February 2015

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For today’s post, we will look at a letter composed by the Rev. Don Dunkerley, a PCA pastor who was at that time also serving as the Director of a missions organization known as Proclamation International. He writes here with first-hand knowledge of the establishment of a Presbyterian witness in the nation of Uganda. This letter provides both a unique insight into the birth of a Church, and provides at the same time a great example of why it is so important to have a denominational archives like the PCA Historical Center which will preserve such things. 

July 18, 1986

Pastor Leon F. Wardell

Dear Leon,

I enjoyed our phone conversation several days ago. I phoned you in my role as Director of Proclamation International, the sole representative of the Presbyterian Church in Uganda in the USA, because the brethren in Uganda have been asking me how their request for fraternal relations was being handled by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.   As Chairman of the General Assembly’s Committee on Inter-Church Relations, you asked me to write this letter giving information about the PCU, since their request has been referred by the assembly to your committee.  You felt that the kind of information I shared on the phone would be helpful to your committee if it could be distributed to them in letter form.

A short time after speaking with you, I spoke with John Galbraith, Chairman of Inter-Church Relations for the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  Since the PCU has made an identical request to the OPC, I will also send a copy to John.

The Presbyterian Church in Uganda is a daughter church of the PCA and the OPC.  This is not true in the formal sense of having been planted by PCA and OPC missionaries, for none of our missionaries were working in Uganda.  Nevertheless, in a less formal but very real sense it is a daughter of both of our churches, as the history will make clear.

Although the first missionary to enter Uganda was a Scottish Presbyterian, Alexander Mackay, he was sent by the Church of England and did not plant a Presbyterian but an Anglican Church.  For almost a century thereafter Uganda was a British protectorate, and no Protestant missionaries except Anglicans were allowed into Uganda by the British.

In the early 1970’s a movement for indigenous Ugandan churches was led by Dr. Kefa Sempangi, an Art Professor in Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Kefa’s spiritual background was in the East Africa Revival Movement in the (Anglican) Church of Uganda. Several indigenous churches arose out of Kefa’s movement, most notably the Redeemed Church which, under his preaching, grew from zero to 14,000 members in a year and a half and saw 150 witch doctors converted in that time.  Dictator Idi Amin ordered Kefa killed and Kefa had several narrow escapes from Amin’s hit men.  These are recorded in his book “A Distant Grief,” by Kefa Sempangi with Barbara Thompson (Gospel Light Regal Books, and soon to be reprinted by World Vision.)  The book also tells of the beginnings of the Redeemed Church, the forerunner of the present Presbyterian Church in Uganda.

In the 1960’s, when Kefa was an Art student in London, he regularly sat under the preaching of Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  He was again exposed to the Reformed faith when he studied under Dr. Hans Rookmaaker at the Free University of Amsterdam, where hereceived his doctorate.  When forced into exile by Amin, at the urging of Dr. Edmund F. Clowney whom he met in the home of Dr. Rookmaaker, he came to Philadelphia and studied at Westminster Theological Seminary, where he learned the Reformed faith more fully.

In 1979 Amin was driven into exile and Kefa returned to Uganda.  The Redeemed Church had survived the Amin years as an underground movement. They met secretly under penalty of death.  Amin’s soldiers had orders to raid their services and kill everyone.  They especially had orders to find and kill Peterson Sozi, pastor of an underground Redeemed Church congregation meeting in a garage in Kabowa.  Nevertheless, the church survived and many of Amin’s soldiers were converted.

On his return to Uganda, Kefa gathered together Redeemed Church leaders and began to teach them the Reformed faith in a weekly Bible study.  Soon Sunday afternoon Reformed services began under an open roof behind the public library building (where First Presbyterian Church, Kampala, meets to this day).  Some Redeemed Church leaders rejected the Reformed faith, especially the doctrines of grace (“TULIP”) and so did many of the people.  The Redeemed Church congregation at Kabowa informed Peterson Sozi and others that, if they wanted to teach this, they should leave and start a new church.  Soon a Presbyterian Church was meeting on Sunday mornings behind the public library.  Kefa Sempangi was its founder, but its pastor was Peterson Sozi.  The associate pastor was Edward Kasaija, who had been associate pastor of the Redeemed Church at Makerere, another congregation that would not accept the Reformed faith.  Joseph Musiitwa, an attorney who had been Kefa’s colleague in leading the indigenous church movement and who had most recently been an elder in Kabowa, was one of the elders of the new Presbyterian Church.  Although the Presbyterian Church was worshiping together by November, 1979, they were not officially organized and recognized by the government until January, 1981.

During his days at Westminster, Kefa had befriended Dr. C. John Miller, a professor at Westminster who is an OPC minister and an evangelist with the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, one of the four organizations that took the leadership in forming the PCA.  After Kefa’s return to Uganda in 1979, Jack Miller spent six months each year in Uganda, training Kefa and other leaders in the Reformed faith, until 1983 when Jack suffered a heart attack in Kampala.

In 1981 Jack Miller brought a team of evangelists and ministers from the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship into Uganda to evangelize and train leadership.  I was a member of this PEF team.  Except for Jack, I believe all members of the team were in the PCA.

Meanwhile, other PCA and OPC people visited Uganda at the encouragement of Kefa and Jack Miller.  Dr. Harvie Conn from Westminster came.  And Peterson Sozi and Edward Kasaija, the two pastors, were able to come for six month periods to study at Westminster Seminary.

In 1983, on my second trip, Petereon and Edward told me that the elders hoped that I would start an organization that would enable me to return often to Uganda to evangelize and train leadership and would be able to represent the Presbyterian Church in Uganda in the USA.  It might also have a similar ministry in other countries.  In March, 1984, in direct response to the urging of the elders in Kampala, Proclamation International was formed in Pensacola.  Our board has seven men.  I am a PCA minister and five of the other six are elders and deacons in Gulf Coast Presbytery of the PCA.  Until Proclamation International was recognized by the IRS, we operated as a committee of Pinewoods Presbyterian Church (PCA), Cantonment. Fla.

Meanwhile, Dr. Henrik Krabbendam, an OPC minister and a Professor at PCA’s Covenant College, became involved in Uganda.  He has been visiting about twice a year, evangelizing and training leadership.  I believe he is there at this present time.

Close ties are developing with individuals and churches in the Christian Reformed Church.  More financial support is coming presently to the PCU from CRC sources than from either PCA or OPC.  And Reformed Bible College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, an independent school with close ties to the CRC, is also becoming involved.  Our PCU Bible School, “The Back to God School of Evangelism and Discipleship” in Kampala, is being operated with very close ties with Reformed Bible College.  Emma Kiwanuka, a member of the church and a graduate of RBC, is the one full-time faculty member.  He designed the curriculum in consultation with Dr. Burt Braunius, Vice President for Academic Affairs at RBC.  Burt was at one time Director of Christian Education at Mcllwain Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pensacola, Florida.

(I am attaching the class schedule for the most recent program, June 23 to July 6.  Please notice the emphasis on TULIP.)  Dr. Dick Van Halsema, President of RBC, has raised most of the money to date for the construction of a church sanctuary for First Presbyterian Church, Kampala, a building that is about half paid for and partially built.

In 1984 Peterson asked me to teach Church Government to the leadership. He felt that they had been grounded in Reformed theology by Miller, Krabbendam and others, but needed help with Reformed Church government. He said he was asking me to teach this because of my practical experience.  He was aware that I had been the organizing first Moderator of Gulf Coast Presbytery, had participated in the Steering Committee for a Continuing Presbyterian Church in the historic February, 1973, meeting and had been elected by the Convocation of Sessions to be an alternate to the Organizing Committee of the Continuing Presbyterian Church, with which I served actively.

For three weeks in the Fall of 1984 I taught a daily morning seminar. Our text was, “The Form of Presbyterian Church Government” (FOG), written by the Westminster Assembly of Divines and adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1645.  We studied it line by line, discussing at each point its scripturalness and also its relevance to Uganda.  At the conclusion of the course they asked me to write a revision of the Westminster FOG in the light of our discussions.  Daughter churches were being formed and a presbytery should be organized soon.  The constitution would need a FOG suitable for Uganda.

After preparing an initial draft. I sent copies to many that I believed could make helpful suggestions, including:

Dr. Will Barker, Pastor Rich Cannon, Prof. George Clark, Dr. Phillip Clark, Chaplain Don Clements, Dr. Edmund Clowney, Dr. Harvie Conn, Dr. John Richard DeWitt, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Pastor John Findlay, Dr. George Fuller, Professor Bill Iverson, Dr. James C. K. Kim, Dr. George Knight, Dr. Henrik Krabbendam, Dr. Paul Long, Pastor Jimmy Lyons, Dr. Allan A. MacRae, Dr. Don MacNair, Dr. C. John Miller, Pastor Iain Murray, Dr. J.I. Packer, Dr. Robert Rayburn, Dr. Robert Reymond, Dr. Palmer Robertson, Dr. Morton H. Smith, Mr. William H. Spanjer, III, Dr. R. C. Sproul, Dr. Dick Van Halsema, Dr. Luder Whitlock, and Pastor Paul Zetterholm.

Significant revisions were made as a result of suggestions from these brethren.  Of course, not all suggestions were incorporated.  Some contradicted each other, especially on the number of offices.  Don MacNair, Henry Krabbendam and Allan MacRae are among those whose specific wording was included at certain points.

When Peterson was in the USA in 1985, I gave him a copy of my revised draft plus the complete file of correspondence.  He took this material back to Uganda where it was thoroughly studied by the elders.  They sent me a list of further revisions, mostly editorial changes to bring it more in line with Ugandan English.

On February 28, 1986, I had the privilege of being the only American visitor present at the formation of the Presbytery of Uganda.  Most of the meeting was taken up with last minute changes to the Form of Government.  The FOG was adopted, along with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms (I am appending a copy of the FOG in the form finally adopted.)  Peterson Sozi was elected Moderator and Kefa Sempangi was elected Stated Clerk.  A “Letter to All Churches of Jesus Christ” (patterned after the one adopted by the First General Assembly of the PCA) was adopted, and copies have since been sent to PCA and OPC
General Assemblies, among others.  The Clerk was instructed to write the following churches for fraternal relations: the Presbyterian Church in America, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Christian Reformed Church (USA), and the Westminster Presbyterian Churches of Australia.  A letter was also sent to Gulf Coast Presbytery, PCA.

In a technical sense, PCU is not a daughter of the PCA and the OPC. But who are its spiritual fathers?  We have seen some names: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Free University of Amsterdam, Hans Rookmaaker, Edmund P. Clowney, Westminster Theological Seminary, Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, C. John Miller, Harvie Conn. Henrik Krabbendam, Proclamation International, Reformed Bible College, Dick Van Halsema, Don MacNair and Allan MacRae.  The roots of the PCU are in the PCA, OPC and related movements.  They look to us as their fathers.  We should receive them as our spiritual children.

It should be abundantly clear that the PCU is a church of like faith and order with the PCA and OPC.  It is also our spiritual daughter and looks to us for leadership and help.  Not only is there no good reason to refuse their request for fraternal relations, but to do so would hurt them greatly and hinder our ability to nurture them in the future. I urge your committee to recommend strongly to the PCA General Assemb1y that it enter fraternal relations with the PCU.

May the Lord bless you richly.

In Christian affection,

Don Dunkerley

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chaferLS.Yep. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, was a Presbyterian. As was Chafer’s mentor, C. I. (Cyrus Ingerson) Scofield, and as was Scofield’s mentor, James H. Brookes. Presbyterians all. Perhaps that helps to explain how it was the dispensationalism made such inroads into Presbyterian circles in the era from the 1880’s to the 1930’s. That, and the fact that dispensationalists did a fair job of defending the Scriptures when few others. apart from the Princeton conservatives, would or could.

Lewis Sperry Chafer was born in Ashtabula county, Ohio, on February 27, 1871. His parents were the Rev. Thomas Franklin Chafer, a Congregationalist pastor, and Lois Lomira Sperry Chafer, the daughter of a Welsh Wesleyan lay preacher. When Lewis was just eleven, his father died of tuberculosis. Lewis developed an interest in music while attending the New Lyme Institute as he prepared for college. At Oberlin College, he majored in music and met his future wife, Ella Loraine Case. After their marriage in 1896, he began to serve as an evangelist.

An invitation to teach at the Northfield Boys School in turn led to a close friendship with C. I. Scofield, and as they say, the rest is history. Dallas Theological Seminary, founded in 1924 as the Evangelical Theological College, continues to this day. Its founder, Lewis Sperry Chafer, died on August 22, 1952.

In a prior post we talked about Milo Jamison’s role in the split that created the Bible Presbyterian Church. Jamison was a dispensationalist, while the recently formed denomination that was renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was quickly aligning itself against that system. In the last several decades, dispensationalism as a system has been going through a number of changes, but historically it has been anchored to three key tenets: (1) A “normal, literal” interpretation of Scripture; (2) A strict distinction between Israel and the Church; and (3) a scheme of dispensations or ages which divide up Biblical history. The latter two points are particularly where we find ourselves in disagreement with dispensationalism.

D. James Kennedy, when examining men for ordination, would routinely ask for the candidate’s views on dispensationalism, and whether the candidate approved or disapproved of the 1944 Southern Presbyterian report on dispensationalism. And Dr. Kennedy was right to use that Report in that way. However, the untold story behind that PCUS report is that in all likelihood, the Report was an attempt to split the conservatives in the Southern Presbyterian denomination, many of whom at that time were dispensationalists. As modernists were gaining power in the PCUS, the 1944 Report gave them an opportunity to set one camp of conservatives over against another and so dampen opposition to their own agenda.

In Sum:
Few conservative Presbyterians today consider themselves dispensationalists. The old Reformation doctrine—really the old Biblical doctrine—of covenant theology is being taught once again, and taught well in our seminaries and in our churches. How it came to be virtually ignored in the 19th-century is something of a mystery, but the general lack of such teaching in that era does help to explain the rise of dispensationalism during the same time period. Nature abhors a vacuum.

For Further Study:
One of the better popular-level works on covenant theology is O. Palmer Robertson’s Christ of the Covenants. Ask your pastor about other helpful materials on this important subject.

Image source: From a photograph on file at the PCA Historical Center, with the scan prepared by the staff of the Historical Center. The photograph lacks any indication as to who the photographer might have been.

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hodgeCasparJrDr. Caspar Wistar Hodge, who had served as the Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology in the Princeton Theological Seminary since 1921, died on Friday morning, February 26, 1937, in the Princeton Hospital, of pneumonia. He had been ill for about one week, and died at the age of sixty-six years.

