Archive for May, 2010

The following is extracted from Thomas Cochrane’s Home Mission Work (1878).  The chapter, “The Territorial System,” is a nice overview of the urban mission strategy advocated by Thomas Chalmers.

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In the later years of his eventful life, with all the experience and mellow ripeness of a mind that had given very much of the best of its powers to the advocacy and outworking of the grand old parochial system of Scotland, the illustrious Dr Chalmers, while carrying on with undimmed and undiminished lustre the labours of his distinguished professoriate, worked out, alongside of this theoretical training for the students of theology, the grand practical work of Territorialism. He thus devised and carried out, in a most singularly successful way, a scheme which, because it sought to cope with all the difficulties, and to grapple with all the obstructions that might be encountered, and set itself to the prosecution of true mission work, in a certain selected locality or territory, and to cultivate regularly and thoroughly that district so assumed, has been most fitly termed— “The Territorial System.

In the great metropolis of the West, among her merchant princes, in St John’s parish there, Dr Chalmers had previously developed, and very successfully worked out, under the wing of the State, the system, as strictly parochial; now he was to unfold and develop the same system, minus State support and State influence in any way.

The chosen field in Edinburgh, “The West Port, was the most unlikely, and, seemingly, unpropitious that could have been selected.

The hall opened for public worship was an “old Tan Loft,” near to the spot which had earned an unenviable notoriety, because of revolting murders that had been perpetrated—more revolting than any that had either before or since disgraced the fair escutcheon of that noble city—a locality where purity and outward decency alike blushed for very shame!

Nothing daunted, however, that truly great man, surrounded by a staff of devoted volunteers, went forth into the thick of the conflict, to do battle with the sin and crime that met them, at every corner of the district, and to soothe the sorrows and assuage the trials of human misery and woe.

It was indeed a noble scheme, a grand enterprise; and let that interesting chapter, “The West Port,” in the classic and eloquent biography of Dr Chalmers, written by his son-in-law, the late Dr Hanna, tell in his inimitable style, how, under more than wizard wand, of that Great Moral Conjuror, the wilderness became a fruitful field, and the desert rejoiced and blossomed as the rose, becoming “A Garden of the Lord.

All around now in Edinburgh, from the west to the extreme east, ‘neath the shadow of hoar Holyrood, there have been erected churches and schools upon this territorial system, so that, in addition to “The West Port,” there are more than seven other churches with as many ministers, and fully equipped agencies and congregations, carrying on with greater or less success the operations of the Territorial system.

Glasgow, too, has had her full share of the benefits of this scheme. The development of this system, however, is not confined to Edinburgh or Glasgow. Many other large towns in Scotland, such as Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth, &c, have reaped golden harvests from the seed sown, through the carrying out of this important work; while England, too, in measure, has caught the infection and influence, from the spell of the mighty charmer, who though “being dead, yet speaketh,” while his works, all around, follow him; and far hence, away across the broad Atlantic, the winds have wafted on and o’er the story, and there, too, in several instances, the system is being tested and tried.

In the prelude to his lecture on “Transcendentalism, Dr Joseph Cook of Boston, rehearses the story of “The West Port,” and presses upon his readers the importance and moral grandeur of the scheme; while, as Dr Cook himself informed us, when on a visit to this country, the system has been found in America to be the only true system for elevating the community, civilly, socially, and morally.

It may here be stated that the system, both scholastically and ecclesiastically, can be worked out in such a manner as to be self-sustaining; so that the big thoughts, and large desires of the illustrious founder, have not only been proved not to be Utopian, but fruitfully workable; and that too, not only during his distinguished life, under his own eye, and by the cunning of his own right hand; but now, also, a full generation after he has been gathered to his fathers, the work progresses and advances still more and more, and we believe will continue to do so, after its present promoters have gone the way of all the earth.

It may be argued, however, that if so much has been done,—if such harvests have been, or are being ripened and reaped all round, in the town and country districts of Scotland, and elsewhere, is there still need for the advocacy and extension of the practical outworking of this scheme? There is much land yet to be possessed. When we are reminded that in Edinburgh alone, there are perhaps not less than forty thousand, in Glasgow a much larger number, while over broad Scotland, there are about five hundred thousand living in entire neglect of the means of grace; living “without God,” if not dying “without hope,” we cannot fail to perceive that this scheme is of prime importance, and that the necessity for the thorough outworking of it is as great as ever.


