January 2020

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Another Presbyterian First
by Rev. David T. Myers

Looking at a listing of the Nationwide Life Insurance Company today in the phone book, the average reader would not guess that part of that company constituted the nation’s first life insurance.  And certainly, that same average citizen would not know that this first life insurance company had roots in Presbyterian history.

Started in 1718 by the Synod of Philadelphia, the fledgling company was known originally as “The Fund for Pious Uses.”  Its purpose was to assist local Presbyterian ministers and their families.  One of the original seven ministers of the Philadelphia Presbytery, Jedidiah Andrews, was its first treasurer. Other directors down through the years included Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Finley, and Frances Allison.

The name of the Fund changed in 1759 when it was chartered on January 11, but its purposes were unchanged.  The new name became “The Corporation for Relief of the Poor, and Distressed Ministers, and of the Poor and Distressed Widows, and Children of Presbyterian Ministers.”  Try writing that on a check!  Mercifully, it came to be known simply as the Presbyterian Ministers Fund.

It is interesting to this contributor that the organization’s money, meager at best in the early years, was sometimes spent on matters other than poor servants of Christ.  A new organ was purchased for Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.  Children captured by Indian raids on the frontier in central Pennsylvania were literally redeemed by the fund and brought back to their families.  And perhaps the most astonishing of all outlays of funds was to the Continental Congress.  The Presbyterian life insurance company loaned out five thousand dollars so the political body could pay its bills, most of which went to pay soldiers in the American Revolution.

John Baird wrote a full account of the Presbyterian Minister’s Fund in Horn of Plenty: The Story of the Presbyterian Ministers’ Fund, published in 1982 by Tyndale House Publishers (pictured above).  The book is out of print, but copies can be found on the used market, herehere, or here.

The organizational records of the Presbyterian Minister’s Fund are preserved at the facilities of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, with a finding aid available here.

Words to Live By: “If anyone fails to provide for his relatives, and especially for those of his own family, he has disowned the faith [by failing to accompany it with fruits] and is worse than an unbeliever [who performs his obligation in these matters.]—1 Timothy 5:8 Amplified Bible

Bestow On Us a Spirit of Prayer

Given some recent discussion on the Web, over whether it is appropriate to speak on political matters from the pulpit, the following seems an appropriate post today, an excerpt from the diary of the Rev. Jacob Jones Janeway, a prominent Philadelphia pastor in the early 19th-century.

J.J. Janeway

Politics ran high, and Philadelphia was the headquarters of the excitement. The old federal party was fast losing its power. “War with Great Britain was advocated by one party, and deprecated by the other. The rancorous debates were unfavourable to religion, and the hopes of the pious were mocked then, as they have been since. Dr. Janeway would have been more than than human, not to have felt some of the influences around him. But we see from his journal, the jealous guard he maintained over his heart.

January 10, 1808, Sabbath.

“Praise to God for prolonging my life to another year. Oh! may this year be spent in the service of my God. Make thy grace, O my God, sufficient for me, and thy strength perfect in my weakness. At the commencement of the year I felt not right; may the latter end be better than the beginning. In conversing on politics, I am too apt to be too engaged, and to feel too keenly. May God give me grace to govern my temper and conversation, and preserve me from taking too great an interest in them. In the heat of debate, I am urged to say what is imprudent and unbecoming. Two instances of such behaviour have occurred last week. May no more occur. I fear lest our expectation of a revival of religion, may not be realized. O Lord God, let the blessing come, and bestow on us a spirit of prayer, that we may wrestle and prevail. Hope, still hope, my soul.”

LIFE OF DR. J. J. JANEWAY, pp. 130-131.

The Root of the Presbyterian Apostasy

[For those wanting to do more reading on this matter, click here to see the resources gathered at the PCA Historical Center.]

