February 20: Rev. Azel Roe

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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