January 2017

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NATHANAEL WHITAKER was born on Long Island, February 22, 1722, and graduated at Nassau Hall in 1752. He was ordained and settled in the bounds of New York Presbytery, in 1752. In 1759, he was called to Chelsea, near Norwich, Connecticut. It was conditional:—“provided he be first liberated from his charge in the Jerseys.” This church was Presbyterian in its organization, and was in its infancy, having six communicants, and no house of worship. The installation took place in the open air, February 25, 1761: the sermon, by the Rev. Benjamin Lord, of Norwich, was printed, with those parts which, out of mercy to the shivering people, had been omitted in the delivery.

Whitaker had fine talents, and was very prepossessing. He engaged in traffic, and “pierced himself through with many sorrows.” His people accused him of being greedy of gain and neglectful of their interests: he charged them with violent and unchristian conduct.

The meeting-house was completed in 1766. The Connecticut Board of Correspondents for Evangelizing the Indians selected him to go to Great Britain with the Rev. Samson Occum, of the Mohegan tribe, to solicit funds for a mission school. Philip supposes the project to have been set on foot by Whitefield. He had frequently, in previous years, urged that Occum might be sent over.

Lady Huntingdon warmly advocated the cause; Romaine, and Venn, and Powley, (son-in-law of Mrs. Unwin,) exerted themselves at Leeds, Huddersfield, and Halifax. A considerable sum was collected at Newcastle, where, at Whitaker’s particular desire, John Wesley preached.

They returned after eighteen months’ absence, having had great success, and prepared the way for founding Dartmouth College. The University of St. Andrew’s conferred on Whitaker, in 1767, the degree of D.D.

While in England, he published several sermons on “Reconciliation to God,” in which he endeavours to prove,—

That the renewed soul is reconciled to God’s original essential properties and character as absolute Lord and Governor of all; that the ground of reconciliation is the sacrifice of Christ, and the means of it; the knowledge of Christ crucified, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

That the sinner is, by regeneration, imbued with a new temper and a taste and relish for divine things.

That Christ’s work has not rendered God in himself any more lovely to the unrenewed heart; and, That the sinner is not renewed by “objective light.”

The difficulties with his people blazed afresh on his return, and he accepted a call to the Second Church in Salem, Massachusetts, May 9, 1769. He had written to them a month before, insisting on the adoption of the Presbyterian system. He declared that he never was so perfectly sick of the Congregational method, and demanded that he should have a full negative on the proceedings of the church, and that no church act should be valid without him. This strange demand was accounted a part of the Presbyterian by the New England divines; and Jonathan Edwards tells us that the church of Northampton conceded to his grandfather, the venerable Stoddard, in accordance with his Presbyterian principles, “a negative on all their proceedings, and never, so far as I heard, disputed it.” He was installed, July 28, 1769.

But Salem, though by interpretation signifying “peace,” has been the scene of much theological warfare. In 1773, the people declared that they had not acquiesced in Whitaker’s proposals. He, with fourteen friends, withdrew, and formed a Presbyterian congregation, and united with Boston Presbytery, November 27, 1773. The presbytery dismissed, without censure, those who with-drew from him, and, a council being called, declared these persons to be the Third Church. His friends erected a house of worship, and the property was conveyed to him, as founder and sole proprietor, for the use of the congregation only so long as it continued orthodox in faith. It was burned, October 6, 1774; and, in the spring, Dr. Whitaker, and his elder, Mr. Nathaniel Silsbee, met with the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, as correspondents, to ask aid to rebuild. The synod recommended them to the charity of all. They completed their new church in February, 1776.

Whitaker, on the breaking out of the war, espoused warmly the cause of independence. He engaged in the manufacture of salt-peter, and five hundred pounds were subscribed to enable him to erect “works at the head of the turnpike.” The town gave him
leave, May 13, 1776, to sink cisterns to procure nitre. In a few weeks he furnished the authorities with ninety-two pounds, and soon after with two hundred and eighty-two pounds. On the occasion of the Boston massacre, in 1771, he printed a sermon on “The Fatal Tragedy in King Street;” and, on the proclamation of independence, another, entitled “An Antidote to Toryism.” At the termination of the struggle, he reprinted the latter, with another,—“On the Reward of Toryism.”

The Synod of New England was formed, May 31, 1775, by forming the three Presbyteries of Londonderry, Salem, and Palmer. It met only once or twice; and, in 1782, only the Presbytery of Salem remained, with barely a quorum. Whitaker was again in trouble. The church resolved to adopt the Congregational form, November 28, 1783, and called a council, which dis-missed him, February 10, 1784. He was shut out of the church, March 25. Salem Presbytery justified him, and the Rev. Mr. Cleveland, of Chebacco, defended the people and the council. He published a history of the case, and then a confutation of the pamphlets on the other side.

He removed to Maine, and, after vainly attempting to establish a presbytery, he went to Virginia, and died, January 21, 1795, in poverty, at Woodbridge, near Hampton, at the age of sixty-three.

His son Jonathan graduated at Harvard, in 1797, and became a Congregational minister with Unitarian sentiments.

The Rev. William Hart, of Saybrook, who was declared by Davenport to be unconverted, attacked the sermons on “Recon-ciliation” on their appearance in this country. He held them up as new, objectionable, and of the invention of Samuel Hopkins. Whitaker replied, in 1770, and retorts on Hart that he held, that, as all men have a conscience, they have a taste for and an admiration of holiness: asserting, on the contrary, that there is a natural enmity of the heart to God—“an inward, partial, interested affection, contrary to the inward sense of righteousness.” Hart, also, attacked Hopkins, and occasioned the publication of his treatise on holiness. He had represented Whitaker as teaching that man is turned devil. Hopkins replied, that, before Hart let Whitaker go, he blackened him, and made him look like a devil.

There was another Nathanael Whitaker, who was a native of Medford, Massachusetts, and studied at Harvard. In June, 1742, it is mentioned, in the public prints, that he had sailed from Boston, to enter “into orders.” He was settled in Maryland; and Archbishop Secker was informed, in 1759, on unquestionable authority, that he was one of the worst of men.

“It is possible that a Church may be ultra conservative, but jealous regard for the old faith is a good thing, and is especially to be commended when the minimizing of great truths is so much in fashion. The tendency of our age to believe as little as possible, is sapping the strength of faith and depriving the Christian life of its vigor. That strength and that life are nurtured by an unshaken faith in the great truths of the infallible Word of God; and since our people deem it of vital importance to hold the doctrines involved in this case as necessary to their strength and usefulness, they deserve to be encouraged and fortified in that position by this Presbytery.”—Rev. Joseph J. Lampe, D.D.

Today’s post, on the heresy trial of Dr. Charles Augustus Briggs, is taken from a longer article by my good friend Barry Waugh. Here he provides an excellent overview of a heresy trial that is uniquely central and important in the history of American Presbyterianism.

A Summary of the Briggs Case
by Barry Waugh, excerpted from

Charles Augustus Briggs began his service at Union Theological Seminary, New York, in January of 1874, as a provisional professor, and in 1875 he assumed the chair of Hebrew and Cognate Languages. In 1890 he was transferred to the Edward Robinson Chair of Biblical Theology, but he had already been teaching courses in the Biblical Theology discipline including: The Religion of Israel, The Old Testament Doctrine of Redemption, Theology of the Old Testament, and New Testament Theology. Briggs’ inaugural address, “The Authority of Holy Scripture,” delivered January 20, 1891, declared that reason, the church, and the Bible were three complementary sources of authoritative, divine authority for the Christian. The inaugural lecture was published that same year and in the following year he explained his views further in, The Bible, the Church, and the Reason. Professor Briggs’ views on inspiration, inerrancy, and the sufficiency of Scripture led to his trial for heresy.

Issues pertinent to Dr. Briggs and Union Seminary came before the General Assembly through the report of the Standing Committee on Theological Seminaries at the 1891 General Assembly. There were overtures from sixty-three presbyteries relevant to Dr. Briggs teaching at Union Seminary that were referred to the Standing Committee on Theological Seminaries. Francis L. Patton, of Princeton Seminary, Chairman of the Committee on Seminaries, presented the committee report to the Assembly, which resolved, by a vote of 449 to 60, to veto the appointment. In 1870, as a part of the reunion of the Old and New Schools, Union agreed to abide by the same rules as the other seminaries of the Presbyterian Church, including the rule allowing the veto of appointments to the faculty. There was a difference of opinion regarding the interpretation of the rules governing the Presbyterian Church’s oversight of Union. Union believed that Dr. Briggs was transferred within the seminary to the new position and his appointment was not subject to veto, [since] he was not new to Union; the resolutions adopted by the Assembly contended that he was elected to the chair, whether new to Union or not, and the Assembly could veto his appointment. Union responded to the decision of the General Assembly when the Union Board of Directors voted in June to retain Professor Briggs in his newly appointed position.

This was not the end of the case, the New York Presbytery, in October 1891, returned two charges of heresy against Dr. Briggs. The first charge contended that his teaching conflicted with the Westminster Standards and Scripture because he denied that the Bible was the only infallible rule of faith and practice and because of his belief in progressive sanctification after death. His response to the charges was given in November and he pled that the accusations against him were not specific enough. The Presbytery voted to dismiss the charges against Professor Briggs by a vote of ninety-four to thirty-nine. The minority expressed its intentions to appeal to the Synod of New York but instead went directly to the General Assembly. The 1892 Assembly, which met in Portland, Oregon, sustained the appeal of the minority by a vote of 431 to 87, and the case was “remanded to the Presbytery of New York for a new trial.”

Before the trial by the Presbytery of New York, Union’s board met and adopted a resolution that rescinded the Assembly’s right to veto faculty appointments and ended the 1870 agreement that gave the Presbyterian Church oversight of Union. When the Presbytery of New York convened in November, it planned its method of operation for the impending trial and received amended charges, which had increased from two to eight. Briggs was charged with: believing that Reason and the Church are fountains “of divine authority,” not believing in the inerrancy of the autographs, teaching that Old Testament prophecies were inaccurate, denying Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, denying Isaiah’s writing of half of Isaiah, and that sanctification is not complete at death. The trial took place in December and Briggs was acquitted of all charges by his presbytery. The prosecution announced its intention to appeal to the 1893 General Assembly.

The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, was the site for the 1893 General Assembly. Before dealing with the issues concerning Dr. Briggs, the Assembly heard a communication from Union Seminary in which it notified the court of its board’s termination of the 1870 agreement regarding the Assembly’s oversight of and veto power over Union. Consideration of the Briggs case began on May 23, continued through extensive debates, and was concluded late in the evening of May 31. The vote was taken by roll-call and the appeal of the minority of the New York Presbytery was sustained by a vote of 379 to 116 and Dr. Briggs was convicted of heresy and suspended from the ministry. Dr. Briggs was also suspended from the ministry and it was recommended that he not be re-elected as a Director of the German Theological Seminary, at Bloomfield, New Jersey. The breach that existed between Union and Princeton seminaries that had widened with the failure of the joint publication of The Presbyterian Review was spread further.

After several years, C. A. Briggs was suspended from the Presbyterian Ministry in 1895 and later became an Episcopal minister while continuing his teaching at Union Seminary. In 1904 he resigned the Edward Robinson chair to teach symbolics and irenics, also at Union Seminary. Dr. Briggs work in publication was extensive and included his editing of the International Critical Commentary series, Critical Commentary on the Psalms, and publication of a Hebrew lexicon with S. R. Driver and Francis Brown. He died of pneumonia in 1913.

During the course of the heresy trial of Charles Briggs, B. B. Warfield was involved at a distance. He is not listed in the 1891, 1892, or 1893 minutes as being in attendance as a commissioner, but he did have a great interest in the trial. His interest in the case is indicated by his writing the report on the 1892 General Assembly for the July issue of The Presbyterian and Reformed Review even though he was not in attendance.

Words to Live By:
In his closing argument, the Rev. Joseph Lampe, D.D., gave these concluding words:

If Dr. Briggs is burdened with new truth that makes the Church with which he is connected too narrow for him, the whole world is open to him and ready to accord him the fullest tolerance for the promulgation of that truth. No one will restrain his liberty. But, as I have already said, if, in view of all the light she can obtain, the Presbyterian Church feels iin conscience bound to continue her unbroken testimony for a truthful Bible, for its sole supremacy in matters of faith and life and for the doctrine that the redemption of believers is complete at death, it should have the privilege of doing this in the same unrestrained freedom. The Presbyterian Church in its almost unanimous expression of feeling, is as likely to voice the will of God in this matter as Dr. Briggs. At all events, it is plain that Presbyterians desire to keep their old faith in this respect, in its purity. They do not want to foster these new doctrines of Dr. Briggs; and to force them on an unwilling Church is as unmanly as it is destructive of that very spirit of liberty in the name of which the attempt is made.
It is possible that a Church may be ultra conservative, but jealous regard for the old faith is a good thing, and is especially to be commended when the minimizing of great truths is so much in fashion. The tendency of our age to believe as little as possible, is sapping the strength of faith and depriving the Christian life of its vigor. That strength and that life are nurtured by an unshaken faith in the great truths of the infallible Word of God; and since our people deem it of vital importance to hold the doctrines involved in this case as necessary to their strength and usefulness, they deserve to be encouraged and fortified in that position by this Presbytery.

Image sources :
1. Engraved portrait of Professor Charles Augustus Briggs, as found in The Presbyterian Encyclopedia, by Alfred Nevin (1884).
2. Front cover of The Presbytery of New York, Presbyterian Church in the United States of America against The Rev. Charles A. Briggs, D.D.  Argument of the Rev. Joseph J. Lampe, D.D.  (1892).
3. Dr. Charles A. Briggs in his study at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, photographed especially for The Illustrated American, May 21, 1892, p. 8.  

A Governor by Eighteen Votes
by Rev. David T. Myers

The margin in the election couldn’t get any closer than it was. But on January 19, 1802, David Hall won the race for governor of Delaware by a mere eighteen vote difference. That he would win at all, even by that narrow margin, was providential, given his circumstances.

David Hall, Jr. was born in Lewes, Delaware in 1752. His parents had emigrated from Connecticut in the early 1700’s. David Hall, Sr. was a well known farmer in the area, having served as a Justice of Peace as well as in the Colonial Assembly for twenty plus years. Young David Hall, Jr. married the daughter of a prominent Anglican rector, and fathered six children from the union. But this new family of Hall’s were solidly Presbyterianworshiping at Lewes Presbyterian Church, one of the earliest Reformed churches in the colony. He studied Law and began his practice of law in the town.

When issues of independence from England entered the colony, David Hall left his attorney’s practice and joined the First Delaware Infantry regiment. They fought in four pivotal battles at Long Island, White Plains, Brandywine, and Germantown. In the latter two battles, Hall was commanding the regiment as its colonel. Also in the last battle at Germantown, David Hall was critically wounded. Eventually, he had to leave soldiering and resign his commission to go back to the practice of law.

In 1802, he ran for the office of governor. Everything was against him in that race. He was the first non-Federalist to run for office in the state, and win. His opponent was an Anglican but also a deist. Hall was clearly a theist in conviction and openly advocated his Presbyterian and Reformed convictions.  In God’s providence, even in Anglican Lewes county, he won the governorship. He would serve for three years, and afterwards serve for several years as a judge.

Governor Hall’s gravestone is pictured here. His home is also on the National Registry of Historic Homes, here.

Words to Live By:
It has been said that one with God makes a majority. Yet the God of the Bible does not need the one to be a majority. God is sovereign after all.  What He needs are for Christians to stand in the gap, so to speak, and be made willing to be used for God’s glory and our good.  If circumstances prevent you from doing that, ask God to change your circumstances.  Support others who have answered the call, with your prayers of encouragement and words of comfort.

