The Most Important Day in the Life of Philip Vickers Fithian

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March 31, 1766, was the most important day in Philip Vickers Fithian’s life. It was a Monday, and Philip was still reflecting on the sermons that Rev. Simon Williams had preached the day before.

Thus John Fea begins chapter 2 (“A Presbyterian Conversion”) of The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (2008). Rev. Williams had preached the day before on Psalm 24 and John 17, and these sermons made a deep impression upon the young man whose journal is noted by historians today for its valuable insights into the culture and religious practices of colonial New Jersey and Virginia.

Since that January, Fithian had come under increasing conviction of sin and his need of a Savior. The last day of March proved for him to be a “spiritual breakthrough” (Fea, p. 55).

His journal entry for the day begins with a customary report on the weather:

This morning is calm pleasant and clear, before noon the Wind rose at north-north-east and is very pleasant; in the after-noon the Wind came West moderately.

Then we note the following poetic lines:

Degenerate minds, in many error lost; 
May combat heaven & impious triumphs boast, 
But while my veins feel annimating fires, 
And vital air, this breathing breast inspires; 
Grateful to Heaven, I'll stretch a pious wing; 
And sing his praise, who gives one power to sing.

Although we know that Fithian tried his hand at poetry (his “Valentine” poem, written for Miss Priscilla Carter, for example, is well-known). these particular lines are in fact taken from the ending of a 1712 epic poem titled “Creation” by Sir Richard Blackmore. Fea tells us that at the time Fithian “was dwelling in Greenwich [New Jersey], but he inhabited two distinctly cultural worlds. He cut ‘hoop-poles’ in the morning and returned to his room in the evening to read Sir Richard Blackmore’s poetry” (p. 59). These verses clearly stood out to Fithian at a very crucial moment in his life.

Finally, we take note of Fithian’s acceptance of Christ as his Savior.

He that upon the loving request of 
God and Christ, made to them by the 
mouth of Ministers, having commission 
to that effect, hath embraced the offers 
of perpetual reconciliation through 
Christ, and doth purpose by Gods grace,
as a reconciled person, to strive against 
sin, and to serve God, to the uttermost of 
his power; constantly; may be assumd'
to have righteousness, and eternal life 
given to him for the obedience of Christ 
imputed to him; as it is sure that Christ 
was condemned, and put to death for 
the sins of the redeemed, imputed to him.

But I, upon the loving request of God, 
and Christ, made to me, by the mouth of 
his ministers, have embraced the offers 
of perpetual reconciliation through 
Christ; and do purpose by Gods grace, 
a reconciled person, to strive against 
sin, and to serve God with all my power 
constantly, therefore I may be assure 
to have righteousness, and eternal life 

Although these words are quoted by Fea, what is not discussed in the book is the fact that they are also an almost verbatim quote - this time from The Sum of Saving Knowledge (1652), a succinct presentation of the gospel jointly authored by Scottish Covenanters James Durham and David Dickson, and often printed along with the official and unofficial Westminster Standards. The significance of this quote is that Fithian took note of the prescribed manner in the Presbyterian tradition of a sinner embracing the promises of the gospel. In the words of Durham and Dickson:

Hence may a weak believer strengthen his faith, by reasoning from this ground after this manner:

He that, upon the loving request of God and Christ, made to him by the mouth of his Ministers, (having commission to that effect,) hath embraced the offer of perpetual reconciliation through Christ, and doth purpose, by God's grace, as a reconciled person, to strive against sin, and to serve God to his power constantly, may be as sure to have righteousness and eternal life given to him, for the obedience of Christ imputed to him, as it is sure that Christ was condemned and put to death for the sins of the redeemed imputed to him.

But I (may the weak believer say) upon the loving request of God and Christ, made to me by the mouth of his Ministers, have embraced the offer of perpetual reconciliation through Christ, and do purpose by God's grace, as a reconciled person to strive against sin, and to serve God to my power constantly.

Therefore I may be as sure to have righteousness and eternal life given to me, for the obedience of Christ imputed to me, as it is sure that Christ was condemned and put to death for the sins of the redeemed imputed to him.