The idea of the great founder of the scheme, in regard to the chosen district, was very decided. His firm and unwavering conviction was, that the field selected should be very carefully and deliberately chosen, and that it should be of adequate proportions,—not too large, lest it should not be fully and thoroughly cultivated; not too small, lest there should not be a population sufficiently large to yield material for a good, self-supporting congregation.

Holding these views strongly, Dr Chalmers was in the habit of affirming that a population of about 2000 was quite large enough, in ordinary circumstances, for the purpose in view, and that a district less populous was not adequate for the formation of a Territorial Congregation. Hence a district of about 400 families, or 2000 of a population, according to the system under review, would require about forty visitors in order to cultivate it thoroughl, giving manageable sub-divisions of about ten families to each agent.


The duties of visitors may be regarded in many aspects (see pages 57-60), but the great, the chief duty is to visit their districts, with a view of promoting the highest good of the families in the district allocated to them. Assuming the visitor to be truly Christian, and devoted to the work, how very much will depend upon the judiciousness manifested in the discharge of duty. What care will be required, lest their visits should hinder, rather than help on the work to be accomplished. How important, all-important, to make the families visited feel that we are really and truly their friend; that we visit, not with a prying over-curious eye to spy into their household affairs, far less in a censorious spirit, ever insinuating our fancied superiority, and finding fault with what, we imagine, may be their little delinquencies; but that, placing ourselves upon the same platform on which they stand, we thus make it clear that we have their highest good at heart, and have love in our heart for them, as well as expressed sympathy upon our lip with them. Hence our aim should be to influence the heart for good.

“They build too low who build beneath the skies.”  They aim too low who aim not at the heart.  The effect of mere gossip in visiting, is always fruitless, if not of evil tendency.  By all means let us be happy, with a gleam of sunshine ever lighting up our countenances.  By all means let our words he happy words, and happy social words.  If time permit there may be talk about the common affairs of life, and the current events of the day; but we should never let our conversation degenerate into flippant talk, idle talk, or jesting which is not convenient; and, if possible, we should never leave any house, without making it clear that our object in visiting was with respect to the highest good of the family.

Even in the distribution of tracts let us have a care of the manner we manifest in so doing. Let us keep in view that, while we are as messengers of mercy bearing the silent message in the tract we give, we are to make it plain that we need the message we bear, as well as those to whom we bear it, as Mr M’Cheyne would have said, in his own tender, touching way, “I need it, my brother, as well as you.”  Or, as we have it from an inspired pen, “We, that we say not you.”

The importance of house-to-house visitation can never be over-estimated. There may be—there are —some who weary in this seemingly slow process, and who would fain “rush into print,” in placards large, fancying that by sleight-of-hand, or speed of foot, or by monster meetings in large halls, and other general schemes, they may speedily evangelise the outlying population in our vast moral wastes.  All success to these, and every good scheme!  It is not so, generally, however, that this work is to be done. The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.  The patient, laborious, conscientious worker, who realizes what is implied in faithful labour for the Great Master, is the labourer that will here prevail.  If it be true that the time shall come when they shall no more teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” does not this imply that, until that time shall have come, this system should be carried on?  And here, again, the conscientious worker must be content to be hidden from the world’s eye, but work ever under the eye of His Lord and Master. He must be willing to be unknown, perhaps unheard of.  Down in the damp, dark cellar;  high, in the lone garret room; concealed in some back court where the sun scarce shines; or in the loathsome land, where fever holds its perpetual sway, and revels, in the luxury of human misery, all prodigal of life,—there must the visitor be prepared to labour, there the missionary be contented to toil, from day to day.

” Go labour on, ’tis not for nought:
Thy earthly loss is heavenly gain;
Men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not;
The Master praises; what are men?”

