Columbia Seminary

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[excerpted from The St. Louis Presbyterian, 31.27 (10 September 1896): 435.]

strickler_GB            Dr. Strickler was born at Strickler’s Springs, Rockbridge County, Virginia, April 25, 1840. On his father’s side he was of German descent; his great-grandfather being a Lutheran minister. On his mother’s side, (her name was Mary Brown) he belongs to that sturdy, earnest race, the Scots-Irish, who at an early date settled in the Valley of Virginia, and gave that favored land its strong leaning towards Presbyterian doctrine and polity. He was taught in the schools of the County, and at the outbreak of the Civil war was in Washington College in Lexington, Virginia. He entered the Southern Army with the College Company, who called themselves the “Liberty Hall Volunteers,” and this was a part of the 41st Virginia Regiment, and this regiment was a part of the famous “Stonewall Brigade,” receiving this name from its first commander Stonewall Jackson. The brigade was in nearly all the battles in which its famed commander took part, and always behaved with conspicuous courage and gallantry. The young soldier soon became the Captain of his company, by his gallant bearing, and popular manners. Twice was he wounded, but was soon back at his post. In a charge at the battle of Gettysburg, he was captured, and remained a prisoner in the hands of the Federals until the close of the war.

            Then he entered Washington and Lee University, where he from the first took a high stand as a student. He graduated from this Institution in 1868, the last year acting also as Tutor in the University. He at once entered Union Theological Seminary, and graduated from this School of the Prophets in 1879, with the highest distinction. He was at once licensed by his Presbytery, and being invited to Tinkling Springs one of the largest and most influential of the country churches in Virginia, he was ordained and installed pastor in the fall of 1870. [In this pastorate he was following the Rev. R.L. Dabney (1847-1852) and preceding the Rev. J.A. Preston (1883-88).]  About the same time he married Miss M.F. Moore, of one of the oldest and most respectable families of the Falling Spring’s church, near the Natural Bridge.

            Dr. Strickler remained pastor of  the Tinkling Spring Church for twelve years and a half. His reputation for vigorous and earnest preaching, clear and solid thinking, wise and faithful pastoral work, soon spread far and wide, and many calls from large and influential churches came to him. But he preferred to work at his first charge. Finally in the fall of 1882, the Central Church of Atlanta, Georgia, made such an earnest plea for his services that he yielded, and came to their church in the Spring of 1883.Hardly had he begun the work in their city before he was urgently and unanimously called to the chair of Church History in Union Theological Seminary. After a considerable struggle between his church, who fought his transfer, and the Seminary Committee, Atlanta Presbytery advised him to remain where he was; this he did with all cheerfulness and loyalty. His loving church at once began to build him a new, and a larger church.

            This was finished in 1886, and is one of the handsomest and most commodious edifices in our Southern Church. Dr. Strickler’s fine administrative abilities soon manifested themselves, not only in the thorough organizations of his own church in its individual work, but also in the impetus given the work of our Presbyterian Zion all over the city, Presbytery and State. His church at once began to plant missions in different parts of the city, and several of them are now growing working churches. Dr. Strickler’s wisdom and ability were also most conspicuous in the contest against the teaching of Evolution in Columbia Seminary. As leader of the Anti-evolution men he won decided victories in the Synods at Marietta, La Grange and Sparta. Shortly after he was elected to the chair of Theology in Columbia Seminary and to Chancellorship of the University of Georgia both of which he declined.

            In 1887 he was chosen moderator of the General Assembly of the Church which convened at Saint Louis. In this responsible and delicate position he acquitted himself most creditably and wisely. At this Assembly he was chosen chairman of the Southern Assembly’s Committee to confer with the Northern Church Committee in regard to organic union. In 1895 the Board of Directors by a unanimous vote elected Dr. Strickler to the important chair of Theology in Union Seminary, and gave him a year in which to decide the question; they at the same time promised to remove the Seminary from Hampden Sidney to Richmond the beautiful and historic capital of the State. During the winter of 1895-96, the devoted flock over which he had presided so long did everything in their power to induce him to decline this call. But a sense of duty to the Church at large impelled him to accept the call, and to ask the Presbytery to allow him to leave his church. It was a sad and solemn meeting which met for this purpose, we all felt that it was the will of the Lord calling His servant to a post for which by nature and training he was eminently fitted. Dr. Strickler preached his farewell sermon to his people on the last Sabbath in July, 1896, and will enter upon his new duties September 2, 1896.

            Then in stating the truth as it appears to him, he is always as clear as one of our mountain streams; the simplest can understand him. In the pulpit, he is, besides all this, earnest and effective. In his dealings with his people he was always kind, sympathetic, wise. In the church court he is always patient, considerate of others, but eminently wise and faithful.

            His theology is of the most orthodox type. He believes in the inspiration of the Scriptures, in the old fashioned orthodox Calvinistic type of religious thought. He has no crochets, no vagaries, no new ideal as to the cardinal truths of the word of God, and his strong loving character will impress this type of theology on all the students who come from his hand. May his bow long abide in strength. [Among his many honors and accomplishments were the Doctor of Divinity degree, conferred by Washington & Lee University in 1878, the LL.D. degree, awarded by Davidson College in 1894, a term of service as Moderator of the PCUS General Assembly in 1887, and his tenure as joint editor of The Presbyterian Quarterly.]

“The Nature, Value, and Special Utility of the Catechisms,” in Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly, 1647-1897, Containing Eleven Addresses Delivered Before the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, at Charlotte, N.C., in May, 1897, in Commemoration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Westminster Assembly, and of the Formation of the Westminster Standards (Richmond, VA: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1897), pp. 115 – 138.

[Excerpt] : Teaching, by the catechetical method, has marked the history of the church almost from the beginning down to the present time. A divine warrant for it, if not requirement of it, may be found in such passages of God’s word as Deut. vi. 6, 7: “And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” And Exodus xii. 26, 27: “And it shall come to pass that when your children shall say to you, What mean ye by this service?” (the service of the passover) “that ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses.” In these instances, in order to give children the full and accurate instruction they needed about the commandments of the Lord referred to, and about the important sacrament instituted in the church in the passover, it was necessary that a number of questions should be asked and answered; and then, that the truth about these and other subjects, once learned, might not be forgotten, but kept ever fresh in the memory, and in constant and influential contact with the mind and heart, it was necessary that it should be frequently reviewed; that there should be “precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little and there a little.” Thus, we may say, the catechetical method of instruction was instituted at the very beginning of the Mosaic dispensation.

“The Philosophy of Faith,” in The Presbyterian Quarterly, 16.2 (October 1902) 149-165.


Sermons. New York, Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1910. 273 p.; 20 cm.  [available on the Web at]


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Our post today comes from a biographical sketch written for the PCA Historical Center by Barry Waugh. Our thanks to him for permission to use this portion for today’s blog post. Click here to read the full article.

He Sold the Books!

smythT_150As with many ministers and theologians, Thomas Smyth was afflicted with bibliomania. His symptoms appeared early in his life. As a young child, he was a voracious reader and while at Belfast College he worked as the librarian. Reading and cataloging were not sufficient to alleviate his love for books; he had to own them as well. He wrote in 1829, “My thirst for books, in London became rapacious. I overspent my supplies in procuring them, at the cheap repositories and left myself in the cold winter for two or three months without a cent …” (Autobiography, 39). Dr. Smyth’s comments on his developing bibliomania are reminiscent of Erasmus and his practice of buying books first, and then, if any money was left, he bought food. A few years later as he entered his ministerial service in Charleston, he specifically purposed to develop a theological and literary library similar to Dr. Williams’s Library in London. Over the years, he accumulated about 20,000 volumes. One unusual book in his possession was a Hebrew Psalter with the autographs of Jonathan Edwards, Edwards’s son, and Rev. Tryan Edwards, who gave it to Dr. Smyth. The Grand Debate and other original documents of the Westminster Assembly were procured at great cost, as well as forty works by members of the Assembly along with ten quarto volumes of their discourses. Dr. Smyth’s compulsive, though purposeful, book buying may have been a point of tension for he and his wife. In a letter written by Margaret to him in the summer of 1846 she informed him of the expenses they were incurring due to the addition of three rooms to their home:

“I tell you all this now as a preface to a caution, not to involve yourself too deeply or inextricably in debt by the purchase of books & pictures; of the last, with the maps, we have enough now to cover all the walls, even of the new rooms; & the books are already too numerous for comfort in the Study & Library. … But I would enter a protest not only against books & pictures, but all other things not necessary & which can come under the charge of extravagance. Do be admonished & study to be economical.” (Autobiography, 384f).

