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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 Five: The Marrow’s Four Points of Divergence from the Kirk



The Marrow’s Four Points of Divergence from the Kirk

The Marrow controversy revealed a doctrinal divergence within the Kirk from its Reformation roots and historic confessions on at least four doctrinal points: the extent of the atonement, saving faith, assurance of salvation, and the offer of the gospel.1 On some of these points, the Marrow men and their opponents were closer than the debates of the General Assembly reveal, but on other points there were significant differences. These theological differences reveal more precisely the condition of the Kirk in the early eighteenth century.


In the records of the 1720 General Assembly, the Reformed doctrine of atonement was defended by the assembly arguing from both the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger Catechism. Defining atonement, the assembly argued from the eighth and eleventh chapters of the Confession2 that the salvific atonement of Christ’s death applied only to the elect and therefore the offer of the gospel pertained exclusively to the elect. So also, drawing from the Larger Catechism,3 it was argued that because the Holy Spirit enables faith according to the gospel, the offer of the gospel pertains to the elect upon whom the Holy Spirit enables.

In substance, the General Assembly and the Marrow men agreed. Their disagreement was not on Westminster doctrine, but on what The Marrow conveyed regarding atonement. The Marrow men argued that it agreed with the doctrine of particular atonement (or...

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