Adam Rankin was a controversial figure in his day. He authored the first book published in the state of Kentucky in 1793 entitled A Process in the Transylvania Presbytery. This work was a defense against charges brought against him by his Presbytery, which included a defense of his views on Psalmody. Apparently Rankin stirred up quite a bit of controversy concerning the use of the Psalms in worship. It seems that he believed God spoke to him in dreams, at least according to the charges against him. While we may not agree with all of the actions of Rev. Rankin, his work on Psalmody is historically significant as one of the first American defenses of exclusive Psalmody.
The following is from the Ebenezer ARP website. It should be noted that the website contains some inaccurate information on Psalmody. They also speak very critically of Rev. Rankin.
“Born: Near Greencastle, Pennsylvania, March 24, 1755
Died: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 25, 1827
“There can be no question that Mr. Rankin was ‘encompassed with infirmities,’ that he was sensitive, a little jealous, impulsive and strong of will, so that he soon put himself on the defensive, and always with his face to the foe, and he had the misfortune of living at a time when ecclesiastical things did not always run smoothly. On the other hand, it is just as certain that he was loyal to the truth and valorous in its defense, however faulty in his methods. He was of unquestioned piety, and commanded the full confidence of those among whom he lived. He possessed unusual eloquence and power in the pulpit, and often moved a whole congregation to tears.”
…from the Manual of the United Presbyterian Church in North America by William Glasgow.
The Reverend Adam Rankin was descended from pious Presbyterian ancestors, who had emigrated from Scotland. His parents steered him in the way of the ministry from his birth.
He was received as a candidate for the ministry at the Stone Meeting House in Augusta County, Virginia, in November 1781. He was enrolled at Bethel Church, May 18 1784, and about this time he married Martha, daughter of Alexander McPheeters, of Augusta County, Virginia.
In 1784 he was in Kentucky and founded the churches of Pisgah in Woodford County, and Mt. Zion which is Lexington, Kentucky’s pioneer church. It is likely that he was the first minister to settle in Lexington. He attended a conference of Presbyterians at Cane Run Church, Tuesday, July 12, 1785, and sowed the seeds of discord about Psalmody.”
Rankin’s principle opponent in the Psalmody debate was the Rev. Robert Bishop.
“At a meeting of Presbytery, May 7th, 1828, a call was presented to the Rev. Alexander Gordon. He accepted, and was installed on the 2d of July. He resigned August 3d, 1842. He was born in Montrose, Scotland, in 1789; was educated at Edinburgh University; studied theology with Professor Paxton; was licensed June 25, 1817, and sailed four weeks afterward, in company with the Rev. Peter Bullions, for this country; was ordained, August 20, 1818, and installed in Guinston, York county, Pennsylvania. He resigned this charge October 20th, 1825. After leaving Putnam he became pastor at Johnstown, where he died from an attack of cholera morbus, August 20th, 1845. He was a fair preacher, and rather a superior writer. He was of a melancholy temperament, and while at Guinston had a sunstroke,from the effects of which his nervous system never wholly recovered. He thus described the consequences: “Now, all my boldness left me, and a continual fear of losing my recollection, and of falling through my discourse, succeeded it. If I had to stand in a high pulpit, my giddiness and fear of falling into confusion increased. My distress in this way has, hundreds of times, been indescribable, and as often, upon mere human principles, insupportable. When the hour for commencing public worship was announced, it would make me quake from head to foot. I have often ascended the pulpit like one going to execution, and often could not hold up the Psalm book for trepidation; a strange face in the audience would fill me with confusion.” ”
Gordon was the author of The Design and Use of the Book of Psalms, published in 1822
In reading his biography he seems to have been a man with a troubled spirit. Coming from a difficult childhood, he describes his early years and then some of the troubles he had while a minister. This is from his biography…
“Mr. Gordon was born in Montrose, Scotland, in the year 1789. He says: “My parents and grandparents on both sides were poor. My mother, Helen Hampton, was of a weakly constitution. My father was lame— from which, at times, he suffered great pain, and was frequently unfit for labour. His earnings, which would not exceed, but often fell below fifteen shillings sterling per week, were all the means of our support, and there were eleven of us, of whom seven died in childhood Being the oldest who lived, as soon as I was capable of giving any assistance it was both needed and required. At the age of four years, I began to follow my father to his employment, which was that of a thread miller, at which I continued to labour, as I could, for eight years. My earnings, till my twentieth year, went wholly to my father; consequently I had not the means of a common education in my youth.
“But my parents and grandparents were, I trust, religious, and continued constant in the duties of their scriptural profession, which was that of the Secession church, and of the antiBurgher side. And I was carefully instructed according to it. Being immediately under my parents till I was thirteen years of age, my words and actions and company were strictly watched, which I then thought was a severe restriction. I do not recollect how early I was taught to use the Lord’s prayer. At the age of seven I could use the form of asking a blessing and returning thanks at meals for myself and brothers. No deficiency in dress, and scarcely any extremity in the weather, exempted me from attending on the public ordinances of religion. At family worship I was required to repeat some part of the chapter read. On the Sabbath evening I was required to rehearse what I could of the public discourse.
“August 18th I was ordained to the office of the ministry at Guinston. This was another solemn and express devotemen^ of myself to a witnessing profession—but which, at that time, had not a due weight on my mind. I: was already caught by the popular enthusiasm,, and wished to distinguish myself as an advocate for all those liberal measures by which I thought this happy age was triumphing over bigotry. And my conversation, preaching, and prayers were full of it. O what a fool and how inconsistent I was! But God was preparing to break the charm, and set me again free. There was no place or house belonging to the congregation, and I was, or thought I was, under the necessity of buying land and building a house. The latter was a tedious, troublesome, and very expensive business. It brought me much in debt, and greatly harassed my mind, and became a great diversion from study. It gave me occasion, many times, to know what people really are. And while I was in trouble of another sort, these matters were also in progress, and tended greatly to increase it.
“There was a minister belonging to the General Assembly in my vicinity, whom, for his talents and soundness in doctrine, I esteemed, and he in turn commended my liberal views. We met, on an occasion, for the examination of the Sabbath Schools. Mr. M., in his part of the service, was pleased to sing Dr. Watts’ compositions. I was liberal to my shame and sorrow, but not so liberal as that. But ‘the backslider in heart is filled with his own ways,’—and I now was. I felt it at the time to be God’s reproof. Although I had several times publicly inveighed against human compositions, it did not hinder the people, (my own and others,) from believing that I was, at this time, conniving at the practice, because I was co-operating with one who was opposed to strictness in profession.
“I deemed it my duty to publish my views on psalmody, which I did, in a small book entitled, ‘The Design and Use of the Book of Psalms.’ From the moment of its publication my popularity with many was ruined. Coldness and bitter opposition now occupied the place of adulation and friendship. At the time, I thought this was hard treatment, but have ‘long since viewed it as one of God’s many mercies to me, and as such I here record it. I was now made to think deeply. I saw what I had been doing, even loving the praise of men more than the praise of God, and began in earnest to retrace my steps. . . . And now that I was awake, His rebukes came heavier and faster upon me.’ ”
“Several other trials now came upon me at once. The persecuting tongue was set against me. The occasion of this seemed to be the little book I had published on the psalms. Attempts were made, first, to destroy my character and usefulness, and, when that could not be done, to destroy my credit. In the short space of six months, seven suits were brought against me for debts, some of them real, but most of them pretended. For a length of time I was kept in fear of being sold out by the sheriff. This fear at length induced me to sell out, myself, and owe no man any thing, and leave the place. Upon looking back on these thoughts, I am disposed to ascribe them chiefly to the spirit of free masonry, which I had previously attacked in a public discourse.
“My conscience, too, spoke in terrible accents to this purpose:—
‘Fools for their sin and their offence
Do sore affliction bear.’
“Among the multitude of thoughts, these came with force:—’It may be I am nothing but a hypocrite, after all my professions and preachings.’ Although suffering very unjustly at the hand of man, yet these sufferings from the hand of God are nothing to what I deserve. The world knows not the hundredth part of my vileness. I am utterly unworthy of the place I hold. The very idea that the gospel is preached by such as I, begets horror. Nobody could think so meanly of me as I did of myself. In addition to all the rest, I was continually borne down by fearful apprehensions of death.”
“Pressly, John Taylor, D. D.—Son of David Pressly, born in Abbeville Co., S. C, March 28, 1795, graduated at seventeen Transylvania University, Ky. Four years in the A. R. P. Seminary, N. Y., under the peerless Mason fitted him for license by the Second Presbytery, July 3, 1816. July 10, 1817, he was ordained and installed pastor of the large and waiting congregation of Cedar Spring, S. C, and Long Cane eleven years later, Feb. 28, 1828. Under Synod he was entrusted with the first mission West—to Tennessee. Two months in 1819 were spent, a sermon on an average, was preached each alternate day, $17.25 collected, expenses $33.40 and $7.00 per week was allowed. Synod highly approved his work and “expressed their gratitude to the head of the Church for the cheering intelligence and kind reception of the missionarv during his tour.” He was Moderator of Synod 1820, her Professor of Divinity 1825-1831, early influential and always punctual. Dr. Pressly, in connection with Dr. Isaac Grier, was a delegate to a convention of the three A. R. Presbyterian Synods in Pittsburgh, Pa., Sept. 12, 1827, with the hope of union. In the midst of his rising popularity and extended usefulness in his congregation of 172 families and 334 members this relation was dissolved Nov. n, 1831. The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Synod of the West established a Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pa., May 1825. To the sole charge of this responsible work he was unanimously elected Oct. 10, 1831, and entered upon his duties Jan. 5, 1832. During that year he accepted a call to the First A. R. P congregation of Allegheny, Pa., and removed the Seminary to his church. The title of D. D. was conferred by Jefferson in 1832, of which he was a trustee 1839-1865. He married Miss Jane Hearst of Cedar Spring, S. C., Sept. 22, 1846. Synod elected him President of Erskine College. This was declined. For over 15 years he was an honor to our Synod, facile princeps, very early in his ministry being called to her most responsible, difficult and delicate duties. His subsequent, useful and far reaching career belongs to another Church very near to us. He was the prince of the distinguished Pressly family. Dignified in person, systematic and laborious in study, able in debate, expository in preaching, a master in the classroom and oracular with his students. Psalm singing Presbyterianism never had an abler or more influential defender. His death occurred August 13, 1870.”
“In commemoration of the virtues and faithful services of their beloved pastor, the members of the congregation, among whom he had labored so long and acceptably, erected a mural tablet of white marble to the right of the pulpit, with the following appropriate memorial, inlaid with letters of gold inscribed upon a shield of black marble: [see above]: This testimonial of loving and grateful hearts was unveiled on the occasion of the semi-centennial anniversary of the church, held Nov. 8, 1881.”
“The personal appearance of Dr. Pressly was strikingly impressive. Six feet in height, with clear-cut, strong, sensitive and refined features, iron gray hair and keen dark eyes, he looked at once the clergyman and patrician. He was a fine horseman, and when mounted suggested a resemblance to his cavalier ancestors. In manner he may have seemed to some somewhat austere, as he never lost the dignity of his profession or the demeanor of a cultured, Christian gentleman, but no one could be near him and not teel that he had a great, loving heart. In character, in life, and in all the work of his life, he was a good man.”
James Latta was a defender of the Imitations of Dr. Watts, and an opponent to the exclusive use of the Psalms in worship.
“James Latta was born in Ireland in 1732, the son of Rev. James Latta and his wife Mary Alison. He came to America at an early age with his parents, who settled near Elkton, Maryland. After his mother’s brother, Rev. Francis Alison, opened an Academy near New London, Delaware, young Latta became a student at his uncle’s school. He and classmate Hugh Williamson would have the distinction of being members of the first graduating class of both Rev. Alison’s Academy (which would evolve into the University of Delaware) and the College of Philadelphia.
Latta and Williamson entered the College of Philadelphia in 1754, graduating with the Class of 1757. From 1755-1759, the younger James Latta was a Latin tutor in the Academy, both as an undergraduate and while studying theology with Dr. Francis Alison.
In 1758, Latta was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Philadelphia, and in the following year was ordained and appointed to the destitute settlements of Virginia and Carolina. In 1761, he became pastor of a church at DeepRun, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he was stationed until 1770. In that year, Latta resigned in order to assume the charge of Chestnut Level, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which he retained until his death in 1801. Latta was the Third Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America and the author of A Discourse of Psalmody (1794) [a work in favor of the Imitations of Dr. Watts and against exclusive Psalmody] and other various published writings.
During the American Revolution Latta served as a private and a chaplain in the Pennsylvania Militia. He was married to Mary McCalla. He died at Chestnut Level, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1801. In 1940, his original diploma was presented to the University in commemoration of its bicentennial by James Latta, a direct descendant.”
A.B. Diploma Awarded to James Latta in 1757, one of the first diplomas awarded by the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) and therefore one of the first diplomas awarded by the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences