May 2019

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An Odd Juxtaposition of Dates

The First General Assembly Held in America:

To Presbyterians, the American Revolution had been a holy war.  And now with its winning, Christian Presbyterians could get back to growing the church.  And that growth took place in a period of spiritual progress.  From New York all the way south to the Carolinas, new settlements were begun, with Presbyterian missionaries and ministers being sent throughout the whole length of the land.

But as the churches and  the presbyters  became more and more distant from one another, there was a concern about attendance.  In all the synods put together, over one hundred ministers were absent in any given year with only six of the churches presented by elders.  In one synod, a new moderator was elected, and then excused when it became known that he had not been present for the previous eleven years.  Clearly something had to be done.

The sixteen Presbyteries were organized into four separate synods in 1785.  They were: Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey, Virginia, and the Carolinas.  Numerically, this meant that there were four synods, sixteen presbyteries, 177 ministers, 111 licentiates, and 419 churches.

It was on May 21, 1789, that the first General Assembly was held in the original city of Presbyterianism, Philadelphia.  John Witherspoon was chosen to preach the first sermon of that assembly.  The delegates chose the Rev. John Rodgers to be the first moderator.  He had been trained back in the Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church under New Side Minister Samuel Blair.

Some housekeeping had to be done in light of the separation from England.  No longer could the civil magistrate be considered to be the head of the church.  So chapters in the Westminster Standards which put him as the head of the church were re-written in the light of the American victory in the American Revolution.  No one denomination would any longer be considered a state church, whether it was Anglican, Roman Catholic, or Presbyterian.  There was a separation of church from state.

And Denominational Deathknell:

Then, moving into a later century, we note that in “1918 three churches united to form First Presbyterian Church, New York City. They called as pastor Rev. Mr. George Alexander, D.D., and as associate pastor, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Baptist. On Sunday morning May 21, 1922, Dr. Fosdick preached a famous sermon titled: “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” In this he contrasts the conservative and liberal views on the Virgin Birth, the inspiration of Scripture, the Atonement and the Second Advent of Christ and pleads for tolerance of both views within the church. In 1923 Dr. Fosdick gave the Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching before the Yale Divinity School, which were later published under the title: “The Modern Use of the Bible.” This material clearly sets forth the liberal beliefs of Dr. Fosdick which are at complete variance with clear Scriptural teaching.”  [Historical Background and Development of the RPCES, by Thomas G. Cross, 1968]

Words to Live By:
We may never know whether Fosdick chose that specific date for the delivery of his infamous sermon, whether he intended with some note of irony, but clearly that sermon serves as a marker for all the many changes that have come since. As it is true for denominations and for local churches, so too every Christian is each day faced with decisions that may steer us in one direction or another. A decision to follow Christ or to follow self and its desires, which will it be?

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law doth he meditate.”—Psalm 1:1-2, KJV.

THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST
Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 23

Q. 23. What offices doth Christ execute, as our Redeemer?

A. Christ, as our Redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet, of a Priest, and of a King, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.

EXPLICATION.

Our Redeemer. –He who delivers, or saves, us from the slavery and misery of sin.

Offices of Christ. –Certain public charges, or employments, to which he was set apart, or appointed, by God the Father.

Executeth the offices of a prophet, &c. –That is, Christ performs, or does the duties, or works, of a prophet, priest, &c.

Estate of humiliation. –The state of poverty and of suffering, in which Christ lived, while in this world.

Estate of Exaltation. –That high and glorious state in heaven, in which Christ now is.

ANALYSIS.

Here we are informed of five things :

1. That Christ executeth the office of a Prophet. –Acts iii. 22. Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me: him shall ye hear in all things, whatsoever he shall command you.

2. That he executeth the office of a Priest. –Heb. v. 6. Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedec.

3. That he executeth the office of a King. –Psal. ii. 6. Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of zion.

4. That these offices are all executed by Christ, as our Redeemer.

5. That these offices are all executed by him, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.

The Reformed faith and Modern Substitutes

It is one thing to take a strong stand for the fundamentals of the faith and come out from that denomination which denies them.  It is quite another thing to stand for the essentials of the Reformed faith in the new denomination which you have started with others of similar convictions. This latter matter was the issue facing the early years of the Presbyterian Church of America.

