April 2016

You are currently browsing the archive for the April 2016 category.

hallDWDr. David W. Hall, pastor of the Midway Presbyterian Church, Powder Springs, Georgia, returns today with the fourteenth in our series of Election Day Sermons. As a collection, these sermons present the reader with a great opportunity to explore the theology of the church-state relation. When speaking of elections and elected officials in the government, what is right and proper for a pastor to say from the pulpit? And do the standards exhibited in these sermons remain valid to our day and time? Has what is lawful and proper changed in any way? Clearly there are many questions and we pray that our presentation of this series will help you begin to think through these matters. 

“Civil Magistrates Must be Just, Ruling in the Fear of God”
by Charles Chauncy (May 27, 1747)

Charles Chauncy (1705-1787) was one of the most influential pastors in Boston during his life. He received his theological training at Harvard and served as pastor of First Church for nearly 60 years. He wrote numerous pamphlets between 1762-1771 against the British proposal to impose a Bishop in America. This sermon preached in 1747, addressed to rulers (the Governor, the council, and the Massachusetts House of Representatives), called them to be just and frequently to recall their subordination to God. Original punctuation has been preserved. He drew upon an often used text from 2 Samuel 23—a passage that was a slam dunk for pastors comparing candidates to unchanging norms. He began: “there are none in all the Bible, applicable to civil rulers, in their public capacity, of more solemn importance.”

Viewing these as the last sentiments of David, Chauncy’s outline was:

  1. There is a certain order among mankind, according to which some are entrusted with power to rule over others.
  2. Those who rule over others must be just, ruling in the fear of God.
  3. The whole will then be applied to the occasions of the day.

In his first section, an apology for government in general, Chauncy observed: “Order and rule in society, or, what means the same thing, civil government, is not a contrivance of arbitrary and tyrannical men, but a regular state of things, naturally resulting from the make of man, and his circumstances in the world.” Human sin necessitated this. As both Calvin and Madison had noted, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” While government in general was ordained by God, the particulars could and did vary.

Government was “not a matter of mere human prudence, but of moral necessity. It does not lie with men to determine at pleasure, whether it shall or shall not take place; but, considering their present weak, exposed and dependent condition, it is unalterably right and just there should be rule and superiority in some, and subjection and inferiority in others: And this therefore is invariably the will of God; his will manifested by the moral fitness and reason of things.”

However, under the second head, the manner of rulers was prescribed. The first quality (and the one with the most discussion in this sermon) was for ruler to be just. One of Chauncy’s full elaborations of justice was:

They should do it by appearing in defense of their liberties, if called in question, and making use of all wise and suitable methods to prevent the loss of them: Nor can they be too active, diligent or laborious in their endeavors upon this head: Provided always, the privileges in danger are worth contending for, and such as the people have a just right and legal claim to. Otherwise, there may be hazard of losing real liberties, in the strife for those that are imaginary; or valuable ones, for such as are of trifling consideration.

They should also express this care, by seasonably and faithfully placing a proper guard against the designs of those, who would rule in a despotic manner, to the subversion of the rights naturally or legally vested in the people.

They were to be just in their use of power (not encroaching due liberties) and also just in regard to “the laws by which they govern.” He articulated this second rung of justice as “They should not, when upon the business of framing and passing acts, suffer themselves to be swayed by any wrong bias, either from self-will, or self-interest; the smiles or frowns of men greater than themselves; or the humor of the populace: But should bring the proposed laws to a fair and impartial examination.” He warned against “framing mischief by a law.” Just rulers would also punish evildoers and maintain honest economic standards.

Surely with the book of Proverbs’ admonition toward just weights and measures in mind, Chauncy also applied:

And if justice in rulers should show itself by reducing the things that are bought and sold to weight and measure, much more ought it to be seen in ascertaining the medium of trade, as nearly as may be, to some determinate value. For this, whether it be money, or something substituted to pass in lieu of it, is that for which all things are exchanged in commerce. And if this, which is of such universal use in the affair of traffic, be a thing variable and uncertain, of one value this week, and another the next, it is difficult to conceive, how justice should take place between man and man, in their dealings with one another.

Justice also called for right execution of laws and for the appointment of just persons to carry out those just laws. Justice was called for in terms of debt—not a light matter; and justice was to be a guarantor of liberties. Not only could liberties be threatened by those of high office, but Chauncy also warned about excessive populism: “The men who strike in with the popular cry of liberty and privilege, working themselves, by an artful application to the fears and jealousies of the people, into their good opinion of them as lovers of their country, if not the only stanch friends to its interests, may, all the while, be only aiming at power to carry every thing according to their own sovereign pleasure: And they are, in this case, most dangerous enemies to the community.”

A ruler could, thus, err in many ways. The standards for office were high, according to the Hebrew standards and to those of early America. Chauncy put it this way:

If it is their business to act as executioners of justice, they must faithfully inflict the adjudged sentence: In doing of which, though there may be room for the exercise of compassion, especially in the case of some sort of debtors; yet the righteousness of the law may not be eluded by needless, much less fraudulent delays, to the injury of the creditor.

In fine, whatever their trust is, whether of less or greater importance, they must exercise it with care, fidelity, resolution, steadiness, diligence, and an entire freedom from a corrupt respect to men’s persons, as those who are concerned for the honor of government, and that its laws may take effect for the general good of the community.

