Rocky Spring

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Standing Against Conformity to the World

FRANCIS HERRON:
Born, in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, June 28, 1774.
Graduated, at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, May 5, 1794.
LIcensed to Preach, by the Presbytery of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, October 4, 1797.
Ordained to the ministry and Installed as Pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Rocky Spring, Franklin County, PA, April 9, 1809.
Removed to Pittsburgh, and Settled as Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, May, 1811.
Resigned his Pastoral Charge, December 1850.
Died, December 6, 1860.

So in short compass the life of a venerable Presbyterian divine, as it is summarized at the head of a slim volume issued in his memory. Rev. Herron’s life, it was said, was “a life of more than usual historic importance.”

herronFrancis_portrait1862Francis Herron was born near Shippensburg, Cumberland county, Pennsylvania, on June 28, 1774. He belonged to that honored and honorable race, the Scotch-Irish, memorable in the history of the world, but especially in our country, for a thorough devotion to evangelical truth and constitutional liberty. The training of his early years bore rich fruit at a subsequent period of his life, making him so eminent among his brethren as an effective preacher and an orthodox divine.

Receiving the careful training indicative of his parents high regard for knowledge, he entered Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA, then under the care of that distinguished Presbyterian, Rev. Dr. Nesbitt. Here he completed his classical course, and graduated May 5, 1794. The prayers of his pious parents were answered by the influence of grace upon his heart, and he was led to study for the ministry of reconciliation. He studied Theology under Robert Cooper, D.D., his pastor, and was licensed by Carlisle Presbytery, October 4, 1797.

He entered upon his Lord’s service as a missionary, going out into the backwoods, as it was then called, passing through Pittsburgh, Pa., then a small village, and extending his tour as far west as Chillicothe, Ohio. Stopping for the night at a tavern at Six Mile Run, near Wilkinsburg, Pa., the people prevailed upon him to stay till the following Sabbath, which he did, and under the shade of an apple tree this young disciple broke the bread of life to the people.

His journey resumed the next day, and with a frontier settler for his guide, he pushed on to his destination through an almost unbroken wilderness, his course often guided by the “blazes” upon the trees. Two nights he encamped with the Indians, who were quite numerous near what is now the town of Marietta, Ohio.

On his return from Chillicothe, Ohio, he visited Pittsburgh. The keeper of the tavern where he lodged, proved to be an old acquaintance, and at his request, he consented to preach. Notice was sent, and in the evening a small congregation of about eighteen persons assembled. The house he preached in was a rude structure, built of logs, occupying the site of the present First Presbyterian church. And such was the primitive style of that day, that during the services the swallows, who had their nests in the eaves, flew among the congregation.

At this time the churches in that portion of our country were visited with a season of refreshing grace, and Mr. Herron entered into the revival with all the ardor of youth filled with hopefulness and zeal. He preached for Rev. Dr. John McMillan at the Chartiers church, during a revival season. He also preached at the Buffalo church, where his fervid eloquence made a deep impression and the people presented him a call, and strongly urged it upon his attention. He however concluded to return to the vicinity of his home, especially, as a call from Rocky Spring church was awaiting him. This call he accepted, and he was ordained and installed as pastor of that church, by Carlisle Presbytery, April 9, 1800.

Some ten years later, he was invited to occupy the pulpit of the First Presbyterian church, then vacant by the recent death of Rev. Robert Steele.

The people were charmed with his discourse, his ripening intellect modified by that refined spirituality, which was a prominent element in his ministrations, had a powerful effect upon his audience. They urged him to preach for them a second time, which he did, the result was a unanimous call was made out and presented to him in the usual manner.

The Presbytery of Carlisle dissolved the relation that existed between Rocky Spring church and Mr. Herron, and he was dismissed to Redstone Presbytery, April 3, 1811, and he was installed pastor of the First Presbyterian church, Pittsburgh, PA, the following June. In a few weeks he removed with his family to his new home, travelling in a large wagon, with his wife, children, and all his household goods.

Francis Herron, D.D.He joined Redstone Presbytery June 18, 1811. The importance of his new position was fully and truly felt, the commercial importance of Pittsburgh had given all kinds of business an impetus, and prosperity was advancing rapidly; but this outward show referred only to worldly affairs, the religious condition of the people was cold and almost lifeless. The church to which he was called was embarrassed with debt, and the piety of the people manifested a degree of conformity to the world, which nearly appalled the preacher’s heart. But the experience of his ten years pastorate was to him invaluable, and girding himself, he entered upon his duties with a true heart and an earnest purpose. His preaching was the simple exposition of the truth as it is in Jesus, pointed, clear, and unwavering, revealing the enormity of sin and pleading with the fidelity of one who loved their souls. This style of preaching was sustained by his efforts to establish the prayer-meeting, which, strange as it now appears, met with much opposition, even among professors of religion; but this young pastor knew the holy influence of communion with God, and that God favored a praying people, he therefore went forward, and, in connexion with Rev. Thomas Hunt, who was pastor of the Second church, they persisted, and though to avoid a collision with the people the meetings were not held in the church, a small room was used for that purpose, in which Mr. Hunt taught a day-school. The first meeting consisted of the two pastors, one man, and six women, and thus for eighteen months did this meeting continue without adding a single person to their number.

The chilling indifference of the people soon grew into downright hostility, and husbands and fathers prohibited their wives and daughters from attending, and, finally, when the continued efforts of these pious people could be no longer borne, they waited upon Mr. Herron and told him that it must be stopped, his reply was the turning point in the spiritual condition of that people. He said, “Gentlemen, these meetings will not stop, you are at liberty to do as you please; but I also have the liberty to worship God according to the dictates of my conscience, none daring to molest or make me afraid.” From that time a spirit of piety manifested itself among the members of the church, several gay and fashionable persons were hopefully converted, and an impression was made upon the whole community, at once hopeful and healthful.

Words to Live By:
Do not expect courage of conviction from men who have no convictions, from those who have no anchor in the Word of God. The Scriptures must be drilled down deep into our souls if we are to stand against temptations and testings. May God give us pastors who will set an example, who will faithfully stand against the assaults of the world, the flesh and the devil.

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“He fought and preached alternately”

John Craighead was the second son of John and Rachel R. Craighead and the grandson of the Rev. Thomas Craighead. His great-grandfather was the Rev. Robert, a Scotsman who immigrated to Ireland around 1657 and served as pastor of churches in donoughmore and Londonderry. Robert later moved to Dublin and is noted for having authored several works on the Christian life. Thomas Craighead, the son of Robert, came to New England in 1715 and preached for about eight years near Fall River, Massachusetts, before moving to Delaware, where he was installed as the pastor of the White Clay Creek church. In 1733, Thomas answered a call to serve the congregation at Pequea, in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, and his last pulpit was in Hopewell, PA.

John was born in 1742, near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, his parents having relocated from Lancaster in 1742. He graduated from Princeton College in 1763, where he had been a classmate with Robert Cooper, then studied theology with Dr. Robert Smit, of Pequea. John was ordained by the Presbytery of Donegal and installed, on April 13, 1768, as pastor of the Rocky Spring church, near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. His salary, upon accepting this call, was L100 per year.

Rev. Craighead continued his ministry at the Rocky Spring church until 1789, when, on account of declining health and mental derangement, his pastoral relation was dissolved. Apparently he was prone to fits of deep depression which made ministry difficult, if not impossible. Yet by 1791 he was noted as being in regular attendance at the meetings of the Carlisle Presbytery and was even appointed to serve the Presbytery as its commissioner to General Assembly that year.  He served as commissioner to General Assembly again in 1793. Finally on April 9th, 1799, the Presbytery was compelled to dissolve his pastoral relation “solely due to inability,” and his death followed soon after. He died on April 20, 1799, and was buried in the Rocky Spring graveyard.

Mr. Craighead is noted in history for his earnest and patriotic appeals to his people during the struggle for American Independence, and for his services as captain and chaplain to a company formed from his own congregation in response to his patriotic appeals, at a solemn crisis in the war, when the whole male portion of the congregation rose to their feet in token of readiness to embark in defense of the country.

The old church at Rocky Spring was still extant as late as the 1880’s. Though somewhat altered, it retained substantially the original main features. The aisles were paved with brick; the pews were straight-backed and unpainted oak; the pulpit was narrow, with its sounding board painted a light blue; the elders’ bench was a simple thick slab of wood; the communion service was made of pewter, imported from London, but black with age. Two ten-plate stoves, of a very primitive form, were used to warm the building, with their stove pipes ascending through holes cut in the ceiling, where the smoke released into the attic and escaped, without any chimneys, the best way it could. The side door was still there, where Mr. Craighead stood and cajoled the men assembled in the churchyard, and so stirred their patriotic passions that they soon organized themselves into a company and went through the Revolutionary War with their pastor as captain and chaplain.

One biographer of Rev. Craighead wrote that he preached “in glowing terms, Jesus Christ, the only hope of salvation, and after the delivery of his sacred message, in eloquent and patriotic strains exhorted the youth of his congregation to rise up and join the noble band, then engaged under the immortal Washington, in struggling to free our beloved country from British oppression,” and that “On one of these occasions, the patriot preacher declaimed in such fervid and powerful terms respecting the evils his country was enduring, and presented such a description of each man’s duty that ‘the whole congregation rose from their seats and declared their willingness to march to the conflict.’ “

Words to Live By:
Having read that last account, the obvious question by comparison is, What does it take to get a congregation to rise up for the cause of Christ? When so many endeavors so easily obtain our whole attention, what does it take for the Lord Jesus Christ to have first place in our hearts and minds? Or what does it take just simply for the congregation to regularly, faithfully go to their knees in prayer?

Lord, may we be a praying people, intent upon doing Your will, ever watching to see Your hand at work, waiting upon your every provision.

Sources:
Centennial Memorial of the Presbytery of Carlisle, vol. 2, pp. 47-48; Nevin’s Encyclopedia, p. 162.

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