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The Early History of Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church, Sparta, IL

wylieSamuelThe history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Randolph County, Illinois, goes back to the year 1818.  To the Rev. Samuel Wylie belongs the credit of the planting of the church.  He was born in County Antrim, Ireland, February 19, 1790; came to the United States in 1807; entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated in the class of 1811; prepared for the ministry in the Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, under the care of his uncle, Dr. Samuel Brown Wylie, and was licensed to preach in May, 1815, at Philadelphia, by the Middle Presbytery.

In the summer of 1817 he visited various places in the West, passing through Illinois and continuing his travels as far as Boonville, Missouri.  One his return he again passed through Illinois and spent the winter in supplying the vacancies in Tennessee and South Carolina.

At the meeting of the Synod in Pittsburgh in the latter part of May, 1818, he reported his travels and the prospect for church extension in the West.  Synod ordered the Middle Presbytery to take him on trial for ordination, and he was accordingly ordained in Pittsburgh, PA, on the 2nd of June, 1818, and sent as a missionary to Southern Illinois.  Mr. Wylie reached Kaskaskia the last day of July following and immediately entered upon his work.

The field of operation at first was Randolph county, though it afterward embraced parts of Perry, Washington and St. Clair.  A number of families belonging to the Associate Reformed church in South Carolina had moved into the county early in the [1800’s], and made a settlement near the present town of Preston.  They had been organized into a congregation by Rev. S. Brown, of Kentucky, a number of years before Mr. Wylie’s arrival, and being without preaching from their own ministers, by request, Mr. Wylie made his principal preaching place with them.  Members of the Reformed Presbyterian church began to come in.  James M. Gray was the first to arrive.  He came in October, and was followed immediately by his father-in-law, James Wilson, and family.  They came from near Vincennes, Indiana, where they had lived a number of years after leaving South Carolina.  They first settled near Kaskaskia, but finally located about three miles south of Sparta.

John McDill, Sr., and Hugh McKelvey, from South Carolina, came out in the summer of 1818, and bought land in Township 4—5.  One their way home they stopped in Tennessee with William Edgar, Samuel Nisbet and Samuel Little, who had removed from South Carolina a number of years before, and informed them of the mission begun in Illinois.  They immediately set out for Kaskaskia and purchased land, and Messrs. Edgar and Little moved out in the spring of 1819.  Mr. Nisbet, however, was detained and did not arrive until September.

Mr. McDill did not move out until November, 1819, though his son, John, came in the spring of that year, and began to improve his father’s place.  Mr. McKelvey did not come until 1820.  Mrs. Elizabeth Ritchie came in 1818; John McMillan and family, from Princeton, Indiana, arrived about the close of 1818 or the beginning of 1819, and settled on Plum Creek, near the present town of Houston.  David Cathcart and his son-in-law, William Campbell, from South Carolina, came in the spring of 1819, and settled in the lower end of Grand Cote Prairie.  Alexander Alexander arrived in the spring of 1819, and bought land near the old grave-yard, and after improving his place, returned to South Carolina and brought out his family in the latter part of 1819.  His father-in-law, John McDill, Sr., James Munford and John Dickey, with their families came at the same time.  John McMillan, of the Associate church, also came with them and settled between Eden and Sparta, and Munford and Dickey settled northeast of Eden.  James Strahan, from western Pennsylvania, came in the spring of 1819, and settled first down toward Kaskaskia, but finally in the west end of Grand Cote.

Mr. Wylie continued to preach in Kaskaskia and in the Irish settlement and among the Covenanters, until the arrival of William Edgar and Samuel Little, when the first session was constituted, May 24, 1819, at James McClurken’s, about six miles southwest of Sparta.  William Edgar had been ordained to the eldership in the Rocky Creek congregation, South Carolina, in 1801, and Samuel Little in Hephzibah congregation, Tennessee, at its organization in the spring of 1815.

This may be reckoned the formal organization of Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church.  It is thought by some that the first communion was held at that time.

A call was made soon after for Rev. J. Wylie and forwarded to Synod to meet in Conococheague on August, 1819.  The call itself bears not date, but the letter accompanying it bears date June 7, 1819, and is signed on behalf of the meeting by James Wilson and Samuel Little.

The letter urges the acceptance of the call strongly and skillfully.  Synod referred the call to the Western Presbytery, and at a meeting of that court held in Hartford, Indiana, October 11, 1819, it was presented and accepted, and the Rev. John Kell appointed to install Mr. Wylie as pastor.  For some reason the installation did not take place.

Presbytery met in Bethel congregation in the spring of 1820.  The question of Mr. Wylie’s settlement was again brought up, but it was deemed best to wait another year.  At this time a communion was held at Samuel Little’s, and James Munford and James McClurken were added to the session; the former had been an elder in South Carolina; the latter was formerly a member of the Associate Reformed church, and having joined the Covenanters in 18109, was chosen and ordained to the fellowship at this time.

A second call was made out for Mr. Wylie, May 22, 1821.  It was signed by thirty-five members, who subscribed $208 for his support.  The names on the call show the financial but not the numerical strength of the congregation.  It is probably that the number of the membership at this time was about seventy.  The call was presented to Presbytery on the 24th of May, and at length accepted, Mr. Wylie agreeing to give the congregation half his time, leaving the other half to be employed in mission work.  He was installed pastor on the 28th of May, 1821, over the congregation which he had gathered in the field where he had labored nearly three years as a missionary.

At the division of the Church in August, 1833, he became identified with the New School branch of the Covenanter Church, and many of his former flock remained with him, over whom he exercised pastoral charge until his resignation, on account of the infirmities of age, February 20, 1870. He died at his home in Sparta, Illinois, March 20, 1872. He married twice. First to Miss Margaret Millikin, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; second, to Mrs. Margaret (Black) Ewing, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was a faithful soldier of the Cross, and did much service for his Master in establishing His kingdom upon earth. He was a very acceptable preacher, and, in early times, large audiences of people waited upon his ministrations. He was not a bitter partisan, but always recognized the step which the body had taken with which he was connected. He was a fearless advocate for the cause of the slave, and enlisted the powers of his voice and pen in their emancipation. He served his Church in many important relations, and was recognized as a man of influence, and an able divine.  He published a “History of the Reformed Presbyterian Churches in Southern Illinois,” in the Presbyterian Historical Almanac, 1859. He was honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Washington and Jefferson College in 1868. Rev. Wylie served as Moderator of the 14th Synod in 1830, and later as Moderator of the General Synod in 1850.

