November 2018

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One More Presbyterian Minister Stands for Liberty
by David T. Myers.

“Men of America,” the Presbyterian minister in Massachusetts preached, “citizens of this great country hanging upon the precipice of war, loyalty to England lies behind you, broken by the acts of the mother country – a cruel mother, deaf to the voice of liberty and right; duty to freedom, duty to your country, duty to God is before you; your patriotism is brought to the test; I call upon those ready to volunteer for the defense of the provinces against British tyranny to step into the ‘broad aisle.’” Those who did step into that church aisle became the first volunteers to join the Continental Army and fight in the Battle of Bunker Hill. A political liberty became his emphasis in those days.

Such rhetoric was more commonly found among Presbyterian pastors than any other denomination in the days and years of the American Revolution. It was no wonder that the Revolutionary War was characterized in England as the Presbyterian Rebellion. And one of those Presbyterian ministers leading the charge was Jonathan Parsons.

Born November 30, 1705, he was the youngest son of church deacon Ebenezer Parsons and his wife Margaret Marshfield of Springfield, Massachusetts. This line of Parsons could be traced back hundreds of years in England and later, equally forward for a long time in America. Jonathan Parsons was influenced by the Rev. Jonathan Edwards to enter Yale, which he did at age twenty. Edwards, along with others, taught him theology as he prepared for the ministry.

Graduating in 1729, Parsons entered first into the pulpit of the Congregational Church of Lyme, Connecticut in 1731. Married to Phebe Griswold, the oldest daughter of the town’s leading family, Jonathan gained much in the material realm in the first decade of his ministry. And he lived that advantage to the fullest. It was said that “he had a passion for fine clothes, for gold and silver, and for lacy ruffled shirt fronts.”

All this came into direct confrontation with the effects of the Great Awakening in America. Suffering doubts regarding the reality of his own personal conversion, he struggled long and hard in his own mind until “the doctrine of salvation by faith burst on his mind.” The result was that his pulpit preaching became marked by greater earnestness and simplicity as he expounded the sufferings of Christ and His undying love for sinners. Rev. Parson’s ministry was now characterized by a spiritual vigor and a renewed freedom in preaching the Gospel of grace.

This embrace of the Great Awakening was enhanced by his meeting and subsequent cooperation with George Whitefield in the 1740’s. The latter entered his pulpit in Lyme twice. While reviving many with the doctrines of grace proclaimed without reservation, eventually the congregation suffered a schism. And so it was that Parsons was dismissed from the Congregational pulpit in 1745.

With help from Whitefield, Jonathan Parsons became the pastor of the Old South Presbyterian Church in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He would serve the Lord for thirty years, in which time the congregation became one of the largest churches in New England. It was to this congregation that George Whitefield would visit in 1770, and indeed Whitefield breathed his last and was translated to heaven there in the parsonage of Jonathan Parsons. His body was laid beneath the pulpit of that church, and though later moved a short distance, Whitefield’s remains are still there. Yet a few more years and Whitefield was joined on July 19, 1776 with the passing of his friend Jonathan Parsons.

Words to Live By:
Jonathan Parsons is a good example of what happens when the Gospel of the Lord Jesus fills our hearts and minds by the power of the Holy Spirit. Strive to so live and breathe that you always remain close to your Lord and Savior. Then watch to see how the Lord will indeed use you to His glory, in His kingdom.

Remembering a Founding Father of the PCA

Many of the PCA’s founding fathers have already passed on to their reward. One such was the Rev. Thomas Edward Lacey, who spent the larger portion of his ministerial career as a missionary in Belize. Our text today is taken first from the memorial posted at the Find-a-Grave website, and secondly from the Minutes of the Presbytery of Mississippi Valley. The first account tells a more vibrant story of this brother’s life and ministry, while the second is more formal. Together, I think they speak eloquently to our purpose.

“Thomas Edward Lacey was the son of Edward Alexander and Ava McGee Lacey. He was Born on February 21, 1934 in Kosciusko, Mississippi. As a young man, he traveled to the Northwest coast of Canada where he served as the pilot of a missionary ship, the Willis Shank, for the Inland Indian Missions. There he met his bride, Helen Loewen, who was a missionary teacher to the island tribes of the area. They married on Thetus Island [British Columbia] on May 4, 1958. After the birth of a daughter, Susan Joy, they returned to Kosciusko where Tom served as the youth pastor for First Presbyterian and attended Jackson Theological Seminary. A son, David Edward, was born before they were commissioned as missionaries with the South American Indian Mission in Bolivia for the purpose of reaching the Ayora tribe. During that time, a son, Mark Thomas, was born. Eventually, the Lacey family moved to Cristo Rey, Belize to serve the Mayan Indians under the Mexican Presbytery. They established numerous village churches, a school, and a medical clinic. They remained in Belize until Tom’s death in Houston, Texas from cancer on November 29, 1994.” 

Then, from the memorial which was spread upon the minutes of the Presbytery of Mississippi, where Rev. Lacey was a member:

WHEREAS, our Sovereign God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, saw fit to call our friend, brother, and co-laborer, Thomas Edward Lacey, home to heaven on November 29, 1994, and
WHEREAS, Thomas Edward Lacey, having been raised, nurtured, catechized, ordained, and having served the Lord in this church as a faithful member and Youth Director, and
WHEREAS, Thomas Edward Lacey’s Christian character, love, and service made him a valued friend and respected minister in the community of Kosciusko, Mississippi, and
WHEREAS, Thomas Edward Lacey was used greatly by the Lord in bringing sinners to Christ, establishing churches, a Presbytery, a Presbyterian Day School and a Medical-Dental clinic, throughout five years of ministry in the villages of Bolivia and twenty-five years of ministry in the villages of Northern Belize, during which time the Lord graciously called His appointed ones in the family of God’s children and established a portion of His church to His own glory; 
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Session of First Presbyterian Church, representing its membership, expresses its deeply felt sense of loss in the passing of our brother, Thomas Edward Lacey, our appreciation for his untiring service and exemplary life, and our gratitude to Almighty God for allowing us the joy and blessing of having known, loved and labored with this servant of the Lord.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this resolution be made a permanent record on the minutes of the Session of the First Presbyterian Church, Kosciusko, Mississippi, and that a copy be sent to the Presbytery of the Mississippi Valley so that Thomas Edward Lacey might be memorialized at the June 6, 1995 meeting of the Presbytery, and that a copy be presented to his family.
Adopted by the Session, May 14, 1995.

Words to Live By:
Psalm 116:15 declares, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Have you ever wondered at this truth? For one, it must be a sure truth, because what awaits us, in Christ, is so far above what we have known in this life that it cannot compare. It is a deep truth and one worth pondering. Matthew Henry comments: “God has a people, even in this world, that are his saints, his merciful ones, or men of mercy, that have received mercy from him and show mercy for his sake. The saints of God are mortal and dying; nay, there are those that desire their death, and labour all they can to hasten it, and sometimes prevail to be the death of them; but it is precious in the sight of the Lord; their life is so (2 Ki. 1:13 ); their blood is so, Ps. 72:14 . God often wonderfully prevents the death of his saints when there is but a step between them and it; he takes special care about their death, to order it for the best in all the circumstances of it;”

An “Old Side” Presbyterian Who Accomplished Much for Christ
by Rev David T Myers

Educational opportunities in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition were alive and well in the American colonies in the early days of her existence. Schools like the Log College under William Tennant, Faggs Manor Presbyterian Academy under Samuel Blair, West Nottingham Academy under Samuel Finley were all in operation in the 1740’s. We can add to these posts that of New London Academy under the tutelage of the Rev. Francis Alison (sometimes spelled with two “l”s).

Francis Alison was born in the parish of Leck, County Donegal, in what we know as North Ireland or Ulster, today. The son of a weaver, he had received education in a Presbyterian school which prepared him well to enter the schools of the British Isles. A Master’s degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1733 added to his education. Some surmise that he also studied at the University of Glasgow for further theological study, since later on, he was awarded an honorary divinity degree, given only to alumni. All this enabled him to be licensed by Letterkenny Presbytery, after which he left for America.

In America, Alison was first hired as a tutor in the family of John Dickinson. Ordained as a minister in 1737 by an American Presbytery, he was called to New London, Pennsylvania as the Presbyterian pastor in the church there. It was in this call that he founded the New London Academy, a classical school which is still in operation today. Students, which were all male in its early days, were trained in math, sciences, Latin, philosophy, and yes the Bible. Among the graduates were three signers of the Declaration of Independence, namely, Thomas McKean, George Read, and James Smith. Charles Thompson, who was the secretary of the Continental Congress, was also his pupil.

In 1741, as our readers know from other posts, there was a schism in the infant Presbyterian church known as the New Side Old Side Split. This has been treated elsewhere in This Day. It may surprise many that Francis Alison took the Old Side position. At the close of this schism, Alison preached the opening sermon of the reunited denomination, entitled “Peace and Union” from Ephesians 4:4 – 7.

In 1751, Rev. Alison left the New London Church and Academy to take a administrator-teacher role in the Academy of Philadelphia. He also became a part time pastor of Philadelphia’s First Presbyterian Church. He helped develop the first insurance plan for Presbyterian ministers and set up a lending library for ministers. He was also involved in helping develop in 1767 another school down in Newark, Delaware which later on became the University of Delaware.

Francis Alison went to be with the Lord on November 28, 1779 after a life spent in God’s service.

Words to Live By:

Our teaching elders in the Presbyterian church government are often called pastors-teachers. And so they are in both name and ministry. Paul gives these men the following challenge in 2 Timothy 2:2 “and the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” How are you, the subscribers who occupy this high and holy calling, carrying out this mandate in the home, church, and school? Examine yourself!

[The following paper by Dr. J. Gresham Machen was read before a group of ministers in Philadelphia on November 27, 1933. It was subsequently published in Christianity Today (original series, August 1934) and later reprinted in a collection of Machen’s essays edited by Ned B. Stonehouse, published under the title What Is Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951). The address was again separately reprinted in 2002 by the Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and can also be found online at the OPC website For an interesting exploration of the background of this work, as found among the Papers of Dr. Allan A. MacRae, click here.]

machen_climbingMountains and Why We Love Them

by J. Gresham Machen

What right have I to speak about mountain-climbing? The answer is very simple. I have none whatever. I have, indeed, been in the Alps four times. The first time I got up Monte Rosa, the second highest of the Alps, and one or two others of the easier Zermatt peaks. On my second visit I had some glorious days in the Grossglockner group and on a few summits in the Zillerthal Alps and also made my first visit to that beautiful liberty-loving land of South Tirol, where, as a result of a war fought to “make the world safe for democracy,” Mussolini is now engaged in the systematic destruction of a language and civilization that has set its mark upon the very face of the landscape for many centuries. On my third visit, in 1913, I did my most ambitious climbing, all in the Eastern Alps, getting up the Kleine Zinne by the north face, certain of the sporty Cortina courses, and also the Campanile di Val Montanaia, which is not considered altogether easy. In 1932 I was on three of the first-class Zermatt peaks.

Why, then, have I no right to talk about mountain-climbing? For the simple reason that I did all of these climbs with good guides, safeguarded by perfectly good Alpine ropes. An Alpine guide is said to be able to get a sack of meal up the Matterhorn about as well as he can get some tourists up, and then those tourists go home and boast what great mountaineers they are. Well, I differed from the proverbial sack of meal in two particulars: (1) I am a little superior to the sack of meal in climbing ability; (2) the sack of meal is unaware of the fact that it is not a mountaineer, and I am fully aware of the fact that I am not. The man who leads on the rope is the man who has to be a real mountaineer, and I never did that. I am less than the least of the thousands of real climbers who go to the Alps every summer and climb without guides.

But although I am not a mountaineer, I do love the mountains and I have loved them ever since I can remember anything at all. It is about the love of the mountains, rather than about the mountains, that I am venturing to read this little paper today.

Can the love of the mountains be conveyed to those who have it not? I am not sure. Perhaps if a man is not born with that love it is almost as hopeless to try to bring it to him as it would be to explain what color is to a blind man or to try to make President Roosevelt understand the Constitution of the United States. But on the whole I do believe that the love of the mountains can at least be cultivated, and if I can do anything whatever toward getting you to cultivate it, the purpose of this little paper will be amply attained.

Le Sommet du Cervin. Croix du sommet italien arete faitiere.One thing is clear—if you are to learn to love the mountains you must go up them by your own power. There is more thrill in the smallest hill in Fairmount Park if you walk up it than there is in the grandest mountain on earth if you go up it in an automobile. There is one curious thing about means of locomotion—the slower and simpler and the closer to nature they are, the more real thrill they give. I have got far more enjoyment out of my two feet than I did out of my bicycle; and I got more enjoyment out of my bicycle than I ever have got out of my motor car; and as for airplanes—well, all I can say is that I wouldn’t lower myself by going up in one of the stupid, noisy things! The only way to have the slightest inkling of what a mountain is is to walk or climb up it.

Now I want you to feel something of what I feel when I am with the mountains that I love. To that end I am not going to ask you to go with me to any out-of-the-way place, but I am just going to take you to one of the most familiar tourist’s objectives, one of the places to which one goes on every ordinary European tour—namely, to Zermatt—and in Zermatt I am not going to take you on any really difficult climbs but merely up one or two of the peaks by the ordinary routes which modern mountaineers despise. I want you to look at Zermatt for a few minutes not with the eyes of a tourist, and not with the eyes of a devotee of mountaineering in its ultra-modern aspects, but with the eyes of a man who, whatever his limitations, does truly love the mountains.

In Zermatt, after I arrived on July 15, 1932, I secured Alois Graven as my guide; and on a number of the more ambitious expeditions I had also Gottfried Perren, who also is a guide of the first class. What Ty Cobb was on a baseball diamond and Bill Tilden is on the courts, that such men are on a steep snow or ice slope, or negotiating a difficult rock, Ueberhang. It is a joy as I have done in Switzerland and in the Eastern Alps, to see really good climbers at work.

At this point I just want to say a word for Swiss and Austrian guides. Justice is not done to them, in my judgment, in many of the books on climbing. You see, it is not they who write the books. They rank as professionals, and the tourists who hire them as “gentleman”; but in many cases I am inclined to think that the truer gentleman is the guide. I am quite sure that that was the case when I went with Alois Graven.

