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George Junkin

GEORGE JUNKIN, D.D., LL.D., a son of Joseph and Eleanor (Cochran) Junkin, was born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, on the 1st of November, 1790. His parents were of Scotch-Irish descent, and belonged to that branch of the Presbyterian Church known as Covenanters. They were most faithful in the religious education of their children, and the event proved that their parental fidelity was not in vain. The subject of this sketch was very early brought into a serious state of mind, and his own conviction was that, in his eleventh year, he experienced a radical change of character. He did not, however, make a public profession of his faith until he had reached his nineteenth year; and for this he was greatly indebted to the preaching of the Rev. James Galloway, his pastor at Mercer, who afterwards became his brother-in-law. From this time till the close of his life, he seems to have had scarcely any doubts of his gracious acceptance.

His earliest years were spent in Cumberland County, and afterwards in Mercer County, where his father's family had their home. The means of intellectual culture, in that region, were, at that time, by no means abundant; and yet, by diligent application, and with such aid as he was able to command, he was fitted for Jefferson College, and actually became a member of it in 1809. He graduated in 1813, having, for the sake of lessening the expense of his education, spent a large part of his college life at home, though keeping along with the prescribed course of study.

Immediately after his graduation,  his eye and his heart being set upon the Ministry, he became a member of the Theological Seminary of the Associate Reformed Church, under the care of the illustrious Dr. Mason. Here he remained three years, taking the regular theological course, and was licensed to preach the Gospel, by the Presbytery of Monongahela, of the Associate Reformed Church, in September, 1816. Agreeably to an existing arrangement in that Church, by which licentiates were sent, by the General Synod, to the several presbyteries, Mr. Junkin was sent to labor within the presbyteries of New York and Saratoga. He, accordingly, preached there in the autumn and winter months of 1816, and afterwards was engaged in missionary labor in different parts of Pennsylvania and Maryland. In June, 1818, with a view to his greater usefulness as a missionary, he received ordination in Gettysburg.

Shortly after this he was invited to take charge of the united congregations of Milton and Pennell (now McEwensville), and, having accepted the invitation, entered at once upon his labors as pastor. His connection with this charge continued about eleven years; and in the mean time (in 1824) he passed from the Associate Reformed to the Presbyterian Church. During this period he was constantly and earnestly engaged in the various duties of the ministry, and had the evidence, on every side of him, that his labors were not in vain. He resigned his charge, however, in 1830, and, in the hope of attaining to yet higher usefulness, accepted the position of Principal of the Manual Labor Academy at Germantown. Here he remained for two years, when he was invited to remove his students to Easton, and, taking advantage of a charter obtained from the Legislature of Pennsylvania for a military school, to become the President of a college. This invitation he accepted; and, shortly after, Lafayette College was organized, and he entered upon his work with a zeal mounting up well-nigh to enthusiasm. He discharged the duties of this new relation with great ability and fidelity; and besides his week-day labors in connection with the college, which were arduous and incessant, he usually preached, at least once, on the Sabbath, and sometimes three, and even four, times. In 1833, he was honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the college at which he graduated, and, in 1856, with the degree of Doctor of Laws from Rutgers College.

In 1841, Dr. Junkin accepted the Presidency of Miami University, Ohio. After having labored here with great success for three years, his successor at Lafayette, the Rev. Dr. Yeomans, having resigned his place, he was earnestly invited to return to Easton, and resume his former position. This he actually did, and continued there till the autumn of 1848, when he accepted an invitation to become President of Washington College, Lexington, Va. His parting with his classes at Lafayette, on Commencement day, was a scene of the most tender interest; and the estimation in which he was there held was sufficiently indicated by the fact that twenty-six of those who had been his students there, appeared at the Washington College, to resume their studies under his direction.

Here he continued until May, 1861, twelve years and a half; and, as in every public position he had previously occupied, so here, he was a model of energy, perseverance, and fidelity. When the clouds began to darken our political horizon, and to forebode the horrors of war, he had no sympathy with the proposed secession, regarding the principle as a fallacy, both in law and in morals; and as he found the current too strong to resist, nothing remained for him but to vacate the place which he had held so long, and so usefully and honorably. He left behind many warm friends, some of whom were in full sympathy with his political views, while the greater portion of them believed that he had fallen into a sad, though honest, mistake. He came from Virginia to Philadelphia, where he, ever after, found a home in the family of his son. 

