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Archive for the ‘Sabbatarianism & the Church Calendar’ 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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Designed the diagram below as an aid in teaching catechism last Sabbath. Focusing on the 2nd Commandment at the moment.

S Cat 049-052 Sorting Worship [CCat]

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A few striking observations from a favorite anecdote in John G. Paton’s autobiography, below. If I’m not mistaken, this would be referring to a cholera outbreak in 1832 in the U.K.

1. Healthy believers long for the courts of the Lord and don’t let lesser things get in their way. 2. However, it appears that godly Scottish Presbyterians in the early 19th century believed that public health crises could warrant church closures (or at least effectively cause them by population controls). 3. And apparently, the same believed that the state could mandate such closures (or at least effectively, etc.) in the interests of public health.

Not an argument that any of our churches must necessarily close under the present circumstances; just an observation to help put some strong opinions out there in context.

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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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16th century lawn bowls“We show and teach daily in our sermons, that God took upon him our nature: but how do men hear them? Who is there that troubleth himself much to read the scripture? There are very few that attend to these things; every man is occupied with his own business. If there be one day in the week reserved for religious instruction, when they have spent six days in their own business, they are apt to spend the day which is set apart for worship, in play and pastime; Some rove about the fields, others go to the taverns to quaff: and there are undoubtedly at this time as many at the last mentioned place, as are here assembled in the name of God. Therefore, when we see so many shun and flee from this doctrine, can we marvel that there is such a brutishness, that we know not the rudiments of Christianity?”

– John Calvin, sermon on 1 Tim. 3:16

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I consider myself rather conservative in my convictions about Lord’s day observance. As the biblical title suggests, it is the Lord’s day, not yours or mine. It should be dedicated to a holy rest, to “public and private exercises of God’s worship,” except for “works of necessity and mercy” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 60). But the following 18th century anecdote strikes me as (way!) over the top.

…our small beer shall be fetched in on Saturday nights, nor will we even dress a potato on the Sabbath. We will attend the preaching at five o’clock in the morning, at eight go to prayer meeting, at ten to public worship; hear Mr. Perry at Cripplegate at two, be at the Foundry (Wesley’s old preaching house) at five; meet with the general society at six, assemble at the United Bands at seven, and again prayer meeting at eight, and then come home and read and pray by ourselves.

If this is rest, I wonder what work is!

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0_post_card_portraits_-_jrre_unidentified_rev_patonHere’s a selection from the first chapter of one of my all-time favorite books, John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides.  These two passages are some of the more memorable ones to me, holding out the beautiful example of a New Covenant Abraham, leading his family to the throne of grace and giving a foretaste of heavenly glory.

This book is well worth the reading.  If you don’t read the book, read the first chapter.  But I dare you not to continue reading after that.  Read it to your family on a quiet Lord’s Day afternoon and develop your own memories of hallowing the day with your children.  Oh, and make sure to read the poem at the end …

The book can be accessed online for free with GoogleBooks, and you can obtain it at Reformation Heritage Books.

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Besides his independent choice of a Church for himself, there was one other mark and fruit of his early religious decision, which looks even fairer through all these years. Family Worship had heretofore been held only on Sabbath day in his father’s house; but the young Christian, entering into conference with his sympathising mother, managed to get the household persuaded that there ought to be daily morning and evening prayer and reading of the Bible and holy singing. This the more readily, as he himself agreed to take part regularly in the same and so relieve the old warrior of what might have proved for him too arduous spiritual toils. And so began in his seventeenth year that blessed custom of Family Prayer, morning and evening, which my father practised probably without one single omission till he lay on his deathbed, seventy-seven years of age; when, even to the last day of his life, a portion of Scripture was read, and his voice was heard softly joining in the Psalm, and his lips breathed the morning and evening Prayer,—falling in sweet benediction on the heads of all his children, far away many of them over all the earth, but all meeting him there at the Throne of Grace. None of us can remember that any day ever passed unhallowed thus; no hurry for market, no rush to business, no arrival of friends or guests, no trouble or sorrow, no joy or excitement, ever prevented at least our kneeling around the family altar, while the High Priest led our prayers to God, and offered himself and his children there. And blessed to others, as well as to ourselves, was the light of such example! I have heard that, in long after years, the worst woman in the village of Torthorwald, then leading an immoral life, but since changed by the grace of God, was known to declare, that the only thing that kept her from despair and from the hell of the suicide, was when in the dark winter nights she crept close up underneath my father’s window, and heard him pleading in family worship that God would convert “the sinner from the error of wicked ways and polish him as a jewel for the Redeemer’s crown.” “I felt,” said she, “that I was a burden on that good man’s heart, and I knew that God would not disappoint him. That thought kept me out of Hell, and at last led me to the only Saviour” . . . .

