Feast of Samuel Davies (February 19)   Leave a comment

samuel-davies

Above:  Samuel Davies

Image in the Public Domain

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SAMUEL DAVIES (NOVEMBER 3, 1723-FEBRUARY 4, 1761)

American Presbyterian Minister and Hymn Writer

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To preach repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ–To alarm secure impenitents; to reform the profligate; to undeceive the hypocrite; to raise up the hands that hang down, and to strengthen the feeble knees;–These are the doctrines I preach, these are the ends I pursue…’Tis the conversion and salvation of men I aim to promote…The design of the gospel is to bring perishing sinners to heaven…I cannot help thinking [he continued, comparing his own preaching with that of the Anglican ministers in Virginia] that they who generally entertain their hearers with languid harangues on morality or insipid speculations, omitting or but slightly touching upon the glorious doctrines of the gospel, which will be everlastingly found the most effectual means to reform a degenerate world; such as the corruption of human nature in its present lapsed state; the nature and necessity of regeneration, and of divine influences to effect it; the nature of saving faith, evangelical repentance, etc.  I cannot, I say, help thinking that they who omit, pervert, or but slightly hint at these and the like doctrines, are not likely to do much service to the souls of men.

–Samuel Davies to Thomas Sherlock, Bishop of London; quoted in Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Volume One:  1607-1861 (Richmond, VA:  John Knox Press, 1963), page 75

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Samuel Davies was a Presbyterian divine and an early President of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University).  He also became the earliest American writer of widely accepted hymns.  His hymns included “Eternal Spirit, Source of Light,” “Lord, I am Thine,” and “While O’er Our Guilty Land, O Lord.”

Davies accomplished much.  He, born at New Castle, Delaware, on November 3, 1723, studied under Presbyterian ministers Samuel Blair of Chester County, Pennsylvania, and William Robinson of New Brunswick, New Jersey.  The Presbytery of New Castle licensed our saint to preach 1746.  The following year, although our saint’s health was fragile and even he thought he might die of tuberculosis shortly, became an evangelist in Virginia, starting in Hanover County.  Authorities in Virginia restricted the rights of religious dissenters (non-Anglicans), reserving the right to issue licenses to preach and to dictate who may evangelize.  Davies won limited yet expanded rights for dissenters, specifically those who registered their ministers and agreed to obey colonial law.  He also added many people to the rolls of Presbyterian churches in Virginia.  Davies published Miscellaneous Poems, Chiefly on Divine Subjects (1752) in two volumes.  The following year the Synod of New York (the New School faction in the North American colonies) commissioned our saint and Gilbert Tennant to travel to England to raise funds for the College of New Jersey.  Davies was so well-known that King George II invited him to preach at the Chapel Royal.  Davies, back in Virginia, helped to found the Hanover Presbytery, the first presbytery in Virginia, in late 1755.  The presbytery covered most of Virginia plus all of the Carolinas.  He led the presbytery in an evangelistic push and in numerical expansion.  After he left to become the President of the College of New Jersey in 1759, however, that growth stopped.  Davies died at Princeton, New Jersey, on February 4, 1761.  He was 36 years old.

Among the posthumous collections honoring Davies was Sermons on Important Subjects (1792)–Volumes I, II, and III.  In 1930 historian Wesley M. Gewehr described our saint’s style of preaching as

plain and pungent, peculiarly adapted to pierce the conscience and affect the heart.

–Quoted in Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Volume One (1963), page 75

The historian continued:

His eloquence and his influence in developing a new type of oratory characterized alike by naturalness, warmth and directness of expression, and great dignity of style are too well-known to need further comment here.

–Quoted in Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Volume One (1963), page 75

Davies filled his life with activities that glorified God and created long-lasting legacies that have continued to enrich the lives of many people, even to today.

Not all of us can leave such legacies, but we can glorify God via our lives.  We must also know that we will influence many people directly.  They will, in turn, influence others, who will influence still others, et cetera.  Thus we will influence many people indirectly.  Will we do so more for the good or for the bad?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 4, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN OF DAMASCUS AND COSMAS OF MAIUMA, THEOLOGIANS AND HYMNODISTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN CALABRIA, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE POOR SERVANTS AND THE POOR WOMEN SERVANTS OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH MOHR, AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THOMAS COTTERILL, ENGLISH PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

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O God, you have brought us near to an innumerable company of angels,

and to the spirits of just men made perfect:

Grant us during our earthly pilgrimage to become partakers of their joy;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Wisdom 3:1-9

Psalm 34 or 34:15-22

Philippians 4:4-9

Luke 6:17-23

–Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 725

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