Words to Live By:
Reading such accounts, one is struck by the level of hardship and willing sacrifice routinely exhibited by dear saints of a century or two ago. Where is our sacrifice today? What hardships are we willing to bear for the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ? I’m not suggesting that we impose some artificial hardship upon ourselves. That would be a form of asceticism. But I am suggesting that we discipline ourselves to be alert to the needs around us. Learn the discipline of looking to serve others, to be sacrificial of our time, and if needed, of our physical resources as well. But the greatest need is often met by simply being willing to give of ourselves.

When God’s Children Come to See Me

Walter Macon Lowrie was born on February 18, 1819, and came to saving faith in Christ while in college, in 1834. Like Lyman Atwater of yesterday’s post, Walter soon determined to enter the ministry. He attended Princeton Seminary in preparation, and during those years resolved to become a missionary. The continent of Africa was particularly upon his heart, but following his ordination, the Board of Foreign Missions determined the need was greatest in China. Lowrie set sail in January of 1842.  By August of 1847, he was dead, murdered by pirates.

God is sovereign, and even when death seems senseless. it is only because we lack the Lord’s wisdom and knowledge. Especially in such cases is it wrong to try to attach a reason; we can only trust in God’s goodness.

A few years after Walter died, his father assembled his son’s letters and writings and published a Memoir. Reading some of that Memoir in preparation for this post, the following letter gave a good insight into the character of Walter’s Christian faith. Note too how the Lord used a godly woman, insignificant in the eyes of the world, in confirming and resolving Lowrie’s interest in missions :

Letters While At College

Jefferson College, September 14th.

My dear father–

Yesterday was our communion here; and though it was so near to the end of the session, that we could not have much time for preparation, and no fast day was appointed, yet it was about as profitable a day as I ever spent. True, at the table, and whilst partaking of the elements, I was not happy; nay, before I rose from the table, I was almost as miserable as I ever was. Yet it was profitable. A temptation came across my mind to this effect: “I am not now enjoying communion with Jesus Christ; and therefore I am not a Christian. I may as well now give up all pretensions to religion, and quit acting the hypocrite any longer.” And although not willingly, I felt as if I ought to do so; but the thought rushed into my mind, “If I am so miserable under the hidings of God’s face only, how shall I bear His eternal wrath?” It was the first time I had ever been influenced more by fear than by other motives. I was miserable, however. But see the goodness of God and of Jesus Christ. After church, I was thinking of my conduct during the session, and meditating on the two verses, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God;” and all my anxious cares vanished. I had been impressed deeply with a sense of my sinfulness, and was wishing to make some resolutions; hereafter to live more to the glory of God, but felt almost afraid to do it. I knew I should fall away; and I felt that it would but aggravate my guilt, were I to sin against such renewed obligation. But the sentence, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” calmed my heart. I felt that it was my duty to follow present duty, and leave the future to God, without any anxious cares; and I was enabled to do so, and roll all my cares upon the Lord. Oh, the peace I at that moment possessed! I could scarce refrain from laughing, I was so joyful.

I determined then to live every day as if it were to be the last I should have to live, and to do my duty accordingly;—in reality, “to live by the day.” At secret prayer I was more full of God’s presence, and comprehended more of that view of Christ’s character, which is so great, grand, and incomprehensible, that I could scarcely proceed for joy, and from my own experience during the day, I could tell something of the difference between God’s presence and his absence. Today, I cannot say I feel, or have felt, as I could wish—not so much life and animation; but I have been enabled to mourn for it. During the sermon (Mark xvi. 15), I was enabled to see more of the greatness of the Christian religion than I ever did before, and to feel, too, that man could not be the author of such grand ideas as I saw there held out.

This evening I was walking out into the country for exercise and on my return I passed the cottage of a negro woman, commonly called “Old Katy.” She was out in the road, when I passed her. I shook hands with her, and spoke a few words to her. Before we had spoken three sentences, she was was talking about religion. She is a most eminent Christian, and we stood about ten or fifteen minutes there talking. She soon got to speaking about the missionary cause. Her heart was in the matter, and she said, “I am very poor, but as long as I live I will be something to it. I have often given a little to it, and I never laid out any money better. I could not do it. I never lost a cent by it.”

I wish I could give you some idea of the emphasis she used, but pen and ink cannot express her manner and the feeling she manifested. She very cordially asked me to call in and see her; “for it is food to me when any of God’s children come to see me; it is food.” She went on thus for some time, talking about various matters, but all of them religious. Oh! how little I felt when I heard her talk thus, and compared my attainments in the Christian course with hers.

Words to Live By:
Give yourselves wholly to the Lord, in all you say and do. See the Lord as your only gain in this life. See Him as your All in all. You will not regret it. You will not suffer true loss, but will only gain true eternal riches.

For Further Study:
Memoirs of the Rev. Walter M. Lowrie, Missionary to China.

THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST
by Rev. William Smith, of Glasgow (1836).

Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 7

Q.7. What are the decrees of God?

  1. The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.

EXPLICATION.

Eternal purpose.—A design or intention, existing in the Divine Mind from eternity, or before the commencement of time.

Council.—Advice or direction.

Foreordaine whatsoever comes to pass.—Appointed to accomplish, or to bring about whatever is good, and to permit what is evil.

ANALYSIS.

In this answer there are six points of doctrine taught:

  1. That there are decrees of God.—Psal. ii. 7. I will declare the decree.
  2. That these decrees and God’s eternal purpose are the same.—Eph iii. 11. According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  3. That the decrees of God are according to counsel or advice.— Ps. xxxiii. 11. The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever.
  4. That the counsel or advice which God follows is that of his own will.— Eph. i. 5. Having predestined us—according to the good pleasure of his own will.
  5. That God, by his decrees, hath foreordained whatsoever came to pass, or whatever happens in the world.—Eph. i. 11. Who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.
  6. That God has done all this for his own glory.—Prov. xvi. 4. The Lord hath made all things for himself.

