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THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST
by Rev. William Smith (1834)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 53-54.

Q.53. Which is the third commandment?

A. The third commandment is, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain,” Exod. xx. 7.

EXPLICATION.

Take the name of God in vain. —To mention the name of God when there is no occasion for doing it ; and to use it without that seriousness and reverence, with which we ought always to speak of God, and to pronounces his name.

Not hold him guiltless. Not suffer him to go unpunished.

Q.54. What is required in the third commandment?

A. The third commandment requireth the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works.

EXPLICATION.

Reverent use. —Using them with a holy fear an awe of God upon our minds, and at the same time with love to him in our hearts.

God’s names. Such as Jehovah, Jah, God, Lord, I am, &c.

God’s titles. Such as the Lord of hosts, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy One of Israel, the God of salvation ,the Hearer of prayer, &c.

Attributes of God. His perfections, such as Infinity, Eternity, Unchangeableness, Power, Wisdom, Truth, Holiness, Goodness, &c.

Ordinances of God. —God’s appointments, such as prayer, preaching, the sacraments, lawful oaths, &c.

God’s Word. —His revealed will, as contained in the Scriptures, which may be divided into the Law and the Gospel.

God’s works. —The works of Creation, Providence, and Redemption.

ANALYSIS.

The duties required in the third commandment are six in number :

  1. A holy and reverend use of God’s name. Psalm xcvi. 8. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name.
  2. A holy and reverent use of God’s titles. Rev. xv. 3, 4. Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name?
  3. A holy and reverent use of God’s attributes. Jer. x. 6, 7. O Lord, thou art great, and thy name is great in might. Who would not fear thee, O King of nations?
  4. A holy and reverent use of God’s ordinances. —Eccles. v. 1. Keep thy foot when thou goest to the houses of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools.
  5. A holy and reverent use of God’s word. —Psalm cxxxviii. 2. I will worship towards thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy loving-kindness, and for thy truth; for thou has magnified thy word above all thy name.
  6. A holy and reverent use of God’s works. Job xxxv. 24. Remember that thou magnify his work, which men behold.

 

A New Method of Missionary Work
by Rev. David T. Myers

For centuries, the work of foreign missions all over the world  had been done by faithful missionaries going from nations like England or America, serving the Lord in some field white unto harvest, and then going off the scene back to their sending agency.  That method was in need of changing, and the Rev. John Livingston Nevius would be the one who would change foreign mission methods forever.

Born on March 4, 1829 in western New York, John Nevius attended Princeton Theological Seminary in the 1850’s.  Called while in seminary to the foreign mission field, he found the perfect mate in Helen Coan in 1853. Marrying her, they set sail for China.

At first they traveled, setting up missions and schools. Then they settled down in one province of that vast land.  Observing the work of other missionaries in that nation, this Presbyterian missionary began to see the need to establish “self-propagating, self-supporting, and self-governing indigenous churches from the very beginning of a missionary’s work on the field.  Interesting, even though this approach, which was eventually crystallized in a book, was first developed in China, it never really matured into reality there. But when broaching the same method in the land of Korea, it was received completed by the Korean church. And today, that land and its churches have taken the three “self’s” and followed them religiously.

John Nevius also in his plan suggested that Christian missionaries should only begin programs which the national church desired and supported.  Further, the national church should call out and support their pastors.  Intensive beliefs and doctrinal instruction should be provided each year by the missionaries.  It is clear that the focus would not be on some Western culture and church, but rather on the mission field’s culture and church.  Indeed, the missionary’s “job” was to work themselves out of that “job,” and leave it to the Christian church people to win their nation to Christ.

Countless church bodies have followed the Nevius plan.  The Mission to the World agency of the Presbyterian Church in America employs this plan, often setting deadlines for establishing a Presbytery of pastors and churches, and then sending the missionary to some other field to continue the process.

John Livingstone Nevius died while in China on October 19, 1893 and is buried in China.

It is deeply interesting to ponder the Lord’s sovereign hand in the affairs of China, from that time until now, how the Lord has purified that Church. To read another missionary’s account, from 1927, click here.

Words to live by:
When I hear of a church which has closed down when a pastor has left by moving on or by death, I reflect that this John Nevius plan wouldn’t be a bad one for our local American church scene.  For reasons known only to the pastor and people, the work to equip the saints to do the work of service, as Ephesians 4:11, 12 states,  had been missing in that closed church.  Now it was the pastor’s fault.  He wanted to think that he was irreplaceable.  Or maybe the members resisted that Scriptural methodology.  But whatever the reason was, the work came to an end when the pastor was removed from the scene.  So here is my question?  Pastors, are you equipping the saints to do the work of ministry?  And members, are you zealous to be equipped to do the work of ministry?  It is important to ask and answer these questions.

Is God constrained?

Is God constrained? Will He yet again work in powerful ways? Are we expectantly watching and praying for Him to yet again walk among His people? In 1859, there were mighty acts of God observed and recorded world-wide, with great numbers brought to saving faith in Christ. Much of this occurred notably in the United States and throughout Great Britain. See for instance the sermons of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones delivered on the centennial anniversary of the 1859 revival, here. Or read The New York Pulpit in the Revival of 1858, by James W. Alexander (son of Archibald Alexander). And yet another account that I have just come across quite unexpectedly, in an address given by the Rev. Dr. William Childs Robinson. Dr. Robinson, or “Doctor Robbie” as he was affectionately known by his students, was professor at the Columbia Theological Seminary from 1926 until his death in 1982. This is an excerpt from his Centennial Address delivered before the Synod of Alabama (PCUS) in 1961, as reported on the pages of The Presbyterian Journal, vol. 20, no. 25 (18 October 1961), pages 5-6, 8, 18.

girardeauDespite the fanfare and cavalcades for evangelism, this last year saw the lowest increase on professions of faith in five years, the greatest number of losses, and the lowest net gain. These shocking statistics ought to send us to our knees that we may know God’s way with His people today. Perhaps, there is a word for this year in the account of the revival God granted through John L. Girardeau’s ministry in the Anson St. Presbyterian Church of Charleston where nine-tenths of the 500 members were Negroes.

“The greatest event in his ministry was the revival in the later eighteen fifties. This began with a prayer meeting that constantly increased until the house was filled. Some of the officers of the Church wanted him to commence preaching services, but he steadily refused, waiting for the outpouring of the Spirit. His view was that the Father had given to Jesus, as King and Head of the Church, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that Jesus in His sovereign administration of the affairs of His Church, bestowed Him upon whomsoever He pleased, and in whatever measure He pleased. Day after day, therefore, he kept his prayer addressed directly to the mediatorial throne for the Holy Spirit in mighty reviving power.

