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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 Four: Blasphemous Crime and Capital Punishment



Blasphemous Crime and Capital Punishment

In the fall of 1791, at the age of twelve, Thomas Chalmers enrolled at the United College of the University of St. Andrews. Enrolling at the same time as his older brother, William, Chalmers was the second youngest student at St. Andrews. It is unlikely that his early enrollment was due to superior scholarship but rather his father’s intent to advance his son’s education beyond the local academic limitations. His writing at the time was elementary and his knowledge of Latin was inferior to his classmates.1 He was likely too young and poorly educated, but a St. Andrews student he became.

While trailing his fellow students academically, Chalmers was not lacking in his boldness. He was confident and could easily pray aloud when called upon with vocabulary of someone much older. He carried this characteristic naturally into his years as a divinity student, even developing a prayer outline based on the Lord’s prayer.2 In fact, due to a student rotation, he was scheduled regularly for public prayer, and so eloquent were his prayers that people came specifically to hear him. Yet, despite his mental order and the eloquent speech, his spirit was lacking,3 but the listening public was none the wiser, perceiving the growing abilities of a gifted young student.

In fact, Chalmers was tenacious in his pursuits, giving his whole mind4 to a subject, whether wise or foolish. By his third session at...

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