Maclaren was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of David Maclaren, a merchant and Baptist lay preacher. In 1836, his father went to Australia where from 1837 to 1841 he served as Resident Manager of the South Australian Company, leaving his family in Edinburgh. During his father's absence Maclaren was converted and publicly baptized into the fellowship of the Hope St. Baptist Church, Glasgow, some time between the ages of eleven and thirteen. He was educated at the Glasgow High School, and Glasgow University, and on the return of David Maclaren from Australia, the family moved to London. In 1842, at the age of sixteen, Maclaren entered Stepney College, a Baptist institution in London.
At Stepney, Maclaren was heavily influenced by Dr. David Davies, an eminent Hebrew scholar, and became an enthusiastic student of Hebrew and Greek, among other subjects. He took his BA degree at the University of London before he was twenty, sitting for examinations for his arts degree, and winning prizes in Hebrew and Greek. Besides his collegiate studies, he read widely in literature, being especially fond of the English poets. The following year he commenced his ministry at Portland Chapel, Southampton. He worked there for twelve years, and developed a reputation as an attractive and powerful preacher. After much solicitation from other congregations, he received and accepted an invitation to the pastorate of Union Chapel, Fallowfield, Manchester, where he remained until his retirement, in 1903. He visited Australia and New Zealand in 1889 where, despite indifferent health, he preached at major cities to large congregations.
Maclaren was twice president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and president of the Baptist World Congress, in London, in 1905. He received honorary degrees of divinity from both Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities. In 1896 the citizens of Manchester had his portrait painted for their art gallery, and on the presentation of the portrait the Anglican bishop of Manchester gave the address and said:
|“||In an age which has been charmed and inspired by the sermons of Newman and Robertson, of Brighton, there were no published discourses which, for profundity of thought, logical arrangement, eloquence of appeal, and power over the human heart, exceeded in merit those of Dr. Maclaren.||”|
Many attempts were made to draw Maclaren from Manchester, but he remained there despite his dislike of the climate and the workload, of which he sometimes complained. In 1903, he was made pastor emeritus and retired from the active ministry.
He was the grandfather of Caroline Alice (C. A.) Lejeune, a British writer, best known as the film critic of The Observer from 1928 to 1960.
- Edwin Charles Dargan (1912) A History of Preaching, p. 572.
- John Edwards (1902) Nineteenth Century Preachers and their Methods, p. 75.
- An Eminent Preacher The Rev Dr McLaren South Australian Register 9 February 1889 p.6 accessed 3 July 2011
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