A PARSON of a certain township who
Was poor, but rich in holy thought and work.
He also was a learned man, a clerk;
The Christian gospel he would truly preach,
Devoutly his parishioners to teach.
Benign he was, in diligence a wonder,
And patient in adversity, as under
Such he’d proven many times. And loath
He was to get his tithes by threatening oath;
For he would rather give, without a doubt,
To all the poor parishioners about
From his own substance and the offerings.
Sufficiency he found in little things.
His parish wide, with houses wide asunder,
He’d never fail in either rain or thunder,
Though sick or vexed, to make his visitations
With those remote, regardless of their stations.
On foot he traveled, in his hand a stave.
This fine example to his sheep he gave:
He always did good works before he taught them.
His words were from the gospel as he caught them,
And this good saying he would add thereto:
“If gold should rust, then what will iron do?”
For if a priest be foul in whom we trust,
No wonder that the ignorant goes to rust.
And it’s a shame (as every priest should keep
In mind), a dirty shepherd and clean sheep.
For every priest should an example give,
By his own cleanness, how his sheep should live.
He never set his benefice for hire,
To leave his sheep encumbered in the mire
While he ran off to London and Saint Paul’s
To seek a chantry, singing in the stalls,
Or be supported by a guild. Instead
He dwelt at home, and he securely led
His fold, so that the wolf might never harry.
He was a shepherd and no mercenary.
A holy, virtuous man he was, and right
In showing to the sinner no despite.
His speech was never haughty or indignant,
He was a teacher modest and benignant;
To draw folks heavenward to life forever,
By good example, was his great endeavor.
But if some person were too obstinate,
Whether he be of high or low estate,
He would be sharply chided on the spot.
A better priest, I wager, there is not.
He didn’t look for pomp or reverence
Nor feign a too self-righteous moral sense;
What Christ and his apostles had to tell
He taught, and he would follow it as well.
Archive for the ‘Experimental Religion & the Cure of Souls’ Category
A PARSON of a certain township who
Posted in Church of Scotland, Experimental Religion & the Cure of Souls, Parish Theory & Practice, Parochial Strategy, Preaching, The Romance of Locality, Theology of Community on May 13, 2016| Leave a Comment »
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.’
I’ve recently been picking away at a great 19th century treatise on pastoral theology by Free Church of Scotland minister and professor, Patrick Fairbairn. A must read! In the introductory chapter, he deals with foundational issues of ecclesiology that shape and mold the practice of shepherding souls. Without the foundation, the house is shaky at best. Here’s a very insightful quote on the bearing of right views of the Church as visible and invisible on the pastoral office:
“To the visible Church, then, belongs the public administration of the means of grace; and as it is by the instrumentality of these means that the true Church is gathered in, it is obvious that it is no more possible to sever the one from the other, than it is to sever the inward grace of the sacraments from the outward sign; and that, in fact, as in the sacraments the outward sign and the inward grace are not two sacraments, but the two aspects, the inward and the outward, of one and the same ordinance, so the visible and the true Church are not distinct communities, but one and the same, regarded from different points of view. The true Church depends for the maintenance of its existence on the visible Church; and, in turn, the visible Church is supported by the true. Thus a reciprocal action is ever going on : the visible Church, as such, dispensing the means of grace by which Christ works to the gathering in of His elect; and the true Church, as such, upholding and perpetuating the visible use of those means by furnishing faithful recipients of them.”
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.
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.
When Thomas Chalmers began the West Port Experiment in 1844, he delivered a series of four public lectures on the principles of the territorial or parochial method of evangelism. In it, he told his hearers how he had decided many years ago to disassociate all his parish labors from matters of public charity. To have combined them would compromise the great errand on which he labored. “I fairly cut my connexion with them all [the public charities]; I let the people understand that I dealt only in one article, and that, if they valued the advantages of Christian instruction, they were welcome to any approximation which I could make to them” (Memoirs 2:684). In short, Chalmers would distribute not the “bread that perishes,” but that which bread “endures to everlasting life.”
The Church must not get sidetracked from her calling. Christ gave the Church “one article” to distribute to the nations. She is given the keys, not to an earthly storehouse of perishables, but to the very kingdom of heaven.
“It is our fault, that we look upon God’s ways and works by halves and pieces; and so, we see often nothing but the black side, and the dark part of the moon. We mistake all, when we look upon men’s works by parts; a house in the building, lying in an hundred pieces; here timber, here a rafter, there a spar, there a stone; in another place, half a window, in another place, the side of a door: there is no beauty, no face of a house here. Have patience a little, and see them all by art compacted together in order, and you will see a fair building. When a painter draweth the half of a man; the one side of his head, one eye, the left arm, shoulder, and leg, and hath not drawn the other side, nor filled up with colours all the members, parts, limbs, in its full proportion, it is not like a man. So do we look on God’s works by halves or parts . . . yet do we not see, that in this dispensation, the other half of God’s work makes it a fair piece.”
-Samuel Rutherford, The Trial and Triumph of Faith (1645)
“Say not you cannot believe, the great defect is in your will. ‘Ye will not come to me,’ says Jesus, ‘that you may have life.’ Stretch out the withered hand to Christ; protest you shall never be satisfied till he put forth mighty power to make you believe, and never quit the throne till you get it, if you should dig your grave at it, Luke 16:39-43.”