He charged the General Court to apply themselves to these standards of justice. He further reminded his listeners that they were responsible to God, specifically telling them “that they are accountable to that Jesus, whom God hath ordained to be the judge of the world, for the use of that power he has put into their hands.” The latter part of this sermon provides a discussion of the fear of the Lord, with the injunction that rulers were to keep that in mind in their activities and decisions. This aspect was salutary as follows: “But no restraints are like those, which the true fear of God lays upon men’s lusts. This habitually prevailing in the hearts of rulers, will happily prevent the out-breaking of their pride, and envy, and avarice, and self-love, and other lusts, to the damage of society; and not only so, but it will weaken, and gradually destroy, the very inward propensities themselves to the various acts of vice. It naturally, and powerfully, tends to this: And this is the effect it will produce, in a less or greater degree, according to the strength of the religious principle, in those who are the subjects of it.”

Chauncy’s sermon wraps up with specific charges to the rulers to apply these standards. Somehow, I doubt that the need for fear of God as discussed above, or the requirement to be just, has been altered by time or circumstance.

A printed copy of this sermon is available in my 1996 Election Day Sermons and is also available in Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). The sermon is online at: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N04742.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext.

By Dr. David W. Hall, Pastor
Midway Presbyterian Church

Called to Noble Service


Reproduced here are two accounts, the first an obituary, the second a reminiscence, on the death of the Rev. David Herron, who served some fifty years as a missionary to India, sent by the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod. In 1833 the Reformed Presbyterians had suffered a split, dividing into the RP, General Synod and RP, Synod groups. Yet despite the grievous wound of a denominational split, both sides were aggressive in their missionary efforts, and just two years after that split, Rev. Herron was sent to India to begin a work there. The work begun there in Dehra Dun continued on after Herron’s death. He was succeeded by the Rev. John Calvin Taylor, then later by Rev. Frank Fiol, Mr. & Mrs. Gordon Taylor, and Mr. & Mrs. David Fiol. What an amazing legacy down through the years; what a wonderful testimony to the Lord God whom we serve!


herronDavid_age90The committee to whom was referred the demise of Rev. David Herron, who died on the 29th of April, 1900, would submit to Synod the following minute. In the death of our esteemed brother for over fifty years a representative of General Synod, as a missionary in Northern India, our church has lost a man and minister eminent for missionary spirit, a high order of talent, Christian graces, and a temper and disposition which endeared him to all who knew him. His long service in missionary work in India, and his wide acquaintance with the needs and natives of India render his death an almost irreparable loss to our mission in the East.

At the meeting of General Synod held in Pittsburgh, 1835, a resolution was adopted that two of its members be selected for the foreign field. At that time Synod resorted to the ordinance of the lot, the result was that the lot fell on Rev. David Herron and Rev. Wm. Calderwood. The occasion was one of great solemnity and a farewell meeting of Synod was held.

These brethren proceeded to prepare for their departure to their distant field of labor. After reaching India our brother gave himself earnestly to the acquisition of the native language. At the same time he connected with the Saharanpur Presbytery. After missionating for a time in various parts of the Northwest provinces, he subsequently became principal of a female school in Dehra Doon. Here he became instrumental in training young women for varied work in India, some of whom became distinguished in literature and in medicine. Among these were two daughters of Rev. B.M. Bose, who now su
pport their father at Dehra Doon.

When the Saharanpur Presbytery was about to be dissolved by the Presbyterian Church, Rev. David Herron, in connection with Mr. Calderwood took means to preserve the integrity of the Presbytery and was eminently successful. And when after many years of separation, the reunion of the Saharanpur Presbytery with General Synod was proposed, our brother heartily seconded the proposition, and expressed himself by letter, as thankful to the church of his fathers and the church of his choice for their kindly continuing him as a member of the church after so many years of estrangement.

The last work of Mr. Herron’s life has been preaching to a regiment of English soldiers, together with aiding by sympathy and contributions an asylum for lepers.

He was a warm and genial friend, a successful missionary, able preacher of the Gospel, and a devoted Christian brother. The mission in India will deeply feel his loss. But he has gone to higher society. He sleeps in Jesus, and although his body lies in the grave, far distant from the sepulchres of his fathers, and we can see no more his genial face on earth, we hope to meet with him in the home above, where separation shall never enter. Meanwhile General Synod places on record this minute of appreciation of his life and labors.

[The Minutes of General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (1900), p. 28-29.]

The Rev. David Herron, who fell asleep in the Lord at Chakrata, India on the 29th of April, 1900, was intimately connected with the Saharanpur Presbytery almost from the time of its organization in 1837, and was its staunch supporter during the period of its greatest troubles; and it is not too much to say that had it not been for his strenuous exertions to maintain its integrity it would have been impossible for the Presbytery to continue in existence up to the present day. By his death not only has the Presbytery been bereft of a friend on whose wise counsel and unfailing support it could always depend, but the whole Church in India has been deprived of the benefits derivable from the presence among them of a venerable minister of mature experience, wide sympathies and burning zeal in the cause of Missions. He has however fought a good fight and has received a crown of glory at the hand of his Lord and Saviour, and although we deeply mourn his loss we bow in submission to the Will of our Heavenly Father whom it has pleased to take him away from us to a life of happiness above.

[The Reformed Presbyterian Advocate, 35.14-17 (July-Aug, 1901): 312.]

Pictured below, Rev. Herron with his children and an Indian servant. This photograph was taken in 1863 when Rev. Herron returned to the United States following the death of his wife, Mary Louise Browning Herron.











You Can’t Say That!

Talk about Goliath against David.  This was the case on this day April 28, 1937 when the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America went to court against the Presbyterian Church of America.  They had been successful in winning the church properties of those ministers who had been suspended from their ranks.  They had been successful in evicting them from the manse or parsonage.  They had been successful in removing their life insurance policies.  Now they wanted their name.

Their argument was simple.  Plans had been under way for some time for a proposed union of the United Presbyterian Church of North America with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.  And one of the names floated for that proposed union was the Presbyterian Church of America.

