October 2018

You are currently browsing the archive for the October 2018 category.

As this has been a subject of some recent discussion, our eye was drawn to this article from 1929. Further proof that the debate is not new—God’s people need all of His Word, not just the New Testament.

The Christian’s Need of the Old Testament
by Rev. John T. Reeve, D.D.

[The Presbyterian 99.44 (31 October 1929): 8-10.]

Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”—John 5: 39.

“SEARCH the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye O have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5: 39). There is another verse that should be associated with this, recorded in Luke 24: 27—”And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” These words occur in the conversation between our Lord Jesus and the two disciples on the way to Emmaus on the first Easter afternoon. They were troubled about his death, for they had thought “It had been He which should have redeemed Israel.” But now he was dead and their hopes were all dashed to the ground. You remember how he chided them: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken,” asking them, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory?” Then it says, “And beginning at Moses and the Prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

It is strange that it seems necessary, in view of such words as these, to speak on the subject, “The Christian’s Need of the Old Testament.” But to-day there is a tremendous and increasingly greater tendency on the part of Christians to neglect and even to belittle the Old Testament. I presume this comes about partly from the terribly destructive work done on the Old Testament for the last fifty or seventy-five years. Many who call themselves Christians do not believe that it is the very Word of God, and consequently have lost their reverence and respect for it. But evidently our Lord and his Apostles believed in it and looked upon it as the very Word of God. He said to them, “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” “Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures, the things concerning himself.” In another place, it says, “Then opened he their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures,” and before that, it says, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me.” How could it be that these words had to be “fulfilled,” unless they had been predictions of events yet to be? How could these things be predicted by ordinary men unless they were inspired by Almighty God himself? Yet you read in the New Testament, again and again, that things ‘‘had to be,” in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.

There are few things that the Christian church needs more than a revival of interest in the Old Testament. It would bring a new vigor into the life of the people, and it would do away with some forms of worship offered to God in Christian churches, which must be an affront to his Holy Being. It would do away with many things that are done in the name of religion because there would be such a new conception of the dignity of the House of God and the place where His honor dwelleth.

Someone has said that the foundation of the Christian religion is in the Old Testament; its republication and explication are found in the New. The only Scriptures that Jesus and the Apostles had were the Old Testament.

The only Scriptures that any of those who wrote the New Testament had were the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Can it be that we are so much better than they, that we may ignore this great body of divine truth, the record of God’s redeeming plan for mankind? Can it be that we may neglect these great writings which tell about Christ’s coming and his redeeming work? Can we neglect all this, and yet properly understand his coming and the meaning of his mission? The modern conception of Jesus Christ, so common to-day, in some quarters, could not be if there were the proper regard for the Old Testament.

The Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament, or alluded to, over 850 times, and if all the indirect allusions in the New Testament to the Old Testament, were recorded, I suppose the number would be much greater. There are 600 actual quotations from the Old Testament in the New. It would be impossible to intelligently understand the New Testament with all these 600 quotations and 850 allusions, without a knowledge of the Old—just as we cannot understand Shakespeare intelligently if we do not know the Bible, or Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” unless we know the Bible and classical history. Let me mention three reasons why I believe that Christians do need the Old Testament.

1. We need it that we may have a proper conception of man’s need and God’s plan for his redemption. The great word throughout the Old Testament is the word “sin,” and we can never have an adequate conception of the heinousness of sin and how God hates it unless we know what he has said about it and what methods he used to deal with it. All those minute laws relating to sacrifices, so minute that we can hardly take the time to read them, were for the purpose of impressing on the minds and hearts of the people how hateful sin was to God and how it brought guilt and pollution and uncleanness. All these laws about sacrifice were for the purpose of impressing on the minds of the people the truth that, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.” As Paul says, “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.” Well, this modern world needs to have this great fact impressed upon it just as much as did the ancient one. Think of the looseness in the luxurious life of to-day. How shall men know the need of a Saviour and his redeeming blood, unless they first know how heinous sin is, and how utterly impossible it is for man himself to provide a remedy that can remove sin’s guilt and wash away its stain.

The late Principal Forsythe, in one of his books, speaks of the famous Dr. Dale talking with him about the loss of the word “grace” from the preaching of their day. And they concluded that the reason for the loss of this great and wonderful word from our language was the lost sense of sin. In other words, if man does not know what sin is (and he cannot fully know what it is unless he knows the Old Testament), he will not flee to God for salvation, but will try to save himself. And unless he does flee to God for salvation, he will never feel that it is “by grace” that he has been saved. He will never be able to sing with all the saints:

“Grace, ‘tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to the ear;
Heav’n with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.”

