The following is extracted from Thomas Cochrane’s Home Mission Work (1878). The chapter, “The Territorial System,” is a nice overview of the urban mission strategy advocated by Thomas Chalmers.
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In the later years of his eventful life, with all the experience and mellow ripeness of a mind that had given very much of the best of its powers to the advocacy and outworking of the grand old parochial system of Scotland, the illustrious Dr Chalmers, while carrying on with undimmed and undiminished lustre the labours of his distinguished professoriate, worked out, alongside of this theoretical training for the students of theology, the grand practical work of Territorialism. He thus devised and carried out, in a most singularly successful way, a scheme which, because it sought to cope with all the difficulties, and to grapple with all the obstructions that might be encountered, and set itself to the prosecution of true mission work, in a certain selected locality or territory, and to cultivate regularly and thoroughly that district so assumed, has been most fitly termed— “The Territorial System.“
In the great metropolis of the West, among her merchant princes, in St John’s parish there, Dr Chalmers had previously developed, and very successfully worked out, under the wing of the State, the system, as strictly parochial; now he was to unfold and develop the same system, minus State support and State influence in any way.
The chosen field in Edinburgh, “The West Port,“ was the most unlikely, and, seemingly, unpropitious that could have been selected.
The hall opened for public worship was an “old Tan Loft,” near to the spot which had earned an unenviable notoriety, because of revolting murders that had been perpetrated—more revolting than any that had either before or since disgraced the fair escutcheon of that noble city—a locality where purity and outward decency alike blushed for very shame!
Nothing daunted, however, that truly great man, surrounded by a staff of devoted volunteers, went forth into the thick of the conflict, to do battle with the sin and crime that met them, at every corner of the district, and to soothe the sorrows and assuage the trials of human misery and woe.
It was indeed a noble scheme, a grand enterprise; and let that interesting chapter, “The West Port,” in the classic and eloquent biography of Dr Chalmers, written by his son-in-law, the late Dr Hanna, tell in his inimitable style, how, under more than wizard wand, of that Great Moral Conjuror, the wilderness became a fruitful field, and the desert rejoiced and blossomed as the rose, becoming “A Garden of the Lord.“
All around now in Edinburgh, from the west to the extreme east, ‘neath the shadow of hoar Holyrood, there have been erected churches and schools upon this territorial system, so that, in addition to “The West Port,” there are more than seven other churches with as many ministers, and fully equipped agencies and congregations, carrying on with greater or less success the operations of the Territorial system.
Glasgow, too, has had her full share of the benefits of this scheme. The development of this system, however, is not confined to Edinburgh or Glasgow. Many other large towns in Scotland, such as Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth, &c, have reaped golden harvests from the seed sown, through the carrying out of this important work; while England, too, in measure, has caught the infection and influence, from the spell of the mighty charmer, who though “being dead, yet speaketh,” while his works, all around, follow him; and far hence, away across the broad Atlantic, the winds have wafted on and o’er the story, and there, too, in several instances, the system is being tested and tried.
In the prelude to his lecture on “Transcendentalism,“ Dr Joseph Cook of Boston, rehearses the story of “The West Port,” and presses upon his readers the importance and moral grandeur of the scheme; while, as Dr Cook himself informed us, when on a visit to this country, the system has been found in America to be the only true system for elevating the community, civilly, socially, and morally.
It may here be stated that the system, both scholastically and ecclesiastically, can be worked out in such a manner as to be self-sustaining; so that the big thoughts, and large desires of the illustrious founder, have not only been proved not to be Utopian, but fruitfully workable; and that too, not only during his distinguished life, under his own eye, and by the cunning of his own right hand; but now, also, a full generation after he has been gathered to his fathers, the work progresses and advances still more and more, and we believe will continue to do so, after its present promoters have gone the way of all the earth.
It may be argued, however, that if so much has been done,—if such harvests have been, or are being ripened and reaped all round, in the town and country districts of Scotland, and elsewhere, is there still need for the advocacy and extension of the practical outworking of this scheme? There is “much land yet to be possessed.“ When we are reminded that in Edinburgh alone, there are perhaps not less than forty thousand, in Glasgow a much larger number, while over broad Scotland, there are about five hundred thousand living in entire neglect of the means of grace; living “without God,” if not dying “without hope,” we cannot fail to perceive that this scheme is of prime importance, and that the necessity for the thorough outworking of it is as great as ever.
THE DISTRICT SELECTED.
The idea of the great founder of the scheme, in regard to the chosen district, was very decided. His firm and unwavering conviction was, that the field selected should be very carefully and deliberately chosen, and that it should be of adequate proportions,—not too large, lest it should not be fully and thoroughly cultivated; not too small, lest there should not be a population sufficiently large to yield material for a good, self-supporting congregation.
