February 2013

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One Pastor’s Account of the Civil War

Thomas Bloomer Balch was the son of the Rev. Stephen Bloomer Balch and his wife Elizabeth (Beall) Balch. He was born at Georgetown, District of Columbia, on February 28, 1793. He graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1813, studied theology at Princeton Seminary under Archibald Alexander and Samuel Miller, and was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Baltimore on October 31, 1816.

From the Spring of 1817 to the Fall of 1819 he preached as assistant to his father, who was at that time the pastor of the church in Georgetown. Thomas then left that post to serve as pastor of churches in Snow Hill, Rehoboth and Pitt’s Creek, Maryland. He lived for some years in Fairfax county, Virginia, preaching as he had opportunity, and later supplied the pulpit for churches in Warrenton and Greenwich, later serving other churches in the Fredericksburg area. Rev. Balch died on February 14, 1878. To the last his mind was clear, and he uttered many expressions of hope and faith up to his parting breath.

Thus the short account of a man’s life, as recorded in Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church, pp. 52-53.  But every life is intensely interesting, if you just search. Beyond the brief account above, you first find there was an epic poem, Ringwood Manse, written by E. P. Miller and based upon the life and ministry of Thomas B. Balch. Digging a bit further, you might also find a compilation of Rev. Balch’s letters My Manse During the War: A Decade of Letters to the Rev. J. Thomas Murray. The University of North Carolina has digitized this latter work, and to encourage further reading, a sample paragraph follows:

Letter No. VIII.

The famine had become grievous in the land, and there was no Egypt into which we could send for supplies; nor any balm which could be presented to those who held the keys that were locking up oats, corn and wheat. How often had the writer doubted whether a dearth of provisions would ever reach that portion of Virginia in which his lot had been cast. Little do we know of the future. It became clear that my pictures of continued plenty had been penciled on green leaves which were destined to fade, or on clouds subject to evaporation. My services, as a minister, began to take their complexion from the circumstances in which we were placed. One of my discourses, or rather one of my talks, was from the text, “The Lord will provide.” Habakkuk says that the Christian has a dependence on something higher than the buds of the fig-tree, or the blossoms of the vine. The Idumean believer went living on, after his olives had perished and his fields were smitten. His flocks were killed, and his stalls were empty; and the Idumean eagle could plume his wings from a warmer nest than the one occupied by the Patriarch. Our Lord assures us that man liveth not by bread alone. Even at such a time we thought it right to celebrate at the Manse the supper which our Lord had instituted on the night before his crucifixion. We had no wine, however, on our premises, and it was a rare element throughout the neighborhood. But Charles Green, member of the Independent Church of Savannah, being apprised of my wishes, sent me enough to supply the communicants, for which my sincere thanks were returned. Two silver goblets belonging to Mrs. Jones of Sharon, had been left at my house, and they were used on the solemn occasion. The day was bright, and the congregation crowded. Some were under the trees of the yard, some on the steps of the stairs, and others in the rooms of the Manse. Several ministers were present who gave me help in the service, and seldom has it been my lot to attend on communicants more apparently devout. May they advance in grace. The Divine Life has in it both an upward and downward tendency. The Japanese permit their trees to attain their full growth: but then dwarf them down to the smallest possible dimensions, and carry them about in diminutive vases. So with the great Husbandman. The more his people tower on high, the more does he reduce them into lowly violets. And here, allow me to ask, why may not the Lord’s Supper be administered in a lower as well as an upper room – in a Manse – a grove, or on the slope of a hill, as well is in a Church? When were the Covenanters more happy than when they sung among the braes and kneeled on Scottish heather! or when were Whitfield and Wesley more successful than when they stormed the air circulating on the open fields and sequestered downs of England?

Words to Live By:
It is a constant theme of Scripture, that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The Lord provides for His children, encourages and sustains them. God cares for His children in times of trouble. John Flavel wrote, “Jesus Christ has solemnly recommended all the people of God to His particular care. It was one of the last expressions of Christ’s love to them at the parting hour — John 17:11. ‘And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world; and I come to thee, Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me.’ ” [The Righteous Man’s Refuge, by John Flavel, Works, iii.386.]

