August 2013

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Quite a Remarkable Man, Spent for the Gospel.

Drawing again from Alfred Nevin’s Presbyterian Encyclopedia (p. 75), we read of the Rev. Gideon Blackburn:

blackburnGideonGideon Blackburn was born in Augusta county, Virginia on August 27th, 1772. In his boyhood his parents removed to Tennessee. He pursued his literary course of studies under the direction of the Rev. Samuel Doak [1749-1830] and his theological studies under the instruction of Dr. Robert Henderson [1764-1834]. Blackburn was then licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Abingdon, in 1792.

Mr. Blackburn was the organizing pastor of the New Providence Church in Maryville, Virginia, and also took charge of another church called Eusebia, which lay about ten miles distant. Besides his stated labors on behalf of these two congregations, Blackburn frequently preached throughout the surrounding region, and was instrumental in organizing several other churches.

During the early part of his ministry here, his life was frequently in danger, given the possibility of attacks by Indians. In 1803, he began a mission to the Cherokees, and his sacrificial efforts on their behalf produced remarkable results. In 1811 he removed again to West Tennessee, settling at Franklin, where he took charge of Harpeth Academy, while also preaching on a rotating schedule at five different outposts that fell within a fifty mile wide circuit. Within just a few months of this work, he was blessed of God to organize churches in each of those locations.

On November 12, 1823, Dr. Blackburn was installed as pastor of the Presbyterian church in Louisville, Kentucky, and here again, his labors were greatly blessed. He was later made President of Centre College, in Danville, Kentucky, and served there from 1827 to 1830. He then removed to Versailles, KY, where he spent part of his time as pastor of the Presbyterian church there, and the rest of his time as an agent of the Kentucky State Temperance Society.

In 1833, Blackburn moved on to Illinois, serving in 1835 as an agent raising funds for Illinois College. It was while traveling in the eastern states engaged in this work, that he conceived the idea of a theological seminary in Illinois. Eventually that school was established in Carlinsville, Illinois, though Blackburn died, on August 23, 1838, before seeing the culmination of his plan.

Dr. Blackburn was much above the ordinary stature, being about six feet one or two inches high. In his manner he was easy, gentle, mild, courteous, affable, but always dignified. “He was,” said one who knew him well, “not only an eloquent, but laborious and successful preacher. Like Whitefield, he loved ‘to range,’ and besides many extensive tours of preaching through various portions of the United States, his vacations in the academy and college were uniformly spent in traveling from place to place, often preaching night and day, and uniformly followed by weeping, wondering, admiring, audiences wherever he went; and even during the sessions of the academy and college, often have I known him, mounted on horseback on Friday afternoon, to dash off ten, twenty and even thirty miles, preach four or five times, administer the communion on Sabbath, and return on Monday morning in time to be in his chair in the lecture-room at nine o’clock. Very many were converted under his ministry, and many churches planted and watered by his indefatigable labors.”

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Today’s post is drawn from Alfred Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church (1884), p. 850:

The Long Pastorate of a Great Pastor and Biographer

SpragueWBWilliam Buell Sprague was born in Andover, Tolland county, Connecticut, on October 16, 1795. He graduated at Yale College in 1815, and in 1816 entered Princeton Theological Seminary, just four years after the start of that institution. After studying there over two years, Sprague was licensed to preach by the Association of Ministers in the county of Tolland, on August 29th, 1818. As pastor of the Congregational Church of West Springfield, Massachusetts, he labored with great assiduity and success from August 25th, 1819, until July 21st, 1829, when he accepted a call to the Second Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York, over which he was installed on August 26th, 1829.

In Albany, he had a pastorate of forty years’ duration, remarkable for the extraordinary steadfastness and warmth of attachment existing through all that protracted period between himself and his large and intelligent congregation, and even more remarkable for the vast and varied labors performed by him. He has been well and truly described as “an illustrious man, a cultivated, elegant, voluminous, usefull and popular preacher; an indefatigable and successful pastor; an unselfish and devoted friend; loving, genial, pure, noble; an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile; one of the most child-like, unsophisticated and charitable of men.”

While Dr. Sprague never relaxed his pulpit and pastoral duties, his added literary labors were prodigious and their fruits exceedingly great. He preached nearly two hundred sermons on special public occasions, the most of which were published. He also produced a large number of biographies and other volumes on practical religious subjects. But the great literary work of his life was his Annals of the American Pulpit, undertaken when he was fifty-seven years old, and finished in ten large octavo volumes.

On December 20th, 1869, Dr. Sprague was released at his own request, from his pastoral charge in Albany, and retired to Flushing, Long Island, where he passed his later years, which were a serene and beautiful evening to his industrious, useful and eminent life. Here he enjoyed the sunshine of the divine favor, and looked upon the approach of death with a strong and placid faith. He gently and peacefully passed away, May 7th, 1876, and his remains were taken to Albany for interment, the funeral services being held in the church of which he had been so long the beloved and honored pastor.

A number of Sprague’s works can be found in digital format, here.

If I may select one for you, The Claims of Past and Future Generations on Civil Leaders, looks interesting, judging by its title.

From Sprague’s Historical Introduction to The Annals of the Presbyterian Pulpit:
“…
The early history of the Presbyterian Church in this country is involved in no little obscurity,—owing principally to the fact that those who originally composed it, instead of forming a compact community, were widely scattered throughout the different Colonies. It is evident, however, that several churches were established some time before the close of the seventeenth century. In Maryland there were the Churches of Rehoboth, Snow Hill, Marlborough, Monokin, and Wicomin,—the first mentioned of which is commonly considered the oldest, and was probably formed several years before 1690. The Church on Elizabeth River, in Virginia, is supposed by some to date back to nearly the same period, but the exact time of its origin cannot be ascertained. The Churches in Freehold, and Woodbridge, New Jersey were constituted in 1692 [Note: there is good evidence that Fairfield Presbyterian Church, in Fairton, NJ, was established in 1680.]; and the First Church in Philadelphia, as nearly as can be ascertained, in 1698. In Newcastle, Delaware, in Charleston, South Carolina, and in some other places, Presbyterian Churches were planted at a very early period. In the latter part of 1705, or early in 1706, a Presbytery was formed under the title of the Presbytery of Philadelphia,—all whose members were from Scotland or Ireland, except the Rev. Jedediah Andrews, who was born and educated in New England.”

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An excerpt from The Brazen Serpent, by Joseph Huntington Jones provides our Lord’s Day sermon today. Rev. Jones, as you will remember from yesterday’s post, was a close friend of the Rev. Ashbel Green. Dr. Green entrusted his autobiography to Rev. Jones, that he would see it through to publication after Green’s death.

The Brazen Serpent is, as it turns out, a work addressed to children. As such it provides an excellent example of the quality and caliber of nineteenth-century Presbyterian literature for the juvenile audience. The book was published by the Presbyterian Board of Publication, an agency at that time of the Old School wing of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., being published in 1864, just five years before the reunion of the Old School and New School division. What follows is excerpted from the first chapter of the book. A link to the full work follows at this end of this post. Please consider reading this together with your own children.

THE BRAZEN SERPENT, by Joseph Huntington Jones.

We read in the twenty-first chapter of the book of Numbers, that when the Israelites had been bitten by fiery serpents, Moses made of brass an image of this serpent and put it on a pole, and then whoever looked to this brazen or dead serpent was cured of the bit of the living one. There is something very astonishing here. In the history of diseases and remedies there is nothing like it, and had it not been explained to us by him who appointed it, we should be just as much perplexed to understand it as the Jews are. They cannot imagine why Moses should have been instructed to cure his dying brethren by such a simple thing, which, if it affected them at all, would be presumed to make them worse. The very last object at which a man, mortally wounded by a poisonous serpent, would wish to look, or from which he would expect relief, would be an image of the creature that had bitten him. To explain this wonder, and help us to see the use of it to us as well as to them, I will first recount what Moses did to heal his suffering brethren, and then tell you why God directed him to do it, in this particular way.

Most of my young readers, I presume, are familiar with the remarkable history of the children of Israel in Egypt; of the way in which they were brought out of it; and of their wandering forty years in the wilderness. If those of you who understand geography, will take some good map of this region which has the way the people traveled marked out upon it, you will see that, although they traveled probably more than a thousand miles up and down in this desert country, yet the distance in a straight line is less than three hundred. They were now come to Mount Hor, and had they been permitted to go forward in a direct course, their way would have been short. But to this the king of Edom would not consent, as they would have gone across his territory. This was very provoking, because it compelled them to travel back the very way they had come several days, and through a country that was extremely rough and dreary. It is not at all surprising that the people should have been greatly vexed with this most perverse and disobliging king, who had given them so much needless trouble; but it was not to be helped. He had a right to forbid them, and it was their duty to submit. So they turned about and followed the pillar of cloud and fire; but with such an angry and rebellious temper, that they murmured not against Moses only, but against God. “Wherefore,” said they, “have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in this wilderness?”

. . . But some of my young readers will say, We do not understand it, after all. We cannot see any resemblance between those poor Hebrews in the wilderness, bitten by the fiery serpents, and ourselves. We have not been bitten, and have no disease in our bodies that should make us afraid, or that gives us any pain. And even if we had, we do not think that we could be cured by looking to Jesus Christ. That is very true, children, in one sense; and your bright eyes, red cheeks, and healthful looks are pleasant tokens that you are well and happy. But this is not all of the truth; you are in health and full of joy and hope now, but it will not be always so. Many of the children who read this little book have buried a beloved parent; some lost their mother, some have no father, and others have neither. In a few years, all of you, their children, will be called to follow them; and what is the cause of this? Why do not persons live for ever here, without becoming old, wrinkled, and gray-haired, and losing their strength, hearing, and eyesight? Why have people, in past ages, with but two exceptions, all gone out of the world by dying? Who do they, soon or late, as certainly die as all the Israelites did who were bitten, before the lifting up of the serpent? Let us go to the apostle Paul for an answer. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Here, then, my dear children, you will see that sin has done the same thing for us, that the fiery serpents did for the Hebrews. It has made us all liable to the death of our bodies, and what is infinitely worse, to the everlasting loss of our souls. This is one point of resemblance.

Another, not less obvious and striking, is the way of escape. As the Israelites could do nothing to save their bodies from death, neither can we do anything for the salvation of our souls. If left to ourselves, in spite of all our works, we shall as certainly lose our souls as the Hebrews would have lost their lives. And in this we notice a second point of resemblance. We are like them in being utterly helpless.

A third is, that as they obtained a cure by looking to the brazen image; so do we receive salvation by looking to Christ. The Saviour does not use the precise words of Moses, and tell us to look to him, but he says, Believe. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” We see, then, that the great design of God, in adopting this way of curing the bitten Hebrews, was to teach us faith in Christ. Now, a great many people suppose that this is a subject so obscure and hard to be understood, that it is never worth our while to say anything to children about it. But in this little story from the writings of Moses, as explained by the Saviour, it is made so plain that few, if any, children who are able to read, can fail to comprehend it as well as their parents.

And I would now ask my little readers three simple questions that I think they can nearly all answer, and which will show how far the story is understood. And first, What was there in the condition of the Israelites that made it necessary for Moses to lift the serpent on the pole? You tell me, at once, they were in such a dangerous state that multitudes would have died without it. This is correct; you have given the true answer; and this, let me tell you, is the first part of faith in Christ. It is to feel ourselves to be in such a deplorable state, on account of our sins, that we must perish without help.

My next question is, Why did these poor, suffering Israelites look to this brazen image on the pole? Why did they not apply to their physicians, or try to cure themselves? You tell me immediately, because they knew that they would die if they did, and that if they were healed at all, it must be done by turning their eyes to this brazen saviour. True, this is the very answer I wished you to give, and this is the second element of faith in Christ. It is a persuasion that if we are saved at all, our help must come from Christ; that “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” I think, then, you understood this part as well as you did the other.

My third question is, What were their feelings and thoughts when they first lifted their eyes to the image? They felt persuaded, you answer, that if they looked, they would certainly be relieved, no matter how badly they were bitten, or how desperate their bodily condition. Exactly so, children, and this very feeling makes up the remainder of saving faith. It is a conviction, that if we do rely on Christ to save us, he is able, and willing, and ready to do it, the very moment we believe. This is faith, all about it that any of you need know; it is what any of you can know; and, let me add, it is what you all must know, or you will as certainly perish as the Israelites would have died, but for looking to the brazen image.

The Brazen Serpent; or, Faith in Christ Illustrated, by Joseph Huntington Jones. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1864. To download this book in PDF or other digital formats, click here.

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Ashbel Green’s Editor and Friend

Joseph Huntington Jones, D. D., the brother of Judge Joel Jones, was born in Coventry, Connecticut, on August 24th, 1797. He graduated at Harvard University, in 1817. For a time he was employed as Tutor in Bowdoin College, Maine. He completed his theological studies at the Princeton Theological Semi­nary; was licensed as a probationer, September 19th, 1822, by the Presbytery of Susquehanna, and was, by the same Presbytery, ordained as an evangelist, April 29th, 1824.

On June 1st, 1824, he began his labors in the Presbyterian Church at Woodbury, New Jersey, and was soon installed as pastor of that church. Here he labored with very great success. At the same time he also supplied the feeble church at nearby Blackwoodtown, which shared the blessing enjoyed by that of Woodbury. In 1825 he was installed as pastor of the Presbyterian Church at New Brunswick, New Jersey. Here he remained for thirteen years, proving himself to be “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” His ministry was honored of God by at least three seasons of religious awakening.

In 1838 he became the pastor of the Sixth Church, in Phila­delphia, and continued so for twenty-three years, his efforts being crowned with a manifest blessing. From 1861 to 1868 he was Secretary of the Relief Fund for Disabled Ministers, in which capacity he did a noble work, for which he deserves the lasting gratitude of the Church. He died on December 22d of 1868.

Dr. Jones was an exemplary Christian, an in­structive preacher, a faithful pastor, an interesting writer, and a gentleman of great urbanity of manner and suavity of disposition.

Of his principal work, often referred to as The Effects of Physical Causes on Christian Experience,’’ Dr. J. W. Alexander wrote, “It is a valuable and entertaining book.” Rev. Jones must have been a close friend and associate of the Rev. Ashbel Green, for it was to Jones that Green turned for the task of bringing Green’s autobiography to the press. Rev. Jones also wrote a history of the 1837 revival at New Brunswick, and several sermons of his were published as well.

 

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Reprise:

A Communion for American Covenanters

The entire service of Communion that Sabbath day on August 23, 1752 lasted nine hours.  But for some two hundred and fifty Covenanters gathered on that spot, it was the first communion outside the British Isles.

The teaching elder on that Lord’s Day was the Rev. John Cuthbertson, who was the first Reformed Presbyterian minister in the colonies.  As the only one, he had logged nearly 70,000 miles in the wilds of Colonial America, ministering to scattered Covenanters.  Often, there was no church building.  So they worshiped at various sites called “tents.”  It consisted of a large tree, with a wooden stand for the minister, and another for a Bible, with rough pews for the people, and nothing but the open sky for the roof.  On this occasion, they met at the Junkin Tent, just north of present day New Kingstown, Pennsylvania.

The communion at this first meeting in America lasted five days, with worship times on three of the five days.  The first day, which was Thursday, was a day of fasting, with a sermon by Rev. Cuthbertson.  Tokens of admission were given to those qualified spiritually to partake, after an exhortation for that purpose.  Prospective members were examined and received into the congregation.  On Friday and Saturday, no public worship was conducted.

In the services on the Sabbath, Rev. Cuthbertson paraphrased the 15th Psalm and preached from John 3:35: “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things in his hand.”  After the sermon, there was prayer and singing from the psalter.  Then the pastor spoke again about the sacrament, debarring some from the table while inviting others to the table of the Lord.  The communicants came, singing the Twenty-fourth Psalm, to sit at four tables as was the custom, to receive the elements of the sacred supper.  After the table services were concluded, he exhorted the communicants and led in prayer.  A part of the 103rd Psalm was sung.  Then after an interval of thirty minutes, another sermon was preached.  The entire service of that Communion day worship lasted nine hours.

Before the worshipers started home on Monday, another sermon was proclaimed as a departing reminder from the Word of God.

Words to live by:
   We might well wonder whether God’s people today would sit through such protracted services.  As one minister commented, there would not be many left but the preacher, and most probably he too would feel like departing!   But let it be said that these early American Christians did not have all the privileges of weekly services nor access to countless Christian books and media outlets.  What they had, they treasured, and exhibited a spiritual fervor which, with all our spiritual privileges, too many professing Christians and churches lack that same spiritual fervor.

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