Unity Where There Was Disunity
by Rev. David T. Myers

This historical devotional and the May 27th devotional deal with the same topic, that of the Old Side – New Side schism in early Presbyterianism. On May 27, we will look at what caused the infant Presbyterian church to divide into two sides in 1741. On this day, May 25, we will look at how they were brought together again in 1758.

What were the points of difference, even though we will wait until the latter date in May to see them in detail? They could be summarized in two words: education and evangelism. The first difference centered around the education of ministers, whether European credentials were required, like from Scotland or England theological colleges, or whether training in schools in the colonies, such as the Log College of New Jersey, was sufficient. The second difference was composed of the issue of the revival meetings of the Great Awakening, and whether permission needed to be sought and given when engaged in them in other presbyter’s parishes. One can immediately see that no doctrines were at stake, but rather differing ways of doing the Lord’s work.

Such differences on these two points accounted for this schism in 1741 which  lasted sixteen years  to 1758.  By then, men and churches who took strong stands in the 1741 schism had either died or moved on. Further, there was on the part of a few ministers who had been most vocal in their affirmations and denunciations during the schism, like the Rev. Gilbert Tennent, a sincere repentance on choice of words used to describe the other side.

The Plan of Union in 1758 affirmed the method of revivals, such as the New Side Presbyterians engaged in, was proper. It even ascertained that the Great Awakening was a blessed work of the Holy Spirit. Yet there was a recognition that if the authority of local presbyteries and synods forbade the wandering  of evangelists, who came into other fields without even asking permission to do so, that would have to stop.

As far as education was concerned, the candidates for the gospel ministry should be able to both declare the theological basis of their beliefs (such as the Old Side championed) as well as show experimental acquaintance with the gospel (as the New Side emphasized).

A unified Presbyterian church was ready to progress ahead for the challenging years ahead of her, especially in the birth of a new country called  the United States of America.

Words to Live By: As long as union is not accompanied by denials of Christian theology, it is to be prayed for, worked on, perseveringly kept, and greatly rejoiced over as producing stronger instruments for the glory of God and the growth of the church.

Dr. Charles Hodge was appointed the third professor at the Princeton Theological Seminary on this day, May 24, in 1822.

Of Charles Hodge, the eminent Scottish theologian William Cunningham often said “that he had greater confidence in the theological opinions of Charles Hodge than in those of any other living theologian.”

Born in 1797, Charles was raised in Philadelphia by his widowed mother and later graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1815, and then Princeton Seminary in 1819. Ordained by the Presbytery of New Brunswick in 1821, Hodge was appointed as stated supply over the church in Georgetown (now Lambertville). Though he saw the Lord’s blessing in his ministry, Rev. Hodge soon discovered an even stronger pull to academic studies, and it was not long before Dr. Archibald Alexander invited him to teach the biblical languages at the Seminary. Entering upon that work, he taught at Princeton for just a very few years before sensing a need to continue his studies, this time in Germany. After two years abroad, he returned to Princeton, New Jersey in 1828 to take up again his duties as Professor at the Seminary, returning as well to serve as the editor of the Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review. In the course of his long career, Charles Hodge taught literally thousands of students, authored a monumental three-volume systematic theology, and wrote over 140 articles, many of which were 100 pages or more in length.

Above, “Charles Hodge’s study, where he met his classes from 1833 to 1836 when he suffered from lameness.”

I could not locate the text of his inaugural address at Princeton, but his son, A.A. Hodge provides us with these important words from that address, in the biography that he wrote of his father’s life and ministry. In that inaugural address, Hodge made this declaration before faculty and students, setting the standard for the rest of his long ministry, :

The moral qualifications of an Interpreter of Scripture may all be included in Piety; which embraces humility, candor, and those views and feelings which can only result from the inward operation of the Holy Spirit.

It is the object of this discourse to illustrate the importance of Piety in the Interpretation of Scripture.

Could there be a more important message for both students and teachers to take to heart?

Words to Live By : The eminent scholar, John Owen struck a similar note when he wrote :

“I have demonstrated before that all spiritual truth which God has revealed is contained in the Scriptures, and that our true wisdom is based upon spiritual understanding of these Biblical truths. It will, therefore, be granted on all hands that diligent reading of the Scriptures and holy meditation upon them, is of absolute necessity for all aspirants to theology. Sadly, although a good deal of lip-service is paid to this principle, daily experience will show how few there are who really apply themselves to it with due application and a correct frame of mind. For the rest, a neglect of this is not a drawback to their studies but rather a death-blow…
…Perhaps the excuse is that they have immersed themselves in the works of ancient and modern theologians, and so learn from these guides as they painstakingly explain the Scriptures? I do not despise such means. I applaud their diligence. But still this is not to study the Scriptures! It is one matter to listen to these authorities and a very different matter to read the Bible itself after begging the illuminating aid of the Spirit, through faith in Christ, and to so meditate upon it as to be filled with that Spirit which indicted it and lives in it. What a difference this is to merely looking out through the eyes of other men, however learned and truthful they may be.

[John Owen, 
Biblical Theology, Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1996, p. 694-695.]

He Wrote for the Ages
by Rev. David T. Myers

His name was John Ross Macduff. Born this day, May 23, 1818, in Bonhard, near Perth, Scotland, John received all his education in Edinburgh. Ordained into the Church of Scotland, he went on to serve in three Presbyterian churches, including one fifteen year ministry in Glasgow, Scotland. And while he was faithful in the pulpit to proclaim God’s Word, yet he also had a further ministry through the writing of devotional and practical books, many of which are still available by means of the Internet. And we are talking here around 200 years later. As my title puts it, he wrote for the ages.

It was in 1857 that his fellow elders in the Church of Scotland appointed him to the Hymnal Committee of the Church. He went on to write 31 hymns, all of which were then widely used in the Church of Scotland. While his hymn on the Second Advent of Christ was not republished in the Red Trinity Hymnal, it was found in the old Blue Trinity Hymnal on page 238.  Read its words found in the four stanza hymn:

Christ is coming! Let creation from her groans and travail cease;
Let the glorious proclamation Hope restore and faith increase;
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Come, thou blessed Prince of Peace.

Earth can now but tell the story Of thy bitter cross and pain;
She shall yet behold thy glory, When thou comest back to reign;
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Let each heart repeat the strain.

Long thine exiles have been pining, Far from rest, and home, and thee;
But, in heav’nly vestures shining, They their loving Christ shall see;
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Haste the joyous jubilee.

With that blessed hope before us, Let no harp remain unstrung;
Let the mighty advent chorus; Onward roll from tongue to tongue;
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come!” Amen.

Unlike ancient hymns of the second advent, this one by John Macduff focused in on the Second Coming as an occasion of triumph and joy. It was based on Scriptures like Romans 18:18-25; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Titus 2:13; Revelation 1:7; and Revelation 22:20.

John Macduff would retire from the ministry of the preached Word in 1871 and lived until 1895.

Words to Live By:
To still have sermons and devotional classics available to read is a remarkable testimony for our instruction from his heart and lips.  He truly wrote for the ages.  And of course, it is as we faithful pastors preach the inexhaustible riches of God’s Word that our sermons become timeless in their comfort and instruction.  Lay people! Treasure  pastors who are faithful to proclaim the whole counsel of God to you.  They are few and far between in our generation.

A Better Possession, and A Lasting One
by Rev. David T. Myers

Barbara Cunningham had all of the characteristics of a powerful family by her ancestry. But of far more importance than these temporal goods was that her ancestors were all warm supporters of the Protestant Reformation of Scotland.

