Samuel Davies was born in Delaware, USA, on November 3, 1723.
His Welsh parents were deeply religious. Davies later said, ‘I am a son of prayer, like my namesake, Samuel the prophet, and my mother called me Samuel, because, she said, I have asked him of the Lord’.
Converted at the age of 12 he was admitted to the Presbyterian church at age 15.
When the Rev Samuel Blair opened his famous school at Fagg’s Manor, Pennsylvania, Samuel Davies was put under him and there completed his formal education. Rev Blair was an outstanding preacher and years later Davies, having heard preachers on the continent as well as in the USA he declared that none could compare with his old schoolmaster Blair.
He was ordained by the Presbyterians and became one of their outstanding evangelists. The year of his ordination, 1747, his wife of one year died. Bereaved and weak he thought he was going to die, so he determined to preach with as much effect as possible so he could have treasures in heaven.
One of Davies’ friends wrote of him, ‘’Finding himself upon the borders of the grave, and without any hopes of a recovery, he determined to spend the little remains of an almost exhausted life, as he apprehended it, in endeavouring to advance his Master’s glory in the good of souls; and as he told me — he preached in the day, and had his hectic by night and to such a degree as to be sometimes delirious’.
He did recover and a year after the death of his wife he married Jean Holt who bore him three sons and two daughters.
He took up a very effective pastorate in Hanover County, Virginia, where 150 families invited him to come. This placement proved to be very successful. At first he preached at five meeting houses, and then seven in six counties, and later as many as fourteen separate meeting places over which he had charge. Some of these were more than 30 miles from one another. Like Whitefield and Wesley, he read while riding on horseback from one charge to another, being all alone in that vast wilderness.
One preaching house accommodated 500 people, but at times the meetings had to be held outdoors to accommodate the crowds.
We are told “his ministerial dignity and solemn demeanour inspired awe. Numbers flocked to hear a man … who preached the solemn truths of the gospel in a style that arrested their attention and impressed their hearts” (Cyclopaedia of Religious Biographies, page 155).
He visited England with fellow preacher, Gilbert Tennent, and his preaching was so outstanding that King George II heard him preach by royal invitation.
He was one of the preachers used by God in the Great Awakening, which resulted in the conversion of multitudes. He led many negroes to faith, teaching them to read and giving them books which were sent to him by supporters in England. His effectiveness in winning souls was exemplary.
Back in America Samuel Davies followed Jonathan Edwards to the presidency of “The College of New Jersey”, later to become Princeton University.
Early the following year he preached on “This year thou shalt die” (Jeremiah 28:16). He preached to the Princeton students saying, ‘And it is not only possible, but highly probable, death may meet some of us within the compass of this year. Perhaps I may die this year’. One month later (4 February, 1761) he was called home, so he effectively preached his own funeral service. He was just 36 years old.
His great hymn is still sung today:
Great God of wonders! All Thy ways are matchless, Godlike and divine;
But the fair glories of Thy grace more Godlike and unrivalled shine:
Who is a pardoning God like Thee? Or who has grace so rich and free?
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.