August 2019

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Scotland Sent Her Best
by Rev. David T. Myers

It was on this day, August 19, in 1643 that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland nominated and elected five ministers and three ruling elders to serve as non-voting members of Westminster Assembly.

The Westminster Assembly had convened its historic meeting in July 1, 1643, for the initial purpose of revising the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. During the course of the first three months, two events stood out. First, the Solemn League and Covenant were adopted by the Assembly. Second, and this is the topic of this day’s post, the Scottish commissioners arrived to, “put the sickle into the great harvest” then coming into fruition.

Earlier, the Assembly of the Church of Scotland had responded to the call of the English church by nominating a number of commissioners to go to England, join the Westminster Assembly as non-voting members, and unify believers in both kingdoms in the common faith of the two churches. Those nominated included six ministers by the names of Robert Baillie, Robert Blair, Robert Douglas, George Gillespie, Alexander Henderson, and Samuel Rutherford.  Blair and Douglas never attended the meetings, for reasons unknown to us. The  ruling elders commissioned by the Church of Scotland were Archibald Campbell, John Campbell, John Elphinstone, Charles Erskine, Archibald Johnston, John Kennedy, John Maitland, Robert Meldrum, and George Winram. Of these elders, Kennedy and Meldrum never attended any sessions, again, for reasons unknown to us. Of the remaining elders, Archibald Campbell, and George Winram attended only one year of the sessions. The rest of them were actively involved and attended the sessions of the Assembly anywhere from three years to six years.

westminsterabbey1647The purpose in so naming these men to this work was simple and direct. It was “to repair unto the Assembly of Divines and others of the Church of England now sitting at Westminster to propound, consult, treat, and conclude with them in all such things as may be conductive for the setting of the so much desired union of this whole island in one Form of Government, one Confession of Faith, and one Directory of the Worship of God.”

When the first three Scottish elders arrived on September 15, 1643, in the persons of Alexander Henderson, George Gillespie, and John Lord Maitland, they were welcomed with great kindness and courtesy. In fact, they were officially welcomed with three sermons by the English divines!  When did we who are elders ever show up at a Presbytery or General Assembly meeting, and find ourselves welcomed by the delivery of three addresses, presented for the occasion of our arrival?  But as some of our previous posts have shown, and as future posts will prove, the presence of these Scots did accomplish that putting of the spiritual sickle into the great spiritual harvest of souls in both kingdoms.

Words to Live By:
As we read of the Scottish delegates, we cannot help but praise God for the gifts of Alexander Henderson, Samuel Rutherford, and George Gillespie.  These men were spiritual giants in the faith and faithful pastors to the people of God.  We have treated of them and will again in these posts. But then again, when we read the name of another—that of John Lord Maitland, the first Duke of Lauderdale, our spirits are saddened, for we know the end of his story as well.  This elder who sat through years of Assembly speeches and conversations, nonetheless ended up a terrible persecutor of the Presbyterians in Scotland in later years.  He showed his true colors at the last. There may very well be a Judas Iscariot in many a visible church. How we need to pray for one another. How we need to encourage one another. How we need to teach one another. As John put it, “beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST
by Rev. William Smith

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 37

Q. 37.
What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?

A. The souls of believers are, at their death, made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory, and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.

EXPLICATION.

Believers. –Those who trust in Christ, and receive him in all his offices, as their prophet, priest, and king.

Perfect in holiness. –To be altogether free from sin, and all its dreadful consequences.

Pass into glory. –To go from this world of sin, and sorrow, and suffering, into a state of honor, rest, and happiness, in heaven.

United to Christ. –That is, the bodies of believers are as certainly joined to Christ as the members are to the body, or as the branches are joined to the vine.

Rest in their graves. –Sleep in death, as in beds of rest.

Till the Resurrection. –Till the time of the rising of the dead, from their graves, at the last day.

ANALYSIS.

The doctrines contained in this answer are four in number:

  1. That the souls of believers are, at death, made perfect in holiness. –Heb. xii. 22, 23. Ye are come –to the general assembly and church of the first born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.
  2. That they, immediately after death, pass into glory. –Luke xxiii. 43. To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. 2 Cor. v. 8. We are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
  3. That the bodies of believers shall rest in their graves till the resurrection. –Isa. lvii. 2. They shall rest in their beds. Job xix. 26. And though, after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.
  4. That even, while in their graves, the bodies of believers are still united to Christ. –1 Thess . iv. 14. Them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

“That truth may work, there are required three things, sound belief, serious consideration, and close application.”