MudgeLSThe principal witness for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., was the denomination’s Stated Clerk, Lewis Seymour Mudge. Key to the whole case was the question of similarity of names as the sole basis for the suit against the Presbyterian Church of America.  Attempts by the latter group to show the doctrinal reasons for the new church were then met with objection after objection by the attorney for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

Witnesses for the P.C. of A. were a “who’s who” of its early leaders. Ministers Paul Woolley, Edwin Rian, and Charles Woodbridge all testified on April 28 and April 29. Professor John Murray tried to bear witness about the doctrinal differences between the two denominations, but was hindered by objections to his presence on the stand. He left, without testifying.

It took several months before the decision was handed down. But as the historical devotional for February 9, 1939 showed, the decision was made against the Presbyterian Church of America. Moderator R.B. Kuiper called for an earlier than usual General Assembly in that month of February, 1939, and the new name of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was chosen by the  church.

When the union between the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America and the United Presbyterian Church of North America took place in 1958, their new name was the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA). In God’s providence, this gave the opportunity for the southern Presbyterians who left the Presbyterian Church in the United States in 1973 to choose the name, The Presbyterian Church in America, as their new name during their second General Assembly.

PCofA_4thGA_1938OPC_5th_1939Presbyterian Guardian managing editor Thomas R. Birch remarked at the close of his report in the May 29th, 1937 issue, “And once more . . . Gideon’s band of true Christians, the Presbyterian Church of America, has publicly taken its unflinching stand on the side of historic Presbyterianism and the principles of religious liberty for which the fathers fought and died.” His entire article concerning the injunction can be read online in the May 29, 1937 issue of the Presbyterian Guardian. Yet through further legal appeal, it was not until March 15, 1939 that the denomination officially changed its name to The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  Mr. Birch wrote again at that time regarding the name change, “What’s In A Name?”, on page 47 of the March 1939 issue of The Presbyterian Guardian.

Words to Live By:  Jesus promised His followers that they would be brought up before the courts for the sake of their profession as Christianity.  This was one such example, and it will not be the last time in the history of the Christian church.  Yet God’s Word is sure.  Remain steadfast to the faith, and God’s reward will be ultimately yours in Christ.

And to Explain: 
Lest you be confused, the original name of what is now The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, was the Presbyterian Church of America. They legally had that name from their founding in 1936 until the decision was made that they simply did not have the funds to fight the PCUSA legal challenge, and so gave up the court battle and changed their name in 1939.

Fast forward to 1973, and a new denomination began, gathering some 40,000 members out from the old Southern Presbyterian Church. This new group initially called themselves the National Presbyterian Church, but because of a discovered conflict, chose to change its name a year later. It was their own choice; no legal challenge was involved. And the name selected in 1974 was the Presbyterian Church in America. Why was there no legal challenge about the PCinA name, you ask? Because the mainline denomination was, by way of a merger, operating as the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. from 1958-1983, and the PCinA name was not in view as something they might employ.

So to review, PCofA, 1936-1939, which then becomes the OPC, 1939-ongoing; and NPC, 1973-74, which then becomes the PCinA, 1974-ongoing.

From Slavery to Service for her Savior
by Rev. David T. Myers

stockton_betsey_c1798-1865History does not record the date of her birth in slavery. But we do know that it was around the year of 1798. We do know that the place of her birth was . . . Princeton, New Jersey. And she took the name of her slave owner master, an attorney named Robert Stockton. Obviously, slavery was not restricted to the South.

In a providential move, Betsey Stockton was presented as a “gift” to the new husband of Richard Stockton’s daughter, in Princeton, New Jersey. His name was the Rev. Ashbel Green, the third president of the College of New Jersey, later renamed Princeton University. Rev. Green home schooled the young woman in reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and yes, theology. She was allowed into Rev. Green’s own personal library to read the great books of the Christian faith. She even went to classes at the college. A revival which started in the College spread out to the town, and Betsey was gloriously converted to faith in Christ. In 1817, she became a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton, and baptized a week later. At that time, she was granted her freedom from the terrible yoke of slavery. Betsey was kept on as a paid domestic servant, and eventually accepted as a daughter to the Green family.

As Betsey Stockton grew in her faith, she began to express an interest to go to the mission field. Joining a couple named Charles Stewart and his wife, who had an interest to go to the Sandwich Islands, (known as Hawaii today), they set sail from Connecticut with a dozen other missionaries under the auspices of the American Board of Commissions for Foreign Missions, on November 22, 1822. The trip took five months to complete, but it was on this day, April 27, 1823, that they arrived at their destination.

Sensing her calling to teach, she persuaded the Stewart’s to allow her to teach the children of the common people on the islands. Learning the language, she opened her school, teaching history, English, Latin, and Algebra. Later, when the king wanted his son to learn English, she opened up a special school teaching English and Hawaiian side by side. It was said that 8000 Hawaiians received an education due to her initial efforts.

Two years later, when Mrs. Stewart became sick, Betsey Stockton returned to America with them. But her ministry did not end. She began schooling for Native American children in Canada. This was followed by various schools for black children around Princeton, New Jersey, including the Witherspoon Street Colored School, which was an offshoot of Witherspoon Presbyterian Church.

She went into glory in 1865, loved by all for her Christian piety. John McLean, president of the college, and Charles Hodge, conducted the funeral service. She is buried in Cooperstown, New York, beside the graves of Charles Stewart and his wife, her fellow missionaries in Hawaii.