Dr. Forsythe says, “For we have lost the sense of sin, which is the central issue of all ethics, because it turns on the relation of the conscience to the conscience of God. And apart from sin, grace has little meaning. The decay of the sense of sin measures our loss of that central Christian idea; and it is a loss which has only to go on to extinguish Christianity.”

The Old Testament not only reveals to man his sinful and lost condition, but also reveals to him the Saviour whom God has provided. The story of the redemptive purpose of God in Christ runs through the Scriptures from end to end. Moses writes about him in the proto-evangelism and predicts his coming when he foretells, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a law-giver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” David sings about him when he writes in the 110th Psalm, “The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” And our Lord took those words and applied them to himself when he was reasoning with the Jews. So Isaiah foretells his coming and his virgin birth when he says, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”; or again, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty Lord, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Later on in the great 53rd chapter, which the Christian church has always cherished as a clear prediction and delineation, of the Saviour’s sufferings on the Cross, we read, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Still more clearly through these great prophets we trace the development of the kingdom, Christ’s coming again in power and his glorious reign.

Thus we see how necessary it is that the Christian of to-day be familiar with the Old Testament as well as with the New if he is to have an adequate conception of our Lord and his redeeming work. That was the reason that he himself, in explaining to the two disciples on the Emmaus road the meaning of his death, went back to the Old Testament, “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

II. A better knowledge of the Old Testament would renew the moral vigor of the church and of the nation.

As we have said, there is a great deal of looseness in the luxurious life of to-day. Much of this has crept into the church. The great Alexander Maclaren wrote before he died, “Especially does that crash of Jerusalem’s fall thunder the lesson to all the churches that their life and prosperity are inseparably connected with faithful obedience and turning away from all worldliness, which is idolatry. Our very privileges call us to beware. The warning is needed to-day:for worldliness is rampant in the church.” In recent months the word came from our President that the dominant issue before the American people was the enforcement of and obedience to the laws of the United States, both Federal and State. He warned us that we are threatened with a breakdown in the moral sentiment of the country by reason of wide-spread disobedience to law. Think what it must have cost him to admit such a situation before the world! Think what it means—the “breakdown of the moral sentiment of the country!” How have we come to such a pass? How is it that there are 12,000 murders a year in our land—fifty times more than in Great Britain? How is it that there are 30,000 criminals at large in New York, and 10,000 in Chicago, as told us by the crime commissioner of the American Bar Association? Because we have disregarded the law of God. It is only a short step to disregard of the laws of the home, the church and the nation. A return to the faithful reading of the Old Testament, with such ringing words as those of David: “O how I love thy law, it is my meditation all the day,” would bring us back again to a new recognition of the sanctity of all law.

Wrong begins in a small way, but it goes from person to person like an epidemic. You would think it would take a thousand years for a community to become contaminated, but you are mistaken. It is like a disease. When one falls in error, another immediately falls, and so on, and it spreads through the people. If you read the Old Testament, you will see that that is the way it is. Take the awful sin of the Children of Israel at Baal-Peor, when Moses went up to the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. When he came down, the whole nation was contaminated with the awful sin of licentiousness. It was necessary to train the people to see the difference between clean and unclean. And one of the greatest needs of our day is the revival of the power of discrimination between the clean and the unclean, between right and wrong, between that which is moral and that which is immoral.

So the Christian needs the Old Testament, in order to have an adequate conception of right and wrong, of moral and immoral, of clean and unclean. A return to its mighty Scriptures would restore some of that moral and spiritual vigor which made our fathers great. The plow-share of the law of God needs to tear through the hardened crust of many of these ruthless and wicked hearts, of whom our President speaks, and awaken them to the evil of their ways that they may turn from them and repent.

III. The Christian needs the Old Testament because Christ and the Apostles felt their need of it. Christ never recognized any other authority on earth but the Scriptures of the Old Testament. He proved everything by them, he referred everything to them, and if things did not measure up to the Old Testament standard of truth, then they were cast aside.

Of course, in some instances, he went on and added to the Revelation given through Moses since he was God’s latest revelation to man. But in all the critical and important issues of his life, he went back to the Scriptures that he had learned at his mother’s knee and in the synagogue, for his guiding principles. It is interesting to note that in answer to all the queries put to him by the devil during the temptation in the wilderness, our Saviour used the very words of the Old Testament. He in whom were all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge refused to rely on his own mind, but met the tempter with the very Word of God. It is significant to note that in all three instances, the answer came from Deuteronomy, once from the eighth chapter, and twice from the sixth.

Or take the instance when the young lawyer asked our Lord what he should do to inherit eternal life. Christ could have given him some very sound and helpful advice surely from his own fund of knowledge. But, instead, he referred him to the Scriptures and repeated to him those two great verses from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, which in another place he referred to as the first and greatest commandment.

If, as some would have us believe, we do not need to lean so heavily on the Old Testament, but can very well ignore it in these days, why did our Lord feel the necessity of quoting it verbatim on all these occasions ?

Take the occasion to which we referred in the beginning when the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were so puzzled about the events that had just taken place in Jerusalem in connection with the crucifixion. One would think that Christ could have just talked to them in a brotherly way and have shown them the reasonableness of it all—how it was necessary that he should die. But, instead, it says: “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Why was it that Jesus did not stop on the road and say: “My brethren, it is this way,” and tell them why it happened that he was crucified and how he rose again? Why did he not tell them in his own words? Why did he not draw out from his own wealth of knowledge, for he knew all philosophy and all wisdom? The only answer we can give is that for him there was no higher authority than the Scriptures of the Old Testament, for they were the Word of God.

Even as he hung upon the Cross and uttered that great word that no human mind can fully understand, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” he was quoting from the twenty-second Psalm. And the very last word of all, according to Luke, when he said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” was a quotation, the words of Psalm 31: 5.

Surety, in view of all this, it is clear that we poor, faltering, ignorant creatures, with our finite knowledge, cannot afford to ignore this great wealth of inspired truth. “Just as necessary as a question is to the answer and an answer is to the question, so necessary is the Old Testament to the New and the New to the Old.” Let us search the Scriptures, for in them we think that we have Eternal Life and they are they that testify of Christ. The Christian to-day needs the Old Testament as well as the New. Let us to the law and to the testimony, for the entrance of God’s Word giveth light.

The Rev. Samuel G. Craig is noted as the founder of the Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, known to us today simply as P&R. He had served as assistant editor and then as editor of the Philadelphia based magazine The Presbyterian. When ousted from that post, he founded P&R, with Dr. J. Gresham Machen providing a portion of the needed start-up capital.

Prayer and Care for Young Converts
by the Rev. Samuel G. Craig

[The Presbyterian 99.44 (31 October 1929): 3-4.]

There should be much intercessory prayer, or prayer for others. Those who are Christians should pray for all classes and conditions of men. They should pray for the heathen, that they may be evangelized; for the wicked and criminal, that they may be led to turn from the evil of their ways; for the unconverted, that they may be turned to know and accept Christ as their Saviour; for the sick, that they may have the healing grace of God; for the sorrowing, that they may be comforted; for the aged, that they may have the sense of God’s presence; for the children and the young people, that they may become the true children of God.

But it occurred to Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that he ought to pray for Christian people. He tells the converted followers of Christ at Colossae that he had been praying for them always since he “heard of their faith in Christ Jesus and their love to all the saints.” It would seem to some persons that these Christian people did not need to be prayed for, since they had given their hearts to Christ and were living so consistently and truly. It would seem that prayers had been answered for them since they had been brought into the kingdom and were obviously among the saved.

But Paul thought differently. He was not ready to take their names off his praying list. He was intending to go on praying for them. He told them that he was praying for them, and he told them what it was that he was praying for in their behalf. He said he was asking that they might “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness.” This was a beautiful program. It was a rich and abundant budget of blessing. With a heart of love for them, and desiring that they might become greatly useful in Christ’s service, he prayed for them that they might go on from grace to grace, and from strength to strength.

It is not enough that souls shall be converted. That is the very point, at which arriving, they should go on increasing in Christian knowledge and Christian usefulness.

It is not enough that a human babe should be born. It is at the time of birth a most helpless and dependent being. It must be nourished and nurtured, for weeks and months and years, before it can walk and talk, and be capable of physical support, and it must be instructed intellectually and morally, if it comes to its full estate. So, in a corresponding manner, must one who is born again, a spiritual babe in Christ, be nurtured and cared for, strengthened and instructed, if it comes into the useful and capable life to which God’s children should attain.

It is then most important that those who have just been converted shall have the most loving and nurturing care of Christian friends, who will pray for and with them, and help to lead them into the strong and Spirit-filled and well-informed life which Paul prayed might be the portion of the Colossian Christians.

It seems sadly evident, from the large number of members of our churches, placed, every year, on the awful retired, suspended rolls, that in some way there failed to be the proper, prayerful care for many who have been added to the church. A time which we call a “revival time” is often an occasion of great joy to Christian people, when they see many of those for whom they have been solicitous added to the membership of the church on confession of faith. It seems to these friends that prayers have been answered. They cease to watch and pray for these young converts. They take their names from their prayer lists. They cease to be intercessory for them. They do not continue to pray for them.

