Book Review: 'Letters of Thomas Chalmers'
This is without a doubt one of the most interesting Banner of Truth books published in recent years - and that says as much about the book as it does about the Banner of Truth. We think it one of the Banner's great strengths that, less pressured by financial concerns, they can publish books that otherwise would not see the light of day.
This is not a small book. Weighing in at 576 pages, it contains over 400 letters by Thomas Chalmers, some to public figures such as William Wilberforce, others to family members and close friends.
The presentation is excellent, an imaginitive, attractive dustjacket covers a well-bound hardcover in sober Presbyterian black. An introduction by Iain Murray, abridged from Murray's 'A Scottish Christian Heritage' (see previous review on this blog) precedes a reprint of the volume of Chalmers' letters edited by his son-in-law William Hanna.
The letters are arranged in blocks, with letters to the same person placed together chronologically, allowing the reader to follow the flow of correspondence. We have here Cahlmers the man and the pastor, writing to inquirers, to bereaved parents, to students of theology and to other ministers, not just in his own denomination, but Baptists, Congregationalists and Anglicans (including some bishops). Readers may recognise the names of J. H. Merle D'Aubigne, Charles Bridges and Dr. Ryland. Other letters were written to Dr. Rainy, father of Principal Rainy. We have here Chalmers' reflections on certain books, such as Romaine's 'Life, Walk and Triumph of Faith', of which he wrote: "Nothing can be more precious than Romaine. His three treatises on faith are all overrun with the flavour of the very essence of the Gospel." Of Jonathan Edwards he wrote: "Him I have long esteemed as the greatest of theologians, combining in a degree that is quite unexampled, the profoundly intellectual with the devotedly spiritual and sacred." (P. 443)
We also have Chalmers' remarks on those scenes in history in which he played a part. Here is his description of the Disruption, written to his sister: "You would have been struck with the contrast presented by our out-going clergy between their anxious and wo-begone aspect before they had taken their decision, and their perfect happiness and light-heartedness after it. Never was there a happier Assembly, with a happier collection of faces, than in our Free Church, with consciences disburdened, and casting themselves without care, and all the confidence of children, on the Providence of that God who never forsakes the families of the faithful." (P. 242)
We have here deep theological questions, such as whether or not man is responsible for his belief (P. 299) with passages of deep devotion, such as this from page 236: "How delightful the attitude in which the pitying Saviour is represented to the eye of faith, as touched with a fellow-feeling - as having been Himself tried even as we are - and as able (and willing as He is able) to succour them who are so tried. I know not a more precious expression of His character, did we but realise it, than that used by the Apostle when he tells us of the meekness and gentleness of Christ. Let us cast on Him, then, both the burden of our sufferings and our cares, and He, not permitting us to be tempted above what we are able, will provide a way of escape, that we may be able to bear it."
By its nature, this is not so much a book to be read through as one to be dipped into. And it is a book that will be dipped into again and again by discerning readers.
Yet this book is no substitute for a biography. It was intended to be a supplement to Hanna's 'Memoir of Dr. Chalmers', and we feel that the Banner of Truth would do the Christian Church a great service by bringing back into print that absolutely classical volume, if not in its full form, at least in an edited form. Alexander Whyte wrote in 1909, of "my regret and indeed distress, that this present generation of the readers of good books in Scotland is denied the purchase and the possession of one of the very best books Scotland has ever produced. And if the whole Memoir is too large and is too rich for this book-crowded day, might not 'The Journals' and 'The Letters' at least be kept in print and offered for sale?"
The Banner of Truth Trust has done an excellent job (just ninety-eight years later) of fulfilling a part of Whyte's desire. May we not pray they will fulfill the other?
Buy this book, it is a classic, with something in it for everyone who desires to be instructed, not merely amused.
'The Letters of Thomas Chalmers' is priced at £17.50 in the United Kingdom and is published by the Banner of Truth Trust.