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Sinners Were Converted and Saints Were Edified Under His Ministry

Like his brother Samuel, John Blair was also born in Ireland.  Coming to the American colonies, he was ordained in 1742 as the pastor of two Presbyterian churches filled with Scot-Irish Presbyterians in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. During his ministry here, he made two evangelistic tours to Virginia where he preached with great power. Presbyterian congregations were organized as a result.

In 1748, despite organized armed resistance against marauding Indians, he was forced for the safety of his family to depart back to the eastern section of Pennsylvania.  While there, he received a call as the second pastor of Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, where his brother Samuel had both ministered and organized a classical Christian school.

When John Witherspoon hesitated to take the president’s office of the College of New Jersey, John Blair was appointed a Professor of Divinity and Moral Philosophy in 1767.  Indeed, as the Office of the President continued to be vacant, he stepped in as President of the college. But upon Witherspoon’s agreement to come to America and take the leadership of the College of New Jersey, Blair graciously stepped down.  Moving to New York, he died on December 8, 1771.

It was said of John Blair that as a result of his zealousness in the gospel, sinners were converted and the family of God edified. What more of a testimony could a Christian and a Christian minister desire than this?

Words to live by:
It is frequently the case when you have a theologian, there is a lack of experiential witness to the world at large. His ministry is in his study or in the classroom, not out on the highways and byways of life. Or, by contrast, you might have an individual who is absolutely powerful in persuasion of the hearts and minds of those outside of Christ, but who would never get into the deep things of theology. John Blair had both abilities in his life and ministry.  As a theologian, he was not inferior to any of his day.  As a pastor, he addressed souls with that warmth and power which left a witness to the truth of the gospel. Each Christian is to seek his or her calling so as to be a witness in whatever place the Holy Spirit sends them.  And if it is to the intellectual as well as to common people, so much the more is God glorified.

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Pray for Repentance and for Reformation

Where feasible, it seems fitting to include some portion of a sermon on our Sunday entries. To get there today, we’ll start from volume 1 of Sprague’s ANNALS, where we find this account of the Rev. William Hill:

“William Hill, the son of Joseph and Joanna (Read) Hill, was born in Cumberland County, Virginia, on the 3d of March, 1769. His ancestors were from England. He lost his father when he was five years old; and, after the lapse of a few years, his mother gave him a stepfather in Mrs. Daniel Allen, father of the Rev. Carey Allen, and an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Cumberland County, at that time under the pastoral care of the Rev. Samuel Stanhope Smith. At the age of eleven, he lost his mother, who seems to have been a devout and exemplary Christian, and to have made impressions upon the mind of her son in favor of a religious life, that had a powerful influence in ultimately determining his character. One year previous to this, he was placed under the tuition of Mr. Drury Lacy, who, for three years, was employed by Mr. Allen as a teacher in his family. After his mother’s death, he was placed under the guardianship of one who cared little for religion, and under whose influence he soon lost his serious impressions, and became absorbed to a great extent, in the pleasures of fashionable life.

“This habit of carelessness, however, was not destined to be of long continuance. In 1785, he entered Hampden Sydney College, then under the Presidency of the Rev. John Blair Smith. So low was the state of religion in the College at that time, that there was not a student who evinced any regard for it, nor one who was known to possess a Bible. During the early part of his collegiate course, he endeavored to banish all thoughts of religion, and indulged freely in the views common to his ungodly associates; but even then he had his moments of reflection when he was haunted by the remembrance of his mother’s counsels and prayers. Nearly two years elapsed, after he entered College, before his character seemed to undergo a radical change. After his mind had, for some time, been turned inward upon itself in silent and anxious thought, he retired to a secluded spot, where he gave vent to the agony of his spirit in earnest cries to the Divine mercy, and was enabled, as he believed, to devote himself without reserve to the service of God.

Shortly after, two or three other young men connected with the College experienced a similar change of views and feelings, and associated themselves with him in a private devotional service, which, as it became known, excited the most bitter opposition from their fellow students, and even drew forth threats of vengeance, unless it were discontinued. This brought the matter to the ears of the President, who assured them not only that they should be protected in their rights, but that they should have the privilege of holding their meeting in his parlor, and that he would himself be present and assist in conducting it. A revival of religion now commenced, which soon included among its subjects half of the students in College…The revival extended into neighboring churches, and then into those which were more remote, and was more extensive and powerful than had been experienced in Virginia since the days of President [Samuel] Davies.”

It breaks our preconceptions to read that times then were not much different than today. Unbelief, atheism and the persecution of those who desire to live godly lives, these things were just as much a part of early American history as they are today. God brought reformation and revival then, and He can so bless again.

It was during the summer of 1787 that William Hill made a public profession of his faith in Christ as his Savior. In 1790 he was licensed to preach, and after serving a term as a missionary, took the pulpit of the Presbyterian Church in Winchester, Virginia in 1800. It was there in 1812 that he preached a sermon in reflection on what has been termed early America’s first great disaster. Late in 1811, a great fire had swept a theater in Richmond, VA, trapping many of the theater-goers and killing 72. The nation mourned, and Rev. Hill was one of many who delivered a sermon in retrospect of that tragedy. A portion of his sermon follows, with a link at the end for those who may want to read the full sermon.


Luke XIII.–1st and r5th inclusive.

There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

The Blessed Saviour in the close of the last chapter had just mentioned what would be the dreadful doom of obstinate and impenitent sinners, who, when in the hands of their adversary, and about to be hauled before their Judge, should still neglect to make their peace with him.–This induced some person present to mention the case of those Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices, as a case supposed to be in point. The Saviour, as was his custom, took an occasion, from the relation of that barbarous act, to deduce a pious improvement, and to impart useful instruction.

By referring to another passage of Scripture, and to the Jewish historian Josephus, we learn the occasion of this cruel deed. These persons, slain by Pilate, the procurator of Judea, were some of the faction of Judas of Galilee, mentioned by Gamaliel in the 5th Chap. of the Acts of the Apostles, and more at large by Josephus. This Judas had stirred up the Galileans to sedition against the Roman government, under a pretense of asserting their liberty, by freeing them from the Roman tribute; and some of them coming to Jerusalem, to sacrifice according to the custom of the Jews, at the Passover, Pilate caused them to be slain upon the spot, while they were engaged in offering up their sacrifices, shedding their blood, with that of their beasts, which they were slaying for the altar.

Our Saviour takes occasion from the relation of this event, to correct a very vicious humor, which has always raged in the world, that of censuring the faults of others, while we overlook our own.

The principle of self-love which was inherent in man, has, by our apostasy degenerated into self-flattery, so that it has now almost become natural in man, to supply the want of a good conscience, by a good opinion of themselves. And hence it comes to pass, that men are so ready to take all advantages to confirm themselves in that false peace, which they have created to themselves in their own imagination; and so they can but maintain a comfortable opinion of themselves, it matters not how uncharitable they are to others; and knowing no better way to foster this fond conceit of themselves than by fancying God to be their friend, it hence comes to pass, that they are so apt to interpret the providence of God towards others in favor of themselves, and to abuse the judgments which fall upon their neighbors, into an argument of their own comparative innocence.

Therefore, our Saviour, who knew what was in man, and what kind of conclusions men are apt to draw from such occurrences of Providence as are before us, endeavors in the first place to prevent the bad use which they were apt to make of them. “Suppose ye,” says he, “that those Galileans were sinners, above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, nay.”

To this instance of the Galileans, he adds another still stronger. Pilate might be represented as a tyrant, and the best of men are liable to suffer, by the cruel hand of oppression. But he now mentions an occurrence of a recent date, and well known to all at Jerusalem, which proceeded immediately from the hand of God, without the agency of man. “Those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all that dwelt at Jerusalem? I tell you nay.”

And having thus anticipated the censuring of others, our Saviour proceeds to awaken his hearers to a consideration and care of themselves. “I tell you nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

The general sense of which words, is, that impenitency in sin, will certainly be the ruin of men sooner or later. It will bring great mischiefs upon them in this world; but however that may be, it will infallibly plunge them into inconceivable misery in the next. But besides the certain denunciation of misery and ruin to all impenitent sinners, which is the largest sense of the words, and analogous to many other declarations of Scripture, it is probable that our Saviour, in the present instance, more immediately referred to those temporal calamities which were shortly to befall the Jews; and by way of prediction, foretold what would be the fate of that whole nation, if they continued impenitent. There is a peculiar force in the [Greek] word [in our text] which means something more than merely, likewise, or also, as it is rendered in our translation. It means literally, “except ye repent, ye shall all perish in like manner,” i.e., besides the vengeance of another world, a temporal judgment as sad as those just alluded to, and not much unlike them, shall come upon this whole nation; which awful prediction was soon after fulfilled at the siege and sack of Jerusalem, by the Roman army of Titus.

The pious and useful reflections, suggested by the subject under consideration, would also very naturally arise from the late awful visitation of Richmond which has shrouded that city in gloom—thrown our legislatures into mourning, and suspended the voice of melody and song. The dreadful scene forbids all attempts at painting it, for it would actually beggar all description. It is true our friends and fellow citizens have been arrested—suddenly arrested—in an hour of thoughtless gaiety and mirth.—Many—Ah! many have fallen victims to devouring flames; without previous reflection hurried to a judgment bar, and to a destiny henceforth unalterable. And are we to conclude, that they were the guilty, and we the innocent? Our Saviour cautions us from drawing such a conclusion, but assures us, “that except we repent, we shall all likewise perish!”

From the text and occasion thus explained, let us consider two things.

1st. The wrong use and censorious conclusions which men are apt to draw from signal judgments of God upon others.

2nd. The right use which we should make of these things; which is, to reflect upon our own sins, and repent of them; lest the like, or great judgments overtake us….

and Rev. Hill concludes his sermon:
…Be assured we have not been called to repentance and reformation too soon. God knows, the state of religion, of morals, & manners is gloomy enough among us; we have enough to repent of, enough that calls aloud for reformation. May we not hope we are already sensible of it! Let us then show our sincerity by our conduct—use all our influence from our standing in society and from the stations we may fill, to suppress vice and impiety in every shape; and to approve ourselves to our Maker. Other places have been sorely visited and have sorely suffered. Sin, no doubt, has been the procuring cause of all our sufferings.

To read the full sermon, click here.

Sprague, William, vol. 3, p. 563-564.

To read more about the Richmond fire and a recent book written about that tragedy, click here.

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He Pretty Much Lived Up to His Name

Born on this day, March 2nd in 1793, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Elmer was one of the most distinguished citizens of New Jersey. He was the only son of General Ebenezer Elmer, a Revolutionary patriot.  L.Q.C. Elmer saw duty in the New Jersey state militia during the War of 1812, serving as a lieutenant of artillery. Following the war, he had by 1815 earned a law degree and in 1820 was elected to the New Jersey State Assembly, where he served until 1823. In the last year of his term there, he was elected to the post of Speaker for the Assembly. The next year, Elmer was appointed by President James Monroe to serve as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, and he served in that office from 1824 to 1829. In later political service, he was a member of the U.S. Congress from 1843 to 1845, and up until the time of his death was believed to be the oldest living ex-member of Congress. He was also a distinguished jurist. Besides his term as U.S. District Attorney, he was for many years a member of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, retiring from the Bench in 1870, on account of advancing years.

Judge Elmer was the author of Elmer’s Digest of the Laws of New Jersey, and also Elmer’s Book of Law Forms, Reminiscences of the Bench and Bar of New Jersey—a very valuable and entertaining bookand a History of Cumberland County, as well as various other historical collections. At the time of his decease he was President of the New Jersey Society of the Cincinnati, the nation’s oldest patriotic organization. His father had also served as President of this Society up until the time of his own death, in 1843, and was the last survivor of the original members. Judge Elmer was for forty years a Trustee of Princeton College, and upon his resignation was succeeded by his son-in-law, Judge John T. Nixon, of the United States District Court. L. Q. C. Elmer was a devout Christian, and was for many years a member and a ruling elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Bridgeton, New Jersey, and President of the Cumberland County Bible Society. He died at his home in Bridgeton on March 11, 1883, at the age of ninety years.

Words to Live By: Christians can serve in any honorable employment. Whatever our calling in life, the Scriptures teach us to do all as unto the Lord, to do all to the glory of God.  “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” (Col. 3:23).

For Further Study:
Proper citation for two of L.Q.C. Elmer’s published works :
The Constitution and Government of the Province and State of New Jersey : with biographical sketches of the governors from 1776 to 1845 and reminiscences of the bench and bar during more than half a century. Newark, N.J. : M.R. Dennis, 1872.

History of the Early Settlement and Progress of Cumberland County, New Jersey : and of the currency of this and adjoining colonies. Bridgeton, N.J. : G.F. Nixon,, 1869.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

An Educator and Minister to the Souls of Young and Old

Arriving at the Mason-Dixion line dividing Virginia from Pennsylvania in 1861, Dr. George Junkin and his family stopped their carriage carrying all their worldly possessions.  In an act of more than a symbolism, Dr. Junkin cleaned off of his boots and the horses hoof’s all  the Southern mud, wanting to make sure that none of the Rebel dirt would be carried into the  Union North.

The Rev. Dr. George Junkin was born on November 1, 1790 outside the small village of New Kingstown, Pennsylvania. The sixth son of Joseph Junkin, who was a ruling elder in the Junkin Tent congregation of the Covenanters in central Pennsylvania, remained on the farm of his parents at first.  Educated in private schools in Cumberland County, he was sent first to Jefferson College in western Pennsylvania, graduating from there in 1813.  He then attended the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in New York and became a Covenanter minister.  For eleven years, he was the pastor of two Pennsylvania churches of that denomination.  In 1822, he transferred into the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and became a leader in the Old School Presbyterian Church. He was accorded the honor of being Moderator of the 1844 General Assembly of the PCUSA.

The education phase of his ministry started in a small Manual Labor Academy in Germantown, Pennsylvania.  He then became the first president of the brand new Lafayette College, building up that Presbyterian school into a fine educational facility.  After a brief stint at Miami at Ohio College, he went down to Washington College in Lexington, Virginia from 1848 – 1861, resigning at  71 years of age.

Two of his daughters married Confederate officers.  Elinor was the first wife of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, later Stonewall Jackson. She did not survive the birth of their first child, who also died.  Another daughter married Confederate and later General  D. Harvey Hill.  A son, named after him, became a staff member of Gen Jackson’s headquarters, and was captured at Kernstown, Virginia, by Union forces.   So, as it was in so many families of the War Between the States, their allegiances were in two different nations.

Returning to the North, Dr. Junkin in the last seven years of his life preached seven hundred sermons, many of them to Union soldiers in their camps.  He visited wounded Union soldiers in hospitals.  He went to be with the Lord in May of 1868 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

It was unique that near the end of the century, his coffin was dug up and sent south for re-burial in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery outside Lexington, Virginia.

Also this day:
The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church was formed by union of the Associate Presbyterians and the Reformed Presbyterians of America, meeting in Philadelphia on November 1, 1782.  

Words to live by:  Conviction, both religious and national, was part and parcel of George Junkin’s life.  He knew what he believed and his actions reflected that to both friend and enemy.  Of all the Junkin family, he was the most celebrated not only in that family, but in his generation.  It is great to have a good name.  Solomon wrote in Proverbs 15:1 “A good  name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” (NIV) He is remembered, not only by the Junkin ancestors, but by Presbyterians everywhere.  Let us seek to be known by our biblical convictions and have a good name.

Through the Scriptures:  Luke 14 – 17

Through the Standards:  Parts of a sacrament

WCF 27:2
“There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.”

WLC 163 “What are the parts of the sacrament?
A.  The parts of the sacrament are two: the one an outward and sensible sign, used according to Christ’s own appointment; the other an inward and spiritual grace thereby signified.”

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