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A Rare Gift to the Church

Filed under “They just don’t write ’em like that any more.” — This is a resolution by the 1881 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, US, as shown on page 363 of their Minutes for that year:

The Committee recommend the adoption of the following Minute:

Whereas, it pleased the Great Head of the Church to remove, in October 1880, from the scene of his earthly labors, that he might be with Him where He is, and behold His glory, Rev. W. S. Plumer, D.D., LL.D., Professor of Pastoral and Casuistic Theology in Columbia Seminary, by appointment of this body:

Resolved, That this Assembly does now record its testimony to the personal worth, eminent piety, unremitting industry and zeal, and official fidelity of this distinguished servant of Christ. Our deceased brother was a rare gift of the ascended Redeemer to his militant Church, and we render to Him thanks for that grace which qualified our brother for his varied and abundant labors—for his long and useful life, and for the testimony of his lips, life and death to the truth, preciousness and power of that gospel which was his comfort, joy and trust, living and dying.

Words to Live By:
Our Lord is constantly watching over His Church, providing for her every need. And in each generation, He raises up those leaders that the Church will need to carry her through the challenges of the day, equipping her to do the work of the Gospel. Pray for your pastors, and pray for those who will come into leadership in the near future. Pray that they would be strong in the Scriptures, that their lives would be marked by holiness and purity, and that they would be faithful before the Lord in all they do and say.

STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 30. — How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?

A. — The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.

Scripture References: Eph.2:8; John 15:5; I Cor. 6:17; I Cor. 1:9; I Pet. 5:10.

Questions:

1. How does the Spirit apply this redemption to us?

This redemption is laid upon the soul by the Spirit. It unites us to Jesus Christ, it “joins” us to Him, makes us “one” with Him. It is an act of God.

2. How is it possible that we can be united to Christ when he is in heaven and we are here on earth?

It is possible because the person of Christ is everywhere. Matt. 28:20.

3. In the union between Christ and the Christian is it a mutual union?

It is a mutual union but it begins first on the side of Christ. The Bible teaches that “I will put my Spirit within you.”

4. What happens when this application takes place in the soul?

When the application takes place in the soul the soul believes, it passes from the dead state to the state of being alive.

5. Is it possible for this union to be dissolved?

No, it is impossible for this union to be dissolved because it contains within it the perseverance of God.

6. Is this faith that takes place that of ourselves or of God?

It can be said that faith is our act but it is God’s gift and the work of His Spirit. A good verse in this regard is Col. 2:12 – “Ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God.”

7. To what does the Scripture compare this union?

The Scripture compares this union to the union between husband and wife; head and members; root and branches; foundation and superstructure.

IT IS GOD THAT WORKETH IN YOU

Calvin’s definition of faith is found in his Institute (III, 2:7): “Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” The Presbyterian Standards are in complete agreement with the teaching contained in Calvin’s statement and our Catechism question and answer lays the foundation for this teaching in this question and other questions to follow.

Our title. “It is God That Worketh In You” is a very necessary teaching in this day and age. There is so much preaching and teaching today that contradict the Scriptural teaching of man’s utter and complete dependence on God for conversion. It is true that in the midst of the conversion experience it is sometimes difficult for man to understand the relationship. But the hymn writer put it well when he said:

“I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, 0 Saviour true;
No, I was found of thee.”

Few people in our Presbyterian churches today would doubt that it was God that worked in them when He drew them by the irresistible regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit. But many of them do not live as Christians in such a way to prove to a dying world that the same Almighty, Sovereign God is on the Throne and they recognize His Lordship. The Scripture teaches: “For all people will walk everyone in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:5). It is our responsibility to walk in true piety. Our faith is not to depend upon the pressures of our fellowmen or what they may think of us, but our faith must have the constancy of the Almighty God. Or, to put it another way, because our faith has the constancy of the Almighty God, we can know that nothing can turn us aside from the course that finds its way to heaven.

Calvin once prayed: ” … may we learn to raise up our eyes and minds and all our thoughts to thy great power, by which thou quickenest the dead, and raisest from nothing things which are not, so that, though we be daily exposed to ruin, our souls may ever aspire to eternal salvation.” Remember, “It is God That Worketh In You!”