Words to Live By:
From human slavery to human and spiritual liberty, that was the life of Betsey Stockton. She stands as an individual, who regardless of the circumstances of birth, and early life, went on through Christ to serve her Savior and Lord. Let us all examine our hearts and life, and serve Him regardless of outward circumstances with which we entered this world. To God be the glory!

He Being Dead, Yet Speaks

We have a few of the characters in this historical devotional guide who are mentioned in more than one date out of the year.  Their birth dates, their death dates, and significant dates during their lives are found here. The reason why that is, is that they, while members now of the triumphant church, were well-known members of the militant church on earth. Such a one like that was Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

Born in 1851 in Kentucky from good solid Presbyterian heritage, especially on his mother’s side, Warfield was known and still is known as a great defender of the faith. The books he wrote are still readily available in both hard copy as well as on the web.  Yet he had limited experience in the pulpit and pastorate, serving only a few years in that capacity.  Further, he was not interested in  church politics,  either in the presbytery, synod, or general assembly.  His place of ministry was always in the classroom in a seminary setting.

In that sense, he was, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 4:12, an individual who “equipped the saints.”  That word “equip” is used in the gospels accounts to describe the necessary work of the fishermen who later became the apostles of our Lord.  It was said that when that divine call came, they were “mending the nets.”  In other words, they were getting the nets ready for service.  This is what the word “equip” speaks about in Ephesians 4.  And that is exactly what Warfield did as a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary with his students.  They were equipped as student saints.   They were prepared for service in the kingdom of God.

No one did a better job in his time there than Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.  He took over the Chair of Charles Hodge from the son of Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge.  He was therefore a link to the marvelous Hodge dynasty at old Princeton.  When he died in 1921, it was said that Old Princeton had passed away. In God’s providence, a mere nine years later Westminster Theological Seminary  began,  as an effort to preserve and continue something of that tradition of Old Princeton.

And to think all this story officially began on April 26, 1879 when Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield was ordained to the ministry.   It was a recognition of the spiritual gifts which he possessed in knowledge and wisdom, in teaching, and in discernment. His ordination was a recognition by the Church of the hope and anticipation of how those gifts might be used in coming years, for the glory of God.

Words to Live By: Warfield is in heaven now, but his words live on in the church on earth.  It will do you, the reader, much good to spend time in reading his books either in book form or on the web.  Those books are not always easy to read, but they are worth the effort, for they still stand ready to equip you for service in Christ’s kingdom.

by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 78. What is forbidden in the ninth commandment?

A. The ninth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own or our neighbor’s good name.

Scripture References: Prov. 19:5; Luke 3:14; Ps.15:3; Prov.6:16-19; James 3:14.


1. In general what does this commandment forbid?

This commandment forbids all falsehood, lying of any type. James 3:14 teaches this commandment: “Lie not against the truth.”

2. What does the Bible mean by a lie?

A lie, according to the Bible, would be to speak or express what we know to be false.

3. Name some ways we can lie and break God’s Law.

There are many ways we can lie according to the Bible. We can falsely accuse others. We can lie to make gain our own ends. We can invent stories that are not true. We can lie in order to make excuses for things we have not done. We can lie to try to cover our faults. We can lie in our jesting (course, foolish talking).

4. Who is the author and father of lies?

The author and father of lies is the devil (John 8:44).

5. How may we injure our own good name?

We may injure our own good name by doing something that would be offensive in the eyes of the world, such as adultery, theft or any kind of baseness and wickedness. We may injure it by false boasting. We may injure it by accusing ourselves when we are not guilty before God or by not using the gifts that God has given to us.

6. How may we injure the good name of our neighbor?

We may by false accusations or bearing false witness against him; by judging and censuring him over small, unimportant or doubtful matters; by talking about him in a way that would detract from his reputation; by listening to bad reports about him that are false.

7. What should we remember regarding the breaking of this commandment?

We should remember that at the last Day, we shall have to answer for our words and our actions. (Matt. 12:36, 37.)


The ninth commandment makes it very plain that we should not slander our neighbor in any way. This sin is predominant today even within the Christian Church. Time and time again we hear of men and women of God being slandered, sometimes even by those who are professing Christians. Indeed, this commandment points out that such is using the tongue as an instrument of unrighteousness. Thomas Watson once said that the Lord put two fences up for the tongue, the teeth and lips, and then this commandment is the third fence!

There is a positive side to this commandment implied, however, of which we should take heed. The positive side is that we should stand up for those who are being slandered! Indeed it is true that we should not take part in slander. But sometimes we can take part in it by refusing to witness for the truth in the midst of slander.

The Bible is very plain about this in various places. For example, in Acts 2:15 Peter spoke up when the apostles were being charged with drunkenness. He knew that he dare not be quiet but had to witness for truth and the truth was that they were filled with the Spirit! Jonathan took the part of David when he was slandered by Saul. The men of the Bible knew very well that the time comes when one Christian must stand up for another and refusa to be party to slander in any way.

This particular teaching is very. pertinent for today. The way of si- lence, of not wanting to get involved, is the way of the world today. It is rapidly becoming an important part of our culture. People are rapidly forgetting the teaching of the Golden Rule and are very fast to allow ethers to be treated in a way that would grieve them. Certainly there are human arguments in favor of not getting involved. Sometimes one gets into trouble, sometimes the law does not uphold the person trying to help. But these are human arguments and we as Christians are not to live by such a standard. Our standard is the Word of God and that Word tells us that we have the responsibility to speak up when our brethren are slandered and their names are cast down into the gutter of false accusation.

The familiar words, “Silence Gives Consent”, are applicable in this case. We can break this commandment by our silence in addition to breaking it by our slander. Instead of slander our motto should be “Witness” for our brethren and tell the truth about them at all times! Then God will be pleased with us as we fulfill this responsibility before Him.

