Review of “John McMillan” by Dwight Raymond Guthrie

Guthrie, Dwight Raymond, John McMillan: Apostle of Presbyterianism to the West 1752-1833, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1952.

I have to admit that I love to read about the history of Christianity on the American frontier.  This book has added interest for me because it is all about the events that established and founded the region where I grew up.  The names of persons, places, towns, hills, rivers, creeks, schools, and churches described in this book bring back childhood memories for me.  It is written from a Christian perspective of admiration for the life and ministry of John McMillan.

McMillan was a man for his time.  He was an able preacher and theologian, yet Guthrie chiefly notes him for his indomitable strength of character.  McMillan was plainspoken, and could be bluntly direct in the way that he interacted with people.  It took a hardy soul to live, minister, and plant churches on what was then the western frontier.  Having studied at the legendary “Log College”, McMillan was pious, a preacher of the gospel, a maintainer of theological orthodoxy, a revivalist, and a concerned pastor.  Through McMillan’s ministry, several churches, two colleges and a seminary were founded.

This book contains fascinating descriptions of the lives, character, and culture of the people who first settled this part of the country, as well as colorful anecdotes.  The people of western Pennsylvania were under threat of Indian attack at any time, and they went to the meetinghouse to worship armed with their longrifles.  Guthrie notes that one particular minister was known for always checking his rifle prior to reading out his sermon text.  Often the ministers were not paid their promised salaries.  While there were some churches where the trustees willfully reneged on their obligation, at other times the people were under extreme financial hardship themselves and barely able to survive.  Guthrie relates a tale about one church unable to pay its minister’s salary.  It commissioned a couple of its members to take a barge full of newly-ground flour on a dangerous and risky voyage down the Ohio river to the Mississippi to the favorable market in New Orleans in order to procure the cash to pay their minister what they owed him.  Now that’s being resourceful!  Guthrie relates McMillan’s response to political situations, like that of the Whiskey Rebellion.  He was adamantly against the rebellion and refused to administer the Lord’s Supper until they submitted to the civil government.

All in all this book is an enjoyable read.  It will be of interest to those who would like to know more about the history of western Pennsylvania.

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