We had, too, special Bible Readings on the Lord’s Day evening,—mother and children and visitors reading in turns, with fresh and interesting question, answer, and exposition, all tending to impress us with the infinite grace of a God of love and mercy in the great gift of His dear Son Jesus, our Saviour. The Shorter Catechism was gone through regularly, each answering the question asked, till the whole had been explained, and its foundation in Scripture shown by the proof-texts adduced. It has been an amazing thing to me, occasionally to meet with men who blamed this “catechizing” for giving them a distaste to religion; every one in all our circle thinks and feels exactly the opposite. It laid the solid rock foundations of our religious life. After-years have given to these questions and their answers a deeper or a modified meaning, but none of us have ever once even dreamed of wishing that we had been otherwise trained. Of course, if the parents are not devout, sincere, and affectionate,—if the whole affair on both sides is taskwork, or worse, hypocritical and false,—results must be very different indeed! Oh, I can remember those happy Sabbath evenings; no blinds drawn, and shutters up, to keep out the sun from us, as some scandalously affirm; but a holy, happy, entirely human day, for a Christian father, mother, and children to spend. How my father would parade across and across our flag-floor, telling over the substance of the day’s sermons to our dear mother, who, because of the great distance and because of her many living “encumbrances,” got very seldom indeed to the church, but gladly embraced every chance, when there was prospect or promise of a “lift ” either way from some friendly gig! How he would entice us to help him to recall some idea or other, rewarding us when we got the length of “taking notes” and reading them over on our return; how he would turn the talk ever so naturally to some Bible story, or some martyr reminiscence, or some happy allusion to the “Pilgrim’s Progress”! And then it was quite a contest, which of us would get reading aloud, while all the rest listened, and father added here and there a happy thought, or illustration, or anecdote. Others must write and say what they will, and as they feel; but so must I. There were eleven of us brought up in a home like that; and never one of the eleven, boy or girl, man or woman, has been heard, or ever will be heard, saying that Sabbath was dull or wearisome for us, or suggesting that we have heard of or seen any way more likely than that for making the Day of the Lord bright and blessed alike for parents and for children. But God help the homes where these things are done by force and not by love! The very discipline through which our father passed us was a kind of religion in itself. If anything really serious required to be punished, he retired first to his closet for prayer, and we boys got to understand that he was laying the whole matter before God; and that was the severest part of the punishment for me to bear! I could have defied any amount of mere penalty, but this spoke to my conscience as a message from God. We loved him all the more, when we saw how much it cost him to punish us; and, in truth, he had never very much of that kind of work to do upon any one of all the eleven—we were ruled by love far more than by fear.

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Only a few days away from Halloween, I’ve been thinking more about why we don’t celebrate it, as well as reviewing online why other Christians do. I realize that there are many good believers who don’t see a problem with the festivities, and I’m not prepared to discount the evident grace of God that they have. Further, we are, every one of us, filled with sins and blind spots, myself included. But it is troubling to me how little argument is made against Halloween within the Church. So if you’re on the fence – and even if you’re not – may I at least challenge you with the following questions, friend?

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From "A Christmas Story" (1983)It’s Christmas Eve, and we’re among the very precious few nowadays who aren’t doing anything special. Though we are committed Christians, we don’t observe this holiday – though we love and embrace all sincere Christians who celebrate the God who entered our world of sin and misery through a virgin’s womb. Yet, unlike the masses both of saints and seculars, for us this is just another Monday. And tomorrow is just another Tuesday. (more…)

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