Published By: The SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Dedicated to instruction in the Westminster Standards for use as a bulletin insert or other methods of distribution in Presbyterian churches.

Vol. 5 No. 7 (August, 1966)

Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

hallDWOur good friend and guest author, Rev. David W. Hall, returns today with another installment in our Election Day Sermon Series. Today’s post concerns a sermon by the Rev. John Witherspoon [1723-1794], a noted Presbyterian pastor who had the unique distinction of being intimately involved in the formation of both the United States government and the establishment of the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Witherspoon rightly can be spoken of as a founding father of both institutions. He was a delegate from New Jersey to the Second Continental Congress (May 5, 1775) and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776). Later, in May of 1789, he served as the convening moderator for the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A


“The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men”
by John Witherspoon (May 17, 1776)

witherspoonJ_03John Witherspoon (1723-1794) emigrated to America in 1768 to become the sixth president of the College of New Jersey after Samuel Finley’s death. According to James Smylie, Witherspoon was “embroiled in American politics almost immediately upon disembarking.”[1] His Princeton, which later officially embraced Westminster Calvinism, became a clinic for republican ideas; it was perhaps as important for the transmission of Calvinistic ideas into the America of the eighteenth century as Harvard had been in the seventeenth.

Witherspoon’s republican views had a decisive influence on James Madison and other founding fathers. After graduation in 1771, Madison was torn as to whether to pursue a career in law or the ministry, and he spent an additional year reading moral philosophy, Hebrew, and theology under Witherspoon.[2] His days at the College of New Jersey led him to cross paths with many of the patriots who would lead America to independence. Evaluating Witherspoon’s role in heating up American patriots, L. H. Butterfield infers that, “the ties between Presbyterians in Scotland and America just before the Revolution are shown to be even firmer and more intimate than had been realized.”[3]

Reared in a Scottish Calvinistic home in Gifford, East Lothian, he apparently came to love the teachings of the Genevan Reformer. His mother, a descendent of John Knox, had him reading the Bible at age four, and he was catechized in the Westminster Confession.[4] His father was a minister who constantly read the sermons of earlier French Huguenot and Calvinist ministers.[5] Preserving the tradition of his Scottish forebears, he warned against trusting in human prowess. Such Reformation beliefs would become more widely known in America because According to Scotland-born Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, he exceeded any preacher in Scotland: “Indeed I have heard few preachers in the course of my life that were equal to him. . . . His sermons are loaded with good sense” and elegance.[6] His fiery and articulate preaching moved many towards the Revolution. One contemporary promised that from his Princeton post, no one would “have it more in his power to advance the Cause of Christian Liberty by forming the Minds of Youth . . .”[7]

The sermons and discussions from 1760 to 1775 reveal the formative impact of Huguenot ideals on the American Revolution. Upon arrival, Witherspoon immediately inhaled the exhilarating air of American resistance and rapidly became a major public figure. In July 1774, colonial delegates met to seek New Jersey’s independence. Although Witherspoon was not present in person, following that meeting he published his first American essay, Thoughts on American Liberty. In it, Witherspoon called for a congress to hold the people together, stating that self-defense was appropriate.[8] En route to the Continental Congress that same year, John Adams spent several days in Princeton, having dinner with President Witherspoon and attending church where he “heard Dr. Witherspoon all day. A clear and sensible preacher [though] the scholars [students] sang as badly as the Presbyterians at New York.”[9] Meeting privately with Adams, Witherspoon assured him that the Princeton students were all “sons of liberty.”

Like Calvin before him, Witherspoon believed in human depravity, tracing sinful nature of all humans to the fall of Adam, the covenantal (federal) head of the human race. Adam’s fall led to corruption in the human race that required restrictions on both the governed and the governors. According to Witherspoon, whose theology differed little from that of early Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay preachers and governors, the scriptural texts taught that not “one man, or a few men . . . but all without exception” are fallen.[10] In his “Lectures on Divinity,” Witherspoon noted, “What is the history of the world but the history of human guilt? And do not children from the first dawn of reason show that they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.”[11]

The political task, for Witherspoon (and later it seems for Madison) was to “tame the savage” and “restrain the profligate . . . to bridle the fury of human inclination, and hinder one man from making a prey of another.” Madison would later refer to this as the “political depravity of man.” Smylie recognizes that Madison sought “a constitutional system which would qualify all human pretension to power—private and public, civil and ecclesiastical—because of human nature.” [12]

The Continental Congress formed its Articles of Association (note the continuity of Althusian “association”), and meanwhile in New Jersey, committees of correspondence called for a “General Assembly,” a name with roots in Witherspoon’s Scottish Presbyterianism and Genevan republicanism. When a congress of New Jerseyans met in Trenton in May of 1775, nine of the nineteen delegates from Witherspoon’s county were associated with Princeton, further confirming the strong influence of these Witherspoon Presbyterians.

Witherspoon became an increasingly vocal advocate of American independence, on one occasion absenting himself from a Princeton Board of Trustee’s meeting in order to lobby a group in a local tavern to support the Revolution.[13] However, he was at his rhetorical peak on the designated fast day in May 1776, when he delivered his bold sermon, “The Dominion of Providence over the Passion of Men.”[14] From his Princeton pulpit, he laid out the intellectual and religious matrix of the revolutionary movement and clarified the meaning of the phrase “providence” as the patriots understood it.

In that sermon, he explained that even “the ambition of mistaken princes, the cunning and cruelty of [oppression], and even the inhumanity of brutal soldiers” was part of God’s providence. Even the wrath of man ended up serving God. Witherspoon preached that “Nothing can be more absolutely necessary to true religion, than a clear and full conviction of the sinfulness of our nature and state.”[15] Witherspoon certainly did not believe that the Enlightenment had retired the Genevan doctrine of depravity. Man’s inhumanity to others was a clear proof of “the corruption of our nature.” Others could, he said, “if they please, treat the corruption of our nature as a chimera; for my part, I see it everywhere, and I feel it every day.” Human depravity gave rise to all the disorders of society, including the impending war and violence. The “lust of domination” was violent, universal, and radical.

After grounding his sermon on Calvin’s notion of limited human ability instead of on Rousseau and Paine’s optimism about human nature, Witherspoon taught that regardless of human activity, it was God’s will that counted. Human activity was ineffectual. The “Supreme Ruler” often turned the plans and counsels of rebels onto themselves, as he was doing to the British and had done in the pages of Scripture. He saw God’s providence in the British victory over the Spanish Armada (1588), in his prevention of Oliver Cromwell[16] from sailing to New England, and in the settling of so many Protestant refugees in New England. With such examples from history and Scripture, Witherspoon encouraged his listeners to look to God’s continued expression of his providence.

He concluded by noting that peace often required resistance, declaring: “You are all my witnesses, that this is the first time of my introducing any political subject into the pulpit. At this season, however, it is not only lawful but necessary, and I willingly embrace the opportunity of declaring my opinion without hesitation, that the cause in which America is now in arms, is the cause of justice, of liberty.” He defended the action of the colonies, saying, “The confederacy of the colonies has not been the effect of pride, resentment, or sedition.”[17] He also warned that where civic liberty declined, eventually so did religious liberty. The two, he thought, went hand in hand. Witherspoon later wrote, “There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire.”[18] He also proclaimed, “He is the best friend to American liberty who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion.” His final sentence in this sermon was: “God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable, and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one, may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both.”

Reviews of his powerful sermon ranged from an English comment (“more piety than politics”) to Scottish charges that Witherspoon had “considerably promoted if not primarily agitated” the unrest; another called him, “Dr. Silverspoon, Preacher of Sedition in America.”[19]

Shortly after delivering this sermon, Witherspoon would join the Third Continental Congress in Philadelphia in time to support Richard Henry Lee and John Adams in calling for independence. As a member of the Continental Congress (1776-1782), Witherspoon signed the Declaration of Independence. Later, Witherspoon also designed the original seals for the Navy and the Treasury Departments.[20] In 1780, he served as a state senator in New Jersey. It was Witherspoon who suggested the printer for Congress’ printing of the Bible (fellow Scottish immigrant and Presbyterian Robert Aitken), and one of his final acts was to write the Thanksgiving Proclamation from Congress in November 1782.[21]

One historian viewed Witherspoon as right for his times, hinting that the moment no longer required a revivalist such as Whitefield, nor did the day demand a deep thinker like Edwards. The times called for a cultured man of affairs, and Witherspoon filled that bill.[22] At Princeton’s proving ground of Calvinistic democracy, his advice to students was, “Govern always but beware of governing too much.”[23] He went so far as to apply the doctrine of separation of powers not only to departments within a particular government, but moreover as applicable between the very forms of government[24] as an argument that governmental form should be mixed (that “one principle may check the other”).

That Witherspoon’s influence bore rich fruit may be seen from the fact that from his quarter-century tenure at Princeton, six of his students served in the Continental Congress, one (Madison) became president, ten held cabinet positions, twelve were governors in a day when there were far fewer governors, 30 became judges, 21 were Senators, and 39 served as U. S. Representatives, with numerous others holding state and county legislative positions.[25] Nine of the 55 participants in the 1787 Constitutional Convention were former Princeton students.

A print copy is available in Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). An online version is posted at: http://www.constitution.org/primarysources/witherspoon.html.

By Dr. David W. Hall, Pastor
Midway Presbyterian Church

[1] James H. Smylie, “James Madison, Religion, and the Constitution,” unpublished paper, 3.

[2] Merrill D. Peterson, ed., James Madison: A Biography in His Own Words (New York: Harper and Row, 1974), 22.

[3] L. H. Butterfield, ed., John Witherspoon Comes to America: A Documentary Account Based Largely on New Materials (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Library, 1953), xii.

[4] James H. Nichols suggests that Witherspoon selectively borrowed from Lockean notions. (James H. Nichols, “John Witherspoon on Church and State,” Calvinism and the Political Order, George L. Hunt, ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965), 132.) What this and other similar notes fail to acknowledge, however, is that Calvinist theorist Johannes Althusius structured his entire political scheme around “association” as early as 1603.

[5] Martha Lou Stohlman, John Witherspoon: Parson, Politician, Patriot (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 17.

[6] L. H. Butterfield, ed., John Witherspoon Comes to America: A Documentary Account Based Largely on New Materials (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Library, 1953), 34.

[7] L. H. Butterfield, ed., John Witherspoon Comes to America: A Documentary Account Based Largely on New Materials (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Library, 1953), 22.

[8] Martha Lou Stohlman, John Witherspoon: Parson, Politician, Patriot (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 99.

[9] Cited Martha Lou Stohlman, John Witherspoon: Parson, Politician, Patriot, 102.

[10] James H. Smylie, “Madison and Witherspoon: Theological Roots of American Political Thought,” The Princeton University Library Chronicle, XXII, 3 (Spring, 1961), 120.

[11] Cited James H. Smylie, “Madison and Witherspoon: Theological Roots of American Political Thought,” 119.

[12] James H. Smylie, “Madison and Witherspoon: Theological Roots of American Political Thought,” The Princeton University Library Chronicle, XXII, 3 (Spring, 1961), 120.

