Articles, Tracts and Letters

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Comfort and Consolation

by John Knox

Knox wrote this letter to his sister on 8th August, 1556, from Dieppe, France, on his journey from Scotland to pastor the English congregation at Geneva. In his absence the Scottish clergy had condemned him as a heretic and burnt him in effigy. The letter is signed with the name of his mother, as his usual signature might have endangered the safety of his correspondent.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 19, July-September 2000.

The mighty comfort of the Holy Spirit for salutation.

T HE unfeigned desire which you seemed to have, beloved Sister, to proceed in godliness, moveth me at this time, to put you in mind of that solemn profession which once you have made in my presence. The which were your chief principals: First, that salvation or life is none to be found without the body of our Lord Jesus; which once offered, and suffering the death, we, and all God's elect children, do confess the only sacrifice acceptable in the sight of God the Father, for the offences of all believers. By which sacrifice, are all the elect of God not only once redeemed, but also sanctified by the same, for ever. All sacrifices for sin, other than the death of the immaculate lamb, Jesus, we did openly protest ourselves to abhor and detest. And last, all religion not grounded upon the word of God, we feared not to proclaim, abominable and wicked. Against this assertion, I know, that not only the devil in his own face, working within the sons of unbelief, shall strive and contend, as against that which is the subversion of his whole kingdom; but also, shall he clothe himself in an angel of light, and come to you under the colour of friendship (as in another letter I have touched;) and shall allure and solicit you by persuasions of the natural man, that you need not be so strait and so severe, for God is merciful; and therefore, that you may bear with the time, for avoiding danger and displeasure both to yourself and to others. Yea, perchance he shall be so bold, that he shall object, that you tempt God, except that you do as others do, to keep yourself in safety.

But to all these objections, beloved Sister, I can answer no otherwise, than our Master gave counsel and commandment to his disciples, in these words, "Be ye simple as doves, and prudent as serpents." Before, he had spoken much of their trouble; and he was not ignorant, that by diverse ways they should be tempted. Sometimes, they should be provoked to defend themselves by the arm of man; and in that case, he commends unto them the simplicity of the dove, which can defend herself by no other means, from the assaults of ravenous fowls, but only by the swiftness of her wings. Sometimes, they should be tempted to obey wicked magistrates in things unlawful; and in that case he willed them to follow the prudence of the serpent, who doth stop her ears, when she beginneth to hear an instrument play, or any man sing, lest by the sweetness of the same, she should be brought asleep, and so, taken or slain. So willed Christ his disciples to shut up the ears of their mind, when that ever the world, by pleasing allurements, would persuade us to decline from God, by obedience given to iniquity.

Be you assured, dear Sister, that all these persuasions are nothing else but sweet songs of the devil, to bring your soul asleep, to that intent that he may destroy it. True it is, that God is merciful; but ought we therefore to continue in sin, without repentance? If it be strait severity to flee and avoid idolatry, then is it foolishness to abstain from adultery, for they are both alike odious before God; yea, the one, in so far as it doth violate the first Table, is more abominable before him than the other. Danger is to be feared, I confess: but I wonder, that men, for fear of an uncertain danger, will jeopard to run into the inevitable and perpetual condemnation. The word of the living God, which was, is, and shall be sure and stable for ever, promises damnation to idolaters, and unto such as for fear of temporal punishment, dare not abstain from idolatry. But the word of vain man doth threaten temporal death to such, as will not obey their wicked and detestable precepts. Now, let your wisdom judge which danger is greatest, most sure, and most to be feared. The word of God which pronounceth death perpetual to idolaters is irrevocable, and cannot be false; the word and wrath of man is vain and uncertain, like himself. He can perform nothing of his own cogitations: he has not, by himself, breath nor life to live the moment of an hour. How then shall he have power to hurt and molest the sons and daughters of the most high God, without his own permission and tolerance?

No, Sister, there is no such thing to be feared; neither can abstaining from idolatry be called a tempting of God, but a humble obedience given to his commandment, which his majesty shall acknowledge, allow, and justify, when fearful shrinkers shall tremble and shake, before the Judge most incorrupt.

And therefore, dear Sister, study you to please your heavenly Father, and he shall take care over you. He that hath preserved you in your mother's womb, that hath sent you the light of his blessed Evangel, and hath covered the multitude of your sins with the mantle of his mercy, will not leave you comfortless, in your battle which you shall sustain for his truth's sake. The God of comfort and consolation, who hath called from death Jesus our Lord, who by the blood of the eternal testament is the great Pastor of our souls, make you perfect in all good works, and establish you in the known verity of Jesus our Lord: whose omnipotent Spirit comfort and assist you, now and ever.

– Yours known, JOHN K. SINCLAIR.