Published By: THE SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol. 3 No. 30 (June, 1963)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

Bit of a “think piece” for us here on this Saturday morning. Browsing through an old periodical, I came across the following testimony by Archibald Alexander Hodge, son of Charles Hodge. I’m not sure if this testimony found its way into some other publication by A.A. Hodge, or otherwise where it came from. Perhaps some alert reader can let us know.

PERSONAL REASONS FOR BELIEVING CHRISTIANITY TO BE A REVELATION.

HodgeAABy Prof. A. A. Hodge, D.D., Theological Seminary, Princeton, N. J.

To the question, “Why do I personally believe Christianity to be a Revelation?” I would say:

1.     I recognize the obvious fact that my rational and moral intuitions, and the information they afford, are as valid as my sense perceptions and the discoveries they make of the material world. Personality, freedom, moral responsibility—the eternal, ultimate, universal, and supreme obligation of the Right, are to me the first and most sure of realities.

2.     The light of my own personality, will, intelligence, and conscience, cast upon external nature, and upon the human society which surrounds me, reveals God. He is manifested in the exercise of my own consciousness, and in the phenomena of external nature, as the invisible spirits of our fellow-men are visible in their persons and actions; and I spontaneously recognize Him as certainly as I recognize them. Intelligence, choice, and, therefore, personality, are everywhere visible in the successions of external nature; and the presence of a presiding moral personality is witnessed to by the sense of responsibility and of guilt never absent from my own consciousness. To the extent to which science renders nature intelligible is the latter proved to be the product of an ever-present and acting intelligence. This God is discerned to be immanent in the external and internal world, as distributed through space and time, just as clearly as the phenomena themselves through the medium of which He is manifested. At the same time, He is just as clearly and as certainly discerned as a moral and providential Governor objective to ourselves, transcending all phenomena, and speaking to us, and acting upon us from without.

3.      As thus revealed, it is evident that this God has created me in His own image. Instincts, also, which cannot be denied, testify that He is my Father. As a child of God, unassuagable instinct cries for union with Him. As a subject of His moral government, I know myself to be justly exposed to His wrath because of sin, and that I must have a Mediator to make my peace, else I die. His treatment of the race historically, and of me personally, affords strong presumption that He will sometime reveal Himself to me, and redeem me from the ruin effected by my sin.

4.     I was born in a Christian family, and in a Christian Church. Parents and friends lived before me from the beginning lives which, in strong contrast with the character of the surrounding community, were unmistakably supernatural. Through the subsequent years, I have seen innumerable individuals of many nationalities whose lives and deaths, in spite of all inconsistencies, possessed the same supernatural character. All these referred the mystery of their lives to the facts of an Incarnation of God eighteen hundred years ago, and to the subsequent indwelling of a Divine Person in their hearts. The history of this stupendous event, and the promise of this indwelling, I found recorded in a Book, itself giving, whenever and wherever believingly received, equal evidence of supernatural origin and power.

5.     The Bible and the Church thus present me with Christ. I find His person, life, words, death, and resurrection, and the consequence thereof, to be, when accepted as intended by the evangelists, the key which gives unity to all history, or, on the contrary, when not so understood, an infinite anomaly, neither to be reasoned away, nor explained. The very God immanent in nature und in conscience is revealed in this Christ with a satisfying completeness, solving all problems, and satisfying all needs—expiating human  guilt, sanctifying human life, reconciling the Moral Governor to His sinful subject, and uniting the Heavenly Father to His child.

6.     This objective revelation of Christ in the Bible and in the Church, once accepted as genuine many years ago, has ever since been developed and strengthened in my consciousness, by a religious experience, which, however imperfect, has proved continuous, progressive, and practically real, to this day—a power in my life as well as a light in my sky.

7.     This confidence grows more entirely satisfying through every renewed examination I am able to make of the historical monuments by which the fundamental facts of Christianity are certified. The authenticity of the records, the definite certainty of the facts, the miracles wrought, and the prophecies fulfilled, are among the best established events in history. If these be denied, there will be nothing left of which we can be sure. The supernatural birth, life, death, and resurrection of the God-man, and the miraculous growth of the early Church are all to me certainties, implicated in all rational views of the past or present state of mankind.

8.     This is corroborated by all I have learned, as for years the pupil of Joseph Henry, of the genuine results and tendencies of modern science. Instead of stumbling at special and transient collisions, I have seen it to be true, as in all other healthy, open-eyed vision, that the worlds of matter and spirit, and the revolutions of Scripture and science gloriously supplement and interpret each other. As the body is organized to the uses of the spirit, and the shrine to its resident divinity, so science is evermore unveiling the Temple which none other than the Triune God of Christianity can fill with His presence and crown with His glory.

9.     The conviction of the truth of Christianity is greatly confirmed by the violent contrasts afforded by all other religions, by the miserable failures the best of them achieve; in their historical records; in their representations of God, of nature, and of man; in their provisions for the needs of the human reason, conscience, or affection; in the relation of their cosmogonies to the results of modern science; and in their influence upon human character and life, individual and collective.

10.     Finally, my satisfaction with Christianity is consummated by the sorry plight presented by all the various parties who deny its truth, or rebel from its authority. Uncertain, inconsistent, inharmonious, instable, unfruitful, they take refuge in negations, and nowhere dare confront Christianity with positive, coherent counterpositions of creed, of evidence, or of practical results.—Ex.

[excerpted from The Pulpit Treasury, vol. 3, no. 8 (October 1885): 371-373.]

And To Drive Yesterday’s Point Home:

[excerpted from THE CHARLESTON OBSERVER, Vol. XII, No. 40 (6 October 1838): 159, column 2]

Educate your Children.—The following elegant extract merits the attention of every teacher, and especially of every parent.

wsc_london“If the time shall come when this might fabric shall totterwhen the beacon which now rises in a pillar of fire, a sign and wonder of the world, shall wax dimthe cause will be found in the ignorance of the people. If our union is still to continue to cheer the hopes, and animate the efforts of the oppressed of every nation; if our fields are to be untrod by the hirelings of despotism; if long days of blessedness are to attend our country in her career of glory; if you would have the sun continue to shed its unclouded rays upon the face of freemen, then educate all the children in the land. This alone startles the tyrant in his dreams of power, and rouses the slumbering energies of oppressed people. It was intelligence that reared up the majestic columns of national glory; and this alone can prevent them from crumbling to ashes.

A few thoughts on the value of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,excerpted from THE CHARLESTON OBSERVER, 15 October 1836, p. 166, columns 2-3:—
[At the moment, we’re short of events for the 5th of this month.]

A-218Ought the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism to be used in Sabbath Schools; and if so, to what extent?

We have seldom heard a more eloquent eulogium on the Catechism, than was elicited in the discussion. All seemed ready and anxious to speak in its praise. We can give only a few disconnected sentences from our notes.

What is the Catechism? An epitome of all the great truths and distinguishing doctrines of the Gospel. He who learns that, has the substance of the Old and New Testaments. No book, except the Bible, is so near perfection. Those who have done most to bless the world, have loved the doctrines just as they are taught in the Catechism. The Puritans came to these shores to cherish these doctrines. “But,” says one, “it is no use to teach children what they cannot understand.” All past experience shows that tis is not true. They must be tuaght things which they cannot understand. I owe more, said the speaker, to my knowledge of these doctrines, as tuaght in that manual, than to my three years’ study in the Theological Seminary. There is a great deal of thought in the Catechism; more than in some of our libraries.

I was once, said another speaker, taught the Catechism, and I never think of these truths without the tenderest recollection of my parents, now in heaven.

I have reason to bless the God of heaven, (said the moderator, probably the oldest Minister present) that I was taught that sytstem of doctrine while I was almost in the arms of my mother. When I grew up so as to compare it with the Bible, I found there was a unison. My old Minister used to teach it at the close of the common school. Then we were called orthodox. That man is now sleeping with his fathers. A new set of Ministers have arisen, who have discarded the Catechism, and now but few can be found in that place, who hold the doctrines as there taught.

Words to Live By:
Perhaps you’ve been so blessed as to have memorized the Shorter Catechism when a child, or perhaps even in later years. If that hasn’t been your experience, may I urge you to at the very least take up the practice of reading it on Sunday afternoons? Or you might read through it day by day, one question & answer at a time. Think of the Catechism as a succinct summary of what the Bible teaches. It’s a wonderful help, readily available, and so each to use.

Here We Stand

declarationOfCommitmentThere were four organizations that were formative of the Presbyterian Church in America. They were:
1. The Presbyterian Journal, which began in May of 1942. Founded by a group of conservative Presbyterians, including L. Nelson Bell, the Journal was founded to work against the liberalism infecting the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern Presbyterian Church).
2. The Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, founded by the Rev. William Hill, Jr., conducted revivals in PCUS churches.
3. Concerned Presbyterians, a laymen’s group
4. Presbyterian Churchmen United (PCU), an organization of conservative pastors in the PCUS.

Originally published on October 4, 1969 by the Presbyterian Churchmen United (PCU), the Declaration of Commitment was a clarion call issued to the ministers and people of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS)—a call for recommitment to the Word of God and to the Reformed Faith, signed by over 500 ministers and published in over 30 major newspapers.

DECLARATION OF COMMITMENT

To the membership of the Presbyterian Church, US, in light of the questions and concerns being expressed in the Church as to the nature of our faith and order, we, the undersigned ministers declare our conviction:

—That the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ turns men from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. By coming to faith in Him alone is there genuine reconciliation between man and God and man and man.

—That the Holy Scriptures are the infallible Word of God, and that these Scriptures commit the Church to a mission whose primary end is the salvation and nurture of souls.

—That Christian faith must bear fruit if it is to remain virile. These fruits vary from believer to believer. But common to them all are evidences of love, concern and neighborliness, toward all races of men without partiality and without prejudice, especially to the poor, the oppressed and the disadvantaged. The man of faith views all men as neighbors and himself as debtor, for Christ’s sake.

—That, for the implementation of the above principles, in obedience to our ordination vows, we must strive to preserve a confessional Church, thoroughly Reformed and Presbyterian. Thus, our support of or opposition to any proposed union will be determined by these considerations.

—That, being fully committed by our ordination vows to the system of doctrine set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, we must oppose all efforts to change in substance or otherwise debase our historic doctrinal commitment.

—That we are in the same context by vow committed to historic Presbyterian polity with its representative system and its parity among teaching and ruling elders. Thus, we are forced to oppose any efforts to take our Church into the massive organization envisioned by COCU [i.e., Consultation on Church Union.]

—That, should the basic theology or polity of the Church be altered or diluted, we shall be prepared to take such actions as may be necessary to fulfill the obligation imposed by our ordination vows, to maintain our Presbyterian faith.

Words to Live By:
In this clarion call, over 500 pastors called for the Church to remain true to the Reformed Faith, to remain a confessional and Presbyterian church, in doctrine and in polity. They staked out a position with this document, standing against a proposed ecumenical merger which would have taken their denomination into liberal and unbelieving waters. And they made it clear that they would not be party to such a merger but would honor their ordination vows.

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” – (2 Thess. 2:15)

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” – (2 Timothy 1:13)

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) – Hebrews 10:23)

Image source: News clipping from the Paul G. Settle Manuscript Collection, Box 256, file 27, at the PCA Historical Center. Date [circa 1969] and source of the clipping not known.

A Way-station for the Progress of the Gospel
by Rev. David T. Myers

Up to the middle of the eighteenth century, what presbyteries existed were all in the northern part of the American colonies. But after the division of the New Side – Old Side Presbyterians in 1741 (see May 17, 1741), the New Side evangelists set their spiritual eyes on advancing the gospel both south and west of Philadelphia. Especially was there an encouragement due to the expansion of the Scot-Irish Presbyterians in those  directions who still worshiped in the manner of their Scotch forefathers.

An important waystation for the progress of the gospel was the establishment of Hanover Presbytery in Virginia on October 3, 1775. Constituting this regional church governing unit were the following: Samuel Davies, of Hanover Presbyterian Church, of Hanover County; Robert Henry, pastor of Cub Creek Church in Charlotte County and Briery Church in Prince Edward County; John Brown, of Timber Ridge and New Providence Presbyterian churches in Rockbridge County; and John Todd, assistant to Samuel Davies and pastor of Louisa County. Various ruling elders also attended, such as Samuel Morris, Alexander Joice, and John Molley. Also part of the presbytery but unable to attend were Alexander Craighead, pastor of Windy Cove Church in Augusta County, and John Wright, pastor of the church in Cumberland County, near Farmville, Virginia.

At the first meeting of the Presbytery, after the sermon by John Todd, the first action taken was to appoint a day of fasting and prayer on January 1, 1777.  The last act was to repeat the fasting and prayer on June of the same year.  In both cases, the purpose was to ask God for His help against the physical dangers occasioned by the war in their land as well as to ask God to bless the preaching of the Word of God in the area.

