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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.

Figures_Moses_fixes_the_brazen_Serpent_on_a_pole“As to the attendance of the people on the Sabbath ministrations of the missionary, you will doubtless find that they will give you very fair promises. They may all say they will go to church; but by many of them the promises will not be kept. In such circumstances, a very good plan, which I would recommend to you, would be this, — Let either the agent of the district, or some person on whom he can depend, after the hour at which the various churches go in, go to the district where the defaulters, — reside, and entering one of their houses, beg to be allowed to conduct a family exercise, to which the neighbours may be called in. Depend upon it, they will take it very well. They will of course feel themselves caught . . . but still they will tolerate you, and make their escape next Sabbath, by going to the place of worship. That’s one of a variety of doing the thing. It will bring them in contact with the gospel at any rate. The great matter is to get them into the habit of church-going.”

-Thomas Chalmers, 1844 lecture on the eve of the West Port Experiment

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A few striking observations from a favorite anecdote in John G. Paton’s autobiography, below. If I’m not mistaken, this would be referring to a cholera outbreak in 1832 in the U.K.

1. Healthy believers long for the courts of the Lord and don’t let lesser things get in their way. 2. However, it appears that godly Scottish Presbyterians in the early 19th century believed that public health crises could warrant church closures (or at least effectively cause them by population controls). 3. And apparently, the same believed that the state could mandate such closures (or at least effectively, etc.) in the interests of public health.

Not an argument that any of our churches must necessarily close under the present circumstances; just an observation to help put some strong opinions out there in context.

90471480_211006586771078_538897256095416320_o

00019767The following is a list, though not exhaustive, of Reformed & Presbyterian bodies who either have observed a day of fasting & prayer during the COVID-19 crisis or who have appointed and/or commended one. If we cannot coordinate our days, perhaps we may be encouraged that we are not alone when we take our part “on the wall.”

“Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God” (Joel 2:12-14)?

 

[Updated 4/18 @ 5:49 p.m. EDT]

Wednesday, March 25. ARP Canadian Presbytery.

Wednesday, March 25. RPCNA Pacific Coast Presbytery.

Lord’s day, March 29. Free Church of Scotland (Cont.). [Statement from the Public Questions, Religion and Morals Committee.]

Wednesday, April 1. Various Heritage Reformed Congregations (HRC) & Free Reformed Congregations (FRC). [Prayer and Fasting Outline, with help from Th. Boston.]

Saturday, April 4. The Midwest Presbytery (RPCNA). [Full communication & helpful suggestions.]

Thursday, April 2 or 9. RPCNA Synod.

Wednesday, April 8. OPC Presbytery of the Southeast.

Monday, April 6. Calvary Presbytery (PCA). [Days of Fastings RPCNA]

Saturday, Ajpril 18. Several congregations in the Presbyterian Reformed Church (PRC).

I’ve also heard from / about some individual OPC congregations who have observed fasts.

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[Image above, “Nineveh Repents“]

Smellie, Thomas. “Fenwick Church.” 1905

During the recent COVID-19 crisis, many Christian churches have closed their doors, cancelling regular public worships services, though often utilizing telecommunications to facilitate God’s worship in private home contexts. What principles do confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian elders consider when making their decision? These are the ones that factored in to my mind.

1. Worship is priority number one. God’s honor comes before man’s honor, His being before ours. “Thy love is better than life.” We should sooner join the three Hebrew children and lay down our lives than surrender an inch of God’s worship. The First Table comes before the Second, and if there is an apparent conflict, the general rule is to surrender our own interests.

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To reduce cluttering your inboxes, I’m posting several memes I’ve finished recently:

Murray, Essence of Sin

Boston, Beautiful Fabric

Willison, Wit's End

Here is the latest edition to the “Chalmers Audio Library,” a work composed in 1835 entitled “The Cause of Church Extension, and the Question Shortly Stated, Between Churchmen and Dissenters in Regard to It.”

In this essay, Chalmers clarifies the true goals of the Church Extension movement in Scotland in the 1830s, indicating that it is much more than an effort to build more churches for the establishment. It is a means to Christianize the entire home population of the nation, including the poor. The essay is rather encumbered with historical details that will seem remote to the modern Christian. However, if one perseveres, he will find that this contributes significantly to the body of Reformed missiology and offers much of enduring value for the Church’s contemporary witness.

For more about the Church Extension movement, see The Dictionary of Scottish Church History & Theology, p. 182.

IMG_0229Chalmers made no bones about the fact that the parish method of home missions was best. And with the confident precision of an engineer, he detailed how it should work. But he was no Pelagian mechanist:

“Let us not forget that, however indispensable the things for which we plead, they are, after all, but ‘the outward things of the house of God,’ — most important no doubt, as being the aqueducts for a diffusive and general conveyance of spiritual blessings; yet a vain and useless parade, if the grace only given to those who ask it, shall not light upon our tabernacles. With all our value for the mechanism of a well-ordered church, we must remember that its great master springs are in the hands of Him who casteth down the imaginations of the confident, and delights in lending Himself to the supplications of the humble, — so that, whatever glory may accrue from the wisdom of its rulers, it is in its of men of faith and prayer that the main strength of our Establishment lies.”

– Thomas Chalmers, Works 18:138-139

المدرسة_المستنصرية_في_بغداد_(3)Some time back, my fellow elder and I met “Fatima” in my parish. Since then, I have had multiple opportunities to visit her with my wife and family, have her over to our house, and once she has come to church. As an Iraqi refugee, she’s experienced hardship; and things have not always been easy adjusting as a “stranger in a strange land.”  She is a very sweet, special lady, who is hungry for friendship. And our hope is that she will find that greatest of all friends, the Friend who laid down His life for His friends.

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Tennent, Adam's Stock