August 2013

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The Gospel to New Orleans

LarnedSylvester02The Rev. Sylvester Larned, the subject of our post today, was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on August 31st, 1796. He was the son Col. Simon Larned, a high-ranking officer in the American army who had served during the Revolutionary War. Of young Sylvester, it was said that in early childhood he gave good indications of future promise, and that the commanding eloquence for which he was so much distinguished in later life, began to be developed in his earliest years. He had a remarkable, upbeat temper, and other indications of a superior mind. One story that is famously told of young Sylvester–that while not even yet in his teens, he made a wager with his brother that he could make him weep just by talking to him. Now there was nothing solemn or painful ongoing in their lives at that time. But Sylvester began to ply his brother with words, and such was the force of those words, that in a very short time he actually melted down his brother into unwilling tears; whereupon, with a playful jab, he claimed his prize.

At the age of fourteen he began attending college, and in his senior year, God’s hand rested on him, bringing him to a conviction of his sins. Soon after, he decided it was his life’s purpose to serve the Lord in pulpit ministry. So, in the autumn of 1813, he began his preparations at Andover Seminary. However, he left after only a semester and returned home to teach for a year. Then in 1815, he renewed his studies, this time at Princeton Theological Seminary. He grew in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ particularly in his final year, graduating in 1817, and was licensed to preach the Gospel by the Presbytery of New York. Wherever he preached, crowds would gather, “overflowing congregations hung in rapture on his lips, and were melted down under the power of his eloquence.” Not since Whitefield had one so young made such an impression in this country.

It was at about this time that the Church began to sense the strong need of the Gospel in Louisiana. The claims of Christ Jesus had barely ever been proclaimed in New Orleans. One stalwart pioneer, a Rev. Cornelius, had done spade work, preparing the way, but he had no fixed connection with the city. For the true advance of the Gospel there, the work required someone committed to the people of the city. Larned was selected for that work. Ordained as an evangelist, he began his journey south.

“On his first arrival in that city, a general and unprecedented interest was awakened by his preaching; and everything seemed to indicate that Providence had sent him there to produce a great revolution in the character of New Orleans. The uncommon majesty with which he exhibited the truths of the Gospel, the almost magic power by which he entranced and rivetted his hearers, drew after him a multitude composed of all classes, from the highest to the lowest in society.” Soon influential people stepped forward to call him as their pastor, to commit to his support and to the building of a home for the new church.

In those years, the summers were known as the sickly season; those who could afford to, would vacate the city for healthier regions. But in 1820, Rev. Larned resolved to stay with the poor among his people, those who could not afford to flee the city. He resolved to die on the field of service if God so willed. Well into August of that year, Larned remained healthy, ministering to the sick and dying throughout the city. Then, on the last Sunday of that month, a day of public humiliation and prayer, Larned met with his people in the morning, and again in the afternoon, but by the close of the day, he had been laid low by the fever. It broke his strength, and on August 31st, 1820, the Rev. Sylvester Larned breathed his last. “When the delirium of death was not on him, he was firm and collected. When most aware of his danger, he was most assured of his Saviour’s presence and power…”

Words to Live By:
As we read through some of the accounts of the life of Sylvester Larned, his tremendous powers of persuasion are a common focal point of these accounts. That can be quite troubling, for we know that true spirituality depends not on clever words, but upon spiritual reality. So it is reassuring to read in one account that “When he first appeared as a Minister of the Gospel, he was led to bestow too much attention on what he thought most likely to attract the mass of men; we allude to his style of writing, and mode of illustrating divine truth. But when he became a settled pastor, he found that eloquence would not feed his people. A great revolution immediately took place in his style of instruction. He became more plain, more didactic, and evangelical; and the consequence was, that while they who had been attracted by human power, were displeased, the sheep of the fold found more of that food which came down from above.”

Trivia: Did you note that the Rev. Sylester Larned was born and died on the same calendar day? That sort of thing is actually a rather rare occurrence.

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Drawing again, in part, from Nevin’s Presbyterian Encyclopedia, we read today of a man who gave himself unselfishly to the establishment of a school.

Twenty Years the President of Lafayette College

cattellWmCWilliam Cassiday Cattell was born at Salem, New Jersey on August 30th, 1827, into the family of Thomas Ware Cattell and his wife Keziah Gilmore Catell. Raised with five other brothers and two sisters, William studied in local schools and later completed his preparatory studies in Virginia for two years, under a brother’s direction. He subsequently enrolled at New Jersey College and graduated in 1848. After teaching in Virginia for a year, he then began studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. Cattell completed the standard three year course and remained for an additional year to focus on what were then termed Oriental Studies. Graduating in 1852, he was employed as Associate Principal of the Edgehill Academy, located in Princeton, New Jersey, from 1853-1855. Thereafter he was ordained by the Presbytery of Newton in 1856.

From 1855 to 1869, he was Professor of the Greek and Latin languages in Lafayette College, and it was during these years that he forged some of his strongest friendships and alliances. Then from 1860 to 1863, he was pastor of the Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where his labors were crowned with success, and he was greatly beloved by his congregation. In 1863 he was elected to serve as President of Lafayette College, which position he accepted and occupied until June of 1883, when impaired health through over-work obliged him to tender his resignation.

The effects of the Civil War had been nearly fatal for Lafayette College. Enrollment plummeted as students left for battle, while finances dwindled from lack of both students and supporters. The College was nearly closed in 1863 when the Trustees turned to Dr. Cattell, asking him to return and take over as President of the school. His congregation in Harrisburg was devastated, but he saw the greater need and in July of 1864 was inaugurated as President of Lafayette College. During his administration of twenty years, and mostly by his own efforts, the school’s assets increased from $40,000 to almost $900,000. New and larger buildings were built, and furnishings and equipment were brought up to date, along with the improvement of the curriculum. The end result was that Lafayette now stood among the leading colleges of that day. During this period, besides contributing $10,000 from his own funds for the construction of McKeen Hall, Dr. Cattell worked through these years at a very modest and nominal salary, devoting himself unselfishly to the interests of the College, to the point that his physicians finally had to compel him to absolute rest and freedom from official responsibility. In accepting Dr. Cattell’s resignation, the Board of Trustees gave in to the obvious but painful necessity.

PHSFollowing his retirement, Dr. Cattell remained an active member of the College’s Board of Trustees, serving there until his death in 1898. But the College was not his only field of service. Staying active, he traveled to Europe in conjunction with the Presbyterian Alliance, and upon his return, took on new duties as Secretary of the Board of Ministerial Relief for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. He traveled throughout the United States, preaching to raise money for aged pastors, their widows and orphans. During twelve years with this Board, Dr. Cattell raised three million dollars. Again, his ceaseless labors forced him to retire, this time in 1896. Yet despite his declining health, he agreed to accept the call to serve as President of the Presbyterian Historical Society, in Philadelphia. In this work, he fixed his sights on two goals: relocating the Society’s collections into a larger fire-proof facility, and the establishment of a sufficient  endowment. Cattell lived to see the collections moved to a newer building, but died on February 11, 1898, before the other goal of an endowment could be realized.

Pictured above left, the original home of the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, described in 1880 as “a modest house on Race street near Thirteenth, in Philadelphia, which makes no pretensions and attracts little attention, gives but little idea of the treasures within.”

Dr. Cattell was a superior scholar, an accomplished and affable gentleman, of great energy of character, and an excellent preacher. He was vested with the confidence and regard of his brothers in Christ. Among the honors conferred upon him during his life, he received his degree of Doctor of Divinity from both Hanover College, Indiana, and New Jersey College, in 1864.

Words to Live By:
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10, KJV)

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. (Colossians 3:23, NASB)

For Further Study:
Memoir of William C. Cattell, D,.D., LL.D., 1827-1898 (1899)

Two archival collections were located for Dr. Cattell. Click the links to view the finding aids:
The Lafayette College Archives, which consists primarily of diaries kept by Dr. Cattell.
and
The Presbyterian Historical Society, which collection consists of Dr. Cattell’s sermons, lectures and addresses and incoming correspondence.

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doddsRobertJames

Missionary to Syria

A timely reminder to pray for the Christians in Syria

Robert James Dodds was born near Freeport, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, on August 29, 1824. His parents were Archibald and Margaret (Davidson) Dodds. Possessed from his youth with integrity of character and amiability of disposition he was dedicated to God for the work of the ministry. At an early age he began his classical studies under the direction of his pastor, the Rev. Hugh Walkinshaw, and made such rapid progress and proficiency in all the departments of literature taught in a College, that he was recommended as sufficiently advanced to begin the study of theology in the spring of 1844. He studied theology in the Allegheny and Cincinnati Seminaries, and was licensed by the Pittsburgh Presbytery, June 21, 1848.

At the meeting of the Reformed Presbyterian (Old Light) Synod in 1847, the Mission of Hayti [i.e., Haiti] was organized, and Dodds was chosen as a missionary for that foreign field, for which purpose he was ordained sine titulo [i.e., “without title,” – typically, without call to a specific congregation] by the Pittsburgh Presbytery, on November 24, 1848. The Mission, however, was soon afterwards abandoned, and as he was not sent out, he used his time to good advantage by supplying the pulpit for churches lacking a pastor. Rev. Dodds was at last installed as pastor of the Rehoboth congregation in Stanton, Jefferson county, Pennsylvania, on June 18, 1852. He traveled widely throughout the region around the church and was exposed to many dangers, but by his missionary spirit and zeal for the cause, was blessed to build up a flourishing congregation with many branches.

At the meeting of the RP Synod in 1856, the Syrian Mission was established and Rev. Dodds was chosen as one of the missionaries for this new field. Accepting the appointment, he was released from his charge over the Rehoboth congregation on May 24, 1856. Then with the Rev. Joseph Beattie, their families and some others, set sail for Syria on October 16, 1856. He first settled in Damascus, where he learned the Arabic language, and in October of 1857, relocated to Zahleh, a town at the foot of Mount Lebanon. In May of 1858 he was compelled to abandon the work in this town due to threats and persecution from the priesthood. Making a tour of exploration through Northern Syria, as far as Antioch, he passed through Latakia, and, being favorably impressed with its location, began to make arrangement for occupying this new location. In the autumn of 1859, he, Dr. Beattie, and the others moved to Latakia. Suitable buildings were located and Dodds worked here for some eight years with good success.

When an unexpected opening occurred in Aleppo, and the Mission decided it was advisable to seize the opportunity, Dr. Dodds was appointed to this field in May of 1867. Here he remained, constantly busy with the work of the Mission, until his death. During the summer of 1870, he visited the Mission in Latakia, and while there suffered an attack of fever. During a subsequent journey to Idlib, he contracted a severe cold which he could not shake off. In the beginning of December, he next suffered from a small hemorrhage of the lungs, which was made worse when he contracted typhoid fever. The Rev. Robert James Dodds died at his home in Aleppo, Syria, on December 11, 1870.

As a preacher, his sermons were rich in Scriptural truth and illustration. He was not a popular orator owing to a hesitancy in his speech, and he was more spiritual than ornate; more thoughtful than rhetorical; more anxious about conviction than elegance of style. He was admirably adapted with every qualification for a successful missionary. He was a good classical scholar, and made such proficiency in the study of the Arabic tongue that he was able to preach a sermon in that language in eighteen months after beginning the study of it. He was a remarkably cheerful man, uniform in his feelings and sympathetic in his disposition. His intellectual character was marked with keen and vigorous reasoning powers, a retentive memory, and the ability to concentrate his ideas. Among his earlier publications is, “A Reply to Morton on Psalmody,” (1851). His writings are principally letters to the Foreign Mission Board and were published in the denominational magazines of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. He translated the Shorter Catechism into the Arabic language, and was engaged in writing and translating other works for the use of the Mission. He was honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Monmouth College in 1870. He was Moderator of the RP Synod of 1866.

[excerpted from History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of America, by William Melanchthon Glasgow (1888, reprinted 2007), p. 484-487.

Dodds’ work “A Reply to Morton on Psalmody can be found at archive.org, here. No other works by Rev. Dodds have been discovered on the Web at this time.

For Further Study:
The early days of the RP Syria Mission are recorded in letters from the Rev. J. Beattie, published in volume 4 (1866) of The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter. On pages 8-9 of the January 1866 issue (4.1), we read in part:

Letter from Rev. J. Beattie.
Latakiyeh, October 31, 1865.

Dear Brethren–Ere this reaches you, you will, in all human probability, have seen and conversed with Mr. Dodds, and have learned from him particulars in reference to the Mission, up to the time he left. He and family, in company with Mr. Morgan and family, a missionary of the American Board, occupying the nearest station to the north of us, set sail from Latakiyeh in the beginning of August last, at the close of our summer term, and just after one of the most interesting events in all the past history of our mission—our first communion in Arabic. We had the pleasure of admitting five native brethren to our fellowship on that occasion, and while it was with no little hesitation and anxiety that we concluded to receive them, I am happy to say that their general deportment since the time of their public connection with us has been such on all occasions as to justify our actions. May God add to this little number daily of such as he will have to be saved. . . “

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Remembering Dr. Harvie M. Conn [1933-1999]

[A tribute written in 1999 by Dr. Mark R. Gornik, upon Dr. Conn’s death. We are grateful to Dr. Gornik for granting permission to reproduce this tribute here today.]

He had a face turned to the city and a heart broken by the things that break the heart of God. A few days ago, Harvie Maitland Conn, pastor, missionary, seminary professor, theologian, and missiologist, completed his earthly urban pilgrimage. The cause of his death on August 28, 1999 was cancer.

From his 12 years as a missionary in Korea to his 25 years of teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) in Philadelphia (1972-1998), Harvie Conn left a singular legacy of calling the church, especially the Reformed and evangelical communities, to Christ’s mission in the city.

It was quite possible to overlook Conn’s preceding 12 years of mission work in Korea, but only until you saw the list of books he wrote in Korean or heard him teaching in homiletics class in Korean. In Korea, his outreach to women in prostitution signaled his concern for an evangelism that saw people as both sinners and sinned against.

Dr. Conn joined the faculty of Westminster in 1972 and taught apologetics and missions. His concern for missions eventually became his full-time academic focus. As a teacher admired for his engaging pedagogical style, students also considered him among the most demanding.

In his teaching, Conn forged a transformational theology of the church and mission. Working with Reformed themes such as covenant, kingdom, and redemptive-history and in dialogue with Reformed theologians such as Geerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, Richard Gaffin and Edmund Clowney, Conn developed a doctrine of the church that, if implemented, would bring renewal to existing ecclesial models and the social context.

While committed to the traditions of the Reformed faith, Conn’s vision of the church was much broader. He firmly believed in the global church as a subject and not a Western object, and this influenced his theologizing.

Photograph of Dr. Harvey Conn, seated at right, speaking with anAbove, Rev. Harvie Conn, at right, speaking with the Rev. Edward Kellogg during a conference break.

Much of Conn’s legacy is to be found in a considerable body of writing and editing. He was the author of a number of pacesetting books including Eternal Word and Changing Worlds: Theology, Anthropology, and Mission in Trialogue (1984). A Clarified Vision for Urban Mission: Disspelling the Urban Stereotypes (1987), and The American City and the Evangelical Church: A Historical Overview (1994). We await the publishing of The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God, co-written with Westminster colleague Manuel Ortiz. [This volume appeared in 19 .]

Conn also edited books on church planting and church growth, as well as pastoral theology and hermeneutics. The most recent volume that he edited [was] entitled Planting and Growing Urban Churches. From Dream to Reality (1997), a study made especially valuable with his section introductions.

In addition, Conn wrote scores of editorials, articles, and book reviews, especially for Urban Missions Newsletter and Urban Mission Journal (founded by Roger Greenway, Conn served as editor from 1989-1999). The range of topics varied greatly and included urbanization in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, the role of diaconal ministry, Jonathan Edwards’ public theology, family life, church growth, youth ministry, evangelism, and parish life.

During his time at Westminster, Conn played a significant role in leading the faculty’s commitment to what was to become the Center for Urban Theological Studies (CUTS), an effort founded by African American pastors and Bill Krispin. His contact with the students of CUTS continually shaped his thinking about ministry and theological education, just as he helped to shape women and men for the ministry.

Conn’s most enduring missiological contribution was his concentration on the importance of the city. He wanted the church to focus on the city not because it was trendy—it was not—but because he read closely both the biblical material and the demographic data, bridging them together with a focus on a third horizon, God’s mission to the cities of this world.

No longer, Conn argued, could the world be considered a global village. Instead, it is a global city. This is the church’s context and challenge, and to be effective, the church would need to sort out urban myth from fact. He not only helped to put the city on the evangelical agenda, but he changed the way we think about the city. In light of new understanding of the city, he pressed heavily for church planting and the developments of models that pointed to God’s future.

His theology of the city was drawn from a redemptive-historical or narrative framework to Scripture. When asked his “favorite” biblical text on the city, Conn replied,

“Picking one biblical text to sum up my view of urban ministry is an assignment too awesome and dangerous for me. Too awesome because wherever I turn in my Bible it shouts “urban” to me. Too dangerous because the text I might select could leave out a piece of the picture too crucial in another text and distort the whole. We need a hermeneutic serious enough to link Genesis to Revelation in the unending story of Jesus as urban lover and the church as God’s copycat.”

In many respects, Conn was driven by a concern for what he saw in Paul as a special concern for the “outsider.” This is evident from the way in which he engaged Latin American liberation theologies, North American black theology, and a variety of feminist theologies. While his criticisms were not insignificant, he saw in them a profound challenge for the evangelical church to recover the holism of the gospel.

Conn often wrote sentences like “Jesus loved the leftovers and left outs, and so should we.” This quote reflected his Christology: Jesus was the poor one who embodied the jubilee in all of its holism for the city.

Christology and urban mission, word and deed, belonged together for Conn. Features of how this played itself out are evident from this quote taken from Eternal Word and Changing World :

“Theology, if it is to become truly and comprehensively communal, must emerge from a praxis of commitment to God’s peace for the poor (1 Cor. 1:27-28). To become revolutionary and not revolutionary, our theologizing will have to validate itself and its claims in the same way Jesus validated His. His allegiance to the poor marked His preaching and was a sign of the coming of the kingdom (Luke 4:18-21). His healing of the sick and the blind and his preaching to the poor became a validation to a doubting John the Baptist of his messsianic theologizing (Matt. 11:2-6). It must become an integral part of ours as well. Where shall we begin this identification? By sitting where the poor and disenfranchised sit, in the ghettoes of our cities, in the waiting rooms of public health clinics, in the unemployment lines and welfare offices.”

One finds no better summary of what Conn took to be the obligations of the kingdom than the title of his book, Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace.

Dr. Conn had several distinctive and memorable traits. One example was his, at times, frustrating propensity to work alone. Perhaps this was a result of the many frustrations he faced as an advocate for new ways of seeing and thinking about following Christ.

He was well-known for his sense of humor and hearty laugh. While a student at Westminster, I never looked for him in the library, but rather I listened for his laugh over by the periodical section. To paraphrase Langston Hughes, Conn’s laugh was like a handshake heard across the room. It was welcoming and inviting. Perhaps he was laughing at his own jokes, but that was always the best reason to laugh along.

Conn kept personal struggles such as his health very private. When he and his wife Dorothy’s poor health finally necessitated his retirement from Westminster, Conn wanted no attention drawn to his career. That was quite consistent with his character, but a disappointment to many who very much wanted to express gratitude for his influence. Never a credit taker, he always pointed away from himself and to the Christ he followed. In a Christmas letter from some years ago, he wrote: “Over forty years ago, Dottie and I chose the path of the wise men and followed His star. We have been Jesus-stargazers ever since. . . He still goes before; we still follow—not always wisely, not always obediently. But always hopeful.”

Conn loved to conclude his sermons, essays, books, and lectures with a barrage of questions. The motive for this format might have been to exercise his prophetic ministry in a less direct way. Or perhaps it was his way of saying he was helping to set an agenda, not resolving it. Probably both, and with a nod to Christ’s style in the gospels.

Here are some questions that a celebration of his life and legacy requires:
Will the church heed the Lord’s call to the global city of the next century and beyond?
Will theological education rise to the challenge?
Will we allow missions to be the guide for our theological agendas?
And in all of this, what about the poor and the excluded?
Will the church change for the sake of a gospel that is good news for the poor?

At heart, Harvie Conn was an urban evangelist who proclaimed sovereign grace so that the “world may believe” (John 17:21). His passionate focus on the gospel for the city called many, including me, to see the city as the primary site of Christ’s mission. May the witness of Conn’s Jesus stargazing in the city influence our lives so that we might faithfully proclaim and live for the One whom he followed.

Rev. Mark R. Gornik
New York City
August 30, 1999.

[Rev. Gornik now served as Director of the City Seminary of New York.]

Photo source: Presbyterian Journal Photo Collection, Box 246, file 2, preserved at the PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, MO.

And a surprising find: Nosing around the Web, this, concerning Dr. Conn, was a surprising find. Campus statuary, anyone?

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Quite a Remarkable Man, Spent for the Gospel.

Drawing again from Alfred Nevin’s Presbyterian Encyclopedia (p. 75), we read of the Rev. Gideon Blackburn:

blackburnGideonGideon Blackburn was born in Augusta county, Virginia on August 27th, 1772. In his boyhood his parents removed to Tennessee. He pursued his literary course of studies under the direction of the Rev. Samuel Doak [1749-1830] and his theological studies under the instruction of Dr. Robert Henderson [1764-1834]. Blackburn was then licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Abingdon, in 1792.

Mr. Blackburn was the organizing pastor of the New Providence Church in Maryville, Virginia, and also took charge of another church called Eusebia, which lay about ten miles distant. Besides his stated labors on behalf of these two congregations, Blackburn frequently preached throughout the surrounding region, and was instrumental in organizing several other churches.

During the early part of his ministry here, his life was frequently in danger, given the possibility of attacks by Indians. In 1803, he began a mission to the Cherokees, and his sacrificial efforts on their behalf produced remarkable results. In 1811 he removed again to West Tennessee, settling at Franklin, where he took charge of Harpeth Academy, while also preaching on a rotating schedule at five different outposts that fell within a fifty mile wide circuit. Within just a few months of this work, he was blessed of God to organize churches in each of those locations.

On November 12, 1823, Dr. Blackburn was installed as pastor of the Presbyterian church in Louisville, Kentucky, and here again, his labors were greatly blessed. He was later made President of Centre College, in Danville, Kentucky, and served there from 1827 to 1830. He then removed to Versailles, KY, where he spent part of his time as pastor of the Presbyterian church there, and the rest of his time as an agent of the Kentucky State Temperance Society.

In 1833, Blackburn moved on to Illinois, serving in 1835 as an agent raising funds for Illinois College. It was while traveling in the eastern states engaged in this work, that he conceived the idea of a theological seminary in Illinois. Eventually that school was established in Carlinsville, Illinois, though Blackburn died, on August 23, 1838, before seeing the culmination of his plan.

Dr. Blackburn was much above the ordinary stature, being about six feet one or two inches high. In his manner he was easy, gentle, mild, courteous, affable, but always dignified. “He was,” said one who knew him well, “not only an eloquent, but laborious and successful preacher. Like Whitefield, he loved ‘to range,’ and besides many extensive tours of preaching through various portions of the United States, his vacations in the academy and college were uniformly spent in traveling from place to place, often preaching night and day, and uniformly followed by weeping, wondering, admiring, audiences wherever he went; and even during the sessions of the academy and college, often have I known him, mounted on horseback on Friday afternoon, to dash off ten, twenty and even thirty miles, preach four or five times, administer the communion on Sabbath, and return on Monday morning in time to be in his chair in the lecture-room at nine o’clock. Very many were converted under his ministry, and many churches planted and watered by his indefatigable labors.”

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Today’s post is drawn from Alfred Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church (1884), p. 850:

The Long Pastorate of a Great Pastor and Biographer

SpragueWBWilliam Buell Sprague was born in Andover, Tolland county, Connecticut, on October 16, 1795. He graduated at Yale College in 1815, and in 1816 entered Princeton Theological Seminary, just four years after the start of that institution. After studying there over two years, Sprague was licensed to preach by the Association of Ministers in the county of Tolland, on August 29th, 1818. As pastor of the Congregational Church of West Springfield, Massachusetts, he labored with great assiduity and success from August 25th, 1819, until July 21st, 1829, when he accepted a call to the Second Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York, over which he was installed on August 26th, 1829.

In Albany, he had a pastorate of forty years’ duration, remarkable for the extraordinary steadfastness and warmth of attachment existing through all that protracted period between himself and his large and intelligent congregation, and even more remarkable for the vast and varied labors performed by him. He has been well and truly described as “an illustrious man, a cultivated, elegant, voluminous, usefull and popular preacher; an indefatigable and successful pastor; an unselfish and devoted friend; loving, genial, pure, noble; an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile; one of the most child-like, unsophisticated and charitable of men.”

While Dr. Sprague never relaxed his pulpit and pastoral duties, his added literary labors were prodigious and their fruits exceedingly great. He preached nearly two hundred sermons on special public occasions, the most of which were published. He also produced a large number of biographies and other volumes on practical religious subjects. But the great literary work of his life was his Annals of the American Pulpit, undertaken when he was fifty-seven years old, and finished in ten large octavo volumes.

On December 20th, 1869, Dr. Sprague was released at his own request, from his pastoral charge in Albany, and retired to Flushing, Long Island, where he passed his later years, which were a serene and beautiful evening to his industrious, useful and eminent life. Here he enjoyed the sunshine of the divine favor, and looked upon the approach of death with a strong and placid faith. He gently and peacefully passed away, May 7th, 1876, and his remains were taken to Albany for interment, the funeral services being held in the church of which he had been so long the beloved and honored pastor.

A number of Sprague’s works can be found in digital format, here.

If I may select one for you, The Claims of Past and Future Generations on Civil Leaders, looks interesting, judging by its title.

From Sprague’s Historical Introduction to The Annals of the Presbyterian Pulpit:
“…
The early history of the Presbyterian Church in this country is involved in no little obscurity,—owing principally to the fact that those who originally composed it, instead of forming a compact community, were widely scattered throughout the different Colonies. It is evident, however, that several churches were established some time before the close of the seventeenth century. In Maryland there were the Churches of Rehoboth, Snow Hill, Marlborough, Monokin, and Wicomin,—the first mentioned of which is commonly considered the oldest, and was probably formed several years before 1690. The Church on Elizabeth River, in Virginia, is supposed by some to date back to nearly the same period, but the exact time of its origin cannot be ascertained. The Churches in Freehold, and Woodbridge, New Jersey were constituted in 1692 [Note: there is good evidence that Fairfield Presbyterian Church, in Fairton, NJ, was established in 1680.]; and the First Church in Philadelphia, as nearly as can be ascertained, in 1698. In Newcastle, Delaware, in Charleston, South Carolina, and in some other places, Presbyterian Churches were planted at a very early period. In the latter part of 1705, or early in 1706, a Presbytery was formed under the title of the Presbytery of Philadelphia,—all whose members were from Scotland or Ireland, except the Rev. Jedediah Andrews, who was born and educated in New England.”

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An excerpt from The Brazen Serpent, by Joseph Huntington Jones provides our Lord’s Day sermon today. Rev. Jones, as you will remember from yesterday’s post, was a close friend of the Rev. Ashbel Green. Dr. Green entrusted his autobiography to Rev. Jones, that he would see it through to publication after Green’s death.

The Brazen Serpent is, as it turns out, a work addressed to children. As such it provides an excellent example of the quality and caliber of nineteenth-century Presbyterian literature for the juvenile audience. The book was published by the Presbyterian Board of Publication, an agency at that time of the Old School wing of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., being published in 1864, just five years before the reunion of the Old School and New School division. What follows is excerpted from the first chapter of the book. A link to the full work follows at this end of this post. Please consider reading this together with your own children.

THE BRAZEN SERPENT, by Joseph Huntington Jones.

We read in the twenty-first chapter of the book of Numbers, that when the Israelites had been bitten by fiery serpents, Moses made of brass an image of this serpent and put it on a pole, and then whoever looked to this brazen or dead serpent was cured of the bit of the living one. There is something very astonishing here. In the history of diseases and remedies there is nothing like it, and had it not been explained to us by him who appointed it, we should be just as much perplexed to understand it as the Jews are. They cannot imagine why Moses should have been instructed to cure his dying brethren by such a simple thing, which, if it affected them at all, would be presumed to make them worse. The very last object at which a man, mortally wounded by a poisonous serpent, would wish to look, or from which he would expect relief, would be an image of the creature that had bitten him. To explain this wonder, and help us to see the use of it to us as well as to them, I will first recount what Moses did to heal his suffering brethren, and then tell you why God directed him to do it, in this particular way.

Most of my young readers, I presume, are familiar with the remarkable history of the children of Israel in Egypt; of the way in which they were brought out of it; and of their wandering forty years in the wilderness. If those of you who understand geography, will take some good map of this region which has the way the people traveled marked out upon it, you will see that, although they traveled probably more than a thousand miles up and down in this desert country, yet the distance in a straight line is less than three hundred. They were now come to Mount Hor, and had they been permitted to go forward in a direct course, their way would have been short. But to this the king of Edom would not consent, as they would have gone across his territory. This was very provoking, because it compelled them to travel back the very way they had come several days, and through a country that was extremely rough and dreary. It is not at all surprising that the people should have been greatly vexed with this most perverse and disobliging king, who had given them so much needless trouble; but it was not to be helped. He had a right to forbid them, and it was their duty to submit. So they turned about and followed the pillar of cloud and fire; but with such an angry and rebellious temper, that they murmured not against Moses only, but against God. “Wherefore,” said they, “have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in this wilderness?”

. . . But some of my young readers will say, We do not understand it, after all. We cannot see any resemblance between those poor Hebrews in the wilderness, bitten by the fiery serpents, and ourselves. We have not been bitten, and have no disease in our bodies that should make us afraid, or that gives us any pain. And even if we had, we do not think that we could be cured by looking to Jesus Christ. That is very true, children, in one sense; and your bright eyes, red cheeks, and healthful looks are pleasant tokens that you are well and happy. But this is not all of the truth; you are in health and full of joy and hope now, but it will not be always so. Many of the children who read this little book have buried a beloved parent; some lost their mother, some have no father, and others have neither. In a few years, all of you, their children, will be called to follow them; and what is the cause of this? Why do not persons live for ever here, without becoming old, wrinkled, and gray-haired, and losing their strength, hearing, and eyesight? Why have people, in past ages, with but two exceptions, all gone out of the world by dying? Who do they, soon or late, as certainly die as all the Israelites did who were bitten, before the lifting up of the serpent? Let us go to the apostle Paul for an answer. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Here, then, my dear children, you will see that sin has done the same thing for us, that the fiery serpents did for the Hebrews. It has made us all liable to the death of our bodies, and what is infinitely worse, to the everlasting loss of our souls. This is one point of resemblance.

Another, not less obvious and striking, is the way of escape. As the Israelites could do nothing to save their bodies from death, neither can we do anything for the salvation of our souls. If left to ourselves, in spite of all our works, we shall as certainly lose our souls as the Hebrews would have lost their lives. And in this we notice a second point of resemblance. We are like them in being utterly helpless.

A third is, that as they obtained a cure by looking to the brazen image; so do we receive salvation by looking to Christ. The Saviour does not use the precise words of Moses, and tell us to look to him, but he says, Believe. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” We see, then, that the great design of God, in adopting this way of curing the bitten Hebrews, was to teach us faith in Christ. Now, a great many people suppose that this is a subject so obscure and hard to be understood, that it is never worth our while to say anything to children about it. But in this little story from the writings of Moses, as explained by the Saviour, it is made so plain that few, if any, children who are able to read, can fail to comprehend it as well as their parents.

And I would now ask my little readers three simple questions that I think they can nearly all answer, and which will show how far the story is understood. And first, What was there in the condition of the Israelites that made it necessary for Moses to lift the serpent on the pole? You tell me, at once, they were in such a dangerous state that multitudes would have died without it. This is correct; you have given the true answer; and this, let me tell you, is the first part of faith in Christ. It is to feel ourselves to be in such a deplorable state, on account of our sins, that we must perish without help.

My next question is, Why did these poor, suffering Israelites look to this brazen image on the pole? Why did they not apply to their physicians, or try to cure themselves? You tell me immediately, because they knew that they would die if they did, and that if they were healed at all, it must be done by turning their eyes to this brazen saviour. True, this is the very answer I wished you to give, and this is the second element of faith in Christ. It is a persuasion that if we are saved at all, our help must come from Christ; that “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” I think, then, you understood this part as well as you did the other.

My third question is, What were their feelings and thoughts when they first lifted their eyes to the image? They felt persuaded, you answer, that if they looked, they would certainly be relieved, no matter how badly they were bitten, or how desperate their bodily condition. Exactly so, children, and this very feeling makes up the remainder of saving faith. It is a conviction, that if we do rely on Christ to save us, he is able, and willing, and ready to do it, the very moment we believe. This is faith, all about it that any of you need know; it is what any of you can know; and, let me add, it is what you all must know, or you will as certainly perish as the Israelites would have died, but for looking to the brazen image.

The Brazen Serpent; or, Faith in Christ Illustrated, by Joseph Huntington Jones. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1864. To download this book in PDF or other digital formats, click here.

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Ashbel Green’s Editor and Friend

Joseph Huntington Jones, D. D., the brother of Judge Joel Jones, was born in Coventry, Connecticut, on August 24th, 1797. He graduated at Harvard University, in 1817. For a time he was employed as Tutor in Bowdoin College, Maine. He completed his theological studies at the Princeton Theological Semi­nary; was licensed as a probationer, September 19th, 1822, by the Presbytery of Susquehanna, and was, by the same Presbytery, ordained as an evangelist, April 29th, 1824.

On June 1st, 1824, he began his labors in the Presbyterian Church at Woodbury, New Jersey, and was soon installed as pastor of that church. Here he labored with very great success. At the same time he also supplied the feeble church at nearby Blackwoodtown, which shared the blessing enjoyed by that of Woodbury. In 1825 he was installed as pastor of the Presbyterian Church at New Brunswick, New Jersey. Here he remained for thirteen years, proving himself to be “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” His ministry was honored of God by at least three seasons of religious awakening.

In 1838 he became the pastor of the Sixth Church, in Phila­delphia, and continued so for twenty-three years, his efforts being crowned with a manifest blessing. From 1861 to 1868 he was Secretary of the Relief Fund for Disabled Ministers, in which capacity he did a noble work, for which he deserves the lasting gratitude of the Church. He died on December 22d of 1868.

Dr. Jones was an exemplary Christian, an in­structive preacher, a faithful pastor, an interesting writer, and a gentleman of great urbanity of manner and suavity of disposition.

Of his principal work, often referred to as The Effects of Physical Causes on Christian Experience,’’ Dr. J. W. Alexander wrote, “It is a valuable and entertaining book.” Rev. Jones must have been a close friend and associate of the Rev. Ashbel Green, for it was to Jones that Green turned for the task of bringing Green’s autobiography to the press. Rev. Jones also wrote a history of the 1837 revival at New Brunswick, and several sermons of his were published as well.

 

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Reprise:

A Communion for American Covenanters

The entire service of Communion that Sabbath day on August 23, 1752 lasted nine hours.  But for some two hundred and fifty Covenanters gathered on that spot, it was the first communion outside the British Isles.

The teaching elder on that Lord’s Day was the Rev. John Cuthbertson, who was the first Reformed Presbyterian minister in the colonies.  As the only one, he had logged nearly 70,000 miles in the wilds of Colonial America, ministering to scattered Covenanters.  Often, there was no church building.  So they worshiped at various sites called “tents.”  It consisted of a large tree, with a wooden stand for the minister, and another for a Bible, with rough pews for the people, and nothing but the open sky for the roof.  On this occasion, they met at the Junkin Tent, just north of present day New Kingstown, Pennsylvania.

The communion at this first meeting in America lasted five days, with worship times on three of the five days.  The first day, which was Thursday, was a day of fasting, with a sermon by Rev. Cuthbertson.  Tokens of admission were given to those qualified spiritually to partake, after an exhortation for that purpose.  Prospective members were examined and received into the congregation.  On Friday and Saturday, no public worship was conducted.

In the services on the Sabbath, Rev. Cuthbertson paraphrased the 15th Psalm and preached from John 3:35: “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things in his hand.”  After the sermon, there was prayer and singing from the psalter.  Then the pastor spoke again about the sacrament, debarring some from the table while inviting others to the table of the Lord.  The communicants came, singing the Twenty-fourth Psalm, to sit at four tables as was the custom, to receive the elements of the sacred supper.  After the table services were concluded, he exhorted the communicants and led in prayer.  A part of the 103rd Psalm was sung.  Then after an interval of thirty minutes, another sermon was preached.  The entire service of that Communion day worship lasted nine hours.

Before the worshipers started home on Monday, another sermon was proclaimed as a departing reminder from the Word of God.

Words to live by:
   We might well wonder whether God’s people today would sit through such protracted services.  As one minister commented, there would not be many left but the preacher, and most probably he too would feel like departing!   But let it be said that these early American Christians did not have all the privileges of weekly services nor access to countless Christian books and media outlets.  What they had, they treasured, and exhibited a spiritual fervor which, with all our spiritual privileges, too many professing Christians and churches lack that same spiritual fervor.

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One of the PCA”s Founding Fathers

Spencer_James_GraftonRemember that “One Way” symbol back in the Jesus People era? It showed up on posters, on T-shirts, and just about everywhere. Well, it turns out that symbol, with the index finger pointing heavenward, wasn’t original to those times. It actually dates back to around the 1830s, when Horatio Nelson Spencer, a South Carolina native and a graduate of Yale Law School, had moved to Port Gibson, Mississippi to establish his law practice and to raise a family. He also associated with the Port Gibson Presbyterian Church, and somewhere along the way he was the one who thought up the idea of having a hand with the index finger pointing to heaven, the hand firmly fixed atop the church’s steeple. The original hand was carved out of wood, though later it was replaced with a metal hand, measuring twelve feet high, from wrist to finger tip.

Horatio’s idea, with that silent finger faithfully pointing the way to heaven, could also be taken as expressive of the life and ministry of one of his descendants. James Grafton Spencer was born on August 22, 1904. James would grow to become a fine scholar who eventually studied for the ministry at Columbia Theological Seminary, graduating in 1933. While still in Seminary, he was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Mississippi, and then ordained by Paris Presbytery and installed as pastor of the PCUS church in Gladewater, Texas. Between 1933 and 1942, he served six Presbyterian churches in Texas, while also  earning the Master of Theology degree at Dallas Theological Seminary, in 1939.

From 1942 to 1948, Rev. Spencer was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Fordyce, Arkansas. Then early in January of 1949, Rev. Spencer transferred his credentials into the Orthodox Presbyterian denomination. Here his call took him to Cincinnati, Ohio, but that association was apparently short-lived, for on November 27th of 1950, he was received back into the Presbyterian Church, U.S., as a member of the Presbytery of Mississippi. My guess is that he was just homesick! With that move he answered a call to serve as the pastor of the Thomson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Centreville, Mississippi. Then in 1959, the First Presbyterian Church in Crystal Spring, MS called him as their pastor, and he remained in that pulpit for fifteen years. This was his final pastorate, and he was entered on the rolls of Grace Presbytery (PCA) as honorably retired in 1974.

But for a man who is truly called of the Lord to preach the Gospel, there is no such thing as retirement. Rev. Spencer immediately took up a post as associate evangelist with the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship (PEF). This organization was one of four groups that were highly instrumental in the formation of the PCA back in the 1960’s. The other three groups were The Concerned Presbyterians, The Presbyterian Journal, and Presbyterian Churchmen United. Rev. Spencer had organized seven new churches in the first nine years of his ministry. Now he desired to turn his attention entirely to the work of evangelism. He said, “Having begun in evangelism, I plan to complete my ministry as an evangelist.” And a good number of years were spent in this work, until at last the Lord called this faithful servant home, on January 27, 1998.

Words to Live By:
To read over the comments of some of the many people who were blessed by Rev. Spencer’s ministry, their words form an outline of what you would want and expect in a godly pastor:

“He was both theologically and practically sound. His presentation was never dull and his illustrations were to the point.”
“High moral integrity, deep Christian convictions.”
“He loves the Lord and the Book.”
“A man of prayer and his messages have been used of the Spirit to move and stir the hearts of men.”
“His friendliness, goodwill and love create an atmosphere that extends to the congregation.”
“His dedication to his Lord and his high regard for God’s Word were obvious.”
“Mr. Spencer held Christ before us at all times.”

Did you know Rev. Spencer? We’d love to hear from you here at the PCA Historical Center.

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