Sunday, 20 October 2019

A Life well Lived

In the early hours of this morning we received news that my brave sister Anna finally lost her fight with pancreatic cancer.  Her last week was spent in Accord Hospice, Paisley after she took ill at my parents in Glasgow.  Anna has gone to her eternal rest and her body is no longer racked with pain.  We rejoice that Anna is now gazing on the Saviour she followed so faithfully but our hearts are still broken.  Grief has many stages but currently we are numb with pain.  We are no strangers to death as a family but experience doesn't make the pain any less.  A bright light has gone out in our lives and for now, it feels very dark.

From learning of her diagnosis in February 2018, Anna has borne this cruel disease with quiet dignity and without complaint.  Anna hated hospitals, procedures and treatment right to the very end.  They interfered with her frenetic lifestyle.  One of her great hallmarks was her service to others and she hated being the centre of attention.  Anyone who enquired about her illness found discussions to be brief and business like.  During our first meeting with the consultant in March 2018, Anna was given months to live but due to her fitness, resilience, stubbornness and cheerfulness she exceeded all expectation.  She was brave and devoid of self pity to the end.

Some people live long, self centred and empty lives.  Others, like Anna, live short selfless lives filled with service to others.  Two years of pancreatic cancer did little to curtail her energy for life.  She worked almost full time until the day she was admitted to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow on 5th October 2019.  One of her colleagues has since told me that she contacted him on her last Friday at work (4th October) to ask if he could complete a 50 page report that she hadn't quite finished!  In typical Anna fashion she was through in Glasgow for a dog show but became increasingly unwell.  Fluid retention in her last two months had become almost unbearable.  

Anna was born in London in April 1968, the middle of three children. Our family moved north to Edinburgh in 1973 and Anna started her schooling at Currie and then Juniper Green Primary School.  Living in Baberton I remember wandering around the Utopian new housing estate called Wester Hailes hand in hand with my big sisters.  They introduced me to the joy of chips from the chippy and I have never looked back.  They were happy, innocent days.

In 1978 our family moved to Oban after my father accepted the call to Oban Free 'High' Church.  As well as being a popular tourist destination, the manse was a haven for stranded missionaries from Mull and Coll as well as a merry go round of the great and the good of the reformed world.  Life was never dull and my sisters and I were frequently pressed in to service.  The manse felt like a model of community and hospitality and Anna went on to model that throughout her life.  Her annual 'Burns Nights' were legendary for tsunami levels of haggis, neeps and tatties and some very ropey singing.  I suspect many a bemused foreign student from Holyrood Evangelical Church had their first taste of Scottish culture on these infamous evenings.

Our lives were shattered in December 1980 with the death of our dear sister Lynda from a brain tumour.  Anna and Lynda were just a year apart in age and shared a room so the impact on Anna must have been unimaginable.  The trauma of a 13 year old's coffin and grave never leave you, and it shaped Anna for the rest of her life.

Unlike her wee brother, Anna excelled at school - Rockfield Primary School and then Oban High School.  After glandular fever set her back a few months in fourth year, she more than made up for lost time. She studied hard, was popular, played a lot of netball, became a prefect and eventually 'head girl'.  She always loved animals and was walker in chief for our west highland terrier Candy.  She seemed destined for a career as a vet.  Anna's idea of a good Easter was lambing in a cold shed in Easter Ross surrounded by hay and afterbirth.  Perhaps not surprisingly she chose to apply for a BSc in Agricultural Science at Aberdeen University in 1986.  Anna threw herself in to student life and played a full part in Bon Accord Free Church and the FCYA.

After university Anna started a PhD at the Bush Estate in Edinburgh but moved back to Aberdeen to work at the Macaulay Institute.  During this time Anna and I shared a flat and I vividly remember her talking to me about her PhD and whether she should continue with it.  Anna was supremely practical and a life of academia did not suit her personality.  She switched to an MPhil which she passed with ease.  The subject matter remains unfathomable to the family but we are extremely proud of her academic achievements.

After a few years with the Macaulay Institute Anna moved to Wye in Kent in 1995 with her beloved dog Jet. She relished rural Kent and linked up with many family contacts from London years.  After a stint with the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories working on Scrapie eradication in sheep, Anna moved back to Scotland in 2001 to work with the Scottish Government during the foot and mouth outbreak.  This was to be Anna's place of work over the next 18 years.  She held three different posts; Scrapie and BSE eradication in sheep, Rural Development (LEADER and Scottish National Rural Network) and latterly she worked on Agricultural Development (new entrants to farming, innovation, skills and knowledge transfer of farmers).

During this last post Anna led a small but dedicated team.  One of Anna's most painful struggles after our last consultants meeting on the 20th September was how to break the news to her team that she was too ill to work.  It seems incredible that despite being discharged from all treatment and receiving a palliative package of care Anna continued to work for another two weeks until 4th October.  In many ways her job personified her passion - the outdoors, Scotland, leadership, animals and rural communities.  She will leave a big gap in the Scottish Government.  Her colleagues have been incredibly supportive to us as a family with lots of texts and emails in Anna's last few days.

Anna loved the outdoors and in the course of many years of hill walking tackled over 100 of Scotland's Munros.  Most weekends, when many of us were thinking of a slow start to our Saturdays, Anna would be gathering her faithful group known as the 'Holyrood Hillwalkers' and setting out for some new destination.  While the hill was important, it always seemed that the coffee shop was equally, if not even more important.  Without fail there would be a Saturday evening Facebook picture posted of bacon rolls, coffee and scones in some rural location with a group of weary walkers still suffering from one of Anna's 'gentle strolls'.  Over the years the hill walks were a haven for many a lonely student or newcomer to Edinburgh and as always Anna gave of herself freely and without reserve.  Anna loved nothing more than finding a beautiful cottage in the Highlands and heading away with 'the girls' for week of walking and good food.  She quite simply loved life and lived it to the full.

Anna loved being around children.  She dotted on her 5 nephews and was forever trying to drag them out of bed on a Saturday morning to go on an adventure.  Anna was always wanting to buy the boys exactly what they wanted for birthday and Christmas and the emails for an Amazon link would be sent out weeks in advance.  No expense was spared on the boys and they were showered with gifts.  Due to their own fathers dislike of the outdoors Anna took the oldest boys for their first camping trip.  With Anna's usual zeal they were introduced to all the joys of the outdoors and have never forgotten the 'compostable toilet'.  Calum became Anna's regular sidekick in dog agility shows and both Calum and Davie attended dog shows regularly.  One of Calum's great highlights was attending Crufts with Anna in 2017.  Anna was immense fun to be around and the boys used to love when  we were invited for Sunday lunch at Anna's, followed by the usual Sunday afternoon walk which always seemed to be via the local school long jump.  The boys invariably came back covered in sand but always hail and hearty.

