Thomas Chalmers

Portrait of Thomas Chalmers

Thomas Chalmers was born in Anstruther in Fife in 1780. At the age of twelve he was packed off to the University of St. Andrews where he studied mathematics. He became a licensed preacher in 1799. He went on to study at Edinburgh University before he was ordained as a minister and returned to the university at St. Andrews where he lectured on mathematics.

Chalmers began his ecclesiastical career as a moderate but soon gravitated towards evangelicalism and he moved to Glasgow in 1815 where he tried to apply the Scottish parochial system to the urban environment. He encouraged the working class to take responsibility for themselves and attempted to bring religion to the godless masses. He also spoke out against the assessment system of poverty relief as he believed in patronage explaining that help should be raised and dispensed voluntarily.

In 1823 he accepted the chair of moral philosophy at St. Andrews where he lectured on morals and ethics for five years before taking the chair of theology in Edinburgh in 1828. He continued to be a leading evangelical figure and found himself at the head of the movement fighting unsuccessfully for spiritual independence from the government; he didn't believe the government or courts should be allowed to meddle in church affairs. This led to the Disruption in the Church of Scotland in 1843 and Chalmers led the evangelical movement to found the Free Church.

In 1844 he ministered to the population of the run down West Port in Edinburgh but he died a few years later in 1847. He published various works over the years and had a profound effect on the religious movement in Scotland but was ultimately unable to effect the changes he desired.