Friday, June 10, 2005

saving knowledge

The best summary of saving knowledge is found in a document called The Sum of Saving Knowledge.

The content of The Sum of Saving Knowledge

The full title is A brief sum of Christian doctrine contained in Holy Scriptures and holden forth in the Confession of faith & catechism agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster and received by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Together with The Practical Use Thereof. The title page carried the text John 6:37 'All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out'. The Sum is a very clear, useful and faithful summary or exposition of what the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Larger Catechism and Confession of Faith teach in relation to the way of salvation. The doctrine is federal or covenantal, working through the covenant of works and the covenant of grace as reflecting God's dealings with men.
The marrow of the doctrine of the Shorter Catechism is represented in the Sum in such a way that appears to reflect even its very language. restated almost in its own language. Almost every line of it includes the substance of a question of the Catechism. The first paragraph, for instance, summarises questions 4-8 of the Catechism.

The benefit of The Sum of Saving Knowledge
Anyone may benefit from The Sum of Saving Knowledge. Here the seeker finds the truths and way of salvation solidly, yet winsomely expressed. The child or young person finds the substance of saving truth in which, we trust, they have been catechised and learns how to apply it. The parent or instructor discovers a way of imparting this crucial knowledge. Any professing Christian possessing or lacking assurance and any minister should know the summary of saving knowledge and they should know where to turn for such instruction. The Sum is especially helpful in self-examination for evidences of grace prior to partaking of the Lord's Supper whether or not it is contemplated for the first time. Noone can be without material for sermons or formal instruction when have the faithful teaching of the Sum to hand. Indeed it would be useful for ministerial students to study it as a model for the content of sermons.
The experience of Robert Murray McCheyne shows the value of the treatise - heacknowledged it as the work which first brought him to a clear understanding of the way of acceptance with God. Andrew Bonar writes:
'He thought himself much profited, at this period, by investigating the subject of Election and the Free Grace of God. But it was the reading of "The Sum of Saving Knowledge," generally appended to our Confession of Faith, that brought him to a clear understanding of the way of acceptance with God. Those who are acquainted with its admirable statements of truth will see how well fitted it was to direct an inquiring soul. I find him some years afterwards recording:-
"March 11, 1834: Read in the Sum of Saving Knowledge, the work which I think first of all wrought a saving change in me. How gladly would I renew the reading of it, if that change might be carried on to perfection."'

