This day was the best that I have seen since I came to England. . . . After Dr. Twisse had begun with a brief prayer, Mr. Marshall prayed largely two hours, most divinely, confessing the sins of the members of the Assembly, in a wonderful, passionate, and prudent way. Afterwards, Mr. Arrowsmith preached an hour, then a psalm; thereafter, Mr. Vines prayed near two hours, and Mr. Palmer preached an hour, and Mr. Seaman prayed nearly two hours, then a psalm. After this, Mr. Henderson brought about a sweet discussion of the heated disputes confessed in the assembly, and other seen faults to be remedied. . . . Dr. Twisse closed with a short prayer and blessing.So wrote Robert Baillie, one of the Scots commissioners at the Westminster Assembly, about one of the best days he had in England. Now, I can imagine all the caveats and contentions and complaints that might be thrown up if it were to be suggested that this is a good model for us to embrace or an implicit rebuke for us to face - different time, different men, different environment, specific situation, unusual demands, and so on and so forth.
It is not, therefore, my intention to set this up as some kind of gold standard for Christianity, but rather to ask a genuine question: is there anything in your spiritual appetite or mine that finds this prospect remotely appealing? Do we only think of caveats, contentions and complaints, or is there any awareness, perhaps any regret, that our appetites and capacities for preaching and prayer are not greater than they are?
Even if we suggest that such an appetite is an unusual high point, does it not at least suggest that our time and place might be more of an unusual low point? Would the prospect of a day given over to "wonderful, passionate, and prudent" prayers, interspersed with sermons and psalms, remotely whet our appetites?
When even a well-stocked Lord's day seems an unconscionable burden to many, I suggest that Baillie's appetite offers something of a corrective for our easily-satisfied, all-too-easily sated and therefore often-malnourished age. Can we say with Job, "I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my necessary food" (Jb 23.12)?