December 2019

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Did you know, that in a manner of speaking, the official archives of the Presbyterian Church in America—the PCA Historical Center—began with a devastating fire?!

Let me explain. The PCA Historical Center began its existence in January of 1985. At that time the PCA did not have central offices for its agencies, so the president of Covenant Theological Seminary, Dr. Will Barker, offered to host the newly founded archives. The PCA had just a few years before received another denominationthe Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES)and with that merger, Covenant College and Covenant Seminary both became PCA schools. It made sense to put the Historical Center at the Seminary, too, because the RPCES archives were already there.

But back to that fire: The RPCES was itself a merger of two denominations, a merger which took place in April of 1965. One wing of that merger was the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, so named between 1961-1965. Prior to that it had been named the Bible Presbyterian Church, Columbus Synod [1956-1960]. This was the larger portion of a split of the old Bible Presbyterian Church [1938-1955]. The other side of the merger creating the RPCES was the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod [1833-1965]. This group was also one portion of a prior split, the other side being the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. That latter group is still with us, and they are the denomination that operates Geneva College.

“So where’s the fire?”

duanesburgNY_02I’m getting to that (It takes patience to be a Presbyterian!): The General Synod, or “New Light” RP’s were a denomination that began shrinking in numbers during the last part of the 19th-century and the first part of the 20th. At their low point, there were only nine General Synod churches. Then, around the 1940’s and 1950’s, with the addition of some new pastors, they began to plant new churches. By the time of that 1965 merger, there were twenty-eight RP, General Synod churches. One of their oldest churches, Reformed Presbyterian Church, was located in Duanesburg, New York. It had been founded in 1795 and still exists today, as a member congregation of the PCA. Rev. Ken McHeard is the pastor there now. But in 1951, the pastor of the Duanesburg church was the Rev. Waldo Chesnut, one of the older RP pastors at that time. It was he who almost single-handedly held the little denomination together in the first half of the 20th-century, serving as Stated Clerk and editor of a small denominational magazine, The Reformed Presbyterian Advocate.

Rev. Chesnut finally retired as pastor in 1942, but he could already see the Lord’s blessing and that the little denomination was actually starting to grow again. That meant it was important that future generations should know their history; they needed to know where they came from as a denomination; they needed to be reminded of the convictions, hopes and prayers of their founding fathers. If these things were preserved, then they would have a guiding standard for the future. And so Rev. Chesnut devoted much of his retirement years to building an archives for the General Synod group. He put out a call to other members of the denomination, soliciting donations of various materials. Notices like this began to appear in their various publications:

We have added some more valuable material to our collection of books and other literature, and added more case room and are now ready to receive antiques or valuable historical matter for the benefit of the coming generation. Have you anything to spare that would soon be lost, or valuable to the church for future reference? It will be in safe keeping for years to come. What we want, may be of no value to you, but very valuable to others in later years.

Slowly the collection began to develop. As added materials arrived, they were carefully stored away at the Duanesburg church by Rev. Chesnut. Then it was all lost in one night, when fire destroyed the church building. Rev. Harry Meiners, pastor of the church at the time of the fire, gave this account:

It was early evening, December 16, 1951. We were just getting our Sabbath evening supper on the table when Miss Bertha Wilber and Miss Charlotte Knowles burst into our front door with the exclamation: “Did you hear the fire siren? Our church is afire!” I believe I made the fastest trip from home to church that I had ever made.
When I arrived the fire was just breaking through the west windows and the firemen were fighting the flames. My first thought was to save something, especially having in mind the Historical Repository. As I opened the front door and tried to go in, the smoke drove me back and made it impossible to go in to get anything. Two other men had previously tried to get in, but were prevented by smoke.
A few minutes later the fire company ran out of water. In the country the trucks carry a tank of water and whenever possible pump water from a well or fire-pond. Neither was available near the church, so after the water supply in the tanks was exhausted there was nothing more that could be done. Firemen, church members, neighbors could only stand helplessly watching it burn. Our church, built in 1837, which we loved so well and had started to redecorate, was burned to the ground. There was nothing left standing but the chimney we had erected a short time ago.
As I left the scene to break the news to Dr. Chesnut, I went with a heavy heart. I was afraid the news would be a very great blow for him. But I was wrong—he encouraged me and immediately began talking about building a new church. His words: “Don’t be discouraged, Mr. Meiners, and tell the people not to be discouraged. With God’s help we can do anything,” are still ringing in my ears.

So, those things that were lost in the Duanesburg fire, had they been saved, would eventually have come to be part of the RPCES archives, and then later, with the Joining and Receiving of the RPCES in 1982, would again have become part of the PCA archives in 1985.
And that’s why I said that, in a manner of speaking, the PCA archives began with a devastating fire.

Words to Live By:
On December 23, following the fire, Rev. Meiners preached before his congregation from the text of Philippians 1:12—”But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel.” And so he concluded, “This is our prayer, that our calamity will be a means in God’s hands to further the Gospel of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”

As Christians, we must pray in this way, even though we perhaps only rarely know why the Lord allowed somethings to happen they way they did. As to archival collections, we work to preserve these things for so long as the Lord will allow. They are not forever, but for so long as we have them, they stand as a testimony to how the Lord has been at work among this small portion of His Church. In all things, may God be glorified!

by Rev. William Smith (1834)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 69 & 70.

Q. 69. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?

A. The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor, unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.


Unjustly. –Without any good, or lawful reason for doing it.

Whatsoever tendeth thereunto. –Whatever leads to the unjust taking away of life ; such as, sinful anger, hatred, envy, revenge, drunkenness, gluttony, excessive care, sinful fighting, &c.


The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment, are of three kinds:

  1. We are forbidden to take away our own life. –Acts xvi. 28. Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm.
  2. To take away the life of another, unjustly. –Gen. ix. 16. Whoso, sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.
  3. Whatosever tendeth thereunto. –Prov. xxiv. 11, 12. If thou forebear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; if thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it?

Q. 70. Which is the seventh commandment?

A. The seventh commandment is, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” Exod. xx. 14.

A reflection worth reconsidering, time and again, any day of any month or year.

Upholding God’s Holy Name —

We begin on this day of December 14, by considering our Confessional Fathers explanation of the familiar petitions of that which is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer. Question? Do you really understand Christian, what you are saying when you utter the Lord’s Prayer during your worship service or during a private moment?

Shorter Catechism answer 101 teaches us that “in the first petition, which is, Hallowed by thy name, we pray that God would enable us, and others, to glorify Him in all that whereby he makes himself known, and that he would dispose all  things to his own glory.”

After drawing near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, indeed as the children of God to our heavenly Father, believing that He is able and ready to help us, we begin with this upward direction of adoration. Hallowed be Your name, we pray.

The word “hallowed” is the same root as “holy,” or “sanctify.”  Set Your Name apart in our hearts, heavenly Father. Enable us to glorify You in creation, in providence, and in redemption. In everything whereby You make Yourself known, may we daily give you all praise and glory. “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (KJV)—so the Psalmist commands in Psalm 96:89. Remember, from that magnificent first catechism answer, this is our chief and main duty in life, to “glorify God.”

Then since He is in control of all things, and nothing occurs outside His powerful sovereignty, we pray that He will by His upholding, directing, and governing all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, dispose everything to His own glory.

Words to live by:  Make it a challenging spiritual exercise to cause the Name of God to be set apart in all that you do in life. Indeed, make it a challenging discovery to find  how God has set apart His own name in His divine actions on this earth. Either spiritual exercise will add to your spiritual growth. Seek to magnify the name of God in a world which doesn’t care to even acknowledge His existence, and watch to see how God will bring opportunities for witness to your unsaved family and friends. Let us set the Lord always before us. Hallowed be Thy Name.


The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
Psalm 110:1.

Before me lies a manuscript history of the memorable Scottish General Assembly of 1638, open at the sermon which Mr. Alexander Henderson, the moderator, preached from this text at the excommunication and deposition of “the pretended Archbishops and Bishops of this Kingdom.” Behind this Assembly lies the story of the tumults at Edinburgh when King Charles I ordered the introduction of a Romanizing Liturgy; and the renewing of the covenants at Greyfriars, February 28th.

The heart of the sermon of Mr. Henderson is that Christ is he only Lord and Head and King of the Church. The ground of this dominion is the will and word of God declared here and many other places, such as, Dan. 2:44; 7:13; Luke 1:33. God hath given Christ the dignity of sitting at His own right hand. Let us for whom He hath suffered so much but acknowledge His Lordship. And then the beams from the sun of righteousness will give light and heat to our souls in answer to His blessed advocacy. The Church is to seek that form of worship and of government that her Lord hath given her and to rely wholly on Christ’s immediate presence with her.

Christ is to reign at the Father’s right hand until every enemy is made His footstool. In the time to come His great glory and triumph shall be manifest. But today He calls us to maintain His Lordship, especially in His Church. As His faithful bride she is called to a holy jealousy in seeking a worship, a government, and a work that are wholly of His ordering. As in the days following this memorable assembly let us see that at the tent of every captain of the army of Covenanters there is “fleeing” a banner with this inscription: “FOR CHRIST’S CROWN AND COVENANT.”

—William Childs Robinson.

In 1854, the city of Charleston, South Carolina was ravaged with an epidemic of yellow fever. Later, at the behest of the State Legislature, the Rev. James H. Thornwell, then president of South Carolina College, brought a sermon at the State capitol on December 9, 1850. The title of his discourse, “Judgments: A Call to Repentance.” On this momentous occasion, the assembled audience saw themselves as “a sovereign people prostrating themselves before a sovereign God.”—”South Carolina, by her trusted agents and chosen representatives, in her organic capacity, as a distinct political community; in the power of her honored Chief Magistrate, in the two Houses of the Legislature, and the venerable Judges of the land, presenting herself, in humility and mourning, before the footstool of Him who standeth in the congregation of the mighty, and judgeth among the gods.”

As one reviewer noted, “The leading thoughts of the Sermon are as follows: The visitations of Providence expressive of the Divine displeasure are called “judgments,” because they are universally regarded as the penal inflictions of a Judge or Ruler. This implies the conviction of our nature that there is a personal God; and if God be a Person, then all his dispensations have some purpose or design, and this design is to be ascertained by an observation of the tendency of the dispensations. The tendency of public, wide-spread afflictions is to create a sense of guilt in the bosoms of men,—to make them tremble at the anger, and dread the justice of their Judge; and so, to restrain transgression, and preserve the innocent in their integrity. There is an inseparable connexion between suffering and sin; and so strong is the conviction of the human mind upon this point, that there is always danger of misinterpreting Providence, by making the degree of suffering the exponent of the measure of guilt. All, however, that we have a right to conclude from even extraordinary suffering, is the existence of sin, and the consequent necessity of repentance. And this repentance is the duty of the spectators, as well as of the sufferers. “Except ye”—the spectators of the woes—”repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

Then, following Thornwell’s delivery of this discourse, representatives from the two houses of the legislature wrote to Thornwell on December 12, 1850, requesting a copy of his discourse for publication. Click here to read the full discourse.

The words that follow form the heart of Thornwell’s discourse. They are insightful, almost prophetic words, and here I think Thornwell puts his finger on the crux of our nation’s sin, then and now. What he seems not to see, however, is that this same sin is at the root of the system of slavery and racism that so troubled the nation then and which besets us to this day. Finally, the logical conclusion of this sin is the deification of the individual, and we see that hydra-headed monster coming into all its “glory” in our time. Racism is but one expression of the sin of self-deification. Me first. My ‘rights’ over all else. What I want, rather than bowing the knee to the will of the sovereign Lord of the universe.

Judgments : A Call to Repentance

“The sins which have been mentioned, and which confessedly prevail to a melancholy extent through the length and breadth of the land, though they call for humiliation and repentance here, are, perhaps, not so appropriate to this occasion, as those which spring from the tendencies and workings of our forms and principles of government. Bear with me in briefly stating what seems to me to be a species of idolatry which cannot fail to bring down upon us, sooner or later, the righteous judgments of God. I allude to what may be called the deification of the people. They are frequently represented as the source of all political power and rights; the very fountain head of sovereignty. It is their will which makes law; it is their will which unmakes it. A supremacy is ascribed to that will which he who reads the Bible and recognizes a God that has dominion over the children of men, must feel to be shocking. They are really treated as a species of Deity upon the earth. Now this whole representation is not only inconsistent with religion, it is equally inconsistent with the philosophy upon which our popular institutions are founded. The government of this country does not proceed upon the maxim that the will of the people is the will of God, and its arrangements have not been made with a reference to the end, that their will may be simply ascertained. This legislature is not a congregation of deputies, or ministerial agents, and you have, and know that you have, higher functions to perform than merely to inquire what do the people think. I do not underrate their opinions; they must always enter as an element in sober and wise deliberation; but what I maintain is, that the true and legitimate end of government is not to accomplish their will, but to do and enforce what reason, conscience, and truth pronounce to be right. To the eternal law of right reason, which is the law of God, all are equally subject, and forms of government are only devices and expedients to reach the dictates of that law and apply it to the countless exigencies of social and individual life. The State is a Divine ordinance, a social institute, founded on the principle of justice, and it has great moral purposes to subserve, in relation to which the constitution of its government may be pronounced good or bad. The will of the people should be done only when the people will what is right, and then primarily not because they will it, but because it is right. Great deference should be paid to their opinions, because general consent is a presumption of reason and truth.

The peculiarity of a representative system is that it governs through deliberative assemblies. Their excellence is in the circumstance that they are deliberative, which affords a reasonable security that truth and justice may prevail. So far from being mere exponents of public sentiment, their highest merit is that they are a check upon popular power— a barrier reared against the tide of passion, to beat back its waves, until reason can be fairly heard. There is no misapprehension more dangerous than that which confounds representative government with the essential principle of a pure democracy. It is not a contrivance to adapt the exercise of supreme power on the part of the people to extensive territory or abundant population, to meet the physical impediments which in large States, must obviously exist to the collection of their citizens in one vast assembly. It is not because the people cannot meet, but because they ought not to meet, that the representative council in modern times is preferred to the ancient convocations in the forum or market place. It is to be prized, because it affords facilities and removes hinderances in the discovery of truth; but the supreme power is truth, and not man; God, not the creature.

Now whatever representations diminish the authority of the Divine law as the supreme rule, and make the State the creature and organ of popular will, as if an absolute sovereignty were vested in that, are equally repugnant to religion and the true conception of our government. An absolute democracy is the worst of all governments, because it is judicially cursed as treason against God, and is given over to the blindness of impulse and passion. I am afraid that in this matter we have trodden upon the verge of error—we have forgotten that the State is ordained of God, and that our relations to each other are those of mutual consultation and advice, while all are absolutely subject to Him.

In proportion as we lose the true conception of the State, we fall short of realizing in ourselves that perfection of developement and happiness which it was instituted to achieve. Hence, it is not unusual that as extremes meet, those who in theory clothe the people with the prerogatives of God, practically degrade them below the level of intellectual existence. When we cease to regard the State as a great instrument of moral education, it is not surprising that the education itself should be disregarded, and these Gods be left to demonstrate that after all, they are but men.

Let it be once conceded that government is but an organ of the popular will, the business of the statesman is very simple—it is only to find out what the people wish; and as all courts are attractive by the patronage they bestow, we may expect to see a system in operation, whose only tendency is to secure personal popularity. The ambition of Legislators and Senators will be directed to the gaining of popular favour, and whatever arts promise to be most successful, will be held to be legitimate, as they are the customs and usages of the Court, whose seal of approbation is desired. The consequences must be disastrous to all the parties concerned. There will and must be corruption and bribery. There will and must be unbecoming condescensions. The aspirants for distinction, however they may abhor these practices, and reproach themselves in stooping to them, feel compelled to resort to them as the conditions of success, and it will always happen that where the people are deified in theory, they will be degraded and corrupted in practice. Men will be promoted, not according to their wisdom and worth; not according to their ability to answer the ends of the State in eliciting the voice of reason and of truth, and securing the reign of universal justice—they will be promoted according to their pliancy in pandering to popular tastes. The demagogue will supplant the statesman—the representative be replaced with a tool.”

Click here to read the full discourse.

Henry Barrington Pratt, Presbyterian missionary and teacher, son of Rev. Nathaniel A. and Catherine Barrington (King) Pratt, was born near Darien, Georgia, on May 26, 1832. He attended Oglethorpe University, graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1855, and was ordained by the Cherokee Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the United States on September 27, 1855. On November 7, 1860, he married Joanna Frances Gildersleeve, with whom he had three children. He served for ten years as a missionary in Bogotá, Colombia, and had other brief assignments in Mexico, Cuba, and the United States. He translated religious materials into Spanish for the American Tract Society and the American Bible Society, including the Versión Moderna, published in 1893, a Bible still widely used by Hispanic Protestants.

In 1896 Pratt settled in Laredo, Texas, as an “evangelist to Mexicans” for the Presbyterian Executive Committee of Home Missions. With other missionaries, he conducted numerous revivals throughout South Texas that produced several hundred converts to the Presbyterian Church. Pratt’s major contribution to Presbyterianism in Texas, however, derived from his Bible Training School for Christian Workers, which he conducted in Laredo between 1896 and 1899. The school, designed to train converts to become effective evangelists, combined intensive Bible study and preaching lessons with such practical and physical chores as housecleaning and gardening. Pratt based his educational theory on economic as well as theological and pedagogical grounds. He thought that to give “native workers” a general education in addition to simple biblical training was self-defeating. Because they were to work primarily with impoverished and uneducated people, Pratt believed that Bible Training School graduates should not have a broad general education lest they become disaffected with their congregations or be lured into secular vocations by the temptation of high salaries and good working conditions. Pratt considered the students sufficiently trained after a two-year course to serve small Spanish-speaking congregations in Texas. Although his program produced a number of successful evangelists, such as Reynaldo Ávila, Abraham Fernández, and Elías Treviño, it also established the pattern for the typical Presbyterian Hispanic pastor of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-underpaid, poorly trained, and dependent on denominational financial support. A smallpox epidemic forced the Bible Training School to close in 1899, and Pratt left Laredo to become pastor of a Hispanic congregation in Brooklyn, New York. He resigned that position in 1902 and retired to Hackensack, New Jersey, where he continued to write biblical commentaries and to translate theological works until his death, on December 11, 1912.

pratt_MrsHB_ladies_album_and_family_manual_1852Pictured at right: The February 1852 issue of The Ladies’ Album and Family Manual. Henry Barrington Pratt was but one member of an accomplished and distinguished family. His father, the Rev. Nathanael Alpheus Pratt, came from good circumstances, and had as well married into some measure of wealth. His father-in-law was the founder of the town of Roswell, Georgia and brought Rev. N.A. Pratt there to pastor the Roswell Presbyterian Church; he served there from 1840 until his death in 1879. It was apparently when Henry was approaching adulthood that his mother, Catherine Barrington Pratt, began to serve as the lead editor of The Ladies’ Album and Family Manual. Following is an article excerpted from the February 1852 issue of this magazine:—


The importance of family government is seen in its relations to domestic happiness, to common schools, to civil government, and to the Divine government.

It is essential to the peace and happiness of a home, that children be kept under proper restraint. One child, ungoverned, often disturbs the tranquility of an entire household. We are told that among the Hindoos, in the houses of some of the rich, having several apartments, one room is called the room of anger, or of the angry ; and when any members of the family are angry, they shut themselves up in this room. Perhaps it would be well for us to imitate the Hindoos in this respect; at all events, one angry or unruly member of the family ought not to be allowed to destroy the peace and comfort of all. We are wont to sing —

“ Home, sweet home,
There’s no place like home.”

And this sentiment is fully true of every home worthy of the name. But the sweet may be made bitter, yea, so bitter, by the want of parental government, that, in a melancholy sense, there shall be no place like home. What can be more offensive than a household in disorder ?• Each member, instead of laboring to promote the comfort of all, seeking, at the expense of others, his own gratification, and none happy !

The family relation is sometimes spoken of as a relic which has survived the ruin of the Fall. To prove this representation true, there must be, now, in the family, that same observance of law, and that same love which prevailed in Eden. If the husband would find his wife happy when he goes home,— if the wife would have her husband love his home,— if they would have their children grow up as olive plants around their table, to beautify their home and render it blessed,— they will sustain family government in the fear of the Lord.

Government in the family is essential to proper discipline in the school. Great attention has been bestowed of late to the education of the young. While, through the influence of a board of education, normal schools, &c., there has been, in some respect, decided improvement in our common schools ; in one respect there is reason to fear that these schools have degenerated. They are not so well governed as formerly. This may be attributed, in part, to the to influence of a few prominent individuals, who have radically wrong to views of human nature and of moral government; but. to a great extent, it arises from the fact that children are not governed at home.

If a teacher is a good disciplinarian, much of his time, which ought to be spent in teaching, is consumed in direct efforts to sustain his authority; much of which effort would not be necessary, did the parents teach their children to obey at home ; and were their influence, at all times, in favor of good government in school. Thus, the community lose much of the advantage which they would gain, could the teacher devote himself, unreservedly, to teaching. If the teacher is not a good disciplinarian, the children, not being in the habit of obeying at home, will be sure not to obey at school; hence, but little advantage is gained to any one from the school. Parents ought to feel that a large part of the responsibility of this rests with themselves, and, for the sake of the rising generation, see that their children are taught at home to obey in school.

Family government derives importance from its relation to the State. When we inquire why it is so easy in this country to raise a mob, and why there is in our community so much violation of law, a satisfactory answer may be found by entering the family circle. The first lessons of disobedience and disloyalty are learned there. If a child does not learn to yield to the authority of his parents, when he becomes a man he will not be ready to regard the power of the civil authorities.

The cause of popular liberty is injured and retarded in the Old World by the want of loyalty in the New. Our faults are greatly exaggerated, but would we take away the occasion of the misrepresentations of royalists, and would we prove ourselves the true friends of good government, we must begin at home, and each one rule his own house well.

The importance of family government appears transcendently in its relation to the government of God. Children are committed to parents, not only to be trained for the home and the school, not only to be made good citizens, but also, and above all, to be made the loyal subjects of the King of kings. Yes, the child is to be trained for God and for heaven. But if he never learns to submit to the authority of his parents, what reason is there to hope that he will bow submissively to the authority of God 1 If, when he perceives the relation of the parent to himself, he does not regard that relation, when recognizing the Divine existence, he perceives the relation which God sustains to himself, why will he any more regard this higher relation 1 If, when his parents know more than he does, and are disposed to make a right use of their knowledge in training him, he will not heed their guiding hand,’ what will he care for the statutes of Him who is infinite in wisdom and love ? If his parents are able and disposed to govern him better than he can govern himself, and yet he is allowed to trample on their authority, the perfection of God’s government will not prevent his rebellion against it. Here is a relation of paramount importance, for it is endless. The rebellion of the child against God will, if persisted in during this life, fix his eternal destiny. This view should take the deepest hold upon the Christian parent. That children may be trained for heaven is the great end for which they are committed to the parent. Herein is involved a vast responsibility. It is not enough to minister to the physical wants of the child; indeed, this is but a small part. We are to consider his wants as an immortal being, and make the family government subservient to the Divine. It is a solemn fact, that it will be subservient to, or subversive of, the Divine government. The influence of the parent upon the child will be to make him submissive to God, or to strengthen him in his rebellion. And parents must render an account to God for this influence by which they indirectly sustain, or subvert his authority. Parents should feel that the relation of their children to themselves will have an important influence upon their relation to God.

The training of an immortal mind is a momentous work ! “When Bacon, the sculptor, was retouching the statue of Chatham, in Westminster Abbey, a divine, who was a stranger, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “ Take care what you are doing. You work for eternity.” To parents it may well be said, In family government, take care what you do. In the highest sense, you work for eternity. When the sculptured stone shall have crumbled into dust, the souls of your children will show the work of your hands.

[excerpted from The Ladies’ Album and Family Manual, 18.2 (February 1852): 58-60.]

Covenanters in the Crown of London
By Rev. David T. Myers

The story of the Covenanters defeated at Bothwell Bridge and sent aboard the Crown of London as slaves is a sobering story. There are pictures on the web of the monument on the coast of Orkney near the sea as well as the Covenanter Fountain in Kirkland.

Following the disastrous Battle at Bothwell Bridge on June 22, 1679, in which Covenanters were defeated in the battle, close to 1200 Covenanter prisoners were taken to Edinburgh and imprisoned in a make shift, open air prison next to Greyfriars Kirk (church). Some were tortured and killed immediately. Others died of natural conditions due to the harsh conditions of the site. Others were pardoned and set free under the August 14th Act of Indemnity that same year. But our attention today focuses in on the approximately 257 alleged ringleaders, including Covenanter ministers, who were sentenced to be shipped to the West Indies or Virginia as white slaves. Setting sail from Leith, Scotland, on the prison ship, Crown of London, on November 27, 1679, they sailed only a short while before bad weather forced them into a port.

Despite warnings from the locals to not attempt to sail, they had hardly cleared the land mass when the ship lost its anchor on December 10, 1679, striking rocks off of Dearness.The captain, Thomas Teddico, described as a profane, cruel wretch, ordered the crew to escape by chopping down the mast and riding it to the shore. The prisoners in the hold, who had their hatches chained to prevent them from escaping, were left to their own straits. All of them perished, with the exception of around 50 who were enabled to escape by means of a ax which one prisoner had with him. During  the next several days, bodies of the dead prisoners washed up at the beaches, and subsequently were buried in the area.

Of those who managed to escape, six prisoners were caught and shipped to the Barbados as slaves. Eight other Covenanters were shipped to the English plantations in Virginia. Some escaped to Ulster. At least two families in the port area claimed to be descended from a few Covenanters who stayed where they landed.

orkneyOn August 22, 1888, a majestic granite monument [pictured at right] was erected about 300 yards from the spot where the Crown of London went down. It has the following memorial etched on its side: “Erected by public subscription to the memory of 200 Covenanters who were taken prisoner at Bothwell Bridge and sentenced to transportation for life, but who perished by shipwreck near this spot, 10th December 1679.” Another memorial is found in nearby Kirkwall and is known as the Covenanter Water Fountain, built just two years later in 1890 due to excess funds left over from the original monument.

Words to Live By:
Our spiritual forefathers suffered much for the Savior in their battles to win the Reformation. They deserve to be remembered by all Presbyterians everywhere for their sacrifices for the kingdom of Christ. In  so remembering, you the reader may be informed that black African slaves were not the only ones shipped to these shores. White slaves — Covenanter slaves — also were sent to our shores. Don’t forget their sacrifices. Remember their sacrifices as we approach the coming year.


It is well also for another reason, that—if obliged to publish at present only a part of these records—Drs. Mitchell and Struthers should have selected the “Minutes,” beginning with November, 1644, for this first volume.  From “Lightfoot’s Journal of the Assembly of Divines,” extending from the opening of the Assembly, July 3d, 1648, to December 31st, 1644, and from George Gillespie’s “Notes of Proceeding of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster,” extending from February 2 to May 3, from September to December 31, 1644, we are enabled to form a much clearer conception of the course of discussion in the As­sembly, than could possibly be done from the imperfect memo­randa of these Minutes.  This will be very apparent on a com­parison of the jottings of these Minutes with the Notes of Lightfoot and Gillespie, covering, with several omissions, the brief period from November to December 31, 1644.  The three records of December 9th, 1644, are as follows:

  1. Lightfoot’s account is:

“We speedily fell upon the business about burial as soon as we were set ; and the matter was, whether to have anything spoken at the burial of the dead.

“Dr. Temple moved that something might be said at the very interment of the body ; but this was thought not fit to be given any rule for, but rather to pass it over in silence ; and so the minister left something to his liberty.  Dr. Temple moved again, whether a minister, at putting a body into the ground, may not say, ‘We commit this body to the ground,’ etc.  And it was conceived of the Assembly that he might ; and the words ‘without any ceremony more,’ do not tie him up from this.

“Then fell our great controversy about funeral sermons ; and here was our difficulty—how to keep funeral sermons is England for fear of danger by alteration, and yet to give content to Scotland that are averse from there.  It was the sense of the Assembly in general, that funeral sermons may be made, if a minister be called on for it; and the debate was now to find terms to fit and suit with both parties.  At last we fixed on this: ‘That the people should take up thoughts and conferences concerning death, mortality, etc.; and the minister, if he be present, shall put them in mind of that duty.’  Here I excepted at the last word, ‘duty,’ for that a little speech would put them in mind of medi­tating and conferring spiritually; therefore I moved an alteration, which was much backed by divers, and it was changed, ‘of their duty.’  The mind of the Assembly was that these words give liberty for funeral ser­mons.  And thus we had done the directory for burial.

“Then fell we upon the report of our votes concerning Church Gov­ernment, where we had left off the last day; and when we had done them, Mr. Burroughs entered his dissent against two or three propositions, viz. against the subordination of Assemblies one to another, and against the instance of the Church of Ephesus for a Presbytery ; and so did Mr. Nye, Mr. Carter, Mr. Sympson, and Mr. Bridges; and Mr. Sympson offered from Mr. Goodwin to enter his dissent ; but we would not admit of any proxies.”

  1. Gillespie’s account of the same debate, under date Decem­ber 9, 1644, is :

“The votes of Government were read and ordered to be transcribed, that they may be sent to the Parliament.

“Messrs. Burroughs, Nye, Bridges, Sympson, and Carter entered their dissent from three of the propositions :  1. That there is a subordination of congregational, classical, provincial, and national Assemblies for the government of the Church.  2. That the example of the Church of Ephesus proves the propositions concerning Presbyterial government.

  1. That no congregation which may associate ought to assume all and sole power of ordination. Mr. Goodwin and Mr. Greenhill were not present.”

It will be seen that he omits the debate on funerals altogether.

  1. Now, under the same date of December 9, 1644, the Minutes before us make the following record :

Sess. 337, Dec. 9, 1644, Monday Morning.

“ Protestation read.  Debate of the Directory for Burial…. Neverthe­less this doth not inhibit any minister at that time being present to give some seasonable word of exhortation.

Mr. Marshall offered a paper to express the affirmative part.

“ Debate about something to be added to the negative.

Dr. Temple made report of the alterations in the frame* of govern­ment.

“ Ordered, this draught of Government be transcribed, to be sent to both Houses of Parliament.

Mr. Burroughs enters his dissent from the subordination of Assem­blies in that proposition, ‘it is lawful and agreeable ;’ and that ‘of par­ticular congregations assuming the power of ordination ;’ and that ‘of the Church of Ephesus,’ if you mean [that they were congregations, fixed.]

Mr. Nye enters his dissent to the same propositions.

Mr. Carter desires the same.  Mr. Sympson desires the same.  He also desired that Mr. Goodwyn’s dissent may be entered, he being not well.

Ordered, That he have leave against to-morrow.

“ Mr. Bridges desired the same.”

This comparative exhibition of what is said in the “Journal” of Lightfoot, and the “ Notes” of Gillespie, and in these Mi­nutes,” touching the debate of December 9, selected by us at random, will enable the reader to form some conception of the general nature and style of these recently discovered records.

  • “Draught” is written above “frame” in the manuscript, which, as will be seen from Lightfoot, quoted already, is more proper.

The words in these brackets are crossed over with a black line.



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Henry Jackson Van Dyke, Sr., was born in Abington, Pennsylvania, 2 March 1822. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating there in 1843 and later graduating from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1846. He was ordained by the Third Presbytery of Philadelphia in June of 1845 and installed as pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church at Bridgeton, New Jersey, where he served from 1845-1852. He was next called to pastor the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown, PA, but only served there briefly, 1852-1853. His his final and longest pastorate was at the First Presbyterian Church (Later renamed the Second Presbyterian Church, following a merger) of Brooklyn, New York, 1853-1891. He died in Brooklyn on 25 May 1891. Honors conferred during his life included the Doctor of Divinity degree, awarded by Westminster College of Fulton, Missouri, 1865. In 1876, he served as Moderator of the 88th General Assembly of the PCUSA, as it met in Brooklyn, NY, just seven years after the reunion of the Old School and New School divisions of that denomination. Rev. Van Dyke was survived by his wife, Henrietta Ashmead Van Dyke [1820-1893]. Their marriage produced two sons, Henry Jackson Van Dyke, Jr. [1852-1933], who later became a noted author and poet; and Paul Van Dyke [1859-1933]. Paul was a Presbyterian minister at Geneva, NY, 1887–89, and then taught church history at Princeton Theological Seminary, 1889–92.

The Special Collections Department at Princeton University houses the Van Dyke Family collection, which include materials by Henry Jackson Van Dyke, Sr.  His papers include manuscripts of sermons (1844-1891), essays, speeches, Bible lessons, and theological notes. The correspondence subseries contains many letters to Van Dyke from clergymen, parishioners, friends, and family, often regarding the controversy caused by his publication of The Character and Influence of Abolitionism, the Reunion movement in the Church, and matters of the General Assembly. Men such as N. C. Burt, Howard Crosby, Cyrus Dickson, William H. Green, James O. Murray, E. D. Prime, and Nathaniel West are representative of Van Dyke’s correspondents. Searches on the Web tend almost entirely to only produce results dealing with his son, a well known author and poet of his era, who was theologically a moderate liberal. The question occurs of course, did the father’s errors push the son to react with yet more error. Would that both had instead listened to Rev. Sloane (see below) and repented of their sins.

It was on this day. December 9, 1860, that Rev. Henry J. Van Dyke delivered his discourse on “The Character and Influence of Abolitionism.”

He set forth four main points in his argument to undermine the abolitionist cause:

“Abolitionism has no foundation in the Scriptures.
Its principles have been promulgated by misrepresentation and abuse.
It leads, in multitudes of cases, and by a logical process, to utter infidelity.
It is the chief cause of the strife that agitates and the danger that threatens our country.”

Read Van Dyke’s discourse online here (HathiTrust) –
or download here ( –
That work and some of his other works can also be found on a page set up under his name, over at the Log College Press web site

By all means then you must also read the review written by James Renwick Willson Sloane [1823-1886], a Reformed Presbyterian pastor and contemporary of Rev. Van Dyke. See the link below, or again, visit the page listing Rev. Sloane’s works, at the Log College Press.

Review of Rev. Henry J. Van Dyke’s discourse on “The character and influence of abolitionism,” a sermon preached in the Third Reformed Presbyterian Church, Twenty-third Street, New York, on Sabbath evening, December 23, 1860

Please be aware there is also an uplifting biography of Rev. Sloane that you should read, for he was a stalwart defender of Scriptural truth even in the face of determined opposition.

Life and work of J. R. W. Sloane, D. D., professor of theology in the Reformed Presbyterian seminary at Allegheny City, Penn. 1868-1886 and pastor of the Third Reformed Presbyterian church, New York, 1856-1868

Words to Live By:
Rev. Sloane was quite right to call out Henry Van Dyke for the error of what he was teaching. Apparently it is all too easy to get caught up in the prevailing culture and even Christians can be found living without a Biblical discernment on some matters. May our Lord give us discernment and conviction to repent of the sins of our time and culture. Better still, to mourn over the sins of our times. It is easy to condemn the sins of an earlier time; what are we doing to oppose the sins of today?

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by Rev. William Smith (1834)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 67 & 68.

Which is the sixth commandment?

A. The sixth commandment is, “Thou shalt not kill,” Exod. xx. 13.

Q. 68. What is required in the sixth commandment?

A. The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.


All lawful endeavors. –Every just means in our power ; such as, compassion, kindness, necessary food, clothing, physic, rest, and, in short, whatever we can do, that is not contrary to the law of God.


The duties required in the sixth commandment are three-fold:

  1. We are commanded to preserve our own lives. –Eph. v. 20. No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it.
  2. To preserve the lives of others. –Job. xxix. 13. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me.
  3. That we are to use only lawful means for the saving of life. –Numb. xxiv. 31. Moreover, ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death.

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