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ART. VIII.—NOTICES OF NEW PUBLICATIONS.
Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Thomas Chalmers, D. D., LL. D.
By his son-in-law, the Rev. Wm. HannA, LL. D. In three volumes. Vol. I. New-York: Harper & Brothers. 1850.
Notwithstanding our horror of big books of individual biography, and a kind of instinctive aversion or grievous discouragement which comes over us when numerous volumes are announced, to tell the world after a man is dead all about the sayings and doings with which he filled the world when he was alive, we are forced to make some exceptions to this salutary general rule. Nor can there be room for doubt that Dr. Chalmers's case furnishes one of the signal exceptions. It is not merely that he was a great and good man; possibly there may have been others quite as great and good, for whom a much briefer memorial would amply suffice. But in his life's history there has been an unusually instructive development of the falsity and perilous influence of some prominent principles, to which many great and good men cling with marvellous tenacity, and from which it may require more than one capital instance like the present effectually to divorce them. Gladly would we await the completion of this memoir, and then give to the consideration of the whole work a full-length review, such as the importance of some of the principles here involved seems to demand. But several months will elapse before the closing volumes of this memoir will be published, and in the meantime through other channels, even if we were to withhold any notice, the interesting incidents of this volume would be finding their way to the public eye. No option seems left us therefore but to follow in the path of contemporary journals, and give immediately some sketch of this memoir as its several parts are issued, accompanied with hints rather than full-length discussions, on some great principles which are here involved.
The plan of the memoir is essentially that of the class entitled autobiographies. The able and discreet compiler frankly states that he has done little more than select, arrange and weave into a continuous narrative those materials which his family already possessed, or which friends and correspondents kindly presented. Nor has he obtruded his own opinions, comments, excuses, or laudations on what Chalmers says of himself and his own history. This kind of officious impertinence is sometimes prodigiously provoking, when some very little man undertakes to be the expositor and oracle of an individual for whom he was incompetent to hold a candle or loose a shoe-string. The son-in-law of Dr. Chalmers has rightly judged that the public would desire no such services at his hands. Hence there is no demand made on us to look at either faults or excellences through any medium of his devising. The man and his acts are before you, to be looked at and judged as each one's capacity and principles dictate.
The first chapter, which of necessity is an exception to the above general remarks, contains a brief sketch of the birth-place, genealogy, childhood, college life, and license of the great Scotchman. Dr. Chalmers, the sixth child and fourth son in a crowded household of fourteen children, wus born at Anstruther, a little seaport town on the Fifeshire coast, the 17th March, 1780. -When two years old he was committed to a nurse, whose cruelty and deceitfulness haunted his memory through life. This sent him of his own accord to school at three years of age, less drawn by lovə of learning than driven by domestic persecution. His school-fellows remember him as one of the idlest, strongest, merriest, and most generoushearted boys in Anstruther school. Altogether unmischievous in his mirth, he could not bear that either falsehood or blasphemy should mingle with it. Generously did he always use his own greater strength to defend the weak and injured, who looked to him as their natural protector. Among the earliest books he read with absorbing delight was the Pilgrim's Progress. He saw and heard too much of ministers not to have early suggested to him the idea of becoming one ; and as soon as it was suggested it was embraced. Before twelve years of age he enrolled himself as a student in the United College of St. Andrews. His knowledge both of English and Latin was very defective, which unfitted him to profit, for the first two years, by his college residence. His third session, that of 1793–4, was his intellectual birth-time. His intellectual energies then put themselves forth spontaneously, ardently, undividedly, and perseveringly on his mathematical studies. Ethics and political economy soon gained his attention; and in 1795 he was enrolled as a student of divinity. To theological studies he seems however to have devoted but a very small degree of interest for a long period after. The first book which awakened his interest in theology was Edwards on the Will, which he studied with intense and absorbed attention. A quarter of a century later he thus reverts to some of his feelings about this time: “I remember, when a student of divinity, and long ere I could relish evangelical sentiment, I spent nearly a twelvemonth in a sort of mental elysium, and the one idea which ministered to my soul all its rapture was the magnificence of the Godhead, and the universal subordination of all things to the one great purpose for which He evolved and was supporting creation.” His custom then was to wander early in the morning into the country, that amid the quiet scenes of nature he might luxuriate in the glorious conception. His first public prayer in the University hall was so original and so eloquently worded, that universal wonder and very general admiration were excited by it. In the debating clubs he somewhat distinguished himself, having an unlimited command of words, and could speak for any length of time on almost any subject. In the last year of his course of studies he exercised himself in the vocation of private tutor in a family who could not or did not appreciate his worth, and who made his condition miserable. After the usual formalities, he was licensed as a preacher of the Gospel on the 31st of July, 1799. It was some time however after this that he first attempted to preach, and a much longer time before he knew, or loved, or preached the true Gospel of Christ.
In 1803 he was ordained as pastor of the parish of Kilmany, in an humble valley in the south of Scotland, among a purely agricultural population. His own charge did not exceed one hundred and fifty families, and the retirement and sequestration were eminently favorable to the habits of studiousness which at most periods of his life Dr. Chalmers evinced. But the total unfitness of the man for the solemn service of watching for souls, then and for seven years afterward, is one of the most noticeable and instructive features of this whole development. It is not too much to say that, for this length of time at least, he was manifestly in an unconverted state, giving himself up habitually to the ridicule of evangelical piety and zeal, while in the free if not frequent practice of cards, theatre-going, dancing, swearing, drinking his three glasses or more at a sitting, and other kindred improprieties, (the evidences of all which this memoir faithfully preserves;) but above all was he giving himself up to an idolatrous regard for intellectual superiority, the gross coveting“ anxious vanity,” is his own confession--of mere worldly eminence, and an utter disregard of the meekness and the self-renouncing spirit which true Christianity always promotes.
Now we cannot but ask, in this connection, what must be that establishment of religion worth which secured to the people such a minister! For this was and is the legitimate and usual result of linking Church and State; making the latter the patron aud controller, and the former the abused and underling partner in this monstrous compound of villainy and abuse. Let it not be said or claimed that this instance was only an ex. ception to those general rules which ordinarily secure better and worthier results. The history of religious establishments will not substàntiate any such claim; but rather will show that the prevailing, the usual tendency is to a result quite as bad as this. Indeed, the only thing here to be regarded as an exception is the reclamation which the wonder-working grace of God by its signal interposition made, in snatching him as a brand from the burning, and bringing him by a way which he knew not and sought not to know himself as an unregenerate soul, far from righteousness and from Gospel peace. This was in no way the result of his most unnatural position. Indeed that false position, even after his eyes were partially opened to its enormity and wrong, threatened in connection with a heart very proud and unyielding to draw him away from the Gospel remedy, or from a cordial acceptance and a grateful and public acknowledgment of it. How great and protracted were his struggles in this respect, his private, soul-history for the years 1810–11, and many subsequent records also, abundantly evince. A combination of afflictive and other arrangements, in the good providence of God, brought him through this marvellous change-brought him in fact from death to life. The whole of this portion of the memoir is intensely interesting; but at the same time is of a character impossible to be abridged or condensed into such limits as a notice will allow. We shall do our readers the best service by entreating them to peruse it with the profound thoughtfulness which it deserves. Now from this point mark the astonishing change in all the thoughts and aspirations of his mind, and indeed in the very current of his soul. Scarcely more marked was that transition in the life of Saul of Tarsus, when Jesus met and converted him, than was the transformation in the interior and exterior life of Chalmers. How his heart now yearns for the spiritual renovation of his kindred, his neighbors! With how different a disposition and manner does he go about the discharge of his parochial duties! Formerly he was abundantly satisfied if one day of the six were each week given to them. His short rhapsody of a sermon, oftentimes then not begun till the Sabbath morning, cost him little time or care ; and the other duties of a minister were conceived of and executed in a similar way. But now he ceases not to warn and entreat every one, publicly and from house to house, night and day, with tears, to flee unto Christ, and escape the wrath to come.
The manse and the church of Kilmany alike feel the pulsations of a new life, which speedily spreads its influences on every side. Some indeed mock and sneer; but the greater part listen and ponder with becoming seriousness. They cannot fail to inquire what these things mean. Not a few, taught both by his example and his counsels, become wise unto salvation. The joy of this success is not now the self-exaltation which once he indulged. He has learned to give to God all the glory; and he becomes more sweetly humbled and self-renouncing by the very evidences of his usefulness. 0. More than half of this volume is filled with those first fruits of the
great change, which both the heart and the life of its subject exhibited. His private journal has been largely drawn from, and his letters to members of his family and to other intimate friends make, when collated and arranged as here we find them, a full-length portrait of the man. It is one which the amateur of such artistic skill
as is here displayed may study with abundant profit. Indeed the struggles for excellence in the divine life have rarely been delineated in a manner at once so engaging and instructive. They deserve a repeated perusal, and will abundantly reward it.
More than nine years after his ordination he sought and found a fit companion of his domestic joys and sorrows. Some approximation to this deliberateness of procedure might well be commended to the imitation of a host of half-fledged striplings in the ministry, whose impatience of delay in the consummation of their anticipated bliss in connubial life too often awakens fears of their lack of prudence and wisdom in other and higher relations.
