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 ‘Vignettes from the Old Parish Way’ Category
A PARSON of a certain township who
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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“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).
“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).
“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).
“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).
The following is an extract from Thomas Chalmers’ personal notes from house to house visitation in his first parish of Kilmany, with comment by William Hanna, editor of his Memoirs. It well illustrates the Scottish Reformed legacy of the spiritual care for all souls in a defined geographical area as well as the ancillary custom of pastoral journaling. Here are the records of a true, spiritual physician.
A few specifics are worthy of special observation. Note the frequent entreaties raised to the Lord, reminiscent of another memoir-writer, Nehemiah (Neh. 2:4, 5:19, 6:14, 13:14, 22, 29, 31). Here is one devoting himself to the ministry of the Word and prayer. We also should observe amid these ‘ejaculatory’ prayers an ongoing willingness to engage in self-criticism. May we too rest in the Lord for whom we labor, and not in our labors themselves. They are fraught with sin and imperfection – “but our sufficiency is of God” (2 Cor. 3:5).
Last, Hanna includes an overview of Chalmers’ practice of catechizing, in the well-worn path of the old Church of Scotland practice. His method was evidently very gracious and dialogical, yet it clearly honored the high authority vested in the Catechism’s biblical doctrines. Firmness in confession, pastoral finesse in method. A delicate balance indeed!
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“February 15th, 1813.—Visited Mrs. B., who is unwell, and prayed. Let me preach Christ in all simplicity, and let me have a peculiar eye on others. I spoke of looking unto Jesus, and deriving thence all our delight and confidence. O God, give me wisdom and truth in this household part of my duty.
“February 21st.— Visited at Dalyell Lodge. They are in great affliction for the death of a child. I prayed with them. O God, make me wise and faithful, and withal affectionate in my management of these cases. I fear that something of the sternness of systematic orthodoxy adheres to me. Let me give up all sternness; but let me never give up the only name by which men can be saved, or the necessity of forsaking all to follow Him, whether as a Saviour or a Prince.
“March 25th.— Visited a young man in consumption. The call not very pleasant; but this is of no consequence. O my God, direct me how to do him good.
“June 2d.— Mr. ——— sent for me in prospect of death; a man of profligate and profane habits, who resents my calling him an unworthy sinner, and who spoke in loud and confident strains of his faith in Christ, and that it would save him. O God, give me wisdom in these matters to declare the whole of thy counsel for the salvation of men. I represented to him the necessity of being born again, of being humbled under a sense of his sins, of repenting and turning from them. O may I turn it to my own case. If faith in Christ is so unsuitable from his mouth because he still loves sin, and is unhumbled because of it, should not the conviction be forced upon me that I labor myself under the same unsuitableness? O my God, give me a walk suitable to my profession, and may the power of Christ rest upon me.
“June 4th.— Visited Mr — again. Found him worse, but displeased at my method of administering to his spiritual wants. He said that it was most unfortunate that he had sent for me; talked of my having inspired him with gloomy images, but seemed quite determined to buoy himself up in Antinomian security. He did not ask me to pray. I said a little to him, and told him that I should be ready to attend him whenever he sent for me.
“August 9th.— Miss — under religious concern. O my God, send her help from Thy sanctuary. Give me wisdom for these cases. Let me not heal the wound slightly; and, oh, while I administer comfort in Christ, may it be a comfort according to godliness. She complains of the prevalence of sin. Let me not abate her sense of its sinful ness. Let me preach Christ in all his entireness, as one that came to atone for the guilt of sin, and to redeem from its power.
“March 15th, 1814.—Poor Mr. Bonthron, I think, is dying. I saw him and prayed, after a good deal of false delicacy. O my God, give me to be pure of his blood, and to bear with effect upon his conscience. Work faith in him with power. I have little to record in the way of encouragement. He does not seem alarmed himself about the state of his health, and, I fear, has not a sufficient alarm upon more serious grounds. It is a difficult and heavy task for me; and when I think of my having to give an account of the souls committed to me, well may I say, Who is sufficient for these things?
“March 23d.— Mr. Bonthron was able to be out, and drank tea with us. I broke the subject of eternity with him. He acquiesces; you carry his assent always along with you, but you feel as if you have no point of resistance, and are making no impression.
“March 26th and 27th.—Prayed each of these days with Mr. Bonthron. I did not feel that any thing like deep or saving impression was made. O Lord, enable me to be faithful!
“April 3d.—Visited John Bonthron.
“April 5th.—Prayed with more enlargement with John than usual. I see no agitations of remorse; but should this prevent me from preaching Christ in His freeness? The whole truth is the way to prevent abuses.
“April 6th and 8th Visited Mr. Bonthron.
“April 9th.—Read and commented on a passage of the Bible to John. This I find a very practicable, and I trust effectual way of bringing home the truth to him.”
The next day was the Sabbath, on the morning of which a message was brought to the manse that Mr. Bonthron was worse. While the people were assembling for worship, Mr. Chalmers went to see him once more, and, surrounded by as many as the room could admit, he prayed fervently at his bedside. No trace remains of another visit.
Prosecuting his earlier practice of visiting and examining in alternate years, he commenced a visitation of his parish in 1813, which, instead of being finished in a fortnight, was spread over the whole year. As many families as could conveniently be assembled in one apartment were in the first instance visited in their own dwellings, where, without any religious exercise, a free and cordial conversation, longer or shorter as the case required, informed him as to the condition of the different households. When they afterward met together, he read the Scriptures, prayed, and exhorted, making at times the most familiar remarks, using very simple yet memorable illustrations. “I have a very lively recollection,” says Mr. Robert Edie, “of the intense earnestness of his addresses on occasions of visitation in my father’s house, when he would unconsciously move forward on his chair to the very margin of it, in his anxiety to impart to the family and servants the impressions of eternal things that so filled his own soul.” “It would take a great book,” said he, beginning his address to one of these household congregations, “to contain the names of all the individuals that have ever lived, from the days of Adam down to the present hour; but there is one name that takes in the whole of them—that name is sinner: and here is a message from God to every one that bears that name, ‘ The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.'” Wishing to tell them what kind of faith God would have them to cherish, and what kind of fear, and how it was that, instead of hindering each other, the right fear and the right faith worked into each other’s hands, he said, “It is just as if you threw out a rope to a drowning man. Faith is the hold he takes of it. It is fear which makes him grasp it with all his might; and the greater his fear, the firmer his hold.” Again, to illustrate what the Spirit did with the Word: “This book, the Bible, is like a wide and beautiful landscape, seen afar off, dim and confused; but a good telescope will bring it near, and spread out all its rocks, and trees, and flowers, and verdant fields, and winding rivers at one’s very feet. That telescope is the Spirit’s teaching.”
His own records of one or two of these visitations are instructive:
“February 18th, 1813.—Visited at Bogtown, Hawkhill, and East Kinneir. No distinct observation of any of them being impressed with what I said. At East Kinneir I gave intimation that if any labored under difficulties, or were anxious for advice upon spiritual and divine subjects, I am at all times in readiness to help them. Neglected this intimation at Hawkhill, but let me observe this ever after.
” February 16th.— A diet of visitation at ——. Had intimate conversation only with M. W. I thought the —— a little impressed with my exhortation about family worship, and the care of watching over the souls of their children. I should like to understand if —— has family worship.
” March 9th.—Visited at ——. The children present. This I think highly proper, and let me study a suitable and impressive address to them in all time coming.
“May 19th.— Visited at ——. I am not sure if Icould perceive any thing like salutary impression among them; but I do not know, and perhaps I am too apt to be discouraged. C. S. and J. P. the most promising. O my God, give me to grow in the knowledge and observation of the fruits of the Spirit and of His work upon the hearts of sinners.
“August 9th—Visited at Hill Cairney. Resigned myself to the suggestions of the moment, at least did not adhere to the plan of discourse that I had hitherto adopted. I perceived an influence to go along with it. O my God, may this influence increase more and more. I commit the success to Thee.”
In examining his parish he divided it into districts, arranging it so that the inhabitants of each district could be accommodated in some neighboring barn or school-house. On the preceding Sabbath all were summoned to attend, when it was frequently announced that the lecture then delivered would form the subject of remark and catechizing. Generally, however, the Shorter Catechism was used as the basis of the examination. Old and young, male and female, were required to stand up in their turn, and not only to give the answer as it stood in the Catechism, but to show, by their replies to other questions, whether they fully understood that answer. What in many hands might have been a formidable operation, was made light by the manner of the examiner. When no reply was given, he hastened to take all the blame upon himself. “I am sure,” he would say, “I have been most unfortunate in putting the question in that particular way,” and then would change its form. He was never satisfied till an answer of some kind or other was obtained. The attendance on these examinations was universal, and the interest taken in them very great. They informed the minister of the amount of religious knowledge possessed by his people, and he could often use them as convenient opportunities of exposing any bad practice which had been introduced, or was prevailing in any particular part of his parish. Examining thus at a farm-house, one of the plowmen was called up. The question in order was, “Which is the eighth commandment?” ” But what is stealing?” “Taking what belongs to another, and using it as if it were your own.” “Would it be stealing, then, in you to take your master’s oats or hay, contrary to his orders, and give it to his horses?” This was one of the many ways in which he sought to instill into the minds of his people a high sense of justice and truth, even in the minutest transactions of life.
“November 30, 1813.—Examined at . J. W. and B. T. both in tears. The former came out to me agitated and under impression.
“January 20th, 1814.—Had a day of examination, and felt more of the presence and unction of the Spirit than usual.
“January 21st—Had a day of examination. Made a simple commitment of myself to God in Christ before entering into the house.
“February 8th—Examined, and have to bless God for force and freeness. D. absenting himself from all ordinances. Let me be fearless at least in my general address, and give me prudence and resolution, O Lord, in the business of particularly addressing individuals. I pray that God may send home the message with power to the people’s hearts.
“February 23d.—Examined ——. A very general seriousness and attention. B. and his wife still, I fear, very much behind.
“April 5th.—Examined at P. I can see something like a general seriousness, but no decided marks in any individual.
“March 8th.— Examined at S. The man P. B. deficient in knowledge, and even incapable of reading; the father of a family too. I receive a good account of ——. Oh! that they may be added to the number of such as shall be saved.
“July 2d.—Examined with more enlargement and seriousness. I feel as if there was an intelligence and good spirit among the people. O God, satisfy me with success; but I commit all to Thee.
“July 27th—Examined at ——. The family afraid of examination, I think, and they sent me into a room by myself among the servants. This I liked not; but, O God, keep me from all personal feeling on the occasion. I brought it on myself by my own accommodating speeches. I have too much of the fear of man about me. Never felt more dull and barren. I feel my dependence on God. I pray for a more earnest desire after the Christianity of my parish, and, oh may that desire be accomplished. O God, fit a poor, dark, ignorant, and wandering creature for being a minister of Thy word! Uphold me by Thy free Spirit, and then will I teach transgressors Thy ways.”
The family here referred to was that of a farmer recently settled in the parish, and who, unfamiliar with the practice of examination, felt at the first a not unnatural reluctance to be subjected to it. On his return to the manse, Mr. Chalmers jotted down the preceding impressive notice of his reception and its result. In the afternoon of the same day he went back to the family; told them that, as they had not come to him in the morning, he had just come to them in the evening to go over the exercise with themselves. The frank and open kindness of the act won their instant compliance, and brought its own reward.
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.
Here are selections from Boston’s personal journal in which he recounts his catechizing efforts throughout his regular, parish ministry. This installment takes us from Boston’s first labor in the parish of Simprin to his second and last at Ettrick. Observe the diverse settings and audiences of his catechizing, its bearing on church membership and the sacraments, as well as Boston’s pastoral sensitivity and adaptability to the needs of the people. Note also how Boston deplored ignorance of Gospel ‘fundamentals’ and so regarded catechizing as a sine qua non in making authentic Christians (that is, in evangelization).
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“12th December.—I have had a desire to set up week-day sermons this long time. And since the synod (at which time I had great apprehensions of evil days, which pressed me to be busy in my time) I resolved to try what encouragement I might meet with in prosecuting it. This night I proposed it to two of the members of the meeting for Christian fellowship; who received the motion with all gladness; and I wa3 desired to begin it next Thursday’s night. Upon which immediately I found a great averseness in my own mind to it; thinking withal, that I should have tabled it particularly before the Lord ere I had proposed it. Thus I saw the dreadful deceit of my heart. I pressed my heart with that word, 2 Tim. iv. 2, ” Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season:” but it would not do. As I was going out of doors, it was suggested to me, that the Lord had thus punished me for not seeking light as to that particular expressly. While I wrote this, I thought it indeed a temptation of Satan to divert me from this work. (Nota, It seems both were true.) I was helped earnestly to seek light from the Lord in it. On the morrow I went to God again with this business ; yet could I not be fully satisfied to undertake that work, so long and so much before desired by me; neither had I anything material to object against it. Wherefore I renewed my suit; and thinking about it, got my heart more satisfied and inclined thereto, urging myself with the Lord’s kindness to me in His work, and the necessity of the people’s souls. I went to God again with it; and, in fine, the assiduity of faithful ministers, the apostles, and others, preaching both by day and by night, and no doubt sometimes to a small handful, did overcome me : so that I determine to go on, desiring heartily to comply with it. On Thursday the 14th, at night, I began this exercise, having spent the afternoon in catechising. I went about the examination under a sense of my own emptiness and insufficiency; and was well helped while my heart kept right; but in turning to some one or other of its biasses, my help decayed. In the evening-exercise the Lord’s presence was such, that I was made to say, ” It is good for us to be here.” When alone, the mismanaging of the examination, yea and the sermon too, lay heavy on me; and therefore I went to God for pardon of my weakness. And that exercise I kept up all along after, during my continuance in Simprin ; and had many a sweet and refreshing hour of it. In the winter-season, our meetings for it were in my house, and in the night; in the summer, they were in the kirk, at the time of the day wherein the men rested from their labour: for the people were servants to Langton. And I believe that, for the same reason, it was only the women whom I catechised at any other time of the day ; being solicitous that the master’s business might not suffer by me, nor my good be evil spoken of on that account. On the morrow after, having visited the sick, and found how the Lord had laid His rod on my handful, I was thereby convinced, that, had I slighted the motion for the Thursday’s sermon, I would have had no peace in so doing. Having come home from this visitation, I reflected on it, and saw what secret averseness was in my heart to it, and how poorly I had managed it. I got a clear sight of the freedom and riches of grace, went by myself, and lamented my emptiness and unworthiness; which when I saw, it gave me a check for an inward itching after more work, whereby I might have a little more stipend. That work was, I think, to have been a catechist in Dunse, the encouragement £100 Scots. I had such an offer, and refused it; yet since that time I had such an itch after it. Last night in reading the latter part of John vi. the Lord held His candle before me, helping me to understand it. This night having consulted some books, and my own heart, on the sinfulness of man’s natural state, to see what further of that subject remained to be handled, there occurred only man’s death in sin, to which I was determined accordingly. On the Saturday I studied it, but not with my former assistance: but, after having prayed, and found it to be owing to that I was not so much emptied of myself as before, reckoning the subject more easy, I recovered the divine aid, in meditating afterward on what I had prepared” (109-110).
“17th December. . . That night I began the catechising of the servant; the which part of family duty I continued in my family on the Sabbath nights, till of late years my strength decaying, I almost confined it to the time of the year wherein we have but one sermon.
On the morrow I visited the sick, and spent the afternoon in catechising, and found great ignorance prevailing. On the Tuesday, visiting a sick woman grossly ignorant, after I had laid out before her her wretched state by nature, she told me she had believed all her days. I thereupon sat as astonished for a while, lifted up my eyes to the Lord, and addressed myself to her again for her conviction; howbeit nothing but stupidity appeared. Therefore I saw I had enough ado among my handful. I had another diet of catechising on Wednesday afternoon; and looking to the Lord for help, I got it: and I had some more comfort in them than before. Having inculcated almost on each of them their wretched state by nature, and they frequently attending the means of instruction, there were but few examined that day who did not shew some knowledge of that point. But the discovery I had made of their ignorance of God and of themselves, made me the more satisfied with the smallness of the charge”(111-114).
“Saturday the 23rd… On the morrow, being the Lord’s day, after prayer in the morning I had given way to some worldly thoughts, which were indeed occasioned by something that concerned my conscience; yet my heart soon went without bounds: so that though a desire to be near Christ remained in me, yet I found an averseness to duty even in the very time of duty. Entering on the public work, my prayer was according to my frame, complaining of a body of death, and an ugly heart, and admiring heaven as a place of rest from sin. I preached that day man’s ignorance of his wretched state by nature; and was sure that God called me to preach it, by the voice of the people’s necessity, two of whom had told me expressly that week, they had believed all their days. That night I altered the evening-exercise, from explaining a question sermon-wise, to catechising, as more fit to profit the people: and to this I had been determined after seeking a discovery of the Lord’s mind therein” (114).
“[15th January] I endeavoured on the Monday, not without some success, to keep my heart in a heavenly disposition; spent the morning in my chamber, the forenoon in catechising, the afternoon in business, and visiting a sick man at night, with help from the Lord. Thereafter earnestly plying my books, I found my heart much bettered, my confidence in the Lord more strengthened, the world less valuable in my eyes, and my soul free of the temptations that otherwise I was liable to” (120).
