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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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The following are anecdotes from the labors of Puritan missionary John Eliot (1604-1690) among the Native Americans of early Massachusetts.  The extract is drawn from The Life of John Eliot by Nehemiah Adams (1847).

Specifically, we witness Eliot and company catechizing the heathen, ushering them into the holy knowledge of the faith and so into the bosom of the Church.  Obviously, our Puritan forbears entertained a broad view of this discipline.  It was not simply for those in the Church seeking to deepen their understanding of  but also for those laying hold of the skirt of a Jew and begging for guidance to Zion’s God.

After one or two more posts, I’ll conclude with some reflections on Eliot’s evangelistic catechesis.

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An hour and a quarter was occupied in the discourse. Mr. Eliot gave the Indians first a brief exposition of the ten commandments, showing the wrath and curse of God against those who break the least one of them. The subject was then applied, and the law having been brought to do its work in their hearts, and their sins being pointed out to them, as Mr. Eliot says, with much sweet affection, Jesus Christ was preached to them as the only Saviour. He told them who Christ was, and what he did, and whither he had gone, and how he will come again to judge the wicked and burn the world. The creation and fall of man, the greatness of God, heaven and hell, the pleasures of religion and the miseries of sin were then explained in language and with illustrations suited to their capacity.

The sermon being finished, Mr. Eliot proposed some questions to them, and first inquired whether they understood what had been said, and whether all or only some of them understood it ? A multitude of voices exclaimed that they all understood every thing which had been spoken. Leave was then granted them to put questions, and it is interesting to notice the first questions which these children of the wilderness proposed. The first questions were, “What is the cause of thunder?” “What makes the sea ebb and flow?” “What makes the wind blow?”

But there were some questions proposed by them which Mr. Eliot says some special wisdom of God directed them to ask, as, for example, How may we come to know Jesus Christ?

Mr. Eliot told them that if they could read the Bible they would see clearly who Jesus Christ is, but inasmuch as they could not then read, he desired them to remember what he had told them out of the Bible, and to think much and often upon it, when they lay down on their mats in their wigwams and when they rose up, and to go alone in the fields, and woods, and muse on it, and so God would teach them.

He told them that if they would have help from God in this thing, they must begin to pray, and though they could not make long prayers as the English did, yet if they did but sigh and groan, saying, “Lord, make me to know Jesus Christ for I know him not,” and if with all their hearts they persisted in such prayers, they might hope that God would help them. But they were especially to remember that they must confess their sins and ignorance to God and mourn over them and acknowledge how just it would be in God to withhold from them any knowledge of Christ, on account of their sins.

This instruction was communicated to them by Mr. Eliot through the Indian interpreter whom he had brought with him, but he says he was struck with the fact that a few words from the Preacher had much greater effect than many from the interpreter.

One of them asked, whether Englishmen were ever at any time so ignorant of God and Jesus Christ as they themselves?

Another put this question: Whether if the father be naughty and the child good, will God be offended with that child ? because in the second commandment it is said that he visits the sins of the fathers upon the children.  They were told in reply to this that every child who is good will not be punished for the sins of his father, but if the child be bad, God would then visit his father’s sins upon him, and they were bid to notice that part of the second commandment which contains a promise to the thousands of them that love God and keep his commandments.

One of them asked, How is all the world now become so full of people, if they were all once drowned in the flood? This led to the story of the ark and the preservation of Noah.

Mr. Eliot then proposed some questions to them, for example, Whether they did not desire to see God, and were not tempted to think there is no God because they could not see him?  Some of them answered, They did desire to see Him if it could be, but they had heard from Mr. Eliot that he could not be seen, and they did believe that though their eyes could not see him, he was to be seen with their soul within. Mr. Eliot endeavored to confirm them in this impression, and asked them if they saw a great wigwam or a great house, would they think that raccoons or foxes built it? or would they think that it made itself? or that no wise builder made it, because they could not see him who made it?

Knowing that the doctrine of one God was a great stumbling block to them, Mr. Eliot asked them if they did not think it strange that there should be but one God, and yet this God be in Massachusetts, and in Connecticut, in Old England, in this wigwam, and the next, and every where at the same time?  One of the most sober of them replied that it was indeed strange, as every thing else they had heard preached was strange, and they were wonderful things which they never heard of before, but yet they thought “It might be true, and that God was so big every where.” Mr. Eliot illustrated the truth by the light of the sun, which, though it was but a creature of God, shed its light into that wigwam, and the next, in Massachusetts and Old England, at once.

He inquired of them if they did not find something troubling them within after the commission of murder, theft, adultery, lying; and what would comfort them, and remove that trouble of conscience when they should die and appear before God?  They replied that they were thus troubled, but they could not tell what they should say about it, or what would remove this trouble of mind, whereupon Mr. Eliot enlarged upon the evil of sin and the condition of the soul which is cast out of the favor of God.

Having spent three hours in this interview, Mr. Eliot asked them if they were not weary, and they said, no. But thinking it best to leave them with an appetite, Mr. Eliot concluded the meeting with prayer.

 

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The following comes from President Edwards’ The Life and Diary of the Rev. David Brainerd (1743).  It in an insightful snapshot of the old Reformed discipline of catechesis and demonstrates how integral it is to evangelism itself. 

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THE method I am taking to instruct the Indians in the principles of our holy religion, are, to preach, or open and improve some particular points of doctrine; to expound particular paragraphs, or sometimes whole chapters, of God’s word to them; to give historical relations from Scripture of the most material and remarkable occurrences relating to the church of God from the beginning; and frequency to catechise them upon the principles of Christianity. The latter of these methods of instructing I manage in a twofold manner. I sometimes catechise systematically, proposing questions agreeable to the Reverend Assembly’s Shorter Catechism.  This I have carried to a considerable length. At other times I catechise upon any important subject that I think difficult to them. Sometimes when I have discoursed upon some particular point, and made it as plain and familiar to them as I can, I then catechise them upon the most material branches of my discourse, to see whether they had a thorough understanding of it. But as I have catechised chiefly in a systematical form, I shall here give some specimen of the method I make use of in it, as well as of the propriety and justness of my people’s answers to the questions proposed to them.

Questions upon the benefits believers receive from Christ at death.

Q. I have shown you, that the children of God receive a great many good things from Christ while they live, now have they any more to receive when they come to die?–A. Yes.

Q. Are the children of God then made perfectly free from sin?–Yes.

Q. Do you think they will never more be troubled with vain, foolish, and wicked thoughts?–A. No, never at all.

Q. Will not they then be like the good angels I have so often told you of?–A. Yes.

Q. And do you call this a great mercy to be freed from all sin?–A. Yes.

Q. Do all God’s children count it so?–A. Yes, all of them.

Q. Do you think this is what they would ask for above all things, if God should say to them, Ask what you will, and it shall be done for you?–A. O yes, be sure, this is what they want.

Q. You say the souls of God’s people at death are made perfectly free from sin, where do they go then?–A. They go and live with Jesus Christ.

Q. Does Christ show them more respect and honour, and make them more happy* than we can possibly think of in this world?-A. Yes.

Q. Do they go immediately to live with Christ in heaven, as soon as their bodies are dead? or do they tarry somewhere else a while?–A. They go immediately to Christ.

Q. Does Christ take any care of the bodies of his people when they are dead, and their souls gone to heaven, or does he forget them?–A. He takes care of them.

These questions were all answered with surprising readiness, and without once missing, as I remember. And in answering several of them which respected deliverance from sin, they were much affected, and melted with the hopes of that happy state.

Questions upon the benefits believers receive from Christ at the resurrection.

Q. You see I have already shown you what good things Christ gives his good people while they live, and when they come to die; now, will he raise their bodies, and the bodies of others, to life again at the last day?–A. Yes, they shall all be raised.

Q. Shall they then have the same bodies they now have?-A. Yes.

Q. Will their bodies then be weak, will they feel cold, hunger, thirst, and weariness, as they now do?–A. No, none of these things.

Q. Will their bodies ever die any more after they are raised to life?–A. No.

Q. Will their souls and bodies be joined together again?–A. Yes.

Q. Will God’s people be more happy then, than they were while their bodies were asleep?–A. Yes.

Q. Will Christ then own these to be his people before all the world?–A. Yes.

Q. But God’s people find so much sin in themselves, that they are often ashamed of themselves, and will not Christ be ashamed to own such for his friends at that day?–A. No, he never will be ashamed of them.

Q. Will Christ then show all the world, that he has put away these people’s sins,† and that he looks upon them as if they had never sinned at all?–A. Yes.

Q. Will he look upon them as if they had never sinned, for the sake of any good things they have done themselves, or for the sake of his righteousness accounted to them as if it was theirs?–A. For the sake of his righteousness counted to them, not for their own goodness.

Q. Will God’s children then be as happy as they can desire to be?–Yes.

Q. The children of God while in this world, can but now and then draw near to him, and they are ready to think they can never have enough of God and Christ, but will they have enough there, as much as they can desire?–A. O yes, enough, enough.

Q. Will the children of God love him then as much as they desire, will they find nothing to hinder their love from going to him?–A. Nothing at all, they shall love him as much as they desire.

Q. Will they never be weary of God and Christ, and the pleasures of heaven, so as we are weary of our friends and enjoyments here, after we have been pleased with them awhile?–A. No, never.

Q. Could God’s people be happy if they knew God loved them, and yet felt at the same time that they could not love and honour him?–A. No, no.

Q. Will this then make God’s people perfectly happy, to love God above all, to honour him continually, and to feel his love to them?–A. Yes.

Q. And will this happiness last for ever?–A. Yes, for ever, for ever.

These questions, like the former, were answered without hesitation or missing, as I remember, in any one instance.

Questions upon the duty which God requires of men.

Q. Has God let us know any thing of his will, or what he would have us to do to please him?–A. Yes.

Q. And does he require us to do his will, and to please him?–A. Yes.

Q. Is it right that God should require this of us, has he any business to command us as a father does his children?–A. Yes.

Q. Why is it right that God should command us to do what he pleases?–A. Because he made us, and gives us all our good things.

Q. Does God require us to do any thing that will hurt us, and take away our comfort and happiness?–A. No.

Q. But God requires sinners to repent and be sorry for their sins, and to have their hearts broken; now, does not this hurt them, and take away their comfort, to be made sorry, and to have their hearts broken?–A. No, it does them good.

Q. Did God teach man his will at first by writing it down in a book, or did he put it into his heart, and teach him without a book what was right?–A. He put it into his heart, and made him know what he should do.

Q. Has God since that time writ down his will in a book?–A. Yes.

Q. Has God written his whole will in his book; has he there told us all that he would have us believe and do?–A. Yes.

Q. What need was there of this book, if God at first put his will into the heart of man, and made him feel what he should do?–A. There was need of it, because we have sinned, and made our hearts blind.

Q. And has God writ down the same things in his book, that he at first put into the heart of man?–A. Yes.

In this manner I endeavour to adapt my instructions to the capacities of my people; although they may perhaps seem strange to others who have never experienced the difficulty of the work. And these I have given an account of, are the methods I am from time to time pursuing, in order to instruct them in the principles of Christianity. And I think I may say, it is my great concern that these instructions be given them in such a manner, that they may not only be doctrinally taught, but duly affected thereby, that divine truths may come to them, “not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost,” and be received “not as the word of man.”

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These selections from Boston’s Memoirs come from his ministry in the parish of Ettrick, having accepted that charge in 1707 after his labors in Simprin.  To read the previous post, click here.

Observe the rigors of Boston’s parish ministry.  The strains on his physical constitution in his commitment to parish catechesis remind one of David Brainerd’s hardships with the Delaware Indians.

We also note in these passages a strong sense of ministerial responsibility for the youth.  Several of these ‘diets’ of catechizing were especially for the youth.  Obviously, these were hardly ‘youth groups’ in the modern sense; yet they were gatherings of youth nonetheless.  Also in this pastoral vein we see how Boston’s catechesis often involved practical exhortations.  This wasn’t merely a discipline to inform minds, but to change hearts.

In one instance, Boston distinctly notes that he adjusted his particular practice by observing the useful method of a colleague in the ministry.  This ministerial duty ever needs reassessment and retooling for maximal usefulness, and we should not be ashamed to observe how others do it better than we.

Last, these diets of catechizing appear to have been set for places outside the parish kirk, as in his manse, or throughout the parish at suitable gathering-places.  The man of God, though ‘settled within his bounds,’ is ever itinerant.  He must “preach publicly and from house to house.”   The churchly calling of catechesis engages the mind; but it is worth noting that it first goes to the minds that need engaging!

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1709

“Twice a-year I catechised the parish, having no diet but one at the church; and once a-year I visited their families. The former was usually begun about the end of October, the latter about the end of April, or beginning of May. This was my ordinary course all along, save that of some few late years; through my wife’s extraordinary sickness in the spring, and the decay of my own strength, I have not got the visiting of families performed as before; neither have I hope of it any more, though I still aim at something of that kind yearly.  But I bless God, that when I had ability, I was helped to lay it out that way. Thus the winter-season was the time wherein I did most of my work in the parish.  Meanwhile that also was the season wherein I did most in my closet.  Being twelve miles distant from the presbytery-seat, I attended it not in the winter; but when I attended it, I ordinarily went away and returned the same day, being loath to lose two or three days on it” (227-28).

