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The following is a firsthand snapshot of a Highland Communion season, from John Kennedy’s endearing work, The Days of the Fathers in Ross-Shire (1867).  Here is certainly an alternate ‘high sacramentarianism.’  I would challenge the supporters of the now fashionable weekly-communion position whether this ‘auld’ wine was not the better!

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A communion season is approaching. It has been timeously announced that it may be known ” far and wide,” and that the praying people may be bearing it on their spirits before the throne of grace. The minister preaches a suitable course of sermons on several preceding Sabbaths. The Lord’s people are stirred up to seek a special manifestation of His power indexand glory. A few who propose to seek admission to the Lord’s table are deeply exercised about the solemn step they contemplate, and faithfully and tenderly are they dealt with by both minister and elders. As the appointed time draws nigh, special meetings for prayer are held, and, with holy solicitude, all the preparatory arrangements are made. The Fast-day is come. Eminent ministers have arrived to take part in the solemn services. Many of the Lord’s people are gathering. From as many as forty parishes they come; but lodgings they will easily procure, as the parish people are striving for the pleasure of entertaining them. Suitable discourses are preached in Gaelic on the open field, and to a small English congregation in the church, and in the evening prayer meetings are held in the various districts of the parish. On Friday the day of self-examination, the only public service is in the open air. A large crowd is gathered. “In the tent” there are several godly ministers. The service is that of a fellowship meeting, such as has already been described, but now with special reference to the solemn duties of a communion Sabbath. There are two questions proposed successively to secure variety. Strangers only are called to speak, and even of these only “the flower,” for there are so many. Not fewer than thirty will have spoken before the service is over. Blessed indeed to many souls have these “Friday meetings” been. The services on Saturday, the day of preparation, are conducted as on Thursday, but, owing to the gathering influx of strangers, the congregation outside is greatly larger than on the Fast-Day. At the close of the service, tokens are distributed. Prayer meetings are held throughout the parish in the evening; and while the ministers are preparing for the solemn work of the Sabbath, many are the petitions that ascend in their behalf, to Him who hath “the treasure ” to dispense, and of whom is “the excellency of the power.” In many instances, these prayer meetings have been protracted all night. So sensible were the people of the presence of the Lord that they could not forsake the place where they enjoyed it; and they found “the joy of the Lord” a sweet substitute for sleep. On Sabbath, the day of Communion, an immense crowd is gathered before the tent. At many as eight thousand are there. The “Beauty of the Lord” is on the assembly of His people; and before the service is over, many a soul has had reason to say “it is good to be here.” On Monday, the day of thanksgiving, a crowd almost as large as that on Sabbath is assembled ; and often has “the last” been found to be the “great day of the feast.” The closing service of the communion season is now over, and then comes the solemn parting! How affecting do the Lord’s servants and people feel the scene before them to be, as that multitude disperses, never to meet all together again till the vast congregation of “the last day” has assembled! What touching farewells are now exchanged between the Christians who enjoyed with each other, and together with the Lord, such sweet communion since they met a few days before! There are few tearless eyes, but the weeping is expressive of gratitude as surely as of sorrow. Such was a communion season in the good days of the Fathers in Ross-shire.

The Church, in its worldwide missionary enterprise, must be funded.  Yet, according to Chalmers, the Church must ultimately fail if it makes its services dependent upon a pre-existing demand.  Adam Smith was right to promote free trade in the marketplace, but not in religion.  Why?  Because the natural man won’t pay for the Gospel.  He has no demand for such a supply.  Therefore, missionaries must be financed by those who are already Christian, whose hearts have been enlarged by the Gospel that they may patronize its cause.  This is what Chalmers calls voluntaryism ab extra.  And it is a major part of his argument for the necessity of Church establishments.

In the quote below, Chalmers demonstrates that this has always been the case, from the coming of the Savior to the age of the apostles and beyond.

