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Archive for the ‘Pastoral Theology’ Category

Just finished a new addition to the Chalmers Audio Library, “The Right Ecclesiastical Economy of a Large Town.” (Original here.) While it is somewhat ponderous in its Victorian style and treats some antiquated matters, the core of this piece is a profoundly relevant contribution to historic, Reformed missiology. If only every Reformed and Presbyterian office-bearer would read it and process it!

Here is a little extract to give an idea of his parochial approach:

“If he go much among them through the week, the unfailing result in time will be, that they shall come much about him on the Sabbath. This is the ligament, and we know not a more important one in the whole mechanism of human society, by which to elevate a degenerate population, and again to place them on that higher moral platform from which they have descended. There is no romance, there is a sober and home-bred reality in all the steps of this operation. On the very first movements of the clergyman, he will meet with the smiles of encouragement and welcome from every quarter of his parish, with a thousand promises of attendance on his church, many of which in the first instance will not be realized; but, with every month of perseverance in the assiduities of his office, he will find a lessening reluctance on the part of his people, and that even the obstinacy of their practical heathenism is not unconquerable. It will at length give way under the power of his sustained and duteous attentions. Providence will open a door for him, even to the most ruthless of the families; and, implicating his presence with the sicknesses, and the deaths, and the funerals of every household, he will, on the sheer efficacy of his Christian worth, and with no other engine by which to make his way than Christian kindness, obtain an ascendant over the hearts of his people, only to be won by the omnipotence of charity” (Chalmers, Works 18:73-74).

For any who wants a simpler, more accessible introduction to Chalmers’ thought, you can listen to this lecture.

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In this 1816 charge to Thomas Chalmers’ newly elected elders, he winsomely appeals to them to ‘repair the breaches’ of the old system of spiritual, district visitation. Let the elders together with the ministers be once again the friends and spiritual patrons of all men, especially the poor. Ad urbem!

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“I am well aware how widely the practice of our generation has diverged from the practice of our ancestors—how, within the limits of our Establishment, the lay office-bearers of the Church are fast renouncing the whole work of ministering from house to house in prayer and in exhortation and in the dispensation of spiritual comfort and advice among the sick or the disconsolate or the dying. On this subject I urge nothing upon you. I am aware that a reformation in this department can only be brought about by an influence of a more gentle and moral, and withal more effectual kind than that of authority; and I shall therefore only say that I know of almost nothing which would give me greater satisfaction than to see a connexion of this kind established between my elders and the population of those districts which are respectively assigned to them—that I know of nothing which would tell more effectually in the way of humanizing our families, than if so pure an intercourse were going on as an intercourse of piety between our men of reputable station on the one hand, and our men of labour and of poverty on the other,—I know of nothing which would serve more powerfully to bring and to harmonize into one firm system of social order the various classes of our community; I know not a finer exhibition, on the one hand, than the man of wealth acting the man of piety, and throwing the goodly adornment of Christian benevolence over the splendour of those civil distinctions which give a weight and a lustre to his name in society; I know not a more wholesome influence, on the other, than that which such a man must carry around him when he enters the habitations of the peasantry, and dignifies by his visits the people who occupy them, and talks with them as the heirs of one hope and of one immortality, and cheers by the united power of religion and of sympathy the very humblest of misfortune’s generation, and convinces them of a real and longing affection after their best interests, and leaves them with the impression that here at least is one man who is our friend, that here at least is one proof that we are not altogether destitute of consideration amongst our fellows, that here at least is one quarter on which our confidence may rest—ay, and amidst all the insignificance in which we lie buried from the observation of society, we are sure at least of one who, in the most exalted sense of the term, is ever ready to befriend us, and to look after us, and to care for us.”

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And O what a hard matter it is to deal with people that are ready to leave the world, and step in upon eternity! when their souls do, as it were, hang on their lips, and they have one foot (as we use to say) already in the grave! The minister is seldom sent for till the physician has given the patient over, and then they beg him to dress their souls for heaven, when their winding-sheet is preparing, and their friends are almost ready to dress the body for the funeral. Now, though some of these have lived well, and, like the wise virgins, have, oil in their lamps, yet it is a great matter to calm them, and to dispose their souls for that great change they are presently to undergo. But alas! it fares otherwise with the greatest part: they are yet strangers to the ways of religion; the work of their salvation is yet to begin, and their lusts to be mortified, their corruptions subdued, the whole frame of their souls to be changed: and though they have scarce so much strength as to turn them on their beds, yet their warfare against principalities, powers, and spiritual wickedness, is but newly commenced: their work is great, their disadvantages many, and the time very short that is before them. Perhaps they are dull and insensible, and we shall hardly persuade them of their danger: they will acknowledge they are sinners, and so are all others as well as they: they trust in the mercies of Christ, and have confidence enough of their salvation, and cannot be persuaded they want any thing that is necessary for the same. Others of these, again, are seized with fear, and call for the minister to comfort them: what shall he do? Shall he tell them that all their terrors are just, and it is now too late to repent? I know some divines are peremptory in this case, and think they should be left in despair: but sure it were a sad employment for a minister to go to visit a dying man, only to tell him he is damned: and withal, it is too great boldness in us to limit the grace and mercy of God. True and sincere repentance will never come too late, but certainly a death-bed repentance is seldom sincere; and it is hard either for the minister or the man himself to tell, whether it be only the fear of hell, or a true and godly sorrow that he feeleth in his soul. All that a minister can do, is to press him to all possible seriousness, and to resign himself to God for the event; or to lay before him in general, the terms and conditions of the gospel covenant: the application will be hard and uncertain. These, and many more, are the difficulties of the ministerial function.

-Henry Scougal (1650-1678)

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This late 17th century treatise on ministerial catechesis by Robert Doolittle is simply masterful. A few highlights are worth mentioning. He argues that catechesis should not just be a discipline for the young, but also for the old. One is also struck by the great importance he places on stocking the mind with the furniture of foundational, biblical doctrine. And it is hardly an academic exercise – eternity hangs in the balance. No knowledge, no salvation!

Below is a sample. I’ve simply inserted images from the document. Yes, it’s in an old script. But give it a go, and it will come before long. Note that some s’s look like f’s.

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“He would bend over the pulpit,” said one of [Thomas Chalmers’] old hearers, “and press us to take the gift, as if he held it that moment in his hand, and would not be satisfied till every one of us had got possession of it. And often when the sermon was over, and the psalm was sung, and he rose to pronounce the blessing, he would break out afresh with some new entreaty, unwilling to let us go until he had made one more effort to persuade us to accept of it.”

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X. Sess. 13 et ult., April 27, 1708.—Act and Recommendation concerning Ministerial Visitation of Families.

“. . . Seeing, for the faithful discharge of ministers’ work, they ought, besides what is incumbent to them in the public congregation, to take special care and inspection of the particular persons and families under their oversight and charge, in order to which, it hath been the laudable custom of this Church, at least once a year, if the largeness of the parish, bodily inability in the minister, or other such like causes, do not hinder, for ministers to visit all the families in their parish, and oftener, if the parish be small, and they be able to set about it.

“For the more uniform and successful management of which work, although in regard of the different circumstances of some parishes, families, and persons, much of this work, and the management thereof, must be left to the discretion and prudence of ministers in their respective oversights, yet these following advices are offered and overtured as helps in the management thereof, that it may not be done in a slight and overly manner.

(more…)

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Over the years, I’ve heard about different pastors in America, from various evangelical traditions, more or less acting like old parish ministers. That is, they didn’t just look at their faithful congregations as the limits of their pastoral responsibility. Their ‘cure of souls’ reached to the communities where they were placed.

Not long ago, a friend of mine told me about an Assembly of God pastor he knew who fit this description. The following is used with permission from David Shedlock.

And if you know of a similar story, would you kindly forward it to me?  Feel free to drop me a note at mjives dot refparish at gmail dot com.

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Grinnell, IAWhen I first met Pastor Reaves, he had just finished mowing. I didn’t know this, because he came into the house wearing a tie. He shared with me later that he did this so that he would be ready in case he got a call to the hospital. I would also learn soon that a visit to the hospital with him, in this town of about 9,000, could turn into an all-day event. That is not because he overstayed his welcome. On the contrary, he seemed to know just how long to stay, usually less than 15 minutes. No, it was because he visited so many patients.

Back then, a minister could freely visit anybody in the hospital, whether or not they were members of his denomination. Pastor Reaves, of course, did not force his way into people’s rooms, but kindly asked if he might pray for them. Hardly anyone turned him down. You see, he believed the whole town was his church. And many in the town, who never darkened the door of the small, Assembly of God Church he pastored, would think of Sam Reaves as their pastor, and as their friend.

One of the family’s favorite stories was this: If one of the members in the congregation was being rushed to the hospital in Des Moines, he would often beat the ambulance there. A time or two, he got pulled over by the police. But, he would nicely tell them, not ask, that he was headed to the hospital, and they would be better off tagging along, and use their lights to help him get there, not to slow him down. You would have to have known him to know that his look was serious and no policeman ever held him up after his little speech.

Here are thoughts about that, from his daughter, Debi:

“Yes, this is correct. If he could, he would try to get behind the Ambulance rolling out of town and the police knew dad’s car. Then they would radio ahead. Many times he would have family members with him because they were too upset to drive. He was basically the chaplain for the community back in the day. Today I think every pastor should try to be a police chaplain to have the same effect that dad did in Grinnell. I never realized the impact he had till the day of his funeral. They had been away from Grinnell for over 12 years at the time of his death and the place was packed!”

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The following passage comes from the Memoirs of James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698). In it, we hear the heartbeat of a true fisher of men, a pastor-evangelist that all pastors should strive to be. Also, note that he urged the duty of the minister going beyond the four walls of the church into the “highways and hedges” to speak to the lost.  This is the good old parish way – ministerial house to house evangelistic labor in a fixed, geographical district. Would to God it may be recovered! (Italics below mine.)

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God did not send me to baptise, but to preach. But that which I was called to was, to testify for God, to hold forth his name and ways to the dark world, and to deliver poor captives of Satan, and bring them to the glorious liberty of the sons of God: this was I to make: my only employment, to give myself to, and therein to be diligent, taking all occasions; and to be plain, full and free in this charge. I was called to enter in hot war with the world and sinners, to fight by my testimony against them for God ….

He is [in addition to public preaching] to execute his commission by exhortation, private and occasional instruction, whether for reproof, comfort, or in formation and direction. And this is it which I suppose I was moſt called unto, viz. to take all occasions with all persons in private discourse, to make the name of Christ known, and to do them good, and to do this as my only work; and to do it boldly, and faithfully and fully: and this to do is very hard in a right and effectual manner; to do this is harder than to preach publickly; and, to be strengthened, directed and encouraged in this, is that for which I ought to live near in a dependence on Christ, without whom we can do nothing, and of whom is all our sufficiency. In preaching there are a great many whom we can not reach, and there are many to whom we have no occasion to preach publickly; we may thus preach always, and speak more succesfully than in publick, where the greatest part of hearers do not understand the minister tho’ he speak never so plainly. This likewise we are called unto this day, seeing we are by force incapacitate: but oh how is this neglected! were ministers faithful in this, we should quickly fee a change in affairs; but, alas, with grief of heart I speak it, it is in this thing that I challenge myself most of any, it is in this that I have most come ſhort, and I suppose it may be so with others too. The Apostles went from house to house.

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parsonct

A PARSON of a certain township who
Was poor, but rich in holy thought and work.
He also was a learned man, a clerk;
The Christian gospel he would truly preach,
Devoutly his parishioners to teach.
Benign he was, in diligence a wonder,
And patient in adversity, as under
Such he’d proven many times. And loath
He was to get his tithes by threatening oath;
For he would rather give, without a doubt,
To all the poor parishioners about
From his own substance and the offerings.
Sufficiency he found in little things.
His parish wide, with houses wide asunder,
He’d never fail in either rain or thunder,
Though sick or vexed, to make his visitations
With those remote, regardless of their stations.
On foot he traveled, in his hand a stave.
This fine example to his sheep he gave:
He always did good works before he taught them.
His words were from the gospel as he caught them,
And this good saying he would add thereto:
“If gold should rust, then what will iron do?”
For if a priest be foul in whom we trust,
No wonder that the ignorant goes to rust.
And it’s a shame (as every priest should keep
In mind), a dirty shepherd and clean sheep.
For every priest should an example give,
By his own cleanness, how his sheep should live.
He never set his benefice for hire,
To leave his sheep encumbered in the mire
While he ran off to London and Saint Paul’s
To seek a chantry, singing in the stalls,
Or be supported by a guild. Instead
He dwelt at home, and he securely led
His fold, so that the wolf might never harry.
He was a shepherd and no mercenary.
A holy, virtuous man he was, and right
In showing to the sinner no despite.
His speech was never haughty or indignant,
He was a teacher modest and benignant;
To draw folks heavenward to life forever,
By good example, was his great endeavor.
But if some person were too obstinate,
Whether he be of high or low estate,
He would be sharply chided on the spot.
A better priest, I wager, there is not.
He didn’t look for pomp or reverence
Nor feign a too self-righteous moral sense;
What Christ and his apostles had to tell
He taught, and he would follow it as well.

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