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chaferLS.Yep. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, was a Presbyterian. As was Chafer’s mentor, C. I. (Cyrus Ingerson) Scofield, and as was Scofield’s mentor, James H. Brookes. Presbyterians all. Perhaps that helps to explain how it was the dispensationalism made such inroads into Presbyterian circles in the era from the 1880’s to the 1930’s. That, and the fact that dispensationalists did a fair job of defending the Scriptures when few others. apart from the Princeton conservatives, would or could.

Lewis Sperry Chafer was born in Ashtabula county, Ohio, on February 27, 1871. His parents were the Rev. Thomas Franklin Chafer, a Congregationalist pastor, and Lois Lomira Sperry Chafer, the daughter of a Welsh Wesleyan lay preacher. When Lewis was just eleven, his father died of tuberculosis. Lewis developed an interest in music while attending the New Lyme Institute as he prepared for college. At Oberlin College, he majored in music and met his future wife, Ella Loraine Case. After their marriage in 1896, he began to serve as an evangelist.

An invitation to teach at the Northfield Boys School in turn led to a close friendship with C. I. Scofield, and as they say, the rest is history. Dallas Theological Seminary, founded in 1924 as the Evangelical Theological College, continues to this day. Its founder, Lewis Sperry Chafer, died on August 22, 1952.

In a prior post we talked about Milo Jamison’s role in the split that created the Bible Presbyterian Church. Jamison was a dispensationalist, while the recently formed denomination that was renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was quickly aligning itself against that system. In the last several decades, dispensationalism as a system has been going through a number of changes, but historically it has been anchored to three key tenets: (1) A “normal, literal” interpretation of Scripture; (2) A strict distinction between Israel and the Church; and (3) a scheme of dispensations or ages which divide up Biblical history. The latter two points are particularly where we find ourselves in disagreement with dispensationalism.

D. James Kennedy, when examining men for ordination, would routinely ask for the candidate’s views on dispensationalism, and whether the candidate approved or disapproved of the 1944 Southern Presbyterian report on dispensationalism. And Dr. Kennedy was right to use that Report in that way. However, the untold story behind that PCUS report is that in all likelihood, the Report was an attempt to split the conservatives in the Southern Presbyterian denomination, many of whom at that time were dispensationalists. As modernists were gaining power in the PCUS, the 1944 Report gave them an opportunity to set one camp of conservatives over against another and so dampen opposition to their own agenda.

In Sum:
Few conservative Presbyterians today consider themselves dispensationalists. The old Reformation doctrine—really the old Biblical doctrine—of covenant theology is being taught once again, and taught well in our seminaries and in our churches. How it came to be virtually ignored in the 19th-century is something of a mystery, but the general lack of such teaching in that era does help to explain the rise of dispensationalism during the same time period. Nature abhors a vacuum.

For Further Study:
One of the better popular-level works on covenant theology is O. Palmer Robertson’s Christ of the Covenants. Ask your pastor about other helpful materials on this important subject.

Image source: From a photograph on file at the PCA Historical Center, with the scan prepared by the staff of the Historical Center. The photograph lacks any indication as to who the photographer might have been.

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hodgeCasparJrDr. Caspar Wistar Hodge, Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology in Princeton Theological Seminary since 1921, died on Friday morning, February 26, 1937, in the Princeton Hospital, of pneumonia. He had been ill for about one week, and died at the age of sixty-six years.

Dr. Hodge was a member of a family closely connected with the Princeton Theological Seminary for more than 100 years. His father, Dr. Caspar Wistar Hodge and his grandfather, Dr. Charles Hodge, as well as his great-uncle, Dr. Archibald Alexander Hodge, had all been members, like himself, of the seminary faculty.

Dr. Hodge was born at Princeton on September 22, 1870. He graduated from Princeton University in 1892, and after further studies received from that school the degree of Ph.D. in 1894. After a year of study abroad at the Universities of Heidelberg and Berlin, he returned to Princeton in 1895, taking the post of instructor in Philosophy in the College. Dr. Hodge remained in that position for two years, going then to Lafayette College as associate professor of Ethics for one year. Thereafter he entered Princeton Seminary to study for the ministry.

Upon graduation from the Seminary in 1901, he was ordained a minister and remained at the Seminary as an instructor in Systematic Theology. After six years he was made assistant professor of Dogmatic Theology, and eight years later professor in the same department, from which he was transferred in 1921 to the Charles Hodge professorship.

Dr. Hodge was well known as a writer on Biblical and theological studies, as a contributor to religious periodicals in America and in Scotland, and as an editor and contributor for several published books.

In 1897, Dr. Hodge married Miss Sarah Henry, of Princeton. He was survived by one daughter, Mrs. Carl H. Ernlund, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a sister, Miss Madeline Hodge. Funeral services were held in the Miller Chapel of the Seminary at Princeton on Monday morning, March 1, 1937.

For Further Study:
The Significance of the Reformed Faith Today,” by C. W. Hodge, Jr., is a brilliant analysis of what is termed the new theology, in contrast with the old theology.
[This PDF is a close reproduction of a typescript found among the Papers of Dr. Robert Dick Wilson. The typescript is undated, but Dr. Hodge’s opening comments, particularly his reference to the recent death of Dr. B.B. Warfield, dates the paper to 1921 when Dr. Hodge was installed as Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology.

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Old Mortality: Robert Patterson [ca. 1713-1801]

The purpose of this blog is to remind us of those saints who have gone before, and to recall something of our common history as Presbyterians, for regardless of our denomination, we are all connected, one with another. We learn from one another, are encouraged by one another, and are reminded to pray for one another.

dewittWmRAnd so it seemed very fitting when I stumbled across the content chosen for today’s post. Our entry for the day was to focus on the Rev. William Radcliffe DeWitt, (pictured in the photo at the right), who was born on this day, February 25, 1792, and who was for forty years the pastor of the English Presbyterian Church of Harrisburg, PA. Looking for more about his ministry, I was pleased to find among our church history collection a copy of The Centennial Memorial of the English Presbyterian Church, 1794-1894, with a section on DeWitt’s ministry at that church. That in turn led to the serendipitous discovery of the following poignant words which serve as the opening paragraphs for the chapter on that church’s history:

Now go write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come forever and ever.”–Isaiah 30:6.

“Walter Scott has very touchingly told us of Old Mortality, a religious itinerant of his times. He was first discovered in the burial ground of the Parish of Gaudercleugh. It was his custom to pass from one graveyard to another, and with the patient chisel of the engraver clear away the moss from the grey tombstones, and restore the names and the lines that Time’s finger had well nigh effaced. It mattered little to him whether it was the headstone of some early martyr to the faith, or only love’s memorial to some little child. It was his joy to do the quiet and unbidden work of bringing again to the notice of men the history and the heroism of some of God’s nobility of whom the world was not worthy, nor less to honor the unknown ones who were laid to rest with unseen tears.

abeel_graveOur work to-day bears something of the same character. Like Old Mortality, we step softly and reverently among the graves of the past. Chisel in hand we pass from memory to memory. We clear away the gathered moss. We refurnish the ancient stones and read again the names of the departed, dropping here and there a tear as precious memories are awakened, and reminding ourselves anew of a fellowship that is only interrupted for a little time. The past is ours. We are its heirs. Its good comes down to us in an apostolic succession of benedictions. The links that bind us to past days and years are golden links. It is one of the choicest gifts of grace, that we may at the same time live three lives in one. Past memories and present experiences and future hopes do blend to make human life noble and attractive. Our holy faith commemorates the past, gladdens the present and brightens the future.”

[excerpted from “A Century Plant,” by Rev. Thomas A. Robinson, in The Centennial Memorial of the English Presbyterian Congregation of Harrisburg, PA, 1794-1894, George B. Stewart, editor. Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1894, pp. 192-193. This book is available on the Internet, here.

And as it turns out, there was a real person behind the Walter Scott’s character of Old Mortality.

oldMortality_lg“Robert Patterson was born circa 1713 on the farm of Haggis Ha, in the parish of Hawick and as a married man moved to the village of Balmaclellan. A stonemason by trade and owner of a small quarry, he spent most of his life touring the lowlands of Scotland visiting and maintaining Covenanter grave sites. His method of cutting or incising letters and the ability to get so much into a limited space makes his work very distinctive. He gained some fame as ‘Old Mortality,’ the character in the book of the same name by Sir Walter Scott.”

To read more of that account, click here.

Words to Live By: Perhaps it is by divine design, but no monument lasts forever. Our worship is not for the saints or for their graves, but for the Lord of glory, whose love moved their hearts to serve Him. We remember them because of their testimony to the truth of the Gospel.

“And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.’ ”
[Exodus 13:14, NASB]

 

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On the Value of History

stewartAMAt the time of his decease, the Rev. Alexander Morrison Stewart, D.D. was serving as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Chico, Butte county, California. He died in that town on Wednesday morning, February 24, 1875. Dr. Stewart was born in Lawrence county, Pennsylvania on January 22, 1814. He graduated at Franklin College, in New Athens, Ohio at an early age, and immediately commenced the study of theology under the Pittsburgh Reformed Presbytery, and was licensed to preach in December, 1841, after which he traveled extensively in the interests of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, through the Middle, Southern and Western States.

The winter of 1844-45 he spent in attending divinity lectures under the late Dr. Samuel Brown Wylie, and medical lectures at Jefferson College, in Philadelphia.  In 1845 he became pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Chicago, which charge he resigned in 1855 on account of ill health.  His next charge was the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, which he left at the breaking out of the war, to enter the army as chaplain. He remained in active service in the army of the Potomac until the war was over.  After the close of the war, he accepted the united charge of East Whiteland and Reeseville Churches, in Chester county, Pennsylvania, and, in 1869, with a transfer of his ministerial credentials, went to the Pacific coast as district secretary of the Board of Home Missions for the PCUSA.  In 1870 he became pastor of the Gilroy Presbyterian Church [PCUSA], from which, in June of 1874, he accepted a call to the First Presbyterian Church of Chico, which charge he held up to the time of his death.

Dr. Stewart was an impressive preacher, a patriotic citizen, and an earnest worker in the cause of Christ.

[Adapted from The Reformed Presbyterian Advocate, 9.4 (April 1875): 141.]

Elsewhere, Joel Beeke has stressed the value of reading sermons. The text presented below is from the opening of Rev. Stewart’s sermon titled simply Historical Sermon. This sermon was delivered in 1850 while he was the pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian church in Chicago, and his purpose in the sermon is to present a brief overview of the Reformed Presbyterian denomination. Perhaps we can present more of this sermon at another time; but for now, this is just the opening paragraph:

“Historical Sermon”

“History connects the present with the past, and enables us to profit by every advance man has made in his civil and ecclesiastical relations. No good accomplished has ever been finally lost. No right principle once developed has entirely disappeared. The province of history is to collect and arrange these; that, with the acquisitions of the past, joined to the energies of the present, civil society and especially the church of God may move confidently on to their high destiny. Nor is it without advantage to mark the errors and failures to which men have been subject, if by so doing we shall be better able to avoid the reefs on which they broke. Were history made more frequently the subject of pulpit exhibition, how different would be the interest and edification of the hearers to that produced by many of the shabby as well as tinselled modern productions. The most eloquent and instructive discourses on record consist of a simple narration of events. When Judah would interest the ruler of Egypt in behalf of the lad, his younger brother, his unvarnished rehearsal of facts has moved many an eye to tears. Paul’s masterly defence before Agrippa was a recital of God’s promises and dealings with His chosen Israel; and Stephen’s dying eloquence–an historical discourse–silenced every argument of his opponents save that of violence.”

[emphasis added]

Words to Live By:
It is a commonplace to acknowledge that Americans are a people with little regard or appreciation for history. I don’t think that was the case in the early years of this nation, and I wonder if the declining regard for history runs parallel with the declining influence of the Church in general. Rev. Stewart’s conclusion, shown above in bold, accords perfectly with the lesson of John Flavel’s book The Mystery of Providence, where he demonstrates how frequently the Scriptures call us to remember God’s works, both His work of redemption and His works of providence. Christians should be a history-minded people, and how different the Church would be, if only we made a practice of daily remembering what God has done for us in His Son.

Image source: Photo from A History of the Pittsburgh Washington Infantry, by John H. Niebaum. Pittsburgh: Burgum Printing Co., 1931, pg. 114.

A photo of the Rev. Stewart’s grave can be viewed here.

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Here was a case of a child raised without regard to religion. His parents were decent enough by the world’s standards, but they were not Christians. Nonetheless, God called him.

Ichabod Smith Spencer was born on February 23, 1798, in Suffield, Connecticut. His father’s death, when he was just seventeen, had a profound effect upon him, eventually prompting him to leave home a year later. Shifting around on his own, he took common labor jobs and came to reside in Granville, New York about 1816. In God’s providence, a revival was underway in that town, and Ichabod Spencer made a profession of faith as he joined the Congregational church there. His gifts soon drew attention and he was urged to pursue the ministry. By late 1826 he was licensed to preach and two years later he was ordained. Then in 1832, he accepted a call to serve the Presbyterian church in Brooklyn, New York, where he remained until his death in 1854.

In Sprague’s Annals of the American Pulpit, the Rev. Gardiner Spring wrote of Rev. Spencer’s preaching:

“It is characteristic of the best ministers that they are best at home, and most distinguished in their own pulpits. There was no ‘flourish of trumpets’ with Dr. Spencer, when he went abroad. He was not demonstrative in his nature, nor eager for the praise of men. He was emulous, but it was mainly to magnify the truths of God, and do good to the souls of men. No man was less desirous than he to ‘create a sensation’ and set the world aghast by his preaching. Yet was he exclusively devoted to his work. His heart, his thoughts, his studies and attainments, his time, his interests, his influence and his life, were given to the ministry. Few ministers of the Everlasting Gospel, if any, were more industrious; and few had less occasion to lamen misspent and wasted hours. The result was that he became one of the best and most effective preachers of the age.

“Few habitually spake like him in discourses of such instructiveness, such attractive persuasion, such withering rebuke of wickedness, or such happy effects upon the minds of men. He spake ‘the things which became sound doctrine,’ and declared ‘the whole counsel of God.’ He was cautious and wise, but he was urgent and in earnest. He was often tender to weeping, yet was he a most fearless preacher. There was a large commingling of the ‘Son of Consolation’ with the ‘Son of Thunder’ in his character. I have heard him say that he did not know what it was to be ensnared or embarrassed in preaching God’s truth, and that the thought of being afraid to utter it, because it was unpopular, never once entered his mind. There was something of nature in this, and more of grace; he was fearless of men, because he feared God. There was great variety in his preaching; he was not confined to a few thread-bare topics; his mind and heart took a wide range, and brought out of his treasure ‘things both new and old.’ Nor was he given to crude and imperfect preparations for the pulpit : a volume of sermons might be selected from his manuscripts, which would be a beautiful model for the youthful ministry, and a great comfort to the Church of God. His Sabbath Evening Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, as well as portions of his Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans, will not easily be forgotten by those who heard them.”

Words to Live By:
Concerning Gardiner Spring’s observation, that “It is characteristic of the best ministers that they are best at home, and most distinguished in their own pulpits.”—why do you think that might be so? Perhaps it is because at home they are most comfortable? No, I would rather think that it is because at home, a pastor has the greatest, most sincere concern for his hearers. They are his own congregation whom he loves and sacrifices himself for daily. Yet another reason to pray for your pastor.

For Further Study:
I do not know if Rev. Spencer’s lectures on the Catechism or on the Book of Romans were ever published, but two volumes of his sermons were. The first of those two volumes is currently in print. Another his works apparently has the greater fame–A Pastor’s Sketches: Conversations with Anxious Souls Concerning the Way of Salvation. A new edition of this latter title is pending. For more information, click here. [we have no financial incentive or connection with the publisher]

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The Love of Christ Constrains Us

The First Presbyterian Church of Schenectady, New York was organized in 1760, and is now a part of the Presbyterian Church in America. But according to one account, were it not for the ministry of Rev. John B. Romeyn, the church might not exist today. In late 1803, when Rev. Romeyn accepted a call to serve the church, he found the church deeply divided. The only thing the factions could agree on was that they all wanted him for their pastor. Though he was only there for a year, by the time he left, the church had become harmonious once more, and the problems that once faced the church had faded into the past.

