A nice long post for a cold winter’s day. Find a cozy chair and set aside some time to read:


THE KIND OF PREACHING NEEDED AMONG THE UNEVANGELIZED PEOPLE OF OUR COUNTRY.

tdwportrait02BY T. D. WITHERSPOON, D.D., LL.D., PROFESSOR OF HOMILETIC AND PASTORAL THEOLOGY IN THE PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, LOUISVILLE, KY.

It seems strange to speak of unevangelized people in this great Christian country of ours. And yet there are multitudes, amounting in the aggregate to millions, who never hear the Gospel preached, who make no claim to be in any true sense Christians, and who, practically considered, are as truly heathen as if they were in the heart of Africa or China. When we come to look more closely into the condition of these unevangelized people we find them falling naturally under two great classes: first, those who by reason of geographical isolation are beyond the reach of the stated means of grace; and second, those who by reason of social or spiritual isolation fail to come under the influence of the means of grace that are ready at hand.

As an illustration of the former class we have multitudes of people in secluded mountain hollows and out on the broad prairies who have no church edifice of any Christian denomination, or other place of stated religious worship, within twenty or thirty miles of their homes. They are practically without the opportunity of hearing the Gospel or of being taught the way of life. As illustrative of the latter class we have in all our great cities communities of the under classes of society, congregated by thousands in attics, basements, tenement-houses, and flats, who are within five minutes’ walk of churches and mission chapels whose doors are freely open to them, in which they are invited to seats without cost, in halls lighted, warmed, and supplied with the best services of ministry and choir; and yet who, from long-cherished prejudices and misconceptions, from a social ostracism real or imagined, refuse all invitations to enter, and live and die within sound of church bells, “so near and yet so far.” We suppose ourselves to have gotten a hearing. The unevangelized people are before us; how shall we preach?

I do not know how to answer this question better than by giving a concrete case. A few weeks since I had the opportunity, which I had long coveted, of hearing for the first time the most successful preacher to the unevangelized masses that I know. Going to the nearest railway station, hiring a horse and riding thirty miles across two mountain ranges, I came at sunset to the little county-seat in whose court-house the services were being held, there being no church edifice of any denomination in the place. It was in the latter part of May, when the people were all in the midst of the busiest season with their crops, and when it was most difficult to secure a congregation. As we entered the court-house at the hour of service I was astonished to find it packed to its utmost capacity, with many outside who could not get in. The dingy and uncomfortable court-room was only dimly lighted by one or two flickering coal-oil lamps. There were no musical attractions beyond the presence of a brother with a good voice who, accompanied by a small organ, led very simply in the singing of the most familiar Gospel hymns. It was evident that the preaching was what had gathered this great crowd of people, most of whom rarely if ever heard the Gospel preached. I had, therefore, full opportunity to study the preacher and the sermon—a sermon which, admirable from beginning to end, produced so profound an impression upon the people that I was not surprised when one of the rude mountaineers told me, after the service, that if that man preached a few days longer the court-house yard would not hold the people that would gather to hear.

Taking this sermon as a model of the kind of preaching needed, the following conclusions, I think, may be safely reached:

First, as to subject-matter, it is not necessary that we should select any out-of-the-way themes, or sensational topics, or subjects different from those that we would preach to one of our ordinary congregations of unconverted people. The text selected was John xii. 21, “We would see Jesus;” the theme, the threefold one, Jesus as a Friend; Jesus as a Savior; Jesus as a Brother. The sermon was as evangelical as possible—a simple setting forth of Christ in His varied relations to men. It is a common mistake to suppose that people who are not accustomed to attend church will not be interested in the simple story of the cross. On the other hand, if we will reflect a moment, we will see that there are reasons why they should be more interested in a simple Gospel sermon than those who are constant attendants upon the sanctuary, and yet who have not yielded their hearts to Christ. Because men never hear preaching it is not to be supposed for a moment that they do not think, and think profoundly, on the subject of religion. Many of them are the children of pious parents. They have drifted away from their early moorings, but have retained to a greater or less degree the influence of early religious impressions. All of them are, in the light of conscience, self-convicted sinners, however they may strive to close their ears to the verdict of the inward and spiritual monitor whose voice they can not altogether hush. Hence the story of the cross, of One who died for sin, of One whose blood cleanses from guilt, is just the story that they need to hear; and it comes home to them with all the more power because they have not been case-hardened by its frequent repetition in their ears, as those have who all their lives have been sitting under the sound of the Gospel. It is the dictate of the highest spiritual philosophy, as well as a conclusion from the largest experience and observation, that the subject-matter of our preaching to the unevangelized should be preeminently Christ in His person and His work; that in a stricter sense than under any other circumstances we should hold ourselves to the law of the great Apostle, and “know nothing among men save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

But passing to a second point, when we come to the manner of the preaching, we may learn much from the study of the sermon to which I have alluded. Taking it again as my guide, I lay down as my first principle that the preaching shall be sympathetic in tone. One of the first rules laid down for the orator is, “ Make much use of sympathetic emotion.” A great writer on sacred rhetoric pronounces it “the orator’s right arm.” This is particularly true where those whom you are to address are, from causes already alluded to, disposed to regard themselves as outcasts from Christian sympathy. It is indispensable that there shall be constituted between preacher and hearers at the earliest possible moment the bond of a common sympathy. Unfortunately, the attempts to do this are often exceedingly unwise. There is sometimes a maudlin assurance of profound and pitiful concern that is so patronizing and so condescending in its tone that it offends and provokes. There is with a certain class of self-styled evangelists a species of demagogism that seeks to ingratiate itself with the non-churchgoing masses by pandering to the spirit of opposition to the churches. Men of this class denounce the churches as cold and proud and seclusive. They endeavor to make of the indifference of Christian people in general toward outsiders the dark background on which their own yearning solicitude and affectionate regard may stand conspicuously forth. There are no greater enemies to the community than these mountebanks, whose chief stock in trade consists of abuse of the churches, and who conceive it to be their mission to widen the breach between the churches and the masses of the people, and thus undermine the power of the church to do them good.

The sermon of which I speak was entirely free from both these faults. The speaker in the treatment of his first head—Christ as a Friend—set forth with wonderful power and beauty Christ’s philanthropic interest in men—all men. He dwelt upon and illustrated His sympathy with the toils, cares, sicknesses, and sorrows, especially of those in the humbler walks of life. While the preacher made no reference to his own sympathy with men, yet, from beginning to close, you were impressed with the thought that the disciple had caught the spirit of the Master, and that there was in his bosom, tho not expressed in words, something of the same divine love for the souls of men, and the same tender sympathy with them in their troubles, which he was showing to be so conspicuous a feature in the character and life of Christ. No wonder then that long before he had concluded this first head he had that great throng of rough children of the forest so completely under his power that he could move them to tears at will. And this is and must always be the first element of power in dealing with these unevangelized people. We must get hold of their sympathies. We must get into their hearts.

A second principle to be laid down is that the preaching must be candid and thoroughgoing in its dealing with sin. When our mountain evangelist had presented fully under that first head what might be called the humanitarian view of Christ in His relations to men, he passed with all the momentum of the sympathy awakened to his second thought—that men need something more than a friend—they need a Savior from sin. And never in my life did I hear a more terrific arraignment of sin, not sin in the abstract, but sin in the concrete, the sin of the men and women before the speaker as it stood out in the light of their own memories and under the scourge of their own consciences while he spoke. But for the hold which he had gotten upon them in the first head of his discourse, his hearers would have revolted against the strong arraignment; but, with that hold, his sharpest rebukes were but the faithful woundings of a friend. The arrow went home, armed with the resistless power of love.

And so I contend that in all our preaching to the unevangelized, we must deal closely and faithfully with these great questions of guilt and depravity. We must presuppose the presence and power of conscience. We must expect the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. That was an unevangelized man before whom Paul “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” until the man trembled. Those were for the most part unevangelized people before whom John spoke of “the ax laid at the root of the tree,” and of “the chaff to be consumed with unquenchable fire.”

