March 2019

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THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 12.

12. What special act of Providence did God exercise towards man, in the state wherein he was created?

A. When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience, forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.

EXPLICATION.

He entered into a covenant of life.—That is, God made and agreement with Adam, in which he promised to give everlasting life to him and his descendants, if they continued obedient.

Upon condition of perfect obedience.—This shows, that the promise of everlasting life, above mentioned, would not be performed, unless man continued to keep all God’s commandments perfectly, without sinning.

Forbidding him to eat.—Commanding him not to eat.

The knowledge of good and evil.—A tree, that grew in the midst of the garden of Eden, was so called, because Adam, by eating of its fruit, when God commanded him not to do it, knew at once both the good which he had lost, and the evil, which he had brought upon himself and his descendants.

Upon pain of death.—That is, Adam and his descendants, or all mankind, were to be punished with death, if ever they should break God’s commandments by sinning against him.

ANALYSIS.

In this answer we are taught five things:

  1. That God made a covenant, or agreement with Adam.—Hosea 6:7. They, like men, (or like Adam.) have transgressed the covenant.—See also Genesis 2:16-17.

2.That this covenant was a covenant of life.—Romans 7:10. The commandment was ordained to life.

  1. That the condition of this covenant, (or terms of this agreement,) was perfect obedience.—Romans 10:5. The man which doeth those things shall live by them.
  2. The man was forbidden to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.—Genesis 2:17. But of the tree of the knowedge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it.
  3. That the punishment threatened for breaking that covenant was death.—Genesis 2: 17. In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.

A longer post for your edification this Saturday morning, a testimony and one of Dr. J. Gresham Machen’s lesser known works. This brief testimony, titled “My Idea of God,” appeared in a book of the same name, a gathering of statements largely philosophical, which only served to make Machen’s testimony stand out all the more.

Editor’s preface:—

machen02JOHN GRESHAM MACHEN was born in Baltimore in 1881. After graduating from Johns Hopkins and Princeton Universities and the Princeton Theological Seminary, he studied in Marburg and Gottingen Universities, and was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1914. Since 1914 he has been associate professor of New Testament literature in Princeton Seminary, doing work betimes with the French Army and the A.E.F., in France and Belgium, during the World War.

Besides textbooks of Greek and many articles in reviews, Dr. Machen has written two books of unusual quality for general readers, Christianity and Liberalism (in which he holds that liberal Christianity is not Christianity at all, but a confection of modern theories exactly opposed to the Christian faith, with which there can be neither compromise nor unity) and What Is Faith? which inspired an extraordinary symposium in The British Weekly.

In the recent discussion which has agitated the Churches – now happily subsiding – Dr. Machen was the outstanding exponent of the conservative attitude, adding to a vital mind a lucid logic and a cogent style which left no shadow upon his meaning. His essay has value equally for its directness and its sincerity.


MY IDEA OF GOD

by J. GRESHAM MACHEN, D.D. PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

IF my idea of God were really mine, if it were one which I had evolved out of my own inner consciousness, I should attribute very little importance to it myself, and should certainly expect even less importance to be attributed to it by others. If God is merely a fact of human experience, if theology is merely a branch of psychology, then I for my part shall cease to be interested in the subject at all. The only God about whom I can feel concerned is one who has objective existence, an existence independent of man.

But if there be such a really and independently existent Being, it seems extremely unlikely that there can be any knowledge of Him unless He chooses to reveal Himself: a divine Being that could be discovered apart from revelation would be either a mere name for an aspect of man’s nature – the feeling of reverence or loyalty or the like – or else, if possessing objective existence, a mere passive thing that would submit to human investigation like the substances that are analyzed in the laboratory. And in either case it would seem absurd to apply to such a Being the name of “God.”

A really existent God, then, if He be more than merely passive, if He be a living God, can be known only through

His revelation of Himself. And it is extremely unlikely that such revelation should have come to me alone. I reject, therefore, the whole subjectivizing tendency in religion that is so popular at the present time – the whole notion that faith is merely an “adventure” of the individual man. On the contrary, I am on the search for some revelation of God that has come to other men as well as to me, and that has come into human life, not through a mere analysis of human states of consciousness but distinctly from the outside. Such revelation I find in the Christian religion.

The idea of God, therefore, which I shall here endeavor to summarize is simply the Christian idea. I have indeed been enabled to make it my own; I love it with all my heart; but I should not love it if I thought that it had been discovered merely in the depths of my own soul. On the contrary, the very thing that I love about it is that it comes to me with an external authority which I hold to be the authority of God Himself.

At this point, however, there will no doubt be an objection. We have spoken about the knowledge of God; but in reality the knowledge of God, it is often said, is unnecessary to our contact with Him, or at least it occupies merely a secondary place, as the symbolic and necessarily changing expression of an experience which in itself is ineffable. Such depreciation of knowledge in the sphere of religion has been widely prevalent in the modern world, and at no time has it been more prevalent than now. It underlies the mysticism of Schleiermacher and his many successors; it underlies the Ritschlian rejection of “metaphysics”; it underlies the popular exaltation of “abiding experiences” at the expense of the mental categories in which they are supposed to be expressed; and in general it is at the roots of the entire separation between religion and theology, experience and doctrine, faith and knowledge, which is so marked a characteristic of the religious teaching of the present day.

