If you’re Reformed, passionate about evangelism, and not such a ‘frozen chosen’ that you can indulge in a good laugh, then you really need to read about Aeneas Sage. Sage was a Presbyterian minister in the 18th century Scottish Highlands, then a very rough and Roman Catholic region. Sage was a Samsonesque figure, somewhat larger than life. The following is a delightful vignette from his heroic ministry, taken from The Scot of the eighteenth century: his religion and his life, by John Watson (1907). I’m not sure if it is apocryphal – but it sure is enjoyable!
What is more, I think it is also highly illustrative of the Reformed cure of souls tradition. First, it reveals the highly evangelistic nature of the ministry in the Church of Scotland. The minister’s ‘charge’ was not just congregational, but parochial. Today, the typical Reformed minister doesn’t feel quite the same call of duty to labor habitually and aggressively beyond his communicant membership. If he does, perhaps he is to be commended. But in the old Kirk, the Presbytery gave a man charge over all the souls in a given territory. Aeneas Sage felt the call of Christ – and of his Presbytery! – to bring the Gospel to all under his assigned charge, “whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.”
Second, it exemplifies what I want to call the ‘muscle’ of the Church, nowadays so atrophied by effeminate underuse. The old Kirk believed its mandate was to do nothing less than subdue the pagans by the authority of the Truth entrusted to it. The Church is not in the world to learn, or to create “safe places” for the exchange of ideas. The Church is sent to convert and catechize. Aeneas Sage obviously believed that with all his heart (and brawn)! Certainly he would not be the kind of chap inclined to ‘dialogue’ over a latte at Starbuck’s.
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The minister Aeneas Sage [was] a mighty man, with the blood of the Sutherlands and the MacKays in his veins, and connected with the fighting chiefs who went out in ’45. Fortunately he was a man of his hands with a stout heart, for his life was in danger in those troubled times, and plans were made to bur n the Whig minister in his bed. Sometimes he met his adversaries with guile, but he was
quite prepared to take a high hand also with unsatisfactory parishioners. He announced his intention one Sabbath of holding a diet of catechizing in the house of a certain small laird who was distinguished for his ferocity and evil living. When he arrived at the door the owner asked him what he came for. “I come,” said Sage, “to discharge my duty to God, to your conscience and to my own.”
“I care nothing for any of the three ; out of my house, or I’ll turn you out.”
“If you can,” said the minister, and then the minister had what may be called a preliminary “diet” with the laird, who was a very powerful man. When the diet was over the landlord had all he wanted to eat, for he was lying on the floor with a rope round his hands and feet. As the minister pleasantly remarked, “he was now bound over to keep the peace,” and then with his captive before him, the minister called in the people of the district and taught them the “Shorter Catechism,” from the oldest to the youngest, no man refusing. It is encouraging to know that the laird became a decided Christian, but it is difficult to see what alternative he had under the preaching of his parish minister.