Prevention is better than cure.“—There are congregations whose membership may not be able to supply agents for carrying out the scheme we have been commending, and where it would be of immense advantage, to such a congregation, to have the scheme thoroughly and earnestly worked out, in connection with their own work, and into their own congregation.  In such a case why should not some healthy and vigorous, if not wealthy and numerous, congregation, come with all its flow of life and love, and work for, at least, if not in connection with the work of such a congregation?   Would not many a struggling congregation thus take heart and begin anew? Would not many a downcast and cheerless minister obtain encouragement, and gird on with fresh ardour the armour of the Gospel of Peace?  Nay, would not this be a true exhibition of the members of the church, looking “not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others;” and of manifesting in the clearest sense, how the strong could help the weak, thus showing to the world and the Church alike that “it is more blessed to give than to receive”?

Having, throughout the volume, touched upon the main features of the Territorial system, and having had the privilege, for very many years, of being a humble labourer in the Territorial field, in closing our remarks we may be permitted to say that the longer we have laboured in the outworking of the system, the more thoroughly have we been convinced of the value and effectiveness of it.

One of our greatest and sincerest regrets is, that we should have been so little able to do anything like justice to it. We feel this all the more, that we are not now so agile, as heretofore, in buckling on our armour, and sallying forth at the trumpet’s sound against the common foe.  We must soon retire from the field of action, but, when retiring, we hope to do so by handing down the banner, unfurled and untarnished, with the device thereon, as ever, full, perfect, and undimmed—




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Being an armchair philologist, words fascinate me.  I am often allured by the suggestive hints from other cognate languages.  “Hmm. Could this word be related to that?  And if so, how?”   Soon I’m at the dictionary, probing unknown etymologies and discovering family relationships.  New shades of significance of even the most familiar of words give me an inward satisfaction.

But I really sit up and take notice when they are words that tap into domains of personal interest. So after several years of nursing a respect for Reformed parochial mission theory a la Thomas Chalmers, I’ve become really interested in expanding my grasp of related terminology and its significance.

One of the new words under personal review is ward.  I owe this one to Dr. Francis Wayland (1796-1865), the fourth President of Brown University and a strong American admirer of Thomas Chalmers.  In his biographical tribute to the great Scotsman, he mentions the word to explain Chalmers’ advocacy of the parish as a unit of evangelism.  “So far as I understand, the city of Glasgow is divided into parishes, as our cities are divided into wards” (p. 88).  Really, it was just an incidental statement in a larger explanation.  But this attempt to translate a somewhat foreign state of affairs for an American audience made me pause.  “Now if the British parish is analogous to the American ward (or district, precinct, borough), then what is its precise meaning?  And how could it be appropriated ecclesiastically?”

Well, the word as a noun basically means “the act or condition of guarding” or “being in a state of custody.”   Germanic in origin, the word developed through Old and Middle English to the current ward and related variants.  In the same family are beware, wary, guard, and warden.

The following seems to be central to its essence.  The ward is an authoritatively fixed responsibility assigned to some person or persons to regard, protect, and otherwise care for certain ones under their charge.  Usually a ward is not alone, but several wards are distributed throughout a general area, combining for the overall protection and provision of a larger body.  So, then, the ward is an organizational expedient for a broad charge.  In light of all this, we get a clearer insight into the significance both of city and hospital wards.

Turning to the ecclesiastical application, the Lord Jesus Christ has been invested with “all authority in heaven and on earth.”  He, however, chooses to send the Twelve throughout the nations with the keys of the kingdom.  Whatever they “bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,” while “whatever they loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  He that hears them hears the Son, and whoever hears Him hears the Father.

The entirety of the nations are to be taught, baptized, and consequently further taught “in all things whatsoever [Jesus has] commanded them.”  The nations, then, are under the Church’s custody.  No doubt “the heathen rage” and attempt to throw off these “bands” and “cords.”  Yet, none of their mad fury alters in the slightest the dominion of God’s Christ or the authority entrusted to the Church as steward.  The world is Christ’s ward.

Yet the Church under Christ can only fulfill its charge by (in the words of Thomas Chalmers) an intelligent economy. Only by division can the whole be conquered.  So the Church, seeing herself as Christ’s city steward or the spiritual hospital’s administrator, divides and subdivides its sacred charge.  We may call these units any number things.  But given the ancient and contemporary significance of the ward, this offers itself as a great word for the Church’s missionary vocabulary.  And for that matter, it ought to be more than idea – but an abiding mandate.  The Church ought not so much to create wards as to realize and begin to take charge of them!

Perhaps these ideas seem Roman Catholic.  I would contend, however, that the Reformation Church – wearing the mantle of the true catholicism – affirmed them wholeheartedly.  It threw out the vain traditions of men, but not this theology of the Church’s spiritual stewardship over the nations.  And that is why the Reformation Churches kept establishments and the parochial system.  They were viewed as wise expedients to fulfill its sacred responsibility.

Nevermind the blight of secularism, with its contempt of all churchly restraints.  Let us not be browbeaten by the re-paganizing of the West.  It remains, as well as the East – and for that matter, the North and South too! – the territory of the Lord Christ.  It is His domain, as the rightful Heir of all things.  That means the nations are His, the states are His, the cities are His – with all its wards.  Let the Church assume its responsibility over them.  And in so doing, it will one day receive that cheering commendation, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

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Here are selections from Boston’s personal journal in which he recounts his catechizing efforts throughout his regular, parish ministry.  This installment takes us from Boston’s first labor in the parish of Simprin to his second and last at Ettrick.  Observe the diverse settings and audiences of his catechizing, its bearing on church membership and the sacraments, as well as Boston’s pastoral sensitivity and adaptability to the needs of the people.  Note also how Boston deplored ignorance of Gospel ‘fundamentals’ and so regarded catechizing as a sine qua non in making authentic Christians (that is, in evangelization).

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“12th December.—I have had a desire to set up week-day sermons this long time. And since the synod (at which time I had great apprehensions of evil days, which pressed me to be busy in my time) I resolved to try what encouragement I might meet with in prosecuting it. This night I proposed it to two of the members of the meeting for Christian fellowship; who received the motion with all gladness; and I wa3 desired to begin it next Thursday’s night. Upon which immediately I found a great averseness in my own mind to it; thinking withal, that I should have tabled it particularly before the Lord ere I had proposed it. Thus I saw the dreadful deceit of my heart. I pressed my heart with that word, 2 Tim. iv. 2, ” Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season:” but it would not do. As I was going out of doors, it was suggested to me, that the Lord had thus punished me for not seeking light as to that particular expressly. While I wrote this, I thought it indeed a temptation of Satan to divert me from this work. (Nota, It seems both were true.) I was helped earnestly to seek light from the Lord in it. On the morrow I went to God again with this business ; yet could I not be fully satisfied to undertake that work, so long and so much before desired by me; neither had I anything material to object against it. Wherefore I renewed my suit; and thinking about it, got my heart more satisfied and inclined thereto, urging myself with the Lord’s kindness to me in His work, and the necessity of the people’s souls. I went to God again with it; and, in fine, the assiduity of faithful ministers, the apostles, and others, preaching both by day and by night, and no doubt sometimes to a small handful, did overcome me : so that I determine to go on, desiring heartily to comply with it. On Thursday the 14th, at night, I began this exercise, having spent the afternoon in catechising. I went about the examination under a sense of my own emptiness and insufficiency; and was well helped while my heart kept right; but in turning to some one or other of its biasses, my help decayed. In the evening-exercise the Lord’s presence was such, that I was made to say, ” It is good for us to be here.” When alone, the mismanaging of the examination, yea and the sermon too, lay heavy on me; and therefore I went to God for pardon of my weakness. And that exercise I kept up all along after, during my continuance in Simprin ; and had many a sweet and refreshing hour of it. In the winter-season, our meetings for it were in my house, and in the night; in the summer, they were in the kirk, at the time of the day wherein the men rested from their labour: for the people were servants to Langton. And I believe that, for the same reason, it was only the women whom I catechised at any other time of the day ; being solicitous that the master’s business might not suffer by me, nor my good be evil spoken of on that account. On the morrow after, having visited the sick, and found how the Lord had laid His rod on my handful, I was thereby convinced, that, had I slighted the motion for the Thursday’s sermon, I would have had no peace in so doing. Having come home from this visitation, I reflected on it, and saw what secret averseness was in my heart to it, and how poorly I had managed it. I got a clear sight of the freedom and riches of grace, went by myself, and lamented my emptiness and unworthiness; which when I saw, it gave me a check for an inward itching after more work, whereby I might have a little more stipend. That work was, I think, to have been a catechist in Dunse, the encouragement £100 Scots. I had such an offer, and refused it; yet since that time I had such an itch after it. Last night in reading the latter part of John vi. the Lord held His candle before me, helping me to understand it. This night having consulted some books, and my own heart, on the sinfulness of man’s natural state, to see what further of that subject remained to be handled, there occurred only man’s death in sin, to which I was determined accordingly. On the Saturday I studied it, but not with my former assistance: but, after having prayed, and found it to be owing to that I was not so much emptied of myself as before, reckoning the subject more easy, I recovered the divine aid, in meditating afterward on what I had prepared” (109-110).