[13] Martha Lou Stohlman, John Witherspoon: Parson, Politician, Patriot (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 109.

[14] The references to this sermon are taken from Ellis Sandoz, ed., Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805 (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1991), 529-558.

[15] Witherspoon also noted that true religion was revived at the Reformation. Ellis Sandoz, ed., Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805 (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1991), 543.

[16] A. W. M’Clure, Lives of the Chief Fathers of New England, vol. 2 (Boston: Massachusetts Sabbath School Society, 1846), 61.

[17] Martha Lou Stohlman, John Witherspoon: Parson, Politician, Patriot (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 112.

[18]  Witherspoon, Works, III, 37, quoted by Sandoz, op. cit., 214.

[19] Martha Lou Stohlman, John Witherspoon: Parson, Politician, Patriot (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 115.

[20] Martha Lou Stohlman, John Witherspoon: Parson, Politician, Patriot (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 132.

[21] Martha Lou Stohlman, John Witherspoon: Parson, Politician, Patriot (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 143. See also James H. Smylie, “America’s Political Covenants, the Bible, and Calvinists,” Journal of Presbyterian History 75:3 (Fall 1997), 153-164.

[22] James Hastings Nichols, “John Witherspoon on Church and State,” Calvinism and the Political Order, 130.

[23] Martha Lou Stohlman, John Witherspoon: Parson, Politician, Patriot (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 89.

[24] Notwithstanding, Witherspoon decried “pure democracy” as excessive and as “subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage.”

[25] James H. Smylie, “James Madison, Religion, and the Constitution,” unpublished paper, 7. Stohlman lists thirteen governors, three Supreme Court judges, 20 U. S. Senators, 33 U. S. Representatives, one Vice President (Burr), and one President (Madison). Stohlman, op. cit., 172

A Man Fit for the Times

Jonathan Dickinson shares a lot of credit in the shaping of the early Presbyterian Church in the American colonies.  Born on April 22, 1688 in Hatfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Yale in 1706.  Two years later, he was installed as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, where he remained for the next forty years.

In 1722, with respect to the issue of creedal subscription, a schism began to develop in the infant Presbyterian church.  The question was simple.  Should a church officer — elder or deacon — be required to subscribe to everything in the Westminster Standards, or would it be sufficient for that officer to simply subscribe to the more basic truths of historic Christianity, as expressed, for instance, in the Nicene Creed?  Dickinson took the latter position and became the chief proponent of it in the infant church.  The fact that the same issue was raging in the mother countries among the immigrants from England, Scotland, and Ireland only heightened the controversy in the colonies.  Eventually, the approaching storm of schism was stopped by the Adopting Act of 1729.  Written by Jonathan Dickinson, it solidly placed the church as believing in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the only infallible rule of faith and life, while receiving an adoption the Confessional standards of the Westminster Assembly as subordinate standards of the church.  Each court of the latter, whether Session, Presbytery, Synod, and General Assembly would decide what exceptions to the latter would be allowed, and which exceptions would not be tolerated to the Westminster Standards.

In addition to his pastoral leadership in the church courts, the fourth college to be established in the colonies was the College of New Jersey in October of 1742.  It began in the manse of the first president, namely, Jonathan Dickinson.  The handful of students in what later on become Princeton Theological Seminary and Princeton University studied books which were a part of Dickinson’s pastoral library, and ate their meals with his family.  He would pass on to glory four months after the beginning of this school.

His last words were symbolic of his place in the history of the Presbyterian church.  He said, “Many years passed between God and my soul, in which I have solemnly dedicated myself to Him, and I trust what I have committed unto Him, He is able to keep until that day.”

Words to Live By:
Is this your testimony?  Paul writes in his last letter to the first century church, “. . . for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” (KJV – 2 Timothy 1:12)

Today we grateful to have another post from guest author Barry Waugh:

Mary Cabell Breckinridge, 1769-1858
by Barry Waugh

Just north of Lexington, Kentucky, heading east for about two miles from exit 120 of Interstate 75 along Ironworks Pike through the scenic bluegrass horse farms with their rail fences and white barns is located a stone building that is Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Church. Though not a large church building, those gathered for its organization in an earlier church on the site many years ago were important figures in the history of the American Presbyterian Church. Along side the road in front of the simple building is a State Historical Marker donated by the Kentucky Breckinridge Committee which reads:

mount_horeb_presbyterian_church_This church was organized April 21, 1827, at nearby “Cabell’s Dale,” home of Mary Cabell Breckinridge, widow of John Breckinridge, U.S. Senator and Attorney General in Thomas Jefferson’s cabinet. The original brick church, constructed in 1828 on this site, burned in 1925. The present building of similar design was dedicated in 1926.

Mary Cabell Breckinridge was also known as “Polly.” When her husband John died in 1806 she remembered him by wearing a black mourning hat for the remainder of her life which earned her the family nickname of “Grandma Black Cap.” In addition to Mary Cabell in the organizing congregation were Mary Clay Smith Breckinridge, Ann Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge, Sophia Rice Harrison, and the only male congregant and first elder of the small flock, William Lewis Breckinridge. Two of the Presbyterian clergy in the organization of the church enjoyed a Breckinridge-Cabell family connection, John Breckinridge and Joseph Cabell Harrison, but the third minister, Charles Phillips, appears not to have been a branch on the Breckinridge-Cabell family tree.

The first of the kin gathered at Cabell’s Dale was Mary Clay Smith Breckinridge who was Rev. John Witherspoon’s granddaughter by his daughter, Ann, who was married to the Presbyterian minister, Samuel Stanhope Smith. Witherspoon had been the president of Princeton College, 1768-1794, and his term was followed by that of his son in law, Smith, 1795-1812. . . .


