Sad Schism Among the Saints
by Rev. David T. Myers

They were united in their conviction over the apostasy of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. A number of the teaching and ruling elders had suffered over expulsion from the rolls of the visible church. Others had lost church buildings, manses, and pensions. But in God’s providence, they had gathered in great rejoicing to begin a new church faithful to the Scriptures, the Reformed faith, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were one in coming out of the apostasy, but it was not too long before the members of the Presbyterian Church of America were divided over other issues. It was at the third General Assembly of the P.C.A. in Philadelphia, as reported by the June 26th, 1937 Presbyterian Guardian, that these divisive issues came to the floor of the assembly.

The first one dealt with the issue of independency versus ecclesiastical Presbyterianism within the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.  Obviously, since 1933 at its organization, this mission board had not been affiliated with any denomination. It was independent of it. Independent agencies had always had a place within the American Presbyterian Church. But now with the advent of the Presbyterian Church of America, the majority of the elders desired that a Presbyterian affiliation be adhered to again. When Dr. J. Gresham Machen was voted off as president of the Independent Board, his place was filled by an Independent Presbyterian, with no affiliation with the new Presbyterian Church of America.  Further, the vice-president’s position was also filled by an individual who was independent of any ecclesiastical relationship to Presbyterianism. Many members, including the General Secretary, Rev. Charles Woodbridge, resigned from the Independent Board.

The commissioners to the Third General Assembly, meeting in Philadelphia at the Spruce Street Baptist Church, overwhelmingly voted that the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was no longer to be an agency for foreign missions by the Presbyterian Church of America. By that same margin, they voted to endorse a new Committee on Foreign Missions by the P.C. of A.

The second issue dealt with whether total abstinence from alcoholic beverages was to be the position of the church. While it was acknowledged that the greater number of delegates to the assembly abstained from alcohol, yet they were  hesitant to make it a rule for the church, but instead leave it as a matter of Christian liberty to its membership.  This position was especially difficult for pastors in the middle west of the country who were fighting the saloon trade in western towns.  Given the national issue then in the country over the temperance issue, it was thought that this would have been a wise decision. But again the Assembly refused by a wide margin to make total abstinence the only true principle of temperance.

It is interesting that Westminster Theological Seminary, soon after this assembly, stated to its students, that “to avoid any misconception by the public, a rule is established forbidding all beverage use of alcoholic liquors upon the grounds and in the buildings of the seminary.”

We mention in passing a third issue, “the millennial question,” which by many accounts was the major sticking point in this division. But this third issue is somewhat complicated and really deserves fuller treatment at another time. Hopefully we can return soon to discuss this further.

At the end of this assembly, those who had been in the minority on both of these issues, gathered to begin what became the Bible Presbyterian church. What had been a united front before the watching world became two smaller church bodies of Presbyterians.

Words to Live By:
It is easy to look back at a later date and see the “right thing” to do. But it is obvious that there were unfounded rumors of wild drinking parties on Westminster Seminary grounds as well as  a lack of understanding by some elders of the challenges facing pastors of western churches. To be sure, the guiding wisdom of a J. Gresham Machen was missing from the assembly with his entrance into the heavenly kingdom earlier that year. But all elders, both teaching and ruling elders, are to filled with the Spirit. And working within the framework of love, deal wisely with others who differ from them in points of contention. Let us learn to do this in our own circles.

“Ye shall be My witnesses”

Our post today is from an editorial by the Rev. David S. Kennedy, who served as the editor of THE PRESBYTERIAN, a Philadelphia-based magazine of long standing. Rev. Kennedy’s associate editor at this time and later successor in that post was the Rev. Samuel Craig, who went on to found the Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company. Rev. Kennedy’s editorial was written and appeared during the pitch of the modernist controversy.

The Main Function of the Church
[The Presbyterian 95.26 (25 June 1925): 3-4.]

THE church of Jesus Christ has many functions. Among these functions, however, there is one that takes precedence of all others. This function was given initial and summary expression by the supreme Head of the church himself immediately after his ascension and his resumption of that glory which he had had with the Father before the world was — in what were therefore the final instructions he gave to his church — in person rather than through the instrumentality of his apostles — in the words that are recorded in the eighth verse of the first chapter of the Book of Acts, “Ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”

The primary function of the church is to bear witness, to make known its message of truth. The campaign launched by the apostles, at the command of Christ himself, was a campaign of witnessing. It was by the “foolishness of preaching” that they began the task, not only of bringing the thoughts and activities of individuals into captivity to their Lord, but of transforming the kingdoms of this world into his kingdom. It is not strange that it seemed foolishness to the then-living wise of this world that the apostles should expect to achieve any significant results by the use of such a method. One might think that the history of the last nineteen hundred years had abundantly justified the wisdom of their method; and yet there are still many, even within the Christian church, to whom the method seems foolish to such a degree that they have largely subordinated it to other methods. For the “foolishness of preaching” they substitute organization, mass movements, programmes, and such like, so that instead of being primarily “men with a message,” they are rather “men with a programme.” Plans and programmes and organizations have an important part to play in the great task of Christianizing the world, but in view of the method commended by Christ himself and followed by the apostles, it is clear that our chief dependence should be on the purity and sincerity of our testimony to the truth as it is in Jesus Christ.

From the very beginning the campaign of witnessing carried on by the apostles included two elements — both of which were kept constantly in the foreground. In the first place, they made known what had taken place, the great historical events that lie at the basis of the Christian religion. In the second place, they expounded the meaning and significance of those facts or events.

The apostles were not mere philosophers, expounders and defenders of certain religious ideas which they had been led to adopt through their association with the great Nazarene teacher; neither were they mere ethical teachers, those primarily interested in leading men to accept certain ethical or moral ideals that would lead them to live as Jesus lived. Certainly they were religious and ethical teachers who urged men to take Jesus as their example, but primarily they were concerned about telling men of certain events that had happened and of the meaning and significance of those events. “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received,” wrote Paul, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” They testified to the facts, in the sense of events that have happened, that lie at the basis of the gospel — apart from which there would be no gospel. They told, men that Christ had died and that he had risen. That was not all, however. They also pointed out the meaning of those facts — that Jesus had died “for our sins,” and that he was “raised for our justification.” They did not suppose that the facts alone—what are sometimes called the “bare or naked” facts, that is, the facts apart from any interpretation of them—gave them a gospel of redemption to proclaim. It is more than questionable whether we can conceive such a thing as a “bare” or “naked” fact, but it is at least certain that such a fact would be meaningless. It is true that apart from such facts as the death and resurrection of Jesus there would be no gospel for a sin cursed world; but it is equally true that there would be no such gospel if the meaning and significance of those facts were not known. Only as we realize that the death and resurrection of Jesus was the death and resurrection of the God-man, and that he was “delivered for our trespasses and raised for our justification,” do they beget in us a living hope concerning “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.” In other words, the gospel is constituted, not by facts apart from doctrines, still less by doctrines apart from facts, but by facts and doctrines, so bound together that in effect they coalesce. As the late James Orr, to whose writings so many of this generation are indebted, once put it: “The gospel is no mere proclamation of ‘eternal truths,’ but the discovery of a saving purpose of God for mankind, executed in time. But the doctrines are the interpretation of the facts. The facts do not stand blank and dumb before us, but have a voice given them and a meaning put into them. They are accompanied by living speech, which makes their meaning clear. When John declares that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh and is the Son of God, he is stating a fact, but he is none the less enunciating a doctrine. When Paul affirms, ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,’ he is proclaiming a fact, but he is at the same time giving an interpretation of it.”

It is impossible for the church of Jesus Christ to adequately function in the world except as it bears clear and positive testimony to the facts and doctrines of the Christian religion. After all, the fundamental thing about Christianity is that it is a revelation of truth. From the Christian viewpoint, therefore, there can be no greater evil than the evil of compromising with truth or even of minimizing the value and importance of truth. Neglect or even ascribe a secondary place to the truth as it is in Jesus, and the main purpose for which the church exists is surrendered.

If the church is functioning badly to-day, it is largely because of the evid [?] of divided conviction and divided testimony. The testimony given throughout the church is discordant and contradictory. What one minister commends as saving truth, another minister denounces as fatal error. Is it any wonder that the rank and file are distracted and confused? There is no more pressing need than the bringing about of a situation wherein the church, as far as is humanly possible, will bear undivided testimony to the gospel of the grace of God in its purity. In as far as such divided testimony exists within the Presbyterian Church, it largely finds its explanation in the fact that men have been admitted to its ministry — or have persisted in remaining in its ministry — in defiance of its constitutional requirements. The recent judicial decision makes clear that, according to the Constitution, only those who have “clear and positive” views as to Christian doctrines are eligible for licensure. “’The presbytery must be satisfied,” so the decision reads, ”that the applicant is clear and positive in his belief as to the doctrines of the church, and unless he is thus clear and positive, it is the duly of presbytery to defer licensure until he becomes clear and positive.” It is clear, of course, that if those lacking clear and positive beliefs as to the doctrines of the church have no right to enter the Presbyterian ministry, such have also no right to remain in this ministry. This action of the General Assembly, it need scarcely be said, added nothing to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church; it merely gave clear and definitive expression to what was already in the Constitution, but which in some quarters was being ignored or even denied.

On the Celebration of the Supper by the Courts

A few years ago my friend Ben Glaser, an Associate Reformed pastor, raised a most interesting question. He asked: 

“When did Presbyteries, Synods, and General Assemblies begin regularly having the Lord’s Supper at their meetings?”