Dr. Hodge was a member of a family closely connected with the Princeton Theological Seminary for more than 100 years. His father, Dr. Caspar Wistar Hodge and his grandfather, Dr. Charles Hodge, as well as his great-uncle, Dr. Archibald Alexander Hodge, had all been members, like himself, of the seminary faculty.

Dr. Hodge was born at Princeton on September 22, 1870. He graduated from Princeton University in 1892, and after further studies received from that school the degree of Ph.D. in 1894. After a year of study abroad at the Universities of Heidelberg and Berlin, he returned to Princeton in 1895, taking the post of instructor in Philosophy in the College. Dr. Hodge remained in that position for two years, going then to Lafayette College as associate professor of Ethics for one year. Thereafter he entered Princeton Seminary to study for the ministry.

Upon graduation from the Seminary in 1901, he was ordained a minister and remained at the Seminary as an instructor in Systematic Theology. After six years he was made assistant professor of Dogmatic Theology, and eight years later professor in the same department, from which he was transferred in 1921 to the Charles Hodge professorship.

Dr. Hodge was well known as a writer on Biblical and theological studies, as a contributor to religious periodicals in America and in Scotland, and as an editor and contributor for several published books.

In 1897, Dr. Hodge married Miss Sarah Henry, of Princeton. He was survived by one daughter, Mrs. Carl H. Ernlund, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a sister, Miss Madeline Hodge. Funeral services were held in the Miller Chapel of the Seminary at Princeton on Monday morning, March 1, 1937.

For Further Study:
The Significance of the Reformed Faith Today,” by C. W. Hodge, Jr., is a brilliant analysis of what is termed the new theology, in contrast with the old theology.
[This PDF is a close reproduction of a typescript found among the Papers of Dr. Robert Dick Wilson. The typescript is undated, but Dr. Hodge’s opening comments, particularly his reference to the recent death of Dr. B.B. Warfield, dates the paper to 1921 when Dr. Hodge was installed as Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology.

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Old Mortality: Robert Patterson [ca. 1713-1801]

The purpose of this blog is to remind us of those saints who have gone before, and to recall something of our common history as Presbyterians, for regardless of our denomination, we are all connected, one with another. We learn from one another, are encouraged by one another, and are reminded to pray for one another.

dewittWmRAnd so it seemed very fitting when I stumbled across the content chosen for today’s post. Our entry for the day was to focus on the Rev. William Radcliffe DeWitt, (pictured in the photo at the right), who was born on this day, February 25, 1792, and who was for forty years the pastor of the English Presbyterian Church of Harrisburg, PA. Looking for more about his ministry, I was pleased to find among our church history collection a copy of The Centennial Memorial of the English Presbyterian Church, 1794-1894, with a section on DeWitt’s ministry at that church. That in turn led to the serendipitous discovery of the following poignant words which serve as the opening paragraphs for the chapter on that church’s history:

Now go write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come forever and ever.”–Isaiah 30:6.

“Walter Scott has very touchingly told us of Old Mortality, a religious itinerant of his times. He was first discovered in the burial ground of the Parish of Gaudercleugh. It was his custom to pass from one graveyard to another, and with the patient chisel of the engraver clear away the moss from the grey tombstones, and restore the names and the lines that Time’s finger had well nigh effaced. It mattered little to him whether it was the headstone of some early martyr to the faith, or only love’s memorial to some little child. It was his joy to do the quiet and unbidden work of bringing again to the notice of men the history and the heroism of some of God’s nobility of whom the world was not worthy, nor less to honor the unknown ones who were laid to rest with unseen tears.

abeel_graveOur work to-day bears something of the same character. Like Old Mortality, we step softly and reverently among the graves of the past. Chisel in hand we pass from memory to memory. We clear away the gathered moss. We refurnish the ancient stones and read again the names of the departed, dropping here and there a tear as precious memories are awakened, and reminding ourselves anew of a fellowship that is only interrupted for a little time. The past is ours. We are its heirs. Its good comes down to us in an apostolic succession of benedictions. The links that bind us to past days and years are golden links. It is one of the choicest gifts of grace, that we may at the same time live three lives in one. Past memories and present experiences and future hopes do blend to make human life noble and attractive. Our holy faith commemorates the past, gladdens the present and brightens the future.”

[excerpted from “A Century Plant,” by Rev. Thomas A. Robinson, in The Centennial Memorial of the English Presbyterian Congregation of Harrisburg, PA, 1794-1894,George B. Stewart, editor. Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1894, pp. 192-193. This book is available on the Internet, here.

And as it turns out, there was a real person behind the Walter Scott’s character of Old Mortality.

oldMortality_lg“Robert Patterson was born circa 1713 on the farm of Haggis Ha, in the parish of Hawick and as a married man moved to the village of Balmaclellan. A stonemason by trade and owner of a small quarry, he spent most of his life touring the lowlands of Scotland visiting and maintaining Covenanter grave sites. His method of cutting or incising letters and the ability to get so much into a limited space makes his work very distinctive. He gained some fame as ‘Old Mortality,’ the character in the book of the same name by Sir Walter Scott.”

