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Archive for August, 2010

Recently, I’ve picked up William Smith’s Endowed Territorial Work again.  Truly great stuff.  Robust, Reformed missiology from a disciple of Thomas Chalmers.

The following is a quote in which Smith takes a swipe at 19th century Voluntaryism, which is basically now the status quo most evangelical churches.  Every church is functionally on its own, sink or swim, and is fully subject to the laws of the religious marketplace.  Or, as Smith succinctly puts it, Voluntaryism is the synthesis of “congregationalism and commercialism.”  The net effect is the degradation of the holy ministry.

It also may help orient the reader to mention that Smith has just argued for “necessity of rearranging the whole country into parishes of manageable extent and population, and the likeliest means by which this can be accomplished in present circumstances.”  That’s the parish principle a la Chalmers, also called territorialism.  In this chapter he contends for a coordinate principle with regards to finance, that is, “the provision for each parish of such an endowment or stipend for the minister as shall make him so far independent of those to whom he preaches, and render his services available for the benefit ot such of his parishioners as are either too poor or indisposed to pay for Gospel ordinances” (182).

So, enjoy! – or be challenged, either one.  But at the very least, think.

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The eminent success of the Free Church of Scotland, not only in the home, but also in the foreign field of evangelistic activity, is frequently quoted as an unanswerable argument in favour of Voluntaryism as against endowment; and on certain platforms it has become customary, for those decrying union with the State, to invite the members of the National Church, to surrender the privileges therein enjoyed, and to imitate the exodus by which their former brethren went forth to enjoy exemption from the burdens connected with permanent endowments. Now, far be it from me, and from every one who has true Scottish blood in his veins, to say one word in disparagement of the sacrifices, exertions, and successes of the Free Church, or to seek to detract from the praise justly due to the skill and statesmanship with which the great founders and leaders of that influential denomination have shaped its policy and guided its career.  But their great success is undoubtedly due in no small degree to the institution by Dr Chalmers of what is called the Sustentation Fund, which, though dependent for its supplies on free contributions from year to year, is in its principle and effects diametrically opposed to Voluntaryism, and does, so far as is possible in the circumstances, embody and carry out the principle of endowment.  It is not so secure as absolute endowment, and therefore the latter is not to be lightly, or except for very much stronger reasons than have yet been advanced, abandoned for it; but the income it provides for Free Church ministers is not dependent merely on the voluntary donations of those that wait upon their ministry. It is drawn in large measure from a source which is really fixed and permanent in its character, and which, though less secure and exempt from the possibility of variableness than that provided by the piety of remote ancestors and invested in substantial property, is yet sufficiently settled and sure to fulfil many of the purposes of endowment. It affects at least the constitution of tha relation between pastor and people, so far as to mitigate in a very considerable degree the evil inherent in mere Voluntaryism, by which the minister is made the minion and the slave of those whom he is bound as the ambassador of Christ to “exhort and rebuke with all authority.”

This mitigation, to whatever it amounts, is, so far as it goes, an immense gain. The evil it abates is most pernicious in its results. As a system, the evil tends to produce mere vapouring orators and popular demagogues and tinkling cymbals, rather than judicious expositors or valiant defenders of the truth and faithful pastors. It renders the exercise of sound and wholesome ecclesiastical discipline next to impossible, and it fills the advertising columns of Saturday newspapers with announcements of sermons and orations couched in clap-trap [absurd or nonsensical] phraseology, the puffery of which is simply disgusting to serious minds, and cannot but be fearfully deteriorating to the spiritual quality of any man, forced to seek by such unworthy expedients to fill his chapel and increase the coppers cast into his treasury.

That this is more frequently the result of Voluntaryism than some may suspect; that  “The pulpit’s laws the pulpit’s patrons give, / And those who live to preach, must preach to live,” is clear from the testimony bome by John Angell James, himself one of the most illustrious of Dissenting ministers.  He says: “In many of our churches the pastor is placed far below his level; he may natter like a sycophant, beg like a servant, or woo like a lover; he is not permitted to enjoin like a ruler.  His opinion is received with no deference; his person is treated with no respect; and, in presence of some of his lay tyrants, he is only permitted to peep and mutter in the dust.”

