The Report of the 1849 Committee on Congregational Singing

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The June 30, 1849, edition of The Presbyterian, published in New York and Philadelphia, records the report of the Committee on Congregational Singing to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, Old School (Dr. William Swan Plumer was on this committee). It is a fascinating read, particularly on what it has to say about the topic of choirs in relation to congregational singing. We quote the section in full:

While, in some places, as yet, singing in public worship is conducted by a precentor, or a choir, and the congregation generally join their voices in other places, a select choir performs the singing, with little or no assistance from the great body of the congregation. We are free to say that we consider the latter practice as very undesirable, at the least. It results, in some cases, from the too frequent introduction of new tunes, which are repeated so seldom, and at such long intervals, that the congregation has no sufficient opportunity to become familiar with them and this is one important reason of the dislike which is occasionally felt toward new tunes, otherwise unexceptionable. But the disuse of congregational singing arises, also, from the fact that as the more cultivated and skilful singers are apt to be collected in the choir, there is not only a corresponding diminution of the number of singers in the body of the congregations, by the transfer of voices which formerly rose from various points in the assembly, but an increased diminution is effected, because other persons, who now miss the leading voices, by whose vicinity they were encouraged to sing, have now ceased to sing at all; and at length, if the singing of the choir happens to be very excellent, the pleasure of listening to it supersedes what ought to be the pleasure, and is the duty, of following it and uniting with it; and in the end, the mass of the worshippers sit completely silent.

We do not object to choirs. They are eminently useful as leaders. The evil alluded to is not necessarily to be remedied by disbanding them. There is a more excellent way of supplying the defect. We do not insist that it is the duty of all to sing. We think rather that it is the duty of some persons not to attempt to sing in public worship. Such are the incurables in voice and ear. But, at the same time, far more persons than now attempt to sing, may, can, and ought to qualify themselves for an edifying use of their voices in praising God in his courts. And, before we too soon conclude against choirs, as the cause of the disuse of congregational singing, a little inquiry into the habits of the people, in regard to this matter, may disclose a reason or two, which make greatly against some of those who complain of the evil. In the first place, is it not a fact that people generally do not pay sufficient regard to the excellent recommendation in the Directory, (chap. 4, Sec. 2,) to "cultivate some knowledge of the rules of music, that we may praise God in a becoming manner, with our voices, as well as our hearts?" What can be expected from indolence on this point, but the dissonant marring of "becoming praise," which no man has a right to produce, or an unseemly silence, which no man has a right to relapse into, until he has made a fair, but fruitless effort to learn to sing. Secondly, let us inquire how much of this evil is to be attributed to another evil probably lying back of it: is there not reason to believe that singing in family worship has fallen into general desuetude? Where this exercise is neglected, not only does family worship lose one of its sweetest elements and attractions, with all its soothing and elevating influences, but the young are deprived of one of the most likely and important means and aids for acquiring the taste, the practice, and the skill, which fit them to join in the praises of the Lord's house, with advantage to themselves and others. The operation of these two causes appears to us to be so obvious, that they need only to be indicated in order to suggest the remedy. On this point, proper care must be exercised by pastors, elders, and heads of families. Let them co-operate in promoting the cultivation of sacred music in families, in singing schools, in Sunday schools, in singing meetings, and even in the week-day schools: and let the officers of the church take the supervision both of the instruction of their people, and especially the youth, and of the whole department of the singing in public worship. Thus much will be done to correct any undue innovations by precentors and choirs, and to secure that co-operation of choir and people which is most desirable and practicable. This combination is attainable in entire consistency with a style of church-music, such as is demanded by the dignity of the service and approved by good taste, and with the edification of the people and the greater glory of God. Otherwise, it may well be feared that the work of " praising God in his sanctuary" will be monopolized by a very few persons; and it will be no sufficient apology for the indolent worshiper, that he is ready to objurgate "singing by Committee," and "praising God by proxy," while, in contrast with his own remissness, the zeal and pains which strive to rescue the singing of God's praise from utter neglect and contempt, are worthy of all commendation.

The committee’s report can be read in full here (1849 Old School General Assembly Minutes, starting at page 390).

The Mother of Presbyterianism in Edgefield County, South Carolina

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John Abney Chapman writes concerning one particular South Carolina county (History of Edgefield County: From the Earliest Settlements to 1897, p. 299):

Edgefield was one of the three counties in the State of South Carolina, Lexington and Georgetown being the other two, which never, until 1877, had a Presbyterian Church in its bounds. This is somewhat remarkable when we consider the fact that the adjoining County of Abbeville is one of the great strongholds of Presbyterianism in the State. Abbeville, however, was settled by large colonies of Scotch-Irish and Huguenots, who brought their religion with them, whilst no such colonies of Presbyterians located in Edgefield.

As Chapman also notes, efforts were made in the first half of the 19th century to establish a Presbyterian church in the county, but the War of 1861 put a stop to that.

Meanwhile, there was at least one lone Presbyterian who resided in the county. Born in 1842, Martha (“Mattie”) Wardlaw Hill over a period of many years would cross the state line to worship in Augusta, Georgia, while praying and working towards the goal of establishing a Presbyterian church in her county of Edgefield. Her persistence would ultimately lead to its founding.

Source: Margaret Adams Gist,  Presbyterian Women of South Carolina

Source: Margaret Adams Gist, Presbyterian Women of South Carolina

Mary D. Irvine tells the story in Pioneer Women of the Presbyterian Church, United States (1923), p. 297:

Edgefield Church, Congaree Presbytery, owes its existence to Mrs. Martha Wardlaw Hill, through whose efforts an organization was effected. There were only four members, Mrs. Hill, herself, Mrs. A. E. Anderson, Miss Esther Rainsford and Mr. S. H. Manget. The latter was immediately elected and installed as elder and Mrs. Hill acted as deacon for some years. Mrs. Hill's wonderful magnetism and beauty of spirit drew many friends to her assistance. She solicited subscriptions far and wide and raised over $3,000.00. She organized a Sunday-school and when no man was available, was her own superintendent, her own organist, her own janitor, and at the same time served as the whole board of deacons. In May, 1882, through her efforts, the first pastor was called, our own Secretary of Assembly’s Home Missions, Rev. S. L. Morris. As soon as this good woman lifted all debt from the church, she began to dream of a manse. Miss Esther Rainsford (Mrs. Bunyan Morris), gave the lot for this manse and the communion service as well.

Mrs. Hill began teaching music and doing everything she could to create a manse fund. To make a long story short, the manse became an assured fact. At the age of fifty-two, she went Home, and on the walls of the church which stands as a memorial to her, the women placed a tablet, on which she is called “The Mother of Presbyterianism in Edgefield County.”

Margaret Adams Gist adds, in Presbyterian Women of South Carolina (1929), p. 324, that was so identified with the village church, finally constructed in 1884, that it was referred to by some as “Miss Mattie Hill’s Church.”

Rick Barbare, formerly pastor of the Edgefield Presbyterian Church (PCA) before it was disbanded in 2010, has done yeoman’s work over the years in researching and writing about the history of Edgefield Presbyterianism. He has a valuable series of articles posted on his blog covering many phases of the church’s history, including the additional congregations which grew out of the work. He writes:

Mrs. Hill remained a loyal Presbyterian even when her parents became Episcopalians. She never gave up on the idea having a Presbyterian Church in Edgefield Village, so she kept her church membership at First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA in the intervening years between 1859 and 1877. The sum of money raised for this purpose before the war was lost during hostilities. (No doubt it was in Confederate currency in a bank at the end of the war).

After reconstruction (1876), Mrs. Hill found three other persons in the county who were Presbyterians: (1) Mr. S. H. Manget …; (2) Mrs. R.  S. Anderson …; and (3) Miss Etta Rainsford. … Mrs. Hill enlisted them in a plan to get the Presbytery to organize a church. Three of the four then lived in Edgefield Village at the time. Miss Etta Rainsford lived at Pine House, later Trenton.

The labors of Mrs. Hill bore fruit as the Presbytery from 1875 to 1877 paid visits and sent men to preach to the core group that would constitute the initial members. During this period, visiting ministers who preached included John L. Girardeau (December 24, 1876) and William S. Plumer (February 25, 1877). After a petition was presented to Presbytery in April 1877 calling for the organization of the church, the charter was granted and the congregation was established on May 20, 1877.

Samuel Leslie Morris (who would later become the Secretary of Home Missions for the Southern Presbyterian Church) was installed as the first pastor of the Edgefield congregation in August 1882. Barbare adds that “The organization at that time included three churches — Trenton, Johnston, and Edgefield Village.” These preaching stations enabled the broader county to be covered. More congregations would grow out of this initial organization, and in 1884, Edgefield Village would get its own church building.

Rev. Barbare has wise words to ponder in conclusion as we consider the person credited with founding the first Presbyterian Church in Edgefield County. Such a thing is rarely the work of one person — especially not within Presbyterianism, which is based on the communion of saints, and the plurality of elders. Some have highlighted Mrs. Hill’s role to the exclusion of almost all others. The first pastor, Samuel L. Morris, in his autobiography does not even mention her. Barbare writes:

So, who was it that really planted the Edgefield Presbyterian Church? Rev. Morris? or Mrs. Hill? Neither one alone, both together, and with other people’s help is the short answer.

In the story of the Edgefield Presbyterian Church, when looking back at the history and taking note of the secondary causes, we ought not to lose sight of — indeed our primary focus should be to remember — the hand of God at work in the building of his kingdom.

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.

A heavenly art to learn - William S. Plumer

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A practical gem and a word of encouragement from a classic work on Providence:

How entirely do just views of God's word and providence change the aspects of every thing. He, who has any right views, would rather be with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the furnace, or with Daniel in the lions' den than with Nebuchadnezzar on the throne. Paul bound with a chain was far more to be envied than Nero wearing the imperial purple. Paul and Silas were far from being the most unhappy men in Philippi the night their feet were in the stocks. There are two sides to every providence, as there were to the pillar of cloud and of fire. The bright side is towards the children of God. It ever will be so. God has ordained it. He will make good all his promises. "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright." Therefore, ye heroes of the cross, gird on your armor. Fight the good fight of faith. Never yield to fear. Endure hardness. Live to please him who has called you to be soldiers. Jesus reigns. Hear him proclaiming: "All power in heaven and earth is given unto me." He is King of kings. He rules in the kingdoms of men. He is God in Zion. He loves the church more than you do. He died for it. He loves his people as the apple of his eye. Nothing shall harm those who are the followers of that which is good. O shout and give thanks. Robert Southwell, awaiting martyrdom in prison, wrote to his friend: "We have sung the canticles of the Lord in a strange land, and in this desert we have sucked honey from the rock, and oil from the hard flint." Learn this heavenly art. — William S. Plumer, Jehoveh-Jireh: A Treatise on Providence, pp. 164-165

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.

The Gospel of the Incarnation, by William Swan Plumer

William Swan Plumer, the 19th century Southern Presbyterian pastor and theologian, wrote more than most of us have time to read. But you don't want to miss this excerpt from the 21st chapter of his book The Grace of Christ (available here!) on the beauty and glory of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The gospel is richly here, soak in it today and lets it truths permeat your soul:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ became incarnate, was made under the law, lived, acted, obeyed, suffered died and rose again for his people.

He came down to earth that they might go up to heaven.

He suffered that they might reign.

He became a servant that they might become kings and priests unto God.

He died that they might live.

He bore the cross that their enmity might be slain, and their sins expiated.

He loved them that they might love God.

He was rich and became poor that they, who were poor, might be made rich.

He descended into the lower parts of the earth that they might sit in heavenly places.

He emptied himself that they might be filled with all the fullness of God.

He took upon him human nature that they might be partakers of the divine nature.

He made flesh his dwelling place that they might be an habitation of God through the Spirit.

He made himself of no reputation, that they might wear his new name, and be counted an eternal excellency.

He became a worm, and no man, that they, who were sinful worms, might be made equal to the angels.

He bore the curse of a broken covenant that they might partake of all the blessings of the everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.

Though heir of all things, he was willingly despised of the people, that they, who were justly condemned, might obtain and inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away.

His death was a satisfaction to divine justice, a ransom for many, a propitiation for sin, a sweet smelling savour to God, that we, who were an offense to God, might become his sons and daughters.

He was made sin for his people that they might be made the righteousness of God in him. 

Though Lord of all He took the form of a servant, that they, who were the servants of sin, might prevail like princes with God. 

He, who had made swaddling-clothes bands for the sea, was wrapped in swaddling-clothes that they, who were cast out in their blood, might be clothed in linen white and clean, which is the righteousness of the saints.

He had not where to lay His head that they who otherwise must have laid down in eternal sorrow, might read the mansions in His Father’s house. 

He was beset with lions and bulls of Bashan, that his chosen might be compassed about with an innumerable company of angels and of the spirits of just men made perfect.

He drank the cup of God’s indignation that they might for ever drink of the river of His pleasures.

He hungered that they might eat the bread of life.

He thirsted that they might drink the water of life.

He was numbered with the transgressors that they might stand among the justified, and be counted among the jewels.

He made His grave with the wicked that they might sleep in Jesus.

Though He was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was, yet He became a helpless infant, that creatures of yesterday, sentenced to death, might live for ever.

He wore a crown of thorns that all, who love His appearing, might wear a crown of life.

He wept tears of anguish that His elect might weep tears of repentance not to be repented of.

He bore the yoke of obedience unto death that they might find His yoke easy and His burden light.

He poured out His soul unto death, lay three days in the heart of the earth, then burst the bars of death, and arose to God, that they, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage, might obtain the victory over the grave and become partakers of His resurrection.

He exhausted the penalty of the law that His redeemed might have access to the inexhaustible treasures of mercy, wisdom, faithfulness, truth and grace promised by the Lord.

He passed from humiliation to humiliation, till He reached the sepulcher of Joseph, that His people might be changed from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord.

He was matchless in grace that they might be matchless in gratitude.

Though a Son, He became a voluntary exile, that they, who had wickedly wandered afar off, might be brought nigh by His blood.

He was compassed about with all their innocent infirmities that He might perfect His strength in their weakness.

His visage was so marred more than any man, that His ransomed might be presented before God without spot, or blemish, or wrinkle, or any such thing.

For a time He was forsaken of His Father that they, whom He bought with His blood, might behold the light of God’s countenance forever.

He came and dwelt with them that they might be forever with the Lord.

He was hung up naked before His insulting foes that all, who believe on His name, might wear a glorious wedding garment, a spotless righteousness.

Though He was dead, He is the firstborn among many brethren.

Through His sorrow His people obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing flee away.

Though He endured the worst things, they do and shall forever enjoy the best things

Wonderful mystery! God was manifested in the flesh! Here is no absurdity, no contradiction, no fiction, and yet a mystery that baffles all attempts to solve it, and dazzles all human and angelic vision. Blessed is he, who is not offended in Jesus. Blessed is he, who loves the incarnate mystery, and rests upon it. It is a mystery of love, of power, of salvation. It is the mystery of Godliness. It is the great study of the inhabitants of heaven, and shall be while immortality endures.”

Plumer and Prime on the Power of Prayer

We have noted previously that James Waddel Alexander wrote a wonderful memorial of the Fulton Street prayer meeting and revival of 1857-1858. But the theme of the power of prayer stirred up by this revival was especially the province of Samuel Irenaeus Prime, who authored four volumes on this topic over the years:

  • The Power of Prayer, Illustrated in the Wonderful Displays of Divine Grace at the Fulton Street and Other Meetings in New York and Elsewhere, in 1857 and 1858 (1858, 1859);

  • Five Years of Prayer, With the Answers (1864);

  • Fifteen Years of Prayer in the Fulton Street Meeting (1872); and

  • Prayer and Its Answer: Illustrated in the First Twenty-Five Years of the Fulton Street Prayer Meeting (1882).

Prime was above all a man of prayer, and deeply impressed with both its necessity in the life of the believer, and its efficacy. In the last volume (p. 147), he shared this thought about prayer’s power:

In the Christian life and in Christian labor prayer is all powerful, for in prayer we lay hold of God's omnipotence. A minister said he had been deeply impressed with the thought that power comes from God. In the battle of Waterloo, some of the English troops were ordered to fall on their faces for a time, so as to let the deadly fire of the French artillery go over them. At the right moment the command came to spring to their feet and show fight. So it was suggested, as the soldiers of the Lord, we need often to fall flat upon our faces before Him in humiliation of heart, and wait until He calls on us for action.

In Prime’s first record of the 1857-1858 revival, several chapters are included from other contributors, such as William Swan Plumer on the efficacy of prayer. This chapter is a real gem. Plumer writes (p. 350) a truth that we do well to remember:

It is not possible to over-estimate the value of prayer. For more than thirty-five years I have had much intercourse with dying saints and sinners of various ages and conditions. In all that time I have not heard one express regret that he had spent too much time in prayer; I have heard many mourn that they had so seldom visited a throne of grace.

William Swan Plumer on the Greatness of God's Goodness

William Swan Plumer’s Commentary on the Psalms is filled with nourishment for the soul of the believer. His comments on Psalm 31:19 are a case in point. David writes, “How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You…” Plumer remarks:

The goodness here referred to seems to be God’s providential goodness in this life - a sure token indeed of greater goodness yet to come; but yet a great thing in itself. Several things commonly heighten the displays of God’s providential goodness to his saints:

1. Its principal acts are usually very unexpected. At such a time as men look not for him Jehovah appears.

2. It is very seasonable. A day or an hour sooner or later would have quite changed the aspect of the whole event.

3. God’s operations are commonly noiseless. He comes not with observation. God made a world with less noise than man makes a coffin.

4. When God manifests his providential goodness he does it effectually. The enemies are all gone; the victory is complete. Not an Egyptian was left alive at the Red Sea.

5. If means and instruments are used they are so inadequate, so unexpected that our wonder is greatly increased. Ahithophel’s suicide breaks the neck of Absalom’s rebellion.

6. God’s providential goodness to the righteous is by covenant and according to a fixed plan. He always designed to lift up David’s head above all his enemies round about. His goodness is laid up, hidden, reserved, or treasured up for the saints. It is hidden in God’s purpose. It is hidden as treasure of great value. It is laid up as a portion, an inheritance that none but they shall have.

May the Lord grant us faith to commit our souls into the good hands of our sovereign God.

William S. Plumer on the Offices of Christ

There are two volumes published by William Swan Plumer which examine in great deal the mediatorial offices of Christ as Prophet, Priest and King, both of which merit in-depth study by those who wish to delve into this important aspect of Christology.

The first is an abridgment of an original work by George Stevenson (1771-1841), a Scottish divine who was instrumental in the founding of the Associate Synod of Original Seceders, having written the doctrinal part of its 1827 Testimony (the historical portion of the Testimony was written by Thomas M’Crie the Elder). Stevenson’s original work, The Offices of Christ, was first published in Scotland in 1834, with a second edition following posthumously in 1845, and it has received high acclaim. Plumer published his abridgment with the same title in 1840. The 1845 edition has over 500 pages of material, while Plumer’s abridgment tops out at around 150 pages.

The second is an original work by Plumer titled The Rock of Our Salvation: A Treatise Respecting the Natures, Person, Offices, Work, Sufferings, and Glory of Jesus Christ (1867). It covers many additional aspects of the person and work of Christ beyond his mediatorial offices (see here for our previous notice of this work along with a table of contents), but the portion covering the mediatorial offices constitutes just under 80 pages out of a volume that is over 500 pages in length. His practical lessons for Christians after examining Christ as Priest and King are very devotional and encouraging.

Together these works represent a synthesis of Scottish and Southern Presbyterian (though Plumer was born in Pennsylvania, he ministered and taught a great deal in the South and is considered to be “one of the most renowned men of the old Southern Presbyterian Church”) perspectives on the mediatorial offices of Christ. And though neither Stevenson nor Plumer was a Reformed Presbyterian (or Covenanter), a Reformed Presbyterian in the vein of William Symington (author of the classic work on Christ’s kingship, Messiah the Prince (1840), would find in their works much with which to happily agree on the kingly office of Christ, particularly regarding the universal scope of his dominion and reign. (Another similar Scottish-Southern Presbyterian take on the universal dominion of Christ in his kingly office as mediator can be found in the Sermons of Rev. Benjamin Morgan Palmer, republished by Sprinkle Publications.)

Presbyterians of all branches and stations would do well to read Plumer / Stevenson on the offices of Christ. These works will help to enrich your understanding of the work that Christ performed and continues to perform to accomplish our redemption.

October 22, 1880: William S. Plumer Entered Into Glory

It was at 3:20 am on Friday, October 22, 1880, that William Swan Plumer breathed his last in a hospital bed in Baltimore, Maryland after complications from kidney stone surgery.

His daughters wrote a memorial to their father describing his last days in which they recounted some of his last words: “‘When I first knew of the operation, my faith was as a mountain that could not be shaken. Then for awhile my thoughts were of man; but since I have been here I have never had in my life such clear manifestations of divine love.’ Again: ‘I did not want to die without giving my testimony on this bed that God is a faithful God.’”

His body was afterwards transported by train and laid to rest at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, next to his wife’s, where their earthly remains await the great Resurrection. His tombstone reads: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” Phil. i.21. A tablet erected to his memory in the First Presbyterian Church of Petersburg, Virginia, where he ministered for 4 years, also reads:

“Strengthened with might by His power.”

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.”

Plumer once mused following a return visit to his old childhood home:

How short is life! It is a vapour, a shadow, a tale that is told. Fifty years have passed since I roamed over these fields, and bathed in these waters, and yet that whole time seems like a dream. All flesh is grass. Most of the companions of my early life have already gone beyond the bounds of time. Soon earth will know none of us any more forever.

How certain is death. None escape. The young and healthy may die; the old and sickly must. None can long withstand the assaults of disease. The grave-yard has filled up wonderfully.

What a Saviour we have in the Lord Jesus Christ! How wisdom and tenderness, power and love, grace and truth, shine out in him. “He is still in office for us; he pleads our cause before his Father; he rules the universe for our welfare; and he teaches us wisdom." Blessed one! how we ought to love him.

If we are in Christ, what a blessed meeting we shall soon have with all the redeemed in glory. Many of the best friends I ever had are gone before me. I sympathize with good old Richard Baxter when he says: "I must confess, as the experience of my own soul, that the expectation of loving my friends in heaven principally kindles my love to them while on earth. If I thought I should never know them, and consequently never love them after this life is ended, I should number them with temporal things, and love them as such; but I now converse with my pious friends in a firm persuasion that I shall converse with them forever; I take comfort in those that are dead or absent, believing that I shall shortly meet them in heaven, and love them with a heavenly love." It would be easy to make out a list of such old friends large enough to cover many pages. Their memory is precious. I hope soon to see them, and unite with them in singing the song of Moses and the Lamb (Words of Truth and Love [1867], pp. 51-52, 58-59).

The Scripture Doctrine of a Call to the Work of the Gospel Ministry, by William Swan Plumer

In 1831, at the age of 28, William Swan Plumer was the pastor of Tabb Street Presbyterian Church in Petersburg, Virginia. As a member of his Presbytery he was engaged in working with those preparing for the gospel ministry. He would frequently receive requests for information on what the Bible teaches about a call to the ministry, but he could find no essay that met the need. So eventually he wrote one himself, and delivered it to the students of Union Theological Seminary in April 1831. His text was the same that Thomas Boston had used in his book The Art of Man Fishing (Matthew 4:18-22), though interestingly Plumer did not know of Boston’s book when he wrote his essay, “The Scripture Doctrine of a Call to the Work of the Gospel Ministry.”

In his Preface, Plumer helpfully lays out the spirit in which such an important topic ought to be studied. First, we must approach it seriously, solemnly, and reverentially. We ought not to trifle with the thought of being an ambassador of Christ, an official servant of the Lord. Second, we must patiently wait upon the Lord in caution and deliberation. Purposes hastily formed are often foolishly or hastily abandoned, thus God calls on us to move slowly. Third, humility is indispensable. Plumer reminds the reader that he must never be ignorant of “Pope Self,” for one who denies either his faults and deficiencies, or his attainments and abilities, will not make a wise judgment. Finally, those seeking the Lord’s guidance in this question must be docile - that is, teachable. We are to shun mere human wisdom, seek the Lord heartily, desire to know our duty, and a willingness to act upon what we learn.

Available here, Plumer’s essay is only 34 brief pages, so take time to read it today and recommend it to those preparing for the ministry.

William Swan Plumer on the Glory and Grace of the Incarnation

William Swan Plumer, the 19th century Southern Presbyterian pastor and theologian, wrote more than most of us have time to read. We've published his two inaugural addresses as Christ All in All: The Right Temper for a Theologian (you can purchase a copy of the booklet, or it's available as a free ebook in the month of August!). But you don't want to miss this excerpt from the 21st chapter of his book The Grace of Christ (available here!) on the glory and grace of the incarnation of the Son of God. The gospel is richly present, so soak in it today and lets its truths permeate your soul:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ became incarnate, was made under the law, lived, acted, obeyed, suffered died and rose again for his people.

He came down to earth that they might go up to heaven.

He suffered that they might reign.

He became a servant that they might become kings and priests unto God.

He died that they might live.

He bore the cross that their enmity might be slain, and their sins expiated.

He loved them that they might love God.

He was rich and became poor that they, who were poor, might be made rich.

He descended into the lower parts of the earth that they might sit in heavenly places. He emptied himself that they might be filled with all the fullness of God.

He took upon him human nature that they might be partakers of the divine nature.

He made flesh his dwelling place that they might be an habitation of God through the Spirit.

He made himself of no reputation, that they might wear his new name, and be counted an eternal excellency.

He became a worm, and no man, that they, who were sinful worms, might be made equal to the angels.

He bore the curse of a broken covenant that they might partake of all the blessings of the everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.

Though heir of all things, he was willingly despised of the people, that they, who were justly condemned, might obtain and inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away.

His death was a satisfaction to divine justice, a ransom for many, a propitiation for sin, a sweet smelling savour to God, that we, who were an offense to God, might become his sons and daughters.

He was made sin for his people that they might be made the righteousness of God in him. 

Though Lord of all He took the form of a servant, that they, who were the servants of sin, might prevail like princes with God. 

He, who had made swaddling-clothes bands for the sea, was wrapped in swaddling-clothes that they, who were cast out in their blood, might be clothed in linen white and clean, which is the righteousness of the saints.

He had not where to lay His head that they who otherwise must have laid down in eternal sorrow, might read the mansions in His Father’s house. 

He was beset with lions and bulls of Bashan, that his chosen might be compassed about with an innumerable company of angels and of the spirits of just men made perfect.

He drank the cup of God’s indignation that they might for ever drink of the river of His pleasures.

He hungered that they might eat the bread of life.

He thirsted that they might drink the water of life.

He was numbered with the transgressors that they might stand among the justified, and be counted among the jewels.

He made His grave with the wicked that they might sleep in Jesus.

Though He was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was, yet He became a helpless infant, that creatures of yesterday, sentenced to death, might live for ever.

He wore a crown of thorns that all, who love His appearing, might wear a crown of life.

He wept tears of anguish that His elect might weep tears of repentance not to be repented of.

He bore the yoke of obedience unto death that they might find His yoke easy and His burden light.

He poured out His soul unto death, lay three days in the heart of the earth, then burst the bars of death, and arose to God, that they, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage, might obtain the victory over the grave and become partakers of His resurrection.

He exhausted the penalty of the law that His redeemed might have access to the inexhaustible treasures of mercy, wisdom, faithfulness, truth and grace promised by the Lord.

He passed from humiliation to humiliation, till He reached the sepulcher of Joseph, that His people might be changed from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord.

He was matchless in grace that they might be matchless in gratitude.

Though a Son, He became a voluntary exile, that they, who had wickedly wandered afar off, might be brought nigh by His blood.

He was compassed about with all their innocent infirmities that He might perfect His strength in their weakness.

His visage was so marred more than any man, that His ransomed might be presented before God without spot, or blemish, or wrinkle, or any such thing.

For a time He was forsaken of His Father that they, whom He bought with His blood, might behold the light of God’s countenance forever.

He came and dwelt with them that they might be forever with the Lord.

He was hung up naked before His insulting foes that all, who believe on His name, might wear a glorious wedding garment, a spotless righteousness.

Though He was dead, He is the firstborn among many brethren.

Through His sorrow His people obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing flee away.

Though He endured the worst things, they do and shall forever enjoy the best things

Wonderful mystery! God was manifested in the flesh! Here is no absurdity, no contradiction, no fiction, and yet a mystery that baffles all attempts to solve it, and dazzles all human and angelic vision. Blessed is he, who is not offended in Jesus. Blessed is he, who loves the incarnate mystery, and rests upon it. It is a mystery of love, of power, of salvation. It is the mystery of Godliness. It is the great study of the inhabitants of heaven, and shall be while immortality endures.”

Lessons from Job by William S. Plumer

The person of Job is referenced in many ways throughout William Swan Plumer's classic volume Jehovah-Jireh: A Treatise on Providence (1867), but there is one chapter where lessons are gleaned in particular from his remarkable experience that we can greatly benefit from today.

 In chapter 15, titled "Alternate light and darkness in providence, illustrated in the case of THE GREAT MAN OF UZ," Plumer examines the doctrine of providence as reflected in the life and trials of the patriarch. The chapter is brief but golden; it is a short but profitable read. The concluding observations are very valuable and practical lessons from which we can all benefit. 

1. How vain are all merely earthly possessions! How unstable is popular favor! How uncertain are riches! How soon our pleasures may be followed by pains! When parents rejoice at the birth of a child, they know not how soon they may weep over his dead body without an assurance that his soul is saved. Solomon thoroughly tried the world. His sober inspired judgment was that all was vanity. The sooner we reach that conclusion ourselves, the wiser shall we be.

2. Let us always be more afraid of sinning against God than of offending our nearest earthly friends. Job instantly repulsed the wicked assaults of his wife, saying, "Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh." Job ii. 10. To his own disciple, Peter, Jesus was compelled to say: "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savorest not the things that be of God but those that be of men." Matt. xvi. 23. No human friendship may for a moment interfere with our fidelity to God.

3. Although God generally chooses the poor as his children, yet he offers mercy to the rich, and receives all such as humbly seek his grace. Job's riches did not debar him from the kingdom of heaven. By reason of depravity riches tend to alienate the heart from God; yet sovereign grace can remedy that evil. He, who is rich in this world's goods, and also rich in faith and good works, is loudly called to sing the praises of Jehovah. Nothing but almighty power could thus make the camel go through the eye of the needle, or preserve the soul from the burning flames of insatiable covetousness.

4. Weight of character and a high order of talents are by no means confined to the enemies of God. "Why should they be? Piety is wisdom. Who ever stood higher for wisdom in council, for soundness of judgment and for prowess in war than did the man of Uz? In proportion to the number of consistent professors of religion, there cannot be found any number of men who surpass God's people for calmness of inquiry, soberness of mind and practical wisdom. True religion is worthy of the most earnest and solemn attention.

5. Good men are not always good in proportion to the degree of light which they enjoy. Job is supposed to have lived before the time of Moses, under the obscurity of the patriarchal dispensation; yet he was a burning and a shining light. He neither saw nor heard many wondrous things well known to us. Yet how far did he and Abraham and Enoch and other ancient worthies excel the great mass of even good men of these latter days. Truly we ought to blush for our short-comings. Guilt is in proportion to light. Surely then we must be very guilty for our sad deficiencies.

6. When malice, or envy, or suspicion, or evil sur- mising exists, no established reputation, no want of evidence of guilt can "tie the gall up in the slanderous tongue." By a long and holy life Job had given incontestible evidence of the purity of his character. His friends could bring no proof of his criminality in anything. Yet they charged him with cruelty, rapacity and hypocrisy. Such wickedness has not yet left the earth. It is no new or rare thing for the best men to be charged with the basest plans, principles or practices. It will be so until grace shall reign through Jesus Christ over all hearts. A propensity to evil thoughts and evil speeches is among the last faults of character from which even good men are delivered.

7. If friends accuse us falsely and act as enemies, let us not forget to pray for them. Job set us the example: Job xlii. 8. Enmities arising between old friends are generally more violent than others. "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle." Prov. xviii. 19. But we must not yield to passion. We must forgive and seek blessings on those who falsely accuse us and cruelly entreat us. It was not till Job prayed for his accusers that God turned his captivity. Let us never carry a load of malice in our hearts. It is worse than any evil we can suffer at the hand of man.

8. When our characters are assailed, we are at liberty to use Christian measures to remove an evil report. It is then best to leave the whole matter in the hands of God. Lawsuits for character may be lawful and sometimes expedient. But when bad passions are excited no character is so unspotted that malice will not spew out its venom against it. We may deny our guilt; we may call for evidence against us; we may bring evidence of innocence; but with men of heated imaginations and strong prejudices, evidence never has its just weight.

9. It is very dangerous to become involved in a labyrinth of reasoning concerning God, his character and providence. Things which are revealed belong to us and our children. We may safely follow where-ever revelation leads; but we are no judges of what is proper to be done under the government of God. The attempt to criticise the divine proceedings is always a failure and iniquity.

10. It is important to study the Scriptures and learn all we can concerning the plans and providence of God. Had Job clearly known what we by patient study may learn, it would have removed much of the pungency of his grief. God's word is a light and a lamp. Let us walk by it.

11. What is the grief of each one? Is it poverty, poor health, want of reputation, loss of religious comfort? Whatever it be, take for an example of suffering affliction Job, the narrative of whose trials was written for our comfort. Like him, let each one say of the Almighty, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Job xiii. 15. Never was pious confidence in the Lord misplaced. Never did any trust in him and was confounded.

12. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. The greatest secret God ever reveals to his people is the mystery of redemption. Of this Job was not ignorant. By this he triumphed. His own language is explicit: "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold and not another." Job xix. 25-27.

Why is the Incarnation of Jesus So Glorious? William Swan Plumer Tells Us

William Swan Plumer, the 19th century Southern Presbyterian pastor and theologian, wrote more than most of us have time to read. But you don't want to miss this, an excerpt from the 21st chapter of his book The Grace of Christ (available here!) on the beauty and glory of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The gospel is richly here, soak in it today and lets it truths permeat your soul:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ became incarnate, was made under the law, lived, acted, obeyed, suffered died and rose again for his people.

He came down to earth that they might go up to heaven.

He suffered that they might reign.

He became a servant that they might become kings and priests unto God.

He died that they might live.

He bore the cross that their enmity might be slain, and their sins expiated.

He loved them that they might love God.

He was rich and became poor that they, who were poor, might be made rich.

He descended into the lower parts of the earth that they might sit in heavenly places. He emptied himself that they might be filled with all the fullness of God.

He took upon him human nature that they might be partakers of the divine nature.

He made flesh his dwelling place that they might be an habitation of God through the Spirit.

He made himself of no reputation, that they might wear his new name, and be counted an eternal excellency.

He became a worm, and no man, that they, who were sinful worms, might be made equal to the angels.

He bore the curse of a broken covenant that they might partake of all the blessings of the everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.

Though heir of all things, he was willingly despised of the people, that they, who were justly condemned, might obtain and inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away.

His death was a satisfaction to divine justice, a ransom for many, a propitiation for sin, a sweet smelling savour to God, that we, who were an offense to God, might become his sons and daughters.

He was made sin for his people that they might be made the righteousness of God in him. 

Though Lord of all He took the form of a servant, that they, who were the servants of sin, might prevail like princes with God. 

He, who had made swaddling-clothes bands for the sea, was wrapped in swaddling-clothes that they, who were cast out in their blood, might be clothed in linen white and clean, which is the righteousness of the saints.

He had not where to lay His head that they who otherwise must have laid down in eternal sorrow, might read the mansions in His Father’s house. 

He was beset with lions and bulls of Bashan, that his chosen might be compassed about with an innumerable company of angels and of the spirits of just men made perfect.

He drank the cup of God’s indignation that they might for ever drink of the river of His pleasures.

He hungered that they might eat the bread of life.

He thirsted that they might drink the water of life.

He was numbered with the transgressors that they might stand among the justified, and be counted among the jewels.

He made His grave with the wicked that they might sleep in Jesus.

Though He was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was, yet He became a helpless infant, that creatures of yesterday, sentenced to death, might live for ever.

He wore a crown of thorns that all, who love His appearing, might wear a crown of life.

He wept tears of anguish that His elect might weep tears of repentance not to be repented of.

He bore the yoke of obedience unto death that they might find His yoke easy and His burden light.

He poured out His soul unto death, lay three days in the heart of the earth, then burst the bars of death, and arose to God, that they, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage, might obtain the victory over the grave and become partakers of His resurrection.

He exhausted the penalty of the law that His redeemed might have access to the inexhaustible treasures of mercy, wisdom, faithfulness, truth and grace promised by the Lord.

He passed from humiliation to humiliation, till He reached the sepulcher of Joseph, that His people might be changed from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord.

He was matchless in grace that they might be matchless in gratitude.

Though a Son, He became a voluntary exile, that they, who had wickedly wandered afar off, might be brought nigh by His blood.

He was compassed about with all their innocent infirmities that He might perfect His strength in their weakness.

His visage was so marred more than any man, that His ransomed might be presented before God without spot, or blemish, or wrinkle, or any such thing.

For a time He was forsaken of His Father that they, whom He bought with His blood, might behold the light of God’s countenance forever.

He came and dwelt with them that they might be forever with the Lord.

He was hung up naked before His insulting foes that all, who believe on His name, might wear a glorious wedding garment, a spotless righteousness.

Though He was dead, He is the firstborn among many brethren.

Through His sorrow His people obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing flee away.

Though He endured the worst things, they do and shall forever enjoy the best things

Wonderful mystery! God was manifested in the flesh! Here is no absurdity, no contradiction, no fiction, and yet a mystery that baffles all attempts to solve it, and dazzles all human and angelic vision. Blessed is he, who is not offended in Jesus. Blessed is he, who loves the incarnate mystery, and rests upon it. It is a mystery of love, of power, of salvation. It is the mystery of Godliness. It is the great study of the inhabitants of heaven, and shall be while immortality endures.”