Precious Jesus

"Afresh, precious, precious Jesus, I resign this body to You, for doing or suffering, for living or dying. Will You accept it? Will You use me for Your glory more than heretofore, that You may have some little return for all the benefits You have done to me? Oh, do grant this request; my heart longs for it, my spirit pleads for it; and "if You will, You can." You know the hot temptation of which I am the subject. Bring Your glory out of it, and keep me from the evil, and it shall be well." - Ruth Bryan

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Read where I cast my first anchor

(John Knox, November 24th 1572) 

“Go! Said the old reformer to his wife, as he lay a-dying, and the words were his last, “go, read where I cast my first anchor!” She needed no more explicit instructions, for he had told her the story again and again. It is Richard Bannantyne, Knox’s serving-man, who has placed the scene on record. “On November 24, 1572,” he says, “John Knox departed this life to his eternal rest. Early in the afternoon he said ‘Now, for the last time, I commend my spirit, soul, and body’ (pointing upon his three fingers) ‘into thy hands, O Lord!’ Thereafter, about five o’clock he said to his wife, ‘Go, read where I cast my first anchor!’ She did not need to be told, and so, she read the seventeenth of John’s evangel.” Let us listen as she reads it! “Thou hast given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou has given Him; and this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.”

 Here was a strange and striking contract! “Eternal life! Life eternal!” says the Book. Now listen to the laboured breathing from the bed! The bed speaks of death; the Book speaks of Life Everlasting! “Life!” The dying man starts as the great candences fall upon his ears. “This is life eternal that they might know Thee!” “Life Eternal!” “It was there,” he declares with his last breath, “it was there that I cast my first anchor.” How was that first anchor cast? I have tried to piece the records together. Paul never forgot the day on which he saw Stephen stoned; John Knox never forgot the day on which he saw George Wishart burned. Wishart was a man “of such grace” – so Knox himself tells us – “as before him was never heard in this realm.” In 1546, however he was convicted of heresy and burned at the foot of the Castle Wynd, opposite the Castle Gate. When he came near to the fire, Knox tells us, he sat down upon his knees, and repeated aloud some of the most touching petitions from the Psalms. As a sign of forgiveness, he kissed the executioner on the cheek, saying, “Lo, here is a token that I forgive thee. My harte do thine office.” The faggots were kindled, and the leaping flames bore the soul of Wishart truimphantly skywards.

And there, a few yards off, stands Knox! Have a good look at him! He is a man “rather under middle height, with broad shoulders, swarthy face, black hair, and a beard of the same colour a span and a half long. He has heavy eyebrows, eyes deeply sunk, cheekbones prominent and cheeks ruddy. The mouth is large, the lips full, especially the upper one. The whole aspect of the man is not unpleasing; and, in moments of emotion, it is invested with an air of dignity and majesty.” Knox could never shake from his sensitive mind the tragic yet triumphant scene near the Castle Gate; and when, many years afterwards, he himself turned aside to die, he repeated with closed eyes the prayers that he had heard George Wishart offer under the shadow of the stake.

 Was it then, I wonder that John Knox turned sadly homeward and read to himself the great High-priestly prayer in “the seventeenth of John’s evangel?” Was it on that memorable night that he caught a glimpse of the place which all the redeemed hold in the heart of the Redeemer? Was it on that melancholy evening that there broke upon him the revelation of a love that enfolded not only his martyred friend and himself, but the faithful of every time and of every clime? Was it then that his heart was opened to the magic and the music of those tremendous words: “Thou hast given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him; and this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” Was it then? I cannot say for certain. I only know that we never meet with Knox in Scottish story until after the martyrdom of Wishart; and I know that by the events of that sad and tragic day, all his soul was stirred within him. But, although I do not know for certain that the anchor was first cast then, I know that it was first cast there. “Go!” he said, with the huskiness of death upon his speech, “read where I cast my first anchor!” And his wife read to him the stately sentences I have just rewritten.

Fierce as were the storms that beat upon Knox during the great historic years that followed, that anchor bravely held. To say nothing of his experiences at court and the powerful efforts to coax or to cow him into submission, think of those twelve years of exile, eighteen months of which were spent on the French galleys.

 We catch two furtive glances of him. The galley in which he is chained makes a cruise round the Scottish coasts. It passes so near to the fair fields of Fyfe that Knox can distinctly see the spires of St. Andrews. At the moment, Knox was so ill that his life was despaired of; and the taunting vision might well have broken his spirit altogether. But the anchor held; the anchor held! “Ah!” exclaimed Knox raising himself on his elbow, “I see the steeple of that place where God first in public opened my mouth to His glory; and I am fuly persuaded, how weak soever I now appear, that I shall not depart this life till that my tongue shall glorify His godly name in the same place.”

Again, as Carlyle tells, “a priest one day presented to the galley-slaves an image of the Virgin Mother, requiring that they, the blasphemous heretics, should do it reverence. ‘Mother? Mother of God?’” said Knox, when the turn came to him, “’This is no Mother of God; this is a piece of painted wood! She is better for swimming, I think, than for being worshipped!’ and he flung the thing into the river.” Knox had cast his anchor in the seventeenth of John’s evangel. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee!” And since he himself had found life eternal in the personal friendship of a Personal Saviour, it was intolerable to him that others should gaze with superstitious eyes on a ‘bit of painted wood!’ The thing fell into the river with a splash. It was a rude jest, but an expressive one. All the Reformation was summed up in it. Eternal life was not to be found in such things. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee.” That, says Knox, is where I cast my first anchor; and, through all the storms and stress of those baffling and eventful years, that anchor held!

Nor was there any parting of the cable or dragging of the anchor at the last. Richard Bannatyne, sitting beside his honoured master’s deathbed, heard a long, long sigh. A singular fancy overtook him. “Now, sir,” he said, “the time to end your battle is come. Remember those comfortable promises of our Saviour Jesus Christ which you have so often shown to us. And it may be that, when your eyes are blind, and your ears deaf to every other sight and sound, you will be able to recognise my voice. I shall bend over you and ask if you have still the hope of glory. Will you promise that, if you are able to give me some signal, you will do so?” The sick man promised, and, soon after, this is what happened:

  Grim in his deep death-anguish the stern old champion lay
 And the locks upon his pillow were floating thin and grey, 
 And, visionless and voiceless, with quick and labouring breath, 
 He waited for his exit through life’s dark portal, Death. 

 “Hast thou the hope of glory?” They bowed to catch the thrill 
 That through some languid token might be responsive still,
 Nor watched they long nor waited for some obscure reply, 
 He raised a clay-cold finger, and pointed to the sky.

 So the death-angel found him, what time his bow he bent,
 To give the struggling spirit a sweet enfranchisement. 
 So the death-angel left him, what time earth’s bounds were riven,
 The cold, stark, stiffening finger still pointing up to heaven.” 

“He had a sore fight of an existance,” says Carlyle, “wrestling with Popes and Principalities; in defeat, contention, life-long struggle; rowing as a galley-slave, wandering as an exile. A sore fight: but he won it! ‘Have you hope?’ they asked him in his last moment, when he could not longer speak. He lifted his finger, pointed upward, and so died!”

 (Adapted from F.W. Boreham)

No comments: