Centennial Memorial

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“He fought and preached alternately”

John Craighead was the second son of John and Rachel R. Craighead and the grandson of the Rev. Thomas Craighead. His great-grandfather was the Rev. Robert, a Scotsman who immigrated to Ireland around 1657 and served as pastor of churches in donoughmore and Londonderry. Robert later moved to Dublin and is noted for having authored several works on the Christian life. Thomas Craighead, the son of Robert, came to New England in 1715 and preached for about eight years near Fall River, Massachusetts, before moving to Delaware, where he was installed as the pastor of the White Clay Creek church. In 1733, Thomas answered a call to serve the congregation at Pequea, in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, and his last pulpit was in Hopewell, PA.

John was born in 1742, near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, his parents having relocated from Lancaster in 1742. He graduated from Princeton College in 1763, where he had been a classmate with Robert Cooper, then studied theology with Dr. Robert Smit, of Pequea. John was ordained by the Presbytery of Donegal and installed, on April 13, 1768, as pastor of the Rocky Spring church, near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. His salary, upon accepting this call, was L100 per year.

Rev. Craighead continued his ministry at the Rocky Spring church until 1789, when, on account of declining health and mental derangement, his pastoral relation was dissolved. Apparently he was prone to fits of deep depression which made ministry difficult, if not impossible. Yet by 1791 he was noted as being in regular attendance at the meetings of the Carlisle Presbytery and was even appointed to serve the Presbytery as its commissioner to General Assembly that year.  He served as commissioner to General Assembly again in 1793. Finally on April 9th, 1799, the Presbytery was compelled to dissolve his pastoral relation “solely due to inability,” and his death followed soon after. He died on April 20, 1799, and was buried in the Rocky Spring graveyard.

Mr. Craighead is noted in history for his earnest and patriotic appeals to his people during the struggle for American Independence, and for his services as captain and chaplain to a company formed from his own congregation in response to his patriotic appeals, at a solemn crisis in the war, when the whole male portion of the congregation rose to their feet in token of readiness to embark in defense of the country.

The old church at Rocky Spring was still extant as late as the 1880’s. Though somewhat altered, it retained substantially the original main features. The aisles were paved with brick; the pews were straight-backed and unpainted oak; the pulpit was narrow, with its sounding board painted a light blue; the elders’ bench was a simple thick slab of wood; the communion service was made of pewter, imported from London, but black with age. Two ten-plate stoves, of a very primitive form, were used to warm the building, with their stove pipes ascending through holes cut in the ceiling, where the smoke released into the attic and escaped, without any chimneys, the best way it could. The side door was still there, where Mr. Craighead stood and cajoled the men assembled in the churchyard, and so stirred their patriotic passions that they soon organized themselves into a company and went through the Revolutionary War with their pastor as captain and chaplain.

One biographer of Rev. Craighead wrote that he preached “in glowing terms, Jesus Christ, the only hope of salvation, and after the delivery of his sacred message, in eloquent and patriotic strains exhorted the youth of his congregation to rise up and join the noble band, then engaged under the immortal Washington, in struggling to free our beloved country from British oppression,” and that “On one of these occasions, the patriot preacher declaimed in such fervid and powerful terms respecting the evils his country was enduring, and presented such a description of each man’s duty that ‘the whole congregation rose from their seats and declared their willingness to march to the conflict.’ “

Words to Live By:
Having read that last account, the obvious question by comparison is, What does it take to get a congregation to rise up for the cause of Christ? When so many endeavors so easily obtain our whole attention, what does it take for the Lord Jesus Christ to have first place in our hearts and minds? Or what does it take just simply for the congregation to regularly, faithfully go to their knees in prayer?

Lord, may we be a praying people, intent upon doing Your will, ever watching to see Your hand at work, waiting upon your every provision.

Sources:
Centennial Memorial of the Presbytery of Carlisle, vol. 2, pp. 47-48; Nevin’s Encyclopedia, p. 162.

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Old Mortality: Robert Patterson [ca. 1713-1801]

The purpose of this blog is to remind us of those saints who have gone before, and to recall something of our common history as Presbyterians, for regardless of our denomination, we are all connected, one with another. We learn from one another, are encouraged by one another, and are reminded to pray for one another.

dewittWmRAnd so it seemed very fitting when I stumbled across the content chosen for today’s post. Our entry for the day was to focus on the Rev. William Radcliffe DeWitt, (pictured in the photo at the right), who was born on this day, February 25, 1792, and who was for forty years the pastor of the English Presbyterian Church of Harrisburg, PA. Looking for more about his ministry, I was pleased to find among our church history collection a copy of The Centennial Memorial of the English Presbyterian Church, 1794-1894, with a section on DeWitt’s ministry at that church. That in turn led to the serendipitous discovery of the following poignant words which serve as the opening paragraphs for the chapter on that church’s history:

Now go write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come forever and ever.”–Isaiah 30:6.

