The following is excerpted from Douglas Bond, The Mighty Weakness of John Knox (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2011), Kindle Locations 370-427.
In 1909, on the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, civic and church leaders unveiled the Reformation Wall in Geneva, Switzerland. There stood Calvin and three other leading lights of the Reformation rising eighteen feet high along the ancient wall of the city. On Calvin’s far left stood John Knox, and chiseled in the wall next to him were the words Un homme avec Dieu est toujours Bans la majorite, or, “One man with God is always in the majority.”… Strictly speaking, in the history of redemption there never has been just one man with God. Elijah thought he was alone, but God told him there were seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). Knox had a host of antagonists, but many supporters as well. Few would dispute, however, that Knox was the man on whom the slings and arrows descended in the battle for Reformation in Scotland. What was it about Knox that made him so much the single man in a majority with God that four hundred years after his life it was carved in stone in Geneva? No doubt it was many things, but perhaps chief among Knox’s God-given qualities was his sanctified understanding of his complete worthlessness unless he was on God’s side, unless he was with God. Knox never saw himself as inducing God to be on his side. He knew he had to be brought to a posture of submission to the will of God.
Furthermore, Knox knew there was only one conduit by which that could happen: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10b). Put simply, Knox knew that without prayer he was “a dumb dog,” a watchdog with neither bark nor bite, of no use to anyone. Knowing this about himself, he humbled himself and fell to his knees, submitting his will, mind, and tongue to God in prayer. But unlike most of us, he did not do this only when things became unbearable. This was the pattern of his life. Those who knew him best called Knox “an eminent wrestler with God in prayer.” Most men are not. We think we can handle things; we believe we can do it on our own. Why do men drive around for hours rather than stop and ask directions? Asking directions forces us to admit that we don’t know where we are. We must admit our weakness, humble ourselves, and request help. Men don’t like doing this. Herein is the proof of Knox’s humility. He knew his profound weakness. He knew how lost he was. So he asked God for directions, and, hence, became the quintessential man of prayer.
In 1566, Knox prayed the following: “Thou has sealed into my heart remission of my sins, which I acknowledge and confess myself to have received by the precious blood of Jesus Christ once shed.” This, his confession of faith, was the foundation of his ministry and his confidence in his praying. This did not come naturally to Knox. He was not great in the pulpit, the public arena, or the closet by natural giftedness and self-confidence. He was giving an honest self-assessment when he said, “I have rather need of all than that any hath need of me.” Unpretentious Knox did not fake words like these to feign humility and thereby ramp up his approval rating ing with his congregation. By the grace of God, Knox was beyond such self-aggrandizement. He had a real sense of his own powerlessness, so he prayed earnestly for God’s power. As the apostle James wrote, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power” (5:16b). Humility showed Knox his great need of prayer, and his earnest praying brought down on him great power.
Words ascribed to Charles H. Spurgeon reveal the wide extent of that power: “When John Knox went upstairs to plead with God for Scotland, it was the greatest event in Scottish history.” Prayer was the engine that advanced Reformation in Scotland, and Knox was the foremost prayer warrior in the realm. Thus, when Knox felt overwhelmed by spiritual and political enemies, when all hope from earthly powers was exhausted, when all seemed lost for the gospel in Scotland, Knox prayed:
Seeing that we are now left as a flock without a pastor, in civil policy, and as a ship without a rudder in the midst of the storm, let Thy providence watch, Lord, and defend us in these dangerous days, that the wicked of the world may see that as well without the help of man, as with it, Thou art able to rule, maintain and defend the little flock that dependeth upon Thee.
Humble Christian that Knox was, he knew his great need of divine enabling, so he both prayed and sought the prayer support of others, something men in the flesh rarely do. Americans, schooled in Emersonian self-reliance, find asking for prayer an awkward, maybe even unnecessary, task. As noted above, seeking prayer is a tacit admission that we are not capable in ourselves, that we are desperately needy, that the arm of flesh is weak and ineffectual. Men don’t like owning up to these realities, but prayer itself, and awareness of our need of it from others, requires an honest admission of the facts. Knox was one who owned up to the facts about himself. Because of his candid acknowledgment of his great need, he sought the aid of the God of the universe, and one way he sought it was through the prayers of fellow believers. Empowered by the Almighty, Knox became the single most significant force to be reckoned with in an entire country. Yet it was not only Knox’s friends and supporters who appreciated the wide-ranging effect of his ministry of prayer. According to historian John Howie, Knox’s ardent enemy, the queen regent, Mary Guise, admitted that she was “more afraid of [Knox’s] prayers than of an army of 10,000 men.” If every Christian prayed like Knox, the Devil and his minions would melt like wax before the fire.