What a treasure we possess: George Howe on the great gift of God given to us in the Scriptures

(If the author links in this post are broken, please visit our Free PDF Library and click on the author’s page directly.)

The Westminster Assembly when describing the Holy Bible spoke of “the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, [and its] many other incomparable excellencies” (WCF 1.5).

Noted Southern Presbyterian minister George Howe, taking for his text Psalm 19:7 (“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul”), preached a sermon in 1862 before the State Bible Convention of South Carolina in which he outlined the “Characteristics of the Bible.” He aimed to remind his hearers of both the outward excellencies and the infinite spiritual value of the great Book given by God to His people. How we ought to treasure such a gift and not take it for granted!

“Adhering closely to our text,” Howe says, “we should show that the word of God is perfect and so possessed of every desirable attribute…” It is a book like no other on earth for its age and endurance, its historical and literary significance, its poetic eloquence, the spirit of opposition which it engenders, and many other noteworthy aspects, according to Howe. But most especially, he adds, it is a book of redemption. The story of creation and the fall lays the groundwork for the grand theme of the Holy Scriptures: God’s gracious dealings with man in sending a Savior to redeem His people from their sins.

From the eternity past to the final consummation, and beyond, into the eternity to come, there is presented to view one illustrious personage, the Seed of the Woman, the Angel of the Covenant, the Messianic King, the eternal Word, the Son of God, the Desire of Nations, the Lamb in the midst of the throne.

The Holy Bible is the Word of God, and its directs its reader to give glory to God, pointing us to Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, our great Redeemer. The Book of Life is a Book of Hope, and as such, “It administers strength to the tempted, courage to the weak, hope to the desponding, comfort to the bereaved, and enables the dying to cry, ‘O Death, where is thy sting; O Grave, where is thy victory!’” Multitudes still lie in darkness, lacking these Scriptures. Therefore, “Precious is the boon God has given you, precious that which you are offering to men of every degree. You give to them God’s gift to you.”

God’s promises are a sure foundation upon which we may rest our faith. And His faithful Word teaches that no matter how dark it may seem, the victory belongs to Jesus Christ. It is on this basis that Howe concludes his sermon with the encouraging lines of Scottish Presbyterian poet Robert Pollok, who authored The Course of Time:

How fair the daughter of Jerusalem, then!
How gloriously from Zion hill she looks!
Clothed with the sun, and in her train the moon,
And on her head a coronet of stars,
And girdling round her waist, with heavenly grace,
The bow of mercy bright; and in her hand,
Immanuel’s cross, her sceptre and her hope!
Desire of every land! The nations come
And worship at her feet; all nations come,
Flocking like doves;
The East, the West, the South, and snowy North,
Rejoicing meet, and worship reverently
Before the Lord in Zion’s holy hill;
The desert blossoms and the barren sings,
Justice and Mercy, Holiness and Love,
Among the people walk; Messiah reigns,
And Earth keeps jubilee a thousand years.

God’s precious promises, His sure Word, are a treasure meant not for hiding under a bushel, but for sharing. The gift given to us, is a gift for us to give to others, including those in lands which presently lie in spiritual darkness. Such is the missionary-minded message of George Howe. Therefore, let it not be said of us that the Word was thus fettered, but rather, like Martin Luther, may we proclaim it in word and deed, and so glorify our God.

I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.

Where to find some sermons by Gilbert Tennent via Log College Press

(If the author links in this post are broken, please visit our Free PDF Library and click on the author’s page directly.)

According to Hughes Oliphant Old, who has written notably about Gilbert Tennent in Volume 5 of The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church and elsewhere,* more than 80 sermons by Tennent were published in his lifetime. The Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has a collection of 160 sermons by him, many of which exist in manuscript form. It was only in the late 20th century that thirteen additional manuscript sermons were located in the library of Princeton Theological Seminary. Miles Douglas Harper, Jr. says that “Tennent preached a total of 588 times from the more than two hundred sermons extant.”** Log College Press has some of his published sermons available at Tennent’s author page. Four more by Tennent are found in Archibald Alexander’s posthumously-published (1855) Sermons of the Log College:

  • The Justice of God (no date) - text: Deut. 32:4

  • The Divine Mercy (no date) - text: Ex. 34:6

  • The Grace of God (no date) - text: Ex. 34:6

  • The Wisdom of God in Redemption (no date) - 1 Cor. 1:23-24

But some of his manuscript sermons are also available to read or obtain elsewhere via our site. For example, at our Dissertations and Theses page, one may read Cheryl Ann Rickards, “Gilbert Tennent: An Analysis of His Evangelistic Ministry, Methods and Message During the Great Awakening” (2003), which includes discussion and analysis, as well as the full sermon transcriptions, of:

  • The Solemn Scene of the Last Judgment (1737) - text: 2 Thess. 1:6-9

  • The Necessity of Religious Violence in Order to Obtain Durable Happiness (1735) - text: Matt. 11:12

  • The Righteousness of Scribes and Pharisees Considered (1741) - text: Matt. 5:20

On our Secondary Sources page, a book worth highlighting in this regard is Kimberly Bracken Long, The Eucharistic Theology of the American Holy Fair (2011), which contains (as appendices) transcriptions of three of the thirteen recently-discovered manuscript sermons at Princeton:

  • De nuptiis cum Christo (February 1753) - texts: Rev. 3:20, Matt. 22:2

  • “Sermon Manuscript 4” (no title, no date) - text: Song of Solomon 4:16

  • “Sermon Manuscript 12” (no title, no date) - texts: Ps. 122:1-2; Ps. 27:4

Also available at the Secondary Sources page is Milton J. Coalter, Jr., Gilbert Tennent, Son of Thunder (1986), which is the only full-length biography of Gilbert Tennent, and contains a valuable bibliography of his works (one may also consult Leonard J. Trinterud, A Bibliography of American Presbyterianism During the Colonial Period (1968), available at the Secondary Sources page; the bibliography by Miles Douglas Harper, Jr. is, however, more complete than either of the above).**

Tennent’s most famous (or infamous) sermon, The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry (1743), is still not available at our site, although it can be found elsewhere in modern form online or, for example, in the 1993 Soli Deo Gloria edition of Archibald Alexander’s Sermons of the Log College. We continue to add Tennent’s public domain works to the site as we are able. This post is a reminder to our readers that some of his manuscript sermons are available or accessible here as well.

* Hughes Oliphant Old, “Gilbert Tennent and the Preaching of Piety in Colonial America: Newly Discovered Tennent Manuscripts in Speer Library,” The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, Vol. X, No. 2 (1989), p. 134.

** Miles Douglas Harper, Jr., “Gilbert Tennent: Theologian of the ‘New Light’” (1958), pp. iii, 436-454.

An American Jeremiad by David Caldwell

Although his main aim in life was to serve the Lord as a minister of the gospel, by necessity, David Stewart Caldwell, Sr. (1725-1824) often found himself bound to serve his community in other capacities. He established a “Log College” in his home in 1767 in order to teach young people; he studied medicine and worked as a physician to attend to the medical needs of those around him where doctors were lacking; and he served (unsuccessfully) as a mediator at the 1771 Battle of Alamance between Governor Tryon and the Regulators who were resisting unjust British taxes.

Some refer to this battle as the first battle of the American War of Independence. In any case, the behavior of Tryon, who personally and impulsively executed one of the Regulators on the spot without trial, and later executed several captured prisoners, shocked and disturbed Caldwell. Also, in 1766, he had married Rachel Craighead, daughter of the first American Covenanter minister in America, Alexander Craighead, who had preached against British tyranny as early as 1743 and who had inspired the famous 1775 Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. So when Alexander MacWhorter and Elihu Spencer came to North Carolina in 1775 seeking a someone to rouse colonial resistance to British tyranny from the pulpit, they found David Caldwell willing to rise to the occasion. Sometime in early 1776, Caldwell preached a sermon based on Proverbs 12:24 (“the slothful shall be under tribute”) titled “The Character and Doom of the Sluggard.” This sermon, known to history (perhaps regrettably) as “the Sluggard Sermon,” preached shortly before John Witherspoon’s famous “The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men,” has been called “a seven-thousand word Jeremiad detailing the sinfulness of political indifference and the wickedness of cowering before a tyrant” (Robert McCluer Calhoon, Political Moderation in America’s First Two Centuries, p. 123).

Caldwell here aimed to stir up his parishioners, many of whom had previously served as Regulators, to support the early resolutions of the Continental Congress on behalf of independence:

We have therefore come to that trying period in our history in which it is manifest that the Americans must either stoop under a load of the vilest slavery, or resist their imperious and haughty oppressors; but what will follow must be of the utmost importance to every individual of these United Colonies; and should be the hearty concern of every honest American. — What will be recorded on the following page of our history must depend very much on our conduct; for if we act like the sluggard, refuse, from the mere love of ease and self indulgence, to make the sacrifices and efforts which the circumstances require, or, from cowardice and pusillanimity, shrink from dangers and hardships, we must continue in our present state of bondage and oppression, while that bondage and oppression may be increased until life itself will become a burden; but if we stand up manfully and unitedly in defence of our rights, appalled by no dangers and shrinking from no toils or privations, we shall do valiantly. Our foes are powerful and determined on conquest; but our cause is good; and in the strength of the Lord, who is mightier than all, we shall prevail.

This sermon had the rousing effect that was intended (on April 12, 1776, the Halifax Convention authorized North Carolina’s delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence), and North Carolina did much to embrace and support the Patriots’ cause during the War. Caldwell and his family suffered greatly for their adherence to the cause of freedom: British General Cornwallis placed a £200 bounty on Caldwell’s head, and his house was plundered, his library and livestock destroyed, and his family was mistreated by British soldiers. Before and during the 1781 Battle of Guilford, Caldwell was forced to hide in a nearby swamp. But Caldwell and his wife Rachel outlived this war and the War of 1812.

The two of them, meanwhile, resumed their Log College labors with tremendous success. “Caldwell Academy, which Reverend Caldwell began in 1767, became the most well known and longest lasting of any of the thirty-three Presbyterian log colleges that were established before the Revolutionary War. At the time the academy closed, almost all of the Presbyterian ministers in the South were either graduates of or had taught at the college, about 135 ministers in all. Five governors, fifty U.S. senators and congressmen and numerous doctors had attended Caldwell Academy. Rachel got to know all the students at the academy, was extremely kind to them and instructed them in every way possible on their salvation. It was said that ‘David Caldwell made them scholars, but Mrs. Caldwell made them preachers’” (Richard P. Plumer, Charlotte and the American Revolution: Reverend Alexander Craighead, the Mecklenburg Declaration & the Foothills Fight for Independence, p. 67).

Songs From the Soul: Geerhardus Vos

In 1994, when Banner of Truth republished Geerhardus Vos’ 1922 collection of sermons titled Grace and Glory, which originally contained six sermons, they added 10 more to the reprint. Sinclair Ferguson explains:

In possessing a copy of Grace and Glory the reader has in his or her hands a book of sermons which are almost as rare as they are remarkable. Not only so, but in addition to the six sermons which originally constituted the volume Grace and Glory the present edition includes a further nine sermons which Vos preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary between 1896 and 1913, as well as an undated exposition of Ephesians 2:4-5 translated from Dutch. This additional material has been provided to the publishers by James T. Dennison, the Librarian of Westminster Theological Seminary in California and the editor of the journal Kerux, in which the bulk of has already been published. Mr. Dennison originally uncovered Vos’s personal sermon book in 1971 in the Heritage Hall Archive of Calvin Theological Seminary and transcribed the material. As heirs of his labours the publishers are also indebted to the Heritage Hall Archive of Calvin Seminary for the privilege of reproducing the material in this more permanent form.

One of those additional sermons is titled “Songs From the Soul,” based on Psalm 25:14: “The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.” In this sermon, Vos speaks to the experimental piety of the Psalter in eloquent terms (pp. 169-171).

The Psalter is of all books of the Bible that book which gives expression to the experimental side of religion. In the law and the prophetic writings, it is God who speaks to his people; but in the Psalter we listen to the saints speaking to God. Hence the Psalter has been at all times that part of Scripture to which believers have most readily turned and upon which they have chiefly depended for the nourishment of the inner religious life of the heart. I say that part of Scripture and not merely that part of the Old Testament, for even taking the Old and New Testament together the common experience of the people of God affirms that there is nothing in Holy Writ which in our most spiritual moments — when we feel ourselves nearest to God — so faithfully and naturally expresses what we think and feel in our hearts as these songs of the pious Israelites. Our Lord himself, who had a perfect religious experience and lived and walked with God in absolute adjustment of his thoughts and desires to the Father's mind and will, our Lord himself found his inner life portrayed in the Psalter and in some of the highest moments of his ministry borrowed from it the language in which his soul spoke to God, thus recognizing that a more perfect language for communion with God cannot be framed.

Undoubtedly it is in the Psalter that the specific work of inspiration which the Holy Ghost performs in inditing the Scriptures and the more general task which he carries out in sustaining, directing, stimulating and guiding the religious thoughts and aspirations of believers are most closely united. Inspiration for the disclosure of truth is not always accompanied by the subjective appropriation of the truth in a saintly experience (a Balaam and a Caiaphas were among the prophets); but nevertheless it remains the more natural and ordinary procedure of God that the instrument through which his truth is brought to man should be a mind in intimate touch with his own; a mind responsive to that personal revelation of God himself which lives and throbs in the truth. And consequently we see that the great prophets (like a Moses, an Isaiah or Jeremiah) appear at the same time as the outstanding examples of a wonderfully rich and tender religious intercourse with God. But in the Psalms we can more clearly than anywhere else observe the interaction of these two things: supernatural reception of the truth and spiritual nearness to God. Possibly the fact that in David's case the prophetic disclosures of truth that he received were so vitally connected with his own life and destiny may have something to do with the presence of this feature in the Psalms, whereas the other prophets sometimes stood more or less apart from the development of things to which their words applied. And then the prophets, of course, in many instances spoke to and for the nation collectively, whereas in the Psalter it is the individual soul which comes face to face with God.

Hence the lessons and encouragements which we obtain from other parts of the Old Testament are frequently drawn indirectly by a process of inference, for which we are not always in the right frame of mind and the proper spiritual mood. But the in Psalms, whatever our mood, whether we are exultant or downcast, vigorous or weary, penitent or believing, we can always find our hearts mirrored there. It needs no process of reasoning to make their sentiments our own. Here the language of the Bible comes to meet the very thoughts of our hearts before these can even clothe themselves in language and we recognize that we could not have expressed them better than the Spirit has here expressed them for us. At first sight, this may easily seem strange to us when we remember that the the psalmists lived under the conditions of a typical and preparatory dispensation; that on many points they saw through a glass darkly, whereas we, who live in the full light of the complete gospel, see face to face. But for the very reason that the Psalms reflect that experimental religion of the heart, which is unvarying at all times and under all circumstances, we need not greatly wonder at this. The influx of the divine light, whether more or less strong, must always produce the identical effect of joy, hope and peace in every soul to which it comes. The well at which we drink may flow more abundantly than that at which the psalmists drank, but the experience of thirst, of drinking and of satisfaction must still be the same as it was in the time of David.

The Sermon That Landed Francis Makemie in Jail

As Francis Makemie himself wrote on March 3, 1707: “This is the Sermon, for which I am now a prisoner.” He spoke of the sermon he preached in New York City on January 19, 1707 titled “A Good Conversation.” It was based on Psalm 50:23: “To him that ordereth his Conversation aright, will I shew the Salvation of God.” The texts cited on the cover page when it was published were Matthew 5:11 and Acts 5:29, which deal with persecution for the faith, and obedience to God over man. It was the preaching and publishing of this sermon without a license in Anglican New York that led to the imprisonment of the Presbyterian minister Francis Makemie. The case became a major landmark in the history of religious liberty in America.

Also of note is that this sermon is “probably the earliest Presbyterian sermon in America now extant, and was certainly the first preached in the City of New York.” It is certainly the earliest sermon currently available to read at Log College Press.

The “conversation” spoken of by Makemie, who utilized the King James Bible, is an older word for “conduct” or “manner of life.” As Makemie says,

A Conversation agreeable to First Table Commands and Second Table Commands, and to Gospel Precepts, is the only regular Conversation. How much therefore is it the concern of every Soul, to be acquainted with this Law, and to make conscience of conforming their Lives thereunto.

3. A Well-ordered Life and Conversation, consists in being adorned with the shining Grace, and gracious fruits of the Spirit of God; wherein the Gifts and Graces of the Renewing Spirit of God are legible and conspicuous, even in all parts of Conversation. This distinguishes the life of a Christian, from the Conversation of the most refined and polished Moralists in the world, and renders the Conversation of a true sincere Christian, to surpass by far the lives of Pagans.

The sermon is a lengthy treatise (originally designed for two discourses, as the author states) on how to live well for the glory of God and to make one’s calling and election sure. Far from being unorthodox, and far from being seditious, it was a testimony to lawful, submissive Christian living. Yet, without a license to preach, the sermon (especially being preached by an Irish-American) became, in the eyes of Lord Cornbury, the royal governor of New York, an intolerable symbol of resistance to the Crown.

Makemie further wrote about his experience in his “Narrative of the Imprisonment of Two Non-Conformist Ministers” (1707). In his account we learn about the time he spent in prison (two months) on the charge of preaching without a license before being released on bail, and the fact that during his trial he was able to produce the preaching license he was given previously in Barbados, after which he was acquitted and released, at great personal financial cost.

Both the sermon and the narrative are fascinating reads, and they give insight into the situation that Presbyterians in early America under British colonial rule faced. Take time to study these works, for your edification and understanding. They represent a window into a time and a heritage that America should never forget.

A Children's Sermon by Samuel Davies

Samuel Davies once preached a sermon to youth in 1758 (260 years ago) titled Little Children Invited to Jesus Christ (reprinted by the American Tract Society in 1826). It was an argument not to delay but to come to Jesus, and to embrace him by faith.

In this sermon, Davies clarifies what he means by “coming to Christ” (based on this text: “But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little Children to come unto me, and forbid them not: For of such is the Kingdom of God,” Mark 10:14). The truths he lays out in this sermon are timeless and applicable to all, young or old.

You have a right, and that it is your duty, to Come to Jesus. Therefore, oh! come to him: come to him this very day, without delay.

But here, I hope, you start a very proper question, "What is it to come to Christ? or in what sense are we to understand this phrase, as it may be applied to us now, since he is removed from our world?"

Coming to Christ, in my text, did indeed mean a bodily motion to him: and this was practicable, while he tabernacled in flesh among men. But even then, it signified much more. It signified coming to him as a divine teacher, to receive instruction; as a Saviour, to obtain eternal life; and as the only Mediator, through whom guilty sinners might have access to God. It signified a motion of soul towards him, Correspondent to the bodily motion of coming: a motion of the desires, a flight of tender affections towards him. In this view it is still practicable to come to Christ; and it is our duty in these latter days, as much as it was theirs who were his contemporaries upon earth. It is in this view, I now urge it upon you: and in this view, it includes: the following particulars.

1. A clear conviction of sin; of sin in heart, in word, and in practice; of sin against knowledge; against alluring mercies and fatherly corrections; of sin against all the strongest incitements to duty. Without such a conviction of sin, it is impossible that you should fly to him as a Saviour: for he "came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

2. An affecting sense of danger, upon the account of sin. You cannot fly to him as a Saviour, till you see your extreme need of salvation; and you cannot see your need of salvation, till you are sensible of your danger; sensible that you are every moment liable to everlasting condemnation, and have no title at all to the divine favour.

3. A humbling sense of your own inability to save yourselves by the merit of your own best endeavours. I do not mean, that you should neglect your best endeavours; or that you should not exert your utmost strength in every good work, and in the earnest use of all the means of grace: for you never will come to Christ, till you are brought to this. But I mean, that while you are doing your utmost, you must be sensible, that you do not deserve any favour at all from God on that account, and that you neither can, nor do make any atonement for your sins by all your good works; but that God may justly condemn you notwithstanding. Till you are sensible of this, you will weary yourselves in vain, in idle self righteous efforts to perform the work which Jesus came into the world to perform, and which he alone was able to do; I mean, to make atonement for your sin, and to work out a righteousness to recommend you to God. It is an eternal truth, that you will never come to Christ as a Saviour, till you are deeply sensible there is no salvation in any other; and particularly that you are not able to save yourselves.

4. An affecting conviction, that Jesus Christ is a glorious, all sufficient and willing Saviour: that his righteousness is perfect, equal to all the demands of the divine law, and sufficient to make satisfaction for all our sins, and procure for us all the blessings of the divine favour; that he is able and willing to "save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him;" and that he is freely offered in the Gospel to all that will accept him, however unworthy, and however great their sins. Indeed it is an eternal truth, that though multitudes perish, it is not for want of a Saviour. There is a Saviour all sufficient, and perfectly willing; and this you must be convinced of before you can come to him.

5. An entire dependence upon his merits alone for acceptance with God. Sensible that you have no merit of your own; on which to depend; and sensible also that Jesus is a sure foundation, on which you may safely venture your eternal all, you must cast all your dependence and fix your entire trust on him. You will as it were hang about him, as the only support for your sinking soul, and plead his righteousness as the only ground of your acceptance with God. This is so unnatural to a proud self-confident sinner, that you must be brought very low indeed, thoroughly mortified and self-emptied, before you will submit to it.

6. A cheerful subjection to him as your ruler; and a voluntary surrender of yourselves to his service. If you come to him at all, it will be as poor penitent rebels, returning to duty with, shame and sorrow, and fully determined never to depart from it more. To embrace Christ as a Saviour, and yet not submit to him as our ruler; to trust in his righteousness, and in the mean time disobey his authority; this is the greatest absurdity, and utterly inconsistent with the wise constitution of the Gospel.

And now, my dear young friends, I hope even your tender minds have some idea what it is to come to Christ. And therefore, when I exhort you to it, you know what I mean. Come then, come to Jesus.

The Sermons of Moses Hoge are Worth 15 Minutes of Your Day

The preaching of 19th century American Presbyterians was more textual and topical than what we understand as expositional preaching today. They would take a verse or snippet of a verse, explain its meaning in its immediate context, and then unpack and apply that meaning to their people from many different angles. Each sermon is more of what we would think of as an in-depth theological study of a particular topic, but they were never merely for theology's sake. Rather, the goal was conversion of the lost, and transformation of the found, through the knowledge of the truth. 

One of the early preachers of the American Presbyterian church was Moses Hoge, a student under William Graham and later James Waddel. He became the President of Hampden-Sydney College in 1807, and helped lay the foundation for Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. His sermons were renowned for their eloquence and erudition, and are found here