February 2012

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  A Union based on Compromise of Doctrine

The early twentieth century in the northern Presbyterian church was increasingly one of a battle over the Bible. Charles Briggs, of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, had just been indicted for heresy and found guilty by both his presbytery and the General Assembly. In the midst of this trial and subsequent indictment, there was a proposal to revise the Westminster Standards by 15 presbyteries of the denomination. The result was the addition of two chapters to the Confession on the Holy Spirit and the Love of God and Missions, composed of chapters 34 and 35. Further, some language was changed in chapter 16 relating to the works of unregenerate men. Instead of these works being considered sinful and unable to please God, they were described as “praiseworthy.” Last, a declarative statement was added to better understand Chapter 3 of the Confession as it related to God’s eternal decree.

» Dr. Charles Augustus Briggs, pictured at about age 43. »

Let there be no doubt with respect to these changes. That result was that the Standards of the Westminster Assembly were watered down as to their solid Calvinism originally taught in them. Particular redemption was replaced by general redemption. Total depravity was replaced by a partial depravity. Arminianism was introduced into the subordinate standards of the church. J. Gresham Machen called the changes to be “highly objectionable,” “a calamity,” and “a very serious lowering of the flag.”

Whether such a momentous change was due to potential union talk or not, it is interesting that soon after this change, joint discussions arose with the possibility of union with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Northern assembly of the Presbyterian church. Remember, around 1810, a division occurred over Calvinism and the Westminster Standards in the Presbyterian Church, which division brought about the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Now this Arminianism denomination was being invited to reunite with the Northern Presbyterian Church, without any change on their part with regards to their Arminian beliefs. The plans for that union were adopted on February 19, 1904. After some further refinements to the plans, the last General Assembly of the old Cumberland Presbyterian Church met in May of 1906 [pictured below].

Over 1100 Cumberland Presbyterian teaching elders joined the ranks of the Presbyterian Church, bringing their number up to 9,031 men. Over 90,000 members came into the fold of the Presbyterian church. The union wasn’t complete however, in that, some 50,000 stayed out of the union, and continued on as the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. But what was found in the union meant in reality that the Presbyterian church was no longer uncompromisedly Reformed in doctrine and life. That was to have a profound effect on the next 30 years of existence and testimony.

Words to Live By: Beware of a tendency to lower your Biblical testimony, and that of your church or denomination, to suit the ever-changing sentiments of the world around you.  Your standard is always the Word of God, never the word of man.

Through the Scriptures: Numbers 7 – 10

Through the Standards: Total Depravity of Mankind

WCF 6:2
“By this sin they (e.g. our first parents) fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.”

This Day in Presbyterian History: 

 Christian principles should influence American society

William Strong was no mere cultural Christian. Listen to how he answered the question of what he thought of Christ. He said, “He is the Chiefest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely — my Lord, my Savior, and my God.” Far from being a cultural Christian, William Strong was a committed Christian, and a Presbyterian as well.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, William Strong was born in Connecticut on May 6, 1808.  After graduating from Yale University in 1828 with honors as a Phi Betta Kappa, he then moved to Reading, Pennsylvania to begin his legal practice. In 1846, he became a Congressman, serving as an abolitionist Democrat in the House of Representatives. Serving two terms, he did not seek reelection in 1850, but returned to his private practice.

Seven years later in 1857, he was elected to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania as a Democrat but switched to the Republican party soon afterwards. He would serve eleven years on that state bench before returning to a lucrative law practice in Philadelphia.

On February 18, 1870, he was nominated by President U.S. Grant to the United States Supreme Court. Among his many important votes was the resolution of the disputed election of 1876, when the Court ruled in favor of Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican candidate, thus ensuring his presidency. He served ten years, and then resigned even while he was in good health, believing that justices should not serve when they are infirm. William Strong would go to be with His Savior on August 19, 1895.

