Negro Slavery Unjustifiable

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The Glory of Christian Fellowship

As the Rev. Dr. William Buell Sprague worked to compile biographies of American pastors, he solicited submissions from other pastors. The famous Princeton Seminary professor Samuel Miller submitted a number of such recollections and among them, this eulogy on the life of the Rev. Alexander McLeod, a most remarkable Reformed Presbyterian pastor. Dr. McLeod died in 1833, the year that the Reformed Presbyterian denomination split. In that division, McLeod’s son, John Niel McLeod, sided with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod, a denomination which later merged with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church [1956-1965] to form the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES), and the RPCES merged in with the PCA in 1982, thus making all of that history a part of the history of the PCA :—

Neagle-Sartain portraitFROM THE REV. SAMUEL MILLER, D.D.

Theological Seminary, Princeton. January 30,1849.

Rev. and dear Sir : In thinking of the appropriate subjects of the large work on Clerical Biography in  which you have  for some time been engaged, I of course expected you to include a notice of the life and character of the late Alexander McLeod, D.D., of the city of New York.  Few names among the departed have a higher claim to a place in your list, than the name of that distinguished divine.  When, therefore, I was requested, as one who had enjoyed the privilege of an early acquaintance and friendship with him, to make my humble contribution towards embalming his memory, I felt as if an honour had been conferred upon me, which I could not too promptly or cor­dially acknowledge.

You will no doubt be furnished from another source with all the desirable historical notices concerning his nativity, his education, and the leading events of his literary and ecclesiastical life. On these, therefore, I shall not dwell ; but shall content myself with merely stating my general impressions and esti­mate of his character, as a Man and as a Minister of the Gospel.

mcleod01My acquaintance with Dr. McLeod commenced in the year 1801, soon after he had accepted a pastoral charge in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the city of New York, where I then resided. I had never before heard of him; but my first interview with him gave him a place in my mind seldom assigned to one so youthful.  His countenance beaming at once with intelligence and benevolence, his attractive manners and his conversation, though marked with a modesty becoming his age, yet abounding in evidence of intellectual vigour and unusual literary culture, mature theological knowledge and decided piety, made an impression on me which I shall never forget. This impression was confirmed and deepened by all my subsequent intercourse with him.

At the period of which I speak, there was a Clerical Association in the city of New York, which was in the habit of meeting on Monday morning of each week. This Association comprehended most of the ministers of the different Presbyterian denominations in the city. The exercises consisted of prayer, conversation, both general and prescribed, and reading compositions on impor­tant subjects. In this delightful Association I was so happy as to enjoy, for ten or twelve years, the privilege of meeting with Dr. McLeod weekly, and seeing him in company and conversation with the Pastors venerable for their age and standing, in that day; and I must say that the longer I continued to make one of the attendants on those interviews, the higher became my esti­mate of his various accomplishments as a Scholar, a Christian, and a Divine.

Dr. McLeod had a remarkably clear, logical and comprehensive mind. As a Preacher, he greatly excelled.  For, although he seldom wrote his sermons, and never read them in public, yet they were uncommonly rich and instruc­tive, and at the same time animated, solemn, and touching, in their appeals to the conscience and the heart.  As a Writer, his printed works are no less honourable to his memory. His Lectures on the Prophecies, his Sermons on the War of 1812, and his Discourses on the Life and Power of true Godliness, to say nothing of other publications of real value, though of minor size, all evince the richly furnished Theologian, the sound Divine, and the experimen­tal Christian, as well as the polished and able Writer. So great indeed was his popularity in the city of New York, far beyond the bounds of his own ecclesiastical denomination, that several of the most wealthy and respectable churches in the city, in succession, invited him to take the pastoral office over them.  His attachment, however, to that branch of the Presbyterian Body in which he began his ministerial career, was so strong that he never could be persuaded to leave her communion.