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“Now let us consider whether this is the footing on which the world ever is; or ever can be, supplied with its Christianity, or rather with its Christian instruction, in the way that is best for the moral interests of our species. It was not so at the first introduction of Christianity, in virtue, not of a movement from earth to heaven, but of a movement from heaven to earth; and the expenses of which, throughout the infancy and boyhood of the Saviour, were certainly not defrayed by those for whose welfare the mission was undertaken. It was not so during the time of His public ministry, when three or four women ministered to Him of their substance, as He travelled from place to place over the land of Judea; and so He was maintained at the cost of the few for the benefit of the many. It was not so in the journeyings of His disciples, two by two among their countrymen—who, when they entered a city, fixed their residence in some particular house, and were supported by the hospitality of one individual for the good of the general population. It was not so when the apostles went forth after the resurrection; and received their maintenance from such as Simon the tanner, or Lydia the seller of purple, or Stephanus and Fortunatus, and Achaicus, and others of those Scripture worthies who harboured and entertained the men of God, while they held out the bread of life, without money and without price, to the multitude at large. It was not so when the last, but not Probably_Valentin_de_Boulogne_-_Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles_-_Google_Art_Projectthe least of the apostles, provided with his own hand for his own necessities; and the wages of Paul the tentmaker, enabled Paul the apostle, to labour in his sacred vocation without wages. It was not so when he received from other and distinct churches, that, in the church of Corinth, the gospel might not be chargeable to any; and he would suffer no man to strip him of this boasting in the regions of Achaia. And, to come down from the age of the New Testament, it generally could not have been so, that the extension of Christianity was carried forward during the three first centuries. The men who were not yet Christians did not, in those days, send to the apostolic college for men who might give them the lessons of the gospel; but, by a reverse process, teachers went forth among the yet benighted countries of the earth; and their expenses, at least in the first instance, behoved to be borne, not in the shape of a price by those who received the benefit, but in the shape of a bounty by those who dispensed it. In all these instances, contrary to every law or character of pure trade, the expense was borne either totally or partially by one party, and that for the good of another party. It was not as in the ordinary exchanges of commerce. The receivers were not the purchasers; and what they did receive was not a thing by them bought, but a thing to them given. It is an utter misconception that when Constantine set up in his dominions a national establishment of Christianity, he made the first infringement on that system of free trade by which the prosperity of this religion had been heretofore upholden; for, from its very outset, Christianity stood indebted, for almost every footstep of its progress, to a system and a policy directly the opposite of this. When he came forth with his great imperial bounty or benefaction, he only did on the large scale, what thousands of benefactors had previously, and for hundreds of years, done on a small scale before him. When he became the friend and nursing father of the church, he did for the whole territory of which he was the sovereign, what, times and ways without number, the friends of the church had already done, each for the little district in which he himself resided, or for the introduction and the maintenance of Christian worship in some chosen locality of his own. With his great national endowment, he but followed in the tract of those private and particular endowments which, sometimes temporary, and sometimes perpetual, had multiplied beyond all reckoning, during the preceding ages of Christianity; and in virtue of which it was, that churches innumerable were raised, and congregations were formed; but chiefly in the large and flourishing cities of the Roman empire. The peasants, or they who lived in the country and villages, inhabitants of the pagi, and hence called Pagans, were, in the great bulk of them, still unconverted—insomuch that Paganism in those days became synonymous with heathenism; or, in other words, the great majority of the rustics or countrymen of that period, notwithstanding the strenuous and apostolic exertion of many thousands of Christian missionaries for about three centuries together, were still adherents to the old superstition and idolatry of their forefathers. The universal endowment, by which a ministry was provided for every little section of the territory or the whole was broken into parishes, opened a way to the moral fastnesses that were still held and occupied by the countless millions whom all the efforts of by-gone generations had not reached; and so brought a whole host of gospel labourers into contact with the wide and plenteous harvest of the general population.

