John L. Girardeau Entered Glory

It was on June 23, 1898, that John Lafayette Girardeau entered Paradise. He had recently suffered a stroke, but his passing was peaceful. After a life spent as a husband, father, pastor, theologian, professor, chaplain, philosopher and poet, including many years of service to the black community, he completed his task on earth and went on to receive his heavenly reward. 

After his death, an anonymous poem was published in the July 14, 1898 issue of The Southern Presbyterian, a tribute to the man who wrote his own poems on "Life" and "Death." 

ON THE DEATH OF A BELOVED MINISTER.

Affectionaly dedicated to the family of Rev. J.L. Girardeau.

Brother, all thy toils are ended;
All thine earthly warfare's done;
To thy long-sought rest ascended,
Thou has won thy starry crown!
There the welcome plaudit met thee;
Well-done Servant of thy Lord,
Faithful toiler in My vineyard,
Enter on thy full reward!

Thou was faithful with the talents
I committed to thy care,
And each burden laid upon thee,
Gladly for Me thou didst bear.
Now beside the 'living waters,'
In my greenest pastures rest;
And forget thine early sorrows,
Leaning on My loving breast!

Oh! methinks the holy angels
Never had a dearer care,
Than that ransomed soul to glory,
On their shining wings to bear!
Hark! the golden harps of Heaven,
Quiver with a richer strain,
As that voice with holy rapture
Blendeth in the glad refrain!

While on earth, Redemption's story,
Ever dwelt upon his tongue.
And to him the 'Songs of Jesus'
Were the sweetest ever sung.
Now the loved ones led to Heaven,
By his earnest pleadings here,
Join with him to praise the Saviour,
Who redeemed and brought them there.

Charles Hodge Entered Glory

It was on June 19, 1878, at the age of 80, that Charles Hodge, the great principal and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, entered into glory. This writer was privileged to stand at his grave today (June 19, 2018), 140 years later, on the anniversary of his passing. 

His son, A.A. Hodge, closed the biography he wrote of his father's life with a poem by Anson Davies Fitz Randolph, which comes to mind now: 

CHARLES HODGE, OF PRINCETON.

A Prince, wise, valiant, just, and yet benign;
His own will free, and still by law controlled:
No King, with armaments and fleets untold,
Such mastery had with purpose so divine,
O'er unseen forces active and malign.
He fought th' invisible spirits of the air,
Nor for himself alone, but for his race,
And men grew wiser, better, unaware
That he in silence, by his faith and prayer
Saved their beleaguered souls. Spirit of Grace
Who in him wrought, and held him in the strife.
We give Thee thanks that Thou didst him ordain
Unto a work wherein no act is vain.
And death but longer makes the service and the life.

A. D. F. R

Apostle of the Chesapeake

Littleton Purnell Bowen (1833-1933), the great biographer of Francis Makemie, often considered the founder of Presbyterianism in America, also wrote of him in verse. 

In his volume of prose and poetry titled Makemieland Memorials; With Eastern Shore Wild Flowers and Other Wild Things (1910), there is a 4-page poetic tribute to Francis Makemie, "the Paul of Accomack, the Knox of Pocomoke...the Apostle of the Chesapeake...this Calvin of the Eastern Shore." 

As Paul on every shore sought God's elect
And faced unmoved the Mediterranean gales,
So went Makemie forth to all the winds;
His sloop Tabitha to a hundred streams,
His faithful Button trudging pathless swamps.
He planted Churches as he planted corn —
Rehoboth, Wicomico and Snow Hill,
Monokin, Rockawalkin and Pitts Creek —
From fair Onancock up to Buckingham,
The lilies and the seabirds tracked his course.

Having explored the barrier islands and farm fields of the Delmarva Peninsula, visited the churches planted by Makemie which are still standing, and stood myself on the banks of Holden's Creek in Temperanceville, Accomack County, Virginia, the spot where Makemie is buried and his statue stands today - his burial place was discovered by Bowen himself through tireless research - in reading Bowen's tribute this writer is whisked away to a time when a pioneer Presbyterian from Ulster brought the gospel to a colonial frontier. 

Upon the banks of Holden's Creek he sleeps.
The sparkle of the wavelets tell the tale
Of crystal River and the Great White Throne.
Since then what multitudes of graves on all
These landscapes rest, tombs of the fathers,
Blood of Covenanter, blood of Huguenot.
Where ever soared a sounder Creed to Heaven!
Take off thy shoes; we stand on holy ground,
The burning bush burns on and unconsumed.

This poem tells the story in brief of a man who is a true American hero of the faith. It begins on p. 75 of Makemieland Memorials. If you enjoy church history and poetry together, take a moment to read Bowen's tribute to Francis Makemie, the Apostle of the Chesapeake. 

The Story of Emily Dickinson and Charles Wadsworth

At Log College Press, we like to say that "History isn't dead. Primary sources aren't dry and dusty. American Presbyterians aren't irrelevant."

An example of this is found in today's window on 19th century American Presbyterian history. A perusal of the partial contents of the library of one of America's most famous poets - Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) - reveals that in addition to the many poets one might expect to find on her shelves, she also owned volumes written by several of the authors found on this site, including Archibald Alexander, Lyman Beecher, William Buell Sprague, and Charles Wadsworth

The latter was serving as the minister at the Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1855 when Emily and her family ventured from their Amherst, Massachusetts homestead to visit Washington, DC and then Philadelphia. It was then, while spending two weeks with her school friend Eliza Coleman, that Emily first met Charles Wadsworth (1814-1882), presumably in attendance upon his preaching. They only met in person two other times (in 1860 and in 1880), but they also exchanged a series of letters over many years, only one of which (from Wadsworth to Dickinson, probably dated 1862) has survived. This correspondence began in 1858, when Dickinson asked Wadsworth for counsel concerning her mother's illness. She had also been sent a copy of one of his sermons earlier in the year. It is known that Dickinson's letters to Wadsworth were forwarded to him by her friend Mary Holland. The impact of Charles, who was married, upon Emily, who never married, is well documented, nonetheless. Emily would go on to refer to him as "my Philadelphia," "my Clergyman," "my dearest earthly friend" and "my Shepherd from 'Little Girl'hood."

In the late 1850s and early 1860s, Dickinson experienced "an explosion of creativity" (she wrote 52 poems in the year 1858 alone and that number would steadily rise in succeeding years). The contents of these poems indicate strong feelings of passion and sometimes despair in the heart of the poet. Although Dickinson's letters were mostly destroyed after her death per her wishes, three drafts of letters addressed to "Master," which are viewed by many as intended love letters, did survive. They come from the period of 1858-1862, but the identity of the "Master" to whom they were addressed has never definitively established. Wadsworth moved to San Francisco in 1862 to take up a pastorate there. Wadsworth may have mentioned to her the previous year of his plans to relocate, and it is believed that Dickinson wore white dresses only commencing in 1861 and continuing the remainder of her life. 

In 1863, George Burrowes (1811-1894), living in California, wrote his Impressions of Dr. Wadsworth as a Preacher. His account helps modern readers to understand better the private nature of the man and also the popularity and appeal of Wadsworth in the pulpit, both to the crowds of his day and to one particular poet-in-residence at Amherst (pp. 13-15): 

"No preaching can be popular without being practical. His preaching is eminently practical. It shows great shrewdness and penetration into the heart and into the motives operating in daily life. It owes not its interest to startling novelties; it does not draw its power from oratorical elocution. It is not rhetorical; it is not flowery; it is not metaphysical. It is not addressed to some particular fancy or idiosyncrasy of the day. You cannot detect in him any shade of resemblance to the features of the family of sensation-preachers. He has nothing in common with them. The very appearance of the man in the pulpit shows his abhorrence of claptrap and cant. You see that self is left in the background. His case is a fulfillment of the promise, 'He that shall humble himself, shall be exalted.' — Matt. 23: 12. He shrinks from public notoriety, public demonstrations, and public applause. He possesses eminently, so much so that it is a deficiency in his character, the very unusual disposition to undervalue himself and his productions. He cannot understand how he could ever be viewed as a preacher of mark and power. The crowds that have ever hung around his ministry, are to him alone a mystery. After sermons under which all hearts in a crowded congregation are melted down, and recover from their breathless and even painful attention with admiration and tears, he alone will sit down overcome with a sense of failure and of little worth in so magnificent an effort. Nor is this feeling of personal shortcoming and unworthiness a mere pretense, a maneuver for drawing forth expressions of admiration. It is a deep, honest conviction, resulting from a constitutional peculiarity that can never be removed. A humility so unfeigned, allied with so much greatness, and mellowed, no less than deepened, by divine grace, throws a great charm around the character, and gives an attractiveness seldom met in such a world."