“17th December. . . That night I began the catechising of the servant; the which part of family duty I continued in my family on the Sabbath nights, till of late years my strength decaying, I almost confined it to the time of the year wherein we have but one sermon.

On the morrow I visited the sick, and spent the afternoon in catechising, and found great ignorance prevailing. On the Tuesday, visiting a sick woman grossly ignorant, after I had laid out before her her wretched state by nature, she told me she had believed all her days. I thereupon sat as astonished for a while, lifted up my eyes to the Lord, and addressed myself to her again for her conviction; howbeit nothing but stupidity appeared. Therefore I saw I had enough ado among my handful. I had another diet of catechising on Wednesday afternoon; and looking to the Lord for help, I got it: and I had some more comfort in them than before. Having inculcated almost on each of them their wretched state by nature, and they frequently attending the means of instruction, there were but few examined that day who did not shew some knowledge of that point. But the discovery I had made of their ignorance of God and of themselves, made me the more satisfied with the smallness of the charge”(111-114).

“Saturday the 23rd… On the morrow, being the Lord’s day, after prayer in the morning I had given way to some worldly thoughts, which were indeed occasioned by something that concerned my conscience; yet my heart soon went without bounds: so that though a desire to be near Christ remained in me, yet I found an averseness to duty even in the very time of duty. Entering on the public work, my prayer was according to my frame, complaining of a body of death, and an ugly heart, and admiring heaven as a place of rest from sin. I preached that day man’s ignorance of his wretched state by nature; and was sure that God called me to preach it, by the voice of the people’s necessity, two of whom had told me expressly that week, they had believed all their days. That night I altered the evening-exercise, from explaining a question sermon-wise, to catechising, as more fit to profit the people: and to this I had been determined after seeking a discovery of the Lord’s mind therein” (114).


“[15th January] I endeavoured on the Monday, not without some success, to keep my heart in a heavenly disposition; spent the morning in my chamber, the forenoon in catechising, the afternoon in business, and visiting a sick man at night, with help from the Lord. Thereafter earnestly plying my books, I found my heart much bettered, my confidence in the Lord more strengthened, the world less valuable in my eyes, and my soul free of the temptations that otherwise I was liable to” (120).


“As for the subject of baptism; after I was settled among the people of Simprin, and had entered closely on my work, finding some of them grossly ignorant, and hardly teachable in the ordinary way, and casting in my mind what course to take with such, I drew up in writing a little form of catechising in the fundamentals, in short questions and answers, on design to teach it them privately in my house. I do not well remember the progress of that affair; nor do I well know where these questions are; but afterward I used the same, in the case of my little children, in the first place, when they became capable of instruction. Among other such grossly ignorant, there was one, who desiring his child to be baptized, I could not have freedom to grant his desire for some time: neither am I clear, whether, when the child was baptized, it was baptized on a satisfying account of the fundamental principles from him or his wife. Whatever had laid the foundation of such scrupling, I was, by means of such straitening in practice, brought closely to consider that point. And having purposely studied the question, Who have right to baptism, and are to be baptized? I wrote my thoughts thereon also. And being one day in conversation on that head with Mr. William Bird, dissenting minister in Barmoor in England, he presented to me Fulwood’s Discourse of the Visible Church, for clearing me. Bringing home the said book with me, I considered it, and wrote also some animadversions on a part of it. From that time I had little fondness for national churches strictly and properly so called, as of equal latitude with the nations, and wished for an amendment of the constitution of our own church, as to the membership thereof” (171-172).

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