September 29: Rev. David Humphreys

You Have This Day Promised to Starve.

Yesterday’s post relied in large part on an account found in a classic work on the history of Presbyterianism in South Carolina, written by Dr. George Howe. Lingering a bit longer on the pages of that classic, we find this story of the ministry of the Rev. David Humphreys, who died on this day, September 29th, in 1869.

Howe’s account reads in part:

The Rev. David Humphreys visited the Roberts Church for the first time in the latter part of the year 1820. A regular call was given him by the churches of Roberts and Good Hope in the spring of 1821, in which $300 was promised him for three-fourths of his time; he signified his acceptance of the call, and during the meeting of Presbytery one of the ministers who was receiving a better salary than was promised to the younger brother, jocosely remarked to him, “Well David you have this day solemnly promised to starve.”

He was ordained and installed pastor in the same year, at Good Hope, by an adjourned meeting of Presbytery. It was considered a very great effort on the part of these feeble churches, which for years had only received preaching once a month and for which they had paid a very small amount to undertake to support a pastor. The subscription list at Roberts for the Rev. John Simpson was still preserved and it was not likely to be much improved on. Five dollars was the highest subscription and from that amount others came down to fifty and even twelve-and-a-half cents, while some subscribed a bushel of wheat or corn, or a gallon of whiskey. Both congregations were much reduced by emigrants who had left to seek homes in some other section of our wide country, and especially was this the case with Good Hope.

When Rev. Humphreys first took charge of these churches there were, perhaps, in each some twenty or thirty families and thirty or forty members. He had a young family and no resources. He purchased a small farm with the hope that he could make a support upon it, while his small salary would go to pay for it, but to his great mortification, the salary was irregularly and but partially paid, and he was reduced to the necessity of borrowing money at fourteen per cent interest to pay for his lands, and in order to pay the borrowed funds, he was driven to the necessity of teaching school, which he said was a “herculean task for him, as all his sermons had to be written out in full and committed to memory.” He kept up this practice of committing to memory for nearly twenty years, when he gradually adopted the habit of using short notes or preaching extempore.

He taught school with some intervals, for several years and never contracted a debt without some good prospect of paying it. He had but a small library which needed a few additional volumes year by year, and a rising family, which increased his expenses. It was then a rare thing for a present of any kind to be made to the pastor. If any article of food or clothing was obtained from any of the church members, the amount was deducted from the subscription, and if it exceeded the subscription, the balance was paid back or credited to the next year. There were no deacons in these churches and no systematic plan adopted for the collection of the small amount subscribed. Some paid a part in provisions and the balance remained unpaid; others paid if they happened to think of it, while the amount promised by those who removed from the bounds was never made up. The consequence was in a few years that they were in arrears to the amount of about $1000. Thus writes the Rev. John McLees, himself reared in the midst of these congregations. It is a sad story of violated vows, of broken promises, of the life of the ministry crushed out by a narrowness of spirit and a want of commercial integrity which one could not expect in that region of country whose people have prided themselves on generosity and nobleness of spirit. The story is written not by an enemy but by a friend, not by a stranger to this people, but by one of themselves, and one who wishes them well.

Words To Live By:
Such were the times in that day and era when answering a call to enter the Gospel ministry was a thing to seriously consider before stepping forward. It could indeed mean a life of poverty. It was wrong that vows should be violated and promises broken, but men truly called to the ministry will always rise to meet the challenges they face.

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labour in the Word and doctrine. For the Scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.”—I Timothy 5:17-18, KJV.

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  1. Michael Chism’s avatar

    This goes on today. I met a thirty something seminarian at a meeting of presbytery recently being examined for licensure. It was mentioned he was experiencing financial difficulties necessitating separation from his wife and children while completing his studies. In a brief discussion with him I discovered that he was anticipating entering the ministry with over $100,000 of debt!!! Talk about a promise to starve!

  2. Marianne’s avatar

    I thank God for my Pastors everyday. They work tirelessly to bring the full truth God’s word each week as well as take care of the flock. So grateful. It surely is a life of sacrifice.

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