August 2015

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[excerpted from The St. Louis Presbyterian, 31.27 (10 September 1896): 435.]

strickler_GB            Dr. Strickler was born at Strickler’s Springs, Rockbridge County, Virginia, April 25, 1840. On his father’s side he was of German descent; his great-grandfather being a Lutheran minister. On his mother’s side, (her name was Mary Brown) he belongs to that sturdy, earnest race, the Scots-Irish, who at an early date settled in the Valley of Virginia, and gave that favored land its strong leaning towards Presbyterian doctrine and polity. He was taught in the schools of the County, and at the outbreak of the Civil war was in Washington College in Lexington, Virginia. He entered the Southern Army with the College Company, who called themselves the “Liberty Hall Volunteers,” and this was a part of the 41st Virginia Regiment, and this regiment was a part of the famous “Stonewall Brigade,” receiving this name from its first commander Stonewall Jackson. The brigade was in nearly all the battles in which its famed commander took part, and always behaved with conspicuous courage and gallantry. The young soldier soon became the Captain of his company, by his gallant bearing, and popular manners. Twice was he wounded, but was soon back at his post. In a charge at the battle of Gettysburg, he was captured, and remained a prisoner in the hands of the Federals until the close of the war.

            Then he entered Washington and Lee University, where he from the first took a high stand as a student. He graduated from this Institution in 1868, the last year acting also as Tutor in the University. He at once entered Union Theological Seminary, and graduated from this School of the Prophets in 1879, with the highest distinction. He was at once licensed by his Presbytery, and being invited to Tinkling Springs one of the largest and most influential of the country churches in Virginia, he was ordained and installed pastor in the fall of 1870. [In this pastorate he was following the Rev. R.L. Dabney (1847-1852) and preceding the Rev. J.A. Preston (1883-88).]  About the same time he married Miss M.F. Moore, of one of the oldest and most respectable families of the Falling Spring’s church, near the Natural Bridge.

            Dr. Strickler remained pastor of  the Tinkling Spring Church for twelve years and a half. His reputation for vigorous and earnest preaching, clear and solid thinking, wise and faithful pastoral work, soon spread far and wide, and many calls from large and influential churches came to him. But he preferred to work at his first charge. Finally in the fall of 1882, the Central Church of Atlanta, Georgia, made such an earnest plea for his services that he yielded, and came to their church in the Spring of 1883.Hardly had he begun the work in their city before he was urgently and unanimously called to the chair of Church History in Union Theological Seminary. After a considerable struggle between his church, who fought his transfer, and the Seminary Committee, Atlanta Presbytery advised him to remain where he was; this he did with all cheerfulness and loyalty. His loving church at once began to build him a new, and a larger church.

            This was finished in 1886, and is one of the handsomest and most commodious edifices in our Southern Church. Dr. Strickler’s fine administrative abilities soon manifested themselves, not only in the thorough organizations of his own church in its individual work, but also in the impetus given the work of our Presbyterian Zion all over the city, Presbytery and State. His church at once began to plant missions in different parts of the city, and several of them are now growing working churches. Dr. Strickler’s wisdom and ability were also most conspicuous in the contest against the teaching of Evolution in Columbia Seminary. As leader of the Anti-evolution men he won decided victories in the Synods at Marietta, La Grange and Sparta. Shortly after he was elected to the chair of Theology in Columbia Seminary and to Chancellorship of the University of Georgia both of which he declined.

            In 1887 he was chosen moderator of the General Assembly of the Church which convened at Saint Louis. In this responsible and delicate position he acquitted himself most creditably and wisely. At this Assembly he was chosen chairman of the Southern Assembly’s Committee to confer with the Northern Church Committee in regard to organic union. In 1895 the Board of Directors by a unanimous vote elected Dr. Strickler to the important chair of Theology in Union Seminary, and gave him a year in which to decide the question; they at the same time promised to remove the Seminary from Hampden Sidney to Richmond the beautiful and historic capital of the State. During the winter of 1895-96, the devoted flock over which he had presided so long did everything in their power to induce him to decline this call. But a sense of duty to the Church at large impelled him to accept the call, and to ask the Presbytery to allow him to leave his church. It was a sad and solemn meeting which met for this purpose, we all felt that it was the will of the Lord calling His servant to a post for which by nature and training he was eminently fitted. Dr. Strickler preached his farewell sermon to his people on the last Sabbath in July, 1896, and will enter upon his new duties September 2, 1896.

            Then in stating the truth as it appears to him, he is always as clear as one of our mountain streams; the simplest can understand him. In the pulpit, he is, besides all this, earnest and effective. In his dealings with his people he was always kind, sympathetic, wise. In the church court he is always patient, considerate of others, but eminently wise and faithful.

