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A Consistent Christian Life

Pastor Ken McHeard is the current pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Duanesburg, New York. From all I hear, he’s engaged in a faithful ministry there, as he follows a long and eminent roster of pastors at that church. The organizing pastor of this historic church was the Rev. James McKinney, who served the church from 1797-1802. The second pastor and the subject of our post today, the Rev. Gilbert McMaster, served the Duanesburg congregation in a lengthy pastorate, from 1808-1840.

Gilbert was born near Belfast, Ireland, on February 13, 1778. Of his parents, it was said that “his father was a man of intelligent and earnest piety,” and that his mother “was very respectably connected, was a person of superior intellect and great force of character.” Gilbert enjoyed the advantages of a faithful Christian education and at the age of eighteen came to a public profession of his faith in Christ as his Savior. This was some five years after the family had immigrated to the United States and settled in Franklin county, Pennsylvania.  Gilbert continued his education at the Franklin Academy and Jefferson College before beginning medical studies, and was admitted to the medical practice in 1805, becoming a physician in the borough of Mercer, PA.

But it was not even three years, in 1807, when Dr. Alexander McLeod and Dr. Samuel B. Wylie sought him out, urging him to consider his calling to the ministry. McMaster had a high view of the ministry and shrank from thinking that he could himself be so called. But McLeod and Wylie prevailed, and as Gilbert’s studies had always included theological education, he was found ready in late October of that year to pass his examinations before the Presbytery. On August 8, 1808, he was installed as the pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Duanesburg, New York.

Rev. McMaster served the Duanesburg congregation for thirty-two years before answering a call to serve another church, this time in Princeton, Indiana. Here again, his labors were blessed of the Lord, though his years were cut short, with failing health compelling him to surrender the pulpit in 1846. He died, after a brief but painful illness, on March 17, 1854, “closing a consistent Christian life with Christian dignity and composure.”

Rev. McMaster’s son, Erasmus, provided an interesting glimpse of his father’s ministry:

“The ordinary course of Dr. McMaster’s pastoral ministration was in conformity with the customary order of many of the Scottish Presbyterian Churches. Usually the Sabbath morning service was an exposition of some Book of Scripture inn course, with doctrinal and practical observations, accompanied by the ordinary devotional exercises. The subject of the afternoon’s discourse was either some branch of the morning’s exposition, selected for fuller development, elucidation and application; some head of Christian doctrine, or some theme suggested by the various circumstances and occasions of his congregation or of the times. These services of the Sabbath he supplemented, during the week, by regular pastoral visitation and by biblical and catechetical instruction of the young at stated times. His usual written preparation for the pulpit consisted only of short notes, filling from two to four pages of a small duodecimo volume [a book about 5 x 7.5 in.], and briefly marking the heads of his discussion, and the more important particulars, with references to apposite Scriptures for illustration, confirmation and enforcement. His subject, thus briefly noted, he carefully thought out in its matter, relying on the occasion of the delivery for the language.”

The son of one of McMaster’s closest friends gave this report of Rev. McMaster’s final days:

“Dr. McMaster’s last days were spent in delightful serenity in the house of his accomplished son, the Rev. E. D. McMaster, brightened by the companionship of the wife of his youth, one of the kindest and purest of Christian women, and sustained by the respectful love of his sons, and the soothing attention of his two amiable daughters. The habitual modesty and reserve of his character continued unaltered to the last, but his long, self-sacrificing, useful and holy life was his best testimony for God.

Words to Live By:
If you are known as a Christian, whether in your work place or elsewhere, know that people do watch you. They watch your words, but more importantly, they watch to see if your character backs up your words. A strong Christian testimony rests on first on the Word of God, but the world looks to see God’s Word reflected in your life.  “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ ” (James 2:18, NASB)

McMaster_1852_Great_Subject_of_the_Christian_MinistrySome of the works authored by Rev. McMaster include:
The Duty of Nations: A Sermon on a Day of Public Thanksgiving.
The Embassy of Reconciliation: An Ordination Sermon.
An Essay in Defence of Some Fundamental Doctrines of Christianity.
The Shorter Catechism Analyzed.
An Apology for the Book of Psalms.
Ministerial Work and Sufficiency: An Ordination Sermon.
The Moral Character of Civil Government.
The Obligations of the American Scholar to his Country and the World.
Speech in Defence of the Westminster Confession of Faith against the Charge of Erastianism.

