A poem by William H. Sheppard: The Cross

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William Henry Sheppard (1865-1927) was among the earliest African American Presbyterian missionaries. His work in the Congo - in terms of his missionary labors, his exposé (the joint work of his co-laborer William McCutchan Morrison) of the cruel atrocities practiced by the Belgian government in Congo, and his collection of African art and artifacts - is legendary. And, it should be noted, he was also a poet.

For your Sabbath reading here is a poem of his worthy of meditation.

The Cross

God laid upon my back a grievous load,
A heavy cross to bear along the road;
I staggered on, till, lo! one weary day,
An angry lion leaped across my way.
I prayed to God, and swift at His command
The cross became a weapon in my hand;
It slew my raging enemy, and then
It leaped upon my back a cross again!
I faltered many a league, until at length,
Groaning, I fell and found no further strength.
I cried: “O God! I am so weak and lame,”
And swift the cross a winged staff became,
It swept me on until I retrieved my loss,
Then leaped upon my back again a cross.
I reached a desert; on its burning track
I still perceived the cross upon my back.
No shad was there, and in the burning sun
I sank me down and thought my day was done;
But God’s grace works many a sweet surprise,
The cross became a tree before mine eyes.
I slept, awoke, and had the strength of ten,
Then felt the cross upon my back again.
And thus through all my days, from that to this,
The cross, my burden, has become my bliss;
Nor shall I ever lay my burden down,
For God shall one day make my cross a crown.

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.

Thomas Cary Johnson On How God Used William Carey for the Good of His Church

As I prepare to teach a Sunday School class on the theology and history of missions this summer, I’ve been greatly aided by Thomas Cary Johnson’s Introduction to Christian Missions (1909). He weaves together biblical theology, exegesis, and history beautifully, and does so from a high view of the church and its calling to be God’s appointed missionary society. We get a taste of how Johnson’s ecclesiology and missiology merge in his evaluation of how God used William Carey in the life of the church:

“Carey no more caused the mission movements which were so closely connected with his life than Luther caused the Reformation amongst the German people; but as Luther led and accelerated the one movement so Carey led, accelerated and gave his own character to early nineteenth century Protestant missions. In this way he was helping toward the awaking of more than individuals, and groups of individuals to a sense of their responsibility to be missionary. If the winning of religious toleration was a preparation to the winning of religious liberty in Virginia, in Colonial and Revolutionary days, so the excitation into being of great voluntary missionary societies was a preparation for something much better for the awakening of the Churches of Christendom to a consciousness of the fact that God's Church is the God-ordained missionary society, and that every Christian in virtue of his Church membership is a member of a missionary society, and as such is pledged to do his utmost for the disciplining of all nations.”

As a little lagniappe today, you’ll be encouraged by the missionary principles of Carey and his fellow-laborers, composed on October 7, 1805, as a "Form of Agreement Respecting the Great Principles on which the Brethren of the Mission at Serampore [in India] Think it their Duty to Act in the Work of Instructing the Heathen."

(1) It is absolutely necessary that we set an infinite value on immortal souls;

(2) that we gain all information of the snares and delusions in which these heathen are held;

(3) that we abstain from those things which would increase their prejudice against the Gospel;

(4) that we watch all opportunities of doing good;

(5) that we keep to the example of Paul and make the great subject of our preaching Christ the crucified;

(6) that the natives should have entire confidence in us and feel quite at home in our company;

(7) that we build up and watch over the souls that may be gathered;

(8) that we form our native brethren to usefulness, fostering every kind of genius and cherishing every gift and grace in them; especially advising the native churches to choose their pastors and deacons from among their own countrymen;

(9) that we labor with all our might in forwarding translations of the sacred Scriptures in the languages of India, and that we establish native free schools and recommend these establishments to other Europeans;

(10) that we be constant in prayer and the cultivation of personal religion to fit us for the discharge of these laborious and unutterably important labors; let us often look at Brainherd, in the woods of America, pouring out his very soul before God for the perishing heathen without whose salvation nothing could make him happy;

(11) that we give ourselves up unreservedly to this glorious cause. Let us never think that our time, our gifts, our strength, our families, or even the clothes' that we wear, are our own. Let us sanctify them all to God and his cause. Oh, that He may sanctify us for His work! No private family ever enjoyed a greater portion of happiness than we have done since we have resolved to have all things in common. If we are enabled to persevere, we may hope that multitudes of converted souls will have reason to bless God to all eternity for sending His Gospel to this country."

May the Lord cause his church today to pursue His glory and the good of the lost with the zeal of Carey and those who served with him!

A Centenarian Presbyterian: William Rankin

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Imagine what it would be like to live from the beginning of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. William Rankin, Jr., who served as both a ruling elder and the treasurer of the PCUSA Board of Foreign Missions (for 37 years), did just that.

Born on September 15, 1810, on a farm near Elizabeth, New Jersey, his longevity was such that at the time of his death on October 20, 1912, he was 102 years old, and was then the oldest college graduate in the United States. He took up the study of law, graduating from the Cincinnati Law School, and served as a law partner to Salmon P. Chase, who later became Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. He was married to wife Ellen (née Smith) for 62 years. Ecclesiastically, he served as ruling elder for the Third Presbyterian Church of Newark, NJ for 15 years and in the same capacity at the Wicliff Church for 11 years. Sixteen times he attended the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church as Commissioner from Newark. He was a trustee for the Bloomfield Theological Seminary; President of the Essex County Bible Society; President of the Newark Library Association; President of the Board of Trustees for the High Street Church; and a member of the Presbyterian Church Extension Committee. He was also a member of the New Jersey Historical Society from 1848 until the time of his death.

His 1857 address to the Synod of New Jersey on the subject of the Board of Missions was published by request of the Synod. He also authored Handbook and Incidents of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (1893) and Memorials of Foreign Missionaries of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (1895). These latter two works are valuable resources which cover the history of Presbyterian foreign missions in the 19th century, written by a man who devoted much of his life to aiding the cause of missions worldwide. We have previously alluded to his account of American Presbyterian missionary to India Joseph Owen (1814-1870), and this is but one of many fascinating biographical sketches to be found in his books.

If the history of world missions is of interest to you, take time to visit the William Rankin, Jr. page and read his remarkable books on foreign missions, written by a centenarian Presbyterian who spent his life in the service of God and the church.

The 1838 PCUSA (Old School) General Assembly's Pastoral Letter to Foreign Missionaries

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Samuel John Baird, in his famous Digest of the Minutes of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (officially titled A Collection of the Acts, Deliverances, and Testimonies of the Supreme Judicatory of the Presbyterian Church From its Origin in America to the Present Time) includes a beautiful pastoral letter from the General Assembly to its foreign missionaries in 1838. It is signed by William Swan Plumer, the Moderator of that Assembly, and John M. Krebs, the Assembly’s Permanent Clerk. Plumer, presumably the author of the letter, calls the attention of the missionaries to eight points of importance (I encourage the reader to read the entirety of each point, found on pages 358-362 of Baird’s Digest):

1. He earnestly exhorts them to aim continually at a high standard of personal piety.
2. He calls them, in imparting a knowledge of the gospel to the heathen, to be careful to communicate its pure and simple doctrines, without any of those additions or modifications which human philosophy, falsely so called, is apt to suggest.
3. He urges them to be careful to let their example at all times manifest the power and purity of the religion you teach.
4. He entreats them to bear in mind that all their labors will be in vain, unless they are accompanied and made effectual by the power of the Holy Spirit.
5. He encourages the foreign missionaries to let the heathen among whom they labor see that they [the missionaries] love them, and that they are intent on promoting their best interest.
6. He recommends to their attention, and to their unceasing prayers, the children of the heathen.
7. He exhorts them to be careful to maintain in all their missions, the worship and order, as well as the doctrine of the Presbyterian Church.
8. He asks them to be diligent in collecting all the information of every kind, which can be considered as bearing on the missionary cause.