Words to live by:  Lest we respond with a yawn about the topic of today’s devotional, let us remember that to attend church in these early days was to put your life and that of your family in danger. First, there was the distance travelled to the meeting-house, usually a log building, or sometimes outside  under a huge tree. Transportation there was by horseback, or in buggies pulled by horses. The worshiping family carried their Bibles, hymns, and rifles with power horns, for protection. The services themselves lasted for two hours. And at the end, there would be communal meals, with another worship hour before they left for their homes. Colonial worship was not for the lukewarm, but for the God-fearing, Bible-believing men and women of the Presbyterian faith.

Contending Earnestly
by Rev. David T. Myers

The  number “seven” has always been associated with perfection.  But while that is the belief, there would be no one who would suggest that the seventh opening exercises of Westminster Theological Seminary on October 2, 1935,  have this word “perfection” stamped upon it.  Yet there was a sure reminder of both their existence in the church world at that moment in history as well as an old challenge to the professors and student body that they were to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints.”  That very familiar text from Jude 3 was the title of the sermon and article in the Presbyterian Guardian of October 21 and November 4 in 1935.

Proclaiming the Word that evening was Rev. John Hess McComb, pastor of the Broadway Presbyterian Church in New York City.  What you will read in this devotional history today will be a portion of that address which is still as up-to-date now as it was then applicable to the people of God.  He said,

“Then too, if we would contend for the faith, we must seize every opportunity to let people know were we stand. When the Word of God is under fire, every silent Christian  is counted with the enemy.  Psalm 107:2 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”  God honors such testimony is surprising ways.  It bears more fruit than we have any idea it will.  Too often the people in the pew take the attitude that the minister is paid to do the testifying and there is no need for them to exert themselves in that direction.  It is a great privilege to speak a word for Christ, and we must avail ourselves of the privilege in the home, in the circle of friends, in the office, in the church — wherever God gives an opportunity.  If the Redeemed of the Lord would testify a little more frequently, perhaps it would be found that the true Church of Christ is far larger than it seems, and that Modernism has not gained the ground it supposes it has gained.  When a child is born into this world and utters no sounds, we fear that it is dead.  When a professing Christian never speaks a word regarding his redemption through Christ, we  have reason to suspect that he never has been born again. Of course the Christian must see to it that his personal life in no wise belies his testimony.  He that seizes every opportunity to testify for his Lord must so live that there is no question in the minds of those about him who his Lord is.”

There were some sobering statements in this quotation.  There is no doubt that the New York City pastor wanted to impress on the minds and hearts of the seminary students that their studies must produce some effects in the lives of those to whom they would be sent as servants of Christ.

Words to live by:  Standing out in the above quotation is the illustration and application of the child.  Dr. McComb said, “when a child is born into this world and  utters no sound, we fear that it is dead.  When a professing Christian never speaks a word regarding his Redemption through Christ, we have reason to suspect that he never has been born again.”  These are strong words, and may solicit objections by our readers.  Yet there are placed here to think upon them and more importantly to act upon them.  Pray for a divine opportunity this day or week.  Pray that the Spirit will remind you to recognize the divine opportunity.  Then simply relate your Christian testimony to the individual, and see what the Lord will bring forth.

STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 29. — How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?

A. — We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit.

Scripture References: John 1:12-13; John 3:5-6; Titus 3:5-6.

Questions:

1. What do we mean by the word “redemption” in this particular question?

The word redemption in this question could be labeled as the complete doctrine of salvation that is revealed in the Scripture. The “broad” use of the word is in use here. Warfield states, “He died as a ransom certainly; but the salvation purchased by this ransom-price works itself out steadily in its successive stages unto the very end.” (Biblical Foundations, Pg. 244).

2. How was this redemption purchased?

This redemption was purchased by the precious blood of Christ, I Pet. 1:19.

3. Is it not possible in some way for the believer to make of himself a partaker?

No, it is impossible for the believer to make of himself a partaker of redemption. The Bible teaches that we are totally unable to save ourselves, much less to deserve It.

4. By whom is our redemption applied?

Our redemption Is applied by the Holy Spirit. It is his effectual working on us that brings it to pass.

5. How does this question help to make complete the doctrine of the Trinity?

It helps to make the doctrine of the Trinity complete by showing the work of the Holy Spirit in the work of redemption. We have seen how the Father ordains, the Son purchases and now the Spirit applies. Spurgeon had a favorite saying for the end of many of his sermons:

“We have heard the preacher,
Truth by him has been made known;
But we need a greater Teacher
From the everlasting Throne.
Application Is the work of God alone.”

THE PROCESS OF REDEMPTION

The above title may seem strange to many readers and yet it is theologically true. Warfield, in his book, “The Plan of Salvation”, states: . . . God’s plan is to save, whether the individual or the world, by process . . .  Redeemed by Christ, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, justified through faith, received into the very household of God as his sons, led by the Spirit into the flowering and fruiting activities of the new life, our salvation is still only in process and not yet complete.”

The process of redemption is taking place and yet there are so many Christians who insist that there is no room in others for mistakes and will criticize their brethren in the Lord greatly if sin is committed. This is a strange and dangerous happening in the church of today.

A. A. Hodge had a favorite saying, “The Lord leads us, you know, by devious ways through our pilgrimage, and he appoints for us all our changes.” Many times these “devious ways” are ways in which we fall prey to temptation. Now this in no way gives us any right to compromise with evil. The standard the Lord has placed before us is a standard of absolute perfection. The Christian can not live knowing there is a process going on, and then take advantage of it and use it as his ever-present excuse when he sins. This should be understood by all who name the name of Christ.

However, there is a danger that when the Christian recognizes the facts of the last paragraph he will, at the same time, come down with the disease of refusing to excuse, tolerate, or understand sin in other people. He forgets the Bible teaches that it is only when the last trump will sound that the incorruptible body shall enter into the glory for God’s children, and that then the process of redemption will be complete. A great Christian had the right perspective when he said, “Toward God, a heart of fire. Toward myself, a heart of steel. Toward others, a heart of love.” He recognized that he must put God first in all things. He recognized to do this he must rule out anything that would hinder him. He further recognized that others would be going through the same process as himself and his attitude toward them should be one of love.

Published By: THE SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol. 3 No. 29 (March 1963)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

The following is part of a sermon preached by Dr. Franklin Pierce Ramsay on June 13, 1926, in his son’s pulpit at Calvary Presbyterian Church of Staten Island, New York, some three months before his lamented death on September 30, 1926. Dr. Ramsay was himself a member of the Southern Presbyterian Church [properly the Presbyterian Church, U.S. or PCUS, by its initials], and author of an esteemed commentary on the PCUS Book of Church Order. He was born on March 30, 1856 and educated at Davidson College, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Chicago (Ph.D.) and Columbia Theological Seminary. In his forty-five year career, he served as pastor of at least six Presbyterian congregations and also as president of several colleges, including King College, Bristol, Tennessee. In retirement, he resided with his son on Staten Island, and as we shall see, took the opportunity to attend the General Assembly of what was often called the Northern Presbyterian Church. So moved by what he observed there, he secured permission to bring a sermon before the congregation pastored by his son.

In his sermon, after mentioning some of the outstanding features of the 1926 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., Dr. Ramsay stated that he would confine himself for the most part, to thoughts suggested in connection with the Report of the Special Commission of Fifteen [space does not permit an explanation of that Commission or its Report]. And so after a careful analysis of the report, he concludes with these words:]

The General Assembly of 1926: A Warning
by the Late Rev. Franklin P. Ramsay, Ph.D.

The report was adopted almost unanimously. I was present. The report made a profound impression, and gave general satisfaction. Nevertheless, I fear that the church is headed toward a most dangerous conclusion. The conviction did not come to me while I was under the spell of the report, but since I have come to reflect upon it. There are three evils in the church to-day, against which I lift a voice of warning.

First. I warn against the suppression of discussion.

There is a general impatience with controversy. It pervades the atmosphere of the general public. And there is especially the strongest prejudice against “heresy-hunting.”  This feeling has broken down discipline in the church generally. Even when it comes to licensing and ordaining ministers, there is a restless impatience with those who seek to guard against admitting unfit men into office. When there is so widespread and powerful a prejudice against discussion and against the prosecution of heresy, the cry for peace rises loud above every other cry. In words, this commission was to aim at “the purity, peace, unity, and progress of the church”; but it is commonly spoken of as the Peace Commission, and never as the Purity Commission. And by peace is too often meant the doing away with discussion, debate, controversy.  And now that the party opposed to discussion has control of the machinery of publicity, we see how those who would protest are silenced. This sermon, for instance, could not hope to get itself published in two of the three church weeklies; the man who is preaching it could not hope to get a half hour to present to his presbytery his reasons for fear of danger to the church. It would have been impossible at the General Assembly to adequately discuss this report.  Agitation is under taboo. And men in high positions in the church are well aware that for them to take an active part in controversy would endanger their positions; and prudence pleads powerfully for silence.

