This took about a year, and resulted from seeing several members of his family carried off from disease in the space of a few months. He started thinking seriously about his eternal well-being. The letter below outlines his original creed - Salvation through the work of Christ, by without any understanding or warmth. Then is added an account by another of the difference, and finally a letter to his dear friend James Anderson on his settled creed and doctrine. With warmth!
Dr. Hanna (Biography) - I subjoin a summary of his religious creed, in the very words in which he presented it to his hearers at Kilmany
"In what particular manner the death of our Redeemer
effected the remission of our sins, or rather, why that death was made a
condition of this remission, seems to be an unrevealed point in the Scriptures.
Perhaps the God of Nature meant to illustrate the purity of His perfection to
the children of men; perhaps it was efficacious in promoting the improvement
and confirming the virtue of other orders of being. The tenets of those whose
gloomy and unenlarged minds are apt to imagine that the Author of Nature
required the death of Jesus merely for the reparation of violated justice, are
rejected by all free and rational inquirers. Our Saviour, by the discharge of
His priestly office, removed those obstacles to our acceptance with God which
would have been otherwise invincible. But the obviating of difficulties was not
the only part of Christ's mediatorship. The knowledge of some positive ground
of acceptance was absolutely necessary, since the bare possibility of obtaining
the Divine favour was not sufficient of itself to effect our salvation. The
revelation of the means requisite for acceptance was therefore an essential
part of Christ's undertaking; and in discharging His office as a prophet, in
revealing the will of God for man's salvation, He has communicated a knowledge
of these means in a most complete and satisfactory manner. With indignation do
we see a speculative knowledge of the doctrines of Christianity preferred to
the duties of morality and virtue. The cant of enthusiasm - the effusion of
zeal - the unintelligible jargon of pretended knowledge - are too often
considered as the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus; whilst, amid all
these deceitful appearances, justice, charity, and mercy, the great topics of
Christs's admonitions, are entirely overlooked. Consult your bibles and you
will find that these are the sure indications of the favour of heaven. . . .
The rewards of heaven are attached to the ezercise of our virtuous affections.
The faith of Christianity is praiseworthy and meritorious, only because it is
derived from the influence of virtuous sentimenta on the mind. Let us tremble
to think that anything but virtue can recommend us to the Almightyy. ... He who
has been rightly trained in his religious sentiments, by carefully perusing the
Scriptures of truth, will learn thence, that the law of God is benevolence to
man and an abiding sense of gratitude and piety. He will estimate the
deficiencies of his obedience by his deviations from the laws of social duty,
and the frequent absence of right impressions of reverence and love. Having
learned the comfortable doctrines of pardon and salvation, that by the death of
Christ there is hope for the humble and penitent who wishes to forsake the evil
of his ways, he will go on, in the confidence of such declarations, in his
eadevour to promote the glory of God and the welfare of the human race. A sense
of the divine goodness will open his heart to the sentiments of gratitude and
love. He will study to approve himself worthy of such conduct by cultivating
thegraces of charity and piety.
True, his best endeavours fall short of perfection, and after all, he may be called an unprofitable servant, - true, considering his numberless violations of the divine law, and the small progress he has made in the path of holiness, he may have reason to be discouraged; but contemplating the wonders of redeeming love, and finding all the deficiencies ofimperfect virtue supplied by the atonement and propitiation of Jesus, he goes on his course rejoicing, assured that, through Christ, his sincere but imperfect obedience is looked by heaven with a propitious eye. But let him allow himself to be guided by the instructions of our mystical theologians, and all will be involved in gloom and obscurity. . Who but laments to see the luminous truths of Christianity invested thus with the viel of mysticism - see the splendour of the Sun of Righteousness obscured in the mists of ignorance and superstition. Let us, my brethren, beware of such errors. Let us view such fanatical vagaries with the contempt they deserve, and walk in the path marked out to us by reason and by Scripture. Thus shall we rise superior to imaginary terrors, and learn to lament the real imperfections of our character. Thus shall we approve ourselves worthy of the Divine goodness, by directing our efforts to the cultivation of our pious affections, and to improvement of our social conduct. Thus shall we exemplify the real nature of the Christian service, which consists in gratefully adoring the Supreme Being, and in diffusing the blessed influences of charity, moderation, and peace."
Chalmers now spoke of new themes, and chiefly of the shortness and insignificance of time, and of the nearness and magnitude of eternity. In later years when an opponent in the General Assembly reminded him of his early views on the work of the ministry, from which we quoted above, Chalmers was to confess that he was then blind to the lesson which even those scientific studies should have taught him: "What, sir, is the object of mathematical science? he had replied - "Magnitude and the proportions of magnitude. But then, sir, I had forgotten two magnitudes. I thought not of the littleness of time - I recklessly thought not of the greatness of eternity." Yet when these new truths were first heard in the Kilmany pulpit the most momentous change was still going on in secret. Smitten with a sense of sin, Chalmers had begun to pray, "0 God, fit a poor, dark, ignorant and wandering creature for being a minister of Thy word " . Gradually the way of salvation by faith in the atonement of Christ was opened up to him and before the close of the year 1811, when he was thirty- one years of age, his journal is recording the joy of assurance and of full commitment: "0 God, make me feel the firmness of the ground I tread upon, and enable me to give all my mind to Thy Word. Above all, may I never recede by a single inch from my Saviour . And he notes: "Had more intimate communion with God in solitary prayer than I had ever felt before; and my sentiment was a total, an unreserved, and a secure dependence on Christ the Saviour." The vast change in the ministry of Kihnany was soon widely known. To Moderates it had the appearance of a bout of insanity and for years the nickname "mad Chalmers was to be common. Evangeicals saw it differently. One who visited Chalmers at this time reported: He has long been known as a celebrated philosopher and scorner of the peculiar doctrines of Christianity; now, from conviction and with a warm heart, he preaches the faith he once destroyed. I have had serious conversation with him, and am astonished at a man of such superior powers so modest and humble. He is indeed converted, and like a little child.
The result of these changes is best told by Mr. Chalmers himself in two letters, of a later date, addressed to his brother Alexander.*
"February 14, 1820. "MY DEAR ALEXANDER, - I stated .to you that the effect a very long confinement, about ten years ago, upon myself, was to inspire me with a set of very strenuous resolutions, under which I wrote a Journal, and made many a laborious effort elevate my practice to the standard of the Divine requirement. During this course, however, I got little satisfaction, and felt no repose. I remember that somewhere about the year 1811, I had Wilberforce's View put into my hands, and, as I got on in reading it, felt myself on the eve of a great revolution in all my opinions about Christianity. I am now most thoroughly of the opinion, and it is an opinion founded on experience, that on the system of - Do this and live, - no peace, and even no true worthy obedience, can ever be attained. It is, - Believe in Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. When this enters the heart, joy and confidence enter along with it.The righteousness which, by faith, we try to work out for ourselves eludes our impotent grasp, and never can a soul arrive at true or permanent rest in the pursuit of this object. The righteousness which, by faith, we put on, secures our acceptance with God, and secures our interest in His promises, and gives us a part in those sanctifying influences by which we are enabled to do aid from on high what we never can do without it. We look to God in a new light - we see Him as a reconciled Father; that love to Him which terror scares away re-enters the heart, with a new principle and a new power, we become new creatures in Jesus Christ our Lord."
A letter to James Anderson completes the picture of a changed man
"KILMANY MANSE, November 2, 1811. MY DEAR SIR, - I received yours of the 22d, yesterday, and can assure you that I felt a very deep and a very pleasing interset in its perusal. There is one sentiment in it quite according to my own heart; and the felicity with which you have expressed it gives me a closer and more satisfying impression of it than ever - the critique which you pass upon catechisms, which however correct in all their dogmata, may not be correct in their general effect upon the mind, because they want the spontaneity and development of the immediate oracles. My Christianity approaches nearer, I think, to Calvinism than to any of the isms in church history; but broadly as it announces the necessity of sanctication, it does not bring it forward in that spontaneous manner which I find in the New Testament. It doesn not urge my affections in the shape of a warm and impressive admonition. It is laid before me as part of a system; and I am somehow restrained from submitting my heart to the fullness of its influence by the severe and authoritative qualifications which are laid upon it. There is so much said about the dangers of self-righteousness, that I am afraid to trust myself with any attempt at righteousness at all; and for the simple obedience of love which the gospel teaches me, I either give up obedience entirely, or I find it prove fatiguing, because in addition to the simple feeling, I have also to give it its proper place in the fabric of orthodoxy, and to wield a most cumbersome machninery of principles and explanations along with it.
