Union College

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The following account has been freely edited from Fowler’s History of the Synod of Central New York (1877) and from the funeral discourse delivered by J. Trumbull Backus.

At Home in the Joy of the Lord

Union College in Schenectady, New York, was chartered in 1795 and held its first commencement in 1797, with Dr. John Blair Smith serving as the school’s first president, 1795-99. The younger Jonathan Edwards followed as president of the school, but only lived a dozen months or so after taking the helm [1799-1801]. Dr. Jonathan Maxey followed him [1802-04], but retired in 1804, and then came Dr. Eliphalet Nott, who still holds the record as having served Union College longest in the post of President [1804-66]. Fifty years following his inauguration, he remarked, “Some forty students scattered over the then village of Schenectady, meeting for educational purposes in what was then a cabinet-maker’s shop, with a single Professor, was the whole of Union College,” and it may be added, only sixty-three had graduated from it at that time.

He addressed himself to the raising of needed funds and the erection of needed buildings, as well as the establishment and filling of new departments, and he wonderfully succeeded in this part of his work, while as President he attracted crowds of young men, four thousand of whom were graduated during his presidency.

nott_eliphaltet_graveThough incessantly occupied by his duties to the college, Dr. Nott was much engaged in outside preaching, and considerably in ecclesiastical affairs, and in 1811 was chosen Moderator of the General Assembly. He entered cordially into the temperance reform, and was the constant dependence and counsellor of Mr. Edward C. Delavan in his large and liberal enterprises for this cause. He published occasional addresses and sermons, and in 1810 his “Counsel to Young Men,” which passed through numerous editions, and in 1847, “Lectures on Temperance.” In 1860 he went for the last time to his lecture room, and presided at Commencement for the last time in 1862. Infirmities were gathering upon him for many years previously, and his decline ended in fatal paralysis, January 29, 1866. “His dying counsel to his nearest friend was, ‘Fear God and keep His commandments,’ and his last words were, ‘Jesus Christ, my covenant God.’ “

The immediate expectation of death is usually a severe test of man; and Dr. Nott had been conscious of that condition for years. Since 1860 he felt that he was within a momentary summons to go home to his Lord. During much of this protracted period of awaiting and expecting, he was enough of himself to discriminate clearly, and cautiously consider his prospects. Clouds and apprehensions would sometimes intervene; but always there was reverent, cordial submission to the Divine will, and for the most part a sweet, humble, child-like fearlessness of trust and hope. It was the manifestation of a true, soul-sustaining Christianity; and a demonstration of his sincerity, an interpretation of his life beyond all scope for cavil or doubt–a priceless testimony to the covenant faithfulness of God. . . He was ever to the end a little child before God, most pleased to sit at Jesus’ feet, and confiding firmly, gratefully, in the sovereignty and loving-kindness of his gracious Lord. He is now at home in the joy of his Lord.

Words to Live By:
We sometimes use that phrase, “at home in the joy of the Lord,” as a euphemism of death, though it does indeed express a reality for the departed Christian. But think about it—shouldn’t that be our goal even here and now, to be “at home in the joy of the Lord”? We can and should strive to be so daily conversant with our covenant God, in His Word and in prayer, that we can truly say that we are at home in the joy of the Lord, even now, and well before death’s inevitable call.

Historical Note: It was mildly interesting to note that there is some discrepancy regarding the death date for Dr. Nott. Some sources give January 25th as the date of his demise. Others state that he died on January 29th. Finally, a photograph of his gravestone was located and while grave markers have on occasion been chiseled with error, we will in this instance go with the date set down in stone.

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Old Mortality: Robert Patterson [ca. 1713-1801]

The purpose of this blog is to remind us of those saints who have gone before, and to recall something of our common history as Presbyterians, for regardless of our denomination, we are all connected, one with another. We learn from one another, are encouraged by one another, and are reminded to pray for one another.

dewittWmRAnd so it seemed very fitting when I stumbled across the content chosen for today’s post. Our entry for the day was to focus on the Rev. William Radcliffe DeWitt, (pictured in the photo at the right), who was born on this day, February 25, 1792, and who was for forty years the pastor of the English Presbyterian Church of Harrisburg, PA. Looking for more about his ministry, I was pleased to find among our church history collection a copy of The Centennial Memorial of the English Presbyterian Church, 1794-1894, with a section on DeWitt’s ministry at that church. That in turn led to the serendipitous discovery of the following poignant words which serve as the opening paragraphs for the chapter on that church’s history:

Now go write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come forever and ever.”–Isaiah 30:6.

“Walter Scott has very touchingly told us of Old Mortality, a religious itinerant of his times. He was first discovered in the burial ground of the Parish of Gaudercleugh. It was his custom to pass from one graveyard to another, and with the patient chisel of the engraver clear away the moss from the grey tombstones, and restore the names and the lines that Time’s finger had well nigh effaced. It mattered little to him whether it was the headstone of some early martyr to the faith, or only love’s memorial to some little child. It was his joy to do the quiet and unbidden work of bringing again to the notice of men the history and the heroism of some of God’s nobility of whom the world was not worthy, nor less to honor the unknown ones who were laid to rest with unseen tears.

abeel_graveOur work to-day bears something of the same character. Like Old Mortality, we step softly and reverently among the graves of the past. Chisel in hand we pass from memory to memory. We clear away the gathered moss. We refurnish the ancient stones and read again the names of the departed, dropping here and there a tear as precious memories are awakened, and reminding ourselves anew of a fellowship that is only interrupted for a little time. The past is ours. We are its heirs. Its good comes down to us in an apostolic succession of benedictions. The links that bind us to past days and years are golden links. It is one of the choicest gifts of grace, that we may at the same time live three lives in one. Past memories and present experiences and future hopes do blend to make human life noble and attractive. Our holy faith commemorates the past, gladdens the present and brightens the future.”

[excerpted from “A Century Plant,” by Rev. Thomas A. Robinson, in The Centennial Memorial of the English Presbyterian Congregation of Harrisburg, PA, 1794-1894, George B. Stewart, editor. Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1894, pp. 192-193. This book is available on the Internet, here.

And as it turns out, there was a real person behind the Walter Scott’s character of Old Mortality.

oldMortality_lg“Robert Patterson was born circa 1713 on the farm of Haggis Ha, in the parish of Hawick and as a married man moved to the village of Balmaclellan. A stonemason by trade and owner of a small quarry, he spent most of his life touring the lowlands of Scotland visiting and maintaining Covenanter grave sites. His method of cutting or incising letters and the ability to get so much into a limited space makes his work very distinctive. He gained some fame as ‘Old Mortality,’ the character in the book of the same name by Sir Walter Scott.”

To read more of that account, click here.

Words to Live By: Perhaps it is by divine design, but no monument lasts forever. Our worship is not for the saints or for their graves, but for the Lord of glory, whose love moved their hearts to serve Him. We remember them because of their testimony to the truth of the Gospel.

“And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.’ ”
[Exodus 13:14, NASB]

 

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The Rev. George Smith Boardman, D.D.

Our candidates for this date are few, and information is sparse. Today’s entry comes largely from Alfred Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church, with some additional details provided by the Biographical Catalogue of the Princeton Theological Seminary.

George Smith Boardman was born at Albany, New York on December 28, 1796. He graduated at Union College in 1816, and entered Princeton Seminary that same year, later graduating there in 1819. His time at Princeton Seminary would have been during those years when Dr. Archibald Alexander and Dr. Samuel Miller were the only professors serving at the young Seminary; Dr. Alexander being the first professor in 1812 and Dr. Miller joining him a year later in 1813. Charles Hodge did not join the faculty until 1822.

Third Presbyterian Church (Old Pine Street)After receiving license to preach the gospel, George Boardman spent about two years preaching from place to place in Ohio and Kentucky, which was then the “Far West.” He was ordained by the Presbytery of St. Lawrence on July 26, 1821 and was installed as pastor of the Presbyterian church at Watertown, New York, where he served for sixteen years. In 1837 he accepted a call to the Bethel Presbyterian church of Rochester, New York, where he remained six years, excepting a period of six months in 1842, when he labored at Columbus, Ohio in connection with a revival, and then supplied for a while the Third (or Pine Street) Church in Philadelphia.

Pictured at right, Third Presbyterian church, Philadelphia, PA.

In 1843 he took charge of the Second Presbyterian Church at Rome, New York, which he left in 1847, to enter upon a short pastorate at Cherry Valley, New York. At the latter place he remained until 1850, when he accepted a call to the Church at Cazenovia, New York.  This pastorate extended to 1865, a period of nearly fifteen years. At the end of this time impaired health required his release. After his health was restored he eagerly engaged in preaching, either as an occasional or stated supply. For longer or shorter periods he filled the pulpits of the First Presbyterian Church of Rome, as well as the Presbyterian churches in Ogdensburg and Little Falls, all in New York. He died in Cazenovia, New York, on February 7, 1877.

In 1858, during the time that he was serving as the pastor of the Presbyterian church at Cazenovia, the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred on Rev. Boardman by Madison University in New York (now Colgate University).

Words to Live By:
Just the facts, ma’am. Looking over what is known of Rev. Boardman’s life, we don’t have available the usual details that would add life and vibrancy to the story. Just the bare details.  Most of us seemingly just plug away at our calling in life, with little hoopla or ceremony. Occasionally we might enjoy an honor or two in life. But for the most part, we simply do our part and trust the Lord that our lives will matter, for His glory and for the good of others. And God has given us this confidence, that our lives do matter: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).

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