Holding these views strongly, Dr Chalmers was in the habit of affirming that a population of about 2000 was quite large enough, in ordinary circumstances, for the purpose in view, and that a district less populous was not adequate for the formation of a Territorial Congregation. Hence a district of about 400 families, or 2000 of a population, according to the system under review, would require about forty visitors in order to cultivate it thoroughl, giving manageable sub-divisions of about ten families to each agent.
THE VISITOR’S DUTIES.
The duties of visitors may be regarded in many aspects (see pages 57-60), but the great, the chief duty is to visit their districts, with a view of promoting the highest good of the families in the district allocated to them. Assuming the visitor to be truly Christian, and devoted to the work, how very much will depend upon the judiciousness manifested in the discharge of duty. What care will be required, lest their visits should hinder, rather than help on the work to be accomplished. How important, all-important, to make the families visited feel that we are really and truly their friend; that we visit, not with a prying over-curious eye to spy into their household affairs, far less in a censorious spirit, ever insinuating our fancied superiority, and finding fault with what, we imagine, may be their little delinquencies; but that, placing ourselves upon the same platform on which they stand, we thus make it clear that we have their highest good at heart, and have love in our heart for them, as well as expressed sympathy upon our lip with them. Hence our aim should be to influence the heart for good.
“They build too low who build beneath the skies.” They aim too low who aim not at the heart. The effect of mere gossip in visiting, is always fruitless, if not of evil tendency. By all means let us be happy, with a gleam of sunshine ever lighting up our countenances. By all means let our words he happy words, and happy social words. If time permit there may be talk about the common affairs of life, and the current events of the day; but we should never let our conversation degenerate into flippant talk, idle talk, or jesting which is not convenient; and, if possible, we should never leave any house, without making it clear that our object in visiting was with respect to the highest good of the family.
Even in the distribution of tracts let us have a care of the manner we manifest in so doing. Let us keep in view that, while we are as messengers of mercy bearing the silent message in the tract we give, we are to make it plain that we need the message we bear, as well as those to whom we bear it, as Mr M’Cheyne would have said, in his own tender, touching way, “I need it, my brother, as well as you.” Or, as we have it from an inspired pen, “We, that we say not you.”
The importance of house-to-house visitation can never be over-estimated. There may be—there are —some who weary in this seemingly slow process, and who would fain “rush into print,” in placards large, fancying that by sleight-of-hand, or speed of foot, or by monster meetings in large halls, and other general schemes, they may speedily evangelise the outlying population in our vast moral wastes. All success to these, and every good scheme! It is not so, generally, however, that this work is to be done. The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. The patient, laborious, conscientious worker, who realizes what is implied in faithful labour for the Great Master, is the labourer that will here prevail. If it be true that the time shall come when they shall no more teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” does not this imply that, until that time shall have come, this system should be carried on? And here, again, the conscientious worker must be content to be hidden from the world’s eye, but work ever under the eye of His Lord and Master. He must be willing to be unknown, perhaps unheard of. Down in the damp, dark cellar; high, in the lone garret room; concealed in some back court where the sun scarce shines; or in the loathsome land, where fever holds its perpetual sway, and revels, in the luxury of human misery, all prodigal of life,—there must the visitor be prepared to labour, there the missionary be contented to toil, from day to day.
” Go labour on, ’tis not for nought:
Thy earthly loss is heavenly gain;
Men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not;
The Master praises; what are men?”
“Prevention is better than cure.“—There are congregations whose membership may not be able to supply agents for carrying out the scheme we have been commending, and where it would be of immense advantage, to such a congregation, to have the scheme thoroughly and earnestly worked out, in connection with their own work, and into their own congregation. In such a case why should not some healthy and vigorous, if not wealthy and numerous, congregation, come with all its flow of life and love, and work for, at least, if not in connection with the work of such a congregation? Would not many a struggling congregation thus take heart and begin anew? Would not many a downcast and cheerless minister obtain encouragement, and gird on with fresh ardour the armour of the Gospel of Peace? Nay, would not this be a true exhibition of the members of the church, looking “not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others;” and of manifesting in the clearest sense, how the strong could help the weak, thus showing to the world and the Church alike that “it is more blessed to give than to receive”?
Having, throughout the volume, touched upon the main features of the Territorial system, and having had the privilege, for very many years, of being a humble labourer in the Territorial field, in closing our remarks we may be permitted to say that the longer we have laboured in the outworking of the system, the more thoroughly have we been convinced of the value and effectiveness of it.
One of our greatest and sincerest regrets is, that we should have been so little able to do anything like justice to it. We feel this all the more, that we are not now so agile, as heretofore, in buckling on our armour, and sallying forth at the trumpet’s sound against the common foe. We must soon retire from the field of action, but, when retiring, we hope to do so by handing down the banner, unfurled and untarnished, with the device thereon, as ever, full, perfect, and undimmed—
For THE LORD