And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.”

“But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.”  Matthew 10:22, 23

The Reformation In Scotland



The Reformation in Scotland seems to have been accompanied by greater violence than elsewhere in Europe. It has been stated that the corruption of the Catholic Church had reached a greater height in Scotland than in any other country, unless it was Italy.” Gideon D. Hagstoz, Heroes of the Reformation, 85.

The Reformation in England dealt with the freedom of the throne from the supremacy of the pope, whereas in Scotland the reform movement was concerned primarily with the religious center.

“The more prominent outcome of the Reformation in England was a free state; the more immediate product of the Reformation in Scotland was a free Church. But soon the two countries and the two Reformations coalesced: common affinities and common aims disengaged them from old allies, and drew them to each other’s side; and Christendom beheld a Protestantism strong alike in its political and in its spiritual arm, able to combat the double usurpation of Rome, and to roll it back, in course of time, from the countries where its dominion had been long established, and over its ruins to go forward to the fulfillment of the great task which was the one grand aim of the Reformation, namely, the evangelising and civilising of the earth, and the planting of pure churches and free governments.” J. A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, Book 24, 466.

Scotland, before the ninth century, was inhabited by savage tribes who practiced the rites and worshipped the same gods as the Assyrians. This country had no harbor where ships could put into port. Because of this no mariner visited this land, ensuring that Scotland would remain a backward country for many years.

Caesar had attempted to conquer Scotland without success. He was followed by missionaries who were more successful in gaining a foothold. Columba, born in 521, began evangelizing the northern and western parts of Scotland, as well as England, from the island of Iona off the Scottish coast.

Catholicism Enters Scotland

In the twelfth century, the light of Iona was waxing dim, paving the way for Roman Catholicism to establish itself in Scotland. This did not come about as the result of the conversion of the inhabitants of that land, but by the power of the king. The men, as well as the system, came from another land.

The limits imposed upon ecclesiastics of other countries, such as France, were not set up in Scotland. “Bishops and abbots filled all the great posts at court, and discharged all the highest offices in the state.” Ibid., 467.

“Scotland had no centralized government. The prince bishops owned about one half of the land, and the secular nobility owned or controlled the other half. The king had very little power. He had no standing army of his own and no personal body-guard, but had to depend on the feudal militia for protection and support.” Lars Qualben, A History of the Christian Church, 312.

Darkness covered the land, but there was a glimmer of light, and Pope John XXII complained that there were heretics in the land. The first martyr John Resby, was burned in 1406. He was an Englishman and a follower of Wycliffe. Others followed him to the stake in the next few years. In the same year, the University of St. Andrews was founded. A requirement for the Master of Arts degree was that the applicant must agree to defend the Roman Church against all accusers.

Because the writings of Luther were so eagerly read, the Parliament, in 1525, prohibited the printing and distribution of his literature. The two most prominent men to be burned at the stake were Patrick Hamilton, who was arrested by order of Cardinal Beaton in 1528, and George Wishart in 1546. Their teaching of the reform faith came to the attention of the Cardinal whose only goal was to completely control all Scotland. His efforts to destroy the heretics only added fuel to the fire. For every martyr who perished, a little company of followers arose to fill his place. From this time on, the Reformation in Scotland was dependent upon the political power in control.

It can be said that the Reformation in Scotland began with the entrance of Tyndale’s New Testament into that country, the circulation of Luther’s and Reformed writings, and by returning students from universities on the Continent and in England. By Act of Parliament, March 15, 1543, all the people had access to the Bible in their own tongue.

When Margaret, the daughter of Henry VII of England, married James IV, King of Scotland, the Scottish nobility feared that Scotland would come under the control of England. To prevent this happening, they made alliances with France against England. James V married Mary of Lorraine, sister of the Duke of Guise, who was violently opposed to Protestantism.

At the death of James V the crown was left to his infant daughter, Mary Stuart. The Queen, Mary of Guise, was made the Queen-regent until her death in 1560. It was her policy to suppress Protestantism. Mary Stuart was sent to France for her education and while there she married Francis II, King of France. She made an agreement with Francis that Scotland would be controlled by France at her death, when she left no heirs.

