Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

John Witherspoon

WITHERSPOON began his ministry at Paisley in the fullness of his reputation, the recognized leader of the section which stood for orthodoxy and liberty. An ardent and sincere Calvinist, he accepted the Westminster Confession of Faith as his own personal belief. That creed, so far from binding men's consciences and minds, in his opinion liberated them. It has been wittily said by another Scotchman that "Calvinism is a sheep in wolf's clothing." Its doctrine of predestination has been represented as relentless and inescapable fate; foreordination has been supposed to destroy the freedom of the human will. It is not my purpose to discuss these dogmas. A study of Witherspoon's sermons and correspondence, a close following of his career, show that in these teachings, he found for himself, and believed the world would find, the strongest basis for hopefulness in that predestinating love and that foreordaining grace which mark believing men as the children of God and intend them to be transformed into the image of His Son. To the teaching of these doctrines he joyously and earnestly gave his life. His writings and sermons betray strength and sincerity of conviction. He does not search for arguments to bolster a belief, but for the best manner of presenting what are to him necessary and eternal truths. These doctrines are worthless in his opinion unless they produce strong and pure characters. In his controversy with the Moderates he said, "It is dangerous to claim respect for a creed if its teachers are not men of pure Christly life." A year after his transfer to Paisley he was chosen Moderator of the synod. His sermon on retiring from the chair in 1759 is a plea for high character in the minister of Christ. Personal character is worth more than intellectual zeal. "Is any minister more covetous of the fleece than diligent for the welfare of the flock; cold and heartless in his sacred work, but loud and noisy in promiscuous and foolish conversation; covering or palliating the sins of the great because they promote him; making friends and companions of profane persons; though this man's zeal should burn like a flame against antinomianism, and though his own unvaried strain should be the necessity of holiness, I would never take him to be any of its real friends." "If one set apart to the service of Christ in the gospel, manifestly shows his duty to be a burden and does no more work than is barely sufficient to screen him from censure; if he reckons it a piece of improvement how seldom or how short he can preach, and makes his boast how many omissions he has brought a patient and an injured people to endure without complaint; however impossible it may be to ascertain his faults by a libel, he justly merits the detestation of every faithful Christian." "Nothing does more hurt to the interest of religion, than its being loaded with a great number, who, for many obvious reasons, assume the form while they are strangers to the power of it." "As the gospel is allowed on all hands to be a doctrine according to godliness, when differences arise, and each opposite side pretends to have the letter of the law in its favour, the great rule of decision is, which doth most immediately and most certainly, promote piety and holiness in all manner of conversation."

Take these words from a sermon on the sacrifice of Christ. "Make no image of the cross in your houses, but let the remembrance of it be ever in your hearts. One lively view of this great object will cool the flames of unclean lust; one lively view of this great object will make the unjust man quit his hold; one lively view of this tremendous object will make the angry man drop his weapon; nay, one look of mercy from a dying Saviour will make even the covetous man open his hand." He was not a mystic but he had a genuinely devotional spirit. "Idleness and sloth," said this practical preacher, "are as contrary to true religion as either avarice or ambition." And on the other hand he says, "True piety points to one thing as its centre and rest, the knowledge and enjoyment of God." "Man was made for living upon God." Speaking of the temptations that beset humanity he said, "If sin give a man no rest, he should give it no quarter."

The Presbyterian form of government was believed by many men of that church a hundred and fifty years ago to be divinely ordained and the only proper system. Witherspoon believed it to be more Scriptural than any other, but he had the utmost charity for other branches of Christ's church, and his relations with men of other types of Protestantism were friendly. His essay on Justification was published with a prefatory note addressed to an English clergyman, Rev. James Hervey, rector of Weston-Favel, Northamptonshire, which is a sort of dedication to him. His devotion to the Presbyterian polity was grounded not only on his belief that it is apostolic, but more particularly be-cause he believed it best served the two ends of articulated authority and well-regulated liberty. Side by side upon the bench of elders in the church of Scotland sat the noble earl and his tenant farmer, equally office holders in the church, equally chosen by the free vote of the people. No orders of the ministry put one man in authority over another and a layman represented every church at every delegated gathering, thus making clerical tyranny an impossibility. This conception of church government was inseparably connected with the creed which taught that God alone is Lord of the conscience, that men are responsible primarily not to each other nor to any religious teacher, but to God Himself. In the presence of the Almighty there are no personal distinctions. Superiority of character and individual ability make the only valid title to leadership. In all his contentions before the church courts Witherspoon insisted on the untrammelled liberty of the people to choose their ministers and he did this in the face of a legal establishment which permitted a patron to appoint. Not, however, against the wishes of the people, said Witherspoon. For over ten years he continued, in Paisley, to proclaim his faith and to contend for popular rights.

