EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY 1828 - 1843
IT was but natural for Chalmers, in entering on his new
duties as professor of divinity in the University of Edinburgh, to rally all
his energies for a task so important - to be performed, too, in so commanding a
sphere. The course of theology through which he had to conduct his students
occupied three sessions, and for each consecutive winter it was necessary for
him to produce a fresh set of lectures. Happily the subjects discussed in his
first session were already familiar to him - natural theology and the evidences
of Christianity. What was necessary for him in this session, was to expand,
complete, and combine materials that, in a very limited measure, he had already
used at St. Andrews.
A greater contrast can hardly be imagined than the divinity class-room under his predecessor and under himself. The last professor was a striking illustration of what the essential dulness and lifelessness of Moderatism could produce when matured and crowned by old age and infirmity. Two years before the appointment of Chalmers, a deputation of students, including the late Principal Cunningham and Dr. Wilson of Bombay, had waited on the professor, requesting him (but in vain) to provide a substitute, as his voice could not be heard. Naturally the attendance had fallen to a fraction, and utter lifelessness prevailed. With the appointment of Chalmers, an enthusiasm sprang up unprecedented in the history of the university. The introductory lecture, says Dr. Hanna, was delivered amid rapturous applause, and, with scarcely any sensible abatement, the excitement of that first meeting was sustained throughout the whole of the succeeding session! Besides the regular students of the church, a very large body of amateurs attended the course. From these the professor exacted no fee; but at the end of the session, through the Rev. Robert Morehead, an episcopalian clergyman, they asked his acceptance of a sum of money, and, in an elaborate address, expressed the delight and benefit with which they had listened to the course.
In subsequent years, Dr. Chalmers re-wrote his divinity lectures, and after his death these were published in two volumes, entitled, Institutes of Theology. Besides delivering his own lectures, it was his practice to comment on his textbooks, - Butlers Analogy, Paleys Evidences, and Hills Lectures in Divinity, his notes on these now forming a separate volume of his Posthumous Works.
Most Calvinistic treatises on systematic theology start from the divine point of view, setting forth the nature of God; and, on the basis of His Sovereignty, explaining his relation to man. Chalmers preferred to start with the actual condition of man, the diseased and disorganised state into which he had fallen, and to rise from that to the provision which God had made for his recovery through Jesus Christ. It is not difficult to see what led him to prefer this order. In his course of moral philosophy, he had come to an abrupt and impassable barrier. Natural ethics gave abundant proof that mans moral nature was disordered, and that he had lost fellowship with God; but it threw no light on the awfully important questions how that nature was to be healed, and how that fellowship was to be restored. The answer to these questions, as Chalmers often insisted, must come from a higher source. It was tantalising to a teacher of moral philosophy to have to leave man in this predicament, and to be restrained from dwelling on the response of revealed theology to his eager questionings. And hence, when revealed theology became his theme, Chalmers was eager to set forth at once the point of junction between the two theologies, to show how the revealed took man up at the point where nature left him; in a word, to bring the remedy of revelation into connection with the disease of nature. If, in general, this order is more acceptable to Arminian than Calvinistic divines, this was not Chalmerss reason for preferring it. We have seen that the sovereignty, the all- sufficiency and universal operation of God, was the first theological truth that took a powerful hold of his mind, even before he became reconciled to evangelical doctrine. That hold it retained ever after. The root of Calvinism, or, we should rather say, of Paulinism and Augustinianism, was planted at the beginning in the very heart of his being.
But, from the eminently practical character of his mind, it was not his habit to put the higher doctrines of Calvinism in the forefront of his preaching, or even of his theology. Man must be dealt with as a responsible being; his responsibility must ever have its place beside Gods sovereignty. It would be ruinous to handle either of these doctrines in such a manner as to destroy or even impair the force of the other. The combination of the two was one of the great objects of his theological teaching.
Chalmerss style of theological discussion was very unlike the common. It was not fashioned on the anvil of the schoolmen. There was a remarkable combination in it of the philosophical and the popular. His mind was deeply philosophical, delighting in first principles, and eager to concatenate truth, to establish comprehensive laws, to reconcile apparently conflicting doctrines, and to bring what seemed unreasonable into harmony with reason. But his style was so diffuse and flowing that he appeared to want the exactness and correctness of a philosophic mind. Moreover, he could not confine himself to the strictly intellectual aspects of theology; he could not but include its moral and practical aspects. In bringing out the practical bearings of doctrines, he was liable to become somewhat declamatory.
Another peculiarity was his fondness of illustration, the product, as it seemed, of the poetical rather than the philosophic faculty. The result was that, as a philosophic theologian, Chalmers hardly got justice. And since his day philosophic theology has passed into a quite different groove. He was just beginning to know something of German philosophy when he died. He was greatly interested in it, and had he survived, he would in all likelihood have given much of his attention to it. But he could only have known it at second hand, and any discussion of it in these circumstances must have been of but secondary weight. And now that the German standpoint has become so common, the theology of Dr. Chalmers, as well as that of his successor, Principal Cunningham, has fallen into the background. But it would not be easy to say how much is missed by even philosophical students when they give the go-by to his writings.
The academical and other honours conferred on him had more respect to his position as a preacher and a philanthropist than a professor of theology. In 1830 he was appointed one of her Majestys chaplains for Scotland, the letter from Sir Robert Peel in which the announcement was made to him saying emphatically that the honour was conferred in consideration of his high character and eminent acquirements and services. At the Disruption, when he ceased to be a minister of the Established Church, he resigned this appointment. It was but the other day that it transpired that her Majesty wished him to continue to hold it. But such was his conscientiousness that, though the salary was placed at his credit by the Queens Remembrancer till his death in 1847, no part of the salary was ever drawn either by him or his family. In 1834 he was elected a corresponding member of the Royal Institute of France, and in the following year he received the degree of D.C.L. from the University of Oxford. Such honours as these last were without a parallel in the case of any Presbyterian minister. About the same time he was elected a Fellow, and thereafter a vice-president, of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Among other honours, he was asked by the Bridgewater Trustees to write one of their eight treatises on natural theology, the subject assigned to him being The Adaptation of External Nature to the Moral and Intellectual Constitution of Man. This essay was afterwards merged in his work on Natural Theology. In his visits to Oxford and Cambridge he received almost unbounded attention from the most distinguished men in both universities, and in his intercourse with them he had much enjoyment. At Cambridge he could not restrain his delight at being entertained in the college of Newton - a name which held an extraordinary place in his regard. In recognition of his appointment as a corresponding member of the French Institute, he visited France in 1838, and read a paper to the Institute on the Distinction, both in Principle and Effect, between a Legal Charity for the Relief of Indigence and a Legal Charity for the Relief of Disease.
The right treatment of pauperism continued to exercise his mind and to draw forth his testimony on every available occasion. In 1829 he was summoned to London to give evidence before a Parliamentary Committee on the Irish Poor-Law. His view was ever the same. A compulsory rate created a spirit of dependence, and thereby tended to the increase of pauperism and the degradation rather than the elevation of the people. It was often said that comfort tended to the improvement of character. His belief was the very opposite; it was character that tended to the increase of comfort. His success in Glasgow led him to believe that the same system would succeed in Ireland. He had sought to stimulate friendship and kindliness among all classes, so as to induce them to help one another in times of need; nothing had had a greater effect in diminishing pauperism. This was far too valuable and efficient a weapon to be carelessly thrown away.
