Thomas Chalmers

Anecdotes - from "Thomas Chalmers" by Adam Philip

CHALMERS was not like Carlyle, a student of German literature, but he had a hospitable mind, and, to the last, was keen to learn. Some indeed, were disposed to think that he had come too much under its sway, which is certainly untrue. But his mind was open. In 1844, when John Mackintosh was going to Germany, he wrote asking him to ascertain in what esteem Stapferus, Maestricht, Pictetus and the elder Turretine were held by the Heidelberg divines, and also the names of such German writers as were in greatest request among them.

Rothe, to whom Mackintosh read Chalmers letter, replied with some naïveté that these books were out of date and almost unknown, and he added a list of those most talked of which included Schleiermacher, Nitzsch, Bretschneider, Marheinecke and Strauss.

A year later, when Tholuck of Halle was in Edinburgh, the two divines had much conversation. A description of their meeting has been admirably given by their host: "Dr. Chalmers seated himself on a low chair close to the learned German, and listened with an air of genuine docility to all he said, throwing in a stray characteristic observation now and them, always however, in the way of encouragement, never in the way of contradiction. Dr. Tholuck had published some verses of a religious character, which had given umbrage to some sect or other. He showed the lines to Dr. Chalmers, who admiring them observed that he had often been taken to task for similar latitudinarianism; "for, my dear Sir," he added, some people have a very fine nose for heresy.
Another day, Tholuck spent some hours with Chalmers," urging upon him in the most direct and homely way, the necessity of directing his mind to the study of German Theology."

Nothing could be more affectionate than the mutual bearing of the two men. Watching Chalmers face as he listened, Tholuck turned to his host and said that he had never seen so beautiful an old man. And the best comes last. Their host writes: "The day before Tholuck's departure, Dr. Chalmers called upon him and found him at his mid-day repast. He sat with him only for a few minutes, and said little, but looked at him constantly with an expression of earnest interest and affection. He rose to take leave; and instead of taking him by the hand, he threw his arms round his neck and kissed him, while "God bless you, my dear friend" broke with apparent difficulty from his overcharged heart. After he was gone, it was noticed that a tear had gathered in the eye of him who had received the apostolic benediction and seal of brotherhood, from one he loved and venerated so much. His only observation was a half-muttered, half- spoken eben em Kuss - even a kiss." , * *

Merle D Aubigné relates thus the story of his welcome to Scotland by Chalmers in 1844. "I had not yet alighted, when I perceived amidst the crowd a head already whitened by age, with a lively eye and a benevolent smile. It was Chalmers, that man who for these thirty years had been all over Europe representative of Scotland; he had had the kindness to come to meet me. The hearty welcome of this venerable Christian with whom I was not before personally acquainted and who adds to his great genius the simplicity of a child, affected me even to tears. Thenceforward I loved Chalmers as a brother and reverenced him as a father. I was united to him, to his Church, to his people by a powerful bond of affection. . . . A month afterwards, having gone to spend my last two days in Scotland with Chalmers in a delightful village at Fairlie, on the seashore opposite the mountains of Arran, I repaired to Greenock to meet the steamer which was to carry me to Liverpool; and notwithstanding the distance, notwithstanding his age, and a heavy rain (a Greenock day as they call it there) Chalmers would see me to my cabin, and did not leave me till the signal was given for our departure. Chalmers was the first and last whom I saw in Scotland. If I recall this cordial welcome it is not only for the sake of doing honour to this friend, I merely point to the venerable Edinburgh patriarch as the type of Scottish hospitality" Expressing his gratitude to, and admiration for Chalmers, D Aubigné uttered a fervent prayer: "May God kipper him."

