“Do You Trust in Jesus?”

In his eulogy for Professor George Howe, the Rev. John L. Girardeau prefaced his comments with this fitting summary on the subject of Christian biography and eulogy:

“In doing honor to those who have attained to eminence, there is a tendency unduly to exalt the perfection of human nature, from the indulgence of which we are restrained by the principles of Christianity. It can never be forgotten by those who are imbued with its instructions and possessed of a consciousness illuminated by its light, that all men, even the greatest and best, are sinners; and that, whatever advancement in mere moral culture may be effected by the force of natural resolution, neither the beginning nor the development of holiness is possible without the application of the blood of atonement, and the operation of supernatural grace. To signalise, therefore, the virtues of a departed Christian is to celebrate the provisions of redemption, and to magnify the graces of the Holy Ghost.”

In other words, we write biographies of leading Christians and seek to preserve their papers—their writings and their correspondence—not to emulate them, for they were sinners just as we are, but to praise the God who worked through them, that future generations of believers might profit from their walk with the Lord.

howe

George Howe was born at Dedham, Massachusetts on November 6, 1802. His father was William Howe, whose lineage ran back to one of the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock. His mother was Mary (Gould) Howe, daughter of Major George and Rachel (Dwight) Gould.

When he was still quite young, George came across a copy of Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana (The Glorious Works of Christ in America — vol. 1 of which can be read here.) among his father’s books. There he encountered Latin sentences peppered throughout the text, and so began his study of the Latin language. He pursued that study formally at Mr. Ford’s school in Dedham, and, as he later related, “said his hic, haec, hoc in his trundle-bed.”

At the age of twelve the family relocated to a town near Philadelphia. As a young teenager, he was able to attend First Presbyterian Church in the Northern Liberties of Philadelphia, where the Rev. Dr. James Patterson was pastor. It was Patterson’s habit to speak with every member of the family when he visited, and on one such occasion, he turned to George and asked George whether he had come to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for his salvation. The question caused George a great deal of discomfort, but this brought him under conviction of his sin, and not long after he made a public profession of his faith there at First Presbyterian.

Graduating with first honors from Middlebury College, in Vermont, in 1822, George then entered Andover Theological Seminary, taking the full three year course of studies. Upon graduation, he was awarded the Abbott scholarship, which afforded him another year and half of study, after which he was appointed, at the age of twenty-seven, as Phillips Professor of Sacred Theology at Dartmouth College. This was during the presidency of the Rev. Dr. Bennett Tyler, who was closely tied with the troublesome New Haven Theology. At about the same time as Howe’s appointment, he was also ordained, on August 7, 1827.

For three years he served at this post, when his health was threatened with consumption (tuberculosis), and medical advice urged him to remove to the South. Rev. Howe soon sailed from Boston in a ship bound for Charleston, South Carolina, and he spent the month of December, 1830 in that city.

Providentially, it was about this same time that the Synod of South Carolina and Georgia met and took up a request from Dr. Thomas Goulding, asking for the appointment of a teacher of Greek and Hebrew. Dr. Goulding had only recently been appointed head of a new seminary in South Caroliina, and already the school needed another teacher. Rev. Howe’s reputation with the languages preceding him, he was elected to the post. Thus began Dr. Howe’s lengthy career of fifty-two years at the Columbia Theological Seminary. When the Seminary’s semi-centennial was observed at the end of 1881, Dr. Howe was there to celebrate the occasion, with many congratulations focused on his own central role in the establishment of the school. A year and a half later, he was gone, passed to his eternal reward, on April 15, 1883.

Dr. Howe did not write many books, but of the less than ten, several remain monumental works, to this day.  In particular, his two volume magnum opus on The History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina is still required reading for anyone interested in the subject of religion in the Southern states. Print copies are rare, but the text can be found on the Web here [vol. 1] and here [vol. 2].

Words to Live By:
As George Howe lay near death, he expressed his desire to receive visits (despite his doctor’s wishes) from the other faculty of Columbia Seminary. One colleague asked him, “My dear brother, do you trust in Jesus?,” to which Dr. Howe readily answered, “Yes; what would I do, did I not trust in Him?”

What will you do, if you do not trust in the only Savior appointed for our salvation?

And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, NASB)

An Ambassador for King Jesus

Samuel Davies was born in Delaware in 1723.  His Welsh mother had named him after the prophet Samuel. Ever afterwards, he considered himself to be a son of prayer, as the biblical name Samuel inferred. His early dedication to God induced him to devote himself to God personally.  Joining the church at age 15, he entered Samuel Blair’s classical and theological school at Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church, in Pennsylvania.  He was ordained as a Presbyterian  evangelist in February 1747 by the New Castle Presbytery.

