This is the third of a series of posts examining Scotland’s involvement in the Great Century of Christian Missions. While the first two posts examined some of the factors that contributed to Scotland’s incredible missionary sending, the next four posts will examine various Scottish individuals who played a part in the movement.
Each person had a unique ministry and a variety of qualifications, yet they all possessed a passion for the Lord along with a Scottish stubbornness that suited their pioneer work from the halls of Scottish academic buildings, around the horn of Africa, and on to the far reaches of the New Hebrides.
While Thomas Chalmers did not physically travel the world as a missionary, his influence was felt across the nations. Born in 1780, during a time of spiritual stagnation in Scotland, Chalmers took a position at the University of St. Andrews as a professor. He was convinced that, “the surest hope (for the church in Scotland) was for a new generation of preachers.”1
Chalmers’ arrival at St. Andrews was described as bringing life into the theology classroom.2 “His lectures were fresh and intoxicating, and… his classroom in the quadrangle of ruins was overcrowded. A much larger room had to be found, and the following year he taught the largest moral philosophy class at St. Andrews in the nineteenth century.”3
One of the groups that benefited most from his arrival was a group of six students who, along with Chalmers, became known as “the St. Andrews Seven.” After one year of Chalmers’ teaching, four of these students created the St. Andrews University Missionary Association, and the last two joined soon after. This association would soon be supported in all its activities through the efforts of Chalmers with the revived school and town. Five of the students eventually sailed for India as missionaries (the last one died before a planned departure to India).
The fact that Chalmers was included with his six students in the moniker is a testament to the impact that he had on them at St. Andrews. One professor’s leadership, vision, philosophy, and theological education would convince six studious and promising young men that they would be of best use to the Lord by taking the gospel to India.
Chalmers’ impact at St. Andrews was not the only impact that he would have on Scotland’s sending during the Great Century. He taught a number of divinity students at St. Andrews, including Robert Murray McCheyne, who would fill pulpits across Scotland in the years to come. Chalmers was given the task of leading the task of extending the Church of Scotland across the country and establishing 222 new churches over a period of seven years.4
In 1843, Chalmers was one of the leaders of the Disruption, a movement in which one-third of all Scottish parish ministers would split from the Church of Scotland and establish the Free Church of Scotland, unencumbered by moderatism and an archaic patronage system. At the time, twelve men who were serving overseas with the Church of Scotland announced that they were affiliating themselves with the newly formed Free Church of Scotland.5 The Disruption was a result of a revival in Scotland in which the Holy Spirit moved through the ministry of some of Chalmers’ former students. The revival, which led to the Disruption, would ultimately result in Free Church missionaries in Central Africa and Syria.6 In Chalmers, one can observe the impact that academic faculty, preachers, and denominational leaders can have in mobilizing missionaries to go to the nations.
Born in 1806 in Auchnahyle, Scotland, Alexander Duff became the first missionary to be commissioned by the Church of Scotland in 1830. He was instructed to open a school in any area of India but Calcutta. Within six weeks of arriving in India, he ignored those instructions and opened a school in Calcutta.
His strategy was “to offer Indians of high caste a ‘Christian’ education. By this, he meant an education to the highest level in science which he understood as ‘the record and interpretation of God’s visible handiwork.’”7
By educating the elite in India in the Bible, arts, and sciences, Duff hoped to influence the highest echelons of Indian society for Jesus Christ. The strategy continued to be used after Duff’s ministry, “in order to bring the gospel to that intellectual elite which can hardly be reached by any other method.”8 He believed that the Indian elite, once converted, would disseminate the gospel throughout all of India and the whole country could be reached.
Although only thirty-three individuals converted to Christianity from among the thousands of students he educated at his school, these thirty-three influenced India for the gospel because of their family ties or their own personal ministry as missionaries and pastors. Duff’s influence did not end in India. His oratory skills, passion, and vision inspired future missionaries and thousands of donors to give toward a variety of mission ministries.9
We look forward to sharing more stories of Scottish missionaries in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
- Iain H. Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 2006), 88.
- Elizabeth G.K. Hewat, Vision and Achievement 1796-1956: A History of the Foreign Missions of the Churches United in the Church of Scotland (London, UK: Thomas Nelson, 1960), 36.
- Stuart Piggin and John Roxborough, The St. Andrews Seven (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 1985), 8.
- Murray, A Scottish Christian History, 98.
- Norman L. Walker, Chapters from the History of the Free Church of Scotland (Edinburgh, UK: Oliphant, Anderson, & Ferrier, 1895), 151
- Ibid., 156.
- Piggin and Roxborough, The St. Andrews Seven, 108.
- Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Mission, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1986), 216.
- Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 142-143.