American Revolution

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No Parallel in the Annals of the American Pulpit

So it was thought by the pulpiteers of the late nineteenth century, and thus our title today. This description fit the Rev. Ethan Osborn, one of the early pastors of the Fairfield Presbyterian Church, located in Fairton, New Jersey, and organized in 1680.

Born in Litchfield, Connecticut in 1758, Ethan Osborn was born to Christian parents and given a Christian education, taking his place as one in a family of nine children.  When the Sabbath came as the first day in each week, young Ethan was in public worship.  Like many covenant children, he attended simply out of obedience to his parents.  But as the boy became older, the Sabbath became a most welcome day.  He began to practice secret prayer and by the time he entered college, he had received the Savior by grace, through faith alone.

College for Ethan was Dartmouth, beginning there at the age of seventeen. The American Revolution was at full tilt during his college years so that in the middle of it, he became a soldier at age eighteen.  It was a very hard year for the young enlistee as the Continental Army was being pushed around all over the eastern seaboard in 1776.  Ethan clearly saw the providence of the Lord in that, becoming sick one month, he was caused to miss a battle in which his regiment was captured with the result that only four of those captured made it through the brutal imprisonment.  He returned to collegiate life soon after the war, graduating in 1784.

With no theological school around (Princeton Seminary did not begin until 1812), he studied for three years under experienced pastors. Called to one church, he was led to delay it until December 3, 1789, when he was called to the Old Stone Church, as it was known then, as their pastor. For the next fifty-five years, he with warm biblical expositions and faithful shepherding of the people of God, became known as “Father Osborn.”

Even though he would retire when he turned eighty-six years of age, he continued his ministry, preaching once when he was ninety-seven years of age. He went to be with his Lord in 1858 at age ninety-nine years, eight months, and ten days.

The church today is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America, and is the oldest Presbyterian church of that denomination.

At right, the old former building of the continuing PCA congregation, Fairton, NJ.

Words to live by:
Of Ethan Osborn, it was said that he was THE pastor of the Old Stone Church, a church which had been established so early in this land, well before our American Revolution. And while we might marvel at old buildings and the echoes of the past, what is more remarkable still is a continued faithful adherence to the gospel by the pastors, faithful elders, and families that have made up this congregation for now three centuries and more. All praise and glory to our Lord and God who preserves His people in righteousness, for His sake.

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A Christian Patriot Who Suffered During the American Revolution

We are more apt to recognize the New Jersey delegates like the Rev. John Witherspoon, or maybe Richard Stockton, as signers of the Declaration of Independence. But joining them was one Abraham Clark.

Born February 15, 1726 in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, his family was solid Presbyterians in their denominational affiliation. Baptized as an infant by the Rev. Jonathan Dickinson, first professor of the College of New Jersey, he grew up in the thrilling but dangerous days of increasing agitation of separation from England. With his inclination to study civil law and mathematics, he became known to his neighbors. Popular as “the poor man’s counselor,” he refused to accept any pay for his helpfulness to his neighbors. He further served them as High Sheriff of Essex County.

But it was as a member of the Continental Congress on June 21, 1776, that he became interested in the issues of liberty and justice. Penning his name to the Declaration of Independence, representing New Jersey, he states that he and his fellow signers knew that “nothing short of Almighty God can save us.”

He knew full well the cost of liberty. To a friend serving as an officer in the Jersey contingent of troops, “this seems now to be a trying season, but that indulgent Father who has hitherto preserved us will I trust appear for our help and prevent our being crushed. If otherwise, his will be done.” There is no doubt with convictions like this that he saw himself and his country safely within the sovereign providence of God.

His two sons were captured by the British and put into the prison hold of a notorious prison ship called “Jersey.” Fellow prisoners fed one of the sons by squeezing food through a key hole. Abraham Clark did not wish to make his personal suffering public, so he told no one about his family stress. When they found out about it from other sources, the American authorities contacted the British and told them that as they were treating prisoner of war Clark, so they were going to retaliate against a British officers in captivity. Only then did the brutal treatment of Clark’s sons ease up.

Abraham Clark was recognized as the member of Congress who moved that a chaplain be appointed for the Congress of the United States. And ever since then, a chaplain has been elected for that spiritual position.

But there were religious responsibilities which Abraham Clark also kept. From October 26, 1786 to 1790, Abraham Clark was a trustee for the Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church of which Pastor Caldwell was the minister. Abraham Clark died in his sixty-ninth year on September 15, 1794.

Words to live by: It was said that Abraham Clark was a Christian, a family man, a patriot, a public servant, and a gentleman. That about covers the sphere of influence which all Christians are to serve both God, the church, and our country. Once, he was offered freedom for his sons from their British captivity if . . . if he turned colors and became a Tory, or become loyal to England. He responded “no.” He was convinced, as he said to a friend in a letter in 1776, “Our fate is in the hands of an Almighty God to whom I can with pleasure confide my own. He can save us or destroy us. His counsels are fixed and cannot be disappointed and all his designs will be accomplished.” Amen, and Praise God

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A Para-church Presbyterian Evangelist

There can be no doubt that Robert Baird has both the gift of administration as well as the gift of  teaching.

Born on October 6, 1798 near Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in Fayette County, Robert went first to nearby Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania.  Graduating from that undergraduate college with high honors, he then studied theology at Princeton Theological  Seminary.  His senior year at the seminary also saw him at the College of New Jersey, serving as a tutor. After graduation from the seminary, he stayed in the area, serving at the pre-college school known as Princeton Academy, for six years.

Licensed and ordained by the Presbyterian of New Brunswick in 1822 and 1828 respectively, he took the first of a series of mission agencies engaged in ministry to the masses. For seven years, he served at a General Agent of the New Jersey Missionary Society. Following that, he became the General Agent of the American Sunday School Union for six years, seeking to organize Sunday Schools in destitute areas of our country.  This ministry continues to exist today under another name.

In 1835, Rev. Baird traveled all through Europe to promote evangelical religion on the Continent of Europe. He turned the latter into speaking engagements in America, as well as the authoring of  six books on religion in the old country. At that time, those who had emigrated to America before the American Revolution were only one or two generations removed from the old countries from which they had come. And since many of them had come to America because of persecution of their faith, they had a great interest of what had become of their old lands and people.

Robert Baird died in the middle of the Civil War, on March 15, 1863.

Words to live by:  In a number of our Presbyterian circles today, we would say that Rev. Robert Baird was laboring “out-of-bounds.”  That is, his ministries did not fit the usual rule of laboring in ministries organized and overseen directly by the Presbyterian assembly, synods, or presbyteries. But that doesn’t mean these ministries were not effective instruments for the gospel in their own right.  They were similar to the “para-church” ministries of our day and age.  Both then and now, such ministries can be effective works for the Lord in areas where the Church either has not yet been organized, or, in some cases, where the Church, as the Church, cannot minister. As long as there is a priority of financial and prayer support to denominational approved agencies, it can be legitimate to also support a well-selected para-church ministry. Just make sure that they have a doctrinal statement which is biblical, and  an outreach ministry which does what it claims to do, with no more than ten or fifteen per cent reserved for operating expenses. It must be transparent, with nothing to hide from Christian inspection. That need of accountability is one of core reasons the Presbyterian system works as well as it does.

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Nothing spectacular in word

We might not have even noticed William Floyd in history had he not been in place and time a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was like countless others in the early history of our nation. From a family which had emigrated from the old country,  this time from Wales, William Floyd was born in Brookhaven, Long Island in 1734.  Despite the prominence of the parents, he received no academic education outside the home, and only the barest of education in the home. The eldest son with seven younger brothers and sisters, at age 20, he found himself as the owner of the estate of  his parents when both of them died within two months of each other.

Not interested in political matters up to the time of the American Revolution, he busied himself in military matters, even reaching that rank of Major General in the New York militia. But when the issues of separation from England were brought to the fore in the mid seventeen hundreds, he entered the political fray. His fellow Long Islanders sent him as their representative as a delegate to the Continental  Congress in 1774. Indeed, with the exception of one year when the State of New York needed his presence in state government, William Floyd represented his constituents at succeeding congresses until 1783.