As a Christian, Anna had a quiet but strong faith.  She professed faith in Christ in her mid teens after wrestling with assurance for several years.  Unlike her slightly cocky brother, Anna was always cautious and liked to think things through.  She disliked hypocrisy, insincerity and clericalism.  Her faith was robust, deep rooted and supremely practical.  The word 'authentic' is over used today but it is a word that epitomises Anna and her Christian faith.  She was a voracious reader of Christian books and a deep thinker. Anna found a spiritual home in Holyrood Evangelical Church in Leith, Edinburgh.  For many years she enjoyed the clear, warm and practical teaching of Rev Phil Hair (now retired).  When Anna was diagnosed with cancer in February 2018 the church not only embraced Anna, but the whole family.  Their kindness to us as a family will not be forgotten and we can't thank them enough for the way they loved Anna through such a difficult time.  Anna continued to attend the morning service until 29th September 2019 and even listened to sermons in hospital to keep up to date. The congregation understood Anna well. They didn't fuss over her, they didn't interfere but their love was very evident in so many little acts of kindness.  Thank you Holyrood Evangelical Church - you held us up when we would have fallen down.  If the mark of a Christian church is ultimately love, Holyrood passes with flying colours.

Anna loved all animals both small and large.  As soon as she left university Anna was never without a dog and latterly with two.  Her brother remains hopelessly allergic to animals and would have to swig a bottle of anti-histamine before even a quick visit to Currievale Park Grove.  These beloved four footed creatures would hang on Anna's every word and travelled everywhere with her. Thousands of pictures were taken with Candy, Bobby, Jet, Cullin, Shadow and Storm perched on precarious rocks, skulking in deep foliage or posing with various children.  In the last few years Anna became passionate about dog agility and was a loyal member of Exel Dog Agility in West Calder.  Saturdays were taken up with dog shows all over Scotland and Shadow and Storm's rosettes cover whole walls of Anna's house.  Anna found friendship and community in the agility world and she (and the dogs) will be greatly missed.  Her nephew Calum hopes to follow in his auntie's footsteps.

My sister was generous, hospitable, loyal, trustworthy, genuine and absolutely bursting with life.  Even when others let her down she was quick to forgive. In her 51 years she was a shining example of a life well lived.  She embodied the verse in John 10 v 10 'I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.'  Anna embodied the Christian life.  She loved creation, she loved people,  she practised hospitality, she loved her church family and she lived out her faith in an authentic and practical way.

Anna leaves behind a brokenhearted family but we are thankful that we do not rejoice as those without hope.  The night Anna was admitted to hospital (Saturday 5th Oct) we both knew things were serious. I read to her from Psalm 89 before attempting to pray.  Some of you will be more familiar with the metrical version:

O greatly blessed the people are
the joyful sound that know;
In brightness of thy face, O Lord,
they ever on shall go.

They in thy name shall all the day
rejoice exceedingly;
And in thy righteousness shall they 
exalted be on high.

On Tuesday night, after a marked decline over 2-3 days, I read from 2 Corinthians 4 v 16 - 18: 'Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.  For our momentary affliction is producing for us an abundantly, incomparable eternal weight of glory.  So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.' The weight of the words hung in the air as the words came alive to both of us.  Anna was fading fast but she was drifting closer to her eternal home.

After a painful, at times chaotic and uncomfortable week in the Queen Elizabeth, Anna was moved to the Accord Hospice in Paisley on Friday 11th October.  The care and love Anna received from the moment she was admitted was overwhelming.  During her final weekend my Mum, Dad and I were able to cry and worship together with Anna.  I continued to read 'New Morning Mercies' to Anna as she had done for the last few months.  All the while her two beloved dogs stood as sentinels on either side of the bed.  She had a door in her room that opened outside and the dogs were able to come and go quite freely.  We will be forever thankful for the love and dignity that the Accord staff showed my sister in her final days on earth.  We will never be able to find the words to thank them enough for the way they carried us as a family when wave after wave of grief hit us during Anna's stay.  The work of hospices is truly humbling and in desperate need of wider support.

Can there be rejoicing in death?  We believe so.  Anna leaves a gaping hole in our lives but she is in a much better place.  Her body is no longer twisted and emaciated with cancer. As the shorter catechism reminds us 'what benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?'  Answer: 'The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass in to glory, and their bodies, still being united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.'

For now we have a temporary separation with Anna and Lynda but we look forward to that day when we will be reunited in a place without sin and illness.  On the Wednesday before Anna died, when we were in a very low place as a family, a letter arrived for my father from an old friend.  His words struck a chord with all of us as he spoke of Christ: 'Today you may be walking in darkness without light, but he is still there and, though you can't see him, he never takes his eyes of you; and though you may find it hard today to understand how anyone can laugh, or even smile, one day the Lord will wipe away your tears, put the joy back in your heart, and make you once again, what you have been to others.'  That day feels like a long way off but we trust in the one who does all things well.

Where can we go for our comfort and consolation at this time?  And who can comfort us in our deep distress?  Well surely it must be 'the father of mercies, the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we are comforted ourselves' (2 Cor 1 v 3-4). We trust in a God who walked this earth and knows what it is to suffer loss, feel desolation and who knew what it was to be lonely.  This the God and Saviour who Anna put her trust in and she is with him now.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.

In memory of Anna Murray 16th April 1968 - 20th October 2019.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

The Expulsive Power of a New Affection - Thomas Chalmers: Disruption Times (3)

This is the third article in a series on Thomas Chalmers.  You can read the first one here and the second one here.  The contents of these blog articles were originally delivered at the 1996 Historical Studies Conference and you can listen to the original address here.

 5. Edinburgh University - 1828-1843

Again, Chalmers was following a Moderate into the chair, and as in St. Andrews, his arrival was greeted with huge excitement.

His Theology

His lectures in theology were philosophic and began with the condition of man in sin, moving to the remedy that God had provided in Christ. The posthumous publication of these lectures in his Institutes of Theology, left some disappointed it must be said. More modern assessment has tended to denigrate Chalmers as a theologian, and even in cases to suggest that the organisation of his lectures in the Institutes.  As Stuart Brown says,

"reveals a mind struggling against doubts about some of the harsher doctrines of scholastic Calvinism and seeking a more personal form of Christianity - while at the same time concerned not to challenge openly the Calvinist orthodoxy of the Westminster Confession which he was bound by his professorial office to uphold. The experience of Erskine of Linlathen and Macleod Campbell had evidently made a profound impact on Chalmers, and his concern for the ecclesiastical organisation and Evangelical mission of the church discouraged him from experimenting in his lectures or in print with new theological ideas."

But there are at least two elements behind Chalmers' theological arrangement that help to explain it and refute the charge that he was a frustrated radical confined in the straitjacket of the church's confessional standards.

Firstly, the fact that his own mind had been drawn to the sovereignty of God long before he had ever come to accept Calvinistic doctrine. That remained strongly with him. And is that not at the root of Calvinism, indeed of Pauline theology, and a central feature of divine revelation itself?

Secondly, it should be remembered that Chalmers could only reach so far in his Moral Philosophy and Natural Theology course. The ethics in such disciplines brought him to the point of man's condition but could throw little light on how man was to be recovered. In his theological lectures Chalmers was anxious to make an immediate connection with where he had left off in his previous course. This was no hesitant Calvinism, nor an incipient Arminianism. It was the work of a thinker in revealed theology rather than a learned theologian like his successor William Cunningham. But it was the work of a man who, in preaching and lecturing, was concerned to set side by side the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. The one was not to be dealt with in any way that impaired the force of the other. His theological teaching sought always to convey the force of each.