The residue of his life was spent, as the preceding part of it had been, in a constant succession of efforts to do good. During his seven remaining years, he preached about seven hundred times. He labored as a Colporteur of the Board of Publication, visiting encampments, as he had opportunity, distributing tracts and books, and beseeching sinners to be reconciled to God. He spent days and even weeks among the southern prisoners at Fort Delaware and Point Lookout, and was one of the first to exercise his mission of mercy after the battle of Gettysburg. He wrote many articles for the newspapers in defense of a proper observance of the Sabbath, against the threatened encroachments of legislative authority. He also officiated in two benevolent institutions in Philadelphia, and in one of them the in mates had arranged his desk with reference to his speaking, on the very day that he died. And besides all his other labors, he wrote and published, during his last years, a Treatise on Sanctification, a Treatise on the Ancient Tabernacle of the Hebrews, and some smaller works; and he left behind him in manuscript a very full Commentary on Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews, the whole of it written in a fine, bold hand, after he had completed his seventy-fifth year.

Dr. Junkin had, throughout his whole life, dreaded the pains of death; but when death actually came to him, it took on its mildest form. Until Monday, the 18th of May, 1868, he was in his usual health; on that day he was taken ill; the next he was greatly relieved; and the next, Wednesday, the 20th, without any apparent aggravation of his symptoms, he died, with the name of Jesus on his lips. A Discourse, commemorative of his life and character, was preached in the West Spruce Street Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, by the Rev. Dr. James H. Mason Knox, on the 28th of June following.

Dr. Junkin was married in June, 1819, to Julia Rush Miller, of Philadelphia, a lady of great personal attractions, of high intelligence, and earnest piety. They had nine children, - five sons and three daughters. Of the sons who lived to maturity, two became ministers of the Gospel, two became lawyers, and one a teacher. The daughters were all most respectably married. Mrs. Junkin died, greatly lamented, in February, 1854.

Besides the works already referred to, Dr. Junkin published, in 1839, a Treatise on Justification, and, in 1844, Lectures on Prophecy. Several of his occasional Sermons and Addresses were printed. He was also a liberal contributor to many of the periodicals of his day.

Dr. Junkin was a man of commanding appearance, though not above the medium height; of a countenance expressive of great energy, and fine intellectual powers, and of manners simple and direct, and yet prepossessing. In his private intercourse he was sociable and communicative, and when he ceased talking, he always left the impression that it was not for want of anything more to say. In his Theology he was thoroughly Calvinistic, and was not specially tolerant towards any departure from the accredited standards. In the controversy by which the Church was agitated and finally separated in 1837, he took the deepest interest, and though his intense regard for orthodoxy may have suggested measures that some thought extreme, yet those who knew him best have testified of his private expressions of respect and affection even towards those from whom he differed most widely. Nowhere was he more at home than in a church court: here his promptness, his energy, his keen insight into matters of difficulty, and his faculty at suggesting the appropriate remedies, were specially apparent; and no one who watched his movements could resist the impression that he was acting in obedience to the dictates of conscience. He was just such a preacher as might be expected from his peculiar intellectual and moral constitution, in connection with his large measure of Christian fervor; he brought out the doctrines of the Gospel with great simplicity and plainness, while yet his large and well-stored mind would often suggest thoughts which were beyond the common range of pulpit instruction. In discharging the duties of the pastoral relation, he was eminently felicitous; his fine social qualities combining with his deep sense of responsibility and his earnest devotion to his work, to make this part of his labor at once pleasant to himself and profitable to those to whom he ministered. He was eminently beloved and honored as the Head of a college; and while his admirable powers and qualities rendered him an object of attraction to the students, they were a pledge at once of his fidelity and success. The several churches and institutions with which he has been connected, rejoiced in his light, and now they gratefully cherish his memory.

Presbyterian reunion: a memorial volume, 1837-1871, 1870.


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