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One of my personal heroes is Scottish Presbyterian minster, Aeneas Sage (1694-1774). I’m not quite sure if everything written about him is totally accurate; I get a whiff of the hagiographic if not the legendary in some of the stories.  Yet, something in my gut tells me it is too good and so must be true!  (Like a historian friend of mine quipped, ‘If it ain’t true, it should be!’)  Whatever the case, Aeneas Sage captivates me, for as a pastor he knew how to captivate an audience – in more ways that one.

I’ve retold the following story countless times, from John Kennedy’s The Days of the Fathers in Ross-Shire.  I still remember first hearing it by an idiosyncratic minister having his wispy locks trimmed by his wife in his living room.  How his eyes sparkled as he struggled to repress laughter!  As I remember it again, it also gives me some tantalizing ideas in drawing a crowd for open air preaching, and of course, to win hearts for King Jesus in an increasingly secular age.  I already know one friend whose church has had good success gaining a crowd by basketball.  Then they preach a solid, Reformed sermon for 45 minutes – to public schoolers.  Maybe they took a chapter out of Aeneas Sage’s playbook.

If  you like the following, you’ll no doubt appreciate this piece about him too.  Now, without further audieu …

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Mr. Munro was preceded by the famous Mr. Aenas Sage —”a man of an undaunted spirit, who did not know what the fear of man was. He had, however, the fear of God, and great zeal for the good cause in its highest perfection. He was the determined enemy of vice, and a true friend of the gospel.” Such, according to Mr. Lachlan, was the character of Mr. Sage, the first minister who is known to have preached the Gospel in purity and with success in Lochcarron. At the time of his induction, the state of the parish was very much the same as it was found by the Presbytery to be in 1649, when after visiting it, they reported that “there were no elders in it, by reason of malignancy; swearing, drunkenness, cursing, Sabbath profanation, and uncleanness prevailed.” As to the church, there was found in it “ane formal stool of repentance, but no pulpit nor desks.” The stool, if the only, was truly the suitable seat for all the people of Lochcarron in these days; but the more it was required, the less power there was to make it aught else than “ane formal” thing, as the solitary occupant of the church.

Matters continued in this state till the induction of Mr. Sage, nearly eighty years after. He was just the man for the work of breaking up the fallow ground of a field so wild, and a rich blessing rested on his labours. On the night of his first arrival at Lochcarron an attempt was made to burn the house in which he lodged, and for some time after his induction his life was in constant danger. But the esteem he could not win as a minister, he soon acquired for great physical strength. The first man in Lochcarron in those days was the champion at the athletic games. Conscious of his strength, and knowing that he would make himself respected by all if he could only lay big Rory on his back, who was acknowledged to be the strongest man in the district, the minister joined the people on the earliest opportunity at their games. Challenging the whole field, he competed for the prize in putting the stone, tossing the caber, and wrestling, and won an easy victory. His fame, was established at once. The minister was now the champion of the district, and none was more ready to defer to him than he whom he had deprived of the laurel. Taking Rory aside to a confidential crack, he said to him, “Now, Rory, I am the minister, and you must be my elder, and we both must see to it that all the people attend church, observe the Sabbath, and conduct themselves properly.” Rory fell in with the proposal at once. On Sabbath, when the people would gather at their games in the forenoon, the minister and his elder would join them, and each taking a couple by the hand, they would drag them to the church, lock them in, and then return to catch some more. This was repeated till none were left on the field. Then, stationing the elder with his cudgel at the door, the minister would mount the pulpit and conduct the service. One of his earliest sermons was blessed to the conversion of his assistant, and a truly valuable coadjutor he found in big Rory thereafter. Mr. Lachlan thus describes the result of his ministry: —”Mr. Sage made the people very orthodox.” They “seem to have a strong attachment to religion.” “There is a great appearance of religion in Lochcarron; and as the fire of God’s Word is hereafter to try every man’s work, there is cause to hope that some of it will bear the trial.’

Die Predigt Johannes des Täufers (Bruegel)The following comes from a report of the Committee of Local Evangelism in the OPC in which Professor John Murray played a major role prior to World War II. It was drawn from this source.

There is an acute problem that confronts the open-air preacher in our day and age. The great problem is to get and hold a sizeable audience. In Whitefield’s day the masses thronged to hear his message. This is not true today; the multitudes pass us by. What is the cause? What can be done to assist in the solution of the problem?

Various factors may be said to contribute to the listlessness of those whom we seek to reach with the gospel. There are the many attractive forms of pleasure. No age of ministers has had to compete with as many enticing modes of pleasure as has the minister of the twentieth century. It is reported of Moody that he looked with apprehension on the popularity of the bicycle, fearing its effect upon evangelistic meetings in America. The automobile, the radio, the moving picture, and television have done much to make the average open-air meeting appear unattractive. Another factor that has engendered a spirit of indifference to the open-air preacher is the attitude of the average educated person. He considers such a method as beneath his intellectual level and personal dignity. Even Wesley at first recoiled before the thought of open-air preaching for this reason. He knew that immediately he would be branded by many as an “ignorant and unlearned” man. But perhaps the most basic reason for the average American’s antipathy toward open-air preaching is that he has been educated, however unwittingly, into a prejudice against the Christian gospel. America’s antitheistic public school system and the deadening influence of modernism within the visible church have had their deadly effect upon the souls of men.

These difficulties, however, are not to be taken as valid reasons for not engaging in open-air preaching. God is sovereign, and has enabled His servants to devise methods whereby the problem of drawing a crowd has to a degree at least been overcome. We present at this point the recommendations that have come to us from ministers who have had some degree of success in obtaining a good hearing in open-air preaching. They are as follows:

Go where the people are, not where we hope they will come. In most places where we have churches, the spring and summer are the only times that weather will permit the holding of outdoor services. During these seasons the people will be found in public parks and squares, at seashore and mountain resorts, by places of public amusement, and outside factories during lunch hours. Recently provision has been made in England to have chaplains for defense industries. In at least one large industrial plant in America permission has been granted for the preaching of the gospel to the men during their lunch hour. These examples may be straws in the wind indicating a tendency to recognize the need and the worth of bringing the Word of God to the working men of our nation. Here may be an opportunity to reach the heads of families whose very souls are being crushed out of them by long hours and Sunday work. In every city and town there are areas where large numbers of under-privileged and spiritually neglected people can be found. These areas should be sought out and surveyed with a view to securing a commodious meeting place. Most important of all, pray for an open door.

Go in absolute confidence in the truth and power of the gospel and in complete reliance upon the Holy Spirit to bless. Only as the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit can we proclaim boldly, convincingly, and winsomely the everlasting gospel. To this end, we need to pray that we might be filled with the Spirit. Nothing can draw and hold so well and so surely in an open-air service as the preaching of the Word in the power of the Spirit.

There are successful ways of gathering a good audience. One way is to have a nucleus of Christians to go with the minister. A crowd draws a crowd. When the passers-by observe that a goodly number are listening they will stop to satisfy at least their curiosity. From that point on you may depend upon the Word to elicit and maintain their interest. A method that has been used by some Roman Catholics with real success in drawing a crowd is the question and answer method. The minister seeks out a passer-by and requests him to ask questions from a specified distance. The minister then proceeds to answer the man’s questions. As others gather they, too, are requested to ask questions. When a sizeable group has been attracted by this method the minister may discourse on a subject of his choice.

“Who cares about the Free Church, compared with the Christian good of the people of Scotland?  Who cares about any Church, but as an instrument of Christian good? for, be assured that the moral and religious well-being of the population is of infinitely higher importance than the advancement of any sect.”

-Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847)

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In this quote, we see that while Chalmers’ was deeply concerned to alleviate poverty, yet there is a benevolence that is higher still!

Does it never occur to you, that in a few years this favourite will die—that he will go to the place where neither cold nor hunger will reach him, but that a mighty interest remains, of which, both of us may know the certainty, though neither you nor I can calculate the extent. Your benevolence is too short—it does not shoot far enough a-head—it is like regaling a child with a sweetmeat or a toy, and then abandoning the happy unreflecting infant to exposure. You make the poor old man happy with your crumbs and your fragments, but he is an infant on the mighty range of infinite duration; and will you leave the soul, which has this infinity to go through, to its chance? How comes it that the grave should throw so impenetrable a shroud over the realities of eternity? How comes it that heaven, and hell, and judgment, should be treated as so many nonentities; and that there should be as little real and operative sympathy felt for the soul, which lives for ever, as for the body after it is dead, or for the dust into which it moulders? Eternity is longer than time; the arithmetic, my brethren, is all on our side upon this question; and the wisdom which calculates, and guides itself by calculation, gives its weighty and respectable support to what may be called the benevolence of faith.”

Here is a new site that looks rather promising.  It advocates a rediscovery and application of the precious truths and attainments of the first and second Scottish Reformations.

The following is a continuation of this post.  The material below is drawn from a biography of John Eliot (1604-1690), missionary to the Native Americans of Massachusetts.

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In the second visit which Mr. Eliot made to the Indians at Nonantum, he began to catechise the younger children. He framed three questions only, that their memories might not be overloaded. Theimage003 questions and answers were these :

1. Who made you and all the world. Ans. God.

2. Who do you think should save you and redeem you from sin and hell ? Ans. Jesus Christ.

3. How many commandments hath God given you to keep. Ans. Ten.

By the time that the questions reached the smaller children, they had learned the answers perfectly, from hearing the others repeat them, and the parents had become familiar with them, and they were requested to use this Shorter Catechism of three questions, in teaching their children, against the next visit.

An old man rose up after Mr. Eliot had finished his sermon, and asked whether it was not too late for such an old man as he, who was near death, to repent or seek after God.

This question affected Mr. Eliot and his companions with compassion. They told him what is said in the Bible about those who were hired at the eleventh hour, and drew a parallel to his case by describing a son who had for very many years been disobedient, and afterwards penitent, and the feelings of his father towards him.

Question. How came the English to differ so much from the Indians in the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, seeing they all had at first one father?

Question. How may we come to serve God?

Question. How comes it to pass that the sea water is salt and the land water fresh?

Answer. This is one of the wonderful works of God. As strawberries are sweet and cranberries sour, by the appointment of God, so was it in this case. To this was added some account of natural causes and effects in connection with this subject, which they less understood, yet did understand somewhat, as appeared by their usual signs of approving what they understand.”

Question. If the water is higher than the earth, how comes it to pass that it doth not overflow all the earth?

The missionary took an apple and illustrated the shape of the earth, the motion on its axis, and round the sun; then showed them how God made a great hollow ditch for the waters, which was so deep as to hold the waters by the attraction of gravitation, so that notwithstanding their convexity, they could not overflow the earth.

During a recess in this interview, the Indians were busily employed in discussing these several subjects among themselves, their minds being evidently excited by them, through the effect of new ideas upon subjects which were new or had always been incomprehensible to them. Being afterwards asked if they wished to propose any further questions, one asked,

If a man has committed some great sins, (stolen goods, &c.,) and the Sachem does not punish him, and he is not punished, but he restores the goods, what then? is not all well now? meaning to ask whether restoration made sufficient amends to the law of God.

He was told that though men be not offended at such sins, yet God is angry. The holiness of God was here illustrated. Such a sinner should seek forgiveness as much as any other sinner through the blood of Christ.

Upon hearing this answer, the Indian who proposed the question drew back and hung down his head, with an appearance of great sorrow and confusion, and finally broke out saying, “Me little know Jesus Christ, or me should seek him better.” Mr. Eliot comforted him by telling him that as it is early dawn at first when there is but little light, but the sun rises to perfect day, so it would be with him and his people with regard to a knowledge of the favor of God if they would seek Him.

One of the Indians who had received religious impressions in his acquaintance with the colonists, said he would propose this question. A little while since he said he was praying in his wigwam to God and Jesus Christ, that God would give him a good heart; that in his prayer another Indian interrupted him and told him that he prayed in vain, because that Jesus Christ could not understand what Indians speak in prayer; he had been used to hear Englishmen pray, and so could well enough understand them, but Indian language in prayer he was not acquainted with. His question therefore was, “Whether God and Jesus Christ did understand Indian prayers?”

At the close of one interview, Mr. Eliot prayed for above fifteen minutes in the Indian tongue, that they might feel that Christ understood such prayers. The Indians stood about him in grotesque figures, some of them lifting up their eyes and their hands to accompany the prayer, and one of them holding a rag to his eyes and weeping violently, and after prayer retiring to a corner of the wigwam to weep in secret; which one of Mr. Eliot’s companions observed and spoke with him, and found him to be deeply affected with a sense of his guilt.

…. At the fourth meeting with the Indians, the children having been catechised, and the vision of the dry bones, which seems to have impressed Mr. Eliot from the first in speaking to the Indians, being explained, they offered all their children to the English to be educated by them.

At this time one of them being asked, What is sin? he answered, A naughty heart. He did not seem to feel that sin consists only in outward acts.

… The son of a sachem, 14 or 15 years old, had been intoxicated; and being reproved by his father and mother for disobedient and rebellious conduct, he despised their admonition.  Before Mr. E. heard of it, he had observed that on being catechised, the fifth commandment being required of him, he reluctantly said, “Honor thy father,” but left out “mother.”

George, the Indian, who asked, in a public meeting, “Who made sack?”  killed a cow, and sold it at the college for a moose.  President Dunster was unwilling that he should be directly charged with it, but wished Mr. Eliot to inquire of him as to the crime.  But being brought before the assembly, he freely confessed his sin.

The Indians were never weary of asking questions in the public meetings.  An old Powaw once demanded, Why, seeing the English had been in the land twenty-seven years, they had never taught the Indians to know God till now?  He added, many of us have grown old in sin, whereas had you begun with us earlier, we might have been good.

The answer was that the English did repent that they were not more earnest at the first to seek their salvation, but the Indians were never willing to hear till now, and as God has now inclined their hearts to hear, the English were striving to redeem the time.

Another question was of deep interest. One of them said, That before he knew God, he thought he was well, but since, he had found his heart to be full of sin, and more sinful than it ever was before; and that this had been a great trouble to him; that at that day his heart was but little better than it was at first, and he was afraid it would be as bad as it was before, and therefore he sometimes wished that he might die before he should be so bad again!  Now, said he, my question is, Is this wish a sin?  Mr. E. says this question was evidently the result of his own experience and seemed to be sincere.

Another question was this:

Whither do our little children go when they die, seeing they have not sinned?

This led to an exposition of the depravity of man’s nature, and of the part which it is hoped dying infants have in the redemption made by Christ, and the covenant relation of the children of believers, which last doctrine Mr. Eliot says, “was exceedingly grateful unto them.”

The whole assembly at one time united and sent a question to Mr. Eliot by his man, as their united question, viz:

“Whether any of them should go to heaven, seeing they found their hearts full of sin, and especially full of the sin of lust?” At the next lecture held at “Dorchester mill,” occasion was taken to preach to them from Matt. 11: 28, 29, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden,” &c., when the justifying grace of Christ to all who are weary and sick of sin was fully and earnestly set forth.  But at this time they repeated their fearful apprehension that “none of them would go to heaven.”

A question which uniformly troubled all who began to think of embracing religion was this:

“If we leave off Powawing and pray to God, what shall we do when we are sick?”  For though they had some knowledge of the medicinal qualities in certain roots and herbs, they of course had no knowledge of the human system, and hence no skill in applying their remedies, but relied on the antics and unearthly gestures and incantations of their Powaws to make the medicines take effect. Mr. Eliot expressed the desire that the Lord would stir up the hearts of some people in England to give some maintenance towards a school or academy, wherein there should be “Anatomies, and other instructions that way.”  Mr. E. had himself showed them an anatomy, the only one he says the English had ever had in the country.  By a course of instruction in medicine Mr. E. believed that he could most effectually, and perhaps, in the only way, “root out their Powaws.”

The Indians proposed this question to Mr. Eliot:

“What shall we say to some Indians who say to us, What do you get by praying to God, and believing in Jesus Christ?  You go naked still, and are as poor as we.  Our corn is as good as yours; and we take more pleasure than you; if we saw that you got any thing by praying to God, we would do so.”

Mr. E. answered to them on this point as follows : “First, God gives two sorts of good things; 1. little things, which he showed by his little finger, (‘for they use and delight in demonstrations ;’) 2. great things, (holding up his thumb). The little mercies he said are riches, clothes, food, sack, houses, cattle, and pleasures, all which serve the body for a little while, and in this life only.  The great mercies are wisdom, the knowledge of God, Christ, eternal life, repentance and faith; these are for the soul, and eternity.  Though God did not give them so many little things, through the knowledge of the Gospel, he gave them the greater things which are better. This he proved by an illustration: when Foxun, the Mohegan Counselor, who is counted the wisest Indian in the country, was in the Bay, I did on purpose bring him unto you; and when he was here, you saw he was a fool in comparison of you, for you could speak of God, and Christ, and heaven, &c.; but he sat and had not one word to say unless you talked of such poor things as hunting, wars, &c.”

He also told them that they had some more clothes than the wicked Indians; and the reason why they had so few, was because they had so little wisdom; but if they were wise to obey God’s commands, for example, “Six days shall thou labor,” they would have clothes, houses, cattle, and riches, as the English have.

Many questions and cases of dispute arose out of their old practice of gaming, to which they were greatly addicted. The irreligious Indians demanded the old stakes of some who had been convinced of the sin of gaming, and had declined to pay their forfeits. The winners however, insisted on being payed. Mr. Eliot had no little trouble in settling the matters of casuistry and conscience which thus occurred. But he took this method in many cases. He prevailed on the creditor to accept one half of his demand, having first showed him the sinfulness of gaming. He then told the debtor in private that God requires us to fulfill our promises though to our hurt, and then asked him if he would pay half. In this way such cases were many of them settled, for the creditors refused Mr. Eliot’s proposition, that whoever challenged a debt incurred by gaming should go before the Governor with his demand.

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