Presbyterian Tracts

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A Life of Selfless Service.

If you have any appreciation for Presbyterian works that came out of the nineteenth-century—works by men like Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller, Charles Hodge, and so many more—then you owe a debt of gratitude to the Rev. William M. Engles. From 1838 until 1863—key years in Presbyterian publishing—Rev. Engles selflessly served as the head of the Presbyterian Board of Publication, and it was under his leadership that this institution produced some of the very best works issued in that era. No rash claim, it was said at his funeral that, “So far, indeed, as any one man can deserve such preeminence, he might justly be called the founder of the Presbyterian literature of this country.”

William Morrison Engles was born in Philadelphia on October 12th, 1797. His father was Captain Silas Engles, of the Revolutionary Army; his mother was Anna (Patterson) Engles, a lady from a distinguished family. Both parents were noted for their intelligence and for their accomplishments. William graduated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1815, studied theology with Dr. Samuel Brown Wylie, of the Reformed Presbyterian denomination, and was licensed by the Presbytery of Philadelphia on October 18th, 1818. Then on July 6th, 1820, he was ordained and installed as pastor of the Seventh Presbyterian Church, also known as the Tabernacle Presbyterian Church. Here his ministry was faithful and successful, but in 1834 he was obliged to resign, on account of a diseased throat.

From the pulpit he stepped into the editorial chair, succeeding Dr. James W. Alexander as editor of The Presbyterian, in which post he continued, until the day of his death, for thirty-three years. Under his supervision this newspaper attained an increased circulation and a high reputation as the leading organ of the Old School party. Then in May of 1838, Rev. Engles was appointed editor of the Board of Publication for the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., which post he held for twenty-five years, while yet retaining the editorship of The Presbyterian. In 1840, he was chosen to serve as Moderator of the General Assembly for the Old School wing of the PCUSA, and then filled the office of Stated Clerk for six years. His death, from an obscure disease of the heart, occurred on November 27, 1867, passing into glory at the age of 71.

Dr. Engles owed his reputation more to his pen than to his pulpit. He was too quiet and didactic to be a popular preacher. But to say nothing of his editorial success, to him the Board of Publication was more indebted than to any other individual, according to its own acknowledgment. He took an active part in its inception and progress. He not only rescued from oblivion various valuable works, in danger of becoming obsolete, but added to the Board’s issues a number of treatises from his own prolific pen. As these were published anonymously, they cannot here be specified. Mention, however, may be made of the little volume, entitled Sick Room Devotions which has proved of inestimable service, and The Soldier’s Pocket Book, of which three hundred thousand copies were circulated during the war.

Words to Live By:
“And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” – 1 Peter 5:4.

Of Rev. Engles, it was noted that he “was exceedingly averse to anything that savored of mere eulogy or panegyric upon his own services”, so much so that even his own funeral service would not have been attempted but for the urgings of numerous friends.

Let your eye be fixed upon the heavenly goal; let your work here on earth, whatever that may be, be a work done as unto the Lord, and not with an eye to the applause of the world.

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In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Presbyterian Board of Publication was created, with its first work being the publication of a number of tracts and treatises. As more and more tracts were published, they were eventually gathered together and issued as bound volumes, best known by their spine title, PRESBYTERIAN TRACTS. [The contents of these volumes have been indexed, here.] In volume 5 of these PRESBYTERIAN TRACTS, we find Tract no. 65, a sermon extract from one of George Whitefield’s sermons, and this will be our sermon post for this Lord’s Day. While Whitefield was himself an Anglican, his work in the American colonies figured closely with some of the early ministry of Presbyterians in this country. We might even note that upon his death, he was buried in a crypt at the Old South Presbyterian Church, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Regrettably, no further information is given in the book as to the source of this particular sermon portion:—


“Thy beauty was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God.”—Ezekiel xvi. 14.

Give me leave to ask you one question: Can you say, The Lord our righteousness? Were you ever made to see and admire the all-sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness, and excited by the Spirit of God to hunger and thirst after it? Could you ever say, My soul is athirst for Christ, yea, even for the righteousness of Christ? O when shall I come to appear before the presence of my God in the righteousness of Christ! Nothing but Christ! nothing but Christ! Give me Christ, O God, and I am satisfied! my soul shall praise Thee for ever.

Was this ever the language of your hearts? and, after these inward conflicts, were you ever enabled to reach out the arm of faith, and embrace the blessed Jesus in your souls, so that you could say, “My beloved is mine, and I am His?” If so, fear not, whoever you are. Hail, all hail, you happy souls! The Lord, the Lord Christ, the everlasting God, is your righteousness. Christ has justified you, who is he that condemneth you? Christ has died for you, nay, rather, is risen again, and ever liveth to make intercession for you. Being now justified by His grace, you have peace with God, and shall, ere long, be with Jesus in glory. For there is no condemnation to those that are really in Christ Jesus. Whether Paul, or Apollos, or life, or death, all is yours, if you are Christ’s, for Christ is God’s. My brethren, my heart is enlarged towards you! O think of the love of Christ in dying for you! If the Lord be your righteousness, let the righteousness of your Lord be continually in your mouth. Talk of, O talk of, and recommend, the righteousness of Christ, when you lie down, and when you rise up, at your going out and coming in! Think of the greatness of the gift, as well as of the giver! Show to all the world, in whom you have believed! Let all by your fruits know that the Lord is your righteousness, and that you are waiting for your Lord from heaven! O study to be holy, even as He who has called you, and washed you in His blood was holy! O think of His dying love! Let that love constrain you to obedience; having much forgiven, love much. Be always asking, What shall I do to express my gratitude to the Lord, for giving me His righteousness? Let that self-abasing, God-exalting question, be always in your mouths, “Why me, Lord? why me?” why am I taken and others left? why is the Lord my righteousness? why is He become my salvation, who have so often deserved damnation at his hands?

But I must turn a little from congratulating you, to invite poor Christless sinners to come to Him, and accept of His righteousness, that they may have life. Alas, my heart almost bleeds! What a multitude of precious souls are new before me! how shortly must all be ushered into eternity! and yet, O cutting thought! were God now to require all your souls, how few could really say, The Lord our righteousness?

And think you, O sinners, that you will be able to stand in the day of judgment, if Christ be not your righteousness? No, that alone is the wedding-garment in which you must appear. O Christless sinners, I am distressed for you! the desires of my soul are enlarged. O that this may be an accepted time! That the Lord may be your righteousness! For whither would you flee, if death should find you naked? O think of death! O think of judgment! Yet a little while, and time shall be no more; and then what will become of you, if the Lord be not your righteousness? Think you that Christ will spare you? No, he that formed you, will have no mercy on you. If you be not of Christ, if Christ be not your righteousness, Christ Himself shall pronounce you damned. And can you bear to think of being damned by Christ? Can you bear to hear the Lord Jesus say to you, “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Can you live, think you, in everlasting burnings? Is your flesh brass, and your bones iron? What if they be? hell-fire, that fire prepared for the devil and his angels, will heat them through and through. And can you bear to depart from Christ? O that heart-piercing thought! Ask those holy souls, who are at any time bewailing an absent God, who walk in darkness, and see no light, though but a few days or hours; ask them, what it is to lose a sight and presence of Christ? See how they seek Him sorrowing, and go mourning after Him all the day long! And, if it be so dreadful to lose the sensible presence of Christ for a day, what must it be to be banished from Him for all eternity?

But this must be, if Christ be not your righteousness. For God’s justice must be satisfied; and unless Christ’s righteousness is imputed and applied to you here, you must hereafter be satisfying divine justice in hell-torments eternally; nay, Christ Himself shall condemn you to that place of torment. And how cutting is that thought? Methinks I see poor, trembling, Christless wretches, standing before the bar of God, crying out, Lord, if we must be damned, let some angel, or some archangel, pronounce the sentence; but all in vain. Christ Himself shall pronounce the irrevocable sentence. Knowing therefore the terrors of the Lord, let me persuade you to close with Christ, and never rest until you can say, “the Lord our righteousness.” Who knows but the Lord may have mercy on, nay, abundantly pardon you? You need not fear the greatness or number of your sins. For are you sinners? so am I. Are you the chief of sinners? so am I. Are you backsliding sinners? so am I. And yet the Lord (for ever adored be His rich, free, and sovereign grace!) the Lord is my righteousness. Come, then, O young men, who (as I acted once myself) are playing the prodigal, and wandering away afar off from your heavenly Father’s house, come home, come home, and leave your swine’s trough. Feed no longer on the husks of sensual delights; for Christ’s sake arise, and come home! your heavenly Father now calls you. See, yonder the best robe, even the righteousness of His dear Son, awaits you. See it, view it again and again. Consider at how dear a rate it was purchased, even by the blood of God. Consider what great need you have of it. You are lost, undone, damned for ever, without it. come then, poor guilty prodigals, come home; indeed, I will not, like the elder brother in the gospel, be angry; no, I will rejoice with the angels in heaven. And O that God would now bow the heavens and come down! Descend, O Son of God, descend; and, as Thou hast shown in me such mercy, O let Thy blessed Spirit apply Thy righteousness to some young prodigals now before thee, and clothe their naked souls with Thy best robe!

And what shall I say to you of a middle age, you busy merchants, you cumbered Marthas, who, with all your gettings, have not yet gotten the Lord to be your righteousness! Alas! what profit will there be of all your labour under the sun, if you do not secure this pearl of invaluable price? I see, also, many hoary heads here, and perhaps the most of them cannot say, The Lord is my righteousness. O grey-headed sinners, I could weep over you! your grey hairs which ought to be your crown, and in which perhaps you glory, are now your shame. You know not that the Lord is your righteousness; O haste then, haste ye, aged sinners, and seek an interest in redeeming love! Alas, you have one foot already in the grave, your glass is just running out, your sun is just going down, and it will set and leave you in an eternal darkness, unless the Lord be your righteousness. Flee, then, O flee for your lives! Be not afraid. All things are possible with God. If you come, though it be at the eleventh hour, Christ Jesus will in no wise cast you out. Seek then for the Lord to be your righteousness, and beseech Him to let you know how it is that a man may be born again when he is old!

But I must not forget the lambs of the flock. To feed them, was one of my Lord’s last commands. I know He will be angry with me, if I do not tell them that the Lord may be their righteousness; and that of such is the kingdom of heaven. Come, then, ye little children, come to Christ, the Lord shall be your righteousness. Do not think that you are too young to be converted. Perhaps many of you may be nine or ten years old, and yet cannot say, The Lord is our righteousness; which many have said, though younger than you. Come, then, while you are young. Perhaps you may not live to be old. Do not stay for other people. If your fathers and mothers will not come to Christ, do you come without them. Let children lead them, and show them, how the Lord may be their righteousness. Our Lord Jesus loved little children. You are His lambs; He bids me feed you. I pray God make you willing betimes to take the Lord for your righteousness.

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