March 2019

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No Greater Service
by Rev. David T. Myers

The godly mother believed in taking advantage of all kinds of spiritual opportunities to instruct her second son in the things of the Lord, even if it meant  a long journey home from church by their horse-drawn buggy.  So she would quiz young Henry on the text and have the twelve-year-old summarize  the long sermon by the Rev. Samuel Davies.  And remember, the latter “Apostle to Virginia” usually preached an hour or two sermon at the Presbyterian meeting-house known as The Fork.  Later, when grown up and active in the affairs of the Colony and later state of Virginia,  Patrick Henry would remember those dozen early years under the ministry of Presbyterian pastor Samuel Davies.  He stated his appreciation for sitting under the greatest orator he had ever heard.

Now by no means are we inferring that Patrick Henry was a Presbyterian.  His mother Sarah was a Presbyterian and a member of the church of which Pastor Davies was a pastor.  Patrick’s father, an Anglican, had baptized young Patrick in the Anglican church, and to that early tradition, Patrick stayed faithful all of his life.  But he was especially friendly to the Presbyterians, who helped immensely the cause of liberty in those early days.

At the second political convention of delegates in Virginia, which began this day of March 20, 1775, in Richmond, Virginia, the issue was anything but clear what to do about the declaration of war by the patriots up in Massachusetts.  The question was, should the citizens of Virginia proceed on a similar war footing, or settle it in a more peaceful way.  The convention was divided.  At a key point in the week-long discussion, Patrick Henry made his famous “Give me liberty or death” speech.  With the Presbyterian delegates from the churches of the Valley backing him up, by a mere six vote majority, the convention voted to advance to a war footing, with arms and companies established.

After the final victory in the American Revolution, Patrick Henry would serve as governor of Virginia for five terms.  It can be said that throughout his long life, the emphasis of the Presbyterian faith taught in earlier times and enforced by his mother, had a great effect upon his life and actions.

Words to Live By:
There can be no greater spiritual service than that which takes place from godly parents, or a godly parent, in the things of the Lord.  Pray and labor much for spiritual instruction to be accomplished at that time.  Claim the general promise of Proverbs 22:6 upon your sons and daughters.

Guest author Dennis Bills, pastor of the Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New Martinsville, WV, returns today with a most interesting post. This account will likely will be found in Dennis’s pending work on the history of Presbyterianism in West Virginia, which is due to be published later this year. 

John C. Bowyer (1815-1888)
by Rev. Dennis E. Bills

For thirty years, John C. Bowyer was janitor and sexton of the Old Stone Church in Lewisburg, West Virginia, first as a slave, then as an employee. He seems to have been mostly forgotten—the only references I have encountered are found in the Recollections of the Rev. John McElhenney D.D. by McElhenney’s granddaughter Rose Fry (1847-1902) and in “Colonel John Stuart of Greenbrier,” a historical reminiscence by Stuart’s great-granddaughter Margaret Lynn Price (1842-1917). Both Fry and Price called him Uncle, a paternalistic term of honor and endearment by which he was known in the church community.

Dr. McElhenney first rented Bowyer from an unnamed woman and put him to work at the church. McElhenney had once owned slaves himself, but sometime before the war he had freed them and hired them to work his farm at a “fair wage.” After Bowyer’s emancipation, McElhenney paid one third of Bowyer’s full salary in order to keep him on at the church. Fry says he was McElhenney’s “right hand man,” and that “a better sexton, or more reliable work-hand than this yellow man never lived; and grandfather would have considered himself ruined without John Bowyer!”

As the church sexton, Bowyer cleaned the building, opened it for services, lit the fires, rang the bell, kept the grounds, and buried the dead. A search of the cemetery for stones dated between 1858 and 1888 would likely reveal hundreds of graves dug with his own hands. But he himself was not buried there. Around age 73, he was laid to rest in the cemetery across the street from the white graveyard. Fry says, “A simple stone marks his grave in the colored plot, and there were many who thought it would not have been inappropriate to lay him alongside of his white brethren, amidst the dust of hundreds whom he had committed to their last resting-place.”

John C. Bowyer deserves to be remembered for several reasons: 1) Though his work was menial and unremarkable, the community apparently respected him for his faithfulness, longevity, and attention to detail. 2) He served the Church, at first by compulsion and then of his own free will. The record does not tell us what other opportunities were available to him following his emancipation—perhaps there were none. But he “always swore by what Mr. McElhenney said and did, both in the pulpit and out of it. He took his old master’s every word and command as gospel truth, and carried out his instructions to the letter.” Thus it seems he stayed on willingly, out of affection for his pastor and the church. 3) In spite of his three decades of faithful service and the respect it supposedly earned him, he was laid to rest in the “colored” cemetery and eventually forgotten, to the shame of the Church both then and today. The names of most African-Americans from that time and place are lost to history, and few today know they ever lived. If we cannot revive the memory of them all, we shouldn’t forget those we do know. In remembering John C. Bowyer, we remember what little we can of a people who did not deserve to be forgotten.

Mr Bowyer is buried in the African Cemetery, Lewisburg, Greenbrier County, West Virginia. His known life dates are 1815-March 19, 1888.

[1] Laidly, 124. Also, “John Boyer [sic],” The Journal of the Greenbrier Historical Society7, no. 5 (2003): 93.

[2] Laidley, 119-127. It is especially disappointing that I can find no mention of Bowyer in Montgomery’s official History of the Old Stone Presbyterian Church, even on the fifteen-name list of “Our Negro Members” found on p. 340. Previously, the book lists hundreds of members and the dates of their reception between 1838-1983. These were either all white or the church progressed beyond creating a segregated list of black members as early as 1867.

[3] Fry, 189; Laidley, 124. Price more fully writes “old Uncle John Bowyer.”

[4] The source is identified as a 160th Anniversary of Greenbrier County Commemorative Booklet, published in 1938, and transcribed by Lori Samples from a booklet passed down to her from her grandfather. Accessed December 1, 2018.

[5] “He had freed his own Negro man” (Fry, 170), and “His old slaves continued to work for ‘Marse John’ at fair wages” (189).

[6] Fry, 189.  “Yellow” was a term used during Fry’s era (late 19th century) to describe certain light skinned blacks who may have been viewed as more socially acceptable due to their skin color. Fry says that “Uncle John” was more warmly attached to the whites than to his own race.” The use of the word may distinguish Bowyer from darker-skinned blacks as though it were complimentary.  See Taunya Lovell Banks, “Colorism: A Darker Shade of Pale,” UCLA Law Review 47 (2000), accessed June 6, 2018,

[7] Bowyer is listed twice in Greenbrier County records with different death dates (March 17 and 19). According to his tombstone, the latter is correct. The first entry lists a cause of death as Acute Diarrhea and the second as General Debility. In the first he is designated MBS (Male, Black, Single) and then as MB (Male, Black). Larry G. Shuck, comp., Greenbrier County Death Records 1853-1901 (Athens, GA: Iberian Publishing, 1993), 25. However, according to Bowyer’s Find-A-Grave entry (publicly edited), he was married to Elizabeth Folden Bowyer. Accessed June 6, 2018.

[8] Fry, 190.

[9] Fry, 189.

The End of an Institution

spj02The first issue of The Southern Presbyterian Journal appeared in May of 1942.  Dr. L. Nelson Bell, Dr. Henry B. Dendy and a handful of like-minded men had founded the magazine to combat the liberalism that was beginning to influence the Southern Presbyterian Church [the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., or PCUS].  The Journal began in Weaverville, North Carolina, but later moved to Asheville, North Carolina.  The magazine continued under the name The Southern Presbyterian Journal until 1959, at which time the name was changed to The Presbyterian Journal. This name change coincided with a change of editors. Henry B. Dendy had originally signed on as editor at Bell’s urging. As he stated at his resignation, “the temporary position stretched out to over seventeen years.” Dendy continued to serve as managing editor and business manager as the post of Editor was handed over to the Rev. G. Aiken Taylor. That change was effective with the October 7, 1959 issue (Vol. 18, No. 23). Taylor was committed to continuing Nelson Bell’s agenda:  awakening Southern Presbyterians to the decline of their church.  However, Taylor had a different result in mind.  He despaired of reforming the PCUS and set about working toward a large, non-regional, conservative Presbyterian denomination.

taylorgaikenNo one was more instrumental in organizing the Presbyterian Church in America, and making it a national denomination, than Aiken Taylor.  Ironically, the formation of the PCA—the Journal’s main goal as far as Taylor was concerned—caused the beginning of a long decline in circulation.  As more and more Journal readers became PCA members, there was decreasing need for a periodical designed to warn of liberalism in the PCUS. Dr. Taylor left the Journal in 1983 [to serve as president of the Biblical Seminary of Hatfield, PA], and he died shortly after his departure.  Dr. William S. Barker became editor, but the Journalcontinued for only a few more years.  Its last issue was that of March 18, 1987.

Pictured above right—the original home of the Southern Presbyterian Journal.
At left, Dr. G. Aiken Taylor.

Words to Live By:
While Presbyterian newspapers and magazines have rarely been financially viable, there remains a place for denominational and trans-denominational news services. The PCA has byFaith; the OPC has  New Horizons; the RPCNA has the RP Witness; and the Associated Reformed Presbyterians have the  ARP Magazine. Whether in print or digital format, these services provide a much-needed connectionalism between a denomination’s churches and members. They can make us aware of ministries and opportunities for service, as well as informing our prayers. In short, they strengthen the necessary connections that undergird each denomination. And for this reason, these publications deserve your prayers and support. Subscribe if you can to the print format, and encourage your church to make issues available to its members. Bookmark the web link and visit weekly to stay abreast of the news within your denomination. Better, visit the other links provided above and get to know your brothers and sisters in other denominations. Pray for them too, for they are your brothers and sisters in Christ, engaged with you in this great spiritual battle to proclaim the Gospel and extend God’s kingdom across the whole earth.

THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST, on The Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Q.11. What are God’s works of Providence?

A. God’s works of Providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.


Preserving his creatures.—Keeping, by his mighty power, every living being from returning to nothing.

Governing all his creatures.—God’s keeping them in order, and making them obedient to his authority.

Governing all their actions.—Directing all the doings and motions of his creatures, so as to prevent them from running into confusion.


Here we are taught that God’s providence consists of two parts:

  1. The preservation of his creatures.—Heb. i. 3. Upholding all things by the word of his power.
  2. His governing his creatures and their actions.—Psal. ciii. 19. His kingdom ruleth over all.—Matt. x. 29. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father

In answer to this question, too, Divine providence is shown, as to its properties, to be

  1. Most holy.—Psalm cxlv. 17. O Lord—holy in all his works
  2. Most wise.—Psalm civ. 24. O Lord, how manifold are they works! in wisdom hast thou made them all.
  3. Most powerful.—Dan. iv. 35. He doth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?

Our second guest author this week is Barry Waughwith a post drawn from his own blog, Presbyterians of the Past. Barry’s blog posts tend to be fuller treatments of a subject than what we typically have time to provide here, and so you would do well to add his blog to your reading schedule. What follows is a shorter version of his recent post on Patrick of Ireland. Click here to read the full post.

The next Lord’s Day will occur on March 17, which is the calendar date remembered as St. Patrick’s Day. While the Sabbath is being kept holy by some, the day named for Patrick will likely be celebrated with revelry and little if any concern for Patrick or his ministry. There are only two extant writings by him Confession and Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. The first work is an autobiographic defense of his integrity as a minister in the face of accusations to the contrary; the second writing rebukes a military commander named Coroticus for kidnapping and killing Christians. These two works provide a more accurate picture of Patrick than do the myths about him and miracles attributed to him. Michael A. G. Haykin’s Patrick of Ireland: His Life & Impact points out that the real Patrick is more interesting than the one created over the centuries by tales and fables. When one reads Confession, it is obvious that Patrick had a command of Scripture and used it to teach the Irish about the Triune God and the gracious atonement accomplished by the Son. Patrick’s emphases on theology proper and Christology are indicative of the difficulties faced by missionaries as they communicated one God in three persons and Christ the God-man to pagans worshipping numerous individual gods. The authenticity is debated, as with much information about Patrick, but it is said he used clover with its three leaves united in one sprig to illustrate the three persons of the Trinity united in one God. As with any illustration of the Trinity, it breaks down at one point or another, but it likely worked well for Patrick’s purpose as he taught the grace of Christ.

Patrick was born in Banavem Taberniæ the son of Calpurnius, who was the son of Potitus. Calpurnius was a public official and a “deacon” (diaconum), and Patrick’s grandfather was a “presbyter” (presbyteri, translated also “priest” or “elder”). Haykin notes that the precise location of his birthplace is unknown, but it is believed to be somewhere along the west coast of England or possibly Scotland. Regardless of his place of birth, Patrick grew up in the church, but the message of Christ fell on ears that were not yet ears to hear. He lived with his Roman-British family until the age of sixteen when he was abducted and enslaved in the land that came to be named Ireland. At the time, the Romans called the island Hibernia or Scotia. Patrick shepherded sheep as a physical slave but was released from slavery to sin by faith in Christ through the ministry of local Christians. While watching flocks he prayed nearly without ceasing and found the Psalms beneficial for petitioning and praising God. Patrick had something in common with another shepherd, King David. After about six years, Patrick managed to escape his captors, made his way to a ship, and left Ireland. . .

. . . Michael Haykin makes the case that Patrick was presbyterian. Note the lower case “p.” He was presbyterian in that he believed in rule by elders. Some Presbyterians of the past agree with Haykin’s perspective, such as Thomas Smyth (1808-1873). Smyth was the minister of Second Presbyterian Church, Charleston, South Carolina for a number of years and was of Irish descent. His father was a Presbyterian elder. Smyth presents his case for Patrick’s presbyterianism in Presbytery and Not Prelacy the Scriptural and Primitive Polity in vol. 2 of the Complete Works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D.D. Smyth examined the Scripture passages relevant to polity and moved on to contend historically that the Irish were first converted by the missionary efforts of eastern Christianity and not western. The missionaries were associates or disciples of the Apostle John who believed in rule by elders as taught in Acts and the pastoral epistles. Even though Smyth uses the word prelacy in the title of his book, his concern is not only episcopal government as manifest in the Church of Ireland or of England, but also Roman Catholicism. See the section beginning on page 460 titled, “The Primitive Churches in Ireland were Presbyterian,” where Smyth argues for presbyterian government against episcopal and then presents his case for Patrick the presbyterian. But there was another perspective on the polity of the ancient church in Ireland which came from James Ussher two-hundred years earlier. Theologically, Ussher [who is pictured above left] and Smyth would have agreed on a great amount of doctrine because Ussher’s Irish Articles, 1615, and his Body of Divinity provided abundant content for the Westminster Standards. There are portions of the Shorter Catechism in particular that appear to have been lifted from Body (see explanatory note below). But the two Irishmen did not approach their homeland’s polity history from the same perspective. Ussher was Archbishop of Armagh, the bishop of the Church of Ireland. As Smyth made his case that Patrick and Ireland were originally presbyterian, so Ussher defended the nation’s episcopal origins in A Discourse of the Religion Anciently Professed by the Irish and British (Works 4:235ff). Ussher, as Smyth, directs his polemics against the papacy, but then he defends episcopal government for the Irish church. His Discourse goes beyond an apologetic for episcopacy to interact with key doctrinal differences with Catholicism. Ussher and Smyth could agree that Patrick was not Catholic, but debates concerning whether he was presbyterian, episcopal, or Catholic will likely continue. Hopefully, these questions of church government will not interfere with gaining appreciation for an interesting and dedicated servant of God named Patrick.

Words to Live By:
It is good to think of Patrick of Ireland and his contribution to the history of the church, but he should not be remembered with the common “carousing and drunkenness” associated with March 17. Instead, “the Lord Jesus Christ” should be put on in faith with “no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” These words from Romans 13:13, 14 confronted Patrick’s contemporary, Bishop Augustine, with his own sin when he responded to Christ in faith. Patrick of Ireland would call the people of Irish heritage and all others to worship the Triune God through faith in Christ on this Lord’s Day.


Notes— Michael A. G. Haykin’s book is Patrick of Ireland: His Life & Impact, 2014, published by Christian Focus, Fern, Ross-shire, Scotland, which is a selection in the publisher’s Early Church Fathers Series. Other books in this series are edited by Professor Haykin and include Basil of Caesarea, Cyprian of Carthage, and Hilary of Poitiers. Based on my reading of the Patrick book, I would think the other selections in the series would be fine introductions to the church fathers. Present day Christians may be acquainted with Augustine because of his Confessions, but generally speaking, knowledge of the ancient fathers of the church is limited. However, reading books from the Early Church Fathers Series would improve the situation.

If interested in the life of an Irishman who was a Presbyterian then read on this site the biography of Thomas Witherow (1824-1890).

The map section is from the nicely done map located on Wikimedia titled, “The Roman Empire About 395.”

Regarding Ussher’s Body of Divinity, some contend that Ussher did not write it, after all he is not on the title page as author. It was published in London in 1645 which was an opportune location and date for the Westminster Asssembly’s deliberations in the Jerusalem Chamber. Body of Divinity would have been available for composition of the Shorter Catechism which was approved August 22, 1648 (see: Chad VanDixhoorn’s Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 4:780). Ussher was invited to the Assembly, but it is believed he did not attend. However, did he manouver his Body into the Jerusalem Chamber instead? Ussher was likely sympathetic to what the divines wanted to accomplish doctrinally, but he could not physically be present as Archbishop of Ireland under the authority of the Church of England. In 1645, the Civil War was going poorly for King Charles I and his supporters, but there was always the odd chance he could maintain his rule. If Ussher had attended the Assembly he would have done so with considerable potential personal risk.

The Latin edition used for this article is Libri Sancti Patricii, number 4 in the series, Texts for Students, ed. Newport J. D. White and published in London by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1918 (title page pictured above); the English version was translated by White and is titled, St. Patrick, His Writings and Life, which is in the series Translations of Christian Literature, Series V, Lives of the Celtic Saints, and it too was published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 1920.

John Skinner’s translations are in The Confession of Saint Patrick, New York: Doubleday, 1998, and David Howlett’s book is titled, The Book of Letters of Saint Patrick the Bishop, published in Dublin by Four Courts Press, 1994.

The Gospel, for All Peoples, Everywhere.
by Rev. David T. Myers

We are privileged to have as our guest author this day John Knox . . . yes, that John Knox . . . of sixteenth century Scotland. Writing in chapter 2 of his History of the Reformation of Religion in Scotland, the Protestant and Presbyterian Reformer of Scotland describes for us the beginnings of “the People’s Bible” on pages 37 and following. It was the day when the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in English were made available to the masses, instead of only been printed in Latin and chained to ancient churches of the realm.  Knox writes:

“Men began to inquire, if it were not as lawful to men that understood no Latin to use the Word of their Salvation in the tongue (i.e. language) they understood, as it was for Latin men to have it in Latin, and Grecians to Hebrews in their languages.  It was answered, that the Kirk had forbidden all kinds of languages but these three, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. But men demanded when that inhibition was given, and what Council  had ordained it, considering that in the days of Chrysostom, he complained that the people used not the psalms, and other Holy Books, in their own languages? And if you say they were Greeks, and understood the Greek language, we answer that CHRIST JESUS HAS COMMANDED HIS WORD TO BE PREACHED TO ALL NATIONS. Now if it ought to be preached to all nations, it must be preached in the language they understand; and if it be lawful to preach it, and to hear it preached in all languages, why shall it not be lawful to read it, and to hear it read in all languages, to the end that the people may ‘try the spirits,’ according to the commandment of the Apostle?

“(After further discussion) the conclusion was ‘by Act of Parliament (15th March 1543) ‘it was made free to all men and women to read the Scriptures in their own language, or in the English language, and so were all Acts made in contrary abolished.’

“This was no small victory of Christ Jesus, fighting against the conjured enemies of his Verity, no small comfort to such as before were holden in such bondage . . . “

Words to Live By: If we are indeed in that period of our history which is being called  post-Christian, where the Biblical principles of ethics can no longer be assumed to be believed and practiced, then it is imperative to have a new emphasis on Bible memorization by all Christian people, young and old alike.  Question: if your Bible was taken away, labeled perhaps as a terrorist book, by the authorities, how much of it could you quote to the edification of your souls, your family’s growth in Christian faith and living, to say nothing of your fellow Christians, and the world at large?

PART II of Today’s Post:

To Treasure that Which Cost So Many Lives and Dear
Reinforcing the above account, the following anecdote in found on the pages of The Charleston Observer on this same date, 15 March, in 1834 (vol. 8, no. 2, page 41, columns 4-5) :—

[now preserved at the British Library as “Egerton 617”]
Anecdote of Dr. Adam Clarke.

During his first three years’ residence in London, (from 1795 to 1798,) Dr. Adam Clarke, amidst all his labors, began to amass that choice and valuable library which eventually became second to few private collections in the kingdom. He was eminently skilful in matters of bibliography–as indeed his published works abundantly show–and he spared neither labor nor expense in seeking out and getting possession of literary treasures. One of the literary purchases which Dr. Clarke made during his first London residence deserves to be particularly mentioned, more especially as this propitious acquisition was the nest-egg of his future library, and no doubt greatly influenced that book collecting propensity of which it was itself in part the fruit. The valuable biblical acquisition to which we have alluded, is thus noticed by his biographer.—London Chr. Obs.

“On the publication of the catalogue of the library of the Rev. Mr. Fell, Principal of the Dissenting College at Hackney, Mr. Clarke observed advertised “A black letter Bible.” The day fixed for the sale happening to be on what was termed among the Methodists a quarterly meeting day, which is a time appointed by that body for the adjustment of their accounts, &c., &c., and which required his personal attendance during the very hours of sale; he therefore desired his friend and bookseller, Mr. William Baynes, to attend the auction, and purchase for him ‘the black-letter Bible, if it went any thing in reason;’ he did so, the book was put up, and Baynes had only one competitor, and on a trifling advance, on a moderate last bid, it was knocked down to the bookseller. On inquiry Mr. Baynes found that his opponent was by trade a gold-beater, and that he had bid for the book merely on account of the skins on which it was written, and as soon as he had gone to the extent of their value for the purpose of his calling, he had given up the contest; hence the trifling advanced secured its higher destiny and better fate.

“When Mr. Clarke had concluded the quarterly meeting, he went from the City Road, where it was held, to Paternoster Row, to inquire after the chances of the auction; he found that the book he desired was secured, and on the slightest examination discovered that it was indeed ‘a black-letter Bible,’ but of so ancient a date as to constitute it a great literary treasure; he had it immediately packed up in a parcel (and it made no small dimensions, being an hundred weight) and putting it on his shoulder, walked beneath his burden to his own house in Spitalfields. [Ed.: a distance of about 18 miles!] He lost no time in making a more minute examination of his purchase, the result of which he has inserted with his own hand in the flyleaf.

‘This Bible, the first translated into the English language, and evidently, from the orthography and diction, the oldest copy of that translation, was once the property of Thomas A. Woodstock, youngest son of Edward III, King of England, and brother to Edward the black prince and John of Gaunt. Thomas A. Woodstock was born in 1355, and was supposed to have been smothered between two beds; or others say, causelessly beheaded at Calais, Sept. 8, 1397, in the 42d year of his age, by Thomas Mowbray, Earl Marshall of England, at the instance of his nephew, King Richard II. His arms appear on the shield at the top of the first page, and are the same as those on his monument in Westminster Abbey. In many respects the language of this MS. is older than that found in most of those copies which go under the name of John Wiclif. This MS. was once in the possession of the celebrated Dr. John Hunter. It was found in a most shattered condition, and from the hay and bits of mortar that were in it, leads to this most natural conclusion, that it had been hid, probably during the Maryan persecution, in stacks of hay, and at other times built up in walls, and not unfrequently, it would appear, that it had been secreted under ground, as was evinced from the decayed state of many of its pages, especially the early ones.

(Signed) Adam Clarke.

Again we say, hide the Word of God in your heart.

[To read the British Museum’s description of this black letter Bible, and to view a presentation of selected images, click here.]

We welcome today our guest author, Rev. Dennis Bills, pastor of the Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA), in New Martinsville, West Virginia. Dennis has been working for some time now on a history of Presbyterianism in West Virginia and that book should see publication later this year, Lord willing. Additionally, Rev. Bills has arranged for an updated reprint of a related, historical work, The Captives of Abb’s Valley. His first published work, A Church You Can See: Building a Case for Church Membership is another which we think you will find useful.

Three Churches, One Anniversary
March 14, 2019 marks the Bicentennial of three historic Presbyterian churches in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia. Though all claim to have originated in 1819, each has a different organization date spanning fifty years.  How can all three be celebrating the same bicentennial? And which church is the original?

Their story actually begins a few years earlier, in 1815, when the wealthy Ruffner family built a 200-seat meeting house on their Malden property for use by the Society of Christians Called Presbyterians. At about the same time, the family also donated another plot of their land about five miles to the north in Charleston, stipulating “one moiety for education, one moiety for the Society of Christians called Presbyterians.” On March 14, 1819, one of the Ruffner boys, Henry, having just been ordained by Lexington Presbytery, organized this group as a single church meeting in two locations—one in Charleston and the other in Malden. It was known simply as “the Church on Kanawha in Charleston and at Kanawha Salines.”

After Ruffner immediately left to assume an academic post at Washington College in Lexington, the two united congregations hired Congregationalist Calvin Chaddock, a Boston minister who died in the Kanawha Valley after only a few short years on the job. Next was Nathaniel Calhoon, a minister and medical doctor with whom the congregation quickly became dissatisfied for some unknown reason. Then in 1837 came the Reverend James Moore Brown who ministered in the Valley for twenty-five years.  Each of these preached at both locations five miles apart on designated Sundays.

On the plot in Charleston, the church first built the Mercer Academy, in which the Charleston congregation met for many years. The Malden congregation worshiped at “Colonel Ruffner’s Meeting House” until 1840, when the family donated more land in Malden for the construction of the permanent brick sanctuary in which the congregation still meets today. Shortly after, in 1841, Reverend Brown led the Malden congregation to divide out and organize as the “Kanawha Salines Church.” This new church called the Reverend Stuart Robinson as its first pastor, and James Moore Brown preached his installation service.  Reverend Brown continued as the pastor of the original “Kanawha Church” in Charleston until his death in 1862.

Still a third church traces its origin to 1819—ironically called the “First” Presbyterian Church of Charleston. It was actually organized in 1872 when a majority of the Kanawha Church decided they wanted to adhere to the Southern Church. A vote was taken, the church divided, and the two congregations split the property. The new “Presbyterian Church of Charleston” (later to add the word “First” to its name) continued with the Southern PCUS. The Kanawha Presbyterian Church joined the Northern PCUSA.

So, which of the three was first? While all three can legitimately trace their histories to Henry Ruffner and that March 14th date in 1819, the Kanawha Church technically has the best claim to being the mother congregation. It birthed the Kanawha Salines Church in 1841 and the First Presbyterian Church in 1872. The order of the former is settled by the Kanawha Church’s minutes of September 1, 1841: “Resolved, that Greenbrier Presbytery be requested to divide the Kanawha Church by constituting a church to be known by the name of Kanawha Salines Church.” The order of the latter is settled not only by its clear date of organization thirty years later, but by the awarding of the minute books to the Kanawha Church by the secular courts, thus certifying it as the continuing congregation, at least in the eyes of the state.  The seeds of all three, however, were indubitably contained within the original congregations that were organized in 1819.

So, in spite of organization dates that span fifty years, all three can–at least in spirit–claim a 2019 Bicentennial.  The Kanawha Church–now known as the Kanawha United Presbyterian Church–stands only a few short blocks from its younger sister, the First Presbyterian Church. Those two fellow PC(USA) congregations have long since “made up,” and have planned a joint celebration for later this year.  Meanwhile it was the historic Kanawha Salines Presbyterian Church in Malden that joined the Vanguard Presbytery in 1972 and thus became a charter member of the Presbyterian Church in America in 1973. Kanawha Salines will hold a worship service this evening, March 14, to thank God for his grace and providence in establishing them two hundred years ago.

The Virgin Birth of Christ

According to the universal belief of the historic Christian faith, including the evangelical and Reformed churches in the twenty-first century,  Jesus of Nazareth was born without a human father, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.  And many, if not all of our readers, would respond to this statement in the affirmative.  But many negative replies would also be given in the church at large, from both those who stand behind the pulpit, to  those who sit in the pew.   There is a great divide in the visible church to this doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ.   The answer to these objections has been for the past eighty years in the book by John Gresham Machen entitled “The Virgin Birth of Christ.”

Published jointly in New York and England on March 13, 1930, this definitive book by the late Presbyterian scholar and seminary professor J. Gresham Machen  continues to be referenced and quoted by Christians today.  The late James Boice once said that a Harvard professor, who himself didn’t believe in the doctrine, stated that Machen’s book has never been answered.   Though old by human standards, the book is as up-to-date as when it first was written.

It was originally written by Dr. Machen in response to the Presbyterian signers of the Auburn Affirmation who stated that it was not necessary to believe in the Virgin Birth as a statement of faith.  Yet the Presbyterian General Assembly had stated it as a fundamental of the faith in 1910, 1916, and 1923.  Its’ denial by the eventual 1294 ministers of the Presbyterian Church USA in 1924 brought the whole issue of theological liberalism to the forefront of that denomination.

Yet this book was no hastily written book by the New Testament professor at Westminster Seminary.  Machen had begun to write about Christ’s supernatural birth in 1905 for the Princeton Theological Review scholarly magazine.  Then, in 1906, 1907, 1908, 1912, 1915, and  1918, he had penned articles or reviewed other books on this topic.  The theme of Christ’s supernatural birth  was fresh on his mind and heart.  This book was the result of all these articles and was designed to set down once and for all that a belief in the Virgin Birth was necessary for Christianity.  Deny it, and you deny the authority of the Bible, the supernatural aspect of everything about Christ Jesus, including the good news of salvation itself.   Machen himself said, “If the Bible is regarded as wrong in what it says about the birth of Christ, then obviously the authority of the Bible in any high sense is wrong.”

« Opening page of Machen’s 1905 article as it appeared in The Princeton Theological Review.

Words to Live By: For an exercise, think of all the cardinal doctrines of historic Christianity which would be compromised if the Virgin Birth of Christ did not take place. Then think of where you would be spiritually if they were not true!  Last, thank God for past and present Christians who defended the historic Christian faith in teachings that you have listed on your exercise, and pray that you too will be “always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (NIV) First Peter 3:15b

For more background on Machen’s study of this subject, click here.

For Samuel Craig’s review of The Virgin Birth of Christ, click here.
[Samuel Craig was the founder of the Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company.]

Just the Bare Facts, Ma’am
by Rev. David T. Myers

Henry MillsBeginning this post with an old line from a television detective drama back in the day, the bare facts are indeed about all we have for today’s post about the Rev. Dr. Henry Mills. Born this day on March 12, 1786 in Morristown, New Jersey, information about that birth, his parents, and the circumstances of his growing up days are absent. The only bit of information next is that he was a student at the College of New Jersey in Princeton, New Jersey, graduating in 1802. [The College was renamed Princeton University in 1896].

So it was that Henry Mills graduated from the College just ten years before the Princeton Theological Seminary was established. The president of the College of New Jersey at that time was Samuel Stanhope Smith. The school’s first president had been John Witherspoon, with Samuel S. Smith among the first graduating class when Witherspoon was president. Further, Samuel Smith married John Witherspoon’s daughter. Smith’s ministry after that graduation and marriage was that of being a missionary, a pastor, and the first president of what is today Hampden-Sydney College. With this background, he returned to the College of New Jersey in Princeton in 1779. He is particularly noted for having strengthened the academic life of the college with the appointment of qualified men as professors. Thus in his own training, Henry Mills had the great benefit of well-established professors at the College.

Following graduation, Mills taught and tutored for a number of years before being called into the ministry. In that era, men often prepared for the ministry under the tutelage of a single pastor. Mill’s choice of mentor was that of the Rev. James Richards, who had just left his pastorate at the First Presbyterian Church in Morristown, New Jersey. Evidently he chose well and his training was to good effect, for in 1816 the Presbytery of New Jersey ordained Henry Mills and installed him as pastor of the Woodbridge Presbyterian Church, and there he remained for the next six years.

Another feature of that era, you will almost consistently find that men who were called to the ministry would wait until they were ordained and installed as the pastor of a church before they would consider taking a wife. And if the situation at that first church was at all tenuous, they might wait even longer. And so we find that Rev. Mills was married in 1821 precisely at the point when he left the pastorate and was appointed to be the Professor of Biblical Criticism and Oriental Languages at a new seminary called Auburn Theological Seminary. He taught there for thirty-one years. Retiring from his teaching position in 1854, he was accorded standing as professor emeritus up until his death on June 10, 1867.

Besides being a theological professor, he was also a hymn writer. Most of his hymns were taken from German hymns, which he thought the American church needed to hear and sing. One volume was published from his pen, titled Hymns from the German (1845). However, though the book did see a second edition in 1856, still none of these hymns appear to have remained in use, and so these have passed from the church scene today.

Words to Live By:
If we were to list the number of ministers who have come and gone without any great notice by the visible church except to note their birth dates, years and place of training, some bare record of what churches or schools they were at, and the date of their death, the list would be unending. The great majority of God’s servants fall into this category. Perhaps you, reader, fall into this listing.  Unnoticed by the world, not mentioned by denominational magazines, your name would be one such pastor or teacher. But . . . but, there is another record being written which is of greater importance.  Found in Malachi 3:16 – 17, the prophet writes, “Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.” Faithful Christian: be glad that you are found in His heavenly book of remembrance rather than simply in some earthly book. His book is what matters in the long run, indeed for eternity.

Image source: Photograph facing page 24 in A History of Auburn Theological Seminary, 1818-1918, by John Quincy Adams. Auburn, NY: Auburn Seminary Press, 1918.

A More Personal Insight to the man:
In the above referenced history of the seminary, there is this interesting comment on Dr. Mills’ character:

It is said that cases of discipline of the students were generally referred to him for settlement, and there came a time when the other members of the Faculty felt that he did not deal seriously enough with them so that again and again they took him to task for too great frivolity or leniency in his relations with them. It had no effect, however, for he could quickly turn the edge of his colleagues’ criticisms with a humorous reply, and serious dealing with him became increasingly difficult. He was greatly beloved by his colleagues and many friends and his students.—A History of Auburn Theological Seminary, p. 77.

Our post today is excerpted from The St. Louis Evangelist, 13.15 (14 April 1887): 1, col. 5-6.

The first Protestant Christian church in Japan was organized at Yokohama on the 11th of march, 1872. It consisted of 11 members , and most of them were young men who were learning English from the Rev. Mr. Ballagh; and at the same time he had given them instruction in regard to the Creator of all things and eternal life as reveal through His Son. To profess Christ then was in violation of the laws of the country; and it was nearly one year after that the edicts against Christianity were removed from the public places, and then it was claimed that the law was still unchanged, but being so well understood, any further notice of it was unnecessary.

Rev. Mr. Ballagh, of the Reformed Mission, was the acting pastor of this congregation until 1878. Owing to a dislike of Christianity which had arisen, on account of the evils brought upon the country by the Jesuits, to a general indifference, or attachment to their heathen systems, as well as fear of incurring the penalty which was attached to the avowal of Christianity, the number who attended the services was very small, and at times the work seemed quite discouraging.

There were no hymns then in the Japanese language, and no Japanese with a knowledge of either vocal or instrumental music. Only an imperfect translation of the gospel of Matthew by Rev. Mr. Goble had been published, and there was nothing in the way of Christian literature except some few works in Chinese. These were an important help, but of course were only available to the limited number who could read the Chinese.

As the rays of the sun falling upon the iceberg, and the soft winds from the South will in time disintegrate and melt it away, so the light of divine truth slowly but gradually dispelled the various obstacles that hindered the growth of a true and spiritual religion in this land. The earnest prayers of God’s people were heard, the influences of consecrated and happy lives were seen and felt, and the Holy Spirit set his seal to the labors of His faithful servants.

After about two years a branch church was formed in Tokyo, and was the beginning of a large work in the capital of the empire. A gradual increase in the attendance necessitated the erection of a large and suitable place for worship, and in 1875 a fine stone church was erected, and $1,000 given by the native Christians of the Sandwich Islands was employed in this way to extend the gospel of Christ in Japan. From the very first the question arose as to what should be the name and polity of this organization, and also of the other churches that should be established in Japan. As in other matters the spirit of independence was very strong among the Japanese, and the general wish and purpose was that the churches should hold allegiance to no foreign body, but grow up as one in faith and practice, and in accordance with the circumstances and necessities of the case.

This church at Yokohama has grown to be a great power for good. Already nine different churches have been formed through the efforts of its members, and a nucleus exists for similar organizations in many other places. Fifteen preachers and evangelists have been sent out, and among them are some of the most active and efficient workers in the country. The whole number received upon profession has been 736 and 31 by letter. The present membership is 441. Of this number 224 are men, 185 women and 22 children.

The celebration of the 15th anniversary was a most enjoyable occasion. The church was dressed with flags and ornamented with evergreens and flowers. A large and select audience filled the house, and among them were many missionaries and native pastors from Tokyo and other parts of the country. A good number of representatives from churches not connected with the united body were also present, and as opportunity offered extended their hearty congratulations.

A historical account of the beginning and growth of the church and Christianity in Japan, was one of the important features of the occasion. It was most gratifying to all to hear that since this church had been organized the number of Christians had increased to upwards of 16,000, and the native pastors and evangelists to 256, besides 109 in preparation for the ministry.

The music was led by a Christian Japanese lady who presided at the organ, and the singing was hearty and very enjoyable. Translations have been made of a large number of the favorite hymns, and with a considerable number of original productions have furnished a very extensive hymnology.  These hymns are sung everywhere and enjoyed fully as much as at home.

At the close of the service refreshments were served in the foreign style to the various missionaries and other invited guests. After this there was another meeting in the evening at which there were four addresses.

The afternoons and evenings of the two succeeding days were devoted to a series of meetings having the character of evangelistic services. The largest theatre was rented for this purpose and was well filled by a large and appreciative audience.

The fine stone building occupied by the congregation has a seating capacity of above 300, and yet it is fast becoming too small for the wants of the constantly increasing audience. A gallery has been constructed and in this way the room for other hearers has been made.

This brief sketch is a simple index of the growth of Christianity in Japan. May the next fifteen years prove equally as prosperous. The same period of similar success and Japan will no longer be dependent upon other countries for the gospel, but as in the case of the Sandwich Islands will be sending out her representatives to the regions beyond.

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