April 5: Rev. Joseph Badger

A Hard Life on the Frontier

A remarkable man, eminently fitted for the times in which he lived, he was wonderfully versatile, and could do just about anything he put his hand to. Joseph Badger became the great missionary of the Western Reserve and a pioneer to regions further west.

Joseph was born in Wilbraham, Massachusetts on February 28th, 1757. At the age of eighteen, he entered the army and served for several years. After coming to faith in Christ, he was admitted to Yale College in 1781 and pursued his studies “under great pecuniary embarassment.” Among the many ways in which he scrapped by, some were even ingenious; he spent three months building a planetarium, for which the college paid him one hundred dollars.

Upon his graduation in 1783, he turned his studies to theology, working under the tutelage of the Rev. Mark Leavenworth. He was licensed by the Congregationalist New Haven Association, and eventually accepted a commision to serve as a missionary in the Western Reserve of Ohio.

Mr. Badger always retained a preference for Congregationalism, but united with the Presbytery of Ohio, under the 1801 “Plan of Union” — an arrangement whereby Congregationalists and Presbyteries jointly worked at planting churches in the westward expansion — and he remained in connection with the Presbyterian Church the rest of his life.

One single account of his life on the mission field will have to suffice to indicate something of the hardships endured by this pastor and his family:

“On his return, he went to his missionary station at Sandusky, and, after making some necessary arrangements, repaired to Pittsburgh, and made a report to the Missionary Board, and then returned to his family. Before he reached home, he was met with the melancholy tidings of the death of one of his daughters. After spending a few days with his afflicted family, he went back to his missionary field, and pursued his labors with the Indians until about the middle of November, when he received a letter from his wife, informing him that their house had been burnt, with nearly all their provisions and furniture. He immediately hastened to his distressed family, and by aid kindly furnished by their neighbors and friends, he quickly succeeded in building another cabin, and placing his family again in comfortable circumstances.”

The duties of the ministry were paramount to all else for Rev. Badger, and his chief aim in life was the furtherance of the Gospel. In religious conversation he was pleasant, instructive, discriminating, and quite practical. In prayer he was eminently gifted, and apparently highly devout. In his sermons he made up in vigorous and well digested thought, for any defects which, owing to his imperfect early education, might be apparent in his style. One said of him, that “His talents in the pulpit were above mediocrity.” (!)

Rev. Badger possessed a spirit of courage and perseverance unsurpassed. His personal trials and sufferings during much of the greater part of his long life exceeded those of most any other minister of his time. Few, if any, ministers could have been found in New England in those days who would have cheerfully, even heroically, given up the charge of a prosperous congregation in order to brave the perils and hazards of a missionary in what was then the wilderness of Ohio.

At the age of eighty, as his voice began to fail and his health declined, he was forced him from the field and surrendered his last pulpit. He lived another ten years, finding opportunity to preach on occasion. His last years were spent in the home of his only surviving daughter, and he died on April 5, 1846.

Words to Live By:
When we look back at the level of sacrifice exhibited by many courageous pastors in those early days of the American frontier, I sometimes wonder if we can even understand their lives and the depth of their service.

Diligence seems a good word to characterize Rev. Badger’s life, and perhaps that quality is something to meditate on, when we read an account of such a life.

2 Peter 1:5-11 (KJV):
5   And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6   And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
7   And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
8   For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9   But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

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