Providence

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The published histories of individual churches tend to be a very overlooked literary genre. Usually they are published in limited edition and purchased by church members, only to be shelved and perhaps never read. This is unfortunate, for some of these works have provided occasion for pastors and theologians to wax eloquent on various themes long pondered in their ministry.

What follows is excerpted from Historical Sketch of Rising Sun, Indiana, and the Presbyterian Church. A Fortieth Anniversary Discourse, delivered Sept. 15, 1856, by Rev. B.F. Morris, and is edited for length. In opening his discourse, Rev. Morris sets out to establish the value of historical annals. This is something of a digression from our normal fare here, I realize. Moreover, we may not agree with all of his statements. But consider this a “think piece,” designed to make us consider more fully the many aspects of the otherwise acknowledged value of historical accounts.

THE VALUE AND USE OF HISTORICAL ANNALS.

1. Historic annals are the way-marks of human progress.

The unfolding events which men and communities evolve need an imperishable record. This record is the embalming process that preserves the precious treasures of the past from oblivion, and transmits them, in their original freshness and form, to future ages.

2. They are “sunny memories” of scenes, fragrant with delightful and profitable remembrances to our personal experience.

Our elevated personal enjoyments flow, mainly, from two sources; one from the duties, activities and scenes of the present; the other from the fresh and vivid remembrance of the past. The past is a field through which all, in retrospection, love to roam, gathering in their own hearts, and reproducing in their own recollections, the scenes and stirring events in which they participated, and which, in remembrance, yield a rich harvest of personal enjoyment.

3. Past records and remembrances also have their genial and beneficent influences for the rising generation.

The solid texture in the life and character of each generation is woven mainly from the materials created and fashioned by the one preceding. The type of life, the ruling sentiments of the soul and whatever goes into the composite form of character, come mainly from influences that flow from the generations that have gone before.

4. They have a significant and important relation and use to the future.

Preparation for right action and a true course in life is one of the most commanding obligations of human existence. We must live right now, so that we may act right in the future. This consummation is greatly aided by the moral teachings of the past. The dividing line between right and wrong; the true principles and pathway of success; dangers to be avoided; wisdom and prudential sagacity, all that forewarns and forearms and qualifies for right action, may be derived from the facts and lessons of the past, communicated by oral experience, or through historic annals. “It is the capacity of looking back on past experiences, which gives us the power of foreseeing the future, and thus of looking both before and behind, for sources of enjoyment,” and for a true direction in the moral course of life. This fact, in God’s system of moral education, gives meaning and authority to the Divine injunction, “Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask thy father and he will shew thee; the elders and they shall tell thee.”—Deut. 32:7. “Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.”—Joel 1:3. In this light historic annals assume an importance equal to the value of the moral interests of men and society, as effected by the moral education of the rising generation.

5. They embalm the acts and memories of the dead.

The great forest of humanity, like a forest of oaks, falling before the march of civilization, is, one by one, leveled by the axe of time. The oak of human life, stately and strong though it be, has no perpetual charter. A century, at most, it must fall, and pass away. Shall it have no record in human remembrance, or on the historic page?

6. Historic annals are the means to measure social progress, as contrasted with after eras in the history of social civilization.

Society, as it circles outward from a common center, has a tendency to degenerate from its original and higher type, into one of a lower standard and tone.

7. Another special and important use of historic annals and personal remembrances is the exhibition of the nature, progress, and triumphs of Christian truth.

The structure of all human society must, if its foundation be solid and its superstructure symmetrical and safe, rest on Christian truth.

8. This suggests another great and valuable use of historic annals and personal remembrances, which is to demonstrate the active presence of God in human history and society.

“Historic truth,” says Bancroft, “may be established as a science; and the principles that govern human affairs, extending like a path of light from century to century, become the highest demonstration of the superintending providence of God. Universal history does but seek to restate “the sum of all God’s works of Providence.”

A devout and thoughtful mind will recognize and adore God, as He gives revelations of Himself in human history, and in every onward movement of the race.

Words to Live By:
Have you noticed, as you read through the Bible, how often God commands us to remember His works? To be actively engaged in that work of remembrance is key to keeping our hearts fresh before the Lord. Consider the words of John Flavel :

“Search backward into all the performances of Providence throughout your lives. So did Asaph: ‘I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings’ (Psalm 77:1112). He laboured to recover and revive the ancient providences of God’s mercies many years past, and suck a fresh sweetness out of them by new reviews of them. Ah, sirs, let me tell you, there is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would but sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what signal manifestations and outbreakings of His mercy, faithfulness and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. If your hearts do not melt before you have gone half through that history, they are hard hearts indeed. ‘My Father, thou art the guide of my youth’ (Jeremiah 3:4)”.—From The Mystery of Providence, chapter nine.

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Back then, congregations really knew how to call a pastor.

The Rev. Charles Cummings was an Irishman by birth, and came to America in early manhood. He was licensed to preach by the Presbytery  of Hanover on April 18, 1767. He had received a good education, was capable in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and for a minister of his day, possessed a rather sizable and valuable library. In 1772 he accepted a call from the Sinking Spring and Ebbing Spring congregations, and served these congregations until his death in 1812. It is that call that draws our attention today, as a well-crafted plea for the ministerial services of a sought-after pastor. I dare say they don’t write them like this now.

 

Signed by 138 heads of families, January 5, 1772.

Worthy and Dear Sir—

We being in very destitute circumstances for want of the ordinances of Christ’s house statedly administered amongst us; many of us under very distressing spiritual languishments; and multitudes perishing in our sins for want of the bread of life broken among us; our Sabbaths too much profaned, or at least wasted in melancholy silence at home, our hearts and hands discouraged, and our spirits broken with our mournful condition, so that human language cannot sufficiently paint.

Having had the happiness, by the good Providence of God, of enjoying part of your labors to our abundant satisfaction, and being universally well satisfied by our experience of your ministerial abilities, piety, literature, prudence and peculiar agreeableness of your qualifications to us in particular as a gospel minister—we do, worthy and dear sir, from our very hearts, and with the most cordial affection and unanimity agree to call, invite and entreat you to undertake the office of a pastor among us, and the care and charge of our precious souls—and upon your accepting of this our call, we do promise that we will receive the word of God from your mouth, attend on your ministry, instruction and reproofs, in public and private, and submit to the discipline which Christ has appointed in his church, adminstered by you while regulated by the word of God and agreeable to our confession of faith and directory.

And that you may give yourself wholly up to the important work of the ministry, we hereby promise to pay unto you annually the sum of ninety pounds from the time of your accepting this our call; and that we shall behave ourselves towards you with all that dutiful respect and affection that becomes a people towards their minister, using all means within our power to render your life comfortable and happy. We entreat you, worthy and dear sir, to have compassion on us in this remote part of the world, and accept this our call and invitation to the pastoral charge of our precious and immortal souls, and we shall hold ourselves bound to pray.

[The above text can be found in William Foote’s, Sketches of Virginia, on page 115-116.]

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thornwell02In 1854, the city of Charleston, South Carolina was ravaged with an epidemic of yellow fever. Later, at the behest of the State Legislature, the Rev. James H. Thornwell, then president of South Carolina College, brought a sermon at the State capitol on December 9, 1850. The title of his discourse, “Judgments: A Call to Repentance.” On this momentous occasion, the assembled audience saw themselves as “a sovereign people prostrating themselves before a sovereign God.”—”South Carolina, by her trusted agents and chosen representatives, in her organic capacity, as a distinct political community; in the power of her honored Chief Magistrate, in the two Houses of the Legislature, and the venerable Judges of the land, presenting herself, in humility and mourning, before the footstool of Him who standeth in the congregation of the mighty, and judgeth among the gods.”

As one reviewer noted, “The leading thoughts of the Sermon are as follows: The visitations of Providence expressive of the Divine displeasure are called “judgments,” because they are universally regarded as the penal inflictions of a Judge or Ruler. This implies the conviction of our nature that there is a personal God; and if God be a Person, then all his dispensations have some purpose or design, and this design is to be ascertained by an observation of the tendency of the dispensations. The tendency of public, wide-spread afflictions is to create a sense of guilt in the bosoms of men,—to make them tremble at the anger, and dread the justice of their Judge; and so, to restrain transgression, and preserve the innocent in their integrity. There is an inseparable connexion between suffering and sin; and so strong is the conviction of the human mind upon this point, that there is always danger of misinterpreting Providence, by making the degree of suffering the exponent of the measure of guilt. All, however, that we have a right to conclude from even extraordinary suffering, is the existence of sin, and the consequent necessity of repentance. And this repentance is the duty of the spectators, as well as of the sufferers. “Except ye”—the spectators of the woes—”repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

Then, following Thornwell’s delivery of this discourse, representatives from the two houses of the legislature wrote to Thornwell on December 12, 1850, requesting a copy of his discourse for publication. Click here to read the full discourse.

The words that follow form the heart of Thornwell’s discourse. They are insightful, almost prophetic words, and here I think Thornwell puts his finger on the crux of our nation’s sin, then and now. What he seems not to see, however, is that this same sin is at the root of the system of slavery and racism that so troubled the nation then and which besets us to this day. Finally, the logical conclusion of this sin is the deification of the individual, and we see that hydra-headed monster coming into all its “glory” in our time. Racism is but one expression of the sin of self-deification. Me first. My ‘rights’ over all else. What I want, rather than bowing the knee to the will of the sovereign Lord of the universe.


Judgments : A Call to Repentance
(1854)

“The sins which have been mentioned, and which confessedly prevail to a melancholy extent through the length and breadth of the land, though they call for humiliation and repentance here, are, perhaps, not so appropriate to this occasion, as those which spring from the tendencies and workings of our forms and principles of government. Bear with me in briefly stating what seems to me to be a species of idolatry which cannot fail to bring down upon us, sooner or later, the righteous judgments of God. I allude to what may be called the deification of the people. They are frequently represented as the source of all political power and rights; the very fountain head of sovereignty. It is their will which makes law; it is their will which unmakes it. A supremacy is ascribed to that will which he who reads the Bible and recognizes a God that has dominion over the children of men, must feel to be shocking. They are really treated as a species of Deity upon the earth. Now this whole representation is not only inconsistent with religion, it is equally inconsistent with the philosophy upon which our popular institutions are founded. The government of this country does not proceed upon the maxim that the will of the people is the will of God, and its arrangements have not been made with a reference to the end, that their will may be simply ascertained. This legislature is not a congregation of deputies, or ministerial agents, and you have, and know that you have, higher functions to perform than merely to inquire what do the people think. I do not underrate their opinions; they must always enter as an element in sober and wise deliberation; but what I maintain is, that the true and legitimate end of government is not to accomplish their will, but to do and enforce what reason, conscience, and truth pronounce to be right. To the eternal law of right reason, which is the law of God, all are equally subject, and forms of government are only devices and expedients to reach the dictates of that law and apply it to the countless exigencies of social and individual life. The State is a Divine ordinance, a social institute, founded on the principle of justice, and it has great moral purposes to subserve, in relation to which the constitution of its government may be pronounced good or bad. The will of the people should be done only when the people will what is right, and then primarily not because they will it, but because it is right. Great deference should be paid to their opinions, because general consent is a presumption of reason and truth.

The peculiarity of a representative system is that it governs through deliberative assemblies. Their excellence is in the circumstance that they are deliberative, which affords a reasonable security that truth and justice may prevail. So far from being mere exponents of public sentiment, their highest merit is that they are a check upon popular power— a barrier reared against the tide of passion, to beat back its waves, until reason can be fairly heard. There is no misapprehension more dangerous than that which confounds representative government with the essential principle of a pure democracy. It is not a contrivance to adapt the exercise of supreme power on the part of the people to extensive territory or abundant population, to meet the physical impediments which in large States, must obviously exist to the collection of their citizens in one vast assembly. It is not because the people cannot meet, but because they ought not to meet, that the representative council in modern times is preferred to the ancient convocations in the forum or market place. It is to be prized, because it affords facilities and removes hinderances in the discovery of truth; but the supreme power is truth, and not man; God, not the creature.

Now whatever representations diminish the authority of the Divine law as the supreme rule, and make the State the creature and organ of popular will, as if an absolute sovereignty were vested in that, are equally repugnant to religion and the true conception of our government. An absolute democracy is the worst of all governments, because it is judicially cursed as treason against God, and is given over to the blindness of impulse and passion. I am afraid that in this matter we have trodden upon the verge of error—we have forgotten that the State is ordained of God, and that our relations to each other are those of mutual consultation and advice, while all are absolutely subject to Him.

In proportion as we lose the true conception of the State, we fall short of realizing in ourselves that perfection of developement and happiness which it was instituted to achieve. Hence, it is not unusual that as extremes meet, those who in theory clothe the people with the prerogatives of God, practically degrade them below the level of intellectual existence. When we cease to regard the State as a great instrument of moral education, it is not surprising that the education itself should be disregarded, and these Gods be left to demonstrate that after all, they are but men.

Let it be once conceded that government is but an organ of the popular will, the business of the statesman is very simple—it is only to find out what the people wish; and as all courts are attractive by the patronage they bestow, we may expect to see a system in operation, whose only tendency is to secure personal popularity. The ambition of Legislators and Senators will be directed to the gaining of popular favour, and whatever arts promise to be most successful, will be held to be legitimate, as they are the customs and usages of the Court, whose seal of approbation is desired. The consequences must be disastrous to all the parties concerned. There will and must be corruption and bribery. There will and must be unbecoming condescensions. The aspirants for distinction, however they may abhor these practices, and reproach themselves in stooping to them, feel compelled to resort to them as the conditions of success, and it will always happen that where the people are deified in theory, they will be degraded and corrupted in practice. Men will be promoted, not according to their wisdom and worth; not according to their ability to answer the ends of the State in eliciting the voice of reason and of truth, and securing the reign of universal justice—they will be promoted according to their pliancy in pandering to popular tastes. The demagogue will supplant the statesman—the representative be replaced with a tool.”

Click here to read the full discourse.

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God Will Surely Provide

Rev. Samuel Davies [3 November 1723 - 4 February 1761]It was on this day, September 26th, in 1759, that the Rev. Samuel Davies was installed as President of the College of New Jersey. [It was upon the occasion of its sesquicentennial celebrations in 1896, that the school’s name was changed to Princeton University.]  How did the Lord prepare Samuel Davies for such an important position? One part of that story is told on the early pages of his Memoir:—

During the first part of the eighteenth century, religion was, perhaps, in a lower state of declension, throughout the British dominions, than at any other period since the reformation. The concurrent testimony of churchmen and dissenters establishes this fact. Many clergymen of various denominations had become very lukewarm, and in many instances exceedingly corrupt; and the people were ready enough to follow the steps of their spiritual guides. It was in this season of darkness that several men were born, who, afterwards, were burning and shining lights in the world. The names of Tennent, Blair, Edwards, Davies, and Whitefield, may suffice to illustrate this remark. Since their day, vital piety has gradually increased, and the spiritual condition of the church of Christ has become more prosperous. The subject of this memoir was powerfully instrumental in producing the happy change.

