I recently gave a lecture (sermon?) on the fascinating and inspiring story of Thomas Chalmers’ West Port Experiment in the slums of Industrial Edinburgh, from 1844-1847. You can listen to it here. Ad urbem!
The following is an article that appeared in the ARBCA Quarterly Update, Feburary 2012, by the Rev. David Campbell, on Thomas Chalmers’ famous West Port Experiment of the mid-1840’s. (British punctuation retained! Proper.)
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“The Most Joyful Event of My Life”
So Dr. Thomas Chalmers describes it in a letter to his friend, Mr. Lennox, of New York City. Explaining, he says, “I have been intent for thirty years on the completion of a territorial experiment, and I have now to bless God for the consummation of it. Our church was opened on the 19th of February…I presided myself, on Sabbath last, over its first sacrament. There were 132 communicants, and 100 of them from the West Port.”
Anyone know where the West Port is? When I was a student in Edinburgh in the mid 1980s I occasionally walked through it as I made my way to the Free Church College. I recollect it as decent enough, just a little run-down and nondescript. It was very different in the early 1840s. Back then it was one of the worst districts in the city, notorious as the scene of the Burke & Hare murders, and infested with beggars, thieves, and prostitutes. The following will give you a sense for just how bad it was:
“When Mr. Tasker, the minister of the West Port, made his first visits to some of the filthiest closes, it was no uncommon thing for him to find twenty to thirty men, women, and children, huddled together in one putrid dwelling, lying indiscriminately on the floor…Upon one occasion he entered a tenement with from twelve to twenty apartments, where every human being, man and woman, were so drunk they could not hear their own squalid infants crying in vain to them for food…He went once to a funeral, and found the assembled company all so drunk around the corpse, that he had to go and beg some sober neighbours to come and carry the coffin to the grave.”
It was this poor and depraved district that Dr. Chalmers selected for his “territorial experiment”. As the term is his so also will be the explanation: “The very essence of our scheme lies in the thorough operation of what we have called the territorial principle. We limit our attention to a single district or locality, itself split into sub-districts, having each a Christian agent attached to it; so that not a home or family which might not be frequently and habitually visited by one having the charge of not more, if possible, than twenty households.”
Chalmers believed this to be the only effective way of evangelising the degraded and over-crowded districts of major towns and cities, and for years he had been eager to demonstrate what, with the divine blessing, could be achieved. With its 411 families and 2000 inhabitants, its poverty and depravity, the West Port of Edinburgh was an ideal place for the attempt. It was a work, he admitted, “greatly too much for my declining strength” (he was then almost 65). But he threw himself into it heart and soul – and with wonderful results.
The first step was the opening of a school. Almost three-quarters of West Port children were growing up without any education at all. So successful, however, were the district visitors in persuading parents to take advantage of the provision (even though it wasn’t free), that when the school opened on 11th November 1844 there were 64 day students and 57 evening students. In the course of the first year the numbers grew to 250. Most of them were from the West Port.
The school was located in an old tanning-loft. In the same place, on Sunday morning the 22nd of December 1844, public worship was held for the first time. It was a far from attractive location: “The interior was bare and dilapidated; the walls coarse and unplastered, pierced her and there with little, dingy, unsightly windows; the roof low and scantily slated, scarcely affording decent shelter; the floor decayed, uneven, and shaking at every tread.”
Dr Chalmers’ son-in-law and future biographer, William Hanna, was present at the evening service. “When we looked round and saw that the whole fruit of the advices, and requests, and entreaties which for many previous weeks had been brought to bear upon all the families by the visitors, was the presence of about a dozen adults, and those mostly old women, we confess to strong misgivings as to the result.” In April 1845, however, Chalmers secured the help of William Tasker, later the West Port minister, and attendance grew under his ministry.
