April 2012

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

 To Be a Christian Attorney was his Highest Aspiration

Thomas Reade Roots Cobb was born at Cherry Hill, Jefferson Country, Georgia on April 10, 1823.   While still a child, his parents moved the family to  Athens, Georgia and he later attended the University of Georgia, graduating at the top of his class.  From that day forward, Thomas Cobb aspired to be a Christian attorney.

His membership was in the Presbyterian Church in Athens.  As a deeply religious man, he labored during the day as an attorney, and prayed in the church in the evenings.  Whether working on behalf of the state of Georgia through the courts, or laboring in revival meetings, he was the same earnest worker.   He was successful in implementing the reading of the Bible in schools in Georgia.

In the field of law, he was considered to be “the James Madison” of the South.  Not only did he contribute to countless law documents for the state, he authored the Constitution of the Confederate States of America.  It is written in his handwriting.  He was the founder of the Georgia School of Law.

Like the majority of Southerners and even Southern Christians in that era, Cobb looked to the argument of States Rights in defense of Southern secession. Indeed, he wrote a large tome which sought to defend the practice of slavery.  When elected to the Confederate Congress in 1861, he chaffed at the slowness of the legislative branch to prosecute the defense of the South.  So he entered the Confederate army as a Colonel of the Georgia troops, which he called Cobb’s Legion.  His troops fought in the battles of the Seven Days, Second Manassas, the Antietam campaign, and Fredericksburg, Virginia.  At the latter battle, he fought as a Brigadier General.

It was in the last battle that he suffered a mortal wound.  Assigned to guard the Sunken Road, an artillery shell burst near him and wounded him mortally.  Within a few hours, he would die.  There is a monument in that battlefield on the Sunken Road which tells of his death.  Before his death, another Presbyterian military officer by the name of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, or Stonewall Jackson, would visit him and  pray with him.  Cobb is buried in Athens, Georgia.

He was survived by his wife, the former Marion Lumpkin, and four daughters in 1862.  As recently as 2004, because of his stand on slavery, a controversy arose as to whether his home should be restored to a museum.  It eventually was, and today can be visited in Athens, Georgia.

Words to Live By: While we would oppose his stand on racial slavery, still we are left with the recognition that in other matters, here was a man who feared God and worked righteousness in his public and private life.  For all of us, our Christian ideals are to be manifested outside the four walls of the church, indeed, into all of life, so that God’s name can be glorified, and God’s kingdom can be advanced.
Perhaps the most searching question in application might then be, “In my life, what sins am I blind to? How am I a creature of my culture? How and where is the Word of God not thoroughly and consistently worked out in my life?”
May God have mercy upon us all. We are, all of us, mired in sin and without hope before a righteous God, but for the grace and mercy found in Jesus Christ alone.

Through the Scriptures: 2 Samuel 22 – 24

Through the Standards:  The state of grace

WCF 9:4
“When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He frees him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, that by reason of his remaining corruption, he does not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but does also will that which is evil.”

For further reading:
We find that two articles on the legal profession were published in the Southern Presbyterian Review :
1. “Relations of Christianity to the Legal Profession,” by an anonymous author, SPR, vol. 5, no. 2 (July 1859): 249-270.
2. “Morality of the Legal Profession,” by Robert L. Dabney, SPR, vol. 11, no. 4 (January 1859): 571-592.
and two articles published in Princeton Seminary’s Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review :
3. “A Course of Legal Study, by David Hoffman, reviewed by Samuel G. Winchester, BRPR, 9.4 (October 1837):509-524.
4. “Professional Ethics and their Application to Legal Practice,” [review of An Essay on Professional Ethics, by George Sharswood], by an anonymous author, BRPR, 43.2 (April 1871): 286-304.



This Day in Presbyterian History:  

 A Fine Missionary and a Keen Soul-winner

The title of this devotional constitutes the comments sent back  in a communication to the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions upon hearing the news that they had appointed Miss Louisa Lee as a missionary to India.  In fact, she was the first missionary sent out under the auspices of  that Independent Board on April 9, 1934. 

To be sure, this was not her first experience of being a herald of the gospel in India.  She had gone out under the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. in 1913.   Two years before that, she had graduated from the University of Washington at Seattle, with a bachelor of arts degree and a certificate in teaching.  Other educational schools she had attended were Wooster College and Miami (of Ohio) University.  Attendance at Union Mission Language School gave  her a working knowledge of both Urdu and Hindi languages.

Why did she leave her denomination’s board of foreign Missions? In one word, the infallibility of the Scriptures.  In 1934, an executive of the India Council, while acknowledging that her conviction of  Scripture’s infallibility was what had originally been the belief of the board in years gone by, yet currently informed her that  there was great doubt that the writers of the Scriptures were infallible in matters of history and science in the present age.

Louisa Lee, in complete disagreement with this missions executive,  not only held to the true faith of biblical Christianity, but expressed her resolution that it was a necessary qualification for every Gospel preacher, teacher and missionary.  Further, she would not be able to work alongside of anyone who denied the infallibility of Holy Scripture.

Leaving eventually after two decades under the Presbyterian U.S.A. board, she joined the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. She expressed her desire to the new board that she be allowed to  remain in India, because as she put it, “my home is in India; my heart is there; and I love the people.”

God’s Spirit would grant her another fifty-nine years of faithful service to the masses in India before being taken home to be with her Lord and Savior in 1972.  And part of that span of time was spent after a time of furlough in the United States, but finding no one to take her place in India.  So she returned to take up the mantle of communicating the good news of eternal life to all who would give her a hearing.  She was indeed a fine missionary and a keen soul-winner.

Words to Live By:   When was the last time you prayed for someone – a relative, a neighbor, a work associate, a school mate, a stranger you met this week – to be saved?  Louisa Lee was a keen soul-winner.  It all begins with prayer for lost sinners.  Then, a soul winner prays that God will provide the opportunity to say a word of grace to the lost person.  Last, you praise God for that opportunity, and pray that the Word of grace will bring forth fruit unto eternal life.

Through the Scriptures: 2 Samuel 19 – 21

Through the Standards:  Every sin deserves God’s wrath

WLC 152  “What does every sin deserve at the hands of God?
A.  Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God, and against his righteous law, deserves his wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come; and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.”

WSC 84 “What does every sin deserve?
A. Every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come.”

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Home Religion in Colonial America

In the years prior to the American Revolution, Presbyterians were already emigrating into Western Pennsylvania with their families. This was no easy move on their part. Native Indian tribes were resistant to this westward expansion. The further these Presbyterians moved away from civilization, the fewer helps and conveniences moved with them. More than that, these pioneers often left behind the anchor of an ordained ministry of the gospel.

In 1772, the Presbytery of Donegal appointed the Rev. David McClure to take a spiritual tour of Presbyterians west of the Allegheny mountains.  We know very little about him as a person.  He was from Ulster, or northern Ireland as we know it today.  Some said he was from Londonderry, Ulster.  He had traveled to Rhode Island, and then come down to the middle colonies.  First sent to the Delaware Indians, they had rejected his message of salvation.  So he became an itinerant minister and thus was open to the trip west for the Presbytery.

Writing a remarkable diary, he observed once that “truly the people here in this new country are as sheep scattered upon the mountains without a shepherd.  May the good Lord raise up and send forth faithful laborers into this past of His vineyard.”   He didn’t have long to wait for the fulfillment of that prayer.

Notice his words on April 8, 1773.  He comments in his diary, “The inhabitants west of the Appalachian mountains are chiefly Scotch-Irish Presbyterians.  They are either natives of the north of Ireland, or the descendants of such and removed here from the middle colonies. There are some Germans, English, and Scotch. The Presbyterians are generally well indoctrinated in the principles of the Christian religion.  The young people are taught by their parents and school masters, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and almost every family has the Westminster Confession of Faith, which they carefully study.”

Along with the Bible and the Westminster Standards, usually the Scotch-Irish families of the wilderness possessed Thomas Boston’s Fourfold State, and one of the commentaries, such as Matthew Henry.  With these within their grasp, time in the morning and evening of each day would be set aside for reading and prayers and memory work.  When a traveling pastor would come through, like David McClure, he would spend time asking the family members questions from the Bible and the Standards. Those who answered faithfully would be given communion tokens, upon which they would turn in and receive communion on the Lord’s Day.  Those who failed in their spiritual understanding would not receive the token and would be sufficiently warned to do better in their Christian experience the next time a minister would visit.

It was serious business being a Christian in colonial times.

Words to Live By:  What place does the Word of God and the Westminster Standards have in your home?  Are they strangers to the members of your family?  Do they have just a nodding acquaintance with you?  Or do they form the backbone of your faith and life?  It is not without purpose that our historical devotionals in this year’s reading include both Scripture and Standards on a day-by-day basis.  Apply them to your family members and their age groups, so as to bring back the early Presbyterian practice of being trained up in the fear of the Lord.

Through the Scriptures:  2 Samuel 16 – 18

Through the Standards:  (Note: in our last question and answer on the degrees of sin, continue to examine yourself and see if this sin is found in you.  If it has this past week or month, confess and forsake it.  If you are free from it, be aware of it so as to avoid it in your Christian life)

WLC 151
“Sins received their aggravations 4. From circumstances of time and place: if on the Lord’s day, or other times of divine worship; or immediately before or after these, or other helps to prevent or remedy such miscarriages; if in public, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled.”

Remembering Our Fathers and Brothers :

Image sources:
1. Reverse side of a communion token from the Newington Parish Church, Edinburgh, Scotland. Undated. Burzinski no. 5523.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:   A Place of Peace Becomes a Place of War

In your mind, imagine a white country church nestled by the side of a Virginia county road.  Ordinarily, what might be heard from that church would be the singing of the hymns of the faith, testimonies of salvation from the church goers, solid preaching of the Word by the faithful pastor, fellowship suppers on the church lawn, and families coming and going on the Lord’s Day, or in the middle of the week.

What you wouldn’t expect to see or hear would be armies digging trenches for offensive and defensive positions, orders to fix bayonets, the hurrahs of Union men mixed with the Rebel yell, and dreadful sounds of wounds and deaths of men from battle.  Yet the latter picture more than the former was the case around Cumberland Presbyterian Church, northeast of Farmville, Virginia on April 7, 1865 during the day and evening.  This country church was on the stretch of journey of the retreat of the Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Escaping from Richmond and Petersburg, Lee’s scattered army was seeking to escape the pursuing Union armies of Gen. U.S. Grant.  Lee had hopes of joining another Confederate force in North Carolina.  But elements of the II corps under General A.A. Humphreys stopped their advance.  Entrenching around this Presbyterian church, the southern forces stopped two advances of this Union corps.  In what was interestingly a Confederate victory, the Army of Northern Virginia would reach Appomattox several days later and surrender their valiant forces to the North.

Words to Live By: In the midst of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Civil War, or War Between the States, we can acknowledge the sovereign will of God, as its military leaders, both North and South, did back then.  We can rejoice that the gospel went forth in power through various spiritual awakenings and revivals among the soldiers, preparing this united nation to reach beyond its borders with the blessed gospel of Jesus Christ.  We can remember  the courage of military officers and common soldiers for their respective nations.  We can look back to this era when a once divided nation became the United States of America . . . again.

Through the Scriptures: 2 Samuel 13 – 15

Through the Standards:  (Note:As we consider the third aggravation of sin, remember the memo of previous days.  If you find yourself in these offenses, forsake them and find  your forgiveness in God.  Be warned as well, as we should not be ignorant regarding Satan’s devices)

WLC 151
“Sins receive their aggravations, 3. From the nature and quality of the offense: if it be against the express letter of the law, break many commandments, contain in it many sins: if not only conceived in the heart, but breaks forth in words and actions, scandalize others, and admit of no reparation: if any means, mercies, judgments, light of nature, conviction of conscience, public or private admonition, censures of the church, civil punishments; and our prayers, purposes, promises, vows, covenants,  and engagements to God of men: if done deliberately, wilfully, presumptuously, impudently, boastingly, maliciously, frequently, obstinately, with delight, continuance, or relapsing after repentance.”

This Day in Presbyterian History:

From Twenty Nine Years of Age to One Hundred and Forty Three Years of Age

A new church was born on this date, April 6, 1965, at ten o’clock in the morning.  Actually, it was not a new church but simply the merging of two historic Presbyterian bodies dating back to the formation of our country.  The Evangelical Presbyterian Church had come out of the stream of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.  The Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod had come out of the Scottish Covenanter  heritage.  Both churches had been courting each other from 1957 to 1964 with continual contact.

Each denomination held dearly to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as being the inspired Word of God, without error in whole and part, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.  Each church body held to the subordinate standards of the Westminster Assembly as being a summary of the teaching of the Old and New Testaments.  They proclaimed the good news of salvation to a lost world as the only  hope of reconciliation with the holy God.  The fundamentals of historic Christianity, being only Scripture, only Christ, only grace, only faith, and only to the glory of God, were part and parcel of their belief structure.

Each church had been weathered by internal divisions in their past history.   In the case of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, they had the experience of coming out of the apostasy of the mainline Presbyterian church in the mid 1930’s, where a stand for the fundamentals of the faith translated out to being deposed by the modernists who had gained control of the church.  Then in 1938 and 1956, further issues over eschatology and Christian liberty as well as independent agencies verses synod control agencies, truth in Christian living, and questions about separation from brethren, brought into existence the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in 1961.

In the case of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod, the issue in 1833 was the relationship of the church to the civil government.  They had no problem supporting the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but the Constitution a dozen or so years later was another matter.  Should its members vote, for example, in a country which did not recognize itself as a Christian nation?  Should they serve on juries, with oaths involved? Should they serve in the armed forces?  Should exclusive psalmody be the standard of  worship services?  All these were questions which were asked, debated, and voted upon by the church.

When the two bodies met concurrently in 1965 at Covenant College, the issues had been faced squarely by godly men for eight years.  Both churches voted to merge with each other, and combining their names into  the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod.  What has been a church of twenty-nine years became a church of one hundred and forty-three years years of age after one meeting!

Words to Live By:  The Psalmist David proclaimed words of wisdom for all church bodies and Christians when  he wrote “BEHOLD, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (KJV – Psalm 143:1)

Through the Scriptures: 2 Samuel 9 – 12

Through the Standards: (Note: For four days we are thinking about the degrees of sin and their aggravation.  If these characterize you, repent and confess them.  If they do not, be warned about them and beware their ugly risings in your heart and life)

The aggravation of sin in the parties offended

WLC 151  “Sins received their aggravations, 2. From the parties offended: if immediately against God, his attributes, and worship; against Christ, and his grace; the Holy Spirit, his witness and workings against superiors, men of eminency, and such as we stand especially related and engaged unto; against any of the saints, particularly weak brethren, the souls of them, or any other, and the common good of all or many.”


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This Day in Presbyterian History:   The Foreigners Who Loved Korea

One of the earliest foreign missionaries to Korea, and the first ordained one, Horace Grant Underwood definitely felt the call to be a missionary.  Born in London in 1859, he came to the United States with his parents when he was thirteen years of age.  Graduating from New York University in 1881, he entered graduate school at the Dutch Reformed Theological Seminary in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  After a brief time as a pastor, he thought that the hordes of unbelievers in India would be his calling. But the American Presbyterian Mission Board wanted him to go to Korea.  And so he submitted himself to his spiritual brethren, and traveled to the Far East.

Korea at that time wasn’t safe for foreigners, much less missionaries of the gospel.  So he spent some time in Japan first.  There he met a Korean Christian who taught him the Korean language as well as giving him a translation of the Gospel of Mark in Korean.  God was preparing him for his life-long work.

Landing in Inchon on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1885, he still lacked permission from the authorities to do mission work.  So he worked with  the medical center of missionary doctor  Horace Allen, teaching physics and chemistry.  That educational experience would be duplicated in the rest of his thirty-one year missions work in Korea.

Driven by an intense zeal for missionary work, Rev. Underwood would not only plant churches, but also created elementary schools in each district he visited.  If the need was a high school, then such a school would be begun.  An orphanage was organized the following year of 1886.  The higher grades were not neglected.  Chosun Christian College was organized in 1915, which is now called Yonsei University, one of the premier educational institutions in modern-day Korea.  Horace Underwood was the first president.

Pastor  Underwood was interested in communicating the gospel in their own language.  So the entire New Testament was translated in Korean in 1900 with the Old Testament in 1910.  A Korean hymnal was composed in 1894.

All of these missions work was done as a single missionary.  Lilias Horton, a medical doctor, came into his life before long.  After marriage,  he went on a joint honeymoon – missions a tour of Korea.  He preached the Word of God to their souls.  She healed their bodies with medicine.

Dr. Underwood died in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1916.  True to his commitment to Korea, his body was transported to Korea to be buried in his adopted land.  His wife survived him by five years.  They were truly the foreigners who loved Korea.

Words to Live By:   The apostle Paul gave the original charge when he said in 1 Corinthians 9:22b, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”  Try this week to so identify (but not of course in their sinfulness) with your lost relatives and neighbors so as to share the gospel with them.

Through the Scriptures:  2 Samuel 5 – 8

Through the Standards: (Note: In the next four days, we will look at the aggravation of sin.  Consider each aggravation prayerfully.  If it characterizes you, then confess it.  If it doesn’t apply to you, then rejoice, and be warned regarding it.)

Aggravation of sin in persons who offend

WLC 151
“Sins receive their aggravations, 1. From the persons offending; if they be of riper age, greater experience of grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guide to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others.”


This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Christ, the Son of God, became Man

Finding nothing of national importance in historic Presbyterianism [you should always feel free to remind us of important people or events], we turn to Shorter Catechism 22 for our devotional today.  It asks the question of the manner of the incarnation of Christ.  In answer, our Westminster divines state, “Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of  her, yet without sin.”

While not a historical event in American Presbyterianism, still the contents of this answer sum up the battle in Presbyterianism in the early nineteen twenties and thirties between the theological conservatives and liberals.  Was Christ the Son of God?  Was He conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost?  Was the Virgin Birth true?  All these were issues fought in the proverbial trenches of seminary class rooms and pulpits across the land.

This answer sums up biblical Christianity regarding the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  He, being the Son of God, became man “by taking to himself a true body.”  An ancient heresy was behind the inclusion of these words in this phrase.  Docetism in the early church taught that Jesus took to Himself only the appearance of a body.  Believing that all matter was essentially impure, they taught that our Lord’s body was not and could not be real flesh and blood.  John the apostle fought against this heresy when he wrote in 1 John 4:2, 3 “By this you may know (perceive and recognize) the Spirit of God: every spirit which acknowledges and confesses [the fact] that Jesus Christ (the Messiah) [actually] has become man and has come in the flesh is of God [has God for its source.]  And every spirit which does not acknowledge and confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh [but would annul, destroy, sever, disunite Him] is not of God [does not proceed from Him] is not of God [does not proceed from Him].  This [nonconfession is the [spirit] of the antichrist, [of] which you heard that it was coming, and now it is already in the world.” (Amplified)  The inspired apostle John says clearly that Docetism is heresy.  Our Confessional fathers state that the incarnation or the taking upon Himself a true body is biblical.

He has also taken upon Himself “a reasonable soul.”  Again, unless we have the  struggles of the early church in our mind and hearts, we will not understand the importance of this phrase.  This clause in the catechism was added due to the false teaching of Apollinaris.  He and his followers falsely suggested that Jesus had a body, but not a soul. They could not accept that Christ had human affections and a human will.  Yet every page of Scripture testifies of the reality of our Lord’s humanity.  He could rejoice and He could sorrow.  He could show compassion on the sheep without a shepherd. He had a human will distinct from a divine will, so that He could say with respect to the Father’s will regarding His atonement, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” (KJV – Matthew 26:39)

Then, we have the phrases in catechism number 22 which states, “being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her.”  These two phrases spoke loud and clear regarding the disbelief which was present in the Auburn Affirmation of 1924.  It is why J. Gresham Machen wrote his classic book, “The Virgin Birth of Christ.” Both Matthew 1 and Luke 1 both speak of the supernatural birth of our Lord and Savior.

We cannot miss the last phrase which states, “and yet without sin.”  He escaped being defiled with original sin by being born of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.  He who knew no sin, became sin for us, as our sins were imputed to Him.

Words to Live By: A memorization of this catechism answer will keep you in the faith and keep you from departing the faith.

Through the Scriptures:  2 Samuel 1 – 4

Through the Standards: The degrees of sin

WLC 150  “Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God?
A. All transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sigh of God than others.”

WSC 83 “Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?
A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Come Over and Help Us

The first two Presbyterian ministers to come to the middle parts of the American colonies were Francis Doughty and Matthew Hill. The former had immigrated from Massachusetts in 1637 where his Presbyterian and Reformed convictions brought him into difficulty with the Independents in that colony.  He, his elder, and some of the Presbyterian adherents found refuge among the Dutch in Long Island, later New York, where they sought to establish another Presbyterian church.  It was successfully begun in 1642, but a war with the Indians caused the whole congregation to move to Manhattan for safety.  Francis Doughty became the first Presbyterian pastor to minister in the city of New York.  For the next five years, he would minister not only to Presbyterians on that island, but also to tiny groups of Presbyterians in Maryland and Virginia.  It was said that he carried on his Master’s work in spite of difficulties of every kind.

Matthew Hill later continued the work that Doughty began.  Born in England, Rev. Hill labored there after college until the Church of England forced him out of the ministry.  Moving to the colonies with a Bible,  a concordance, and a few clothes, he began his ministry in Maryland in 1669.  On April 3 of that same year, he wrote a letter to Richard Baxter in England with a plea regarding  the wide and effective door for ministry in the new land.  Listen to some of his words:

“Divine providence hath been pleased to land my foot on a province of Virginia called Maryland. Under (this) government, we have enjoyed a great deal of liberty.  We have many of the Reformed religion who have a long while lived as sheep without a shepherd.  We have room for more ministers because we are where the people and the plantations are the thickest.  It is judged by some, that two or three itinerant preachers with no dependence on the people for maintenance would be eminently instrumental among them. We cannot but judge it (as a ) duty to come over and help us.  Sir, I hope your own inclination will be advocate enough to plead the cause of this poor people and engage you to improve your interest on our behalf with some of our brethren in the work of the Lord.”

Pleading in words similar to the original “Macedonian call,” Matthew Hill evidenced the heart of a true missionary in asking this influential Reformed pastor in England to send all the ministerial help they could use.  And speaking from the advantage hindsight, knowing the history that effort, we know that much help did come in the way of both ministers and members to advance the cause of Christ through the Presbyterian faith.

Words to Live By:  Our Lord Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 9:37, 37, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (ESV)  Each of us should be earnest in prayer, but we would particular invite those among our readers who are now retired to take up a special concern, praying that the Lord will literally thrust out laborers into the spiritual fields which are white unto harvest.

Through the Scriptures:  1 Samuel 29 – 31

Through the Standards: The state of sin

WCF 9:3
“Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.”

WLC 149 —  “Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A. No man is able, either of himself, or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God; but does daily break them in thought, word, and deed.”

WSC 82  “Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A. No mere man since the fall is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but does daily break them in thought, words, and deed.”


This Day in Presbyterian History:  

While Strong in  Convictions, He was Mild in their Utterance

What does one do when your congregation takes one side of a national political issue, and you, the pastor of the congregation, takes the other?  Such was the question of the Rev. John Henderson Symmes in 1862 in Cumberland, Maryland.

Symmes was born in Vermont in 1801.  He received  his preparatory education in the schools of his region before studying theology in the Philadelphia Seminary in Pennsylvania.  This was unusual in that he had not yet gone to college.  Nevertheless, he was licensed in 1827 by the Presbytery of Philadelphia.  Then he went to an undergraduate school and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1830.  Filling various empty pulpits in New England and Pennsylvania, he finally was ordained in 1831 as a home missionary in the Reformed Presbyterian Church.  He was the pastor of several churches in Pennsylvania and New York before he became the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Cumberland, Maryland in 1845.  That was where his troubles would begin.

Maryland was a border state in the civil war which divided the nation of America in 1861. Some twenty-thousand Marylanders fought for the Confederacy, with tens of thousands more fighting for the Union.  Often from the same county of Maryland, brothers  fought against brothers, and fathers fought against sons.  So it wasn’t at all unusual for this Presbyterian pastor, even though he had been their spiritual shepherd for seven years, to be at odds with the families of wealth and influence on this matter of the War Between the States. They were Confederate in their allegiances.  He was a strong Union man. So on April 2, 1862, he resigned from the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church in Cumberland, Maryland.

To further prove his loyalty to the North, he became the chaplain of the Second Regiment of the  Maryland Volunteer Infantry, serving as spiritual guide to the soldiers of that Civil War unit.  This military outfit would serve their nation until the end of the conflict, fighting in fifteen battles and countless skirmishes.  Two hundred and twenty-six men became casualties of their three-year term of service.  Chaplain Symmes was with them til the end of the civil war.

In 1867, he continued on his civilian pastorate at a Presbyterian church in Pennsylvania.  He departed this life in 1874.

In Glasgow’s history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America, Rev. Symmes is described as possessing a kind and genial disposition.  He was a most eloquent preacher, and drew for the instruction of his listeners many truths for their edification.   But the best description is that which forms the title of this historical study, namely, “while strong in his convictions, he was mild in the utterance of them.”

Words to Live By:  Strong convictions!  But mild in his utterance of them!  May we have many more, even you reader, who will have this said of you by others.  Consider Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 2:24 – 26 “And the Lord’s servants must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.  God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by  him to do his will.” (ESV)

Through the Scriptures:  1 Samuel 25 – 28

Through the Standards: The state of innocency

WCF 9:2
“Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.”


This Day in Presbyterian History:  

 A Question of Jurisdiction

It seemed to be a mere administrative matter between presbyteries.  Anyone who has been a member of these this lower court in Presbyterian churches has gone through such changes dozens, if not hundreds of times.   A teaching elder has changed ministries.  In so doing, he had come under the spiritual oversight of a different presbytery.  So he requests a change in his presbytery membership.  That usually is a normal administrative move which has little, if any, controversy to it.  But this case in the year 1935 was not a normal time, nor was the individual who sought to change his connection a normal teaching elder.

John Gresham Machen was the leader of the conservative wing of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  For decades as a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, he had been a member of the New Brunswick Presbytery, of New Jersey.  Princeton Seminary, as everyone knows, is located in Princeton, New Jersey.  The new independent seminary with which Dr. Machen was associated with after 1930, namely, Westminster Theological Seminary, was located then in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  And so it was logical that Dr. Machen wished to change his membership from a presbytery in New Jersey to one in Pennsylvania.  And indeed such a change was made, with a vote of 78 in favor and 48 in opposition to such a move.

The question can be asked, why was there such a large number of negative votes for what was seemingly an administrative move?  Usually these votes get passed by a unanimous vote.  Remember the times.  Dr. Machen was not just a seminary professor, but also the president of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, after 1933. The increasing liberal denomination could abide, at least on the surface, with an independent seminary.  There were already those within the confines of Presbyterianism.  Union Theological Seminary was an independent seminary, still sending its graduates into the Presbyterian Church.  But the creation of a conservative mission board reached right into the local Presbyterian churches themselves, with money going away from the denominational missions board into this independent board.  So thus the Mandate of 1934 from the General Assembly sought to put a stop to the Independent Board, Dr. Machen, and all those who supported it.  The Presbytery of New Brunswick was a more favorable presbytery to do that, to try Dr. Machen for disobedience to the Mandate.  His transfer to the Philadelphia Presbytery is the fly in the ointment.

In the midst of all this, in the midst of the trial of Dr. Machen, the Presbytery of Philadelphia on April 1, 1935, votes 66 – 32, to adopt a memorial to the Synod of New Jersey that John Gresham Machen is under the jurisdiction of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.  However, the Presbytery of New Brunswick has already  appointed a Judicial Commission of seven members who ruled that the jurisdiction issue of Dr. Machen and his attorney, will not be handled by the commission.  As in other dates on this historical devotional, which relate the facts of this trial, the presbytery of New Brunswick finds Dr. Machen guilty, with his appeals to the higher courts  denied for redress.  He is suspended from the Presbyterian ministry.

Words to Live By: The apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 2:4 that those entrusted with the gospel should speak “not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (ESV)  God, not man, is the One whom we must endeavor to please in all things.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Samuel 21 – 24

Through the Standards: Natural liberty

WCF 9:1
“God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil.”


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