For that reason, Professor John Murray wrote a whole series for the Presbyterian Guardian in 1935 – 1936 (its archival material is on-line now) on The Reformed Faith and Modern Substitutes.  The latter part of the title dealt with two: Arminianism and Modern Dispensationalism.   Readers desiring to get a biblical view of the first substitute are urged to read the Feb 17 and March 16, 1936 issues (Vol 1, numbers 10, 12)  The second Modern Substitute was dispensationalism, as it was then being taught and practiced by the Scofield Reference Bible and all kinds of Bible institutes and churches.  Professor   Murray would deal with this substitute in the  May 18, 1936 (Vol. 2 No. 4) issue of the Presbyterian Guardian.

[click here to read the 18 May 1936 issue of The Presbyterian Guardian.]

Murray’s  point could hardly be missed in the article.  He wrote, “What we are intent upon showing is that the system of (i.e. dispensationalism) interpretation widely prevalent in this country . . . is inconsistent with the system of truth embodied in our Presbyterian standards.”

Why was this emphasis needed to these Presbyterian pastors and people in the mid-thirties in our Presbyterian church scene?  Arminianism may not have been a problem in the infant Presbyterian church, though this false belief can weave its way into many a congregation. Of far greater issue was modern dispensationalism.  The fact that there was a concern with  their reader’s misunderstanding about the series of articles  led one reporter of the Presbyterian Guardian to seek to clarify what was and what was not being said by Professor Murray.

What was not being said was that all pre-mils in the church were contrary to the Reformed Faith.  It was pointed out that pre-mils could be found on the board and faculty of Westminster Seminary, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, and the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union. There was no inconsistency between the Reformed Faith and a belief in the premillennial return of Christ.  There was to be a wide area of liberty in the doctrine of last things as it dealt with millennial issues.

However, what was being said was that the dispensational viewpoint regarding the unity of the Scriptures, the unity of salvation, and the unity of the church was contrary to the Reformed faith.  The new church wanted to be in reality as well as in name a Reformed church.   And this would come into the forefront of the Presbyterian Church of America with the tragic division of the young church  in less than two years in 1938.

Words to Live By: Suppose one of your friends, neighbors, work associates would ask you what do you believe about the teachings of your church?  How would you answer them?  First Peter 3:15 reminds us to “be ready to give an answer.”  That word “answer” is where we get our word “apologetics.”  It speaks of a defense of the hope which lies within us.  This is why this contributor is adding each day a Scripture lesson and a section of the Westminster Standards, so that you will be able to make that defense of your belief to others.  Read them faithfully daily.

Return to Duty: Three Tips from John Witherspoon on ‘Hearkening the Rod’
by Joseph Sunde

 

witherspoonIn the spring of 1776, John Witherspoon preached his first sermon on political matters, about a month before he was elected to the Continental Congress. The sermon, “The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men,” is a fascinating exploration of how God can work through human crises, and how even the “wrath of man” can lead us to glorify God in unexpected ways.

Surrounded by the conflict of the Revolution, Witherspoon calls on his countrymen to “return to duty,” neither letting blind rage get the best of them, nor retreating out of fear or for idols of security and “peace.” Yet while all this is directed specifically to the crisis of his time, I’m struck by how far his wisdom actually applies.

In today’s context, our conflicts vary, from economic woes to fights about religious liberty to racial tensions to terrorist threats to brazen abuses of power and authority within the halls of our own government. In each area, we can benefit from Witherspoon’s advice, learning to “hearken the rod” when times get tough, not only in terms of our own salvation, but for the sake and the cause of a free and virtuous society.

Witherspoon sets the stage as follows, highlighting how God through tough times so often remind us of and points us toward the source of every good and perfect thing:

Both nations in general, and private persons, are apt to grow remiss and lax in a time of prosperity and seeming security; but when their earthly comforts are endangered or withdrawn, it lays them under a kind of necessity to seek for something better in their place. Men must have comfort from one quarter or another. When earthly things are in a pleasing and promising condition, too many are apt to find their rest, and be satisfied with them as their only portion. But when the vanity and passing nature of all created comfort is discovered, they are compelled to look for something more durable as well as valuable. What therefore, can be more to the praise of God, than that when a whole people have forgotten their resting place, when they have abused their privileges, and despised their mercies, they should by distress and suffering be made to hearken to the rod, and return to their duty?

He moves from there to a lengthy commentary on human nature, divine providence, and a variety of detailed applications to the American Revolution. But his conclusions are rather universal.

Witherspoon offers three specific recommendations, which I’ve excerpted below under my own simplistic headers. The primary takeaways may seem obvious, and the excerpts overly excessive, but Witherspoon connects the dots between the spiritual, social, economic, and political with remarkable depth and unusual clarity.

1. Turn to God, and orient your life around obedience to His will.

sermon2 (1)Suffer me to recommend to you an attention to the public interest of religion, or in other words, zeal for the glory of God and the good of others. I have already endeavored to exhort sinners to repentance; what I have here in view is to point out to you the concern which every good man ought to take in the national character and manners, and the means which he ought to use for promoting public virtue, and bearing down impiety and vice. This is a matter of the utmost moment, and which ought to be well understood, both in its nature and principles. Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue.

On the other hand, when the manners of a nation are pure, when true religion and internal principles maintain their vigour, the attempts of the most powerful enemies to oppress them are commonly baffled and disappointed. This will be found equally certain, whether we consider the great principles of God’s moral government, or the operation and influence of natural causes. What follows from this? That he is the best friend to American liberty, who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy to God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country.

2. Work hard, and work for the glory of God and the service of neighbor.

I exhort all who are not called to go into the field [of warfare], to apply themselves with the utmost diligence to works of industry. It is in your power by this mean not only to supply the necessities, but to add to the strength of your country. Habits of industry prevailing in a society, not only increase its wealth, as their immediate effect, but they prevent the introduction of many vices, and are intimately connected with sobriety and good morals. Idleness is the mother or nurse of almost every vice; and want, which is its inseparable companion, urges men on to the most abandoned and destructive courses.

Industry, therefore is a moral duty of the greatest moment, absolutely necessary to national prosperity, and the sure way of obtaining the blessing of God. I would also observe, that in this, as in every other part of God’s government, obedience to his will is as much a natural mean, as a meritorious cause, of the advantage we wish to reap from it. Industry brings up a firm and hardy race. He who is inured to the labor of the field, is prepared for the fatigues of a campaign. The active farmer who rises with the dawn and follows his team or plow, must in the end be an overmatch for those effeminate and delicate soldiers, who are nursed in the lap of self-indulgence, and whose greatest exertion is in the important preparation for, and tedious attendance on, a masquerade, or midnight ball.

3. Deny yourself (which demands frugality, humility, and discernment).

In the last place, suffer me to recommend to you frugality in your families, and every other article of expence. This the state of things among us renders absolutely necessary, and it stands in the most immediate connexion both with virtuous industry, and active public spirit. Temperance in meals, moderation and decency in dress, furniture and equipage, have, I think, generally been characteristics of a distinguished patriot. And when the same spirit pervades a people in general, they are fit for every duty, and able to encounter the most formidable enemy…

… In the early times of Christianity, when adult converts were admitted to baptism, they were asked among other questions, Do you renounce the world, its shews, its pomp, and its vanities? I do. The form of this is still preserved in the administration of baptism, where we renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh. This certainly implies not only abstaining from acts of gross intemperance and excess, but a humility of carriage, a restraint and moderation in all your desires. The same thing, as it is suitable to your Christian profession, is also necessary to make you truly independent in yourselves, and to feed the source of liberality and charity to others, or to the public. The riotous and wasteful liver, whose craving appetites make him constantly needy, is and must be subject to many masters, according to the saying of Solomon, “The borrower is servant to the lender.” But the frugal and moderate person, who guides his affairs with discretion, is able to assist in public counsels by a free and unbiassed judgment, to supply the wants of his poor brethren, and sometimes, by his estate and substance to give important aid to a sinking country.

His conclusion:

Upon the whole, I beseech you to make a wise improvement of the present threatening aspect of public affairs, and to remember that your duty to God, to your country, to your families, and to yourselves, is the same. True religion is nothing else but an inward temper and outward conduct suited to your state and circumstances in providence at any time. And as peace with God and conformity to him, adds to the sweetness of created comforts while we possess them, so in times of difficulty and trial, it is in the man of piety and inward principle, that we may expect to find the uncorrupted patriot, the useful citizen, and the invincible soldier. God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable, and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one, may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both.

In whatever public conflicts we face, some will feel powerless, others apathetic, and others prone to blindly join the foam and fervor of the latest conformity mob. Witherspoon shows us that the path forward is actually quite straightforward, requiring hard work, persistence, and self-sacrifice applied with discipline and diligence over time and with a steady attention on obedience to God above all else.

These things matter for our own souls, but also for the spirit and prosperity of our communities and nations — from here and there and back again. As Ellis Sandoz reminds us in his introduction to the sermon, “Ministers of the Gospel have more important business to attend to than secular crises, but, of course, liberty is more than a merely secular matter.”

A Political Issue Divides the Old School General Assembly
by Rev. David T. Myers

With the Old School General Assembly meeting on May 16, 1861, the unity of the nation was at stake.  Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina has been attacked and captured.  Southern states had already seceded from the Union.  The slavery issue, which had been debated in previous assemblies, became secondary to the important matter of preserving the union.  Thus, Rev. Gardiner Spring,  the pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, New York suggested that a committee be formed to consider the following resolutions before the assembled elders.

          “Resolved, 1.  That in view of the present agitated and unhappy condition of this country, the first day of July next be hereby set apart as a day of prayer throughout our bounds; and that on this day ministers and people are called on humbly to confess our national sins; to offer our thanks to the Father of light for his abundant and undeserved goodness towards us as a nation; to seek his guidance and blessing upon our rulers, and their counsels, as well as on the Congress of the United States about to assembly; and to implore him, in the name of Jesus Christ, the great High Priest of the Christian profession, to turn away his anger from us, and speedily restore to us the blessings of an honorable peace.

          Resolved, 2  That this General Assembly, in the spirit of that Christian patriotism . . . do hereby acknowledge and declare our obligations to promote and perpetuate . . . the integrity of the United States, and to strengthen, uphold, and encourage the Federal Government in the exercise of all its functions  under our noble Constitution: and to this Constitution, . . . we profess our unabated loyalty.”

Interestingly, some of the main opposition to this resolution came from Dr. Charles Hodge, of Princeton Theological Seminary.  He protested that the General Assembly had no right to decide to what government the allegiance of Presbyterians is due, that it was neither North nor South. His alternate resolutions lost before the assembly.  When the issue came to a vote, with an amendment offered by John Witherspoon II,  the Spring Resolutions, as they were known in church history, passed by 156 to 66. Tragically, they also brought about the schism between Old School Presbyterians, dividing North and South.

To read a full account of what came to be called the Gardiner Spring Resolutions, click here.

Words to Live By: There is a reason why the Confessional Fathers in chapter 31:3 specifically stated that “Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical; and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.”

A Tale of An Unusual Providence

schaeffer02It was on this date, May 15th, in 1984 that Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer died. We have previously written of his death, and separately have posted a letter he wrote to Dr. Robert Rayburn during the time when both men were battling cancer.

But today, in observation of Schaeffer’s passing, we want to speak not of his death, but of his new life in Christ—some interesting archival evidence of his coming to faith in Christ. This is a bit of an unusual story, admittedly with some reading between the lines, with some previously unseen details of Schaeffer’s coming to faith in Christ.

About ten or twelve years ago, as I was leaving the PCA Historical Center for the day, a seminary student [Dawson Bean, to be exact, now laboring as a chaplain in Texas] ran to catch up with me and asked if I had any samples of Dr. Schaeffer’s handwriting in the Archives. I indicated that we did, but inquired further. Often when people ask a question, that question doesn’t really get at what they’re actually after. As he began to explain further, the story became more interesting.

It was Dawson’s habit while studying in the library, when he would get tired of sitting after an hour or so, he would get up and browse through the stacks of the books in the library. Notably, and to his credit, he said he tried to be methodical in his browsing, moving from one shelf to the next, range by range, in his review of the library’s holdings. Then one day, he came to a new shelf and as was his habit, began pulling down various books to inspect them closer. This particular day, in the book he opened, he was surprised to see the signature of Francis A. Schaeffer, with a date of 1929. [the comment “Not Sound” is in a different hand]:

Schaeffer_early_testimony_03

None of the other books on that shelf had that same signature, but there was a small slip of paper tucked into this book, with some writing on it. Putting the book back, the student had the presence of mind to seek out someone who might help confirm the signature as Schaeffer’s. On a following day, we met again and confirmed the handwriting from other examples in the Historical Center, and the student happily returned to his studies.

What is remarkable to me about this story is the background information. The book in question was a small hardback published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses! And there on the shelf with other JW publications, was another volume with an inscription from Aunt Mabel and Uncle Harrison, a couple who were in fact Schaeffer’s aunt and uncle.

Schaeffer_early_testimony_04

From this it is easy to surmise that as Fran Schaeffer began to be interested in spiritual matters (he is usually noted as having become a Christian in 1930), others in his family might have been aware of those stirrings. This aunt and uncle had probably heard that he had begun to read the Bible, and so looked around for something they could contribute. It might be a stretch to conclude that they were themselves JW’s, but it is at least curious that they apparently continued to gift several JW publications over the years.

And that slip of paper. Was this among Schaeffer’s earliest testimony to his new-found faith? Perhaps so. It reads:

Schaeffer_Early_Testimony_side01

If you can’t read it, this side of the paper reads:

“Studying his word, and doing his work is the only thing I enjoy now”

“The boy him-self must choose, no one can do any-thing but guide him”

“I don’t know what I will do, but I” [incomplete–there might have been a second piece of paper.]

On the back of this paper there is this:

Schaeffer_Early_Testimony_side02

The writing here is easier to read:

“All have sinned and must accept Christ to be saved.”

An evangelical confession of belief, to be sure.

Finally, it is remarkable to realize that Dr. Schaeffer had these books in his possession for some years, but most likely chose to leave them behind at his St. Louis church when he moved his family to Switzerland in the late 1940’s, beginning the ministry that would become L’Abri. Some seven years later, the church relocated to the suburbs, and when Covenant College was formed a few years later, these books must have been donated to the fledgling school’s library. The books were catalogued, labeled and placed on the shelf. Students must inevitably have looked at them from time to time. Someone might have even checked them out. And yet that little slip of paper stayed tucked in that book all those years until the seminary student at the top of our story came across the book.

Words to Live By:
To think that Francis Schaeffer could have been led astray by well-meaning relatives might be quite shocking. But the Lord has given us a promise. He knows those who are His, and He will never lose even one of His dear children.

This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”–John 6:39-40, NASB.

The Piano Playing Pastor 

miladinGeorge01Let’s be clear about this post. This post is the story of God’s sovereign grace in transforming a self-seeking nightclub piano player into a grateful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ known as the piano playing pastor. His name? George Miladin.

His musical ability began early . . . at five years of age. When his mother discovered that he had “perfect pitch,” she “pitched” him onto a piano bench. Trained by his aunt, who was a professional musician, he learned to play heavy classics, like Chopin’s Polonaise, though at times, there was a desire for baseball and a more masculine instrument like the trumpet!
George’s next period in his life, from ages 12–20, was spent in rebellion. No more piano, no more attendance at Sunday School, no more thinking about God, was the way he summarized it all up. From now on, it was going to be about him. So he took up the trumpet, and became so good at it, that he played with the Lawrence Welk band at the Aragon Ballroom, “tooting” his arrangement of Stardust. Graduating from high school, he traveled to Michigan with his trumpet. He contracted pneumonia there and in the process of recovery from it, he lost his “lip”. Returning to California,  one of Hollywood’s best piano teachers took him on, and he practiced two hours a day, not in the classics of his youth, but in pop music. He came to the notice of a disc jockey of Hollywood, Johnny Grant, known at the mayor of Hollywood, who invited him to join his band to travel oversees to the Far East for troop entertainment. He made five such trips with that entertainment troupe. Pretty heady stuff, he acknowledged later, for an  eighteen year old. When a contract could not be finalized for him to continue this dissolute life in Japan, he continued in his studies at U.C.L.A.  In God’s providence, two events took place at this time.
miladinGeorge02First, a young starlet for whom he played the piano, tried and failed to commit suicide. George Miladin began to think on the things of eternity at that time.  Second, God sent a young man with a Bible and an heart filled with love for the Lord Jesus into his life. After a few months of studying the Book of John with him, and attending worship at his church, the University  Bible Church, George Miladin bowed the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. The pastor of that congregation was Milo Jamison who then encouraged the young convert to play the  music for the worship services. 
On or about the middle of May, in 1962, George Miladin was introduced to Reformed theology, and accepted it with his mind and heart.  At the invitation of Dr. Robert Rayburn, he went to Covenant Theological Seminary. After graduation, with his wife Londa, whom  he had married in 1958, he was ordained and served a number of Presbyterian Churches, including his last congregation in San Diego, where he would minister for 27 years. He continues today in the field of music, desiring to bring glory to God who has been so gracious to him. (Those who use the Trinity Hymnal in their worship, check out his musical arrangement for the Apostle’s Creed, at number 741 in the Hymnal.) 
Words to Live By:
The good news is that God’s saving grace is not over. The Holy Spirit continues to arrest people in their downward sinful paths and bring them to Christ. It may be that this post will be used by that same Spirit of God to reach someone who is living for the world, as George Miladin was living at one time in his life. Let his story of redemptive grace speak to your heart and bring you to the Savior.

A few of the published works of Rev. Miladin:

Is this really the end?: A Reformed Analysis of The Late Great Planet Earth.
(1972)

The Reformed Faith For the World Today and Tomorrow. 
(1974)


Getting it together in the home : a how to do it manual on family devotions.
(1975)

Revolution, martyrdom, flight and reconstruction : a timely study of today’s Christians and their relationship to the “powers that be” (1976)

Knowing and Growing: A 5-Part Study Manual for New (and Old) Believers. (1980’s?)

Personal Evangelism Made Less Difficult. 
(1995)

Which Church was First?
by Rev. David T Myers

Which Protestant church was the first to stop the unsanitary serving of a common cup of grape juice or wine for the Communion service? One would think that this question was and is a senseless question, but no! All sort of denominations want to be the first to be recognized as being the innovators of this practice. And among those churches, such as Methodist Episcopal, Congregational, and Baptist, are two Presbyterian Churches.

The latter are Central Presbyterian of Rochester, New York and Market Street Presbyterian of Lima, Ohio. May 13, 1894 was the original date for the former. And October 7, 1894 was claimed by the Market Street Presbyterian of Lima, Ohio, to have had the foresight to use individual communion cups, therefore taking away the possibilities of the passing of germs.

Now all of this may be interesting to some, but frankly, to this author, what is more important is the following descriptions of how we take the monthly wine or juice of the Lord’s Sacrament. Consider Larger Catechisms 171, 174, 175:

    1. 171: They that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves of their being in Christ; of their sins and wants; of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance; love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience; and by renewing the exercise of these graces, by serious meditation, and fervent prayer.
    1. 174: It is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, that, during the time of the administration of it, with all holy reverence and attention they wait upon God in that ordinance, diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir themselves to a vigorous exercise of t heir graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.
    1. 175: The duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, is seriously to consider how they have behaved themselves therein, and with what success; if they find quickening and comfort, to bless God for it, beg the continuance of it, watch against relapses, fulfill their vows, and encourage themselves to a frequent attendance on that ordinance; but if they find no present benefit, more exactly to review their preparation to, and carriage at, the sacrament; in both which, if they can approve themselves to God and their own consciences, they are to wait for the fruit of it in due time: but, if they see they have failed in either, they are to be humbled, and to attend upon it afterwards with more care and diligence.

Words to Live By:
What a spiritual revival would break out in our churches if these larger catechisms of the Westminster Assembly would be taken to heart and mind and action by the communicant members of our local churches! Pastor: here is your preparation for your people for the Lord’s Supper, and not even before it, but during it and after it as well.

People: here is your preparation for, behavior at, and application from the Lord’s table!

Let us not be caught up with who began the use of individual communion cups, but rather caught up with who in the Church at large and the churches in our communion are seriously and spiritually preparing for, partaking at, and responding to the Lord’s Supper in a biblical way.

THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST
Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 22

Q. 22. How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?

A. Christ, the Son of God became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.

ANALYSIS.

Here we are taught four things :

  1. That Christ the Son of God became man, by taking to himself both a true body, and a reasonable soul. –Heb. ii. 14. Forasmuch then, as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same. Matt. xxvi. 38. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.
  2. That Christ, as man, was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost. –Luke i. 35. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.
  3. That he was born of the virgin Mary. –Isa. vii. 14. Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Luke ii. 7. And she (the virgin Mary) brought forth her first-born son.
  4. That he was without sin. –Heb. vii. 26. Such an High Priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.

Wisdom from the Past: Should We Help the Exiles?

SpragueWBIt was on this day, May 11th, in 1834, that the Rev. William Buell Sprague preached in the Second Presbyterian Church of Albany, New York, a sermon that Sabbath evening on behalf of Polish exiles who had recently arrived in the United States. Driven from their homeland, these twenty-six exiles now sought refuge in our country, but had arrived destitute and in urgent need of aid. Rev. Sprague was asked to preach on their behalf in an effort to raise the funds needed for their assistance. 

There are clear differences between the situation then confronting Rev. Sprague and his audience, and the situation which has in recent times consumed our headlines. For one, there were but twenty-six of these Polish exiles arriving on our shores, not thousands. And their stated intent was to become “worthy and useful citizens” who would readily adopt our laws and our ways. Nonetheless, the following is offered with the thought that perhaps there is here some wisdom that we can glean for contemporary application.  

The sermon is based upon the text of Hebrews 13:3, “Remember them that are in bonds as bound with them, and them which suffer adversity as being yourselves also in the body.” and Rev. Sprague opens his sermon in this way;

The apostle commences this chapter by exhorting the Hebrew Christians to the general duty of brotherly love. In the passage just read, he reminds them particularly of their obligations to administer, according to their ability, to the relief of those oppressed brethren whose attachment to the Christian faith had subjected them to persecution and imprisonment; and, as an argument for the discharge of this duty, he alludes to the consideration that they and their afflicted brethren possessed a common nature, and were alike subject to human calamity. You will, I think, readily perceive that the passage suggests a train of thought not inappropriate to the present occasion. 

Sprague quickly moves to the first point of his sermon, that Christians have a duty of charity to those in need:

I. Let us contemplate, for a moment, the DUTY which the text enjoins: it is charity to the wretched and necessitous.

That duty, he notes, is an active duty. Another property of Christian charity is that it is enlightened. We are not called to an indiscriminate duty of charity. Rather, our charity is to be guided by Scripture and by prayer. Then too, Christian charity is to be “controlled in its operations by a regard to the will of God:

In a gust of natural feeling, you may give all your goods to feed the poor, and this act may place you high on the list of earthly benefactors; and yet, if it be not done from a regard to the will of God, it can never turn to your account as an act of genuine Christian philanthropy.

Our duty thus underscored, Sprague then moves to the Apostle’s argument, “drawn from the fact that we are all partakers of a common nature; members of the same great family.”—”Remember them that suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”  Sprague notes that “The fact that we are in the body, and inhabitants of this world of sorrow, is a sufficient reason why we should always live in expectation of adversity.”

Moreover,

In a world abounding with changes like the present, no man can say that his prosperity will last for an hour; or that the person who is now the object of his charity may not soon be administering charity to him. The best security you can have against being neglected or forsaken in the day of adversity, is to show yourself always the friend of suffering humanity. 

Rev. Sprague then moves to address the particulars of the subject in view, these Polish exiles and how it is that they have come to this country:

They chose America; and hither they have come in all their want and wretchedness; and their presence this evening must, I am sure, call into exercise your liveliest sympathies. Let it be remembered that they are not vulgar and uneducated men, who were born to the prospect of a life of penury; on the contrary, they are men of considerable intellectual culture, of high and honorable feelings, and some of them are connected with families of rank, and have been accustomed to move in circles of distinction. . . The idea of asking charity exceedingly revolts their feelings, notwithstanding the iron pressure of their necessities; and that what they most of all desire is, that they may be furnished with some employment, no matter how humble it may be, by means of which they may provide for their own subsistence. They come to find a refuge among us from the bloody horrors of a most disastrous revolution; and they come, of course, in all the want and wretchedness of exiles; but they bring with them a spirit of subordination and industry, and a determination to render themselves worthy and useful citizens.

Reminding his hearers of the reasons why they should extend their charity to these men, Sprague continues:

Remember too, that you are the children of those who embarked their fortunes and their lives in a bloody conflict for freedom; and that if Heaven had not been propitious in giving them the victory, you might yourselves have been the sons of slaves, groaning under the hand of oppression, or perhaps flying to the ends of the earth for an asylum.

Moreover, 

Remember also, that though you live in a free country, you live in a mutable world; and the day may come when even the grave of American liberty shall be dug; and this land shall drink the blood of its own inhabitants; and the glory of our republican institutions shall be trampled in the dust; and you or your children be chained to a despot’s car, and grace a despot’s triumph. I do not predict such an event; and I pray the God of all goodness, who has been the protector of our nation’s liberties hitherto, that it may never occur; but when I see how the spirit of revolution is abroad among the nations, and especially when I open my ear to the din of party strife which is raging on every side, I dare not say that these clouds which flit about here and there in our political atmosphere, may not, by some fearful principle of attraction, be drawn together, and concentrate in terrific blackness their angry elements, and burst upon this land in a wild storm, which shall uproot the tree of liberty which was planted at the expense of the blood of our fathers, and which had begun to yield fruit for the healing of other nations. I say again, may the merciful God avert from us this doom; but if it should be so, and the night-clouds of an ignoble bondage should come over this land, and you should be driven from your wives, and daughters, and mothers, into a foreign country, and should land upon the shores of another nation in all the depths of poverty and woe, and should be unable to tell the story of your own wrongs, say what would be so grateful to you, what would help so much to abate the anguish of recollection, as to be greeted by the spirit of Christian philanthropy; to see the stranger stepping forth to give you a brother’s hand? Put thy soul then, O man, in his soul’s stead; and by the tide of sorrowful recollection which would then press upon thee, and by the painful embarrassments which would cluster about thee,—resolve, with thine ear open to the voice of conscience, and thine eye open upon the retributions of eternity,—resolve how this appeal in behalf of thine exiled, suffering brother, shall be answered.

Words to Live By:
Sprague’s appeal on behalf of these Polish exiles was successful. His message was well received and he was even asked to deliver it again a few nights later in another church. And the crux of Rev. Sprague’s argument for extending charity to those in need comes down to this statement by our Lord Jesus Christ: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”—Matthew 7:12.

To read the whole of Rev. Sprague’s sermon delivered that May 11th in 1834,click here.

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