“As for the subject of baptism; after I was settled among the people of Simprin, and had entered closely on my work, finding some of them grossly ignorant, and hardly teachable in the ordinary way, and casting in my mind what course to take with such, I drew up in writing a little form of catechising in the fundamentals, in short questions and answers, on design to teach it them privately in my house. I do not well remember the progress of that affair; nor do I well know where these questions are; but afterward I used the same, in the case of my little children, in the first place, when they became capable of instruction. Among other such grossly ignorant, there was one, who desiring his child to be baptized, I could not have freedom to grant his desire for some time: neither am I clear, whether, when the child was baptized, it was baptized on a satisfying account of the fundamental principles from him or his wife. Whatever had laid the foundation of such scrupling, I was, by means of such straitening in practice, brought closely to consider that point. And having purposely studied the question, Who have right to baptism, and are to be baptized? I wrote my thoughts thereon also. And being one day in conversation on that head with Mr. William Bird, dissenting minister in Barmoor in England, he presented to me Fulwood’s Discourse of the Visible Church, for clearing me. Bringing home the said book with me, I considered it, and wrote also some animadversions on a part of it. From that time I had little fondness for national churches strictly and properly so called, as of equal latitude with the nations, and wished for an amendment of the constitution of our own church, as to the membership thereof” (171-172).
I recently came across a selection of a poem, originally written anonymously. The poem, entitled Jonas Fisher, was thought to have been written by William Tasker, disciple of Thomas Chalmers and missionary to the slums of 19th century Edinburgh. But apparently, later scholarship regarded it as the product of James Carnegie.
Whatever the origin, it is quite a stimulating read. Quite illustrative of the dramas of evangelistic visitation among the underprivileged and useful as an example for similar work in the modern day. Here’s a portion:
My mission day is Saturday,
For then at Two shop-work is o’er,
(On Sabbath, day of rest, I go
Three times to church, and prayers before),
And all the afternoon I give
To visiting the poor indeed;
Rich people scarce could even guess
The wretched life these creatures lead.
Each house is many stories high,
Each room a family contains;
And there they breed, and breathe foul air,
Like rats inhabiting the drains.
Though, when one comes to think of it,
The rats are far more clean and sweet;
These people neither comb nor wash,
Rats trim their fur and keep it neat.
O dear! O dear! the sights one sees!
In a close court the other day,
I saw some lean, large-stomached babes,
All busy at their childish play:
They dabbled in the thick black slime,
Stuck fish-heads in and drew them out,
Made pies of stuff much worse than mud,
While fat blue-bottles buzzed about. . .
I prayed an earnest prayer for them,
Then turned and climbed a winding stair
That smelt of cats, knocked at a door,
Half opened it, and looked in there.
Notions do differ. Some good folk
Are to the poor quite rough behaved:
Push into rooms, hat on, and cry-
“Well, how’s your soul? Friend, are you saved?”
Attention thus they hope to draw
By sudden pain or startling noise;
As pedlars shout to puff their wares,
Or teaches lash their careless boys.
But I have always liked to act
On ‘Do as you’d be done by’ rule,
And show the manners that I learned
At my dear native Berkshire school.
Well, as the opening door I paused,
Stood still and just put in my chin,
Took off my hat, half bowed, and said –
“Good afternoon. May I come in?”
An inner porch I then perceived;
The door that moment open burst,
Out rushed two angry Irish wives,
And shook their fists, and raged and cursed.
“Off with you, dirty Protestant!
You beast! you devil! get away.”
(I cannot write their curious brogue,
But tell the things they meant to say.)
On hearing this I breathed a prayer –
Which helps one much, and much protects –
“Don’t call me Protestant,” I said,
“All Christians don’t belong to sects.”
“You’re not a Christian, sure, at all;
You’re one that mocks God’s mother mild.”
“Blest above women she,” – says I.
I smiled, and then the woman smiled.
“This kind of wide-mouthed Irish folk,
Change like a swallow in its flight;
One, two, – they want to shed your blood,
Three, four, – they’re friendly and polite.
“Come in, Sir, come,” the women said,
And wiping clean their only chair,
They moved it tow’rds me; suddenly,
I heard a growl as from a bear,
And off his bed there leaped a man,
A huge, half-drunken, savage beast;
He seized a knife, and ran at me;
I stood, and did not budge the least….”
As for the rest, take up and read!