Foreign Missions

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In troublesome times, draw ever nearer to your Lord and King, for His promise will, in due time, be fulfilled.

Excerpted from The American National Preacher, Sermon 205, preached at Baltimore, on this day, September 9th, in 1835, at the Annual Meeting of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, by the Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller, D.D., Professor in the Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.

THE EARTH FILLED WITH THE GLORY OF THE LORD.
[click here for a full-length pdf version of this sermon]

Numbers xiv. 20, 21-And the Lord said, I have pardoned according to thy word: but as truly
as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord
.

THE practice of confirming a declaration with an oath, is of very early origin. And although the multiplication of oaths is a great evil, and the act of taking or administering them with lightness, an aggravated sin ; yet, they are, undoubtedly, in ‘great error who maintain that all swearing, even on the most solemn occasions, and on the call of judicial officers, is unlawful. An oath for confirmation, says an inspired Apostle, is an end of all strife. Accordingly, in the sacred history, we find many examples of holy men, on various occasions, employing this form of asseveration. But, what is much more decisive still, we find the High and Holy One himself repeatedly adopting it to confirm both s promises and his threatenings. Thus we read, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, that, there being no greater, Jehovah sware by himself; and again, in the same Epistle, it is said, that God willing more abundantly-to show to the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it with an oath, that by two immu-table things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, they might have strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us. And in the passage before us, the Lord said, As I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.

These words were spoken on a very distressing, and, to the eye of man, a very discouraging occasion. When the twelve men who had been sent from the wilderness of Paran to spy out the land of promise, brought back their report, the mass of the people were almost overwhelmed with alarm and discouragement. Nay, overcome by apprehension, and infatuated with a spirit of unbelief and rebellion, they proposed to make choice of another leader, and return back to Egypt. With this ungrateful and daring revolt the Lord was greatly displeased, and threatened to give them up to his destroying judgments, and to disinherit them for ever. Moses, however, interceded for the people in a most touching strain of importunate prayer and he prevailed. The Lord said, I have pardoned them according to thy word. But as truly as I live, the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord. As if he had said—”Unbelieving and rebellious as this people now appear, and utterly desperate as their prospects may seem;—neither my plans nor my promises, in regard to them or the world, shall be frustrated. My cause shall finally triumph over all the infatuation and rebellion of man. The whole earth shall, in due time, be filled with my glory.”

There are three things in the passage before us which demand our notice—THE IMPORT OF THE PROMISE WHICH IT CONTAINS;—THE REASONS WHICH WE HAVE FOR BELIEVING THAT THIS PROMISE WILL, IN DUE TIME, BE REALIZED;—AND THE DUTY DEVOLVING ON US IN RELATION TO THE PROMISE

I. Let us attend to THE IMPORT OF THE PROMISE BEFORE US. This import, expressed with so much solemnity of asseveration, is large and precious. As I live, saith the Lord, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.

Glory is the manifestation of excellence. The glory of God is that display of his most blessed character and will, which opens the way for his intelligent creatures to know, to love, and to obey him. This glory is exhibited in various ways. It shines in all the works of creation. All the works of God, we are told, praise him. The heavens declare his glory, and the firmament showeth his handy work. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. Again, the glory of God is manifested by the works of his providence. Here his wisdom, his power, and his benevolence, gloriously shine. The Lord, we are told, is known—that is, is made known,—by the judgments which he executeth. But, above all, is the glory of God displayed in the work of REDEMPTION; in that great plan of love and mercy by a Redeemer, which was first revealed to the parents of our race immediately after the fall; which was more and more unfolded in the ceremonial economy; and which reached its meridian brightness, when the Saviour, the blessed “Sun of Righteousness” rose upon a dark world. In this wonderful plan of salvation, the glory of God shines with its brightest lustre. Here all his perfections unite and harmonize, and shine with transcendant glory. Now, when the Gospel, which proclaims this plan of mercy, shall be preached and received throughout the world; when every kindred, and people, and nation and tongue shall not only be instructed in its sublime doctrines, but also brought under its benign and sanctifying power; then, with emphatic propriety, may it be said that “the earth is filled with the glory of the Lord.” As the highest glory, of which an individual creature is capable, is to bear the image of his Maker; so the highest glory of which our world at large is capable, is to be filled with the holy and benevolent Spirit of Him who is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person;—is to have the knowledge and love of the Saviour reigning over all the population of our globe, from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same.

