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.
Chapter Seven: The Rise of Moderatism
The Rise of Moderatism
Despite the state of his soul, Thomas Chalmers demonstrated remarkable oratory and academic giftedness, drawing the attention of his professors and ministers in the Kirk. However, as he neared the end of his education at St. Andrews, he was still remarkably young for ordination. At the time, the presbyteries of the Kirk would typically not license candidates for the ministry until they had reached the age of twenty-one. Chalmers was not the typical candidate. On his behalf, it was argued that he was “a lad o’ pregnant pairts”1 and that it would be foolish not to license, and subsequently ordain, such a gifted young man. The Presbytery of St. Andrews agreed, and Chalmers was licensed to preach on July 31, 1799.
A month later he ascended the pulpit of Chapel Lane Chapel of Liverpool serving as pulpit supply for the ailing parish minister, Reverend Kirkpatrick. His brother, James, attended the preaching of his inaugural sermon, relaying a review back to their father. James complimented his brother’s impassioned delivery, eloquent phrasing, and logical reasoning. He considered it a balanced sermon of doctrine and application (but heavier on the latter than the former). Based on what he had observed, James concluded that Thomas Chalmers, the preacher, would excel in the pulpit, but at the moment he remained rather “awkward in his appearance,”2 a peculiarity he would never outgrow.
While licensed to preach, licensure did not insure...
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