“Walter Scott has very touchingly told us of Old Mortality, a religious itinerant of his times. He was first discovered in the burial ground of the Parish of Gaudercleugh. It was his custom to pass from one graveyard to another, and with the patient chisel of the engraver clear away the moss from the grey tombstones, and restore the names and the lines that Time’s finger had well nigh effaced. It mattered little to him whether it was the headstone of some early martyr to the faith, or only love’s memorial to some little child. It was his joy to do the quiet and unbidden work of bringing again to the notice of men the history and the heroism of some of God’s nobility of whom the world was not worthy, nor less to honor the unknown ones who were laid to rest with unseen tears.

abeel_graveOur work to-day bears something of the same character. Like Old Mortality, we step softly and reverently among the graves of the past. Chisel in hand we pass from memory to memory. We clear away the gathered moss. We refurnish the ancient stones and read again the names of the departed, dropping here and there a tear as precious memories are awakened, and reminding ourselves anew of a fellowship that is only interrupted for a little time. The past is ours. We are its heirs. Its good comes down to us in an apostolic succession of benedictions. The links that bind us to past days and years are golden links. It is one of the choicest gifts of grace, that we may at the same time live three lives in one. Past memories and present experiences and future hopes do blend to make human life noble and attractive. Our holy faith commemorates the past, gladdens the present and brightens the future.”

[excerpted from “A Century Plant,” by Rev. Thomas A. Robinson, in The Centennial Memorial of the English Presbyterian Congregation of Harrisburg, PA, 1794-1894, George B. Stewart, editor. Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1894, pp. 192-193. This book is available on the Internet, here.

And as it turns out, there was a real person behind the Walter Scott’s character of Old Mortality.

oldMortality_lg“Robert Patterson was born circa 1713 on the farm of Haggis Ha, in the parish of Hawick and as a married man moved to the village of Balmaclellan. A stonemason by trade and owner of a small quarry, he spent most of his life touring the lowlands of Scotland visiting and maintaining Covenanter grave sites. His method of cutting or incising letters and the ability to get so much into a limited space makes his work very distinctive. He gained some fame as ‘Old Mortality,’ the character in the book of the same name by Sir Walter Scott.”

To read more of that account, click here.

Words to Live By: Perhaps it is by divine design, but no monument lasts forever. Our worship is not for the saints or for their graves, but for the Lord of glory, whose love moved their hearts to serve Him. We remember them because of their testimony to the truth of the Gospel.

“And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.’ ”
[Exodus 13:14, NASB]

 

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The first serious resistance against the new United States government took place in western Pennsylvania, specifically, a rebellion against a federal excise tax being placed upon distilled spirits. Known as the Whiskey Rebellion, government officials were being attacked and run off by rebellious citizens.  What was to be done?

President George Washington responded by calling up twelve thousand federal militia from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland.  Marching to Carlisle, Pennsylvania on the weekend of October 5, 1794, they settled down for the night.

Preaching in his pulpit that Lord’s Day at the First Presbyterian Church of Carlisle, was the pastor, Rev. Dr. Robert Davidson.  Davidson was forty-nine years of age at this time, and a national figure in the Presbyterian Church. He had served as moderator of the General Assembly just three years before this. He was also the Vice-President of Dickinson College, a Presbyterian school.

Seated among his congregation that morning were George Washington and the Secretaries of War and the Treasury of the new federal government. Dr. Davidson preached “A Sermon on the Freedom and Happiness of the United States of America.” His text was Second Samuel 7:23, which reads in part, “And what one nation in the earth is like thy people, even like Israel?”

In his introduction, Rev. Davidson assured his audience that the message of the gospel and the public concerns which concerned them now in this time of crisis, cannot be separated. His first point spoke about the fact that Israel is proof that events are driven by Divine providence  rather than by chance.  Further, the Jews were God’s chosen people.

The force of the sermon came with his exposition of the second outline point.  He soundly stated that God, in His great goodness, has bestowed upon the United States of America a high privilege as well. Indeed, the text was quickly changed to “what nation in the earth is like thy people, even like the United States.”

He went on to praise the militia, including their commanders and the commander-in-chief, President Washington, who had gathered in Carlisle, to teach the rebellious citizens and their  army that they should be obedient to lawful authorities. No wonder that the officers of the American forces requested this sermon to be printed  and given to the masses.

When the militia began to march, led by the only President who ever led a sitting army on a military mission, the mob—including their army in the western parts of the state—fled and were disbanded. About 150 of the more prominent dissenters were taken back as prisoners, and about a year later, were pardoned by George Washington. Following the presidency of John Adams, it was only under the third President, Thomas Jefferson, that the Excise Tax on distilled spirits was finally repealed.

Words to live by: 
Present day Presbyterian pastors need to think long and hard about preaching political sermons from the pulpit.  While there can be many spiritual points which can be gleaned for America from the chosen people of Israel, we are not the new Israel! We must—and we should—point out the courage of serving the Lord in all kinds of national distresses. We do believe that the God of the ages has caused us to be raised up for such a time as this.  We are a people with all sorts of privileges, and that puts a great obligation upon us to obey God’s will. But we are not the lost ten tribes of Israel. That much is sure.

Through the Scriptures:  Zechariah 3 – 6

Through the Standards: Proof texts for the civil magistrate

Romans 13:1 – 4
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God, and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.  For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.  Do you want to have no fear of authority?  Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good.  But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” (NASB)

1 Peter 2:13 – 15
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” (NASB)

1 Timothy 2:1, 2
“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (NASB)

Image source : Centennial Memorial of the Presbytery of Carlisle (1898), vol. 1, facing page 355.

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