Blow the Dust Off  that Larger Catechism
by Rev. David T. Myers

wlc1939On this date in 1648, July 20th,  the Westminster Larger Catechism was approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, Scotland. Yet to countless Presbyterians today, the Larger Catechism is a forgotten creed in our churches.  Yet it should not be.

In the words of Professor W. Robert Godfrey, it is “a mine of fine gold theologically, historically, and spiritually.” (pg ix in his “Introduction to the Westminster Larger Catechism.”)  It was always intended to be for the more mature Christians in the historic Christian faith, which certainly includes teaching and ruling elders, deacons, adult leaders in Christian education in the local church, and anyone else who may serve as a spiritual leader in the Church, or desire to be.

The value of the Larger Catechism, as outlined by W. Robert Godfrey in his introduction to the Catechism, is evidenced by its outstanding summaries of Biblical doctrine. I think of Question No. 77 which asks of the difference between justification and sanctification.  In an examination by a Presbytery committee, this author was once asked the difference between justification and sanctification by a ruling elder! By God’s good grace, I had reviewed that answer just prior to the examination, and was enabled to answer it succinctly. Could you, the reader, relate its differences between these two theological doctrines? Larger Catechism Q. 77 informs you of the answer.

The value of the Larger Catechism is also found in that some of its answers are superior even to the formulations of the Westminster Confession of Faith. The late John Murray believed this was the case with Q&A 30 – 32 on the Covenant of Grace, as being superior to Chapter 7, section 3 of the Confession. Too, the imputation of the guilt of Adam’s sin, as explained in L.C. 22 was superior to what WCF 6:3 says, the late Westminster Seminary professor believed.  We cannot afford to be ignorant of the fulness of the Larger Catechism.

Third, the exposition of the Ten Commandments is especially rich spiritually. It is true that “excessive elaboration” or overly-minute examinations of that which is commanded and forbidden of Exodus 20, tends to be a drag to countless readers and students. Yet Dr. Godfrey concludes “the Larger Catechism’s exposition of the law is in fact a useful basis for meditation and self-examination as it opens up the meaning of the commandments for the benefit of the believer who seeks to lead a godly life.” (pg. xiii)  Should that not be the goal for all growing believers?

Next, the value of the Larger Catechism is found in its presentation of the doctrine of the church, as developed by the author of this introduction. He correctly points out that such a presentation is entirely absent from the Shorter Catechism, except in an inference to the persons of baptism.

And last, the value of this Larger Catechism, according to Dr. Godfrey, is that it is a full, balanced, edifying summary of the Christian faith, a worthy aid as we grow in a knowledge of God’s truth.

Words to Live By:
I can do no less than recommend the Commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism, as authored by Johannes G. Vos, edited by G. I. Williamson, and published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing House. It has been my constant companion  in my pastoral and personal devotions.

Yes, the Larger Catechism  has language problems in that it is fixed in sixteenth century language. Certainly, we have had no problem in translating inspired Holy Scripture into the language of the  twentieth century, with versions  such as the New American Standard Bible. Why isn’t there a movement to do the same with the language of the Westminster Confessional Standards?  Fellow elders, we need overtures to our respective presbyteries and General Assemblies to bring the Westminster Confession Standards up-to-date in their language!

My plea to our readers is to rediscover the Larger Catechism of  the Westminster Standards.  You will find it to be all that Professor Godfrey says it is.  And it will be to you, as a mature Christian, a worthy help as you worship and serve the Lord God from  day to day.  For our teaching elders, the Larger Catechism will be a help as you instruct the people of God in the Reformed Faith from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day.

westminsterabbey1647

“A man is no more at liberty to construct a system of theology for himself, and call it the system contained in the Confession of Faith, than he is authorized to spin a system of philosophy out of his head, and call it Platonism. The first argument, therefore, in favor of this interpretation of our ordination service is that it is in accordance with the literal, established meaning of the words, and attaches to them a definite meaning, so that everyone knows precisely what the candidate professes.”

 

Our Confession, Neatly Summarized

This brief summary of the Westminster Confession of Faith comes to us from the pen of Dr. Charles Hodge, who served as Professor at the Princeton Theological Seminary from 1828 until his death in 1878. This summary is drawn from a longer article, which we may present to our readers this coming Saturday.

The Westminster Confession contains three distinct classes of doctrines.

First, those common to all Christians, which are summed up in the ancient creeds, the Apostles’, the Nicene and the Athanasian, which are adopted by all Churches.

Secondly, those which are common to all Protestants, and by which they are distinguished from Romanists.

Thirdly, those which are peculiar to the Reformed Churches, by which they are distinguished, on the one hand, from the Lutherans, and on the other from the Remonstrants, or Arminians, and other sects of later historical origin. From the Lutherans the Reformed were distinguished principally by their doctrine on the sacraments, and from the Arminians, by the five characteristic points of Augustinianism, rejected by the Remonstrants, and affirmed at the Synod of Dort by all the Reformed Churches, viz.: those of Switzerland, Germany, France, England and Scotland, as well as of Holland. What those points are everybody knows. First. The doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin, i.e., that the sin of Adam is the judicial ground of the condemnation of his race so that their being born in sin is the penal consequence of his transgression. Secondly, The doctrine of the sinful, innate depravity of nature, whereby we are indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good. Therefore there can be no self-conversion, no cooperation with the grace of God in regeneration, as the Arminians taught, and no election not to resist as the Lutherans affirmed. With this doctrine of absolute inability consequently is connected that of efficacious, as opposed to merely preventing and assisting grace. Thirdly. The doctrine that as Christ came in the execution of the covenant of redemption, in which his people were promised to him as his reward, his work had a special reference to them, and rendered their salvation certain. Fourthly, The doctrine of gratuitous, personal election to eternal life; and,

Fifthly, The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. It is a matter of history that these doctrines constitute the distinguishing doctrines of the Reformed Churches. And, therefore, any man who receives these several classes of doctrine (viz.: those common to all Christians, those common to all Protestants, and those peculiar to the Reformed Churches,) holds in its integrity the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession. This is all that he professes to do when he adopts that Confession in the form prescribed in our Constitution. A man is no more at liberty to construct a system of theology for himself, and call it the system contained in the Confession of Faith, than he is authorized to spin a system of philosophy out of his head, and call it Platonism. The first argument, therefore, in favor of this interpretation of our ordination service is that it is in accordance with the literal, established meaning of the words, and attaches to them a definite meaning, so that everyone knows precisely what the candidate professes.

Admittedly long, but we think worth the time to read, in an era when Truth is under assault.

The Minister’s Vows And The Confession Of Faith

By Charles Hodge, D.D.

At a recent meeting of our General Assembly [Ed.: This would have been the 98th General Assembly of the PCUS , aka Southern Church] there was considerable discussion about the implications of the minister’s vows as related, to the Westminster Standards. In order to assist in the clarification of thought in the Church we submit an incisive article on this subject written by Dr. Charles Hodge. We give it in an abridged form.

Dr. Charles Hodge is Princeton Seminary’s best known and most influential theologian. He was a prolific writer. His “Systematic Theology” is still used in many Seminaries. For 43 years he was the editor of the Princeton Review. His writings were characterized by clarity in presentation and a complete mastery of his subject. His writings are still relevant because he was preeminently Biblical. It was said, “It is enough for Dr. Hodge to believe a thing to be true that he finds it in the Bible’.”J.R.R.

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Circumstances have recently awakened public attention to this important subject. It is one on which a marked diversity of opinion exists between the two portions into which our Church has been divided: and as in May last a direct proposition was made on the part of one branch of the New School body to our General Assembly for a union between them and the Old School, this original point of difference was brought into view. Not only on the floor of the Assembly was this matter referred to, but it has since been the subject of discussion in the public papers, especially in the South. A passing remark made in the last number of this journal, which we supposed expressed a truth which no man could misunderstand or deny, has given rise to strictures which very clearly prove that great obscurity, in many minds, still overhangs the subject. We either differ very much among ourselves, or we have not yet learned to express our meaning in the same terms. It is high time, therefore, that the question should be renewedly discussed.

We have nothing new to say on the subject.

As long ago as October, 1831, we expressed the views which we still hold, and which in a passing sentence were indicated in our number for July last. Those views have passed unanswered and unheeded, so far as we know, for thirty-six years. How is it that the renewed assertion of them has now called forth almost universal condemnation from the Old School press? They have been censured by men who adopt them, and who in private do not hesitate to admit their correctness. This does not imply any unfairness, or any other form of moral obliquity. It is easily accounted for. The proposition, that the adoption of the Confession of Faith does not imply the adoption of every proposition contained in that Confession, might mean much or little. It might be adopted by the most conservative, and is all that the most radical need claim. Still the proposition is undeniably correct.

The fault of the writer, as the Presbyterian of the West, sensibly remarked, is not in what is said, but in what was left unsaid. This fault would have been a very grave one had the subject of subscription to the Confession been under discussion, and had the above proposition been put forth as the whole rule in regard to it. The remark, however, was merely incidental and illustrative. To show the impossibility of our agreeing on a commentary on the whole Bible, we referred to the fact that there are propositions in the Confession of Faith in which we are not agreed. Does any man deny this? If not, where is the harm of saying it? Are we living in a false show? Are we pre- tending to adopt a principle of subscription, which in fact we neither act on for ourselves, nor dream of enforcing on others? Or are we so little certain of our own ground that we are afraid that our enemies will take advantage of us, and proclaim aloud that we have come over to them.

If we really understand ourselves, and are satisfied of the soundness of our principles, the more out-spoken we are the better; better for our own self-respect, and for the respect and confidence of others towards us. If the Christian public, and especially those who have gone out from us, hear us asserting a principle or rule of subscription which they know we do not adopt, it will be hard for them to believe both in our intelligence and sincerity. The question put to every candidate for ordination in our Church, is in these words: “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?” It is plain that a very serious responsibility before God and man is assumed by those who return an affirmative answer to that question. It is something more than ordinary falsehood, if our inward convictions do not correspond with a profession made in presence of the Church, and as the condition of our receiving authority to preach the Gospel. In such a case we lie not only unto man, but unto God; because such professions are of the nature of a vow, that is, a promise or profession made to God.

It is no less plain that the candidate has no right to put his own sense upon the words propounded to him. He has no right to select from all possible meanings which the words may bear, that particular sense which suits his purpose, or which, he thinks, will save his conscience. It is well known that this course has been openly advocated, not only by the Jesuits, but by men of this generation, in this country and in Europe.

The “chemistry of thought,” it is said, can make all creeds alike. Men have boasted that they could sign any creed. To a man in a balloon the earth appears a plane, all inequalities on its surface being lost in the distance. And here is a philosophic elevation from which all forms of human belief look alike. They are sublimated into general formulas, which include them all and distinguish none. Professor Newman, just before his open apostasy, published a tract in which he defended his right to be in the English Church while holding the doctrines of the Church of Rome. He claimed for himself and others the privilege of signing the Thirty-nine articles in a “non-natural sense”; that is, in the sense which he chose to put upon the words. This shocks the common sense and the common honesty of men. There is no need to argue the matter. The turpitude of such a principle is much more clearly seen intuitively than discursively.

The two principles which, by the common consent of all honest men, determine the interpretation of oaths and professions of faith, are first, the plain, historical meaning of the words; and secondly, the animus imponentis, that is, the intention of the party imposing the oath or requiring the profession. The words, therefore, “system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures,” are to be taken in their plain, historical sense. A man is not at liberty to understand the words “Holy Scriptures” to mean all books written by holy men, because although that interpretation might consist with the signification of the words, it is inconsistent with the historical meaning of the phrase. Nor can he understand them, as they would be understood by Romanists, as including the Apocrypha, because the words being used by the Protestant Church, must be taken in a Protestant sense. Neither can the candidate say that he means by “system of doctrine” Christianity as opposed to Mohammedanism, or Protestantism, as opposed to Romanism, or evangelical Christianity, as distinguished from the theology of the Reformed (i.e. Calvinistic) Churches, because the words being used by a Reformed Church must be understood in the sense which that Church is known to attach to them.

If a man professes to receive the doctrine of the Trinity, the word must be taken in its Christian sense, the candidate cannot substitute for that sense the Sabellian idea of a modal Trinity, nor the philosophical trichotomy of Pantheism. And so of all other expressions which have a fixed historical meaning. Again, by the animus imponentis in the case contemplated, is to be understood not the mind or intention of the ordaining bishop in the Episcopal Church, or of the ordaining presbytery in the Presbyterian Church. It is the mind or intention of the Church, of which the bishop or the presbytery is the organ or agent. Should a Romanizing bishop in the Church of England give a “non-natural” sense to the Thirty-nine articles, that would not acquit the priest, who should sign them in that sense, of the crime of moral perjury; or should a presbytery give an entirely erroneous interpretation to the Westminster Confession, that would not justify a candidate for ordination in adopting it in that sense. The Confession must be adopted in the sense of the Church, into the service of which the minister, in virtue of that adoption is received. These are simple principles of honesty, and we presume they are universally admitted, at least so far as our Church is concerned.

The question however is, What is the true sense of the phrase, “system of doctrine,” in our ordination service? or, What does the Church understand the candidate to profess, when he says that he “receives and adopts the Confession of Faith of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures”? There are three different answers given to that question. First, it is said by some that in adopting the “system of doctrine,” the candidate is understood to adopt it, not in the form or manner in which it is presented in the Confession, but only for “substance of doctrine.” The obvious objections to this view of the subject are:

1. That such is not the meaning of the words employed. The two expressions or declarations, “I adopt the system of doctrine contained in the Confession of Faith,” and, “I adopt that system for substance of doctrine” are not identical. The one therefore cannot be substituted for the other. If there were no other difference between them, it is enough that the one is definite and univocal, the other is both vague and equivocal. The latter expressions may have two very different meanings. By substance of doctrine may be meant the substantial doctrines of the Confession; that is, those doctrines which give character to it as a distinctive confession of faith, and which therefore constitute the system of belief therein contained. Or it may mean the substance of the several doctrines taught in the Confession, as distinguished from the form in which they are therein presented. It will be at once perceived that these are very different things. The substance or essence of a system of doctrines is the system itself. In this case, the essence of a thing is the whole thing. The essential doctrines of Pelagianism are Pelagianism, and the essential doctrines of Calvinism are Calvinism. But the substance of a doctrine is not the doctrine, any more than the substance of a man is the man. A man is given substance in a specific form; and a doctrine is a given truth in a particular form. The substantial truth, included in the doctrine of original sin, is that human nature is deteriorated by the apostasy of Adam. The different forms in which this general truth is presented, make all the difference, as to this point, between Pelagianism, Augustinianism, Romanism, and Arminianism.

It is impossible, therefore, in matters of doctrine, to separate the substance from the form. The form is essential to the doctrine, as much as the form of a statue is essential to the statue. (In adopting a system of doctrines, therefore, the candidate adopts a series of doctrines in the specific form in which they are presented in that system.) To say that he adopts the substance of those doctrines, leaves it entirely uncertain what he adopts. The first objection then to this view of the meaning of the phrase, “system of doctrine,” is, that it is contrary to the simple historical sense of the terms. What a man professes to adopt is “the system of doctrine/’ not the substance of the doctrines embraced in that system.

2. Another objection is, that it is contrary to the mind of the Church. The Church, in demanding the adoption of the Confession of Faith as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures, demands something more than the adoption of what the candidate may choose to consider the substance of those doctrines. This is plain from the words used, which, as we have seen, in their plain import, mean something more, and something more specific and intelligible than the phrase “substance of doctrine.” The mind of the Church on this point is rendered clear beyond dispute by her repeated official declarations on the subject. The famous adopting act of the original Synod, passed in 1729, is in these words: “Although the Synod do not claim or pretend to any authority of imposing our faith on other men’s consciences, but do profess our just dissatisfaction with, and abhorrence of such impositions, and do utterly disclaim all legislative power and authority in the Church, being willing to receive one another as Christ has received us to the glory of God, and admit to fellowship in sacred ordinances, all such as we have grounds to believe Christ will at last admit to the kingdom of heaven, yet we are undoubtedly obliged to take care that the faith once delivered to the saints be kept pure and uncorrupt among us, and so handed down to our posterity; and do therefore agree that all ministers of this Synod, or that shall thereafter be admitted into this Synod, shall declare their agreement in, and approbation of the Confession of Faith, with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, as being, in all the essential and necessary articles, good forms of sound words and systems of Christian doctrine, and do also adopt the said. Confession and Catechisms as the confession of our faith. And we do also agree, that all Presbyteries within our bounds shall always take care not to admit any candidate of the ministry into the exercise of the sacred functions, but that declares his agreement in opinion with all the essential and necessary articles of said Confession, either by subscribing the said Confession and Catechisms, or by a verbal declaration of their assent thereto as such minister or candidate shall think best. And in case any minister of this Synod, or any candidate for the ministry, shall have any scruple with respect to any article or articles of said Confession or Catechisms, he shall at the time of making said declaration, declare his sentiments to the Presbytery or Synod, who shall, notwithstanding, admit him to the exercise of the ministry within our bounds, and to ministerial communion, if the Synod or Presbytery shall judge his scruple or mistake to be only about articles not essential and necessary in doctrine, worship, or government. But if the Synod or Presbytery shall judge such ministers or candidates erroneous in essential and necessary articles of faith, the Synod or Presbytery shall declare them incapable of communion with them. And the Synod do solemnly agree that none of them will traduce or use any opprobrious terms of those who differ from us in extra-essential and not necessary points of doctrine, but treat them with the same friendship, kindness, and brotherly love, as if they did not differ in such sentiment.”

This fundamental act, passed in 1729, has never been either repealed or altered. It has on several occasions been interpreted and reaffirmed, but it has never been abrogated, except so far as it was merged in the re-adoption of the Confession and Catechisms at the formation of our present Constitution, in the year 1788. This important document teaches, first: That in our Church the terms of Christian communion are competent knowledge, and a creditable profession of faith and repentance. The Synod, say they, “admit to fellowship in sacred ordinances, all such as we have grounds to believe Christ will at last admit to the kingdom of heaven.” Second: That the condition of ministerial communion is the adoption of the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. This is expressed by saying: “We adopt the said Confession and Catechisms as the confession of our faith.” For this is substituted as an equivalent form of expression, “agreement in opinion with all the essential and necessary articles of said Confession.” That is, “all the essential and necessary articles” of the system of doctrine contained in the Confession. Third: That the only exceptions allowed to be taken were such as related to matters outside that system of doctrine, and the rejection of which left the system in its integrity. That this is the true meaning and intent of the act is plain, first, because the Synod in 1730 expressly declared, “That they understand those clauses that respect the admission of entrants or candidates, in such sense as to oblige them to receive and adopt the Confession and Catechisms at their admission, in the same manner, and as fully as the members of the Synod did, that were then present.

3. Not only are the plain meaning of the words, and the animus imponentis opposed to the interpretation of the ordination service now under consideration, but that interpretation is liable to the further objection, that the phrase “substance of doctrine” has no definite assignable meaning. What the substance of any given doctrine is cannot be historically ascertained or authenticated. No one knows what a man professes, who professes to receive only the substance of a doctrine, and therefore, this mode of subscription vitiates the whole intent and value of a confession. Who can tell what is the substance of the doctrine of sin? Does the substance include all the forms under which the doctrine has been, or can be held, so that whoever holds any one of these forms, holds the substance of the doctrine? If one man says that nothing is sin but the voluntary transgression of known law; another, that men are responsible only for their purposes to the exclusion of their feelings; another, that an act to be voluntary, and therefore sinful, must be deliberate and not impulsive; another, that sin is merely limitation or imperfect development; another, that sin exists only for us and in our consciousness, and not in the sight of God; another, that sin is any want of conformity in state, feeling, or act, to the law of God; do all these hold the substance of the doctrine? What is the substance of the doctrine of redemption? The generic idea of redemption, in the Christian sense of the word, may be said to be the deliverance of men from sin and its consequences by Jesus Christ. Does every man who admits that idea hold the substance of the doctrine as presented in our Confession? If so, then it matters not whether we believe that that deliverance is effected by the example of Christ, or by his doctrine, or by his power, or by the moral impression of his death on the race or the universe, or by his satisfying the justice of God, or by his incarnation exalting our nature to a higher power. The same remark may be made in reference to all the other distinctive doctrines of the Confession.

4. This system has been tried and found to produce the greatest disorder and contention. Men acting on the principle of receiving the Confession for substance of doctrine, have entered the ministry in our Church, who denied the doctrine of imputation, whether of Adam’s sin or of Christ’s righteousness; the doctrine of the derivation of a sinful depravity of nature from our first parents; of inability; of efficacious grace; of a definite atonement; that is, of an atonement having any such special reference to the elect, as to render their salvation certain. In short, while professing to receive “the system of doctrine” contained in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, they have rejected almost every doctrine which gives that system its distinctive character. It was this principle more than any other cause, and probably more than all other causes combined that led to the division of our Church in 1838, and it must produce like disasters should it again be brought into practical application among us. What every minister of our Church is bound to do is to declare that he “receives and adopts the Confession of Faith of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.” The words “system of doctrine” have a fixed, historical meaning. The objection that it is an open question, what doctrines belong to the system and what do not, and therefore if the obligations be limited to the adoption of the system, it cannot be known what doctrines are received and what are rejected, is entirely unfounded. If the question, “What is the system of doctrine taught by the Reformed Churches?” be submitted to a hundred Romanists, to a hundred Lutherans, to a hundred members of the Church of England, or to a hundred skeptics, if intelligent and candid, they would all give precisely the same answer. There is not the slightest doubt or dispute among disinterested scholars as to what doctrines do, and what do not belong to the faith of the Reformed. The Westminster Confession contains three distinct classes of doctrines.

First, those common to all Christians, which are summed up in the ancient creeds, the Apostles’, the Nicene and the Athanasian, which are adopted by all Churches.

Secondly, those which are common to all Protestants, and by which they are distinguished from Romanists.

Thirdly, those which are peculiar to the Reformed Churches, by which they are distinguished, on the one hand, from the Lutherans, and on the other from the Remonstrants, or Arminians, and other sects of later historical origin. From the Lutherans the Reformed were distinguished principally by their doctrine on the sacraments, and from the Arminians, by the five characteristic points of Augustinianism, rejected by the Remonstrants, and affirmed at the Synod of Dort by all the Reformed Churches, viz.: those of Switzerland, Germany, France, England and Scotland, as well as of Holland. What those points are everybody knows. First. The doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin, i.e., that the sin of Adam is the judicial ground of the condemnation of his race so that their being born in sin is the penal consequence of his transgression. Secondly, The doctrine of the sinful, innate depravity of nature, whereby we are indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good. Therefore there can be no self-conversion, no cooperation with the grace of God in regeneration, as the Arminians taught, and no election not to resist as the Lutherans affirmed. With this doctrine of absolute inability consequently is connected that of efficacious, as opposed to merely preventing and assisting grace. Thirdly. The doctrine that as Christ came in the execution of the covenant of redemption, in which his people were promised to him as his reward, his work had a special reference to them, and rendered their salvation certain. Fourthly, The doctrine of gratuitous, personal election to eternal life; and,

Fifthly, The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. It is a matter of history that these doctrines constitute the distinguishing doctrines of the Reformed Churches. And, therefore, any man who receives these several classes of doctrine (viz.: those common to all Christians, those common to all Protestants, and those peculiar to the Reformed Churches,) holds in its integrity the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession. This is all that he professes to do when he adopts that Confession in the form prescribed in our Constitution. A man is no more at liberty to construct a system of theology for himself, and call it the system contained in the Confession of Faith, than he is authorized to spin a system of philosophy out of his head, and call it Platonism. The first argument, therefore, in favor of this interpretation of our ordination service is that it is in accordance with the literal, established meaning of the words, and attaches to them a definite meaning, so that everyone knows precisely what the candidate professes.

Words to Live By:
The following article, though written from the perspective of a concern within Congregational churches in the early 19th century, has much that is applicable for us today.  One key point is made in the statement that “Doctrinal  standards give stability, and secure uniformity of sentiment and discipline.”

Dr. John Leith made this same point, though more extensively, some years ago in his Warfield Lecture, “Reformed Preaching Today.” Among other points, Leith stressed that the recovery of great preaching requires a well-educated congregation that can track with the pastor’s sermons:

The recovery of great preaching calls for the revival of the Christian community as a disciplined, knowledgeable, worshiping community of people. The recovery of preaching and the recovery of the community will have to take place together, because there can be no recovery of a vital Christian community, well informed, apart from the recovery of great preaching. And on the other hand, a great congregation makes a great preacher.

And catechesis is the indisputable foundation of a great congregation!

The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism

            In this age of change and boasted improvement, we have witnessed with regret, the increasing disposition of Christians to depart from ancient standards and formularies of doctrines. How far the love of novelty has influence in producing this state of things, we are not prepared to say. The fact is that innovations and changes are easily effected, and the old paths are forsaken; often, seemly because they are old and have been trodden by men of other ages, and new ones are chosen, seemingly because they are new and without examination, whether they will conduct safely or not.

            Perhaps in no portion of the Christian church has the change been greater, than in the congregational churches of Connecticut; ancient standards of doctrine in these churches, have been suffered to pass away, not by a public and formal objection, but by silent neglect on the part of individual churches in order to accommodate and receive to their communion such as would dissent from doctrines contained in their old standards. To this as one cause silently operating, may be traced as we believe the gradual decrease of the congregational churches in Connecticut, and the increase of other denominations. Doctrinal standards give stability, and secure uniformity of sentiment and discipline, and then adhered in the denominations embracing them, they serve to strengthen and increase that denomination but when such standards are trodden down or thrown aside, the denomination is changed in its distinctive character, notwithstanding the name should be still retained.

            The Saybrook Platform, on whose doctrinal basis, the Congregational churches of Connecticut are organized, and on whose articles of agreement in discipline, they have been consociated, have become an obsolete book—it is but little known—and scarcely to be found in a bookstore for sale. By many of the younger members of these churches, it is doubtful whether it has ever been read. It is not long since that a proposition was made in the General Association of Connecticut that a new edition should be printed, and that it should be recommended to some booksellers to undertake the work.—But the proposition was opposed on the ground that some Congregational pastors could not subscribe to the Platform without reservations in regard to particular doctrines; and after some discussion it was indefinitely postponed. It was apparent, that most of the younger pastors chose to have the Platform lie forgotten and die a natural death if it would. It is well known also, that some of our theological professors cannot subscribe to this manual of doctrine without written reservations. The creed also of individual churches, originally in substance in strict uniformity to the doctrines of the Platform, and of the shorter Catechism, are now subject to frequent alterations. In some, one doctrine is omitted—in others more, and the language throughout changed for the purpose of rendering the doctrines retained more palatable.—Frequent changes of pastors also greatly contribute to changes in the creeds of individual churches; old creeds are thrown by, and new ones substituted to be more accordant with the taste of the age and the supposed improvements in theology.—In this manner, old standards of doctrine are lost sight of, and many of the congregational churches embrace a mixture of Calvinism, Arminianism, and nothingism, and in this state are in danger of crumbling to pieces.

            The loss of the Shorter Catechism to the congregational churches is very great.—When that catechism was taught regularly in our schools and in our families and on the Sabbath it laid a good foundation in the minds of children for religious improvement, a foundation which contributed to consistency and stability in after life. Though children have greater advantages for gaining religious knowledge by means of Sabbath schools and Sabbath school libraries, still, in point of doctrinal stability and knowledge of religious truth, it is questionable whether they are to be compared with what their parents were when they were children. The catechism has gone from families as well as from schools and parents are in danger of leaving their own duty to be performed by Sabbath school teachers and of acting as if the responsibility were taken off from them. Parents should not feel that their own obligations are lessened, while they have the co-operation of Sabbath school teachers. They can do that which no other class of teachers can do in the religious education of children, and all teachers need their co-operation and support. Religious education should be commenced in families and by parents, and it should be conducted under their watchful eye.

            The Assembly’s shorter catechism is a standard manual, which will never wear out. Religious parents have no occasion to be afraid of this, nor to lay it aside as an obsolete catechism, though the phraseology in some trifling particulars might be changed for the better, still as a whole, this catechism is sound—we shall find no better catechism; it has been fully proved, and it will be found safe for the rising generation.—We will remember the time when this catechism was regularly taught in common schools, and under what circumstances it was excluded. We have been associated with school visitors who denounced it and who declared that they would prefer Paine’s Age of Reason to be taught to the children. The fact is the great and essential truths of the Bible are embodied in this catechism, and these truths have always been opposed to the natural heart in man, and infidels and men of loose sentiments have scouted them in past ages, and in the present age they continue to do this.

            We should rejoice to have Christian parents bring back this manual into their families, and to have them teach it to their children and to expound it to them as they are able, and we should also rejoice to see it revived in our Sabbath schools, and adapted as a text book in Bible classes. We have no doubt that the effect would be salutary in forming the character of the rising generation.

            We acknowledge our attachments to this catechism and we view it as a favorable indication, that some pastors of congregational churches are reviving the good old custom of catechising the children of their congregations from this manual and that others are introducing it into their Sabbath schools.—The bringing back of the catechism will be attended with more established views of doctrines in our churches and will have an important influence in guarding the minds of the young from the dangers to which they are exposed, from the cavils of infidels, and the lax sentiments of the age.—[Hartford Watchman.]

[excerpted from The Charleston Observer, Vol. X, no. 29 (16 July 1836): 113, columns 2-3.

Things For All Men To Do.

green_beriahThe following few paragraphs, below, form the opening portion of a discourse by Beriah Green, Jr. [1795-1874]. A graduate of Middlebury College, in Vermont, Green studied for the ministry at Andover Seminary. After a dozen years as professor at Western Reserve College, Hudson, Ohio, Green became the president of the Oneida Institute in Whitesboro, New York, a manual labor college founded in 1829 by Presbyterians. Rev. Green accepted that post on condition that he could advocate for the immediate end of slavery and could also accept African Americans as students at the school. A number of prominent black leaders, men such as Henry Highland Garnet, were educated at Oneida during Green’s tenure.

In the following address, delivered on a Sunday evening, July 17, 1836, in the Presbyterian church at Whitesboro, New York, Rev. Green delivered a powerful call to end the institution of slavery, under the title of “Things for Northern Men to Do.” Since that time, the intervening years have seen a great deal of turmoil and change in our nation. Yet Green’s message from the text of Jeremiah 7 remains disturbingly appropriate even today. Where he railed against racial slavery, we now see abortion, pornography, sexual slavery, and all manner of addictions running rampant across our nation. “Crimes of all sorts and sizes we are in the habit of committing.” The sins of a former era and those of our own time are linked by a common thread, one which treats men and women made in the image of God as mere objects to satisfy our lusts. What can we as Christians do? Are we powerless?

Rev. Green offers his understanding of the Scriptural imperative:—

“Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these. For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. — Jeremiah 7:3-7, KJV.

“The general sentiment among the Hebrews, with which Jeremiah had almost alone to content, is clearly indicated by a shocking assertion, which they were wont to throw into the face of Jeremiah. Crimes of all sorts and sizes they were in the habit of committing; and then, reeking with corruption and red with blood, of coming and standing before God in His temple, to insult Him with the declaration, that they “were delivered to do all such abominations.” Things had taken such a shape and posture, that they could do no better than to violate the most sacred relations, and break the strongest ties which bound them to heaven and earth. They were connected with a system of abominations which they could not dissolve, and from which they could not break away. With the different parts of this system, the fibres of society had been intertwisted. It was supported by confirmed usages and venerated institutions. What hazards must they not encounter, what risks must they not run, in opposing the sentiment which generally prevailed around them! They thought it better to go with the multitude to do evil, than incur popular odium in resisting it. They could not keep their character and retain their influence, without taking a share in popular iniquity. Their wickedness was a matter of necessity. Still they could not refuse to see that it was driving their country to fearful extremities. Ruin stared them in the face. What could they do? On the one hand, driven by such strong necessities to sin; and on the other, exposed to such exterminating judgments for their iniquities!

“Just here the prophet met them. The difficulties in which they were involved, and the dangers to which they were exposed, they owed to themselves. And if they stoutly persevered in the crooked ways they had so rashly trodden, they were undone. Nothing would then save them from the dishonored graves, which their own hands had been so long employed in digging. Yet they need not perish. If they would avoid presumption, they might escape despair. They might not charge the blame of their iniquities on God. They might not allege, that “they were delivered to do the abominations” they were guilty of. So long as they did so, their repentance and salvation were impossible. The work, which demanded their attention, lay directly before them. This done, and all their perplexities, and difficulties, and embarrassments would instantly vanish. This done, destruction, with its open jaws now ready to devour them, would at once flee away. This done, and benignant heaven would pour upon them the choicest, most enduring benefits. . . .”

To read the remainder of Rev. Green’s discourse, click here.

Words to Live By:
Salvation belongs to the Lord (Ps. 3:8). The gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful, even to the bringing down of kingdoms and powers raised against it. May the Lord’s people first repent of their sins, and then, humbled, may we come before the throne of grace night and day, seeking the Lord’s mercy and grace upon a people rushing headlong into destruction.

Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” — Psalm 141:3. [KJV]

One of the jewels of 19th-century Presbyterian literature that seems to have been overlooked by many is the little set titled Presbyterian Tracts. These volumes were compiled beginning around 1840 and continued to be published into the 1860’s. There were ultimately at least 13 and perhaps 15 volumes. The PCA Historical Center has volumes 1 through 11 preserved as part of its research library. An author-title index has just been posted, here.

Among those many “tracts” [some were fairly lengthy treatments, particularly in the first several volumes], the seventh volume contains a 28 page treatise on “The Sins of the Tongue” by William Swan Plumer.  In concluding that tract, Plumer offers these seven guidelines or resolutions for keeping the tongue:

1. I will steadily keep in view my latter end, and remember that soon I must stand before my Judge. I would not live a day or an hour in forgetfulness of the truth that all my thoughts, words, and deeds are to undergo the scrutiny of Him, who is so holy as to hate all sin, and so great as to know all things, and so just as never to clear the guilty.

2. I will endeavour often to ask myself, How would Jesus Christ speak were he in my circumstances? He has left me an example that I should follow his steps. His life is the law of God put in practice. If I walk in his steps I shall not err.

3. I will rely more and more on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to preserve me from sins of the tongue. I have too much relied on the strength of my own virtue and perseverance, and so I have failed. “O Lord, undertake for me.”

4. I will constantly strive to have a deep sense of the importance of making a right use of my tongue. I will endeavour to avoid levity of mind, and so escape levity of speech and behaviour. By God’s grace I will be serious.

5. I will often call myself to an account for my words during the day, and when I have erred, I will not spare myself from these severe, yet salutary answers, which my sins deserve. I will not justify, excuse, or extenuate the sins of my lips.

6. I will labour to have my mind stored with valuable information and reflections, that I may not be tempted to deal in gossip, and scandal, and idle news, and that my words may be instructive to those with whom I mingle.

7. I will endeavour to be more impressed with a sense of the amazing grace and mercy of God to me a sinner, in bidding me hope for his favour, notwithstanding all my offences. Thus I shall have alacrity and joy in resisting evil and seeking holiness.

8. I will labour to have a proper view, not only of the meanness, mischief and troubles of a loose tongue, but also of its great sinfulness in the sight of God. As an unbridled speech is a wickedness, I would avoid it, even if it brought me no temporal evil.

9. Above all things, I will seek to be thoroughly renewed by the power of the Holy Ghost. If he will make his abode with me, I shall be able to resist all sin, and overcome all evil habits. To change my nature is beyond my power, but not beyond the power of the Sanctifier. My power is but another name for feebleness; his energy is irresistable.

STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 83. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.

Scripture References: Psalm 19:13; John 19:11.

Questions:

1. What is meant by the word “heinous” in this question?

The word means that sins are abominable, grievous to God.

2. What sins are more heinous than others in the sight of God?

Basically, there are two types of sins more heinous than others in the sight of God. First, would be sins that are committed without any occasion offered. The less the occasion of sin, the greater is the sin itself. Second, would be sins that are committed presumptuously. We remember that under the law there was no sacrifice for presumptuous sins. (Num. 15:30).

3. In modern day living, could you give some examples of sins that are more heinous than others?

Yes, for example, sins against the Gospel are more heinous than sins against the law (Matt. 11:20-24). Adultery is more heinous than theft (Prov. 6:32-35).

4. Is there difference in the sight of God in regard to the age of the person sinning?

Yes, the Bible does make a difference. If persons are older in the Lord, their sins are more highly aggravated than if committed by children or those inexperienced (Job 32:7).

5. Does time enter into the heinous nature of the sin?

Yes, time does enter in. For example, sins committed on the Sabbath Day are more heinous than the same sin committed on another day of the week, for the Sabbath Day is especially singled out by the Lord.

6. Would ignorance make a difference in regard to the heinous nature of the sin?

Yes, sins against knowledge are more heinous than sins through ignorance.

7. What is involved in sinning deliberately?

Involved in deliberate sinning is a defiant attitude toward God, a showing of a real hatred against. Him and would be evidence of hardness of heart.

PROVOKING OTHERS TO SIN

CertaInly one of the sins more heinous in the sight of God is when a man sins himself and at the same time provokes others to sin. The eighteenth chapter of Matthew, among many other passages, makes this very plain. The believer should be always very careful less he is guilty of leading others down a road that is plainly marked, “Sin”. Before God he has the awesome responsibility of being a testimony for Jesus Christ at all times and especially in his responsibility to weaker brethren.

There are numerous ways of provoking others to sin. One is to teach errors to people, errors that are such because of the teaching of the Word of God. Today in the era of the Christian Church when a new “ism” has come on the scene, that of Neo-Evangelicalism, there abides this great danger of provoking others to sin. Someone has said that the difference today within the evangelical church is the difference between those who “stand” and those who “withstand” in their daily walk. Those who stand are simply holding their ground, playing on the defense all the time and never scoring against the apostate church of which they are a part. The person who withstands is always on the offense, always carrying the battIe to the enemy. He is called “extreme” and is called a “fighting fundamentalist”, but he is always preaching the Truth, not having to fight the liberals on their grounds, using their ground rules. Those who simply want to stand are very popular today in evangelical circles but is there not a danger of their leading many to sin, to have a part in the unfruitful works of darkness?

Another way of provoking others to sin is by living a bad example. The believer is constantly watched. Just a few hours ago 1 was walking down the hall of the hotel where I am now staying and studying and writing. As I went around the corner, 1 heard one hotel worker say to another, “That man was carrying a Bible!” He was right. I had just gone down to the car to get my Bible. The other worker said, “I wonder if anyone has seen him do anything that shows he doesn’t believe it?” My prayer went up to the Lord once again, “Oh, Lord! Grant that Thy servant may be a testimony these few days in this place. Help me that I might not lead others to sin but will lead them to Thee.”

Many sins are more heinous than others and leading others down the wrong road is certainly one of them. May we ever be a testimony to all we meet, all to His glory.

Published by The SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
DedIcated to instruction in the Westminster Standards for use as a bulletin insert or other methods of distributlon in PresbyterIan churches.

Vol. 5, No. 12 (December 1966)
Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor.

The Father of U.S. Special Forces
by Rev. David T. Myers

Of all of the soldiers of the Revolutionary War in our nation’s history, very little has been written on Daniel Morgan.  Yet he fought in the French and Indian War, and in the battles associated with our nation’s independence.

In his early days, this six-foot man was very wild in his character and conduct. Known as a gambling and drinking man, he had his share of brawling with others.  Once as part of Braddock’s force, he had hit a British Lieutenant and received 500 lashes for striking an officer. If he had not being such a strong man, he would have died with this punishment.  He had a particular hatred after that experience for King George and the British army.

When the Revolutionary War began, the Continental Congress called for the formation of ten rifle companies from the middle colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia to support the siege of Boston.  Virginia decided to send two companies.  The House of Burgesses chose Daniel Morgan to organize one of the companies and serve as a Captain in command of that unit.

Daniel Morgan recruited 96 sharpshooters in ten days, assembling them at Winchester, Virginia on July 14, 1775.  They then marched the 600 miles to Boston in twenty-one days, arriving there August 6, 1775.  They were known as “Morgan’s Rangers.” They were sharpshooters which changed the way the battle was fought, as officers in the British army were targeted by these men who were adept as snipers.

In later years, Daniel Morgan joined the Presbyterian Church, and specifically Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Winchester, Virginia.  He became an elder in the Presbyterian system.

Words to Live By: 
God is able to take a rough frontier image of a brawler and change the man inside to a Christian servant of God.  Think of yourself or others in the kingdom of God who have been so changed spiritually, and rejoice in the power of God’s grace this day.

A Plea for Tolerance or a Plan for Liberal Takeover—Which?

That was the fundamental question which was being debated in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., in the early decades of the twentieth century in the United States.  Should this historic church be allowed to have all sorts of opinions accepted within the church, or should the principles and practices of the  historic Christian faith be demanded by all those who are ordained into the church leadership?  This issue was brought to a head by two opposing sermons, both of which were printed and sent to the nation’s spiritual leaders.

“Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” was the sermon which started the battle over which brand of Christianity should be accepted by the leadership of the Presbyterian Church.  Preached by Harry Emerson Fosdick at the First Presbyterian Church of New York City on May 21, 1922, this Baptist Associate Pastor  pleaded for tolerance of more liberal views of Christianity.  In reality, he affirmed that it was not necessary to believe in the sovereignty of God in history, or the inerrant Bible, or special creation.  The virgin birth could be denied by pastors and those in the pew without having to leave their churches and positions.  The Bible is not to be thought of as being without error and the supreme judge of all controversies of religion. Evolutionary science could be received by the visible church without harm. Negative sanctions should be placed in the past without hurting the gospel.  And ecumenism is the best way to go, as far as the end times are concerned.

This message, with printing financed by John D. Rockefeller, was sent out to 130,000 pastors and leaders. Its title was changed to “The New Knowledge and the Christian Faith.”

Answering the sermon was the Rev. Clarence Macartney of Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 13, 1922 with a sermon entitled “Shall Unbelief Win?”  If all those points raised by Fosdick were valid, then Christianity would be a Christianity of opinions and principles and good purposes leading to a Christianity without worship, a Christianity without God , and a Christianity without Jesus Christ.  Liberalism was progressively making the church secular, according to Clarence Macartney.  This sermon was published and sent to the nation’s religious leaders as well.

These two questions, and their sermons, were the opening salvos in the modernist-fundamentalist battles of the twenties and the thirties in American Presbyterianism.

Words to Live By:
   Tolerance was pleaded by liberals.  But when they became in control of the church machinery, there was no tolerance for Reformed Christendom.  The latter ministers and elders were thrown out of the church.  Remember dear reader – once the essentials of Christianity are thrown out, then there is no real Christianity, no worship of the Triune God, no evangelistic efforts, and no hope for heaven’s shores left.  Always be ready to give an answer, or a defense, of the historic Christian faith.  Fight the good fight of faith.

Not Works But Christ’s Merits Alone
by Rev. David T. Myers

From day one of this historical devotional, we have recorded several experiences of David Brainerd, the Presbyterian evangelist to the Indians in the early part of the eighteenth century in America. What made this young man go so courageously to their villages  and witness to the sovereign and saving grace of God in Christ? The only answer, beyond his call to do just that, was his own experience of saving grace and a desire to spread that message of eternal life.

David Brainerd was born on  April 20, 1718 to a religious family. Yet while ministers were among his relatives, he didn’t receive or respect the true way of eternal life. He thought almost all of his young life that salvation was through a life of good works. And he did live such a life.  Prayer, fasting, personal duties to God and man, all were his to show to God.  When he still couldn’t get any real peace with God,  he went to a spirit of real antagonism with this God of the Bible.

As he tells in his diary, he was irritated with the strictness of the divine law against sin. Then the condition of salvation by faith alone bothered him.  Couldn’t there be another way, he thought?  Then, just how does one find saving faith? He didn’t know, nor could he find faith at all.  Last, the sovereignty of God was a troubling idea to him.

All of these questions were answered on this day July 12, 1739 when God’s convicting Spirit fell upon him powerfully  and saved his soul.  Listen to his words in his celebrated diary: “By this time the sun was scarce half an hour high, as I remember, as I was walking in a dark thick grove, ‘unspeakable glory’ seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul.  By the glory I saw I don’t mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing, nor do I intend any imagination of a body of light or splendor somewhere away in the third heaven, or anything of that nature. But it was a new inward apprehension or view that I  had of God; such as I never had before, nor anything that I had the least remembrance of it.  I stood still and wondered and admired.”

Now David Brainerd was qualified to take the unsearchable riches of the gospel to the tribes of hostile Indians.  Commissioned by the Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, he served his blessed Lord and Savior for three years until on October 9, 1747, he went to glory.  But his diary has remained in print and has effectively influenced countless people with missionary zeal to spend and be spent with the call of the Lord to reach the unsaved people of the world with Christ and Him crucified.

Words to Live By: 
It may be that some of you readers have never responded to the gospel call of the Spirit of God.  It may be that some of you are still trying to claim that your religious works will save your soul.  Learn from the experience of David Brainerd of old that all the testimony of Scripture is that eternal life is only by Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone.  Repent, and believe the blessed gospel.

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Sharing  Faith by Word and Deed
by Rev. David T. Myers

Everyone has heard of the name John Wanamaker, especially those in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That is where this retail giant began his department stores at the beginning of the Civil War in 1861.  But everyone may not know that John Wanamaker was a devout Presbyterian who shared his wealth and his Christian faith by word and deed.

Born on this day July 11, 1838, he began to work as an errand boy and shopkeeper’s helper.  At age 18, he became a Christian and began to attend Sunday School and church.  His congregation was Bethany Presbyterian church in Philadelphia.  In fact, at twenty-five, he was ordained as a ruling elder in the church.

He had some ideas which were unorthodox in the retail marketing field.  Using four principles, which were honesty, a fixed price for goods, a money back guarantee, and happy contented employees, he thought (and thought rightly) that customers would come. Workers were given free medical care, free education, recreational facilities, pensions, and profit-sharing plans. No wonder that unions could not get a foothold in his stores.

As his businesses grew with more and more stores in more than one city, he began to give large portions of his wealth to religious and moral causes.  The Young Man’s Christian Association and the Sunday School movement were among those receiving large support. He said once “I cannot too greatly emphasize the important and value of Bible study — more important than ever before in these days of uncertainties, when men and women are apt to decide questions from the standpoint of expediency rather than the eternal principles laid down by God Himself.

Words to Live By: 
When you consider the last sentence about Bible study, we might think that he had made it in the current year in which we find ourselves instead of back in the late 1800’s.  But a faith and life lived in the light of God’s Word the Bible makes everything relevant to every age.  Bible study still has its place in every believer’s life walk.  Buy a faithful Bible study, like the Reformation Study Bible, with a good biblical commentary, like Matthew Henry, and (oh yes) a notebook to record what the Spirit reveals to you through His Word, follow everything up with prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplications (A.C.T.S), and you will be able to decide questions from the standpoint of God Himself.

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