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Thomas Boston wrote in his Memoirs that he had been troubled ever since beginning his ministry “with several things in our constitution [of the Church of Scotland], especially the manner of admitting to the Lord’s table, and planting of churches” (338).  Being appointed to a committee to review such matters, Boston took the opportunity to redress these problems.  The following is an overture from his pen, entitled “Of admission to the Lord’s table, and debarring from it,” contained as an appendix in his Memoirs (487-88).  While there are many contextual disconnects with our modern circumstances, there is much instructive here for the admission of new members and the role of catechesis in the process. 

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” 1. Admission to the Lord’s table, and debarring from it, being acts of church discipline and government in a particular congregation, belong to the session of the congregation, and are not to be exercised by any minister or elder by themselves, nor any society of ministers and elders in an extrajudicial capacity.

” 2. Besides the ordinary examinations in parishes, it is meet there be diets of examination particularly for non-communicants, and specially those of the younger sort. And for this end, that once every year at least, especially before the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the congregation, ministers, from the pulpit, exhort and stir up non-communicants to serious godliness, and the use of the means of knowledge; and intimate to all such as desire to be prepared to partake of that ordinance, that they give in their names to him, and wait on the diets of catechising to be appointed for such.

” 3. The names of such as offer themselves to be instructed, in order to their being admitted to the Lord’s table, are to be kept in a roll separate from that of the whole congregation, and to be brought into the session, and read before them; that it may be recommended to all the brethren, to have a particular eye on the inrolled, each especially on those of his own district; to excite, admonish, and exhort them, to a walk becoming the gospel, and the high privilege they are aspiring to.

“4. When a non-communicant removes out of one parish into another, it were fit that he produce sufficient testimonials from the place of his former abode, before he be inrolled amongst those who have offered themselves to be instructed as above said, in the congregation to which he comes.

” 5. When one desires to be admitted to the Lord’s table, he is in due time to intimate his desire to the session, that they may maturely consider of it. But it were fit, that the party should in the first place acquaint the minister with his purpose; who, if he finds he has not made a competent proficiency by the pains taken on him, in the examinations of non-communicants, or otherwise, may advise him yet to forbear for a time.

” 6. The session entering on this affair, a strict inquiry is to be made among the members, particularly at the elder or elders of the district which the party belongs to, concerning his life and conversation; whether he be guilty of any scandal; owns, submits to, and ordinarily attends, the ordinances of Christ, the public and private worship of God; if he be of a pious and sober deportment, and reputed to be a worshipper of God in secret; and if he be the head of a family, whether he worships God in his family.

” 7. If nothing be found on that part to hinder his admission to the Lord’s table, the session convening, on a set day, in the place of public worship, and the doors being open, that all the communicants, and those who have offered themselves to he instructed as ahove said, may have access, if they please, he is, in face of session, to give proof of his knowledge of the principles of the Christian religion, and particularly of the nature, use, and ends, of the ordinance of the supper, by making a confession of his faith, either in the way of a continued discourse, or by answering questions thereupon proposed by the minister.

” 8. And here special consideration is to be had of some who are known to be serious, and willing to learn, yet are weak ; namely, that the questions be proposed to them, so as they may be answered by Yes, or No; or that the truth and error be both laid before them, and they asked, which of them they believe.

” 9. The trial being ended, the session is to judge, whether the party be endowed with competent knowledge of the principles of the Christian religion, or not.

” 10. And if they be satisfied in this also, the party is to be put explicitly to consent to the covenant (whereof he desires the seal), to be the Lord’s, live unto Him, and serve Him all the days of his life, by answering expressly the following (or the like) questions. 1. Do you believe the doctrine of the Shorter Catechism of this church, so far as you understand the same, to be the true doctrine agreeable to the holy Scriptures, and resolve, through grace, to live and die in the profession of the same?  2. Do you consent to take God in Christ to be your God, the Father to be your Father, the Son to be your Saviour, and the Holy Ghost to be your Sanctifier; and that, renouncing the devil, the world, and the flesh, you be the Lord’s for ever?  3. Do you consent to receive Christ as He is offered in the gospel, for your prophet, priest, and king; giving up yourself to Him, to be led and guided by His word and Spirit; looking for salvation only through the obedience and death of Jesus Christ, who was crucified without the gates of Jerusalem; promising, in His strength, to endeavour to lead a holy life, to forsake every known sin, and to comply with every known duty?  4. Lastly, Do you promise to subject yourself to exhortation, admonition, and rebuke, and the discipline of the church, in case (which God forbid) you fall into any scandalous sin?

