Samuel Finley

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Injurious to Your Health

It was downright unhealthy to be the president of the College of New Jersey (today’s Princeton University) in the opening years of that educational institution.  In the first nine years of its existence, five presidents were installed and five presidents were on the short list to heaven!  That fifth president was Samuel Finley.

Born in Scotland in 1715, Samuel Finley came over to the colonies at age nineteen. He studied theology at the celebrated Log College under the Tennents, was ordained into the New Brunswick Presbytery as a revivalist preacher.  He was clearly a New Side Presbyterian.

Assigned first to a brand new Presbyterian church in Mitford, Connecticut, he discovered that the governor of Connecticut really did not want him, or for that matter, the Presbyterian Church.  He was escorted, or should I say, expelled from the colony.  It is clear from his later ministry that this was all due to the providence of God.

For the next seventeen years, he was the pastor of Nottingham, Maryland.  Receiving  accolades as the best training academy in the middle colonies, West Nottingham Academy soon became the school to attend.  With a standard of great scholarship, two signers of the Declaration of Independence — Benjamin Rush and Richard Stockton — studied under Samuel Finley there.

Finally, in 1761, as a member of the original board of trustees, Samuel Finley was chosen to be president of the College of New Jersey.  It was a time for numerical growth and spiritual growth for the college.  In fact, a revival broke out during the second year of Finley’s presidency.  It was said of Samuel Finley that he was a very accurate scholar and a very great and good man.  His preaching was “calculated to inform the ignorant, alarm the careless and secure, and edify and comfort the faithful.”  The students loved him and respected his scholarship.

A favorite expression before he died on July 17, 1766, is just as true now as it was then. Samuel Finley said constantly, “the Lord Jesus will take care of His cause in the world.”

Words to Live By: 
By no means are we to be lazy because the Lord will take care of his cause in the world.  We are told in Scripture to take advantage of every opportunity, because we live in evil days.  But there is comfort to know that the Lord is in control of His church, and His cause.  Let that be our thought as we go through this week.

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The Death of a Saint

finleySA year ago this day, we first wrote of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Finley, who served as President of the College of New Jersey from 1761 until his death in 1766. The following account of Dr. Finley’s death taken, with slight editing, from William Buell Sprague’s Annals of the American Pulpit :—

Dr. Finley’s unremitted application to the duties of his office began, after a while, to perceptibly impair his health, and an obstruction of the liver was induced, which proved beyond the reach of medical skill. when he found himself seriously ill, he went to Philadelphia to avail himself of the prescriptions of the best physicians there; but he seems to have had little apprehension that his disease was to have a fatal issue;—for he remarked to his friends,—”If my work is done, I am ready—I do not desire to live a day longer than I can work for God. But I cannot think this is the case yet. God has much for me to do before I depart hence.”

About a month before he died, Samuel Finley’s physician expressed the opinion that his recovery was hopeless. Upon hearing this, Dr. Finley seemed entirely resigned to the Divine will, and from that time until his death, he was employed in the immediate preparation for his departure. On being told by one of his physicians that, according to present appearances, he could live but a few days more, he lifted up his eyes and exclaimed, “Then welcome, Lord Jesus.”

On the Sabbath preceding his death, he was informed by his brother-in-law, Dr. Clarkson, who was one of his physicians, that there was a decisive change in his condition, indicating that the end was near. “Then,” Finley said, “may the Lord bring me near Himself. I have been waiting with a Canaan hunger for the promised land. I have often wondered that God suffered me to live. I have more wondered that He called me to be a minister of His Word. He has often afforded me much strength, which, though I have often abused, He returned in mercy. O faithful are the promises of God! O that I could see Him as I have seen Him heretofore in his sanctuary! Although I have earnestly desired death, as the hireling pants for the evening shade, yet will I wait all the days of my appointed time. I have often struggled with principalities and powers, and have been brought almost to despair—Lord, let it suffice!”

“I can truly say I have loved the service of God. I know not in what language to speak of my own unworthiness. I have been undutiful; I have honestly endeavoured to act for God, but with much weakness and corruption.” He then lay down and continued to speak in broken sentences.

“A Christian’s death,” said he, “is the best part of his experience. The Lord has made provision for the whole way; provision for the soul and for the body. O that I could recollect Sabbath blessings. Blessed be God, eternal rest is at hand; Eternity is but long enough to enjoy my God. This has animated me in my secret studies; I was ashamed to take rest here. O that I could be filled with the fulness of God,—that fulness that fills heaven.”

Upon awaking the next morning, he exclaimed, “O what a disappointment I have met with—I expected this morning to have been in Heaven!”

In the afternoon of this day, the Rev. Elihu Spencer called to see him, and said,—”I have come, dear Sir, to see you confirm by facts the Gospel you have been preaching; pray, Sir, how do you feel?” To which he replied,—”Full of triumph. I triumph through Christ. Nothing clips my wings, but the thoughts of my dissolution being prolonged. O that it were tonight! My very soul thirsts for eternal rest.”

Mr. Spencer asked him what he saw in eternity to excite such vehement desires. “I see,” said he, “the eternal love and goodness of God; I see the fulness of the Mediator. I see the love of Jesus. O to be dissolved, and to be with Him. I long to be clothed with the complete righteousness of Christ.” He then desired Mr. Spencer to pray with him before they parted, and said,—”I have gained the victory over the devil. Pray to God to preserve me from evil—to keep me from dishonouring His great name in this critical hour, and to support me with His presence in my passage through the valley of the shadow of death.”

He spent the rest of the evening in taking leave of his friends, and in addressing affectionate counsels and exhortations to those of his children who were present. He would frequently cry out,—”Why move the tardy hours so slow?” The next day brought him the release for which he had panted so long. He was no longer able to speak; but a friend having desired him to indicate by a sign whether he still continued to triumph, he lifted his hand, and articulated,—”Yes.” At nine o’clock in the morning, he fell into a profound sleep, in which he continued, without changing his position, till about one, when his spirit gently passed away to its eternal home.

During his whole illness, he manifested the most entire submission to the Divine will, and a full assurance of entering into rest. His death occurred on the 17th of July, 1766, in the fifty-first year of his age. It was the intention of Dr. Finley’s friends to carry his remains to Princeton for burial, but the extreme heat of the weather forbade their doing it, and he was buried by the side of his friend, Gilbert Tennent, in the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

Words to Live By:
Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His godly ones.” (Psalm 116:15, NASB)

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

Lord, teach to number our days, that we may live out our lives in the fear of the Lord. Deliver us from evil; keep us from sin; and may we live each day looking to You for our every need, knowing that You will provide, both in this life, and in the life to come. May the Lord Jesus Christ be our All in all.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

He was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ

The pronoun in our title refers to Richard Stockton, who was born October 1, 1730 near Princeton, New Jersey.  His father was a judge, and so there was no doubt that Richard would receive an education fitting of a man of his father’s stature.

His first training was in the Academy of the Rev. Samuel Finley, who was a Presbyterian minister.  Samuel Finley was later on a president of the College of New Jersey.  For two years, young Richard Stockton learned everything there was to know from this biblical classical education.  Transferring in his teen years to the College of New Jersey, he would graduate from there with honors at age 16 in 1748.

Marrying the sister of Elias Boudnot, the latter being the President of the Trustees for the General Assembly in the U.S.A., they couple had 6 children.  Richard Stockton was admitted to the bar in 1754 and immediately began to practice the law profession with success.

He didn’t let his saving faith to be lost however of his chosen profession.  Believing there was the need for a new church in Princeton, New Jersey, he personally gave one acre of land which was added to other acres, and Princeton Presbyterian Church was raised up as a church.  Besides being a member there and a trustee, he became a ruling elder of the church governing board.

When the Revolution came, he was not a hard-and-fast patriot calling for immediate separation.  Even as a member of the Second Continental Congress,  he first proposed  freedom for the colonies which continued their subjection to the Crown.  When that was turned down, he became the first one from New Jersey to sign the Declaration of Independence.

With that signing of this declaration for freedom, he was arrested by loyalist and sent for five months to a prison ship.  Cruelly treated, he was released five months later.  He never fully recovered from this inhuman treatment at the hands of the British.  Indeed, his land and house was subject to great damage from the British Army.   He was one of those signers whose person and property suffered greatly from his attachment to the patriotic cause.  He died in 1781 and is buried at Stone Brook Meeting House and cemetery.

Words to live by:  In all this, it was said that Richard Stockton was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.  His conviction of, and commitment to, biblical Presbyterianism stayed by  him all his life and work.  He was ready to sacrifice life, limb, and sacred honor for the cause of independence from tyranny, and did actually suffer those losses.   As such, he stands as a testimony to us, to be ready to suffer for Christ, if need be, for the sake of the gospel.  May God give us grace at that time to remain faithful to His cause and kingdom.

Through the Scriptures:  Esther 1 – 3

Through the Standards:  Origin, design, and means of the civil government

WCF 23:1
“God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates to be  under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Injurious to Your Health

It was downright unhealthy to be the president of the College of New Jersey (today’s Princeton University) in the opening years of that educational institution.  In the first nine years of its existence, five presidents were installed and five presidents were on the short list to heaven!  That fifth president was Samuel Finley.

Born in Scotland in 1715, Samuel Finley came over to the colonies at age nineteen. He studied theology at the celebrated Log College under the Tennents, was ordained into the New Brunswick Presbytery as a revivalist preacher.  He was clearly a New Side Presbyterian.

Assigned first to a brand new Presbyterian church in Mitford, Connecticut, he discovered that the governor of Connecticut really did not want him, or for that matter, the Presbyterian Church.  He was escorted, or should I say, expelled from the colony.  It is clear from his later ministry that this was all due to the providence of God.

For the next seventeen years, he was the pastor of Nottingham, Maryland.  Receiving  accolades as the best training academy in the middle colonies, West Nottingham Academy soon became the school to attend.  With a standard of great scholarship, two signers of the Declaration of Independence — Benjamin Rush and Richard Stockton — studied under Samuel Finley there.

Finally, in 1761, as a member of the original board of trustees, Samuel Finley was chosen to be president of the College of New Jersey.  It was a time for numerical growth and spiritual growth for the college.  In fact, a revival broke out during the second year of Finley’s presidency.  It was said of Samuel Finley that he was a very accurate scholar and a very great and good man.  His preaching was “calculated to inform the ignorant, alarm the careless and secure, and edify and comfort the faithful.”  The students loved him and respected his scholarship.

A favorite expression before he died on July 17, 1766, is just as true now as it was then. Samuel Finley said constantly, “the Lord Jesus will take care of His cause in the world.”

Words to Live By: 
By no means are we to be lazy because the Lord will take care of his cause in the world.  We are told in Scripture to take advantage of every opportunity, because we live in evil days.  But there is comfort to know that the Lord is in control of His church, and His cause.  Let that be our thought as we go through this week.

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 31 – 33

Through the Standards: A summary of our love for others

WLC 122 —  “What is the sum of the six commandments which contain our duty to man?
A.  The sum of the six commandments which contain our duty to man, is, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to do to others what we would have them to do to us.”

WSC 42 “What is the sum of the ten commandments?
A.  The sum of the ten commandments is, To love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.”  (The last phrase of this catechism being the sum of the last six commandments)

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

A Man of Many Gifts and Talents

Eldest son . . . trained for the ministry . . . licentiate of the gospel . . . member of the Presbytery of Philadelphia . . . math teacher . . . physician . . . Revolutionary soldier . . . essayist . . . businessman . . . politician . . .what more can we say of Hugh Williamson?  He was a man of many gifts and talents.

Born in Nottingham, Pennsylvania in 1735, he had the heritage of Scotch – Irish parents who had immigrated from Ireland to the shores of the colonies.  His parents desired that he go into the Presbyterian ministry, and so he was trained under the finest teachers of the Word of God in Samuel Finley.  He was even licensed by the Presbytery of Philadelphia to preach the gospel, but poor health intervened and hindered that holy desire.

Entering what later on became the University of Pennsylvania, he graduated in the first class of that school.  Completing his studies overseas, he began to practice medicine in Philadelphia.  Upon the start of the Revolutionary War, he moved to North Carolina because he was active in the move to bring medical supplies from the West Indies through the British blockade to the needy use of them for wounded Revolutionary soldiers.

After the war was over, he served in the Federal congress for two terms, declining to serve a third term.  But it was as a delegate from North Carolina to the Constitutional Convention which framed the Constitution of the United States that he is especially remembered.

Some sources claim that he became a deist in his later years.  If this is so, and it is by no means certain, then he fell away from the faith of his early years.  But this contributor doesn’t believe that was permanent, in that just eight years before his death at 83 years old on May 22, 1819,  he wrote a book which defended Scriptural accounts of the Exodus of God’s people from Egypt against those critics of the Bible.

Words to Live By: It was CH Spurgeon who compared the Christian life to a ship in the midst of a storm. As a result of the wind and waves, we may fall down on the deck often, but spiritually, we will never fall overboard.  Whether Williamson was a deist in the latter part of his life, no one can definitively state.  But if he was, he was restored back into fellowship with theistic faith and life, as all of us who stray spiritually can do the same, if we but repent of our sins and trust Christ again.

Through the Scriptures: Psalms 124 – 126

Through the Standards: Proof texts of repentance unto life

Psalm 51:10 – 12

“Created in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence And do not take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.”  (NAS)

James 5:16

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. (NAS)

2 Corinthians 7:11

“For behold what earnestness this very ting, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in this manner.” (NAS)

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