A change of pace today, and but a brief word of encouragement to dwell upon the Word of God, both as you read the page and as you hear the sermon. 

Prepare Your Hearts to Profit from the Preaching.

“O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.”—Psalm 119:97.

“What is the reason there is so much preaching and so little practice? For want of meditation.  Constant thoughts are operative.  If a hen straggles out from her nest, she brings forth nothing, her eggs chill; so, when we do not set abroad upon holy thoughts, if we content ourselves with some few transient thoughts and glances about Divine things, and do not dwell upon them, the truth is suddenly put off, and does no good.  All actions require time and space for their operation; if hastily slubbered over, they cool; if we give them time and space, we shall feel their effects: so, if we hold truths in our mind and dwell upon them, there will be an answerable impression; but, when they come like a flash of lightning, then they are gone, and we run them over cursorily.  That truth may work, there are required three things, sound belief, serious consideration, and close application: “Lo this, we have searched it, so it is; hear it, and know it for thy good. (Job v. 27).”

[Thomas Manton, Sermons on Psalm 119, vol. 2, p. 325.]

Back When Presbyterians Seemed to Run Everything

Dartmouth College, located in Hanover, New Hampshire, was founded in December of 1769 (We will mention in passing that Samuel Miller was born that same year, less than two months earlier). Eleazar Wheelock served as the first president of the school and when he died in 1779, his son John Wheelock took up the mantle and served as the second president of Dartmouth. From there, the succeeding list of presidents came to be known as the “Wheelock Succession.”

Francis Brown was next called from his church in North Yarmouth, Maine, serving as the third president (1815-1820), during a particularly interesting crisis for the school. It was at this time that a legal challenge to the school arose, eventually coming before the Supreme Court. This was the famous Dartmouth College Case:

“The contest was a pivotal one for Dartmouth and for the newly independent nation. It tested the contract clause of the Constitution and arose from an 1816 controversy involving the legislature of the state of New Hampshire, which amended the 1769 charter granted to Eleazar Wheelock, making Dartmouth a public institution and changing its name to Dartmouth University. Under the leadership of President Brown, the Trustees resisted the effort and the case for Dartmouth was argued by Daniel Webster before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the historic decision in favor of Dartmouth College, thereby paving the way for all American private institutions to conduct their affairs in accordance with their charters and without interference from the state.”

But the whole affair was taxing and Rev. Brown died at the young age of 35. His successor, the Rev. Daniel Dana, lasted just one year before he too was worn out and resigned the post, returning to the pastorate. Bennet Tyler and Nathan Lord, the next two presidents, faired better. While Tyler served just four years, Nathan Lord’s term as president ran from 1828 to 1863. His term might have run longer, but as events unfolded in the 1860’s, the Trustees of Dartmouth were forced to finally deal with the fact that the school’s president was a strong pro-slavery advocate.

smith_asa_dodgeSo it was that in 1863, the Rev. Asa Dodge Smith became the seventh president of Dartmouth College. Inaugurated in 1863, he served as president until his death on August 16, 1877, at the age of 73.

Asa Dodge Smith was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on September 21, 1804, the son of Dr. Roger and Sally (Hodge) Smith. He was himself a graduate of Dartmouth College (1830), and in the year or so following graduation he worked as the principal of an academy in Limerick, Maine. Preparing to enter the ministry, he studied at Andover Theological Seminary and graduated there in 1834. He was then ordained and installed as pastor of what was then the Brainerd Presbyterian church (later renamed as the 14th Street Presbyterian church) in New York City. Rev. Smith also served as a professor of pastoral theology at the Union Theological Seminary, NY, 1843-1844.

From here, the history states that,

“After the forced resignation of Nathan Lord in 1863 over his support for slavery, the Trustees wanted a more conservative president to take his place. As a preacher for 29 years at the 14th Street Presbyterian Church in New York City, Asa Dodge had developed a reputation as a religious man with abolitionist beliefs.

“Smith’s presidency was a period of great growth for the College, including the establishment of two new schools within Dartmouth. The New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts, later moved to Durham, New Hampshire and renamed the University of New Hampshire, was originally founded in Hanover in 1866. One year later, the Thayer School of Engineering was founded. Over the course of his presidency, enrollment at the College was more than doubled, the number of scholarships increased from 42 to 103, and Dartmouth benefited from several important bequests.”