Continuing in that rich biblical tradition, Barbara Cunningham married William Muir of Caldwell in 1657, thus enabling her to be known as Lady Caldwell. Her husband, like her ancestors, was zealous in his adherence to Presbyterianism, and especially to those who had been ejected from their parishes in 1662. Even though it was considered traitorous to do so, he abstained from attending the churches where Anglican priests now were in charge. Cited to appear before the civil authorities to explain his absence, the date was delayed time and again. Of course, this was of the Lord. When Covenanters began to take up arms to defend their faith, William Muir raised a troop of fifty neighbors to ride to the area around Pentland Hills to help their cause. But a force of government troops cut off their approach with the result that the small band was scattered. Forced to hide himself and eventually flee, William Muir eventually made his way to Holland.

Soon the weight of the opposition fell upon his wife, Lady Caldwell, and her four children, three of them female. She lost all of her and their property which was given to the general who had fought the Covenanters at Pentland Hills. Lady Caldwell joined her husband in Holland with her family. While there, they were allowed to worship God along with all the other Scottish exiles. In a short while however, her husband died in the faith. Lady Caldwell returned to Scotland with her family, hoping that the length of time being absent would make a difference. But it did not. The property still was in control of the anti-Covenanter forces, even taking the new furniture which Lady Caldwell had bought to make a new home. She was still destitute in her beloved homeland.

There is a wonderful paragraph on page 4 of her story in the Ladies of the Covenant. It states that “she did not distrust in  adversity the God whom she had trusted and served in prosperity. Confiding in his promises, she believed that He would provide for her and hers; and possessing too much self-respect to be dependent for the means of subsistence on the bounty of others, she, with her virtuous children, set themselves diligently to the task of supporting themselves by the labor of their own hands.”

Suddenly, without formal charges or even a trial, she, along with her four children, were arrested. Supposedly, a neighbor had observed a non-conformist minister lead a worship service in her home. On the authority of the provost of Glasgow, Scotland, Lady Caldwell was sent on May 22, 1683, along with her twenty year old daughter, Jean, to prison, and not any prison, but the notorious Castle of Blackness.

The daughter began to suffer health problems due to this cruel punishment after six months, and was set free after an appeal in 1684.  Her mother would serve another two years and eight months. During this time, her second daughter Anne would died of Yellow fever. Finally, after this time, she was set free. After William and Mary came to the throne, all of her property and rights were restored to her.

Words to Live By: Like the early Jewish Christians as described in Hebrews 10:34b, Lady Caldwell “accepted joyfully the seizure of property, knowing that (they) had a better possession and a lasting one.” A question to ponder! Would we be like these first century Christians and like Lady Caldwell if such a calamity would happen to us, losing all of our possessions for the sake of the faith delivered unto the saints? It is happening now in our blessed land! Let our prayer be to the God of all grace to help us to see those things which are eternal, and accept joyfully the loss of those things which are temporal.

An Odd Juxtaposition of Dates

The First General Assembly Held in America:

To Presbyterians, the American Revolution had been a holy war.  And now with its winning, Christian Presbyterians could get back to growing the church.  And that growth took place in a period of spiritual progress.  From New York all the way south to the Carolinas, new settlements were begun, with Presbyterian missionaries and ministers being sent throughout the whole length of the land.

But as the churches and  the presbyters  became more and more distant from one another, there was a concern about attendance.  In all the synods put together, over one hundred ministers were absent in any given year with only six of the churches presented by elders.  In one synod, a new moderator was elected, and then excused when it became known that he had not been present for the previous eleven years.  Clearly something had to be done.

The sixteen Presbyteries were organized into four separate synods in 1785.  They were: Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey, Virginia, and the Carolinas.  Numerically, this meant that there were four synods, sixteen presbyteries, 177 ministers, 111 licentiates, and 419 churches.

It was on May 21, 1789, that the first General Assembly was held in the original city of Presbyterianism, Philadelphia.  John Witherspoon was chosen to preach the first sermon of that assembly.  The delegates chose the Rev. John Rodgers to be the first moderator.  He had been trained back in the Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church under New Side Minister Samuel Blair.