But to all his schemes for remedying pauperism there came a death-blow in 1844. In 1840, Dr. Pultney Alison of Edinburgh, a medical practitioner of great eminence and not less benevolence, published a pamphlet in which he drew a painful picture of the miserable condition of the poor, especially in many parts of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and strongly urged the necessity of an ampler provision for them, secured by law, though one result of this would be the increase of the cost of Scottish pauperism from £150,000 to £800,000 per annum. Chalmers did what he could to counterwork Dr. Alison. When the British Association met in Glasgow in 1840, he contributed a paper on the subject, and the public interest was so great that the meeting where it was discussed had to be adjourned to a church. He delivered several lectures to his students, which were afterwards collected and published in a volume. But the absorbing interest which had arisen in the Church question that was now under vehement discussion, and other causes, chilled the interest of the public in pauperism; and in 1844 a measure was enacted by Parliament, in opposition to the views of Chalmers. To him it seemed that even though an immediate improvement in the condition of the poor might be thus obtained, it must be at the sacrifice of many of the virtues that went to elevate them.
In the political world two great questions were agitating the community about the time when Chalmers came to Edinburgh - Catholic Emancipation and the Reform Bill. Chalmers was a strenuous advocate of Catholic Emancipation. It did not seem to him just, as a general principle, to exclude any body of the people from a share in the government of their country on account of their religious opinions. Not only so, but he had a strong conviction that the effect of such exclusion was to create a prejudice against the religion of their opponents and prevent them from giving an impartial consideration to the arguments in its favour. In urging his views at a public meeting in Edinburgh, he rose to a height of eloquence that carried his audience by storm. As long as the Roman Catholics were excluded from political privileges they would not listen to any arguments against their faith. But let this injustice be removed, let them be admitted to the same platform as the rest of the community, and he looked for a change. And what might they not expect if the Bible were to become a familiar book to their Catholic brethren, and they were to receive its lessons with open and candid minds? The very thought seemed to open a most interesting and hopeful vista, well adapted to be expanded and enforced by his gorgeous eloquence. But even had he known that expectations of this sort were groundless, he would still have advocated emancipation simply as a matter of justice.
On the question of the Reform Bill he did not take the popular side. His opposition to it comes on us as a surprise. We should have expected that a man whose motto was Honour all men, who had already befriended Catholic Emancipation and the repeal of the Corporation Test Acts, and who was afterwards an advocate of the repeal of the Corn-Laws, would have approved of the very moderate degree of political privilege implied in the ten-pound suffrage. In a speech in the Presbytery of Edinburgh, Dr. Chalmers once said: I have already professed myself, and will profess myself again, an out and out and, I maintain it, the only consistent Radical. The dearest object of my earthly existence is the elevation of the common people, humanised by Christianity and raised by the strength of their moral habits to a higher platform of human nature, and by which they may attain and enjoy the rank and consideration due to enlightened and companionable men.
But, though he offered no active opposition to the measure, he did not approve of it. In this he seems to have been actuated by various motives. In the first place, he did not think that this was the true way to elevate the people. He had always maintained that it was mainly by a moral and Christian education, by the cultivation of right principles and habits, that their true welfare was to be secured, and he dreaded anything that might lead them to value material or political benefits more than this. Further, he had a dread that any loosening of the old foundations of society might encourage a spirit of anarchy and recklessness which would ultimately bring the country to ruin. He knew that such a spirit slumbered, and more than slumbered, in many breasts, and he was opposed to any measure that would give it the slightest encouragement. He did not reckon on any abatement of discontent from the extension of the suffrage, and did not believe that the political appetite would be satisfied with anything short of a social revolution. So great were his fears, that on one occasion he expressed his apprehension that if the government then in office were to be removed, anarchy would immediately take possession. Nothing would have surprised or alarmed him more than to be told that by and by a Conservative Government would bring down the suffrage to a much lower point than the then Reform Bill proposed. But still more would he have wondered had he learned that fifty years after his death, and under all these radical changes, so far from the country being abandoned to anarchy, the law-abiding habit of the people would be as strong as ever, and the foundations of society as firm.
When the great question of the Corn-Laws came up at a later period, Chalmers was in favour of the repeal; not chiefly for any important economical results that he expected from that step, but because it would, as he used to say, sweeten the breath of society. He would have been surprised at the remarkable commercial results which the abolition of the Corn-Laws, and the institution of the system of Free Trade have produced on the resources of the country.
In addition to these considerations, another ground of his opposition to the Reform Bill was his respect for an aristocracy and the influence of an aristocracy, as contributing important elements to the welfare of a country. He held that in every land of law and liberty, with an order of men possessing large and independent affluence, there is better security for the general comfort and virtue of the whole than when society presents an aspect of almost unalleviated plebeianism. But, it is not for the sake of its ornaments and its chivalry alone that we want the high rank of our aristocracy to be upholden. It was for the spirit that they circulated through all ranks - a more noble spirit, he thought, than either France with its Citizen King, or the United States with their universal social equality, could inspire. In his intercourse with the aristocracy, it was the best and most congenial of them that admitted him to their society, and nothing charmed him more than to find a too combination of rank and wealth with Christian principle and philanthropic activity, along with the charm of refined and gentle but unassuming manners. Such movements as the Reform Bill he deemed hurtful to the influence of the aristocracy, and therefore disadvantageous to the welfare of the country. It was a different set of aristocrats, and a different kind of policy he had to criticise when, on occasion of his last visit to London, he gave evidence to a Parliamentary Committee in connection with the hardships suffered by congregations of the Free Church from the refusal of sites by aristocratic landowners.
Undoubtedly the main activity of Chalmers during his Edinburgh life was connected with the work of the church. But before proceeding to this, it may be well to advert to his literary activity, which, amid all his other occupations, was very remarkable. We have already noticed his Bridgewater treatise, afterwards reconstructed in his Natural Theology. We have also noticed his volume on the subject of the Poor-Laws. It was during this period that he completed and published in four volumes his Lectures on the Epistle to the Rornans, which had been begun but not finished as pulpit discourses in Glasgow; regarding which the late Mr. Isaac Taylor gave his judgment that they would probably be the most enduring of his writings. In this period likewise he collected and edited his whole works, amounting to the goodly number of twenty-five volumes. Of a large number of his pamphlets, introductory essays, articles in reviews, and other miscellaneous writings, our space allows us to say nothing. But the work of this period which Chalmers himself thought most of was, his treatise in two volumes on Political Economy. The subject had an attraction for him ever since his attendance on certain classes in the University of Edinburgh in 1799-1801. His first published volume had been on one of its topics. In the University of St. Andrews he had given a course of lectures upon it. It may seem strange that, after his change of views and intense consecration to spiritual work, he should still have felt so lively an interest in a subject usually considered the driest and most secular in the whole round of the sciences. But, as he remarked in his preface, there were two ways of presenting political economy. One was merely to expound its doctrines; the other, along with this, to consider its applications.
It was with this latter object in view that Dr. Chalmers bestowed so earnest attention on the subject. On the doctrines of political economy, indeed, he held and expounded many original views, - views which were treated with undeserved contempt by the Quarterly Review, but of which so high an authority as Mr. Stuart Mill wrote in a very different spirit. Accepting it as the great aim of political economy to make the most of a countrys material resources, and advance to the utmost the comfort and prosperity of its people, Dr. Chalmers urged with great earnestness that all its methods were in themselves incompetent to secure this end. Without due provision for the moral and spiritual nature, the true welfare and the true comfort of men could never be achieved. Besides this, he held that society was ever tending to a condition which could not but defeat the very ends which political economy had in view. It was the constant tendency of population to increase, and thus outgrow production - outgrow the provision for the supply of its material wants. However much production might be increased, it could not be increased in the ratio of population, so that at length a time must come when, in spite of every expedient, destitution must set in. The only safeguard against this was to raise the intelligence and the moral habits of the people, to inspire them with a desire for a more civilised kind of life, to give them a taste for higher enjoyments, and induce them to cultivate the industry, the skill, and the self-control by which these might be attained. But how would this check population? Dr. Chalmers was in this respect in sympathy with Malthus; he wished to check early and improvident marriages, and the best means of doing this was to elevate the standard of living, so that marriage should be delayed until the means of reaching this standard were realised. It must be owned, we think, that this was a one- sided view. There are undoubted moral risks of a very serious kind involved in the delay of marriage until an age when the passions have somewhat cooled down. It was the habit of Chalmers to let his mind dwell at one time on but one aspect of a subject, and not give full weight to counterbalancing considerations. Most readers will agree thoroughly with him in his view that improved taste and enlarged views must bring in their wake increased comfort and a higher social standing; but the system of political economy that rested on the Malthusian principle is not entitled to be placed much higher than other systems; and the only security for moral improvement lies in that Christian education and Christian influence on which Chalmers laid so much stress, and which came not from political economy, but from the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Whatever we may think of his outlet from the insoluble problem of political economy, we must recognise with admiration his overwhelming sense of the value of this Christian education and training with a view to the highest welfare of mankind. This indeed was the reigning idea of Chalmers, pursued steadily throughout his whole life, alike in his sermons, his books, his scientific researches, his practical schemes, his intercourse with his fellows, and, we may add, his communion with his God. If ever a life had unity, it was that of Chalmers. To get men impregnated with the spirit of Christ, and alive to the lessons of His Gospel was, one way or other, his continual aim. Not only did he strive to bring individual men into contact with Christ, so that they should receive salvation, and partake of spiritual life, but he desired that all the influences that played on society should be such as to encourage the Christian spirit and Christian habits. National education without Christianity was a blunder not to be thought of. The rulers of the state ought to encourage the church as the highest instrument of good to the people. The division of the country into parishes and districts was important as securing a more efficient ministration of Christianity to every section of the community. A rate-supported system of relief to the poor was atrocious, because it hindered the exercise of Christian habits, it deadened the very charity which it professed to promote. Interference with the spiritual function of the Christian church was an evil not to be endured; it was putting chains on the great instrument of the worlds emancipation; it was arresting the one great force through which all things were to be made new. Daily, and almost hourly, it was the prayer of Chalmers that he might be guided from above in all his efforts to bring individuals and the community alike under Christian influence and Christian habits. And it was the practice of these private devotions that brought to him the wisdom, the strength, and the patience with which he laboured at the utmost stretch of his powers, and without intermission, for the Christian good of his country.
But we must now glance at some of his labours in connection with the church during the period now under review. In 1832 we find him occupying the chair of the General Assembly, and signalising his year of office by bringing about, in conjunction with Lord Belhaven, the Lord High Commissioner, the abolition of a practice Sabbath dinners and Sabbath breakfasts that had hitherto prevailed. Next year, as a member of Assembly, he introduced the celebrated measure known as the Veto, but without success, his proposal being rejected by a majority of twelve. As the evangelical revival advanced, dissatisfaction with the law of patronage advanced apace. When the Reform Act came into operation, it was felt to be but reasonable that as the voice of the people was now to be heard in the choice of their rulers, it ought to be heard likewise in the choice of their ministers. To give them this voice was the object of the veto law. Even under the law of patronage there was a provision by which the presentee must have a call from the people; but it had never been settled what this call meant, and in practice it had degenerated into a mere form. It was thought by some that it would have been wiser for the church to define the call; but the veto was preferred, because it was held to imply a smaller measure of change. It made it the law of the church that if a majority of male heads of families, being communicants, objected to the settlement of a presentee as their minister, the presbytery were not to take him on trial for ordination. It appeared to Dr. Chalmers that it would have been well for the church before passing this law to have the authority of the Legislature in her support, but he was assured by lawyers of the highest eminence, including the law officers of the Crown, that there could not be a doubt as to the legal right of the church to enact this measure.
Next year it was again brought forward, the motion in its favour being made by the first Lord Moncreiff. On this occasion it was carried, and became the law of the church; but events showed that it would have been well had the advice of Chalmers been followed before it was enacted; for it was on the very question of the competency of the church, as by law established, to enact it that the great conflict arose which, ten years after, rent the church in two.
It was impossible for Dr. Chalmers to be long in Edinburgh without having his attention turned to the religious wants of the people there. In the course of a local controversy, carried on with much bitterness, regarding the Annuity Tax - an unpopular impost for defraying the salaries of the city ministers - a proposal had been made to abolish collegiate charges, and thus reduce the number of ministers from eighteen to thirteen. Chalmers had strongly protested against the proposal, and claimed in the interest of the city that the ministers set free from collegiate charges should be intrusted with new parishes, wherever additional churches were needed. Under the Town Council, things had been so managed that the incomes of the clergy had sunk to £400 a year; and the idea of new charges was unpopular, because the Council would have had to provide churches; this opposition grieved Chalmers, and the only consideration that comforted him (as he wrote to a friend) was the increased readiness of the friends of the church to contribute for its extension. For himself, he had hitherto been working in the Cowgate, in the hope that a new parochial charge would be set up for that district. But at the time (1834), the Town Council had refused to make the necessary arrangements for that purpose, although a few years later, the parish of St. Johns was erected, and Dr. Guthrie appointed to it. Meanwhile, Dr. Chalmers resolved to transfer his attention to another needy and neglected district - the suburban village of Dean, or Water of Leith. He had good hopes that he would be able to erect a parochial economy there. The Assembly of that year had appointed him convener of a committee for church accommodation; and in the summer, besides encouraging local efforts, he tried to collect a central fund, for which in July he had made a beginning, having raised the sum of £1677. He had begun, as he said, with the higher kinds of game - dukes and marquises, but by and by he would come down to parochial associations and subscriptions of a penny a week. He believed that the ditchers of the country properly cultivated might be found as productive as the dukes. Anyhow, the moral influence would be greater, because every man that gave a penny a week would be sure to feel a lively interest in the cause.
And this was the beginning of that great scheme of church extension which for several years engrossed his energies, as it proved also the forerunner of his Free Church Sustentation Fund, which has proved such a monument of his financial sagacity and skill.
From Glasgow an important proposal had been made by his friend and former coadjutor, Mr. William Collins, that steps should be taken at once to add twenty churches to the Established Church. Thirteen years before, Chalmers had made the same proposal, but it had been scouted as visionary. Evidently his influence had been telling on the community. It was no longer a devout imagination. Mr. Collins and his friends resolved to take no steps in the way of building, till £20,000 should be subscribed. In the month of October that amount was realised. The success of this local effort gave a great impulse to the general scheme. The proposal under the general scheme was, that the churches should be erected from voluntary contributions, but that the Government should grant a small endowment to each congregation towards its annual expenses. To promote this part of the scheme, a deputation was sent to London, to solicit the support of the Prime Minister and other influential members of the Government. At first it seemed as if Lord Melbourne and his cabinet would cordially agree to the proposal, but vehement opposition being offered to it by the dissenters, a change soon came over the spirit of their dream. Unwilling to offend an important section of their supporters in Scotland, they resolved, as a sort of compromise, to appoint a commission that should go over the country, take evidence as to the amount of the existing provision for the religious wants of the people, and report the results from time to time. It was a great disappointment to Dr. Chalmers that in this way a long delay would have to take place, and still more that the personnel of the commission showed a tendency unfavourable to the scheme. The commission buckled to their work, and at intervals issued reports which in the main bore out the contention of Dr. Chalmers. Then it was announced that a measure would be introduced; by and by it was said that that measure was abandoned. Dr. Chalmers and his friends were more favourably received by Sir Robert Peel and other leading Conservatives; but as they were not in power at the time nothing was done. The vacillating conduct of the Whig Government made no favourable impression on Chalmers: among his friends he was ready enough to proclaim, in his Fifeshire dialect, I have a moral loathing of thae Whugs.
But if there was disappointment from the Government, there was extraordinary encouragement from the people. In 1838 he was able to announce to the General Assembly, as the fruit of four years labour, that there had been added to the Establishment nearly two hundred churches, and that upwards of £200,000 had been contributed for their erection. It was a result wholly unprecedented, and on all hands was regarded with amazement, and as a most wonderful testimony to the eloquence and energy with which he had advocated the cause. Worn out, and much in need of rest though he felt himself to be, he was induced to remain for some time longer at the head of the committee, and among other labours he added that of a tour over the whole country, in which he advocated his plan with his usual eloquence. But, in the Forties, the shadow of the conflict between the civil and ecclesiastical courts had fallen on the Extension Scheme, and it began to languish. In the course of his convenership the progress of the undertaking had been as follows
In 1835, 62 churches, £65,620
In 1836, 26 ,, . . . . . . . .32,359
In 1837, 67 ,, . . . . . . . 59,311
In 1838, 32 ,, . . . . . . . .41,183
In 1839, 14 ,, . . . . . . . .52,959
In 1840, 15 ,, . . . . . . . .36,055
In 1841, 6 ,, . . . . . . . . .18,252 Total, 222 churches in 7 years £305,741 raised.
Unhappily, a painful controversy arose among the home churches out of the effort to obtain a national endowment for the new parishes. Nonconformists, for the most part, viewed the application with great dislike, and opposed it tooth and nail. It was bad enough, in their view, that a particular church should be maintained from the public funds, and enjoy peculiar social privileges; but it was not to be borne that it should receive a further grant of public money, of which, of course, nonconformists would have to pay their share. The right way to support ministers, according to the New Testament, was by the voluntary contributions of the people. This, moreover, was a benefit to the people themselves; it led them to take a greater interest in their church, and to attach more value to its ministrations. Thus it happened that every church-extension meeting was more or less an anti-voluntary meeting, the speakers who pled for the scheme vehemently upholding the principle of an establishment. Of the younger men who fought on this ground with Chalmers, none was more strenuous than the late Dr. Guthrie. But Guthrie lived to change his view; and in an autobiographical fragment he tells us, that even when he was denouncing the voluntary system, in his secret heart he honoured, and even envied, the men whose living was derived solely from the freewill offerings of their people.
The great objection of Chalmers to the voluntary system was that it was inadequate. He held it incapable of making provision for the wants of a whole community, and especially incapable of those aggressive efforts that were needed for bringing in the masses who had fallen from the profession of religion. In planting churches, voluntaryism acted on the principle of attraction, aiming mainly at drawing in those who were more or less in sympathy with itself and disposed to accept its ministrations. The theory of an established church, on the other hand, demanded a provision for the whole of the population, and supplied a ministry whose duty was to look after all the people, and ply them with the offers and the injunctions of Christianity. It was to make the practice and theory of the church in some degree to correspond that he had undertaken and prosecuted his great church-extension movement.
For the nonconformists themselves he always cherished a profound regard, and a grateful sense of the invaluable service they had rendered to the country when the Gospel was seldom preached elsewhere, Of this he had given signal proof when he took sittings in a congregational chapel for his family at St. Andrews. Nothing could have been further from his desire than to drive nonconformists into a corner, or make them feel that they stood in the way of his more comprehensive enterprise. Yet many of them did feel, and could hardly fail to feel, that they were obstacles to the working of a complete territorial scheme. They were like squatters or interlopers in a territory allocated and divided among regular settlers. Unconsciously Dr. Chalmers stimulated a feeling among the Established clergy that they, and they only, were the rightful spiritual guides of the people; a spirit of which he himself was wholly destitute, but which was highly agreeable to human nature, and in many cases rears its arrogant head at the present day.
It was a favourite argument of the voluntaries that an established church could not be a free church; it was subject to the authority of the state, and could not be free, as the nonconformists were, to obey its divine Head in all things. This position Chalmers and his friends resolutely denied. The alliance between church and state was an alliance between two independent powers, each of which was supreme in its own department. In forming a connection with the state, the church did not surrender one particle of its independence; it remained as free as ever to follow the guidance of its divine Head in every point where He had expressed His will. Nay, this freedom was expressly secured by the statutes of the realm. It knew to its cost how eager the rulers of the country had often been to deprive it of its freedom, and at every important crisis of its history, when it renewed or revised its alliance with the state, it had taken care that its freedom should be expressly conceded. It was while the voluntary controversy was at its height that the collision between the civil and ecclesiastical courts became acute, for this very question, the independence and freedom of the church, was the great bone of contention. When the decisions of the Court of Session and the House of Lords were given, it became only too apparent that, in the judgment of the civil courts, the church did not possess the independence it had claimed.This was a dreadful, a shattering blow to Dr. Chalmers, and when it was authoritatively declared, notwithstanding all his intense partiality for an established church, he at once severed his alliance with the state. The main ground on which he acted was, that a church enthralled to the state could never be that beneficent instrument, that powerful moral agent, for which he valued it, - could never be the means of training the people in those holy ways, those high moral and spiritual habits, on which their highest welfare depended.
It was partly in order to advance his church-extension scheme, but more especially to maintain the true theory of a church establishment, and the churchs independence in its union with the state, that he delivered in the Hanover Square Rooms, London, in April and May 1838, that series of lectures on the Establishment and Extension of National Churches which raised his fame as an orator to its very highest pitch. Nothing, wrote the late Dr. Begg, who accompanied him, could exceed the enthusiasm which prevailed in London. The great city seemed stirred to its very depths. At the fourth and fifth lectures, an American clergyman who was present wrote that he found the room densely packed long before the hour, and evidently for the most part by the higher classes. Dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, barons, baronets, bishops, and members of Parliament were to be seen in every direction. After considerable delay and impatient waiting, the great charmer made his entrance, and was welcomed with clappings and shouts of applause that grew more and more intense till the noise became almost deafening. The concluding lecture, says Dr. Hanna, was graced by the presence of nine prelates of the Church of England. The tide that had been rising and swelling each successive day now burst all bounds. Carried away by the impassioned utterance of the speaker, long ere the close of some of his finest passages was reached, the voice of the lecturer was drowned in the applause, the audience rising from their seats, waving their hats above their heads, and breaking out into tumultuous approbation.
An event that somewhat disturbed the line of Dr. Chalmerss argument for the freedom of the church had taken place just before he left Edinburgh. On the 8th March 1838, the Court of Session, in giving judgment on the famous Auchterarder case, found the veto law of the church to be illegal and ultra vires, and began to take steps for the reversal of all that the church had done in connection with it. The judgment had not become final, for it was subject to appeal to the House of Lords, and in his lectures Dr. Chalmers made no reference to it. But when, in 1839, the House of Lords affirmed the decision of the lower court, and when Lords Brougham and Cottenham, in expressing their views, scouted alike the principle of the veto and of the independence of the church (although Lord Brougham had at one time strongly commended the veto), Dr. Chalmers made a full statement of his views in the General Assembly. Before that time he had been disposed to think that if the judgment of the Court of Session should be affirmed by the Lords, the best course for the church would be to give up the veto, reserving power to judge of each case by itself, and act accordingly.
In such a case as that of Auchterarder, for example, where the presentee had been vetoed by 287 out of 300 male heads of families and called only by two, the presbytery might have decided that in these circumstances the call was really no call, and therefore the presentee could not be taken on trial. But, according to the views expressed by the judges, this course would have been as illegal as the veto itself. Dr. Chalmers therefore moved that, while the Assembly would make no claim to the temporalities of Auchterarder, they would still maintain the principle that no minister be intruded on an opposing congregation, and that a committee be appointed to confer with the Government, in order to prevent any further collision between the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. A magnificent speech of three hours was delivered in support of this motion, which, after a long discussion, was carried by a majority of forty-nine. It has been remarked, that never was the eloquence of Chalmers more Demosthenic than in his orations for the freedom of the church. And this intense regard for her freedom was no new notion of his: so far back as 1814, in a speech in the Assembly on the plurality question, he had maintained that the church had power to reject a presentee for any reason, or for no reason at all. To Chalmers, the enforced intrusion of unacceptable presentees was not the only, perhaps not even the chief, interference with the liberty of the church. When it was decided that the church had no power to erect new parishes or to give their ministers the usual status of her clergymen; and, likewise, that she had no power to readmit into her pale any of those who in former years had left it, - cases in which no shadow of temporal interest was involved - it seemed to him that such restrictions on her liberty were not only intolerable, but that they tended completely to shatter her efficiency.
Of the four years of long and weary negotiation that followed the passing of this resolution, we have no space to write at any length. Alongside of negotiations with Government there ran a stream of decisions both by the civil and church courts which greatly complicated the situation. New cases of intrusion occurred, pre-eminent among which was the case of Marnoch, where the presentee was vetoed by 261 out of 300 male heads of families, and had the name of but a single parishioner attached to his call. For insisting on his settlement, the seven members of presbytery who took this course were first suspended and then deposed.
As to negotiations with Government, a considerable share of the interviews and correspondence fell to Dr. Chalmers. With Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister, he did not hit it off. On a former occasion, as Chalmers himself told Dr. Gordon, when his lordship heard of a deputation from the Scottish church, he expressed a hope that that d - d fellow Chalmers was not among them. Unable to make anything of the Whigs, Chalmers and his friends now turned to the Tories, who at one time seemed friendly, but with them, too, negotiations finally broke off. In these negotiations there was a painful episode between Dr. Chalmers and Lord Aberdeen. A bill introduced by his lordship did not come up to what Chalmers understood him to have promised, and he was unable to support it, Lord Aberdeen complained bitterly, and in the House of Lords accused the Non-intrusion Committee of giving an unscrupulous report of their conversations with him, and he believed they had behaved in the same way to the Govern ment. For Dr. Chalmers he had a special gibe. A reverend gentleman, a great leader in the General Assembly, having brought the church into a state of jeopardy and peril, had left it to find its way out of the difficulty as well as it could. Evidently these were the words of a man who had lost his temper, and forgot what was due in courtesy, to say nothing of charity, to absent men. Unfortunately his son and biographer, Sir Arthur Gordon, has made the matter worse by a vulgar charge against Dr. Chalmers, that he was overborne by the violent men in the non- intrusion committee, and, being afraid of losing his leadership, succumbed to them, and had not the moral courage to avow his change of opinion.
Dr. Chalmers was not in the habit of succumbing to any one, for no one stood more independently on his own judgment; and, as to trimming and shuffling, his whole life showed him to be incapable of such conduct. The event proved who was in the right; Lord Aberdeen afterwards carried his bill, which proved a miserable failure. As Dr. Donald Fraser has remarked, it had to be given up as a nuisance. And then, under a Conservative Government, came the abolition of patronage! Chalmers had now had experience of both the great political parties, and with equally disappointing results. His grand project of a church commensurate with the necessities of the country (so far as these were not provided for by the nonconformists) was nearly as far off as ever. But his experience in raising money for church extension gave him hope in another direction. When he knocked at the door of the Whigs on behalf of church extension he was refused. When he knocked at the door of the Tories, he found that they might have endowed the church, but they would have enslaved her. They viewed the church as an engine of state, not as an instrument of usefulness. He was now about to knock at the door of the people; and he cherished no little expectation that through them he would yet succeed in his scheme of making Scotland a spiritual garden.
Dr. Chalmers concurred cordially with the measures taken by the church to resist, or at least protest against, the encroachments of the civil courts. He approved of the Claim of Right as affirmed by the Assembly in May 1842. He preached the opening sermon at a convocation of ministers in November 1842, and was a leading counsellor at that remarkable gathering where from four to five hundred ministers pledged themselves to leave the Establishment if no measure of relief were passed by the Legislature. His view, as to the duty of the church, when no such measure of relief was provided, was as clear as day. Amid the numberless perplexities that for years past had caused such anxious consultations and fears lest a wrong step should be taken, he found it an unspeakable relief that the path of duty in the last and most important step of all was so clear. And so, on the famous i8th of May 1843, Dr. Chalmers was at the side of the Moderator, who happened to be his own colleague in the university, Dr. Welsh; the names of both were subscribed to the Protest that was laid on the table of the Assembly; and when Tanfield was reached, and a General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland was constituted, its first act was to call to its chair the man whose reputation throughout the Christian world was by far the highest, and whose influence in bringing about the Disruption had been by far the greatest. Regarding that Assembly, Chalmers wrote to his sister, Never was there a happier Assembly, with a happier collection of faces, than in our Free Church, with consciences disburdened, and casting themselves without care and with all the confidence of children on the Providence of that God who never forsakes the families of the faithful.
All must see, whatever their own opinion of the case, that it could only have been considerations of extraordinary force that constrained Dr. Chalmers to forgo that connection with the state which he had so long held to be indispensable for the successful work of the church, and to cast her on the voluntary offerings of the people. From the hour when the noble ambition to turn Scotland into a spiritual garden first filled his soul, the aid of the state had appeared a sine qua non to the accomplishment of this great object. What then induced him to part with it? Only because he was profoundly convinced that the subjection which the civil courts demanded would prove fatal to its spiritual life and power, fatal to its spirit of enterprise and activity, fatal to that largeness of heart and confidence of success which were necessary for great undertakings, and fatal to its own character as a consistent and fearless witness for the supremacy of the churchs head. If it should flinch in its hour of trial, it deserved to be flung aside as a dishonoured and u~eless thing. If the decisions of the Court of Session and the House of Lords had been less extravagant, if they had even left to the church a vestige of power to give effect to the voice of the people in the settlement of ministers, and in the other matters involved, Chalmers would still have clung to the connection of church and state. It was simply the extravagance of the claims of the civil courts to supreme jurisdiction that placed Chalmers among the leaders of the Disruption, for he did not take the strong view that some of the other leaders took of the divine right of the question. Whether he was sanguine enough to hope that the Free Church disestablished would be able to do for Scotland all that might have been done by a free Established Church, he certainly believed that, in the circumstances, the Free Church was by far the more likely body to grapple with the enterprise that had ever floated before him. Writing to Sir George Sinclair in 1841, he said, Looking to the Christian interests of Scotland, I believe that more good could be done by the instrumentality of a disendowed church than by an established church exposed to such interferences as those of the Court of Session during the last few years. And, under this belief, what remained of his life was devoted to the building up and strengthening of the Free Church, in the earnest hope that much of the blessing for which he had longed and worked and prayed so intensely would in this way be realised for his country.
From the heated atmosphere of public controversy we make a pleasant transition when we accompany Chalmers on the visits he paid from time to time to London and other places, and when we sit by him in the privacy of his home. We see something of the spontaneous outflow of both mind and heart; we are charmed with his genuine humanity, his interest in life, his humour and simplicity, and, in his devotional hours, with his profound humility and intense aspiration after holiness. He was not much of a traveller, and he lost not a little thereby. All that he ever saw of the Continent was Paris and its environs. Had it been his lot to gaze on the sublimities of the Alps; had he looked on the city of the seven hills, and wandered by the Po and the Tiber; had he pursued his way to Egypt and the East, and familiarised himself with those objects that bore, in his own phrase, so much of the hoar of antiquity; had he visited Berlin, and Leipsic, and Halle, and Tübingen, and become familiar with the working of the German mind, he would have experienced new developments of soul and spirit, and cut off all ground for the estimate of Carlyle that he was a man of narrow culture. It is remarkable that the United States seem never to have come within his horizon till about the very end. But when he did travel, no man could have enjoyed travelling more, whether his attention was turned to the objects of nature or of art, or whether he regaled himself with the society of new and interesting friends.
With a loyal and lively remembrance of his family, he continued the habit of writing journal-letters to his wife and daughters, giving the fullest details of all that he saw and heard. Usually his journeys to London were occasioned by church business, and on these occasions he had little to say except of any interesting persons that he met. But as he came in contact with not a few of the greatest celebrities of the age, and invariably received much attention from them, these brief notices are very interesting. Sometimes he would quite captivate an Englishman, and lay the foundation of a lifelong intimacy and correspondence. With all the members of the Earlham family that he met (the Gurneys) he was greatly taken; but one of them, Joseph John Gurney, became so attached to him, and so delighted with his conversation and character, that we might almost apply to him the language of Scripture on the attachment of Jonathan to David. The Chalmeiana of Mr. Gurney remind us of Boswells Life of Johnson. Quaker though Gurney was, there was but one subject on which there was any serious difference of opinion between them - the desirableness of a connection between church and state. Gurney had given no little study to the evidences, and his views corresponded to those of Chalmers. Of the gifts and mental power of Chalmers he had the most exalted opinion; all the more was he struck with his remarkable humility, his entire freedom from the airs of a great man.
Another new acquaintance with whom he was greatly charmed was the Rev. Charles Bridges, of Old Newton, Suffolk, the author of The Christian Ministry and the Exposition of the 119th Psalm. Of his visit to his house he said: The breath of heaven is here; without, a scene of beauty that to the eye of sense is altogether delicious, and within, a sanctuary of love and holiness. . . . I never witnessed such closeness and efficiency of pastoral work as he exemplified in his addresses to the mothers of families. He makes a real business both of the Christianity of his own soul and the Christianity of his family and parish, watching over the souls of all as one who must give an account.
It was the very singular quality of Chalmers, that while he could hold kindred fellowship with so many kinds of men, it was with the holiest and most devoted of Gods servants that he found himself in closest sympathy. He could find points of contact with Sir James Mackintosh on ethics, with Malthus on the law of population, with Daniel OConnell on the Irish poor-law, or with Dr. Whewell on physics, because he had a genuine interest in all their pursuits, and considered that they all had a bearing on the welfare of man. But such pursuits were but outworks: the citadel itself was under charge of men like Mr. Bridges. Their specialty was to deal with the very essence and marrow of truth, and especially that great redemptive scheme by which alone the world could be truly blessed; they lived under the shadow of the tree of life, whose leaves were for the healing of the nations.
It was later in life (1845) that he made the acquaintance of Professor Tholuck of Halle; but, though both were old men, there was all the warmth and joyousness of youth in their short fellowship. Dr. Rutherfurd Russell, in whose house he met Tholuck, related that he 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 characteristic observation now and then, always, however, in the way of encouragement, never of contradiction. .. Tholuck turned to his host, and said, in German, that he had never seen so beautiful an old man. . . . The result of the interview was an amount of mutual confidence and esteem, as deep and sincere as it was mutual. . . . The day before Tholucks departure, Dr. Chalmers called upon him, and found him at his midday repast. He sat with him only for a few minutes and said little, but looked at him steadily, with an expression of constant 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.
The visits to London were not always on controversial business. On the accession of William IV in 1830, he formed one of a deputation from the Church of Scotland appointed to present a congratulatory address. He saw many public men, and was introduced to a few. His description of Talleyrand, then French ambassador, is graphic: I gazed with much interest on the old shrivelled face, and thought I could see there the lines of deep reflection and lofty talent. His moral physiognomy, however, is a downright blank. His letter to his family, giving an account of the presentation, is full of little touches, showing, among other things, how well he appreciated the incidents that are specially interesting to the female mind. Far from desiring to magnify his own importance, he dwells in a humorous way on the defects of his toilet. My Geneva gown did not lap so close as I would have liked, so that I was twice as thick as I should be, and it must have been palpable to every eye at the first glance that I was the biggest man there - and that, though I took all care to keep my coat unbuttoned and my gown quite open. However, let not mamma be alarmed, for I made a most reputable appearance, and was treated with the utmost attention.
After being presented to the King, the deputation paid their respects to Queen Adelaide. When she ascended the throne, the most beautiful living sight, says the Doctor, I ever beheld burst upon our delighted gaze. The Queen, with twelve maids of honour, in a perfect spangle of gold and diamonds, entered the room. I am sorry I cannot go over in detail the particulars of their dresses; only that their lofty plumes upon their heads and their long sweeping trains upon the floor had a very magnificent effect. . On each side the throne were maids of honour, officers of state, the Lord Chancellor, a vast number of military gentlemen, and, among the rest, the Duke of Wellington. In 1837, on the accession of Queen Victoria, he was intrusted with an address from the University of Edinburgh, which, he tells us, after kissing her hand, he forgot to present till he was checked by one of the lords-in-waiting, when he turned and put it into her Majestys hand. His opinion of the young Queen is interesting to us, after sixty years acquaintance with our Sovereign: A most interesting, girlish sensibility to the realities of her situation, with sufficient self-command, but, withal, simple, timid, tremulous, and agitated, that rendered her, to me, far more interesting, and awoke a more feeling and fervent loyalty in my heart than could have been done by any other exhibition.
In the summer of 1833, after four years of almost incessant labour, he treated himself to a two-months holiday, in pursuance of an old ambition which he had fondly cherished to visit all the cathedrals of England, and survey the country round them from the top of their towers. There was hardly one of the cathedrals that did not in some way excite his admiration.. Canterbury and Ely seem to have come in for a special share. Though black and rusty with age, Canterbury, with its tower between two hundred and three hundred feet high, and a fabric studded with massy buttresses of high-wrought Gothic, was a splendid structure. But my admiration, though high, was greatly heightened on seeing the interior, which is the most perfectly beautiful of all I can recollect, consisting as it does of a stately vista of confronting arches and pillars, with an effect greatly enhanced by the contraction of the sides towards the east end, and the dying away of the columnar vista into narrower and narrower recesses. At Ely, aided by the printed guide, I studied the whole of this elaborate and highly ornamental pile with a particularity and a feeling of satisfaction greater than I had ever before experienced. Expatiated over this noble edifice for hours.... Dined with Mr. Evans at four, but made one more round of the cathedral before dinner. On every occasion he was ready for the ascent of the cathedral stair, even where such a climb was unusual; once, he tells us, after the guide had refused to go further, how he came on some jackdaws nests on the steps, the owners being very much amazed at the sight of visitors. Nor did one climb in a day always suffice. On 5th August he climbed the tower of Boston Church in the morning, and that of Lincoln in the afternoon - the one 351 steps, the other 336. At this time he was an elderly and not very lightly-built man of fifty-three.
Some gentlemens mansions, like Haddon and Chatsworth, were visited with much interest. But Chatsworth, with all its wonders, did not impress him so much as some other castles. What he liked was a grand baronial residence, befitting the time when the owner was really the head of his people, ready for any expedition which the public interest required, and not merely a landlord drawing his rents. Places that had a connection with great men were peculiarly attractive. We have noticed his reverence for Trinity College, Cambridge, as the abode of Isaac Newton. Kingston, near Canterbury, acquired a classic character, because the rectors wife was great-grandniece of Bishop Butler, and showed him a snuff-box, a memorandum-book, and an annotated Greek Testament, which had belonged to the author of the Analogy. In the immediate neighbourhood of Kingston was the church where Richard Hooker ministered. House and church were accordingly visited. And when he came to Sunderland, its great interest was that Dr. Paley had been its rector, and that he saw the study in which he wrote, the room in which he died, and the field around which he took excursions on horseback. Newton, Butler, and Paley were among the very chief of Chalmerss instructors and friends.
Not less characteristic of the man were the free and friendly relations into which he entered with some of the common people who were thrown in his way. Usually he travelled on the stage-coach, but occasionally he hired a carriage, and not unfrequently a gig, with the driver at his side. He had the feeling that he would enjoy his holiday all the more if it were mingled with a little study. Accordingly we find that, when passing slowly in his gig over some monotonous part of the road, he would pull from his pocket a grave book, like Medes Latin Lectures on Prophecy, and have a spell of theological reading. But his eye seemed always to be open to any object of interest, whether in the scenery or in the places he passed. With his driver he entered into friendly relations, although he sometimes found him a very dolt. At Huddersfield he hired a gig to carry him through some of the remarkable scenes of Derbyshire. The driver was a grave, silent, and simple lad of twenty-two, and he made a practice of taking him with him to the caverns and other places of interest that he visited. At the Peak Cavern he had to change his coat and hat, and a worse coat or a worse hat I never saw on the back or head of any carter or scavenger in the land, insomuch that I was a spectacle to the children of the village, who shouted and laughed behind me, and even the driver of the gig could not restrain his merriment. I always take him to the sights along with me; first, because I found a great ignorance of Derbyshire curiosities in Huddersfield, and I want to make him more enlightened and enlarged than his fellow-citizens; secondly, because I always feel a strong reflex or secondary enjoyment in the gratification of other people, so that the sympathy of his enjoyment greatly enhances my own; and thirdly, because I get amusement from the remarks of his simple wonderment and not very sagacious observations; and it has now passed into a standing joke with me, when leaving any of our exhibitions, that there is no such fine sight to be seen at Huddersfield. At Chatsworth, the Doctor gave the lad his hat and silver-headed cane to carry; he followed at a respectful distance, while his master went before with a book in his hand, taking notes of whatever was memorable. He found afterwards that his picturesque appearance and unusual employment had excited much speculation among other visitors as to who he was, and that the conclusion to which they all came was that he was a foreign nobleman. At Matlock he parted with his driver, who, he found, could hardly read; he warned him that many perish of lack of knowledge, and that he must learn to study his Bible, which was able to make him wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Chalmers did not always show the same patience and consideration for his fellow-travellers. Once, in Yorkshire, waiting at the door of the coach-office, he found himself beside a herd of swine, whose motions and operations he studied with interest; on the top of the coach he found a company much of the same order - fat and unintelligent, with only pursy and vesicular projections on each side of their chins, and a superabundance of lard in their gills, whose manners well-nigh overset me, overloading our coach with their enormous carcasses, and squeezing themselves, as they ascended from various parts of the road, between passengers already in a state of compression, to the gross infraction of all law and justice, and the imminent danger of our necks. It was enough, he said, to make any man a Tory. Naturally, Chalmers had much of the passion which bursts out in this bit of sarcasm; but, before the end of his letter, he feels that he has gone too far, his better nature asserts itself, and he gives utterance to a milder spirit. I feel it wrong to nourish contempt for any human being: Honour all men, is the precept of Scripture. We should not despise any of those for whom Christ died; and the tendency to do so is one of those temptations to which refinement and knowledge are apt to expose us, and which ought to be resisted. The old Adam was not extinct; but at the bottom of his heart Chalmers wished him destroyed.
Even with a London barber he could have a merry time. To be sure the barber began the fun, for he undertook, by clipping out all the white hairs and leaving only the black, to make his client look forty years younger. This greatly tickled the Doctor, and he proceeded to compliment the barbers profession, inasmuch as, though he heard universal complaints of a bad hay-crop, his haymaking in the metropolis went on pleasantly and prosperously all the year round. On the completion of the job, the man assured the Doctor that he looked at least thirty years younger. I told him how delighted my wife would be with the news of this wonderful transformation, and gave him half a crown, observing that it was little enough for having turned me into a youthful Adonis. We parted in a roar of laughter, and great mutual satisfaction with each other.
His tour in France was undertaken in 1838, on occasion of his reading his paper to the French Institute, and lasted about a month. He was struck with the airiness and brightness of Paris, and the apparent leisureliness of the people as compared with London; he remarked, too, how inferior the equipages were to those of England. Among other persons of mark whom he met with were Guizot, who told him that the combination of the moral and economical was wholly unknown in France; Mignet, Madame de Staël, and the Duc and Duchesse de Broglie, with all of whom, and many of their friends, he had most agreeable intercourse. The duke had borne a distinguished part in political history; he was a sort of head of the Liberal party, but with the utmost aversion to noise and violence. The duchess, a daughter of Madame de Staël, was a lady of many gifts and of eminent piety. The company of such persons, aristocratic yet simple, cultured yet humble, and deeply interested in the welfare of the people, was a great enjoyment to Dr. Chalmers. But, vanity of vanities I a few months after his visit, the duchess was cut off by sudden illness, and the bright and happy home of the family made desolate. Dr. Chalmers expressed his sympathy in a very tender letter to the afflicted duke.
Along with Mr. Erskine of Linlathen, whom he found at Paris, he made a short provincial tour, embracing Evreux, Broglie, Alençon, Lemans, Tours, Orleans, Malesherbes, and Fontainebleau. The scenery pleased him much; it was the kind he liked best, for he did not so much care for the sublimely picturesque as for fertile valleys and well-wooded uplands. While in France, he was much interested in the law of succession, especially to landed property, and its effects on the condition of the people. He had supposed that, by giving rise to endless subdivision of the land, the law must bring down the people to a very low standard of living. In point of fact, he found it less disadvantageous than he had thought. On one point he was more convinced than ever, that to elevate a country, moral and economical forces must go together.
We must now glance at Chalmers in his family and inner life during this busy and trying period of his life. A man who is forming new acquaintances by the hundred, and is constantly receiving the enthusiastic applause of thousands, is in no small danger of two things - of letting his home-affections become somewhat languid, and of neglecting his inner life. But in the case of Chalmers, we can find no evidence of either of these results. Shortly before his departure from St. Andrews, his domestic affections had been profoundly stirred by the death of his mother; and hardly had his first session in Edinburgh closed, when he was called to follow to the tomb the remains of Alexander, his youngest and favourite brother. His journal for 25th April 1829 has the following entry: It was a large funeral. The sun shone sweetly on the burying-place. I was like to give way, when, after leaving the grave, I passed Mr. Fergus; neither of us could speak. Oh that God would interpose to perpetuate the impressions of this day! This is the fifth time within these few years that I have been chief mourner, and carried the head of a relative to the grave. But this has been far the heaviest of them alL
Dr. Chalmers himself had an alarming illness in 1834, though, happily, it passed without serious results. He had been at a meeting of the Presbytery of Edinburgh, at which he had vehemently opposed the proposal of the Town Council to curtail the number of the city ministers; and he had been greatly excited by the thought that the real welfare of the people should be obstructed and hindered by the very men who professed to be their friends. It was on this occasion that he proclaimed himself a Radical, the only consistent Radical among them. The dearest object of my earthly existence, he then said, is the elevation of the common people - humanised by Christianity, and raised by the strength of their moral habits to a higher platform of human nature, and by which they may attain and enjoy the rank and consideration due to enlightened and companionable men. I trust the day is coming when the people will find out who are their best friends, and when the mock patriotism of the present day shall be unmasked by an act of robbery and spoliation on the part of those who would deprive the poor of their best and highest patrimony. The imperishable soul of the poor man is of as much value as the soul of the rich; and I will resist, even to the death, that alienation which goes but to swell the luxury of the higher ranks at the expense of the Christianity of the lower. Dr. Chalmers was moved in the very depths of his soul - for the proposal of the Town Council was a blow at the ruling idea of his heart - and he delivered himself of these sentiments with such overwhelming energy that his friends at the moment trembled for the consequences. As he was walking homeward after the meeting, on hailing a friend and taking his arm, he suddenly stopped short, and said he felt very strangely. His sensations were giddiness, and a numbness on the right side, as if he were going to fall It was but too evident that he had sustained a slight attack of paralysis. When medical aid was obtained, it was seen that the muscles on the right side of his face were slightly paralysed, and his speech somewhat affected. Sensation over the right side was very much impaired, but the mind was wholly untouched. Rest and the ordinary treatment soon restored him, and in a short time he was able to resume all his ordinary studies and avocations.
But the event in his personal history that touched him more than anything else during this period was the completion of his sixtieth year, on 17th March 1840. It was a favourite thought that the seventh decade of life ought to be turned into a kind of Sabbath, and spent sabbatically, as if on the shore of the next world, or in the outer courts of the heavenly tabernacle. In the case of his mother the last years of her life had had something of this character, and Dr. Chalmers longed for a like experience. Deep in his soul lay the desire for direct and deliberate communion with God, for he not only believed in such communion as the greatest privilege of the human spirit, but he knew that it brought to the worshipper an actual communication of divine influence, so far as the creature was capable of receiving the divine. Oh that my heart were a fountain of gracious things, he wrote in his diary on his sixtieth birthday, which might flow out with gracious influence on the heads of my acquaintances, and more particularly of the members of my family!
So far as the seventh decade had been looked forward to as a time of rest, the hopes of Dr. Chalmers were wholly frustrated. The seven years that yet remained to him, if not the very busiest of his life, were years of peculiar tension, anxiety, and disappointment - things far more trying to the vital energies than work itself. The Church Extension scheme had to be worked out at home under the depressing influence of disappointment of Government help; and then came the crisis of the conflict with the civil courts, - the negotiations with Government, the taunts of Lord Aberdeen, the sickness of hope deferred, and, finally, the shattering of the national church. Though the Disruption brought quieter times, it did not bring the rest and freedom from care for which Chalmers longed; the entire fabric of the Free Church had to be set up, and especially the Sustentation Fund; his longing for rest was but the chase of an ignis fatuus that seemed always to lead him deeper and deeper into the fray.
Notwithstanding all, however, as time advanced, and his fame became more and more established, no change ever took place in the simple and humble demeanour of his spirit. I never saw a man, said Joseph Gurney, who appeared to be more destitute of vanity, or less alive to any wish to be brilliant. In one of his home letters he gives his reason for refusing all requests for his autograph: he could not bear anything that might imply his desire to be considered a great man.
But, though rest and leisure seemed further away than ever, Dr. Chalmers was determined that his seventh decade should not altogether want its sabbatic character. For this end, he resolved to make a far more systematic and earnest study of the Scriptures. In October 1841 he began two series of readings - a daily and a Sabbath portion. To impress the lessons of each passage the more on his mind, he made use of his pen, and carefully recorded the first, freshest, and readiest thoughts that the passage read suggested to him; not with any view to publication, nor with any idea of composing a commentary, but simply for his own edification. The Sabbath lessons, being a chapter for each Sabbath day from the Old Testament and one from the New, were more elevated and spiritual than the daily; and his remarks were often in the form of a direct address to God. This practice was continued with undeviating regularity, no matter where he might be, or however much engaged. If the volumes in which he entered his remarks were not at hand, he would write them in shorthand, and carefully extend them afterwards. In some of his meditations he would express in the frankest manner the most hidden thoughts and feelings of his soul. It is remarkable that one who, in his ordinary intercourse with men, seldom unveiled his feelings, and did not appear in any special degree to be under the influence of the unseen, should, nevertheless, in his communings with God, have shown such frankness and such an intense desire for divine guidance, and grace to enable him to follow it. Dr. Hanna well remarks, Behind the outer history of his life there lay that inner spiritual history which made the other what it was. His correspondence, his speeches, his published writings, and his published acts, which furnish such ample materials for unfolding the one history, are absolutely barren as to the other. We know of no other individual of the same force and breadth of character who, in all his converse, public and private, with his fellow-men, spoke so little of himself, or afforded such slender means of information as to his own spiritual condition and progress; and yet it would be difficult to name another of whose deeper religious experience we have so full and so trustworthy a record.
It was the troubles of the church, and the profound responsibility therewith connected, that so powerfully stimulated his desire for fellowship and guidance from on high. Only those who lived at the time can realise the exceeding bitterness of the tone of many opponents, shown both by word of mouth and through the press; and their readiness, if any prominent churchman should make a slip, to pounce upon him and hold him up to the reprobation of the public. It is a mode of treatment that has not yet become obsolete. Some sally of Dr. Chalmerss had in this way brought a nest of hornets about him - Yet I am supported in a way that is marvellous under every visitation. Under April 2, 1840, he writes in his journal An utter prostration of spirit from the speech of Lord Aberdeen. - April 3. Recovered my spirits, but not my spirituality. June 8. Sadly engrossed with the Dean of Facultys charge against me. My God, uphold me ! - June 21. Have not yet recovered the shock of Lord Aberdeens foul attack on me in the House of Lords. May I live henceforth in the perpetual sunshine of Gods reconciled countenance 1 - July 5. A letter yesterday from Dr. Gordon, enclosing one from Lord Aberdeen, which will require a strenuous exercise both of wisdom and charity. My God, guide and govern all my movements I July 17. Hurt by a report in the Witness of Lord Aberdeens saying in the House that after having brought the church into jeopardy, I had left them to find their way out of it as they could. Recovered from this. Desire to roll all over upon God.
Alongside of these appeals to God for grace and wisdom in public life, numberless passages occur in which one knows not whether to admire more his profound humility or the intensity of his aspirations for a more heavenly condition : - 1841, May 17. Cannot but remark how I gravitate to ungodliness. Why are my thoughts when alone and not studying so little occupied with God? And oh that in company I might appear more for His glory! Assist me to do this in my family, and let me watch my opportunities for doing Christian good. . . . Let me carry about with me a distinct confidence in forgiveness through the blood of Christ, and with earnest desire of showing forth His praise and learning His doctrine, let me try how this confidence will work in me. The fruits of righteousness so produced will arise from the sense of my own nothingness, and have Christ alone as their origin. - July 10. Am I not too light-hearted and too luxurious, and altogether too self-indulgent? Certain it is that in and of myself I am altogether vile and worthless, and would need, in dependence on grace alone, to have more of watchfulness unto prayer, more of self-denial, and a far more tender sense of the evil of ungodliness than habitually and practically belong to me. - July 4. Never am I in a better frame than when dwelling in simple faith on Christs offered righteousness, and making it the object of my acceptation. 0 Lord, I pray for more and more of the clear ness and enlargement of this view; and grant me the spirit of adoption. Oh that I could attain the experience of him who says, I have believed, therefore have I spoken!
One is constantly reminded in reading the private journals of Dr. Chalmers of the 119th Psalm, with its remarkable combination of profoundest humility and intense and holiest longing for conformity of heart and life to the will of God. And it does not surprise us to learn that the text of Scripture which he felt to describe his own case most correctly was the verse (20), My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto Thy judgments at all times.
From "Thomas Chalmers" by W.Garden Blaikie.
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