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Archive for the ‘Theology of Place’ Category

Here is a truly momentous and historic sermon by John Cotton. Richly theological, eminently practical, and tenderly pastoral. On the occasion of the embarking of John Winthrop and company to the Massachusetts Bay in 1630.

The sermon is especially valuable for its contribution to a “theology of place” and the Christian ethics of travel, relocation, and lawful acquiring of land. Have a listen!

One precious gem: “Ruth dwelt well for outward respects while shee dwelt in Moab, but when shee cometh to dwell in Israel, shee is said to come under the wings of God: Ruth 2. 12 . When God wrappes us in with his Ordinances, and warmes us with the life and power of them as with wings, there is a land of promise.”

And check out my growing audio library, including the Puritan fathers of New England.

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This message was delivered at the Presbytery Conference of the Presbyterian Reformed Church on June 16, 2022. The audio is available here. Special thanks to Susan Abel for her selfless efforts in transcription!

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Isaiah 35:7-10, “And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes. And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

Revelation 21:1-3, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. Amen, this is the Word of the living God.”

Last month I had the personal privilege of going back to my old stomping grounds—at least, one of them— as a boy. I had not been to Homestead, Florida, just south of Miami, since I was about fourteen years old, not long after my father went to glory. It was a place, notwithstanding the bitterness of the memories of the loss of my father, [that] was overall a time of great delight: many good memories, especially on this particular street. And I am sure my children can tell you, that I would mention the many late nights when we would play a pick-up game of baseball, and take some charcoal and make some bases, and have an awful lot of fun. Well, as we drove up and came into the neighborhood, memories started flooding back—a lot of good memories. And finally I came with my wife to this home, and there it was, largely as I remembered it, although it had a new coat of paint. And much was the same, and much was so very sweet and so very special. I even got to meet the next-door neighbor whom I did remember as a boy (and I got to have a selfie with them!). So it was quite special.

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God’s design was perfectly to restore all the ruins of the fall, so far as concerns the elect part of the world, by his Son; and therefore we read of the restitution of all things. Acts 3:21, “Whom the heaven must receive, until the times of the restitution of all things; and of the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 3:19, “Repent ye therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”

Man’s soul was ruined by the fall; the image of God was defaced; man’s nature was corrupted, and he became dead in sin. The design of God was, to restore the soul of man to life and the divine image in conversion, to carry on the change in sanctification, and to perfect it in glory. Man’s body was ruined; by the fall it became subject to death. The design of God was, to restore it from this ruin, and not only to deliver it from death in the resurrection, but to deliver it from mortality itself, in making it like unto Christ’s glorious body. The world was ruined, as to man, as effectually as if it had been reduced to chaos again; all heaven and earth were overthrown. But the design of God was, to restore all, and as it were to create a new heaven and a new earth: Isa 65:17, “Behold, I create new heavens, and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” 2 Pet 3:13, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens, and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”

The work by which this was to be done, was begun immediately after the fall, and so is carried on till all is finished, when the whole world, heaven and earth, shall be restored. There shall be, as it were, new heavens, and a new earth, in a spiritual sense, at the end of the world. Thus it is represented, Rev 21:1, “And I saw a new heaven, and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away.”

[from A History of the Work of Redemption]

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The following passages come from Thomas Chalmers’ sermon, “Heaven: A Character, Not a Locality.” Is the future state one that leaves the earth behind? Not according to Chalmers! Profound thoughts here. Heavenly ….. and earthy!

