Samuel Davies Preaches His Own Funeral

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.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge Returns to the Truth

This is the day that Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Devon, England, in 1772.

Coleridge represents the restless abandonment of truth in the pursuit of truth. He readily devoured those things that led men away from faith in God, only to return to the roots which he valued so little in earlier years. Philosophies, idealism, drugs, irresponsibility and self-will are readily evident in his life.

Samuel’s father was a vicar in the village church and master of the local grammar school. As the youngest of fourteen children young Coleridge failed to develop a good sense of financial management and responsibility. An avid reader he first set out to fulfil his father’s wish that he become a clergyman. Introduced to Unitarian ideas in his first year at Cambridge, Coleridge was immediately drawn to it, as he also was to the older sister of one of his friends.

Coleridge accumulated a large debt while at college, which his older brothers had to discharge for him. He was then distracted by Plato’s Republic, and idealistic notions of going to America to set up the ultimate republic in Pennsylvania with a fellow student named Southey. When Southey married, Coleridge wed the sister of Southey’s bride, Sarah, thus commencing an unhappy marriage that ultimately fell apart. Coleridge still loved his friend’s sister, who was engaged to another man.

Assisted by Wordsworth, Coleridge abandoned the idealised republic and set about writing poetry. The two men travelled to the continent where Coleridge learned German and began translation, while also coming under the influence of the philosophies of Immanuel Kant, Jakob Boehme and G.E. Lessing.

When he returned to England in 1800, he settled with family and friends at Keswick. Over the next two decades Coleridge lectured on literature and philosophy, wrote about religious and political theory, spent two years on the island of Malta as a secretary to the governor in an effort to overcome his poor health and his opium addiction, and lived off financial donations and grants. Still addicted to opium, he moved in with the physician James Gillman in 1816. He continued to publish poetry and prose, notably Sibylline Leaves (1817), Aids to Reflection (1825), and Church and State (1830).

In secular circles he is remembered as being “in the first rank of English poets” and a leader of the British Romantic movement. He wrote such famous works as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan.

While his early life was scarred by a broken marriage, addiction to opium and Unitarian theology, the last 20 years of his life saw him back in the Anglican fold as a ‘practicing Churchman’.

He wrote Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit, dealing primarily with the authority of Scripture. “For more than 1000 years,” Coleridge wrote, “the Bible has gone hand in hand with civilization, science, law … in short, with the moral and intellectual cultivation of the species, always supporting and often leading the way” (quoted in Our Roving Bible, page 142).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge died at Highgate, London, on 23 July, 1834.

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.

Henry Cutler Brings English Tradition to USA Choirs

This is the day that Henry Stephen Cutler was born in Boston, USA, in 1824.

Cutler studied organ under A.U. Hayter, organist of Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1844, he went to Europe to continue his studies in Frankfurt am Main. While abroad, he visited many English cathedrals and be came familiar with their style of music.

He became famous as an organist, then as choir conductor, at Boston’s Church of the Advent, commencing there is 1852. It was here he introduced the first surpliced male choir in America, and was criticised for it! A surplice is a loose fitting ecclesiastical gown – what we might now call a choir-robe. “Some people considered using robes in a church service to be overly formal!” (Treasury of Great Hymns, by G. Johnson, page 278).

Not to be discouraged, Cutler was appointed organist/choir master at New York City’s Episcopal Trinity Church in 1858. And this time, in honour of a visit by the Prince of Wales, he had his choir clothed in “cassocks and cottas” (a short white linen or lace garment worn over a cassock).

Again it caused a stir … and is thought to have been the cause of the church members “voting him out” at the next meeting, although a different reason was given!

Cutler also played at churches in Brooklyn, New York; Providence, Rhode Island; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Troy, New York; and Newark, New Jersey.

Henry Cutler wrote the melody “All Saints New”, to which Reginald Heber’s words, “The Son of God goes forth to war”, is set in some hymnals.

Henry Cutler died on 5 December, 1902.

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.

William Holmes McGuffey Teaches Morals to a Nation

This is the day that …William Holmes McGuffey was born in Pennsylvania, USA, in 1800.

Much of his early schooling came from his mother – he “irregularly attended rural schools” – but eventually he was to become president of Ohio University (1839-1843). His mother prayed that he would become a preacher, which he most certainly did, although the fact pales against his greater claim to fame.

An intelligent lad, keen to be well educated, he was taught Latin by a minister and entered a life of academics. Professors were expected to preach and McGuffey prided himself in not needing notes to achieve that end. He had actually been licensed to preach by the Presbyterian Church (1829), but never accepted a pastorate.

“He took pride in the fact that he spoke extemporaneously, later declaring he had preached more than 3000 sermons without a single note…” (Dictionary of Christianity in America, page 688).

McGuffey always told his students that country preaching was the best of training. It was in the country churches that he improved extemporaneous speaking and learned to put his ideas into simple words that even the illiterate could understand.

On one occasion a committee told him they liked his preaching but they thought he was too stylish. He drove a horse and carriage, they said, and wore a silk coat. The suave professor showed them that his “silk coat” was made of cheap shiny bombazine. He further explained that he needed his horse and carriage so his wife could attend church with him. The committee retired ashamed.

At Oxford he met and married the beautiful Harriet Spining (April 3, 1827). She gave birth to two sons and two daughters, but both sons died early. When she died in 1850, McGuffy married again, to Laura Howard, who bore him one son who died at the age of four.

His fame lies in the famous “Readers” he published (from 1836-1857) “which sold an astronomical 122 million copies (!!), and helped shape the 19th century American Mind.”

These “Readers” were used in public schools and majored on “industry, honesty and loyalty; as well as warning against strong drink.” This extemporaneous preacher taught Christian morals to a whole nation through his written works.

McGuffey died at Charlottesville, May 4, 1873, and is buried there.

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.

William Penn and Pennsylvania

This is the day that … William Penn died in 1718, at the age of 74.

His father was an Admiral in the British Navy, Admiral Sir William Penn, and so young William enjoyed “the favour of the king … he was admired at court, handsome in person, graceful in manners … expectant heir of a title of nobility …”

And all this he gave up for a life of ridicule and scorn. He was even expelled from Christ Church, Oxford (1661) because he held views no longer in keeping with that of the state church. William Penn had become a disciple of George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends (the Quakers).

Four times he found himself thrown into prison because of his non-conformist (i.e., not belonging to the Church of England) views. He courted trouble not only by street preaching and by means of the printed word (over 100 tracts and booklets came from his pen), but also by the distinctive Quaker attire, and his refusal to remove his hat to anyone – even King Charles!

Eventually Penn and a group of fellow Quakers migrated to America and a 45,000 acre tract of land was granted him by the king. It was called ‘Pennsylvania’, named after William’s father. Young William had inherited great wealth from his father, including a debt owed by King Charles II, which was paid by the grant of land in the New World.

In Pennsylvania the Quakers and Red Indians intermingled without problems for 70 years. “Whilst English and European settlers in neighbouring areas were constantly at war with the Indians, Penn and his company made friends and lived in perfect harmony …” (English Sects, by A. Reynolds, page 159). This achievement was due to Penn’s “Great Treaty” with the Delaware tribe.

It should be pointed out that the Quakers rejected the sacraments and placed more emphasis upon ‘the Light within’ than the Holy Scriptures. (See the post on George Fox on July 19)

Politically, it could well be argued that William Penn’s religious convictions were a primal component of the principles on which the nation of America was to be built.

Further information on William Penn can be found at: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~CAP/PENN/pnintro.html

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.