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Thomas Chalmers

17 March 1780 - 31 May 1847

Biography

Often described as the greatest Scotsman of his age, Thomas Chalmers was something of a polymath. He became a colossus for evangelical historic Calvinism in Scotland in his day and arguably the most influential instrument used by the Lord in his Church in Scotland since John Knox.

It wasn’t like that initially, though, for, although obviously a young man of unusual ability, he went in to the ministry of the Church of Scotland at Kilmany, Fife, in 1803 in an unconverted state. The ministry was a sinecure which gave him, as he saw it, ample opportunity for more pleasurable pursuits, pleasures, and recreations. He could spend a few hours on a Saturday working up a sermon and that was fine. Otherwise he would be pretty well away from the congregation much of the time.

Chalmers was your typical moderate minister. But all that changed in 1810/11 when he experienced an evangelical conversion. He was a transformed man. As a result, in God’s grace, this was the catalyst for a seismic change not only in his own life and ministry, but also in the course of evangelical religion north of the border. How anyone could cram so many varied achievements into one life seems incredible to us today. Consider:

1815 – Became minister of the prestigious Tron Church in Glasgow

1819 – Moved to St John’s also in Glasgow

1823 – Appointed Professor of Moral Philosophy at St Andrews University

1828 – Appointed Professor of Divinity in Edinburgh

1843 – Leader in the formation of the Free Church of Scotland at the Disruption.

First Professor of Divinity at New College (till his lamented passing in 1847).

Chalmers emerged as leader of the evangelicals in the Church of Scotland. He encouraged development of extension of parish churches and became involved as leader of those who resisted the State interference in the appointment of ministers in congregations over the heads of the people in the years leading up to the Disruption of the Kirk in 1843. Chalmers was a man of apparently limitless energy, an excellent mathematician, a philosopher with an interest in contemporary sciences. He was an outstanding preacher and an inspiring lecturer whose influence in the Edinburgh Divinity faculty was to have a profound effect in that generation in raising evangelical preachers and Calvinists in the ministry of the Kirk. He was a prolific speaker and writer. His collected writings on all sorts of subjects, related to a Biblical frame of reference amounted to 25 volumes of Collected Writings produced in his lifetime and 10 further volumes of Posthumous Works published after his passing. In many respects he seemingly led a counter attack on the sceptical principles of the French Revolution.

Chalmers’ statue is to be found in the intersection of Castle Street and George Street in Edinburgh. It is an imposing statue. The sad thing is that very few passers-by will have the slightest idea who he was. Scotland has moved very far from the Calvinist vision of this great man of God. Here is a taste of Chalmers the entreating gospel preacher in a sermon on Isaiah 7:3-5: “Surely when I am busy at my delegated employment of holding out the language of entreaty, and of sounding in your ears the tidings of gladness, and of inviting you to enter into the vineyard of God — surely at the time when the messenger of the gospel is thus executing the commission wherewith he is charged and warranted, he may well say — that there is no fury in God. Surely at the time when the Son of God is inviting you to kiss Him and to enter into reconciliation, there is neither the feeling nor the exercise of fury. It is only if you refuse, and if you persist in refusing, and if you suffer all these calls and entreaties to be lost upon you — it is only then that God will execute His fury, and put forth the power of His anger. And therefore He says to us, ‘Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little’.”

  • Born: 17 March 1780, Anstruther, Fife
  • Died: 31 May 1847, Edinburgh
  • Family: Grace (wife) and three daughters
  • Notable Works: The expulsive power of a new affection