WarfieldBB_1903Our post today was written some years ago for the PCA Historical Center by guest author Barry Waugh. Today is the anniversary date of Dr. Warfield’s inaugural address at the Western Theological Seminary of Pittsburgh, PA, upon his installation as Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Literature.

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield was born to William and Mary Cabell Breckinridge Warfield in the rolling bluegrass country of Lexington, Kentucky, on November 5, 1851.  His father bred cattle and horses and was a descendant of Richard Warfield, who lived and prospered in Maryland in the seventeenth century.  William also served as a Union officer during the Civil War.  Benjamin enjoyed both the finances and heritage of the Breckinridges of Kentucky, along with the prosperity and ancestry of the Warfields.  His mother’s father was the minister Robert Jefferson Breckinridge, who was a leader of the Old School Presbyterians, an author, a prominent Kentucky educational administrator, a periodical editor, and a politician.  The Warfields financial prosperity enabled them to have Benjamin educated through private tutoring provided by Lewis G. Barbour, who became a professor of mathematics at Central University, and James K. Patterson, who became president of the State College of Kentucky.  L. G. Barbour wrote some articles for the Southern Presbyterian Review on scientific subjects and his own scientific interests may have encouraged Benjamin in a scientific direction.  Ethelbert D. Warfield, Benjamin’s brother, has commented that:

His early tastes were strongly scientific.  He collected birds’ eggs, butterflies and moths, and geological specimens; studied the fauna and flora of his neighborhood; read Darwin’s newly published books with enthusiasm; and counted Audubon’s works on American birds and mammals his chief treasure.  He was so certain that he was to follow a scientific career that he strenuously objected to studying Greek.

Following the years of private tutorial instruction, Benjamin entered the sophomore class of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in 1868 and was graduated from there in 1871 with highest honors at only nineteen years of age.  Having concluded his college years, he then traveled in Europe beginning in February of 1872 following a delayed departure due to illness in his family.  After spending some time in Edinburgh and then Heidelberg, he wrote home in mid-summer announcing his intent to enter the ministry.  This change in vocational direction came as quite a surprise to his family.  He returned to Kentucky from Europe sometime in 1873 and was for a short time the livestock editor of the Farmer’s Home Journal.

Benjamin pursued his theological education in preparation for the ministry by entering Princeton Theological Seminary in September of 1873.  He was licensed to preach the gospel by Ebenezer Presbytery on May 8, 1875.  Following licensure, he tested his ministerial abilities by supplying the Concord Presbyterian Church in Kentucky from June through August of 1875.  After he received his divinity degree in 1876, he supplied the First Presbyterian Church of Dayton, Ohio, and while he was in Dayton, he married Annie Pearce Kinkead, the daughter of a prominent attorney, on August 3, 1876.  Soon after he married Annie, the couple set sail on an extended study trip in Europe for the winter of 1876-1877.  It was sometime during this voyage that the newly weds went through a great storm and Annie suffered an injury that debilitated her for the rest of her life; the biographers differ as to whether the injury was emotional, physical, or a combination of the two.  Sometime during 1877, according to Ethelbert Warfield, Benjamin was offered the opportunity to teach Old Testament at Western Seminary, but he turned the position down because he had turned his study emphasis to the New Testament despite his early aversion to Greek (vii).  In November 1877, he began his supply ministry at the First Presbyterian Church of Baltimore, where he continued until the following March.  He returned to Kentucky and was ordained as an evangelist by Ebenezer Presbytery on April 26, 1879.

In September of 1878, Benjamin began his career as a theological educator when he became an instructor in New Testament Literature and Exegesis at Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh.  Western Seminary had been formed by the merger of existing seminaries including Danville Seminary, which R. J. Breckinridge, Benjamin’s grandfather, had been involved in founding.  The following year he was made professor of the same subject and he continued in that position until 1887.  In his inaugural address for Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Literature, April 20, 1880, he set the theme for many of his writing efforts in the succeeding years by defending historic Christianity.  The purpose of his lecture* was to answer the question, “Is the Church Doctrine of the Plenary Inspiration of the New Testament Endangered by the Assured Results of Modern Biblical Criticism.”  Professor Warfield affirmed the inspiration, authority and reliability of God’s Word in opposition to the critics of his era.  He quickly established his academic reputation for thoroughness and defense of the Bible.  Many heard of his academic acumen and his scholarship was awarded by eastern academia when his alma mater, the College of New Jersey, awarded him an honorary D. D. in 1880.

[*Warfield’s inaugural lecture can be found under the title “Inspiration and Criticism,” published in the volume Revelation and Inspiration. (Oxford University Press, 1927): 395-425. In the P&R reprint (1948), the lecture is included as Appendix 2, pp. 419-442.]

According to Samuel Craig, Dr. Warfield was offered the Chair of Theology at the Theological Seminary of the Northwest in Chicago in 1881, but he did not end his service at Western until he went to teach at Princeton Theological Seminary beginning the fall semester of 1887.  He succeeded Archibald Alexander Hodge as the Charles Hodge Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology.  His inaugural address, delivered May 8, 1888, was titled “The Idea of Systematic Theology Considered as a Science.”  As he taught theology, he did so using Hodge’s Systematic Theology and continued the Hodge tradition.  The constant care Annie required and the duties associated with teaching at Princeton, resulted in a limited involvement in presbytery, synod, and general assembly.  Annie lived a homebound life limiting herself primarily to the Princeton campus where Benjamin was never-too-far from home.  The Warfields lived in the same campus home where Charles and Archibald Alexander Hodge lived during their years at Princeton.

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: