Thomas Chalmers - Scottish Amyraldian? Introduction
[The next few posts will be a re-presentation, slightly edited, of the paper I gave at the Amyraldian Association conference in Attleborough on 11th April 2007. Footnotes are given in the text since some of what is said here may be more than a little controversial.]
Scotland has probably produced more Reformed theologians than any other country of comparable size. The Scottish theology has influenced Holland, France, the United States, New Zealand and Canada (the author's volumes of Thomas Chalmers' 'Theological institutes' were purchased from the United States (Volume 2) and Canada (Volume 1) respectively); in short, everywhere that Reformed theology has been known. It will be of interest to this conference [which focussed particularly on the Huguenots - H. H.] that many Scottish theologians, exiled by James VI, taught in the Reformed academies of France in the early seventeenth century. Moise Amyraut, for example, was schooled by a Scotman by the name of Cameron, and Andrew Melville, Knox's successor, spent his last years as a French Reformed professor.
The Scottish Theology has always been decidedly Calvinistic (see for confirmation John Macleod's 'Scottish Theology'), and no Scottish Church has done so much to disseminate that theology than the Free Church of Scotland. A late nineteenth century number of the Methodist Times, surely a more or less impartial witness, said, “The Free Church is the most theological and literary Church in the world.” (Quoted in Norman L. Walker: 'Chapters From the History of the Free Church of Scotland' (Edinburgh, Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, 1895) P. 298)
Dr. Thomas Chalmers is widely regarded as the ‘Father’ of the Free Church of Scotland. As Professor of Moral Philosophy at St. Andrews, and later as Professor of Theology at Edinburgh University, Chalmers trained up the first generation of Free Church leaders. It was his mind that planned the structures of the Free Church and energised its mechanisms – and of course, he was the first Moderator of that Church. Yet Thomas Chalmers is commonly regarded as anything but a theologian. In some circles he is regarded as an economist, in others as an ecclesiastical politician, in still others as an administrative genius, and in yet others as a great preacher. All of these things are true, but it is his theology that we find the core of the man himself. In this paper I intend to show that Thomas Chalmers had his own contribution to Scottish theology, and that he cannot really be properly understood outside of an understanding of the core of that theology – a theology that departs significantly from Westminster orthodoxy on one major point. What is more, on that point Chalmers leans in a significantly Amyraldian direction.
Chalmers’ life, and especially his early years as a student and then as a parish minister, played a significant part in the formation of his theology. Mercifully his biographer excellently serves Chalmers; I say biographer because there is only one biography of Chalmers, from which all others are really just compilations. It is the 'Memoirs of Thomas Chalmers' by William Hanna, his son-in-law.['Memoirs of Thomas Chalmers, D.D. Ll.D.' (Edinburgh, Thomas Constable and Co. 1854) 2 volumes. Hereafter Hanna] In his recent 'A Scottish Christian Heritage', Iain Murray has suggested that the book is a little long for modern tastes.[Iain H. Murray, 'A Scottish Christian Heritage' (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth Trust, 2006) P. 120] That is more an indictment of ‘modern tastes’ than it is of “That truly classical and absolutely invaluable book.”[Alexander Whyte: 'Former Principals of The New College, Edinburgh' (London, Hodder and Stoughton 1909) P. 16] Though the two-volume edition weighs in at about sixteen hundred pages of closely packed text, there is nothing tedious about it. Alexander Whyte exhorted the New College students of his day to read it “again and again and again all through life,” he got great good out of it every time he opened it, and he was always opening it for something.[Pp. 13-14] One rises from Hanna’s book with the feeling that one has sat and talked with Dr. Chalmers himself.
Thomas Chalmers’ writings themselves are voluminous. They occupy thirty-four volumes and cover subjects as diverse as prefaces to theological books and tracts concerning economics. Therefore for practical reasons I have confined myself in this paper to Chalmers’ three works that have a bearing on systematic theology. They are firstly his series of expository sermons on the Epistle to the Romans[Thomas Chalmers: 'Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans' (Edinburgh, Sutherland and Knox, 1848) 4 volumes, hereafter Romans], given to his Glasgow congregation in the 1820s; second his ‘Prelections’ on the textbooks used in the theology classes at Edinburgh in the 1830s[Thomas Chalmers: 'Prelections on Butler’s Analogy, Paley’s Evidences of Christianity, and Hill’s Lectures in Divinity' (Edinburgh, Sutherland and Knox, 1849), hereafter 'Prelections']; and thirdly his Institutes of Theology, which are based on his theological lectures given at Edinburgh, and were still unfinished at the time of his death.[Thomas Chalmers: 'Institutes of Theology' (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1849), hereafter 'Institutes']
God willing, next time we shall begin to look at Chalmers' early life.
Labels: Thomas Chalmers