It is this universal prevalence of the true religion; that religion which alone can enlighten, sanctify and save; that religion which imparts the highest physical and moral glory, wherever it reigns, and in proportion as it reigns;—it is the universal prevalence of this glory which is promised in our text. When this holy and benevolent religion shall fill the world, then shall be brought to pass the promise which is here recorded. Yes, when the benign power of the Gospel, and all the graces and virtues which it inspires, shall reign over all the family of man; when the highest intellectual and moral culture shall be every where enjoyed; when the voice of prayer and praise shall be heard in every tabernacle; when the Sabbath shall be universally kept holy to God; when the Christian law of marriage, that noblest and most precious bond of social unity and happiness, shall be universally and sacredly obeyed; when the temperance reformation, without any unscriptural extremes, or fanatical perversions, shall pervade the world: when “wars shall cease to the ends of the earth;” when fraud and violence shall be banished from the abodes of men; when the voice of profaneness shall no more pollute the lips or the ears of creatures claiming to be rational; when tyranny and oppression, in every form, shall come to an end; when sectarian feuds and jealousies shall be unknown, save only in the pages of history; when all heresy and error shall give place to the power of truth, and all vice and profligacy to the reign of Christian purity; when the Mosque and the Pagoda shall be transformed into temples of the Christian’s God: when the habitations of savage cruelty shall become the, abodes of holiness and peace; when the activity of a greatly extended commerce shall be directed chiefly to the intellectual and moral culture of society; when justice, order, industry, brotherly kindness, and charity shall universally reign;—in a word, when the church of God, with all its choicest influences, shall fill the earth;—then shall the promise before us be gloriously realized. This will be emphatically, “the glory of the Lord;”—the glory of his power; the glory of his holiness; the glory of his love. It will be, in its measure, the same glory which forms the blessedness of the heavenly world; the same glory in which those whose robes have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, walk in white raiment before the throne of God. O how glorious shall this fallen world be, when all the nations which compose it shall be “just, fearing God;” when those who are nominally “the people of God, shall be all righteous;” when every family shall be the abode of purity, order, and love; when every individual shall be a “temple of the Holy Ghost;” and when, from pole to pole, the song of jubilee shall be heard—Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto Him who sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever! Alleluia! for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth! Such appears to be the import of the promise before us.—Let us next inquire,

II. WHAT REASON HAVE WE FOR BELIEVING THAT THESE SCENES OF GLORY WILL ONE DAY BE REALIZED?
This is, to the Christian’s heart, a most interesting inquiry. Let us ponder it with a seriousness corresponding to its unspeakable importance.

And here it is obvious to remark, that there will be no need of miracles (in the ordinary sense of that word) to bring about the accomplishment of the promise before us. Only suppose the genuine power of the Gospel, which we see to reign in thousands of individuals and families now—actually to reign in all hearts, and to pervade the world,—and the work is done. But how can we hope for this? I answer-

1. First of all, and above all, our hope is founded on JEHOVAH’S FAITHFUL AND UNERRING PROMISE.

2. But further, our confidence that the religion of Christ will, one day, fill the whole earth with its glory, is confirmed by the consideration, that THIS RELIGION IS, IN ITS NATURE, ADAPTED ABOVE ALL OTHERS TO BE A UNIVERSAL RELIGION.

3. I have only to add, under this head, THAT THE PRESENT ASPECT OF THE WORLD FURNISHES MUCH REASON TO HOPE THAT THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THIS PROMISE IS DRAWING NIGH.

It remains that we

III. Inquire, WHAT IS OUR PRESENT DUTY IN RELATION TO THE PROMISE BEFORE US? And here,

1. Undoubtedly, our first duty is to believe the promise.

2. Another duty incumbent upon us in relation to this promise, is to labor and pray without ceasing for its accomplishment.

3. A third duty, in relation to the promise in our text, is, that, in laboring for the spread of the Gospel, no adverse occurrence, however painful, ought ever to discourage us, or at all to weaken either our confidence, or our efforts.

4. A further duty, in reference to the promise before us, is, that we pray without ceasing for the power of the Holy Spirit, to render all the means which are employed for its accomplishment, effectual.

5. Finally; if so great a work as evangelizing the whole world, is promised, and is certainly to be accomplished, then our plans and efforts for promoting this object ought to bear a corresponding character: that is, they ought to be large, liberal, and ever expanding. We ought to consider it as our duty to devote to this object our utmost resources, and to engage the co-operation of all, over whom we can exert an influence.

The promise of God to his people is, Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. . . We scarcely ever lift our eyes to the real grandeur and claims of the enterprise in which we profess to be engaged. We are too apt to be satisfied with small and occasional contributions of service to this greatest of all causes instead of devoting to it hearts truly enlarged; instead of desiring great things; expecting great things; praying for great things; and nurturing in our spirits that holy elevation of sentiment and affection, which embraces in its desires and prayers the entire kingdom of God; and which can be satisfied with nothing short of the “whole earth being filled with the glory of the Lord.”

But how ought we to be still more deeply humbled and animated, when we call to mind what our blessed Saviour has done for us! I have sometimes heard professing Christians talk of doing and giving as much toward the spread of the glorious Gospel, “as they conveniently could.” Surely this is wonderful language for the professed followers of a crucified Redeemer! Did our blessed Master do no more for us than he “conveniently could?” Did He not give his life for our redemption? Did He not, in offering up himself a sacrifice, that we might not die, yield himself to sufferings unparalleled and indescribable? Shall not every one, then, who calls himself by the name of Christ, make the language of Paul, in all its force and tenderness, his own? — For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died far 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.

Lift up your eyes, Christian brethren, on the unnumbered millions of our globe; sunk in ignorance, pollution and misery! Think of their condition: a condition in which you must have been at this hour, had it not been for the wonderful grace of God. Contrast with that condition your own mercies and privileges, and then ask, whether you ought not to feel for those who, are thus miserable, and try to help them? Christians! can you enjoy your Bibles, your Sabbaths, your sanctuaries, your sacramental tables, and all your precious privileges and hopes alone? Can you enjoy these hallowed scenes, and heavenly gifts, and know their value, and yet slumber in ignoble indolence over the moral desolations of those who are perishing for lack, of them? Can you calmly sit by, and see million after million of treasure cheerfully expended for amusement, luxury and sin; and only a few stinted thousands devoted to the greatest, best work of enlightening and saving the world? O whither has the spirit of the Bible fled? May He who gave the Bible, and the promise before us, restore it in his time!

Let us, then, with one accord, rouse ourselves, and endeavor to rouse others to new zeal, and larger enterprise in spreading the knowledge and glory of the Lord. Every heart, every tongue, and every hand that can be stirred up to engage in this great work, from infancy to old age, is needed. And remember that the more thoroughly any of the children of men can be excited and consecrated to this work—the richer the benefit they gain for themselves. Christian brother! Christian sister! whoever you are, in this large assembly!—you have each, respectively, a duty to perform in reference to this mighty work. It is incumbent upon you to do all in your power for sending the light of life to the benighted and the perishing. Nay, upon every human being, whether in the church, or out of it, there lies an obligation to aid, as far as God gives the opportunity, in sending to “every creature” that gospel which is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” We invite you all, my hearers, not merely to the duty, but to the precious privilege, of co-operating in this holy and blessed enterprise. And we can venture to assure you, that, if the day should ever come, in which your hearts shall be thoroughly imbued with the spirit of missions, it will be the happiest period of your lives; as well as the pledge and the dawn of that wide-spread glory, which our text proclaims as certain and approaching. We can point you to no higher honor, no richer pleasure on this side of heaven, than that which is found in enlightened, zealous, active, absorbing zeal for spreading the holy, life-giving religion of Jesus Christ from the rising to the setting sun.

For the promotion of this work, my friends, the “American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions” has convened in this place. Our hope in coming together is, that we maybe enabled, by the grace of God, to excite each other to more lively sensibility, and more ardent zeal, in the great Missionary cause which we have associated to carry on; and also that we may be instrumental in adding something to the missionary spirit which we hope already exists in the enlightened and favored population of this city. We are now celebrating the twenty-sixth anniversary of our Board: and, instead of being weary of our work, we can sincerely declare, that in looking back on our past course, our only regret is, that we have not labored with far more diligence and sanctified ardor in the cause of the world’s conversion; that our plans have not been more enlarged; and that we have not prayed more, and done more in this greatest of all causes in which Christians can engage. Yes, brethren, beloved of the Lord, we come to mingle our vows with yours; to proclaim with deeper conviction than ever, that we consider the cause of missions as the most precious cause in the world; and to bind ourselves by new resolutions, that we will, by the help of God, with greater zeal than heretofore, “spend and be spent” in this most blessed service. What more worthy object can we seek than contributing to fill the earth with the glory of the Lord? Brethren, pray for us, that we may be faithful to our sacred trust. Pray for yourselves, that you may not be found wanting in the payment of that mighty debt, you owe to your Divine Master, and to a perishing world. And let us all, more and more, aspire to the honor of being “workers together with God” in hastening the triumphs of Immanuel’s universal reign. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly; and let the whole earth be filled with thy glory! Amen! and Amen!

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In writing up this post, it will be important to note that this was an independent foreign missionary society. Thus, when the PCUSA issued the Mandate of 1934, they were being hypocritical (perhaps too strong a word–they were at least going contrary to their own history), in that their in own history the PCUSA had twice utilized independent agencies, the other being the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (check to make sure that’s the correct name of the latter organization]

 

The centennial of the Western foreign missionary society, 1831-1931 [microform]Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Presbytery of Pittsburgh. Committee on the centennial of the founding of theWestern foreign missionary society
“Bibliography … of Sadhu Sundar Singh”: p. 111-112; “Bibliography of the Western foreign missionary society“: p. 227-234

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A Heart for Missions

Elisha Pope Swift was born in Williamstown, Massachusetts on August 12, 1792. His parents were the Rev. Seth and Lucy Elliot Swift. His father was pastor of the Congregational Church of Williamstown. Through his mother he was descended from Rev. John Elliot, the Apostle to the Indians. Elisha received his collegiate education at Williams College, in Massachusetts, and his theological education at Princeton Seminary.

swiftEPHe was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of New Brunswick, on April 24, 1816 and was ordained by a Congregational council in Boston on September 3, 1817, with a view to setting out for foreign missionary work. However, the American Board of Foreign Missions was compelled to delay his departure and so employed him for a time as an agent in the raising of funds. In 1818, Rev. Swift served as pulpit supply for several Presbyterian churches in Dover and Milford, Delaware, and then in 1819 he answered a call to serve as the pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. Here he continued to serve for thirteen years.

From 1831 to 1835, he served as Secretary of the Western Foreign Missionary Society, which was at that time located in Pittsburgh, and it was only in 1833 that he resigned his charge as pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, in order to more fully devote himself to the work of missions. Rev. Swift had been the leading force in organizing this Society, and it was greatly shaped by his character and ministerial gifts.  By its location, the Society was fathered along by the Synod of Pittsburgh, and after several changes, both in title and in location, the Society eventually became the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

In the summer of 1835, Dr. Swift resigned his position as Secretary of the Missionary Society and became the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. He then served this church for twenty-nine and a half years. In the last five years of his life, with his strength beginning to fail, the congregation called Dr. Swift’s son, Elliott E. Swift, to serve alongside his father. This arrangement allowed Dr. Swift to preach as he was able, up until about six months before his death. At last, on April 3, 1865, the Rev. Elisha P. Swift passed from his earthly labors and entered his eternal rest.

“Dr. Swift was an unusually eloquent and impressive preacher. His large, penetrating eye, when fixed upon the hearer, gave to some of his searching addresses an almost irresistible power. In the commencement of his morning discourses he was usually deliberate, occasionally hesitating, as the result would show, for the most suitable and expressive words at his command. As he advanced, however, his delivery would become more rapid, and for fifteen minutes before he closed he would hold the listener in the most fixed and solemn attention. The conclusions of many of his sermons were among the grandest specimens of effective pulpit oratory to which the people in the region where he lived had ever listened. His public prayers were remarkable for fluency of utterance, comprehensiveness of petition, elegance of style and fervor of feeling. This, no doubt, has its explanation in his habits of private devotion. For many years he had four seasons of secret prayer, which he sacredly observed each day. Often, on Sabbath evenings, after his labors were completed, he would spend long periods in the retirement of his study, in audible intercession for his people. Dr. Swift belonged to a race of men now seldom found, but sometimes read about in the annals of the past.”

For Further Study:
E.P. Swift on the Call to Missions—

Among his several published efforts, Dr. Swift wrote an introduction to a Memoir of Mrs. Louisa A. Lowrie, of the Northern India Mission (1837), which is available online, here. The first several paragraphs of that introduction make for interesting reading, though the nineteenth-century prose may take some getting used to.—

“Man is, in himself, a lost, ruined and perishing sinner. Of this fact, the world is full of the most convincing evidence. The Bible professes to reveal to us God’s true and only system of salvation. This is a dispensation of life to guilty man through a Mediator, and it is also a distinct practical principle of the heart and life, developing itself by the production of a free self-consecration of its recipients to the glory of God and the well-being of mankind. Its vital power–its ascendancy over the inner man, in the production of pure and holy principles and actions, is an essential evidence of one’s interest in its blessings, while the most abundant and convincing manifestations of it to others becomes the surest way by which its great Author is honored and the world improved. Hence the lives of devoted Christians become useful and instructive, just in proportion as they are truly and wisely conformed to the great pattern, and the examples and biographies of eminent believers stimulate the pious in the path of duty, and impress the consciences of the wicked with a sense of their criminality.

“Periods of great trial and persecution in the world; and seasons in which God has, by His providence, especially called forth the visible power of religion, or remarkably poured out His Spirit upon the earth, for its increase, have been most distinguished for the development of the Christian principle. The present state of the world is peculiarly favorable to its useful display in judicious and disinterested efforts to bring millions of benighted and perishing sinners into the kingdom of God. The temporal and eternal benefits which the gospel can impart to the heathen are beyond all computation; and the Bible, while it urges the duty of its immediate dissemination, pledges its own veracity for the certainty that it shall eventually overspread the world. The events of providence are now more and more distinctly every year indicating the near approach of that joyful consummation.

“The labor and the self-denial, however, which a personal engagement in the missionary service in foreign lands requires, is so great, and the zeal of the disciples to spread the triumphs of the cross among remote and barbarous tribes of men is so small, that it must be long indeed before such a result can be anticipated, unless there is a very great increase of the true heroic and enterprising spirit of primitive times. Whatever tends to promote this, and to deepen the longing-desires of the visible family of God that His “kingdom may come” and His “will be done” in the “dark places” of the earth, should be earnestly encouraged. There are therefore three ends which may be proposed in the act of consecration to the work of Foreign Missions. This may be chosen like any other form of Christian action, to exemplify the practical influence of real piety—or, from a desire by a sincere and cordial and self-denied example of this sort, to aid and countenance the important and too much neglected duty of carrying the gospel to the heathen, or finally from the hope of a direct and immediate usefulness to the heathen themselves. The two former of these objects will be attained wherever love to Christ and holy principle is the moving cause, however brief or disastrous may be the effort itself. It is a great mistake therefore to suppose that the great moral ends of the undertaking are defeated, when the heralds of Christianity are cut down by the stroke of death before they enter upon the work; or where no actual conversions have been made. This would be to make the value of every effort to glorify the Redeemer to depend upon the measure of success which attended it, and imply a course of reasoning manifestly incompatible with fact.

Image source: The photograph, above right, is scanned from an original preserved at the PCA Historical Center. It was found tucked inside an 1858 pamphlet which had been purchased from a bookseller in Philadelphia.

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lowrieWMWhen God’s Children Come to See Me

Walter Macon Lowrie was born on February 18, 1819, and came to saving faith in Christ while in college, in 1834. Like Lyman Atwater of yesterday’s post, Walter soon determined to enter the ministry. He attended Princeton Seminary in preparation, and during those years resolved to become a missionary. The continent of Africa was particularly upon his heart, but following his ordination, the Board of Foreign Missions determined the need was greatest in China. Lowrie set sail in January of 1842.  By August of 1847, he was dead, murdered by pirates.

