While wandering inside a used book store several years ago, an endeavor that is increasingly becoming more difficult due to their closing left and right, I ran across a book regarding a past Presbyterian that I had not seen nor heard of before. It was one of those eureka moments when one believes the foxed and tattered volume languishing on the shelf between a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book and a gratuitous romance novel is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, relatively speaking. It was an especially pleasing find because the price was quite reasonable. It had one of those wonderful but cumbersome titles from the nineteenth century that left little doubt about what was inside, Sermons, and An Essay on the Pentateuch, By Robert Means, A.M. of Fairfield District, S.C., with an Introduction and A Sermon Occasioned by his Death, by George Howe, Professor of Biblical Literature in the Theological Seminary, Columbia, S.C., Boston, 1836. Needless to say, the book was immediately added to my stack of prizes and rushed to the checkout before any other antiquarian skulking about could snatch the volume from the shelf. Of course, the odds of another bibliophile interested in obscure Presbyterian literature visiting the quaint shop in a very small town on the same day were considerably greater than those of being struck by lightning. The title of the old book likely raises the question, “Who was Robert Means?” Readers of Presbyterians of the Past hopefully recognize George Howe from his biography on the site, but if not click HERE to read a short piece on his long life. The question of Means’s identity will be answered by George Howe’s memorial.
The following transcription is the eulogy portion of George Howe’s sermon at the memorial service for Rev. Means as in Sermons, and An Essay on pages 591-610. In the following transcription numbers in brackets, [ ], refer to explanatory notes at the end of the memorial, and there have been some insertions for clarification of the text and some biblical references which are also in brackets. The “College of South Carolina” or “South Carolina College” mentioned in the text refers to what is currently the University of South Carolina. At the end of the transcription of the eulogy is a summary of his works collected in Sermons, and An Essay and some bibliographic information.
Another minister suffering with blindness that died at an early age is told about in the post, W. H. Fentress, An Extraordinary Man. It will be seen in the following that Rev. Robert Means loses his sight. Both of these men lost their sight as a result of a disease or epidemic common in the era, but currently, these afflictions have been greatly reduced or eliminated thanks to the doctors and researchers that God has gifted to delve into diseases and discover cures through His science.
George Howe’s Eulogy for Rev. Robert Means, 1796-1836
He was born into this life of trials December 29, 1796, and into the bosom of a family, many of whose members I now see around me and which have been permitted to enjoy each other’s society more than has usually been allowed to other family circles. From childhood he was fond of study, and entering at an early age, he graduated at the South Carolina College in 1813, when he was but seventeen. His attention was first turned to the study of the law, which he pursued with Mr. John Hooker of Columbia, during the year 1814 and part of 1815. But it was not the design of God that he should devote his energies to the profession for which he had thus prepared. Because of his minority, he was not then admitted to the practice of the bar. And before the hour for his admission had arrived, he had directed his attention to other and higher objects. Early in 1816, his mind was awakened to an unwonted interest in religious things. Those little narratives of “The Dairyman’s Daughter” and “The Young Cottager” in which the artless tale of the conflicts and deliverance of the child of God is traced by the pen of genius, were the instruments God used in his case, as in many others, if not to awaken, at least to heighten that slumbering sense of obligation to God which lies dormant in the unsanctified heart . Might it not have been, too, that the instructions of a pious and honored mother were then remembered with unusual power and affection? For, mothers, you do not know when the seed sown by you will germinate. You do not know when the soil in which you deposit it will be mellowed by the genial showers, nor what ploughshare will admit to it the quickening beams of the Sun of righteousness.
As yet he made no profession of religion. But in May of the same year, 1816, God took from him his beloved mother, the protector of his childhood; a mother whom many of you honor as a pattern of piety. His attention was thus turned to the ministry as a sphere of effort. From the vale of affliction in which God had placed him, as he lifted his eye to heaven, he heard a voice crying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and with humility and self-abasement he replied, “Here am I, Lord, send me.” In a diary, written at this time, he says—“As I have dedicated myself to God in the gospel of his Son, I will make it the ruling object of my exertions to obtain the qualifications for this office, and to exercise them in a fervent and faithful manner. May God enable me to do this for Christ’s sake.”
