How does one live in the shadow of a man, albeit your father, who was the leading theologian of the day? The answer is simple enough really. You engage in your calling faithfully and fully. Such a man was James Waddell Alexander.
Born the eldest son of Archibald Alexander near Gordonsville, Virginia, in 1804, James was in a household filled with theological giants of the faith. His father was the president of the Presbyterian Hampden-Sydney College at that time. But when schooling began for the son, his father had taken the pulpit of the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1807. In 1812, the new seminary called Princeton began in New Jersey, and the family of the Alexanders moved there, so Archibald Alexander could become the first professor of that new divinity school.
Young James graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1820. And while he studied theology at Princeton Seminary from 1822 – 1824, he would not be ordained by the historic Hanover Presbytery until 1827, having first served about three years as a tutor. (This seems to have been a common practice in the 19th-century, where men would first serve as a tutor for several years before seeking ordination.). He began his pastoral ministry as stated supply of the Presbyterian church in Charlotte Court House, Virginia for a year, and was then pastor of that church for another year. The rest of his life and ministry had him in the college and seminary field of teaching at Princeton Seminary, interspersed with pastoral ministry in Trenton, New Jersey and New York City Presbyterian churches.
He was involved in some of the biggest seasons of revival and reformation during those middle decades of the eighteen hundreds. The New York City prayer revival took place in his church in 1857, which then spread through the noon prayer meetings among many denominations and around the country. In the midst of his ministry, the Old School New School division took place in the denomination. Through it all, James Alexander proclaimed Christ to the masses.
One of the highlights of his ministry was his hymn writing and translations. The most famous translation was the familiar words to “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” His translation from 1830 from Bernard of Clairvaux in the eleventh century, is the version most used by our churches today.
James in 1859 went with his wife back to his home state of Virginia to recover from a serious illness. On July 31, 1859, he went to Red Sweet Springs, Virginia, where he succumbed from his illness. Before his death, he made the following comment:
“If the curtain should drop at his moment and I were ushered into the presence of my Maker, what would be my feelings? They would be these. First, I would prostrate myself in the dust in an unutterable sense of my nothingness and guilt. Secondly, I would look up to my Redeemer with an inexpressible assurance of faith and love. There is a passage of Scripture which best expresses my present feeling: I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
Words to Live By: As we contemplate that last comment of James Alexander on his death-bed, who among believers could not echo these words and thoughts? We have no right from ourselves to gain heaven. It is only through Christ’s love and forgiveness that we have been given the key to heaven’s door. Christ Jesus is the object of our faith, and the only object. Let that be your assurance both here, and hereafter.
As historians write the story of American religion in the 20th century, they will continue to focus on out-front figures such as Billy Sunday, W. B. Riley, and Billy Graham. But countless others had major influence on how the Christian faith was preserved and extended, both in the United States and around the world. One was Lemuel Nelson Bell.
Best known as the father-in-law of Billy Graham, Nelson Bell was a significant figure in his own right: missionary surgeon to China, founder of two magazines, and leader for southern Presbyterian conservatives and American evangelicals. In many ways he represented the thought, hopes, and aspirations of the new evangelicalism of the mid–20th century—for there was a time when it appeared that God was going to revive America once again to reach the world with the gospel. That was Bell’s longing and vision as a missionary to the world.
Missionary to China
Born 120 years ago today on July 30, 1894, in Longsdale, Virginia, Bell was the child of hardworking Presbyterians: his father the superintendent of a mining company, his mother a doctor’s daughter. He grew up in Waynesboro, Virginia, where he gained a reputation as a straight arrow, a sharp student, and a strong athlete. He was especially good at baseball, developing a curveball that eventually brought him an offer to play in the minor leagues.
Central to Bell’s identity was his personal commitment to Jesus Christ. In 1906 he went forward at an evangelistic meeting at his home church, First Presbyterian in Waynesboro, and committed himself to be a disciple of Jesus. That commitment ultimately led him toward medicine with the intention of serving as a medical missionary. He graduated from Washington and Lee College in 1912 and the Medical College of Virginia in 1916. He was not yet 22 years old.
The year of his medical school graduation brought other gifts—marriage to his lifelong love, Virginia, and an assignment from the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) mission board to Tsing-kiang-pu, China. There, the Bells would join a medical team led by Dr. James Woods. As Woods handed off leadership of the medical work to Bell, the Love and Mercy Hospital (as it was called in Chinese) at Tsing-kiang-pu would expand to become one of the largest medical dispensaries in the region.
This medical mission aimed to support evangelistic outreach and church planting. Each year the hospital hosted a week of evangelistic meetings. A church developed in connection with the mission work, soon overseen by a Chinese pastor and elders. They launched regular evangelistic forays into the countryside. Bell’s love for the Chinese he served brought him the native name “the Bell who is the lover of the people.” His passion for the mission work brought him into contact with Benjamin Clayton, a wealthy layman from First Presbyterian Church in Houston; through this connection, thousands of dollars would be directed to sustaining the mission.
While in China, Bell’s family multiplied: Rosa was born in 1918 and Ruth in 1920. After the family lost their newborn, Nelson Jr., in 1925, Virginia was born two years later. In 1934, the last child, Benjamin Clayton, was born. With a growing family came new risks, especially as the political situation in China deteriorated—both because of internal battles and external Japanese military threats. In 1927 the family was forced to evacuate because of the advance of the Nationalist army, and again in 1937 in advance of the invading Japanese army. In 1941 the Bells returned to the United States for good.
Missionary to America
Simply because they returned to America did not mean the Bells ceased to care about evangelism, missions, and the church. Even prior to returning permanently to Asheville, North Carolina, where he set up a surgical practice, Bell had grown concerned about the spread of theological and social liberalism in American Protestantism generally and in the PCUS in particular.
In order to combat this he helped start the Southern Presbyterian Journal in 1942. Although listed as the associate editor, Bell was the mainspring: he wrote more than anyone else, solicited articles, committed financial resources, and guided the policy of the board of directors. The magazine offered a blend of American religious and political conservatism. From the first issue, Bell and the other writers hammered American religion for replacing the gospel of redemption with a program of social reform. He believed that if the church would simply preach the good news faithfully, it could provide “the spiritual and moral stamina which is essential for world stabilization.” The result would be spiritual awakening and revival.
Alongside this longing for revival he was determined to buttress American civilization, which was being undermined by a range of social and political enemies. One great enemy was global communism: Bell would write countless articles attacking the advance of communism in Russia and especially in China and castigate American political leaders for their policy of containment. Another enemy was racial integration: in numerous articles Bell laid out a case he considered racial moderation—no one should force integration; at the same time, within the boundaries of a segregated society, individuals should be treated equally before the law and violence should be eschewed. (One wishes that Bell’s love for gospel expansion around the world had translated to a more multiethnic vision for the church in the States.) A third enemy was moral license: as youth culture began to go astray, Bell blamed popular culture, especially movies and novels, that titillated and ultimately destroyed moral fiber. His defense of social conservatism would earn him seven awards from the right-wing Freedom’s Foundation of Valley Forge.
In order for America to be rescued from these enemies, God needed to send Spirit-filled evangelists who would turn America to God and fit her for a special place in worldwide evangelization. Bell had little idea that one such evangelist would be part of his own family when in 1943 Billy Graham married Bell’s daughter Ruth. However, as the Youth for Christ crusades drew stadium-filling crowds at the end of World War II and as Graham drew national attention during his 1949 crusade in Los Angeles, it appeared God was raising up such an evangelist.
Bell supported his son-in-law in every endeavor and became his private confidant and public defender. Eventually, their partnership would birth one of the most significant institutions of the new evangelicalism: Christianity Today, a magazine launched in 1956. Bell served on the original board of directors, secured financing from wealthy supporter J. Howard Pew, and contributed a regular column entitled “A Layman and His Faith.” It was part of an effort to provide a counterweight to Protestant liberalism and spark a spiritual renewal that would transform America.
Missionary to the World
Yet the work was never ultimately about America for Nelson Bell. His passion was for the gospel to spread throughout the world. That’s why his most thrilling times were the international crusades led by his son-in-law, especially the 1954 Harringay Crusade in London. When more than 36,000 people filled out decision cards at that campaign, it appeared God was on the move. Bell would challenge southern Presbyterians to pray “for a world-sweeping revival which will solve the problems of individuals and of nations.” And though the revival did not fully come in his time, he did not stop praying or working for it.
Bell served from 1948 until 1966 on the PCUS Board of World Missions, making a number of trips to encourage missionary workers: not only to Presbyterian works in Brazil and Korea, but also to a number of countries in Africa, Europe, and Palestine. Moreover, through his role on the board of directors of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Bell played a role in the developing 1966 World Congress of Evangelism in West Berlin, Germany. And he supported Graham’s evangelistic efforts around the globe.
Even as his own denomination was fragmenting, Bell worked as a statesman to maintain a platform for global missions. To honor his efforts, the PCUS elected him to serve as moderator of its 1972 General Assembly. He used his moderator’s year to seek peace in his denomination, but also to promote the revival he knew must come if the church would be an agent for global evangelization. Two months after his term as moderator ended—on August 2, 1973—Bell died in the confidence of his Savior’s ultimate victory through the cross and empty tomb.
Bell’s significance to 20th-century evangelicalism is vastly underrated. He represented both the deep longing for revival and the passion for evangelism that has characterized the movement at its best. He also served as an example of the marriage of religious and social conservatism that has sometimes undercut evangelicalism’s gospel mission. Above all, Bell’s commitment to Christ’s cause gave him a global vision that made him a missionary to the world and faithful in his own generation.
Sean Michael Lucas is senior minister at the First Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He taught previously at Covenant Theological Seminary and currently teaches for Reformed Theological Seminary-Jackson. He is the author of several books, including On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories.
Considered by many to have been the foremost educator in the South, Moses Waddell was of Irish parentage and was born in Rowan (now Iredell) county, North Carolina, on July 29th, 1770. He received his academic education at a school which was opened in the neighborhood under the name of Clio’s Nursery. For four years, beginning at the age of fourteen, he was engaged as a teacher (1784-1788) at various places in North Carolina and Georgia.
Leaving his employment as a teacher, he enrolled as a student at the Hampden-Sydney College, graduating there in 1791. The next year he was licensed to preach by the Hanover Presbytery, of Virginia, on May 12, 1792.
About 1793, Waddell opened his first school in Columbia county, Georgia, then another in 1801, in Vienna, Abbeville District, South Carolina. He remained in that work until 1804, when he removed to Willington, six miles south of Vienna, and it was at Willington where he founded the famous Willington Academy. It was common for Presbyterian pastors to maintain an academy, in part for the extra income, and in part because they could thus guide the moral, religious and intellectual education of the children of their parish.
All of these schools were designed as preparatory schools, utilizing a classical education model. As the fame of the Willington Academy grew, it came to be called the “Eton in the woods”. To give one example of the school’s rigor, students were required to memorize, translate and recite some 250 lines of Greek or Latin every night. A Willington graduate, South Carolina governor George McDuffie, held the record, having once recited over 2200 lines of the poet Horace.
In 1818, Waddell was elected President of what was then Franklin College, later to become the University of Georgia. However, he did not actually step into the duties of this office until May, 1819. While serving as an educator, he also labored as a pastor, founding the Presbyterian Church in Athens, Georgia in 1820. During his tenure at the University, the school prospered greatly, and he continued here as President until 1829. Resigning his post, he returned to Willington. For forty-five years he had labored as a teacher. His labors as a pastor continued another six or seven years more, and the Rev. Dr. Moses Waddell’s life drew to a close on July 21, 1840.
“The boys called him ‘Old Moses,’ and while he believed in corporal punishment, he never spanked in a passion, and it finally evolved that he did this only upon a verdict of a peer jury of students. He never spanked for a deficient lesson but chiefly for defects in morals or actions that had to be punished.
“He was a cheerful man even playful in his disposition. He maintained a personal interest in each boy. He had a wry sense of humor. When boys on second floor dumped water on him as he went in a door, he said nothing, but later raised an umbrella as he went in the door to the delight of the boys.
“His strength seems to have been to analyze the boys accurately, then demanded accordingly. He was not a man who used sentiment to escape facing the laziness of adolescence. He demanded. They groaned, they gave, they griped, they worshiped him later. There was a chestnut tree outside the Doctor’s study window that the boys remembered watching as they waited to see the Doctor if they had done anything wrong. Others would climb it to see if anyone was punished by him.
“Dr. Smith, the president of Princeton College, was quoted as saying that he received no students from any school in the United States who stood better examinations than those of Dr. Waddel.”
As a pastor, Alfred Nevin notes that “he was pious, zealous, and well versed in theology generally. His style of preaching was plain, simple, earnest. He addressed himself much more to the understanding than to the imagination or passions. As a teacher he stands almost unrivaled.”
Words to Live By: In The Great Doctor Waddell, by Dr. James McLeod, the author provides a compilation of the students educated under Waddell. The list includes two Vice-Presidents, three Secretaries of State, three Secretaries of War, one Assistant Secretary of War, one US Attorney-general, Ministers to France, Spain and Russia, one US Supreme Court Justice, eleven governors, seven US Senators, thirty two members of the US House of Representatives, twenty two judges, eight college presidents, seventeen editors of newspapers or authors, five members of the Confederate Congress, two bishops, three Brigadier-generals, and one authentic Christian martyr.
In light of which, this might be a good time to review again the words of Dr. R. B. Kuiper, posted here this past July 15th:
“God has seen fit to reveal Himself to man in two books—the Bible, the book of special revelation, and nature and history, the book of general revelation. Now it is the duty of the organized Church to teach men the content of the former of these books, while it is the special task of the school to open the latter. To be sure, the two may not be separated. Truth can hardly be dealt with so mechanically. After all, truth is one because God is one. Truth is organic. And only he who has learned to understand the Bible can really know history and nature. Yet the distinction is a valid one. The Church can hardly be expected to teach the intricacies of mathematics, physics, astronomy, or the history of the Balkans. Nor does any one demand of the school that it preach the gospel. But Church and school together must declare the whole of God’s revealed truth.”
During the course of this historic Presbyterian blog, there have been seven references to the life and times of J. Gresham Machen. This is no surprise, because he was God’s choice to lead His true church in tumultuous days of the early twentieth century. This event recognized today begins the whole story on July 28, 1881, J. Gresham Machen was born in Baltimore, Maryland.
On both sides of his family, there was a firm commitment to the Calvinistic truths of the Westminster Standards. His grandfather, on his father’s side, was a ruling elder of Old School Presbyterianism. His father, Arthur Machen, was a well-known attorney, and member of the Presbyterian church. Marrying Mary Gresham in 1872, a home was divinely ordered together.
[at right, Arthur W. Machen, father of J. Gresham Machen, pictured at about 75 years of age.]
His mother came from the southern Presbyterian tradition resident in Macon, Georgia. While we do not know much of her early life, after her marriage to Machen’s father, she exhibited an influence upon young J. Gresham Machen’s life which could not be rivaled. The whole family was influential members of the Presbyterian Church in Baltimore. Machen’s father served as an elder for many years.
When J. Gresham Machen was born, and here we simply quote Ned Stonehouse’s book on J. Gresham Machen,
“he entered a home of devout Christian faith, of a high level of culture and social standing, and of a considerable degree of prosperity. Both parents were persons of strong character and extraordinary intellectual and spiritual endowments, and our understanding of J. Gresham Machen is illumined as we observe how various qualities and interests of his ancestors were blended in generous portions in his own personality. . . the intense affection and loyalty that distinguished the Machen home were to prove one of the most influential and fascinating factors in shaping the course of things to come.” (p. 39, J. Gresham Machen, by Ned Stonehouse, Eerdmans).
Words to Live By: Certainly God’s sovereign grace can change an individual’s life for the better, but also God’s grace can use the faithful upbringing of a Christian family into even greater outreach of service. And the latter was evidenced in the home religion of Dr. J. Gresham Machen. We simply cannot stress too much the vital principles and practices of a godly home on a child’s life and life work. Parents! Labor hard in prayer and perseverance to make your home a godly one, leading by example and exhortation the faith of your children in the things of the Lord.
To read more of Dr. Machen’s reflections on his own parents and their home, click here.
It is hard to believe that at one time in this country, Arkansas was considered to be mission territory. But that was exactly the way that it was, when James Wilson Moore was appointed after his studies at Princeton Theological Seminary to go there as a Presbyterian missionary. It was still not a state, but a territory. Moore, who had been born in 1797, was sent there by the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions, to develop the church in that territory. In the whole town of Little Rock, with a population of 150 people, there were only three whites and three blacks professing Christ as Savior.
It was on July 27, 1828, that he organized the First Presbyterian Church of Little Rock, with two males and five females. In so doing, this congregation was the only active congregation and he was the only ordained minister when the territory became a state. This church became the “mother church” of all Presbyterian churches in the state. Thus, the James Wilson Moore was properly called the “father of Presbyterianism in Arkansas.”
In 1830, Moore returned to New Jersey so he could marry his wife, Elizabeth Green. Soon afterwards, he organized the Arkansas Presbytery, and was the only commissioner of it back at the General Assembly in 1846. Moving thirty miles west of Little Rock, Arkansas in 1840, he established a church in Sylvania as well as a school for boys. He taught at the latter educational facility for the next 30 years. He died in 1873, having successfully by God’s grace brought Arkansas the gospel and the Presbyterian church to worship and serve God.
Words to Live By:
Home missions has as much of a call to it as does Foreign Missions. After all, the disciples just before the ascension of our Lord Jesus into heaven, were told to be witnesses of His life, death, burial, and ascension, first in Jerusalem, then Judea, next Samaria, and finally to the whole earth. Your Jerusalem is where God has placed you right now. It is there that we need the filling of the Spirit upon us to go and witness of Jesus. Think again of your witness by your life and lips in this first place. Until you have been faithful here, you cannot be an effective witness in your county, state, region of the United States, the whole country, and finally the world. Serve God where you are first!
As with many ministers and theologians, Thomas Smyth was afflicted with bibliomania. His symptoms appeared early in his life. As a young child, he was a voracious reader and while at Belfast College he worked as the librarian. Reading and cataloging were not sufficient to alleviate his love for books; he had to own them […]
Today we are pleased to have as our guest author the Rev. Dr. David W. Hall, pastor of the Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) of Powder Springs, GA. It was Dr. Hall who so competently headed up the Calvin 500 celebration just a few years back, a celebration which included the publication of almost a shelf of new […]
The “Preliminary Principles” form the introduction to the PCA’s Book of Church Order. The Principles have their origin with the PCUSA Constitution in 1789 and were also adopted into both the OPC and BPC Books of Church Order. The common opinion is that the Principles were authored by the Rev. John Witherspoon. What follows in […]
Unity Where There Was Disunityby Rev. David T. Myers This historical devotional and the May 27th devotional deal with the same topic, that of the Old Side – New Side schism in early Presbyterianism. On May 27, we will look at what caused the infant Presbyterian church to divide into two sides in 1741. On this […]
Today we conclude our series “Gilchrist in Chile” with a brief testimony and prayer by the Rev. George R.M. Gilchrist, and we also thank his son, Dr. Paul R. Gilchrist, for making all of this available to our readers. May our Lord and Savior be glorified. GEORGE R.M. GILCHRIST, MISSIONARY TO CHILE25TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION — […]
GILCHRIST IN CHILE, Parts 6 & 7by Dr. Paul R. Gilchrist. At a court hearing, the presbytery and the Union Evangelica packed the hearing with false witnesses who told the judge: “Chile Mission was just a circle of missionaries who met from time to time for mutual inspiration. The Presbytery of Chile was merely a […]
GILCHRIST IN CHILE, Part 5.by Dr. Paul R. Gilchrist. But things were changing in the presbytery and in the mission. Modernism had crept in. One of the missionaries was Irwen Paul, whom the mission did not want because of his liberal stance. He had a lot of followers in Chile before the mission transferred him […]
Gilchrist in Chile, Part 4by Dr. Paul R. Gilchrist George Riggle Monfort Gilchrist was born in Las Vegas, New Mexico on March 14, 1892, His father was Joseph James (aka J.J.) Gilchrist and his mother was Elizabeth (Bessie) Rowland Gilchrist, who served as Presbyterian home missionaries in northern NM. George graduated from Occidental College and […]
GILCHRIST IN CHILE, Part 3by Dr. Paul R. Gilchrist On May 18, 1944 the Presbytery convened. One member declared, “When these two are got rid of, this movement will die in 24 hours.” Another spoke, “Brethren, we are throwing out the cream and keeping the skimmed milk.” Another pastor warned, “You will crucify these 2 […]
Today we bring you part 2 of Gilchrist in Chile, written by our guest author, the Rev. Dr. Paul R. Gilchrist. Dr. Gilchrist, now retired, served as the second Stated Clerk of the PCA, 1988-1998, and before that, as Stated Clerk of the RPCES, 1971-1982. But Dr. Gilchrist’s story, Gilchrist in Chile, is about his […]