March 2012

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  Only Christ

One can sum up the Reformed faith by listing five “only’s” — only Scripture, only Christ, only grace, only faith, and only to the glory of God.   We look today at the second “only” in “Only Christ.”  The apostle Paul would remind us in 1 Timothy 2:5 that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (ESV)

With another date of only localized Presbyterian topics, we return on this last day of  March 31, to the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Standards.  In question and answer 21, we read the words “The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be God, and man, in two distinct natures, and one person, forever.”

We speak first about “the only Redeemer of God’s elect.”  The Lord Jesus Christ is the only Redeemer to  those whom the Father has given to the Son, as that phrase is continuously found in the high priestly prayer of Jesus in John chapter 17, or “the elect.”    Peter clearly preached in Acts 4:12, when declaring the good news of eternal life in the days following the Ascension of Christ, that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (ESV)

See the repetitive statements!  Despite what the Bahai religion states, despite what other religions claim, despite what your unbelieving neighbor believes, there is no one else!  There is no other name under heaven!  There is no other name given among men!    It is ONLY CHRIST.

We need to echo the testimony of the apostle Paul when he wrote, “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven and on earth — as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’ — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”  (1 Corinthians 8:5, 6 ESV)

Last, our Confessional fathers remind us that the Lord Jesus Christ is both God and man, in two distinct natures as eternal deity and  true humanity, yet only one person, forever.   Our finite minds may not be able to fully understand it.  But God’s Word, the Bible declares it, and on that Scriptural teaching we rest, firmly committed to it.

Words to Live By: Only Christ!  That is our watchword.  Only Christ! That is our confession.  Only Christ!  He is our hope.  Only Christ!  He is our sole foundation for faith and life.

Through the Scriptures:  1 Samuel 17 – 20

Through the Standards:  Proof Texts of Christ the Redeemer

John 1:1
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (ESV);

John 1:14
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (ESV);

Galatians 4:6
“But when the fulness of time had  come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (ESV);

1 Corinthians 15;3, 4
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (ESV)

Hebrews 13:8
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (ESV).

Read also Philippians 2:5 – 11.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  It Cannot Get any Simpler than This

Perhaps we missed something (please let us know!), but having found nothing significant on a national level with regards to Presbyterian persons, places, and events, we turn instead on this March 30 date to a succinct definition of sin in Shorter Catechism No. 14.  We are reminded that “Sin is any want (lack) of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”

First, we are reminded that sin is defined as being contrary to God’s law.  Indeed, unless we have a high and holy divine law which is the standard for our lives as created beings, and much higher, as redeemed individuals, we will not understand sin at all.  Adam and Eve, our first parents, had God’s law given to them in the covenant of works, to not partake of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  We have God’s law presented in a summary way in the Ten Commandments.  And certainly, in a wider sense, we have the law of God in the entire Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

Then, our Confessional fathers reveal two specific definitions of sin.  That consists of the phrases, “any want of conformity unto,” and “transgression of.”   It is interesting to me that the first part of the definition deals with that sin — the sin of omission — which is not recognized today by many people, even among the household of faith.  But Scripture is not silent about this sin of omission.  In James 4:17, we are told “So any person who knows what is right to do but does not do it, to him it is sin.” (Amplified)   Here is the sin of omission.

The second specification of sin is found in the phrase “or transgression of.”  This  word speaks of passing over the boundary of something.  And 1 John 3:4 in the Amplified Version reads “Everyone who commits (practices) sin is guilty of lawlessness; for [that is what] sin is, lawlessness (the breaking, violation of God’s law by transgression or neglect — being unrestrained and unregulated by His commands and His will). – (Amplified)

Now, when you come to the evening of any day, or during the day, you have a reminder of those sins of which you can claim the promise of God and receive forgiveness upon your repentance and confession.  Solomon in Proverbs 28:13 writes, “He who covers his transgressions will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes his sins will obtain mercy.” (Amplified)  And 1 John 1:9 agrees by stating “If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action]. (Amplified)

Words to Live By:  A powerful and effective means of repentance and confession is to get alone with God, write your sins on individual pieces of paper, repent and confess each one to God, and then tear them up and thrown them away.  As the Psalmist David says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Amplified)

Through the Scriptures: 1 Samuel 14 – 16

Through the Standards: Application of Redemption

WCF 8:6 
“Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ until after  His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world; being yesterday and today the same, and for ever.”