“11. The party having professed, consented, and promised, as above said, is to be admitted to the table of the Lord, by a sentence of the session; which is to be recorded in their register, and an extract thereof allowed to be given him, when called for.

” 12. It were fit, that the names of all those who, from time to time, are admitted to the Lord’s table, be inrolled in a bound book belonging to the session.

“13. And how often soever that ordinance be administered in a congregation, the aforesaid roll of those who have at any time been admitted, is always to be read over distinctly, in presence of the session, some competent time before, and the members required to declare, if they know anything against the life and conversation of any of them.

“14. If anything be objected, the session is to order private exhortation or admonition, or sist the accused before them, as they shall see ground, and find the matter to require. And this is to be so managed, as that the accused be sisted, as aforesaid, on report concerning the private exhortation or admonition made, before the time of the administration of the sacrament. But those who have once been orderly admitted, are at no time after to be denied the privilege they were admitted to, except in the case of scandal; for which they are to be debarred by the session, till they have removed the scandal, according to the discipline of the church: Which done, they are restored to their former church-state.”

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The following is an extract from Thomas Chalmers’ personal notes from house to house visitation in his first parish of Kilmany, with comment by William Hanna, editor of his Memoirs.  It well illustrates the Scottish Reformed legacy of the spiritual care for all souls in a defined geographical area as well as the ancillary custom of pastoral journaling.  Here are the records of a true, spiritual physician.

A few specifics are worthy of special observation.  Note the frequent entreaties raised to the Lord, reminiscent of another memoir-writer, Nehemiah (Neh. 2:4, 5:19, 6:14, 13:14, 22, 29, 31).  Here is one devoting himself to the ministry of the Word and prayer.  We also should observe amid these ‘ejaculatory’ prayers an ongoing willingness to engage in self-criticism.  May we too rest in the Lord for whom we labor, and not in our labors themselves.  They are fraught with sin and imperfection – “but our sufficiency is of God” (2 Cor. 3:5). 

Last, Hanna includes an overview of Chalmers’ practice of catechizing, in the well-worn path of the old Church of Scotland practice.  His method was evidently very gracious and dialogical, yet it clearly honored the high authority vested in the Catechism’s biblical doctrines.  Firmness in confession, pastoral finesse in method.  A delicate balance indeed!

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“February 15th, 1813.—Visited Mrs. B., who is unwell, and prayed. Let me preach Christ in all simplicity, and let me have a peculiar eye on others. I spoke of looking unto Jesus, and deriving thence all our delight and confidence. O God, give me wisdom and truth in this household part of my duty.

“February 21st.— Visited at Dalyell Lodge. They are in great affliction for the death of a child. I prayed with them. O God, make me wise and faithful, and withal affectionate in my management of these cases. I fear that something of the sternness of systematic orthodoxy adheres to me. Let me give up all sternness; but let me never give up the only name by which men can be saved, or the necessity of forsaking all to follow Him, whether as a Saviour or a Prince.

“March 25th.— Visited a young man in consumption. The call not very pleasant; but this is of no consequence. O my God, direct me how to do him good.

“June 2d.— Mr. ——— sent for me in prospect of death; a man of profligate and profane habits, who resents my calling him an unworthy sinner, and who spoke in loud and confident strains of his faith in Christ, and that it would save him. O God, give me wisdom in these matters to declare the whole of thy counsel for the salvation of men. I represented to him the necessity of being born again, of being humbled under a sense of his sins, of repenting and turning from them. O may I turn it to my own case. If faith in Christ is so unsuitable from his mouth because he still loves sin, and is unhumbled because of it, should not the conviction be forced upon me that I labor myself under the same unsuitableness?  O my God, give me a walk suitable to my profession, and may the power of Christ rest upon me.

“June 4th.— Visited Mr  — again. Found him worse, but displeased at my method of administering to his spiritual wants. He said that it was most unfortunate that he had sent for me; talked of my having inspired him with gloomy images, but seemed quite determined to buoy himself up in Antinomian security.  He did not ask me to pray. I said a little to him, and told him that I should be ready to attend him whenever he sent for me.

“August 9th.— Miss — under religious concern. O my God, send her help from Thy sanctuary. Give me wisdom for these cases.  Let me not heal the wound slightly; and, oh, while I administer comfort in Christ, may it be a comfort according to godliness. She complains of the prevalence of sin. Let me not abate her sense of its sinful ness. Let me preach Christ in all his entireness, as one that came to atone for the guilt of sin, and to redeem from its power.

“March 15th, 1814.—Poor Mr. Bonthron, I think, is dying. I saw him and prayed, after a good deal of false delicacy. O my God, give me to be pure of his blood, and to bear with effect upon his conscience. Work faith in him with power. I have little to record in the way of encouragement. He does not seem alarmed himself about the state of his health, and, I fear, has not a sufficient alarm upon more serious grounds. It is a difficult and heavy task for me; and when I think of my having to give an account of the souls committed to me, well may I say, Who is sufficient for these things?

“March 23d.— Mr. Bonthron was able to be out, and drank tea with us. I broke the subject of eternity with him. He acquiesces; you carry his assent always along with you, but you feel as if you have no point of resistance, and are making no impression.

“March 26th and 27th.—Prayed each of these days with Mr. Bonthron. I did not feel that any thing like deep or saving impression was made. O Lord, enable me to be faithful!

“April 3d.—Visited John Bonthron.

“April 5th.—Prayed with more enlargement with John than usual. I see no agitations of remorse; but should this prevent me from preaching Christ in His freeness?  The whole truth is the way to prevent abuses.

“April 6th and 8th Visited Mr. Bonthron.

“April 9th.—Read and commented on a passage of the Bible to John. This I find a very practicable, and I trust effectual way of bringing home the truth to him.”

The next day was the Sabbath, on the morning of which a message was brought to the manse that Mr. Bonthron was worse. While the people were assembling for worship, Mr. Chalmers went to see him once more, and, surrounded by as many as the room could admit, he prayed fervently at his bedside. No trace remains of another visit.

Prosecuting his earlier practice of visiting and examining in alternate years, he commenced a visitation of his parish in 1813, which, instead of being finished in a fortnight, was spread over the whole year. As many families as could conveniently be assembled in one apartment were in the first instance visited in their own dwellings, where, without any religious exercise, a free and cordial conversation, longer or shorter as the case required, informed him as to the condition of the different households. When they afterward met together, he read the Scriptures, prayed, and exhorted, making at times the most familiar remarks, using very simple yet memorable illustrations. “I have a very lively recollection,” says Mr. Robert Edie, “of the intense earnestness of his addresses on occasions of visitation in my father’s house, when he would unconsciously move forward on his chair to the very margin of it, in his anxiety to impart to the family and servants the impressions of eternal things that so filled his own soul.”  “It would take a great book,” said he, beginning his address to one of these household congregations, “to contain the names of all the individuals that have ever lived, from the days of Adam down to the present hour; but there is one name that takes in the whole of them—that name is sinner: and here is a message from God to every one that bears that name, ‘ The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.'” Wishing to tell them what kind of faith God would have them to cherish, and what kind of fear, and how it was that, instead of hindering each other, the right fear and the right faith worked into each other’s hands, he said, “It is just as if you threw out a rope to a drowning man. Faith is the hold he takes of it. It is fear which makes him grasp it with all his might; and the greater his fear, the firmer his hold.” Again, to illustrate what the Spirit did with the Word: “This book, the Bible, is like a wide and beautiful landscape, seen afar off, dim and confused; but a good telescope will bring it near, and spread out all its rocks, and trees, and flowers, and verdant fields, and winding rivers at one’s very feet. That telescope is the Spirit’s teaching.”

His own records of one or two of these visitations are instructive:

“February 18th, 1813.—Visited at Bogtown, Hawkhill, and East Kinneir. No distinct observation of any of them being impressed with what I said. At East Kinneir I gave intimation that if any labored under difficulties, or were anxious for advice upon spiritual and divine subjects, I am at all times in readiness to help them. Neglected this intimation at Hawkhill, but let me observe this ever after.

” February 16th.— A diet of visitation at ——. Had intimate conversation only with M. W. I thought the —— a little impressed with my exhortation about family worship, and the care of watching over the souls of their children. I should like to understand if —— has family worship.

” March 9th.—Visited at ——. The children present.  This I think highly proper, and let me study a suitable and impressive address to them in all time coming.

“May 19th.— Visited at ——. I am not sure if Icould perceive any thing like salutary impression among them; but I do not know, and perhaps I am too apt to be discouraged. C. S. and J. P. the most promising. O my God, give me to grow in the knowledge and observation of the fruits of the Spirit and of His work upon the hearts of sinners.

“August 9th—Visited at Hill Cairney. Resigned myself to the suggestions of the moment, at least did not adhere to the plan of discourse that I had hitherto adopted. I perceived an influence to go along with it. O my God, may this influence increase more and more. I commit the success to Thee.”

In examining his parish he divided it into districts, arranging it so that the inhabitants of each district could be accommodated in some neighboring barn or school-house. On the preceding Sabbath all were summoned to attend, when it was frequently announced that the lecture then delivered would form the subject of remark and catechizing. Generally, however, the Shorter Catechism was used as the basis of the examination. Old and young, male and female, were required to stand up in their turn, and not only to give the answer as it stood in the Catechism, but to show, by their replies to other questions, whether they fully understood that answer. What in many hands might have been a formidable operation, was made light by the manner of the examiner. When no reply was given, he hastened to take all the blame upon himself. “I am sure,” he would say, “I have been most unfortunate in putting the question in that particular way,” and then would change its form.  He was never satisfied till an answer of some kind or other was obtained. The attendance on these examinations was universal, and the interest taken in them very great. They informed the minister of the amount of religious knowledge possessed by his people, and he could often use them as convenient opportunities of exposing any bad practice which had been introduced, or was prevailing in any particular part of his parish. Examining thus at a farm-house, one of the plowmen was called up. The question in order was, “Which is the eighth commandment?”  ” But what is stealing?”  “Taking what belongs to another, and using it as if it were your own.”  “Would it be stealing, then, in you to take your master’s oats or hay, contrary to his orders, and give it to his horses?”  This was one of the many ways in which he sought to instill into the minds of his people a high sense of justice and truth, even in the minutest transactions of life.

“November 30, 1813.—Examined at . J. W. and B. T. both in tears.  The former came out to me agitated and under impression.

“January 20th, 1814.—Had a day of examination, and felt more of the presence and unction of the Spirit than usual.

“January 21st—Had a day of examination. Made a simple commitment of myself to God in Christ before entering into the house.

“February 8th—Examined, and have to bless God for force and freeness.  D. absenting himself from all ordinances. Let me be fearless at least in my general address, and give me prudence and resolution, O Lord, in the business of particularly addressing individuals.  I pray that God may send home the message with power to the people’s hearts.

“February 23d.—Examined ——. A very general seriousness and attention. B. and his wife still, I fear, very much behind.

“April 5th.—Examined at P.  I can see something like a general seriousness, but no decided marks in any individual.

“March 8th.— Examined at S.   The man P. B. deficient in knowledge, and even incapable of reading; the father of a family too.  I receive a good account of ——. Oh! that they may be added to the number of such as shall be saved.

“July 2d.—Examined with more enlargement and seriousness.  I feel as if there was an intelligence and good spirit among the people. O God, satisfy me with success; but I commit all to Thee.

“July 27th—Examined at ——. The family afraid of examination, I think, and they sent me into a room by myself among the servants. This I liked not; but, O God, keep me from all personal feeling on the occasion. I brought it on myself by my own accommodating speeches. I have too much of the fear of man about me. Never felt more dull and barren. I feel my dependence on God. I pray for a more earnest desire after the Christianity of my parish, and, oh may that desire be accomplished. O God, fit a poor, dark, ignorant, and wandering creature for being a minister of Thy word!  Uphold me by Thy free Spirit, and then will I teach transgressors Thy ways.”

The family here referred to was that of a farmer recently settled in the parish, and who, unfamiliar with the practice of examination, felt at the first a not unnatural reluctance to be subjected to it. On his return to the manse, Mr. Chalmers jotted down the preceding impressive notice of his reception and its result. In the afternoon of the same day he went back to the family; told them that, as they had not come to him in the morning, he had just come to them in the evening to go over the exercise with themselves. The frank and open kindness of the act won their instant compliance, and brought its own reward.

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