Catholic Emancipation

By this time the movement for Catholic emancipation had taken on new momentum, and Chalmers had years earlier made known his support. Now he entered the campaign more fully. He had dealt with the subject at the opening of Edward Irving's new church in London in May 1827, asserting that the Protestant faith should not fear Catholic emancipation. Indeed, Chalmers believed that Protestantism had suffered as a result of excluding Roman Catholics from holding political office.

At a meeting in Edinburgh he gave an impassioned speech supporting emancipation. It was one of the most memorable speeches ever given in the city. In it Chalmers argued that the laws enforcing Protestantism had weakened it, making it to rely upon political support rather than on the truth itself. Moreover, Roman Catholics would be more amenable to the Gospel if emancipation should be established. On this latter point his expectations were groundless as history proves. However, his argument was not founded on that belief, but on the conviction that emancipation was a matter of justice.

Two weeks later, addressing the presbytery of Edinburgh, he again stressed the need for emancipation. He argued that there was no Scriptural reason why the state should not extend constitutional rights to all its citizens irrespective of religious persuasion, providing that did not threaten the state's endowment of the established religion. Chalmers would find that his efforts here would add to the determination of disapproving Dissenters to oppose him in his greater efforts for church extension.

Church Extension and Opposition

His main efforts were again now in fact for church extension. By the Assembly of 1834 the Evangelical Party were in the majority and Chalmers was placed as convener of the Committee on Church Accommodation. A huge effort followed on a national scale - appeals, collections, and the formation of associations. In 1835 he reported that £65,000 had been contributed in the year and 64 new churches were in process of building. Over £200,000 was collected within four years and 200 churches erected.

Chalmers himself was at the head of such singular success. Not only did his organisational skills lead the way but he was able also to fill many of the new pulpits with men who had been his own pupils, and they were men of outstanding qualities in cases like Robert Murray McCheyne, Dundee,

The problem was that of funding these new ministries. Seat rents would have to be kept low enough not to deter the poorest in these parishes, yet that would prove insufficient of itself to keep these ministers. An endowment would be needed, and an approach was made to the government, some of whom had expressed favour with the request. But just then Chalmers was thwarted. Opposition arose from Dissenters who saw in this church extension scheme a move on the part of the Establishment to limit their influence.

Chalmers was surprised and annoyed, but the opposition was stronger than he realised. Hugh Miller, through his editorship of The Witness gave him much support. Like Chalmers he considered the church to be the most important institution in the land, and that the people of Scotland needed to be brought to see what a large interest they had in it.

The Dissenters, or Separatists, had their roots in Scottish secession movements from 1733 onwards. Chalmers and the Evangelicals actually regarded Dissenting congregations as a benefit to the Establishment, but many Dissenters had voiced their opposition to the plans for Catholic emancipation fearing that this was the first step towards the re-establishment of the Roman Catholic church. Some Dissenters made the occasion one for attacking all Establishments thus elevating the Voluntary Principle.

Controversy raged for a whole decade. Chalmers kept a level-headed distance. But he did expound on occasions the policy he passionately believed in. Establishment was defendable, but only as it is an effective instrument of evangelism. The Voluntary Principle (where Church endowment is by voluntary contribution of the people) in his view simply wasn't adequate for the needs of a whole community. Voluntaries planted new churches on the principle of attraction, mainly drawing their own sympathisers. The Established church, when operating in Chalmers' vision of it, demanded provision for all the population. Its duty was to supply a Gospel ministry to everyone.

The Voluntaries, on the other hand, argued that no Established church could be truly "free", being under state authority. Chalmers utterly repudiated this. The church and state had coordinate but independent jurisdictions.

When the appeal was made to parliament for the endowment of the new extension charges the Dissenters responded with a memorial in opposition to it. In it they suggested that the main objective of Chalmers was to annihilate dissent under the guise of a scheme to supply religious education to those lacking it. This was an unworthy charge against him. The parliamentary commission set up to look into the question of endowment reported that both dissenting and established congregations in Glasgow and Edinburgh had spare Accommodation. Chalmers had been effectively blocked.

In the course of the crisis on church extension and its endowment, it became apparent that, in the opinion of the civil courts, the independence of the established church was not what it claimed. The Reform Bill of 1832 was felt by many, including Chalmers, to be against the moral and Christian well-being of the nation. It seemed that the new interest in secular politics was a threat to the establishment of the church, given that a shift in political power had placed influence in the hands not only of Dissenters but also Rationalists with hostility to all religion.

The Patronage Question

While the endowment of church extension was the crucible in which crisis developed, it was the question of patronage that provided the catalyst. To the 1832 General Assembly, of which Chalmers was Moderator, three synods and eight presbyteries presented overtures drawing attention to what they regarded as the evils of patronage. Chalmers believed the church already possessed powers to deal with misuse of patronage. In 1813 he had stated that the church might reject a patron's presentee if they judged him unsuitable. The church courts had the ultimate power to decide whether a presentee was suitable, taking account of all the details of the circumstances. The rights of the patron were not absolute, as indeed the 1712 Act of parliament restoring patronage had recognised, although not stated explicitly. Under Moderatism the call of a congregation had become denuded of its real significance, and the priority for Chalmers was the restoration of its significance and effect.

Chalmers himself preferred not to resort to legislation at first. This was not to be the case, however, and instead it was decided that the church should legislate for a uniformity of practice in congregational settlements.

Chalmers immediately suggested that, in such a case, the church should apply to the government to recognise this step, not because he held any doubts about the church's power to enact such legislation, but rather because he knew that others did, and he thought it better to clear the matter from all doubts and concerns from the outset. In this Chalmers deferred to what he regarded as the better judgement of Lord Moncrieff, although he was to regret afterwards that he had done so.

The legislation finally enacted was what came to be known as the Veto Act, passed by the General Assembly in 1834 under which, "the majority of the male heads of families, resident within the parish, being members of the congregation, and in full communion with the church...ought to be of conclusive effect in setting aside the presentee..."

The Ten Year Conflict

This was the marker for the beginning of the "Ten Years Conflict", which would culminate in the 1843 Disruption. The Veto was challenged almost at once. Proposed settlements in Lethendy and Auchterarder were vetoed only to be referred to the Court of Session who pronounced against the veto. The Lord President stated,

"That our Saviour is the temporal Head of the Kirk of Scotland, in any temporal, or legislative, or judicial sense, is a position that I can dignify by no other name than absurdity. The parliament is the temporal head of the Church, from whose acts, and from whose acts alone, it exists as the national Church, and from which alone it derives all its powers."

A complete impasse between the church and the civil courts was reached in early 1841. Marnoch, in the presbytery of Strathbogie, had seen the intrusion of John Edwards, on the signature of only one parishioner and against 261 signatures on the Veto against him.

The patron introduced another man, favourable to the people, but Edwards had taken matters to the Court of Session, who ordered the Presbytery to take Edwards on trials for ordination.

The Presbytery, with Moderates in the majority agreed, but the Commission of Assembly forbade proceeding. Seven ministers went ahead, to be suspended by the Commission, but they proceeded anyway to what was, as Dr. Hanna describes,

"an ordination unparalleled in the history of the Church, performed by a presbytery of suspended ministers, on the call of a single communicant, against the desire of the patron, in face of the strenuous opposition of a united congregation, in opposition to the express injunction of the Assembly, and at the sole bidding, and under the sole authority, of the Court of Session."

The church sent some of the ablest ministers, Chalmers included, to preach in Strathbogie. Interdicts were served copiously on ministers intending to preach there, only in most cases to be disregarded.

The effect of these manoeuvrings was to bring to the attention of more and more people throughout the country that every vestige of spiritual authority was being stripped from the church. With Chalmers prominent, negotiations were carried out with the government, but he was disliked by the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. His successor, Sir Robert Peel, proved a no more certain source of hope. Lord Aberdeen launched a bitter and unjustified attack on him. The Home Secretary was sure that the situation needed the strong arm of the State, and Lord Hope, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates was chief adviser to the Moderate Party.

Amid such upheaval and pressure, it is enlightening to find evidence of Chalmers' simple, strong and vital faith. He wrote in his Journal, June 21st, 1840,

"Have not yet recovered the shock of Lord Aberdeen's foul attack on me in the House of Lords. May I live henceforth in the perpetual sunshine of God's reconciled countenance. May I experience the sanctifying power of such a habit. Save me, save me, O God, from the untoward imaginations which disquiet and inflame me, warring against my soul, and engrossing my thoughts, to the utter exclusion of the things which make for holiness and peace...Hide me under the covert of thy wings, and let the menaces which overhang the country and the church pass away from them both."

Preparing for Disruption

But by now it was becoming increasingly likely that only a break with the State could preserve the spiritual independence of the church. For church extension endowment Chalmers had knocked at the door of the Whigs and gone from them to the Tories. Both had failed him. But he had experienced the generosity of the people. As the men of parliament failed him again now, Chalmers would need to go to the people again. He had not lost his vision of a church commensurate with the needs of the people, but now it would need to be without the advantages of Establishment. It was in this vein that Chalmers now looked ahead.

The Assembly of 1842 set aside interdicts served against Strathbogie commissioners taking their seats. For the first time in the conflict the Assembly declared, that "patronage is a grievance, has been attended with much injury to the cause of true religion in this Church and Kingdom, is the main cause of the difficulties in which the Church is at present involved and ought to be abolished."

The Assembly also adopted the document which was to become famous as the “Claim, Declaration and Protest anent the Encroachments of the Court of Session.” It was, as expected, dismissed by parliament, an action that provoked Robert Murray McCheyne to say of 7th March 1843 in his usual saintly candour,

"An eventful night this in the British Parliament. Once more King Jesus stands before an earthly tribunal, and they know him not."

At the Convocation of 470 ministers in November 1842 Chalmers played a leading role. He preached a powerful sermon on Psalm 112 verse 4, "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness." It is worth quoting from it at some length. He said,

"The great lesson of this text is the connection which obtains between integrity of purpose and clearness of discernment, insomuch that a duteous conformity to what is right, is generally followed up by a ready and luminous discernment of what is true. It tells us that if we have but grace to do as we ought, we shall be made to see as we ought; or, in other words, that if right morally, we are in the highway of becoming right intellectually.

The great lesson of our text is, that if we purpose aright we shall be made to see aright, and that the integrity of our will shall be followed up by light in the understanding. God will establish the just. Commit then thy works to the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths. It is he who, by the light of his Holy Spirit, makes good the connection between singleness of purpose and wisdom of conduct, and thus I understand the text, that he maketh wise the simple and giveth understanding to the simple."

From his experience of financing church extension, he also put forward a plan for financing a secession should it need to take place, and by this time few doubted that it would. 

The Decisive Moments

In the Assembly of 1843 the Non-Intrusionists were in the minority for the first time in 10 years. The Moderator Dr. Welsh, instead of constituting the Assembly, announced that he and others could not regard it as a free Assembly. He then read a protest setting out the reasons, handed it to the clerk, and then left, followed by Chalmers and over 190 ministers and elders, joined by many more at the Tanfield Hall where the first Assembly of the Church of Scotland Free was constituted. Chalmers was enthusiastically elected Moderator.

It is impossible to conclude that Chalmers himself had been persuaded by anything less than extraordinarily weighty considerations in severing his connection with the State, a connection that he had held to be so indispensable to the good of the church and its mission.

Chalmers and his allies were convinced that not only had the State's interference been an assault upon the prerogatives of Christ's Headship of his church, but also a stranglehold upon the church's enterprise and activity, a fatal blow to its spiritual life and power. Had even a little latitude been left to the church to give effect to the voice of the people, Chalmers would likely have retained the church-state connection. He did not take the strong view that other Disruption men took of the divine right of the question, but the absoluteness of the State's claims left him in no doubt that severance was needed and right in the circumstances.

Nor was it the case that Chalmers, after the Disruption had taken place, could no longer retain and pursue his vision of the church as God's instrument for the good of the nation. He believed that more good could be done by a disendowed church than by an established church controlled by the State. It was still this conviction that spurred him on in the remainder of his life to the building up and strengthening of the Free Church.

6. New College 1843-1847

Chalmers entered on his service in the Free Church's theological institution, known as the "New College", in November 1843, as Principal and Professor of Divinity. A vast amount of work was necessary in raising up the Free Church, in the provision of manses and schools, and in financing its ministers. All this needed to be virtually a replica of the Establishment they had left, relying on the generosity of the people. Chalmers committed himself mainly to his College lectures and to the Sustentation Fund. 

The Sustentation Fund

By the end of the first year the Sustentation Fund efforts had raised £68,700, enough to pay 600 ministers £100 each. But Chalmers was disappointed. For one thing he wanted to pay each minister another third of that figure.

Then, secondly, he knew that many more ministers were required for new congregations.

Thirdly, the Fund was not, as it stood, going to be sufficient to finance major mission enterprises to the spiritually destitute which Chalmers still dearly longed to see. That was his major disappointment with the Fund.

Chalmers tried to alter the "equal dividend" element that ensured each congregation received an equal benefit from the Fund. But some congregations were selfishly withholding funds while drawing their equal dividend. The brotherly spirit had been over calculated. Chalmers failed in his appeal. He remonstrated vehemently, sometimes with more than reasonable force. But it's easy to see why, when he saw that the Fund was not going to be the means of carrying out his urge of regenerating Scotland's spiritual wastelands.

Yet Chalmers was not finished. Perplexed, but not in despair. He had one more project in mind that would again apply his convictions and would show by God's blessing that they were vindicated. This was the West Port project.

The West Port

Building on his experiences in Glasgow, Chalmers chose this area of Edinburgh for his final evangelistic and social venture. An area of 2000 people, the West Port was one of the poorest and most crime-ridden of districts. Chalmers mapped it out into 20 districts, assigning one to a specific worker who was to visit the twenty families or so there every week. 

Chalmers' Journal shows that on this he spent as much energy in prayer as on any other work he had ever engaged in.

"O pour forth the spirit of generosity on my coadjutors and their friends in the work of cultivating the West Port of Edinburgh...reveal to me O God the right tactics, the right way and method of proceeding in the management of the affairs of the West Port. Oh! that I were able to pull down the strongholds of sin and of Satan that are there...Be my help and my adviser, O God, and tell me by thy word and Spirit what I ought to do."

Progress was not at first encouraging. Yet Chalmers encouraged his helpers with advice like the following,

“We are not worthy of having entered on the experiment if not capable of persevering with it under the discouragement it may be of many alternations, and for a time, if God so please to exercise our faith and patience, of reverse."

A missionary minister, William Tasker, was secured for the work and by the end of 1845 a congregation had been formed. The meetings increased and a building for 520 was built in early 1847, the greatest number of the attenders being from the local area. In April that year Chalmers administered the Lord's Supper to the congregation. He confessed to Tasker,

“I have got now the desire of my heart; God has indeed answered my prayer, and I could now lay down my head in peace and die."

It was exactly a month before his death. How it would have filled him with ecstatic joy to see revival spread across the country in 1860-61, in which new charges like the West Port were also embraced. Tasker wrote in 1861,

“At this moment I have nearly 60 candidates for communion, two thirds of whom date their serious impressions within the last three months. At present we have at least 60 persons who hold district prayer meetings in almost every close of the West Port."

The West Port proved to be a blueprint for other congregations to work from, most notably Chalmers' old charge in the Tron, Glasgow. Yet the goal of Chalmers was never fully realised by himself or after him. Population increased in the cities so rapidly that the church's resources failed to keep up with it. In addition, the famines of 1845 and 46 in the Highlands and in Ireland left thousands facing starvation and showed the inadequacies of both Church and State.

Chalmers was aghast at the laissez-faire attitude of the Whig government and the lack of response from private philanthropy, many preferring to conclude that the people in these areas had brought the famine on themselves and it would be better to let nature take its course and eradicate the population than support it artificially. Chalmers appealed to the government, wrote articles and called for reform.

In reality Chalmers was appealing against his own convictions that State handouts, without corresponding efforts of work on the part of the recipients, were not the answer to poverty. But this was a crisis of unusual proportions, and even had it not been, the failure in response to an ideal is not the same as the ideal itself being a failure.

The Final Days

Early in May 1847 Chalmers was in London, appearing before a Committee of the House of Commons, in relation to the complaints by the Free Church against those who had refused it sites for places of worship, including such powerful landowners as the Duke of Sutherland.

On 28th May he arrived back in Edinburgh, weary and needing rest. Friends and family were anxious, but he parried them. On Sunday 30th May he attended church services but was too tired to conduct family worship that evening, promising to do so in the morning. His housekeeper found him next morning in bed, propped up half sitting. He had died very soon after he had left them the previous evening.

His friend and colleague Thomas Guthrie, deeply affected, said,

"Men of his calibre are like mighty forest trees. We do not know their size till they are down."


Chalmers remains one of Scotland's greatest sons. He was the kind of rare individual who gives direction to a nation, and whose interest is not either in people's souls or in their temporal welfare, but in both.

While he influenced many in the middle and upper classes his heart was also set upon the lot of the poor, the uneducated, the ungodly. Church extension and endowment, educational reform, overseas missionary work, opposition to the Erastianism of the Court of Session, leadership of the body that resulted from the Disruption, were alike tasks for which he was eminently gifted.

His life story also gives the lie to the suggestion that it was the turn in theology from the late nineteenth century onwards that gave impetus to concern, denouncement of, and action about, social deprivations. To think of Liberal theology applying itself to the problems of Chalmers' time, with greater success than Chalmers had, is to forget that its near relative, Victorian Moderatism, had no moral energy at all to transform spiritual and physical slum conditions.

Chalmers himself described Moderate preaching as,

"like a winter's day, short, and clear, and cold; the brevity is good, the clarity is better, but the coldness is fatal. Moonlight preaching ripens no harvests."

Chalmers knew from his own experience, and amply demonstrated in his projects, that only the theology in which Christ's sufficiency and man's utter helplessness in the dilemma of sin, in which Holy Spirit regeneration, active faith in Christ, and a living hope are to the fore, can ever deliver the moral force needed to do good to a nation. 

But perhaps his greatest feature was that in the midst of having a horizon so broad as to include philosophy, physical science, social science, political economy, education, and theology, he retained the piety of a simple Christian.

The most suitable epitaph is in his own words,

"I want to grow in the faith in all its simplicity and self-abasement. I want self to be crucified, and the Saviour to be all in all with me...there is a wonderful charm in the righteousness of Christ becoming our by faith; it throws another moral atmosphere over the soul, and renews at the very time that it pacifies. I desire Christ to be all in all to me...O my God may the fear of thee supplant every other fear, and the love of thee subordinate every other love."

Saturday, 27 July 2019

The Expulsive Power of a New Affection: Thomas Chalmers Glasgow and St Andrews (2)

This is the second in a blog series on Thomas Chalmers by Rev James Maciver.  You can read the first one here.  The content was originally delivered at the 1996 Scottish Historical Studies Conference and can be found here.

3. Glasgow - 1815-1823

To begin with Chalmers missed Kilmany and was considerably frustrated with Glasgow, especially the amount of time he was expected to devote to serving on council boards and committees. While his pulpit oratory probably reached its zenith at this time Chalmers was restless and unsatisfied.

While the population of Glasgow had grown enormously by this time the church had lost many of the working masses from its numbers. Poverty was a serious problem in the depression following the Napoleonic War, and as political economy had always been a favourite subject with Chalmers, so now he addressed the question of poor relief.

The power of the Gospel for him was much more than pulpit oratory for the citizens that flocked to hear him. The working classes must also be saved from lapsing further into paganism and crime. In Chalmers' estimation, only as the Church was seen to be a mighty engine for good was it worthy of people's veneration, in post-Industrial Revolution Scotland. Poor relief, church extension, evangelism, and Gospel preaching were all of a piece for Chalmers, inter-related strands of the church's business in the world.

St. John’s Parish

Appalled by the spiritual ignorance as well as the social deprivation of masses of people in his own parish, Chalmers was now prepared to put his theories to the test. He persuaded the town council to erect and finance a new parish, St. John's, in an area populated by many of the poorest in the city.

To try and keep pace with the swelling population in the cities the church had increased the number of ministers in already existing parishes in a "collegiate" arrangement. When that proved inadequate, new church buildings were erected, but the financial cost was high and the councils, by whose patronage they had been set up, recouped their outlay by charging high seat rents which the poor could not afford. This was the situation Chalmers was determined to remedy in St. John's.

The Organiser

From 1819 to 1823 Chalmers presided over the work in St. John's, preaching, visiting, organising schools and charity work. These years were remarkably fruitful for Chalmers and his deacons. Wherever possible family members were encouraged to contribute to poverty among their own relatives. Chalmers consistently emphasised to those who were in work the stigma of sending their out-of-work relations to the poor-house, when they should instead be prepared to contribute to a scheme like his to prevent this.

One of the main objectives of his scheme was to stimulate this sense of responsibility. Compassion and contribution from relatives and neighbours, coupled with independence, economy, and sobriety would ward off poverty to a much greater degree. He viewed the legalisation of pauperism as a degradation of the poor.

He was convinced that poverty was only exacerbated by encouraging dependence on State help. For him the old method of relief from church door collections, when accompanied by a careful system of parochial visitation, was the best solution to the needs of the poor. Chalmers in this no doubt looked back on a pre-Industrial Revolution Scotland, but not in the spirit of the romanticist that longs merely to repeat the past. He believed that a church revitalised from the grip of Modaratism was the best means to effectively deal with the rapidly increasing social problems of his day.

Looking at the venture from a financial perspective makes interesting reading. The cost of maintaining the poor in the area of this parish up till then had amounted to £1400 per annum. The St. John's door collection ran to £480, yet Chalmers was determined that all cases of poverty within the parish, apart from those already inmates of the local poor-house, should be met from these door collections.

The outcome of these labours was such that by the end of his time in St. John's Chalmers had seen a considerable drop in the number of new cases of poverty in the parish, and in addition a corresponding drop in the cost of keeping them. By the second year of the scheme St. John's had taken over the maintenance of all the inmates of the poor-house. The poverty that had cost the council £1400 a year was now managed by St. John's at a cost of £280.

The comment of Dr. Hanna in his Memoirs of Thomas Chalmers, is instructive.

"The St. John's deaconry - employed as it was to promote the education as well as to manage the indigence of the parish - mingling as it did familiarly with all the families, and proving itself, by word and deed, the true but enlightened friend of all, did far more to prevent pauperism than to provide for it."

Despite this the scheme was not to continue successfully in Glasgow, nor was it much taken up elsewhere. This was not due to lack of interest. There were those who took note of the success of his scheme, and Chalmers longed to see something similar applied in England, but many of those who identified with it there were already committed in time and resources to the anti-slavery movement.

In addition, from 1828 onwards, Chalmers, by that time in Edinburgh, faced staunch opposition from the Dissenters, or Separatists, and from a government which had no intention of allowing the church to regain its claim over society.

In Glasgow itself Chalmers had called for laws of residence to be drawn up to prevent the poor in other areas descending upon St. John's, and so limiting the scheme to that parish alone, but this was never done.

Perhaps one of the main reasons why it wasn't replicated elsewhere at the time was that Chalmers in his social policies was ahead of his time. And such a scheme as St. John's required an enormously energetic leadership. Chalmers himself could not only enter enthusiastically into such work, but also inspire others to carry his plans into effect. But there were few, even then, of his kind around.

The Preacher

We cannot leave Chalmers' ministry in Glasgow without touching upon Chalmers as a preacher of the Gospel. Before he came to Glasgow evangelical preaching had been regarded by many, as had been true of Chalmers himself, as either sentimentalism or fanaticism, or something of both. Through Chalmers now that perception was being steadily transformed. It was by his voice that the city awoke to the evils and corruptions it possessed, as it was through his industry that the means were set up to tackle them. Not the least of his achievements in Glasgow was the raising in public esteem of evangelical preaching.

Yet Chalmers left Glasgow in 1823, after eight dynamic years. No doubt the incessant toils of preaching, writing, visitation, correspondence (some 50 letters a week), family commitments, and all his practical schemes, were taking their toll. He was at times exhausted. But that would not explain his decision to leave, and to take up the offer of the chair of Moral Philosophy at St. Andrews. Nor was the main reason in his desire for an academic chair which he had cherished since boyhood. Chalmers saw that his influence could now be even more widespread than was possible through his Glasgow pulpit, especially through the press, and without the burdens of a parish ministry. He could build upon his unrivalled fame as a preacher and extend his usefulness even further.

In fact, as he mentioned in his letter to his elders, deacons, and Sabbath School teachers in January 1823, he saw that, to all intents and purposes, to continue to hold a preaching ministry and be a leader of such an enlarged work as his social reform, would require him to be a pluralist!

And there was something else, something of which he had written in the early stages of his work, The Christian and Civic Economy of large Towns, in 1819.

"You know that a machine in the hand of a single individual can often do a hundred-fold more work than an individual can do by the direct application of his own hands...But further, the elevated office of a Christian minister is to catch men. There is, however, another still more elevated, and that too, in regard to Christian productiveness - which is to be employed in teaching and training the fishers of men. A professorship is a higher condition of usefulness than an ordinary parish...Were there at this moment fifty vacancies in the church, and the same number of vacancies in our Colleges, and fifty in their qualifications for the one department and the other, some of you would be for sending them to the pulpits - I would be for sending them to the chairs. A Christianised university, in respect of its professorships, would be to me a mightier accession than a Christianised county, in respect of its parishes. And should there be a fountain out of which emanated a thousand rills, it would be to the source that I should carry the salt of purification, and not to any of the streams which flow from it."

It was in such a mind, from such a work, into even greater influence, that Thomas Chalmers preached his farewell sermon in Glasgow on 9th November, 1823, and gave his introductory lecture in St. Andrews five days later.

4. St Andrews University - 1823-1828

Very different were the thoughts, feelings and aspirations of the new professor of Moral Philosophy to those he had cherished some twenty years earlier in this same place of learning. The enthusiasm with which students awaited his lectures was intense, especially in the second year of his professorship there, regarded by many as the most brilliant in all his academic career.

Excitement and Activity

St. Andrews university sat petrified in Moderatism when Chalmers arrived there. Students now began to vote against it with their feet. Chalmers had brought life, conviction and enthusiasm. A Missionary Society was established and some of the young men who now gathered at his feet, like Alexander Duff and John Adam, were destined to become highly influential missionaries.

After the 1825 Assembly he engaged in preaching and working in his former parish in the Tron, Glasgow. All the way through his enormously busy schedule he made conscience of being a good family man! Writing to his wife regularly, he told her that she was to give the children a feast of strawberries on the delivery of each letter and to let them know that these were from him!

Chalmers was far from confining himself to academic labours. St. Andrews was not Glasgow, but it had its dark side nevertheless. Chalmers took on the role of a Sabbath School teacher, visiting the families as well as teaching the children. On Tuesday evenings he began a class of religious instruction for students.

While at St. Andrews Chalmers advocated raising the academic standard for those entering Scottish universities. He proposed an entrance examination and that a secondary school should be attached to each of the universities, specifically to instruct students towards sitting this entrance examination. By modern standards this may seem a modest proposal to say the least, but it was part of a plea for greater endowment of Colleges, and the principle and vision behind this appeal should not be lost on us. As he put it himself,

"The family honour (of colleges) is built on the prowess of sons, not the greatness of ancestors."

To Chalmers the greatness of any College was not simply a matter of great men in their past; it was very much also to do with the calibre of men graduating from them continuously. That was why endowment was important to him.

In October 1927 he was elected to fill the chair of Divinity at Edinburgh University. He accepted, knowing he would not begin there till November 1828. Theology was higher in importance than moral philosophy, and Edinburgh was of greater influence than St. Andrews. But this phase of his career was to present him with even greater challenges.

To be continued.

