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Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D., by Richard H. Collins, LL.D., LOUISVILLE, Ky.

Rev. Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D., pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Louisville, Ky., was born January 17th, 1886, in the village of Greensboro, Hale County, Alabama. He is now forty-nine years of age, just in the maturity of his powers.

His was a godly family; for his father and his father’s fathers for six generations were elders of the Presbyterian Church. And away back yonder, in the never dim but ever brightening distance, some of the gentle blood that now courses in his veins gave life and zeal and boldness and energy and vehemence and power unwonted to John Knox, the great leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, 1505-1372, more than three hundred years ago.

John Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D.. President of Princeton College, New Jersey, 1788-1788, a sturdy Scotch minister, theologian and statesman, whom readers of American history remember as a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a leader in the dark days of the American Revolution, was also in the line of direct ancestry: and a man of whom his children’s children to the latest generation may speak with honest pride. This pride of illustrious descent is with many people an excuse for lack of energy and personal excellence and success; but all those who have the root of the matter in them may well be thankful for God-fearing ancestors, who in their day and time were men of great excellence and boldness in the faith.

Robert Franklin Witherspoon and Sarah Agnes, his wife, were Presbyterians from principle, Christians of ardent piety. They were Bible readers and Bible scholars, and fond of theological inquiry; and in their admiration of the writings of the great theologian, Timothy Dwight, deemed it a graceful acknowledgment of the great things constantly found therein to name their boy Thomas Dwight—indulging a presentiment that the babe would some day grow to the stature of a theologian and leader in the Church. The training of the boy by the death of the father when he was only four years old, devolved upon the mother, and right bravely did she stand up to the responsibility thus cast upon her. At the early age of ten, her little boy gave beautiful proof of pious training, by publicly confessing Christ, one of a number brought into the fold under the preaching of Rev. Robert Nall, D.D., the evangelist of the Synod of Alabama.

In 1853, when seventeen years old, young Witherspoon entered upon his college course in the sophomore class of the University of Alabama; but in 1854 transferred his connection to the University of Mississippi, where he graduated in 1856 with the highest honors of his class. The same fall he entered the Theological Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina, where under the professorships of Doctors James H. Thornwell, Aaron W. Leland, George Howe, and John H. Adger, he completed the course, and in May, 1859, received his theological certificate or diploma.

The Presbytery of Chickasaw, of the Synod of Memphis, on June 6th, 1859, licensed him as a probationer for the Gospel ministry; and the same Presbytery on May 13th, 1860, ordained him to the full work of the ministry, and installed him as pastor of the Presbyterian church at Oxford, Mississippi.

This call to the church (his first church) in the town of the University from which he graduated with high honor in 1856, less than four years before, was a high compliment to him personally, and practically a high eulogy upon the character of his preaching—-its warmth and earnestness, and attractiveness to the young, of whom so many were gathered in the university and female schools of the town. His labors here were owned of God, in abundant blessing.

But in a twelvemonth a great change came over this quiet scene of peace and love between pastor and young people. The young men of his congregation and neighborhood, with the deep courage of their convictions, hesitated not for an hour when the tocsin of war—the War of the Rebellion—was sounded all over the land. The young preacher, no longer only their friend and pastor and spiritual adviser, became their fellow-soldier, enlisting as a private in the Lamar Rifles of the Eleventh Mississippi Volunteers. Thus the first year of the war passed; and thenceforward to the final surrender at Appomattox Court House, he was their chaplain, sharing in their hardships, nursing them in sickness, administering the consolations of the Gospel to the dying, and sending to the loved ones at home the messages entrusted to him at the last and painful parting.

The war was over at last, and the scene changed again. Laying aside the soldier and the chaplain, he entered upon another field, to preach again the Gospel of peace and love and mediatorial sacrifice, In August, he became pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church at Memphis, where he labored with marked success and blessing for five years—until August, 1870, when his health broke down under excessive exertion in a malarial climate, and forced him to resign a pastorate which had shown the ripe fruit of growth from 160 to 410 in membership, and became the strongest and most influential of that denomination in the city. And this, too, through epidemics of both cholera and yellow fever!

