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A Review of John Witherspoon: An American Leader

He was known as “Scotch Granite.” This was an apt way of describing godly, gifted John Witherspoon.

  • Byron Snapp,
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He was known as “Scotch Granite.” This was an apt way of describing godly, gifted John Witherspoon.

Witherspoon was born in Scotland into a Presbyterian minister’s family in l723. Early on, he put down roots and settled into a pastorate, seeing this vocation as his calling from God. He quickly became outspoken in print and gospel proclamation standing for basic Biblical truths under attack.

In l766 he received a request from the board of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) to immigrate to America and become president of this educational institution. Within colonial America, Presbyterians were struggling with doctrinal issues. The college trustees felt certain that this pastor could have an ecclesiastical impact as well as an educational impact throughout the colonies. After much consideration, Witherspoon accepted the position.

He and his family arrived in America after a twelve-week voyage in August l768. He immediately involved himself in his calling as president and professor. He revamped the course structure. He sought to integrate God-centeredness into every academic subject. He knew that education involves man’s heart as well as his soul.

Colonial discussion regarding the inequalities of English rule began to leave their mark on Witherspoon. Gradually he became a strong proponent of independence from Great Britain. As one might expect, he grounded his position in Scripture.

This pastor and president now became an involved statesman. He signed the Declaration of Independence and participated in the Second Continental Congress. Following the War for Independence, he played an important role in the initial meeting of representatives from Presbyterian churches spread throughout this new nation.

Various appendices to this engaging, biographical essay provide additional insight into Witherspoon’s life, legacy, and times. Included in the material is a sermon preached by him in l776.

This work provides a fine introduction to the life and labors of a Christian whose Biblical thinking etched itself on so many facets of colonial history. We are also reminded of the important place that Christian thought had on American foundations. The reader cannot help but see that Christianity and politics do mix. They mix quite well. Numerous pictures are an additional bonus in this work.

(Having read this volume, many may want to research Witherspoon’s writings in more depth. The collected works of Witherspoon are being reprinted by Sprinkle Publications.)

  • Byron Snapp

Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia.  He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina.  He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren. 

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