The duties of a parish minister were not light. There were no Sunday-schools. Whatever religious instruction the people received was given by the minister, with here and there a schoolmaster to teach the Shorter Catechism. Every Sunday there were two sermons, one in the morning, another in the afternoon. During the week, day in, day out, the conscientious pastor was among his people, watching over their spiritual interests and advising them in their business affairs. No vacations broke the monotony of the routine, unless the annual vis-its to Presbytery or Synod might be regarded as such. There were few things to distract him except the trials in the church courts. Life was not so restless as it has since become. Innovations were few, changes in modes of living, even of thinking were rare. The book agent had not been created. There were no "problems." His was, however, a full life in every sense. As a minister of the church of Scotland he took a prominent part in endeavouring to settle the questions of the day.

To the seven deadly sins of the church of Rome the Puritans had added three, dancing, card-playing and theatre-going. In the early eighteenth century the church severely disciplined those members who were guilty of any of them. George Whitfield preached against a new playhouse being erected in Glasgow, July, 1753, with such warmth and force that, before his departure from the city, workmen were employed to take it down to prevent its destruction by the mob. When the tragedy "Douglas" was presented in Edinburgh, in 1755, there was great indignation both among clergy and people, because its author, John Home, was a clergyman. The Presbytery of Edinburgh condemned both the play and the writer of it. A minister, who had gone to see it acted, endeavoured in vain to excuse himself and escape the censure of the church, by saying that he had taken a back seat and remained in the shadows where he could not be seen. In Witherspoon's opinion it was a serious breach of church discipline and an offense against the Christian religion for any one to countenance stage plays. So important did he deem it that he wrote a book against it, "A Serious Inquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Stage." Much of this little book is interesting to-day because of the clever way in which the arguments are presented. It may cause a smile to read that he is induced to take up the subject in view "of the declining state of religion, the prevalence of national sins and the danger of desolating judgments." One wonders whether some modern writer of kindred spirit has not inserted in the essay "that such a levity of spirit prevails in this age, that very few persons of fashion will read or consider anything that is written in a grave or serious style. Whoever will look into the monthly catalogue of books, published in Britain for some years past, may be convinced of this at one glance. What an immense proportion do romances under the titles of lives, adventures, memoirs, histories, etc., bear to any other sort of production in this age." Romances and novels were seldom found in the strict Presbyterian household in a land that produced the greatest romantic writer of the English tongue. Witherspoon failed to perceive the value of fiction even as mental recreation and the power of the English literature of his day was lost upon him. It is not surprising, however, that writers like Fielding and Smollett, the most popular authors of that period, failed to win the favour of a Puritan like Witherspoon. As for the drama, he knew nothing about the stage of his own day from personal attendance. In spite of this lack of experience he declares in his essay that the theatre is immoral in itself and by its influence. One of his objections is that the chief end is to amuse, not to afford recreation, the real value of which he clearly appreciates. He insists that mere amusement saps the strength and undermines the foundation of character, both individual and national. " It gives men a habit of idleness and trifling, and makes them averse from returning to anything that requires serious application." "No man who has made the trial can deliberately and with good conscience affirm that attending plays has added strength to his mind and warmth to his affections in the duties of devotion; that it has made him more able and willing to exert his intellectual powers in the graver and more important offices of the Christian life; nay nor even made him more diligent and active in the business of civil life." Plays he condemns as pernicious, exhibiting and arousing the lower and baser passions of men, exposing them to temptation unnecessarily, emphasizing the immoral and cultivating the frivolous sides of human nature.

What astonishes the modern reader of this old-fashioned essay is the author's thorough and even intimate knowledge of his subject. He seems to know his ground. He is familiar with Greek and Latin, French and English plays; he quotes from numerous authorities, ancient and modern, even including "the Philadelphia newspapers." He knows the names and reputations of the famous players of his own day and of other periods. His book is not a ranting tirade of ignorant, even if unsympathetic, prejudice, but the scholarly reasoning of a well-informed student. His charges against those who frequent the theatre are too sweeping and much of his reasoning falls through. But the book had a wide circulation and brought him praise from the people whose good opinion he valued most, although his was a temper of mind which led him to speak his opinion regardless of popular favour.

