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Archive for the ‘Experimental Religion & the Cure of Souls’ Category

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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Boston, The light of the Jews

“A Griegos y á bárbaros, á sabios y á no sabios soy deudor” (Rom. 1:14) —

Chalmers, Orator of the Species [Esp]

More quotes, sans image …

Communion of the Saints

“The speech of one hearty friend cannot but revive the spirits of another. Sympathy hath a strange force, as we see in the strings of an instrument, which being played upon, as they say, the strings of another instrument are also moved with it. After love hath once kindled love, then the heart, being melted, is fit to receive any impression. Unless both pieces of the iron be red hot, they will not join together. Two spirits warmed with the same heat will easily solder together.”

-Richard Sibbes

Faith & the Promise

“The faith of the promises is the door at which the accomplishment of the promises doth enter in: according to the word, Luke 1:45, Blessed are they that believe, for there shall be a performance of those things that are spoken of the Lord unto them. If we were more in waiting for the accomplishment of the promises, the vision should speak, and should not tarry: and no doubt, a mercy coming to us, as the fruit and performance of a promise, will make it an exceeding refreshful thing, when a Christian getteth leave to sing that song, which is in Isa 25:9, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will come and save us. And when a mercy is the fruit and accomplishment of the promise, there is a beautiful lustre and dye upon that mercy, which no art could set on, but only the finger of the love of God.”

-Andrew Gray

Regeneration of Children

“The education of children should proceed on the principle that they are in an unregenerate state, until evidences of piety clearly appear, in which case they should be sedulously cherished and nurtured. . . . Although the grace of God may be communicated to a human soul, at any period of its existence, in this world, yet the fact manifestly is, that very few are renewed before the exercise of reason commences; and not many in early childhood.”

-Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience

Honesty in Confessional Subscription

“Honesty is as important in theology as in trade and commerce, in a religious denomination as in a political party. Denominational honesty consists, first, in a clear, unambiguous statement by a Church of its doctrinal belief, and, second, in an unequivocal and sincere adoption of it by its members. Both are requisite. If a particular denomination makes a loose statement of its belief, which is capable of being construed in more than one sense, it is so far dishonest. If the creed of the denomination is well drawn and plain, but the membership subscribe to it with mental reservation and uncertainty, the denomination is dishonest. Honesty and sincerity are founded in clear conviction, and clear conviction is founded in the knowledge and acknowledgement of the truth. Heresy is a sin, and is classed by St. Paul among’the works of the flesh,’ along with ‘adultery, idolatry, murder, envy and hatred,’ which exclude from the kingdom of God. (Gal. v. 19-21). But heresy is not so great a sin as dishonesty. There may be honest heresy, but not honest dishonesty. A heretic who acknowledges that he is such, is a better man than he who pretends to be orthodox while subscribing to a creed which he dislikes, and which he saps under pretence of improving it and adapting it to the times. The honest heretic leaves the Church with which he no longer agrees; but the insincere subscriber remains within it in order to carry out his plan of demoralization.”

– W. G. T. Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed, 152

Trials in the Womb of the Covenant of Redemption

“Whatever trials you have, whatever troubles you have, whatever difficulties you have, they come from the same covenant as Christ came for your salvation. They come from the same covenant as your regeneration came. They come from the same covenant as your hope of heaven comes. And they come with the same love, and they come for the same purpose, and that is that you might be to the glory of his grace throughout eternity.”

-Hugh M. Cartwright (1943-2011)

The Virgin Mary’s “Low Estate”

“​In the following words she teaches us how worthless she felt of herself and that she received by the heavenly grace that was lavished on her every sort of good merit that she had. She says, “For he has considered the humility of his handmaid. For behold from this time on all generations will call me blessed.” She demonstrates that in her own judgment she was indeed Christ’s humble handmaid, but with respect to heavenly grace she pronounces herself all at once lifted up and glorified to such a degree that rightly her preeminent blessedness would be marveled at by the voices of all nations.”

-Venerable Bede

The Right Veneration of the Virgin

But that she was eminently a saint; that her faith, and resignation, and absolute devotion to God, on the message of the angel, were most extraordinary and exemplary; that her relation to our common Saviour should render her name dear and venerable to us all; and that we should fulfil our part of her own prediction, that “henceforth all generations shall call me blessed,” [Luke 1:48]—all this is not only to be admitted, but remembered and regarded​. . .  Yet in counteracting this error, the veneration and affection due to her true character, has, I think, been sometimes refused, or impaired. Let us avoid both extremes. Let us worship God alone; but let us love and venerate all his saints, and the mother of our Lord among the chief.”

-Ashbel Green

A Penitent Marveling at Common Grace

“Her self-conceited heart is self-convict’d,
With barbed arrows of compunction prick’d;
Wonders how justice spares her vital breath,
How patient heav’n adjourns the day of wrath;
How pliant earth does not with open jaws
Devour her, Korah-like, for equal cause;
How yawning hell, that gapes for such a prey,
Is frustrate with a further hour’s delay.”

-Ralph Erskine

“Social” Christianity & the Individual

“Nevertheless, the attempts to apply Christianity socially have profoundly affected the meaning which the Christian faith has for the average man and ordinary churchgoer. The emphasis on the social has largely stifled the spiritual nature of the faith. It has obscured the revealed fact that the Christian message was primarily to and for individuals. . . For the business of the Church in its God-given mission is to the individual and through the individual to society. Moreover, the Christian revelation holds out no hope for society except in so far as the men and women who form it are Christian, which for the secular State is a futile and unattainable ideal. It is therefore all the more essential that the truth should be understood that a Christian society can only be fashioned out of and by Christian men and women. . .”

“Evangelical ministers, holding their high commission as ambassadors of Christ, must ever plead with men to be reconciled to God. When people are reconciled to God they are in fact at peace with one another. From this peace, conditioned by faith in Jesus Christ, can alone arise a state of mutual peace among peoples of nations and a fellowship in peace of the states constituted of these reconciled peoples. . .”

“To-day, therefore, as at all times, the primary privilege and service of this ministry must be the regeneration of men who will become creators of a better and more really Christian civilisation.”

-Donald Maclean (1869–1943), Principal of the Free Church of Scotland and co-founder of the Evangelical Quarterly. From “An Evangelical Ministry.”-

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Figures_Moses_fixes_the_brazen_Serpent_on_a_pole“As to the attendance of the people on the Sabbath ministrations of the missionary, you will doubtless find that they will give you very fair promises. They may all say they will go to church; but by many of them the promises will not be kept. In such circumstances, a very good plan, which I would recommend to you, would be this, — Let either the agent of the district, or some person on whom he can depend, after the hour at which the various churches go in, go to the district where the defaulters, — reside, and entering one of their houses, beg to be allowed to conduct a family exercise, to which the neighbours may be called in. Depend upon it, they will take it very well. They will of course feel themselves caught . . . but still they will tolerate you, and make their escape next Sabbath, by going to the place of worship. That’s one of a variety of doing the thing. It will bring them in contact with the gospel at any rate. The great matter is to get them into the habit of church-going.”

-Thomas Chalmers, 1844 lecture on the eve of the West Port Experiment

[image]

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To reduce cluttering your inboxes, I’m posting several memes I’ve finished recently:

Murray, Essence of Sin

Boston, Beautiful Fabric

Willison, Wit's End

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The second installment of my recording of Doolittle’s treatise on catechizing. With each page, I am more and more convinced that this is truly a masterpiece of pastoral and pedagogical wisdom. In this most recent installment, I’m stuck once again with how truly evangelistic catechesis should be. Hardly a clinical exercise!  And he pleads with ignorant adults to come under the yoke as well.

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And O what a hard matter it is to deal with people that are ready to leave the world, and step in upon eternity! when their souls do, as it were, hang on their lips, and they have one foot (as we use to say) already in the grave! The minister is seldom sent for till the physician has given the patient over, and then they beg him to dress their souls for heaven, when their winding-sheet is preparing, and their friends are almost ready to dress the body for the funeral. Now, though some of these have lived well, and, like the wise virgins, have, oil in their lamps, yet it is a great matter to calm them, and to dispose their souls for that great change they are presently to undergo. But alas! it fares otherwise with the greatest part: they are yet strangers to the ways of religion; the work of their salvation is yet to begin, and their lusts to be mortified, their corruptions subdued, the whole frame of their souls to be changed: and though they have scarce so much strength as to turn them on their beds, yet their warfare against principalities, powers, and spiritual wickedness, is but newly commenced: their work is great, their disadvantages many, and the time very short that is before them. Perhaps they are dull and insensible, and we shall hardly persuade them of their danger: they will acknowledge they are sinners, and so are all others as well as they: they trust in the mercies of Christ, and have confidence enough of their salvation, and cannot be persuaded they want any thing that is necessary for the same. Others of these, again, are seized with fear, and call for the minister to comfort them: what shall he do? Shall he tell them that all their terrors are just, and it is now too late to repent? I know some divines are peremptory in this case, and think they should be left in despair: but sure it were a sad employment for a minister to go to visit a dying man, only to tell him he is damned: and withal, it is too great boldness in us to limit the grace and mercy of God. True and sincere repentance will never come too late, but certainly a death-bed repentance is seldom sincere; and it is hard either for the minister or the man himself to tell, whether it be only the fear of hell, or a true and godly sorrow that he feeleth in his soul. All that a minister can do, is to press him to all possible seriousness, and to resign himself to God for the event; or to lay before him in general, the terms and conditions of the gospel covenant: the application will be hard and uncertain. These, and many more, are the difficulties of the ministerial function.

-Henry Scougal (1650-1678)

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This late 17th century treatise on ministerial catechesis by Robert Doolittle is simply masterful. A few highlights are worth mentioning. He argues that catechesis should not just be a discipline for the young, but also for the old. One is also struck by the great importance he places on stocking the mind with the furniture of foundational, biblical doctrine. And it is hardly an academic exercise – eternity hangs in the balance. No knowledge, no salvation!

Below is a sample. I’ve simply inserted images from the document. Yes, it’s in an old script. But give it a go, and it will come before long. Note that some s’s look like f’s.

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The gospel is a discovery of a blessed contrivance that God has laid down for the salvation of sinners, for providing them a blessed supply of all [their] defects. There was from eternity a happy contrivance framed for providing sinful man with a garment, a robe of righteousness, that the shame of his nakedness may not appear; and for preparing eyesalve to him, to cure his natural folly and blindness; and riches to him, that he may have a sufficient stock to live upon in time and for eternity, even riches of grace, and riches of glory, the unsearchable riches of Christ…. There ensues the heart’s cleaving to this contrivance, even to the whole of it, with universal satisfaction, being fully content with it in all its parts, and preferring it to all other ways; nay, not only so, but counting them loss and dung, so it may have an interest in this way and method of God’s contriving. This is that acting of saving faith that gives a sure title to Christ and all his purchase

-Thomas Halyburton

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Thomas_Watson_(Puritan)“And there is another promise, ‘He is their strength in the time of trouble‘ (Psalm 37:39). ‘Oh,’ says the soul, ‘I shall faint in the day of trial.’ But God will be the strength of our hearts; He will join His forces with us. Either He will make his hand lighter, or our faith stronger.”

-Thomas Watson (1620-1686)

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X. Sess. 13 et ult., April 27, 1708.—Act and Recommendation concerning Ministerial Visitation of Families.

“. . . Seeing, for the faithful discharge of ministers’ work, they ought, besides what is incumbent to them in the public congregation, to take special care and inspection of the particular persons and families under their oversight and charge, in order to which, it hath been the laudable custom of this Church, at least once a year, if the largeness of the parish, bodily inability in the minister, or other such like causes, do not hinder, for ministers to visit all the families in their parish, and oftener, if the parish be small, and they be able to set about it.

“For the more uniform and successful management of which work, although in regard of the different circumstances of some parishes, families, and persons, much of this work, and the management thereof, must be left to the discretion and prudence of ministers in their respective oversights, yet these following advices are offered and overtured as helps in the management thereof, that it may not be done in a slight and overly manner.

(more…)

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