Thomas Chalmers - First Sermon (1811)

By 1811 Thomas Chalmers had turned from the man described above to a passionate evangelical Christian and a wonderful preacher. How did this transformation happen? Unfortunately, I have not found an account of his conversion moment. The following are occasions in his life that probably led him towards the prize, but in my opinion there had to have been a conversion experience for there to have been such a change in him. First of all the deaths of his brother and sister must have impacted him considerably. They both had a saving knowledge of Christ, and Chalmers could see in their deaths that they were not frightened; something he could not say for himself. Secondly, his sickness, which was the same as killed his brother and sister, took him to thinking about eternity. Thirdly, he had a broken engagement. Chalmers had become engaged to Anne Rankine, a beautiful woman he probably had known since they were children. He was very jealous of her, but despite her denying any wrongdoing, he pulled away from the relationship. Instead of coming running to him, she told her friends that she had broken off the engagement. He responded in his usual way by speaking out against Anne and her family, but still desperate for a reconciliation. The way he gossiped about her was the end for Anne and she closed the door on any possible reconciliation. Chalmers was passionate about her, but he lost her through his own stupidity. Fourthly, he came into contact with some young Evangelicals. He had spoken at Assembly in 1809 on issue that was against the landed gentry, which was therefore against the Moderate party and against the Tories. As a result some Evangelicals started to court Chalmers because they were against the same people. The various conversations they had must have been an influence on him. There were also other tragedies at home. His father had gone senile and another sister died of consumption. The finances of his parents were dire and it was his job as eldest son to look after them, and his own finances were dreadful as well. In his grief and sadness he withdrew to his room at his parents, home and read ‘Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians,’ by William Wilberforce, which had a major impact on him. Having read it he recalls that he was, ‘on the eve of a great revolution in all my opinions about Christianity.’.

It appears that the moment of his conversion happened soon after or at the time of reading Wilberforce’s book in December 1810, because on the 14th February he preached at the nearby parish of Dairsie, an Evangelical sermon that had a profound effect on the congregation. The change in him was soon apparent to his own congregation. Up until now he had preached a sermon that nobody was interested in, as can be seen from the more than halving of the collections compared with his predecessor. The following excerpt shows the type of sermon these poor people had to listen to; one full of Enlightenment theory, "In what particular manner the death of our Redeemer effected the remission of our sins, or rather, why that death was made a condition of this remission, seems to be an unrevealed point in the Scriptures. Perhaps the God of nature meant to illustrate the purity of his perfection to the children of men; perhaps it was efficacious in promoting the improvement, and confirming the virtue of other orders of being. The tenets of those whose gloomy and unenlarged minds are apt to imagine that the Author of nature required the death of Jesus merely for the reparation of violated justice, are rejected by all free and rational inquirers." But now he was preaching ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.’ A neighbour of Chalmers tackled him once on the fact that whenever he visited he was never preparing for the Sunday sermon, but after the change in him the visitor said that whenever he called, he found Chalmers studying the Scriptures He now attracted large crowds to his sermons. In 1810 there were 270 adults at the annual Communion, but 458 the following year. He was now in demand by Evangelicals all over the country. The power in his preaching was what made him stand out, and what was so different before his conversion. Surprisingly though he always read his sermons, unlike most Evangelical preachers of the time. He was not an attractive man and he spoke with a strong Fife accent, but he spoke with passion and eloquence.

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The Church is currently (May 2009) empty and privately owned.