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The Death of a Saint

finleySA year ago this day, we first wrote of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Finley, who served as President of the College of New Jersey from 1761 until his death in 1766. The following account of Dr. Finley’s death taken, with slight editing, from William Buell Sprague’s Annals of the American Pulpit :—

Dr. Finley’s unremitted application to the duties of his office began, after a while, to perceptibly impair his health, and an obstruction of the liver was induced, which proved beyond the reach of medical skill. when he found himself seriously ill, he went to Philadelphia to avail himself of the prescriptions of the best physicians there; but he seems to have had little apprehension that his disease was to have a fatal issue;—for he remarked to his friends,—”If my work is done, I am ready—I do not desire to live a day longer than I can work for God. But I cannot think this is the case yet. God has much for me to do before I depart hence.”

About a month before he died, Samuel Finley’s physician expressed the opinion that his recovery was hopeless. Upon hearing this, Dr. Finley seemed entirely resigned to the Divine will, and from that time until his death, he was employed in the immediate preparation for his departure. On being told by one of his physicians that, according to present appearances, he could live but a few days more, he lifted up his eyes and exclaimed, “Then welcome, Lord Jesus.”

On the Sabbath preceding his death, he was informed by his brother-in-law, Dr. Clarkson, who was one of his physicians, that there was a decisive change in his condition, indicating that the end was near. “Then,” Finley said, “may the Lord bring me near Himself. I have been waiting with a Canaan hunger for the promised land. I have often wondered that God suffered me to live. I have more wondered that He called me to be a minister of His Word. He has often afforded me much strength, which, though I have often abused, He returned in mercy. O faithful are the promises of God! O that I could see Him as I have seen Him heretofore in his sanctuary! Although I have earnestly desired death, as the hireling pants for the evening shade, yet will I wait all the days of my appointed time. I have often struggled with principalities and powers, and have been brought almost to despair—Lord, let it suffice!”

“I can truly say I have loved the service of God. I know not in what language to speak of my own unworthiness. I have been undutiful; I have honestly endeavoured to act for God, but with much weakness and corruption.” He then lay down and continued to speak in broken sentences.

“A Christian’s death,” said he, “is the best part of his experience. The Lord has made provision for the whole way; provision for the soul and for the body. O that I could recollect Sabbath blessings. Blessed be God, eternal rest is at hand; Eternity is but long enough to enjoy my God. This has animated me in my secret studies; I was ashamed to take rest here. O that I could be filled with the fulness of God,—that fulness that fills heaven.”

Upon awaking the next morning, he exclaimed, “O what a disappointment I have met with—I expected this morning to have been in Heaven!”

In the afternoon of this day, the Rev. Elihu Spencer called to see him, and said,—”I have come, dear Sir, to see you confirm by facts the Gospel you have been preaching; pray, Sir, how do you feel?” To which he replied,—”Full of triumph. I triumph through Christ. Nothing clips my wings, but the thoughts of my dissolution being prolonged. O that it were tonight! My very soul thirsts for eternal rest.”

Mr. Spencer asked him what he saw in eternity to excite such vehement desires. “I see,” said he, “the eternal love and goodness of God; I see the fulness of the Mediator. I see the love of Jesus. O to be dissolved, and to be with Him. I long to be clothed with the complete righteousness of Christ.” He then desired Mr. Spencer to pray with him before they parted, and said,—”I have gained the victory over the devil. Pray to God to preserve me from evil—to keep me from dishonouring His great name in this critical hour, and to support me with His presence in my passage through the valley of the shadow of death.”

He spent the rest of the evening in taking leave of his friends, and in addressing affectionate counsels and exhortations to those of his children who were present. He would frequently cry out,—”Why move the tardy hours so slow?” The next day brought him the release for which he had panted so long. He was no longer able to speak; but a friend having desired him to indicate by a sign whether he still continued to triumph, he lifted his hand, and articulated,—”Yes.” At nine o’clock in the morning, he fell into a profound sleep, in which he continued, without changing his position, till about one, when his spirit gently passed away to its eternal home.

During his whole illness, he manifested the most entire submission to the Divine will, and a full assurance of entering into rest. His death occurred on the 17th of July, 1766, in the fifty-first year of his age. It was the intention of Dr. Finley’s friends to carry his remains to Princeton for burial, but the extreme heat of the weather forbade their doing it, and he was buried by the side of his friend, Gilbert Tennent, in the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

Words to Live By:
Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His godly ones.” (Psalm 116:15, NASB)

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. (Psalm 90:12, KJV)

Lord, teach to number our days, that we may live out our lives in the fear of the Lord. Deliver us from evil; keep us from sin; and may we live each day looking to You for our every need, knowing that You will provide, both in this life, and in the life to come. May the Lord Jesus Christ be our All in all.

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Scientist, Educator, and Inventor.

James Henry Coffin was born in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, on September 6, 1806 and died on February 6, 1873, at the age of sixty-six. Orphaned as a young child, he was educated by his uncle, the Rev. Moses Hallock and later graduated from Amherst College in 1828. Exhibiting an independent, entrepreneurial character, he made a career of teaching and founded a successful manual labor school in Greenfield, MA. In 1837, he became principal of an academy in Ogdensburg, NY, and it was during this time that he began to develop an interest in meteorology, writing treatises on solar and lunar eclipses and on the moon. The Greylock Observatory on Saddle Mountain, at 3500 feet above sea level, was established under his guidance. For use at this observatory. Professor Coffin devised the first self-registering instrument ever constructed for determining the direction, force, velocity, and moisture of the winds. His life’s final work was was the manufacture of an improved instrument for this same purpose, for the National Astronomical Observatory at Buenos Ayres, Argentina.

Then in 1846, he was called as professor of mathematics and astronomy at Lafayette College, where he served for the remaining twenty-six years of his life. His greatest contributions to science culminated in these years. One biographer notes that “During more than thirty years Prof. Coffin was engaged in collecting from all quarters, either in printed documents, or by an extensive correspondence, the data necessary to determine the mean direction of the surface winds in all parts of the Northern Hemisphere, their rate of progress, their relative velocity when blowing from different points of the compass, and the modifications they undergo in all these respect in the various seasons of the year.” It was a meticulous work which ultimately proved to be of great use.

Not long after Professor Coffin died, a bronze tablet was erected in his honor on the campus of Lafayette College, in recognition of his place as one of Lafayette’s most distinguished instructors and as a scientist of world-wide reputation. His associate, Professor Francis A. March, prepared the inscription for the tablet, which in part read:

“He annexed the atmosphere to the realm of science and searched the highways of the winds and the paths of vagrant storms.”

Professor Coffin was for many years a ruling elder in the Brainerd Presbyterian Church in Easton, PA. Alfred Nevin’s Presbyterian Encyclopedia reports that Coffin “united with the Church at an early age, and lived a sincere and devout Christian. He was fitted for his work as an educator and an investigator by the best gifts of heart and head. A man of clear, strong and candid mind, of scrupulous integrity of character, of conscientious regard for accuracy, and above all, a lover of truth for its own sake.”

Words to Live By:
James H. Coffin exhibited in his life a love for his fellow man and a consistent Christian character. Taking the gifts and abilities that God gave him, he faithfully sought to serve both God and man. Every honorable calling in life can glorify God. As Martin Luther taught, “in making shoes, the cobbler serves God just as much as the preacher of the Word.” Regardless of your calling in life, seek to serve and honor the Lord in all your ways.

For Further Study:
Click here to read as archival assistant Caitlin Lowery writes of her experience processing some of the records compiled by Professor Coffin.
The James Henry Coffin Papers are preserved at Lafayette College. To learn more about that collection, click here.

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