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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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Appendix Three: Patronage in Scotland



Patronage in Scotland

Dating back to the Middles Ages, patronage was the ecclesial financial support system in which Scottish lairds, nobles or heritors deemed patrons, constructed and supported churches, appointing ministers for each church. While pragmatic, the system was inefficient and susceptible to manipulation and abuse. When the Protestant Reformation came to Scotland, patronage was eliminated as an archaic vestige of Roman Catholic influence. The First Book of Discipline, followed by the Second Book of Discipline, abolished patronage, replacing it with congregational elections.

Despite the countrywide influence of the Scottish Reformation, patronage did not disappear, primarily because of the economic structure of ecclesial support. The lairds argued that since they supplied the church land, building, and minister’s stipend, as patrons they were entitled to appoint the ministers, or as Steve Bruce euphemistically describes it, “those who paid the piper wanted to call the tune.”1 Such a pragmatic argument, however, conflicted with the Kirk’s independence and its authority to appoint, license, ordain, and discipline its ministers.2 Patronage proved to be a monumental problem,3 which in reality had more to do with societal economics than ecclesial government. Despite the economic and political influence of the Scottish lairds, patronage was officially abolished by parliament in 1649. The Kirk’s victory was short-lived, when in 1661 the Act of Rescissory annulled the acts of 1649 and patronage was once again reinstated.4


The Glorious Revolution brought change...

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