Robert B. Walker

 

REV. ROBERT B. WALKER, D. D.

Rev. Robert B. Walker, D. D., was born in the bounds of the Slippery Rock church, in what was then Beaver county, but is now Lawrence county, Pennsylvania, on the 26th day of May, 1808. His grandfather, on his father’s side came from Scotland and settled in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, where his father was born of a mother descended from the oldest American settlers, the Blairs and Smiths. His mother was a native of Ireland, who had come to this country when a young girl. His father died before he was a year old, so that, like Augustine of the early church, the whole care and responsibility for his training, consecration and early education, devolved on his godly mother. How well she performed these duties, we can well judge by the results. How many and earnest were her prayers for the young son, God only can know. She prayed not only for the son, but with him, from his earliest childhood. His first recollections are, he has said, those of his mother at prayer. So early was it in his life, that he had no distinct or intelligent idea of God. He thought she was asking for bread of some great being above, that he could know nothing about, but was well known to his mother.

He was a child of sorrow. He was severely afflicted with phthisic from his early childhood till he was seventeen years of age. At times it was thought he could not recover from the severe attacks of the disease. This sickness made a deep impression on him. While quite young, he would go out at night in his sorrows to an old stump, familiar to his childhood, and there attempt to unburden his heart in prayer to the God of his mother. When he was about six years of age, his mother moved to what is now Portersville, Butler county. There he was brought under the influence of the now sainted Reid Bracken. The first sermon he ever heard was preached by this minister, in a cabinet shop in the neighborhood, in the year 1814 or 1815, which made a deep impression on him. He attended the common school in the Community, until the year 1825, when at the age of seventeen, he taught the school in his own neighborhood. It was during this Winter that he was awakened to a true sense of his condition as a sinner in the sight of God. A little work addressed to the careless, probably “Allein’s Alarm,” or “Baxter’s call to the Unconverted,” fell into his hands, which he read with anxious solicitude. About the same time he heard a sermon preached by Mr. Bracken in a private house on 2 Cor. vi: I: “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” His convictions were much deepened. But he continued to carry his own burden, instead of heeding the invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

In the following Winter, he taught school in Mr. Bracken’s neighborhood, and was often deeply impressed under his preaching. “But still,” as he said of him self, “I went on sinning and praying, and praying and sinning.” It was not till the Fall of that year 1829, that he saw his way clear to unite with the church. This he did however, at that time at Mount Nebo, under the pastoral care of father Bracken. he was then living in the bounds of that church. He approached the Lord’s table with great fear and trembling; and, as he did not experience the light and comfort he had expected, he felt much discouraged. But although much disheartened because he did not experience a vivid sense of love, joy and peace, or feel the moving Presence of spiritual life, or see clearly by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, yet withal, by the grace of God, he persevered. He realized that if he would receive, he must ask, if he would find, he must seek, if he would have the door of mercy opened to him, he must knock. And so, down in the valley, he sought and groped his way in the darkness, calling to God from the deep of his soul.

About this time the subject of studying for the ministry was pressed on his attention by his pastor. He could not help but feel that it was his bounden duty to give it his earnest and prayerful consideration. It was a hard problem to solve—so it seemed. But solve it he must. Turn which way he would, it was before him. He feared the Woe of Lord. On all bands he seemed hedged in, and his only outlet seemed to be into the minis­try. After a hard and protracted struggle his hes­itation weakened and gave way, and he said from the heart, “Thy will, O my God, be done!" and to the ministry he set his face. He read Latin under Mr. Bracken for about a year, when be determined to enter Jefferson college at Cannonsburgh, Pennsylvania. He appeared before Presbytery, met at Plain Grove, April 7th, 1830, and was taken under their care with a view to entering on a course of study as a candidate for the ministry. The old record of the Presbytery says: “Presbytery being satisfied that he is a member of the church, and of his good moral character, and having conversed with him on his experimental acquaintance with religion, and being satisfied as to his piety, he was recommended to the care of Rev. Dr. Brown, President of Jefferson college.” He gathered up all his effects, and bound them up in two bandana handkerchiefs, and footed it to Cannonsburgh, Washington county, where, in June, 1830, he entered Jefferson college. This first Summer was one of great trial and discouragement. Satan put forth his mightiest efforts to drive the young man from his course. He as­sailed him with doubts, and cast dark shadows over his way, and whispered most horrid blasphemies in his ear, the very thought of which he still speaks of as causing him to shudder. In the good providence of God, however, he was thrown under the influence of the preaching of Dr. John McMillen, whose clear and powerful presentation of the truth had much to do, under God, in driving away the doubts and dispelling the clouds that seemed to have settled down in his soul. His own earnest prayers for deliverance were heard of Him, who says by His prophet, “it shall conic to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.” Still, however, his trials were not at an end. Satan was not thus easily to be foiled. He merely changed his tactics. The difficulties in the way of the young man’s entering the ministry, were held up before him, and he was greatly tempted to leave college and return home. "How can I ever he a minister?” he despairingly thought. “I can never get up in Senior Hall and speak before the faculty and students,” he said to himself with a sinking heart. All this was but a trial of his faith, and those very feelings of unfitness were the evidence of a genuine fitness that God was working deep down in his soul; for this deep pungent sense of his own weakness was evidence infallible that he had a real hold on the source of omnipotent strength. Paul felt at first that he was not fit to he called an apostle; afterwards that he was the least of all saints; and finally that he was the chief of sinners.