He was licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of Harmony in 1818, and continued engaged in the labors of the ministry in Salem church, at Winnsboro, Camden, and Newberry, until January, 1824, when he received a call from Camden, and one from Columbia at nearly the same time. He accepted the call from Columbia and was pastor of the Presbyterian Church in that place for three years, when the term for which he was called expired. He was again invited to the same pastoral relation, but chose to decline it, and returned to his family, in these his old accustomed haunts, where the dust of his kindred sleep. And this was his home, and this sanctuary was the scene of his labors, and you are the persons whom he sought to lead to the Saviour, and for whom he prayed until he faded away and disappeared from the abodes of men. You recollect him as his manly and noble form rose before you, his countenance beaming with kindness and glowing with health, and you remember him as emaciated with disease, the hectic on his cheek, his steps tottering and slow, he stood among you the shadow of what he was.
In 1826 he was violently attacked with an epidemic which laid the foundation for a decline of his health . This decline was gradual at first, and almost imperceptible until the last two years, during which it has been painfully evident that he was sinking fast to an early tomb. He was cheerful and resigned amidst his accumulated sufferings, and as his bodily powers failed, his mental energies were strengthened and invigorated.
His disease affected one of his eyes, the sight of which, after intense suffering, was entirely destroyed. This was the severest affliction he had yet endured. Devoted to study as he was, and delighting more in converse with the mighty dead than with the living—though he loved the living too—the chief source of his pleasure was now removed. And with the joyous light of the sun his intellectual enjoyment fled away, and the darkness and gloom from without fostered oppressive power over his heart. During the last autumn his health was greatly improved, and he returned with renewed avidity to his studies, and looked forward again with almost the enthusiasm of youth to a life of usefulness.
He now removed to Columbia, partly that he might superintend the education of his children, and partly that he might enjoy the advantages afforded by the ampler libraries located there, as well as by the literary society of the place. He was a candidate for the professorship for sacred Literature in the College of South Carolina and would have been unanimously elected had not the Almighty willed it otherwise. On the night before his election was to take place, the sight of his remaining eye became affected. He bore up against this last, this heaviest blow. He retired to rest, hoping that sleep and the morning dawn would dissipate the mist that was gathering over him. The sun arose fresh and young as at this first creation. But he shone to our brother with diminished luster. His full glories he never again beheld. Perceiving that his sight was growing more and more obscure, he that morning withdrew his name from the list of candidates for the expected professorship. He saw in a moment that his hopes as a scholar were at an end, and that the sphere of effort he had greatly coveted was now unattainable forever. Gradually the light of day was wholly excluded, and before his frame finally sunk upon its dying couch, or the force of his mind was at all abated, blindness, total blindness, had made him insensible to aught but the voice, the touch, the memory of friendship. What a blow to the scholar! The stroke which had descended was aimed with unerring truth at the centre of his joys, his hopes, his ardent aspirations. I could but make the case my own. I could but imagine how I should pray, if such an affliction were in prospect, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” [Mat. 26:39]. I could but think of Milton’s pathetic lamentation over his own blindness.
This last sad affliction, which withered all his earthly hopes and prospects, he received without a murmur; and although he submitted himself unreservedly into the hands of his Maker, life had lost all its charms, and death was stripped of his terrors. When asked on the commencement of that melancholy week, if the prayers of the church should be requested for him, his reply was, that he knew God would answer the still small voice of prayer which ascended from his sick bed; yet it was right to use all the means of grace, and for example’s sake, and that it might comfort his mourning family, he desired it might be done. He seemed to feel as one on the confines of eternity, just between his friends on earth and those in heaven. And he said he had been thinking very much lately, of those beautiful lines in the 182d hymn—
He spoke sweetly and affectionately to all his children and his brothers, admonishing them to make God their friend, and he never would leave nor forsake them. He expressed his gratitude to God for placing him among such devoted friends. He gave his parting benediction to his eldest child, and said he had prayed for them all, ever since they were born, and hoped their heavenly Father would always bless and care for them, and keep them in the right way.
On the last sad day of his mortal existence, he complained of great weariness and restlessness, and requested his beloved wife to read the 22d Psalm, seeming to feel it as applicable to himself. The hymn, “My God, My Portion and My Love,” He felt very deeply, and as she read,
He repeated the last line with great emphasis after her. He often exclaimed, “Poor man, he’s crushed before the moth”; and “out of the depths have I cried unto thee,” sometimes in Latin, sometimes in English. Nearly his last words were “Come, Lord Jesus, come,” and his wearied spirit took its flight to the regions of everlasting bliss, to enjoy the rest appointed for those who love and serve God.
Thus passed your pastor, your husband, your father, your brother, your friend, from this vale of sorrow to the land of peace. His sky was indeed overcast. His sun was clouded, but flashed its radiance upon us through the gloom as it descended. It hath set in darkness, but hath risen on another shore in undying splendor. He hath passed the wilderness of life, the Jordan of death, and all alarms. Henceforth he is to be visited with no more pain, nor sorrow; his breast hath heaved its last sigh, and God with his own kind hand, hath wiped away all tears from his eyes.
It is indeed mysterious, that one so qualified to be useful, at the early age of thirty-nine, just when he should have entered and was entering a wider field of effort, should be cut off in his career. But I cannot regard his course as finished. Even on earth, he, being dead, yet speaketh. His influence yet lives in the example of his many virtues, and in the instructions he gave. Nor has his pen been idle or useless. It performed while he lived, at an important juncture, a work acceptable to the friend of religion, and we trust, to his divine Master. His career has not terminated. He hath but passed from this, to another and more desirable province in Jehovah’s dominions, where his cultivated, affectionate, judicious, and talented understanding, is yet to be found; not in a state of lethargic ease, but in active and grateful happiness, serving with holier devotions and higher zeal, and wider usefulness, its great Creator. True it is then, that in such bereavement, “tis the survivor dies.” But he is not lost. The survivor may yet find him, and be united with him forever. In that country—
It is possible to meet him. The way thither is through the Saviour, Christ, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” [John 14:6]. Let me then, instead of eulogizing the virtues of your pastor, relative, and friend, commend to you his instructions and example. Let me beg you to reflect that it was for your sakes he left the profession he studied first, law, and assumed the office of the sacred ministry. Surely, it was not for honor’s sake that he assumed it. The path of honor lies in the legal profession; the highest secular honors might, I may say, would have been his. It was not for wealth. What then was the motive but the best good for man? And for whose good in particular, if not for yours, with whom his life was passed, and as whose pastor he died. He had found the Saviour, and, like Philip and John, he ran to seek his kindred, and to say, “I have found him of whom Moses and the prophets spake” [John 1:45]. Since there is no assignable motive which led him to the ministry but your good, does not a voice come to you from his honored grave; does not one arise out of the secret recesses of your own heart, and bid you for his sake, to seek the face of God your king?
In this day of hope, and before the opened door of mercy, I add my feeble testimony to his, and beseech you to trust in that Saviour in whom he trusted; in whom, as he said on his dying bed, he entirely confided, and in comparison with whom the world appeared mean and unworthy.
I sympathize with you, his beloved relatives and friends; I sympathize with you, his bereaved church, and tender to you in behalf of my brethren in the ministry and of the churches of this Presbytery, our and their sympathy. Had he lived and been in health, today, on the return of his family to this place, he would have stood before you, the minister of the Lord. When asked, “Know ye not that the Lord hath taken your master from your head today?” [2 Kings 2:3]. You are obliged to say, with the silence seeking grief of Elijah, “Yea, I know it, hold ye your peace” [2 Kings 2:5]. But while you exclaim with him, with grief and veneration, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof,” [2 Kings 2:12] let me beg you to remember the consolations of the Bible, that God hath there declared himself the father of the fatherless, and the widow’s God and guide, and the unslumbering Shepherd of Israel. Rise then from the affliction which hath bowed you down, unto a holier confidence in God, and say, “The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21].
Robert Means Works in Sermons, and An Essay
Sermons, and An Essay on the Pentateuch, By Robert Means, contains 35 sermons on the following texts—Gn. 22:2; Job 29:18; Lk. 12:20; Ez. 33:11; Mt. 6:33; Nu. 28:10; 1 Jn. 3:2; Is. 49:4; Mt. 6:9; Mt. 6:11; Mt. 6:11; Mt. 6:13, 2 sermons; Gal. 5:6; Mt. 5:21, 22; Lk. 24:44; 2 Pt. 1:21; 2 Tm. 3:15; 1 Cor. 10:11; Col. 2:8; Rv. 1:10; Ecl. 7:1; 1 Cor. 5:7; Jn. 19:30; Ps. 102:24-27; Ecl. 9:5, 6; Mt. 16:24; Hb. 9:13; Acts 17:32, 2 sermons; Mk. 10:13, 14, 16; Mt. 22:12, 13; Dt. 30:19; Jn. 15:5; Lk. 8:18.
Essay on the Pentateuch, pages 411-587, was originally published in a series in the Southern Christian Herald. Means’s preface in Essay on the Pentateuch notes that it was written, “Fairfield District, S.C., 1834.” Robert Means wrote Essay with reference to a controversy at South Carolina College involving Thomas Cooper as expressed in the publication, On the Connection between Geology and the Pentateuch: In a Letter to Professor Silliman, from Thomas Cooper, M.D., to Which is Added the Defence of Dr. Cooper before the Trustees of the South Carolina College, Columbia: Printed at the Times and Gazette Office, 1833; the pamphlet is available in its original form in the collection of the South Caroliniana Library of the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
Notes— The Dairyman’s Daughter and The Young Cottager are two of the multitude of Christian evangelistic and moral tracts published that were written for young people. The Dairyman’s Daughter, An Authentic Narrative, was written by Leigh Richmond of England and published in the U. S. by the prolific American Tract Society. The Young Cottager is a poem that was originally published in England and covers 38 pages in the later edition consulted, The Young Cottager, and other Stories in Rhyme, by E. P. S., London: Seeley, Jackson and Halliday, Fleet Street, 1865.  Between 1824 and 1826 there was an outbreak of “dengue” in the Caribbean, Savannah, and Charleston, and to a lesser degree affecting cities as far north as Philadelphia. Dengue is a disease carried by mosquitos. At the time, Rev. Means was pastor of First Church, Columbia, and he may have had opportunity to contract dengue or any one of a number of diseases designated in the day to be an epidemic.  The Milton quote from Paradise Lost, Book 3, has been corrected to match, “Invocation to Light,” page 407 of, Memorial Edition. The Family Library of Poetry and Song. Being Choice Selections from the Best Poets, edited by William Cullen Bryant, New York: Fords, Howard, and Hulbert, 1870, 1878, 1880.  The hymn is by Isaac Watts, first line, “Not to the terrours of the Lord,” which is Hymn 152 in, The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of the Rev. Isaac Watts, D.D.…[etc.], New Edition, edited by Samuel M. Worcester, Boston: Published by Crocker & Brewster, 1834, but either Howe has the number incorrect or he is, which is more likely, referring to another hymn book.  Ibid., Hymn 169.  Ibid., but I am not sure of the particular passage because it is modified by Howe.
Sources—The Paradise Lost, 1674, title page is Copy B, on Internet Archive. The portrait of George Howe is used courtesy of the PCA Historical Center, Wayne Sparkman, Th.M., C.A., Director, St. Louis, Missouri.