On April 14, 1747, Samuel Davies stood before Governor Gooch and his council at Williamsburg, to ask permission to preach at four meeting houses in Hanover Country in Virginia.  Readers need to know that Virginia in the pre-revolutionary days was officially Anglican in religion.  Anyone outside of that denomination needed permission to minister. Later this law would be changed with a separation between church and state.  But at this time, permission had to be sought.  Receiving it, Davies preached faithfully and sacrificially at these four preaching points, some twelve miles north of Richmond, Virginia.

Suddenly, he wife was taken from him by illness which resulted in death.  It was said of him at the time that, despite his sorrow, he was determined to spend what little remained of his exhausted lifestyle to advance his Master’s glory to the good of countless souls in need of the gospel.  This dedication brought people from a wide circumference to hear the preaching of the Word of God, including a mother and her young son Patrick Henry.

On November 1, 1748, he returned to the Governor to ask that seven more places of preaching be granted to him.  While there was some opposition to the increased number, he presented his case with such clarity and forcefulness of argument, his request was granted.

For eleven more years, he preached the Word of God in the county of Hanover, as well as four other counties of Virginia. He was, as one put it, the ambassador of a mighty king.  All, upon hearing his weekly sermons, knew that king to be no one except King Jesus.

Words to Live By:  All believers are to be ambassadors of King Jesus, declaring the message by their lives and lips,  for  all to be reconciled to God.

In closing, we note that the Sermons of Samuel Davies are back in print at this time. We also take occasion to remind our readers of the biography Samuel Davies: Apostle to Virginia, authored by Rev. Dewey Roberts. Both would be worth your time.

Lucy Craft Laney is widely recognized as Georgia’s most famous female African American educator. Founder and principal of the Haines Institute for fifty years (1883-1933), she was born on April 13, 1854 in Macon, Georgia. Lucy was  one of ten children born in the years before emancipation to Louisa and David Laney. However, her parents were not slaves. Her father was both a Presbyterian pastor and a skilled carpenter who, while previously a slave, had managed to buy his freedom some 20 years before Lucy was born, and had also purchased his wife’s freedom.

Much has been written about Lucy Craft Laney. Deservedly so. But today I would like to share what I’ve been able to find out about her father, though admittedly it’s not much, thus far.

Rev. David Laney is noted by some as the organizing pastor of the oldest black Presbyterian church in all of Georgia, established in 1839, serving that church as pastor before, during and after the war. And there is the stirring note that “When the Civil War came to an end, it was Lucy’s father who rang the bells of Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church to celebrate emancipation.”

Rev. Laney was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., and their Minutes of General Assembly for 1895 make record of Rev. Laney’s death in October of 1894, at the age of 86. He had been a member of the Knox Presbytery and had been noted on their rolls as honorably retired. Based on his death date and age, it is likely that he was born in 1808. If the records of Knox Presbytery were available, it is possible we might find a brief memorial spread upon the pages of their Minutes. And while a search of those buried at three historical African American cemeteries in Macon [Linwood, Riverside and Rose Hill cemeteries] failed to locate his gravesite, that search was far from conclusive.

Surprisingly, it was so recent as 2018 that a nice account of the church he founded in Macon was read into the Congressional Record, and we conclude today’s post with that history:

From the Congressional Record, 13 November 2018, pages E1510-E1511  [https://www.congress.gov/115/crec/2018/11/13/CREC-2018-11-13.pdf]

HON. SANFORD D. BISHOP, JR. OF GEORGIA IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, Tuesday, November 13, 2018.

Mr. Speaker, it is my honor and pleasure to extend my sincere congratulations to the membership and leadership of Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church in Macon, Georgia for 180 years of remarkable service. The congregation of Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church commemorated this milestone with a celebration on Sunday, November 11, 2018.

Tracing its roots back to the pre-Civil War era, the Church was organized around 1838 when Pastor Samuel Cassels was instructed to preach and minister to the slaves of the members of the 1st Presbyterian Church’s congregation. The ‘‘African Chapel,’’ a separate facility, was built on Fourth Street (now M.L. King Drive) but remained associated with the 1st Presbyterian Church. With a request for full independence by ‘‘African Chapel’’ members that was granted on May 5, 1866, the present Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church was formed. Joseph Williams, David Laney, and Robert Carter were the first Ministers ordained to serve the church following its formal establishment.

The Church had humble origins due to racial and social stratification in the post-Civil War South. With the end of the Civil War, the bells of Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church rang to celebrate emancipation. Under the pastorate of David Laney, most notably, the distinguished Gothic Revival structure of the Church was constructed. The Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church is not only the oldest African-American congregation in the state of Georgia, but also bears the distinct honor of being one of the oldest minority congregations in the country. Named for the street on which it is located, the Church has become the primary place of worship for many generations of the most prominent black families in Macon. It also enjoys the privilege of being listed in the National Register of Historic Places in America, another indication of its importance in the local, state, and national communities.

The story of Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church, which began as a small group of slaves worshipping in a small ‘‘African Chapel’’ and has grown into an expansive and successful church, is truly an inspiring one of the dedication and perseverance of a faithful congregation of people who put all their love and trust in the Lord.

Mr. Speaker, I ask my colleagues in the House to join me in paying tribute to the Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church in Macon, Georgia for its congregation’s enduring commitment despite adversity, to each other and to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ for over 180 years. May their actions continue to inspire the community in courage, in dedication, and in faith.

Words to Live By:
As I said above, much has been written about Lucy Craft Laney, but it is interesting to try to search out the story of the father who raised her, taught her and helped to equip her for such remarkable success in life. Godly parents are an incalculable aid and benefit as we start our way in this troublesome world. We owe so much to them, so much that we can never repay. Our best efforts in honoring our parents begin as we take prayerful care to live a righteous, faithful life before the Lord our God.

Larger Catechism, Q. 123. Which is the fifth commandment?
A. The fifth commandment is, Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

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“The Little Moses”

James Muir was a son of the Rev. Dr. George and Tibbie (Wardlaw) Muir, and he was born on the 12th of April, 1757, in Cumnock, Scotland. Both his father and grandfather were highly respected ministers in the Church of Scotland, and the town of Cumnock was where his father served as pastor.

Little is known now of his early years. He studied at the University of Glasgow, and then studied theology at Edinburgh, completing his preparation in London. James was there licensed to preach by six clergymen who called themselves “dissenting ministers in the city of London” and who were loyal to the Church of Scotland. James then worked as a teacher in London until, in 1781, this same Presbytery ordained him and he answered a call to serve a congregation of Scotch Presbyterians on the island of Bermuda.

Rev. Muir’s story becomes rather complicated to tell from that point on until his death in Alexandria, Virginia, August 8th, 1820. The details are more than can be easily related in our small space here. It has been noted that Rev. Muir and his wife are two of  the very few buried inside the city limits of Alexandria, despite an 1809 restriction on cemeteries there.

When the Rev. William Buell Sprague was gathering biographies of various pastors, the Rev. Elisha Harrison replied to his request with a good account of Rev. Muir’s life. In part, he related that

“Dr. Muir was a severe student. He could not tolerate the idea of addressing immortal souls on the most momentous of all concerns, without having prepared himself for it by careful study as well as earnest prayer; and few things would put down a ministering brother in his estimation more than to be told that his discourses were either almost or altogether unpremeditated. I rarely ever saw him more out of temper than he was with a young licentiate, who, burning with what he regarded as holy zeal, remarked that it seemed to him a waste of time to study and write sermons. The Doctor could not be called an active man, though he was always regular in visiting his people, and ministering to the sick and afflicted; and when he made an engagement eiher to preach or perform any other duty, it was never his own fault if it was not fulfilled.

“But for nothing was he more distinguished than an exemplary Christian life. I lived with his family and was in close proximity with him, for more than three years; and, during the whole of that time, was never able to detect a word, an action, or even a feeling, which I would dare to pronounce decidedly wrong. And yet, during that period, his church was rent with factions, many of his congregation inflamed with bitterness and wrath, and in the issue, about half of the number separated and constituted a new church. Against all these untoward influences, he struggled hard and prayed much; and the result was that he sustained himself throughout with the utmost Christian forbearance and good will. He was often called, in reference to his large share of gentleness and meekness, in connection with his smallness of stature,–“the little Moses.”

“Dr. Muir enjoyed, in a high degree, the good opinion and affectionate regards of his brethren in the ministry, and great weight was given to his counsels in the judicatories of the Church. The whole community in which he lived, reverenced him for the purity of his life, and the memory of his exalted virtues is still dear to many, though he has long since passed away.”

Words to Live By:
Rev. Muir clearly had learned to bridle his tongue. In this age of blogs and email, one constant problem is the ease with which we can address people and issues. Too often we speak without thinking, or hit Send before re-reading what we have written. If I may offer one guideline which would eliminate many of the problems we so often see in those settings–always speak or write from a context of true Christian humility, and in that context, strive to never say anything for which you might later have to apologize.

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold.” (Prov. 22:1, KJV)

If any man among you seem to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” (James 1:26, KJV)

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27, KJV)

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