1729

“On Tuesday, 11th November, I finished the memorial concerning personal and family fasting, begun 5th August, and consisting of 149 pages; and laid it before the Lord for acceptance through Jesus Christ, and a blessing thereupon.  Having had a severe cold these two days, and been in a sweat Tuesday’s night, I was in doubt whether to keep the appointed diet of catechising at Calcrabank on the Wednesday, or not: but I was determined to go, through one’s coming to me that morning from the parish of Yarrow, with a line, to get his child baptized there.  So I went off, and my cold was no worse.  But being come home again that night, I was seized with a severe fit of the gravel; in which, vomiting up at length some blackish matter, I was deeply impressed with a view of the loathsomeness of this body, bearing the image of the earthly first Adam, and what it must come to by means of death, till it be reduced to dust again; out of which it is to be reformed after the image of the heavenly man, the second Adam, far removed for ever from that corrupt constitution.  The day had been very bad; and this season I have not hitherto had one good day on that occasion; but I have had a sort of pleasure and satisfaction in enduring these little hardships, for my Master and His work’s sake” (426-27).

3rd January.—I found myself fail mightily, in managing the diets of catechising this season; especially the two last diets. Considering the loss sustained by the people, through my inability to speak, and apply to it, it has been very heavy to me.  But this day the Lord pitied, and helped me therein again; the which is the more welcome, that now I begin this work also, the catechising of those of the younger sort, which is carried on together with the public catechising of the parish; not daring as yet to ease myself of that accessory piece of my work” (435-36).

1730

“It had been my manner of a long time, besides the catechising of the parish already mentioned, to have diets of catechising those of the younger sort; and they met in the kirk, sometimes in my house. What time I began this course I do not remember, but I think it has been early; for I learnt it from Mr. Charles Gordon minister of Askirk, whom I found so employed in his house when I went at a time to visit him; and he died, at furthest, in the year 1710.  By this course I got several young people of both sexes, trained up to a good measure of knowledge; some of whom unto this day are solid and knowing Christians; but it suffered some interruptions. The time I found fittest for it on their part, was from January to the beginning of May; and the whole youth of the parish, who were disposed, and had access to wait on, came together and were welcome; as were others also, who inclined to hear. The intimation of their first diet was made from the pulpit; and then from time to time I set and signified to them their next diet; ordinarily they met once a fourtnight; sometimes once in 20 days only; sometimes once a week, as occasion required.  Several times these meetings were closed with warm exhortation to practical religion; the which I sometime used also in the diets of catechising the parish.  Thus this accessory work fell in the time when ordinarily I was weakest; and of late years that my frailty notably increased, I wanted not inclination sometimes to give it over.  But that I might the better comport with it, I did some years ago cause make a portable iron grate, in which I had a fire in the kirk to sit at on these occasions.  This year, after I had once and again found my self fail mightily in diets for the parish, thro’ bodily inability, the time of beginning this course was returning; and the Lord pitied and helped again in another diet for the parish.  So I was encouraged, and began that course again at the ordinary time, not daring as yet to give it over; and thro’ the mercy of God, it was got carried on as usual.

“This winter I did more at night than of a long time before, having ordinarily written something, for a while, after six o’clock at night. And on the 17th day of March, I had completed the catechising of the parish for the second time. This was a kind disposal of Providence: for about the same time began a breach of my health, which made me the heaviest spring I had ever felt” (437-38).

1731

“It pleased the Lord, for my trial, to make the entry on that work difficult; and the progress has, through several interruptions, been small to the writing hereof; whatever He minds to do about it. On the morrow I catechised at Buccleugh. I continued about three hours in that exercise without my spirits or strength failing ; which is the more sweet, and filled my heart with thankfulness, that in the morning I had, in consideration of my weakness, prayed for pity. I was minded next day to have spent some time in prayer for assistance in the aforesaid work: but being called out of my bed that night, to visit a sick person supposed to be a-dying, I found in the morning that I was not in case for it. So I applied myself to writing of letters, which at length I was obliged also to give over. Being seized with a colic, I behoved to take my bed that night: and rising on the Friday, I was obliged to take bed again, where I was fixed till the Saturday morning. Then the pain was removed; but I was unfit for business, save writing of letters. But though the Lord’s day was so bad that few came to church, it was a good day to me, in delivering the Lord’s word, weak and crazy as I was. I admired the indulgence of my gracious Master, in timing the trial so as not to mar my public work; and in that I had as much studied the preceding week, as fully served that Sabbath; so that as I was not able, so I did not need to study. He is a good Master to me: and I kissed that rod” (452).

“On Tuesday, 1st December, I spent some time in prayer, with fasting, chiefly for two causes—1. The work on the Hebrew text; and therein I found a pinching sense of need carrying me to that exercise, my hope of success being in the Lord alone; 2. For my younger son, who the day before had gone towards Edinburgh, to attend the school of divinity only. I reviewed my whole life, made confession, and renewed my acceptance of the covenant, as that time twelve months before: and then I made my supplications on these accounts and some other, particularly the affair at London as to the MSS., concerning which there was still a deep silence; and came away with hope, rolling them on the Lord. On the morrow I catechised at Calcrabank. I had a singular satisfaction in that little journey, while I observed how Providence taught me, trying me and delivering me. It being a very hard frost, it was dangerous riding; and my horses being both away to Edinburgh with my son, I was mounted on a beast that would hardly stir under me. At the second ford above Hopehouse, I was quite stopped, the ford being frozen, and the horse not able to make the brae where the water was open.  Alighting therefore to take the hillside, the bridle slipped off, and my horse got away homeward, and I pursued.  But kind Providence had a well-inclined lad coming down on the other side of the water, who coming through to my help, catched unhorse, led him on, and I walked on foot once and again.  Coming home, I was cast under night; but the lad staid, and came along with me, and led my horse again, while I walked with some uneasiness, by means of my boots, and otherwise.  Meanwhile it was some moonlight: and I had a pleasure in that trial, beholding how my God took notice of me, even in my little matters, and how He balanced them for me!  ‘Lord, what is man that Thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that Thou makest account of him!’ After all, having only got two falls, perfectly harmless, while walking, I came home safe; and found not the least ill effect of this adventure, save some weariness in my legs on the morrow after.  And I got what I could spend of the next day, on the beloved study: but still Providence kept me on trial, as to time for it” (453).

“But holy Providence had designed a piece of new trial for me that I was not aware of.  When I came home from Maxton, I was told one had advised blistering, and putting a pea in my leg, for my sore knee, and had left me a blistering plaister for that end.  The plaister was applied on the Friday’s night.  On the Sabbath night the pea was put in; and thro’ pain I slept none that night.  The pain continuing, the pea was taken out again on the Tuesday; and on the morrow after, I had my first diet of catechising at Chapplehop. After taking away the pea the hole quickly closed; but there grew upon it a hard callous substance and withal the leg was inflamed. This created thoughts of heart, and the sore knee was forgotten.  On the Monday after I wrote for a surgeon; who returned me answer, he apprehended no danger and sent me an ointment to apply.  Expecting some benefit by the ointment, I wrote him on the morrow, he needed not to come till again called.  But finding the ointment quite ineffectual as to the substance aforesaid, I was sorry I had prevented his coming up…”

“Meanwhile the catechising of the parish was interrupted  and I sat in the pulpit when I preached.  But my soul rejoiced to observe, how my gracious God and Master still timed the hardest of my trouble, so as it had been designed, that it should be over before the Sabbath should return.  But with this trouble of my leg there was joined sore eyes, occasioned by my sitting in the bed writing, in the sunlight, on the Tuesday before the surgeon came: so that, for some nights, leg and eyes were to be buckled up with their respective applications at once; and one night a dint of the toothache joined them.  The callous substance was got away by degrees; and on 7th November at night, what day I had intimated from the pulpit a diet of catechising again, the sore appeared closed” (469-71).

“I observed the diet of catechising aforesaid: but the day was so very bad that few came to it, being at Kirkhop.  The week following I had another at Buccleugh. Considering my frailty, the season, and how Providence had, by the above-mentioned trial, carried me by the time I thought fittest for the utmost corners of the parish, I laid the matter before the Lord.  And rising early in the morning, I got a good seasonable day, visited a sick man by the way, had a full allowance of strength for my work of catechising, without failing of my spirits, and got home again with daylight. This merciful conduct of Providence was big in my eyes” (472).

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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.

* * * *

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.

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Here’s a very insightful passage from George Herbert on effective catechizing.  I think it illustrates many things – especially the extemporaneous and evangelistic side of catechizing.  It is not as though rote memorization of form catechisms has no place.  It certainly does with the baptized children of the church.  Yet it is only one dimension of the churchly discipline of catechizing.  The duty of catechizing extends to all those who require saving knowledge, those whom we would call the ‘unconverted.’  In such cases, skill and versatility in asking questions is no less necessary than when dealing with covenant children:

… the Parson once demanded after other questions about man’s misery; since man is so miserable, what is to be done?  And the answerer could not tell; He asked him again, what he would do, if he were in a ditch?   This familiar illustration made the answer so plaine, that he was even ashamed of his ignorance; for he could not but say, he would hast[e] out of it as fast as he could.  Then he proceeded to ask, whether he could get out of the ditch alone, or whether he needed a helper, and who was that helper (The Living Temple, p. 257).

Isn’t good personal evangelism nothing other than effective catechizing?

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