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An Old Side Presbyterian Plants Numerous Churches

One would need a firm grip on God’s sovereignty to live and minister in the early days of our country. It was true that countless Scot-Irish families resided throughout the regions of colonial America. But it was also true that whereas there were many members of the Presbyterian faith, under-shepherds to care for them were few indeed. So when a colony of Presbyterians found a pastor, he usually stayed a long time.  Such was the case for the Rev. Adam Boyd.

Born in Ballymoney, Ireland in 1692, he moved first to New England in either 1722 or 1723. Recommended by the venerable Cotton Mather, he was called by the Scots-Irish people at Octoraro and Pequea, Pennsylvania churches.  Ordained to the gospel ministry on October 13th, he began his ministry to the people of this new colony. It was an extensive field of labor, to which by foot and horseback, he visited the people faithfully as he cared for the spiritual needs.

A week after his ordination, at the age of thirty-two, he married Jane Craighead, the daughter of their first pastor, Rev. Alexander Craighead. From their marriage, ten children—five sons and five daughters—were born.

In 1741, a schism occurred in the infant Presbyterian Church, between what became known as the New Side and Old Side Presbyterians.  Rev. Boyd stayed with the Old Side Presbyterians, even though many of his congregation favored the revivalist approach of the New Side branch. Eventually, a fair number left his ministry and began a New Side Presbyterian congregation in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was forced to leave the remnant which was left and minister to the Brandywine Presbyterian Church, which was Old Side Presbyterian. When differences were finally mended and Old Side and New Side reunited in 1758, the two branches of the Octorora church came back together and were one church again.

Pictured above, the stone building erected in 1769 to house the Upper Octorara Presbyterian Church.

Even though he was Old Side Presbyterian, it was said that he in his forty-four years started 16 daughter and “granddaughter” churches. Here was an Old Side ministerial member who defied the typical Old Side opposition to planting new churches. Rev. Boyd would go to be with the Lord on November 23, 1768, at 76 years of age.

It  was said on his tombstone that he was “eminent for life, modest purity, diligence in office, possessing prudence, equanimity, and peace.”

View a photograph of Rev. Boyd’s gravesite, here.

Words to live by:  It is easy to put men and movements into nice neat little pockets.  You know, all the New Side Presbyterians of that sad schism in the American Presbyterian church were gifted in evangelism and revival (and they were!), while the Old Side Presbyterians were settled in a rut of education prowess from the mother country. Adam Boyd breaks the appearance, as he planted a dozen plus congregations in his forty-four year ministry.  Jesus said in John 7:24, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with righteous judgment.”  What seems to be so, may not be so.  Be careful.

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Unity Where There Was Disunity

This historical devotional and the May 27th devotional deal with the same topic, that of the Old Side – New Side schism in early Presbyterianism. On May 27, we will look at what caused the infant Presbyterian church to divide into two sides in 1741. On this day, May 25, we will look at how they were brought together again in 1758.

What were the points of difference, even though we will wait until the latter date in May to see them in detail? They could be summarized in two words: education and evangelism. The first difference centered around the education of ministers, whether European credentials were required, like from Scotland or England theological colleges, or whether training in schools in the colonies, such as the Log College of New Jersey, was sufficient. The second difference was composed of the issue of the revival meetings of the Great Awakening, and whether permission needed to be sought and given when engaged in them in other presbyter’s parishes. One can immediately see that no doctrines were at stake, but rather differing ways of doing the Lord’s work.

Such differences on these two points accounted for this schism in 1741 which  lasted sixteen years  to 1758.  By then, men and churches who took strong stands in the 1741 schism had either died or moved on. Further, there was on the part of a few ministers who had been most vocal in their affirmations and denunciations during the schism, like the Rev. Gilbert Tennent, a sincere repentance on choice of words used to describe the other side.

The Plan of Union in 1758 affirmed the method of revivals, such as the New Side Presbyterians engaged in, was proper. It even ascertained that the Great Awakening was a blessed work of the Holy Spirit. Yet there was a recognition that if the authority of local presbyteries and synods forbade the wandering  of evangelists, who came into other fields without even asking permission to do so, that would have to stop.

As far as education was concerned, the candidates for the gospel ministry should be able to both declare the theological basis of their beliefs (such as the Old Side championed) as well as show experimental acquaintance with the gospel (as the New Side emphasized).

A unified Presbyterian church was ready to progress ahead for the challenging years ahead of her, especially in the birth of a new country called  the United States of America.

Words to Live By: As long as union is not accompanied by denials of Christian theology, it is to be prayed for, worked on, perseveringly kept, and greatly rejoiced over as producing stronger instruments for the glory of God and the growth of the church.

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