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John Munson



John Munson, son of Daniel and Susannah Drake Munson, was horn in Morris county, New Jersey, on the 22nd day of February, 1784. His father died in 1790, in Herkimer county, New York, where his mother was left a widow among strangers. She afterward married again, and in the year 1795, moved with her husband and family, to Lycoming county, Pennsylvania. Says Mr. Munson in a letter to Dr. David Elliott, “My mother was pious, and hearing of the revival of religion in Western Pennsylvania, felt a great anxiety that her family might enjoy the benefits of such a season. Accordingly we removed to Beaver county in 1806." They settled in the bounds of Mount Pleasant church, of which Rev. Thomas E. Hughs was pastor. This godly mother lived to see her husband and seven children received into the communion of the church, and her son John enter the ministry. She died in 1838, in the seventy-ninth year of her age.

Mr. Munson had united with the church east of the mountains before the family migrated to Beaver county, but had become a very wicked man. He continued very in different on the subject of religion till after the death of his first wife, which took place in the very morning of her womanhood, and under saddening circumstances. Although Mr. Munson had passed through seasons of deep awakening, and had listened to the very searching and effective preaching of the gospel by his pastor, for about three years, he remained undecided on the great subject of his salvation, till the Lord brought him face to face with eternity in the sudden death of his young wife. And now, about twenty-five years of age, he surrendered himself wholly to Christ and to the gospel method of salvation, and consecrated his life and all to His service.

He entered on a course of literary studies at the Greersburg Academy, an institution founded by Rev. Thomas E. Hughs, under the sanction and by the assistance of the Presbytery, having finished his literary course, he studied theology under Mr. Hughs. He was taken under the care of the Presbytery of Hartford (afterwards the Beaver Presbytery) as a candidate for the ministry. He was licensed to preach the gospel, on the 16th day of October, 1816. He was dismissed by that Presbytery to the Presbytery of Erie, having received and accepted calls from Plain Grove and Centre churches. He was received under the care of the latter Presbytery on June 24th, 1817. Isa. liii: was assigned him as a text on which he should deliver a sermon before Presbytery at its next meeting. Presbytery next met at Concord, on October 1st, 1817. It was opened with a sermon by Mr. Munson on the text assigned him at their last meeting. His discourse was considered and sustained by Presbytery as a part of trials for ordination. Mr. Munson was examined on all the subjects required by the “Form of Government,” and the examinations were sustained. He was ordained and installed over the churches of Plain Grove and Centre, at Plain Grove, on February 25th, 1818, as related in a preceding chapter. This relation continued for nearly twenty years. On February 6th, 1838, he was released from the pastoral charge of the church of Plain Grove. He accepted a call from the church of Centre for the whole of his ministerial labors, He continued in this relation till June 28th, 1859, a continuous pastorate over that church of over forty-one years.

He died at his home, near London, Mercer county, December 18th, 1866, in the eighty-third year of his age and forty-ninth year of his ministry. His body lies in the burial ground of Centre church.

Mr. Munson had been three times married. His first wife died, as we have already seen, before he entered the ministry. His second wife died in 1836, much lamented by all who knew her. His third wife died shortly after his resignation of the pastorate of Centre. She had been a great comfort to him in his old age.

Mr. Munson was a man of a little above medium height. he was squarely built, with prominent bony features. His cheek bones were rather. high; his eyes were blue; his complexion was dark. His head was very large—his forehead high and broad.

He was not physically as strong a man as Mr. Woods, but was a man of excellent physical health and endurance. Altogether he was a man of commanding presence, at sight. He had little claim to personal beauty, but on becoming intimately acquainted with him, his true excellences and genuine worth made such an impression that he came to be regarded as not an unhandsome man.

Rev. Dr. Walker, who knew him well, published in the Presbyterian Banner of Pittsburgh, in April, 1867, an excellent tribute to Mr. Munson's memory. It was a scrutinizing and carefully prepared estimate of him as a man and a minister. To that able article the writer acknowledges his indebtedness for many facts in the preparation of the following sketch.

Mr. Munson was a man of excellent mind. His education was not broad, but was thorough; nor was his scholarship extensive and varied, but it was practical and valuable. His reading and study, of course, could not be exhaustive on any subject, and was necessarily limited in subjects, as compared with what it might have been in a later day; for he could not have access to the great libraries and numberless periodicals through which great scholars ruminate and glean. But he delighted to hold constant converse with such master minds as Bates and Edwards in their writings; and he retained and ap­propriated to his mental and spiritual being what he read with an easy naturalness, just as the healthy physical system assimilates its food. Had he enjoyed the advantages of others, who have become famous as scholars and preachers, he would, no doubt, have been numbered among the leading spirits of the church, and could have stood on sonic lofty eminence in Zion.

He was a sound and able theologian. He was familiar with all the great questions in controversy between Calvinists and Arminians, and could state the doctrines and their opposing theories most clearly and fairly, and could present arguments to sustain the one and overthrow the other, in the clearest and most effective manner. All who have read his debate with Rev. Alfred Brunson, held at Plain Grove in May, 1834, must acknowledge him to have been a theologian of no mean merit. Rev. Dr. Walker makes mention of a sermon of special power preached before the Synod of Pittsburgh at one of its sessions, on the text, “And the government shall be upon his shoulder.” All his public teachings and his private conversations, together with the impress that he has left on the whole community, show that he had a masterly and comprehensive grasp of the system of divine truth formulated by the Westminster Assembly, and that he was in complete harmony with the standards of the Presbyterian church.

Mr. Munson was an excellent preacher. He had a strong, rich musical voice, a clear and distinct articulation, and a most energetic and earnest delivery, while the truth seemed softened with an unction, as if fresh from the Holy Ghost.

His style, it is true, was often not the most ornate. He was not gifted with much power of imagination or sentiment, and he made no attempt at rhetorical effect. His illustrations were few and homely, and used only to enforce his argument. In his day, illustration, of a kind, anecdote and story­telling, in the pulpit, were not So much in vogue as now, Mr. Munson used the strong Anglo-Saxon— the language of the people in its simplicity. Says Dr. Walker, “his preaching was eminently Scriptural.” “He sincerely loved and reverenced God’s word.” While he preached but few technically “expository sermons,” yet in his discourses, he explained much of the word of God. He was guided in his interpretations by the analogy of Scripture, —by clear views of general Scriptural doctrine, close study of texts in the original and in their con­nection, and by much meditation and prayer. To know the meaning of Scripture and make it savingly known to others, was his one absorbing purpose of life. Mr. Munson prepared his sermons with a brief outline or skeleton; and sometimes without notes at all; but he always gave the subject all the study and thought possible. To use his own expression, on one occasion, he was “careful to frame the building,” but left it to the “inspiration or spur of the moment’ to “do the weather-boarding and plas­tering, painting and finishing.” The great theme on which he loved to dwell, was that in which the great apostle to the Gentiles gloried, the cross of Christ in its different phases. In preaching on God’s great love as seen in the gift of His Son, or on the great mercy of God as shown in pardoning the sinner, or on God’s great grace in saving sinners through the death of Christ, or in appealing to sinners to avail themselves of this great salvation, he would grow warm and truly eloquent, and would speak with great power and freedom.

Mr. Munson was a man of social excellences. He was far from being the recluse. He loved to mingle with people. He was always ready to form new acquaintances. He would not be long in the company of strangers without making their acquaintance. Travelling in a stage coach, he would soon have all the passengers pleasantly chatting and thoroughly well acquainted with each other, but with himself in particular, and the long journey would seem quite short, and all would part with feelings of genuine regret. His conversation was not trivial but always interesting and instructive. He was brim full of life; and while his genial nature ran over with wit and fun, yet it was not unsanctified; but beneath it all there was a deep current of seriousness. He had the happy faculty of waking up dormant and latent powers in others, and would often let in scintillations of light, by the mere suggestion of a whole train of truths. New ideas and lines of thought were often suggested by him in conversation, and left to be reflected on and followed out by persons who caught their inspiration from him-- ideas and lines of thought that would often lead them into a higher and better life. Thus, mingling with the people, he often sowed the good seed of life. Families, not only of his own charge, but ev­erywhere else where he was known, felt it to be a real pleasure to entertain him; so that, at all meetings of Presbytery, and at other times, he was eagerly sought as a guest.

Says Dr. Walker, “He was great in goodness. But few Christians have had a richer experience. When first awakened, his convictions were deep and pungent. He felt himself to be the chief of sinners. We have often heard him say that he did not see how it was possible for God to save him, and that after him, no anxious sinner need despair of finding mercy. But where the light came, his ‘peace was as a river.’ The principles of the Gospel were deeply fixed in his heart. He lived out and adorned the doctrine which he preached. During his long ministerial life, there was not a single stain upon his character. It is true, he was of an ardent temperament, and sometimes spoke hastily. But no man was ever more ready to confess a fault. No one who knew him well, and has any regard for truth or goodness about him, will dare to say that he was not a ‘holy man of God,’ and that he had not a truthful and loving heart. he was a man of faith and prayer. He ‘walked with God.’ He took great de­light in reading the Scriptures. He was a poet and a musician; and in singing some of the familiar airs set to our precious hymns, he seemed sometimes to be almost enraptured.

His last sufferings were protracted and severe. He was for months paralyzed, so as to be almost entirely helpless. His mind, however, kept bright and vigorous. His conversation was very much about Christ and heavenly things. He spoke to those who called to see him, in regard to their eter­nal interests—sent messages to his old parishioners and acquaintances, telling them of his peace, and giving them his love and blessing. To ministers he could say, ‘Preach Christ.’ ‘Tell the brethren to preach Christ crucified, more and more.’ For months he had not had a doubt of his acceptance with God, and his mind was full of sweet, heavenly peace. On one occasion he spoke to a ministerial brother of his circumstances, somewhat despondingly, but in a moment he added: ‘But I am a rich man; O what a rich man I am! I am a joint-heir with Christ to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled.’ he died in the full possession of all his mental faculties, full of peace, and in joyful hope of a blessed immortality. Thus he came to his ‘grave in a full age, and as a shock of corn cometh in his season.’ ‘Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.’ In one sense his ‘works’ have ‘gone before him.’ How many of those who were led by him to the Saviour, have met him with joy, and welcomed him home to heaven. ‘They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever.’ 

Plain Grove, A History of Its Early Settlement and the Planting and Growth of the Church in That Region by Rev. R. McCaslin, 1884, Chapter XIX, pages 252-260


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