Major Influences On The Life of Young Robert (Candlish)
1) McCrie 2) Chalmers 3) Thomson
It was the period of a great crisis in the religious history of
Scotland. There were three powerful influences which then began to operate,
that were destined, in their issues to produce mighty unforeseen changes, and
which have given shape to the state of things as now found among us. They could
not fail to affect a nature so susceptible as Robert Candlish, whose mind was always open
to accept and adopt what was good and true, and help it forward with all his
One of these influences, and that by no means the least powerful, although operating in a noiseless and unseen way, was the publication of Dr. M Crie's Lives of Knox and Melville, the former in 1811, and the latter in 1819. These works has an extensive circulation, and especially among the class of men who mould the character of the age in which they live. They carried the mind back to Reformation views and principles, and were a very effective protest against the Moderateism which had so long cramped and stifled the religious life of Scotland. As they greatly helped to awaken the questions which soon came to be agitated, and which led to the sepaeation of the Free Church from the State, so they shed a clearest light upon these questions, and made the way plain enough to all who cherished the principles of the Reformation. To Dr. M Crie more than to any other we owe it that so many of the people of Scotland clearly apprehended the doctrine of the Church's autonomy, and recognised obligation to act out what she had ascertained to be the will of her great living Head irrespective of what secular and authorities might do and determine.
Another of the influences to which I have adverted was wielded by Dr. Andrew Thomson, whose place in the Church Robert Candlish was soon destined to fill. By means of the Christian Instructor he was to a large extent working on the same lines as Dr. M Crie,while he was at the same time encouraging and helping forward every evangelical movement. But he effected still more by his living voice and energy. Being inducted in 1814 as the first minister of St. George's Church, Edinburgh, his influence soon began to be felt among the elite of the city, as respects culture and intellectual power. Edinburgh at that time had many eminent citizens, and some whose fame was world-wide; but Andrew Thomson soon placed himself in the front rank of them all. He was felt as a power not only, perhaps not even chiefly, in the pulpit; but as a public speaker he was unrivalled in versatility and eloquence. He could confront and defeat the ablest members of the Bar. Bold and uncompromising in word and deed, if he made some enemies he secured the affection and venerated adherence of many friends. When he began his ministry the tone of Edinburgh society was decidedly cold towards religion, and tending very much towards infidelity a tendency mightily strengthened by the Edinburgh Reviewers. It was Andrew Thomson chiefly who turned the tide, and obtained respect at least for evangelical religion on the Bench and at the Bar, and among the medical profession. He was the means gradually but very effectually of producing a great and blessed revolution in the character of Edinburgh society. Nor was it in Edinburgh alone that his influence was felt. The Apocrypha controversy made him known all over Scotland, for he went everywhere advocating a pure and unadulterated Bible with wondrous eloquence and success. And, whatever intemperance may have characterised the controversy at some of its stages, we owe it very much to Andrew Thomson that the views so extensively prevail which are now held regarding the inspiration and the sole and authority of the Word of God as the rule of faith and manners. This was, perhaps, the greatest permanent service to the Church and to the country.
The third, and by no means the least influential power at work in Robert Candlish's student days, was Dr. Chalmers, who began his ministry in Glasgow in 1815,and in which he continued till 1823. He was at once recognised as the greatest preacher of his time, and attracted great multitudes to hear him, not a few of whom were savingly impressed, and became from that time and afterwards the leaders and promoters of every philanthropic work. But it was not his pulpit ministations,nor his published writings which were the most valuable contribution of Dr. Chalmers to the moral and spiritual wellbeing of his countrymen at large; it was rather the evangelistic bent he gave to the energies of the Church. Dr. Chalmers still lives in the work of Church extension, and in the methods he devised for carrying it forward. His aim was not the erection of a place of worship, and to set open a door for the entrance of such as might be attracted to it by the ministrations of the pulpit; but to provide an agency to carry the gospel the homes of the people within a limited territory, and to "compel them to come in."
Thus there were three great powers in those days simultaneously at work in somewhat distinct departments, which largely moulded the future history of the Church and country. Dr. Chalmers led the way in the great evangelistic movement which so happily characterise the present time. Dr.Thomson awakened a new interest in the Bible, as the alone authoritative guide of what the Church and individual men ought to believe and to do. Dr. M'Crie, by his publications, created a new era in ecclesiastical affairs.
It was under such influences as these that the College career of Robert Candlish was carried on and came to an end. He personally enjoyed the ministrations of Dr. Chalmers, and scarcely less those of his distinguished assistant Edward Irving, although the latter was then far from being generally popular. But Robert Candlish and a few of his fellow students were among Irving's regular hearers.
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