The church is not defined by buildings. It is made up of people. Henry Alexander White reminds us of this in his focus on early Presbyterian leaders in the South. His history spans almost 250 years.
Beginning with Francis MaKemie, who organized the first American presbytery, White introduces many men who were actively involved in the growth of Southern Presbyterianism. Political struggles and religious restraints overseas, particularly in the British Isles, provided the impetus for large numbers of doctrinally sound immigrants to make their home in colonial America.
In these early settlements they began to see faithful preaching and evangelistic outreach blessed of God. The result was flourishing churches, church plants, the formation of additional presbyteries, and, in time, the establishment of educational institutions.
These early American Presbyterians were keenly aware that the gospel affects every area of life. It is not surprising that many engaged in crucial debates and later in actual warfare with the British as the colonies successfully sought their freedom in the War for American Independence.
Following the War, these Presbyterians faced the devastation, grief, and multi-faceted loss that warfare brings. They continued to live out their faith, heavily resting on the sovereign God, who does all things well. In the midst of rebuilding, God sent revival and raised up leaders such as Archibald Alexander.
As time moved forward, the nation confronted division and the War Between the States. The author provides numerous short chapters on leaders in the Southern Presbyterian Church during this time, as well as basic principles of the denomination. He includes insights on the outreach of Presbyterians to slaves and slave owners.
The volume is full of anecdotes. This, combined with White’s writing style, makes it educational and enjoyable. He does an excellent job of weaving the facts into a chronological narrative.
Overall the chapters are relatively short. Yet, they are full of God’s handiwork in the lives of men who provided the godly heritage we enjoy today.
The book is divided into sequential sections that cover the colonial era; the War for American Independence; and the years prior to, during, and immediately after the War Between the States.
Chapters are devoted to such men as Samuel Davies, John Holt Rice, Robert H. Morrison, and William Plumer, just to name a few.
This volume can be read with much profit by any who are interested in learning about our Presbyterian heritage in America. It is particularly good for ministerial students and for men pursuing the office of ruling elder.
I grew in my appreciation of how God has used Presbyterians, sinners saved by grace, in American history. I was reminded anew of the evangelistic fervor that marked Presbyterianism then and that should mark it in our day.
- 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.