Pioneer Presbyterian Samuel Doak

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Samuel Doak (1749-1830) is known by many titles — "the Apostle of Learning and Religion in the West"; "the First Apostle of Presbyterianism in Tennessee"; "the Pioneer of Education in Tennessee”; and the “Pioneer Parson” whose prayer at Sycamore Shoals inspired the Patriot Overmountain Men before the Battle of King’s Mountain in 1780. He is also known for his stance on immediate abolition of slavery, a position which he took in 1818. But despite his importance as a leading pioneer Presbyterian and educator, we have little in the way of actual sermons or other published writings by him.

We have recently added to Log College Press Samuel Doak’s posthumously-published Lectures on Human Nature. This “Epitome” consists of a series of lectures (study questions were added after each lecture by the publisher) that Doak used to teach his students. Considering the scarcity of published writings from his hand, and considering that these lectures were born from his own studies under William Graham of Liberty Hall Academy and John Witherspoon of Princeton, as well as his teaching days at Hampden-Sydney and Washington College, they represent a valuable source of information as to what this noted educator taught his pupils about such topics as education, first principles, the will, common sense, memory, the state of mankind, etc. Two additional essays by his sons — who were also themselves Presbyterian ministers — were appended to this work (Samuel Witherspoon Doak on the Conscience and John Whitfield Doak on Life).

This interesting work is worthy of notice for the insight it gives us into early 19th century American Presbyterian education, and because it helps us to understand what a famous pioneer parson, who influenced so many around him in his day, believed about the nature of man.

Why should Christians care what the Bible says about the character and conduct of pastors? John Witherspoon answers.

"To understand what ought to be the character, and what principles should animate the conduct of a minister of the Gospel, cannot be without profit, even to a private Christian. It will teach him whom to prefer, when he is called, in providence, to make a choice. It will teach him to hold such in reputation for their office sake, and to improve the privilege of a regular gospel ministry, if he himself is favored with it. And I think it must incline him to make daily supplication to the Lord of the harvest, to send forth faithful laborers into his harvest." -- John Witherspoon, "Ministerial Character and Duty," in Works (Volume 2)