When God Prepares a Vessel
Charles Hodge wrote one of the first major histories of the Presbyterian Church in America, which was published in 1851. A year later, the Presbyterian Historical Society was established, and the first major publication of that organization was another major work, this time by Richard Webster, issued in 1857. Where Hodge was more interested in the polity of the Church, alongside its history, Webster devoted a substantial portion of his work to biographical accounts of notable pastors. The text of today’s post is excerpted from Webster’s work, A HISTORY OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AMERICA, pp. 549-550—
Samuel Davies was born near Summit Bridge, in the Welsh Tract, in New-castle county, Delaware, November 3, 1723. His father, David Davies, was a Welshman, a plain, pious planter. His mother was an eminent saint; and having, like Hannah, asked a son of the Lord, and having in her heart dedicated him to the ministry, she named him Samuel. She was his only instructor for the first ten years, and early imbued him with her prevailing desire that he might be a minister. Though otherwise careless of divine things, he was mindful of his nearness to death, and daily prayed to be spared to preach the gospel. He was sent to receive the rudiments of classical learning, under the Rev. Abel Morgan, afterwards the Baptist minister at Middletown, New Jersey. Away from home-influences, he became more estranged from God; but, at the age of twelve, he was awakened to see his guilt, vileness, and ruin. After much and long-continued distress, he obtained peace in believing. This great event took place in 1736, probably under the preaching of Gilbert Tennent, whom he called his spiritual father. It was a day of great deadness; but God was then preparing many wonderful men for the good day that was at hand.
He commenced keeping a diary, which, after his death, was examined by President Finley: it is a record of great distress relieved by large measures of heavenly comfort.
“About sixteen years ago,” he said, in 1757, “in the northern colonies, when all religious concern was much out of fashion, and the generality lay in a dead sleep of sin, having at best but the form of godliness and nothing of the power,—when the country was in peace and prosperity, free from the calamities of war and epidemic sickness,—when, in short, there were no external calls to repentance,—suddenly a deep general concern about eternal things spread through the country; sinners started from their slumbers, broke off from their sins, began to inquire the way of salvation, and made it the great business of their life to prepare for the world to come. Then the gospel seemed almighty, and carried all before it. It pierced the very hearts of men. I have seen thousands at once melted down under it, all eager to hear as for life, and scarcely a dry eye to be seen among them. Thousands still remain shining monuments of the power of divine grace in that glorious day.”
Amid such animating scenes, under the preaching of Whitefield, Blair, Robinson, Tennent, and Rowland, Davies pursued his studies. There were obstacles in his way, but his uncommon application was followed by surprising progress. Robinson supplied his wants. Blair taught him, not only by his words, but by his holy example, as a man and his inimitable excellencies as a preacher. He was licensed by Newcastle Presbytery, July 30, 1746, at the age of twenty-three, and ordained an evangelist, February 19, 1747. He was desired by all the vacant congregations. He was manly and graceful; he had a venerable presence, commanding voice, emphatic delivery; his disposition sweet, dispassionate, tender.
Words to Live By:
Real revival brings lasting change. May the Gospel again in our day be seen as almighty; may it again carry all before it, to the piercing of the hearts of men. Pray that the power of divine grace would again melt sinful hearts, to His greater glory.
For Further Study:
The original publishing of Richard Webster’s A History of the Presbyterian Church in America was an inexpensive production and not many copies have survived in good condition. Thankfully, the work was reprinted just a few years ago by Tentmaker Publications in England, and copies may still be available.