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“Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom”

Last night I spent a memorable evening listening to photographer and author Alysia Burton Steele, who traveled 6,000 miles throughout the Mississippi Delta to interview 54 African-American women who grew up, married, and raised children during the Jim Crow era. Her Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom shares their stories.
One of the grandmothers is Mrs. Velma T. Moore of Benoit. Married for 49 years when widowed, 15 children, 145 grandchildren, 33 great-grands, 26 great-great grands, and 14 great-great-great grands. Her testimony: “I always said, “Lord, I want one husband. I want all of my childen to be by that one man.’ And God fixed it so . . . I’m still Mrs. Moore. I be Mrs. Moore until I’m dead and gone.”
We were reminded of the adage, “When an elderly person dies, a library burns to the ground.” We are indebted to those who, like Ms. Steele, keep treasured stories alive for coming generations.
If RTS students would like to read some of the stories, Delta Jewels is on the table in my office. Stop by and enjoy.
The event was sponsored by The COFO Civil Rights Education Center, Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center, and Delta Center for Culture and Learning.

Remembering a Seminarian’s Courage


Jonathan_DanielsFifty years ago today VMI graduate and Episcopal theological student Jon Daniels was murdered in Hayneville, Alabama.

A New Hampshire native, Daniels spent much of the spring and summer of 1965 working in Selma, Alabama’s voter registration campaign. While picketing racially discriminatory businesses in Ft. Deposit on August 14, he was one of a group of  protestors arrested and transported to the county jail in nearby Hayneville. In wretched living conditions, Daniels labored for the better part of a week to keep up the group’s spirits, leading his fellow prisoners in prayer and hymn singing.  An Episcopal group offered to post bail for Daniels. He declined; there wasn’t enough money to free all the prisoners. He would remain with his colleagues.

Unexpectedly and ominously,  the prisoners were released on August 20 without posting bail. Turned out on the street, they were alone and without transportation to safety.

Tired, dirty, and hungry, four members of the group walked one block to the Varner Cash Store to buy sodas. Seventeen year-old Tuskegee student Ruby Sales led, followed by Daniels, Catholic priest Richard Morrisroe, and Joyce Bailey. They were met at the door by a highway employee and unpaid special sheriff’s deputy armed with a 12-gauge shotgun. He cursed Sales and pointed his weapon at her. Daniels pushed her to the ground, shielding her from the subsequent blast. As Morrisroe and Bailey fled, a second round tore into the young priest’s back. Severely wounded, he would survive. Daniels died instantly.

Martin Luther King Jr. called his sacrifice “one of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry.”

Sam Waterston narrates a documentary tribute to Jon Daniels’ life.  Near its conclusion is a chilling interview with Daniels’ killer, Tom Coleman. Asked if he would change anything if he went through the same experience again, he replied: “I wouldn’t have changed a bit. If the same thing happened in the morning that happened that day, I would shoot them both tomorrow.”  Acquitted of manslaughter by an all-white male jury after two hours of deliberation, he lived another 35 years in Hayneville until his death at age 86.

After dinner in Georgia last week with one of Daniels’ VMI classmates, Lynne and I drove to Hayneville. Friends of VMI placed a monument in front of the Lowndes County Courthouse.

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Sadly, the Cash Store was torn down last year. The asking price for the property proved too high for those who wished to preserve it.  When it became apparent the building would be demolished, individuals sought to obtain the steps upon which Daniels died. These too were destroyed and a civil rights landmark lost to history. The picture below shows the new construction on the site.


The white X below is on an adjacent piece of property, about 12′ from where Daniels fell. A monument will be placed there to remember the seminarian who laid down his life for his friend.


Jonathan Daniels’ story of Christian honor and courage must never be forgotten.


For more information about Jon Daniels, see Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-1968 and Charles W. Eagles, Outside Agitator: Jon Daniels and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama.



Testimonies of Faith and Fortitude


1843 was a momentous year in Presbyterian history. The founders of the Free Church of Scotland abandoned homes, incomes, and church buildings to uphold the spiritual independence of Christ’s church. Their courage captured the attention of the evangelical world, and bequeathed stirring testimonies of faith and fortitude to subsequent generations of Bible-believing Presbyterians.

Author Sandy Finlayson skillfully sketches the lives of ten of these leaders in Unity & Diversity: The Founders of the Free Church of Scotland. Bound together by love of the gospel, a high view of the authority of God’s word, confessional fidelity, and missionary outreach, these men nevertheless held a variety of opinions on controversial issues of the day: church union with other Presbyterian denominations, Roman Catholic emancipation, the evangelistic campaigns of Dwight L. Moody, and educational and social reforms in Scotland.

Conservative American Presbyterians should note the vigor with which several leader tackled widespread poverty, lack of educational opportunity, alcoholism, and other salient social ills. Their lives were spent among the people and for the people.

The author also recounts the personal foibles, bouts of pride, conflicts, and strained friendships – all helpful in reminding readers that there are no golden ages in church history when men were untouched by the frailties common to all. Until our Lord returns, learning to get along will prove hard work.

I enthusiastically recommend Unity and Diversity.

Calvin: Waiting on God with Patience and Peseverance



Yesterday I finished reading Bruce Gordon’s masterful biography of John Calvin. The highest praise I can give Calvin is that it compares positively with my two favorite biographies, Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo: A Biography and George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life.

Calvin was a towering figure of his age. But above all Calvin was a pastor, his heart attuned to the realities of life in God’s persecuted church.  Gordon observes that

“Resignation to fate and delusions of perfection were equally abhorrent to Calvin. God’s providence is an excuse for neither inaction nor wickedness; it encourages joy among the faithful, and fortifies them to face the hardships of the world, but it is not an inoculation. The Gospel teaches God’s everlasting kindness and love; it is the source of comfort, and that is its chief power. Christian should wait on God with patience and perseverance, and submit to the divine will.”

– Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven: Yale, 2009), 278.

Henry Martyn (1781-1812)


Today is the anniversary of the birth of pioneer missionary Henry Martyn.

Reading Christian biographies is a devotional practice I find valuable, and especially ones about ministers and missionaries. One missionary who deeply impresses me is Henry Martyn.

Henry Martyn was born on February 18, 1781 in Truro, England. As a young man he excelled in classical and mathematical studies. The tender concern of a believing sister, the pain of his father’s death, and the godly counsel of a Cambridge mathematic’s instructor compelled him to read the New Testament. During his personal study of the scriptures, Martyn came to a living faith in Jesus Christ and was soundly converted.

While at St. John’s College in Cambridge, Martyn sat under the preaching of Charles Simeon, vicar of holy Trinity Church. Modern evangelicals, regrettably, largely forget Simeon. Yet, his influence on evangelical history is incalculable. During his 54-year ministry at Trinity Church (1782-1836), a revival of biblical Christianity took place in Cambridge. Over 1100 future ministers of the Anglican Church sat under his ministry and would eventually assume pulpits throughout England. Gospel missionaries from Cambridge went around the world. A more fruitful ministry is scarcely imaginable.

A deep friendship developed between the two men, and Simeon invited Martyn to become his assistant. Through the influence of Simeon and the reading of the diary of missionary David Brainerd, Martyn became burdened for the souls of men and women in foreign lands who were without the light of the gospel. He chose to go to India, becoming a chaplain for the East India Company. Martyn arrived in Calcutta in April 1806. He would die in Turkey less than seven years later at the age of 31.

A few short years of service, but how they were marked by an extraordinary productivity! He was an indefatigable teacher and evangelist. He ministered the gospel regularly to both English citizens living in India and to the indigenous population in their own language. Hospitals were visited and often-neglected members of Indian society were cared for. Under his leadership schools for Indian children were established. When possible, Martyn presented and defended the gospel before Islamic and Hindu teachers and political authorities. Hindustani and Persian New Testaments were completed and translation projects started in several other languages.

A few of my favorite passages from Martyn’s diary and letters:

On Christian service: “The soul that has truly experienced the love of God will not stay meanly inquiring how much he shall do, and thus limit his service, but will earnestly seek more and more to know the will of our heavenly Father, that he may be enabled to do it.”

On the encouragement of pastor and hymn-writer John Newton: “On my saying that perhaps I should never live to see much fruit [from missionary labors], he answered, ‘I should have a bird’s-eye view of it, which would be better.’ When I spoke of the opposition that I should be likely to meet with he said, he supposed Satan would not love me for what I was about to do. The old man prayed afterwards with sweet simplicity.”

On the danger of romanticizing missionary work: “Oh my dear friends in England, when we spoke with exultation of the mission to the heathen, whilst in the midst of health and joy and hope, what an imperfect idea did we form of the sufferings by which it must be accomplished.”

On adversity: “I found great satisfaction in reflecting that my hourly wisdom was not to repine or to look for a change, but to consider what is my duty in existing circumstances, and then to do it, in dependence upon grace.”

On the pursuit of holiness: “If am weary of anything, it is of my life of sinfulness. I want a life of more devotion and holiness; and yet am so vain as to be expecting the end without the means.” “Let me learn from this, that to follow the direct injunctions of God, as to my own soul, is more my duty than to be engaged in other works, under pretence of doing him service.”

On the carnage and suffering he witnessed after a military battle: “Mournful as the scene was, I yet thanked God that he had brought me to see a specimen, though a terrible one, of what men by nature are. May the remembrance of this day ever excite me to pray and labour more for the propagation of the gospel of peace. Then men shall love one another: ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’”

On dependence upon God’s sovereign power in evangelism: “All my clear arguments are good for nothing; unless the Lord stretch out his hand, I speak to stones.”

On a particularly blessed time of prayer: “I found my heaven upon earth. No work so sweet as that of praying, and living wholly to the service of God.”

On humility and love: “Truly love is better than knowledge. Much as I long to know what I seek after, I would rather have the smallest portion of humility and love than the knowledge of an archangel.”

On his personal example: “Even if I never should see a native converted, God may design, by my patience and continuance in the work, to encourage future missionaries.”

I seriously doubt Henry Martyn would be accepted for service by many modern missionary organizations. He was shy by nature, and found testifying to the truths of Christianity a most intimidating task. He was chronically ill and weary. Public speaking was physically painful, leaving him exhausted. He was acutely conscious of his own sin and weakness. Yet, throughout his diary I met a man who turned to his Savior for grace and strength. Before the Lord in prayer he learned to trust the Savior who said, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:12).

Henry Martyn commissioned a portrait of himself prior to leaving Calcutta for Persia. It was sent to his beloved friend, Charles Simeon, who placed it above the fireplace in his study at King’s College, Cambridge. Simeon would show it to his friends and say, “See that blessed man. No one looks at me as he does. He never takes his eyes off me; and seems always to be saying, ‘The years are short. Be serious. Be in earnest. Don’t trifle, don’t trifle.’” Then Simeon would add, “And I won’t trifle; I won’t trifle.”

Don’t trifle with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Be serious about living under its power. With the earnestness of a Henry Martyn strive to make Christ known.

Source: John Sargent, The Life and Letters of Henry Martyn. Banner of Truth: 1985.




Source: John Sargent, The Life and Letters of Henry Martyn. Banner of Truth: 1985.


Charles Hodge (December 27, 1797- June 19, 1878)

51NE7opx-sL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Today is the anniversary of the birth of Charles Hodge, a towering leader in American Presbyterianism. We do well to pursue biblical studies and theology with his disciplined passion.

Evangelical believers of previous generations spoke of “the force of truth.” And rightly so. Paul rejoices that the Romans “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered” (Romans 6:17). That the union of will (obedience), affections (heart), and intellect (form of doctrine) marked their mature faith is no surprise. Through his Word, God appeals to our hearts through the mind, creating godly affections and sanctifying behavior.

Charles Hodge knew the force of truth. His teaching career at Princeton Seminary spanned 58 years (1820-1878). Relationships with six decades of ministerial students, participation in the ecclesiastical courts of the church, and an impressive array of published works made him the most influential Presbyterian of the 19th century. Andrew Hoffecker’s  Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton is a well researched  biography that captures Hodge’s commendable piety, scholarship and churchmanship.

A February 13, 1820 diary entry reveals Hodge’s approach to teaching:

“May I be taught of God that I may be able to teach others also. It is only the heart that has been deeply exercised in divine things which can enable us to preach experimentally to others. Piety is the life of a minister.”

Hodge’s commentaries, journal articles, and three-volume Systematic Theology present biblical truth powerfully and persuasively. My personal favorite is The Way of Life. Prepared for the American Sunday School Union in 1841,  it exemplifies the type of devotional writing that grasps the indissoluble union between the theological exposition of Scripture and holiness of life.

Here are a few selections from the last chapter of The Way of Life:

“The secret of holy living lies in this doctrine of the union of the believer with Christ. This is not only the ground of his hope of pardon, but the source of the strength whereby he dies unto sin and lives unto righteousness. It is by being rooted and grounded in Christ that he is strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man, and is enabled to comprehend the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the mystery of redemption, and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, and is filled with all the fullness of God. It is this doctrine which sustains him under all his trials, and enables him to triumph over all his enemies; for it is not he that lives, but Christ that lives in him, giving him grace sufficient for his day, and purifying unto himself as one of his peculiar people zealous of good works.”

“ . . . One hour’s communion with God produces an impression never to be effaced; it renders the soul forever less susceptible of evil, and more susceptible of good. And as the Holy Spirit is ever exciting the soul to the exercise of holiness, and bringing it into communion with God, he thus renders it more and more holy, and better fitted for the unchanging and perfect holiness of heaven.”

“It is most unreasonable to expect to be conformed to the image of God, unless the truth concerning God be made to operate often and continuously upon the mind. How can a heart that is filled with the thoughts and cares of the world, and especially one which is often moved to evil by the thoughts or sight of sin, expect that the affections answer to the holiness, good, or greatness of God, should gather strength within it? How can the love of Christ increase in the bosoms of those who hardly ever think of him or his work? This cannot be without a change in the very nature of things; and, therefore, we cannot make progress in holiness unless we devote much time to the reading, hearing, and meditating upon the word of God, which is the truth whereby we are sanctified. The more this truth is brought before the mind; the more we commune with it, entering into its import, applying it to our own case, appropriating its principles, appreciating its motives, rejoicing in its promises, trembling at its threatenings, rising by its influence from what is seen and temporal to what is unseen and eternal, the more we expect to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, so as to approve and love whatever is holy, just, and good. Men distinguished for their piety have been men of meditation as well as men of prayer; men accustomed to withdraw the mind from the influence of the world with its thousand joys and sorrows, and to bring it under the influence of the doctrines, precepts, and promises of the word of God.”

At Christmas we contemplate the birth of our Savior who is “full of grace and truth” (John1:14). Jesus said, “For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).

As the old year concludes, we prepare ourselves for a new year of devotion to Jesus and his truth. May the mind of Jesus so fill us that, like him, we say: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work (John 4:34) and “I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7).

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (December 20, 1899 – March 1, 1981)

Today is the 115th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a pulpit giant of the 20th century. In his mid-20s he left a promising medical  career to enter the Christian ministry. During his twenty-nine year pastorate at Westminster Chapel in London, he became one of the most prominent evangelical leaders in Britain. Read a biographical trust at MLJ Trust.

Thirty-five years ago my father passed along a cassette tape of this sermon on Ephesians 2:1-10. Seldom had I heard the gospel proclaimed with such clarity, compelling logic, and spiritual authority.

MLJ Trust has 1600 sermons available for listening and downloading.