May 2019

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Wisdom from the Past: Should We Help the Exiles?

SpragueWBIt was on this day, May 11th, in 1834, that the Rev. William Buell Sprague preached in the Second Presbyterian Church of Albany, New York, a sermon that Sabbath evening on behalf of Polish exiles who had recently arrived in the United States. Driven from their homeland, these twenty-six exiles now sought refuge in our country, but had arrived destitute and in urgent need of aid. Rev. Sprague was asked to preach on their behalf in an effort to raise the funds needed for their assistance. 

There are clear differences between the situation then confronting Rev. Sprague and his audience, and the situation which has in recent times consumed our headlines. For one, there were but twenty-six of these Polish exiles arriving on our shores, not thousands. And their stated intent was to become “worthy and useful citizens” who would readily adopt our laws and our ways. Nonetheless, the following is offered with the thought that perhaps there is here some wisdom that we can glean for contemporary application.  

The sermon is based upon the text of Hebrews 13:3, “Remember them that are in bonds as bound with them, and them which suffer adversity as being yourselves also in the body.” and Rev. Sprague opens his sermon in this way;

The apostle commences this chapter by exhorting the Hebrew Christians to the general duty of brotherly love. In the passage just read, he reminds them particularly of their obligations to administer, according to their ability, to the relief of those oppressed brethren whose attachment to the Christian faith had subjected them to persecution and imprisonment; and, as an argument for the discharge of this duty, he alludes to the consideration that they and their afflicted brethren possessed a common nature, and were alike subject to human calamity. You will, I think, readily perceive that the passage suggests a train of thought not inappropriate to the present occasion. 

Sprague quickly moves to the first point of his sermon, that Christians have a duty of charity to those in need:

I. Let us contemplate, for a moment, the DUTY which the text enjoins: it is charity to the wretched and necessitous.

That duty, he notes, is an active duty. Another property of Christian charity is that it is enlightened. We are not called to an indiscriminate duty of charity. Rather, our charity is to be guided by Scripture and by prayer. Then too, Christian charity is to be “controlled in its operations by a regard to the will of God:

In a gust of natural feeling, you may give all your goods to feed the poor, and this act may place you high on the list of earthly benefactors; and yet, if it be not done from a regard to the will of God, it can never turn to your account as an act of genuine Christian philanthropy.

Our duty thus underscored, Sprague then moves to the Apostle’s argument, “drawn from the fact that we are all partakers of a common nature; members of the same great family.”—”Remember them that suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”  Sprague notes that “The fact that we are in the body, and inhabitants of this world of sorrow, is a sufficient reason why we should always live in expectation of adversity.”


In a world abounding with changes like the present, no man can say that his prosperity will last for an hour; or that the person who is now the object of his charity may not soon be administering charity to him. The best security you can have against being neglected or forsaken in the day of adversity, is to show yourself always the friend of suffering humanity. 

Rev. Sprague then moves to address the particulars of the subject in view, these Polish exiles and how it is that they have come to this country:

They chose America; and hither they have come in all their want and wretchedness; and their presence this evening must, I am sure, call into exercise your liveliest sympathies. Let it be remembered that they are not vulgar and uneducated men, who were born to the prospect of a life of penury; on the contrary, they are men of considerable intellectual culture, of high and honorable feelings, and some of them are connected with families of rank, and have been accustomed to move in circles of distinction. . . The idea of asking charity exceedingly revolts their feelings, notwithstanding the iron pressure of their necessities; and that what they most of all desire is, that they may be furnished with some employment, no matter how humble it may be, by means of which they may provide for their own subsistence. They come to find a refuge among us from the bloody horrors of a most disastrous revolution; and they come, of course, in all the want and wretchedness of exiles; but they bring with them a spirit of subordination and industry, and a determination to render themselves worthy and useful citizens.

Reminding his hearers of the reasons why they should extend their charity to these men, Sprague continues:

Remember too, that you are the children of those who embarked their fortunes and their lives in a bloody conflict for freedom; and that if Heaven had not been propitious in giving them the victory, you might yourselves have been the sons of slaves, groaning under the hand of oppression, or perhaps flying to the ends of the earth for an asylum.


Remember also, that though you live in a free country, you live in a mutable world; and the day may come when even the grave of American liberty shall be dug; and this land shall drink the blood of its own inhabitants; and the glory of our republican institutions shall be trampled in the dust; and you or your children be chained to a despot’s car, and grace a despot’s triumph. I do not predict such an event; and I pray the God of all goodness, who has been the protector of our nation’s liberties hitherto, that it may never occur; but when I see how the spirit of revolution is abroad among the nations, and especially when I open my ear to the din of party strife which is raging on every side, I dare not say that these clouds which flit about here and there in our political atmosphere, may not, by some fearful principle of attraction, be drawn together, and concentrate in terrific blackness their angry elements, and burst upon this land in a wild storm, which shall uproot the tree of liberty which was planted at the expense of the blood of our fathers, and which had begun to yield fruit for the healing of other nations. I say again, may the merciful God avert from us this doom; but if it should be so, and the night-clouds of an ignoble bondage should come over this land, and you should be driven from your wives, and daughters, and mothers, into a foreign country, and should land upon the shores of another nation in all the depths of poverty and woe, and should be unable to tell the story of your own wrongs, say what would be so grateful to you, what would help so much to abate the anguish of recollection, as to be greeted by the spirit of Christian philanthropy; to see the stranger stepping forth to give you a brother’s hand? Put thy soul then, O man, in his soul’s stead; and by the tide of sorrowful recollection which would then press upon thee, and by the painful embarrassments which would cluster about thee,—resolve, with thine ear open to the voice of conscience, and thine eye open upon the retributions of eternity,—resolve how this appeal in behalf of thine exiled, suffering brother, shall be answered.

Words to Live By:
Sprague’s appeal on behalf of these Polish exiles was successful. His message was well received and he was even asked to deliver it again a few nights later in another church. And the crux of Rev. Sprague’s argument for extending charity to those in need comes down to this statement by our Lord Jesus Christ: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”—Matthew 7:12.

To read the whole of Rev. Sprague’s sermon delivered that May 11th in 1834,click here.

The Beautiful Unity of Our Lives, Both Here and To Come.

The Rev. John Hall, D.D. [1806-1894], died at his residence, 224 West State street, Trenton, N. J., on the morning of Thursday, May 10th, 1894. He had for 53 years served first as pastor and in retirement as pastor emeritus of the First Presbyterian Church of Trenton, New Jersey. His funeral took place on Saturday, May 12th. At the house a short service was conducted at 10:30 A. M. by the Rev. John Dixon, D.D., after which the remains were taken to the First Presbyterian Church, where the funeral service was held. The church was appropriately draped in mourning. The body as it was carried into the church was preceded by the Rev. John Dixon, D.D., the Rev. Frank B. Everitt, the Rev. S. M. Studdiford, D.D., the Rev. Walter A. Brooks, D.D., the Rev. A. Gosman, D.D., and the elders, deacons and trustees of the church.

There, during the funeral service, Dr. John Hall [1829-1896], of New York City, made the following address :

Let us not forget the great purpose of a service like this; it is first of all for the acknowledgment of God, of His goodness, His wisdom and His grace. It is secondly, for the comfort of those who .shed the tears of natural affection because of the bereavement. And thirdly, it is for the edification of those who are gathered together here in sympathy with them in their sorrow, and in tender and loving memory of God’s servant who has been taken home to his heavenly rest. These things you will keep in mind, I trust, as you listen to the few sentences that it is my duty now to speak to you ; and I think you will be prepared to make some degree of allowance for the tender feeling that I cannot keep from my own mind as I think of the removal of him for whom I had so much affection and so much veneration. 

Dear friends, we frequently speak of the journey of life; and the phrase is very suggestive. The journey is sometimes long. It was so in this case, extending over eighty-seven years ; it is sometimes brief. There are frequently difficulties on the way ; part of the road is sometimes uphill ; there are frequently precipices, and there are sometimes perils; but the Christian has this advantage : he has the Lord for his leader, and his steps are directed, one by one, by that good leader; and the end is the eternal home, and into that home God has taken His servant. The journey is completed. Let the lesson be impressed upon your heart and mine that if we want to make this journey of life happily and successfully we must take this same Leader for our Guide, even the Lord Jesus. Let us run with patience the race that is set before us ; looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

Life is sometimes spoken of as a battle, and the word is justified. There are many enemies, including the world, the flesh and the devil but thanks be to God, Christians are under a Leader; a competent leader. Christ is our leader in the battle of life. The armor of God is provided for us; we have to put it on, and to fight the good fight of faith, and the day will come when we shall say also, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” His servant had gained this victory ; the fear of death had been put away; faith conquered. He was taught to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, and when the end comes, when the battle is over, it is to take one’s place in the company from which there comes up the song, “Thou has redeemed us and made us kings and priests unto God, and we shall reign forever and forever.” 

There is another aspect, brethren, in which life may be looked at by us; it is the period of education for the eternal world into which we are going. The lessons are sometimes hard ; but the Christian has a blessed teacher. “Come unto me all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me.” That is the Son of God speaking to us. Learn of Him, and when we come and sit at His feet we are put in the way of getting the training that we need for the life that is everlasting. When we are being educated in the world here for this life there are appropriate books put into our hands, and there are books provided for us, dear friends, as we think of the life that is to come. There is the great volume of Providence. We study the work that God does, and we see His attributes.

There is the great volume of Creation ; ” the heavens declare His glory, and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” There is this work before me—the volume of revelation ; and as we study it we see Creation and Providence in a new and clear light ; and as we believe it, and take its truths to our hearts, the spirit of consecration is wrought in us by the power of the Holy Ghost, and we are prepared tor the joy and for the employments of that eternal world into which God is gathering His people.

Has it ever occurred to you what a beautiful unity is given to the life here, and the life beyond it, by being in the school of the Lord Jesus Christ? A text was read to you that suggested the idea “whether we live we live unto the Lord, or whether we die we die unto the Lord. Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” Here He is training us, teaching us, educating us, sanctifying us as His children ; putting into our hearts the spirit of adoption; there we shall have the inheritance that is incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away. Need I tell you, dear friends, that these are the sources of true comfort and consolation when God takes from us those to whom we look with tenderness and gratitude and affection? I know how many of you there are here that have just these feelings toward our brother, whose course on the earth has closed. It is no wonder that you do so regard him ; his life from the beginning of it has been a process of happy and effective training; and it has been a blessing to many. He has served his generation by the will of God.

Words to Live By:
To say it again, “Has it ever occurred to you what a beautiful unity is given to the life here, and the life beyond it, by being in the school of the Lord Jesus Christ?” Our Savior watches over us, often in ways we will never know, at least in this life. Labor not to hinder that glorious work, as He trains, teaches, educates and sanctifies us as His children.

The full text of the Memorial for Rev. John Hall may be read here:

Additionally, a number of works by the Rev. Hall can be found online at The Log College Press. These include:

Milton’s Familiar Letters (1829)

The Life of Rev. Henry Martyn (1831)

The Chief End of Man: An Exposition of the First Answer of the Shorter Catechism (1841)

The Scriptures the Only Rule of Faith: An Exposition of the Second Answer of the Shorter Catechism (1844)

Minor Characters of the Bible (1847)

The Sower and the Seed (1856)

The Examples of the Revolution (1859)

History of the Presbyterian Church in Trenton, N.J. From the First Settlement of the Town (1859)

Forty Years’ Familiar Letters of James W. Alexander, D.D. (1860, 1870)

Pastors according to God’s heart

What a worthy aim for the under shepherds of the  visible church of God!  The phrase is biblical, being taken from Jeremiah 3:15. It says “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” (NASB)  And the text was the basis for the sermon preached by the Rev James Rogers, on this day, May 9, 1803, in constituting the organization of the Associated Reformed Synod of the Carolinas, meeting at the Old Brick Church, Fairfield County, South Carolina. 

