SUDDEN DEATH OF DR. ANDREW
PUBLIC TESTIMONY TO HIS CHARACTER AND WORTH.
MEMOIRS OF DR. CHALMERS. 1831. VOL.3 - CHAPTER XV.
In the period intervening between these two Assemblies of 1830 and 1831, the Church of Scotland was deprived of one of the most eminent of its ministers. In the full vigour of his mental and physical energies, Dr. Andrew Thomson had taken part in the proceedings of the Presbytery of Edinburgh, on Wednesday the 9th of February. He left the Presbytery Hall about five oclock in the afternoon. Meeting a friend by the way, and conversing with all his accustomed vivacity, he had reached his house in Melville Street. In front of his own door, and as his friend was leaving him, he turned rapidly round, as if to say something which he had forgotten, but fell back senseless upon the pavement. He was carried instantly into his house, and every effort to restore animation was made without delay. The tidings of the deplorable event passed like lightning through the city. Dr. Chalmers hearing the fearful rumour hastened to the spot : but every attempt to reanimate the lifeless frame had failed. In a moment the spirit had passed into eternity.
Meeting with his class on the following day, Dr. Chalmers closed his lecture as follows : I meant, gentlemen, to have expatiated on this subject at greater length, and perhaps would have done so with greater vigour, but I must confess that the sad and saddening event of yesternight has unhinged me out of all strength, for the requisite preparation. At the ordinary time employed in framing a lesson for others I was called away to be a learner myself - to read a lesson which of all others is the oftenest told yet the oftenest forgotten - to gaze upon features which a short time before were instinct with living energy, but which were then fast locked in the insensibility of death. I should not have felt myself justified in thus adverting to it had it only stood connected with personal griefs or personal interests of my Own; but, gentlemen, it is an event of deepest interest to the members of a theological school, and more especially to those who are now training for the Church of Scotland, standing apprised, as I doubt not you all are, of the heavy loss that Church has sustained in the noblest and most distinguished of her ministers.
A time of deep emotion is not the time for analysis ; yet the characteristics of Dr. Thomsons mind stood forth in such bold and prominent relief, that it needs but their bare enumeration to be recognised by the most superficial observer. The first and foremost of these characteristics was a dauntless uncompromising honesty in the maintenance of all which he deemed to be the cause of truth and righteousness. But, gentlemen, I must spare myself the execution of this task, for I feel the wound to be greatly too recent, and that the afflicted heart keeps all the other faculties of the soul in abeyance. At present I have no steadiness of hand for drawing a portrait every lineament of which opens a fresh and bitter recollection. There is still an oppressive weight on the subject which makes all attempts at delineation impossible; and rather far than sketch the likeness of one who, with a suddenness so extraordinary, has been drawn away from us, would I now mingle in sympathy with his friends, or weep with his deserted family.
Tuesday the 115th of February was the day of Dr. Thomsons interment. Two thousand gentlemen in mourning, including the magistrates of the city, ministers of all denominations, the professors of the University, and members of other public bodies, followed his remains to the grave. Along the streets through which they passed every shop was shut, while upwards of 10,000 saddened spectators lined the pathway and crowded every window, and clothed the very house-tops; as the mournful procession passed by. Never before had there been such a funeral in Edinburgh, nor had a testimony so general, so spontaneous, so profound and so heartfelt, ever been offered to the memory and worth of any of her citizens. On the following Sabbath, while preaching the funeral sermon in St. Georges Church, Dr. Chalmers thus alluded to the melancholy event : - It is as if death had wanted to make the highest demonstration of his sovereignty, and for this purpose had selected as his mark him who stood the foremost and the most conspicuous in the view of his countrymen. I speak not at present of any of the relations in which lie stood to the living society immediately around him - to the thousands in church whom his well-known voice reached upon the Sabbath - to the tens of thousands in the city, whom, through the week, in the varied rounds and meetings of Christian philanthropy, he either guided by his counsel or stimulated by his eloquence. You know, over and above, how far the wide, and the wakeful, and the untired benevolence of his nature carried him; and that, in the labours and the locomotions connected with these, he may be said to have become the personal acquaintance of the people of Scotland, - insomuch that there is not a village in the land where the tidings of his death have not conveyed the intimation that a master in Israel has fallen; and I may also add, that such was the charm of his companionship, such the cordiality lighted up by his presence in every household, that, connected with this death, there is, at this moment, an oppressive sadness in the hearts of many thousands even of our most distant Scottish families.
And so a national lesson has been given forth by this event, even as a national loss has been incurred by it. It is a public death in the view of many spectators. And when one thinks of the vital energy by which every deed and every utterance were pervaded-of that prodigious strength which but gamboled with the difficulties that would have depressed and overborne other men - of that prowess in conflict, and that promptitude in counsel with his fellows - of that elastic buoyancy which ever rose with the occasion, and bore him onward and upward to the successful termination of his career - of the weight and multiplicity of his engagements; and yet, as if nothing could overwork that colossal mind, and that robust framework, the perfect lightness and facility wherewith all was executed - when one thinks, in the midst of these powers and these performances, how intensely he laboured, I had. almost said how intensely he lived, in the midst of us, we cannot but acknowledge, that death, in seizing upon him, hath made full proof of a mastery that sets all the might and all the promise of humanity at defiance.
But the lesson is prodigiously enhanced when we pass from the pulpit to his household ministrations. I perhaps do him wrong in supposing that any large proportion of his hearers did not know him personally - for such was his matchless superiority to fatigue, such the unconquerable strength and activity of his nature, that he may almost be said to have accomplished a sort of personal ubiquity among his people.
But ere you can appreciate the whole effect of this, let me advert to a principle of very extensive operation in nature. Painters know it well: they are aware how much it adds to the force and beauty of any representation of theirs when made strikingly and properly to contrast with the background on which it is projected. And the same is as true of direct nature, set forth in one of her own immediate scenes, as of reflex nature set forth by the imagination and pencil of an artist. This is often exemplified in those Alpine wilds, where beauty may at times be seen embosomed in the lap of grandeur, as when, at the base of a lofty precipice, some spot of verdure, or peaceful cottage-home, seems to smile in more intense loveliness, because of the towering strength and magnificence which are behind it.
Apply this to character, and think how precisely analogous is the effect, when, from the groundwork of a character that mainly in its texture and general aspect is masculine, there do effioresce the forthputtings of a softer nature, and those gentler charities of the heart which come out irradiated in tenfold beauty, when they arise from a substratum of moral strength and grandeur underneath. it is thus when the man of strength shews himself the man of tenderness; and he who, sturdy and impregnable in every righteous cause, makes his graceful descent to the ordinary companionships of life, is found to mingle, with kindred warmth, in all the cares and the sympathies of his fellow-men.
Such, I am sure, is the touching recollection of very many who now hear me, and who can tell, in their own experience, that the vigour of his pulpit was only equalled by the fidelity and the tenderness of his household ministrations. They understand the whole force and significancy of the contrast I have now been speaking of - when the pastor of the church becomes the pastor of the family; and he who, in the crowded assembly, held imperial sway over every understanding, has entered some parents lowly dwelling, and prayed and wept along with them over their infants dying bed. It is on occasions like these when the minister carries to its highest pitch the moral ascendency which belongs to his station. It is this which furnishes him with a key to every heart ; - and when the triumphs of charity are superadded to the triumphs of argument, then it is that he sits enthroned over the affections of a. willing people.
I must now satisfy myself with a few slight and rapid touches on his character as a man. It is a subject I dare hardly approach. To myself he was at all times a joyous, hearty, gallant, honourable, and out-and-out most trustworthy friend - while, in harmony with a former observation, there were beautifully projected on this broad and general groundwork some of friendships finest and most considerate delicacies. By far the most declared and discernible feature in his character, was a dauntless, and direct, and right-forward honesty, that needed no diiguise for itself, and was impatient of aught like dissimulation or disguise in other men. There were withal a heart and a hilarity in his companionship, that everywhere carried its own welcome along with it ; and there were none who moved with greater acceptance or wielded a greater ascendant over so wide a circle of living society. Christianity does not overbear the constitutional varieties either of talent or of temperament.
After the conversion of the apostles their complexional differences of mind and character remained with them; and there can be no doubt that, apart from and anterior to the influence of the Gospel, the hand of nature bad stamped a generosity, and a sincerity, and an openness on the subject of our description, among the very strongest of the lineaments which belong to him. Under an urgent sense of rectitude he delivered himself with vigour and with vehemence in behalf of what he deemed to be its cause - but I would have you to discriminate between the vehemence of passion and the vehemence of sentiment, which, like though they be in outward expression, are wholly different and dissimilar in themselves. His was mainly the vehemence of sentiment, which, hurrying him when it did into what lie afterwards felt to be excesses, was immediately followed up by the relentings of a noble nature. The pulpit is not the place for the idolatry of an unqualified panegyric on any of our fellow-mortals; but it is impossible riot to acknowledge, that whatever might have been his errors, truth and piety and ardent philanthropy formed the substratum of his character; and that the tribute was altogether a just one, when the profoundest admiration, along with the pungent regrets of his fellow-citizens, did follow him to his grave."
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