In this manner, Fithian expressed privately in his journal how his soul closed with Christ. “Shortly after he ‘embraced the offers of perpetual reconciliation with Christ,’ Philip started to write less about God’s plan of redemption and more about the necessary disciplines that were essential to living a Christian life” (Fea, p. 55). Fithian would go on to graduate from the College of New Jersey (Princeton), and serve as an ordained Presbyterian minister, missionary, chaplain and tutor before illness took his life at the age of 28.

It is always fascinating to read a journal, especially the diaries of saints who have gone before. In this case, taking a close look at such a pivotal moment in the short life of this colonial Presbyterian minister reveals important influences on his life and the direction that it would soon take. It was indeed “the most important day” of his brief life on this earth.

The Poetic Prayers of John Craig

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The 1769 autobiography of the Rev. John Craig (1709-1774), the Irish-American pioneer Presbyterian pastor who ministered in Augusta County, Virginia and elsewhere was originally titled “A Preacher Preaching to Himself From a Long Text of No Less Than 60 Years: On Review of Past Life.” The full text of this manuscript was included in Lillian Kennerly Craig’s Reverend John Craig, 1709-1774: His Descendants and Allied Families (1963), a valuable genealogical history, which was recently made available to the public domain via the Internet Archive, and recently added to Log College Press. It is a rich treasury of material, historical and devotional in nature, including Craig’s 1764 Farewell Sermon addressed to the congregation at Tinkling Spring of Fisherville, Virginia..

Craig, John, Autobiography Title Page.jpg

The editor has noted that Craig’s recorded prayers are poetic in nature.

Not intended by him to be blank verse, but that is what his beautiful prose really is. Reverend Craig was a gifted writer. I suggest that you rewrite aIl of his prayers in the form of blank verse.

Two particular prayers were rendered in blank verse by the editor.

O my God,
Perfect what Thou hast early begun in me.
Oh, let me lean upon Thee! Thou, Thou alone art the only
beloved of my Soul!
Keep my love stead to Thee,
and be Thou ever near me.
Drive away all my fears; give me true and saving faith in Thee,
and in Thy promises.
Strengthen, help and uphold me in life, and thro Death,
by the right hand of Thy Righteousness.
Forsake me not, or I am undone forever!
Save me or I perish! Oh grant these to me
for Christ’s sake.
Amen

And another:

Eternal and Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe,
who rules and over rules all the events therein,
Thou art my God by creation, and by dedication,
by preservation, and by personal covenant relation.
Make me Thine by renovation and sanctification.
And thro faith in Christ, make me one of Thy children,
precious in Thy sight.
Oh Heavenly Father in Christ,
I now praise Thee with all my heart!
Thou early won my love, and Thou hast been
the Guide of my youth. Thy love, care and bounty
never failed. And as a loving and tender parent,
Thou took notice of my pride, vice and folly,
chastised and corrected me, yet took not
Thy loving kindness from me. Ye delivered me
from the Gates of Death, from the grave’s cruel
and devouring mouth. Thou sanctify’d the corrections,
and brought me to a sense of sin. Thou humbled me
in mine own sight, brought me to repentance
and to a cheerful resignation to Thy will.

Thou brought me to serve Thee
how, when, and where Thou pleas’d to call me —
with a firm dependence on Thy promise of the Holy Spirit
to guide, support and comfort me.
Glory in the highest to my God!
who not withstanding all my shortcomings and backslidings
from Thee, hast not left me to myself,
but by various chastisements and kind restraints;
with many comfortable providence, and constant striving
of the Holy Spirit still calling after me,
”This day return, my backsliding child,
I will heal thy backslidings!”
O my God, for Christ’s sake, give, O give me a heart to say
”Behold I come unto Thee, for Thou art the Lord,
Thou art my God!”

Oh leave me not now when old age steals in upon me,
but hold me up with the right hand
of Thy Righteousness.
Wean my heart from the world and all its sensual pleasures!
Dearest Lord,
Arm me to meet the king of terrors with courage;
he is Thy captive, and Thy messenger.
Let his sting and terror be taken away;
let him be the welcome messenger at Thy command
to call me from a world of misery
to Thy kingdom of Glory, purchased by Thy Blood —
for all that believe in Thy Name!
There I shall be one monument of Thy richest mercy,
to the eternal Glory of Thy free Grace,
of Thy unmerited Grace to sinners of whom I, even I
am Chief. But yet I am Thine!
O, Save me for Thy Glory’s Sake
Amen.

