January 2015

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We are pleased to have Dr. David W. Hall with us today as guest author. Rev. Hall has served as the pastor of the Midway Presbyterian Church in Powder Springs, Georgia since 2003. Prior to that, he was pastor of Covenant Presbyterian in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. While at Covenant, he was able to host an Internet-based magazine called Premise, one of the earliest Christian magazines to appear on the Internet. It began in 1994 and had a five-year run, ending in 1999. Twenty years ago! Ancient history, when speaking of the Internet!

Premise was taken down off the Web quite some time ago, but the PCA Historical Center is grateful to have been able to preserve the magazine’s content. Dr. Hall’s article, which follows, is part of that content, and we hope to make more Premise articles available in the future.

Francis Makemie and Freedom of Speech

by Dr. David W. Hall.

Rev. Francis Makemie on Trial before Lord CornburyOne illustration of how religion and politics were interwoven, especially the religion and politics of strongly Scottish Calvinist sentiment, can be seen from the experience of Ulster Presbyterian missionary Francis Makemie (b. 1658). Makemie had been reared on tales of the Scottish rebellion that adopted the Solemn League and Covenant, and he was educated at the University of Glasgow one generation after Samuel Rutherford.  Commissioned by the Presbytery of Laggan, a fiercely Calvinistic stronghold, the first Presbyterian minister on the North American continent landed on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay in 1683. Over time, he earned a reputation as a threat to the Anglicans in the area, and he was reported to the Bishop of London (who never had authority over Makemie) to be a pillar of the Presbyterian sect. His work was commended by Puritan giant Cotton Mather, and his correspondence with Increase Mather indicates considerable commonality of purpose among early American Calvinists. Cotton Mather would later recommend a Catechism composed by Makemie for his New England churches.

Makemie organized at least seven Presbyterian churches committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Scottish ecclesiastical order between 1683-1705. In between the organizing of churches along Scottish models—the Scottish League and Covenant seemed to be blossoming in America, perhaps more than in its native Scotland—Makemie served as a pastor in Barbados from 1696 to 1698. He also sheltered persecuted Irish Calvinist ministers from 1683-1688. Following the Glorious Revolution in 1688 the need for shelter in America diminished, and some of these religious refugees returned to Ireland and Scotland. Makemie, however, remained in America, found a wife, and continued organizing Presbyterian congregations throughout Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In a 1699 letter, Makemie still spoke reverentially of Geneva as a Calvinist center.

Ministers from the Church of England protested Makemie’s church planting, caricaturing his ministry as subversive and nonconformist. Eventually the Sheriff of Long Island at the behest of the British Governor of New York, Lord Cornbury arrested Makemie and another Presbyterian colleague, John Hampton, for preaching without a license by. On January 21, 1707, the warrant for their arrest charged them with spreading “their Pernicious Doctrine and Principles” in Long Island without “having obtained My License for so doing, which is directly contrary to the known laws of England.”

Cornbury’s oppressiveness was well known from several earlier cases, and Makemie realized that if freedom of religion were not granted in one colony, America would never have the kind of free expression needed. He may have viewed New York as a mission for religious freedom; en route to Boston from New Jersey, he could have simply avoided Cornbury’s territory. In what would become one of the earliest tests of freedom of speech in America, this Irish Calvinist was indicted by an Anglican authority (also exposing an early establishment of religion in New York) and held for two days prior to trial.

Makemie appeared before Cornbury (who called the missionary “a Disturber of Governments”) in the council chamber at Fort Anne, New York, on the afternoon of January 23, 1707. Lord Cornbury (Edward Hyde) charged: “How dare you take upon you to preach in my Government without my License”! Makemie answered that Parliament had granted liberty to preach in 1688 under William and Mary. Cornbury contended that such laws did not extend to the American colonies. Makemie answered that the act of Parliament was not restricted to Great Britain alone, but applied to all her territories; Makemie also produced certificates from courts in Virginia and Maryland that had already recognized his work. When Cornbury argued that ‘all politics is local,’ including rights and penalties, Makemie reminded him and his attorneys that the Act of Toleration was applicable in Scotland, Wales, Barbados, Virginia, and Maryland, and that without express restriction it was also applicable in all “her Majesties Dominions”—unless, of course, New York was not considered under her dominion.

Notwithstanding, Cornbury did not want Makemie or other “Strolling” preachers in his territory. Makemie further argued that strolling Quakers were permitted religious liberty in the colonies, which brought Cornbury’s equal-opportunity-oppressor rejoinder: “I have troubled some of them, and will trouble them more.” When Cornbury revived his charge that Makemie was spreading “pernicious doctrines,” the Ulster missionary answered that the Westminster Confession of Faith was very similar to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England and challenged “all the Clergy of York to show us any false or pernicious doctrines therein.” Makemie even stated his willingness to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles should that satisfy the Governor.

Earlier Makemie had applied to the Governor to preach in a Dutch Reformed Church in New York and had been denied permission. His speaking in a private home gave rise to the charge of preaching unlawfully. Cornbury reiterated that Makemie was preaching without license, charging him to post bond for his good behavior and to promise not to preach again without licence. Although he disputed any charges against his behavior, Makemie consented to post bond for his good behavior (knowing there were no provable charges), but he refused to post bond to keep silence, promising in Lutheresque words that “if invited and desired by any people, we neither can, nor dare” refuse to preach. Like Luther, Makemie could do no other.

Cornbury then ruled, “Then you must go to Gaol?” Makemie’s answer is instructive.

[I]t will be unaccountable to England, to hear, that Jews, who openly blaspheme the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and disown the whole Christian religion; Quakers who disown the Fundamental Doctrines of the Church of England and both Sacraments; Lutherans, and all others, are tolerated in Your Lordships Government; and only we, who have complied, and who are still ready to comply with the Act of Toleration, and are nearest to, and likest the Church of England of any Dissenters, should be hindered, and that only the Government of New-York and the Jersies. This will appear strange indeed.

Cornbury responded that Makemie would have to blame the Queen, to which the defendant answered that he did not blame her Majesty, for she did not limit his speech or free religious expression. At last, Lord Cornbury relented and signed a release for the prisoners, charging both Makemie and John Hampton, however, with court costs. Before leaving, Makemie requested that the Governor’s attorneys produce the law that delimited the Act of Toleration from application in any particular American colony. The attorney for Cornbury produced a copy, and when Makemie offered to pay the attorney for a copy of the specific paragraph that limited the Act of Parliament, the attorney declined and the proceedings came to a close.

MakemieStatueIn a parting shot, Lord Cornbury confessed to Makemie, “You Sir, Know Law.” Makemie was later acquitted,  and free speech and free expression of religion, apart from government’s approval, took a stride forward in the New World. Makemie pioneered religious liberty at great risk, and all who enjoy religious freedom remain in debt to this Scots-Irish son of Calvin.

Upon hearing of Makemie’s eventual (though delayed) release, the esteemed Cotton Mather wrote to his colleague the Rev. Samuel Penhallow on July 8, 1707: “That Brave man, Mr. Makemie, has after a famous trial at N. York, bravely triumphed over the Act of Uniformity, and the other poenal laws for the Church of England, without permitting the matter to come so far as to pleading the act of toleration. He has compelled an acknowledgement that lawes aforesaid, are but local ones and have nothing to do with the Plantations. The Non-Conformist Religion and interest is . . . likely to prevail mightily in the Southern Colonies. I send you two or three of Mr. Makemie’s books to be dispersed. . . .”

In another blow for religious freedom, the next year a Somerset County, Maryland, court approved the certification for a Protestant Dissenter church to be established. By a narrow 3-2 vote of the court, Makemie secured liberty for Presbyterian churches under “an act of parliament made the first year of King William and Queen Mary establishing the liberty of Protestant Dissenters.”

Makemie was also instrumental in laying the groundwork for an Irish priest, William Tennent, to immigrate to America. Tennent would later establish the “Log College,” and one of its students, the Rev. Samuel Finley, started the West Nottingham Academy in 1741. These schools, much like Calvin’s Academy in Geneva, became the proving grounds of the American republic. From this one Academy came founders of four colleges, two U. S. representatives, one senator, two members of the Continental Congress, and two signatories of the Declaration of Independence (Benjamin Rush and Richard Stockton).  Samuel Finley went on to become president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) in 1761.

This developing American Calvinism, far from the modern caricature as a narrow or severe sect, was a boost to personal freedom and civil discourse in its heyday. The first American Presbyterian pastor helped entrench the right to free expression and free worship by appealing to the principles of the Glorious Revolution. A tidal wave of Calvinistic thinking came to America through immigrants like Makemie and continued to radiate outward.

Images :
1. The trial of Francis Makemie
2. Commemorative statue of Francis Makemie

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Presbyterians in Southwest Virginia Declare Independence from England

In September of 1774, the first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to protest some British laws which were deemed injurious to the people of the American colonies. One of these laws was the surrender of all territory north of the Ohio River to Quebec, a Roman Catholic province. With that protestation, these early risings of independence sent petitions to their British rulers, urging at the same time that the people of the colonies take action by boycotting certain British goods. All over the colonies, committees came together to discuss their collective responses to this call.

On January 20, 1775, a group of people representing southwest Virginia, met in the town of Abington, Virginia. A committee was formed, made up primarily of Presbyterians in two churches pastored by Charles Cummings. Their names deserve to be mentioned, as they were the key Presbyterian laymen of that area. They were, along with their rank, Colonel William Christian, Colonel William Preston, Captain Stephen Trigg, Major Arthur Campbell, John Montgomery, James McGavock. William Campbell, Thomas Madison, Daniel Smith, William Russell, Evan Shelby, and William Edmundson.

After discussion together, they as a body sent an address to the Second Continental Congress, soon to meet, which included the following words:

“We by no means desire to shake off our duty or allegiance to our lawful sovereign, but on the contrary, shall ever glory in being the loyal subjects of a Protestant prince descended from such illustrious progenitors, so long as we can enjoy the free exercise of our religion as Protestants and our liberties and properties as British subjects. But if no pacific measures shall be proposed or adopted by Great Britain, and our enemies will attempt to dragoon us out of those inestimable privileges which we are entitled to as subjects, and to reduce us to slavery, we declare that we are deliberately and resolutely determined never to surrender them to any power upon earth, but at the expense of our lives.”

Here was no wild-eyed statement of revolution, but rather a carefully formulated statement of subjection to lawful authority, as long as the latter did not seek to take away the rights and privileges of its citizens, and thereby make them little more than slaves. It was thought that the wording of this declaration was essentially that of Presbyterian pastor Charles Cummings.

They were sent to the Second Continental Congress as the spirit of southwest Virginia with regards to the important issues of liberty and justice for all.

Words to Live By: “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22 (ESV);

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Two Cases that Came Before the Supreme Court.

When the Presbyterian Church in America was formed in 1973, most of the churches leaving the old denomination were able to keep their property. Off-hand, I know of only one church that lost its property. Moreover, these churches did not have to pay exit fees. This was a great providence of God in allowing the faster initial growth of the new denomination, and the legal basis for this provision came as a result of the  work of two churches in Georgia. Savannah, GA pastors Clifford Brewton and Todd Allen, together with their respective Sessions and congregations, had the decade before fought the matter through the civil courts, all the way to the Supreme Court, and so paved the way for the 274 churches that would later form the PCA. 


Reprinted from Contact: Newsletter of the Presbyterian Churchmen United, Number 6 (January 1971)

(NOTE: The following address by Judge Leon F. Hendricks was delivered at a rally sponsored by the Presbyterian Churchmen United, and held at the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi.)

The question is simple. The answer is difficult and complicated.

Before an answer is attempted there are other questions that arise.

Is a congregation of the Presbyterian Church, U. S. in reality the true legal owners of the church property or does it legally belong to Presbytery, Synod, or to the General Assembly of the denomination known as the Presbytenan Church in the United States?

Ultimately, the question is whether a majority of the members of a local Presbytenan church may withdraw from the Presbyterian Church in the United States and take wIth them the title, use and control of the church property.

The United States Supreme Court in the case of Watson vs. Jones, 13 Wall 679, 20 L Ed. 666, decided in the year 1871, classified the questions concerning the right of property held by religious bodies under three headings.

Most of our local Presbyterian churches would fall in the third category, to-wit:

“Where the property is not subject to any expressed trust and is held by a congregation, whose church government is hierarchIal or connectional in nature.”

The Presbyterian Church, U. S. is representative in government. Some of our civil courts have put our Church in the same class as Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist, whose government is hierarchial or connectional in nature. For this reason these civil courts have held that the property of a congregation is subject to an implied trust in favor of the General Church. The Supreme Court of Florida and South Carolina have so held and one or two local congregations in these states lost their property when they withdrew from the General Church.

The Supreme Court of Mississippi has never had before it a case involving a congregatIon of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.

Prior to January 19, 1970 it would have been the opinion of many lawyers:

(1) “That if a Presbyterian Church is incorporated under the laws of Mississippi, as some churches now are, legal ownershIp is in the entity known as the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, for an example;

(2) “That the legal title is in the Corporation but the Corporation holds title in trust for and on behalf of the Congregation which may be identified in case of division, by the governing body of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. The trust extends to an implied prohibition against diversion to uses not approved by the Presbyterian Church or foreign to its doctrines;

(3) “That ownership is in the Corporation. Control is in the Congregation, but identity is not determined by a majority of the members and the control is limited by and subject to the government of the Presbyterian Church in the United Church in the United States;

(4) “That a majority of the members of the local church cannot withdraw from the Presbyterian Church in the United States and take with the church properties without the consent of the general Church.” In my opinion the Presbytery could give that consent under the provisions of our Book of Church Order.

Now, what happened on January 19, 1970? The two Savannah Presbyterian Churches finally won the legal battle for their local church property. The Supreme Court of the United States refused by a vote to again hear the appeal of Presbyterian Church in the United States against the Savannah churches on the ground that no substantial federal question had been raised by the parent Church’s appeal. By this action the decision of the Supreme Court of Georgia, rendered on April 14, 1969, became final. Thus, The Hull Memorial and the Eastern Heights Churches of Savannah were awarded their property and the legal title was declared to be in the local congregations.

In 1966 two churches withdrew from the Presterian Church, U. S. The Presbytery of Savannah and the general church intervened and attempted to take the property of each of the churches. The trial court of Georgia decided in favor of the local churches and on appeal the Supreme Court of Georgia affrmed. On petition the Supreme Court of the U. S. took jurisdiction and reversed on the grounds that the Georgia Courts decided the controversy on ecclesiastical law which the Civil Courts could not do under the first and fourteenth amendments, and sent the cases back to the Supreme Court of Georgia for further proceeding not inconsistent with the decision of the U. S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Georgia then adopted the “Neutral principle” approach and found the legal title in the local churches and awarded them their respective properties. So this ended the matter.

Hence, it is the judgment of many that in any future case involving local property of a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in the United States, a State Civil Court cannot apply the implied trust theory. This would violate the decision in the Savannah cases, and also the holding in the Maryland Church of God case.

This conclusion is reached because there is no ecclesistical law in the Presbyterian Church, U. S., which binds the local church property to any superior tribunal. Our Book of Church Order gives the control of local church property to the local congregation. It can buy, sell and mortgage such property. The only case where a superior ecclesiastical tribunal has anything to do with local church property is when a church ceases to exist and no disposition has been made of its property. Then and only then the property shall be transferred to The Presbytery. This has always been the historic position of The Presbyterian Church, U. S. This position may now be enforced in a civil court.

It is hoped and believed that the other states, as Georgia did, will adopt the “Neutral principles of law” approach; which means legal and equitable principles of ownership are studied and applied to a factual sItuation, such as, Where is the title vested? Who paid for the property? Who has the use and control since the church was built? Who controls the membership? Who has the authority to buy, sell or mortgage the property?

The State Courts will find that for most local Presbyterian Churches the answer will be the local congregations.

The State Courts may also now consider special state statutes govern:ng church property. We have a good one in Mississippi. which is Section 5350 of the Code of 1942.

When a church is organized under it the section provides that the church “shall be a distinct and independent society” and that its property “shall not be divested out of the same, or encumbered, except by a deed, deed of trust, or mortgage, duly executed under the authority of a resolution adopted by a majority vote of the members present at a meeting duly called by that purpose, at which meeting at least twenty percent (20%) of the members in good standing of such organized society must be present.” If your church is not incorporated under the provisions of that section I suggest that it be done. The procedure is simple.

Who Owns Your Church Property? At this time, it is my opinion that the local congregation does. The General Church recognizes this. Because it intervened in the Savannah cases, and one or two overtures were offered at the Memphis, 1970, General Assembly to change the Book of Church Order as to property so as to give control to The Presbytery. Thus our Higher Court realizes the force of the Georgia cases and the Maryland case. Careful watch will have to be made of the aforesaid overtures.

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Next week we will return to the Leonard Van Horn series on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. [here’s where everybody says, Awww!!]. But with yesterday being the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, I thought we would post one of his last published messages. A few aspects of this message are, admittedly, dated. But there is much sound wisdom for preachers, and with an eye to the basic principles noted, applicable for anyone who would communicate the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. We will return to Van Horn’s lectures on the Shorter Catechism next Lord’s Day.



It seems strange to speak of unevangelized people in this great Christian country of ours. And yet there are multitudes, amounting in the aggregate to millions, who never hear the Gospel preached, who make no claim to be in any true sense Christians, and who, practically considered, are as truly heathen as if they were in the heart of Africa or China. When we come to look more closely into the condition of these unevangelized people we find them falling naturally under two great classes: first, those who by reason of geographical isolation are beyond the reach of the stated means of grace; and second, those who by reason of social or spiritual isolation fail to come under the influence of the means of grace that are ready at hand.

As an illustration of the former class we have multitudes of people in secluded mountain hollows and out on the broad prairies who have no church edifice of any Christian denomination, or other place of stated religious worship, within twenty or thirty miles of their homes. They are practically without the opportunity of hearing the Gospel or of being taught the way of life. As illustrative of the latter class we have in all our great cities communities of the under classes of society, congregated by thousands in attics, basements, tenement-houses, and flats, who are within five minutes’ walk of churches and mission chapels whose doors are freely open to them, in which they are invited to seats without cost, in halls lighted, warmed, and supplied with the best services of ministry and choir; and yet who, from long-cherished prejudices and misconceptions, from a social ostracism real or imagined, refuse all invitations to enter, and live and die within sound of church bells, “so near and yet so far.” We suppose ourselves to have gotten a hearing. The unevangelized people are before us; how shall we preach?

I do not know how to answer this question better than by giving a concrete case. A few weeks since I had the opportunity, which I had long coveted, of hearing for the first time the most successful preacher to the unevangelized masses that I know. Going to the nearest railway station, hiring a horse and riding thirty miles across two mountain ranges, I came at sunset to the little county-seat in whose court-house the services were being held, there being no church edifice of any denomination in the place. It was in the latter part of May, when the people were all in the midst of the busiest season with their crops, and when it was most difficult to secure a congregation. As we entered the court-house at the hour of service I was astonished to find it packed to its utmost capacity, with many outside who could not get in. The dingy and uncomfortable court-room was only dimly lighted by one or two flickering coal-oil lamps. There were no musical attractions beyond the presence of a brother with a good voice who, accompanied by a small organ, led very simply in the singing of the most familiar Gospel hymns. It was evident that the preaching was what had gathered this great crowd of people, most of whom rarely if ever heard the Gospel preached. I had, therefore, full opportunity to study the preacher and the sermon—a sermon which, admirable from beginning to end, produced so profound an impression upon the people that I was not surprised when one of the rude mountaineers told me, after the service, that if that man preached a few days longer the court-house yard would not hold the people that would gather to hear.

Taking this sermon as a model of the kind of preaching needed, the following conclusions, I think, may be safely reached:

First, as to subject-matter, it is not necessary that we should select any out-of-the-way themes, or sensational topics, or subjects different from those that we would preach to one of our ordinary congregations of unconverted people. The text selected was John xii. 21, “We would see Jesus;” the theme, the threefold one, Jesus as a Friend; Jesus as a Savior; Jesus as a Brother. The sermon was as evangelical as possible—a simple setting forth of Christ in His varied relations to men. It is a common mistake to suppose that people who are not accustomed to attend church will not be interested in the simple story of the cross. On the other hand, if we will reflect a moment, we will see that there are reasons why they should be more interested in a simple Gospel sermon than those who are constant attendants upon the sanctuary, and yet who have not yielded their hearts to Christ. Because men never hear preaching it is not to be supposed for a moment that they do not think, and think profoundly, on the subject of religion. Many of them are the children of pious parents. They have drifted away from their early moorings, but have retained to a greater or less degree the influence of early religious impressions. All of them are, in the light of conscience, self-convicted sinners, however they may strive to close their ears to the verdict of the inward and spiritual monitor whose voice they can not altogether hush. Hence the story of the cross, of One who died for sin, of One whose blood cleanses from guilt, is just the story that they need to hear; and it comes home to them with all the more power because they have not been case-hardened by its frequent repetition in their ears, as those have who all their lives have been sitting under the sound of the Gospel. It is the dictate of the highest spiritual philosophy, as well as a conclusion from the largest experience and observation, that the subject-matter of our preaching to the unevangelized should be preeminently Christ in His person and His work; that in a stricter sense than under any other circumstances we should hold ourselves to the law of the great Apostle, and “know nothing among men save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

But passing to a second point, when we come to the manner of the preaching, we may learn much from the study of the sermon to which I have alluded. Taking it again as my guide, I lay down as my first principle that the preaching shall be sympathetic in tone. One of the first rules laid down for the orator is, “ Make much use of sympathetic emotion.” A great writer on sacred rhetoric pronounces it “the orator’s right arm.” This is particularly true where those whom you are to address are, from causes already alluded to, disposed to regard themselves as outcasts from Christian sympathy. It is indispensable that there shall be constituted between preacher and hearers at the earliest possible moment the bond of a common sympathy. Unfortunately, the attempts to do this are often exceedingly unwise. There is sometimes a maudlin assurance of profound and pitiful concern that is so patronizing and so condescending in its tone that it offends and provokes. There is with a certain class of self-styled evangelists a species of demagogism that seeks to ingratiate itself with the non-churchgoing masses by pandering to the spirit of opposition to the churches. Men of this class denounce the churches as cold and proud and seclusive. They endeavor to make of the indifference of Christian people in general toward outsiders the dark background on which their own yearning solicitude and affectionate regard may stand conspicuously forth. There are no greater enemies to the community than these mountebanks, whose chief stock in trade consists of abuse of the churches, and who conceive it to be their mission to widen the breach between the churches and the masses of the people, and thus undermine the power of the church to do them good.

The sermon of which I speak was entirely free from both these faults. The speaker in the treatment of his first head—Christ as a Friend—set forth with wonderful power and beauty Christ’s philanthropic interest in men—all men. He dwelt upon and illustrated His sympathy with the toils, cares, sicknesses, and sorrows, especially of those in the humbler walks of life. While the preacher made no reference to his own sympathy with men, yet, from beginning to close, you were impressed with the thought that the disciple had caught the spirit of the Master, and that there was in his bosom, tho not expressed in words, something of the same divine love for the souls of men, and the same tender sympathy with them in their troubles, which he was showing to be so conspicuous a feature in the character and life of Christ. No wonder then that long before he had concluded this first head he had that great throng of rough children of the forest so completely under his power that he could move them to tears at will. And this is and must always be the first element of power in dealing with these unevangelized people. We must get hold of their sympathies. We must get into their hearts.

A second principle to be laid down is that the preaching must be candid and thoroughgoing in its dealing with sin. When our mountain evangelist had presented fully under that first head what might be called the humanitarian view of Christ in His relations to men, he passed with all the momentum of the sympathy awakened to his second thought—that men need something more than a friend—they need a Savior from sin. And never in my life did I hear a more terrific arraignment of sin, not sin in the abstract, but sin in the concrete, the sin of the men and women before the speaker as it stood out in the light of their own memories and under the scourge of their own consciences while he spoke. But for the hold which he had gotten upon them in the first head of his discourse, his hearers would have revolted against the strong arraignment; but, with that hold, his sharpest rebukes were but the faithful woundings of a friend. The arrow went home, armed with the resistless power of love.

And so I contend that in all our preaching to the unevangelized, we must deal closely and faithfully with these great questions of guilt and depravity. We must presuppose the presence and power of conscience. We must expect the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. That was an unevangelized man before whom Paul “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” until the man trembled. Those were for the most part unevangelized people before whom John spoke of “the ax laid at the root of the tree,” and of “the chaff to be consumed with unquenchable fire.”

A third principle illustrated in the sermon is that the preaching should be characterized by great fulness and circumstantiality of Scriptural narrative. Persons who have been trained from childhood to listen to preaching may be held for three quarters of an hour to a train of logical reasoning or doctrinal exposition; but for those without this training it will be found that a large proportion of the sermon must be occupied with incident and illustration. Fortunately for the speaker the Scriptures are a great storehouse of incidents and illustrations, supernaturally preserved, and fitted to his hand. And there is this advantage in addressing the class to whom the true evangelist goes, that these stories come to them with a freshness and with the charm of a novelty that they do not possess for those to whom they have been repeated over and over again. It was exceedingly interesting to look into the faces of the simple-hearted mountain people and watch the play of emotion as the speaker, in his inimitable way, would tell the story of Christ’s dealing with some penitent or suffering soul while He was on earth. These were the passages of his sermon that were most replete with power, and so I contend that one characteristic of all preaching to these unevangelized masses should be fulness of Scripture narrative. I have also added circumstantiality, for the preacher is apt to forget that these people are not as familiar with the details of the Gospel narratives as ordinary sermon-hearers are. In our customary preaching we may and ought to presume upon a certain familiarity with the details of the more prominent incidents in the life of our Lord. In narrating them it is sufficient to. touch upon certain salient points, to give, as it were, mere outline sketches, trusting to the memory to fill in the rest; but in speaking to those who have not had the advantages of our ordinary hearers, the Scriptural narrative needs to be presented in its minuter details, and much of the strength and impressiveness of the narration will depend upon the graphic and vivid way in which the details are presented. One great secret of success in strictly evangelistic preaching is found in this power of Scriptural narration. Mr. Moody has it to a wonderful degree. Let any one read Mr. Moody’s sermons and he will soon discover that this is one of the marked elements of his power.

But we pass on from this to a last principle to be laid down, and one upon which it will not be necessary to enlarge, because it is applicable to all speaking. It is that the illustrations drawn from actual life shall be taken from spheres of life with which the hearers are familiar. In speaking to children we draw our illustrations from child-life, because the children can understand them better and enter into fuller sympathy with them. And so it will be apparent in a moment that there are multitudes of illustrations to be drawn from the Christian fireside, the family altar, and the inner life of the church with which the class of non-churchgoers would be entirely out of sympathy. A young friend of mine, desiring to illustrate the uncertainty of all earthly possessions, took as an illustration the breaking of a bank. He prepared the sermon for a city congregation, and, telling the story in a very pathetic way, it produced a profound impression. Preaching the sermon shortly afterward in a little country church, instead of using as an illustration a sudden frost, or blight, or mildew, he repeated pathetically his story of the fraudulent cashier and the broken bank, and was very much crestfallen when an old farmer said to him, coming out of church, “I didn’t take much stock in that bank story of yours; I think if people has got no more use for money than to hoard it up in bank, some rascal ought to come along and git it and scatter it where it will do some good.” There is a certain range of experiences with which the unevangelized people can not enter into sympathy, and illustrations drawn from these will meet the fate of the very admirable illustration of the young preacher from the broken bank.

If the principles which I have laid down are the correct ones it ought not to be so difficult a matter to reach the outlying masses. If a few men of warm hearts could go among them, not alas, as many of the so-called evangelists now do, as the antagonists of the churches, but as their representatives, not to reproach the church in the hearing of these men for its imagined coldness, but to assure them of the warm sympathy pulsating in the heart of the church for them, they might be won back from their condition of religious isolation, and made to feel at home in our churches, where their spiritual interests can be conserved as they can not possibly be by street-preachings, Salvation Armies, or any other rescue methods, however valuable in themselves they may be.

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A Living Fire on the Altar of his Heart

Thomas Dwight Witherspoon was born at Greensboro, Alabama, January 17, 1836, educated at the famous academy of Professor Henry Tutwiler, in Green County, Alabama, then the University of Alabama, and the University of Mississippi, where he was graduated in 1856. Witherspoon had by that time decided to enter the gospel ministry, and took his theological course at the Presbyterian Seminary in Columbia, S.C., where Dr. James Henley Thornwell was the able and distinguished President. While attending Columbia, he fell in love with the seminary president’s eldest daughter, but death took her from him the day before the wedding.

Witherspoon was ordained on May 23, 1860, and installed as the pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Oxford, Mississippi, where he was exerting a very fine influence on the students of the university located there, and might well have considered it his duty to remain with his Church. After war’s interruption, having served as chaplain, Witherspoon went on to serve a number of churches before taking up a position as professor in his final years. Dr. Francis Beattie, a close friend, wrote the following tribute, drawing from Witherspoon’s life a number of lessons for young preachers.

TDW_carte_de_visThe Late Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D., as a Preacher
by Francis R. Beattie, Ph.D., D.D., LL.D., The Homiletic Review 39.3 (March 1900) 213-219.

While Dr. Witherspoon was very popular as a preacher with the people of the highest culture, he was equally popular with the rough mountaineers of Kentucky. His work of instruction in the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary was supplemented by summer evangelistic campaigns in the mountains. His varied experience makes the study of his personality and his methods of peculiar value to other preachers.

The observant study of the personality and the methods of work followed by effective preachers affords an exceedingly useful form of homiletical research. The careful study of the best treatises on homiletics is a good thing, but to observe the preacher actually at work is often better. In any event, such study of homiletics in the concrete is a valuable addition to its investigation in the abstract.

In this article the personality and pulpit work of the late Dr. Witherspoon, Professor of Homiletics and Pastoral Theology in Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, who passed away deeply lamented a little more than a year ago, will be studied for the purpose, namely, of bringing out some useful hints that may be of value to younger ministers. We have heard many preachers in this and other lands, and we can freely say that, as a sermonizer, the subject of this article had very few equals; and as a preacher, if he had possessed a deep, rich voice, he would have had few superiors in this generation as an effective popular pulpit orator.

It was the writer’s privilege to know him very intimately; and, by the courtesy of his family, he has had the advantage of access to his literary remains for this study. Such a study naturally falls into two parts. The first deals with the personality of the man, and the second with his methods as a preacher.

I. The Personality of the Man.

He was a thorough gentleman. He came from noble ancestry, having in his veins the blood of John Knox. He was dignified and courteous, and always showed this in his intercourse with all classes of people. The most cultured greatly respected him, and those in the lowly walks of life always felt at ease in his presence. In him dignity and courtesy, gentleness and strength, self-respect and consideration for others were finely blended.

Such a man had in this respect important gifts for the preacher. The pulpit always needs such men. When the call to the ministry comes to the sons of our best families, the result is one of God’s noblest gifts to His Church. The Church needs men from all the walks of life, and she urgently requires that all alike be gentle and strong, refined and dignified. A boorish manner or a clownish way in the pulpit will greatly limit a preacher’s usefulness. Good manners, fine feelings, and refined instincts on the part of the preacher will touch a responsive chord in all classes.

His mental gifts were superior. This appeared during his career as a student, and was evident all his life. His powers of mind were finely balanced and harmoniously developed. His logical power was good, his philosophical insight was keen, and he could think a matter through in a very thorough way. His imagination was unusually fine. It was vivid, yet always under the control of good taste and judgment. It was this faculty, with the fine poetic feeling which went along with it, that enabled him to produce profound impressions.

For the preacher all this is important. These gifts, used as they were by Dr. Witherspoon, enabled him to reach all classes. He could edify the refined city congregation, and could deeply move a gathering of peasants among the hills. The Church needs the very best minds for her service, for the day is past when these gifts, consecrated to the Master’s service, can any longer be despised. Above all, to the careful cultivation of the imagination every minister should give earnest attention. This faculty gives vividness and concreteness to preaching. Its use enables the preacher to reproduce Scriptural scenes, and to illustrate the truths he presents in such a way that they stand before the audience like very pictures. The truth has color and movement given to it, and it is thus made attractive and effective. If young ministers would save themselves from getting prosy, they must cultivate the imagination.

He had a deeply sympathetic nature. He had a warm heart as well as a good head. His feelings were very kindly, so that he had sincere sympathy with people in all conditions. The result was that rich and poor, high and low felt that they had ready access to him. He could with the same natural graciousness enter the mansion of the cultured and the cabin of the mountaineer. Children were drawn to him, and those in trouble and sorrow readily sought him in seasons of distress. This gave his preaching a warmth and pathos that ministered much comfort to those in trouble.

He was also in ardent sympathy with nature in her varying moods. Some of his most striking illustrations were drawn from this source. When moderator of the General Assembly in 1884, and at the Westminster Assembly Celebration in 1897, illustrations of this kind then used in public addresses produced effects almost electrical. This sympathy enabled him to produce many original illustrations.

Here are vital hints for the preacher. He must have warm sympathies, if he is to get near to his people and to have heart in his work. And sympathy with nature should be cultivated by every preacher. The Old Testament prophets were deeply imbued with the influences from nature; and our Lord constantly drew on nature for His parables and illustrations. Here is a pattern for the preacher today.

To crown all, Dr. Witherspoon was a man of simple faith and devout piety. He came from a godly ancestry. He early devoted his life to the service of Christ in the Gospel ministry. The records of these early years serve to show how earnest he was in this purpose. He had strong and well-grounded convictions in regard to the reality of divine things. He was a firm believer in the Bible as the Word of God. He so received, and so preached it. His piety was simple, natural, and unobtrusive. His life was always marked by high devotion to principle, so that religion with him was not a mere sentiment.

Here, again, is an example worthy of imitation. The spiritual tone of the preacher has much to do with the quality of his preaching. “Like priest, like people” here means that the piety of the preacher will in the long run determine the average piety of the pew. If the preacher is to retain his power, he must have piety as well as learning. No forced utterances about piety will avail if there be not a living fire on the altar of his heart. The preacher must ever keep this fire burning; and this piety must be deeply rooted in principle, so that his life may commend the Gospel which he preaches.

These natural and gracious endowments in the subject of this paper were cultivated by him with great care and constancy. He formed good habits of study in early days, and kept them up all his life. He did not think that when college and seminary days end, hard study may be given up. He not only prepared his sermons with great care, but he continued to read widely in all directions. The stores thus gathered he poured into his sermons. This discipline enabled him to do his work rapidly and thoroughly, and it also made his sermons fresh and instructive. He could scarcely be dull if he tried. He acquired an almost faultless literary style. His sermons are models of pure English, his conversation was always elegant, his articles for the press were clear as crystal, and his letters were always so correct that they were ready for the printer.

All of this is full of meaning for the young minister. Good mental habits, severe intellectual discipline, wide reading, patient methods of study, and thorough work on sermons are simply indispensable for the preacher of the present day. The dead-line is not so much a matter of years as of habits of study. That line is sometimes crossed a few years after the young man leaves the seminary; or it may not be reached at seventy years of age, as was the case with Cuyler and Storrs, now both over seventy. Unremitting study, constant reading and meditation, ever-increasing knowledge of the Holy Scriptures are the secrets of a growing ministry. If learning without piety makes a fruitless ministry, piety without learning is sure to make an ineffective ministry.

II. His Methods of Work

tdwportrait02There now lie before the writer several thousand sermons fully written, and sermon briefs, and their perusal has been made with deep and pathetic interest. Beside the sermon books and manuscripts lie two books in which a complete record of his sermon texts and of the date and place of preaching is made. The last entry is No. 4,917, which may be taken to represent the number of his sermons. By following this record one can trace out the whole movement of his life during the almost forty years of his ministry. Some of the most touching entries are of the sermons preached when he was a chaplain in the Confederate army, mainly in Virginia. There is the record of one at Waynesburg, Pa., and another at Gettysburg, Pa., about the time of the terrible battle at the latter place. An inspection of this varied material reveals several instructive features of homiletical value.

There is everywhere evidence of most careful work. Everything about these sermons and addresses impresses one with the marked diligence and system of the work. Here are his first sermons, which were parts of trial for licensure and ordination in 1859-60, and they are in very perfect literary form, and very mature for a young man of twenty- three. Here are a dozen books filled with carefully written sermons, and for each an index, giving the text, with a fitting title for the sermon. The sermons on single manuscripts, and even the outlines of his prayer-meeting addresses, bear the same features of systematic treatment and orderly, careful work throughout.

Here is a good lesson for ministers young and old. A good systematic habit of working will save time and make the task lighter. Once in a while a genius may appear who can set all rules of order at defiance, but the average minister must be content with a genius for hard work, and a systematic habit is his best helpmeet in it. Let the young minister acquire this habit at the outset of his ministry, and he will master circumstances, and not be at the mercy of his surroundings.

Another marked feature of the materials before us is their strictly Scriptural nature. A good text, not a mere catchword, of Scripture is usually chosen, carefully expounded, and then its truth developed and applied in a direct and rational way. We do not observe a single case in which some topic of the times is taken for the sermon theme and a text gotten for it. The text is from Scripture, and its truth is brought out by careful exposition, and then applied to the conditions and needs of the time. This is a vital matter for the preacher to regard.

At the present day there is temptation for ministers to forget their true function. They are to preach to the times; but they should always be sure that the message they bear is not their own, but God’s. To heed this will give directness and power to all preaching.

A further quality of the work before us is its expository character. In some cases there is a thorough exposition of some difficult texts, and in others a comprehensive exposition of connected passages. A series of sixteen sermons on the Book of Job, and one of twelve on the Minor Prophets, illustrate this feature. Much labor has been bestowed upon these expositions. They are so complete in both matter and form as to be almost ready for publication.

Here is a pertinent hint for the pulpit of to-day in regard to the nature and value of expository preaching. The people want to know what the Bible teaches. One of the healthful signs of the present time is this demand of the pew for the Bible, and the pulpit should respond promptly and fully to meet it. This means hard work, for expository preaching of the right kind needs more time and labor than any other. The careful and devout exposition of any book of the Bible in a connected way will do both preacher and people great good.

The work lying before us reveals great variety. This variety appears in different respects. In the selection of themes the whole area of religious truth and duty seems to be covered. The texts are taken from all parts of the Old and New Testaments. Doctrinal, evangelical, and practical themes appear in due Scriptural proportion. Biography, history, prophecy, parable, miracle, and promise all recur in ever-inviting variety as one turns the pages of these sermon books. Christian privileges, the duties of Church officers, and the life and work of the Church are all presented in these sermons.

This is an important feature for all preaching. There must be variety in pulpit work, and endless variety, as the Scriptures exhibit and the needs of the people demand. With Christ crucified as the central theme, the pulpit should cause all its preaching to revolve in constantly recurring variety around this theme. Here is room for endless skill, inventive resources, and patient labor. But it will make the pulpit the minister’s throne, and his ministry a constantly growing power.

Along with this variety we see adaptation in the materials before us. The themes were chosen to fit the circumstances. The sermons and prayer-meeting addresses are appropriate. His sermons to children, of which there are many, and on special academic and other occasions, are admirable in their adaptation. Those preached to the soldiers in camp, to students at the university, to people in sorrow and trouble, and to the plain mountain people are always peculiarly suitable. There is genius for adaptation always. This was one of the most marked features of his whole ministry, and never did it more plainly appear than in his later years, when, with a company of the seminary students, he went, during vacation, to the rough mountains of Kentucky to preach the simple Gospel to the people there.

This reveals a feature of his ministry that every preacher should strive to possess. Many a good man fails for lack of tactful adaptation in his preaching. A good sermon fails to hit its mark simply because the aim was not good. Endless labor, and careful study not only of the truth to be set forth in the sermon, but also of the audience to be addressed, are demanded.

There are striking courses of sermons among the material before us. Some of these courses are worth mentioning. One on the apostles and one on the prophets arrest attention. A course on some of the negatives in the Book of Revelations gives: No sin; No tears; No more pain; No more sea; No winter; No night there; No temple. Sometimes two sermons are coupled together so as to make a very vivid contrast: Crowns at the Feet; and Crowns on the Head. One series on “ The Antitheses of Character ” is so marked that it is worth quoting in full: I. Lot, A Worldly Choice; and Moses, A Religious Choice. II. Baalam, A Religious Sentiment; Caleb, A Religious Principle. III. Samson, Endowments Wasted; Gideon, Endowments Consecrated. IY. Jephthah, The Superstitious Vow; Ruth, The Religious Vow. V. Saul, Promotion without Piety; David, Promotion with Piety. VI. Solomon, The Seeker of Wise Counsel; Rehoboam, The Despiser of Wise Counsel. VII. Jonah, Peril in the Midst of Security; Daniel, Security in the Midst of Peril.

This will serve to mark a feature of the work of the subject of this study which is full of suggestiveness for young ministers. There will be pleasure in such work, and its result will always be fresh and instructive to the people. Let the young preacher cultivate the habit of original research into the hidden depths of the Scriptures, and let him seek to exercise in a proper way his inventive skill in framing brief courses of sermons after the manner of those quoted.

Only a closing paragraph can be devoted to the method of preparation as revealed in this material. During the early period, for perhaps ten years, there seems to have been faithful writing in full. Then evening sermons seem to have been preached from notes in an extemporaneous way, but always with vigorous thinking through of the subject. In later years he preached sometimes without writing at all, and then wrote the sermon out afterward. This seems to have been the natural growth of a disciplined and well-stored mind. It affords a suggestion and a warning. It warns the young minister against dispensing with writing his sermons in the early years of his ministry, and it suggests that by patient effort a preacher can do his very best preaching without notes after severe reflection and careful mastery of all his materials. The subject of this study never read his sermons, and his example and advice were always against it.

“After he had served his own generation, by the will of God he fell on sleep.” — “And he being dead yet speaketh.”

For Further Study:
The Thomas Dwight Witherspoon Manuscript Collection is preserved at the PCA Historical Center. Details about the collection can be viewed here.

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The Rev. Robert W. Childress passed into glory on this day, January 16, 1956.

childressRobertWhen the Master has a big work to do, He raises up a big man to do it. The Lord does not always choose a man from places such as those where men would look. Such a man, from a most unlikely place, is the subject of this story. This man of God’s choosing was born in the mountains of Patrick County, Virginia, not far from the present Blue Ridge Parkway. He was born in a one-room mountain cabin, born into a large family, his people the direct descendants of Scots-Irish immigrants, and born into deep poverty and ignorance.

Robert W. Childress once said that he did not know when he was given his first drink of liquor. Sundays were spent in gambling, shooting and drinking parties. Schools were little thought of. A church was seldom visited, and the thought of Sunday school was anathema to the people of his community.

But out of this lawless backwater, God saved Robert. He used a young lady who later became his wife, but who died not long after two children were born to this couple. Even in death, his wife continued to live as a powerful influence. Childress said the devil threw him sixteen times, but Christ triumphed in the end, and Robert began to look to how the Lord might use him. Against all odds, he began to pursue an education and before long, now married again and in his thirties, the Lord at last brought him to seminary to prepare for the ministry.

childress_biographyA bunch of the boys dropped in with guns at one of Preacher Childress’ first services in the Virginia mountains. They told him to leave the country, or else.

“They were a little wrought up,” Childress explained. “I’d said something about their making whiskey and naturally it insulted them. They’d wanted me to apologize, and I hadn’t. I’d told them I could be just as crazy as they were.”

“So of course they were upset. They were drinking when they came to the service, and they didn’t know what they were doing. We had a little prayer,” he smiled, “and they let me off.”

“Some folks were a little rough,” he admitted, when he started work in the stretch of rugged country in Floyd, Carroll, and Patrick counties in Virginia.

“They were the best-hearted people in the world, but they just didn’t behave. There was a lot of killing, a lot of drinking, a lot of feuding. But they’ve changed.”

Time was, he recalled, when they said the politicians were afraid to come through the section, “even to solicit votes.” But no more. “There’s hardly any fighting now. There’s less drinking. The homes are better. People are happier.”

Words to Live By:
The Lord raised up Robert Childress to do a big work. He lifted him up out of incredible poverty and spiritual depravity and made him a useful vessel for His service. The faithful preaching of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ brings real change to the hearts and lives of an otherwise lawless people, the world over.

Dust jacket of the biography, The Man Who Moved a Mountain, by Richard C. Davids :



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This day, January 15, in 1966 marks the death of the Rev. Flournoy Shepperson [10 October 1883-15 January 1966].

sheppersonSrFlournoy Shepperson was licensed and ordained in July of 1917 by the Ouchita Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. His first pastorate was in a yoked ministry to the Presbyterian churches of Magnolia and Mt. Holly, Arkansas, serving there 1908 to 1911. Rev. Shepperson next pastored the Presbyterian church in Monticello, Arkansas from 1911 to 1920, before answering a call to serve Purity Presbyterian church in Chester, South Carolina, from 1921-1925. His last pastorate in the PCUS was with the Second Presbyterian Church of Greenville, SC, which he served from 1925 to 1940. He then withdrew from the Southern Presbyterian denomination and united with the Bible Presbyterian Synod, while his brother David remained within the PCUS. Upon leaving the PCUS, Dr. Shepperson planted a Bible Presbyterian church in Greenville with an initial congregation of 335 members. The church later took the name Augusta Street Presbyterian church, and eventually became part of the PCA, though it was dissolved in 1996. The Augusta Street church was also notable as the original location of theGreenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.


Oddly, Second Presbyterian of Greenville—the church that Dr. Shepperson left—later became one of the founding churches of the PCA, in 1973, and it was not until 1982 when the Augusta Street church also joined the PCA, as part of the Joining and Receiving of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES).

From the Memorial read at the 144th RPCES General Synod:

Dr. Shepperson was among those who very early sensed the rising tide of unbelief in his own Presbyterian denomination and took a strong stand against it. It was under his leadership that there was formed a new Presbyterian church in his own city of Greenville, South Carolina, completely separated from apostasy, which church has grown to be one of the largest and most influential churches of our Synod.

Dr. Shepperson was an able and faithful preacher of the Word of God. He possessed a sense of humor that often brightened and enlivened his messages. This he did not lose even in that period of ill health that preceded his death. Many of us can testify to the rich blessing of his ministry from our own pulpits. Those of us who knew him intimately can also testify to his deep devotion to his Lord and to the consequent blessing always experienced in fellowship with him.

We are all aware of the fact that our loss is his great gain. We know that for him to depart this earthly life was to immediately be with Christ, which is far better. We believe that he could honestly echo the words of the great apostle, “to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Dr. Shepperson had three sons, two of whom entered the ministry, and a daughter. Flournoy Shepperson, Jr. was ordained in the BPC and later came into the RPCES. He pastored churches in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Pittstown, PA, Savannah, GA, Durham, NC and Tampa, FL. Dr. Shepperson’s son Sam was also ordained in the BPC and later affiliated with the PCA. He had a long pastorate in Arkansas and is now honorably retired. It was Sam who so graciously provided the news clipping and photograph of his father.

Words to Live By: The Church is blessed with many faithful pastors. Sometimes it is easy to focus on the relative few who stray in doctrine or practice, and we forget to praise God for how He works through those who remain faithful and steadfast year after year. We are engaged in a great spiritual battle, and your pastor is on the front lines. Remember to pray for him.

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robinson_Stuart_1814-1881A Bellweather of Our Church’s Health?

Dipping into an article by the Rev. Stuart Robinson [pictured at right], titled “Recently Discovered Memoranda of the Westminster Assembly” (The Southern Presbyterian Review, 27.4 (October 1876): 730-759, we find this excerpt on the Westminster Assembly’s work on the Shorter and Larger Catechisms:—


The Catechisms, Larger and Shorter, were discussed with equal care before the whole Assembly, as reported from their Committees, question by question.  Under date of January 14, 1646, the record is :

“Upon motion made by Mr. Vines, it was Ordered :

“That the Committee for the Catechism do prepare a draught of two Catechisms, one more large and another more brief, in which they are to have an eye to the Confession of Faith, and to the matter of the Catechism already begun.” [cf. Van Dixhoorn, Minutes & Papers of the Westminster Assembly, vol. 4, p. 399]

wsc_london_02To Dr. Tuckney was assigned the Shorter Catechism.

It is not until April 12, 1648, that we find the Minute of their completion, as follows :

“The proofs for both Catechisms shall be transcribed and sent up to both Honorable Houses of Parliament.  Ordered to be carried up on Friday morning by the Prolocutor with the Assembly.”
[Session 1049., cf. M&PWA, iv.749.]

“APRIL 14, 1648, Friday Morning. 

“Prolocutor informed the Assembly that he had delivered the Cate­chisms, and was called in and told that they had ordered six hundred copies with those proofs to be printed for the use of the Assembly and two Houses ; and give thanks to the Assembly for the same.”
[Session 1051, cf. M&PWA, iv.750.]

Use of the Westminster Shorter Catechism has had its ups and downs. In the Southern Presbyterian denomination throughout the first half of the 20th-century, there were often nearly one thousand children per year who would memorize the whole of the Shorter Catechism. The Christian Observer would annually print an honor roll with the names of these children. It is interesting (and depressing) to watch over the next few decades as, year by year, those numbers declined. Even as late as 1958, there were perhaps a thousand in that list. But by 1975, the list of names had shrunk to less than two hundred. Finally, by 1988 the publisher had given up on this annual feature. If we tried to put together such a roster today, where would we stand? Every good Presbyterian will acclaim the value of the Shorter Catechism, but how many actually use it? How many disciple their children through the memorization of it?

