CHALMERS, THOMAS: The leader of the Free Church of Scotland; b. in East Anstruther, Fifeshire, Mar. 17, 1780; d. in Edinburgh May 30, 1847. The family to which he belonged was composed of middle-class people of the strictest type of Calvinism; and hence in his opening years, he received thorough indoctrination. He entered St. Andrews University when only eleven years old, and confined his attention almost exclusively to mathematics, but did not give up his original intention of becoming a preacher, and accordingly was licensed by the presbytery of St. Andrews Jan., 1799. His character early developed into maturity. Instead of beginning his professional work, he continued the study of mathematics and natural science; and during the winter of 1802-03 he acted as assistant to the professor of mathematics at St. Andrews. He showed an extraordinary power to awaken enthusiasm in almost any topic he took up; although it was this very fact which at that time cost him his place, the authorities disliking the novelty of his methods.
In July, 1815, he was formally admitted as minister of the Tron Church, Glasgow. In 1816 he delivered on weekdays the famous series of seven Discourses on the Christian Revelation, Viewed in Connection with Modern Astronomy. In Sept., 1819, he removed from the Tron parish to that of
Up to this time he had taken little part in church government; from then on he was destined to have more to do with it than any other man of the century. The friction between Church and State in Scotland was rapidly producing trouble. The attempt to settle ministers who were obnoxious to the congregations was the commonest complaint. 1 The historic case is that of Marnoch. Here only one person in the parish signed the call; and yet the presbytery of Strathbogie decided, by a vote of seven to three, to proceed with the ordination, and did, although these seven were suspended. In so doing they were upheld by the civil authority, which annulled their suspension. But this case was only an aggravation of a common ill. Matters became so serious in all parts of Scotland that a convocation was held in Nov., 1842, to consider the matter; and a large number of ministers resolved that, if relief was not afforded, they would withdraw from the Establishment. No help came; and accordingly, on May 18, 1843, four hundred and seventy clergymen withdrew from the General Assembly, and constituted themselves into the Free Church of Scotland, electing Dr. Chalmers as their first moderator. He had foreseen the separation, and drawn up a scheme for the support of the outgoing ministers. But, after he had safely piloted the new church through the stormy waters, he gave himself up more exclusively to professional work, especially in connection with the New College, Edinburgh, of which he was principal, and to the composition of his Institutes of Theology. He died suddenly.
Dr. Chalmers is to-day a molding influence. All the churches of Scotland unite to do him reverence. He was a greater worker than writer, and a greater man than either. It was surely enough honor for one life to inspire spiritual life throughout an entire land; and as the tireless and practical reformer, as the Christian philanthropist, and, above all, as the founder of the Free Church of Scotland, he will live.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: The principal Life is by his son-in-law, W. Hanna, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Thomas Chalmers, 4 vols., Edinburgh, 1849-52. Consult also: A. J. S[ymington], Thomas Chalmers, the Man, his Times, and his Work, Ardrossan, 1878; D. Fraser, Thomas Chalmers, London, 1881; J. L. Watson, The Life of Thomas Chalmers, Edinburgh, 1881; J. Dodds, Thomas Chalmers, ib. 1892; W. G. Blaikie, Thomas Chalmers, ib. 1896 (in Famous Scots Series); Mrs. Oliphant, Thomas Chalmers, Preacher, Philosopher, and Statesman, London, 1896; DNB, ix. 449-454.
1 The point at issue was lay patronage. British law having conferred upon landowners the right to nominate to pastorates in their possessions.—A. H. N.
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