirit of a true pioneer missionary. She was never content to settle down permanently in one location, but was always seeking to advance Christ’s kingdom work into hitherto unreached areas.

The first twelve years of her missionary career were spent along the coastal region of Calabar, where Scottish missionaries of the United Presbyterian Church denomination had ministered for three decades. Mary then gained permission from the UPC Foreign Mission Committee to carry out missionary service in the previously unreached Okoyong region, which she did for the next seventeen years. (See my June 21, 2017, Perspective for a summary of her courageous, compassionate service during those first two periods of her missionary career.)

In 1904 she once again gained the Foreign Mission Committee’s permission to expand her work further inland to a pair of unreached tribes, the Ibo and the Ibibios. Slavery, human sacrifice and cannibalism had been carried out among them from time immemorial. While the British Government was seeking to curtail those practices, they were known to persist, especially in more isolated regions.

Mary Slessor at a Nigerian village

Mary Slessor at a Nigerian village

In opening that new work, Mary was initially granted one year in which to carry out itinerate ministry in the area. She took with her a small group of Christian teenagers whom she had trained in Okoyong to assist her in the new ministry. Amazingly, by the end of that year of itinerating, Christian schools and congregations had been established in six towns and villages along Enyong Creek which ran between the Ibo and Ibibios.

When Mary’s year of ministry travels concluded, her mission board desired her to resume her former responsibilities back in Okoyong. But she could not reconcile herself to that prospect, explaining: “There is an impelling power behind me, and I dare not look backward. Even if it cost me my connection with the Church [denomination] of my heart’s love, I feel I must go forward. I am not enthusiastic over Church methods. I would not mind cutting the rope and going adrift with my bairns, and I can earn our bite [food] and something more.” She was greatly relieved when the Mission decided to free her from normal responsibilities at a fixed base so from that point forward she could act as a pioneer missionary.

Mary Slessor and adopted children

Mary Slessor and adopted children

Her advance into Ibibios territory was aided by the fact that the British government was building roads in that region. “Get a bicycle, Ma,” government officials said, pointing to the road, “and come as far as you can. We will soon have a motor car service for you.” At fifty-seven years of age Mary gamely learned to ride a bicycle after a government official presented her with a brand new model from England.

The early months of 1909 found Mary covered with painful boils from head to foot. “Only sleeping draughts keep me from going off my head,” she related. She later became severely ill from blood poisoning. She was taken to Duke Town near the coast where members of the mission attentively nursed her back to heal. But after five weeks of such care she was eager to resume her ministry responsibilities inland, and did so before some officials and doctors thought it fully advisable.

Mary Slessor Memorial in Dudee, Scotland

Mary Slessor Memorial in Dudee, Scotland

Eventually her health declined to the point that the Mission’s doctor forbad her to travel by bicycle. Hearing of her need for an alternative means of transportation, a group of ladies in Scotland sent her a Cape cart, a basket-chair on wheels capable of being maneuvered along quite easily by two boys or girls.

In the closing years of her life Mary established churches and schools in the villages of Ikpe, Odoro Ikpe and Nkanga further up Enyong Creek. She carried out ministry at those locations unaided by fellow missionaries. To her deep disappointment, the Mission had already concluded that health conditions were not safe enough in that region to place other missionaries there. To the end, however, she continued to be assisted by several African girls who lived with her as foster daughters.

Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

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A fuller account of Mary Slessor’s storied missionary career in Calabar is recorded in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). W. P. Livingstone’s Mary Slessor of Calabar, Pioneer Missionary (originally published 1916) is the classic full-length biography of her life. Bruce McClennan’s Mary Slessor, A Life on the Altar for God (Christian Focus, 2015) is a more recent full account of her life.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie