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An Exceptional Overcoming, in Difficult Times
by Rev. David T. Myers

John Chavis was born in 1763 (or possibly 1762) in Granville County, North Carolina—a sparsely populated area north of Raleigh bordering Mecklenburg County, Virginia. While the details surrounding his early life and ancestry can be hazy, we know that members of the Chavis family were, along with one other family (the Harrises), the first people of African descent to be recognized as free persons in Granville County. John Chavis—whose lineage was a mix of African, American Indian, and Caucasian—came from a distinguished line of free Blacks who owned property and were committed to educating themselves as best they could. A descendant of Chavis later recalled, “My grandmother, mother, and great grandmother were all free people and Presbyterians.”

As a young man, Chavis received an excellent education, likely under the tutelage of the Rev. Henry Pattillo, who would have instructed him in Greek and Latin. Around 1780, Chavis enlisted in the Fifth Virginia Regiment, fighting for the Patriot cause, as many of his relatives did, in the Revolutionary War. In 1792, as an older “non-traditional” student, Chavis was admitted to Princeton using scholarship money from something called the Leslie Fund. In order to be admitted to Princeton, a student had to be tested in English grammar, orthography, punctuation, composition, geography, United States history, Latin grammar, Greek grammar, and mathematics. Chavis was well educated and a quick learner. While at Princeton, he received private instruction from John Witherspoon (which is why I first became interested in Chavis). In 1793 or 1794 Chavis left Princeton (because of Witherspoon’s death?) and later finished his academic studies at Washington College (Virginia) in 1802.

While in Virginia, Chavis was picked out as a suitable candidate for the ministry. In particular, many Southern whites were eager to see Chavis evangelize other Blacks. On October 19, 1799, Chavis was received under the care of Lexington Presbytery. A year later, one of the elders of the presbytery argued that the work of evangelization was too important to prolong Chavis’s trials any further. After a unanimous vote to sustain his exams, Chavis was granted a license to preach. By some accounts, he was the first Black in America ordained by the Presbyterian Church, though technically he only received his licensure, never final ordination.

Chavis was commissioned as a “riding missionary under the direction of the General Assembly,” first under Lexington Presbytery, then Hanover Presbytery, and finally Orange Presbytery. Although his mission was to preach to other Blacks, records indicate that he preached to more whites, up to 800 at a time. Chavis desired to preach to “his own people,” but slaves were often not allowed to worship in white churches. Chavis’s missionary trips were mostly preaching tours, but he also assisted with the Lord’s Supper and performed some pastoral duties.

In addition to a well-received preaching ministry, Chavis was an exceptionally gifted educator, opening a classical school in Raleigh in 1805. At first, the school was integrated, but later white parents insisted that Chavis instruct Blacks and whites separately. At full strength—Chavis was often sick and suffered from debilitating arthritis—the school in Raleigh was home to many of North Carolina’s leading families. Chavis taught a future governor, future lawyers, future pastors, and was especially close throughout his life to the future U.S. Senator Willie Mangum.

After three decades of successful teaching and preaching—and, it seems, a measure of prosperity from dabbling in real estate—Chavis saw his ministry (and his money) dry up in the 1830s. In 1832, in response to Nat Turner’s Rebellion of August 1831, the North Carolina legislature made it unlawful for any free person of color to preach or exhort in public or to officiate as a preacher. Chavis pleaded with the Presbytery for financial support, but the collection they took was little more than $50. In an effort to pay his bills and provide for his wife and children (about whom we know next to nothing), he requested in 1832 that the Presbytery publish his Letter Upon the Doctrine of the Extent of the Atonement of Christ. The Presbytery denied the request, arguing that the subject had already been dealt with by others and there was little chance the short pamphlet would produce much income. No doubt, the Presbytery also demurred because Chavis had drifted from confessional Reformed orthodoxy. In the Letter, Chavis argued that the free offer of the gospel was inconsistent with limited atonement and that the eternal decrees of God were based on “nothing more nor less than his foreknowledge.” Judging by his Letter, Chavis was a passionate gospel preacher who aligned with the New School wing of the Presbyterian controversies of the 1830s.

During his lifetime, Chavis remained a committed Presbyterian, an ardent Federalist, and a critic of racism and slavery. Though these criticisms were, by necessity, often more private than public, he did not hesitate to implore his friend and one-time student Willie Mangum to stand against the tyrant Andrew Jackson. He also informed Mangum that though the insurrection was abominable, he thought Nat Turner was an innocent man.

On June 15, 1838, John Chavis passed from this world into the next, his obituary noting that “his christian character gave comfort to his friends.” Later that fall, the Orange Presbytery resolved to provide Chavis’s widow with a lifelong pension of $40 a year.

Although I wish his theological thoughts were more in line with the Old School side of things, my greater wish—if that’s the right word—is to wonder how much more his ministry might have been had it not be hampered, and then silenced, by the growing rumbles of racial animus and fear. I doubt many of us have heard of John Chavis, but his impressive learning, his itinerant preaching, and his successful teaching mark him out as an important leader in the Old South, particularly among Presbyterians.

