February 2014

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Scotland’s Covenant with God.

The intense emotions of many Scot Presbyterians that day became irrepressible. Some wept aloud; some burst into a shout of exultation; some, after their names, added the words unto death; and some opening a vein, subscribed with their own warm blood.

Whatever was the Rev. W. M. Hetherington referring to in these stirring words, in his book “History of the Church of Scotland”? (see page 155). In one phrase, it was that of our title. Presbyterians of Scotland began the historic signing of the National Covenant with God at Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh on February 28, 1638.

nationalcovenant03The spiritual situation in the kingdom of Scotland was dire. King Charles was determined to support the Church of England and ruin the Presbyterian faith in Scotland.  At first, the Presbyterians of the realm thought that this was only the work of the prelates and not the king. But soon they came to the sad realization that this was led by the crown.  And yet, they saw in his efforts the Lord’s judgments upon them as a people for having broken the covenants from prior ages.  They thus determined to renew their covenantal obligations to Him and His holy law.

So appointing a fast for the nation at large, the faithful pastors of the Church addressed the people of the kirk by underscoring their sins of omission.  They counseled the people of God with the need to renew their covenant to God.  Qualified ministers were appointed to draw up the new national covenant.  It consisted of three parts: the old Covenant of 1581 was repeated as still in force; the actions of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and third, the application of the whole to the present circumstances of the church and nation.

GreyfriarsChurchOn of the morning of the twenty-eighth of February, the leading propositions of this covenant were presented to the Commissioners, who had gathered in Edinburgh. While opinions were freely exchanged and objections raised and answered, it soon became clear, by a rising tide of sacred emotion, that it was ready to be signed. So on the afternoon of that historic day, multitudes from every status of the church and nation gathered at Greyfriars Church.

After prayer and explanation of the National Covenant, . . . well, let’s Hetherington describe the scene for us:

“A solemn stillness followed, deep, unbroken, sacred. Men felt the near presence of that dread Majesty to whom they were about to vow allegiance; and bowed their souls before Him, in the breathless awe of silent spiritual adoration.

“An aged nobleman, the venerable Earl of Sutherland, at last stepped slowly and reverentially forward, and with throbbing heart and trembling hand, subscribed Scotland’s Covenant with God. In that moment, all hesitation disappeared. Name followed named in swift succession, till all with the church had given their signatures.  The document was then removed into the churchyard, and spread out on a level grave-stone, to obtain the subscription of the assembled multitude . . . As the space became filled, they wrote their names in a contracted form, limiting them at last to initial letters, til not a spot remained on which another letter could be inscribed.

” With low heart-wrung groans, and faces bathed in tears, they lifted up their right hands to heaven, avowing, by this sublime appeal, that they had now ‘joined themselves to the Lord in an everlasting COVENANT, that shall not be forgotten.'”

“If ye were not strangers here, the dogs of the world would not bark at you.”

Words to Live By:
If any would look with conviction at your Presbyterian local Church in our land today, and fail to see the need for a spiritual Holy Spirit produced revival in its under shepherds in the pulpit and people in the pews, then it may be that our hearts need first to have such a personal revival.  The Psalmist prayed three thousand years ago in Psalm 85:6 “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (ESV) Rejoicing in God! Are you rejoicing in His Word, the Bible? His Day, the Lord’s Day? His laws, the Ten Commandments? In His works? In anything and everything associated with the God of the Scriptures? That is a Biblical revival! That is a revival sent by the Holy Spirit of God! Will you pray with the authors of This Day in Presbyterian History—that the Holy Spirit would begin a revival in our churches, and that by His mercy and grace, that the Holy Spirit would begin that revival in me?

Image source: Sketches of the Covenanters, by J. C. McFeeters, D.D. (1913), p. 93.

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News Item from 2009:
Rare Copy of The National Covenant Sells For £32,137

[from www.lyonandturnbull.com/content/show_news.asp?id=102]:—

A rare copy of one of the most important documents in Scottish history sold for £32,137 at Lyon & Turnbull on the 10th June 2009.

The copy of The National Covenant dating from 1638 was valued between £5,000-8,000 and is signed by over 100 Covenanters including the Earls of Montrose, Cassillis, Eglinton, Wemyss, Rothes, Lindsay, Lothian and Lord Blamerno.

Simon Vickers, Head of the Book Department said “This is an incredibly good price for a copy of the National Covenant, we had a lot of interest in it with phone bidders from around the world.”

The Scottish National Covenant of 1638 was the result of various attempts by the Stuart monarchy to unify religious worship throughout England and Scotland.  James VI & I had made a few cautious attempts to introduce a measure of Anglicanism into Scottish life, however it was his son, Charles I, that firmly believed the Kirk should be brought into line.

In 1637 King Charles I and Archbishop Laud endeavoured to impose an English liturgy, a move that the Scots saw as little less than an attempt to reintroduce popery.  The spontaneous objection during that first service soon developed into organised opposition unified around the text of the National Covenant.

The 1638 document developed from the National Covenant of 1580, which denounced the Pope and the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church.  The newly formed Covenant incorporated the Scottish Confession of Faith of 1581 and the Acts of the Scottish Parliament that had established the Calvinist religion and the liberty of the Kirk.

The original document was neatly written and signed by a large gathering on February 28th 1638 in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, Edinburgh.  The leading Covenanters – Rothes, Montrose, Eglinton, Cassillis, et al – then created duplicate copies to be dispatched “by the considerable persons themselves” into every shire, presbytery and parish of Scotland for signature.  The copy on offer here is the Covenant of Renfrewshire.

The General Assemby of 1638 was composed of ardent Coventanters and in 1640 the Covenant was adopted by the Parliament and its subscription was required from all citizens.  Over the next few years King Charles’ s attempts to deter his subjects by force were unsuccessful, leading to the eventual recalling of the English Parliament – an act that would begin the chain of events that led to the English Civil War.

The new owner (who resides in the USA and who wishes to remain anonymous) said “It is a hugely important historical document. I did my Phd in Church History at St Andrew’s University in Fife and will look forward to studying the Covenant in more detail. It will remain in Scotland for the time being in the care of my son who lives in the country.

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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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The provisions of God often speedily arrests the success of wicked men.

The following sermon begins with a wonderful treatment on how the seeming triumph of wickedness is always temporary and brief, by God’s mercy and by His sovereign design. This opening section, reproduced below (pp. 3-7 in the original), stands on its own and has an abiding relevance. I think you will find it valuable.

As the title indicates, this sermon was delivered on February 26, 1854, in opposition to the Nebraska Bill, a piece of legislation which threatened to expand the reach of slavery across the developing western states. It is in the second half of Rev. Crowell’s sermon where he turns to specifically address the outrage of this legislation. (page 7-15 in the original publication).

  

The Wickedness of the Nebraska Bill. A Sermon preached in The Second Presbyterian Church, Orange, N.J., February 26th, 1854, by John Crowell, pastor of the church. (New York: M. W. Dodd, 1854)

SERMON.

The triumphing of the wicked is short.” — Job xx. 5.

That the wicked often do triumph can neither be doubted nor denied. Thus they themselves are able to boast over the righteous, and the righteous are perplexed, and sometimes ready to repine. “I was envious at the foolish” (confesses one long ago) “when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. Behold, these are the ungodly that prosper in the world : they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washing mine hands in innocency.”

The text furnishes part of the solution to this perplexing problem of the providence of God.

THE TRIUMPHING OF THE WICKED IS SHORT.

It is generally short, even with reference to this life, and always with reference to the life to come. I wish to speak of it at present only with reference to this life; and without attempting to discuss fully even this last important branch of the subject, I would briefly offer a single general remark.

The triumph of the wicked man’s success is short.

A moment’s reflection will show us that the success of wicked men and wicked plans is at least as likely to be temporary as that of the righteous and their plans. If it is the common lot of earthly things to be transient and uncertain, no exemption surely can be claimed in favor of wicked plans.

But there are causes peculiar to wickedness, which tend to the speedy interruption of its success.

1. The rival plans of other wicked men.

These will often clash with each other. And as some will prevent the success of their rivals, so they will speedily break in on the career of the prosperous. All wickedness springs from selfishness, which from its very nature tramples upon every object weaker than itself. Success in one instance will excite the desires of other wicked men; will inflame their envy; will teach their ignorance, opening a path which they can easily follow; affording a model for their imitation, and supplying light to guide them on their way. Thus the very success of the wicked man tends to his destruction. “Every hand of the wicked shall come upon him.

The history of wickedness would supply many instances of rivals pursuing, supplanting, destroying those who formerly followed in the rear of another, overwhelming his rival, a little time on the pinnacle of success. One conqueror is seen raising for a moment the shout of triumph, but he himself is soon struck down by a mightier arm. Thus the great battlefield of history presents, to an unpractised eye, a confused and discordant assemblage of nations, costumes, and languages; one banner for a moment waves triumphantly, but soon is trampled in the dust, and another is advanced on high; and this is repeated over and over again, from the most remote period, where the shadows of time almost conceal the vision, down to the spot upon which the strong light of the present age is concentrated—where for a moment Napoleon triumphed and fell. And on the same spot new hosts are assembling for a new and perhaps more extended and fearful conflict than any which the world has yet seen.

The same thing often happens among a less splendid and less lauded class of wicked men. One dishonest man speedily arrests the triumph of another’s success. Some may for a time pursue an iniquitous business with what they call brilliant good fortune, but this will attract others as unscrupulous as they, and their occupation may soon be gone. Let any man adopt unfair practices in a lawful business, and, escaping all the hazards incident to success, rejoice in his gains; he will soon find that others can be equally dishonest and equally adroit, and his triumph in the monopoly of fraud is but for a moment.

2. Success increases the desire of the wicked man, and prompts to new and greater efforts. These often fail, and thus frequently all is lost that had been gained. A wicked career is like a game of chance, where small winnings entice to greater risks, till at length on one venture all may be lost.

Success in wickedness renders a man reckless. It excites his mind, inflames his passions, hardens his heart, and overwhelms his judgment. Thus, being madly impelled upwards on slippery places, by one false step he may be plunged into the lowest depths. “Knowest thou not this of old, since man was placed upon earth, that the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment? Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds, yet he shall perish for ever; they which have seen him shall say, ‘Where is he?’ “

3. There are also many barriers against which success will drive a wicked man, and which will speedily arrest his triumphant career.

I have already said that he will entice and provoke the opposition of rivals in wickedness, who are anxious to share his spoils. But in addition to this, we are told that “oppression makes even wise men mad.” We may add, as equally true, that it makes gentle men fierce, and weak men strong. A tyrant may triumph over a weak and gentle person or nation, but his cruelty, his injustice will be goading the gentleness into opposition, and nerving the weakness into strength. Thus his success is creating the materials for its own destruction.

Success in wickedness also combines opposition. The wicked man seeks to extend the sphere of his triumph and the number of his victims. Thus many will be united against him by common sufferings, and many others, through fear that their turn may next come.

The wicked man must also encounter the sense of justice which is lodged deep in every breast. It exists even in the breasts of the wicked themselves. The ability to distinguish right from wrong is never entirely destroyed by transgression; sometimes, on the contrary, it is increased. Men may be keen-sighted to detect evil in others, though it exists in themselves; yes, in proportion as it exists in them; and the worst may love justice, provided it be not inflicted on their own heads. Thus the opposition of the wicked against the wicked is strengthened when one can plead the claims of justice against the other. When does cruelty revel and riot so fiercely as when the abandoned and the vile, maddened by wrongs, trample down the barriers of law, and take the infliction of vengeance into their own hands? Then the innocent share the fate of the guilty—the pure fall with the corrupt and the infant with the man; then the adroitest executioner and the most rapid stroke are too slow for the work of death; and the nearest lampposts receive their victims; the rivers flow with blood. Then, indeed, it is “the reign of terror” over the land. The very “Furies” of hell are lost spirits, armed as the ministers of justice.

But it is the opposition of the upright and pure which is chiefly aroused by the success of the wicked, and which proves the most effectual barrier against their continued triumph. The strong among the good are alert and determined in defence of the weak. Physical strength is quickly by the side of the feeble; intellectual strength pours forth its treasures in behalf of the ignorant, and moral strength encounters its greatest risks to uphold the innocent.

The provisions of God often speedily arrests the success of wicked men.

All the influences which I have mentioned are parts of His providential arrangement. But, in addition to the ordinary operation of these, we often find God manifestly overruling and controlling them, giving them special efficiency. Sometimes He interferes by an unusual and unexpected agent, or without any visible agency whatever. The only verdict that the strictest investigation can render is, that the mighty have fallen by the hand of God.

The close of the chapter in which the text is found, thus sums up the influences by which the success of the wicked is brought to an end; combining the superintendence of God’s providence with the instrumentality of God : “The heaven shall reveal his iniquity, and the earth shall rise up against him. The increase of his house shall depart, and his goods shall flow away in the day of his wrath. This is the portion of a wicked man from God, and the heritage appointed him by God.”

To read the remainder of Rev. Crowell’s sermon, click here.

 

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Dr. Caspar Wistar Hodge, Jr., who was the Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology in Princeton Theological Seminary from 1921 until his death, died on the Friday morning of 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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Congo’s African-American Livingstone

Born March 8, 1865 in Waynesboro, Virginia, William Henry Sheppard, a black man, was never a slave. His mother was of mixed-race background, which status made him a free black. His father was an employee of the local all-white Presbyterian church, serving as janitor. Growing up, he was enrolled in the local school for blacks. Showing great resolve, he next enrolled at the Hampton Institute in 1880 in Hampton, Virginia, where Booker T. Washington was one of his instructors. Then graduating from Hampton in 1883, he moved on to the Tuscaloosa Theological Seminary (now Stillman College). After graduation in 1886, he became an ordained Presbyterian minister in the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

Dr. William H. & Lucy G. Sheppard.
Charcoal portrait by Greg MacNair, 2005. Used by permission.
[This portrait hangs just outside the reading room of the PCA Historical Center.]

Becoming a pastor at Zion Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Shepherd found himself restless and applied with the PCUS Mission board to go to the Congo as a missionary. When several applications received only vague rejections, Rev. Sheppard finally traveled to the headquarters and applied in person. Prejudices died hard in the former Confederacy, and this was evident by their initial refusal and final acceptance. He could go to the Congo as a foreign missionary, but only if a white missionary would supervise him. To his surprise, a young white minister by the name of Samuel Lapsley, volunteered to go with him in that position. They sailed to the Congo on February 25, 1890. Despite what the mission board stated at home, these two missionaries soon were treating each other as equals. Arriving at what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they set about founding a mission in a village known as Luebo. Despite contracting malaria numerous times, Shepherd  managed to adapt to the African climate and setting far better than did Lapsley, who died of a fever after only two years on the field, in 1892.

Of Lapsley’s death, Rev. Shepherd wrote,

Before this time you will have learned of the Mission’s loss. My friend and brother left Luebo, Jan. 6th, 1892, for the Lower Congo to attend to some business about the transport, and our land. He thought also a change would be beneficial to him, expected to return by the next steamer. I went forth with the people to do some building that our home might be more comfortable. For those two years we have labored as one. We have loved and cared for each other as though we were brothers. We have never been separated only this once, and it grieves my heart that I was so far from him. Oh! that I could have kneeled by his side to catch the last whisper before he slept. [The Missionary, 25.10 (Oct. 1902): 415].

Shepherd learned the language of the natives, which in turn enabled him to discover parts of the Congo where no outsiders had visited. He even found himself in a village of King Luckenga, which presence was in itself equivalent to a death sentence. However, Shepherd’s fluency in the language persuaded the king’s family that he was a reincarnation of one of their dead relatives.

In 1893, Sheppard left Africa to travel to London, England. He met Queen Victoria and was inducted into England’s Royal Geographic Society. Back in the United States, he lectured all over the States. Marrying Lucy Gantt, whom he had met just after he had graduated from the theological institute, they started a family. Expanding the first mission, they started a second Congo mission. When two of their children succumbed in disease, Lucy in 1898 took their third baby back to the United States, where they remained for two years.

In the next year, there was a new challenge. Shepherd began to notice the exploitation of the black tribes under the colonial ruler, Belgium, and specifically King Leopold II of Belgium. In essence, it was slavery in all of its terrible forms, with atrocities right and left. The Presbyterian Church had a spiritual interest in that part of the world, but it also was concerned with these human rights issues. In fact, it sent over a new white missionary to replace Lapsley by the name of William Morrison. Together these two missionaries brought that national colonial government to task, with pressure through the media.

Things were not well spiritually with Shepherd however. With his wife absent from him, he yielded to temptation on a moral plane with three adulterous relationships. Due to his fame worldwide, Shepherd was allowed to return quietly to the United States. Following a period of repentance and restoration, he and his family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where for the next 27 years, William Shepherd served as pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church. He died on November 25, 1927 after a stroke.

Words to Live By: Even for those greatly used of the Lord, so long as we reside in this sinful flesh, the temptation to sin remains. And so our Savior wisely said it for all time in Matthew 26:41 — “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (ESV)

A final note, reflecting on Mrs. Sheppard’s role in the mission work. She wrote, in 1900 concerning the efforts at that time among the Bakuba people in the Congo:

Just now this people, the Bakuba, are experiencing some trouble. Very recently their king died, and while the people were in a state of mourning another tribe (we believe to have been sent by the State) invaded the capital, killed all of the royal family, and only one heir to the throne made his escape. these Bakuba are a very proud people, and while in a way they are glad for freedom (for their king was very exacting and cruel), they feel very keenly their loss, and feel that they have been very much degraded. They have known no other rule but that of a king for hundreds of years.

This king that had just died would allow neither missionary nor State officer to come to or near his place to settle, closed up all of the paths and prohibited a foreigner, or people working for foreigners, to pass near the place. Had he been less hostile, and showed a more friendly spirit, I’m sure this trouble would not have come upon this people. The king before him was very friendly, and was anxious that a mission should be opened at his place. But at that time the Committee felt that they could not see their way clear to have a work there. During his lifetime had the work been started, I believe all would have been calm and peaceful now. But it is not for us to see and know the future. Even now it is not too late to be of service. While many have been killed, there are thousands remaining. They feel helpless, lost, because their leader, their earthly king, is gone. But, oh, if some one would only come and tell them of the King of kings, and Lord of lords, who is a leader indeed!

[excerpted from a letter from Lucy G. Sheppard, dated 7 August 1900, Ibanj, Africa and published in The Missionary 33.12 (December 1900): 52.

For further study:
Primary sources:

William Henry Sheppard collection, 1971-1978, at Stillman College, Tuscaloosa, AL
Abstract: Materials consist mostly of biographical material on William Henry Sheppard, graduate of Tuscaloosa Institute and co-founder of the Presbyterian Congo Mission, and his wife, Lucy J. Gantt Sheppard. Also includes correspondence pertaining to the development of the Sheppard collection (1978), photos of the construction of Sheppard Library, correspondence and programs pertaining to the Sheppard Lecture Series (1971-1973), and list of materials in the college archives pertaining to Sheppard. Correspondents include A.R. Ware, Jr., Sheppard’s nephew, and Max W. Sheppard, Sheppard’s son.

William H. Sheppard papers, 1875-1933, 0.75 cubic feet (5 boxes), at the Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, PA.
Abstract: Collection consists primarily of photograph albums and photographs. Photographs document mission stations and churches at Luebo and Ibanche; the Sheppard family; other Presbyterian Church in the U.S. missionaries; and native people of the Bateke, Baluba, Bakuba, Zappo Zap, and other tribes. The collection includes a small number of papers, including correspondence; Sheppard’s reminiscences of his time at the Stillman Institute in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; a pamphlet entitled “How Sheppard Made His Way into Lukenga’s Kingdom”; printed materials about the Congo and King Leopold; hymnbooks in Tshiluba and an unidentified language; and glass and nitrate negatives.

See also reports of the African mission published in The Missionary[Richmond, VA: Whittet & Shepperson], vol. 23, no 2 (February 1890) and following. Copies of this periodical are available in the PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, MO.

Secondary sources:
• Kennedy, Pagan, Black Livingstone : A True Tale of Adventure in the Nineteenth-century Congo. New York: Viking, 2002. ISBN: 0670030368
• Phipps, William E., The Sheppards and Lapsley : Pioneer Presbyterians in the Congo. Louisville, KY: The Presbyterian Church (USA), 1991.
• Phipps, William E., William Sheppard : Congo’s African American LivingstoneLouisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2002. ISBN: 0664502032 (pbk.)
• Sheppard, William H. and S.H. Chester, Presbyterian Pioneers in Congo. Richmond, VA. : Published by Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1917. Note(s): In 1890, the Southern Presbyterian Church appointed William Sheppard, an Afro-American from Waynesboro, Va., and Samuel N. Lapsley, a white man from Anniston, Ala., as missionary companions to the Belgian Congo. Rev. Lapsley died of a “bilious hematuric fever” on March 26, 1892. This is Sheppard’s account of the mission, both before and after Lapsley’s death.
[Reprinted as Pioneers in Congo : An Autobiography. Wilmore, Ky.: Wood Hills Books, 2006. ISBN: 097716361X]

See also:
Lapsley, James W., Life and Letters of Samuel Norvell Lapsley : Missionary to the Congo Valley, West Africa. [Anniston, Ala. : First Presbyterian Church], 1965.

Dissertations and Theses:
• Roth, Donald Franklin, “Grace Not Race” : Southern Negro Church Leaders, Black Identity, and Missions to West Africa, 1865-1919. Austin, TX: University of Texas at Austin, 1976. Masters Thesis, xv, 402 p.
• Dworkin, Ira, American Hearts : African American Writing on the Congo, 1890-1915. New York: City University of New York, 2003. Ph.D. dissertation, viii, 243 p. Includes the chapter, “In the country of my forefathers”: William Henry Sheppard and African American missionaries in the Congo.
• Short, Wallace V., William Henry Sheppard : Pioneer African-American Presbyterian Missionary, Human Rights Defender, and Collector of African Art, 1865-1927. Washington, D.C.: Howard University, 2006. Ph.D. dissertation, xxi, 544 p.
• Smith, Alonzo Nelson, The 1909 Trial of William H. Sheppard : Human Rights, International Diplomacy, and African American Concerns in the Belgian Congo. [Washington, DC : s.n.], 1996.

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Calvary was his hiding place

It must be some sort of record. Think of it! The pastor ministered all sixty-three years in the same church. And those six decades were through some of the momentous years in our nation, to say nothing, of the history of the Presbyterian church.

Gardiner SpringBorn in Newburyport, Massachusetts on February 24, 1785, Gardiner Spring attended Berwick Academy in Maine. He then went to and graduated from Yale University in 1805. Married the following year, he and his new bride Susan moved to Bermuda where Gardiner Spring taught the classics and mathematics. This was only for some income, as his real purpose was to study law. And he was admitted to the bar in New Haven, Connecticut in 1808. Receiving a call to the ministry, he went to Andover Theological Seminary for one year and was called to the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City in 1810, never to leave its pulpit.

It was an active pulpit for the minister. After 40 years of ministry, it was said that he had preached 6000 sermons, received 2092 into the membership roll, baptized 1361 infants and adults, and married 875 couples. Along the way, he had written also 14 books, at least one of which is still being printed today. If the reader doesn’t posses “The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character,” he is urged to buy one immediately. It answers the question as to how do we know we have eternal life.

Many Christians, and especially those in our Southern states are aware that it was Gardiner Spring who authored the resolutions in 1861 to place the Presbyterian Church (Old School) solidly behind the Republican administration of Abraham Lincoln. That action split the Presbyterian Church into two — North and South Old School. We will consider on May 16 the pros and cons of that resolution.

For now, consider the following words in a letter of Gardiner Spring, just nine years after he had begun his ministry at Brick Presbyterian. On occasion of his birthday, he wrote:

gspring02“Still in this world of hope! In defiance of all sins of the past years, and a guilty life, I am permitted to see another birthday. I have been often surprised that I am suffered to live. Blessed be God, I am not afraid to die, and often more afraid to live. I am an abject sinner, and it will indeed be wonderful grace if I ever sit down with Christ at the Supper of the Lamb. That grace is my strong refuge; Calvary is my hiding place. I hope in the grace and guardianship and faithfulness of that omnipotent Redeemer, to be kept from falling and presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. This text has often comforted me, when I have been afraid of trusting in the divine mercy. ‘The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.’ It affords me unutterable pleasure to feel that I am not denied the privilege of laying my own soul beneath the droppings of the same blood I have for nine years recommended to my dying and guilty men.”

Words to Live By: We should take the opportunity which a birthday gives to us, as well as other proverbial milestones in our lives, to meditate on the grace of God in Christ in our lives, as well as the work of sanctification which the Holy Spirit is doing within those lives. You might even keep a notebook or journal in which you write down your observation of God’s many providences and blessings. Such a journal can be a great blessing when faith may falter, and it can be a wonderful testimony to your children and your children’s children.

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George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. You may have noticed postings on Facebook and elsewhere with recommended readings in commemoration of the occasion. Peter Lillback’s recent work, George Washington’s Sacred Fire, should be among that list. But it was on this day, February 23, in 1862, that the Rev. T.W.J. Wylie, a Reformed Presbyterian pastor (General Synod) brought the following message:—  

Washington a Christian.
A Discourse preached February 23, 1862, in the First Reformed Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia.

by the Pastor, T. W. J. Wylie.

(Philadelphia: William S. & Alfred Martien, 606 Chestnut Street, 1862.)

According to Thy manifold mercies Thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies.” — Nehemiah ix. 27.

Why was yesterday, throughout our land, such a day of gladness? It was because, in the arrangements of Divine Providence, a succession of victories which had crowned our arms, was connected, by a delightful coincidence with the recurrence of the birthday of the patriot, the hero, the statesman, who, by universal consent, bears the honoured name of Father of His Country. It was well for us, with gratitude to Heaven, to observe the day; and while reflecting on the evidences which the past presented, that the Lord our God was with us, to gather hope and courage for the future.

It is proper for any nation to cherish the memory of those who have been its deliverers or benefactors. In one of the sacred Psalms (lxxxvii. 4) we have been singing, the inspired writer refers to Rahab, or Egypt, and Babylon, as distinguished for their great men. Ethiopia, also, then, as now, perhaps, despised by many, is not forgotten—”this man was born there.” But it is when the honours which may be accorded to any one, for the natural greatness which he may attain, are connected with the higher glory of a Christian life, that we find an object worthy of our chief admiration. “It shall be said of Zion, This and that man was born in her; and he that is the Highest himself shall establish her. The Lord shall count when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there. Selah. As well the singers, as the players on instruments, shall be there. All my springs are in thee.”

It is in this aspect then, especially, that we think it proper, to-day, to review the character of that illustrious man, whom our nation delights to honour. We do, indeed, think it would be unsuitable to introduce into this holy place what was purely political; and we consider it highly improper that any should substitute the reading of Washington’s Farewell Address for the usual exposition of divine truth; but we do think it is perfectly appropriate that we consider the illustration which the history of our country, and the life of Washington afford, of the language of our text: God, “according to His manifold mercies, has given us saviours, who have saved us out of the hand of our enemies.” Such men were Washington, and others, and it is proper for us to acknowledge, with gratitude, the manifold mercies of that gracious Being who raised them to save us from the hand of our enemies.

In thus referring to the history of Washington, we invite your attention, first, to his early life. We desire, naturally, to trace a mighty river to itds fountain; and as we notice how it gushes from the mountain-side, in some dark glen, almost entirely concealed from view; and as we trace its widening, deepening course, till it swells into the majestic stream, which floats a navy on its bosom, we admire the more the grandeur of a development so great, from a beginning so small. We ask what influences have produced such a result. So in the career of great men—so in the history of Washington. One of our first inquiries is, What was he when a child? How was formed then that noble character, which has gained him a place so exalted in the annals of our race?

We may notice, first of all, that he enjoyed the blessing of pious parents. His father, who died when his son was only about ten years old, was a religious man, and appears to have had a profound sense of the Divine existence and excellence, which he endeavoured to impress on the tender heart of his child. His mother, too, was a consistent Christian, and carefully brought up her children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” It is related of her daughter, that when parting with a son, as he first left his home, she gave him, as her farewell charge, “My son, never neglect the duty of secret prayer.” Washington, we doubt not, was early taught to pray; and from a child, he knew of the Holy Scriptures. Indeed, there is reason to believe that from a very early age he was a subject of regenerating and sanctifying grace. His case is one of many which prove the faithfulness of the divine promise: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

One of the principal features of his character was filial obedience. He was remarkable for the respect which he always showed his widowed mother. When quite a young man, a commission was obtained for him to enter the British Navy as a midshipman. His mother had given a reluctant assent, and all the necessary arrangements had been made. The vessel was lying in the Potomac to receive him on board; his baggage was ready; he was just going to say farewell, when he observed that his mother’s heart was grieved, and he resolved to remain. The firm spirit which never quailed before a foe, was bowed by a mother’s love. His whole career was changed. Had it not been that he was thus influenced, how different would have been his subsequent history, and ours!

Such was his general, we doubt not but we may say, his uniform character. When some one, after the great victory which terminated our Revolutionary War, hastened to announce the tidings to his mother, her reply was simply, “George was always a good child.” We question if any of the honours which were heaped upon him were more grateful than this praise from the lips of her whom he so much loved and revered.

He displayed in youth an intrepidity which foretokened the courage he afterwards manifested. The traveller who visits the Natural Bridge in Virginia may notice how one person and another, desirous of leaving a record of his existence, has climbed up its almost perpendicular sides and carves his name on the soft rock. High up above the rest is the name of Washington—the steady heart, the firm hand, the strong foothold of the boy, corresponding to the character of the man.

His habits of system and industry were remarkable from early life. In the language of an old writer, he “endeavoured to live by rule, and therefore had a rule to live by.” When he was about thirteen years of age he prepared a blank book to make a record of such things as he considered worthy of especial remembrance. Among other articles entered in this book we find a number of rules of conduct for the young. Some of these indicate the leading elements of his future character. “When you speak of God or his attributes, let it be seriously in reverence.” “Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.” “Be no flatterer.” “Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy.” “Let your conversation be without malice or envy.” “Detract not from others, neither be excessive in commending.” “Undertake not what you cannot perform, but be careful to keep your promise.” “Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.” “When you meet with one of greater quality than yourself, stop and retire, especially if it be at a door or any straight place, to give way for him to pass.” “In your apparel be modest, and endeavor to accommodate nature rather than to procure admiration.” “Play not the peacock, looking everywhere about you, to see if you be well-decked; if your shoes fit well, if your stockings sit neatly, and clothes handsomely.” One of the books which belonged to his mother, and which was found in his own library, having evidences of frequent use, was the writings of Sir Matthew Hale; and there is reason to believe that the valuable counsels which it contains were enjoined by his mother, and adopted by himself, for the regulation of his life.

His love of truth is shown by incidents in his history which are as familiar to all Americans as household words. His sense of justice, his impartiality and decision of character were conspicuous even when he was a child. His companions had such confidence in him that they were in the habit of calling on him to settle their disputes. Although naturally courageous, he would neither fight with his schoolmates himself, nor allow them to fight with each other, and braving their displeasure, he would inform the teacher in order to prevent such combats.

But we pass to consider his charcter as he entered upon public life—as the soldier and the statesman—in both the Christian. 

It is well known that he early entered into military service, and in the wars with the French and Indians, before our Revolution occurred, he was prepared for his high position as the commander-in-chief of our armies during the severe and long-continued struggle for our National Independence. The condition of our country at this period shows that he was “raised up for such a time.” Our numbers were few, our resources feeble indeed, and yet we had to cope with the well-trained armies of a mighty empire. At the head of our troops he was the right man in the right place. With courage to strike the blow, and with firmness to wait till all was ready, he was the very person who was fit for such a post. One who was rash or impetuous would have hazarded our cause in the unequal struggle, and lost it. But he could brave insinuation and reproach, and with a lofty patriotism prefer that his own character should suffer rather than his country should be injured. Remarkably preserved from dangers at various times, he was evidently destined to the high work which he so gloriously accomplished.

It is our design, however, principally to refer to the evidences of genuine religion which were manifested in his military career. In one of his proclamations he says, “The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor so to live and act, as becomes a Christian soldier defending the rights and liberties of his country.” “A CHRISTIAN SOLDIER”—what he desired in others he certainly exhibited himself. He frequently refers in his letters and reports to a Divine providence, even in events where many Christians would fail to notice the hand of heaven. “We should have been,” he says, when on his first expedition, then but twenty-three years old, “we should have been four days without provisions if Providence had not sent a trader from the Ohio to our relief.” “By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence,” he says, when giving an account of Braddock’s defeat, “I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, while death was levelling my companions on every side of me.” “I trust that Divine Providence,” he says again, “which wisely orders the affairs of men, will enable us to discharge our duty with fidelity and success.” In his reply to a congratulatory address on the evacuation of Boston, he declares that the happy result “must be ascribed to the interposition of that Providence which has manifestly appeared in our behalf through the whole of this important struggle, as well as to the measures pursued for bringing about the happy event.” And he adds, “May that Being who is powerful to save, and in whose hands is the fate of nations, look down with an eye of tender pity and compassion on these United Colonies. May He continue to smile upon their councils and arms, and crown them with success whilst employed in the cause of virtue and mankind.” On receiving information of the surrender of Burgoyne he writes to his brother in reference to “this signal stroke of Providence.” In another letter, alluding to the sufferings of our army at Valley Forge, he says, “To paint the distress and perilous situation of this army in the course of last winter, for the want of clothes, provisions, and almost every other necessary essential to the well-being, I may say, existence, of an army, would require more time, and an abler pen than mine. Nor since our prospects have so miraculously brightened, shall I attempt it, or even bear it in remembrance, further than as a memento of what is due to the Great Author of all the care and goodness that have been extended in relieving us.” In another private letter, he says, “The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”

Referring to the condition of public affairs in 1778, when he had gone to Philadelphia to consult with Congress on the plan of the campaign for the next year, he says, “If I was called on to draw a picture of the times and of men, from what I have seen, heard, and in part know, I should, in one word, say, that idleness, dissipation and extravagance seem to have laid fast hold of most of them; that speculation, peculation, and an insatiable thirst for riches, seem to have gotten the better of every other consideration, and almost every body of men; that party disputes and personal quarrels are the great business of the day; while the momentous concerns of an empire, a great and accumulating debt, ruined finances, depreciated money, and want of credit, which in its consequences is the want of everything, are but secondary considerations, and postponed from day to day, from week to week, as if our affairs wore the most promising aspect. I again repeat to you, that this is not an exaggerated account. That it is an alarming one, I do not deny. And I confess to you that I feel more real distress on account of the present appearance of things, than I have done at any one time since the commencement of the dispute. But it is time to bid you adieu. Providence has heretofore taken us up when all other means and hopes seemed to be departing from us. In this I will confide.” In a “Circular of the States,” dated Philadelphia, January 31, 1782, he says, “Although we cannot by the best concerted plans absolutely command success, although the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, yet without presumptuously waiting for miracles to be wrought in our favour, it is an indispensable duty, with the deepest gratitude to Heaven for the past, and humble confidence in its smiles on our future operations, to make use of all the means in our power for our defence and security.”

To continue reading this discourse, click here, and continue from page 20.

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westminsterMinutesIVAll Good Things Must End

The last numbered meeting of the Westminster Assembly, marked as “Session 1163”, met on this day, February 22d, 1649. The Assembly was never officially dissolved. Finally the last pretense of a meeting occurred on March 25, 1652.

In his History of the Westminster Assembly, (1856), William Hetherington writes of those final days:—

“The business of the Assembly was now virtually at an end. The subjects brought before them by Parliament had been all fully discussed, and the result of their long and well-matured deliberations presented to both Houses, to be approved or rejected by the supreme civil power on its own responsibility. But the Parliament neither fully approved nor rejected the Assembly’s productions, nor yet issued an ordinance for a formal dissolution of that venerable body. Negotiations were still going on with the king; and in one of the papers which passed between his majesty and the Parliament, he signified his willingness to sanction the continuation of Presbyterian Church government for three years; and also, that the Assembly should continue to sit and deliberate, his majesty being allowed to nominate twenty Episcopalian divines to be added to it, for the purpose of having the whole subject of religion again formally debated. To this proposal the Parliament refused to consent; but it probably tended to prevent them from formally dissolving the Assembly, so long as there remained any shadow of hope that a pacific arrangement might be effected with his majesty.
In the meantime many members of the Assembly, especially those from the country, returned to their own homes and ordinary duties; and those who remained in London were chiefly engaged in the examination of such ministers as presented themselves for ordination, or induction into vacant charges. They continued to maintain their formal existence till the 22d of February 1649, about three weeks after the king’s decapitation, having sat five years, six months, and twenty-two days; in which time they had held one thousand one hundred and sixty-three sessions. They were then changed into a committee for conducting the trial and examination of ministers, and continued to hold meetings for this purpose every Thursday morning till the 25th of March 1652, when Oliver Cromwell having forcible dissolved the Long Parliament, by whose authority the Assembly had been at first called together, that committee also broke up, and separated without any formal dissolution, and as a matter of necessity.

Words to Live By:
Having served its purpose, the Westminster Assembly at last closed its sessions. All good things must eventually come to an end. Ministries wax and wane. Lives come to an end. It is part of the human condition, given our fallen, sinful nature. It is part of the curse of sin. But it will not be so in heaven, when we are changed from corruptible to incorruptible. Then not just our existence, but our very reason for existence and our purpose in life will be eternal, for we will, without sin, perfectly worship and serve the one eternal Lord God.

But as it is written:  “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9, NKJV)

From the Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1652, Vol. 4, pp. 799-800, the recorded content of that last numbered session of the Westminster Assembly:—

Sess. 1163. Feb. 22, 1649. Thursday morning.

Mr Johnson to pray.

Mr Craddock be approved.

R.: Mr Savory respited till this day forthnight.

Ord[ered]: Mr Dawson be approved upon his ordination.

Ord[ered]: Mr <Horson> be approved upon his former <approbation.>

Ord[ered]: Mr Ackworth be examined.

Ord[ered]: Mr Mason be approved.

R.: The hundred pounds now to be distributed shall be distributed according to the rule observed in the last distribution.

It was done accordingly, and approved off.

“From this point forward, there are no more numbered sessions, and many different hands appear, rather than noting hands other than those of the assembly scribes, the presence of the scribal hands is noted, This session is another hand.”

The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1652, Chad Van Dixhoorn, editor. Oxford University Press, 2012. Volume IV, pp. 799-800.

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February 21, 1830 marks the birth of Caspar Wistar Hodge, youngest son of Dr. Charles Hodge, named after the eminent physician Caspar Wistar [1761-1818]. Another of Dr. Hodge’s sons, Archibald Alexander Hodge, also taught at Princeton Theological Seminary.  The Rev. Dr. Caspar Wistar Hodge died on 27 September 1891.

The following is excerpted from Francis Landey Patton’s memorial tribute to his close friend and colleague. And not surprisingly, given self-effacing portrait that Patton paints of his friend, we were unable to locate a photograph of C.W. Hodge. If you know of a good portrait photography in the public domain, we would like to know of it.

“He was my most intimate friend. I have come to-day to place a wreath of affection upon his grave. My text [“He opened to us the Scriptures.”–Luke 24:32] is taken from the floral tribute which you who were his pupils placed upon his bier. This is your answer to the question, What did he do? It is a sufficient answer. He wrote no books, his voice was seldom heard beyond his native town, he took no active part in public affairs, and he shrank from the public gaze; but he opened to us the Scriptures. To more than thirty classes he unfolded the truths of the New Testament. He led them reverently over the ground that had been hallowed by the Saviour’s feet, and traced the history of the Apostolic Church from Peter on the day of Pentecost to John in Patmos. Year by year he sent his pupils forth into the world laden with material for use in the service of the gospel, filled with quickening thoughts, and ready to testify that the reverent spirit can handle the subtle questions of criticism without suggesting doubt or lessening zeal.

“Dr. Caspar Wistar Hodge was born in Princeton, 21 February 1830. He grew up in Princeton; and, with the exception of the short period covered by his two pastorates, he spent his life there. We can see, then, why he loved Princeton. Others love it; even those who have spent only three or four years of academic residence here speak of it in enthusiastic terms. We who have come here to live, and who expect to die here, love it with an affection that grows deeper even if it grows sadder every year. But we are only adopted children after all. We love sometimes with a divided heart. It was not so with Dr. Hodge. He loved it as one loves the home of his childhood. He loved it with an unfaltering and an unwandering affection. Its rough streets and crooked lanes and weather-beaten houses had tender associations for him. The bridge we crossed and the brook we would sometimes pensively look into in our summer rambles would often suggest an anecdote that showed how the neighborhood was haunted by the ghosts of memory.

“Besides, the theology of this seminary was to him a precious heritage. He was in intellectual sympathy with it to be sure; but his hereditary relations to Princeton theology gave an emotional warmth to his convictions. He believed that Princeton had performed a mission in the past, and he believed that in the maintenance of the same truth she had a mission just as great to perform to-day.

“He had no love for novelties; and he regarded all schemes that fettered the individual conscience by man-made regulations as new modes of returning unto the weak and beggarly elements, where unto so many still love to be in bondage. . .

“. . . The worst heresy is a half-truth, because it is so hard to deal with it. There are so many reasons that can be given for this bad influence in the class-room. Men are ambitious and seek notoriety. They love to be thought original, and they step out of the beaten path. Men raise the cry of progress, and think what is new is an improvement. Men find themselves in unstable equilibrium between the old and the new modes of thinking, and they adopt a paradoxical and inconsistent style of utterance. They try to pour the new wine into the old bottles. They teach orthodoxy with the voice, and suggest heresy with a shrug of the shoulders. But there was nothing of all this in Dr. Hodge. He was a reverent believer in the Bible as the Word of God, and in the doctrines of the Bible as they are formulated in the creed of his church. He was honest, fair-minded, and firm. When he saw difficulties and it was necessary, he held his judgment in suspense. He knew the resources of the enemy, and did not underrate them. But he also knew the argumentative resources of Christianity. The consequence was that his lectures strengthened faith and deepened conviction; and men who had no great critical sagacity themselves felt that they had been reinforced immensely by the fact that they had a man of Dr. Hodge’s scholarship and judgment on the side of the theology of the catechism.”

Words to Live By:  It is often true that some of the greatest and most abiding work in God’s kingdom is accomplished by dear saints whose names you may never know, those men and women who work faithfully in the work that God gives them, yet without drawing attention to themselves. Do your work faithfully, as unto the Lord, for this is His calling and purpose for your life. And if God should later bring you into wider fields of service and usefulness in His kingdom, then praise Him for that as well.

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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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