            His theology is of the most orthodox type. He believes in the inspiration of the Scriptures, in the old fashioned orthodox Calvinistic type of religious thought. He has no crochets, no vagaries, no new ideal as to the cardinal truths of the word of God, and his strong loving character will impress this type of theology on all the students who come from his hand. May his bow long abide in strength. [Among his many honors and accomplishments were the Doctor of Divinity degree, conferred by Washington & Lee University in 1878, the LL.D. degree, awarded by Davidson College in 1894, a term of service as Moderator of the PCUS General Assembly in 1887, and his tenure as joint editor of The Presbyterian Quarterly.]

Bibliography:
1897
“The Nature, Value, and Special Utility of the Catechisms,” in Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly, 1647-1897, Containing Eleven Addresses Delivered Before the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, at Charlotte, N.C., in May, 1897, in Commemoration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Westminster Assembly, and of the Formation of the Westminster Standards (Richmond, VA: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1897), pp. 115 – 138.

[Excerpt] : Teaching, by the catechetical method, has marked the history of the church almost from the beginning down to the present time. A divine warrant for it, if not requirement of it, may be found in such passages of God’s word as Deut. vi. 6, 7: “And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” And Exodus xii. 26, 27: “And it shall come to pass that when your children shall say to you, What mean ye by this service?” (the service of the passover) “that ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses.” In these instances, in order to give children the full and accurate instruction they needed about the commandments of the Lord referred to, and about the important sacrament instituted in the church in the passover, it was necessary that a number of questions should be asked and answered; and then, that the truth about these and other subjects, once learned, might not be forgotten, but kept ever fresh in the memory, and in constant and influential contact with the mind and heart, it was necessary that it should be frequently reviewed; that there should be “precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little and there a little.” Thus, we may say, the catechetical method of instruction was instituted at the very beginning of the Mosaic dispensation.

1902
“The Philosophy of Faith,” in The Presbyterian Quarterly, 16.2 (October 1902) 149-165.

1910

Sermons. New York, Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1910. 273 p.; 20 cm.  [available on the Web at http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/20338521.html]

 

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This Is How You Say Goodbye : Paying Due Respect to a Beloved Pastor.

When the War ended in 1865, the Rev. Thomas D. Witherspoon answered a call to serve the Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis, Tennessee. That historic church, founded in 1844, continues to this day and since 1989 has been affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian denomination. Rev. Witherspoon’s ministry there began on September 3, 1865 and lasted but five years, ending early in October of 1870, when ill health forced him to retire from that pulpit to seek a less demanding post. Some of those years in Memphis had been tumultuous and challenging for a young pastor. Memphis suffered its worst race riot in 1867 and Witherspoon’s sermon logbook records something of his ministry on several occasions at the Fort Pickering mission, where the riot began.

He found that quieter pulpit as the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Christiansburg, Virginia church, though he remained in this post for only one year while restoring his health, taking on subsequent duties as chaplain at the University of Virginia from 1871-1873.

The following resolutions, offered up by his congregation in Memphis and published in The Christian Observer on this day, August 31, 1870, serve as a model of how the Lord’s people might express their love and esteem for a faithful pastor. For a closer look at Rev. Witherspoon’s ministry there at Second Presbyterian, our readers can view an annotated transcription of his sermon logbook by clicking here.

witherspoon04Resignation of Rev. T.D. Witherspoon, D.D.

Copy of Resolutions introduced in the Congregational Meeting of the Second Presbyterian Church, Memphis, by B.M. Estes, Esq., and unanimously adopted.

The congregation of the Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis, assembled to take action upon the letter of resignation of their beloved pastor, do unanimously agree to adopt the following resolutions, viz:

  1. That in uniting with T.D. Witherspoon, D.D., in his application to the Presbytery of Memphis to dissolve the pastoral relation existing between him and this church, we have discharged a sad and painful duty, and that we have taken such action only at his earnest request, and because we are constrained to concur with him and his physicians in the belief, that on account of impaired health it is necessary that he should remove to a more invigorating and healthful climate and assume ministerial duties less onerous.
  2. Resolved, That we greatly deplore the necessity which compels us to agree to a severance of the tender ties which have bound our beloved pastor to us for nearly five years, and while with bruised and sorrowful hearts we give him up, we tender to him the assurance of profound sympathy for him in his affliction, and of our ardent affection for him personally, of our admiration and reverence for him as a minister of the Cross of Christ, and of our deep concern and interest in his future welfare and career.
  3. Resolved, That to the faithful, loving ministry and labors of Dr. Witherspoon as an instrument in the hands of the Great Head of the Church, we attribute the present peaceful harmonious and prosperous condition of this church and while we collectively and as individuals recall the multiplied instances of his love for us, of his deep sympathy and tender offices in times of bereavement and sorrow, our hearts overflow with emotions of gratitude and affection to him, and of sorrow that we must be separated from him.
  4. Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be furnished to Dr. Witherspoon as a testimonial of the appreciation and affection which the Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis entertain for him, and while our earnest prayers for the restoration of his health, and for his future welfare and usefulness will follow him wherever he may go—we beg that his prayers may ascend daily to our Heavenly Father for the peacefulness and prosperity of this church, and especially that the Master will provide for us another faithful minister to watch over the spiritual interests of this church.

Excerpted from The Christian Observer and Commonwealth, August 31, 1870, page 4, column 2. [Readers can view this page of the above newspaper at http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7gxd0qs68k_4]

Rev. Witherspoon remained at Second Presbyterian until early October 1870. His final sermon there was on Act 20:32, delivered on 9 October (No. 1106 in his Register)

Words to Live By:
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
—I Timothy 5:17.

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

Q. 34 — What is adoption?

A. — Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God.

Scripture References: 1 John 3:1; John 1:12; Rom. 8:17; Col. 3:10.

Questions:

1. What is the difference between adoption in the sight of men and
in the sight of God?

Adoption, according to man, is simply a taking into the family a child because of some qualification on the part of the child or because of some need of the adopting parent. God adopts those who are strangers, the children of wrath, those in whom there is nothing commendable and gives them all the rights and privileges as children of God.

2. What is involved in this new relationship?

A. A. Hodge states, “Adoption presents the new creature in his new relations – his new relations entered upon with a congenial heart, and his new life developing in a congenial home, and surrounded with those relations which foster its growth and crown it with blessedness.” (Confession of Faith, Pg. 192.).

3. Are all children of men adopted by God?

No, only those who believe on Christ. (John 1:12).

4. Who specifically does the act of adopting?

The act of adoption belongs to God the Father. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God.” (I John 3:1)

5. What are the privileges to which the adopted children of God are entitled?

The list could be endless. Primarily the privileges are:
(1) Protection from evils of all kinds (Ps. 121:7).
(2) The bearing of his likeness (Col. 3:10).
(3) The access to God the Father (I In. 5:14, 15).
(4) The provision of the needs of the believer (Ps. 34:10).
(5) A surety of entrance into the kingdom of heaven (Rom. 8:17).

FELLOW CITIZENS WITH THE SAINTS

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Eph.2:19). The hymn writer spoke the truth when he said, “What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought, Since Jesus came into my heart.” Because we have been adopted by God we are different, we are no longer aliens or those who do not rank as citizens, but are fellow citizens with the saints.

This new relationship brings the believer into at least two links with the Father. The first is a privilege, that of having within himself a spirit becoming the children of God. This spirit is a free spirit as it is free from the sense of bondage and of guilt and of death itself. This spirit is a royal spirit. The Bible teaches us that the believer is “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people (a People of God’s own possession).” This spirit is the spirit of glory, one that means the believer is blessed.

The second link with the Father is a responsibility. The Bible teaches, “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him.” (Heb. 12:5). As children of God, as adopted children of God, the Bible teaches us that we are prone to punishment when we do wrong in the sight of our Heavenly Father. This link is as important as the link mentioned above, the link of privilege.

The relationship as adopted children of God is one we should accept with all seriousness. We should ever keep this relationship in our minds in order that we might act as children. A child has respect for his parent. A Christian child should have the utmost of respect (fear is pertinent here) for his heavenly Father. A child is to obey his parent. A Christian child should live In the very atmosphere of obedience toward his heavenly Father. A child is to love his parent and show that love in pleasing his parent. A Christian child should adore his heavenly Father and strive to please him, no matter what the situation might be. A child should accept discipline. A Christian child should literally pray for the discipline of the heavenly Father. (Eph. 5:1).

Published By: THE SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol 3 No. 34 (October, 1963)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

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We continue today with our Saturday excursions into the little book by the Rev. Robert P. Kerr titled PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE (1883). Today’s chapter concerns the office of the deacon in the Church.

CHAPTER IX.

DEACONS.

These officers were unknown in the Church of God until the time of the apostles. In Acts vi. is given an account of the election of the first Deacons. Being elected by the people, they come under the definition of Presbyterianism.

The elders, having charge of the spiritual concerns of the Church, could not give to temporal matters the time and attention they deserved; so they called upon the people to select

“seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon and Parmenas and Nicholas, a proselyte of Antioch: whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.” (Acts 6:3-6)

The office thus instituted was extended over the whole Church, and has continued in the Presbyterian body unto this day.

