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Archive for January, 2010

“However thoroughly we may he convinced of the benefit that would result from the influence of locality, we feel that it is not in easy task didactically to set forth this influence, by any process of argument or explanation. The conviction is far more readily arrived at by the tact of real and living experience, than by the lessons of any expounder. There is a charm in locality, most powerfully felt by every man who tries it; but which, at the same time, it is most difficult so to seize upon as to embody it in language, or to bring it forth in satisfying demonstration to the public eye. We do not know an individual who has personally attached himself to a manageable portion of the civic territory, and has entered with taste and spirit upon its cultivation-and who does not perceive, with something like the force and the clearness of intuition, that, if this way of it were spread over an assembled million of human beings, it would quickly throw a new moral complexion over the teeming expanse that is on every side of him. But what he feels, it is not easy to make others see. For, however substantial the influence of locality is, there is a certain shadowy fineness about it, in virtue of which it eludes the efforts of an observer to lay hold of it, and to analyze it. It is no bad evidence, however, of the experimental soundness of this operation, that the incredulity about it, is all on the side of those who stand without the field of local management; and the confidence about it, on the side of those who stand within-and that, while the former regard it as a mystic and undefinable fancy, the latter find in it as much of sureness and solidity, as if their eyes saw it, and their hands handled it.”

-Thomas Chalmers, The Christian and Economic Polity of a Nation, p. 43.

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Here is the fifth & last installment in this series.  To begin at part 1, click here.  Certainly, we observe that territorial missions is not for the faint of heart!

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In my Mission district, I was the witness of many joyful departures to be with Jesus,—I do not like to name them ” deaths ” at all. Even now, at the distance of nearly forty years, many instances, especially amongst the young men and women who attended my classes, rise up before my mind. They left us, rejoicing in the bright assurance that nothing present or to come “could ever separate them or us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Several of them, by their conversation even on their death-bed, were known to have done much good. Many examples might be given; but I can find room for only one. John Sim, a dear little boy, was carried away by consumption. His childish heart seemed to be filled with joy about seeing Jesus. His simple prattle, mingled with deep questionings, arrested not only his young companions, but pierced the hearts of some careless sinners who heard him, and greatly refreshed the faith of God’s dear people. It was the very pathos of song incarnated to hear the weak quaver of his dying voice sing out,—

“I lay my sins on Jesus,                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The spotless Lamb of God.”

Shortly before his decease he said to his parents, ” I am going soon to be with Jesus; but I sometimes fear that I may not see you there.”

“Why so, my child?” said his weeping mother.

” Because,” he answered, ” if you were set upon going to heaven and seeing Jesus there, you would pray about it, and sing about it; you would talk about Jesus to others, and tell them of that happy meeting with Him in Glory. All this my dear Sabbath school teacher taught me, and she will meet me there. Now why did not you, my father and mother, tell me all these things about Jesus, if you are going to meet Him too ? ”

Their tears fell fast over their dying child; and he little knew, in his unthinking eighth year, what a message from God had pierced their souls through his innocent words. One day an aunt from the country visited his mother, and their talk had run in channels for which the child no longer felt any interest. On my sitting down beside him, he said,—

” Sit you down and talk with me about Jesus; I am tired hearing so much talk about everything else but Jesus; I am going soon to be with Him. Oh, do tell me everything you know or have ever heard about Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God!”

At last the child literally longed to be away, not for rest, or freedom from pain—for of that he had very little—but, as he himself always put it, ” to see Jesus.” And, after all, that was the wisdom of the heart, however he learned it. Eternal life, here or hereafter, is just the vision of Jesus.

Amongst many of the Roman Catholics in my Mission district, also, I was very kindly received, and allowed even to read the Scriptures and to pray. At length, however, a young woman who professed to be converted by my classes and meetings brought things to a crisis betwixt them and me. She had renounced her former faith, was living in a Protestant family, and looked to me as her pastor and teacher. One night, a closed carriage, with two men and women, was sent from a Nunnery in Clyde Street, to take her and her little sister with them. She refused, and declined all authority on their part, declaring that she was now a Protestant by her own free choice. During this altercation, a message had been sent for me. On arriving, I found the house filled with a noisy crowd. Before them all, she appealed to me for protection from these her enemies. The Romanists, becoming enraged, jostled me into a corner of the room, and there enclosed me. The two women pulled her out of bed by force, for the girl had been sick, and began to dress her, but she fainted among their hands.

I called out,— “Do not murder the poor girl! Get her water, quick, quick!” and leaving my hat on the table, I rushed through amongst them, as if in search of water, and they let me pass. Knowing that the house had only one door, I quickly slipped the key from within, shut and locked the door outside, and with the key in my hand ran to the Police Office. Having secured two constables to protect the girl and take the would-be captors into custody, I returned, opened the door, and found, alas! that these constables were themselves Roman Catholics, and at once set about frustrating me and assisting their own friends. The poor sick girl was supported by the arms into the carriage ; the policemen cleared the way through the crowd; and before I could force my way through the obstructives in the house, the conveyance was already starting. I appealed and shouted to the crowds to protect the girl, and seize and take the whole party to the Police Office. A gentleman in the crowd took my part, and said to a big Highland policeman in the street,—

” Mac, I commit that conveyance and party to you on a criminal charge, before witnesses ; you will suffer, if they escape.”

The driver lashing at his horse to get away, Mac drew his baton and struck, when the driver leapt down to the street on the opposite side, and threw the reins in the policeman’s face. Thereupon our stalwart friend at once mounted the box, and drove straight for the Police Office. On arriving there, we discovered that only the women were inside with the tick girl—the men having escaped in the scuffle and the crush. What proved more disappointing was that the lieutenant on duty happened to be a Papist, who, after hearing our statement and conferring with the parties in the conveyance, returned, and said,—

“Her friends are taking her to a comfortable home; you have no right to interfere, and I have let them go.” He further refused to hear the grounds of our complaint, and ordered the police to clear the Office.

Next morning, a false and foolish account of the whole affair appeared in the Newspapers, condemnatory of the Mission and of myself; a meeting of the directors was summoned, and the Superintendent came to my lodging to take me before them. Having heard all, and questioned and cross-questioned me, they resolved to prosecute the abductors of the girl. The Nunnery authorities confessed that the little sister was with them, but denied that she had been taken in there, or that they knew anything of her case. Though the girl was sought for carefully by the Police, and by all the members of my class, for nearly a fortnight, no trace of her or of the coachman or of any of the parties could be discovered; till one day from a cellar, through a grated window, she called to one of my class girls passing by, and begged her to run and let me know that she was confined there. At once, the directors of the City Mission were informed by me, and Police were sent to rescue her; but on examining that house they found that she had been again removed. The occupiers denied all knowledge of where she had gone, or who had taken her away from their lodging. All other efforts failed to find her, till she was left at the Poor House door, far gone in dropsy, and soon after died in that last refuge of the destitute and forsaken.

Anonymous letters were now sent, threatening my life ; and I was publicly cursed from the altar by the priests in Abercromby Street Chapel. The directors of the Mission, fearing violence, advised me to leave Glasgow for a short holiday, and even offered to arrange for my being taken for work in Edinburgh for a year, that the fanatical passions of the Irish Papists might have time to subside. But I refused to leave my work. I went on conducting it all as in the past.  The worst thing that happened was, that on rushing one day past a row of houses occupied exclusively by Papists, a stone thrown from one of them cut me severely above the eye, and I fell stunned and bleeding. When I recovered and scrambled to my feet, no person of course that could be suspected was to be seen!  The doctor having dressed the wound, it rapidly healed, and after a short confinement I resumed my work and my studies without any further serious annoyance. Attempts were made more than once, in these Papist closes, and I believe by the Papists themselves, to pour pails of boiling water on my head, over windows and down dark stairs, but in every case I marvellously escaped; and as I would not turn coward, their malice tired itself out, and they ultimately left me entirely at peace. Is not this a feature of the lower Irish, and especially Popish population.  Let them see that bullying makes you afraid, and they will brutally and cruelly misuse you; but defy them fearlessly, or take them by the nose, and they will crouch like whelps beneath your feet. Is there anything in their Religion that accounts for this? Is it not a system of alternating tyranny on the one part, and terror, abject terror, on the other?

About this same time there was an election of elders for Dr. Symington’s congregation, and I was by an almost unanimous vote chosen for that office. For years now I had been attached to them as City Missionary for their district, and many friends urged me to accept the eldership, as likely to increase my usefulness, and give me varied experience for my future work. My dear father, also, himself an elder in the congregation at Dumfries, advised me similarly; and though very young, comparatively, for such a post, I did accept the office, and continued to act as an elder and member of Dr. Symington’s kirk session, till by-and-by I was ordained as a Missionary to the New Hebrides, where the great lot of my life had been cast by the Lord, as yet unknown to me.

All through my City Mission period, I was painfully carrying on my studies, first at the University of Glasgow, and thereafter at the Reformed Presbyterian Divinity Hall; and also medical classes at the Andersonian College. With the exception of one session, when failure of health broke me down, I struggled patiently on through ten years. The work was hard and most exacting ; and if I never attained the scholarship for which I thirsted—being but poorly grounded in my younger days—I yet had much of the blessed Master’s presence in all my efforts, which many better scholars sorely lacked ; and I was sustained by the lofty aim which burned all these years bright within my soul, namely,—to be qualified as a preacher of the Gospel of Christ, to be owned and used by Him for the salvation of perishing men.

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“I do not understand how a teacher can die in peace, who has not been diligent in the work of catechising.” 

– Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711)

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Here is the fourth installment in this series.  To begin at part 1, click here.

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Though intemperance was the main cause of poverty, suffering, misery, and vice in that district of Glasgow, I had also considerable opposition from Romanists and Infidels, many of whom met in clubs, where they drank together and gloried in their wickedness and in leading other young men astray.  Against these I prepared and delivered lectures, at the close of which discussion was allowed; but I fear they did little good. These men embraced the opportunity of airing their absurdities, or sowing the seeds of corruption in those whom otherwise they could never have reached, while their own hearts and minds were fast shut against all conviction or light.

One infidel Lecturer in the district became very ill.  His wife called me in to visit him. I found him possessed of a circulating library of infidel books, by which he sought to pervert unwary minds. Though he had talked and lectured much against the Gospel, he did not at all really understand its message.  He had read the Bible, but only to find food there for ridicule. Now supposed to be dying, he confessed that his mind was full of terror as to the Future. After several visits and frequent conversations and prayers, he became genuinely and deeply interested, drank in God’s message of salvation, and cried aloud with many tears for pardon and peace . He bitterly lamented the evil he had done, and called in all the infidel literature that he had in circulation, with the purpose of destroying it.  He began to speak solemnly to any of his old companions that came to see him, telling them what he had found in the Lord Jesus. At his request I bought and brought to him a Bible, which he received with great joy, saying, ” This is the book for me now ;” and adding, ” Since you were here last, I gathered together all my infidel books; my wife locked the door, till she and my daughter tore them to pieces, and I struck the light that reduced the pile to ashes.”

As long as he lived, this man was unwearied and unflinching in testifying, to all that crossed his path, how much Jesus Christ had been to his heart and soul; and he died in the possession of a full and blessed hope.

Another Infidel, whose wife was a Roman Catholic also became unwell, and gradually sank under great suffering and agony. His blasphemies against God weie known and shuddered at by all the neighbours. His wife pled with me to visit him. She refused, at my suggestion, to call her own priest, so I accompanied her at last.  The man refused to hear one word about spiritual things, and foamed with rage. He even spat at me, when I mentioned the name of Jesus. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him!”  There is a wisdom which is at best earthly, and at worst ” sensual and devilish.”  His wife asked me to take care of the little money they had, as she would not entrust it to her own priest.  I visited the poor man daily, but his enmity to God and his sufferings together seemed to drive him mad.  His yells gathered crowds on the streets.  He tore to pieces his very bed-clothes, till they had to bind him on the iron bed where he lay, foaming and blaspheming.  Towards the end I pled with him even then to look to the Lord Jesus, and asked if I might pray with him?  With all his remaining strength, he shouted at me,—

“Pray for me to the devil!”

Reminding him how he had always denied that there was any devil, I suggested that he must surely believe in one now, else he would scarcely make such a request, even in mockery. In great rage he cried,—

“Yes, I believe there is a devil, and a God, and a just God, too; but I have hated Him in life, and I hate Him in death!”

With these awful words, he wriggled into Eternity ; but his shocking death produced a very serious impression for good, especially amongst young men, in the district where his character was known.

How different was the case of that Doctor who also had been an unbeliever as well as a drunkard!  Highly educated, skilful, and gifted above most in his profession, he was taken into consultation for specially dangerous cases, whenever they could find him tolerably sober.  After one of his excessive “bouts,” he had a dreadful attack of delirium tremens.  At one time, wife and watchers had a fierce struggle to dash from his lips a draught of prussic acid; at another, they detected the silver-hafted lancet concealed in the band of his shirt, as he lay down, to bleed himself to death.  His aunt came and pled with me to visit him.  My heart bled for his poor young wife and two beautiful little children.  Visiting him twice daily, and sometimes even more frequently, I found the way somehow into his heart, and he would do almost anything for me and longed for my visits. When again the fit of self-destruction seized him, they sent for me; he held out his hand eagerly, and grasping mine, said,—

“Put all these people out of the room, remain you with me; I will be quiet, I will do everything you ask!”

I got them all to leave, but whispered to one in passing to “keep near the door.”

