James Beverlin Ramsey, Worthy To Be Had "In Everlasting Remembrance"

Mark Harrell, Sr., is an independent scholar in Chesapeake, Virginia and a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

Pastor James Beverlin Ramsey, a Presbyterian minister, was born near Elkton in Cecil County, Maryland, on May 20, 1814. When he was six years of age, his father passed away, leaving him to the sole care and education of his mother. She was a woman of remarkable wisdom, strength, and godliness, and the two were close until her death, which came not long before his own. When James was fourteen years old, he made his public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. He did not know when he became a child of God, though his mother thought he showed evidence of being a Christian when his father died.[1]

Ramsay completed his education at Lafayette College on September 21, 1836, achieving the Valedictorian of the first graduating class.[2] That same year he commenced his studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, and after completion of the standard three-year curriculum, he concluded the fourth year in the study of theology and the original Scripture languages. One of his teachers with whom he became personally familiar, Dr. J. Addison Alexander, a renowned linguist, said that when Ramsey exited Seminary, he was competent to instruct any class at the institution.[3]

Following seminary, Ramsay was ordained by the Second New York Presbytery on February 2, 1841, and installed pastor of First Presbyterian Church, West Farms, New York.[4] He resigned in 1845 to serve as a missionary to the American Indians. On June 1, 1846, he assumed the superintendency of Spencer Academy, a boarding school for the Choctaw Indians located in the vicinity of Fort Towson, Oklahoma, on behalf of the Presbyterian Church. With adversities and trials pressing heavily on him, staff disunity at the zenith, and his health deteriorating, Ramsay decided to submit his resignation in March 1849. In June, he welcomed the news that his successor was on the way. However, before he could leave, both his wife and infant son died. He blamed his troubles upon his actions and refused to pray for a period.[5]

During the succeeding five years, Ramsey engaged himself in teaching, and as his health permitted him, also in preaching as a stated supply. The final two years before taking the pastorate at New Monmouth Church in 1853 he spent in the borders of New Providence Church in Rockbridge County, Virginia. He spent this time with the family of Reverend James Morrison, the pastor of New Providence Church and the father-in-law of R. L. Dabney. Afterward, Ramsey represented these two years as the happiest time of his life.[6]

As a consequence of improved health, he received a call in 1853 to serve the Presbyterian Church at New Monmouth Church in Rockbridge County, Virginia, the first year as their Stated Supply.[7] They installed him as their pastor on July 23, 1854,[8] and he spent four years of dedicated pastoral labor there among a compassionate people, harvesting valuable and plentiful rewards into eternal life.[9]

His election as the pastor of the First Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, transpired on July 17, 1858, with a salary of $1,200. He consented to the call “under a sense of public duty,” by the pressure of members of the Synod along with the Church in Lynchburg. He arrived in August 1858 and was installed on November 21, 1858. At his installation service, Dr. J. M. B. Atkinson presided and delivered the charge to the new pastor and Dr. R. L. Dabney preached and provided the mandate to the congregation.[10]

In May 1867, Ramsey’s health, fragile since 1849, had diminished to the point where the Session felt they needed to elect an “Assistant Pastor, E. M. Barnett, a licentiate of Lexington Presbytery,” for $400 per year salary and board. At the March 1869 meeting of Presbytery, discussion was held for First Church to establish a school on First Church’s school property next to the Church, where a boarding school for “young ladies” had formerly been run. Furthermore, the hope was that the church’s fragile pastor, no longer able to carry on the work of pastoring a congregation, might be able, with the help of his wife, to re-establish the school. On May 31, 1869, a joint board meeting passed a resolution to establish a female Presbyterian School in Lynchburg and to bring it before the Church and congregation. That meeting was June 9, 1869, and the decision was made that this “school should at once be established…under the supervision and control of the pastor, and…to ascertain what each would contribute to Dr. Ramsey’s salary next year,…for Dr. Ramsey’s use as a school.”[11] Shortly after that, Dr. Ramsey and his family, together with a few boarders who lived with the family, moved to the house next to the Church, where a day school was located for the next eighteen or nineteen years. In 1870, employed entirely in the school which supported him, he resigned his pastorate, “after repeated solicitations from himself” that he be allowed to do so. These solicitations had possibly begun in 1867, or even in 1866. Dr. Ramsey’s resignation was accepted at a congregational meeting on April 24, 1870, because of his “continued physical infirmities.” The resolutions adopted at that meeting reflected the love and admiration his congregation felt for their respected pastor.[12]

James Beverlin Ramsey lived for a little over a year longer, his death occurring on July 23, 1871, a Sabbath morning.[13] Major T. J. Kirkpatrick spoke of his ministry: “Viewed in any light, Dr. Ramsey was an extraordinary man. Gifted by nature with a great mind…and a rare power of concentration, he had from very early life devoted himself to the pursuit of knowledge…All these great gifts and attainments were, from the beginning dedicated to the service and glory of God. His love of Christ was the passion of his soul…For him to live was Christ – in motive, work, joy, and object. He was very like his blessed Master in humility, courage, honesty, benevolence and heavenly-mindedness. As a preacher, he was eminently earnest and instructive…As a pastor, he was watchful, faithful and tender…As a ruler in the Church, he was a wonderfully wise man…He had deep insight into human nature and great common sense.”[14] Charles Hodge concludes his brief biographical sketch with these words: “Had a longer life and more comfortable health been known by him, larger and richer fruits would no doubt have been harvested from his particular culture and ripe religious experience. His name stands worthy to be had ‘in everlasting remembrance.’”[15]

Notes on his sermons and writings[16]:

·       The Elders That Rule Well: A Sermon, Preached at Lexington, VA., April 4, 1855, At The Opening Of Lexington Presbytery, And Published at Its Request. Lexington [Va.]: Smith & Fuller, 1855. This sermon was on I Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders that rule well be considered worthy of double honor.”

·       The Deaconship: an essay, prepared by appointment of the Synod of Virginia, read before that body at their meeting at Charlottesville, on the 3rd of November, 1858, and published at their request. Richmond, Va.: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1858. Published in the Southern Presbyterian Review, 12.1 (April 1859), 1-24. In this essay Ramsey says that the great leading functions of the church may be regarded as four: the aggressive, the teaching, the governing and the charitable. The first three are for the elder and the fourth for the deacon.

·       God's way in the sanctuary remembered; a sermon preached Dec. 23d, 1860, before the congregations of the 1st and 2d Presbyterian Churches of Lynchburg, assembled together, in commemoration of the first meeting of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, on December 20th, 1560. Lynchburg [Va.]: J.C. Johnson, 1861. The passage for this sermon was Psalm 77:10-13. Ramsey proclaimed that perils are on every side of them, and help can come from God alone. He warns that it is a fearful thing to be found opposed to him, while full of zeal for the country.

·       True eminence founded on holiness. A discourse occasioned by the death of Lieut. Gen. T.J. Jackson, preached in the First Presbyterian Church of Lynchburg, May 24th, 1863. Lynchburg [Va.]: Virginian “Water-power Presses” Print., 1863. Ramsey preached this sermon when Jackson’s body was transported to Lynchburg to be put on the packet boat Marshall to convey him to Lexington. Doctor Ramsey declares in the sermon that although Jackson’s loss seems irreparable to the Church and country especially during the crisis of the day, God has the power to raise others in Jackson’s stead. This sermon was not planned for publication at first. However, there was such an outcry for it by the people that were not able to listen to the sermon preached, that he published it after getting the approval of Jackson’s connections, Jackson’s widow, Jackson’s pastor, and the requests of the people.

·       “How Shall I Live?” Tract no. 176 of the Evangelical Tract Society in Petersburg, VA. In this tract Ramsey uses Philippians 1:17 to talk about how happy Paul was to live in Christ even though his conditions were terrible. Usually attached to the tracgt was a short story entitled, The Strict Search, about being ready at all times to witness to all kinds of people we meet in everyday situations.

·       Follow the saints: a memorial of Samuel McCorkle, a ruling elder for thirty-four years of the First Prsbyterian [sic] Church of Lynchburg, Va., who died August 6th, 1866. An obituary notice and the sermon addressed to the church in improvement of his death. Lynchburg: Virginian Book and Job Office Print., 1867.

·        “The History of the Spiritual Kingdom.” Southern Presbyterian Review 19.4 (October 1868), 465-502. This article was republished posthumously in 1873 with a biography of James Beverlin Ramsey included. In the work, he talks about God restoring his kingdom when every vestige of sin’s dominion is wiped out, and death itself, the last enemy, destroyed, and all things are made new.

·       Questions on Bible doctrine for the closet, the family, and Bible classes. Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1869.

·       The spiritual kingdom: an exposition of the first eleven chapters of the book of the Revelation. Richmond, Va., Presbyterian committee of publication, 1873.

·       [With Robert Lewis Dabney] Questions on Old Testament history. Lynchburg, Va.: Bell, Browne & Co., 1879.


[1] James B. Ramsey, The Spiritual Kingdom: An Exposition of the First Eleven Chapters of the Book of The Revelation (Richmond: J.S. Peacock & Company, 1873), 3. Charles Hodge wrote the biographical sketch of Ramsey included in this volume.

[2] Selden J. Coffin, Record of the Men of Lafayette: Brief Biographical Sketches of the Alumni of Lafayette College, from Its Organization to the Present Time (Easton, PA: Skinner & Finch, 1879), 9. Lafayette College was located in Easton, Pennsylvania, and was founded in 1826. Reverend George Junkin, D. D. was president fromm 1832-1840.

[3] Ramsey, The Spiritual Kingdom: An Exposition of the First Eleven Chapters of the Book of The Revelation, 3.

[4] Robert Bolton Jr., History of the County of Westchester, from Its First Settlement to the Present Time, Vol. II (New York: Alexander S. Gould, 1848), 268. First Presbyterian Church today is Beck Memorial Presbyterian Church.

[5] W. David Baird, “Spencer Academy, Choctaw Nation, 1842-1900,” The Chronicles of Oklahoma XLV, no. 1 (Spring 1967): 25-43.

[6] Ramsey, The Spiritual Kingdom: An Exposition of the First Eleven Chapters of the Book of The Revelation, 3-4.

[7] Wayne Sparkman, “James Beverlin Ramsey,” PCA Historical Center, May 20, 2013, accessed February 4, 2019, http://www.thisday.pcahistory.org/2013/05/may-20-james-beverlin-ramsey/.

[8] The Home and Foreign Record of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Philadelphia: Publication House, 1854), 257-288.

[9] Ramsey, The Spiritual Kingdom: An Exposition of the First Eleven Chapters of the Book of The Revelation, 3-4.

[10] Mary Elizabeth Kinnier Bratton, Our Goodly Heritage: A History of the First Presbyterian Church of Lynchburg, Virginia, 1815-1940 (Lynchburg, Virginia: J. P. Bell Company, Inc., 1942), 37.

[11] Bratton, Our Goodly Heritage, 53-54.

[12] Bratton, Our Goodly Heritage, 53-54.

[13] Ramsey, The Spiritual Kingdom: An Exposition of the First Eleven Chapters of the Book of The Revelation, 4.

[14] Bratton, Our Goodly Heritage, 55-56.

[15] Ramsey, The Spiritual Kingdom: An Exposition of the First Eleven Chapters of the Book of The Revelation, 4.

[16] For more information, see “James Beverlin Ramsey,” PCA Historical Center, accessed February 14, 2019, http://www.pcahistory.org/HCLibrary/periodicals/spr/bios/ramsey.html