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Archive for the ‘The Gospel & the Poor’ Category

IMG_0103Should robust, confessional, reformed Christianity be the preserve only of white, middle and upper class folk? Chalmers didn’t think so, much less that the Gospel should be left to the demands of the religious marketplace. Another appeal for establishments, and especially aggressive, territorial missions.

Another addition to the Chalmers Audio Library. Sermon on Isa. 26:9, “For when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” In this message on the occasion of the death of Princess Charlotte of Wales, Chalmers argues that such national calamities are God’s instruments to call the nation to learn righteousness. He takes the opportunity to rebuke the fashionable upper classes for whom religion is a mere occasional, token exercise, and makes a general appeal to support the spread of righteousness among the nation’s poor and neglected by way of an endowed, territorial system, worked by godly ministers.

 

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StateLibQld_1_113036_Cartoon_of_students_receiving_the_cane,_1888Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) sharing about how the Tron church Sabbath school leadership worked through disciplinary issues with their sometimes rowdy students. Insightful and amusing!

“Although we had no set forms of teaching, yet we conversed over all the modes that we might find out the best. On one point we had much discussion, namely, whether or not punishment should be resorted to in a Sabbath-school. Mr. Stow was very strenuous in condemning its introduction—I was rather inclined the other way. Among other strong cases, Mr. Stow told us of a boy who had been so restless, idle, and mischievous, that he was afraid he would have to put him away, when the thought occurred to him to give the boy an office. He put, accordingly, all the candles of the school under his care. From that hour he was an altered boy, and became a diligent scholar. An opportunity soon occurred of trying my way of it also. A school composed of twenty or thirty boys, situated in the east end of the parish, had become so unruly and unmanageable, that it had beaten off every teacher who had gone to it. The Society did not know what to do with it, and the Doctor asked me if I would go out and try to reduce it to order. I was not very fond of the task, but consented. I went out the next Sabbath, and told the boys, whom I found all assembled, that I had heard a very bad account of them, that I had come out for the purpose of doing them good, that I must have peace and attention, that I would submit to no disturbance, and that, in the first place, we must begin with prayer. They all stood up, and I commenced, and certainly did not forget the injunction,—Watch and pray. I had not proceeded two sentences, when one little fellow gave his neighbour a tremendous dig in the side; I instantly stepped forward and gave him a sound cuff on the side of his head. I never spoke a word, but stepped back, concluded the prayer, taught for a month, and never had a more orderly school. The case was reported at one of our own meetings. The Doctor enjoyed it exceedingly, and taking up my instance and comparing it with Mr. Stow’s, he concluded that the question of punishment or non-punishment stood just where it was, inasmuch as it had been found that the judicious appointment of a candle-snuffer-general and a good cuff on the lug had been about equally efficacious.”

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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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A fine quote by Charles Spurgeon. Chalmers could not have said it better! –

“Brethren, let us hunt up destitute localities, and see that no district is left without the means of grace. This applies not only to London, but also to villages, hamlets, and little groups of cottages. Heathenism hides away among the lone places, as well as in the crowded slums of our mammoth cities. May every piece of ground be rained upon by gospel influences!”

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“.  . . a single human being called out of darkness, though he lives in some putrid lane or unheard of obscurity in your great city, is a brighter testimony than all the applauses of all the fashionables.”

-Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847)

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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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“Who cares about the Free Church, compared with the Christian good of the people of Scotland?  Who cares about any Church, but as an instrument of Christian good? for, be assured that the moral and religious well-being of the population is of infinitely higher importance than the advancement of any sect.”

-Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847)

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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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469px-Jacopo_Bassano_-_The_Good_Samaritan_-_Google_Art_ProjectHere is a sermon Thomas Chalmers preached to a benevolent society that sets forth his principles for Christian benevolence.  He advocates at once a very practical, thorough-going humanitarianism, steering a course between the pitfalls of merely throwing cash at poverty on the one hand and a this-worldly focus on outward needs (anticipating the Social Gospel?).  He was a stalwart evangelical, both ‘practical and pious.’

Again, remember that Chalmers’ sermons are nowhere near as generally accessible as other 19th century preachers such as Spurgeon and Ryle.  If you haven’t read or listened to a Chalmers sermon, you may want to read my short intro under the ‘Audio’ tab.  But while going through Chalmers can be hard work, it is work well spent!

Psa. 41:1 – “On the Blessedness of Considering the Case of the Poor”

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The following poem comes from a 19th century Edinburgh periodical, Tait’s Magazine.  It was written during the middle of a controversy over ‘seat rents,’ a traditional way used to finance the ministry and infrastructure of the church.  The author of the poem expresses the sentiments of churchmen like Thomas Chalmers who were mortified at the increasingly bald commercialism of the system, which effectively made church attendance for the poor cost-prohibitive.  The Presbyterian Church of Scotland had always been a church of the people, for the people.  And the poor, above all, ought to have the Gospel preached to them.  Has not God bypassed so many of the monied and of noble blood, in preference for the despised poor?

While the times and circumstances were considerably different from our own, one can certainly discern the thread of religion for profit.  And that evil is as old as the hills.  And is it not the case that the poor are largely left to shift for themselves when it comes to Reformed outreach and church planting (when done at all)?   How un-Presbyterian we Presbyterians can sometimes be!

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THE POOR CHRISTIAN AND THE CHURCH

“How glorious Zion’s courts appear,”
The pious poor man cries:
“Stand back, you knave, you’re in arrears,”
The manager replies.

POOR CHRISTIAN.
“The genius of the Christian code
Is charity, humility;”
MANAGER, (In a rage.)
“I’ve let your pew to ladies, Sir,
Of high respectability.”

POOR CHRISTIAN.
“And am I then debarred the house
Where erst my father pray’d?
Excluded from the hallowed fane
Where my loved mother’s laid?”

MANAGER.
Their seat-rent, Sir, was never due;
The matter to enhance,
As duly as the term came round,
They paid it in advance.”

POOR CHRISTIAN.
“The temple of the living God
Should have an open door,
And Christ’s ambassadors should preach
The Gospel to the poor.”

MANAGER.
“We cannot, Sir, accommodate
The poor in their devotions;
Besides we cordially detest
Such antiquated notions.

“We build our fanes, we deck our pews
For men of wealth and station;
(Yet for a time the thing has proved
A losing speculation.)

“Then table down your cash anon
Ere you come here to pray;
Else you may wander where you will,
And worship where you may.”

POOR CHRISTIAN.
“Then I shall worship in that fane
By God to mankind given;
Whose lamps are the meridian sun,
And all the stars of heaven;

“Whose walls are the cerulean sky,
Whose floor the earth so fair,
Whose dome is vast immensity :—
All nature worships there.”

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