This great Reformer was born at Gifford, near Haddington, in the year 1503. He was educated in the popish faith; but having at an early period been freed from its shackles, he became, as is well known, the chief instrument, under providence, in establishing the protestant ascendancy over Scotland. After a life of unremitting labour and severe privation and suffering, spent in this good cause, he died at Edinburgh on the 24th November 1572; bearing the most ample testimony to the glorious truths, which he so firmly believed and so successfully propagated.
On Monday, the 17th, he thus addressed the members of his session, who with Mr Lawson his colleague, and Mr Lindsay, one of the ministers of Leith, assembled in his room for that purpose.
'The day approaches and is now before the door, for which I have frequently and vehemently thirsted, when I shall be released from my great labours and innumerable sorrows, and shall be with Christ. And now God is my witness, whom I have served in spirit, in the Gospel of His Son, that I have taught nothing but the true and solid doctrine of the Gospel of the Son of God; and have had it for my own object, to instruct the ignorant, to confirm the faithful; to comfort the weak, the fearful, and the distressed, by the promises of grace; and to fight against the proud and rebellious, by the divine threatenings. I know that many have complained, and do yet loudly complain, of my too great severity; but God knows that my mind was always void of hatred to the persons of those against whom I thundered the severest judgements.
I cannot deny but that I felt the greatest abhorrence at the sins in which they indulged; but I still kept this one thing in view, that, if possible, I might gain them to the Lord. What influenced me to utter whatever the Lord put into my mouth so boldly, without respect of persons, was a reverential fear of God, who called, and out of his grace appointed me to be a steward of divine mysteries, and a belief that He will demand an account of my discharge of the trust committed unto me, when I shall stand before His tribunal.
I profess, therefore, before God, and before His holy angels, that I never made merchandise of the sacred word of God, never studied to please men, never indulged my own private passions, or those of others, but faithfully distributed the talent entrusted to me, for the edification of the church over which I watched. Whatever obloquy wicked men may cast on me respecting this point, I rejoice in the testimony of a good conscience. In the meantime, my dearest brethren, do you persevere in the eternal truth of the Gospel; wait diligently on the flock over which the Lord hath set you, and which He redeemed by the blood of His only begotten Son. And thou, my dear brother Lawson, fight the good fight, and do the work of the Lord joyfully and resolutely. The Lord from on high bless you and the whole church of Edinburgh, against whom, as long as they persevere in the word of truth, which they have heard of me, the gates of hell shall not prevail.'
When they were going out, he desired Messrs. Lawson and Lindsay to remain behind and thus continued: ' There is one thing that greatly grieves me. You have been witnesses of the former courage and constancy of Grange, in the cause of God; but now, alas, into what a gulf has he precipitated himself! I entreat you not to refuse which I now make to you: Go to the castle and tell him from me. ' that John Knox remains the same man now, when he is about to die, that ever he knew him when able in body, and wills him to consider what he was, and the estate in which he now stands, which he miserably confides nor the carnal prudence of that man, (Maitland) whom he esteems a demigod, nor the assistance of stranger shall preserve him; but he shall be disgracefully dragged from his rest to punishment, and hung on a gallows before the face of the sun, unless he speedily amend his life, and flee to the mercy of God. That man's soul is dear to me, and I would not have it perish if i could save it.'
To the earl of Morton, after having asked him as to his previous knowledge of Darnley's murder, he said. ' Well, God has beautified you with many benefits which he has not given to every man; as he has given you riches, wisdom, and friends, and now is to prefer you to the government of the realm. And, therefore, in the name of God I charge you to use all these benefits aright, and better in time to come than you have done in times past.; first to God's glory, to the furtherance of the evangel, the weal of the king, and his realm, and true subjects. If you do this, God shall bless you and honour you; but if not, God shall spoil you of these benefits, and your end shall be ignominy and shame.'
On Thursday, the 20th, the lords Glencairn and Ruthven, having called, and the latter having tendered his services to do for him anything in his power, his reply was, ' I care not for all the pleasure and friendship of the world.' A lady of his acquaintance, desiring him to praise God for what good he had done, and speaking in his commendation, he thus interrupted her: ' Tongue, tongue! Lady, flesh of itself is over proud and needs no means to esteem itself.' He then exhorted her to put off pride and be clothed with humility, protesting as to himself that he relied wholly on the free mercy of God, manifested to mankind through His dear Son Jesus Christ, whom alone he embraced for wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption. And the rest of the company having taken their leave of him, he said to the laird of Braid. 'Every one bids me good night, but when will you do it? I have been greatly indebted to you, for which I shall never be able to recompense you; but I commit you to One that is able to do it, to the Eternal God.'
On Friday, the 21st, these words were often in his mouth, ' Come 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 the evidence of Thy wrath and mercy.' In the midst of his meditations he would often address those who stood by, in such sentences as these: ' O serve the Lord in fear, and death shall not be terrible to you. Nay, blessed shall death be to those who have felt the power of the death of the only begotten Son of God.'
On the afternoon of Sabbath the 23rd, he suddenly exclaimed, ' If any be present let them come and see the work of God.' And to Johnston of Elphingston, who was sent for, he said: ' I have been these two last nights in meditation on the troubled state of the church of God, the spouse of Jesus Christ, despised by the world, but precious in the sight of God. I have called to God for her, and have committed her to her Head Jesus Christ. I have fought against spiritual wickedness in heavenly things and have prevailed. I have been in heaven and have possession. I have tasted of the heavenly joys where presently I am.'
To some who inquired if he felt much pain, he answered, that he was willing to lie there for years if God so pleased, and if he continued to shine upon his soul through Jesus Christ: and then went on to emit such pious ejaculations as the following: ' Live in Christ, live in Christ, and then flesh need not fear death. Lord grant true pastors to Thy church, that purity of doctrine may be retained. Restore peace again to this commonwealth with godly rulers and magistrates. Once Lord make an end of my trouble. Lord I commend my spirit, soul, and body, and all into Thy hands. Thou knowest, O Lord, my troubles: I do not murmur against Thee.'
On Monday the 24th, which was the last day he spent on earth: being asked by Campbell of Kinzeancleugh, if he had any pain, he replied: ' It is no painful pain, but such a pain as shall I trust put an end to the battle. I must leave the care of my wife and children to you, to whom you must be a husband in my room.' He afterwards desired his wife to read the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians, saying when it was finished, ' Is not that a comfortable chapter? O what sweet and salutary consolation the Lord hath afforded me from that chapter!' A little after, he said. ' Now for the last time I commend my soul, spirit and body, (touching three of his fingers) into Thy hand, O Lord' About five o'clock in the evening, he said to his wife, ' Go read, where I cast my first anchor,' meaning the seventeenth chapter of John's Gospel.
Appearing after this, to fall into a slumber, he sighed deeply, and being asked, on awakening, the cause of this, he replied: ' I have formerly, during my frail life sustained many contests and many assaults of Satan, but at present that roaring lion hath assailed me most furiously and put forth all his strength to devour and make an end of me at once. Often before, hath he placed my sins before my eyes, often tempted me to despair, often endeavoured to ensnare me by the allurements of the world; but these weapons being broken by the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, he could not prevail. Now he has attacked me in another way; the cunning Serpent has laboured to persuade me that I have merited heaven and eternal blessedness by the faithful discharge of my ministry. But blessed be God, who has enabled me to beat down and quench this fiery dart by suggesting to me such passages of scripture as these, What hast thou, that thou hast not received? By the grace of God, I am what I am: Not I, but the grace of God in me. Being thus vanquished, he left me. Wherefore, I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ, who was pleased to give me the victory; and I am persuaded that the tempter shall not again attack me, but within a short time, I shall without any great bodily pain or anguish of mind, exchange this mortal and miserable life, for a blessed immortality through Jesus Christ.'
About ten o'clock, being asked by Dr Preston if he heard the prayers which had just been read, he replied, 'Would to God that you and all men had heard them as I have heard them as I have heard them; I praise God for that heavenly sound.' About eleven he gave a deep sigh, and said, Now it is come. Immediately his secretary, Richard Bannatyne, drew near, and, perceiving that he was speechless, requested him to give a sign that he died in peace. Upon this he lifted up one of his hands, and sighing twice, expired without a struggle!