James McLeod Willson, son of James Renwick Willson, both eminent Reformed Presbyterian pastors and theologians, entered into glory on this day, August 31, 1866.
Born in 1809, J.M. Willson was a very gifted pupil of his father, who went on to graduate from Union College in Schenectady, New York, in 1829. After some years as an educator, he was licensed and ordained by the Southern Presbytery of the RPCNA in 1834. He served a pastorate in Philadelphia for many years, some of them in conjunction with duties as Professor of Theology at Allegheny Seminary of the RPCNA. He edited both The Covenanter, and its later title, the Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, magazines. He also authored a number of important works, such as:
- The Deacon;
- Bible Magistracy;
- Civil Government: An Exposition of Rom. 13.1-7 (reprinted by American Vision in 2009);and
- The True Psalmody (as chairman of the joint RPCNA-UPCNA committee that published it).
He wrote other important works as well, and did much to serve the church as a writer and teacher, as well as a pastor. Many consider The True Psalmody to be the best defense of exclusive psalmody ever written.
David Smith, a ruling elder who served with Dr. Willson, wrote a tribute to him which has appeared in the December 1866 issue of The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, and in the 1867 volume of Joseph M. Wilson's The Presbyterian Almanac and Annual Remembrancer. Smith wrote:
"Prof. Willson was an 'Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile.' His whole life gave evidence of this....He took a deep interest in all the public schemes of the Church; he was eminently public-spirited. He took an active part in promoting the interests of our Foreign Mission, as well as the Domestic and Freedman's Missions. He early identified himself with the cause of abolition in Philadelphia in the days of its trial. The humble edifice in Cherry Street below Eleventh, in which he ministered, was for many years the only building that could be obtained in the city for abolition meetings...As an American, he loved his country, and was her earnest friend in her time of peril. As a Covenanter, he could not approve her relation to the name and Church of Christ, nor identify himself with her, yet when her very existence was endangered he separated between the national life which was at stake and the form of government which is subject to change. He died as he lived a firm dissenter from the present Constitution."
We remember this man today, an "Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile."