What follows is admittedly lengthy. It is the second half of a funeral sermon delivered by the Rev. David Steele, pastor of the Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia. This is the biographical section of the sermon, and given that today is Saturday, we trust you will find time to read and profit from this. There is a great deal of history bound up with this account, plus it is a fine example of this aspect of a funeral sermon. Both McLeod and Steele were members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod, which tradition eventually comes into the PCA in 1982 by way of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.
The Reverend John Niel McLeod, Doctor in Divinity, Pastor of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church, New York, and Professor of Doctrinal Theology in the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, in North America, was born in the City of New York, on the eleventh day of October, 1806. He died on the twenty-seventh day of April, 1874, in the sixty-eighth year of his age and the forty-sixth year of his ministry. On the first day of May, 1874, by the hands of loving and Christian friends, his remains were consigned to the grave in Hill Girt Lawn, one of the most beautiful spots in Greenwood Cemetery, Long Island, New York.
Here reposes the dust of his distinguished father, the late Dr. Alexander McLeod, whose shining talents and masterly eloquence adorned the Reformed Presbyterian Church during the first quarter of the present century.
Early in the morning a number of ministerial and other friends assembled in the house of the deceased, when the solemn occasion was improved by fervent and appropriate prayer. The House of God, into which the honored dead was subsequently brought, previous to interment, was filled to its utmost capacity by a congregation composed of persons of diversified professions and of different Christian denominations. All were bowed with sincere and reverent feelings, as solemn words were spoken and the throne of grace was addressed. A large part of the assembled multitude accompanied the funeral procession, and bedewed with tears of affection and grief the spot where the mortal remains were laid.
It was the season of spring. Through the rifted cloud and retiring winter the king of day was making himself felt by his warming rays. Here and there a flower was seen opening its petals, and giving promise of the coming summer. The blades of grass were shooting forth from amid the decay and debris of former life. The tuneful bird at intervals uttered a stray note, reminding the attentive listeners that the death and muteness of winter were gone, and that in a short time, the bloom and beauty of nature would ensue. As we retired from the last resting-place of our dear friend, sad, lonely, and filled with unutterable emotions, everything around seemed to whisper “ Thy brother shall live again,” and the words of the prophet, “ Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust,” fell like music on the grief- stricken heart.
Dr. McLeod, together with Drs. Wilson and Clarke, may be said to have formed a connecting link between that “ honorable triumvirate,” as they have been called, — Alexander McLeod, John Black, Samuel Brown Wylie,— and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of the present day. At the feet of these distinguished masters in Israel he had sat. From their lips he had caught the animating sentiments which imbued his soul with love for the system of faith so dear to his heart. Around “the Church which they loved, for which they labored, from which no honors elsewhere offered could entice them, and which they literally” “set above their chiefest joy,” his affections clustered, and the triumph of her principles one day on the earth, he confidently anticipated.
These illustrious fathers have all been removed from earth to their home in heaven. They have exchanged labor for rest, conflict for triumph, reproach for glory, and the Church visible and militant for the Church invisible and triumphant.
And oh, how the soul yearns to feel their rapture, to bathe in their bliss, to enjoy their communion, and to participate in their celestial fellowship !
But we come to speak more particularly of our departed friend and brother; and here may be noticed,—
I. His characteristics as a man.
For Dr. McLeod, nature had done much. He was about medium height, symmetrically formed, and in person and in mien fitted to secure influence and command respect. His face was lighted up with intelligence, while every feature indicated thought and was suggestive of something excellent.
In manner he was dignified, courteous, conciliatory, and eminently social, when in company with those in whom he could confide. His mental characteristics were strongly marked. Earnest in his convictions, deeply conscious of his own integrity of purpose, he was ever fearless in his defence of what he esteemed to be the truth, and constantly ready to discharge whatever service he felt himself called upon in the providence of God to perform.
In conversation he was particularly happy, interesting, and instructive. His large stores of knowledge, intimate acquaintance with men and books, correct diction, and love to communicate information, supplied him with resources, which, on suitable occasions, he could turn to advantage, to the gratification and profit of those who were so fortunate as to be in his society. His house was the abode of cheerfulness, hospitality, and genuine friendship, and in his domestic economy he was regular and unostentatious.
Called upon frequently to leave his home in the service of the church, he was nevertheless fondly attached to it, and to every one of its members, from the infant orphanage to the partner of his life. For the spiritual as well as temporal prosperity of his family he labored, and frequent references to the health of its members in his correspondence showed how near it was to his heart, and how his affections clustered around it whether at home or abroad. At the close of a week of severe labor in the seminary, often has he journeyed homeward in order that he might spend the Sabbath in his own congregation and among the members of his own family, and then return to Philadelphia on Monday to resume instruction in the class-room. The death of such a husband and father is enough to prostrate any family. His sympathy with suffering was lively, and his benevolent acting took a wide range, from the bereaved relative to the immigrant stranger landing upon the shores of our country. In times of stagnation in trade, when numbers were suffering from poverty, he took delight in becoming the projector and almoner of charities which have gladdened the hearts of thousands and evoked thanksgivings unseen and unrecognized by any but God. The poor have lost one of their best friends, and benevolence one of its most active and self-denying agents.
Dr. McLeod was a patriot; he loved the country of his birth. Thoroughly American in all his feelings, he labored in his individual and ecclesiastical capacity to elevate and ennoble Columbia in the scale of nationality. He raised his voice against oppression, and when the “irrepressible conflict” was precipitated, his whole soul was stirred to its depths in desire to suppress rebellion and uphold constitutional authority.
He was one of the organizers of the 84th regiment N. G. S. N. Y., commanded by Colonel Fred. A. Conkling. For a period of seven years he acted as chaplain, serving two campaigns with the regiment in the field.
Although intensely American in all his instincts, yet, being of immediate Scotch descent, his father, Dr. Alexander McLeod, having emigrated to this country from Mull, Argyleshire, Scotland, he was warmly attached to Scotland and to Scotsmen. This attachment, as well as other circumstances, no doubt induced him to make no less than four visits to the land of martyrs, and of his father’s sepulchres. In 1869 his tour through the Highlands was very extended; and being versed in the traditions and literature of the Gaelic language, his last journey afforded him great delight. Often have we heard him become enthusiastic in his descriptions of the noble men with whom he met in Scotland, and in its neighboring province, the North of Ireland.
But we proceed to consider him, —
II. In his public relations.
These were numerous and exceedingly varied. From his youth he had been devoted to the pursuit of literature. His preparatory studies, previous to entering college, were pursued under the direction of the late Rev. S. B. Wylie, D.D., to whom so many in the learned professions, especially in and around Philadelphia, are indebted for their acquaintance with ancient classic literature. In 1826 he graduated from Columbia College, New York, with distinction. Having had the ministry in view from an early age, after leaving college he entered the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, then located in the City of Philadelphia. But from his boyhood he had been a student of theology. Like his esteemed father, he had received much of his divinity in the nursery, and in the social prayer-meetings of the Reformed Presbyterian Church.
With philosophy and science in all their ramifications and subtleties, the subject of our memoir was remarkably familiar. His reading was extensive, and he never allowed himself to fall behind in an acquaintance with the latest discoveries and most advanced opinions in relation to every subject of interest. He was well acquainted with the stores of knowledge embodied in the Greek and Roman tongues. He was an excellent Orientalist, and until the last devoted himself to the study of the Celtic and modern languages. His acquisitions in every department of literature were made subsidiary to the knowledge of Divine truth. His conceptions of inspiration were lofty and devout. And while he viewed the Hebrew as the parent stock of all the spoken and unspoken dialects, he felt that the Bible was for man, and that its inspiration could not be lost in a faithful translation into any of the languages of human kind. Hence, the deep and absorbing interest which he took in everything pertaining to the circulation of the Holy Scriptures. In the possession of such furniture, it is not surprising that he should be successful as a minister of the Gospel.
After a short period of probation, subsequent to licensure, he was called to the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Galway, Saratoga County, State of New York. In this congregation he was ordained and installed in the year 1829. On the fifteenth of April, 1830, he was united in marriage to Miss Margaret T. Wylie, eldest daughter of the Rev. S. B. Wylie, D.D., of Philadelphia. The health of his father becoming somewhat impaired, he was called from his field of labor in Galway by the First Reformed Presbyterian congregation of New York City. This call he accepted, and on the fourteenth of January, 1833, he was installed as assistant pastor and successor to his father. The relation established between him and the congregation of New York continued until his death, a period of more than forty years. To sum up all the good that has been done to the souls of men by this servant of Christ during these years is beyond the power of human computation. The aged who have ripened for heaven, those in the prime of life who have been strengthened to overcome the world, the youth who have been encouraged to lay hold on Christ, and the careless who have been warned of their danger under this ministry, can testify to the fidelity of him whose memory we aim to honor, and whose voice we can hear no more on earth.
As an appreciation of his scholarship and Biblical research the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him by Dickinson College in the year 1846. This honor is seldom conferred on one so worthy of distinction.
The material of Dr. McLeod’s discourses was the marrow of the Gospel, announced with the accuracy of the scholar, the grace and ease of the accomplished orator, and the unction and application of one deeply imbued with the love of God and earnestly concerned for the welfare of the souls of men. His preaching was didactic and expository, and he was peculiarly happy in availing himself of occasions and events to arrest attention and press home truth upon the conscience. His views of the two covenants, the mediatorial throne, the Church, and the ultimate triumph of religion on the earth through her instrumentality, were singularly clear, comprehensive, and satisfying. And at times, in speaking upon these themes, he would become so deeply moved and absorbed with their grandeur, in relation to the two eternities, that the most inattentive listener could not fail to perceive that the Holy Ghost had come down upon his servant with more than ordinary fulness and power. Nor did he ever fail to assert and illustrate the paramount obligation of the law of God revealed in the Scriptures, over man in all his relations, pursuits, and circumstances.
On communion occasions he was particularly happy. These have always been seasons of great interest in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the observance of established order, as well as the provision of material for discourse, makes large draughts upon the mental resources of the minister. With all the “forms” and “ordinances” of Zion on such occasions he was familiar, and he well knew how to adapt and use the Scriptural form, so as to secure the largest attention for the substance. It was in such connection that he would dwell upon the unity and catholicity of the church, and with a spirit of good-will towards others aim to infuse into the hearts of his hearers an intelligent regard for that department of Zion with which, by solemn transacting with God, they entered into covenant. These seasons he loved, and in them he rejoiced. To him, therefore, we believe, it was no ordinary privilege, that in his departure from among us, there was only the interval of a few days between the moment of communion on earth and the table of everlasting fellowship in heaven. His Father’s house here, he has left, that he might enter with gladness and rejoicing the palace of the King of Glory. And in his experience the hallowed intercourse of the church visible is swallowed up in the uninterrupted fellowship of the celestial paradise. Not for effect, but in faith, each survivor may say, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!”
As a Theological Professor, our esteemed brother excelled. It was, we believe, in the Theological Seminary that Dr. McLeod’s gifts shone with peculiar lustre. Here he brought forth the results of the study of more than half a century. Here he gathered his pupils around him, as a family, and addressed them as a father. Here, while charitable to others, he labored to communicate to the students under his care some of his own glow of ecclesiastical patriotism, as he expounded and illustrated the system of faith solemnly adopted by the department of the church of God with which he was associated. His sympathies stretching out as widely as humanity, and his researches embracing the whole range of useful and instructive literature, were all brought, as it were, to a focus in the school of the prophets. With an accuracy rarely equalled, and a diction pure and classic as the rarest literary gems of ancient or of modern times, he laid before those waiting upon his prelections the sum of theology, invariably and ever making all his teaching centre in, and radiate from, glory to the mediatorial throne. He loved the school of the prophets, and was willing to make any and every sacrifice for its success.
Called to the Chair of Theology in the year 1851 he had received a charge from Rev. S. B. Wylie, D.D., its first Professor of Theology, to the following effect: “ Take care of the seminary. It is the hope of the church,” and this dying request of his honored predecessor he never forgot. At great personal inconvenience, he journeyed to and from New York and Philadelphia in the depth of winter, in order that he might discharge the duties devolved upon him in the School of Theology. And there can be no doubt that his abundant labors in connection with the seminary, together with his tribulations and patience in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, hastened the breaking down of a constitution which, with ordinary labor, humanly speaking, might have been good for years longer. In his death, literature has lost an ornament, and theology a sound and safe instructor. Let those who have received his instructions feel their responsibility, and never forget that their preceptor died in the same faith that he taught, and in which he lived, as will be seen by the following extract from his last will and testament:—
“I declare my belief in the Christian religion as revealed in Holy Scripture of both Testaments, and in the Reformed Presbyterian system, in all its parts, as the best exposition of that religion which is known to me; and I embrace the Divine Author of that religion, the Lord Jesus Christ, as my own Saviour, for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. To Him I commit my body, soul, family, church, country — all, while once more I act faith on His blessed person, and complete and glorious sacrifice.”
In the councils of the church Dr. McLeod was an able and judicious adviser, and upon the floor of a church judicatory few men were his superiors. For twenty-five years he acted as Stated Clerk of General Synod, and with every detail in the order of judicial proceeding he had become perfectly familiar. His recollection of precedents was remarkably accurate ; and when the business of the court of which he was member would sometimes become entangled, he could always indicate the way to consistent deliverance from difficulty.
In his affections the union of the Church of Christ had a large place. He deplored the divisions of Zion, prayed for her peace, and labored and longed for the day when the watchman shall see eye to eye.
In the year 1858 the subject of this memoir was appointed on the Standing Committee on Versions of the American Bible Society, of which, after the resignation of Rev. Dr. Gardner Spring, in 1864, he was elected chairman. In this position he was highly valued by his associates for his good judgment, kind spirit, sound scholarship, and great promptness and fidelity. And at a meeting of the Board of Managers of the American Bible Society, held May 6, 1874, a minute was adopted expressive of regard for their esteemed associate.
At an early period of its history he was connected with the Evangelical Alliance, and attended as a delegate its meeting in Paris in the year 1855. At the monthly meeting of the Executive Committee of the Evangelical Alliance of the United States, held- April 27, 1874, a resolution of respect was passed. For thirty-eight years he acted as chaplain of the St. Andrew’s Society of the State of New York.
He was one of a committee of fifteen of the American Tract Society, N. Y., to report as to the duty of the society in regard to issuing publications on the subject of slavery. This committee reported that tracts against slavery should be issued, as well as against intemperance and other evils. He was one of the four clerical directors of the Presbyterian Hospital, New York, to whom are committed all matters relating to the spiritual and religious ministrations of the hospital. In all these public relations, so numerous and so varied, he possessed the esteem of every one who knew how to appreciate his love for truth and his regard for the glory of the Church’s Head. Nor should it be overlooked that while he was thus active in helping forward schemes which were designed to benefit and bless mankind at home, he was also busily engaged in concerting measures for the advancement of the Redeemer’s kingdom abroad. And the success of the Reformed Presbyterian Mission at Saharanpur, India, is largely due, to his earnest efforts on behalf of its establishment at first, and his continued sympathy and fostering hand during its subsequent progress. The memories of the past should still keep alive the missionary spirit in the Church, which is the spirit of the Gospel. But,
We pass on to notice briefly the religious life of our departed brother, particularly in its close.
And here it may be noted that his religious experiences were singularly unobtrusive. They took the form of the deep and quiet river, moving majestically onward to the ocean, rather than that of the noisy cataract, which, notwithstanding its temporary din, is frequently lost in a short distance from the spot where it was first caught by the eye of the observer. Their reality and value must be judged more from their untiring and beneficent activity than from personal expression by words.
In his infancy he was dedicated to God. He grew up under the fostering care of a godly and distinguished parentage. He enjoyed the privilege of hearing the Gospel regularly from the lips of his illustrious father, while at the same time in the family and in the fellowship meeting, he was brought constantly into contact with doctrinal and practical truth by catechising and other forms of instruction, still common in Reformed Presbyterian families. Head and heart received their appropriate culture. Under such influences, accompanied by the blessing of the Spirit, he was early led to make a profession of his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to devote himself to the ministry of the Gospel. Our personal recollections of him extend over a period of nearly twenty years. When we first saw him he was in the vigor of manhood, and his appearance as a man and a minister of Christ made an impression on us which no lapse of time can efface. But it was more particularly within the last fifteen years that we were brought into contact with his ripe scholarship, profound acquaintance with the mysteries of the kingdom of God, rich Christian experience, and unwavering trust in God. In his youth he had been mercifully delivered from the temptations which are so prevalent in a large city like New York. As he approached the close of his earthly sojourn, the bloom of youthful piety developed into the clusters of religious manhood, and his heavenward thought and conversation more and more conspicuously lighted up the entire background of a life devoted exclusively to the service of the Master.
In the August of 1873, when in the act of moving from his own church door, he met with an accident, by which he sustained the fracture of an arm. Nothing could surpass the patience with which he bore up under this dispensation; and when it was feared that he would be unable to be in his place at the opening of the services of the Theological Seminary, to the surprise and pleasure of all interested, he was forward at the appointed time. Although suffering from the pain of his arm, all his duties in the seminary were regularly and punctually performed. The prayer with which he concluded his last meeting with the class was noticeably fervent and affecting. His pleadings with God deepened and intensified, as his soul, burdened with concern for the Church and her students of theology, labored to bring down the Divine blessing upon the work of the session. He never met with the class again.
For several weeks before his death he was considerably indisposed, although it would appear that no alarming symptoms were manifest. That he was arranging for his removal from earth, numerous evidences have been disclosed since his decease. Upon his table, placed by himself in a conspicuous place, was found a little piece of newspaper, with the words, “ Meet me in heaven.” Stepping Heavenward, with other devotional books, lay upon his table at his hand. The
picture of Dr. Andrew Black he always kept before him in his study. A short time previous to his death he had cut out a small picture of himself, and placed it beside that of his dear friend. In a corner of his study hung a picture of the church. In connection with this he had arranged a small vignette of himself also, while in another part of the room was a piece of rock bracket with a small copy of the Bible resting upon it.
These were symbolical acts, very like those of the prophets of old. They speak of heaven, of the communion of saints, of attachment to the Church, of the Bible as enduring as the rock, and of the grand meeting of the people of God in the house not made with hands.
In his diary he seems to delight in the expression’s he closes his writing for the day, “Keeper of Israel, keep me.” The mediatorial headship was frequently uppermost in his thoughts, and the expression, “Let Messiah reign,” was with him a favorite. And then, as he meditates on death, he employs the language, “When mortality itself shall be swallowed up of life.”
He continued at his post until his death. On the nineteenth of April the Lord’s Supper was dispensed to the people under his pastoral care, and he was in his place. On the day of humiliation he preached, and he conducted the whole oi the preparatory services on the Sabbath, explaining the Psalm and preaching the action sermon from the words, “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” With remarkable animation he addressed the communicants at the first and last tables. On this occasion his descriptions of heaven, and the meeting of its redeemed inhabitants to part no more, were peculiarly sublime and impressive. These duties were exhausting, and on Monday he was unable to attend to the closing exercises of the solemnity. In the evening, while ascending the stairs of his own house, he became exhausted, and sinking down he exclaimed, “ My work is done.” On the following Sabbath a consultation of physicians was held, but no alarming symptoms were detected. During the night he rested comparatively well; but in the morning, as he arose, he was seized with pain in the region of the heart. While Mrs. McLeod was engaged in preparing breakfast for him, and his youngest son was in the act of applying friction to his back, his head dropped upon his bosom, and as he lay back upon his pillow, the long expiration was the only indication that the spirit had taken its flight to the world above. The immediate cause of his death was paralysis of the heart. It was just such a release as he desired. This would appear from a scrap of paper, which was subsequently found containing words in his handwriting to the following effect: “ Erasmus declared sudden death one of the greatest blessings a human creature could receive.” The departure of our beloved friend from earth was more like a translation than death.
He died in the Lord, and his works follow him. But oh, how much the Church has lost, and how much we all miss him ! Well, indeed, may his family mourn; they have lost a father and head, whose affection for them was deep and constant. Well may the Church mourn; she has been deprived of one whose whole life was offered up on her behalf. Well may society mourn ; they have been bereaved of a benefactor, and of one who, as a prince in Israel, had power with God.
But we do not mourn as those who have no hope. Our beloved brother sleeps in Jesus. His spirit is before the throne of God. To use his own language in reference to another servant of God, who had been removed by death, “He is gone to better company, to higher employments, to the sinless, painless, deathless state of immortality. His work was done, his crown prepared. Another mansion in the Father’s house is filled; another seat beside the throne is occupied; another harp is seized and struck in harmony with those of David, Paul, and all the other older sons of glory.” His body is on earth, but the Church’s dead shall live, and in body and in soul they shall be introduced into the bliss of the celestial city.
“Such honor is to all His saints.” Praise ye the Lord.
Words to Live By:
During the past year an unusual number of distinguished men, both in church and in state, have fallen. Let us hear the voice of God in these providences. “Be ye therefore also ready, for at such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh”; and when pillars in the church visible are being removed, let us remember that the bride, the Lamb’s wife, is safe. Her origin is divine; her charter is the everlasting covenant; her foundation is the Rock of Ages. The eternal God is her refuge, and beneath her are the everlasting arms. To continue her in being, and to supply her with a succession of sanctified members and divinely qualified ministers, the Holy Ghost is poured out, and the earth is preserved as a theatre, upon which her missionary operations are to be conducted and her triumphs secured. As a consequence, however death may thin her ranks, she is immortal until her work is done.
[pp. 23-45 of “Endless Life the Inheritance of the Righteous: A Discourse delivered in the First Reformed Presbyterian Church, New York, on Sabbath, October 11, 1874, in Memory of Rev. John N. McLeod, D.D., the Pastor, by Rev. David Steele, D.D. [1826-1906], pastor of the Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia.]