Reformed Presbyterian Advocate

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A Life of Sacrifice for the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The Rev. Robert Waldo Chesnut was a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod (RPC,GS). This was the body which later merged with the larger side of the Bible Presbyterian Synod split in 1965 to create the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. Dr. Chesnut served in the lean years of the denomination when, at its low point, there were just nine churches left on the roster. Eventually the Lord brought renewed vigor and growth, such that by the time of the merger in 1965, there were some 25 churches in the RPC,GS. No doubt the Lord used Chesnut’s sacrificial love for the Church as a great instrument in bringing about some of that later growth.

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p style=”text-align: justify;”>Reprinted here is a brief biography which originally appeared in The Reformed
 Presbyterian Advocate, 87.4 (April, 1953): 40-42.

chesnutrwOn March 23, 1953 at 8:35 P.M. our Church was deprived of its Pastor Emeritus by the death of Rev. Robert W. Chesnut, Ph.D. He was 94 years, 6 months, 8 days old when he passed on to be with his Lord. Dr. Chesnut had been Pastor Emeritus since his retirement from the active ministry in 1942 after 55 years as a minister. In 1950 he attended his last meeting of General Synod, at the Houston Mission [in Tennessee]. In November of 1952 he reported to work on the new church [in Duanesburg, NY], bringing his hammer and lunch pail. He worked from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M. He later said: “I guess I pounded two or three pounds of nails and it helped some.” He was constantly interested in the new church and did all he could to advance its construction.

Robert Chesnut was born on a farm near Morning Sun, Iowa, on September 15, 1858. His parents had emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland. His father was a boilermaker.”

“He had very little formal education in elementary or high schools. He never attended school during his early years for more than three months at a time. Until his entrance into college he had attended school only a total of twenty months.

In 1869 his family emigrated, by covered wagon, to Kansas and settled in Clay Center. There Dr. Chesnut, his father, and his brothers engaged in farming.

chesnut45yrsHe did not want to enter college or the ministry and, he has reported, fought the call of God to the ministry for some time. Finally one day, plowing in the fields (and he had not enjoyed good health for many months) he stopped his horses, sat down on a plowbeam and settled the matter with God. He said: “Lord, if you will give me health and see me through my education I will serve you in the ministry.” He finished the day’s plowing without being fatigued and God has kept His part of the covenant by blessing His servant with good health and length of days. Anyone who knew Dr. Chesnut knows that he kept his part of the covenant too, serving his God and his beloved Reformed Presbyterian church for sixty or more years.

He entered the Agricultural College of Kansas, at Manhattan, with a trunk containing a few clothes, his Psalm book, his Bible, and his Catechism, and $45 cash to see him through. He paid his way through school by raising a crop of wheat each Summer and selling it in the Fall. He also earned a little extra by tutoring his fellow students in Greek.

His college training was continued and completed at the University of Kansas, at Lawrence.

For theological training he spent a summer studying under his pastor, Rev. James S. Scott and entered the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in Philadelphia the following term as a second year student.

He completed the course and was licensed to preach on March 22, 1887 in the First Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

He was ordained on May 10, 1888 and installed the same day as pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church at Marissa, Illinois. The church is no longer in existence. Dr. Chestnut had been called to a church in New York City, but declined the call because he thought that he, a farm boy from Iowa and Kansas, would not be suited to a city pastorate. After sixteen years in Marissa he went to the church in Cutler, Illinois. In 1910 he accepted a call to the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Duanesburg. Here he served as pastor and worked the parsonage farm until 1917. He then moved to the Seventh Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and remained two and one-half years. He then returned to Duanesburg, to save the congregation from disbanding. It was, at that time, a small and discouraged flock in need of a shepherd. From 1919 until his retirement in 1942 Dr. Chesnut served here as Stated Supply, worked the parsonage farm (and another larger farm which he purchased from his meager earnings) and ran a printing plant.

Robert Waldo Chesnut was pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Duanesburg (NY) from 1910-1917, and for forty years he served as Editor and Publisher of theReformed Presbyterian Advocate (although it was not always known by that name). He also served as Moderator of the Philadelphia Presbytery and he served the General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, as Assistant Clerk, as Clerk, and as Moderator in both 1903 and 1943.

Dr. Chesnut was survived by his widow, Mrs. Anna Heim Chesnut, who is his third wife. In 1885 he was married to Jennie Hulick, who died in 1896. Their daughter and son died while in their youth. His second wife and an infant also died–the wife just five weeks after they moved to Duanesburg in 1910. Dr. Chesnut was survived by three children, thirteen grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

The Duanesburg congregation, and the whole of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, has suffered a loss by the passing of our friend. But we can have no regrets, for he lived a long and full life and we are assured that he has gone to glory to be forever with his Lord, where there is no more pain, no sorrow, no struggle with sin, no more death, where death is swallowed up in victory.

“Truly a Prince has fallen in Israel. How he did love to come to General Synod and we have missed him these last few years. He really loved to preach the Gospel. Many lives have been touched by his long years of service.” [Rev. Robert W. Stewart]

Words to Live By:
“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,”—
Philippians 3:8, KJV

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Did you know, that in a manner of speaking, the official archives of the Presbyterian Church in America—the PCA Historical Center—began with a devastating fire?!

Let me explain. The PCA Historical Center began its existence in January of 1985. At that time the PCA did not have central offices for its agencies, so the president of Covenant Theological Seminary, Dr. Will Barker, offered to host the newly founded archives. The PCA had just a few years before received another denominationthe Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES)and with that merger, Covenant College and Covenant Seminary both became PCA schools. It made sense to put the Historical Center at the Seminary, too, because the RPCES archives were already there.

But back to that fire: The RPCES was itself a merger of two denominations, a merger which took place in April of 1965. One wing of that merger was the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, so named between 1961-1965. Prior to that it had been named the Bible Presbyterian Church, Columbus Synod [1956-1960]. This was the larger portion of a split of the old Bible Presbyterian Church [1938-1955]. The other side of the merger creating the RPCES was the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod [1833-1965]. This group was also one portion of a prior split, the other side being the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. That latter group is still with us, and they are the denomination that operates Geneva College.

“So where’s the fire?”

duanesburgNY_02I’m getting to that (It takes patience to be a Presbyterian!): The General Synod, or “New Light” RP’s were a denomination that began shrinking in numbers during the last part of the 19th-century and the first part of the 20th. At their low point, there were only nine General Synod churches. Then, around the 1940’s and 1950’s, with the addition of some new pastors, they began to plant new churches. By the time of that 1965 merger, there were twenty-eight RP, General Synod churches. One of their oldest churches was located in Duanesburg, New York. It had been founded in 1795 [and still exists today, as a member congregation of the PCA]. The pastor of the Duanesburg church was one of the older RP pastors. It was he who almost single-handedly held the little denomination together in the first half of the 20th-century, serving as Stated Clerk and editor of a small denominational magazine, The Reformed Presbyterian Advocate.

Rev. Chesnut finally retired as pastor in 1942, but he could already see the Lord’s blessing and that the little denomination was actually starting to grow again. That meant it was important that future generations should know their history; they needed to know where they came from as a denomination; they needed to be reminded of the convictions, hopes and prayers of their founding fathers. If these things were preserved, then they would have a guiding standard for the future. And so Rev. Chesnut devoted much of his retirement years to building an archives for the General Synod group. He put out a call to other members of the denomination, soliciting donations of various materials. Notices like this began to appear in their various publications:

We have added some more valuable material to our collection of books and other literature, and added more case room and are now ready to receive antiques or valuable historical matter for the benefit of the coming generation. Have you anything to spare that would soon be lost, or valuable to the church for future reference? It will be in safe keeping for years to come. What we want, may be of no value to you, but very valuable to others in later years.

Slowly the collection began to develop. As added materials arrived, they were carefully stored away at the Duanesburg church by Rev. Chesnut. Then it was all lost in one night, when fire destroyed the church building. Rev. Harry Meiners, pastor of the church at the time of the fire, gave this account:

It was early evening, December 16, 1951. We were just getting our Sabbath evening supper on the table when Miss Bertha Wilber and Miss Charlotte Knowles burst into our front door with the exclamation: “Did you hear the fire siren? Our church is afire!” I believe I made the fastest trip from home to church that I had ever made.
When I arrived the fire was just breaking through the west windows and the firemen were fighting the flames. My first thought was to save something, especially having in mind the Historical Repository. As I opened the front door and tried to go in, the smoke drove me back and made it impossible to go in to get anything. Two other men had previously tried to get in, but were prevented by smoke.
A few minutes later the fire company ran out of water. In the country the trucks carry a tank of water and whenever possible pump water from a well or fire-pond. Neither was available near the church, so after the water supply in the tanks was exhausted there was nothing more that could be done. Firemen, church members, neighbors could only stand helplessly watching it burn. Our church, built in 1837, which we loved so well and had started to redecorate, was burned to the ground. There was nothing left standing but the chimney we had erected a short time ago.
As I left the scene to break the news to Dr. Chesnut, I went with a heavy heart. I was afraid the news would be a very great blow for him. But I was wrong—he encouraged me and immediately began talking about building a new church. His words: “Don’t be discouraged, Mr. Meiners, and tell the people not to be discouraged. With God’s help we can do anything,” are still ringing in my ears.

So, those things that were lost in the Duanesburg fire, had they been saved, would eventually have come to be part of the RPCES archives, and then later, with the Joining and Receiving of the RPCES in 1982, would again have become part of the PCA archives in 1985.
And that’s why I said that, in a manner of speaking, the PCA archives began with a devastating fire.

Words to Live By:
On December 23, following the fire, Rev. Meiners preached before his congregation from the text of Philippians 1:12—”But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel.” And so he concluded, “This is our prayer, that our calamity will be a means in God’s hands to further the Gospel of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”

As Christians, we must pray in this way, even though we perhaps only rarely know why the Lord allowed somethings to happen they way they did. As to archival collections, we work to preserve these things for so long as the Lord will allow. They are not forever, but for so long as we have them, they stand as a testimony to how the Lord has been at work among this small portion of His Church. In all things, may God be glorified!

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