The best way to discover the practical
fruits of a system of religion is to examine a people or a country in which for
generations that system has held undisputed sway. In making such a test of Roman
Catholicism we turn to some country like Spain, Italy, Colombia, or Mexico. There, in the
religious and political life of the people, we see the effects of the system. Applying the
same test to Calvinism we are able to point to one country in which Calvinism has long
been practically the only religion, and that country is Scotland. McFetridge tells us that
before Calvinism reached Scotland, "gross darkness covered the land and brooded like
an eternal nightmare upon all the faculties of the people."1 "When
Calvinism reached the Scotch people," says Smith, "they were vassals of the
Romish church, priest-ridden, ignorant, wretched, degraded in body, mind, and morals.
Buckle describes them as 'filthy in their persons and in their homes,' 'poor and
miserable,' 'excessively ignorant and exceedingly superstitious,' 'with
superstition ingrained into their characters.' Marvelous was the transformation when the
great doctrines learned by Knox from the Bible in Scotland and more thoroughly at Geneva
while sitting at the feet of Calvin, flashed in upon their minds. It was like the sun
arising at midnight . . . Knox made Calvinism the religion of Scotland, and Calvinism made
Scotland the moral standard for the world. It is certainly a significant fact that in that
country where there is the most of Calvinism there should be the least of crime; that of
all the people of the world today that nation which is confessedly the most moral is also
the most thoroughly Calvinistic; that in that land where Calvinism has had supremest sway
individual and national morality has reached its loftiest level."2 Says
Carlyle, "This that Knox did for his nation we may really call a resurrection as from
death." "John Knox," says Froude, "was the one man without whom
Scotland as the modern world has known it, would have had no existence."
In a very real sense the Presbyterian
Church of Scotland is the daughter of the Reformed Church of Geneva. The Reformation in
Scotland, though coming some time later, was far more consistent and radical than in
England, and it resulted in the establishment of a Calvinistic Presbyterianism in which
Christ alone was recognized as the head of the Church.
It is, of course, an easy matter to pick
out the one man who in the hands of Providence was the principal instrument in the
reformation of Scotland. That man was John Knox. It was he who planted the germs of
religious and civil liberty and who revolutionized society. To him the Scotch owe their
national existence. "Knox was the greatest of Scotsmen, as Luther the greatest of
Germans," says Philip Schaff.
"The hero of the Scotch
Reformation," says Schaff, "though four years older than Calvin, sat humbly at
his feet and became more Calvinistic than Calvin. John Knox spent the five years of his
exile (1554-1559), during the reign of Bloody Mary, mostly at Geneva, and found there 'the
most perfect school of Christ that ever was since the days of the Apostles.' After that
model he led the Scotch people, with dauntless courage and energy, from mediaeval
semi-barbarism into the light of modern civilization, and acquired a name which, next to
those of Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, is the greatest in the history of the Protestant
"No grander figure," says
Froude, "can be found in the entire history of the Reformation in this island than
that of Knox .... The time has come when English history may do justice to one but for
whom the Reformation would have been overthrown among ourselves;
for the spirit which Knox created saved Scotland; and if Scotland had been Catholic again,
neither the wisdom of Elizabeth's ministers, nor the teaching of her bishops, nor her own
chicaneries, would have preserved England from revolution. He was the voice which taught
the peasant of the Lothians that he was a free man, the equal in the sight of God with the
proudest peer or prelate that had trampled on his forefathers. He was the antagonist whom
Mary Stuart could not soften nor Maitland deceive; he it was that raised the poor commons
of his country into a stern and rugged people, who might be hard, narrow, superstitious
and fanatical, but who nevertheless, were men whom neither king, noble nor priest could
force again to submit to tyranny. And his reward has been the ingratitude of those who
should most have done honor to his memory."4
The early Scotch reformed theology was
based on the predestinarian principle. Knox had gotten his theology directly from Calvin
in Geneva, and his chief theological work was his treatise on Predestination, which was a
keen, forcible and unflinching polemic against loose views which were becoming widespread
in England and elsewhere. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries topics such as
predestination, election, reprobation, the extent and value of the atonement, the
perseverance of the saints, were the absorbing interest of the Scotch peasantry. From that
land those doctrines spread southward into parts of England and Ireland and across the
Atlantic to the west. In a very real sense Scotland can be called the "Mother Country
of modern Presbyterianism."
1Calvinism in History, p. 124.
2The Creed of Presbyterians, pp. 98, 99.
3The Swiss Reformation, H., p. 818.
4Hist. Eng. X. 487.