Parting Words from the Rev. John A. Van Lear
On a grassy knoll in Virginia, surrounded by scenes of surpassing beauty, stands the Mossy Creek Church. The first settled pastor in the region of the Triple Forks, which included Mossy Creek, was the Rev. John Craig, who was born in August of 1709, in Antrim, Ireland.
Some years later, when the church called the Rev. John A. Van Lear in 1837, the church had by that time grown to be an independent, self-sustaining church. Moreover, the Rev. Van Lear proved to be a faithful pastor, and the people grew under his preaching. He was active in the work of Presbytery as well, serving as Stated Clerk for fourteen years. He even oversaw the construction of a new house of worship for the church.
Born in 1797, by the time Rev. Van Lear reached his fifty-second year, his health began to decline. He had spent himself for the sake of the Gospel. On August 14, 1850, just four days before his death, the Rev. John A. Van Lear wrote the following letter to his brethren of Lexington Presbytery:
Dear Brethren:—I have indeed greatly desired that it might be permitted me to meet once more upon earth a body of which I have been for so many years a member, in whose society I have enjoyed so much happiness, and for which I cherish the strongest affection. But such is not the will of God, and I am content. My days are nearly numbered, and my last remove is directly before me. I record it to the praise of the glory of His grace that God ‘hath counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.’ I have loved the work. I have preached, as I believe, in sincerity and truth, His gospel of salvation. I have tried to bring others to a like precious faith. I rejoice that I have been enabled to do this. But this is not the foundation of my hope. I trust in no labor of my hands. I fly to the cross and the covenant. There is my only hope. There I rest my soul, and my heart has peace. This is my testimony.
“It would give me please to send kind messages to you all by name, but I have not strength. I have come down now quite to the banks of the Jordan of death; but He who has passed through it for sinners has met me on this side of its dark waves, and all is well. My flesh and my heart faileth me, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. I leave you, hoping for a happy and eternal reunion in that heaven to which we have pointed so many of our fellow men.
“It is my parting prayer, that our faithful, covenant-keeping God may ever be with you, bless you, keep you in peace and love among one another, and send down His Holy Spirit upon all our churches, and fill the earth with His glory.
“Accept, dear brethren, my final farewell.
“Yours in the gospel of Christ, our Saviour.”
John A. Van Lear.
He died on the 18th of August, four days after writing his farewell words, in great peace of mind. On the 22d of August, at Goshen Church, nestled away among the hills of Highland county, this letter was read. Many were the tears its sweet and loving words called forth. His memory was duly honored by Session and Presbytery, with resolutions of respect well befitting the memory of this good man, who was a model character in all the relations of life.
[Slightly edited from The Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church, by Alfred Nevin (1884), p. 553-554.]
Words to Live By:
There are perhaps no more challenging and appropriate words for pastors than what we find from the pen of the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, withgreat patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
(2 Timothy 4:1-8, NASB)
Preaching upon that same text, the Rev. J. R. Miller observed, “Life is very serious. We are always standing before God who is our Judge. Our commonest days—are judgment days. We should learn to do everything ‘in the presence of God.’ This makes every word and act serious. If only we were more conscious of God and of eternity—we would live better!
Rev. Van Lear’s gravestone is pictured here.
Viewing that photograph of the gravestone, Rev. James T. O’Brien has previously noted that “On the page with his grave marker, we learn that four of his children died within 5 years of his death. One child lived another 31 years. His wife lived 36 years beyond him and buried five of her children. There is no mention of her sixth child. The Lord’s paths are through the sea, who can follow them?”