Dr. Chalmers himself, as health permitted, met with the district visitors once a week for discussion, encouragement, counsel, and prayer. He also habitually attended the Sunday services, sometimes as a preacher, often as a hearer. An eyewitness records that “when he was a hearer only, one would see him near the pulpit, in a crowd of deaf old women, who were meanly clothed, but who followed the services with unflagging attention and interest. His eye was upon every one of them, to anticipate their wishes and difficulties. He would help one old woman to find out the text; he would take hold of the Psalm-book of another, hand to hand, and join her in the song of praise. Any one looking at him could see that he was in a state of supreme enjoyment; he could not be happier out of heaven.”
The West Port was deeply upon his heart. In prayers that only came to light after his death we hear requests like this: “Moving fearlessly onward, may I at length obtain such possession of the West Port, as that the gospel of Jesus Christ shall have the moral ascendancy over a goodly number of its families”. “O that I were enabled to pull down the strongholds of sin and of Satan which are there”. “Do thou plentifully endow him [Mr. Tasker] with the graces and gifts of the Apostle Paul. May he have many souls for his hire”. “O may he not only be himself saved, but may he be the instrument of salvation to many.”
On Friday 19th February 1847, the West Port Church was formally opened by Dr. Chalmers. On the 25th of April, as we noted in the opening paragraph, Chalmers presided at the Lord’s Supper. On the following Monday he wrote to William Tasker: “I have got now the desire of my heart – the church is finished, the schools are flourishing, our ecclesiastical machinery is about complete, and all in good working order. God has indeed heard my prayer, and I could now lay down my head in peace and die.” And thirty-five days later that is exactly what he did.
It was feared that that the work would founder with him gone. It did not. Three hundred seats had been let when the church opened and attendance continued to grow steadily. By 1879 the membership was in excess of eleven hundred. By 1896 the number of communicants was upwards of 1300. Also, and almost from the beginning, through the educating of the children, through the efforts of the visitors, and through the public preaching of God’s word, the district itself began to visibly change for the better. It was all a magnificent monument not just to Chalmers’ labours and prayers, but to his faith. He loved the maxim of John Eliot, missionary to native Americans, that “prayer and pains can do anything”. He used to quote it often. And be believed it.
Posted in Church of Scotland, Experimental Religion & the Cure of Souls, Missiology, Parish Theory & Practice, Thomas Chalmers, Vignettes from 19th Century District Visitation on November 11, 2010| Leave a Comment »
The following extract comes from Thomas Chalmers: A Biographical Study, by James Dodds (1870). In it, he recounts a lesser known story from the career of Thomas Chalmers. While not an effort on par with his earlier St. John’s and his later West Port Experiments (he was teaching divinity at the University of Edinburgh at this time) the Water of Leith story nonetheless exhibits his ardent commitment to territorial or parochial urban mission. Not to mention his readiness to roll up his sleeves!
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HALMERS, in 1833-4, was residing in Forres Street, Edinburgh, not far from the line of the Great North Road by Queensferry. In his walks out to the country in that direction, he would often cross the lofty and spacious Dean Bridge, then newly erected,—the latest wonder in Edinburgh, —spanning the ravine through which, far below, foams the Water of Leith, turbid and brawling, and laden with pollution. From this elevation he would look down upon the village of the Water of Leith, — almost sunk out of sight and sound of the world, though within a few hundred paces of the metropolis, — antiquated and decayed; cooped within steep narrow precipices; with tall gaunt chimneys, untenanted and crumbling granaries, rough dirty streets, miserable hovels into which ‘every element of heaven may enter;’ with scarce any sign of life or action, except two or three lounging figures, the noise and froth of mill-wheels, the grunting of pigs, and the squalling of children without childhood. This abject and neglected place had made itself very notorious, in the late visitation of cholera, by its extreme ignorance and violence. Yet in many ways it had a quaint, old-fashioned, half-savage charm. To the antiquarian, this village was a curious relic of the past, lying close to, yet with a kind of repulsion hiding itself from, the encroaching pomp of the New Town of Edinburgh. To the painter or poet it had strange bits of ancient masonwork; and it had frothing pools, and steep banks clustered all over with wild vegetation, and aspects of a rude primitive life. Chalmers was not insensible to the associations of the past; for, was he not born and brought up amongst the old decayed towns of the East of Fife? He had also the artist’s eye for quaint and out-of-the-way nooks, either of nature or of human habitation. But these lighter moods, though neither scorned nor abjured, were in his mind always subordinated to the sentiment of Christian benevolence. Looking, then, from the height of the Dean Bridge, he might feel, ‘How antique! how it carries one back to the time when Mary Stuart rode her palfrey across that now toppling old bridge in her excursions to the Highlands!’ Or, ‘ How quaint and picturesque these straggling houses, in the deep ravine, with the babbling brook running through the midst!’ But his uppermost feeling would be, ‘What a spot, as if scooped out by nature, and thrown aside by man, to plant a Territorial Church, with all its reclaiming and purifying influences!’
And in the Water of Leith he resolved to show to the world a new model of that Territorial system, which he had begun in St. John’s of Glasgow.
On a survey, it was found that the inhabitants were 1356 in number, but of these only 143 had sittings in any place of worship. There was a meeting-house of some denomination in or near the village, but only five of the inhabitants had sittings; it was attended almost entirely by persons coming from a distance, outside the territory of the Water of Leith. Chalmers, assisted by the liberal friends who never failed him, determined to raise here a territorial church, specially devoted to the inhabitants of the Water of Leith. A missionary began his labours amongst them in 1833. He visited from house to house, made the acquaintance of the people, was courteously received by them, conversed with them, visited the sick, was with them in the hour of affliction and death, was their daily counsellor and friend. He invited them to come to meetings, where he addressed them—in fact, preached to them. His audience became more and more numerous; he had to seek out places of meeting larger and larger; at last he resorted to an old maltgranary, where, with great packing, some 400 people could attend. A church was then erected by subscription, which was opened in May 1836. The sittings were about 1000, and at a moderate charge, and offered in preference to the inhabitants. Soon after the opening, about 700 of the sittings were taken, and almost entirely by inhabitants. It was a true territorial church.
Chalmers officiated at the opening, and dwelt paternally upon the effect of its territorial character.
‘Instead of leaving this church to fill as it may from all parts of the town, we first hold out the seats that we have to dispose of, at such prices as we can afford, to its own parish families. . . . Our fond wish for Edinburgh and its environs is that, district after district, new churches may arise, and old ones be thrown open to their own parish families, till not one house remains which has not within its walls some stated worshipper in one or other of our Christian assemblies; and not one individual can be pointed to, however humble and unknown, who has not some man of God for his personal acquaintance, some Christian minister for his counsellor and friend.’
This new and eminently successful model of Territorialism, coupled with his long teachings, the private exertions at the very same time of his old Glasgow friends, and also the religious darkness and fearful profligacy especially of the large towns, were at length stirring the Church of Scotland from its culpable neglect. . .
The following essay by A. T. Pierson, successor to Charles Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, is a nice little overview of Dr. Chalmers’ heroic Christian labors among the urban poor. Before wading into Pierson, two observations from the essay.
While I’m very familiar with the old West Port story, one of Pierson’s statements raised yet another angle on territorial outreach that I hadn’t considered in awhile. The old, Reformed territorial plan helps reduce evangelistic recidivism.
Second, I’m reminded of how Chalmers’ care for the unchurched aimed to ‘elevate’ that culture, if you will, into the culture of the Church. Here’s a positive model for modern Reformed missions. Cultural sensitivity, o.k. But faithful mission ultimately means the inculturation (reformation?) of the outsider. That may seem patronizing; but then again, so is mission. For more on that, read on!
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DR. THOMAS CHALMERS AND THE UNCHURCHED MASSES.
By A. T. Pierson, D.D. (Presbyterian), Philadelphia.
Dr. Thomas Chalmers is a name especially worthy of a permanent record, as one of the men who led the way in the practical solution of that great problem of our civilization: How to deal with the masses in our great cities.
At his sixty-fifth year we find this greatest of Scotchmen on fire with all his youthful ardor, in this mission to the masses in Edinburgh, in which, as in Ephesus, the gold, silver, and precious stones of the sacred fanes and palaces were in strong contrast to the wood, hay, stubble of the huts and hovels of the poor. With sublime devotion Chalmers at this advanced age, when most men retire from active and arduous toil, entered upon the most difficult experiment of his life, that he might demonstrate by a practical example what can be done for the poor and neglected districts in a great metropolis.
The West Port, in the “old town” of Edinburgh, was the home of a population, whose condition may be described by two words, poverty and misery. He undertook to redeem this heathen district by the Gospel, planting in it schools and a church for the people, and organizing Christian disciples into a band of voluntary visitors. The name “territorial system” was attached to the plan as he worked it, and has passed into history under that sonorous title.
In St. John’s parish, Glasgow, he had already proved the power of visitation and organization. Within his parochial limits he found 2,161 families, 845 of them without any seats in a place of worship. He assigned to each visitor about fifty families. Applications for relief were dealt with systematically, and so carefully yet thoroughly that not a case either of scandalous allowance or scandalous neglect was ever made known against him and his visitors. There was a severe scrutiny to find out the fact and the causes of poverty, to remove necessary want and remedy unnecessary want by removing its cause. The bureau of intelligence made imposture and trickery hopeless, especially on a second attempt. And not only was poverty relieved, but at a cost which is amazingly small. While in other parishes of Glasgow it averaged £200 to every 1,000 of the population, and in many parishes of England it averaged a pound for every inhabitant, in St. John’s it was but thirty pounds for 1,000 people!
It was an illustration of heroism in these latter days, when a man passed threescore years, whose public career both with his pen and tongue had made him everywhere famous, gave up his latter days to elevate the physical, mental, moral and spiritual condition of a squalid population in an obscure part of the modern Athens. His theory was that about 400 families constituted a manageable town parish, and that for every such territorial district there ought to be a church and a school, as near as may be, free to all. This district in West Port contained about this number of families, which were subdivided into twenty “proportions,” each containing some twenty families.
A careful census, taken by visiting, revealed that of 411 families forty-five were attached to some Protestant church, seventy were Roman Catholics, and 296 had no church connection. Out of a gross population of 2,000, 1,500 went to no place of worship; and of 411 children of school age, 290 were growing up entirely in ignorance. It is a curious fact that these 411 families averaged one child each of appropriate age for school; and that of these 411 children there were about as many growing up untaught as there were families without church connection. This careful compilation of statistics revealed that the proportion of ignorance and of non-attendance at church correspond almost exactly; in other words, families that attend a place of worship commonly send children to school, and the reverse.
Another fact unveiled by this effort at city evangelization was that about one fourth of the inhabitants of this territory were paupers, receiving out-door relief, and one-fourth were habitual, professional beggars, tramps, thieves, and riff-raff.
Here was a field indeed for an experiment as to what the Church could do in her mission among the masses. Chalmers was hungry for such an opportunity; it stirred all his Scotch blood. So he set his visitors at work. But he did not himself stand aloof. Down into the “wynds” and alleys and “closes” of West Port he went; he presided at their meetings, counselled them sympathetically, identified himself with the whole plan in its formation and execution, while his own contagious enthusiasm and infectious energy gave stimulus to the most fainthearted. He loved to preach to these people, not less than to the most elegant audiences of the capital, or the elect students of the university. He would mount into a loft to meet a hundred of the poorest, as gladly as ascend the pulpit of the most fashionable cathedral church, crowded with the elite of the world’s metropolis. And those ragged boys and girls hung on his words with characteristic admiration.
Two years of toil, with the aid of Rev. W. Tasker, enabled Dr. Chalmers to open a new free church in this district; the Lord’s Supper was administered, and out of 132 communicants one hundred were trophies of the work done by him and his helpers in that obscure district. With a prophetic forecast Chalmers saw in this success the presage of greater possibilities, and a practical solution of the problem of city evangelization; and hence he confessed it was the joy of his life, and the answer to many prayers.
The plan pursued by Dr. Chalmers was not at all like the modern evangelistic services, an effort spasmodic if not sporadic, preaching for a few weeks in some church edifice or public hall or tabernacle, and then passing into some other locality, leaving to others to gather up results and make them permanent. From the most promising beginnings of the sort, how often have we been compelled to mourn that so small harvests have been ultimately gleaned! He organized systematic work that looked to lasting results. The plowman and the sower of seed bore his sickle and watched for the signs of harvest. And whenever the germs of a divine life appeared, they were nurtured, cherished, guarded, and converts were added to the Church, set at work, kept under fostering care, and not left to scatter, wander at will, or relapse into neglect.
As to his mode of dealing with pauperism, the sagacious Chalmers saw that while a ministry of love to the poor, sick, helpless, was a first necessity, it would be unwise and hurtful to their best interests to encourage them to depend on charity. The Church must not be an asylum in which indolence and incompetence and improvidence should take refuge. The poorest must be educated to maintain, not to sacrifice, self-respect, and must be compelled to form and maintain habits of self-help, industry, economy, thrift. Instead of clothing the poor with the half-worn garments of the better classes, he would have them taught to save money worse than wasted on tobacco, drink and vicious indulgence, and buy their own garments. And the results of this wise policy were seen in the gradual and rapid improvement in appearance of the attendance at church—rags gave way to respectable raiment, and it was not the castoff clothing of their betters, either.
Chalmers had no less an ambition than to ameliorate and finally abolish pauperism; and his success in St. John’s parish, Glasgow, had proven that he was master of the situation; and no one can tell what results might have followed but for the poor law, enacted in 1845, which, by the admission of a statutory right to public relief, encourages improvidence, weakens family ties among the poor, conduces to a morbid satisfaction with a state of dependence, and thus sows the seed of the very pauperism it professes to relieve and reduce.
[Taken from The Pulpit Treasury: An Evangelical Monthly, Vol. 5, 1887-88]
The following is extracted from Thomas Cochrane’s Home Mission Work (1878). The chapter, “The Territorial System,” is a nice overview of the urban mission strategy advocated by Thomas Chalmers.
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In the later years of his eventful life, with all the experience and mellow ripeness of a mind that had given very much of the best of its powers to the advocacy and outworking of the grand old parochial system of Scotland, the illustrious Dr Chalmers, while carrying on with undimmed and undiminished lustre the labours of his distinguished professoriate, worked out, alongside of this theoretical training for the students of theology, the grand practical work of Territorialism. He thus devised and carried out, in a most singularly successful way, a scheme which, because it sought to cope with all the difficulties, and to grapple with all the obstructions that might be encountered, and set itself to the prosecution of true mission work, in a certain selected locality or territory, and to cultivate regularly and thoroughly that district so assumed, has been most fitly termed— “The Territorial System.”
In the great metropolis of the West, among her merchant princes, in St John’s parish there, Dr Chalmers had previously developed, and very successfully worked out, under the wing of the State, the system, as strictly parochial; now he was to unfold and develop the same system, minus State support and State influence in any way.
The chosen field in Edinburgh, “The West Port,“ was the most unlikely, and, seemingly, unpropitious that could have been selected.
The hall opened for public worship was an “old Tan Loft,” near to the spot which had earned an unenviable notoriety, because of revolting murders that had been perpetrated—more revolting than any that had either before or since disgraced the fair escutcheon of that noble city—a locality where purity and outward decency alike blushed for very shame!
Nothing daunted, however, that truly great man, surrounded by a staff of devoted volunteers, went forth into the thick of the conflict, to do battle with the sin and crime that met them, at every corner of the district, and to soothe the sorrows and assuage the trials of human misery and woe.
It was indeed a noble scheme, a grand enterprise; and let that interesting chapter, “The West Port,” in the classic and eloquent biography of Dr Chalmers, written by his son-in-law, the late Dr Hanna, tell in his inimitable style, how, under more than wizard wand, of that Great Moral Conjuror, the wilderness became a fruitful field, and the desert rejoiced and blossomed as the rose, becoming “A Garden of the Lord.“
All around now in Edinburgh, from the west to the extreme east, ‘neath the shadow of hoar Holyrood, there have been erected churches and schools upon this territorial system, so that, in addition to “The West Port,” there are more than seven other churches with as many ministers, and fully equipped agencies and congregations, carrying on with greater or less success the operations of the Territorial system.
Glasgow, too, has had her full share of the benefits of this scheme. The development of this system, however, is not confined to Edinburgh or Glasgow. Many other large towns in Scotland, such as Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth, &c, have reaped golden harvests from the seed sown, through the carrying out of this important work; while England, too, in measure, has caught the infection and influence, from the spell of the mighty charmer, who though “being dead, yet speaketh,” while his works, all around, follow him; and far hence, away across the broad Atlantic, the winds have wafted on and o’er the story, and there, too, in several instances, the system is being tested and tried.
In the prelude to his lecture on “Transcendentalism,“ Dr Joseph Cook of Boston, rehearses the story of “The West Port,” and presses upon his readers the importance and moral grandeur of the scheme; while, as Dr Cook himself informed us, when on a visit to this country, the system has been found in America to be the only true system for elevating the community, civilly, socially, and morally.
It may here be stated that the system, both scholastically and ecclesiastically, can be worked out in such a manner as to be self-sustaining; so that the big thoughts, and large desires of the illustrious founder, have not only been proved not to be Utopian, but fruitfully workable; and that too, not only during his distinguished life, under his own eye, and by the cunning of his own right hand; but now, also, a full generation after he has been gathered to his fathers, the work progresses and advances still more and more, and we believe will continue to do so, after its present promoters have gone the way of all the earth.
It may be argued, however, that if so much has been done,—if such harvests have been, or are being ripened and reaped all round, in the town and country districts of Scotland, and elsewhere, is there still need for the advocacy and extension of the practical outworking of this scheme? There is “much land yet to be possessed.“ When we are reminded that in Edinburgh alone, there are perhaps not less than forty thousand, in Glasgow a much larger number, while over broad Scotland, there are about five hundred thousand living in entire neglect of the means of grace; living “without God,” if not dying “without hope,” we cannot fail to perceive that this scheme is of prime importance, and that the necessity for the thorough outworking of it is as great as ever.
THE DISTRICT SELECTED.
The idea of the great founder of the scheme, in regard to the chosen district, was very decided. His firm and unwavering conviction was, that the field selected should be very carefully and deliberately chosen, and that it should be of adequate proportions,—not too large, lest it should not be fully and thoroughly cultivated; not too small, lest there should not be a population sufficiently large to yield material for a good, self-supporting congregation.
Holding these views strongly, Dr Chalmers was in the habit of affirming that a population of about 2000 was quite large enough, in ordinary circumstances, for the purpose in view, and that a district less populous was not adequate for the formation of a Territorial Congregation. Hence a district of about 400 families, or 2000 of a population, according to the system under review, would require about forty visitors in order to cultivate it thoroughl, giving manageable sub-divisions of about ten families to each agent.
THE VISITOR’S DUTIES.
The duties of visitors may be regarded in many aspects (see pages 57-60), but the great, the chief duty is to visit their districts, with a view of promoting the highest good of the families in the district allocated to them. Assuming the visitor to be truly Christian, and devoted to the work, how very much will depend upon the judiciousness manifested in the discharge of duty. What care will be required, lest their visits should hinder, rather than help on the work to be accomplished. How important, all-important, to make the families visited feel that we are really and truly their friend; that we visit, not with a prying over-curious eye to spy into their household affairs, far less in a censorious spirit, ever insinuating our fancied superiority, and finding fault with what, we imagine, may be their little delinquencies; but that, placing ourselves upon the same platform on which they stand, we thus make it clear that we have their highest good at heart, and have love in our heart for them, as well as expressed sympathy upon our lip with them. Hence our aim should be to influence the heart for good.
“They build too low who build beneath the skies.” They aim too low who aim not at the heart. The effect of mere gossip in visiting, is always fruitless, if not of evil tendency. By all means let us be happy, with a gleam of sunshine ever lighting up our countenances. By all means let our words he happy words, and happy social words. If time permit there may be talk about the common affairs of life, and the current events of the day; but we should never let our conversation degenerate into flippant talk, idle talk, or jesting which is not convenient; and, if possible, we should never leave any house, without making it clear that our object in visiting was with respect to the highest good of the family.
Even in the distribution of tracts let us have a care of the manner we manifest in so doing. Let us keep in view that, while we are as messengers of mercy bearing the silent message in the tract we give, we are to make it plain that we need the message we bear, as well as those to whom we bear it, as Mr M’Cheyne would have said, in his own tender, touching way, “I need it, my brother, as well as you.” Or, as we have it from an inspired pen, “We, that we say not you.”
The importance of house-to-house visitation can never be over-estimated. There may be—there are —some who weary in this seemingly slow process, and who would fain “rush into print,” in placards large, fancying that by sleight-of-hand, or speed of foot, or by monster meetings in large halls, and other general schemes, they may speedily evangelise the outlying population in our vast moral wastes. All success to these, and every good scheme! It is not so, generally, however, that this work is to be done. The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. The patient, laborious, conscientious worker, who realizes what is implied in faithful labour for the Great Master, is the labourer that will here prevail. If it be true that the time shall come when they shall no more teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” does not this imply that, until that time shall have come, this system should be carried on? And here, again, the conscientious worker must be content to be hidden from the world’s eye, but work ever under the eye of His Lord and Master. He must be willing to be unknown, perhaps unheard of. Down in the damp, dark cellar; high, in the lone garret room; concealed in some back court where the sun scarce shines; or in the loathsome land, where fever holds its perpetual sway, and revels, in the luxury of human misery, all prodigal of life,—there must the visitor be prepared to labour, there the missionary be contented to toil, from day to day.
” Go labour on, ’tis not for nought:
Thy earthly loss is heavenly gain;
Men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not;
The Master praises; what are men?”
“Prevention is better than cure.“—There are congregations whose membership may not be able to supply agents for carrying out the scheme we have been commending, and where it would be of immense advantage, to such a congregation, to have the scheme thoroughly and earnestly worked out, in connection with their own work, and into their own congregation. In such a case why should not some healthy and vigorous, if not wealthy and numerous, congregation, come with all its flow of life and love, and work for, at least, if not in connection with the work of such a congregation? Would not many a struggling congregation thus take heart and begin anew? Would not many a downcast and cheerless minister obtain encouragement, and gird on with fresh ardour the armour of the Gospel of Peace? Nay, would not this be a true exhibition of the members of the church, looking “not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others;” and of manifesting in the clearest sense, how the strong could help the weak, thus showing to the world and the Church alike that “it is more blessed to give than to receive”?
Having, throughout the volume, touched upon the main features of the Territorial system, and having had the privilege, for very many years, of being a humble labourer in the Territorial field, in closing our remarks we may be permitted to say that the longer we have laboured in the outworking of the system, the more thoroughly have we been convinced of the value and effectiveness of it.
One of our greatest and sincerest regrets is, that we should have been so little able to do anything like justice to it. We feel this all the more, that we are not now so agile, as heretofore, in buckling on our armour, and sallying forth at the trumpet’s sound against the common foe. We must soon retire from the field of action, but, when retiring, we hope to do so by handing down the banner, unfurled and untarnished, with the device thereon, as ever, full, perfect, and undimmed—
For THE LORD
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.
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!