When He Died, The Town Shut Down.

John Todd Edgar, D. D., was born in Sussex county, Delaware, April 13th, 1792. His father removed to Kentucky in 1795. He was at the Transyl­vania University, Lexington, Kentucky, a short time, but was not a graduate. He graduated at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1816 [as Princeton Seminary was established in 1812, the school had only graduated its first class the year before, in 1815.] He was thereafter licensed to preach by the Presbytery of New Brunswick.

Upon his ordination in 1817, he was installed as pastor of the Church at Flemingsburg, Kentucky, and la­bored there with earnestness and assiduity. He was subsequently pastor at Maysville, Kentucky, and in 1827 took charge of the Church at Frankfort, the capital of Kentucky. Here his eloquence soon gathered round him the leading men of the State.

In 1833 he accepted a call from a church in Nashville, Tennessee, and it was among this congregation that his great life-work was fully accomplished. A new facility was completed for the congregation in the year of his arrival, and the same building was destroyed by fire in September of 1848. The property was valued at $30,000 to $40,000, though only insured to the amount of $8,000.

Dr. Edgar died of a stroke, which was in that era called apoplexy, on November 13th, 1860, at the age of 68 years and 7 months. His death produced such a profound sensation in the community, that, by proclamation of the Mayor, there was a general suspension of business in the city, and the Chancery Court, then in session, adjourned.

Dr. Edgar was a cultivated and courteous gentle­man. His intellectual endowments were more remarkable for their admirable balance than for the special eminence of particular faculties. He was accounted one of the finest orators of his day. As a pastor, he was social, winning and a friend to all. His temperament was kind and genial, generous, loving and most just. He had a settled aversion to all that was mean, cruel and base, and was himself sustained by personal and moral firmness of the highest order, and was thor­oughly unselfish. By birth, training and deep con­viction he was a Presbyterian, and clear and constant in his convictions, kind and trustful towards all good men of every denomination, he was a noble specimen of the body to which he belonged.

Words to Live By:
“God often extorts, in a dying hour,” said George Whitefield, “that testimony to His grace which was not fully given in life; but he who has lived faithfully can afford to die silent.”

Sources: 
Freely edited from Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church, p. 208, with additional information drawn from The First Presbyterian Church of Nashville: A Documentary History

The following account comes from the pages of Christianity Today [the original series, 1930-1949 and published by Samuel Craig], recounting something of the opposition encountered by missionaries trying to be obedient to the Scriptures and faithful to God’s call. The case had been convincingly made that their denominational board was sending modernists and even unbelievers out onto the mission field. Rather than work in that context, an Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was begun, though almost immediately the denomination declared that involvement with this Independent Board was illegal and “unPresbyterian.” (this, despite the fact that the denomination itself had utilized independent agencies in the 19th-century.

The Rev. Henry W. Coray entered onto the mission field of China about 1935, under the auspices of the IBPFM, and labored there until the War forced he and other missionaries to return home. Stateside, Rev. Coray soon found a new calling as the organizing pastor of the Faith Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Long Beach, California, and he labored in that pulpit until 1955, when called to establish a church in San Jose. Blessed with a long life, Rev. Coray entered into his eternal reward in 2002.


The Case of Mr. Coray

On November 12, 1934, the Presbytery of Lackawanna (Synod of Pennsylvania) without process voted to erase from its roll the name of the Rev. Henry Warner Coray [23 June 1904-20 October 2002], who was at that time already serving on the field in China as a missionary of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM).

That action was taken because Mr. Coray went to China to preach the gospel without the consent of the Presbytery. The permission of the Presbytery was refused, as is plain from the action taken by the Presbytery at meeting on September 26, 1934, because Mr. Coray announced his intention of going to the foreign field under the appointment of the Independent Board. On September 26th the  Presbytery had decided to notify Mr. Coray of its intention to erase his name from the roll if he left “his field to labor under this so-called Board.” It should be noted that the report of the Presbyterial Council, which was adopted by the Presbytery, was presented by the Rev. Peter K. Emmons, a member of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A.!

The report recited that its recommendations were made in view of the action of the General Assembly “condemning this so-called Board as a repudiation of the jurisdiction of the General Assembly and of those terms of fellowship and communion contained in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church.”

No charges were ever filed against Mr. Coray. He served his church with distinction and left it with the blessing of those to whom he ministered. Nevertheless he was expelled from the Church without a trial! Without making a technical examination of the action of the Presbytery, which was professedly taken in accordance with Chapter VII, Section 2 (b) of the Book of Discipline, we want to make one observation. If the Presbytery wished to raise the question whether Mr. Coray had the right to do as he did, it could have filed charges against him. In that event Mr. Coray would have had an opportunity to defend his conduct and to raise the pertinent question whether the Presbytery’s command was a lawful one. It has been well said that “Henry Coray’s name was erased from the roll of his Presbytery simply because he refused to lay down the call of God at the command of men . . . Had he gone out under the official Board the same Presbytery would doubtless have banqueted in his honor. But he goes out under the Independent Board. ‘You must preach the gospel to the heathen under our auspices,’ says the Presbytery in effect, ‘or you must stay at home.’ Henry Coray went and thereby deserves lasting honor.”

[Source: CHRISTIANITY TODAY, 5.9 (February 1935): 214-215.]

Words to Live By:
It matters not what the world says. It matters not what friends and family may say. It matters not what governments, princes, armies and magistrates may say. If contrary to the very Word of God, then we must stand firm upon the Scriptures, unmoved, looking to our only Lord and God, knowing that all truth resides with Him.

STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM.
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 106. What do we pray for in the sixth petition?

A. In the sixth petition, which is, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” we pray, that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.

Scripture References: Matt. 26:41; I Cor. 10:13; Ps. 51:10, 12; Matt. 4:3.

Questions:

1. What do we mean when we speak of being tempted to sin?

We mean we are strongly enticed to the evil of sin.

2. From where do these temptations come?

They come from within us and without us. From within us they come because the heart is prone to wickedness. From without they come from Satan, who is called the tempter in the Word of God. (Matt. 4:3).

3. Is it possible for Christians to be tempted and drawn into sin?

Yes, it is possible for Christians to walk in the flesh and not be on guard against the wiles of the devil and not recognize the foulness of their hearts.

4. Are we able to resist temptations to sin in and by ourselves?

No, we are unable to resist it by our own power. We must trust in the power of the Lord and ask Him for grace to resist the devil in our lives.

5. Are the temptations of Satan irresistible on the part of believers?

No, his temptations are not irresistible. We are told in the Word of God that we can resist them and there are examples in the Bible of believers who have been enabled, by the grace of God, to resist his temptations.

6. What do we mean when we ask God to keep us from temptation?

We are asking Him to keep us from falling into the temptation, if it be His will to do so. However, if we do fall into the temptation we are asking Him to recover us from it and that He might overrule in our lives and cause our fall to be turned into something for His glory.

SATAN THE TEMPTER!

In I Thess. 2:18 Paul states, “Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, but Satan hindered us.” Paul was a man that was always in a struggle with Satan. And Paul was a Christian saved by grace. Yet so many Christians seem to have the idea that there is no such thing as a devil, no such person as Satan going to and fro in this world. Such deluded believers are even given to sing:

“And tho’ this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim—
We tremble not for him; his rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure, One little word shall fell him.”

However, even while singing that wonderful hymn (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God) with all their might, so many believers refuse to recognize that there is a “Tempter” and that he is busily engaged in his attempted overthrow of victorious Christianity day after day.

The Word of God is full of advice to God’s children regarding Satan. He is described as an adversary (Rev. 12:10; I Pet. 5:8). He is described as seeking to sift believers as wheat (Luke 22:31). He is described as tempting Christians (Matt. 4:3-11). Thomas A. Kempis says: “Know that the ancient enemy doth strive by all means to hinder thy desire to be good and to keep thee clear of all religious exercises. Many evil thoughts does he suggest to thee, that so he may cause a weariness and horror in thee, and to call thee back from prayer and holy reading.”

It is so important for the believer to recognize that Satan is! How often he wins his battles by simply convincing believers there is no such thing as a personal devil—and this leaves him free to establish his strongholds. Further, it is so important for the believer to know that the power of Satan is not supreme! His power is limited. It was so in the case of Job. It is so today with every believer.

As we are tempted towards evil we are to recognize who our foe is and fight the battle in the armor of God. We are soldiers, we are at war, our strength is found in the armor of God. May God help us, the next time we are tempted, to turn to the “sword” in our possession, the Word of God, and use it. May we turn to the sixth chapter of Ephesians, take stock of our armor, and ask God for His grace to use it against the devil!