A First for a Black Presbyterian Pastor

If you were among the visitors seeking a seat in the House of Representatives gallery that Sabbath day on February 12, 1865, you would have had to arrive early to accomplish your goal, for the gallery was packed with black and white individuals. It was a historical occasion in many aspects. First, the adoption of the 13th Amendment by the Congress banning the institution of slavery was within sight. Second, the decision of the Republican majority to commemorate the event by a public religious service was surprising, even in the middle of the nineteenth century of the republic. Next, President Abraham Lincoln’s choice of a speaker was the Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, a former slave and then pastor of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Blacks had been barred from entrance to the halls of Congress in recent days before this event. Now this six foot abolitionist, even by political and, failing that, physical means, was being invited to lead the worship service in the House of Representatives.

And it was a worship service. The memorable meeting began with the singing of the hymn, “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name.” That was followed up with a Scripture reading. The choir from the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church sang “Arise My Soul Arise, Shake off Thy Guilty Fears.” Then Rev. Garnet began to preach, following the text of Matthew 23:4 which describes the Pharisees of our Lord’s day “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” The title of his hour-long message was “Let the Monster Perish.” He would spare no words in the powerful address.

Listen to one paragraph: “Great God! I would as soon attempt to enslave Gabriel or Michael as to enslave a man made in the image of God, and for whom Christ died. Slavery is snatching man from the high place to which he was lifted by the hand of God, and dragging him down to the level of the brute creation, where he is made to be the companion of the horse and the fellow of the ox. It tears the crown of glory from his head and as far as possible obliterates the image of God that is in him.”

And another short exhortation in the closing words: “Let slavery die. It has had a long and fair trial. God himself has pleaded against it. The enlightened nations of the earth have condemned it. Its death warrant is signed by God and man. Do not commute its sentence. Give it no respite, but let it be ignominiously executed.”

The entire message can be found on Google for readers to read, but those who heard it that day went away, certainly having their curiosity satisfied. And whether we agree with his verbiage or not, what a memorable way to celebrate the passage of legislation than a worship service in the Congress.  Would to God that we would have political representatives who would desire to hear God’s Word and not worry about whether it was a violation of the separation of church and state!

Words to Live By: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Proverbs 14:34 (NASB)

by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 52. — What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?

A. — The reasons annexed to the second commandment are: God’s sovereignty over us, his propriety in us, and the zeal he hath to his own worship.

Scripture References: Ps. 95:2, 3; Ps.45:11; Exod.34:14.


1. How many reasons are there involved in the second commandment and of what use are they to us?

There are three reasons:
(1) God’s sovereignty over us.
(2) God’s ownership of us.
(3) God’s zeal regarding his worship.
They are of great use to us for all three can have great influence in our obeying the Lord our God.

2. What do we mean by God’s sovereignty over us?

We mean that by His sovereignty He has the sole authority over us and has the right to make laws for worship. He alone has the right to decide what is good for us. We have the responsibility to worship Him only in the way He appoints for us in His Word.

3. When we speak of God owning us what do we mean by it?

We mean by this that we belong to Him through the right of redemption and therefore, we should cleave to Him and be careful that we do not follow after any sin that would drive us away from Him, especially idolatry and superstition. (Ps. 95:6,7; Ps. 106:19,21).

4. What has God said regarding the zeal he has to his own worship?

He has said, “I am a jealous God.”

5. What effect should this have upon us as born-again believers?

It should give us a great fear of offending Him in any way and especially in the area of false worship. We should pray that we never fail Him as Nadab and Abihu did (Lev. 10:1-4).

6. If we worship Him in a false way what will our punishment be?

His punishment will not only be upon us, but He will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation.

7. How can God, who has the attribute of justice, do this?

If the children do not follow their father’s sins He will not punish them (Ezek. 18:14, 17). If the children do follow their father’s sins they deserve punishment.


This particular question of the catechism with its emphasis on. God being a jealous God, visiting iniquity on the children of wicked parents, has a converse lesson in it for godly parents. The children of godly parents could be the recipients of the promise, “I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7). There is much for which the children of godly parents should thank God and there is great responsibility on the part of godly parents in order that their children may enjoy the great benefits involved.

Whenever those giving allegiance to the Reformed Faith mention the covenant promises though, there are two important facts that should always be remembered. If these two important facts are forgotten there is always the danger of displeasing God. These two facts are: (1) God does not show mercy to children Simply because they are the children of godly parents. (2) The promise God utters is a promise dependent upon the keeping of the promises of the godly parents. God does not show mercy to children simply because they are the children of godly parents-He shows mercy to children simply because it pleases Him, (Rom. 9:15). We can never take the mercy shawn to children of godly parents out of the framework of the whole counsel of God and forget that He is the Almighty, Sovereign One and will not be manipulated or forced by the promises or ways of men. What He does is for His glory and is consistent with His character, that of being Sovereign in all things.

The promise God utters is a promise dependent upon the keeping of the promises of the godly parents-salvation and all its benefits is not an automatic thing that happens to the children of godly parents (or godly parent-I Cor. 7:14; Acts 2:38, 39), John Murray’S statement here is well taken: “Covenant privilege always entails covenant responsibility.” There are conditions that must be kept by the godly parents, promises that are made at the baptism of the infant and promises that must be kept if the parents expect God to keep His promises.

When the godly parents do their part there are indeed great benefits, the benefits of a Christian education, prayers, even the expectation that God will effect their conversion. To be reared by Christian parents bent on keeping their covenant promises is a blessing for which all children should thank God.

Published By: The SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol. 4 No. 49 (January 1965)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

To Tell the Truth

Milo Fisher Jamison proves to be an interesting figure in Presbyterian history. He and his father were both founding members of the Presbyterian Church of America in 1936 (the PCofA was renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1938). Then little more than a year later, both father and son left to become part of the Bible Presbyterian Church.

Milo Jamison was born in Richmond, Kansas in 1899, studied at Princeton Seminary and was ordained by the Presbytery of Monmouth (PCUSA) in 1924. He was the pastor of churches in New Gretna, New Jersey and Hollywood, California before founding the University Bible Church in Los Angeles. While serving as an associate pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, he was engaged in campus ministry at UCLA and it was here that his conservative theology ran afoul of modernists (aka, theological liberals) in the Los Angeles Presbytery of the PCUSA. That in turn eventually led to his departure from the PCUSA.

We could talk at length about the controversy with the Los Angeles Presbytery, but Rev. Jamison’s role in the OPC and the BPC is perhaps more interesting. To examine that role, we turn to the text provided by Dr. Gary North in his book, Crossed Fingers. It turns out that Milo Jamison was the inspiration for that book title.

In the year before his death on February 10, 1985, I spoke on the phone with Rev. Milo F. Jamison, who in 1933 became the first pastor to be thrown out of the denomination because of orthodoxy. [Without a trial, the Presbytery erased his name from their rolls.] He told me the story of a fellow graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary who had just been ordained in the mid-1920’s. Jamison knew that the man did not believe in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Jamison asked him: “How could you tell the examining committee that you believe in the Westminster Confession when you really don’t?” The man answered: “I kept my fingers crossed.” Jamison repeated the man’s statement again, as if to affirm it categorically with a double witness.

But Jamison himself did not believe this historic Confession of Presbyterianism, nor had he believed it when their exchange took place. He was a premillennial dispensationalist. When, in 1937, he was defeated for Moderator at the second General Assembly of the year-old Presbyterian Church of America, he immediately departed with Carl McIntire’s secessionist group. He joined McIntire’s Bible Presbyterian Church, founded in 1938, which revised the Westminster Confession’s section on eschatology in order to make it conform to premillennialism, although the denomination was not formally dispensational. Jamison left the Bible Presbyterian Church in 1968, but in fact he spent his post-1933 career as the pastor of an independent Bible church that taught the Scofield Reference Bible. He did not discuss the Westminster Confession in the pulpit. [Dr. North notes that his own parents were members of this church in the 1960’s] He was not a Calvinist. He had crossed his fingers early.

This was Machen’s dilemma: everyone on all sides of the Presbyterian conflict had his fingers crossed. The strategically relevant question was: On which issues?

Words to Live By:
I think Dr. North overstates his case when he says, “everyone on all sides,” but you get his point. “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Where there is no fear of God—where men tell lies to promote their own agenda or to serve their own purpose—then the Church is likely under its gravest threat. Resolve to be forthright and honest in all your dealings. Your prayers first and your example second are your only hold on the behavior of others. The Lord will bless those who stand for the truth.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” (Gen. 13:2, ESV)

William E. Dodge, who became a prominent elder in the Presbyterian Church, was born in Hartford, Connecticut on September 4, 1805, his father being a cotton manufacturer, near Norwich, in that State. After attending the common school, William worked awhile in his father’s mill, and then, the family having removed to New York, the lad of thirteen entered a wholesale dry goods store, where he remained until he attained adulthood. From that point he engaged in the same business, but on his own account, and continued in this line until 1833, when he became a member of the firm of Phelps, Dodge & Co. This firm was engaged in the importation of tin plate, pig tin and copper, and soon became the largest company in the country pursuing this trade. Mr. Dodge retained an interest in the company until 1881, and even up until the time of his death would frequently visit his old office.

Mr. Dodge was both shrewd and industrious, and his business career was one of almost unbroken prosperity. As time progressed, he became interested in many other enterprises, and was director in a number of railroad and insurance corporations. He was one of the largest owners of lumber lands, lumber and mill interests, in the United States, possessing large tracts in Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, West Virginia, Texas, and Canada. He was also extensively interested in the development of coal and iron interests throughout the country.

It was, however, as a Christian and philanthropist that Mr. Dodge was most distinguished. He early became interested in the Temperance movement, and his consistency was proved by his resignation from the Union League Club, because it served wine at its banquets. He was president of the American National Temperance Society and the Temperance Christian Home for Men. He was also a Trustee of the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, a Director of the Presbyterian Hospital, a Trustee of Lincoln University, and Vice-President of the American Board of Foreign Missions. He was a devoted friend of the Sabbath, and resigned his directorship of the Central Railroad of New Jersey because the company began to run trains on Sundays. The education of the freedmen greatly interested him, and he assisted many societies, working in their behalf. His contributions in some years averaged $1000 a day, while for several years before his death they never fell below $200,000 annually.

His life was one of cheerful industry. Nothing in the way of duty was irksome–rather, it was a pleasure to be enjoyed, and the smile, so genial and loving, with which his friends were always greated, was merely an honest reflection of his heart. Immersed in business that assumed wide range and vast proportions, he kept his soul serene in the light of heaven, so that the cares of the world, the love of money, and sordid greed had no dominion over his buoyant spirit. More than the Presidency of the Chamber of Commerce, he loved the Sunday-school room, the House of God, the prayer meeting, and the chamber of the suffering whose wants he might relieve. His delight was in making glad the hearts of the poor.

Mr. Dodge’s whole career was exceptionally one of success, honor and usefulness. He died at his residence, in New York, on February 9, 1883, leaving, by his will, $360,000 for religious and charitable purposes. His demise was greatly lamented, not only by his own denomination, but by the friends of education, virtue, morality and religion, of every name, and he left a record that is lustrous with all that is noble and excellent in human character in its highest development.

Words to Live By:
Here today is an example of a man who lived quite successfully, but who also gave freely of his time and substance. It is only right that we should ask ourselves, “How am I using the resources that God has given me? The world of business is an honorable calling for a Christian, but it is a terrible thing to be trapped by the cares of the world, the love of money, and sordid greed. The best way of avoiding those traps is to recognize from the start that it all belongs to the Lord, and to be actively, daily, engaged in meeting the needs of others. Or as one dear saint, a very prosperous and generous man, used to say, “I just keep trying to out-give God.”

[Our post today is drawn somewhat freely from Alfred Nevin’s Presbyterian Encyclopedia, with the entry for the Hon. William E. Dodge appearing on pages 192-193 of that work.]

 The Christian patriot

We don’t know much about him other than broad general facts, but the Rev. Moses Allen deserves to have a record of remembrance written up in the annals of the history of our great nation and the Presbyterian church.  He was born in Northampton, Massachusetts on September 14, 1748.  Nothing is known about his family or early life.  We are told that he was educated at the College of New Jersey (which later became Princeton University), graduating in 1772.  He was then licensed to preach by the Presbytery of New Brunswick on February 1, 1774 and later ordained to the gospel ministry on March 10, 1774.  The celebrated New Side minister William Tennent took part in that ordination, which took place in Savannah, Georgia.

A group of fifty-two Congregationalists from New England had settled in South Carolina, landing at Seawee Bay seventy-five years earlier in the history of the southern colony.  They soon planted an independent church at Wappetaw.  While the church was Congregationalist in spirit, it was in reality a Presbyterian church in doctrine.  In fact, more Presbyterian ministers were  pastors there than Congregationalist pastors.  To this congregation, young twenty-six year old Moses Allen was installed as its pastor.

To everyone’s surprise, his fast courtship of a young fifteen year old girl, and subsequent marriage of her, took place at this congregation.  Her name was Elizabeth Odingsell, who is described as a “ward” of a Revolutionary general from Georgia. Then just three years later, he went to Midway Church in Georgia.  It was there that he joined the Georgia Brigade of Patriots, to fight on the side of George Washington in that battle of independence from England.

» The old Midway Church, which was built in 1778. Rev. Allen would thus have been the pastor who oversaw the construction of old Midway, and he would have been able to preach there some number of times before his decease. »

It wasn’t safe to be a Presbyterian, and for that matter a Presbyterian pastor during the time of the Revolution.  Churches were subject to being burned down.  Congregations were subject to dispersal.  And the Midway Church was one such church and congregation which was to suffer from British occupation of the colony.  Allen, by this time, had left the pulpit to be a chaplain in the Georgia Brigade.  Captured by the British, he was placed in the hold of a prison ship in the Charleston harbor.  Just five years into his marriage with his young bride, he attempt to escape from captivity, by jumping overboard and swimming to the shore along with two French prisoners-of-war.  Twenty yards from the shore, he was afflicted with a cramp, and drowned, on this day of February 8, 1779.  His young bride was twenty years of age when he died.

It was said by way of testimony that he was faithful in exhortation and in  field service with the troops of Georgia.  Certainly, he faithfully ministered the Word of God in the two congregations which he served in South Carolina and Georgia.

Words to Live By:  This Presbyterian pastor is little known in Reformed circles today, but well-known to the annals of heaven.  He took the Word of grace to civilians and soldiers alike, uncaring about his safety, for he was in the hands of God.  We can go in life and calling with the same assurance that he possessed, knowing that our times are in His hands.

While searching earlier for an obituary (not found) in an old issue of THE CHRISTIAN OBSERVER, I came across this interesting brief article concerning pastor, the congregation and the original edifice of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. My primary interest is in the first few paragraphs. After that, well, you’ll have to read it for yourself.


The instrumentality of Whitfield [pictured at right] in the erection of the ancient square edifice, that once stood on the north west corner of Arch and Third streets, is probably known to some of your readers, as well as the fact, that the people worshipping there, were styled “new lights,” and that sundry opprobrious epithets were applied to the memorable Gilbert Tennent, their pastor. I have sat in the old square house, more than once, and well remember when it was succeeded by the oblong building that occupied the site, until after the settlement of the late Dr. Cuyler, in the pastoral office.

There was no cellar under the original house, and the remains of the venerable and beloved Tennent were deposited beneath the brick floor, and so remained until the contemplated change in the place of worship was effected. The new edifice was furnished with a cellar; and being well suited to storage, was often perverted to the strange use of a place of deposit for the article that manufactures paupers so rapidly. In this cellar were deposited the remains of Tennent, a suitable brick enclosure having been made for the purpose.

The late Dr. Benjamin Rush, who was a warm personal friend and admirer of Mr. Tennent, was sorely grieved, that such a disposition had been made of the venerated dust of his favorite preacher. Horrified at what he deemed a kind of sacrilege, the following impromptu, pronounced while in conversation with a lady who was then a member of Arch street Church, gave vent to his feelings. The lady who is yet living, and who penned the memorable lines at the time of utterance, favored me with a copy, some months ago; and as they are well worth a place in your useful paper, they are forwarded for insertion. They represent the spirit of the departed saint, roused by the resurrection trump, as quitting his heavenly abode, to visit earth in search of his body, and run thus :

The trumpet sounds, the sleeping dead arise,
And Tennent’s spirit quits its nature skies;
To his dear church it wings its favor’d way
To seek reunion with its kindred clay,
Where is my body? cries the reverend saint,
“Lo here, good Sir, the Sexton, “no it ain’t,”
“My body rested under my church floor
That body rises from a liquor store!”

Your readers are aware, the Dr. Rush hated intemperance and all its relations.


[excerpted from THE CHRISTIAN OBSERVER, 31.6 (7 February 1852): 21, column 5.]

Scientist, Educator, and Inventor.

James Henry Coffin was born in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, on September 6, 1806 and died on February 6, 1873, at the age of sixty-six. Orphaned as a young child, he was educated by his uncle, the Rev. Moses Hallock and later graduated from Amherst College in 1828. Exhibiting an independent, entrepreneurial character, he made a career of teaching and founded a successful manual labor school in Greenfield, MA. In 1837, he became principal of an academy in Ogdensburg, NY, and it was during this time that he began to develop an interest in meteorology, writing treatises on solar and lunar eclipses and on the moon. The Greylock Observatory on Saddle Mountain, at 3500 feet above sea level, was established under his guidance. For use at this observatory. Professor Coffin devised the first self-registering instrument ever constructed for determining the direction, force, velocity, and moisture of the winds. His life’s final work was was the manufacture of an improved instrument for this same purpose, for the National Astronomical Observatory at Buenos Ayres, Argentina.

Then in 1846, he was called as professor of mathematics and astronomy at Lafayette College, where he served for the remaining twenty-six years of his life. His greatest contributions to science culminated in these years. One biographer notes that “During more than thirty years Prof. Coffin was engaged in collecting from all quarters, either in printed documents, or by an extensive correspondence, the data necessary to determine the mean direction of the surface winds in all parts of the Northern Hemisphere, their rate of progress, their relative velocity when blowing from different points of the compass, and the modifications they undergo in all these respect in the various seasons of the year.” It was a meticulous work which ultimately proved to be of great use.

Not long after Professor Coffin died, a bronze tablet was erected in his honor on the campus of Lafayette College, in recognition of his place as one of Lafayette’s most distinguished instructors and as a scientist of world-wide reputation. His associate, Professor Francis A. March, prepared the inscription for the tablet, which in part read:

“He annexed the atmosphere to the realm of science and searched the highways of the winds and the paths of vagrant storms.”

Professor Coffin was for many years a ruling elder in the Brainerd Presbyterian Church in Easton, PA. Alfred Nevin’s Presbyterian Encyclopedia reports that Coffin “united with the Church at an early age, and lived a sincere and devout Christian. He was fitted for his work as an educator and an investigator by the best gifts of heart and head. A man of clear, strong and candid mind, of scrupulous integrity of character, of conscientious regard for accuracy, and above all, a lover of truth for its own sake.”

Words to Live By:
James H. Coffin exhibited in his life a love for his fellow man and a consistent Christian character. Taking the gifts and abilities that God gave him, he faithfully sought to serve both God and man. Every honorable calling in life can glorify God. As Martin Luther taught, “in making shoes, the cobbler serves God just as much as the preacher of the Word.” Regardless of your calling in life, seek to serve and honor the Lord in all your ways.

For Further Study:
Click here to read as archival assistant Caitlin Lowery writes of her experience processing some of the records compiled by Professor Coffin.
The James Henry Coffin Papers are preserved at Lafayette College. To learn more about that collection, click here.

A Force for God and Country is born
by Rev. David T. Myers

On July 4, 1776, the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence was John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian pastor and educator who was at that time serving as the president of the College of New Jersey (later to become Princeton University).  We will in this year’s historical devotions focus on this man in five separate days because he was  such an effective influence for God and country.

Born February 5, 1723, John Witherspoon would grow up in a church manse in the tiny town of Gifford, Scotland, which was fourteen miles from Edinburgh, Scotland.  We have a scarcity of information about his parents.

His father, the Rev. James Witherspoon, was a Church of Scotland minister who served the parish of Yester from 1720 until his death in 1759. We do know that he attended the denomination’s General Assembly as a delegate, and even preached before that Assembly on one occasion, and was appointed a royal chaplain in 1744.  We have no doubt that like many faithful Scottish pastors, he was eminent for his holiness, learning, and faithfulness.

John’s mother, Ann Walker,  was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister.  She was to bear six children from this union with James, all in the space of ten years.  John Witherspoon later gave credit to his mother for his early religious education in the Bible, reading it through for the first time when he was only four years of age, and later hiding a lot of it in his heart by way of memory. Some historians have concluded that she was a descendant of the Reformer John Knox, while others are unconvinced. Whatever may be said, the training of John Witherspoon began early in the home and continued at the Haddington Grammar School, which had also trained John Knox. Along with secular subjects, the Westminster Shorter Catechism was part of the training at that school. When he left at age thirteen for the University of Edinburgh in 1736, he had a good command of Latin, Greek, and French.  He also had a solid foundation in biblical Christianity.  All of this was to bear him well as he continued preparing for the divine calling which was his in both Scotland, his native country, and in the colonies and United States of America.

Continuing his education in divinity at the University of Edinburgh, Witherspoon was licensed in 1743 and ordained and installed as the minister of the parish of Beith in the Church of Scotland, on April 11, 1745.  He was twenty-two years old.  Two years later,  he married Elizabeth Montgomery.  They would both learn the sorrow connected with  a family when of the ten children which came from this union, only five would survive to adulthood.

This young Church of Scotland minister soon gained a reputation beyond his own parish.  The national body was divided into two splinters composed of the Popular party and the Moderates.  The first was akin to our orthodox party and the latter was akin to the liberals.  The former emphasized the important of the Westminster Standards as a summary of the Scriptures, while the latter group generally ignored the proper place of the Westminster Standards in the church.  Witherspoon was a solid member of the Popular party, and attacked the Moderates in the pulpit and by the pen.  Even in his second pastorate at Laigh Parish, his reputation as an orthodox minister began to expand in Scotland, and extended across the Atlantic to the colonies of America.

[more on Rev. Witherspoon’s story at a later date.]

Words to Live By:
God prepares His own people for present and future work.  As Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” (ESV)  Remember this as you rear your children in the ways of the Lord.  Commend them into the hands of the Lord at an early age, indeed when they are born is best.  Then everything you do, do so in the Lord’s strength and for His glory.

by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in His word.

Scripture References: Deut. 4:15, 16; Acts 17:29; Deut. 12:30-32.


1. What is the great sin forbidden in the second commandment?

The great sin forbidden in the second commandment is idolatry.

2. How does the idolatry forbidden in the second commandment differ from the sin forbidden in the first commandment?

The idolatry forbidden in the first commandment has to do with an object, where in man worships something else other than the true and living God. The idolatry forbidden in the second commandment has to do with the means of worship, and forbids us to worship God o in ways contrary to His will.

3. How is it possible for a person to worship images and thus commit the sin of idolatry?

There are many ways this can be done. Some of them are: (1) By worshipping false gods such as the heathen idolatry in the culture of the Greeks. (2) By worshipping the true God by the use of an image or a representation of Him. (3) By worshipping the true God by creating in one’s minds a false image of Him.

4. Is it permissible for any image or representation to be made of God?

No, it is forbidden because He is infinite, incomprehensible. (Isa. 40: 18) Any attempt to represent God necessarily involves limitations which misrepresent Him.

5. Is it lawful for us to have pictures of Jesus Christ?

No, it is not lawful for us to do so. It is true, He was man as well as God, but the Bible teaches He is even fairer than the children of men. (Ps. 45:2) It is impossible for us to know what He was like and therefore, any representation of Him would be a guesswork. If He had wanted us to know He would have made it clear in the Word.

6. Does the second commandment forbid ceremony in our worship?

No, it does not forbid ceremony in our worship, as long as the ceremony is taught in the Word of God. Therefore, the ceremony would have to be “decent and in order” and only what is appointed in the Word of God. (Matt. 15:9)


The matter of worship in the church today is of grave concern. In churches which are creedal churches, and claim the Westminster Standards, the matter of worship should at all times be consistent with the Word of God. If it is not, there is the danger of breaking the second commandment, breaking it by not endeavoring to worship according to the pattern of the Word of God. In this area we should be zealous, refusing to allow anything within the worship that is not consistent with the Word.

There are many areas today where the church stands in danger of departing from the Word. Doctrinally speaking, the church is departing from the historic position of the Reformed Faith regarding the Scripture by allowing a lower view of inspiration than that of an infallible, verbally inspired Word of God. The church is departing by absolutely by-passing the Scripture-taught doctrine of discipline and thereby the purity of the church is falling into disrepute. These, and many others that could be mentioned, are ways in which the church is departing from the faith in matters of doctrine.

In addition, the church should always be careful regarding its worship. Nothing should be allowed in the service that is not taught by the Scripture. The worship of the church exists for the glory of God, for the purpose of carrying out His Great Commission, for the evangelization of the world. The early church was careful lest something be introduced into it that would hinder its mission.

What about your church in its worship? Have things been added that can not find their warrant in Scripture? Is your church more concerned with the building than the preaching of the Word of God, with itself instead of its outreach, with friendship instead of its purity? Is the second commandment being broken?

Published By: The SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol. 4 No. 48 (December 1964)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

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