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Archive for the ‘Thomas Chalmers’ Category

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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“Ministers are the fishers of men; and the effect of an endowment is to lengthen their line, and enable them to reach downward to the lowest gradations of the commonwealth. The voluntaries are a kind of fly-fishers—whose operations do not reach to the muddy bottoms, to those depths and those fastnesses of society, which to them are inaccessible. And a chapel of ease, give it any ecclesiastical organization you like, is just such a voluntary [entity]. Nominally, you may give it the title of an established church; but you will never give it the power or the properties of an established church without an endowment” (Works 18:101-102)

In this quote, Chalmers is contending within his historical situation for the full inclusion of “chapels of ease” (more or less preaching stations) within the established Church of Scotland. But what is crucial, he argues, is that they should be territorial, assigned to focus pastorally and evangelistically on one defined neighborhood, and endowed, so that they do not have to be beholden to the more privileged classes attending from beyond their ‘parish.’ Without these two pillars, the ability to minister to all, both rich and poor, becomes extremely difficult. In fact, it becomes impossible when contemplated as a system for the entire nation, which is what an establishment is built to guarantee. In the end, you are back to the religious marketplace, and those who lack “wealth and will” are left to sink to the bottom.

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Interested in learning more about Chalmers? Here are several helpful resources (in addition to mine) for those who want to explore his life and thought further.

(1) Introductions online

(2) Audio/visual resources online

(3) Biographies & scholarly references

  • Sandy Finlayson, Thomas Chalmers (Bitesize Biographies)
  • John Roxborogh, Thomas Chalmers, Enthusiast for Mission
  • Hugh Watt, Thomas Chalmers and the Disruption
  • Stewart J. Brown, Thomas Chalmers and the Godly Commonwealth in Scotland

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Any confessionally Reformed pastors, elders, or theological students, want to read and study Thomas Chalmers on parish missions? Interested in also talking application, the nuts and bolts of how these principles might be applied in the modern day? Have you “chalked out” a parish yourself and want to compare notes, share trials and successes, and troubleshoot problems? Or are you a church member who is mission-minded and interested in learning more?

I’ve been reading, researching, and writing on Chalmers’ parish mission model for about 15 years and have been trying to apply his principles in my own pastoral ministry almost that long. If you’d like participate in a group by video call to talk through readings in Chalmers and other Reformed figures who advocated and practiced parish missions, let me know.

Drop me a note. My e-mail is mjives dot refparish at gmail dot com, text me at 515-783-5637, or message me through Facebook. You’ll then be on the invite list with the Zoom call-in information for each meeting.

Listen to past sessions below (developing), with the primary sources we’ve discussed:

Session 1: July 28, 2021

“On the Duty and Means of Christianizing Our Home Population” (1820)

AUDIO / TEXT

Session 2: TBD

[Scheduled October 2021]

“A Charge to New Elders at the Tron Kirk, Glasgow” (1816)

AUDIO / TEXT

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Watch a biographical sketch of Thomas Chalmers by Rev. Rob McCurley.

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In the following quote, Chalmers explains how a territorial establishment, where parish missions bring the Gospel to every home and hearth, is a double blessing. Even if few souls are saved, the social and moral impact of the Gospel effort leavens the lump:

“And perhaps it will give in your eyes less of a Utopian, and more of an experimental character, to our anticipations of a result so general—if we ask you to consider the just observation of Mr. Wilberforce, on the effect of Christianity even beyond the circle of its own proper and genuine disciples. It elevates the general standard of morals, in every country or neighbourhood which it enters. Even though it should but spiritualize the few, it civilizes the many. Over and above its direct influence on those whom it converts, it has, through the medium of their example and their virtues, a reflex or secondary influence on the families of every little vicinity around them-insomuch that the sanctities and the extraordinary graces of a small number, with the influence of a purifying and preserving salt on the general mass, tell, by a certain overawing power, in restraining the profligacies, and so in raising the character for decency and morals of society at large. This will be remarkably seen in any parish that is under a reclaiming process from the out-fields of heathenism, if the experiment be but well and vigorously conducted. We do not say that the minister will Christianize all; or that he will introduce the worship of God, the voice of psalms, into every family. But the melody that is heard in the habitations of the righteous, will have a certain softening and subduing effect on the inmates of other habitations; and it will be found no romance, but in strict accordance with the realities of human nature, if-by means of his schools and of his other parochial institutes, and (of no small account either) if, by means of his own frequent and various intercourse with the people, and the dignifying effect upon all the householders of their personal acquaintance with the clergyman, and of the personal cognizance which he takes of them and of their families—he mollifies, and to a very great degree, the general aspect of that parochial community over which he presides ; and bequeaths to​ his successors a far blander and better generation, than he had to encounter himself at the outset of his great undertaking” (Works 14:334-335)

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The following quote from Thomas Chalmers in his Lectures on the Establishment and Extension of National Churches (1838) captures his ideal for domestic missions. The ‘parish’ is not a synonym for ‘congregation.’ Rather, it is the defined sphere of pastoral and even missionary activity by a minister and his elders. This is the local or territorial principle.

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“Now the specific business which we should like to put into the hands of a Christian minister is, not that he should fill his church any how—that he may do by the superior attractiveness of his preaching, at the expense of previous congregations, and without any movement in advance on the practical heathenism of the community: But what we want is, to place his church in the middle of such a territory as we have now specified, and to lay upon him a task, for the accomplishment of which we should allow him the labour and perseverance of a whole lifetime; not to fill his church any how, but to fill this church out of that district. We should give him the charge over head, of one and all of its families; and tell him, that, instead of seeking hearers from without, he should so shape and regulate his movements, that, as far as possible, his church-room might all be taken up by hearers from within. It is this peculiar relation between his church, and its contiguous households, all placed within certain geographical limits, that distinguishes him from the others as a territorial minister. And let the whole country be parcelled out into such districts and parishes, with an endowed clergyman so assigned to each, and each small enough to be overtaken by the attentions of one clergyman—we should thus, as far as its machinery is concerned, have the perfect example of a territorial establishment.”

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Would you like to get a basic introduction to Thomas Chalmers’ parish mission theory? And are you up to learning about how I’ve been applying these principles in South Providence, a multi-racial working class area?

I’m offering another live video presentation tomorrow (Saturday), at 1:00 p.m. Eastern lasting about 25-30 minutes, followed by questions and answers. Because I will be showing photos of a number of personal outreach contacts from over the years, I’ll be doing this by invitation-only via Zoom. So if you’d like to be invited and participate, please drop me a note at mjives dot refparish at gmail dot com. Or reply in the comments below with your e-mail address.

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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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“Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation: but, as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand” (Rom. 15:21-22).

Not that Paul would have withheld the benefit of his instructions from those who were already Christians if they came in his way; but what he strove for and sought after, was to enter on altogether new ground, deeming it more his vocation to extend and spread abroad Christianity, by the planting of new churches, than to build up or perfect the churches which had been already founded. There seems to have been an emulation in these days among the first teachers of the gospel, which betokens that even they were not altogether free from the leaven which Paul had detected in his own converts, when he charged them with being yet carnal. There was something amongst them like a vain-glorious rivalship in the work of proselytizing—insomuch that the credit of their respective shares in the formation of a Christian Church was a matter of competition and jealousy. Our apostle wanted to keep altogether clear of this, and to be wholly aloof from the temptation of it—as indeed he himself intimates in 2 Cor. x, 15, 16, where he tells us that he would not boast of other men’s labours, or in another man’s line of things made ready to his hand. Certain it is, that while he refrained from building on another man’s foundation, he experienced no little disturbance from other men building on the foundation which he himself had laid-and these not only the false teachers, but even men who were true at bottom-yet would, like Peter at Antioch, have laid some of their wood and hay and stubble thereupon.

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