Unwavering Devotion to Christ and Country
by David T. Myers
Here and there in these posts, you have read about Presbyterian clergy who were instrumental in preparing and molding the popular minds of Americans for the great struggle of the American Revolution. From both pulpit and battle field worship service, these Presbyterian chaplains challenged the troops to fight for their freedom and win the day. The British were certainly aware of the tremendous influences of these clergy toward that end and viewed it with alarm that it was thrown into the side of the rebellion. Among the many pastors of all denominations who joined the ranks were Presbyterians such as the Reverend Hezekiah James Balch, who is our character study today.
Born in 1741 in Deer Creek, Hartford County, Maryland to Col. James Balch and Anne Goodwin, there is little known about his early years. The whole family moved south to Mecklenburg, North Carolina when he was young. At some time in his teens, due to a recommendation from a minister who must have seen certain spiritual gifts in the young man, he entered the College of New Jersey, later Princeton, graduating from there in 1766.
In the historical accounts, there is much confusion as to his work due to two other Balch members in the extended family, one his brother. Even the online encyclopedia Wikipedia has him laboring for the Lord and eventually dying in Tennessee, albeit serving as a Presbyterian pastor and educator. All this is wrong.
After graduating from Princeton, he was licensed to preach the gospel and sent him to various fields as a missionary in Virginia and North Carolina in 1768. A year later, on June 22, 1769, he was called to the Presbyterian Churches of Rocky River and Poplar Tent, North Carolina as pastor, after being ordained to the gospel ministry.
An interesting event happened before that call however. He was reproved by the Presbytery because a Church of England minister had married him. They called it a “reprehensible circumstance.” Obviously, the memory of the Church of England and the Presbyterian experience in the old country was not forgotten by this Presbytery. It didn’t seem to have an effect upon his installation of the two charge congregation where he labored until his death in 1776.
What may have had an influence upon the Presbytery was his participation in what is known as the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. A full year before the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, PA, Rev. Balch was one of the Committee of Three who wrote up its resolves declaring independence from England. While modern revisionist history has doubted the existence of this declaration (and we will not go into that history now), it is is celebrated even now in North Carolina with Rev Hezekiah James Balch being remembered as one of the key players in its formation.
Words to Live By:
God calls His people to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world in many spheres of life. Whether in the church and/or the state, we are called to be faithful to the cause of the gospel. Our featured character today, the Rev. Hezekiah James Balch let his light shine in the establishment of both church and state in his beloved North Carolina home and ministry. We as American Christians are to be active in both spheres, good Christian citizens in our land, and faithful Christians soldiers in the church of Jesus Christ.