Some of the honors conferred on the Rev. Asa Dodge Smith during his lifetime included the Doctor of Divinity degree, awarded by Williams College in 1849, and from the University of New York he received the Doctor of Letters degree in 1854. It was also during his tenure that the school celebrated its centennial anniversary, a momentous time nearly ruined by an unexpected thunderstorm. But ultimately the affair was not ruined for the participants, with attendees including Supreme Court Justice Salmon P. Chase, from the Class of 1826, and U.S. General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Words to Live By:
Perhaps covenant faithfulness is the lesson to take away from this account. A life lived apparently without amazing exploits or heart-rending stories, but lived faithfully before the Lord, using his God-given gifts and talents to the best of his ability, and all for the glory of God. So too most Christians live fairly average lives, undistinguished except for this one vital thing: Because of the finished cross-work of Jesus Christ, each one of His blood-bought children stands in a living, vital relationship with the God of creation, the Lord of all glory. On the surface, our lives may seem quite average, but the reality is far more exciting, far more glorious than even we can imagine.

“I am an American to the Backbone.”

James W.C. Pennington was born in 1809 and died in 1870, at the age of 63. To my knowledge, his exact birth and death dates are lost to us. But it was on this day, August 15th, in 1849, that he penned the Preface to his autobiography,“” THE FUGITIVE BLACKSMITHan account of his time as a slave, his subsequent escape, and his eventual preparation for the Gospel ministry and his service as a pastor of several churches, among them the Shiloh Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York. It was during an earlier pastorate that Rev. Pennington wrote what is acknowledged as the first history of African Americans, THE ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF THE COLORED PEOPLE. (1841).

The following letter to his family, whom he had not seen in many years, is excerpted from the appendix to THE FUGITIVE BLACKSMITH (1849):—   

APPENDIX

These two letters are simply introduced to show what the state of my feelings was with reference to slavery at the time they were written. I had just heard several facts with regard to my parents, which had awakened my mind to great excitement.

To my Father, Mother, Brothers and Sisters.

[The following was written in 1844]:

DEARLY BELOVED IN BONDS,

About seventeen long years have now rolled away, since in the Providence of Almighty God, I left your embraces, and set out upon a daring adventure in search of freedom. Since that time, I have felt most severely the loss of the sun and moon and eleven stars from my social sky. Many, many a thick cloud of anguish has pressed my brow and sent deep down into my soul the bitter waters of sorrow in consequence. And you have doubtless had your troubles and anxious seasons also about your fugitive star.

I have learned that some of you have been sold, and again taken back by Colonel _____. How many of you are living and together, I cannot tell. My great grief is, lest you should have suffered this or some additional punishment on account of my Exodus.

I indulge the hope that it will afford you some consolation to know that your son and brother is yet alive. That God has dealt wonderfully and kindly with me in all my way. He has made me a Christian, and a Christian Minister, and thus I have drawn my support and comfort from that blessed Saviour, who came to preach good tidings unto the meek, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives; and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn. To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord that he might be glorified.

If the course I took in leaving a condition which had become intolerable to me, has been made the occasion of making that condition worse to you in any way, I do most heartily regret such a change for the worse on your part. As I have no means, however, of knowing if such be the fact, so I have no means of making atonement, but by sincere prayer to Almighty God in your behalf, and also by taking this method of offering to you these consolations of the gospel to which I have just referred, and which I have found to be pre-eminently my own stay and support. My dear father and mother; I have very often wished, while administering the Holy Ordinance of Baptism to some scores of children brought forward by doting parents, that I could see you with yours among the number. And you, my brothers and sisters, while teaching hundreds of children and youths in schools over which I have been placed, what unspeakable delight I should have had in having you among the number; you may all judge of my feeling for these past years, when while preaching from Sabbath to Sabbath to congregations, I have not been so fortunate as even to see father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, or cousin in my congregations. While visiting the sick, going to the house of mourning, and burying the dead, I have been a constant mourner for you. My sorrow has been that I know you are not in possession of those hallowed means of grace. I am thankful to you for those mild and gentle traits of character which you took such care to enforce upon me in my youthful days. As an evidence that I prize both you and them, I may say that at the age of thirty-seven, I find them as valuable as any lessons I have learned, nor am I ashamed to let it be known to the world, that I am the son of a bond man and a bond woman.

Let me urge upon you the fundamental truths of the Gospel of the Son of God. Let repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ have their perfect work in you, I beseech you. Do not be prejudiced against the gospel because it may be seemingly twisted into a support of slavery. The gospel rightly understood, taught, received, felt and practised, is anti-slavery as it is anti-sin. Just so far and so fast as the true spirit of the gospel obtains in the land, and especially in the lives of the oppressed, will the spirit of slavery sicken and become powerless like the serpent with his head pressed beneath the fresh leaves of the prickly ash of the forest.

There is not a solitary decree of the immaculate God that has been concerned in the ordination of slavery, nor does any possible development of his holy will sanctify it.

He has permitted us to be enslaved according to the invention of wicked men, instigated by the devil, with intention to bring good out of the evil, but He does not, He cannot approve of it. He has no need to approve of it, even on account of the good which He will bring out of it, for He could have brought about that very good in some other way.

God is never straitened; He is never at a loss for means to work. Could He not have made this a great and wealthy nation without making its riches to consist in our blood, bones, and souls? And could He not also have given the gospel to us without making us slaves?

My friends, let us then, in our afflictions, embrace and hold fast the gospel. The gospel is the fulness of God. We have the glorious and total weight of God’s moral character in our side of the scale.

The wonderful purple stream which flowed for the healing of the nations, has a branch for us. Nay, is Christ divided? “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to (for) all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lust, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”–Titus ii: 11-14.

But you say you have not the privilege of hearing of this gospel of which I speak. I know it; and this is my great grief. But you shall have it; I will send it to you by my humble prayer; I can do it; I will beg our heavenly Father, and he will preach this gospel to you in his holy providence.

You, dear father and mother cannot have much longer to live in this troublesome and oppressive world; you cannot bear the yoke much longer. And as you approach another world, how desirable it is that you should have the prospect of a different destiny from what you have been called to endure in this world during a long life.

But it is the gospel that sets before you the hope of such a blessed rest as is spoken of in the word of God, Job iii. 17, 19. “There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary be at rest; there the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressors. The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master.”

Father, I know thy eyes are dim with age and weary with weeping, but look, dear father, yet a little while toward that haven. Look unto Jesus, “the author and finisher of thy faith,” for the moment of thy happy deliverance is at hand.

Mother, dear mother, I know, I feel, mother, the pangs of thy bleeding heart, that thou hast endured, during so many years of vexation. Thy agonies are by a genuine son-like sympathy mine; I will, I must, I do share daily in those agonies of thine. But I sincerely hope that with me you bear your agonies to Christ who carries our sorrows.

O come then with me, my beloved family, of weary heart-broken and care-worn ones, to Jesus Christ, “casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you.”–2 Peter v. 7.

With these words of earnest exhortation, joined with fervent prayer to God that He may smooth your rugged way, lighten your burden, and give a happy issue out of all your troubles, I must bid you adieu.

Your son and brother,

JAS. P.  Alias J. W. C. PENNINGTON.

For Further Study:
First of all, our friends over at the Log College Press have accumulated a number of speeches, lectures and written works by Rev. Pennington. Click here to view those.

Additionally, there is this important biography of Pastor Pennington:
Webber, Christopher L., American to the Backbone: The Life of James W.C. Pennington, the Fugitive Slave Who Became One of the First Black Abolitionists(New York: Pegasus Books, 2011).

Lord, Give Us Faithful, Resolute Pastors, Bold for the Gospel.
by Rev. David T. Myers

Starting with this post today, we begin to look at the Great Ejection of Presbyterian ministers, among others, from Anglican pulpits and schools in the British Isles. This ejection brought great hardship, including death, to those people who had committed themselves to the Reformed faith, and Presbyterianism in particular. Today’s post is the attempt to render powerless those pesky Presbyterian pastors who continued in one way or another to have a godly influence upon their parishes and their people. It took place on August 13, 1663 in Britain, Ireland, and Ulster. This author will focus today on just the kingdom of Scotland.

