Monday, October 30, 2017

THE EVANGELIST WHO INFLUENCED PATRICK HENRY

In a Presbyterian meeting house in Hanover County, Virginia, a bright young boy listened intently to the preacher, trying his best to absorb every word. He had too. For he knew that his mother and older sister would quiz him on the sermon during the carriage ride home. That boy would grow up to be the eloquent American patriot Patrick Henry, who would credit that influential preacher for much of his oratorical skill, as well as his view of liberty. That preacher was Samuel Davies, acclaimed as “the outstanding preacher of Colonial America” and “the animating soul of the whole dissenting interest in Virginia and North Carolina” (Sweet, 65).
            In the struggle for religious liberty in the American colonies, two Welshmen stand out: Roger Williams in New England (see Ninnau July-August 2015) and Samuel Davies in Virginia and North Carolina.
            Samuel Davies was born November 3, 1723, to David and Martha Davies, Welsh Baptists of New Castle County, Delaware. The Davieses were deeply religious, and Martha named her son after the prophet Samuel with the hope that he would enter the ministry. Yet when Samuel was of age, the Davieses lacked the finances for a university education, so they sent him to be tutored by the Rev. Samuel Blair in Blair’s academy in Faggs Manor, Pennsylvania. Blair’s institution was one of several disparagingly dubbed “log colleges.” The first so-called Log College was founded in 1735 by the Rev. William Tennent to educate his younger sons and other promising young men for the ministry, one of whom was Samuel Blair. After Blair assumed a pastorate in Chester County, Pennsylvania, he opened an academy similar to Tennent’s. Samuel Davies was to be his most renowned graduate and leader of The Great Awakening in the Southern Colonies, particularly in Virginia.
            The Anglican Church had held official status in Virginia since its founding, receiving tax support from the colonial legislature. Dissenting religious groups were tolerated, but their right to formal worship was effectively denied. In 1743, the colonial legislature of Virginia licensed Presbyterian “reading rooms” in Polegreen and three communities in and around Hanover County. Samuel Davies was commissioned as an evangelist to Virginia in February of 1747, and at age twenty-three he set out for the South with his bride of four months, Sarah (Kirkpatrick). Davies was determined to minister to folk of any denomination, preaching in dissenting communities and evangelizing wherever the opportunity arose.
            In September of 1747, tragedy struck: Sarah Davies died in childbirth only a month before their first anniversary. The loss hit Samuel so hard that he began to believe that he, too, always of frail health, might not have long to live. That thought drove Davies to redouble his evangelistic efforts. By 1748, Davies had set up his base of ministry in Hanover County, Virginia. In October of that year, he married Jane Holt from a prominent Williamsburg family. They would have six children together, one dying at birth.
            In the 1740’s, Davies was the only revivalistic – “New-light” or “New Side” – Presbyterian preacher in the county. There were, however, a few traditional – “Old Side” – Presbyterians, who presented little threat to the Established Church. Davies was determined to avoid conflict with the Established Church clergy, so his sermons were free of rancorous rhetoric or attacks on other denominations. He focused, instead, on careful exposition of Scripture and clear presentation of the Gospel. The strategy worked, much to the chagrin of the same Established clergy Davies had studiously avoided attacking. In 1752, Commissary William Dawson wrote the following to the Bishop of London:
The Dissenters were but an inconsiderable number before the late arrival of certain teachers from the northern colonies. . . . But since Mr. Davies has been allowed to officiate in so many places . . . there has been a great defection from our religious assemblies. The generality of his followers, I believe, were born and bred in our communion. (Cited in Sweet, 66)
            Davies would eventually establish seven Presbyterian congregations in five counties and win greater religious freedom for dissenters of all denominations.  Through his legal astuteness, he was able to secure in Virginia the application of England’s Toleration Act of 1689. His advocacy of the principles of the “free-born mind” or “liberty of conscience,” after the model of Roger Williams, eventually led to the establishment, after Davies’ death, of Virginia’s Declaration of Religious Rights (1776) and Statute for Religious Freedom (1786).
            Few colonialists, especially in the South, questioned the propriety of that “peculiar institution” of slavery, nor did Samuel Davies oppose it. He did, however, conduct a vigorous and extensive ministry to the slave population. Unlike the Baptist and Methodist missionaries who focused on a personal experience of salvation alone, Davies insisted that slaves be taught to read since an understanding and application of the Bible was essential to the Christian life. Davies himself estimated that he had ministered to over a thousand African slaves and had baptized hundreds. African converts were admitted into his congregations and were permitted to preach. He even wrote specific hymns for African ministry. The Negro spiritual, “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian in My Heart,” is believed to have been inspired, if not composed, by Samuel Davies.
            In 1753, Davies accompanied fellow Presbyterian minister Gilbert Tennent on an eleven-month fundraising tour of England and Scotland on behalf of the College of New Jersey, an outgrowth of Tennent’s Log College, during which Davies preached sixty-three times. The mission raised six thousand pounds, including a large contribution from the grandson of Oliver Cromwell.
            In 1759, Davies was offered the presidency of the College of New Jersey (which became Princeton University in 1898), succeeding Jonathan Edwards, who had died after only six weeks in office. At first Davies demurred, believing someone else more qualified, but he eventually accepted. Davies’s own tenure was also to be short. He died on February 4, 1761, at the age of 37.
            Few American ministers have had as much impact on the formation of the yet-to-be-founded United States of America as Samuel Davies. Davies influenced not only the eloquence, but also the principles of the noted orator and patriot Patrick Henry. Davies’ fight for religious liberty in the middle and southern colonies, formed the groundwork for the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
            As for Davies’ spiritual contribution, historian William Sweet sums it up well:
“Among the many prolific eighteenth-century preachers, few if any can be read more profitably today than Samuel Davies.” (Sweet, 70)

Resources
Sweet, William Warren. Revivalism in America. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1965.


First published in Ninnau, Sept-Oct 2016. Copyright 2016 by Thomas L. Jones.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Writer's Best Reward

I’ve written a lot of articles for publication, and for some I've even been paid. My articles have appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Naval History, Birds & Blooms, Reminisce, and many other periodicals. But my most valued compensation for an article came from a piece I wrote for a Sunday School bulletin insert. The article was about how God opened the mind and heart of an Italian man, resolving his doubts and producing faith in Christ. What touched one reader, though, was not the story itself, but a Scripture passage I quoted at the end: Deuteronomy 29:29 – "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
            Soon after the article appeared, a lady wrote to the editor with this message: “My husband and I have been going through a difficult time lately, and I felt sad and confused. When we got home from church, I took out the Sunday bulletin insert and read the article by Thomas L. Jones. When I got to that verse from Deuteronomy, my sadness lifted and my joy returned.”
            The editor of the periodical forwarded the letter to me, and I have cherished it ever since. Like any other rational person, a writer would like to believe he is making a difference in this world. Writers seek to do it through words – words crafted into sentences and paragraphs that we hope will convey coherent thoughts. Getting those words into a publication with a large circulation is gratifying in itself. We think about all those potential readers. But the writer has no idea how many recipients actually read his article. Unless someone writes in response.
           This is even more true for blog posts. In the case of a subscription periodical, we can be reasonably sure the subscribers at least looked at the periodical. But the statistics page on the blog site can be discouraging! Some "hits" I get appear to be sites that sell ready-made essays to students!
              Since I get no monetary compensation for my blog posts (I gave up “monetizing” a long time ago because of objectionable ads), my reward is learning that something I shared on my blog helped someone in some way. Getting feedback makes my day, and it spurs me on to write more. My thanks to those who have shared! I love to hear from you.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

BIG SAUL AND LITTLE SAUL


Big Saul started out as Little Saul. Little Saul started out as Big Saul. Both were of the tribe of Benjamin. The first Saul considered that pedigree a little thing; the second Saul considered it a big thing. The first Saul exalted himself to his own destruction; the second Saul abased himself to his own salvation and exaltation. The first Saul feared the people; the second Saul feared only God.
            King Saul is memorialized and honored in Jewish history as Israel’s first king. Yet the Hebrew Scriptures reveal a man of poor character, devoid of a personal relationship with Yahweh, God of Israel. He was superstitious, paranoid, and vindictive. He constantly relied on his own devices and feared the disapproval of men. In the end, King Saul consulted a medium for guidance since the LORD had abandoned him.
            Saul of Tarsus, on the other hand, began his career as an honored leader of Pharisaic Judaism in the 1st century A.D, a disciple of the renowned theologian Gamaliel. This Saul took pride in being of the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5). His zeal for what he considered to be the truth of God moved him to persecute the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, whom Saul considered to be a threat to the covenant faith of Israel. After his encounter with the risen Jesus, however, Saul of Tarsus cast off all honor and prestige, preferring to be known as Paul, his Greek name meaning “little.” (See Philippians 3:4-14; Acts 13:9ff) Though persecuted relentlessly, Paul committed himself to the Lord (Acts 20:22-24; Philippians 1:19-21). Paul, “Little Saul,” sought no approval from men (Galatians 1:10, 15-24).
            Jesus said, "Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12), and “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).  No two men in Scripture illustrate this contrast better than Saul Ben-Kish[1] and Saul of Tarsus.





[1] Our English Bible identify Saul as “son of Kish,” which was one hyphenated surname in the Hebrew: ben (son) + Kish, hence, Ben-Kish. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Essential Key to Spiritual Understanding

"If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself." (John 7:17)

 A willing heart of obedience is an absolute prerequisite for understanding God's Word.  Only to an obedient heart does God make known his most precious truths.  That person "comes to understand, to comprehend" (Greek ginosko) the teaching of our Lord.  The Pharisees were not willing to do what God might reveal to them, so God would not illuminate their minds to understand what Jesus was teaching.  They felt they could judge God’s Word, rather than letting God’s Word judge them. 

In 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, Paul says, "But the natural (soulish) man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.  15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one."  But the Corinthian Christians were neither "natural," that is, unsaved people, nor spiritual people: they were "carnal" (fleshly) Christians, infantile in their understanding of spiritual truths.  So they could not fully comprehend the deep things of God.  Paul says he had to feed them with "milk" and not "solid food," because they were not able to digest it.

Christians whose focus is still on themselves--on their own desires, their own ambitions, their own pleasures--are still "fleshly" and are not able to receive the rich doctrines of God's Word.  And this fleshly attitude results in "envy, strife, and divisions" (1 Corinthians 3:3). 

Only when we have a true heart of complete obedience will God open our spiritual eyes to the most precious riches of His Word.  We need the heart of Samuel who said, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” 

Let’s pray with the “sweet psalmist” David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.”  (Psalm 139:23-24)



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A CHORUS OF VIRTUES

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)

The Greek word translated “supplement” in the English Standard Version comes from two words that mean “leading a chorus” (Robertson’s Word Pictures). The idea is that the Christian virtues in this passage are not to be added to one another, as the KJV and the NIV have it, but to supplement or complete one another as the voices in a chorus do. The balanced, mature Christian life has these virtues in harmony. Faith, for instance, must be in harmony with knowledge, self-control with steadfastness, etc.

That godliness must be in harmony with brotherly affection (philadelphia) is particularly striking. The noble desire for godliness, in isolation from the other virtues, has led many to ungodly extremes. Monastacism in its various expressions is one example. Monks have sought to free themselves from sinful temptations by isolating themselves from the world and others, only to find, as Jerome did, that they cannot escape their own thoughts! Some, in seeking personal godliness, have become judgmental of others, lacking in brotherly affection. Nothing is more cacophonous than supposed godliness without brotherly affection or kindness (NASB). It’s like a novice putting a bow to a violin!

One final voice, standing next to Brotherly Affection, completes the chorus: LOVE. Brotherly affection is that deep bond between believers in Christ, yet our love must extend beyond the bounds of our spiritual family. Our Lord commanded that we love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35). That love of the will (agape), is also needed in cultivating brotherly affection. That's why the two are often mentioned together (Rom. 12:10; 1 Thes. 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7)

Meditating on how all the voices in this chorus of Christian virtues should sound together is a good exercise. We must remember, however, that it is not by the exertion of our will that we can put these virtues in balance. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul calls them “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22), and he exhorts us to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16 compare Rom. 8:4). Whenever we find that our spiritual life is out of balance – and it happens to every Christian for time to time – we need to refresh our relationship with Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit by means of prayer and the Word. We need to quiet ourselves before the Lord for as long as it takes for renewal.

The Christian’s life is to be a chorus of praise to the grace of God. Let’s make sure all the voices are singing together.