In opposition to this entire tendency, I for my part must still insist upon the primacy of the intellect. It may seem strange that the intellect should have to be defended by one who has so slight an experimental acquaintance with it as I; but reason in our days has been deposed from her queenly throne by pragmatism the usurper, and, wandering in exile as she does, cannot be too critical of any humble persons who rally to her defense. And, as a matter of fact, the passionate anti-intellectualism of the present age is having its natural fruit in a lamentable intellectual as well as moral decline. Such decadence can be checked – I, for my part, believe – only by a reemphasis upon truth as distinguished from practice, and in particular only by a return from all anti-intellectual mysticism or positivism to the knowledge of God.

Certainly, unless our contact with God is based upon knowledge of Him it ceases to possess any moral quality at all. Pure feeling is non-moral; what makes my affection for a human friend, for example, such an ennobling thing is the knowledge which I possess of the character of my friend. So it is also with our relation to God: religion is moral and personal only if it is based upon truth.

If then, in order that there may be a moral and personal relation to God, there must be knowledge of Him, how may that knowledge be attained? I have no new ways to suggest: the only ways of knowing God which I can detect are found in nature, in conscience, and in the Bible.

God is revealed, I hold, in the first place through the things that He has made. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” This revelation of God through nature is commonly called – or used to be commonly called – “natural religion.” And natural religion is by no means altogether dead. Modern men of science, if they be thoughtful, admit that there is a mystery in the presence of which the wisdom of the wisest men is dumb; the true man of science stands at length before a curtain that is never lifted, a mystery that rebukes all pride. But this revelation through nature is far richer than many men of science suppose; in reality it presents to us not merely a blank mystery, but the mighty God. The revelation comes to different men in different ways. For example, when I viewed the spectacle of the total eclipse of the sun at New Haven on the twenty-fourth of January I925, I was confirmed in my theism. Such phenomena make us conscious of the wonderful mechanism of the universe, as we ought to be conscious of it every day; at such moments anything like materialism seems to be but a very pitiful and very unreasonable thing. I am no astronomer, but of one thing I was certain: when the strange, slow-moving shadow was gone, and the world was bathed again in the wholesome light of day, I knew that the sun, despite its vastness, was made for us personal beings and not we for the sun, and that it was made for us personal beings by the living God.

In the second place, God is revealed by His voice within us. I am perfectly well aware that that voice is not always heard. Conscience has fallen on evil days: it is drowned by a jargon of psychological terms; it is supposed to be rendered unnecessary by an all-embracing network of legislative enactments.

The categories of guilt and retribution are in many quarters thought to be out of date, and scientific sociology is substituted for the distinction between right and wrong. But I for my part am not favorably impressed with the change; self-interest seems to me to be but a feeble substitute for the moral law, and its feebleness, despite bureaucratic regulation of the details of human life and despite scientific study both of individual human behavior and of the phenomena of human society, seems to be becoming evident in an alarming moral decline. The raging sea of passion cannot, I think, be kept back permanently by the flimsy mud embankments of utilitarianism; but recourse may again have to be had to the solid masonry of the law of God.

In the third place, God is revealed in the Bible. He is revealed in the Bible in a way which is entirely distinct from those ways that have just been mentioned. The Bible tells us things about God of which no slightest hint is found either in nature or in conscience. Of those things we shall speak in a moment.

But first it should be observed that, in addition to that fresh information, the Bible also confirms the revelation which has already been given. The confirmation is certainly necessary; for the revelation of God both in nature and in conscience has been sadly obscured. In comparing the fortieth chapter of Isaiah or the first verse of Genesis or the teaching of Jesus with the feeble and hesitant theism which is the highest that philosophy has to offer, and in comparing the unaided voice of conscience with the fifty-first Psalm or the searching law presented in the Sermon on the Mount, one feels that in the Bible a veil has been removed from the eyes of men. The facts were already there, and also the gift of human reason for the apprehension of them; but the light of reason somehow was obscured until in the Bible men were enabled to see what they ought to have seen before.

Thus, in these three ways there is attained, I hold, a genuine and objective knowledge of God. Certainly that knowledge does not remove the feeling of wonder which is dear to the mystic’s heart. Indeed, it ought to accentuate that feeling a thousandfold. There is nothing in the knowledge of God which should stifle, but everything which should awaken, the “numinous” quality in religion of which Otto speaks. God has gently pulled aside the curtain which veils His Being from the gaze of men, but the look thus granted beyond only reveals anew the vastness of the unknown. If a man’s knowledge of God removes his sense of wonder in the presence of the Eternal, then he has not yet known as he ought to know.

Yet partial knowledge is not necessarily false, and there are certain things which are known about God.

At the very centre of those things stands that which is most often denied to-day; the very centre and core of Christian belief is found in the awful transcendence of God, the awful separateness between God and the world. That is denied by modern men in the interests of what is called, by a perversion of a great truth, the “immanence” of God. We will have nothing to do – men say – with the far-off God of historic theology; instead we will worship a God who exists only in and with the world, a God whose life is found only in that life which pulsates through the life of every one of us. Pantheism, in other words, is substituted for theism, on the ground that it brings God nearer to man.