To read more of that account, click here.

Words to Live By: Perhaps it is by divine design, but no monument lasts forever. Our worship is not for the saints or for their graves, but for the Lord of glory, whose love moved their hearts to serve Him. We remember them because of their testimony to the truth of the Gospel.

“And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.’ ”
[Exodus 13:14, NASB]

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On the Value of History

stewartAMAt the time of his decease, the Rev. Alexander Morrison Stewart, D.D. was serving as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Chico, Butte county, California. He died in that town on Wednesday morning, February 24, 1875. Dr. Stewart was born in Lawrence county, Pennsylvania on January 22, 1814. He graduated at Franklin College, in New Athens, Ohio at an early age, and immediately commenced the study of theology under the Pittsburgh Reformed Presbytery, and was licensed to preach in December, 1841, after which he traveled extensively in the interests of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, through the Middle, Southern and Western States.

The winter of 1844-45 he spent in attending divinity lectures under the late Dr. Samuel Brown Wylie, and medical lectures at Jefferson College, in Philadelphia.  In 1845 he became pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Chicago, which charge he resigned in 1855 on account of ill health.  His next charge was the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, which he left at the breaking out of the war, to enter the army as chaplain. He remained in active service in the army of the Potomac until the war was over.  After the close of the war, he accepted the united charge of East Whiteland and Reeseville Churches, in Chester county, Pennsylvania, and, in 1869, with a transfer of his ministerial credentials, went to the Pacific coast as district secretary of the Board of Home Missions for the PCUSA.  In 1870 he became pastor of the Gilroy Presbyterian Church [PCUSA], from which, in June of 1874, he accepted a call to the First Presbyterian Church of Chico, which charge he held up to the time of his death.

Dr. Stewart was an impressive preacher, a patriotic citizen, and an earnest worker in the cause of Christ.

[Adapted from The Reformed Presbyterian Advocate, 9.4 (April 1875): 141.]

Elsewhere, Joel Beeke has stressed the value of reading sermons. The text presented below is from the opening of Rev. Stewart’s sermon titled simplyHistorical Sermon. This sermon was delivered in 1850 while he was the pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian church in Chicago, and his purpose in the sermon is to present a brief overview of the Reformed Presbyterian denomination. Perhaps we can present more of this sermon at another time; but for now, this is just the opening paragraph:

“Historical Sermon”

“History connects the present with the past, and enables us to profit by every advance man has made in his civil and ecclesiastical relations. No good accomplished has ever been finally lost. No right principle once developed has entirely disappeared. The province of history is to collect and arrange these; that, with the acquisitions of the past, joined to the energies of the present, civil society and especially the church of God may move confidently on to their high destiny. Nor is it without advantage to mark the errors and failures to which men have been subject, if by so doing we shall be better able to avoid the reefs on which they broke. Were history made more frequently the subject of pulpit exhibition, how different would be the interest and edification of the hearers to that produced by many of the shabby as well as tinselled modern productions.The most eloquent and instructive discourses on record consist of a simple narration of events. When Judah would interest the ruler of Egypt in behalf of the lad, his younger brother, his unvarnished rehearsal of facts has moved many an eye to tears. Paul’s masterly defence before Agrippa was a recital of God’s promises and dealings with His chosen Israel; and Stephen’s dying eloquence–an historical discourse–silenced every argument of his opponents save that of violence.”

[emphasis added]

Words to Live By:
It is a commonplace to acknowledge that Americans are a people with little regard or appreciation for history. I don’t think that was the case in the early years of this nation, and I wonder if the declining regard for history runs parallel with the declining influence of the Church in general. Rev. Stewart’s conclusion, shown above in bold, accords perfectly with the lesson of John Flavel’s book The Mystery of Providence, where he demonstrates how frequently the Scriptures call us to remember God’s works, both His work of redemption and His works of providence. Christians should be a history-minded people, and how different the Church would be, if only we made a practice of daily remembering what God has done for us in His Son.

Image source: Photo from History of the Pittsburgh Washington Infantry,by John H. Niebaum. Pittsburgh: Burgum Printing Co., 1931, pg. 114.

A photo of the Rev. Stewart’s grave can be viewed here.

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Here was a case of a child raised without regard to religion. His parents were decent enough by the world’s standards, but they were not Christians. Nonetheless, God called him.

Ichabod Smith Spencer was born on February 23, 1798, in Suffield, Connecticut. His father’s death, when he was just seventeen, had a profound effect upon him, eventually prompting him to leave home a year later. Shifting around on his own, he took common labor jobs and came to reside in Granville, New York about 1816. In God’s providence, a revival was underway in that town, and Ichabod Spencer made a profession of faith as he joined the Congregational church there. His gifts soon drew attention and he was urged to pursue the ministry. By late 1826 he was licensed to preach and two years later he was ordained. Then in 1832, he accepted a call to serve the Presbyterian church in Brooklyn, New York, where he remained until his death in 1854.