From the Presbyterian Church of America to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

welbonThe Rev. Henry G. Welbon was a founding member in 1936 of the denomination that later became known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. His own convictions led him to next affiliate with the Bible Presbyterian Church in 1938. Eventually he became a member of the PCA in 1982, when the PCA received the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.

Rev. Welbon [pictured at right] had a keen appreciation for history and gathered seven notebooks of news clippings and articles covering the modernist controversy in the 1930’s. These are preserved at the PCA Historical Center as an important part of his papers.

From among those clippings, there is the following, on how the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was forced in court to change the name that they had originally chosen, the Presbyterian Church of America.

Presbyterians of America Enjoined from Using Title
[a news clipping from a Philadelphia newspaper, dated January 18, 1937]

The fundamentalist group which split from the Presbyterian Church will have to find some other name than “Presbyterian Church of America,” President Judge Frank Smith ruled in Common Pleas Court No. 5 today.

The name, the Judge decided, resembles too closely the name of the main Presbyterian body, the “Presbyterian Church of the United States of America.”

The fundamentalist organization was formed in Philadelphia on June 10, 1936, by the late Dr. J. Gresham Machen and a group of other clergymen and laymen. The group declared itself a “General Assembly,” with Dr. Machen as moderator and Dr. Paul Woolley as clerk. The name Presbyterian Church of America was adopted.

The parent church countered with the court action, filed by the Rev. Henry B. Master, moderator, demanding that the “rebel” group be forbidden use of the name it selected.

A special meeting of the General Assembly probably will be necessary to select a new name for the church, Dr. Woolley said when he learned of the decision. He added that an appeal “is likely.”

The injunction handed down today forbids the Presbyterian Church of America and the individual defendants and all persons associated with them from using the name “or any other name similar to or imitative of or contraceptive of the name Presbyterian Church of the United States of America or the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A., or ever doing any act calculated to mislead the public or members of the plaintiff church.”

Judge Smith remarked that he was not concerned with the “merits of the two respective doctrines,” but added:

“It would be a serious hurt to the reputation of the plaintiff church and a detriment to its work if the defendant church, bearing a name identical or similar, should enter areas occupied by the plaintiff church in real competition with it, thereby destroying the faith of those individuals in foreign countries insufficiently versed in English to comprehend the controversy.

“The acts done and threatened to be done by the defendant church are unfair and contrary to the principles of equity and good conscience, and violate the rights of the plaintiff church to use of its name and terminology.”

The decision concluded with the remark that the defendants are no longer members of the parent church, having severed their membership “in the ancient church when they were unable to impress their will on the General Assembly of the plaintiff church. Had they been successful in their determination, there would have been no defendant church.”

The thoughtful reader may ask, Why then wasn’t a similar lawsuit brought against the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), when it chose that name in 1974? It could only have been because the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. had merged with the United Presbyterian Church of North America in 1958. A true merger legally creates a new entity, and they had chosen the name United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA). That UPCUSA name was so different from Presbyterian Church in America that no similar lawsuit could be brought in the 1970’s.

Words to Live By:
Denominations exist because Truth matters. We seek to know God’s will and to live accordingly. To that end, careful study brings us to certain convictions about what the Bible teaches. But we are sinful and know the Scriptures imperfectly, so our convictions may differ from those of other Christians. On the level of honest, studied differences, division among Christians is regrettable, but necessary, if our allegiance to Truth is to be upheld. Here we can amicably continue to work toward a better understanding of God’s Word and His will for our lives.

But when is it right to divide or leave a denomination? The work of Scottish theologian James Durham is helpful at this point. In sum, he concluded that only when staying would mean having to participate in sin, only then is division appropriate and necessary. Another work on this subject, by the scholar John Macpherson, is available here and makes for fascinating reading.

Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D., by Richard H. Collins, LL.D., LOUISVILLE, Ky.

Rev. Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D., pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Louisville, Ky., was born January 17th, 1886, in the village of Greensboro, Hale County, Alabama. He is now forty-nine years of age, just in the maturity of his powers.

His was a godly family; for his father and his father’s fathers for six generations were elders of the Presbyterian Church. And away back yonder, in the never dim but ever brightening distance, some of the gentle blood that now courses in his veins gave life and zeal and boldness and energy and vehemence and power unwonted to John Knox, the great leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, 1505-1372, more than three hundred years ago.

John Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D.. President of Princeton College, New Jersey, 1788-1788, a sturdy Scotch minister, theologian and statesman, whom readers of American history remember as a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a leader in the dark days of the American Revolution, was also in the line of direct ancestry: and a man of whom his children’s children to the latest generation may speak with honest pride. This pride of illustrious descent is with many people an excuse for lack of energy and personal excellence and success; but all those who have the root of the matter in them may well be thankful for God-fearing ancestors, who in their day and time were men of great excellence and boldness in the faith.

Robert Franklin Witherspoon and Sarah Agnes, his wife, were Presbyterians from principle, Christians of ardent piety. They were Bible readers and Bible scholars, and fond of theological inquiry; and in their admiration of the writings of the great theologian, Timothy Dwight, deemed it a graceful acknowledgment of the great things constantly found therein to name their boy Thomas Dwight—indulging a presentiment that the babe would some day grow to the stature of a theologian and leader in the Church. The training of the boy by the death of the father when he was only four years old, devolved upon the mother, and right bravely did she stand up to the responsibility thus cast upon her. At the early age of ten, her little boy gave beautiful proof of pious training, by publicly confessing Christ, one of a number brought into the fold under the preaching of Rev. Robert Nall, D.D., the evangelist of the Synod of Alabama.

In 1853, when seventeen years old, young Witherspoon entered upon his college course in the sophomore class of the University of Alabama; but in 1854 transferred his connection to the University of Mississippi, where he graduated in 1856 with the highest honors of his class. The same fall he entered the Theological Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina, where under the professorships of Doctors James H. Thornwell, Aaron W. Leland, George Howe, and John H. Adger, he completed the course, and in May, 1859, received his theological certificate or diploma.

The Presbytery of Chickasaw, of the Synod of Memphis, on June 6th, 1859, licensed him as a probationer for the Gospel ministry; and the same Presbytery on May 13th, 1860, ordained him to the full work of the ministry, and installed him as pastor of the Presbyterian church at Oxford, Mississippi.

This call to the church (his first church) in the town of the University from which he graduated with high honor in 1856, less than four years before, was a high compliment to him personally, and practically a high eulogy upon the character of his preaching—-its warmth and earnestness, and attractiveness to the young, of whom so many were gathered in the university and female schools of the town. His labors here were owned of God, in abundant blessing.

But in a twelvemonth a great change came over this quiet scene of peace and love between pastor and young people. The young men of his congregation and neighborhood, with the deep courage of their convictions, hesitated not for an hour when the tocsin of war—the War of the Rebellion—was sounded all over the land. The young preacher, no longer only their friend and pastor and spiritual adviser, became their fellow-soldier, enlisting as a private in the Lamar Rifles of the Eleventh Mississippi Volunteers. Thus the first year of the war passed; and thenceforward to the final surrender at Appomattox Court House, he was their chaplain, sharing in their hardships, nursing them in sickness, administering the consolations of the Gospel to the dying, and sending to the loved ones at home the messages entrusted to him at the last and painful parting.

The war was over at last, and the scene changed again. Laying aside the soldier and the chaplain, he entered upon another field, to preach again the Gospel of peace and love and mediatorial sacrifice, In August, he became pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church at Memphis, where he labored with marked success and blessing for five years—until August, 1870, when his health broke down under excessive exertion in a malarial climate, and forced him to resign a pastorate which had shown the ripe fruit of growth from 160 to 410 in membership, and became the strongest and most influential of that denomination in the city. And this, too, through epidemics of both cholera and yellow fever!

In the mountains of Virginia, as supply to the church at Christiansburg. Dr. Witherspoon spent the next years; and during the succeeding two years was chaplain of the University of Virginia, near Charlottesville.

In the summer of 1873, as a further means of restoring his impaired health, Dr. Witherspoon crossed the ocean, and travelled extensively in Europe. On his return, in October, 1873, he accepted the pastorate of Tabb Street Presbyterian Church, in Petersburg, Va., one of the largest in the South. After nine years of marked usefulness here, a unanimous call to the old First Presbyterian Church of Louisville, Ky., opened up a wider field, and which he felt it duty to accept.

Since settling there in the fall of 1882, as if the labor of that important church were not enough to tax his superabundant energy, he has been chairman of the Committee of Evangelistic Labor of the Synod of Kentucky—having the oversight of some twenty evangelists, as a result of whose labors over four thousand communicants have been added to the roll of the Synod!

In 1874, at the age of thirty-eight, Dr. Witherspoon took his seat for the first time in the General Assembly, at Columbus, Mississippi, only about one hundred miles east of where he began his ministerial life; and in 1884, just ten years later, at the age of forty-eight, he was elected Moderator of and presided over the General Assembly at Vicksburg, Mississippi, just two hundred miles southwest of the same beginning point, Oxford, Mississippi. And the same University that graduated him with high honor in 1858, at the age of twenty, conferred upon him in 1867, at the age of thirty-one, the distinguished honor of D.D., and in 1884, at the age of forty-eight, the more distinguished honor of LL.D. Such a succession of honors is almost unparalleled; and the State of Mississippi, while witnessing within her borders this high appreciation by the Presbyterian Church in the South of one of her favorite sons, has borne a beautiful testimony to his great energy, consecrated talent, and noble character.

As a writer in the Church newspapers, Dr. Witherspoon has written frequently, judiciously, and effectively. The following are among the larger and more important publications from his pen, in book form; “The Appeal of the South to its Educated Men” (1866);  “Children of the Covenant” (1873); “Materialism in its Relations  to Modem Civilization” (1878); and “Letters on Romanism” (1882).

Among the most decided evidences of the high appreciation of Dr. Witherspoon’s practical talents by the Presbyterian Church and people of the South, is the great number of calls he has had to prominent churches, his election to chairs in or the presidency of colleges and universities, and the professorships in theological seminaries that have been offered him. The latest distinction of this kind of which we have heard is his election as president of Davidson College, at Charlotte, North Carolina. This, and all others, he promptly declined; because he felt that the great mission of his life is to preach the Gospel. In the pulpit and on the platform he is emphatically extemporaneous; always trusting to the inspiration of the moment for words to clothe the ideas and emphasize the thoughts he has diligently studied out in his room.

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Almost Entirely a Presbyterian Army
by Rev. David T. Myers

When Lord Cornwallis brought his British army into the southern colonies, it was the Presbyterian colonists of that part of the infant nation which met him and his forces in every county and town with their Bibles, their Psalm books, and their rifles. Sending a fierce cavalry officer in Colonel Banastre Tarleton, who rarely gave quarter, into western South Carolina, with a picked force of 1100 men, they came up against the smaller American forces at a grazing ground on the Broad River called the Cowpens.

Commanding the American militia and Continentals was Brig. General Daniel Morgan, a Presbyterian elder. In charge of the second of three lines of American soldiers was Presbyterian elder Andrew Pickens. The majority of the militia were from the Presbyterian congregations of South Carolina and Virginia.    It was almost entirely a Presbyterian army.  All through the night, the elders prayed with the men to ask God to give them the victory.

At sunrise on January 17, 1781, the charge of the British forces began. Moving with fifty yards, the American forces, as they were commanded to do by Morgan, fired two volleys, and retired to the second line. The second line of American riflemen fired three volleys, taking down all the British officers, and retired to the third line of American troops. This was composed of battle hardened Continental troops of the American army. As they, along with the retiring militia, charged the British troops, American cavalry attacked both flanks of the British forces. The latter retreated with a tremendous loss of men killed, wounded, and captured. A full one third of Cornwallis’s soldiers were out of action, and the battle of Cowpens was over. An American victory was given in answer to the prayers and courage of Presbyterian riflemen from the southern states.

Words to Live By: “The Lord is a Man of War; the Lord is His name.” Exodus 15:3 (Amplified)  It has been a much discussed topic down through the years since our American Revolution as to where Christian Presbyterians should have been as involved as they were in it.  But the issue really which should be discussed is whether it was a just war. If it was, then Christians must support it.  If it was not, then Christians have no place in it.  That is the question then.  Was the American Revolution a just war?  Our American Presbyterian ancestors thought it was, and so supported it and indeed fought in its battles.   We need to do the same examination with conflicts today.

Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.

James Oliver Buswell, Jr. was born January 16, 1895, in Burlington Wisconsin. When he was four years old he moved with his family to Mellon, Wisconsin. Reflecting upon the example of his father, particularly as displayed during those years following 1899 in the home missions work in the north woods of Wisconsin, Dr. Buswell wrote in 1926: “I thank God for a father who was a perfectly fearless preacher of righteousness, a wonderfully persuasive preacher of grace, and above all, a clear-sighted and patient guide in all his sons’ perplexities.” (Bulletin of Wheaton College, III (May 1926), 2)

In the summer of 1919 just after returning from France Dr. Buswell wrote the following: “Just before the Meuse-Argonne offensive, we were billeted in Camp Marquette for about five days. Everyone knew that we were going into a drive; the spirit of soberness was in the air. We had a revival there…. About thirty-five presented themselves for baptism, and in two days about a hundred and fifty men came to one or the other of us, the two regimental chaplains, stating that they wanted to be known as Christian men. Some of these were already devout Christian characters, and others had just then found Christ as their Saviour…. They were men who had come to Christ as a result of the simple preaching of the old Gospel.” (Bibliotheca Sacra, LXXXII (October 1925), 405)

On the morning of September 26, 1918, the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne began. Dr. Buswell, armed with a 45 caliber automatic pistol and extra ammunition for the troops, went over Vouquois Hill that morning and into the bloody offensive. In the five days that followed nearly two-thirds of the regiment was either killed or wounded. Ninety percent of the men who had identified themselves as believers or who had just become Christians were either killed or wounded. Dr. Buswell ministered to the dead and dying with Bible and bandages. Bullets struck his canteen at his side and pierced his chest gas mask. For bravery and devotion to duty under heavy fire Dr. Buswell was cited in General Orders and eventually received the Purple Heart and the Silver Star, awarded years later in a special program in the Wheaton College chapel on March 17, 1934. Finally, Dr. Buswell himself was wounded in the leg by shrapnel about noon, on Sunday, September 29, 1918. Dr. Buswell spent about three months in a hospital. He returned to his regiment by Christmas, 1918,which was by then in northern France. The Armistice ending the War had been signed November 11, 1918, in Compiegne Forest.

On June 17, 1919, Dr. Buswell debarked in the United States and was discharged from the Army. While overseas, Buswell had developed the outline for his first published work, Problems in the Prayer Life, which was later published in 1927

Words to Live By: Suffering comes in many forms. There is the suffering that we bring upon ourselves and there is also the suffering caused by others. All of us live in relation to the rest of the world and we are increasingly affected by events far removed from our own immediate circumstances. War is one of the most horrific events which can engulf any people, yet every Christian can have the resolute assurance that God is sovereign over all of human history, that whatever may happen, the Christian rests securely in the Father’s hands. (Isaiah 45; Romans 8). 

“Not only in our prayer life, but our whole status of being in grace, is dependent upon Christ. We were “far off,” but now we are “made nigh in the blood of Christ.” [Ephesians 2:13] He is the “great high priest,” “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” It is wholly due to Him that we have received the invitation to “draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need.” [Hebrews 4:14-16] The statement of the lost and hopeless condition of men without Christ is not popular in our day. Nevertheless, there is no access to God, hence no prayer, without Christ, “for there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all…” [I Timothy 2:5, 6]. —[Buswell, Problems in the Prayer Life, pp. 13-14.]

“To God’s Glory” : A Practical Study of a Doctrine of the Westminster Standards.
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

THE SUBJECT : Biblical Tolerance

THE BIBLE VERSES TO READ : Matt. 12:30; Matt. 6:24; Matt. 6:16; I Cor. 15:34; Isa. 55:7.

REFERENCES TO THE STANDARDS : Confession of Faith : I.10; XVIII.3; XXX; XXXIII.3; Larger Catechism : Q. 5; 75; 81; 109; Shorter Catechism : Q. 3; 36.

The attitude of Biblical tolerance is one of the most difficult to cultivate today. In this land the idea of toleration for religion, especially as it applies to the religion of the other person, is the popular belief to follow. Constantly it is proclaimed in the media that one religion is as good as another. Even within the evangelical realm we sometimes hear the stereotyped words : “After all, we’re all trying to get to the same place.”

Those who are committed to the Reformed Faith hear the same refrain, only it is a bit different. “Toleration,” to those not committed to the Reformed Faith, takes on the cloak of, “You Calvinists must be tolerant of those that disagree with you.” This even comes at times from those who give lip service to the Reformed Faith. It is as if there are two different truths, two different ways to believe, and one is almost as good as the other. 

It must be recognized that there is a wrong kind of intolerance. This is the type that is without compassion, without concern for those who disagree. This has been practiced by many throughout the ages. It has even reached that of hate for one’s opponents. This is not Biblical. This is sin.

There must be both a positive and negative testimony for the Truth. We must be positive as we proclaim the Doctrines of Grace. We must be faithful to all the doctrines. We must be faithful to proclaim the doctrines in all their magnificence. We must be careful we do not overemphasize one or two to the exclusion of others. We must be positive, not only in our beliefs regarding the Doctrines of Grace, but also in our practice of them. Our doctrine and our polity must be consistent.

There is another side and we dare not ignore it. Our proclaiming of the Truth will also be negative. There are many who will denounce this thought. Their approach is that we will turn people off with a negative approach. Though they would not accept the theology of “Positive Thinking” they will insist upon the practice of it when it concerns doctrine.

The problem with this type of thinking and resulting practice is that it is not Biblical. Note Question 109 of the Larger Catechism :

Q. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion . . .”

There is no way we can stand for the truth of God’s Word and not oppose whatever stands in opposition to it. Truth is not Truth until it is distinct from error. Therefore, it is necessary to point out the error. Many times it is not easy to do so. Especially it is not easy when the title of “trouble-maker” or “narrow-minded” is branded on you by those who have sold out to a tolerance that is not Biblical.

We must be as narrow-minded as the Bible itself. Therefore we who believe the Reformed Faith is the correct interpretation of Biblical truth will not be quiet regarding positions taken that are contrary to it. As we discover error we must refute error.

Our Lord was intolerant about many things. He would not tolerate such things as hypocrisy or self-centered living. Without doubt he was intolerant regarding sin. And unbelief is sin. When it is uncovered by the searchlight of the Word of God it must be faced.

The facing of error in love is a difficult task. It is difficult because priorities become involved. Some say love should rule over defending the faith and therefore we must be tolerant. Others say defending the faith should rule over love and therefore we must be intolerant. Is it not possible that both are wrong?

Our Lord Jesus Christ defended the faith in love. He knew it must be defended. He knew His Bride would have to be militant before it could be triumphant! But the responsibility of His children to be militant must be saturated with love. Not love for the error involved, but love for those involved in the error. But that love must never motivate us to compromise in any way as we stand for God’s Word.

The point to be made is that we are to defend the faith we say we believe. We have already drawn the line by our profession. Part of our being true to our profession is being intolerant of error. That is Biblical tolerance.




A 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?

A Day in the Life, circa 1823

What was life like for a pastor in the early days of this country? Today’s entry, an excerpt from A History Of Muhlenberg County, concerning the Rev. Isaac Bard [1797-1878], provides a good glimpse.


THE Reverend Isaac Bard came to Muhlenberg in 1823, then in his twenty-sixth year, and from that time for almost a half century led a very active life in the community. No local preacher was better known in his day than “Preacher Bard.”

It is quite probable that during his more active ministerial career he was heard by every citizen then residing in the county. Those who listened to his sermons evidently remembered that fact, for although he died thirty-five years ago all the older native-born citizens now living, and to whom I have mentioned the name of Isaac Bard, invariably remarked that they had heard him preach.

He devoted about half his time to ministerial work; much of the remainder he gave to his farm on Bard’s Hill, south of Depoy. He owned extensive tracts of timber lands in the Pond River country, on which he ranged his stock. It is said he was often heard calling his hogs with a fox-horn. He was a tall, muscular man, kind and generous to every person with whom he came in contact, and extremely gentle to all animals. One who knew him well says: “Preacher Bard was a scholar and a gentleman of the old school. He was one of the most sober looking and at the same time most pleasant men I ever met. I remember he always had cold feet and usually kept them wrapped up in heavy cloth, and frequently complained of the discomfort.”

Isaac Bard was a son of William and Mary (Kincaid) Bard, and was born in Nelson County, Kentucky, near Bardstown, January 13, 1797. He died at his home, seven miles west of Greenville, June 29, 1878. After spending a few years in Transylvania University, Lexington, he began, in 1817, a course in Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey, and on April 27, 1820, was licensed to preach. During the same year he entered in the Senior class of Union College, Schenectady, New York, from which school he was graduated in 1821, and shortly after returned to Kentucky.

On July 26, 1823, he was ordained in Greenville by the Muhlenberg Presbytery and immediately took charge of the Presbyterian Church at Greenville and the congregation at Mt. Zion, near Green River. In autumn of the same year he organized Mt. Pleasant Church, near Pond River. These three congregations remained in his charge until about 1833. During this period he built a brick church in Greenville on a lot presented by pioneer James Weir. The old brick house was long ago abandoned as a place of worship, and is now used as a warehouse.

After the year 1833 no congregation was solely under his supervision, for from that time, and continuing for many years, he extended his ministerial work among many of the Presbyterian churches in Muhlenberg and all the adjoining counties. In 1862, when the division of the Presbyterian church took place, Mr. Bard adhered to the Southern General Assembly.

On March 15, 1827, he was married to Matilda Miranda Moore, daughter of pioneer Maurice Moore. They were the parents of five children: Henry Clay Bard, Luther Bard, Mrs. Verona Mary (Carrol) Larkins, Mrs. Martha Amaryllis (R. P.) Howell, and Doctor LaFayette Bard, all of whom made Muhlenberg their home.

When, in 1823, Isaac Bard first came to Muhlenberg, many of the Revolutionary soldiers and other pioneers were still alive. He was a college man, who from childhood had been in touch with the progress made in various cities and centers of culture and refinement. His constant association with the pioneers and their children undoubtedly had an influence in modernizing their habits and practices; and on the other hand, living among these people, many of their characteristic manners and customs became his own.

Farms, in those days, were few and far between. The county was still regarded as a new country. Most of the sermons then heard by the local people were delivered by men who, although deeply interested in religious work and well versed in the Bible, had a limited knowledge of theology and of logic. When Mr. Bard appeared on the scene he found a good field for the exercise of his college education and religious training. The uneducated as well as the educated recognized his ability as a “sermonizer.”

He kept pace with the times at home and abroad, and in some respects was ahead of his day. He lived during that period of the country’s history when “freedom and liberty” were known to be permanently established, and fighting for them was therefore no longer one of the principal objects in life. Local political questions, although discussed from the time the county was organized, were rapidly becoming more and more the leading topics of the day.

Mr. Bard was always interested in good books, and in the course of years accumulated a large library. He was very systematic and kept a written record of many of his transactions. His residence burned in 1876, two years before he died, and all his books and papers were destroyed except two of his own documents. One of these is a diary and the other contains some notes on local history. Isaac Bard probably never expected that these records would some day form a contribution to a printed history of Muhlenberg County.

The first of these personal documents is Bard’s Diary. This is a leather-bound book of two hundred pages, written with a quill pen. Although many pages are faded, the records are still legible. The greater part of this journal is devoted to the years 1848 to 1851; but it extends, with occasional entries, down to 1855, after which date about a dozen more records are added, bringing it to May, 1872. The diary evidently was written for his own gratification and convenience, and was not intended for publication. The second of Isaac Bard’s documents that has been preserved is what he designates a “Lecture on Muhlenberg County.” This is a sketch that seems to have been prepared for a lecture delivered some time after 1870.


Tuesday, November 7th, 1848: Rode to Rumsey and voted for Gen. Taylor to be president. May the Lord deliver our country from despotism and monarchy under the false name and disguise of Democracy. O Lord, have mercy on us as a nation, give us the grace of repentance that we may see our wickedness, turn from our national sins and seek forgiveness of Thee through the blood of atonement. O Lord, choose our rulers, preside in our destinies and make us a great people, distinguished for righteousness, love for pure civil and religious liberty and that we may grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

August, Monday, 7, 1849: Mr. Donaldson and I went up to Greenville. I voted for Edward R. Weir, the Emancipation candidate. While here I met with Col. Wm. McNary and we got into an argument on Emancipation. At last we got on the Scriptures on this subject and he said he would go and get a Bible and read it and show I was in error. He got the Bible and read it and I answered him by reading several verses, Ex. 21 ch. and Leve. 25 ch. on jubilee and extended my remarks on the scope of the Old and New Testaments. Some private questions, not manly, were asked me by G. C. and J. E., and also H. R. made an unbecoming remark of private nature. The Rev. John Donaldson was present and heard what passed, which took place under a locust tree in the court yard. Before I left the Rev. Jones and ______ came up. The former opened his Bible and the latter drew out a written paper. Both were about to answer me and some person remonstrated and got them to go away. Mr. Donaldson, standing on the outer edge of the crowd, said he heard several say, “They had better let Bard alone.” When I saw Jones and ______ come up and ready to speak, I got on a bench and remarked publicly: “I wish it understood I do not seek controversy, but I do not care how many come and speak, I will answer them.” Maj. McNary said: “Well, I do not think that that remark is called for.” So terminated this little debate. Several told me afterwards: “They made nothing off of you. You outdone them and you are able to do it.” Donaldson said some of them said: “When they go to the Scriptures they have no business with Mr. Bard.” O Lord, bless my speech and may much good and no evil come of it. Help us to love our neighbor as ourself.

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