But has it really the desired effect? I, for my part, think not. Far from bringing God nearer to man, the pantheism of our day really pushes Him very far off; it brings Him physically near, but at the same time makes Him spiritually remote; it conceives of Him as a sort of blind vital force, but ceases to regard Him as a Person whom a man can love. Destroy the free personality of God and the possibility of fellowship with Him is gone; we cannot love a God of whom we are parts.

Thus, I for my part cling with all my heart to what are called the metaphysical attributes of God – His infinity and omnipotence and creatorhood. The finite God of Mr. H.G. Wells seems to me to be but a curious product of a modern mythology; He is to my mind not God, but a god; and in the presence of all such imaginings I am obliged to turn, very humbly but very resolutely, toward the dread, stupendous mystery of the Infinite, and say with Augustine: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”

This devotion to the so-called metaphysical attributes of God is unpopular at the present day. There are many who tell us that we ought to cease to be interested in the question how the world was made, or what will be our fate when we pass through the dark portals of death. Instead, we are told, we ought to worship a God who is not powerful but merely good. Such is the “ethical theism” of Dr. [Arthur Cushman] McGiffert and many others; Jesus, it seems, was quite wrong in the stress that He undoubtedly laid upon the doctrine of heaven and hell and the sovereignty of God. We moderns, it seems, can find a higher, disinterested worship – far higher than that of Jesus – in reverence for goodness divested of the vulgar trappings of power.

It sounds noble at first. But consider it for a moment, and its glory turns to ashes and leaves us in despair. What is meant by a goodness that has not physical power? Is not “goodness” in itself the merest abstraction? Is it not altogether without meaning except as belonging to a person? And does not the very notion of a person involve the power to act? Goodness divorced from power is therefore no goodness at all. The truth is that overmuch abstraction has here destroyed even that which is intended to be conserved. Make God good and not powerful, and both God and goodness have been destroyed.

In the presence of all such abstractions, the heart of man turns with new longing to the Living and Holy God, to the God who is revealed in nature, in the dread voice of conscience, and in the Bible. But as one turns to such a God, there is no comfort but only despair; the whole human race is separated from God by an awful abyss. Strange indeed, to us Christians, seems the complacency of the world; the very root of our religion is found in the consciousness of sin.

But at that point, on the basis of such presuppositions, there comes the really distinctive revelation that the Bible contains. It is not a revelation of things that already were true, but the explanation of an act. The Christian religion is based not merely upon permanent truths of religion, but upon things that happened in Palestine nineteen hundred years ago; it is based not merely upon knowledge of what God is, but also on a record of what God did. Into our sinful world – the Christian holds – there came in God’s good time a Divine Redeemer.

His coming, marked by a stupendous miracle, was a voluntary act of condescension and love. During the days of His flesh, He proclaimed by His word and example the law of God. He proclaimed it in a new and terrible way that of itself could only deepen our despair. But with His proclamation of’ the law there went His proclamation of the gospel; with His pronouncement of the Divine judgment upon sin there went His offer of Himself as Saviour. When that offer was received in faith, there was not only cure of bodily ills, but also forgiveness in the presence of God.

At first faith was implicit; men trusted themselves to Jesus without fully knowing how it was that He could save. But even while He was on earth He pointed forward with ever increasing clearness to the redeeming work which He had come into the world to do. And at last, on the cross, that work was done. The Divine Saviour and Lord, for the love wherewith He loved us, bore all the guilt of our sins, made white and clean the dark page of our account, and reconciled us to God. There is the centre of our religion. But how pitiful are my words! I may perhaps make men understand what we think, yet I can never quite make them sympathize with what we feel. The holy and righteous God, the dreadful guilt and uncleanness of sin, the wonder of God’s grace in the gift of our Saviour Jesus Christ, the entrance through Christ into the very house of God, the new birth by the power of God’s Spirit, the communion with the risen and ascended Lord through His Holy Spirit present in the Christian’s heart – these are the convictions upon which rest our very lives.

If these convictions are false, they must be given up. But so long as we think them true we must act in accord with them, and it is morally wrong to ask us to do otherwise. At this point appears the profoundly unethical character of most of the proposals for Church union that are being made at the present day. The right way to combat us who call ourselves evangelical Christians is to combat honestly and openly our central convictions as to God and sin and redemption, not to ask us to hold those convictions and then act contrary to them. So long as we think as we do, we cannot, if we love our fellow men, allow them, so far as our testimony is concerned, to remain satisfied with the coldness of what we regard as a baseless and fatal optimism. We must endeavor, by the preaching of the law of God and of the gospel of His love, to bring them into the warmth and joy of the household of faith.

[This work by Dr. J. Gresham Machen was first issued as a chapter in the book, My Idea of God, published by Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1927, and appeared on pages 39 – 50 of that volume.] To view or download a PDF of this work, click here.

April is coming on fast, and thoughts begin to turn to General Assemblies. Well, indulge the policy wonks if you would please, and hopefully others will find this somewhat interesting. The following concerns why or how it is that we have the safeguard in place, that says a man coming from another denomination cannot become the pastor of a church until he has first met with and been approved by the Presbytery. Why do we have that rule? Where did it come from? Well, as they say, here’s the rest of the story:—

The PCA’s Book of Church Order, in the first paragraph of the chapter treating of the ordination and installation of ministers, states in part that

Ordinarily a candidate or licentiate may not be granted permission by the Presbytery to move on to the field to which he has been called, prior to his examination for licensure or ordination. Likewise an ordained minister from another Presbyterian Church in America Presbytery or another denomination, ordinarily shall not move on to the field to which he has been called until examined and received by Presbytery.

