Southern Presbyterians Leaders 1683-1911, by Henry Alexander White, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, hardback, 482 pages, obtainable from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom.
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.