At the close of the first century of Presbyterianism in Kentucky, this anniversary was observed by the churches on this day, October 12, in 1883. The Rev. David Rice had begun to preach the Gospel in 1783 near the town of Harrodsburg, and so it was fitting that the celebration was held there in that place. The Rev. Edward P. Humphrey, D.D. [1809-1897] brought the central message that day, and this was later published as The Dead of the Presbyterian Church, in Kentucky. Address Delivered before the Two Synods of Kentucky at their Joint Centennial, held at Harrodsburg, October 12, 1883. What follows are some excerpts from that address, gathered under a few headings, with the hope that these few quotes will encourage you to read the whole of that short work.
Recollections of Pastors:
To begin, two humorous anecdotes—
Of Dr. Robert Stuart, our author relates that “If he had been married, especially if well married, he would have been more presentable in his personal appearance; if he had not been tempted beyond what he was able to bear, he would have restrained now and then his terrific power of sarcasm; if he had been mindful of the thirty minutes rule of our day he would not have used the “gift of continuance” so freely. The tradition is that the people have been known, if they were very hungry, to go home while he was preaching, dine at their leisure, and return to the church in time to hear the last hour or two of his sermon. This is probably an exaggeration. But at a day when lawyers like Felix Grundy, and John Rowan, and John Pope were heard patiently four or five hours at the bar and from the stump, an earnest servant of God, like Mr. Cameron, might be excused if he claimed for the souls of men as much time for consideration as they gave to their law units and politics.
William L. McCalla was fearless to a proverb, with a touch of grim humor. It is said that, when a portion of his congregation at Philadelphia became dissatisfied with him as their pastor, he surprised them with a proposition to divide the church property between the parties. On being asked to suggest the mode of division, he said to his opposers: “I offer to you and your friends the outside of the meeting-house, and I and my friends will keep the inside.” [p. 12-13]
No Little People:
Looking past the specifics, the principle here is a good reminder for us in all our study of church history—
Here, my brethren, we are brought face to face with the embarrassments which beset this part of our commemoration. The names on the death-roll of our ministers exceed three hundred. It is a solemn thought that of all the ministers who were members of our Synod in 1833–fifty years ago–only one survives to this day, Rev. Dr. Eli N. Sawtell, the first pastor of the Second Church, in Louisville. Then, the materials are not within our reach for the biographies of many of our departed brethren, whose good works deserve the most grateful mention. Still further, there is danger lest we bestow on a few leading ministers the praises which ought to be divided among those who have shrunk from public recognition; who have sat silent in our church courts; and have coveted only the best gifts, the gifts and graces, whereby they have built up existing congregations, founded new churches, and turned many to righteousness. Of the twelve apostles, the labors of three only are described in the Book of Acts; and the names of four only are mentioned, except in the list contained in the first chapter. Yet, who can doubt that, measured by their fidelity and zeal, the nine attained to the first three? Would that we were able to distribute the sacred honors among our own brethren who have done well the work.
The apostle Paul struggled with this embarrassment. In the epistle to the Hebrews (chap. xi.), he celebrates the faith of the primitive worthies, one by one. But the time fails him as he advances, and he falls away from the recital of their heroic acts of faith, to the simple repetition of the names of a few; and then, when compelled to cut short the roll, he describes the virtues of the anonymous dead in that grand panegyric which begins with, “Who subdued kingdoms” and ends with “of whom the world was not worthy.” To the Philippians (iv. 3), he is obliged to content himself, as Dr. Moses Drury Hoge has observed, by mentioning “Clement also, and other of my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life.” [pp. 11-12]
Of Their Preaching:
The preaching of our older ministry is easily characterized. It was doctrinal to an extent not equaled in our day. The New Light schism originating as early as 1802, turned on the doctrines of the Trinity, of the Covenants, of regeneration, of the nature of faith and repentance. The Pelagian heresy broached by Thomas Craighead, a few years later, raised the contention in regard to original and actual sin and imputation…
Let it not be thought that our fathers shook out before the people the dry bones of a metaphysical theology. Their sermons were crammed full with the written Word of God. Many of them repeated from memory, whole chapters, whole Psalms, and hundreds of proof texts, prophecies, and parables….
Their method of preaching, especially in seasons of awakening, was apostolic. They began by opening the text, then they handled the leading thought, clearly and familiarly, casting upon it all the side lights which shine out from the other scriptures, and speaking earnestly but with restrained emotion. Having planted the truth in the minds of their hearers, they then drove it home upon the conscience. It was the opinion of Nelson, Ross, and Gallagher, that it was difficult for any one man to make a lucid and passionless exposition of scripture, and then rise into an impassioned strain of exposition. Upon this idea, when two of them were together, one of them spoke twenty or thirty minutes explaining and vindicating the doctrine of the text, then the other took it up and reduced it to its immediate practical uses, with whatever spiritual power the Lord was pleased to bestow upon him. Dr. Clelnd sometimes preached an hour and a half. An hour was given to exposition, and thirty minutes to expostulation. He rarely preached without bringing his hearers to tears. [p. 15-16]
Words to Live By:
“Whose names are in the book of life….”
Every Christian has a role and contributes to the building up of the kingdom of God. Every true believer contributes to the history of the Church. Whether your name or mine are recorded on earthly pages of some history book matters not in the end. What matters is that our names are written down in the Lamb’s book of life. Make your calling and election sure. (2 Peter 1:10)