God is sovereign, and even when death seems senseless. it is only because we lack the Lord’s wisdom and knowledge. Especially in such cases is it wrong to try to attach a reason; we can only trust in God’s goodness.

A few years after Walter died, his father assembled his son’s letters and writings and published a Memoir. Reading some of that Memoir in preparation for this post, the following letter gave a good insight into the character of Walter’s Christian faith. Note too how the Lord used a godly woman, insignificant in the eyes of the world, in confirming and resolving Lowrie’s interest in missions :

Letters While At College

Jefferson College, September 14th.

My dear father–

Yesterday was our communion here; and though it was so near to the end of the session, that we could not have much time for preparation, and no fast day was appointed, yet it was about as profitable a day as I ever spent. True, at the table, and whilst partaking of the elements, I was not happy; nay, before I rose from the table, I was almost as miserable as I ever was. Yet it was profitable. A temptation came across my mind to this effect: “I am not now enjoying communion with Jesus Christ; and therefore I am not a Christian. I may as well now give up all pretensions to religion, and quit acting the hypocrite any longer.” And although not willingly, I felt as if I ought to do so; but the thought rushed into my mind, “If I am so miserable under the hidings of God’s face only, how shall I bear His eternal wrath?” It was the first time I had ever been influenced more by fear than by other motives. I was miserable, however. But see the goodness of God and of Jesus Christ. After church, I was thinking of my conduct during the session, and meditating on the two verses, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God;” and all my anxious cares vanished. I had been impressed deeply with a sense of my sinfulness, and was wishing to make some resolutions; hereafter to live more to the glory of God, but felt almost afraid to do it. I knew I should fall away; and I felt that it would but aggravate my guilt, were I to sin against such renewed obligation. But the sentence, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” calmed my heart. I felt that it was my duty to follow present duty, and leave the future to God, without any anxious cares; and I was enabled to do so, and roll all my cares upon the Lord. Oh, the peace I at that moment possessed! I could scarce refrain from laughing, I was so joyful.

I determined then to live every day as if it were to be the last I should have to live, and to do my duty accordingly;—in reality, “to live by the day.” At secret prayer I was more full of God’s presence, and comprehended more of that view of Christ’s character, which is so great, grand, and incomprehensible, that I could scarcely proceed for joy, and from my own experience during the day, I could tell something of the difference between God’s presence and his absence. Today, I cannot say I feel, or have felt, as I could wish—not so much life and animation; but I have been enabled to mourn for it. During the sermon (Mark xvi. 15), I was enabled to see more of the greatness of the Christian religion than I ever did before, and to feel, too, that man could not be the author of such grand ideas as I saw there held out.

This evening I was walking out into the country for exercise and on my return I passed the cottage of a negro woman, commonly called “Old Katy.” She was out in the road, when I passed her. I shook hands with her, and spoke a few words to her. Before we had spoken three sentences, she was was talking about religion. She is a most eminent Christian, and we stood about ten or fifteen minutes there talking. She soon got to speaking about the missionary cause. Her heart was in the matter, and she said, “I am very poor, but as long as I live I will be something to it. I have often given a little to it, and I never laid out any money better. I could not do it. I never lost a cent by it.”

I wish I could give you some idea of the emphasis she used, but pen and ink cannot express her manner and the feeling she manifested. She very cordially asked me to call in and see her; “for it is food to me when any of God’s children come to see me; it is food.” She went on thus for some time, talking about various matters, but all of them religious. Oh! how little I felt when I heard her talk thus, and compared my attainments in the Christian course with hers.

Words to Live By:
Give yourselves wholly to the Lord, in all you say and do. See the Lord as your only gain in this life. See Him as your All in all. You will not regret it. You will not suffer true loss, but will only gain true eternal riches.

For Further Study:
Memoirs of the Rev. Walter M. Lowrie, Missionary to China.

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A Churchman Extraordinaire, with a Heart for Missions

reavis_james_overtonJames Overton Reavis was born in Florida, Monroe County, Missouri on December 8, 1872 to parents James Overton Reavis and Ellen Roselle Reavis. He received his education at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, graduating in 1896 with the BA degree and the MA degree from the same institution in 1897. Reavis then attended Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary from 1897-1899, graduating with the Bachelor of Divinity degree. Another B.D. degree was earned at Princeton Theological Seminary after attending there, 1900-1901, while also attending New York University, where he studied comparative religion under the venerable F.F. Ellinwood, then Secretary of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

Dr. Reavis had unusual opportunities of study in the field of Biblical Theology; first, with Dr. Marquess at the Kentucky Seminary (as it was sometimes called), then with Dr. Vos at the Princeton Seminary, and also special courses at the Seminary of the Free Church in Edinburgh during one term overseas. After graduating at the Seminary he went to Montana with an invalid sister, securing the restoration of her health, and there he engaged in home missionary work for a few months.

Rev. Reavis was ordained on 12 April 1900 by Palmyra Presbytery (PCUS) and installed as stated supply of the First Presbyterian Church of Louisville, Kentucky, serving this church immediately following his graduation from Princeton, from 1901-1902. This was during the absence in Europe of the pastor, Rev. J. S. Lyons, D.D. He was married in December, 1902, to Miss Eva Witherspoon, daughter of the Rev. Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, who had passed away in 1898. His father-in-law had served this same church as pastor from 1882-1891. Mr. Reavis also concurrently supplied for a short time Louisville’s Second Presbyterian Church.

Rev. Reavis then accepted a call from the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, Texas and pastored that church from 1902-1905. During his pastorate there of two and a half years the church increased in membership from 497 to 830; 140 of the additions were on profession of faith. The church eventually had four Sunday schools, with an enrollment of more than 600 pupils; two new church buildings were erected in Dallas, and two in the Home Mission field of Western Texas. The church supported one missionary in Korea, one in Japan, and one in Western Texas.

Mr. Reavis was later made Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Presbyterian Orphanage of the Synod of Texas, and was instrumental in raising $20,000 for this institution. He was an applicant for appointment as missionary to Korea, but was prevented by providential circumstances from going. His interest in that particular field may have derived from his wife’s sister, Lottie Bell, and her husband Eugene Bell having served as missionaries to Korea.

Even as a young man, Mr. Reavis was very active in Christian work from the beginning of his college days. His missionary aspirations, and his remarkable record in developing the missionary life and activity of his church, were qualities which led to Mr. Reavis being called to the work which the PCUS Assembly had in mind in electing a second foreign missionary secretary.

reavis_eva_witherspoon_smFrom 1906 until 1911, Rev. Reavis served as the Secretary for the Executive Committee on Foreign Missions of the PCUS, in Nashville, Tennessee. He later resigned that position to return to the pastorate, answering a call to the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, South Carolina, where he served from 1911 until 1914. During these same years, his wife Eva was active with the Women’s Synodical and in the 1913-14 term, served as its president. From 1914 to 1920, Dr. Reavis was professor of English Bible and Homiletic and Pastoral Theology at the Columbia Theological Seminary, and the PCA Historical Center has preserved several of his course syllabii from Columbia. His final service to the Church was to return as the Secretary of the Executive Committee on Foreign Missions, serving a lengthy term from 1920 to 1943.

In 1943 Dr. Reavis was honorably retired, residing in Burns, Tennessee until his death on August 21, 1959. Honors received during his life include the Doctor of Divinity degree, awarded by Austin College in 1908 and the LL.D. degree, awarded by the Alabama Presbyterian College in 1916. An article of his, “Four Kinds of Souls,” was published posthumously in The Southern Presbyterian Journal, in the September 23, 1959 issue (pages 9, 11, 15).

Words to Live By:
It is a mistake to think that just because you are a Christian, that everything will simply fall into your lap. Life takes work. Natural talent is nothing without discipline and training. And depending upon your calling in life, it may take many years of preparation to properly come into the place where God has called you. Think of Moses and of Paul, as but two examples in Scripture. Those who would minister the Word of God must be diligent students of the Scriptures, and those called to other endeavors must also do their work as unto the Lord.
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.–2 Timothy 2:15, KJV

Sources:
The Missionary, 38.1 (January 1905): 36-37.
Ministerial Directory of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, (Atlanta, GA: Hubbard Printing Company, 1950), page 569.
See also : Calhoun, David B., The Glory of the Lord Risen Upon It, pp. 173-183.

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