George Howe

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The Value and Influence of Literary Pursuits.
pages 25-27

howeIt is refreshing to see, when the Bible is driven by the voice of authority from common schools, colleges rising like this, patronized by the people of God, and in some measure under ecclesiastical supervision. It is carrying out the plans of our fathers. It is giving a guaranty, at least, that here, far away from the corruption of the city, learning and religion shall go hand in hand, and that in the midst of a people who honor God, there shall be an institution for the rearing of their youth, where heathenism shall be spoiled of its learning and refinement, and they shall be made tributary to the inculcation of a sound morality, and the promotion of true religion. Honored men who have founded this institution! and ye who have stood by it in the dark hours of its struggles and adversity! be encouraged to persevere. A kind Providence watches vigilantly over your rising Seminary, and will provide for its future advancement. Do but be faithful to the trust committed to you, set your standard of Education high, and imbue your youth with virtue and piety, and you are obliged to succeed.

The day will come, and may be not far remote, when your College shall obtain a commanding eminence, from which it may wield a powerful influence in favor of learning and truth.

Whether aware of it or not, you have fallen upon a heaven appointed method of providing for the religious and moral training of your youth, while you discipline their minds and store them with human learning. The tribe of Levi was dispersed in Israel of old, and their 48 Levitical cities were so many seats of learning to God’s chosen people. The schools of the prophets and the scribes and the schools of the primitive church at Alexandria, Caesarea, Ephesus, Smyrna, and elsewhere, to the principal of which tradition gives an apostolic origin, are additional evidences that it is by a divine appointment that the church should take under her own supervision the education of her youth. And it may yet prove that the Teacher in the Christian Church, who is acknowledged in all European Confessions of Faith of the Presbyterian denomination to be a permanent officer of the Church, and was so regarded by the reformers, is really as much of Divine appointment as the Pastor, and that as the synagogue and school were connected in the Jewish church, so the church and school should be in the Christian. The Universities of Scotland were once under the immediate supervision of the church, and were annually visited and examined by a commission from their ecclesiastical bodies; they were, in their inception, and through a long period of their history, institutions ecclesiastical rather than civil. And in our own country, the earliest and best universities and colleges were founded by religious men for religious purposes, and were filled by officers who were pious in heart, and who were pledged to teach the youth the doctrines and duties of Christianity. The Hebrew Bible was for years read at morning prayers, by students and teachers at Harvard and Yale, in the days of our fathers, and I am not unwilling to see the custom again introduced, and our youth led daily to the well-spring of all sacred knowledge, the inspired scriptures in the Greek and Hebrew tongues.

There might then be some hope that our young men would be truly learned, and that with this learning they would imbibe a respect and reverence for the book of God, the earliest portions of which were written more than 3000 years ago, and more than 600 years before the earliest authors of Greece; which, like the gnarled oak, breasting the storms of a thousand winters, has stood the shock of revolution, and the attacks and scorn of men; which has survived every empire and dynasty but the last, and is itself one day to be the law-book of the world, the rule of duty between man and man, and nation and nation. Pursue then the path you have chosen, and heaven shall add its smiles upon your enterprise. Over these hills and valleys, among these mountains and rivers, there shall live a noble and virtuous population, sanctified by a religion such as old Greece and Rome knew nothing of, guided by oracles far different from those of the old oak of Dodona and the priestess of Delphi, and softened, refined, and ennobled by a Literature which shall throw into the shade that which spread its loved charms through Cicero’s retreat at Tusculum, over the sweet vales of Attica, or resounded in Ionian melody through the Greek cities of the Lesser Asia. For that which the bard of Mantua unknowingly sung, must yet be fulfilled:

“Ultima cumaci venit jam carminis aetas;
Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo,
Jam redit et Virgo, Redeunt Saturnia regna;
Jam nova progenies coelo demittitur alto.”

Or, as our Christian poet [i.e, William Cowper, in Book Vi of The Task] has more beautifully expressed it, with heartfelt anticipation of the blissful season, of the morning heralded by so many prophets; The time shall come when

One song employs all nations; and all cry
“Worthy the Lamb, for he was slain for us!”
The dwellers in the vales and on the rocks
Shout to each other, and the mountain tops
From distant mountains catch the flying joy:
Till nation after nation taught the strain,
Earth rolls the rapturous hosannah round.


Wise Words

In his eulogy for Professor George Howe, the Rev. John L. Girardeau prefaced his comments with this fitting summary on the subject of Christian biography and eulogy:

“In doing honor to those who have attained to eminence, there is a tendency unduly to exalt the perfection of human nature, from the indulgence of which we are restrained by the principles of Christianity. It can never be forgotten by those who are imbued with its instructions and possessed of a consciousness illuminated by its light, that all men, even the greatest and best, are sinners; and that, whatever advancement in mere moral culture may be effected by the force of natural resolution, neither the beginning nor the development of holiness is possible without the application of the blood of atonement, and the operation of supernatural grace. To signalise, therefore, the virtues of a departed Christian is to celebrate the provisions of redemption, and to magnify the graces of the Holy Ghost.”

In other words, we write biographies of leading Christians and seek to preserve their papers—their writings and their correspondence—not to emulate them, but to praise the God who worked through them, that future generations of believers might profit from their walk with the Lord.

howeGeorge Howe was born at Dedham, Massachusetts on November 6, 1802. His father was William Howe, whose lineage ran back to one of the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock. His mother was Mary (Gould) Howe, daughter of Major George and Rachel (Dwight) Gould.

When he was still quite young, George came across a copy of Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana (The Glorious Works of Christ in America — vol. 1 of which can be read here.) among his father’s books. There he encountered Latin sentences peppered throughout the text, and so began his study of the Latin language. He pursued that study formally at Mr. Ford’s school in Dedham, and, as he later related, “said his hic, haec, hoc in his trundle-bed.”

At the age of twelve the family relocated to a town near Philadelphia. As a young teenager, he was able to attend First Presbyterian Church in the Northern Liberties of Philadelphia, where the Rev. Dr. James Patterson was pastor. It was Patterson’s habit to speak with every member of the family when he visited, and on one such occasion, he turned to George and asked George whether he had come to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for his salvation. The question caused George a great deal of discomfort, but this brought him under conviction of his sin, and not long after he made a public profession of his faith there at First Presbyterian.

Graduating with first honors from Middlebury College, in Vermont, in 1822, George then entered Andover Theological Seminary, taking the full three year course of studies. Upon graduation, he was awarded the Abbott scholarship, which afforded him another year and half of study, after which he was appointed, at the age of twenty-seven, as Phillips Professor of Sacred Theology at Dartmouth College. This was during the presidency of the Rev. Dr. Bennett Tyler, who was closely tied with the troublesome New Haven Theology. At about the same time as Howe’s appointment, he was also ordained, on August 7, 1827.

For three years he served at this post, when his health was threatened with consumption (tuberculosis), and medical advice urged him to remove to the South. Rev. Howe soon sailed from Boston in a ship bound for Charleston, South Carolina, and he spent the month of December, 1830 in that city.

Providentially, it was about this same time that the Synod of South Carolina and Georgia met and took up a request from Dr. Thomas Goulding, asking for the appointment of a teacher of Greek and Hebrew. Dr. Goulding had only recently been appointed head of a new seminary in South Caroliina, and already the school needed another teacher. Rev. Howe’s reputation with the languages preceding him, he was elected to the post. Thus began Dr. Howe’s lengthy career of fifty-two years at the Columbia Theological Seminary. When the Seminary’s semi-centennial was observed at the end of 1881, Dr. Howe was there to celebrate the occasion, with many congratulations focused on his own central role in the establishment of the school. A year and a half later, he was gone, passed to his eternal reward, on April 15, 1883.

Dr. Howe did not write many books, but of the less than ten, several remain monumental works, to this day.  In particular, his two volume magnum opus on The History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina is still required reading for anyone interested in the subject of religion in the Southern states. Print copies are rare, but the text can be found on the Web here [vol. 1] and here [vol. 2].

Words to Live By:
As George Howe lay near death, he expressed his desire to receive visits (despite his doctor’s wishes) from the other faculty of Columbia Seminary. One colleague asked him, “My dear brother, do you trust in Jesus?,” to which Dr. Howe readily answered, “Yes; what would I do, did I not trust in Him?”

What will you do, if you do not trust in the only Savior appointed for our salvation?

And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, NASB)

For Further Study:
Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana (The Glorious Works of Christ in America), can be read here. (vol. 1) and here (vol. 2)

A Further Historical Note:
One issue in the Old Side/New Side split of the PCUSA in 1741 was the matter of educating candidates for the ministry. The New Side thought themselves competent to train pastors on American soil. Thus William Tennent’s Log College. The Old Side maintained that candidates had to secure their training back in the old country. After that split was mended in 1758, the way was cleared to establish American schools for the training of ministerial candidates—seminaries, so called—seedbeds or nurseries for prospective pastors. It took some time to get the ball rolling, but soon a number of Presbyterian seminaries were established:
1806 — Andover Theological Seminary, in Massachusetts.
1810 — New Brunswick Seminary, in New Jersey.
1812 — Princeton Theological Seminary, in Princeton, New Jersey.
[Also in 1812, the Rev. Moses Hoge was appointed to serve as professor of theology at the Hampden-Sydney College.]
1821 — Auburn Theological Seminary, Auburn, New York.
1824 — Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia.
1830 — Columbia Theological Seminary [technically the school began a year earlier in another location]

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