Excerpt from "First Things" Vol. LXVII No. 12, March 19, 2017
Each year for the past five First Presbyterian Church has joined with Erskine Theological Seminary in hosting lectures to honor the memory of John Lafayette Girardeau and to exhort the church of Jesus Christ toward the faith which he preached. He was one of the ablest theologians among the Presbyterians in the southern states, and was regarded by many as its finest preacher, “The Spurgeon of the South” as he was called. One man who heard Spurgeon some six or eight times, declared after hearing Girardeau just once, “It has never fallen to my lot to hear a more absorbing, spiritual, eloquent and moving sermon” (the Rev. J. M. Buckley, editor of the New York Christian Advocate; quoted by Dr. John B. Mack in George A. Blackburn, ed., The Life Work of John L. Girardeau, D.D., LL.D., p. 57).
For his many gifts and abilities in service and love to Christ, Girardeau is worthy of our remembrance and imitation. But he is chiefly remembered in these lectures for his devotion to the work of the gospel among the African American population of antebellum and postbellum South Carolina. Born on James Island in 1825, he grew up in the plantation economy of those times, and from his mother seems to have inherited a deep love and compassion for the slave population. Converted during his teenage years in Charleston, he accepted a call in 1854 to become the pastor of a mission church in Charleston to the slaves and free blacks of that city. It grew from just 36 members at its founding to over 600 members before the war, with over 1500 regularly attending.
Girardeau had declared while a seminary student here in Columbia that he only refrained from going on a foreign mission because he felt it to be his duty to preach (which he could do in Gullah) to the mass of slaves on the seaboard of South Carolina. Thus, was his life devoted to what he called in one sermon, “The Glorious Gospel of the Blessed God,” which he preached in our sanctuary in 1860, at the installation of the Revs. F. P. Mullaly and J. H. Thornwell as co-pastors of First Presbyterian Church. It is with thanksgiving to God for Girardeau’s life and labors that we honor him in these lectures.
This page last updated April 12, 2018.