John Brodhead Romeyn was the son of a Dutch Reformed pastor, and he himself pastored several Dutch Reformed churches. John was born in 1777, educated at the Academy that later became Union College and placed into the senior class at Columbia College. Skipping over some of his career, he arrived at the Cedar Street Presbyterian church in New York in 1809, and this was his last church. Declining health later forced a year’s respite on the Continent, but he returned in 1814 and continued to serve that church until his death on February 22, 1825, at the age of 47.

John Romeyn grew up in a godly home, and he obviously had great advantages and learned well at his father’s side. He must have been quite mature for his age, to take a troubled church and turn it around in a year’s time. Two volumes of his sermons were published posthumously, and I can think of no better way to gain some insight into a pastor and his theology than by looking at his sermons. What follows is from the opening few pages of one of Rev. Romeyn’s sermons, this one on the text of 2 Cor. 5:14-17 [you can read more of his sermons here. Regrettably on volume 2 is available at that site.]

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Cor. 5:14-17, KJV)

“Festus, the Roman governor, when Paul defended himself against the charges of his enemies, said unto him “And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” (Acts 26:24-25, KJV). The great apostle of the Gentiles spake what he knew, and testified what he had seen. Because he was not deceived himself, he could not deceive others. His testimony, however, though it could not be disproved, was rejected. The Roman governor descended to the use of invective—of calumny—of ridicule. Similar views and feelings influenced certain persons in the Corinthian Church, to exhibit Paul as a weak zealot. His spotless integrity, his disinterested activity, repelled the suspicion of fraud. They therefore charged him with being “beside himself.” He acted so contrary to the principles of worldly wisdom, that there appeared some plausibility in the charge. But the moment he speaks and unfolds the motives of his conduct, that plausibility vanishes. We look for it, and wonder what it was, that for a moment made it in the least credible amongst professors of Jesus. “The love of Christ,” saith he meekly, in answer to the malice of his foes, “constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead : and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh : yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we hiim no more. Therefore is any man be in Christ, he is a new creature : old things are become new.” Thus, by manifestation of the truth, he commended himself, not only to the understanding, but to the conscience of every man in the sight of God. The appeal which he makes is irresistible, for the reason which he offers is irrefutable.

“The love of Christ was the spring which set in motion all his affections, and gave rise to those astonishing displays which he exhibited of almost every virtue. This spring operated in the hearts of the other apostles, and still operates in the heart of every sincere minister. The love of Christ is the burden of his exhortations, as well as the principle motive which he offers for holy living. Every Christian feels this motive; it destroys selfishness; it produces holiness. It is the grand principle of a new life; of a life of religion, and of the purest morals.

“The Gospel ministry which dwells much on this love, is not unfrequently blamed, as tending to loosen our obligations to morality. So far is this from the fact, that, on the contrary, a Gospel ministry, which loses sight of this love, or does not enlarge on it, and often bring it into view, really injures the interests of morality. The love of Christ is the great and truly constraining motive to the exercise of all those virtues which, whilst they meliorate the state of man, adorn and dignify his character.…”

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wilsonJamesPatriot_02A friend who knew him well observed that James never wrote out his name in full. It wasn’t that he disliked his name, but that he was scrupulously modest. For you see, his father—the Rev. Dr. Matthew Wilson—was not only a noted surgeon and pastor, but also a decided republican patriot. And so when his son was born on February 21 in 1769, he named him James Patriot Wilson.

James grew to become an excellent student, graduating with honors from the University of Pennsylvania. He then devoted himself to the study of law and was admitted to the bar in 1790. But the death of his first wife and the assassination of his brother before his eyes turned his focus to eternal matters.  Convinced of the truth of the Gospel, he then pursued the ministry and was ordained in 1804 and installed as pastor in Lewes, Delaware. In 1806, he became pastor of the First Presbyterian church of Philadelphia, and remained pastor of this church until his death in 1830.

Several men answered William B. Sprague’s request for accounts of James Patriot Wilson’s life and ministry. Albert Barnes, who succeeded Wilson as pastor, wrote in reflection on Wilson as a preacher:

“On the only occasion on which I ever heard him preach, several circumstances struck me as remarkable. His personal appearance was very impressive and solemn. He was very pale and apparently feeble. He sat in the pulpit, and as he was accustomed to do, used a large fan. He had a very dignified air, and his whole manner was calm, collected, and solemn.

“What first arrested my attention particularly in his pulpit performances, was the manner in which he read the Scriptures. It was a chapter in the Gospel by John. His reading was accompanied by brief explanatory remarks,—I thought the most clear and interesting exposition of the Bible that I had ever witnessed. It was so simple, so plain, so striking, that at the time it occurred to me that he could better prepare a Commentary for the use of Sunday Schools, than any man I had ever met with.

“His sermon was equally clear, impressive and solemn, and what was most remarkable about it, was a very clear and beautiful exposition of the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which he quoted from memory, and commented on as accurately as if he had had the passage before him. He used no notes of any kind. His preaching at first seemed to be merely conversational. He sat and talked to the people before him, as a gentleman might be expected to do in his own parlor.

“Soon, however, I forgot entirely the man—his fan, his sitting, and his somewhat singular habit of lifting up and down his watch chain; when, for a moment, he laid down his fan, and I became wholly absorbed in what he was saying, and to me it was then of no importance what he was doing, or whether he made many gestures or none. I have never in my life found myself more absorbed in the subject on which a public speaker was discoursing, than I was on that occasion. And what was true of myself seemed to be true of the entire congregation.”

Words to Live By: Many speakers can hold the attention of a crowd, but when God truly calls a pastor to preach the Gospel, the power of the message resides not in the man, but in the Holy Spirit who works sovereignly upon the hearts of sinners.
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)

Image source: Frontispiece portrait from An Essay on the Probation of Fallen Men: or, The Scheme of Salvation, founded in Sovereignty and Demonstrative of Justice, by James Patriot Wilson. Philadelphia: Printed by William F. Geddes, 1827. Image scan prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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With a Name Like That, He Could Have Played Baseball.

Azel Roe was born on February 20, 1738. His father, John Roe, was a man of some considerable means, and he was able to afford his son an excellent education. Azel attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), and graduated there in 1756.

He studied theology privately under the guidance of the Rev. Caleb Smith and was licensed to preach by the New York Presbytery around 1760. He was ordained about two years later, and after serving as pulpit supply for the Presbyterian church in Woodbridge, New Jersey, was finally called to serve as pastor there, being so installed in the autumn of 1763.  While for a good many years his time was split between Woodbridge and another congregation, Rev. Roe remained at Woodbridge until his death in 1815, a remarkable tenure of over fifty years.

Roe had married the widow of Rev. Caleb Smith at about the same time that he was installed as the pastor of the Woodbridge church. Roe’s wife Rebecca was the mother of all his children, two sons and six daughters. But Rebecca died in the autumn of 1794, and about two years later, Rev. Roe remarried, this time to Hannah, daughter of the Rev. David Bostwick, who was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New York. Hannah was herself a widow, having first been married to General Alexander McDougall, a famous Revolutionary War hero. When Gen. McDougall died in 1786, Hannah remarried a Mr. Barret, who was the U.S. Consul to France. He in turn died some time prior to 1796, and Rev. Roe married Hannah on December 24, 1796.

All of which brings us to a remarkable account of the love of a man for his wife. The following is recorded in Sprague’s Annals:

“In November, 1815, Mrs. Roe was seized with lung fever [pneumonia], and died after an illness of a few days, in perfect peace, in the sixty-seventh year of her age. When she saw that her husband seemed inconsolable in the prospect of her departure, she affectionately urged him to restrain his grief, and submit quietly to God’s will. Up to the time of her death, which was on the 28th of November, his health had been uniformly good, and his ability to labour in no degree impaired. But the shock occasioned by her death was greater than he could bear. An affection of the throat, apparently caused by excessive grief, seized him; and, on the 2d of December,—four days after the death of his wife, he yielded up his spirit in a manner so peaceful that his children, who were aware that he had always been subject to a nervous dread of death, could hardly find it in their hearts to mourn his departure.”

Words to Live By:
Rev. Roe loved his wife dearly, but he would have done well to listen to his wife when she urged him to submit quietly to God’s will. Difficult as it would have been, in this she was right. It is undoubtedly one of the most difficult things imaginable, to let a loved-one go. In times like that, the pastoral counsel of Samuel Rutherford comes to mind:

“Do you think her lost when she is but sleeping in the bosom of the Almighty? Think her not absent who is in such a friend’s house. Is she lost to you who is found to Christ? If she were with a dear friend, although you should never see her again, your care for her would be but small. Oh, now, is she not with a dear Friend?”

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”—(1 Thessalonians 4:13, ESV)

Sources:
Wm. B. Sprague, Annals of the American Presbyterian Pulpit (Solid Ground, 2005), p. 234;
Letters of Samuel Rutherford (Banner of Truth, 1984), Letter II, p. 34.

A portrait of Rev. Roe can be found here. And details of his grave site, here.

 

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When God Prepares a Vessel

Charles Hodge wrote one of the first major histories of the Presbyterian Church in America, which was published in 1851. A year later, the Presbyterian Historical Society was established, and the first major publication of that organization was another major work, this time by Richard Webster, issued in 1857. Where Hodge was more interested in the polity of the Church, alongside its history, Webster devoted a substantial portion of his work to biographical accounts of notable pastors.  The text of today’s post is excerpted from Webster’s work,  A HISTORY OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AMERICA, pp. 549-550—

Rev. Samuel Davies [3 November 1723 - 4 February 1761]Samuel Davies was born near Summit Bridge,  in the Welsh Tract, in New-castle county, Delaware, November 3, 1723.  His father, David Davies, was a Welshman, a plain, pious planter.  His mother was an eminent saint; and having, like Hannah, asked a son of the Lord, and having in her heart dedicated him to the ministry, she named him Samuel.  She was his only instructor for the first ten years, and early imbued him with her prevailing desire that he might be a minister.  Though otherwise careless of divine things, he was mindful of his nearness to death, and daily prayed to be spared to preach the gospel.  He was sent to receive the rudiments of classical learning, under the Rev. Abel Morgan, afterwards the Baptist minister at Middletown, New Jersey.  Away from home-influences, he became more estranged from God; but, at the age of twelve, he was awakened to see his guilt, vileness, and ruin.  After much and long-continued distress, he obtained peace in believing.  This great event took place in 1736, probably under the preaching of Gilbert Tennent, whom he called his spiritual father.  It was a day of great deadness; but God was then preparing many wonderful men for the good day that was at hand.

He commenced keeping a diary, which, after his death, was examined by President Finley:  it is a record of great distress relieved by large measures of heavenly comfort.

“About sixteen years ago,” he said, in 1757, “in the northern colonies, when all religious concern was much out of fashion, and the generality lay in a dead sleep of sin, having at best but the form of godliness and nothing of the power,—when the country was in peace and prosperity, free from the calamities of war and epidemic sickness,—when, in short, there were no external calls to repentance,—suddenly a deep general concern about eternal things spread through the country; sinners started from their slumbers, broke off from their sins, began to inquire the way of salvation, and made it the great business of their life to prepare for the world to come.  Then the gospel seemed almighty, and carried all before it.  It pierced the very hearts of men.  I have seen thousands at once melted down under it, all eager to hear as for life, and scarcely a dry eye to be seen among them.  Thousands still remain shining monuments of the power of divine grace in that glorious day.”

Amid such animating scenes, under the preaching of Whitefield, Blair, Robinson, Tennent, and Rowland, Davies pursued his studies.  There were obstacles in his way, but his uncommon application was followed by surprising progress.  Robinson supplied his wants.  Blair taught him, not only by his words, but by his holy example, as a man and his inimitable excellencies as a preacher.  He was licensed by Newcastle Presbytery, July 30, 1746, at the age of twenty-three, and ordained an evangelist, February 19, 1747.  He was desired by all the vacant congregations.  He was manly and graceful; he had a venerable presence, commanding voice, emphatic delivery; his disposition sweet, dispassionate, tender.

Words to Live By:
Real revival brings lasting change. May the Gospel again in our day be seen as almighty; may it again carry all before it, to the piercing of the hearts of men. Pray that the power of divine grace would again melt sinful hearts, to His greater glory.

For Further Study:
The original publishing of Richard Webster’s A History of the Presbyterian Church in America was an inexpensive production and not many copies have survived in good condition. Thankfully, the work was reprinted just a few years ago by Tentmaker Publications in England, and copies may still be available.

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