Our post today is drawn from a brief article by the esteemed church history professor, Dr. David Calhoun. The article is titled “The Pastoral Heart of Old Princeton.” On this day, the anniversary of the death of Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield, February 16, 1921, we would draw your attention to this particular portion of that article by Dr. Calhoun, notably the final paragraph of this excerpt:—

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield graduated from Princeton Seminary in May 1876. The previous summer he had supplied the Presbyterian church in Concord, Kentucky, and after graduation served for several months as stated supply at the First Presbyterian Church of Dayton, Ohio. He was assistant pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Baltimore from November 1877 to March 1878.  Eagerly sought by Western Theological Seminary, he accepted the invitation to teach New Testament.  After nine years at Western, he came to Princeton.

Warfield became one of America’s greatest scholars but remained an earnest “pastor” of the seminary students.  In his classroom he constantly drew the connection between solid theology, godly living, and faithful service.  For example, he showed the students that the statements of the Westminster divines were not speculative theology, but “the pulsations of great hearts heaving in emotion.”  Like all the creeds, these were given to the church “not by philosophers but by the shepherds of the flocks, who loved the sheep.”  These “shepherds” not only “[knew] what God is; they [knew] God, and they make their readers know Him.”

Southern Presbyterian William Childs Robinson was present for Dr. Warfield’s last lecture on February 16, 1921.  Twenty-eight years later Robinson described the scene.  Because of his physical weakness, Dr. Warfield asked to be excused from his usual custom of standing to lead the opening prayer.  He then “plunged into a glowing exposition of the third chapter of 1 John.  The discourse quickly gathered about the sixteenth verse as a center: ‘Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.’  All the eloquence of Dr. Warfield’s Christian heart,” stated Robinson, “all the wisdom of his ripened scholarship, focused on the interpretation of that text.”  “The laying down of His life in our stead was a great thing,” said Warfield, “but the wonder of the text is that He, being all that He was, the Lord of glory, laid down His life for us, being what we are, mere creatures of His hand, guilty sinners deserving His wrath.”  The more fully we realize his glory and his gift and our sinfulness, Dr. Warfield continued, the deeper becomes “our wonder at His grace and our wish to glorify His name.”

Words to Live By:
Let us repeat that thought yet again for your reflection. Carry it with you today as your prepare your hearts for times of worship this Lord’s Day:

“The laying down of His life in our stead was a great thing,” said Warfield, “but the wonder of the text is that He, being all that He was, the Lord of glory, laid down His life for us, being what we are, mere creatures of His hand, guilty sinners deserving His wrath.”  The more fully we realize his glory and his gift and our sinfulness, Dr. Warfield continued, the deeper becomes “our wonder at His grace and our wish to glorify His name.”


ADDENDUM—FURTHER STUDY: How and When did Warfield Die?

Today, having read our post for this day, my good friend R. Andrew Myers wrote:

I was wondering if you have any thoughts on the discrepancy between two historians on the circumstances of Warfield’s death:

“On December 24, 1920, Warfield collapsed of a heart attack. On February 16, 1921, he suffered another heart attack and died that evening. James T. Dennison Jr. and Fred Zaspel both state that Warfield collapsed in the Vos’s front yard. They differ on the date. Zaspel believes that Warfield collapsed in Vos’s yard of a heart attack on Christmas Eve. Dennison believes that it was on February 16. Dennison writes:

Jerry and Bernardus Vos reported to friends and relatives that Warfield collapsed from a heart attack in the Vos’s front yard at 52 Mercer Street on his way home from class on February 16, 1921. Warfield died that evening at his home. See New York Times, February 18, 1921, p. 11, for a brief obituary notice.[60]

Zaspel writes, “On December 24, 1920, Warfield was walking along the sidewalk to the Vos home, just a few hundred yards across campus from his own home, when suddenly he grasped his chest and collapsed.”[61] Both Dennison and Zaspel agree, however, with Machen’s words to his mother. Machen wrote that when they carried Warfield out at his funeral, Old Princeton went with him.

[Andrew stated that he is quoting from this source: https://opc.org/os.html?article_id=662&issue_id=130]

And on receiving his question, I then searched and found the following comparisons. Hopefully this will, cumulatively, provide some addition insights. In summary, I would have to conclude that Dr. Warfield suffered a first heart attack on Dec. 24th, and that this was the one that Johannes Vos remembered. Sproul erroneously understood that to have been the fatal heart attack. Whether Johannes Vos implied or stated as much is another question. But it was the later heart attack, on the evening of February 16th, that took Warfield’s life.

SOURCE COMPARISONS:

Olinger, Danny, Geerhardus Vos: Reformed Biblical Theologian, Confessional Presbyterian. Reformed Forum, 2018, page 230:

On December 24, 1920, Warfield collapsed of a heart attack. On February 16, 1921, he suffered another heart attack and died that evening. James T. Dennison, Jr. and Fred Zaspel both state that Warfield collapsed in the Vos’s front yard. They differ on the date. Zaspel believes that Warfield collapsed in Vos’s yard of a heart attack on Christmas Eve. Dennison believes that it was on February 16. Dennison writes:
Jerry and Bernardus Vos reported to friends and relatives that Warfield collapsed from a heart attack in the Vos’s front yard at 52 Mercer Street on his way home from class on February 16, Warfield died that evening at his home. See New York Times, February 18, 1921, p. 11 for a brief obituary notice.[60]
Zaspel writes, “On December 24, 1920, Warfield was walking along the sidewalk to the Vos home, just a few hundred yards across campus from his own home, when suddenly he grasped his chest and collapsed.” [61] Both Dennison and Zaspel agree, however, with Machen’s words to his mother. Machen wrote that when they carried Warfield out at his funeral, Old Princeton went with him.
[60] James T. Dennison, Jr., “The Life of Geerhardus Vos,” in Letters of Geerhardus Vos, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2005), 49.
[61] Fred Zaspel, Theology of B.B. Warfield (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 35. Zaspel draws from the account of Warfield’s death reported in the Princeton Theological Review 19, no. 2 (1921): 330, in which it was reported, “Dr. Warfield was taken suddenly ill on Christmas Eve. His conditions were serious for a time, but it improved very greatly and on the 16th of February he felt able to resume his teaching in part and met one of his classes in the afternoon. He apparently suffered no immediate ill effects from the exertion but died that evening at about 10 o’clock of an acute attack of angina pectoris.