Published by The Shield and Sword, Inc.
Dedicated to instruction in the Westminster Standards for use as a bulletin insert or other methods of distribution in Presbyterian churches.

Vol. 7, No. 11 (November 1968)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor.

Good Words on an Anniversary Occasion

The PCA Historical Center actively collects, funds permitting, published histories of Presbyterian churches. There is a great deal of history too often overlooked in these volumes. In particular, good and encouraging words are often to be found on the opening pages of these histories.

It was on this day, November 10th, in 1895, that the Rev. David O. Irving brought an historical discourse in observance of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Bethel Presbyterian Church of East Orange, New Jersey. His opening words in this discourse are a good example of the value of this otherwise overlooked literature:

Anniversary occasions should be times of great joy. Songs of praise and gratitude should be heard as we celebrate our religious birthdays. Although the sorrowful is mingled with the joyful, as we regret out mistakes and mourn over the beloved fellow-workers now gone to their reward, yet we can rejoice in the Lord as we meditate upon His loving kindness and tender mercies toward our Church. This retrospect should also strengthen our trust in God as we trace His leadings and blessings, for we become more assured that He who has guided us in the past will not neglect us in the coming days. Our history can also be read for encouragement and inspiration, as we trace the humble beginnings of religious work in this community up to our present attainments. Our eyes are so often turned to the future that we sometimes forget that much can be learned from the past. Every church ought to have its history clearly and fully written so that every member may make no mistake by overlooking certain well defined facts which enter into the individual character of that particular church. As we, therefore, glance over the past and trace God’s goodness in our Church’s growth, may this view increase our trust in God, our regard for each other and our zeal for the future.

But let us turn the pages of our history with a sense of humility rather than of self-glory. We are not to bring before us figures and comparisons to feed our pride and conceit, for our progress has been owing to Divine grace and goodness, and not wholly dependent upon our faithfulness and zeal. God often uses the weak things of this world to confound the mighty, so that there is no need of boasting. As we become somewhat encouraged over the retrospect and prospect, let us remember our own mistakes and neglects. If we, as members of this Church, had been more faithful, liberal, devout and earnest, would we not have accomplished greater results than we now behold? But we cannot alter the past. We can only read the facts as history–“time’s slavish scribe”—records them, and allow them to make their own impressions upon us.

Words to Live By:
“There are multitudes who go in and out, who count the Church as theirs, who gather from her thought, knowledge, the comfort of good company, the sense of safety; and then there are others who think they truly, as the light phrase so deeply means, ‘belong to the Church.’ They are given to it, and no compulsion could separate them from it. They are part of its structure. They are its pillars. Here and hereafter they can never go out of it. Life would mean nothing to them outside the Church of Christ.”
—Rev. Phillips Brooks, D.D.

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
—Psalm 84:10-11, ESV.

Ye are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.”
—Ephesians 2:20-21, KJV

The College of New Jersey (as it was known) graduates its first class

The history of early Presbyterian education is substantially the history of Princeton College. When Mr. Tennent died in 1745 his school was closed. Yet such had been its usefulness that the Synod of New York immediately, in 1746, took steps to perpetuate that institution of learning. It was located first at Elizabethtown, New Jersey, and Jonathan Dickinson was its first president. The students, except those of the village, boarded in the family of the president. Dr. Dickinson died shortly, and the school was removed to Newark in order to be placed under the care of Rev. Aaron Burr, so that he might accept the presidency without resigning his pastorate. The first class of six young men graduated November 9, 1748.

In 1753 Rev. Gilbert Tennent and Rev. Samuel Davies were appointed by Synod to visit England and solicit aid for the college. In the face of very great prejudices against them and the theology which they represented, after a year’s canvass in England, Scotland and Ireland, they had secured widespread sympathy and public endorsement of the enterprise. They succeeded, financially, far beyond their expectation. The total sum raised must have approached, if it did not pass beyond, twenty-five thousand dollars.

Words To Live by:
Presbyterians have always sought and promoted an educated, thoroughly trained pastorate. The challenges presented by the world, the flesh and the devil require that much. Moreover, the Gospel ministry is not to be entered into lightly, and deserves our best efforts. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.—Deut. 6:5. If this command is true for believers, how much more so for those who would shepherd the Lord’s people?

