March 2014

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A Supreme Court Justice Plants a Church

When forty thousand Christians on December 4, 1973 started a new Presbyterian Church, they were understandably excited beyond measure for the fruition of plans to begin a Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching church true to the Scriptures, the Reformed Faith, and the Great Commission.  Though they essentially had left the Southern Presbyterian church (PCUS), they had a vision of impacting the whole nation.  So they named their denomination the National Presbyterian Church.  They immediately however encountered a road block to the choice of that name.  There already was a congregation by that name, the National Presbyterian Church, located in Washington, D.C., and this local church had a national mission to all the states and even beyond, primarily as an endorsing authority for military chaplains. So in the second year of its existence, the new denomination changed its name to the Presbyterian Church in America.

National Presbyterian Church [the congregation] had its beginnings in two PCUSA congregations located in the nation’s capitol. The First Presbyterian Church, which began in the last decade of the seventeen hundreds in our nation’s capitol, was the home of countless presidents.  Chief executives like Jackson, Polk, Pierce, Buchanan, Cleveland made this their Washington home church.

William Strong, Supreme Court Justice [6 May 1808-19 August 1895The other congregation which joined to make National Presbyterian what it is today was Covenant Presbyterian Church.  It was begun when eleven ruling elders of  New York Avenue Presbyterian Church met in the home of Supreme Court Justice William Strong on March 11, 1883 to plant another Presbyterian church in the capitol.  Its first service was in 1889 and it was dedicated in 1901.  Early attenders were President Harrison and Alexander Graham Bell.  It became the home church of President Dwight David Eisenhower, when he was elected to this high position.

Both churches united and were designated as the National Presbyterian Church as an action of the Presbyterian Church USA in 1946.   Thus, they did not wish any confusion as to what would be considered the National Presbyterian Church.

In hindsight, the decision to change the denominational name rather than contest the matter, while gracious, was also providential. For so the churches, sessions, and elders who came out of the PCUS church in 1973 were then enabled to choose what their real calling  was to be, namely, the Presbyterian Church in America.

Words to Live By: God doesn’t ever make any mistakes.  If an action in your life, or the life of your church, at first seems a puzzle, just wait for God’s providence to make it clear.

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There was a good deal of serious scholarship which arose from among the early leaders of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Bible Presbyterian Synod. And of the many who accomplished so much in their study and defense of the Scriptures, the Rev. Dr. R. Laird Harris was easily among the most notable of these scholars.

harris02Robert Laird Harris was born on 10 March 1911 in Brownsburg, Pennsylvania. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Delaware in 1931, a Th.B. from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1935 and a Th.M. from Westminster in 1937. He was licensed in 1935 by the New Castle Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA), and ordained in June 1936 in the Presbyterian Church of America [the original name of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)] at that denomination’s first General Assembly.

He left the OPC late in 1937 to join the newly formed Bible Presbyterian Church. Harris then received an A.M. degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1941, and was later part-time instructor in Hebrew there from 1946 to 1947. He obtained his Ph.D. from Dropsie in 1947. Biblical exegesis was Dr. Harris’s field and he taught this for twenty years at Faith Theological Seminary, first as instructor (1937 – 1943), then as assistant professor (1943 – 1947) and finally as professor (1947 – 1956).

Dr. Harris served as moderator of the Bible Presbyterian Synod in 1956, the year in which the denomination divided. Harris defended the validity of church-controlled agencies against those who insisted on independent agencies, and he was one of many faculty members to resign from Faith Seminary that year. He became at that time one of the founding faculty members of Covenant Theological Seminary. He was professor there and chairman of the Old Testament department from 1956 until he retired from full-time teaching in 1981. He remained an occasional lecturer at Covenant, and was also a lecturer in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan and a visiting professor in India, Hong Kong and Germany following his retirement, while also working on further revisions to the New International Version translation of the Bible.

He remained active in church leadership, serving as chairman of the fraternal relations committee of the Bible Presbyterian Church, Columbus Synod during the late 1950s, when discussion began concerning union between the BPC, Columbus Synod and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod. He remained on that committee through 1965, seeing the effort through to the culmination of ecclesiastical union with the creation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES). In 1982, the RPCES joined the Presbyterian Church in America and Dr. Harris was elected moderator that year for the 10th General Assembly of the PCA.

Harris was not only a teacher and church leader, but a prolific author as well. He published an Introductory Hebrew Grammar, the prize-winningInspiration and Canonicity of the Bible, and additional works such as Your Bible and Man–God’s Eternal Creation. He was editor of The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament and a contributing editor to the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, and wrote articles for the Wycliffe Bible Commentary and Expositor’s Bible. Also, as noted above, Dr. Harris served as chairman of the Committee on Bible Translation that produced the New International Version of the Bible .