In Sprague’s Annals of the American Pulpit, the Rev. Gardiner Spring wrote of Rev. Spencer’s preaching:

“It is characteristic of the best ministers that they are best at home, and most distinguished in their own pulpits. There was no ‘flourish of trumpets’ with Dr. Spencer, when he went abroad. He was not demonstrative in his nature, nor eager for the praise of men. He was emulous, but it was mainly to magnify the truths of God, and do good to the souls of men. No man was less desirous than he to ‘create a sensation’ and set the world aghast by his preaching. Yet was he exclusively devoted to his work. His heart, his thoughts, his studies and attainments, his time, his interests, his influence and his life, were given to the ministry. Few ministers of the Everlasting Gospel, if any, were more industrious; and few had less occasion to lamen misspent and wasted hours. The result was that he became one of the best and most effective preachers of the age.

“Few habitually spake like him in discourses of such instructiveness, such attractive persuasion, such withering rebuke of wickedness, or such happy effects upon the minds of men. He spake ‘the things which became sound doctrine,’ and declared ‘the whole counsel of God.’ He was cautious and wise, but he was urgent and in earnest. He was often tender to weeping, yet was he a most fearless preacher. There was a large commingling of the ‘Son of Consolation’ with the ‘Son of Thunder’ in his character. I have heard him say that he did not know what it was to be ensnared or embarrassed in preaching God’s truth, and that the thought of being afraid to utter it, because it was unpopular, never once entered his mind. There was something of nature in this, and more of grace; he was fearless of men, because he feared God. There was great variety in his preaching; he was not confined to a few thread-bare topics; his mind and heart took a wide range, and brought out of his treasure ‘things both new and old.’ Nor was he given to crude and imperfect preparations for the pulpit : a volume of sermons might be selected from his manuscripts, which would be a beautiful model for the youthful ministry, and a great comfort to the Church of God. His Sabbath Evening Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, as well as portions of his Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans, will not easily be forgotten by those who heard them.”

Words to Live By:
Concerning Gardiner Spring’s observation, that “It is characteristic of the best ministers that they are best at home, and most distinguished in their own pulpits.”—why do you think that might be so? Perhaps it is because at home they are most comfortable? No, I would rather think that it is because at home, a pastor has the greatest, most sincere concern for his hearers. They are his own congregation whom he loves and sacrifices himself for daily. Yet another reason to pray for your pastor.

For Further Study:
I do not know if Rev. Spencer’s lectures on the Catechism or on the Book of Romans were ever published, but two volumes of his sermons were. The first of those two volumes is currently in print. Another his works apparently has the greater fame–A Pastor’s Sketches: Conversations with Anxious Souls Concerning the Way of Salvation. A new edition of this latter title is pending. For more information, click here. [we have no financial incentive or connection with the publisher]

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by Rev Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 7. — What are the decrees of God?

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

Scripture References: Eph. 1:4,11. Rom. 9:23. Acts 4:27,28. Ps. 33:11


1. What is the nature of God’s decrees?

God’s decrees are unchangeable; they cannot be changed, therefore they are certain to be fulfilled. His decrees are eternal, being settled by God in eternity.

2. Are there more than one decree?

No, there is only one single decree. However, this decree includes many particulars and therefore we speak of it in the plural.

3. When one uses the word “decree” is it not usually synonymous with an arbitrariness?

When man uses the word such may be true but not when God uses it. God’s decrees should not be classed in this way since they were framed by Him according to the counsel of his will. You must look behind the decree and see there the love of an infinite, personal God, whose all comprehensive plan is also all wise.

4. What is the purpose of God’s decrees?

The purpose is His own glory first and through this, the good of the elect.

5. Who are the special objects of God’s decrees and what is His decree toward them?

Angels and men are the special objects and His decree toward them is predestination.

6. What is meant by predestination?

Predestination is the plan or purpose of God respecting His moral creatures. It is divided into election and reprobation.

7. What is the definition of election and reprobation?

Election is God’s eternal purpose to save some of the human race in and by Jesus Christ. Reprobation is God’s eternal purpose to pass some men by with the operation of His special grace and to punish them for their sin.

8. If reprobation be true, how can God be just?

God would be just in condemning all to eternal punishment since all have sinned. He is in charge; He is the potter and our attitude should be one of thankfulness if we are of the elect by His grace. Man has no claim on God and God does not owe man eternal salvation or anything else.


Very few today doubt that men are living in an age fraught with the feelings of frustration, failure, inadequacy, anxiety, fear and guilt. In an effort to hide such feelings men are pursuing a variety of temporary goals. For som®, it is business success; some crave social life; some feel that drinking will solve the problem; and for some it is just the pride of life. But whatever the earthly goal, there is always a “tomorrow”, when men wake up again to the knowledge that no method is lasting. No method provides enduring peace. To all men comes the challenge, “Look to the Throne of God!”