First, I’d like to point you to a very interesting article by James W. Scott, managing editor of New Horizons, the denominational magazine of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In this article, “Machen’s Lost Work on the Presbyterian Conflict,” Mr. Scott explores the possibility that J. Gresham Machen had been at work over the summer of 1936 writing a book on the Presbyterian conflict. Among Machen’s papers, the working notes and manuscript for that book were never found, and Mr. Scott builds his case for the theory that the work was removed from Machen’s estate after his decease by Edwin H. Rian and later used as the core of the book later published by Rian, titled The Presbyterian Conflict.

Mr. Scott’s fuller argument appeared in a two-part article in The Westminster Theological Journal, and this would well be worth locating, whether at a nearby seminary library or by inter-library loan.

In response to my reading the article, I’m putting in a few extra hours in the PCA Historical Center on Saturday, looking through the Allan A. MacRae Manuscript Collection, to see if there might be anything relevant to the Scott article. MacRae’s correspondence with Machen, with Everett DeVelde and with Edwin H. Rian yielded nothing. Now I’m looking through MacRae’s correspondence with his family. He was very attentive to his mother and wrote home virtually every day, often relating interesting bits of news about the Seminary and the Church.

Just now, I came across the following note, in a letter to his mother dated 8 November 1936, on the federal election for president. Looking back from our vantage point, what does this say about how the political landscape changes—or doesn’t?

rooseveltFD“What a landslide the election was! The people got what they wanted. But it is surely disgusting to think that this is what they wanted. On the whole it was undoubtedly a victory of the unintelligent and the shiftless over the intelligent and the industrious. Of course this does not mean that such a characteristic should be applied to every Roosevelt supporter. Far from it! But it was the great body of votes of this type that swayed the election. The Literary Digest poll showed clearly that the overwhelming majority of the intelligent classes were against him. After all, I suppose a slush fund of ten billion dollars is altogether too much to overcome by argument. Now that he has a blank check from the people, I wonder what he will do with it. He certainly was careful to keep his election speeches in the realm of vague generality, giving no idea at all of his actual intentions.”

Allan MacRae went on in his letter home to state :

Human nature is surely a queer thing. If only people could look to God more and put less faith in their own ideas. How our petty scheming and planning must appear ridiculous in His sight! Surely it is true that we can put our faith in no human being. He wants us more and more to feel our utter dependencies on Him alone.

A Presbyterian Martyr in the Abolitionist Cause
by Rev. David T. Myers

This Presbyterian minister was called by some the first casualty of the Civil War. Certainly, his death on November 7, 1837 was over the primary issue of that War Between the States, namely, that of slavery. With the intriguing name of Elijah Lovejoy, the pastor of Des Peres Presbyterian Church and later, the College Avenue Presbyterian Church, was well-known in the twin states of Missouri and Illinois in the early part of the nineteenth century.

He was the son of a Congregationalist minister, but Elijah only came to faith in Christ as a young adult, while sitting under the preaching of a Presbyterian preacher. No long after, he made the decision to attend Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1833, shortly after graduation. (See April 18th historical devotional). It wasn’t his ministry in the pulpit which was so controversial. Nor was it his service as the Stated Clerk of the local Presbytery. Both of these positions were acceptable to the church world, and unexceptional in the world at large. What set him up in notoriety was that he had organized the American Anti-Slavery Society in the area. He then backed up that organization as a newspaper editor of an abolitionist paper in both St. Louis, Missouri and Alton, Illinois.

Both of these places were on the front line of this issue. Missouri was a slave state, even though all around her were free states. It was also the focal point of slave catchers who would enter into their confines to hunt down slaves who had escaped their plantations. In short, it was the center of both pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the population. And Elijah Lovejoy became the voice of the latter faction.

Initially, reactions against Rev. Lovejoy’s work were aimed solely at the tools of his publishing trade. The pro-slavery citizens of the area simply responded to the good Presbyterian minister by destroying the printing press of his abolitionist newspaper, which effectively stopped him from printing either the St. Louis Observer or the Alton Times. Three times, his printing press was destroyed and its parts were scattered into the Missouri River. Each time, another press was located and the abolitionist newspaper continued to be published.

As Rev. Lovejoy sought to prevent yet another attempt to hinder his work, his next printing press was moved to a warehouse building near the waterfront. This time a dozen or so law enforcement men were organized to guard it, assisted by Rev. Lovejoy, and his supporters. But the people who were determined to stop him were larger in number. There are varying reports of the ensuing skirmish. Some say that when Rev. Lovejoy tried to shove a ladder, placed there for the purposes of burning the two-story building, away from the structure, he was killed by a shotgun slug fired from the front of the building. Others say that he tried to reason with the mob on the ground floor before being shot. In either case, he was killed instantly in the ensuing gun battle. The printing press was again destroyed after his killing, and with his death, tensions continued to be inflamed. A later attempted prosecution in the courts failed to find anyone guilty.

A monument was erected in 1897 in his memory, at a cemetery in Alton, Illinois. But in the ensuing years, and particularly with the heat of national crisis in 1861–1865, in many ways Lovejoy became little more than a footnote in the nation’s history. To this day there are certainly those who work to keep alive the memory of his work, but for most, it seems he is largely forgotten.

Words to live by:  Elijah Lovejoy had a firm conviction that the righteous God would overrule the sin of slavery, for the good of black and whites alike, to say nothing of His own glory. With firm conviction, this Presbyterian clergyman became a catalyst in print for efforts to put an end to the terrible institution. He paid the ultimate price for his stand against slavery. The church today needs godly men and women to take stands against the evils of our day. Will you be one who will answer that call for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ?

Presbyterians Show Up in the Most Interesting Places
by Rev. David T Myers

To many of our subscribers and readers, the phrase “March Madness” can refer to only one topic. They know that the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four brackets refer to the best of the best in college basketball. But do you know that the inventor of basketball was a Presbyterian?

His name was James Naismith. Born in Canada on November 6, 1861 in a town no longer in existence, James and his four brothers and sisters grew up in difficult circumstances. His Scotch parents had emigrated from Scotland to Canada, but died after a few years in their new country, leaving James and his brothers and sisters to be reared by a strict uncle. They moved a few times, with James always being involved in sports, like rugby, soccer, football, lacrosse and gymnastics. He would graduate from McGill University in Montreal as well as earning a diploma from the Presbyterian seminary in Montreal in 1890. While never did he become ordained, he did minister in the pulpits of Canadian Presbyterian Churches.

It was while he was working at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts that James Naismith was given the task by his employer to “come up with” an indoor game which would help the youths of the district to mature into young adults. The assignment, which was given a fourteen day limit, resulted in what we know as basketball.

Granted the ten rules which he wrote down were changed as the new sport developed. For example, the first basket at either end was a peach basket! When the soccer ball, which was first used, would be shot into it, it stayed there until someone climber a ladder at either end of the court to remove it. Time was lost in that exercise until a net and a “basketball” was used.

James and his wife moved to the United States and became citizens. Eventually, he was hired by the University of Kansas to be its basketball coach. Interestingly, he had more losses than wins in the university at Lawrence, Kansas. But others, including some he had trained, became more proficient in the sport, and today . . . it is found the world over.

Words to Live By:
John the apostle wrote in his first letter in 1 John 2:14 “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (NIV) While this description is true in the spiritual lives of our covenant young men and women, it is not true in those who continue to be strangers to the Lord Jesus as Savior and Lord. Take a spiritual look at the young people in your congregations, dear reader. The greatest need they have now is the Lord Jesus in their spiritual lives. Let that be your prayer and purpose in your spiritual relationships to them. And if you can do it better via a sport, such as basketball, then let that be a medium for evangelism. Then let that sport, or another one, be the medium for a ministry of discipleship in their lives.

(Note: This post was recommended by this author’s married daughter, Ann Stegall, of Lawrence, Kansas.)

The following editorial appeared on the pages of THE PRESBYTERIAN on November 6, 1924 [vol. 94, no. 45, pp: 3-4]. It is posted here a day early, as my co-author, Rev. David T. Myers, already has a post in place to run tomorrow. Anyway, the following article was provided without indication of authorship, but the Rev. David S. Kennedy [shown here at left] was editor-in-chief of THE PRESBYTERIAN at that time and thus was the likely author. Associate editors included William L. McEwan, Maitland Alexander, Samuel G. Craig, Clarence E. Macartney and J. Gresham Machen, and I suppose any of these men could also have authored this editorial. The editorial declares a basic truth about the foundation of the Christian faith, while also providing an example of a straight-forward apologetic method for the modern era.

The Factual Basis of Christianity

One of the outstanding characteristics of modern religious liberalism—that which as much as anything else differentiates between it and historical Christianity and especially between it and evangelical Christianity—is its open or implied denial of the factual basis of the Christian religion.

This is particularly evident on the part of Dr. Fosdick, whose pen and tongue are doing so much to commend it to the present generation. His recent letter to the Presbytery of New York makes clear that his refusal to subscribe to the Westminster Confession is due not to the fact that he regards this creed as false as compared with other existing creeds, but rather to the fact that in the nature of the case, no creed can be true in any strict sense of the word. All creeds, all expressions of belief, according to Dr. Fosdick, are but the transient phrasing of what men have experienced within their own souls, with their fellows, or with God. That this holds good, in his estimation, of the doctrinal statements of the Scriptures as truly as it does of the Westminster Confession, is made perfectly clear in his recent book, The Modern Use of the Bible, which is being so widely and persistently advertised at the present time. Apart from the fact that Dr. Fosdick believes that the reduced Jesus left [to] us after literary and historical criticism has done its work was a real, historical person, there is virtually no recognition whatever of the factual basis of Christianity in this book. Everywhere it is maintained that the essential value of the Bible lies in its “reproducible experiences,” not in the historical facts or happenings it records. Dr. Fosdick has the Bible in mind as well as the creeds when he writes : “Christianity is a way of life, incarnate in Christ, that has expressed itself in many formulas, and will yet express itself in many more, and the world will ultimately choose that church which produces the life, whatever the formulas may be in which she carries it” (page 205). When it is considered that a few paragraphs preceding this he says, with the emphasis of italics, of the differences between Lutheranism, Calvinism, Episcopalianism, Methodism, Congregationalism, Unitarianism— defined as an “intellectual” revolt against an incredible metaphysic”—that “nothing matters in all this except the things that lead men into more abundant life” (page 201), it is evident that facts in the sense of events that have happened do not enter into his conception of Christianity at all in any vital way.

That Dr. Fosdick speaks as a liberal rather than a Baptist is obvious. If proof of this were needed—though of course, it is not—it could  be found in the also recent book, Christianity at the Cross Roads, by that truly representative Baptist, President E.Y. Mullins, of Louisville [President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary]. As President Mullins truly maintains, the present controversy is ultimately a controversy about facts. At the basis of the present attack on evangelical Christianity is an unwarranted denial of the Christian facts. Over against those for whom Dr. Fosdick speaks, President Mullins affirms that Christianity “is primarily a religion of facts. The facts of experience and life confirm the facts of history. If these are unstable, the whole structure is unstable. Doctrinal systems of various kinds have arisen as interpretations of the facts. These, of course, cannot all be equally true. But the facts on which these systems attempt to build contain the vital issue for modern controversy” (page 176). When President Mullins so speaks, he speaks for evangelical Christians everywhere. The religion we profess is a religion with a factual basis. A mighty series of facts that find their culmination in the incarnation, atonement and heavenly priesthood of Christ supplies the foundation of the Christian religion. They are not to be regarded as a terminus in themselves ; and yet, apart from them, there would not be, and could not be, such a thing as Christianity. It cannot be said too strongly or too often that Christianity is grounded in facts, that it is what it is because certain things actually happened in the past. Whoever  rejects these facts or denies their eternal value and significance is, whether or not he realizes it, an enemy of the Christian religion.

To perceive the place that facts in this sense occupy in the Christian religion is to perceive that the chief value of the Bible lies in the fact that it records these happenings. It is to perceive that the question of the historical truthfulness of the Bible is a question of the first importance for Christianity. Compared with these facts, the moral and spiritual lessons the Bible teaches, the ideals it inculcates, and the religious experiences it relates are matters of secondary importance.

It is to perceive also that a non-miraculous Christianity is just no Christianity at all. We can eliminate the miraculous only as we eliminate the facts that lie at the basis of the Christian religion. Our choice, therefore, is not between a miraculous and a non-miraculous Christianity, but between a miraculous Christianity and no Christianity at all.

Again, it is to perceive that doctrines enter into the very substance of Christianity. A religion based on facts is necessarily a doctrinal religion, inasmuch as its facts have meaning only as they are interpreted. We may go further and say that the existence of a doctrinal authority is essential to a religion based on facts. How can we be assured that we rightly understand the meaning of these great facts unless we possess an authoritative interpretation of those facts? No one values the Bible aright unless he realizes that it contains not only a record of the great facts, apart from which there could be no such religion as the Christian religion, but an authoritative interpretation of those facts. Give the facts no interpretation and they will not give us Christianity; give them an interpretation other than that of the New Testament, and they will give us something other than Christianity. There is but one Christian interpretation of these facts, and that was given by Christ and His apostles.

Yet again to perceive the factual basis of Christianity is to perceive the sense in which it is a redemptive religion. It is to perceive that it is a redemptive religion, not in the vague sense characteristic of other religions, but in the particular sense that it offers salvation from sin, conceived as guilt and power and pollution, through the expiatory death of Jesus Christ. Christianity comes to us telling us, first of all, not what we must do to save ourselves, but what Christ has done to save us. At the heart of the Christian religion is the conviction that Christ bore our sins in His own body on the tree. Apart from this fact, there is no redemption in the Christian sense of the word.

Other considerations might be mentioned, but these are sufficient to indicate the extent and degree to which facts are constitutive of the Christian religion; and thus to make clear that no system of thought and life that ignores or denies these facts is rightly called Christianity.

[Note: Some of our readers may detect familiar echoes of J. Gresham Machen’s famous work, Christianity and Liberalism, which was first published in 1923, one year before the above essay appeared.]

STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 105. What do we pray for in the fifth petition?

A. In the fifth petition (which is, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”) we pray, That God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by His grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.

Scripture References: Matt. 6:12; Ps. 51: 1, 2, 7, 9; Dan. 9:17-19; Luke 11:4; Matt. 18:35.

Questions:

1. Why is the word “and” used in this petition?

The word “and” is used to connect it to the former petition. We must realize our needs will not be supplied unless we are faithful to do something in regard to the confessing of our sins.

2. It is noted that some churches use the word “debts” and others use the word “trespasses” in the prayer. What is the difference?

There is no difference between the two words. We are to understand by both of them our “sins” whether we are speaking of original, actual, or sins of commission, omission.

3. Is it possible for all of our sins to be forgiven?

Yes, God’s Word teaches: “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared.” (Ps. 130:3-4). All sins may be forgiven except the sin against the Holy Ghost.

4. Would it be possible for any man to forgive sin, or for man to be worthy of having his sin forgiven?

Neither of the two are possible, for only God can forgive sin (Mark 2:7) and we have no merit of our own (See Larger Catechism Question No. 194).

5. Can we see a ground of our forgiveness in this petition?

Yes, there is a ground of our forgiveness and it is an encouragement. The ground is that by His grace we will be enabled to forgive others and thus we are forgiven.

6. How can we know our sins are forgiven?

We can know on the basis of the promises of the Word of God (Micah 7:18-19).

FORGIVING OTHERS.

It is a truth from the Word of God that only God can forgive when we offend against Him. It is an equal truth from the Word of God that we have the responsibility of forgiving others. Alexander Pope said,

“Teach me to feel another’s woe,
To hide the fault I see;
That mercy I to others show,
That mercy show to me.”

The ability we show to forgive others is an evidence of God’s forgiving us. And yet so many times in our lives we hear that “forgiveness” is a lovely idea as long as it is the “other fellow” that has to forgive! Some people will face us with all sorts of arguments against forgiveness. One will say, “Would you feel forgiveness toward the Gestapo if you were a Jew during the second World War? Possibly C.S. Lewis answered it well when he said, “I am not trying to tell you what I could do—I am telling you what Christianity is. I didn’t invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘forgiveness’. It says, “Forgive us our debts even as we forgive our debtors.’ “

Augustine said, “We are further reminded well that the unforgiving temper, apart from all outward wrong, itself constitutes the sin of the unmerciful servant.” Possibly we need to remember what Paul said to help us to understand this matter of forgiveness. He said, “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” (Col. 3:13).

We need to keep in our minds the basic principle that we cannot forgive unless we have been forgiven and our forgiveness towards others must be in keeping with the way we were forgiven by Him! His forgiveness of us was not based on anything good He saw in us. It was one that was characterized by graciousness, by compassion. He was merciful toward us and His love for us was long-suffering. Such should be our attitude toward our fellowmen.

Our method, however, usually is, “What a nerve Mr. Blank has! If he thinks I’m going to forget this! I’ll fix him!” But such an attitude is so contrary to the Word of God. If we are wronged by someone we should remember we deserve far worse. We were nothing and wronged God, but in His mercy He forgave us. In the matter of forgiveness we need to remember what He did for us and in regard to others have a short memory.

Published by The Shield and Sword, Inc.
Dedicated to instruction in the Westminster Standards for use as a bulletin insert or other methods of distribution in Presbyterian churches.

Vol. 7, No. 10 (October 1968)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor.

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