In addition to climbing practice on the wrong side of the cocky little Riffelhorn and on the ridge of the Untergabelhorn—which climbing practice prevented me from buttoning my back collar button without agony for a week—and in addition to an interesting glacier expedition around the back side of the Breithorn and up Pollux (13,430 feet) and Caster (13,850) and down by the Fellikjoch through the ice fall of the Zwillingsgletscher, on which expedition I made my first acquaintance with really bad weather in the high Alps and the curious optical illusions which it causes—it was perfectly amazing to see the way in which near the summit of Caster the leading guide would feel with his ice-axe for the edge of the ridge in what I could have sworn to be a perfectly innocent expanse of easy snowfield right there in plain view before our feet, and it was also perfectly amazing to see the way in which little pieces of ice on the glacier were rolled by way of experimentation down what looked like perfectly innocent slopes, to see whether they would simply disappear in crevasses which I could have sworn not to be there (if they disappeared we didn’t because we took the hint and chose some other way through the labyrinth)—after these various preliminary expeditions and despite the agony of a deep sore on my right foot in view of which the Swiss doctor whom I consulted told me that as a physician he would tell me to quit but that as a man he knew I would not do so and that therefore he would patch me up as well as possible, and despite the even greater agony of a strained stomach muscle which I got when I extricated myself and was extricated one day from a miniature crevasse and which made me, the following night in the Theodul hut, feel as helpless as a turtle laid on its back, so that getting out of my bunk became a difficult mountaineering feat—after these preliminary expeditions and despite these and other agonies due to a man’s giving a fifty-year-old body twenty-year-old treatment, I got up three first-class Zermatt peaks; the Zinalrothorn, the Matterhorn, and the Dent Blanche. Of these three, I have not time—or rather you have not time (for I for my part should just love to go on talking about the mountains for hours and Niagara would have nothing on me for running on)—I say, of these you have not time for me to tell about more than one. It is very hard for me to choose among the three. The Zinalrothorn, I think, is the most varied and interesting as a climb; the Dent Blanche has always had the reputation of being the most difficult of all the Zermatt peaks, and it is a glorious mountain indeed, a mountain that does not intrude its splendors upon the mob but keeps them for those who will penetrate into the vastnesses or will mount to the heights whence true nobility appears in its real proportions. I should love to tell you of that crowning day of my month at Zermatt, when after leaving the Schönbühl Hut at about 2.30 A.M. (after a disappointment the previous night when my guides had assisted in a rescue expedition that took one injured climber and the body of one who was killed in an accident on the Zmutt Ridge of the Matterhorn, opposite the hut where we were staying, down to Zermatt so that we all arrived there about 2 A.M., about the time when it had been planned that we should leave the hut for our climb) we made our way by lantern light up into the strange upper recesses of the Schönbühl Glacier, then by the dawning light of the day across the glacier, across the bottom of a couloir safe in the morning but not a place where one lingers when the warmth of afternoon has affected the hanging glacier two thousand feet above, then to the top of the Wandfluh, the great south ridge, at first broad and easy but contracting above to its serrated knife-edge form, then around the “great gendarme” and around or over the others of the rock towers on the ridge, until at last that glorious and unbelievable moment came when the last few feet of the sharp snow ridge could be seen with nothing above but a vacancy of blue, and when I became conscious of the fact that I was actually standing on the summit of the Dent Blanche.

But the Matterhorn is a symbol as well as a mountain, and so I am going to spend the few minutes that remain in telling you about that.

4164 Blick v. d. Wellenkuppe g. Matterhorn 4505 m. und Dent d'HeThere is a curious thing when you first see the Matterhorn on a fresh arrival at Zermatt. You think your memory has preserved for you an adequate picture of what it is like. But you see that you were wrong. The reality is far more unbelievable than any memory of it can be. A man who sees the Matterhorn standing at that amazing angle above the Zermatt street can believe that such a thing exists only when he keeps his eyes actually fastened upon it.

When I arrived on July 15, 1932, the great mountain had not yet been ascended that summer. The masses of fresh snow were too great; the weather had not been right. That is one way in which this mountain retains its dignity even in the evil days upon which it has fallen when duffers such as I can stand upon its summit. In storm, it can be almost as perilous as ever even to those who follow the despised easiest route.

It was that despised easiest route, of course, which I followed—though my guide led me to have hopes of doing the Zmutt Ridge before I got through. On Monday, August 1st, we went up to the “Belvedere,” the tiny little hotel (if you can call it such) that stands right next to the old Matterhorn Hut at 10,700 feet. We went up there intending to ascend the Matterhorn the next day. But alas for human hopes. Nobody ascended the Matterhorn the next day, nor the day after that, nor that whole week. On Wednesday we with several other parties went a little way, but high wind and cold and snow soon drove us back. The Matterhorn may be sadly tamed, but you cannot play with it when the weather is not right. That applies to experts as well as to novices like me. I waited at the Belvedere all that week until Friday. It is not the most comfortable of summer resorts, and I really think that the stay that I made in it was one of the longest that any guest had ever made. Its little cubby-holes of rooms are admirable as Frigidaires, but as living quarters they are “not so hot.” People came and people went; very polyglot was the conversation: but I remained. I told them that I was the hermit or the Einsiedler of the Belvedere. At last, however, even I gave it up. On Friday I returned to Zermatt, in plenty of time for the Saturday night bath!

The next Monday we toiled again up that five thousand feet to the Belvedere, and this time all went well. On Tuesday, August 9th, I stood on what I suppose is, next to Mt. Everest, the most famous mountain in the world.

From the Belvedere to the summit is about four thousand feet. The Matterhorn differs from every other great Alpine peak that I know anything about in that when you ascend it by the usual route you do not once set foot on a glacier. You climb near the northeast ridge—for the most part not on the actual ridge itself but on the east face near the ridge. In some places in the lower part there is some danger from falling stones, especially if other parties are climbing above. There is scarcely anything that the blasé modern mountaineer calls rock climbing of even respectable difficulty; but it is practically all rock climbing or clambering of a sort, and it seems quite interesting enough to the novice. The most precipitous part is above what is called “the shoulder,” and it was from near this part that the four members of Whymper’s party fell 4,000 feet to their death when they were descending after the first ascent in 1865. There are now fixed ropes at places in this part. You grasp the hanging rope with one hand and find the holds in the rock with the other. It took me five hours and forty minutes to make the ascent from the Belvedere. It would certainly have been no great achievement for an athlete; but I am not an athlete and never was one, and I was then fifty-one years of age and have an elevator in the building where I live. The rarefied air affected me more than it used to do in my earlier years, and the mountain is about 14,700 feet high. I shall never forget those last few breathless steps when I realized that only a few feet of easy snow separated me from the summit of the Matterhorn. When I stood there at last—the place where more than any other place on earth I had hoped all my life that I might stand—I was afraid I was going to break down and weep for joy.

The summit looks the part. It is not indeed a peak, as you would think it was from looking at the pictures which are taken from Zermatt, but a ridge—a ridge with the so-called Italian summit at one end and the so-called Swiss summit three feet higher at the other. Yes, it is a ridge. But what a ridge! On the south you look directly over the stupendous precipice of the south face to the green fields of Valtournanche. On the north you look down an immensely steep snow slope—with a vacancy beyond that is even more impressive than an actual view over the great north precipice would be. As for the distant prospect, I shall not try to describe it, for the simple reason that it is indescribable. Southward you look out over the mysterious infinity of the Italian plain with the snows of Monte Viso one hundred miles away. To the west, the great snow dome of Mont Blanc stands over a jumble of snow peaks; and it looks the monarch that it is. To the north the near peaks of the Weisshorn and the Dent Blanche, and on the horizon beyond the Rhone Valley a marvelous glittering galaxy of the Jungfrau and the Finsteraarhorn and the other mountains of the Benese Oberland. To the east, between the Strahlhorn and Monte Rosa, the snows of the Weissthorn are like a great sheet let down from heaven, exceeding white and glistering, so as no fuller on earth can white them; and beyond, fold on fold, soft in the dim distance, the ranges of the Eastern Alps.

Then there is something else about that view from the Matterhorn. I felt it partly at least as I stood there, and I wonder whether you can feel it with me. It is this. You are standing there not in any ordinary country, but in the very midst of Europe, looking out from its very centre. Germany just beyond where you can see to the northeast, Italy to the south, France beyond those snows of Mont Blanc. There, in that glorious round spread out before you, that land of Europe, humanity has put forth its best. There it has struggled; there it has fallen; there it has looked upward to God. The history of the race seems to pass before you in an instant of time, concentrated in that fairest of all the lands of the earth. You think of the great men whose memories you love, the men who have struggled there in those countries below you, who have struggled for light and freedom, struggled for beauty, struggled above all for God’s Word. And then you think of the present and its decadence and its slavery, and you desire to weep. It is a pathetic thing to contemplate the history of mankind.