That the essay ever reached the eye of the author of "Douglas" does not appear. The play had a successful run in Edinburgh, despite the action of the Presbytery against its author, a man so much esteemed by his parishioners that on his retiring from the ministry they voluntarily hauled the stone for the house which he built for himself.

Shortly after going to Paisley Witherspoon took advantage of an opportunity afforded by his being invited to preach the installation sermon of Rev. Archibald Davidson, pastor-elect of the Abbey Church, to reply to the charge of sedition and faction made against his own party by the Moderates. His "Ecclesiastical Characteristics" was a cutting satire, and even the text of this sermon has a sting in it. His friends the enemy were doubtless in his mind when he announced it, "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also." Deftly he turns the charge against himself into the ranks of his foes. Wicked men are always making such charges against the servants of God, he says, and asks what there is in true religion which gives occasion for it. He finds it in the conduct of Christians which is a continual reproach to others. "The example of good men to the wicked is, like the sun upon a weak eye, distressing and painful." "If I may speak so, it flashes light upon the conscience, rouses it from a state of sensible security, points its arrows and sharpens its sting." The sermon is too long to give even an outline of it, but it is mainly a very strong plea for patience and courage in doing right and suffering wrong, begging his hearers to "forego the hope that by certain prudent compliances" they will "conciliate and preserve the favour of every man and every party."

His increased reputation brought him invitations to preach on various occasions. One of these was the anniversary of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. It is, I believe, still in existence and still carries on the sort of work which engaged it then. Not only did it endeavour to evangelize the regions of Scotland not yet brought within control of the church; it established schools for the education of the people. Antedating by more than a hundred years the industrial features of modern missionary methods, home and foreign, this society undertook to instruct young men in the best methods of farming, taught them useful trades and established schools for girls where sewing and other domestic arts were taught. The Highlands and islands of Scotland were visited by the agents of the society who carried Bibles with them which they distributed, by gift or sale, and taught the people to read. Witherspoon was one of its warmest supporters. It did not confine its efforts to Scotland. A legacy left by Rev. Daniel Williams of London for propagating the gospel in foreign lands had been used by the Synod of New York for its work among the Indians. David Brainerd was partly supported by it. As early as 1748 Ebenezer Pemberton, an American clergyman, had received aid from the society for the education of one young man for the ministry in the college of New Jersey, then located temporarily at Newark. When, in 1739, the Synod of Philadelphia sent down an overture recommending the erection of "a seminary of learning," they expressed the hope that two of the men named as a committee to further the project "might be sent home to Europe to prosecute this affair with proper directions." This was not done at once. After the college had become established, in 1749, the Scotch society appropriated thirty pounds for the purchase of books for the college library, and the next year granted it an appropriation for the education of two young Indians. Three years later, upon petition of the Synod of New York, the society asked for a national collection for the American Church. About the same time Gilbert Tennent and Samuel Davies were appointed by the synod to visit Great Britain on behalf of the college. Davies afterwards became president of Princeton. The two men were most cordially received by the Pres-byterians of England who gave them seventeen hundred pounds. Upon their appearing before the General Assembly in Scotland, that body ordered the Presbyteries to appoint a day for the collection and urged the "ministers to en-force the recommendation with suitable exhortations." More than a thousand pounds were contributed to the American college by the Scotch Church. I have related this incident to show the close relations existing between the two countries. Witherspoon's connection with the society for propagating Christian knowledge gave him an opportunity for knowing something about its foreign work and doubtless made him acquainted with the needs and prospects of the college of New Jersey. In America he found many readers of his books which followed one another very closely. In 1764 he collected his essays into two volumes which were published by a London house. In the same year the University of Aberdeen gave him the degree of Doctor of Divinity.

Local church politics demanded his attention. The schoolmaster of his parish was chosen by the church session in conjunction with the town council, the dominie also filling the office of session clerk. Before the appointed time Witherspoon called his session together and urged upon the elders concerted action which would result in securing the man acceptable to the church. In these matters as well as in the larger affairs of the church he proved to be a very clever politician. Such training as he received in Scottish ecclesiastical politics served him well during the troubled times preceding the Declaration of Independence in America. His insight into British politics is shown in a sermon preached on the occasion of a fast ordered by the government. As a clergyman of the established church Witherspoon fulfilled the duty laid upon him. Great dangers threatened the British empire in 1757. The Seven Years' War had begun with serious reverses to the English arms. In the capitulation of Port Mahon the key to the Mediterranean had been lost; the English army in Germany had been defeated; disaster seemed to be creeping like a shadow over India since Olive had left with broken health; in America Braddock's defeat had been followed by the loss of Niagara, the St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain. England seemed to be on the verge of losing all her foreign possessions; already her American colonies were complaining of the disdain with which certain British statesmen were inclined to speak of them. In view of these things the British ministry ordered that Thursday, February 16, 1758, be observed as a day of public fasting and prayer. Witherspoon's sermon is a reflection of his character. He does not glorify the nation; he looks upon these disasters, real and impending, as those desolating judgments of which he had spoken in his essay on the stage. But their causes he finds in the proper place. Recalling the people to the true meaning of life, which will not be found in mere material prosperity and military success, but in virtue and uprightness, he asks if it is a matter for surprise that failure stares the nation in the face. One is reminded of the Prophet Isaiah. "Instead of any genuine public spirit, a proud and factious endeavour to disgrace each others' measures, and wrest the ensigns of government out of each others' hands." "In the case of disappointments, on the one hand, are we not ungovernable and headstrong in our resentments against men? and equally foolish and sanguine on the other, in our hopes of those who are substituted in their place? We give pompous details of armaments, and prophecy, nay, even describe their victories long before the season of action, and incautiously celebrate the characters of leaders while they are only putting on their harness and going into the field."

In 1762 Witherspoon was a defendant in a suit for libel. His side of the case is given in a statement prefixed to a sermon which he published, the two together being made the basis of the prosecution. A service was held in the Laigh Street church on Saturday, February 6, 1762, the day before the celebration of the sacrament. Some young men, who were present, went, after the meeting, to the room of one of them to dine, and there engaged in a mock celebration of the Lord's supper. Becoming hilarious their mockery was heard by some passers-by who were scandalized by such blasphemy, especially on the day preceding sacrament Sabbath, a day observed by Presbyterians with almost as much reverence as the Sabbath itself. The men were citizens of Paisley, one an ensign in the army, one a writer, and two manufacturers. Upon hearing of the shocking behaviour, Witherspoon preached a sermon on "Seasonable advice to young people." It made such an impression on some of his hearers, who were indignant at the conduct of the young men, that they requested the minister to publish it. The sermon itself furnished no ground for complaint, but the explanatory note gives a de-tailed account of the sacreligious scene and specifically mentions the names of the participants. It was addressed to the bailies and town council of Paisley. The accused men promptly brought an action for libel against Witherspoon, who failed to make good his charges to the satisfaction of the civil courts. He was heavily mulcted in damages and would probably have been financially ruined, with the risk of being sent to prison, had not some of his parishioners, who had urged the publication of the sermon, generously come forward, and obligated themselves for the full amount. So far from the affair doing him any harm, it rather increased his popularity.

In 1764 his publisher told him there was a demand for another edition of his "Characteristics." It was the fifth and proved to be the last. The time had now come for him to avow himself the author. Not only could he do this without fear of being successfully attacked in the church courts, but he also felt that he might give a more serious turn to the whole subject. No apology is made for having treated the situation satirically; he justifies the use of ridicule. This last edition is dedicated "to the nobility and gentry of Scotland, particularly such of them as are elders of the church and frequently members of the General Assembly." "I am not to flatter you," he says with perfect frankness, "with an entire approbation as church members, but beseech you seriously to consider whether you ought any longer to give countenance to the measures which have for some time generally prevailed." In their present temper an appeal to the clergy is hopeless. "When once the clergy are corrupt their reformation can be looked for from the laity only and not from themselves." "I look upon every attempt for reviving the interest of religion as quite hopeless unless you be pleased to support it." He reminds them that "the laity never lent their influence to promote the ambition and secular greatness of ecclesiastics but they received their reward in ingratitude and contempt." "I humbly entreat you who only can do it with success to frown upon the luxurious and aspiring, to encourage the humble and diligent clergyman."

