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THE CHARACTER OF KNOX: A DISCOURSE.
BY WILLIAM MACCALL. “Blessed are they that keep judgment, and he that doeth righteousness
at all times."-PSALM cvi. 3. The most formidable difficulty that interferes with our endeavour to appreciate the mind and the actions of great men, consists in our inability to apportion the respective influences by which the individual modifies his period, and his period modifies him. How far he was the creator-how far the creature of the events and agencies that surrounded him—how far his mission stimulated society, and how far society excited the zeal and the earnestness by which he fulfilled bis mission wisely and well-how far he was the exponent, the supplier, and the consequence of the perfectible tendencies of his fellowcreatures, these are points as perplexing for our inquiries as their consideration is indispensable to the justice of our conclusions. We are all more or less moulded by the times in which we live; while we all more or less assist in giving a tinge to the aspects, and a direction to the path of civilization. None of us liveth to bimself; and no man dieth to himself. In the grossest forms of indifferentism and of selfishness, there is not indeed the conscious missionary spirit; but there is the unconscious missionary effort. We can no more help partaking both recipiently and responsively in the onward movements of the world, than we can help inhaling the air that comes balmily and refreshingly to our nostrils. Whatever there is of real or of vital in the contemporary culture of mankind, is absorbed into our being, though we are generally ignorant alike of the fact and of the
and whatever there is of real or of vital in us, is blended, though insensibly, with the education of the community. Bad or good, strong or weak, believing or sceptical, brilliant or dullGod makes us to mingle as activities in the whole of his
providential arrangements. But, though this law has a universal application, it diversely affects men of an ordinary stamp, and men of comprehensive intellect and earnest purpose. The savage and the sage, when considered in relation to the Deity, are equally the instruments of his plans of infinite goodness. Yet, with regard to the subordinate means which each employs for the furtherance of those plans, the one is a spontaneous operator, and the other an unresisting and unquestioning machine. The test of human grandeur, then, is the power voluntarily to grasp and to co-ordinate the circumstances with which we are brought into collision. The measure of a man's greatness, is not the space he fills in the pages
of history, but the exertions that he has made to obtain the control of his own spirit, and the control of the destinies of others. The life of one man may be a ceaseless series of triumphs, yet he may have done nothing more than gather the flowers which fortune has showered from her bosom in a holiday mood. The life of another may arduous and obscure and hopeless struggle, yet is he sublime and venerable by the strength and resolution through which he has grown to be the monarch of his free glad nature, and the contemner and compeller of the externalities that formerly thwarted his existence. Consequently, in every attempt to analyse those characters that have been prominent in the records of our race, we ought not to be dazzled by the blaze of renown that shines upon their deeds, but reflect on the empire that they exercised upon the outward, and on the empire that the outward exercised on their motives, energies, and determinations. In so far as one of those immortals gave an impulse and a developement to his epoch, broad, deep, and unmistakeable, he is entitled to our esteem, admiration, and gratitude; in so far as a second was the mere child of success, he must be reckoned as an accident among the innumerable accidents of his times. This mode of judging would certainly prostrate many an idol to which popular applause is lavishly given, and make bright and culminating many a name that now sleeps unknown and inglorious. But it is the only mode that truth and justice recognise; it is the only mode that men will ever employ, when history is written in a more impartial, unprejudiced, and clearsighted spirit than it is now. And though, in every land, there are thousands of patriots and apostles and martyrs whose memory hath passed away never to be revived; yet, in some measure to compensate for this, the false reputations that men have unthinkingly worshipped are doomed to be discrowned, and the growing honour and obedience to realities both in persons and in things, is an homage to the moral heroes who have laboured and perished in obscurity, far more precious than any that could have been given to their existence as individualisms in the chronicles of our species.
Weighed by the scope of these remarks, the name of John Knox will take a different position from that which his admirers, and especially his countrymen, are disposed to allot to it. He was the product, more than the producer, of a great social and religious change. He was the offspring of results, of which he has generally been considered the cause, He had none of the qualities by which a man becomes the ruler of his period. Luther was fitted for this by the universality of his genius and of his sympathy, and Calvin was fitted for it by the strength and perfection of his logical powers. Knox had neither the breadth of sentiment that characterised the one, nor the methodical tendencies and capacities that characterised the other. He had neither originality to invent, nor talent to construct. He had the zeal, the self-will, and the
courage that make a strong man, but not the expansive embrace that makes a great one. His theology, and his theory of church discipline, he borrowed in their entireness from Calvin; and they underwent, in his hands, only such slight modifications as the country and the times necessitated. Indeed, it is questionable whether he would ever have propounded a theological system, but for his intercourse with minds more speculative
systematic than his own, There is observable, in all his proceedings relative to the Church of Scotland, a far intenser anxiety that it should be kept free from Papal observances, than that it should be kept correct in matters of faith. Not that he was indifferent to its faith; but he was not a system-builder desirous above all things of seeing certain abstractions realised; but a man of attack, a man of antagonism. And he was so, not from the ferocity of an animal nature, or the bitterness of a hating nature, but from the irrepressibleness of a truthful and a fervent nature. His animosity to Papal despotism, however fierce its utterances might be, was not an ani. mosity that conducted to the spirit and the cruelties of persecution. It was from his generous devotedness to the interests of his native land, and his deep loathing of the wrongs that oppressed it, that his language became coarse and his manners repulsive. He had no ambition to gratify, no vanity to flatter, no malignity to glut with sanguinary spectacles,—if he had been impelled by any of these different principles, he would have sought remorselessly to sacrifice his personal opponents; but, instead of this, he sought only to destroy the obnoxious Church which those opponents selfishly defended. It is a strange fact, in connection with the present point, that those reformers, whether political or religious, who from logical defect are little disposed to the construction of systems, direct all their opposition against systems, and only a small portion of it against persons; while those who, from logical aptness, are the architects of systems, are less perseveringly and vehemently hostile to systems than to individuals. We see this strikingly evidenced in the opposite conduct of Calvin and Knox. Calvin was à vain, ambitious system-creator, panting for spiritual power, and morbidly yearning for the recognition of his doctrines. Knox was a modest, self-forgetting champion of the Gospel, twining no subtle web of scientific ideas, but lavishing forth artlessly the inspirations of his prophetical bosom. Yet, it is Calvin, the systemiser, that persecutes persons;
and Knox, the unsystematic, that opposes systems. The truth is, that Knox's intellectual deficiencies constituted his moral excellences, while Calvin's intellectual excellences constituted his moral defi. ciencies. Calvin was as superior to Knox in mental grasp, as he was inferior to him in the most endearing qualities of the heart. The names of these two men are often put together, as if their character resembled in every feature; but scarcely any characters could be more unlike. They differ as essentially as the Scotch of the present day differ from the French. For, as Calvin was a Frenchman in everything but his social virtues, so Knox was a Scotchman in everything but warmth and fertility of imagination. And as, by a previous delineation of the French, we are able to give a more accurate portraiture of Calvin, so, by a previous delineation of the Scotch, we are able to give a more accurate portraiture of Knox.
The Scotch are less understood than any other nation of Europe. Singularly isolated from the Continent by geographical position, and for the last three centuries by historical events, the only impressions respecting them, have been given by their neighbours the English-impressions, in general, absurdly false. They are not a people to be measured by a superficial glance; they require to be profoundly examined and studied. The English always appear as they are, the French better than they are, and the Scotch worse than they are. This arises less from a difference of character, than from a difference of manners. The Scotch are an ungraceful and ungainly people, awkward and constrained in their movements and intercourse; and this disadvantage necessitates a lengthened series of relations, in order accurately and fully to bring out their better qualities. This constraint and ungracefulness of manners is produced by various causes. It is partly produced by the natural and striking deficiency of the Scotch in the powers of imitation. They have never excelled in the imitative arts, and they never can. And as the conventional arrangements of society, which constitute what called manners, are wholly things of imitation, it is not wonderful that the Scotch should be so unadapted to their prompt adoption and easy use. This deficiency of imitation is further aggravated by a deficiency of utterance. The Scotch are not a silent people; they are, on the contrary, a talkative people, and their conversation is full and animated. But they talk, not from a facility of speech, but from the variety and fulness of ideas in suggestive minds. They are incapable of clothing their ideas in a fit garment of words. They say more or less than they intend; at all events, they rarely succeed in conveying the exact meaning that they wish to convey. They are ignorant alike of amplification and embellishment; and the rough, unpolished, unartistic mode in which their conceptions are given,