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distrustful course of some who would perhaps charge Chalmers
with a rationalising tendency, because he reasoned on the exter-
nal evidences, and endeavored to conciliate scientific minds to-
wards the Scriptures. The main ground, however, of such a
charge would be his having said so little, and thought so little of
the dogma of the Church's authority and the Church's abstract
right to teach, whilst the mighty effort of his whole religious life
was to render the member of Christ's body to which he belohg-
edy an actually teaching Church, the more zealous in pointing out
the way of life, and in proving the rigid faith of her articles by
her self-denying works, at the very period when she was stripped
of the patronising aid of a worldly state and time«-serving states-
men.

We have no disposition to speak in slighting terms of the great
question of the Church's visibility, of the Church's trile authority,
and of that belief which tends to regard this visible Church as, m
a most important sense, the pillar and ground of the truth. It in-
volve*s the greatest' and most difficult problem of the age, and
God grant uiat it may be soon brought to a right decision, with
an avoidance of all extremes at war with the true idea of Christ's
visible and glorious kingdom on earth. We would not speak
iireverently of any peculiar aspect of Christian belief that con^
iiecta itaell with such a hope, but we would not fear to express



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1848} GMhucm

tLa coDvictioii, that mmh that is aaid of high fiiith, and implUil

faith, and this boast of a faith that never reasons, and much of tlie .
mock humility of this deference to authority, would be found, on
close examination, to cover up a naked and shivering infidelityi
that wants the name of faith, (because in the present swing of
tijne's pendulum, belief of some kind has become connected with
the claim of higher intellect,) and yet is afraid to reason, afraid
to trust the soul with the Scriptures, and, therefore, cheats itself
■with the fancy that it believes, when it has only violently, and by
a stubborn effort of an unreasoning will,.closea its eyes to doubt;
thus timidly taking shelter in an authority which it does not truly
acknowledge with the intelligence, and which, therefore, it can
n^ver truly revere. Even frames and feelings would .furnish a
better ground than this; certainly, then, the least conviction of
the heart, or the understanding, truly enlightened by the reading of
the Scriptures, and especially the evangelical narrative. In o&e
place of his recorded comments in the course of his Bible readings^
Chalmers speaks of " simply believing on the name of Christ, —
(the name itself alone, however indefinite, he says, the expression
might seem,) — as bein^ at certain times the highest exercise o£
faiSh to which the soul could aspire. '^ Some might regard this
as indeed indefinite, and yet, to a truly believing spirit, this sim*>
pie trust in the name of Jesus, this silent touch of the hem of Hi»
garment, may have far more of firmness and security than anj
boasting faith that proudly builds itself on antiquity, and props
itself up with the infallibility of fathers and councils, or sur-
rounds itself with every appeal to the sense to be found in im«>
posing forms, to the rejection of all the decisions of the reasodo^
and all the convictions of the heart..

In respect to this firmness of faith of which we have beeft
treating, it would furnish an interesting parallel to compare
Chalmers with Newman. The admirers of the latter would, per-
haps, charge the former with a rationalizing tendency, or with
the want of a high and transcendent faith. Without, however^
meddling at all with the theological dogmas connected with their
names, we may call attention to the moral phenomena presented
in the religious lives of these two men ; as illustrative of th«
clearness and power of the interior religious principle. In this
. respect, how strong the contrast between the rational, calm, and
stedfast faith of the one, and the uneasy, distrustful, unsatisfied,
and ever unsettled state of mind which the other has so signifir
cantly exhibited in his own famous work on developments — a
work, too, in which the best method of rationalising on religious
belief, and of reconciling the Scriptures with whatever any one's
private judgment may wish to believe, may be almost said to b«
Tieduced to a science.

Nothing, perhaps, will stand out more prominently in the bi(fe



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980 OMmers. [Aprils

graph J of Chalmers than the strenuous effort he made to hring
about a reconciliation, and a permanent peace, between science,
especially natural science, and theology. To this his earliest
and most earnest zeal seems to have been directed, after that re-
markable change in his religious views which has been so fire-
({uently mentioned* Its first fruits were those astronomical dis-
courses by which he may be said to have astonished alike the
relimous and the scientific communities. Much as we have been
earned away with admiration of the eloquence and profundity
manifested in these remarkable discourses, there has ever seemed
to us discoverable in them a simplicity of feeling not at all incon-
sistent with, but rather enhancing our conception of, the Chris-
tian greatness which marks the eflfort. We have been led to
compare the direct earnestness and enthusiasm of Chalmers in
these productions, so largely sharing in the rich unction of those
new views which now fined his soul, with that simplicity of zeal
which often marks the young Christian convert in the humbler
walks of life.

There have been, at times, witnessed in our land certain periods
of deep religious interest, to which has been generally given
the name of revivals. This is not the place to discuss the question
of their reality, but there may be certainly an allusion to them,
and their effects, as actual and interesting phenomena. Very
many delusions, it may be admitted, much that is spurious, much
also that is positively hurtful, have often attended and followed
them. It may be granted, too, that the name has sometimes been

S'ven to that which was wholly deceptive and unreal. It may
kewise be freely conceded, that there is something practically
vnrong about that religious system, which requires, for tne preser-
vation of its vital continuity, the recurrence of such spasmodic re-
suscitations. And yet, no truly serious man, who has ever wit-
nessed the most remarkable features of some of these seasons of
deep religious solemnity, can avoid feeling, that there is some-
thing about them which forms the subject of one of the deepest
chapters in any work on anthropology or mental philosophy. In
the bosom of some remote country congregation, in the confer-
ence or enquiry meeting of the rural school-house, and sometimes
among the assembled worshippers in the grove, fliere have been
not unfiequently presented scenes of most surpassing interest.
Amid much that might justly be styled narrow, irrational, and
even repulsive, there have been also facts and phenomena wor-
thy of the deepest attention of all our fact-hunting Baconians.
There have been most serious exhibitions of humanity under
strange influences, altogether beyond the explanation of that su-
perficial philosophy which finds in the word imagination, a
standing solution of all difficulties. There have been psychologi-
cal an<r moral wonders, which after all allowance for ordinary



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i



axid anittal ft^liag^ premt a proUemnot omlybtyoBd the iolu-
tion of a Marryatt or a Dickens, but also too profound for the
pUlosophy of a Kant, a Stewart, or a Cousin.

In such seasons, one of the most striking characteristics is. the
simplicity of zeal with which the young convert, or the one just
awakened, as the great Chalmers was, to see ^^how outrageously
wrong had been his former estimate of time and eternity,^ urges
upon others the consideration of the great truths, which now fill
the entire angle of his spiritual vision. How he seems to think
and feel as though he could almost convert his companions with
a word, and by one impassioned exhortation bring them to behold
that new aspect under which the heavens, and the earth, and
God, and life, and death,, and all things present, ana all
things to come, now appear to his unclouded vision ! How can
they be blind to that which seems to him the purest and mest
penetrating light! How can they be insensible to that which
appears to him the most exalted reason ! Only change, now, the
view to a higher sphere of worldly and intellectual rank, and

J'ust in this relation does the converted Chalmers seem to stand to
is companions of the learned and scientific world. He has dis-
covered " how wrong — how outrageously wrong — in bygone days,
had been his own estimate of the littleness of time and the mag-
nitude of eternity ;" and, at once, in all the fervid simplicity of
his great Christian soirit, he seems to feel that he can bring all
the astronomers, ana chemists, and geologists, in Christendom,
to the same sublime discovery. Why can uiey not see a glory in
the moral government of Grod far surpassing any exhibitions of law
and development in the natural ! Why can they not understand,
that the greatness and minuteness of His providence, His wondrous
love. His unsearchable justice, together with the awful impor-
tance which attaches to the acts oi moral agents, however £^|f^
cally insignificant, are not in any way diminished, or at all anected
by the extent of the material universe, or by any discoveries
which science may make among the endlessly diversified forms of
mere physical animation ! He nad not then yet learned the fact
which he himself afterwards seems to proclaim in some parts of
his sermons, that there is no trifling like the trifling of mere natu*
ral science esteeming itself the highest wisdom, unless it be thq
utter inanity of that most contemp^ble thing which now so often
passes under the name of literature*

Such is the impression which, to one acquainted with the reli-
gious history of Chalmers and his former connexion with the sci-
entific worla, comes up most naturally on the reading of those
eloquent discourses in which he so powerfully deals with our
natural men. And yet, from other psurts of his works, we have
reason to conclude, tnat he felt the same disappointment that has

TBUID 8EJUES, VOL. IV. MO. 2. 11



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S52 Chdfners. [Aprils

so often attended the more humble eflbrt with which we have
compared it.

Not eyen all the eloquence and reasoning of a Chalmers can
ercr make religion fit well, or comfortably, in a philosophic or
scientific dress. The gospel seems to demand, that in doin^
homage to it, the insignia of every other order must first be laid
aside, to be resumed again, it may be, but if so, only in subordi-
nation to its high calling. That which imparts true light to all
below can accept no aid from temporal science, except it comes
back as a reflection from its own beams. But this is a position
which science unbaptized will never take. She would, forsooth,
be styled the " handmaid of rdigion,^^ conferring independent
aid, and sometimes assuming to be regarded as her humanising
and liberalising instnictor.

We have no reason to believe that Christianity and philosophy
have ever much changed their reciprocal attitude to each other
since the days of Paul. It is assumed, of course, that one who
has heartily embraced the former, sees and acknowledges in it
a sublimity of truth which places the humblest believer immea-
surably above the proudest exercise of the natural reason. But
philosophy and the world, regarded as without, never will ac-
knowledge this, and can never, by any process of argument, be
persuaded of its truth. However much, then, the Church may
have an ambitious desire to be thought rational, and to be, in this
respect, ** like all the nations that are round about her ;'' how-
ever much she may claim, and truly claim, to be under the light
even of the most transcendent reason ; however much she may
cast off her plain Scriptural garb, and assume a new dialect more
seemingly philosophical, and more in accordance with such an
attitude ; still, whilst the world remains the world, and the
Church the Church, will the latter, if true to herself, be deemed
unreasonable, illiberal, unscientific, and unphilosophical ; alien
to the highest natural truths, and especially so in regard to the
rank whicn the mere sciolist is ever demanding for them.

Such being the case, the Church's highest wisdom in this mat-
ter is to bear the imputation, whilst she finds her true power in
those stronger spiritual weapons which never came from the sci-
entific or philosophical armory. Chalmers himself did not be-
come a Christian through these means. No discoveries in astro-
nomy, or chemistry, or geology, ever aided in correcting that
" false estimate of his bygone days ;" nor, on the other hand,
when the hour came in which he was to hear his Master's voice,
and henceforth do his Master's work, did any scientific difficulties
impede Ae influence of those new views of moral truth, which
resulted in such an entire renovation of his being.

The reasoning of Chalmers in these astronomical discourses
may be pronounced perfect. As far as the bare logical argument



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1818.] Chalmers. 353

ean be viewed separate from his gorgeous eloquence, it is wiA-
0ut a flaw. The moral world has Tiigher and more imperatire
axioms than the physical. One of these commands us to believe
that the Divine care of every part, especially every rational and
moral part, is undiminished, in any sense, by the magnitude of
the ^hole— yea, rather than it is enhanced bv it. Our little
world is as near to Him, and -as much the object of His most
particular superintendence — its moral agents are of as much im-
portance in the scale of being ; their sins are events of as dread
magnitude ; their souls are as precious in His sight, as though
the earth were the whole of His dominions. The fact that there
are millions of other worlds, does not detract one jot or tittle from
the strength and soundness of this conclusion from the axioms of
the moral reason. Whatever general providence, then, exercised
towards our race, whatever special care, whatever love, whatever
wrath, whatever administration of justice, whatever remedial in-
terpositions would have been credible on the hypothesis of there
bein^ no other world, or race of fallen beings, remains equally
credible, notwithstanding all the revelations of the telescope.
The moral argument remains just as it was before ; the ground
of faith remains just the same as it was before. If credible
then — and in our present reasoning, which is to weigh the astro^
nomical objection in a balance by itself, this is assumed — it is
equally credible now. Nothing has been added to or taken from
either side of the moral equation. Science has done nothing to
affect it one way or the other. The argument is felt to be con-
clusive as long as the reason only is addressed. No conclusion
in the mathematics ever came more directly than this does, from
the necessary & priori assumption of the idea of a perfect God,
whose moral attributes are the highest part of His character.
And yet, on the least wavering of the soul, in comes the imagina-
tion, usurping the name and place'of reason, and overpowers, at
times, her strongest decisions, and all the unanswerable assuran-
ces of the moral argument. The infidel sciolist also appeals to
reason, to the nature of things, and to science. He talks of
high views, and wide views, and condemns the narrowness of the
believer; and yet it is h6 himself who is carrying one of the
weakest prejudices of humanity into all his speculations about
Glod and redemption. It is he who is justly liable to the charge
of anthropopathy. It is he who imagines that the Deity is " alto-
gether such an one as himself,'' with a providence growing more
and more diluted, and a moral government, fif He has any moral
government at all), necessarily growing weaker 'and weaker, and
more and more imperfect, with the increasing extent of the physi*
cal universe.

NotMrithstanding this, the mere sciolist will never be converted
simply by this argument, nor be ever led to give up his vain ob-



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864 ChahMTi. [AiMfilf

jectidns. His own view squares exactly with the level ef his
natural understanding. The moral argument is with him but a&
appeal to imaginary feelings, simply because he has never felt
the power of me truth which lies at its foundation. With him,
time, and space, and number, and magnitude are the realities ;
eternity, and all those moral entities of the unseen, supernatural
world, which are unaffected by time, and space, and magnitude,
are but ill-apprehended dreams and shadows.

So stands the case in respect to reasonings from the moral to
the natural, or from the natural to the morsu world. There is a
gulf between them which is never psssed simply on the line of
speculative argument. Chalmers lumself appears to have keenly
felt this, in the concluding portions even of the Astronomical Dis-
courses. The last sermon in that splendid series appears espe-
cially to manifest, in this respect, a melancholy sentiment of (us-
appointed hope. He could not but be aware of the tribute to his
powers of reasoning and eloquence, which had been paid by such
crowds of admiring listeners ; and yet, to most of them, perhaps
to all whom he had most desired to affect, he applies the words
of the text, which he seems to have chosen in a feeling of sadness,
if not of disappointment. It had been unto them only ^^ as the
very lovely song of one who hath a pleasant voice, and can play
well upon an instrument.'*

They doubtless admired the sublime range of his argument ;
but as the lively writer of some late sketches of Chalmers, in Fra-
ser's Magazine, says of himself and his companions, ^^ the^ did
notunderstandhisevangelism;" or as the same writer most naively
observes in another place, ^' Uiey cared nothing for his so caUed
evangelical theolo^j and would have enjoyed his oratory quite as
much, although his theme had not been a religious one at all."

Something of this kind, too, either derivea from his own per-
sonal experience, or from what he had observed in the crowds
his eloquence had attracted, led him often to take strong ground
against what may be styled the sentimental, or false feeling, in
rel^ion. It is not likely that his own healthy piety had ever
suffered much from this cause ; and yet he often makes it the
theme of some of his most animated and anxious addresses. He
seems to have felt that from this quarter more injury to a ri^ht
faith was to be apprehended, than from all the false reasoning
and blinding influence of philosophy. This was so, because there
was so much more danger of mistaking this false feeling — arising
often from a mere capacity for being moved by music and elo-
Quence — ^for religion itself. Ijt is a point, therefore, to which he
frequently recurs with the solemnity of one who felt that here
was one of the ^eatest perils which the soul of a cultivated and
intellectual auditor had to encounter. To use his own striking
language, ^^ he was too well aware of the distinction between



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ism] Okahnen. 8»

nenowneaa of feeHng and seriousness of principle ;^' and hence
the great number of passages in his discourses of which the fol-
lowing may be taken as specimens :

** But the falsehood takes possession of the inan's4>wn heart. He is pleased with
his emotions and his tears ; and the interpretation he puts upon them is, that they
come out of the fulness of a heart all alire to religion, and sensibly affected with
its charms, its seriousness, and its truth. Now, my brethren, I will venture to say,
that there may be a world of all this kind of enthusiasm with the very man who is •
not moving a step towards thai eternity over which h\a fancy delights to expatiate.
• * • • The mind may seize the vastness of some great conception, and rejoice in
the expanding loftiness of its own thoughts, as it dwells on the wonders of eternity.
« * * • The neart ma^ sadden into melancholy at the dark picture of death and its
unrelenting cruelties ; it can be soothed and animated when some sketch it laid be-
fore it of a joyful resurrection, triumphing over all the sorrows and separations
of the dark world that is now passing awa^. • • •• And yet, 0, my brethren, wc
fear, we greatly fear, that while busied with topics such as these, ma»^ a hearer
may weep, or be elevated, or take pleasure in the touching imagery that is made to
pl^ around him, whilst the dust of this perishable earth is all his soul cleaves to,
and its cheating vanities are all his heart cares for, or his footsteps follow after.
« • « « Oh ! it may have been a piece of parading insignificance altogether — the
jnreacher playing on his favorite instrument, and the people dissipating away their
time in the charm and luxury of a theatrical emotion."

It is a remarkable trait in the character and preaching of Chal-
mers, that whilst beyond almost all others, he might be styled
the messenger of the gospel to the cultivated intellect of his day,
he was also, in an extraorainary manner, the popular, the deeply
beloved, and the successful preacher to the poor, the ignorant, and
the neglected of mankind* Seldom have these two qualities been
found so combined before. Some of his plain parochial sermons
furnish no less evidence of his greatness in one department, than
his astronomical discourses in the other. He seems to have taken
even more delight in preaching to the Westport poor, than to the
intellectual audiences who thronged the Tron church of Glasgow,
or surrounded bis professorial chair of Moral Philosophy. His ser*
mons, too, to' such illiterate audiences, lost none of their true ele*
vation in being adapted to less cultivated minds. There was no
artifice employed to catch the admiration of the unlearned, no
mock humility, no seeming condescension to their capacities, no
presentation of truth ih a style affectedly simple and undignified.
And yet without this, he was ever fully understood. His preach-
ing to this class of minds was eminently successful. The reason
was, — he was ever serums and deeply in earnest. His mind \f as
ever on the great theme, which, whilst it furnishes the highest
topic for profoundest argument, comes home alike to the hearts
and capacities of the learned and the unlearned. It was the con-
tinual presentation, in some form or other, of the truth which he
so feelingly laments having neglected in " his by-gone days,"
when he had given himself up to the comparative trifles of chem-
istry and geology. It was the great thought to which he had
been aroused, once for all, to make henceforth its proclamation



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»f Cbaknm. [Afnk

Ihd great bii8ui«98 of hUUfe, ItwastheeoiuttaiitprtseBUitioiioftbe
contrast between the tilings seen and the things unseen, the con-
tinual pressing home the thought — " how wronjj, how outrage-
ously wrong, was the common estimate of the littleness of time
and the magnitude of eternity." Here, in one sense, all are on a
par. These thoughts may associate themselves with the highest
order of human intellect ; they have an equally solemn interest
for, and their greatness may therefore be equally appreciated by,
the humblest and the most untaught.

A veiT high evidence of the truly Christian character of Chal-
mers is furnished by his feeling appreciation, or spiritual discern-
ment, of the very essence of Christianity and the Christian life,
as seen in those the furthest removed from his own high intellec-
tual grade, and having nothing in common with himself but a
" like precious faith.'' In all this there is no trace of that
9purious sentimentalism which would seek a luxury of emotion
in the thought of its own condescension, or which would delight
in drawing a picture of lowly piety, that the world might see with
what dignity, and through what an immense distance, so intellec-
tual a disciple can stoop to appreciate the piety of bis humble
brother. No man ever presented with more feeling and power
than Chalmers, the moral sublimity of that character — the Chris*
tian poor man* As we read some of his inimitable sketcbciSy
the feeling cannot be avoided, that he does indeed recognise in
his subject a brother, — " a brother beloved" — a verjr near kins-



Online LibraryWashington (State) Office of commissioner of publiThe Biblical repository and classical review, Volume 4 → online text (page 43 of 93)