February 15: Cyrus McCormick

This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Being a Reaper for the Lord

The revival was going strong in the little Virginia church on the McCormick farm. Minister after minister preached the Word of grace from the Word of God. One Sunday morning, the challenge went out to the audience gathered, “I want everyone who is on Christ’s side to stand up.” People stood up all over the sanctuary, except the young man named Cyrus McCormick. The twenty-one year old went back to his house where he went to bed. Before he fell asleep, his godly father came into his room and said, “Son, don’t you know that by being quiet, you are rejecting Christ?” Young Cy had not thought of it that way. He rose up, got dressed, and even though it was dark outside, went to see and talk with Billy McClung. He was a believer in Jesus. Waking up the young man, he asked how he could know Jesus and get peace with God. Billy McClung was used of the Lord to show the way, and that night Cyrus McCormick committed himself to Jesus as his Lord and Savior. The next Sunday morning, he did what he did not do the previous Sunday, and publicly gave his testimony of having trusted in Jesus Christ.

All the spiritual ground was prepared by his godly parents, and grandparents, and ancestors. He came from a Scotch-Irish heritage of Covenanters who had stood for King Jesus in the old country of Scotland and Ireland. Being persecuted for the old faith was part and parcel of the life which they lived and died for in the “Killing Times” of the mother country. Young Cyrus, born on February 15, 1809, had the spiritual upbringing of both the Bible and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. He was a spiritual product of the theology of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox. The twin truths of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man were stamped into his character.

Living in the Virginia farm was not easy however. Especially was it difficult to harvest the grain before it spoiled. Cyrus’s father had tried for years to build a machine which could reap the wheat quickly, so it wouldn’t be lost by spoilage. Cyrus McCormick took over for his father and with the natural gifts of God upon him, in 1834 took out a patent for a reaper which could accomplish all which he and every farmer of the land had long desired. But he didn’t stop there with the invention. He mass-produced the machine for usage by farmers all across America. Of course, this brought in incredible wealth to this Christian man.

Many have had the sad testimony that riches has ruined them in their Christian testimony. But Cyrus McCormick was different. He simply brought his heritage of Christianity, and specifically the rich Presbyterian heritage into his business life, so that family and friends could not separate his religious life from his business life. Even after marriage to Miss Nettie Fowler, and a family of six sons and daughters, he gave away huge sums of money to Christian and especially Presbyterian ministries. After his death in 1884, his wife continued the ministry of using her wealth for Christian enterprises. McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago is named after him because of that generous financial support toward that institution.

Words to Live By: Cyrus McCormick’s favorite Bible passage was Romans 8:31 – 39.  That is our application, or words to live by portion for today. Turn to it now and read the gracious promises of the elect of God.

Through the Scriptures: Leviticus 20 – 23

Through the Standards: Proof Texts of Special Providence

Genesis 2:16, 17
“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.'” (ESV);

Hosea 6:7
“But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.” (ESV);

1 Corinthians 15:22
“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (ESV)

See also Romans 5:12 – 17

Image source: Frontispiece portrait from A History of The McCormick Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church, by Le Roy J. Halsey. Chicago: Published by the Seminary, 1893. Digital scan from a copy preserved at the PCA Historical Center.

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