Known as the Act of Glasgow from which it emanated, it was summarized also as “The Mile Act.” It commanded all Presbyterian ministers to “remove themselves and their families, within twenty days, out of the parishes where they were incumbents, and not to reside within twenty miles of the same, nor within six miles of Edinburgh or any cathedral church, nor within three miles of any royal burgh within the kingdom.” (W. M. Hetherington, “History of the Church of Scotland,” p. 223.) Now for those of our readers who live and move within the confines of these United States, this might be possible, given our wide open spaces. But in the kingdom of Scotland, with its narrow land masses and close population centers, such an act was prohibitive beyond description. As Hetherington points out on the same page, “four hundred spots such as this act describes could not have been found within the kingdom, though all of its lowly wilds had been selected with geographical exactness.” (p. 223) What made the particular act very grievous was that its origin was found in one who used to be a Presbyterian and for that matter, was elected to the Westminster Assembly of Divines. This was the Duke of Lauderdale. He knew Presbyterian doctrine and government from the inside, and now in his authority as an Anglican archbishop, he sought to make his former friends miserable by authoritarian acts to prove to his new-found friends his complete dedication in their efforts to suppress the Presbyterian church.What he and the rest of the Anglican hierarchy failed to realize however was the depth of love to the Reformed Faith among the common folks of the kirk. When their beloved pastors were kept by law away from the parishes, the people simply went to their former pastors as they set up worship anywhere in the kingdom to hear the spiritual message of their hearts and lips. This might mean a worship service in the hills and valleys of Scotland, with a huge rock for a pulpit and stones on the pastures for communion observance. But these circumstances did not matter for the people of God. Soon their very attendance meant fines and even death for their attendance.

Words to Live By:
What was the case there in Scotland has been the experience of many a godly and faithful pastor who was deposed from his ordination vows and driven from the visible church, all because of faithful obedience to the Word of God and opposition to the man-made courts of his denomination. Speaking personally, my pastor-father was one of those Presbyterian ministers who was a minister on the roll of the original Presbyterian Church of America in 1936. He had been deposed from his ordination in the PCUSA in 1936.  Worshipping and serving the faithful people of God, as a result, often meant conducting services in buildings that were less than desirable. One such building was a saloon. I remember my father preached from behind the bar, with the stools and table chairs seating the congregation, while the bar piano was used to accompany the hymns. (Note: My “job” as a young boy was removing all the bottles left from the previous night well before the congregation arrived and worship started!) Other Presbyterian ministers met in one room schools, dance halls, a funeral chapel, a garage — anywhere and everywhere the unsearchable riches of Christ could be proclaimed. The wicked attempts of man, then and now, to crush the gospel witness are never successful, for Christ promised in Matthew 16:18 that “the gates of Hades will not overcome (the true church).

THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST
by Rev. William Smith

The Westminster Shorter Catechism – Question 36.

Q. 36
What are the benefits which, in this life, do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?

A. The benefits which , in this life, do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.

EXPLICATION.

Benefits. –Advantages, privileges, blessings.

Assurance of God’s love. –A sure or certain knowledge, that God delights, or takes pleasure in us, and that it is his will to do us good.

Conscience. –That faculty in the soul of man, which approves or disapproves of any action, according as it is good or bad.

Peace of conscience. –A holy tranquility, or calmness of mind, arising from an assurance of God’s love.

Joy in the Holy Ghost. –A holy gladness, wrought in us by the Spirit of God, arising from the assurance that God is our God, and will be our everlasting portion.

Increase of Grace. –Growing in holiness, or becoming strong in the habit, and abounding in the exercise, of grace.

Perseverance therein. –A constant continuance in the practice of all the duties of a holy life.

ANALYSIS.

The benefits here mentioned, as, even in this life, accompanying, or flowing from, justification, adoption, and sanctification, are five in number :

  1. The assurance of God’s love. –Isa. xxxii. 17. The effect of righteousness, (shall be) assurance for ever.
  2. Peace of conscience. –Rom. v. 1. Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. Joy in the Holy Ghost. -Rom xiv. 17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
  4. Increase of grace. –Prov. iv. 18. The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
  5. Perseverance in grace to the end. –1 Pet. i. 5. Who are kept, by the power of God, through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.

In 1804, Great Britain and her colonies were under threat of attack by French forces. As a call went out for a season of prayer and fasting, the Rev. Archibald Gray delivered the following sermon on this day, August 10th, in 1804. To read the full sermon, click here. The last paragraph shown below in bold print, speaks of the nature of a solemn fast and provides a particularly good and useful definition.

“Shall we despond in the present state of our country? Shall we rashly distrust the care of an overruling Providence, which has upheld her in many a perilous contest? . . . ‘It is good to hope, and quietly wait, for the salvation of the Lord.’ In His mercy the means of our safety will be found.”

A Sermon, preached on 10th August, 1809, the day appointed, by Government, for a General Fast, by Archibald Gray, minister of the Church of Scotland, and pastor of the Protestant Dissenting Congregation, Halifax, Nova-Scotia. Halifax: Printed by John Howe, 1804.

A SERMON.

Psalm CXLVII—12.

“Praise thy God, O Zion, for He hath strengthened the bars of thy gates.”

