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Henry Jackson Van Dyke, Sr., was born in Abington, Pennsylvania, 2 March 1822. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating there in 1843 and later graduating from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1846. He was ordained by the Third Presbytery of Philadelphia in June of 1845 and installed as pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church at Bridgeton, New Jersey, where he served from 1845-1852. He was next called to pastor the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown, PA, but only served there briefly, 1852-1853. His his final and longest pastorate was at the First Presbyterian Church (Later renamed the Second Presbyterian Church, following a merger) of Brooklyn, New York, 1853-1891. He died in Brooklyn on 25 May 1891. Honors conferred during his life included the Doctor of Divinity degree, awarded by Westminster College of Fulton, Missouri, 1865. In 1876, he served as Moderator of the 88th General Assembly of the PCUSA, as it met in Brooklyn, NY, just seven years after the reunion of the Old School and New School divisions of that denomination. Rev. Van Dyke was survived by his wife, Henrietta Ashmead Van Dyke [1820-1893]. Their marriage produced two sons, Henry Jackson Van Dyke, Jr. [1852-1933], who later became a noted author and poet; and Paul Van Dyke [1859-1933]. Paul was a Presbyterian minister at Geneva, NY, 1887–89, and then taught church history at Princeton Theological Seminary, 1889–92.

The Special Collections Department at Princeton University houses the Van Dyke Family collection, which include materials by Henry Jackson Van Dyke, Sr.  His papers include manuscripts of sermons (1844-1891), essays, speeches, Bible lessons, and theological notes. The correspondence subseries contains many letters to Van Dyke from clergymen, parishioners, friends, and family, often regarding the controversy caused by his publication of The Character and Influence of Abolitionism, the Reunion movement in the Church, and matters of the General Assembly. Men such as N. C. Burt, Howard Crosby, Cyrus Dickson, William H. Green, James O. Murray, E. D. Prime, and Nathaniel West are representative of Van Dyke’s correspondents. Searches on the Web tend almost entirely to only produce results dealing with his son, a well known author and poet of his era, who was theologically a moderate liberal. The question occurs of course, did the father’s errors push the son to react with yet more error. Would that both had instead listened to Rev. Sloane (see below) and repented of their sins.

It was on this day. December 9, 1860, that Rev. Henry J. Van Dyke delivered his discourse on “The Character and Influence of Abolitionism.”

He set forth four main points in his argument to undermine the abolitionist cause:

“Abolitionism has no foundation in the Scriptures.
Its principles have been promulgated by misrepresentation and abuse.
It leads, in multitudes of cases, and by a logical process, to utter infidelity.
It is the chief cause of the strife that agitates and the danger that threatens our country.”

Read Van Dyke’s discourse online here (HathiTrust) – http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009565957
or download here (Archives.org) – https://archive.org/details/characterinfluen07vand.
That work and some of his other works can also be found on a page set up under his name, over at the Log College Press web site

By all means then you must also read the review written by James Renwick Willson Sloane [1823-1886], a Reformed Presbyterian pastor and contemporary of Rev. Van Dyke. See the link below, or again, visit the page listing Rev. Sloane’s works, at the Log College Press.

Review of Rev. Henry J. Van Dyke’s discourse on “The character and influence of abolitionism,” a sermon preached in the Third Reformed Presbyterian Church, Twenty-third Street, New York, on Sabbath evening, December 23, 1860

Please be aware there is also an uplifting biography of Rev. Sloane that you should read, for he was a stalwart defender of Scriptural truth even in the face of determined opposition.

Life and work of J. R. W. Sloane, D. D., professor of theology in the Reformed Presbyterian seminary at Allegheny City, Penn. 1868-1886 and pastor of the Third Reformed Presbyterian church, New York, 1856-1868

Words to Live By:
Rev. Sloane was quite right to call out Henry Van Dyke for the error of what he was teaching. Apparently it is all too easy to get caught up in the prevailing culture and even Christians can be found living without a Biblical discernment on some matters. May our Lord give us discernment and conviction to repent of the sins of our time and culture. Better still, to mourn over the sins of our times. It is easy to condemn the sins of an earlier time; what are we doing to oppose the sins of today?

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Off to School with Ye!

It was on this day, August 18th, in 1841, that an Address was delivered by the Rev. Dr. John W. Yeomans, on the occasion of the his Inauguration as President of Lafayette College, in Easton, Pennsylvania.

John William Yeomans, D. D., was born in Hinsdale, Massachusetts, on the 7th of January, 1800.  When quite young he served some time as an apprentice, but soon turned his attention to study and commenced his preparation for college under the direction of the Rev. Dr. Cummings, of Albany, N. Y.  After the short space of a year and a half spent in preparatory study, he entered the junior class of Williams College, Mass. He graduated in 1824 with the second honor in his class, Mark Hopkins (who later served as President of that school), taking the first honors. For two years Yeomans was Tutor in the college, after which he studied theology in the Seminary at Andover, Mass.

His first pastoral charge was at North Adams, Massachusetts, where he remained from November, 1828, till the spring of 1832, when he became pastor of the First Congregational Church of Pittsfield, Mass.  In the spring of 1834 he was called to the First Presbyterian Church of Trenton, N. J., as successor to the Rev Dr. James W. Alexander.  In the spring of 1841 he accepted the Presidency of Lafayette College, remaining there until the early part of 1845, when he became pastor of the Mahoning Church, in Danville, PA, where he continued in the discharge of his ministerial duties until his death, June 22, 1862.  Dr. Yeomans was a deep thinker and a vigorous and able writer.  He was regarded as one of the leading theologians in the Presbyterian Church, and as a metaphysician, he had probably but few equals among his brethren.  The degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him by three different colleges at the same time—the College of New Jersey, Williams College and Miami University.  In 1860 he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly.

Talk about a guy you never heard of! Accorded such accolades, and yet today few if any know of him.

Words to Live By: 
Do the work the Lord has given you. Do it faithfully, to the best of your ability and as unto the Lord. And if you have yet to find your place in life, be faithful in seeking the Lord and His will. History will most likely not remember many of us, but that is not is what is important in this life. What is important is to first take Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Be sure to be found in Him. And then be faithful in doing all His holy will, wherever you are in this life. All else is secondary.

Image source : Engraved portrait as found facing page 36 of the 1861 edition of The Presbyterian Historical Almanac and Annual Remembrancer of the Church, edited by Joseph M. Wilson.

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Old Mortality: Robert Patterson [ca. 1713-1801]

The purpose of this blog is to remind us of those saints who have gone before, and to recall something of our common history as Presbyterians, for regardless of our denomination, we are all connected, one with another. We learn from one another, are encouraged by one another, and are reminded to pray for one another.

dewittWmRAnd so it seemed very fitting when I stumbled across the content chosen for today’s post. Our entry for the day was to focus on the Rev. William Radcliffe DeWitt, (pictured in the photo at the right), who was born on this day, February 25, 1792, and who was for forty years the pastor of the English Presbyterian Church of Harrisburg, PA. Looking for more about his ministry, I was pleased to find among our church history collection a copy of The Centennial Memorial of the English Presbyterian Church, 1794-1894, with a section on DeWitt’s ministry at that church. That in turn led to the serendipitous discovery of the following poignant words which serve as the opening paragraphs for the chapter on that church’s history:

Now go write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come forever and ever.”–Isaiah 30:6.

“Walter Scott has very touchingly told us of Old Mortality, a religious itinerant of his times. He was first discovered in the burial ground of the Parish of Gaudercleugh. It was his custom to pass from one graveyard to another, and with the patient chisel of the engraver clear away the moss from the grey tombstones, and restore the names and the lines that Time’s finger had well nigh effaced. It mattered little to him whether it was the headstone of some early martyr to the faith, or only love’s memorial to some little child. It was his joy to do the quiet and unbidden work of bringing again to the notice of men the history and the heroism of some of God’s nobility of whom the world was not worthy, nor less to honor the unknown ones who were laid to rest with unseen tears.

abeel_graveOur work to-day bears something of the same character. Like Old Mortality, we step softly and reverently among the graves of the past. Chisel in hand we pass from memory to memory. We clear away the gathered moss. We refurnish the ancient stones and read again the names of the departed, dropping here and there a tear as precious memories are awakened, and reminding ourselves anew of a fellowship that is only interrupted for a little time. The past is ours. We are its heirs. Its good comes down to us in an apostolic succession of benedictions. The links that bind us to past days and years are golden links. It is one of the choicest gifts of grace, that we may at the same time live three lives in one. Past memories and present experiences and future hopes do blend to make human life noble and attractive. Our holy faith commemorates the past, gladdens the present and brightens the future.”

[excerpted from “A Century Plant,” by Rev. Thomas A. Robinson, in The Centennial Memorial of the English Presbyterian Congregation of Harrisburg, PA, 1794-1894,George B. Stewart, editor. Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1894, pp. 192-193. This book is available on the Internet, here.

And as it turns out, there was a real person behind the Walter Scott’s character of Old Mortality.

oldMortality_lg“Robert Patterson was born circa 1713 on the farm of Haggis Ha, in the parish of Hawick and as a married man moved to the village of Balmaclellan. A stonemason by trade and owner of a small quarry, he spent most of his life touring the lowlands of Scotland visiting and maintaining Covenanter grave sites. His method of cutting or incising letters and the ability to get so much into a limited space makes his work very distinctive. He gained some fame as ‘Old Mortality,’ the character in the book of the same name by Sir Walter Scott.”

To read more of that account, click here.

Words to Live By: Perhaps it is by divine design, but no monument lasts forever. Our worship is not for the saints or for their graves, but for the Lord of glory, whose love moved their hearts to serve Him. We remember them because of their testimony to the truth of the Gospel.

“And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.’ ”
[Exodus 13:14, NASB]

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It has been my experience that there are just a few men who, when spoken of, are remembered with the utmost respect and veneration. Dr. Harold Samuel Laird was one such man. In 1987, Dr. Paul R. Gilchrist, who was at that time serving as the Stated Clerk of the PCA, wrote the following memorial upon the death of the Dr. Laird. Dr. Gilchrist’s final summary comments are particularly in keeping with every estimation that I have heard of Harold Samuel Laird over the years. 

In Memoriam: Harold Samuel Laird

lairdhsby Paul R. Gilchrist.

Dr. Harold S. Laird quietly went home to be with the Lord on August 25 at Quarryville Presbyterian Home, PA, at the age of 96. He was one of those valiant Presbyterians who stood for “the faith once delivered to the saints.” With J. Gresham Machen and others, he was tried by his presbytery in the liberal UPUSA (Northern Presbyterians) for dis­obeying the General Assembly mandate to disband the Independent Board for Pres­byterian Foreign Missions which they had established in 1934 for the proclamation of the Gospel. Dr. Laird also had been a founder of Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929. When the General Assembly of 1936 upheld the convictions of Machen, Laird, and five others, they banded together and formed the Presbyterian Church of America (later renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church).

Harold S. Laird was born on August 8, 1891, in New Castle, PA. He studied under the giants of the faith at Princeton Theological Seminary: Robert Dick Wilson, B. B. Warfield, C. W. Hodge, and J. G. Machen. He received the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Wheaton College in 1938. In 1965 he was elected moderator of the 142nd Genera! Synod of the Reformed Pres­byterian Church in North America, General Synod which merged with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church that year to form the RPC,ES (which joined the PCA in 1982).

Harold Samuel LairdDr. Laird was best known as an outstanding preacher of the Gospel, a loving and tender pastor, and a contender for the faith. He was always vitally interested in world missions and the theological education of pastors and missionaries. He served seven churches in the Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia area for 40 years.

It can truly be said of him that he walked with God. All who heard him pray came into the presence of God. His life verse — “Seek first the kingdom of God and His right­eousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33) — was evident through his godly spirit. Through all his tri­als, he ever remained content in the provi­dence of God. To the very end, his cheerful countenance was a blessing and inspiration to all.

We salute this valiant servant for the faith — as he moves from the church militant to the blessedness of the church victorious.

Life Chronology:
8 August 1891 – Birth
1914 – Graduation from Lafayette College, with the B.A. degree
1917 – Graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary
1917-1919 – Pastor of the Arlington Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, Maryland
1919-1924 – Pastor, Henry Memorial Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA
1924-1927 – Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Lewiston, PA
1927-1933 – Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Collingswood, NJ
1933-1936 – Pastor, First & Central Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, DE
1936-1957 – Pastor, Faith Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, DE
Honorably retired
1982 – Ministerial credentials transferred into the PCA
25 August 1987 – deceased. Dr. Laird was a member of the Susquehanna Valley Presbytery (PCA) at the time of his death.
Honors awarded Dr. Laird during his lifetime included:
1938 – Doctor of Divinity degree awarded by Wheaton College
1965 – Moderator of the 142nd General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America

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Author of an Old Classic

Nathaniel Smyth McFetridge was born in Ireland, 4 August 1842. His parents immigrated to the United States while he was still a child and Nathaniel was raised in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania. His formal education began at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. While attending there, he won the school’s Fowler Prize for an essay on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. McFetridge graduated from Lafayette in 1864, shortly before the inauguration of the Rev. William C. Cattell as president of Lafayette.

McFetridge began his studies for the ministry at Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, where he studied under the renowned Archibald A. Hodge. McFetridge graduated from Western in 1867 and was ordained into the ministry by the Presbytery of Erie (PCUSA), being installed in 1868 as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Oil City, PA. That church had been organized in 1861 with twelve members and two ruling elders. His predecessor, the Rev. W.P. Moore, had served the Oil City congregation as stated supply since 1863.

Whatever the cause, a major loss of membership in the Oil City congregation—between 1865 in 1872 and dropping to the 151 members reported in 1873—may have been what prompted his relocation to the Wakefield Presbyterian Church of Germantown, PA in 1874. Transferring his credentials, Rev. McFetridge was received by the Presbytery of Philadelphia, North and served as the first pastor of the Wakefield congregation, from 1874 until 1885. It is interesting to note that the congregation began as the Wakefield Sunday-school, located in Fisher’s Hollow, PA. This Sunday-school was organized in 1856 by Quakers (Society of Friends, Orthodox), and was constituted in part by members of the Fisher family who had immigrated from Wakefield, England. Active participation in the school by Philadelphia-area Presbyterians eventually overtook the more subdued methods of the Quakers, and by 1873 the decision was made to establish a Presbyterian congregation. With the assistance of three other Presbyterian churches in Germantown, a site was secured and almost the entire membership of the School, faculty and students alike, joined in the organization of a new Wakefield Presbyterian Sunday-school. It was this group that then formed on 4 May 1874 the new congregation that occupied the chapel erected on Main Street below Fisher’s Lane. Under Rev. McFetridge’s leadership, the church grew from 22 members to over 200 members at the time of his departure.

It was also during the Wakefield pastorate that Rev. McFetridge delivered the six lectures from which he later gathered the text of Calvinism in History. Published in 1882, it predates Abraham Kuyper’s more widely known Stone Lectures for 1898, which were published under the title Lectures on Calvinism. It might be an interesting exercise to compare the two works, though at the start, Kuyper’s treatment is immediately seen as more scholarly and profound, whereas McFetridge aimed his work at the average person in the pew.

Rev. McFetridge was noted in the 1885 Minutes of General Assembly (PCUSA) as without charge, but the circumstances of his leaving the Wakefield church are now lost to history. By 1886 he had relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota, was received by the Presbytery of St. Paul, and is noted as laboring as a professor. He may also have been employed by Macalester College, which opened in 1885 with five professors on its staff. Rev. McFetridge was residing in St. Paul at the time of his death on 3 December 1886, at the age of 44.

Noted honors included the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree, and in 1878 he brought the Annual Sermon before the Brainerd Evangelical Society of Lafayette College. The Brainerd Society was named in honor of David Brainerd, and was Layfayette’s first student-led Christian organization. The Society was founded in 1833 and was in existence until 1956, making it the longest running student organization on that campus. The year before Rev. McFetridge spoke, the Brainerd Society had come into affiliation with the Young Men’s Christian Association. Other speakers before the Brainerd Society included Matthew Allison in 1854, James W. Dale in 1862 and Thomas Hasting Robinson in 1867.

The Minutes of the Wakefield Presbyterian Church of Germantown, PA are preserved at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, PA and these encompass the years of Rev. McFetridge’s pastorate, 1874-1885.

Words to Live By:
There is nothing which so constantly controls the mind of a man, and so intensely affects his character, as the views which he entertains of the Deity. These take up their abode in the inmost sanctuary of the heart, and give tone to all its powers and coloring to all its actions. Whatever the forms and activities of the outward life, as a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Men do, undoubtedly, liken God, in a measure, to themselves, and transfer to him somewhat of their own passions and predominating moral qualities, and determine the choice of their religion by the prevailing sentiments of their hearts and the habits in which they have been trained; but it is also true that their conceptions of God have a controlling influence in forming their character and regulating their conduct. The unfaithful servant in the parable of the Talents gave as the reason for his idleness his conception of the master as a hard and exacting man. He shaped his conduct not by what the master was, but by what he believed him to be. And if that divine parable have a worldwide application, it discloses the secret spring of a man’s life in the conceptions which he has of God. As these are true or false, so his character and life will be. “As long as we look upon God as an exactor, not a giver, exactors, and not givers, shall we be.” “All the value of service rendered,” says Dr. Arnot, “by intellectual and moral beings depends on the thoughts of God which they entertain.” Hence no sincerity of purpose and no intensity of zeal can atone for a false creed or save a man from the fatal consequences of wrong principles.” [—Opening paragraph of Calvinism in History.]

The Writings of Nathaniel Smyth McFetridge—
1864
An essay on the Prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury tales (s.l. : s.n., 1864), 16pp.; 22cm. [This was McFetridge’s winning submission for the Fowler Prize at Lafayette, and so it is likely that it was published in Easton, PA by the College. Copies have been located at the New York Public Library; Lafayette College and Brown University]

1879
Memorial sermon : preached in the Wakefield Presbyterian Church, Germantown, July 13, 1879. (Philadelphia : Press of Burk & M’Fetridge, 1879), 17pp. [Sermon in commemoration of William Adamson. Copies of the sermon have been located at Emory University’s Pitts Theological Library; Lafayette College; and the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia]

1882
Calvinism in History (Philadelphia : Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1882), 157pp.
Reprints include, among others:
1. (Philadelphia : Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-school Work, 1912, © 1882), 157pp.
2. (Edmonton, AB, Canada : Still Water Revival Books, 1882; rpt 1989), xi, 120pp.
3. Available at the Internet Archive, in multiple formats, here: https://archive.org/details/calvinisminhisto00mcfe
Louis F. De Boer reviewed Calvinism in History some years ago, but found the work deficient. He concludes his review:

“. . .the book remained, for me at least, a disappointment. The book references such inspired writing on the subject as Daubigne’s histories of the Reformation and Motley’s histories of the Dutch republic, but its own insipid prose fails to rise to their level, and stir the reader with what God hath wrought in history through the faith of the Calvinists. Unfortunately, most people will never take the time to read the lengthy works noted above. Which leaves me with the conclusion, that a short book (this one consists of 113 pages) that does justice to the subject is just waiting to be either written or reprinted. Hopefully, that challenge will be taken up in the near future by someone who is saddened by the abysmal ignorance of this generation of the theological foundations for their liberties, prosperity, and indeed for all that they have historically held dear.”

Which then raises the question whether Darryl Hart’s very recent work, Calvinism: A History, might not be the treatment that has successfully taken up that challenge? To read Louis F. DeBoer’s review of this work, click here.

1883
Thompson, Robert Ellis and Nathaniel S. McFetridge, The dear man of God : Doctor Martin Luther of blessed memory. 1483-1883 ; proceedings at the observance of the fourth centenary of his birth, in the Presbyterian Church of Abington in Pennsylvania ; with a memorial discourse (Philadelphia : s.n., 1883), 43pp. [the latter memorial discourse is by N.S. McFetridge; copies located at the Yale University Library; New York Historical Society; Lafayette College; Lutheran Theological Seminary; and the Presbyterian Historical Society]

Sources—

Coffin, Selden J., Record of the Men of Lafayette (Easton, PA : Skinner & Finch, Printers, 1879), pg. 66.

Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.,(New York: Presbyterian Board of Publications, individual volumes for the years 1872 – 1887).

White, William P., The Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia (Philadelphia : Allen, Lane & Scott, 1895), pg. 151.

Other sources to consult—

Program of exercises held in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of organization of the First Presbyterian Church of Oil City, Pennsylvania (Oil City, PA : Semi-Centennial Committee of the First Presbyterian Church, 1912), 31pp. [copies held by the Presbyterian Historical Society (Philadelphia), and the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Reeves, Francis B., A Brief Sketch of Wakefield Presbyterian Church and Sunday School, Germantown Avenue below Fisher’s Lane, Philadelphia, 1856-1910. 

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