When church historians evaluate the history of American Presbyterianism, the publication of the “Auburn Affirmation” will stand out in importance like the nailing of Luther’s ninety-five theses on the Wittenberg Germany church door in 1517.  Except this Affirmation, unlike that of the German reformer, constituted a major offensive against biblical Christianity.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1923 had repeated the earlier high court’s affirmations of five essential truths which made up the fundamentals of Christianity.  They were the inerrant Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, His literal bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day, and supernatural miracles.  However the very next year, on January 9, 1924, one hundred and fifty Presbyterian elders issued an affirmation in Auburn, New York which stated that these five fundamentals were not necessary and essential doctrines for the church.  Eventually the number of ministers to sign it would increase to 1,294 ordained ministers, about ten per cent of the clergy on the rolls of the Presbyterian church. None were ever disciplined for their “affirmation” of the document.

[Pictured above, publication of the Auburn Affirmation as it appeared in its first edition, including a list of 150 signers.]

The Auburn Affirmation used many familiar terms on which unsuspecting Christians might be deceived.  Thus, it affirmed inspiration, but denied Scripture to be without error.  It affirmed the incarnation, but denied the Virgin Birth.  It affirmed the atonement, but denied that Christ satisfied divine justice and reconciled us to God.  It affirmed the resurrection of Christ, but denied Jesus rose from the dead with the same body in which He was crucified.  It affirmed Jesus did many mighty works, but denied that He was a miracle worker.

The tragedy of this Affirmation was that not one of its signers were ever brought up for church discipline by their respective presbyteries.  This sin of omission hastened the apostasy of the church, as many of the signers would later find placement in every agency of the church.

Words to Live By:  “Beloved, my whole concern was to write to you in regard to our common salvation.  [But] I found it necessary and was impelled to write you and urgently appeal to and exhort [you] to contend for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints [the faith which is that sum of Christian belief which was delivered verbally to the holy people of God”] Jude v. 3 (Amplified)

In God’s kingdom, there are no little people. Nor are any forgotten by our Lord, though we ourselves may forget. Today we will touch on the life of a pastor that most of us have never heard of.

William Hooper Adams was born in Boston, MA on this day, January 8, 1838, the son of the Rev. Dr. Nehemiah and Martha Hooper Adams. A graduate of Harvard, he first began his studies for the ministry at Andover Seminary, but left there on instructions from his father to take a teaching position in Georgia. That in turn led to his enrolling at Columbia Theological Seminary in 1861, to complete his studies. When the war started, he found he could not return home and so continued his preparations at Columbia. Licensed to preach by Hopewell Presbytery in 1862 and ordained by that same Presbytery in 1863, he was installed as an pastor in Eufala, Alabama, where he labored until 1865. Then in the summer of 1865, he returned to Boston.

A visit by Rev. Adams to Charleston, South Carolina, in February of 1867 led to a call from the famous Circular Church of that city. The original structure of this church had been designed by the architect Robert Mills, who designed the Washington Monument, and the church was the first large domed structure built in the United States. But by 1867 when the call was extended to Rev. Adams, the church had suffered several setbacks. Its building had burned to the ground late in 1861, then followed the Civil War, and finally, the formerly multi-racial congregation lost its African American congregants as they left to form a separate congregation. In accepting the call to serve as their pastor, Rev. Adams agreed to take on the burdens of a dispirited congregation.

circular_church_ruinsPictured here is a stereoscope photograph of the ruins of the Circular Church

And there he labored faithfully in Charleston for the next ten years. The Memorial published in his honor gives us a picture of a pastor who was genial, exuberant in his love for the Lord, sacrificial of his own time and energy, a man of strong Presbyterian convictions, yet a man who could work right alongside any other Christian who truly loved the Lord Jesus as Savior. This was a man who was greatly loved not just by his own church, but by much of the Charleston community. In his final act of selfless devotion, he gave up his post as pastor of the Circular Church and returned to Boston to care for his dying father. Seeking to honor his father, he put many of his own goals aside with the intent of editing his father’s papers. In God’s providence, the Rev. William Hooper Adams survived his father by just about three years, and he died on May 15, 1880.