WCF 8:8
“To all those for whom Christ has purchased redemption, he does certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the word, the mysteries of salvation; effectively persuading them by his Spirit to believe and obey, and governing their hearts by his word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner, and ways, as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation.” 

WLC 57 — “What benefits has Christ procured by his mediation?
A. Christ, by his mediation, has procured redemption, with all other benefits of the covenant of grace.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  The Strange Church Trial of a Spiritual Giant.

It all happened around seventy-seven years ago.  Back in March of 1935, Dr. J. Gresham Machen was before a church court of his peers seeking to defend himself against the serious charges of denying his ordination vows, disapproval of the government and discipline of the church, advocating a rebellious defiance against the lawful authority of the church, and we could go on and on in the charges leveled against this spiritual giant.  You would think that he was guilty of the most aggravated doctrinal error or moral shortcomings.  But in reality, it came down to a single issue—that of refusing to obey the 1934 mandate of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to cease and desist from supporting an independent board of missionaries, of which board he was the president.

The trial itself was a farce in every sense of the word.  Machen’s defense first tried to challenge certain members of the judicial commission itself as biased, seeking to have them recuse themselves, since at least two of these men had signed the theologically liberal Auburn affirmation.  That was denied.  Then the question of jurisdiction was argued, but that also was not sustained.

At the third session, upon hearing Dr. Machen declare himself “not guilty,” the Commission ruled that certain matters were out-of-bounds in the arguments of the defense case.  Those included questions which surrounded the existence of the Auburn Affirmation, signed in 1924.  They next ruled out any question concerning the nature and conduct of the official Board of Foreign Missions, which had prompted much of the problem when it gave its endorsement to the book entitled Rethinking Missions.  Further, arguments stemming from the reorganization of Princeton Seminary and the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary were also outlawed by the commission.  All of these were part and parcel of Dr. Machen’s defense, since they provided the background of the origin of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

All these rulings paled into insignificance, so to speak, however, when we consider the last ruling of the judicial commission.  It stated that the legality of the Thirty-Fourth General Assembly’s Mandate for the ministers, members, and churches to cease supporting the Independent Board and only support the official Board of Foreign Missions could not be questioned.

It was obvious that with all of these rulings, that there was only one verdict which could come forth from this judicial commission, and that was guilty.  And so on this date, March 29, 1935, the judgment of “Guilty” was rendered by this seven member Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.   Appeals to the higher courts were in vain, and J. Gresham Machen was suspended by the church.

Words to Live By:  In whatever issue which confronts us inside or outside the church, we must remember that God is Lord alone of our conscience, with the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments the  only infallible guide of faith and life.   Let us hold to those, not fearing what man can do to us.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Samuel 11 – 13

Through the Standards: Christ’s Exaltation in the Second Coming

WLC 56 — “How is Christ to be exalted in his coming again to judge the world?
A. Christ is to be exalted in his coming to judge the world, in that he, who was unjustly judged and condemned by wicked men, shall come again at the last day in great power, and in the full manifestation of  his own glory, and of his Father’s, with all his holy angels, with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, to judge the world in righteousness.”

Image source : News clipping from one of seven scrapbooks gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon. Image scan prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.


This Day in Presbyterian History:  

The Importance of a Christian Home

The father of five children—four girls and a boy—was a God-fearing man and a member of the Methodist church in Watsonville, California.  He was first a farmer, then a carpenter, and finally a builder.  He even built the house where his only son, Donald, was born on March 28, 1895.  In this home the Bible was read everyday for family devotions, and tithing—or keeping his “accounts with God”—was simply part of the family record.  The father made sure that the family was faithful in the services of church. In short, this head of the family had a simple faith in what the Bible said, and he raised his family accordingly.

His wife, Jane, had been raised a Roman Catholic.  Her brother even became a Jesuit priest, so it was surprising when Jane left the Roman Catholic church in her teens.  Apparently her reason was to preserve her virginity from a lecherous young priest, though sadly her parents sided with the church and abandoned her.  Finding her own way, she began to work in a dressmakers shop, and also began to attend a small Methodist church, where she met Theodore Barnhouse. They married and a strong Christian family began its existence.

Their only son, Donald, began his Christian service with the young people’s organization, Christian Endeavor.  There he was to be mentored by strong Christians who led him in the study of God’s Word.  That grounding in the Bible led him to the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola) and finally to Princeton Theological Seminary, where he would study under B.B. Warfield and William Benton Green.

As they say, “the rest is history.”  Donald Grey Barnhouse would spend the greater part of his 33 years ministry as pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.  What began as one family’s faith continued and grew in Donald’s life and ministry until the fruit of that ministry influenced thousands of others in their faith and life, down to this very day. But it all began with that one little Christian home and a father who was faithful in leading his wife and children.

Words to Live By: Looking at your home and its influence upon your children or future family, can it be said that Christ is at the center of the home, the Bible is the foundation of the home, and God’s glory is the goal of the home?

Through the Scriptures: 1 Samuel 8 – 10

Though the Standards: The Manner of Christ’s Intercession

WLC 55  — “How does Christ make intercession?
A. Christ makes intercession, by his appearing in our nature continually before the Father in heaven, in the merit of his obedience and sacrifice on earth, declaring his will to have it applied to all believers; answering all accusations against them, and procuring for them quiet of conscience, notwithstanding daily failings, access with boldness to the throne of grace, and acceptance of their persons and services.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:   

For the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ

The young Presbyterian minister had been called to candidate at Collingswood Presbyterian Church in the fall of 1933.  That he had been just a few years out of seminary, and Westminster Seminary at that, didn’t seem to matter to the congregation in that New Jersey town.  He had  a few years experience as a pastor in an Atlantic City, New Jersey Presbyterian Church.  But it was in Collingswood, New Jersey that Carl McIntire was to be a lighting rod during some very challenging years for that Presbyterian congregation. On September 28, 1933, he became the pastor of the Collingswood Presbyterian Church at Ferm Avenue in Collingswood, New Jersey.

Seeing his conservative leaning in regard to the great issues of the gospel, J. Gresham Machen invited him to join the board of the fledgling Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, which McIntire did in 1934.  That same year, the General Assembly of the denomination met and issued a directive or mandate to all ministers, churches, and presbyteries of the church.  In essence this mandate said that anyone who was affiliated with this independent agency had ninety days to desist from participation in or support of the agency, or face the consequences of discipline by their respective presbyteries.

Carl McIntire was charged with six counts of error by his Presbytery, but found guilty on only three of those charges.  These three were:  1. defiance of the government and discipline of the denomination, 2. unfaithful in maintaining the peace of the church, and 3. violation of his ordination vows.   He was convicted of sin and suspended from the ministry.  McIntire’s case was appealed to the PCUSA General Assembly of 1936, and that Assembly sustained the action of the Presbytery of West Jersey.

On March 27, 1938, after the Sunday evening service, the congregation stood on the front lawn of the church and sang two hymns of the faith. The first was “Faith of Our Fathers,” followed by “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us.”  And with that, they left the church, giving up the property, the memories, and all their associations with their former denomination. The very next Sunday, the newly formed Bible Presbyterian Church of Collingswood, New Jersey, met in a huge tent.  Present were 1200 people, with eighty-one new members joining the new church at that first Sunday’s worship.

Words to Live By:   From the hymn by Harry W. Veatch, “Looking unto Jesus,”  Copyright, 1939, by the Bible Presbyterian Church, Collingswood, New Jersey :

Verse 1:  “Look away from things that perish, Wood and stone will soon decay.    Fix your eyes on things eternal, God and heaven will stand for aye. He is able He is willing, He will guide you all the way.  Take your eyes off things that perish, Look to Him and trust and pray.”

Verse 2 states. “Look away from things that perish. Earthly treasures all are vain.  Cast your burden on the Saviour,  He who bore you sin and shame.  He is loving, He’s forgiving. Seeks His children when they stray;  Take your eyes off things that perish, Look to Him and trust and pray.”

Verse 3 closes out the thoughts, “Look away from things that perish, Trust in God, He will provide.  All you need in Earth and Heaven,  If you in His love abide.  He is reigning He is ruling, He’s the Victor in the fray.  Take your eyes off things that perish, Look to Him and watch and pray.”

Through the Scriptures: 1 Samuel 4 – 7

Through the Standards: Christ’s Exaltation in Sitting at God’s Right Hand

WLC 54 — “How is Christ exalted in his sitting at the right hand of God?
A. Christ is exalted in his sitting at the right  hand of God, in that as God-man he is advanced to the highest favor with God the  Father, with all fullness of joy, glory, and power over all things in heaven and earth; and does gather and defend his church, and subdue their enemies; furnishes his ministers and people with gifts and graces, and makes intercession for them.”

Image source: Christ and Him Crucified: Bible Messages Broadcast Over the Blue Network, February, March and April, 1944. New York: The American Council of Christian Churches, 1944. Photograph facing page 9. Scan prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.


This Day in Presbyterian History: 

First overtures from a presbytery

At the second meeting of the first presbytery in the American colonies, meeting on March 11 – March 26, 1707, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the teaching and ruling elders proposed and voted in the affirmative on a series of overtures designed to propagate Christianity.  They were presented by Jedediah Andrews, one of the original seven presbyters, and John Boyd, the first ordained minister in the Presbytery of Philadelphia.

The first overture  instructed each minister in their respective congregations to read and comment upon a chapter of the Bible each Lord’s day, as discretion and circumstances of time and place would admit them.   It is obvious from this first overture that the presbytery believed that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were inspired of God, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.  The Bible, and the Bible alone, would be the guide for its ministers and laypeople in their respective churches.

The second overture  is interesting because the ministers were recommended to begin and encourage private societies.  In other words, they were to organize and encourage Christians to gather together for various Christian endeavors.  An example of this was the organization of the Fund for Pious Uses, which was the subject of the devotional described  on January 11.  It is clear that they believed that Christianity should set the standard in every sphere of life.   Therefore the Christian faith inside and outside the church needed to be encouraged.

The third and last overture stated that every  minister in the Presbytery was to supply neighboring towns with ministers, especially in desolate places where ministers would be lacking.  They were to take the opportunities granted them to be home missionaries, in other words.

These first overtures of this small but soon to be active Presbytery stated clearly that the message of biblical Christianity was to propagated throughout the new world in obedience to the Word of God.  At subsequent meetings of the Philadelphia Presbytery, it was noted that these first three overtures were being accomplished.

Words to Live By:   Until Jesus comes the second time, all believers are to buy up every opportunity to share His love in word and deed.

Through the Scriptures:  1 Samuel 1 – 3

Through the Standards: Christ’s Exaltation in His Ascension

 WLC 53 — “How was Christ exalted in his ascension?
A. Christ was exalted in his ascension, in that having after his resurrection often appeared  and conversed with his apostles, speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, and giving them commission to preach the gospel to all nations, forty days after his resurrection, he, in our nature, and as our head, triumphing over enemies, visibly went up into the highest heaven, there to receive gifts for men, to raise up our affections thither, and to prepare a place of us, where he himself is, and shall continue til his second coming at the end of the world.”

Image source: Opening page of Records of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1841. Scan prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

 A Joshua to the Southern Presbyterians

To many Christians, the name of John Leighton Wilson might be a common name of no real significance.  But to Southern Presbyterian Christians, he stands out as a spiritual giant of the faith.

Born on March 25, 1809 to Scot-Irish parents who had come to South Carolina in 1734, John Wilson grew up in a Christian home.  Reared in the Bible and the Westminster Shorter Catechism, he attended Union College in New York, graduating in 1829.  Two-thirds of his class from that college entered the ministry, and John Wilson was no different.  Entering Columbia Seminary in 1830, he began to sense a call to be a missionary in Africa.  One reason for that call was that he believed the South as a people owed it to Africa to send the gospel there as so many of her black children were in bondage in the south.  That inherent hatred of slavery would be proven in his later years in Africa.

Marrying in 1834 Miss Mary Elizabeth Bayard, who was also committed to the missionary call, they were the first American missionaries sent to Africa.  They were to labor there in two locations for eighteen years, learning the language, translating the Bible into it, wondrously proclaiming the gospel, and writing about the land for future missionaries to follow their labors.

Two major accomplishments in addition characterized his work there.  While there, he noticed the slave ships carrying their human cargo away from the shores of their homeland.  Wilson wrote a friend in England concerning the situation and by God’s providence, the Prime Minister of England came into possession of a copy of Wilson’s letter and subsequently had printed ten thousand copies in pamphlet form.  As a result, English war vessels were sent, forcing slave traders to give up their business of buying and selling slaves.

The other accomplishment was his discovery of the existence of the  “gorilla,” a name which was given by John Wilson to this animal.

After eighteen years in Africa, Mr and Mrs Wilson came home to the Board of Foreign Missions to superintend the work of missions through the world.  That happy association was interrupted by the War Between the States in 1861.  Though John Wilson had worked for the abolition of slavery in Africa, he cast in his lot with his southern brothers.  Immediately, he was placed in charge of missions for the Presbyterian Church of the Confederacy.  His spiritual vision, even in the midst of a war footing, and especially after that civil war,  went out to many nations, including the Indian tribes of the west.  The gospel was not limited in any way by what transpired on earth.

Around 1885, both he and his faithful wife entered the gates of heaven.  On his tombstone in South Carolina where he grew up, there is one phrase which stands out.  It says simply “The Foreign Missionary.”

Words to Live By:  John Wilson once wrote, “I would rather live in the lowliest hut with  the enjoyment of God than in the most resplendent palace on earth without a hope of heaven.” He fulfilled that desire by his life.  What are your desires for your life?  Have you considered in whatever sphere of life He calls you, to be among those who are used by Him for His glory and the good of others?

Through the Scriptures:  Ruth 1 – 4

Through the Standards: Christ’s Exaltation in His resurrection

WLC 52 — “How was Christ exalted in his resurrection?
A. Christ was exalted in his resurrection, in that, not having seen corruption in death, (of which it was not possible for him to be held,) and having the very same body in which he suffered, with the essential properties thereof, (but without mortality, and other common infirmities belonging to this life,) really united to his soul, he rose again from the dead the third day by his own power; whereby he declared himself to be the Son of God, to have satisfied divine justice, to have vanquished death, and him that had the power of it, and to be Lord of quick and dead; all which he did as a public person, the head of his church, for their justification, quickening in grace, support against enemies, and to assure them of their resurrection from the dead at the last day.”

Image source : The Missionary, vol. 19, no. 8 (August 1886). Scan prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.


This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Pastor, Professor, and Theologian Cum Laud   

It was a great honor.  Your author was asked to preach the Presbytery sermon at the installation of the Rev. Dr. John Gerstner as an Associate Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  The veteran pastor and theologian had just that year of 1990 joined the Presbyterian Church in America as well as the particular presbytery of which I was a member minister.  I can remember entering with the other Presbytery ministers into the sanctuary, and there sitting in the front row, in the center seat, was Dr. Gerstner.  A quick thought went through my mind as to what could I say which would edify the people of God, and Dr. Gerstner that evening?  But just as quickly came the answer of which Dr. Gerstner in all his ministerial life had exhibited, namely, to preach the Word of God in all of its fullness.

Born in Tampa, Florida in 1914, John Gerstner’s life and ministry would be spent in the northern states.  Graduating from Westminster College, he followed that up with his Master of Divinity degree at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1940.  Five years later, he would earn from Harvard University his Ph.D. degree.  Overseas studies in England, Spain, and Switzerland would round out his education for the ministry.

Ordained in the largest Scot-Irish denomination in America, the United Presbyterian Church, he served several churches in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.  But he would make his mark upon the Christian world and especially through those students who were privileged to sit under him at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary for more than 30 years.  As an evangelical and Reformed professor in that UPCUSA graduate school, he provided a solid course of instruction for those evangelical and Reformed students who sat under him. One such student was R.C. Sproul.

A careful look into the published works of the Ligionier Study Center will reward you with books and videos all written and spoken by John Gerstner.  His primary work would be his three volume book on “The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards.”  He became the authority on the life and ministry of this greatest of all American theologian.

This author in two of his five pastorates had Dr. Gerstner as a special weekend speaker.  On both occasions, he along with the people of God enjoyed a guest pastor who had an incredible intellect, a great wit, and always a pastoral heart.  He entered heaven’s glory on this day, March 24, 1996.

Words to Live By: The apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2 states, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (ESV)  There are four generations mentioned in this verse: Paul, those who heard him, faithful men, and others also.  It presents the goal of transmitting God’s Word to succeeding generations.  John Gerstner accomplished this, as all those given the spiritual gift of teaching, are to aim for it.   Pray for them to faithfully accomplish it.

Through the Scriptures:  Judges 19 – 21

Through the Standards: Christ’s Exaltation according to the Catechisms

WLC 51  — “What is the estate of Christ’s exaltation?
A. The estate of Christ’s exaltation comprehends his resurrection, ascension, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and his coming again to judge the world.”

WSC 28 —  “Wherein consists Christ’s exaltation?
A.  Christ’s exaltation consists in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and in coming to judge the world at the last day.”

Image sources: Records of The Presbyterian Journal, Photo Collection, Box 246, folder 6. Scans prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.


This Day in Presbyterian History: 

God Preserves and Governs Us

With scant information available for some historical Presbyterian person, place, or event, we turn our attention back to the historic Westminster Shorter Catechism.  Today, March 23, we look at one of the most comforting catechetical answers which is found in the whole catechism, namely, question and answer 11.  It reads, “What are God’s works of providence? Answer: God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions.”

The heart of God’s providence is found in those two verbs “preserving” and “governing.”  The first activity of providence is found in the truth that our Creator God “preserves” His creatures.  The writer to the book of Hebrews tell us in chapter 1:verse 3 that “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (ESV)  Paul told us in Acts 17:28 that “in him (God) we live and move and have our being.” (ESV)  The prayer of Nehemiah 9;6 which records the Levites prayer, acknowledged “You are the LORD, you alone.  You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them: and you preserve all of them.” (ESV)  We may not always understand how this happens, but the Bible declares that it does happen, and for that we can be at rest.

Further, the second activity of providence is that he “governs” us.  A reflection on that well-known text, which every Christian should have memorized, Romans 8:28, is good here.   Paul  writes that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  The “all things”  of the context include the sufferings of this present life.   We simply need to be patient and discover the “good” which is coming to us.

The character of such providence as is described above, is “holy, wise, and powerful.”  Here are the attributes of God with relation to both his person as well as  his preservation and governing of His creatures and their actions.  Knowing this, we can be at peace because we know that his preserving and governing will not be contrary to holiness, wisdom, or divine power.

The subjects of providence are “his creatures and all their actions.”  We ourselves might have questions about how God’s providence relates to moral evil in the world, but both Scripture and the Westminster Standards teach that the sinfulness of any action proceeds from the one who is doing it, never from God.  In purposes far beyond our understanding, God has permitted, limited, and overruled all of these evil actions for the accomplishment of her holy ends.  A good example is Peter’s conclusion regarding Christ’s sacrifice in Acts 2:23 when he said, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”  It is clear. Lawless men crucified Jesus on the cross.  Yet all of it was by the ordering of the sovereign God.

Words to Live By: A firm belief in this doctrine of God’s providence will comfort the true saint of God to live and act in full assurance that he is always in God’s hands.

Through the Scriptures: Judges 16 – 18

Through the Standards: Christ’s Exaltation according to the Confession

WCF 8:4k – end:
“On the third day He arose from the dead, with the same body in which He suffered, with which also He ascended into heaven, and there sits at the right hand of His Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History :

At last! Minutes of the Second Presbytery

Four days ago, you read the historical devotional on March 18 that the stated clerk of the first presbytery held in this country lost all but a short paragraph of the meeting.  In 1707, beginning on March 22, the second presbytery was held in Philadelphia.  George McNish, one of the seven ministers, was chosen Clerk of the Presbytery, while John Wilson was chosen the Moderator.   Present also were teaching elders Jedidiah Andrews and  Nathaniel Taylor.  Francis Makemie would show up on the 25th of March.  Ruling elders Joseph Yard, William Smith, John Gardener, and James Stoddard were present from several churches within the bounds of the Philadelphia Presbytery.

» Old Rehoboth Presbyterian Church, Rehoboth, Maryland (1683), which competes with Fairfield Presbyterian Church, Fairton, New Jersey (1680) in the claim for the oldest Presbyterian church in America »

Samuel Davis sent in his excuse as to why he missed the last Presbytery and would not be present at this meeting either. The presbyters did not sustain his reasons for his absence, and sent  a letter to teaching elder Davis requiring him  to be present at the 1708 presbytery meeting.  He did, and they immediately elected him the moderator of the next Presbytery!

The church at Snow Hill, Maryland, had called Mr. John Hampton to be their pastor, but the latter had declined their call.  He gave several satisfactory reasons to the presbytery as to why he was not in favor of going there as pastor.  They nevertheless moved that the call be left in his  hand until the next presbytery in 1708, hoping that the call would be finally accepted by Mr. Hampton.  In the meanwhile, they sent a letter of encouragement to the church to continue in their endeavors for a settled pastor among their ranks.

It was on the 25th of March, 1708, that two biblical sermons were given on Hebrews 1:1 and Hebrews 1:2 by teaching elders Francis Makemie and teaching elder John Wilson, which messages had been approved at the last Presbytery meeting.  These texts were no doubt taken from the Genevan Bible, as that was the version carried over to these shores by the early Presbyterian pilgrims.  And given the practice of early Scottish ministers, the length of the sermons easily could have been two hours long.  We are told  that both sermons were approved by the Presbytery.

Since Francis Makemie had been successful in convincing two ministers to come over and help the infant Presbyterian church previously, the Presbytery urged Makemie again to write to Scotland and a certain minister by the name of Alexander Coldin.   He was to give an account of the state and circumstances of the dissenting Presbyterian interest in and among the people, especially in and about Lewistown, and signify the earnest desires of those members that Mr. Coldin travel over to these shores and become their minister.

We conclude that their meeting was not unlike the gathering of Presbyterians in presbyteries across the modern world now.  Sermons are preached, though not as long as these early expositions of the Word.  Elections are held for presbyterial office.  Excuses are considered as to absences, and approved or disapproved.   Pastors without call are considered for vacant pulpits.  Overtures are recommended, discussed, and voted upon by the presbyters.  (See March 26)  All in all, the work of the Lord began in Philadelphia, 1706,  and continues today in hundreds of presbyteries across the world.

Words to Live By:  Speaking to elders, be faithful to your presbytery meetings, for there the work of the Lord is initiated, issues of interest to the church are  discussed by and for elders, warnings are heeded, encouragements are given, and support is given to the kingdom of grace.

Through the Scriptures: Judges 9 – 12

Through the Standards:Christ’s Humiliation after His Death

WLC 50 — “Wherein consisted Christ’s humiliation after his death?
A. Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which has been otherwise expressed in these words, ‘He descended into hell.’ “

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