Christian and Social Tolerance vs. Overbearing Leadership: A Word to the Wise

Taken and adapted from the “United Presbyterian Magazine”
Written by, John D. Ker, D.D.,  January 1, 1883
Edited for thought and sense


If in Christian or social intercourse we wish to deliver any man from what we think error…

…we must do so by putting him in the way of convincing himself. To beat him down by unreasoning opposition or even by irresistible argument may please us, but is not likely to gain him. There is a great chasm between achieving a victory and making a conquest, and the completeness of the first often prevents the last. To respect a man’s freedom, never to press him so hard as to humiliate him, to give him the clue that may help him to guide himself to the right, is according to the divine model, and would aid us in serving, at the same time, both our fellow-men and the truth. How much this is needed in the Christian Church every one can perceive who looks around.

Again, it is often painful to see minds that, from their strength of character, are fitted to influence all around them for good, losing the power through the over-assertion of self.

Authority must exist, but influence may have its opportunity to do its work; and when authority makes itself felt at every turn and pushes itself into every little act, freedom is gone and influence vanishes with it. Firm law on certain great essentials, but freedom within this to grow up according to taste and temperament. If those with strong natures, and with deep convictions, could only be made to see this, and could learn to control themselves, their end would be sooner gained. Power of character and steadfast example have an assimilating influence which seldom fails.

It should be considered further, that if we wish those we are influencing to become valuable for anything, it must be by permitting them to be themselves. They will do very little if they turn out dead transcripts of us. If any man is to have power either in the world or the Church, he must have independent life, and for independent life liberty is indispensable. We can never sanction liberty in the way of sin, but there are a thousand little daily acts, where it will demand to be left to itself, and where we should take pleasure in recognizing it. Those are the very signs and safeguards of the personality which God has bestowed upon His creatures, and it is only by seeking to enter it, as He does, freely and kindly, respecting it and conforming to it, that we can guide it to a right end and make it a real power for good.

Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 79: A Cry from Extremis, and a Call to God for Forgiveness, for Mercy, and for Compassion.

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Psalm 79

Fourteen Protestants of Meaux, arrested at a meeting, sang this psalm as they went to death,

‘Les gens entres sont en ton heritage.’

‘O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance.’ The priests and monks tried to drown their voices by singing ‘0 salutaris hoslia;’ but the song of the martyrs was silenced only by the flames. While some of these sufferers chose psalms with the cry for pardon for sin, and others the hope and joy of the divine vision, there were those again who, as in this case, appealed to God for his persecuted truth. Crespin, the early French martyrologist, tells of one of these, Jean Kabac, put to death with indescribable cruelty, at Angers, in 1556, that he continued to sing this psalm till he had scarcely the form of a man, and so gave up his soul to God.

It was not till 1562 that the Huguenots were driven to resistance by these barbarities, and by the massacres committed by the Duke of Guise. No one who is ignorant of this history can estimate rightly the position taken up by John Knox, when all the craft of her uncles sought to employ Mary Stuart as an instrument for crushing the Reformation, first in Scotland and then in England. It was his foresight and firmness which thwarted the deeply laid plans of the Papal party in France and at Borne.

Verse 2. We are told in Jurieu’s Letters that the Protestants of Metz sang this verse when they lifted from a heap of refuse, where it had been cast, the body of one of their brethren, a judge of the city, and carried it away to internment.

Verse 8. ‘O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us; for we are brought very low.’ They were the last words of John Owen, who died August 24, 1683, when things looked very dark in England and Scotland for the cause of religious truth and freedom. It was the time of which the poet Waller has said,–

‘Bold is the man who dares engage
For piety in such an age.’

Indifference, infidelity, immorality were general in court and country, and the Church of Rome was in great hope of regaining its power. But Owen had a bright hope beyond. When told, in his last illness, that his book, Meditations on the Glory of the Redeemer, perhaps the most remarkable, certainly the most elevated, of all his works, had just been put to the press, the dying man lifted up his hands, and said, ‘I am glad to hear it, the long wished for day is come at last, in which I shall see that glory in another manner than I have ever done, or was capable of doing, in this world.’

Psalm 79

Geneva Bible

 O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance: thine holy Temple have they defiled, and made Jerusalem heaps of stones. The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto fowls of the heaven,and the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth. Their blood have they shed like waters, round about Jerusalem, and there was none to bury them. We are a reproach to our neighbors, even a scorn and derision unto them that are round about us.

Lord, how long wilt thou be angry, forever? shall thy jealousy burn like fire? Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy Name. For they have devoured Jacob, and made his dwelling place desolate.

Remember not against us the former iniquities, but make haste, and let thy tender mercies prevent us: for we are in great misery. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy Name, and deliver us, and be merciful unto our sins for thy Name’s sake.

Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God? let them be known among the heathen in our sight by the vengeance of the blood of thy servants that is shed. Let the sighing of the prisoners come before thee: according to thy mighty arm preserve the children of death,  And render to our neighbors sevenfold into their bosom their reproach, wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord.  So we thy people, and sheep of thy pasture shall praise thee forever: and from generation to generation we will set forth thy praise.

Written by John Ker, D. D.
Taken from, “The Psalms in History and Biography,”
Wikipedia, and other sources.
Edited for thought and sense.

Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 34: A Psalm of Communion, of Christian Heroes, and of the Ages


Psalm 34

Lent DevotionalThe 34th Psalm is mentioned by Cyril, A.D. 340, and also by Jerome, as being usually sung by the Church of Jerusalem at the time of Communion.

It is appropriate throughout for Communion with some of the parts especially so, and it contains the passage which the Evangelist John (19:36) applies to our Lord, ‘He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.’

Error had begun in different ways to creep into the Christian Church, but the memorials of the bread and wine were parted among all, and the thanksgiving of the communion had not passed into the sacrifice of the mass. The efficacy of atonement is ascribed only to the personal work of Christ himself, and such expressions as these occur: ‘It is by Jesus Christ we bring this sacrifice of praise in thy name, and in the name of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. O Lord, we render thanks to thee by thy well -beloved Son Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent in the last times to be our Savior and Redeemer, the Messenger of thy Counsel. It is by him, the Word who comes forth from thee, that thou hast done all.’

It may be seen how well this spirit agrees with the burst of gratitude in the opening of the psalm, ‘I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad,’ Sometimes there was added the fervent aspiration of the 42nd Psalm, ‘As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, 0 God.’

It was the love of youth burning all the brighter that it was borne heavenwards by winds of persecution.

Verse 10. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger:  but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good Thing,’ were the last words written by Columba after he had spent a long life of incessant Christian labor, part of which was given to the transcription of copies of the Psalms and Gospels. Columba’ s figure in the history of the British Church is the most clear and noble from the entrance of Christianity to the Reformation, with the exception of Bede and Wycliffe; and he surpassed both of these in the missionary ardor he felt and infused into his followers. His position in Scotland is a singular one. He stands among the stormy Hebrides, like one of their lonely lighthouses, upheld by a mighty arm of rock, to cast a sudden gleam over the waters, and draw it back again into the night.

But like theirs, too, the light appears, hidden, but not quenched…

…or, still more, it is flashed from point to point as time moves on. Placed as he and his disciples were on the known limits of the western world, their zeal turned eastward, and sought a field among the Celtic and Gothic tribes to the very center of Europe. The endless knot “the peculiar signet mark of Scottish art” is found carved in stone, graven in gold and silver, inscribed on illuminated parchment, and tells at Wurtzburg, at St. Gall, at Eatisbon, that the foot of the Columban missionary has pressed the heathen soil with the message of the faith.

Columba died on the morning of the Lord’s day, June 9, A.D. 597, in his beloved lona.

‘There sleep the saintly dead,
Whom from their island home
The Baptist’s hermit spirit led
O’er moss and moor to roam.
Where, soft as spring-tide dew,
Their gracious speech was heard,
Wild tribes whom Caesar never knew
Bowed captive to the Word.’

The narrative Adamnan gives of his closing hours, of his farewell words with his sorrow-stricken disciples, of his parting with his faithful old horse, which put its head on its master’s breast as if aware of the event, reveals the deep tenderness and humanity of his nature.

When the biographer has lingered lovingly on the little incidents that preceded the death, he continues: ‘After these words he descended the hill, and, having returned to the monastery, sat in his hut transcribing the Psalter; and coming to that verse of the 34th Psalm, where it is written, “They that seek the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good,” “Here,” said he, “at the end of the page I must stop, and what follows let Baithen write.” The last verse he had written was very applicable to the saint who was about to depart, and to whom eternal good shall never be wanting; while the one that follows is equally applicable to the father who succeeded him, the instructor of his spiritual children, “Come, ye children, and hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” And indeed he succeeded, as recommended by him, both in writing the words, and in teaching his disciples.’

Far away from Columba in time, and yet with the same simple faith, two men sang a part of this psalm at the place of execution in Edinburgh, 1679. They were Andrew Sword and John Clyde, countrymen from Galloway, who were condemned for having been at Bothwell, and in penalty for the death of Arch Bishop Sharp, though neither of them had ever seen him.

“The troubles that afflict the just
In number many be;
But yet at length out of them all
The Lord doth set him free.’  

–Verse 19

‘God hath not promised,’ said one of them, ‘to keep us from trouble, but to be with us in it, and what needs more? ‘I bless the Lord for keeping of me to this very hour; for little would I have thought a twelve month since that the Lord would have taken a poor plowman lad, and have honored me so highly as to have made me first appear for him, and then to keep me straight, and now hath kept me to this very hour to lay down my life for him.

At the ladder foot, he said to his brother, ‘Weep not for me, brother, but weep for yourself and the poor land; and make him sure for yourself, and he shall be better to you than ten brethren.’

It was surely fire from God’s own heaven which breathed this soul into the mold of a Scottish plowman.

Written by John Ker, D. D.
Taken from, “The Psalms in History and Biography”.

Meet Colomba, a very important early Irish Christian Missionary and part of your Christian heritage: Columba (Irish: Colm Cille, ‘church dove’; 7 December 521 – 9 June 597) was an Irish abbot and missionary credited with spreading Christianity in present-day Scotland. He founded the important abbey on Iona, which became a dominant religious and political institution in the region for centuries. He is the Patron Saint of Derry. He was highly regarded by both the Gaels of Dál Riata and the Picts, and is remembered today as a Christian saint and one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

Columba reportedly studied under some of Ireland’s most prominent church figures and founded several monasteries in the country. Around 563 he and his twelve companions crossed to Dunaverty near Southend, Argyll in Kintyre before settling in Iona in Scotland, then part of the Irish kingdom of Dál Riata, where they founded a new abbey as a base for spreading Christianity among the northern Pictish kingdoms who were pagan. He remained active in Irish politics, though he spent most of the remainder of his life in Scotland. Three surviving early medieval Latin hymns may be attributed to him.

Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 6

david_nathanO Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O Lord, how long?  Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies’ sake. For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?  I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears. Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.
Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.  The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer. Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.
                                                                               — Psalm 6

 This psalm might have a history to itself.

It has a wail of pain and sorrow, deepening into anguish, running through it; but comfort dawns at the close, like an angel turning the key of the prison. It is the first of the seven penitential psalms, the others being the 32nd, 38th, 51st, 102nd, 130th, 143rd.

