Chalmers Thomas, Dd, Lld
Chalmers. Thomas, D.D., LL.D., eminent alike as preacher, philanthropist, and philosopher, was born in Anstruther, in Fifeshire, Scotland, March 17, 1780. He was sent at an early age to the ancient University of St. Andrew's. He devoted himself chiefly to physical science, especially to astronomy, in which he became a proficient. In May, 1803, he was appointed minister of Kilmany, in Fifeshire. During his first years of service there he gave himself more to science than to pastoral duties, and published his first important work, the Inquiry into the Extent and Stability of National Resources, in which two points are especially prominent — an intense dislike of the spirit of trade, and a burning military ardor. About 1809 he was engaged to write the article on Christianity for the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia. In prosecuting the studies necessary for this article, he began to perceive that there was something in Christianity which he had never yet comprehended. The reflections to which a severe illness gave rise completed his "conversion," and on his recovery he began to confess publicly his previous blindness, and to preach Christ crucified. In 1815 he was invited by the town council of Glasgow to take charge of the Tron Church and parish in that city. It was here, perhaps, that the highest triumphs of his eloquence were achieved. In 1823 he was transferred to the chair of moral philosophy in the University of St. Andrew's. The ethical class-room, which had before presented a beggarly account of empty benches, was soon crowded with classes of enthusiastic students. In 1828 he was appointed to the chair of theology in the College of Edinburgh — the summit of ecclesiastical elevation and influence in the National Establishment. In this post he continued to labor until the disruption of the Establishment. SEE FREE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND. In May, 1843, the pride and power of the ancient Church — four hundred ministers, with Chalmers at their head — departed from her, and organized the first "General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland," over which he presided. "With the stupendous exertions that were then put forth to erect churches, manses, school-houses, and colleges; to send missions to Jews and heathen, and to set on foot all the machinery of an efficient Church; with the amazing labors of Chalmers, who traveled over the length and breadth of Scotland, breathing his own burning spirit into every class, while he seemed, like the eagle, to have renewed his youth; and with the wonderful success that crowned these exertions, we cannot be detained without exceeding our limits. Suffice it to say that, in a great measure, by the infusion of his own untiring energy into every class, rank, and age, the stupendous structure of the Free Church went up, like Aladdin's palace, as it were in a single night, and the world stood amazed at the unparalleled spectacle." Chalmers was appointed principal and professor of theology in the Free Church College, in which post ha continued till his death. Busied with his professorship, with the preparation of his Institutes of Theology and his Daily Scripture Readings, he yet found time for varied works of benevolence and philanthropy. On Sunday night, May 30, 1847, he retired to his chamber apparently in his ordinary health, and was found dead in his bed next morning.
In analyzing the "intellectual character of Dr. Chalmers we find but two prominent peculiarities. The first is the large development of the perceptive faculties. It was this peculiarity that directed his mind to natural science, and fitted him to excel in those departments that demanded the exercise of the perceptive powers; that determined his thoughts to the details of economics, poor-laws, statistics, etc.; that furnished him with the exuberance of illustration that adorns his discourses, and led him generally to reason by analogy rather than on abstract principles or by metaphysical deductions. The other prominent fact in his intellectual structure was imagination. He did not look at a subject in the cold, dry light of pure intellection, but in the warm and vivid light of a pow etic fancy. The 'body of divinity,' or ethics, which in the hands of other analysts became a skeleton of rattling bones, by his plastic touch was transformed into an image of living, breathing beauty, warm and bright with a glorious life. The abstractions of colder and more logical minds were to him concrete, embodied realities. But when we examine his sermons critically we find much to condemn. There is an utter disregard of all the laws of style and language. The sentences are long, involved, and tangled. The veriest colloquialisms, the most unauthorized idioms, and in some cases even an approach to vulgarisms, appear in his language. Thus, in one of his most magnificent efforts, he tells his hearers that he does not expect by such appeals to break the 'confounded spell' that chained them to the world. The most offensive trait in his style is its endless amplification and repetition" (Moore, cited below).
We cannot assign Chalmers a high rank as an expositor of Scripture. His Lectures on Romans, and still more fully his Posthumous Works, prove that his excursions into this vast field were but short and narrow in their range.
The Works of Dr. Chalmers are published in a uniform edition by T. Constable, Edinburgh (25 vols. 12mo). They are as follows: Natural Theology, 2 vols.; Christiani Evidences, 2 vols.; Moral Philosophy, 1 vol.; Commercial Discourses, 1 vol.; Astronomical Discourses, 1 vol.; Congregational Sermons, 3 vols.; Public Sermons, 1 vol.; Tracts and Essays, 1 vol.; Essays on Christian Authors, 1 vol.; Christian and Econonic Polity, 3 vols.; Church Establishments, I vol.; Church Extension, 1 vol.; Political Economny, 2 vols.; Parochial System, 1 vol.; Lectures on Romans, 4 vols. Besides these, his Posthumous Works contain, Daily Scripture Readings, 3 vols.; Sabbath Scripture Readings, 2 vols.; Discourses hitherto unpublished, 1 vol.; Lectures on Butler, Ilill, etc. 1 vol.; Institutes of Christianity, 1 vol. His Life and Correspondence, by the Rev. W. Hanna, D.D. (4 vols. 12mo), is not equal to the reputation of Dr. Chalmers. An abstract of his Theology, by the Rev. J. M. Manning, is given in the Bibliotheca Sacra, 13:477 sq. — Moore, in the Methodist Quart. Review, Oct. 1849; Hanna, Life of Chalmers (New York, Harpers, 1850); N. Brit. Review, 7:299; 8:210; 17:110; Princeton Review, 13:30.