But the world does not cease its sinful attractions. The remnants of the sinful nature in the hearts of those young converts do not at once die out. These young Christians need to be cared for, trained, watched over, set to work, and, especially, to be prayed for with all loving zeal.

We have often thought that this Book of Colossians might well be the text-book in every church and every pulpit, after every revival, every communion, and every conversion. It is a great occasion when a child is born into a home. But it is the beginning of care that must and will know no intermitting through all the years of that child’s infancy and adolescence. It is a great occasion when any person is converted and added to a church. But it ought to be the very beginning of great care and great prayer for him on the part of pastors, elders, and all the Christian people.

If the whole church put into active spiritual practice the life and lessons taught by Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians, as to the care of young converts and, indeed, of all Christians, there would cease to be a large part of the sorrow and shame that are called for by the Suspended Rolls.

A Pastor in  a Period of Deep Anxiety
by Rev. David T. Myers

Readers of this historical devotional may remember that there was a schism in American Presbyterianism in 1741 between what was called the New Side and the Old Side Presbyterians. With such bright ministers as Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Blair, George Whitefield, Samuel Davies, to mention a few, we might suppose that evangelistic activities only was found among the New Side Presbyterians. But this would be a wrong conclusion.  Consider the ministry of Rev. Alexander McDowell.

Ordained on October 29, 1741, the very year of the schism, Alexander McDowell was sent by the Old Side Presbytery of New Castle,  to Virginia as an evangelist that same year.  He was eminently qualified for this missionary effort.  Born in Ireland and educated at the University of Edinburgh, he came to the American colonies in 1737.

Following his evangelistic tour, he took the pulpit of two Old Side Presbyterian congregations in Elk Church, Lewisville, Pennsylvania and White Clay Creek Church in Newark, Delaware.  Remaining in them for seventeen years, he was said to be a man of more than ordinary mental abilities, an excellent scholar, and a laborious educator.  He was faithful to the higher courts of Presbytery and Synod.  What we might call para-church activities today, he earnestly sought to raise financial support for the widows of ministers.  He even served as a chaplain during the French and Indian War.

Following his faithful ministry as a pastor, he took over the education responsibilities of the Rev. Francis Allison in his free classical school.  When Rev. McDowell oversaw its pupils, it was known at the Newark Academy.  Teaching Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Philosophy, he sought to train the students under his care. This institution went through several changes of names, until it became the University of Delaware in 1921.

Words to live by:  That which produced the First Great Awakening in our land is often lauded, and it should be. But there were those who objected to the emotionalism displayed in those services. They should not be labeled as liberals in any sense of the word.  We are dealing here with different methods of doing God’s work.  There can be as much of God’s Spirit advancing the kingdom of grace with men like Alexander McDowell as there was with a Rev. Gilbert Tennent.  As long as the gospel is proclaimed faithfully, and God’s Word is upheld strongly, let us pray for the advance of the dominion of grace in the hearts of men and women.

STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM.
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 104. What do we pray for in the fourth petition?

A. In the fourth petition (which is, “Give us this day our daily bread”) we pray, That of God’s free gift we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life, and enjoy His blessing with them.

Scripture References: Matt. 6:11; Prov. 30:8-9; Gen. 28:20; I Tim. 4:4-5.

Questions:

1. How can we best interpret the word “bread” in this question?

The word “bread can be interpreted as all the needful things God gives to us in this life. An excellent verse in this regard is Proverbs 30:8—”Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me.”

2. Why should we take note of the word “give” in this question?

The Lord had good reason for using the word “give” here. This is to remind us that these things are gifts from above. Too many times we take for granted the needs that are supplied for us by Him. We should remember He delights in giving and be thankful!

3. Is it possible that the Lord is speaking here of spiritual blessings as well as the good things of this life?

It would seem that the Lord here means simply the good things of this life. The Lord’s Prayer is complete and this is the portion that has to do with the temporal things while the spiritual things are covered in other petitions.

4. Is it necessary for us to pray daily for these good things?

Yes, it is necessary because He taught us to do so. In addition, we are taught by Him to give a day at a time (Matt. 6:34).

5. What can we learn from the words “our bread” in this question?

We can learn that it is ours only in that we have labored for it, all to the glory of God. If we have obtained “our bread” through false means it is not really ours in the sight of God.

6. Could you comment on the word “us” in this question?

It is interesting to note the word “us” is used. Here we have the opportunity of making known our wishes to the Lord to include our fellowmen in our prayer. We are urged in the Word of God to constantly pray for our neighbors and to love them.

LEARNING TO BE CONTENT.

“Not that I speak in respect of want; for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” (Phil. 4:11). When we pray “Give us this day our daily bread” we are praying that He will teach us to be content with what we have, a daily portion of the showers of blessing. We are praying that He will discipline us to the day at a time instead of the prayer that is filled with greed and calls out, “More, More!”

