William Henry Green

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Sermon At A Service of Installation

greenWH_1856_missionIt was on this day, December 30th, in 1856, that the Rev. Dr. William Henry Green brought a sermon on the occasion of the installation of Rev. Heman R. Timlow, as pastor of the Harris Street Presbyterian Church, Newburyport, Massachusetts. Rev. Timlow had been called to serve this church following the resignation of the Rev. W.W. Eels in March the year prior. All of which is admittedly a rather obscure set of facts and we might honestly wonder why it should merit our attention?

Among Presbyterians, the installation of a pastor remains to this day a service carried out in much the same way. So for one, if we were to look for a model for such an occasion, then here is one example. Moreover, we have here a sermon by an admittedly brilliant young man, at a point early in his remarkable career.

There is also the contrast of the youth of Dr. Green [1825-1900], just 31 years old when he served at the installation of this new pastor, compared with the advanced age of Rev. Dana, then near the end of his life yet still faithfully serving the Lord’s people at this installation. Dr. Green came from a long line of Presbyterians, among them, Jonathan Dickinson, first president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). Green had graduated from Princeton Seminary in 1846, was ordained in 1848, and following a brief pastorate in Philadelphia, was installed in 1851 as professor of Biblical and Oriental Literature at the Princeton Theological Seminary. He remained a professor there until his death in 1900.  Rev. Daniel Dana [1771-1859] as noted was near the end of his life, having long served the Presbyterian churches of Newburyport. It was Rev. Dana who had asked Dr. Green to bring the installation sermon on this occasion. Rev. Dana then brought the charge to the pastor. Others serving at this installation included the Rev. John Pike, of Rowley, who brought the charge to the people; and the Rev. A.G. Vermilye, of Newburyport, who extended the right hand of fellowship.

But the primary value of this sermon remains the message itself, as brought by Dr. Green that day. For his message, he chose the text of Luke 4: 18-19 :

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

By the standards of that era, Green’s message is rather brief, taking up just 12-1/2 pages in print. Many of his peers would typically produce similar sermons of twenty pages or more. But length is no judge of quality, and Green is succinct for a purpose, and from a pastoral standpoint, could be seen as a hallmark of his long career at Princeton Seminary, indicative of the heart of his ministry.

The above text, as Dr. Green states in the opening of his sermon, contains an exposition of Christ’s earthly mission. It is the commission which He received from the Father and it is the reason why He was anointed with the Spirit above measure. It comprises the errand upon which He came into the world. And so, to give a glimpse of his sermon, here below are a few choice portions:—

“The mission of the Savior was to preach the Gospel to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And yet when He ascended to the Father, He left behind Him a world still unreconciled to God, still in its pollution, misery and sin. It was filled still with poor to whom no glad tidings had been carried, with captives whose prison doors were barred as tightly, whose fetters were as galling and whose miserable dungeons were as dark and cheerless as ever; with the broken hearted to whom no voice of the comforter had spoken relief, and with the blind whose sight was as far as ever from being removed. But judge not from this that His errand was was abortive and His work a failure.”

“The work of the world’s recovery was not one begun in a moment and ended in a moment. As there was a protracted period of preparation reaching through many ages and employing various and potent instrumentalities before He came; so there is needed a protracted period for that scheme which He set in operation and which He still conducts and superintends, to work out its expected and certain consummation. The whole might have been accomplished in an instant had the almighty grace of God so chosen; and the moment of Christ’s triumphant resurrection from the grave might have been signalized by the complete ingathering and perfect sanctification of all God’s elect people, by the utter overthrow of Satan’s baleful empire, and by the entire and final banishment from earth of sin and its accursed effects. And so, had God chosen, the world might have been created in a moment, and all its forms of beauty and its innumerable orders of creatures sprung instantaneously into being, instead of being gradually evolved through six successive days. But thus God did not work in creation; nor did He in redemption.”

“To what has been said it may be still further added, that the verses before us are descriptive of the mission of the church of God, as composed of those who have embraced this precious system of saving truth, and stand as its embodiment, its representatives and its champions before the world. . . .Every one who has received the gospel of God’s grace into his soul, is not only one redeemed from the power of the enemy, but one commissioned to ransom others; not only one upon whom the balm of Gilead has begun its work of cure; but a physician, a healer of the hurts and maladies of others; not only a captive loosed from bonds, but set to the work of breaking the chains of those who wear them still. Every Christian is not a mere passive recipient of the truth and of its saving benefits, but in his measure and according to his station, opportunity and ability, he is set for its defence and propagation. He is a light kindled that it may shine—salt put into the mass for the preservation of the whole. The gospel is given to the church of God to spread it and apply it everywhere. . . It is a work of solemn obligation; and to every Christian unemployed in this his bounden duty, comes his Savior’s reproving voice—’why stand ye all the day idle? go, work in my vineyard.’ “

Words to Live By:
The call of the Gospel is a call to real action here and now. Christ saved us that we might bear fruit—that we might live out the life of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and so be used of Him to draw others into His kingdom. For one, as Dr. Green is careful to point out elsewhere in his sermon,

“. . . there is no warrant for restricting the redeeming virtue of the gospel solely to what is spiritual and eternal, and excluding from the sphere of its potency that which is temporal; or rather since it is expressly declared, that godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come,—as the gospel is capable of undoing and was intended to undo all the mischiefs of the fall, and to banish suffering and sorrow from this present world as well as deliver from it in the next, the church is God’s grand engine of philanthropy. There is not a question bearing on man’s amelioration, individual, social or national, in which the church has not an interest, and in whose solution she should not take her share. There is not a cry of distress, that may be suffered to break upon her ear unregarded. She carries in her hand the potent remedy; and she may not, through her culpable inactivity or through her criminal lack of faith in its sovereign efficacy, keep back from suffering men, what Christ has charged her as His almoner with bestowing upon them. She must hold up the gospel which she has received, before the eyes of men, as God’s appointed cure for all the evils that are in the world. Nor may she content herself with the mere propounding of its abstract principles, nor with the diligent application of it to one class of man’s disorders; as though her caring for one part of her commanded work absolved her from the rest,—as though by caring for men’s eternal, she was absolved from all regard for their temporal interests,—as though after proffering eternal salvation to men, she was thenceforward discharged from further care for them, and might shut up her bowels of compassion from her suffering and needy brother. . . . She must not only hold up the gospel in one of its aspects, but hold it up in all,—not only state its principles but search out and exhibit its applications. ” 

 A print copy of the above sermon may be found preserved at the PCA Historical Center. Or more conveniently, it may be found on the Web by clicking here.

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Birth of William Henry Green

GreenWmH02William Henry Green was born on this day, January 27th, in 1825—born into a family which possessed traditions and ideals, born an heir to definite high opportunities of life, and born a child of the covenant. Though his family had ancestral ties to Princeton, William was sent to the classical school in Easton, and from there he entered Lafayette College at the age of sixteen. “He was a sunny-faced, bright-eyed, pure-minded boy in college, and led a blameless and winsome life.” By the time he was twenty, he had settled on serious study of theology. Upon graduation from seminary, he was invited to assist in teaching and spent the next two years teaching Hebrew grammar, before answering a call to pastor the Central Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, 1849-1851.

That pastorate was terminated in 1851 when the General Assembly elected him to the chair of Biblical and Oriental Literature in the Theological Seminary at Princeton, when he was but twenty-six years old. He began those labors on August 28th of that year and continued there until his death in 1900. Once during his Princeton career he prayerfully considered leaving for missions work in India. Some fourteen years later he also declined to serve as president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). He remained where he was needed.

When he began his work as Professor of Biblical and Oriental Literature, his faculty colleagues were Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge and Joseph Addison Alexander. Dr. Samuel Miller had died the year before, in 1850, and Dr. Archibald Alexander was soon called home to glory on October 22, 1851, three weeks after Professor Green’s inauguration. “In outward appearance he was tall, straight, strongly knit, energetic; with brown hair, firm mouth, piercing blue eyes that looked out from under heavy brows; dignified in manner, reserved, modest, at times almost to diffidence, earnest, reverent, and without self-seeking; thorough in his own work and rigorous in the recitation room, meeting his classes with unfailing regularity, going straight from the lecture-room to the study, evidently swayed by the sense of duty. These characteristics, apart from the external change seen in growing grayness of the hair, whitening of the beard and stoop of the shoulders due to advancing age and years of study, marked him to the end.”

Professor Green brought to the study of Biblical literature a sincere faith in the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God. He came to the work of criticism “convinced by the most abundant evidence that these Scriptures are the infallible Word of God.” We are not left in the dark as to the nature of that “abundant evidence.”  It was the common evidence which has convinced the Church: the claim of the Scriptures themselves to have divine authority, the heavenliness of their matter, the efficacy of their doctrine, their adaptation exactly to meet the needs of sinful men, the fulfillment of their prophecies, the constant appeal of prophets and apostles to historic objective revelations of Almighty God as the basis of their work, the attributes of Christ, and the persuasion which the Holy Spirit produces in the heart that the Scriptures are divinely true. These considerations and others of like character constituted the abundant evidence.

Shortly after Professor Green had entered upon his work, the first low mutterings of a coming debate regarding the origin of the Old Testament were heard. The storm burst in its full fury toward the end of the 1870′s. The new theory let loose at that time could not maintain itself without first ridding itself of much of this “abundant evidence;” and when Dr. Green saw that it required, to quote his own pregnant statement, “a new doctrine of the province of reason, a new doctrine of inspiration, a new doctrine of the evidential value of miracles, a new doctrine of the fulfillment of prophecy, a new doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible,” he saw that the new theory bears on its face the marks of desperation. He suspected that its principles are wrong or its methods perverted. And he said in his own modest way :“There can be no impropriety in subjecting novelties to careful scrutiny, before we adopt conclusions at war with our most cherished convictions and with what we hold to be well-established truths.”

To a large body of earnest scholars, Dr. Green has done yet more than vindicate the scholarliness of conservative criticism.  In their opinion, after they have weighed all the evidence adduced by both parties to the controversy, he has demonstrated in general and along certain lines in particular, that the Bible’s own account of itself satisfies the actual phenomena involved better, to say the least, than does any other theory, with less constraint upon text and exegesis and the acknowledged course of Hebrew history; that it is further supported by unbroken and unanimous testimony reaching back from Christ and His apostles into the earliest literature, and that it and it alone requires no rejection and no minimizing of well-ascertained truths.

Not long after Dr. Green’s death, a pastor of wide experience, a close friend of Dr. Green’s for more than fifty years, said of him, “A more humble and holy-hearted man I never knew.” Side by side with this tribute to his humility and holiness of heart there comes to mind another characteristic of Dr. Green : his sense of sin and his apprehension of the grace and amazing love of God in Christ…It was this that made him frequently rise very early in the morning that he might enjoy a season of undisturbed communion with God. It was this that sent him daily to the Scriptures for devotional reading, outside of his professional work. (He once alluded to his practice of reading the Book of Psalms through devotionally, generally once a month.) It was this that sank personal ambition and made him labor for the glory of God alone. It was this that made him feel his own need for that system of theology, known as Calvinistic, Augustinian, Pauline, which he found in the Bible. It was this that added such strength to his intellectual faith in the fact of a supernatural revelation.

Words to Live By: It was also said of Dr. Green that “He rose to the dignity of the great issues at stake, and conducted his debate with truth and honor. He was a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, when He was reviled, reviled not again.” Speaking of Dr. Green, “The pure-minded boy had become a man advanced in years, and he was still the simple-hearted child of God. He was an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile.”

We live in an age when truth is under assault from all sides, and must be defended. Yet we can and must stand for truth in a way that observes and honors the Lord of all truth. The Lord’s work must be done in the Lord’s way. At best we are only sinful witnesses to His truth, and so we speak with humility and in love, remembering all the while that God alone is Judge. He will uphold His truth. His Word will not fail.

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Faithful and Beloved

Last year on this date, this author found no Presbyterian person, place, or thing, so he wrote on one of the Shorter Catechisms.  This year however, the person and ministry of the Rev. Dr. James Crowell comes into This Day in Presbyterian History as a result of the Encyclopaedia of the Presbyterian Church, by Alfred Nevin.  And in that volume, we are told that Dr. Crowell was born on June 9, 1827 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of a druggist and apothecary shop owner.

Nevin doesn’t give us much in the matter of his early years in either the home or the church, but there must have been a commitment to the Presbyterian church at some time.  He attended the College of New Jersey in 1848, graduating fourth in a class of eighty students.  He taught for one year at West Chester Academy after graduating, but soon found his next training at Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating in 1851.  His faculty during his student days were Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, James Addison Alexander, James Waddel Alexander, and William Henry Green.  With spiritual mentors like these, he would be adequately trained for his life calling to the pastorate.

For six years, Rev. Crowell served the Lord as pastor of the Upper Octorora Presbyterian Church in present day Parkesburg, Pennsylvania.  Nevin says that “he was greatly loved by the congregation and prospered in his labors.”  [Note: It is one of the early buildings of this congregation which which we have chosen for the masthead (see above) of This Day in Presbyterian History.]

Continuing his pastorate, James Crowell served for twelve years as pastor of Seventh Presbyterian Church in his home town of Philadelphia.  Again it was stated that he labored there as the preacher and pastor of the flock with great fidelity.

Two years were spent at St Peter’s Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York, where his spiritual labors were once again blessed by the Lord.

His last pastorate, from 1870-1882, was again taken up in his home town of Philadelphia, at the Woodlawn Presbyterian Church, where he was described as being faithful in his ministry, and beloved by his flock.

What stands out to this author is that here we have a man of God committed to his pastoral calling, faithful, and as a result, fruitful in leading men and women to saving faith in Christ.  He was universally loved by the people of the Lord in these Presbyterian congregations.

Nevin concludes his treatment of James Crowell by stating that “he was a cultivated gentleman, an exemplary Christian, a good preacher, and highly esteemed by all who knew him.” (p. 167)

Words to Live By: 
To those followers of This Day in Presbyterian History who are called to be pastors of the flock of God, the focus of our post today, the Rev. James Crowell, stands out as an exemplary undershepherd who obviously loved the Word of God, who preached that Word in all its fullness to edify the hearts and minds of the people of God, and most importantly, who lived out the eternal principles and practices of the Word of God before the watching world.  Oh for teaching elders today to have such a zeal for the God’s Word in their present ministries.

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