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The Love of Christ Constrains Us

The First Presbyterian Church of Schenectady, New York was organized in 1760, and is now a part of the Presbyterian Church in America. But according to one account, were it not for the ministry of Rev. John B. Romeyn, the church might not exist today. In late 1803, when Rev. Romeyn accepted a call to serve the church, he found the church deeply divided. The only thing the factions could agree on was that they all wanted him for their pastor. Though he was only there for a year, by the time he left, the church had become harmonious once more, and the problems that once faced the church had faded into the past.

John Brodhead Romeyn was the son of a Dutch Reformed pastor, and he himself pastored several Dutch Reformed churches. John was born in 1777, educated at the Academy that later became Union College and placed into the senior class at Columbia College. Skipping over some of his career, he arrived at the Cedar Street Presbyterian church in New York in 1809, and this was his last church. Declining health later forced a year’s respite on the Continent, but he returned in 1814 and continued to serve that church until his death on February 22, 1825, at the age of 47.

John Romeyn grew up in a godly home, and he obviously had great advantages and learned well at his father’s side. He must have been quite mature for his age, to take a troubled church and turn it around in a year’s time. Two volumes of his sermons were published posthumously, and I can think of no better way to gain some insight into a pastor and his theology than by looking at his sermons. What follows is from the opening few pages of one of Rev. Romeyn’s sermons, this one on the text of 2 Cor. 5:14-17 [you can read more of his sermons here. Regrettably on volume 2 is available at that site.]

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Cor. 5:14-17, KJV)

“Festus, the Roman governor, when Paul defended himself against the charges of his enemies, said unto him “And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” (Acts 26:24-25, KJV). The great apostle of the Gentiles spake what he knew, and testified what he had seen. Because he was not deceived himself, he could not deceive others. His testimony, however, though it could not be disproved, was rejected. The Roman governor descended to the use of invective—of calumny—of ridicule. Similar views and feelings influenced certain persons in the Corinthian Church, to exhibit Paul as a weak zealot. His spotless integrity, his disinterested activity, repelled the suspicion of fraud. They therefore charged him with being “beside himself.” He acted so contrary to the principles of worldly wisdom, that there appeared some plausibility in the charge. But the moment he speaks and unfolds the motives of his conduct, that plausibility vanishes. We look for it, and wonder what it was, that for a moment made it in the least credible amongst professors of Jesus. “The love of Christ,” saith he meekly, in answer to the malice of his foes, “constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead : and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh : yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we hiim no more. Therefore is any man be in Christ, he is a new creature : old things are become new.” Thus, by manifestation of the truth, he commended himself, not only to the understanding, but to the conscience of every man in the sight of God. The appeal which he makes is irresistible, for the reason which he offers is irrefutable.

“The love of Christ was the spring which set in motion all his affections, and gave rise to those astonishing displays which he exhibited of almost every virtue. This spring operated in the hearts of the other apostles, and still operates in the heart of every sincere minister. The love of Christ is the burden of his exhortations, as well as the principle motive which he offers for holy living. Every Christian feels this motive; it destroys selfishness; it produces holiness. It is the grand principle of a new life; of a life of religion, and of the purest morals.

“The Gospel ministry which dwells much on this love, is not unfrequently blamed, as tending to loosen our obligations to morality. So far is this from the fact, that, on the contrary, a Gospel ministry, which loses sight of this love, or does not enlarge on it, and often bring it into view, really injures the interests of morality. The love of Christ is the great and truly constraining motive to the exercise of all those virtues which, whilst they meliorate the state of man, adorn and dignify his character.…”

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Only A Presbyterian For A Short While.

It was on this day, January 20, 1812, that the Rev. John Nelson Abeel died. John was born in New York City in 1768, the son of Colonel James Abeel. He attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and graduated there in 1787. Remaining at Princeton, he served as a tutor for two years, and then briefly began to study Law before deciding to pursue a call to the ministry. He studied theology privately, receiving guidance from both Dr. John Witherspoon, then president of the College, and Dr. John H. Livingston, a Dutch Reformed pastor.

In 1793, while serving as librarian at Princeton, Abeel found time to manage studies at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary and was licensed to preach by the Classis of New York. Beginning his years of ministry in Philadelphia in 1794, he served in a yoked assistant pastor role, serving concurrently at both the Arch Street and Old Pine Presbyterian churches. His time there was brief and in 1795 Rev. Abeel accepted a call to serve the Collegiate Dutch Reformed Church in New York City, and he continued in that pulpit until his death. It is also noted that Harvard University conferred the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree upon Reverend Abeel in 1804. Placing a high esteem on education, Rev. Abeel also served as a Trustee for both Columbia College and for Queen’s College (Rutger’s).

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller was also serving as a pastor in New York City in the 1790’s, and he knew Abeel well. Upon Rev. Abeel’s death, Miller provided a worthy tribute to a departed brother, and this portion of his eulogy is particularly noteworthy:

But the greatest glory of his character, as a Minister of the Gospel, was his ardent and eminent piety. This was uniform, prominent, and habitual. In every situation, public or private; in the pulpit or the prayer meeting; in the chamber of disease or the social circle; it was manifest that he walked with God, and that his great concern was to lead souls to Christ, and to minister to the spiritual good of all. His religion was personal, cordial, and practical; not merely official. It was evident to all who conversed with him, or who listened to his conversation, that his great object was, like his Master, to “go about doing good.”

Words to Live By:
Isn’t that what we want for all our pastors, and for ourselves as well? To exhibit an ardent and eminent piety, that it would be evident that we walk with God, and that our great concern would be to see others come to a saving faith in Christ Jesus our Lord?

For Further Study:
Two archival collections were located for Rev. Abeel. The Presbyterian Historical Society has preserved a small collection of a few sermons, and the New Jersey Historical Society has a slightly larger collection of items concerning both Rev. Abeel and his son Gustavus. The New York Public Library has preserved a portrait of Rev. Abeel, which can be viewed here. Information on Rev. Abeel’s grave site can be viewed here.

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