Tragedy Turned to Triumph
It was on this day, December 10th, in 1815, that the Rev. J. J. Janeway wrote in his journal,
“It has pleased the Lord to send to this city the Rev. Drury Lacy [of Virginia] to die, and to edify us by his exemplary behaviour in his last illness. He submitted to a painful operation, which proved fatal. He was raised entirely above the fear of death, and repeated, on one occasion, with emphasis, two verses of the 116th hymn:
‘How can I sink with such a prop
As my eternal God,
Who bears the earth’s huge pillars up,
And spreads the heavens abroad?’ &c.
“I stood at his bedside about an half hour before his decease; and as I stood looking on him, then in a state of insensibility, I reflected. There is the servant of God just going to receive his reward; there is that mouth which was employed so often in proclaiming salvation to sinners, just about to be closed in death. But it will be opened again in celebrating the praises of our Redeemer in a new and nobler strain. There is that minister just about to receive his crown of life. Oh, may I profit by such occurrences! While meditating on something to say at his interment, I was refreshed; my soul melted within me; my eyes were filled with tears.”
Drury Lacy was born on 5 October 1758, in Chesterfield Co., Va., and died on 5 November 1815, at the home of a friend, Robert Ralston, in Philadelphia, PA. Death was caused by the effects of an operation for kidney calculi. Rev. Lacey had gone to Philadelphia in order to obtain the best medical service available. The operation was on a Monday and by Tuesday he was very low and said that he trusted in the Lord. He requested Robert to write a letter to Mrs. Lacy in case of his death to comfort her. By nightfall, he was in great pain and expired the next day. He was interred in the cemetery of the Third Street Presbyterian Church, later the Pine Street Presbyterian Church.
Drury was reared on his father’s farm in Chesterfield County in meager circumstances, with the full intention of following in the footsteps of his father as a farmer. But an accident in his youth, which at the time appeared catastrophic, abruptly changed the course of his life, to his great benefit , and to all of his descendants as well. The story of the accident is as follows:—
At a muster of the militia, a soldier had overloaded his musket and feared to discharge it himself. Without informing them of the over-loading and the consequent danger of firing it, he asked some boys if they would like to discharge it. Young Lacy volunteered; the weapon exploded, terribly mangling and tearing off Lacy’s left hand. The wound healed but, without the use of two hands, Lacy felt that he would be unable to earn a living as a farmer, and so turned his thoughts to the profession of teaching or clerking. This would require an education and he had not the funds to pay for tuition at a private school—there were no public ones—or to hire a tutor. His mother had died when he was about 12 years of age, and his father never remarried. His sisters, Keziah and Dorcas, assumed the duties of running the household as his elder sister, Agnes, had married in 1764.
At the age of 18, he secured a position as tutor in the family of Daniel Allen in Cumberland County, who was an elder in the Presbyterian Church of which Rev. John Blair Smith, President of Hampden-Sydeny College, was pastor. Here Drury became acquainted with Rev. Smith and his ministry. Shortly thereafter, he joined the church of which Rev. Smith had charge. This was an important move in Drury’s life, for Rev. Smith, noting his ability, took him “under his wing”. At this time, he was self-taught for the most part and had acquired a fair working knowledge of geography, grammar, algebra, geometry and surveying. He later became a tutor in the family of Col. John Nash of Prince Edward County, and while there, enjoyed the instruction of Rev. Smith one or two hours a week. With this assistance, he acquired a sufficient knowledge in Greek and Latiin so that at the age of twenty-three, he was offered the position of “tutor” at Hampden-Sydney College. He continued his studies there privately, leading eventually to his entrance upon the ministry.
In The Collections of the Virginia Historical Society“, Volume 5, it states that “he possessed marked powers of oratory. He could lift up his voice like a trumpet, and its silvery notes fell sweetly upon the ears of the most distant auditors in large congregations, wherever assembled, in houses or in the open air.
His son, Rev. William Sterling Lacy said of his father:
“He left but few sermons, and those not entirely finished, and far inferior to his ordinary pulpit performances, having been written in the earlier years of his ministry. During the last fifteen years of his life, the period of his greatest ministerial success, he rarely, if ever, wrote his sermons, and but seldom prepared even short notes for the pulpit. His preparation was almost exclusively mental and spiritual. He thought intensely upon his subject, and arranged the matter carefully in his mind, and then trusted to the occasion to suggest the appropriate language.
There is as well this account of him from the pen of his intimate friend, Dr. (Archibald) Alexander:
‘About the time that Mr. Lacy entered the ministry, commenced that remarkable revival of religion, which extended more or less through every part of Virginia where Presbyterian congregations existed. And although Dr. J. B. Smith was the principal instrument of that work, yet the labours of Mr. Lacy were, in no small degree, successful. His preaching was calculated to produce deep and solemn impressions. His voice was one of extraordinary power. Its sound has been heard at more than a mile’s distance. His voice was not only loud, but clear and distinct; in the largest assemblies convened in the woods, he could always be heard with ease at the extremity of the congregation.
Words to Live By:
God can take great tragedies and turn them to His purposes, redeeming the wasted years (Joel 2:25). The Lord is not limited; His ways are not our ways. Our place is but to look to Him in all things, regardless of what may come. A reward awaits, an eternity in His presence, enjoying Him forever.
The full hymn by Isaac Watts:
How can I sink with such a prop
As my eternal God,
Who bears the earth’s huge pillars up,
And spreads the heav’ns abroad?
How can I die while Jesus lives,
Who rose and left the dead?
Pardon and grace my soul receives
From mine exalted Head.
All that I am, and all I have,
Shall be for ever thine;
Whate’er my duty bids me give
My cheerful hands resign.
Yet if I might make some reserve,
And duty did not call,
I love my God with zeal so great
That I should give him all.