Chalmers saw many poor Scots drawn to such power-seeking agitation, and many among the rich heedlessly pursuing their own pleasures. Sermons that merely denounced such tendencies were inadequate. In his “Expulsive Power of a New Affection” sermon, Chalmers said of worldly enticements, “It is not enough, then, that we dissipate the [world’s] charm by a moral, and eloquent, and affecting exposure of its illusiveness. … The love of God and the love of the world are two affections not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity.”
Chalmers internally felt that enmity. His love of God expressed itself both in writing and in caring for the poor, but the first came easily and the second was hard. A diary Chalmers kept indicates the tension. He wrote on Nov. 24, 1815, “God give me wisdom, and save me from being enraged at the annoyances of the poor.” On March 5, 1818, he wrote, “Got impatient with a man who called on me.”
That year, 1818, the Church of Scotland issued a report on poor relief: Its General Assembly emphasized church-led charity that “cherishes habits of humanity and benevolence in one class while it imparts relief to another [and] confers the most valuable good upon society by binding its different ranks together through reciprocal feelings of kindness and good will.” Chalmers personally pushed such binding: In 1819 he gave up the pastorate of Tron Church to be pastor in a new church building for which he had raised funds, located in impoverished St. John’s.
Watt was single-minded, and Chalmers tried to have the same attitude toward the poor. He resolved to devote every afternoon to visiting the poor families in their homes. He divided his new parish into 25 districts, putting a deacon in charge of each and charging them “to discriminate and beneficially assist the really necessitous and deserving poor.” But deacons were also busy in their occupations, and many parishioners wanted to talk directly with their pastor.
Chalmers had what today we would call burnout. His diary regularly included sentences such as this one in February 1822: “Begin to feel again the fatigue and the sore vexation of Glasgow. O my God, may I be still and do Thy work as Thy servant.” A sympathetic biographer in 1896, W. Garden Blaikie, noted that Chalmers’ “labours had grown to such multiplicity and variety as to demand an expenditure of bodily and mental energy that could not be continued.”
Chalmers was effective in his counseling because he understood that it is “impossible … for the heart, by any innate elasticity of its own, to cast the world away from it; and thus reduce itself to a wilderness. The heart is not so constituted; and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.” The new one Chalmers emphasized was “salvation by free grace—salvation not of works, but according to the mercy of God. … Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel, and we raise a topic of distrust between man and God.”
‘It is not enough, then, that we dissipate the [world’s] charm by a moral, and eloquent, and affecting exposure of its illusiveness. … The love of God and the love of the world are two affections not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity.’ —Thomas Chalmers
Not only worldviews but callings contained expulsive power. In 1823, when Chalmers’ alma mater St. Andrews offered a professorial chair, he found the prospect “very congenial.” He realized, or rationalized, that “through the press, the prospect had opened of impregnating not Glasgow only, but the whole empire with his views.” He turned his work in St. John’s over to others, but without him it faltered.
In 1843 Chalmers led the majority of Church of Scotland pastors out of that denomination because it was allowing wealthy patrons rather than churches to appoint pastors. Chalmers died in 1847 soon after offering one of his last prayers: “Oh that I were enabled to pull down the strongholds of sin and of Satan.”
JAMES WATT, with a public relations sense, created the word horsepower to show the world what steam rather than a team of horses could do. In 1882 the British Association for the Advancement of Science expressed its gratitude by adopting the word watt for a unit of power. A chalmers did not become part of the English language, but Covenant College on Lookout Mountain above Chattanooga now has the Chalmers Center for Economic Development. It works to help local churches transform the lives of low-income people without creating dependency.
Sadly, although Chalmers churned out book after book, by 1898—the year a People’s Palace opened on Glasgow Green—those works were moldering on library shelves. The palace now has a “People’s Visions” exhibit on class conflict that features artwork it advertises in this way: “Presents a powerful vision of Socialism as a solution to the suffering created by Capitalism.” The exhibit claims that “alcoholism, poverty, and disease will be alleviated by Socialism”—not by Christ and His followers. WORLD’s next two issues will feature attempts by Christian Scots to alleviate those problems.