Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

hastily over his offering himself as a candidate for the Natural Philosophy Chair at St. Andrew's, and for the Mathematical Chair at Edinburgh ; but how much had the world lost, and how large a niche in the temple of the orators had been for ever unfilled, if desire had been gratified, and the rest of his life had been passed in leading Caledonian youth through the mysteries of statics or dynamics, or spent in the dreary employ of elimination and integration! Also, we can only hastily notice his enrolment as chaplain and lieutenant, in the St. Andrew's corps of volunteers; but we will quote the conclusion of the narrative of his brother George's illness and death :

‘Every evening, at George's own request, one of Newton's sermons was read at his bedside by some member of the family in rotation. It was one of the very books which, a short time previously, Thomas had named and denounced from the pulpit. Bending over the pulpit, and putting on the books named the strong emphasis of dislike, he had said—"Many books are favourites with you, which I am sorry to say are no favourites of mine.

When you are reading Newton's Sermons,' and Baxter's 'Saint's Rest,' and Doddridge's · Rise and Progress,' where do Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John go to?" As he now read one of these books to his dying brother, and witnessed the support and consolation which its truths conveyed, strange misgivings must have visited him. He was too close, too acute, too affectionate an observer not to notice that it was something more than the mere "manly indifference of his profession (he had been a sailor), something more than a mere blind submission to an inevitable fate, which imparted such calmness and serene elevation to George's dying hours. He was in his room when those pale and trembling lips were heard to say, “ I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes." Perhaps, as the words were uttered, the thought arose that in his own case, as compared with that of his brother, the words might be verified. In company with a weeping household, he bent over the parting scene, and heard the closing testimony given, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” George died on the 16th December, 1806. It was the first death of a near relation which Thomas had witnessed; and the deep impression which it made was the first step towards his own true and thorough conversion to God.'--16. pp. 101, 102.

Beautiful are the lines of his character, as we obtain glimpses of them here and there—though as yet he was serving his Great Master blindly, and with a mind not altogether in humble submission to the Divine will. His brother James had removed from Liverpool to London, and in the metropolis he had followed the example of many of his countrymen who have migrated southward, and quitted the Presbyterian for the Episcopal communion. Of this apostasy he sent information to his brother.

"" You desired me,” was Thomas's reply, “ to show my father your first letter. I would not have done so for the world. Your apostasy from the Kirk would have horrified him, and he would have sighed over the degeneracy of that son who could renounce old mother Presbytery in the face of one of its ministers. But whatever I say, may the vengeance of Heaven pursue me, if I feel contempt for that man who has passed through the world unstained by its corruptionswho has walked the manly career of independence and honour-who has escaped the infection of a degenerate age, and can boast a mind that has preserved its integrity amidst all the seductions of policy and interest. Such is the character of our good father. May the great Spirit bear up the weight of his old age, and blunt the arrow that gives it rest.'”—16. pp. 97, 98.

The life of Chalmers, till the beginning of 1809, was spent partly at his little manse, and amid much hospitality there-in preaching--and, at the wish of Dr. Brewster, its editor, in preparing articles for the ` Edinburgh Encyclopædia.' He fulfilled all the duties of his office, but his service was not that of an enlightened soul, living by an evangelical faith. He adored God as the Supreme, Everlasting, and Allperfect; but he knew the Reconciler and Saviour rather as a dogmatist than as a practical believer in the gospel, and his soul was not bowed in humbleness before the doctrines of the Cross. If we may here introduce such phraseology, his religion was rather ethical than spiritual. He knew the gospel as some vast idea, and he admired the magnificence of its conception, the magnitude of its aim, and the condescension of its purpose ; but he knew it as he knew a theory of the British or of the Kantian philosophy, not as a living power, which changes the nature of him who believes in it—which banishes rebellious thoughts, and which brings lapsed and sinning man into direct communication and closest alliance with his Creator and rightful Lord. That great lesson – How shall man be just with God ? he had yet to learn—that resplendent knowledge he had yet to acquire, before which, so far as the recovery of the estranged heart of man is concerned, the lamps of purest science and of sublimest philosophy must alike pale their ineffectual fires.' Death had of late been a frequent visitant in his family-George was gone his sister Barbara, tenderly loved, had fallen in consumptionhis uncle Ballardie, ' a kind of second father to his nephews and nieces,' had passed away-his father was now nearing the goal so few reach, his threescore years and ten'--and Mr. Chalmers himself was prostrate; he languished under an affection of the liver;' he knew not but that the hand of the fell destroyer of his kindred had fallen upon him too. For four months he never left his room—it was nearly two years before he fully recovered. During this tedious suffering he surveyed his past life—it had

[ocr errors]

not been altogether profitless, but it showed like a barren moor. land, when viewed in the light of eternity. He looked outward and onward to the future—he thought he saw death approaching

- he was not prepared to die—a panic seized him—his former self-trustfulness was broken to pieces, and a new thought took possession of him. But it is not our part to describe the birthhour of his soul; and it would be wronging the able author of this beautiful history, if we did not present to our readers his account of his kinsman’s great change.'

Contemplated from the confines of eternity, his past life looked to Mr. Chalmers like a feverish dream, the fruitless chasing of a shadow. Blinded by the fascination of the things seen and temporal, he had neglected the things unseen and eternal. He had left undischarged the highest duties of human life, and he had despised that faith which can alone lend enduring value to its labours, and shed the light of a satisfying hope around its close. How empty had all these bygone years been of God. True, he had not been wholly forgetful; many an adoring thought of the Almighty, as the great Creator, Upholder, Governor of the universe, had filled his mind, and many grateful feelings towards his heavenly Benefactor had visited his heart. But that, he now felt, was not enough. The clear, unchallengeable right belonged to God over the full affection of the heart, the unremitting obedience of the life, but no such affection had been entertained ; and it had been but seldom that a distinct regard to the will of God had given its birth or its direction to any movement of his past history. In name acknowledged, but in their true nature and extent misunderstood, he felt that his Creator's claims over him had been practically disallowed and dishonoured during his whole career. The meagre and superficial faith of former years could no longer satisfy him. It could not stand the scrutiny of the sick-room; it could not bear to be confronted with death; it gave way under the application of its own chosen test ; for surely even reason taught that if man have a God to love and serve, and an eternity beyond death to provide for, towards that God a supreme and abiding sense of obligation should be cherished; and to the providing for that eternity the whole efforts of a life-time should be consecrated. Convinced of the fatal error upon which the whole scheme of his former life had been constructed, Mr. Chalmers resolved upon a change. He would no longer live here as if here he were to live for ever. Henceforth and habitually, he would recognise his immortality; and remembering that this fleeting pilgrimage was a scene of trial, a place of spiritual probation, he would dedicate himself to the service of God, and live with the high aim and purpose of one who was training for eternity. It was a kind of life which had already been realized by countless thousands of his countrymen, and why not by him? It had been realized by Pascal in making the sublime transition from the highest walks of science to the still higher walk of faith. It had been realized by those early Christians whose lives and testimonies he was now engaged in studying. Surrounded with such a cloud of witnesses, a new ambition, stronger and more

absorbing than that which had thirsted so eagerly for literary fame, fired Mr. Chalmers's breast. Every thought of his heart, every word of his lip, every action of his life, he would henceforth strive to regulate under a high presiding sense of his responsibility to God; his whole life he would turn into a preparation for eternity. With all the ardour of a nature which never could do anything by halves, with all the ardour of an enthusiasm which had at length found an object worthy of its whole energies at their highest pitch of effort, he gave himself to the great work of setting himself right with God. The commencement of such an enterprise makes a great and signal epoch in his spiritual history. It sprung out of his profound sense of human mortality; his vivid realizing of the life that here is in its connexion with the life that is to come; his recognition of the supremacy which God and the high interests of eternity should wield over the heart and life of man. It did not originate in any change in his speculative belief induced by his studies either of the contents or credentials of the Bible. In the course of that memorable transition-period, which elapsed from the beginning of November, 1809, till the close of December, 1810, important modifications in his doctrinal views were undoubtedly effected. His partial discovery of the pervading and defiling element of ungodliness gave him other notions of human depravity than those he had previously entertained, and prepared him not only to acquiesce in, but to appropriate to himself, representations from which a year before he would have turned away with disgust. And with his altered view of human sinfulness, there came also an altered view of the atonement. He was prepared now to go farther than he had gone before in recog. nising the death of Christ as a true and proper sacrifice for sin. Still, however, while looking to that death for the removal of past guilt, he believed that it lay wholly with himself, after he had been forgiven, to approve himself to God, to win the Divine favour, to work out the title to the heavenly inheritance. The full and precise effect of Christ's obedience unto death was not as yet discerned. Over that central doctrine of Christianity, which tells of the sinner's free justification before God through the merits of his Son, there hung an obscuring mist; there was a flaw in the motive which prompted the struggle in which Mr. Chalmers so devotedly engaged; there was a misconception of the object which it was possible by such a struggle to realize. More than a year of fruitless toil had to be described ere the true ground of a sinner's acceptance with God was reached, and the true principle of all acceptable obedience was implanted in his heart.'Ib. pp. 153—155.

From this period Mr. Chalmers kept a journal, which our author has largely drawn upon in order to portray him as he was; and as here we have frequent glimpses into the inner life of a soul struggling towards God, and panting for ever new and ever higher manifestations of Him-we pronounce the extracts from this journal to be among the chief attractions of the biography.

This daily record of his often infirmities, and of his spiritual growth, was intended for no eye but his Maker's and his own;

[ocr errors]

but now that the illustrious writer of them has joined the 'band of the immortals, they may with propriety be presented to the public eye. Much shall he learn, who closely studies them, of the simplicity of the life of a good man—'integer vitæ scelerisque purus'-—which, in spite of differing creeds and manifold sectarianisms, is alike in all who love and obey the truth ; and of the safety and bliss of that soul which dwells ever in the secret place of the Most High.' Beautiful are the features of his character herein discernible—a panting for the Water of Life-aspiration after the Divine nature-gentleness as of a tender mother, simplicity as of a little child—the loud utterances of a mighty soul, and wailings and sympathies touching as the notes of an Æolian harp-an earnest and constant endeavour after purity of motive—a walk with God-incessant warfare with everything which is antagonistic to heavenly-mindedness-and, above all, a complete devotement of his powers to the service of Him who

came to seek and to save that which was lost.' In many passages--making allowances for the difference in the time and circumstances of the two men—we are strongly reminded of the life of the elder Henry by his saintly son; than which-if that biography is to be the most commended which is the closest portrait-painting - we maintain that no better has ever been written. The intellectual endowments of these two great men differed essentially—where the one only whispered, the other thundered-where the illustrious Nonconformist gently pleaded, the athletic Presbyter argued with a trumpet-tongue — and while Henry was well-versed in antique theology, the Greek version of the Septuagint, in the New Testament, and in that heavy scholastic Latinity, which was a substantial part of learning in the seventeenth century, Chalmers had perhaps the slightest acquaintance with these; but they strongly resembled each other in their humbleness, self-reliance, submission to the Divine will, eminent holiness, and complete devotedness to the object of their mission. They of our readers who have not been fortunate enough to peruse these volumes of the Life of Chalmers, may be desirous of learning how the great change' was happily completed. We will allow our author to narrate this for us :

The effort after a pure and heavenly morality which Mr. Chalmers had so long and so unfalteringly sustained, was now on the eve of a change, which was not only to alter, but to reverse in their relative positions its starting point and its goal. All the natural elements at work throughout this struggle were elements of signal power. A vigorous and enlightened intelligence--a conscience strong, but very tender-most delicately susceptible, yet devoid of all narrowness and weakness—a will of most inflexible determination, become now a yielding servant to the high sense of duty—these all exerting them

« FöregåendeFortsätt »