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Archive for the ‘Thomas Chalmers’ Category

“Chalmers’ method was simple, systematic, spiritual, and unadorned. It was concerned with reaching souls rather than building brands; it sought them out. A gathered team of committed individuals connected with their local community and the lives of individuals through visitation and interaction. Such a method has massive challenges in a society where community has disintegrated but that is not to say it is impossible. No doubt something resembling it is bearing fruit in some communities.”

In this article below, my good friend Matthew Vogan recounts the old national vision of our Scottish Presbyterian forbears like Thomas Chalmers, who maintained confessional fidelity while also aggressively engaged in home missions. Does anyone among the theological heirs of Chalmers have such a national vision? Or even more pointedly, does anyone care?

Well, I for one deeply believe that they do care. And that they have the almighty Spirit of God dwelling in them and resting upon them. Nothing can defeat the sword of the Lord and of Gideon, nothing can stop these ‘sons of oil,’ for it is “not by might, nor by power, but by [His] Spirit, saith the LORD.” They will hear their charge, and they will go, shaking off all inhibitions and possessing the good land that rightly belongs them–and much more, to the Heir of all!

(There. That’s the closest this stodgy Presbyterian will ever get to ‘naming and claiming!’)

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This article is found in The Bulwark, popular magazine published by the Scottish Reformation Society. To read it more easily, you will likely need to download and rotate view.


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Years back, my heart got large for missions — especially urban missions to those on the ‘other side of the tracks.’ At about the same time, I became Reformed (a high octane, old school Presbyterian no less!), putting me in a a sub-subset of a subset. My life and ministry has ever since lived somewhat in the frontiers the unlikely and the implausible. A straightlaced, tall gringo Presbyterian goes out among immigrants, trying to evangelize in broken Spanish and recruit sinners to the “outward and ordinary means” in a humble, little Reformed church 15 minutes to the south. And to sing Psalms. Without musical accompaniment. In English.

I admit that there are all kinds of problems with this model, from a human perspective. But it is actually more plausible than one might think. Yet before I deal with the plausibles, let me first set forth some principles.

The first principle is principle! Principle precedes the practical. We must first determine whether something should be done before we decide whether or not we think it is practical. We ought to go out and bring the Gospel to all. None excluded. Politics quite aside, we may and must not discriminate based on sex, ethnicity, gender, or for that matter even sexual ‘preference.’ By the mandate of our King, we must go and tell them. Yes, as Calvinists, we know that not every “all” means “all.” But “every creature” does in fact mean “every creature.” Even if they don’t look like us, eat like us, or even use our language. It doesn’t matter whether they ‘have papers’ or not, vote Democrat or not. How they got here and whether they should by law be here, is a separate issue for a different discussion (and full disclosure: I lean quite “red” when it comes to immigration policy!). But that they are here means they are here for us to evangelize. And not just gripe about and avoid them as much as possible.

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Next Meeting: Thursday, November 18, 2021 @ 4:00 p.m. EST

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

AUDIO / TEXT

For some background reading on this period of Chalmers’ ministry, here are selections from James Dodd’s, Thomas Chalmers: A Biographical Study (1870). And for more about this study, see here.

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The following are quotes from Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) who was passionate about relieving the poor and above all, bringing them the glad tidings of the Gospel.

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“Such is the peculiar adaptation of the Gospel to the poor, that it may be felt in the full force of its most powerful evidence by the simplest of its hearers” (Chalmers, Works 6:256).

“The proper work of an establishment . . . is to reclaim and christianize the common people” (Chalmers, Works 18:206).

“In respect of immortality, the great and the small ones of the earth stand on an equal eminence” (Chalmers, Works 6:288).

“Yet I must say I liked the Irish part of my parishioners. They received me always with the utmost cordiality, and very often attended my household ministrations, although Catholics” (Chalmers, Works 16:243).

“The main impulse of [the parish minister’s] benevolence, lies in furnishing the poor with the means of enjoying that bread of life which came down from heaven, and in introducing them to the knowledge of those Scriptures which are the power of God unto salvation to every one who believeth” (Chalmers, Works 11:290).

“There is none we think of correct moral taste, and whose heart is in its right place, that will not rejoice in such a spectacle, as far more pleasing in itself, and, if only universal in our churches, far more indicative of a healthful state of the community, than the wretched system of the present day, when the gospel is literally sold to the highest bidders among the rich, and not preached to the poor” (Chalmers, Works 11:381).

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And some longer quotes:

“Now the great aim of our ministry is to win souls; and the soul of a poor man consists of precisely the same elements with the soul of a rich. They both labour under the same disease, and they both stand in need of the same treatment. The physician who administers to their bodies brings forward the same application to the same malady; and the physician who is singly intent on the cure of their souls will hold up to both the same peace-speaking blood, and the same sanctifying Spirit, and will preach to both in the same name, because the only name given under heaven whereby men can be saved” (Chalmers, Works 11:356).

“It was saying more for the common people of Judea that they heard the Saviour gladly, than for the Scribes and Pharisees who heard him with envy, prejudice, and opposition; and it is saying more for the common people of this country, that they hear the doctrine of Christ gladly, than for those learned who call that doctrine foolishness, for those men of taste who call it fanaticism, for those men of this world who call it a methodistical reverie, for those men of fashion and fine sentiment who shrink from the peculiarities of our faith, with all the disgust of irritated pride and offended delicacy” (Chalmers, Works 11:358).

“If a poor child be capable of being thus transformed, how it should move the heart of a city philanthropist, when he thinks of the amazing extent of raw material, for this moral and spiritual manufacture that is on every side of him—when he thinks, that in going forth on some Christian enterprise among a population, he is in truth, walking among the rudiments of a state that is to be everlasting—that out of their most loathsome and unseemly abodes, a glory can be extracted, which will weather all the storms, and all the vicissitudes of this world’s history—that, in the filth and raggedness of a hovel, that is to be found, on which all the worth of heaven, as well as all the endurance of heaven can be imprinted—that he is, in a word, dealing in embryo with the elements of a great and future empire, which is to rise, indestructible and eternal, on the ruins of all that is earthly, and every member of which shall be a king and a priest for evermore” (Chalmers, Works 6:260).

“It was not thus with the ancients of our Church when spoiled of her endowments by the rapacity of the Crown, and of those nobles who formed the all-powerful aristocracy of that generation. True there was but the population of a million in these days; but whole tracts of country were rifled by the hand of violence of their ecclesiastical patrimony, and no means were left for the Christian education of the people who would have sunk into a state of moral barbarism but for the efforts of so many patriots as courageous and enlightened as the world ever saw,—the fathers and founders of the Kirk of Scotland. The territory had been desolated of its provision both for churches and schools; but they went forth upon it notwithstanding, and chalked out their parishes, and planted their stations for the ministry of the word, and without the visible means of sustenance or support, laboured both with the Church’s plat, and the Church’s polity, till the God in whom they trusted overthrew the counsels of their adversaries, and forced out of their sacrilegious hands a hardwon maintenance for an order of men whom now it is the fashion to stigmatize, but who have ever proved, throughout all the periods of our bygone history, and have now the opportunity of proving still, that they are the best friends of the poor man and of the labourer” (Chalmers, Works 18:289).

“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 11:303-4)

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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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“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.

Next Meeting: Thursday, November 18, 2021 @ 4:00 p.m. EST

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

AUDIO / TEXT

For some background reading on this period of Chalmers’ ministry, here are selections from James Dodd’s, Thomas Chalmers: A Biographical Study (1870).

[source]

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

Session 1: Wednesday, July 28, 2021

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

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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