January 3: John Bailey Adger

Despite all good intentions, the following is a reprise from this date last year. But we’re on the mend and expect to have new content tomorrow. I trust you won’t mind a refresher course on this important person.

Reading from the Minutes of the Synod of South Carolina in 1899, we have the following Memorial for the Rev. Dr. John Bailey Adger, freely edited here for our purposes:

adger02Since the last meeting of Synod our oldest and most honorable member has been taken from us—the Rev. Dr. John Bailey Adger.

Dr. Adger, the oldest son and third child of James Adger, a native of Ireland, and Sarah Elizabeth Ellison Adger, a native of Fairfield County, S.C., was born in Charleston [South Carolina] on the 13th of December, 1810.

Preparing for the ministry, he entered the Princeton Theological Seminary in 1829, graduating there in 1833. While at Princeton Seminary, a fellow student called his attention to the work of foreign missions. After long and serious consideration, Adger was convinced that it was his duty to become a foreign missionary, and he offered himself to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, was accepted and was assigned to Smyrna and adjacent parts of the Turkish Empire as his field, to labor especially among the Armenians. At that time the Presbyterian Church did not carry out foreign missions on its own, but worked chiefly through the American Board, which was supported jointly by Presbyterians and Congregationalists.

Returning to his home in South Carolina, he spent the rest of 1833 and the first half of 1834 in preaching and delivering addresses throughout the State on the topic of foreign missions. He was ordained by Charleston Union Presbytery in the Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston, on April 16, 1834 and sailed from Boston a few months later, on the 2d of August. Rev. Adger reached Smyrna early in October, and at once began his missionary work, which continued with little intermission for twelve years. His industry was untiring. As soon as possible he began to preach in the Armenian tongue; but his chief work was through the press. The Bible had been translated into Armenian centuries ago; but the ancient Armenian had become an unknown tongue to the people of this country. Therefore the first thing to be done was to translate into modern Armenian, so that all could read the Scriptures for themselves. This task he undertook as soon as possible, with skilled assistants. The translation of the New Testament and the Psalms which he thus prepared, was printed by the British and Foreign Bible Society. Some years ago, more than 300,000 copies of this translation of the New Testament had been circulated among the Armenians in Asia Minor and elsewhere. He also translated and published many other works, as the chief and most valuable of which, though small in size, may be mentioned the Shorter Catechism, and C.C. Jones’s Catechism.

By the year 1846, incessant writing and proof-reading of the trying Armenian letters had so injured Dr. Adger’s eyes that rest was imperatively necessary. Accordingly, for this and other reasons, he came to America, expecting as soon as practicable to return to his work in Asia Minor. But this was not to be. As the time time approached for his return, circumstances arose which led to his final withdrawal from work under the American Board.

Dr. Adger never returned to Smyrna, but remained in South Carolina the remainder of his life, serving notably as a professor of church history at the Columbia Theological Seminary, from 1856 until retirement in 1874. Along with James Henley Thornwell, Dr. Adger had been one of the chief architects of the Book of Church Order that was finally adopted by the Southern Presbyterian Church in 1879. In retirement, Adger composed a lengthy autobiography, My Life and Times, which stands to this day as a fitting cap to a long and illustrious ministry. The Rev. Dr. John Bailey Adger died on this day, January 3rd, in 1899.

For further study:
My Life and Times, originally published in 1899 but solely for private distribution, was reprinted in 2007 by Tentmaker Publications in England. The reprint includes a new preface and a biographical sketch by Dr. C.N. Willborn, pastor of the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oakridge, TN, plus an added appendix—a bibliography of Dr. Adger’s published works. In this convenient age of the Internet, the original edition of My Life and Times can also be found on the Web here.

The full, unedited text of this Memorial from the Synod of South Carolina is available on request.

Words to Live By: We see in Adger a life well spent, even exhausted, in the Lord’s service—a life lived in obedience to the words of Scripture: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:23-24, ESV). May that be our purpose and goal in life as well, to live unreservedly for the Lord our Savior.

Also on this date:
in 1898, Robert Lewis Dabney died at his home in Victoria, Texas, at the age of 77.
Note: Our Through the Scriptures and Through the Standards section will now be replaced by the RSS feed which appears in the column on the right hand side of the page.

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