After I left New York, on my removal to Princeton, in the year 1813, I rarely visited the city, and almost always in the most transient manner, so that, after that year, I seldom saw Dr. McLeod. I had only two or three short interviews with him at different and distant intervals. In a few years his health became impaired, and not long after so fatally undermined, that he exchanged his ministry on earth for the higher enjoyments and rewards of the sanctuary above.  In the retrospect of my life, I often call to mind the image of this beloved and cherished friend, and dwell upon his memory as that of a great and good man, from my intercourse with whom I am conscious of having derived solid advantage as well as much pleasure.  But I, too, must soon ” put off this tabernacle,” and then I trust we shall be re-united in a better world, and be permitted to study and to enjoy together, to all eternity, the wonders and the glories of that redeeming love, which I have so often heard him exhibit with feeling and with power while he was with us.

That  you  and I, my dear Sir, may be more and more prepared  for that blessedness, is the unfeigned prayer of your friend and brother in Christ,

SAMUEL

Words to Live By:
What a wonderful privilege and gift is the fellowship that Christians share with one another. Cultivate it wherever you can, and don’t neglect it. It is a beautiful fruit of our union with Christ, that in our belonging to the Savior, so we belong to one another and share with one another all the joys and all the trials of this life. More than that, we share in our common love of a Savior who first loved us and died for us, that we might have fellowship with Him throughout all eternity. Beloved, pray for one another. Pray particularly for your brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer daily because of the salvation which is found in Jesus Christ alone.

For Further Study:
One of Rev. McLeod’s more notable works, Negro Slavery Unjustifiable, is posted on the PCA Historical Center web site in PDF format. This same text is available elsewhere on the Internet, but this particular edition faithfully retains the pagination of the original 1802 printing line for line, and may be used for citations. Additionally, annotations have been added in a light gray text to illuminate some of Rev. McLeod’s references.

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In the latter part of 1860, President James Buchanan made a proclamation setting January 4, 1861 apart “for fasting, humiliation, and prayer throughout the nation.” When that day arrived, across the nation special services were held in churches, public buildings were closed, and many businesses were shuttered for the day. Among the many Presbyterian pastors who answered the call to preach that day, the Rev. George Duffield, Jr. began his sermon that day with an overview of the nation’s long tradition of coming before the Lord with humble petitionWhen his sermon was later published, he added a brief Preface. Both the Preface and the sermon introduction are reproduced below.

Rev. Duffield begins:—

The history of this Sermon is a very simple one. The phrase “National Sins” in the President’s Proclamation, suggested an inquiry as to what these sins were? One of the sources of information on this topic, it occurred to us, would be the sermons that had been delivered on other National Fast Days. Many such being just at our hand, we turned them over with no little interest and curiosity. The more we “touched the bones of the prophets,” the more we felt that virtue came out of them.

“Faithful men,” indeed, were these old Fathers, to whom the Gospel in all its relations, both temporal and eternal, might be most safely entrusted! Though a reward was offered for their heads, they preached; though a Tory party in the Church might wish to keep them quiet, still they preached; though their brethren not infrequently found vehement fault with them for so doing, yet, the Word of God “burning like a fire in their bones,” they could not do otherwise than preach. The Chinese idea which so many have been endeavoring to inculcate of late, that “to speak of politics is to be guilty of death,” by such men as Mayhew, Witherspoon, Emmons, &c., would have been laughed to scorn! “Dumb dogs that cannot bark,” could not be said of them, any more than of Calvin, and Knox, and the staunch old English Puritans! Thank God that such men lived on this side of the Atlantic, as well as the other!

There is no excuse for us if we do not try, at least, to imitate their example. If ever the pulpit is to regain that influence which it has lost in our land, it must be by preaching occasionally such sermons as that of Dr. Langdon,* “Governments corrupted by vice, and restored by virtue,” May 31st, 1775, from a favorite text in those times, Isaiah 1:26. “And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning.” As ministers we must study, and quote, and preach upon that other text as often as they did, viz. : Isaiah 40: 12, “The Nation that will not serve Thee, shall perish;” further enforced by Jeremiah 18:3-10. The hitherto unpublished document of the old Chaplain in the Appendix will show how far we have drifted, we greatly fear, in the wrong direction. Stirring times may be before us, and that very speedily; “wherefore, let us gird up the loins of our mind, be sober, and hope to the end!” Should our humble effort in this discourse be of no further service, it may at least save some valuable ministerial time in the way of reference. The man who would write a good religious history of this Nation, could scarcely do his countrymen a better service. Is it yet too late for our American Wilberforce, Theodore Freylinghuysen, to do it?

*See the Pulpit of the American Revolution; or, the Political Sermons of the period of 1776, by John Wingate Thornton, Boston, 1860.

—George Duffield, Jr.

Philadelphia, January 5th, 1861.

THE GOD OF OUR FATHERS.

For the Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying,

Say ye not, A Confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A Confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.
Sanctify the Lord of Hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.
And He shall be for a Sanctuary.” — Isaiah 8:11-14.

Went to church and fasted all day.” Such is the record in the private journal of the great “Father of his Country,” under date of Wednesday, June 1st, A.D., 1774; a day solemnly appointed by the Assembly of Virginia, on hearing of the passage of the Boston Port Bill, “as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, to avert from us the evils of civil war, and to inspire us with firmness in support of our rights.”

A year later, just after the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill, the Old Continental Congress appointed a day of General Fast.

On May 17th, 1776, “which was kept as a national fast, George Duffield, the minister of the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, with John Adams for a listener, drew a parallel between George the First and Pharoah, and inferred that the same Providence of God which had rescued the Israelites, intended to free the Americans.”

Could it have been in remembrance of this day in Old Pine Street [this was the original name of the Third Presbyterian Church], that “unfashionable as the faith in an overruling Providence” then was, this same John Adams was not ashamed to proclaim another National Fast, May 9th, 1798? Was it an evidence of the value of such a day, that even though hostilities had actually commenced between the United States and France, and a vessel of each nation had suffered capture, that such a body of men as the French Directory, so speedily and unexpectedly made overtures of peace, and that of their own accord?

In the fourth year of the second war with Great Britain, the example of John Adams was followed by President Madison, and January 12th, 1815, was recommended by him as a National Fast Day.

Even while the people were yet speaking, He “in whose hand the king’s heart is as the rivers of water; and who turneth it whithersoever he will,” heard their prayer; and only one month after, February 18th, 1815, they received “an answer of peace,” literally, and had the privilege of celebrating a day of National Thanksgiving.

The last two days of this character are within the recollection of nearly all here present, viz. : May 14th, 1841, being the day of national fast recommended by Mr. Tyler, on the decease of President Harrison; and August 3d, 1849, the fast day recommended by President Taylor, that God in mercy would arrest the further progress of the cholera.

Once more, and it may be for the last time, a Proclamation comes from the President of the people of the United States, designating this 4th day of January, 1861, as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, throughout the Union, that God may “remember us as he did our fathers.”

As Presbyterians, we are in no doubt as to the propriety of observing this day. “If at any time,” says our excellent Directory for Worship, “the civil power should think it proper to appoint a fast, it is the duty of the ministers and people of our communion, as we live under a Christian government, to pay all due respect to the same.” We are at no loss as to the manner of observing the day. “There shall be public worship upon all such days, and let the prayers, psalms, portions of Scripture to be read, and sermons, be all in a special manner adapted to the occasion.” As to the character of the prayers and sermon, the book is even more explicit still. “On fast-days let the minister point out the authority and providences calling to the observation thereof; and let him spend a more than usual portion of time, in solemn prayer, particularly confession of sin, especially of the day and place, with their aggravations, which have brought down the judgment of heaven. And let the whole day be spent in deep humiliation and mourning before God.”

Evidently in the minds of those who framed the Constitution of the American Presbyterian Church (adopted in the same year, and framed by some of the same men who framed our National Constitution, now in such imminent danger), the proper observance of such a day as this, both on the part of minister and people, was considered by them one of the most solemn and important duties that could possibly be discharged on earth.

“When the lion roars it becomes us to fear; when God’s hand is lifted up, and he appears about to strike, it is high time for us to strip ourselves of our ornaments, and to lie down in sackcloth and ashes.” As one of the watchmen on the walls of Zion, appointed of the Lord, if appointed at all, in Israel, “to hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me,” I must confess in all sincerity of heart, that never did I enter the House of Prayer on so solemn an occasion as the present—never did I venture to speak under a more tremendous pressure of personal and relative responsibility, to blow the trumpet with no uncertain sound! Business pausing in the midst of the week, and closing her shops, and stores, and factories! Religion throwing open her thousand temples, to invite within them those who believe that “only the omnipotent arm of God can save us from the awful effects of our follies and our crimes;” he only will speak aright at such a time as this, to whom God shall speak “with a strong hand,” and whom he will instruct accordingly. When “the voice of the Lord is upon the waters, and the God of glory thundereth,” all that man can say, is only as the faint echo that dies on the distant shore.

As appropriate to the occasion that has brought us together this morning, I propose, for the most part, in the way of an humble chronicler of the dealings of God with us, in our moral history as a nation, to direct your thoughts,

I. To Our National Mercies.
II. Our National Sins.
III. Our National Judgments.
IV. Our National Position.
V. Our National Duties.

Words to Live By:
Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.” — Isaiah 1:4, KJV.

While we may readily point out the sins of our fathers, were our ancestors alive today, what sins of ours would cause them to cover their faces and despise our claim to be Christians? We have no moral superiority over former generations. If anything, we may be in a far more precarious position. And so as true today as ever, we need humility and repentance as we stand before our Lord. We need to cry out for His mercy and we desperately need the fear of the Lord. We stray so easily, and so repentance must become a daily, even constant discipline. Salvation belongs to the Lord. His blessing is upon His people. On Him we can rely.

 

 

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An Abiding Testimony

What can one person do to stem the tide of evil? What effect can a solitary individual have upon those around them, upon the times and the reigning culture? A great effect, as it turns out, and an abiding testimony, as well, if the Lord is in it. As John Knox said, “A man with God is always in the majority.”

mcleod01Alexander McLeod was born on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, on June 12, 1774, to godly parents. His father, the Rev. Niel McLeod, was a noted pastor in the Church of Scotland, and his mother “a woman of fine mind, solid sense, and fervent piety.” Alexander was among the youngest of twelve children born to this family, eight of whom lived to adulthood.

Devoted to the ministry from his birth, he had already received a competent education by the time that he immigrated to America in the spring of 1792.  Arriving in New York, he moved up along the Hudson to settle in the area near Schenectady, and graduated from Union College in 1798. Here he also joined a Reformed Presbyterian congregation and studied theology under the tutelage of the Rev. James McKinney. He was licensed in 1799, and on the eve of his ordination a year later, was informed that he would be called to a yoked pastorate, to concurrently serve congregations in Coldenham and New York City. But upon hearing that there were slave-holders among the Coldenham congregation, McLeod declared that he would not serve that congregation.

With the matter now brought before the Presbytery, they quickly determined to purge the Reformed Presbyterian section of the Church of the evil of slavery, and enacted a declaration that no slaveholder could be a member in good standing of the denomination. When the Reformed Presbyterian congregation in Rocky Creek, South Carolina, was later informed of the decision, in stunning obedience, they freed their slaves at a cost of not less than three thousand guineas, an amount equal to perhaps $500,000 in today’s value of gold.

For his part, a year or so later, Rev. McLeod wrote an historic explanation and defense of his position in the treatise commonly known as Negro Slavery Unjustifiable.  And his stand against slavery continued to ripple down through history. While Rev. McLeod died in New York on February 17, 1833—the same year that the Reformed Presbyterians split into New Light and Old Light factions—both sides of the split continued to uphold his testimony. Reformed Presbyterians of both stripes were active in opposing slavery and both were active participants with the underground railroad before and during the War.

Some years later, the Old Light “Covenanters” (as they were also known), established a bi-racial church in Selma, Alabama, with an attached school for African Americans. Both the church and Knox Academy continue to this day. Lawrence Bottoms, a covenant child of this church, grew up to become the first African American moderator of General Assembly in the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern Presbyterian). More recently, a seminary extension work has also begun at this location.

Words to Live By:
In Christ alone, God has given His children everything they need to live lives of righteousness and courage (Romans 8:31-39). We are called to stand for the truth, and to stand against sin, regardless of the cost. We are called to trust God for the results. It is only as we live in this way that we can be assured of having an abiding testimony before all the world. Remember, “A man with God is always in the majority.”

For Further Reading:
Memoir of Alexander McLeod, by Samuel B. Wylie (1855). Chapter four of this work tells more of the story about Rev. McLeod’s stand against slavery.
The McLeod Family Papers are preserved at the University of Delaware.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Understanding the Covenanters

The young man needed a service project for his church or community to become an Eagle Scout.  What Nathaniel Pockras of Ohio eventually chose and finished will be of great service not only to the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America ministers and members, but also to historic Presbyterians in general.  He printed on-line the 788 pages of the Rev. W. Melancthon Glasgow’s History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, which was long out of print and extremely rare for any current minister or member to own one.

The original book was written with the approval of the Reformed Presbyterian Synod of America and by a resolution passed in its Session at Newburg, New York on June 8, 1887.  It was copyrighted by the author in 1888.  Its subtitle was “with sketches of all her ministers, congregations, missions, institutions, publications. etc, and embellished with over fifty portraits and engravings.”  Who said long titles are not in vogue?

Reader, you don’t have to worry.  I am not going to suggest that you read this huge book as part of this day’s devotion.  But to the history buffs among you, you know that elements of the Scotch Covenanters can be found among the  Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., Presbyterian Church in America, and the Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, to say nothing of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.  So there is profit here for your reading, particularly if you are a pastor or member in one of the above denominations.

How many of you know that Covenanter slaves were sent to these colonies, with conditions on the slave ships as bad as those which brought the Africans to our shores?  Rev. Glasglow brings you the background of that story now long forgotten by most Christians in the United States. In fact, it was that sorry history which caused the Reformed Presbyterian Church to be the first Presbyterian denomination which condemned slavery in our land. [See for instance Negro Slavery Unjustifiable, by Alexander McLeod]

The presence of banished Covenanter slaves in the colonies alongside those of the black race stolen from Africa have another possibility beyond those mentioned here.  This prompts us to ask where did the old negro spirituals arise from? They did not come from pagan Africa, that is for sure.  Did the circumstances of their plight in the American colonies as slaves come face to face sovereignly with the Light of the World, even Jesus?  Certainly, that took place.  But Jock Purves, in his book, Fair Sunshine, published by Banner of Truth Trust, writes of another possibility, when he says,  “there are seeming traces of time and melody  in these lovely spirituals which are reminiscent of the music of the old metrical Psalm-singing.” (page 49)  Did banished men and women of  Covenanter stock carry the gospel of redeeming love in both words and music to their companions in hard labor among the African slaves? (italics that of the author) It is an interesting thought. [For more on this theory, see the work of Yale professor Willie Ruff.]

And while Covenanters rose to grapple with the issues of the American Revolution and supported the fight for independence, do you realize that they did not accept the Constitution of the United States because it nowhere spoke of the kingship of Jesus Christ as Lord of this nation? For many years afterwards, Reformed Presbyterians would not vote, serve on juries, or held office. Only slowly did they moderate those convictions, at least in terms of practical outworkings.

Are you also aware of the fact that in their worship, they only sing the psalms without musical accompaniment? To their spiritual benefit, the local congregations of several other Presbyterian denominations have included RPCNA Psalters as an additional hymnbook in their pew racks. The PCA’s own Psalter is itself a cooperative work based in large part upon the RPCNA Psalter.

Words to Live By: While a small denomination, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America continues to have a vital place in the American Presbyterian tradition. Let us pray that their “tribe may increase,” for that can only be of benefit to us all.

Through the Scriptures: Proverbs 25 – 28

Through the Standards:  Proof texts of assurance of grace and salvation

2 Timothy 1:12
” . . .for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” (NASB)

1 John 3:14
“We know that we have passed out of death unto life, because we love the brethren.” (NASB)

 Romans 8:16, 17
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ. . . .” (NASB)

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