The Context of The Sum of Saving Knowledge
The Sum of Saving Knowledge, and the Practical Use of Saving Knowledge is a kind of manual for catechising. It emerged from a period of reformation in the Church where various documents were formulated which were essential both to its wellbeing and to the propagation of truth. Catechising was central to the Second Reformation ideal of the Church and its ministry. The Church of Scotland's General Assembly of 1639 (Act anent Ministers Catechising, and Family Exercises, August 30) gave instructions concerning catechising. The Assembly believed 'that the long waited-for fruits of the Gospel, so mercifully planted and preserved in this Land, and Reformation of our selves, and Families, so solemnly vowed to God of late in our Covenant, [National Covenant, 1638] cannot take effect, except the knowledge and worship of God be caried from the Pulpit to every family within each Parish'.
They instructed therefore that, in addition to his sermons on the Lord's Day, every minister was to have weekly catechising in some part of his parish, rather than leave catechising to the time immediately prior to the dispensing of the Lord's Supper. Heads of households should ensure that family worship was conducted in the morning and the evening and that children and servants were catechised. This work was to be monitored by the parish minister and elders through visitation of every family. The latter work was, in turn, to be monitored by the presbytery. (The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, from the year 1638 to the year 1649 inclusive, 1682, pp.88-89). The Westminister Assembly's Directory of Publick Worship reinforced the vision of the 1639 Act by recommending that heads of households should occupy some of the time during the Lord's Day not set aside for public worship for repeating sermons and catechising. This was also echoed by the Directory for Family Worship which was approved by the Church of Scotland in August 1647 (David Dickson co-author of Sum of Saving Knowledge had helped to prepare the Directory for Family Worship).
John Kennedy spoke of a similar practice in his own day in the Highlands of Scotland. 'On Tuesdays and Wednesdays during winter and spring, the minister holds ‘Diets of Catechising’. The residents in a certain district are gathered into one place - the church, or school or a barn - and after praise. prayer and an exposition of one of the questions of the Shorter Catechism in course, each person from the district for the day, is minutely and searchingly examined. All attend and all are catechised. Each individual conscience is thus reached by the truth, the exact amount of knowledge of each of his hearers, as well as his state of feeling. is ascertained by the minister: a clear knowledge of the fundamental doctrines of the gospel communi­cated and valuable materials gathered for the work of the pulpit. On four evenings of the week the Cate­chist is employed in his peculiar work . . . his diets of catechising are almost conducted quite like those of the minister. Such was the ordinary weekly work in one of the Ross-shire congregations in the good days of the fathers'.
By 1647 the Church of Scotland had approved the Westminster Confession of Faith together with One Hundred and Eleven Propositions written by George Gillespie to expound the Church's position on Church government in conjunction with the Westminster Assembly's Form of Presbyterial Church Government. In July 1648 the General Assembly approved the both the Shorter Catechism and the Larger Catechism, calling it 'a rich treasure for increasing knowledge amongst the People of God' (p.372). The General Assembly of 1649 followed up on this action in bemoaning 'the great darknesse, and Ignorance wherein a great a part of this Kingdom lyeth', and renewed the act of 1639 with the recognition that 'these dyets of weekly Catechising are much slighted and neglected by many Ministers throughout this Kingdome'. (p.466) The Assembly viewed this with such concern that they ordained that any minister found negligent by his presbytery in this matter would be first admonished, the second time rebuked sharply and 'if after such rebuke they doe not yet amend, they shall be suspended'. Ministers were instructed to make the weekly catechising an occasion to present 'the chief heads of Saving Knowledge, in short view', since not everyone would attend every meeting for catechising.
The authors of The Sum of Saving Knowledge
It is a measure of the degree to which they believed in the necessity of catechising and the need for instruction in the principal parts of saving knowledge that David Dickson (1589-1662) and James Durham (1622-1658) both professors of divinity and highly esteemed authors and preachers, composed, about 1650, The Sum of Saving Knowledge.This document sets out the chief points of saving knowledge and the practical use of saving knowledge which was to be made of them. In some ways this document compensated for an intended portion of the Directory of Publick Worship, ultimately not included, which would have dealt with catechising. This was discussed in Session 342 of the Westminster Assembly.
Dickson and Durham were great friends ever since Dickson had encouraged Durham to the ministry.While he was serving as a captain in the covenanting army during the civil war Dickson overheard Durham exhorting his soldiers concerning their souls. Recognising his ministerial gifts Dickson told him, ‘Go home, Sir, for you seem to be called to another work than this!’ (Robert Wodrow, Analecta, or, Materials for a history of remarkable providences, mostly relating to Scotch ministers and Christians, ed. [M. Leishman], 4 vols., Maitland Club, 60 (1842-3), 3.109). Durham entered the University of Glasgow about 1645 and studied divinity under Dickson himself who was professor. Durham displayed such outstanding proficiency that his course of study was shorter than the norm and he was ordained to Blackfriars in Glasgow in 1647.
