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Archive for the ‘Vignettes from the Old Parish Way’ Category

“Some Highland Evangelicals (in the 18th century) resorted to coercive tactics to compel people to hear their message. A mild example was Walter Ross’ confiscation of the cooking utensils in a fishing village that repeatedly emptied of its suspicious inhabitants when he approached. He returned the pots and pans after entertaining the villagers at a meal two days later. At that time they promised to receive his visits and to attend church.”

-Stephen A. Woodruff, The Pastoral Ministry in the Church of Scotland, p. 242

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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.

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The following passage comes from the Memoirs of James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698). In it, we hear the heartbeat of a true fisher of men, a pastor-evangelist that all pastors should strive to be. Also, note that he urged the duty of the minister going beyond the four walls of the church into the “highways and hedges” to speak to the lost.  This is the good old parish way – ministerial house to house evangelistic labor in a fixed, geographical district. Would to God it may be recovered! (Italics below mine.)

* * * *

God did not send me to baptise, but to preach. But that which I was called to was, to testify for God, to hold forth his name and ways to the dark world, and to deliver poor captives of Satan, and bring them to the glorious liberty of the sons of God: this was I to make: my only employment, to give myself to, and therein to be diligent, taking all occasions; and to be plain, full and free in this charge. I was called to enter in hot war with the world and sinners, to fight by my testimony against them for God ….

He is [in addition to public preaching] to execute his commission by exhortation, private and occasional instruction, whether for reproof, comfort, or in formation and direction. And this is it which I suppose I was moſt called unto, viz. to take all occasions with all persons in private discourse, to make the name of Christ known, and to do them good, and to do this as my only work; and to do it boldly, and faithfully and fully: and this to do is very hard in a right and effectual manner; to do this is harder than to preach publickly; and, to be strengthened, directed and encouraged in this, is that for which I ought to live near in a dependence on Christ, without whom we can do nothing, and of whom is all our sufficiency. In preaching there are a great many whom we can not reach, and there are many to whom we have no occasion to preach publickly; we may thus preach always, and speak more succesfully than in publick, where the greatest part of hearers do not understand the minister tho’ he speak never so plainly. This likewise we are called unto this day, seeing we are by force incapacitate: but oh how is this neglected! were ministers faithful in this, we should quickly fee a change in affairs; but, alas, with grief of heart I speak it, it is in this thing that I challenge myself most of any, it is in this that I have most come ſhort, and I suppose it may be so with others too. The Apostles went from house to house.

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Here is a delightful vignette of old parish ‘missions,’ if you will, in 17th century Presbyterian Scotland.  The minister, William Guthrie (1620-1665), labored to be all things to all men, that he might gain some.

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After William Guthrie came to Fenwick, many of the people were so rude and barbarous, that they never attended upon divine worship, and knew not so much as the face of their pastor. To such, everything that respected religion was disagreeable; many refused to be visited or catechised by him; they would not even admit him into their houses. To such he sometimes went in the evening disguised in the character of a traveller, and sought lodging, which he could not even obtain without much entreaty, but, having obtained it, he would engage in some general amusing conversation at first, and then ask them how they liked their minister. When they told him that they did not go to church, he engaged them to go and take a trial; others he hired with money to go. When the time of family worship came, he desired to know if they made any, and if not, what reasons they had for it.

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parsonct

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.

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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!

 

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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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1709

“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).

1729

“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).

1730

“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).

1731

“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).

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