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The life of Henry Jackson Van Dyke, Sr. tells more than the story of one individual. He was noted in the first part of his ministry as a conservative advocate of denominational particulars, a fierce opponent of abolitionism, and a loyal friend of the South. Late in his career, Van Dyke worked for a broad church where theological tolerance would reign. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Van Dyke began his clerical career as pastor of the New School Second Church in Bridgeton, New Jersey, formed by dissidents from the Old School First Church. In time he decided he was an Old School pastor after all and moved on to an Old School ministry at the First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York, where he served the balance of his long career. Van Dyke‘s conservative views put him in opposition to the Second Great Awakening of religious revivalism sweeping the U.S. at the time. These spiritual and political awakenings, which ultimately led to the abolitionist and suffragist movements, attempted to wring social change from scripture. In contrast, Van Dyke believed with all his heart - and for most of his life - that social change was not the mission of the church.
The Lectures and Sermons collection reflects the extent to which Van Dyke‘s beliefs changed (in some cases greatly, in others not at all) during the course of his ministry. Perhaps his most famous sermon, delivered in 1860, excoriated abolitionism as “the chief cause of...the danger that threatens our country.” Muted for most of the Civil War, he nonetheless published a pamphlet in 1864 taking vigorous exception to the Emancipation Proclamation. Following the war, the American Presbyterian Church began a process of reconciliation - Old and New School, North and South. As a conservative with ties to Southern churches, Van Dyke played an important role in mediating the Presbyterian General Assembly dispute of the 1870s. By the end of his life, he was able to declare, “If we cannot have liberty and orthodoxy, let us have liberty and go without orthodoxy.” In Moorhead‘s words, he had become the “conservative apostle of a broad church.” All the sermons and lectures in the ProQuest collection have been microfilmed from Van Dyke‘s handwritten originals, including both outlines and complete texts. Together they help historical researchers trace the evolution of American Protestant thought during a century marked by disputes over the very concept of polity, both doctrinal and political.