November 2019

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He Was the First
by Rev. David T. Myers

It was on this day, November 19, 1800 that John Chavis was licensed as a minister of the gospel by the Lexington, Virginia Presbytery. So what else is new, our readers might add? Many of our readers who are teaching elders have dates like this. But what makes this licensing special  is that John Chavis was an African American, as we would say today, indeed the first African American minister ordained in  the Presbyterian Church. As our title puts it, he was the first!

John Chavis was never a slave, but  from birth, a free black citizen. The dates for his birth are disputed, as is the place where he was born. Indeed, much of his early life is hidden from the researcher. But later on, his dates and events are well documented.

As a teenager, he joined the Fifth Virginia Regiment to fight in the American Revolution. He participated in six battles of that War of Independence –  at Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth – as well as in the Siege of Charlestown. Three years later, he was given an official dismissal stating that he had faithfully fulfilled his military duties and entitled to all recognition for having done so.

He became a tutor after his military service for Robert Greenwood’s orphan children, which gave him a taste for a calling which was to occupy his  life. Marrying Sarah Francis Anderson, who bore him one son in their married life, he moved his family to New Jersey, and particularly to Princeton, New Jersey, where he entered into a tutorial relationship with John Witherspoon, yes, that John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton Seminary). At age 29, he was accepted into formal classes of this College. With the death of Witherspoon, he returned to Virginia to enroll at Liberty Hall University as the first black student in that Presbyterian college, as well as becoming the first black student to graduate from any college or university in the land.

This brings us up to his licensure in the Presbyterian Church to preach the gospel, which he entered into with slaves, free black citizens, and whites. Many a soul came to the gospel through his faithful ministry. Along with that ministry, he returned to teaching both white and black children in Raleigh, North Carolina, in a private school with a high reputation.

His vocal support for an abolitionist by the name of Nat Turner brought condemnation from many white people. Indeed, several Southern States passed laws after that failed rebellion of Turner that caused free blacks to lose their standing as citizens, including John Chavis. He couldn’t preach or teach any longer. But the Orange Presbytery, to which he had transferred. continued to support him financially to the tune of $50 per month. Also helping him and his family in financial ways after this time was a book which he published, entitled “An Essay on the Atonement” in 1833. Four years later, he published a paper on “The Doctrine of the Extent of the Atonement of Christ.” A secular writer termed it “a Calvinist pamphlet.” One year later, he would die on June 15, 1838.

Words to Live By:
John Chavis is still remembered in Raleigh North Carolina by two road signs, the first ones to an African American in that southern city. Far greater honor has come to this African American for the work which he accomplished in difficult days for the Savior. Souls are in heaven due to his faithful preaching of the good news of eternal life. Remember dear reader, what we do for the Lord on this old earth may not translate out to temporal remembrance by the public. What we do however for our Savior has eternal rewards in heaven.

Spiritually Partaking of the Lord’s Supper
by Rev. David T. Myers

From time to time, various readers of the fairer sex have inquired after the authors of This Day in Presbyterian History to include more female characters of excellent character and godly conduct in our biographies. To answer this request, this author came across a whole series of “Ladies of the Covenant” from the British Isles of centuries past who have been born into wealth and privilege on the one hand, but were more intent in pursuing spiritual wealth and spiritual privilege on the other hand. Such is our character today, namely Lady Catharine Hamilton, the duchess of Atholl.

Born in 1662 at Hamilton Palace, she enjoyed the benefits of a pious and godly mother, who took careful aim in providing her young daughter’s mind with divine truth. At an early age, Catharine gained an extensive acquaintance with the Bible, accompanied by a knowledge of the distinguishing truths of the gospel. As a result, on this day, November 18, 1681, when she was 19 years of age, Catharine surrendered her soul to God. She wrote in her diary that “she chose Christ as her Savior, God as her portion, the Divine glory as her chief end, and the Divine law as her infallible guide.” The rest of her life she proceeded to live in accords with these convictions.

From her diary, we gain an understanding of her subsequent Christian life, which written record was begun when she was 25 years of age, and continued until her death. Associated with the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, she wrote of her convictions in seeking to please the Lord through the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Listen to these words on Sunday, July 12, 1697.

“O my soul, bless God the Lord, that ever he put it into thy heart to seek him, for he hath promised that those that seek him shall find him. This day I was reading the sixteenth chapter of John, verses 23, 24, ‘verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he will give it you,’ &c. O gracious promises! Then I began to think what it was I would ask of God. The thought immediately occurred to me was, Jesus Christ to dwell in my heart by faith and love. Methought, that if God would put it in my offer to have all the universe, with all the glory, honour, riches, and splendour of it, I would rather have Christ to be my King, Priest, and Prophet, than have it all. O that he would always rule in me, and conquer all his and my enemies—my corruptions, temptations, and sins, that is—and always assist and strengthen me to serve him faithfully and uprightly.”

A little later in the long diary passage, she wrote, “And now Lord, thou knowest I am designing, if thou shalt permit, to partake of thy holy supper. O prepare me for it, and let me not be an unworthy receiver. Do thou there meet with my soul, and renew my covenant and faithfulness unto me, and enlarge my heart and soul, and give me supplies of grace and strength to serve thee.”

The entire quotation proves that her observance of the Lord’s Supper was no dry and mundane experience, but a living and rich spiritual partaking of the elements of the Lord’s Supper.

Words to Live By:
Our Confessional Fathers have given unto us in the Larger Catechism three questions and answers which should prepare each believer to partake aright of the Lord’s Supper, whether you partake weekly, monthly, or quarterly of that Sacrament. This author, when he was in the active pastorate, would always include those answers in the bulletin on the Sunday before the Sacrament, the Sunday of the observance itself, and the Sunday following the Lord’s Supper. I quote them for your meditation and subsequent actions.

Larger Catechism No. 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.”

Larger Catechism No. 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 up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their 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.”

Larger Catechism No. 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.”

by Rev. William Smith

The Westminster Shorter Catechism – Questions 61 & 62.

Q. 61.
What is forbidden in the fourth commandment?

A. The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.


Omission. –Passing over, neglecting, or not performing.

Careless performance. –Doing the duties of the Sabbath in a heedless and improper manner, as if they were a burden or a weariness to us.

Profaning the day. –Abusing, polluting, or spending the Sabbath in a sinful manner.


The sins forbidden in the fourth commandment are of five sorts:

  1. The omission of the duties required. –Ezek. xxii. 26. Her priests have violated my law, –and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.
  2. The careless performance of these duties. –Mal. i. 13. Ye said, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame and the sick; thus ye brought and offering: Should I accept this at your hands? saith the Lord.
  3. The profaning of the Sabbath by idleness. –Matt xii. 12. It is lawful to do well on sabbath-days.
  4. The doing of those things that are in themselves sinful. –Ezek. xxiii. 38. They have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my sabbaths.
  5. Unnecessary thoughts, words, or works about our worldly employments or recreations. –Isa. lviii 13. Turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable: and honor him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words.

Q. 62. What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment?

A. The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment are, God’s allowing us six days of the week for our own employments, his challenging a special propriety in the seventh, his own example, and his blessing the sabbath-day.


Challenging a special propriety in the seventh. –Claiming the day as his own, above all the other days of the week.

His own example. –God’s resting on the seventh day, after he had finished the work of creation.

Blessing the sabbath day. –Appointing it to be a time when God would, in a particular manner, bestow spiritual blessings upon his people, or those who remember this day to keep it holy.


The reasons annexed or added, to the fourth commandment, are four in number:

  1. God’s allowing us six days of the week for our own employment. –Exod. xxxi. 15. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest.
  2. His challenging a special propriety in the seventh day. –Lev. xxiii. 3. Ye shall do no work therein: It is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.
  3. God’s own example. Exod. xxxi. 17. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
  4. His blessing the sabbath-day. –Gen. ii. 3. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it.

The Danger of Education without Christian Orthodoxy & Piety

Chosen to serve as the eighth president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), Dr. Ashbel Green left the Philadelphia church which he had served for twenty-five years and moved in October of 1812 into the president’s house on Nassau Street in Princeton. His inaugural address in November dealt with “The Union of Piety and Science.”

Green had become firmly convinced that education, in itself, could be dangerous if it were not securely rooted in Christian orthodoxy and piety. Like Samuel S. Smith, his immediate predecessor in the office of president, Ashbel Green was loyal to John Witherspoon’s legacy; but, unlike Smith, he believed that the heart of Witherspoon’s commitment was his doctrinal views and his concern for revivals and Christian conduct. Green gathered the three faculty members for a day of prayer on November 16 and wrote down a list of goals for himself. The first three of his resolutions were:

1st … to endeavour to be a father to the institution. . . .

2d. To pray for the institution as I do for my family . . . and especially that [God] may pour out his Spirit upon it, and make it what its pious founders intended it to be.

3d. To watch against the declension of religion in my own soul . . . to which the pursuits of science themselves may prove a temptation.

The Presidents of Princeton University, 1747-1902

Colonial Era:

Jonathan Dickinson, 1747
Aaron Burr, Sr., 1748–57
Jonathan Edwards, 1758
Samuel Davies, 1759–61
Samuel Finley, 1761–66

Revolutionary War Years:

John Witherspoon, 1768–94

Nineteenth Century:

Samuel S. Smith, 1795–1812
Ashbel Green, 1812–22
James Carnahan, 1823–54
John Maclean, Jr., 1854–68
James McCosh, 1868–88
Francis L. Patton, 1888–1902

Words to Live By:
“Watch against the declension of religion in my own soul…” — Dear reader, is this among your daily goals, to guard your precious, eternal soul, that you would not stray from the Lord your Savior, but draw nearer to Him each and every day? From your rising in the morning till you rest your weary head at night, your desire should be to keep the Lord uppermost in your thoughts, seeking to do His will, praying that if by His blessing your words and deeds might point others to Christ. We have much to do in this life, but these things are most important of all.

The Preacher and Politician Meets His Savior

These days, we don’t meet many preachers or politicians who have accomplished as much in the realms of both church and state as the Rev. John Witherspoon did in his seventy-one years of life—and those accomplishments spanned two nations, as well! He was faithful first of all to his Savior and Lord, secondly, to the Lord’s people, and then as well to the average citizens of this great republic. He would go to his eternal reward on November 15, 1794.

Born in Scotland and raised to an effective ministry for the kingdom of God there in that “mother country,” Witherspoon answered the call to come to the American colonies. John and Elizabeth Witherspoon, along with their five children, traveled here by ship in 1768. Taking the presidency of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), he brought stability to that educational facility in their instruction, library, and financial matters. In the twenty-six years in which he was president, preaching in the nearby Princeton Presbyterian Church known as Nassau Presbyterian, which he founded, and teaching six courses of college level instruction, he taught a president of the United States (James Madison), a Vice-president, nine cabinet members, twenty-one senators, thirty-nine congressmen, three justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, twelve state governors, five members of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and  fifty-two delegates out of one hundred and eighty-eight teaching and ruling elders of the first General Assembly in 1789 of the Presbyterian Church in America.  Talk about a vital presence in both the church and the state!

We have all heard of John Witherspoon being the only clergyman who signed the Declaration of Independence, present on that occasion as one of four delegates from the State of New Jersey. But how many know that he was to serve on one hundred of the committees working to set up the new nation? He helped draft the Acts of Confederation and supported the adoption of the United States Constitution.

Despite the importance of this civil side of John Witherspoon, he never forgot that first and foremost, he was a herald of the gospel. Consider his words in a sermon he preached in 1758:

“I shall now conclude my discourse by preaching this Savior to all who hear me, and entreating you to believe in Jesus Christ, for there is no salvation in any other.  If you are not reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, if you are not clothed with the spotless robe of His righteousness, you must forever perish.”

Witherspoon understood that, as his precious Savior put it in the gospels, you could possess the whole world but lose your own soul outside of Jesus Christ. There was and is no profit in that sad situation.

John Witherspoon would become blind two years before his death at seventy-one years of age. He is buried in the Princeton Cemetery, his tombstone bearing an inscription of 239 words, all in Latin!

Words to live by:  It is rare to find someone in history who accomplished so much for both church and state.  Usually, when we find someone who has been known for his work in government, it is at the impoverishment of his Christian testimony. But in John Witherspoon’s faith and life, he simply believed strongly that his faith should impact every area of life, including that of the national affairs of his new country.  This culture mandate is no different from what is demanded of all believers today.  We must enter into every sphere of life with the changeless message of the gospel, seeking to influence those spheres in which God has placed us for His glory and the good of the people found there.

John Ulverstone Selwyn Toms [26 October 1878 – 14 November 1973]
[excerpted from the Minutes of the Bible Presbyterian Synod, 1974, pp. 38-39.]

A Memorial Resolution, #7. on the death of the Rev. U. Selwyn Toms was presented by the Rev. Morris McDonald. It was on motion adopted and reads:

The Rev. Mr. Toms went into the Lord’s presence on November 14, 1973, in his sleep, at the age of 95. Mr. Toms was born in 1878 in South Australia. He was graduated in the class of 1908 from Princeton Seminary, a classmate and friend of the late Dr. J. Gordon Holdcroft. Upon graduation he was licensed by the West Jersey Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. On October 27, 1908 he and his wife, Ella Sparks Burt, sailed for Korea to serve at Taegu and Seoul stations. They had three children, Robert, Burton and Elaine. Rev. Burton Toms was born in Seoul, Korea, and is at present serving the Lord under the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

Having returned from the mission field in 1923, due to the ill health of his wife, Mr. Toms served as pastor of the Thompson Memorial Church in Pennsylvania and after four years, as pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Woodstown, N.J., on July 31, 1936, Mr. Toms felt it was necessary to withdraw from the Presbytery due to un-Presbyterian actions.

Mr. Toms was elected to the Board of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions on May 31, 1937 and actively served until health prevented his attendance in 1966.

Mr. Toms was very strong in his stand against ecclesiastical apostasy and was active in the continuing succession to the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. He became a member of the Presbyter¬ian Church of America and was elected stated clerk for the New Jersey Presbytery. When it was no longer possible to continue in fellowship with that body, he formed part of the commission for a Bible Presbyterian Synod. The first Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church was held in Collingswood, N.J. September 6-8, 1930, and Mr. Toms was elected its FIRST moderator, because of the all-important missionary issues included in the conflict with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

For many years he served as the faithful statistician of the Bible Presbyterian Church. Mr. and Mrs. Toms made their residence In Chattanooga, Tennessee, with their son Robert. Mrs. Toms had gone to be with the Lord in November, 1971. “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth; Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” – Revelation 14:13.
Mr. Toms served as a faithful member of the Kentucky-Tennessee Presbytery for many years prior to going to his higher reward.

As per the OPC Ministerial Register (2011):
John Ulverstone Selwyn Toms was born in Waller, New South Wales, Australia, on 26 October 1878.
He married Ella Burt on 10 October 1905.
Children born to their marriage included Robert, Frederick, and Marian.
He was educated at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, graduating there in 1905 with the A.B. degree.
He prepared for ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating in 1908 with the Th.B. degree and later returned to Princeton for the Th.M. degree, in 1924.
Rev. Toms was ordained by the Presbytery of West Jersey (PCUSA), on 2 July 1908.
From 1909-1923, he served as a evangelist in Korea under the auspices of the Board of Foreign Missions (PCUSA).
He was pastor of the Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), Brownsburg, Pennsylvania, 1924-1928.
From 1928-1936, he was pastor of the PCUSA church in Woodtown, New Jersey.
Rev. Toms was received by the Presbytery of New Jersey (Presbyterian Church of America/Orthodox Presbyterian Church, on 8 September 1936, but later withdrew to become a founding member of the Bible Presbyterian Church, on 6 September 1938.
His date of death was 14 November 1973.

Admittedly this post should run on the 28th, but that’s Thanksgiving day and this wouldn’t fit so well then. We trust you will bear with us.


John Holt Rice, the second son of Benjamin and Catherine Rice, was born near the small town of New London, in the county of Bedford, on the 28th of November, A.D. 1777. From the first dawn of intellect, he discovered an uncommon capacity for learning, and a still more uncommon disposition to piety. We have seen some reason to believe that like Samuel, he was called in the very morning of his life; at so early an hour indeed that he could not distinguish the voice of God from that of his own mother—-so soft and so tender was its tone. It was, in truth, the first care of this excellent woman to train up her infant child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and you might have seen the weak and sickly boy always at her knee, reading his Bible or Watt’s Psalms, to her listening ear, and catching the first lessons of religion from her gentle tongue. No wonder that he ever retained a most grateful sense of her special service in this respect, and warmly cherished her sacred memory in his filial heart.

As a further evidence of his early piety, we are told that whilst he was yet a boy, and hardly more than seven or eight years old, he established a little private prayer-meeting with his brothers and sisters, and led the exercises of it himself with great apparent devotion. We are not informed however, at what time exactly he made a public profession of religion; but we understand that it was probably when he was about fifteen or sixteen years of age.

[excerpted from The Charleston Observer, VII.7 (16 February 1833): 27, column 2.]

Words to Live By:
Parents, don’t wait to talk to your children about the God and His wonderful work of salvation, made possible by the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Little ears can understand more of Scripture than you might think, so long as you keep your words simple and work to answer their questions. In his book, Children of the Covenant, Thomas Dwight Witherspoon speaks to parents in a chapter that takes up this very theme: A Word to Christian Parents.

Moving into the season, guest author Dr. David W. Hall presents some good words on an old tradition.

Thanksgiving Proclamations and Congressional Fast-Days
by Dr. David W. Hall

A previous post introduced the custom of the Continental Congress calling for days of fasting and thanksgiving. This was premised, of course, on the existence and biblical attributes of God. Excerpts from those over a short period (1776-1781) may be instructive for us in our own day. Then again, it is seldom wrong to call for thanksgiving or due repentance. A review of some of these may be timely.

In December 1776, Congress called for another day of fasting and humiliation, once again highlighting the providence of God, who was “the arbiter of the fate of nations.” It is fair to note that this Congress believed that individuals had limited ability to establish their own destinies because “the arbiter” of entire nations controlled human events. In accordance with the received Calvinism, this December 1776 proclamation called for “repentance and reformation,” and the forbidding of swearing and immorality. Each state, in this proclamation, was allowed to set the day as it saw fit to “implore Almighty God [for] the forgiveness of the many sins prevailing among all ranks.”

No proclamation for fasting and prayer was issued in 1777. Under the enormous pressures of conducting and financing the war, Congress combined fasting with Thanksgiving that year. In 1778, however, Congress called for yet another day of “fasting, humiliation, and prayer” to implore God for mercy and forgiveness and to avoid immorality and evil. This proclamation also called for the nation to “be a reformed and happy people,” and asked God to bless the schools and seminaries to “make them nurseries of true piety, virtue, and useful knowledge.” The Congress’ call for true piety was hardly the kind of neutrality that would later oppose public expression of all religion. The following year, the congressional proclamation would include numerous biblical references. That later act also reaffirmed belief in God as the “Supreme Disposer of all events,” and admitted that his judgments were “too well deserved.” In addition, these congressional evangelists also asked the citizens to pray toward a specific goal: that God, “our kind parent and merciful judge through time and through eternity” would “extend the influence of true religion.” Most of these theological affirmations are unthinkable apart from a broad, basically Calvinistic consensus.

In March 1780, Congress again named God “the sovereign Lord,” and prayed that he would “banish vice and irreligion among us, and establish virtue and piety by his divine grace.” This proclamation went so far as to forbid both labor and recreation on that declared sabbath, although the enforcement mechanism is by no means clear. Earlier Genevans and Zurichers could have adopted the same declaration.

In what would become a customary part of these bills, the March 1781 proclamation asked the citizenry to pray for “all schools and seminaries of learning . . . [that] pure and undefiled religion may universally prevail.” This explicit statement, besides calling for true repentance, also asked that such repentance would “appease [God’s] righteous displeasure, and through the merits of our blessed Savior, obtain pardon and forgiveness.” With James Madison’s approval, the Congress of 1782 measured itself against the still applicable “holy laws of our God,” and denounced “arbitrary power” which had sought to steal “invaluable” (the original “unalienable” was stricken to give way to this preferred idiom) privileges. Moreover, the 1782 proclamation asked God to “diffuse a spirit of universal reformation (emphasis added) to “make us a holy, that so we may be an happy people.” In light of the continental and British Puritan history of the previous century, “reformation” had definite connotation. The standard of holiness summoned was that of the Scriptures, and this Congress even desired (in the words of Isaiah 11:9) that “the religion of our Divine Redeemer, with all its benign influences, may cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.”

Thanksgiving proclamations of the Continental Congress strummed the same strings. The first was signed by George Washington and forwarded to the individual states. In November 1777, the Congress combined elements of thanksgiving “to their divine benefactor” with notes of contrition, making “penitent confession of their manifold sins.” This Thanksgiving proclamation also pled for forgiveness “through the merits of Jesus Christ.” They viewed ministerial training academies as “necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety . . . to prosper the means of religion for the promotion . . . of that kingdom which consisteth ‘in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost,’” a clearly Trinitarian reference. No attempt was ever made in any of these to express pluralism (e. g., by citing the Koran) or to invoke any other sacred canon. A Genevan-like sabbath was declared again by the 1777 proclamation.

On occasion Congress even interrupted its proceedings, as it did on July 5, 1778, to attend divine worship corporately, with chaplains officiating and preaching to the assembled representatives. Later, on October 12, 1778, Congress entertained a resolution (which was defeated) endorsing that “true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness.” In view of the earlier and manifold references to theology, this defeat may have been an exception to the rule, for the following month they once again endorsed God’s “overruling providence,” and called for “penitent confession of our sins, and humble supplication for pardon, through the merits of our Savior.”

The next Thanksgiving proclamation (October 1779) urged that God “grant to his church the plentiful effusions of divine grace and pour out his holy spirit on all ministers of the gospel.” Moreover, they supported education as a means to this end: to “spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth.” This Congress asked for God’s mercy, and prayed that these states would be established “upon the basis of religion and virtue.”

The Thanksgiving proclamation of 1781, authored by Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon, again invoked the blessing of Isaiah 11:9 and pled with “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10) to “incline our hearts . . . to keep all his laws.” It was not common law alone that guided, but God’s law. The next year, the Scotsman of Knoxian descent would also lead the Congress in committing to “a cheerful obedience to his laws,” and the practice of “true and undefiled religion [James 1:27] which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.”

Our heritage of prayer and thanksgiving days might be helpful if dusted off, moving forward.

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

The Rev. John Calvin Barr, D.D. (1824-1911)
by Rev. Dennis E. Bills

Dr. Barr should be remembered for his lengthy pastorate and his conviction that a church is not truly Presbyterian unless it is connected to the larger church. Dr. Barr pastored the First Presbyterian Church of Charleston, West Virginia for forty years. He began in 1868 as an assistant to the Rev. W. N. Geddes, who pastored the Kanawha Presbyterian Church. But in 1872, when Geddes resigned for health reasons and the church called his assistant, Barr demanded the church return to its Presbyterian commitments, which meant that it must choose either the Presbyterian Church in the USA or the Presbyterian Church in the US.

For the previous eleven years—since the start of the Civil War—the Kanawha Church had declined to send representatives to either denomination’s presbytery or general assembly.[1] Like a microcosm of West Virginia itself, the church was filled with supporters of both the northern and the southern causes. But the State had seceded from Virginia nine years earlier, and the war was long over. That the church remained in its mottled, uncommitted condition is testimony that hostilities still simmered beneath the surface long after the war, covered over by the pretense of unity, unaddressed in both pulpit and pew.

In order to have their pastor, the church complied with Barr’s demand, and the twenty-three people who voted to go with the PCUSA kept the church’s name, the manse, and the larger portion of the property. The other 153 took the sanctuary, a smaller portion of the lot, and became the First Presbyterian Church of Charleston (PCUS). By all accounts, the division of church and property was agreeable, orderly, and amicable, if not melancholy. The church had kept itself in limbo for over a decade in order to avoid just such a split. Ultimately, Barr acted upon the biblical truth that the church’s independence was not unity at all. But for all his theological correctness on that point, there is no record that he ever publicly addressed the specific issues that had sparked the war, either before or after the vote. When all was said and done, he himself went with the Southern church and continued as their pastor for thirty-six more years.[3]

Dr. Barr died on September 8, 1911 and was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, overlooking the city in which he ministered for so long. Both the First and Kanawha Presbyterian Churches have continued through to the present as prominent congregations in Charleston and West Virginia. Their meeting houses have always been just a two-minute walk from each other, and now they both coexist in the same denomination.


[1] Ruth Putney Coghill, The Church of 150 Years (self-pub, First Presbyterian Church, 1969), n.p. Accessed June 11, 2018. See also Ruth P Coghill, The First Presbyterian Church Charleston West Virginia: A Brief History (n.p., n.d.), n.p. Accessed June 11, 2018. Another less recent account (~1950) speculates that Barr kept out the matter and that the determination to vote boiled up from within the congregation, which may have recently had an influx of new members from the Malden church (HPK, 120-121).  This may be based on an even older account says that “one hundred members of the old congregation, petitioned the Session that Presbyterial relations be resumed.” Katie Bell Abney, History of the Presbyterian Congregation and the Other Early Churches of “Kenhawha” 1804-1900 (Charleston, WV: First Presbyterian Church, 1930), 32. It may be that both are true, that Barr made his wishes known, and the congregation petitioned the session in response.

[2] Cf. Dennis E. Bills, A Church You Can See: Building a Case for Church Membership (New Martinsville, WV: Reforming West Virginia Publications, 2017), 82: “Because particular churches are the building blocks of the visible church, the best opportunity for particular churches to pursue unity within the visible body of Christ is through denominational affiliation.”

[3] More issues than race and slavery were in play in the division between the northern and southern churches.  Twenty-five years previous, the Old School/New School Controversy had already laid out lines of division that were simply awaiting a catalyst. As providence would have it, the Southern Church retained its orthodoxy much longer than the Northern Church. This however, does not justify the moral failures of the Southern Church during and after the war.

Rev. Dr. Dennis E. Bills
Trinity Presbyterian Church
307 McEldowny Avenue
New Martinsville, WV 26155

by Rev. William Smith (1834)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 59-60.

Q. 59. Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly Sabbath?

A. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath, and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.


Resurrection of Christ. –The time when the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Christian Sabbath. –The day on which all true Christians, or sincere followers of Christ, rest from their worldly business and pleasure, and on which they assemble together, for joining in the public worship of God.


In this answer we have four points of information.

  1. That God originally appointed the SEVENTH DAY of the week, to be the weekly Sabbath. –Gen. ii. 3. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his works, which God created and made.
  2. That this appointment continued in force, from the beginning of the world, to the resurrection of Christ. –Matt. xxviii. 1, 5, 6. In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary to see the sepulcher. –And the angel said unto them, –I know that ye seek Jesus which was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen, as he said.
  3. That since Christ’s resurrection, the FIRST DAY of the week has been appointed to be the Christian sabbath. –Acts xx. 7. Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them. Rev. i. 10. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.
  4. That this appointment is to remain in force to the end of the world.

Q. 60. How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?

A. The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on the other days, and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.


Sanctified. –Used in a holy manner, or spent in the holy exercises of God’s service.

Worldly employments and recreations. –Our usual business and amusements.

Public exercises of God’s worship. –Meeting together for the purpose of joining with the people of God, in praying to him in our hearts, singing his praises, and hearing his word preached, for our information and improvement.

Private exercises of God’s worship. –Reflecting on what we have heard in church, or in the public assembly of God’s people, singing the praises of God, reading his Word, and praying to him with our families, and in our closets.

Works of necessity. –Works which must be done at the time, such as necessary eating, drinking, &c. and, in short, every thing which could not have been done the day before the Sabbath, nor put off till the day after it.

Works of mercy. –Taking proper care of our own health, visiting and doing kindness to the sick, the miserable, and the helpless, the feeding or relieving of cattle, and such like.


The information here received, respecting the keeping of the sabbath, may be divided into four parts:

  1. That the sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day. Lev. xxiii. 3. Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, and holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein.
  2. That on this day, we must rest, even from such worldly employments and recreation as are lawful on other days. –Neh. xiii. 15. In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, –and I testified against them. Isa. lviii 13. Turn away thy foot from the sabbath –not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words.
  3. That we must spend the whole time of this day in the public and private exercises of God’s worship. –Psalm xcii. 1, 2. Entitled, a psalm or song for the sabbath-day. It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto thy name, O Most High. To shew forth thy loving kindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night.
  4. That there is an exception allowed of so much time as may be employed in works of necessity and mercy. –Matt. xii. 11, 12. What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, an, if it fall into the pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.

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