Thomas Chalmers and Edward Irving

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Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
I mentioned this source in the Marcus Dods thread. It comes from a memoir, and is a bit anecdotal, but here is the record of a conversation between Thomas Chalmers and an evangelical English Quaker named J. J. Gurney about Edward Irving:

Dr Chalmers conversations with us have been much more frequently about things than persons, & indeed he has too much intelligence & power of mind to descend to a species of conversation commonly called gossip – which is the frequent refuge of many whose understandings are meagerly bestowed with information. Persons however who form the combination of talent & oddity have made a noise in the world, must lay their account for being the subject of conversation in all sorts of companies. Such a man is Edward Irving who once acted as an assistant preacher to Dr Chalmers in the Tron Church at Glasgow. –

Chalmers. “When Irving was associated with me at Glasgow, he did not attract a large congregation, but he completely attached to himself & to his ministry a limited number of persons with whose minds his own was in affinity. I have often observed this effect produced by men whose habits of thinking this feeling are peculiar or eccentric. They possess a magnetic attraction for minds assimilated to their own.”

“Nevertheless,” I [Gurney] observed, “eccentricity, especially in persons of serious religion, is extremely undesirable. I much prefer those broad, intelligible qualities which attract the mass of mankind.”

Chalmers. “Yes truly, after all, gravitation is much better than magnetism.”

Chalmers himself is an admirable example of the attraction of gravitation. His clear reasoning, good sense & honest simplicity united with extraordinary warmth & rigor of mind have rendered him steadily influential over a whole population. With regard to Irving, it is a subject of deep regret to Dr Chalmers & his other friends in Scotland that his eccentricity has so far got the better of “the spirit of a sound mind” in him, that he has not only indulged himself in large flights in the region of unfulfilled prophecy, but has fallen into grievous error in relation to the moral nature of Christ, so much so, as even to assert (as I understand) the corruption of the human nature & therefore the peccability of the Holy One of Israel.

Dr Chalmers has so much confidence in the sincere piety of his friend, that he fully expects his return in due season, to the genuine & sober religion of the New Testament. Nevertheless such devious courses are very hurtful. They give occasion of triumph to the enemies of religion, & it may be to Religion’s Chief enemy; & we cannot doubt that they arise not merely from the obliquity but more especially from the pride of the heart of man.

Chalmeriana et colloquia Edinesia by J J Gurney, 1830-3 (Edinburgh Central Library, Edinburgh and Scottish Collection, YBR5349 C43, ff 64-7).
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