Happy Birthday to James Renwick Willson!

James Renwick Willson, Reformed Presbyterian minister, was born near Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh, on April 9, 1780. He studied for the ministry under Alexander McLeod, whom he later succeeded to the pastorate at Coldenham-Newburgh Reformed Presbyterian Church. The current pastoral intern at Coldenham-Newburgh RPC is our very own Zach Dotson, who has ably written a biographical sketch of J.R. Willson here

Willson's fascinating life includes the fact that he edited The Evangelical Witness for many years; he was, perhaps, the first to translate (a portion of) Francis Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology into English; and he was burned in effigy for his sermon on Prince Messiah, which was also publicly burned in a bonfire. 

He died on September 29, 1853, and is buried at the Coldenham-Newburgh RPC. His son, James McLeod Willson, another distinguished minister and author, wrote a biographical sketch of his father. J.R. Willson is remembered today as a faithful American Covenanter pastor, who dedicated his life to serving the King of kings, and Lord of lords, in both church and state.   

The Legacy of a Congregational Church in Georgia

One of the most important churches for Presbyterians in the South wasn’t Presbyterian but rather was Congregational, and its history was recorded by Rev. James Stacy (1830-1912). The Midway Congregational Church in Liberty County, Georgia was founded by a group of Puritan settlers from New England on August 28, 1754, who at first came to South Carolina, found conditions there undesirable and then headed down to Liberty County, GA. They founded a Congregational church, and from this church would come six Congressman, and of ministers, fifty Presbyterians, seventeen Baptists, thirteen Methodists, and one Episcopalians. The Presbyterian ministers were some of the most distinguished in the Southern United States, among them being the great Old School Presbyterian revivalist Daniel Baker, the first professor at Columbia Theological Seminary Dr. Thomas Goulding, and the famous missionary among the slaves, Dr. Charles Colcock Jones. The Midway Church would eventually close, but its legacy of faithfulness did not. Dr. Stacy, who wrote the book on the church, made the remark that the Midway Church’s reasons for success was “the good pleasure of God, who, in his sovereign exercise of Providence putteth down one, and setteth up another.” He goes on to talk about some of the secondary causes and miraculous things that made Midway successful, but you will have to read the book for that! The Midway Congregational Church never fully closed, but ceased having Session Meetings in October, 1867, and slowly faded away, but its legacy endures today.  

William Sprague wrote in his Annals concerning the aforementioned Thomas Goulding: "It might be profitable to inquire why the one Church of Midway, Liberty County, has furnished more Presbyterian ministers for the State of Georgia, than all the other ninety-two counties united. The influence of one little colony of Puritans that made its way thither through a scene of trials and disasters, from Dorchester, Mass., who can describe? Heaven's register will unfold many a page which Earth's historians fail to write. What the Christian Church does for the State, the world will never fully know."

A History of the Presbyterian Church in Georgia

Presbyterianism was planted in the American colonies, and has been a major force in the shaping of this nation. The state of Georgia has its own Presbyterian heritage which dates back to the early 18th century. Rev. James Stacy (1830-1912) was the clerk of Synod of Georgia for thirty-three years, and in 1912 his A History of the Presbyterian Church in Georgia was edited by his nephew and posthumously published. In the history the Presbyterian faith from its infancy in the colony Stacy has clearly shown the development of the established institutions of the Church. He also brings out the various controversies which occurred in the history of the Synod up to that point including the evolution controversy, and other minor controversies. He also provides insight into the history of “New Schoolism” in Georgia. If you are seeking a detailed account of Presbyterianism in Georgia, click on the link above to find Stacy's important and useful volume.

A Refined Man in Frontier Minstry

Rev. Robert Hamilton Bishop, was born in Scotland in 1777, and grew up a son of the Seccession Church. He received a fine education at the University of Edinburgh, and put this to good use on the American Frontier. Licensed to preach the gospel on June 28, 1802, by the Associate Burgher Presbytery of Perth, he was selected to come to this country and minister. He journeyed to America with other students and ministers anxious to fill the call for ministers in the new nation. He attended the Associate Reformed Synod in New York in October 1802, and was sent to Kentucky. In Kentucky he received and accepted a call to two churches, Ebeneezer ARP, and New Providence, and taught at the predecessor to the University of Kentucky. His teaching was problematic for his Presbytery, and though it appears he received the call in 1804 or 1805, he was not not ordained until 1808. The issue surrounding his ordination would not be the only issue in the ARP; he had a falling out with Rev. Adam Rankin over the issue of the tithe, and would lose his pastorate at Ebeneezer ARP. He was rebuked by the Presbytery, and Rankin was suspended. Bishop in 1819 sought to get over his troubles with the ARP by joining the PCUSA, and upon doing this it seems he had no more trouble in the church courts. He was an advocate of education of all varieties, a firm abolitionist and even established Sabbath schools for slaves. Bishop upon being received into the PCUSA went on to serve as president of Miami University in Ohio, and write a number of books, including the first book of sermons published west of the Allegheny Mountains.  Bishop at his death was president of a small agricultural college near Cincinnati, Ohio on April 26, 1855. You can find some of his works here.

George Buist: A Carolina Low Country Presbyterian from Scotland

Presbyterianism in the Low Country of South Carolina has its own unique history, and perhaps the chief amongst the points of that unique History, is that the Low Country Southern Presbyterians maintained closer ties with Scotland than did the rest of American Presbyterian Church. The name of Charleston's First Scots Presbyterian Church exemplifies that, and her early ministers were all drawn from Scotland. The early years in the First Scots Congregation had many short term ministries from men in Scotland, but finally they were to procure a minister of their own from Scotland, and the man brought over was George Buist (1770-1808).

Buist was a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, and was of some literary note having published an abridged edition of Hume’s History of England. At the same time he published that work, First Scots was without a pastor, and in 1792 they sent a letter to Scotland seeking a qualified man to come fill their pulpit. They were sent George Buist, who arrived in Charleston in June of 1793, and immediately undertook his ministry. In 1805 he was appointed President of the College of Charleston, which improved its reputation as an academic institution. Buist would minister for 15 years as Pastor of First Scots, and the Lord took him home in August of 1808. Before his death he was of the mind to edit and publish his sermons but never found time; the two volume set was taken from his notes, and allows him to preach still today. Enjoy this forgotten Low Country Presbyterian!

Annals of the American Pulpit Volume 9

As far as interesting, and helpful works go, William B. Sprague’s Annals of the American Pulpit can’t be beat. Volume 9 of this epic work, arguably is the most interesting and diverse of all. It contains in it records of the Lutherans, Reformed Dutch, Associate, Associate Reformed, and Reformed Presbyterian pulpits. If one is interested in the history of the various Reformed Churches in America, this volume gives you a lot of chew on. It contains lots of valuable information on the Dutch Reformed Church, as well as the Scottish-American Dissenting Presbyterians. It has biographies in it of many authors listed on Log College including, John Anderson, William Marshall, Alexander McLeod and James Renwick Willson. This volume is a helpful reference but also a great starting point to get a picture of the American Reformed movement broadly. Perhaps the volume’s most moving part is the devotion and piety which many of the ministers had which is recorded for posterity as an example. May we take up and read!

Rev. William White D.D. His Memoir and a Glimpse into Virginia Presbyterianism

William Spotswood White (1800-1873) was a little known Presbyterian Pastor in Virginia, born in Hanover County, Virginia and through his long ministry he lived all over the commonwealth. White was born in Virginia, and would as a pastor feel it to be his duty to remain in Virginia. White provided in his autobiography, a glimpse into Virginia Presbyterianism and its warmest characters. Perhaps the characters that made the greatest impressions on him were the Rice brothers, Benjamin and John. Both of these brothers greatly encouraged William White and provided him some wonderful anecdotes! White would serve basically as a church planter, university chaplain and large congregation pastor. Dr. White in his autobiography leaves something for everyone to enjoy. 

Here is one of the enjoyable anecdotes he records:

Dr. John H. Rice and his brother Rev. Benjamin Rice were two very different types of people.

When Dr. White was being examined by Presbytery in Church Government, Dr. John Rice said:

“Mr. White, tell us, in the fewest words possible, what is the chief use of ruling elders in our church?”

To which his brother replied, answering  for Dr. White, “Tell him, to watch the Preachers”. The whole crowd laughed and Dr. John H. Rice apologized for asking such a poor question, White recorded.

This book is truly a lovely little read if you want a glimpse into Virginia Presbyterianism, by a Virginia pastor, that loved and labored only in Virginia.  

Alexander Proudfit - Thirteen Discourses on Godliness

Log College Press features not only work from mainline Presbyterians but also from American Dissenting Presbyterians, which include the ARP, RPCNA and Associate Church, among these is Alexander Proudfit one of the most prolific writers the Associate Reformed produced. He was a wonder devotional writer, as well as an expert and a notable anti-Slavery Advocate. In the day of Alexander Proudfit the question of how to live a life of devotion would be just as key as today, Proudfit desiring to see people live holier lives. Proudfit would preach and publish thirteen discourses on the subject of practical Godliness. Proudfit clearly informs believers about their duties in the church, in the home as well as in private devotion. A simple reading of these discourses would help any believer, live a more profitable life in an incredibly difficult world.

Proudfit in his discourses approaches religious duties with a warm pastoral heart, and offers simple practical advice to Christians that is truly timeless. Perhaps the church more than ever the American Church struggles with simple devotion to God, and following after Christ, Proudfit provides the simple answers in his book of discourses. He is also from the ARP which provides an important glimpse into the piety, and historical devotion of the ARP Church. Whether to grow in a knowledge of Christ or to become better aquainted with the ARP and one of her most prolific writers Proudfit’s Practical Godliness will not disappoint.

Titus Basfield - From Slave to Associate Presbyterian Church Minister

In the book An Interesting History of the life of Titus Basfield: A Colored Minister in the Associate Presbyterian Church, one catches a rare glimpse of the ministry of an African American Presbyterian pastor before the Civil War. Born into slavery, Titus Basfield would become a successful minister of the Gospel, though not without great troubles in this life. He would have to overcome and survive far greater difficulties than most today, but ultimately Basfield proved a profitable servant of the Lord Jesus.

Basfield was born in Virginia in 1806, and as a young boy his father died. Titus was one of six children. He along with his mother and youngest sister would eventually be taken by a slave trader down to Tennessee where his sleeping sister at a very young age would be sold out of her crying mother’s arms. This event would leave a mark upon young Titus. Titus would wind up near Knoxville, Tennessee, then through successive travels with various masters he would move around from place to place. One master, James Reid, allowed Titus to read the Bible, and eventually allowed Titus to begin to sit under the ordinances of the Associate Church. The Associate Church became something Titus was attached to, on account of the pure gospel preached among them. James Reid was disposed to leave Tennessee, however, and move to Alabama – leaving Titus without his beloved Church. Seeing this to be an issue, Rev. David Carson of the Associate Church stepped in. He knew the young slave had been faithfully attending gospel ordinances and was apt to keep him. He visited Mr. Reid and was determined to buy Titus and emancipate him. Though Reid stood in the way, Rev. Carson threatened him by making it clear that if he removed his slave from gospel ordinances he would not profit him. Eventually it was worked out, and Titus was purchased and freed.

Titus, having a sharp mind, excelled in studies, and after attending Synod one year with Carson was interested in studying for the ministry. Titus left Tennessee for Ohio, and after studying Theology in Canonsburg was licensed the 27th of June, 1842. From there he would go to London, Ontario, to be a missionary to freedmen and runaway slaves. It was here that all the love Titus had for the Associate Church would be most severely tested.  As a missionary he was not properly provided for, and struggled to make ends meet. This put him at constant odds with Presbytery and the Synod. In fact both Presbytery and Synodical courts declined to hear his case. He felt all alone and got a bad name with the Canada Mission. Yet he remained faithful and did what he could.

Perhaps most interesting, Titus Basfield seems to have written this work mostly to guard against the bad name he got on the mission field in London, Ontario. He would contribute one last thing of note: he refused to enter the union between the Associate Reformed Church and the Associate Church, and though he was a small minority, he helpfully wrote down his reasons why he refused to join. These reasons are of great historical significance in understanding the United Presbyterian merger.

John Anderson, Associate Presbyterian pastor, on Jesus Christ as the object of faith

The Lord’s Day is a day set aside for the worship of the living and true God, and to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus Christ is the object of the Christian’s faith, His name is the only name under heaven which can save, and so perceiving of His person and work rightly is key. In 1793, the Reverend John Anderson of the Associate Presbyterian Church wrote a book on viewing Christ as the object of faith, aptly titled The Scripture Doctrine of the Appropriation which is in the Nature of Saving Faith. Perhaps this Lord’s Day you could read about Christ as the object of your faith!