THE DOWNWARD COURSE OF SIN.
1. Men enter and initiate themselves in a vicious practice by smaller sins. Heinous sins are too alarming for the conscience of a young sinner; and therefore he only ventures upon such as are smaller, at first. Every particular kind of vice creeps in this gradual manner.
2. Having once begun in the ways of sin, he ventures upon something greater and more daring. His courage grows with his experience. Now, sins of a deeper die do not look so frightful as before. Custom makes everything familiar. No person who once breaks over the limits of a clear conscience knows where he shall stop.
3. Open sins soon throw a man into the hands of ungodly companions. Open sins determine his character, and give him a place with the ungodly. He shuns the society of good men, because their presence is a restraint, and their example a reproof to him. There are none with whom he can associate but the ungodly.
4. In the next stage, the sinner begins to feel the force of habit and inveterate custom; he becomes rooted and settled in an evil way.—Those who have been long habituated to any sin, how hopeless is their reform! One single act of sin seems nothing; but one after another imperceptibly strengthens the disposition, and enslaves the unhappy criminal beyond the hope of recovery.
5. The next stage in a sinner’s course is to lose the sense of shame, and sin boldly and openly. So long as shame remains, it is a great drawback. But it is an evidence of an uncommon height of impiety, when natural shame is gone.
6. Another stage in the sinner’s progress is to harden himself so far as to sin without remorse of conscience. The frequent repetition of sins stupefies the conscience. They, as it were, weary it out, and drive it to despair. It ceases all its reproofs, and, like a frequently discouraged friend, suffers the infatuated sinner to take his course. And hence,
7. Hardened sinners often come to boast and glory in their wickedness. It is something to be beyond shame; but it is still more to glory in wickedness, and esteem it honorable. Glorious ambition indeed!
8. Not content with being wicked themselves, they use all their arts and influence to make others wicked also. They are zealous in sinning, and industrious in the promotion of the infernal cause.—They extinguish the fear of God in others, and laugh down their own conscientious scruples. And now,
9. To close the scene, those who have thus far hardened themselves, are given up by God to judicial blindness of mind and hardness of heart. They are marked out as vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. This is the consequence of their obstinacy. They are devoted the judgment they deserve.
Reader! view it with terror. — Dr. Witherspoon.
[excerpted from The Evangelical Guardian, 4.10 (February 1847): 461-462.]
By George W. Ridout
[excerpted from THE PRESBYTERIAN (19 February 1925): 8-9.
The history of the Christian church is featured ever and anon with the story of great and significant revivals of religion.
In 1847, the denominations confessed that “there is a flatness over the churches, revivals are rare, and conversions few, while the power of godliness among professors of religion is low.” About the same time, Dr. Chalmers, in The North British Review, speaking of Scotland, said: “As things stand at present, our creeds and confessions have become effete, and the Bible a dead letter, and the orthodoxy which was at one time the glory, by withering into the formal and lifeless, is now the shame and reproach of all our churches.”
The widespread revivals of religion in 1857 and 1859 woke up the churches, kindled new fires, and re-established vital religion in both America and the old country.
Moody taught that there are four things essential to the promoting of a revival: (1) We must believe in revivals ; (2) [text obscured]; (3) We must pray for a revival; (4) We must work for a revival.
Dr. Robert Boyd, when pastor in Chicago long ago, had a church which was signally blessed with a continuous ingathering of souls. At one of his morning services, he said, at the close: “Brethren, so far as I can learn, there has not been a conversion in this church for the past four weeks. I would like all who are concerned for the salvation of souls to meet me this afternoon for special prayer.” A large number met the pastor in prayer and in that service an infidel bookseller was converted and the fire was started afresh.
Mr. Sankey tells the story of a man who was visiting one of the big cathedrals in England. A verger was showing him through and pointing out with admiration the beautiful windows and statuary. The American very suddenly turned to his guide and said, “Do you have many conversions here?” Amazed at such a question, the verger turned to him and said, “Conversions? Conversions! Why, my friend, what kind of a place do you think this is? Do you lake this to be a Wesleyan chapel ?”
The work of converting men and turning them from “darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God,” appears to have dwindled down alarmingly in the average church. We need another revival of religion to bring back to the churches the power of conversion.
Talmadge tells this incident in connection with his Tabernacle: “In the winter of 1875, we were worshipping in the Brooklyn Academy of Music. We had great audiences, but I was oppressed by the fact that conversions were not numerous. On Tuesday, I invited to my house five old, consecrated. Christian men. These men came, not knowing why I had invited them. I took them to the top of the house. I said to them: ‘I have called you here for special prayer. I am in agony for a great turning to God of the people. We have vast multitudes in attendance, and they are attentive and respectful, but I cannot see that they are saved. Let us kneel down and each one pray, and not leave this room until we are all assured that the blessing will come, and has come!’ It was a most intense crying unto God. I said, ‘Brethren, let this meeting be secret,’ and they said, ‘It shall be!’ The next Friday night came the usual prayer-meeting. No one knew what had occurred on Tuesday night, but the meeting was unusually thronged. Men accustomed to pray with great composure broke down under emotion. The people were in tears. There were sobs and silences and solemnity of such unusual power that the worshippers looked unto each other’s faces as much as to say: ‘What does this mean?’ And when the following Sabbath came, although we were in a secular place, over four hundred arose for prayer, and a religious awakening took place that made the winter memorable.”
Robert Hall has said: “The prayer of faith is the only power in the universe to which the great Jehovah yields. Prayer is the sovereign remedy.” John Foster said: “More and better praying will bring the surest and readiest triumph to God’s cause. The church has its sheet anchor in the closet, its magazine stores are there.”
“Restraining prayer, we cease to fight,
Prayer makes the Christian armor bright;
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.”
1. Let us close with a few propositions. Revivals of religion are not inconsistent with intellectual activity and learning. Think of the Wesleys—Oxford men; Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s greatest metaphysicians; Chalmers, of Scotland; Baxter, Howe, Charnock, Owen, and others of former days, and Pierson, Peck, Odin, and Torrey, of modern times.
2. Revivals of religion are not inconsistent with a methodical and symmetrical ministry. Think of Theodore Cuyler, the great pastor of Brooklyn, and J. O. Peck, the remarkable pastor-evangelist of Methodism.
3. Revivals of religion are not inconsistent with good psychology and sound philosophy. At this point we are again reminded of Jonathan Edwards. Finney illustrates this fact, also. Moody was by no means a philosopher, but no man had a keener sense of the psychological moment, and all effective soul-winners learn this art.
4. Revivals of religion are not inconsistent with good reason and sound sense. Nature has her revivals and freshets and outpourings. Business men seek after revivals in trade and learn the art of acquiring them and bringing them to pass. The church is not urging anything unreasonable when she calls upon her people to pray and work for a revival of religion. Indeed, the church that enjoys frequent revivals of religion is the church that keeps most intensely alive its spiritual life and adds to its communion new converts.
Christian principles should influence American society
by Rev. David T. Myers
William Strong was no mere cultural Christian. Listen to how he answered the question of what he thought of Christ. He said, “He is the Chiefest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely — my Lord, my Savior, and my God.” Far from being a cultural Christian, William Strong was a committed Christian, and a Presbyterian as well.
The son of a Presbyterian minister, William Strong was born in Connecticut on May 6, 1808. After graduating from Yale University in 1828 with honors as a Phi Betta Kappa, he then moved to Reading, Pennsylvania to begin his legal practice. In 1846, he became a Congressman, serving as an abolitionist Democrat in the House of Representatives. Serving two terms, he did not seek reelection in 1850, but returned to his private practice.
Seven years later in 1857, he was elected to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania as a Democrat but switched to the Republican party soon afterwards. He would serve eleven years on that state bench before returning to a lucrative law practice in Philadelphia.
On February 18, 1870, he was nominated by President U.S. Grant to the United States Supreme Court. Among his many important votes was the resolution of the disputed election of 1876, when the Court ruled in favor of Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican candidate, thus ensuring his presidency. He served ten years, and then resigned even while he was in good health, believing that justices should not serve when they are infirm. William Strong would go to be with His Savior on August 19, 1895.
All of the above facts are about his service to the nation. And while true, yet they do not get to the character of this Christian Presbyterian. Listen to his words on what he thought about the Bible. He said, “It is the infallible Word of God, a light erected all along the shores of time to warn against the rocks and breakers, and to show the only way to the harbor of eternal rest.” With such a high view of Holy Scripture, there was no problem for Justice Strong to believe that biblical Christian principles should govern many facets of United States society. In fact, he would even go so far as to declare and work for a constitutional amendment declaring our blessed country to be a Christian nation. This in no way in his own mind meant that an established church or denomination was to be the sole church of the land. He was opposed completely to that idea. He believed in the separation of church and state, but he affirmed the connection between the God of the Bible and our nation. He desired a formal acknowledgement of the Christian foundation in American society.
During his long practice both privately and publicly, he served in many Christian organizations, among them, the American Bible Society and the American tract Society. He is buried in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Words to Live By: As was his life long commitment to both the living Word and the written Word, so all Christians today in whatever sphere they are in life, are to have the same commitment to Christ and His Word. Let us press today toward the goal of placing Christ and His Word into those areas into which we live, and move, and exist.
Our title alone should interest all true Presbyterians. For anyone to be characterized by the principles of Scottish Reformer John Knox marks them as someone worth remembering. Such an individual was James Renwick. [His surname is correctly pronounced with a silent “w”]
Born in the little Scottish village of Moniaive, in Dumfriesshire, of Christian parents with little worldly wealth, James was dedicated to the Lord as an infant for the ministry of Christ’s Church. It was said that when only two years old, in his cradle, he could be seen “aiming at prayer.” As the years went by, he did go through a brief period of questioning of spiritual things, but the Lord brought him through that period with full assurance of faith. Studying at the University of Edinburgh, he did well, but couldn’t graduate with his class because he refused to declare that the king was head of the church.
At age 19, he witnessed a martyrdom in Edinburgh of Donald Cargill, a Covenanter. What he said on that execution block made a profound mark on the young man. James began to attend some of the United Society meetings being held throughout Scotland. Indeed, it was this latter group of faithful Covenanters who sent him to Holland to be trained for the ministry. There he was ordained for ministry at the age of twenty-one. Returning back to Scotland, he was ready to be used for the glory of Christ’s kingdom.
James Renwick’s first sermon was to a huge crowd of Covenanter Presbyterians who had gathered in a field in 1683. Such public gatherings were forbidden by the crown, with both parishioners and preachers subject to imprisonment and even death. But that did not stop the one who proclaimed the Word of God and offered the Sacrament of the Lord’s Super. Neither did it stop those who would walk many miles to attend the true preaching of the Word. It is estimated that Pastor Renwick baptized 600 covenant children in the first six months of his pastorate. His congregation was composed of 7000 Presbyterian members from the Central and Southwest part of Scotland. Riding on a strong horse, he went from field to field, from woods to woods, declaring the unsearchable riches of the gospel. Often, the British dragoons would narrowly miss arresting him. Truly, his time was not yet come, but one day in 1688, the Lord allowed the enemies of the gospel to capture him.
Three distinct charges were laid against him. They were: 1. Refusing to acknowledge the king’s authority; 2. Refusing to pay the War Tax; and 3. Counseling his followers to come armed to the field meetings. Defending himself against the charges, it was around this time that it was said that he was of old John Knox’s principles. Judged guilty, he was condemned to die by hanging. It was on this day, February 17, 1688, that he was the last Covenanter to publicly die for the Covenanted Reformation of Scotland. He was twenty-six years of age.
Words to Live By: We live in different times today, but that doesn’t mean that persecution will not and does not come upon believers for their faith. There is such a situation today called “the persecuted church.” With persistent prayer we should come before the Lord in remembering our brothers and sisters in other lands where simply professing Christ as Lord and Savior brings suffering and death. I suggest taking Psalm 79 to guide you in prayer for these dear saints, God’s own children. And in our own land, while freedom of religion is the stated principle of the First Amendment of our Constitution, increasingly we find Christians losing their livelihood due to their Christian convictions. Let us pray now, more than ever, for the freedom to proclaim the gospel. And if, when times of trial may come, may we fully rely upon God’s grace and strength to keep us faithful to the gospel once delivered unto the saints.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 85 & 86.
Q. 85. What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse, due to us for sin?
A. To escape the wrath and curse of God, due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption.
Faith in Jesus Christ. –Believing in the name of Christ, and receiving him as the only Saviour of our souls. (See Explic. Q. 86.)
Repentance unto life. –A true and heartfelt sorrow for sin, accompanied with such a hatred of it, and such a complete turning from it, as is necessary to eternal life. (See Explic. Q. 87.)
Outward means. –The preaching of the gospel of Christ, the reading of God’s word, the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, and the exercise of the duty of prayer, &c. (See Explic. Q. 88.)
Communicateth to us. –Imparts to us, or bestows upon us.
Benefits of redemption. –The blessings of the gospel salvation, which are procured or purchased by Christ, for his people; such as, a free and full pardon of all our sins, the sanctification of our souls by the Holy Spirit, &c.
In this answer, there are four very important matters made known to us:
- That there is a possibility of escaping the wrath and curse of God, due to us for sin. –Isa. lv. 7. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
- That means are appointed by God, to be used by us, for this purpose. –Matt vii. 7. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
- That faith in Christ, and repentance unto life, are necessary parts of these means. –Acts xx. 21. Testifying, both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.
- That the outward means, by which Christ communicates the benefits of redemption, are also to be diligently used. –Rom. x. 13, 14. Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved. How, then, shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.
Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace. –Faith, as here described, is called a grace, because it is a gift freely bestowed, by the favor of God, upon the sinner, who has no merit of his own, to give him any claim to it. This faith is called a saving grace, because wherever it is, the work of salvation is begun, which God will assuredly complete in due time. This saving grace is called faith in Christ, because he is the only object on which it rests.
As he is offered to us in the gospel. –That is we are to receive Christ in all his offices, as our prophet, our priest, and our king, and as an example, that we should follow his steps; in all of which, he is offered to us in the gospel.
The information here received, respecting faith in Christ, may be divided into five parts:
- That it is a saving grace. –Heb. x. 39. We are not of them that draw back to perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
- That it is by faith, that we receive Jesus Christ. –John i. 12. As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.
- That by it we rest upon him. –Matt. xi. 28, 29. Come unto me, all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek, and lowly of heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
- That by this faith, we are enabled to receive and rest upon CHRIST ALONE for salvation. –Acts. iv. 12. Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Eph. ii. 8. By grace are ye saved, through faith.
- That it receives and rests upon Christ, as he is offered in the gospel. –Rom. x. 17. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (or the gospel).
Moses Hoge was born on February 15, 1752. He studied at the famous Liberty Hall Academy during the time that William Graham was headmaster and later studied theology under the tutelage of Dr. James Waddel. Thereafter, Hoge was licensed to preach in 1781 and ordained a year later, being installed as the pastor of a congregation in Hardy, Kentucky.
Health concerns for both he and his wife prompted several moves over the years, with his wife succumbing to illness in 1802. From 1807 until his death in 1820, Rev. Hoge was president of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.
A year after his death, a volume presenting thirty-two of his sermons was published, edited from his manuscripts. The Rev. W. S. Reid wrote of Hoge, that “As a preacher, his manner was ungraceful, even uncouth; but there was so much depth and originality of thought, such richness and force of illustration, and such clear and cogent reasoning, that the awkwardness of his manner was very soon quite overlooked or forgotten.
For considerations of space, we will draw from just one sermon, “Ministerial Piety.”—
(p. 23) : “A minister of the Gospel must not withhold from his people, any doctrine, or truth, which he shall judge necessary for their edification, because it may be unpopular, nor may he connive at any sinful custom, because it may be fashionable, where Providence has cast his lot. It is, indeed, far from being my wish to recommend any unnecessary strictness, in opposition to the customs and manners of the age in which we live. The attempt, however, which has so often been made, and always without success, to reconcile religion with the predominant manners and customs of the world, must ever be found impracticable. Equally far am I from recommending an attention to the unessential peculiarities of a party in the pulpit. For a preacher to put off his people, who are either hungering, or famishing, for the bread of life, with the dry husks of controversy, and that about matters confessedly not essential to their edification, is in my opinion a miserable prostitution of his sacred office.”
(p. 24) : “A minister of the Gospel must deny himself the pleasure and advantage of literary pursuits and theological researches, when the ignorant among his people are to be instructed, when the sick are to be visited, when the dying are to be assisted in their last conflict; or when in any other way he can render more essential service to the great cause in which he is engaged than by the studies of the closet. Nor is he permitted to consider any service too humiliating, or any toil or suffering, too great for him to undergo, for the honour of his Lord, and the best interests of his fellow-men.—Not that he should, without evident necessity, wear out his constitution and shorten his days, by oppressive labours or services of any kind. Quite the reverse. But when duty calls, let him never count the cost, never shrink from any toil or any sufferings. No, not even though his life were to be spent in the service of his Lord and Master. For he who thus loseth his life shall find it.”
(p. 33) : “And now, my brethren, before I take my leave of you, permit me to request you to turn your attention to the people committed to your care. See what a large proportion of them are perishing in sin. And are we sure that we have done every thing in our power to prevent their destruction?—that no more effectual measures can be adopted than those already employed, for their salvation? Let us not be too hasty in concluding that we have exhausted all the treasures of Divine mercy, either with respect to ourselves, or our people,—that no superior assistance for ourselves in the discharge of ministerial duty, or more effectual grace for them, is within our reach. The hand of the Lord is not shortened that it cannot save, nor his ear heavy that it cannot hear. I will venture to affirm there is one thing which we might do for them more than we have yet done. We might pay greater attention to ourselves—to the state of our own souls. Ah! did we feel for ourselves as we ought, we should soon see a glorious change in the state of our people. We should then feel for them, preach to them, pray for them, and live for them, in a way that would scarcely fail to be attended with the happiest effects.”
And for our Word to Live By, Rev. Hoge concludes:
(p. 36) : “Look around you, my Christian brethren, and behold the ignorance, the impiety, the profligacy of the world still lying in wickedness—behold the multitudes everywhere perishing in sin, and say, Is it not time to awake from your guilty slumbers? is it not time to seek the Lord until he come and rain righteousness upon us, upon our churches, and our country? Ah! would only all the friends of Zion of every name, laying aside their most unnatural animosities, and disputes of little importance, thus unite with one heart and one soul in the great cause of our Common Christianity, we might soon expect to see better times—times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. Yes, we might then, confidently expect that our heaven would shower down righteousness and our earth bring forth salvation.”
Sermons Selected from the Manuscripts of Moses Hoge, D.D. was published in 1821, and to my thinking should be reprinted. But in the meantime, thankfully, it is available here.
by Rev. David T. Myers
Edwin D. Morgan was a typical American citizen in many ways, but also one who had extraordinary gifts in the church and state. Born February 8, 1811 on his father’s farm in Washington, Massachusetts, he would begin his work experience as a clerk in his uncle’s store in Hartford, Connecticut. After that ordinary job, his rise in the business and political world was unprecedented. At the age of twenty-one, he was elected to the city council in Hartford. Moving to New York City in 1836, he engaged in the mercantile business and rapidly accumulated wealth. In 1850, he was elected to the New York Senate and became president pro tempore. Eight years later, he was elected governor of the state by a plurality of 17,000 votes. Serving out his eight years in that highest office in the state, he became a United States senator in the midst of the Civil War. It was up, up, up in political office opportunities, but it was his spiritual side which attracted the most attention.
He was a spiritual leader in the membership of Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City. Serving as president of the Board of Trustees, and in semi-retirement, he devoted himself to religious and charitable work. He backed up that work by the giving of thousands of dollars to Presbyterian ministries. The Presbyterian Hospital, and later on Union Theological Seminary, were recipients of his grants of money. In his will alone, some $795, 000 was designated for religious charities.
Words to Live By: Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:19 – 21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (ESV)
When he passed away on February 14, 1883, his departure from this earth was filled with peace. With his pastor standing beside his deathbed, he said, “I am ready to go now, if it is God’s will, for it is better to be with him. I know that I have not been a good man, but I have tried to do God’s bidding. I leave myself in His hands, for there I am safe.” After spending a few minutes in prayer, the dying man rose up partly from the bed and said, “How sweet, how precious, how comfortable. Christ my Savior,” and with these closing words, passed from earth to glory.
So frequently throughout Scripture that we tend to overlook it by its very frequency, our Lord God does time and time again instruct us–charge us–command us–to remember His works. It is one of His appointed means by which we can keep our hearts tender and fresh in the love of our Lord and Savior. John Flavel’s excellent treatise, THE MYSTERY OF PROVIDENCE is a wonderful exposition of this same truth. Here in the article below, William Stanford Reid adds his own insight on the importance of history for the Christian.
by William Stanford Reid
NEEDED: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Reformation Today (Montreal, Canada), 2.4 (February 1953): 11, 17.]
History is God’s possession. This is the repeated assertion of the Scriptures. Whether dealing with individuals such as Pharaoh, Cyrus and Judas, or with nations such as the Jews or with kingdoms such as Babylon, Egypt or Rome, this is always the point of view. Every item, every event of history is worked out according to the purpose and plan of God, “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Moreover, this plan and purpose finds its culmination in redemption, accomplished by Christ and to be made complete at history’s final day.
The implications of this point of view for the history of the Church since apostolic days are numerous. The most important is, however, that Christ, who is “head over all things to the Church” is guiding and ruling His people. He is bringing His elect into the Church and punishing those professing Christians who prove unfaithful. In this way the history of the Church has for the Church a twofold objective. It is a warning of what befalls those who are not obedient. This is mentioned repeatedly in the New Testament. (2 Tim. 3:8; Heb. 3:17-19; Rev. 2,3). At the same time the history of the Church is a means of instruction, whereby it is warned, encouraged and strengthened. (Rom. 4, 9-11; Heb. 11; 1 Cor. 10:11).
For this reason the Christian has a very real obligation to the Church’s history. He, and the Church as a whole, must take it seriously, regarding it as part of God’s means of guiding and directing the Church by the Spirit into all truth. (John 14:26; 16:13). For this reason history is not to be discarded, nor disregarded. It is the revelation of how God deals with His people, which is also the fundamental message of the Bible. The only difference is that the Church does not have since Apostolic days, an inspired record, nor an inspired interpretation. Therefore, it is the Church’s obligation, not only to understand its own history, but also to evaluate and interpret it in the light of God’s Word.
There are, however, dangers at this point. If one adopts a proper point of view, they may not be great, but there is always a tendency towards traditionalism and conservativism. Because this, that or the other doctrine has been believed, or because this, that or the other practice has been followed, such must still be the case. This can only lead to aridity and pharasaism which will bring the Church to the grave.
The greatest danger, however, amongst present day Christians, is in the other direction. They tend to disregard the Church’s history. They adopt the attitude that it is unimportant “Let’s not have Calvin or Wesley or Machen,” they say, “But let us get back to the Scriptures. Only then shall we know the truth.” In this way they are adopting the position, that before this age no one has ever really wrestled with problems of the faith, and what is even more important, no one has ever found a solution. They imply that their problems, their needs and their ideas are absolutely new. Therefore history cannot help.
To an historian such a point of view is utterly ridiculous, for in history “there is nothing new under the sun.” The new problems are the old. What Augustine, Calvin, Kuyper and others had to face, we also have to deal with today. We cannot escape from the world in which we live, a world made up of past history.
This anti-historical attitude, however, is very dangerous. Its proponents feel that in a year or two they can achieve the results which the Church has achieved only over 2,000 years. Consequently they often fall into old errors and heresies which could have been easily avoided if they had known some history. Moreover, they would be much humbler than they usually are, for they would see how utterly fallible are all Christians.
Today the Church suffers from a rejection of history. This is one of the evangelical’s greatest weaknesses. Therefore, let us study the Church’s history, the history of God’s people, in order that we may the better know Him who is the Church’s only Lord and King.
If you were among the visitors seeking a seat in the House of Representatives gallery that Sabbath day on February 12, 1865, you would have had to arrive early to accomplish your goal, for the gallery was packed with black and white individuals. It was a historical occasion in many aspects. First, the adoption of the 13th Amendment by the Congress banning the institution of slavery was within sight. Second, the decision of the Republican majority to commemorate the event by a public religious service was surprising, even in the middle of the nineteenth century of the republic. Next, President Abraham Lincoln’s choice of a speaker was the Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, a former slave and then pastor of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Blacks had been barred from entrance to the halls of Congress in recent days before this event. Now this six foot abolitionist, even by political and, failing that, physical means, was being invited to lead the worship service in the House of Representatives.
And it was a worship service. The memorable meeting began with the singing of the hymn, “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name.” That was followed up with a Scripture reading. The choir from the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church sang “Arise My Soul Arise, Shake off Thy Guilty Fears.” Then Rev. Garnet began to preach, following the text of Matthew 23:4 which describes the Pharisees of our Lord’s day “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” The title of his hour-long message was “Let the Monster Perish.” He would spare no words in the powerful address.
Listen to one paragraph:
“Great God! I would as soon attempt to enslave Gabriel or Michael as to enslave a man made in the image of God, and for whom Christ died. Slavery is snatching man from the high place to which he was lifted by the hand of God, and dragging him down to the level of the brute creation, where he is made to be the companion of the horse and the fellow of the ox. It tears the crown of glory from his head and as far as possible obliterates the image of God that is in him.”
And another short exhortation in the closing words:
“Let slavery die. It has had a long and fair trial. God himself has pleaded against it. The enlightened nations of the earth have condemned it. Its death warrant is signed by God and man. Do not commute its sentence. Give it no respite, but let it be ignominiously executed.”
The entire message can be found on Google for readers to read, but those who heard it that day went away, certainly having their curiosity satisfied. And whether we agree with his verbiage or not, what a memorable way to celebrate the passage of legislation than a worship service in the Congress. Would to God that we would have political representatives who would desire to hear God’s Word and not worry about whether it was a violation of the separation of church and state!
Words to Live By: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Proverbs 14:34 (NASB)
Some have heard of the small American denomination known as the Reformed Presbyterian Church and how they took a early stand against the practice of slavery. But few have read any of the story of what was involved, what it cost to take that stand, and the blessings that followed from their Scriptural obedience. It would make an interesting study, to ask how it was that this Church saw such near-unanimous obedience in standing true to the Scriptures and against the prevailing culture. I would argue that what we read here is the proper exercise of that doctrine known as the Spirituality of the Church, in which the Church exercises its God-given authority and effectively disciplines sin where it finds it.
Our post today comes from the September 1875 issue of Our Banner, a publication of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.
A Long Standing Testimony
Extracts of Minutes of the Committee of the Reformed Presbytery, on the Subject of Slavery.—Minutes of February 11, 1801.
“A petition came in requesting a reconsideration of the business respecting slaveholders, so far as this species of traffic might be supposed to affect Christian communion—and that such steps might be taken in the premises, as should place that whole affair on such a moral basis as the principles of our common profession, seem imperiously to demand.” “It was agreed prior to the further consideration of this subject that all slave-holders in the communion of this church, should be warned to attend the next meeting of the Committee, and that there the merits of the petition aforementioned, shall be particularly attended to.”
Minutes of February 18, 1801.—“The consideration of the state of the enslaved Africans was introduced this day into the Committee. The purport of the discussion was to ascertain whether those who concurred, more or less, in the enslavement of these miserable subjects, should be considered as entitled to communion in this church. It was unanimously agreed that enslaving these, our African brethren, is an evil of enormous magnitude, and that none who continue in such a gross departure, from humanity and the dictates of our benevolent religion, can have any just title to communion in this church.”
To carry this resolution into effect, the following note was sent to every member of the congregation, not then present, involved in the evil, viz: “Sir, you are hereby informed, that none can have communion in this church who hold slaves. You must therefore immediately have it registered, that your slaves are freed, before the sacrament. If any difficulty arises to you in the manner of doing it, then you are desired to apply to the Committee of Presbytery, who will give directions in any circumstances of a doubtful nature in which you may be involved, in carrying this injunction into execution.”
At this time the Rev. Wm. Martin was deposed from the office of the ministry, having been found guilty of several heinous sins and scandals, among which the third in order belongs to the present subject, and illustrates the faithful application of discipline to remove slavery from the church.
“3d, That he sold some time since, a negro man then in his possession, thereby doing everything in his power, to prevent himself from ever having it in his power to liberate a poor wretched fellow mortal in any other period in his life, putting this price of blood among his substance, while he left his fellow-mortal to languish out the last moment of his life, under the galling chains of slavery without one scanty ray of hope of ever obtaining deliverance any other way but by the hand of death, and all this after the determination of the court and church to which he belonged had marked African enslavement with the strongest degree of abhorrence.” The last words quoted undoubtedly point to Presbyterial action on the subject of slavery or at least to the action of a committee of Presbytery prior to the deed of selling the slave. This action was thereafter taken by the Scotch Presbytery itself or by its committee, as that was the court to which Mr. Martin belonged until he gave in his submission in 1801 to the committee of Reformed Presbyterians in the United States of America. Mr. Martin’s want of proper feeling in reference to his sin, appears from the plea he made for himself. “Ye a’ see I’m opposed to slavery for I ha’e sold mine.”
As the communion season was near at hand, and they were not familiar with the legal formalities in the deed of emancipation it was found necessary to settle the matter in preparation for the sacrament by binding the parties under heavy penalties to carry out the liberation of their slaves “as soon as it could possibly be ascertained” how it could be legally done. ” It was accordingly agreed that said bonds be in the meantime delivered into the hands of Rev. Thomas Donnelly, who is held responsible for the same; and that the said Rev. Thomas Donnelly, John M. Ninch, and Robert Hemphill be appointed a committee to inquire into the peculiar circumstances of each of the slaves to be liberated, as also into the true legal forms of emancipation; that the intentions of the Reformed Presbytery in purging out the accursed thing from among them, may be carried into the most speedy effect.” This last language implies that the American Presbytery had also given orders on this matter. Indeed, it is well understood that the committee of Presbytery came to the South specially empowered by Presbytery to abolish slavery in the church. It was further ordered that Mr. Donnelly should make an early report to Presbytery in reference to this matter. It will thus be seen, that Covenanters always viewed with the utmost abhorrence the crime of slavery; and while they provided for the natural freedom of the enslaved, they enquired about their circumstances, it is presumable, in a spiritual as well as a temporal point of view. The records do not show that Mr. Donnelly ever reported the matter to Presbytery and therefore to bring it to a close, we must depend on tradition. It is said that of all those that gave bonds, only four persons failed to carry out their obligations. One of these, James Kell, was afterwards taken in the act of adultery with his own slave—a second died a vile drunkard—and a third was reduced to abject poverty, and was caught stealing the nails to make his wife’s coffin. Thus the brand of Cain was put on the sin of slavery and that in connection with the discipline of our church. The blessing of God followed those that turned from their sin, and some of their children and grand children became ministers and elders in the church.
Some of the slaves then freed also became members of the church. Three children of Will and his wife, the former set free by James Hunter, and the latter by John McDill, are now members of Church Hill congregation in Illinois.
The ministers of the church all habitually denounced the judgments of God on the nation for the sin of slavery. If there was any difference in the degree of abhorrence felt against the inhuman and revolting traffic, it was on the part of the ministers and people of the South. They had seen the monster sin, not to pity and embrace; but to hate and abhor. The underground railroad found its most daring conductors and station agents among Carolina Covenanters. Having abolished slavery among themselves, they were not ashamed to be called abolitionists ; and they were not afraid to incur the wrath of citizens and civil officers by helping the fugitives. It was part of their religion.
Mr. Donnelly retained his fervid hatred of the system to the end. His hearers say, that as he had always consistently opposed the iniquitous institution, his severe denunciations and arguments were overlooked, with some such remark as, ” Oh, it is only old Donnelly, let it go ;” while if a Northern man had said the same thing it would have secured him a coat of tar and feathers. Nor was he at all a respecter of persons in reproving this sin. After his son became a Presbyterian and a slaveholder, they must needs discuss the irrepressible subject. The son claimed that there were Christian slaveholders. The father replied, ” It may be so, but a slaveholder among Christians is like a black swan in the flock.” Slavery was certainly the principal cause of the exodus of Covenanters from the South. Rev. James Faris used to say that he would have made the South his home, had it not been for the danger to his family through the temptations held out by the peculiar institution.