Mr. Leask, the biographer of Dr. T. McLauchlan, tells of a gathering where the characters of Chalmers and Andrew Thomson were being discussed. Candlish remarked that the great distinction lay in this: "Chalmers had little sympathy with the rights of the people, but he earnestly desired their well-being. Yet in a bad man, this may be consistent with despotism. Thomson, on the other hand, was the friend and consistent advocate of t popular right. I remember, after I preached first on the non-intrusion controversy in 1839, Dr. Hanna came over to me, when I was still labouring under some considerable excitement, and remarked it was a pity I had said anything about the rights of the people. It is unquestionable that benevolence was more an actuating principle with Chalmers than a sense of justice." There is perhaps an element of truth in this, but it is put too strongly. Chalmers smarted under injustice and resented it with all the force of a healthy nature. There are many illustrations, both in private and in public life, that go to show that. It is said of Turgot that he was ready to do everything for the people, only not through the people. If Chalmers, like Gladstone, in some things shrank from what seems justice to-day, in other directions he was far in advance of his contemporaries, and stood in the front rank among the champions of the humble and the poor, and it is his glory to have enlisted in his enterprise for the people, the help of the people. * * *

"Chalmers is mad," was a common expression at one time. On their way to church one day in Glasgow, a gentleman and his wife met a friend who asked him where they were going. "To hear Dr. Chalmers," they said. "What," he replied, "to hear that madman!" They invited him to accompany them, promising that if he went and continued of the same opinion, they would never dispute the matter with him again. He accordingly agreed. Chalmers text that day happened to be "I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness."
The somewhat reluctant hearer became a changed man from that day.

A parallel to this incident might be found in the text on which Robert Bruce preached when Alexander Henderson of Leuchars, who had had to force himself into the church by a window, was hiding, according to the story, behind a pillar: John x. i. "He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." The text, the coincidence, the sermon wrought the change in Henderson, who is best known as the leader of the Covenant. * * *

Chalmers could be patient and kind; he could also be decided and stern. One day when Chalmers was busy in his study, a young man was shown into the room who announced himself as under great distress of mind. " Sit down, sir; be good enough to be seated," Chalmers said with a tender welcome. The visitor explained how he had been troubled with doubts about the Christian religion, and, on being asked what these were, he referred to what is said in the Bible about Melchisedek being without father and without mother. Chalmers patiently and anxiously sought to throw light on the young man's difficulties, who professed himself greatly relieved, to Chalmers joy. Then the visitor said: " Doctor, I am in great want of a little money at present, and perhaps you could help me in that way." The object of his visit was plain. It was not relief of his doubts but money that he wanted. Chalmers was indignant at the deceiver, who seeing that his game was up, fled from the study, while Chalmers thrust out the reproach: " Not a penny, sir! not a penny! It s too bad! it s too bad! And to haul in your hypocrisy upon the shoulders of Melchisedek!" * * *

When criticising a sermon prepared by one of his students, he said "Mr. — you must cut out the one half of that sermon. " It doesn't matter which half." * * *
A clerical friend who invited him to address a small gathering of lowly - largely illiterate - people, ventured to give him a hint that big words might perplex his hearers. In beginning his address he referred to the hint of their minister thus : "My friends, I have been asked to-night to avoid, in my address to you, the technical nomenclature of scholastic theology." * * *

Like others, he felt deeply interested in the subject of the pre-millennial coming. For long he hesitated and could not make up his mind. When discussing the subject one day with Dr. Welsh, the class bell rang. Stopping the conversation, and bringing his fist down on the table, Chalmers said I with his usual emphasis, " I tell you, Dr. Welsh, the millennium will come in with a hammer smash." The subject haunted him to the end, and so did the interpretation of the Apocalypse. When on a visit to Oxford, he touched on it with Dean Stanley. "But this," he said to Stanley, "is too long to discuss here and now; you must come and finish our conversation when we meet in Edinburgh." That meeting never took place. Ten days later Chalmers died. * * *

On one occasion he asked a student, "Who was the author of the Theory of Population which I have been discussing ? " "Julius Caesar," was the immediate reply. Chalmers was immensely amused, and could scarcely conceal his laughter. Then he rose and said, "Sir, don t you think that Caesar was rather the author of De-population ? " Another day when discussing the problem of free will, and the power of contrary choice, he asked a student, "Now sir, suppose that the Fife mail was coming in four-in-hand round the corner unobserved by you when you were crossing South Street and wanted to go to the other side of it, what would you do? What would happen?" "I wad be dung into a jeely, sir," was the student's reply. * * *

"I don't think," a ploughman at Dairsie said to Chalmers on his appointment to the Moral Philosophy Chair at St. Andrews, "I don't think that you should give up preaching for teaching." Let me ask you a question, Saunders," said Chalmers. "Does the man who salts the pig or the man who makes the salt that will salt many pigs do the greatest service ? "The man who makes the salt, to be sure." "Well, I've all this time been salting the pig, and now I'm going to make the salt." "Then," said Saunders, "the sooner you're in the salt pan, sir, the better." * * *

When asked by Dr. Buchanan to visit an aged sufferer, he said that it would be no trouble but rather a pleasure, for he found it necessary for his own sake to keep in contact with the reality of an eternal world and liked to have a few dying persons on his list, adding with affecting simplicity, " For thirty years death has not entered my household, and there is much truth in the words, because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God. " He added the name to his list and visited the sufferer almost every day. * * *

When Hew Scott was a little discouraged by the lack of support he received in preparing his great work Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, he liked to quote the words of Dr. Chalmers to him: "Go on, Mr. Scott, go on, the unborn will bless you, sir, it is the work I would like to do." * * *

When Chalmers was speaking at Annan on behalf of the Sustentation Fund, rather a greedy member of the Church remarked: "He is a gude man, Dr. Chalmers, but he is unco worldly." Side by side with this may be placed what Mr. Gladstone wrote in 1893. " I have always understood that this" (the extraordinary skill which presided over the new arrangements in 1843) "was mainly the skill of Dr. Chalmers. If this be so, it is to me a matter of special interest, for about the year 1833-6, I had the honour of some personal intercourse with that admirable man, which afforded me some particular opportunities of appreciating his absolute indifference and I think almost contempt, for matters of pecuniary interest in which he was immediately concerned." (Cf. Letter to Moderator of the Free Church Assembly, 1893).

"You are the giant collector - the big beggar - and there is no selfishness in your beggary - you ask for the Church of Christ." * * *

On one occasion, Rowland Hill had invited Chalmers to preach for him. In spite of his admiration, Hill had some anxiety lest the broad Dorie of Chalmers (he pronounced value veillie, parish pairish, and called the Pope of Rome the Popp of Romm) might grate on the ears of fastidious hearers. Would English ears be offended? Accordingly, Hill took a place in the front gallery to watch the effect. But his fears were quickly set at rest. The people were riveted, and as the orator proceeded he cried out involuntarily, "Well done! Well done, Thomas Chalmers!"

A huntsman has told how, during a sermon when Chalmers was describing a hunting field, he could scarcely restrain himself from crying Halloa, Halloa. * * *
When on one occasion Dr. Jones entered the room where Chalmers was, Chalmers rose from his seat with a spring of delight, and with an expressive "Ha, ha ! "greeted the doctor. Dr. Jones was more placid, but, pressing his hand, said, "Thomas Chalmers! Thomas Chalmers! To see you again, to meet you once more is life from the dead." * * *

Chalmers had a singularly truthful and, at the same time, appreciative nature. Of Mr. James Dennistoun of Glasgow, who backed him in his work in the east end, he said: "Mr. Dennistoun is the best natural man I ever knew," a dictum, Mrs. Sellar writes, which satisfied his heart and saved his orthodoxy."

A. B. Bruce had more than a great admiration for Chalmers; he loved him. Prof. Knight tells how, along with Bruce, whose first visit it was, he went to see Kilmany Church, where Chalmers began his ministry. The sight of the little church with its belfry and the thought of all that had taken place during his ministry moved Bruce intensely. "When close beside the church, looking up to the bell that had been sounded so often to summon the country folk to hear Chalmers preach, he exclaimed, "I would like to go and ring that bell! "

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