Richard Stockton

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Injurious to Your Health

It was downright unhealthy to be the president of the College of New Jersey (today’s Princeton University) in the opening years of that educational institution.  In the first nine years of its existence, five presidents were installed and five presidents were on the short list to heaven!  That fifth president was Samuel Finley.

Born in Scotland in 1715, Samuel Finley came over to the colonies at age nineteen. He studied theology at the celebrated Log College under the Tennents, was ordained into the New Brunswick Presbytery as a revivalist preacher.  He was clearly a New Side Presbyterian.

Assigned first to a brand new Presbyterian church in Mitford, Connecticut, he discovered that the governor of Connecticut really did not want him, or for that matter, the Presbyterian Church.  He was escorted, or should I say, expelled from the colony.  It is clear from his later ministry that this was all due to the providence of God.

For the next seventeen years, he was the pastor of Nottingham, Maryland.  Receiving  accolades as the best training academy in the middle colonies, West Nottingham Academy soon became the school to attend.  With a standard of great scholarship, two signers of the Declaration of Independence — Benjamin Rush and Richard Stockton — studied under Samuel Finley there.

Finally, in 1761, as a member of the original board of trustees, Samuel Finley was chosen to be president of the College of New Jersey.  It was a time for numerical growth and spiritual growth for the college.  In fact, a revival broke out during the second year of Finley’s presidency.  It was said of Samuel Finley that he was a very accurate scholar and a very great and good man.  His preaching was “calculated to inform the ignorant, alarm the careless and secure, and edify and comfort the faithful.”  The students loved him and respected his scholarship.

A favorite expression before he died on July 17, 1766, is just as true now as it was then. Samuel Finley said constantly, “the Lord Jesus will take care of His cause in the world.”

Words to Live By: 
By no means are we to be lazy because the Lord will take care of his cause in the world.  We are told in Scripture to take advantage of every opportunity, because we live in evil days.  But there is comfort to know that the Lord is in control of His church, and His cause.  Let that be our thought as we go through this week.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

He was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ

The pronoun in our title refers to Richard Stockton, who was born October 1, 1730 near Princeton, New Jersey.  His father was a judge, and so there was no doubt that Richard would receive an education fitting of a man of his father’s stature.

His first training was in the Academy of the Rev. Samuel Finley, who was a Presbyterian minister.  Samuel Finley was later on a president of the College of New Jersey.  For two years, young Richard Stockton learned everything there was to know from this biblical classical education.  Transferring in his teen years to the College of New Jersey, he would graduate from there with honors at age 16 in 1748.

Marrying the sister of Elias Boudnot, the latter being the President of the Trustees for the General Assembly in the U.S.A., they couple had 6 children.  Richard Stockton was admitted to the bar in 1754 and immediately began to practice the law profession with success.

He didn’t let his saving faith to be lost however of his chosen profession.  Believing there was the need for a new church in Princeton, New Jersey, he personally gave one acre of land which was added to other acres, and Princeton Presbyterian Church was raised up as a church.  Besides being a member there and a trustee, he became a ruling elder of the church governing board.

When the Revolution came, he was not a hard-and-fast patriot calling for immediate separation.  Even as a member of the Second Continental Congress,  he first proposed  freedom for the colonies which continued their subjection to the Crown.  When that was turned down, he became the first one from New Jersey to sign the Declaration of Independence.

With that signing of this declaration for freedom, he was arrested by loyalist and sent for five months to a prison ship.  Cruelly treated, he was released five months later.  He never fully recovered from this inhuman treatment at the hands of the British.  Indeed, his land and house was subject to great damage from the British Army.   He was one of those signers whose person and property suffered greatly from his attachment to the patriotic cause.  He died in 1781 and is buried at Stone Brook Meeting House and cemetery.

Words to live by:  In all this, it was said that Richard Stockton was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.  His conviction of, and commitment to, biblical Presbyterianism stayed by  him all his life and work.  He was ready to sacrifice life, limb, and sacred honor for the cause of independence from tyranny, and did actually suffer those losses.   As such, he stands as a testimony to us, to be ready to suffer for Christ, if need be, for the sake of the gospel.  May God give us grace at that time to remain faithful to His cause and kingdom.

Through the Scriptures:  Esther 1 – 3

Through the Standards:  Origin, design, and means of the civil government

WCF 23:1
“God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates to be  under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers.”

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