August 2: James Wilson

This Day in Presbyterian History:

As a Christian, None More Sincere

There is some doubt as to whether James Wilson was a Presbyterian. That he was a Christian, no one doubts, but there is doubt that he was Presbyterian in his convictions.  So who was James Wilson, you ask? James Wilson was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Wilson was born in Scotland in 1742. Studying at three educational institutions in his native land, he never did earn a degree from any one of them. But he did emigrate to the America colonies in 1766 with good recommendations, which enabled him to teach at the College of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, upon his arrival. Studying law while he was doing that enabled him to be admitted to the profession of law. Moving around in the colonies eventually brought him to Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

With his marriage to Rachel Bird in 1771 in an Anglican Church, it is here that the claim was made that his religious connection was with what we know as the Episcopal Church.  However, raising a strong contention that he was Presbyterian, is the fact that he was one of twelve appointed to form a Society of Presbyterians on behalf of the First Presbyterian Church on the square in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. That commitment to Presbyterianism never faltered, even when he moved to Philadelphia.  He  was faithful to maintain a pew, for which he paid pew rent, to the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia.

It was on August 2, 1776 that James Wilson signed the Declaration of Independence.  Why was there this delay from July 4 when many of the others signed it?  Wilson, being a good representative of the people in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, wished to know what his constituents desired.  So he traveled back to Carlisle, Pennsylvania to find out their sentiments for independence from England were strong in favor of declaring independence.  So he signed the historic document.  He was also an key member of the Constitution of the United States.

George Washington nominated him as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  But because of risky land purchases, he would die  in poverty in 1798 while on a court case down in North Carolina.

Words to Live By: 
It is true that his religious affiliation is strong argued by two Protestant churches.  The overwhelming evidence seems to be with the Presbyterians, given his financial support of that Presbyterian church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, Pa.  More important than that is the assessment that as a Christian, none was more sincere.  We must make sure our election and calling, brothers and sisters, that we are a member of God’s kingdom by sovereign and saving grace, first and foremost.  Then, and only then, being a Christian Presbyterian, is strongly recommended!

Through the Scriptures: Zephaniah 1 – 3

Through the Standards:  The seventh commandment: required duties

WLC 137 & WSC 70 — “Which is the seventh commandment?
A.  The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

WLC 138 — “What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?
A.  The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel; marriage by those that have not the gift of contingency, conjugal love, and cohabitation; diligent labor in our callings, shunning all occasions of uncleanliness, and resisting temptations thereunto.”

WSC 71 — “What is required in the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment requires the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.”

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  1. David Chism’s avatar

    It would be nice if our congressmen today would come back to our districts and ask us personally what we think is right, like Wilson did before signing the Document.

    I’ve enjoyed reading these daily history lessons and devotionals! I believe you are related to some folks I know in the OPC circles. My first OPC church was back in 1984, New Life in San Diego. I new Gordon and Mary Peterman well. A couple years before I moved to Maryland, I was a member of Bonita OPC. There I knew Tim and Jean Peterman. Any connection there? I’m now a member of New Hope OPC in Frederick. I sure wish the PCA and OPC could merge someday! Thank you for these devotionals. It is a highlight of my day, and am more excited to be a Presbyterian. I’ve got young kids, so I look forward to Sharing your writings with my kids during the school year.

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