Foreign Missions in the 19th Century Southern Presbyterian Church

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The 19th century Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS) was a missionary church from its formation, continuing the commitment that Presbyterians had demonstrated since their coming to the shores of America. These words by John Leighton Wilson, the first “Coordinator” of Foreign Missions for the PCUS, beautifully sum up the importance of foreign missions to Presbyterians in the South:

Finally, the General Assembly desires distinctly and deliberately to inscribe on our church's banner as she now first unfurls it to the world, in immediate connection with the Headship of her Lord, His last command: "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature;" regarding this as the great end of her organization, and obedience to it as the indispensable condition of her Lord's promised presence, and as one great comprehensive object a proper conception of whose vast magnitude and grandeur is the only thing which in connection with the love of Christ can ever sufficiently arouse her energies and develop her resources, so as to cause her to carry on with the vigor and efficiency which true fealty to her Lord demands, those other agencies necessary to her internal growth and home prosperity. The claims of this cause ought therefore to be kept constantly before the minds of our people and pressed upon their consciences,—and every minister owes it to his people and to a perishing world to give such instruction on this subject as he is able; and to this end the monthly concert ought to be devoutly observed by every church on the first Sabbath of each month for the purpose of missionary instruction as well as prayer, and it would be well to accompany their prayers with their offerings. To the same end the Assembly earnestly enjoins upon all our ministers and ruling elders and deacons and Sabbath school teachers, and especially upon parents, particular attention to our precious youth in training them to feel a deep interest in this work, and not only to form habits of systematic benevolence, but to feel and respond to the claims of Jesus upon them for personal service in the field..." (Minutes of the 1st General Assembly of the PCUS/PCCSA [1861], p. 17 - not yet on the Log College Press website).

Several writings by Presbyterians in the South on the topic of missions are worthy of note:

  • James Henley Thornwell's "The Sacrifice of Christ the Type and Model of Missionary Effort" - on page 411 of Volume 2 of his Collected Writings (1871) - found here

  • Moses Drury Hoge's "The Westminster Standards and Missionary Activity" - on page 185 of Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly, 1647-1897 (1897) - found here

  • Thomas Cary Johnson's Introduction to Christian Missions (1909) - found here.

  • Thomas Smyth's writings on missions can be found in Volume 7 of his Complete Works - found here. His article "The Duty of Interesting Children in the Missionary Cause" is particularly stimulating and helpful.

  • William Sheppard's book on his mission work to the Congo can be found here.

  • Some of the most memorable words on missions from an American Presbyterian came from the mouth of the Southerner John Holt Rice in 1831: "The Presbyterian Church in the United States is a Missionary Society, the object of which is to aid in the conversion of the world; and every member of the Church is a member for life of said Society, and bound in maintenance of his Christian character to do all in his power for the accomplishment of this object." (from William Maxwell's Memoirs of John Holt Rice, pages 387ff.)

Many other missionary works by 18th and 19th century American Presbyterian can be found on on this page. There are great riches to be found in these pages, so read them, and forward this post on to missionaries you know, that there hearts might be strengthened in the work to which God has called them.