All of the above facts are about his service to the nation. And while true, yet they do not get to the character of this Christian Presbyterian. Listen to his words on what he thought about the Bible. He said, “It is the infallible Word of God, a light erected all along the shores of time to warn against the rocks and breakers, and to show the only way to the harbor of eternal rest.” With such a high view of Holy Scripture, there was no problem for Justice Strong to believe that biblical Christian principles should govern many facets of United States society. In fact, he would even go so far as to declare and work for a constitutional amendment declaring our blessed country to be a Christian nation. This in no way in his own mind meant that an established church or denomination was to be the sole church of the land. He was opposed completely to that idea. He believed in the separation of church and state, but he affirmed the connection between the God of the Bible and our nation. He desired a formal acknowledgement of the Christian foundation in American society.

During his long practice both privately and publicly, he served in many Christian organizations, among them, the American Bible Society and the American tract Society. He is buried in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Words to Live By: As   was   his life   long   commitment  to both the living Word and the written Word, so all Christians today in whatever sphere they are in life, are to have the same commitment to Christ and His Word. Let us press today toward the goal of placing Christ and His Word into those areas into which we live, and move, and exist.

Through the Scriptures: Numbers 4 – 6

Through the Standards: The Nature of Sin in the Catechisms.

WLC 24 — “What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.”

WSC 14 “What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God”

WLC 15 “What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?
A. The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit.”

Image source: Nevin, Alfred, Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Encyclopedia Publishing Company, 1884. Page 873.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Famous Hymn for Sailors

The Presbyterian pastor was asked to compose a hymn verse for the anniversary of the Seamen’s Friend’s Society meeting. Instead, he brought the verse for a hymn which he had anonymously written eight years before, which was “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me.” And so his secret was revealed to the Christian public at last.

Edward Hopper was born on February 17, 1816 in New York City. The son of a merchant and a mother who descended from French Calvinist Huguenots, he ministered all his life, except for twelve years elsewhere, in New York City. After graduating from New York University (1839) and Union Theological Seminary (1842), he became the pastor of the Church of the Sea and Land, a church for sailors. He would remain there all his life and die in 1888.

Consider the words of this famous hymn which was a perfect application for those who made their living on the sea or those in military service on the sea. In fact, you are invited to sing it or hum it for your loved ones and friends who may be this very day on the sea.

“Jesus, Savior, pilot me”

Jesus, Savior, pilot me Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll, Hiding rock and treach-‘rous shoal;
Chart and compass came from thee: Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

As a mother stills her child, Thou canst hush the ocean wild;
Bois-t’rous waves obey thy will When thou sayest to them, “Be still.”
Wondrous Sovereign of the sea, Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

When at last I near the shore, And the fearful breakers roar
‘Twixt me and the peaceful rest, Then, while leaning on thy breast,
May I hear thee say to me, “Fear not, I will pilot thee.” Amen.

[ Click the link to hear the hymn sung: Jesus, Savior, pilot me. ]

Hopper would write three more verses of this hymn, comprising the second, third, and fourth verses, though these additional verses did not become part of the final version that appeared in most church hymnals. What was published  rang true, even for the non-sailor, with its comparison of life with the stormy sea, filled with dangers and temptations. Jesus is described as the Pilot who guides godly men and women through that stormy sea. The whole concept of the hymn comes from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 8, verses 23 – 27 where we have the occasion of Jesus calming the Sea of Galilee on behalf of his terrified disciples.

The last verse, which is in the form of a prayer, was uttered and answered in the life of Edward Hopper. On April 22, 1888, the text of his sermon had been “Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” The next day at noon as his niece came to call him for lunch, she discovered him sitting in his chair in his study, slumped over from an apparent heart attack, with pen still in hand, for he had been working on a verse entitled “Heaven.”

Words to Live By: Live this day in dependence on Jesus Christ and Him crucified, risen, and coming again.  It is only when we live in this way, that we will be ready to persevere through life, and be content in death.

Through the Scriptures: Numbers 1 – 3

Through the Standards: Sin, as discussed in the Catechisms —

WLC 21 “Did man continue in that estate wherein God at first created him?
A. Our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, through the temptation of Satan, transgressed the commandment of God in eating the forbidden fruit; and thereby fell from the estate of innocency wherein they were created.”

WSC 13 “Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?
A.  Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.”

Image sources: The Kirk on Rutgers Farm. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1919. Pages 56 and title page, respectively. Note: We will take this book as authoritative in the spelling of Rev. Hopper’s name, though there are sources that can be found with the spelling of “Hooper”.

For further study: The records of the American Seamen’s Friend Society are preserved at the G. W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT. To view the finding aid for this collection, click here.


This Day in Presbyterian History:

The death of B.B. Warfield

Most of the April, 2005 issue of Tabletalk magazine focused on the life and ministry of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, the great Princeton Seminary professor. One of the most remarkable passages in that issue was the following account of the death of Warfield. R.C. Sproul tells the story:

“Twenty-five years ago I gave an address at a college in Western Pennsylvania. After the service was completed, an elderly gentleman and his wife approached me and introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Johannes Vos. I was surprised to learn that Dr. Vos was the son of the celebrated biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos who had written a classical work on redemptive history entitled Biblical Theology, which is still widely read in seminaries. During the course of my conversation with them, Dr. Vos related to me an experience he had as a young boy living in Princeton, New Jersey, where his father was teaching on the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary. This was in the decades of the 1920s, a time in which Princeton Theological Seminary was still in its heyday; it was the time we now refer to as “old Princeton.” Dr. Vos told me of an experience he had in the cold winter of 1921. He saw a man walking down the sidewalk, bundled in a heavy overcoat, wearing a fedora on his head, and around his neck was a heavy scarf. Suddenly, to this young boy’s horror and amazement, as the man walked past his home, he stopped, grasped his chest, slumped and fell to the sidewalk. Young Johannes Vos stared at this man for a moment, then ran to call to his mother. He watched as the ambulance came and carried the man away. The man who had fallen had suffered a major heart attack, which indeed proved to be fatal. His name was Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.”

Above right, Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield at about age 54, circa 1903.

Thus ended the life of one of the greatest minds in Christian history, on February 16, 1921. In his celebrated work on the history of Princeton Seminary, Dr. David Calhoun recounts J. Gresham Machen’s reflection on Warfield’s death:

“In a letter to his mother, Gresham Machen spoke of ‘the great loss which we have just sustained in the death of Dr. Warfield. Princeton will seem to be a very insipid place without him. He was really a great man. There is no one living in the Church capable of occupying one quarter of his place.’ A few days later Machen wrote again:

Dr. Warfield’s funeral took place yesterday afternoon at the First Church of Princeton . . . It seemed to me that the old Princeton—a great institution it was—died when Dr. Warfield was carried out.

I am thankful for that one last conversation I had with Dr. Warfield some weeks ago. He was quite himself that afternoon. And somehow I cannot believe that the faith which he represented will ever really die. In the course of the conversation I expressed my hope that to end the present intolerable condition there might be a great split in the Church, in order to separate the Christians from the anti-Christian propagandists. ‘No,’ he said, ‘you can’t split rotten wood.’ His expectation seemed to be that the organized Church, dominated by naturalism, would become so cold and dead, that people would come to see that spiritual life could be found only outside of it, and that thus there might be a new beginning.

Nearly everything that I have done has been done with the inspiring hope that Dr. Warfield would think well of it . . . I feel very blank without him. . . .He was the greatest man I have known.”

Below: Cemetery marker for the grave site of Dr. B. B. Warfield in the Princeton cemetery.