William Hendrickson points out here, “The satisfaction of a material need must not be construed as being either the real reason for or the measure of my joy. On the contrary, regardless of outward circumstances, I would still be satisfied. My conversion-experience, and also my subsequent trials for the sake of Christ and His gospel, have taught me a lesson. The path which I traveled led me ever closer to Christ, to His love, and to His power, yes to Christ and contentment in Him. That very contentment is riches to me.” (A Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians). It is a good commentary on Phil. 4:11 and equally as good on the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

May God help us to learn to pray for “our daily bread” and mean by it that we are content with what we have. We must always remember that we have far more than we deserve and God is perfectly capable of giving us far less than we have! We should be blessing God for our daily bread, realizing He knows what is best for us. It is a lesson we need to learn, all to His glory.

Some years ago God gave me the privilege of watching an eight year old girl when she was shown to the room she would share with another girl. It was a school for children from broken homes where I was serving the Lord. The girl’s eyes took in the bed, clean sheets, the three drawer dresser, her own space in a closet. She turned to me and said, “All for me? Wow! This is like heaven!” It may be hard for some to understand her enthusiasm, but it must be noted that she came from a background where such things were not commonplace to her. Her life had been without such wondrous things. Some three months later she came up to me, took me by the hand, and said, “Thanks again for all the things I have!” She was content and part of her contentment was motivated by a recognition on her part that she: 
(1) Did not deserve what she had; 
(2) Was so much better off than before. 
May we apply her material position and recognitions to our spiritual position! May our prayer be made in an attitude of contentment: “Give us our daily bread.”

Published by The Shield and Sword, Inc.
Dedicated to instruction in the Westminster Standards for use as a bulletin insert or other methods of distribution in Presbyterian churches.

Vol. 7, No. 9 (September 1968)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor. 

Filed under “They just don’t write ’em like that any more.” — We came across the 1881 resolution by the 1881 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, US, on page 363 of their Minutes:

Memorial for William Swan Plumer — 1881

The Committee recommend the adoption of the following Minute:

Whereas, it pleased the Great Head of the Church to remove, in October 1880, from the scene of his earthly labors, that he might be with Him where He is, and behold His glory, Rev. W. S. Plumer, D.D., LL.D., Professor of Pastoral and Casuistic Theology in Columbia Seminary, by appointment of this body:

Resolved, That this Assembly does now record its testimony to the personal worth, eminent piety, unremitting industry and zeal, and official fidelity of this distinguished servant of Christ. Our deceased brother was a rare gift of the ascended Redeemer to his militant Church, and we render to Him thanks for that grace which qualified our brother for his varied and abundant labors—for his long and useful life, and for the testimony of his lips, life and death to the truth, preciousness and power of that gospel which was his comfort, joy and trust, living and dying.

Moment by moment, we must train our hearts and minds to depend upon the Lord, for we can so easily be rendered powerless and all our own efforts are found insufficient to deal with what comes against us. The Lord is our strength and our strong tower. In a word, humility is the lesson that should be learned. 

On the Utter Necessity of Humility in Theological Studies

plumerws02“It therefore becomes a matter of great practical importance how we shall treat the mysteries of the religion we profess to embrace. The errors on this subject are two. Some give up all that is mysterious as untrue, or at least doubtful. Others pretend to explain every thing so as to make it comprehensible. The former go in the open road to infidelity. The latter travel the parallel road of rationalism. If God teaches a truth either by nature or revelation, we err, just so far as we hesitate to receive it. There is hardly any better test of humility of mind than our treatment of inscrutable things in religion. Pride of intellect is very turbulent & delights in the persuasion that it is as God knowing all things. He, whose reason is never surpassed, whose reasonings are never confounded, whose philosophy is never nonplussed, is a poor self-conceited creature, who will in the end be found to possess only the folly of fools. Let every man love whatever his Creator teaches. If he cannot measure the azure vault above him, he may still perceive that it is there. If Jehovah hides himself, he is still Jehovah. If salvation is wonderful, God so revealed it from the first. Therefore, beware lest you come boasting rather than praying, lest you use great swelling words of vanity, rather than the fitting petition, ‘Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.’ (Ps. 119:18).”

Something for all of us to consider. And on that same subject, our readers may want to consult a new book by Christopher Hutchinson, Senior pastor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA), in Blackburg, Virginia. The book is titled Rediscovering Humility: Why the Way Up Is Down. The publisher’s advertisement describes the book as:

A systematic and comprehensive treatment of this core tenant of Christianity, Rediscovering Humility is structured around the three times Jesus addresses the topic in Scripture—how it is found, embraced and applied. This insightful resource should be required reading for all seminary students so they can understand the pitfalls of leadership before they begin to pastor. Current pastors and church leaders will find Hutchinson’s critiques and suggestions helpful as they seek to create humble and healthy churches. Individuals who have lost an appreciation for humility as a central Christian virtue will be reminded of its value as the best way to grow closer to and more like Jesus.

