November 14: Rev. John L. Girardeau

With a recent request for information from the Minutes of the Synod of South Carolina, (in the old Presbyterian Church, U.S.), I have come across this Memorial to the Rev. John L. Girardeau:

REV. JOHN L. GIRARDEAU, D.D., LL.D.

girardeau (2)James Island near Charleston, S.C., has the distinction of being the birth place of John Lafayette Girardeau.

He was born on this day, November the 14th, in 1825, and was, as his name indicates, of Huguenot extraction.

In 1844 he graduated from Charleston College, and completed his studies at the Columbia Theological Seminary in 1848.

For a short time after he left the Seminary he served the Wappetaw Church. In 1850 he was ordained and installed pastor of the Wilton Church near Adams Run. In 1854 he was invited to take charge of a colored mission work, which grew into Zion, the great negro church in Charleston, whose house of worship was built by wealthy Presbyterians for the religious instruction of the slave population. The immense place of worship was thronged at every service, many whites attending regularly, and hundreds were hopefully converted. No congregation in the State enjoyed the ministrations of a more gifted preacher.

This happy and most fruitful pastorate was interrupted by the war between the States. Doctor Girardeau was elected Chaplain of the 23d South Carolina regiment, and served in this capacity until the conclusion of hostilities in 1865. He was as brave as the bravest, and discharged with tender and efficient fidelity the part of friend and spiritual teacher of the men of his command.

Upon his return to Charleston he became pastor of Zion Glebe Street Church which had under its care for several years his former colored congregation.

zionPC_CharlestonSCUnder his able leadership and labors this rapidly grew into one of the strongest churches in the Southern Assembly, in point of members, charitable work and pecuniary offerings.

In 1875 the St. Louis General Assembly unanimously elected him Professor of Systematic Theology in the Columbia Seminary and in 1876 he assumed the duties of that chair.

For eighteen years in this Institution, with an untiring devotion and zeal, he assisted in preparing young men for the Christian Ministry. Because of an age limit in the constitution of the Seminary, he resigned in 1895, and resisted the most earnest appeals to permit his re-election. To him there must have been a premonition of his approaching end, for during the winter following his powers began to fail, and after lingering for more than two years, the Master called him, and he passed to his reward upon the 23d of June 1898.

Of Dr. Girardeau’s intellectual gifts there can be but one opinion. He was an incessant and thorough student. He hungered for knowledge. There was nothing superficial in his search for truth. His mind was acutely analytical and logical, and once having assured himself of his premises he pushed them remorselessly to their conclusion. His convictions, therefore were strong and he held to them tenaciously without fear or favor.

In his reading he ranged the fields of history, and poetry, and philosophy and metaphysics, and his memory held for ready service  the treasures they had been made to yield.

As a Professor he was unusually attractive and efficient, painstaking and thorough he invested with peculiar charm the lesson of every day. No recitation dragged with him. He knew how to excite enthusiasm, to stimulate thought, to encourage investigation, to get at the measure of a student’s acquaintance with the subject, and at the end of the hour each one left the class room intellectually richer than when he entered it.

As a Presbyter he was an example of regular attendance upon our church courts. No one ever saw him unattentive to the proceedings. He was ready for any work that might be assigned to him. He held closely to the regular methods of conducting business, was prepared to participate in the discussion of every important question, and was always an alert, vigorous formidable, but courteous antagonist in debate.

As an Author, he has left numerous magazine articles upon a variety of topics, “Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church,” “Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism,” “The Will in its Theological Relations,” and the Manuscripts of “Philosophical Discussions,” “Theological Discussions” and “Life Letters, Poems and Sermons.” It is to be hoped that these last, in printed form, will soon enrich the literature of our day.

Oglethorpe College conferred upon him the degree of D.D. in 1868, and the South Western Presbyterian University that of LL.D., in the year [1874?].

girardeauGrave01As a Preacher, though probably his greatest fame was won, and it is as a preacher more than likely that he will be lovingly remembered.

Of him it can be truly said he “magnified his office.” The Bible was his Book of books. Its teachings lived in his life. His knowledge of it was profound. He loved his Savior, the Divine Christ, with all of the intense ardor of his being. He believed in his very soul, that men are lost sinners and that their only hope is in the royal gospel of God’s free grace. He shunned not to declare therefore, the whole counsel of God, but with the tender pathos of “the beloved disciple,” and the logical power of a Paul.

His presence was commanding, his voice clear, musical, far reaching; his imagination chaste and brilliant, his diction oppulent and superb, and his delivery, as a rule unhampered by manuscript, was always graceful, often thrillingly impassioned.

With a master’s hand he swept, at will, the entire key board of human feeling.

As a Teacher, Presbyter, Debater, Author, Preacher, John L. Girardeau easily takes an enduring place among the most distinguished men of the Southern Presbyterian Church.

—W. T. Thompson, Chairman.

Image sources:
1. Rev. Dr. John L. Girardeau. Photograph courtesy of Rev. Dr. Nick Willborn. Used by permission.
2. Zion Presbyterian Church, Charleston, South Carolina. Photograph by Dr. Barry Waugh. Used by permission.
3. Grave of Rev. Dr. John L. Girardeau, in the Elmwood Cemetery, Columbia, South Carolina. Photograph by Dr. Barry Waugh. Used by permission.

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