The Deacons are subordinate to the Session, as the Session is subordinate to the Presbytery. Except the highest of all, there is no assembly which is not subject to the review of a higher body The work of the Deacons is to have care of the poor, the sick, prisoners, the property of the church and the money contributed for pious uses. This office has proved of immense benefit in the Church, and should be honored by those who occupy it, as well as by the people whom they serve.

In some branches of the Presbyterian Church godly women have been set apart to assist in the work of the Deacons, as among the sick and the poor there are many duties pertaining to this office which can be better discharged by females.

The divine authority for this office is derived principally from Romans xvi. 1, 2 : “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant” (a “ deacon ” in the original) “ of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you : for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also.”

Because this office was perverted and grievously abused by the Roman Church it was generally abandoned by Protestants at the Reformation, but it is now being slowly reinstated by the Church in various parts of the world.

For more resources on the diaconate, see http://pcahistory.org/bco/fog/09/resources.html

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Upon request, we are re-running this post from last year.

Remembering Dr. Harvie M. Conn [1933-1999]

[A tribute written in 1999 by Dr. Mark R. Gornik, upon Dr. Conn’s death. We are grateful to Dr. Gornik for granting permission to reproduce this tribute here today.]

He had a face turned to the city and a heart broken by the things that break the heart of God. A few days ago, Harvie Maitland Conn, pastor, missionary, seminary professor, theologian, and missiologist, completed his earthly urban pilgrimage. The cause of his death on August 28, 1999 was cancer.

From his 12 years as a missionary in Korea to his 25 years of teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) in Philadelphia (1972-1998), Harvie Conn left a singular legacy of calling the church, especially the Reformed and evangelical communities, to Christ’s mission in the city.

It was quite possible to overlook Conn’s preceding 12 years of mission work in Korea, but only until you saw the list of books he wrote in Korean or heard him teaching in homiletics class in Korean. In Korea, his outreach to women in prostitution signaled his concern for an evangelism that saw people as both sinners and sinned against.

Dr. Conn joined the faculty of Westminster in 1972 and taught apologetics and missions. His concern for missions eventually became his full-time academic focus. As a teacher admired for his engaging pedagogical style, students also considered him among the most demanding.

In his teaching, Conn forged a transformational theology of the church and mission. Working with Reformed themes such as covenant, kingdom, and redemptive-history and in dialogue with Reformed theologians such as Geerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, Richard Gaffin and Edmund Clowney, Conn developed a doctrine of the church that, if implemented, would bring renewal to existing ecclesial models and the social context.

While committed to the traditions of the Reformed faith, Conn’s vision of the church was much broader. He firmly believed in the global church as a subject and not a Western object, and this influenced his theologizing.

Photograph of Dr. Harvey Conn, seated at right, speaking with an

Pictured above : Rev. Harvie Conn, at right, speaking with the Rev. Edward Kellogg during a conference break.

Much of Conn’s legacy is to be found in a considerable body of writing and editing. He was the author of a number of pacesetting books including Eternal Word and Changing Worlds: Theology, Anthropology, and Mission in Trialogue (1984). A Clarified Vision for Urban Mission: Disspelling the Urban Stereotypes (1987), and The American City and the Evangelical Church: A Historical Overview (1994). We await the publishing of The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God, co-written with Westminster colleague Manuel Ortiz. [This volume appeared in 19 .]

Conn also edited books on church planting and church growth, as well as pastoral theology and hermeneutics. The most recent volume that he edited [was] entitled Planting and Growing Urban Churches. From Dream to Reality (1997), a study made especially valuable with his section introductions.

In addition, Conn wrote scores of editorials, articles, and book reviews, especially for Urban Missions Newsletter and Urban Mission Journal (founded by Roger Greenway, Conn served as editor from 1989-1999). The range of topics varied greatly and included urbanization in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, the role of diaconal ministry, Jonathan Edwards’ public theology, family life, church growth, youth ministry, evangelism, and parish life.

During his time at Westminster, Conn played a significant role in leading the faculty’s commitment to what was to become the Center for Urban Theological Studies (CUTS), an effort founded by African American pastors and Bill Krispin. His contact with the students of CUTS continually shaped his thinking about ministry and theological education, just as he helped to shape women and men for the ministry.

Conn’s most enduring missiological contribution was his concentration on the importance of the city. He wanted the church to focus on the city not because it was trendy—it was not—but because he read closely both the biblical material and the demographic data, bridging them together with a focus on a third horizon, God’s mission to the cities of this world.

No longer, Conn argued, could the world be considered a global village. Instead, it is a global city. This is the church’s context and challenge, and to be effective, the church would need to sort out urban myth from fact. He not only helped to put the city on the evangelical agenda, but he changed the way we think about the city. In light of new understanding of the city, he pressed heavily for church planting and the developments of models that pointed to God’s future.

