Primer on Knoxian Public Theology

A Primer on a Knoxian Public Theology

 These excerpts are taken from Odonovan’s From Irenaeus to Grotius, pp.686ff. I will take some of John Knox’s quotes and offer explanatory comments when necessary.

 Odonovan introduces: “Repeatedly Knox discerns God’s present command, violation, and punishgment in God’s historical dealings with Israel, reading the Old Testament as a legal casebook, a catalogue of juridical precedents (Kyle, 1984, 44, 48), with two striking results. The first result is the binding authority for all Christian commonwealths of the Mosaic judicial, requiring the capital punishment of all idolaters—a future English Puritan theme. The second is the scrutability of God’s providence (Odonovan, 686-687).

 Knox: “If any think that the punishment of idolaters be contrary to the practice of the apostles who, finding the gentiles to be in idolatry, did call them to repentence, requiring no punishment, let the sam man recall that the gentiles before the preaching of Christ lived, as the apostle speaketh, without God in the world, drowned in idolatry, according to the blindness and ignorance in which then they were holden as a profane nation…(“Apellation of John Knox,” qtd in O’Donovan, 692)

 Implications: Knox was already aware of the later Presbyterian critique of theocratic Presbyterianism: we don’t see the apostles doing x. There are several lines of response:

  • The above is a fallacious argument from silence

  • Switch out idolatry with any other sin that has criminal sanctions and live with the consequences (we don’t see the apostles punishing sodomy, usury, bestiality. Kidnapping, rape, etc. Why stop with idolatry?)

John Knox on the punishment of idolatry

Courtesy of D. Ritchie.

If by God’s Scriptures these precedents be so plain, that reasonably no man can deny any point thereof, then have I good hope, that ye will admit it to be necessary, that you avoid idolatry, if the league betwixt God and you shall be kept sure.  And, first, it is to be observed, that God’s justice being infinite in matters of religion, requireth like obedience of all those that be within this league at all times, that he requireth of every one nation or particular man in any one age.  For all that be within this league are one body, as Moses doth witness reckoning men, women, children, servants, princes, priests, officers, and strangers, within the covenant of the Lord (Deut. 29).  Then, what God requireth of one (as touching this league), he requireth of all, for his justice is immutable; and what he condemneth in any one, that he must condemn in others, for he is righteous without partiality.

John Knox, ‘Letter to the faithful in England’ in R. S. Candlish (ed.), Select practical writings of John Knox (1845; Edinburgh, 2011), pp 46-7.

 John Knox on Deuteronomy 13 and the difference between persecution and prosecution

We say, the man is not persecuted for his conscience, that, declining from God, blaspheming his Majestie, and contemning his religion, obstinately defendeth erroneous and false doctrine. This man, I say, lawfully convicted, if he suffer the death pronounced by a lawful Magistrate, is not persecuted, (as in the name of Servetus ye furiously complain,) but he suffereth punishment according to God’s commandment, pronounced in Deuteronomie, the xiii. chapter.

John Knox, An answer to the cavillations of an adversary respecting the doctrine of predestination (1560) repr. in The works of John Knox, ed. David Laing (6 vols, Edinburgh, 1856), v, 231.

 John Knox on the modern applicability of the curses of the covenant

How the Lord threatened plague after plague, and ever the last to be the sorest, till finally he will consume realms and nations if they repent not, read chapter 26 of Leviticus, which chapter oft I have willed you to mark, as yet I do unfeignedly.  And think not that it appertaineth to the Jews only.  No, brethren; the prophets are the interpreters of the law, and they make the plagues of God common to all offenders, the punishment ever beginning at the house-hold of God. […]

John Knox, ‘Letter to the faithful in England’ in R. S. Candlish (ed.), Select practical writings of John Knox (1845; Edinburgh, 2011), pp 31-2.

 THE KING MUST RULE BY GOD’S WORD

 Kings then have not absolute power to do in their regiment what pleaseth them; but their power is limited by God’s Word.  So that if they strike where God commandeth not, they are but murderers; and if, they spare, where God commandeth to strike, they and their throne are criminal, and guilty of the wickedness that aboundeth upon the face of the earth for lack of punishment.  Oh, if kings and princes would consider what account shall be craved of them, as well of their ignorance and misknowledge of God’s will, as for the neglecting of their office!

John Knox, ‘A sermon preached by John Knox, minister of Christ Jesus, in the church of Edinburgh, upon Sunday, August 19, 1565, for the which he has forbidden to preach for a season’ in R. S. Candlish (ed.), Select practical writings of John Knox (1845; Edinburgh, 2011), pp 212-14.

 JOSIAH’S REFORMATION A MODEL FOR TODAY

 Of which histories it is evident that the reformation of religion in all points, together with the punishment of false teachers, doth appertain to the power of the civil magistrate.  For what God required of them, His justice must require of others having the like charge and authority; what He did approve in them, He cannot but approve in all others who with like zeal and sincerity do enterprise to purge the Lord’s temple and sanctuary.  What God required to them, it is before declared, to wit, that most diligently they should observe His law, statutes and ceremonies. John Knox, The appellation of John Knox from the cruel and most injust sentence pronounced against him by the false bishops and clergy of Scotland, with his supplication and exhortation to the nobility, estates and commonality of the same realm (Geneva, 1558) in idem, On rebellion, ed. R. A. Mason (Cambridge, 1994), pp 90-1.

 John Knox on the civil magistrate’s duty to ensure that heretics are punished and the people instructed

[…] God requireth of you to provide that your subjects be rightly instructed in His true religion and that the same by you be reformed whensoever abuses do creep in by malice of Satan and negligence of men; and last, that ye are bound to remove from honour and to punish with death (if the crime so require) such as deceive the people of defraud them of that food of their souls, I mean God’s lively Word.

John Knox, The appellation of John Knox from the cruel and most injust sentence pronounced against him by the false bishops and clergy of Scotland, with his supplication and exhortation to the nobility, estates and commonality of the same realm (Geneva, 1558) in idem, On rebellion, ed. R. A. Mason (Cambridge, 1994), p. 84.

 John Knox on the execution of Servetus and Leviticus 24

But if the law of God be diligently searched, this doubt shall easily be resolved.  For it will witness that no less ought the murderer, the blasphemer, and such other, to suffer the death, then that the meek and the fearer of God should be defended.  And also, that such as maintain and defend the one, are no less criminal before God then those that oppress the others. […] Now to you justifiers of Servetus: Servetus was an abominable blasphemer against God; and you are justifiers of Servetus: therefore ye are blasphemers before God, like abominable as he was. […] Ye will not easily admit that Servetus be convicted of blasphemy; for if he be, ye must be compelled to confess (except that ye will refuse God) that the sentence of death executed against him was not cruelty; neither yet that the judges who justly pronounced that sentence were murderers nor persecutors; but that this death was the execution of God’s judgement, and they the true faithful servants of God, who, when no other remedy was found, did take away iniquity from amongst them.  That God hath appointed death by his law, without mercy, to be executed upon the blasphemers, is evident by that which is written, Leviticus 24.

John Knox, An answer to the cavillations of an adversary respecting the doctrine of predestination (1560) repr. in The works of John Knox, ed. David Laing (6 vols, Edinburgh, 1856), v, 223-4.

 THE OLD TESTAMENT AND THE MODERN MAGISTRATE

 For it is a thing more certain that whatsoever God required of the civil magistrate in Israel or Judah concerning the observation of true religion during the time of the Law, the same doth he require of lawful magistrates professing Christ Jesus in the time of the Gospel, as the Holy Ghost hath taught us by the mouth of David, saying (Psalm 2): ‘Be learned, you that judge the earth, kiss the Son, lest that the Lord wax angry and that ye perish from the way.’  This admonition did not extend to the judges under the Law only, but doth also include such as be promoted to honours in the time of the Gospel, when Christ Jesus doth reign and fight in His spiritual kingdom, whose enemies in that Psalm be most sharply taxed, their fury expressed and vanity mocked.  And then are kings and judges, who think themselves free from all law and obedience, commanded to repent their former blind rage, and judges are charged to be learned.  And last are all commanded to serve the Eternal in fear, to rejoice before Him in trembling, to kiss the Son, that is, to give unto Him most humble obedience.  Whereof it is evident that the rulers, magistrates and judges now in Christ’s kingdom are no less bound to obedience unto God than were those under the Law.

John Knox, The appellation of John Knox from the cruel and most injust sentence pronounced against him by the false bishops and clergy of Scotland, with his supplication and exhortation to the nobility, estates and commonality of the same realm (Geneva, 1558) in idem, On rebellion, ed. R. A. Mason (Cambridge, 1994), pp 91-2.

 

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