One of the strangest things, though not the happiest, in its records is, that, along with Psalm 142nd, it was the choice of Catherine de Medici, who was the Jezebel and Athaliah of the French monarchy. She was irreligious and superstitious, profligate and devoured by ambition; though the fact that she had no children, seemed likely to deprive her of the control which she hoped to gain in the counsels of the kingdom. The psalm was the expression of mere worldly disappointment. She became at last the mother of Francis II. (the first husband of Mary Stuart) and of Charles IX., whose character she corrupted by ministering to his vices, and whom she urged to the massacre of St. Bartholomew. ‘Her desire was realized’ says a French historian, ‘for the misery of France;’ and that family, which then took pleasure in the Psalms, put to death thousands of the Reformed for singing them.’

It has a more pleasing association with another princess, allied to the French royal family. Elizabeth Charlotte was niece of Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and grand-daughter of Elizabeth Stuart, after whom she was named. She had remarkable abilities, and was carefully educated by her aunt Sophia, under the eye of the great Leibnitz. Her father, the Elector Palatine, constrained her to a marriage with the Duke of Orleans, brother of Louis XIV., in the hope that the union might save his principality from the aggression of the French king. But it helped Louis to fresh claims ; and, when her beautiful native land, beside the Ehine and Neckar, was wasted by the French armies, its towns laid in ashes, the Castle of Heidelberg, the home of her childhood, shattered, and the people she loved driven out in winter to die houseless and famishing, she could not sleep for the visions of havoc, and for the thought that she had been cruelly sacrificed to a vain policy. Her letters, lately published, are deeply interesting for the light they throw on the time, and on the Court of France. Her heart went back to her early Protestant faith, and to the old Castle of Osnabruck, where she had spent her happiest days with her aunt.

In a letter to her she relates an incident connected with this psalm. She was walking one day in the orangery at Versailles, and was singing it in the translation of Clement Marot, as an expression of her feelings, a noted artist of the time, warmly attached in heart to the Reformed religion, was engaged in painting the roof, and heard her. ‘Scarcely’ she writes, ‘had I finished the first verse, when I saw M. Rousseau hasten down the ladder and fall at my feet. I thought he was mad, and said, “Rousseau, Rousseau, what is the matter?” He replied, “Is it possible, madam, that you still recollect our psalms and sing them? May God bless you, and keep you in this good mind.” He had tears in his eyes.’ It is interesting to know that Louis XIV., broken-hearted in his old age by defeats and disappointments, recognized her worth, and leaned on her for comfort.

Another woman, of our own time, with trials in a different position, and yet like in kind to those of Elizabeth Charlotte, has put her heart into some of the words. The wife of Thomas Carlyle inserts verses 2-4 in her Journal, 1855, when in sore trouble of body and mind, amid weakness and weariness and sleepless nights and wounded feelings.

‘Oh, dear! I wish this Grange business were well over. It occupies me (the mere preparation for it) to the exclusion of all quiet thought and placid occupation. To have to care for my dress, this time of day, more than I ever did when young and pretty and happy (God bless me, to think I was once all that!), on penalty of being regarded as a blot on the Grange gold and azure, is really too bad. Ach Gott! if we had been left in the sphere of life we belong to, how much better it would have been for us in many ways!

Ah, the spiritis willing, but the flesh is weak as water. Today I walked with effort one little mile, and thought it a great feat. Sleep has come to look to me the highest virtue and the greatest happiness; that is, good sleep, untroubled, beautiful, like a child’s. Ah me! “Have mercy upon me, 0 Lord; for I am weak: 0 Lord, heal me ; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed : but thou, 0 Lord, how long ?”

This same verse 3 was the common expression of Calvin when he was in trouble, ‘Tu Domine usque quo?’ ‘Thou, 0 Lord, how long?’

‘Thou, 0 Lord, how long?’ and parts of the psalm, with the last verse of Psalm 70th, were also among the dying words of Robert Rollock, the first Principal of the University of Edinburgh, a man remarkable for power of administration and deep piety.


Written by the Rev. John Ker, D.D.

Published 1886