When I went to a Cincinnati pastorate during the first World War, Dr. Jesse Halsey was in Russia under the aegis of the Y.M.C.A.; but his name came up more frequently than that of any other minister in the town. Newcomer that I was, I found it impossible to believe that any one man could do all the things that people said this man did—preach, visit those sick or in prison, use the printing press, do plumbing, paint houses, repair pipe organs, cook, etc.
One day, as I looked out of my study window, I saw a man approaching, carrying a collection of beautiful Arctic furs. It was Jesse Halsey, just returned from the Murmansk coast where he had, for a season, represented both the United States and Britain, and where the British admiral had been sufficiently familiar with him to roar and swear at him affectionately.
One did not need to be in his company long to discover that he possessed unusual qualities. He knew and loved books, and The Book. He needed not that any should testify of men, for he knew was in man. He knew how to do almost everything that anybody does with his hands, and he was always doing something with those hands for anyone in sickness or distress.
He had an incorrigible faith in people. Like his Lord, he believed that one who was lost was only lost, and that he might be found and saved. He knew how much the humble and the poor needed encouragement and friendly help. He knew also how much the successful but spiritually destitute likewise need help.
God gave him an amazing stock of good Long Island common sense, plus an abundance of the wisdom that cometh down from above. His counsel, therefore, was sought by all.
He labored more than other men, and he loved more than they did. He was tireless in his exertions—others he was forever sparing, never did he spare himself.
He had a most sensitive appreciation of what was significant in art, music, and literature. His mild eye was forever discovering truth and beauty in the things that hourly happen to us. Twenty times a day he would see or listen to something notable, suggestive, or moving. Then from his pocket would come an envelope or a bit of paper and a stubby pencil. Every night, when he emptied his pockets, he had a store of simple and unhackneyed illustrations.
His church members loved and admired him; so did his neighbors of all creeds; so also did his assistant and his church custodian!
He was a good presbyter. In troublous times he kept his temper and his tongue and steadfastly loved his brethren, though never yielding his conscience or his convictions to their dictation. He could suffer fools gladly as none other could. He was the friend of forlorn causes, and he shamed the rest of us into duty by his example.
Jesse Halsey was an excellent preacher, but his daily life was his best sermon. For many, indeed, it was his life that made his Gospel credible.
Dr. Grenfell, for whom he was chaplain in Labrador for three years, shall have the last word here. I saw the letter in which, shortly before he died, Sir Wilfred wrote, “I have seen more of Jesus Christ in you than any man I ever knew.”
-John W. Christie
Minister of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, Del.
Vol. VII | March, 1954 | No. 6
Jesse Halsey, 1882-1954