Dr. Harris’ first wife, Elizabeth K. Nelson, died in 1980. He later married Anne P. Krauss and they resided for some time in Wilmington, Delaware before declining health prompted a move to the Quarryville Retirement Home in Quarryville, PA. Dr. Robert Laird Harris entered glory on 25 April 2008. The funeral service for Dr. Harris was conducted on 1 May 2008 at the Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church, Quarryville, PA, and internment was on 2 May 2008 in the historic cemetery adjacent to the Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church, New Hope, Pennsylvania.

Words to Live By:
For those who enter upon the study of the Scriptures, especially at the academic level, there is a hidden pitfall. It is a deadly danger which ultimately springs from pride and the imposition of human intellect upon the very Word of God. By God’s grace, Dr. Harris avoided this pitfall and to his dying day, his heart remained humble before the Lord his God. The Puritan theologian John Owen, in his Biblical Theology, gives an excellent summary of both the problem and the proper, necessary approach that any scholar must maintain in the study of the Scriptures:

“Wherever fear and caution have not infused the student’s heart, God is despised. His pleasure is only to dwell in hearts which tremble at His Word. Light or frivolous perusal of the Scriptures is a sickness of soul which leads on to the death of atheism. He who would properly undertake the study of the Bible must keep fixed in his memory, fastened as it were with nails, that stern warning of the Apostle in Hebrews 12:28-29, ‘Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire.’ Truly, ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ If this fear is not experienced in the study of the Word, it will not display itself in any other facet of life.’
Biblical Theology, by John Owen (Soli Deo Gloria, 1996), pp. 699-700.

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machen02The following sermon by the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen was delivered in Miller Chapel on the campus of the Princeton Theological Seminary, on March 8, 1925. This sermon was subsequently published in tract form a short time later, and can be found reprinted more recently in a number of places. To view a PDF version of the tract edition, click here.


The Separateness of the Church

by J. Gresham Machen

Ye are the salt of the earth:but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. – (Matthew 5:13, KJV)


In these words our Lord established at the very beginning the distinctness and separateness of the Church. If the sharp distinction is ever broken down between the Church and the world, then the power of the Church is gone. The Church then becomes like salt that has lost its savor, and is fit only to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.

It is a great principle, and there never has been a time in all the centuries of Christian history when it has not had to be taken to heart. The really serious attack upon Christianity has not been the attack carried on by fire and sword, by the threat of bonds or death, but it has been the more subtle attack that has been masked by friendly words; it has been not the attack from without but the attack from within. The enemy has done his deadliest work when he has come with words of love and compromise and peace. And how persistent the attack has been! Never in the centuries of the Church’s life has it been altogether relaxed; always there has been the deadly chemical process, by which, if it had been unchecked, the precious salt would have been merged with the insipidity of the world, and would have been henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.

The process began at the very beginning, in the days when our Lord still walked the Galilean hills. There were many in those days who heard him gladly; he enjoyed at first the favor of the people. But in that favor he saw a deadly peril; he would have nothing of a half-discipleship that meant the merging of the company of his disciples with the world. How ruthlessly he checked a sentimental enthusiasm! “Let the dead bury their dead,” he told the enthusiast who came eagerly to him but was not willing at once to forsake all. “One thing thou lackest,” he said to the rich young ruler, and the young man went sorrowfully away. Truly Jesus did not make it easy to be a follower of him. “He that is not with me,” he said, “is against me.” “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife and children…, he cannot be my disciple.” How serious a thing it was in those days to stand for Christ!

And it was a serious thing not only in the sphere of conduct but also in the sphere of thought. There could be no greater mistake than to suppose that a man in those days could think as he liked and still be a follower of Jesus. On the contrary the offence lay just as much in the sphere of doctrine as in the sphere of life. There were “hard sayings,” then as now, to be accepted by the disciples of Jesus, as well as hard commands. “I am the bread which came down from heaven,” said Jesus. It was indeed a hard saying. No wonder the Jews murmured at him. “Is not this Jesus,” they said, “the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?” “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus did not make the thing easy for these murmurers. “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” At that many even of his disciples were offended. “This is a hard saying,” they said, “who can hear it?” And so they left him. “From that time many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him.” Many of them went back-but not all. “Then said Jesus unto the twelve, ‘Will ye also go away?’ Then Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.’” Thus was the precious salt preserved.

Then came the gathering clouds, and finally the Cross. In the hour of his agony they all left him and fled; apparently the movement that he had initiated was hopelessly dead. But such was not the will of God. The disciples were sifted, but there was still something left. Peter was forgiven; the disciples saw the risen Lord; the salt was still preserved.

One hundred and twenty persons were gathered in Jerusalem. It was not a large company; but salt, if it truly have its savor, can permeate the whole lump. The Spirit came in accordance with our Lord’s promise, and Peter preached the first sermon in the Christian Church. It was hardly a concessive sermon. “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” How unkind Peter was! But by that merciful unkindness they were pricked in their hearts, and three thousand souls were saved.

So there stood the first Christian Church in the midst of a hostile world. At first sight it might have seemed to be a mere Jewish sect; the disciples continued to attend the temple services and to lead the life of Jews. But in reality that little company was as separate as if it had been shut off by desert wastes or the wide reaches of the sea; an invisible barrier, to be crossed only by the wonder of the new birth, separated the disciples of Jesus from the surrounding world. “Of the rest,” we are told, “durst no man join himself to them.” “And fear came upon every soul.” So it will always be. When the disciples of Jesus are really faithful to their Lord, they inspire fear; even when Christians are despised and persecuted and harried, they have sometimes made their persecutors secretly afraid. It is not so, indeed, when there is compromise in the Christian camp; it is not so when those who minister in the name of Christ have-as was said in praise some time ago in my hearing of a group of ministers in our day-it is not so when those who minister in the name of Christ “have their ears to the ground.” But it will be so whenever Christians have their ears, not to the ground, but open only to the voice of God, and when they say simply, in the face of opposition or flattery, as Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men.”

But after those persecutions, there came in the early Church a time of peace-deadly, menacing, deceptive peace, a peace more dangerous by far than the bitterest war. Many of the sect of the Pharisees came into the Church-false brethren privily brought in. These were not true Christians, because they trusted in their own works for salvation, and no man can be a Christian who does that. They were not even true adherents of the old covenant; for the old covenant, despite the Law, was a preparation for the Saviour’s coming, and the Law was a schoolmaster unto Christ. Yet they were Christians in name, and they tried to dominate the councils of the Church. It was a serious menace; for a moment it looked as though even Peter, true apostle though he was at heart, were being deceived. His principles were right, but by his actions his principles, at Antioch, for one fatal moment, were belied. But it was not God’s will that the Church should perish; and the man of the hour was there. There was one man who would not consider consequences where a great principle was at stake, who put all personal considerations resolutely aside and refused to be come unfaithful to Christ through any fear of “splitting the Church.” “When I saw that they walked not uprightly,” said Paul, “according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all….” Thus was the precious salt preserved.

But from another side also the Church was menaced by the blandishments of the world; it was menaced not only by a false Judaism, which really meant opposition of man’s self-righteousness to the mysterious grace of God, but also by the all-embracing paganism of that day. When the Pauline churches were planted in the cities of the Graeco-Roman world, the battle was not ended but only begun. Would the little spark of new life be kept alive? Certainly it might have seemed to be unlikely in the extreme. The converts were for the most part not men of independent position, but slaves and humble tradesmen; they were bound by a thousand ties to the paganism of their day. How could they possibly avoid being drawn away by the current of the time? The danger certainly was great, and when Paul left an infant church like that at Thessalonica his heart was full of dread.

But God was faithful to his promise, and the first word that came from that infant church was good. The wonder had actually been accomplished; the converts were standing firm; they were in the world but not of the world; their distinctness was kept. In the midst of pagan impurity they were living true Christian lives. But why were they living true Christian lives? That is the really important question. And the answer is plain. They were living Christian lives because they were devoted to Christian truth. “Ye turned to God,” says Paul, “from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” That was the secret of their Christian lives; their Christian lives were founded upon Christian doc trine-upon theism (“the living and true God”), upon Christology (“his Son . . . whom he raised from the dead”), and upon soteriology (“which delivered us from the wrath to come”). They kept the message intact, and hence they lived the life. So it will always be. Lives apparently and superficially Christian can perhaps sometimes be lived by force of habit, without being based upon Christian truth; but that will never do when Christian living, as in pagan Thessalonica, goes against the grain. But in the case of the Thessalonian converts the message was kept intact, and with it the Christian life. Thus again was the precious salt preserved.

The same conflict is observed in more detail in the case of Corinth. What a city Corinth was to be sure, and how unlikely a place for a Christian church! The address of Paul’s first epistle is, as Bengel says, a mighty paradox. “To the Church of God which is at Corinth”-that was a paradox indeed. And in the First Epistle to the Corinthians we have attested in all its fullness the attempt of paganism, not to combat the Church by a frontal attack, but to conquer it by the far deadlier method of merging it gradually and peacefully with the life of the world. Those Corinthian Christians were connected by many ties with the pagan life of their great city. What should they do about clubs and societies; what should they do about invitations to dinners where meat that had been offered to idols was set before the guests? What should they do about marriage and the like? These were practical questions, but they involved the great principle of the distinctness and exclusiveness of the Church. Certainly the danger was very great; the converts were in great danger, from the human point of view, of sinking back into the corrupt life of the world.

But the conflict was not merely in the sphere of conduct. More fundamentally it was in the sphere of thought. Paganism in Corinth was far too astute to think that Christian life could be attacked when Christian doctrine remained. And so pagan practice was promoted by an appeal to pagan theory; the enemy engaged in an attempt to sublimate or explain away the fundamental things of the Christian faith. Somewhat after the manner of the Auburn “Affirmationists” in our day, paganism in the Corinthian church sought to substitute the Greek notion of the immortality of the soul for the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection. But God had his witness; the apostle Paul was not deceived; and in a great passage-the most important words, historically, perhaps, that have ever been penned-he reviewed the sheer factual basis of the Christian faith. “How that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” There is the foundation of the Christian edifice. Paganism was gnawing away-not yet directly, but by ultimate implication-at that foundation in Corinth, as it has been doing so in one way or another ever since, and particularly in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America just at the present time. But Paul was there, and many of the five hundred witnesses were still alive. The Gospel message was kept distinct, in the Pauline churches, from the wisdom of the world; the precious salt was still preserved.

Then, in the second century, there came another deadly conflict. It was again a conflict not with an enemy without, but with an enemy within. The Gnostics used the name of Christ; they tried to dominate the Church; they appealed to the epistles of Paul. But despite their use of Christian language they were pagan through and through. Modern scholarship, on this point, has tended to confirm the judgment of the great orthodox writers of that day; Gnosticism was at bottom no mere variety of Christian belief, no mere heresy, but paganism masquerading in Christian dress. Many were deceived; the danger was very great. But it was not God’s will that the Church should perish. Irenaeus was there, and Tertullian with his vehement defence. The Church was saved-not by those who cried “Peace, peace, when there is no peace,” but by zealous contenders for the faith. Again, out of a great danger, the precious salt was preserved.

Time would fail us to speak of Athanasius and of Augustine and the rest, but they too were God’s instruments in the preservation of the precious salt. Certainly the attack in those days was subtle enough almost to deceive the very elect. Grant the Semi-Arians their one letter in homoiousios, the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet, and Christ would have been degraded to the level of a creature, mythology would have been substituted for the living God, and the victory of paganism would have been complete. From the human point of view the life of the Church was hanging by a hair. But God was watching over his own; Athanasius stood against the world; and the precious salt was preserved.

Then came the Middle Ages. How long and how dark, in some respects, was the time! It is hard to realize that eleven centuries elapsed between Augustine and Luther, yet such was the case. Never in the interval, indeed, was God altogether without his witnesses; the light still shone from the sacred page; but how dim, in that atmosphere, the light seemed to be! The Gospel might have seemed to be buried forever. Yet in God’s good time it came forth again with new power-the same Gospel that Augustine and Paul had proclaimed. What stronger proof could there be that that Gospel had come from God? Where in the history of religion is there any parallel for such a revival, after such an interval, and with such a purity of faithfulness to what had formerly been believed? A Gospel that survived the Middle Ages will probably, it may well be hoped, never perish from the earth, but will be the word of life unto the end of the world.

Yet in those early years of the sixteenth century how dark was the time! When Luther made his visit to Rome, what did he find-what did he find there in the centre of the Christian world? He found paganism blatant and triumphant and unashamed; he found the glories of ancient Greece come to life in the Italian Renaissance, but with those glories the self-sufficiency and the rebellion against the God and the moral degradation of the natural man. Apparently paganism had at last won its age-long battle; apparently it had made a clean sweep over the people of God; apparently the Church had at last become quite indistinguishable from the world.

But in the midst of the general wreck one thing at least was preserved. Many things were lost, but one thing was still left-the medieval Church had never lost the Word of God. The Bible had indeed become a book with seven seals; it had been buried under a mass of misinterpretation never equaled perhaps until the absurdities indulged in by the Modernism of the present day-a mass of misinterpretation which seemed to hide it from the eyes of men. But at last an Augustinian monk penetrated beneath the mass of error, read the Scriptures with his own eyes, and the Reformation was born. Thus again was the precious salt preserved.

Then came Calvin and the great consistent system which he founded upon the Word of God. How glorious were even the by-products of that system of revealed truth; a great stream of liberty spread from Geneva throughout Europe and to America across the sea. But if the by-products were glorious, more glorious by far was the truth itself, and the life that it caused men to live. How sweet and beautiful a thing was the life of the Protestant Christian home, where the Bible was the sole guide and stay! Have we really devised a substitute for that life in these latter days? I think not, my friends. There was liberty there, and love, and peace with God.

But the Church after the Reformation was not to have any permanent rest, as indeed it is probably not to have rest at any time in this evil world. Still the conflict of the ages went on, and paganism prepared for an assault greater and more insidious perhaps than any that had gone before. At first there was a frontal attack-Voltaire and Rousseau and the Goddess Reason and the terrors of the French Revolution and all that. As will always be the case, such an attack was bound to fail. But the enemy has now changed his method, and the attack is coming, not from without, but in far more dangerous fashion, from within. During the past one hundred years the Protestant churches of the world have gradually been becoming permeated by paganism in its most insidious form.

Sometimes paganism is blatant, as, for example, in a recent sermon in the First Presbyterian Church of New York, the burden of which was, “I Believe in Man.” That was the very quintessence of the pagan spirit-confidence in human resources substituted for the Christian consciousness of sin. But what was there blatant is found in subtler forms in many places throughout the Church. The Bible, with a complete abandonment of all scientific historical method and of all common sense, is made to say the exact opposite of what it means; no Gnostic, no medieval monk with his fourfold sense of Scripture, ever produced more absurd Biblical interpretation than can be heard every Sun day in the pulpits of New York. Even prayer in many quarters is made a thinly disguised means of propaganda against the truth of the Gospel; men pray that there may be peace, where peace means victory for the enemies of Christ. Thus gradually the Church is being permeated by the spirit of the world; it is becoming what the Auburn Affirmationists call an “inclusive” church; it is becoming salt that has lost its savor and is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.

At such a time, what should be done by those who love Christ? I think, my friends, that they should at least face the facts; I do not believe that they should bury their heads like ostriches in the sand; I do not think that they should soothe themselves with the minutes of the General Assembly or the reports of the Boards or the imposing rows of figures which the church papers contain. Last week it was reported that the churches of America increased their membership by 690,000. Are you encouraged by these figures? I for my part am not encouraged a bit. I have indeed my own grounds for encouragement, especially those which are found in the great and precious promises of God. But these figures have no place among them. How many of these 690,000 names do you think are really written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? A small proportion, I fear. Church membership today often means nothing more, as has well been said, than a vague admiration for the moral character of Jesus; churches in countless communities are little more than Rotary Clubs. One day, as I was walking through a neighboring city, I saw not an altar with an inscription to an unknown god, but something that filled me with far more sorrow than that could have done. I saw a church with a large sign on it, which read somewhat like this: “Not a member? Come and help us make this a better community.” Truly we have wandered far from the day when entrance into the Church involved confession of faith in Christ as the Savior from sin.

The trust is that in these days the ecclesiastical currency has been sadly debased. Church membership, church office, the ministry, no longer mean what they ought to mean. But what shall we do? I think, my friends, that, cost what it may, we ought at least to face the facts. It will be hard; it will seem impious to timid souls; many will be hurt. But in God’s name let us get rid of shams and have reality at last. Let us stop soothing ourselves with columns of statistics, and face the spiritual facts; let us recall this paper currency and get back to a standard of gold.

When we do that, and when we come to God in prayer-with the real facts spread before Him, as Hezekiah spread before him the letter of the enemy-there will be some things to cheer our hearts. God has not left himself altogether without his witnesses. Humble they may often be, and despised by the wisdom of the world; but they are not perhaps altogether without the favor of God. In China, in Great Britain, and in America there have been some who have raised their voices bravely for their Savior and Lord.

True, the forces of unbelief have not yet been checked, and none can say whether our own American Presbyterian church, which we love so dearly, will be preserved. It may be that paganism will finally control and that Christian men and women may have to withdraw from a church that has lost its distinctness from the world. Once in the course of history, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, that method of withdrawal was God’s method of preserving the precious salt. But it may be also that our Church in its corporate capacity, in its historic grandeur, may yet stand for Christ. God grant that it may be so! The future at any rate is in God’s hand, and in some way or other-let us learn that much from history-the salt will be preserved.

What are you going to do, my brothers, in this great time of crisis? What a time it is to be sure! What a time of glorious opportunity! Will you stand with the world? Will you shrink from controversy? Will you witness for Christ only where witnessing costs nothing? Will you pass through these stirring days without coming to any real decision? Or will you learn the lesson of Christian history? Will you penetrate, by your study and your meditation, beneath the surface? Will you recognize in that which prides itself on being modern an enemy that is as old as the hills? Will you hope, and pray, not for a mere continuance of what now is, but for a rediscovery of the Gospel that can make all things new? Will you have recourse to the charter of Christian liberty in the Word of God? God grant that some of you may do that! God grant that some of you, even though you be not now decided, may come to say, as you go forth into the world: “It is hard in these days to be a Christian; the adversaries are strong; I am weak; but thy Word is true and thy Spirit will be with me; here am I, Lord, send me.”

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Not Many Noble are Called

Our title for this post could be the all-embracing title of many a post this year as this author recently was referred to a mid-nineteenth century British book entitled Ladies of the Covenant. The book was written by the Rev. James Anderson in 1851, and records the goodly number of elect ladies who were distinguished for their support of the Presbyterian cause in Scotland, despite physical deprivations and cruelty, including martyrdom, by the government against these people. By including posts about these godly women here on our blog, we answer one subscriber’s good request for posts on women who stood for the faith as well as men did in perilous times in Scotland and England.

Our subject today represents not only the fairer sex, but also one blessed with a high position among the men and women in that era of Scottish history.  She was Lady Mary Johnson, the Countess of Crawford.  Today we will not speak so much about her high position in birth and life, but will instead focus on her marriage to William on March 8, 1670. William was himself by his heritage ranked as an earl.  But of even a higher importance than these earthly honors is the fact that he was a friend of Presbyterians and of the suffering Covenanters in the land.  Throughout the history of the persecution, William was a man marked by the authorities such that he once considered fleeing Scotland for the Continent for his own safety. He never did actually leave for Holland, but by God’s grace, managed to remain in the land of his birth.

His first wife, Lady Mary Johnson, certainly had not been reared to take up favorable support for the Covenanters of Scotland.  In fact, her early training at home was contrary to all that for which the Covenanters stood. But with her marriage to William, so began a change in her personal character and religious sentiments.  Still, it was not until she sat under the preaching of the Rev. John Welsh that the spiritual change of regeneration took place in her soul.

Rev. Welsh was a field preacher, at a time when faithful ministers of the gospel had been thrown out of their parishes and pulpits, and Welsh had come to the area of her home, near Struther’s House, seeking out a place to declare God’s Word. His sermon, as the article in “Ladies of the Covenant” puts it, “was accompanied by the influences of the divine Spirit,” and “was the means of turning her from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.”  And so by the mighty work of God’s Holy Spirit, the living marks of a child of God became characteristic of her life, in the few short years she had left on this side of glory.

Lady Mary Johnson died somewhere before November 15, 1682. A living example to others, she had labored much in the Lord’s work, not fearing the king’s prohibitions so as to absent herself from these field preachers.  Indeed, many were killed immediately simply for attending these sermons in the field, while others were seized and imprisoned, only to await trials and eventual martyrdom. But after  Lady Johnson’s conversion, she could never be persuaded by her unsaved relatives and friends to attend the prelacy churches, as they were called at this time.  Instead, she would take every opportunity to attend the simple preaching of the gospel, and thereby witnesses to her three children of the power of the gospel.

Words to Live By:
It is true that most, if  not all of our readers are not in the high positions of society, as the subject of our post was in her life time. It is true that, as Paul wrote, not many nobles are called in the history of the visible church. But it doesn’t say that “not any nobles were called,” just “not many nobles were called.”  In the providence of redemption, some have been set aside by the decree of election in eternity past, and called by God’s Spirit to saving faith and repentance in time.  Question, dear reader?  Regardless of where God has put you in your position in life upon this earth, have you come to a place in your spiritual life where you have repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation?

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Biographical Sketch:
Leroy Tate Newman [1885-1969]LeRoy Tate Newland was born in Galva, Iowa on 7 March 1885 to James Tate Newland and his wife, Fanny Rosalia Maria (Miller) Newland. He was educated at Davidson College, attending from 1904-1908 and graduating with the B.A. degree, before attending the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in preparation for ministry, 1908-1911.

Following closely on the heels of graduation, he married Sarah Louise Andrews of Charlotte, North Carolina on 5 May 1911, and then pursued his examinations under the Presbytery of Wilmington. He was licensed to preach on 11 May and ordained to the ministry on 12 June of 1911. The young couple then took up a foreign missions post in Korea, where Rev. Newland served from 1911 until 1940.

His term of service in Korea was broken into basically three phases, serving in Kwangju from 1911-1914, then moving to Mokpo from 1914-1918 before returning to Kwangju and remaining there from 1918 until the end of his missions work in 1940. In 1926, perhaps while on home missions assignment, Rev. Newland earned the Th.M. degree from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA. It was during those years on the mission field that the Newland family grew to include seven children.

With war looming, Rev. Newland and his family children returned to the United States, and he answered a call to serve a group of smaller churches in and near Union Point, Georgia, from 1941 until 1954. Rev. Newland then took a call to serve as the pastor of the Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, laboring there from 1954-1957 before being entered on the rolls as honorably retired in 1957. In retirement, Dr. Newland was active in working with the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, a ministry headed up by the Rev. William E. Hill, Jr.. His reward at hand, LeRoy Tate Newland entered glory on 16 July 1969.

Among his distinctions and honors, Davidson College conferred the degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1933. Dr. Newland also authored at least two published works during his lifetime, both of which are noted by Harold B. Prince in A Presbyterian Bibliography: #2482 (p. 240), So Rich a Crown: Poems of Faith (Atlanta, GA: Gate City Printing Co., 1963), 85 p. and #2483 (p. 241), Illth or Wealth?: A Series of Four Bible Studies for the Men of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (Chattanooga, TN: General Assembly’s Stewardship Committee, Presbyterian Church in the U.S., 1924), 48 p. Davidson College holds one copy of the former title and the Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA holds a copy of the second work.

Memorial Tribute by Sarah Bolton Lunceford, one of Rev. Newland’s daughters:
LeRoy Tate Newland, missionary to Korea, father of seven, man of many gifts, was born in Galva, Iowa, on March 7, 1885. His family moved back to North Carolina, to Chadbourne, where his father had a strawberry farm. James Newland made an unusual offer to each of his sons: a part of the farm or higher education. Roy Newland made his choice, and went on to graduate from Davidson, from Louisville Seminary, and to get his master’s from Princeton Seminary. His honorary doctorate was bestowed by Davidson.

In 1911, he married Sarah Louise Andrews of Charlotte, and the two went out as missionaries to Korea. She was 20, the youngest missionary in the field. He, as an evangelist, worked under the itinerating system: long journeys, lasting several weeks, exploring the Korean countryside out from Kwangju, their home station, establishing small house churches, to be visited again and nurtured. Eventually, he had set up over a hundred and twenty.

Because of his unassuming competence and dependability he became treasurer and secretary for the mission — the Southern Presbyterian compounds and work in South Korea. His sermons were admired for their content and his presentation of them. His commentary on Leviticus was used for years in the seminary at Seoul.

His children delighted in his company because of his simple, direct love and his pleasure in good humor and bad puns. Among their most cherished memories are summer days in the mountain cabin when he would read aloud Slappey and Glencannon stories from The Saturday Evening Post, with his reading getting ahead of his voice so that he was too convulsed with laughter to share the passage with his imploring audience. Then there were the long walks when he would name the plants and answer all the questions asked by seven lively children. There were the rousing family hymn-sings which he led with such enthusiasm even if not necessarily on key. And the “Dear Family” letters he so faithfully wrote over the years, sharing the news and his tender love, extracting a promise that letters would continue to bind the family even after he was gone.

One of Roy Newland’s gifts was a love for and facility with poetry. He wrote hundreds of poems —an original one for every birthday of every child and the wife he adored; one for her every morning that he made her breakfast and carried it in to her on a tray; frequently, in later years. He wrote about his struggles, about the work, about his unworthiness and Christ’s great love that had redeemed him. A collection of his poems was published, but it barely sampled the outpouring.

True to his background, he loved to garden, to hike, and to hunt, the latter a special pleasure in a country where weapons were forbidden so that game multiplied unchecked. (His permit came from Tokyo itself and was the occasion of frequent visits from suspicious Japanese inspectors.) He also loved to read, to learn, to explore the frontiers of knowledge. His probing mind wanted to know how the world worked, in all its fascinating aspects.

Gifted in mind, intellect, and soul, LeRoy Tate Newland was a man of parts. He was, truly, in the words of an English friend, “a lovely man.”

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How Many of You Know . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pearl Buck passed into eternity on March 6, 1973.

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

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

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True Empathy

Two close friends, both pastors, both facing the struggle against cancer. One, the president of a small theological seminary, the other a world renown theologian. Here in this letter, preserved at the PCA Historical Center, Dr. Francis Schaeffer writes to comfort and counsel his friend, Dr. Robert G. Rayburn. The letter provides a wonderful insight into Schaeffer’s view of death and dying, and more than that, his view of the nature of the Christian life, as overseen by the providence of God. The letter also provides us a very characteristic example of Schaeffer’s pastoral concern for others. Dr. Schaeffer was called home to glory just three years later, in 1984, while Dr. Rayburn entered into his eternal reward in 1990.


Francis Schaeffer letter to Dr. Robert Rayburn, March 1981

Dear Bob:

Thank you for your letter of March 5. It was so good to have the news directly from you. Of course, both you and I know that unless the Lord heals us completely that once we have faced the question of cancer we always must also face the possibility of re-occurrence. With modern medicine, and I am sure prayer very much goes hand in hand with it, there is a possibility of the thing being controlled even if the Lord does not heal us completely… I hope for both of us that we will really “beat the whole thing” by meeting the Lord in the air. However, if that is not the case, maybe we will both die from 63 other things or an automobile accident. Living this way has one advantage and that is we have had brought into sharp focus the reality of what is true for everybody from con­ception onward and that is that we are all mortal in this abnor­mal world.

In my own case, of course, if I could wave a wand and be rid of the lymphoma I would do it. Yet in my own case, in looking back over the whole two-and-a-half years since I have known I have lymphoma, there has been more that has been positive than negative. That is true on many levels and I am not just thinking of some vague concept of understanding people better, though I guess that is true as well. Rather, in the total complex of everything that has happened, I am convinced that there is more positive than negative. I am so glad that though I increasingly am against any form of theological determinism which turns people into a zero and choices into delusions, yet I am also increasingly conscious of the fact that Edith and I have been, as it were, carried along on an escalator for the entirety of our lives. I am left in awe and wonder with all this, and I very much feel the escalator is still in operation, not just in this matter of health, but in the battles that beset us on every side.

I wonder if you have read my article “The Dust of Life” in the current (March) issue of Eternity. I think you would enjoy some of the ideas there. The article was not born out of abstract thinking but asking, as I saw the struggles of the younger Chris­tians, what the real balance of life was so as not to have a plastic smile on our face and yet have an affirmation of life rather than a negation of it….

Thank you for plunking out the letter on the electric portable when it was costly to you. Edith sends her love to LaVerne and to you along with my own,

In the Lamb,

/signed, Francis A. Schaeffer/

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American on the Outside, but Japanese on the Inside

Reginald Heber McIlwaine [1906-1998]Born Reginald Heber McIlwaine on July 7, 1906 of Southern Presbyterian missionary parents in Kobe, Japan. Heber, as he was known to family and friends, was a natural for missionary service.  Coming to a knowledge of Christ as Lord and Savior in his younger years, he learned about Japan and the language of Japan early.  In fact, so accustomed was he to this foreign land that one said of him that he may have been an American on the outside, but he was a Japanese on the inside.  Graduating from Westminster Theological Seminary in the early years of that historic theological school, he first became an assistant to the Rev. Clarence Macartney at  First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh.  But the missionary call was too strong in his  nature to remain there more than two years.

He was appointed by the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions to serve in Japan, and did so from 1934 – 1936.  Joining the new Presbyterian Church of America in 1936, and was sent next to Harbin, Manchoukuo.  Choosing to remain with the PCofA in 1937, he became one of the first foreign missionaries appointed by their Committee on Foreign Missions.  In 1938, he was sent to Japan, but the rising war clouds forced him to return back to the States, where he served as a pastor and Army chaplain.  From 1947 to 1950, he ministered to Japanese aborigines in a mountainous area of Taiwan.  Finally, in 1951, he returned “home” to serve full-time as a missionary in Japan, and did so until his retirement in 1976.

After friends had thought he would remain a bachelor the rest of his life, R. Heber McIlwaine surprised everyone and married Eugenia Cochran on March 4, 1947.  It was said of her that she was almost as “Japanese” as he was.  At any rate, they would serve together for twenty-five years in Japan.

Most of their service was at their home in Fukushima, north of Tokyo, Japan.  For those who judge success by numbers, their ministry was not successful.  The average number of worshipers was under twenty.  But many of those converts from paganism to Christianity moved elsewhere for employment or service, taking their Christian commitment with them.  The Reformed Church of Japan was, in the words of John Galbraith, “greatly enriched by” their ministry.

Both were to be translated to heaven in the latter years of the twentieth century.  Certainly it can be said that their works continue to follow them in the faith and life of Japanese Christianity.

The R. Heber McIlwaine Manuscript Collection is preserved at the PCA Historical Center.
See also these related collections at the Historical Center:
• James A. & Pauline S. McAlpine Manuscript Collection
• William A. McIlwaine Manuscript Collection
• John M.L. Young Manuscript Collection
• Japan Missions Library

Words to Live By:  Faithfulness to the gospel is the only rule of success in the kingdom of God.  It is the world which measures success by numbers, by growth, and by economics.  When that formula is brought into the church, not only does God withhold His blessings, but many faithful men and women are marginalized from the service of the Lord Jesus.  Let kingdom work be measured by kingdom standards, that is, those of the Bible.

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One is Sufficient for a Sacrifice

It was at a Scot-Irish day of games in Central Pennsylvania that this author found a booth selling items from “across the pond.” I had gone there to get some Scot items which reflected my ancestry.  But at the first booth, there was displayed a claymore. For our readers who may not be familiar with this term, it is a sharp two-edged sword which was the perfect weapon for close fighting in earlier days.  Even though I thought I was of sufficient strength of arm (after all, I have moved theology books from shelves to shelves all my years!), I couldn’t even hold steady this sword. Then I remembered it was the weapon of choice for John Knox as he cleared the way through hostile crowds for George Wishart, our subject for this post.

wishartGeorgeIt is true that George Wishart was an early Protestant reformer in Scotland, and not a Presbyterian. Yet he was instrumental in preparing the way for John Knox, who was the father of Scotland’s Presbyterians. Wishart was younger than Knox by a full eight years, if the reader takes the early date of the birth of John Knox.  The former was born around 1513 in Pitarrow, Scotland.  Studying at Kings College in Aberdeen, Scotland, Wishart became one of the best Greek scholars in the realm, teaching both adults as well as children in that biblical language. He also began to preach Protestant theology to the citizens of Scotland and England, and soon found it necessary to travel to Switzerland. He would be influenced by the Swiss Reformation instead of the German Reformation. Returning to the British Isles, he became a popular preacher of Reformation truths in Dundee, Scotland. Even when a plague hit the city, he remained steadfast, giving gospel comfort and consolation to sick people everywhere.

By this time, the authorities became aware of his gospel preaching, and death threats started rolling in. That is when John Knox began to carry the claymore for Wishart’s safety. Facing arrest, Knox wanted to accompany him to his eventual trial, but George Wishart wouldn’t let him, saying the words of our title, “return to your bairns (pupils). God bless you. One is sufficient for a sacrifice.” They would not see one another on this earth.

Arrested and charged with eighteen offenses, George Wishart was sentenced to death. His execution was carried out on this day, March 1, 1546, at St. Andrews Castle. It was a brutal death in that not only was he to be burned to death at the stake, but bags of gun powder were placed about his body. Still, he witnessed to the crowds attending the martyrdom with the precious words of Jesus Christ, forgiving even the executioner who was lighting the pile.

On one of the cobblestones outside St. Andrews castle today, can be found the initials GW, indicating the site where George Wishart  was killed for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Words to Live By: It was said by several Reformation authors that John Knox would not have entered into the gospel ministry had it not been for the influence of the life and death of George Wishart. God has often used His people to disciple others for the eventual service of Christ. If our readers are parents this day, then you are called to be ones who disciple your children for work in the kingdom.  But God may also call you to disciple still others outside the family, in the faith. Think and pray about this challenge. Then go and do it for God’s glory, for the spiritual good of that one whom you disciple in the faith.

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