And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints… Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
Revelation 5:8, 8:5
John Knox was politically incorrect in a period of history when open criticism of government could prove deadly. In opposition to the Catholic monarchs Mary of Guise, Mary Queen of Scots, and Mary I of England, Knox penned The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. Our modern sensitivities to gender discrimination may be triggered by such sentiments, but we should consider the historical context within which Knox lived and ministered.
Most of the Magisterial Reformers of the sixteenth century, following the instruction of Romans 13, taught submission to government authorities and only sought reforms within the Church. However, John Knox believed the government of Scotland had corrupted the Church and reformation was impossible so long as the state ruled the Church. The long-standing tradition of European monarchies was that the religion of the monarch must also be the religion of his or her subjects. During the English Reformation, rule often shifted violently between Protestant and Catholic monarchs causing government sponsored persecution of the clergy and citizenry. In 1547, while Knox was serving as minister in St. Andrews Castle, Mary of Guise—the French Catholic Queen of Scotland—requested military force to capture the castle and all of the Protestants holed up within. French warships attacked the castle, captured Knox, enslaving and imprisoning him and many others within the ship’s galley where they spent nearly two years’ hard labor at the oars .
Although his health severely waned during those difficult years, Knox’s faith did not as evidenced by his prayers. One desperate daily prayer is often attributed to Knox’s time as a slave: “Give me Scotland, or I die!” God generously granted his request. By the time of his death in 1572, Scotland had been transformed and its parliament adopted the doctrines of the Reformation. Some of the first missionaries to America were Scottish Presbyterians and the representative democracy established by the founding fathers of the United States is attributed to the influence of presbyterians in the colonies. Mary Queen of Scots is reported to have said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.” She was right to be afraid.
Perhaps it’s time for our politicians to fear our prayers more than they fear our votes.