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John Ulverstone Selwyn Toms [26 October 1878 – 14 November 1973]
[excerpted from the Minutes of the Bible Presbyterian Synod, 1974, pp. 38-39.]

A Memorial Resolution, #7. on the death of the Rev. U. Selwyn Toms was presented by the Rev. Morris McDonald. It was on motion adopted and reads:


p style=”text-align: justify;”>J. U. Selwyn Toms,IN MEMORIAM – REV. J. U. SELWYN TOMS
The Rev. Mr. Toms went into the Lord’s presence on November 14, 1973, in his sleep, at the age of 95. Mr. Toms was born in 1878 in South Australia. He was graduated in the class of 1908 from Princeton Seminary, a classmate and friend of the late Dr. J. Gordon Holdcroft. Upon graduation he was licensed by the West Jersey Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. On October 27, 1908 he and his wife, Ella Sparks Burt, sailed for Korea to serve at Taegu and Seoul stations. They had three children, Robert, Burton and Elaine. Rev. Burton Toms was born in Seoul, Korea, and is at present serving the Lord under the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

Having returned from the mission field in 1923, due to the ill health of his wife, Mr. Toms served as pastor of the Thompson Memorial Church in Pennsylvania and after four years, as pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Woodstown, N.J., on July 31, 1936, Mr. Toms felt it was necessary to withdraw from the Presbytery due to un-Presbyterian actions.

Mr. Toms was elected to the Board of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions on May 31, 1937 and actively served until health prevented his attendance in 1966.

Mr. Toms was very strong in his stand against ecclesiastical apostasy and was active in the continuing succession to the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. He became a member of the Presbyter¬ian Church of America and was elected stated clerk for the New Jersey Presbytery. When it was no longer possible to continue in fellowship with that body, he formed part of the commission for a Bible Presbyterian Synod. The first Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church was held in Collingswood, N.J. September 6-8, 1930, and Mr. Toms was elected its FIRST moderator, because of the all-important missionary issues included in the conflict with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

For many years he served as the faithful statistician of the Bible Presbyterian Church. Mr. and Mrs. Toms made their residence In Chattanooga, Tennessee, with their son Robert. Mrs. Toms had gone to be with the Lord in November, 1971. “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth; Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” – Revelation 14:13.
Mr. Toms served as a faithful member of the Kentucky-Tennessee Presbytery for many years prior to going to his higher reward.

As per the OPC Ministerial Register (2011):
John Ulverstone Selwyn Toms was born in Waller, New South Wales, Australia, on 26 October 1878.
He married Ella Burt on 10 October 1905.
Children born to their marriage included Robert, Frederick, and Marian.
He was educated at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, graduating there in 1905 with the A.B. degree.
He prepared for ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating in 1908 with the Th.B. degree and later returned to Princeton for the Th.M. degree, in 1924.
Rev. Toms was ordained by the Presbytery of West Jersey (PCUSA), on 2 July 1908.
From 1909-1923, he served as a evangelist in Korea under the auspices of the Board of Foreign Missions (PCUSA).
He was pastor of the Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), Brownsburg, Pennsylvania, 1924-1928.
From 1928-1936, he was pastor of the PCUSA church in Woodtown, New Jersey.
Rev. Toms was received by the Presbytery of New Jersey (Presbyterian Church of America/Orthodox Presbyterian Church, on 8 September 1936, but later withdrew to become a founding member of the Bible Presbyterian Church, on 6 September 1938.
His date of death was 14 November 1973.

Admittedly this post should run on the 28th, but that’s Thanksgiving day and this wouldn’t fit so well then. We trust you will bear with us.


John Holt Rice, the second son of Benjamin and Catherine Rice, was born near the small town of New London, in the county of Bedford, on the 28th of November, A.D. 1777. From the first dawn of intellect, he discovered an uncommon capacity for learning, and a still more uncommon disposition to piety. We have seen some reason to believe that like Samuel, he was called in the very morning of his life; at so early an hour indeed that he could not distinguish the voice of God from that of his own mother—-so soft and so tender was its tone. It was, in truth, the first care of this excellent woman to train up her infant child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and you might have seen the weak and sickly boy always at her knee, reading his Bible or Watt’s Psalms, to her listening ear, and catching the first lessons of religion from her gentle tongue. No wonder that he ever retained a most grateful sense of her special service in this respect, and warmly cherished her sacred memory in his filial heart.

As a further evidence of his early piety, we are told that whilst he was yet a boy, and hardly more than seven or eight years old, he established a little private prayer-meeting with his brothers and sisters, and led the exercises of it himself with great apparent devotion. We are not informed however, at what time exactly he made a public profession of religion; but we understand that it was probably when he was about fifteen or sixteen years of age.

[excerpted from The Charleston Observer, VII.7 (16 February 1833): 27, column 2.]

Words to Live By:
Parents, don’t wait to talk to your children about the God and His wonderful work of salvation, made possible by the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Little ears can understand more of Scripture than you might think, so long as you keep your words simple and work to answer their questions. In his book, Children of the Covenant, Thomas Dwight Witherspoon speaks to parents in a chapter that takes up this very theme: A Word to Christian Parents.

Moving into the season, guest author Dr. David W. Hall presents some good words on an old tradition.

Thanksgiving Proclamations and Congressional Fast-Days
by Dr. David W. Hall

A previous post introduced the custom of the Continental Congress calling for days of fasting and thanksgiving. This was premised, of course, on the existence and biblical attributes of God. Excerpts from those over a short period (1776-1781) may be instructive for us in our own day. Then again, it is seldom wrong to call for thanksgiving or due repentance. A review of some of these may be timely.

In December 1776, Congress called for another day of fasting and humiliation, once again highlighting the providence of God, who was “the arbiter of the fate of nations.” It is fair to note that this Congress believed that individuals had limited ability to establish their own destinies because “the arbiter” of entire nations controlled human events. In accordance with the received Calvinism, this December 1776 proclamation called for “repentance and reformation,” and the forbidding of swearing and immorality. Each state, in this proclamation, was allowed to set the day as it saw fit to “implore Almighty God [for] the forgiveness of the many sins prevailing among all ranks.”

No proclamation for fasting and prayer was issued in 1777. Under the enormous pressures of conducting and financing the war, Congress combined fasting with Thanksgiving that year. In 1778, however, Congress called for yet another day of “fasting, humiliation, and prayer” to implore God for mercy and forgiveness and to avoid immorality and evil. This proclamation also called for the nation to “be a reformed and happy people,” and asked God to bless the schools and seminaries to “make them nurseries of true piety, virtue, and useful knowledge.” The Congress’ call for true piety was hardly the kind of neutrality that would later oppose public expression of all religion. The following year, the congressional proclamation would include numerous biblical references. That later act also reaffirmed belief in God as the “Supreme Disposer of all events,” and admitted that his judgments were “too well deserved.” In addition, these congressional evangelists also asked the citizens to pray toward a specific goal: that God, “our kind parent and merciful judge through time and through eternity” would “extend the influence of true religion.” Most of these theological affirmations are unthinkable apart from a broad, basically Calvinistic consensus.

In March 1780, Congress again named God “the sovereign Lord,” and prayed that he would “banish vice and irreligion among us, and establish virtue and piety by his divine grace.” This proclamation went so far as to forbid both labor and recreation on that declared sabbath, although the enforcement mechanism is by no means clear. Earlier Genevans and Zurichers could have adopted the same declaration.

In what would become a customary part of these bills, the March 1781 proclamation asked the citizenry to pray for “all schools and seminaries of learning . . . [that] pure and undefiled religion may universally prevail.” This explicit statement, besides calling for true repentance, also asked that such repentance would “appease [God’s] righteous displeasure, and through the merits of our blessed Savior, obtain pardon and forgiveness.” With James Madison’s approval, the Congress of 1782 measured itself against the still applicable “holy laws of our God,” and denounced “arbitrary power” which had sought to steal “invaluable” (the original “unalienable” was stricken to give way to this preferred idiom) privileges. Moreover, the 1782 proclamation asked God to “diffuse a spirit of universal reformation (emphasis added) to “make us a holy, that so we may be an happy people.” In light of the continental and British Puritan history of the previous century, “reformation” had definite connotation. The standard of holiness summoned was that of the Scriptures, and this Congress even desired (in the words of Isaiah 11:9) that “the religion of our Divine Redeemer, with all its benign influences, may cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.”

Thanksgiving proclamations of the Continental Congress strummed the same strings. The first was signed by George Washington and forwarded to the individual states. In November 1777, the Congress combined elements of thanksgiving “to their divine benefactor” with notes of contrition, making “penitent confession of their manifold sins.” This Thanksgiving proclamation also pled for forgiveness “through the merits of Jesus Christ.” They viewed ministerial training academies as “necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety . . . to prosper the means of religion for the promotion . . . of that kingdom which consisteth ‘in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost,’” a clearly Trinitarian reference. No attempt was ever made in any of these to express pluralism (e. g., by citing the Koran) or to invoke any other sacred canon. A Genevan-like sabbath was declared again by the 1777 proclamation.

On occasion Congress even interrupted its proceedings, as it did on July 5, 1778, to attend divine worship corporately, with chaplains officiating and preaching to the assembled representatives. Later, on October 12, 1778, Congress entertained a resolution (which was defeated) endorsing that “true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness.” In view of the earlier and manifold references to theology, this defeat may have been an exception to the rule, for the following month they once again endorsed God’s “overruling providence,” and called for “penitent confession of our sins, and humble supplication for pardon, through the merits of our Savior.”

The next Thanksgiving proclamation (October 1779) urged that God “grant to his church the plentiful effusions of divine grace and pour out his holy spirit on all ministers of the gospel.” Moreover, they supported education as a means to this end: to “spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth.” This Congress asked for God’s mercy, and prayed that these states would be established “upon the basis of religion and virtue.”

The Thanksgiving proclamation of 1781, authored by Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon, again invoked the blessing of Isaiah 11:9 and pled with “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10) to “incline our hearts . . . to keep all his laws.” It was not common law alone that guided, but God’s law. The next year, the Scotsman of Knoxian descent would also lead the Congress in committing to “a cheerful obedience to his laws,” and the practice of “true and undefiled religion [James 1:27] which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.”

Our heritage of prayer and thanksgiving days might be helpful if dusted off, moving forward.

By Dr. David W. Hall, Pastor
Midway Presbyterian Church

The Rev. John Calvin Barr, D.D. (1824-1911)
by Rev. Dennis E. Bills

Dr. Barr should be remembered for his lengthy pastorate and his conviction that a church is not truly Presbyterian unless it is connected to the larger church. Dr. Barr pastored the First Presbyterian Church of Charleston, West Virginia for forty years. He began in 1868 as an assistant to the Rev. W. N. Geddes, who pastored the Kanawha Presbyterian Church. But in 1872, when Geddes resigned for health reasons and the church called his assistant, Barr demanded the church return to its Presbyterian commitments, which meant that it must choose either the Presbyterian Church in the USA or the Presbyterian Church in the US.

For the previous eleven years—since the start of the Civil War—the Kanawha Church had declined to send representatives to either denomination’s presbytery or general assembly.[1] Like a microcosm of West Virginia itself, the church was filled with supporters of both the northern and the southern causes. But the State had seceded from Virginia nine years earlier, and the war was long over. That the church remained in its mottled, uncommitted condition is testimony that hostilities still simmered beneath the surface long after the war, covered over by the pretense of unity, unaddressed in both pulpit and pew.

In order to have their pastor, the church complied with Barr’s demand, and the twenty-three people who voted to go with the PCUSA kept the church’s name, the manse, and the larger portion of the property. The other 153 took the sanctuary, a smaller portion of the lot, and became the First Presbyterian Church of Charleston (PCUS). By all accounts, the division of church and property was agreeable, orderly, and amicable, if not melancholy. The church had kept itself in limbo for over a decade in order to avoid just such a split. Ultimately, Barr acted upon the biblical truth that the church’s independence was not unity at all. But for all his theological correctness on that point, there is no record that he ever publicly addressed the specific issues that had sparked the war, either before or after the vote. When all was said and done, he himself went with the Southern church and continued as their pastor for thirty-six more years.[3]

Dr. Barr died on September 8, 1911 and was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, overlooking the city in which he ministered for so long. Both the First and Kanawha Presbyterian Churches have continued through to the present as prominent congregations in Charleston and West Virginia. Their meeting houses have always been just a two-minute walk from each other, and now they both coexist in the same denomination.


[1] Ruth Putney Coghill, The Church of 150 Years (self-pub, First Presbyterian Church, 1969), n.p. Accessed June 11, 2018. See also Ruth P Coghill, The First Presbyterian Church Charleston West Virginia: A Brief History (n.p., n.d.), n.p. Accessed June 11, 2018. Another less recent account (~1950) speculates that Barr kept out the matter and that the determination to vote boiled up from within the congregation, which may have recently had an influx of new members from the Malden church (HPK, 120-121).  This may be based on an even older account says that “one hundred members of the old congregation, petitioned the Session that Presbyterial relations be resumed.” Katie Bell Abney, History of the Presbyterian Congregation and the Other Early Churches of “Kenhawha” 1804-1900 (Charleston, WV: First Presbyterian Church, 1930), 32. It may be that both are true, that Barr made his wishes known, and the congregation petitioned the session in response.

[2] Cf. Dennis E. Bills, A Church You Can See: Building a Case for Church Membership (New Martinsville, WV: Reforming West Virginia Publications, 2017), 82: “Because particular churches are the building blocks of the visible church, the best opportunity for particular churches to pursue unity within the visible body of Christ is through denominational affiliation.”

[3] More issues than race and slavery were in play in the division between the northern and southern churches.  Twenty-five years previous, the Old School/New School Controversy had already laid out lines of division that were simply awaiting a catalyst. As providence would have it, the Southern Church retained its orthodoxy much longer than the Northern Church. This however, does not justify the moral failures of the Southern Church during and after the war.

Rev. Dr. Dennis E. Bills
Trinity Presbyterian Church
307 McEldowny Avenue
New Martinsville, WV 26155

by Rev. William Smith (1834)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 59-60.

Q. 59. Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly Sabbath?

A. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath, and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.


Resurrection of Christ. –The time when the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Christian Sabbath. –The day on which all true Christians, or sincere followers of Christ, rest from their worldly business and pleasure, and on which they assemble together, for joining in the public worship of God.


In this answer we have four points of information.

  1. That God originally appointed the SEVENTH DAY of the week, to be the weekly Sabbath. –Gen. ii. 3. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his works, which God created and made.
  2. That this appointment continued in force, from the beginning of the world, to the resurrection of Christ. –Matt. xxviii. 1, 5, 6. In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary to see the sepulcher. –And the angel said unto them, –I know that ye seek Jesus which was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen, as he said.
  3. That since Christ’s resurrection, the FIRST DAY of the week has been appointed to be the Christian sabbath. –Acts xx. 7. Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them. Rev. i. 10. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.
  4. That this appointment is to remain in force to the end of the world.

Q. 60. How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?

A. The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on the other days, and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.


Sanctified. –Used in a holy manner, or spent in the holy exercises of God’s service.

Worldly employments and recreations. –Our usual business and amusements.

Public exercises of God’s worship. –Meeting together for the purpose of joining with the people of God, in praying to him in our hearts, singing his praises, and hearing his word preached, for our information and improvement.

Private exercises of God’s worship. –Reflecting on what we have heard in church, or in the public assembly of God’s people, singing the praises of God, reading his Word, and praying to him with our families, and in our closets.

Works of necessity. –Works which must be done at the time, such as necessary eating, drinking, &c. and, in short, every thing which could not have been done the day before the Sabbath, nor put off till the day after it.

Works of mercy. –Taking proper care of our own health, visiting and doing kindness to the sick, the miserable, and the helpless, the feeding or relieving of cattle, and such like.


The information here received, respecting the keeping of the sabbath, may be divided into four parts:

  1. That the sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day. Lev. xxiii. 3. Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, and holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein.
  2. That on this day, we must rest, even from such worldly employments and recreation as are lawful on other days. –Neh. xiii. 15. In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, –and I testified against them. Isa. lviii 13. Turn away thy foot from the sabbath –not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words.
  3. That we must spend the whole time of this day in the public and private exercises of God’s worship. –Psalm xcii. 1, 2. Entitled, a psalm or song for the sabbath-day. It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto thy name, O Most High. To shew forth thy loving kindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night.
  4. That there is an exception allowed of so much time as may be employed in works of necessity and mercy. –Matt. xii. 11, 12. What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, an, if it fall into the pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.

None Excelled Him on Two Continents

blairgravestone02Samuel Blair was born in Ireland in 1712 and emigrated to America at a young age.  Educated at the Log College by William Tennent, he was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Philadelphia on November 9, 1733.  Called to two congregations first in New Jersey, he ministered the Word of grace for six years. But it was at Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church in Cochranville, Pennsylvania where he came to have his greatest influence upon colonial America.

Installed there in April of 1740, he began a classical and theological college for pastoral training, similar to what he had received at the Log College. The new school would later produce for the kingdom of grace men like Samuel Davies, apostle to Virginia, John Rodgers, first moderator of the General Assembly, John McMillan, Apostle to western Pennsylvania, Charles Cummings, Robert Smith, Hugh Henry and many others who would make a mark for Christ’s kingdom.

In 1740, a great reawakening came upon the colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia, including Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church. Blair took as his initial text that of our Lord’s words in Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.”  That priority in the things of the Lord brought a spiritual awakening and revival to the people of that 1730 congregation. Soon, Pastor Blair was engaged in preaching tours all over New England. All of this revival emphasis, plus the question of education for the ministry brought about a schism in the Presbyterian Church in 1741.

blairSamuel_graveIn his doctrinal views, Samuel Blair was thoroughly Calvinistic. A spiritual awakening is of the Lord. Period! He did not hesitate to preach on predestination to his people. His pulpit manner was such that Samuel Davies believed no one was more excellent than he was in exposition of the Word of God. When the latter took a trip to England to raise funds for the College of New Jersey, and heard many a fine preacher, he still concluded that none held a candle to Samuel Blair.

Over his grave in the cemetery, at what is now called Manor Presbyterian Church, there is found the following inscription. It says “Here lieth the body of THE REV. SAMUEL BLAIR, Who departed this life The Fifth Day of July, 1751, Aged Thirty-nine Years and Twenty-one Days. In yonder sacred house I spent my breath; Now silent, mouldering, her I lie in death; These lips shall wake, and yet declare A dread Amen to truths they published there.”

Words to live by:  Thirty nine years plus!  Not a large amount of life on this earth was spent by the Rev. Samuel Blair. But his life was not to be measured by the shortness of his life, but rather by what the Holy Spirit accomplished through Him for the sake of the gospel. And when we look at that, Samuel Blair lived a full life for the increase of the kingdom and the edification of the elect. Only one life will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Today we present two recollections on the first professor of the Princeton Theological Seminary, the esteemed Rev. Dr. Archibald Alexander [1772-1851]. The first of these recollections is found on page 1 of THE CHRISTIAN OBSERVER, vol. 48, no. 45 (10 November 1869), though the author of the piece is identified solely by the pseudonym “Memor.” The second account is drawn from RECOLLECTIONS OF USEFUL PERSONS AND IMPORTANT EVENTS, by S.C. Jennings, D.D. (1884), pp. 99-100. The portrait of Dr. Alexander is taken from Nevin’s PRESBYTERIAN ENCYCLOPEDIA.

For the Observer and Commonwealth

Dear good old Dr. Alexander! How we loved him in New Jersey! Many a time have I seen people stop and look at him as he passed—even those who had never seen him loved and admired. The true Christian knew why. In the pulpit he was very different from many of the present day, but we all felt that he was indeed a minister of Jesus Christ unto us, and in the sacred desk, and at the communion table we seemed to be brought near to God and to Heaven. In this respect few were his equals and this power is a great gift. Many living servants of God know that they feel his influence to this day and thank God for it. Sabbath afternoon we met in the lecture room for conversation up on some subject before announced. Any student said what he wished, and they spoke freely, moderately and well. But our spiritual feast was when Dr. Alexander and Dr. Miller, and young professor Hodge, as he was then, sitting in their chairs would give us the essence of their matured thoughts. At the time I admired and relished it, but in riper years only could I really appreciate our privilege. There was no apparent effort, but the spring of living thought seemed to pour forth spontaneously. In this exercise Dr. Alexander excelled, and I thought could condense more ideas in a few sentences than any man I ever met. He was so devout and spiritual and earnest that we felt his words. “Pray”—on one occasion, he said, “pray on. And if in the closet alone with God you desire to remain longer and God seems indeed to be there,—Pray on; and if your heart inclines you to tarry longer—pray on and hour after hour—hour after hour. It is a heavenly gale, and you may make more advances than you have in a year, ‘Pray on.’ ”  —Memor.
The Christian Observer 48.45 (10 November 1869): 1.


“Between the years 1824 and 1827, Drs. Alexander and Miller and Professor Hodge were (in the Presbyterian Church) the only public instructors of theological students. Dr. Alexander commenced this work in 1812. Twelve years afterward he was still vigorous in mind. In body he was rather small, with some gray hairs. As he sat in the recitation room, reclining his head upon his hand, small, piercing eyes looked upon the students, ready to approve their performances; or, when need be, to correct their mistakes. He appeared rather reserved, and yet in private was very paternal, exercising his thorough knowledge of human nature with great skill.

“A peculiarity in him was the clearness of his style in teaching and preaching. His great learning enabled him to use the very wordsmostly of Saxon originby which his hearers comprehended the truth easily. This example of his should be imitated by young ministers of our time. While he adapted language to his subject, as when he wrote his volume on the Canon of Sacred Scriptures, and that on the Evidences of Christianity, his manner of preaching was more like his admirable book of Christian Experienceclear, practical and searching. There was no going outside of the themes of the Bible to find something new and entertaining. He condemned unprofitable speculations in the class room, and never practiced them in the pulpit. In his lectures on pastoral care to the students, he recommended special seasons of labor to promote revivals, wisely chosen, with the choice of proper persons to give aid in the preaching. I remember when there was a revival at Princeton, he went to give instruction to the young.”
—Jennings, S.C., Recollections of Useful Persons and Important Events within Seventy Years. Vancefort, PA: J. Dillon & Son, 1884. Pp. 99-100.

Words to Live By:
What a wonderful encouragement!—”Pray on; and if your heart inclines you to tarry longer—pray on and hour after hour—hour after hour. It is a heavenly gale, and you may make more advances than you have in a year, ‘Pray on.’ ”
Pray on, brothers and sisters, pray on indeed. Now as never before, come before the Lord’s throne of grace and glory and seek Him earnestly, that His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

A Presbyterian Martyr in the Abolitionist Cause
by Rev. David T. Myers

This Presbyterian minister was called by some the first casualty of the Civil War. Certainly, his death on November 7, 1837 was over the primary issue of that War Between the States, namely, that of slavery. With the intriguing name of Elijah Lovejoy, the pastor of Des Peres Presbyterian Church and later, the College Avenue Presbyterian Church, was well-known in the twin states of Missouri and Illinois in the early part of the nineteenth century.

He was the son of a Congregationalist minister, but Elijah only came to faith in Christ as a young adult, while sitting under the preaching of a Presbyterian preacher. No long after, he made the decision to attend Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1833, shortly after graduation. (See April 18th historical devotional). It wasn’t his ministry in the pulpit which was so controversial. Nor was it his service as the Stated Clerk of the local Presbytery. Both of these positions were acceptable to the church world, and unexceptional in the world at large. What set him up in notoriety was that he had organized the American Anti-Slavery Society in the area. He then backed up that organization as a newspaper editor of an abolitionist paper in both St. Louis, Missouri and Alton, Illinois.

Both of these places were on the front line of this issue. Missouri was a slave state, even though all around her were free states. It was also the focal point of slave catchers who would enter into their confines to hunt down slaves who had escaped their plantations. In short, it was the center of both pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the population. And Elijah Lovejoy became the voice of the latter faction.

Initially, reactions against Rev. Lovejoy’s work were aimed solely at the tools of his publishing trade. The pro-slavery citizens of the area simply responded to the good Presbyterian minister by destroying the printing press of his abolitionist newspaper, which effectively stopped him from printing either the St. Louis Observer or the Alton Times. Three times, his printing press was destroyed and its parts were scattered into the Missouri River. Each time, another press was located and the abolitionist newspaper continued to be published.

As Rev. Lovejoy sought to prevent yet another attempt to hinder his work, his next printing press was moved to a warehouse building near the waterfront. This time a dozen or so law enforcement men were organized to guard it, assisted by Rev. Lovejoy, and his supporters. But the people who were determined to stop him were larger in number. There are varying reports of the ensuing skirmish. Some say that when Rev. Lovejoy tried to shove a ladder, placed there for the purposes of burning the two-story building, away from the structure, he was killed by a shotgun slug fired from the front of the building. Others say that he tried to reason with the mob on the ground floor before being shot. In either case, he was killed instantly in the ensuing gun battle. The printing press was again destroyed after his killing, and with his death, tensions continued to be inflamed. A later attempted prosecution in the courts failed to find anyone guilty.

A monument was erected in 1897 in his memory, at a cemetery in Alton, Illinois. But in the ensuing years, and particularly with the heat of national crisis in 1861–1865, in many ways Lovejoy became little more than a footnote in the nation’s history. To this day there are certainly those who work to keep alive the memory of his work, but for most, it seems he is largely forgotten.

Words to live by:
Elijah Lovejoy had a firm conviction that the righteous God would overrule the sin of slavery, for the good of black and whites alike, to say nothing of His own glory. With firm conviction, this Presbyterian clergyman became a catalyst in print for efforts to put an end to the terrible institution. He paid the ultimate price for his stand against slavery. The church today needs godly men and women to take stands against the evils of our day. Will you be one who will answer that call for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ?

The Town which Billy Sunday Couldn’t Tame
by Rev. David T. Myers

“Chicago, Chicago, that toddling town
Chicago, Chicago, I’ll show you around, I love it
Bet your bottom dollar, you’ll lose the blues in Chicago
Chicago, the town that Billy Sunday couldn’t shut down.”

So went the opening lines of Frank Sinatra’s song, “Chicago,” which prominently proclaimed it as “the town which Billy Sunday couldn’t tame.” This writer often wondered whether listeners even knew who Billy Sunday was, but the populations of both small and large towns and cities in the early part of the twentieth century knew him well. Billy Sunday was an evangelist, who preached  to one hundred million people during his crusades, with the result that one million professed Christ as Lord and Savior. He was also a Presbyterian, having been ordained in 1903 by that church.

Billy Sunday was born William Asley Sunday in Iowa on November 19, 1862. His father was a Union Army veteran of the Civil War, and died of complications from battlefield wounds. His mother, unable to care for him and a brother, sent him to two Orphan Homes in Iowa. He eventually came under the tutelage of a Lt. Governor of Iowa who sent him to a public high school. It was there that this athleticism stood out, especially on the baseball field. Billy went on to play in the National League with Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia professional baseball  teams in the latter part of the eighteen hundreds.

It was while he was in Chicago in 1880 that he heard a street corner evangelist who invited him to attend the Pacific Garden Mission. He did, and  was converted to evangelical Christianity.  He began to attend a Presbyterian Church in Chicago regularly.  It was there that he met his wife, Helen Amelia “Nell” Thompson. They were married in September, 1888. In the next decade, after working for the YMCA, he became the advance man for Presbyterian evangelist J. W. Chapman.  When the latter returned to the pastorate, Billy Sunday took over the evangelistic crusades in small and large towns alike.

He popularized the “sawdust trail” in large wooden tabernacles, built for just the crusades. During his ministry, over 300 crusades were held in 39 years, with the gospel being presented and believed. In Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, for example, over twenty-five percent of the population came to Christ.  In the ensuing year, over 200 taverns permanently closed down. It was said that as he preached his messages, his Bible was always opened to the Messianic text of Isaiah 61:1, which reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath send me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” (KJV)   And all these results were being accomplished during his meetings.

Billy Sunday went to be with the Lord on November 6, 1935. His funeral was held at Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois, with Harry Ironside presiding, and 4400 mourners present.  His wife lived until 1957.

Words to live by: While the great evangelical truths of the historic Christian faith were believed and proclaimed by Billy Sunday, we cannot affirm that Biblical Calvinism was indeed taught by this Presbyterian evangelist. There were many flaws in his theology. He preached that man had some part in his conversion, even though God had always the greater part. Further, converts were sent back to the churches in which their membership was found, even if they were Roman Catholic. The deepest tragedy—a common one among men consumed by their ministry—his own children had disastrous moral lives as a result of Rev. Sunday’s frequent abandonment of his family for crusade meetings. There is much that we can commend, but also much to be sorrowful about in his life and ministry. God’s people, and pastors especially, need to remember that marriage, and thus family too, precedes and is the , in Scripture, marriage and family precede the existence of the Church. We must first be faithful in the context of our family before we can truly be fruitful in ministry to others.

The following editorial appeared on the pages of THE PRESBYTERIAN in November of 1924 [vol. 94, no. 45 (6 November 1924): 3-4].
It was provided without indication of authorship, but the Rev. David S. Kennedy was editor-in-chief at that time and thus was the likely author. Associate editors included William L. McEwan, Maitland Alexander, Samuel G. Craig, Clarence E. Macartney and J. Gresham Machen, and I suppose any of these men could also have authored this editorial. The editorial itself speaks a basic truth about the foundation of the Christian faith, while also providing an example of a straight-forward apologetic method for the modern era.

The Factual Basis of Christianity

One of the outstanding characteristics of modern religious liberalism—that which as much as anything else differentiates between it and historical Christianity and especially between it and evangelical Christianity—is its open or implied denial of the factual basis of the Christian religion.

This is particularly evident on the part of Dr. Fosdick, whose pen and tongue are doing so much to commend it to the present generation. His recent letter to the Presbytery of New York makes clear that his refusal to subscribe to the Westminster Confession is due not to the fact that he regards this creed as false as compared with other existing creeds, but rather to the fact that in the nature of the case, no creed can be true in any strict sense of the word. All creeds, all expressions of belief, according to Dr. Fosdick, are but the transient phrasing of what men have experienced within their own souls, with their fellows, or with God. That this holds good, in his estimation, of the doctrinal statements of the Scriptures as truly as it does of the Westminster Confession, is made perfectly clear in his recent book, The Modern Use of the Bible, which is being so widely and persistently advertised at the present time. Apart from the fact that Dr. Fosdick believes that the reduced Jesus left [to] us after literary and historical criticism has done its work was a real, historical person, there is virtually no recognition whatever of the factual basis of Christianity in this book. Everywhere it is maintained that the essential value of the Bible lies in its “reproducible experiences,” not in the historical facts or happenings it records. Dr. Fosdick has the Bible in mind as well as the creeds when he writes : “Christianity is a way of life, incarnate in Christ, that has expressed itself in many formulas, and will yet express itself in many more, and the world will ultimately choose that church which produces the life, whatever the formulas may be in which she carries it” (page 205). When it is considered that a few paragraphs preceding this he says, with the emphasis of italics, of the differences between Lutheranism, Calvinism, Episcopalianism, Methodism, Congregationalism, Unitarianism— defined as an “intellectual” revolt against an incredible metaphysic”—that “nothing matters in all this except the things that lead men into more abundant life” (page 201), it is evident that facts in the sense of events that have happened do not enter into his conception of Christianity at all in any vital way.

That Dr. Fosdick speaks as a liberal rather than a Baptist is obvious. If proof of this were needed—though of course, it is not—it could  be found in the also recent book, Christianity at the Cross Roads, by that truly representative Baptist, President E.Y. Mullins, of Louisville. As President Mullins truly maintains, the present controversy is ultimately a controversy about facts. At the basis of the present attack on evangelical Christianity is an unwarranted denial of the Christian facts. Over against those for whom Dr. Fosdick speaks, President Mullins affirms that Christianity “is primarily a religion of facts. The facts of experience and life confirm the facts of history. If these are unstable, the whole structure is unstable. Doctrinal systems of various kinds have arisen as interpretations of the facts. These, of course, cannot all be equally true. But the facts on which these systems attempt to build contain the vital issue for modern controversy” (page 176). When President Mullins so speaks, he speaks for evangelical Christians everywhere. The religion we profess is a religion with a factual basis. A mighty series of facts that find their culmination in the incarnation, atonement and heavenly priesthood of Christ supplies the foundation of the Christian religion. They are not to be regarded as a terminus in themselves ; and yet, apart from them, there would not be, and could not be, such a thing as Christianity. It cannot be said too strongly or too often that Christianity is grounded in facts, that it is what it is because certain things actually happened in the past. Whoever  rejects these facts or denies their eternal value and significance is, whether or not he realizes it, an enemy of the Christian religion.

To perceive the place that facts in this sense occupy in the Christian religion is to perceive that the chief value of the Bible lies in the fact that it records these happenings. It is to perceive that the question of the historical truthfulness of the Bible is a question of the first importance for Christianity. Compared with these facts, the moral and spiritual lessons the Bible teaches, the ideals it inculcates, and the religious experiences it relates are matters of secondary importance.

It is to perceive also that a non-miraculous Christianity is just no Christianity at all. We can eliminate the miraculous only as we eliminate the facts that lie at the basis of the Christian religion. Our choice, therefore, is not between a miraculous and a non-miraculous Christianity, but between a miraculous Christianity and no Christianity at all.

Again, it is to perceive that doctrines enter into the very substance of Christianity. A religion based on facts is necessarily a doctrinal religion, inasmuch as its facts have meaning only as they are interpreted. We may go further and say that the existence of a doctrinal authority is essential to a religion based on facts. How can we be assured that we rightly understand the meaning of these great facts unless we possess an authoritative interpretation of those facts? No one values the Bible aright unless he realizes that it contains not only a record of the great facts, apart from which there could be no such religion as the Christian religion, but an authoritative interpretation of those facts. Give the facts no interpretation other than that of the New Testament, and they will give us something other than Christianity. There is but one Christian interpretation of these facts, and that was given by Christ and His apostles.

Yet again to perceive the factual basis of Christianity is to perceive the sense in which it is a redemptive religion. It is to perceive that it is a redemptive religion, not in the vague sense characteristic of other religions, but in the particular sense that it offers salvation from sin, conceived as guilt and power and pollution, through the expiatory death of Jesus Christ. Christianity comes to us telling us, first of all, not what we must do to save ourselves, but what Christ has done to save us. At the heart of the Christian religion is the conviction that Christ bore our sins in His own body on the tree. Apart from this fact, there is no redemption in the Christian sense of the word.

Other considerations might be mentioned, but these are sufficient to indicate the extent and degree to which facts are constitutive of the Christian religion; and thus to make clear that no system of thought and life that ignores or denies these facts is rightly called Christianity.

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