November 27: Rev. William Morrison Engles [1797-1867]

On a recent post we offered the remembrances of Dr. William Engles reflecting on the life of the Rev. Jacob J. Janeway. Here today, a brief look at the life and ministry of Dr. Engles.

A Life of Selfless Service.

If you have any appreciation for Presbyterian works that came out of the nineteenth-century—works by men like Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller, Charles Hodge, and so many more—then you owe a debt of gratitude to the Rev. William M. Engles. From 1838 until 1863—key years in Presbyterian publishing—Rev. Engles selflessly served as the head of the Presbyterian Board of Publication, and it was under his leadership that this institution produced some of the very best works issued in that era. No rash claim, it was said at his funeral that, “So far, indeed, as any one man can deserve such preeminence, he might justly be called the founder of the Presbyterian literature of this country.”

William Morrison Engles was born in Philadelphia on October 12th, 1797. His father was Captain Silas Engles, of the Revolutionary Army; his mother was Anna (Patterson) Engles, a lady from a distinguished family. Both parents were noted for their intelligence and for their accomplishments. William graduated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1815, studied theology with Dr. Samuel Brown Wylie, of the Reformed Presbyterian denomination, and was licensed by the Presbytery of Philadelphia on October 18th, 1818. Then on July 6th, 1820, he was ordained and installed as pastor of the Seventh Presbyterian Church, also known as the Tabernacle Presbyterian Church. Here his ministry was faithful and successful, but in 1834 he was obliged to resign, on account of a diseased throat.

From the pulpit he stepped into the editorial chair, succeeding Dr. James W. Alexander as editor of The Presbyterian, in which post he continued, until the day of his death, for thirty-three years. Under his supervision this newspaper attained an increased circulation and a high reputation as the leading organ of the Old School party. Then in May of 1838, Rev. Engles was appointed editor of the Board of Publication for the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., which post he held for twenty-five years, while yet retaining the editorship of The Presbyterian. In 1840, he was chosen to serve as Moderator of the General Assembly for the Old School wing of the PCUSA, and then filled the office of Stated Clerk for six years. His death, from an obscure disease of the heart, occurred on November 27, 1867, passing into glory at the age of 71.

Dr. Engles owed his reputation more to his pen than to his pulpit. He was too quiet and didactic to be a popular preacher. But to say nothing of his editorial success, to him the Board of Publication was more indebted than to any other individual, according to its own acknowledgment. He took an active part in its inception and progress. He not only rescued from oblivion various valuable works, in danger of becoming obsolete, but added to the Board’s issues a number of treatises from his own prolific pen. As these were published anonymously, they cannot here be specified. Mention, however, may be made of the little volume, entitled Sick Room Devotions which has proved of inestimable service, and The Soldier’s Pocket Book, of which three hundred thousand copies were circulated during the war.

Words to Live By:
“And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” – 1 Peter 5:4.

Of Rev. Engles, it was noted that he “was exceedingly averse to anything that savored of mere eulogy or panegyric upon his own services”, so much so that even his own funeral service would not have been attempted but for the urgings of numerous friends.

Let your eye be fixed upon the heavenly goal; let your work here on earth, whatever that may be, be a work done as unto the Lord, and not with an eye to the applause of the world.

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