I feel the influence of these systems to be most unfortunate in the pulpit. Were I to accommodate to the previous state of discipline and education among my hearers, I could not get in a single precept without spending more than double the time necessary for announcing it, in satisfying them of its due subordination to the leading principles of the system. Now I would ask, Is this ever by Paul or any of the apostles? Do they feel any restraint or any hesitation in being practical? Is not this scrupulous deference to the factitious orthodoxy of Calvin a principle altogether foreign and subsequent to the native influence of Divine truth on the heart? With what perfect freedom from all this parade and all this scrupulosity do Christ and His apostles make this transition from doctrine to practice, and expand with the most warm and earnest and affectionate exhortation! No, my sir, our divinity is not of the right kind unless it be a fair transcript of that divinity which exists in the New Testament. I admit the doctrine of good works, not because it comes to me in the shape of a corollary to the demonstrations of the schoolmen, but because it comes to me in warm and immediate from " If ye love me, keep my commandments." I do not think I can be wrong in calling no man master but Christ; and at all events it is making faith in Him my security and my refuge. I summon up the conception of Jesus as my friend, and with such an image in my heart, I feel the intolerance of orthodoxy stript of all its terrors. I repair to the grand principle of faith as my refuge not merely against the anxieties of certain guilt, but against the anxieties of possible ignorance; and that doctrine of the sufficiency of Christ which occupies so high, not too high, a place in their systems, I convert into my defence and my protection when they frown condemnation upon me.
That which availeth is, "Faith working by love;" and if the love of Christ be shed abroad upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit, it is to be rejoiced in as the "pledge and the earnest of our inheritance." This is the attainment which we must strive after; and we have the highest authority for believing that prayer and diligence and the exercises of patience and faith, are means which, if strenuously persevered in, are never resorted to in vain.
"Your sublime views of eternity are most congenial to me; and I can well understand the regret with which you complain that they are not more habitual to you. Nothing has convinced me more effectually of our fallen state than this habitual estrangement of the mind from those high themes of faith and of eternity, which, in its better moments, it acknowledges to be not merely of high, but of exclusive importance. The God who gives us eveery breath and whose sustaining hand upholds us every moment, should be ever present to our devotion and our thoughts. It is so in heaven; and if not so on earth, it is precisely because the bible representation is true, that the moral constitution of our nature is unhinged, and that the banishment of Adam from the paradise of Eden involved in it the banishment of all his posterity from its exercises and its joys. We should love God our heart and strength and mind, says the first commandment of the law; and there is not a truth in the whole compass of philosophy which rests more firmly on the Baconian basia of experiment, than that in the heart and life of every individual who comes into the world this commandment is fallen from.
The law is for the direction of those who are able to keep it, but it serves another purpose. It instructs us, by its observed violations, in the melancholy but important truth, that all are guilty before God. It compels us to the remedy laid before us in the gospel, and is the "schoolmaster which brings us to Christ". When you feel the wretched deficiencies of your own heart, take in a full impression of its unworthiness, and do not seek tp protectyourself from the humiliating contemplation. The protection offered us in the gospel is protection against the terrors of the law, and not against the shame and the consciousness of having violated it. "Be not afraid, only believe", says the Saviour and the experience of every day carries home to my heart that the only applicable expedient for man in the actual state of our present being, is simply to take to Christ, to unite with him by faith, to approach God through that Mediator who is able to save to the uttermost, to perfect our union with the Saviour by doing Him the honour of trusting Him, or taking Him at his word, and to look for sanctification, for heavenly mindedness, for conformity to the will and image of Christ, for redemption not merely from the punishment of sin, but also from its power, for "progressive virtue and approving heaven" - to look for these, and for all other spiritual blessings, as the promised effects of that union. If you come to the tranquillity of such final conviction as this, is it possible, I ask, not to view the great agent in the process of reconciliation as your friend? and can the heart of the Christian refuse the energy of His impressive voice "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you"? Virtue is not exploded; it is hung upon a new principle (2 Cor. 14 15).
"I have only room for one thing more. Do not expect a uniform tone of elevation. Let your motto be, though "faint, yet pursuing." Persevere in the exercises of patience and prayer; and in His good time, "God will perfect that which concerns you." Do write me soon. I can assure you that I prize your correspondence as a very great luxury and refreshment I had many things more to say to you; and I can assure you, that the more active and frequent an intercourse by letters, I will esteem it the more. I shall attend to your direction about the mode of conveyance; and in the meantime receive the full assurance of my regard.Yours truly, THOMAS CHALMERS."
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