Dr. Chalmers's intercourse with Andrew Fuller, on one of his excursions to Scotland for the missions in India, and the mutual and high regard which at once they felt for each other, is a delightful feature in this memoir. It could scarcely have been otherwise. Such master minds are drawn towards each other by the force of a double affinity. How sweet the thought, that they are now together drinking from the river of life above, whose waters they were here so zealously engaged in different ways and spheres in sending forth to famishing and dying nations.
This volume closes with the transfer of its subject from the humble and lonely retreat at Kilmany to the bustling scene of his mid-day toil of life, in the Tron church in Glasgow'; in all the transactions connected with which change Dr. Chalmers evinced a most commendable discreetness, indicative of a mind richly imbued with the wisdom which is from above. No ambitious aspirings now ruffle the serene equanimity of his soul; yet when the exigency arrives, and the unsought decision must be made by him, he is equal to the emergency. The reasons, pro and con, for this removal and against it, as they are here preserved at length, may be profitably considered by those in similar circumstances. But we cannot. let slip so important an occasion to mark with its merited reprobation the system of patronage which all established churches are subject to; and which in the present case, notwithstanding the almost unanimous wishes of the parishioners and their session, came within a hair's breadth of defeating the wise choice of Chalmers as the pastor of this church, because, forsooth, the appointing power lay with the City Council! How long can sensible, religious men tolerate and plead for abuses so flagrant,- - so eminently destructive of the hope of either the purity or efficiency of the religion of Christ ?
A Cyclopædia of Biblical Lilerature. Edited by John Kitto, D. D.,
F. S. A., Editor of the “ Pictorial Bible," Author of the “ History and Physical Geography of Palestine," &c. &c. Illustrated by numerous Engravings. In two volumes. New-York : Mark H. Newman. Cincinnati : William H. Moore. Large 8vo, pp. 884,994.
This work had its origin in the conviction of the learned editor that the existing state of Biblical Literature furnished more ample stores of knowledge, illustrative of the Sacred Scriptures, than could be found in Calmet or in any of the more modern and more superficial works of the same kind. And yet the bringing together of these stores in the preparation of a Cyclopædia was a larger task than any one man might hope to perform. Dr. Kitto, therefore, having fixed the plan of his work, called in the aid of learned contributors on particular subjects, selecting from among the best scholars of our times, from several countries, and from several branches of the Christian family. Of these contributors we have counted forty, and we observe among them the honored names of Drs. Pye Smith, Davidson, Tholuck, and Leonard Woods, and of our own denomination, Dr. Davies, and the Rev. Messrs. Gotch and Ryland. Neander was invited to write the article on Baptism, but his engagements compelled him to make over the task to his dear friend" J. Jacobi, of the same University, himself inspecting it however before it was forwarded." Infant Baptism,” says this writer, “was established neither by Christ nor the apostles. In all places where we find the necessity of baptism notified, either in a dogmatic or historical point of view, it is evident that it was only meant for those who were capable of comprehending the word preached, and of being converted to Christ by an act of their own will." " Many circumstances conspired early to introduce the praetice of infant baptizing. The confusion between the outward and inward conditions of baptism, and the magical effect that was imputed to it; confusion of thought about the visible and invisible church, condemning all those who did not belong to the former; the doctrine of the natural corruption of man so closely connected with the preceding; and, finally, the desire of distinguishing Christian children from the Jewish and Heathen, and of commending them more effectually to the care of the Christian community,—all these circumstances and many more have contributed to the introduction of infant baptism at a very early period. But," continues the writer, “on the other hand, the baptism of children is not at all at variance with the principle of Christian baptism in general, after what we have observed on the separation of regeneration and baptism. For, since it cannot be determined when the former begins, the real test of its existence lying only in the holiness continued to the end of man's life, the fittest point for baptism is evidently at the beginning of life." "Nature and experience teach us : . to retain the baptism of children, now that it is introduced.” We can very readily accept the historical testimony here adduced, and as coming from a Pædobaptist it is valuable; but the support for an unappointed ordinance which the writer works out is another matter, and to us a lame conclusion. The introduction of this article is an honorable illustration of the general liberality and comprehensiveness of the work. There is nothing in the work, as we have seen, which savors of latitudinarianism, but there is the purpose, well accomplished, of bringing from every practicable source the results of modern research and criticism in illustration of the Bible. It is not necessary to say that the work is copious,-1800 closely printed large octavo pages sufficiently attest that; it is proper to say, however, that the subjects introduced are intended to meet every known want within the sphere which it is intended to supply. We regard it as highly valuable, not to say indispensable, and even that would be hardly saying too much, to the public teachers of religion, and valuable likewise to Sunday-school teachers, and to all intelligent students of the sacred volume. It is eminently learned, yet, except on occasional subjects, fully appreciable by readers generally, and indeed was intended to be not only a critical but a popular Cyclopædia. For further information concerning it the reader can turn to the advertising sheet which accompanies the present number of this Review.