American Presbyterians Wish You a Happy Independence Day!

The Fourth of July is a holiday that tends to unite American Presbyterians. Their historically Scotch-Irish heritage certainly plays a part in this, for resistance to British rule was carried across the Atlantic by many. But more largely, Augustinian / Calvinistic principles of interposition of lesser civil magistrates against tyrants have guided Presbyterian understanding of the legitimacy of a resistance movement such as that of 1776. It was not without cause that the conflict between Great Britain and the American colonies was labelled by Tories "the Presbyterian Rebellion." But American Presbyterians would call it a lawful War of Independence, or Revolution.

The 1776 Declaration of Independence, it is argued by many, was inspired or modeled after the 1775 Mecklenburg Declaration and Mecklenburg Resolves. These, in turn, were the fruit of the ministry of Alexander Craighead, who was the first American colonist to publicly advocate for armed resistance against Great Britain, decades before Lexington and Concord. "In July, 1777, the Covenanters in Eastern Pennsylvania unitedly swore allegiance to the cause of the Colonies. These little Societies furnished no less than thirteen of Washington's officers, as well as many soldiers in the ranks" (John Wagner Pritchard, Soldiers of the Church, p. 22; W.M. Glasgow, Reformed Presbyterian Church in America, p. 68). 

Some notable Presbyterians served the cause of American Independence, such as John Rogers, as chaplain; Alexander MacWhorter, also as chaplain; and John Witherspoon, as a signer of the Declaration of Independence. 

The seeds of independence were planted early: 

* Alexander Craighead (1707-1766)Renewal of the Covenants, November 11, 1743 (1748)

* Gilbert Tennent (1703-1764), Defensive War Defended (1748)

During the War: 

John Witherspoon (1723-1794), The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men (1776)

In the era of the Articles of Confederation: 

* Robert Smith (1723-1793)The Obligations of the Confederate States of North America to Praise God: Two Sermons (1781)

* John Rodgers (1727-1811), The Divine Goodness Displayed, in the American Revolution (1784)

In the century after the birth of the new constitutional republic: 

* John Hall (1806-1894), The Examples of the Revolution (1859)

* William Pratt Breed (1816-1889)Presbyterianism, and Its Services in the Revolution of 1776 (1875); and Presbyterians and the Revolution (1876)

These volumes and more record God's providential hand in American history, and as we remember the people, places and circumstances surrounding the establishment of the American republic over two centuries ago, these writers have much to say to us today. Take time to peruse these books, and consider the debt that we owe to those who fought for and upheld civil liberties as well as ecclesiastical. 

Rare Samuel Miller Work Added to Log College Press

It was while studying a work by a family friend, Julius Melton, Presbyterian Worship in American: Changing Patterns Since 1787, that this writer first came upon a reference to a volume by Samuel Miller. Melton drew upon Miller's volume to discuss the early conflict in a New York congregation between the use of the Psalms of David versus the hymns of Isaac Watts. Upon further investigation, it became apparent that this volume was so rare that it did not appear on two bibliographies known to this writer of Samuel Miller's works, including "the bibliography compiled by his granddaughter, Margaret Miller, published in The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. IX, No. 4, October 1911, entitled, 'A List of the Writings of Samuel Miller, D.D., LL.D., 1769-1850, Second Professor in Princeton Theological Seminary 1813-1850.'" However, it does appear in the bibliography of Miller's works compiled by Wayne Sparkman, Director of the PCA Historical Center, in the first volume of The Confessional Journal (2005).

The Miller volume in question is a Sketch of the Early History of the First Presbyterian Church, a 1937 reprint of A Brief Narrative of the Origin and Progress of the First Presbyterian Church of the City of New York written "about the year 1796." Copies of the 1937 reprint exist in several libraries, one of which is Princeton Theological Seminary Library, which gave this writer the courtesy of photographing the volume, thus allowing a digital copy to be made, which may now be the only such digital copy currently available on the internet. 

The "Brief Narrative" does not appear to exist in published form, but it exists in the manuscript collection for the First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York, located at the Presbyterian Historical Society, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: "Session minutes, 1765-1808; list of baptisms, 1766-1803; and a "Brief Narrative of the Origin and Progress of the First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York.'" Samuel Miller, Jr.'s biography of his father does not mention either title, but does include a suggestive footnote in Vol. 1, p. 82: "A history of the 'First Presbyterian Church of New York,' as it seems still to have been called after it was composed of the 'United Presbyterian Congregations,' may be found in Dr. Miller's Memoirs of Dr. Rodgers, Chaps. iv &c." Indeed, a comparison of multiple passages in Miller's 1813 biography of John Rodgers, his friend and colleague, with the 1796 "Brief Narrative" / 1937 "Sketch" shows many that are exactly the same, which is not surprising as Miller would naturally draw upon his earlier research for the history of the church which he and Rodgers co-pastored. 

The 1937 reprint does include additional supplemental material beyond what Miller wrote, including a list of ministers of the First Presbyterian Church, and a timeline that goes forward to the 1920's, as well as editorial notes. It is now available for those interested in early American Presbyterian Church history to download and read for themselves Miller's historical research. Take note of its several illustrations too. Please disregard the less-than-perfect quality of the photographs by this amateur historian and photographer which now make up this PDF file. Download it and read it when it you can - it is only 46 pages, but they are pages of gold. 

American History as Written by American Presbyterians

Besides ecclesiastical histories, some American Presbyterian clergymen, as students of history in general, have written notable volumes on the civil history of America, from the time of its discovery by Europeans forward, tracing God's providential hand in it. 

Consider the following examples:

To which can be added, Alexander McLeod (1774-1833)'s discourses on the War of 1812; William Carlos Martyn (1841-1917)'s history of the Pilgrim Fathers of New England; and William Pratt Breed (1816-1889)'s volumes of the War of 1776; among other contributions to American history studies. 

These volumes and more can be found at Log College Press, and make for valuable reading on the history of the United States of America from its earliest foundations onward. There are fascinating insights to be found within -- such as chapters on the aboriginal people living on the continent when Europeans arrived, the pre-Columbian discovery of America by Leif Erikson, and the first Protestant colonies planted in America by the French Huguenots (half a century before Jamestown and Plimoth Plantation). If you are in search of histories of America written by godly ministers from the past, take note of the volumes listed above, and start reading about the past today.