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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 Eight: Moderate Ministers



Moderate Ministers

Thinking less about his parish responsibilities and more about his teaching opportunities at St. Andrews, Thomas Chalmers was stunned when, at the end of the spring session, his assistantship was dismissed. His dismissal was allegedly due to “inefficiency as a teacher,” but it was more likely due to his unorthodox teaching style, abrasive encounters with St. Andrews professors, and possibly his neglect of his ministerial responsibilities in Kilmany. This was a blow to his desires, plans, and ego. Blinded by ambition,1 Chalmers had neglected his parish ministry responsibilities, relying upon the kindness of neighboring parish ministers. His absence from his parish ministry was apparent to everyone else but himself.

Chalmers’ neglect revealed much about his low view of pastoral ministry. In the Moderate tradition, Chalmers had deduced that the minister’s work was on Sunday, leaving free the rest of the week, and any incidental duties that might arise during the week could be delegated or even ignored. Almost defiant, Chalmers believed that he could do with his time what he desired, not to be dictated or demanded by the kirk, session, or presbytery,2 a position he would defend in writing claiming “that after the satisfactory discharge of his parish duties, a minister may enjoy five days in the week of uninterrupted leisure for the prosecution of any science in which his taste may dispose him to engage.”3 Bold enough to print his opinion, he was certainly bold...

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