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The Ghost Church at Polegreen
by Rev. David T. Myers

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To the locals, the outline of the white beams of the building is known as “the Ghost Church.” That is because it is neither a building or a monument, but only the outline of a church beside a road leading to Richmond, Virginia. Yet to those “in the know,” this site is both a historic site of religious and civil liberty.

Think back in time to the late eighteenth century. The colony of Virginia was ruled spiritually by the Anglican Church. That was the established religion. But sweeping the colonies was a religious fervor which we know as the Great Awakening. Ministers like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Gilbert Tennent were preaching the unsearchable riches of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

In Williamsburg, Virginia, George Whitefield preached the Word of God. His sermon was soon printed and widely read in Virginia. A Hanover, Virginia brick mason by the name of Samuel Morris gathered his family and some neighbors on Sunday afternoons to read the Bible and various religious tracts, including the sermons of George Whitefield. The gatherings soon attracted others to come together, and these individuals and families became known as “Morris Reading Rooms.” This was the beginning of the Hanover Dissenters. One such “Reading Room,” was known as Polegreen, so named because that was the land of George Polegreen in the late seventeenth century.

A Presbyterian minister preached one Sunday and recommended a young 23 year recently ordained pastor by the name of Samuel Davies. The latter went to the Governor General of Virginia to challenge the “state” religion of Virginia, who responded by setting up four “Dissenter” preaching places. One of them was at Polegreen Presbyterian Church. This became the “flagship church” of Samuel Davies. The gospel went out with much power to the people of the colony, until biblical Presbyterianism was established in the colony, and later on in the state. Polegreen Presbyterian Church became a sacred spot of the history of American Presbyterianism.

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Fast forward to the time of the Civil Way in the land, to specifically 1864. General U.S. Grant had begun his eventual crushing Overland Campaign against General Robert E. Lee, of the Confederate States of America. The Union forces fought their way south until they faced each other at Totopotomoy Creek, Virginia. Right in the middle of the two armies was Polegreen Presbyterian Church. When Union sharpshooters occupied the simple building, Confederate artillery opened fire to dislodge this enemy force. One Southern gunner, William S White, of the Richmond Howitzers, fired the shot which set the building ablaze. He confessed later in his diary that his father had been baptized there.

Since then, it has remained just the shell of the building. On the property, there is a stone monument placed in 1929 which reads “Site of Polegreen Presbyterian Church Founded 1748 by Rev. Samuel Davies, Presbytery of New Castle, Synod of New York, seven years before the organization of Hanover Presbytery, 1755. Destroyed June 1, 1864. Erected by Woman’s Auxiliary East Hanover Presbyterian 1929”

Words to Live By:
The outlines of the present “ghost church” were taken from a drawing by Lt. Thomas M Farrell, 15th New York Engineers, in 1862. Of far more importance is the spiritually legacy of Samuel Davies as it is found in evangelical and Reformed churches such as the Presbyterian Church in America, and others which receive the Bible, as summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. Are you a member of one of these churches?

An “Old Side” Presbyterian Who Accomplished Much for Christ
by Rev David T Myers

Educational opportunities in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition were alive and well in the American colonies in the early days of her existence. Schools like the Log College under William Tennant, Faggs Manor Presbyterian Academy under Samuel Blair, West Nottingham Academy under Samuel Finley were all in operation in the 1740’s. We can add to these posts that of New London Academy under the tutelage of the Rev. Francis Alison (sometimes spelled with two “l”s).

Francis Alison was born in the parish of Leck, County Donegal, in what we know as North Ireland or Ulster, today. The son of a weaver, he had received education in a Presbyterian school which prepared him well to enter the schools of the British Isles. A Master’s degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1733 added to his education. Some surmise that he also studied at the University of Glasgow for further theological study, since later on, he was awarded an honorary divinity degree, given only to alumni. All this enabled him to be licensed by Letterkenny Presbytery, after which he left for America.

In America, Alison was first hired as a tutor in the family of John Dickinson. Ordained as a minister in 1737 by an American Presbytery, he was called to New London, Pennsylvania as the Presbyterian pastor in the church there. It was in this call that he founded the New London Academy, a classical school which is still in operation today. Students, which were all male in its early days, were trained in math, sciences, Latin, philosophy, and yes the Bible. Among the graduates were three signers of the Declaration of Independence, namely, Thomas McKean, George Read, and James Smith. Charles Thompson, who was the secretary of the Continental Congress, was also his pupil.

In 1741, as our readers know from other posts, there was a schism in the infant Presbyterian church known as the New Side Old Side Split. This has been treated elsewhere in This Day. It may surprise many that Francis Alison took the Old Side position. At the close of this schism, Alison preached the opening sermon of the reunited denomination, entitled “Peace and Union” from Ephesians 4:4 – 7.

In 1751, Rev. Alison left the New London Church and Academy to take a administrator-teacher role in the Academy of Philadelphia. He also became a part time pastor of Philadelphia’s First Presbyterian Church. He helped develop the first insurance plan for Presbyterian ministers and set up a lending library for ministers. He was also involved in helping develop in 1767 another school down in Newark, Delaware which later on became the University of Delaware.

Francis Alison went to be with the Lord on November 28, 1779 after a life spent in God’s service.

Words to Live By:

Our teaching elders in the Presbyterian church government are often called pastors-teachers. And so they are in both name and ministry. Paul gives these men the following challenge in 2 Timothy 2:2 “and the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” How are you, the subscribers who occupy this high and holy calling, carrying out this mandate in the home, church, and school? Examine yourself!

In these United States, we are accustomed to seeing various historical figures from the early days of our country on our paper currency. From 1997 to 2009, the people of Scotland were used to seeing the picture of a Presbyterian missionary by the name of Mary Slessor on their ten pound bank-note. On one side of the bill, Mary Slessor was seen holding a child and literally surrounded by other children from that nation of Nigeria. On the other side of the legal tender, there was a map of her mission station in what is now eastern Nigeria. It is still legal tender in Scotland, even though her picture on the ten pound note has been replaced by someone else.

Mary Slessor was born into a family of seven children in 1848. Her father, who was an alcoholic, passed away, which left her mother struggling to support the large family. To help out, Mary, at age eleven, worked in the local mill. She is described by Dr. David Calhoun, professor emeritus of Covenant Theological Seminary, as “a tough, street smart girl, with striking blue eyes, red hair, and a flaming temper.” At age fifteen, with just a few short hours of sixty hours a week as a “mill-lassie,” she also taught a Sunday School class in her local Presbyterian church, supported a youth group composed of tough local kids, and became “an angel of mercy in miserable homes” in Dundee, Scotland.

As a result of the influence of her mother, who made available to the family the stories of missionary exploits from the Missionary Record magazine of the United Presbyterian Church, Mary received a call from the Lord to be a missionary in Calabar, Nigeria. Sailing on August 5, 1876 on the SS Ethiopia, she reached her target area.

After centuries of slavery in the area, human life was cheapened, tribes were divided, and the culture, such as it was, perverted. Especially was this so whenever African couples would bring twins into the world. One of the two children was looked upon as a child of the devil, but because no one would identify which one was demoniac, both were killed, or left to die in the jungle. Enter Mary Slessor into this whole scene. She literally rescued hundreds of these castaway children. One could not enter her missionary home without finding a dozen or so children in it.

Further, this missionary lady obviously believed the text of 1 Corinthians 9:22 where Paul writes, “I have become all things to all . . . so that I may be all means save some.” And so this Scot lady became African in all things, in eating their food, in dressing in their clothes, and learning their language. She wanted to become an African to win Africans to Christ!

It wasn’t long before the British government recognized her ability to minister to Africans. She was appointed a vice-consul – the first ever woman to be so appointed in the whole of the British Empire — by the new consul-general of her territory. David Calhoun states that she “could prevent battles, out-shout chiefs, and stop riots merely by walking into the middle of them.”

Weakened by fever throughout her life and service in the country, she finally succumbed on January 13, 1915.

Words to Live By:
Our focus has been on this remarkable servant of Christ, but consider how her mother, in circumstances less than ideal, influenced Mary’s life for the mission field. She did it by subscribing to a mission magazine which was reading material in her home. Other ideas would be the reading of missionary biographies to our children. Having visiting missionaries in your home for rest and recreation on their furlough would be a wonderful help for them and a vital example for your family. And certainly, when your covenant children grow into their teen years, participation on a short-term mission trip might indeed inculcate a mission heart all of their life. But most important, the frequent prayer of Matthew 9:38 ought to be practiced in the home, namely, “beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.:

For Further Study:
There is a chapter on Mary Slessor in the recent work by William W.J. Knox, Lives of Scottish Women: Women and Scottish Society. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006). Other works on her life and ministry include Mary Slessor of Calabar: Pioneering Missionary, by W.P. Livingstone (1915); The Expendable Mary Slessor, by James Buchan (1980); and Mary Slessor, by E. Robertson (2001).

A Presbyterian Patriot Pastor
by David T. Myers

One of the Presbyterian pastors who was a decided patriot was the Rev. Alexander McWhorter. Born of Scotch-Irish parents on July 26, 1734, his father was a linen merchant and later a farmer. He was also with his wife, a decided Presbyterian. They had emigrated first to Northern Ireland (Ulster) and then to the American Colonies.

After the death of his father, Alexander at age fourteen moved with his mother to North Carolina to join three brothers there. They attended a Presbyterian church where Alexander was exposed to revival services which left him anxious, it was said. However, he joined the Presbyterian church. Later he would return to New Jersey after the death of his mother. He entered the College of New Jersey and graduated in 1757. Called to the ministry, he studied theology under William Tennent of Log College fame, and licensed to preach by the Presbytery of New Brunswick. After a trip to the New England area, he was called to be the teaching elder at the Presbyterian Church of Newark, New Jersey, where the bulk of his pastoral ministry was to take place. It was during this long pastorate that God’s Spirit led him to have an active role on the battlefield for the independence of the colonies from England in the Revolutionary War.

When General George Washington traveled through Newark on his way to take command of American forces, Pastor McWhorter met him on the way. It would not however be the last time. They were to have many more occasions during this trying time in the history of this new nation. In fact, on one occasion, General Washington asked the Presbyterian pastor to interview two spies which the American troops had captured. The future president asked the Presbyterian clergyman to deal with them spiritually while at the same time to ascertain from them the size and strength of the British forces!

Forced to flee from Newark by British forces who ransacked his parsonage, McWhorter joined the American army as an unofficial chaplain. He was present on Christmas eve when the American army defeated the hired Hession mercenaries in Trenton, New Jersey. After that victory, Pastor McWhorter became the chaplain of Brig. General Henry Knox Continental Artillery Brigade. It was said that every Lord’s Day when Pastor McWhorter was in the pulpit, General George Washington sat under the preaching of our Presbyterian Patriot Pastor! He would serve as an Army chaplain until 1778 when a lightening bolt struck his wife back in Trenton. He hurried home from his Army calling to care for her.

Other than a brief span to pastor a Presbyterian church in Charlotte, North Carolina and be the president of a academy there, the British forces had marked him as an agitator. When they invaded that area of North Carolina, he was forced to flee for his life and lost all his ministerial books in the process. He returned to Newark, New Jersey where he served as a pastor in earlier years until his death in 1807.

Words to Live By: It takes an extraordinary man to have an effective ministry in two spheres of ministry. Certainly one’s congregation has to have a wider view of mission than simply the local one as well. Not many teaching elders have the spiritual gifts to be able to minister effectively in two places of ministry. Our featured figure on this day had those special gifts of ministry. And yet for such a one to be effective, they must have the spiritual help of gifted lay people. How can you help your local pastor in fulfilling more than one calling of ministry in your area? Think prayerfully about it, talk with your pastor of your willingness to use your gifts, and get busy in the work of the Lord.

One biographical entry lists under John Livingstone’s name that of “revivalist preacher.” And there is no doubt, as John Howie put it in The Scots Worthies, that there has been none whose labors in the Gospel have been more remarkably blessed with the outpouring of the Spirit in conversion work than John Livingstone, at least, since the Reformation commenced in Scotland. Who was this man of God?

Born on this day, July 21, 1603 at Monyabroch/Monieburgh in Scotland to a home filled with piety and prayer, his father William was a minister. Later on, young John became a student of Robert Blair at Glasgow University (see post for July 10). The subject of our post today became the assistant minister in Torphichen between Glasgow and Edinburgh, but in 1621 was “silenced” for his Presbyterian views. Moving to north Ireland, or Ulster, he became known as a young man and minister at what has become known as the Kirk O’Shotts Revival. The circumstances of his presence are remarkable for the Spirit’s leading.

John Livinstone had been a domestic chaplain to the Countess of Wigton, Sarah Maxwell. Upon hearing of plans for a Communion observance at Kirk O’Shotts, he went to attend this sacrament. With a huge crowd of both ministers and members in attendance, as W.M. Hetherington put it in his “History of the Church of Scotland, the Communion Sabbath “had been marked with much solemnity of manner and great apparent depth and sincerity of devotional feeling.” (p. 136) When the Monday came, the large crowd had been reluctant to depart without another religious service of thanksgiving to God for His redeeming love. So they begged for another worship service, but the pastor of the church was ill and couldn’t comply with their wishes. So young twenty-seven year old John Livingstone was prevailed upon to take his place.

The latter was so overwhelmed with his insufficiency of spiritual gifts however, that he ran away into the country side. Some accounts state that someone went after him to encourage him to return. Others state that he was taken by a “strong constraining impulse” to return. Which ever it was, he did return and began to preach to the huge multitude. It then began to rain, but for the next hour, the young minister preached the Word in a driving rain storm, outside! Listen to William Hetherington describe it. He said the crowd “was affected with a deep unusual awe, melting their hearts and subduing their minds, stripping off inveterate prejudices, awakening the indifferent, producing conviction in the hardened, bowing down the stubborn, and imparting to many an enlightened Christian, a large increase of grace and spirituality.” (p. 136)

This author cannot help but remark, “Oh for such an awakening and revival in our United States now” as took place on that day back in Ulster! It was said that some 500 people could date either their conversion or a confirmation of their case from that date and place. Livingstone went on to continue to preach the Word of grace in Ulster, with another experience of the Spirit’s falling two or three years after this occasion, when a thousand were brought to Christ.

We will return to his life and times as he was one of four ministers who endeavored to sail to America on the “Eagle Wing” vessel, but had to turn back due to storms. Livingstone, now married, ministered in both Scotland and Ulster, and with increasing persecution of Presbyterians in the lands, moved at last to Holland, where he died on August 9, 1672.

Words to Live By:
 There is perhaps no greater pastoral advice and counsel—Rev. Livingstone wrote the following words to one of his former churches:

“In all things, and above all things, let the Word of God be your only rule, Christ Jesus your only hope, His Spirit your own guide, and His glory your only end.” This could well be written on the inside leaf of your Bible as a reminder, reader, but far better for it to be written upon your heart and life as your belief and behavior.”

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