With a bit of digging, I found that in the Southern Presbyterian Church, it wasn’t until 1912, at the 52d General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., that we find this:

The Standing Committee on Devotional Exercises presented the following resolution, which was adopted:

We recommend that it be a standing rule in our Assembly that immediately following the Moderator’s opening sermon, the sacrament of the Lord’s supper shall be celebrated, the retiring Moderator presiding.
— W.O. Cochrane, Chairman.

Switching over to the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (aka, Northern Presbyterian Church), we have to go all the way back to 1871 to find this report spread on their Minutes, at pp. 577-578:

6. The Lord’s Supper.—In regard to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, in connection with the stated meetings of the judicatories of the Church, your Committee feel hardly prepared to recommend any absolute and universal change. And yet it cannot be denied, that grave objections exist as to the manner in which this sacred service is often observed. Too much, as a matter of form, crowded in between hours of pressing business, if not of exciting discussion, with little or no preparatory exercises, it is not strange that this, which should be the richest feast of blessing, the very climax of privilege, has so often proved dull and formal, and of little spiritual advantage. As originally instituted by our Lord, this sacrament was a “supper,” observed at an appointed “hour,” “when the even was come” of “the same night in which he was betrayed.” Might not many impressive associations be secured if, in the imitation of his example, it were, whenever possible, appointed for [I]an evening service[/I], exclusively distinct from all the business of the day?

“With desire,” he said, “have I desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.” Ought not his ministering servants, in their stated assemblies, to guard against any influences which may tend to cool the ardor of their “desire” for the recurrence of the Sacred Feast?

“Let a man examine himself,” said the apostle, “and so let him eat that bread and drink that cup.” Ought not careful arrangements to be made for “attending thereto with diligence, preparation, and prayer”? And, unless due opportunity be given for such preparation, would it not be better, at our ecclesiastical meetings, not to appoint the formal service at all?
Your Committee recommend, that the attention of Judicatories be called to this important subject, and that, independent of past customs, they be enjoined to take such action with reference to it, as may seem most in harmony with the Divine arrangement, and best calculated to promote the spiritual welfare of themselves and the congregations with which from time to time they may meet.

Resolved, That the Committee of Arrangements for the next General Assembly be instructed, to provide for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, on the evening of the first day of its sessions.

Looking back in the older Minutes of General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (Old School), those prior to 1869, we find that meetings are opened and closed with prayer, as we would expect. And there is mention of devotional exercises, but there is no mention of any observance of the Lord’s Supper, so far as I could find.

Two possibilities occur then:
1. Either the observance of the Lord’s Supper at General Assembly (and presumably at Presbytery and/or Synod as well) was a practice that has its beginning among the New School Presbyterians.
or,
2. When Assemblies met for eight days or more, as they used to, the included Lord’s Day was an obvious time of worship and likely also for celebration of the Supper. So perhaps as Assemblies began to meet for six or fewer days, the need began to be felt for more structured times of worship, with inclusion of the Supper.

Testing the first thesis, I found in the Minutes of the 1868 New School Assembly, on page 42, this note:

The Assembly met, and united with a large congregation of Christian believers in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

That Assembly had convened on Friday, May 22d, 1868, and met Saturday in continuation. Then there is no reference whatsoever in the Minutes as to what that Assembly did on Sunday. Business continued again on Monday through the week, and on Friday, celebration of the Supper at 3 PM. Business continued on Saturday, adjourned, no mention of Sunday, and business concluded on Monday, June 1st. There was only the one observance of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday, May 28th.

In the 1839 New School GA Minutes, on page 13:

On Saturday evening, a quarter before 8 o’clock, a Lecture preparatory to the sacrament was preached by the Rev. Dr. Williston; and on Sabbath, P.M., at 5 o’clock, the Lord’s supper was administered, in the First Presbyterian Church [Philadelphia], to the members of the Assembly, and to a large congregation of Christian Brethren, according to the previous arrangement.

Admittedly there, in 1839, celebration of the Supper took place on the Lord’s Day, but it was nonetheless administered to the Assembly. Also noted is the fact that the Supper was not observed at the opening of that Assembly, but rather was observed later while the Assembly was in session. Checking other New School Minutes, there does not appear to have been any celebration of the Supper in 1840, 1843, or 1855. But in 1849 and 1850, at each of those Assemblies, there was the observance of the Supper on Thursday, at 4 PM and 7:45 PM respectively.

So while they might have been spotty in their observance, there does seem to be a case for the idea that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper by the higher courts of the Church is a practice that comes out of New School Presbyterianism. It is only after the reunion of 1869-70 that the practice becomes regularized in the PCUSA.

THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST
Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 28
Q.28. Wherein consisteth Christ’s exaltation?

A. Christ’s exaltation consisteth in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in his ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and in coming to judge the world at the last day.

EXPLICATION.

Ascending into heaven. –Going up to heaven, or returning to “that glory which Christ had with the Father before the world was.”

Sitting at the right hand of God. –Being raised to the highest place of honor and dignity in the heavenly state, and having power over all things given to him by God the Father.

