John M. Wells, in his book, Southern Presbyterian Worthies, describes the setting of scenic Strickler’s Springs—
Near the center of Rockbridge County, Virginia, in the very heart of the Valley of Virginia, rises a massive peak known from its shape as House Mountain. Rugged, square, imposing, it may be seen from every part of the county.…Someone has said…that the peak has stamped its impress upon the people of that country. They are larger in size, more massive in their thinking, stronger in character, because for generations they have been looking upon the great mountain (180).
It was in that setting in Rockbridge County that Givens Brown Strickler was born, April 25, 1840, to Joseph and Mary Jane Brown Strickler. His parents’ marriage had brought together the Presbyterian and Continental branches of the Reformed churches. The boy was trained at home theologically with the Bible and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. His general education in preparation for college was accomplished in local schools. For a time, he left home and worked long and late as a printer with a newspaper in Lynchburg. In 1858, he entered Washington College (currently Washington and Lee University) in Lexington during the presidency of Rev. George Junkin. He attended the Presbyterian Church in town which was served by Rev. William S. White. Another educational institution in town not far from Washington College was the Virginia Military Institute, which would soon find its students and faculty in active service. Professor Thomas J. Jackson would cease his dull, rote lectures on artillery, acoustics, mechanics, astronomy, and physics, to join the Confederate Army and practice what he really knew, the art of war.
In April 1861, the War Between the States began and G. B. Strickler joined many other college students in the land, both in the North and the South, by leaving his studies to become a corporal in the Liberty Hall Volunteers. As the conflict continued, Strickler fought in the Stonewall Brigade, was promoted to sergeant, then lieutenant, then captain, as he served with Jackson. After Jackson’s friendly-fire death at Chancellorsville, Strickler led his company at Gettysburg where he was captured, taken to prison at Ft. McHenry, and then transferred to Johnson’s Island. While in prison he taught lessons from his cache of knowledge, read to the prisoners, was the president of the oratory club, and conducted religious services. When Strickler suggested to one of his friends he was corresponding with in another prison that they write in Greek, the friend, who apparently knew no Greek, survived the embarrassment of admitting his linguistic deficiency by telling Strickler that the officer in charge of the prison would not allow such uncommon writing.
When the war ended, Givens returned to Washington College during the presidency of Robert E. Lee and was graduated with distinction in 1867. He continued at the college for the next session as an instructor of Latin before entering Union Seminary in 1868. He completed his seminary studies in two years while also assisting in teaching Greek. Strickler was licensed to preach on September 2, 1870. Following his testing as a licentiate he was ordained and installed by Lexington Presbytery on May 19, 1871, in the Tinkling Spring Church in Augusta County . During his service at Tinkling Spring he married Mary Frances Moore who was a member of the Falling Springs Church near Natural Bridge. He continued at Tinkling Spring for nearly thirteen years and enjoyed a blessed and respected ministry.
G. B. Strickler’s next call was to Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta Georgia in 1883. That year, Tinkling Spring had almost three hundred communicant members and Central Church had over four hundred, so his move from rural Virginia to urban Atlanta would increase his responsibilities as a shepherd. At the time of his installation in Central Church, the congregation was torn with dissension, but through his efforts at reconciliation peace was achieved. During his thirteen years in Atlanta, the congregation grew to just over nine hundred communicant members and it had seeded new congregations in the city through mission churches.
In 1896, Dr. Strickler was called to the Chair of Systematic Theology in Union Theological Seminary where he succeeded the very brief professorship of C. R. Vaughan. His call to Union was his last ministerial move and though he was not an industrious writer, the students and faculty greatly respected his teaching and his persuasive method. He was not a professor of great new insights but instead relied heavily on the works of the instructor from whom he learned theology, Robert L. Dabney.
In 1913, Dr. Strickler and A. M. Fraser were elected by Lexington Presbytery to attend the General Assembly in Atlanta. Following the assembly meeting, Dr. Strickler stopped in Laurens, South Carolina, to visit one of his daughters and during the visit he became ill. His condition improved but due to his continued weakness he returned to Atlanta where he stayed with his son, Dr. Cyrus W. Strickler. He continued there for several weeks until he died on August 4, 1913. A funeral service was conducted for him in the Central Presbyterian Church and then his body was transported to Richmond where other services were held before his burial in Hollywood Cemetery next to Mary Jane who had preceded him to glory in 1905. The Stricklers had seven children, two of which died in infancy.
G. B. Strickler was honored with the DD in 1878 by Washington College, and then Davidson College granted him the LL D in 1894. Also in 1894, he was elected the moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS). Washington and Lee University honored Strickler by having him serve on its Board of Trustees from 1894 until his death. He also was an editor, either chief or assistant, of The Presbyterian Quarterly, for its entire run from 1887 to 1904.
His publications include, Sermons, published both by Fleming H. Revell and the Presbyterian Committee of Publications in 1910, which were sermons almost entirely from his pastorate at Tinkling Spring; his lecture titled, “The Nature, Value, and Special Utility of the Catechisms,” was published in Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly, 1647-1897, Richmond: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1897, on pages 117-38; and “The Philosophy of Faith,” in The Presbyterian Quarterly 16:2 (October 1902): 149-165.
BY BARRY WAUGH
Sources—Clarification editing was done by the author on August 10, 2015.John M. Wells, Southern Presbyterian Worthies, Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1936, Strickler’s section is in pages 180-207, the other biographies in the book are J. H. Thornwell, J. L. Wilson, Daniel Baker, M. D. Hoge, B. M. Palmer, and W. W. Moore; Howard McKnight Wilson, The Tinkling Spring: Headwater of Freedom, A Study of the Church and Her People, 1732-1952, Fisherville: The Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church, 1954, pages 327-30; the page of text pictured is from Strickler’s book of sermons.