November 14: Rev. William Williamson

Presbyterian Circuit Riders
by Rev. David T. Myers

When we think about Circuit Riders, usually the Methodist Church comes to mind. Yet for many years, the official policy of the Presbyterian General Assembly was that of authorizing ministers to ride as missionaries among pastor-less settlements In a journal of Rev. William Williamson, printed by the Presbytery of Washington, Ohio on November 14, 1809, Teaching Elder Williamson wrote the following:

“This day, agreeable to an appointment of Presbytery, I set out in company with the Rev. James Gilleland on a mission authorized by the General Assembly.

“After proceeding about 8 miles up the Ohio river, I was called about 9 miles off my intended rout to celebrate a marriage for which I received . . . 15 people who appeared very serious.

“Monday, 4th. I proceeded 5 miles across a mountain which divides Chenoth’s fork from main Sunfish to Mr. Bristols where I expected to preach but on my arrival found that the person who had been entrusted with my appointment had neglected to give notice to the neighborhood. It was an excessive rainy day and most of the people of this vicinity were collected to assist one of their neighbors husk his corn. I therefore was appointed to preach the next day at Mr. Alexr Crosses . . .

“During the above rout I made it a stated rule to converse with the families where I lodged or called in for an hour or two on the subject of religion. On some occasions our conversation was agreeable. I would humbly trust profitable but too generally thru the ignorance or want of relish in the people and my own unskilfulness in this important duty, I had but little ground to hope that any good fruit would arise.”

Words to Live By:
As the above journal proves, such a transient ministry was often hard. Far better in our day to labor in a spiritual field where there is at last one or more families who are convinced that a spiritual work in evangelism and edification is beneficial. This author felt that on one occasion when he left his established church in Lincoln, Nebraska to go to Omaha, Nebraska, and begin a mission church with just four families. Yet today, a growing and healthy congregation is holding forth the Word of Life in both cities. Look to your spiritual horizons, dear reader. Are there areas around you where there are no congregations true to the Scriptures, the Reformed faith and the Great Commission? Begin to pray about it, commit yourself and your family, take counsel from your home church, and begin a congregation, for God’s glory and the growth of the church at large.

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