Here 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.’
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,
“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.”
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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But, 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.
In preparing for a message on the Parable of the Sower, I’ve looked at Jerome (ca. 347 – 420) among others. Many of his comments are extremely helpful. But as with all commentators, there is some chaff mixed in with the wheat. When writing about the three levels of fruit among those who receive the seed in good soil, he declares, “The hundred-fold fruit is to be ascribed to virgins, the sixty-fold to widows and continent persons, the thirty-fold to chaste wedlock.” Wrong on two counts – bad interpretation and bad theology.
Reformations are unsettling. They always involve a critique of the old order, a prophetic protest against wrong. And when those protests give way to action, things change. The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century was no different. So when it reached the shores of Scotland, there was quite a shaking up. [To read further, see full article here - starting at p. 9]
Only a few days away from Halloween, I’ve been thinking more about why we don’t celebrate it, as well as reviewing online why other Christians do. I realize that there are many good believers who don’t see a problem with the festivities, and I’m not prepared to discount the evident grace of God that they have. Further, we are, every one of us, filled with sins and blind spots, myself included. But it is troubling to me how little argument is made against Halloween within the Church. So if you’re on the fence – and even if you’re not – may I at least challenge you with the following questions, friend?
1. Are you open-minded about it? For a Christian, everything is fair game for re-examination under the Word of God. I fear that too often, we are looking for tailor-made arguments to suit our conclusions. We must not trust, but ever examine ourselves and let the light of God’s Word shine on even our most cherished practices. The Bible not merely some encouraging how-to handbook for ‘living our best life now.’ It is also a floodlight to expose our sins, that we might turn from them and find pardon and direction for new obedience. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
2. Have you educated yourself? We really ought to understand why we do what we do. We must not be “as the beasts that perish,” unthinking and instinctive. Even if we conclude that it is harmless or even proper, we should “in understanding be men.” An unwillingness to inquire into the origins and development of Halloween for fear of what we may learn betrays a bad bias. We do not need to go on a witch-hunt for evil. But if we are going to adopt a practice, let’s do it with both eyes open. My wife and I recently watched a documentary about Halloween (with a bit of fast-forwarding) by the History Channel here. It only reinforced our decision.
Also, have you educated yourself about the biblical teaching on witchcraft and the occult, which Halloween unashamedly celebrates? For starters, read Deut. 18:9-14, 1 Sam. 15:23, 1 Sam. 28, 2 Chron. 33:6, 1 Jn. 5:21, and Acts 19:19. If you haven’t read them recently, re-read them. And note that witchcraft is branded in Paul’s catalogue of the works of the flesh, right along with other gross immoralities, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Even if we participate only in the ‘innocent’ aspects of modern, American Halloween, aren’t we somehow validating, or at least winking at the occult? We ought to have no fellowship with devils (1 Cor. 10:20) and should avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).
3. Are you leading or following? We are always products of our environment. But we should never let environment, culture, the marketplace or anything else call the shots. The crowd is not always right. And more often than not, it just isn’t. Counting heads is risky business, even when we are counting the heads of Christian trick-or-treaters. Let’s get in line behind God! Let’s be Joshuas, fearlessly pioneering the path of godliness, not the path of least resistance. So if that makes us strange and even lonely (1 Pet. 4:4), so be it. Let them say what they want. Let’s follow the pillar of fire by night. He will guide us safely through the darkness without.
4. Are your following your feelings? Believe me, I know this all too well. The older I get, the more nostalgic I find myself. I remember the brisk, cool evenings, the costumes and the plastic jack-o-lantern pails. I remember with fondness going door to door, and telling my buddies which ones were giving out full-size Snickers. Halloween is in my American boyhood bloodstream, running black and orange every October 31. But I am not my own any more. I am bought with a price. I am Christian first, and an American second. How does God feel about Halloween? If my feelings are at variance, then those feelings must be put to death.
5. Do you have the hearts of your children? The prophecy “a little child shall lead them” (Isa. 11:6) is not to be confused with the curse of children-rulers (Isa. 3:4). Let’s face it. In America, Halloween is a day for children, and our age is the age of youth. But as adults, we must always be in the lead. And if we decide that Halloween is unwholesome at best or ungodly at worst, we should lead accordingly. I especially think this entails loving them demonstrably enough the 364 other days so we don’t cave on Halloween out of guilt. If we are in the lead, we can give alternatives and fill any void with deep, Christian, parental love, that will more than make up for any perceived loss.
6. Is Halloween really edifying? Is this celebration of the dead (and the ‘living dead’) consistent with “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report” (Phil. 4:8)? Does not the Halloween mask somehow mask over the obvious? As a rule, that which passes under cover of night is not worthy of those who are “of the day.”
7. Is Halloween really harmless? I know that we sophisticated moderns dismiss ghouls, ghosts, goblins, and all things that go bump in the night. But are our secular, pagan neighbors really all that cut off from the reality and the draw of the Kingdom of darkness? I am of the mind that old, superstitious paganism is more alive than dead, like the Dracula of Halloween lore. It is a real, abiding threat. And as Christians who know better about the spiritual world, can we suggest that we are immune? We are not. If we flirt with the occult as though it were a child’s game, we may be drawn in never to return. Thus the ban on all paganism in both Old and New Testaments.
8. Are you being a good & effective witness? This is a recurring argument, made no doubt by well-intentioned believers. I don’t impugn their motives. But having the only house with the lights out on Halloween is not inherently undermining our Gospel witness. Some apparently believe this rather strongly. But I fail to see how non-participation is necessarily boorish. If we go out of our way to get to know our neighbors as we should, show them the love of Christ, and speak the Gospel to them the rest of the year, I hardly see why I need Halloween to commend Christ. Our neighbors respect us, even if they don’t understand us.
Further, I am convinced that Halloween continues to be a heathen coping-mechanism, which I cannot endorse for their sake. That is, death is real, yet so troubling that they must somehow manage its reality – only on their terms, short of God. Laughter and frivolity are like the booze that drowns their troubles away. But on November 1, the specter of death still stares the sinner in the face. We, however, celebrate the Lord’s Day fifty-two days of the year. We celebrate life. New life – life over death!
Now there’s a celebration that calls for full participation. And invitation.