In the serious apology, which is longer than the satire itself, he congratulates himself in having concealed the authorship, since by those who were stung by it, "the most opprobrious names were bestowed upon the concealed author, and the most dreadful threatenings uttered in case they should be so fortunate as to discover and convict him," as was shown in their treatment of a gentleman whom they suspected. "But though I had by good management provided myself a shelter from the storm, it is not to be supposed but I heard it well enough rattling over my head." He probably enjoyed the noise of it. Nevertheless he affirms that what induced him to write was "a deep concern for the declining interest in religion in the church of Scotland, mixed with some

indignation at what appeared to me a strange abuse of church authority." He refers to the deposition of two men, Adam and Gillespie, for refusing " to join in the ordination of a pastor without a people." As he had been severely condemned for attacking and exposing the characters of ministers he asks why in reason it should not be done if the ministers deserve it. " Where the character is really bad I hold it as a first principle that as it is in them doubly criminal and doubly pernicious so it ought to be exposed with double severity." They had complained that to give clergymen a bad reputation strengthens the cause of infidelity. Of course it does, says Witherspoon; " Men are always more influenced in their regard for or contempt of religion by what they see in the characters and behaviours of men, than by any speculative reasonings whatever." But, he asks, "Was the first information had of the characters of the clergy drawn from that performance? Because a bad opinion leads men to infidelity shall we cover their failings and palliate their crimes?" Rather let the guilty persons be chastised. "Every real Christian should hold in detestation those who by an unworthy behaviour expose the sacred order to contempt." Hundreds of writings, he declares, attacking true religion have never been condemned by these Moderate clergymen. He quotes the criticism made when Moliere's play, Tartuffe, was given in France; "That a man may write what he pleaseth against God Almighty in perfect security, but if he write against the clergy in power he is ruined forever." Satire he finds sanctioned by the Almighty who used it against Adam after the fall in the words, "Behold the man is become as one of us to know good and evil."

Then he claims that there is such a spirit of levity abroad that a satire was necessary if he wished to have his opinions read, for men in that frivolous age would pay no attention to serious writing. "Those who have long had their appetites quickened by a variety of dishes and the most pleasing sauces are not able to relish plainer, though better and more solid food." The Moderates had by a course of decisions planted the country with useless ministers and disdained to make any other answer to their opponents than the unanswerable argument of deposition. One great end of the " Characteristics" had been to open the eyes of the really good men among the Moderates of whom he acknowledges there are many. But it appears that "the more the complaint of degeneracy in the church of Scotland is just, the more difficult it will be to carry a conviction of it to the minds, either of those who are guilty of it, or of those who observe it." He had not cared to mention names, it was not necessary. Everybody could recognize the guilty. " On the other hand though I should produce the names and surnames of those clergy who, mounted upon their coursers at the public races, join the gentlemen of the turf and are well skilled in all the terms of that honourable art; though I should name those who are to be found at routs and drums and other polite assemblies of the same nature, and can descant with greater clearness on the laws of the gaming table than the Bible; instead of being commanded to produce a proof of the facts I should expect to find many who denied the relevancy of the crimes." He thinks that if a man were to publish a book that had in it a tenth part of the truth about the manners and morals of some ministers, he ought to have a ship hired to fly to another country. Simony, a vice not strange among gambling clergymen, had begun to creep in, so that men tried to secure parishes not only by flattery and loose living, but even by purchasing the goodwill of those who had influence with the patron. As early as 1753 the practice became noticeable and in 1759 the evil was so notorious that the General Assembly enacted a law against it, providing that "no minister shall make any composition with his heritors." Even as late as 182o the evil had not been uprooted. It is not a pleasing or hopeful picture, nor does Witherspoon overdraw it. Nevertheless he is not a pessimist. Recalling the successes of past reforms he believes that "religion will rise from its ruins."

One other satire he published, "The History of a Corporation of Servants," but it was not a success. Among some manuscripts of Witherspoon, I found a set of verses originally intended to accompany the apology. Fortunately for the author's repute he finally withheld them. There are too many to reproduce here, but it may interest the reader to see a specimen of the verse, wretched doggerel though it is.

"You know it is in vain to think
That men of sense and spirit
Will ever cease to swear and drink
While as their purse will bear it.

"Nay even when the money's scarce
We drink to bear down sorrow,
For all the world's but a farce
And we may die to-morrow.

"The way for clergymen to win
A sweet delicious dinner,
Is still to wink and spare the sin
And justify the sinner."

Other verses contain the initial and final letters of names, doubtless of the most notorious of the convivial, sporting parsons, but they would not interest the modern reader.

In more serious ways the popular party strove to secure a reformation of the church. Seldom were they successful in their politics. But upon finding that the Moderates were accustomed to instruct their friends in the Presbyteries to send up commissioners favourable to them, and in the Assembly to pass the word around as to the measures to be supported, Witherspoon and his friends caught them napping on one occasion and contrived to secure a majority in the Assembly. Dr. Robertson, leader of the Moderates, for whom Witherspoon had the greatest personal respect, congratulated the latter saying, "You have your men better disciplined than formerly." "Yes," replied Witherspoon, "you have taught us how to beat you with your own weapons." But the shrewd Moderates were not caught again. They increased in power; they carried through repressive measures at their will; they were never conciliatory and continued to alienate the popularists more and more. Under these circumstances the invitations that came to Witherspoon, if not very tempting must have been very consoling. Dundee greatly desired to have him as its minister. From the English Church of Rotterdam came an earnest invitation for his pastoral services. An urgent call was sent by the most important church in Dublin. They were all declined. He seemed wedded to Paisley. As the recognized leader of his party, in the maturity of his powers, he seemed to feel that his best work could be done there and he elected to remain.

In 1766, however, came an invitation which was destined to change the scene of his activities. Richard Stockton, an American gentle-man, and a trustee of Princeton College, then on a visit to England, was instructed by the trustees to go to Paisley and urge upon Witherspoon the acceptance of the presidency of the college, to which office they had elected him. Witherspoon had in the meantime been notified of the election by letter. Mr. Stockton was unable to persuade him to accept. Mrs. Witherspoon seemed particularly averse to the idea, and was even rude to the American visitor, so that he cut short the interview and beat a hasty retreat from the manse. Later she apologized for her discourtesy saying that she was ill at the time, and the thought of going so far away from her home and friends made her very un-happy. Her husband wrote declining the office. The next year, Rev. Charles Beattie, another trustee of Princeton, visited Paisley. Instead of going to the manse, dreading the danger of offending Mrs. Witherspoon, he first secured quarters at the inn, and sent a note to Dr. Witherspoon, asking for an interview. The hospitable Scotchman, urged by his wife, who was greatly distressed over her former rudeness, hastened to the inn and carried Mr. Beattie home with him. He was so delighted with Mrs. Witherspoon's courtesy and gentle manners that he was ready to doubt the story of her treatment of Mr. Stockton. More delighted was he when Witherspoon told him that the college had been much on his mind and that, were the offer renewed, he should be very glad to accept. Beattie wrote at once to the trustees. From other Scotchmen letters had gone to America intimating that Witherspoon would welcome an opportunity of changing his mind. Whereupon at a meeting in December, 1767, "The board, receiving the intelligence with peculiar satisfaction, proceeded immediately to a re-election." The sum of one hundred guineas was voted him for the expenses of removing to America. Upon receiving notice of his re-election, Witherspoon asked the Presbytery to relieve him of his charge and dismiss him to the new land. In May, 1768, he preached his farewell sermon, characteristically choosing as his subject, "Ministerial Fidelity in Declaring the Whole Counsel of God." He dwelt at great length upon the character and duty of a good pastor. In the closing paragraph of this, the longest sermon he ever preached, doubtless feeling deeply the strain of separation, he bids farewell in these words. "For what I have to say with regard to the present dispensation of providence that puts an end to my ministry among you, I shall bring it within very narrow bounds. It were easy by saying a few words to move the concern both of speaker and hearers; this I have hitherto chosen to avoid; this I shall only say, that I am deeply sensible of the affection and duty of the congregation that attended my ministry, and others under my charge. I cannot express my sense of it better than in the words of the late eminently pious Dr. Finlay, my immediate predecessor in this new office, who, on his death-bed said to those about him, ' I owe a long catalogue of debts to my friends which will not be put to my charge; I hope God will discharge them for me.' The only further request I have to make of you is that you would give me and my family an interest in your prayers. Intreat of God that we may be preserved from perils and dangers and carried to the place of our destination in safety; and that I may be assisted of Him in every future duty, and not fall under the terrible reproach of agreeing to make so distant a removal and then being found unfit for the important task." The people of his church and his friends throughout Scotland were reluctant to let him go. A rich kinsman, an old bachelor, promised to make Witherspoon his heir if the minister would remain. But the die was cast. Leaving Scotland he went to London, where he secured a number of books for the college library, and settled accounts with his own publisher. Then on the 10th of May, 1768, he and his family sailed for Philadelphia where they arrived on the 6th of August. Here he was the guest of Mr. Hodge, a friend of the college. They went to Princeton towards the end of the month, making their home with Richard Stockton for a few weeks, until their own house was ready for them.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus