Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), ardent advocate of the parish in modern society, commended his Anglican contemporary, Charles Bridges (1794-1869), as a model of a man dedicated to the cure of souls. “My excellent friend, the Rev. Charles Bridges, of Old Newton, Suffolk, finds, I am sure, most ample occupation among those six hundred people whom he may be said to have domesticated into one parochial family; and, were it not for his still more important services to the Christian church at large, would show, by his incessant labours, how possible it were to make out a most beneficial expenditure of all his strength and all his time amongst them” (Collected Works 18:62). This quote certainly illustrates Chalmers’ high regard for evangelical Anglicanism, the better part of the established Kirk’s English counterpart. But there’s something else here as well.
Those of us today who read and appreciate Bridges’ great classic The Christian Ministry can easily fail to realize that he was not writing as a congregational, but as a parochial minister. Chalmers refers to Bridges precisely for this reason. This fact sheds light on Part V of Bridges’ work, “The Pastoral Work of the Christian Ministry.” In that section, he treats the wide range of individual cases that the pastor must treat in his charge. The first two classes are “The Infidel” and “The Ignorant and Careless.” Not your typical church member – or your typical church attender! But a percentage of the 600 souls under Bridges’ geographic charge.
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The following is a stinging rebuke of those of us in the ministry who tend to have a ‘clock in and clock out’ view of our calling:
The late excellent Mr. Hervey resolved – ‘Never to go into any company, where he could not obtain access for his Master.’ And at least we should determine to venture into no society, but where we sincerely desire and endeavour, to introduce our Master. There is indeed ” a time for keeping silence,” and ” keeping our mouth with a bridle,” in the presence of the ungodly; lest, by “giving that which is holy unto dogs, and casting our pearls before swine,” we should provoke a needless excitement of enmity against the Gospel. But (as Dr. Watts has well observed)—’ I doubt this caution has been carried much further by our own cowardice and carnality of spirit, than David ever practised it in the thirty-ninth Psalm, or than Jesus Christ meant it in the seventh of Matthew.’ Certainly if we are “dumb with silence, and hold our peace even from good,” without feeling, like David under these circumstances, our “sorrows to be stirred;” it is but too plain, that we have lost that distinction of ” the servants of Christ,” which it would have been our honour to have preserved; that our Christian prudence has degenerated into worldly cowardice; and that our conversation with the world has been regulated by the fear of man, fleshly indulgence, and practical unbelief of the most solemn warnings of the Gospel.
Our Divine Master never intended, that we should confine our religion to the services of the sanctuary. As men of God, we should have it at heart and in hand, spreading a spiritual savour over the common walks of society, and stamping us with the mark of confessors of Christ in the midst of a world, who hold him still in the same contempt, as when eighteen centuries since they nailed him to the cross. There must be some defect if we do not bring an atmosphere with us, which is more or less instantaneously felt. It is the want of this high tone of character, that makes our private Ministrations so pointless and ineffective. For when parochial visits have been unaccompanied with one searching inquiry respecting the state of the soul, it is easily supposed, that, as no suspicion was thrown out, none was entertained; and that, if there was not quite so much religion as with some others, yet that there was no ground for alarm, nor had the solemn statements of the pulpit any specific reference to them (115-16).
When we consider that the ‘parson’ is the public person of the community, he must always be representing Christ in deed if not in word also. We should especially fight the cultural pressure toward anonymity and the privitization of our faith. Men of God, let us ever ‘go public’ with Him!
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When recently reading Iain Murray’s Scottish Christian Heritage, I caught an interesting aside about Chalmers’ regard for Charles Bridges, the author of the classic The Christian Ministry (1829). It should not be surprising, I suppose, not only because they were contemporaries, but also because they were establishmentarians who both believed in and practiced the territorial principle of home missions.
Here is a quote from Chalmers’ The Right Ecclesiastical Economy of a Large Town:
My excellent friend, the Rev. Charles Bridges, of Old Newton, Suffolk, finds, I am sure, most ample occupation among those six hundred people whom he may be said to have domesticated into one parochial family; and, were it not for his still more important services to the Christian church at large, would show, by his incessant labours, how possible it were to make out a most beneficial expenditure of all his strength and all his time amongst them.
I’d love to explore this connection further, as well as that of Chalmers and Charles Simeon.
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