Where does that requirement come from? Why is it important? Well, history is what we do here, so a bit of background seemed important as I came across it recently.
As the PCA’s Book of Church Order is based directly on the polity of prior denominations, this history is also directly relevant.

The setting of this story is the meeting of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern). It is the third day of their General Assembly, and the report comes that an entire Presbytery wants to join the denomination. There is testimony that these men are entirely orthodox. But they would rather not suffer the pain of a theological examination by the receiving body. At which point the Rev. E. Thompson Baird rose to address the issue:

Rev. Dr. Baird sketched the history of the origin of the rule requiring the examination of ministers passing from Presbytery to Presbytery. Dr. Lyman Beecher came to a Presbytery in New York from some Congregational Association, and was admitted without examination, and immediately took a letter of dismission to an Ohio Presbytery, and was received, and subsequently stated that he had never signified his adoption of the Confession of Faith. The late Dr. Alexander therefore advocated the adoption of the examination rule, for without it a single Presbytery might deluge the church with heretical ministers. The rule was not directed especially against the New School Church, for at the time of its adoption that church had no existence. Nor had it been suspended in the case of the United Synod.—They had examined the Old School and the Old School had examined them, and it was not until they were thoroughly satisfied as to one another’s soundness that they came together. Nor could it be reasonably objected to. He was not ashamed to proclaim anywhere what he believed as to the great doctrines of religion, and he was not willing to alter our whole system to open the door to a few who were not willing to come in the same way that others had been received. The importance of it is increased at this time—it is more necessary than ever in these days of fanaticism that we should have such a rule. Even in the case of old ministers he thought it a good thing to talk over our views occasionally. When a venerable father in the church comes to be examined, if we cannot find any heresy in him, we can at least learn a great deal from him about the great doctrines of grace. The speaker continued that if the rule is absolute, nobody’s feelings can be hurt by it. He therefore saw no necessity for its repeal.

And apparently he made his case well, for when the report was adopted, the Assembly refused to repeal the rule requiring the examination of all ministers entering a Presbytery. So our Book to this day still expects and requires a Presbytery to examine and receive a minister before he can be allowed onto the field of ministry within that Presbytery.

The Presbyterian Church in America and the Anniversary of the First Presbytery Meeting
by Barry Waugh

Three hundred years ago this year the first meeting of the General Presbytery was convened in Philadelphia.  A specific date in 1706 cannot be pinpointed due to the loss of the first leaf of the minutes, but a letter of Rev. Francis Makemie provides the basis for assigning the year.  The letter was written by Rev. Makemie from Philadelphia, to Benjamin Colman on March 28, 1707.  After relating the story of his imprisonment with some other ministers for their preaching the Gospel as dissenting, non-Church of England ministers, he mentioned that he and six other ministers had met in Philadelphia earlier that month to consult regarding the best way to advance the Gospel.  This meeting is the first convening of the General Presbytery with a complete set of minutes in the manuscript record book, and these minutes are preceded by a partial and brief section of minutes recorded in 1706.  From this small and imprecisely dated beginning, the Presbyterian Church grew to organize its first meeting of the General Synod in 1717, then its first General Assembly in 1789.  During these years the Presbyterian Church formally adopted the Westminster Standards in 1729, and then saw a division between the Old and New Sides in 1744 that was reconciled with a reunion in 1758.  The Presbyterian Church’s ministry increased through the years so that by the end of the eighteenth century it enjoyed a substantial flock distributed throughout the young nation for the purpose of glorifying and enjoying God.

The six oldest congregations in the Presbyterian Church in America can trace their ministries to the early years leading up to and following the first presbytery meeting.  Each of these congregations was organized before the first General Assembly in 1789.  Through the colonial period and into the early years of America, the Presbyterian Church ministered through local congregations as America grew and prospered, and these six PCA churches can trace their ancestry directly to the foundational work of the Presbyterian Church in the eighteenth century.

The oldest organized church in the PCA is the  Fairfield Presbyterian Church of New Jersey, which traces its beginning to 1680.  The Fairfield congregation was represented in the General Presbytery at its meeting on May 19, 1708, where the “Cohanzy” congregation submitted a call to the Rev. Joseph Smith to serve as the pastor.  The Fairfield congregation also has one of the oldest buildings in the PCA, which is known as the Old Stone Church and dates to 1780.  This simple yet beautiful stone building is bounded on three sides by a large cemetery that continues the interments begun at a graveyard in the church’s original location.  The Old Stone Church building is no longer used for regular worship, but it was recently renovated to maintain its eighteenth century appearance for future generations.

One of those buried in the Stone Church’s cemetery is the church’s minister from 1789 to 1844, Ethan Osborne, who died in his one-hundredth year of life on May 1, 1858.  Rev. Osborne had ministered faithfully to his congregation for over fifty years.  After completing his college education at Dartmouth, Osborne studied theology privately with Rev. Andrew Storr and later with Rev. Joseph Vaill.  After turning down a call to a New York church, he went to southern New Jersey, accepted the call to Fairfield, and began his ministry at the end of 1789.  Osborne had turned down the New York call at the advice of his friend, Dr. Sproat of Philadelphia, who had received the D.D. from the College of New Jersey in 1780.  Rev. George Duffield, a graduate of Nassau Hall and the pastor of the Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, delivered the ordination sermon at Osborne’s installation service at Fairfield.  The Fairfield Church has enjoyed a long history of worship and Gospel proclamation in southern New Jersey, and it owes its beginning to that handful of men constituting the first presbytery who saw God’s purpose for the Fairfield Church.

The early years of the Presbyterian Church were difficult times due to the uncertainties and dangers of frontier mission work and opposition to the Presbyterians by other denominations.  Not only did Presbyterian ministers have to contend with the state and persecution, but they also had to overcome the many miles that often separated congregations from one another.  One early minister, Samuel Blair, who had studied at William Tennent’s Log College in Neshaminy, Pennsylvania, and was ordained in 1734, had two difficult pastorates before he was called to the second oldest church in the PCA at Faggs Manor in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  During his short time of service, he founded a classical school where he was the principal overseeing the education of many students including—Samuel Davies, a Presbyterian minister and President of the College of New Jersey; John McMillan, a founder of Jefferson College; and John Ross, a founder of Dickinson College.  His brief life of “39 Years & 21 Days” is remembered on his grave marker in the church cemetery.  Blair’s short life is indicative of the difficulty of rural colonial life and the pressures of pastoral service in his era.  The Faggs Manor Church continues to worship in a somewhat rural area of Pennsylvania as Philadelphia continues its expansion into Chester County.

There are two PCA churches that were organized in 1760 that are located at opposite ends of the east coast from each other—First Presbyterian Church, Waynesboro, Georgia, and First Presbyterian Church, Schenectady, New York.  The Schenectady church initially worshiped in the building used by the Episcopalians until in 1769 eight Presbyterians purposed to build a wooden place of worship for themselves, which was not completed until after the arrival of the first minister, Rev. Alexander Miller, in 1771.  Following the departure of Rev. Miller, the church worshiped through the ministry of supply pastors until it called Rev. John Young, who remained for just a short time.  Supplies served the church for several years including Dr. John Blair Smith, who preached to the congregation for two years at the end of the eighteenth century.  Dr. Smith had been the president of Hampden-Sidney College and had received both his A.M. and D.D. from Princeton College.  The Schenectady church continues its ministry in what started as a small, remote village, but is now one of the many industrious and busy cities of New York.

The Hymn was a Fruit of Sufferings
by Rev. David T. Myers
We all experience it. Suffering, I mean. It can last a short time. It can last a long time. It might be a disappointment in life. We thought  that we had it all figured out, but then one of those “hard Providences” comes along, and we are in suffering on account of it. Perhaps it happened to ourselves, to a spouse, to a child, to a grown loved one, to a friend, and we are in extreme anguish as a result.
George Mattheson, the Scottish hymn writer, experienced it one day. It his case, it came to him on the day of his sister’s marriage in 1882. Everyone one of his family, including his beloved sister, was staying overnight in Glasgow, apart from  him. Something happened to him which he described as “a most severe mental suffering.” No one knows exactly what it was. He said that it was known only to himself, but whatever it was, it overwhelmed his soul.
Sitting down in a room of his manse, this single pastor, who was born this day on March 27, 1842, said that the words of this poem was “the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life.” Further, he acknowledged that “I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice than of working it out myself.” He added that the whole four verse poem was completed in five minutes! Never once did he retouch or correct the words.
And if that part of the story is remarkable, three years later, Albert Peace, a renowned organist, read it. He then sat down before his organ and wrote all the notes into a hymn. The ink of the first note was hardly dry when he finished it.
When we consider that Rev. Mattheson was a famous preacher in two cities of Scotland, one of them being a 2000 member congregation in the capital  city of the kingdom, we imagine that he had all things going for him. And he did, but he was also blind, beginning in his 18th year. His three sisters rose to the occasion, by tutoring him in his studies at the University of Glasgow. One even learned Hebrew, Greek, and Latin to help him, enabling him to complete his studies. It was on the occasion of this sister’s marriage that he wrote this hymn, celebrating the constancy of God’s love.
Found in the Trinity Hymnal (no. 708), read over its four stanza’s especially if you find yourself in a time of trouble. In fact, either turn to the number in the red hymnal or sing it with the familiar tune, as part of our Words to Live By section:
“O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, that in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.
“O Light that follow’st all my way, I yield my flickering torch to thee; my heart restores its borrowed ray, that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day may be brighter, fairer be.
“O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not  vain that morn shall tearless be
“O Cross, that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee; I lay in dust life’s glory dead, and from the ground that blossoms red life that shall endless be.”

John McMillan’s First Manse
by Rev. David Myers

Ordained by the Presbytery of Donegal in 1776, Rev. John McMillan was sent by them to be the first settled pastor to western Pennsylvania. Two years later he brought his wife to the log house which the people of Chariers and Pigeon Creek had prepared him to live in as their pastor. Listen to his description of it on March 26, 1832 in a letter to a Dr. Caraham.

“When I came to this country, the cabin in which I was to live, was raised, but there was no roof to it, nor any chimney, nor floor. The people, however, were very kind; they assisted me in preparing my house, and on the 16th of December, I moved into it. But we had neither bedstead, nor tables, nor stool, nor chair, nor bucket. All these things we had to leave behind us, as there was no wagon road, at that time, over the mountains. We could bring nothing with us but what was carried on pack horses. We placed two boxes, one on the other, which served as a table, and two kegs served us for seats; and having committed ourselves to God in family worship, we spread a bed on the floor, and slept soundly till morning. The next day a neighbor coming to my assistance, we made a table and stool, and in a little time, had everything comfortable about us. Sometimes, indeed, we had no bread for weeks together; but we had plenty of pumpkins and potatoes, and all the necessaries of life, as for luxuries, we were not much concerned about them. We enjoyed health, the gospel and its ordinances, and pious friends. We were in the place where we believed God would have us to be; and we did not doubt but that He would provide everything necessary, and glory to his name, we were not disappointed.” (Quoted in J. Smith, Old Redstone, Philadelphia, 1854, p. 186.)

In 1781, there were enough ministers and congregations in western Pennsylvania to organize the Redstone Presbytery.

Words to Live By:
Several sentences stand out for this author. The first one is in line seven and eight, which reads, “having committed ourselves to God in family worship . . . .” The next line is in line 12, “we enjoyed health, the gospel and its ordinances, and pious friends.” Line 13 has in it the following words, “We were in the place where we believed God would have us to be, and we did not doubt but that He would provide everything necessary, and glory to his name, we were not disappointed.”

Begin with a committed pastor and his wife, add a firm belief in God’s sovereignty, a ready trust in His wise providence, a wiliness to go where His Spirit leads, and great works for God’s kingdom will be accomplished! Give thanks for such dedicated men and women today in your churches and mission stations.

 A Joshua to the Southern Presbyterians

To many Christians, the name of John Leighton Wilson might be a common name of no real significance.  But to Southern Presbyterian Christians, he stands out as a spiritual giant of the faith.

Born on March 25, 1809 to Scot-Irish parents who had come to South Carolina in 1734, John Wilson grew up in a Christian home.  Reared in the Bible and the Westminster Shorter Catechism, he attended Union College in New York, graduating in 1829.  Two-thirds of his class from that college entered the ministry, and John Wilson was no different.  Entering Columbia Seminary in 1830, he began to sense a call to be a missionary in Africa.  One reason for that call was that he believed the South as a people owed it to Africa to send the gospel there as so many of her black children were in bondage in the south.  That inherent hatred of slavery would be proven in his later years in Africa.

Marrying in 1834 Miss Mary Elizabeth Bayard, who was also committed to the missionary call, they were the first American missionaries sent to Africa.  They were to labor there in two locations for eighteen years, learning the language, translating the Bible into it, wondrously proclaiming the gospel, and writing about the land for future missionaries to follow their labors.

Two major accomplishments in addition characterized his work there.  While there, he noticed the slave ships carrying their human cargo away from the shores of their homeland.  Wilson wrote a friend in England concerning the situation and by God’s providence, the Prime Minister of England came into possession of a copy of Wilson’s letter and subsequently had printed ten thousand copies in pamphlet form.  As a result, English war vessels were sent, forcing slave traders to give up their business of buying and selling slaves.

The other accomplishment was his discovery of the existence of the  “gorilla,” a name which was given by John Wilson to this animal.

After eighteen years in Africa, Mr and Mrs Wilson came home to the Board of Foreign Missions to superintend the work of missions through the world.  That happy association was interrupted by the War Between the States in 1861.  Though John Wilson had worked for the abolition of slavery in Africa, he cast in his lot with his southern brothers.  Immediately, he was placed in charge of missions for the Presbyterian Church of the Confederacy.  His spiritual vision, even in the midst of a war footing, and especially after that civil war,  went out to many nations, including the Indian tribes of the west.  The gospel was not limited in any way by what transpired on earth.

Around 1886, both he and his faithful wife entered the gates of heaven.  On his tombstone in South Carolina where he grew up, there is one phrase which stands out.  It says simply “The Foreign Missionary.” [John Leighton Wilson died on July 13, 1886; we do not yet have record of the exact date of his wife’s passing.]

Words to Live By:  John LeightonWilson once wrote, “I would rather live in the lowliest hut with  the enjoyment of God than in the most resplendent palace on earth without a hope of heaven.” He fulfilled that desire by his life.  What are your desires for your life?  Have you considered in whatever sphere of life He calls you, to be among those who are used by Him for His glory and the good of others?

THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 11.

Q.11. What are God’s works of Providence?

  1. God’s works of Providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

EXPLICATION.

Preserving his creatures.—Keeping, by his mighty power, every living being from returning to nothing.

Governing all his creatures.—God’s keeping them in order, and making them obedient to his authority.

Governing all their actions.—Directing all the doings and motions of his creatures, so as to prevent them from running into confusion.

ANALYSIS.

Here we are taught that God’s providence consists of two parts:

  1. The preservation of his creatures.—Heb. 1: 3. Upholding all things by the word of his power.
  2. His governing his creatures and their actions.—Psalm 103: 19. His kingdom ruleth over all.—Matt. 10: 29. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father

In answer to this question, too, Divine providence is shown, as to its properties, to be

  1. Most holy.—Psalm 145: 17. O Lord—holy in all his works
  2. Most wise.—Psalm 104: 24. O Lord, how manifold are they works! in wisdom hast thou made them all.
  3. Most powerful.—Dan. 4: 35. He doth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?

She is not lost to you, who is found to Christ.

We have in years past written of the life and ministry of the Rev. Samuel Rutherford, one of the Scottish commissioners to the Westminster Assembly. From among his letters, the following letter to Lady Kenmure, upon the death of her infant child, is perhaps one of the better examples of Rutherford’s pastoral quality, which at heart, boils down to pointing his flock to Christ in all of life. What better counsel could he give?

II. To LADY KENMURE, on the occasion of the death of her infant daughter

MADAM, — Saluting your Ladyship with grace and mercy from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. I was sorry, at my departure, leaving your Ladyship in grief, and would be still grieved at it if I were not assured that ye have one with you in the furnace whose visage is like unto the Son of God. I am glad that ye have been acquainted from your youth with the wrestlings of God, knowing that if ye were not dear to God, and if your health did not require so much of Him, He would not spend so much physic upon you. All the brethren and sisters of Christ must be conformed to His image and copy in suffering (Rom. 8.29). And some do more vividly resemble the copy than others. Think, Madam, that it is a part of your glory to be enrolled among those whom one of the elders pointed out to John, These are they which came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’ Ye have lost a child: nay she is not lost to you who is found to Christ. She is not sent away, but only sent before, like unto a star, which going out of our sight doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere. We see her not, yet she doth shine in another country. If her glass was but a short hour, what she wanteth of time that she hath gotten of eternity; and ye have to rejoice that ye have now some plenishing up in heaven. Build your nest upon no tree here; for ye see God hath sold the forest to death; and every tree whereupon we would rest is ready to be cut down, to the end we may fly and mount up, and build upon the Rock, and dwell in the holes of the Rock. What ye love besides Jesus, your husband, is an adulterous lover.

Now it is God’s special blessing to Judah, that He will not let her find her paths in following her strange lovers. Therefore, behold I will hedge up thy way with thorns and make a wall that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them’ (Hos. 2.6-7). O thrice happy Judas, when God buildeth a double stone wall betwixt her and the fire of hell! The world, and the things of the world, Madam, is the lover ye naturally affect beside your own husband Christ. The hedge of thorns and the wall which God buildeth in your way, to hinder you from this lover, is the thorny hedge of daily grief, loss of children, weakness of body, iniquity of the time, uncertainty of estate, lack of worldly comfort, fear of God’s anger for old unrepented-of sins. What lose ye, if God twist and plait the hedge daily thicker? God be blessed, the Lord will not let you find your paths. Return to your first husband. Do not weary, neither think that death walketh towards you with a slow pace.

Ye must be riper ere ye be shaken. Your days are no longer than Job’s, that were ‘swifter than a post, and passed away as the ships of desire, and as the eagle that hasteth for the prey’ (9. 25, 26, margin). There is less sand in your glass now than there was yesternight. This span-length of ever-posting time will soon be ended. But the greater is the mercy of God, the more years ye get to advise, upon what terms, and upon what conditions, ye cast your soul in the huge gulf of never-ending eternity. The Lord hath told you what ye should be doing till He come; wait and hasten (saith Peter,) for the coming of the Lord’; all is night that is here, in respect of ignorance and daily ensuing troubles, one always making way to another, as the ninth wave of the sea to the tenth; therefore sigh and long for the dawning of that morning, and the breaking of that day of the coming of the Son of man, when the shadows shall flee away. Persuade yourself the King is coming; read His letter sent before Him, Behold, I come quickly.’ Wait with the wearied night-watch for the breaking of the eastern sky, and think that you have not a morrow. I am loath to weary you; show yourself a Christian, by suffering without murmuring; — in patience possess your soul: they lose nothing who gain Christ. I commend you to the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus.

ANWOTH, Jan, 15, 1629

[excerpted from The Letters of Samuel Rutherford.]

Among the many oral history interviews preserved at the PCA Historical Center in St. Louis, there is one interview with the Rev. Paul Settle, dated March 22, 1972, which stands out among the rest for several reasons. As I read through this interview, there were several portions which could have been used to comprise our post for today, portions which would have told something of what the PCA’s founding fathers were up against as they fought for years to turn the mother denomination away from error and back to faithfully preaching the Word of God. But it was the closing section of this interview that probably best conveys the heart of those men who became the founding fathers of the Presbyterian Church in America. In his closing summary, Rev. Settle reviews the Scripture text of his message and reinforces the powerful message that God’s truth, faithfully proclaimed, will prevail:—

As we come to a close, let’s think again about Jehoshaphat. In the 15th chapter of II Chronicles, we’re told that people were having a time of adversity, that there was no peace in the land. We’re told in that first verse that there was no teaching priest in Israel; the people were without the law, without the book of the law of the Lord. And this is how we find ourselves pretty much today, isn’t it? For a long time in our denomination, we have had no teaching priests as such. Our official literature, our official programs and policies have not been through and through Biblical; they’ve become increasingly radical, socialistic, activistic, neo-orthodox. There’s no question about this. There is no peace in the land in our denomination; the people are vexed, and God is sending us strong adversity. Simply as already has been pointed out, many of us have actually abdicated our responsibility in leadership roles down through the years. But God, in the 20th chapter of II Chronicles, tells us that all of Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the Lord. And that’s a fantastic difference between chapter 15 and chapter 20. What happened?

We’re told that God raised up Jehoshaphat, who did a number of things. First of all, we’re told that he sought to walk in the ways of the fathers. And that’s what we’re calling God’s people to do in these days. We’re calling them to walk in the ways of the fathers. We’re calling them to walk again in those ways that are the ways of our Lord Himself, and of the Apostle Paul, and of the early church fathers, and of Calvin and Luther and Knox and Edwards. We’re calling God’s people to walk again in the ways of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. But we’re not calling God’s people just to be conservative in that sense; we’re not calling them just to give their allegiance to a creed in that sense, for we have too many dead orthodox churches in our denomination today.

But Jehoshaphat did another thing; Jehoshaphat not only walked in the ways of his fathers and of David, but Jehoshaphat also sought the face of the Lord God, and that’s what we call God’s people to do. We call them not just to be conservative, but we call them to be conservative because they know the Lord, to be conservative because they believe that God is and that God has spoken, that God has revealed Himself in Holy Scripture, and that’s why they walk in those ways, because those are the ways of the Lord God Himself, who has spoken once and for all for all men of all ages. We’re calling God’s people to look to the Lord, person to person.

You know, we talk a lot about a true church, and we realize that no church is ever perfectly true, for we’re all sinners. But you know, that true church we talk about and pray for is going to be true only to the extent that you and I are true. That true church is going to walk in the ways of the fathers and seek the face of the Lord God only to the extent that you and I walk in those ways and seek His face today. How many in this sanctuary tonight, for instance, every day, have a time on their knees with the Lord with the book open before them? How many in the sanctuary tonight have a close, intimate, thrilling, exciting walk with Jesus Christ moment by moment, day by day? How many here have known the thrill and know that thrill daily of sharing the good news with precious souls? It’s awfully easy for us at Granada and Trinity and Coral Ridge and in churches all across this land to stand up for the faith, but does it really get down into our lives? That true church is going to be true only to the extent that you and I are true today. We need to walk in the ways of the fathers because we have sought the face of the Lord God. These are times for prayer, on our knees, earnest prayer, fervent prayer, prayer with tears and weeping and contrition and broken hearts. This is a time not just for the reading, but for the meditation in the Word of God, a time for the living of the Word.

Jehoshaphat did something else; Jehoshaphat also went up on the hillside and tore down the groves and the idols, those groves under which people committed awful orgies in the names of their gods. And we’re doing that, too, these days, hopefully in love. We’re tearing down idols and groves. We’re not calling people apostate or heretics; we’re just saying a man is what he is. We’re not saying he is a heretic, but we’re saying that what he has written is false. It’s impossible to be positive without also being negative. It’s impossible to say “thus saith the Lord” without also saying “thou shalt not.” And so, as we exalt the Lord Jesus, we must also do battle with the devil.

And in these days, we seek to point out to God’s people that there’s much that’s wrong with our denomination. All of our leaders are not apostate; many of our leaders are men who love the Lord Jesus, but who have blind spots ecclesiastically and theologically in many places. Some of them are dear friends. But they’re wrong, and we would be unfaithful to the Lord if we refused to point out wherein they’re wrong and to take our stand for the truth.

And then Jehoshaphat sent out men, just with book of the law of the Lord in their hands, to teach in those days. That’s what we’re trying to do, just to get out to as many people as possible and to say “here are the issues as we see them.” Now the decision’s yours. If there is an escape clause [i.e, a way for churches to leave with their property], and that’s the only way that the congregations will have a chance to vote, then the decision’s going to be yours. I’ve already made mine. But you’re going to have to decide. And so we’re not saying sign anything; we’re not asking you to follow us. We’re just saying: “Here it is as we see it.” Now the decision’s yours. And we pray for that day, down the road, when we shall all be together before the Lord with our little ones, our wives and our children. That’s going to be a great day. But only if we walk in those ways and seek His face, only then will it be great. God help us all. God help us to be true to Him. Let us pray.

[Words to Live By:]
Dear Father in Heaven, we pray that Thou wouldst forgive us if tonight we have spoken in malice or with anger or with hatred. We pray that Thou wouldst forgive us even for frustration in the deepest sense, for we realize, Lord, that Thou art in control, that Thou art sovereign. And we trust Thee; we do trust Thee. And we trust Thee to bless Thy people in these days as they seek Thy truth, and as they prepare for that which is being done to them by men, who, for whatever reason, have departed from the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Lord, we pray for those men—in a very real sense our enemies—but we pray for them. We pray Thy blessing upon them. We pray health and safety for them. But we pray that Thou wouldst dissemble them, that Thou wouldst frustrate their intentions, that Thou wouldst scatter them, that Thou wouldst not allow Thy church to be destroyed. Lord, bless us as we seek to preserve Thy church, a continuing church that is true to Thee and Thy word. May everything we do be done in love. May everything we do be done only that the Lord Jesus would be magnified. Bless this congregation, these faithful people; Lord, lead them in these days. May they walk in those ways of old, hand in hand with Thee. Do thou bless now, and grant us even tonight to behold Thy glory. For we pray in Jesus’ name, whom we would pray would come even quickly, Amen.

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