Words to Live By:
With Christ his Savior as his example, William Hooper Adams sought to live a life of humility and sacrifice. He honored his father. He gave himself in love and devotion to his people. The fact that we today may not know his story does not diminish the powerful ways in which the Lord used him in His kingdom. After all, he wasn’t after fame and fortune. He labored faithfully to glorify the Lord, not himself.

To view information about his grave site, click here.

For Further Study:
A Memorial of the Rev. William Hooper Adams: For Twelve Years Pastor of the Circular Church, Charleston, S.C.

Image Sources:
Frontispiece portrait, from A Memorial of the Rev. William Hooper Adams. Charleston, SC: Walker, Evans & Cogswell, 1880.
Public domain stereoscope photograph, from the Wikimedia Commons.

Two eulogies published upon the death of Dr. J. Gresham Machen. One by a close friend, Dr. Clarence E. Macartney; the other by “S. M. R.”, who was perhaps the editor of The Presbyterian, in the mid-1930’s. (further research would be required to confirm this theory).


[as published in The Presbyterian7 January 1937.]

When I heard of the passing of Dr. Machen, the words of King David over Abner came to mind: “Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?”

Dr. Machen was my classmate at Princeton and a firm friend through all the years that have passed since then. I am glad in this public way to testify to my affection for him, my admiration for his superb intellect, his pre-eminent scholarship, his magnificent courage, and his clear discernment of the spread of apostasy in the Christian Church.

He was the greatest theologian and defender of the Christian faith that the Church of our day has produced. More than any other man of our generation, Dr. Machen tore the mask from the face of unbelief which parades under the name of Modernism in the Christian Church.

He was not only a great scholar and thinker, but a man of remarkable power as an organizer. He leaves behind him three noble institutions which are his chief monument–Westminster Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, and the Presbyterian Church of America.

To those who did not know him, Dr. Machen may have seemed austere and censorious. But those who had the privilege of his friendship knew him as a man of the widest culture and a delightful companion.

We shall see him no more in the flesh. His eloquent voice will not be heard again in the pulpits of the land. Yet, “he being dead, yet speaketh.” Like Paul, he kept the faith delivered unto the saints, and like Paul’s noble companion, Barnabas, “He was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost.”

Clarence Edward Macartney.

Dr. J. Gresham Machen

The speedy death after a brief battle with lobar pneumonia which closed the earthly career of Dr. Machen at the age of fifty-five, came to us as a great shock. Dr. Machen was a vigorous personality, a great scholar, yet a very humble and warm-hearted Christian. He endeared himself to his students, among whom the writer is happy to have been numbered at Princeton Seminary. He was the master of all the foremost writings of the destructive critics who did so much to undermine Christian faith, and he taught the riches of the Word with understanding as well as personal belief. He saw the poverty of the general position which was so popular a few years ago, but which has now left its votaries discomfited and bereft in the time of great need. He was a man of Reformation proportions. The Lord’s hand may now appear more plainly with the servant called home, either perpetating [sic] the denomination he started with greater power, or directing these noble men back to our own Church. Certainly we would welcome their return, as we will continue to respect them in their own endeavors.

S. M. R.

News Coverage of the Machen Funeral

Using news clippings drawn from the scrapbooks of the Rev. Henry G. Welbon, our post today focuses on the funeral of the Rev. J. Gresham Machen, who had passed away on Friday, January 1, 1937. His funeral took place on Tuesday, January 5, 1937.

Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, 3 January 1937, page A9.

High Presbyterian Officials to Attend Services for Fundamentalist Leader.

With high officials of the Presbyterian Church of America in attendance, funeral services for Dr. J. Gresham Machen, founder of the new fundamentalist denomination, will be held at 3 P.M. Tuesday in the Spruce Street Baptist Church, Spruce and 50th sts.

Dr. Machen, militant first moderator of the denomination who led his followers in a split from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in Philadelphia last June, died in Bismark, N.D., Friday night of pneumonia contracted on a speaking tour.

Notice of the funeral arrangements was received here yesterday from Rev. Dr. Edwin H. Rian, of Philadelphia, general secretary of the Church’s Extension and Home Mission Board, who arrived in Bismark yesterday.

Arrived Too Late.

Dr. Rian and Dr. Machen’s brother, Arthur Machen, of Baltimore, both of whom arrived too late to see Dr. Machen alive will accompany the body to Philadelphia.

The services will be conducted by Dr. Rian, long one of Dr. Machen’s close associates, and by Rev. Dr. R.B. Kuiper, professor of homiletics at Westminster Seminary, of which the late church leader was founder and moving spirit.

Burial will be in Baltimore, Dr. Machen’s birthplace.

A statement deploring the death of Dr. Machen as a loss to evangelical Christianity was issued yesterday by Rev. Dr. John Burton Thwing, moderator of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.

“In the death of Dr. J. Gresham Machen,” he declared, “the cause of evangelical Christianity has lost its most trenchant advocate. His books, lectures, sermons and radio talks were always lucid presentations of the old-fashioned faith based upon sound scholarship.

“Brave under fire in France, he was equally brave under persecution by his false brethren in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. God will reward them according to their works.”

Change Time for TuesdayBridgeton N.J. News:

Services for Rev. Dr. Machen to be Held Tomorrow Morning–Ministers Pay Tribute.
Funeral services for Dr. J. Gresham Machen, first scheduled for 3:30 p.m. will be held instead at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow in the Spruce Street Baptist Church, Spruce and Fiftieth streets, Philadelphia, it was announced yesterday by officials of the Presbyterian Church of America.

Members of the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary will be honorary pallbearers for the founder of the new fundamentalist denomination, who died in Bismark, N. D., Friday. The service of Scripture reading, prayer and hymn singing, minus a sermon, will be directed by Rev. Edwin H. Rian, general secretary of the Home Mission and Church Extension Board, and Rev. Dr. R. B. Kuiper, professor of homiletics at the seminary.

Immediately after the ceremony the body will be sent to Baltimore for burial.

Pays Tribute

Some of the residents of Bridgeton heard Dr. Barnhouse, pastor of the Tenth Street Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, pay a tribute to Dr. Machen. He said that he had known Dr. Machen’s pastorate of 10 years in Newark and spoke of his warm personal friendship for the minister.

Dr. Barnhouse referred to his own experience in Europe and paid . . .

Buried after local ritesDR. MACHEN BURIED AFTER LOCAL RITES.
800 Attend Funeral of Fundamentalist at Spruce Street Baptist Church.

Dr. J. Gresham Machen, founder of the Presbyterian Church of America was buried yesterday in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, after impressive services in Spruce Street Baptist Church

Clergymen of all denominations, including several members of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, mother church from which Dr. Machen and his followers seceded, joined the more than 800 laymen who packed the flower-decked church during the ceremony.

Dr. Edwin Rian, professor at Westminster Seminary, 13th and Pine sts., which Dr. Machen helped found, presided. Dr. R. B. Kuiper, also a professor at the seminary, preached the sermon. Officers of the student body and the faculty of the seminary acted as pall-bearers and honorary pall-bearers. Dr. Machen’s brothers, Arthur, a Baltimore attorney, and Dr. Thomas Machen, attended the services.

Dr. Machen died in Bismark, N. D., of lobar pneumonia while on a speaking tour on behalf of his fundamentalist denomination.

Words to Live By:
We will all certainly die one day. It is the final mark and proof that we are born in sin. Except the Lord first, we will all die. All through the history of the Church, time and again the Lord has raised up one man to lead the way. Think of Moses, Ezra, Augustine, Athanasius, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and a host of others over the centuries. The Lord may also remove such leaders, sometimes seemingly in a time of greatest need for leadership and direction. Such was the case in the death of Dr. J. Gresham Machen. And yet the testimony of the believing Church never wavered. Life went on; new leaders were raised up, and the Lord’s people continued to declare the Good News of the risen Savior, Jesus Christ. None of us is indispensable in the Lord’s plan for His kingdom, for it’s not about us! It’s all about the Lord Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished by His death and resurrection, saving an elect people from their sins, to His greater glory. We can appreciate and learn from those leaders whom the Lord raises up to lead His Church, but we give glory, honor and praise not to men, but to the Lord who worked in and through them.

by Rev. William Smith (1834)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 75.

Q. 75. What is forbidden in the eighth commandment?

A. The eighth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth, or may unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbor’s wealth, or outward estate.


Whatsoever doth, or may unjustly hinder, &c. ­­–All unlawful or sinful means of hindering our own, or our neighbor’s wealth; such as, idleness, prodigality, wasting money on trifles, or to support pride; stealing, robbery, oppression, using false weights and measures, refusing to pay just debts, neglecting to give what is proper, out of our substance, to the poor, and the like.


The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, are two-fold:

  1. Whatsoever unjustly hinders our own wealth –1 Tim. v. 8. If any man provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. Prov. xxi. 17.  He that loveth pleasure, shall be a poor man.
  2. Whatsoever unjustly hinders our neighbor’s wealth. –Eph. iv. 28. Let him that stole, steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.


“Form the habit of daily pondering the wondrous works of God.”

I came across the following message recently in an old copy of STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES, a little publication issued in the 1930s & 1940s by A.W. Pink. This particular message is central to our purpose here at This Day in Presbyterian History, and I do hope you will be edified by it. 

New’s Year Message. To be read on January 1, 1951.

We propose to write now upon a twofold “remembering”—God’s of us, ours of Him. We need hardly point out that when the Scriptures speak of God “remembering,” such language is a gracious concession on His part—the Infinite accommodating Himself to the language of the finite. With the great I AM there is neither past nor future, but rather an ever-present now—”Known unto God are all His works form the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18) expresses far more than His bare omniscience. Thus there is not such thing as forgetting or recalling on God’s part, yet that does not mean the term is devoid of significance when it is referred to the eternal One; very far from it. When the Bible tells us God “remembers” His people, it means that He is mindful of them, that they are the objects of His favourable regard, that He has their welfare at heart. As might be expected, the first time the term occurs in Holy Writ it is in connection with God; as a matter of fact, the first five references are to the Divine remembering—how significant and blessed! Equally anticipative and suggestively, the first time it is used of man is in Genesis 40:23, “yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph,” who had befriended him—so fickle is the human memory.

“And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark” (Gen. 8:1). In order to appreciate the blessedness of those words, we need to ponder the occasion and visualize the situation. To carnal reason and natural impatience it would appear that the Lord had completely forgotten those within the ark. Not only days and weeks, but months had elapsed since He had “shut him in” (8:16). Previously God had promised Noah that He would preserve him and all who were with him in the ark (6:14-20), and now no less than nine months had passed (8:5) and still they were confined therein! His faith had been put to a great test in the building of the ark, and now his hope was severely tried, for there is no record that God had informed him how long he would have to remain therein. How often it has been thus with the Lord’s people! For a season He seems to overlook them, yet in due course He appears for them. In “wrath” upon the wicked, God remembers “mercy” (Hab. 3:2) unto His elect. Let every saint who is in straits take comfort and fresh confidence from Genesis 8:1. “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation” (II Peter 2:9). If not one sparrow is forgotten by God (Luke 12:6), He certainly will not forget one of His dear children.

“He hath remembered His covenant for ever” (Psalm 105:8), the reference being unto that formal and solemn arrangement which God entered into with Christ before the foundation of the world, wherein, as the Head of His people, the Mediator pledged Himself fully to discharge their obligations; and the Father, on His part, promised to bestow upon them the reward earned by their Surety. That everlasting covenant is the basis of all God’s dealings with His elect, the ground of the Divine procedure in all His dispensations with them. Exodus 2:23-25, supplies a blessed illustration thereof. When the Hebrews were being sorely oppressed in Egypt, and they sighed and cried by reason of the bondage, we are told “God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant . . . and God had respect unto them.” God cannot violate that gracious compact, for it is sacred to Him, being sealed by the blood of His Son (Heb. 13:21). In Psalm 105:42, the covenant is termed “His holy promise,” and a holy God must make good His oath (Psalm 89:4, 19). “He will ever be mindful of His covenant” (Psalm 111:5), for He takes great care in acting always according to its engagement. It does not become obsolete by the lapse of time; it cannot be broken, for God is faithful. Zacharias recognized that the wonders God wrought in his day were the fulfillment of His covenant promises (Luke 1:68-72).

“For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). Blessed consideration is that! God is not forgetful of our mortality nor unmindful of our infirmities, and therefore does He deal gently with us. We too often overlook our frailty, unduly burdening ourselves and overtaxing our strength. Nor do we sufficiently bear in mind the infirmities of others—how many a husband fails to realize that his wife is “the weaker vessel” (I Peter 3:7), and instead of giving honour unto her as such imposes upon her. Not so the Lord: “He remembereth that we are dust.” He is no Egyptian task master! Nor is the Lord Jesus: His yoke is easy and His burden light. The Lord is compassionate unto His feeble creatures. “Feeble” we say, for though the world may talk of some men possessing “an iron constitution,” Scripture declares “all flesh is grass” (Isaiah 40:6). The measure of our natural strength is sovereignly allotted by our Maker. It is not those of the most powerful physique who live longest—witness Marshall Petain, King Gustav, G.B. Shaw. For the Lord to “remember” us is to be considerate of our frailty, to hear our cries (I Samuel 1:19-20), to succour and help us (Gal. 2:10).

“Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 10:17). Those words point one of the many contrasts which the apostle was here drawing between the old and new covenants as he set forth the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism, for in the latter there was “a remembrance again made of sins every year” (verse 3). How precious is this emphatic declaration! It signifies that God absolves those who savingly believe in Christ from the guilt of their sins, so that they will never more be brought against them for their condemnation. It means that the penal and eternal consequences of our sins have been annulled, and therefore that they will never be recalled by God as He exercises His office of Judge. It expresses the fixity and finality of Divine forgiveness: that God will never revoke His pardon, that He has not only remitted our sins, but acts as though He had forgotten them. It is unspeakably blessed to observe how repeatedly and emphatically this truth is expressed in the Word. God has cast all our sins behind His back (Isaiah 38:17). He has removed them from before His face as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). He has cast them all into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). He has blotted them out, as the sun completely dissipates a cloud (Isaiah 44:22). Beautifully is this illustrated by the fact that none of the failures and falls of the Old Testament saints are recorded in the New! Why? Because all their sins were under the blood of Christ!

“Thou shalt remember the Lord thy God” (Deut. 8:18). At the beginning of a new year beg Him to write this word upon your heart and make it effectual in your life. Does not your past show the need thereof? Alas, how quickly have His mercies faded from our minds. How transient the effects produced in our souls from His Word. Feelings stirred, but no lasting results, for Truth loses its efficacy when not seriously thought upon. We listen to a powerful sermon or read an impressive article and receive the Word with joy, but the resultant emotions soon subside. For a brief moment only are we melted by a sense of the Lord’s goodness. Why is this? Because we meditate so little upon His favours: we do not take time to think gratefully upon them, and though our sinful neglect they depart from our hearts (Deut. 4:9). A sanctified remembrance is one where faith, fear, and love for God are active. In the scriptural meaning of the word, to “remember” God is to have heart-warming apprehensions of His perfections and the excellency of His will, as we are said to remember His commandments when we earnestly set ourselves unto the practice of them. Form the habit of daily pondering the wondrous works of God. “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

“Remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee: (Deut. 8:2). Most suitable word is this too at the beginning of the year. Some are dismally prone to dwell upon the rough parts of the path, others desire to recall only the smooth ones; but we are bidden to remember “all the way.” The places where we distrusted and murmured—that the recollection may humble us. The unpleasant sections when, because we followed a policy of self-will, God hedged up our way with thorns (Hosea 2:6)—that we may profit from His chastenings. Remember too the testing parts, when providence so ordered your course that you were brought to wits-end corner, yet in response to your cries the Lord delivered you. Recall the trying stages of the journey, when visible supplies and outward means failed, and your wonder-working God gave you water out of the smitten Rock, so that you can acknowledge, “who remembered us in our low estate” (Psalm 136:23).

Let these two things be fixed in your mind at the entrance of 1951 [and here too in 2019!]: the fact that the Lord will never forget you, and your duty ever to remember Him. See that you are one  of those who holy resolution it is, “we will remember Thy love” (Song of Sol. 1:4). Say “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:2), realizing that each of them issues from His love. Let the realization of His love ravish your heart, for it will greatly heighten your valuation of it. As you do so, it will make sin more odious, banish fear, tranquillize your mind and make Christ more precious to you.

Great Sacrifice in Difficult Circumstances

The Houston Mission was a work of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod (New Light), situated in one of the poorest areas of rural Kentucky. Staffing that ministry for most of its half-century of existence were two selfless women, one of whom is recounted here in a memorial which was spread upon the Minutes of the 152nd General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (1974). A most admirable work, closed now many years past, it has been interesting to come in contact from time to time at the PCA Historical Center with those whose lives were touched by this ministry.

Those interested in knowing more about the Houston Mission may write to the PCA Historical Center to obtain a PDF of a 50 Year Anniversary History of the Houston Mission, the sixteen page booklet produced in 1957.

Miss Elva Foster was called to be with the Lord on January 3, 1974. In 1907 she and Miss Susan J. Cunningham founded the Houston Mission in Breathitt County, Kentucky, which for many years served the people on Turkey Creek in spiritual, educational, and physical ways. Miss Foster taught school and later was matron of Ananth Home, the dormitory for the grade school children.

Most of her life was spent at this mission post with the exception of some time she was at home to care for her aged mother. She was the perfect lady in surroundings of crude and sometimes unfriendly character. She put much of her small salary back into the work and was the spiritual “mother” of the children of the mission. Even after her retirement when she went to live near relatives at Hebron, Nebraska, she was vitally interested in the work in Kentucky.

Her life reminds us of the verse in 2 Kings 4:8 where it says, “And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman;”

Through much of the later half of the 20th century, evangelical and conservative Presbyterians were almost constantly taken up with efforts at merger. By contrast, the 21st century has thus far seen an almost total absence of such efforts. In the closing of the 20th century, Dr. Robert Godfrey’s brief article, “A Reformed Dream,” seemed a last grasp at the goal of a more united Church.

Reading in Samuel Brown Wylie’s Memoir of the Rev. Alexander McLeod, I learned something. I did not previously know that in 1825 the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. resolved to confer through committee with the Reformed Presbyterian Church. This was a hand of fellowship extended to open up fraternal correspondence between the two denominations. Today the denominations that together form the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC)  widely practice similar fraternal correspondence, but apparently it was a rare thing in that era. Still, what might we learn from this early effort at ecumenical unity?

When the Reformed Presbyterian Synod met later that same summer, they readily took up the proposal and adopted a favorable response, with the Rev. McLeod and Rev. John Gibson appointed to the committee to draft a reply. McLeod’s biographer comments on this effort:

This synodical transaction might, indeed, be considered as a new era in our ecclesiastical concerns in this country. By the maxims of common sense, by our Covenant engagements, and by the obligations of the sacred oracles, we were bound to use all lawful endeavors to promote uniformity in the doctrine, worship, discipline and government of the church of our Redeemer. That church we found divided into various sections, cherishing prejudices, too often indulging animosities subversive of the interests of true godliness; and, although members of the same body—the body of Christ—laboring under alienation of affection from each other yet all holding the same head, and all acknowledging one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. How shall all these be brought to that uniformity requisite for organic communion and demanded by the unity of the truth? Will it not be by the cultivation of social communion and friendly correspondence? Does not a repulsive distance, on the part of brethren, promote alienation of affection, foment jealousies, rivet prejudices, and cherish unfriendly feelings? Shall we stand aloof, and with sanctimonious air, like the proud Pharisee, say, “Stand by, we are holier than you!” No; God forbid! such was not the conduct of our reforming ancestors. With other sentiments, they formed and swore the Covenant in 1648, by the spirit of which we still hold ourselves bound. But this subject will again present itself, when the report of the committee shall come under discussion.

It need scarcely be remarked here, that Dr. McLeod cordially concurred in the project of the contemplated correspondence between the General Assembly and our Synod. The current year had not come to a close before he had attended to and finished the business assigned to the committee of which he was appointed chairman. Doctor McLeod, in a letter, dated New York, January 2, 1826, says, “we met on Friday, and finished the business unanimously, ere we separated.”

The articles drafted by the Reformed Presbyterian committee were in substance as follows:

1. Maintaining the proper unity of the visible church, and lamenting its divisions, we mutually covenant to employ our exertions patiently and prudently to bring our respective churches together, to a uniformity in doctrine, worship, and order, according to the Word of God.

2. In the meantime, we covenant that ministries, elders, and people shall treat each other with Christian respect, that the validity of ecclesiastical acts shall be reciprocally admitted; and each of the contracting parties may, without offence, examine persons, and review cases of discipline, on points distinctive to the respective denominations.

3. That the superior judicatories shall appoint two members, as commissioners, to attend the meetings of the other, not as members of that other, but with liberty to deliver opinions on any subject of interest, whether in discussion, or otherwise, but in no case to vote on a question.

4. That the General Assembly shall, on ratifying, appoint their delegates, to meet General Synod, so soon as they [the General Synod] shall have ratified this covenant.

Wylie relates how McLeod summarized his own view of the matter:

“Thus,” continues the Doctor, “so far as I perceive, we give nothing up; we forego no privilege we now have, and we gain a public admission of truth in a respectable connection with a sister church, and a covenant with them for future reform, or, at least, for the use of lawful means to lead thereto. . . . I hope little more will be said upon this subject, until it rises up to view in the [PCUSA] Assembly.

“Yours sincerely,
“A. McL.”

And then Wylie adds the sad summary put upon the matter by Reformed Presbyterians in general:

The good Doctor’s hopes in this case were disappointed. It was spoken against, written against, decried from pulpit, press, and by private denunciation, as a violation of our covenants, long before it rose to view in the General Assembly. Every prejudice that could be excited was enlisted against it, and the tocsin [i.e., an alarm bell or signal] of incipient apostasy was rung over the length and breadth of the land.

Words to Live By:
It is interesting to compare Dr. McLeod’s earlier 1802 stand against slavery, a resolve which led his entire denomination to that same conviction, often at great cost. But nearly 25 years later, the seemingly simple effort to open up fraternal correspondence between denominations met with stiff opposition. How very curious. And sad. Perhaps the seeds of the 1833 RP split began in some respect with that widespread rejection in 1826.

“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”—Romans 14:19, ESV.

“But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”—1 Corinthians 12:24-26, NASB.

“Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”—Ephesians 4:3-6, KJV

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