In the mountains of Virginia, as supply to the church at Christiansburg. Dr. Witherspoon spent the next years; and during the succeeding two years was chaplain of the University of Virginia, near Charlottesville.

In the summer of 1873, as a further means of restoring his impaired health, Dr. Witherspoon crossed the ocean, and travelled extensively in Europe. On his return, in October, 1873, he accepted the pastorate of Tabb Street Presbyterian Church, in Petersburg, Va., one of the largest in the South. After nine years of marked usefulness here, a unanimous call to the old First Presbyterian Church of Louisville, Ky., opened up a wider field, and which he felt it duty to accept.

Since settling there in the fall of 1882, as if the labor of that important church were not enough to tax his superabundant energy, he has been chairman of the Committee of Evangelistic Labor of the Synod of Kentucky—having the oversight of some twenty evangelists, as a result of whose labors over four thousand communicants have been added to the roll of the Synod!

In 1874, at the age of thirty-eight, Dr. Witherspoon took his seat for the first time in the General Assembly, at Columbus, Mississippi, only about one hundred miles east of where he began his ministerial life; and in 1884, just ten years later, at the age of forty-eight, he was elected Moderator of and presided over the General Assembly at Vicksburg, Mississippi, just two hundred miles southwest of the same beginning point, Oxford, Mississippi. And the same University that graduated him with high honor in 1858, at the age of twenty, conferred upon him in 1867, at the age of thirty-one, the distinguished honor of D.D., and in 1884, at the age of forty-eight, the more distinguished honor of LL.D. Such a succession of honors is almost unparalleled; and the State of Mississippi, while witnessing within her borders this high appreciation by the Presbyterian Church in the South of one of her favorite sons, has borne a beautiful testimony to his great energy, consecrated talent, and noble character.

As a writer in the Church newspapers, Dr. Witherspoon has written frequently, judiciously, and effectively. The following are among the larger and more important publications from his pen, in book form; “The Appeal of the South to its Educated Men” (1866);  “Children of the Covenant” (1873); “Materialism in its Relations  to Modem Civilization” (1878); and “Letters on Romanism” (1882).

Among the most decided evidences of the high appreciation of Dr. Witherspoon’s practical talents by the Presbyterian Church and people of the South, is the great number of calls he has had to prominent churches, his election to chairs in or the presidency of colleges and universities, and the professorships in theological seminaries that have been offered him. The latest distinction of this kind of which we have heard is his election as president of Davidson College, at Charlotte, North Carolina. This, and all others, he promptly declined; because he felt that the great mission of his life is to preach the Gospel. In the pulpit and on the platform he is emphatically extemporaneous; always trusting to the inspiration of the moment for words to clothe the ideas and emphasize the thoughts he has diligently studied out in his room.

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Pride the Great Enemy of My Soul

Our post today comes from the diary of the Rev. Jacob Jones Janeway, who served as associate pastor alongside the Rev. Ashbel Green at the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, beginning in 1799 and remaining at that church until 1828. I have found some pastoral diaries to be among some of the richest Christian reading, and I hope you will 

February 1, 1801. Sabbath.

J.J. Janeway “I perceive that pride is the great enemy of my soul. Often it prevents the enjoyment of God, and enlargement of heart. I must be emptied before I am filled. Alas, that my soul is so foolish and sinful as to indulge in pride. Were I more humble, I should have more communion with God, and more comfort. I think He is humbling me. Blessed be His name, that I, in any measure, see the sin of pride, and the importance of humility, and that I labour in any degree to suppress the rising of pride, and pray with any ardour for humility. I feel my insufficiency for the work of the ministry. But I look to Him, who hath promised:        

‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.’

Blessed be God, that I feel a confidence that Jesus will aid me, and teach me how to preach His precious gospel.   I thank Him for past aid.”

