New York Presbytery

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Our post today is drawn from Richard Webster’s History of the Presbyterian Church in America (1857).

ALEXANDER CUMMING
He was full of prayers.

WAS born at Freehold, New Jersey, in 1726.  His father, Robert Cumming, from Montrose, Scotland, was an elder, and often sat in synod.

He was educated under his maternal uncle, Samuel Blair, and studied theology with his pastor, William Tennent.  Licensed by the New-Side Presbytery of Newcastle, in 1746 or ‘’47, he was sent by the synod, in compliance with pressing supplications, and spent some time in Augusta county, Virginia.  He was the first Presbyterian minister that preached within the bounds of Tennessee.  Remaining some time in North Carolina, he married Eunice, daughter of Colonel Thomas Polk, the President (in May, 1775) of the Mecklenburg Convention.

He was a stated supply in Pennsylvania for some time.  Though not ordained, he opened the Synod of New York with a sermon, in September, 1750.  In the following month he was ordained, by New York Presbytery, and installed collegiate pastor with Pemberton, in New York.

Unanimously called, his clear, discriminating mind, his habits of close study, his instructive and excellent preaching, his happy faculty of disentangling and exhibiting difficult and abstruse subjects, peculiarly attracted and delighted his more cultivated hearers.  The Hon. William Smith, in writing to Bellamy, says, “His defect in delivery was not natural, but the effect of bad example:  his elocution, however, is not, and cannot ever be, as prompt as yours.”  But before the second year of his ministry closed, the presbytery was called to consider the difficulties which had arisen, and, in 1752, referred the case to the synod.  The complaints against him were, that, when disabled by sickness, he did not invite Pemberton to preach; that he insisted on his right as pastor to sit with the trustees, and manage the temporalities; for encouraging the introduction of Watts’s Psalms, and for insisting on family prayer as a necessary prerequisite in every one to whose child he administered baptism.

He requested to be dismissed, October 25, 1753, because his low state of health would not allow him to go on with his work in the divided, confused state of the congregation.  No opposition was made, and he was dismissed.

Cumming joined with his parishioners, Livingston, Smith, and Scott, in publishing the “Watch-Tower,” the “Reflector,” the “Independent Whig,”—spirited, patriotic appeals against the steady encroachments of the royal prerogative on our constitutional liberties.

In feeble health, and with little prospect of usefulness, he remained without charge till February 25, 1761, when he was installed pastor of the Old South Church in Boston.  He preached on that occasion, and Pemberton gave the charge, and welcomed him.  “I do it with the greater pleasure, being persuaded, from a long and intimate acquaintance, that you are animated by the spirit of Christ in taking this office upon you, and that you desire no greater honour or happiness than to be an humble instrument to promote the kingdom of our adorable Redeemer.”

William Allen,[1] of Philadelphia, Chief-Justice of Pennsylvania, wrote to Dr. Mayhew, of Boston, in 1763, and thanked him for the gift of two sermons, “which, you hint, were preached on account of Mr. Cumming’s reveries; for I can call nothing that comes from him by a better name, nor ought I, if he continues to be the same man he was with us.  He offered himself to the congregation here, of which I am a member:  though the greater part are moderate Calvinists, they could not relish his doctrines.” After charging Cumming with teaching that works are dangerous to the soul, faith being every thing, he adds, “He may be a pious, well-disposed man, but I believe he is a gloomy, dark enthusiast, and a great perverter of the religion of Jesus Christ as taught in the gospel.”

To Allen and Mayhew, Cumming seemed “an extravagant fanatic.”  It was a wonder how he could have been admitted a minister in Boston.  Yet he was condemned as a Legalist by the favourers of the other extreme.

Andrew Croswell, a zealous follower of Davenport, had settled in Boston.  He published a sermon, with the title, “What is Christ to me if he is not mine?” presenting the view—perhaps distorted—of Marshall, in his “Gospel Mystery of Sanctification,” and Hervey, in his “Theron and Aspasio.”  Cumming replied, taking the ground of Bellamy.  It was perhaps his earnestness on this point that arrayed his Scottish hearers against him in New York. They had the Erskines in great reverence:  they loved the doctrines which rallied Scotland’s best men against the Assembly’s decision in the Marrow controversy. Smith speaks, in his history, contemptuously of the opposition, as of the lower class; and Robert Philip brands it as a cabal of ignorance and bigotry. The fact that these persons called the Rev. John Mason from Scotland, and that they and their children constituted the congregation of Dr. John M. Mason, is a sufficient refutation of these charges.

Cumming died on this day, August 23, in 1763.  “He was full of prayers, with a lively, active soul in a feeble body.”  This was the testimony of the excellent Dr. Sewall, with whom he was joined as colleague in Boston.

Words to Live By:
We pray this can be said of you as well, that you are “full of prayers.” It is the mark of a true Christian and the blessing of a Christian who is being used in the Lord’s kingdom, seeking His will upon earth.

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A Heart Firmly Attached in the Interest of His Country.

Abraham Keteltas was born in New York City on December 26, 1732. His father, Abraham Keteltas, Sr., was a merchant who had immigrated to the American colonies in 1720. The family had settled in New Rochelle, New York, which was at the time heavily populated with Huguenots. Young Abraham’s friendships among the Huguenots allowed him to become fluent in French. He later studied theology at Yale, graduating there in 1752, and was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of New York in 1756.

Installed as pastor in Elizabethtown, New Jersey in 1757, he remained there but a year. Rev. Keteltas married about this time and resided at Jamaica, Long Island, yet without pastoral charge. Still, as he was fluent in the three languages dominant in the region and was a masterful preacher, he frequently was called to the pulpits of the Dutch and French churches, as well as the Presbyterian, and during this time his reputation grew among that population.

His reputation and stature apparently extended well beyond the Long Island community, for it is recorded that his advice was held in high esteem by many, George Washington being among that number and known to have frequently consulted him on various matters. Rev. Keteltas readily became a strong advocate in the struggle for independence, so public in his declarations that his personal safety required him to flee Long Island for the relative safety of New England. He was elected in 1777 to serve as a delegate to the New York State constitutional convention, though he did not attend.

Four of Rev. Keteltas’s sermons are extant, preserved in a small number of libraries. These are:

The Religious Soldier: or, The Military Character of King David, display’d and enforced in a sermon, preached March 8, 1759, to the regular officers and soldiers in Elizabeth-Town.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, in becoming poor for men displayed and enforced in a charity sermon preached in the French Protestant Church, in New-York, December 27, 1773.

Reflections on Extortion shewing the Nature, Malignity, and Fatal Tendency of that Sin to Individuals and Communities, displayed and enforced in a sermon preached at Newbury-port, on Lord’s Day February 15th, 1778.

and

God Arising and Pleading His People’s Cause: or, The American War in Favor of Liberty, Against the Measures and Arms of Great Britain, Shewn to Be the Cause of God.

The last mentioned of these, delivered in 1777, is perhaps the best known of his sermons. It is a bold and patriotic record of his support for the American cause. Reiner Smolinki, of George State University, has skillfully made this sermon available in digital edition (see the above link). Of this sermon, Mr. Smolinski states:

In the former sermon . . . Keteltas enlists Jehovah of Armies in defense of America’s rights. Drawing on typological parallels from both Testaments, Keteltas demonstrates that God always supports the cause of righteousness, liberty, and self-government, especially where His people are concerned. If God is on the side of His American Israel, Kelteltas prophecies, the British enemy cannot succeed for long. Religion and politics are joined in a bed of patriotism.

During the war years, Rev. Keteltas supplied the pulpits of many churches in Connecticut and Massachusetts, continuing in that capacity until declining health forced his retirement in 1782. He died while residing in Jamaica, Queens County, New York, on this day, September 30, in 1798, at the age of 65 years, 9 months and 4 days. The New York Historical Society has preserved a portrait of Rev. Keteltas, which can be viewed hereHis gravestone, which can be viewed herereads as follows:

“He possessed unusual talents which were improved by profound erudition & a heart firmly attached in the interest of his Country. His mind was early impressed with a sense of religion, which fully manifested itself by his choice of the sacred office, in which he shone as the able & faithful Divine. It may not perhaps be unworthy of record in this inscription, that he had frequently officiated in three different languages, having preached in the Dutch & French Churches in his native City of New York.”

Something to Consider:
The question is still with us to this day, whether Christians,
as Christians, should be involved in politics. Without voting here on the matter, we only make an historical observation of the strong involvement of the clergy in favor of the American Revolution, so much so that the War was sometimes called the Presbyterian Rebellion. To discover how these pastors came to their convictions, it is necessary to take into account the wider context of, first, the English Civil War (1642-51), and second, the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary (1688). The American Revolutionary War was very clearly at the time seen as a continuation of these earlier conflicts. For a Presbyterian defense of the struggle for liberty, see particularly Samuel Rutherford’s Lex, Rex: The Law and the Prince, A Dispute for the Just Prerogative of King and People (1644).

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