Is It a Waste of Time for Christians to Study Nature?

In a previous post I have introduced James H. Linsley as a Baptist naturalist.

Some Christians, in their desire to uphold a “spiritual” outlook, have denigrated the study of nature and contended that it is a waste of time “since it is all going to pass away anyway.” Linsley strongly disagreed with this perspective. He not only vigorously argued against it, but went beyond it to contend that his occupation with the study of nature was also a blessing to him in a time of ill health.

In a letter to his mother, he responds to this line of reasoning. It seems he is just answering a hypothetical objection, and not addressing an actual observation on her part. He says:

“Perhaps you imagine that natural history is hardly spiritual enough  for a man who stands so much of his time with one foot in the grave, as I do, to . spend so much time in study upon it, and discussing it in the public papers. But the more we look at the works of God, the more we may admire His  goodness in providing such an abundance of sustenance and even luxuries for man; and also in making provision to supply the mouth of every living thing. Nothing on which God has spent time to fashion and make, ought to, be beneath our notice to look at, and regard, as displaying the wisdom of the Contriver, both to make, to feed, and continue from generation to generation. O this is a wonderful world, my dear mother, and it is astonishing how little most of the human family know of it. How much intellectual enjoyment they lose by ignorance, —how little advanced beyond the brutes, in point of mental culture, and literary acquirements. I have not a doubt but that this occupation of mind has, through the goodness of God, prolonged my days. Had I coiled up in my shell, and pored over my sufferings from coughs and asthmas and a multitude of bodily infirmities, I should long since have sunk into the grave.”

Source: The Memoirs of James H. Linsley.

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James H. Linsley (1787-1844): Baptist Naturalist

When the 19th century Connecticut Baptist minister James H. Linsley’s health no longer allowed him to preach, he turned his attention to studying nature. In fact, he became one of the most prominent names in the study of the birds reptiles, mammals, and shell animals of Connecticut, discovering many new ones.

Linsley’s contributions to Connecticut zoology were “great and unprecedented” and he “ascertained more species of bird in Connecticut than [the reputed father of American ornithology, Alexander] Wilson found in the United States; more of Mammalia than has been found elsewhere in New England; and of Shells more than double the number supposed to be resident here.” His findings were published in The American Journal of Science And Arts.

Linsley published the first catalogue of fishes in Connecticut and the first definitive list of birds in the state. He discovered the presence of the Least shrew (Cryptotis parva) in Connecticut in 1840, and nobody would see another one for 100 years. He also saw the first red-bellied woodpecker in Connecticut in 1842.

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James H. Linsley And Revival At Yale

In the early 1800s, Yale College produced an “usually large amount” of ministers. This was at least partly due to three revivals that occurred during 1808-1815. The last of these, which was the last revival to occur during Timothy Dwight’s term as president of the college (Dwight was grandson of Jonathan Edwards), occurred in 1815. S. Dryden Phelps’ father in law James Harvey Linsley (1787-1844) had participated in this revival.

One professor recalls the revivals commencement by saying that “prayers were at length answered and a revival of great power commenced…Its immediate cause was the reading at Sabbath evening prayers of an account of the death of Sir Francis Newport…[which produced] a kind of electric power on the whole body of students. Nearly every individual in the college became anxious for the salvation of his soul; and those who had been most
thoughtless seemed to be most affected.”

According to that same professor, some 80 students professed to have been converted during  that year.  Linsley, a student at Yale at the time, was kept very busy during the revival. His daughter called it a “glorious outpouring of the Holy Spirit.” Before the revival occurred, Linsley along with some other classmates woke up at an early hour, before the official time of prayer, in order to pray for “impenitent students.”

The event deeply impressed Linsley. In a letter he wrote to  his sister at the time, he said: “my emotions are unutterable…such an outpouring of the Spirit of God, never did I witness before… The Lord is here indeed.” In the same later he recalls how he barely had time to study because classmates were coming to his room one after the other and saying “O I am a poor sinner Linsley; do pray for me; what shall I do?”

A review of the letter gives that impression that Linsley is grasping at words sufficient to describe what happened. “The Lord  has shaken these colleges to their centre in a spiritual sense.”

Sadly, as was a common theme in his life, the hectic pace of his energy caused Linsley’s body to give in. The revival took a serious toll on his frail health and he once again had a violent attack of hemmorrhage in his lungs and almost died.

1. Memoir of the Rev. James H. Linsley

2. Robert Buckingham Mouheb, Yale Under God.

3. Thomas H. Kiker, The relationship between Samuel J. Mills Jr. and the influence of the Second Great Awakening on missions and evangelism

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Books Finished In May

(3 paper books, 1 ebook, 3 audio books)

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James H. Linsley’s Baptism

In January/February 1811, James Harvey Linsley (1787-1844) of Connecticut, who would later become the father-in-law of S. Dryden Phelps, became convinced that he needed to be baptized. At that time he also came to see baptism as only properly administered when done by immersion. He observed in his journal that “it requires some self-denial, situated as I am in the family of a Congregational minister.”

On February 17th, Linsley observed a baptism of eleven converts and was convicted by what he saw and heard preached. He felt “much condemned that [he] had not joined them.” On April 12, 1811, he was baptized at the age of 23. It was a fast day in North Haven. The pastor of the Baptist Church in North Haven, Joshua Bradley (1773-1855), had the sermon with Matthew 5:45 as the text.

After the sermon, James was asked to deliver his testimony. Eight other candidates were baptized with him “at the river side” on a “very cold blustering day” which featured occasional snow. In his journal, Linsley noted that his “soul was in exstacy of love and gratitude to that blessed Jesus, who set me an example in this ordinance, and has given a promise that He will be with His children even unto the end of the world.” To him it was “the happiest day [he] ever saw.”

Almost immediately, James would be impressed with a desire to preach the gospel and within a week or two after his baptism, he became a student at the Wallingford Academy.


  • Memoir of the Rev. James H. Linsley, 38-39, 42-43.
  • “Joshua Bradley” in William Buell Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit (1860), 6:400.
  • “James  Harvey Linsley” in William Buell Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit (1860), 6:795-801.

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Thoughts for Keach’s Warrior Children: Confessionalism

Today, The Decablog has featured my previous blog post, Thoughts for Keach’s Warrior Children: Confessionalism.

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James Harvey Linsley’s Reading

James Harvey Linsley (1787-1843) was a Connecticut Baptist pastor and, after having to step down from the ministry due to health reasons, a prominent naturalist. He is also the father-in-law of S. Dryden Phelps, whom I’ve written about before.

In November 1837, he wrote to his mother from Stratford, Connecticut. He mentions giving her a Jonathan Edwards book and also reading a Richard Baxter book. He said “I give Bro. J. ‘Edwards on the Affections,’ and I hope some of these long winter evenings may be occupied by hearing it read aloud around the family fireside, where you and your children may many of htem surround it. It is a searching and interesting work. I wish it could be read in every family in the nation, that can understand the language and spiritual distinctions. I have recently read ‘[Richard] Baxter’s Dying Thoughts,’ but have no room to speak of them. They are excellent.” Memoir of the Rev. James H. Linsley (Hartford: Robins and Smith, 1845), 151.

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Books Finished in April

(2 paper books, 6 ebooks, 2 audio books)

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