To judge the world. –To try all mankind, and to reward the good, and to punish the wicked, “according to their works.”

ANALYSIS.

The steps of Christ’s exaltation, stated in this answer, are four in number :

  1. His rising from the dead, on the third day. –1 Cor. xv. 4. He was buried, and rose again the third day.
  2. His ascending up into heaven. –Mark xvi. 19. So then, after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven.
  3. His taking his seat at the right hand of God the Father –Mark xvi. 19. He sat on the right hand of God. Eph. i. 20. He set him at his own right hand, in the heavenly places.
  4. His coming to judge the world at the last day. –Acts xvii. 31. Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that Man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

 

A Polymath of the First Order

miller01 copyWhile in the mad rush to finish preparing for the PCA’s General Assembly, we take this opportunity to press the Rev. Dr. Miller into service as guest author for today’s post. The following is Dr. Miller’s reply to William Buell Sprague’s request for a biographical account of the Rev. Dr. John Ewing, who had long served as the Provost of the University of Pennsylvania.

Rev. and dear Brother: It gives me pleasure to contribute the least effort toward the erection of an humble monument to the memory of the Rev. Dr. John Ewing, late Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, whom I knew well, and whom I have much reason, on a variety of accounts, to remember with veneration and love.

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p style=”text-align: justify;”>Rev. Dr. John Ewing, D.D.He was a native of Maryland, born in the town of Nottingham, in Cecil County, on the 22d of June, 1732. Of his ancestors, little is known. They emigrated from Ireland at an early period of the settlement of our country, and fixed themselves on the banks of the Susquehanna, near to the spot on which he was later born. His father was in circumstances which enabled him to give his five sons as good an education as the state of the Colonies with respect to schools could then well furnish. After the first elementary school to which he was sent, he was placed at the Academy of the Rev. Dr. Francis Alison, an eminent Presbyterian clergyman, who had emigrated from Ireland, and who was greatly distinguished for his classical literature, and who became instrumental in forming a number of excellent scholars in the Middle Colonies. His literary institution at New London, in Pennsylvania, was long celebrated. There young Ewing passed the usual course of study; and after completing it, remained three years longer in the Academy as a Tutor; directing special attention to the Latin and Greek language, and mathematics, in all which he was eminent through life.

In 1774 he became a member of the College of New Jersey, then located at Newark, under the Presidency of the Rev. Mr. Burr; and, as he was so far advanced and matured in the principal studies of the College, he was graduated at the annual Commencement of the same year. At the same time he was the principal instructor in the grammar school, which was connected with the College, and spent a portion of almost every day in instructing others in the languages and mathematics. In 1756, he was chosen Tutor in the College in which he had been graduated, and continued in that station two full years, enlarging and maturing his knowledge. During this course of service as a Tutor, he removed with the College from Newark to Princeton, which removal took place in 1757. In pursuing the study of Theology, he returned to his former teacher and friend, the Rev. Dr. Alison, and was subsequently licensed to preach the Gospel by the Presbytery of Newcastle. At the age of twenty-six, before he undertook the pastoral charge, he was selected to instruct the philosophical class in the College of Philadelphia, during the absence of the Provost, the Rev. Dr. Smith. While thus employed, he received, in the year 1759, a unanimous call from the First Presbyterian Church in the city of Philadelphia, to become their Pastor. This call he accepted, and was ordained to the work of the ministry, and installed as their Pastor, in the course of that year.

About this time, Mr. Ewing formed a matrimonial connection with Miss Hannah Sergeant, the eldest daughter of Jonathan Sergeant, Esq., of Princeton,–a lady of great beauty and domestic excellence, with whom he lived in happy union more than forty years, and who survived him a number of years.

In 1773, Mr. Ewing was commissioned, with the consent of his congregation, in company with Dr. Hugh Williamson, late a member of Congress from North Carolina, to solicit contributions in Great Britain for the support of the Academy of Newark, in Delaware. His high reputation in his own country, together with an ample supply of letters which he took with him, gave him access to a number of men eminent in Church and State, in Great Britain, and prepared the way for the formation of a number of acquaintances and friendships, which were highly interesting to him, and, in some cases, valuable, as long as he lived. He seems to have made a deep impression, especially in North Britain, in favour of American character. The cities of Glasgow, Montrose, Dundee, and Perth, presented to him their freedom; and from the University of Edinburgh, of which Dr. Robertson was then the Principal, he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity. Dr. Robertson, in presenting this diploma, declared that he had never before conferred a degree with greater pleasure. At this time the contest between the Colonies and the mother country was beginning to be serious. It was, of course, the theme of much conversation while he was in England. He had frequent interviews with the Prime Minister, Lord North, and with all the intelligence of one recently from the Colonies, and with all the firmness and zeal of an ardent Whig, he warned his Lordship against the prosecution of the contest, and confidently predicted its issue; but without effect.

But the narrative which Dr. Ewing, after his return to America, was wont to give with most graphic interest, was that of his first interview with the celebrated Dr. [Samuel] Johnson, at the table of Mr. Dilly, the wealthy and hospitable Bookseller of London. Dr. Johnson, it is well known, was violent against the Colonies; had written a popular pamphlet against their claims [The Patriot,(1774)] ; and heaped upon them and their advocates the coarsest abuse. Mr. Dilly, in inviting Dr. Ewing to dinner, apprized him that Dr. Johnson was to be of the party, and cautioned him against contradicting or opposing the great literary despot. During the dinner the contest with America became the subject of animated conversation. Dr. Ewing, the only American present, being appealed to, began, with his usual frankness, to defend the Colonies. Dr. Johnson, looking at him with sternness, said, “What do you know, Sir, on that subject?” Dr. Ewing calmly replied that, having resided in America all his life, he thought himself qualified to form and to express opinions on the situation and claims of the country. Dr. Johnson’s feelings were roused. The epithets of rebels and scoundrels were pretty liberally applied to the population of the Colonies. At length Johnson rudely said, “Sir, what do you know in America? You never read. You have no books there.” “Pardon me, Sir,” replied Dr. Ewing, “we have read the Rambler.” [a periodical published by Dr. Johnson, 1750-1752]. This civility instantly pacified him; and, after the rest of the company had retired, he sat with Dr. Ewing until midnight, in amiable, eloquent, and highly interesting conversation.

In the summer of 1775, Dr. Ewing returned from Europe. War was soon commenced between the United States and Great Britain. And he adhered to the cause of his country with all the firmness and zeal of an ardent Whig. In 1779, the Legislature of Pennsylvania revoked the charter of the old College and Academy of Philadelphia, and gave a new one, creating the University of Pennsylvania. At the head of this new institution, Dr. Ewing was placed, under the title of Provost. In this station, united with that of pastor of a church, he continued to the end of life. Besides presiding over the whole University as its head, with dignity and commanding influence, he was Professor of Natural Philosophy, and every year delivered a course of lectures on that branch of science. But this was not all. Perhaps our country has never bred a man so deeply as well as extensively versed in every branch of knowledge commonly taught in our Colleges as was Dr. Ewing. Such was his familiarity with the Hebrew language, that I have been assured by those most intimately acquainted with his habits, that his Hebrew Bible was constantly by his side in his study, and that it was that which he used of choice, for devotional purposes. In Mathematics and Astronomy, in the Lating, Greek and Hebrew languages, in Logic, in Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy, he was probably more accomplished than any other man in the United States. When any other Professor in the University was absent, the Provost would take his place, at an hour’s warning, and conduct the instruction appropriate to that Professorship with more skill, taste, and advantage than the incumbent of the chair himself. His skill in mathematical science was so pre-eminent and acknowledged, that he was more than once employed with Dr. Rittenhouse, of Philadelphia, in running the boundary lines between several of the States, in which he acquitted himself in the most able and honourable manner. He was one of the Vice Presidents of the American Philosophical Society, and made a number of contributions to the volumes of their Transactions, which do honour his memory.

Dr. Ewing had a strong constitution, and for a long course of years enjoyed vigorous health; being very seldom kept either out of the pulpit or from the Professor’s chair by indisposition. In the early part of the year 1802, he was attacked with a chronic disease, which gradually undermined his health, and finally terminated his important and useful life on the 8th of September of that year, in the seventy-first year of his age.

Few preachers in his day were more popular than Dr. Ewing, especially with the more intelligent and cultivated classes of hearers. His merits were all of the solid, instructive, and dignified character. And as a Collegiate Instructor, I suspect he had no superior.

This venerable man had a large family of children, ten or eleven of whom survived him; a number of respectable grandchildren still sustain the name and the honours of the family.

I am, Reverend and dear Brother, with the best wishes for the success of your biographical enterprise,

Very sincerely and respectfully yours,

SAMUEL MILLER.

[excerpted from Annals of the American Presbyterian Pulpit, by William Buell Sprague. Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005. Volume One, pp. 216-219.]

Words to Live By:
When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you,
And put a knife to your throat, if you are a man of great appetite.
Do not desire his delicacies, For it is deceptive food.
[Proverbs 23:1-3, NASB]

Please note that some of Dr. Ewing’s sermons and other writings can now be easily accessed over at the Log College Press web site. Click here to access that page.

Rescue on Their Honeymoon
by Rev. David T. Myers

The seminary president had finally tied the knot in marriage with his secretary Grace Sanderson.  The happy couple went west from the campus in Delaware to the Grand Canyon for their honeymoon.  It was a trip which included the joys of married love, the rapture of God’s creation in the Canyon, the thrill of hiking on  the trails of that part of the state of Colorado, the rescue of the World War II flyers who had crashed in their bomber over the Canyon . . . wait, the rescue of crashed flyers on their honeymoon?  Yet that was the experience of Allan and Grace MacRae on their honeymoon on June 21, 1944.

The event was widely reported in newspapers around the country. Even a year later, the daring rescue was still being talked about. We quote from an article written by the Rev. Donald E. Hoke (later to become one of the founding fathers of the PCA), that appeared in the June 1945 issue of Sunday magazine :

When he rescued three army airmen from the depths of the Grand Canyon last summer, the Philadelphia Bulletin headlined him as “Bearded, Bespectacled, Theological Bridegroom.”
The editor’s description was timely, but by no means exhaustive of the versatile mountain-climber’s talents and appearance. For by profession, Allan A. MacRae is a semitic scholar, archaeologist, teacher, and president of a fast-growing interdenominational seminary with a nation-wide influence.
Front page publicity sky-rocketed him into prominence last June when together with a veteran ranger he descended the heretofore unscaled north wall of the Grand Canyon (Ariz.) and led out three fliers who had been marooned in the inaccessible gorge for a week.
Pictures of him, looking more like a Forty-niner than a dignified theologian as he brought the men out, made the front page on all big city dailies and news reels, for the marooned fliers had been spot news for a week. And the circumstances surrounding his presence in the canyon made a human interest story the news hounds devoured.
For Allan MacRae and his bride of less than a month were honeymooning in the beautiful but desolate valley where he was drafted for the rescue….
Rushed to the opposite side of the canyon by army jeep, MacRae and a veteran ranger studied maps of the steep north wall and started down. Soon they discovered a narrow deer trail, invisible on air maps, and followed it 550 feet down the famous precipitous  Red wall. Camping over night at its base, they found the three men the following day and started back the miraculous route they had discovered.

Words to Live By:

Back in Wilmington, Delaware a few weeks later, MacRae was besieged with invitations to tell his story. At first he demurred, then decided that there might be an unparalleled opportunity to give a gospel message…
Like the fliers, all men are lost, in the abyss of sin. For them there is no way out. Their need? A revelation from above, like the messages parachuted to the marooned men. But it is not enough to then just know your lost condition, some one must help you out. And Jesus Christ, he concludes, is God’s rescuer to lost men—He descended to our level that He might bring us back to His.

The Strange Testimony of an Irish Presbyterian
by Rev. David T Myers

When my fellow editor, Wayne Sparkman, asked me to present this biographical post of a character from the eighteenth century, and sent me some material from which to write it, one sentence jumped out of the sentences about this Presbyterian minister.  That sentence was that “he was suspended for contumacy.”

Now, lets face it, the word “contumacy” is not a word which we use every day, or even every month.  According to Webster, it comes from the Latin which means “rebellious.”  Thus, it is “stubborn resistance to authority, specifically  willful contempt of court.”  And the “court” here means the church court, like the Presbytery.  In that sense, it is found in the PCA Book of Church Order, in the  Rules of Discipline, chapter 32:6 and 33:2, 3 to speak of those who refuse to either appear or answer the charges of a church court.  And that is what  happened to our character today, the Rev. James Martin.

The facts are that James Martin was born in Ireland in 1725, educated in Scotland, studied theology in the Antiburger Divinity Hall, class of 1749, and ordained in Bangor,  Ireland, in 1753, and received by the Presbytery of Pennsylvania, at Pequea, Pennsylvania, on August 1, 1775.

Certainly  he was not known then as a contumacious minister.  The certificate which accompanied his transfer to America stated that “he was for many years a member of the Associate Presbytery of Moira and Lisburn, in Ireland, and behaved soberly and inoffensively, suitable to his character as a minister and Christian.”  The written draft went on to state that “he departs with an unblemished reputation” with nothing to hinder his admission as a member of the Associate Presbytery of Pennsylvania..

And so he ministered the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ in the counties of Franklin, Adams, Cumberland, and Northumberland in Pennsylvania.  He also ranged far south in the “states” of Virginia and North Carolina.

From what little we can ascertain, he declined the spiritual authority of the Presbytery in 1777.   They disciplined him with suspension of his ministry credentials.   Yet it is odd that  we read of his continuing ministry with spiritual profit to  members in Presbyterian churches until his death on this day, June 20, 1795.  What gives?

Words to Live By:
We can only surmise that his continuing ministry after his suspension by the Presbytery meant that there was a spiritual repentance and restoration as a Presbyterian undershepherd.   That is possible, given biblical repentance, but as our Book of Church Order states, “he (must)  exhibit for a considerable time such an eminently exemplary, humble and edifying life and testimony as shall heal the wound made by his scandal.” (Rules of Discipline, 34:8.)  While the court which brought about the censure has the ultimate responsibility to do that,  all of us Christians need to be ready as Paul puts it in Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness: considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (KJV)  The case of “overtaken” speaks of being overtaken suddenly by a sin.  In addition, the word “restore” is a medical one.  It spoke of a bone out of joint, which was to put back tenderly and resolutely by those  who are spiritual.   Are you available and able to become that kind of spiritual helper to restore a sinner who is repentant to the visible church of Jesus Christ?

Charles Hodge enters into eternity

hodgeCharles_grayIt was on this day, June 19, in 1878 that Dr. Charles Hodge died. Early the next month, on the pages of The Christian Observer, this brief note appeared under the title, “Calvinism and Piety,” :

“The Christian Union, which has no friendship for Calvinism, closes its article on the death of Dr. Hodge, as follows:

“Dr. Hodge, who was the foremost of the old Calvinists in this country, was, in character, one of the sweetest, gentlest and most lovable of men. His face was itself a benediction. We doubt whether he had any other than a theological enemy in the world. Curiously too, the peculiar tenets of his theology were reserved for the class-room and for philosophical writings. In the pulpit he preached a simple and un-sectarian gospel; his favorite texts were such as ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved;’ and his sermons were such as the most successful missionaries delight to preach in foreign lands. In Princeton he is regarded as without peer in the conduct of the prayer meeting. His piety was as deep and as genuine as his learning was varied and profound. The system of theology of which he was the ablest American representative seems to us, in some points, foreign to the teaching of the New Testament, but the life and personality of the man were luminous with the spirit of an indwelling Christ.”

Words to Live By: May we all—those of us who name the name of Christ and who also claim that same biblical faith commonly called Calvinism—so find our maturity in Christ as to live in a similar way, luminous with the spirit of the indwelling Christ, pointing all men and women to the only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Image source: Frontispiece photograph of Charles Hodge, D.D., from The Right of Presbyteries Not to Be Annulled by Any Assumed Authority of the General Assembly: Their Relations to Each Other Defined by Dr. Hodge in the Princeton Review. New York: Anson D.F. Randolph & Co., 1896. The caption beneath the photograph, “That good gray head that all men knew.” is a line taken from a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, written originally in memory of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington (nicknamed “the Iron Duke”), and the poem subsequently is found used on behalf of a number of statesmen and others. Presumably as it was here used of Dr. Hodge, the point was to stress Hodge’s fidelity. The photo of Hodge on the front covers of these pamphlets is the last known photograph of Hodge.

Pamphlet War: The Rights of General Assembly versus the Rights of Presbyteries

The PCA Historical Center has another pamphlet, which, except for the title, appears identical, judging by the cover. It even has the same photograph, though the caption beneath the photo is taken from the next line of the poem, “That tower of strength Which stood foursquare to all the winds that blew!” The title of this second pamphlet is The Rights of General Assembly Not to be Annulled by Any Assumed Authority of the Presbyteries: Their Relations to Each Other Defined by Dr. Hodge in the Princeton Review, published in New York by E. B. Treat, 5 Cooper Union. Office of the Treasury Magazine, and also published in the same year, 1896. There is mention of a third pamphlet that was part of this pamphlet war, but we have not been able to locate a copy of that third item yet.

Tennyson’s poem, used in part to caption those two pamphlets:

“The statesman-warrior, moderate, resolute,
Whole in himself, a common good;
Mourn for the man of amplest influence,
Yet clearest of ambition’s crime,
Our greatest, yet with least pretence,
Great in council and great in war,
Foremost captain of his time,
Rich in saving common-sense,
And, as the greatest only are,
In his simplicity sublime.
Oh, good gray head which all men knew!
Oh, fallen at length that tower of strength
Which stood foursquare to all the winds that blew!”

This year marks the 255th anniversary of the Bethel Presbyterian Church of Clover, South Carolina. Bethel was also, in 2974, one of the founding churches of the Presbyterian Church in America, and the church remains to this day one of the oldest constituted churches in the PCA, having been organized in 1764. An anniversary volume on the history of the church, edited by Helen Grant and Janice Currence, remains available (I think) and if so, can be ordered from the church.


Rev. George Gray McWhorter, 4th 
Pastor of Bethel Presbyterian Church, Clover, South Carolina, 1796 – 1801.
BethelPCA_CloverSC_250thThe Rev. George Gray McWhorter served Bethel from July 7, 1796 – September 29, 1801. Bethel had united with Beersheba Presbyterian Church in calling Rev. McWhorter and he served both congregations for the same period of time.

George Gray McWhorter was born in 1762.  One source states that his parents were possibly Jacob McWhorter and Elizabeth Gray McWhorter.  He was married to Eliza Drusilla Cooper  and they were the parents of eight children.  One child, James Miller McWhorter, died while Rev. McWhorter was the pastor at Bethel.  This child died January 15, 1800 at the age of 4 years 11 months and 1 day and is buried in Bethel Cemetery.

Little is known about Rev. McWhorter’s education except that he was trained for the ministry under Dr. James Hall.

After serving Bethel and Beersheba for five years, he resigned the charge in 1801, moved south, and served several different churches in South Carolina.  At a later period he moved to the state of Alabama.  Historical accounts state that in about 1823 Rev. McWhorter reorganized Lowndesboro Presbyterian Church, Lowndesboro, Alabama.  Then later about 1825 Rev. McWhorter became the first pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Montgomery, Alabama.

Rev. McWhorter was a Patriot in the Revolutionary War.  At the sight of his grave he has a DAR marker that reads:

“Revolutionary Soldier George Gray McWhorter
1775 – 1783
Placed by William Bibb Chapter D.A.R.”

In his fading days he remained strong in faith and hope.  Like most of God’s ministers he was poor.  Although destitute of the luxuries and almost all of the necessities of life, he continued to preach the gospel to the destitute with all the vigor of youth.

Rev. McWhorter died June 18, 1829 in Washington (Autauga County), Alabama.  He is buried beside his wife in Oakwood Cemetery, Montgomery, Alabama.  The inscription on his tombstone reads:

“He was a Patriot and soldier in the Revolutionary War . . . Sacred to the memory of Rev. George Gray McWhorter – he was a minister of the Gospel of the Presbyterian order forty years . . . Blessed are the dead who died in the Lord . .  Let angels trim their lamps and watch his sleeping clay till the last trumpet bid him rise to bright celestial day . . . Also, Mrs. Eliza McWhorter . . . Born February 4, 1769 . . . Died February 3, 1810”

Though never a member of the PCA, Dr. Strong was an influential voice among theologically conservative Presbyterians in the mid-20th century. 

People Loved to Hear Him Preach

strongRobertFrequently we have heard pastors speak about how they love to preach the Word of God. And that is great.  But to hear that God’s people love to hear their pastors preach, well, that is less heard today.  Yet it was the case that people loved to hear the Rev. Dr. Robert Strong preach the Word.  Who was he?

Robert Strong was born in the windy city of Chicago on June 13, 1906. He moved to California to attend college soon after his graduation from high school.  He graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1920 with honors.  He studied next at the University of Southern California for his Master of Arts and Master of Theology degrees in 1930 – 1932.  Returning east, he attended the newly formed Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, from which he earned his Bachelor of Theology degree.  A Doctorate of Sacred Theology from Temple University finished out his educational experience.

At some point prior to 1936, he was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.  But in that pivotal issue confronting the Presbyterian Church in the mid thirties, Robert Strong took his stand with  Bible believers and joined the Presbyterian Church of America in 1936.  He was to stay in that new church and later on through the name change to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church until 1949.

Part of his initial pastoral ministry took place in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, when he led 225 members out of the PCUSA in 1936.  For three vital years, Pastor Strong met with the members of this beginning church in the American Legion post.  The church continues today as a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

Dr. Strong joined the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. in 1949.  Why the change?  Students of Presbyterian history realize that there was a schism in  the Orthodox Presbyterian church in that year of 1949 between the views on apologetics of Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark.   Robert Strong left the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and joined the Southern Presbyterian church, indicating his position on the topic.

Two Presbyterian churches down south were  sites for his pastorates.  The first was the First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia.   And the second was Trinity Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Alabama.  Both churches are presently in the Presbyterian Church in America.

In 1973, Dr. Strong left the pastoral ministry to become Homiletics and Practical Theology professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, teaching there until his retirement in 1978.  After a life time of service for Christ, he would enter glory in June 17, 1980.

Words to Live By:
From the Journal of the  Evangelical Theological Society, the following memoriam was written:  “Robert Strong was a model Christian scholar, possessed of a keen mind that he used well.  He read widely and had varied interests, one of them being the relation of Christianity, the Bible, and science.  He was a highly gifted preacher who loved to preach, and people loved to hear  him preach.  He enjoyed greatly the opportunity to participate in the equipping of young men for the gospel ministry.  He was a man of many gifts who used those gifts well in the service of our Lord.”  Using gifts well in the service of the Lord!  Are not all Christians in general, and Christian ministers in particular, to use their God-given abilities well? May God grant that it be so.

Chronology for the Life of Dr. Robert Strong—
Born 13 June 1907 in Chicago, IL to Walter Wills Strong and his wife Genevieve Kipley Strong.
Educated at UCLA, 1926-30, AB; University of Southern California, 1930-32, AM, Th.M.; Westminster Theological Seminary, 1933-34, Th.B.; Temple University, 1936-38, S.T.D.
Married Roberta Kirkpatrick, Long Beach, CA, 27 May 1933. Children born to this marriage included Patricia (Mrs. Harry Gould Barrett, Jr.); and James Walter Strong..
Licensed in May and ordained on 1 June 1934 by the Presbytery of Philadelphia [PCUSA]
Installed as pastor of the Calvary Presbyterian Church [Independent], Willow Grove, PA, 1933-1949
Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, GA, 1949-59.
Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Montgomery, AL, 1959-1973.
Professor, Reformed Theological Seminary, 1973-1980.
Died on 7 June 1980 in Pensacola, Escambia County, Florida.

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