Some housekeeping had to be done in light of the separation from England.  No longer could the civil magistrate be considered to be the head of the church.  So chapters in the Westminster Standards which put him as the head of the church were re-written in the light of the American victory in the American Revolution.  No one denomination would any longer be considered a state church, whether it was Anglican, Roman Catholic, or Presbyterian.  There was a separation of church from state.

And Denominational Deathknell:

Then, moving into a later century, we note that in “1918 three churches united to form First Presbyterian Church, New York City. They called as pastor Rev. Mr. George Alexander, D.D., and as associate pastor, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Baptist. On Sunday morning May 21, 1922, Dr. Fosdick preached a famous sermon titled: “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” In this he contrasts the conservative and liberal views on the Virgin Birth, the inspiration of Scripture, the Atonement and the Second Advent of Christ and pleads for tolerance of both views within the church. In 1923 Dr. Fosdick gave the Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching before the Yale Divinity School, which were later published under the title: “The Modern Use of the Bible.” This material clearly sets forth the liberal beliefs of Dr. Fosdick which are at complete variance with clear Scriptural teaching.”  [Historical Background and Development of the RPCES, by Thomas G. Cross, 1968]

Words to Live By:
We may never know whether Fosdick chose that specific date for the delivery of his infamous sermon, whether he intended with some note of irony, but clearly that sermon serves as a marker for all the many changes that have come since. As it is true for denominations and for local churches, so too every Christian is each day faced with decisions that may steer us in one direction or another. A decision to follow Christ or to follow self and its desires, which will it be?

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law doth he meditate.”—Psalm 1:1-2, KJV.

Tales of a Traveler

ramseyJames Beverlin Ramsey was born in Cecil county, Maryland on May 20, 1814. His collegiate education was secured at Lafayette College, a school in Easton, Pennsylvania founded in 1826 and which began holding classes in 1832. Thus Mr. Ramsey was apparently in the first class of graduates in 1836, where he was also valedictorian. He immediately entered Princeton Theological Seminary and remained there four years, which would entail the standard three year curriculum plus an additional year of post-graduate work. One of his professors at the Seminary, the eminent linguist Dr. J. Addison Alexander, stated that when Ramsey left the Seminary, he was qualified to teach any class in the institution.

Ordained by the Second Presbytery of New York on February 2, 1841, Rev. Ramsey was installed as the pastor of the Presbyterian church in West Farms, New York, a neighborhood in New York City, where he remained from 1841-1846. He remained in West Farms in 1846 while preparing for missionary work with the Choctaw Indians and also served as principal of the Spencer Academy, which was connected with that work, from 1848-1849.

From 1950 to 1853, he was Stated Supply for several New York churches, until he received a call in 1853 to serve the Presbyterian church in New Monmouth, Virginia, first as Stated Supply and then as pastor, 1854-1858. His final labors were spent as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Lynchburg, Virginia, 1858-1870. Declining health forced his resignation and he died in Lynchburg on July 23, 1871.

It may be interesting to note that the Old School/New School split of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. occurred during Ramsey’s first year at Princeton Seminary, that his first dozen years in ministry were spent in that region where the New School was strongest, and that his last two pulpits—the final eighteen years of his ministry—were in the South, in churches that were on the Old School side of the split.

Dr. Ramsey is today primarily remembered as the author of a commentary on the first eleven chapters of the Book of Revelation, which has been reprinted by The Banner of Truth Trust. Included are a brief memoir of the author and an introduction by Dr. Charles Hodge. Published posthumously, the commentary was originally titled The Spiritual Kingdom (1873)Some of his other published works include The Deaconship: An Essay (1858); True Eminence Founded on Holiness: A Discourse occasioned by the death of Lieut. Gen. T.J. Jackson(1863); How Shall I Live? (1861-65); Questions on Bible Doctrine (1869); and Questions on Old Testament History (1879). A number of these can be read online, here.

Words to Live By:
We should, all of us, be constantly open to the Spirit’s leading as He may bring opportunities to witness to others of the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. Our witness to a dying culture matters more now than ever. The following, from Dr. Ramsey’s short treatise How Shall I Live?, gives an excellent example of how a mundane situation can be turned into such an opportunity:—

THE STRICT SEARCH

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? BE not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, not covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

A traveler in his journey crossed the frontier, and had to pass through the custom-house. The officers said to him, “Have you any contraband goods?” “I do not think I have.” was the answer. “That may be true,” said the officers, “but we cannot let you pass without examination. Permit us to search.” “If you please,” said the traveler, “but allow me to sit down while you perform your duty.”

They then began their search; and first examined his portmaneau. Afterward they turned to his person, and searched his pockets, his pocket-book, his boots, and his neck-cloth.

The examination being over, the traveler thus addressed the officers: “Gentlemen, will you allow me to tell you what thoughts this examination has awakened in my mind? We are all traveling to an eternal kingdom, into which we cannot take any contraband goods. If you had found any prohibited articles upon me, you would have taken them from me, and have fined me for it. Now, think how many careless travelers pass into eternity, laden with sins which are forbidden by the heavenly King. By these forbidden things, I mean deceitfulness, anger, pride, lying, covetousness, envy, evil-speaking, and similar offences, which are hateful in the sight of God. For all these, every man who passes the boundary of the grave is searched, far more strictly than you have searched me. God is the great searcher of hearts; and although the number of transgressors is very great, and their rank and station very different, yet not one can escape, for ‘every one of us shall give an account of himself to God.’

“The King of heaven, not willing any of us should perish, sent His only begotten Son to become our substitute to make a reconciliation for transgressors, and to clothe us with His righteousness, without which we cannot see His kingdom. This Messiah, or sent one, is Jesus Christ, our Saviour, who came down on earth on purpose to bear ‘our sins in His own body on the tree,’ to save all that believe on Him, to wash us from our spiritual pollution, and to clothe us with the spotless robe—the wedding-garment of His righteousness. And ‘they who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,’ are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple.’”

The custom-house officers listened with attention, and when he had finished, expressed the hope that they should be permitted to see and hear him again.

“Gentlemen,” continued the traveler, “whether we shall meet again on earth is uncertain. God only knows; but, as I am about to leave you, I will tell you something more—it is about TWO PLANKS. A preacher wishing to explain to his congregation what a dangerous delusion those persons are in, who seek salvation partly from the righteousness of Christ, said to them: ‘Supposing it is needful for you to cross a river, over which two planks are thrown. One is perfectly new, the other is completely rotten. How will you go? If you walk upon the rotten one, you are sure to fall into the river.

If you put one foot on the rotten plank, and the other on the new plank, it will be the same—you will certainly falll through and perish. So there is only one safe method left—Set both your feet upon the new plank.”

Brethren, the rotten plank is your own unclean self-righteousness. He who trusts in it must perish without remedy. The new plank is the eternal, saving righteousness of Christ, which came from heaven, and is given to every one who believeth in Him. Trust on this righteousness and you shall be saved; for the Scripture saith, “Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.”

To read more of How Shall I Live?, click here. An alternate edition is posted on the web, here.

THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST
Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 23

Q. 23. What offices doth Christ execute, as our Redeemer?

A. Christ, as our Redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet, of a Priest, and of a King, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.

EXPLICATION.

Our Redeemer. –He who delivers, or saves, us from the slavery and misery of sin.

Offices of Christ. –Certain public charges, or employments, to which he was set apart, or appointed, by God the Father.

Executeth the offices of a prophet, &c. –That is, Christ performs, or does the duties, or works, of a prophet, priest, &c.

Estate of humiliation. –The state of poverty and of suffering, in which Christ lived, while in this world.

Estate of Exaltation. –That high and glorious state in heaven, in which Christ now is.

ANALYSIS.

Here we are informed of five things :

1. That Christ executeth the office of a Prophet. –Acts iii. 22. Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me: him shall ye hear in all things, whatsoever he shall command you.