Here’s a great quote in Chalmers’ treatise on Natural Theology.  Innate instincts are marvelously designed for the welfare of humanity and even the animal kingdom.  Even fear!  -

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“Man has not been left to himself, any more than the inferior animals, for the care of his own preservation ; and instead of this interest being altogether confided to his own wisdom, or his own vigilance, he too has been fitted with a number of unreflecting instincts and appetites, but for the impulse of which he would inevitably perish. There cannot be a more palpable exhibition of this than is afforded by the appetite of hunger, which both reminds and urges man by its periodic calls to the food that is needful for his sustenance, and seems planted there to serve the office of a monitor, who might prompt him at right times to take of that aliment, on the neglect of which for a few days there would ensue his dissolution. And the same holds true of his mental as well as his bodily affections. When danger threatens, it is not enough either for escape or for protection, that under the government of reason he should adopt the right measures by which to shun or to resist it; but whether to wing his flight or to stimulate his wakeful diligence, there is inserted within his bosom the affection of fear. When an infant is born, it is not enough that nature has provided the material nourishment which keeps it in life; but for the indispensable safety of the little stranger, nature has also planted the strongest of her instincts in the heart of its mother, who under the impulse of an affection that never wearies, ceases not day nor night to tend and watch over it.”

200px-ThomasGuthrie1870sHere is an excellent article on a contemporary of Thomas Chalmers, Thomas Guthrie.  Like Chalmers, Guthrie (1803-1873) had a heart beating for the good of the souls and bodies of those downtrodden in Industrial-Age Scotland.  He also embraced the parish plan of action.  ‘Let each select their own manageable field of Christian work. Let us embrace the whole city, and cover its nakedness, although, with different denominations at work, it should be robed, like Joseph, in a coat of many colours. Let our only rivalry be the holy one of who shall do most and succeed best in converting the wilderness into an Eden, and causing the deserts to blossom as the rose.’

The author of this article, Andy Murray, blogs at Ragged Theology.  Andy also tells me that he’s just published a Kindle version of Guthrie’s memorable The City: Its Sins and Sorrows.

In the following, Thomas Chalmers writes a letter to a former mathematics professor  of his, whom he greatly admired.  Evidently, he thought he might be unconverted.  It also seems, judging from the way he writes here, that he was pricked in his conscience for having delayed so long to share the Gospel with him.  It’s worth noting that only two years later, Chalmers would enter eternity.

Is there someone we know and love, to whom we have a ‘debt’ to settle?  Is there someone who ought to be hearing the Gospel from us, and yet we have been slow to do so?  Let us then make haste, as Dr. Chalmers did, for the day is coming when no man can work!

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To Professor Duncan.

Edinburgh, 14th December, 1845.

My Dear Sir—I should not have written you on Sabbath, but for the subject on which I mean to address you, and to which I shall confine myself. I have long had the utmost regard for you. There is not a human being whom, without the circle of my relationship, I like nearly so well. But, though affectionate toward you, I have not been faithful. Consider how soon both you and I will be mouldering in our coffins. Heaven grant that we may both share in a blessed resurrection, through our common interest in Him who hath said, ” I am the resurrection and the life,” &c Ever believe me, my dear sir, yours very affectionately and truly,

Thomas Chalmers.

withered hand“Say not you cannot believe, the great defect is in your will. ‘Ye will not come to me,’ says Jesus, ‘that you may have life.’ Stretch out the withered hand to Christ; protest you shall never be satisfied till he put forth mighty power to make you believe, and never quit the throne till you get it, if you should dig your grave at it, Luke 16:39-43.”

-Thomas Boston

Some choice counsel from Thomas Chalmers to a Christian lady struggling with doubts (1826).  His distinction between having a concern about what and not how to believe is especially choice.

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2318058434_433229b519_oBut, generally, you complain that you are ignorant of how to go—how to believe. Now this has long been a stumbling-block to many; their thoughts are how they are to believe, when their thoughts should be what they should believe. They look inwardly for the work of faith, when they should look outwardly for the object of faith. “For every one thought,” says Richard Baxter, “that he casts downwardly upon himself, he should cast ten upwardly and outwardly upon Jesus, and upon the glorious truths of the Gospel.” You say that you have no doubts of the freeness of Christ’s salvation, and of His willingness to save you. Dwell upon this; persist in this ; stand in the Gospel attitude of looking upon Jesus, and light will at length arise within you. In the act of looking, you may have to wait a longer or a shorter time for your coming enlargement; but surely it is worth the waiting for. Meanwhile your business is prayer; a diligent attention in the ordinances of religion; reading of God’s word; and, above all, a keeping of the sayings of Christ: ” He that keepeth my sayings, to him will I manifest myself.” Be assured you are in good hands, even in the hands of Him who will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax.

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