Information for this post was taken from Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Volume One (1607-1861), and especially from Helen Chavis Othow, John Chavis: African American Patriot, Preacher, Teacher, and Mentor (1763-1838).

Adoption Act of Subscription Exceptions Added to PCA Book of Church Order
by Rev. David T. Myers

Can a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America be permitted to honestly express his reservations with  sections of the Westminster Standards to his Presbytery which do not strike at the essentials of religion before ordination? That was the question raised in the denomination, with some presbyteries allowing it and others not providing liberty for it.  The issue was settled with the following section being added upon favorable vote to the Book of Church Order’s Form of Government on June 12, 2003 at the Thirty-first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.

“While our Constitution does not require the candidate’s affirmation of every statement and/proposition of doctrine in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms, it is the right and responsibility of the Presbytery to determine if the candidate is out of accord with any of the fundamentals of these doctrinal standards and, as a consequence, may not be able in good faith to receive and adopt the Confession of  Faith and Catechisms of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. (cf. BCO 21:5, Q.2; 24:5, Q. 2).

“Therefore, in examining a candidate for ordination, the Presbytery shall inquire not only into the candidate’s knowledge and views in the areas specified above, but also shall require the candidate to state the specific instances of which he may differ with the Confession of Faith and Catechisms in any of their statements and/or propositions.  The court may grant an exception to any difference of doctrine only if in the court’s judgment the candidate’s declared difference is not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion.”

The key phrase of this Adoption Act is in the last sentence “. . . only if in the court’s judgment the candidate’s declared difference is not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion.”  Time will tell, in this contributor’s opinion,  whether “the court’s judgment” of our presbyteries will defend the faith once delivered unto the saints or allow all sorts of various doctrinal differences to slide in unnoticed into the church.

Words to Live By: How important it is to pray for the teaching and ruling elders of our Presbyterian churches that they will hold solidly to the Reformed faith, not allowing any weakening of “the vitals of religion.”  We have with sadness watched the gradual slide of other mainline Presbyterian churches into departures from the faith.  Let us not imitate them, but resist the temptation of the world, the flesh, and the devil and  stand firm and hold true “the vitals of religion.”

A Teacher of Three Students

The College had been in operation since 1746. And the College of New Jersey, as it was originally known, had provided the church, and especially the Presbyterian Church in the United States many of its pastors and missionaries.  But with the advent of the eighteen hundreds, many of its graduates were preparing for different careers, like law, politics, and education. Something had to be done to remedy this critical need of 400 empty pulpits in the denomination.

The proverbial ball began rolling when the Rev. Ashbel Green, pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, gave a challenging speech before the assembled elders gathered at the May 1805 General Assembly. In 1808, the Presbyterian of Philadelphia overtured that General Assembly begin a theological school. Four years later, the Assembly voted to establish such a school and to locate it in Princeton, New Jersey. Later in that same Assembly, the elders in a spirit of prayer voted the Rev. Dr. Archibald Alexander to be the first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary. The date was June 2, 1812.

Archibald Alexander had been prepared by the Holy Spirit for this important ministry. Blessed with an heritage of Scotch-Irish forefathers, and a father who was a Presbyterian elder, his family first settled in Pennsylvania before relocating to Virginia. Archibald was born in 1772 and by the age of seven, had learned the Shorter Catechism and was moving on to the Larger Catechism. He sat under the celebrated William Graham at Liberty Hall Academy, forerunner of Washington and Lee College. And yet with all of this training, Archibald was still unsaved. It wasn’t until he was sixteen that he was brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus. More theological training took place which culminated in his ordination by Hanover Presbytery in Virginia in 1794 as a Presbyterian minister.

From there his ministry activities went from the rural pastorate, to Hampden-Sydney College as president, to a revival preacher in New England, delegate to the General Assembly, minister of a congregation in the large city of Philadelphia, and finally to the first professor of Princeton Seminary, at the age of forty.  At the beginning of this new and challenging ministry, he had three students in 1812.  But the number wouldn’t stay there very long.  Princeton Seminary had begun.

Words to Live By: Everything which occurs in your life is for a purpose, a purpose overseen by a loving Father. Even in the day of small things, the Lord has His purpose, and greater things await the faithful servant. When you are enabled to see that biblical truth, your life, and how you view it, takes on a sacred calling. There is a good reason why the Apostle Paul commands us “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (ESV – 1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Anyone who has been called into the ministry of the Word of God prays for a godly response in the hearts of the listeners. Certainly this was the desire of the Reformers in Scotland in the sixteenth century. To put away all things that dishonor His name was the prayer of those who entered into the sacred calling. But it didn’t always work out that way in practice.

John Knox had returned to Scotland from Geneva Switzerland on May 2, 1559 (See that post on TDPH for a review). Beginning to preach the Reformed Faith to his fellow Scotsmen, John Knox had preached a thunderous sermon to the citizens of Perth, Scotland. The subject of his sermon exposed the idolatry of the Roman Church which included the worship of images.

Immediately following that message, a Roman Catholic priest unwisely attempted to serve mass. A young boy showed his displeasure at the attempt, for which he was struck by the priest. The boy retaliated by throwing a stone, which broke one of the images on the altar. Soon, the spectators of the altercation proceeded to favor the young boy’s action, by breaking all the images in the church. It turned into a riot when a mob proceeded to enter into all the Roman Catholic churches and even the monasteries, and lay them to ruins. Even John Knox, who tried to stop the unruly mob, referred to them as “a rascal multitude.”

Queen Mary of Guise, the queen regent, responded by calling forth her army, augmented by French troops in the area, and advanced to the city of Perth, threatening to lay waste the town and the citizens of it. The Protestant Lords of the congregation were able to assembly 25,000 soldiers to protect the Protestants. Obviously, a military showdown was about to take place. The queen regent, Mary, anxious to avoid such a showdown, entered then into an agreement that the town would be left open to the Queen, that none of its inhabitants would be interfered with, that the French troops would not enter the city, and that when the Queen would leave, there would be no garrison of troops left in the town.

All of these actions led to that which has been called the Second Covenant, signed and sealed on May 31, 1559. By this, those who signed the covenant resolved 1) to maintain their evangelical confederation; 2) to do all things required by God in the Scriptures; 3) to observe true worship; 4) to preserve the liberty of the Congregation and each member of it. These four points made up this Second Covenant, which was signed in the name of the whole Congregation, with the specific names of the Earls of Argyle and Glencairn, Lord James Stewart, Lord’s Boyd and Ochiltree, and Matthew Campbell.

The Second Covenant was immediately put to the test as the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise, turned her back on all of her promises to the Protestants. The battle for the soul of the nation was set to continue in the land.

Words to Live By:
It would be easy to resort to fleshly means to bring about the spiritual kingdom of God in a land. Our spiritual ancestors in Scotland were under a different standard as they sought to put away all things that dishonor His name. That is what this Second Covenant was all about on this day in 1559. Through godly prayer and spiritual works, as our Confessional Fathers put it, we are to destroy the kingdom of Satan, advance the kingdom of grace, and hasten the kingdom of glory.

For the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ

McIntireCarl_01The young Presbyterian minister had been called to candidate at Collingswood Presbyterian Church in the fall of 1933.  That he had been just a few years out of seminary, and Westminster Seminary at that, didn’t seem to matter to the congregation in that New Jersey town.  He had  a few years experience as a pastor in an Atlantic City, New Jersey Presbyterian Church.  But it was in Collingswood, New Jersey that Carl McIntire was to be a lighting rod during some very challenging years for that Presbyterian congregation. On September 28, 1933, he became the pastor of the Collingswood Presbyterian Church at Ferm Avenue in Collingswood, New Jersey.

Seeing his conservative leaning in regard to the great issues of the gospel, J. Gresham Machen invited him to join the board of the fledgling Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, which McIntire did in 1934.  That same year, the General Assembly of the denomination met and issued a directive or mandate to all ministers, churches, and presbyteries of the church.  In essence this mandate said that anyone who was affiliated with this independent agency had ninety days to desist from participation in or support of the agency, or face the consequences of discipline by their respective presbyteries.

Carl McIntire was charged with six counts of error by his Presbytery, but found guilty on only three of those charges.  These three were:  1. defiance of the government and discipline of the denomination, 2. unfaithful in maintaining the peace of the church, and 3. violation of his ordination vows.   He was convicted of sin and suspended from the ministry.  McIntire’s case was appealed to the PCUSA General Assembly of 1936, and that Assembly sustained the action of the Presbytery of West Jersey.

On March 27, 1938, after the Sunday evening service, the congregation stood on the front lawn of the church and sang two hymns of the faith. The first was “Faith of Our Fathers,” followed by “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us.”  And with that, they left the church, giving up the property, the memories, and all their associations with their former denomination. The very next Sunday, the newly formed Bible Presbyterian Church of Collingswood, New Jersey, met in a huge tent.  Present were 1200 people, with eighty-one new members joining the new church at that first Sunday’s worship.

Charles Curtis McIntire, Jr., called Carl from childhood, was born on May 17, 1906. He took his higher education at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Park College (in Parkville, Missouri), Princeton Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary. McIntire was ordained in 1931 and installed as pastor of the Chelsea Presbyterian Church in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Two years later, in 1933, he answered a call to serve the Collingswood church. After a long life of many accomplishments and not a little controversy, Dr. McIntire died on March 19, 2002, at the age of 95.

Words to Live By:
We close today’s post with a few paragraphs from the opening of a sermon by the Rev. Carl McIntire, delivered before the National Society of Magna Charta Dames, in Philadelphia, June 4, 1946. [The Magna Charta Dames are descendants of the barons who secured from King John, on June 15, 1215, at Runnymede, the Magna Charta. This charter forms the basis of all our English and American civil liberties.)

The State’s Responsibility Under God to Maintain Freedom

America is in greater danger of losing her freedom today than at any time since the Declaration of Independence. We have just won a war to destroy the idea of the all-powerful State, but we are turning to an all-powerful State — another King John — to save us, to feed and clothe us, to comfort and pamper us, and to answer our prayers. We are raising up a generation that knows little of King John and the charter the barons forced him to sign — a generation that is willing to barter the most priceless privileges of freedom for a mere pittance of security. We are confused and dazed. We thought the peace would be easy to win. We cannot even get a peace conference, much less win the peace. The atomic bomb has produced a neurotic and uncanny fear in the minds of people everywhere and is driving us on, if we are not careful, toward a world totalitarianism. The world is too small to be two worlds and it is ideologically too divided to be one world.

Furthermore, who said it was the responsibility of the State to guarantee full employment for everyone? In contrast to all this is our them, “The State’s Responsibility Under God to Maintain Freedom.” The authority for this statement is none other than the Almighty God Himself as He clearly reveals the powers and place of the State in His Holy Word.

Our founding fathers called God the Author of Liberty. “Our father’s God, to Thee, Author of liberty, to Thee we sing.” They did not claim that they themselves had given birth to this idea of freedom. They believed that God had created man and that man was responsible to God. They also believed that God had ordained the State and the State was responsible to God. In this relationship there stood out above everything else the divine law, the Ten Commandments. This law is the greatest charter of liberty that the world has ever had. It is the first bill of rights ever promulgated, the most individualistic document that the world has ever seen. It is the Magna Charta of individualism. It is impossible to discuss the authority of the State without holding before us first the demands of God’s law.

The Ten Commandments are addressed to the individual, and they protect the individual. Take, for example, the command, “Thou shalt not kill.” God gives to every man the right to live. All the laws of our society that protect human life are based upon this divine law. Likewise the command, “Thou shalt not steal,” recognizes the right of every man to own property in his own name. It is this command that forms the basis of our capitalistic system and our private enterprise way of life. But it is individual. It is into this picture that the State must fit.

The State has no authority to encroach upon the liberty of the individual which God guarantees under His law. The State must respect the law of God as it concerns the individual. Only in honoring this law can it serve its true function and be truly free. Just as God made the creation for Himself and created man in His own image, so He has instructed in His Word that the State should serve the ends of God and be a champion of freedom for man. When men see this, they want this kind of State. When the State sees it, it will labor only for free men. In doing this there are certain things that the State must do and certain things it must not do. In both of these spheres, one of action and the other of inaction, the State becomes an agent for freedom.

We frequently say, “Our society is built on the Ten Commandments.” So it is. The Ten Commandments are a social order. Any society built upon them will not be socialistic or communistic or totalitarian, but truly free. It should be noted especially here, however, that the laws of the State deal with the outward acts of the relation of man to man in society. The State cannot deal with the inward thoughts of men, thus the command, “Thou shalt not covet,” dealing primarily with the heart, the State cannot enforce or minister. The State must desist from action in this sphere in order to insure freedom of thought.

Likewise the commands that relate to the inner and direct relations of men to God the State must leave to God and to the individual. The State must desist from action in this sphere in order to honor the command dealing with the worship and service of God. Thus the State is limited; it cannot go into the heart of man. God alone can do that. And it cannot attempt to legislate God for the individual. God alone can guide and control this.

For a State to attempt to enter into these spheres is to destroy freedom for the individual. When the State attempts to legislate in the matter of man’s heart and thought, it can do so or attempt to do so only by limiting man’s speech and controlling what he hears and sees. Thus free speech and free press, free radio, and all related freedoms go out the window. God has kept the heart of man for Himself. When the State attempts to legislate in the matter of man’s relation to God, it can do so, or attempt to do so, only by circumscribing man’s freedom in the matter of religion. In both of these matters, the framers of the Constitution of the United States absolutely limited the State and protected the freedom of man as the law of God requires.

[the above portion of Dr. McIntire’s sermon is excerpted from The Christian Beacon, 11.18 (13 June 1946): 1-2, 6.

Working through some pamphlets and other materials donated by Dr. Will Barker, I came across this little tract, which may be of interest. It is a reprint of an article that first appeared in THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL, on 30 January 1963.  Irrespective of the calendar date, this remains very much in the news these days:

Examining the idea that teachers are above the rules
ordinary mortals go by—

by G. Aiken Taylor, Ph.D.

The issue of “academic freedom” is rapidly becoming a major one. In some denominations there is no greater. A poll of 30 Baptist editors—for instance—placed the dismissal of Dr. Ralph Elliott from Midwestern Baptist Seminary, and the appointment of a special committee by the 1962 Southern Baptist Convention to re-study its statement of faith, as the two top news stories of 1962. Both stories had to do with the issue of academic freedom.

Dr. Elliott was dismissed from the seminary on account of his book, The Message of Genesis, which allegedly treats Biblical history lightly. His dismissal was hailed as a victory by conservative forces in the never-ending struggle between liberal and conservative elements which is going on in all Churches today.

Unfortunately, the outcome of the incident is not yet clear. Although the action against Dr. Elliott was supported by most state conventions we heard from, the liberals—mostly the academic community in this case—have shown no intention of letting it go at that. While the conservatives rest on their oars, confident in victory, the campaign to discredit them gradually increases in vigor and will probably win out in the end.

Conservatives are notoriously like the hare in the fable of the tortoise and the hare. They get excited but tend to relax again just as easily. The liberals, on the other hand, patiently keep up their subtle pressures until the resistance is overcome.

Latest development in the Elliott case is a paper signed by 37 religious professors in eight Southern Baptist colleges, condemning the seminary for “sacrificing” its “integrity in Biblical scholarship” and “denying” the “seminary’s freedom to interpret Scripture under the authority of Christ in Scripture” (which usually means, “the right to teach students to mistrust people who take the Bible to mean what it says.”)

We can predict the outcome of this controversy with a fair degree of assurance. Dr. Elliott will be reinstated—or elevated to something better—the book will be brought out by another publisher and will become an approved text in schools and colleges. The whole Baptist denomination, which supported his dismissal, but which ran out of steam as soon as he had left the seminary, will stand by helplessly wringing its collective hands.


Down in Florida another example of controversy over academic freedom has been unfolding, this time in the world of secular education. The whole state has been in an uproar over something which developed at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, where the atmosphere in some classes was alleged to have attained almost incredible depths of depravity and irreverence. One professor was dismissed. A legislative investigation of the whole state university system was held, resulting in some new statements of policy by the Board of Control. But after the dust had settled the professor was reinstated and business has continued pretty much as usual in Florida.

In the world of religion the issue of academic freedom appears as “freedom of conscience” or “freedom to interpret the Scriptures according to conscience.” The intensity of concern which some feel is reflected in that “message” recently issued by the Division of Higher Education of the Presbyterian Church US wherein it was urged that “the whole enterprise of higher education should be free from social, political, ecclesiastical and economic reprisals against academic freedom.”

The issue also rears its head in such controversies as that one which attended the Fifth World Order Study Conference of the National Council of Churches with its famous recommendation that Red China be admitted to the United Nations (“The Conference certainly had a right to speak its mind to the Churches”); and the Winston-Salem General Assembly hassle over the Layman’s Bible Commentary (“Writers have a right to follow the leading of responsible scholarship”).


What about it? The governor of Florida, at the height of the controversy in that state, offered some informal remarks at a news conference which constitute a sort of classic answer to the labored quibbles of those liberals who really want license to subvert when they demand “freedom.” Said the governor:

“Academic freedom is, of course, a part of freedom. It doesn’t rise to any higher levels or sink to any lower depths than other elements of freedom. It is like freedom of the press—it is bound by certain limitations. It’s necessary—and with it go certain privileges and certain responsibilities . . . (there is) a distinction between academic freedom and academic license . . . Obviously, unless each man is to be a law unto himself, there must be someone to say what the law is relative to that man; or somebody, or some means . . .

“I am concerned, on the one hand, that we do nothing to limit a proper exercise of academic freedom. On the other hand, I am equally concerned that we do nothing to restrict the power of the people to express themselves in all areas of government. And there is no area excluded.

“The people have a right to restrict the governor — they do so. They have a right to restrict the courts—I think—historically they have done so. And I think they have a right to restrict the Legislature, and they do so. And therefore I don’t want to see us get ourselves in a situation where we set one group aside and say: ‘But you are a law unto yourselves.’ I don’t think it is enough to say: ‘Well, we are gentlemen and we are patriots and we are intellectuals, and therefore we do not need to be restrained at all,’ because in an ordered society there must be restraints on everyone, or else there is no law and if there is no law there is nothing to protect academic freedom or any other freedom. . .” The governor was speaking about the “right” of professors in a state university to teach atheism and to bring open obscenity and pornography into their classes. His remarks apply equally well to the “right” of professors of Bible and religion to teach anything they please about Bible and religion.


We know one professor of Bible in a Presbyterian college who interprets the “freedom to interpret Scripture according to conscience” to mean that he is free to teach his students that the Bible is an utterly relative book, that even the Ten Commandments have no lasting validity. This professor caused a great uproar in a US synod last year. Then the uproar died down and he is still doing business at the same stand. But does “academic freedom” give him the right to teach in a Presbyterian institution that the Bible is not to be considered a final authority even in matters of religion?

In the case of Dr. Elliott our Baptist brethren have been concerned that professors in their institutions shall teach accepted Baptist interpretations of the Bible. Has the denomination the right to expect this?

May a man accept ordination in a Baptist church and then proceed to teach and practice Infant Baptism? Has he the right to accept a teaching position in a Baptist seminary and teach his students that without the episcopate and apostolic succession there can be no true Church?

What if a theologian in a Methodist institution tried to inculcate his students in Double Predestination? Or a Presbyterian professor began advocating prayers on behalf of the dead? Would such departures from denominational doctrine be right?

What of the Presbyterian who vows that he accepts the Confession of Faith, then manages to make it appear ridiculous every time he mentions it?

What of the teacher who denies the Virgin Birth or the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ? Has he the right in the name of academic freedom?

In other words, at what point does academic “freedom” cross the line of propriety and become irresponsible license? And who is to determine that point? The teacher himself?

It is quite possible that Presbyterian Church courts—presbytery, synod and General Assembly—have been hypnotized by the ecclesiastical eggheads waving that club of academic freedom. If so, one or two considerations may help bring things back into proper focus:


For one thing, a distinction should be made between the freedom to inquire and the freedom to teach. The human spirit may certainly roam freely in its search for truth but that freedom to roam is not to be equated with any alleged right on the part of one spirit to drag another spirit along with it on an excursion into error.

A science professor invites his students to enter the laboratory and by means of experiments find out for themselves what is true in the fields of physics, chemistry and biology. And when the student curiously begins to mix certain chemicals to see what will happen he is exercising a very necessary “freedom” to inquire and discover.

But the teacher who stands by encouraging this “freedom” on the part of his students has no right to tell them that if they mix chemicals “A” and “B” something predictable will happen—if he doesn’t really know what will happen by mixing chemicals “A” and “B”.

In like manner, the teacher of Bible or of religion may certainly encourage his students to pursue after truth with an unfettered spirit. But it can be said on the highest possible authority that no teacher of Bible or of religion has the slightest freedom to teach uncertain conclusions for truth.

Obviously, then, the question prior to that of academic freedom is the oldest of them all : What is truth?

If it be accepted as an axiom that one may not deliberately inculcate error or false conclusions—not even in the name of academic freedom—then it becomes important to determine how one arrives at the truth.

The freedom every spirit has to search for himself means that every spirit may determine what is true for himself, if he wishes. But every other man also has the right to determine what is true for himself. Does this mean that there will be as many different varieties of truth as there are men? Possibly—if every man is the sole judge of what is true.

But an infinite variety of opinions as to the truth of things would lead only to social chaos. Consequently men persuade each other to accept specific definitions of truth and they band themselves together on the basis of their agreement upon the truth.

This principle applies to religion.

Moreover the Christian religion begins by affirming that this truth has not simply been determined by some men and agreed upon by others, it is from God. This is where revelation comes in. And the Scriptures. And confessions of faith. And confessional bodies that hold to specific confessions of faith.

Christian people band themselves together on the basis of their agreement as to the nature of the truth of God. Confessional Churches, especially, are founded upon specific statements of faith upon which their members are bound to agree. Within the areas of agreement other areas of freedom may be agreed upon. But the very nature of the confessional Church means that the whole Church agrees to the limits both of the restrictions and of the freedoms. There is no such thing as being (honestly) a member of a confessional Church and believing as one pleases. One may try to influence changes in the bases of agreement but one may not conscientiously violate them. That is what Church vows are for.

Any member of a confessional Church who does not subscribe to the agreement as to the nature of truth upon which the Church is established, or who teaches others to have disrespect for the Church’s Confession—as is done in some Presbyterian circles—is a person with little honor: in the words of the Scripture, worse than an infidel.

[Reprinted from THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL, January  30, 1963.]

“Rise, George, and Defend the Blood-bought Church of Christ”

gillespieGeorgeSome thought that he was the one who framed that Shorter Catechism answer about God’s character. Other doubted that he was the author of it.  We may never know for sure, but it was stated that whoever framed the answer to the question, “What is God?” was the youngest minister present on the Assembly committee tasked with the question’s answer. And Rev. George Gillespie was the youngest minister present in that committee of the historic Westminster Assembly. Maybe only eternity will reveal for sure the real author of Shorter Catechism Number 4.

The issue came to the forefront on an important discussion on the attributes of God. Asked to help formulate an answer, Rev. Gillespie (if indeed it was he who was the author) asked first for divine help. And so he led with a prayer for wisdom, saying in his prayer, “O God, thou art a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in Thy being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” The whole prayer was eventually written down by the court recorder with the magnificent answer to the character of God set in place for us to adore, memorize, pray, and teach our covenant children and others of God’s  family.

Our Presbyterian character today is George Gillespie. Born to a clergyman father in Kirkcaldy, Scotland on January 21, 1613, little is known of his early life in the manse.  We do know that he had a brother named Patrick.  We know that his mother was inclined to favor that child and not George. We know that the father would often come to the aid of George, telling prophetically that George would one day be a mighty servant of the Lord in Scotland. But beyond those tidbits, his growing up days are scarce of events.

That he was a Presbyterians was a given, as he was supported by the Presbytery of Kirkcaldy financially to attend at age 16 the University of St. Andrews. While there at this school, it was said that he gave ample evidence of genius and industry, with a rapid growth of mental power, and extensive learning. What remained solid in his classes were his convictions regarding the biblical basis of Presbyterianism, including its government. It was expected that if he wanted to be ordained into the ministry in those days, it would be the ordination approved by the Church of England. This he refused to do, so he became a domestic chaplain ministering to three families in Scotland.

A year before he was ordained, at a critical time in the life of Scotland when the English Liturgy was going to be forced on the kingdom of Scotland, George Gillespie wrote a book entitled A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded upon the Church of Scotland. It plainly dealt with the purity of worship. It was so overwhelming in its thoroughness that no bishop ever attempted to refute it.

Eventually, when the Presbyteries of the land were recognized as being able to ordain individuals, George Gillespie was ordained to the gospel ministry on this day, April 26, 1638, by the Presbytery of Kirkcaldy. He became the pastor of a congregation in Wemyss, Scotland, for four years. Then he was called to High Kirk in Edinburgh, Scotland. However, in the same year, he was appointed with four other ministers of the Church of Scotland—Alexander Henderson, Robert Douglas, Robert Baillie, and Samuel Rutherford, along with some elders—to go to London as non-voting members of the Westminster Assembly. Not all of them went, but George Gillespie did attend and was a major participant for four years in the Assembly. He would deliver some 167 speeches to the assembly on a variety of issues.

Once, when a famous older proponent argued for a point contrary to Presbyterianism, Samuel Rutherford urged George to “rise, George, and defend the church for which Christ has purchased with his own blood.” After the proponent of the opposite side had finished his delivery, during which time George Gillespie was constantly writing in his notebook, the latter stood and absolutely demolished his opponent’s arguments. When they opened the notebook later, expecting to find the notes for his speech, they could only find short statements, such as “Give light, O Lord.”

At the Assembly was closed, Rev. Gillespie returned to his charge in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was soon elected Moderator of the General Assembly in 1648, even though he was obviously weakened in his physical condition. He would go to be with the Lord on December 17, 1648, with what we call now tuberculosis.  Truly, he was one of the leading divines of his day.

Words to Live By:
To our Christian readers who may be among the younger servants of the Lord Jesus, as was George Gillespie, Paul’s Word to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12 is, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example to those who believe.” (NAS)

For Further Study:
A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded upon the Church of Scotland has recently been reprinted in an improved edition. Click here for further details from the publisher.

The Flagship Church of the German-language Synod of the West
by Rev. David T. Myers

For fifty years, Second Presbyterian Church of Grundy County, Iowa, was the “flagship” church of the Presbyterian Church USA in their Synod of the West. Back in 1871, two Presbyterian men, Poppe Meints and Klass Kruger, traveled seventeen miles from their homes in Grundy County to persuade the pastor of East Friesland, the Rev. John Vanerlas, to begin a testimony to the countless German pioneers who had moved to Iowa. They were successful in that purpose, and soon worship was begun on Sunday afternoons in a schoolhouse. It was eventually named Second Presbyterian Church of Grundy County, Iowa, having been organized with 30 members. The first pastor was the Rev. Jacob Brinkema. Within two years, they built a church building and manse, plus a cemetery, across the road from the site of the original schoolhouse.

Six other Presbyterian pastors were to come and minister the Word and Sacraments, with the Rev John E. Drake ministering the longest, from 1900 – 1935. Worship was all in German, until the mid-thirties, when it was changed to English. Increased attendance required an addition to the original frame structure in 1900. In 1917, that structure was replaced with a brick sanctuary seating around 400. Later in 1967, while still in the Presbyterian Church USA, the sanctuary was remodeled, and a new kitchen and 14 – room education wing was added. Further improvements have been added to the church complex with an attendance of around 150 members and friends.

On this day, March 20, 1983, the congregation, due to concerns about the Presbyterian Church, USA’s theological drift into liberalism, voted to join the Presbyterian Church in America which is committed to Biblical authority and historic Presbyterian theology. Their name is now Colfax Center Presbyterian Church. They have been served by four PCA pastors since that time, Rev. Arthur Ames, Rev. Larry Hoop, Rev. Eric Duble, and the Rev. Robert Grames, who is currently the under shepherd of the congregation. The church is a part of the Iowa Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America.

Their ministry slogan is “Colfax Center is an historic rural church with a 21st century commitment to proclaim the word of life and reach out to the community around it with the love of Jesus.”

If you look at their website on-line, that purpose statement not only is being fulfilled to the community in which they exist, but this PCA church has a marvelous extension of witness to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, to which mission teams go each summer to build relationships with members of the Lakota Tribe. May each of our churches go beyond their bounds to take the blessed gospel by word and deed to those who are in need of the message of the gospel.

Words to Live By:
Take out the name of “Colfax Center” for a moment, and place in the name of your congregation, dear reader, for this church’s ministry slogan should be the purpose of every biblical Presbyterian congregation, and you in it. May all of us who are readers of This Day in Presbyterian history seek to take that blessed Word of Life and reach out to the relatives and friends of our neighborhoods, and beyond, with the good news of eternal life.

An Heart Exercised Unto Godliness


p style=”text-align: justify;”>Thomas Boston [1676-1732]The life of Thomas Boston could be considered a walking medical study. Frequently depressed both in life and ministry, in his autobiography he wrote of his recurring miseries, his dry spells, his sense of unworthiness and dullness even in the act of preaching, or while praying in his study. At one point in his life, all his teeth fell out gradually one by one.  Try speaking or preaching with that condition! His wife even joined him in suffering from a chronic illness of body and mind. Maybe it was something in the water!

Throw in two small congregations which, when he first went to them, were unresponsive to the ministry of the Word, whether publicly or privately. The manse in one congregation was in such bad shape that his family couldn’t stay there. In the other church, for a while they lived in a stable and even had one of their infants born there.

Thomas Boston was born this day March 17, in 1676, in Duns, Scotland, with Thomas being the youngest of seven children. His parents, John and Alison Boston, were Covenanters and his father was a strong supporter of Presbyterianism, even for a time being fined and imprisoned for his proclamation of the Gospel. Thomas would keep him company in one jail.  Despite his parent’s vibrant testimony, Thomas went through religious motions only.  It was only later under the preaching of the Rev. Henry Erskine, father of two sons who became ministers, that the Spirit brought him to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Thomas would says, “it pleased the Lord to awaken me under exercise about my soul’s state.”

He attended Edinburgh University at age 15 and met his future wife Katherine (sometimes spelled with a “C”) while there. Licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Chimside, he proposed to Katherine, and she accepted. Two  years later, he received a call from the Parish of Simprim. Accepting that call and entering into the ministry of that pulpit, he was faithful in home visitation, catechizing and engaging in pastoral care twice week. During these same years five children were born into his family.

It was in one of the homes of his Simprim congregation that Boston discovered a book on the shelf entitled The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher. He read it and brought it to the established church. It afterwards became the basis for what is known as “the Marrow Controversy”.

In 1707, he moved with his wife and family to Ettrick, Scotland, where for the next twenty-five years, he ministered in the pulpit and homes of the congregation there. Especially did he wield the pen in writing a book still available today, often known simply as The Fourfold State [the full title is Human Nature in its Fourfold State: Of Primitive Integrity, Entire Depravity, Begun Recovery, and Consummate Happiness or Misery. Another five children were born into his family during his years at Ettrick, though in all, six of his children would die before reaching adulthood. When he himself died in 1732, he left behind his widow and four children.


p style=”text-align: justify;”>Words to Live By: 
Thomas Boston [1676-1732]Thomas Boston is a great example to the subscribers of This Day in Presbyterian History who are pastors. Their trials are often the same ones he suffered. Like Boston, these men faithfully minister each week, lovingly being the pastor in the pulpits and among the congregations given to their care, but often with great resistance and little encouragement. Those in the pew need to remember two Scriptural commands: First, that of 1 Thessalonians 5;12, 13, which says “But we request of you brethren, that you appreciated those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem very highly in love because of their work.  Live in peace with one another.” And second, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13;17)

Image sources: 
1. Above right, the most commonly seen portrait of the Rev. Thomas Boston, being the frontispiece portrait in A General Account of My Life, by Thomas Boston, A.M., Minister at Simprin, 1699-1707 and at Ettrick, 1707-1732. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1908.
2. Above left, a less frequently seen portrait (and you can see why!) of Rev. Boston. This is the frontispiece portrait published in the volume Memoirs of the Life, Times, and Writings of Thomas Boston, of Ettrick. Glasgow: John M’Neilage, 1899.  

Boston’s Favorite Text:
“Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth. Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.”—Psalm 71:20-21.

How Many of You Know . . .

Mention the name of Pearl Buck and countless Americans will immediately think of the award-winning book “The Good Earth.”  And indeed Pearl Buck did write that famous work and many other novels which earned her both a Pulitzer prize as well as a Nobel prize for literature.  But how many Americans, and even church folks, know that she was instrumental in bringing about the original Presbyterian Church of America in 1936?  And yet she was.

Born of missionary parents in China associated with the Southern Presbyterian church in West Virginia, Pearl Buck returned with her husband to China as missionaries under the Board of Foreign Missions of the northern Presbyterian Church.

In 1932, the book “Rethinking Missions” was published. It stated that its aim was to do exactly what the title suggested, namely, to change the purpose of sending foreign missionaries to the world.  Its aim was to seek the truth from the religions to which it went, rather than to present the truth of historic Christianity.  There should be a common search for truth as a result of missionary ministry, was the consensus of this book.  Pearl Buck agreed one hundred per cent with the results of this book.  She believed that every American Christian should read it.

To her, Jesus ceased to be the divine son of God, virgin born, and conceived by the Holy Spirit.  There was no original sin in her belief structure.  All these truths of historic Christianity made the gospel to be a superstition, a magical religion, and should be done away with by the church, and subsequent mission boards.

Obviously, with beliefs like this, Pearl Buck became the focus of men like J. Gresham Machen, who published a 110 page book on the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  That treatment was freely presented to the congregations of the Northern Presbyterian Church.  The result was that Pearl Buck was forced to resign from the China mission, though the Presbyterian Board accepted that resignation with regret.

Eventually, the situation of the China Mission was a powerful basis for forming the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions in 1933. True Bible-believing Presbyterians needed to have one board which would only send missionaries to foreign lands who believed that Jesus was the only way, truth, and life to God.  Pearl Buck did not believe this biblical truth.

Pearl Buck passed into eternity on March 6, 1973.

For further study: 
“Pearl Buck’s Comments upon the death of J. Gresham Machen.”

Words to Live By: The New Testament author,  Jude, writes about those who “creep in unnoticed” into the church, who “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”  As long as the church is on earth, there will be a need for Christians to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered unto the saints.” (ESV  – James 3, 4)

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