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Archive for the ‘Benevolence & the Diaconate’ Category

“It must now be obvious to all of you, that it is not enough that you give money, and add your name to the contributions of charity. You must give it with judgment. You must give your time and your attention. You must descend to the trouble of examination. You must rise from the repose of contemplation, and make yourself acquainted with the object of your benevolent exercises. Will he husband your charity with care, or will he squander it away in idleness and dissipation?”

To give money, is not to do all the work and labour of benevolence. You must go to the poor man’s sick bed. You must lend your hand to the work of assistance. You must examine his accounts. You must try to recover those debts which are due to his family. You must try to recover those wages which are detained by the injustice or the rapacity of his master. You must employ your mediation with his superiors. You must represent to them the necessities of his situation. You must solicit their assistance, and awaken their feelings to the tale of his calamity. This is benevolence in its plain, and sober, and substantial reality; though eloquence may have withheld its imagery, and poetry may have denied its graces and its embellishments. This is true and unsophisticated goodness” (Chalmers, Works, 11:302-4).

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Chalmers, A Neglected Population

The rest of the quote runs, “And I say, farther, that there is a smouldering flame gathering at the bottom of the social edifice, which, if it be not speedily met and extinguished, will upheave the social edifice from its base, and overthrow all the institutions of the country.”

From “Dr. Chalmers’ Lecture,” Witness, June 19th, 1844

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Chalmers, A Single Human Being

Image. Gordon, Sir John Watson. Thomas Chalmers, 1780 – 1847. Preacher and Social Reformer. About 1838. Scottish National Print Gallery, Edinburgh. Accessed December 19, 2019. [URL]

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IMG_4404“The Bible rescues the cause [of benevolence] from the mischief to which a heedless or unthinking sensibility would expose it. It brings it under the cognizance of a higher faculty— a faculty of steadier operation than to be weary in well-doing, and of sturdier endurance than to give it up in disgust. It calls you to consider the poor. It makes the virtue of relieving them a matter of computation as well as of sentiment; and, in so doing, it puts you beyond the reach of the various delusions, by which you are at one time led to prefer the indulgence of pity to the substantial interest of its object; at another, are led to retire chagrined and disappointed from the scene of duty, because you have not met with the gratitude or the honesty that you laid your account with; at another, are led to expend all your anxieties upon the accommodation of time, and to overlook eternity It is the office of consideration to save you from all these fallacies.”

-Thomas Chalmers, Sermon on Psa. 41:1, “The Blessedness of Considering the Poor”

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When I came to Rhode Island almost fourteen years ago, I inherited a small congregation, mostly of first generation Reformed folk. Because the core of them had become Reformed in the late 70s and early 80s, and because of the sound, faithful teaching of their minister, the congregation was solid and well-established. When I arrived, I was eager to evangelize and had been swayed by Thomas Chalmers’ (1780-1847) to attempt outreach on the parish principle. But there really was no residential neighborhood to speak of near the church building, and all of our folks traveled at least 15 or more minutes from various points of the state. While it certainly has accommodated our members, it has put me at some disadvantage to implement my parish vision. But there is no paradise this side of glory, so I do not complain. My attitude has been to work with what I’ve been given and trust the Lord to bless in His way and His time.

I began with a district in walking distance of my residence in Cranston, Rhode Island and approximately a 15-20 minute drive north of the church. When we moved to a different rental, I began working in that area. There, I had some greater success in making decent contacts. One lady came to church for a short time; and we rented a hall right in the neighborhood a few times with some small success. (more…)

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old-door-knocker“Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it” (Rev. 3:8).

I do door-to-door evangelism and actually believe in it – in 2018. In making that admission, I suppose I should feel like Sarah Sanders trying to tap-dance around a newly minted presidential tweet. But I simply don’t.

I’m not a JW or a Mormon. Nor am I a Fundamentalist Baptist. I’m a confessional Presbyterian, relatively well educated, and (somewhat) comfortably middle-class. So why embrace what many Reformed and evangelicals consider pointless at best and counterproductive at worst?

Since I was converted back in the early 90s, I’ve practiced a number of methods of evangelism. I do not consider any one of them ‘the’ silver-bullet, nor do I think that door-to-door is always and in every case the most ideal method. But for the last thirteen years, I’ve engaged in regular, door-to-door evangelism as key part of my overall outreach effort. I do not presume to have the final answer on all questions, nor can I boast impressive success. Do I do this perfectly? Not at all. I’m always going to be on a learning curve. And consequently, I’m open to other suggestions and critiques. But after these many years and after many, many discouragements, I still keep coming back. I still plod and hope.

Here are a number of reasons why I believe it’s worth a serious re-think.
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0_engraving_-_one_2_224_west_portI recently gave a lecture (sermon?) on the fascinating and inspiring story of Thomas Chalmers’ West Port Experiment in the slums of Industrial Edinburgh, from 1844-1847.  You can listen to it hereAd urbem!

 

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In this quote, we see that while Chalmers’ was deeply concerned to alleviate poverty, yet there is a benevolence that is higher still!

Does it never occur to you, that in a few years this favourite will die—that he will go to the place where neither cold nor hunger will reach him, but that a mighty interest remains, of which, both of us may know the certainty, though neither you nor I can calculate the extent. Your benevolence is too short—it does not shoot far enough a-head—it is like regaling a child with a sweetmeat or a toy, and then abandoning the happy unreflecting infant to exposure. You make the poor old man happy with your crumbs and your fragments, but he is an infant on the mighty range of infinite duration; and will you leave the soul, which has this infinity to go through, to its chance? How comes it that the grave should throw so impenetrable a shroud over the realities of eternity? How comes it that heaven, and hell, and judgment, should be treated as so many nonentities; and that there should be as little real and operative sympathy felt for the soul, which lives for ever, as for the body after it is dead, or for the dust into which it moulders? Eternity is longer than time; the arithmetic, my brethren, is all on our side upon this question; and the wisdom which calculates, and guides itself by calculation, gives its weighty and respectable support to what may be called the benevolence of faith.”

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Here’s a really helpful introduction to Thomas Guthrie (1803-1873), a prominent minister in the Church of Scotland and later Free Church of Scotland and a champion of biblically sound poor relief.

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When Thomas Chalmers began the West Port Experiment in 1844, he delivered a series of four public lectures on the principles of the territorial or parochial method of evangelism.  In it, he told his hearers how he had decided many years ago to disassociate all his parish labors from matters of public charity.  To have combined them would compromise the great errand on which he labored.  “I fairly cut my connexion with them all [the public charities]; I let the people understand that I dealt only in one article, and that, if they valued the advantages of Christian instruction, they were welcome to any approximation which I could make to them” (Memoirs 2:684).  In short, Chalmers would distribute not the “bread that perishes,” but that which bread “endures to everlasting life.”

The Church must not get sidetracked from her calling.  Christ gave the Church “one article” to distribute to the nations.  She is given the keys, not to an earthly storehouse of perishables, but to the very kingdom of heaven.

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