The moderator of the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America was a ruling elder–the Hon. W. Jack Williamson. Since that time, the PCA has established a tradition of alternating between ruling elders and teaching elders in its nomination and election of moderators for the General Assembly. But this practice remains unusual among Presbyterian denominations. In the OPC, for instance, the moderator of their General Assembly is almost always a minister; only on a few occasions have they elected a ruling elder to serve as moderator, presumably as a way of conferring a special honor. And even within our own ecclesiastical heritage—looking back to the old Southern Presbyterian Church—it wasn’t always so, as Rev. R.C. Reed explains in this review of the PCUS General Assembly of 1914 :

“The Assembly elected a ruling elder to preside over its sessions. The law which makes the ruling elder eligible to the moderatorship of all our church courts is but a corollary of a fundamental principle of Presbyterianism–the parity in authority of all Presbyters. Our church did right to put this corollary into the form of law, and it ought not to suffer the law to lapse into a condition of innocuous desuetude. We cannot be accused of working it overtime. The law was enacted in 1886. It was seven years after that date before it received its first practical recognition in the election of Hon. J.W. Lapsley. Only four ruling elders have presided over our Assemblies in the twenty-eight years since the way was open for them to be honored with this responsibility. Always there is good material among the ministerial members to fill the office, as there was in the last Assembly, and there is never any reluctance on their part to serve, but they, as well as others, allow the propriety of occasionally electing a ruling elder in order to do justice to the principle of parity.”

[excerpted from “The General Assembly of 1914” by R.C. Reed, in Union Seminary Review 26.1 (October 1914): 4.]

This change to the constitution of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. was enacted in 1886, as Rev. Reed notes. The overture to enact this change first came from the Synod of Virginia and from the Presbytery of Chickasaw, in 1884. The Minutes of the 1885 Assembly (p. 432) note that:

The Committee on Bills and Overtures reported on the overtures from the Synod of Virginia and from the Presbytery of Chickasaw, which were sent to the last Assembly and referred by it to this (see Minutes of 1884, pages 249 and 250), asking an amendment of the Form of Government in reference to the duties of ruling elders when elected moderators of church courts. Pending the discussion, a substitute was offered by the Rev. P.T. Penick, which was adopted, and is as follows:

That the request contained in these overtures be granted and that the Assembly hereby recommends and sends down to the Presbyteries for their advice and consent thereunto the following:

That to the clause in the Form of Government, Chapter IV., Section 3, Paragraph 2, stating that ruling elders “possess the same authority in the courts of the Church as the ministers of the word,” shall be added this sentence, “When, however, a ruling elder is moderator of a Presbytery, Synod, or General Assembly, any official duty devolving upon him the performance of which requires the exercise of functions pertaining only to the teaching elder, shall be remitted by him for execution to such minister of the word, being a member of the court, as he may select.

In the PCA’s Book of Church Order, parity among elders is noted in BCO 8.9 :

Elders being of one class of office, ruling elders possess the same authority and eligibility to office in the courts of the Church as teaching elders. They should, moreover, cultivate zealously their own aptness to teach the Bible and should improve every opportunity of doing so.

Comparing that present text with an overview of how this paragraph has changed over the years. First, the PCA text as it currently reads:

Elders being of one class of office, ruling elders possess the same authority and eligibility to office in the courts of the Church as teaching elders. They should, moreover, cultivate zealously their own aptness to teach the Bible and should improve every opportunity of doing so.

Then the text we had in 1973 and where that text came from out of the Presbyterian Church, US (aka Southern), dating back to 1888:

These Ruling Elders possess the same authority and eligibility to office in the courts of the Church as the Ministers of the Word. They should, moreover, cultivate zealously their aptness to teach the Bible and should improve every opportunity of doing so, to the end that destitute places, mission points, and churches without Pastors may be supplied with religious services.
1. PCA 1973, 9-2, Adopted text, M1GA, Appendix, p. 131
2. Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 9-2, Proposed text, p. 9
3. PCUS 1933, X-§41
4. PCUS 1925, X-§41
and
5. PCUS 1888 (cf. PCUS Minutes, p. 424)

These Ruling Elders do not labour in the Word and doctrine, but possess the same authority in the courts of the Church as the Ministers of the Word.
[PCUS 1879, IV-3-2]

These Presbyters, as ecclesiastical rulers, possess the same authority with the Teaching Elder.
[PCUS 1869 draft, IV-3-2]

These presbyters, as ecclesiastical rulers, are of the same rank, and possess the same authority with the teaching elder. And while the titles of bishop, pastor, and minister, belong to the teaching elder by way of eminency, because he excels by reason of his entire consecration to the work, as well as by the superiority of his functions, they also belong to the office of the ruling elder, seeing that, in order to rule with diligence, he must take the oversight of the flock; in order to its protection he must guard and guide it; and in order to discharge the chief duty of his office, he must serve Christ diligently in the exercise of government.
[PCUS 1867 draft, IV-3-2]

It becomes clear that the provision or recognition for having ruling elders serve as moderators of the higher courts was something which was from the start embedded in the Book of Church Order, even though that field of service was not always recognized or practiced by the Church.

And here concluding, the commentary of F.P. Ramsay (1898), though written in reference to the PCUS BCO, still pertains :

43.–II. These Ruling Elders do not labour in the Word and doctrine, but possess the same authority in the courts of the Church as the Ministers of the Word.

officially (for nothing is here decided as to what others than Ministers of the Word may do unofficially in the Word and doctrine),

but possess he same authority in the courts of the Church as the Ministers of the Word.

May he then be Moderator of a court, and of the higher courts as well as of a Session, seeing that to Moderators are assigned certain duties that only Ministers can perform?
Yes.

When, however, a Ruling Elder is Moderator of a Presbytery, Synod, or General Assembly, any official duty devolving on him, the performance of which requires the exercise of functions pertaining only to the teaching Elder, shall be remitted by him for execution to such Minister of the Word, being a member of the court, as he may select.

The Minister must be a member of the same court, so that he may be under the control of the court. It is to be observed that by a court consisting of the Word, men may be appointed to ministerial functions, and are subject to the control of the court, the power of government extending over the Church and its officers in all their functions. It is also to be observed that the Moderator is appointed to a special work by a court, and is answerable to the court appointing him. It is further to be observed that there is no fundamental principle requiring that the Moderator shall be of this or that class of Elders; but, since, as a matter of conveniency and prudence, certain ministerial functions are, in the detailed regulations of the Form of Government, assigned to the Moderator, the principles of the system do require either that these regulations should be abolished, or that Ruling Elders be kept out of the position of Moderator, or that a special provision, such as this, determine the assignment of ministerial functions. Provision is made elsewhere as to the Moderator of the Session.
[F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order(1898, p. 55-56), on IV-3-2 :]

Words to Live By:
All in all, prayer not just for your pastors, but for all the elders in your church. Pray that the Lord would enable and sustain them in their duties on behalf of your congregation. And encourage them in their work when you can.

The True Meaning of Separation of Church and State
by Rev. David T. Myers

Four months after the Declaration  of Independence was presented to the fledgling country, Hanover Presbytery in Virginia presented a memorial on October 24, 1776 on the subject of the free exercise of religion.

On the one hand, there was stated in the memorial the realization that “the gospel does not need any such civil aid.” These Presbyterian teaching and ruling elders recognized that the Savior declared that His kingdom was not of this world, and therefore renounced “all dependence upon state power.” Our Lord’s weapons, this mother of all southern presbyteries, stated, “are spiritual and were only designed to have influence on the judgment and heart of man.” Biblical Christianity will continue to prevail and flourish in the greatest purity by its own native excellence and under the all-disposing providence of God, as it was the case in the days of the apostles.

Then, they humbly petitioned their civil counterparts by saying, “we ask no ecclesiastical establishments for ourselves, nor can we approve of them when granted to others.” In other words, let there be no state or national church in this new republic, such was the case in England, and for that matter, in Virginia up to this time, where Anglicanism was the religion of the state. “Let all laws,” they said in their appeal to the General Assembly as it met for the first time, “which countenance religious domination be speedily repealed, that all of every religious sect may be protected in the full exercise of their several modes of worship.” Every church then “will be left to stand or fall according to merit, which can never be the case so long as any one denomination is established in preference to others.”

This was the full meaning of the separation of church and state in the early days of our country. These early Presbyterians did not desire that Presbyterianism be the religion of the new land.  But neither did they desire that any other denomination have the priority in America. Let there be a separation of church and state.

Words to live by:
In our day and age, this separation of church and state has been misinterpreted to mean the separation of God and state. So there is a constant effort to erase any mention of the God of the Bible from our local, state, and national arenas of life.  From the removal of the Ten Commandments in monuments to the hindrance of placing cradles of the baby Jesus at Christmas time on courtyards to religious jewelry like crosses being forbidden by workers — all this is being done supposedly on the basis of the separation of church and state. Christians must be vocal in denouncing such opposition and correcting the misinterpreting of the slogan in the minds and hearts of America. Let us not be silent in this. We must be more theologically correct than politically correct.

