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The Curious Conversion of Thomas Chalmers

John D. Clayton

Thomas Chalmers was arguably the most popular Scot and influential churchman of his age. However, when he was first educated, ordained, installed, and serving as a parish minister in the Church of Scotland, he was by his own admission not yet a converted Christian. How could a minister of the gospel not believe the gospel? How this happened is telling of his context, country, and church, but it is not a short story. From a confusion of church and state dating back to the Scottish Reformation to an increasing secularism in and through the Scottish Enlightenment, the Church of Scotland moved increasingly away from its Reformation roots and the necessity of the gospel in Christian conversion, as evidenced in the early life of Thomas Chalmers.

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Chapter One: An Unexpected Conversion



An Unexpected Conversion

On a Monday, the 26th day of October 1812, the young parson of Kilmany, Thomas Chalmers, preached a sermon to the Dundee Missionary Society, describing the essence of Christian mission as promoting and spreading the gospel. From personal experience, he accused those listening of sitting in “silken security” and pouring “the cruelty of your scorn”1 upon the work of missionaries, charging his audience that the “propagation of the gospel is the task which your Saviour has consigned to you.”2 His boldness was only overshadowed by his growing recognition as an Evangelical preacher. The text for his sermon was Romans 10:17, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”3 It was a faith he had only known for a year.

Though a new convert, Chalmers was not new to the pulpit. Educated at St. Andrews and a graduate of its divinity school, he had been recognized as a gifted student and an obvious candidate for pastoral ministry. He was licensed at a young age and proceeded to ordained parish ministry with the support of his presbytery, not far from St. Andrews in Kilmany, where he served for almost a decade prior to what he considered his true spiritual awakening. It was an awakening that began with death.

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