A Book to Treasure

A book review on Baird's Eutaxia: "It is a classic and should be on every Presbyterian or Reformed pastor's library shelf."

When I was a seminary student, I used to go into Center City, Philadelphia, to browse at Leary’s Used Bookshop. They had a whole floor of religion and theology, unusual for a general bookshop. One day, I took down from the shelf a small, brown book with EUTAXIA or the Presbyterian Liturgies: Historical Sketches on its spine and 1855 at the bottom of the title page. The author was anonymously “a Presbyterian minister.” Since it was only fifty cents, I added it to my small pile of bargains and took it home.

Little did I know what a find it was. I keep going back to it, even though liturgical scholarship has improved since the nineteenth-century and there are more complete sources available. His treatment of Calvin’s liturgical work in Geneva—and its influence on French liturgies—takes up four chapters out of the fourteen in the book. Three chapters on Knox and Scottish worship, three more on the influence of Calvin on British worship, chapters on the American Dutch Reformed liturgy and the continental Palatinate liturgy, and a discussion of a proposed revision to the American Presbyterian Directory of Worship round out the book. In some cases, complete liturgies are included; in others, generous samples of prayers and other forms.

In its day, Eutaxia threw down a challenge to Presbyterian liturgical practice, which had been adrift since the Westminster Assembly two centuries earlier. The Assembly chose a directory of worship instead of a set liturgy. Presbyterian worship was further weakened by the influence of revivalism in the mid-nineteenth-century. The author of Eutaxia had worshiped in European churches that used liturgies patterned after the Geneva “Form of Church Prayers” of 1541, and found in them a biblical dignity and fullness often lacking in American Presbyterian worship.

In a second edition in 1856, the author was revealed to be Charles Washington Baird (1828-1887). He was indeed a Presbyterian minister, at the time in Brooklyn, New York, and later in Rye, New York. In 1857, he also published A Book of Public Prayer compiled from Bucer, Calvin, Knox, and others. With these books, he hoped to spark a revival of Calvinistic worship. It didn’t happen then, but Eutaxia or the Presbyterian Liturgies: Historical Sketches still appears in seminary course bibliographies and provides wisdom for renewing worship today.

Eutaxia has been reprinted from time to time, most recently in the 1960s by Baker. It is a classic and should be on every Presbyterian or Reformed pastor's library shelf.

In September 2006, Wipf and Stock Publishers re-published The Presbyterian Liturgies: Historical Sketches by Charles Washington Baird: ISBN1-59752-907-9; $27.

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