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Root and branch

john_knox_statue_haddingtonThis is an extract from the First Book of Discipline of Scotland (1560). John Knox was one of the principal authors.  In these opening words, these godly reformers advocate total support of a godly preaching ministry throughout the realm and the total suppression of any preaching and worship not arising from the clear commandment of God.  While harsh to the modern ear, we must recall that God is a jealous God, prizing His instituted worship and passionately opposing all false religion.  Reformation must labor to cultivate pure worship root and branch and remove all false worship root and branch.  Or to use the imagery from the Books of the Kings, we must also take down the “high places,” the last holdouts and remnants of idolatry.

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The first head of docrtine.

Seeing that Christ Iesus is he whom God the Father hath commanded onely to bee heard and followed of his sheepe, wee judge it necessary that his Gospell be truely and openly preached in every Church and Assembly of this realme, and that all doctrine repugnant to the same, be utterly repressed, as damnable to mans salvation.

The explication of the first head.

Lest that upon this generalitie ungodly men take occasion to cavill, this we adde for explication. By preaching of the Gospel we understand not onely the Scriptures of the new Testament, but also of the old, to wit, the Law, Prophets, & Histories, in which Christ Iesus is no lesse contained in figure, then we have him now expressed in veritie. And therefore with the Apostle we affirme, that all Scripture inspired of God is profitable to instruct, to reprove, and to exhort. In which bookes of old and new Testaments, we affirme that all thing necessary for the instruction of the Church, and to make the man of God perfect, is contained and sufficiently expressed.

By the contrary doctrine we understand whatsoever men by lawes, counsells, or constitutions, have imposed upon the consciences of men, without the expressed commandement of Gods word, such as be the vowes to chastitie, forswearing of marriage, binding of men and women to several and disguised apparrells, to the superstitious observation of fasting dayes, difference of meat for conscience sake, prayer for the dead, and keeping of holy dayes of certaine Saints commanded by man, such as be all those that the Papists have invented, as the feasts (as they terme them) of the Apostles, Martyrs, Virgines, of Christmasse, Circumcision, Epiphanie, Purification, and other fond [foolish] feastes of our Ladie: which things because in Gods Scriptures they neither have commandement nor assurance, we judge them utterly to be abolished from this Realme: affirming farther that the obstinate maintainers and teachers of such abhominations ought not to escape the punishment of the civill Magistrate.

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hodler_-_das_gebet_in_der_kathedrale_saint-pierre_in_genf_-_1882As always, Master Calvin states matters insightfully and with grace of style in speaking of the value of catechisms widely published:

“First, In this confused and divided state of Christendom, I judge it useful that there should be public testimonies, whereby churches which, though widely separated by space, agree in the doctrine of Christ, may mutually recognize each other. For besides that this. tends not a little to mutual confirmation, what is more to be desired than that mutual congratulations should pass between them, and that they should devoutly commend each other to the Lord? With this view, bishops were wont in old time, when as yet consent in faith existed and flourished among all, to send Synodal Epistles beyond sea, by which, as a kind of badges, they might maintain sacred communion among the churches. How much more necessary is it now, in this fearful devastation of the Christian world, that the few churches which duly worship God, and they too scattered and hedged round on all sides by the profane synagogues of Antichrist, should mutually give and receive this token of holy union, that they may thereby be incited to that fraternal embrace of which I have spoken?”

Chalmers-09-SepiaThe following is a guest post by Dr. George Grant.

The great Scottish pastor, social reformer, educator, author, and scientist Thomas Chalmers was born on March 17, 1780 at Anstruther on the Fife coast. His father was a prosperous businessman in the town and Thomas grew up as the sixth in a large family of fourteen children—he had eight brothers and five sisters.

Showing early signs of prodigy, at the age of three, he went to the local parish school to learn the classical trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric in English, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. His parents were people of strong Calvinist conviction and keen that their family should grow up to bear witness to a lively and relevant Christianity. Piety and intellectual rigor marked their daily lives.

Before he was twelve, he had sufficiently mastered language, literary, and philosophical skills that he was recommended to advance his studies at the University of St Andrews. His brother, William, who was just thirteen, accompanied him. At the time, Thomas was the second-youngest student at St Andrews and widely recognized as a student with extraordinary promise. Although a great part of his time in the first two sessions at the university were apparently occupied in boyish amusements, such as golf, soccer, and hand-ball—in which he was remarkably expert, owing to his being left-handed—he had already begun to demonstrate the great intellectual power which was to be one of his chief characteristics throughout adult life. For mathematics he developed special enthusiasm and to its study he gave himself with great energy and dedication. Ethics and politics were also themes of special interest to him as he sought to integrate his life and faith with the evident woes of the world around him.

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If you haven’t heard the story of Pr. Richard Bennett before, you must!  Profound insight into the unclean womb of Romanism and the glory of free grace.

Thomas_ChalmersBB_1024x1024If you’re looking for a short, accessible, and engaging introduction to the life of Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), you should definitely pick up Sandy Finlayson’s Thomas Chalmers. This is a giant who cast a long shadow, whose life and legacy give the modern Church many a lesson in pastoring, preaching, caring for the poor, and Christian living in general.

While you’re add it, if you like this, you may want to read more about the rich legacy of the Free Church of Scotland. You can do that with another of Finlayson’s works, Unity & Diversity: The Founders of the Free Church.  Listen to this podcast too!

 

0_engraving_-_one_2_224_west_portI recently gave a lecture (sermon?) on the fascinating and inspiring story of Thomas Chalmers’ West Port Experiment in the slums of Industrial Edinburgh, from 1844-1847.  You can listen to it hereAd urbem!

 

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.’