June 27: Rev. James Rodgers (1785-1863)

When Christ is rich, how can I be poor?

Today’s post is excerpted from the history written by P. H. Fowler—Historical Sketch of Presbyterianism within the bounds of the Synod of Central New York. (1877), pp. 639-640:—

Rev. James Rodgers was born at Roxburyshire, in the South of Scotland, 1785, and labored on a farm there until 1819, when he immigrated to this country, settling in Hammond Township, a section of St. Lawrence county, a region then covered by dense forest. A number of Scotch families joined him, and affected by the spiritual destitution of the community, Mr. Rodgers decided to open school-house meetings. Devotional exercises alone were attempted at first, but soon the reading of printed sermons was introduced, and after that brief addresses and Scripture expositions, which gradually superseded the reading of sermons. Half of Saturday for a time, and then the whole of that day was occupied in preparing for the Sunday service, and neighbors took turns in doing the lay preacher’s work on the farm. As word of this arrangement spread throughout the region, friends of religion, and particularly Judge Fine, persuaded Mr. Rodgers to put himself under the care of the Presbytery of St. Lawrence. He was licensed by that body at Canton on March 23, 1823, and ordained on June 9, 1824. He continued in Hammond, but extended his labors to the neighboring towns, and organized and built up a flourishing church. He also occasionally served the Second Church, Oswegatchie, formed in 1823, and settled there as stated supply in 1827, and as pastor beginning May 13, 1839, continuing there until June 27, 1848. The hard work of his early life in Scotland, and the toil and exposure of his immigrant life, began now to show themselves in his impaired constitution; and though exerting himself still to the utmost of his strength, and frequently preaching here and there, and excited almost to his former activity in the revival of 1858, he gradually broke down, often suffering excruciating torture, hard even to witness, but patiently borne, and finally gave way, August 20, 1863, in the 78th year of his age.

Mr. Rodgers was, in many respects, a remarkable man. His career indicates this. With nothing but a common school education, and pursuing manual labor, and associating with unlettered farmers, he became an acceptable, instructive and useful lay preacher; and after a brief special preparation for it, entered the gospel ministry and prosecuted it with signal success. He must have had, and did have, great determination and force, and showed excellent judgment. None of his professional training was in the schools, but in the family, with the Bible and catechism as text books, and the open field which he was cultivating, for times of thoughtful reflection. His pulpit power was the Word of God, which he constantly searched, and whence his sermons were brought forth. This furnished him with both matter and spirit, supplemented by a Christian experience with which affliction was largely concerned. He dated his conversion from his 14th year, and a consistent life and a peaceful death demonstrated its genuineness. As a loving daughter looked on his last sufferings, she could not repress the words, “Poor father!” “Not poor father,” he replied; “”when Christ is rich, how can I be poor?” To some inquiries he answered, “I do not fear to die, and have no desire to live.” He had asked for the reading of the 17th chapter of the gospel of John, and awakening from a slumber into which he fell immediately after, he exclaimed, “Oh, that weight of glory!” He breathed his last, August 20, 1863. Mr. Rodgers owed much to his wife, Margaret Hill, whom he married in 1805, and who for fifty-five years shared his life and contributed largely to it. She was taken from him by accident in 1860, and he never recovered from the bereavement and shock. Two sons and three daughters survived him, both sons ruling elders, and two grandsons became preachers of the gospel.

Words to Live By:
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”—Philippians 4:11-13, KJV.

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