When Thomas Chalmers began the West Port Experiment in 1844, he delivered a series of four public lectures on the principles of the territorial or parochial method of evangelism. In it, he told his hearers how he had decided many years ago to disassociate all his parish labors from matters of public charity. To have combined them would compromise the great errand on which he labored. “I fairly cut my connexion with them all [the public charities]; I let the people understand that I dealt only in one article, and that, if they valued the advantages of Christian instruction, they were welcome to any approximation which I could make to them” (Memoirs 2:684). In short, Chalmers would distribute not the “bread that perishes,” but that which bread “endures to everlasting life.”
The Church must not get sidetracked from her calling. Christ gave the Church “one article” to distribute to the nations. She is given the keys, not to an earthly storehouse of perishables, but to the very kingdom of heaven.
Here is a sermon Thomas Chalmers preached to a benevolent society that sets forth his principles for Christian benevolence. He advocates at once a very practical, thorough-going humanitarianism, steering a course between the pitfalls of merely throwing cash at poverty on the one hand and a this-worldly focus on outward needs (anticipating the Social Gospel?). He was a stalwart evangelical, both ‘practical and pious.’
Again, remember that Chalmers’ sermons are nowhere near as generally accessible as other 19th century preachers such as Spurgeon and Ryle. If you haven’t read or listened to a Chalmers sermon, you may want to read my short intro under the ‘Audio’ tab. But while going through Chalmers can be hard work, it is work well spent!
Here is a tremendous sermon Thomas Chalmers preached on the scourge of cholera in Britain in the year 1832. In it, we see God as the First Cause hearing and answering prayer either lower or higher up on the chain of secondary causes. Masterful – and instructive as the world watches the vicious spread of Ebola.
If you’ve never listened to Chalmers before, you might appreciate reading the short summary on the ‘Audio’ page.
“It is our fault, that we look upon God’s ways and works by halves and pieces; and so, we see often nothing but the black side, and the dark part of the moon. We mistake all, when we look upon men’s works by parts; a house in the building, lying in an hundred pieces; here timber, here a rafter, there a spar, there a stone; in another place, half a window, in another place, the side of a door: there is no beauty, no face of a house here. Have patience a little, and see them all by art compacted together in order, and you will see a fair building. When a painter draweth the half of a man; the one side of his head, one eye, the left arm, shoulder, and leg, and hath not drawn the other side, nor filled up with colours all the members, parts, limbs, in its full proportion, it is not like a man. So do we look on God’s works by halves or parts . . . yet do we not see, that in this dispensation, the other half of God’s work makes it a fair piece.”
-Samuel Rutherford, The Trial and Triumph of Faith (1645)