Massacre in Ulster
by Rev. David T. Myers

Some of our readers may be acquainted with the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France when Romanism decided to rid their nation of the Huguenots, or French Calvinists in the land. Well, did you know that a similar massacre occurred in Ulster, or Northern Ireland in the mid seventeen hundreds?

The atrocities were so horrible during this massacre that some historians try to downplay the whole scene. It was to them purely a nationalistic issue in that the Irish wished to reclaim their ancient lands from the Scotchmen who had occupied them. Yet Sir Phelim O’Neill, one of the leaders of this movement, stated that he would never leave off the work he had begun until Mass should be sung and said in every church in Ireland, and that a Protestant should not live in Ireland, be he of what nation he would. Certain elements of the Roman Catholic clergy recommended that a general massacre was the safest and most effectual method of putting down the Protestant ascendancy. Immediate entrance into heaven, without stopping in purgatory, was promised to the assailants. And so on this day, October 23, 1641, the initial outbreak of this cruel rebellion took place. It would not end fully until eleven years had passed.

This author does not wish to describe in detail the atrocities which transpired upon Protestant men, women, and children. After all, these posts are devotionals. Yet certainly the events of those days rival and even surpass the terrible times of the early church under persecution, as described in Hebrews 11:32-40. Thousands of Irish Presbyterians, along with their pastors, were slaughtered by their Roman Catholic neighbors.

The mass killings were stopped by the arrival of Major General Munro and ten thousand Scottish troops, who arrived in February of 1642. Partial order was restored, even though it was the beginnings of a decade of war in the land.

Words to Live By:
Incidents like this are hard to understand for God’s people, whether then or now. What purpose did God have in allowing His people to be removed from France or Ulster? It is a question which no one but God can fully answer. This is why theologians have spoken of “hard or dark providences” on earth. Moses answers under the Holy Spirit a biblical answer in Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”

Confessions of a Dying Man
by Rev. David Myers

This author will never forget the words of the Christian woman in the hospital bed that afternoon. A fellow PCA pastor had asked me to visit her in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania hospital as she was facing a serious illness. So I went to see this stranger and we talked of her life and testimony in my ministerial friend’s church. She assured me that she was not afraid to die, as her hope in Christ was a strong conviction in her life. But then she said that she wasn’t so confident of the means to arrive in heaven for her. And I acknowledged that this was the feelings of any Christian man or woman. We know heaven is waiting for us because of our firm faith in the Son of God as personal Lord and Savior. But the means of leaving this earth and gaining eternal life might be a scary proposition. One Christian gentleman named Archibald Alexander showed by his comments in 1851 that this was true.

Dr. Alexander was the first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary, in Princeton, New Jersey, after a lifetime of ministry as a pastor, college president, and scholar. Other professors were to join him, and indeed his long ministry to this Presbyterian Seminary came to an end in 1851. Both of your authors to this website have written on him in those active years in other posts. (See here) But I would like of focus on his thoughts and words as he realized the nearness to his departure from, this earth.

To his son, Dr. Alexander said “I have this morning been reviewing the plan of salvation, and assuring myself of my acceptance of it. I am in peace. The transition from this world to another, so utterly unknown, is certainly awful, and would be destructive, were it not guarded by Christ. I know he will do all well.”

A few days later, he spoke with another, saying that “if such be the Lord’s will, he was ready” and even preferred to “go now.”

To Charles Hodge, he stated that his peace in departing this earth was due to the ministry of angelic hosts, saying “that they are always around the dying beds of God’s people.”

And finally, his last confession of faith spoke of “all his theology is reduced to a moral compass, Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”

His transition to heaven took place on this day, October 22. 1851.

Words to Live By:
Surely these thoughts and words should give each Christian reader much comfort as we confront our departure from this earth in His timing. In this author’s case, I am in my late seventies on this earth. Yet, as Dr Alexander acknowledged that while the transition from this world would be certainly awful, praise God, it is guarded by Christ who does all things well. He is around the dying beds of God’s people! And with that, we can rest assured in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, in both life and death.

Lastly, a small advertisement, if you will. We recently mentioned the Log College Press, and have learned they have a forthcoming publication, very timely in view of our post today. Aging In Grace: Letters to Those in the Autumn of Life, by Archibald Alexander, looks to be a great resource and one worth your consideration. To order, or to find out more, click here. For more on Dr. Alexander, including the transcription of his sermon on our Lord’s incarnation, see the post at Presbyterians of the Past.

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: