As explained in chapter ten, significant opposition arose against the boards of the Presbyterian church, at least in part due to their supposed “unpresbyterian” structure. One of the effects of the criticisms of the boards was the development of the principle of systematic benevolence. Church finance evolved rapidly from 1800-1850. During the colonial era most ministers were paid through voluntary subscriptions, although the system of pew rents developed in urban areas. The subscription plan remained in vogue in rural areas throughout the 1850s. The modern system of weekly offerings for the church’s general fund simply did not exist. The development of a plan of systematic benevolence grew out of attempts to fund the benevolent operations of the church (and of voluntary organizations). Rather than rely upon the sporadic visits of agents, the church boards began to establish an annual offering for their purposes. On the designated Sunday, each pastor was to preach a special sermon on the subject, and then take an offering. By the early 1840s sporadic attempts toward annual or quarterly offerings had begun,[1] and with the spread of systematic benevolence in the 1850s, the boards stopped utilizing paid agents.[2]

            Gradually, the boards began to realize that the more frequently that offerings were held, the more money they received. By 1863, Old School Presbyterians had begun to reintroduce the principle of tithing to endorse systematic giving (although they emphatically refused to say that tithing was required, due to an ancient hatred for the required tithes connected with established churches in Europe).[3] But the success of tithing in the missions movement resulted in considerable interest among many. It even prompted one Old School Presbyterian to admire the financial and religious power of Mormonism in 1869, as he commented on their requirement of both regular tithing and missionary efforts: “Mormonism deserves far more than it has done to receive the consideration of thinking men; and the reasons for its strange success should be seriously weighed by those who would endeavor to give greater effectiveness to Christianity.”[4]

            The method of disbursing funds also came under fire. In 1853, the church debated whether the Board of Domestic Missions should simply fund new works, or–as it had in the past–function as a sustentation agency that helped “feeble” churches to pay their pastor. The Board established a policy of decreasing aid each year in order to wean the church off denominational support. Jonathan Edwards (NATS 1845), pastor of Fort Wayne, Indiana, objected that the Board did not have the authority to reduce payments. David Waller (PTS 1837), pastor of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania (in Northumberland Presbytery) concurred. The Board should fund both mission works and feeble churches according to the direction of the presbytery.

Dr. Magie, R. J. McDowell, Mr. Dickson, and Mr. Cunningham defended the Board’s policy, arguing that it was wrong for a church to remain on the roll of the Board for twenty years, because the Board was supposed to help new churches. Likewise,

Mr Baird of Arkansas said it had been his lot, some ten years ago, to fall under the operation of a rule of the Board which had the same tendency with that now complained of. He was then labouring in a church of a hundred years old, and in which there was no prospect that a ministry could ever be sustained. . . . and now he occupied a position in Arkansas, where, in a region of 100 by 250 miles, he was the sole Presbyterian minister, or minister of any kind, such as this Assembly would aid or sustain. . . . surely it was better that instead of wasting her means on these old, worn-out, hopeless spots, she should go forth where her energies might be applied with so much more effect for Christ’s cause and God’s glory. True, if we had funds for both, then both ought to be accomplished. . . . In his own case, he thought retrenchment a very hard policy, but he now rejoiced over its effects on him, and on many beside.[5]


Edwards replied that in this case the Board had “disregarded the wishes of the Presbyteries, and if they continued the course they had begun, the churches all over his portion of country would become alienated; the course had already sent great distress into many families.”[6]

            The secretary of the Board, Charles Colcock Jones said that he appreciated the candour of the discussion, and applauded the careful scrutiny of the Board. Agreeing that the Board was only a committee of the Assembly, Jones argued that limited resources demanded that they inquire as to whether the old and feeble congregations could be made self-supporting. The policy of gradual reduction to these churches had been utilized in the hope that they will be able to wean themselves from denominational support. In the end, the Assembly sided with the Board.

            Charles Hodge commented that while he agreed that the Board must determine how much can be given to each presbytery, he insisted that the presbytery should decide which churches and missions need the money. “For the Board to say, we cannot aid a church, because we have not the money, is one thing. But to say, we will not aid it, because we think it ought to sustain itself, is a very different thing.”[7] Defending the importance of giving denominational aid to poor churches, regardless of how long, Hodge argued that every minister deserves compensation for his work–regardless of whether the congregation can pay the full sum or not. Justice demands that the church supply the needs of those who preach in poorer areas. “And finally and especially is it unwise for Presbyterians to confine their preaching to a certain class of the people. The determination that every Presbyterian church shall sustain itself, is a determination that we will preach the gospel only to the rich, or, at most, to those who are able to pay for it. Woe betide us, whenever any such determination shall receive the deliberate sanction of our Church.”[8] The poor are already excluded from our churches and we do not see how this cannot but get worse if this novel principle is adopted.

            Figure A6.1 provides an overview of the financial contributions of the various synods of the Old School, with regional summaries from 1836-1868. The northeast was the most wealthy region in the Old School, but was not nearly as dominant as it was in either the pre-1837 Presbyterian church, or in the reunited northern Presbyterian church after 1870 (In 1871, the northeast provided around 60% of the funds for the boards).


Giving to the Boards of the Church by Region, 1836-1869

Synod                      1836                        1840                        1850                        1860        1868 (north)/1869 (south)

Albany                     $8,953                     $6,913                     $5,913                     $17,814                   $22,360

Buffalo                     ($48,100–NS)                                          $1,976                     $33,496                   $6,600

New York                $24,581                   $21,813                   $35,589                   $126,365                 $191,294

NY/NE                     $81,634                   $28,726                   $43,478                   $177,675                 $220,254

New Jersey               $14,880                   $8,723                     $12,043                   $31,019                   $281,408

Philadelphia             $19,574                   $39,594                   $26,908                   $59,994                   $101,063

Baltimore                 ($6,199–NS)                                                                            $25,574                   $43,340

Mid-Atlantic            $40,653                   $48,317                   $38,951                   $116,587                 $425,811

Northeast                               $122,287                 $77,043                   $82,429                   $294,262                 $646,065

Pittsburgh                                $17,135                   $21,514                   $16,345                   $16,747                   $47,205

Allegheny                                                                                                                                $7,974                     $20,030

Wheeling                                                                                 $9,522                     $9,946                     $19,671

Ohio                        $4,228                     $2,922                     $3,970                     $6,948                     $13,651

Sandusky                  ($6,187–NS)                                                                                                            $2,446

Old Northwest          $27,550                   $24,436                   $29,837                   $41,615                   $103,003

Cincinnati                                $4,653                     $13,793                   $7,992                     $15,224                   $41,036

Indiana                     $2,259                     $4,112                     $17,471                   $4,324                     $10,199

Northern Indiana                                                                     $1,393                     $3,323                     $9,096

Illinois                     $935                        $475                        $1,836                     $13,552                   $15,075

Chicago                                                                                                                    $2,244                     $13,960

Wisconsin                                                                                                                                $1,445                     $4,059

St. Paul                                                                                                                                                    $3,287

Iowa                                                                                                                         $1,365                     $5,597

Southern Iowa                                                                                                          $548                        $3,862

New Northwest        $7,847                     $18,370                   $28,692                   $42,025                   $106,171

Northwest              $35,397                   $42,806                   $58,529                   $83,640                   $209,174

Upper Missouri                                                                                                                                        $1,808

Missouri                   $0                            $64                          $2,093                     $43,563                   $15,523

Kansas                                                                                                                                                     $481

Kentucky                 $7,829                     $10,700                   $13,239                   $54,481                   $19,287

Upper SW                                $7,829                     $10,764                   $15,332                   $99,852                   $35,291   PCUS

Nashville                  $4,043                     $5,336                     $2,630                     $9,652                     $1,019     $9,425

Memphis                                                                                  $2,555                     $7,877                                     $4,818

Mississippi               $23,005                   $10,732                   $6,584                     $58,784                                   $8,356

Arkansas                                                                                                                  $2,401                                     $2,743

Texas                                                                                                                       $2,384                                     $3,150

Lower SW                $27,058                   $16,068                   $11,769                   $81,098                   $1,019     $28,492

Southwest              $34,883                   $26,832                   $27,101                   $180,950                 $36,310   $28,492

Virginia                    $13,593                   $12,705                   $8,573                     $34,132                                   $28,836

North Carolina         $7,431                     $4,354                     $3,438                     $18,104                                   $10,522

Upper South             $21,024                   $17,059                   $12,011                   $52,236                   $0            $39,358

South Carolina         $7,030                     $4,657                     $5,002                     $17,316                                   $9,149

Georgia                                                    $3,585                     $4,348                     $12,728                                   $7,865

Alabama                   $1,212                     $4,283                     $3,146                     $16,013                                   $7,283

Deep South              $8,242                     $12,525                   $12,496                   $46,057                   $0            $24,297

South                      $29,266                   $29,584                   $24,507                   $98,293                   $0            $63,655

California/Pacific                                     $0                            ($229–Syn NY)       $2,152                     $8,119

Far West                                $0                            $0                            $0                            $2,152                     $8,119

Synod of Northern India                                                          $84                          0                              did not report


Total $ for Boards $221,833                   $176,265                 $192,650                 $657,412                 $903,106 $98,562

Total $ (including congregational)           NA                           (1851--$1.5 mil)      $3,175,304              $4,289,595 $774,400

Total Communicants: 248,526                                161,800                   213,600                   298,800                   252,555   79,961

Total Churches:       2,882                       1,863                       2,605                       3,592                       2,737       1,460

Total Ministers:       2,117                       1,221                       1,931                       2,692                       2,330       857

(Totals vary from the Minutes due to my including estimates from non-reporting congregations and presbyteries).

[1]The Presbyterian church in Sidney, Ohio, was one of the first to institute quarterly offerings. Presbyterian of the West 2.2 (September 22, 1842). By 1848, the General Assembly was suggesting a monthly concert of prayer for foreign missions, with a special offering each month. Minutes (1848) 27.

[2]JCB [John C. Backus], “Systematic Benevolence,” Presbyterian Magazine 1.2 (February, 1851); “Plans for Systematic Benevolence,” Home and Foreign Record 1.12 (December, 1850); by 1854, all of the boards were agent-free. Home and Foreign Record 5.7 (July, 1854) 193-194.

[3]Synod of St. Paul, “Report on Systematic Beneficence,” Home and Foreign Record 14.1 (January, 1863) 6-7.

[4]Home and Foreign Record 20.10 (October, 1869) 232. The previous year another article had pointed out that Old School Presbyterians regularly gave an average of $4.24 per communicant member for the ordinary benevolent work of the church, contrasted with $0.82 raised by the Methodists. Home and Foreign Record 19.2 (February, 1868) 45.

[5]Charles Hodge, “The General Assembly” BRPR 25.3 (July, 1853) 484-485.

[6]Charles Hodge, “The General Assembly” BRPR 25.3 (July, 1853) 487.

[7]Charles Hodge, “The General Assembly” BRPR 25.3 (July, 1853) 497.

[8]Charles Hodge, “The General Assembly” BRPR 25.3 (July, 1853) 501. Hodge regularly endorsed a sustentation plan similar to that of the Free Church of Scotland which ensured that all ministers would be paid a certain minimum salary. See Hodge, “Sustentation Fund,” BRPR 38.1 (January, 1866).