George Whitefield

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One More Presbyterian Minister Stands for Liberty
by David T. Myers.

“Men of America,” the Presbyterian minister in Massachusetts preached, “citizens of this great country hanging upon the precipice of war, loyalty to England lies behind you, broken by the acts of the mother country – a cruel mother, deaf to the voice of liberty and right; duty to freedom, duty to your country, duty to God is before you; your patriotism is brought to the test; I call upon those ready to volunteer for the defense of the provinces against British tyranny to step into the ‘broad aisle.’” Those who did step into that church aisle became the first volunteers to join the Continental Army and fight in the Battle of Bunker Hill. A political liberty became his emphasis in those days.

Such rhetoric was more commonly found among Presbyterian pastors than any other denomination in the days and years of the American Revolution. It was no wonder that the Revolutionary War was characterized in England as the Presbyterian Rebellion. And one of those Presbyterian ministers leading the charge was Jonathan Parsons.

Born November 30, 1705, he was the youngest son of church deacon Ebenezer Parsons and his wife Margaret Marshfield of Springfield, Massachusetts. This line of Parsons could be traced back hundreds of years in England and later, equally forward for a long time in America. Jonathan Parsons was influenced by the Rev. Jonathan Edwards to enter Yale, which he did at age twenty. Edwards, along with others, taught him theology as he prepared for the ministry.

Graduating in 1729, Parsons entered first into the pulpit of the Congregational Church of Lyme, Connecticut in 1731. Married to Phebe Griswold, the oldest daughter of the town’s leading family, Jonathan gained much in the material realm in the first decade of his ministry. And he lived that advantage to the fullest. It was said that “he had a passion for fine clothes, for gold and silver, and for lacy ruffled shirt fronts.”

All this came into direct confrontation with the effects of the Great Awakening in America. Suffering doubts regarding the reality of his own personal conversion, he struggled long and hard in his own mind until “the doctrine of salvation by faith burst on his mind.” The result was that his pulpit preaching became marked by greater earnestness and simplicity as he expounded the sufferings of Christ and His undying love for sinners. Rev. Parson’s ministry was now characterized by a spiritual vigor and a renewed freedom in preaching the Gospel of grace.

This embrace of the Great Awakening was enhanced by his meeting and subsequent cooperation with George Whitefield in the 1740’s. The latter entered his pulpit in Lyme twice. While reviving many with the doctrines of grace proclaimed without reservation, eventually the congregation suffered a schism. And so it was that Parsons was dismissed from the Congregational pulpit in 1745.

With help from Whitefield, Jonathan Parsons became the pastor of the Old South Presbyterian Church in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He would serve the Lord for thirty years, in which time the congregation became one of the largest churches in New England. It was to this congregation that George Whitefield would visit in 1770, and indeed Whitefield breathed his last and was translated to heaven there in the parsonage of Jonathan Parsons. His body was laid beneath the pulpit of that church, and though later moved a short distance, Whitefield’s remains are still there. Yet a few more years and Whitefield was joined on July 19, 1776 with the passing of his friend Jonathan Parsons.

Words to Live By:
Jonathan Parsons is a good example of what happens when the Gospel of the Lord Jesus fills our hearts and minds by the power of the Holy Spirit. Strive to so live and breathe that you always remain close to your Lord and Savior. Then watch to see how the Lord will indeed use you to His glory, in His kingdom.

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What Type of Preaching is Necessary Today for a Spiritual Awakening?

Our question in the title is a key one.  We have read in history of various revivals of religion which took place in our country from her earliest days, including the first great awakening under George Whitefield, Gilbert Tennent, Jonathan Edwards, and Samuel Blair.  Samuel Blair?  Yes, Samuel Blair.

Blair was born in Ireland in 1712, and brought to America in his youth.  He was a Log College graduate, and licensed by the Presbytery of Philadelphia in 1733.  He became the pastor in  New Jersey in 1734.  Five years later, he was issued a call from Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church, just south of Cochranville, Pennsylvania.  The church had been founded in 1730, and had been ten years without a shepherd.  Rev. Blair was led to receive the call and came to this church.