Words to Live By:
Brethren, it is there only also [in Christ our Lord] that our comfort can be found, whether for life or for death. Perhaps even yet we hardly know, as we should know, our need of a saviour. Perhaps we may acknowledge ourselves to be sinners only in languid acquiescence in a current formula. Such a state of self-ignorance cannot, however, last for ever. And some day—probably it has already come to most of ussome day the scales will fall from our eyes, and we shall see ourselves as we really are. Ah, then, we shall have no difficulty in placing ourselves by the apostle’s side, and pronouncing ourselves, in the accents of the deepest conviction, the chief of sinners. And, then, our only comfort for life and death, too, will be in the discovery that Christ Jesus came into the world just to save sinners. We may have long admired Him as a teacher sent from God, and have long sought to serve Him as a King re-ordering the world ; but we shall find in that great day of self-discovery that we have never known Him at all till He has risen upon our soul’s vision as our Priest, making His own body a sacrifice for our sin. For such as we shall then know ourselves to be, it is only as a Saviour from sin that Christ will suffice…”

[excerpted from The Power of God Unto Salvation, by B.B. Warfield (1903), p. 51-52.]

Through the Scriptures:  Leviticus 24 – 27

Through the Standards:  Sin: Fact, Form, Source, God and His Relation to it

WCF 7:2
The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

WCF 6:1

“Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit.  This their sin, God has pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory.”

Image sources:
1. Frontispiece photograph from The Power of God Unto Salvation. Presbyterian Pulpit Series. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1903.
2. Warfield grave marker, Princeton Cemetery. Photograph by Dr. Barry Waugh. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
All digital scans by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

Text sources:
1. Tabletalk magazine [Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries], 29.4 (April 2005): 4.
2. Calhoun, David B., Princeton Seminary, Volume 2 : The Majestic Testimony, 1869-1929. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996, pp. 317-318.


This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Being a Reaper for the Lord

The revival was going strong in the little Virginia church on the McCormick farm. Minister after minister preached the Word of grace from the Word of God. One Sunday morning, the challenge went out to the audience gathered, “I want everyone who is on Christ’s side to stand up.” People stood up all over the sanctuary, except the young man named Cyrus McCormick. The twenty-one year old went back to his house where he went to bed. Before he fell asleep, his godly father came into his room and said, “Son, don’t you know that by being quiet, you are rejecting Christ?” Young Cy had not thought of it that way. He rose up, got dressed, and even though it was dark outside, went to see and talk with Billy McClung. He was a believer in Jesus. Waking up the young man, he asked how he could know Jesus and get peace with God. Billy McClung was used of the Lord to show the way, and that night Cyrus McCormick committed himself to Jesus as his Lord and Savior. The next Sunday morning, he did what he did not do the previous Sunday, and publicly gave his testimony of having trusted in Jesus Christ.

All the spiritual ground was prepared by his godly parents, and grandparents, and ancestors. He came from a Scotch-Irish heritage of Covenanters who had stood for King Jesus in the old country of Scotland and Ireland. Being persecuted for the old faith was part and parcel of the life which they lived and died for in the “Killing Times” of the mother country. Young Cyrus, born on February 15, 1809, had the spiritual upbringing of both the Bible and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. He was a spiritual product of the theology of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox. The twin truths of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man were stamped into his character.

Living in the Virginia farm was not easy however. Especially was it difficult to harvest the grain before it spoiled. Cyrus’s father had tried for years to build a machine which could reap the wheat quickly, so it wouldn’t be lost by spoilage. Cyrus McCormick took over for his father and with the natural gifts of God upon him, in 1834 took out a patent for a reaper which could accomplish all which he and every farmer of the land had long desired. But he didn’t stop there with the invention. He mass-produced the machine for usage by farmers all across America. Of course, this brought in incredible wealth to this Christian man.

Many have had the sad testimony that riches has ruined them in their Christian testimony. But Cyrus McCormick was different. He simply brought his heritage of Christianity, and specifically the rich Presbyterian heritage into his business life, so that family and friends could not separate his religious life from his business life. Even after marriage to Miss Nettie Fowler, and a family of six sons and daughters, he gave away huge sums of money to Christian and especially Presbyterian ministries. After his death in 1884, his wife continued the ministry of using her wealth for Christian enterprises. McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago is named after him because of that generous financial support toward that institution.

Words to Live By: Cyrus McCormick’s favorite Bible passage was Romans 8:31 – 39.  That is our application, or words to live by portion for today. Turn to it now and read the gracious promises of the elect of God.

Through the Scriptures: Leviticus 20 – 23

Through the Standards: Proof Texts of Special Providence

Genesis 2:16, 17
“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.'” (ESV);

Hosea 6:7
“But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.” (ESV);

1 Corinthians 15:22
“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (ESV)

See also Romans 5:12 – 17

Image source: Frontispiece portrait from A History of The McCormick Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church, by Le Roy J. Halsey. Chicago: Published by the Seminary, 1893. Digital scan from a copy preserved at the PCA Historical Center.

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

A Presbyterian Governor with treasures in heaven

Edwin D. Morgan was a typical American citizen in many ways, but also one who had extraordinary gifts in the church and state. Born February 8, 1811 on his father’s farm in Washington, Massachusetts, he would begin his work experience as a clerk in his uncle’s store in Hartford, Connecticut. After that ordinary job, his rise in the business and political world was unprecedented. At the age of twenty-one, he was elected to the city council in Hartford. Moving to New York City in 1836, he engaged in the mercantile business and rapidly accumulated wealth. In 1850, he was elected to the New York Senate and became president pro tempore. Eight years later, he was elected governor of the state by a plurality of 17,000 votes. Serving out his eight years in that highest office in the state, he became a United States senator in the midst of the Civil War. It was up, up, up in political office opportunities, but it was his spiritual side which attracted the most attention.

He was a spiritual leader in the membership of Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City. Serving as president of the Board of Trustees, and in semi-retirement, he devoted himself to religious and charitable work. He backed up that work by the giving of thousands of dollars to Presbyterian ministries. The Presbyterian Hospital, and later on Union Theological Seminary, were recipients of his grants of money. In his will alone, some $795, 000 was designated for religious charities.

When he passed away on February 14, 1883, his departure from this earth was filled with peace. With his pastor standing beside his deathbed, he said, “I am ready to go now, if it is God’s will, for it is better to be with him. I know that I have not been a good man, but I have tried to do God’s bidding. I leave myself in His hands, for there I am safe.” After spending a few minutes in prayer, the dying man rose up partly from the bed and said, “How sweet, how precious, how comfortable. Christ my Savior,” and with these closing words, passed from earth to glory.

Words to Live By: Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:19 – 21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (ESV)

Through the Scriptures: Leviticus 17 – 19

Through the Standards God ordains a covenant.

WCF 7:1
“The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.”

WLC 20
“What was the providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created?  A. The providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created, was the placing him in paradise, appointing him to dress it, giving him liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth; putting the creatures under his dominion, and ordaining marriage for his help; affording him communion with himself, instituting the Sabbath; entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, of which the tree of life was a pledge; and forbidding to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death.”

WSC 12 — “What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?
A.  When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.”

Image source: Nevin, Alfred, Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church, 1884, page 545. Digital scan prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.


This Day in Presbyterian History:

Warrior Presbytery Leaves the Southern Presbyterian Church

[text from an article in The Southern Presbyterian, vol. 1, no. 2 (February 1973):

Twenty-one churches and five ministers were dismissed, at their own request, from Tuscaloosa Presbytery (PCUS), on Tuesday, February 13, 1973 at Linden, Alabama. The Presbytery included the phrase “with their property” in each of the actions. It also passed a legally worded “quit claim” to cover all the churches dismissed. The congregations of these churches had voted to request this, most of them unanimously. The parent group is the Presbyterian Church in the United States, formed in Augusta, Georgia in 1861.

The Presbytery Meeting was, for the most part, congenial and quiet. There was a spirit of understanding and of helpfulness among the men of opposing sides. At the close, several shook hands and expressed Christian love for one another and wished the blessings of God upon the other. The Moderator of this meeting was a revered minister of the Presbytery who had recently retired, Rev. John Preston Simmons of Aliceville. His prayers and general spirit were used by God to bring about this separation in relative peace and clam.

Only one church and minister were disappointed. Although they were dismissed, the action was contested by a complaint addressed to Synod and will have to be settled before the action can become effective (under the rule that one-third of the members of Presbytery supported the complaint).

This is action is parallel to that which brought into being the first Presbytery in the Continuing Presbyterian Church, Vanguard Presbytery. The new Presbytery in West Alabama will be named Warrior because most of the churches are in or near the basin of the Black Warrior river.

Ministers and Churches of this new Presbytery include William C. Dinwiddie, pastor of Greensboro, Akron, and Newbern; Virgil Pino, pastor of Uniontown, Gastonburg, and Faunsdale; Willard W. Scott, pastor of Brent; Cecil Williamson, Jr., pastor of Crescent Hill and Valley Creek; and Charles L. Wilson, pastor of Aliceville and Pleasant Ridge. The following churches are at present without a pastor : Cedar Grove (Epes), Coatopa, Emelle (pastoral relation was severed at the time of dismissal), Gainesville, Geneva, Myrtlewood, Sumterville (Bethel I), Oxford, Linden and York.  The action which was suspended by the complaint involved Woodland Heights Church and William H. Rose, pastor.

This is the action for which much prayer has been made. The men insist that this is a positive action intended to preserve Biblical Faith and Presbyterian Order. It is a part of a much larger move planned by many churches and ministers across the South under the leadership of four organizations of conservative churchmen.

Words to Live By: Division is always something to be entered into with great trepidation. Schism can be defined as a sinful, prideful division. But there is a division that truth itself requires. Jeremiah Burroughs, a Puritan especially noted for his efforts at healing divisions, said that “It is not enough that we are one, unless we are one in Christ” and “The division that comes by truth is better than the union that comes by error.” The measure of a biblical separation will always be one where there is brokenness over our own sins as well as over the sins of the Church, when staying would require us to sin.

Through the Scriptures:  Leviticus 14 – 16

Through the Standards: Proof Texts of Divine Providence

Hebrews 1:3
“And he . . . upholds all things by the word of His power. . .” (NAS)

Proverbs 15:3
“The eyes of the LORD are in every place, Watching the evil and the good.” (NAS)

Acts 4:27, 28
“For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”

Romans 8:28
“And we know that God causes all things to work together  for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Image sources: Photographs from The Southern Presbyterian, vol. 1, nos. 2 and 4 (February and April, 1973). All scans by the staff of the PCA Historical Center. Currently we are looking to perfect our collection of this publication. If you have copies of The Southern Presbyterian that you would like to donate, please contact the director of the PCA Historical Center.


This Day in Presbyterian History:

A First for a Black Presbyterian Pastor

If you were among the visitors seeking a seat in the House of Representatives gallery that Sabbath day on February 12, 1865, you would have had to arrive early to accomplish your goal, for the gallery was packed with black and white individuals. It was a historical occasion in many aspects. First, the adoption of the 13th Amendment by the Congress banning the institution of slavery was within sight. Second, the decision of the Republican majority to commemorate the event by a public religious service was surprising, even in the middle of the nineteenth century of the republic. Next, President Abraham Lincoln’s choice of a speaker was the Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, a former slave and then pastor of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Blacks had been barred from entrance to the halls of Congress in recent days before this event. Now this six foot abolitionist, even by political and, failing that, physical means, was being invited to lead the worship service in the House of Representatives.

And it was a worship service. The memorable meeting began with the singing of the hymn, “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name.” That was followed up with a Scripture reading. The choir from the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church sang “Arise My Soul Arise, Shake off Thy Guilty Fears.” Then Rev. Garnet began to preach, following the text of Matthew 23:4 which describes the Pharisees of our Lord’s day “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” The title of his hour-long message was “Let the Monster Perish.” He would spare no words in the powerful address.

Listen to one paragraph: “Great God! I would as soon attempt to enslave Gabriel or Michael as to enslave a man made in the image of God, and for whom Christ died. Slavery is snatching man from the high place to which he was lifted by the hand of God, and dragging him down to the level of the brute creation, where he is made to be the companion of the horse and the fellow of the ox. It tears the crown of glory from his head and as far as possible obliterates the image of God that is in him.”

And another short exhortation in the closing words: “Let slavery die. It has had a long and fair trial. God himself has pleaded against it. The enlightened nations of the earth have condemned it. Its death warrant is signed by God and man. Do not commute its sentence. Give it no respite, but let it be ignominiously executed.”

The entire message can be found on Google for readers to read, but those who heard it that day went away, certainly having their curiosity satisfied. And whether we agree with his verbiage or not, what a memorable way to celebrate the passage of legislation than a worship service in the Congress.  Would to God that we would have political representatives who would desire to hear God’s Word and not worry about whether it was a violation of the separation of church and state!

Words to Live By: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Proverbs 14:34 (NASB)

Through the Scriptures: Leviticus 11 – 13

Through the Standards: Providence applies to all, but especially the church

WCF 5:7
“As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it taketh care of His Church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof.”

This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Prayer becomes a Catechism Answer

It was a traditional story brought down through the ages that a Scotch delegate to the Westminster Assembly had joined the other divines in a day of Bible study and prayer when they had arrived at the definition of God. In this action, they readily acknowledged that they needed the divine help of God. As the traditional story states, George Gillespie, one of only a few Scottish divines, stood up to pray and uttered that “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” Thus, when they came to the Catechism section, the court reporter had these memorable words to answer the question, “What is God?”

Whether the story if true or not, we know that God is a Spirit, and has not a body like man. The first four words of this sentence come directly from the lips of the Lord Jesus as He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. He said that God being a Spirit, we need to worship Him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24) The last seven words come from the Children’s Catechism, and in simple childlike concepts, helps us to understand the person of God.

Then we are reminded from Scripture of His incommunicable attributes, or those descriptions which only describe Him and no one else. He is “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.” None of these have been given to mankind. They are uniquely belonging to God. Study these three attributes from Scripture, such as Psalm 90:2 and Malachi 2:6, and you will have much to adore your God in praise and prayer.

Then the communicable attributes of God are stated in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Study these attributes of God from Scripture, such as Exodus 3:14 and Psalm 147:5 and Revelation 4;8 and Revelation 15:4; and Exodus 24:6, 7, and you will have much to adore your God and Father in praise and prayer. And yet, we have called these attributes communicable. That is because God shares these descriptions with us. We are to be like Him in our being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

The young man stood before the door with a typical questionnaire to open the door of the heart to questions about the woman’s soul. He didn’t know however that answering that door that afternoon was a Presbyterian pastor’s wife and one who had been brought up in the Shorter Catechism. When he came to the question, “what is God to you?”, she answered with the words of this catechism by memory. He was overwhelmed with her answer and kept interrupting her so that he could write down the words. When she finished, he literally ran from the door, not finishing his questionnaire, because of the majestic nature of her answer. As Charles Hodge said, “this is the best definition of God penned by man.” And so it is.

Setting aside for the moment any discussion of worthwhile Presbyterian figures or events for this February 11th day, we can think of no better topic than these catechism words.

Words to Live By: Ministers in their pastoral prayer have this answer a perfect one to begin their public prayers. Individual Christians can take one of these words and thoughts to adore when they intercede with the Lord God Almighty. We have a great and glorious Father.

Through the Scriptures: Leviticus 8 – 10

Through the Standards: Punitive providence

WCF 5:6
“As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous God, for former sins, doth blind and harden, from them He not only withholdeth His grace whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts; but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had, and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption make occasion of sin; and, withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan, whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others.”

Image sources : “Westminster Abbey in 1647” – frontispiece plate for The Grounds and Principles of Religion contained in a Shorter Catechism according to the advice of The Assembly of Divines at Westminster, edited by William Carruthers. London, 1913 ; Covers of Catechism for Young Children. Philadelphia, n.d. and The Westminster Larger Catechism. Richmond, 1939. All digital scans by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Moving Day

Thomas Goulding, George Howe, Aaron Leland, Benjamin Morgan Palmer, James Henry Thornwell, William S. Plumer, Joseph R Wilson, John L. Giarardeau, Charles Colcock Jones, Francis R. Beattie — if you live outside the southern states of this great land, you may not have any recognition of these men and their important place in God’s kingdom.   But if you reside within the southern states, these are the worthies of the cross associated with Columbia Theological Seminary, and the southern visible church.

» Dr. John L. Girardeau [1825-1898] »

It was on April 1, 1824, that the Presbytery of Southern Carolina began the first steps to organize a theological seminary to serve the entire Southeastern part of the country.  Up to this date, there were only four Presbyterian seminaries in operation, namely, Andover in Massachusetts, New Brunswick in New Jersey, Princeton, also in New Jersey, and Auburn in New York.  The new seminary, known later as Columbia, began in Lexington, Georgia with one professor (Thomas Goulding) and five students.  Later, the theological school was moved to Columbia, South Carolina, with two teachers (Goulding, and Thomas Howe) and six students.  Two of the six became foreign missionaries.  Between that year of 1830 and 1910, the membership of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern) rose from 10,000 members to 70,000 members.  And the seven hundred and fifty candidates of the gospel ministry who went through those hallowed halls would minister to that remarkable3 growth of the visible church.

Then in the second decade of the twentieth century, there was a geographic shift in the population of the southeastern United States, such that Atlanta, Georgia became the unofficial capital of that area.  In response, Columbia Theological Seminary began a $250,000 endowment campaign on February 10, 1925 as part of a strategic plan to relocate the Seminary, from the city which gave it its name, to Decatur, Georgia, just outside Atlanta. That move was accomplished in the year of 1930. Today, Columbia Seminary is one of ten seminaries of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

« To the left: This building—designed by Robert Mills—was the chapel of Columbia Theological Seminary when the seminary was located in Columbia, South Carolina. Mills had designed the building as the carriage house for the Ainsley Hall mansion. The chapel building was relocated to the property of Winthrop College in 1936. [photograph by Barry Waugh, 18 July 2006]

Statistical trivia: Among the founding fathers of the PCA, the overwhelming majority of these pastors were educated at Columbia Theological Seminary:

5 — Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 1929, 1939, 1942, 1953
2 — Biblical Seminary, 1961, 1963
83 – Columbia Theological Seminary, 1934-1970
2 — Dallas Theological Seminary, 1937, 1941
3 — Erskine Theological Seminary, 1953, 1966
2 — Faith Theological Seminary, 1948, 1955
3 — Fuller Theological Seminary, 1953, 56, 59
2 — Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 1953, 1970
1 — Grace Theological Seminary, 1970
2 — Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 1942, 1955
1 — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1965
1 — Northwestern Evangelical Seminary, 1938
1 — Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary, 1951
2 — Princeton Theological Seminary, 1928, 1954
1 — Reformed Episcopal Seminary, 1952
35 – Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, MS 1969-1973 [RTS opened its doors in the fall of 1966]
1 — Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, 1957
1 — Toronto Bible College 1948
14 – Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, VA, 1919-1968
15 – Westminster Theological Seminary, 1929-1972
1 — WTNC, 1934
1 — Wheaton College, 1939 [James R. Graham, D.D.]

Words to Live By: Statistics say that the average American family will move every seven years of his life and work.  Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, and you reader might say that you have lived in the same location all of your life!  But whether you move or stay in one location, Christ describes us as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  As salt, we are to flavor our circumstances in life as well as restrain the corruption which is all around us in varying degrees.  As light, we are to shine forth the rays of the gospel, especially to reveal the sinfulness of our culture, for the world is in spiritual darkness.  As Christians remember their calling, there will bloom wherever they are planted, whether they move frequently or remain in one location all of their lives.

Through the Scriptures: Leviticus 5 – 7

Through the Standards: Disciplinary providence defined

WCF 5:5
“The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave, for a season, His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon Himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.”

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