October 25: Philip Vickers Fithian

Our Sovereign God is in Control of Life
by Rev. David T Myers

Continuing in our series on Presbyterian ministers who were Army Chaplains during the American Revolution, the name of Philip Vickers Fithian comes to the forefront.

Born the oldest of seven children to Joseph and Mary Fithian on December 29, 1747 in Greenwich, Cumberland County, New Jersey, Philip Fithian was baptized by his Presbyterian parents. We know little of his early life. Expected to enter into farming on the family farm, this oldest son soon showed other inclinations. Maybe it was his conversion to Christ which started it at age 17, at any rate, he soon began to wonder whether God was calling him to the ministry of his new found Lord and Savior. Whatever was the cause, he enrolled into the new church academy of the Rev. Enoch Green at Deerfield Presbyterian Church, New Jersey. So thorough was this beginning education, Philip was enabled to enter the Junior class of the College of New Jersey, graduating in 1772..

During these training years, his parents both died, leaving him the responsibility to care for his six siblings. But with the help of various relatives, who took over the oversight of the siblings, Philip was able to continue his training for the pastorate at Rev. Green’s Academy.

An opportunity for further service interrupted this formal schooling. He was asked and encouraged by John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey, to became a tutor of the large family of Robert Carter the Third in Virginia. Hesitant to go at first, he finally decided to take the opportunity and traveled south to this new ministry.

Chief also in his thoughts at this time was a young lady back home, the daughter of Rev. Charles Beatty, Elizabeth Beatty. His attempts of devotion and love toward her was met with silence or opposition. Even when he proposed to her, she rejected his proposal. All during the one year of tutorship, he wrote often to her.

Upon returning to New Jersey, he was licensed to preach the gospel. His ministry involved preaching to the vacant pulpits of Southern New Jersey. After a while, he transferred to the Donegal Presbytery in Pennsylvania, and was sent on two tours to western Pennsylvania and Virginia. In the middle of these tours, on this day, October 25, 1775, he was united in marriage with his long term sweetheart, Elizabeth Beatty.

With the Revolutionary War begun, and after his return of his second evangelistic tour, he joined the military brigade of General Nathaniel Heard as a chaplain. Accompanying the military unit on its way to New York, he preached weekly the Word of God and ministered personally to the spiritual and temporal needs of the troops. On October 8, 1776, exactly one year after his marriage, camp fever took its toll on the troops of the brigade, including Philip Fithian. He went to be with God.

Words to Live By:
The New Testament writer James put it best when in James 4:14, he wrote “. . . yet you do not know what your life will be tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” But the Sovereign God is in control of all things, including our life and times. So first, dear reader, make sure that you are saved for time and eternity. Second, make sure that you acknowledge that your times are in His hands, and plan everything in the light of that biblical truth. And yes, last, be busy with the Lord’s work wherever He has called you – in your family, in your church, and as the light and salt of the world.

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