Alone I sat beside him, my hand in his, aid kept up a quiet conversation for several hours.  After whad talked of everything that I could think of, and it was now far into the morning, I said,—

“If you had a Bible here, we might read a chapter, verse about.”

He said dreamily, “There was once a Bible above yon press ; if you can get up to it, you might find it there yet.”

Getting it, dusting it, and laying it on a small cable which I drew near to the sofa on which we sat, we read there and then a chapter together. After this, I said, ” Now, shall we pray? ”

He replied heartily, “Yes.”

I having removed the little table, we kneeled down together at the sofa; and after a solemn pause, I whispered, “You pray first.”

He replied, “I curse, I cannot pray; would you have me curse God to His face?”

I answered, “You promised to do all that I asked ; you must pray, or try to pray, and let me hear that you cannot.”

He said, “I cannot curse God on my knees ; let me stand, and I will curse Him; I cannot pray.”

I gently held him on his knees, saying, “Just try to pray, and let me hear you cannot”

Instantly he cried out , “O Lord, Thou knowest I cannot pray,” and was going to say something dreadful as he strove to rise up.  But I just took the words he had uttered as if they had been my own, and continued the prayer, pleading for him and his dear ones as we knelt there together, till he showed that he was completely subdued and lying low at the feet of God. On rising from our knees he was manifestly greatly impressed, and I said,—

“Now, as I must be at College by daybreak and must return to my lodging for my books and an hour’s rest, will you do one thing more for me before I go?”

“Yes,” was his reply.

“Then,” said I, “it is long since you had a refreshing sleep; now, will you lie down, and I will sit by you till you fall asleep?”

He lay down, and was soon fast asleep.  After commending him to the care and blessing of the Lord, I quietly slipped out, and his wife returned to watch by his side. When I came back later in the day, after my classes were over, he, on hearing my foot and voice, came running to meet me, and clasping me in his arms, cried,—

“Thank God, I can pray now!  I rose this morning refreshed from sleep, and prayed with my wife and children for the first time in my life; and now I shall do so every day, and serve God while I live, who hath dealt in so great mercy with me!”

After delightful conversation, he promised to go with me to Dr. Symington’s church on Sabbath Day; there he took sittings beside me;  at next half-yearly communion he and his wife were received into membership, and their children were baptized;  and from that day till his death he led a devoted and most useful Christian life.  Henceforth, as a medical man he delighted to attend all poor and destitute cases which we brought under his care; he ministered to them for Jesus’ sake, and spoke to them of their blessed Saviour. When he came across cases that were hopeless, he sent for me to visit them too, being as anxious for their souls as for their bodies. He died, years after this, of consumption, partly at least the fruit of early excesses; but he was serenely prepared for death, and happy in the assured hope of eternal blessedness with Christ He sleeps in Jesus; and I do believe that I shall meet him in Glory as a trophy of redeeming grace and love!

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The following is a delightful quote in the preface of the 1840 edition of Thomas Chalmers’ Christian and Economic Polity of a Nation:

We confess no small gratification in finding, at the end of twenty years, that our promulgations, held at the time to be altogether Utopian, of the great charm and efficiency which lie in the household ministrations of clergymen, are now repeated in the most popular, and at the same time, the most able and authoritative of our daily journals. The Times newspaper of a few days back recommends with great force and eloquence, and in the following terms, “the still further prosecution of an earnest and indefatigable system of parochial domiciliary visiting throughout all the parishes of the land. This, depend upon it, is the only patent and talismanic key to English hearts, whether of Churchmen, Papists, or Dissenters. Disinterested and persevering kindness, brought habitually to a man’s home under all sorts of discouragement, is what no human being can long or rudely resist. With that elevated determination and singleheartedness, which, in the absence of all impertinent intrusions or officious curiosity, manifestly seeks to engage mankind in a devout concern for their immortal interests, let every family in every city, town, or hamlet, be regularly and affectionately visited, no matter what denomination they may belong to. The established clergy, accredited, commissioned, and upheld by the law of this realm, are the clergy of the whole nation. Every fireside in their parish is a part of their allotted charge. They have an official as well as a moral right, subject, of course, to discreet limitations, to seek admittance into every door, ‘ whether men will hear or whether they will forbear.’  Painful repulses will occasionally, though not often, occur; but these, compensated by a consciousness of dutiful exertion and by cordial welcomes in other cases, will sooner or later be overcome hy meek and patient endurance. Only let all the families of England be regularly invited to the dispensation of a free gospel in a free church ; and eventually the very universality of this hahit of parochial visiting will establish it as a part of our social system; and cause it to work with the uniform beneficence of nature’s general laws.”

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