January 6: Edward Dorr Griffin

The Lord’s Work Must Be Done in the Lord’s Way

Here was a man who, by all accounts was destined for success. Edward Dorr Griffin was born on this day, January 6, 1770, to pious parents who dedicated him from birth to the Lord’s service, much the way that Hannah dedicated Samuel [ 1 Sam. 1:21-24 ] . Faithfully they prayed for him as he grew. They took every opportunity to see to his advancement, both spiritually and intellectually. And young Edward did succeed. He gave good evidence of a heart that was greatly concerned with spiritual matters. He excelled in his studies, and went on to graduate with honors from Yale. Turning to prepare for the ministry, he had the great privilege of having the Rev. Jonathan Edwards as his mentor.

At last the young candidate, well regarded by many, was ordained and installed as pastor of of the Congregational church in New Hartford, Connecticut. June 4, 1795. Here under his ministry, scores of people came to saving faith. Later, his wife’s health prompted a move to New Jersey, where he soon found a place of ministry in the First Presbyterian Church of Newark, NJ. Again, scores of people were converted under his ministry.

One success led to another, and he was called to serve as Professor of Homiletics at Andover Seminary, and later, he was again called to the pastorate, this time to serve the pulpit of the newly formed Park Street Church in Boston. Important, influential people were among the founders of this church, and the stated purpose of the church was to stand in opposition to the tide of Unitarianism sweeping over Boston. Here Rev. Griffin served for nearly four years. But oddly, they were years without success, years without an evident spiritual vitality in the congregation.

The eminent Princeton professor Samuel MIller wrote a review of Rev. Griffin’s sermons as they were published in 1839. In that review, he makes a point of drawing attention to these years at the Park Street Church:

Dr. Griffin continued to be the Pastor of the Park Street Church between three and four years. During this time, he was diligent, eloquent, and popular, both as a Preacher and Pastor. During this period, too, he delivered and published his Park Street Lectures, which have generally been considered as the ablest of all his publications. And no one acquainted with the consistency and uniformity of his character can doubt that he preached now with an ardour and a power as great as ever before. And yet, if we mistake not, Dr. Griffin’s ministry in Boston was not attended with any thing like the success with which it pleased God to connect it in every preceding and subsequent stage of his pastoral life. We know not whether we are justifiable in attempting to account for this fact—supposing it to be a fact;—but we will venture to make one suggestion which our readers may regard as little or as much as they thing proper.

We are constrained, then, seriously to doubt, whether the enterprize of those public-spirited and excellent men who undertook the creation of the “Park Street Church,” was not undertaken and conducted in a spirit of a very questionable character. We have no doubt that they were pious and sincere men, who really believed as they professed to believe, who were filled with a laudable zeal, and who honestly aimed to oppose error, and to promote the reign of truth and righteousness. But what we doubt is, whether they did not calculate too much on carrying their point by means of outward splendor and human eloquence. They felt that there were great learning, and wealth, and taste, and eloquence firmly intrenched in Boston, and to be met and opposed by the friends of truth. And the calculation seems to have been to meet and vanquish the adversary by corresponding weapons. Hence they concluded that it was necessary for them, in order to insure success, to erect a splendid house of worship—in a public, prominent and commanding situation;—and to call a minister whose pulpit talents would enable him to cope with the most admired of their opponents. They acted upon this plan. They erected a church among the most spacious and splendid in Massachusetts, if not in the United States; and they called a pastor among the most eloquent and admired pulpit orators in the country. The question which arises in our minds in contemplating these facts is, Did the leaders in this undertaking go to work in the best way? Did they not count too much on human instrumentality? Were they not chargeable, in too great a degree, with “making flesh their arm?”…Would not the undertaking have been more likely to succeed had it been entered upon and pursued with less of a spirit of worldly calculation; had outward splendor been less consulted; had, of course, a less profuse expenditure of funds been indulged;…in a word, had there been less reliance on carnal weapons, and more on those of a purely spiritual kind?…the longer we live, the more considerations of this kind impress us as deeply important. The more we look above and beyond human instrumentality the better. The King of Zion will not give His glory to another. None, we believe, are so likely to succeed in spiritual enterprizes as those who place least reliance on human resources, or “the enticing words of man’s wisdom;” and most on the Spirit of the living God, who can make the humblest and feeblest instruments to triumph over the proudest and most mighty.

Or as the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer once said,The Lord’s work must be done in the Lord’s way.”

Quote citation:
Miller, Samuel, “Sermons by the late Rev. Edward D. Griffin, D.D., The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, 11.3 (July 1839): 404-415.

Also on this day, January 6th:
1806 – First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia called the Rev. James P. Wilson as pastor.

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