Trinity Hymnal

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He Preached His Own Funeral Sermon
by Rev. David T. Myers

Rev. Samuel Davies [3 November 1723 - 4 February 1761]Subscribers to This Day in Presbyterian History, are familiar with our character today, namely, the Rev. Samuel Davies. If we would sum up his life and ministry, the following titles would adequately describe him: Presbyterian pastor, who in the early days of this country, before it was a country, rode a circuit of five hundred miles through forests and fields ministering to the hearts of saved and unsaved alike; church planter, the first non-Anglican minister in Virginia; hymn writer, author of “Great God of Wonders!” on page 82 of the red Trinity Hymnal, evangelist, defender of persons and places, being described at the best recruiter of the “military” in the French and Indian War; and yes, president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University and Seminary) in May 1759.

This last post of ministry, Samuel Davies, was most reluctant to take. It would mean giving up his scattered but effective ministry to the people of Virginia, especially at Polegreen Presbyterian Church in Virginia. Biblical Presbyterianism was just beginning to get a toe-hold in that area. Frankly, Virginia Presbyterians were not of the opinion that he should give up the fields which were white unto harvest. But he was convinced by the board of trustees of this young Presbyterian college to take the position. They saw that God has bestowed, as it was said then by one trustee, “prodigious, uncommon gifts” upon Samuel Davies. And so He had. Samuel Davies took reluctantly the position, though not a well man. Two years later, on February 4, 1761, Samuel Davies would entered heaven’s gates to receive his rewards.

But where does our title enter into the picture, you ask? Well, Samuel Davies did preach his own funeral sermon. It was on January 1, 1761 that Samuel Davies preached a sermon in Princeton, New Jersey on New Year’s day from Jeremiah 28:16, entitled “This Very Year You Are Going to Die!” And thirty-five days later, he did die on this day, February 4, 1761.

A few excerpts from that sermon, which is on-line, are important to recount, for they speak of the fervor of the gospel sermon which for all practical purposes was for himself, though unknown by him at the time. He preached on that Lord’s Day in Princeton, New Jersey,

“While we are entering into the threshold of a new year, it may be proper for us to stand, and pause, and take a serious view of the occurrences that may happen to us this year – that we may be prepared to meet them. Future contingencies are indeed unknown to us; and this ignorance is as agreeable to our present state, and as conducive to our improvement and happiness – as our knowledge of the things which it concerns us to know. But though we cannot predict to ourselves the particular events that may befall us – yet the events of life in general, in a vague indeterminate view, are not so contingent and unknowable as to leave no room for rationale suppositions, and probably expectations”

In the sixth paragraph of his sermon, Samuel Davies goes on to say, “Yes, it is highly probably, that if some prophet, like Jeremiah, should open to us the book of the divine decrees, one or another of us would there see our sentence, and the time of its execution fixed! ‘Thus says the Lord – This very year you are going to die!’”

In thirty-five days, after only two years as president of what later became Princeton University and Seminary, at the age of 37, Samuel Davies died! In a way, he preached his very own funeral sermon on that first day in 1761.

Words to Live By:
None of our readers, nor your two authors, like to think of this solemn and unchangeable event, but it is, as the Lord states, appointed unto us to die at some day at our Lord’s choosing. Far better for us to prepare for this eventuality, by first making sure that we have received by faith alone the Lord Jesus and His accomplished work on the cross for us. And then, in appreciation of that great salvation, seek while we are on this earth to buy up every opportunity for the Lord’s service, whether in the home, church, and/or society, by being the salt of the earth and shining the gospel light upon the spiritually dark world.(Matthew 5:13 – 16)

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A Trinity Hymn Written by a Ten Year Old

We really don’t know when Joseph Griggs was born. One source suggests 1720, but others deny any knowledge of his birthday. We do know that his parents were very poor. We know that he was trained for mechanical pursuits.  We know that he became the assistant pastor of an English Presbyterian Church in 1743. There is no mention however of ministerial training or what Presbytery licensed and ordained him. So there is much which is unknown about him,

Four years after joining the ministerial team in London, the senior minister of that church died. With no explanation, Joseph Griggs resigned his position as assistant minister. The next fact we have about him was his marriage to a wealthy widow, with whom he devoted himself to literary pursuits. He would write some forty-three hymns for the church. His hymns were first published in 1756, and republished in 1765, 1806, and 1861!

The one hymn  which is found in the Trinity Hymnal (no. 511) is entitled “Jesus, and shall it ever be.”  What is interesting about this hymn is that Joseph Griggs wrote it at ten years of age! It was altered by Benjamin Francis in 1787. Its words  come from Luke 9:26 where Jesus states, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him.”  The verses in the hymn from this young lad speak with conviction to many an adult.

Note verse 1, “Jesus, and shall it ever be, a mortal man ashamed of thee?  Ashamed of thee whom angels praise, whose glories shine through endless days!

Or verse 4: “Ashamed of Jesus, that dear Friend on whom my  hopes of heav’n depend! No, when I blush, be this my shame, that I no more revere his name.

And verse 6, “Till then — nor is my boasting vain — till then I boast a Savior slain; and O may  this my glory be, that Christ is not ashamed of me.”

Joseph Gregg died on this day in Presbyterian history, October 29, 1768.

Words to Live By:
Who has not  had the experience of seeing covenant children be an effective testimony to their own parents in our churches? As a retired pastor, I have seen that in a number of my charges. Certainly young Joseph Griggs had a testimony which speaks to adults then and today. Readers, our covenant children are precious  in His sight and are to be ministered to by church officers and lay people. Pray for the covenant children in  your church, for their salvation and spiritual growth.

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The Hymn was a Fruit of Sufferings
We all experience it. Suffering, I mean. It can last a short time. It can last a long time. It might be a disappointment in life. We thought  that we had it all figured out, but then one of those “hard Providences” cames along, and we are in suffering on account of it. Perhaps it happened to ourselves, to a spouse, to a child, to a grown loved one, to a friend, and we are in extreme anguish as a result.
George Mattheson, the Scottish hymn writer, experienced it one day. It his case, it came to him on the day of his sister’s marriage in 1882. Everyone one of his family, including his beloved sister, was staying overnight in Glasgow, apart from  him. Something happened to him which he described as “a most severe mental suffering.” No one knows exactly what it was. He said that it was known only to himself, but whatever it was, it overwhelmed his soul.
Sitting down in a room of his manse, this single pastor, who was born this day on March 27, 1842, said that the words of this poem was “the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life.” Further, he acknowledged that “I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice than of working it out myself.” He added that the whole four verse poem was completed in five minutes! Never once did he retouch or correct the words.
And if that part of the story is remarkable, three years later, Albert Peace, a renowned organist, read it. He then sat down before his organ and wrote all the notes into a hymn. The ink of the first note was hardly dry when he finished it.
When we consider that Rev. Mattheson was a famous preacher in two cities of Scotland, one of them being a 2000 member congregation in the capital  city of the kingdom, we imagine that he had all things going for him. And he did, but he was also blind, beginning in his 18th year. His three sisters rose to the occasion, by tutoring him in his studies at the University of Glasgow. One even learned Hebrew, Greek, and Latin to help him, enabling him to complete his studies. It was on the occasion of this sister’s marriage that he wrote this hymn, celebrating the constancy of God’s love.
Found in the Trinity Hymnal (no. 708), read over its four stanza’s especially if you find yourself in a time of trouble. In fact, either turn to the number in the red hymnal or sing it with the familiar tune, as part of our Words to Live By section:
“O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, that in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.
“O Light that follow’st all my way, I yield my flick-“ing torch to thee; my heart restores its borrowed ray, that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day may be brighter, fairer be.
“O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not  vain that morn shall tearless be
“O Cross, that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee; I lay in dust life’s glory dead, and from the ground that blossoms red life that shall endless be.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Wonderful Songs Despite a Life of Sorrow

She could have been  bitter.  She could have blamed God for what happened to her.  She could have lived a life of depression and hopeless sorrow.  But Eliza Edmunds Hewitts did not do any of these.  Instead she lived a life of joy in anticipation of heaven’s shores.

Born June 28, 1851, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she attended public schools in the city..  Graduating valedictorian from the Girls Normal School, he became a teacher in the public school system of Philadelphia.  During one of those classes, an unruly student threw a large piece of slate at her.  Her career was cut short in teaching as the effect of that slate gave her a spinal injury.  She was confined to bed at first.  Eventually she was able to be partially restored, but the rest of her life was spent in great pain.

She began to study English literature at that time.  That study enabled her to sing and write Christian hymns and songs.  With the help of several composers, she wrote the words for approximately seventy-one hymns.  Several of her best hymns are “More about Jesus would I know,” “My faith has found a resting place,”  “Stepping in the Light,”  “Sunshine in my soul,”  “When we all get to heaven,” “Give me thy heart, says the Father above,” and “Will there be any stars in my crown?”

Her other field of labor was still in the teaching field.  She became the Sunday School superintendent at Calvin Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.  At one point, she oversaw 200 children. She was a regular contributor to “Sunday School Helps.”

She died on April 24, 1920, to receive the  stars in her crown for her spiritual work, despite a bed and life of pain.

Words to Live By:  The New Trinity Hymnal has only “More about Jesus would I know” on page 538.  The blue (old) Trinity Hymnal has “Give me thy heart” on pg 723.  Other evangelical hymnals will give you other favorites of Eliza (or E.E.) Hewitt. Why not join with a group of  Christians, or on Sunday evening for a hymn sing, to lend your voice to singing her  hymns of the faith?  Then discuss her life, of being by God’s strength, able to write and serve the Lord despite her physical pain.  It would be a profitable study.

Through the Scriptures: 2 Kings 14:26 – 29; Amos 1 – 3

Through the Standards:

WLC 105 — “What are we specially taught by these words [before me] in the first commandment?
A.  These words [before me] or before my face, in the first commandment, teach us, that God, who sees all things, takes special notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other God: that so it may be an argument to dissuade from it, and to aggravate it as a most impudent provocation: as also to persuade us to do as in his sight, whatever we do in his service.”

WSC 48 — “What are we specially taught by these words [before me] in the first commandment?
A. These words [before me] in the first commandment teach us, That God, who sees all things, takes notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other God.”

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