William Hanna, son-in-law and biographer of Thomas Chalmers, here reflects on the bearing of Chalmers’ inner, spiritual history on his outer history in the public light. Inner histories are certainly more inaccessible and uncertain to others. “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” Even self-knowledge is murky at best. Yet with the infallible light of Scripture, we may shed light on what is left us of the inner-histories of great men, shaping the parts they played on the stage of divine providence.
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“The events in which Dr. Chalmers mingled, and which ho helped so much to mould, were far from engrossing his thoughts. The part he took in them was in fact the product of those deeper convictions which rested upon the unseen and enduring objects of faith. Behind the outer history of his life there lay that inner spiritual history which made the other what it was. His correspondence, his speeches, his published writings, and his public acts, which furnish such ample materials for unfolding the one history, are absolutely barren as to the other. We know of no other individual of the same force and breadth of Christian character, who, in all his converse, public and private, with his fellow-men, spoke so little of himself, or afforded such slender means of information as to his own spiritual condition and progress, and yet it would be difficult to name another of whose deeper religious experience we have so full and so trustworthy a record. We owe this to the openness and perfect truthfulness of his private Journal. The strict reserve which he observed in his communications with others he entirely laid aside when communing with his own heart, the fullness of the one disclosure more than atoning for the stintedness of the other. The very breaks and gaps, the compressed or the expanded condition of his private Journal, when studied in connection with his external occupations during different periods, are themselves instructive. Judged of in this way, the year 1840 formed a marked epoch in his spiritual life, as exhibiting the commencement of that softening, refining, elevating process which, ripening to perfection, threw such a pure and mellow light of piety around his closing years—a light whose chastened lustre was perceived and felt even by those who saw not into the place of its birth.”