Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Slice of History

Here is the sermon by Rev. Horace Cowles Atwater. You can read it or hear it on-line. I preached this sermon at our celebration of our 225th anniversary on Sunday. First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton is the oldest congregation in Elizabethton, very probably in Tennessee. No brag, just fact. Atwater served the congregation from 1870-1877 and is buried in Highland Cemetery in Elizabethton. He wrote a book, Incidents of a Southern Tour or the South as Seen Through Northern Eyes that you can read on-line.

We have recently discovered over 100 sermons by Rev. Atwater as well as his journal. All but five are in the library archives of East Tennessee State University. They have yet of course to be published. Atwater was a northerner and First Pres., Elizabethton, was a northern congregation following the War Between the States.

Atwater was an incredibly intelligent minister. He wrote all of his sermons out in longhand on whatever paper he could find in fountain pen. Then he went over them in pencil, making corrections to his text. You may, as I did, wince at his less than ecumenical attitude toward Roman Catholics and Baptists. His sermon was one of pride for our nation, for education, mission, and freethinking that Presbyterianism brought to this country.

He preached this sermon upon his return from the 1876 General Assembly in Brooklyn, New York. He was filled with hope about the possibilities of the country following the war and how Presbyterianism could contribute as it had contributed to its success in the past. He sounded a bit self-congratulatory, but I forgive him that for his excitement. Of Presbyterianism, he wrote:

Presbyterianism always smacks strongly of freedom.
It will soon celebrate its two thousandth anniversary.
It never waxes old, and gets moss grown.
It is ever flexible, democratic, attractive.
It accommodates itself easily to change.
It believes in progression.
It adapts itself to all grades of society.
It is the bible, reason, and common sense in due proportions, condensed.
He was also pleased at the form of church government, which he felt was the best in the world:
Granted our form of church government and doctrine—
teaching every man’s responsibility to God first of all and to love neighbors as himself.
That none are to lord it over God’s heritage…
That every man must read the bible for himself and do his own thinking...
That calls no man master…
That God had a plan when he made this world of free agents…
That he foresaw from eternity every thing which has and will take place…
That He has not abdicated his position at the head of a moral universe.
Again and again he preached about civil and religious liberty and freedom of conscience. It was a great day celebrating a slice of history. You can read about it in the Elizabethton Star and in two separate articles in the Johnson City Press, here and here.

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