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The Value of a Long Pastorate

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Fifty years a pastor of one church! The Rev. David Osborn surely is one of but a small number of pastors who have labored so long and so faithfully for one congregation. Rev. Osborn was the pastor of the Fairfield Presbyterian Church, in Fairton, New Jersey, for 55 years, from 1789 until 1844. The Fairfield church is now a member of the PCA. With a long pastorate, and as a faithful servant of his Lord, Rev. Osborn laid a good foundation for the future health of the church. Born on august 21, 1758, Rev. Osborn died on May 1, 1858, at the age of 99 years, 8 months and 10 days.

These little daily devotions are meant to be brief and so can never explore the whole of a story. Our account today is drawn from The Pastor of the Old Stone Church. With the hope of encouraging you to take up this interesting little book and read it for yourself, we give here but a small sampling of Rev. Osborn’s life and ministry. When he had already served some thirty years in the Fairfield pulpit, he preached a sermon in which he recounted some of the history of his ministry. He said:—

“Having lived and labored among you in the gospel ministry for more than thirty years, it seems reasonable that we should take a brief review of the ground we have traveled over, and of God’s dealings with us. It is hoped that such a review may afford us some lessons of useful instruction. The general design of these discourses is to lay before you some of the principal events which have occurred during my residence among you, and as I pass along, to express my thoughts and opinions respecting them…My motives of action, my regard or disregard of your welfare, are known to God, and must ere long be known to yourselves, whether I speak them out or not. You have been eye and ear witnesses of the principal events of providence and grace which we shall review, and thanks to God! many of you have been heart witnesses by your own happy experience”

“My condition and school education were like those of other children in my native place. I was favored, thanks to God! with religious parents and a religious education. My parents are gone to their long home, and I trust sleep in Jesus. They trained me in the habit of attending public worship, but for some years I went to meeting rather reluctantly, or against my inclination. Some alarming providences impressed my mind with serious thoughts of death and judgment. This was perhaps between the age of nine or twelve years. After my serious impressions began, I went to religious meetings without persuasion or driving. I then went, not to see and be seen, but to hear the word of God, and to learn how I must escape the wrath to come and obtain eternal life. The Sabbath became a most welcome day, which I tried to keep holy, and improve for my best spiritual interests, for this was my principal concern. Compared with my soul’s salvation, every affair of this life appeared low and trifling.

“About this time I began secret prayer, which I have continued more or less to this day, though I am conscious that I have often been too remiss in it. I felt conscious that the eyes of the Lord were upon me, and I fully resolved carefully to avoid whatever would incur his displeasure, and to do whatever my conscience and his word and Spirit should tell me was my duty. But, like David, I soon found that innumerable evils had compassed me about, and mine iniquities had taken hold upon me. I found that my own strength was weakness; temptations assaulted me, and too often prevailed against me; yet like Job, I tried to hold fast mine integrity.

“When I was preparing for college, while studying the Greek Testament, I saw more clearly than ever the amiable excellency of our Saviour. My mind was enamored of his heavenly beauty, and my soul’s desire was to be like him and with him. Ever since, I have had a trust that I have received the Saviour by faith, and am interested in the special favor of God through his merits and mediation, though it often seems too exalted a favor and blessedness for such a sinner to expect. And scarcely, if ever, do I feel that assurance of salvation which I desire. May the Lord perfect in us all that which is lacking of grace, faith, and assurance!”

Later in the account, Rev. Osborn spoke of the life of the Fairfield church:

“The Lord once more appeared for his favored church in Fairfield. Through the summer and fall of 1809, a general awakening to the concerns of the eternal world prevailed among the people. Conference, or prayer-meetings, were held in different parts of the congregation, not less than six or seven evenings in the week. It was truly a revival time, both to saints and sinners; the Spirit of grace was poured upon each. Some were severely experienced and brought into deep distress; others were exercised in a mild manner. Though there were diverse operations, yet the same God wrought in all. In a few months, a considerable number entertained a hope, and thanks to God! he continued his gracious work for many months. On December 3, 1809, just twenty years from my ordination, twenty-four were admitted to the church. In April, 1810, thirty were admitted to full communion; in August following, twenty-seven more, and small numbers at the two communions following, so that in the space of two years, there were added to this church one hundred and twelve. The Lord hath done great things for us, and blessed be his name!

“Though various means were used, yet it was evident that the excellency of the power was of God, and not of men. This appears from the great change wrought, and the good fruit following. Though I was not idle during the revival, yet it seemed as if I was a spectator beholding the wonderful operation of Divine grace convincing and converting sinners. My brethren of the Session were alive and diligent in prayer and religious conversation, and perhaps I may have aided, in some measure, the good work of the Lord. But I was only one among a multitude of agents who were active in the same employ. Truly my soul rejoiced to see many return unto the Lord and enlist under the banner of King Jesus.”

Words to Live By:
From the above mentioned volume, the Rev. Mr. Burt’s address upon the death of Rev. Osborn,
“The pastor is not only the interpreter of the oracles of God in the gathered assembly; he is a visitor in every home, and a personal friend of every individual. In every crisis of life he is at hand, soothing in sickness, comforting in sorrow, counseling in perplexity, and, at last, accompanying the dying, as far as he may, toward the brooding shadows of the dark and solitary valley; and in all this he is the friend of the soul, drawing from earth, leading to Christ, and inspiring with heavenly hope. O there is none who so fully and so tenderly interweaves his whole life with that of each of a community, and draws after him and binds upon him such a train of ardent and holy affections, as the faithful and loving pastor.”

[all excerpts taken from The Pastor of the Old Stone Church. Philadelphia: William S. and Alfred Martien, 1858.]

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At right, the Old Stone Church as it has appeared in recent years. It is no longer in use, though some efforts over the last several decades have been made to maintain the structure.

Sources: The portrait above and the text are drawn from The Pastor of the Old Stone Church. Philadelphia: William S. and Alfred Martien, 1858. This work is available on the Internet, here. The more recent photograph, at right, was taken by the current pastor of the Fairfield Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Michael Schuelke. For more about the history of this church, which was organized in 1680, click here.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

A Day of Fasting and Humiliation

It is unheard of in our times, but back in the early part of our nation’s history, when a man was ordained to the gospel ministry, a day of fasting and humiliation took place on account of his calling as a minister of the gospel.  Such was the case with William Hollingshead.

Born in Philadelphia in 1748, William Hollingshead joined the communion of the church in his young years.  Attending the University of Pennsylvania, he began preparation for the ministry.  Licensed in 1772, he was ordained to the gospel ministry on July 29, 1773.  It was said that a day of fasting and humiliation accompanied that solemn ordination.

Having been called by the Fairfield Presbyterian Church in New Jersey, Rev. Hollingshead began his ministry in difficult times.  Not only was there a need for a new church building, but there was the national need for a new nation.  This was the time period of the American Revolution.

A log cabin had been the site of the original church.  Then a frame building had been in use since 1717.  Now replacing them both was a stone building, which was finally completed in 1780.  They had met under an oak tree for six years in the New England Towne Cemetery, near the site of the old church building.  What rejoicing there must have been when on September 7, 1780, they were able to move into the new structure of the church.

This whole time had also been the time of conflict during the War for Independence from England.  Even Rev. Hollingshead had been given leave to become a chaplain for the Continental Army.  Many members of the church had given their lives and limbs for the struggle for liberty.  The cemetery gives mute evidence to that fact.

Rev. Hollingshead left the pulpit in Fairfield in 1783 for Charleston, South Carolina.  He labored there until January 16, 1817 when he died in the pulpit

Fairfield Presbyterian Church today is the oldest church in the Presbyterian Church in America, dating from 1680.

Words to Live By: There is something very solemn about a day of fasting and humiliation when a minister is set apart for the gospel ministry.   It encourages the entire congregation and Presbytery to treat the occasion in an attitude of prayer.  It sanctifies the whole process in a holy manner.  Let this be an apt suggestion to the Session of Elders when a new pastor is called to your congregation.

Through the Scriptures: Micah 1 – 4

Through the Standards: Proof texts for the fifth commandment:

Deuteronomy 5:16
“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” (Amplified)

Proverbs 10:1
“The PROVERBS of Solomon: A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish and self-confident is the grief of his mother.” (Amplified)

Ephesians 6:1 – 4
“CHILDREN, OBEY your parents in the Lord, [as His representatives], for this is just and right.  Honor (esteem and value as precious) your father and your mother — this is the first commandment with a promise — That all may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.  Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to resentment], but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord.” (Amplified)

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This Day in Presbyterian History :

At last! Minutes of the Second Presbytery

Four days ago, you read the historical devotional on March 18 that the stated clerk of the first presbytery held in this country lost all but a short paragraph of the meeting.  In 1707, beginning on March 22, the second presbytery was held in Philadelphia.  George McNish, one of the seven ministers, was chosen Clerk of the Presbytery, while John Wilson was chosen the Moderator.   Present also were teaching elders Jedidiah Andrews and  Nathaniel Taylor.  Francis Makemie would show up on the 25th of March.  Ruling elders Joseph Yard, William Smith, John Gardener, and James Stoddard were present from several churches within the bounds of the Philadelphia Presbytery.

» Old Rehoboth Presbyterian Church, Rehoboth, Maryland (1683), which competes with Fairfield Presbyterian Church, Fairton, New Jersey (1680) in the claim for the oldest Presbyterian church in America »

Samuel Davis sent in his excuse as to why he missed the last Presbytery and would not be present at this meeting either. The presbyters did not sustain his reasons for his absence, and sent  a letter to teaching elder Davis requiring him  to be present at the 1708 presbytery meeting.  He did, and they immediately elected him the moderator of the next Presbytery!

The church at Snow Hill, Maryland, had called Mr. John Hampton to be their pastor, but the latter had declined their call.  He gave several satisfactory reasons to the presbytery as to why he was not in favor of going there as pastor.  They nevertheless moved that the call be left in his  hand until the next presbytery in 1708, hoping that the call would be finally accepted by Mr. Hampton.  In the meanwhile, they sent a letter of encouragement to the church to continue in their endeavors for a settled pastor among their ranks.

It was on the 25th of March, 1708, that two biblical sermons were given on Hebrews 1:1 and Hebrews 1:2 by teaching elders Francis Makemie and teaching elder John Wilson, which messages had been approved at the last Presbytery meeting.  These texts were no doubt taken from the Genevan Bible, as that was the version carried over to these shores by the early Presbyterian pilgrims.  And given the practice of early Scottish ministers, the length of the sermons easily could have been two hours long.  We are told  that both sermons were approved by the Presbytery.

Since Francis Makemie had been successful in convincing two ministers to come over and help the infant Presbyterian church previously, the Presbytery urged Makemie again to write to Scotland and a certain minister by the name of Alexander Coldin.   He was to give an account of the state and circumstances of the dissenting Presbyterian interest in and among the people, especially in and about Lewistown, and signify the earnest desires of those members that Mr. Coldin travel over to these shores and become their minister.

We conclude that their meeting was not unlike the gathering of Presbyterians in presbyteries across the modern world now.  Sermons are preached, though not as long as these early expositions of the Word.  Elections are held for presbyterial office.  Excuses are considered as to absences, and approved or disapproved.   Pastors without call are considered for vacant pulpits.  Overtures are recommended, discussed, and voted upon by the presbyters.  (See March 26)  All in all, the work of the Lord began in Philadelphia, 1706,  and continues today in hundreds of presbyteries across the world.

Words to Live By:  Speaking to elders, be faithful to your presbytery meetings, for there the work of the Lord is initiated, issues of interest to the church are  discussed by and for elders, warnings are heeded, encouragements are given, and support is given to the kingdom of grace.

Through the Scriptures: Judges 9 – 12

Through the Standards:Christ’s Humiliation after His Death

WLC 50 — “Wherein consisted Christ’s humiliation after his death?
A. Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which has been otherwise expressed in these words, ‘He descended into hell.’ “

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