In the parking lot of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland there is one parking space that is distinct from the rest of the parking lot. The reason for the significance of space #23 is due to the fact that it marks the burial place of John Knox. To this day, Knox continues to be a polarizing figure. He is both loved and hated. If you visit Edinburgh, you will learn that more tourists know of Knox than the locals, but if you happen upon a local who knows of Knox, they likely will tell you of how much they despise the man.
At some point after Knox died, he had a proper burial with a proper grave marker, but over time the Edinburgh town council decided to remove the stone marker and pave over the grave with a parking lot. Later it was decided, at minimum, to place a marker over the place where the Scottish Reformer is buried. Today, if you visit St. Giles Cathedral where Knox once pastored, provided that nobody is parked in space #23, you will find a small marker indicating that it’s the approximate burial site of John Knox.
Remember the Man John Knox
The life of John Knox was one for the ages. He was a Roman Catholic who became a Reformed pastor. He was taken captive and spent time as a galley slave on a ship. He became friends with John Calvin. He is the founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. He is the originator of Puritanism in England. He was summoned to stand before the Queen to answer for his preaching. He was a prolific author who penned creeds, confessions, and polemical books. He played a big role in the translation and study notes of the 1560 Geneva Bible which became the first study Bible in the history of the world. Yet, to this very day many people have forgotten the great Reformer.
In 1559, John Knox returned to his homeland in Scotland where he would never leave again. After living in various cities and serving God in exile—the Reformer had come home. He was committed to the work of Reformation in Scotland and as he would see upon his arrival—the land was a literal wasteland spiritually. God had prepared him for a large task in the Reformation of Scotland. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said of Knox:
[Knox] was a man for his age; a man for his times. Special men are needed for special times; and God always produces such men. A mild man would have been useless in Scotland of the sixteenth century, and in many other parts of this country. A strong man was needed, a stern man, a courageous man; and such a man was John Knox … In those times an heroic rugged character was needed; and God produced the man.
John Knox should be remembered for many reasons, among those reasons is the fact that he remained unflinching in the midst of political and religious pressures that attempted to cool his zeal and hinder his ministry.
Remember the Boldness of John Knox
John Knox was no stranger to controversy. Earlier in his ministry, he referred to Queen Mary I, known as Bloody Mary because of her wrath upon the Protestants, as “that idolatrous Jezebel.” As the Queen Regent (Mary of Guise) took the throne—Knox became insistent that the Protestants refuse to take the Catholic Mass, calling it idolatrous.
As a result, Knox was summoned to Edinburgh to stand before the Queen and answer for his preaching. He agreed to appear and many Protestants announced they too would march to Edinburgh in support of the Reformer. This created quite a stir, so the summons was cancelled. This would only intensify Knox’s preaching of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.
Mary Queen of Scots would follow the Queen Regent to the throne. She arrived in Scotland on August 19, 1561 with a warm reception. She didn’t waste any time with an attempt to push back against the progress of the Reformation. She was a staunch Roman Catholic. She instituted a Catholic Mass on the first Sunday after her arrival. This was viewed as a massive threat and John Knox was willing to take his stand.
On the very next Lord’s Day, John Knox took to his pulpit at St. Giles and thundered against the Queen in his sermon. One man, William Cecil, who served as Secretary of State was present for the sermon and wrote the following in a letter:
I assure you, the voice of one man [Knox] is able in one hour to put more life in us than five hundred trumpets continually blustering in our ears.
Such a trumpet blast reached the ears of the Queen who was displeased with the preaching of Knox. She summoned Knox for an interview. When she challenged the Reformer, he refused to back down. He understood her authority and he understood her power. John Knox was unflinching in the face of the powerful Queen’s throne. Knox understood that he served a God who occupied a much higher throne. He was committed to serving God rather than man.
The Queen called Knox to answer for his preaching. This would be the first of a number of historic interviews where Knox would be called to stand before the Queen. In this first meeting, she challenged Knox by saying:
Ye interpret the Scriptures in one manner, and they interpret in another. Whom shall I believe? Who shall be judge?
Madam, ye shall believe God, [who] plainly speaketh in His Word…The Word of God is plain in itself. If there appear any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost, which is never contrarious to Himself, explaineth the same more clearly in other places.
Knox was not swayed by the power of the Queen and her rumbling threats. This was only the first of several encounters and interviews that she would have with the preacher. Later in the heat of her battle with the Scottish Reformer, she would say the following:
I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.
John Knox’s prayer was simple, “Give me Scotland, or I die.” May the Lord raise up many preachers who possess the boldness of the Scottish Reformer. He may be buried in parking space #23 on the backside of St. Giles, but he lives on in the hearts of those who continue to march in his footsteps for the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.