His theology of the city was drawn from a redemptive-historical or narrative framework to Scripture. When asked his “favorite” biblical text on the city, Conn replied,

“Picking one biblical text to sum up my view of urban ministry is an assignment too awesome and dangerous for me. Too awesome because wherever I turn in my Bible it shouts “urban” to me. Too dangerous because the text I might select could leave out a piece of the picture too crucial in another text and distort the whole. We need a hermeneutic serious enough to link Genesis to Revelation in the unending story of Jesus as urban lover and the church as God’s copycat.”

In many respects, Conn was driven by a concern for what he saw in Paul as a special concern for the “outsider.” This is evident from the way in which he engaged Latin American liberation theologies, North American black theology, and a variety of feminist theologies. While his criticisms were not insignificant, he saw in them a profound challenge for the evangelical church to recover the holism of the gospel.

Conn often wrote sentences like “Jesus loved the leftovers and left outs, and so should we.” This quote reflected his Christology: Jesus was the poor one who embodied the jubilee in all of its holism for the city.

Christology and urban mission, word and deed, belonged together for Conn. Features of how this played itself out are evident from this quote taken from Eternal Word and Changing World :

“Theology, if it is to become truly and comprehensively communal, must emerge from a praxis of commitment to God’s peace for the poor (1 Cor. 1:27-28). To become revolutionary and not revolutionary, our theologizing will have to validate itself and its claims in the same way Jesus validated His. His allegiance to the poor marked His preaching and was a sign of the coming of the kingdom (Luke 4:18-21). His healing of the sick and the blind and his preaching to the poor became a validation to a doubting John the Baptist of his messsianic theologizing (Matt. 11:2-6). It must become an integral part of ours as well. Where shall we begin this identification? By sitting where the poor and disenfranchised sit, in the ghettoes of our cities, in the waiting rooms of public health clinics, in the unemployment lines and welfare offices.”

One finds no better summary of what Conn took to be the obligations of the kingdom than the title of his book, Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace.

Dr. Conn had several distinctive and memorable traits. One example was his, at times, frustrating propensity to work alone. Perhaps this was a result of the many frustrations he faced as an advocate for new ways of seeing and thinking about following Christ.

He was well-known for his sense of humor and hearty laugh. While a student at Westminster, I never looked for him in the library, but rather I listened for his laugh over by the periodical section. To paraphrase Langston Hughes, Conn’s laugh was like a handshake heard across the room. It was welcoming and inviting. Perhaps he was laughing at his own jokes, but that was always the best reason to laugh along.

Conn kept personal struggles such as his health very private. When he and his wife Dorothy’s poor health finally necessitated his retirement from Westminster, Conn wanted no attention drawn to his career. That was quite consistent with his character, but a disappointment to many who very much wanted to express gratitude for his influence. Never a credit taker, he always pointed away from himself and to the Christ he followed. In a Christmas letter from some years ago, he wrote: “Over forty years ago, Dottie and I chose the path of the wise men and followed His star. We have been Jesus-stargazers ever since. . . He still goes before; we still follow—not always wisely, not always obediently. But always hopeful.”

Conn loved to conclude his sermons, essays, books, and lectures with a barrage of questions. The motive for this format might have been to exercise his prophetic ministry in a less direct way. Or perhaps it was his way of saying he was helping to set an agenda, not resolving it. Probably both, and with a nod to Christ’s style in the gospels.

Here are some questions that a celebration of his life and legacy requires:
Will the church heed the Lord’s call to the global city of the next century and beyond?
Will theological education rise to the challenge?
Will we allow missions to be the guide for our theological agendas?
And in all of this, what about the poor and the excluded?
Will the church change for the sake of a gospel that is good news for the poor?

At heart, Harvie Conn was an urban evangelist who proclaimed sovereign grace so that the “world may believe” (John 17:21). His passionate focus on the gospel for the city called many, including me, to see the city as the primary site of Christ’s mission. May the witness of Conn’s Jesus stargazing in the city influence our lives so that we might faithfully proclaim and live for the One whom he followed.

Rev. Mark R. Gornik
New York City
August 30, 1999.

[Rev. Gornik now served as Director of the City Seminary of New York.]

Photo source: Presbyterian Journal Photo Collection, Box 246, file 2, preserved at the PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, MO.

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Westminster Confession Approved by Church of Scotland

You may ask upon reading the title of this contribution, why are we thinking about adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith, when the whole This Day in Presbyterian History blog deals with Presbyterian history in the United States?  And that is a fair question.  But it is quickly answered by two considerations. First, this Reformed standard—The Westminster Confession of Faith—was, with few changes, the subordinate standard of all the Presbyterian denominations in the United States.  And second, the Scots-Irish immigrants who came over to this country in its earliest days held strongly to this Reformed creedal statement.

The Westminster Confession of Faith was formulated by the Westminster Assembly of divines (i.e, pastors and theologians) in the mid-seventeenth century, meeting at Westminster Abby in London, England.  To the one hundred and twenty divines, primarily from the Church of England, were added nine Scottish divines from the Church of Scotland.  While the latter were seated as non-voting members of that Assembly, still their presence was felt in very effective ways during the six-year study that produced this confessional standard.

When it was adopted by the Parliament in England, it then went to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, where it was adopted without amendment onAugust 29, 1647.  It then became the summary of the teachings of the Old and New Testaments which was adopted by both the teaching and ruling elders, as well as the diaconate in each local church, in every Presbyterian and Reformed church deriving from that tradition. Small changes have been made by conservative Presbyterian bodies in our United States which do not affect the overall doctrinal contents of the Confession. The majority of those changes were made in 1789. You can ask your pastor for more information about those changes.

The historic importance of this document is one reason why we have daily reference to it in this devotional guide, as we seek to make our friends more knowledgeable of its magnificent statements.

Words to live by: Most of the Presbyterian denominations do not require their lay members to take vows which speak of their adoption of these historical creedal standards in order to join the church.  Yet a careful study of, and acceptance of this Confession of Westminster will give you a solid foundation for understanding the doctrine and life of the Word of God.  We urge you to do so, perhaps asking for a class in your church on it, or just studying it yourself for your personal and family benefit.

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Today’s post is drawn from Alfred Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church (1884), p. 850:

The Long Pastorate of a Great Pastor and Biographer

SpragueWBWilliam Buell Sprague was born in Andover, Tolland county, Connecticut, on October 16, 1795. He graduated at Yale College in 1815, and in 1816 entered Princeton Theological Seminary, just four years after the start of that institution. After studying there over two years, Sprague was licensed to preach by the Association of Ministers in the county of Tolland, on August 29th, 1818. As pastor of the Congregational Church of West Springfield, Massachusetts, he labored with great assiduity and success from August 25th, 1819, until July 21st, 1829, when he accepted a call to the Second Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York, over which he was installed on August 26th, 1829.

In Albany, he had a pastorate of forty years’ duration, remarkable for the extraordinary steadfastness and warmth of attachment existing through all that protracted period between himself and his large and intelligent congregation, and even more remarkable for the vast and varied labors performed by him. He has been well and truly described as “an illustrious man, a cultivated, elegant, voluminous, usefull and popular preacher; an indefatigable and successful pastor; an unselfish and devoted friend; loving, genial, pure, noble; an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile; one of the most child-like, unsophisticated and charitable of men.”

While Dr. Sprague never relaxed his pulpit and pastoral duties, his added literary labors were prodigious and their fruits exceedingly great. He preached nearly two hundred sermons on special public occasions, the most of which were published. He also produced a large number of biographies and other volumes on practical religious subjects. But the great literary work of his life was his Annals of the American Pulpitundertaken when he was fifty-seven years old, and finished in ten large octavo volumes.

On December 20th, 1869, Dr. Sprague was released at his own request, from his pastoral charge in Albany, and retired to Flushing, Long Island, where he passed his later years, which were a serene and beautiful evening to his industrious, useful and eminent life. Here he enjoyed the sunshine of the divine favor, and looked upon the approach of death with a strong and placid faith. He gently and peacefully passed away, May 7th, 1876, and his remains were taken to Albany for interment, the funeral services being held in the church of which he had been so long the beloved and honored pastor.

A number of Sprague’s works can be found in digital format, here.

If I may select one for you, The Claims of Past and Future Generations on Civil Leaders, looks interesting, judging by its title.

From Sprague’s Historical Introduction to The Annals of the Presbyterian Pulpit:
“…
The early history of the Presbyterian Church in this country is involved in no little obscurity,—owing principally to the fact that those who originally composed it, instead of forming a compact community, were widely scattered throughout the different Colonies. It is evident, however, that several churches were established some time before the close of the seventeenth century. In Maryland there were the Churches of Rehoboth, Snow Hill, Marlborough, Monokin, and Wicomin,—the first mentioned of which is commonly considered the oldest, and was probably formed several years before 1690. The Church on Elizabeth River, in Virginia, is supposed by some to date back to nearly the same period, but the exact time of its origin cannot be ascertained. The Churches in Freehold, and Woodbridge, New Jersey were constituted in 1692 [Note: there is good evidence that Fairfield Presbyterian Church, in Fairton, NJ, was established in 1680.]; and the First Church in Philadelphia, as nearly as can be ascertained, in 1698. In Newcastle, Delaware, in Charleston, South Carolina, and in some other places, Presbyterian Churches were planted at a very early period. In the latter part of 1705, or early in 1706, a Presbytery was formed under the title of the Presbytery of Philadelphia,—all whose members were from Scotland or Ireland, except the Rev. Jedediah Andrews, who was born and educated in New England.”

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Usurpers, Pretenders, and the One True King.

It was an ancient issue in many respects. Who was the king of the church? Was it the king of the British Isles, or was it Jesus Christ? There was no doubt in the prelacy party that the first answer was the correct one. And equally in the Presbyterian church, there was no doubt that Jesus is the king of the church. What was a turning point between the Crown and the Presbyterians was the passing of the Five Articles of Perth on August 25, 1618.

It all took place at a General Assembly on this date in Perth, Scotland. Yes, it was the national assembly of Scottish Presbyterians. Yes, there were various elders from the church of Scotland. Yes, there were faithful Presbyterians who were relegated to inferior positions, without the possibility of voting, even though they were elders sent by their Presbyterian parishes. Yes, there were many people present who were hand picked and not even ruling elders in the churches. The constitution of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland would be null and void in this gathering.

It was King James I who laid the five articles before the delegates. The five articles of this document were: (1) that Communion must be received in a kneeling posture; (2) Private Communion was permitted in cases of sickness; (3) Private baptism was permitted when necessary; (4) Children should be catechized and blessed by bishops (confirmation); and (5) Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost were declared as holy days for the whole church.

Even though it was declared beforehand that those who voted in the negative against its adoption would have their names sent to the King for future action, actions such as the withholding of stipends, nonetheless forty-five ministers held to their convictions and voted in the negative. The total vote was 86 in favor to 45 against, and thus it was passed.  The Articles of Perth were confirmed by the Edinburgh Parliament on August 4, 1621.

Brian Orr, on his blog, “thereformation.info”, from which most of the above was used by permission, wrote in conclusion, “standing back a pace, it should be recognized that the Articles of Perth, and particularly the kneeling at Communion, affected the whole Church in a direct and visible way. Opposition was not total, but it was strong enough to give rise to a permanent nonconformist group within the church.  It also gave rise to the holding of conventicles in Edinburgh and other places in opposition to the new rites that signaled defiance of the king; and retribution followed.” (p. 3)

Words to Live By:
One of the blessings which we have in this nation of America is the separation of church and state. It is sadly true that this has been high-jacked by countless citizens to be equal to the separation of God and state. But in reality, it originally meant that no one religious denomination would be the one and only faith group recognized by the  government. Our early Scots-Irish citizens did not wish to see a repeat of England and Scotland’s state priority over the Church of England.  Let us as Christian citizens do our work of explaining this true meaning of the phrase “separation of church and state” among our neighbors and friends.

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Ashbel Green’s Editor and Friend

Joseph Huntington Jones, D. D., the brother of Judge Joel Jones, was born in Coventry, Connecticut, on August 24th, 1797. He graduated at Harvard University, in 1817. For a time he was employed as Tutor in Bowdoin College, Maine. He completed his theological studies at the Princeton Theological Semi­nary; was licensed as a probationer, September 19th, 1822, by the Presbytery of Susquehanna, and was, by the same Presbytery, ordained as an evangelist, April 29th, 1824.

On June 1st, 1824, he began his labors in the Presbyterian Church at Woodbury, New Jersey, and was soon installed as pastor of that church. Here he labored with very great success. At the same time he also supplied the feeble church at nearby Blackwoodtown, which shared the blessing enjoyed by that of Woodbury. In 1825 he was installed as pastor of the Presbyterian Church at New Brunswick, New Jersey. Here he remained for thirteen years, proving himself to be “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” His ministry was honored of God by at least three seasons of religious awakening.

In 1838 he became the pastor of the Sixth Presbyterian Church, in Phila­delphia, and continued so for twenty-three years, his efforts being crowned with a manifest blessing. From 1861 to 1868 he was Secretary of the Relief Fund for Disabled Ministers, in which capacity he did a noble work, for which he deserves the lasting gratitude of the Church. He died on December 22d of 1868.

Dr. Jones was an exemplary Christian, an in­structive preacher, a faithful pastor, an interesting writer, and a gentleman of great urbanity of manner and suavity of disposition.

Of his principal work, often referred to as The Effects of Physical Causes on Christian Experience,’’ Dr. J. W. Alexander wrote, “It is a valuable and entertaining book.” Rev. Jones must have been a close friend and associate of the Rev. Ashbel Green, for it was to Jones that Green turned for the task of bringing Green’s autobiography to the press. Rev. Jones also wrote a history of the 1837 revival at New Brunswick, and several sermons of his were published as well. These are his works found on the Internet:

Something to Ponder:
The great Princeton professor, Samuel Miller, wrote a brief introduction or testimonial for that earliest work of Rev. Jones, Outline of a Work of Grace. In addition to our interest in Miller’s basis thesis here unveiled, it is also important to note the honesty of his method, with an expressed readiness to receive evidence “either for or against the affirmative of this question.”

“There is one question which you may, possibly be better able to answer now, than you were during the delightful excitement of that memorable scene. And that is, whether the solemn dispensations of Providence, experienced by the inhabitants of New Brunswick some time before, had any perceptible connexion with the spiritual benefit then enjoyed? I refer to the severe visit of cholera which you suffered in 1832, and the tremendous tornado, which did no much mischief in 1835. I have for many years taken much interest in the inquiry, whether seasons of great sickness and mortality, and other extraordinary and overwhelming seasons of temporal calamity, are ordinarily employed by a sovereign God as a means of reviving religion. Every new fact, either for or against the affirmative of this question, is highly interesting to me.”

What do you think of Dr. Miller’s question, whether God ordinarily uses seasons of great sickness and mortality as a means of reviving religion? Have you seen evidence of this, or have you seen evidence to the contrary? Answers may well hinge on Miller’s use of that word, “ordinarily.”

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

Q. 33. — What is justification?

A. — Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ. imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

Scripture References: Eph. 1:7; II Cor. 5:19, 21; Rom. 4:5; Rom. 3:22, 24, 25; Rom. 5:17-19; Rom. 5:1; Act. 10:43; Gal. 2:16.

Questions:

1. What does the word “justify” mean in the New Testament?

The word means “to deem to be right” in the New Testament. It signifies two things: (1) to show to be right or righteous; (2) to declare to be righteous.

2.
Who is the author of our justification?

God is the author of our justification. In this Question we have the first of a series in which the words “an act of God’s free grace” is used. We are justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The grace of God is the deepest ground and final cause of our justification.

3.
What are the two parts to justification?

The two parts are: (1) the pardoning of our sins; (2) the accepting us as righteous in his sight.

4.
What two great truths are present in these two parts?

The first truth is that the pardoning of our sins is a continued act. (See Calvin on John 1:29). All our sins are forgiven. The second truth is that we are not only pardoned but our Lord does not abhor us but accepts us as righteous.

5.
How is it possible that he accepts us as righteous?

It is possible for him to accept us as righteous because his righteousness is made ours by imputation. (Rom. 4:6).

6. What is imputation and how does it apply to us?

Imputation is God’s act of reckoning righteousness or guilt to a person’s credit or debit. It is as if we had obeyed the law and had satisfied justice.

7. How are we justified?

We are justified purely by faith without any kind of work beings involved.

JUSTIFICATION – FAITH AND WORKS

In the Epistles of Paul, the Apostle tells us time and time again that we are justified freely by the grace of God. A. A. Hodge tells us, “It (Justification) is ‘in the name of Christ,’ I Cor. 6:11; ‘by his blood,’ Rom. 5:9; ‘freely,’: ‘by his grace,’ ‘by faith.’ Rom. 3:24, 28.” And yet so many times the argument is presented, “James stated: ‘Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.’ (James 2:24) How can both Paul and James be right?”

It is true that both Paul and James are right. The apostle Paul affirms and proves by many arguments that justification is by faith, faith in the object of Christ and his righteousness. Paul affirms and proves that it is by faith and without works. Paul goes on to prove that instead of our being justified by good works, the works are only possible to us in that new relationship to God into which we are introduced by justification.

James does not treat the matter of justification by faith in the chapter cited above. He is treating the very important matter of what relationship the good works of the believer have to be a genuine faith. James is simply saying that a genuine faith, which A. A. Hodge calls “the instrumental cause of justification”, will produce a living faith, a faith with works. An old divine used to say, “Faith justifies our persons, but works justify our faith, and declares us to be justified before men, who cannot see nor know our faith but by our works.”

Combining Paul and James the believer has two important truths:
(1) Justification by faith includes two wonderful elements, both freely bestowed upon the believer by God. The first is remission of sIns and the second, restoration to divine favor.
(2) Because we are justified by faith the justification will always be accompanied with sanctification, without which our justification cannot be true.

Two verses that combine the above two truths, and two verses that would help the believer greatly, are Philippians 3:8,9. Commit them to memory and pray that they will be living and vital in the life, all to His glory!

Published By: THE SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol 3 No. 33 (September 1963)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

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