“to be victor over him by his own strength”: John Knox to Anne Locke

John Knox has, as one academic put it, an ‘ayatollah-like’ image. But Jane Dawson’s enjoyable recent biography has highlighted Knox’s close friendship with a number of women, which can been seen in a number of letters. These are available in the Laing edition of Knox’s works, reprinted by the Banner of Truth. Sadly, the early modern Anglo-Scots in which they are written makes them a little bit difficult to access. Below I offer a lightly modernised version of one of these. It highlights both the richness of Knox’s piety and the subtlety of his pastoral counsel.

To his loving sister, Mrs Anne Locke, wife to Mr Harry Locke, merchant, near to Bow church, in Cheapside, in London.

As the hasty departing of the messenger made your letters (as you write) brief, so doth it [make] mine imperfect and rude; for at night I received them, and I being to occupy the public place upon the morrow the messenger was to depart, so that either he must have departed without any signification of my remembrance toward you, or else with this nothing to purpose. Touching your troubles (spiritual I mean) fear not to be plain with me, and so faithfully as I would that God should distribute to me in my necessity, so will I endeavour myself to communicate with you what his Spirit doth teach me within his most sacred Word. In the meantime, I am assured that you are not destitute of his Holy Spirit, for it flows and gives witness of itself in your grievous complaint and earnest prayer. Easy it is to think well of God, to pray and to promise to ourselves all good things of his hands, when that his strength upholds us. But when he appears to leave us a little in our own weak corruption, and to show his face angry against sin, then to seek unto his promises, then to call upon his help, and to appeal him as it were that he declare himself a true, merciful, and kindly [“benyng”] Father towards us, is the greatest glory that we can give unto him; yea, it is to overcome him, and to be victor over him by his own strength, which albeit we feel not in the present combat, no more than Jacob did in wrestling with the Angle, yet shall we find the comfort of it when the storm is a little assuaged. For how is it able that we should call upon him for help whom we think armed to our destruction, except that the secret power of his Holy Spirit moves us thereto; in such cases hypocrisy has no place, but the sore bruised heart pours forth the anguish in the bosom of Him whom we confess only able to remedy us. But of this matter, alas! I may not now write.

You write that your desire is earnest to see me. Dear Sister, if I should express the thirst and languor which I have had for your presence, I should appear to pass measure. To have seen you in your prosperity it was to me, no doubt, comfortable, but now if it shall please God that I should see you in these most dolorous days, my comfort should be doubled, for in prosperity in the midst of mirth, my heart quaked for the sorrows to come; and sometimes I sobbed, fearing what should become of you. But now to see you tried a little under this cross, would cause my heart greatly to rejoice. Yea, I weep and rejoice in remembrance of you; but that would vanish by the comfort of your presence, which I assure you is so dear to me, that if the charge of this little flock here, gathered together in Christ’s name, did not impede me, my presence should prevent my letter.


Remember me, now burdened with double cares, in your daily prayers unto our God. The grace of the Lord Jesus rest with you ever.

At Geneva, the 19th November 1556.

Your brother,
John Knox.

(Laing: IV.237-239)


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