Plumer concludes with this word of encouragement:

"Finally, dear brethren, you are engaged in the noblest cause that can employ the attention and efforts of mortals. Be faithful unto death, and you shall receive a crown of life. And unite with us in prayer that the whole Church may, with one heart and one soul, come up to the performance of this great work. We pledge ourselves, in the fear of God, to you and to the heathen world, that, by the favour of the Almighty King of Zion, we will go forward in this cause, and employ all the means which He may put at our disposal, in prosecuting the enterprise before us. May the Lord inspire you with wisdom, and gird you with strength ! And may the Spirit of Missions be poured out in large measures upon all the Churches, that they may all feel their obligation, and all, with one consent, and with united Strength, come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty!”

Do you know a foreign missionary? Forward this post to them, and let them know that you are praying for them with all your heart.

Princes Shall Come Out of Egypt: Gulian Lansing

The Psalmist wrote that “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God” (Ps. 68:31). This text has inspired the prayers and labors of many missionaries, but today’s post highlights the Rev. Gulian Lansing (1826-1892), known to history as the “Great Father” of the American Mission in Egypt, whose missionary narrative emphasizes this very verse.

Ordained as a pastor in the Associate Reformed Presbytery in 1850, he served six years in Syria, and then from 1857 to his death in 1896 he labored for the kingdom of God in Egypt, originally in Alexandria, and then based in Cairo, from 1858 under the auspices of the United Presbyterian Church of North America. Lansing recounted the early experiences of his travels and labors in Egypt’s Princes: A Narrative of Missionary Labor in the Valley of the Nile (1864, 1865).

Heather J. Sharkey, American Evangelicals in Egypt: Missionary Encounters in an Age of Empire (2008), p. 21, writes:

At first glance, Egypt’s Princes looks like a standard work of the missionary adventure genre that was so important to rousing American Protestant interest in missions. However, Lansing tried to his book from the “stirring and romantic,” noting that missionaries in Egypt, unlike their counterparts in Central Africa, found no wild beasts to slay. On the contrary, Lansing suggested that the big battle and “hard toil” facing missionaries in Egypt was learning Arabic: “I would rather traverse Africa from Alexandria to the Cape of Good Hope, than undertake for a second time to master the Arabic language.”

Master it he did, and he went on to perform translation work, served as an educator, and with the assistance of the Hon. Elbert Eli Farman, U.S. Consul General in Cairo, he did much to bring about official legal standing for the Protestant Church in Egypt in 1878. He worked tirelessly to promote the knowledge of the Arabic Bible and Psalter among the Coptic Church and among Muslims. The seeds he sowed further laid the groundwork for the establishment of the American University in Cairo in 1919 under the leadership of Charles R. Walton (1871-1948).

The Scottish-born historian of the American Mission in Egypt, Andrew Watson, who was laid to rest in the same cemetery as Lansing wrote of this missionary giant:

He was one of the chief factors in the mission whether as preacher, professor, writer, counselor, as will be seen by any reader of this history. The central premises of the mission in Cairo are a monument of his faith and his works, for though others shared in the collection of the funds and in the erection of the building, no one will deny that the plan was his conception, and to his tact and perseverance we are indebted to securing its completion. His letters in the Church papers and in the monthlies and quarterlies were always interesting and profitable. I have written at length about him when speaking of his death in Chapter XXIII. His mortal remains lie in the American cemetery at Old Cairo, waiting by the side of his co-laborers for the resurrection morn.

Gulian Lansing was truly a “prince in Israel” (2 Sam. 3:38) who loved and labored for Egypt’s people and princes.

William M. Morrison's "Eureka" Moment

A Virginia native who answered God’s call to serve His kingdom in Africa, William McCutchan Morrison protested against atrocities committed in the Belgian Congo, and authored a grammar-dictionary of the Buluba-Lulua language. His biographer, T.C. Vinson, recounts a certain “Eureka” moment that Morrison had as he attempted to understand the native tongue.

Mr. Morrison tells us in his own words the manner in which he accomplished this great linguistic feat. "The key words to any language are the questions, 'What is this?' and 'What did you say?' Once these are gotten, the way opens up and the language begins to unlock. And these phrases are best gotten by taking a seat in a group of people and pulling out a pocket knife or some other article with which the people are not familiar. Now, listen with all ears, for some one in the crowd is almost certain to utter the mystic words, 'What is that?' When it has been gotten, the names of all familiar objects can be obtained at once. By intent never-tiring listening the more common verbs will begin to come, then adjectives and other parts of speech, together with phrases and sentences, the meaning of which is known but the grammatical construction of which is still a mystery. It is unnecessary here to go into all the intricacies of language study — the getting of words and sentences and idioms and the working out of the laws of inflection, concord, etc. To complete all this — if indeed it can ever be said to be completed—is the labor of many weary days and months and years. And yet this has been for me a work fraught with much pleasure. Some of the happiest and most exhilarating moments of my life have been over the discovery of some new words for which I had been searching perhaps for years, or over the solution of some grammatical construction which had baffled me for so long. Often have I jumped up, leaving my astonished language teacher behind, and have run across the station crying out, 'Eureka,' in order to announce to my colleagues the discovery of such a word as 'Saviour,' or 'Redeemer,' or 'Comforter.' It was more valuable than a diamond dug out of the rubbish — this word that would be a gem through which could flash new light and beauty into benighted souls.”

From his grammar-dictionary:

  • Saviour - musungidi, muhandixi

  • Redeemer - musungidi, muhikudi

  • Comfort - samba, bomba, kälexa mucima

Happy New Year and Happy Birthday!

We wish to take this opportunity to wish all of our readers a very Happy New Year! We have grown much in the past year, and we couldn’t have done it without your interest and support. We are excited to see what 2019 holds for Log College Press and its readers.

Meanwhile, January 1st marks the birthday of four of our LCP authors:

  • Leonard Woolsey Bacon (Jan. 1, 1830 - May 12, 1907) was a pastor of both Presbyterian and Congregational churches, and a prolific writer;

  • William Imbrie (Jan. 1, 1845 - Aug. 4, 1928) was both a Princeton graduate and a longtime missionary to Japan;

  • James Calvin McFeeters (Jan. 1, 1848 - Dec. 24, 1928) served as a minister of the gospel for 54 years; he was moderator of Synod (RPCNA) in 1894; he served as President of the Board of Trustees at Geneva College; and he authored several books about the Covenanters; and

  • Philip Schaff (Jan. 1, 1819 - Oct. 20, 1893) was a Swiss-born Reformed minister who joined the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1870, and wrote extensively on church history and other matters.

January 1, 2019 also marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Swiss Reformation in Zurich. Ulrich Zwingli’s (who also was born on January 1, 1484) biographer, William Maxwell Blackburn, in Ulrich Zwingli, The Patriotic Reformer: A History , tells us how it began on January 1, 1519:

On New Year s day, 1519, the thirty-fifth birthday of the preacher, Zwingli went into the cathedral pulpit. A great crowd, eager to hear the celebrated man, was before him. "It is to Christ that I desire to lead you," said he "to Christ the true source of salvation. His divine word is the only food that I wish to set before your souls." This was the theme of his inaugural on Saturday. He then announced that on the following day he would begin to expound Matthew s gospel. The next morning the preacher and a still larger audience were at their posts. He opened the long-sealed book and read the first page. He caused his hearers to marvel at that chapter of names. But it was the human genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ patriarchs, prophets, kings were mentioned in it Jewish history was summed up therein and how forcibly did it teach that all the preceding ages had existed for the sake of him who was born of Mary, and named Immanuel! And there was the name Jesus " He shall save his people from their sins." The enraptured auditors went home saying, "We never heard the like of this before!"

Be sure to check out all of these authors, and more as we commence the New Year! “The deeper you root yourself backward in God’s work in the past, the more abundant will be the fruit you bear forward into the future.” — Caleb Cangelosi

A Dog, a Glacier, a Mountaineer and a Missionary

It was John Muir, the world-famous pioneer explorer who once said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” In the summers of 1879 and 1880, “the most interesting period of [Muir’s] adventurous life,” the experienced mountaineer teamed up with the pioneer Presbyterian missionary, Samuel Hall Young, to explore Alaska’s Glacier Bay.

On that first summer trip together, Muir had agreed with some reluctance to take Young on a hiking expedition over a range of mountains that would include Glenora Peak. The hike was intended to cover 14 to 16 miles round-trip and to ascend to an elevation of 7,000 feet. Rev. Young was in good shape and promised to keep up with the expert hiker, although he kept to himself the fact that previous injuries had caused shoulders to be prone to dislocation.

Young did manage to keep up, but there was a terrifying moment when he slipped and landed on a ledge, in fact dislocating both shoulders. Muir had to work his way back to rescue Young, at one point, pulling Young’s collar by his teeth. It was a epic rescue, whereby Muir dragged, carried and guided his friend down Glenora Peak under the starlight while Young was in great agony. One would wish to see this event portrayed in a movie someday.

The following summer, as the two men again prepared to hike on a different mountainous route, Rev. Young brought his dog Stickeen along (so named for the Stikeen Indians in the area; Muir had an Indian crew with him to assist on this expedition), against Muir’s objections.

John Muir Stickeen cover.jpg

Muir later wrote:

I like dogs, but this one seemed so small and worthless that I objected to his going, and asked the missionary why he was taking him.

"Such a little helpless creature will only be in the way," I said; "you had better pass him up to the Indian boys on the wharf, to be taken home to play with the children. This trip is not likely to be good for toy-dogs. The poor silly thing will be in rain and snow for weeks or months, and will require care like a baby." But his master assured me that he would be no trouble at all; that he was a perfect wonder of a dog, could endure cold and hunger like a bear, swim like a seal, and was wondrous wise and cunning, etc., making out a list of virtues to show he might be the most interesting member of the party.

Just as Muir did not want the animal to hinder their hike, the dog himself seemed aloof to Muir. But the experiences they went through together on another perilous high-altitude glacier precipice in the midst of a storm changed all that. The dog indeed could endure hardship and it was during the intense trials experienced by the expedition that his loyalty and devotion to the leader of the group developed. Muir and Stickeen bonded in the most remarkable way, with their companionship during the difficult expedition becoming the stuff of legends.

Muir later wrote a book which immortalized his canine friend. First published in 1897 under the title An Adventure With a Dog and a Glacier, it was later republished in 1909 as Stickeen: The Story of a Dog, and in 1915 as Stickeen: An Adventure With a Dog and a Glacier (see this introduction to the classic work). After Young read it, he had this to say:

That little, long-haired, brisk, beautiful, but very independent dog, in co-ordination with Muir's genius, was to give to the world one of its greatest dog-classics. Muir's story of ''Stickeen" ranks with "Rab and His Friends" [1859; by Dr. John Brown (1810-1882) of the famous Scottish Presbyterian John Brown of Haddington and Edinburgh family], ''Bob, Son of Battle” [1898; by Alfred Ollivant], and far above "The Call of the Wild" [1903; by Jack London]. Indeed, in subtle analysis of dog character, as well as beauty of description, I think it outranks all of them. All over the world men, women and children are reading with laughter, thrills and tears this exquisite little story.

In time, Young actually became famous as the owner of that famous dog, Stickeen. Muir also wrote Travels in Alaska (1915), which recounts in much more detail both adventures briefly described above. Meanwhile, Young is the author of Alaska Days With John Muir (1915), which gives his account of both adventures (interspersed with his own poems) and shows his admiration of the man who followed the Book of Nature, while he himself — later superintendent of Presbyterian missions in Alaska — was man of the Book of Revelation who also loved nature. Other books by Young include Klondike Clan (1916); Adventures in Alaska (1919); Kenowan, the Hydah Boy (1919); and his autobiography, Hall Young of Alaska: The Mushing Parson (1927) — some of which are available to read at Log College Press. If you love reading about adventure, mountains, and man’s best friend — stories told by a Presbyterian pioneer missionary — these are tales that you will wish to explore for yourself from the comfort of your chair at home.

Thomas Smyth on the Duty of Interesting Children in the Missionary Cause

Parents today are quick to involve their children in all manner of opportunities and activities, in to develop the body and mind, to let them see what desires and aptitudes they might have, and to build a resume that will be smiled upon by some university admissions officer in future years. But are we deliberately inculcating a heart for missions and the practice of missions in our children? Thomas Smyth, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston, South Carolina, writes powerfully about this duty:

"It is evident that parents are laid under obligation not only to ‘train their children in the way that they should go, that when they are old they may not depart from it,’ but also to ‘bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,’ that is, (as the words certainly mean, and should be rendered in order to make them more intelligible,) ‘bring them up in the education and discipline of Christians,’ that is, of those who ‘are the Lord's.’ We are thus taught that our children by their baptism are devoted to the Lord, and become members of his church and kingdom, and that we are under obligation to bring them up as such, not merely by instructing them, and thoroughly imbuing their minds with Christian truth, but also by accustoming them to, and interesting them in, every part of Christian activity, devotedness, and zeal.

"It follows, therefore, as an undeniable inference, that it is incumbent upon every Christian, parent, teacher, and church, to see to it that the children of their charge are brought up as the Lord's, — as Christians, — as members of his visible church, — and therefore not only as those who ought to believe in him, and to know the doctrines that are of God, but as those who are bound also to love him, to serve him, to honor him, and to co-operate, according to their measure of ability and their sphere of influence, in the promotion of his glory, and the advancement of his cause. And as the term ‘Missionary’ is employed to designate the work of making known ‘the glorious gospel of the blessed God’ to those that know it not, — which is the great work and duty of the church, and of every Christian — it is therefore our manifest duty to bring up our children in a missionary spirit, and in a missionary practice.

"A missionary is one who is sent to preach the gospel to those that are ‘sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death,’ whether abroad, or in our own country. To have a missionary spirit, is to be anxiously desirous that such missionaries should be sent, and the gospel made known to all that are ‘perishing for lack of knowledge.’ And a missionary practice or habit, is the habit of carrying out this desire, first, by praying that such missionaries may be raised up ‘and sent forth by the Lord of the harvest, into every part of his vineyard; secondly, by contributing as far as we can towards meeting the necessary expense of sending and supporting these missionaries, and supplying what is necessary to establish schools and print bibles, and other needful books; and, thirdly, by uniting with zeal in such efforts as will promote this spirit, and secure this habit…

"[It] is utterly impossible to have a missionary spirit, unless the heart is full of love and devotion to the cause of Christ; unless we can with pleasure give up everything however much it might add to our present comfort or happiness if it interferes with our duty; and unless we can bear all sorts of privations and trials that we may meet with in that narrow path. In short, to be able in all things to give up self, and think only how we can best serve God, promote his glory, and do his will, this alone is a real Missionary spirit. But this is the very spirit which must be shown, if we would see God's glory promoted, in every situation of life in which it may please him to place us. And hence we have seen some people who never went ten miles from home, do as much good in winning souls to Christ, as if they had left their country and travelled thousands of miles to reach the heathen. Missionaries, therefore, in the true sense of the word, but above all, a Missionary spirit, are needed everywhere! and in every condition of life."

-- from Thomas Smyth, "The Duty of Interesting Children in the Missionary Cause," in Complete Works of Thomas Smyth, Volume 7, pages 332, 345.

Three Indian Catechisms by American Presbyterian Ministers

The Reformed Faith has long been a missional faith, and America’s early Presbyterians had an interest in propagating the Gospel among the Native Americans. The first Presbyterian minister America sent as a missionary to Indians on Long Island was Rev. Azariah Horton (1715-1777).

Another early Presbyterian minister, Rev. Abraham Pierson (c. 1611-1678), composed a catechism for Algonquian Native Americans, in the Quiripi language of Connecticut and Long Island, under the title Some Helps For the Indians. The catechism was designed to show them that there was one God, and then to teach them about Gospel of Christ. It is an interesting piece, and a helpful one in understanding how Catechisms have been used to help people of every tribe and tongue to understand the Gospel of Christ. Like John Eliot’s A Primer or Catechism in the Massachusetts Indian Language (1654), Pierson’s catechism borrows much material from William Perkins’ The Foundation of Christian Religion Gathered Into Six Principles (1558).

In the 19th century, Stephen Return Riggs (1812-1883) served as a missionary to the Sioux or Dakota Indians of the Great Plains. He did much to translate the Scriptures into their language, and published a Dakota Catechism as well. His autobiography — Mary and I, or Forty Years with the Sioux — is a fascinating account of his missionary endeavors.

Additionally, Amory Nelson Chamberlin (1824-1894) is worthy of mention. In the War Between the States, Chamberlin served as a scout and quartermaster for Brigadier General Stand Watie, a Cherokee leader who fought for the Confederacy (together with his brother Buck Watie, later known as Elias Boudinot, Stand Watie had earlier written articles for The Cherokee Phoenix, the first Native American newspaper). After the War, Chamberlin followed in his father’s and grandfather’s steps to become a Presbyterian missionary to the Cherokee Indians, who typically preached his sermons bilingually. After persistent requests, he received a press which used the Cherokee font (the written alphabet was developed by Sequoyah only in 1821) and he used that to publish such valuable works as The Shorter Catechism With Proofs in Cherokee (1892), and the Cherokee Pictorial Book: With Catechism and Hymns (1888), a partial PDF of which may be found at Log College Press.

Catechisms have long been a useful tool to inculcate knowledge, and these Quiripi, Dakota and Cherokee catechisms provide a window into the lengths to which American Presbyterian missionaries have gone historically to help Native Americans to better understand Scriptural truths in their own languages. For further study on 19th century American Presbyterian missionary labors on behalf of the Indians, see Michael C. Coleman, Presbyterian Missionary Attitudes toward American Indians, 1837-1893.

The Story of a Dedicated Life

The story of American Presbyterian missionary to India Joseph Owen (1814-1870) is a fascinating and inspiring tale. It is told in a biographical sketch by William Rankin, Jr. in Memorials of Foreign Missionaries of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and in a full-length biography by James Clement Moffat ("his earliest and dearest friend"), The Story of a Dedicated Life.

Born in Bedford, New York, Joseph Owen completed his undergraduate studies and theological training at Princeton. In 1840, after being appointed a missionary in the service of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, he sailed to India by way of Boston, Massachusetts, and around the Cape of Good Hope. He would spend the next 28 years of his life serving the Presbyterian Church in Northern India, in Allahabad. His commitment to the missionary cause of Jesus Christ was rock solid, but the pains of separation from family and friends were deep. 

"Dedication to missionary work had become a part of himself. It had ceased to be a question before his mind. As such it had been closed up long ago, never more to be opened. It was the decree of God for him. He knew that it would cost self-denial. But his mind was made up for self-denial. What it would cost was no longer to be considered. He had summed up all that when he gave himself to the Lord. Nor was this separation from all he loved most dearly upon earth designed to be temporary. In his view it was final. The devotion of himself was without reserve. It was to live and die in his work" (Moffat, p. 8).

While in India, besides his preaching endeavors, he also completed an edition of the Old Testament in Hindi, and commentaries on Isaiah and the Psalms in the Urdu language (as a student at Princeton in Biblical literature and Oriental languages "he earned the highest commendations of Dr. Joseph Addison Alexander"). He married twice during his time in India, and when his course was finished, he left behind two children as well. In 1869, he determined to leave India for a short time in order to visit Europe and America with a plan to return to India to spend the remainder of his days. It was in Edinburgh, Scotland, however, before ever returning to America, that he became sick with dysentery and ultimately passed away on December 4, 1870, in the presence of Dr. Robert S. Candlish. He conveyed his final warmest regards to the flock he left behind in Allahabad: "Tell them to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, not seeking merely after worldly advancement, but seeking first the service of Christ." "Tell them that I have never for a moment regretted that I went as a missionary. I only regret that I was not more faithful."

So closed the chapter on a dedicated missionary servant of the Lord Jesus Christ whose name is barely known today, although it is written in the precious Book of Life. Get to know his story in the writings of Moffat and Rankin because it is the story of an ordinary man who performed extraordinary service for the kingdom of God in the land of India. 

Should Christians raise children who love missions? Thomas Smyth says, "Absolutely. And here's what that means."

"It is evident that parents are laid under obligation not only to “train their children in the way that they should go, that when they are old they may not depart from it,” but also to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” that is, (as the words certainly mean, and should be rendered in order to make them more intelligible,) “bring them up in the education and discipline of Christians,” that is, of those who “are the Lord's.” We are thus taught that our children by their baptism are devoted to the Lord, and become members of his church and kingdom, and that we are under obligation to bring them up as such, not merely by instructing them, and thoroughly imbuing their minds with Christian truth, but also by accustoming them to, and interesting them in, every part of Christian activity, devotedness, and zeal.

"It follows, therefore, as an undeniable inference, that it is incumbent upon every Christian, parent, teacher, and church, to see to it that the children of their charge are brought up as the Lord's,—as Christians,—as members of his visible church,—and therefore not only as those who ought to believe in him, and to know the doctrines that are of God, but as those who are bound also to love him, to serve him, to honor him, and to co-operate, according to their measure of ability and their sphere of influence, in the promotion of his glory, and the advancement of his cause. And as the term “Missionary” is employed to designate the work of making known “the glorious gospel of the blessed God” to those that know it not,—which is the great work and duty of the church, and of every Christian—it is therefore our manifest duty to bring up our children in a missionary spirit, and in a missionary practice.

"A missionary is one who is sent to preach the gospel to those that are “sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death,” whether abroad, or in our own country. To have a missionary spirit, is to be anxiously desirous that such missionaries should be sent, and the gospel made known to all that are “perishing for lack of knowledge.” And a missionary practice or habit, is the habit of carrying out this desire, first, by praying that such missionaries may be raised up “and sent forth by the Lord of the harvest, into every part of his vineyard ; secondly, by contributing as far as we can towards meeting the necessary expense of sending and supporting these missionaries, and supplying what is necessary to establish schools and print bibles, and other needful books; and, thirdly, by uniting with zeal in such efforts as will promote this spirit, and secure this habit…

"[It] is utterly impossible to have a missionary spirit, unless the heart is full of love and devotion to the cause of Christ; unless we can with pleasure give up everything however much it might add to our present comfort or happiness if it interferes with our duty; and unless we can bear all sorts of privations and trials that we may meet with in that narrow path. In short, to be able in all things to give up self, and think only how we can best serve God, promote his glory, and do his will, this alone is a real Missionary spirit. But this is the very spirit which must be shown, if we would see God's glory promoted, in every situation of life in which it may please him to place us. And hence we have seen some people who never went ten miles from home, do as much good in winning souls to Christ, as if they had left their country and travelled thousands of miles to reach the heathen. Missionaries, therefore, in the true sense of the word, but above all, a Missionary spirit, are needed everywhere! and in every condition of life."

-- from Thomas Smyth, "The Duty of Interesting Children in the Missionary Cause," in Complete Works of Thomas Smyth , Volume 7, pages 332, 345.

A 19th Century American Presbyterian Commentary on the Westminster Shorter Catechism

If I asked you for a list of commentaries on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, chances are this two volume set by Ashbel Green wouldn't be on it. But you can find it here, written for the youth of his day. He also published a history of Presbyterian mission work during the 19th century. There's more Ashbel Green material out there to be found, so check back again soon.