Rev. Janeway’s biographer continues:

He frequently complains of his insufficiency for his great work, and seems ready to sink beneath the burdensome responsibility. He clings to the promise, and holds to the anchor. “I feel my insufficiency for my ministerial labors. How shall I go in and out before my people?” are remarks often occurrent.

About this time, a painful trial disturbed, and for years harassed his mind. Bitter and deep seem to have been his sorrows—painful his exercises. In the excess of his conscientiousness, and the lowliness of his humility, he doubted his standing in the affections and esteem of his people. He was young, and stood along side of an accomplished veteran in the service of Christ. His shrinking spirit doubted his qualifications for his great work, in a great city.

We shall not interrupt the narrative, by such large quotations from different years in his journal, which exhibit these painful struggles. They are noted here, in their chronological order, and will occur again, in recitals from his journal, and quotations from letters received from esteemed and distinguished friends, until years after God’s providence made his duty plain, and released the bird from the snare of the fowler.

“My mind is sometimes troubled with thinking about my standing in the affections of my people. I at times, think that I occupy the place of one better qualified for this important station.”

In the second church of our communion on the continent, with such distinguished men for his hearers, his well-known modesty shrunk. But when Philadelphia ceased to be the capital of the Union, and these notables removed, he still doubted his acceptance with the mass of the people; and yet, even then, had he won his way to the hearts of the people, and in a subdued sense, like his gracious Master, it might be said, “the common people heard him gladly.” His kindness to the poor, his open-handed charity, gave him, though he knew it not, a vigorous hold on their love. We shall have frequent occasion to recur to this again, and see it as it doubtless was presented, as part of the discipline of his life, to quicken the graces of his meek and quiet spirit.

Words to Live By:
Here was a true proof of real humility, to have won his people’s hearts by way of honest, real ministry as a faithful shepherd of the Lord’s people. It is the discipline of a faithful pastor’s life, that he will strive to possess and exhibit a servant’s heart, freely spending himself for the lives of his people. In this, Christ is glorified.

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A Marked Influence in Ecclesiastical Matters
by David T. Myers

breckinridge_SamuelFor the next two years, your two authors will feature a number of posts about the remarkable Breckinridge family, a family which, for our purposes, began with Alexander Breckinridge who had moved to Philadelphia around 1728, eventually relocating to the colony of Virginia. Members of the Breckinridge family were prominent as ministers and theologians and church leaders and politicians in nation and state, and soldiers and businessmen and women, and more often than not, they were Presbyterians in conviction and practice. Today, on the date of his birthday, November 3, 1828, we focus in on Samuel Miller Breckinridge.

Son of John Breckinridge, who was a Presbyterian minister, young Samuel had as his mother that of Margaret Miller, the daughter of the Rev. Samuel Miller, yes, that Samuel Miller, who was an early professor of the Princeton Theological Seminary. So it is no wonder that her maiden name became his middle name, as in Samuel Miller Breckinridge.

Samuel was educated at Union College, New York and Centre College, Kentucky, and finally at the College of New Jersey at Princeton, New Jersey [later renamed Princeton University in 1896]. He completed his studies at the graduate law school at Transylvania University at Lexington Kentucky.

Settling in St. Louis, Missouri, he represented the city and county in the Missouri Legislature for one year in 1854 – 55. He continued to move up in important positions in the state as he was elected the judge of Circuit Court in 1863. In the same year, he was chosen a member of the State Convention.

We might be tempted to think that he only had an influence in political matters, but his membership in the Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri was recognized when that local church elected him to serve as a ruling elder in 1871. Three years later, he served as a commissioner to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church when it met in the city. He became a member of the Committee of Fraternal Relations, and was appointed to try and meet with the elders in the Presbyterian Church in the United States, formerly the Presbyterian Church of the Confederacy.

His church position continued to give him opportunities within that denomination as he was a member of the General Assembly’s Committee on Revision of the Book of Discipline in 1878, and he continued to serve as a commissioner at the General Assembly as it met in 1881 and 1883.

