Geneva College

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A Great Historian & Biographer

When searching out pre-twentieth century Presbyterian biographies, there are three big names—three primary sources which cannot be overlooked. The unsurpassed efforts of William Buell Sprague would have to be mentioned first. Indeed, Sprague did not limit himself to Presbyterians, but gathered biographical entries covering all the major Protestant denominations and even included Unitarians in his nine volume set, Annals of the American Pulpit. (As a young man, Sprague came under the influence of a Unitarian teacher, but turned to orthodox Trinitarianism while attending Princeton Seminary).

Another resource is that of Alfred Nevin‘s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., including the Northern and Southern Assemblies. This massive single volume was published in 1884 and tops out at 1229 pages. Where Sprague had solicited entries from pastors across the nation and acknowledges their contributions in each case, Nevin’s work gives the appearance of being his work alone, though it seems doubtful that a work of that extent could have been accomplished by just one man.

The third major resource brings us to another great biographer and the focus of our post today. William Melancthon Glasgow was born in Northwood, Logan county, Ohio, on July 1, 1856. If you will remember, this was the original location of Geneva College, and so not surprisingly this was where William received his college education, graduating there in 1880. After a few years of employment in Boston, he then prepared for the ministry at the Allegheny Theological Seminary (now known as the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary).

Glasgow’s first published work, Catalogue of the Alumni of Geneva College, appeared in the same year that he began his Seminary studies (1882). Another work, History of Geneva College followed quickly (1883), and his third book, The Provincial Churches, was published around the time he graduated in 1884. Clearly he was already evidencing his life’s interest in history and biography. I know of no other seminary student who has ever equalled his record of three volumes published while still in seminary.

Glasgow was licensed to preach by the (Reformed Presbyterian) Presbytery of Pittsburgh on April 9, 1884 and later ordained by the Philadelphia Presbytery (also RP) on November 26, 1885. He was installed as the pastor of the RP church in Baltimore, Maryland, and served that church until the early summer of 1889. His second pastorate was in Kansas City, Missouri, 1889-1893 and from that post he next answered a call to serve the RP church in Beaver Falls, Pennysylvania. In 1899, he transferred his credentials into the United Presbyterian Church of North America, in order to take a call to serve the UPCNA church in Wellsville, Ohio, from 1899 until his death in 1909, at the age of 51.

Rev. Glasgow authored two major works which are of inestimable value. The first of these, History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America, was published in 1888. That volume was republished in 2007 by Reformation Heritage Books. Glasgow’s other major biographical work was his Cyclopedic Manual of the United Presbyterian Church in North America, published in 1903. This work has never been republished, but is available in digital format. Where the former work offered more extensive biographies and histories of R.P. congregations, the latter U.P. work adopts a shorter notation style, similar in format to what is found today in the PCA Yearbook and the OPC Ministerial Register.

Words to Live By:
I’m convinced that the work of Christian biography and history falls very much within the Scriptural mandate to remember the Lord’s works [1 Chron. 16:9; Ps. 26:7; 28:5; 77:11; 78:7; 105:5; etc.] The history of the church is a history of what the Lord has done and is doing on this earth. Thus we can understand it as redemptive history, though clearly it is not authoritative or divinely inspired history, not in the way that Scripture is. We cannot look to church history or Christian biography to determine God’s will, for instance. But we can find profit from these accounts, and certainly these stories can prompt us to praise God.

Psalm 111:2-4 (KJV)
2. The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.
3. His work is honourable and glorious; and his righteousness endureth forever.
4. He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.

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A New Method of Missionary Work

John Livingston NeviusFor centuries, the work of foreign missions all over the world had been done by faithful missionaries going from nations like England or America, serving the Lord in some field white unto harvest, and then going off the scene back to their sending agency. That method was in need of changing, and the Rev. John Livingston Nevius would be the one who would change foreign mission methods forever.

Born on March 4, 1829 in western New York, John Nevius attended Princeton Theological Seminary in the 1850′s. Called while in seminary to the foreign mission field, he found the perfect mate in Helen Coan in 1853. Marrying her, they set sail for China.

At first they traveled, setting up missions and schools. Then they settled down in one province of that vast land.  Observing the work of other missionaries in that nation, this Presbyterian missionary began to see the need to establish “self-propagating, self-supporting, and self-governing indigenous churches from the very beginning of a missionary’s work on the field.  Interesting, even though this approach, which was eventually crystallized in a book, was first developed in China, it never really matured into reality there. But when broaching the same method in the land of Korea, it was received completed by the Korean church. And today, that land and its churches have taken the three “self’s” and followed them religiously.

John Nevius also in his plan suggested that Christian missionaries should only begin programs which the national church desired and supported.  Further, the national church should call out and support their pastors. Intensive beliefs and doctrinal instruction should be provided each year by the missionaries. It is clear that the focus would not be on some Western culture and church, but rather on the mission field’s culture and church. Indeed, the missionary’s “job” was to work themselves out of that “job,” and leave it to the Christian church people to win their nation to Christ.

Countless church bodies have followed the Nevius plan. The Mission to the World agency of the Presbyterian Church in America employs this plan, often setting deadlines for establishing a Presbytery of pastors and churches, and then sending the missionary to some other field to continue the process.

John Livingstone Nevius died while in China on October 19, 1893 and is buried in China.

It is deeply interesting to ponder the Lord’s sovereign hand in the affairs of China, from that time until now, how the Lord has purified that Church. To read another missionary’s account, from 1927, click here.

Words to live by:  When I hear of a church which has closed down when a pastor has left by moving on or by death, I reflect that the  Nevius plan wouldn’t be a bad one for our local American church scene.  For reasons known only to the pastor and people, the work to equip the saints to do the work of service, as Ephesians 4:1112 states, had been missing in that closed church. Now it was the pastor’s fault. He wanted to think that he was irreplaceable. Or maybe the members resisted that Scriptural methodology. But whatever the reason was, the work came to an end when the pastor was removed from the scene. So here is my question? Pastors, are you equipping the saints to do the work of ministry? And members, are you zealous to be equipped to do the work of ministry? It is important to ask and answer these questions.

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A Great Historian & Biographer

When searching out pre-twentieth century Presbyterian biographies, there are three big names—three primary sources which cannot be overlooked. The unsurpassed efforts of William Buell Sprague would have to be mentioned first. Indeed, Sprague did not limit himself to Presbyterians, but gathered biographical entries covering all the major Protestant denominations and even included Unitarians in his nine volume set, Annals of the American Pulpit. (As a young man, Sprague came under the influence of a Unitarian teacher, but turned to orthodox Trinitarianism while attending Princeton Seminary).

Another resource is that of Alfred Nevin‘s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., including the Northern and Southern Assemblies. This massive single volume was published in 1884 and tops out at 1229 pages. Where Sprague had solicited entries from pastors across the nation and acknowledges their contributions in each case, Nevin’s work gives the appearance of being his work alone, though it seems doubtful that a work of that extent could have been accomplished by just one man.

glasgowWmMThe third major resource brings us to another great biographer and the focus of our post today. William Melancthon Glasgow was born in Northwood, Logan county, Ohio, on July 1, 1856. If you will remember, this was the original location of Geneva College, and so not surprisingly this was where William received his college education, graduating there in 1880. After a few years of employment in Boston, he then prepared for the ministry at the Allegheny Theological Seminary (now known as the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary).

Glasgow’s first published work, Catalogue of the Alumni of Geneva College, appeared in the same year that he began his Seminary studies (1882). Another work, History of Geneva College followed quickly (1883), and his third book, The Provincial Churches, was published around the time he graduated in 1884. Clearly he was already evidencing his life’s interest in history and biography. I know of no other seminary student who has ever equalled his record of three volumes published while still in seminary.

Glasgow was licensed to preach by the (Reformed Presbyterian) Presbytery of Pittsburgh on April 9, 1884 and later ordained by the Philadelphia Presbytery (also RP) on November 26, 1885. He was installed as the pastor of the RP church in Baltimore, Maryland, and served that church until the early summer of 1889. His second pastorate was in Kansas City, Missouri, 1889-1893 and from that post he next answered a call to serve the RP church in Beaver Falls, Pennysylvania. In 1899, he transferred his credentials into the United Presbyterian Church of North America, in order to take a call to serve the UPCNA church in Wellsville, Ohio, from 1899 until his death in 1909, at the age of 51.

GlasgowRPHistoryRev. Glasgow authored two major works which are of inestimable value. The first of these, History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America, was published in 1888. That volume was republished in 2007 by Reformation Heritage Books. Glasgow’s other major biographical work was his Cyclopedic Manual of the United Presbyterian Church in North America, published in 1903. This work has never been republished, but is available in digital format. Where the former work offered more extensive biographies and histories of R.P. congregations, the latter U.P. work adopts a shorter notation style, similar in format to what is found today in the PCA Yearbook and the OPC Ministerial Register.

Words to Live By:
I’m convinced that the work of Christian biography and history falls very much within the Scriptural mandate to remember the Lord’s works [1 Chron. 16:9; Ps. 26:7; 28:5; 77:11; 78:7; 105:5; etc.] The history of the church is a history of what the Lord has done and is doing on this earth. Thus we can understand it as redemptive history, though clearly it is not authoritative or divinely inspired history, not in the way that Scripture is. We cannot look to church history or Christian biography to determine God’s will, for instance. But we can find profit from these accounts, and certainly these stories can prompt us to praise God.

Psalm 111:2-4 (KJV)
2. The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.
3. His work is honourable and glorious; and his righteousness endureth forever.
4. He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.

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Putting a School on Its Feet

In that same sad year of 1833 when the Reformed Presbyterian Church suffered a division into Old Light and New Light denominations, a future blessing for the RP’s also came that year with the birth of Henry Hosick George. Henry was born on February 20, 1833 to parents Henry and Maria (Dolman) George, in Cumberland, Ohio. The family moved to Locust Grove, Ohio in 1839 and it was there where he received his early education, later graduating from Geneva Hall in 1853.

Geneva Hall had been organized just a few years before, in 1848, and was located in Northwood, Logan county, Ohio. [not to be confused with the other Northwood, OH, in Wood county, about eighty miles north]. Thus Henry was one of its early graduates, and much of the rest of his life was lived in close connection with the school.  Upon graduation from college he became a tutor at the school, and in 1856 was made Professor of Greek. Studying theology at the Northwood and Allegheny Seminaries, he prepared for the ministry and was licensed by the Lakes Presbytery of the RPCNA in June of 1857, being later ordained by the same Presbytery and installed as pastor of congregations in Cedarville and Cincinnati.

His tenure as pastor of these congregations was short-lived, first resigning from the pulpit of the Cedarville congregation in 1866 and then from the Cincinnati congregation in 1872, at which time he accepted the call to serve as the President of Geneva Hall in Northwood. He had served as the Moderator of the RP Synod in 1871, an indication in itself of his rising prominence within the denomination and perhaps a precursor to his election to serve as president. One significant change instituted at the school upon his taking the presidency was a name change for the institution, from Geneva Hall to Geneva College. On a personal note, two years later, the Ohio Central College awarded Rev. George the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. In 1878, Rev. George also became the pastor of the RP congregation in the nearby village of Rushsylvania, though again he was only pastor for a short term, resigning the pulpit after two years.

In 1879, under Dr. George’s leadership, the trustees began to explore the possibility of relocating the school. Four locations were under consideration, and finally Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania was chosen, largely because of a promise of 10 acres of land from the Harmony Society, a utopian pietist group. There was also an accompanying promise which had been secured from the township of Beaver Falls, a commitment of $20,000 for a building. And so construction began on “Old Main,” the original and still the central building on the Geneva College campus, with work on that building completed in 1881, despite slowdowns caused by the bankruptcy of two construction companies. Meanwhile, the school had already relocated to Beaver Falls in 1880, taking up temporary quarters in the interim.

In the early days of some institutions, there is often an unusual spirit of camaraderie and a willingness to do whatever must be done. Historian David Carson commented that in the early days of Geneva College, in the 1880’s, “The faculty did everything from collecting student tuition to planting trees on the campus…The president, in addition to his teaching, administrative duties and fund raising, was in charge of the building and grounds.”

In William Glasgow’s history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, he appropriately commends President George as the one responsible for much of the prosperity of the College in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Dr. George continued as President until 1890, surrendering that post to work for a time with the American Sabbath Union. Then in 1894, Dr. George was installed as the pastor of the East End Reformed Presbyterian church in Pittsburgh. Little more than a year later, he became field secretary for the National Reform Association, and he held this position until the time of his death some nineteen years later, on March 25, 1914.

[The National Reform Association is noteworthy in American history for its long-standing efforts since 1864 to amend the U.S. Constitution to include specific reference to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.]

Words to Live By:
I could easily put together a long list of names of those whom the Lord has used to almost single-handedly advance various works and ministries, often working against great obstacles. There would be Max Belz and the Cono Christian School, or Franklin Dyrness and the Quarryville Retirement Community, or Robert G. Rayburn and Covenant College and Seminary. The Lord raised up Henry H. George and used him to position Geneva College for future service to the Church. As John Knox said, “One man with God is always in the majority.” What is the Lord leading you to do? How will you serve in His kingdom?

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Glorifying God by Education

Quiz time! What Christian college today came about as the result of the sharing of ideas in a general store by Scots-Irish bargain hunters? Or what sports team logo came from a tornado which swept the campus in the early part of the twentieth century? If you answered  Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, give yourself a hand.

The year was 1836. The place was Northwood, Ohio.  James Stewart Johnston was the keeper of a general store in that small town which did business with many Scots-Irish customers. Besides shopping, it was also the place to share ideas, one of which was the starting of an educational institution for the second generation. And the one who seemed best to do it was the Rev. James Black Johnston, the pastor of the Miami (of Ohio) Reformed Presbyterian church, and brother to James Steward Johnston. So on April 20,  1848, Rev. Johnston began to teach Latin to a group of seven male students. He called it Geneva Hall, so named after the city of John Calvin in Switzerland. The class became so popular at Geneva Hall that women were added to the mix shortly. Pastor Johnston had to move the location to a log house in the village of Northwood, Ohio.

Before long, the Civil War between 1861 – 1865 caused the school to close, at least briefly. But after that national struggle, some say that the school opened as a Freedman institution, in which freed blacks began to study. The very fact that the Underground Railroad operated nearby makes that story a possible reality. Soon white students were included in the mix of education.

Seeing the need to be closer to an urban center caused the school to move to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania in 1880, close to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The land was given by a German society in that area. The school’s sport teams were known, understandably as the Covenanters. The first basketball game in the country was held by Geneva College  and  New Brighton YMCA in 1893. It wasn’t until early in the new century that the school’s sport team names was changed to the Golden Tornado after a literal tornado swept through the campus buildings, taking the golden dome of the oldest building off with it.

What is more important than these traditional facts which every college had to one degree or another, is that this college is a Christian college, both in name as well as in reality. All of the faculty must profess that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior. All of the professors and lecturers of the Department of Biblical Studies must adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is the only college of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.  Its purpose succinctly is “to glorify God by educating and ministering to a diverse community of students for the purpose of developing servant leaders, transforming society for the kingdom of Christ.”

Words to Live By:   Their stated aim in education should be the stated aim of all Christians, that is, of seeking by their words and works to transform society for the kingdom of Christ. In what way will you be accomplishing that this week? Month? Year?

Through the Scriptures: Psalm 28 – 30

Through the Standards: Justification, according to the confession of faith

WCF 11:1
“Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.”

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