John Hughes

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The 100th General Assembly of the PCUSA was notable as the first time in which the disrupted Church, North and South, met fraternally. The Southern Presbyterian Church, while meeting in Assembly in Baltimore, came to meet with the Northern Presbyterians during their Assembly in Philadelphia. Discusssions of a permanent reunion were on the table, but nothing came of it. News of that event, as reported in a denominational magazine of the day, follows:


The great Presbyterian Congress—its General Assembly—begins its sessions in Philadelphia to-day. As our Philadelphia dispatches showed yesterday, it is a body notable for the number of distinguished divines and laymen who are to lead its deliberations. Of the 500 delegates in attendance a large majority are prominent in the States from which they come, and there are scores of men who are known and honored all over the country, while some of them are recognized by Protestants the world over, as leaders of the religious thought and action of the age.

The great gathering suggests more than ecclesiastical or denominational considerations and reminiscences. It reminds intelligent students of the history of this country of the intimate relations between Presbyterianism in its various forms with the history of the struggles for religious and political freedom, in the old world and in the new. It was the love of freedom of the Presbyterians in Great Britain that brought on them the persecutions and trials that drove here hundreds of thousands of Presbyterians, who became the staunchest and most intelligent supporters of American independence. The same causes gave to the American colonies the splendid qualities for citizenship that were possessed by the exiled Huguenots and by the Dutch Presbyterians. It was a natural and most vitally important result that during the whole period of the Revolutionary war the Presbyterian churches were unanimously for American independence and furnished a large proportion of the ablest civil and military leaders who conducted the war and founded the Union.

One of the most notable  concessions as to the harmony between Presbyterianism and our peculiar form of government was made by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, John Hughes, when he wrote these words:

“Though it is my privilege to regard the authority exercised by the General Assembly as usurpation, still I must say with every man acquainted with the mode in which it is organized, that for the purpose of popular and political government, its organization is little inferior to that of Congress itself. It acts on the principle of a radiating centre, and is without equal or rival among the other denominations of the country.”

[excerpted from The Church at Work, 2.34 (31 May 1888): 3.]

President Grover Cleveland’s Address to the Members of the General Assemblies.
[The Church at Work, 2.34 (31 May 1888): 4]

I am very much gratified by the opportunity here afforded me to meet the representatives of the Presbyterian Church. Surely, a man never should lose his interest in the welfare of the church in which he was reared. Those of us who inherit fealty to our church as I do, begin early to learn those things which make us Presbyterians all the days of our lives, and thus it is that the rigors of our early teaching, by which we are grounded, in our lasting allegiance, are especially vivid, and perhaps, the best remembered. The attendance upon church service three times each Sunday, and upon Sabbath school during the noon intermission, may be irksome enough to a boy of ten or twelve years of age to be well fixed in his memory, but I have never known a man who regretted these things in the years of his maturity. The Shorter Catechism, though thoroughly studied and learned, was not, perhaps, at the time, perfectly understood, and yet in the stern labors and duties of after life those are not apt to be the worst citizens who were taught “What is the chief end of man.”

Speaking of these things, and in the presence of those here assembled, I may say the most tender thoughts crowd upon my mind—all connected with Presbyterianism, and its teachings. There are present with me now memories of a kind and affectionate father, consecrated to the cause and called to his rest and his reward, in the mid-day of his usefulness; a sacred recollection of the prayers and pious love of a sainted mother, and a family circle hallowed and sanctified by the spirit of Presbyterianism. I cannot but express the wish and the hope that the Presbyterian church will always be at the front in every movement which promises the temporal as well as the spiritual advancement of mankind.

In the turmoil and bustle of every day life few men are foolish enough to ignore the practical value to our people and our country of the church organization established among us, and the advantage of Christian example and teaching. While we may be pardoned for insisting that our denomination is the best, we may, I think, safely concede much that is good to all other churches that seek to make men better.

I am here to greet the delegates of two General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church. One is called “North” and the other “South.” The subject is too deep and intricate for me, but I cannot help wondering why this should be. These words, so far as they denote separation and estrangement, should be obsolete. In the councils of the Nation and in the business of the country they no longer mean reproach and antagonism. Even the soldiers who fought for the “North” and for the “South” are restored to fraternity and unity. This fraternity and unity is taught and enjoined by our church. When she shall herself be united, with all the added strength and usefulness, then harmony and union ensue.

Words to Live By:
How the mighty have fallen. How some have departed over these many years from the clear proclamation of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. We take no pride in making such an observation. If anything, we should be immensely humbled, knowing our own sinful hearts. Indeed, we should fear the Lord and daily strive to draw near to Him. May the Lord by His Holy Spirit bring repentance. May He revive His Church in these latter days.

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.—I Corinthians 10:12, NASB.

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breckinridgeJohnLord, Give Us Giants!

He was one of those men whom you wish had written more. His son, R. J. Breckinridge, was a prolific writer, but John only left us a handful of published works. John Breckinridge was born in Cabell’s Dale, near Lexington, Kentucky, July 4, 1797. John’s father, the Honorable John Breckinridge, had served as Attorney General during the Jefferson administration, but died when John was only nine years old.

Raised by his widowed mother and an older brother, John attended the College of New Jersey, graduating in 1818, but decided against the legal profession in order to prepare for the ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, attending there from 1819-22. Upon graduation, he was appointed to serve as chaplain in the U.S. Congress, 1822-23, and following that term, was then ordained by the Presbytery of West Lexington on September 10, 1823 and installed as pastor of the Second (McChord) Church in Lexington, Kentucky. This church he served until called in 1826 by the Second Presbyterian Church, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Leaving the pulpit ministry, Rev. Breckinridge served from 1831 to 1836 as Corresponding Secretary for the Board of Education of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  From 1836 to 1838, he was Professor of Pastoral Theology and Missionary Instruction at the Princeton Theological Seminary. His wife, Margaret, was the daughter of Dr. Samuel Miller, and she died in 1838. Perhaps her death prompted his resignation from the Princeton faculty, nor did John survive her by many years.  His last significant service was as Secretary and General Agent for the PCUSA Board of Foreign Missions, from 1838 to 1840. Leaving that post, he served only briefly as stated supply for a church in New Orleans, Louisiana before declining health forced his retirement, and he died on the same spot where he had been born, in Cabell’s Dale, Kentucky, on August 4, 1841, at the age of forty-four. One of the last things that he said before his death was—”I am a poor sinner who have worked hard, and had constantly before my mind one great object—the conversion of the world.”

During Rev. Breckinridge’s years with the Board of Education, he oversaw the publication of a series of Annuals, volumes comprised of collected essays. These volumes appear to be quite rare and the PCA Historical Center was blessed to locate a copy of the fourth volume, published in 1835. The full title of this work isThe Annual of the Board of Education of the Presbyterian Church in the United States: A New Year’s Offering for 1835.

Rev. Breckinridge writes a brief introduction for this volume, the larger portion of which follows [emphasis added]:—


. . . In the present crisis of all things, human and divine, it is unspeakably important for American youth to know what heaven and earth expect from them. Candidates for such an office, in such an age, and such a country, can no longer be ordinary men. The position is one full of peril to themselves, and of calamity to the church and world,—if not occupied to the entire measure of its advantages and its distinction. The very highest attainments in piety, are now absolutely indispensable. He, who aims below this standing, cannot be a Christian in any age; but in this great conjecture, no man is fit to be minister who does not reach it.

It has often been said, this is an age of action. Those who are already in the field, and will not be efficient, must die off in their fearful lethargy. But to bring new sluggards into the ministry, and especially to put the treasure of the church in requisition, in order to do it, were indeed the gratuity of sin and folly,—”the superfluity of naughtiness.” “He that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame.” The harvest of the earth is ripe; and its boundless fields wave before us, and call on us to thrust in the sickle and reap. We must have more enterprise, more self-devotion, more of the foreign missionary spirit, or our Boards of Education will sink into contempt. Unless our young men awake, and arise to the greatness of their destiny and office, the world will outrun the church in enterprise, intrepidity, and public spirit. The church is now passing into the relation of great institutions and little men. May the days of men, yea, of giants, in God’s service, revisit the earth in your consecrated persons! Let it not be our shame, and the world’s affliction, that we have contributed to bring you into the sacred office.

With mingled hope, and fears, and with many supplications, and tears, and labors for you, I am your friend and fellow-servant,


Philadelphia, Nov. 20th, 1834.

PUBLISHED WORKS BY THE REV. JOHN BRECKINRIDGE (with links to digital editions):—

“Introductory address” to Volume 1 (1832) of the series, The Annual of the Board of Education of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

An address, delivered July 15, 1835, before the Eucleian and Philomathean societies of the University of the city of New York (1836).

Controversy between the Rev. John Hughes, of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Rev. John Breckinridge, of the Presbyterian Church : relative to the existing differences in the Roman Catholic and Protestant religions (1833).

Also authored by John Hughes [1797-1864], and John Breckinridge:—

A discussion of the question, Is the Roman Catholic religion, in any or in all its principles or doctrines, inimical to civil or religious liberty? And of the question, Is the Presbyterian religion, in any or in all its principles or doctrines, inimical to civil or religious liberty? (1836).


A Memorial of Mrs. Margaret Breckinridge (1839) – by Archibald Alexander.



[emphasis added]

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