ROBERT SMITH CANDLISH was born at Edinburgh on the 23d of March 1806,
being the youngest child of James Candlish, a teacher of medicine there. His
mother was Jane Smith, one of the six "Mauchline
belles" celebrated by Robert Burns, who said of her, "Miss Smith she has
wit" His father, whose surname was originally M'Candlish, but who dropped the
Celtic prefix when at Glasgow College, was also a friend of the poet. He died
very suddenly, a few weeks after his son Robert was born, April 29, 1806; and
thereupon his widow with her family, consisting of two sons and two daughters,
removed to Glasgow, where they continued to reside for many years. There,
accordingly, Robert Candlish spent his early days. He was at first a somewhat
delicate and rather timid boy, but soon getting over this, he joined with
hearty enjoyment in the games and amusements of his companions. He entered
Glasgow College, 10th October 1818, at the early age of twelve; and attended
the gown or undergraduate classes for five sessions, during which be gained
many prizes, and in due time took the degree of MA.(See article "influences").
At this time Dr. Chalmers was minister of St. John's church and parish, and had as his assistant Edward Irving, whose great gifts as a preacher were not then generally appreciated. The church was crowded when Dr. Chalmers preached, but comparatively empty when his assistant was to occupy the pulpit. Robert Candlish, however, with a few friends and fellow-students, while fully appreciating the eloquence of Dr. Chalmers, enjoyed almost as much the services of his then unpopular assistant, and was one of his regular hearers. In 1823 he entered the Divinity Hall of the Church of Scotland, which he attended during three regular sessions, completing the course required by the Church by one partial session, and finally leaving college in December 1826.
The Professor of Divinity in those days was Dr. Stevenson MacGill, a man of earnest piety and decidedly evangelical opinions, who contributed much, by his quiet influence, to the spread of sound doctrine and the advance of spiritual life among the ministers of the Scottish Church. During a great part of his college course Robert Candlish was largely employed in private teaching, sometimes as much as eight or ten hours a day, in addition to his studies. In 1826 he went with Sir Hugh Hume-Campbell, as private tutor, to Eton College, where he remained till 1829, thus getting an opportunity of seeing some thing of English school and church life. Meanwhile, when at home during one of his vacations, he was licensed as a preacher of the gospel by the Presbytery of Glasgow, August 6, 1828; and on returning to reside in Glasgow in 1829 he was engaged as assistant by Dr. Gavin Gibb, the minister of St. Andrew's, in that city. Though not yet ordained as a minister, he had the entire charge of the congregation, as well as the whole supply of the pulpit; and he preached regularly twice every Sabbath, only occasionally exchanging services with other ministers. In this capacity, while almost entirely unknown, he prepared and delivered, in the ordinary course of his duty, some of those sermons that afterwards made a profound impression in St. George's, Edinburgh, and established his fame as a preacher. He enjoyed at this time the companionship and friendship of the Rev. David Welsh, then minister of St. David's, who early appreciated his gifts, and frequently invited him to preach to his own congregation. This friendship continued warm and unbroken till the too early death of Dr. Welsh in 1845. With Dr. Srnyth of St. George's, Dr. Henderson of St. Enoch's, and Dr. Robert Buchanan of the Tron Church, he also formed early, and life-long friendships.
During these years, domestic sorrow had visited the home of the young preacher. One of his sisters had died in 1827, and his only brother, James Smith Candlish, a young man of great gifts, and much beloved by his relatives and friends, was cut off, just as he was entering a most promising career in the medical profession, and had been appointed Professor of Surgery in the Andersonian University. He died of fever, September 15, 1829.
On the death of Dr. Gibb in June 1831, Mr. Candlish's engagement in St. Andrew's came to an end, and thereafter he became assistant to Mr. Gregor, the minister of the country parish of Bonhill, in the vale of Leven, Dumbartonshire. Here, too, the whole of the pulpit and pastoral duties were entrusted to him, and he discharged them with such zeal and diligence as to endear himself to the hearts of the people. In this position he remained for two years and three months. But though he had been thus long engaged in full ministerial work; he was still little known beyond a small circle as an able and evangelical preacher, and seemed as far as ever from obtaining, then the utmost aim of his ambition, some small country charge as ordained minister. So little prospect did there seem of this, that he seriously contemplated going out to the colonies, and actually offered himself for work in Canada. But the great Head of the Church had another position preparing for him.
The congregation of St. George's, Edinburgh, had been raised to the highest position in that city by the zeal and eloquence of Dr. Andrew Thomson, who was suddenly cut off in 1831. It was soon after deprived of the services of his saintly successor Mr. Martin, by the state of his health, which required a residence in Italy. His place was supplied by assistants; and in January 1834, Mr. Candlish succeeded his friend Mr. Roxburgh (now Dr. Roxburgh, of Free St. John's, Glasgow) in this capacity. When Mr. Martin's ill health was found to continue, and it became necessary to have an ordained assistant and successor, the young preacher from the West had so proved his gifts, and gained the hearts of the flock, that he was chosen to this office but Mr. Martin having died in Italy in the following May, Robert Smith Candlish was ordained to the entire charge of the congregation on the 14th of August.
In the summer of 1833 he had preached on four Sabbaths in the National Scotch Church, Regent Square, London, then vacant by the removal of Edward Irving; and had made so favourable an impression that the session and congregation desired earnestly to have him as their minister. They were, however, not in a position to give him any invitation to London till the spring of the next year, by which time steps had begun to be taken towards his settlement in St. George's. Though he accepted this as the prior call; the circumstance now mentioned led to a warm and lasting friendship between Dr. Candlish and some of the elders of Regent Square Church; and was the first, though not the last, link that connected him with that congregation.
The new ministry in St. George's was thoroughly efficient. Not only was the power of the pulpit fully maintained, but pastoral visitation and works of Christian beneficence were zealously and diligently conducted; and the members of the congregation set to working for the cause of Christ. One result of these labours was the formation of the congregation of St. Luke's, out of a section of St. George's parish, the first of a series of efforts in Home Mission and Church extension that the congregation successfully made.
But the even tenor of this course of Christian usefulness was somewhat broken, though never interrupted, by the troubles of the Church of Scotland, which called the minister of St. George's to take an active part in the conflict she was then waging for her rights and liberties. He was a member of General Assembly in 1839, when the House of Lords had just given the final decision on the first Auchterarder case, denying the legality of the Veto Act of 1834, by which the Church had sought to secure the freedom of her people in the purely spiritual matter of the calling and ordination of ministers over them. The Moderate party proposed that that Act should, without being repealed by the Church, be thenceforth disregarded, since it had been declared illegal by the supreme civil tribunals of the country. In the debate on this point, Mr. Candlish made his first Assembly speech. It was in support of the view that, as the Veto Law was not of a civil nature, it could not be given up by the Church in deference to the Civil Courts, without surrendering her spiritual independence as a Church of Christ; and it was more especially called forth by a motion made by Dr. Muir, attempting a sort of middle course or compromise between the two opposing principles. "The objections to the scheme were stated," says Dr. Buchanan, "and urged with singular felicity and force, by one who was destined from that day for ward to exert perhaps a greater influence than any other single individual in the Church, upon the conduct and issue of this eventful controversy.
The reputation of Mr. Candlish as a preacher was already well known. His extraordinary talents in debate and his rare capacity for business, not hitherto having had any adequate occasion to call them forth, were as yet undiscovered by the public, probably undiscovered even by himself. They seemed, however, to have needed no process of training to bring them to maturity. The very first effort found him abreast of the most practised and powerful orators, and as much at home in the management of affairs as those who had made this the study of their life. There was a glorious battle to fight, and a great work to do on the arena of the Church of Scotland; and in him, as well as in others evidently raised up for the emergency, the Lord had his fitting instruments prepared. Mr. Candlish's powers in debate and in the conduct of business led to his having some of the most important public duties in the Church entrusted to him, as new and greater complications arose; especially from the course pursued by the Presbytery of Strathbogie, in the Marnoch case. The majority of that Church Court resolved, in disobedience to the express injunctions of their ecclesiastical superiors, and in deference to the Civil Court, to ordain to the charge of the parish of Marnoch a man, against whom the whole congregation solemnly protested; and it became necessary to suspend them from their office, not as a punishment, but simply to prevent their committing this gross outrage in the name of the Church. A special meeting of the Commission of Assembly was held in December 1839, at which Mr. Candlish moved, and carried by a majority of 121 to 14, the suspension of seven ministers of the Presbytery of Strathbogie. Immediately thereupon he had to go down to that district, along with Mr. Cunningham and others, to intimate in the parishes of the several suspended ministers the sentence that had just been pronounced. But before this could be done, these ministers had obtained an interdict from the Court of Session against the sentence being intimated in their parish churches, churchyards, or schools. This interdict, though it was held to be unjust and oppressive, was without hesitation obeyed; because it related only to the use of premises which were the property of the State, and so within the jurisdiction of the Civil Court.
Accordingly, it was in the open air that Mr. Candlish preached at Huntly, and other ministers in the other parishes, intimating the suspension of the ministers, and supplying ordinances to their people. Soon afterwards, however, the Court of Session, on the application of these ministers, granted an extended interdict, forbidding any ministers of the Established Church to preach anywhere within these parishes without the authority of the legal incumbents. As this interdict interfered directly with the purely spiritual function of preaching the gospel, it was deliberately disregarded; and the most grave and godly ministers of the Church willingly went, at her appointment, to dispense the means of grace among the people whose ministers had been suspended. Mr. Candlish was not sent on this duty till the spring of 1841, when he again preached in Huntly, this time in a new place of worship that had been built by voluntary contributions. This act, though it was in no way different from what the evangelical ministers of the Church of Scotland had been systematically doing for a year past, was made the occasion of depriving him of an appointment for which he was highly qualified.
By the recommendation of a Royal Commission, the Government had resolved to institute a Chair of Biblical Criticism in the University of Edinburgh; and Mr. Candlish was nominated as its first occupant. The appointment was all but completed, when Lord Aberdeen made a violent attack upon him in the House of Lords, alleging that he had violated the law by preaching at Huntly about a fortnight before; and, in consequence of this, Lord Normanby, the Home Secretary, cancelled the appointment. In his published letter to Lord Normanby on this subject, which at the time made a deep impression, Mr. Candlish vindicated himself from the charge of breaking the law, and pointed out the deep-rooted convictions and high principles that were involved in the unhappy conflict between the Church and the Civil Courts.
In the Assembly that followed, he melted and almost carried away the whole house by his persuasive and pathetic appeal to the Moderate party to acquiesce in the passing of the Duke of Argyll's Bill, which would have put an end to the conflict. This and other attempts at an adjustment proved vain; and matters went on into further complications; till at length, the House of Lords, having finally decided the claim of the Church to spiritual freedom to be illegal, and the Ministry and Parliament having declined to give any relief, the ministers who supported that claim, 474 in number, among whom was Dr. Candlish, separated from the State, and resigned their livings in connection with the Scottish Establishment in May 1843.
In the various discussions and negotiations that preceded this event, as well as in the labours needed for building up the Church in her disestablished state, Dr. Candlish (who had received the degree of D.D. from Princeton College, New Jersey, in 1841) took an active and leading part.
He made numerous journeys, both in Scotland and England, advocating the principles of the Free Church, and extending her organisation. He took charge, at different times, of various of the schemes of the Church, more especially of that for Education, having been convener of that committee from 1846 to 1863. Yet, in the midst of all this public activity, he kept up his pulpit and pastoral work, and attached more and more closely to him the large and intelligent congregation of St. George's. During the Assembly of 1847, the sudden and lamented death of Dr. Chalmers created a vacancy in one of the chairs of Theology in the New College; and in August that year Dr. Candlish was appointed Professor by the Commission of Assembly. As he had ever a strong conviction of the superior importance of the training of the Church's future ministers, compared with the pastorate of any one congregation; he accepted the appointment, and preached a farewell sermon to the people of St. George's. But on this occasion, as on the former one, he was providentially hindered from exchanging the work of the pastorate for that of the college. The congregation of St. George's, with one heart and voice, had chosen as his successor the gifted and pious Alexander Stewart of Cromarty; but before he could be inducted into the charge, his sensitive nature had given way under the strain and burden of the prospect, and he died November 5, 1847.
This sudden stroke made a deep impression on the congregation and on Dr. Candlish, who, feeling that his heart was too much with his afflicted people to give himself wholly to the work of his chair, requested, and was allowed by the College Committee, to continue the charge of St. George's during the winter, meeting the students only once a week for the study of Butler's Analogy. At next Assembly, having been led to think that his call to the professorial office was not so strong as he had supposed, he formally resigned the chair, and was restored to the ministry of St. George's.
He continued to lead his people in active Christian work; and besides the home mission work that was constantly carried on in the original parish of St. George's, the territorial missionary congregations of Fountainbridge (out of which grew the Barclay and Viewforth churches) and Roseburn, were originated, and fostered into strength and vigour, under his care. His labours in the general administration of the Church's business it is not possible even to enumerate here, much less to describe. He always took a peculiar and warm, interest in the more directly spiritual part of the Church's work, such as the promotion of vital religion, evangelistic labours in our own country, and missions to the Jews and heathen abroad.
Nor was he inactive in the field of literature, edifying the Church of Christ by his popular and practical works, and, when necessary, defending in controversy her fundamental doctrines. In 1842 he published the first volume of his "Contributions towards the exposition of the Book of Genesis," afterwards completed in three volumes. In 1845 an incidental newspaper correspondence called forth from him a small volume "On the Atonement," which was recast and enlarged in 1861. In 1854, being invited to lecture to the London Young Men's Christian Association in Exeter Hall, he took the occasion to review the teaching of the Rev. F. D. Maurice, in his "Theological Essays," then just published; and he issued along with his lecture a detailed "Examination" of that work. But the accumulated toils of what was virtually three lives in one - that of a city minister, of a church leader, and of a theological writer - told upon his constitution; and, in the spring of 1860, Dr. Candlish had a severe illness, by which he was laid aside for several months. In the following year, he consented, to the proposal of his congregation to have the help of a colleague; and the Rev. J. 0. Dykes was inducted in that capacity, December 19, 1861, and continued to fill the office till 1865, when he resigned his charge on account of ill health.
In 1861 Dr. Candlish occupied the chair of the General Assembly; and in the following year he was appointed Principal of the New College, Edinburgh, in the room of Dr. Cunningham, who died December 14, 1861.
As head of the College he opened and closed each session with an address to the students; and heard and criticised the popular sermons which they are required to deliver. When the Cunningham Lectureship was founded, Principal Candlish was appointed the first lecturer, and delivered his course on the "Fatherhood of God" in February and March 1864. The views therein expressed he had long held and indicated in many of his sermons, such as those printed in the Appendix to the Lectures, and in his subsequent volume "On the Sonship and Brotherhood of Believers." But they appeared new, and even dangerous, to certain zealous defenders of orthodoxy; and gave rise to a somewhat keen controversy.
Dr. Candlish's Lectures on the First Epistle of John, whicti were written and preached before the delivery of the Cunningham Lectures, though not published till 1866, form, as it were, a Biblical illustration and practical application of them.
Meanwhile his health was becoming ever more broken and uncertain - his attacks of illness were more frequent and severe; though his zeal and devotedness to the cause of Christ and his Church never flagged. He was more especially active and earnest in the negotiations for union among the unestablished Presbyterian churches in Scotland, which were carried on from 1863 to 1873; though unhappily without attaining the great object aimed at. In 1871-2 he was laid aside from all work, for eleven months by a severe and exhausting illness; but, in the winter of 1872-3, he was permitted again to occupy his pulpit, and preached to his beloved people on most of the Sabbaths of that season. The burden, however, of the congregational work had been necessarily devolved on the Rev. A. Whyte, who, since his induction as colleague in October 1870, had in every way consulted for his comfort and relief, and in whom he placed the utmost confidence. In the weeks preceding the Assembly his strength was much reduced, and the effort that he then made to take part in its proceedings was a great strain upon him.
He preached only twice after it - for the last time on the 15th of June. The three following months he spent at Whitby, returning to Edinburgh in the end of September. The decline of his strength now became more rapid; and from the 10th of October his medical advisers began to fear that he would not rally. When they told him their opinion, he fully realised and calmly faced the prospect before him; and it made no change whatever upon him. He gave his last directions with his wonted exactness, and with perfect composure; he was cheerful and happy, and took an interest in passing events to the last; he was affectionately mindful of all his friends, present and absent, and bade a loving farewell to those of them whom he was able to see.
He delighted to hear his favourite texts and hymns, those most full of Christ; and without either great exaltation or depression, but "knowing whom he had believed," he calmly waited the end, and peacefully fell asleep just before midnight on Sabbath, October 19th.
From first to last it has taken from various periods of his ministry, from its beginning in St. Andrew's, Glasgow, to its close, that all will witness to his fidelity to the resolution to know nothing among his people but Jesus Christ and him crucified. *
Many of the places mentioned above can be viewed by proceeding to the Chalmers site, photo-wallet.
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