Samuel Davies was born in the county of Newcastle, Delaware, November 3, 1724. The Christian names of his parents are unknown to us; nor can we say anything of the origin of the family, or trace it beyond the immediate progenitors. The father is represented to have been a plain farmer, in very moderate circumstances; the mother a very sensible and judicious woman; both were pious. Their son was a child of prayer; and was from the birth devoted to God by the name of Samuel.

It is known that the religious declension, of which mention was made above, extended to Virginia. About the year 1740, some individuals in the county of Hanover were awakened to a deep concern for their eternal interests in a very extraordinary manner. A few leaves of Boston’s Fourfold State fell into the hands of a wealthy planter, and made so deep an impression on his mind, that he never rested until he procured a copy of the work. This book it is believed, was instrumental in affording light to his mind, and peace to his heart. Another gentleman, Mr. Samuel Morris, derived similar advantages from Luther on the Galatians. The books that had been so useful to these persons were read to others, and produced very great and happy effects. So deep was the sensation, that multitudes were accustomed to assemble for the purpose of hearing Morris read. His house was in a short time too small to contain them; and a meeting-house was built for the purpose, long known by the name of Morris’s reading room. In this state of things, the Rev. William Robinson, a member of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, was sent on a mission to the frontier settlements. On his tour, he entered Virginia, and preached with great acceptance among the Scotch and Irish, who had made settlements in the counties of Prince Edward, Charlotte, and Campbell.

At Cub Creek, in the county of Charlotte, he was heard by some of the young people from Hanover who had gone to visit their friends, and who soon sent back word what manner of man was among them. On receiving this intelligence, two messengers were immediately dispatched from Hanover for Mr. Robinson. He had left the place, but they followed in his tract and at length overtook him. He was prevailed on to consent to visit Hanover, and at the appointed time he came. For four days he continued among them, preaching to the crowds that had assembled at the reading room. This is described as a very remarkable season.

On Mr. Robinson’s taking leave, some of the gentlemen presented him with a considerable sum of money, not merely as a compensation for his faithful labors among them, but principally as an expression of that gratitude they felt towards Mr. Robinson, as the honored instrument of so much good to them. But he modestly declined their liberality, assigning for the reason of his refusal, not only the delicacy of his and their situation–that the enemies of the cause of religion might, should he receive it, endeavor to represent him as a mere mercenary, and thus wound and injure the infant flock; but chiefly because he did not need it, the Lord having blessed him with independence as to fortune; and being thus able, he wished to labor without being burdensome to those among whom he went preaching the gospel. These reasons, though strong and unanswerable, could not silence the pleadings of their heart-felt gratitude–a gratitude which found no other way of exercising itself towards its object but by some offering of this kind. They therefore repeatedly urged its acceptance, but he constantly and firmly declined the offer.

Seeing no hope of his receding from the determination he had taken not to receive their money, the committee entrusted with it put it into the hands of the gentleman with whom he was to lodge the last night of his stay in the county, with directions to convey it privately into his saddle-bags, not doubting but when, after his departure, he should find himself in possession of the money, he would appropriate it to his own use. This was accordingly done. And in the morning Mr. Robinson, having taken an affectionate leave of his kind friends, took his saddle-bags to depart; but he found them much more ponderous than when he came there. Searching for the cause, like Joseph’s brethren of old, he found the money in the sack’s mouth. Pleased with the benevolent artifice, he smiling said, “I see you are resolved I shall have your money. I will take it. But, as I have before told you, I do not need it. I have enough. Nor will I appropriate it to my own use. But there is a young man of my acquaintance, of promising talents and piety, who is now studying with a view to the ministry; but his circumstances are embarrassing; he has not funds to support and carry him on without much difficulty. This money will relieve him from his pecuniary difficulties. I will take charge of it and appropriate it to his use. And so soon as he is licensed, we will send him to visit you. And if you should be pleased with him, and he should be pleased with you, it may be that you may now, by your liberality, be educating a minister for yourselves.” The proposition was immediately accepted, and the money faithfully appropriated to the benefit of young Davies while pursuing his theological studies.

“And that is the reason,” said a pious old lady who communicated this, “that Mr. Davies came to Hanover; for he often used to say that he was inclined to settle in another place; but that he felt under obligation to the people of Hanover.” — This anecdote is not only told by aged persons who were contemporary with Davies, but is handed down by tradition, and related in terms of the same import with those used above, by the grandchildren of some of Mr. Davies’s people.

Words to Live By:
It is delightful, from the present time, to look back to an occurrence apparently so trivial as the discovery of a few leaves in an old book, and trace the many important events connected with it; to see the workings of Providence accomplishing his purposes, and carrying on his great designs of mercy in our favored land. It is delightful to think on the ways of the Almighty, and contemplate the dealings and dispensations of the God of our Fathers.

“Search backward into all the performances of Providence throughout your lives. So did Asaph: ‘I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings’ (Psalm 77:11, 12). He laboured to recover and revive the ancient providences of God’s mercies many years past, and suck a fresh sweetness out of them by new reviews of them. Ah, sirs, let me tell you, there is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would but sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what signal manifestations and outbreakings of His mercy, faithfulness and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. If your hearts do not melt before you have gone half through that history, they are hard hearts indeed. ‘My Father, thou art the guide of my youth’ (Jeremiah 3:4).”—excerpted from chapter nine of The Mystery of Providence, by John Flavel.

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George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. You may have noticed postings on Facebook and elsewhere with recommended readings in commemoration of the occasion. Peter Lillback’s recent work, George Washington’s Sacred Fire, should be among that list. But it was on this day, February 23, in 1862, that the Rev. T.W.J. Wylie, a Reformed Presbyterian pastor (General Synod) brought the following message:—  

Washington a Christian.
A Discourse preached February 23, 1862, in the First Reformed Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia.

by the Pastor, T. W. J. Wylie.

(Philadelphia: William S. & Alfred Martien, 606 Chestnut Street, 1862.)

According to Thy manifold mercies Thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies.” — Nehemiah ix. 27.

Why was yesterday, throughout our land, such a day of gladness? It was because, in the arrangements of Divine Providence, a succession of victories which had crowned our arms, was connected, by a delightful coincidence with the recurrence of the birthday of the patriot, the hero, the statesman, who, by universal consent, bears the honoured name of Father of His Country. It was well for us, with gratitude to Heaven, to observe the day; and while reflecting on the evidences which the past presented, that the Lord our God was with us, to gather hope and courage for the future.

It is proper for any nation to cherish the memory of those who have been its deliverers or benefactors. In one of the sacred Psalms (lxxxvii. 4) we have been singing, the inspired writer refers to Rahab, or Egypt, and Babylon, as distinguished for their great men. Ethiopia, also, then, as now, perhaps, despised by many, is not forgotten—”this man was born there.” But it is when the honours which may be accorded to any one, for the natural greatness which he may attain, are connected with the higher glory of a Christian life, that we find an object worthy of our chief admiration. “It shall be said of Zion, This and that man was born in her; and he that is the Highest himself shall establish her. The Lord shall count when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there. Selah. As well the singers, as the players on instruments, shall be there. All my springs are in thee.”

It is in this aspect then, especially, that we think it proper, to-day, to review the character of that illustrious man, whom our nation delights to honour. We do, indeed, think it would be unsuitable to introduce into this holy place what was purely political; and we consider it highly improper that any should substitute the reading of Washington’s Farewell Address for the usual exposition of divine truth; but we do think it is perfectly appropriate that we consider the illustration which the history of our country, and the life of Washington afford, of the language of our text: God, “according to His manifold mercies, has given us saviours, who have saved us out of the hand of our enemies.” Such men were Washington, and others, and it is proper for us to acknowledge, with gratitude, the manifold mercies of that gracious Being who raised them to save us from the hand of our enemies.

In thus referring to the history of Washington, we invite your attention, first, to his early life. We desire, naturally, to trace a mighty river to itds fountain; and as we notice how it gushes from the mountain-side, in some dark glen, almost entirely concealed from view; and as we trace its widening, deepening course, till it swells into the majestic stream, which floats a navy on its bosom, we admire the more the grandeur of a development so great, from a beginning so small. We ask what influences have produced such a result. So in the career of great men—so in the history of Washington. One of our first inquiries is, What was he when a child? How was formed then that noble character, which has gained him a place so exalted in the annals of our race?

We may notice, first of all, that he enjoyed the blessing of pious parents. His father, who died when his son was only about ten years old, was a religious man, and appears to have had a profound sense of the Divine existence and excellence, which he endeavoured to impress on the tender heart of his child. His mother, too, was a consistent Christian, and carefully brought up her children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” It is related of her daughter, that when parting with a son, as he first left his home, she gave him, as her farewell charge, “My son, never neglect the duty of secret prayer.” Washington, we doubt not, was early taught to pray; and from a child, he knew of the Holy Scriptures. Indeed, there is reason to believe that from a very early age he was a subject of regenerating and sanctifying grace. His case is one of many which prove the faithfulness of the divine promise: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

One of the principal features of his character was filial obedience. He was remarkable for the respect which he always showed his widowed mother. When quite a young man, a commission was obtained for him to enter the British Navy as a midshipman. His mother had given a reluctant assent, and all the necessary arrangements had been made. The vessel was lying in the Potomac to receive him on board; his baggage was ready; he was just going to say farewell, when he observed that his mother’s heart was grieved, and he resolved to remain. The firm spirit which never quailed before a foe, was bowed by a mother’s love. His whole career was changed. Had it not been that he was thus influenced, how different would have been his subsequent history, and ours!

Such was his general, we doubt not but we may say, his uniform character. When some one, after the great victory which terminated our Revolutionary War, hastened to announce the tidings to his mother, her reply was simply, “George was always a good child.” We question if any of the honours which were heaped upon him were more grateful than this praise from the lips of her whom he so much loved and revered.

He displayed in youth an intrepidity which foretokened the courage he afterwards manifested. The traveller who visits the Natural Bridge in Virginia may notice how one person and another, desirous of leaving a record of his existence, has climbed up its almost perpendicular sides and carves his name on the soft rock. High up above the rest is the name of Washington—the steady heart, the firm hand, the strong foothold of the boy, corresponding to the character of the man.

His habits of system and industry were remarkable from early life. In the language of an old writer, he “endeavoured to live by rule, and therefore had a rule to live by.” When he was about thirteen years of age he prepared a blank book to make a record of such things as he considered worthy of especial remembrance. Among other articles entered in this book we find a number of rules of conduct for the young. Some of these indicate the leading elements of his future character. “When you speak of God or his attributes, let it be seriously in reverence.” “Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.” “Be no flatterer.” “Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy.” “Let your conversation be without malice or envy.” “Detract not from others, neither be excessive in commending.” “Undertake not what you cannot perform, but be careful to keep your promise.” “Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.” “When you meet with one of greater quality than yourself, stop and retire, especially if it be at a door or any straight place, to give way for him to pass.” “In your apparel be modest, and endeavor to accommodate nature rather than to procure admiration.” “Play not the peacock, looking everywhere about you, to see if you be well-decked; if your shoes fit well, if your stockings sit neatly, and clothes handsomely.” One of the books which belonged to his mother, and which was found in his own library, having evidences of frequent use, was the writings of Sir Matthew Hale; and there is reason to believe that the valuable counsels which it contains were enjoined by his mother, and adopted by himself, for the regulation of his life.

His love of truth is shown by incidents in his history which are as familiar to all Americans as household words. His sense of justice, his impartiality and decision of character were conspicuous even when he was a child. His companions had such confidence in him that they were in the habit of calling on him to settle their disputes. Although naturally courageous, he would neither fight with his schoolmates himself, nor allow them to fight with each other, and braving their displeasure, he would inform the teacher in order to prevent such combats.

But we pass to consider his charcter as he entered upon public life—as the soldier and the statesman—in both the Christian. 

It is well known that he early entered into military service, and in the wars with the French and Indians, before our Revolution occurred, he was prepared for his high position as the commander-in-chief of our armies during the severe and long-continued struggle for our National Independence. The condition of our country at this period shows that he was “raised up for such a time.” Our numbers were few, our resources feeble indeed, and yet we had to cope with the well-trained armies of a mighty empire. At the head of our troops he was the right man in the right place. With courage to strike the blow, and with firmness to wait till all was ready, he was the very person who was fit for such a post. One who was rash or impetuous would have hazarded our cause in the unequal struggle, and lost it. But he could brave insinuation and reproach, and with a lofty patriotism prefer that his own character should suffer rather than his country should be injured. Remarkably preserved from dangers at various times, he was evidently destined to the high work which he so gloriously accomplished.

It is our design, however, principally to refer to the evidences of genuine religion which were manifested in his military career. In one of his proclamations he says, “The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor so to live and act, as becomes a Christian soldier defending the rights and liberties of his country.” “A CHRISTIAN SOLDIER”—what he desired in others he certainly exhibited himself. He frequently refers in his letters and reports to a Divine providence, even in events where many Christians would fail to notice the hand of heaven. “We should have been,” he says, when on his first expedition, then but twenty-three years old, “we should have been four days without provisions if Providence had not sent a trader from the Ohio to our relief.” “By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence,” he says, when giving an account of Braddock’s defeat, “I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, while death was levelling my companions on every side of me.” “I trust that Divine Providence,” he says again, “which wisely orders the affairs of men, will enable us to discharge our duty with fidelity and success.” In his reply to a congratulatory address on the evacuation of Boston, he declares that the happy result “must be ascribed to the interposition of that Providence which has manifestly appeared in our behalf through the whole of this important struggle, as well as to the measures pursued for bringing about the happy event.” And he adds, “May that Being who is powerful to save, and in whose hands is the fate of nations, look down with an eye of tender pity and compassion on these United Colonies. May He continue to smile upon their councils and arms, and crown them with success whilst employed in the cause of virtue and mankind.” On receiving information of the surrender of Burgoyne he writes to his brother in reference to “this signal stroke of Providence.” In another letter, alluding to the sufferings of our army at Valley Forge, he says, “To paint the distress and perilous situation of this army in the course of last winter, for the want of clothes, provisions, and almost every other necessary essential to the well-being, I may say, existence, of an army, would require more time, and an abler pen than mine. Nor since our prospects have so miraculously brightened, shall I attempt it, or even bear it in remembrance, further than as a memento of what is due to the Great Author of all the care and goodness that have been extended in relieving us.” In another private letter, he says, “The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”

Referring to the condition of public affairs in 1778, when he had gone to Philadelphia to consult with Congress on the plan of the campaign for the next year, he says, “If I was called on to draw a picture of the times and of men, from what I have seen, heard, and in part know, I should, in one word, say, that idleness, dissipation and extravagance seem to have laid fast hold of most of them; that speculation, peculation, and an insatiable thirst for riches, seem to have gotten the better of every other consideration, and almost every body of men; that party disputes and personal quarrels are the great business of the day; while the momentous concerns of an empire, a great and accumulating debt, ruined finances, depreciated money, and want of credit, which in its consequences is the want of everything, are but secondary considerations, and postponed from day to day, from week to week, as if our affairs wore the most promising aspect. I again repeat to you, that this is not an exaggerated account. That it is an alarming one, I do not deny. And I confess to you that I feel more real distress on account of the present appearance of things, than I have done at any one time since the commencement of the dispute. But it is time to bid you adieu. Providence has heretofore taken us up when all other means and hopes seemed to be departing from us. In this I will confide.” In a “Circular of the States,” dated Philadelphia, January 31, 1782, he says, “Although we cannot by the best concerted plans absolutely command success, although the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, yet without presumptuously waiting for miracles to be wrought in our favour, it is an indispensable duty, with the deepest gratitude to Heaven for the past, and humble confidence in its smiles on our future operations, to make use of all the means in our power for our defence and security.”

To continue reading this discourse, click here, and continue from page 20.

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Man Knows Not His Time.

“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”—(Psalm 90:12, KJV)

It was on this day, January 19th, in 1812, that the Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller delivered a sermon “at the request of a number of young gentlemen of the city of New-York who had assembled to express their condolence with the inhabitants of Richmond, on the late mournful dispensation of Providence in that city.” A terrible event, the tragedy caught the attention of the young nation, and throughout the Church, not a few pastors addressed themselves to various aspects of the horrible fire. [See a partial list at the end of the sermon text, below.] By way of background, as Dr. Miller himself relates in a note suffixed to his sermon:—

“On the night of December 26, 1811, the theatre in the city of Richmond, Virginia, was unusually crowded; a new play having drawn together an audience of not less than six hundred persons. Toward the close of the performances, just before the commencement of the last act of the concluding pantomime, the scenery caught fire, from a lamp inadvertently raised to an improper position, and, in a few minutes the whole building was wrapped in flames. The doors being very few, and the avenues leading to them extremely narrow, the scene which ensued was truly a scene of horror! It may be in some degree imagined, but can never be adequately described!—About seventy-five persons perished in the flames. Among these were the governor of the State; the President of the Bank of Virginia; one of the most eminent Attorneys belonging to the bar of the commonwealth; a number of other respectable Gentlemen; and about fifty females, a large portion of whom were among the Ladies of the greatest conspicuity and fashion in the city.”

richmondtheatre

In Dr. Miller’s sermon, the first two major points of his sermon are much more in keeping with what we might expect. However, in his third division of the sermon—the moral applicationMiller uses the occasion to speak out against the theatre as an institution. In this, he echoed a common sentiment among Christians of his day, who generally opposed the theatre and the profession of acting.

For those with the time and interest to read, the text of Dr. Miller’s sermon follows.

A SERMON.

Lamentations 2:1,13: How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto the earth, the beauty of Israel, and remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger! What thing shall I take to witness for thee? What thing shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? What shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? For thy breach is great like the sea; who can heal thee?

THE prophet Jeremiah lived in a dark and distressing day. Religion, among his countrymen, had sunk to an ebb awfully low. The body of the people had become extremely licentious in principle, and corrupt in practice. And a holy God had visited them with many tokens of his righteous displeasure. By fire, by famine, by pestilence, and by the sword, he had taught them terrible things in righteousness; until, at length, wearied with their iniquities, he delivered them into the hands of their enemies, by whom they were, as a people, nearly destroyed.

Over this melancholy scene of guilt and suffering the Prophet composed his Lamentations. And never were scenes of misery, and feelings of anguish, painted with a more masterly hand. Never were the pathos and tenderness, as well as the force of grief, more strongly displayed. As one of the ancient Fathers beautifully expresses it, “every letter appears to be written with a tear, and every word to be the sound of a broken heart; and the writer a man of sorrows, who scarcely ever breathed but in sighs, or spoke but in groans.”

Having been requested, on this occasion, to address my audience with reference to a late awful calamity, well known to you all, which had destroyed many valuable lives, and has covered a sister City with mourning; I have chosen the words just read as the foundation of what shall be offered. May the great Master of assemblies direct us to such an application of them as shall be profitable to every hearer!

How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto earth, the beauty of Israel! What shall I take to witness for thee? What thing shall I liken unto thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? What shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O daughter of Zion? For thy breach is great, like the sea; who can heal thee?

Without staying, at present, to explain in detail the several parts of this passage, I shall only observe, that by the daughter of Zion, and the daughter of Jerusalem, we are to understand, by a figure common with this Prophet, the inhabitants of the Jewish capital, in which Zion stood; or rather the Jewish nation, the covenanted people, the visible Church of God, under the Old Testament economy. Of course, what the Prophet applies to that afflicted city, may, without impropriety, be applied either to the whole, or any part of a community, who call themselves a Christian people; or who are embraced even by the most lax profession, within the pale of the visible Church.

We may therefore consider the text first, as a devout acknowledgment of the hand of God, in the afflictions which the Prophet laments;—secondly, as an expression of sympathy with the afflicted;—thirdly, as pointing to the moral application of the calamities which he deplored.

I. There is, in the passage before us, a devout acknowledgment of the hand of God, in the affliction which the prophet laments. How hath the LORD covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger! How hath the LORD cast down the beauty of Israel!

The doctrine, that the providence of God extends to all events, both in the natural and moral world; that nothing comes to pass without either his direct agency, or, at least, his wise permission and control; is a doctrine not only laid down in the plainest and most pointed manner in scripture; but also one which results from the perfections and the government of God when admitted in almost any sense. If there be a general providence, there must be a particular one. If God govern the world at all, he must order and direct everything, without exception. Yes, brethren, if it were possible for a sparrow to fall to the ground without our heavenly Father; or if it were possible for the hairs of any head to fail of being numbered by the infinite One; in short, if it were possible that there should be anything not under the immediate and the constant control of the Governor of the world; then it would follow that some things may take place contrary to his will; then prayer would be a useless, nay, an unmeaning service; then Jehovah would be liable, every moment, to be arrested or disappointed in the progress of his plans, by the caprice of accident. But, if none of these things can be supposed without blasphemy, then the providence of God is particular as well as universal. It extends to all creatures, and all their actions.—Is there evil in the city and the Lord hath not done it? No; the devouring fire; the overwhelming tempest; the resistless lightning; the raging pestilence; the wasting famine; and the bloody sword, even when wielded by the vilest of men, are all instruments in the hand of God for accomplishing his will and pleasure. And as the providence of God is actually concerned in every thing which befalls individuals or communities; so he requires us to notice and to acknowledge that providence in all his dispensations towards us. Not to regard the work of the Lord, or not to consider the operation of his hands, he pronounces to be sin; and denying his agency in the works of providence, he expressly condemns, as giving his glory to another.

While, therefore, we deplore the heart-rending calamity which had fallen upon a neighboring city, let us not forget, or place out of sight, the hand of God in the awful scene. It was not the work of chance. A righteous God has done it. His breath kindled the devouring flame. Not a spark of the raging element rose or fell without his providential guidance: not a victim sunk under its destroying power, without the discriminating and immediate hand of sovereign Wisdom. He ordered and controlled all the circumstances attending the melancholy scene. He doth not, indeed afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. But still affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground. What! shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil also? The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!

II. The Language of the mourning Prophet, while it notices and acknowledges the hand of God in the calamities which it deplores, at the same time expresses the tenderest sympathy for the sufferers. This is indicated in every line of our text and context: and it is the feeling which ought to be cherished upon every similar occasion.

To sympathize with suffering humanity, however that suffering may have been produced, is a dictate of nature, as well as demanded by the authority of our common Creator. Thou shalt weep with them that weep, is a divine precept. When one member of the body suffers, all the members suffer with it. Thus it is in the social as well as in the physical body. Thus it is in domestic society. And thus it ought to be in the large family of a city, a state, or a nation. When one part of a nation is afflicted, all the rest ought to feel for it. When, therefore, any of our friends or neighbors, or any of the most remote portions of the same associated family are visited with any signal calamity, we are bound to consider it not only as a solemn lesson addressed to the whole body; but also as calling upon us to feel for, and sympathize with them; as they, under like circumstances, ought to sympathize with, and feel for us. When this is not the case, one great design of Jehovah’s judgments, which is to instruct and to impress a whole people, by the calamities of a part, is, undoubtedly, speaking after the manner of men, opposed and defeated.

The melancholy dispensation of providence which we this day deplore, is one pre-eminently calculated to interest the feelings, and to excite the tenderest sympathy of very mind. How shall we speak of a scene of such complicated horror? The heart sickens at the dreadful recital! When our beloved relatives die on the bed of disease, the event is solemn, and the bereavement trying; but it is the course of nature; and the frequency of the occurrence disarms it of more than half its terrors. When our friends and neighbors fall in battle, the stroke is painful; but the soldier is expected, by himself and by others, to be in danger of such an end. When those who sail on the mighty deep, are dashed on the rocks, or swallowed up in the merciless waves, we mourn over the catastrophe; but when be bade them farewell, we remembered that they might never return.

But how shall we describe a calamity which has plunged a whole city into agony and tears? A calamity which, to the number and the importance of its victims, added all the circumstances of horror which can well be conceived, to overwhelm the mind! How sudden the burst of destruction! How unexpected its approach, at such a place, and at such a time! What complicated agony, both to the sufferers and to the survivors, attended its fatal progress! But I dare not attempt further to depict a scene from which the mind revolts with shuddering!

Is there a Husband or a Wife who does not feel for those who saw beloved companions writhing in the merciless flames, and sinking in the most dreadful of all deaths, without being able to afford them relief? Is there a Parent who does not feel for those agonizing fathers and mothers, who saw their endeared and promising children torn from them in an hour of unsuspecting confidence and mirth? Is there a Brother or a Sister who does not sympathize with those almost frantic survivors, who were compelled to abandon to their cruel fate relatives dear to them as life? Is there a Patriot who does not feel for the fatal stroke which snatched an amiable and respectable Chief Magistrate from the bosom of a beloved family, and from the confidence of his fellow citizens? Is there a mind capable of admiring the attractive, the interesting, and the elegant, who is not ready to drop a tear over youth, beauty, genius, learning, and active worth, all sinking together in one smoking ruin? Is there a heart alive to the delights of society, and the endearments of friendship, who does not mourn over the melancholy chasm, which has been made in the social circles of that hapless city?—O Richmond! bereaved and mourning Richmond! What shall we say unto thee? How shall we comfort thee? Thy breach is great like the sea; who can heal thee? None but that God who has inflicted the stroke! O that our heads were waters, and our eyes fountains of tears, that we might weep over the slain of the daughter of thy people!

III. We may consider the passage before us as pointing to the moral application of the calamities which it deplores. Read the rest of this entry »

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Time and again, the Lord has shown Himself faithful.

You would do well to take your Bible this Thanksgiving weekend and begin a study on how often throughout the Scriptures the Lord instructs us to remember His works. And why is that? Obviously, that we should not forget Him, that we should be conscious of His faithfulness, that we should be thankful for His daily providences, and all to the end that we should glorify Him and worship Him, as the Lord alone deserves.

The Psalms are, as we might expect, full of such instruction. To give but a few examples:

We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old. (Ps. 44:1)

The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein . . . He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered;… (Ps. 111:2a, 4a)

One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts. (Ps. 145:4)

Indeed, this is one of those themes of Scripture, which, once your eyes are opened to it, you begin to see it everywhere. Presbyterian history will take a break today, that you might reflect on your own history, and so praise God for all that He is to you.

John Flavel, in his Mystery of Providence, speaks to our point:

Search backward into all the performances of Providence throughout your lives. So did Asaph: ‘I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings’ (Psalm 77:11, 12). He laboured to recover and revive the ancient providences of God’s mercies many years past, and suck a fresh sweetness out of them by new reviews of them.
Ah, sirs, let me tell you, there is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would but sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what signal manifestations and outbreakings of His mercy, faithfulness and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. If your hearts do not melt before you have gone half through that history, they are hard hearts indeed.

 

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God Will Surely Provide

Rev. Samuel Davies [3 November 1723 - 4 February 1761]It was on this day, September 26th, in 1759, that the Rev. Samuel Davies was installed as President of the College of New Jersey. [It was upon the occasion of its sesquicentennial celebrations in 1896, that the school’s name was changed to Princeton University.]  How did the Lord prepare Samuel Davies for such an important position? One part of that story is told on the early pages of his Memoir:—

During the first part of the eighteenth century, religion was, perhaps, in a lower state of declension, throughout the British dominions, than at any other period since the reformation. The concurrent testimony of churchmen and dissenters establishes this fact. Many clergymen of various denominations had become very lukewarm, and in many instances exceedingly corrupt; and the people were ready enough to follow the steps of their spiritual guides. It was in this season of darkness that several men were born, who, afterwards, were burning and shining lights in the world. The names of Tennent, Blair, Edwards, Davies, and Whitefield, may suffice to illustrate this remark. Since their day, vital piety has gradually increased, and the spiritual condition of the church of Christ has become more prosperous. The subject of this memoir was powerfully instrumental in producing the happy change.

Samuel Davies was born in the county of Newcastle, Delaware, November 3, 1724. The Christian names of his parents are unknown to us; nor can we say anything of the origin of the family, or trace it beyond the immediate progenitors. The father is represented to have been a plain farmer, in very moderate circumstances; the mother a very sensible and judicious woman; both were pious. Their son was a child of prayer; and was from the birth devoted to God by the name of Samuel.

It is known that the religious declension, of which mention was made above, extended to Virginia. About the year 1740, some individuals in the county of Hanover were awakened to a deep concern for their eternal interests in a very extraordinary manner. A few leaves of Boston’s Fourfold State fell into the hands of a wealthy planter, and made so deep an impression on his mind, that he never rested until he procured a copy of the work. This book it is believed, was instrumental in affording light to his mind, and peace to his heart. Another gentleman, Mr. Samuel Morris, derived similar advantages from Luther on the Galatians. The books that had been so useful to these persons were read to others, and produced very great and happy effects. So deep was the sensation, that multitudes were accustomed to assemble for the purpose of hearing Morris read. His house was in a short time too small to contain them; and a meeting-house was built for the purpose, long known by the name of Morris’s reading room. In this state of things, the Rev. William Robinson, a member of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, was sent on a mission to the frontier settlements. On his tour, he entered Virginia, and preached with great acceptance among the Scotch and Irish, who had made settlements in the counties of Prince Edward, Charlotte, and Campbell.

At Cub Creek, in the county of Charlotte, he was heard by some of the young people from Hanover who had gone to visit their friends, and who soon sent back word what manner of man was among them. On receiving this intelligence, two messengers were immediately dispatched from Hanover for Mr. Robinson. He had left the place, but they followed in his tract and at length overtook him. He was prevailed on to consent to visit Hanover, and at the appointed time he came. For four days he continued among them, preaching to the crowds that had assembled at the reading room. This is described as a very remarkable season.

On Mr. Robinson’s taking leave, some of the gentlemen presented him with a considerable sum of money, not merely as a compensation for his faithful labors among them, but principally as an expression of that gratitude they felt towards Mr. Robinson, as the honored instrument of so much good to them. But he modestly declined their liberality, assigning for the reason of his refusal, not only the delicacy of his and their situation–that the enemies of the cause of religion might, should he receive it, endeavor to represent him as a mere mercenary, and thus wound and injure the infant flock; but chiefly because he did not need it, the Lord having blessed him with independence as to fortune; and being thus able, he wished to labor without being burdensome to those among whom he went preaching the gospel. These reasons, though strong and unanswerable, could not silence the pleadings of their heart-felt gratitude–a gratitude which found no other way of exercising itself towards its object but by some offering of this kind. They therefore repeatedly urged its acceptance, but he constantly and firmly declined the offer.

Seeing no hope of his receding from the determination he had taken not to receive their money, the committee entrusted with it put it into the hands of the gentleman with whom he was to lodge the last night of his stay in the county, with directions to convey it privately into his saddle-bags, not doubting but when, after his departure, he should find himself in possession of the money, he would appropriate it to his own use. This was accordingly done. And in the morning Mr. Robinson, having taken an affectionate leave of his kind friends, took his saddle-bags to depart; but he found them much more ponderous than when he came there. Searching for the cause, like Joseph’s brethren of old, he found the money in the sack’s mouth. Pleased with the benevolent artifice, he smiling said, “I see you are resolved I shall have your money. I will take it. But, as I have before told you, I do not need it. I have enough. Nor will I appropriate it to my own use. But there is a young man of my acquaintance, of promising talents and piety, who is now studying with a view to the ministry; but his circumstances are embarrassing; he has not funds to support and carry him on without much difficulty. This money will relieve him from his pecuniary difficulties. I will take charge of it and appropriate it to his use. And so soon as he is licensed, we will send him to visit you. And if you should be pleased with him, and he should be pleased with you, it may be that you may now, by your liberality, be educating a minister for yourselves.” The proposition was immediately accepted, and the money faithfully appropriated to the benefit of young Davies while pursuing his theological studies.

“And that is the reason,” said a pious old lady who communicated this, “that Mr. Davies came to Hanover; for he often used to say that he was inclined to settle in another place; but that he felt under obligation to the people of Hanover.” — This anecdote is not only told by aged persons who were cotemporary with Davies, but is handed down by tradition, and related in terms of the same import with those used above, by the grandchildren of some of Mr. Davies’s people.

Words to Live By:
It is delightful, from the present time, to look back to an occurrence apparently so trivial as the discovery of a few leaves in an old book, and trace the many important events connected with it; to see the workings of Providence accomplishing his purposes, and carrying on his great designs of mercy in our favored land. It is delightful to think on the ways of the Almighty, and contemplate the dealings and dispensations of the God of our Fathers.

“Search backward into all the performances of Providence throughout your lives. So did Asaph: ‘I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings’ (Psalm 77:11, 12). He laboured to recover and revive the ancient providences of God’s mercies many years past, and suck a fresh sweetness out of them by new reviews of them. Ah, sirs, let me tell you, there is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would but sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what signal manifestations and outbreakings of His mercy, faithfulness and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. If your hearts do not melt before you have gone half through that history, they are hard hearts indeed. ‘My Father, thou art the guide of my youth’ (Jeremiah 3:4).”—excerpted from chapter nine of The Mystery of Providence, by John Flavel.

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As is our habit this year on TDPH, on each Lord’s Day we look to post a sermon (or a reasonable facsimile thereof).  Also, since it is Sunday, hopefully our readers will have more time to read these longer entries, and we trust you will find them profitable.  The text of today’s post is permanently posted in PDF format at the PCA Historical Center’s web site, here.

THE CERTAINTY OF THE WORLD’S CONVERSION.
BY REV. J. L. WILSON,
Missionary at the Gaboon, W. Africa.

[excerpted from The Southern Presbyterian Review, vol. 2, no. 3 (December 1848): 427-441.]

Rev. John Leighton Wilson “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”  This stern declaration wrung from the disciples of Christ the earnest inquiry, “Who then can be saved?” To this the Saviour replies, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

In this reply, there is no abatement of the real difficulties of being saved.  The impressions of the disciples, on this particular point, were correct, and no effort is made to change or remove them.  The kingdom of heaven, if taken at all, must be taken by violence, and none but the violent shall ever enter.  It has a straight gate and a narrow way; and it is only those who enter the one and walk in the other that shall ever attain to everlasting life.  The immu­table terms of discipleship are, that we must take up our crosses and follow Christ, through evil as well as good report. Those who shine in the upper courts with most lustre, are those who have come out of great tribulation and made their garments white in the blood of the Lamb.

The impressions of the disciples, therefore, are rather confirmed than removed.  According to their previous views, and those of the young man with whom the Saviour had just been conversing, it was not possible to be saved. Both were indulging fundamental errors on the most important of all subjects, and it was essential to their salva­tion that those errors should be corrected.

But whilst the foundation upon which they were standing is thus torn away, they are not given over to despair.  A surer and better way is pointed out.  That which they could never attain by their own exertions or morality, can easily be effected by the grace of God.  In other words, what is impossible with men is possible with God.  What we can never effect by our own unaided efforts, may easily be achieved by throwing ourselves upon the almighty power of Jehovah.

This doctrine accords with the experience of Christians in all ages of the world.  There is no lesson more thoroughly taught in the school of Christ than this.  Chris­tians who have had even but little experience, are fully aware that they can make no advances in holiness, except so far as they are aided from on high.  A clear view of the number and power of their spiritual enemies, if not attended by equally clear views of the all sufficiency of divine grace, never fails to awaken apprehensions about their final salvation; whilst a lively appreciation of the promises and assurances of the Bible, and right apprehen­sions of the power of God, as seldom fail to inspire them with courage and resolution.

Nor is this principle of dependence upon God, more important or indispensable in our personal conflicts with sin, than it is in every enterprise in which we engage for the benefit of others.  “Without me,” says the Saviour, “ye can do nothing.”  But then again it is said with equal emphasis, “I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me.”

Guided by this principle of dependence, there is no enterprise, however great or difficult, provided it is in accordance with the Divine will, upon which we may not enter with confident assurance of success.  It matters not what human probabilities may be arrayed against it,—it matters not what disproportion there may be between the means and the end to be effected,—it matters equally little whether we are able or not to trace all the intermediate steps by which it is to be brought about,—nor are we to be discouraged or intimidated because unforeseen difficulties rise and threaten to frustrate our work.  It is enough for us to know that we are engaged in a cause that has been authorised by God, and that we pursue it in a manner that he approves.  Having settled these fundamental principles, we may press forward in any good work, with confidence that our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.

These general remarks have been made for the pur­pose of introducing our general subject, the certainty of the world’s conversion.

There are multitudes in the Christian church, at the present moment, who are pressed with difficulties in relation to this matter, not unlike those which the disciples once felt in relation to the salvation of their own soul.  And who is there among us, Christian hearers, who does not in some measure, at least, participate in feeling these difficulties.

No doubts are entertained in relation to what the Bible teaches on this subject.  The mass of Christians believe, or profess to believe, that “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God.”  But the overwhelming magnitude of the work fills the mind with doubts and skepticism, and leads many to abandon the missionary cause, as a visionary and hopeless work. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Great Christian Biographer

SpragueWBWilliam Buell Sprague was born in Andover, Tolland county, Connecticut, on October 16, 1795. He graduated at Yale College in 1815, then in 1816 entered the Princeton Theological Seminary, and after studying there for over two years, was licensed to preach by the Association of Ministers in the county of Tolland, on August 29th, 1818. As a pastor of the Congregational Church of West Springfield, Massachusetts, Rev. Sprague served with great success from August of 1819 until July of 1829, at which time he answered a call to serve the Second Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York. He was installed as pastor there on August 26, 1829, and he remained in this post for forty years, “remarkable for the extraordinary steadfastness and warmth of attachment existing through all that protracted period between himself and his large and intelligent congregation, and even more remarkable for the vast and varied labors performed by him” during those forty years. Rev. Sprague has aptly been described as “an industrious man, a cultivated, elegant, voluminous, useful and popular preacher; an indefatigable and successful pastor; an unselfish and devoted friend; loving, genial, pure, noble; an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile; one of the most child-like, unsophisticated and charitable of men.”

While Dr. Sprague never relaxed his pulpit and pastoral duties, his added literary labors were prodigious, and their fruits exceedingly great. He preached nearly two hundred sermons on special public occasions, the most of which were published. He also produced a large number of biographies and other volumes on practical religious subjects. But the great literary work of his life was his Annals of the American Pulpit, which was undertaken when he was fifty-seven years old, and finished in ten large octavo volumes. [From this set, the three volumes pertaining to Presbyterian pastors was reprinted in 2005 under the title Annals of the American Presbyterian Pulpit]. Another of Dr. Sprague’s better known works is Lectures on the Revivals of Religion.

On December 20, 1869, Dr. Sprague was released, at his own request, from his pastoral charge in Albany, and he retired to Flushing, Long Island, where he quietly spent his remaining years. He passed away peacefully on May 7, 1876, and his mortal remains were taken to Albany for burial, with his funeral service held in the church where he had so faithfully served for so long.

[adapted from the entry found in Alfred Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church (1884).]

Words to Live By:
As a brief sample of one of Dr. Sprague’s sermons, the following is from the opening words of the sermon delivered upon the occasion of the death of his first wife, Charlotte Sprague. A particularly difficult occasion for any pastor, to deliver a sermon over the grave of any member of his family:—

Job xix. 21. “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, oh ye, my friends, for the hand of God hath touched me.”

I have not chosen this passage, my friends, with a view to attempt any thing like a connected discourse; because my feelings forbid such an attempt. I have not chosen it with a view to urge any new claims upon your sympathy, because I know that your hearts have already bled for my affliction. I have not chosen it as an apology for an impatient and complaining spirit, for I am well aware that such a spirit, always unbecoming, is never more offensive, than in the sanctuary of God, and at the throne of grace; and I also know, that in addition to the common obligation of Christian submission which rest upon me, it is my imperative duty, as a minister of Jesus, and as one appointed to lead you to Heaven, now to give you some practical proof of the power of religious consolation. But, my friends, I have chosen this text, as a faithful expression of my feelings, under this bereaving stroke of Providence; and with a view to suggest from it some remarks, which I hope may have such an influence upon your minds, that you will be able to say, that it is good for you that I have been afflicted.

There are two thoughts upon which I shall dwell for a moment, which seem to be suggested by the latter clause of the text: The hand of God hath touched me.

I. The first is, that the afflictions of the present life are some of them peculiarly grievous. I know, my friends, that it is hard for those who are strangers to adversity to realize its bitterness; they can have but a faint idea of what passes within the heart which is wrung by the disruption of ties which seemed almost entwined with the thread of existence. They can go to the house of mourning and be affected by the tears of others, and by the badges of grief, and by the funeral procession, and by the open grave; but, after all, if they have never felt the rending of these ties themselves, they will be likely to carry away but a feeble impression of the agony of bereavement. Ask the husband or the wife, who has been bereaved of a fond, affectionate companion;—ask the father and the mother who have seen the object of their affections laid low in the dust;—ask the brother or the sister, who has wept over the grave of departed friendship, whether the afflictions of life are to be thought lightly of—and whether we can comfortably sustain them without the aids of Divine grace; and the bursting heart of each will return you an answer. Do not think, my friends, that I wish to heighten the picture by adding one dark shade which does not belong to it; I have no wish to give an exaggerated account of the ills of life, or to harrow your feelings, by pointing you to scenes of sorrow, into which you are in no danger of being brought. But I do wish to make every one of you who has never yet felt the bitterness of deep affliction, now feel that it is not a light thing to be even touched by the hand of God;—that those chords of tenderness which are strung in the heart cannot be broken without sending a thrill of agony through the soul;—and that if you think to pass through the furnace of deep affliction without the consolations of religion, you are only laying a plan to harrow your souls with anguish. You will find enough to bear in the day of adversity without the burden of unpardoned sin; there will be no excess of consolation, if you have all that which arises from an unwavering confidence in God, and from communion with a throne of grace. The reason, therefore, for my suggesting this thought, that the afflictions of life are some of them very grievous, is, that a correct impression of them may lead you to gain a seasonable interest in the consolations of religion. Rely upon it, that whatever you may now think, when the day of adversity actually comes, you will need the support of an almighty arm; and if you have not that to rest upon, you will find your hearts torn and rent by the severest anguish.

II. The other thought to which I wish to direct your attention is more consolatory: “the hand of God hath touched me;” that is, my afflictions have not sprung out of the ground; they are not the product of chance; but they are directed by Infinite goodness, and unerring wisdom. The hand which hath touched me is the hand of God—it is the hand of my Father.

And what, my Christian friends, is more consolatory than the thought, that all these dark dispensations are planned and executed by our Heavenly Father; that though there are many revolutions of the wheel of Providence which we cannot comprehend; nay, though there may seem to be a wheel within a wheel, and the mighty machine may confound us by its magnificent and mysterious operations; yet every movement is guided by an arm, absolutely resistless, by wisdom, which can never err, and by goodness, which does not even overlook the falling of a sparrow. “The hand of God hath touched me,”—not the hand of an impotent, or short-sighted, or malicious mortal,—not the hand of one who afflicts in cruelty, and has no concern for my happiness; but a paternal hand,—the same which pours blessings into my cup, from day to day, and which never wields the rod, but with the most kind and merciful designs. Is not this enough, O my soul, to assuage the tempest that has been raging within thee, and to bring back the calm, and sunshine, and quiet, which affliction had well nigh chased away? . . .

To read the rest of this sermon, The tribute of a mourning husband : a sermon, delivered at West-Springfield, July 1, 1821, the Sabbath after interment of Mrs. Charlotte E. Sprague, click here.

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