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A Complaint by an Irish Presbytery
by Rev. David T. Myers

The facts are very sketchy on the Rev. John Wilson back in 1730.

What we do know is that he came to the middle colonies of America from Ireland sometime in the early seventeen hundreds from the Presbytery of Armagh in Ireland. Presenting his credentials as a minister of the Presbyterian convictions, he was immediately received by the presbytery. Without a call to a particular church, he began to preach at Lower Octorara in eastern Pennsylvania with much acceptance by the members of the congregation. As Richard Webster says in his History of the Presbyterian Church, he made “a strong party in his favor.”

It was then that the Presbytery of New Castle received a letter from the Irish Armagh Presbytery on January 17, 1730 regarding the Rev. Mr. Wilson. What was transmitted in that letter is lost to history, but it must have been unfavorable to Rev. Wilson as they resolved not to employ him in the visible church.

The written record of Richard Webster states that a misunderstanding arose between the congregation and the Presbytery. A local Judge of the New Castle County Court, the Honorable Robert Gordon, wrote to the Synod to interpose between the two units of Presbyterianism. They did, but to what results we are not informed.

However it must have been not too favorable to Rev. Wilson, as he moved to Boston, Massachusetts.

The only other record of him is that at the age of 66, Rev. Wilson died on this day, January 6, 1733, just three years after the original complaint came from the Irish Presbytery to the infant Presbyterian church in the colonies.

Words to Live By:
As this author said at the beginning of this post, there is much left unsaid in the written record. And whenever we hear of an issue between a Presbytery and a local church, or a Presbytery and a members of that lower court, it is a day of sadness over the lack of unity in the work of the Lord. Let us resolve to pray when we find ourselves in such a situation, or hear of others of God’s people when they find themselves in the midst of such conflict. Let us pray for clarity of vision for all sides, love for the brethren, and that the purity of Christ’s church would be preserved in the ongoing dispute.

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Christian Home Training
by Rev. David T. Myers

TennentG_02Today in Presbyterian History we celebrate the birth of Gilbert Tennent. Subscribers to our posts will remember his name and history as the celebrated pastor-evangelist of the First Great Awakening in the American colonies. His name will always be remembered as the one who preached about the dangers of unconverted ministers. He both began and ended the New Side wing of the American Presbyterian church in the mid-seventeen hundreds. And he was born on this day, February 5, in County Armagh, Ireland, in the year 1703.

He was to stay with his father and mother, William and Catherine Tennent, in Ireland for the first fourteen years, before the entire family emigrated to the American colonies, and specifically Pennsylvania, due to connections of a close family member of his mother.

We read very little of his early life with the exception of the one great spiritual experience which brought him to Christ around the age of fourteen. He had a serious concern about his salvation around that time. Indeed his mind and heart was in a great agony of spirit. Finally, it pleased the Lord to give him the light of the knowledge of saving grace.

It is clear that what led up to this saving knowledge was the godly training he received in his home schooling by his parents. Both of his parents, beside being Christians, were Christians of the Presbyterian faith. It is true that his father, William, was then a deacon in the Anglican church, albeit Presbyterian in theology and government. When the latter emigrated to America, he immediately sought acceptance in the Presbyterian Church. Further, Gilbert’s mother, Catherine nee Kennedy, was a daughter of a Presbyterian minister.

We could only guess, but it would be an educated one, that the home schooling that Gilbert, his three brothers (all of whom became Presbyterian ministers in America), and his sister all received came from a solid foundation in the great Calvinistic truths of the Reformation.

Solomon in Proverbs 22:6 wrote a general promise which reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The background of the first phrase of “train up” comes from a beautiful picture which means “across the roof of.” The picture is that of a new born infant, who has the experience of some grape juice spread across the roof of the mount. As he or she tries to get that pleasant tasting juice off the roof of the mouth, he or she is then placed at the mother’s breast to crave the life-giving milk. The verb came to mean “to create a desire.”

