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Archive for the ‘The Romance of Locality’ Category

“There is one lesson that we need not teach, for experience has already taught it, and that is, the kindly influence which the mere presence of a human being has upon his fellows. Let the attention bestowed upon another, be the genuine emanation of good-will, and there is only one thing more to make it irresistible. The readiest way of finding access to a man’s heart, is to go into his house; and there to perform the deed of kindness, or to acquit ourselves of the wonted and the looked for acknowledgment. By putting ourselves under the roof of a poor neighbour, we in a manner put ourselves under his protection—we render him for the time our superior—we throw our reception on his generosity, and we may be assured that it is a confidence which will almost never fail us. If Christianity be the errand on which the movement is made, it will open the door of every family; and even the profane and the profligate will come to recognise the worth of that principle, which prompts the unwearied assiduity of such services. By every circuit which is made amongst them, there is attained a higher vantage-ground of moral and spiritual influence; and, in spite of all that has been said of the ferocity of a city population, in such rounds of visitation there is none of it to be met with, even among the lowest receptacles of human worthlessness. This is the home walk in which is earned, if not a proud, at least a peaceful popularity—the popularity of the heart—the greetings of men, who, touched even by the cheapest and easiest services of kindness, have nothing to give but their wishes of kindness back again; but, in giving these, have crowned such pious attentions with the only popularity that is worth the aspiring after—the popularity that is won in the bosom of families, and at the side of death-beds.”

Thomas Chalmers, Collected Works, 14:49-50

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IMG_5335District, door-to-door evangelism done right is distinctly Reformed, being a distinctly household-oriented approach to Gospel outreach.

Follow me here. Doesn’t God administer His grace to individuals as well as to households? Doesn’t it start with the head and flow to the members? Isn’t it interested in reconciling the father to the son and the son to the father? Abraham, Joshua, Cornelius, Lydia. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). We aim for the heads of households; and if we get them, we get the family. (more…)

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My 2018 journal article, “Desert Rose: Thomas Chalmers’ West Port Experiment (1844-1847),” published in the 2018 edition of The Confessional Presbyterian. Images used by permission. To purchase a copy, click here.

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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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Another addition to the ‘Chalmers Audio Library.’ A fascinating defense of religious establishments, arguing for them on the ground that they serve as a great, national Home Mission. In my opinion, he counters some of the standard objections well.

 

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ISS035-E-007148_Nile_-_Sinai_-_Dead_Sea_-_Wide_Angle_View“A territorial division of the country into parishes, each of which is assigned to at least one minister as the distinct and definite field of his spiritual cultivation— this we have long thought does for Christianity, what is often done in agriculture by system of irrigation. You are aware what is meant by this. Its use is for the conveyance and the distribution of water, that indispensable aliment to all vegetation, over the surface of the land. It is thus for example, that, by the establishment of ducts of conveyance, the waters of the Nile are made to overspread the farms of Egypt—the country through which it passes. This irrigation, you will observe, does’ not supply the water. It only conveys it. It does not bring down the liquid nourishment from heaven. It only spreads it abroad upon the earth. Were there no descent of water from above causing the river to overflow its banks—there is nothing in the irrigation, with its then dry and deserted furrows, which could avail the earth that is below. On the other hand were there no irrigation, many would be the tracts of country, that should have no agriculture and could bring no produce. Let not therefore our dependence on the Spirit lead us to despise the machinery of a territorial establishment; and neither let our confidence in machinery lead us to neglect prayer for the descent of living water from on high.”

-Thomas Chalmers, “On the Analogies Which Obtain Between a Natural and a Spiritual Husbandry”

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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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In this video, I share about my efforts to evangelize and promote the Reformed faith in Rhode Island and especially in a multi-ethnic, working class area of Providence (read more here). At the end, I make an appeal for help.

I can be reached at 515-783-5637 or by e-mail at mjives dot refparish at gmail dot com.

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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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