October 2014

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Though He was Bound, the Word of God was Not Bound

Bruce Hunt was not totally unprepared for the inevitable.  This Orthodox Presbyterian missionary had been ministering to the Korean Church in Manchuria since 1936.  With the imperial nation of Japan on the offensive, attempts had been made to control the church in lands under their control.  Specifically, the attempt was being made to force all people, including Christians, to engage in emperor worship.  To committed Christians, to those who confessed that Jesus is Lord alone with no other God beside Him, this was unthinkable.  Bruce Hunt not only believed this firmly, but he taught this truth to the church of Korea.  Twice he had been taken down to prison and warned that if he persisted in his teaching, judgment would be waiting.  On October 21, 1941, Bruce Hunt was arrested in Harbin, Manchuria.

For the next year, Rev. Hunt would be separated from his family,  his church family, and his freedom.  But he was not separated from his God and Savior.  In testimony of the gospel, like countless persecuted Christians before him, including the apostle Paul of New Testament times, he witnessed to his tormenting guards, evangelized his fellow inmates, and offered encouragement to others who were being tried for their Christian faith.

In one of the many cells into which he was thrown, he realized that a tiny metal tip on one of his shoe laces provided him with a writing tool.  In the darkness of his cell, he wrote in Korean on the soft walls of the cell the famous verse, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His own begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  You dear reader, surely recognize these words as coming from John 3:16.  It was just one of the many times that he left a witness to the next prisoner who would enter that cell.

Once, he decided to place all ten commandments of the Law of God upon the wall in Korean.  He made it to eight commandments, when a guard saw it and stopped him from completing it.

Another time, he found the time to write Romans 6:23 all the way through.  It said, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Finally, when all “tools” to write had been taken away, Scripture texts on  his lips provided divine opportunities to share his Christian faith with guards and fellow prisoners alike.  Quite clearly, while Rev. Hunt was imprisoned, the Word of God was not imprisoned.

Eventually he was exchanged and went back to the United States with his family.

Words to live by:  In our true story about Bruce Hunt writing Scripture texts on the wall of his cell, there is a very real presupposition which was necessary for him to witness in this way.  And it was this.  He had memorized certain portions of the Word of God so that he could write them without having his Bible as a guide.  Question?  If you did not have your Bible present with you to read and write verses of it, how many texts of Scripture have you memorized which could prove to be a comfort to you and a witness to others in prison with you?  Scripture memorization, even with a proliferation of Bible versions today, is a spiritual exercise of our parent’s generation.  Yet, we are closer than they are to difficult times.  Memorize the Word of God!  Begin today.  Start with the texts of salvation.  Ask your pastor what you should memorize.  Ask yourself the question, what verses would I want to know if I was arrested for the sake of the gospel?

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A Colossal Monument for a Spiritual Giant

Standing twenty feet tall and weighing thousands of pounds, and located in the nation’s second-largest city park (Fairmount Park, in Philadelphia, comprises 4,618 acres), the colossal monument to the Rev. Jonathan Witherspoon is a monument to Presbyterianism. Erected on the centennial of our nation onOctober 20, 1876, it is a beautiful work of art, as the New York Times article described it.

On the North side of the monument is a quotation from John Witherspoon.  It states, “For my own part, of prospectus I have some, of reputation more; that reputation is staked, that property is pledged on the issue of this contest.  And although these gray hairs must soon descend into the sepulchre, I would infinitely rather that should descend thither by the hand of the executioner than desert at this crisis the sacred cause of my country.”

The south side of the monument is the quotation from Leviticus 20:10 which is found on the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It says “proclaim liberty  throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

The east side reads: “John Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D; a lineal descendant of John Knox; born in Scotland; February 5, 1722; ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church 1745; President of the College of New Jersey, 1768–94; the only clergyman in the Continental Congress; a signer of the Declaration of Independence; died at Princeton, NJ November 15, 1794″

The west side states that “this statue erected under the authority of a committee appointed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, July 4, 1876.”

On the bottom is the brief statement that “this pedestal is the gift of the Presbyterians in Philadelphia and vicinity.”

Its unveiling was done by D.W. Woods, Esq., a grandson of John Witherspoon, plus various ministers, the governor of New Jersey, and a representative of Princeton Theological Seminary.

Words to live by:  We remember the first act of Joshua upon crossing the Jordan River was to take twelve rocks from that water barrier and set them up on the bank.  He wanted a glorious report to the second generation about the Lord’s person and power in accomplishing the entrance into the promised land.  This was similar to the monument to John Witherspoon.  It placed the focus upon the God of providence in bringing this spiritual giant to America for such a time as then, to train ministers for the nation and a nation for the people.  God continues to work His wonders today in church and state.  Recognize them, and praise God for them.

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On this past Friday, we spoke of the ordination of the Rev. John Flavel. I know of few pastors who had a better ability to see the challenges ahead and then to equip his congregation to face the future, to fit them out with thorough and sound expositions of Scripture and to fix their minds on Jesus Christ their Saviour.
Today, I would like to present you with a short portion of one of Flavel’s discourses, A Practical Treatise of Fear. We will focus on the sixth chapter of that work, where Flavel prescribes the rules to cure our sinful fears, and to prevent the sad and woeful effects of those fears. This is a synopsis of that sixth chapter, which runs thirty-one pages in length. Obviously an overview like this does not allow the author to build his arguments and to drive home his applications. For that, we urge you to read the full work at your leisure. [the link is to volume 3 of Flavel’s Works, and chapter six of this discourse begins on page 280.
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RULES FOR CURING OUR SINFUL FEARS.

Rule 1. The first rule to relieve us against our slavish fears, Is seriously to consider, and more thoroughly to study the covenant of grace, within the blessed clasp and bond whereof all believers are.

Rule 2. Work upon your hearts the consideration of the many mischiefs and miseries men draw upon themselves and others, both in this world and that to come, by their own sinful fears.

Rule 3. He that will overcome his fears of sufferings, must foresee and provide before-hand for them.

Rule 4. If ever you will subdue your own slavish fears, commit yourselves, and all that is yours into the hands of God by faith.

Rule 5. If ever you will get rid of your fears and distractions, get your affections mortified to the world, and to the inordinate and immoderate love of every enjoyment in the world.

Rule 6. Eye the encouraging examples of those that have trod the path of sufferings before you, and strive to imitate such worthy patterns.

Rule 7. If ever you will get above the power of your own fears in a suffering day make hast to clear your interest in Christ, and your pardon in his blood before that evil day come.

Rule 8. Let him that designs to free himself of distracting fears, be careful to maintain the purity of his conscience, and integrity of his ways, in the whole course of his conversation in this world. 

Rule 9. Carefully record the experiences of God’s care over you, and faithfulness to you in all your past dangers and distresses, and apply them to the cure of your present fears and despondencies.

Rule 10. You can never free yourself from sinful fears, till you thoroughly believe and consider Christ’s providential kingdom over all the creatures and affairs in this lower world.

Rule 11. Subject your carnal reasonings to faith, and keep your thoughts more under the government of faith, if ever you expect a composed and quiet heart in distracting evil times. 

Rule 12. To conclude, exalt the fear of God in your hearts, and let it gain the ascendant over all your other fears.

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Ejected by Man but Not by God
Thomas Manton was yet another Presbyterian clergyman who was ejected by the Church of England in 1662, but who continued to “preach” through various opportunities given his way. Born in the early part of the seventeenth century, Thomas Manton was baptized on March 31, 1620 in the south west part of England. Attending typical schools of his day as well as formal education at Wadham College at Oxford,  he graduated in  1639. He was ordained a deacon, but refused orders as a priest in the Anglicanism of his day.
He began his ministry as a lecturer in 1640 and soon was ministering as a rector at Westminster Abby and St. Paul in London. He was one of three scribes who took down in writing the discussions of the divines at Westminster Abby in the assembly of the same name. He wrote the preface to the second edition of the Confession and Catechisms. A member on the Presbyterian side at the Savoy Conference, he sought and failed to get amendments to the Book of Common Prayer. Refusing to take re-ordination vows of the Anglican Church, he was ejected in 1662 along with 2000 other Puritans and Presbyterians. Taking opportunities to preach in various places to his leaderless congregation, he was caught and spent six months in prison. Like some others, he took the declaration of indulgence in 1672 from the king so that he could preach in his home. He died on this day, October 18, 1677.
Such are the bare facts of his life and ministry. However, no less than J. C. Ryle of a later century would commend his life and ministry from the books which he had written, all published after Manton’s death. Listen to Ryle’s commendation of Manton’s Calvinism. He says, “There is a curiously happy attention to the proportion of truth. He never exalts one doctrine at the expense of another. He gives to each doctrine that place and rank given to it in Scripture, neither more nor less, with a wisdom and felicity which I miss in some of the Puritan divines.”
Further writing of Manton, J.C. Ryle states that he “held strongly to the doctrine of election.” Manton believed in “the need of preventing and calling grace. But that did not hinder him from inviting all men to repent, believe, and be saved.” Another example of the proportion of truth is that Manton “held strongly that faith alone lays hold on Christ, and appropriates justification.” And then, “Manton held strongly the perseverance of God’s elect. But that did not hinder him from teaching that holiness is the grand distinguishing mark of God’s people, and that he who talks of ‘never perishing,’ while he continues in willful sin, is a hypocrite and a self-deceiver.”
We can be thankful that publishing companies like the Banner of Truth Trust have reprinted the Collected Works of Thomas Manton.
Words to Live By:
Thomas Manton was a Bible expositor. Happy is that Christian reader who attends a congregation where the man in the pulpit opens up the Scripture in an expositional way. Those in our Reformed pulpits are to “preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole and fervent love of God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.” (Larger Catechism No. 159 Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms)

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You Could Not Sit Under His Ministry Unaffected

 

flavel_johnOur title characterizes John Flavel (sometimes spelled Flavell). Born in 1628 in Bromsgrove, Worchestershire, he was a pastor’s son. His father educated him in biblical truths which stood him in good stead when he studied at University College, Oxford.  Ordained on October 17, 1650 by the Presbytery of Salisbury, he accepted a call six years later to the seacoast town of Dartmouth, where through his reading and close meditation upon the text of the Scriptures, self-examination, and prayer, his pastorate began to have a spiritual effect upon the people.

One of this flock wrote of him, “I could say much, though not enough of the excellency of his preaching, of his seasonable, suitable, and spiritual matter; of his plain expositions of Scripture, his talking method; his genuine and natural deductions, his convincing arguments, his clear and powerful demonstrations, his heart-searching applications, and his comfortable supports to those that were afflicted in conscience.  In short, that person must have a very soft head, or a very hard heart, or both, that could sit under his ministry unaffected.” (Erasmus Middleton, Evangelical Biography, 4:50 – 51). What a remarkable commendation of a man of God in any age, and one to be emulated by those called to the ministry of the Word among our readers.

Flavel was one of the 2000 plus ministers ejected from Anglican pulpits and parishes in 1662, but he didn’t stop ministering to his people by that act. He met them in homes, in secret places in the forest, really anywhere to continue his ministry of the Word.  Constantly under threat of arrest and imprisonment, more than once soldiers of the realm would interrupt the precious hours of prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and the preaching of the Word. Once, the only place of worship was an island, which at a certain hour of the day, would be submerged by high tide. Congregants hungry for the Word of God as preached by Flavel would keep their boats handy so as to jump into them at the last moment!

Taking two indulgences offered by King Charles II and King James, Flavel would part company with the Covenanter Presbyterians by accepting these opportunities to proclaim the unsearchable riches of God’s grace further. He continued that spoken ministry accompanied by the writing of numerous books, works which continue to minister today in both print and electronic editions. This author has had in his ministerial library during his forty years in the pulpit, the six volume “Works of John Flavel,” which includes an exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechisms. If you have not read any of Flavel’s works, you are missing a great treasure.

He departed this life in 1691. However, being dead, he continues to speak through his writing to countless churchmen and lay people today.

Words to Live By:
It was said of John Flavel that “He preached what he felt, and what he had handled, what he has seen and tasted of the Word of life, and they (his listeners) felt it also.”  Speaking to the readers of these posts, how faithful are you to pray for, encourage by your attendance and notes, those who minister to you the word of God?  Scripture says in Hebrews 13:7, “remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you, and considering the results of the conduct, imitate their faith.”

A few small samples of Flavel’s writing, first on the glories of Christ Jesus, then second on discerning divine providence:

“The whole world is not a theater large enough to display the glory of Christ upon or unfold even half of the unsearchable riches that lie hidden in Him. And such is the deliciousness of this subject, Christ, that were there ten thousand volumes written upon it, they would never become tiring to the heart. We used to say that any one thing can finally tire us and this is true, except about this one eminent thing, Christ, and then one can never tire, for such is the variety of sweetness in Christ.”

“Search backward into all the performances of Providence throughout your lives. So did Asaph: ‘I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings’ (Psalm 77:11, 12). He laboured to recover and revive the ancient providences of God’s mercies many years past, and suck a fresh sweetness out of them by new reviews of them. Ah, sirs, let me tell you, there is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would but sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what signal manifestations and outbreakings of His mercy, faithfulness and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. If your hearts do not melt before you have gone half through that history, they are hard hearts indeed. ‘My Father, thou art the guide of my youth’ (Jeremiah 3:4)”.—From The Mystery of Providence, chapter nine.

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Those Quiet Ones Will Surprise You. 

daleJWPastors and some others who read this blog may well have studied the work of the Rev. Dr. James W. Dale, on the subject of baptism. But who was this nineteenth-century author? Rev. James Roberts, author of a Memorial composed in memory of Dr. Dale, writes concerning his subject:

“…the story of such a life can never grow old, and can never cease to be instructive and helpful to others.

Yet Roberts also notes that “The written records from which to construct an adequate memorial [were] almost totally lacking. No diary was kept. No memoranda of personal experience remained. Only occasional dates of events, and a few letters to his family and friends, had been casually preserved.”

“Dr. Dale was a very reticent man and seldom spoke of himself or his personal affairs, except to his most intimate friends, and even to them with a lingering flavor of reserve. For instance, he carried on his remarkable researches on the subject of baptism, by day and by night, for twenty long years, without ever saying to a human being that he was making a book, until he had gone over the whole ground of the inquiry, and his first volume was ready for the press.”

James Wilkinson Dale was born October 16, 1812, at Cantwell’s Bridge (now Odessa) Delaware. He was the third son and the fourth child of Richard Colgate Dale, M.D. and Margaret (Fitzgerald) Dale. Following a term studying law, he turned to prepare for the ministry, initially at the Andover Theological Seminary. From his second year on, he continued his studies at Princeton, graduating there in 1835. He was appointed by the American Board to serve as a missionary in India, but could not gather the requisite financial support and had to withdraw. Undeterred, he next entered upon medical studies to further prepare for missions work, but upon graduation in 1838, entered into a term of service as an agent for the American Bible Society, 1838-1845. He later served as pastor of several churches near Philadelphia. It was during the time of these several pastorates that he wrote his famous works on the subject of baptism.

 daleJW_classic02Classic Baptism was published in 1867; Judaic Baptism in 1869; Johannic Baptism in 1871; Christic and Patristic Baptism, a volume approximately twice the length of the former works, was then published in 1874.

As these volumes were issued, one after another, from the press, they were noticed at considerable length in the editorial columns of many of the religious papers of the country. The foremost professors, pastors, teachers and preachers were strong in their commendation of the author and of the work which he had so well accomplished. Each volume as it came out increased, rather than diminished, the admiration of scholars for the author, and added fresh laurels

The publication of these scholarly volumes at once lifted their author out of the comparative obscurity in which he had lived. His company, his counsel, and his acquaintance, were sought by men eminent in the theological world, who had never seen or even heard of him before the appearance of his books. Other writers in the same field began to quote him as authority, and his works remain and authority on the subject to this day.

In recognition of his scholarship and of his ability as an author, Hampden Sidney College, in Virginia, conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity, as did also his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Dale received no profit from the sale of his books. Perhaps that is not unusual in itself, but he certainly did not publish with an intent to profit from them. In his retirement, he kept busy in part by working to condense and popularize his works on baptism. One friend expressed the wish that “out of this forest of philological learning [speaking of Dr. Dale’s prior works on baptism], there might be, in due time, a little grove selected for the security and comfort of the unlettered believer.” It was the intention of Dr. Dale to make such “a little grove,” in other words, to write a book on baptism which all Christian people could read with interest, pleasure and profit. He found that the books which he had already written and published could not well be abridged or condensed, without lessening their value to preachers and to theological students, for whom they were especially written. He, therefore, determined to prepare such a popular presentation of the subject as would put the valuable results of his studies within the reach of the masses of God’s people. This was the task which he had set for himself, and on which he was engaged when the Master called him to lay aside his pen and to enter upon his everlasting reward.

Words to Live By:
Most people, Christians included, live out their lives in relative obscurity. Few people, Christians included, achieve notoriety in any field. But every Christian has something of great worth that the world knows not. Regardless of our calling in life, we know that we have a purpose. We know that we serve the King of kings. And we know that God has declared that He will be our God, and we will be His people.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, KJV)

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The First Presbyterian Congregation in America?

This writer puts a question mark in our title simply because there are several churches which claim to be the first Presbyterian Church in the colonies.  Each of them presents its claim with good evidence. Sometimes a claim is based on the existence of at least one elder. Or the stated date of organization might be based on when Bible studies first began in a given location, or when a building was first occupied by the congregation. Time and poorly kept records leave all of this unclear. But what is clear about Rehoboth Presbyterian Church in Rehoboth, Delaware is, that it is the first Presbyterian Church built by the Father of American Presbyterianism, namely, Francis Makemie.

“Our mission was from Jesus Christ, and warranted from the Scriptures.”—Makemie.

There are actually two dates of October 15 associated with Makemie.  The first one took place in 1699 when the Irish immigrant minister appeared before the County Court of Accomac to request permission to preach the gospel in Virginia.  Many Christians, and especially Christian Presbyterians do not realize that those minister/missionaries outside of the Anglican faith had to apply for licenses to preach the gospel.  Further, if you were not attending an Anglican, or we would say today, an Episcopal church, there could be civil penalties for not attending church.  He asked permission to preach at two homes.  It was on October 15, 1699 that permission was given to him.  Later on, an Act of Toleration was granted for all ministers to freely worship and proclaim Christ’s truth.  But before that, preachers could be arrested and held in jail for daring to preach without a license.  Francis Makemie himself was arrested in New York for doing just that.

The other date associated with this date of October 15, 1706 was when Rehoboth Presbyterian  Church of Maryland, was opened by the Rev. Francis Makemie.   Rehoboth meant “There is Room.”  Later in the eighteen hundreds, there was a great deal of physical construction done to the one floor church.  Today this church continues on and it is currently a congregation of the PC(USA) in Rehoboth, Delaware.

Words to live by:  Suppose the Rev. Francis Makemie had not come to the shores of the American colonies, saying that it was too far, too expensive, too dangerous, and whatever excuse might be offered?  Humanly speaking, we might not be writing a Presbyterian blog because there would have been no Presbyterian presence in the land.  But that is “humanly speaking.” The truth is that the sovereign God ordained in the colonies that there be Christian Presbyterians as one of the key ingredients of our forefather’s faith.  And did they ever come!  Thousands upon thousands came over the Atlantic Ocean.  And from our earliest days, the Bible of Presbyterianism was presented as the infallible Word of God, and God added to Himself a church, such as Rehoboth Presbyterian Church, in Delaware.

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It was on this day, October 14th, in 1814, that the Cumberland Presbyterians adopted their unique edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Taking our text from George P. Hays, The Presbyterians, p. 470-471, we review today the Cumberland Presbyterian edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, as formerly adopted by that denomination on October 14, 1914.  The full text of The Presbyterians is available here. A copy of the Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith can be found here.

“When Cumberland Synod was formed in 1813, one of its first acts was to appoint a committee to prepare a Confession of Faith. In the form of words adopted three and half years before, in constituting Cumberland Presbytery, was this provision concerning doctrine:

“All licentiates and probationers who may hereafter be ordained by this Presbytery shall be required, before such licensure or ordination, to receive and adopt the Confession and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church, except the idea of fatality, which seems to be taught under the mysterious doctrine of predestination. It is understood, however, that such as can clearly receive the Confession without an exception shall not be required to make any.”

In forming the Synod a brief doctrinal statement was adopted in which the points of dissent from the Westminster Confession were thus stated: 1. “There are no Eternal reprobates. 2. Christ died not for a part only, but for all mankind. 3. All infants dying in infancy are saved through Christ and sanctification of the Spirit. 4. The Spirit of God operates on the world, or as coextensively as Christ has made the atonement, in such a manner as to leave all men inexcusable.”

The committee appointed by the Synod to prepare a creed, simply modified the Westminster Confession, expunging what they believed unscriptural and supplying what they thought omissions of vital truth. The chief changes were in chapters iii and x, and consisted in the elimination of what is known as preterition, or what the fathers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church called “fatality.” The Presbyterian polity was retained; also the Evangelical Presbyterian doctrines—such as the inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures, the fall and condemnation of the race, total depravity, the salvation of believers through a vicarious atonement, and the eternal punishment of the finally impenitent.

This revised Confession of Faith was adopted by the Synod, October 14, 1814, and continued to be the accepted creed of the Church until 1883, when a new revision was adopted in which the same essential doctrines enunciated in the revision of 1814 are stated in somewhat briefer form and with a more logical arrangement of subjects. The creed of Cumberland Presbyterians, as it differs from Calvinism on the one hand and Arminianism on the other, may be stated in connection with the doctrine of the new birth—the central theme of the revival of 1800—as follows:

1. All men must be born again or perish.

2. All may be born again and not perish.

3. None who are born again will perish.

The first proposition, while it is accepted by all, means more to Cumberland Presbyterians than to others; for they believe that the soul’s salvation is made certain in the hour of the new birth, while Calvinists believe that this certain election of the soul to eternal life was made by divine decree before the foundation of the world, and Arminians hold that the soul’s decision or choice cannot be so made as to be secure from reversal or failure until after death—possibly not then.

The second proposition [above] Cumberland Presbyterians think is contradicted by the Calvinistic doctrine of election and reprobation, and the third [is contradicted] by the Arminian doctrine of apostasy.

Words to Live By:
On the one hand, we can be thankful that the Cumberland Presbyterian Church resolved to state their convictions in a written statement of faith. On the other hand though, we are saddened that their doctrinal statement falls far short of the Scriptural teaching on salvation.  There is no contradiction between the gospel message and methods and the eternal call of God’s elect. Indeed, such a view as our Westminster Standards teaches is consistent and indeed comforting to the belief that God has chosen a people for His own from all eternity past. The inspired writer  Luke understood this plainly when in describing the ministry of Paul to the Gentiles in Acts 13:48 stated in the last phrase,  “as many as  had been appointed to eternal life believed.” (NASV)  Both parts of this last phrase are true. How do we know those appointed to eternal life? Answer: They believe the gospel. Who are those who believe? Answer: As many has had been appointed to eternal life. That one phrase is the great comfort of those who share the gospel with all  whom they come into contact with in their day’s activities.

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What follows provides us with an interesting insight into the process of licensure and ordination for ministerial candidates nearly 300 years ago. Here too, our readers find out where our masthead comes from, namely the source of today’s post: Historical Discourse of the 150th Anniversary of the Upper Octorara Presbyterian Church, by J. Smith Futhey, Esq.

This section appears on pages 42-45 of the above volume:

“The Rev. Adam Boyd, who was the first regular pastor of this Church, was born in Ballymena, county Antrim, Ireland, in 1692, and came to New England as a probationer [in this context, the word means that he was licensed to preach] in 1722 or 1723. While there, he preached at Dedham. After remaining there for a time, he concluded to return to his native country, and was furnished by the celebrated Cotton Mather—who esteemed him well—with a certificate of his good character in this country, dated June 10, 1724. He, however, had formed an attachment to a daughter of Rev. Thomas Craighead, one of the pioneers of the Irish Presbyterians of New England, and, relinquishing his design of returning home, came to Pennsylvania, whither Mr. Craighead and his family had shortly preceded him, bringing with him the commendatory letter of Cotton Mather, as well as credentials from Ireland, and was received under the care of New Castle Presbytery. The following is the minute of Presbytery on the occasion of his reception: “July 29, 1724. The testimonials of Mr. Adam Boyd, preacher of the gospel, lately come from New England, were read and approved, and he being interrogated by the moderator, whether he would submit to this Presbytery, he answered that he would, during his abode in these parts .” Mr. Craighead had been received as a member of Presbytery on January 28, 1723-24.

“On the same day on which Mr. Boyd became a member of Presbytery, he was sent as a supply to Octorara, with directions to collect a congregation also at Pequea, and take the necessary steps towards its organization. He was so acceptable to the people that at the next meeting of Presbytery, September 14, 1724, a call was presented for his services as a pastor by Cornelius Rowan and Arthur Park, representatives of the people at Octorara and Pickqua. This call was accepted by him on the 6th of October, and at the urgent request of the commissioners who presented it, that an early day should be fixed for his ordination, the Presbytery met at the “Ackterara Meeting House” on the 13th of October, 1724, for that purpose.

“At this meeting of Presbytery—the first held on this spot—there were present as members, Thomas Craighead, of White Clay creek, George Gillespie, of Head of Christiana, Henry Hook, of Drawyers, Thomas Evans, of Pencader, and Alexander Hutchinson, of Bohemia, ministers, and Peter Bouchelle, elder. Mr. Craighead presided as Moderator.

“Mr. Boyd having passed the usual examination, the minutes of Presbytery record that “Proclamation being made three times by Mr. George Gillespie, at the door of the meeting house of Octorara, that if any person had any thing to object against the ordaining of Mr. Adam Boyd, they should make it known to the Presbytery now sitting, and no objection being made, they proceeded to his ordination, solemnly setting him apart to the work of the ministry, with prayer and imposition of the hands of the Presbytery. Mr. Henry Hook preaching the ordination sermon, and presiding in the work.”

Words to Live By:
To those of our readers who are not ordained teaching elders, the setting aside of qualified men to the office of the ministry in our Presbytery meetings may indeed sound foreign. But in another sense, those who are not ordained and not attenders of your regional Presbytery meetings still have the written record of Holy Scripture, such as 1 Timothy 4:14, where Paul wrote to young pastor Timothy and said, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.” (NASV)  The laying on of the hands of the presbytery  in our regional meetings have a biblical basis to them! It may indeed be a worthwhile day for you to attend as a layman or laywoman the proceedings of your local Presbytery some Saturday, or whenever they meet during the week. Visitors are welcome. Just talk to your pastor or a ruling elder for information on the next meeting.  It will enable you to pray more for your church, see the work of the Spirit in other nearby churches, and realize anew the biblical basis for being a Presbyterian!