In 1650 Dickson was translated to the chair of divinity at Edinburgh and appointed to the second charge of St Giles. Durham was called to replace Dickson in the chair of divinity at the University of Glasgow, but was prevented from taking up this charge when he was appointed one of the king's chaplains. Robert Wodrow informs us that The Sum of Saving Knowledge came together after several conversations, and thinking upon the subject and manner of handling it, in order to make it most useful to capacities of the weakest. It is said to have been dictated by both men to another minister, during the year 1650. John Macleod comments in his Scottish Theology: 'This solid and valuable piece is an expansion of some sermons preached by Dickson at Inveraray when he was the Duke of Argyll's guest there'. Presumably this refers to the Practical Use of Saving Knowledge, Warrants to Believe and The Evidences of True Faith which make up the bulk of The Sum of Saving Knowledge and are in effect brief expositions of portions of Scripture, resembling the headings of sermons. These headings would have been doctrines extracted from the text and the uses or applications of the doctrines.
The style of The Sum is markedly similar to that of Dickson's other writings, as seen in the communion sermons published in Select Practical Writings (Free Church of Scotland, 1845). Dickson was adept in expounding a text by means of a number of doctrinal inferences. Robert Wodrow tells us that these sermons are 'full of solid substantial matter, very Scriptural, and in a very familiar style, not low but exceedingly strong, plain and affecting. It is somewhat akin to Mr Rutherford's in his admirable letters. I have been told by some old ministers that scarce any body of that time came so near Mr Dickson's style and method as the Rev. Mr William Guthrie, minister of Fenwick, who equalled, if not exceeded him there' (p.xii).
The comparison with William Guthrie is interesting in view of Guthrie's valuable little book The Christian's Great Interest whose theme is so similar to that of the Sum of Saving Knowledge. Though Dickson was well learned and able to teach theology in the university, it is remarkable that he retained the pastoral concern which bred the simple Sum of Saving Knowledge. Wodrow records that he previously wrote Precepts for a daily Direction of a Christian's Conversation - The Grounds of the true Christian Religion, a catechism for his congregation of Irvine (Wodrow in ed. WK Tweedie, 'Select Biographies' Wodrow Society, 1847). The emphasis upon the covenants in the Sum is similar to that of David Dickson's Therapeutica Sacra [Sacred Healing]: Shewing briefly the method of healing the diseases of the Conscience, concerning Regeneration (Edinburgh, 1664). In this treatise Dickson attempts to briefly show 'the method of healing the diseases of the conscience concerning regeneration'. A large section of the book is devoted to an explanation of the covenants 'because the healing of the sickness of the conscience cometh by a right application of the covenants about our salvation'.
Dickson's preaching was said to have an 'apostolic brevity and simplicity in preaching'. In his preaching he sought 'to lead people to throw all their trust and dependence upon Christ's imputed righteousness, and not to rest upon anything of their own' (quoted Anthology p.14). This was Dickson's only refuge for himself. On his deathbed in December 1662 he said, 'I have taken all my good deeds, and all my bad deeds, and cast them through each other in a heap before the Lord, and fled from both, and betaken myself to the Lord Jesus Christ, and in him I have sweet peace'. Wodrow wrote of Dickson that 'if ever a Scots Biography and the lives of our eminent ministers and Christians be published, he will shine there as a star of the first magnitude'.
James Durham was known as 'a very candid and searching preacher who in an instant was in the utmost corners of your bosoms, though with the utmost caution and meekness, without giving any of his hearers the smallest ground to fret and repine at his freedom in dealing with them' p.iii. In September 1651 he moved to Glasgow High Church, St Mungo's west quarter. This congregation numbered around 1500. He regularly preached three times a week, lectured before his sermons, visited the sick, catechised from house to house, met with his session weekly. In addition he gave daily public lectures every fifth week, undertook daily catechising before communion seasons, and spent a considerable part of every day in private devotion, prayer, and study. He was known for his moderation during the protester-resolutioner controversy which split the Church of Scotland in the 1650s, and made constant attempts to mediate personally. His Treatise on Scandal represented his continuing attempts during his dying days to achieve a reconciliation, and when published in 1659 it was entitled A Dying Man's Testament to the Church of Scotland. He died at the age of thirty-six.

The status of The Sum of Saving Knowledge
The Sum was never formally approved by the Church courts but has been held in the greatest esteem and eventually published with the Westminster documents. James Renwick at his execution (February 17, 1688) bound the Sum of Saving Knowledge together with the Westminster documents: 'I own the Word of God as the rule of Faith and manners; I own the Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms, Sum of Saving Knowledge, Directory for Worship, etc.; Covenants, National and Solemn League; Acts of General Assemblies,- and all the faithful contendings that have been for the work of reformation'.
In 1851 the Free Church of Scotland passed an Act identifying its subordinate standards and other authoritative documents, it referred to the documents of the Second Reformation as 'regulations, rather than...tests, - to be enforced by the Church like her ofther laws, but not to be imposed by subscription upn her ministers and elders'. The Sum of Saving Knowledge is referred to as a 'valuable treatise' belonging to these 'authorized and authoritative symbolic books of the Church of Scotland' as a 'practical application of the doctrine of the Confession'.