Beginnings are historic. This author was one of five Presbyterian ministers who organized the Siouxlands Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America back in 1981. Those first meetings of this lower court were exciting to attend, as we planned the outreach of the witness into the broad Midwest part of our country. And this earlier beginning was, judging from the descriptions of the Rev. Robert Latham in the  “History of the Associate Reformed Synod of the South,” pp.  295 – 297. Listen to some of his words from that volume:

“Of these fathers of the Associate Reformed Synod of the Carolinas (now Associate Reformed Synod of the South), it may be safely said that they were men mighty in the Scriptures.  They all were men of more than ordinary natural abilities, and of rare intellectual and theological attainments in their day. … They were all instructive preachers.  They were pastors who fed the people of God ‘with knowledge and understanding.’” (p. 296)


“they (these pastors, seven in number) were bound together by the strongest possible ties.  In each other’s temporal, spiritual, and eternal welfare they were deeply interested.  They had the same great and good cause—the salvation of immortal souls—at heart.  They had no private ends to accomplish; no individual purposes to effect.  Of them it may be truthfully said, ‘They took up their cross and followed Jesus.’  In all sincerely they endeavored to live at peace with each other and with all men. By the blessing of God, they lived in perfect harmony with each other. . . . They were devoted friends.” (p. 297)

Their names would be completely unknown by our readers today, but to simply list their names might be noteworthy.  They were James Rogers, William Blackstock, John Hemphill, James McKnight, Alexander Porter, James McGill and Robert Irwin.  Oh yes, they had ruling  elders join them in this regional church, who were named Charles Montgomery, Alexander Steward, Andrew McQuiston, Henry Hunter, Arthur Morrow, and Duke Bell.

All these are now dead, long dead. But by their self-sacrificing labors and godly example, they started the ministry in the South on this day, May 9, 1803.

Words to Live By: 
To dwell together in unity for the purpose of the gospel proclamation is a heartfelt prayer in many a church and denomination today.  But is it an accomplished fact in the days  in which we live? Sadly, we must confess that this is not the case. We need to return to the words of the prophet, in praying for shepherds  after God’s own heart, who will be more concerned in feeding the sheep of the pasture on knowledge and  understanding.  What a worthy prayer before the teaching elders of our readership would pray before stepping behind the sacred desk.  What a worthy prayer of the people in the pew to pray for their pastors as they stand behind the pulpit on the Lord’s Day. Lord, give us such pastors and people today in our churches of our land.

The folllowing brief account of the seventy-sixth annual commencement exercises of Princeton Theological Seminary, in 1888, turns more to a most interesting set of comments about the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, and is useful in that light alone for the picture it provides of the great Professor.

A Princeton Letter

The seventy-sixth commencement exercises of Princeton Theological Seminary were held on Tuesday, May the 8th [1888]. Princeton has prospered this year. Her catalogue records an attendance of 153 students. Some thirty-seven were in the graduating class. Of these, seven are going to the foreign field. Thirty-four are supplied with work, and the rest are not idle from lack of opportunity. The junior class was exceptionally large, containing 58 members.

The venerable Dr. Moffatt has retired after twenty-seven year’s connection with the seminary, and has been elected professor emeritus of history. Rev. Geo. T. Purves, of Pittsburgh, has been elected as his successor.

The college has taken Dr. Francis L. Patton from us to succeed Dr. McCosh. The seminary has lost a David in Dr. Patton, but gained a Solomon in Dr. Warfield, a man of war exchanged for a man of wisdom.

We are proud of Dr. Warfield. He entered upon a most difficult task when he undertook to fill the chair of Polemic and Didactic Theology after Dr. Archibald A. Hodge. He has succeeded. Not in Dr. Hodge’s way, but in his own way. The two men cannot be compared. They were cast in different molds. Their methods are not the same. Our ears are no longer tickled with so many apt illustrations and striking epigrams, but we now receive such clear, clean-cut definition, and patient repetition, that “though fools” we cannot err therein. He is quick in apprehending a question, and never non-plussed, “ready always to give an answer to every man.”

WarfieldBB_1903Dr. Warfield is a thorough scholar, but he is more than a scholar, he is a gentleman. This year the seminary faculty has taken great pains to impress upon the students that a Presbyterian minister should be a gentleman. Our new professor is an ever present example. However great may be the provocation, he ever exhibits the utmost gentleness.

“His heart is as soft as a woman’s. To a worm he would give the path.” Yet with all his delicacy of feeling are coupled the sterling qualities of a true manhood, which command the highest respect and reverence.

When the balmy days of Spring came, Dr. Warfield could often be seen walking with his wife about their little garden.

Now this is a small matter; we often see people walking in their garden and think nothing of it. But such a display of domestic feeling is so unusual in Princeton that the eye of the seminary student cannot but see, and his heart cannot but be affected at the sight.

One cannot but feel that the man who walketh in gardens is near to Him “that dwelleth in gardens.”

It was my intention to say something about the undercurrents of thought and of feeling among the students themselves, but my space being limited I shall reserve that for a future letter.

Wm. E. Bryce
May 18, 1888.
The Church at Work, 2.33 (24 May 1888): 4.

A Long and Faithful Ministry

rodgersJohnJohn Rodgers was born in Boston on the 5th of August, 1727. He was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Rodgers, who had emigrated from Londonderry, Ireland just six years prior. When John was little more than a year old, he and his parents relocated to Philadelphia.

While still a child, he gave evidence of a deep love of knowledge and even a care and thoughtfulness about his eternal soul. It was under the preaching of Whitefield that he was first solidly impressed with the truths and duties of the Christian faith. On one occasion, when Whitefield was preaching in the evening, near the Court House on Market Street, young John was standing near him, holding a lantern to assist Whitefield. But Rodgers became so impressed with the truth to which he was listening that, for a moment, he forgot himself and dropped the lantern, breaking it in pieces. Years later, when Rodgers was settled in his first pastorate, Dr. Whitefield came to visit his house, and Rev. Rodgers related the incident to him, asking if he remembered it. “Oh yes,” replied Whitefield, “I remember it well; and have often thought I would give almost any thing in my power to know who that little boy was, and what had become of him.” Rev. Rodgers replied with a smile,—”I am that little boy.” Whitefield burst into tears, and remarked that he was the fourteenth person then in the ministry, whom he had discovered in the course of that visit to America, of whose hopeful conversion he had been the instrument.

When William Buell Sprague asked the Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller for his recollections of Rev. Rodgers, this was Miller’s reply:

Rev. dear Brother: When you request me to prepare for your forthcoming biographical work some brief memorials of the late venerable Dr. Rodgers of New York, I feel as if I were called not to the performance of a task, but to the enjoyment of a privilege. If there be a man living who is entitled to speak of that eminent servant of Christ, I am that man. Having been long and intimately acquainted with him; having served with him twenty years as a son in the Gospel ministry; and having enjoyed peculiar opportunities of contemplating every phase of his character, personal and official; so my ardent attachment and deep veneration of his memory make it delightful to record what I knew with so much distinctness, and remember with so much interest.

“My acquaintance with Dr. Rodgers began in 1792, when he was more than sixty years of age, and when I was a youthful and inexperienced candidate for the ministry. He recognized in me the son of an old clerical friend, and from that hour till the day of his death treated me with a fidelity and kindness truly paternal. And when, next year, I became his colleague, he uniformly continued to exercise toward me that parental indulgence and guardianship which became his inherited friendship, as well as his Christian and ecclesiastical character.

rodgersJohn_memoirs“Without attempting in this connection to enter into the details of his history, which I have already done at large in my “Memoir” of this beloved man, I shall content myself with recounting in a brief manner those features of his character which I regard as worthy of special commemoration, and which rendered him so conspicuous among the pastors of his day.

“One of the great charms of Dr. Rodgers’ character was the fervour and uniformity of his piety. It not only appears conspicuous in the pulpit, dictating his choice of subjects, his mode of treating them, and his affectionate earnestness of manner; but it attended him wherever he went, and manifested itself in whatever he did. In the house of mourning it shone with distinguished lustre. Nor was this all. He probably never was known to enter a human dwelling for the purpose of paying an ordinary visit, without saying something before he left it to recommend the Saviour and his service. Seldom did he sit down at the convivial table, without dropping at least a few sentences adapted to promote the spiritual benefit of those around him…

“Another quality in Dr. Rodgers which, next to his piety, contributed to his high reputation, was prudence, or practical wisdom. Few men were more wary than he in foreseeing circumstances likely to produce embarrassment or difficulty, and in avoiding them…

“He was remarkable also for the uniform, persevering and indefatigable character of his ministerial labours. In preaching, in catechising, in attending on the sick and dying, in all the arduous labours of discipline and government, and in visiting from house to house, he went on with unceasing constancy, year after year, from the beginning to the end of his ministry…

“The character of Dr. Rodgers’ preaching was another of the leading elements of his popularity and usefulness. The two qualities most remarkable in his preaching were piety and animation. His sermons were always rich in evangelical truth; and they were generally delivered with solemnity and earnestness which indicated a deep impression on his own heart of the importance of what he uttered…

“Dr. Rodgers was eminently a disinterested man. Few men have ever been more free from private and selfish aims in acting their part in the affairs of the Church, than he…

Dr. Rodgers was further distinguished by a punctual attendance on the judicatories of the Church. He made it a point never to be absent from the meetings of his brethren, unless sickness or some other equally imperious dispensation of Providence rendered his attendance impossible. And when present in the several ecclesiastical courts, he gave his serious and undivided attention to the business which came before them, and was always ready to take his full share, and more than his share, of the labour connected with that business…”

Dr. Samuel Miller continued a bit further with his recollections, but we will leave him there. If you would like to read Miller’s Memoir of Dr. Rodgers, it can be conveniently found on the Web, here. Dr. Rodgers lived a long life, and was blessed to minister to the Lord’s people for some sixty three years. He died on May 7th, 1811.

Words to Live By:
Piety, the depth and consistency of holiness in a Christian’s life, is something particularly requisite in the life of a pastor. Dr. Rodgers was noted, not simply for his piety, but for how that character worked itself out in so many facets of his life. Now more than ever, before a watching world, Christians must be careful to live out to the full the Christian life, and pastors must be leaders in this witness.

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”—James 1:22-25, KVJ.

Added Note: The following seven works by Dr. Rodgers can be viewed at the Log College Press web site:  —

The Divine Goodness Displayed in the American Revolution (1784)

A Draught of the Form of the Government and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (1787)

The Nature and Advantages of the Fear of the Lord (1791)

A Caution Against Declension in the Ways of Practical Piety (1791)

The Value of the Soul (1791)

The Danger of Losing the Soul (1791)

The Faithful Servant Rewarded (1795)

Remembering a Great Educator

Why, or how, would a teacher so impress himself upon his students as to be so fondly remembered even decades later? Our post today hints at some of the clues:

Catching up on our calendar, it was just yesterday, May 5th, in 1885 that a Memorial Tablet was unveiled in commemoration of the life and ministry of the Rev. John Holt Rice, D.D. Addresses at the unveiling and dedication of the plaque were delivered in the chapel of the Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia, by the Rev. Benjamin Mosby Smith, D.D. and by the Rev. Theodorick Pryor, D.D.

“The day was auspicious and at the appointed hour a large and deeply-interested audience had assembled to attend upon the exercises of the occasion. . . After prayer by the Rev. Dr. j.J. Bullock, and a hymn of praise, the Rev. Dr. Smith withdrew the curtain that veiled the mural tablet, and exposed to the view of the expectant audience the chaste memorial to Rev. Dr. Rice. Professor Smith then gave a sketch of the life of Dr. Rice—specially of his earlier years and of his connection with the Seminary.”

Neither man spoke for very long on this occasion. As mentioned above, Rev. Benjamin Smith gave a more biographical address, while Dr. Pryor spoke on the “Character and Services” of Rev. Rice, “spoken with reverence and fervor.” After prayer by the Rev. Dr. William Brown, the memorable services were closed with the benediction, pronounced by the Rev. Dr. Bullock, and the audience slowly dispersed.”

Early on in Dr. Pryor’s remarks, he provides some of the fullest answer to our opening question:

“My best opportunity for becoming thoroughly acquainted with Dr. Rice was enjoyed when, as a student of the Seminary, I became a member of his family. His table talk and familiar conversations were full of instruction. Though sick and largely confined to his chamber, he still carried on the instructions of his classes. His sofa was literally covered with books. I remember finding him on one occasion sitting on that sofa reading Calvin’s Institutes in the original. He remarked, “Calvin wrote as pure Latin as Cicero.”

“His moral character was without blemish or imputation; his heart was one of large and tender benevolence. He was free from jealousy and envy. I cannot recall a single remark in disparagement of any of his brethren. The text of the sermon he preached as Moderator of the Assembly,—“Speaking the truth in love,”—is a just index of his character. He was ever firm in maintenance of the truth, but he spoke it in love.
“In my opinion, a characteristic feature of his mental constitution was the faculty of intense and persistent application, and a power of concentration of thought almost to the burning point. Dr. Rice deemed any matter worthy of attention, worthy of his whole attention; therefore, in conversation or debate, there was a steadfastness of gaze, as though he would look the man through and through. He shrunk from no difficulty of investigation. I heard him remark that no man would ever accomplish much who was not willing to grapple with the most difficult problem for the sake of the pleasure arising from its solution.

Words to Live By:
From all of the above, we would conclude that it is not so much what a teacher or pastor might teach, though that is certainly important, but the memories we take away have more to do with the character of the teacher. In short, we can think of the godly character of a pastor or seminary professor as simply the proof and reality of what they are teaching—has the truth of the Scriptures so suffused their life that it is exemplified in all that they say and do?

And how are we doing in our own lives? Is the Gospel making inroads? Are we living out the truths of Scripture before the watching world? Attention to these matters is the greatest compliment we can pay to our pastors and teachers. Our Savior and Teacher deserves nothing less, than that we should be serious about living the life He has enabled us to live.

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Q. 21. Who is the Redeemer of God’s elect?

A. The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man, in two distinct natures and one person, for ever.


God’s elect. –Those whom God has chosen for his own people.

Jesus. –He was so called, from his being the Savior of his people.

Christ. –Anointed, or appointed, of God.

Eternal Son of God. –This teaches, that the Lord Jesus Christ was with the Father from eternity, or before the beginning of time, and must therefore be God equal with him.


The information here given respecting the Lord Jesus Christ, may be divided into seven particulars :

1. We are first taught, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of God’s chosen ones. -1 Tim. ii. 5. There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

2. That the Lord Jesus Christ is the ONLY Redeemer, –Acts iv. 12. Neither is there salvation in any other.

3. That Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. –John vi. 69. We believe, and are sure, that thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. Heb. i. 8. Unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.

4. That Jesus Christ became man. John i. 14. The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

5. That he was, and still continues to be, both God and man, in two distinct natures. Rom. ix. 5. Whose are the Fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

6. That the Lord Jesus Christ, though possessing two distinct natures, has but one person. ­–Isa. ix. 6. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

7. That he will continue thus to be God and man for ever. ­–Rev. 1. 18. I, (says Christ) am he that liveth, and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.

“Increasingly, it is becoming necessary for a man to decide whether he is going to stand or not to stand for the Lord Jesus Christ as He is presented to us in the Word of God.”

Not An Easy Life

“You will have a battle when you go forth as ministers into the church. The church is now in a period of deadly conflict. The redemptive religion known as Christianity is contending, in our own Presbyterian Church and in all the larger churches in the world, against a totally alien type of religion. As always, the enemy conceals his most dangerous assaults under pious phrases and half truths. The shibboleths of the adversary have sometimes a very deceptive sound.

‘Let us propagate Christianity,’ the adversary says, ‘but let us not always be engaged in arguing in defense of it; let us make our preaching positive, and not negative; let us avoid controversy; let us hold to a person and not to a dogma; let us drop small doctrinal differences and seek the unity of the Church of Christ; let us drop doctrinal accretions and interpret Christ for ourselves; let us look for our knowledge of Christ, not to ancient books, but to the living Christ in our hearts; let us not impose Western creed on the Eastern mind; let us be tolerant of opposing views.’

“Such are some of the shibboleths of that agnostic Modernism which is the deadliest enemy of the Christian religion today. They deceive some of God’s people some of the time; they are heard sometimes from the lips of good Christian people, who have not the slightest inkling of what they mean. But their true meaning, to thinking men, is becoming increasingly clear. Increasingly, it is becoming necessary for a man to decide whether he is going to stand or not to stand for the Lord Jesus Christ as He is presented to us in the Word of God.

“If you decide to stand for Christ, you will not have an easy life in the ministry. Of course, you may try to evade the conflict. All men will speak well of you if, after preaching no matter how unpopular a Gospel on Sunday, you will only vote against the Gospel in the councils of the Church the next day; you will graciously be permitted to believe in supernatural Christianity all you please if you will only make common cause with its opponents. Such is the program that will win the flavor of the Church. A man may believe what he pleases, provided he does not believe anything strongly enough to risk his life on it and fight for it.”

—Dr. J. Gresham Machen, to the students at Princeton Theological Seminary on 10 March 1929, shortly before he left the USA Church. Reprinted in The Presbyterian Journal, volume 36, May 4, 1977, page 12.

Our co-author on this blog, Rev. David T. Myers, adds this note late today:

“It was a point of identification to realize that my father, David K. Myers, no doubt heard Dr. Machen in March of 1929 as  Dad was in the Senior class of Princeton Theological Seminary that spring. Of course, Dad would spend the next three years in Edinburgh, Scotland studying for  his doctorate, and in the process meet the Scottish gal who became my mother eight years later.  But in that later time period, he would be tried by his presbytery for support of the Independent Board, win his case before them, but have the  PCUSA synod reverse this decision, and the General Assembly in 1936 confirm that deposition.  All that Dr. Machen said that day in chapel in 1929 came true for one David K. Myers! Thanks for including it, brother, as it brought back from the past my memories of the stand for the faith of my father in trying days.”

We continue today the second portion of Barry Waugh’s account of the Rev. John Gloucester, pastor of the first African American Presbyterian church on U.S. soil. Rev. Gloucester died on May 2, 1822. Mr. Waugh regularly posts on his own blog at Presbyterians of the Past.

The Reverend John Gloucester and America’s First Presbyterian Church for Africans

While Rev. Gloucester was ministering in Philadelphia and struggling to complete his ordination requirements, he was also working to free his wife, Rhoda, and their four children, James, Jeremiah, Stephen and Mary, who were still in Tennessee. Some of his time was spent raising funds, but considerable assistance came from his friends and supporters. Concerned people in Philadelphia were able to raise five hundred dollars towards the mercy mission. Benjamin Rush arranged opportunities for Gloucester to preach in Princeton, New Jersey, where more assistance was obtained. The combined efforts raised fifteen-hundred dollars—over twenty thousand dollars in today’s money—so that John could purchase the freedom of his own wife and their children. John had to return to Tennessee to complete the manumission process, so during his absence, the Evangelical Society arranged pulpit supplies for his church for the three months of his absence. The supplies included Archibald Alexander, J. J. Janeway, George Potts, and William Green. When John returned to Philadelphia with his family, the African mission congregation sent a note to Dr. Alexander expressing their gratitude for the supply ministers who served during John’s extended absence. The covenant family that had been divided by slavery had been reunited through the generosity and concern of many.

The year that John Gloucester was ordained was also significant for the church building program. Rev. George Potts led a special service in the fall when the corner stone was laid to begin construction, and when the facility was completed a service of dedication was held on May 31, 1811. Dr. Archibald Alexander, who had been a driving force for the organization of an African Presbyterian church, preached the dedication sermon. William Catto comments that the building was not remarkable, but was a simple brick building sixty feet long by thirty three feet wide “without any ornament about it.” The walls enclosed a room with four rows of pews, each of which had seventeen benches, and a balcony on three of the four walls giving a total capacity of over six hundred people. This building served the congregation until it moved to a new location in the city later in the nineteenth century.

John Gloucester was a popular preacher in Philadelphia and he had a busy and fruitful ministry. Dr. Rush often attended the African Church’s services because he enjoyed hearing the African minister preach. Not only could he preach, but he could sing as well. He would often go to the corner of Seventh and Shippen Streets, near the church property, and start singing hymns. When a crowd gathered, he would stop his singing and begin preaching from his Bible. He was a faithful visitor of his congregation as well as other people who were not associated with his congregation. Knowing the importance of education, he established a school for children with the financial help of Samuel Mills. John continued in his labors until he contracted consumption—tuberculosis—and became so weak that he could no longer preach. He sent a letter, dated June 1820, to the Philadelphia Presbytery requesting supplies for his pulpit due to his poor health. The Reverend John Gloucester died on May 2, 1822. He died a young man in his forty sixth year. At the time of his death, his congregation had grown to over three hundred members.

The African congregation turned to an old friend to assist them with their worship services until a minister could be called. Ashbel Green returned to Philadelphia after having resigned the presidency of Princeton College in the fall of 1822. He had returned to become the editor of the newspaper, The Presbyterian. Green had preached to Africans in Princeton and now he supplied the pulpit on Sunday afternoons for about two-and-a-half years while a pastor was sought. He continued to edit the periodical for twelve years and during this time he intermittently worshiped, preached, and administered the sacraments for the Africans. He commented that at one service in January of 1835, “we had at our communion table today, communicants from the four quarters of the world,” including an East Indian that he had baptized. Ashbel Green continued to minister to the Africans and the last sermon of his life was preached to a black congregation in Princeton.

The Evangelical Society of Philadelphia had initiated the work that led to the African Presbyterian Church, but the involvement of the judicatories entered the picture as John Gloucester became a candidate for the ministry. Some of the doctrinal views of Blackburn and Coffin in Tennessee differed from those of Alexander, Green, and Janeway in Philadelphia, but they were able to come together for the good of the Gospel and John Gloucester’s ministry with the African mission. The Philadelphia African missionary work exemplifies the essential principle of Presbyterian polity that the elders are in an organic relationship for the common good of the Presbyterian Church. The driving force behind the presbyters’ efforts for the free Africans was the proclamation of the Gospel of sovereign grace as delimited by Scripture and the Westminster Standards in the context of a Presbyterian congregation.

In some ways, though, the relationship of John Gloucester and the First African Church to the Presbyterian judicatories was unusual. Rev. Gloucester, according to Catto, never received a call from the congregation to be its minister, and he was never installed as their pastor. The reason given by the denominational leaders for this unusual arrangement was the tenuous nature of the church finances. Even though Rev. Gloucester had an unusual relationship with the African congregation, he was a participating presbyter in the church courts. At the 1817 General Assembly, Rev. Gloucester was an alternate commissioner who participated in the deliberations when Rev. George C. Potts had to resign his seat. Since the meeting would have incorporated commissioners from different areas of the nation, one might wonder about the thoughts of the presbyters as Commissioner Gloucester took his seat. In 1828 the death of Gloucester is listed with the deaths of other ministers who died during the preceding year, but there is no reason given as to why it took six years to record his passing.

The account of the life and labors of Rev. Gloucester presents a truly remarkable picture of a man who overcame his personal educational limitations, persevered as a freeman to buy his family’s liberty, and followed the call of God to be a missionary minister in Pennsylvania. But he was not alone, because when the times were toughest his Presbyterian brethren and other friends in Philadelphia and the nation pitched in with time and finances to assist his ministry. He had to persevere through extended periods of a divided covenant household as he worked in Philadelphia with his family still in slavery in Tennessee. It seems that he had some difficulty achieving the educational requirements for a Presbyterian minister, but he worked and traveled back-and-forth from Philadelphia to Tennessee to fulfill the necessary licensure and ordination requirements. His submission and patience exhibit his convictions as a Presbyterian dedicated to the denomination’s polity and doctrine. Building programs are always a difficult time for a minister, but John Gloucester worked through that trying time of “fund raising” and with the assistance of friends and the Presbyterian Church, the building was completed. Though he struggled in his ministry, the blessings of God’s covenant faithfulness can be seen in his family. His sons, Stephen, James and Jeremiah became Presbyterian ministers. Jeremiah became the founding pastor of the Second African Presbyterian Church in 1824, Stephen’s ministerial labors led to the founding of the Central Presbyterian Church in 1844, and James’s ministerial work led to the organization of the Siloam Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, New York in 1849. Though the Presbyterians that are most respected from history are often teachers in educational institutions, pastors of large urban churches, or writers of books and articles, John Gloucester was a struggling and persistent hero worthy of remembrance and respect.

This year marks the bicentennial of the founding of the first church in America dedicated to African American Presbyterians and this anniversary should lead to reflection upon the history of black people in Presbyterianism. Two hundred years of black Presbyterianism have seen some less than stellar periods no matter the area of the country, whether it was antebellum segregation into different buildings, segregation into sections of the same building, or total exclusion of Africans from some churches. In the years following the Civil War (or War Between the States, if you prefer), a crucial decision for black Presbyterians was made when the Presbyterian Church in the United States voted to have separate churches for the races. Presbyterians should learn from the past. Paul is clear, in Galatians 3:28, that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s admonition deals with racial, economic, and sexual identities. James adds that there is to be no respect of persons in the church’s worship so that one group may have a seat of glory and another a lesser seat (2:1-4). In Acts 6:1ff, the Apostles were confronted with a racial conflict. Luke tells us that there was “a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected” when food was distributed. The response to this issue was the office of deacon, and the deacons were to objectively and equitably minister to the widows; the apostles did not respond by separating the Greeks from the Hebrews and making racially distinct groups. Racial prejudice is a perpetual issue for the church and society, but sanctification requires the Christian as an individual and the church as a whole to set aside the sin of prejudice and pursue righteousness. Righteousness recognizes that there are no minorities in the Kingdom of God, there are no separate theologies nor congregations for racial groups, and there must not be a disassociated Presbyterianism that denies its racial connectionalism as an element of its connectional polity.

Our post today comes from the pen of a good friend of the PCA Historical Center, Dr. Barry Waugh. This is an excerpt from a larger article which he wrote for the Historical Center several years ago. It was on this day, May 2nd, in 1822 that the Rev. John Gloucester died. He had for many years ministered effectively as the pastor of the first Presbyterian church organized specifically to serve the free African population in Philadelphia. To keep our post somewhat short, the following portion of the story takes us only through the time of Rev. Gloucester’s ordination:— 

The Reverend John Gloucester and America’s First Presbyterian Church for Africans

by Barry Waugh

John Gloucester’s remarkable story began in Philadelphia as the young United States was between the extended conflict for independence and the soon near catastrophe of the War of 1812. The Presbyterian Church was growing as the nation expanded its borders but its plan had not yet taken into account the free Africans in the rapidly growing northeastern states. Philadelphia was a hub of activity when Archibald Alexander arrived there in May of 1807. His relocation north of the Mason-Dixon Line from his natal Virginia was for the purpose of accepting a call to be the minister of the Third Presbyterian Church. As Rev. Alexander settled into his new location, he was overcome by the conditions of poverty in the outskirts of the great city. He responded by organizing and drafting the constitution for what became known as the Evangelical Society of Philadelphia. The purpose of the organization was to send each of its members out on Sunday evenings, in teams of two, for evangelism among the impoverished. As the work of the Society expanded, the desire to establish an African Presbyterian Church with an African pastor became a key concern as the group sought the “spiritual welfare of the colored population of the city.”

Dr. Alexander’s first choice to undertake the African mission work was John Chavis (1763-1838). Chavis was free-born in Granville County, North Carolina, educated by John Witherspoon at Princeton College, and licensed by the Presbytery of Lexington in Virginia in 1801. He was appointed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church to be the first African home missionary. Chavis was the obvious choice because he was ready for the African work since he possessed a license to preach. E. T. Thompson notes that he was never an ordained minister and he served the church as a licentiate. Unfortunately, despite having great qualifications, Chavis turned down the opportunity. Alexander and the Evangelical Society returned to the pastoral search process, which was particularly difficult due to the general lack of education among the African community.

At about the same time these events were unfolding in Philadelphia, a candidate was being prepared for the Pennsylvania work in the distant state of Tennessee. John Gloucester, who was known at the time as “Jack,” was converted by God’s grace in Christ through the ministry of the missionary, Gideon Blackburn. It was not an easy mission field due to the often treacherous terrain, but Blackburn had a Daniel Boone constitution that especially suited him for such a physically difficult call. As their relationship grew, Blackburn recognized in Jack a zeal for learning and a thirst for sanctifying growth, so he purchased the young man from his master in 1806. Jack had to leave his wife and children in slavery while he studied with Blackburn.

Once Rev. Blackburn owned Jack, he proceeded to petition the magistrate for Jack’s freedom. Since 1801, the Tennessee legislature had not denied any petitions for manumission, so Blackburn had good reason to believe that his petition would be granted. In August, he presented the petition to the Tennessee Senate. The Senate was reluctant to deal with the case, so the petition was referred to the House of Representatives. The House reciprocated and returned the petition to the Senate. It became evident that the lawmakers did not want to free Jack because they killed the petition at the state level through a parliamentary procedure. Good research has concluded from these events that Blackburn’s petition was denied because it involved a literate black man pursuing the ministry—Jack could potentially become a leader among the slave community and bring instability to the slave system. Having failed with the state government, Blackburn turned to the Blount County Court where he obtained both the manumission and the change of name. Why Blackburn did not pursue manumission through the lesser magistrate in the first place is not clear.

The newly freed and renamed John Gloucester was taken under care as a ministerial student at the October 1806 meeting of the Presbytery of Union. Having the oversight of his presbytery, the young man pursued his education as the first African attending Greeneville College. After a few months of study, Gloucester attended the February 1807 meeting of presbytery to be examined for licensure, but even though he was found to be proficient in English grammar and geography, he was not licensed due to difficulties raised concerning his fulfilling other educational requirements. At this point, Rev. Charles Coffin, who taught at Greeneville College and was its president, intervened for Gloucester by writing to Ashbel Green in Philadelphia, who was a member of the city’s Evangelical Society. Their correspondence led to Gloucester being encouraged to appear at the approaching meeting of the Presbyterian Church General Assembly. Blackburn had already left for the annual meeting because he was the commissioner from the Presbytery of Union, and Gloucester left in April to make the meeting scheduled for May.

When the General Assembly convened in Philadelphia at the First Presbyterian Church, Gideon Blackburn had arrived to take his seat as the commissioner from the Presbytery of Union. Gloucester had made it to Philadelphia and met-up with his mentor, who introduced him to Ashbel Green, J. J. Janeway, and Archibald Alexander, as well as other presbyters. In conjunction with Gloucester’s visit, the Presbytery of Union had sent an overture to the General Assembly concerning his licensure. The Assembly adopted the recommendation of its committee appointed to handle the overture’s disposition and referred the question of Gloucester’s licensure to the Presbytery of Philadelphia. Referral to the Philadelphia Presbytery indicates that the mechanism had been engaged by the ministerial leadership of the Evangelical Society to bring Gloucester to the city for the African mission work. The presbytery meeting took place the next month, and Philadelphia Presbytery referred the licensure back to the Presbytery of Union believing that it was more qualified as the court of immediate jurisdiction to complete the licensure process with John. Though the licensure issue was referred, Gloucester’s path to missions with the free Africans had begun.

The financial support of John Gloucester and the funds needed to build a church worship facility were supplied from several sources. John’s salary was paid for three months by the Evangelical Society and the remainder of his financial stipend was to be collected from other sources. One source was missionary funding from the General Assembly, which provided three months of support each year from 1810 through 1819. His work was given amounts varying from twenty to one hundred sixty dollars each year. Private donors, presbytery and synod missionary funds, donations from the Africans themselves, and individual churches may have contributed to the remaining finances needed for his salary. The mission was blessed with a growing congregation, which meant that street corner meetings and temporary facilities needed to be replaced with an adequate building for worship. In July of 1809, the Evangelical Society agreed to “provide a house for present use,” and it sought subscriptions to buy property and erect “a house of worship.” A flyer was published to advertise the African mission and raise funds to support a work for “a reformation among the blacks of this place.” According to some historical opinions, many of the newly freed Africans entering Philadelphia were contributing to disorder in the city because of their lack of education, little if any trade skills, lack of money, and no direction or guidance.

As the slavery issue became more heated in later years, some political and intellectual leaders believed that immediate emancipation would result in a large, impoverished, and unskilled population of free blacks that would be too much for the nation to handle—Philadelphia’s experience at the time of Gloucester’s ministry exemplifies this analysis. The flyer appealed for the cause of the free blacks and concluded “that the African race is not inferior to the inhabitants of the other quarters of the world, either in the natural endowments of the understanding or the heart,” and they needed evangelism just as any other race or nationality. The flyer notes further that there were already many free Blacks who were Presbyterian and that they found it “inconvenient and unpleasant … to attend the houses of worship frequented by the white people.” The Evangelical Society separated the races for worship and worked toward constructing a worship facility dedicated to the Africans and pastored by John Gloucester. Though the African worshippers may have felt that it was “inconvenient and unpleasant” to worship with the whites, one can only speculate as to how the face of American Presbyterianism might have been changed if the Evangelical Society had taught and led the congregation to a racially united worship service within an existing Philadelphia congregation.

Raising the funds for the African Presbyterian Church building was a difficult process, however in October the Evangelical Society met to consider purchasing land for the church. Gloucester was present at the meeting and “was satisfied with the Resolution” that budgeted fourteen hundred dollars for the land. The work of fund raising continued into the Fall of 1810 when the Evangelical Society located a property, which was described as “three lots on Seventh Street in the District of Southwark, between South and Fitzwater Streets, together yielding” a nearly square lot of just under six thousand square feet. The projected cost for a building was five thousand dollars, but the amount of money pledged at that time was roughly twenty two hundred dollars. The money-in-hand was enhanced by a one hundred dollar contribution from Philadelphia’s Dr. Benjamin Rush, whose name was heard nearly as often as the other famous Philadelphia Benjamin. As the reality of the difficult task of raising the money set in, the plan was modified to construct a smaller building at an estimated cost of 3851.21, or nearly 55,000.00 in today’s money.

Up to this point, Gloucester’s ministry had been accomplished as a licentiate, but the long and difficult road to ordination came to an end when he was examined by the Presbytery of Union, meeting at Baker’s Creek, on April 30, 1810. As was most appropriate, his mentor Gideon Blackburn was the moderator of that meeting. Presbytery instructed the new minister to move from Tennessee and unite with the Philadelphia Presbytery. The instruction to relocate to Philadelphia is a bit misleading because John had been active in the African mission in Pennsylvania for some time. Rev. Gloucester’s transfer of membership was delayed a bit because he was not received into the Philadelphia Presbytery until April of the following year.

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