Dennison, James T., “The Life of Geerhardus Vos,” in Letters of Geerhardus Vos, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2005), 49.

Vos was an inveterate walker. His daughter recalls him walking “arm in arm” with B.B. Warfield. [143] This last portrait—Vos and Warfield walking arm in arm about the Princeton quadrant—is a symbolic tribute to the harmony of the theological disciplines: the great Princeton systematic theologian and the great Princeton biblical theologian in perfect, brotherly harmony and affection. Such a portrait evades the polarizers and agenda-manufacturers of the present day. For Vos and Warfield, biblical theology and systematic theology were simpatico. [144]
[143] Cf. also Calhoun, Princeton Seminary, 2:210. Calhoun’s volume contains a photograph of the seminary campus with a key labeling the Vos home and others (plates between pp. 298 and 299 of volume 2). “[Dr. Warfield] and my father both like to take walks along the stretch of Mercer Street in fron of the Seminary campus” (Bernardus Vos to Roger Nicole, July 3, 1967).
[144] Jerry and Bernardus Vos reported to friends and relatives that Warfield collapsed from a heart attack in the Vos’s front yard at 52 Mercer Street on his way home from class on February 16, 1921. Warfield died that evening at his home. See New York Times, February 18, 1921, p. 11, for a brief obituary notice. J. Gresham Machen wrote his mother an account of Warfield’s last day; see Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, 309-10.

Stonehouse, Ned B., J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954, p. 309-310.

THE DEATH OF WARFIELD

In the midst of elation over the victory in his presbytery [i.e, JGM vs. New Brunswick Pby] there came a crushing blow in the passing of Dr. B.B. Warfield on Feb. 16, 1921. The following day Machen recorded his profound sorrow:

My dearest Mother:
I am writing to tell you of the great loss which we have just sustained in the death of Dr. Warfield. Princeton will seem to be a very insipid place without him. He was a really great man. There is no one living in the Church capable of occupying one quarter of his place. To me, he was an incalculable help and support in a hundred different ways. This is a sorrowful day for us all.
Dr. Warfield had been in poor health since Christmas, having suffered from shortness of breath ever since his attack. But yesterday he took one of his classes for the first time since his illness. He seemed to suffer no ill effects. But at eleven o’clock at night—after about twenty minutes of acute distress—he died.

The Princeton Theological Review, XIX, no. 2 (April 1921): 330:
“Dr. Warfield was taken suddenly ill on Christmas Eve. His condition was serious for a time; but it improved very greatly and on the 16th of February he felt able to resume his teaching in part and met one of his classes in the afternoon. He apparently suffered no immediate ill effects from the exertion but died that evening at about 10 o’clock of an attack of angina pectoris. Until the Christmas vacation, Dr. Warfield has been actively at work and had met all his classes as usual.”

Fred Zaspel, The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 35:
One of Warfield’s closest friends was Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949), whom Warfield had helped bring to Princeton for the new chair of biblical theology. It was their regular practice for many years to walk together for refreshment and fellowship. On December 24, 1920, Warfield was walking along the sidewalk to the Vos home, just a few hundred yards across campus from his own home, when suddenly he grasped his chest and collapsed. [14] Warfield spent the next few weeks recovering until Wednesday, February 16, 1921, when he was finally ready to resume teaching. At the close of the class he returned home where that evening a heart attack took him, this time fatally. . . Warfield’s younger colleague J. Gresham Machen lamented in a letter to his mother after Warfield’s funeral that as they carried him out, Old Princeton went with him and that he was certain there was not a man in the etire church who could fill one quarter of his place.” [15]

[14] This personal report came from the elderly Johannes Vos, son of Geerhardus Vos, in private conversation with R.C. Sproul, as Sproul reports in Tabletalk, April 2005, 4. Sproul has some details wrong, however, when he reports this event as occurring in 1921 and as the event that took Warfield in death. The heart attack Vos describes would have been December 24, 1920.[15] Stonehouse, Ned B., J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, 309.

R.C. Sproul, Tabletalk (April 2005): 4.

Twenty-five years ago I gave an address at a college in western Pennsylvania. After the service was completed, an elderly gentleman and his wife approached me and introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Johannes Vos. I was surprised to learn that Dr. Vos was the son of the celebrated biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos, who had written a classical work on redemptive history entitled Biblical Theology, which is still widely read in seminaries. During the course of my conversation with them, Dr. Vos related to me an experience he had as a young boy living in Princeton, New Jersey, where his father was teaching on the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary. This was in the decade of the 1920’s, a time in which Princeton Theological Seminary was still in its heyday; it was the time we now refer to as “Old Princeton.” Dr. Vos told me of an experience he had in the cold winter of 1921. He saw a man walking down the sidewalk, bundled in a heavy overcoat, wearing a fedora on his head, and around his neck was a heavy scarf. Suddenly, to this young boy’s horror and amazement, as the man walked past his home, he stopped, grasped his chest, slumped, and fell to the sidewalk. Young Johannes Vos stared at this man for a moment, then ran to call to his mother. He watched as the ambulance came and carried the man away. The man who had fallen had suffered a major heart attack, which indeed proved to be fatal. His name was Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.
I was thunderstruck by this narrative that was told to me by the now elderly Johannes Vos. I felt like I was somehow linked to history by being able to hear a firsthand account through somebody telling me of the last moments of the legendary B.B. Warfield’s life. At the time of his death, Warfield had been on the faculty of Princeton and had distinguished himself as its most brilliant theologian during his tenure.

New York Times, February 18, 1921, page 11.