4192 Mettelhorn. Weisshorn 4512 m. vom Gornergrat ausWhat will be the end of that European civilization, of which I had a survey from my mountain vantage ground—of that European civilization and its daughter in America? What does the future hold in store? Will Luther prove to have lived in vain? Will all the dreams of liberty issue into some vast industrial machine? Will even nature be reduced to standard, as in our country the sweetness of the woods and hills is being destroyed, as I have seen them destroyed in Maine, by the uniformities and artificialities and officialdom of our national parks? Will the so-called “Child Labor Amendment” and other similar measures be adopted, to the destruction of all the decencies and privacies of the home? Will some dreadful second law of thermodynamics apply in the spiritual as in the material realm? Will all things in church and state be reduced to one dead level, coming at last to an equilibrium in which all liberty and all high aspirations will be gone? Will that be the end of all humanity’s hopes? I can see no escape from that conclusion in the signs of the times; too inexorable seems to me to be the march of events. No, I can see only one alternative. The alternative is that there is a God—a God who in His own good time will bring forward great men again to do His will, great men to resist the tyranny of experts and lead humanity out again into the realms of light and freedom, great men, above all, who will be messengers of His grace. There is, far above any earthly mountain peak of vision, a God high and lifted up who, though He is infinitely exalted, yet cares for His children among men.I know that there are people who tell us contemptuously that always there are croakers who look always to the past, croakers who think that the good old times are the best. But I for my part refuse to acquiesce in this relativism which refuses to take stock of the times in which we are living. It does seem to me that there can never be any true advance, and above all there can never be any true prayer, unless a man does pause occasionally, as on some mountain vantage ground, to try, at least, to evaluate the age in which he is living. And when I do that, I cannot for the life of me see how any man with even the slightest knowledge of history can help recognizing the fact that we are living in a time of sad decadence—a decadence only thinly disguised by the material achievements of our age, which already are beginning to pall on us like a new toy. When Mussolini makes war deliberately and openly upon democracy and freedom, and is much admired for doing so even in countries like ours; when an ignorant ruffian is dictator of Germany, until recently the most highly educated country in the world—when we contemplate these things I do not see how we can possibly help seeing that something is radically wrong. Just read the latest utterances of our own General Johnson, his cheap and vulgar abuse of a recent appointee of our President, the cheap tirades in which he develops his view that economics are bunk—and then compare that kind of thing with the state papers of a Jefferson or a Washington—and you will inevitably come to the conclusion that we are living in a time when decadence has set in on a gigantic scale.

What have I from my visits to the mountains, not only from those in the Alps, but also, for example, from that delightful twenty-four-mile walk which I took one day last summer in the White Mountains over the whole Twin Mountain range? The answer is that I have memories. Memory, in some respects, is a very terrible thing. Who has not experienced how, after we have forgotten some recent hurt in the hours of sleep, the memory of it comes back to us on our awaking as though it were some dreadful physical blow. Happy is the man who can in such moments repeat the words of the Psalmist and who in doing so regards them not merely as the words of the Psalmist but as the Word of God. But memory is also given us for our comfort; and so in hours of darkness and discouragement I love to think of that sharp summit ridge of the Matterhorn piercing the blue or the majesty and the beauty of that world spread out at my feet when I stood on the summit of the Dent Blanche.

It was on this day in 1857 that the Rev. Ebenezer Platt Rogers [1817-1881] delivered an historical discourse regarding the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Albany, New York, on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1857. But if like me you are still suffering from too much turkey and pecan pie, perhaps it will be best to skip over the heavier substance of the message from Rev. Rogers and simply to focus on his opening words. I pray you will find these words thought-provoking and something to take to heart.

We begin with the text chosen for his discourse.



Walk about Zion, and go round about her; tell the towers
thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that
ye may tell it to the generation following.—Psalm xlviii: 12, 13.

“Thus does the pious psalmist exhort us to note with zealous care, the history and character of the Church of God. To trace out that history, to record her progress, to take note of God’s dealings with her from time to time, and testify to her advancement and triumph, is a grateful task, and a solemn duty. Especially when that history runs over the track of centuries, should this duty be discharged. For as the river widens its channel, and bears richer freight on its bosom, as it flows farther and faster from its source, so as we follow the history of the Church down the stream of time, we find it richer in interest, and more deeply laden with the treasures of the Divine presence and blessing.

“And what is true of the church at large, is no less true of individual churches and congregations. We regard it as the solemn duty of every church to keep a faithful record of its history, and to afford the opportunity to succeeding generations to know something of its origin, its progress, its vicissitudes, its foes, its struggles and its triumphs. The ancient Jews were required “to instruct their children that they might convey throughout all generations the history of those Divine interpositions and mercies with which they had been favored.” And the obligation is no less binding upon Christian churches, thus to keep in perpetual remembrance the dealings of God with them for the information and encouragement of succeeding generations.”

Words to Live By:
Time and again throughout the Scriptures, perhaps most notably in the Psalms, we are instructed to remember the Lord’s works. By God’s design, it is a means by which we can keep our hearts fresh before the Lord and our love for Him fueled anew.

Praise ye the Lord. I will praise the Lord with my whole heart,
in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation.
The works of the Lord are great,
sought out of all them that have pleasure therein
His work is honourable and glorious:
and his righteousness endureth for ever.
He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered:
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion
—Psalm 111:1-4, KJV (emphasis added)

Last week we concluded Rev. Van Horn’s series on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. But noting that we did miss a few of his lessons, we’re going to go back and present those before moving on to new territory in the coming year. Today’s post covers Question 100 of the Catechism.

by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 100. What doth the preface of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?

A. The preface of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, “Our Father which is in heaven,” teacheth us to draw near to God, with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us and that we should pray with and for others.

Scripture References: Isa. 64:9; Luke 11:13; Rom. 8:15; Eph. 6:1; Acts 12:5; Zech. 8:21.


1. When we say “Our Father” in the prayer, are we speaking of one God the Father?

No, we are speaking of the triune God. The Father is mentioned but the Son and the Holy Spirit are included because they are the same in essence.

2. Is it possible for everyone to pray this prayer?

No, it is a prayer that only those who are believers are able to pray. It is only those who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them because of their relationship to Jesus Christ that can call out “Our Father” and sincerely mean it.

3. What can we be taught from the words “Our Father” in the prayer?

We can be taught that we can address our Lord with an attitude that is likened (though deeper) to the attitude of a child towards his earthly father. It is an attitude of love, adoration, and delight.

4. Why is it important for us to know God is in heaven?

It is important for us as by this we can direct our prayers to Him away from the cares of this world and to expect our blessings from above. It should also teach us to be careful of our attitude toward God that it is a holy attitude and an attitude of carefulness of our words directed toward Him. (Ecclesiastes 5:2).

5. Should we not remember that the preface contains the word “Our” as we pray?

Yes, we should remember this constantly. This should teach us to pray with and for others. It should remind us that we are “one in Christ Jesus” and that we are not alone no matter what our trouble or difficulty might be here on earth.


One of the difficulties of the prayer life on the part of many is that they attempt some of the more advanced patterns of prayer before becoming well-versed in elementary prayer. What is elementary prayer? The simple procedure of making of requests and giving thanks.

There are higher patterns of prayer. There are such things as adoration, communion, spiritual warfare, intercession and contemplation. But so many times the young believer–and many times the believer of many years–will attempt some of these higher patterns, become discouraged, and the prayer life will continue to suffer. How can we train ourselves to reach the higher patterns some day?

One of the simple methods is to keep a “Prayer Card” in your pocket or in your Bible or in your purse and keep an orderly list of things for which you can pray. As new things come to your attention, add them and you will be amazed at how your list will grow. You will also be amazed at the increases in urgency in prayer on your part.

This urgency in prayer is one of our greatest needs. So many times we seem to feel we can only pray when we are in the right mood. We should remember that our Sovereign God knows all about our moods and will give us the grace, as we cast ourselves on Him, to rise above our moods and be regular and urgent in our prayer lives.

Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman tells the story of Praying Hyde (John Nelson Hyde) coming to his room for prayer. Dr. Chapman stated, “He came up to my room, turned the key in the door, dropped on his knees, waited five minutes without a single syllable coming from his lips. I could hear my own heart thumping and his beating. I knew I was with God. Then with upturned face, down which tears streamed, he broke out with, ‘O, God!’ For five minutes he was still again. When he knew that he was talking with God, there came from the depths of his heart such petitions for men as I have never heard before. I rose from my knees knowing what real prayer is.”

We need more Praying Hydes today. Will you join with me with some elementary prayer? (Luke 18:1).

Published by The Shield and Sword, Inc.
Dedicated to instruction in the Westminster Standards for use as a bulletin insert or other methods of distribution in Presbyterian churches.

Vol. 7, No. 4 (April 1968)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor.

In hopes that on the weekend you will have time to read a longer article, over the next few weeks we will be running a series of articles from 1949 written by Chalmers W. Alexander. Our author was a graduate of Princeton University, class of 1932, a lawyer and noted civil servant, and a faithful ruling elder at the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi (now a PCA church). He died in 1996. These articles appeared in CHRISTIANITY TODAY, a monthly magazine published by Samuel G. Craig, founder of the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, and that journal ran from 1930-1949; it should not be confused with the one still publishing today under the same name.

The Heretical Auburn Affirmation And The Northern Presbyterian Church
(“Exploring Avenues Of Acquaintance And Co-operation”)
By Chalmers W. Alexander
Jackson, Miss.

The Auburn Affirmation, which was published in 1924, bearing the signatures of almost 1,300 ordained ministers in the Northern Presbyterian Church, did not create the lamentable doctrinal situation which exists in that denomination today.  The Auburn Affirmation merely brought into clear locus the various elements of heresy and apostasy which had existed in the Northern Presbyterian Church for many years prior to 1924, so that all of the world could see those elements plainly.

What is the Auburn Affirmation, to which reference is made so often? Why did it come into being and what does it mean?

In order to understand completely the answers to these questions, it is necessary to review briefly some of the events which have taken place in the Northern Presbyterian Church in recent years.

Events Leading To The Auburn Affirmation

In January of 1919 Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Baptist and a professor in that hot-bed of Modernism known as Union Theological Seminary, in New York City, was invited to serve as “stated preacher” of the First Presbyterian Church of New York City. From the pulpit of that Presbyterian Church, Dr. Fosdick, who is one of the most popular and destructive Modernists in the entire Christian Church, began carrying on his Modernist propaganda instead of faithfully preaching the Christian Gospel as it is contained in the Bible. In fact, Dr. Fosdick from that pulpit began a strong attack upon the truths and doctrines which are the very heart and core of historic Christianity.

Because of this, seven different Presbyteries of the Northern Presbyterian Church sent overtures (which are simply formal requests for advice or action) to the General Assembly of that denomination, for consideration at its 1923 meeting which was to be held in Indianapolis.  These overtures vigorously called attention to the deplorable situation in the First Presbyterian Church of New York City and asked that something be done about it.

The General Assembly of 1923 did do something about it. First that General Assembly directed the Presbytery of New York to correct the situation in the First Presbyterian Church of New York City.  Then it reaffirmed the evangelical statement or deliverance made by the General Assembly of 1910, in which each of the following had been declared to be “an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our standards”:

1.   “That the Holy Spirit did so inspire, guide, and move the writers of Holy Scripture as to keep them from error.”
2.  “That our Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.”
3.   “That Christ  offered  up  Himself a sacrifice to satisfy Divine justice and to reconcile us to God.”
4.  “That on the third day He rose from the dead with the same body with which He suffered, with which He also   ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of His Father, making intercession.”
5.  “That our Lord Jesus showed His power and love by working mighty miracles.  This work was not contrary to nature, but superior to it.”

This doctrinal deliverance, or the “Five Points” as it came to be called, was not something new.  It had first been made in 1910 by the General Assembly of the Northern Presbyterian Church in reply to an overture from the Synod of Baltimore “respecting prevalent doubts and denials of certain statements of the Confession.” And it had been reaffirmed by the General Assembly of 1916 in response to overtures complaining of the action of the Presbytery of New York in licensing candidates for the Presbyterian ministry who “neither affirmed nor denied the doctrine of the virgin birth.” As Dr. J. Gresham Machen, probably the world’s greatest New Testament scholar at the time of his death in 1937, once observed:

“This evangelical pronouncement of the General Assembly contained no intricate or detailed doctrines, and no doctrines peculiar to the Reformed Faith (or Calvinism). It merely set forth five central verities in which the great historic branches of the Christian Church are agreed.”

The Auburn Affirmation Is Published

Yet this evangelical pronouncement by the General Assembly of 1923 was powerfully attacked by a subtle and cleverly worded document called the Auburn Affirmation. This document was published in 1924, from Auburn, N. Y., and it bore the names of 1,293 ordained ministers of the Northern Presbyterian Church, representing more than one-tenth of the ministers in that denomination.

By signing that infamous, heretical document, the Auburn Affirmationists boldly denied the necessity of a Presbyterian minister’s believing in five of the great, central, foundation truths of the Christian religion.

The Auburn Affirmation at one stroke removes all of the “Five Points” from the essential message which the Christian Church is to proclaim to the world, for it claims that these five truths are not
essential at all.

When the Auburn Affirmation first appeared it gave all of the Bible-believing members of the Northern Presbyterian denomination an earthquake shock. And it will shock every Bible-believing Southern Presbyterian who will take the time to see what it says.

It should be kept clearly in mind that every Northern Presbyterian minister who signed the Auburn Affirmation had solemnly vowed, when he was ordained as a minister, that he believed the Bible to be the Word of God, the “only infallible rule of faith and practice.” He also had solemnly vowed that he received and adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.

Now let us consider some of the characteristic statements of the Auburn Affirmation and compare them briefly with the clear teachings of the Confession of Faith and of the Holy Bible.

The Inerrancy Of Scripture Is Attacked

The Auburn Affirmation states: “The doctrine of inerrancy, intended to enhance the authority of the Scriptures, in fact impairs their supreme authority for faith and life, and weakens the testimony of the Church to the power of God unto salvation through Jesus Christ. We hold that the General Assembly of 1923, in asserting that ‘the Holy Spirit did so inspire, guide and move the writers of Holy Scripture as to keep them from error,’ spoke without warrant of the Scriptures or of the Confession of Faith.”

Now the Confession of Faith declares: “The Old Testament in Hebrew . . . and the New Testament in Greek . . . being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical.” (Chapter 1, Section 8). But the Auburn Affirmationists say the General Assembly in 1923, in asserting that the writers of the Holy Scriptures were kept from error, spoke “without warrant of the Scriptures or of the Confession of Faith.” Evidently to the signers of the Auburn Affirmation the statement in the Confession of Faith that the Scriptures were “kept pure in all ages,” does not mean “kept free from error!”

What amazing gymnastics the Auburn Affirmationists have performed here! They would tell us that the doctrine of inerrancy “impairs” the authority of the Bible and “weakens the testimony of the Church to the power of God unto salvation through Jesus Christ.” According to their thinking it must follow that to claim that the Holy Bible contains errors actually strengthens its authority and fortifies the testimony of the Christian Church.  Or, as Dr. Gordon H. Clark, Ph.D., points out in an article entitled “The Auburn Heresy,” the proposition reduces itself to this absurdity”: … in order for the Bible to be authoritative, it must contain error; and, I suppose, the more erroneous it is, the more authoritative it can be.”

As that great Bible scholar, Dr. Machen, once wrote, while he was still a minister in the Northern Presbyterian Church:

“At that point, there is a clear-cut break between the signers of the Auburn Affirmation and the Bible-believing Christians. Signers of the Auburn Affirmation are able to see how a book can be the Word of God and at the same time contain errors; Bible-believing Christians are unable to attain to such a degree of subtlety as that; they are simple-minded enough to think that when God speaks He speaks truth and only truth.
“I do not think that any amount of fine words can conceal that fundamental cleavage. The most important thing about a building is not its super-structure but its foundation; and the foundation upon which Bible-believing Christians, as distinguished from signers of the Auburn Affirmation, build is the full truthfulness of God’s Holy Word.”

The Virgin Birth And Other Verities Are Attacked

In referring to the “Five Points” enunciated by the General Assembly of 1923, the Auburn Affirmation states: “We all hold most earnestly to those great facts and doctrines . . . Some of us regard the particular theories contained in the deliverance of the General Assembly of 1923 as satisfactory explanations of these facts and doctrines. But we are united in believing that these are not the only theories allowed by the Scriptures and our standards as explanations of these facts and doctrines of our religion, and that all who hold to these facts and doctrines, whatever theories they may employ to explain them, are worthy of all confidence and fellowship.”

What does the Confession of Faith say, for instance, with reference to the Virgin Birth? How does it compare with what the Auburn Affirmation says on the same subject?

The Confession of Faith says: “The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity .. . did — take upon him man’s nature . . . being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance.” (Chapter 8, Section 2). This is a fact of history, recorded clearly in the Bible. It  either  happened,  or it did not happen. But to the Auburn Affirmationist it is not a fact at all, but merely a “theory” of the Incarnation (which is the belief that Christ, being the Son of God, became man on this earth). And, to the Auburn Affirmationist, it is merely one of several possible “theories” which can be held.

Now there are three possible “theories,” to use the word used in the Auburn Affirmation, which can be held relative to Christ’s birth, if you grant that Mary was His mother. (1) The first “theory” is that the Lord Jesus Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, and was born of the Virgin Mary without a human father. That is the only account given in the Bible, and it is the only account set forth in the Confession of Faith. (2) The second “theory” is that Christ was born of Mary, who was not a virgin, and that Joseph was the father of Christ. The Bible states positively that this is not the case, and in order for one to believe this “theory” it is necessary that he run head-on into the plain statement to the contrary contained in the Holy Bible. (3) The third “theory” is that Christ was born of Mary, who was not a virgin, and that some man other than Joseph was His father. To believe this “theory” makes the Lord Jesus Christ an illegitimate child and portrays Mary as a woman of loose morals and low character. And yet the Auburn Affirmation affirms that if a Presbyterian minister happened to subscribe to this third “theory” he would nevertheless be, to quote the language of the Auburn Affirmation, “worthy of all confidence and fellowship!”

A similar comparison of the statements of the Word of God and of the Confession of Faith, with what the Auburn Affirmation says on the same subjects, indicates clearly that the Auburn Affirmationists brazenly deny that it is essential for a Presbyterian minister to believe in the substitutionary atonement to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to God, or in the bodily resurrection of Christ, or in the miracles of our Lord. In fact, a Presbyterian minister may deny flatly all of the “Five Points,” according to the Auburn Affirmation, and yet he is to be considered “worthy of all confidence and fellowship” as though he actually and positively believed all of the “Five Points.”

Dr. Machen’s Opinion Of The Auburn Affirmation

After denying that any of the “Five Points” are essential doctrines, the Auburn Affirmation then attempts to make some positive statement of creed of its own. But this creedal statement is so cleverly worded that even the most radical Modernist could subscribe to it.  When one carefully reads this creedal statement he is more impressed by what the Auburn Affirmation fails to say than by what it actually says.

In connection with this statement of creed by the Auburn Affirmation, and with regard to the Auburn Affirmation as a whole, let us listen once more to that master theologian, Dr. Machen. The emphasis in the following quotation is added:

“Let us not deceive ourselves. The Auburn Affirmation is a typical Modernist document. It is typical in the deceptive way in which it uses general terms which many interpret in a Christian sense, but which many also interpret in a non-Christian sense.
“It affirms ‘the inspiration of the Bible, and the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the Continuing Life and Supernatural Power of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ It declares that the ‘writers of the Bible were inspired of God; that Jesus Christ was God manifest in the flesh; that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, and through Him we have our redemption; that having died for our sins He rose from the dead and is our ever-living Saviour; that in His earthly ministry He wrought many mighty works, and by His vicarious death and unfailing presence He is able to save to the uttermost.’
“That sounds Christian, does it not? But the trouble is that every one of these noble terms is often used today in a non-Christian sense by destructive unbelief; and the Auburn Affirmation is careful to say that it will not define those terms in  the manner that the General Assembly did, so as to break definitely with unbelief.
“A document which will affirm inspiration but denies that the Scripture is without error; which affirms the incarnation but will not affirm the virgin birth; which will affirm the atonement but will not say Christ died as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to God; which will affirm the resurrection but will not say, as our Standards say, that the Lord rose from the dead with the same body in which He suffered; which will say that He wrought mighty works but will not say that He wrought miracles — this is simply one more manifestation of that destructive Modernism which is the deadliest enemy of the Christian religion in practically all of the larger Churches of the world at the present day . . .
“A mighty conflict is on in the Presbyterian Church at the present time. On the one side of the conflict are to be put believers in, and defenders of,   the Word of God;   on the  other side are to be put not only the signers of the Auburn Affirmation themselves, but also all those who are ready to make common cause, without protest, with the signers of the Auburn Affirmation in mission boards, in governing boards of theological seminaries, and in the courts and councils of the Church.”

The Auburn Affirmation is the boldest statement of heresy and apostasy ever to appear in the Northern Presbyterian Church. And yet, in spite of this fact, the Auburn Affirmation was never repudiated by the Northern Presbyterian Church, and none of its signers were ever convicted of heresy. Instead, many of the Auburn Affirmationists have now become powerful and influential leaders in the Northern Presbyterian Church.

The Opinion Of Other Sound Northern Presbyterian Ministers

In 1934 there was a plan afoot to unite the United Presbyterian denomination with the heresy-tainted Northern Presbyterian Church. One of the outstanding Conservative leaders in the Northern Presbyterian Church is Dr. Clarence E. Macartney, Pastor of the great First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh; Dr. Macartney was elected Moderator of the Northern Presbyterian Church in 1924. Dr. Macartney, in the April (1934) issue of “Christianity Today,” one of the orthodox church papers in that denomination, wrote an article entitled “Thou Shalt Say No,” in which he spoke vigorously against the proposed union. (And it is of interest to note that the United Presbyterian denomination has not yet united with the Northern Presbyterian Church.)

One of the principal grounds on which Dr. Macartney advised the United Presbyterian denomination not to unite with the Northern Presbyterian Church was the deplorable situation in the latter denomination, and one of the evidences he gave of this doctrinal unsoundness was the Auburn Affirmation.

Dr. Macartney stated that, because of the serious doctrinal division within the Northern Presbyterian denomination, one evidence of which was the Auburn Affirmation, the Presbyterian League of Faith had come into being in 1931. Among the 1,082 Northern Presbyterian ministers who organized the Presbyterian League of Faith were well known names in the Presbyterian Church, prominent professors, missionaries, ministers, and three former Moderators of the General Assembly of that denomination. The objects of the Presbyterian League of Faith were as follows (the emphasis is added):

1.  “To maintain loyalty to the Bible as the Word of God.”
2.   “To  maintain the Reformed, or Calvinistic, system of doctrine.”
3.  “To oppose changes in the historic formula of creed subscription required of candidates to the ministry and eldership.”
4.  “To oppose the attack made by the document commonly called ‘The Auburn Affirmation.’ ”
5.  “To warn men everywhere that salvation is to be obtained not by human merit, or human effort to please God, but only through the redeeming work of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
6. “To encourage the vigorous defense and joyous propagation of the Gospel in its fulness as it is set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith on the basis of Holy Scripture.”

If the Northern Presbyterian Church had remained faithful to its historic doctrinal position, and had not drifted away from the Bible and the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms, the Presbyterian League of Faith never would have been organized.

A Common Creed No Longer Exists

Today the Northern Presbyterian Church has as its doctrinal basis the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms — as modified or qualified by the heretical Auburn Affirmation.  The Southern Presbyterian Church, on the other hand, still has as its creedal basis the Word of God as outlined in the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms.

While the Northern Presbyterian Church still professes the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms, its true testimony in connection with these Westminster Standards is radically curtailed and qualified with regard to the great doctrines about the Holy Bible and about the Lord Jesus Christ by the open denials and negations contained in the Auburn Affirmation.  On the other hand, the Southern Presbyterian Church has clarified its testimony regarding the Holy Bible and regarding the Lord Jesus Christ, as this testimony is set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms, by this declaration which was adopted unanimously by our General Assembly of 1939:

“The General Assembly hereby declares that it regards the acceptance of the infallible truth and divine authority of the Scriptures, and of Christ as very and eternal God who became man by being born of a virgin, who offered Himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to God, who rose from the dead with the same body  with which He suffered, and who will return to judge the world, as being involved in the ordination vows to which we subscribe.”

The true creedal bases of the Northern Presbyterian Church and of the Southern Presbyterian Church simply do not coincide any longer.

It would be a decided step downward, and a definite compromise with heresy and apostasy, for the Southern Presbyterian Church to unite with the Northern Presbyterian Church.

What shall Southern Presbyterians, as Bible-believing Christians who repudiate completely the views contained in the Auburn Affirmation and who wish to remain separated from the signers of the heretical Auburn Affirmation, say with regard to the proposed union with the heresy-tainted Northern Presbyterian Church?

Thou Shalt Say, No!

The latter half of the twentieth century was marked by a number of unions between various Presbyterian denominations. There were splits too, but the number of mergers or attempted mergers was noteworthy. One attempted merger, never brought to completion, occurred over the middle years of the 1970s. Ultimately these talks between the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) ended without creating the merger. Perhaps more accurately, talks of merger were transformed into a larger vision, as the OPC, the RPCES, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) and the PCA began a mutual discussion in the late 1970s, which finally led to the RPCES being received into the PCA, while the OPC and RPCNA continued on as separate denominations.

What follows is the transcription of a two-page document recently located in the PCA Historical Center. This is report on a second informal conference between the OPC and the RPCES. There was a prior report on the first of these conferences, but I cannot find that we have that document. If one of our readers does have it, please contact me at the PCA Historical Center.


A SUMMARY of the second informal RP-OP Conference of Expressions  on the union of the two denominations at John Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Silver Spring, Md., Saturday, November 23, 1974, 9:00 a.m.

These two presbyteries are either indifferent to dangers or valiant enough to walk where angels fear to walk; mature in grace or ostentatiously obsequious; or those who really oppose the union do not come to these meetings but if there do not press their issues.

The Rev. Larry Vail of Grace OPC, Vienna, Va., led the brethren in a meditation on Ephesians 3:14-21. He stressed that Paul’s prayer has the impulse for church unity. He mentioned that this impulse is love and that this love is the fertile ground for faith, which in turn becomes the basis for the UNITY of the Body of Christ. A period of prayer followed the meditation.

Six topics of discussion were posted on the black board:

A. The Scope and Character of Eschatological Liberty.
B. Dispensationalism.
C. The Apologetical Significance of the Doctrine of God, Regeneration, Faith, and the Unity of the Covenant.
D. Neo-Pentecostalism.
E. Discipline as Held on Paper and Practice.
F. Organic Union and the Scriptural Mandate.

Dr. Robert Countess moderated the meeting. Dr. Countess is pastor of OPC in Manassas, Va. (until July, 1974, he was RPCES).

The Rev. Dominic Aquila, of Stony Point RPC, gave a summary of his paper on the first RP-OP Conference. Dominic reiterated that the issues of difference are not in the area of theology, church polity, etc., but rather in the realm of real suspicion and misunderstanding; not the content but the individual viewpoints.

An OPC brother expressed that suspicion toward OP evangelistic apathy can be substantiate, but only on the basis of isolated occurrence. Yet an isolated situation can never become a norm to characterize a denominational emphasis or the lack of it. A reply from the RP was that similar situations have occurred in the RPC and could have led to suspicion among the OP. To that the moderator gave an apt illustration from his personal experience.

An elder urged that real obstacles for union still exist on account of the lack of being sufficiently informed on the level of the elders.

The eschatological matter was more predominant at this meeting. References to the Larger Catechism Questions 86-89 were made. It was suggested, that if the RPC Standards do not show the change as given in the proposed Plan of Union, why then have the change, if it causes considerable difficulties to accept the proposed change. An RP man expressed that, as he sees it, this issue is more at the gut-level—emotional. He said the proof to that was exceptionally evident at the RP Synod in May, 1974. Another urged that distinctions have to be made clear, that there is a difference between the historic pre-millennial view and dispensationalism, in order to alleviate prevailing misunderstandings. Both denominations confessed to the fact that they have eschatological mixture and considerable liberty. Because of that the brethren were reminded that there are always emotional people in any group and that therefore certain attempts to make charges of heresy will be inevitable. The important part of that is, will the charge and response be done in mature love? A situation concerning RP minister ______ ________ and the OP Presbytery of ______________ was presented to illustrate the point of emotionalism. But the assembly was cautioned not to make that issue an illustration of an eschatological clash but rather a legitimate presbytery matter to which the assembly had not enough facts to draw illustrative conclusions. Some one else suggested the possibility of having something black on white to promote and protect eschatological liberty in the future in the merged denomination.

The other posted topics did not find such lengthy evaluations. Topic C was drawn out, and mention was made that this was more a matter of individual emphasis of those who are involved in this field. The differences that exist will continue to be more personal than normative.

Neo-Pentecostalism and issues concerning it SEEMED to be more settled in the mind of the brethren or insufficient facts thwarted any “juicy” discussion on this matter. It was pointed out that the Form of Government of both denominations expressed some implicit attitude (OPC FOG ch. 3, par. 1, and RPC FOG ch. 5, par. 1).

Christian liberty caused no aspects of disagreement. There seemed to be general agreement on the statement on holy living in the plan of union.

In conclusion, one should say that it is refreshing to get together with another denomination and find such large and wide range of harmony. Thanks to God’s eternal grace, we have the more excellent way to settle the differences that exist. May it be said of us in the future that the love of Christ constrained us . . . rather than that emotional fulmination variegated us.

Respectfully submitted,

Hermann W. Mischte
Dominic Aquilla

Remember to praise God quite as much as to pray.

And now for something completely different (as Monty Python used to say):

[excerpted from The English Presbyterian Messenger, New Series, No. 156 (December 1860): 375-376. Emphasis added.]

Some of our readers will peruse the following letter with interest and profit. It was not written for publication, but the Lord may make it useful for the edification of his own people. The friend who kindly sent it to us says :—

“ The enclosed letter, from a deeply tried and experienced Christian in Scotland, was sent to me the other day, along with two others, for my perusal. If you think with me that it is valuable, and can find space for it in “The Messenger,” it may, perhaps, prove a blessing to some souls. I have copied it, and I forward it to you almost entirely as I received it. You can do with it as you think proper.”

I——–, October 19th, 1800.

My Dear. Brother, — I was very glad to receive your kind and interesting letter. I value exceedingly the Christian friendship and brotherhood which the Lord permits me to enjoy. I value exceedingly your own ; but I desire grace ever to refer it all to the fountain, and to be flung back more than ever on the inestimable friendship of the Blessed One.

Dear brother, if it be sweet to have a friend—another poor, trembling heart like our own, to whom we can unbosom sorrow, assured that all will be looked at through the medium of a loving eye, and where no help can be given, sympathy, at least, will be felt; if this be precious, who can tell the preciousness of the sympathizing love of Jesus, who can feel as well as help, who can deal with us so gently and so wisely. No eye scans us with such gentle love as Jesus. Oh to have faith always as well in the love of his heart as in the power of his hand.

There is a little matter I would like to bring before you, dear brother, as having been used of the Lord to be exceedingly helpful to me; and although, perhaps, not needing it so much as I was, it may possibly be useful to you. Its benefit to me is incalculable. It is simply this. Remember to praise God quite as much as to pray. Now this is clearly scriptural. You will find in Scripture far more exhortations to praise than to prayer. The Psalms abound with them, line upon line, line upon line. God is served by praise, Psalm 50. 23. It is specially the Christian’s great service. Heb. xiii. 15 ; 1 Peter ii. 5—9. Now in looking at my own conduct in reference to this, I found it sadly neglected. My heart was little attuned to the blessed service of thanksgiving. I had infinite cause for thankfulness, but, alas! a thankless heart. I have sought to have this altered, and with happy results. I seek the spirit of praise quite as much as of prayer, and desire to cherish the feeling of happy thankfulness for mercies enjoyed, as well as believing prayer for mercies needed. Ofttimes when my cold heart cannot get into communion through the gates of prayer, I turn to the gate of praise, and in a minute or two am in the glorious presence. In certain states of soul, when the enemy rushes on me like Behemoth, and threatens to swallow me up, I fall down on my knees, and drawing near to God, through Jesus, begin to thank God for his mercies. And as the heart goes over the boundless and glorious list, it begins to glow, and the enemy is driven off. Ofttimes five minutes’ praise is blessed with a success that an hour’s praying fails to receive. Now, we have always matter for thankfulness ; and however low we are, let us begin there and come to God in our reality, and praise Him heartily for whatever blessing we feel laid on our hearts, I mean blessing in Christ Jesus. And oh, as faith gazes on that face, brighter than the sun in his strength, and listens to that voice, soft as the murmur of many waters, telling out the tenderness of His grace, the soul becomes as the chariots of Amminadib, and is caught up into heaven and brought very near. There is never between us and the joy of God’s presence any wall but the wall of unbelief. Alas, that we ever cherish and fondle it, and do our blessed Saviour, and the brethren, and ourselves this great wrong. For God is glorified, and others are helped, and our souls are blessed, precisely as we live in happy fellowship with our heavenly Father.

Dear brother, you may know all about this far better than I do, yet I would like to suggest your trying what benefit you might find in seeking to abound in faith with thanksgiving. Say that for a week you give up your heart to praise God for Jesus in all the relations in which you feel you can lay hold on him. In business, let your heart glance up every spare half-minute, just in a gleam of thankfulness, and one word of praise. By the way, to and from home, give up your heart to praise alone. At table let your wife and yourself provoke each other to gratitude and praise, by conversing on the excellencies of Jesus, and of Jesus as all your own. This does not interfere with your seasons of prayer. And, after the week, I am sure you will see occasion to seek God’s gift of the spirit of praise, as well as of prayer. When I blow out my candle in the evening, and sit gazing into the red coals for an hour, and letting the heart wander amid all the revelations of Divine love, back into a past eternity, forward into a coming eternity, to Calvary, to heaven ; taking everything only in connection with Jesus, and with Jesus as God’s gift to me, my heart begins to burn within me, selfish and temporal griefs disappear, Jesus himself fills my heart; and if any one were to offer me a kingdom for every sorrow I have, I could at such times scarcely manage honestly to muster a single one.

Dear brother, try it. When Satan casts us into prison, and puts our feet fast in the stocks, let us sing praises to God at midnight, and very soon God will send his angel, and there shall be an earthquake, and our chains shall fall off, and our souls be restored to liberty. “ O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness! ” Yes, that is our crying want, the want of a heart ever attuned to this blessed work of heaven.

With heartiest love, … I am, my dear brother,

Yours, humbly and affectionately,
J. D.

[excerpted from The English Presbyterian Messenger, New Series, No. 156 (December 1860): 375-376.]

Divine Providence Ordered the Choice of a Vocation and Decided the Course of A Life
by David T. Myers

Our title for this post is a long one, but it was certainly the case for our featured character today, namely, David Blair. Born November 21, 1787, David was the eighth of eleven children born in the parish of Donagor, County Antrim, Ireland, to Hugh and Jane Blair. They all attended a Presbyterian church until for some unknown reason, they transferred their membership to a Seceder Presbyterian church in the same county. In good weather, the local Covenanter pastor would preach in the barns and groves of their fields. But in time, the whole family decided to travel to America for a new life. With a family this large, some five different times were scheduled to take the family to the American colonies. The part of the family which included young David, took 66 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean, landing at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania!

Upon landing, the family traveled by wagon to Pittsburgh, and on to Steubenville, Ohio, where a married daughter was living with her family. Eventually, the entire family moved to Crawford County in Pennsylvania, where several hundred acres were purchased and cabins built for the family. At this time, David Blair was around sixteen years of age. Reading a book which his older brother had given him, the young teen was encouraged to apply to the gospel ministry in 1805. Attendance at Jefferson College in Canonsburg and eventually at the theological Seminary of the Associate Presbyterian Church, David began his preparation for the ministry, pursuing those studies diligently. Licensed to preach on August 29, 1816, David received a call from three Congregations in Pennsylvania. However, rather than immediately receiving it, David begged for an opportunity to travel for a year in ministry throughout the South. He did that on horseback, and then returned to the three congregations. Eventually, he was ordained on October 7, 1818, a full two years after he had been licensed for the ministry. Married to Margaret Steele of Huntington in 1821, she proved to be the woman who helped him greatly in his life and ministry. Forty-four years of pastoral ministry characterized his service to His God and church in Pennsylvania.

Another minister summed up those pastoral laborers saying, “David Blair remains like the venerable oak that has withstood many storms and tempests. Many in his congregations look to him as their spiritual father. He baptized you in infancy. He first gave you the emblems of a Savior’s broken body. He joined you in marriage with the companions whom you call the fathers and mothers of your children. His deep toned voice and direct prayer has gone up from your chambers of sickness. His venerable form has led the processions that carried your loved ones to the grave. These congregations should still honor him as their spiritual father.” David Blair would go on to glory on February 28, 1882.

And so, by this post, we authors and readers own him as one of the spiritual fathers of the church in America, who faithfully labored in small and large fields of ministry, faithfully proclaiming the blessed Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Words to Live By:
Reader! Think of some pastoral minister who was instrumental by God’s Spirit to be that one who was described in the above paragraphs as “the venerable oak” to you and yours. Thank God for him right now. Reflect on how he was used of the Holy Spirit to minister God’s Word to you and your family for a time, carrying out the ministerial actions mentioned in the above paragraphs. Question? If still alive, has he been the recipient of your gratitude spoken and written? Can you not return the spiritual favors rendered by various means, perhaps even monetary gifts, in time of need? Writing as a retired pastor, I can recount with joy various expressions of gratitude, even monetary, which former members of my  several congregations have given to me. Do other pastors need to hear some such encouragement from you?

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