Now, it is true, there were no passionate speeches which have been handed down to us in the mighty decisions of Congress with his name attached to it. But he was the first of New York representatives who signed his name and sacred honor to the Declaration of Independence. For that, we should recognize him.

Certainly the British troops recognized him as a true American, and what he had done in Philadelphia. Occupying New York City during the revolution, the troops drove  his family into exile for seven years to Connecticut. They then treated  his fine estate as a barracks for their soldiers and animals.  He was one of the signers who almost was bankrupted by their excesses. After that war was over, he was still being recognized by his friends by being sent as a delegate to the First United States Congress in 1789 – 1791.

During this whole time, he was a faithful member of the South Haven Presbyterian Church in New York. In 1802, he helped to incorporate it, even named officers.  He in turn, along with another gentleman, examined and chose four trustees, among them his son. He helped out in the next couple of years to examine those interested in joining the church membership rolls.

He moved eventually to western New York to begin again, with a new wife since his first wife  had died. At the ripe old age of eighty-seven years, he died on August 4, 1821.  He is buried in the Presbyterian cemetery.

Words to Live By:
Some Christians are not known for their extrovert personalities, but simply do God’s will quietly and faithfully.  Many believers might not even know of their presence in their congregations or organizations, but they are there nonetheless.  They are the stalwarts of the congregation, and happy is the church where they are found.  Search them out.  Get to know them.  Encourage them by your words.  And thank God for their existence.  They keep your church going in the work of the Lord.

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We digress today to present the following post by our co-author, Rev. David Myers, and will return to our current Saturday schedule of posts by the Rev. Robert P. Kerr, from his work, Presbyterianism for the People. Next week’s Saturday installment is Chapter 3 from that work and is titled “The Bible Origin of Presbyterianism.”

Happy “Presbyterian Rebellion” Day

If you are reading this July 4, 2015 post as an ordained minister, you can simply turn to Loraine Boettner’s book “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination,” Chapter 28, Section 7, on page 383 for what I am about to write. Don’t have the book in your pastoral library! Go out and buy the book immediately, and let the following quotations be a incentive to do so.

Or if you are reading this national holiday post as a member in a Presbyterian church, borrow the book by Boettner on “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” from your pastor, turn to Chapter 28, Section 7 entitled “Calvinism in America,” and read the rich history of the beginning of your country which past and current school books have left out of the beginnings of our country. Then go out and buy one for your home and office!

The Reformer theologian Loraine Boettner writes “It is estimated that of the three million Americans at the time of the American Revolution, nine hundred thousand were Scotch or Scotch-Irish origin,” or Presbyterians.

Further Boettner writes on page 383 that “Presbyterians took a very prominent part in the American Revolution.” Quoting Bancroft, he writes “The Revolution of 1776, so far as it was affected by religion, was a Presbyterian measure.” Further, Boettner states “So intense, universal, and aggressive were the Presbyterians in their zeal for liberty that the war was spoken of in England as ‘The Presbyterian Rebellion.’ An ardent supporter of King George III wrote home that he fixed all the blame for these extraordinary proceedings upon the Presbyterians. The prime minister of England, Horace Walpole said in Parliament that ‘Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson,’ referring to John Witherspoon, signer of the Declaration of Independence.”

Last, Boettner quotes a J.R. Sizoo who tells us that “when Cornwallis was driven back to ultimate defeat and surrender at Yorktown, all of the colonels of the Colonial army but one were Presbyterians elders. More than one-half of all the soldiers and officers of the American Army during the Revolution were Presbyterians.”

Loraine Boettner concludes on page 386 by simply stating “The United States of America owes much to that oldest of American Republics, the Presbyterian Church.”

Words to Live By:
How many of our readers were instructed with these truths in their schooling in either the public school or colleges and universities when they studied American History? I dare say not many would assent to the question. But it is time that we re-study the question, and rejoice in God-glorifying Presbyterian elders and people who sought at the expense of their own lives and liberties to proclaim liberty throughout the land. Let us be knowledgeable descendants of them this Happy “Presbyterian Rebellion” Day, July 4, 2015.

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