Entitled to the Benediction of the Savior
by Rev. David T. Myers

In the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pronounced a blessing upon His followers in Matthew 5:10, 11 when He said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (NASB) There can be no doubt that the subject of our post today was entitled to the benediction of the Savior in her life.

Her name at birth was Margaret Wemyss, but through marriage with the Lord of Colvill, she was called Lady Colvill. From that union, which ended with the death of her husband in 1671, she bore two daughters. Our focus today is on this wife, and her son. The former was “A Lady of the Covenant,” and steadfast in her adherence to Presbyterianism in Scotland.

Her “crimes” were two-fold in the eyes of the Anglican government. When Presbyterian ministers were ejected in Scotland from their pulpits and parishes, they began to minister the Word and Sacraments in the fields and pastures of the people. Anywhere from mere handfuls to many thousands of laypeople would attend these field worship services, among them being Lady Colvill. To do so was to risk persecution, as the authorities frequently sent out troops of soldiers to fine and imprison and even kill these Presbyterians.

Her second “crime” was that she, being in a high and prosperous position in the realm, was frequently able to extend hospitality to these ejected Presbyterian pastors, providing for them with food and accommodations in her own home. When it became too dangerous to hold worship services in the fields, she opened up her home, holding services in the evening hours. From time to time, she, like hundreds of other Covenanters, was forced to flee to the mountains for safety.

Through all of this, to give her son a sound religious upbringing, she instructed him in the common doctrines of biblical Christianity, especially those of the Reformed faith. This especially met with opposition from the government, as Parliament had passed a law in 1662 that none should teach the second generation except those who had been approved by the Anglican bishops. When she insisted on teaching him herself, she was imprisoned  in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The order which was signed by the Lords of Session was signed on this day, December 2, 1684. It read, “The Lady Colvill is imprisoned in Edinburgh tollbooth (e.g. prison), by the privy council, for her irregularities, and particularly for breeding up her son, the Lord Colvill, in fanaticism and other disloyal principles, and abstracting and putting him out of the way, when the council was going to commit his education to others . . . .”

Translated for our readers, the above order means that Lady Colvill was imprisoned for withdrawing from her parish church, attending house and field preaching, and particularly for training her son in the principles of Presbytery and the Covenant.

Lady Colvill remained in difficult circumstances for several months in prison. In a rare exception, she was freed from prison so as to recover her health. But soon she was ordered back to prison. We lose track of her history at this point, but it is obvious that she endured much for her Christian Presbyterian convictions.

Words to Live By:
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for such affliction, the Savior reminds us in our text above. What present and future persecution we suffer for Christ puts us in the same line of the saints of the past who suffered for the Savior’s cause. Be in preparation now for such times. Their likelihood increases even in our nation of America more and more. While none have been killed in our land, there are those who for the cause of Christ have had their businesses destroyed because of Christian convictions. Pray for them and be in prayer that we will remain faithful to Him and His cause.

Licensed to Preach the Gospel
by Rev. David T. Myers

Having had one post already on John Paton, we consider another from his remarkable life. It was on this day, December 1, 1857, that he was licensed to be a preacher of the gospel by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. It would be just four months later that he would be ordained as a minister of the gospel. But what is significant about this date in December is that he had already been faithfully carrying on the work of the gospel as  a home missionary with the Glasgow City Mission in Glasgow, Scotland.

The latter city mission advertises itself even now as the world’s first City Mission, having begun in 1826. His ministry with them was that of working in one of the poor and downtrodden neighborhoods of that city, seeking to lead its citizens to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Yes, temporal needs were to be provided to them. But as the slogan on the city mission states, “Providing hope for Today, Tomorrow, Eternity.” And clearly the need was great, for as Paton wrote on page 55 of his Autobiography, “in many of its closets and courts, sins and vice walked about openly—naked and not ashamed.”

Upon being assigned to his particular neighborhood, Paton sums up his ministry as “being expected to spend four hours daily in visiting from house to house, holding small prayer meetings amongst those visited, calling them together for evening meetings, and trying by all means to do whatever good was possible amongst them.”

After the first year of fairly exhausting labors in their midst, John Paton could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who attended his public meetings.  But then the site of those meetings was hardly inviting in that it was, in his words, “a hay loft under which a cow feeder kept a large number of cows, and which was reached by an outside rickety wooden stairs.” (p. 56). Finding so little spiritual fruit, the directors of the city mission planned to move the young missionary to a more promising neighborhood, but John Paton begged for more time, even six months longer. Thankfully the directors agreed, and within that time, attendance doubled and then doubled again. Particularly helpful was the move to buildings purchased for the ministry by Dr. Symington’s congregation, where Rev. Paton was a member.

Notice, dear reader, the following description of his work there: On Sunday morning at 7 am, Paton offered a Bible study, which was eventually attended by 70 to 100 people. No day off on Monday either! Another Bible study was offered on Monday night. Wednesday was the weekly prayer meeting. Thursday brought a Shorter Catechism class, which turned into a Communicant’s class for church membership. Seven members from this theological class eventually entered the ministry. Friday night was a Singing class, which taught church music to the attendees. And Saturday night was a Total Abstinence class for the many drunkards in the neighborhood. All together, some five to six hundred residents regularly attended meetings led by Rev. Paton. Whew!

And yes, during this busy schedule, John Paton continued on with his own education at the University of Glasgow, the Reformed Presbyterian Divinity Hall, and also classes in medicine at the Andersonian College. God’s Spirit was doing much with this young man, and would do much for him in the future.

Words to Love By: 
John Paton said, “I was sustained by the lofty aim which burned all these year bright within my soul, namely—to be qualified a preacher of the Gospel of Christ, to be owned and used by Him for the salvation of perishing [men and women].” ( p. 82)  Oh, how the visible church today, even the local congregation where you yourself are a member, needs people who have as their aim in life, that of being “owned and used by Him” for the salvation of others. Pray with us, will you, that the Lord of the harvest will send laborers into the fields.

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.“—Luke 10:2, ESV.

We Don’t Do Evangelism!
by Rev. David T. Myers

A speaker over the phone actually said the words of our title to a friend of this author. She was shocked, and so was I upon hearing it. Have they snipped out by scissors the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18 – 20? The very existence of our Presbyterian Church in America is that of being committed to the Great Commission. Certainly the subject of our post today when he sailed for the New Hebrides in 1846 was for the purpose of evangelism. His name was John Geddie.

John Geddie was born in Scotland on April 10, 1815 to John and Mary Geddie. At the tender age of two, his parents sailed to Pictou, Nova Scotia in Canada. Joining the Succession Presbyterian Church there, the young Geddie was trained in the ordinary schools of that province while joining his father in his clock making business. But his real interest was spent in reading books sent by the London Missionary Society. He was brought to a saving knowledge of Christ as Lord and Savior through these means at age nineteen. Enrolling in theology courses, he would be licensed to preach the gospel in 1837 and ordained as a Presbyterian minister one year later. Marrying Charlotte MacDonald in 1839, they set about rearing a family which eventually reached eight children.

Having a call to serve the Lord outside of Canada was made difficult in that no Presbyterian church was actively involved in foreign missions. Geddie organized a mission society in his local congregation. Yet even with the organization established, missionary endeavors were slow in coming to fruition. This was all too obvious when the regional synod voted 13 to 12 to select a mission field to even evangelize!  Yet one year later, on November 30, 1846, John Geddie, his wife Charlotte, and two small children sailed for the New Hebrides. Landing on the island of Aneiteum, they set at once to build a ministry among the natives.

For the next fifteen years, they sought to be faithful to the Great Commission in the midst of these heathen tribes. Often John would be assaulted by spears and stones as he traveled from one place to another. Then six years after he landed, several native chiefs converted to biblical Christianity. Thirty-five hundred natives, nearly one half of the population, threw away their idols and avowed the true Jehovah as their God and Savior. Immediately, the converted natives began to obey the Great Commission and send Christian teachers to other islands in the chain of the New Hebrides. Indeed, if you look up the country today (known as Vanuatu), you will see their religion to be Christian.

James Geddie died on December 14, 1872, but not before he had translated the entire New Testament in their language. He was in the process of working on the Old Testament when he was taken home to glory.

The island memorial to John Geddie is stunning to behold. It reads, “when he landed in 1848, there were no Christians here, and when he left in 1872, there were no heathen.”

Words to Live By:
A friend of this author had made one rule his guide in his ministerial life. For every milestone he passes, he endeavors to share the gospel with that many strangers in his ministry area. Thus, if he has turned fifty years of age, then he endeavors to witness to fifty unsaved individuals. Now, whether that goal brings 50 conversions is entirely dependent upon the work of the Spirit of God. We Reformed Christians understand that!  But do we recognize the command of the Great Commission is to be carried out by us? Or is it our practice that we do not do evangelism?

Missionaries Among the Nez Perce in the Northwest
by Rev. David T. Myers

This nineteenth century missionary couple has been mentioned before in these pages in connection with Marcus Whitman on February 29 and August 18.  They were Henry Harmon Spalding and his wife Eliza Hart Spalding.  There were a number of “firsts” connected with both of them.  Along with Mrs. Marcus Whitman, they were the first white women to travel on the Oregon Trail. Indeed, they were part of the first wagon train to travel on that famous trail. In the case of Henry and Eliza, theirs was the first white home in what is now Idaho. They brought the first printing press to the Northwest. But our interest in them was of far more importance than simply their being the “first” this or “first” that. They had a heart for the Nez Perce Indian people and their eternal souls.

So after a very long and difficult trip by steamer, horse back, and wagon train, Henry and Eliza arrived at their place of work, settling in a house which they built, on November 29, 1836.  Henry Spalding had unusual success in reaching this Indian tribe. He was able to give them a written script of their language, which enabled him to teach their tribal members. Spalding then translated parts of the Bible, including the entire gospel of Matthew. Leaders of the tribe were baptized, including the father of Chief Joseph, the brilliant military leader of the Nez Perce.

When the Whitmans and twelve of their followers were massacred in 1847, Henry was at that time on his way to meet them. He narrowly escaped in the five days journey back to his home, and eventually took his wife to Oregon City, Oregon to wait for the situation to simmer down. The Board of Missions which had sponsored them, however, decided to abandon the Mission Station.

Eliza would never see the region of the Nez Perce again, except after her death. Sixty years after her death, her body was interred on their land again beside that of her husband.  Henry had ministered in various areas in the “civilized” northwest as a pastor and a commissioner of schools in what later became Oregon, until finally in 1859, he returned with delight back to his beloved Nez Perce. He would stay only a few years before difficulties arrived, and he died in 1874.  He was buried on their land.

Words to live by:  To go into uncharted territory with the Gospel is a worthy goal and takes an unusual kind of Christian. Henry Spalding was just such an individual. He knew his calling and wanted to waste no time in fulfilling it. And fulfill it he did. Along with the Gospel, caring for the souls of the Nez Perce, this missionary couple taught the tribe irrigation laws and the cultivation of the . . . potato!  The next time you go to the store and buy some Idaho potatoes, think of Presbyterian missionary Henry Spalding!

Make Me A Map of the Valley
by Rev. David T. Myers

hotchkissJedOur title was not just a request, but a famous order from an Army commander, Stonewall Jackson. That order was, “I want you to make me a map of the Valley, from Harpers Ferry to Lexington, showing all the points of offense and defense in those places.” The time obviously was that of the Civil War, or War between the States, in 1862. And the Confederate soldier to whom it was directed was Jedidiah Hotchkiss.

Jed, as he was known to his friends, was born in the North, in fact, born on this day, November 28th, 1828 in Windsor, New York. His father was a farmer, but his great grandfather was the founder of Windsor, New York. Seeing the studious interests of his son, the father enrolled his son into the prestigious Windsor Academy of that city, from which he graduated at age eighteen. During this time, he was fascinated with geology and geography. After graduation, he taught school in Pennsylvania, a profession which would occupy his talents both before and after the future civil war of the nation.

In the background of all these pursuits, the Presbyterian faith of his parents became his convictions and choice of churches. He always joined the Presbyterian churches in which he was located, even after his marriage to Sarah Ann Comfort of Lanesboro, Pennsylvania in 1853. Together they moved to a farm near Churchville, Virginia, and joined there by his brother, they opened the Loch Willow Academy. The school was highly successful.  It was during this time that he taught himself map-making. It would be this career which would make him a name to be remembered.

Despite his brother’s staunch Unionism, Jed joined the Confederacy in June of 1861 by entering the Confederate Army. First serving in what is now West Virginia, he later gained a calling into the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In this  time, in which he provided vital geographic support to the major battles in Virginia, he did not leave his Christian faith behind. It was said of him that he had “a well rounded Christian character of beautiful  piety and cheerfulness.” When Jackson was shot by his own soldiers by mistake, and died several days later, Jed, upon hearing the news, remarked, “all things were ordained of God and must be accepted.”

Jed Hotchkiss transferred his map making talents to other general officers, like  Richard  Ewell and Jubal Early. He served to the end of the Confederacy, and returned to his wife in Staunton, Virginia. Reopening his school, he was involved in promoting the recovery of war ravaged Shenandoah Valley, as well as West Virginia. The latter state recognized his efforts to help the people, and especially their spiritual state,  by naming a town after him in Raleigh County.

While in Staunton, Virginia, an evangelist came to that town and held successful meetings. With many converts to Christ, Jed Hotchkiss led a small group of members in 1875 from the First Presbyterian Church  to begin what became known as the Second Presbyterian Church of Staunton.  That church still exists today.  Jedidiah Hotchkiss died in his 71st year in 1899.

Words to Live By:
While some of our readers may not have agree with his choice of allegiance to the Confederate States of America, we can all agree with his convictions of Presbyterian doctrine and government.  That stood him through many challenges and trials.  Indeed, his belief in the sovereignty of God should help us in our own lives.  Look up Romans 8:28,  memorize it, and then live it.

 

“To God’s Glory” : A Practical Study of a Doctrine of the Westminster Standards.
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

THE SUBJECT : The Holiness of Truth

THE BIBLE VERSES TO READ : I Peter 1:15-16; II Tim. 3:12; Titus 2:12; Gal. 5:25; II Cor. 7:1; I Thess. 4:1; Eph. 4:24; Titus 1:1.

REFERENCE TO THE STANDARDS : Confession, XIII; XVI; Larger Catechism, Q. 75; 78; 77; Shorter Catechism, Q. 35.

One of the greatest difficulties encountered by those subscribing to the Reformed Faith is that of keeping the right relationship between their doctrine and their life. The right perspective must be kept at all times. There must be a Biblical balance between the mind and the heart.

Paul puts it very well when he says in I Thess. 4:1 — “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.” Or, as our title puts it, the “holiness of truth” (Eph. 4:24b) should be showing forth in our lives.

John Owen states that “holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realization of the gospel in our souls.” This is important for us to understand. What God begins in His children is what He continues to work out in His children. Our Lord Himself said, “Sanctify them in (or by) thy truth: thy word is truth.” How much of this do we realize?

Many times those subscribing to the Reformed Faith seem to have an erroneous opinion. They know, from their study of doctrine, they are “kept” by God. They know they cannot be lost. They know the covenant of grace, the finished work of Christ, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are all at work keeping them. But many times they do not realize that though the grace of God as it works out sanctification in the soul may never die, it can decay. Therefore, there must be a constant commitment on the part of the believer, a commitment to the Truth that has a holy influence on those elected by His Sovereign love.

How can we best be certain we make use of God’s Word in our holy living? There are many methods. But all of them include a loving devotion to the Word of God. Each believer has the responsibility to discover the best method, or methods, to be certain the “Holiness of Truth” is at work in the life.

One method that will have a certain result is that of starting the day with the Bible and with prayer. There is a great, and rightful emphasis ion the Reformed Faith on the authority of God’s Word. We must be certain we make use of a portion of it each day as we offer ourselves to God as His servant, determining to hide His Word in our heart, all to His glory.

Another method is that of faithfulness to the church, the Bride of Christ. A church should be found that is faithful to Biblical truth and it should be attended faithfully. When a believer sits under the authoritative preaching and teaching of God’s Word, and does so faithfully, God will work out His will in that believer. One of the greatest Biblical preachers I have ever heard had three rules for his listeners :
(1) Listen carefully to God’s Word as it is proclaimed;
(2) Take notes of important facts that convict or comfort your soul;
(3) If you have questions, go to God’s servant and ask them!

In addition, another method is that of being determined to practice self-denial in your life. To be a disciple of the Master means disciplining yourself to the way of self-denial (Matt. 16:24). This is not easy, but it is necessary. It is not something for tomorrow but for today. It grows on the believer the more he practices it.

The last method to be mentioned here is that of reading the Puritans. The longer this servant of the Lord lives the more is he convinced that their strong convictions regarding the authority of God’s Word, and their constant allegiance to it, motivated great writings. It is helpful to keep a notebook handy to jot down those thoughts that strike to the depth of the soul. There is no shallowness to their writings. They are deep. Sometimes it takes the reading of a passage over and over again. But the blessed result is well worth the effort.

We must be certain we understand that God requires us that we should be holy, and that we must make use of those things He has provided for us to enable us to reach His standard as far as we are able. We dare not forget His admonition to His children : “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.” (Gen. 17:1). Our love for Him should show forth in our obedience. Our desire for His will to be worked out in our lives will be fulfilled, by His grace, as we press onward in holiness.

Have You Cashed In Your  Baptism?

At the PCA Historical Center listed on the web, there is a sermon preached by the Rev. Donald Dunkerley at Mcllwain Presbyterian Church in Pensacola, Florida, on November 26, 1972.   For those who know the history of the Presbyterian Church in America, this would have been a full year almost to the day when the latter church began her witness as a separate denomination outside of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.  The theme of this message by the veteran pastor was that of the sacrament of baptism, in the light of the Word of God.  This writer would like to quote its concluding paragraphs which have an excellent gospel challenge to them.  Pastor Dunkerley writes:

“One must not trust in baptism.  One must not trust in anything that he has done or in any works of man, but only in Jesus who died for us.  Baptism is a sign that God offers us a Savior and promised to cleanse us if we believe in Him, if we stop trusting in anything in ourselves — even in our baptism — and put all our trust in Jesus alone.  Then we will be cleansed from sin.  But until we come to that point of renouncing all self-trust and put our trust in Jesus alone, then our baptism is sign of our condemnation.

“A pastor I know was once calling on a man who was not a converted person.  He frequently attended the church where this man pastored, he had lived in that town all his life and indeed, years before as an infant, he had been baptized in that very church.  He was showing the pastor around his house, and the pastor noticed a frame certificate on the wall and he turned to the man and he said ‘What is this?’  ‘Oh,’ the man said, ‘that’s my baptismal certificate.  I was baptized in our church, you know!’  The pastor said, ‘Ah, your baptismal certificate. Very good!   Tell me, when are you going to cash it in?’”

To read the rest of Rev. Dunkerley’s sermon, click here. [PDF file]

Words to live by:  The pastor of this sermon asks a serious question to those who have been baptized in their infancy by godly parents.  When are you, the adult now, going to claim the promise signified by your outward baptism?  You are baptized for sure.  You may even have the baptismal certificate signed by the preacher and any witnesses who were there to see it. But unless you have put your personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that baptism is a sign of your condemnation, not a sign of the covenant.  Reader, how is it with you?  Have you received the gift of eternal life?

Presbyterian Pastor, First Theological Professor at Yale, and . . . Sniper
by David T Myers

Surely, your author has made an error, our faithful subscribers might suggest, over the title of this post? Presbyterian pastor, divinity professor at Yale, we all might receive those descriptive words, but sniper? What is going on? Yet the facts tell that our title is correct.

First, the person of our post today of Naphtali (what a unusual first name!) Daggett is striking in itself. He was born on September 9, 1727. Little is known of his early life, but our first recorded information on him is his graduation from Yale College in 1748. His choice of denomination was that of Presbyterian, and he was ordained by the Presbytery of Suffolk, Long Island, New York on August 19, 1749. Ordained two years later on September 18, 1751, he was directed to preach at Smithtown Presbyterian Church in Long Island, New York. Several years afterwards, in 1755, he requested that the Presbytery approve his intention to return to Yale to assist the President, Thomas Clapp, in the pulpit of the College Church. This move was somewhat easy in that the change of calling included his induction as the first professor of Divinity as well as the realization that his present place of ministry was bereft of adequate income, a frequent malady of early American pastors.

