Wednesday, August 2

Chalmers and the Primacy of Prayer


Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), the great Scottish pastor, professor, author, and statesman, was undeniably a man of action.  He was the quintessential reformer: he founded more than two dozen mission organizations, Bible societies, neighborhood schools, and community outreaches.  He planted two churches, one college, and even a denomination.  He established publishing houses including the world’s largest Bible publisher (today’s HarperCollins). He was a friend of Wilberforce and Pitt.  He was the pastor of Scott, McAdam, and Stevenson.

But, at the heart of all that he undertook for the Kingdom was prayer.  His byword for all his activity was, "I would pray unto watching--and watch unto praying."

His busy schedule and demanding commitments never deterred him from what he believed was his “most important exercise” and his “most vital engagement,” his daily time of prayer. Indeed, he considered any prayerless day, a wasted day: “To squander the hours with mere activity, however important, is to altogether miss the enlivening work of the Spirit amidst our sweet hours of prayer.”  Indeed, he said, 
"I have long resolved never to start anything that I cannot then saturate in prayer. If my busyness results in prayerlessness then all my activity is for naught."

Chalmers began each day praying through the Scriptures.  He followed the old Scots Presbyterian discipline of "Horae Biblicae Quotidianae," something akin to "Lectio Divina." After his devotional reading, he would walk, praying through the passage as he went. Then, he would record his digested "passage prayer" in his journal, or "Florilegium." In the process, he would identify the “Keystone Verse” from the passage which would then shape his thinking, praying, and doing for the rest of the day.

When Chalmers would disciple men, such as those students, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, John Urquhart, Andrew Bonar, Robert Nesbit, William Mackay, and Robert Chalmers Burns, he taught them this method of prayer.  Each of these men, who would in turn gain great renown as men of unction and holiness, testified that it was this posture of deep prayerfulness that quickened their own ministries—all of which so profoundly shaped the great spiritual renewal of the Victorian Age.

Saturday, May 6

The Battle of the White Horse


The Christian king of Wessex, Alfred the Great, defeated the pagan Viking warlord Guthrum at the Battle of Ethandun on this day in 878. The battle not only ensured that Christianity would survive in England, it made the unification of that land possible for the first time since the departure of Roman legions in the fifth century. 

The battle was brilliantly commemorated by G.K. Chesterton in “The Ballad of the White Horse,” published in 1911, considered by many as perhaps the last of the great traditional epic poems written in the English language. 

Presciently, Chesterton concludes the poem with a mournful soliloquy by Alfred, in which the now-aged king laments that the next invasion to threaten the peace of Christendom would not come from the barbarian hoards but rather from within, by an educated elite: 

I have a vision, and I know

The heathen shall return.
They shall not come with warships,

They shall not waste with brands,
But books be all their eating,

And ink be on their hands.

Friday, February 10

Spurgeon on Prayer


I know of no better thermometer to your spiritual temperature than this, the measure of the intensity of your prayer.

The ship of prayer may sail through all temptations, doubts and fears, straight up to the throne of God; and though she may be outward bound with only griefs, and groans, and sighs, she shall return freighted with a wealth of blessings!

It is a good rule never to look into the face of a man in the morning till you have looked into the face of God.

It is well said that neglected prayer is the birthplace of all evil.

Methinks every true Christian should be exceedingly earnest in prayer concerning the souls of the ungodly; and when they are so, how abundantly God blesses them and how the church prospers!

Oh, without prayer what are the church's agencies, but the stretching out of a dead man's arm, or the lifting up of the lid of a blind man's eye? Only when the Holy Spirit comes is there any life and force and power.

Prayer girds human weakness with divine strength, turns human folly into heavenly wisdom, and gives to troubled mortals the peace of God. We know not what prayer can do.

Prayer meetings are the throbbing machinery of the church.

Remember, Christ's scholars must study upon their knees.

True prayer is measured by weight, not by length. A single groan before God may have more fullness of prayer in it than a fine oration of great length.

We shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians.

Wednesday, January 4

Written in Time


I first began to seriously read and study the life and work of Thomas Chalmers a quarter of a century ago. When I was in graduate school I became aware of his reforming work in 19th century Scotland. I read a few of his best-known sermons during seminary. But, it was not until a “chance discovery” of a Chalmers book in one of my favorite West Coast antiquarian bookshops that I dug in for deep reading.

His many profound epigrammatic truths quickly became loadstones in my life—and inevitably helped to define the distinctives of my ministry and work:

“Regardless of how large, your vision is too small.”

"The Spirit guides us unto all truth and all truth is to be found in the Bible--the Spirit therefore guides us unto the Bible."

"The wider a man's knowledge becomes, the deeper should be his humility; for the more he knows the more he sees of what remains unknown. The wider the diameter of light, the larger the circumference of darkness. And so, with every footstep of growing knowledge there ought to be a growing humility--that is the best guarantee both for a sound philosophy and a sound faith."


“May I be strong in faith, instant in prayer, high in my sense of duty, and vigorous in the execution of it.”

"Christ hath spoiled the great adversary of all his power. He hath left him no claim of ascendancy whatever over those who believe in Him."

"While I retain entire dependence on Christ's righteousness and grace, let me, at the same time, have the comfort of knowing that my labor is not in vain in the Lord."

But, of all the things Chalmers wrote and said that continue to bolster my faith, embolden my vision, shape my thinking, and give trajectory to my calling, I return again and again to his gladsome declaration: “O, let us connect every joy with the hand of the Giver; and in the manifold blessing which He scatters around the path of this world’s journey, may we never forget that it is a journey written in time.”

This truth helps remind me that the work of ministry in Christ's church is far more than a necessary preparation for some future reward. Instead, it is a joyous walk together. It is a providentially rooted community. It is a “journey written in time.” O, what a manifold blessing!