The present writer has taken it upon himself to follow the editor’s precedent and to put another of Rev. Craig’s prayers into blank verse (without changing the spelling) as follows:

O Father of Mercy,
ye Foundain of all Good, make me truly thankful to thee
for that mercy, goodness, and care thou hast taken of me --
especially in my days of foolish childhood and youthful vanity.
O remember not the errors of my youth,
but forgive them all for Christ’s sake, and in Him now
accept me a poor, guilty sinner.
Oh give strength and courage now, when Nature fails,
to fight the good fight of faith and to finish my course with joy;
not fearing even the King of Terrors thro Christ his Conqueror,
the Captain of my Salvation, the foundation of all my hopes,
and the Purchaser of present comfort and future joy and Glory for me,
and for all that truly believe in his name!
Make me faithful unto death so that I may truly expect life from thee!
And to ye, Three-in-one, thro Christ,
be all Glory, now and thro Endless Eternity.
Amen.

Further editing of the poetic prayers of John Craig might result in a devotional work not unlike the Valley of Vision on a smaller scale. For now, this brief introduction to Craig’s personal writings — indeed, the soliloquy of a soul crying out to God — may serve to whet the appetite of those who share Craig’s spiritual hunger for his beloved Christ.

Girardeau's "Flower of Hope"

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Chapter 11 in George A. Blackburn’s The Life Work of John L. Girardeau, D.D., LL.D.: Late Professor in the Theological Seminary, Columbia, S.C. (1916) gives a guided tour of the poetry produced by the great Southern Presbyterian theologian. One representative poem given for purposes of devotional meditation today is his poem “The Flower of Hope.”

The Flower of Hope

When Eve, our first mother, forlorn,
Was banished the garden of God,
She plucked at the root of a thorn
A flower be-sprinkled with blood.

And we, the sad children of Eve,
May find the same blood-tinctured rose;
The emblem of Hope when we grieve,
Midst thorny afflictions it blows.

It blooms in the chamber of woe,
Where widows are drooping the head.
And little ones timidly go
A tip-toe to gaze on the dead.

It grows where the stormy winds rave
In this valley of sin and of gloom;
It springs from the mould of the grave,
And twines rounds the gates of the tomb.

Dear Fanny, ‘tis faith in the Cross
Which causes this flower divine
To bloom in the sepulchre’s moss;
Its promise of glory be thine!

A Wedding Poem by Samuel Doak

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It was on October 31, 1775 that Samuel Doak married Esther Houston Montgomery. The diary of this pioneer Presbyterian minister and educator records a poem that he wrote on this special occasion. It can be found in William Gunn Calhoun, Samuel Doak, 1748-1830: His Life, His Children, Washington College, pp. 25-26 (available at our Secondary Sources page).

The hour is come, we join our hands,
And bind ourselves in wedlock bands,
In presence of Almighty God to vows perpetual.
There we read: — ‘Tis past.
Then first of all we pray
That God may bind our souls to-day
In bonds of everlasting love;
Commenced below; improved above.
Then whilst our moments wing heavenward
And bear us to heaven the final day
O may each heart be true
In honor of our Saviour God
Nor accustom our unhallowed list
Nor glittering stores of worldly dust
Not all the tempting arts of man
Could then our hearts cement in one.
Great God, our witness, ‘Twas thou that joined
Our hearts and hands, and formed our mind
For social intercourse; then may
Our souls as one here — join to pray.



Encouragement from W.P. Jacobs

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Presbyterian minister and founder of Thornwell Orphanage William Plumer Jacobs (named for the adoptive father of his mother, William Swan Plumer) was also a poet as evidenced by the various compositions found in his diary and published in journals. The following is one such poem found in William Plumer Jacobs: Literary and Biographical, p. 126, edited by his son Thornwell Jacobs, also a poet.

ENCOURAGEMENT

Heaven helps the brave.
Be strong then, brother, in the war of life
'Een to the grave,
If thou wouldst conquer in its boist'rous strife.
Dost thou despair?
Go then to him from whom all courage flows,
In lowly prayer: —
Gain strength to deal 'gainst sin thy
Fiercest blows.

Not by thy might.
Canst thou e'er be victorious in this war.
But God and Right
Thy only sure and trusty weapons are.

May these lines serve as an encouragement to you, dear reader, on this Monday morning.

John Calvin's Grave: A poem by Samuel J. Fisher

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Samuel Jackson Fisher (1847-1928) was a leading African-American Presbyterian minister in his day, who served as the pastor of the Swissvale Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for 35 years; served as a long-time member of the faculty of Chatham University (then known as the Pennsylvania College for Women; served as President of the Presbyterian Board of Missions to the Freedmen; and who authored many articles, as well as a volume of poetry dedicated to his deceased wife: The Romance of Pittsburgh or Under Three Flags, and Other Poems. We have extracted here one poem which is especially noteworthy; a tribute to the great Reformer who was buried in Geneva, Switzerland, in an unmarked grave.

John Calvin’s Grave

In fair Geneva, near the arrowy Rhone,
John Calvin sleeps,—his grave without a stone.
Unmarked, unknown, yet near the busy street
Which echoed often to his hurrying feet.
While far away he saw those peaks of snow,
The Alps, so radiant in the sunset glow.
And watched Mt. Blanc's upsoaring dome,
Like some huge billow with its crest of foam,
Fit type of him, whose vast majestic mind
In moral grandeur towers o'er mankind.
Around that peak the tempests whirl and lower
And crackling lightnings blaze in hateful power,
Yet pass, and leave it stainless, strong and pure.
So from his foes his fame emerged secure;
And tho' against his work fierce hatred ranged.
Unmoved he stood, in power and aim unchanged.
Frail was his body, and, though racked with pain.
On, on he toiled, ne'er pausing to complain.
Strong were his friendships, pure his love and home;
Christ filled his heart, and not foul passion's foam.
No fear of Pope, — no dread of earthly kings
Turned his calm eyes from truth and heavenly things.
Humbled he spoke of God's wide sovereignty.
Yet taught the lowliest peasant to be free;
And while he bowed before God's boundless plan.
To souls oppressed he taught the rights of man.

Oh, clear-eyed student of the Holy Word,
Thy plea for freedom tyrants trembling heard!
Oh, wide-browed thinker of God's lofty thought,
What growth of nations have thy strong words wrought!
Thine was the task to magnify God's laws.
And trace for each event its first and only cause,
Breaking man's pride by views of God's control,
Yet sure God's child was every human soul.
And he who knelt most humbly to his God,
Secure in faith could walk unblanched abroad.
Thy words made gentle women fear no shame,
They nerved the martyr to await the flame.
From heart to heart they passed around the world,
Till kings were faced, or from their thrones were hurled.
Rest, noble Calvin, take thy well-earned sleep.
Thy fame far time shall undiminished keep.
In that low grave thy fragile body lies,
But God has writ thy name across the skies!

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.

B.B. Warfield on 'Trusting in the Dark'

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That flower that follows the sun, doth so even in cloudy days; when it doth not shine forth, yet it follows the hidden course and motion of it: so the soul that moves after God, keeps that course when he hides his face, is content, yea, is glad at his will in all estates, or conditions, or events. — Robert Leighton, Sermon XXII: The Confidence of Faith, in Whole Works, Vol. 3, p. 347

B.B. Warfield, in Four Hymns, and Some Religious Verses (1910), adapted this famous saying by Archbishop Leighton into a poem of his own.

TRUSTING IN THE DARK

Said Robert Leighton, holy man,
Intent a flickering faith to fan
Into a steady blaze: —
"Behold yon floweret to the sun,
As he his daily course doth run,
Turn undeclining gaze.

"E'en when the clouds obscure his face,
And only faith discerns the place
Where in the heavens he soars,
This floweret still, with constant eye,
The secret places of the sky
Untiringly explores.

"Look up, my soul! What can this be
But Nature's parable to thee?
Look up, with courage bright!
The clouds press on thee, dense and black,
Thy Sun shines ever at their back —
Look up and see His light

The College Writings of B.B. Warfield

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B.B. Warfield studied at the College of New Jersey (Princeton) from 1868 to 1871. It was while he was a student that the man who would become so prolific a writer published his first material in The Nassau Literary Magazine.

In 1870 a poem appeared written by Warfield, based on 1 Maccabees 9:1-21, titled “The Jewish Thermopylae.”

During his senior year, various works by Warfield were published, both in The Nassau Literary Magazine and The Nassau Herald. In February 1871, in the former publication, he published a poem, “The Taking of the Suburbs,” as well as an essay titled “Milton’s Satan.”

In April 1871, he published 1) an essay on “Woman’s Mission,” 2) another essay about the “Poetic Genius of Poe” (this was signed N.E.D. - representing the last letter of the name Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield), 3) a brief poem beginning with the first line “Despise not the wrinkles of age,” and 4) an “Olla-podrida,” a “miscellany” or “literary bouquet,” which includes a poem called “A Serenade.”

An issue of The Nassau Herald, published on Class Day, June 26, 1871 by the graduating senior class of Princeton, includes an editorial by Warfield.

Each of these publications is identified as Warfield’s by John E. Meeter and Roger Nicole in A Bibliography of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, 1851-1921, p. 9. Together, it is believed that they constitute his earliest published writings, five of which are poems. As you read them remember that they are the works of a 19 or 20 year-old young man who would go on to become one of America’s greatest theologians. It noteworthy to ponder also that approximately four decades later, he published Four Hymns, and Some Religious Verse (1910). From his youth to his old age, Warfield was not only a student and then teacher of theology, but also a poet.

"Jubilee of days!" - Samuel J. Cassels on the Christian Sabbath

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Providence and Other Poems (1838), historically at least, is “a pioneer work in Georgia literature” (Lawrence Huff, “Samuel Jones Cassels: A Pioneer Georgia Poet,” in The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Dec. 1963), p. 412), one of the first books of poetry ever to be published in that state. In one section titled “The Church,” the Presbyterian minister-poet Cassels gives a special tribute to the Christian Sabbath that is worth reflecting upon as the Lord’s Day draws nigh.

The first was Sabbath Day — holiest of time.
For many ends did God this day appoint;
The first — to celebrate his glorious praise
For wise construction of the universe,
And living memory thereof transmit
To farthest sons of distant time unborn.
The man, who by the nerve of mighty arm —
By laboring long and hard with weighty care —
Has founded by his sword an Empire vast, —
And widely spread o'er all the rescued land,
The beauteous works of peace and happiness —
The massy stone erects on high and there
His own, his country's name he writes, and stamps
The date, when sheath'd his sword, the work was done.
But chief, this day now points to second birth
Of world and man — to Resurrection-morn —
When vanquished Hell, and Death are captive bound,
From rocky tomb the great Redeemer rose
And brought in triumph high the vict'ry forth.
Another end — to give to thoughtless men
A leisure time to fit their souls for Heaven —
In shadows substances to show — and thus
T' unlock their fast clenched arms, and cast away
The world, more lov'd by most than Book of God.

Loveliest of time! Jubilee of days!
In secret bower hid, the christian rais'd
His eye expecting long its dawn to hail:
And as upon the distant East it blush'd
He met with rolling tear of holy joy —
Felt through his soul diffus'd a richer light,
And bending low at holy feet divine,
His heart pour'd forth in drops of gratitude;
Then rais'd his eye, in faith he fervent ask'd,
For dawn of endless Sabbath on his soul
O'er all the land sweet stillness wide prevail'd;
And nature joyous seem'd in silent gaze
Upon her God — while ear of saint devout
The footsteps soft of angels walking hears,
And sweetest notes that from the world of light
Escaping fell from lips of Seraphim.
High Heaven and Earth seem'd join'd in union sweet,
And God with either hand encircling each
Did to his bosom bring the Archangel
And the saint that wept in penitence —
Them brothers call and Him their Father kind.

May your Lord’s Day be blessed, dear reader.

A Conventicle in Snow Time: David McAllister

A Conventicle in Snow Time

A DEEP-TONED, bitter, sullen wind was sweeping,
Across the upland waste;
Each living thing its covert close was keeping,
Or sought it in its haste.

Yet, when the swirling, drifted snow was filling
Each cave and sheltered nook,
A solemn, plaintive strain of praise came thrilling
Up from an ice-bound brook.

A remnant, sore-bested, had come together,
To mourn, and watch, and pray,
Unmindful of the wind and dreary weather
Of that wild, wrathful day.

A valiant and a famous standard-bearer
Was lately done to death; —
One, who of many perils was a sharer,
Had spent his latest breath.

It was a time of sorrow, dread, and grieving,
To those heart-stricken men;
And they had met, their burdened souls relieving,
Up in that stormy glen.

A youth of comely form and mien arising,
The gospel message told.
In fervour nought withholding, nought disguising,
Like faithful seer of old.

All in the wintry wind and snow-drift standing,
With cold and frost distrest,
His earnest voice, the heart and ear commanding,
Moved every captive breast.

For higher gifts of hope and faith he pleaded —
For greater love and zeal;
Not vainly uttered; not unfelt, unheeded,
Passed the sublime appeal!

On him and all around the snow was falling,
Yet there they held their place.
Though, overhead, the winter-blast appalling
Pursued its rapid chase.

From morn to darkling eve they clung together,
Unwilling to depart;
The saintly love they bore to one another
Had bound them heart to heart.

And yet, a higher sentiment withheld them
From courting selfish rest;
The love of Him whose friendly eye beheld them
Unworthy thought represt.

Oh, boast not men whose heartless, cruel mission
Was tracking such as these,
To gratify a tyrant’s wrong ambition —
His bigot whims to please!

And, tell us not of chivalry and daring,
Or deeds of valour done;
When, at the price of cruelty unsparing,
The palm of fame was won!

Swift come the season, when the deep devotion
Of those who braved the rage
Of banded furies, roused to fell commotion,
Shall every heart engage!

Be not far hence, bright day, when holier feeling
The world wide shall control,
And love unstinted, to the heart appealing,
Shall mould each kindred soul.

For, wheresoever PIETY is cherished,
And loved by young and old,
The grand old memories of martyrs perished
Are treasured and extolled!

David McAllister, Poets and Poetry of the Covenant, pp. 212-214

Lays of the Cross: Charles Washington Baird

One of the great Huguenot historians, Charles Washington Baird, like so many of our Presbyterian ministers, was also a poet. Posthumously published, his Lays of the Cross constitute a series of seven poems relating to Christ on the cross, followed by one additional poem titled “Domine, Quo Vadis?” These are found in the Memorials of the Rev. Charles W. Baird, D.D. (1888). Take time to peruse his poetry because he used his gifts to point his readers to the cross. One sample:

BEARING THE CROSS

I saw the Lord with painful steps and slow
To Calvary’s height His weary course begin;
His bending shoulders bore the Cross of sin;
His fainting spirit carried all our woe;
I saw the priests in cruel triumph go;
The careless soldiers hemmed their prisoner in,
Whose pallid brow, whose visage marred and thin,
The curious crowds with sorrowing pity know.
”My suffering Lord!” with trembling voice I cried,
When first that wounded form I chanced to see:
”To me, to me, Thy shameful load confide;
Be mine the bliss to bear the Cross for Thee!”
”Nay, zealous child,” my gracious Lord replied,
”Bear thou thy cross, and come and follow Me.”

He Shines in All That's Fair - Maltbie D. Babcock

Presbyterian minister Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901) lived a short life on this earth, all of his works were published posthumously, but what a treasure one can find in reading them.

One of his most famous compositions was originally written as a poem (“My Father’s World”), but was later, in 1915, set to music as a hymn (“This Is My Father’s World”) by his friend Franklin L. Sheppard. First published in Thoughts For Every-Day Living from the Spoken and Written Words of Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1901), it is a beautiful expression of the wonder of God’s creation and a reminder that God is on the throne over this world. It was inspired in part by the view from his regular hikes along the Niagara Escarpment. Before leaving on such hikes he would often tell his secretary, “I’m going to see my Father’s world.”

The original poem is comprised of sixteen stanzas of four verses each. Sheppard’s hymn-version contains three stanzas of six verses each. Sheppard’s version is given below, but take time to peruse the original poem in Thoughts For Every-Day Living, which is a remarkable collection of devotional thoughts filled with many other precious gems. One line from Babcock’s poem is also highlighted in 2001 book by Richard Mouw, He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace.

1 This is my Father’s world,
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world;
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
his hand the wonders wrought.

2 This is my Father’s world;
the birds their carols raise;
the morning light, the lily white,
declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world;
he shines in all that’s fair.
In the rustling grass I hear him pass;
he speaks to me everywhere.

3 This is my Father’s world;
oh, let me not forget
that, though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world;
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King, let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad.

The Storm Is in His Hand

William Cowper once famously wrote:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

Samuel Jones Cassels, whose pastorates ranged from Norfolk, Virginia to Savannah, Georgia, was a 19th century Presbyterian minister and poet who was acquainted with coastal storms. The imagery of tempests figures often in his poetry. In fact, his gravestone in Midway, Georgia was badly damaged by a storm in 2012.

Like Cowper, he knew who was sovereign over the wind and the waves. In Providence he wrote:

Himself an ocean wide of purest bliss

O’er Ocean’s face He drives the storm along,
And at his bottom deep He counts his pearls;


The storm that raged He held in firmest grasp,
And to it gave its power, and course, and end.

It's Never Night in Heaven

Louis FitzGerald Benson was not only, as a scholar and an historian, "America's foremost hymnologist," he was also a poet in his own right. This composition is from his 1897 volume titled Hymns and Verses. It is a sweet meditation on Revelation 22:5. 

"And There Shall Be No Night There"

THERE'S a red burst of dawn, and a white light of noon,
[And the hues of the rainbow are seven;]
But the best thing of all, when the dark comes so soon,
Is to know that it's ne'er night in Heaven.

There's a break in the clouds, and a sheen on the rain,
[And the hues of the rainbow are seven;]
But the sweetest of lights that can brighten our pain
Is to know that it's ne'er night in Heaven.

There's a calm' of the heart through the long after- noon,
[And the gifts of the Spirit are seven,]
When there floats on the dusk, like a leaf-whispered tune,
"Did you know that it's ne'er night in Heaven?"

There's a gleam through the night of a throne set afar,
[And the hues of its rainbow are seven;]
But it stands not so sure as God's promises are. Who has said,
"There is no night in Heaven."

The Prodigal Returning to His Fathers

In his brief life Irving Spence (1799-1836) most famously left behind his Letters on the Early History of the Presbyterian Church in America, addressed to Robert M. Laird and published posthumously. 

Spence was not only a Presbyterian ruling elder, an attorney, a correspondent and an historian - he was also a poet. Among the handful of poems that we have from his pen recorded in this volume, one particular composition by Spence is given here for your devotional consideration. 

THE PRODIGAL RETURNING TO HIS FATHER.

I will arise, and go to my Father, and will say unto him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.—Luke xiv. 18, 19.

Long the ways of sin I've trod.
Long have walked the downward road,
Long rebelled against my God,
And sovereign grace have spurn'd,
Mercy's calls I've all withstood,
Trampled on redeeming blood,
Fearless of that fiery flood,
Where all the tares are burned.

Hating God, his word, his cause,
People, government, and laws.
My dear Redeemer, and his cross.
My guilt how great its load!
Loving sin, I scorned to pray;
Harder made my heart each day;
Wandering farther from the way
To glory and to God.

Light now bursts upon my eyes:
Now I see with sad surprise.
How vile I am, and w^ill arise.
And to my Father go;
"Father, I'm a wretch undone!
For my sins can ne'er atone;
But the merits of thy Son,
Can save from endless wo.''

I for Christ my Saviour pant,
Jesus, thou art all I want;
Be thou mine, and to me grant.
To sit at thy dear feet:
I thy yoke no longer fear,
I will all thy burden bear,
Wage with sin unceasing war,
Dear Saviour, I submit.