Dickinson owned at least two volumes of Wadsworth's sermons, and writers such as Paul Meibert Miller, Charles WadsworthSpiritual Preceptor to Emily Dickinson (1987), and The Relevance of the Rev. Charles Wadsworth to the poet Emily Dickinson (1991); Benjamin Lease, Emily Dickinson's Readings of Men and Books: Sacred Soundings (1990); and Mary Lee Stephenson Huffer, Emily Dickinson's Experiential Poetics and Rev. Dr. Charles Wadsworth's Rhetoric of Sensation: The Intellectual Friendship Between the Poet and a Pastor (2007); have demonstrated the influence of his sermons on her poetry, as have many of Dickinson's biographers. James Sulzer has written a fictional account, based on the letters and poems of Emily Dickson and the sermons of Charles Wadsworth, of their first meeting in 1855 and beyond, titled The Voice at the Door: A Novel of Emily Dickson (2013).

Wadsworth moved back to Philadelphia in 1869 and continued to minister there until his death on April 1, 1882. Dickinson's correspondence with others after Wadsworth's death reveals much of how greatly she esteemed him. In a letter to Elizabeth Holland, for example, she wrote "All other Surprise is at last monotonous, but the Death of the Loved is all moments - now - Love has but one Date - 'The first of April' / 'Yesterday, Today and Forever.'" 

From 1882 until her death four years later, she also corresponded with James D. Clark, perhaps Wadsworth's closest friend, who sent her a volume of his sermons as well as his photograph, while she inquired about details concerning Wadsworth's life, and represented Wadsworth in a brief poem contained in one letter to Clark, which linked "the dead minister to the living Christ" (Benjamin Lease, Ibid., p. 33): 

Obtaining but his own extent
In whatsoever Realm - 
'Twas Christ's own personal Expanse
That bore him from the Tomb.

All the evidence that scholars have from the writings of both Charles Wadsworth and Emily Dickinson points to the known and certain facts that he was her greatly esteemed spiritual mentor and confidant, that he was and remained til death a happily married father of two, that her feelings for him clearly at some level ran deep. Beyond that, we need not inquire. There is a mystery in their relationship to be sure, which has generated much speculation. But not every mystery must be solved - where the historical record leaves off, sometimes at least we are better off not delving into what we do not know for certain. In the words of a favorite poet of Dickinson, Charlotte Brontë, "The human heart has hidden treasures, / In secret kept, in silence sealed;– / The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures, / Whose charms were broken if revealed." 

Etchings in Verse and Other Poems

Presbyterians historically have an affinity for poetry. We have previously highlighted selections of poetry by J.W. and J.A. Alexander. But some of the writers here at Log College Press have written whole volumes of poetry

One of our Presbyterian poets is Charles Lemuel Thompson (1839-1924), who wrote Etchings in Verse (1890). Two selections from his book are given here to whet your appetite for more by him and others. 

The first is "The Sea is His":

Man claims the land, but his domain
Stops at the shore.
God's wandering acres of the main
Roll on before.

I look this vast expanse abroad,
My rest is this:
This is the blue-veined palm of God,
"The sea is His."

Far from the world men walk upon,
Why should I fear?
Across this Galilee the Son
Of God draws near.

I lie within his hand. Above
Benignant bends
The blue eye of his boundless love,
And that defends.

Another, with echoes of Tennyson, is Lying at the Bar:

The exile has been long,
And broad, too broad the sea,
Across the which my longing heart
Has beaten heavily.

And now the sunset falls
On western hills afar;
But the sails are down, the tide is out,
We are lying at the bar.

And on beyond the sunset gates
Another land I ween;
And for its friends my exiled heart
Hath longings deep and keen.

Oh! silent tide, when comest thou
Beyond yon evening star?
My thoughts, my hopes are flying on, —
I am lying at the bar.

If you enjoy Presbyterian poets and poetry, be sure to check out our new Poetry page, which is sure to grow. 

The Poetry of J.A. Alexander

Previously we have taken note of both the devotional mediations and poetry of James Waddell Alexander (1804-1859). Today, we consider the poetic compositions of his brother, Joseph Addison Alexander (1809-1860). Best known for his commentaries on Isaiah and other portions of Scripture, Joseph was a man of many gifts, particularly in the theological, linguistic and literary realms. The great Biblical commentator was equally as keen in his insights into the prose history of Acts as the Hebrew poetry of the Psalms. In his personal life, we know that he corresponded in both prose and poetry himself. He often entertained himself by composing poems while traveling. Only a little of his poetry saw the light of day during his lifetime. We can thank his nephew and biographer, Henry Carrington Alexander (1835-1894) for the window we have into what was clearly, not just an academic, but a poetic soul.

H.C. Alexander wrote: “Dr. [J.A.] Alexander had all the qualities of the rhapsodist as well as the chronicler. He could play the part of an improvisatore as well as that of a raconteur or annalist. His powers were of an order and degree that fitted him as well for the domain of poetry as for that of history and eloquence. An eminent physician once remarked to me, ‘Dr. Addison Alexander was a born poet’” (Life of J.A. Alexander 2:539)

The labor of extracting and assembling the poetic compositions of J.A. Alexander is one that is worthy of a full and thorough undertaking, which is not possible here. This writer has only just begun the process by identifying and highlighting a few of his compositions, chiefly from H.C. Alexander’s biography. And this introduction to his poetry is meant to whet the appetite for further study.

His most famous poem was published in 1837 under the title “The Doomed Man,” and it is better known as an hymn, although the author never intended it to be such. The story is given in Life 1:415-417, with additional elaboration about a stanza omitted from the original publication found in J.W. Alexander’s Forty Years’ Familiar Letters 2:285. A friend (Theodore Ledyard Cuyler, Heart Thoughts, pp. 114-115) wrote this about “The Doomed Man”:

Of one more American hymn we must speak before closing this paragraph. Its author was my beloved friend and teacher the late Dr. Joseph Addison Alexander. He certainly never dreamed that it would find its way into any collection for public worship when he threw it off one evening rapidly from his versatile pen. The day after its composition he mailed it to Rev. Dr. Hall, then the editor of the Sunday School Journal. The lines were published under the title of "The Doomed Man," and they describe with solemn and terrible energy the fate of a sinner who has "crossed the hidden boundary between God's patience and His wrath." These fearful lines are not so much a hymn as a thrilling appeal to the impenitent, in metre. They were at first circulated in small hand-bills through prayer-meetings, in seasons of revival. They went the rounds of religious journals, and finally lodged in Dr. Robinson's Hymn-book, and in one or two others. As originally written, the opening verse was—

"There is a time, we know not when,
A point, we know not where,
That marks the destiny of men
To glory or despair."

If Hillhouse's hymn is a prelude to the minstrelsy of heaven, these solemn lines of Alexander may be styled the dirge of a lost soul against whom the gates of heaven are closed for ever!”

As a young boy, J.A. Alexander wrote “The Parricide” (Life 1:32-33); “Solitude” (Life 1:33); and “The Pleasures of Study” (Life 1:33-34). These remarkable compositions bely the youth of the writer.

Well-studied in Persian poetry, J.A. Alexander composed lines in English concerning an epic event that occurred in 1722: “The Fall of Ispahan” (Life 1:140-142). Isfahan was the capital of Persia (Iran) at the time, when it fell to the Afghans. He turned his attention to the famous rival of Persia in “A Vision of Greece” (Life 1:142-144). While traveling in Italy, he composed his “Verses Written at Turin” (Life 1:304-305).

This writer’s favorite poem by J.A. Alexander is a four-stanza composition titled “Be Still and Know That I am God” (Life 1:306-107). It is introduced by H.C. Alexander thus: “As this has been thought one of his noblest productions in metre, I make no scruple to give it without abridgment. For solemn grandeur of meaning, and for nervous diction and sonorous music he has perhaps not written anything that exceeds it.” Here is given the first stanza:

When fortune smiles and friends abound;
When all thy fondest hopes are crowned;
When earth with her exhaustless store,
Seems still intent to give thee more;
When every wind and every tide
Contribute to exalt thy pride;
To feed thy covetous desire;
When foes submit and envy stands
Pale and abashed with folded hands;
While fame’s unnumbered tongues prolong
The swell of thy triumphal song;
When crowds admire and worlds applaud
“Be still and know that I am God.”

He wrote an unfinished but beautiful “A Poem in the Night” about the Resurrection (Life 1:307-308).

It was not uncommon for him to mix poetry with prose in his correspondence, as evidenced in the closing lines of his “Rhyming Epistle” to a little girl (Life 2:558):

“Of enjoyments below, and of gifts from above,
In the beautiful City of Brotherly Love;
(And thus I reveal to you for the first time,
That what you are reading is written in rhyme)
And with a regard which I feel for but few,
I bid you, dear Nannie, a final
Adieu.”

To another young girl named Lucy (titled “Medicine for Lucy” on the envelope, but “Lines ‘To a Fatherless Girl’” within (Life 2:687-689), he sent encouragement based on the Scripture: “He will not leave thee fatherless.”

Among his many travels, on a return trip from Europe in 1853, J.A. Alexander met some Canadian travelers, and began a poetic correspondence with one particular young lady. A sonnet, “Thrice Transplanted” (Life 2:860), is one of the fruits. Alexander’s prose account of this particular correspondence makes for a fascinating biographical read as well.

This introduction must come to a close, but more remains to be explored concerning the poetry of J.A. Alexander. Take up and read for yourself, dear reader.

Wanted: A Samaritan

We have had occasion previously to take notice of the number of poets that are represented among the ministers highlighted at Log College Press. B.B. Warfield is one of those Presbyterian pastor-poets.

One of his particular compositions is brief but profound. Interestingly, he first published "Wanted: A Samaritan" in January 31, 1907 issue of The Independent under the non de plum "Nicholas Worth, Jr." It was later published under his own name in Four Hymns and Some Religious Verses (1910). 

Wanted: A Samaritan

Prone in the road he lay,
Wounded and sore bested:
Priests, Levites past that way
And turned aside the head.

They were not hardened men
In human service slack:
His need was great: but then,
His face, you see, was black.

Lays of the Covenant

David McAllister (1835-1907) was a Reformed Presbyterian minister who labored tirelessly for the cause of "Christ's Crown & Covenant" in America. He also, as he tells us in the introduction to a volume he edited titled Poets and Poems of the Covenant (1894), had an admiration not only for the Scottish Presbyterian Covenanters who sacrificed so much during the "Fifty Year Struggle" for freedom (1638-1688), but also for the poetic tributes their story has brought forth from so many gifted poets over the years, among them Robert Burns, William Cowper and William Wordsworth (as well as, for example, the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson). McAllister's carefully compiled volume, like J.C. Johnston's Treasury of the Covenant (1887) and James A. Dickson's Poems of Fighting Faith (1988), show the inspiration given to so many poets by the Covenanters whose blood was shed for Christ. 

Read the introduction for its personal reflections on how the history of the Covenanters has impacted the editor, and to better understand the principles that the Covenanters believed in and died for. Then read the fascinating biographical sketches helpfully contributed for each poet represented. If you can, read all the poems within this precious volume, but if your time is limited, consider especially James Hyslop's "The Cameronian Dream." As noted by McAllister, this is "the most popular of all poems ever written about the Covenanters." 

It begins on p. 25 thus:

In a dream of the night I was wafted away
To the moorland of mist where the martyrs lay;
Where Cameron's sword and his Bible are seen,
Engraved on the stone where the heather grows green.

Devotional Poems of James Waddel Alexander

As we have before noted, J.W. Alexander (1804-1859)'s Thoughts on Preaching: Being Contributions to Homiletics (1861, 1864) is not a volume confined just to the subject of homiletics. The whole of the book is made up of extracts from Alexander's private journal and correspondence, most of which share insights about aspects of preaching. The final section ("Miscellaneous Paragraphs") includes devotional meditations and poems that he wrote in his journal. All of these extracts were edited into one volume posthumously by his brother, Samuel Davies Alexander (1819-1894).

Four of Alexander's poems are found in the Miscellaneous Paragraphs, along with one prose paragraph on the nature of "true poetry," which, he says, should aim at religion for its highest theme.

Just one of his poems is here given, along with encouragement to the reader to seek out the other three as well ("Thy Word is Truth"; "The Scriptures"; and "Song in the Night"). 

On the Late Cloudy Weather

Clouds on clouds have long been here,
Overhanging all our sky;
Scarce a sunny hour did peer
Through the mantle spread on high.

Yet we know the sun is still
Reigning in his bridegroom power,
And the happy instant will
Pour his radiance through the shower.

Then the tinted promise-bow,
Spanning woods and meads, shall smile,
Then the cornfields brilliant glow,
If meek patience wait a while.

Nature is the type of grace --
Spirits have their cloudy time;
'Tis, alas! our present case,
While we wait the dawn sublime.

Yet in darkness we will hope,
He is coming who is Light,
Though we may disheartened grope
For a season -- as in night -- 

He is coming; lo! his beam
Gilds already yonder hill,
Streaks of opening clearness seem
The horizon's edge to fill.

Come, expected brightness, come,
We are panting for thy ray,
Let not hopeless grief benumb
Souls that do thy word obey.

Weeping may a night endure,
Yet the morning shall be joy;
Trust the promise -- it is sure,
Hopeful toil by thine employ.

He who loves me makes my day,
Clouds but minister his will;
Christ is waiting to display
Charms that every wish shall fill.

Three 19th century Presbyterian poets/hymn writers: J. W. Alexander, B. B. Warfield, and John L. Girardeau

I knew that James Waddel Alexander was a poet. He translated "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" from the German. But I had no idea that B. B. Warfield and John Lafeyette Girardeau were also poets and hymn writers. Yet listen to these rich gospel lines from the pen of Girardeau:

'Nothing to pay?' No, nothing, to win
Salvation by merit from law and from sin;
But all things, to buy, without money and price.
The wine and the milk of a free Paradise.

'Nothing to do?' No, not to procure
A heaven, by infinite blood made secure;
But all things, with labour and sweat of the face,
To honor my Saviour and magnify grace.

'What of the law?' Its thunders were stilled
Against my poor soul, by the blood that was spilled:
But the hands which were nailed to the wood of the Tree
Now wield its commands to be honored by me.

'Nothing of guilt?' No, not to my God,
As Judge and Condemner, uplifting His rod;
But, ah, I am guilty of breaking His Word
In the house of my Father—the Church of my Lord.

'What am I waiting for?' Spare me a while
To tell of Thy love to a sinner so vile!
Then take me to Heaven, which is not my due.
And give me the Crown of Fidelity, too!

You can find Alexander's translations of German hymns (entitled The Breaking Crucible) here; B. B. Warfield's Four Hymns and Some Religious Verses, a published volume of hymns (with some musical settings!) and poems, here; and Girardeau's poems on pages 345-364 of The Life Work of John L. Girardeau by George A Blackburn. Use these volumes in your private worship. And let me know if you think it would be a worthy project to reprint these hymns/poems in a single book.

This Presbyterian pastor was also a noted poet of his day - here are his volumes of poetry.

Samuel Jones Cassels was a Georgia native who pastored First Presbyterian Church in Macon from 1836-1842. While pastor, his wife and infant son died. His volume of poetry, Providence and Other Poems, was the first volume of poetry published in the state of Georgia. After leaving the state for other pastorates for a season, he returned when his health declined. He published two more books of poems, as well as a book on infant baptism, and a book proving Jesus was the Christ and the papacy of Roman Catholicism was the anti-Christ. All of his writings can be found here.