Southern Presbyterians Leaders 1683-1911, by
Henry Alexander White, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, hardback, 482
pages, obtainable from the Free Presbyterian
The author outlines the story of the main figures in the Presbyterian Church
in the south east of the United States. Many of them were of Scottish extraction,
some of them having emigrated from the north of Ireland. Among the latter was
Francis Makemie, the first in a long line of godly Presbyterians, who, when
accepted as a student for the ministry, told the presbytery about "a work of
grace and conversion wrought in my heart at 15 years of age by and from the
pains of a godly schoolmaster who used no small diligence in gaining tender
souls to God's service and fear".
None of the chapters are long, and sometimes the account is little more than
a list of names. But one gets a clear impression of the many godly men who
proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ in the southern states during this period
of over 200 years till White's own time. Among them was Samuel Davies who said,
before his death in 1761 at the age of only 37: "Formerly I have wished to
live longer that I might be better prepared for heaven, but . . . after long
trial I found this world a place so unfriendly to the growth of everything
divine and heavenly that I was afraid if I should live any longer I should
be no better fitted for heaven than I am". We are told of Davies coming, on
one of his many long preaching journeys, to Joe Morton's home. There the minister
spent the night, and along "with him Christ and salvation came to that house".
A church was formed in that district and Joe Morton became its first elder.
While they were without a pastor, he called the people together every Sabbath,
read a sermon to them and then questioned the children from the Shorter Catechism.
W S Plumer and J H Thornwell will be familiar to some readers, as will R L
Dabney, who, after a few hours of severe suffering, uttered his final. triumphant
words: "The blessed rest is here!" Among the many less familiar figures is
George Baxter. One Sabbath afternoon, he preached to a large congregation in
Virginia on the text, "The wicked are like the troubled sea which cannot rest".
Some sat in a grove of trees and others on a mountainside. The preacher's face
was bathed in tears and the whole congregation was deeply moved. Very solemnly,
he pointed them to the moment of death and the day of judgement. "Suppose,
as you are seated here this moment," he told them, "that you should see the
heavens above suddenly gathering blackness and feel the earth, under some mysterious
power, trembling beneath your feet, and you who are seated upon the mountain
should feel it shaking to its foundation and, looking up to its top, we should
see it nodding to its fall. What would nature dictate? We should all flee in
horror from the fatal spot. But how completely will all this feeling be reversed
to the impenitent at the last day! O, you will then say to the mountains and
to the rocks, 'Fall on us, and hide us from the wrath of the Lamb, for the
great day of His wrath is come and who shall be able to stand?'"
"The effect of these words", says the author, "was marvellous. The whole assembly
seemed to sway back and forth as if moved by a mighty wind and many . . . turned
to see if the mountain was not really about to fall." There were spiritual
effects also, and among those so influenced by Baxter's preaching was W S Plumer
mentioned above, extracts from whose writings have appeared in this magazine.
British readers might well feel happier if less space had been given to wars
fought on the other side of the Atlantic. But that is a minor complaint; one
leaves the book with the strong impression of the great multitude of men whom
God raised up to advance His cause in southern states of the USA, and with
the longing that many such men would be raised up in our generation too.