2. That he executeth the office of a Priest. –Heb. v. 6. Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedec.

3. That he executeth the office of a King. –Psal. ii. 6. Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of zion.

4. That these offices are all executed by Christ, as our Redeemer.

5. That these offices are all executed by him, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.

The Reformed faith and Modern Substitutes

It is one thing to take a strong stand for the fundamentals of the faith and come out from that denomination which denies them.  It is quite another thing to stand for the essentials of the Reformed faith in the new denomination which you have started with others of similar convictions. This latter matter was the issue facing the early years of the Presbyterian Church of America.

For that reason, Professor John Murray wrote a whole series for the Presbyterian Guardian in 1935 – 1936 (its archival material is on-line now) on The Reformed Faith and Modern Substitutes.  The latter part of the title dealt with two: Arminianism and Modern Dispensationalism.   Readers desiring to get a biblical view of the first substitute are urged to read the Feb 17 and March 16, 1936 issues (Vol 1, numbers 10, 12)  The second Modern Substitute was dispensationalism, as it was then being taught and practiced by the Scofield Reference Bible and all kinds of Bible institutes and churches.  Professor   Murray would deal with this substitute in the  May 18, 1936 (Vol. 2 No. 4) issue of the Presbyterian Guardian.

[click here to read the 18 May 1936 issue of The Presbyterian Guardian.]

Murray’s  point could hardly be missed in the article.  He wrote, “What we are intent upon showing is that the system of (i.e. dispensationalism) interpretation widely prevalent in this country . . . is inconsistent with the system of truth embodied in our Presbyterian standards.”

Why was this emphasis needed to these Presbyterian pastors and people in the mid-thirties in our Presbyterian church scene?  Arminianism may not have been a problem in the infant Presbyterian church, though this false belief can weave its way into many a congregation. Of far greater issue was modern dispensationalism.  The fact that there was a concern with  their reader’s misunderstanding about the series of articles  led one reporter of the Presbyterian Guardian to seek to clarify what was and what was not being said by Professor Murray.

What was not being said was that all pre-mils in the church were contrary to the Reformed Faith.  It was pointed out that pre-mils could be found on the board and faculty of Westminster Seminary, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, and the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union. There was no inconsistency between the Reformed Faith and a belief in the premillennial return of Christ.  There was to be a wide area of liberty in the doctrine of last things as it dealt with millennial issues.

However, what was being said was that the dispensational viewpoint regarding the unity of the Scriptures, the unity of salvation, and the unity of the church was contrary to the Reformed faith.  The new church wanted to be in reality as well as in name a Reformed church.   And this would come into the forefront of the Presbyterian Church of America with the tragic division of the young church  in less than two years in 1938.

Words to Live By: Suppose one of your friends, neighbors, work associates would ask you what do you believe about the teachings of your church?  How would you answer them?  First Peter 3:15 reminds us to “be ready to give an answer.”  That word “answer” is where we get our word “apologetics.”  It speaks of a defense of the hope which lies within us.  This is why this contributor is adding each day a Scripture lesson and a section of the Westminster Standards, so that you will be able to make that defense of your belief to others.  Read them faithfully daily.

Return to Duty: Three Tips from John Witherspoon on ‘Hearkening the Rod’
by Joseph Sunde

 

witherspoonIn the spring of 1776, John Witherspoon preached his first sermon on political matters, about a month before he was elected to the Continental Congress. The sermon, “The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men,” is a fascinating exploration of how God can work through human crises, and how even the “wrath of man” can lead us to glorify God in unexpected ways.

Surrounded by the conflict of the Revolution, Witherspoon calls on his countrymen to “return to duty,” neither letting blind rage get the best of them, nor retreating out of fear or for idols of security and “peace.” Yet while all this is directed specifically to the crisis of his time, I’m struck by how far his wisdom actually applies.

In today’s context, our conflicts vary, from economic woes to fights about religious liberty to racial tensions to terrorist threats to brazen abuses of power and authority within the halls of our own government. In each area, we can benefit from Witherspoon’s advice, learning to “hearken the rod” when times get tough, not only in terms of our own salvation, but for the sake and the cause of a free and virtuous society.

Witherspoon sets the stage as follows, highlighting how God through tough times so often remind us of and points us toward the source of every good and perfect thing:

Both nations in general, and private persons, are apt to grow remiss and lax in a time of prosperity and seeming security; but when their earthly comforts are endangered or withdrawn, it lays them under a kind of necessity to seek for something better in their place. Men must have comfort from one quarter or another. When earthly things are in a pleasing and promising condition, too many are apt to find their rest, and be satisfied with them as their only portion. But when the vanity and passing nature of all created comfort is discovered, they are compelled to look for something more durable as well as valuable. What therefore, can be more to the praise of God, than that when a whole people have forgotten their resting place, when they have abused their privileges, and despised their mercies, they should by distress and suffering be made to hearken to the rod, and return to their duty?

He moves from there to a lengthy commentary on human nature, divine providence, and a variety of detailed applications to the American Revolution. But his conclusions are rather universal.

Witherspoon offers three specific recommendations, which I’ve excerpted below under my own simplistic headers. The primary takeaways may seem obvious, and the excerpts overly excessive, but Witherspoon connects the dots between the spiritual, social, economic, and political with remarkable depth and unusual clarity.

1. Turn to God, and orient your life around obedience to His will.

sermon2 (1)Suffer me to recommend to you an attention to the public interest of religion, or in other words, zeal for the glory of God and the good of others. I have already endeavored to exhort sinners to repentance; what I have here in view is to point out to you the concern which every good man ought to take in the national character and manners, and the means which he ought to use for promoting public virtue, and bearing down impiety and vice. This is a matter of the utmost moment, and which ought to be well understood, both in its nature and principles. Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue.

On the other hand, when the manners of a nation are pure, when true religion and internal principles maintain their vigour, the attempts of the most powerful enemies to oppress them are commonly baffled and disappointed. This will be found equally certain, whether we consider the great principles of God’s moral government, or the operation and influence of natural causes. What follows from this? That he is the best friend to American liberty, who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy to God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country.

2. Work hard, and work for the glory of God and the service of neighbor.

I exhort all who are not called to go into the field [of warfare], to apply themselves with the utmost diligence to works of industry. It is in your power by this mean not only to supply the necessities, but to add to the strength of your country. Habits of industry prevailing in a society, not only increase its wealth, as their immediate effect, but they prevent the introduction of many vices, and are intimately connected with sobriety and good morals. Idleness is the mother or nurse of almost every vice; and want, which is its inseparable companion, urges men on to the most abandoned and destructive courses.

Industry, therefore is a moral duty of the greatest moment, absolutely necessary to national prosperity, and the sure way of obtaining the blessing of God. I would also observe, that in this, as in every other part of God’s government, obedience to his will is as much a natural mean, as a meritorious cause, of the advantage we wish to reap from it. Industry brings up a firm and hardy race. He who is inured to the labor of the field, is prepared for the fatigues of a campaign. The active farmer who rises with the dawn and follows his team or plow, must in the end be an overmatch for those effeminate and delicate soldiers, who are nursed in the lap of self-indulgence, and whose greatest exertion is in the important preparation for, and tedious attendance on, a masquerade, or midnight ball.

3. Deny yourself (which demands frugality, humility, and discernment).

In the last place, suffer me to recommend to you frugality in your families, and every other article of expence. This the state of things among us renders absolutely necessary, and it stands in the most immediate connexion both with virtuous industry, and active public spirit. Temperance in meals, moderation and decency in dress, furniture and equipage, have, I think, generally been characteristics of a distinguished patriot. And when the same spirit pervades a people in general, they are fit for every duty, and able to encounter the most formidable enemy…

… In the early times of Christianity, when adult converts were admitted to baptism, they were asked among other questions, Do you renounce the world, its shews, its pomp, and its vanities? I do. The form of this is still preserved in the administration of baptism, where we renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh. This certainly implies not only abstaining from acts of gross intemperance and excess, but a humility of carriage, a restraint and moderation in all your desires. The same thing, as it is suitable to your Christian profession, is also necessary to make you truly independent in yourselves, and to feed the source of liberality and charity to others, or to the public. The riotous and wasteful liver, whose craving appetites make him constantly needy, is and must be subject to many masters, according to the saying of Solomon, “The borrower is servant to the lender.” But the frugal and moderate person, who guides his affairs with discretion, is able to assist in public counsels by a free and unbiassed judgment, to supply the wants of his poor brethren, and sometimes, by his estate and substance to give important aid to a sinking country.

His conclusion:

Upon the whole, I beseech you to make a wise improvement of the present threatening aspect of public affairs, and to remember that your duty to God, to your country, to your families, and to yourselves, is the same. True religion is nothing else but an inward temper and outward conduct suited to your state and circumstances in providence at any time. And as peace with God and conformity to him, adds to the sweetness of created comforts while we possess them, so in times of difficulty and trial, it is in the man of piety and inward principle, that we may expect to find the uncorrupted patriot, the useful citizen, and the invincible soldier. God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable, and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one, may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both.

In whatever public conflicts we face, some will feel powerless, others apathetic, and others prone to blindly join the foam and fervor of the latest conformity mob. Witherspoon shows us that the path forward is actually quite straightforward, requiring hard work, persistence, and self-sacrifice applied with discipline and diligence over time and with a steady attention on obedience to God above all else.

These things matter for our own souls, but also for the spirit and prosperity of our communities and nations — from here and there and back again. As Ellis Sandoz reminds us in his introduction to the sermon, “Ministers of the Gospel have more important business to attend to than secular crises, but, of course, liberty is more than a merely secular matter.”

A Political Issue Divides the Old School General Assembly
by Rev. David T. Myers

With the Old School General Assembly meeting on May 16, 1861, the unity of the nation was at stake.  Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina has been attacked and captured.  Southern states had already seceded from the Union.  The slavery issue, which had been debated in previous assemblies, became secondary to the important matter of preserving the union.  Thus, Rev. Gardiner Spring,  the pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, New York suggested that a committee be formed to consider the following resolutions before the assembled elders.

          “Resolved, 1.  That in view of the present agitated and unhappy condition of this country, the first day of July next be hereby set apart as a day of prayer throughout our bounds; and that on this day ministers and people are called on humbly to confess our national sins; to offer our thanks to the Father of light for his abundant and undeserved goodness towards us as a nation; to seek his guidance and blessing upon our rulers, and their counsels, as well as on the Congress of the United States about to assembly; and to implore him, in the name of Jesus Christ, the great High Priest of the Christian profession, to turn away his anger from us, and speedily restore to us the blessings of an honorable peace.

          Resolved, 2  That this General Assembly, in the spirit of that Christian patriotism . . . do hereby acknowledge and declare our obligations to promote and perpetuate . . . the integrity of the United States, and to strengthen, uphold, and encourage the Federal Government in the exercise of all its functions  under our noble Constitution: and to this Constitution, . . . we profess our unabated loyalty.”

Interestingly, some of the main opposition to this resolution came from Dr. Charles Hodge, of Princeton Theological Seminary.  He protested that the General Assembly had no right to decide to what government the allegiance of Presbyterians is due, that it was neither North nor South. His alternate resolutions lost before the assembly.  When the issue came to a vote, with an amendment offered by John Witherspoon II,  the Spring Resolutions, as they were known in church history, passed by 156 to 66. Tragically, they also brought about the schism between Old School Presbyterians, dividing North and South.

To read a full account of what came to be called the Gardiner Spring Resolutions, click here.

Words to Live By: There is a reason why the Confessional Fathers in chapter 31:3 specifically stated that “Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical; and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.”

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