It’s not a new problem, though. In his review of Dr. Ashbel Green’s then-recently published Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, Dr. Archibald Alexander wrote:—.

But if we do not entirely misinterpret the temper and taste of the times in which we live, doctrinal catechisms, and lectures explanatory of such catechisms, are not the books which will be sought after and read with avidity. The religious taste of most readers is, we fear, greatly vitiated by works of fiction and other kinds of light reading. Nothing will now please, unless it be characterized by novelty and variety; and while many new means of instruction have been afforded to our youth, in which we sincerely rejoice, we are so old fashioned in our notions, as to feel regret that in our own church those excellent little summaries of Christian doctrine, the Westminster Catechisms, are falling with many into disuse.”
[The Biblical Repertory, and Theological Review, Vol. 2 No. 2 (1830): 299]

Words to Live By:
Few things in this life just fall into our laps. Most good things take work to acquire, develop and maintain; discipline bears a good fruit for the long term. The value of the Westminster Shorter Catechism has been acclaimed by many, but for how many of us is that acclamation mere lip service? The year is still young, and its not too late to slip in another resolution. Wouldn’t this be a great year to work on the Shorter Catechism?

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Under the Sovereign Eye of a Merciful God.

The following letter to Rev. John C. Lowrie was penned upon the occasion of the death of his brother, the Rev. Walter M. Lowrie, who had gone to Shanghai, China, as a member of the committee for the translation of the Bible. As he was returning to Ningpo, the Chinese junk on which he had taken passage was attacked by pirates, and the young and gifted missionary was thrown overboard and drowned, on August 19, 1847, about twelve miles southeast of Chapoo, in the Hangchow Bay.

From the Rev. J. L. Wilson, of the Gaboon Mission, Africa.

Mount Clio, January 13th, 1848.


MY DEAR BROTHER:—The papers brought us yesterday the astounding intelligence of the death of your dear brother. If it is the slightest alleviation of the grief that you must all feel, be assured of our most cordial sympathies, and I have no doubt but thousands of other Christian hearts feel equally as much.

Your honored father must have been almost overwhelmed by this event. And yet, why should he? It was under the sovereign eye of a most merciful God that this deed of violence was perpetuated; and as inexplicable as it may be to us, I have no conviction more firmly made on my mind, than that this very event will be overruled, so as to subserve the cause of missions and the salvation of the heathen more effectually even than the life of your brother.

My own aged father, who could more easily enter into the feelings of your father than most persons, could scarcely compose himself to sleep last night after hearing the painful intelligence read; and if such were his feelings, what must have beenthose of your own family? God grant you all grace to recognize his hand in this event, and to exercise the most cheerful resignation of his holy will!

Accept of my sincere sympathies, and believe me, as ever,

Your affectionate brother in Christ,


Words to Live By:
Truly our lives are in His hands. Every breath we take is by the grace of God. How can we not praise Him for His mercy and grace? But so very much more, because in love He sent His only Son to die for an elect people, how then can we not strive to live each and every day for His greater glory? To give our very lives in His service is no sacrifice, but only a fitting tribute of thanks.

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He Saw God in His Power

In the passage that follows, the Rev. Stuart Robinson [1814-1881] briefly discusses a letter composed under the hand of John Knox on the date of January 12, 1559. In this letter, Knox sketched out the core principles, as he would see them, of the reformation of the Church—a summary of all that he hoped to accomplish and as Robinson puts it, “the key to all his subsequent conflicts in Scotland.” Our passage today is drawn from Robinson’s article, “John Knox as the English and the Scottish Reformer,which appeared in THE SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN REVIEW, 27.1 (January 1877): 11-12 of 26. [The spelling in Knox’s letter has been modernized somewhat.]

In his letter of exhortation to England, January 12, 1559, Knox developes the germinal principles of his scheme of Refor­mation. After declaring that Popish priests should not be allowed to direct the flock, that a plurality of benefices to one man should not be permitted, but the pastoral charges be given each to a single minister who shall be required to discharge fully the office of preaching Christ crucified, he proceeds to say—

knox_card03Let none that be appointed to labour in Christ’s vineyard be entangled with civil affairs, and as ye call them the affairs of the realm. . . . For, as touching their yearly coming to Parliament for matters of religion, it shall be superfluous and vain, if God’s true religion be once so established, that after it never be called in controversy. . . . So that the ministers, albeit they lack the glorious title of lords, and the devilish pomp which before appeared in proud prelates yet must they be so stout and bold, in God’s cause, that if the king himself would usurpe any other authority in God’s religion than becometh a member of Christ’s body, that first he be admonished according to God’s Word, and after, if he contemn the same, be subject to the yoke of discipline. . . . Now last, for the preservatioun of religion, it is most expedient that schools be universally erected in cities and all chief towns, the oversight whereof to be committed to the magistrates and godly learned men, that of the youth, godly instructed among them, a seed may be reserved and con­tinued, for the profit of Christ’s kirk in all ages.”—[*McCrie’s Life of Melville, Vol. I., p. 213.]

Here, then, we have the germinal ideas of Knox’s programme of reformation, which will be found to be the key to all his subsequent conflicts in Scotland—an unsecularised ministry of one order only preaching Christ crucified, a spiritual free Church under Christ as its only Head, and education for not only the masses of the people, but education of the higher order, to secure an intelligent ministry. This last, if anything could be called such, may be termed “John Knox’s hobby.” And to his brave struggles and labors in that behalf, under God, has Scotland been indebted for the singular intelligence and intellectual superiority both of her people and her ministry for three hundred years past.

Words to Live By:
Our Lord Jesus Christ has promised that He will build His Church. (Matt. 16:18). When we see the Church in decline or even seemingly in ruins, the time for urgent prayer has long been at hand, for “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Psalm 127:1, ESV). Our part is to pray and watch. Pray unceasingly, and watch expectantly, for we have His sure promise.

And from my favorite Anglican pastor, Richard Sibbes, this passage seems most appropriate in application of the life of John Knox:

” ‘Though an host encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.’ He puts the case of the greatest danger that can be. Though an host of men should encompass me, ‘my heart shall not fear; though war rise against me, in this I will be confident.’ Here is great courage for the time to come. Experience breeds hope and confidence. David was not so courageous a man of himself; but upon experience of God’s former comfort and assistance, his faith brake as fire out of the smoke, or as the sun out of a cloud. Though I was in such and such perplexities, yet for the time to come I have such confidence and experience of God’s goodness, that I will not fear. He that seeth God by a spirit of faith in his greatness and power, he sees all other things below as nothing. Therefore he saith here, he cares not for the time to come for any opposition; no, not of an army. ‘If God be with us, who can be against us?’ Rom. viii. 31. He saw God in his power; and then, looking from God to the creature, alas! who was he? As Micah, when he had seen God sitting upon his throne; what was Ahab to him, when he had seen God once? So when the prophet David had seen God once, then ‘though an host encamp against me, I will not fear,’ &c. Thus you have his comfort in the double branch of it; his courage, also, and his confidence for the time to come.

–“A Breathing After God,” The Works of Richard Sibbes, (Banner of Truth, 1983), vol. 2, page 214.


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