Who Despises the Day of Small Things?
Robert P. Harting, Jr.
Potter and Evans were the starters for the 1932 championship game of the "Little Nineteen" intercollegiate league in which Wheaton College competed. Evansa future member of the Hall of Fame at Wheatonwas the natural choice to wrap up the series that year. He went up against Nelson Potter, who went on to pitch for the St. Louis Browns. While Potter made it to the major leagues, Wheaton won that day behind the consistent hurling of Clarke Evans.
Francis Clarke Evans was born on December 1, 1908, in South Philadelphia. Since Clarke's father died when his son was just a few months old, he was raised by his uncle, who welcomed his widowed sister and niece and nephew into his home. A respected Philadelphia physician, Clarke's uncle also served as an elder at Grace Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, a congregation in which the Rev. Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse ministered for a time as well. It would be another Grace Presbyterian Church at which the Rev. F. Clarke Evansreflecting on his twenty years of ministry in that small Orthodox Presbyterian congregation in Middletown, Delaware, would ponder with the prophet Zechariah, "Who despises the day of small things?"
The early life of young Clarke Evans could have been characterized as a day of small beginnings. But his uncleturnedfather determined by God's grace that things would be otherwise. The good doctor took time from his medical practice to coach the Grace Midgets basketball team, making sure that his nephew made the squad. The Grace Midgets won the Philadelphia City Church Championship two years running. Even in athletics, Clarke was not one to despise the day of small things. Following his years with the Midgets, he went on to play for Philadelphia Central and even the University of Pennsylvania freshman team, which would lead to varsity basketball at Wheaton. The doctor saw to it that sports played an important role in his young nephew's life. The opportunity to witness the feats of Babe Ruth and Jimmy Foxx did not hurt, either. Clarke even nurtured a quiet ambition to follow Potter into the majors.
At the same time as he was developing his athletic skills, Clarke Evans was being nurtured in the historic Christian faith, both at church and at home. On the advice of Dr. Barnhouse, he entered Pennsylvania Bible School, which is now Philadelphia College of the Bible. He eventually completed his course of undergraduate study at Wheaton College. His ambition to pursue a career in sports appeared minor in comparison to a growing devotion to study and to instructing others in the Word of God. Whether as a student or a teacher, Clarke Evans was not one to despise the day of small things. His attention was focused on the simple truths of the Scriptures.
Mr. Evans may have been influenced by Barnhouse's striking illustrations, such as "Nothing But Rice":
A native preacher in South China was confronted by a man in his audience. "Why don't you preach something else?" he said. "You have been preaching this Jesus for three days." "What do you eat for breakfast?" the Chinese preacher answered. "Rice" was the reply. "For dinner?" "Rice." "For supper?" "Rice." "What have you been eating for years?" "Rice." "Why do you eat rice every day? Why don't you eat something else?" "Because it keeps me alive." said the man. The evangelist replied, "That is the reason we preach Christ, nothing but Christ. He brings us life and He is our life and we could not live without Him" (Donald Grey Barnhouse, Bible Truth Illustrated, p. 211).
Clarke Evans attended Westminster Theological Seminary with such fellow students as Egbert Andrews, Robert Atwell, Richard Gaffin, and Edward Young. His ministerial training was shaped by a band of scholars who were overshadowed by Dr. J. Gresham Machen. Mr. Evans's unswerving faith was confirmed by his professor's insights into the dimensions of faith itself. In his book What is Faith? Machen challenges his readers:
The more we know of God, the more unreservedly we trust Him; the greater be our progress in theology, the simpler and more childlike will be our faith. (P. 96)
Machen's dedication to plainly explaining the profound truths of the Word of God would ground the preaching and teaching ministry of the Rev. F. Clarke Evans. Machen also wrote:
The "doctrinal" preaching of a former generation was far more practical that the "practical" preaching of the present day. I shall never forget the pastor of the church in which I grew up. He was a good preacher in many ways, but his most marked characteristic was the plainness and definiteness with which he told the people what man should do to be saved (Machen, What Is Faith? p. 43).
The preaching that influenced Machen would have an impact on a generation of men who sat under him, men like F. Clarke Evans.
According to his seminary roommate and future brotherinlaw, the Rev. Culver Gordon, it was tough for graduates of Westminster Seminary to find a church in those troubled times. For one man who entered the ministry of a congregation that would eventually become part of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, survival for himself and his wife during those early days meant a diet of potatoes for breakfast, potatoes for lunch, and potatoes for dinner.
Clarke Evans received a call to pastor the First Presbyterian Church USA of Bandon, Oregon, and he was ordained there on May 20, 1936. That ministry was abruptly brought to a halt when the entire town of Bandon burned down the following year. Mr. Evans then found an opportunity to minister in the Presbyterian Church of Canada, serving churches in Pictou and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. While ministering in Nova Scotia, he met and married Mary MacLeod. From that union came two children, Anne and Tom.
In 1954, Mr. Evans and his family were called to Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Middletown, Delaware. It would be in Middletown that he would put down roots and minister for twenty years.
His ministry at Grace OPC was characterized by an ability to make the deepest truths of Scripture simple and interesting enough so that anyone could understand them. This preacher and teacher was not one who despised the day of small things. Other pastors who have sat under his teaching have offered similar comments. He had a keen ability to return to the same point again and again, circling the thought and looking at it from one perspective and then another. The listener would go away with that one point embedded deep within his mind and soul.
Instruction aimed even at the adult congregation could be based simply on the Catechism for Young Children. One Sunday school class would be devoted to pointing out the personal nature of the Twentythird Psalm, simply on the basis of the number of times the psalmist makes use of the firstperson personal pronoun.
In another class, Mr. Evans illustrated Romans 8:28 with table salt. Two elements, which can be dangerous in isolation (sodium and chlorine), combine to form sodium chloride, or salt. Thus they work together to provide innumerable benefits. This simple example was employed to drive home the point that "all things work together for good to them that love God and that are called according to his purpose."
In 1986, on the fiftieth anniversary of Mr. Evans's ordination, he reflected on the faithfulness of God's people who had supported the little congregation in Middletown. He mentioned the commitment of elders such as Weldon Burge, Robert George, and Howard Wiley, who served faithfully year after year.
He also reflected on the faithful attendance of one family of seven children that was actively involved at Grace Church. While the mother did not agree with every teaching of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, she made sure that the family was present at church Sunday after Sunday because she could be confident that the Word of God would be plainly taught each week. It was Clarke Evans's ability to work with such families that has enabled an Orthodox Presbyterian ministry to continue for more than sixty years now. It is that same ability of many Orthodox Presbyterian ministers to work with others who have a similar basic commitment to the Word of God and the gospel that the Lord has used to enable the OPC to maintain a faithful witness in this century.
Here was a ministry in which private life was fully integrated into public life. Mr. Evans clung to a sincere and deep commitment to spiritual things in contrast to temporal things. The latter were put aside for the greater good. As Machen challenged his prospective pastors:
"Remember this at leastthe things in which the world is now interested are the things that are seen, but the things that are seen are temporal and the things that are not seen are eternal. You, as ministers of Christ, are called to deal with the unseen things. You are stewards of the mysteries of God. You alone can lead men, by the proclamation of God's Word, out of the crash and jazz and noise and rattle and smoke of this weary age into the green pastures and beside the still waters; you alone, as ministers of reconciliation, can give what the world with all its boasting and pride can never givethe infinite sweetness of the communion of the redeemed soul with the living God" (quoted by Henry W. Coray in J. Gresham Machen, A Silhouette, p. 63).
Mr. Harting is the pastor of Grace OPC in Middletown, Del. Reprinted from New Horizons, February 1999.