Now granted, only the Holy Spirit can accomplish that creation of spiritual desire. But we can co-operate with that Spirit to create that spiritual desire in our children. There was no doubt that the home training of the Tennent family in its early days was instrumental in accomplishing much spiritual training in Gilbert Tennent.

Words to Live By:
Speaking to the parents who read This Day in Presbyterian History, are you taking spiritually and seriously the command of Proverbs 22:6 to train your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord? Pray and continue to work much in this vital home training.

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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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A Warm Hearted Generous Irishman
by David T. Myers

Our famous person today is James McKinney. Besides being described as our title puts it, he was the founder, under God, of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States, as Rev. Carlisle puts it in an article, The Life and Times of Rev. James McKinney. Certainly, both Rev. Glasgow and Rev. William Sprague testify that for scholarship and eloquence, he was not only the greatest man in the Covenanter church, but also he was a great man among men of that age. All of these accolades should cause us to want to know more about this servant of God.

Born on this day, November 16, 1759 in County Tyrone, Ireland, the son of Robert McKinney, James studied in the preparatory schools of his upbringing. Entering the University of Glasgow, Scotland, he spent four years before graduating in 1778. He stayed on in the area to study both theology and medicine. Licensed by the Reformed Presbytery of Ireland in 1783, and ordained by the same church court, he was installed in two congregations in County Antrim, Ireland. One year later, he married Mary Mitchell, from which union came five children.

He was faithful in administering the Word and Sacraments for ten years in these two Irish congregations. Known as a bold and fearless advocate of the rights of God and man, a sermon on the “Rights of God” made him a marked man by the British government. Indicted for treason by the latter, he escaped to America in 1793, with his family joining him later. From Vermont to the Carolinas, he ministered to Irish societies tirelessly, forming some of them into congregations. In 1797, his family joined him in the new land.

In 1798, in a new location in Philadelphia, he organized, with Rev. Gibson, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of America. He himself took charge of two congregations, one of which was Duanesburgh, New York. His broader ministry took him to other locations, as he and another minister visited the southern areas of this new land, to, and this is interesting, to seek to convince the churches of the land to abolish slavery from their thinking and actions.

In 1802, he resigned his pulpit at Duanesburgh, New York to accept the call of Rocky Creek, South Carolina. Soon after that, however, he died on September 16th, 1802.

Words to Live By:
A warm hearted generous Irishman! We may not be identified as Irish, but every reader is to be warm hearted and generous in our relations to our congregation and the neighbors in which we live and move as Christians. Too often we are anything but warm hearted and generous! Try instead Ephesians 5:31, 32 “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

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Princeton [i.e., the College of New Jersey] graduates its first class

The history of early Presbyterian education is substantially the history of Princeton College. When Mr. Tennent died in 1745 his school was closed. Yet such had been its usefulness that the Synod of New York immediately, in 1746, took steps to perpetuate that institution of learning. It was located first at Elizabethtown, New Jersey, and Jonathan Dickinson was its first president. The students, except those of the village, boarded in the family of the president. Dr. Dickinson died shortly, and the school was removed to Newark in order to be placed under the care of Rev. Aaron Burr, so that he might accept the presidency without resigning his pastorate. The first class of six young men graduated November 9, 1748.

In 1753 Rev. Gilbert Tennent and Rev. Samuel Davies were appointed by Synod to visit England and solicit aid for the college. In the face of very great prejudices against them and the theology which they represented, after a year’s canvass in England, Scotland and Ireland, they had secured widespread sympathy and public endorsement of the enterprise. They succeeded, financially, far beyond their expectation. The total sum raised must have approached, if it did not pass beyond, twenty-five thousand dollars.


Words To Live by:

Presbyterians have always sought and promoted an educated, thoroughly trained pastorate. The challenges presented by the world, the flesh and the devil require that much. Moreover, the Gospel ministry is not to be entered into lightly, and deserves our best efforts. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.—Deut. 6:5. If this command is true for believers, how much more so for those who would shepherd the Lord’s people?

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