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“The Distinctive Doctrines and Polity of Presbyterianism,” is the title of an address delivered by the Rev. Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, on the occasion of the Joint Centennial celebration of the Synods of Kentucky, 12 October 1883, at Harrodsburg, KY. First published in 1883, it was later reprinted in 1933 as part of the volume Centennial of Presbyterianism in Kentucky, 1783-1883. Addresses delivered at Harrodsburg, Kentucky, October 12, 1883. A full list of the contents includes [1.] Historical Address, by Rev. J. N. Sanders; [2.] The Dead of the Presbyterian Church in Kentucky, by Rev. Edward P.Humphrey; [3.] The Relation of the Presbyterian Church to Education in Kentucky, by Rev. L.G. Barbour; [4.] The Distinctive Doctrines and Polity of Presbyterianism, by Rev. Thomas Dwight Witherspoon; [5.] The Planting of Presbyterianism in Kentucky One Hundred Years Ago, by Rev. Moses D. Hoge.

witherspoon04THE DISTINCTIVE DOCTRINES & POLITY OF PRESBYTERIANISM.

BY REV. T.D. WITHERSPOON, D.D.

Every denomination of Christians has certain distinctive principles, which serve to differentiate it from other branches of the visible Church, and which constitute its raison d’etre—the ground more or less substantial of its separate organic existence. In proportion as these principles are vital and fundamental, they vindicate the body that becomes their exponent from the charge of faction or schism, and justify its maintenance of an organization separate and apart from that of all who traverse or reject them.

We are met today as Presbyterians. We have come to commemorate the first settlement of Presbyterianism in Kentucky. You have listened to the eloquent addresses of those who have traced the history of our Church in this commonwealth for a hundred years. They have told you of the first planting in this Western soil of a tender branch from our old and honored Presbyterian stock, of the storms it has encountered, of the rough winds that have beaten upon it, and yet of its steady growth through summer’s drought and winter’s chill, until what was erstwhile but a frail and tender plant, has become a sturdy oak with roots deep-locked in the soil, with massive trunk and goodly boughs and widespread branches overshadowing the land.

You have heard also, the thrilling narratives of the lives of those heroic men by whose personal ministry the Church was founded; of the toils they underwent, of the perils they encountered, of the hardships they endured that they might plant the standards of Presbyterianism in these Western wilds.

The question arises with especial emphasis under circumstances like these : What are the peculiar principles of the denomination whose centennial is celebrated with so much enthusiasm today? Is there anything in these principles that justifies such sacrifices and toils as were made by the noble men whose biographies have been read?  Is there anything in the distinctive doctrines and polity of this Church to render its settlement in Kentucky a hundred years ago, and its perpetuation and development through a century of conflict and struggle, a matter worthy of such joyous, grateful commemoration as we give today? Is there anything in these creeds and symbols, venerable with years, which we have received from our forefathers, which makes them an inheritance meet to be transmitted in their integrity and purity, with increasing veneration, to our children and to our children’s children forever?

These, Christian friends, are the questions that, through the kindness and partiality of my brethren, I am to endeavor to answer today. And in the fulfillment of my task, I invite you to walk with me for a little while about this, our ancestral Zion, to “mark well her bulwarks and consider her palaces that ye may tell it to the generation following.”

And first, let us endeavor to get a clear idea as to what constitute the distinctive principles of Presbyterianism, as to what there is that is peculiar in its doctrine and polity.  Confining myself strictly under the head of doctrine, to the department of ecclesiology or the doctrine of the Church, and viewing the polity of Presbyterianism in its only proper light as basing itself distinctly upon, and adjusting itself most accurately to that form of doctrine delivered in Scripture, I may say that, just as in our doctrine of Redemption, there emerge the historical five points, over which controversy has waged since the days of the Synod of Dort, so in our doctrine of the Church there are five points, constituting five distinctive principles of Church government, each one of which places our Church polity in sharp contrast with that of other Churches around us, and all of which together make up a system as unique as it is beautiful, as scriptural as it is complete, having nothing comparable to it in any other organization in the world.

Let us take up these five points of Presbyterianism successively, and endeavor to engrave them as clearly as possible upon our memories and upon our hearts.

  1. The first fundamental principle of Presbyterianism is that Church power is vested not in officers of any grade or rank, but in the whole corporate body of believers. Our doctrine is that Christ, who is the great Head of the Church, the alone fountain and source of all its power, has not vested this power primarily in a single officer who is the visible head of the Church and the vicar of Christ, as in the Roman Catholic Church, or in the body of Bishops or superior clergy as in the Episcopal Church, or in the whole body of the clergy as in the Methodist and  some other churches, but in the people, the whole body of the people, so that no man can attain to any office, exercise any authority, or wield any power in the Church, except he is called to that office, invested with that authority and clothed with that power by the voice of the people. Here, then, is a grand, fundamental difference between the Presbyterian Church and all those churches that are prelatical or hierarchical in form, in that ours is a government in which Christ rules through the voice of his people, his whole redeemed people, and not through any privileged class, any spiritual nobility, or aristocracy of grace.
  2. The second fundamental principle of Presbyterianism is that this power, though vested in the people, is not administered by them immediately, but through a body of officers chosen by them, and commissioned as their representatives to bear rule in Christ’s name. The offices that are to be filled have been ordained of Christ, and none may be added to those which he has ordained. The officers who fill these offices are chosen by a vote of the whole membership of the Church over which they are to rule, and yet are to be chosen under such special prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit who dwells in the Church, that whilst the outward vocation to office is from the Church, the inward call and commission to each officer is to be recognized as from Christ Himself, the great invisible and spiritual head. The only power, therefore, immediately exercised by the people is this most important and fundamental power, that of vocation. They choose those who shall administer the government over them. These rulers act as their representatives and so the government is a representative government, as distinguished from a pure democracy or a government of the people by themselves. This principle separates us from all churches that are congregational in form, as the first from all that are prelatic or hierarchical. This last distinguishes us, therefore, from the Congregational churches of England and of this country, from all churches of the Baptist faith and order, and from those churches around us that call themselves the Christian, or Reformed, in all of which questions of doctrine and discipline are decided by a direct vote of the whole congregation, whilst in ours these questions are settled by the voice of those officers who are chosen to bear rule.
  3. The third fundamental principle of Presbyterianism is that the whole administration of government in the Church has been committed to a single order of officers, all of whom, though having in some respects different functions to perform, are of co-ordinate and equal authority in the Church. It is true that the Presbyterian Church, after the pattern of Scripture, has two orders of officers, the elder and the deacon; but the deacon is not a ruler. He has no spiritual oversight or authority.  His office is purely executive.  He has charge only of the secular concerns of the Church. Its government is committed to a single order of officers, the presbyters or elders. These elders are of two classes. There is first a class who, not having been called of God to be preachers of the Gospel, but recognizing His call through the Church to bear rule, continue in their secular avocations, devote such portion of their time as they can spare from their business to the oversight and care of the flock, and exercise full authority as rulers over the house of God. These are called Ruling Elders, because their office is simply to rule.  There is a second class who, in addition to the call to bear rule, recognize a divine voice summoning them also to the work of preaching the Gospel, and this function of preaching, which is the highest and most honorable in the Church, demands their whole time, so that they give up secular callings, and are specially set apart of the Church to this higher function, and so are known as Teaching Elders or Ministers of the Word. But whilst this ministry of the Word entitles them to special honor, it confers no higher rank and invests with no superior authority. The minister in our church courts has no more authority than the ruling elder, so that we not only have in the Presbyterian Church the “parity of the clergy,” of which we hear so much, but the parity of the eldership, of the ruling elder with the teaching elder, a principle not to be found under any other form of church government.
  4. The fourth distinctive principle of Presbyterianism is that these Presbyters rule not singly but jointly in regularly-constituted assemblies or courts. This is a principle upon which I would lay particular emphasis; for in it the admirable genius of our system especially appears. Whilst there are functions that are purely administrative, such as preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, etc., which a Presbyter may, when so commissioned, perform separately and individually, yet all legislative and judicial functions are to be administered by assemblies or courts alone. And no one of these assemblies is competent to the transaction of any business unless representatives of both classes of Presbyters, ministers and ruling elders, are present.  There is no exercise of any several authority, as by a bishop or a presiding elder, in any part of the field.  There is no possibility of any one man power, for all authority must come with the sanction of a church court.
  5. The last distinctive principle of Presbyterianism is that these church courts are so subordinated to one another that a question of government or discipline may be carried by appeal or complaint or review from a lower to a higher court, representing a larger number of congregations, until every part of the Church is, through this due subordination, brought immediately under the supervision and control of the whole.  Thus our Church Sessions, which constitute the lowest order of assemblies, are, as many lie within a certain district, subordinated to a higher court or Presbytery, constituted of representatives from each of these Church Sessions, meeting twice every year and oftener if necessary.  The minutes of the Church Sessions all pass under the inspection of the Presbytery by way of review and control.  There is the right both of appeal and complaint to the Presbytery from any action of any of these Church Sessions; and Presbytery has in such cases all the right of a higher court or court of appeals.  The same is true of the Synods in relation to the Presbyteries, and of the General Assembly in reference to the Synods—so that the authority and oversight of the whole Church is brought to bear upon every part, and the right of appeal belongs to the humblest member of the Church, by which he may carry his cause through all intermediate courts to the General Assembly, the highest of all.

Here, then, to recapitulate, is our system of government—power vested in the great body of Christ’s people; administered through officers chosen by the people and commissioned of Christ; administered by a single order of officers equal in authority and rank; administered not severally but jointly, in duly organized assemblies or courts, and in assemblies or courts so subordinated to each other as to bind the whole mass together in a unity of mutual oversight, government, and control.

Such, in brief, is the system of church polity which we hold. It differs, as you will readily perceive, in its essential features from that of every other denomination. It is the system held by that great Presbyterian body, which is composed not only of the various branches of the Presbyterian Church in this country, in Canada, in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, but also of what are known as the Reformed Churches of Germany, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, France, etc., comprising in all a constituency of nearly if not altogether fifty millions of souls.

For this system we claim, without seeking to disparage that of any other representative body of Christians, the following points of excellence :

First.—Its exact Scripturalness As Presbyterians we hold that everything concerning the doctrines and polity of the Church must be brought to the sure criterion of the Word of God.  To that which is revealed nothing is to be added, and from it nothing is to be taken away. And so we hold to our form of government because we believe that essentially, in all its leading features, it is the same that was delivered by our Lord to His inspired apostles, and by them to the primitive Church.  We find, from the study of the New Testament, that the apostles were accustomed to “ordain elders in every city.” As there was but one church planted in each city these elders were, most of them, Ruling Elders.  We find that, as in the 20th chapter of Acts, these officers, are in one place called elders, and in another, bishops, showing that the New Testament bishop is not a diocesan officer, but only an elder considered as having the oversight of a congregation of believers.  We find that these elders, together with the deacons, constitute the only orders of permanent officers in the Church.  Even the apostles themselves, recognize themselves in the exercise of authority in the Church as elders.  Thus, Peter says :  “I, Peter, who am also an elder and a witness,” etc., and John, the apostle, begins his epistle : “The elder to the well-beloved Gaius,” etc.  We find that these elders are of two classes, exactly corresponding to those in the Presbyterian Church now; the “elders that rule,” and “those that labor in word and doctrine.” We find that their authority is exercised in duly organized courts. Timothy is ordained by the laying on of hands of a Presbytery. A Synod is convened at Jerusalem, composed of the apostles and brethren, before which is issued and decided an appeal from the Church at Antioch. Our entire system in all its five essential principles, is, therefore, found in Scripture.  Our polity is that revealed in the Word of God; and in its exact scripturalness, its close conformity to the “pattern given in the mount,” is found the first great excellency of Presbyterianism. To this scripturalness of our system, we have the testimony of the ablest and most learned biblical scholars, and even of those who differ with us in forms of government. In the Episcopal Church, for instance, which lays such exclusive claim to apostolic origin and descent, the ablest scholars and the profoundest theologians admit that, in the days of the apostles, the bishops were only pastors of churches, and the present order of diocesan bishops was not known.  This is the testimony of Archbishops Usher, Whately, and Tate, Bishop Lightfoot, Canon Farrar, Dean Stanley, Dean Howson, Lord Macaulay, Mr. Hallam the historian, and a host of others whom I could name, so that we justly claim for our system its strict accordance with the teachings of Scripture.

Second.Its vindication of the unity of the visible Church under all dispensations.  The Scriptures constantly speak of the visible

Church as being the same under both the old and new dispensations.  Paul does not represent the olive tree as being rooted out and another planted in its stead, but as having the Jewish branches broken off, and the Gentile branches engrafted in their room.  Now, under our Presbyterian theory of church government, and under it alone, have we a clear conception of this visible unity under both dispensations.

Let us look for a moment at the form of government under the old economy.  The first distinct reference we have to the Church as a visible organization is in connection with the calling of Abram, and his settlement in Canaan.  Doubtless, the visible Church had existed before, had existed since the offering of the first sacrifice before the gates of the lost Eden—but here is the first reference to its organic form.  And now what is that form?  The only officers we read of are the elders of Abraham’s house.  One of these, Eliezer, is distinctly mentioned (Gen. 24:2) as the “servant and elder of his house” (not the eldest servant, as in the authorized version, but the servant and elder).  We hear little of these elders at this time, for we hear little of the Church; but they are to play a very prominent part a little later.  At the time of the Exodus they appear as the distinctly-recognized officers of the Church; when Moses is sent as the deliverer of God’s people from the bondage of Egypt, he is directed (Ex. 3:16) to go and gather the “elders of Israel” together, and deliver his message to them, as divinely-appointed rulers of the congregation.  When he is sent to demand of Pharoah the release of the children of Israel, he is instructed to take with him (Ex. 3:18) the “elders of Israel,” as the representatives of the chosen people.  When in the wilderness Moses receives the law from the hands of Jehovah, on Mount Sinai, he writes it, and delivers it to the priests, the sons of Levi, and the elders (Deut. 31:9) as the spiritual rulers of God’s people. In every instance in which any authority is exercised or any discipline administered, we find these elders referred to as the rulers in the Church. They are sometimes called, “the elders;” sometimes “the elders of Israel;” sometimes “the elders of the congregation;” sometimes “the elders of the people;” but they appear on every page of the history of the Jewish Church, as its divinely-appointed and recognized rulers.

Nor was the term elder one simply of seniority or of respect, as some have supposed. There were many elders in age, who were not elders in office.  The term elder implied official rank and position. Thus, when the Lord directed Moses to select out of the elders of the tribes, seventy, who should constitute the highest council of the Church, or, as we might say, its General Assembly, he instructed him (Num. 11:16) to choose only those whom he certainly knew to be “elders of the people, and officers over them.”

The Jewish Church was, therefore, governed by elders in the days of Moses.  It was so in the days of Joshua, when there were elders in every city (Josh. 7:6; 20:4; 24:31; etc.), and in the days of Judges (Judges 2:7; 8:16; Ruth 4:2; etc.), and in the days of Samuel (1 Sam. 15:30; 16:4; etc.), and in the days of David (2 Sam. 5:3; 17:4; etc.), and in the days of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 21:11; 2 Kings 6:32; etc.), and in the days of Ezekiel (Ezek. 14:1; 20:1; etc.), and in the days of Ezra, when the Old Testament canon was completed (Ezra 10:14; etc.), and in the days when our Saviour appeared in the world (Matt. 21:23; 27:1; Mark 8:31; Luke 22:52; etc.). It is sometimes asserted that these elders were only civil rulers and not ecclesiastical; officers of the State and not of the Church; that the priests had the exclusive authority in spiritual matters, and the elders in secular matters. But, so far as this from being the case, that, as we shall soon see, the priests themselves, ruled, not as priests, but as elders, and in every act of government were associated with the “elders of the people,” while the council of seventy, or the Sanhedrin, as it was afterwards called, was composed entirely of elders, chosen from the different tribes of Israel. It is true, that, owing to the union of Church and State, these elders had many civil duties to perform. But their functions as civil officers, resulting from this temporary connection, were only incidental. Their highest functions were spiritual.  They were pre-eminently ecclesiastical rulers. They had charge of all the interests of the “Church of God which was in the Wilderness with the angel which spake to Moses on Mount Sinai.” The fact that they had civil duties to perform, and secular questions to decide, no more proves that they were not Church officers than does the sitting of the bishops of the established Church of England in the House of Lords prove that they are not Church officers.

The Old Testament Church was, therefore, Presbyterian, inasmuch as its whole government was administered by elders chosen from among the people and set apart to the office of rulers over the house of God. It was still further Presbyterian in the sense that these elders were of two distinct classes—elders of the priests and elders of the people. This appears very distinctly in the constitution of the Sanhedrin, or highest ecclesiastical council of the Jews.

This body consisted exclusively of elders (Numb. 11:16) chosen from all the tribes of Israel. Those from the tribe of Levi, were, of course, of the priestly office. They added to their function as elders, that of ministers before the altar in the sanctuary. To distinguish them from elders of other tribes, they were called priest-elders, or elders of the priests (2 Kings 19:2; Is. 37:2, etc.), and afterwards chief priests, one being taken in later days from each of the twenty-four courses in the temple. We have thus under the old economy “priest-elders” and “people-elders,” corresponding with the two classes of elders in the Presbyterian Church at the present
day.

These elders ruled in that olden time, not singly, but jointly. No officer in the Jewish Church had any such individual authority as that now exercised by the bishop of an Episcopal diocese, or the presiding elder of a Methodist district.  In every city there was a “bench of elders,” which held its sessions in the gate, and to which all questions of government were submitted. In smaller cities this court corresponded to a Church Session, in larger ones to a Presbytery. There was, as we learn from Jewish writers, a higher court, composed of not less than twenty-three elders, to which appeal could be had from the decision of the “elders of the gate,” corresponding in this respect to our Synod; whilst above all was the Sanhedrin, or ultimate court of appeal, corresponding to our General Assembly.

It will thus appear that the Church under the old dispensation was essentially Presbyterian, that in the setting up of the new dispensation no change in the form of government was needed, and no breach in the continuity of the Church was made, as Archbishop Whately has so admirably said.  (Kingdom of Christ, pp. 29, ff. Ed. of Carter & Bros., N.Y., 1864) :

“It appears highly probably—I might say morally certain—that wherever a Jewish Synagogue existed that was brought the whole or the chief part of it to embrace the Gospel, the apostles did not there, as much form a ‘Christian church (or congregation, Ecclesia) as make an existing congregation Christian’ [the italics are his own] ‘by introducing the Christian sacraments and worship, and establishing whatever regulations were requisite for the newly-adopted faith, leaving the machinery (if I may so speak) of government unchanged, the rulers of synagogues, elders and other officers (whether spiritual or ecclesiastical or both), being already provided in the existing institutions.”  “And,” he continues, “it is likely that several of the earliest Christian churches did originate in this way; that is, that they were converted synagogues, which became Christian churches as soon as the members, or the main part of the members, acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah.  * * * * And when they founded a church in any of those cities in which (and such were probably a very large majority), there was no Jewish Synagogue that received the Gospel, it is likely that they would conform, in a great measure, to the same model.”

And, as thus the unity of the visible Church, under the two dispensations, appears in this element of Presbytery, which runs through and characterizes its whole polity, so is it with the unity of the Church militant and the Church triumphant; for in that apocalyptic vision which was given to John of the future glory of Christ’s redeemed and ransomed Church, there still appear, as the representatives of this same principle of Presbytery, the “four and twenty elders surrounding the throne.” Well may we give honor to a system which thus vindicates the unity of Christ’s witnessing Church under all dispensations, to the end of time and through the cycles of eternity.

Third.Its superiority as a basis for the organic unity of the whole visible Church in the world.  It must be evident that a system which shall unite all Christian people in the bond of a common unity must have provision by which, on the one hand, every part of the Church shall be subordinated to the authority of the whole, and by which, on the other, there shall be the utmost protection and security for the rights and liberties of each individual member.

The first element in this unity, due subordination, is secured very perfectly by the system of hierarchy; that which finds its expression in the Church of Rome—but it is a unity in which the rights and liberties of the private member are completely sacrificed to the oppression and tyranny of the governing power. In the system of independency or congregationalism on the other hand, the rights of the individual are secured, except against that most fearful of all despotisms, the despotism of a majority against whose prejudice or passion there is no protection by the right of appeal. But this liberty is at the expense of due subordination. The system of Presbyterianism secures a unity as complete as that of the Church of Rome, and at the same time a protection for the rights of the individual such as is not found in any other system of jurisprudence, either civil or ecclesiastical.  For while it is the boast of our civilization that, by our system of appellate courts the humblest citizen may carry his cause from a lower to a higher tribunal, and so receive an award which is free from all taint of local prejudice or personal malice, yet, in fact, the exercise of this right of appeal is limited by its costliness, and only the favored few who have the means to employ counsel and assume responsibility can carry their cause to the Court of Appeals.

But in the Presbyterian Church the humblest and poorest member can have his cause carried, without any expense, from Church Session to Presbytery, from Presbytery to Synod, and from Synod to General Assembly. The ablest counsel in the land is at his service without one cent of compensation or fee, and he may obtain, as is often done, the voice of the whole Church in the decision of a question in which he feels that his rights or his interests are involved.

FourthThe flexibility by which this system adjusts itself to all stages and conditions in the life of the Church. If you should conceive a man with his wife and infant children thrown by shipwreck upon a heathen island, if he be a Christian believer, and his family a Presbyterian family, then he carries with him a complete Presbyterian Church. Upon him, as the head of his house, the office of the Presbytery or eldership devolves.  His wife is the deaconess; his children are the baptized members.  There is a complete “church in his house.” As his sons come to manhood, or heathen men are converted and taught in the way of the Lord, they are admitted by him to share in the office of the Presbytery, but the Church is complete at the very moment when he is thrown upon the island, and there is no other form of church government under which this would be true.

Again, if the whole Christian world were, today, to resolve to come into organic union under a single form of government, there is (with the exception of the Papal, which, as we have seen, secures only the unity of a resistless and remorseless despotism) no system which could be adopted without a strain too severe to be borne, except that Presbyterian system which we have endeavored in these pages to sketch. No Baptist Convention or Congregational Association that could gather in one place could be large enough to represent this whole Ecumenical Church. No Methodist Conference or Episcopal Council, even though they were limited to diocesan bishops, could find a hall large enough for their assembly. But our Presbyterian system, without a strain upon its machinery, would add another to its ascending series of courts, and as now Church Sessions are represented by delegates in Presbyteries, and Presbyteries by delegates in General Assemblies, so General Assemblies would be represented by delegates similarly chosen in an Ecumenical Council, and the unity of the whole visible Church finds expression without a moment’s confusion or jar.

There are many other excellencies which we might claim for our Presbyterian system, such as its spiritual power through its peculiar hold upon the family relation, its historic bearing upon the problems of civil and religious liberty, etc. I content myself with a single additional reason for our love and veneration for our time-honored Presbyterianism.

FifthThe historic associations that cluster about it.  From the days of the apostles until now the Church, in its purest forms, has been Presbyterian. The Waldenses, who, in their native valleys of the Piedmont, maintained the purity of the primitive doctrine and the simplicity of Christian ritual, amidst all the corruptions and superstitions of the Church of Rome, were Presbyterian. Claiming to have received their doctrine and discipline directly from the apostles; refusing to submit to the authority of the Church of Rome; remaining unshaken in their simple faith through all the fires of persecution and of martyrdom; extorting even from their persecutors reluctant but explicit testimony to the simplicity of their piety and the blamelessness of their lives, they maintained the light of a pure Presbyterian doctrine and order through all the darkness of the middle ages, and there, in the secluded valleys of the Piedmont, it was still blazing when Luther and Farel and Zwingle and Calvin kindled on the highest mountain tops the watchfires of the Reformation.

Another witness through these dark ages for a pure Presbyterianism, is found in the church of the ancient Culdees, of Scotland.  This church owes its establishment to the labors of Columba, a native of Ireland, who, about the middle of the sixty century went, as an evangelist, into the midst of the Picts of Scotland. Having converted great multitudes of these fierce tribes to Christianity, he established upon the island of Iona a seminary of learning for the training of pastors and evangelists for his work. The ministers trained in this seminary were called Culdees, and the churches founded by them Culdee Churches—the world Culdee being most probably a corruption of the Latin words Cultor Dei, worshipper of the true God. These churches of the Culdees, or worshippers of God, existed for many centuries without holding any connection with the Church of Rome. Indeed, they not only refused to acknowledge the authority of the Romish See, but they protested against its errors and innovations, and maintained their ground successfully against its usurpations and encroachments until the very dawn of the Reformation. Their form of government was essentially Presbyterian. They had a Synod or Assembly, to the members of which they gave the name of Seniores, or Elders. These elders, acting in their collective capacity, elected and ordained to the ministry. All ministers were of equal rank. Those who had permanent charge of churches were called bishops, but their office and authority were simply those of pastors of individual churches. They held no higher rank, and exercised no greater authority than the other Seniores who sat with them in council.

We have thus two distinct lines of Presbyterianism running back to apostolic times, and the memories which gather about us today are those of a grand historic Church.  Pre-eminently the “ Church of the Covenant,” her covenants have been sealed with blood.  Those primitive martyrs who “were stoned, were sawn asunder,” etc., were witnesses for the principles for which we contend today.  Those heroic Vallenses who were hunted from crag to crag of their native mountains, who were hurled by their persecutors over the steep precipices and dashed in pieces on the rocks below, were Presbyterians.  Those grand old Covenanters of Scotland, who “loved not their lives to the death” for “Christ and His crown,” were Presbyterians.  This old Church has come down to us with her vesture, like that of her Lord, crimsoned with blood. The most illustrious martyrs, the most renowned confessors, the most valiant reformers have been hers. Let us venerate her for what she has been; let us love her for what she is. In this centennial year, let us fling forth her encrimsoned banners freshly to the breeze. Let us send forth a larger band of evangelists to carry our standards over rugged mountains, and plant them in sequestered valleys, in rude hamlets and secluded villages. Let us kindle the light of our pure faith and scriptural polity in ever-increasing centers of influence and power.  Let us fully endow and equip our denominational institutions of learning, that our young men may be deeply grounded in all those principles for which our forefathers sacrificed and toiled. Let us gird ourselves like men for the work of perpetuating, establishing, and enlarging the sphere of influence of our beloved Church.

And may each one of us so live and so labor that when the testimony of this generation is borne and its work ended, we may transmit to our children, in its purity and in its integrity, the legacy of Presbyterianism which we have received from our sires, having our names honorably linked with the increase of its prosperity, and the enlargement of its influence in the world.

[emphasis added]

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