It should be noted that one of the reasons the three rooms were built was to accommodate Dr. Smyth’s ever-growing library; one of the new rooms was thirty feet long and intended for his use. As Dr. Smyth’s health continued to deteriorate, he made the difficult decision to sell over half of the volumes of his library to Columbia Theological Seminary. He was concerned that since he could not take full advantage of his magnificent library it would be best that ministerial students have access to the books. The actual sale was dated May 28, 1856 and the seminary contracted to pay the Smyths $14,400 for the volumes. The seminary organized the collection in a special area designated the Smyth Library. Dr. Smyth continued to add to the collection by donating other books so that by May of 1863, the special collection contained 11,845 volumes, and by the time a posthumous inventory was taken in November of 1912, the number was over 15,000. Even though he had sold and donated thousands of volumes to Columbia Seminary, his remaining library was still large, but it was reduced once again when a fire, in 1870, burned about 3,000 books. Though the affliction of bibliomania can become all-consuming, it is certain that many Presbyterian ministers trained at Columbia Seminary benefited from the collection gathered by Thomas Smyth.

Words to Live By:
Suffering a similar affliction (though my own library paled in comparison), I found some years ago that the best way to temper the disease was to realize that I was responsible before the Lord for each volume I purchased. Was it a truly necessary purchase? Would I in fact read it, or at least use it in a way that would justify the expense? Pastors typically need the resources of a good many books and so it is never a foolish expenditure when they are first wisely chosen and then wisely and well-used. Software programs for the study of the Bible add new abilities for search and access, and even make it possible to carry an entire library on a single laptop, tablet, or even a phone.

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Silent as a Tombstone; Punctual as a Clock.

The following account is drawn from The Memorial Volume of the Semi-Centennial of the Theological Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina. (1884). Dr. Leland was one of the earliest professors at Columbia Seminary. For more on Dr. Leland and the Seminary, see the recent volume by Dr. David B. Calhoun, Our Southern Zion: Old Columbia Seminary, 1828-1927, published by The Banner of Truth Trust. 

By Rev. Joseph Bardwell, D.D.

lelandAW_01Few men could boast a nobler ancestry. The earliest of this name, historically known, was John Leland, an accomplished scholar of the sixteenth century, Chaplain to Henry VIII., and by him honored with the office of King’s Antiquary, or Royal Antiquary of England. Among his lineal descendants are found the illustrious theologian and defender of the Christian faith, John Leland, D. D., of the seventeenth century, and Henry Leland, the ancestor of the American branch of the family, who removed from Great Britain to this country about the middle of said century (the seventeenth). Aaron Whitney Leland, son of Rev. John Leland, was born in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, October 1st, 1787 and died November 2d, 1871, at the age of eighty-four years, one month, and one day.

Graduated at Williams College in 1808, he soon thereafter removed to Charleston, S. C., where he engaged in teaching at Mount Pleasant village, near that city. In June of the following year (1809), he was married to the eldest daughter of the Hon. James Hibben, of Christ Church Parish, by whom he became the father of six sons—one of whom died in infancy—and four daughters.

At what precise date his mind became impressed with the claims of the gospel ministry we are not informed. But during the third semi-annual session of Harmony Presbytery, in April, 1811, he was taken under the care of that Presbytery, passed the usual examination and trials, and, on the 6th day of the same month, was licensed to preach the gospel as a probationer. In this capacity as licentiate he served the vacant churches of the Presbytery for one year with great acceptance, and on the 2d day of May, 1812, was ordained as an evangelist. But so great was the favor with which his first efforts in the ministry were received, that he was soon called to the pastorate of the First Presbyterian church in the city of Charleston—usually called the Scotch church—and was installed pastor of the same in 1813.

In 1814 he received the honorary degree of A. M. from Brown University, and in 1815, at the early age of twenty-eight, was honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity by the South Carolina College. For several years he was pastor of the church on James Island, in which a powerful revival of religion took place under his ministry. In that church he preached the eloquent sermons published in The Southern Preacher, in which he vindicated evangelical religion from the charge of fanaticism.

In 1833 he was called from the pastoral work and installed Professor of Theology in the Theological Seminary in Columbia, which position he filled with great fidelity and eminent satisfaction to the friends of that institution till 1856—a period of twenty-three years. In view of his advancing years, and the increased labors incident to his chair, he was then, with his own hearty approval, transferred to the Professorship of Sacred Rhetoric and Pastoral Theology, for which his taste, culture, and long experience eminently fitted him.

To the duties of this chair he devoted himself with unflagging zeal till disabled by a stroke of paralysis in October, 1863. On the 11th day of that month, while entering a store on the public street, he was suddenly stricken prostrate with paralysis, and for a time lay insensible. So soon as consciousness returned he was borne, or rather assisted, to his own home. But, punctual to his engagements, nothing could deter him from attempting to meet his duties at the Seminary. It was his turn that week to preside in the religious services of evening worship; and though the distance was considerable, he reached the Seminary with faltering and uncertain steps. “Before any of his colleagues could anticipate him, at the appointed signal which assembled the students, he entered the pulpit stand, commenced as usual by invoking the presence of God, read, as he believed, a portion of the Psalms of David, gave out a hymn, united in singing it, and then, with the tones and countenance of one wrestling like Jacob with the angel of the covenant, engaged in prayer. But in all this, though there were the usual modulation of the voice, the usual rhythm of the hymn, the wrestling earnestness of the suppliant, not an intelligible word was spoken. To all but himself it was an unmeaning jargon. The mysterious connexion between the thought and its audible sign was broken. And yet it was most solemn and impressive; for it was the mysterious intercourse of the soul with its God, in an act of direct spiritual worship.” And so through eight long years of almost suspended intercourse with his fellow-men, did he maintain unimpaired his life-long habits of religious study, meditation, and worship. The word of God was his constant companion. And thus, during these years of infirmity and suffering, his days were passed chiefly in holy employment, till God took him to his rest.

Dr. Leland was magnificently endowed with natural gifts, both mental and physical. In manly beauty, dignity, and grace, he was the admiration, in his youth and early manhood, of all who knew him; and with a mind vigorous and strong, and well stored, with knowledge, and an imagination vivid and powerful, coupled with a heart susceptible of the most intense emotion, he could attract and impress all who came within the charmed sphere of his influence. His majestic form, courtly manners, a voice which was harmony itself, and a style cultivated and fervid, made an impression on those who heard him not soon to be forgotten. As a reader of the Scriptures and sacred song in public worship, he surpassed in excellence all whom we have ever heard. “He could win the attention and charm the hearers as he read the sacred page with that fitting modulation and emphasis which interpreted it as he read, ere he opened his lips to set forth in his own often eloquent and persuasive words the truth of God.”

Dr. Leland’s chief excellence as a pastor consisted in his earnest and faithful preaching of the gospel, in his deep sympathy for the afflicted, and his eminent success in presenting to their minds the rich consolations of divine grace. At certain seasons he would become intensely moved for the salvation of souls ; and at such times his appeals to the unconverted would seem irresistible. At other seasons he would appear in his peculiar and gifted character, as “one that comforteth the mourners.”

Among his personal characteristics, which, indeed, “were known and read of all men,” a few may be briefly mentioned. First. System and order were to him indispensable in all things; nothing could atone for their neglect. Secondly. Punctuality characterised him in all things. It was the law of his life. This trait was strikingly illustrated by the fact that families living between his residence and the Seminary were in the habit of regulating their time-pieces by his passing and repassing.

In certain frames of mind, or from constitutional idiosyncrasy, Dr. Leland would sometimes remain as silent as a tombstone, when all around were in earnest conversation’. On one such occasion, when an attempt was made to rally him, his characteristic reply was : “Well, I never knew anybody to get into trouble from saying too little.” Another marked characteristic was the inflexibility of his rules in domestic government, especially as related to “worldly amusements,” and the strict observance of the Sabbath. In these, particularly in the last, he gave marked evidence of his ingrained Puritan education.

In closing this sketch it is due to the memory of Dr. Leland, as also to the history of this School of the Prophets, to allude to his devotion and untiring activity in behalf of the material interests of the Seminary he loved so well. Many of his vacations, in his earlier connexion with the institution, were spent in gathering funds for its endowment. These he obtained more from individual contributions than from general collections. And it is not too much to say that the sound financial basis of the Seminary, prior to the war, was due, in a good degree, to his efforts in this way. Well and faithfully did he fill up the days of his allotted time on earth. Whether as a pastor or as a theological Professor, he was devoted to the duties of his calling, and sought to magnify his office by a life of holy consecration to the service of God. His name is identified with the history of this noble Seminary of sacred learning, and his memory will remain embalmed in her archives for all time to come.

Words to Live By:
A strong sense of duty drives many people. That can be a good thing; but if that describes you, make sure that your duty is first and foremost to the Lord Jesus Christ, to serve and honor Him by doing His will in all else that you do throughout your life.

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