DISRUPTION II National Level *Painting *Thomas Chalmers *procession


This very impressive and energetic gentleman was born in Fife. Af the age of eleven, he entered St. Andrews University, where studied mathematics. By the age of 19, in 1799, he was licensed as a preacher. He attended more courses at Edinburgh University and was ultimately ordained as minister of Kilmany in Fifeshire. He also continued a series of very popular lectures on mathematics and chemistry. In 1815, Chalmers became minister of the Tron Church in Glasgow. The town council opposed him (unsuccessfully), because of his evangelistic teachings.

In 1819, Chalmers became minister of the parish of St. John in Glasgow. He was of the opinion that the parochial system must be strengthened in order to mitigate urban problems so common in Glasgow. Of 2,000 families in St. John parish, more than 800 had no connection with any Christian church. First, Chalmers opened 40 and 50 Sabbath schools, where more than 1000 children were taught both civil and religious subjects. He also opened 2 schoolhouses, for 70 students (charged very moderate fees). Also, the parish was divided into 25 districts each with an elder and deacon, to care for peoples' spiritual and physical needs.

Chalmers disapproved of compulsory assessment for the poor, since he felt that relief should be raised and administered by voluntary means. Otherwise compulsory government assessment would swell the evils it was intended to mitigate. (Hmmm! Maybe he was correct!!!) Although theory said his methods were impossible in large cities, at the beginning of his work in St. Johns, the poor cost the city 1400 pounds per annum. After four years, the pauper expenditure was reduced to 280 pounds per annum. All applications were dealt with by the district deacon, and every effort was made to enable the poor to help themselves.

He spent the next decade teaching in university, and leading the evangelical section of the Scottish Church in the General Assembly. Given his energy and background, Chalmers was the obvious choice for leader as the crisis grew over the intrusion of pastors with no regard for the congregation. It was he who ensured that the 'sustenation fund' was large enough to support ministers who left their manses in 1843.

On 18 May 1843, 121 ministers and 73 elders led by Dr David Welsh, the retiring Moderator, left the Church of Scotland General Assembly at the Church of St. Andrew in George Street, Edinburgh, to form the Free Church of Scotland. After Dr Welsh read a Protest, they walked out and down the hill to the Tanfield Hall at Canonmills where their first meeting, the Disruption Assembly, was then held with Thomas Chalmers the first Moderator. A further meeting was held on 23 May for the Signing of the Act of Separation by the ministers. Eventually 474 of the about 1200 ministers adhered. It is this event which is portrayed in the above painting.

This illustration gives us some idea of the scale of this event in Edinburgh and in Scotland. It was a true revolution, without the gunpowder and dead bodies. Given Chalmer's genius for organization, I don't believe this event would have been successful.

Upon his death in May of 1847, there were a multitude of obituaries written in praise of this man. Among them is one by Lord Cockburn:

"We are all struck, and saddened, by this unexpected death of Chalmers. Who was a greater living Scotchman? Who has Scotland to boast of, as a Churchman, and on matters connected with the policy of religion, beyond him, since the Reformation?.... And his walks have been so varied. Not confined to the commonplace, technical salvation of souls, he has enriched and enobled this pursuit by striking discussions of every kindred and political subject."

Sources for this page:

"Annals of the Disruption, 1843"

"Thomas Chalmers: Free Church. Biography.

Thomas Chalmers: Chapter 25, Retrospect

The next page gives a couple of negative reactions to the Disruption, by contemporaries.