BOOKS | A Scottish precursor to Kuyper and Schaeffer
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If someone is surrounded by books all day, he may be able to write a good one himself.
That’s at least the case with Sandy Finlayson, the librarian at Westminster Theological Seminary. He wrote a solid biography of Thomas Chalmers, the founding father of the Free Church of Scotland. Published in 2021, it slipped by our review system last year, but we didn’t want you to miss it, so we’re reviewing it here.
Chalmers was well known in the 19th century, and Finlayson’s book, Chief Scottish Man: The Life & Ministry of Thomas Chalmers (Evangelical Press), captures his significance in Scottish history. (The title comes from Chalmers’ contemporary, commentator Thomas Carlyle, who called Chalmers the “chief Scottish man of his time.” His time was 1780-1847.)
Chalmers led about a third of the state church to break away from the government-established Church of Scotland in the 1843 Great Disruption. Americans take church independence for granted, but the shift in Scotland was momentous, as evangelicals launched a church free of excessive government snares.
Chalmers was a pioneer in other ways. He preached the gospel clearly and was a leading advocate of church responsibility to tackle poverty and other urban ills. He had an early evangelical vision for the gospel applied in cities, as he demonstrated in practice as a pastor in Glasgow. He called for compassion for needy children and families who had no church connection, as they moved from rural areas to cities in the Industrial Revolution.
That compassion grew out of a larger vision for the Lordship of Christ over all areas of life. He was an early Scottish advocate for what Abraham Kuyper would later seek in Dutch circles, or Francis Schaeffer would plead for in the American 20th century. One of Chalmers’ sermon series was titled “The Application of Christianity to the Commercial and Ordinary Affairs of Life.”
Chalmers grew up with a nominal faith from parents and church. He came to a clear commitment to Christ through two interesting influences: the writings of the French Christian mathematician Blaise Pascal and the apologetics of English abolitionist William Wilberforce.
Finlayson tells how Chalmers became a shining light for Scotland and a worthy role model for later generations.
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