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He Preached His Own Funeral Sermon
by Rev. David T. Myers

Rev. Samuel Davies [3 November 1723 - 4 February 1761]Subscribers to This Day in Presbyterian History, are familiar with our character today, namely, the Rev. Samuel Davies. If we would sum up his life and ministry, the following titles would adequately describe him: Presbyterian pastor, who in the early days of this country, before it was a country, rode a circuit of five hundred miles through forests and fields ministering to the hearts of saved and unsaved alike; church planter, the first non-Anglican minister in Virginia; hymn writer, author of “Great God of Wonders!” on page 82 of the red Trinity Hymnal, evangelist, defender of persons and places, being described at the best recruiter of the “military” in the French and Indian War; and yes, president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University and Seminary) in May 1759.

This last post of ministry, Samuel Davies, was most reluctant to take. It would mean giving up his scattered but effective ministry to the people of Virginia, especially at Polegreen Presbyterian Church in Virginia. Biblical Presbyterianism was just beginning to get a toe-hold in that area. Frankly, Virginia Presbyterians were not of the opinion that he should give up the fields which were white unto harvest. But he was convinced by the board of trustees of this young Presbyterian college to take the position. They saw that God has bestowed, as it was said then by one trustee, “prodigious, uncommon gifts” upon Samuel Davies. And so He had. Samuel Davies took reluctantly the position, though not a well man. Two years later, on February 4, 1761, Samuel Davies would entered heaven’s gates to receive his rewards.

But where does our title enter into the picture, you ask? Well, Samuel Davies did preach his own funeral sermon. It was on January 1, 1761 that Samuel Davies preached a sermon in Princeton, New Jersey on New Year’s day from Jeremiah 28:16, entitled “This Very Year You Are Going to Die!” And thirty-five days later, he did die on this day, February 4, 1761.

A few excerpts from that sermon, which is on-line, are important to recount, for they speak of the fervor of the gospel sermon which for all practical purposes was for himself, though unknown by him at the time. He preached on that Lord’s Day in Princeton, New Jersey,

“While we are entering into the threshold of a new year, it may be proper for us to stand, and pause, and take a serious view of the occurrences that may happen to us this year – that we may be prepared to meet them. Future contingencies are indeed unknown to us; and this ignorance is as agreeable to our present state, and as conducive to our improvement and happiness – as our knowledge of the things which it concerns us to know. But though we cannot predict to ourselves the particular events that may befall us – yet the events of life in general, in a vague indeterminate view, are not so contingent and unknowable as to leave no room for rationale suppositions, and probably expectations”

In the sixth paragraph of his sermon, Samuel Davies goes on to say, “Yes, it is highly probably, that if some prophet, like Jeremiah, should open to us the book of the divine decrees, one or another of us would there see our sentence, and the time of its execution fixed! ‘Thus says the Lord – This very year you are going to die!’”

In thirty-five days, after only two years as president of what later became Princeton University and Seminary, at the age of 37, Samuel Davies died! In a way, he preached his very own funeral sermon on that first day in 1761.

Words to Live By:
None of our readers, nor your two authors, like to think of this solemn and unchangeable event, but it is, as the Lord states, appointed unto us to die at some day at our Lord’s choosing. Far better for us to prepare for this eventuality, by first making sure that we have received by faith alone the Lord Jesus and His accomplished work on the cross for us. And then, in appreciation of that great salvation, seek while we are on this earth to buy up every opportunity for the Lord’s service, whether in the home, church, and/or society, by being the salt of the earth and shining the gospel light upon the spiritually dark world.(Matthew 5:13 – 16)

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The Means for Revival at a Presbyterian College
by Rev. David T. Myer

Ashbel Green [1762-1848]In the Life of Ashbel Green, available on-line, we have a summary of the means of a biblical revival which took place at the College of New Jersey, of which Ashbel Green was its president. Prior to this revival, only twelve students out of one hundred and five were counted as professors of the Christian faith in the college. The report to the trustees of the college is too long to be reproduced here, but a succinct summary can be given to the divine means used, which means are remarkably up-to-date for professing Christians in our day and age. They are:

          1. The revival came “chiefly, in the study of Scriptures,” which were “accompanied with comments on the portion read, and a practical application of the leading truths contained in it.”

          2. Dr. Green continued to write that “under the divine blessing, it has served to enlighten and instruct the youth in their duty; it has rendered their minds solemn and tender beyond what they were themselves aware of at the time, it has given them a deep reverence for the truth of divine revelation, it has gratified them to hear preaching with advantage, and at length, revealed truth has, we trust, been powerfully and effectually applied to their consciences, by the Spirit . . . .

          3. The Presbyterian clergyman/college president went on to write of “their attendance at public worship” for the second means, as “favorable to their religious improvement.” He went on to state “the modes of conducting public worship must be considered as being a powerful instrumental cause, both in producing an awakened attention to religion at first, and in cherishing it through the whole of its progress.

          4. The effect of moral discipline, Dr. Green observed in this report to the trustees, “has been manifestly favorable to this revival.” Evidently, three students had been dismissed from the student body for conduct unbecoming to the biblical base of the college. The effect of that was used by the Spirit of God to impress upon the students the importance of godly living.

          5. Lastly, Dr. Green commends the few pious youth (remember only 12 students in the whole college) who prayed for revival and then happily sought to impress upon their fellow students the claims of Christian living upon their lives.

The entire report is a remarkable survey of revival in the early eighteen hundreds at this Presbyterian college. What stands out to this author is that there is nothing new under the sun, so to speak, for their day or for ours. All of our Presbyterian entities – colleges, seminaries, local churches, sessions, boards of deacons, presbyteries, and yes, even general assemblies, have access to the same means mentioned in this report to the college trustees.

Words to Live By:
The Psalmist David gave us our marching orders via a prayer for revival of ourselves and those of our relationships in Psalm 85:6 “Will You not Yourself revive us again, That Your people may rejoice in You?” Personalize this text . . . by praying it for yourself, for your family, for your local congregation, for your Presbytery, and yes, for your General Assembly!

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The First American Chaplain to Die in the Service of his Country.

An Irish immigrant, John Rosbrugh was born in 1714, came to the colonies in 1735 with his brother and sister, and married at the young age of 19, only to suffer the deaths of his first wife and infant child just a year later. The next several decades are a mystery, though when his brother William and his wife died, John became guardian of their three children, and these years were likely spent seeing them safely to adulthood.

But by the early 1760’s, John had begun to pursue a calling to the Gospel ministry. He studied theology privately under the Rev. John Blair, then pastor of the Presbyterian church at Fagg’s Manor, PA. He was licensed by the Presbytery of New Brunswick in 1763 and ordained in 1764, installed as pastor of three small congregations. During these years, he married his second wife and to this marriage were born five children. Then in 1772, he answered a call to serve the Presbyterian church in Allentown, New Jersey.

But Rev. Rosbrugh is remembered in history as the first chaplain to give his life in the service of his country, when he was killed during a portion of the crucial military campaign that first involved Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River. Accounts of Rev. Rosbrugh’s death vary, but the most reliable one states that:

“…there was perhaps some confusion in the haste with which General Washington withdrew his army to the south side of the Assunpink [river], when Cornwallis marched into the town. In the haste and confusion that January 2nd, 1777, it seems Rev. Rosbrugh lingered behind the rest of his comrades. Seemingly not fully conscious of the dangers which surrounded him, he remained too long in the town before seeking a place of greater safety with the army beyond the Assunpink. He came to a pub in the city of Trenton. As night was drawing on, he tied his horse under a shed and entered the house to obtain some refreshments. While at the table, he was alarmed to hear the cry “The Hessians are coming!” Hastening out, he found that his horse had been stolen. Hurrying to make his escape, he found that one avenue after another was blocked. He then turned back into a grove of trees, where he was met by a small company of Hessians under the command of a British officer. Seeing that further attempt at escape was useless, he surrendered himself a prisoner of war. Having done so, he offered to his captors his gold watch and money if they would spare his life for his family’s sake. Notwithstanding these were taken, they immediately prepared to put him to death. Seeing this, he knelt down at the foot of a tree and, it is said, prayed for his enemies.” No sooner had he finished praying than he was murdered on the spot. “So died the ‘CLERICAL MARTYR OF THE REVOLUTION,’ at the age of sixty-three, upon a spot not trodden by the busy multitude, and forgotten amid the hum and bustle of commercial life in Trenton.”

“As the shades of that cold and dreary winter evening settled down upon the sad scene, his body lay in the icy embrace of death. The British officer at whose command he had been put to death, repaired to the pub which Mr. Rosbrugh had so recently left, and there exhibited the dead Chaplain’s watch, and boasted that he had killed a rebel parson. The woman of the house having known Mr. Rosbrugh, and recognizing the watch, said: “You have killed that good man, and what a wretched thing you have done for his helpless family this day.” The enraged officer, threatening to kill her if she continued her reproaches, ran away as if afraid of pursuit.”

Such is the account (gently edited) found in John Clyde’s biography, Rosbrugh: A Tale of the Revolution. (Easton: 1880). [available on the Web at http://archive.org/details/cu31924032738407]

Again, the fog of war still clouds much about about the death of Rev. Rosbrugh. The ferocity of his murder, historian William Dwyer contends, may be explained in that he was captured not far from Princeton, where the College of New Jersey was located, and that Rev. Rosbrugh may have been mistaken for the Rev. John Witherspoon, a man who was greatly hated by the Royalists and who had been recently burned in effigy by British troops.  [See Dwyer, William M., The Day is Ours! An Inside View of the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, November 1776-January 1777. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 1998, page 323.]

There is also a good deal of mystery as to where exactly Rev. Rosbrugh was buried. One grave established in his memory can be viewed here.

Words to Live By: Surely our times are in His hands. Which is to say, our lives are under the sovereign guidance of our Lord, and not one of His children ever dies a moment before God allows. This Scriptural truth affords the Christian great courage at times when others may faint away. At the same time, this fact does not mean that we can tempt God (Mt. 4:7). We should never act in a foolhardy way. In the end, Rev. Rosbrugh may have simply been careless and not kept his wits about him, at a time when he should have remained particularly alert. Each of our actions and choices will have consequences. The spiritual application should be obvious. As Christians, we are engaged in a spiritual battle: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, KJV). Learn the discipline of confessing your sins promptly, in sincere repentance and stay close to the Lord, day by day. The only safe place is by His side.

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Sermon At A Service of Installation

greenWH_1856_missionIt was on this day, December 30th, in 1856, that the Rev. Dr. William Henry Green brought a sermon on the occasion of the installation of Rev. Heman R. Timlow, as pastor of the Harris Street Presbyterian Church, Newburyport, Massachusetts. Rev. Timlow had been called to serve this church following the resignation of the Rev. W.W. Eels in March the year prior. All of which is admittedly a rather obscure set of facts and we might honestly wonder why it should merit our attention?

Among Presbyterians, the installation of a pastor remains to this day a service carried out in much the same way. So for one, if we were to look for a model for such an occasion, then here is one example. Moreover, we have here a sermon by an admittedly brilliant young man, at a point early in his remarkable career.

There is also the contrast of the youth of Dr. Green [1825-1900], just 31 years old when he served at the installation of this new pastor, compared with the advanced age of Rev. Dana, then near the end of his life yet still faithfully serving the Lord’s people at this installation. Dr. Green came from a long line of Presbyterians, among them, Jonathan Dickinson, first president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). Green had graduated from Princeton Seminary in 1846, was ordained in 1848, and following a brief pastorate in Philadelphia, was installed in 1851 as professor of Biblical and Oriental Literature at the Princeton Theological Seminary. He remained a professor there until his death in 1900.  Rev. Daniel Dana [1771-1859] as noted was near the end of his life, having long served the Presbyterian churches of Newburyport. It was Rev. Dana who had asked Dr. Green to bring the installation sermon on this occasion. Rev. Dana then brought the charge to the pastor. Others serving at this installation included the Rev. John Pike, of Rowley, who brought the charge to the people; and the Rev. A.G. Vermilye, of Newburyport, who extended the right hand of fellowship.

But the primary value of this sermon remains the message itself, as brought by Dr. Green that day. For his message, he chose the text of Luke 4: 18-19 :

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

By the standards of that era, Green’s message is rather brief, taking up just 12-1/2 pages in print. Many of his peers would typically produce similar sermons of twenty pages or more. But length is no judge of quality, and Green is succinct for a purpose, and from a pastoral standpoint, could be seen as a hallmark of his long career at Princeton Seminary, indicative of the heart of his ministry.

The above text, as Dr. Green states in the opening of his sermon, contains an exposition of Christ’s earthly mission. It is the commission which He received from the Father and it is the reason why He was anointed with the Spirit above measure. It comprises the errand upon which He came into the world. And so, to give a glimpse of his sermon, here below are a few choice portions:—

“The mission of the Savior was to preach the Gospel to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And yet when He ascended to the Father, He left behind Him a world still unreconciled to God, still in its pollution, misery and sin. It was filled still with poor to whom no glad tidings had been carried, with captives whose prison doors were barred as tightly, whose fetters were as galling and whose miserable dungeons were as dark and cheerless as ever; with the broken hearted to whom no voice of the comforter had spoken relief, and with the blind whose sight was as far as ever from being removed. But judge not from this that His errand was was abortive and His work a failure.”

“The work of the world’s recovery was not one begun in a moment and ended in a moment. As there was a protracted period of preparation reaching through many ages and employing various and potent instrumentalities before He came; so there is needed a protracted period for that scheme which He set in operation and which He still conducts and superintends, to work out its expected and certain consummation. The whole might have been accomplished in an instant had the almighty grace of God so chosen; and the moment of Christ’s triumphant resurrection from the grave might have been signalized by the complete ingathering and perfect sanctification of all God’s elect people, by the utter overthrow of Satan’s baleful empire, and by the entire and final banishment from earth of sin and its accursed effects. And so, had God chosen, the world might have been created in a moment, and all its forms of beauty and its innumerable orders of creatures sprung instantaneously into being, instead of being gradually evolved through six successive days. But thus God did not work in creation; nor did He in redemption.”

“To what has been said it may be still further added, that the verses before us are descriptive of the mission of the church of God, as composed of those who have embraced this precious system of saving truth, and stand as its embodiment, its representatives and its champions before the world. . . .Every one who has received the gospel of God’s grace into his soul, is not only one redeemed from the power of the enemy, but one commissioned to ransom others; not only one upon whom the balm of Gilead has begun its work of cure; but a physician, a healer of the hurts and maladies of others; not only a captive loosed from bonds, but set to the work of breaking the chains of those who wear them still. Every Christian is not a mere passive recipient of the truth and of its saving benefits, but in his measure and according to his station, opportunity and ability, he is set for its defence and propagation. He is a light kindled that it may shine—salt put into the mass for the preservation of the whole. The gospel is given to the church of God to spread it and apply it everywhere. . . It is a work of solemn obligation; and to every Christian unemployed in this his bounden duty, comes his Savior’s reproving voice—’why stand ye all the day idle? go, work in my vineyard.’ “

Words to Live By:
The call of the Gospel is a call to real action here and now. Christ saved us that we might bear fruit—that we might live out the life of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and so be used of Him to draw others into His kingdom. For one, as Dr. Green is careful to point out elsewhere in his sermon,

“. . . there is no warrant for restricting the redeeming virtue of the gospel solely to what is spiritual and eternal, and excluding from the sphere of its potency that which is temporal; or rather since it is expressly declared, that godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come,—as the gospel is capable of undoing and was intended to undo all the mischiefs of the fall, and to banish suffering and sorrow from this present world as well as deliver from it in the next, the church is God’s grand engine of philanthropy. There is not a question bearing on man’s amelioration, individual, social or national, in which the church has not an interest, and in whose solution she should not take her share. There is not a cry of distress, that may be suffered to break upon her ear unregarded. She carries in her hand the potent remedy; and she may not, through her culpable inactivity or through her criminal lack of faith in its sovereign efficacy, keep back from suffering men, what Christ has charged her as His almoner with bestowing upon them. She must hold up the gospel which she has received, before the eyes of men, as God’s appointed cure for all the evils that are in the world. Nor may she content herself with the mere propounding of its abstract principles, nor with the diligent application of it to one class of man’s disorders; as though her caring for one part of her commanded work absolved her from the rest,—as though by caring for men’s eternal, she was absolved from all regard for their temporal interests,—as though after proffering eternal salvation to men, she was thenceforward discharged from further care for them, and might shut up her bowels of compassion from her suffering and needy brother. . . . She must not only hold up the gospel in one of its aspects, but hold it up in all,—not only state its principles but search out and exhibit its applications. ” 

 A print copy of the above sermon may be found preserved at the PCA Historical Center. Or more conveniently, it may be found on the Web by clicking here.

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Despite Your Weaknesses—Often Because of Your Weaknesses—God Can Use You.   

It has always been an issue with some of the covenant people of God that they often cannot relate a particular time when they came to a saving relationship with Christ.  Such was the case with a young man by the name of Eleazer Whittlesey, who moved from Bethlem, Connecticut, to Pennsylvania in the mid 1700’s.

We don’t know much about his background, either his parents or what spiritual influences he had from any church.  He showed up to meet Aaron Burr in Newark, New Jersey by a recommendation from a man named Ballamy.  The infant and later Princeton Seminary was located there, with Pastor Burr as its second president.  The latter clergyman noted that he was “not converted in the way” that many of the Presbyterian clergy of his day thought was necessary.  In fact, President Burr spoke of  having “some doubt” of  his spiritual experience.  He went on to state that “he has met with others of God’s dear people, who cannot tell of such a particular submission as we have insisted on, though the substance of the thing may be found in all.”  However, Rev. Burr placed Eleazar under his pastoral care and believed that he was making good progress in learning.  He ended his thoughts by stating that “I trust the Lord has work for him to do.”

Seven years later, Eleazer would graduate from Nassau Hall in Princeton, New Jersey, to which the new college has moved.  He was licensed by the New Castle Presbytery soon afterwards.  We could find no record of his ordination however.  In 1750, he began to supply vacancies, of which there were many at this time in American Presbytery history.  Yet while  doing that “with zeal and integrity,” Eleazer complained of “melancholy”  which kept  him from being able to study or make preparation for sermons in the pulpit.  His days, he acknowledged, were often spent in “painful idleness.”

In 1751, Whittlesey settled in what is now York County, Pennsylvania, where  he began to preach in a log church in Muddy Run.  Faithful in labor in all the neighboring settlements, it was said that he formed the Slate Ridge and Chanceford Presbyterian churches, composed of Scots-Irish  people.

In 1752, he left a pastor’s house one cold day to travel to the Muddy Run church.  On the way, he became ill with pleurisy, and died about a week later on December 21, 1752.  His last words were “O  Lord, leave me not.”

Words to Live By: We remember the apostle Paul who had “a thorn in the flesh,” and prayed earnestly that it might depart from him. ( 2 Corinthians 12:78)  God answered his request with the word “My grace is sufficient for you, for power in perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor 12;9) God can use us for His kingdom despite our bodily and mental weaknesses.   Remember that, Christian.

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Sinners Were Converted and Saints Were Edified Under His Ministry

Like his brother Samuel, John Blair was also born in Ireland.  Coming to the American colonies, he was ordained in 1742 as the pastor of two Presbyterian churches filled with Scot-Irish Presbyterians in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. During his ministry here, he made two evangelistic tours to Virginia where he preached with great power. Presbyterian congregations were organized as a result.

In 1748, despite organized armed resistance against marauding Indians, he was forced for the safety of his family to depart back to the eastern section of Pennsylvania.  While there, he received a call as the second pastor of Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, where his brother Samuel had both ministered and organized a classical Christian school.

When John Witherspoon hesitated to take the president’s office of the College of New Jersey, John Blair was appointed a Professor of Divinity and Moral Philosophy in 1767.  Indeed, as the Office of the President continued to be vacant, he stepped in as President of the college. But upon Witherspoon’s agreement to come to America and take the leadership of the College of New Jersey, Blair graciously stepped down.  Moving to New York, he died on December 8, 1771.

It was said of John Blair that as a result of his zealousness in the gospel, sinners were converted and the family of God edified. What more of a testimony could a Christian and a Christian minister desire than this?

Words to live by:
It is frequently the case when you have a theologian, there is a lack of experiential witness to the world at large. His ministry is in his study or in the classroom, not out on the highways and byways of life. Or, by contrast, you might have an individual who is absolutely powerful in persuasion of the hearts and minds of those outside of Christ, but who would never get into the deep things of theology. John Blair had both abilities in his life and ministry.  As a theologian, he was not inferior to any of his day.  As a pastor, he addressed souls with that warmth and power which left a witness to the truth of the gospel. Each Christian is to seek his or her calling so as to be a witness in whatever place the Holy Spirit sends them.  And if it is to the intellectual as well as to common people, so much the more is God glorified.

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A Christian Patriot Who Suffered During the American Revolution

We are more apt to recognize the New Jersey delegates like the Rev. John Witherspoon, or maybe Richard Stockton, as signers of the Declaration of Independence. But joining them was one Abraham Clark.

Born February 15, 1726 in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, his family was solid Presbyterians in their denominational affiliation. Baptized as an infant by the Rev. Jonathan Dickinson, first professor of the College of New Jersey, he grew up in the thrilling but dangerous days of increasing agitation of separation from England. With his inclination to study civil law and mathematics, he became known to his neighbors. Popular as “the poor man’s counselor,” he refused to accept any pay for his helpfulness to his neighbors. He further served them as High Sheriff of Essex County.

But it was as a member of the Continental Congress on June 21, 1776, that he became interested in the issues of liberty and justice. Penning his name to the Declaration of Independence, representing New Jersey, he states that he and his fellow signers knew that “nothing short of Almighty God can save us.”

He knew full well the cost of liberty. To a friend serving as an officer in the Jersey contingent of troops, “this seems now to be a trying season, but that indulgent Father who has hitherto preserved us will I trust appear for our help and prevent our being crushed. If otherwise, his will be done.” There is no doubt with convictions like this that he saw himself and his country safely within the sovereign providence of God.

His two sons were captured by the British and put into the prison hold of a notorious prison ship called “Jersey.” Fellow prisoners fed one of the sons by squeezing food through a key hole. Abraham Clark did not wish to make his personal suffering public, so he told no one about his family stress. When they found out about it from other sources, the American authorities contacted the British and told them that as they were treating prisoner of war Clark, so they were going to retaliate against a British officers in captivity. Only then did the brutal treatment of Clark’s sons ease up.

Abraham Clark was recognized as the member of Congress who moved that a chaplain be appointed for the Congress of the United States. And ever since then, a chaplain has been elected for that spiritual position.

But there were religious responsibilities which Abraham Clark also kept. From October 26, 1786 to 1790, Abraham Clark was a trustee for the Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church of which Pastor Caldwell was the minister. Abraham Clark died in his sixty-ninth year on September 15, 1794.

Words to live by: It was said that Abraham Clark was a Christian, a family man, a patriot, a public servant, and a gentleman. That about covers the sphere of influence which all Christians are to serve both God, the church, and our country. Once, he was offered freedom for his sons from their British captivity if . . . if he turned colors and became a Tory, or become loyal to England. He responded “no.” He was convinced, as he said to a friend in a letter in 1776, “Our fate is in the hands of an Almighty God to whom I can with pleasure confide my own. He can save us or destroy us. His counsels are fixed and cannot be disappointed and all his designs will be accomplished.” Amen, and Praise God

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Contending Earnestly 

The  number “seven” has always been associated with perfection.  But while that is the belief, there would be no one who would suggest that the seventh opening exercises of Westminster Theological Seminary on October 2, 1935,  have this word “perfection” stamped upon it.  Yet there was a sure reminder of both their existence in the church world at that moment in history as well as an old challenge to the professors and student body that they were to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints.”  That very familiar text from Jude 3 was the title of the sermon and article in the Presbyterian Guardian of October 21 and November 4 in 1935.

Proclaiming the Word that evening was Rev. John Hess McComb, pastor of the Broadway Presbyterian Church in New York City.  What you will read in this devotional history today will be a portion of that address which is still as up-to-date now as it was then applicable to the people of God.  He said,

“Then too, if we would contend for the faith, we must seize every opportunity to let people know were we stand. When the Word of God is under fire, every silent Christian  is counted with the enemy.  Psalm 107:2 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”  God honors such testimony is surprising ways.  It bears more fruit than we have any idea it will.  Too often the people in the pew take the attitude that the minister is paid to do the testifying and there is no need for them to exert themselves in that direction.  It is a great privilege to speak a word for Christ, and we must avail ourselves of the privilege in the home, in the circle of friends, in the office, in the church — wherever God gives an opportunity.  If the Redeemed of the Lord would testify a little more frequently, perhaps it would be found that the true Church of Christ is far larger than it seems, and that Modernism has not gained the ground it supposes it has gained.  When a child is born into this world and utters no sounds, we fear that it is dead.  When a professing Christian never speaks a word regarding his redemption through Christ, we  have reason to suspect that he never has been born again. Of course the Christian must see to it that his personal life in no wise belies his testimony.  He that seizes every opportunity to testify for his Lord must so live that there is no question in the minds of those about him who his Lord is.”

There were some sobering statements in this quotation.  There is no doubt that the New York City pastor wanted to impress on the minds and hearts of the seminary students that their studies must produce some effects in the lives of those to whom they would be sent as servants of Christ.

Words to live by:  Standing out in the above quotation is the illustration and application of the child.  Dr. McComb said, “when a child is born into this world and  utters no sound, we fear that it is dead.  When a professing Christian never speaks a word regarding his Redemption through Christ, we have reason to suspect that he never has been born again.”  These are strong words, and may solicit objections by our readers.  Yet there are placed here to think upon them and more importantly to act upon them.  Pray for a divine opportunity this day or week.  Pray that the Spirit will remind you to recognize the divine opportunity.  Then simply relate your Christian testimony to the individual, and see what the Lord will bring forth.

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A New Scientific Procedure Takes a Spiritual Giant Away

Our focus is not on a Presbyterian per se, but rather a theological giant who accepted an invitation to become the third president of the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University, which was a Presbyterian institution.

His name was Jonathan Edwards.  And at this time, this Congregational minister was easily the greatest Biblical theolgian and philosopher which the American colonies had produced.

He had been a pastor.  He had experienced the challenge of missionary work among the native Indian tribes.  He had an exemplary family life, from which would come,such following generations, many  great men of God who served in both church and state.  His theological works were famous even then. But best of all, he was the chief architect of the First Great Awakening in the American colonies.   In short, there was nothing to dislike in Jonathan Edwards, and everything to rejoice in with this choice by the College trustees.

Now the College of New Jersey had  its share of presidents and professors.  Jonathan Dickinson and Aaron Burr, Sr., both Presbyterian pastors in colonial America, had taken on the extra burden of being educators of the  handful of students who enrolled at the College of New Jersey.  Rev. Dickinson lasted all of four plus months in that dual role.  And Rev. Burr lasted longer but not more than four years in teaching the small student body.  He was the one used of the Lord to make the strategic move to Princeton, New Jersey.  Now the invitation went out to Jonathan Edwards, in the fall of 1757, just five days after the death of the school’s second president, Aaron Burr, Sr.

John Brainerd, the brother of missionary David Brainerd, was one of two commissioners who was appointed to press the invitation to Edwards.  The latter was most reluctant to receive it.  Edwards felt that the book which needed to be written next by his pen was that of one on Arminianism.  So it took several days of approaching Edwards until finally, the New England minister, upon consultation with valued friends, replied in the affirmative on September 24, 1757.

He would take several months to prepare himself for the new ministry, so it wasn’t  until February 16, 1758 that he was installed as President of the College of New Jersey.  He began to speak in chapel and meet with the student body, to the delight of those privileged to sit at his feet.

With small pox prevalent in the area, it was decided to follow a new scientific method and inoculate President Edwards with a small portion of small pox, with the idea that he could then fight off the advances of the disease.  However a fever came upon him, and after serving just thirty-four days, Jonathan Edwards died from small pox on March 22, 1758.  It was a loss to the College, a loss to the American colonies, and a loss to the kingdom of Christ on earth.

Words to live by:
With a firm dependence on God’s sovereignty, one might be tempted to affirm that God had made a mistake in providence.  But there are no mistakes with the holy and wise God.  There is only the will of God, exercised sometimes in permissive providence before His people.  And this was certainly one example of it.  We may not know the reason why our God acts this or that way.   But we know the God of the past, present, and future, and so can say, “Thy will be done.”

For further reading : There are those who contend the President Edwards was, at least in principle and heart-affection, a Presbyterian. See, for instance, the account here : President Edwards a Presbyterian.

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Church Doors Were Shut and Barns Were Opened

Regrettably is did not take long for the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to suffer dissention and schism. Its first Presbytery was organized by seven congregations in 1706; its first Synod was established in 1717. But by 1737 the turmoil had begun which led to a major division of the young denomination in 1741. This was the Old Side/New Side schism [1741-1758], which occurred in the context of the First Great Awakening. To simplify the issues,
(1) both Sides viewed the Synod as a higher court, but the New Side maintained that the Synod could only advise and not bind the Presbyteries. In other words, the Synod had no legislative powers. And here one particular point of contention had to do with a requirement of university training, and that at a time when there were virtually no suitable schools to be found in the colonies;
(2) Itinerate ministers preaching in pulpits not their own—a common practice during the Great Awakening—was seen as scandalous and disorderly by Old Side men, while New Siders frequently preached wherever they saw opportunity for the Gospel; and
(3) the fact that ordination is no assurance of salvation, and New Side men (Gilbert Tennent in particular) were not shy to charge some ministers of the Old Side with being unconverted. The charge brought great offense to the Old Side men, and it was only when Gilbert Tennent softened his rhetoric in later years that a healing of the division became possible. And so the Church was reunited in 1758.

All of this controversy was of course played out in the lives of the participants. One of these men, a New Sider, was the Rev. John Rowland, an immigrant from Wales who had studied at William Tennent’s Log College. At the organizing meeting of the New Brunswick Presbytery, on August 8, 1738, Rowland was received as a candidate for the ministry, even though he did not have a university degree, something normally expected of all candidates. Nonetheless the Presbytery proceeded on September 7th of that year to license Rowland to preach, and immediately sent him to the church at Maidenhead, New Jersey, a congregation just outside the bounds of the New Brunswick Presbytery.

Rowland was informed that his going there would cause problems, but he went anyway. Before the month was out, some in the congregation brought complaint before the Presbytery of Philadelphia. “The Presbytery advised them that Rowland was not to be esteemed and improved as an orderly candidate of the ministry.” But Rowland persisted in his ministry, and the complaint was then brought before the Synod. In deciding the matter, the Synod pointed to the first article in The Form of Church-Government 1645), as composed by the Westminster Assembly, and in particular to the stipulation that candidates must hold a university degree. Training at the Log College was insufficient in their estimation. Those who wanted to continue as a congregation under Rowland’s preaching were refused.

And so “church doors were shut against Rowland, and barns were opened.” Gilbert Tennent preached for the newly separated congregation and administered the sacraments. Rowland also labored at Amwell, New Jersey where he found “an agreeable people” and they asked him to be their minister. The New Brunswick Presbytery instead ordained him as an evangelist. A history of those days notes that “So great were the congregations [gathering under his preaching] that the largest barns of his adherents were required.”

Yet, in the whole of it, Rowland found that the territory was not an inviting field. There was little piety or religious knowledge among the larger population. While he was travelling, his ministry was blessed with remarkable works of conviction among the people, but this continued only a short while. Wisely, Rowland soon turned his focus to discipling those who had come to Christ.

Rev. Rowland died before the fall of 1747. He was said to have possessed a commanding eloquence and many fine qualities. George Whitefield said of him, “There was much of the simplicity of Christ discernible in his behaviour.”

Words to Live By:
Rev. Rowland did not live to see the end of the Old Side/New Side schism, when the two sides were re-united in 1758. He does not appear to have been one who was active in the controversy that led to the division of the denomination. Rather, wanting to preach and minister as he could, he was simply caught up in the throes of the schism and sought, despite it all, to minister faithfully to the Lord’s people while he could. None of us knows how long our life will be, and surely things will not work out the way we had planned. We are all of us carried by the tides of history, some more so than others. But take joy in knowing that God is Lord over history. What we will accomplish in this life is in His hands. Our place, above all else, is to remain obedient to the Scriptures. The things we want to accomplish, the desires of our heart, should first and foremost be surrendered to the Lord, wrapped in prayer, then done with a constant eye to His glory. Only in that way can we then finally close our eyes on that distant day knowing we have done what we could—that we have done what was best—that we have lived our lives for Christ and His kingdom.

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