“One evening, while leading the people in prayer, he received a sensation as if a bolt of electricity had struck his head and diffused itself through his whole body. For a little while he stood speechless under the strange physical feeling, then he said: “The Holy Spirit has come; we will begin preaching tomorrow evening.” He closed the service with a hymn dismissing the congregation, and came down from the pulpit, but no one left the house. The whole congregation had quietly resumed its seat. Instantly he realized the situation. The Holy Spirit had not only come to him — He had also taken possession of the hearts of the people.

“Immediately he began exhorting them to accept the Gospel. They began to sob softly, like the falling of rain, then with deeper emotion to weep bitterly, or to rejoice loudly, according to their circumstances. It was midnight before he could dismiss his congregation. A noted evangelist from the North, who was present, said, between his sobs, to an officer of the Church: ‘I never saw it on this fashion.’ The meeting went on night and day for eight weeks. Large numbers of both black and white were converted and joined the various churches of the city. His own was wonderfully built up, not only in numbers, but also in an experience that remained in the Church. It is in such events that ‘Our God is marching on.’ “

The following plaintive appeared on the pages of a Presbyterian newspaper in October of 1879, exhorting both pastors and parents to pay better attention to the spiritual nurture of the children of the Church. The account is interesting in itself, but also for the vignette provided on the ministry of Rev. Daniel Baker, so noted for his children’s sermons.

The Christian Observer and Commonwealth, 58.41 (8 October 1879): 1, col. 4.

Presbyterianism is a family religion. Every baptized child is a member of the Church. The children are the lambs of the flock. They must be fed, but they cannot receive and digest the food suitable for veterans in the faith.

Surely they should not be left at home in idleness and spiritual starvation, while the parents are receiving the bread of life; yet, does it benefit the poor little lambs to be thrust into starchy clothes and imprisoned “bolt upright,” in an uncomfortable pew for an hour and a half, staring in idiotic vacancy at the preacher, who utters not a word within the ken of childhood? Nay! many a disappointed little heart is carried home, having been denied, from sheer oversight, a single crumb from the Master’s table. Some faithful parents still marshal their children to church? But what do they go for? Are not the majority of shepherds forgetting to feed the lambs; forgetting that these little boys are the future elders and deacons, nay, the future ministers in the Church of Christ?

Not a quarter of a century ago the “family pew” was an institution. The usual Sabbath morning scene was that of whole families going together to Church. The father and mother each leading a toddling little one; and respectfully walking behind the fresh, clean boys and girls, some half dozen or more, even those old enough for beaux and sweethearts, deeming it out of the question to be absent from the family pew Sunday mornings.

Every little fellow had his “Sunday clothes,” instead of his “evening dress,” and the Sabbath was to him the white day of the seven, when “brand new,” he turned over a clean leaf in life, and started over again. The mother then knew that her boy was not on the church steps in doubtful company, or one of the disorderly occupants of the back pew. Parents ruled their households then; now the children have the supremacy. They go to church or not, as they like, and sit where they please when they go.. Sabbath evening drills in the Shorter Catechism are old-fashioned; memorizing the Psalms and hymns, a fogy notion, and the main idea is to make the Sabbath a pleasant day. When the minister calls, the children go tumbling out of the back door as if some frightful apparition had made its appearance.

How many of the readers of the OBSERVER remember Rev. Daniel Baker, that blessed old patriarch, embalmed in the memory of every one who, as a child, heard his children’s sermons–literally the milk for babes. How often have many of us sat in a crowded house of children, and heard him talk right to our hearts about “coals of fire;” and the songs he would sing, in the midst of his sermons, to bring into wakeful surprise some nodding head or drooping pair of eyes; such as “Let dogs delight to bark and bite;” and the swearing word he gave the boys, “Pot hooks and hangers!” as a cure for swearing.

The children must be looked after. The world is carrying on its interests, and so is the Evil One, upon the very wings of lightning. The boys can hardly wait to get into their “teens,” or to show a shady upper lip before they are hurried into the battle of life.

An immense energy must, on the other hand, be thrown into the religion of the present day, and children must be enlisted before the world has filled up their hearts, as it will, and that right early.

Words to Live By:
When children are baptized in a Presbyterian church, the pastor typically asks the congregation if they will covenant to pray for that child. Sad to say, but most of us probably thereafter forget to ever again pray for that child. Brothers and sisters! Take this occasion to stop and pray for the children in your church, that the Lord would be at work in their hearts, leading them to saving faith in Christ Jesus as their Savior, drawing them near to a lifetime of discipleship, striving to walk closely with Him.

George Andrew Blackburn, D.D., was born in Greene County, Tennessee, on this day, October 16th, in 1861. He was the son of John Melson* Blackburn, a Presbyterian minister, who held a number of pastorates in the State of Alabama. George received his preparatory school education at his home, his collegiate course at the Southwestern Presbyterian University and he prepared for the ministry at Columbia Theological Seminary [this was while it was still located in South Carolina], graduating from Columbia with the class of 1886. He was soon afterward installed as pastor of the Presbyterian church in McConnellsville, SC, a post which he held for fifteen months, resigning there to accept the call of the Arsenal Hill Church, of Columbia, SC. In this pulpit, he was the successor of the late Dr. John L. Girardeau, the organizing pastor of this church. Rev. Blackburn labored here in this church until called to his reward, on May 25, 1918, having served the Arsenal Hill church as pastor for over thirty-one years. It was during this time that he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the Presbyterian College of South Carolina.

[*Note: There is some confusion as to George’s father’s middle name. Some sources have “Nelson” while others provide “Watson” as his middle name. But we take our source, the memorial for Rev. Blackburn found printed in the Minutes of the Synod of South Carolina, as closest to the source and thus authoritative.]

On April 7, 1886, he was married to Annie Williams Girardeau, daughter of John L. Girardeau, D.D., and this union was blessed with four children, all of whom survived him. They were Mrs. Johnson Hutchinson, of Auburn, AL, Misses Chauncey and Laura Blackburn, of Columbia, and Rev. John C. Blackburn, pastor of the Darien and St. Mary’s group of churches.

The work of Dr. Blackburn centered largely around the building up of the Arsenal Hill church, but he was also very active in all of the work of the Southern Presbyterian Church, in whose courts he was regarded as an able advocate, a wise, conservative and safe counselor.

