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There we were in the manse on Saturday night, in that sleepy little Canadian town. The minister’s wife was giving him a haircut before his Sabbath labors the next day. He was, well, idiosyncratic. The thin-framed parson had quite the shock of unmanageable white hair, much like Doc Brown. He sat there with some smock-like cloth draped around him, his helpmate-hairdresser poised with bowl of water and comb. Soon she set to taming the wild mane with the moistened comb. Water applied, it seemed as though his head had shrunk by half.

As she went to work with her clippers, the old minister told me about The Days of the Fathers in Ross-Shire, an old classic of the glory days of 18th and 19th century Highlands-Islands Presbyterianism. His eyes beamed, and he cackled with boyish delight as he retold his favorite story about Samsonesque Aeneas Sage and his rather unconventional missionary exploits. There was something about this all that strongly impressed me. There was something of greatness, a romance and even a mystique about that legacy that lingered about the place. The old Scots-Irish town, its church, manse, and, of course, this amusing old minister still retained something of the glow of the “years of the right hand of the Most High.”

Suffice it to say, this green goyim just had to find and read the book. And I did, again and again. And having been ‘bit,’ I’ve retold the story of Rev. Sage over and over to anyone who would listen. My children can probably repeat it verbatim … with a few eye rolls thrown in for good measure! And as an old bookish minister friend of mine would sometimes say, “And if it isn’t true, it should be!

Just finished reading and recording it. You can access it here. I also post a wide variety of classical Reformed, Puritan, and Scottish Presbyterian sermons, articles, and books. I aim to fill gaps with relatively quality audio recordings, especially for the benefit of pastors and elders who work with thinner margins of time.

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So, an update on “Leah.” Once COVID-19 hit and our services went online for a couple of months, connections with Leah became brittle. We had been helping her find a job, and she did get one. But during that period where we were no longer picking her up for church every week and visiting face to face, she and her live-in fiance “Matthew” hit a rough patch, and he left. Another fellow soon came in his place. Very sad indeed. Leah truly was a ‘Samaritan woman,’ in desperate need of the True Man to set things right.

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My recent journal article, “Pastor and Parish Redux: Thomas Chalmers’s Conversion & Kilmany Ministry, 1811-1815” (submitted copy), published in the July 2020 edition of the Puritan Reformed JournalImages used by permission. To purchase a copy, click here.

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IMG_5335District, door-to-door evangelism done right is distinctly Reformed, being a distinctly household-oriented approach to Gospel outreach.

Follow me here. Doesn’t God administer His grace to individuals as well as to households? Doesn’t it start with the head and flow to the members? Isn’t it interested in reconciling the father to the son and the son to the father? Abraham, Joshua, Cornelius, Lydia. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). We aim for the heads of households; and if we get them, we get the family. (more…)

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Petrus_et_Paulus_4th_century_etching (2)In the present debate over Aimee Byrd (et al.) and her book Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, I have been forced to re-evaluate how and when naming names is appropriate in the Christian ‘public square.’ While it saddens me that rancor has developed among those with serious if not grave concerns over Byrd and company, it has at least helped me sharpen in my own mind a distinction that is vital.

For starters, I think the case is rather easily made that naming names in public matters involving public persons and opinions is unavoidable. To be sure, in private matters and where opinions are not openly set forth for public consumption, the order of the day is to deal with the brother privately to reclaim him. No one else need know, as it is a private affair. But there is only so much obfuscation possible with a big white elephant plopped down in the middle of the room.

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My 2018 journal article, “Desert Rose: Thomas Chalmers’ West Port Experiment (1844-1847),” published in the 2018 edition of The Confessional Presbyterian. Images used by permission. To purchase a copy, click here.

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Smellie, Thomas. “Fenwick Church.” 1905

During the recent COVID-19 crisis, many Christian churches have closed their doors, cancelling regular public worships services, though often utilizing telecommunications to facilitate God’s worship in private home contexts. What principles do confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian elders consider when making their decision? These are the ones that factored in to my mind.

1. Worship is priority number one. God’s honor comes before man’s honor, His being before ours. “Thy love is better than life.” We should sooner join the three Hebrew children and lay down our lives than surrender an inch of God’s worship. The First Table comes before the Second, and if there is an apparent conflict, the general rule is to surrender our own interests.

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Here is something I designed for our catechism class to help young and old track with the main contours of Covenant Theology and its bearing on redemptive history. Comments below.

S Cat 020 The Covenants [CCat]

Much of this is self-explanatory for those with a working knowledge of Reformed doctrine. But a bit of clarification on my design. I added a dashed, horizontal line & arrow from Covenant of Works moving through the OT and NT dispensations to help reduce the impression that it is somehow a cipher after the Fall. I also configured the OT period to begin at Sinai (as technically it does), though canonically it usually embraces everything from Genesis to Malachi. Third, the dashed, vertical line above Sinai intersecting the horizontal lines of the Moral and Ceremonial law is intended to reflect the development and institutionalization of the latter and the explicit publication of the former. Last, the dashed and hard vertical lines at the cross represent the distinction between the definitive abolition of these laws at 33(-ish) A.D. and their actual, outward end with the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

I omitted the ‘biblical’ covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic), leaving that for another day and another diagram.

And now you’ll need a chart to understand all that! Seriously, though, if you can help me perfect this further, I’m open. Just as long as you’re no Dispy, Hyper-Preterist, or any of the countless bunny trails from good old 1646 Federalism.

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A few years back, our family traveled to the U.K. by way of Holland. One of my daughters became entranced by all things Dutch while aboard a KLM flight, with tall, blonde and brunette stewardesses speaking freely in their mother tongue. While she had little firsthand experience of modern Dutch culture, she already had some exposure to the richness of Dutch Christianity, having read Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler (re-read chapter 1!) and Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. And it wasn’t long before she started trying to learn Dutch online. So when I found myself back in Grand Rapids, I had my antennae up, on the lookout for a trinket for my Lowlands-smitten girl.

I was staying for a week at my hosts, the Kamps, the dearest Christian seniors you will ever meet. When my daughter came up in conversation, they really rose to the occasion. Mrs. Kamp right then and there hopped up, and busily rifled through her very tidy house (are there any messy Hollanders?). I would have been quite content with a cheap curio, something easily parted with and forgotten. While she did hand me a few inexpensive momentos, I was profoundly humbled that she offered the old book above without so much as a blink.

The volume is a late 19th century Dutch New Testament, a metrical Psalter set to the grand old Geneva tunes, and at the end, the Three Forms of Unity. The book exudes the “beauty of holiness” from the best of their heritage and serves as a handheld Ebenezer of God’s covenant faithfulness. As I hold it in my latecomer, ‘Gentile’ hands, I glory in a rich tradition I now own. In it, I hear the voice of generations past, confessing the true, Reformed religion, their “only comfort in life and in death.” I hear the august psalmody of the venerable dead, the spirits of just men made perfect who have gone to their reward. I hear their roaring thunder as they, the great cloud of witnesses, cheer us on while we yet run the race that is set before us.

I have been grafted into the good olive tree, as the Dutch, the Scots, the English, and many others before me. And my children, by covenant, are now holy to the Lord. May they too own “their father’s God.” May they never reject what they have received, selling their birthright for a full stomach. And may they cherish this volume and all that is stands for in an age that is fast losing its way.

For more images, visit here.

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In this video, I share about my efforts to evangelize and promote the Reformed faith in Rhode Island and especially in a multi-ethnic, working class area of Providence (read more here). At the end, I make an appeal for help.

I can be reached at 515-783-5637 or by e-mail at mjives dot refparish at gmail dot com.

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