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Prayer in Times of Apostasy

This is a rare bit of early Westminster Seminary history, located in an old issue of THE REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN ADVOCATE, dated June 1937.  Not three months following the death of J. Gresham Machen, the annual Day of Prayer was held on the Westminster campus in March of 1937. Arrangements had been made to have the Rev. John Cavitt Blackburn [1889-1959] present as the main speaker at the event.

Blackburn is interesting on several levels. His mother was Annie Williams Girardeau, one of the daughters of the Rev. Dr. John L. Girardeau. [His father, George A. Blackburn, authored The Life Work of John L. Girardeau, D.D., LL.DJohn Cavitt Blackburn was educated at Columbia Theological Seminary, 1914-1918, back when the Seminary was still located in Columbia, SC. John also became quite the bibliophile. He had a significant library, built in part upon the libraries of his father and grandfather, and which collection later became a significant early addition to the library at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, MS, by way of a donation from Blackburn’s widow. Rev. Blackburn’s library was apparently sizable enough that duplicates and other items even made their way to the Buswell Library at Covenant Theological Seminary.

It is also interesting to note Blackburn’s presence as indicative of a connection between Westminster Seminary and the Southern Presbyterian Church.  To engage in a bit of speculation, the invitation to have Rev. Blackburn speak at the annual Day of Prayer would have been extended months prior, certainly well before Machen’s death, and perhaps even by Dr. Machen himself. Without troubling ourselves to access Machen’s correspondence to confirm that idea, we do know that Dr. Machen had presented his lectures on the virgin birth of Christ at Columbia Theological Seminary, in Decatur, Georgia. These were the Thomas Smyth Lectures for 1927, and during that time, Rev. Blackburn pastored a church just twenty-some miles away. He could easily have attended those lectures. Lastly, Machen’s father served for a time as one of the trustees at the Seminary. So in light of those connections, it is entirely possible that Machen might have known Rev. Blackburn for many years prior to 1937.

Though he was a pastor for over thirty years, to my knowledge, this is the only surviving example of a sermon by Rev. Blackburn.

by the Rev. John C. Blackburn
[excerpted from The Reformed Presbyterian Advocate, 71.6 (June 1937): 90-96, and a reprint from an earlier issue of The Presbyterian Guardian 4.3 (15 May 1937): 40-42.]

This article is a summary of an address delivered at the annual Day of Prayer at Westminster Theological Seminary last March. Mr. Blackburn is a minister of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.

The effectual prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.” (James 5:16-18).

This text on prayer is chosen as appropriate to a day of prayer. It is evidently the intention of the Holy Spirit to teach more than one truth about prayer in this passage. But it shall be our purpose, today, to draw from it instruction as to what is our duty and encouragement in prayer in the present evil hour. The inspired writer sets before us Elijah, the well-known prophet of the Old Testament, “a righteous man,” whose prayers of imprecation and intercession are cited with approval as an illustration of the kind of prayer which “availeth much”—in an evil day. If we are to profit by the implicit truth of this text we will have to develop it in the light of its historical background.

The Times of Elijah

No historical era can be viewed as an age apart from the times that precede it. The evil days of Ahab were such as they were largely through predetermining causes. His reign was a sequence of a varied series of sins that reached an inevitable climax of wickedness in his reign.

To Solomon must be charged the policy that opened the door in Israel to alien evils. His “outlandish” wives influenced him into the adoption of an “inclusive policy” through which the worship of false gods was tolerated along with the worship of Jehovah. This liberal attitude brought from Jehovah the charge: “They have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of Ammon.”

Jeroboam the First inaugurated a policy of the boldest expediency. His program called for an alteration of the Mosaic constitution. He changed the spiritual leadership of his kingdom. “He made priests from among all the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.” “He ordained a feast for the children of Israel.” “He made houses of high places.” “All of which he had devised.” Moreover he reintroduced into Israel, as an amicable gesture to the neighboring kingdom of Egypt, the idolatrous worship of the golden calf—the Heliopolitan deity, Mnevis.

Through five regencies—Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri and Omri—the conventional, court-sponsored religion of the Northern Kingdom flowed with increasing corruption. Against each of these kings, without exception, can be found the condemning words of the sacred chronicler of Israel: “He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin.”

But it is in the reign of Ahab, the son of Omri, the seventh king of Israel, that the departure from Jehovah’s law reaches a fullness of iniquity that insures judgment, for “there was none like unto Ahab which did sell himself to do that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.”

It will be enlightening to examine the nature of the sins of that administration which provoked the righteous indignation of Elijah and brought forth the call for the rod of Jehovah’s displeasure upon His people and His land.

One sin of Ahab was sacrificing his own spiritual interests and that of his kingdom for lust. The law of Jehovah forbade matrimony with the heathen as an unholy alliance. Ahab showed his lack of principle and disregard of the commandments of the Lord by marrying Jezebel, a daughter of Ethbaal, high priest of Astarte, a cousin of Dido of Virgil’s Aeneid. This “lust match” quickly eventuated in the apotheosis of lust throughout the Northern Kingdom. The worship of Ashtoreth became court religion, the libidinous orgies of Tyre and Sidon were celebrated in Israel, and the morals of the populace degenerated and dissipated under the seductive influence of these lascivious rites.

Another sin of Ahab’s was his practice of tolerance in religion—a kind of broad-churchism, without a limit. The innovations and vanities of Jeroboam and his successors were accepted and practiced on the grounds of antiquity, tradition, and custom, while the ancient law of Sinai was made of none effect through local and temporal expediency. To please the Zidonians, Tyrians and Baal-serving apostates in his kingdom, he built a temple for Baal in his capital, Samaria. For the survivors of the old Canaanitish race, “he did very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites did.” Thus he conciliated all men with his liberal and inclusive policy, and affronted Jehovah with his contempt of His holy commandments.

The crowning sin of Ahab was his effort to silence godly protest and warning of judgment by Jehovah’s prophets, and his attempt to exterminate by martyrdom the witnesses for truth. The price of protest was high in those days. The little minority that refused to be broad “wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; . . . they wandered in deserts, and in mountains and in dens and caves of the earth.”

Such were the days of Elijah, days that try the souls of the righteous and force them to fervent prayer: Unscrupulous despots enthroned in power, the patrons of false religion; the masses subserviently acquiescent in the betrayal and abandonment of the true faith; truth spurned, trodden underfoot, and the righteous being persecuted from the face of the earth.

Elijah’s Imprecation

Jehovah will not leave Himself without witness. Abruptly, unannounced, there appears a prophet of Jehovah, Elijah the Tishbite, of the sojourners of Gilead, with the disturbing announcement to Ahab: “As the Lord, the God of Israel, liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” And he disappears as mysteriously as he appears. There, in hiding at Chereth, “he prayed earnestly that it might not rain.”

Was it right so to pray—in a land where rain and life are synonymous—where drought means famine, starvation, death? Evidently Elijah, a righteous man, thought so, for he prayed earnestly to that end. Evidently Jehovah sanctioned it for it was answered in kind. Is it right so to pray? James, under the guidance of the Spirit, is citing this instance of Elijah’s imprecation, not only as an illustration of the prophet’s prevalence in prayer, but as an inspiration for New Testament saints so to pray. And thus the Reformed Church has taught, prayed, and sung in Psalm. We cannot deny the righteousness of such a prayer, under the New Covenant, without falling into the error of a dual morality, under the Old and the New Covenant. God’s honor may be thus vindicated, His purposes furthered. Israel’s spiritual and material interests could be thus promoted. The virulency of sin warranted such drastic measures and the obduracy of sin merited such severity. The ends justified the means.

But why did the prophet make this particular prayer for the stopping of the rain from heaven? Because it would prove to Israel that God’s hand was in this judgment, that “He sealest up the hand of every man; that all men may know his work.” Because such a judgment would be the fulfilling of the prophecies of the Law, of drought as punishment for apostasy. Because the withholding of rain would convert that which they worshipped as a symbol of Baal—the sun—-into an intolerable curse. Therefore Elijah, Jehovah’s lonely witness in his generation, “a main subject to like passions as we are,” with zeal for Jehovah’s sovereignty, with righteous indignation against wickedness, with a longing for the salvation of Israel, “prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.”

From the very day of the prophet’s prediction the drought began. As the fields began to wither, anxious eyes scanned the western sky for signs of rain. The summer passed and the harvest was shriveled and meagre. The early and the latter rain had failed. The sowing of the spring that followed sprouted only to die away for lack of moisture. The trees on the high ridges shed their seared leaves. The burned and blighted fruit of the orchards was prematurely dropped. There were no sheaves in the garner, no wine in the vat, no oil from the press. The third summer came upon a land parched and powdered. The fountains had ceased to flow. The deep wells were dry. The cisterns were empty. Gaunt famine stalked through the land taking its toll of scrawny-handed children, sunken-eyed women, and hollow-cheeked men. Overhead the sky was brazed to the incantations of the priests of Baal. Israel was perishing from off the face of their land.

And Elijah prayed on. Such is the perverseness of depraved human nature, such the hardness of the natural heart, such the obduracy of willful sinners, that they must be brought to the very gates of death before they can be turned about. God’s opportunity comes in extremity. At the moment of national ruin Jehovah’s spokesman stepped into the scene again. Out from his hiding at Chereth, out from his biding at Zerephath, came the prophet.

Elijah’s Intercession  

“And he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”

“Art thou he that troubleth Israel?” was the astonished and indignant salutation of Ahab. “I have not troubled Israel; but thou and thy father’s house,” is Elijah’s resentful rejoinder. Out of the variance came a challenge to battle: “Send and gather to me all Israel unto Mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred which eat at Jezebel’s table.” Forth rode the couriers with the royal summons. The issue was: live, or die.

Beautiful, suitable in location, was Carmel, a median ground between Jehovah’s land and Baal’s strand. Northward rose the forest-clad slopes of Lebanon. Westward lay the blue waters of the Great Sea, dotted with the purple-sailed argosies of a maritime people. Beneath the mountain and beside the sea nestled the teeming marts of Tyre and Sidon. This was Baal’s land. Eastward and southward stretched the plain of Jezreel, walled about with rolling mountains, Gilboa, Tabor, Ebal and Gerizim. On this plain, in the shadow of those mountains, the heroes of the faith had turned back the armies of the aliens, not by many but by few. This was Jehovah’s land.

From a vantage point of Carmel Elijah saw the assembling of Israel. From near and far, from mountain and plain, from village and town, o’er highway and byway, converged a motley multitude of pilgrims, gathering to the battle of the gods.

At the early hour of dawn, Elijah stands before the throng and opens the controversy. “How long ‘halt ye between two opinions? If Jehovah be God follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” It was an urge for decision, a call for division, on an ancient fundamental; “Jehovah thy God is a jealous God,” and, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Jehovah’s prophet was forcing an issue; he was fighting the most dangerous enemy of pure religion; half-heartedness, two-facedness, dual allegiance. “And the people answered him not a word.” Shameful silence! Some were convicted, some were abashed, some afraid, some defiant. None answered. Craven dumbness! How disgraceful is muteness when right and wrong join strife.

“Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of Jehovah; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it m pieces, and lay in on wood, and put no fire under and call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of Jehovah: and the god that answereth by fire let him be God.” The minority party stands face to face with the majority.. The odds are four hundred to one. No, four hundred to Two! Four hundred priests without God against a prophet and his God. And the ordeal is by fire. The advantage is Baal’s, for he is the fire-god, and the sun is his flame. Let not man, but Heaven decide.

Up from the purple hills of Bashan rose the auriflamme [oriflamme] of day. It filled the valleys ‘with a crimson flood, and drenched the plain of Magiddo into a prophetic Alceldama. Down bowed the votaries of Baal. Then rising up, they circled their altar with rhythmic dance. Higher and higher climbed the sun, faster and faster the priests did prance. Louder and louder rang their cries. Immovable and silent remained the skies. “Oh, Baal, hear us!” They leaped upon the altar. They cut themselves with knives. Leaping, sweating, bleeding, screaming, they fell exhausted. “There was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.” Their efforts were futile, their prayers unanswered, their heaven silent, their god was impotent! False!!

It came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice—blessed hour!—that Elijah said unto all the people, “Come near unto me.” Gracious invitation of a God of grace! And Elijah built an altar, of twelve stones in the name of Jehovah. He put the wood in order, placed the sacrifice, drenched the offering, altar, ground, with water. Then he came near and said, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.

Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God and that thou hast turned their heart back again.”

Then the fire fell, hissing, crackling, blinding. It burned the burnt-offering, the wood, the stone, the dust, the water. Down fell the people on their faces. A mighty shout shook the mountain wall—Jehovah he is God! Jehovah he is God!!

Jehovah acclaimed: sin must be judged. Red ran the brook Kishon with the blood of Baal’s priests that day.

Sin removed, the blessing comes. While the king went up to eat and drink, the prophet went up to pray. Seven times he interceded before a cloud appeared. Faith’s ear had caught the sound of rain, now the eye of faith beholds the showers. “Haste!” said the prophet to the king, “that the rain stop thee not.” In the meanwhile the heavens were black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain—and the earth brought forth her fruit. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

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Moving Day

Thomas Goulding, George Howe, Aaron Leland, Benjamin Morgan Palmer, James Henry Thornwell, William S. Plumer, Joseph R Wilson, John L. Giarardeau, Charles Colcock Jones, Francis R. Beattie — if you live outside the southern states of this great land, you may not have any recognition of these men and their important place in God’s kingdom.   But if you reside within the southern states, these are the worthies of the cross associated with Columbia Theological Seminary, and the southern visible church.

» Pictured at right, Dr. John L. Girardeau [1825-1898] »

It was on April 1, 1824, that the Presbytery of Southern Carolina began the first steps to organize a theological seminary to serve the entire Southeastern part of the country.  Up to this date, there were only four Presbyterian seminaries in operation, namely, Andover in Massachusetts, New Brunswick in New Jersey, Princeton, also in New Jersey, and Auburn in New York.  The new seminary, known later as Columbia, began in Lexington, Georgia with one professor (Thomas Goulding) and five students.  Later, the theological school was moved to Columbia, South Carolina, with two teachers (Goulding, and Thomas Howe) and six students.  Two of the six became foreign missionaries.  Between that year of 1830 and 1910, the membership of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern) rose from 10,000 members to 70,000 members.  And the seven hundred and fifty candidates of the gospel ministry who went through those hallowed halls would minister to that remarkable3 growth of the visible church.

Then in the second decade of the twentieth century, there was a geographic shift in the population of the southeastern United States, such that Atlanta, Georgia became the unofficial capital of that area.  In response, Columbia Theological Seminary began a $250,000 endowment campaign on February 10, 1925 as part of a strategic plan to relocate the Seminary, from the city which gave it its name, to Decatur, Georgia, just outside Atlanta. That move was accomplished in the year of 1930. Today, Columbia Seminary is one of ten seminaries of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

« To the left: This building—designed by Robert Mills—was the chapel of Columbia Theological Seminary when the seminary was located in Columbia, South Carolina. Mills had designed the building as the carriage house for the Ainsley Hall mansion. The chapel building was relocated to the property of Winthrop College in 1936. [photograph by Barry Waugh, 18 July 2006]

Statistical trivia: Among the founding fathers of the PCA, the overwhelming majority of these pastors were educated at Columbia Theological Seminary:

5 — Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 1929, 1939, 1942, 1953
2 — Biblical Seminary, 1961, 1963
83 – Columbia Theological Seminary, 1934-1970
2 — Dallas Theological Seminary, 1937, 1941
3 — Erskine Theological Seminary, 1953, 1966
2 — Faith Theological Seminary, 1948, 1955
3 — Fuller Theological Seminary, 1953, 56, 59
2 — Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 1953, 1970
1 — Grace Theological Seminary, 1970
2 — Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 1942, 1955
1 — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1965
1 — Northwestern Evangelical Seminary, 1938
1 — Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary, 1951
2 — Princeton Theological Seminary, 1928, 1954
1 — Reformed Episcopal Seminary, 1952
35 – Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, MS 1969-1973 [RTS opened its doors in the fall of 1966]
1 — Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, 1957
1 — Toronto Bible College 1948
14 – Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, VA, 1919-1968
15 – Westminster Theological Seminary, 1929-1972
1 — WTNC, 1934
1 — Wheaton College, 1939 [James R. Graham, D.D.]

Words to Live By: Statistics say that the average American family will move every seven years of his life and work.  Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, and you reader might say that you have lived in the same location all of your life!  But whether you move or stay in one location, Christ describes us as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  As salt, we are to flavor our circumstances in life as well as restrain the corruption which is all around us in varying degrees.  As light, we are to shine forth the rays of the gospel, especially to reveal the sinfulness of our culture, for the world is in spiritual darkness.  As Christians remember their calling, there will bloom wherever they are planted, whether they move frequently or remain in one location all of their lives.

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His death, says one who waited by him, was emblematic of his life—calm, peaceful, beautiful.

WilsonJohnLeightonWe are indebted to the pen of another for a sketch of Dr. Wilson’s life and character. He was born in Sumter Co., S. C., March 25th, 1809. He was graduated at Union College, N. Y., in 1829, and taught school one year at Hadnel’s Point, near Charleston, S. C. In 1833, he was graduated at the Theological Seminary, Columbia, S. C., being a member of the first class of that institution, and the same year was ordained by Harmony Presbytery as a missionary to Africa.

During the summer of 1833, he studied Arabic at Andover Seminary, Mass., and in the fall he sailed from Baltimore, Md., on a voyage of exploration to Western Africa, returning the following spring. As the result of his exploration, he decided on Cape Palmas, Western Africa, as the most promising place to begin his missionary work. In May, 1834, he was united in marriage to Miss Jane Elizabeth Bayard, of Savannah, Ga. In 1834, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson sailed for Cape Palmas, where they arrived at the close of the year. They remained at the Cape seven years. During these years, a church of forty members was organized, more than a hundred and eighty youths were educated, the Grebo language was reduced to writing, a grammar and dictionary of the language was published, the Gospels of Matthew and John were translated, and, with six or eight other small volumes, published in the native language.
In 1842, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson removed to the Gaboon River, 1,200 miles south of Cape Palmas, and commenced a new mission among the Mpongwe people. Here again the language was reduced to writing for the first time. A grammar, a vocabulary, portions of the Bible, and a number of small volumes, were published in the native language.

In the spring of 1853, owing to the failure of Mr. Wilson’s health, he and his wife returned to America. In the autumn of 1853, he entered the office of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions in New York, and continued to serve as Secretary until the breaking out of the Civil War, when he returned to his home in the South. At the organization of the Southern Presbyterian Church, Dr. Wilson was appointed Secretary of Foreign Missions. This office he continued to hold until 1885, when the General Assembly, in view of his declining health, relieved him of the active duties of the office, and elected him Secretary Emeritus. During seven years of his active service in the office, the Home Mission work was combined with that of Foreign Missions, Dr. Wilson sharing in the care of both.

In 1854, Dr. Wilson published a volume of five hundred pages on “Western Africa, its History, Condition and Prospects.” Dr. Livingstone pronounced this the best volume on that part of Africa ever published.

In 1852, a strong effort was made in the British Parliament to withdraw the British squadron from the coast of Africa, under the impression that the foreign slave trade could not be broken up. Dr. Wilson wrote a pamphlet, showing that the impression was erroneous, and indicating what was wanting to make the effort to suppress the slave trade successful. The pamphlet fell into the hands of Lord Palmerston, and was, by his order, published in the United Service Journal, and afterwards in the “Blue Book” of Parliament. An edition of 10,000 copies was circulated throughout the kingdom. Lord Palmerston informed Dr. Wilson that this pamphlet put an end to all opposition to the continuance of the squadron; and in less than five years, the trade itself was brought to an end.

During his residence in New York, Dr. Wilson acted as editor of the Foreign Department of the Home and Foreign Record. In our own Church, he began The Missionary, of which he continued to be editor till recently. He published more than thirty articles in the Southern Presbyterian Review and in other literary and scientific reviews. While in Africa, Dr. Wilson procured and sent to the Boston Society of Natural History the first specimen of the gorilla known in modern times.

The commanding presence of Dr. Wilson, and his affable and courteous address, will be remembered by many in the Church. His features indicated physical and intellectual strength. His varied information made him the attractive centre of the social circle. He was just in judgment, wise in counsel, practical in methods. His public life covered more than fifty years. These fifty years have recorded wonderful progress in the Foreign Mission work. They constitute a great missionary age in the history of the Church. Amongst the great workers in this branch of Christian service, Dr. Wilson has stood with the first. By the grace of God, he served his generation nobly, received the loving veneration of the people among whom he lived, and will long be remembered among us as a prince and a great man.

[excerpted from The Missionary (Richmond, VA), vol. 19, no. 8 (August 1886): duplex insert between pages 113 and 115.

Works concerning the Rev. John Leighton Wilson:
Bucher, Henry H., Jr., “John Leighton Wilson and the Mpongwe: The ‘Spirit of 1776’ in Mid-Nineteenth Century Africa,” Journal of Presbyterian History, 54.3 (Fall 1976) 291-316.

DuBose, Hampden C., Memoirs of the Rev. John Leighton Wilson, D.D., Missionary to Africa, and Secretary of Foreign Missions (Richmond, VA : Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1893), hb, 336pp.; 20 cm.

Robinson, William Childs,  “John Leighton Wilson – Pioneer Foreign Missionary,” The Presbyterian Journal, 18.36 (6 January 1960): 9, 10-11.

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In keeping with the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, which meets beginning this Tuesday evening, the following charge brought at the ordination of a young minister, seems quite appropriate. Something to read when you should otherwise be paying attention to that report currently being read from the Assembly floor. May this charge stir your soul!


 [excerpted from The Charleston Observer 7.20 (18 May 1833): 77.1-4]

At the ordination of the Rev. J. F. Lanneau, in this city on the 1st of May, the following charge was given by the Rev. Dr. [Aaron Whitney] Leland; and it is now published at the earnest solicitation of may who heard it.

[The Rev. Dr. Aaron Whitney Leland, 1787-1871, served as the first professor at the Columbia Theological Seminary, Columbia, SC. The Rev. John Francis Lanneau, 1809-1867, who was being ordained on this occasion, later served as a missionary.]

You have now been conducted into the sacred office of the Christian Ministry, according to Apostolic usage, by prayer and the laying on the hands of the Presbytery. You are now called out and separated from your fellow men, and solemnly devoted to the service of God.—You have taken a station which you can never abandon, and assumed responsibilities from which you can never be relieved. Henceforth you are not to be weighed in the same scale with other men; you are officially connected with the kingdom of Christ; and you hold committed to your trust with the interests of immortality. Just stationed on the walls of Zion, you may hear a voice from the throne above, saying: son of man, I have made thee a watchman for the souls of perishing men; therefore hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say to the wicked, O wicked man thou shalt surely die, if thou dost not warn the wicked, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand. Such indeed is the nature of the office you now sustain, that your influence and character, your example and deportment, nay your very words and looks will prove a savor of life unto life, or of death unto death, to those around you.—This evening you are commissioned an Ambassador of Christ, sent to your fellow men, with a treaty of reconciliation with an offended God; and the amazing interests and destinies involved in that embassy, are entrusted to your fidelity. You have voluntarily enlisted for life, as a leader in the armies of Emmanuel, and have registered your solemn vows, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, to maintain a ceaseless conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil,—and never to put off your armour till you gain the victor’s crown, and receive the plaudit from the King of Zion, “well done good and faithful servant.” AS an accredited steward in the household of the Lord, treasures of incalculable preciousness are committed to your care, and you are to bear in mind, continually, as long as you live, that it is required of stewards that a man be found faithful. On your entrance upon such scenes of labor and peril, with such momentous duties in prospect, you doubtless feel the overwhelming responsibilities which press upon you, and your utter inability to sustain them a moment, without a support of an Almighty arm. You have not, I trust, placed your foot upon this holy ground confiding in your own strength. In this trying hour, repose upon the blessed assurance, that the Redeemer’s grace is sufficient for you, even in such exigencies; and that, though powerless as infancy in yourself, you can do all things through Christ’s strengthening you.

Standing as you do, my young brother, a monument of distinguishing mercy—a brand plucked out of the fire—it is certainly peculiarly fitting, that you devote your life to the blessed work of proclaiming that mercy to others, and preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ.—Rescued by the grace of God from those fearful dangers by which, in common with your early associates, you were surrounded; delivered from the poverty of an earthly portion, and the degrading bondage of worldly delusions, and enriched with spiritual blessings—how high the privilege, how appropriate the employment, of devoting your time and talents, your labor and life, to the service of God, in the Gospel of his Son.

I am well aware, that you have not rashly and thoughtlessly entered upon this great work. I know you have turned away from all the attractions and indulgences which surrounded you, and devoted your youth to long and laborious preparation for usefulness. Fully continued, that in this age of the Church, the literary and intellectual qualifications, requisite for the Ministry, are not obtained by any supernatural process, you have patiently “climbed the heavy alps of science, and devoted seven years to toil,” in order to obtain that mental cultivation, necessary to make you “a scribe well instructed in the things of the kingdom, thoroughly furnished for every good word and work.” I trust also, that you have, what is all important, a preparation of heart, which is from the Lord. I believe the love of Christ constrains you to enter upon the arduous and self-denying labours which are before you, and that you are ready and willing to spend and be spent in untiring efforts to save the souls of men, and advance the cause of the Redeemer.

Nevertheless, as the time has now come when you are to enter the field, bearing the Christian standard as a herald of the Cross; and as your final vows of allegiance and fidelity have just been recorded, I cannot fail to sympathize in your emotions, and affectionately to direct you to that source of spiritual consolation and support, of which you must so deeply feel the necessity.

In this most solemn hour of your whole life, on this occasion fraught with such momentous results to yourself and others, it is my official duty to remind you of your duties, dangers and responsibilities, and to urge upon your regard the sacred Ministerial obligations which now rest upon you. As you have given yourself to the Lord, and taken part in our Ministry, I solemnly charge you, as you value your own soul, and the souls which may be committed to your care, that you faithfully fulfil it. I charge you to preach the doctrines of the Gospel, fully, fearlessly, and plainly. You are set for the defence of the Gospel; and are bound to declare the whole counsel of God, and to defend and vindicate the entire system of redemption, as it is revealed by Moses and the Prophets, Christ and his Apostles. In this matter, nothing is left to your choice or discretion. As an ambassador, you are bound rigidly to adhere to your instructions. You cannot change or modify the term of the treaty. You have the statute book of the kingdom, and it is incumbent upon you to publish all the laws, and precepts and penalties, which are therein contained.—Let your mental inquiry always be—not what will be popular and acceptable, but what hath the Lord spoken, and what message does he send by me to these dying men, whom I am to address upon the things which belong to their everlasting peace. Let your preaching be discriminating—giving to all a portion in due season. Ever bear in mind, that your hearers consist of saints and sinners—the friends and the enemies of God—those who are on their way to heaven, and those who are on their way to hell. You are commissioned to say to the righteous that it shall be well with him, and you are enjoined also to say “woe to the wicked, it shall be ill with him.” I charge you in your preaching so to address yourself to Christians, and to impenitent sinners, that every one of your hearers may distinctly known what portion of your message is designed for him; and that your sermons, like the voice of the archangel, may make your hearers feel that they are separated from each other by an immeasurable contrast of character.

Like a skillful Physician, you are to apply the moral remedies, entrusted to your care, to the various cases, and stages, and symptoms, of spiritual disease, which you may meet in this great hospital of sick souls in which you are employed. In feeding, and guarding the Church of God, you have meat for the strong, and milk for babes—you have consolations for those who mourn, and alarm for those who slumber—you have instructions for the ignorant, guidance for the wandering, admonitions for the sluggish, and a scourge for the backslider. In delivering your message to those who know not God, and obey not the Gospel, who have no hope, and live without God in the world, you are equally well furnished with materials for a wise appropriation. The thoughtless are to be persuaded by the terrors of the Lord; and the refuges of lies, under which self-deceivers repose, are to be shaken to ruins by the strong arm of truth. Arrows are furnished to pierce the obdurate heart, and gracious invitations to lead the heavy-laden sinner to the Saviour’s feet.

While you are thus made a keeper of the vineyard of others, take heed, I charge you, that your own be not neglected; that you cultivate personal religion, that you be faithful to your own soul. Remember you are set as a light of the world—an example and model for other Christians—a sample of those lively stones of which the temple of God is composed. Be no deceived by supposing that it is easy for a Minister to grow in grace, and to become eminently spiritual, as he surely ought to be. In some respects, it is more difficult to him than to others. His constant familiarity with the truths and duties of religion, expose him, in a very peculiar and distressing degree, to formality and apathy. Make up your mind, to contend against a host of difficulties, dangers and temptations, and that you will need uncommon watchfulness, self-denial, faith, and humility, to guard you against those wiles of the Devil, which will be employed for your destruction.

I charge you to set before the Church and the world a consistent, edifying example.—Present to all around you an attractive pattern of uniform, cheerful piety; of charity, meekness, and diligence. Teach them, practically, that devotion is something to be enjoyed, not to be endured; and that in keeping God’s commandments there is great reward. If you have property, be frugal to yourself, and liberal in relieving distress, and promoting every good work. If you are poor, be contented and cheerful; and thus afford a living commentary upon the text, that a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance which he possesseth. If God places you at the head of a family, see to it that it be a truly Christian family, a model to all the vicinity. In ordering and governing your own household, evince your fitness for the Pastoral office; for, says St. Paul, “if a man cannot rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God.” Be temperate in all things. Avoid every appearance of luxury or extravagance in your table, dress or equipage; and see to it that your house be furnished with that decent plainness which becomes a Christian Minister. It seems hardly necessary to caution a Clergyman to abstain entirely from ardent spirits; especially as I know that you never use them. But I do charge you to persevere in that abstinence, at all times, and under all circumstances, and to bear an open decided testimony against the slightest deviation from this only safe rule. The time has come when this is an important item in Christian morals; and a Minister of the Gospel, who uses intoxicating drink himself, or vindicates its use in others, however ably he may preach, preaches in vain. His example hardens men in sin, and gives boldness, and energy to the deadliest foes of God and man. I charge you to be a faithful, fearless advocate for total abstinence, and never give place, no not for an hour, to any of its opposers.

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Last Man Standing

The Rev. George Holinshead Whitfield Petrie was born on May 5, 1812 and he died on May 8, 1885. Lacking a good substantive account about the Rev. G.H.L. Petrie, we will instead take the liberty of writing about his son for this day’s post.

George Laurens Petrie was born on February 25, 1840, when Andrew Jackson was the leading political figure in the nation. He was educated in classical preparatory schools, and later at Davidson College and Oglethorpe University. Finally, he took his preparation for the ministry at the Columbia Theological Seminary, graduating there in 1862. Our account states that during the Civil War, Petrie enlisted in the Confederate service as a missionary under the direction of the Presbyterian Church, doing work similar to that of the Y.M.C.A. during World War I. [You may remember that J. Gresham Machen served  with the Y.M.C.A. in France during WW1].  Petrie was soon asked by the Twenty-second regiment of Alabama volunteers to serve as their chaplain. Accepting this call, he was then regularly commissioned as a chaplain of the regiment.

Chaplain Petrie was also ordained to the ministry of the Gospel on the basis of his call to serve as regiment chaplain. Prior to that, he had standing only as a licentiate. In his capacity as chaplain, he served under General Joseph E. Johnston, and later under General J. B. Hood, and finally again under Gen. Johnston. During his time of service, he was in the battles of Resaca, New Hope church, Kennesaw Mountain, Bentonville and Kinston. He was also in the campaign that ended with the battle of Sumter, South Carolina, a battle which was fought after the surrender which officially ended the war.

After the war, Dr. Petrie taught a classical school in Montgomery, Alabama for two years, and served as professor of Latin at the Oakland College in Mississippi for another two years. He then filled pastorates in Greenville, Alabama and in Petersburg, Virginia, 1872-1878, before answering a call to serve as the pastor of the Presbyterian church of Charlottesville, Virginia. He then served as pastor of the Charlottesville church for fifty years, from 1878 to 1928, and was greatly loved by members of both the church and the community. It was noted in 1929 that of the eight hundred members of the Charlottesville congregation, Dr. Petrie had received all but fourteen of them into membership during his pastorate, and those fourteen were already there when he arrived in 1878.

In 1930, just a year before his death, Rev. Petrie was the oldest living alumnus of both Oglethorpe University and Columbia Theological Seminary. He had also been present as a visitor at the first General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church, when it met in Augusta, Georgia, and in 1930 was the sole surviving attendant from that first Assembly. His notable career ended at the age of 91, when the Rev. Petrie died on March 27, 1931.

Words to Live By:
For the above sketch, one of our sources was The Christian Observer for May 21, 1930. Adjacent to the article about Rev. Petrie, there was another article titled “The Charlottesville Presbyterian Church and the University of Virginia,” written by the Rev. W. Kyle Smith, pastor for Presbyterian students at the University. This article began:—

“One of the great challenges which the Church faces in connection with her youth is the increasinly large number of young men and women who are being educated in state institutions of higher learning. Most state institutions are leaving the task of meeting the specifically spiritual needs of the students to the Church. In doing this they are following what would seem to be the best American traditions of the separation of Church and State, and if the spiritual needs of the students are not met the burden of blame should fall on the Church, for one can conceive of situations against which the Church would enter a vigorous protest were state institutions to assume too much control of the spiritual life of her students. If the Church demands spiritual freedom for her students while studying in state institutions, she is under a solemn obligation to assume some responsibility for their spiritual welfare in intelligent co-operation with the state institutions.”

The PCA has over the last several decades risen to meet this challenge with the formation of the Reformed University Fellowship. There are now over 120 colleges and universities with RUF chapters, each tied to a local PCA church. Now more than ever, these college and university campuses are strategic places where the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be faithfully proclaimed. Pray regularly for this ministry, and find out more about it by visiting the RUF web site.

For Further Study:
The Petrie Family Papers are preserved at Auburn University, as Record Group 192. Boxes 1-7 contain the papers of the Rev. George H.L. Petrie. Boxes 8-13 hold the papers of the Rev. George Laurens Petrie, and the remainder of the collection, Boxes 14-29 contains the Papers of George Petrie, son of George Laurens Petrie, who was himself a noted historian and educator. The finding aid for this collection can be viewed here.

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