He was a charter member of the Congaree Presbytery, faithful in attendance upon its sessions when able. His knowledge of Presbyterian law and practice was given considerable weight in the decisions of his Presbytery. As a member of the Presbytery’s Committee on Theology, he usually conducted the examinations of candidates for the ministry, because of his comprehensive grasp of the whole Calvinistic system. As Chairman of the Committee on the Sabbath, his reports were always full of appeal for a proper and Scriptural observance of the Christian Sabbath. His rigid Scriptural stand on the sanctity of the Sabbath was well known. Simplicity of worship, which was rigorously advocated and maintained by Dr. Girardeau, was made a permanent feature of the ministry of Dr. Blackburn.

As a man, he was genia and pleasant; as a friend, he was loyal, sympathetic and helpful to those who came to him for counsel. A man of firm convictions and courage, he was unwilling to compromise where it mean yielding of principle.

He was especially a friend of the poor, the needy and the outcast, among whom he did a great work; greater than most were aware of, since he never paraded his good deeds.

Among his greatest works to the Church at large may be mentioned The Life Work of John L. Girardeau, D.D., which was completed and published a short time before his death. In his failing health, his desire and prayer was that he might live long enough to finish this book, which prayer God graciously answered.

During his last illness, he said to some friends who visited him: “I only know I am on the earth and not in heaven when my friends visit me. I am holding sweet communion with my Lord every moment.”

So, through days of anxious watching and waiting, he finally received the call of God and entered peacefully into his rest and reward May 25, 1918, and his body was laid to rest in Elmwood Cemetery, attended by a host of sorrowing relatives, friends and church members.

“Servant of God, well done!
Rest from thy loved employ;
The battle fought, the victory won,
Enter thy Master’s joy.

“Soldier of Christ, well done!
Praise be thy new employ;
And while eternal ages run,
Rest in thy Saviour’s joy.”

 –W.S. Harden, for the Synod of South Carolina, Minutes of the Synod of South Carolina, pp. 26-27 [lightly edited]

“I owe more, said the speaker, to my knowledge of these doctrines, as taught in that manual, than to my three years’ study in the Theological Seminary.”

A few thoughts on the value of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,excerpted from THE CHARLESTON OBSERVER, 15 October 1836, p. 166, columns 2-3:—

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

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

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

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

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

It was on this day, October 14th, in 1814, that the Cumberland Presbyterians adopted their unique edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Taking our text from George P. Hays, The Presbyterians, p. 470-471, we review today the Cumberland Presbyterian edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, as formerly adopted by that denomination on October 14, 1914.  The full text of The Presbyterians is available here. A copy of the Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith can be found here.

“When Cumberland Synod was formed in 1813, one of its first acts was to appoint a committee to prepare a Confession of Faith. In the form of words adopted three and half years before, in constituting Cumberland Presbytery, was this provision concerning doctrine:

“All licentiates and probationers who may hereafter be ordained by this Presbytery shall be required, before such licensure or ordination, to receive and adopt the Confession and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church, except the idea of fatality, which seems to be taught under the mysterious doctrine of predestination. It is understood, however, that such as can clearly receive the Confession without an exception shall not be required to make any.”

In forming the Synod a brief doctrinal statement was adopted in which the points of dissent from the Westminster Confession were thus stated: 1. “There are no Eternal reprobates. 2. Christ died not for a part only, but for all mankind. 3. All infants dying in infancy are saved through Christ and sanctification of the Spirit. 4. The Spirit of God operates on the world, or as coextensively as Christ has made the atonement, in such a manner as to leave all men inexcusable.”

The committee appointed by the Synod to prepare a creed, simply modified the Westminster Confession, expunging what they believed unscriptural and supplying what they thought omissions of vital truth. The chief changes were in chapters iii and x, and consisted in the elimination of what is known as preterition, or what the fathers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church called “fatality.” The Presbyterian polity was retained; also the Evangelical Presbyterian doctrines—such as the inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures, the fall and condemnation of the race, total depravity, the salvation of believers through a vicarious atonement, and the eternal punishment of the finally impenitent.

This revised Confession of Faith was adopted by the Synod, October 14, 1814, and continued to be the accepted creed of the Church until 1883, when a new revision was adopted in which the same essential doctrines enunciated in the revision of 1814 are stated in somewhat briefer form and with a more logical arrangement of subjects. The creed of Cumberland Presbyterians, as it differs from Calvinism on the one hand and Arminianism on the other, may be stated in connection with the doctrine of the new birth—the central theme of the revival of 1800—as follows:

1. All men must be born again or perish.

2. All may be born again and not perish.

3. None who are born again will perish.

The first proposition, while it is accepted by all, means more to Cumberland Presbyterians than to others; for they believe that the soul’s salvation is made certain in the hour of the new birth, while Calvinists believe that this certain election of the soul to eternal life was made by divine decree before the foundation of the world, and Arminians hold that the soul’s decision or choice cannot be so made as to be secure from reversal or failure until after death—possibly not then.

The second proposition [above] Cumberland Presbyterians think is contradicted by the Calvinistic doctrine of election and reprobation, and the third [is opposed] by the Arminian doctrine of apostasy.

Words to Live By:
On the one hand, we can be thankful that the Cumberland Presbyterian Church resolved to state their convictions in a written statement of faith. On the other hand though, we are saddened that their doctrinal statement falls far short of the Scriptural teaching on salvation.  There is no contradiction between the gospel message and methods and the eternal call of God’s elect. Indeed, such a view as our Westminster Standards teaches is consistent and indeed comforting to the belief that God has chosen a people for His own from all eternity past. The inspired writer  Luke understood this plainly when in describing the ministry of Paul to the Gentiles in Acts 13:48 stated in the last phrase,  “as many as  had been appointed to eternal life believed.” (NASB)  Both parts of this last phrase are true. How do we know those appointed to eternal life? Answer: They believe the gospel. Who are those who believe? Answer: As many has had been appointed to eternal life. That one phrase is the great comfort of those who share the gospel with all  whom they come into contact with in their day’s activities.

THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST
by Rev. William Smith

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 51-52.

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

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

EXPLICATION.

The worshipping of God. –Praying to God, and praising him.

By images. –By resemblances or likenesses of any thing made, by engraving, painting, or carving, or casting in a mould, or by any other method.

ANALYSIS.

The sins forbidden in the second commandment are of two kinds :

  1. The worshipping of God by images. –Deut. iv. 15, 16. Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves, (for ye saw no matter of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb –) lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image.
  2. The worshipping of him in any other way not appointed in his word. –Matt. xv. 9. In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

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

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

EXPLICATION.

Annexed. –A smaller thing, joined or added to the end of a greater, is said to be annexed to it.

Sovereignty. ­­–The highest authority or power.

Propriety. –Property  or possession, or chief right to any thing, giving a particular interest in it.

Zeal. –Warm concern for any cause.

ANALYSIS.

The reasons annexed, or added, to the second commandment, are three in number :

  1. God’s sovereignty over us, “I the Lord.” –Psal. xcv. 3, 6. For the Lord, is a great God, and a great King, above all gods. O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
  2. His propriety in us, “Thy God.” –Psalm xlv. 11. He is thy Lord, and worship thou him. Deut. xxxii. 9. The Lord’s portion is his people.
  3. The zeal he hath to his own worship, “I am a jealous God.” –Exod. xxiv. 14. [sic: ed.; Exod. xxxiv. 14.] Thou shalt worship no other God; for the Lord whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

Yes, it’s a long post, but hey, it’s Saturday—what better way to spend a part of the day? (key points are in bold print, if you want to skim this)

“The Distinctive Doctrines and Polity of Presbyterianism,” is the title of an address delivered by the Rev. Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, on the occasion of the Joint Centennial celebration of the Synods of Kentucky, 12 October 1883, at Harrodsburg, KY. First published in 1883, it was later reprinted in 1933 as part of the volume Centennial of Presbyterianism in Kentucky, 1783-1883. Addresses delivered at Harrodsburg, Kentucky, October 12, 1883. A full list of the contents includes [1.] Historical Address, by Rev. J. N. Sanders; [2.] The Dead of the Presbyterian Church in Kentucky, by Rev. Edward P.Humphrey; [3.] The Relation of the Presbyterian Church to Education in Kentucky, by Rev. L.G. Barbour; [4.] The Distinctive Doctrines and Polity of Presbyterianism, by Rev. Thomas Dwight Witherspoon; [5.] The Planting of Presbyterianism in Kentucky One Hundred Years Ago, by Rev. Moses D. Hoge.

witherspoon04THE DISTINCTIVE DOCTRINES & POLITY OF PRESBYTERIANISM.

BY REV. T.D. WITHERSPOON, D.D.

Every denomination of Christians has certain distinctive principles, which serve to differentiate it from other branches of the visible Church, and which constitute its raison d’etre—the ground more or less substantial of its separate organic existence. In proportion as these principles are vital and fundamental, they vindicate the body that becomes their exponent from the charge of faction or schism, and justify its maintenance of an organization separate and apart from that of all who traverse or reject them.

We are met today as Presbyterians. We have come to commemorate the first settlement of Presbyterianism in Kentucky. You have listened to the eloquent addresses of those who have traced the history of our Church in this commonwealth for a hundred years. They have told you of the first planting in this Western soil of a tender branch from our old and honored Presbyterian stock, of the storms it has encountered, of the rough winds that have beaten upon it, and yet of its steady growth through summer’s drought and winter’s chill, until what was erstwhile but a frail and tender plant, has become a sturdy oak with roots deep-locked in the soil, with massive trunk and goodly boughs and widespread branches overshadowing the land.

You have heard also, the thrilling narratives of the lives of those heroic men by whose personal ministry the Church was founded; of the toils they underwent, of the perils they encountered, of the hardships they endured that they might plant the standards of Presbyterianism in these Western wilds.

The question arises with especial emphasis under circumstances like these : What are the peculiar principles of the denomination whose centennial is celebrated with so much enthusiasm today? Is there anything in these principles that justifies such sacrifices and toils as were made by the noble men whose biographies have been read?  Is there anything in the distinctive doctrines and polity of this Church to render its settlement in Kentucky a hundred years ago, and its perpetuation and development through a century of conflict and struggle, a matter worthy of such joyous, grateful commemoration as we give today? Is there anything in these creeds and symbols, venerable with years, which we have received from our forefathers, which makes them an inheritance meet to be transmitted in their integrity and purity, with increasing veneration, to our children and to our children’s children forever?

These, Christian friends, are the questions that, through the kindness and partiality of my brethren, I am to endeavor to answer today. And in the fulfillment of my task, I invite you to walk with me for a little while about this, our ancestral Zion, to “mark well her bulwarks and consider her palaces that ye may tell it to the generation following.”

And first, let us endeavor to get a clear idea as to what constitute the distinctive principles of Presbyterianism, as to what there is that is peculiar in its doctrine and polity.  Confining myself strictly under the head of doctrine, to the department of ecclesiology or the doctrine of the Church, and viewing the polity of Presbyterianism in its only proper light as basing itself distinctly upon, and adjusting itself most accurately to that form of doctrine delivered in Scripture, I may say that, just as in our doctrine of Redemption, there emerge the historical five points, over which controversy has waged since the days of the Synod of Dort, so in our doctrine of the Church there are five points, constituting five distinctive principles of Church government, each one of which places our Church polity in sharp contrast with that of other Churches around us, and all of which together make up a system as unique as it is beautiful, as scriptural as it is complete, having nothing comparable to it in any other organization in the world.

Let us take up these five points of Presbyterianism successively, and endeavor to engrave them as clearly as possible upon our memories and upon our hearts.

1. The first fundamental principle of Presbyterianism is that Church power is vested not in officers of any grade or rank, but in the whole corporate body of believers. Our doctrine is that Christ, who is the great Head of the Church, the alone fountain and source of all its power, has not vested this power primarily in a single officer who is the visible head of the Church and the vicar of Christ, as in the Roman Catholic Church, or in the body of Bishops or superior clergy as in the Episcopal Church, or in the whole body of the clergy as in the Methodist and  some other churches, but in the people, the whole body of the people, so that no man can attain to any office, exercise any authority, or wield any power in the Church, except he is called to that office, invested with that authority and clothed with that power by the voice of the people. Here, then, is a grand, fundamental difference between the Presbyterian Church and all those churches that are prelatical or hierarchical in form, in that ours is a government in which Christ rules through the voice of his people, his whole redeemed people, and not through any privileged class, any spiritual nobility, or aristocracy of grace.

2. The second fundamental principle of Presbyterianism is that this power, though vested in the people, is not administered by them immediately, but through a body of officers chosen by them, and commissioned as their representatives to bear rule in Christ’s name. The offices that are to be filled have been ordained of Christ, and none may be added to those which he has ordained. The officers who fill these offices are chosen by a vote of the whole membership of the Church over which they are to rule, and yet are to be chosen under such special prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit who dwells in the Church, that whilst the outward vocation to office is from the Church, the inward call and commission to each officer is to be recognized as from Christ Himself, the great invisible and spiritual head. The only power, therefore, immediately exercised by the people is this most important and fundamental power, that of vocation. They choose those who shall administer the government over them. These rulers act as their representatives and so the government is a representative government, as distinguished from a pure democracy or a government of the people by themselves. This principle separates us from all churches that are congregational in form, as the first from all that are prelatic or hierarchical. This last distinguishes us, therefore, from the Congregational churches of England and of this country, from all churches of the Baptist faith and order, and from those churches around us that call themselves the Christian, or Reformed, in all of which questions of doctrine and discipline are decided by a direct vote of the whole congregation, whilst in ours these questions are settled by the voice of those officers who are chosen to bear rule.

3. The third fundamental principle of Presbyterianism is that the whole administration of government in the Church has been committed to a single order of officers, all of whom, though having in some respects different functions to perform, are of co-ordinate and equal authority in the Church. It is true that the Presbyterian Church, after the pattern of Scripture, has two orders of officers, the elder and the deacon; but the deacon is not a ruler. He has no spiritual oversight or authority.  His office is purely executive.  He has charge only of the secular concerns of the Church. Its government is committed to a single order of officers, the presbyters or elders. These elders are of two classes. There is first a class who, not having been called of God to be preachers of the Gospel, but recognizing His call through the Church to bear rule, continue in their secular avocations, devote such portion of their time as they can spare from their business to the oversight and care of the flock, and exercise full authority as rulers over the house of God. These are called Ruling Elders, because their office is simply to rule.  There is a second class who, in addition to the call to bear rule, recognize a divine voice summoning them also to the work of preaching the Gospel, and this function of preaching, which is the highest and most honorable in the Church, demands their whole time, so that they give up secular callings, and are specially set apart of the Church to this higher function, and so are known as Teaching Elders or Ministers of the Word. But whilst this ministry of the Word entitles them to special honor, it confers no higher rank and invests with no superior authority. The minister in our church courts has no more authority than the ruling elder, so that we not only have in the Presbyterian Church the “parity of the clergy,” of which we hear so much, but the parity of the eldership, of the ruling elder with the teaching elder, a principle not to be found under any other form of church government.

4. The fourth distinctive principle of Presbyterianism is that these Presbyters rule not singly but jointly in regularly-constituted assemblies or courts. This is a principle upon which I would lay particular emphasis; for in it the admirable genius of our system especially appears. Whilst there are functions that are purely administrative, such as preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, etc., which a Presbyter may, when so commissioned, perform separately and individually, yet all legislative and judicial functions are to be administered by assemblies or courts alone. And no one of these assemblies is competent to the transaction of any business unless representatives of both classes of Presbyters, ministers and ruling elders, are present.  There is no exercise of any several authority, as by a bishop or a presiding elder, in any part of the field.  There is no possibility of any one man power, for all authority must come with the sanction of a church court.

5. The last distinctive principle of Presbyterianism is that these church courts are so subordinated to one another that a question of government or discipline may be carried by appeal or complaint or review from a lower to a higher court, representing a larger number of congregations, until every part of the Church is, through this due subordination, brought immediately under the supervision and control of the whole.  Thus our Church Sessions, which constitute the lowest order of assemblies, are, as many lie within a certain district, subordinated to a higher court or Presbytery, constituted of representatives from each of these Church Sessions, meeting twice every year and oftener if necessary.  The minutes of the Church Sessions all pass under the inspection of the Presbytery by way of review and control.  There is the right both of appeal and complaint to the Presbytery from any action of any of these Church Sessions; and Presbytery has in such cases all the right of a higher court or court of appeals.  The same is true of the Synods in relation to the Presbyteries, and of the General Assembly in reference to the Synods—so that the authority and oversight of the whole Church is brought to bear upon every part, and the right of appeal belongs to the humblest member of the Church, by which he may carry his cause through all intermediate courts to the General Assembly, the highest of all.

Here, then, to recapitulate, is our system of government—power vested in the great body of Christ’s people; administered through officers chosen by the people and commissioned of Christ; administered by a single order of officers equal in authority and rank; administered not severally but jointly, in duly organized assemblies or courts, and in assemblies or courts so subordinated to each other as to bind the whole mass together in a unity of mutual oversight, government, and control.

Such, in brief, is the system of church polity which we hold. It differs, as you will readily perceive, in its essential features from that of every other denomination. It is the system held by that great Presbyterian body, which is composed not only of the various branches of the Presbyterian Church in this country, in Canada, in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, but also of what are known as the Reformed Churches of Germany, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, France, etc., comprising in all a constituency of nearly if not altogether fifty millions of souls.

For this system we claim, without seeking to disparage that of any other representative body of Christians, the following points of excellence :

First.—Its exact Scripturalness As Presbyterians we hold that everything concerning the doctrines and polity of the Church must be brought to the sure criterion of the Word of God.  To that which is revealed nothing is to be added, and from it nothing is to be taken away. And so we hold to our form of government because we believe that essentially, in all its leading features, it is the same that was delivered by our Lord to His inspired apostles, and by them to the primitive Church.  We find, from the study of the New Testament, that the apostles were accustomed to “ordain elders in every city.” As there was but one church planted in each city these elders were, most of them, Ruling Elders.  We find that, as in the 20th chapter of Acts, these officers, are in one place called elders, and in another, bishops, showing that the New Testament bishop is not a diocesan officer, but only an elder considered as having the oversight of a congregation of believers.  We find that these elders, together with the deacons, constitute the only orders of permanent officers in the Church.  Even the apostles themselves, recognize themselves in the exercise of authority in the Church as elders.  Thus, Peter says :  “I, Peter, who am also an elder and a witness,” etc., and John, the apostle, begins his epistle : “The elder to the well-beloved Gaius,” etc.  We find that these elders are of two classes, exactly corresponding to those in the Presbyterian Church now; the “elders that rule,” and “those that labor in word and doctrine.” We find that their authority is exercised in duly organized courts. Timothy is ordained by the laying on of hands of a Presbytery. A Synod is convened at Jerusalem, composed of the apostles and brethren, before which is issued and decided an appeal from the Church at Antioch. Our entire system in all its five essential principles, is, therefore, found in Scripture.  Our polity is that revealed in the Word of God; and in its exact scripturalness, its close conformity to the “pattern given in the mount,” is found the first great excellency of Presbyterianism. To this scripturalness of our system, we have the testimony of the ablest and most learned biblical scholars, and even of those who differ with us in forms of government. In the Episcopal Church, for instance, which lays such exclusive claim to apostolic origin and descent, the ablest scholars and the profoundest theologians admit that, in the days of the apostles, the bishops were only pastors of churches, and the present order of diocesan bishops was not known.  This is the testimony of Archbishops Usher, Whately, and Tate, Bishop Lightfoot, Canon Farrar, Dean Stanley, Dean Howson, Lord Macaulay, Mr. Hallam the historian, and a host of others whom I could name, so that we justly claim for our system its strict accordance with the teachings of Scripture.

Second.Its vindication of the unity of the visible Church under all dispensations.  The Scriptures constantly speak of the visible

Church as being the same under both the old and new dispensations.  Paul does not represent the olive tree as being rooted out and another planted in its stead, but as having the Jewish branches broken off, and the Gentile branches engrafted in their room.  Now, under our Presbyterian theory of church government, and under it alone, have we a clear conception of this visible unity under both dispensations.

Let us look for a moment at the form of government under the old economy.  The first distinct reference we have to the Church as a visible organization is in connection with the calling of Abram, and his settlement in Canaan.  Doubtless, the visible Church had existed before, had existed since the offering of the first sacrifice before the gates of the lost Eden—but here is the first reference to its organic form.  And now what is that form?  The only officers we read of are the elders of Abraham’s house.  One of these, Eliezer, is distinctly mentioned (Gen. 24:2) as the “servant and elder of his house” (not the eldest servant, as in the authorized version, but the servant and elder).  We hear little of these elders at this time, for we hear little of the Church; but they are to play a very prominent part a little later.  At the time of the Exodus they appear as the distinctly-recognized officers of the Church; when Moses is sent as the deliverer of God’s people from the bondage of Egypt, he is directed (Ex. 3:16) to go and gather the “elders of Israel” together, and deliver his message to them, as divinely-appointed rulers of the congregation.  When he is sent to demand of Pharoah the release of the children of Israel, he is instructed to take with him (Ex. 3:18) the “elders of Israel,” as the representatives of the chosen people.  When in the wilderness Moses receives the law from the hands of Jehovah, on Mount Sinai, he writes it, and delivers it to the priests, the sons of Levi, and the elders (Deut. 31:9) as the spiritual rulers of God’s people. In every instance in which any authority is exercised or any discipline administered, we find these eldersreferred to as the rulers in the Church. They are sometimes called, “the elders;” sometimes “the elders of Israel;” sometimes “the elders of the congregation;” sometimes “the elders of the people;” but they appear on every page of the history of the Jewish Church, as its divinely-appointed and recognized rulers.

Nor was the term elder one simply of seniority or of respect, as some have supposed. There were many elders in age, who were not elders in office.  The term elder implied official rank and position. Thus, when the Lord directed Moses to select out of the elders of the tribes, seventy, who should constitute the highest council of the Church, or, as we might say, its General Assembly, he instructed him (Num. 11:16) to choose only those whom he certainly knew to be “elders of the people, and officers over them.”

The Jewish Church was, therefore, governed by elders in the days of Moses.  It was so in the days of Joshua, when there were elders in every city (Josh. 7:6; 20:4; 24:31; etc.), and in the days of Judges (Judges 2:7; 8:16; Ruth 4:2; etc.), and in the days of Samuel (1 Sam. 15:30; 16:4; etc.), and in the days of David (2 Sam. 5:3; 17:4; etc.), and in the days of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 21:11; 2 Kings 6:32; etc.), and in the days of Ezekiel (Ezek. 14:1; 20:1; etc.), and in the days of Ezra, when the Old Testament canon was completed (Ezra 10:14; etc.), and in the days when our Saviour appeared in the world (Matt. 21:23; 27:1; Mark 8:31; Luke 22:52; etc.). It is sometimes asserted that these elders were only civil rulers and not ecclesiastical; officers of the State and not of the Church; that the priests had the exclusive authority in spiritual matters, and the elders in secular matters. But, so far as this from being the case, that, as we shall soon see, the priests themselves, ruled, not as priests, but as elders, and in every act of government were associated with the “elders of the people,” while the council of seventy, or the Sanhedrin, as it was afterwards called, was composed entirely of elders, chosen from the different tribes of Israel. It is true, that, owing to the union of Church and State, these elders had many civil duties to perform. But their functions as civil officers, resulting from this temporary connection, were only incidental. Their highest functions were spiritual.  They were pre-eminently ecclesiastical rulers. They had charge of all the interests of the “Church of God which was in the Wilderness with the angel which spake to Moses on Mount Sinai.” The fact that they had civil duties to perform, and secular questions to decide, no more proves that they were not Church officers than does the sitting of the bishops of the established Church of England in the House of Lords prove that they are not Church officers.

The Old Testament Church was, therefore, Presbyterian, inasmuch as its whole government was administered by elders chosen from among the people and set apart to the office of rulers over the house of God. It was still further Presbyterian in the sense that these elders were of two distinct classes—elders of the priests and elders of the people. This appears very distinctly in the constitution of the Sanhedrin, or highest ecclesiastical council of the Jews.

This body consisted exclusively of elders (Numb. 11:16) chosen from all the tribes of Israel. Those from the tribe of Levi, were, of course, of the priestly office. They added to their function as elders, that of ministers before the altar in the sanctuary. To distinguish them from elders of other tribes, they were called priest-elders, or elders of the priests (2 Kings 19:2; Is. 37:2, etc.), and afterwards chief priests, one being taken in later days from each of the twenty-four courses in the temple. We have thus under the old economy “priest-elders” and “people-elders,” corresponding with the two classes of elders in the Presbyterian Church at the present
day.

These elders ruled in that olden time, not singly, but jointly. No officer in the Jewish Church had any such individual authority as that now exercised by the bishop of an Episcopal diocese, or the presiding elder of a Methodist district.  In every city there was a “bench of elders,” which held its sessions in the gate, and to which all questions of government were submitted. In smaller cities this court corresponded to a Church Session, in larger ones to a Presbytery. There was, as we learn from Jewish writers, a higher court, composed of not less than twenty-three elders, to which appeal could be had from the decision of the “elders of the gate,” corresponding in this respect to our Synod; whilst above all was the Sanhedrin, or ultimate court of appeal, corresponding to our General Assembly.

It will thus appear that the Church under the old dispensation was essentially Presbyterian, that in the setting up of the new dispensation no change in the form of government was needed, and no breach in the continuity of the Church was made, as Archbishop Whately has so admirably said.  (Kingdom of Christ, pp. 29, ff. Ed. of Carter & Bros., N.Y., 1864) :

“It appears highly probably—I might say morally certain—that wherever a Jewish Synagogue existed that was brought the whole or the chief part of it to embrace the Gospel, the apostles did not there, as much form a ‘Christian church (or congregation, Ecclesia) as make an existing congregation Christian’ [the italics are his own] ‘by introducing the Christian sacraments and worship, and establishing whatever regulations were requisite for the newly-adopted faith, leaving the machinery (if I may so speak) of government unchanged, the rulers of synagogues, elders and other officers (whether spiritual or ecclesiastical or both), being already provided in the existing institutions.”  “And,” he continues, “it is likely that several of the earliest Christian churches did originate in this way; that is, that they were converted synagogues, which became Christian churches as soon as the members, or the main part of the members, acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah.  * * * * And when they founded a church in any of those cities in which (and such were probably a very large majority), there was no Jewish Synagogue that received the Gospel, it is likely that they would conform, in a great measure, to the same model.”

And, as thus the unity of the visible Church, under the two dispensations, appears in this element of Presbytery, which runs through and characterizes its whole polity, so is it with the unity of the Church militant and the Church triumphant; for in that apocalyptic vision which was given to John of the future glory of Christ’s redeemed and ransomed Church, there still appear, as the representatives of this same principle of Presbytery, the “four and twenty elders surrounding the throne.” Well may we give honor to a system which thus vindicates the unity of Christ’s witnessing Church under all dispensations, to the end of time and through the cycles of eternity.

Third.Its superiority as a basis for the organic unity of the whole visible Church in the world.  It must be evident that a system which shall unite all Christian people in the bond of a common unity must have provision by which, on the one hand, every part of the Church shall be subordinated to the authority of the whole, and by which, on the other, there shall be the utmost protection and security for the rights and liberties of each individual member.

The first element in this unity, due subordination, is secured very perfectly by the system of hierarchy; that which finds its expression in the Church of Rome—but it is a unity in which the rights and liberties of the private member are completely sacrificed to the oppression and tyranny of the governing power. In the system of independency or congregationalism on the other hand, the rights of the individual are secured, except against that most fearful of all despotisms, the despotism of a majority against whose prejudice or passion there is no protection by the right of appeal. But this liberty is at the expense of due subordination. The system of Presbyterianism secures a unity as complete as that of the Church of Rome, and at the same time a protection for the rights of the individual such as is not found in any other system of jurisprudence, either civil or ecclesiastical.  For while it is the boast of our civilization that, by our system of appellate courts the humblest citizen may carry his cause from a lower to a higher tribunal, and so receive an award which is free from all taint of local prejudice or personal malice, yet, in fact, the exercise of this right of appeal is limited by its costliness, and only the favored few who have the means to employ counsel and assume responsibility can carry their cause to the Court of Appeals.

But in the Presbyterian Church the humblest and poorest member can have his cause carried, without any expense, from Church Session to Presbytery, from Presbytery to Synod, and from Synod to General Assembly. The ablest counsel in the land is at his service without one cent of compensation or fee, and he may obtain, as is often done, the voice of the whole Church in the decision of a question in which he feels that his rights or his interests are involved.

FourthThe flexibility by which this system adjusts itself to all stages and conditions in the life of the Church. If you should conceive a man with his wife and infant children thrown by shipwreck upon a heathen island, if he be a Christian believer, and his family a Presbyterian family, then he carries with him a complete Presbyterian Church. Upon him, as the head of his house, the office of the Presbytery or eldership devolves.  His wife is the deaconess; his children are the baptized members.  There is a complete “church in his house.” As his sons come to manhood, or heathen men are converted and taught in the way of the Lord, they are admitted by him to share in the office of the Presbytery, but the Church is complete at the very moment when he is thrown upon the island, and there is no other form of church government under which this would be true.

Again, if the whole Christian world were, today, to resolve to come into organic union under a single form of government, there is (with the exception of the Papal, which, as we have seen, secures only the unity of a resistless and remorseless despotism) no system which could be adopted without a strain too severe to be borne, except that Presbyterian system which we have endeavored in these pages to sketch. No Baptist Convention or Congregational Association that could gather in one place could be large enough to represent this whole Ecumenical Church. No Methodist Conference or Episcopal Council, even though they were limited to diocesan bishops, could find a hall large enough for their assembly. But our Presbyterian system, without a strain upon its machinery, would add another to its ascending series of courts, and as now Church Sessions are represented by delegates in Presbyteries, and Presbyteries by delegates in General Assemblies, so General Assemblies would be represented by delegates similarly chosen in an Ecumenical Council, and the unity of the whole visible Church finds expression without a moment’s confusion or jar.

There are many other excellencies which we might claim for our Presbyterian system, such as its spiritual power through its peculiar hold upon the family relation, its historic bearing upon the problems of civil and religious liberty, etc. I content myself with a single additional reason for our love and veneration for our time-honored Presbyterianism.

FifthThe historic associations that cluster about it.  From the days of the apostles until now the Church, in its purest forms, has been Presbyterian. The Waldenses, who, in their native valleys of the Piedmont, maintained the purity of the primitive doctrine and the simplicity of Christian ritual, amidst all the corruptions and superstitions of the Church of Rome, were Presbyterian. Claiming to have received their doctrine and discipline directly from the apostles; refusing to submit to the authority of the Church of Rome; remaining unshaken in their simple faith through all the fires of persecution and of martyrdom; extorting even from their persecutors reluctant but explicit testimony to the simplicity of their piety and the blamelessness of their lives, they maintained the light of a pure Presbyterian doctrine and order through all the darkness of the middle ages, and there, in the secluded valleys of the Piedmont, it was still blazing when Luther and Farel and Zwingle and Calvin kindled on the highest mountain tops the watchfires of the Reformation.

Another witness through these dark ages for a pure Presbyterianism, is found in the church of the ancient Culdees, of Scotland.  This church owes its establishment to the labors of Columba, a native of Ireland, who, about the middle of the sixty century went, as an evangelist, into the midst of the Picts of Scotland. Having converted great multitudes of these fierce tribes to Christianity, he established upon the island of Iona a seminary of learning for the training of pastors and evangelists for his work. The ministers trained in this seminary were called Culdees, and the churches founded by them Culdee Churches—the world Culdee being most probably a corruption of the Latin words Cultor Dei, worshipper of the true God. These churches of the Culdees, or worshippers of God, existed for many centuries without holding any connection with the Church of Rome. Indeed, they not only refused to acknowledge the authority of the Romish See, but they protested against its errors and innovations, and maintained their ground successfully against its usurpations and encroachments until the very dawn of the Reformation. Their form of government was essentially Presbyterian. They had a Synod or Assembly, to the members of which they gave the name of Seniores, or Elders. These elders, acting in their collective capacity, elected and ordained to the ministry. All ministers were of equal rank. Those who had permanent charge of churches were called bishops, but their office and authority were simply those of pastors of individual churches. They held no higher rank, and exercised no greater authority than the other Seniores who sat with them in council.

We have thus two distinct lines of Presbyterianism running back to apostolic times, and the memories which gather about us today are those of a grand historic Church.  Pre-eminently the “ Church of the Covenant,” her covenants have been sealed with blood.  Those primitive martyrs who “were stoned, were sawn asunder,” etc., were witnesses for the principles for which we contend today.  Those heroic Vallenses who were hunted from crag to crag of their native mountains, who were hurled by their persecutors over the steep precipices and dashed in pieces on the rocks below, were Presbyterians.  Those grand old Covenanters of Scotland, who “loved not their lives to the death” for “Christ and His crown,” were Presbyterians.  This old Church has come down to us with her vesture, like that of her Lord, crimsoned with blood. The most illustrious martyrs, the most renowned confessors, the most valiant reformers have been hers. Let us venerate her for what she has been; let us love her for what she is. In this centennial year, let us fling forth her encrimsoned banners freshly to the breeze. Let us send forth a larger band of evangelists to carry our standards over rugged mountains, and plant them in sequestered valleys, in rude hamlets and secluded villages. Let us kindle the light of our pure faith and scriptural polity in ever-increasing centers of influence and power.  Let us fully endow and equip our denominational institutions of learning, that our young men may be deeply grounded in all those principles for which our forefathers sacrificed and toiled. Let us gird ourselves like men for the work of perpetuating, establishing, and enlarging the sphere of influence of our beloved Church.

And may each one of us so live and so labor that when the testimony of this generation is borne and its work ended, we may transmit to our children, in its purity and in its integrity, the legacy of Presbyterianism which we have received from our sires, having our names honorably linked with the increase of its prosperity, and the enlargement of its influence in the world.

[emphasis added]

Dr. Robert Dick Wilson

We have written before how one of the great Princeton professors and a founding professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Robert Dick Wilson, died on this day, October 11, at the start of the second academic year at Westminster. Today, we present a different insight into his death, as Dr. Allan A. MacRae, another of the founding Westminster faculty, wrote home to his parents and related something of Wilson’s death, his funeral, and the resolution of his estate:—

October 14, 1930

Dear Folks:

No doubt you have read in the papers of Dr. Wilson’s death. When I wrote you last week he had been ill for a few days but it did not seem to be serious. The turn for the worse came quite suddenly. We thought at first that it was simply a bad cold but it seems more probably to have been a weakening of the heart that was coming on for some time. He had said a few words at the opening of the Seminary, and had conducted one class before he was taken ill. He was in bed about four days and seemed to have trouble with his breathing, a thing that had never bothered him before. Monday evening Mrs. Wilson phoned me rather later and asked me to come over. He was having a spell of hard breathing and imagining that some one was choking him. I succeeded in quieting him and he seemed to recover completely. But the next day the doctor had him taken to the hospital. After three days of comparatively little trouble there he suddenly took a turn for the worse. He was unconscious from Friday afternoon at three until Saturday afternoon at five. Mrs. Wilson, Dr. Allis, a few others and I spent the whole of Friday night with him, expecting the end at any moment. But he was unconscious and I do not believe that he suffered a great deal. The funeral is to be this afternoon at four o’clock.

It is a blow to the Seminary and a great loss to me in particular. I had looked forward to working with him a great deal this year. But when I think of the great amount that Dr. Wilson accomplished in his life and of the tremendous help that he gave the Seminary by his testimony and his personal assistance during its first year, I feel that we should rather rejoice in his great usefulness.

He was very cheerful and happy right up to the last. In the hospital he was joking and making light of his suffering when I last talked with him. He always had an unusually genial spirit.

The relatives of Dr. Wilson and of Mrs. Wilson have been arriving one after the other during the last three days. I have met some of them at the train and have tried to do anything I could to help. Both of them are members of large families. Dr. Wilson had five brothers and four sisters. The youngest of the brothers to die was fifty-seven and he and the other who has passed away were along in their seventies. His oldest brother, who is two years older than he, is here now. They are all very fine people and several of them have been very successful in various lines of work. The brother who died at fifty-seven was a missionary to Persia and died as a result of his treatment in a Turkish prison during the war.

After the funeral this afternoon they will all go out to Indiana, Pennsylvania, where Dr. Wilson was born, and where he wished to be buried. They will return tomorrow evening.

Mrs. Wilson has asked me to go over all of Dr. Wilson’s books and papers. It will be quite a task but I am sure I will find a great deal of valuable material. Just before he went to the hospital he handed me the manuscript of an article that he had been working on during the summer and asked me to go over it. She has also asked me to go over the financial things with her. She will appoint herself executrix, but she would like me to help her in determining what to do. She has had very little business experience, in her life. He was never in a position to save very much, so it is important to conserve for her what he left.

Words to Live By:
This letter by Dr. MacRae is found among his own papers, now preserved at the PCA Historical Center. Among that material were several boxes of manuscripts that constitute the papers of Dr. Wilson. All of which stands as a warning to our present electronic age, with its email and social media which is so ephemeral, so easily deleted or passed over. In centuries to come, as historians look back there will likely be a void—an absence of detailed information—at least at the individual level, such as that provided above, for many of us fail to preserve the important communications that come our way. We fail to treasure up our history, to do what is necessary to preserve it. Again, partly it is because of that electronic format, but perhaps the larger problem is our own attitude towards the value of our history. The whole problem exposes well our low view of the value of history. And isn’t it interesting that, for a culture with a low view of history (and thus a low view of self), we now find ourselves engaged in an intense struggle over issues of identity?  

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