Defenders of Scottish Freedom

The defenders of Scottish freedom, and the friends of Protestant reform merged to form a strong party which was friendly toward England. The secular nobility saw that the Reformation would aid them in crushing the power of the detested prince bishops. A large number of the prominent noble families openly accepted Protestantism.

It was at this point that John Knox enters the picture. By 1546 he was well known as a powerful preacher. In his preaching he proclaimed that the Roman Catholic Church was the Synagogue of Satan and that the Pope was the anti-Christ. In 1547, Knox was captured by the French and made a galley slave for nineteen months. On his release he spent some years in England and in Europe, but always wrote to his countrymen encouraging and instructing them. Knox returned to Scotland in 1556, preaching against the mass, and made a petition to Mary of Guise begging her to support the Gospel. The petition was refused by the Queen-regent. This refusal forced Knox to flee to Europe. In 1559, when Elizabeth became Queen of England, he returned to Scotland.

Mary Stuart, Queen of the Scots, denounced Elizabeth as an illegitimate usurper, and proclaimed herself as the rightful queen of England. This claim by Mary threatened to bring both Scotland and England under the control of France. Knox began preaching powerful sermons, proclaiming that Scotland must be free and upholding the idea that the secular power was not to control the religious. “Wherever Knox went, his preaching was like a match set to kindling wood.” Ibid., 315. He was supported militarily and politically by John Erskine, the leader of the First Scottish Covenant. This Covenant was formed by a number of Scottish nobles on December 3, 1557, stating that the signatories would “stand by one another with life and fortune to ‘establish the most blessed Word of God and His Congregation.’ ” Ibid.

The Scottish people revolted against the Catholic Church, breaking images, storming and looting monasteries, and commanding priests to cease saying mass. The result of all this “rebellion” on the part of the people was that the Queen ordered French troops to put it down. Knox encouraged the people to meet force with force and the combat ended in a draw. France then sent reinforcements in order to maintain her hold on Scotland.

John Knox appealed to Queen Elizabeth to send a fleet to resist the French. She sent both an army and a fleet to help the Protestants in Scotland. Knox worked as chaplain and liaison officer negotiating with the English government that the cause of Protestantism might continue to be victorious. The presence of an English army induced the French to withdraw and leave the government of Scotland under the control of the Council of Lords. The treaty was signed on July 6, 1560, shortly after the death of Mary of Guise, the Queen-regent. The Treaty stipulated that all foreign troops and arms should be removed from Scotland and that no Frenchman could hold any important office of state.

Following this treaty, the most important parliament met on July 1, 1560. It was attended by a large number of barons, nobles, and lords—Knox being among them—and it abolished the celebration of the mass and the jurisdiction of the pope. The law against the mass was so strong that any offender was threatened with the death penalty on the third conviction.

Knox became the church leader in Scotland and at the request of Parliament he prepared a Confession of Faith, the Confessio Scoticana, which was adopted on August 17, 1560. The following week the Parliament passed the Laws of the Estate resulting in the complete rupture with Rome. In January, 1561, the Parliament adopted the “First Book of Discipline” which had been written by Knox. “The system worked out by Calvin was applied to the entire nation. In each parish the pastor and the presbyters constituted an administrative and disciplinary board. The presbyters were elected by the congregation. In the larger centers meetings for discussion were held which later developed into ‘presbyteries.’ Pastors and congregations within specified regions were governed by synods, and over all was the ‘General Assembly’.” Ibid., 316.

Knox and Mary, Queen of Scots

“Knox had still another battle to fight. Mary, Queen of Scots, the unfortunate Mary who by her own unwise acts lost her crown and later her life, returned from France as a widow at eighteen, in August, 1561. She was determined to restore Scotland to the Catholic Church.

“The most dramatic period of Knox’s life doubtless falls during her reign as he tilted and sparred verbally with Mary when she repeatedly summoned him into her presence. The first such skirmish resulted when Knox condemned the mass which she had celebrated her first Sunday after arriving in Scotland. He had said that one mass was more terrible to him than 10,000 armed invaders. Five times, some say six, she called him before her.

“The second occasion was Knox’s sermon against the persecution of the Huguenots in France, an event Mary celebrated with a ball at Holyrood. The next also concerned the mass. The fourth, which left an aftermath of peril, resulted when Knox had vehemently spoken against her proposed marriage to a Catholic, the son of the king of Spain. This time she dissolved in tears and sobs as she railed against him; but Knox maintained that he was not preaching his own words, but the words that were given him out of the Scriptures.” Heroes of the Reformation, 86.

Knox was charged with treason among other things, and brought to trial before Queen Mary. The future of Knox and the Reformation in Scotland hung in the balance at this trial. The great Scottish Reformer was acquitted and the Queen, because of her indiscretions, was imprisoned and removed from the throne. John Knox died in 1572 and his work was ably carried on by Andrew Melville who died in 1622. When Queen Elizabeth of England died in 1603, England and Scotland were united under one crown.

“It would have but little availed Scotsmen in the nineteenth century if Knox had wrought up their fathers to a little political enthusiasm, but had failed to lead them to the Bible, that great awakener of the human soul, and bulwark of the rights of conscience. If this had been all, the Scots, after a few abortive attempts, like those of misguided France, to reconcile political freedom with spiritual servitude, would assuredly have fallen back under the old yoke, and would have been lying at this day in the gulf of ‘Papistrie.’ Discarding this narrow visionary project, Knox grasped the one eternal principal of liberty, the government of the human conscience by the Bible, and planting his Reformation upon this great foundation stone, he endowed it with the attribute of durability.” The History of Protestantism, 515.

The void left by the death of Knox was more than ably filled by Andrew Melville (1545–1622). Melville was one of the greatest teachers and administrators of his day. It was under his guidance that the educational system in Scotland was established, and in fact made it one of the most noted systems anywhere in the western world. In 1572 the system of episcopacy, which was not in reality episcopacy, for it had no authority and exercised no oversight over the churches in Scotland, was introduced into that country. Knox had opposed the introduction and work of the Tulchan bishops and Melville continued the fight to his dying day. (A tulcan is a calf’s skin stuffed with straw, set up to make a cow give her milk freely. The Tulcan bishops, known only in Scotland, were introduced into the Presbyterian Church by some nobles wishing to take a portion of the churches income through appointment to rich benefices.)

Melville carried on a running battle for the firm establishment of the Presbyterian form of church government free of all secular control. He not only opposed the Roman prelates in Scotland but he also had to deal with the king, James VI. For it was this James whose first goal was to obtain the throne of England, which he did upon the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, and then to make the Roman Catholic Church supreme in both countries. This war for supremacy he waged to his death in 1625.

Melville’s fight was an uphill battle for the people and ministers were not strong enough to establish sufficient power in the Parliament and other ruling bodies to completely eliminate the Roman prelates from maintaining a firm control over the secular arm of the government.

Melville, after spending some years in Paris and Geneva, pursuing his studies and teaching, returned to Scotland in 1574 and began his battle against the Tulchan episcopate, which was joined onto the Presbyterian church. He was successful in getting the General Assembly of 1580 to unanimously declare, by resolution, “‘the office of a bishop, as then used and commonly understood, to be destitute of warrant from the Word of God, and a human invention, tending to the great injury of the Church, and ordained the bishops to demit their pretended office simpliciter, and to receive admission as ordinary pastors de novo, under pain of excommunication.’ ” Ibid., 518.

“The first part of the mighty task which awaited Protestantism in the sixteenth century was to breathe life into the nation . . . The second part of the great task of Protestantism was to make the nations free . . . It was not the State in Scotland that gave freedom to the Church: it was the Church that gave freedom to the State.” Ibid., 530, 531.

We will leave the story of the Reformation in Scotland at this point for it was to be a continuing struggle between Episcopacy and Presbyterianism on the one hand and the King of England and Roman Catholicism on the other which was to be waged even to the present day. The light continued to shine at times brighter, then dimmer, but never extinguished. The Great Controversy continues to go on in that land.

“Thus the Scottish Vine, smitten by the tyranny of the monarch who had now gone to the grave, was visited and revived by a secret dew. From the high places of the State came edicts to blight it; from the chambers of the sky came a ‘plenteous rain’ to water it. It struck its roots deeper, and spread its branches yet more widely over a land which it did not as yet wholly cover. Other and fiercer tempests were soon to pass over that goodly tree, and this strengthening from above was given beforehand, that when

the great winds should blow, the tree, though shaken, might not be overturned.” Ibid., 536. Ken McGaughey