A third principle illustrated in the sermon is that the preaching should be characterized by great fulness and circumstantiality of Scriptural narrative. Persons who have been trained from childhood to listen to preaching may be held for three quarters of an hour to a train of logical reasoning or doctrinal exposition; but for those without this training it will be found that a large proportion of the sermon must be occupied with incident and illustration. Fortunately for the speaker the Scriptures are a great storehouse of incidents and illustrations, supernaturally preserved, and fitted to his hand. And there is this advantage in addressing the class to whom the true evangelist goes, that these stories come to them with a freshness and with the charm of a novelty that they do not possess for those to whom they have been repeated over and over again. It was exceedingly interesting to look into the faces of the simple-hearted mountain people and watch the play of emotion as the speaker, in his inimitable way, would tell the story of Christ’s dealing with some penitent or suffering soul while He was on earth. These were the passages of his sermon that were most replete with power, and so I contend that one characteristic of all preaching to these unevangelized masses should be fulness of Scripture narrative. I have also added circumstantiality, for the preacher is apt to forget that these people are not as familiar with the details of the Gospel narratives as ordinary sermon-hearers are. In our customary preaching we may and ought to presume upon a certain familiarity with the details of the more prominent incidents in the life of our Lord. In narrating them it is sufficient to. touch upon certain salient points, to give, as it were, mere outline sketches, trusting to the memory to fill in the rest; but in speaking to those who have not had the advantages of our ordinary hearers, the Scriptural narrative needs to be presented in its minuter details, and much of the strength and impressiveness of the narration will depend upon the graphic and vivid way in which the details are presented. One great secret of success in strictly evangelistic preaching is found in this power of Scriptural narration. Mr. Moody has it to a wonderful degree. Let any one read Mr. Moody’s sermons and he will soon discover that this is one of the marked elements of his power.

But we pass on from this to a last principle to be laid down, and one upon which it will not be necessary to enlarge, because it is applicable to all speaking. It is that the illustrations drawn from actual life shall be taken from spheres of life with which the hearers are familiar. In speaking to children we draw our illustrations from child-life, because the children can understand them better and enter into fuller sympathy with them. And so it will be apparent in a moment that there are multitudes of illustrations to be drawn from the Christian fireside, the family altar, and the inner life of the church with which the class of non-churchgoers would be entirely out of sympathy. A young friend of mine, desiring to illustrate the uncertainty of all earthly possessions, took as an illustration the breaking of a bank. He prepared the sermon for a city congregation, and, telling the story in a very pathetic way, it produced a profound impression. Preaching the sermon shortly afterward in a little country church, instead of using as an illustration a sudden frost, or blight, or mildew, he repeated pathetically his story of the fraudulent cashier and the broken bank, and was very much crestfallen when an old farmer said to him, coming out of church, “I didn’t take much stock in that bank story of yours; I think if people has got no more use for money than to hoard it up in bank, some rascal ought to come along and git it and scatter it where it will do some good.” There is a certain range of experiences with which the unevangelized people can not enter into sympathy, and illustrations drawn from these will meet the fate of the very admirable illustration of the young preacher from the broken bank.

If the principles which I have laid down are the correct ones it ought not to be so difficult a matter to reach the outlying masses. If a few men of warm hearts could go among them, not alas, as many of the so-called evangelists now do, as the antagonists of the churches, but as their representatives, not to reproach the church in the hearing of these men for its imagined coldness, but to assure them of the warm sympathy pulsating in the heart of the church for them, they might be won back from their condition of religious isolation, and made to feel at home in our churches, where their spiritual interests can be conserved as they can not possibly be by street-preachings, Salvation Armies, or any other rescue methods, however valuable in themselves they may be.

The Rev. Robert W. Childress passed into glory on this day, January 16, 1956.

childressRobertWhen the Master has a big work to do, He raises up a big man to do it. The Lord does not always choose a man from places such as those where men would look. Such a man, from a most unlikely place, is the subject of this story. This man of God’s choosing was born in the mountains of Patrick County, Virginia, not far from the present Blue Ridge Parkway. He was born in a one-room mountain cabin, born into a large family, his people the direct descendants of Scots-Irish immigrants, and born into deep poverty and ignorance.

Robert W. Childress once said that he did not know when he was given his first drink of liquor. Sundays were spent in gambling, shooting and drinking parties. Schools were little thought of. A church was seldom visited, and the thought of Sunday school was anathema to the people of his community.

But out of this lawless backwater, God saved Robert. He used a young lady who later became his wife, but who died not long after two children were born to this couple. Even in death, his wife continued to live as a powerful influence. Childress said the devil threw him sixteen times, but Christ triumphed in the end, and Robert began to look to how the Lord might use him. Against all odds, he began to pursue an education and before long, now married again and in his thirties, the Lord at last brought him to seminary to prepare for the ministry.

childress_biographyA bunch of the boys dropped in with guns at one of Preacher Childress’ first services in the Virginia mountains. They told him to leave the country, or else.

“They were a little wrought up,” Childress explained. “I’d said something about their making whiskey and naturally it insulted them. They’d wanted me to apologize, and I hadn’t. I’d told them I could be just as crazy as they were.”

“So of course they were upset. They were drinking when they came to the service, and they didn’t know what they were doing. We had a little prayer,” he smiled, “and they let me off.”

“Some folks were a little rough,” he admitted, when he started work in the stretch of rugged country in Floyd, Carroll, and Patrick counties in Virginia.

“They were the best-hearted people in the world, but they just didn’t behave. There was a lot of killing, a lot of drinking, a lot of feuding. But they’ve changed.”

Time was, he recalled, when they said the politicians were afraid to come through the section, “even to solicit votes.” But no more. “There’s hardly any fighting now. There’s less drinking. The homes are better. People are happier.”

Words to Live By:
The Lord raised up Robert Childress to do a big work. He lifted him up out of incredible poverty and spiritual depravity and made him a useful vessel for His service. The faithful preaching of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ brings real change to the hearts and lives of an otherwise lawless people, the world over.

Dust jacket of the biography, The Man Who Moved a Mountain, by Richard C. Davids :

One of the Twelve Signers
by Rev. David T. Myers

Many Presbyterians know that the Scotch-Irish had a pivotal part in the birth of our country.  But they may not be aware that there were twelve Presbyterians who put their names on the line as well as their sacred honor to actually sign their name on the Declaration of Independence.  Philip Livingstone was one of those signers.

Livingstone came from a distinguished family.  His grandfather had been a minister in the Church of Scotland; refusing to take an oath of allegiance to King Charles II, he fled to Holland where he was pastor of a Presbyterian Church. Livingstone’s father, Robert, came to the colonies where Philip was born on January 15, 1716.  At age 17, Philip graduated from Yale College with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business.  Moving to New York City, he soon made his mark as a merchant and importer.  In 1740, he married Christina Ten Broeck, with whom he would father nine children.

His time in New York City would be spent in both political and civic organizations, serving as an alderman and as a governor of New York Hospital, participating in the founding of what later became Columbia University, and in the founding of a library.  The national scene of the colonies did not escape his spiritual gifts as he was selected as one of the delegates from New York state to the First Continental Congress.

After signing the Declaration of Independence, he  suffered financially for his stand for liberty.  His house on Long Island became a barracks for British troops and his country estate a  hospital.  Yet he continued to serve in Congress, even as he developed dropsy in the chest.  Despite being diagnosed with this death sentence, he fled Philadelphia for York, Pa. with the rest of the Congress. At the sixth Continental Congress, he died and was buried in York, Pennsylvania.

Congress as a body attended the funeral of one of their own, each member wearing a black crepe around his arm, mourning their loss of a compatriot for a month.  His funeral was conducted by the Rev. George Duffield, Presbyterian chaplain of the Congress.

It was said of Philip Livingstone that he was a firm believer in the great truths of the Christian system, and a sincere and humble follower of the divine Redeemer.  That faith and life was evident in his support for independence until his death at age 62.

Words to Live By: Like Joseph and Daniel of Old Testament times, Christians can and should serve the Lord through  government.  We need to pray for all such believers today in that sphere, that God would give them wisdom to serve rightly.

A Most Solemn Season of Prayer
by Rev. David T. Myers

It was on January 14, 1744 that Presbyterian missionary David Brainerd recorded in his famous diary a personal prayer session he had with his God and Father.  Meditate on his words:

“This morning I enjoyed a most solemn season in prayer: my soul seemed enlarged, and assisted to pour out itself to God for grace, and for every blessing I wanted, for myself, my dear Christian friends, and for the church of God, and was so enabled to see him who is invisible, that my soul rested on him for the performance of everything I asked agreeable to his will.  It is then my happiness, to ‘continue instant in prayer,’ and  was enabled to continue  in it for nearly an hour.  My soul was then ‘strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.’  Longed exceedingly for angelic holiness and purity, and to have all my thoughts, at all times, employed in divine and heavenly things.”

 “Oh how blessed is a heavenly temper (i.e. spirit)!  Oh how unspeakably blessed it is, to feel a measure of that rectitude, in which we were at first created!  Felt the same divine assistance in prayer sundry times in the day.  My soul confided in God for myself, and for His Son.  Trusted in divine power and grace, that He would do glorious things in his church on earth, for his own glory.”

As you read over this marvelous prayer, you can see how thoroughly saturated Brainerd was in the Word of God.  He wanted only to pray for requests which were “agreeable to His will,” as Jesus taught the disciples to pray in Matthew 6:10. (NIV)  He was able to “continue instant in prayer,” as Roman 12:12 commands.  As a result of such prayer, he was able to be “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might,” as Ephesians 6:10 (KJV) enjoins the people of God. David Brainerd was able to guide his prayers through the language of Scripture.

Words to Live By: Take any of the prayers of Paul in his letters, like Ephesians 1:17-19, or 3:14-21, and personalize them.  In so doing, you will be brought closer to your God, as you use the inspired Word of God to approach Him in prayer.

Under the Sovereign Eye of a Merciful God.

The following letter to Rev. John C. Lowrie was penned upon the occasion of the death of his brother, the Rev. Walter M. Lowrie, who had gone to Shanghai, China, as a member of the committee for the translation of the Bible. As he was returning to Ningpo, the Chinese junk on which he had taken passage was attacked by pirates, and the young and gifted missionary was thrown overboard and drowned, on August 19, 1847, about twelve miles southeast of Chapoo, in the Hangchow Bay.

From the Rev. J. L. Wilson, of the Gaboon Mission, Africa.

Mount ClioJanuary 13th, 1848.

REV. JOHN C. LOWRIE—

MY DEAR BROTHER:—The papers brought us yesterday the astounding intelligence of the death of your dear brother. If it is the slightest alleviation of the grief that you must all feel, be assured of our most cordial sympathies, and I have no doubt but thousands of other Christian hearts feel equally as much.

Your honored father must have been almost overwhelmed by this event. And yet, why should he? It was under the sovereign eye of a most merciful God that this deed of violence was perpetuated; and as inexplicable as it may be to us, I have no conviction more firmly made on my mind, than that this very event will be overruled, so as to subserve the cause of missions and the salvation of the heathen more effectually even than the life of your brother.

My own aged father, who could more easily enter into the feelings of your father than most persons, could scarcely compose himself to sleep last night after hearing the painful intelligence read; and if such were his feelings, what must have been those of your own family? God grant you all grace to recognize his hand in this event, and to exercise the most cheerful resignation of his holy will!

Accept of my sincere sympathies, and believe me, as ever,

Your affectionate brother in Christ,

J.L. WILSON.

Words to Live By:
Truly our lives are in His hands. Every breath we take is by the grace of God. How can we not praise Him for His mercy and grace? But so very much more, because in love He sent His only Son to die for an elect people, how then can we not strive to live each and every day for His greater glory? To give our very lives in His service is no sacrifice, but only a fitting tribute of thanks.

THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST
by Rev. William Smith (1834)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 76 & 77.

Q. 76. Which is the ninth commandment?

A. The ninth commandment is, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” Exod. xx. 16.

Q. 77. What is required in the ninth commandment?

A. The ninth commandment requireth the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own, and our neighbor’s good name, especially in witness-bearing.

EXPLICATION.

Bear false witness. –Tell what we know to be a lie.

Maintaining and promoting truth. –Defending the truth when it is opposed and denied, and otherwise exerting ourselves to forward, and carry it on.  

Witness-bearing. –Giving evidence, or testimony upon oath, or making known the truth when called upon to do so.

ANALYSIS.

The duties required in the ninth commandment, are four-fold:

  1. The maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man. –Zech. viii. 16. Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbor.
  2. The maintaining and promoting of our own good name. –1 Pet. iii 16. Having a good conscience, that when as they speak evil of you, as of evil-doers, they may be ashamed, that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
  3. The maintaining and promoting also, of our neighbor’s good name. –Psalm ci. 5. Whoso privily slandereth his neighbor, him will I cut off.
  4. That this is especially to be attended to, in witness-bearing. –Prov. xiv. 5, 25. A faithful witness will not lie. A true witness delivereth souls.

 

Another Presbyterian First
by Rev. David T. Myers

Looking at a listing of the Nationwide Life Insurance Company today in the phone book, the average reader would not guess that part of that company constituted the nation’s first life insurance.  And certainly, that same average citizen would not know that this first life insurance company had roots in Presbyterian history.

Started in 1718 by the Synod of Philadelphia, the fledgling company was known originally as “The Fund for Pious Uses.”  Its purpose was to assist local Presbyterian ministers and their families.  One of the original seven ministers of the Philadelphia Presbytery, Jedidiah Andrews, was its first treasurer. Other directors down through the years included Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Finley, and Frances Allison.

The name of the Fund changed in 1759 when it was chartered on January 11, but its purposes were unchanged.  The new name became “The Corporation for Relief of the Poor, and Distressed Ministers, and of the Poor and Distressed Widows, and Children of Presbyterian Ministers.”  Try writing that on a check!  Mercifully, it came to be known simply as the Presbyterian Ministers Fund.

It is interesting to this contributor that the organization’s money, meager at best in the early years, was sometimes spent on matters other than poor servants of Christ.  A new organ was purchased for Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.  Children captured by Indian raids on the frontier in central Pennsylvania were literally redeemed by the fund and brought back to their families.  And perhaps the most astonishing of all outlays of funds was to the Continental Congress.  The Presbyterian life insurance company loaned out five thousand dollars so the political body could pay its bills, most of which went to pay soldiers in the American Revolution.

John Baird wrote a full account of the Presbyterian Minister’s Fund in Horn of Plenty: The Story of the Presbyterian Ministers’ Fund, published in 1982 by Tyndale House Publishers (pictured above).  The book is out of print, but copies can be found on the used market, herehere, or here.

The organizational records of the Presbyterian Minister’s Fund are preserved at the facilities of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, with a finding aid available here.

Words to Live By: “If anyone fails to provide for his relatives, and especially for those of his own family, he has disowned the faith [by failing to accompany it with fruits] and is worse than an unbeliever [who performs his obligation in these matters.]—1 Timothy 5:8 Amplified Bible

Bestow On Us a Spirit of Prayer

Given some recent discussion on the Web, over whether it is appropriate to speak on political matters from the pulpit, the following seems an appropriate post today, an excerpt from the diary of the Rev. Jacob Jones Janeway, a prominent Philadelphia pastor in the early 19th-century.

J.J. Janeway

Politics ran high, and Philadelphia was the headquarters of the excitement. The old federal party was fast losing its power. “War with Great Britain was advocated by one party, and deprecated by the other. The rancorous debates were unfavourable to religion, and the hopes of the pious were mocked then, as they have been since. Dr. Janeway would have been more than than human, not to have felt some of the influences around him. But we see from his journal, the jealous guard he maintained over his heart.

January 10, 1808, Sabbath.

“Praise to God for prolonging my life to another year. Oh! may this year be spent in the service of my God. Make thy grace, O my God, sufficient for me, and thy strength perfect in my weakness. At the commencement of the year I felt not right; may the latter end be better than the beginning. In conversing on politics, I am too apt to be too engaged, and to feel too keenly. May God give me grace to govern my temper and conversation, and preserve me from taking too great an interest in them. In the heat of debate, I am urged to say what is imprudent and unbecoming. Two instances of such behaviour have occurred last week. May no more occur. I fear lest our expectation of a revival of religion, may not be realized. O Lord God, let the blessing come, and bestow on us a spirit of prayer, that we may wrestle and prevail. Hope, still hope, my soul.”

LIFE OF DR. J. J. JANEWAY, pp. 130-131.

The Root of the Presbyterian Apostasy

[For those wanting to do more reading on this matter, click here to see the resources gathered at the PCA Historical Center.]

When church historians evaluate the history of American Presbyterianism, the publication of the “Auburn Affirmation” will stand out in importance like the nailing of Luther’s ninety-five theses on the Wittenberg Germany church door in 1517.  Except this Affirmation, unlike that of the German reformer, constituted a major offensive against biblical Christianity.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1923 had repeated the earlier high court’s affirmations of five essential truths which made up the fundamentals of Christianity.  They were the inerrant Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, His literal bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day, and supernatural miracles.  However the very next year, on January 9, 1924, one hundred and fifty Presbyterian elders issued an affirmation in Auburn, New York which stated that these five fundamentals were not necessary and essential doctrines for the church.  Eventually the number of ministers to sign it would increase to 1,294 ordained ministers, about ten per cent of the clergy on the rolls of the Presbyterian church. None were ever disciplined for their “affirmation” of the document.

[Pictured above, publication of the Auburn Affirmation as it appeared in its first edition, including a list of 150 signers.]

The Auburn Affirmation used many familiar terms on which unsuspecting Christians might be deceived.  Thus, it affirmed inspiration, but denied Scripture to be without error.  It affirmed the incarnation, but denied the Virgin Birth.  It affirmed the atonement, but denied that Christ satisfied divine justice and reconciled us to God.  It affirmed the resurrection of Christ, but denied Jesus rose from the dead with the same body in which He was crucified.  It affirmed Jesus did many mighty works, but denied that He was a miracle worker.

The tragedy of this Affirmation was that not one of its signers were ever brought up for church discipline by their respective presbyteries.  This sin of omission hastened the apostasy of the church, as many of the signers would later find placement in every agency of the church.

Words to Live By:  “Beloved, my whole concern was to write to you in regard to our common salvation.  [But] I found it necessary and was impelled to write you and urgently appeal to and exhort [you] to contend for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints [the faith which is that sum of Christian belief which was delivered verbally to the holy people of God”] Jude v. 3 (Amplified)

In God’s kingdom, there are no little people. Nor are any forgotten by our Lord, though we ourselves may forget. Today we will touch on the life of a pastor that most of us have never heard of.

William Hooper Adams was born in Boston, MA on this day, January 8, 1838, the son of the Rev. Dr. Nehemiah and Martha Hooper Adams. A graduate of Harvard, he first began his studies for the ministry at Andover Seminary, but left there on instructions from his father to take a teaching position in Georgia. That in turn led to his enrolling at Columbia Theological Seminary in 1861, to complete his studies. When the war started, he found he could not return home and so continued his preparations at Columbia. Licensed to preach by Hopewell Presbytery in 1862 and ordained by that same Presbytery in 1863, he was installed as an pastor in Eufala, Alabama, where he labored until 1865. Then in the summer of 1865, he returned to Boston.

A visit by Rev. Adams to Charleston, South Carolina, in February of 1867 led to a call from the famous Circular Church of that city. The original structure of this church had been designed by the architect Robert Mills, who designed the Washington Monument, and the church was the first large domed structure built in the United States. But by 1867 when the call was extended to Rev. Adams, the church had suffered several setbacks. Its building had burned to the ground late in 1861, then followed the Civil War, and finally, the formerly multi-racial congregation lost its African American congregants as they left to form a separate congregation. In accepting the call to serve as their pastor, Rev. Adams agreed to take on the burdens of a dispirited congregation.

circular_church_ruinsPictured here is a stereoscope photograph of the ruins of the Circular Church

And there he labored faithfully in Charleston for the next ten years. The Memorial published in his honor gives us a picture of a pastor who was genial, exuberant in his love for the Lord, sacrificial of his own time and energy, a man of strong Presbyterian convictions, yet a man who could work right alongside any other Christian who truly loved the Lord Jesus as Savior. This was a man who was greatly loved not just by his own church, but by much of the Charleston community. In his final act of selfless devotion, he gave up his post as pastor of the Circular Church and returned to Boston to care for his dying father. Seeking to honor his father, he put many of his own goals aside with the intent of editing his father’s papers. In God’s providence, the Rev. William Hooper Adams survived his father by just about three years, and he died on May 15, 1880.

Words to Live By:
With Christ his Savior as his example, William Hooper Adams sought to live a life of humility and sacrifice. He honored his father. He gave himself in love and devotion to his people. The fact that we today may not know his story does not diminish the powerful ways in which the Lord used him in His kingdom. After all, he wasn’t after fame and fortune. He labored faithfully to glorify the Lord, not himself.

To view information about his grave site, click here.

For Further Study:
A Memorial of the Rev. William Hooper Adams: For Twelve Years Pastor of the Circular Church, Charleston, S.C.

Image Sources:
1. 
Frontispiece portrait, from A Memorial of the Rev. William Hooper Adams. Charleston, SC: Walker, Evans & Cogswell, 1880.
2. 
Public domain stereoscope photograph, from the Wikimedia Commons.

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