Six Johns and a Confession

On 17 August 1560, the Scottish Parliament read twice and with great care a newly drafted Confession of Faith.

The first eleven chapters of the Scottish Confession of Faith take the reader through the whole scope of redemptive history, starting with the “eternal, infinite, immeasurable, incomprehensible, omnipotent, invisible,” trinitarian God and ending with Christ’s promise of his visible return on earth and a “time of refreshing and restitution of all things.” The rest of the chapters explain the principal doctrines of the Christian faith. According to historian Philip Benedict, this document is “distinctive among Reformed confessions in the extent in which it depicts, with apocalyptic undertones, the church of Christ locked in an ongoing struggle against Satan.”


On 17 August 1560, the Scottish Parliament read twice and with great care a newly drafted Confession of Faith. It was an important document for a transformed nation that had just won the right to abandon Roman Catholic worship and adopt a Protestant theology, liturgy, and church order.

A Little History

For Scottish Protestants, it was an extraordinary victory, after a long and strenuous battle against Queen Regent Mary of Guise and her campaign of religious repression. In fact, the events which led to this victory were so surprising that, according to Knox, even their enemies had to recognize God’s intervention. For example, in March 1560, some violent winter storms prevented 4,500 French soldiers to sail to Scotland in Mary’s aid. Three months later, Mary died in her sleep.

The opposition was left in the hands of her daughter Mary Stuart, the official Queen of the Scots, who was at that time Queen Consort of King Francis II of France and uninterested in returning to her rugged and troubled homeland. Quite willingly, the French crown withdrew all its troops from Scotland and allowed the Scottish lords to be ruled by a select council.

The new Confession of Faith – one of the first and most inspiring in the European Reformation – was important in order to give the nation theological unity and clarity at a difficult time of transition. It was composed in only four days by six well-respected men, all named John.

The Six Johns

The warmth of the document and the abundance of scriptural references are indications that these men spoke from a heart overflowing with a carefully matured knowledge and conviction.

John Knox (c. 1514-1572) is undoubtedly the most famous of these six authors. His life has been briefly outlined in a previous post []. But who were the other five?

At that time, however, John Willock (d. 1585) was second if not equal to Knox in notoriety. Previously a Dominican friar, he converted to the cause of the Protestant Reformation while in college. Soon after, he moved to England where he obtained, among other positions, the title of domestic chaplain to the family of Lady Jane Grey. Being involved both in the promotion of Jane to the throne of England and in Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion to Queen Mary Tudor, he was accused of treason, and had to flee to Emden, Germany.

In 1554, the local ruler, Duchess Anne von Oldenburg, sent Willock to Scotland on a diplomatic mission, giving him a chance to evaluate the religious situation in his country. At the end of his mission, he settled back in Scotland where he worked zealously for the Reformation. He was accused of heresy in 1559, but failed to appear in court.

He fled to England again in 1565, when Queen Mary Stuart threatened to imprison him for his involvement in a rebellion against her new marriage to the unqualified Lord Darnley. This time, he remained in England until his death.

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