Life of the Rev. James Renwick Jackson, Presbyterian Minister in Pennsylvania (1905-1953)

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This book tells the story of Rev. James Renwick Jackson (1905–1953), who rose from humble beginnings in Philadelphia to become one of the leading Presbyterian ministers in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. Though his life was cut short by cancer, Rev. Jackson inspired thousands of members of three churches in Philadelphia, Tyrone and Erie, PA. Rev. Jackson rebuilt the First Presbyterian Church of Erie after a devastating fire in 1944, and even after he had fallen ill, he was determined to comfort and serve members of his congregation.

Rev. Jackson is also part of a remarkable family. Three of his brothers became Presbyterian ministers, and nine members of the next generation entered the ministry. Rev. Jackson’s brothers and children appear throughout the narrative of his life, and an epilogue summarizes the work of the family since his death. Four of Rev. Jackson’s sermons are also included in this book. Written by his daughter and drawing on rare primary documents, this book is not only an inspirational biography, it also contains a great deal of practical advice on about building a ministry.


“In a time tinctured with uncertainty, disillusionment, and scandal, we need stories that speak to us of devotion, character, and fulfillment. Agnes Jackson Wilson writes for us a winsome and compelling account of her father’s life and ministry … Agnes Wilson captures the glow of her father’s passion to live up to the saintly name of James Renwick, a Scottish martyr, given to him by his Covenanter parents in West Philadelphia … In these pages, you will meet a man of bold convictions, explosive personality, and vibrant family love. There was neither ambiguity nor vagueness in Dr. Jackson’s commitment and understanding of the Christian faith or the place of Scriptures. Like the apostle Paul, he could say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 16:1). His length of ministry was all too brief, but what it lacked in length, it made up in intensity. He brought uncommon energy and emphatic single-mindedness to the faith in which he was reared, whether he was in the pulpit, in large gatherings, or in intimate encounters. His voice was like a trumpet blast, rich in conviction, clear in meaning, and boundless in courage. He drew upon for himself and commended to others what Yeats said, “keep in your minds some images of magnificence, keep in your hearts some desires that can live in Paradise.” … In this volume, you will encounter a figure of forceful personality. A newspaper in Erie, Pennsylvania affectionately referred to him as “Fireball” Jackson. All three of the churches he served—Philadelphia, Tyrone, and Erie—experienced during his leadership new life, fresh energy, and dynamic change … Read this book and you will be renewed in faith. Read this book expectantly, and you will bring more to life. Read this book prayerfully, and you will discover you too have a ministry to fulfill.” – (From the Commendatory Preface) J. Calvin K. Jackson, PhD

"Agnes Wilson has written an inspiring memoir about her father. As he sought to cope with a premature death at age 48, James Renwick Jackson asked God to give him fifteen more years of life as Hezekiah, king of Israel (728-693 B.C.) had done. Since Hezekiah's prayer was granted, and his was apparently denied, he questioned his faith and whether God was trustworthy. For some persons, his doubts reveal a weakness of faith. To many others, his doubts reveal an authentic humanity, a fundamental honesty, that enhances our admiration of him. Agnes Wilson's book has answered her father's prayer. By including his sermons, especially the one about the ministry of pain, she has enabled her father's ministry to continue, and expand, not just for fifteen years, but for many more. The memoir also portrays an ideal relationship between a father and a daughter. As a seasoned woman Agnes Wilson continues to manifest the delight of a little girl, innocent with joy, who runs to hug her dad when he came home from work. Her love and uncomplicated admiration for her father flowed as a pure mountain stream which never confronted the rough periods of disaffection which almost all parent-child relationships experience. There are many other lessons -- difficult challenges can be overcome, a loving marriage and family offer one of the best experiences in life, work is joy when it expresses one's deepest calling, extended family vacations give time for members to bond and grow, a literary son can resurrect a mother's narrative, and a memoir can significantly magnify a person's life and influence. This is a wonderful book which will remind readers of some valuable old-fashioned virtues which need to be rediscovered and will lift every heart." -- James Renwick Jackson, Jr., PhD

Table of Contents

Preface by J. Calvin K. Jackson, PhD
Foreword by the Rev. Dr. Ellsworth Erskine Jackson, Jr.
I. A Goodly Heritage
II. “I Would Rather Preach than Eat”
III. The Second Charge
IV. From Ashes to Glory
V. Avalon, New Jersey
VI. The Preacher at Home
VII. The Prayer of Faith
VIII. Ministering in Difficulty
IX. Bryn Mawr and Johns Hopkins Hospitals
X. So Great a Faith
XI. “I’m Going Home”
Sermons of the Rev. James Renwick Jackson
The Meaning of Christmas
The Ministry of Pain
The Challenge of the Ministry
Angels of God
Epilogue by John Howard Wilson, Jr.

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