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Back When Presbyterians Seemed to Run Everything

Dartmouth College, located in Hanover, New Hampshire, was founded in December of 1769 (We will mention in passing that Samuel Miller was born that same year, less than two months earlier). Eleazar Wheelock served as the first president of the school and when he died in 1779, his son John Wheelock took up the mantle and served as the second president of Dartmouth. From there, the succeeding list of presidents came to be known as the “Wheelock Succession.”

Francis Brown was next called from his church in North Yarmouth, Maine, serving as the third president (1815-1820), during a particularly interesting crisis for the school. It was at this time that a legal challenge to the school arose, eventually coming before the Supreme Court. This was the famous Dartmouth College Case:

“The contest was a pivotal one for Dartmouth and for the newly independent nation. It tested the contract clause of the Constitution and arose from an 1816 controversy involving the legislature of the state of New Hampshire, which amended the 1769 charter granted to Eleazar Wheelock, making Dartmouth a public institution and changing its name to Dartmouth University. Under the leadership of President Brown, the Trustees resisted the effort and the case for Dartmouth was argued by Daniel Webster before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the historic decision in favor of Dartmouth College, thereby paving the way for all American private institutions to conduct their affairs in accordance with their charters and without interference from the state.”

But the whole affair was taxing and Rev. Brown died at the young age of 35. His successor, the Rev. Daniel Dana, lasted just one year before he too was worn out and resigned the post. Bennet Tyler and Nathan Lord, the next two presidents, faired better. While Tyler served just four years, Nathan Lord’s term as president ran from 1828 to 1863. His term might have run longer, but as events unfolded in the 1860’s, the Trustees of Dartmouth were forced to finally deal with the fact that the school’s president was a strong pro-slavery advocate.

smith_asa_dodgeSo it was that in 1863, the Rev. Asa Dodge Smith became the seventh president of Dartmouth College. Inaugurated on this day, November 18, in 1863, he served as president until his death on August 16, 1877, at the age of 73.

Asa Dodge Smith was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on September 21, 1804, the son of Dr. Roger and Sally (Hodge) Smith. He was himself a graduate of Dartmouth College (1830), and in the year or so following graduation he worked as the principal of an academy in Limerick, Maine. Preparing to enter the ministry, he studied at Andover Theological Seminary and graduated there in 1834. He was then ordained and installed as pastor of what was then the Brainerd Presbyterian church (later renamed as the 14th Street Presbyterian church) in New York City. Rev. Smith also served as a professor of pastoral theology at the Union Theological Seminary, NY, 1843-1844.

From here, the history states that,

“After the forced resignation of Nathan Lord in 1863 over his support for slavery, the Trustees wanted a more conservative president to take his place. As a preacher for 29 years at the 14th Street Presbyterian Church in New York City, Asa Dodge had developed a reputation as a religious man with abolitionist beliefs.

“Smith’s presidency was a period of great growth for the College, including the establishment of two new schools within Dartmouth. The New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts, later moved to Durham, New Hampshire and renamed the University of New Hampshire, was originally founded in Hanover in 1866. One year later, the Thayer School of Engineering was founded. Over the course of his presidency, enrollment at the College was more than doubled, the number of scholarships increased from 42 to 103, and Dartmouth benefitted from several important bequests.”

Some of the honors conferred on the Rev. Asa Dodge Smith during his lifetime included the Doctor of Divinity degree, awarded by Williams College in 1849, and from the University of New York he received the Doctor of Letters degree in 1854. It was also during his tenure that the school celebrated its centennial anniversary, a momentous time nearly ruined by an unexpected thunderstorm. But ultimately the affair was not ruined for the participants, with attendees including Supreme Court Justice Salmon P. Chase, from the Class of 1826, and U.S. General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Words to Live By:
Perhaps covenant faithfulness is the lesson to take away from this account. A life lived apparently without amazing exploits or heart-rending stories, but lived faithfully before the Lord, using his God-given gifts and talents to the best of his ability, and all for the glory of God. So too most Christians live fairly average lives, undistinguished except for this one vital thing: Because of the finished cross-work of Jesus Christ, each one of His blood-bought children stands in a living, vital relationship with the God of creation, the Lord of all glory. On the surface, our lives may seem quite average, but the reality is far more exciting, far more glorious than even we can imagine.

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William Morrison, a son of Daniel and Janette (McFarland) Morrison, was born in Perthshire, Scotland, in the year 1748. Raised in near poverty, William overcame difficult circumstances to obtain a good education and eventually was able to prepare for the ministry, studying under the guidance of the Rev. Robert Annan, who was then living near Philadelphia.

By God’s providence, Rev. Morrison came to be the pastor of the congregation in Londonderry, New Hampshire, being installed as their pastor in 1783. And here he remained till the close of his life. Some eight days before his death, he preached a funeral sermon for a member of his congregation, preaching on the text of Psalm 39:4, “Lord, make me to know mine end.” The next week, while visiting a nearby school, he became ill. Then within a few days, the illness turned grave and it was apparent that the end was near. “On Sabbath morning, he said to his wife—’You know that the Sabbath has always been my best day, and my employment then my best employment. But this is the last Sabbath I shall spend on earth. In a short time, I shall be spending an everlasting Sabbath.’ He added with a smile,—’Will not that be a blessed exchange?’ Late that same day, he died, just as the words “Come, come, Lord Jesus,” had passed from his lips,—on March 9, 1818, at the age of seventy.

In his funeral sermon, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Dana said of Rev. Morrision:

“Dr. Morrison ranked well with the excellent preachers of his day. It was in the pulpit that his perceptions, his acquisitions, and the energies of his mind had full scope, and the affections of his heart poured themselves forth in a tide of devout and benevolent feeling. His sermons were full of Gospel truth; were luminous and instructive; faithful and searching; awfully alarming to the wicked, yet encouraging to the sincere, and tenderly consoling to the mourner in Zion. His prayers were no less impressive than his sermons. Replete with reverence and affectionate devotion; the breathings of a soul apparently in near communion with God; full yet concise; adapted to occasions and circumstances; they could scarcely fail to impress and edify the hearers. His manner in the pulpit was peculiar. It had something of patriarchal simplicity; something of apostolic gravity and authority. Yet it was mild, affectionate and persuasive. It indicated a mind absorbed in Heavenly things, deeply conscious of its awful charge, and anxiously intent to fasten eternal truths on the hearts and consciences of men.”

“As a Pastor, Dr. Morrison was faithful, assiduous and tender; instant in season and out of season; watching for souls as one that must give account; and finding his delight in the discharge of the most laborious and exhausting duties of his office. Little did he spare himself, even in those closing years of life, in which his emaciated form proclaimed the ravages of disease; and infirmity, combined with age, seemed to demand repose. Without exaggeration, it may be said that he was truly the father of his beloved people. He rejoiced in their joys, sympathized in their sorrows, counseled in their perplexities, adapted himself to their infirmities, and, without sacrificing dignity, or independence, or faithfulness, ‘became all things to all men.’ that he might promote their spiritual good.”

Words to Live By:
It has been said that pastors are often a good mirror of the congregation they serve.
Lord, give us pastors with hearts that burn with the Gospel of grace, who long to serve Your people, to see them raised up in greater maturity in Christ as Savior and Lord. But first, Lord, make us to be a people who hunger and thirst after the righteousness which is found in Christ alone.

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A Faithful Pastor, Serving the Lord in all humility.

Just ten years ago now, the Rev. Lawrence R. Eyres entered his eternal rest on this day, January 23, 2003, at the age of 91. Lawrence was born on an Iowa farm on November 14, 1911, raised by godly parents during the Depression, was educated at Wheaton College (1934) and prepared for the ministry at Westminster Theological Seminary (1937).

In 1936 he had become one of the founding members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and following his graduation from Westminster, was ordained in 1938 and installed as pastor the OPC church in Deerfield, New Hampshire. Moving to the other side of the nation, his next pastorate was in Portland, Oregon, and then in 1958 Rev. Eyres became the pastor of what is now Faith Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Long Beach, California, a church founded in April of 1941. The Rev. Lawrence Eyres was the third pastor of this congregation, and the church grew greatly, numbering some 500 members growing in grace under his ministry. In 1970, Rev. Eyres left Faith OPC and worked to plant churches in Ohio, South Dakota, Alaska and Wisconsin before retiring in 1993.

Among the honors accorded Rev. Eyres during his long ministry, he served as Moderator of the OPC General Assembly in 1950, and he is perhaps most remembered for The Elders of the Church, a work which has proven to be of great use. To read a review of this book, click here.

Of Rev. Eyres, one obituary noted that “Lawrence was a gentle, gracious man, who loved His Lord and loved people, whose life’s work is summed-up by the word “pastor” – stalwart for the truth of the Bible as God’s Word, vigorous in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, committed to the truths of the Reformed faith, and sacrificial in giving his life to Christ’s Church.

Words to Live By: Alongside humility, love and a heart for the truth of God’s Word, self-sacrifice is a quality essential in the life of anyone who would seek to live out their Christian life in way that would matter. Give me a pastor who will expend himself on behalf of his flock. Give me Christians who will live sacrificially, giving freely of themselves to others, not holding back when they see a need that must be filled.

For Further Study:
Click here to read an article by Rev. Eyres, “Live in the Fear of God.”

Sources:
http://eyres.home.texas.net/bios/scrapbook/LawrenceREyres.htm
http://eyres.home.texas.net/bios/LawrenceEyres.htm
http://www.faithopc.org/our-history/

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This Day in Presbyterian History: June 24 

An Honest Man was His Epitaph

He was the fifty-fifth delegate to sign the Declaration of Independence, even though he signed the historic document  three months after July 4, 1776.  He was a Presbyterian, and a faithful member of the Presbyterian Church of Londonderry, New Hampshire.  He was in local, state, and Federal governments, serving his fellow citizens.  But beyond all these kudos, it was said that he was “consistent and zealous Christian.”  He was Matthew Thornton.

Born in Ireland of Scottish ancestry, from the northern Ireland Protestant section of that country, Matthew Thornton was brought to this country by his parents at the age of three.  Settling in what later on became Maine, God’s providence preserved them from hostile Indian attacks.  Once, his parents and Matthew had to flee a burning cabin to save their lives.  They all moved to Worcester, Massachusetts.  Later they moved to Londonderry, New Hampshire in 1740, where Matthew would live for the next four decades.

Studying medicine there, Matthew Thornton became a successful physician.  Even through this, he served his country, accompanying New Hampshire militia as they fought the French.  In other regiments, death came heavily through fighting and disease, but in Dr. Thornton’s regiment, only six soldiers lost their life in the campaign, due to the skill of this man.

With the rise of the American Independence movement, he entered politics, but not in a way so as to divorce his biblical background.  He would serve in local and state government, as justice of the peace, chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and a member of the Second,  Third,  Fourth and Fifth Provincial Congress.  In fact, he was the President of the last Provincial Congress.

Elected next to the Continental Congress, he went to Philadelphia where on November 4, 1776,  he signed the Declaration of Independence.  He served his one year but refused a second year in the national body.

As a Christian, it has been said that “no man was more deeply impressed with a belief in the existence and bounties of an overruling Providence” than Matthew Thornton.  He used Providence as a synonym of God here, as many of our forefathers did.

Married to Hannah Jack, the union produced five children.  He died on June 24, 1803.  Upon his grave stone is the epitaph, “An Honest Man.”

Words to Live By: As the country approached war with England, Thomas Thornton wrote a letter to all the citizens of New Hampshire, telling them that they needed to come together as Christians and rest upon their faith.   The separation of church from state did not mean separation of the state from the God of the Bible.  We must be diligent to interpret that familiar expression in the right sense of which it was understood by our forefathers.

Through the Scriptures: 2 Kings 7 – 10

Through the Standards: Preface to the Ten Commandments

WLC 101  — “What is the preface to the ten commandments?
A. The preface to the ten commandments is contained in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of  the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  Wherein God manifests his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God; having his being in and of himself, and giving being to all his words and works: and that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people; who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivers us from our spiritual thraldom; and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments.”

WSC 43 — “What is the preface to the ten commandments?
A. The preface to the ten commandments is in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” ; S.C. 44 “The preface to the ten commandments teaches us, That because God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments.”

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