But is controversy is suppressed, the truth is suppressed. Discussion, full and open discussion, is the way to truth. It is true in science; behold the controversies in every department of scientific inquiry. It is true in politics. Our own political institutions originated and were shaped in prolonged debate, and are based upon the principle that political wisdom emerges only from the contributions of many minds to the discussion of the questions involved. And in religion, the dead Church of England protested the agitation of the Wesleys; but it was that agitation that saved England from the dry rot of a formal piety. The Church of Rome sought to suppress the Reformers; but the Protestant Reformation burned to flame and light in debate. Luther was temperamentally unfit to conduct such a discussion; and Calvin was harsh and merciles to opponents, so much so that, if one like them should arise in the Presbyterian Church to-day, he could not get appoints as a secretary of one of our Boards or confirmed as a professor to one of our seminaries. What would become of Paul who was uncompromising in his controversies with the advocates of another gospel? And our Lord himself, who spent his ministry largely in combatting the heresies of his day, and was sent to crucifixion by enraged ecclesiastics for disturbing the peace with his fierce denunciation of error, would he to-day be dumb and sweet when the greatest intellectual battle that Christianity has ever known is on? It is a pity that men must fight this battle out to a finish, imperfect men, with imperfect tempers, and making many mistakes; but so it must be. So let it be. The truth must not be betrayed by a conspiracy of silence. Let every man speak who is not afraid; and let the timid get courage from the Christ that was crucified.

Do not misunderstand me. I believe most heartily with the Assembly that all controversy within the church should be conducted in humility, in a most earnest effort to understand, in a horror of misrepresentation, and with a desire to promote the truth in peace. Let all mis-statement and all ill-feeling be put away. But let us discuss among ourselves as brethren the questions at issue, endeavoring to reach agreement by reaching the truth; and if we must disagree, to disagree in love. First purity, and then peace.

Second. I warn against the abolition of the Constitution by construction and non-use.

What I mean is this: “Changes in the meaning and use of language and diverse understanding and interpretations of the same words have led to much confusion and uncertainty. Some are disturbed because they believe that others are departing from the faith while making use of its forms of speech, and some are disturbed because they believe that they are accused of such departure, though they declare that in their own consciences they are confident of full loyalty to all essential truth.” So says the report, and says truly. The same words may be used by two men in very different senses. And so a united church may go on saying the same words, but using the words in quite different senses.

But that is not all. Men can use words without intending thereby to express any definite meaning. How easy it is to recite the Lord’s Prayer in concert; but how little do we really understand and mean what we say? So the creed formulated in our Constitution may become a form of words, accepted as a form of words, but not expressing present and living beliefs.

Still worse is the intentional use of words without intending the meaning which they properly signify. Thus people and ministers recite the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” when they do not believe in the resurrection of the body, but only in a sort of spiritual continuance of life, and intend to say one thing when they mean another. This is called accommodation of language for the sake of venerable association by some; by others it is called lying for convenience.

Now the danger that threatens the Presbyterian Church is that it will keep its creed unchanged in form while ceasing to believe it. Some will believe it, some will say it without definitely believing anything, and some will intentionally say what they do not believe for the sake of continuing in the church. This species of immoral deception, largely self-deception and to some extent intentional falsehood, is the peril that lies before us. When discussion is suppressed, this disease can grow, till the moral honesty of the church is eaten through.

There are influences that are making for this result. One is the effort to prevent debate, and to put all controversy under taboo. Another is the demand for unity. Ours is the largest Presbyterian Church in the country or in the world; and we are impatient to grow larger still. There is a demand for a more inclusive church, for the breaking down of denominational barriers, for uniting separated denominations into one denomination. We are told all Presbyterians ought to be one. The passion for unison persuades itself that it is the Christ-like thing and is always speaking of the good that will come when unification is accomplished. This devotion to unification is horrified at the thought of division, and will endeavor to keep our great church together.

In such an atmosphere, when it is impossible to persuade the church to make a change in its Constitution consciously and formally, it is possible to really change the Constitution in its spirit without changing it in words, and silently to bring about a departure from what has been believed, to some new doctrines, until unawares the church shall have ceased to be distinctly Calvinistic, militantly Protestant, or consciously evangelical, shall have ceased to be Trinitarian and loyal to the Scriptures, and shall have become really Unitarian.

And Third. I warn against the church’s forsaking its proper function of preaching and teaching the gospel of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ and becoming simply a humanitarian society of co-operation for social reform.

Take this last Assembly. The one thing which stirred the greatest enthusiasm, and brought the thousand commissioners to their feet cheering, was the declaration of the moderator that he stood uncompromisingly for the Eighteenth Amendment. Now this is a political expedient for a social reform, an expedient that has never before been tried and is therefore a political experiment; and personally I myself believe in carrying the experiment through to ultimate success by thorough enforcement; yet I see clearly that it is a political experiment for a social reform, and it is not the business of the church as such to favor it.  Yet the Assembly was hot for this political good.

And I attended a dinner given by leading Presbyterians in one of our cities to outgoing missionaries. With the exception of one speech and faint notes in one or two others, I heard nothing of the passion for souls that must forever be the great motive of missionaries of the cross of Christ. The dominant thought was uplift of backward peoples by giving them the elements in which our civilization may be superior to theirs, a sort of Near East Relief. But the burning zeal to herald a crucified and risen Christ to men dead in their sins did not speak out.

Conclusion.

I am raising my feeble voice with little hope of turning the tide. The controversies of the past have resulted one by one, in lowering the standard of orthodoxy and liberalizing the Presbyterian Church, and that with little formal change in its Constitution. It has gradually and insensibly moved in the direction that I have pointed out, toward looseness of creed, toward a lessening vitality in its distinctive work of witnessing for Christ, and toward a broader interest in causes that lie outside of its proper work. And this is not true of the Presbyterian Church alone. It is true of the Methodist Church, which has done so much by its zeal for Scriptural holiness to bring the millions to a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ; for it will be generally conceded that the great, the rich, and the cultural Methodist Church of to-day is inferior in spiritual life and evangelical zeal to the Methodist Church of a century ago.  So of the Congregational Church. Behold, how its Harvard has gradually passed from being the nursery of orthodoxy to being the garden of Unitarian laxity! The trend of the times is toward laxity of dogma and comprehensiveness of activities. Creeds are left dead on the field of history, though not always buried; and controversy about doctrine is ruled a thing of the crude ages that have gone by. To this stage the Presbyterian Church is moving, and at this stage it will arrive, unless it can be awakened before it has been put to sleep on the grave of its glorious past, its past when its elaborate creed was its treasure, and its zeal for gospel truth was its pearl of price.

I am well aware that my voice will not carry far. But it is my mission to cry the warning, whether it shall be heeded or not. It may be that some abler man will come to the kingdom in this critical day, some younger man O Luther, come, and rouse the church with your zealous witness and your lashing tongue! O Calvin, come with your relentless logic, and save the day when the battle is turned toward the gate! It is a day of crises; God raise up a man of war!

Peace? Who is crying Peace, peace, when there is no peace? Brethren, there is such a thing as righteous zeal for truth, for soundness in the faith, for right dogma; and woe be to that church which for the sake of an illusive peace silences honest testimony, and dopes itself with sentimental devotion to union. The price of sound doctrine is eternal vigilance, and the ceaseless ringing of the alarm bells in the night.

And victory will yet come. The people of God may be enslaved in Egypt, may be corrupted in Palestine, may be rent asunder from about their temple of glory, may be carried into captivity, and may be given over to lifeless formalism. They may come to have so little of real truth that they shall be so blind as not to know the Christ when he comes.  But there is the True Witness, and there is the resurrection from the dead. I shall not live to see the decadence of the church which I fear, much less the revival of dogmatic truth afterwards. But the revival will come. For Jesus Christ is on the throne, and sheds forth His Spirit of light and truth. His gospel will live. The battle may be long, and the weary hours may move and the splendor of truth will shine forth. If we cannot speak in the high places of influence for the truth, we can live it; if we cannot lead, we can follow; and if we cannot wield the sword for truth, we can pray for the battle thundering afar.

[excerpted from The Presbyterian, 19 May 1927, pages 6-7.]

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