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  • Writer's picturePresbyterian Reformed Church

Real Realpolitik

John Knox, the great Scottish Reformer, was definitely no adept in worldly-wisdom. His positions were always unbending and uncompromising. He despised subtlety, and spoke always with the greatest of candor. He obviously had little interested in making friends and influencing people; that is, unless by influence one means shameless, hard-hitting argument!

When Queen Mary came to Scotland in 1561 to take the throne, she was of a mind to assert her royal prerogatives in everything – religion included. An ardent Romanist from her youth, she decided to make a clear, bold statement at the outset. She would have a mass celebrated in the chapel of the Holyrood house, something forbidden by the Protestant magistracy at the time.

Not surprisingly, Knox was outspoken against the celebration. There could be no accommodation, no middle ground. “One mass,” proclaimed Knox, “was more fearful unto him than if ten thousand armed enemies were landed in any part of the realm, of purpose to suppress the whole religion.”

One mass, Master Knox? One private mass, as a concession to the rightful heir of the throne? And that one mass should be of more dire consequence than a foreign invasion? Not only is this intolerant, but it’s unreasonable! Don’t you realize that to get what you want, you’ve got to give?

Knox responds to the naysayers. The mass issue is a non-negotiable, for “in our God there is strength to resist and confound multitudes, if we unfeignedly depend upon Him, of which we have had experience; but when we join hands with idolatry, it is no doubt but both God’s presence and defence will leave us; and what shall then become of us?”

What the calculators of this world can’t grasp is that he was more practical than them all! His explanation here reveals the deepest sagacic insight. Why? Because, thought Knox, you must factor God into every equation. Giving in to Queen Mary on one little point may have been expedient on the earthly plane in the short-run, but by doing so it would alienate the One whose favor is absolutely indispensable. You don’t want to mess with the ‘wrong man’ (or woman, in Mary’s case), but it’s far worse to mess with the ‘wrong God!’

Knox had learned his other-worldly wisdom at the feet of Wisdom incarnate. He, the Logos, the Light that lightens every man entering the world had said, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Lu. 17:33). To make it in this world and in the next, you must think counter-culturally, counter-intuitively. But be assured, this is the best way!

In deference to the One who “knows all things,” Knox shunned statescraft. But in doing so, he became the true patron and friend of the nation. If only we had eyes to see what Master Knox saw! If we would close our eyes and heed true Wisdom, we would walk the safest and most expedient course. And we would assign much less weight to earthly factors, which to the eye of the flesh loom so large.

Originally published by Michael Ives at West Port Experiment.

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