Memento Mori

If there a place that proclaims Memento Mori more loudly and clearly than the Princeton Cemetery, it is unknown to this writer. In the Presidents Plot alone, there are three ministers who died soon after preaching a New Year's sermon on the Scriptural text Jer. 28:16: "This year thou shalt die": Aaron Burr, Sr. (1716-1757); Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758); and Samuel Davies (1723-1761) (the same is true of Jonathan Edwards, Jr. (1745-1801), who is buried elsewhere).

The day of my visit happened to coincide with the anniversary of Charles Hodge's passing into glory. The morning began with a passing rain shower, but the clouds parted and the sun shined. There was time to meditate at the graves of Archibald Alexander, and many others. The weather was very different when Moses Hoge visited the cemetery in 1820. 

"He also visited Princeton College, which, in 1810, had conferred on him, in company with his friend, Mr. [Archibald] Alexander, the degree of S.T.D.; and passed a few days with Dr. Alexander. A cold easterly rain was falling the whole time of his visit. He examined thoroughly the condition of the two institutions, the College and the Seminary, with reference to the two in Prince Edward. He rejoiced in the extended influence of his friend Alexander, and [Samuel] Miller the co-laborer. He could not refrain from a visit to the grave-yard to meditate by the tombs of [Aaron] Burr, [Sr. and Jr.]; [Jonathan] Edwards, [Samuel] Davies, [John] Witherspoon, and [Samuel Stanhope] Smith. As he tarried in that hallowed spot, the bleak wind pierced his diseased frame, and hastened his descent into the valley of death. His heart was elevated as he went from grave to grave, and read the epitaphs of these Presidents of College and teachers of Theology; and his body under the cold rain was chilled in preparation for his own resting in the silent tomb. The conversations of Hoge and Alexander those few days, had there been a hand to record them, laying open the hearts, as by a daguerrotype, of men of such exalted pure principle, so unselfish and so unlike the mass of men - what simplicity of thought, benevolence in feeling, and elevation of piety! -- but there was no man to pen what all men would have been glad to read. Mr. Hoge took his seat in the Assembly - but his fever returned upon him, of a typhus case, and by means of the cold caught in Princeton, became too deeply seated for medicine to remove. He bowed his head meekly to the will of the Head of the Church, and fell asleep in Jesus, on the [5th] of July" (William Henry Foote, Sketches of Virginia, Second Series, p. 373). 

The French Huguenot Charles Drelincourt once wrote (The Christian's Defence Against the Fears of Death, p. 59): 

"And let the most learned Philosophers learn, That the soundest Philosophy is the Meditation of Death.

In short, Whatever be our Employment, Condition, or Age, let us lift up our Minds and Hands unto GOD, to speak to him in the Language of the Prophet DavidLord, let me know my end, and the number of my days, that I may know how long I am to live. Or of MosesSo teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto Wisdom." 

Today is always a good day to consider one's standing before God (Rom. 13:11). Memento mori

Pastors, this is a needful, convicting, and encouraging word from Moses Hoge as you minister to your people this day.

"And now, my brethren, before I take leave of you, permit to request you to turn your attention to the people committed to your care. See what a large proportion of them are perishing in sin. And are we sure that we have done everything in our power to prevent their destruction? that no more effectual measure can be adopted than those already employed, for their salvation? Let us not be too hasty in concluding that we have exhausted all the treasures of Divine mercy, either with respect to ourselves, or our people - that no superior assistance for ourselves in the discharge of ministerial duty, or more effectual grace for them, is within our reach.  The hand of the Lord is not shortened that it cannot save, nor his ear heavy that it cannot hear. I will venture to affirm there is one thing which we might do for them more than we have yet done. We might pay greater attention to ourselves - to the state of our own souls. Ah! did we feel for ourselves as we ought, we should soon see a glorious change in the state of our people. We should then feel for them, preach to them, pray for them, and live for them, in a way that would scarcely fail to be attended with the happiest effects."

-- Moses Hoge, Ministerial Piety (page 33 of Sermons of Moses Hoge)

The Sermons of Moses Hoge are Worth 15 Minutes of Your Day

The preaching of 19th century American Presbyterians was more textual and topical than what we understand as expositional preaching today. They would take a verse or snippet of a verse, explain its meaning in its immediate context, and then unpack and apply that meaning to their people from many different angles. Each sermon is more of what we would think of as an in-depth theological study of a particular topic, but they were never merely for theology's sake. Rather, the goal was conversion of the lost, and transformation of the found, through the knowledge of the truth. 

One of the early preachers of the American Presbyterian church was Moses Hoge, a student under William Graham and later James Waddel. He became the President of Hampden-Sydney College in 1807, and helped lay the foundation for Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. His sermons were renowned for their eloquence and erudition, and are found here