By the grace of God, Mr. Walker overcame all temptations to desist from his purpose. He kept on with his studies and graduated in September, 1835. He entered the Theological Seminary at Allegheny in the same year, where he graduated in 1838. He appeared before Presbytery again at Butler on Tuesday, September 13th, 1836. He was examined on all the remaining subjects required by the “Form of Government.” “An voluntas motibiis moveatum,” was assigned him as a sub­ject for a Latin exegesis. Rom. iii: 25, 26, was given him as the subject of a critical exercise. He read these performances before Presbytery at Freeport, April 5th, 1837, which were sustained as parts of trial for ordination. Gal. iii : 29, was as­signed him for a homily, and Matt xi: 20—24, for a popular lecture. He delivered these discourses before Presbytery at Butler, in September, 1837. Rom. x:14, was assigned him as a text for a sermon, at the last named meeting. This discourse he preached at Portersville before Presbytery, June 26th, 1838, after which he was licensed to preach the gospel. He preached on the first day of July at Plain Grove by appointment of Presbytery; he was called, ordained and installed, as narrated in a preceding chapter. After resigning his charge at Plain Grove, he moved to a farm he had purchased near Portersville, Butler county. He supplied the church of Portersville till the Summer of 1883, when, having sold his farm and purchased a house with a few acres attached, near Whitestown, Butler county, he moved to it. Mrs. Walker, a pure and godly woman, died, after moving to Portersville, much la merited by all who knew her. Mrs. McCullough, his widowed daughter, lives with her father, and is a source of great comfort to him in his decline of life. Physically, Dr. Walker is of a somewhat delicate make up, and in his early ministry, at least, was quite a contrast in this respect with both his predecessors in the pastorate at Plain Grove. He is a man of full medium height, of square but lean and spare build. His features are strongly and prominently cut. His eyes are blue. His complexion is a medium between dark and light. When he entered on his ministry here, he was considerably afflicted with dyspepsia; but by careful and judicious living and working, he outlived his diseases and has gone well past his three score and ten. He is a man of excellent natural gifts. His mind is of a logical cast, so that he always looks for the basis of things, and has no patience with conclusions derived from false or insufficient premises; and while his memory is of an unusually high order in retaining apparently isolated and disconnected facts and dates, yet his mind seeks to hold facts as links of a chain of thought. He seldom failed to be able to know and name every man, woman and child in his large congregation and wide circle of friends. He is not remarkable for extraordinary talents in any one particular, and is not what the world would call a genius; but taking his talents in the aggregate, he is entirely deserving of his high rank among his peers. He had not the opportunities for exhaustive, independent investigation of many subjects, and of course, could not pursue courses of higher original study, having no access to great libraries, and being so much occupied with his innumerable pastoral and other duties; and still his scholarship and abilities have been quite widely recognized. Washington college conferred on him the literary title of Doctor of Divinity, in November, 1854,—an honor which he has borne ever since with an exemplary dignity and modesty. He has always been recognized as a man of unusual prudence, judiciousness amid wisdom. And because of his superior general excellence, he has always had great influence, and responsible trusts have been constantly committed to him by the different ecclesiastical courts and other bodies. He was chosen by the General Assembly of 1869 a director of the Western Theological Seminary, a position which he has filled ever since to the full satisfaction of all the friends of that institution, He is a man of reliable and sound learning, He had the advantage of a full academic and theological course of study, under most reliable and sound teachers. He was a close and faithful student. Nor did his studies cease at his graduation. They were only rightly begun. He used all the time and strength he could possibly spare from the loud calls of necessary pastoral and other duties, to post himself thoroughly in Bible truth and sound theology. He used all endeavor to keep himself well read up on all the great questions that agitated the Public mind ; but especially if they bore any relation to public morals or sound theology. But he made special effort to be thoroughly versed in systematic theology and the history of doctrine. He is a lover of sound doctrine, and always rejoices greatly in its triumph and in the downfall of error wherever found. On one occasion he was appointed by the Synod of Pittsburg to preach a sermon on “Schism.” The sermon was published by request of the Synod. It was highly commended by Rev. Dr. A. T. McGill and others.

He is a clear and instructive preacher. He has always sought, with a persevering, prayerful earnestness, to know the truth thoroughly and to present it in the clearest light possible to his hearers. No one could sit long under his preaching and not know of the doctrine. The whole community of his hearers bears the impress of his preaching and teaching, They are sound in the faith, and are able to give an answer to every man that asketh them a reason of the hope that is in them. No one can hear or read his sermons, as for example his discourse on “The Pastorate,” delivered at Rev. Dr. Alexander Donaldson’s thirty-fifth anniversary, at Elder’s Ridge, without feeling that the author is master of his theme.

He was a faithful and excellent pastor. The word pastor is the translation of a Greek word that means a shepherd; so that all that a good shepherd is to his flock, a faithful and successful pastor must be to his people. Under Christ, he must be their leader to lead them beside still waters and cause them to lie down in green pastures.

Dr. Walker was always faithful to go at any hour of the night, or at any season of the year where duty called; among the poorest as readily as among the wealthiest. That he was successful in feeding the church of God, --feeding the sheep, finding the lambs; shepherding the sheep; gathering, overseeing, instructing, guarding and disciplining, the flock of God, the history foregoing plainly shows. How many owe their protection from the roaring lion that goeth about seeking whom he may devour, to him as their pastor under Christ, no one can know till the records of heaven are opened before us.

He is a man of lovable character. No pastor was ever more loved and more highly esteemed, through a long-pastorate, by his own people and the people generally, than was the modest subject of this sketch. He is loved by all who know him. It doubtless can be truthfully said, he never had a real enemy in all his life, either in the church or out of it. There have been many, no doubt, who, because of their natural enmity to God and godliness, have hated the doctrines he preached and the truth he ever set forth, both in his public ministry and private life, yet no one of them will dare to open his lips and say his life and character have not been pure and beautiful and lovable.

He is a man of eminent piety. The fear of God is ever before his eyes. He has always shown a deep interest in the worship of God and use of the means of grace. He is far from being demonstrative, is the very opposite of the emotional, and yet withal, beneath the calm quiet exterior, a large heart beats and throbs, full of love and religious emotion. His piety is not of the impulsive kind that is warm and overflowing in a heated season, and when the copious showers of heaven are falling, and then chilled and locked up by the frosts of a following frigid season. It is like the onflowing of a river,—calm and quiet and peaceful, yet deep and broad and strong. His piety is truly impressive. At college he had, as his roommate, the then young Walter M. Lowrie. During their course, the college passed through a precious revival. Young Lowrie was brought to the foot of the cross and led to give his heart and life to Christ. In a letter to his father, speaking of his great perplexity over the state of his soul, at a critical time in his experience, he says: “There was to be a meeting of those who had hope of salvation that evening, and I felt great doubt as to the propriety of attending. I mentioned this to my roommate, with is, I believe, the; most pious student about the college, and he made a few remarks and prayed with me. This relieved me somewhat, and I attended the meeting."* He found peace and rest in Christ. What would have become of that devoted missionary to China had it not been for the influence of this pious youth, we cannot know. It is interesting to know, however, that God used Mr. Walker’s godly life and earnest words to influence others, even while yet a student.

Rev. Dr. D. X. Junkin, at the dedication of the Harlansburgh church, said publicly of Dr. Walker, “he is one of the very best men I ever knew.”

The writer would hereby express his thorough appreciation of his goodness, and would invoke God’s richest blessing on his declining years, and pray that he may at last reach that “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” which is the blessed hope of the righteous. 

____

*Memoirs of W. M. Lowrie, p. 4.

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 XX, pages 261-272 

 

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