He  had been here for four months, commenting that religion lay as it were a-dying.  He preached but four months when a powerful revival of religion occurred in the church and surrounding community on August 6, 1744.  Writing himself later on what type of preaching the Holy Spirit was pleased to bless, he said,

“The main scope of my preaching was, laying open the deplorable state of man by nature since the fall, our ruined, exposed case by the breach of the first covenant, and the awful condition of such as were not in Christ, giving the marks and characters of such as were in that condition, through a Mediator, with the nature and necessity of faith in Christ the Mediator.  I labored much on the last mentioned head, that people might  have right apprehensions of the gospel method of faith of life and salvation.  I treated much on the way of a sinner’s closing with Christ by faith, and obtaining a right peace to an awakened, wounded conscience; showing that persons were not to take peace to themselves on account of their repentings, sorrows, prayers, and reformations, not to make those things the grounds of their adventuring themselves upon Christ and His righteousness, and of their expectations of life by Him, . . . but by an understanding view and believing persuasion of the way of life, as revealed in the gospel, through the surety-ship, obedience, and sufferings of Jesus Christ, with a view of the suitableness and sufficiency of that mediatory righteousness of Christ for the justification of law-condemned sinners; and thereupon freely accepting Him for their Savior.  I endeavored to show the fruits and evidences of a true faith.”

To be sure, other voices had been  added to such preaching of the gospel. Four years before this year, in May and November of 1740, George Whitefield preached the gospel before 12,000 persons on the grounds of Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church.  Great spiritual results occurred on these occasions as well.

Today, the church continues and is the second oldest Presbyterian church in the Presbyterian Church in America.  Only the name has changed, to Manor Presbyterian Church.

Words to live by:
Pray much for the teaching elder and congregation that there be another outpouring of the Spirit of God upon your church, its pastors, the Session of Elders,  its families, and the entire denomination.  In fact, make it your personal prayer, “Lord, begin a revival of your people, and Lord . . . begin it in me.”

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Recent weeks have seen the publication of a revision edition of the magnum opus of the Rev. George Gillespie [1613]1648], a Scottish Presbyterian pastor who served most notably as one of the Scottish commissioners to the Westminster Assembly. Since we will undoubtedly touch upon that young man at some latter date, we wish to dispel any confusion, and so our post today concerns a later pastor by the same name, also a Scot, but in this case an immigrant to the American colonies. “George the Lesser,” if you will, and of no know relation to the former and better known Gillespie.

“That Pious Saint of God”

George Gillespie was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in the year 1683, and was educated at the University in his native city. He was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Glasgow early in 1712, and subsequently came to New England in the spring of that same year, bringing a letter of recommendation from Principal Sterling to Cotton Mather.

The congregation at Woodbridge, New Jersey was at that time in a distracted state, and the ministers of Boston, having been made acquainted with it, judged Mr. Gillespie to be a suitable person to be introduced there, with a view to heal some of the existing divisions. He accordingly was introduced by their recommendation; but, though his course was altogether prudent and conciliatory, and he was received at first in a way that seemed to promise the happiest results, circumstances still more adverse to the harmony of the congregation subsequently occurred, that left him with little hope of accomplishing the desired end.

In September following, the Presbytery approved of his credentials, and if Providence should open the way for his ordination by a call from any congregation, Messrs. Andrews, McNish, Anderson, and Morgan were designated to perform the ordination service. The Presbytery recommended him again to the congregation at Woodbridge:—They say, “We shall strengthen his hands, and encourage his heart, to try awhile longer, waiting for the effect of our renewed essays for peace and quietness among you.”

Shortly after this, he received a communication from the Presbytery informing him that the people of White Clay had petitioned for a minister; and, if he left Woodbridge, he was ordered first to supply that people.

He received a call from the congregation of White Clay Creek, and on the 28th of May, 1713, was ordained by a Committee of three; having preached the day before on Galatians iv. 4, 5; and delivered an Exegesis on–“An Christus pro omnibus et singulis it mortuus?” These exercises, as well as his examination in the original languages, philosophy, and theology, were highly acceptable. His charge seems to have embraced, for several years, besides White Clay,–Red Clay, Lower Brandywine, and Elk River.

He is said to have organized the congregation of the Head of Christiana, and he served that church until his death, which occurred on January 2d, 1760.

Rev. Gillespie was zealous for the interests of the Church, and accordingly he was particularly zealous for strict discipline, and three times entered his protest, when he thought offenders were too leniently dealt with. In one instance he informed his Presbytery that he would publish animadversions on the undue tenderness of the Synod, but they absolutely prohibited his doing it.

He was remarkably punctual in his attendance on meetings of the Presbytery and Synod, as well as in bringing a contribution to the fund.

On the great question of the Protest, he did not vote. Having, in all the previous trying sessions, laboured earnestly for the peace of the Church, he withdrew with the excluded brethren, and signified his willingness to be of their number, though he does not appear to have met with them afterwards. He remained neutral till 1744, when he returned to the Old Synod. In discussing the terms of union, he objected to being required to acknowledge what was generally styled–“the great revival,” to be “a glorious work of grace.” He had seen so many sad issues from hopeful beginnings, so much that he deemed reprehensible in the course of some of the leaders in the work, such wild confusion and wide spread division connected with it, that he could not conscientiously give it his unqualified sanction.

Mr. Gillespie died January 2, 1760, aged seventy-seven. Dr. Francis Alison, who knew him, speaks of him as “that pious saint of God.”

Sprague, William Buell, Annals of the American Presbyterian Pulpit, vol. 1, pp. 19-20. Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005.

A Treatise against the Deists or Free-Thinkers: Proving the Necessity of Revealed Religion. Philadelphia: Printed for the Author by A. Bradford, 1735. 62 p.; 26 cm.

A Sermon against Divisions in Christ’s Churches. Philadelphia: Printed by A. and W. Bradford, 1740.

Remarks upon Mr. George Whitefield, proving him a man under delusion. [five lines of Scripture texts]. Philadelphia: Printed by B. Franklin, for the author, 1744. 24 p.

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The World Turned Upside Down

Rev. George WhitefieldIn writing his journal on November 22, 1739, the Rev. George Whitefield described an evangelistic tour in the year of 1739 through the American colonies.  Coming to the home congregation of Rev. William Tennent, Senior, in Neshaminy, Pennsylvania, Whitefield preached to some 3000 individuals gathered in the yard. After the Word  has been proclaimed in all of its fulness, to the immediate spiritual effect upon the hearers, Whitefield went on to describe the famous forerunner to Princeton Seminary and University, the Log College.  He wrote,

“The place wherein the young men study now is in contempt called the Log College.  It is a Log-house, about Twenty Feet long, and near as many broad; and to me it seemed to resemble the School of the old Prophets. For that their Habitations were mean (low), and that they sought not great things for themselves, is plain from that Passage of Scripture wherein we are told that at the Feasts of the Sons of the Prophets, one of them put on the Pot, whilst the others went to fetch some Herbs out of the Field.  All that can be said of most of our public Universities is, they are all glorious without!  From this despised Place Seven or Eight worthy Ministers of Jesus Christ have lately been sent forth; more are almost ready to be sent, and a Foundation is now laying for the Instruction of many others. The Devil will certainly rage against them, but the Work, I am persuaded, is of God, and therefore will not come to nought. Carnal ministers oppose them strongly; and because People, when awakened by Mr Tennent, or his Brethren, see through, and therefore leave their Ministry, the poor Gentlemen are loaded down with contempt, and looked upon (as all faithful Preachers will be) as Persons that turn the World upside down.”

logcollege02To George Whitefield, a spiritual battle was commencing between the angel Michael and the devil himself as a result of these Log College graduates going out into the world. Yet  the great revivalist was confident that God would prevail in the coming struggle.

Words to live by:  There is no  doubt that this tiny theological school had a spiritual influence far beyond its size in the infant Presbyterian church.  Let us learn never to judge any Christian work from the numbers which attend it. Every large church today began as a smaller congregation, sometimes but a handful of committed Christians. The more important question is, is the whole counsel of God being taught and believed and followed? If it is, then that is the church to which you need to commit your soul and body, to say nothing of your spiritual gifts and your time.

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D. L. Moody is reported to have said, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man wholly committed to him.” With all due respect, I think Mr. Moody overlooked a fair number of men, sold out to the Lord, wholly committed in all their labors. George Whitefield was one such man. On this day, October 14th, in 1770, the Rev. James Sproat brought a memorial address occasioned by the then recent death of Rev. Whitefield. While Whitefield was himself an Anglican, his influence among Presbyterians in the American colonies was extensive. What follows is but a small excerpt from that sermon. To read the full text of Rev. Sproat’s sermon, click here.

George Whitefield departed this life (according to our public accounts) on the 30th of September last, at Newbury Port, in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, in New-England, by a sudden and violent fit of the asthma.

I am very sensible, my brethren, of my incapacity of doing justice to the memory of this truly great, and excellent personage. It really needs a genius like his own; and that eloquence, which was peculiar to himself; fully to delineate his character, and describe his virtue. I know not one character in the sacred pages, in which there is a great similarity, than the words of the text. He was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith. And much people was added to the Lord. (Acts 11:24)

As to his person, we have all of us had frequent opportunities of admiring his graceful countenance and manly deportment; which commanded reverence and respect; excited esteem and affection in persons of every rank and quality.–His birth, parentage, and education, the world has long ago been favoured with accounts of, in his printed journals.—He early discovered a singular taste for science, joined with a sprightly and florid genius. His education was completed at Oxford, one of the most illustrious universities in Europe.–It pleased God, who designed him for very great and eminent services in his church, early to change his heart by the power of Divine grace; and by a thorough and remarkable conversion, to turn him from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God; that he might receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Thus all the powers of his mind became strongly engaged to the study of divinity. The important doctrines of grace, and the admirable scheme of redemption by the Lord Jesus Christ;—the condemned, miserable state of sinners;—free justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ received by faith alone;—the powerful operations of the holy and blessed Spirit to regenerate and sanctify the human heart, were subjects of his most solemn and delightful contemplation. Under the lively impression of those things, his pious heart was turned to the great work of the Gospel ministry. In this important business he engaged, and to this glorious work he devoted himself, as soon as the rules of that church, of which he was a member, would permit.

Being good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith; fired with a flaming zeal for his Lord and master; filled with bowels of tender compassion to immortal souls; and favoured with more than Ciceronian eloquence;—he soon became the wonder of the world as a preacher. The attention of persons of all ranks, sects, and denominations, was attracted by him. And the hand of the Lord was with him in such a powerful manner, that great numbers were presently joined to the Lord by his ministry. Though he always manifested a peculiar regard for the Church of England, in which he had been educated; yet as he set out in the ministry upon principles truly catholic and noble, so he steadily and vigorously retained them to his expiring moments.

Pursuant to these principles of catholicism, he was determined not to know any thing among the people, but Jesus Christ and him crucified. Upon this plan he let out; and upon this plan he prosecuted the great work of preaching the gospel to all sorts of people that would give him an hearing. To Jews, infidels, freethinkers, as well as to all denominations of Christians without exception. And this grand business of publishing the gospel of peace he pursued for a great number of years with the most indefatigable assiduity, prodigious eloquence, and flaming zeal, through England, Scotland, Ireland, and the widely extended dominions of British America.

As a speaker, he was furnished with such admirable talents, with such an easy method of address, and was such a perfect master of the art of persuasion, that he triumphed over the passions of the most crowded auditories, with al the charms of sacred eloquence.—He was of undaunted courage and heroic resolution, in the cause of his divine Master. Nor the frowns, nor the flatteries of the world; with all its insults and outrages, its allurements or charms, could ever turn him aside from endeavouring to win immortal souls to the Lord Jesus Christ.

We urge you to read on. This is but an excerpt, pp. 16-18, from A discourse occasioned by the death of the Reverend George Whitefield, A.M., late Chaplain to the Right Honourable the Countess of Huntingdon : delivered October 14, 1770, in the Second Presbyterian Church in the city of Philadelphia. (1771), by the Rev. James Sproat [1722-1793].

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