When President Clapp left the college of Yale, Rev. Daggett become the college’s president pro tempore for the next eleven years, until 1777. It was within this period that the last word of our title became reality. The American revolution had begun, including an invasion of New Haven, Connecticut on July 5, 1779. Three thousand British troops on forty-eight ships appeared off the coast. Advancing on the town and college, Naphtali Daggert led half of the students – approximately one hundred – to delay their advance so that the wives and children could escape to the north. It was said of this Presbyterian president and professor that he took his position to snipe at the numerous enemy troops before him with his musket.

A British officer lead a squad of men to capture him, which they did. This author will not record the words of that officer upon finding this man protesting their advance, but they gave him a beating, took off his shoes, tortured him by many thrusts of their bayonets on his lower extremities, and forced him to walk with them as a guide for over five miles. The effects of this treatment was to stay with him until his death, even though he continued to serve as Yale president. It was on November 25, this day, in 1780 that he died of complications from internal hemorrhage.

Words of Live By:
There is no doubt that Napthali Daggett was one of those Black Robed Presbyterian ministers whom the British named as complicit in their participation of resisting the mother country’s rule over the American colonies. Desperate times called for desperate actions, so this Presbyterian minister was not absent in the roll call of Americans, and especially Presbyterian pastors, resisting England. Certainly, there are plenty of reasons today for modern Presbyterian ministers and people to stand up for righteousness, and resist the spiritual enemy’s encroachments of secular humanism, which has all but captured the populace. Let us pray much for our blessed land, and as providence provides opportunities, of which there are countless, stand for Biblical truths and practices.

duncanlig02

Our post today is by the Rev. Dr. Ligon Duncan and is a sermon he delivered at the First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi, in 2001. Dr. Duncan was at that time the senior pastor of that church, serving in that capacity from 1996 until 2013, when he accepted a post as Chancellor for the Reformed Theological Seminary. Dr. Duncan prepared for the ministry at Covenant Theological Seminary and earned his doctorate at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of a long list of works, too numerous to mention here. We are pleased to have been granted permission to reproduce this sermon today for our readers.   

In Everything Give Thanks :

A Thanksgiving Day Sermon (2001),
by the Rev. Dr. Ligon Duncan.
Text : 1 Thessalonians 5:18

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 5. Since we’re worshiping together on Thanksgiving morning, it seems appropriate that we think for a few moments about the distinctive nature of Christian thanksgiving. We know friends who perhaps have no saving faith in Jesus Christ that we might characterize as thankful people. They are not people that are ungrateful in general about life, and they show an appreciation to us, perhaps in our friendship and for many blessings that they enjoy in this life we might even characterize them as cheerful people, even cheerful people in many different circumstances. But what is distinctive about Christian thanksgiving? What is distinctive about this joyful and thankful attitude of heart that the Scriptures exhort us to have and which the Scriptures explain how we are able to have and evidence? What is distinctive about it? That’s what I want us to think about with you for a few moments this morning.

Before we read our text, I want you to note that verse 18 is in a set of three directions that Paul is giving to the Thessalonian church, and indeed, to you and me. He has first said to “rejoice always,” and then he has said, “pray without ceasing,” and to it he adds, “in everything give thanks.” Clearly, in the context he’s thinking about prayer in general, but he’s also talking about prayer in general reflecting a general attitude toward life that the believer ought to have. He’s to be prayerful, but in his praying he’s to be joyful and rejoicing, he’s to be thankful and giving thanks. And so a general attitude of life, Paul says, is to reflect itself, Christian, in your prayers. Now, by focusing on only one of these specific directions, I do not mean to separate Paul’s direction about thanksgiving from this general exhortation about prayer or about life, but it is, after all, Thanksgiving Day, and we are focusing on what it means distinctively as Christians to give thanks. So, let’s hear God’s holy and inspired word in 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Amen. This is God’s holy word, may He write it’s eternal truth upon our hearts. Let’s pray.

Our Father, we bow before You and we ask that by Your grace You would enable us to see and do Your will, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

When you hear those words of the Apostle Paul, they sound good, and they sound right, and they sound biblical, and they sound Christian, and they sound beautiful, and they are. But you may be tempted to tack a “but” onto the end of that sentence. It does sound beautiful, and it does sound good, and it does sound right, and it does sound Christian, and it does sound spiritual, but, it just isn’t practical! We tend to dismiss hard things that way, don’t we? The theory sounds good, but it just won’t work.

I remember Gordon Reed telling me a story of sitting in on one of Steve Brown’s Doctor of Ministry classes at the seminary in which Steve was expounding a particular theory about how congregational life ought to be conducted, and all of the students were rapidly writing down every word which fell from his lips, and learning this great wisdom; and at the end of this particular section Steve turned to Gordon, and said, “Well, Dr. Reed, what do you think?” And Gordon said, “Well, that’s real nice, Steve, but it won’t work north of Tampa.” And suddenly the bubble was burst in the minds of all the students who listened to this great theory, and we’re tempted to do that with this kind of a phrase. Well, that sounds nice, Ligon, to say that we ought to give thanks in everything, but it just won’t work.

But Paul is serious about this direction and I think by even raising that issue of the difficulty of obeying, and the seeming impracticality of obeying this direction, we see that this direction is far more than a sentimental expression of some sort of moralism that Paul wants us to inculcate in life. This is a profoundly difficult thing that Paul is asking us to do. Thanksgiving in a certain way is easy to do when the blessings are falling around your ears, but it can be very difficult to do when it seems that the trials are falling down around your ears, and still in those things, Paul wants us to give thanks. So I want you to see three things that Paul is particularly saying to us in this one little verse–this tiny, but difficult and beautiful directive that he’s giving.

The first thing I want you to see is that Paul is telling us what we need to do. “In everything give thanks.” Then he’s telling us why we need to do it. “For this is the will of God for you.” And then, having given us a direction that no one can keep in his own strength, he says how to do it–“In Christ Jesus.” Those three things I’d like to meditate with you about this morning.

I. In everything give thanks.
First of all, this direction, “In everything give thanks.” Paul is telling you there what you are to do. He’s telling you that in every circumstance of life we are to be thankful. He is saying globally our thanksgiving, though it may be prompted time to time, by the sheer goodness of our circumstances, is not to be circumscribed by the goodness of our circumstances. That thanksgiving is to be derived from some other source, and therefore, in every circumstance, be that circumstance good or bad, be that circumstance delightful or even positively evil, we are to give thanks.

Now, I want to pause right there and say, notice what Paul does not say here. He does not say, “for” everything give thanks. He says “in” everything give thanks. There are some circumstances in our lives, there are some circumstances in your lives this morning which it would be improper to give thanks for. You may have found yourself on the receiving end of some evil, some personal evil, some impersonal evil, for which God is not asking you to give thanks. Paul is not saying to the people who have lost loved ones, for instance, at the World Trade Center or at the Pentagon, “Thank God that your loved one was murdered.” That’s not what Paul is asking you to think or to do or to pray.

But Paul is saying that in every circumstance, no matter how catastrophic, you are to give thanks. Many of you know the story of Helen Keller. She was born in 1882. I didn’t know until this morning that she didn’t die until 1968. Helen Keller was born in 1882, and when she was 19 months old, a beautiful, precocious little girl, she caught a fever that so ravaged her and that left her without sight and without the ability to hear. She was locked into a world of darkness and silence; but she was determined and she was extremely smart. Now, I want to pause right now. Fathers of daughters, can you feel the intensity of what is going on here? Can you imagine that precious little girl that you hold in your arms and you delight in, and suddenly, she is locked away from you in darkness and silence. And she was determined to be able to communicate with the outside world, and she began to be able to imitate to her family things that she wanted. When she wanted a piece of bread she would make a hand motion as if she were cutting a piece of bread to let her family know. When she wanted ice cream, she would wrap her arms around herself and she would shiver. And she developed about sixty different motions that she could do in order to communicate with her family, but it frustrated her as she understood that people communicated with their lips and she couldn’t communicate with her lips to her family. And as she grew, she became more and more frustrated and more and more violent because of her frustration. She would smash things; she would throw objects. She was out of control. At age seven, her parents got her a tutor to help her learn to communicate. And very instrumental in Helen Keller’s ability to cope with this was her trust in the living God.

Now, my friends, a person in Helen Keller’s situation would be very tempted to become bitter and angry, and the last thing that would be on the agenda for a person like that might well be gratefulness and thankfulness. But I want you to listen to what Helen Keller once said. She said, “For three things I thank God every day of my life. Thanks that He has vouchsafed me knowledge of His works; deep thanks that He has set in my darkness the light of faith; deepest thanks that I have another life to look forward to—a life joyous with light and flowers and heavenly song. Helen Keller may not have been thankful for the circumstance that God had dealt to her, but she was thankful in that circumstance. And that is precisely what Paul is saying to us. In every circumstance, we are to give thanks.

II. Why we should give thanks.
Now, why in every circumstance are we to give thanks? Well, Paul tells us here in verse 18. “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you.” You know, the Bible piles up reasons that we’re to be thankful to God. In the Psalms, we learn that we give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. We thank God because the sovereign God of the heaven and earth is not some sort of a tyrant with a bad sense of humor. He’s a loving God that is good and cares for us. The Psalms thank the Lord because He watches over us; He protects us; He spares us. The Psalms thank God because He redeems us, and because He loves us. The Psalms thank God because He gives us good gifts, and He establishes justice, and He shows mercy. The Bible has a whole catalog of things for which we ought to give thanks, and Paul doesn’t mean to exclude that from this direction. But here he says, “Give thanks because it is God’s will for you.” You hear that, friends? That’s a gospel command. Give thanks because it’s God’s will for you. And I think, my friends, that that means at least two things.

I think it means, first of all, that God wants you to give thanks in everything, and therefore, you ought to do it. It’s just like when your mother said, “Eat your broccoli, son.” And you said, “Why?” And she answered with that incredible metaphysical phrase, “Because I said so.” And Paul is saying, “God wants you to give thanks because it’s His will for you.”

But there’s something bigger and greater behind that, I suspect that Paul is saying. Paul is saying, “It is the will of God for you that you give thanks in everything,” because Paul is indicating to us that it is God’ grand design to create a joyful, rejoicing people. His purpose is not to create shriveled up, shrill, ungrateful, grudging, miserly people. His grand conspiracy, in the work of redemption, is to enlarge our hearts, and to show the world what humanity was intended to be in the first place. And the very first thing humanity ought to have been in the view of the greatness of the Creator’s gift to us, was thankful. And Paul is now saying that, even though you live in a fallen world in which there are many things not to be thankful for, that should not overshadow in your experience the things for which we ought to be profoundly thankful. And therefore, it is God’s will in His plan to create in you a heart large with thankfulness, and therefore, you ought to give thanks.

You know, it was said that the joy in the midst of pain and persecution that was displayed by the early Christians often caused heathens to say, “I don’t know what they have, but I want it.” Billy Joel said, about twenty years ago, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.” And God is saying, “I am desirous of creating believers who portray in their thankfulness a joyfulness of a heart, in spite of circumstances, that causes unbelievers to say, ‘You know, I think I’d rather cry with those saints than laugh with my friends who are sinners, because they are joyful, thankful people.’” And the Apostle Paul says, “Give thanks in everything because it’s the will of God for you.”

III. How to give thanks.
But you’re saying, “How in the world can I do that? You don’t understand my circumstances.” You’re right, my friends, I don’t understand your circumstances. I don’t have the slightest clue of the circumstances in which God has called you to give thanks. In some of your lives, I have a little tiny sliver of an inkling, but I have no idea how great a challenge it is to you to give thanks. You don’t have any idea how great a challenge it is to me to give thanks sometimes. But the apostle tells us how, and it’s here in just three words, “In Christ Jesus.” It is only possible to express thanks to God in everything if you have a faith relationship with Jesus Christ–if you are in Christ. It is only in and through Jesus Christ that we are able to give thanks in every circumstance.

I’ve had a friend look me in the eye when her 15 year-old granddaughter was killed in an automobile accident and say, “Ligon, the Lord is good in all He does.” And I’ve had a mother holding a two-year-old infant in her arms as he took his last breath look up at me and say, “Ligon, would you sing the doxology with me?” And I want to tell you that I’ve wondered how in the world can these people do this? And Paul is telling you the answer here. Because they have seen the face of God in Christ; they know the Lord. They’ve tasted and seen that He is good. They’ve rested in His grace, are able to give thanks in anything.

It’s just like what Augustine said many years ago. He said, “Lord, command what You will, but give what You command.” He’s saying, “Lord, I can’t do the things that you tell me to do, but You can command them and then You can give me the ability to do what You command.” And the Apostle Paul is saying, “You want to give thanks in everything? You want to foil your foes with joy?” Then you trust in Jesus Christ; you rest in Him. And when you find that when you are connected to the One who is the spiritual source of the capacity to be thankful in every circumstance, then you’ll be able to give thanks in everything. May God grant that we would be a thankful people this year. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, we praise You for the Lord Jesus Christ in whom we are able to give thanks in everything. Amen.

December’s coming up fast, then the new year and the inevitable and many plans and approaches for reading through the Bible. And so it seems appropriate to lay a good foundation with this brief article by Dr. Oswald T. Allis, written in 1926 while he was still on the faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary, though he was soon to become one of the founding faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA, in 1929.

 

THE SCRIPTURAL METHOD OF BIBLE STUDY
by PROFESSOR O. T. ALLIS, PH.D.

There are certain things essential to the truly scriptural study of the Bible which need to be emphasized today in view of the insistent claims which are so often made by the advocates of the so-called “modern” or “critical” method of Bible study.

The first of these is the unity and harmony of the Bible. This charac­teristic has impressed believing scholars in all ages as a signal proof of its divine origin. The fact that so many different writers, so widely separated in time, wrote a collection of many books which are in the truest sense one book, the Bible, is a strong evidence of its unique inspiration. Yet one of the outstanding characteristics of the “modern” method is the way in which it exhibits, and the importance which it attaches to, the alleged dis­harmonies of the Bible. We cannot read beyond the first chapter of Genesis without being confronted with this cardinal doctrine of the critics; for the “second” account of creation (Gen. ii) contradicts, we are told, the “first.” And this is but a sample. We have, they tell us, two ac­counts of the Creation and the Flood; three accounts of the Plagues and of the Crossing of the Red Sea; four of the Crossing of the Jordan. Further­more, these accounts disagree and contradict one another. The theoretical Jehovist differs from the hypothetical Elohist; and the alleged Priestly writer contradicts them both. Judges discredits the account of the Con­quest given in Joshua; Chronicles is proved unreliable by Samuel-Kings. The “great” prophets are represented as the opponents of the priests and as the more or less uncompromising foes of the ritual sacrifice. Micah and Zechariah are divided between at least two authors, Isaiah is given to three; and many of these documents are declared to be composite and to have been edited, or revised, by a later compiler or “redactor.” All this partitioning and analyzing is made necessary, it is argued, by differences in language, style, ideas and manner of presentation, differences which not seldom amount to contradictions. The result is that for the “modern” student the Bible, especially the O.T., is characterized not by harmony and unity, but by discord and contradiction. How disastrous this is should be apparent to everyone, for nothing is more certain to discredit a book and destroy its influence with thinking people than to find that it does not contain a consistent and harmonious presentation of the matters which it aims to set forth.HERE are certain things essential to the truly scriptural study of the Bible which need to be emphasized today in view of the insistent claims which are so often made by the advocates of the so-called “modern” or “critical” method of Bible study.

Consequently the reverent Bible student will be very slow to accept these alleged contradictions. He will scrutinize them with the utmost care. If he does so, he will find that many of them are purely imaginary. There is nothing inconsistent about the statement in Num. xvi. that (i) a Levite and (2) three Reubenites were leaders in a rebellion against Moses, nothing to indicate that we have here two conflicting accounts of the same event The mention of two parties simply shows that the revolt was wide­spread and serious enough to require drastic measures. There is nothing contradictory about the statement that (1) the Lord told Moses to lift up his rod and (2) to stretch forth his hand and that then (3) the Lord caused a strong east wind to blow, in order that the Red Sea might be divid­ed before Israel (Ex. xiv. 16, 21). Such statements are different only in the sense that they record distinct features of the story, all of which are needed to complete the record. They become contradictory only when each state­ment is treated as complete in itself and placed in opposition to others which are designated to supplement it. Most events, especially if they be great ones, are complex; there are many factors which enter into them. Were the modern method of source analysis applied to almost any his­torical narrative which dealt at all adequately with an intricate situation it could easily be reduced to a mass of contradictions.

There are other alleged contradictions which are due either to a failure to recognize, or to ignorance of, all necessary facts. Thus, Hosea in pronouncing vengeance on the House of Jehu (i. 4), is not denouncing Jehu for obeying the command of Elijah as conveyed by Elisha. The ex­planation is given in 2 Kgs. x. 30 f. where the wilfulness of Jehu is exposed. And it is made still clearer by the prophetic denunciation of Baasha who provoked the Lord “in being like the house of Jeroboam; and because he slew him.” By following in the sins of the House of Omri, Jehu’s House merited the same punishment. Yet Hosea is cited as an instance of a later prophet denouncing what an earlier prophet had expressly commanded!

The second essential of which we would speak, is that the Bible student should understand and accept the viewpoint of the Bible. Many of the diffi­culties which the “modern” student finds with the Bible are the direct result of failure to do this, or, to put it more strongly, of the determination to judge and interpret the Bible by standards which are contrary to its whole teaching.

The oft-repeated reference in the first chapter of Genesis to God and to His sovereign acts is tremendously impressive: He spake and it was done. The Bible is a record of God’s wonderful works for the children of men. No one can understand it who does not accept its great major premise— God—or who seeks to set limits to His power. The O.T. purports to be primarily the record of God’s special dealings with a peculiar people to the end that through that people all the nations might be blessed. The uniqueness of the religion of Israel, of the Covenant with Abraham, of the Law given through Moses, is affirmed again and again: “God hath not dealt so with any nation.” To study the religion of Israel in the light of comparative religion as though it were similar in kind to the ethnic faiths, is to reject its most insistent claim—“All the gods of the nations are idols (worthless things), but the Lord made the heavens.”

The religion of Israel is represented as the religion of revelation. God has revealed Himself in word and in deed. He has made known what man could not discover; He has wrought wonders beyond the power of man. Miracle and prophecy are, according to the Bible, signal proofs that God has manifested Himself. The supernatural is of its very essence. A student who rejects the supernaturalism of the Bible, treats its miracles as legend, and post-dates its prophecies or reduces them to shrewd conjecture, is taking offence at what the Bible declares to be, and what the Church in all ages has regarded as, a unique and convincing proof that God has indeed revealed Himself.

Finally the Bible is the story of redemption, of salvation from sin. John the Baptist sums up the Gospel and also shows it to be the fulfilment of O.T. religion with the words, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” The Old Testament plainly teaches that the priestly sacrifices of the Law were divinely ordained; and the New Testa­ment as plainly interprets them as prophetic of and fulfilled in the Cross of Calvary. To treat the priestly ritual as a survival of paganism and to affirm that it was repudiated by the “great” prophets of Israel leads logically to the rejection of the Cross which is the central fact of Chris­tianity, God’s sovereign remedy for sin.

In one of our great historic creeds the statement is made: “The infal­lible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself.” We need to remember this. “God is His own interpreter.” If the Bible is the Word of God, it must be our final authority; it cannot be correctly interpreted by any standards but its own. If its human authors were inspired of God, God’s Spirit will enable us to understand it aright, if we seek His guidance. To the wise of this world the Bible is a book of riddles, sealed with seven seals. It tells of a divine revelation, miraculously conveyed; they would have it speak of man’s eager quest of truth and of his wonderful discoveries. It tells of God’s great salvation for lost sinners; they would have it describe the development of man’s religious nature and its limitless possibilities. In short the “modern” student is trying to restate in terms of a more or less frankly naturalistic evolution what the Bible states in terms of superna­tural redemption. No wonder the “modern” student finds contradictions in the Bible and has to tear it chapter from chapter, verse from verse, and line from line, since he would so completely change its message. But those who study it reverently as the Word of God and seek the guidance of His Spirit will be more and more impressed with the harmony and the heavenliness of its glorious message of redeeming love in Jesus Christ our Lord.

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