This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
~ 1 Timothy 3:1
For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no mdian dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.
~ Acts 1:20
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.
~ Proverbs 11:30
Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
~ Luke 15:10
Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;
~ Matthew 9:37
And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
~ Romans 10:15
The Vacancy At Stirling, by Thomas Chalmers. The following contains Chapter Seven of his memoirs.
The Vacancy At Stirling.
The Appointment Offered and Refused. Articles on Pauperism in the Edinburgh Review. Excursion to Anstruther. Sudden Recall. Sermon on the Death of Princess Charlotte. Reason of Its Publication. Argument on Behalf of Religious Establishment. English and Scottish System of Pauper Management Compared. Highest Exhibitions of His Power as a Pulpit Orator. Singular Scenes in the College Chapel and in the Tron Church. Extracts From His Journal. Instance of His Usefulness. His Own Estimate of Popularity.
A report of the two memorable sermons of the 13th October 1816, and of the circumstances which had occasioned their delivery, reached the good town of Stirling when the first ministerial charge there happened to be vacant. Believing that the discomforts of his existing position might tempt him to leave Glasgow, the Town-council promptly resolved to offer the appointment to Dr. Chalmers. That their application might bear upon him with the greatest possible effect, the Provost, and a select deputation of the citizens, visited Glasgow and invited Dr. Chalmers to dine with them at the Tontine. Everything was done by them to set forth the facilities which the offered situation would present for the furtherance of his cherished designs. They guaranteed an entire deliverance from all distracting external annoyances: in the city nothing but purely ministerial work would be required of him, and at home his hours for study would be sacredly guarded from invasion. The manse lay almost within the shadow of the Castle rock, and, if needful, the Castle guns would be turned upon the way which led to it, to drive back all disturbers of his time or tranquillity. The prospect or such perfect freedom and security was too tempting to be at once and peremptorily declined. His final decision was communicated to Provost Littlejohn in the following terms:
“GLASGOW, February 17, 1817.
“MY DEAR Sir,
Be assured I perform a most painful duty in stating to you my resolution of declining the offer of the charge in Stirling with which you have favoured me. You have incurred much trouble in this matter, and I cannot bear that you should incur any further suspense. To yourself personally, and to the good town over which you are called in Providence to preside, I feel the most unbounded gratitude, and shall ever look upon myself as united with them by a tie of no common interest and obligation. My friends in this quarter have, in fact, disarmed me of every one argument for leaving them. That exemption from secular duties which, with a liberality and a correct estimate of the importance of ministerial work you were so willing to allow, I consider as most thoroughly and conclusively established for me in this place; and my congregation have come forward with such an offer of assistance to me in my ministerial duties as to give to my present office all the lightness and facility of a collegiate charge. In these circumstances I feel that I have no alternative. There is an extent of field in this quarter which gives a decided preponderance to its claims; and I can assure you, that upon any other decision than the one I have taken, I could not have felt myself acquitted in the sight of God and of my own conscience. With assurances of the tenderest and most grateful regard, and many prayers that you may be abundantly directed to the choice of a pastor who, after God’s own heart, shall feed you with words of knowledge and understanding, believe me to be, my dear Sir, yours most truly,
The same post which brought this letter conveyed also to Mr. Littlejohn the following communication from his friend the late Dr. Chrystal—
“MY DEAR SIR, —
I leave Dr. Chalmers’s letter of this date to speak for itself. His answer was only made known to-day, and the moment he made up his mind he sent me a note of the result. I have been with him since. He is confined to the house in consequence of exerting so much yesterday. The magistrates were in his church, and he is supposed never to have acquitted himself so ably. No sooner was it known that you and your brethren had been here and made him the offer of your first charge than the whole town was astir. He was like to be mobbed by solicitations suggested by friendship, respect, gratitude, arising from clergy, laity, general session, congregation, urging on him duty, religion, and everything I can name or suppose—not to move. At first he remained firm, as his objections to certain things he has to do here were well known. Everything however has been done which can be done to relieve him, and he now assures me that he has a moral certainty of getting these difficulties removed. A congregational meeting was held. They have offered him a regular assistant, to be chosen by him and twenty-one of a committee named by themselves. This assistant is to do half the duty on Sabbath, and to relieve him through the week. They bind themselves to bear this additional burden during Dr. Chalmers’s incumbency, and although little time has elapsed since the idea was fixed they have already subscribed nearly £200, to be continued annually. They are to buy or rent a house for him in any place he wishes, and propose raising his stipend to I know not what. Considering what they have done, and are doing, and probably will do, it was impossible for him to tear himself from people so sincerely attached, and so forward to do everything which they could think agreeable to him. It is supposed that he will not allow them to carry things to the proposed length, but it obliged him to give the refusal to you which was painful to him. I am persuaded that you will see that he could not well do otherwise. I think you had his private wishes, if he could have sacrificed to private ease and emolument the strong claims which his people here have to his labours among them.”
Dr. Chalmers did not allow things to be carried to the proposed length. The offer of a manse and of an increase of income were respectfully declined; but he gratefully accepted the offer of an assistant. Additional labour would be thereby bestowed upon parochial cultivation, while at the same time additional leisure would be secured to himself for literary engagements. His first article on Pauperism appeared in the March number of the Edinburgh Review, and he had engaged to follow it up by a comparison of the English and Scottish systems of parochial relief. His visit to England, and the large arrears of ministerial labour awaiting his return, filled up the summer months; and there was so little hope of finding time enough in Glasgow, that he resolved on a short excursion to Anstruther, during which his second article was to be drawn up. His first journal letter upon this occasion was addressed to his eldest daughter.
“ POLMONT, November 10, 1817.
“MY DEAR ANNE —You want me to stay away only four days, but I must stay away nineteen days. However, by the time you have gotten this letter it will only be fifteen days. After I shook hands with you I went to Mr. Harley’s and got my horse. Then I met Dr. Rainy, who wanted me to go and see poor Mr. A., who used sometimes to drink tea with mamma, and who was dying. He was so very ill that he could not see papa, and his sister was lying on a sofa, very sorry and crying because she was going to lose her brother. She was in great distress, insomuch that papa could say nothing to comfort her. Nobody knows when they are to die. I hope Mr. A. was a good man, and will go to heaven. And I should like Anne to be a good girl, so that when she dies God may take her to heaven too. He loves all good people, and Jesus Christ, His Son, will come down to the world and take them up with Him to the place where God dwells, and there they will always be happy and will never die.
“When papa saw that he could say nothing to relieve poor Mrs. B., he went away and got upon his horse and rode on to Cumbernauld. He has got no rain all this day, but the road was very very bad, and his boots were very dirty. It was after one o’clock when he arrived at Cumbernauld, and his horse was very much tired, and he gave it a feed of corn, and he himself dined, and read a book about the poor; but what he is very sorry for, he also read some of the small Testament, and forgot to bring it away with him. But he has written to the master of the house to send it by one of his drivers to Glasgow. It was given him by Captain Gordon, and he would not like to lose it; so if it should come, you must see that it be taken great care of, and be ready to give it to Papa when he comes back again.
“I rode after dinner to this place, and came here at five o’clock, and have drunk tea, and am spending an hour or two here before supper, and am reading about the poor, and spending part of the time in writing to Anne. The name of the gentleman who lives in this house is Mr. M’Farlane, and there are four children, three girls and one boy. One of the girls is just as tall and as old as you. The little boy is a good deal burned in the face by an accident that happened yesterday to him. I am now going down to talk with Mr. M’Farlane before supper. Yon must know that the little children here have no mamma, though they have a papa. Their poor mamma died some time ago, and you should be very thankful to God that He still lets your papa and mamma live, and if you pray that God may spare the life of your parents He perhaps may hear you.”
“I should think,” Dr. Chalmers writes, “that the reading of the above may amuse Anne. It is a good thing to keep her mind in exercise, and I beg that you may give her every impression you can of the magnitude and sacredness of this topic.”
Had about two hours and a half of study in the forenoon. Have begun my review. Took an early dinner at Polmont, and left it at two. There was slight rain so that Mr. M‘Farlane could not accompany me in a convoy. I got to Queensferry before five. Am still on this side of the water. Have had a very diligent and successful evening in the inn, wrote above my average quantity of the review. Have written to Sandy about my Kirkcaldy plan, so as to get a secure retreat in his room, and am now going to bed. The inn is quiet. The people do not know me, and I am not treated with very great distinction. I proposed family worship to the landlady, and she declined it, though civilly, and on the score of being very throng.
Started at half-past seven, breakfasted between nine and ten. Had some composition before breakfast, and in the forenoon I completed more than my average quantity, though not so satisfactorily as yesterday. Dined at two. Before I left the place I was recognised, and more distinction was awarded to me. I was addressed as Doctor, both by the ostler and in the boat. Crossed between three and four. Had a passage of fifteen minutes. Rode smartly to Burntisland, which I reached at five. Was most cordially received.
“Mr. Young is very angry with me just now, because I am expressing some polite regrets at the trouble that I am giving him in procuring me a wafer. He insists on my closing this letter, as the post goes off at eight. So we will even keep Mr. Archibald waiting a little. I said to Mr. M’Farlane that I understood Thomson was going to give me a dressing in his ‘Instructor,’ at which he expressed his surprise, for that he knew Mr. Thomson admired the Discourses’ most enthusiastically. In which case it is probable that his application will not be altogether of an unpalatable nature.”
Filling the week up pleasantly, and having made a prosperous outset in his article for the Edinburgh Review, Dr. Chalmers reached Starbank on Saturday evening, and having announced his arrival to Mr. Cook, was requested to preach at Kilmany on the following day. On the way to church a letter was handed to him which broke up all his plans. The recent death of the Princess Charlotte had plunged the nation into a grief wider, deeper, and more tender than perhaps any similar event has ever occasioned in this country. Partaking in the general desire to observe it with all due solemnity, the Magistrates of Glasgow had resolved that there should be public and appropriate services in all the churches of the city on Wednesday the 19th-the day fixed for the burial at Windsor. The letter which Dr. Chalmers got at Kilmany on the 16th was a summons to return and occupy the pulpit of the Tron on the approaching solemnity. His answer to the unwelcome summons was brief and laconic:
“Kirkcaldy, Sunday Night.—Your letter only reached me as I was going to the church at Kilmany, where I preached this day. I shall try and be with you. But I understand now that. the funeral is to be on Wednesday, and I shall find this convenient. It is a shocking place Glasgow; and I never knew what it was yet to have an excursion from it without some trash or other being sent after me.” On Monday Dr. Chalmers posted from Kirkcaldy to Queensferry, got an outside seat on the Edinburgh mail, arrived in Glasgow between five and six o’clock on Tuesday morning, and on Wednesday forenoon preached one of his most brilliant discourses, composed during the intervals, and after the exhaustion of this rapid and fatiguing journey. It was at one or other of the inns by the roadside that, escaping from the bustle, and throwing himself into the pathetic incident which had touched the nation’s heart so deeply, he penned the following sentences:”A few days ago, all looked so full of life, and promise, and security, when we read of the bustle of the great preparation, and were told of the skill and the talent that were pressed into the service, and heard of the goodly attendance of the most eminent in the nation, and how officers of state, and the titled dignitaries of the land, were charioted in splendour to the scene of expectation, as to the joys of an approaching holiday—yes, and we were told too, that the bells of the surrounding villages were all in readiness for the merry peal of gratulation, and that the expectant metropolis of our empire, on tiptoe for the announcement of her future monarch, had her winged couriers of despatch to speed the welcome message to the ears of her citizens, and that from her an embassy of gladness was to travel over all the provinces of the land; and the country, forgetful of all that she had suffered, was at length to offer the spectacle of one wide and rejoicing jubilee. O death! thou hast indeed chosen the time and the victim, for demonstrating the grim ascendency of thy power over all the hopes and fortunes of our species! Our blooming Princess, whom fancy had decked with the coronet of these realms, and under whose gentle sway all bade so fair for the good and the peace of our nation, has he placed upon her. And, as if to fill up the measure of his triumph, has he laid by her side that babe, who but for him might have been the monarch of a future generation; and he has done that, which by no single achievement he could otherwise have accomplished—he has sent forth over the whole of our land, the gloom of such a bereavement as cannot be replaced by any living descendant of royalty-he has broken the direct succession of the monarchy of England-by one and the same disaster has he wakened up the public anxieties of the country, and sent a pang as acute as that of the most woful domestic visitation into the heart of each of its families.”
Although so hastily prepared, this sermon on the death of the Princess Charlotte was not to be speedily forgotten. On the day after its delivery an article appeared in one of the Glasgow newspapers, representing a passage in it—of broadest and most general application—as specially directed against the supporters of the existing Government. Dr. Chalmers was exceedingly annoyed that he should be thought capable of abusing so sacred an occasion by making the pulpit a vehicle of political invective. His friends advised him to publish the discourse in self-defence. Unwilling to commit to the press a sermon so hastily prepared, and now once more engrossed with his article on Pauperism, he left Glasgow on Monday the 24th, hoping to escape from the ferment which his sermon had occasioned, and to complete at Anstruther the work which had been so painfully interrupted at Kilmany. At his first resting-place by the way the irritation was renewed:-“ Dunfermline, Nov. 24. I see,” he writes, “the vile article in the Chronicle copied by the Scotsman, the most Whiggish paper in Edinburgh.” His unsettled purpose was confirmed on the following day, by the advice of one in whose friendly judgment he reposed much confidence.—“Tuesday.Rode with Mr. Chalmers to Broomhall. Lord Elgin had heard of the sermon from Sir John Oswald, who had been on a visit, and received the mischievous impression of it which the paper is calculated to give. He took Mr. Chalmers aside, and had a long confab with him about it, of which Mr. Chalmers told me on leaving us. I had previously read the misrepresented passage to Mr. Chalmers, and he gave his Lordship the true impression of it. At his request I read the whole of it to the family; and his Lordship insists most strenuously upon its publication, and says that he is greatly obliged to the Chronicle for drawing me out, and that if I will not appear in a few days, I may look for another article from himself still more outrageous, and which he trusts will have the effect.”
The sermon was published on the 13th December; and from all intention of specific political allusion its author at once stood vindicated. A large portion of the discourse had been occupied with a pleading for a more extensive ecclesiastical provision for our large towns. “On this day of national calamity, if ever the subject should be adverted to from the pulpit, we may be allowed to express our riveted convictions on the close alliance that obtains between the political interests and the religious character of a country. And I am surely not out of place when, on looking at the mighty mass of a city population, I state my apprehension, that if something be not done to bring this enormous physical strength under the control of Christian and humanized principle, the day may yet come when it may lift against the authorities of the land its brawny vigour, and discharge upon them all the turbulence of its rude and volcanic energy.” Personal and local influences conspired to direct his thoughts into this peculiar channel. He had lately finished his own survey of the Tron Church parish, and by personal inquiries.within every dwelling, he had found that out of 11,120 souls there were not more than 3500 who had seats or were in the habit of worshipping in any church. In many districts two-thirds of the adult population had wholly cast off the very form and profession of Christianity. Dissent had done much, twice as much, as, in its hampered and ill-administered condition, the Established Church had done to arrest the evil; but such, despite of all previous efforts, was the awful magnitude to which that evil had already attained, growing too in a much more rapid ratio than did the general increase of the population. After the most anxious and profound reflection-reflection based upon personal and minute observation of the condition and habits of the lowest and poorest of the people, Dr. Chalmers was convinced that the only effective remedy was to purify, remodel, and extend the parochial economy. The extension of that economy was what, perhaps, might be soonest attained, as the want of it could most easily be made apparent. During a period of nearly one hundred years, while the population had more than quadrupled, only two new city churches had been built in Glasgow. Thirty-seven years had elapsed since the last addition to the number had been made. It had not been the fault of the clergymen or other friends of the Established Church that the public provision for the religious instruction of a population so largely augmented had been allowed to remain so inadequate. So lately as in the year 1810 a vigorous effort had been made to induce the magistrates to erect six additional churches. The opposition, however, raised by those who objected to an assessment being levied from the whole community for the exclusive benefit of any one religious denomination, was so strenuous that they were unable to attain their object. And now, when Dr. Chalmers’s parochial labours were laying open to the public eye the fearful spiritual condition of large masses of the people, another similar attempt was made. All, however, that the magistrates had been able to do was to erect a single additional church, the foundations of which had been laid a few months before the sermon on the death of the Princess Charlotte was delivered. This act of theirs was alluded to in that sermon with undissembled satisfaction, but it was characterized at the same time as but the first step of a process which would need to be mightily extended ere the existing destitution could be effectively overtaken. Nor did he hesitate, at the very time that they were congratulating themselves on the building of this one church, to declare that twenty more churches and twenty more ministers were still required – a proposal which, ignorant as so many of them were of the necessities of this case, looked Utopian and extravagant, startled even the friends of the Establishment, and stirred anew the former opposition. Dr. Chalmers thought it desirable, therefore, to annex to his Discourse a brief Appendix, stating what the actual amount of the destitution was, as ascertained by his own personal inspection, and striving to remove one of the most formidable objections which had been raised against that peculiar instrument of relief, the employment and extension of which he advocated. Dr. Adam Smith had argued against religions establishments on the ground, that like any common article of merchandise religious instruction should be left to the ordinary operation of demand and supply. Dr. Chalmers came forward with the reply, that in all cases where the want of anything instead of weakening the appetite for it whetted that appetite, it might be best and safest to leave matters to the pure operations of nature. But what made this case of religious destitution peculiar, and prevented any argument grounded on the ordinary operations of commerce being legitimately applied to it, was, that not only did the natural and effective demand fall short of the actual necessity, but that the demand lessened as the necessity increased, until at last, when the want was greatest, desire for its relief was almost or altogether unfelt. This argument, now so familiar to statesmen as well as theologians-of which a few years ago Lord Brougham made effective use in the House of Lords, without however any allusion to its author—was first broached by Dr. Chalmers in the appendix to this sermon published in 1817, and it is interesting to notice that it was in connexion with the practical question of reaching and recovering from their low estate an outcast city population that he first publicly alluded to the general or more abstract question of Religious Establishments.
The sheets of his sermon, with its preface and appendix, were passing through the press, while Dr. Chalmers, immersed in Parliamentary Reports as to the operation of the Poor laws in England, was engaged at Anstruther in completing his article for Mr. Jeffrey. As he had not yet made himself extensively or familiarly acquainted with the state of pauperism in England, he reserved to some future occasion the suggestion of the proper remedy for evils which had become so glaring as to be universally acknowledged. He knew enough, however, of the English system of assessment to deprecate its introduction into Scotland, and enough of the state of matters in both countries as to pauper management to institute such a comparison between them as should vindicate an appeal to his countrymen to resist to the uttermost the threatened invasion from the South. It so happened that at this period our island presented all possible varieties of treatment of the poor. There were all the parishes of England, where for two hundred years a compulsory provision for the poor had been enforced; there was a number of Scottish parishes, chiefly along the borders, into which, at different periods during the preceding half century, the principle of assessment had been introduced; while to the north of the Forth and Clyde, there were not twenty parishes in Scotland where the old system of parochial management, in which the only fund for the relief of the poor consisted of voluntary contributions at the church-doors, did not still prevail.* Most interesting and instructive conclusions were furnished by a simple inspection and comparison of these three classes of parishes.
* Prior to the year 1700, there were only three assessed parishes in Scotland.
In the Scottish unassessed parishes the sums raised for the support of the poor ranged from £10 to £50 per annum for each thousand of the population. In the English assessed parishes the sums raised for a like purpose ranged from £500 to £1500 for each thousand of the population. In the recently assessed border parishes the sums varied, inclining to the English or to the Scottish rates according to the length of time during which the assessment had existed, with this however as a general feature characterizing all of them, that the assessment had almost invariably increased at a much more rapid rate than the population. Comparing, then, an English and a Scottish parish of equal population, whose inhabitants were engaged in like employments and possessed the same resources, why was it that in the one case the expenditure for the poor was £1500 and in the other £50? Dr. Chalmers sought and found the explanation of this difference in the existence in the former case of a public fund raised by legal enforcement and of indefinite amount, upon which the poor were taught—or at least universally imagined—that they had a right to draw whenever, owing to whatever cause, they were in want. Such a fund necessarily generated a feeling of security as to future maintenance altogether independent of present character or conduct. It destroyed that strongest of all natural incitements to industry and prudence which operates when a man knows that if he do not work, or if he thoughtlessly squander, he and his family must starve; it relaxed the obligations of relationship, throwing upon the public for support those aged or infirm persons whom it should have been the pride and pleasure of their own children or other near relatives to sustain; it weakened the force of all those kindly sympathies which want or suffering is sure to awaken in every neighbourhood where nature is left to her own unchecked operations; thus closing currents of supply far fuller and healthier than any that it opened. It checked the private ministrations of the wealthy, who, the more that they gave upon compulsion, had the less to give upon the impulse of compassion; stripping of its true character the charity which it enforced, leaving nothing to spontaneous generosity in the giver, and awakening a sentiment very different from that of gratitude in the receiver. In such Scottish parishes as were yet untainted no such public fund existed, and no such consequences ensued. A spirit of honest and honourable independence there prevailed, which liked far better to trust to its own efforts than depend on others’ aid; a thrifty economy which thought of the future, and out of the savings of a well-regulated industry provided for it; a genial play of kindly feelings among neighbours, and a ready help whenever help was needed and deserved; a deep sense of what the members of one family owed to each other when age took away the strength for toil, or when disease or death entered the dwelling; “the aged reposing with comfort and respect in the houses of their children, sitting in their allotted places of distinction by the evening fire, returning the filial piety by such little acts of helpfulness as their feebleness could still administer, and at length carried to their graves by the arms of descendants, who, out of their own hard and honest earnings, shielded the parents who gave them birth from a degradation they would have blushed to endure, and keeping them off the parish to the very last, so bore up the termination of their career as to sustain the dignity of its character throughout, and nobly to close its description as a career of unbroken and unsullied independence.”
When he looked upon this picture and upon that, upon the English and the Scottish poor, we are not surprised that, in terror of the approaching calamity, and with strong desire to ward it off if possible, Dr. Chalmers should have said, “we want no such ignominy to come near our Scottish population as that of farming our poor. We want no other asylum for our aged parents than that of their pious and affectionate families. We can neither suffer them, nor do we like the prospect for ourselves, of pining out the cheerless evening of our days away from the endearments of a home. We wish to do as long as we can without the apparatus of English laws and English work-houses; and should like to ward for ever from our doors the system that would bring an everlasting interdict on the worth, and independence, and genuine enjoyments of our peasantry. We wish to see their venerable sires surrounded, as heretofore, by the company and the playfulness of their own grandchildren; nor can we bear to think that our high-minded people should sink down and be satisfied with the dreary imprisonment of an almshouse as the closing object in the vista of their earthly anticipations. Yet such is the goodly upshot of a system, which has its friends and advocates in our own country—men who could witness without a sigh the departure of all those peculiarities which have both alimented and adorned the character of our beloved Scotland-men who can gild over with the semblance of humanity a poisoned opiate of deepest injury both to its happiness and to its morals—and who, in the very act of flattering the poor, are only forging for them such chains as, soft in feeling as silk, but strong in proof as adamant, will bind them down to a state of permanent degradation.”
Alarmed by the discussions which his sermon had provoked, Mrs. Chalmers had written to Dr. Chalmers from Glasgow, expressing her fears that his papers for the Edinburgh Review would plunge him still deeper into the troubled tide of politics. “I do feel myself,” he said in answer, “ in such circumstances with the Edinburgh Review, and I do cherish such prospects of usefulness from my speculations on general politics, that I must make some clear and decided avowal on the subject of party politics. The violent of both parties will be offended, but all that are truly honest and independent in the country will approve-such as your Wilberforces and Lord Grenvilles, and the moderate Whigs and the moderate Tories, and the whole of the middle party both in Parliament and in the country. I wish to devote myself to my congregation as much as possible; but there are general calls upon me besides which I m ist not altogether resist, and for the sake of which it were perhaps well that I were without a congregation entirely. I should, for myself, like a situation where there was less of glare and publicity and mobbish exhibition, and more of quiet study, relieved by converse with literary Christians, and by a far greater quantity of spiritual and improving converse with the inmates of my own family than I have hitherto held. My mother writes me that my father has been seized with great weakness. O that God would spare him and me for one visit more, when, free from the weight of every urgent call, I could devote the time and the strength of a whole fortnight to him!”
Hearing of his father’s illness, which proved but temporary, while on the way to Edinburgh, where he had engaged to preach for the Hibernian Society, on Wednesday the 24th December, he wrote to his mother—” It grieves me very much to bear of my dear father’s illness, and I beg you to let me know of him particularly ere I leave Edinburgh. I mean to go to Edinburgh on Monday, and not to leave it till Thursday. A letter addressed to me at the Rev. Henry Grey’s, Newington, Edinburgh, will be sure to reach me. It is my earnest prayer that your own mind may obtain strength and support from on high under the visitation of my father’s illness, and that his mind may find a sure and a solid resting-place on the great Mediator.”
” Edinburgh, December 25, 1817.
I leave this on Saturday for Glasgow. I preached here yesterday. I infer from not hearing of you that my father is no worse; and I know not one earthly object I have nearer at heart than the preservation of his life, so that I may be enabled, with my whole family, to have intercourse with him in summer. It were well if we could draw away our affections from the world, and set them upon our reconciled Father in Jesus Christ our Lord. There is no want of willingness on His part, nor of freeness in the offer of mercy by Him. Were our faith as large as His faithfulness, what a state of peace and joy and holiness it would translate us into! I pray that in your present situation you may have all the comfort of the Spirit of God working in you the blessed assurances of pardon and salvation through the blood of Jesus.
“I have just received your letter, and am greatly delighted to understand that my father is not worse. This will prove very acceptable news to our friends in Glasgow, who have been sending me letters of inquiry about him.”
Dr. Chalmers returned to Glasgow on Saturday the 27th December, and on the following day found a prodigious crowd awaiting his appearance in the Tron Church pulpit. His popularity as a preacher was now at its very highest summit, and judging merely by the amount of physical energy displayed by the preacher, and by the palpable and visible effects produced upon his hearers, we conclude that it was about this period, and within the walls of the Tron Church, that by far the most wonderful exhibitions of his power as a pulpit orator were witnessed. “ The Tron Church contains, if I mistake not,” says the Rev. Dr. Wardlaw, who, as frequently as he could, was a hearer in it, “about 1400 hearers, according to the ordinary allowance of seat-room; when crowded, of course proportionally more. And, though I cannot attempt any pictorial sketch of the place, I may, in a sentence or two, present you with a few touches of the scene which I have, more than once or twice, witnessed within its walls; not that it was at all peculiar, for it resembled every other scene where the Doctor in those days, when his eloquence was in the prime of its vehemence and splendour, was called to preach. There was one particular, indeed, which rendered such a scene, in a city like Glasgow, peculiarly striking. I refer to the time of it. To see a place of worship, of the size mentioned, crammed above and below, on a Thursday forenoon, during the busiest hours of the day, with fifteen or sixteen hundred hearers, and these of all descriptions of persons, in all descriptions of professional occupation, the busiest as well as those who had most leisure on their hands, those who had least to spare taking care so to arrange their business engagements previously as to make time for the purpose, all pouring in through the wide entrance at the side of the Tron steeple, half an hour before the time of service, to secure a seat, or content, if too late for this, to occupy, as many did, standing-room—this was, indeed, a novel and strange sight. Nor was it once merely, or twice, but month after month the day was calculated when his turn to preach again was to come round, and anticipated, with even impatient longing, by multitudes.
“Suppose the congregation thus assembled—pews filled with sitters, and aisles, to a great extent, with standers. They wait in eager expectation. The preacher appears. The devotional exercises of praise and prayer having been gone through with unaffected simplicity and earnestness, the entire assembly set themselves for the treat, with feelings very diverse in kind, but all eager and intent. There is a hush of dead silence. The text is announced, and he begins. Every countenance is up every eye bent, with fixed intentness, on the speaker. As he kindles the interest grows. Every breath is held every cough is suppressed-every fidgety movement is settled-every one, riveted himself by the spell of the impassioned and entrancing eloquence, knows how sensitively his neighbour will resent the very slightest disturbance. Then, by and bye, there is a pause. The speaker stops to gather breath-to wipe his forehead to adjust his gown, and purposely too, and wisely, to give the audience, as well as himself, a moment or two of relaxation. The moment is embraced—there is free breathing—suppressed coughs get vent-postures are changed-there is a universal stir, as of persons who could not have endured the constraint much longer—the preacher bends forward-his hand is raised – all is again hushed. The same stillness and strain of unrelaxed attention is repeated, more intent still, it may be, than before, as the interest of the subject and of the speaker advance. And so, for perhaps four or five times in the course of a sermon, there is the relaxation and the at it again’ till the final winding up.
“And then, the moment the last word was uttered, and followed by the— let us pray,’ there was a scene for which no excuse or palliation can be pleaded but the fact of its having been to many a matter of difficulty, in the morning of a week day, to accomplish the abstraction of even so much of their time from business-the closing prayer completely drowned by the hurried rush of large numbers from the aisles and pews to the door; an unseemly scene, without doubt, as if so many had come to the house of God not to worship, but simply to enjoy the fascination of human eloquence. Even this much it was a great thing for eloquence to accomplish. And how diversified soever the motives which drew so many together, and the emotions awakened and impressions produced by what was heard though, in the terms of the text of one of his most overpoweringly stirring and faithful appeals, he was to not a few as one that had a pleasant voice and could play well on an instrument,’ yet there is abundant proof that, in the highest sense, “his labour was not in vain in the Lord;’ that the truths which, with so much fearless fidelity and impassioned earnestness, he delivered, went in many instances further than the ear, or even the intellect that they reached the heart, and, by the power of the Spirit, turned it to God.”
“On Thursday the 12th February 1818,”
I now quote from a manuscript of the Rev. Mr. Fraser, minister of Kilchrennan, “Dr. Chalmers preached in the Tron Church before the Directors of the Magdalene Asylum. The sermon delivered on this occasion was that on the Dissipation of Large Cities.’ Long before the service commenced every seat and passage was crowded to ex. cess, with the exception of the front pew of the gallery, which was reserved for the Magistrates. A vast number of students deserted their classes at the University and were present. This was very particularly the case in regard to the Moral Philosophy Class, which I attended that session, as appeared on the following day when the list of absentees was given in by the person who had called the catalogue, and at the same time a petition from several of themselves was handed in to the Professor, praying for a remission of the fine for non-attendance, on the ground that they had been hearing Dr. Chalmers. The Doctor’s manner during the whole delivery of that magnificent discourse was strikingly animated, while the enthusiasm and energy which he threw into some of its bursts rendered them quite overpowering. One expression which he used, together with his action, his look, and the very tones of his voice when it came forth, made a most vivid and indelible impression upon my memory: We, at the same time,’ he said, ‘have our eye perfectly open to that great external improvement which has taken place, of late years, in the manners of society. There is not the same grossness of conversation. There is not the same impatience for the withdrawment of him who, asked to grace the outset of an assembled party, is compelled, at a certain step in the process of convivality, by the obligations of professional decency, to retire from it. There is not so frequent an exaction of this as one of the established proprieties of social or of fashionable life. And if such an exaction was ever laid by the omnipotence of custom on a minister of Christianity, it is such an exaction as ought never, never to be complied with. It is not for him to lend the sanction of his presence to a meeting with which he could not sit to its final termination. It is not for him to stand associated, for a single hour, with an assemblage of men who begin with hypocrisy, and end with downright blackguardism. It is not for him to watch the progress of the coming ribaldry, and to hit the well-selected moment when talk and turbulence and boisterous merriment are on the eve of bursting forth upon the company, and carrying them forward to the full acme and uproar of their enjoyment. It is quite in vain to say, that he has only sanctioned one part of such an entertainment. He has as good as given his connivance to the whole of it, and left behind him a discharge in full of all its abominations; and, therefore, be they who they may, whether they rank among the proudest aristocracy of our land, or are charioted in splendour along, as the wealthiest of our citizens, or flounce in the robes of magistracy, it is his part to keep as purely and indignantly aloof from such society as this, as he would from the vilest and most debasing associations of profligacy.
“The words which I have underlined do not appear in the sermon as printed. While uttering them, which he did with peculiar emphasis, accompanying them with a flash from his eye and a stamp of his foot, he threw his right arm with clenched hand right across the book-board, and brandished it full in the face of the Town-council, sitting in array and in state before him. Many eyes were in a moment directed towards the magistrates. The words evidently fell upon them like a thunderbolt, and seemed to startle like an electric shock the whole audience.”
Another interesting memorial of this sermon is supplied by Dr. Wardlaw, who was present at its delivery. “The eloquence of that discourse was absolutely overpowering. The subject was one eminently fitted to awaken and summon to their utmost energy all his extraordinary powers; especially when, after having cleared his ground by a luminously scriptural exhibition of that supreme authority by which the evils he was about to portray were interdicted, in contradistinction to the prevailing maxims and practices of a worldly morality, he came forward to the announcement and illustration of his main subject—the origin, the progress, and the effects of a life of dissipation.’ His moral portraitures were so graphically and vividly delineated his warnings and entreaties, especially to youth, so impassioned and earnest-his admonitions so faithful, and his denunciations so fearless and so fearful-and his exhortations to preventive and remedial appliances so pointed and so urgent to all amongst his auditors who had either the charge of youth, or the supervision of dependants! It was thrilling, overwhelming. His whole soul seemed in every utterance. Although saying to myself all the while, O that this were in the hands of every father, and master, and guardian, and young man in the land!? I yet could not spare an eye from the preacher to mark how his appeal was telling upon others. The breathless, the appalling silence, told me of that. Any person who reads that discourse, and who had the privilege of listening to Dr. Chalmers during the prime and freshness of his public eloquence, will readily imagine the effect of some passages in it, when delivered with even more than the preacher’s characteristic vehemence.
“ The wish that haunted my mind during the discourse went home with me; and in bed that night the thought came across me, that I might write to him, and respectfully but earnestly suggest the desirableness of having such an appeal put into circulation. I did so, and while I expressed strongly my delight and my wishes, I ventured at the same time, with all due diffidence, to hint the desirableness, were the discourse to appear thus by itself, of his introducing at the close, in his own style, a statement of that gospel-that scheme and message of Divine mercy-by which the wrath of God which cometh on the children of disobedience,’ of which his text had led him to speak, was to be escaped, and His favour and forgiveness to be obtained; a statement which would perfect the fitness of the appeal for the ends to be answered by its circulation. To this note the letter which I now transmit to you is the answer.”
“KENSINGTON Place, February 16, 1818.
“ MY DEAR SIR,
Believe that it is not without pain that I bring forward a negative to your request for the immediate publication of my sermon. I have had too much experience of the ephemeral duration of single sermons to think of that as the most effective mode of publication for usefulness. And, besides, I have of late made so many exhibitions of myself in this way before the public, that I am beginning to be heartily ashamed of it.
“I am at the same time much gratified with your favourable opinion, and will probably feel encouraged by it to incorporate the substance of what was delivered on Thursday in some future volume, when I can have no objection whatever that the usefulness, if any, might be multiplied to any degree by the circulation of such extracts as might be permitted by the publisher.
“I perfectly agree with you in thinking, that separately from the great peculiarities of our faith, all the reformations which were urged are of no value for eternity, and, indeed, can scarcely even be accomplished in time. But I am not so sure whether there is not too much of a sensitive alarm about one’s orthodoxy, when it is expected that something like a satisfying declaration of it shall be brought forward in every single discourse. Might not a preacher and his hearers so understand each other as that the leading points of doctrine might be tacitly presupposed between them? At the same time I do feel it a very great and prevailing defect in my own compositions that in many of its separate portions it would be difficult to recognise the presence of Him who ought to be all in all. I am reading Owen just now on the Person of Christ, and am sure that I have greatly erred in not making enough of Him. May the Spirit more and more take of the things of Christ, and show them unto us. “ Believe me, with many thanks for your kind and friendly communication, yours, most affectionately,
“In the afternoon of Sabbath the 22d March 1818 —
We now resume Mr. Fraser’s memoranda, “ Dr. Chalmers preached in the College Chapel. It being publicly known a few days previously that he was to do so, the College courts became crowded with students and others not connected with the University about an hour before the commencement of the service. So soon as the doors were opened, the rush towards them was tremendous. I was in the stream that was flowing in by the main entrance, and made good progress until I got within the door, when, in consequence of the great pressure behind, I was suddenly thrown out of the current as I had almost reached the foot of the hanging spiral staircase leading to the chapel, and so compact was the mass that was pouring on, that all my efforts to wedge myself into it were vain. Under these circumstances, I made up my mind to do what might have led to very serious consequences. I ascended sideways on the outside of the rails, holding on with a death-grasp of them at every step, and upon reaching the top, had no little difficulty, even with the assistance I received, in getting over them, so dense was the crowd. The sermon preached by Dr. Chalmers was the one entitled The judgment of men compared with the judgment of God.’ I had a complete view of the professors’ bench directly opposite to the pulpit. It was quite full, and had a very imposing appearance. Every eye in it was intently fixed upon the preacher. But there was one individual who formed a very prominent object in the groupMr. Young, Professor of Greek. The magic of the Doctor’s eloquence told most powerfully on him. He was evidently fascinated and enraptured. The expression of his fine countenance more than once indicated intense emotion. During the delivery of the peroration he was overpowered and in tears.
“On Sabbath evening, in the Tron Church, Dr. Chalmers preached from Proverbs i. 29. The power of the oratory and the force of the delivery were at times extraordinary. At length, when near the close of the sermon, all on a sudden his eloquence gathered triple force, and came down in one mighty whirlwind, sweeping all before it. Never can I forget my feelings at the time, neither can I describe them. And what,’ he said, warning us against all hope in a deathbed repentance, what, we would ask, is the scene in which you are now purposing to contest it with all this mighty force of opposition you are now so busy in raising up against you? What is the field of combat to which you are now looking forward as the place where you are to accomplish a victory over all those formidable enemies whom you are at present arming with such a weight of hostility as, we say, within a single hairbreadth of certainty, you will find to be irresistible? Oh the folly of such a misleading infatuation! The proposed scene in which this battle for eternity is to be fought, and this victory for the crown of glory is to be won, is a deathbed. It is when the last messenger stands by the couch of the dying man, and shakes at him the terrors of his grisly countenance, that the poor child of infatuation thinks he is to struggle and prevail against all his enemies against the unrelenting tyranny of habit-against the obstinacy of his own heart, which he is now doing so much to harden-against the Spirit of God, who perhaps long ere now has pronounced the doom upon him, “He will take his own way, and walk in his own counsel; I shall cease from striving, and let him alone,”against Satan, to whom every day of his life he has given some fresh advantage over him, and who will not be willing to lose the victim on whom he has practised so many wiles, and plied with success so many delusions. And such are the enemies whom you who wretchedly calculate on the repentance of the eleventh hour are every day mustering up in greater force and formidableness against you; and how can we think of letting you go with any other repentance than the repentance of the precious moment that is now passing over you, when we look forward to the horrors of that impressive scene on which you propose to win the prize of immortality, and to contest it single-handed and alone, with all the weight of opposition which you have accumulated against yourselves—a deathbed-a languid, breathless, tossing, and agitated deathbed; that scene of feebleness, when the poor man cannot help himself to a single mouthful-when he must have attendants to sit around him, and watch his every wish, and interpret his every signal, and turn him to every posture where he may find a moment’s ease, and wipe away the cold sweat that is running over him, and ply him with cordials for thirst, and sickness, and insufferable languor. And this is the time, when occupied with such feelings and beset with such agonies as these, you propose to crowd within the compass of a few wretched days the work of winding up the concerns of a neglected eternity!”
“It was a transcendently grand—a glorious burst. The energy of the Doctor’s action corresponded. Intense emotion beamed from his countenance. I cannot describe the appearance of his face better than by saying, as Foster said of Hall’s, it was “lighted up almost into a glare. The congregation, in so far as the spell under which I was allowed me to observe them, were intensely excited, leaning forward in the pews like a forest bending under the power of the hurricane-looking steadfastly at the preacher, and listening in breathless wonderment. One young man, apparently by his dress a sailor, who sat in a pew before me, started to his feet, and stood till it was over. So soon as it was concluded, there was (as invariably was the case at the close of the Doctor’s bursts) a deep sigh, or rather gasp for breath, accompanied by a movement through the whole audience.
“On another Sabbath evening a scene occurred which I shall never forget. About an hour before the service commenced all the seats were occupied. A broad passage runs through the area of the church from the main inner door to the pulpit. This passage it was intended should be kept vacant upon the present occasion for the better ventilation of the house. So soon, therefore, as the pews which entered from it (in one of which I sat) were filled, the door, consisting of two leaves, was bolted from within. Very soon all the other passages above and below were crowded to overflowing. A dense mass was by this time congregated in the lobby, many of whom observed through the windows of a partition wall which ran between the lobby and the interior of the church that the middle passage was empty. Those in the background, who could not themselves observe this, were made immediately aware of it. They all became very clamorous for admission, and many a good thump did the door receive. Those in charge of it, however, having got, as was said, positive orders to keep the passage clear, were inexorable. Matters went on in this manner until the bell commenced, which seemed to be the signal for increased clamour and importunity on the part of the crowd without. At length the door began to creak. The bell ceased. The beadle entered the pulpit with the Bible. All was still for a few moments. Every eye within sight of the vestry-door was anxiously fixed upon it to see who would appear, lest it might not be the Doctor, as he had on more occasions than one sadly disappointed the congregation. No sooner, however, was he observed entering the church, than an expression of intense delight rustled very perceptibly through the house. There was actually (I do not exaggerate) a movement of the whole congregation. At this moment a crash at the passage-door was heard; crash after crash followed in rapid succession, intermingled with screams from the outer porch, chiefly from terrified females. Two of the door-keepers who were standing in the passage rushed to the door, which was evidently yielding, to prevent, if possible, its being forced in. They quickly retreated, seeing, as they did at once, that neither door nor door-keepers could withstand the pressure. The door immediately gave way with a thundering noise, one of the leaves torn from its hinges and trampled under foot. The rush was tremendous. In one instant the whole vacant space in front of the pulpit was crammed, and the torrent flowed on, flowing into and filling to its very end at the vestry-door the passage through which the Doctor had just entered. The occurrence grieved, and for a little while discomposed him, and upon rising to begin the service, he administered a sharp and impassioned rebuke to the parties involved in it.”
Dr. Wardlaw, who was present on this occasion also, informs us, ” I stepped into the vestry at the dismission of the congregation, and walked home with him, our dwellings lying in the same direction. On the way home we talked, inter alia, of this occurrence. He expressed, in his pithy manner, his great annoyance at such crowds. “I preached the same sermon,’ said he, ‘in the morning; and for the very purpose of preventing the oppressive annoyance of such a densely crowded place, I intimated that I should preach it again in the evening;’ and with the most ingenuous guilelessness, he added, ‘Have you ever tried that plan?’ I did not smile, I laughed outright. “No, no,’ I replied, ‘my good friend, there are but very few of us that are under the necessity of having recourse to the use of means for getting thin audiences.’ He enjoyed the joke, and he felt, though he modestly disowned the compliment.”