Friday, 26 July 2019

The Expulsive Power of a New Affection: Thomas Chalmers: Early Days and Conversion (1)

The following blogs on Thomas Chalmers are part of an address given by my father in law, the Rev James Maciver, in 1997 at the Scottish Historical Studies Conference and used by kind permission.  You can listen to the original address here.

It is exceedingly difficult for us today to project ourselves back into the circumstances, ecclesiastically and nationally, that prevailed in the life and times of Thomas Chalmers. In comparing Victorian politics and the church in Scotland then with the present day we are soon aware that it is not a comparison of like with like, so many, and so revolutionary, have changes been in church and state, and even in the relation between them.

For example, to consider only the areas in which Chalmers was actively interested and influential, there was no Social Security system as such for the poor, no church bureaucracy to speak of, no National Health care, and no universal State education system.

Yet it would be very wrong of us to conclude that these changes have meant universal improvement in church and State, or that the Church is more effective in Gospel influence, or social concern and action, than the church of Chalmers. Indeed, to a man like Chalmers some of the above-mentioned changes, like the secularisation of social care, would undoubtedly have been an encumbrance to the carrying of his convictions towards a successful conclusion.
To look into the life and times of Chalmers will make us thankful for our present-day privileges in Church and State, but it will also make us feel very small, and often very guilty. This is because we shall be confronting vibrant faith, energetic concern and action, in the service of God, borne of a burden to have every individual know a decent education, an adequate employment, and above all a saving union with the Lord Jesus Christ.

We may persuade ourselves that we have inherited the Gospel principles of Chalmers and his colleagues, but after examining his life's work in his own time, it will be another thing that we can say we have consciously inherited, to the same extent, his Gospel practice.

In looking at this man’s life and times we cannot hope to include all that is of interest and importance in such a short space as this booklet. I have tried to major on issues involving Chalmers that were of national significance, and in which he left a lasting impression on subsequent generations. I make no pretence at any new thoughts, or even any adequate assessment of Chalmers and his work, although I will try to give an appraisal of some of the issues involved.

To this end I have avoided dividing the subject into an initial biographical account followed by a commentary on the main issues of his life's work. Instead I have tried to incorporate the details of his work and its environment into the framework of a chronological unfolding of his life. His life and times divides rather conveniently into six periods.

1. Early Days - 1780-1803

Born at Anstruther on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, 1780, Thomas Chalmers was the fifth child in a family of fifteen. His parents were hearty and happy Calvinist Christians, a theology which Thomas was to dislike until he came to be born again during his ministry at Kilmany.

Education and Career

His early school days were not characterised by the great industry of mind which many later would admire in him. In fact, he was rather lazy by all accounts, and yet from the outset he had that generosity and kindliness that marked him throughout his whole life.

Before he had reached the age of twelve Thomas was sent to the University of St. Andrews where he gained his enthusiasm for mathematics. Not only was his mind so obviously a mathematical one, but it could be argued that it was such a mathematical mind that enabled him to absorb the substantial truths of life itself, looking at their relations and proportions, and then applying his conclusions with great power.

It was even in mathematical terms that he reflected on the change that God wrought in his life in his conversion. In arguing against pluralities he was challenged by someone who reminded him that he had once written a pamphlet in favour of what he now argued against. Indeed, he had, he said, but that had been in the days of his spiritual blindness. He continued,

"What, sir, are the objects of mathematical science? Magnitude, and the relations of magnitude. But then, sir, I had forgot two magnitudes: I thought not on the littleness of time; I recklessly thought not on the greatness of eternity!"

Chalmers decided to study for the ministry although neither theology nor religion were then attractive subjects to him. He had a belief in God and could express great admiration for the wisdom of God through reading such works as Jonathan Edwards of The Freedom of the Will, but at the same time he positively rejected evangelical truth.

His style of discourse was developed in the first two years of these studies, a style which interestingly remained largely unaltered throughout the rest of his career. Indeed in 1842 on the very brink of the Disruption, at the meeting known as the Convocation, Chalmers gave a stirring speech in which he sought to make the demands of a disestablished church clear but impressive to his brethren.

"Enthusiasm", he told them, "is a virtue rarely produced in a state of calm and unruffled repose. It flourishes in adversity. It kindles in the hour of danger and rises to deeds of renown. The terrors of persecution only serve to awaken the energy of its purposes. It swells in the pride of integrity, and great in the purity of its cause, it can scatter defiance amid a host of enemies. The magnanimity of the primitive Christians is beyond example in history...Amid all their discouragements they were sustained by the assurance of a heavenly crown. The love of their Redeemer consecrated their affections to his service and enthroned in their hearts a pure and disinterested enthusiasm. Hence the rapid and successful extension of Christianity...the grace of God was with them."

Remarkably these words were lifted almost word for word from a student discourse from these years of early study. If they show that a man may be eloquent with the truth even though he be not saved they also show that not all productions of unconverted days are useless.

Chalmers was licensed to preach at the age of nineteen, a dispensation being granted him from the usual requirement of attaining 25 years of age on the basis that he was "a lad o' pregnant pairts." These "pairts", however, were spent in the study of mathematics, chemistry, natural and moral philosophy, and political economy, for the next two winters. He seems to have done little or no preaching during this time.

For a year he was an assistant minister in Roxburghshire, and then the parish of Kilmany in Fife fell vacant. Chalmers was enthusiastically interested, not over a place of ministry opening to him, but at the prospect of becoming assistant to the ageing professor of mathematics at St. Andrews. He secured the ministry of Kilmany and the assistantship in St. Andrews, and immediately threw himself into the demands of the latter.

He was ordained to the ministry at Kilmany on 12th May 1803.

2. The Kilmany Ministry - 1803-1815

Chalmers found little need to devote time and energy to his parish ministry at Kilmany. In letters to his father he stated that he felt the duties of the parish were slight and could be dealt with by two of his neighbouring colleagues. It was at this time that he wrote, anonymously, the pamphlet referred to earlier, in which he set out his views that a minister after having discharged his parish duties may rightly enjoy five days in the week in which to pursue any science that may be to his liking! He was, to be sure, at this time a thorough Moderate.

Conversion and Change

The first step towards conversion was in being with his brother George as he died at home in Anstruther, at the end of 1806. Chalmers saw that his brother possessed convictions he himself did not share. Indeed, what was more, George faced death with the very convictions Thomas had often denounced in his sermons at Kilmany! Could he be mistaken? Within two years his sister Barbara had also died of the same disease. She too died expressing confidence in Christ as her Redeemer. Could this faith be the fanaticism Thomas had disparagingly dismissed it as from his pulpit? 

At this time also Chalmers was working on an article entitled Christianity for the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia. His views may also be fairly assessed from his preaching at this time. 

"Consult your Bibles and you will see that the rewards of heaven are attached to the exercise of our virtuous affections. The faith of Christianity is praiseworthy and meritorious only because it is derived from the influence of virtuous sentiments on the mind...thus shall we approve ourselves worthy of the divine goodness, by directing our efforts to the cultivation of our pious affections and our social conduct."

Chalmers fell sick in 1810 with a severe liver infection. He was confined to his room for four months and was convinced he was about to die. Now his Christianity, was to be tested in the most critical test of all, in the prospect of death - and Chalmers found that this Christianity, when he needed it most, miserably failed him. 

Through these months of anguish Chalmers came to know the peace of believing. Writing ten years later to his brother Alexander he lets us have his own commentary on these crucial events, 

"I stated to you that the effect of a very long confinement...was to inspire me with a set of very strenuous resolutions, under which I kept a Journal, and made many a laborious effort to elevate my practice to the standard of the divine requirements. During this course, however, I got little satisfaction, and felt no repose...I am now most thoroughly of opinion, and it is an opinion founded on experience, that on the system of - Do this and live, no peace, and even no true and worthy obedience, can ever be attained. It is, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved".

Under the influence of this change Chalmers now diverted his priority from mathematics to divinity. His congregation also immediately began to reap the benefits of what had happened to their minister. Chalmers now told them that all his earnest appeals to them for the cultivation of moral excellence had not resulted in any reformation of their character. He now preached the faith which once he despised. His private thoughts, committed to his Journal, make the point as eloquently as any sermon he ever preached, 

"I felt my distance from my Redeemer this evening, but was helped in prayer to a livelier apprehension of him. O God, may I feel peace with thee through Jesus Christ our Lord; and let every good sentiment which I utter be not in word only, but in power...May I give my most strenuous and unceasing efforts to the great work of preparing a people for eternity."

Now he had begun to grasp spiritual magnitudes and the relation between them. Chalmers now began to involve himself with the work of Bible Societies, Foreign Missions, and the needs of the poor. He had always been desirous to see people prosperous and happy, but now as a "new creation" himself he began to formulate plans for church extension and social welfare. Little need of that kind existed in Kilmany, but the providence of God was now to provide Chalmers with a new field of service in which the greatness of his energy and vision could be demonstrated. 

Chalmers was presented to the Tron church in Glasgow, where he was inducted on July 1815. He would be fewer years there than in Kilmany. But they were to be years which would contain much that was to be influential not just in that city but in the church in Scotland for many years to come. 

To be continued.

Monday, 22 July 2019

The Mercy Tree

So completely was Jesus bent upon saving sinners by the sacrifice of Himself, He created the tree upon which He was to die and nurtured from infancy the men who were to nail Him to the accursed tree.’  
Octavius Winslow

One of my work colleagues, lets call her Sarah, recently asked my team the question 'what effect does mercy have on your life?'  For some reason the question really impacted me and I was lost for words (hard to imagine but true).  Part of the reason was that I had just finished a series on 'Christ's sayings from the cross' where I had talked a lot about mercy.  It is one thing to talk about mercy but it is something else to practice it. If you are a Christian you have probably heard dozens of sermons on the mercy of God, you've probably talked about it hundreds of times, but does mercy have any impact on the way you live your life?  Take a moment to think about it.

Christ's sayings from the cross are a rich study for the Christian.  They are scattered across the four gospels who record different aspects of Christ's sufferings.  Christ's path to the cross was marked by mercy.  Even as he went to Golgotha Christ turned to the 'Daughters of Jerusalem' in Luke 23 v 26-31 and pleaded with them not to weep for Him but for themselves and their children.  Christ quotes from Hosea 10 v 8 as he prophesies about how awful the coming judgement will be.  As Leon Morris notes 'Christ wanted their repentance not their sympathy.'  Christ saw the awful siege that was coming on Jerusalem in AD 70 and was seeking to warn them to prepare for that awful day by fleeing to Christ.  Christ quotes a curious proverb about green and dry wood (Luke 23 v 31).  What does it mean?  John Macarthur captures it well in in his commentary: ‘If the Romans would perpetrate such atrocities on Jesus (the green wood – young, strong and a source of life) what would they do to a Jewish nation (the dry wood – old, barren and ripe for judgement).’ 

As Christ is finally being nailed to the cross he utters these remarkable words 'Father forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23 v 34).  At the forefront of Christ's mind is mercy even as he is surrounded by his enemies (as predicted in Psalm 22 v 12-21).  Golgotha was certainly a place of death and destruction but Jesus made it a place of deliverance and mercy.  

At the cross, Christ was becoming the 'sin offering' which was offered 'outside the camp' (see Ex 29 v 14, 33 v 7, Le 4 v 12, 21, 6 v 11, 13 v 46).  This is captured well by the writer to the Hebrews; 'For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured' ch 13 v 11-13.  Golgotha was full of symbolism.  So many prophesies were being fulfilled.  All the types and shadows of the Old Testament were all coming to their completion at the cross.  

What was it all for?  It was the ultimate display of mercy and love that this world has ever seen.  As JC Ryle says 'as soon as the blood of the Great Sacrifice began to flow, the Great High Priest began to intercede.' Christ was pleading with His father to forgive his murderers even as they were in the act of killing him.  This word forgive is literally 'to leave'.  Christ was saying to His father not to judge them immediately but to give time for mercy.  Christ's prayers were answered within a few hours with the centurion in Matthew 27 v 54 saying 'Truly this man was the Son of God.'  Let's never despair over mercy when a hardened centurion can go from driving nails into the Saviours hands to being his disciple in around 6 hours!

Sin demands justice yet sinners need forgiveness.  How can they be reconciled?  At the cross.  Only at the cross can it be said that ‘Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other’ Psalm 85 v 10.  None of us deserve mercy, but Christ has made a way of salvation.‘But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not our only but also for the whole world’ 1 John 2 v 1-2.  Dr Thomas Guthrie said of these words 'The whole world' - 'ah!' some would say, 'that is dangerous language.' It is God's language: John speaking as he was moved by the Holy Ghost. It throws a zone of mercy around the world. Perish the hand that would narrow it by a hair's breadth!'  Propitiation means that Christ's sacrifice satisfied God's wrath on the cross.  The Old Testament word for atonement is the same word used in Genesis 6 v 16 for Noah covering the ark in pitch.  Christ is covering His people at the cross.  As one writer says 'Christ not only provides, but is, the 'atonement cover' which obscures our sins from the sight of God, expiating our guilt by his blood.'

So what difference does mercy make in my life?  Well hopefully it humbles me.  As I look a the mercy tree of the cross I see the terribleness of my sin but also the greatness of my Saviour. I hope it also makes me merciful.  I wonder if I asked my family, friends and work mates if they find me merciful, what would they say?  Isn't that the ultimate test of our Christianity?  Is it seen in our everyday lives?  If I claim to have been forgiven and freed from a life of sin, how can I do anything else but show that mercy to others.  Lastly I hope that mercy helps me to see that if Christ has given me everything nothing is too much to ask in His service.  Christ doesn't call us to comfortable Christianity, he calls us to radical, sacrificial service.  Mercy is a wonderful subject but it is even more beautiful as it is lived out day by day.  

Oh on that cross, how it was seen
I can go now ever trusting in the One who died for me
What could I bring, for Your gift is complete
So I trust You, simply trust You, Lord with every part of me
Jesus, only Jesus
Help me trust You more and more
Jesus, only Jesus
May my heart be ever Yours
Jesus, only Jesus
Help me trust You more and more
Jesus, only Jesus
May my heart be ever Yours