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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 Four: Natural Religion and the Scottish Enlightenment



Natural Religion and the Scottish Enlightenment

If there was a religion of the Scottish Enlightenment, it was expressed as Natural Religion,1 a religion of reason and observable evidence. As the English Deist Alexander Pope summarized in poetic form,

Nor think, in nature’s state they blindly trod;

The state of nature was the reign of God.2

Scripture was not needed since nature revealed all that is necessary to know God, and established religion became the enemy of natural man.

Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutored mind

Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;

His soul, proud science never taught to stray

Far as the solar walk, or milky way;

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