A description of him was that he was a model Christian gentleman, wise in counsel, with a marked influence in ecclesiastical matters. He died in 1891.

Words to Live By:
May it be said of all of us that we either are having or will have a marked influence in ecclesiastical matters. Your local church may indeed need that at this time in her history. As the post Christian century continues in our land, we will certainly need that characteristic more and more in the local and national areas. Pray for it if you don’t have it now, or pray for an increase of that character. The Holy Spirit will bless you in it, and give you many opportunities to use it in the days in which we live.

Image source: Page 97 in the Encyclopædia of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, including the Northern and Southern Assemblies, by Alfred Nevin. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Encyclopedia Publishing Co., 1884.

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Today’s post is drawn from Alfred Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church (1884), p. 850:

The Long Pastorate of a Great Pastor and Biographer

SpragueWBWilliam Buell Sprague was born in Andover, Tolland county, Connecticut, on this day, October 16, 1795. He graduated at Yale College in 1815, and in 1816 entered Princeton Theological Seminary, just four years after the start of that institution. After studying there over two years, Sprague was licensed to preach by the Association of Ministers in the county of Tolland, on August 29th, 1818. As pastor of the Congregational Church of West Springfield, Massachusetts, he labored with great assiduity and success from August 25th, 1819, until July 21st, 1829, when he accepted a call to the Second Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York, over which he was installed on August 26th, 1829.

In Albany, he had a pastorate of forty years’ duration, remarkable for the extraordinary steadfastness and warmth of attachment existing through all that protracted period between himself and his large and intelligent congregation, and even more remarkable for the vast and varied labors performed by him. He has been well and truly described as “an illustrious man, a cultivated, elegant, voluminous, usefull and popular preacher; an indefatigable and successful pastor; an unselfish and devoted friend; loving, genial, pure, noble; an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile; one of the most child-like, unsophisticated and charitable of men.”

While Dr. Sprague never relaxed his pulpit and pastoral duties, his added literary labors were prodigious and their fruits exceedingly great. He preached nearly two hundred sermons on special public occasions, the most of which were published. He also produced a large number of biographies and other volumes on practical religious subjects. But the great literary work of his life was his Annals of the American Pulpit, undertaken when he was fifty-seven years old, and finished in ten large octavo volumes.

On December 20th, 1869, Dr. Sprague was released at his own request, from his pastoral charge in Albany, and retired to Flushing, Long Island, where he passed his later years, which were a serene and beautiful evening to his industrious, useful and eminent life. Here he enjoyed the sunshine of the divine favor, and looked upon the approach of death with a strong and placid faith. He gently and peacefully passed away, May 7th, 1876, and his remains were taken to Albany for interment, the funeral services being held in the church of which he had been so long the beloved and honored pastor.

A number of Sprague’s works can be found in digital format, here.

If I may select one for you, The Claims of Past and Future Generations on Civil Leaders, looks interesting, judging by its title.

From Sprague’s Historical Introduction to The Annals of the Presbyterian Pulpit:
“…
The early history of the Presbyterian Church in this country is involved in no little obscurity,—owing principally to the fact that those who originally composed it, instead of forming a compact community, were widely scattered throughout the different Colonies. It is evident, however, that several churches were established some time before the close of the seventeenth century. In Maryland there were the Churches of Rehoboth, Snow Hill, Marlborough, Monokin, and Wicomin,—the first mentioned of which is commonly considered the oldest, and was probably formed several years before 1690. The Church on Elizabeth River, in Virginia, is supposed by some to date back to nearly the same period, but the exact time of its origin cannot be ascertained. The Churches in Freehold, and Woodbridge, New Jersey were constituted in 1692 [Note: there is good evidence that Fairfield Presbyterian Church, in Fairton, NJ, was established in 1680.]; and the First Church in Philadelphia, as nearly as can be ascertained, in 1698. In Newcastle, Delaware, in Charleston, South Carolina, and in some other places, Presbyterian Churches were planted at a very early period. In the latter part of 1705, or early in 1706, a Presbytery was formed under the title of the Presbytery of Philadelphia,—all whose members were from Scotland or Ireland, except the Rev. Jedediah Andrews, who was born and educated in New England.”

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This Is How You Say Goodbye : Paying Due Respect to a Beloved Pastor.

When the War ended in 1865, the Rev. Thomas D. Witherspoon answered a call to serve the Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis, Tennessee. That historic church, founded in 1844, continues to this day and since 1989 has been affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian denomination. Rev. Witherspoon’s ministry there began on September 3, 1865 and lasted but five years, ending early in October of 1870, when ill health forced him to retire from that pulpit to seek a less demanding post. Some of those years in Memphis had been tumultuous and challenging for a young pastor. Memphis suffered its worst race riot in 1867 and Witherspoon’s sermon logbook records something of his ministry on several occasions at the Fort Pickering mission, where the riot began.

He found that quieter pulpit as the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Christiansburg, Virginia church, though he remained in this post for only one year while restoring his health, taking on subsequent duties as chaplain at the University of Virginia from 1871-1873.

The following resolutions, offered up by his congregation in Memphis and published in The Christian Observer on this day, August 31, 1870, serve as a model of how the Lord’s people might express their love and esteem for a faithful pastor. For a closer look at Rev. Witherspoon’s ministry there at Second Presbyterian, our readers can view an annotated transcription of his sermon logbook by clicking here.

witherspoon04Resignation of Rev. T.D. Witherspoon, D.D.

Copy of Resolutions introduced in the Congregational Meeting of the Second Presbyterian Church, Memphis, by B.M. Estes, Esq., and unanimously adopted.

The congregation of the Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis, assembled to take action upon the letter of resignation of their beloved pastor, do unanimously agree to adopt the following resolutions, viz:

  1. That in uniting with T.D. Witherspoon, D.D., in his application to the Presbytery of Memphis to dissolve the pastoral relation existing between him and this church, we have discharged a sad and painful duty, and that we have taken such action only at his earnest request, and because we are constrained to concur with him and his physicians in the belief, that on account of impaired health it is necessary that he should remove to a more invigorating and healthful climate and assume ministerial duties less onerous.
  2. Resolved, That we greatly deplore the necessity which compels us to agree to a severance of the tender ties which have bound our beloved pastor to us for nearly five years, and while with bruised and sorrowful hearts we give him up, we tender to him the assurance of profound sympathy for him in his affliction, and of our ardent affection for him personally, of our admiration and reverence for him as a minister of the Cross of Christ, and of our deep concern and interest in his future welfare and career.
  3. Resolved, That to the faithful, loving ministry and labors of Dr. Witherspoon as an instrument in the hands of the Great Head of the Church, we attribute the present peaceful harmonious and prosperous condition of this church and while we collectively and as individuals recall the multiplied instances of his love for us, of his deep sympathy and tender offices in times of bereavement and sorrow, our hearts overflow with emotions of gratitude and affection to him, and of sorrow that we must be separated from him.
  4. Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be furnished to Dr. Witherspoon as a testimonial of the appreciation and affection which the Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis entertain for him, and while our earnest prayers for the restoration of his health, and for his future welfare and usefulness will follow him wherever he may go—we beg that his prayers may ascend daily to our Heavenly Father for the peacefulness and prosperity of this church, and especially that the Master will provide for us another faithful minister to watch over the spiritual interests of this church.

Excerpted from The Christian Observer and Commonwealth, August 31, 1870, page 4, column 2. [Readers can view this page of the above newspaper at http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7gxd0qs68k_4]

Rev. Witherspoon remained at Second Presbyterian until early October 1870. His final sermon there was on Act 20:32, delivered on 9 October (No. 1106 in his Register)

Words to Live By:
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
—I Timothy 5:17.

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