September 27: George Tybout Purves, Pastor-Scholar

He was a wanted man

George Tybout Purves [27 September 1852 - 24 September 1901]The Presbyterian pastor teacher was a wanted man, that is, wanted by theological seminaries to teach at their school.  Princeton Seminary wanted George T.  Purves to teach church history on their faculty.  Western Seminary wanted the scholar to teach theology.  McCormick Seminary in Chicago want the veteran pastor to teach theology on their faculty.  But the heart of this Princeton Seminary alumni was in New Testament, so when a vacancy opened up with the death of Caspar Wistar Hodge, he came to Princeton Seminary.

George Tybout Purves was born on September 27, 1852 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  His undergraduate studies were at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1872.  Immediately, he went to Princeton Seminary for the years of 1873 to 1877.  Becoming ordained by the Chester Presbytery, he served three Presbyterian churches in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and back in Pennsylvania at the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh.  With pastoral experience behind him then, he went back to Princeton where for the next eight years (1892 – 1900), he taught New Testament Literature and Exegesis.

In 1900, Rev. Purves resigned his professorship in New Testament at the seminary to return to the pastorate.  When he was a pastor Dr. Purves was sought by the seminaries, and when he became a professor he was besieged by the churches.  B. B. Warfield said of him, “He was never more the profoundly instructed scholar than when he stood in the pulpit: he was never more the preacher of righteousness than when he sat in the classroom.”  During his eight years at Princeton, Purves taught New Testament and preached regularly, serving for a time as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Princeton.  During 1897 the church experienced “a year of prosperity greater than at any previous time” in its history and credited this to “the very faithful and efficient labors of Dr. Purves.”  In 1899 Purves accepted a call to the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City (once served by J. W. Alexander).  After a short ministry there of eighteen months he died in 1901, at the age of forty-nine.

Not known for his authorship of volumes (though he wrote about twenty books), his spiritual legacy was found in the men who sat under him in classes and graduated to change the world for Christ.  That legacy continued in the pastoral field as during his teaching duties at the seminary, he also supplied the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton.

Words to live by:  What spiritual gifts this man of God possessed!  When he was in the pastorate, the theological schools wanted him. When he was in the sacred halls of seminaries, the churches wanted him. The point is this! Everyone, every Christian, has been given at least one, and no doubt many more Spirit-given abilities for service, or spiritual gifts.  In one sense, it doesn’t matter where you use them.  The important thing is that you use them somewhere. Do you know what your spiritual gift is?  Ask your spouse, or a close Christian friend, or your elder, or your pastor. Then finding it, use it for God’s glory and the good of His church.

For further study : Dr. Purves’s inaugural lecture at Princeton, “St. Paul and Inspiration,” can be read on the web here.
The George Tybout Purves Manuscript Collection is preserved at the Department of Special Collections at the Princeton Theological Seminary, and described in a finding aid, here. [I note that this finding aid was written by PCA pastor Ray Cannata, back when he was a student at PTS.]

Image source : Frontispiece portrait from Joy in Service, from a copy preserved in the PCA Historical Center. Scan prepared by the Center’s staff. This was Dr. Purves’s final work, published posthumously by the American Tract Society (New York, 1901).

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