Among the nations of the East, a disposition has always prevailed to express the sentiments of piety and devotion by some correspondent external act. Thus a sacrifice was offered by the sinner, not as an atonement for his offences, but, as an acknowledgment of his unworthiness and guilt; a tacit confession that he deserved, himself, to suffer that death, which was inflicted on the victim thus substituted in his room. From the altar, reared by the hand of the grateful worshipper, the smoke of incense ascended to heaven, along with the praise of his Creator, for some recent, and signal, instance of divine goodness. And, on occasion of great calamities, or where such appeared to threaten them, nations, as well as individuals, have set apart, in token of their humiliation before God, certain seasons for solemn fasting.

It may not be improper, considering the purpose for which we are assembled, this day, to premise a few words on the nature of a fast. The greatest, and warmest, disputes have ever arisen from the merest trifles. Mankind have often been divided about external ceremonies; yet external ceremonies are of very little consequence. Whether a man should sit, or stand, or bend the knee, in the presence of his Maker, when he addresses Him in the language of praise and adoration; whether or not he should appoint, for periodical and solemn approaches to the throne of grace, some particular day, the twelfth or fourteenth of the moon; whether he should repeat certain prayers, in white garments or black, with his head covered or bare, appear, at first view and while the passions are yet uninflamed by the heat of controversy and the strife of words, matters of the greatest indifference. That the heart should be sincere, and the affections truly devout, see, to a man of plain sense, the only circumstances which, in such cases, demand our serious attention, as what the Almighty will, undoubtedly, require.

In like manner, in fasting, the external observance can be of little consequence, if considered separately from the affections of the mind. An abstinence from our usual indulgences may be a proper expression of humiliation, but it can be nothing more. In itself it has no claim to merit; it can prove of no avail; it can only be acceptable to heaven as it is connected with the sentiments of sorrow for sin, and sincere resolutions of penitence. “To break the bands of wickedness, not to bow down the head like a bullrush,” saith the Spirit of God, by the voice of the prophet, “is the fast that the LORD hath chosen.”

We are called upon as individuals, and as members of society who hold the welfare of their country dear, to confess, with deep and unfeigned contrition, our private and our national sins, which might, long before now, have justly drawn upon us the judgments of heaven. We should be sensible, indeed we cannot but be sensible, that in many respects we have frequently and heinously offended. While we form, therefore, the virtuous resolutions of penitence and amendment for the time to come, let us humbly implore, through the merits of our powerful Mediator, the pardon and remission of the past. Let us pray that the Father of mercies would deal with us rather “according to the multitude of His tender mercies,” than after our own demerits; that He would “still pity us as a father pities his children,” but forbear to “chasten us in His wrath,” or “visit us in His hot displeasure.” What created being, alas! is able to stand before Omnipotence incensed? When the measure of the sinner’s iniquities is full, and he endeavours not, by penitence and reformation, to cancel his transgressions, or to appease the Judge of the world, if that God whom he appears to brave, but raise His voice in indignation, for a moment, certain destruction overtakes him—sudden and fearful as falls the thunderbolt from heaven. Not on us, O Lord, not on us, sinners, we confess, but repentant sinners, let the weight of Thine indignation fall. We confess, with sorrow, our sins and humbly deprecate thy wrath. O Thou First and Last, Thou greatest and best of beings, what are we? Blind, feeble, and erring mortals, creatures of yesterday, who tomorrow shall mingle with the dust from which we sprung; what are we that Thou shouldest chasten us in Thine anger? Is not man but as an atom in Thy universe; and the son of man but as a worm before Thee? Or if our own insignificance be insufficient to shield us from Thy wrath, hear, we beseech Thee, the voice of intercession from Him whom Thou hearest always; and look on the blood that flowed from the cross to wash away the sins of men and of nations.

Abstinence from food is nothing; nor are any outward marks of humiliation of the least importance, but so far as they are undissembled and faithful tokens of the affections which prevail within. We have, this day, assembled to make confession of our sins, and to implore, for ourselves and for our country, the pardon of heaven, and the continuance of that protection and favour, by which, above every other land, ours has been long and eminently distinguished. To the prayer of unfeigned piety the God, whom we serve, refuseth not to listen. But let us beware of deceiving ourselves; of “approaching Him with our lips, while our hearts are far from Him.” No secrets can be hid from His all-searching eye. And though He rejecteth not the sighing of a contrite heart, neither desireth the death of a sinner, though He is ready to aid, by His good Spirit, the struggles of returning virtue, and to receive, like a tender father, with favour and indulgence, His repentant, though prodigal son. He cannot view, without indignation, the presumptuous boldness of those weak mortals who substitute a show of devotion in the room of sincere virtue, of good and holy resolutions, who bow down before Him as it were in mockery, and approach Him “with a lie in their right hand.”

The folly of such an attempt can be surpassed only by its danger. Sensible of guilt and of frailty, we should seek, in all humbleness of mind, some means of expiating our past offences, some prop to sustain our weakness, in time to come, against the temptations which surround and will infallibly assail us. For the faithful disciple of the Saviour, this atonement and support are abundantly provided. Let us come unto God, through Him, and every stain shall be wiped away, with which sin hath polluted our souls. TO all who earnestly solicit it, divine assistance shall be given. To the weak, who are conscious of their weakness yet desirous of persevering in virtue, wisdom and strength shall be imparted from on high. By hypocrisy all our former offences shall be dyed in indelible crimson. Instead of securing an interest in the merits of our Lord, or winning the Spirit of truth to take up His abode in our hearts, by a semblance of piety, while we are strangers to its power and benign influence on our temper and conduct, we shall quench the Spirit of God, crucify our Redeemer afresh, and put Him to open shame. Encumbered with a load of guilt voluntarily incurred, we may “strive to enter,” according to the expression of our Lord, “the strait gate of life, but shall find to our confusion, that we are finally and for ever excluded.

The nature of a solemn fast, then, appears to be the humbling of ourselves in the presence of our Creator, attended with the confession of our sins, an earnest solicitation of pardon, and a faithful and steady determination to amend our lives. As an individual learns, in the hard school of affliction, to reflect on those blemishes in his character, which the dazzling sunshine of prosperity had wholly prevented him from discerning; so societies and nations, who, blessed with a long train of fortunate events, are almost ready to forget God, when calamity overtakes or appears to menace them, call to mind with profound regret, their national iniquities; and the nation, like the individual, conscious of guilt and humbled by chastisement, sinks in the dust before her Judge and seeks by humble supplication to avert or to mitigate the sentence of avenging justice. 

Great blessings in small packages. Some years ago, the PCA Historical Center received the donation of a complete set of a small periodical issued by Dr. William Stanford Reid. The little periodical titled REFORMATION TODAY only ran for about three years. One sample from those rare pages:

“Needed: Historical Perspective”
by William Stanford Reid
[excerpted from Reformation Today —Volume 2, Number 4 (February, 1953), pp. 11, 17.]

History is God’s possession. This is the repeated assertion of the Scriptures. Whether dealing with individuals such as Pharaoh, Cyrus and Judas, or with nations such as the Jews or with kingdoms such as Babylon, Egypt or Rome, this is always the point of view. Every item, every event of history is worked out according to the purpose and plan of God, “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Moreover, this plan and purpose finds its culmination in redemption, accomplished by Christ and to be made complete at history’s final day.

The implications of this point of view for the history of the Church since apostolic days are numerous. The most important is, however, that Christ, who is “head over all things to the Church” is guiding and ruling His people. ,He is bringing His elect into the Church and punishing those professing Christians who prove unfaithful. In this way the history of the Church has for the Church a twofold objective. It is a warning of what befalls those who are not obedient. This is mentioned repeatedly in the New Testament. (2 Tim. 3:8; Heb. 3:17-19; Rev. 2,3). At the same time the history of the Church is a means of instruction, whereby it is warned, encouraged and strengthened. (Rom. 4, 9-11; Heb. 11; 1 Cor. 10:11).

For this reason the Christian has a very real obligation to the Church’s history. He, and the Church as a whole, must take it seriously, regarding it as part of God’s means of guiding and directing the Church by the Spirit into all truth. (John 14:26; 16:13). For this reason history is not to be discarded, nor disregarded. It is the revelation of how God deals with His people, which is also the fundamental message of the Bible. The only difference is that the Church does not have since Apostolic days, an inspired record, nor an inspired interpretation,. Therefore, it is the Church’s obligation, not only to understand its own history, but also to evaluate and interpret it in the light of God’s Word.

There are, however, dangers at this point. If one adopts a proper point of view, they may not be great, but there
is always a tendency towards traditionalism and conservativism. Because this, that or the other doctrine has been believed, or because this, that or the other practice has been followed, such must still be the case. This can only lead to aridity and pharasaism which will bring the Church to the grave.

The greatest danger, however, amongst present day Christians, is in the other direction. They tend to disregard the Church’s history. They adopt the attitude that it is unimportant “Let’s not have Calvin or Wesley or Machen,” they say, “But let us get back to the Scriptures. Only then shall we know the truth.” In this way they are adopting the position, that before this age no one has ever really wrestled with problems of the faith, and what is even more important, no one has ever found a solution. They imply that their problems, their needs and their ideas are absolutely new. Therefore history cannot help.

To an historian such a point of view is utterly ridiculous, for in history “there is nothing new under the sun.” The new problems are the old. What Augustine, Calvin, Kuyper and others had to face, we also have to deal with today. We cannot escape from the world in which we live, a world made up of past history.

This anti-historical attitude, however, is very dangerous. Its proponents feel that in a year or two they can achieve the results which the Church has achieved only over 2,000 years. Consequently they often fall into old errors and heresies which could have been easily avoided if they had known some his Moreover, they would be much humbler than they usually are, for they would see how utterly fallible are all Christians.

Today the Church suffers from a rejection of history. This is one of the evangelical’s greatest weaknesses. Therefore, let us study the Church’s history, the history of God’s people,, in order that we may the better know Him who is the Church’s only Lord and King.

William Stanford Reid, 
Reformation Today —Volume 2, Number 4 (February, 1953), pp. 11, 17.

A most timely reminder comes today from the Rev. Harold S. Laird, widely recognized in his day as a stalwart Christian and Presbyterian. There is no better way to introduce the author of the following short devotional than to reproduce this memorial which was spread upon the Minutes of Susquehanna Valley Presbytery (PCA). In my work here at the PCA Historical Center, every once in a long while I hear certain men spoken of with the greatest of respect. Harold S. Laird was one such man:—

MEMORIAL MINUTE FOR HAROLD SAMUEL LAIRD [8 August 1891 – 25 August 1987]

Harold Samuel Laird was born on August 8, 1891, in New Castle, Pa. His father was a faithful Presbyterian pastor who raised him in the nurture of the Lord. Harold Laird was converted at a young age and walked closely with his Lord ever afterward. Upon graduation from Lafayette College and Princeton Theological Seminary he was ordained to the Gospel Ministry and held six successful pastorates.
Harold Laird was an outstanding preacher of the Gospel, a caring pastor, a contender for the faith, and one who was vitally interested in world missions. He had a leading role in the events which led to the formation of one source of the PCA. He was a founding member of the Board of Directors of Westminster Theological Seminary, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, and Faith Theological Seminary. He was willing to suffer for his convictions even to the point of being suspended from the ministry of the PCUSA and being removed as pastor of one of the most prestigious churches of Wilmington, Delaware. Wheaton College honored him with a Doctor of Divinity degree and he was elected as Moderator of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. He also served on the Board of the Quarryville Presbyterian Home.
Dr. Laird was a man who walked with God. All who heard him pray came into the presence of God. His life verse was Matthew 6:33 and his godly spirit evidenced that he practiced it. He was completely content in the providence of God in his life. Harold Laird ran his race well and entered into glory on August 25, 1987.

THE CURE FOR ANXIETY

Rev. Harold S. Laird, D.D.

[The Independent Board Bulletin 7.4 (April 1941): 3-4.]

In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 4:6, 7 American Standard Version.)

There is one thing that is abundantly clear from the above verses and that is that God wills that His children should never be anxious. In fact so plainly is His will expressed here in this matter that for one to be anxious is to commit sin. That anxiety is sin is evident not alone from this statement which so definitely forbids it, but also from an understanding of what causes it, or, better still, what anxiety really is.

The simplest definition one can give in the light of the teaching of the Word of God regarding it is that anxiety is a failure to take God at His word. This is nothing but unbelief, and unbelief is sin. The Word of God indicates that unbelief is a very great sin.

Because anxiety is sin, God, through the Apostle, forbids it in the words, “Be anxious for nothing.” But the mercy of God is revealed in the fact that while He forbids anxiety, He at the same time suggests a cure for it in the words which follow: “But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” That the prescribed cure will be effective is clear from the words that follow in the next verse: “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.”

Someone has suggested that the whole of verse six may be expressed in three simple phrases: “Be anxious about nothing”; “Be prayerful about everything”; and “Be thankful for anything.” Many, no doubt, will find it easier to “be prayerful about everything,” than to “be thankful for anything.” Surely it is not easy to be thankful for anything unless one learns the secret of this. It is simply childlike faith in the sovereign power of God whose children we are by faith in Christ. Believe that He, who has proven His love for you in the gift of His Son, controls every detail of your life, and thanksgiving for anything will be gloriously possible.

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