B. B. WARFIELD DEAD.

Professor of Theology at Princeton Had Published Many Books.
Special to The New York Times.
PRINCETON. N. J; Feb. 17.— Dr. Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, professor of theology at the Princeton Theological Seminary, died suddenly at his home last night.
Dr. Warfield was born at Lexington, Ky., in 1881, was graduated from Princeton in 1876 and studied for the ministry at the Princeton Theological Seminary. He was professor of didactics and polemics here, holding the chair of theology for thirty-four years. His writings are well known in this country and abroad and he was the recipient of many honorary degrees from American and European universities. He was editor of The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, a quarterly, from 1860 to 1902, and had published many books and sermons. His most recent publications were “The Plan of Salvation” and “Faith and Life.”

William Childs Robinson’s Reports on the Southern & Northern Presbyterian Churches 

Among the Papers of William A. McIlwaine there is a letter preserved in which his father, William B. McIlwaine, wrote to J. Gresham Machen, lamenting the spiritual decline of the Southern Presbyterian Church. Perhaps I will post a transcription of that letter here soon. But I mention that letter by way of introducing the following two reports issued by Dr. William Childs Robinson and published in volume 5 of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, reports which mirror McIlwaine’s letter of concern.

Robinson was one of the shining academic lights in the Southern Church and a committed evangelical, Reformed Christian. His first article for CHRISTIANITY TODAY appeared in the July 1930 issue and he also served as a correspondent for the magazine, writing reports on conditions and events within the Presbyterian Church, U.S. [aka, Southern Presbyterian Church]. Following are two of his reports, reflecting on then current events in the Southern Presbyterian Church, while in the second report he turns his attention to the Northern Presbyterians, the IBPFM trials and the Church’s continual struggle against spiritual decline. As William Iverson is fond of saying, “God has no grand-children.” — which is to say, the urgent work of evangelism must be done afresh in every generation.

Shall We Keep the Faith?
By the Rev. Prof. Wm. Childs Robinson, Th.D., Columbia Theological Seminary
[Christianity Today 5.1 (May 1934): 26]

According to news items appearing in the religious press the Rev. Donald H. Stewart who was twice refused admission to West Hanover Presbytery on account of his modernism is undertaking the pastorate of the University Church at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This item raises several questions. Has Mr. Stewart changed the views he so emphatically re-affirmed before West Hanover Presbytery? Did the Presbytery which dismissed him satisfy itself as to his doctrinal soundness; that is, did it observe the requirement of the Constitution of the Church and examine into his reported unsoundness as required in paragraph 183 of the Book of Church Order? Did the Presbytery which received him for the North Carolina work satisfy itself as to his doctrinal fitness to renew the ordination and installation vows? The reports of the former examination indicated that Mr. Stewart accepted religious experience as his rule of faith rather than the Scriptures as set forth in the first ordination vow.

While the pamphlet issued and now being circulated by Dr. Wm. M. McPheeters was called forth by the actions of Arkansas Presbytery, it is a message which other presbyteries need to hear and heed. It is not too much to say that every presbytery and every presbyter ought to reconsider the solemn truth of the ordination vows before men and especially before the God of truth. Now as ever an honest man is the noblest work of God. The Book still pronounces its blessing upon the man that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not; and still excludes those who make and love the contrary. Rev. 22:15.

Standing in the shadow of eternity the eighty-year-old Southern Prophet, Dr. Wm. M. McPheeters, has issued a clarion call for a more faithful observance of the third and the ninth commandments–for truth and the keeping of vows made to the Holy God. Will the Church of today hear this word and gird herself to keep the faith before man and before God; or will she stone another prophet and leave it to the generations to come to build him a monument?

The Northern Presbyterian Situation in the Light of Presbyterian History
by the Rev. Prof. Wm. Childs Robinson
[Christianity Today 3.10 (February 1935): 249-250.]

The writer is not in any way a supporter of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, his loyalties in this matter being to the Presbyterian Committee of Foreign Missions located in Nashville, Tenn. Nevertheless, the prosecution of the members of the Independent Board furnishes interesting food for thought and comparison to the student of Presbyterian history. The official Northern Presbyterian Board in whose interest this prosecution (or persecution) is proceeding was itself organized as an independent Presbyterian board. The General Assembly of 1831 took no action upon the eloquent plea of Dr. John Holt Rice, of Union Seminary (Va.), asking that the Presbyterian Church be recognized as a missionary society. Therefore a group of Presbyterians acting independently of the Assembly organized the Western Foreign Missionary Society with headquarters in Pittsburgh. For five years thereafter, the General Assembly continued to support the interdenominational ABCFM.

The General Assembly, U.S.A. of 1925, in a judicial case, found Mr. H.P. Van Dusen, now Professor Van Dusen of Union Seminary (N.Y.), guilty of holding views in diametric contradiction to the first ordination vow, namely, of refusing to accept the Virgin Birth. No ecclesiastical censure has ever been visited upon Dr. Van Dusen for this offense against the doctrine of Scripture as interpreted by the Westminster standards.

The General Assembly of 1934, without judicial procedure, declared the officers of the Independent Presbyterian Board guilty of violating the fourth ordination vow. and on December the 20th, the same day as that on which the neo-pagans removed Karl Barth from his chair in Bonn, the Presbytery of New Brunswick indicted Dr. J. Gresham Machen for holding office in the Independent Board of Foreign Missions. It is a foregone conclusion that the commission of that Presbytery will declare the Westminster professor worthy of an ecclesiastical censure. The constitution defines an offense as “anything, in the doctrine, principles, or practice of a Church member, officer or judicatory, which is contrary to the Word of God or to those expositions of its teachings as to faith and practice which are contained in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.” It declares further that God alone is Lord of the conscience and has left it free from the commandments of men that are in anything contrary to or in addition to His Word. No evidence has been produced to show that Dr. Machen has been guilty of such an offense.

One is reminded of a debate in the Presbytery of Carlisle on the question of the General Council. The pastor of the largest church in that Presbytery urged the adoption of the plan of a General Council in order that the Presbyterian Church might have a head. Others opposed the General Council on the ground that the Presbyterian Church already had a head, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ, and that the introduction of a second head, the General Council, would result in a hydra-headed anomaly rather than a true body. It looks like many people in the Presbyterian body are listening to the commandments of men emanating from that body which Dr. C.______ wished to see set up as “the head” of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

In the eighteenth century Dr. John Witherspoon waged a vigorous fight in the Church of Scotland against liberalism in doctrine accompanied by autocracy in administration. In the nineteenth century Dr. Abraham Kuyper faced the same combination in Holland, liberalism in doctrine, autocracy in Church government. The historian of the future will write the same verdict over the current events in the Northern Presbyterian Church, unless the only true Head of the Church by the power of His Holy Spirit turn this great Church away from the heresies of the Auburn Affirmation to a Christian manifesto of faith in the miracles of the Bible and of the Apostles’ Creed.

“The gospel, or the scheme of Christ’s mediation, which is the substance of the gospel, is admirably fitted TO PROMOTE THE DIVINE GLORY ; or to make an illustrious exhibition of God’s moral perfections. It accomplishes this object better than it could have been accomplished, by an unconditional and absolute pardon, which should have been merely an act of God’s sovereignty.”

 

On this February 14th, what better subject to occupy our minds than our Father’s love for His people, as so powerfully expressed in His sending His Son to tabernacle among us, living a perfect, sinless life and then to die upon the cross in payment of our sins! Last week we spoke of funeral sermons as an overlooked yet useful literature. Another useful literature rarely utilized would be the class of sermons preached at the ordination of some new pastor. Our example today comes from the ministry of the Rev. William Buell Sprague, and in this sermon, delivered at the ordination of the Rev. John P. Cleaveland (a pastor I’m fairly sure none of us have ever heard of!), Rev. Sprague delivers a powerful message from the text of 1st Corinthians 2:7. There is much to think about in this sermon, and I’m pleased to find that our friends over at Log College Press have a scanned copy of the full sermon available at their web site—click here to view the full text. Our text reproduced below comes from the first few pages of the published sermon.

The Gospel the Wisdom of God. A Sermon preached at Salem, February 14, 1827, at the ordination of the Rev. John P. Cleaveland, as Pastor of the Tabernacle Church, by William B. Sprague, pastor of the First Church in West Springfield. Salem: Published by Whipple and Lawrence, 1827.

1 Corinthians 2:7
But we speak the wisdom of God.

There is, perhaps, no feature of the gospel, at which the pride of man is more inclined to revolt, than its perfect simplicity. With all its grandeur of design, and all its extent of provision it claims, as its basis, the single fact, that Jesus Christ died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Now, there is in the unsanctified heart a spirit of lofty aspiring, which desires to be treated with, even in the affair of salvation, in a more honorable manner ; just as a certain leper, in ancient times, preferred some splendid remedy to the simple process of washing in Jordan. When Christianity first announced its claims to the world, this spirit was distinctly visible in the opposition which it had to encounter from the prevailing systems of heathen philosophy. The Apostle, in endeavoring to correct some errors into which-the Corinthian church had fallen, from the fondness which some of their teachers had for the refinements of reasoning and eloquence, places !hose in striking contrast to the simple doctrine of the cross; and in our text, he dignifies
the latter with the sublime appellation of the wisdom of God.

By wisdom, in its most general acceptation, we understand knowledge accompanied with a disposition to make a right use of it, As an attribute of the divine nature, it is omniscience directed by infinite benevolence.

When the Apostle, in our text, styles the gospel the wisdom of God, I hardly need say that he does no lean to intimate that this is the only instance in which this attribute has ever been displayed ; for Wisdom lifteth up her voice in every part of the creation. From the seraph that burns before the throne, through all the grades of animated nature, down to the insect that glitters for an hour; from the immense globe which we occupy, through all the combinations of matter, down to the mote which is visible only to a microscopic eye, there is nothing—however vast—however minute, on which the Creator has not  left the traces of his wisdom. The meaning of the Apostle, then, obviously, is, that the gospel is the brightest, exhibition of divine wisdom ; that it gives us a higher view of the only wise God than any thing, either in the natural or moral world, which has ever been made known to us.

With this explanation of the passage, I shall endeavor to illustrate and establish the proposition, that THE GOSPEL IS THE WISDOM OF GOD : and I shall pursue this design by showing, First, that the gospel accomplishes the noblest purposes by the best means; and Secondly, that it accomplishes many, and apparently opposite purposes, by simple, and apparently improbable means.

I. The gospel accomplishes the noblest purposes by the best means.

The grand purposes to which I refer, are the glory of God, and the happiness of the intelligent creation. The means employed for their accomplishment, is, in general, the mediation of the Son of God; comprehending all that he is, and all that he does, in his prophetical, priestly and regal offices: Or, that our view of it may be still more simple, we may consider the glory and efficacy of the whole scheme, as centered in his atoning sacrifice.

When I assert that this was the best means which could be employed, I would speak with a degree of reverence becoming so exalted a subject. To say, as some have said, that the scheme of redemption which the gospel reveals, was the only possible one, seems to me to be limiting the Holy One; and yet the fact that this has been adopted, proves that it was the best—certainly that there was none better, within the range of infinite intelligence. But although we are unable to trace this scheme in all its connexions, there is manifest, even to our limited apprehension, a wonderful adaptation of means employed, to ends to be accomplished. Particularly,

  1. The gospel, or the scheme of Christ’s mediation, which is the substance of the gospel, is admirably fitted TO PROMOTE THE DIVINE GLORY ; or to make an illustrious exhibition of God’s moral perfections. It accomplishes this object better than it could have been accomplished, by an unconditional and absolute pardon, which should have been merely an act of God’s sovereignty. Man, in becoming a sinner, broke in upon the order of the universe, and committed an act, which, in the eye of the divine law, was a capital offence against God’s moral kingdom. If, then, this offence is to be pardoned unconditionally, how will the Almighty Sovereign vindicate his moral character, in the view of the intelligent creation ? What will become of his justice, if he can see his law shamelessly trampled upon, and never lift an arm in its vindication ? What will become of his holiness, if he makes no distinction in his government between virtue and vice, and extends his protection alike to the good and the bad ? And must not his faithfulness too fall in the general wreck, if he does nothing to guard the sanctions of his violated law ?

I maintain, then, that the unconditional forgiveness of sin, by a simple act. of divine sovereignty, must, according to all rational views of the divine government, have been derogatory to the character of God; and that there was a moral necessity, growing out of the nature of his administration, for some public declaration of his views of the evil of sin. If this scheme of unconditional pardon displays the mercy of God, it is mercy at war with justice and holiness. But in the death of Christ, as our ransom, the character of God, as a moral governor, stands completely vindicated. His justice is exhibited in the regard which he has shown for the honor of his law; for while he reverses its condemning sentence, in respect to the penitent, it is in view of the fact, that Christ has borne their sins in his own body upon the tree. It is holiness is proclaimed in the fact, that sin was, in his estimation, so great an evil, as to require the death of his Son to expiate it; and in this additional fact, that the same scheme by which the sinner is pardoned, has a mighty, instrumental influence in making him holy. And who will deny that over the whole plan, mercy sheds her condensed and most attractive radiance; mercy, not merely in saving those who deserve to perish, but in saving them at an expense, which the infinite mind alone can estimate?

I observe, farther, that the mediation of Christ illustrates the moral character of God more perfectly, than if the sentence of the law had taken effect in the person of the transgressors. In this case, justice would have had its course, in the same manner that it has, in respect to the rebel angels; and not a murmur of disapprobation would have been heard through the universe. So also would his holiness have been exhibited in a manner, which would have placed his character forever beyond the reach of suspicion. But these attributes, as we have already seen, are not less gloriously manifested in the cross of Christ;—nay, I venture to say that there is not a point in the universe—not even amidst the interminable fires of hell, where they arc seen in such ample illustration. But this scheme of absolute and universal condemnation, though it might proclaim the justice and holiness of God, does not, you perceive, like that; of which the death of Christ is the prominent feature, make provision for the exercise of mercy. The one leaves the sinner to the strict exactions of justice; the other, in a way perfectly consistent with the claims of justice, provides for his salvation; and in doing so, develops one of the loveliest attributes of Jehovah ;—an attribute, which, so far as we know, has never been displayed to the universe, except through the mediation of Christ.

 

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

Gilbert was born near Belfast, Ireland, on February 13, 1778. Of his parents, it was said that “his father was a man of intelligent and earnest piety,” and that his mother “was very


respectably connected, was a person of superior intellect and great force of character.” Gilbert enjoyed the advantages of a faithful Christian education and at the age of eighteen came to a public profession of his faith in Christ as his Savior. This was some five years after the family had immigrated to the United States and settled in Franklin county, Pennsylvania.  Gilbert continued his education at the Franklin Academy and Jefferson College before beginning medical studies, and was admitted to the medical practice in 1805, becoming a physician in the borough of Mercer, PA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dr. Allan A. MacRae
by Rev. David T. Myers

It is an enduring memory these many decades later for the author of this post. Looking from my living room window during my teenage years, I could see on many a Sabbath day afternoon, Mrs. Grace MacRae reading from a book, under a tree on the Faith Seminary campus in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, to her husband Allan MacRae, and their only child and son, John. It was a  habit which I started in my family when I was married and later had a daughter to whom we could read Christian books.

Today, February 11, is the birthday of Allan A. MacRae. Born in 1902 in Calumet, Michigan to John and Eunice MacRae, Alan showed an inclination from his earliest age for scholarly pursuits. Who among our readers studied Latin in grammar school, often reading that ancient language in a six-language Bible edition? Their home was often the hub for literary clubs, political groups, and church fellowship times. Allan would receive Christ as Savior and Lord at an early age. In those same young years, he read the Bible through, often reading twenty to thirty chapters a day.

Due to the poor health of his physician father, Allan moved with his parents when he was ten years of age, to Rome, Italy. Continuing his education each morning, he found the time in the afternoons to visit all of the sites in that ancient city. Those of us readers who were in his theological classes can remember illustrations from that time in his life. Returning to the United States, he moved to Los Angeles where he finished high school. Entering Occidental College at the age of sixteen, he excelled in college life, earning his Bachelor of Arts degree and one year later, a Master of Arts Degree.

Studying under R.A. Torrey for a year at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, the latter encouraged him to attend Princeton Theological Seminary. Under the teaching of theological greats like Geerhardus Vos, Robert Dick Wilson, Caspar Wistar Hodge, John Gresham Machen, and Oswald Allis, he graduated from this school of prophets.  Returning to his home, he was licensed and ordained by a presbytery who asked  him simplistic questions in his exam, like “who wrote the four gospels?” Thankfully, ordination candidates today among the conservative Presbyterian denominations face a more appropriate line of questions.

With an award in hand from Princeton Seminary to study Semitics at the University of Berlin in 1927, Allan proceeded to study Babylonian Cuneiform, Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Arabic, and Syriac.  A four-month trip to Palestine afforded him the invaluable experience of an archaeological dig at the biblical city of Ham, under the tutelage of William F. Albright. But his studies oversees were interrupted by a call from Robert Dick Wilson to return to the States to take on the teaching of the Old Testament at a newly formed seminary called Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He was one of the founding faculty of that new institution. Eventually, he would received his Ph.D from the  University of Pennsylvania in 1936.

The rest of Dr. MacRae’s long ministry in the Lord’s kingdom began during the era of themodernist controversy in the 1930’s, during which time he threw his lot in with the newly formed Presbyterian Church of America, and later became a founding member of the Bible Presbyterian Church. Leaving Westminster Seminary in 1937, he became the first president of Faith Theological Seminary in 1938, and later was founding president of Biblical Theological Seminary, in 1971.  His students over these many years included men like Francis Schaeffer, Joseph Bayly, Vernon Grounds, Kenneth Kantzer, G. Douglas Young, Samuel Schultz, Jack Murray, John Battle, Charles Butler, and not a few readers of these web posts.  The latter can no doubt add their own remembrances of this man of God in the comment lines.

The late professor of Systematic Theology Robert Dunzweiler, from which most of this post was gleaned from an address which he gave, highlighted Dr. MacRae’s faithfulness as rooted and grounded in the inerrant authority of the Scriptures, coupled with his stress upon vital Christian living. He departed this life in 1995 and now worships before the throne of grace. His only son, John, as a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, is presently concluding a lengthy term as a missionary pastor in Australia after years of pastoral ministry in Pennsylvania.

Words to Live By: To be known and recognized as being faithful to the Scriptures, while also being diligent in practical Christian living, is a worthwhile goal in our Christian lives.  The Christian life is ever built upon Christian doctrine. O Lord Jesus, give Your Church Christian men and women and children who follow in the steps of those who have gone before  us.

THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST.
by Rev. William Smith of Glasgow (1836).

Q.6. How many persons are there in the Godhead?

  1. There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

EXPLICATION.

Three persons in the Godhead.—Three who are spoken of in the word of God, under the characters of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; all subsisting in the same divine nature or essence.

Godhead.—The divine nature.

Same in substance.— Equally possessed of all the attributes or perfections of the divine nature.

Glory.—The brightness of the divine excellencies.

ANALYSIS.

The information here received consists of four parts:

  1. That there are three persons in the Godhead.—Matt. xxviii. 19. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
  2. That these three distinct subsistences are but one God.—John v. 7. [sic: ed.; I John v. 7.] These three are one.
  3. That they are the same in substance, or nature..— John x. 30. I and my Father are one. John xv. 26. The Spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father.
  4. That they are equal in power and glory.— 2 Cor. xiii. 14. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all, Amen.

Glory!

I can think of no other word with which to respond to the brief description of heaven provided here by the Rev. William Buell Sprague. Having touched earlier this week on the value of funeral sermons, an admittedly overlooked literature, I did want to provide one last example of this literature’s worth. Today’s post is an excerpt from a sermon that Rev. Sprague delivered in 1845 upon the death of the daughter of a prominent lawyer from Albany, New York. His text is taken from Psalm 36:9, “In thy light we see light.” 

In thy light we see light. – Psalm 36:9.

The natural state of man is a state of darkness. His vision is indeed clear enough for the discerning of natural objects; and the sun in the heavens pours his radiance around him, to delight his eye and to illuminate his path. So too he has the faculty of viewing the qualities of the ten thousand objects by which he is surrounded—of looking over the creation with the intellectual as well as the bodily eye—of admiring as well as beholding the beauty, and grandeur, and harmony, which pervade the works of God. And more than that—he has a certain kind of moral discernment, by which he sees the immutable distinction between right and wrong, and the unchanging obligations of man to yield obedience to his Creator, and the fearful recompense of transgression under a wise and righteous government. All great truths, both natural and revealed religion, are, in a certain sense, fairly within the scope of his vision; and he can speak of them, and speak of them honestly, with reverence and admiration.

But notwithstanding all this, the remark with which I began is true—emphatically true—that many is naturally in a state of darkness; else what means that declaration of the Apostle that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned?” The truth is, that man, with the eye of his natural understanding, can look—if I may be allowed the expression—at the exterior of God’s truth; but he is incapable of penetrating beneath the surface. There is in it a depth of spiritual excellence and beauty—an adaptation to meet the inward cravings of the soul, and to exalt and glorify its all-wise Author, of which he has no knowledge. He has not penetrated into the sanctuary of experimental religion. He may talk even in rapture of the spiritual glory of the gospel, and may imagine that he has felt its power; but it is an imaginary experience, and nothing more. The true light has not shined into his soul; for the film that naturally obstructs his spiritual vision has not been cleared away.

But there have been those in every age, whom the Spirit, by His illuminating and all gracious energies, has brought out of darkness into marvelous light. Among these there have been not a few who had been accustomed to view divine truth before, with a strong intellectual vision; and what is more—men who had imagined that the true light had already found its way into their understandings; nay, who had ridiculed the idea of any other light than that which every man enjoys, in the diligent use of his natural powers. But these, as truly as others, have had their views corrected, and have acknowledged with the most grateful admiration of God’s grace, that “old things have passed away and all things have become new.”

I say then, the Christian, even in this imperfect state, sees light in God’s light. In the contemplation of His truth, as it is revealed in His Word; in the experience of His grace, as it refreshes and elevates his soul; he walks in the light of the divine countenance. When he contemplates the glory of God’s providence, the glory of Redemption, the anticipated glory of Heaven,—especially when the eye of his faith fastens upon Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead, whose presence is the bliss, and whose praise is the employment of, the ransomed,—I say, when these wonderful subjects come before his mind, he seems himself to be walking in an immeasurable field of light, and the illumination of the sun of righteousness well nigh entrance his soul with ecstasy.

In the experience of Christians, the intense joys to which I have here referred, are by no means constant; and many perhaps, may remain strangers to them through life; but all, all without exception, who have been born from above, have some new views of spiritual objects: if there is not the joy that is unspeakable and full of glory, there is ordinarily the peace that passeth understanding; and in every case there is a spiritual relish for God’s truth, which develops itself in earnest aspirations after Heaven, and which has in it the elements of heavenly glory.

But we may consider the text, in its ultimate bearing, as looking at the condition of the Christian in a future world rather than in the present; that world in which we are to “see face to face,” rather than this in which “we see through a glass darkly.” There are some beams of spiritual light that bring gladness to the Christian’s soul here; but there it will be light without shade; the sun of righteousness will shine forever in His glory without the intervention of a cloud.

I know, my brethren, that our views of Heaven are at best exceedingly imperfect. There is a depth of meaning in the descriptions which inspiration has given of it, which it might defy even the seraph before the throne to fathom. It were vain for us, for instance, to attempt to decide in what part of the universe will be the city of our God; or to form any adequate conception of that splendid garniture with the Creator has adorned it.

Conceive of a city which is of pure gold; the walls of which are of jasper, and its foundation of all manner of precious stones, and its gates of pearl, and its very streets transparent, so as to reflect every image of beauty and grandeur. Conceive that it is illuminated by the presence of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb; and that the nations of them that are saved walk in the light of it, and that the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it; and then, if you can analyze this conception, and tell what is included in all this burning imagery, you have some idea of Heaven.

Readers who wish to read the full sermon may click the embedded link provided here: A Sermon preached in the Second Presbyterian Church, Albany, February 9, 1845, the Sabbath immediately succeeding the Death of Mrs. Oliver S. Strong of Jersey City, Daughter of Archibald McIntyre, Esq. of Albany.

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