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“This may serve to rectify an imagination, of which we think that all must be conscious—as if the grossness of materialism was only for those who had degenerated into the grossness of sin ; and that, when a spiritualizing process had purged away all our corruption, then, by the stepping stones of a death and a resurrection, we should be borne away to some ethereal region, where sense, and body, and all in the shape either of audible sound, or of tangible substance, were unknown. And hence that strangeness of impression which is felt by you, should the supposition be offered that in the place of eternal blessedness, there will be ground to walk upon; scenes of luxuriance to delight the corporeal senses ; or the kindly intercourse of friends talking familiarly, and by articulate converse together; or, in short, any thing that has the least resemblance to a local territory, filled with various accommodations, and peopled over its whole extent by creatures formed like ourselves—having bodies such as we now wear, and faculties of perception, and thought, and mutual communication, such as we now exercise. The common imagination that we have of paradise on the other side of death, is, that of a lofty aërial region, where the inmates float in ether, or are mysteriously suspended upon nothing –where all the warm and sensible accompaniments which give such an expression of strength, and life, and colouring, to our present habitation, are attenuated into a sort of spiritual element, that is or meagre, and imperceptible, and utterly uninviting to the eye of mortals here below—where every vestige of materialism is done away, and nothing left but certain unearthly scenes that have no power of allurement, and certain unearthly ecstasies, with which it is felt impossible to sympathise. The holders of this imagination forget all the while, that really there is no essential connexion between materialism and sin—that the world which we now inhabit, had all the amplitude and solidity of its present materialism, before sin entered into it that God so far, on that account, from looking slightly upon it, after it had received the last touch of His creating hand, reviewed the earth, and the waters, and the firmament, and all the green herbage, with the living creatures, and the man whom He had raised in dominion over them, and He saw every thing that He had made, and behold it was all very good. They forget that on the birth of materialism, when it stood out in the freshness of those glories which the great Architect of Nature had impressed upon it, that then “ the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” They forget the appeals that are made everywhere in the Bible to this material workmanship—and how, from the face of these visible heavens, and the garniture of this earth that we tread upon, the greatness and the goodness of God are reflected on the view of His worshippers. No, my brethren, the object of the administration we sit under, is to extirpate sin, but it is not to sweep away materialism. By the convulsions of the last day, it may be shaken, and broken down from its present arrangements; and thrown into such fitful agitations, as that the whole of its existing framework shall fall to pieces; and with a beat so fervent as to melt its most solid elements, may it be utterly dissolved. And thus may the earth again become without form, and void, but without one particle of its substance going into annihilation. Out of the ruins of this second chaos, may another heaven and another earth be made to arise; and a new materialism, with other aspects of magnificence and beauty, emerge from the wreck of this mighty transformation; and the world be peopled as before, with the varieties of material loveliness, and space be again lighted up into a firmament of material splendour.”

Works 7:283-285

“And it is indeed an homage to that materialism, which many are for expunging from the future state of the universe altogether—that ere the immaterial soul of man has reached the ultimate glory and blessedness which are designed for it, it must return and knock at that very grave where lie the mouldered remains of the body which it wore-and there inquisition must be made for the flesh, and the sinews, and the bones, which the power of corruption has perhaps for centuries before, assimilated to the earth that is around them and there, the minute atoms must be re-assembled into a structure that bears upon it the form and the lineaments, and the general aspect of a man—and the soul passes into this material framework, which is hereafter to be its lodging place for ever—and that, not as its prison, but as its pleasant and befitting habitation—not to be trammelled, as some would have it, in a hold of materialism, but to be therein equipped for the services of eternity-to walk embodied among the bowers of our second paradise-to stand embodied in the presence of our God.”

Works 7:286-287

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“If, in virtue of the missionary doings abroad, we read that hundreds of families in some before untrodden field of heathenism have been Christianized—let us not forget, that many are the cities of our own island, where, without one mile of locomotion, we might have converse with thousands of families, which, but for the same doings at home, would be sunk in the apathy and the grossness of practical heathenism”

-Thomas Chalmers, Works 11:445

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Just preparing for another Reformed Parish Mission (RPM) slideshow presentation, this time at my good friend Rob Ventura’s church, Grace Community Baptist in North Providence, R.I. Many thanks to him and the dear brethren there for allowing me the opportunity to share about the work!

As I’ve had to trim things some to make sure it fits in the allotted time, here is a segment that may be of interest to anyone who wants to learn about how Thomas Chalmers proposed for ‘general,’ non-local congregations gradually to transition to the parochial plan. I made this rough-cut video of the segment – maybe someday I’ll update with a cleaner version. For now, ‘What I have recorded I have recorded.’

Also, if you think your church or group would like to host an RPM presentation (30 minutes plus Q&A) drop me a note! I’ve also done it remotely by Zoom, so that is an option too.

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IMG_3302“I am quite aware that the situation of some of the largest of our city churches in those central districts from which the better class of the population is rapidly receding towards the suburbs, and leaving their neighbourhoods to be occupied chiefly either by enormous warehouses, or by crowded masses of the very poorest people, renders it exceedingly difficult to use them in strict accordance with the territorial principle. I have a strong opinion that such districts will never be made what they ought to be in reference to church attendance and religion till this difficulty is boldly faced and completely overcome, and till the districts are worked and superintended as regular parishes, with their own ministers and kirk-sessions, responsible to the Church at large, and particularly to the presbytery of their bounds, for their faithful management. In some instances, however, transitional expedients might for a time be resorted to with advantage. A church confessedly too large for one parish of manageable extent might, for example, be used as the church not only of the district specially designated as its proper parish, but also of several other districts annexed to it for the nonce. Each of these should have its own minister from the first, and eventually would have its own church; but till things were made ripe for this latter consummation, the ministers of all the districts would work together from a common centre and have different services in the same church. Possibly in this way, by combined endeavours of a systematic kind, and by a variety of agencies and services, good might be done for all the districts in question, which could not be done for any one of them apart by itself. Nevertheless the expedient at best is of doubtful issue, and should only be tried in extreme cases ; and the thorough-going remedy of separate churches and of independent territorial work, wherever practicable, is to be preferred.”

– William Smith, Endowed Territorial Work, pp. 171-72.

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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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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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