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Candlish, Robert Smith

CANDLISH, ROBERT SMITH (1806-1873), Scottish divine, was born at Edinburgh on the 23rd of March 1806, and spent his early years in Glasgow, where he graduated in 1823. During the years 1823-1826 he went through the prescribed course at the divinity hall, then presided over by Dr Stevenson MacGill, and on leaving, accompanied a pupil as private tutor to Eton, where he stayed two years. In 1829 he entered upon his life's work, having been licensed to preach during the summer vacation of the previous year. After short assistant pastorates at St Andrew's, Glasgow, and Bonhill, Dumbartonshire, he obtained a settled charge as minister of the important parish of St George's, Edinburgh. Here he at once took the place he so long held as one of the ablest preachers in Scotland. Destitute of natural oratorical gifts and somewhat ungainly in his manner, he attracted and even riveted the attention of his audience by a rare combination of intellectual keenness, emotional fervour, spiritual insight and power of dramatic representation of character and life. His theology was that of the Scottish Calvinistic school, but his sympathetic character combined with strong conviction gathered round him one of the largest and most intelligent congregations in the city.

From the very commencement of his ministry in Edinburgh, Candlish took the deepest interest in ecclesiastical questions, and he soon became involved as one of the chief actors in the struggle which was then agitating the Scottish church. His first Assembly speech, delivered in 1839, placed him at once among the leaders of the party that afterwards formed the Free Church, and his influence in bringing about the Disruption of 1843 was inferior only to that of Thomas Chalmers. Great as was his popularity as a preacher, it was in the arena of ecclesiastical debate that his ability chiefly showed itself, and probably no other single man had from first to last so large a share in shaping the constitution and guiding the policy of the Free Church. He took his stand on two principles: the right of the people to choose their ministers, and the independence of the church in things spiritual. On his advice Hugh Miller was appointed editor of the Witness, the powerful Free Church organ. He was actively engaged at one time or other in nearly all the various schemes of the church, but special mention should be made of his services on the education committee, of which he was convener from 1846 to 1863, and in the unsuccessful negotiations for union among the non-established Presbyterian denominations of Scotland, which were carried on during the years 1863-1873. In the Assembly of 1861 he filled the moderator's chair.

As a theologian the position of Candlish was perhaps inferior to that which he held as a preacher and ecclesiastic, but it was not inconsiderable. So early as 1841 his reputation in this department was sufficient to secure for him the government nomination to the newly founded chair of Biblical criticism in the university of Edinburgh. Owing to the opposition of Lord Aberdeen, however, the presentation was cancelled. In 1847 Candlish, who had received the degree of D.D. from Princeton, New Jersey, in 1841, was chosen by the Assembly of the Free Church to succeed Chalmers in the chair of divinity in the New College, Edinburgh. After partially fulfilling the duties of the office for one session, he was led to resume the charge of St George's, the clergyman who had been chosen by the congregation as his successor having died before entering on his work. In 1862 he succeeded William Cunningham as principal of New College with the understanding that he should still retain his position as minister of St George's. He died on the 19th of October 1873.

Though his greatest power was not displayed through the press, Candlish made a number of contributions to theological literature. In 1842 he published the first volume of his Contributions towards the Exposition of the Book of Genesis, a work which was completed in three volumes several years later. In 1854 he delivered, in Exeter Hall, London, a lecture on the Theological Essays of the Rev. F.D. Maurice, which he afterwards published, along with a fuller examination of the doctrine of the essays. In this he defended the forensic aspect of the gospel. A treatise entitled The Atonement; its Reality, Completeness and Extent (1861) was based upon a smaller work which first appeared in 1845. In 1864 he delivered the first series of Cunningham lectures, taking for his subject The Fatherhood of God. Published immediately afterwards, the lectures excited considerable discussion on account of the peculiar views they represented. Further illustrations of these views were given in two works published about the same time as the lectures, one a treatise On the Sonship and Brotherhood of Believers, and the other an exposition of the first epistle of St John.

See William Wilson, Memorials of R.S. Candlish, D.D., with a chapter on his position as a theologian by Robert Rainy.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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