The study of this Catechism Question should enable any sinner saved by grace to see something of the nature of God on His throne, and should enable any man to recognize that his life is in the Hands of the Almighty, Sovereign God. So many times men forget. They for­get that God who framed His decrees according to the counsel of His will, is our Heavenly Father who is personal and has infinite love for us, and that He can and does take care of the comparatively minor ills and problems of men.

In this troubled world of today there is a need that the God of eternal purpose, that God who has the world in His hands, be pro­claimed by those who are His children by faith through Jesus Christ. But the difficulty today is that so many who proclaim Him as their Saviour, want to usurp so much of His efficacy. They desire the comfort and sustenance of the Sovereign God but want to exalt man and his powers and abilities even to the point of suggesting that man can work independently of God. Or, they seem to insert into the decree of God that He chooses certain men because He foresees certain capabilities of re­pentance and belief in them. Or even worse, they want to choose what to believe regarding predestination, often leaving out part of the teach­ing of the Word of God.

It is ever good for Christians to remember that He elected some men simply for reasons of His own and not because there was any de­serving thing in them. Further, it is good for Christians to remember that they dare not meddle with the Word of God. True, there is much that finite minds can not understand. True, there is much against which our sinful minds rebel. But the Word stands in the midst of His eternal purpose. It is only as the Written Word is accepted as it is, as the Scriptures are proclaimed in all fulness, that the challenge can be issued to the world; “Look to the Throne of God!’’ for there sits the infinite, holy, sovereign God, the One who elects and keeps eternally.

Published By:

Dedicated to instruction in the Westminster Standards for use as a bulletin insert or other methods of distribution in Presbyterian churches.
Vol. 1 No. 7 (July, 1861)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor.


wilsonJamesPatriot_02The son of Rev. Dr. Matthew* and Elizabeth Wilson, James Patriot Wilson was born at Lewes, Sussex County, Delaware, February 21, 1769. His father was eminent as a physician and clergyman, and his mother was deemed a model in all her domestic and social relations. He was graduated with high honor at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, Pa., in August of 1788. So distinguished was he in the various branches, included in his collegiate course, that at the time of his graduation it was the expressed opinion of the Faculty that he was competent to instruct his classmates. He was at the same time offered a place in the University as Assistant Professor of Mathematics, but as his health was somewhat impaired and the air of his native place was more congenial with his constitution, he became an assistant in the Academy at Lewes, taking measures to regain his health, and occupying his leisure with reading history. Having devoted himself for sometime to the study of the law he was admitted to the bar in Sussex County, Delaware, in 1790.

Though he had acquired a reputation as a lawyer unsurpassed perhaps in his native State, yet he ere long relinquished his profession and entered the ministry. He was licensed to preach the gospel in 1804 by the Presbytery of Lewes, and in the same year was ordained and installed as pastor over the united congregations of Lewes, Cool Spring, and Indian River—the same which had for many years enjoyed the ministry of his father.

In May, 1806, he was called, at the instance of the late Dr. Benjamin Rush (his early and constant friend) to the pastoral charge of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He accepted the call, by the advice of Lewes Presbytery, and removed to Philadelphia the same year. In May, 1828, he retired to his farm, near Hartsville, Bucks County, Pa., about twenty miles from the city, on account of the infirm state of his health, preaching nevertheless to his congregation as often as his health permitted. His resignation of his pastoral charge was not accepted till the spring of 1830. In the course of that season he visited the city and preached for the last time to his people. He died at his farm in the utmost peace, December 9, 1830, and was buried on the 13th in a spot selected by himself in the grave-yard of Neshaminy Church. His remains lie near the tomb of the celebrated William Tennant, the founder of “ Log College.” The degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him by the University of Pennsylvania, in 1807.

In June, 1792, he was married to Elizabeth, daughter of John and Hannah Woods, of Lewes, Delaware, with whom he lived but little more than three years, as she died in December, 1795. She had two children, but neither of them survived her.

In May, 1798, he was married to Mary, daughter of David and Mary M. Hall, and sister of the late Governor Hall, of Delaware. They had nine children, only two of whom survived him, one of whom is the Rev. Dr James P. Wilson, of Newark, N. J. Mrs. Wilson died January 5, 1839.

Dr. Wilson was in person above the middle height, and had a countenance rather grave than animated, and expressive at once of strong benevolent feelings and high intelligence. In the ordinary intercourse of society his manners were exceedingly bland. He was affable and communicative, and generally talked so sensibly, or so learnedly, or so profoundly, that he was listened to with earnest attention.

As an author he published Lectures upon some of the Parables and Historical Passages of the New Testament, in 1810; An Easy Introduction to the Knowledge of the Hebrew Language, 1812; Ridgely’s Body of Divinity, with Notes, 1814 ; A Series of Articles on the Primitive Government of the Christian Churches, also on Liturgical Considerations ; besides many Tracts and Essays.—See Annals of American Pulpit, William B. Sprague, vol. iv.. page 353, published by Carter & Brother, New York.

[* A Memoir of Rev. Dr. Matthew Wilson is published in The Presbyterian Historical Almanac for 1863, page 48.]

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A Presbyterian Remnant Remains True to the Gospel

The story line was surprising and sorrowful at the same time. Written just last year, it told the story of the dying Presbyterian Church of New Zealand which had decided to attract new members with an approach  of “drinking  to the Gospel,” as they called it. Many churches of this main line Presbyterian Church down under were adding outreaches entitled “wine  and theology” and “beer and barbecue” to their schedules. It wasn’t always this way in this Presbyterian church.

The beginning of the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand began on February 20, 1840 when the Rev. John Macfarlane of the Church of Scotland arrived in Port Nicholson, Wellington. The Scottish minister became the church planter of the first Scots church four years later in the area.  Even when the disruption occurred in during this same time period, it took a little time for that to reach the new country. Eventually it did however, and ministers from the Free Church of Scotland arrived to minister to the Scottish people residing in the land. In fact, whole groups of families from the Free Presbyterian church began to arrive in country, along with their pastors. A Presbyterian Church true to the gospel was being established in  New Zealand.

Fast forward to the mid-sixties. The Presbyterian Church had grown strong and numerous. Twenty four Presbyteries dotted the land, with 446 parishes, 806 church buildings, ninety thousand plus members, over 70,000 Sunday school pupils, and 20,000 Bible class students. But numbers can be deceiving as well, so it was in this decade that the church was falling into apostasy.  Individual churches began to “come out and be separate,” until 2000, a fully fledged denomination started called Grace Presbyterian Church of New Zealand was organized.

According to its web page, it describes itself as “Presbyterian in government, Reformed in theology, and Evangelical in spirit.”  It states fully that it is a “national Presbyterian Church that holds strongly to the Bible as its rule of faith and life,” with a passion for God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and a passion for people.”  That means, the web site says, “that we seek to bring glory to God and be aware of where  he is leading through His Word and Holy Spirit.”  Further, it translates out as being “dedicated to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are lost, both here in New Zealand and elsewhere.” In addition, they as a church are “fully committed to the Reformed faith as the most consistent presentation and outworking of Biblical Christianity.” They take their stand for life in the womb and for marriage between a man and a woman.

Words to Live By:
If you are like this author, you must acknowledge that you had no idea that a faithful Presbyterian remnant for the gospel was existing in this South Pacific nation. At the same time, you are thankful for even small beginnings which seeks to be faithful to the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Why not pray today, and if you are a pastor, pray from the pulpit and/or Sunday School desk for Grace Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, that they will remain faithful to the Scriptures, the Reformed Faith, and the Great Commission?

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 A Union based on Compromise of Doctrine

The early twentieth century in the northern Presbyterian church was increasingly one of a battle over the Bible. Charles Briggs, of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, had just been indicted for heresy and found guilty by both his presbytery and the General Assembly. In the midst of this trial and subsequent indictment, there was a proposal to revise the Westminster Standards by 15 presbyteries of the denomination. The result was the addition of two chapters to the Confession on the Holy Spirit and the Love of God and Missions, composed of chapters 34 and 35. Further, some language was changed in chapter 16 relating to the works of unregenerate men. Instead of these works being considered sinful and unable to please God, they were described as “praiseworthy.” Last, a declarative statement was added to better understand Chapter 3 of the Confession as it related to God’s eternal decree.

» Dr. Charles Augustus Briggs, pictured at about age 43. »

Let there be no doubt with respect to these changes. That result was that the Standards of the Westminster Assembly were watered down as to their solid Calvinism originally taught in them. Particular redemption was replaced by general redemption. Total depravity was replaced by a partial depravity. Arminianism was introduced into the subordinate standards of the church. J. Gresham Machen called the changes to be “highly objectionable,” “a calamity,” and “a very serious lowering of the flag.”

Whether such a momentous change was due to potential union talk or not, it is interesting that soon after this change, joint discussions arose with the possibility of union with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Northern assembly of the Presbyterian church. Remember, around 1810, a division occurred over Calvinism and the Westminster Standards in the Presbyterian Church, which division brought about the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Now this Arminianism denomination was being invited to reunite with the Northern Presbyterian Church, without any change on their part with regards to their Arminian beliefs. The plans for that union were adopted on February 19, 1904. After some further refinements to the plans, the last General Assembly of the old Cumberland Presbyterian Church met in May of 1906 [pictured below].

Over 1100 Cumberland Presbyterian teaching elders joined the ranks of the Presbyterian Church, bringing their number up to 9,031 men. Over 90,000 members came into the fold of the Presbyterian church. The union wasn’t complete however, in that, some 50,000 stayed out of the union, and continued on as the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. But what was found in the union meant in reality that the Presbyterian church was no longer uncompromisedly Reformed in doctrine and life. That was to have a profound effect on the next 30 years of existence and testimony.

Words to Live By: Beware of a tendency to lower your Biblical testimony, and that of your church or denomination, to suit the ever-changing sentiments of the world around you.  Your standard is always the Word of God, never the word of man.

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