August 2: James Wilson

As a Christian, None More Sincere
by Rev. David T. Myers

There is some doubt as to whether James Wilson was a Presbyterian. That he was a Christian, no one doubts, but there is doubt that he was Presbyterian in his convictions.  So who was James Wilson, you ask? James Wilson was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Wilson was born in Scotland in 1742. Studying at three educational institutions in his native land, he never did earn a degree from any one of them. But he did emigrate to the America colonies in 1766 with good recommendations, which enabled him to teach at the College of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, upon his arrival. Studying law while he was doing that enabled him to be admitted to the profession of law. Moving around in the colonies eventually brought him to Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

With his marriage to Rachel Bird in 1771 in an Anglican Church, it is here that the claim was made that his religious connection was with what we know as the Episcopal Church.  However, raising a strong contention that he was Presbyterian, is the fact that he was one of twelve appointed to form a Society of Presbyterians on behalf of the First Presbyterian Church on the square in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. That commitment to Presbyterianism never faltered, even when he moved to Philadelphia.  He  was faithful to maintain a pew, for which he paid pew rent, to the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia.

It was on August 2, 1776 that James Wilson signed the Declaration of Independence.  Why was there this delay from July 4 when many of the others signed it?  Wilson, being a good representative of the people in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, wished to know what his constituents desired.  So he traveled back to Carlisle, Pennsylvania to find out their sentiments for independence from England were strong in favor of declaring independence.  So he signed the historic document.  He was also an key member of the Constitution of the United States.

George Washington nominated him as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  But because of risky land purchases, he would die  in poverty in 1798 while on a court case down in North Carolina.

Words to Live By: 
It is true that his religious affiliation is strong argued by two Protestant churches.  The overwhelming evidence seems to be with the Presbyterians, given his financial support of that Presbyterian church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, Pa.  More important than that is the assessment that as a Christian, none was more sincere.  We must make sure our election and calling, brothers and sisters, that we are a member of God’s kingdom by sovereign and saving grace, first and foremost.  Then, and only then, being a Christian Presbyterian, is strongly recommended!


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