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I consider myself rather conservative in my convictions about Lord’s day observance. As the biblical title suggests, it is the Lord’s day, not yours or mine. It should be dedicated to a holy rest, to “public and private exercises of God’s worship,” except for “works of necessity and mercy” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 60). But the following 18th century anecdote strikes me as (way!) over the top.

…our small beer shall be fetched in on Saturday nights, nor will we even dress a potato on the Sabbath. We will attend the preaching at five o’clock in the morning, at eight go to prayer meeting, at ten to public worship; hear Mr. Perry at Cripplegate at two, be at the Foundry (Wesley’s old preaching house) at five; meet with the general society at six, assemble at the United Bands at seven, and again prayer meeting at eight, and then come home and read and pray by ourselves.

If this is rest, I wonder what work is!

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Below is an extract from an upcoming journal article I’m writing on Thomas Chalmers’ territorial (parochial) method of outreach.

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The method also capitalizes on the power of moral influence. Now, as we have seen already, the very doctrinal keystone of Chalmers’ model was the stern, Calvinist doctrine of human depravity. Attraction might work, if men were not half bad. But as they are altogether bad – spiritually speaking – there must be aggression. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the aggression must be gentle. The laborer must go among the people and “ingratiate” himself in their affections by his manifest care for them, body and soul, parents and children:

… he is to watch every opportunity, to go to them especially at those seasons when, through sickness or death in their houses, their hearts are peculiarly open and susceptible to impressions from one who comes to them in the character of a friend and comforter, as interesting himself in the education of their families, and by a thousand nameless offices and topics of introduction by which you may make a pretext or a reason occasion of visiting them: and you will infallibly, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, meet with a cordial welcome from this alienated population.

This aggression is the force of moral suasion, or as he wrote elsewhere, the “omnipotence of Christian charity.” That the people are thus susceptible highlights Chalmers’ convictions of a certain abiding goodness in human nature, which the territorial method exploits. It may not always result in conversion, but it should very well restore a population to regular church attendance – a more hopeful prelude to conversion.

Hugh Martin (1822-1885), commenting on Jonah 3:6-8, gets at a foundational issue supporting national establishments of religion.  ” . . how can religious obligations be upon the separate individuals of a nation, and yet the nation as a whole be exempted from it? It is certain that nations as a whole may please or provoke God: just as a family may do; just as an individual may do.”

Here is a great article highlighting the lessons we can glean from John Knox and company on missions.

The following passage comes from the Memoirs of James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698). In it, we hear the heartbeat of a true fisher of men, a pastor-evangelist that all pastors should strive to be. Also, note that he urged the duty of the minister going beyond the four walls of the church into the “highways and hedges” to speak to the lost.  This is the good old parish way – ministerial house to house evangelistic labor in a fixed, geographical district. Would to God it may be recovered! (Italics below mine.)

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God did not send me to baptise, but to preach. But that which I was called to was, to testify for God, to hold forth his name and ways to the dark world, and to deliver poor captives of Satan, and bring them to the glorious liberty of the sons of God: this was I to make: my only employment, to give myself to, and therein to be diligent, taking all occasions; and to be plain, full and free in this charge. I was called to enter in hot war with the world and sinners, to fight by my testimony against them for God ….

He is [in addition to public preaching] to execute his commission by exhortation, private and occasional instruction, whether for reproof, comfort, or in formation and direction. And this is it which I suppose I was moſt called unto, viz. to take all occasions with all persons in private discourse, to make the name of Christ known, and to do them good, and to do this as my only work; and to do it boldly, and faithfully and fully: and this to do is very hard in a right and effectual manner; to do this is harder than to preach publickly; and, to be strengthened, directed and encouraged in this, is that for which I ought to live near in a dependence on Christ, without whom we can do nothing, and of whom is all our sufficiency. In preaching there are a great many whom we can not reach, and there are many to whom we have no occasion to preach publickly; we may thus preach always, and speak more succesfully than in publick, where the greatest part of hearers do not understand the minister tho’ he speak never so plainly. This likewise we are called unto this day, seeing we are by force incapacitate: but oh how is this neglected! were ministers faithful in this, we should quickly fee a change in affairs; but, alas, with grief of heart I speak it, it is in this thing that I challenge myself most of any, it is in this that I have most come ſhort, and I suppose it may be so with others too. The Apostles went from house to house.

download“And, I am sure, it is not much for our safety, that national and provincial fasts are so much neglected, when Providence so loudly calls us to the work of humiliation and prayer; when sin is arriving to so great a height, when clouds of wrath are gathering so fast; when all Europe is threatened with blood and confusion, and when destructive divisions and schisms are ready to break out among us at home; and O, do not these frightful appearances proclaim it to be a proper season for us to meet, and fast, and mourn, and see is we can weep our hearts into one lump, and, by our united prayers, prevail with God, for Christ’s sake, to ‘spare his people, and not give his heritage to reproach;’ or else, that he will prepare us to meet him, when coming in the way of his judgments? And, if judgment begin at the house of God, what shall be the end of these that obey not the gospel? O that God, in his mercy, may awaken us in time to think on these things!”

-John Willison of Dundee (1680-1750)

 

Here is a delightful vignette of old parish ‘missions,’ if you will, in 17th century Presbyterian Scotland.  The minister, William Guthrie (1620-1665), labored to be all things to all men, that he might gain some.

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After William Guthrie came to Fenwick, many of the people were so rude and barbarous, that they never attended upon divine worship, and knew not so much as the face of their pastor. To such, everything that respected religion was disagreeable; many refused to be visited or catechised by him; they would not even admit him into their houses. To such he sometimes went in the evening disguised in the character of a traveller, and sought lodging, which he could not even obtain without much entreaty, but, having obtained it, he would engage in some general amusing conversation at first, and then ask them how they liked their minister. When they told him that they did not go to church, he engaged them to go and take a trial; others he hired with money to go. When the time of family worship came, he desired to know if they made any, and if not, what reasons they had for it.

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