Samuel James Allen was a big strapping kid, and a natural at sports. Born on March 23 in 1899 to parents George and Margaret Allen, Sam grew to excel at football, as well as baseball and basketball. Sam’s parents were immigrants from Ireland, and getting started in America wasn’t easy. Life was tough and it got even harder when his mother died, when he was not yet five years old. World War I and service in the Marines delayed his education, but he managed to complete high school after the war, and by God’s grace was able to enter Princeton Seminary in 1927. Those were troubling years at Princeton, and Sam was one of a small group of Princeton students who followed Dr. J. Gresham Machen over to the newly formed Westminster Theological Seminary in the fall of 1929.
Sam graduated from Westminster in 1930 and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. In his years at Princeton and Westminster, Sam had developed a good friendship with Dr. Machen, and so it was only natural that he would ask him to preach at his ordination service. The service took place at Sam’s home church, Hope Presbyterian, in South Philadelphia, on May 18th. Dr. Machen took 1 Peter 5:2-4 as his text, and began by reading the Scripture:
2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock.
4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (KJV)
In a biography that Sam’s daughter has written [see details below], she relates that when Machen had read those verses, he looked at Sam and said, “Today, Samuel Allen is called to the holy office of the Ministry of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let us receive him in love as we present him before God in prayer.” After praying for how the Lord would use Sam in coming years, Dr. Machen preached on why every Christian must strive to live every day to the glory of God, and how God makes that goal possible, by His grace and through prayer.
Less than a month later, Sam was married to his sweetheart Mildred at Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia, and the young couple prepared to move to Sam’s first pastoral calling, in Jordan, Montana. Rev. Allen served there until late in 1931, when he answered another call to serve a yoked pastorate at the PCUSA churches in Carson, Leith, and Lark, North Dakota. Greater challenges lay ahead.
In the summer of 1936, Rev. Allen became one of the founding members of the Presbyterian Church of America. Taking a stand for the truths of Scripture meant sacrificing the earthly trappings of property in order to hold on to the spiritual legacy of orthodoxy. Rev. Allen led the majority of his congregations in forming new PCofA congregations.
And aiding the effort, his friend Dr. J. Gresham Machen was glad to accept Sam’s invitation to come to the Dakotas to speak. Dr. Machen already was not well as he departed on the train for North Dakota late that December. He already evidenced a bad cough earlier in the month, something which Allan MacRae had noticed as Dr. Machen spoke on his radio program.
And so it wasn’t surprising then that Machen developed further problems with the stress of travel and the many speaking engagements. Machen’s illness progressed into lobar pneumonia and he died on January 1, 1937. His friend Sam Allen was there with him throughout the ordeal.
Rev. Allen left the Dakotas in 1940 to pastor the Gethsemane Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Then in 1948, he moved south and took a church in Port St. Joe, Florida, transferring his credentials to the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern Presbyterian). His last several churches were in Selma, Alabama, where he was pastor of Vine Hill, Memorial, and finally Woodland Heights, in 1954. The Rev. Samuel James Allen entered his eternal rest on November 30, 1954, at the age of 55, having suffered a heart attack the previous day.
Words to Live By:
One of the mottos that Sam Allen lived by was “One thing at a time.” In these days of multi-tasking, Sam’s rule is still a good one to practice, for I think it implies a trust in God’s sovereign control of all things. If we were to try to put that roughly in terms of Scripture, consider these several verses:
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15, 16, NASB).
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6, NASB).
“Trust in the LORD, and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” (Ps. 37:3, KJV)
For Further Study:
One of the delights of preparing today’s post was the discovery of Becky Allen Martin’s biography of her father, titled A Promise Kept: The Life and Ministry of Rev. Sam Allen. You can find out more about the book and how to order it, here.