October 29: Rev. Alexander McDowell

A Pastor in  a Period of Deep Anxiety
by Rev. David T. Myers

Readers of this historical devotional may remember that there was a schism in American Presbyterianism in 1741 between what was called the New Side and the Old Side Presbyterians. With such bright ministers as Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Blair, George Whitefield, Samuel Davies, to mention a few, we might suppose that evangelistic activities only was found among the New Side Presbyterians. But this would be a wrong conclusion.  Consider the ministry of Rev. Alexander McDowell.

Ordained on October 29, 1741, the very year of the schism, Alexander McDowell was sent by the Old Side Presbytery of New Castle,  to Virginia as an evangelist that same year.  He was eminently qualified for this missionary effort.  Born in Ireland and educated at the University of Edinburgh, he came to the American colonies in 1737.

Following his evangelistic tour, he took the pulpit of two Old Side Presbyterian congregations in Elk Church, Lewisville, Pennsylvania and White Clay Creek Church in Newark, Delaware.  Remaining in them for seventeen years, he was said to be a man of more than ordinary mental abilities, an excellent scholar, and a laborious educator.  He was faithful to the higher courts of Presbytery and Synod.  What we might call para-church activities today, he earnestly sought to raise financial support for the widows of ministers.  He even served as a chaplain during the French and Indian War.

Following his faithful ministry as a pastor, he took over the education responsibilities of the Rev. Francis Allison in his free classical school.  When Rev. McDowell oversaw its pupils, it was known at the Newark Academy.  Teaching Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Philosophy, he sought to train the students under his care. This institution went through several changes of names, until it became the University of Delaware in 1921.

Words to live by:  That which produced the First Great Awakening in our land is often lauded, and it should be. But there were those who objected to the emotionalism displayed in those services. They should not be labeled as liberals in any sense of the word.  We are dealing here with different methods of doing God’s work.  There can be as much of God’s Spirit advancing the kingdom of grace with men like Alexander McDowell as there was with a Rev. Gilbert Tennent.  As long as the gospel is proclaimed faithfully, and God’s Word is upheld strongly, let us pray for the advance of the dominion of grace in the hearts of men and women.

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