December 2012

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For today’s post, we have the Rev. Caleb Cangelosi, associate pastor at the Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland, MS, as our guest author, writing on one of the most renowned men of the old Southern Presbyterian Church.

It is a great honor to be elected as Moderator of the General Assembly of a Presbyterian denomination. Yet one man was given this honor twice. His name was William Swan Plumer, and though he has fallen out of general knowledge in our days, he was a titan of the nineteenth century Presbyterian church. Moses Drury Hoge, who served under Dr. Plumer for several years in Richmond, Virginia, had this to say about his mentor:

plumerws02Probably no man in our time was more widely known in these United States than Dr. Plumer. His reputation as a preacher secured for him great audiences wherever he went. Those who did not care for the ordinances of God’s house, and who rarely attended any place of worship, would flock to any church where it was known that he would officiate. He touched society at so many points and had so many ways of impressing himself on the public that his reputation extended far and wide. As an editor; as a contributor to the periodical press; writing for reviews, for magazines, for the publication boards of all denominations; as the author of commentaries on the Scriptures, and many religious books, some of which were republished in Europe, and others translated into German, French and Modern Greek; as a professor in two theological seminaries, which have sent forth hundreds of ministers, with his impress upon them, to labor in every part of the world; as a lecturer before literary institutions and benevolent associations; as a correspondent, writing innumerable letters, especially to those whom he knew to be afflicted and bereaved, letters full of sympathy and consolation; in all these and many other ways, he gained the eye, the ear and heart of the great public, by availing himself of every channel of communication and every avenue of usefulness.

Born on this day in 1802, Dr. Plumer passed into glory on October 22, 1880. Thus his life spanned nearly the entire nineteenth century, and his ministry traversed the high points of that century’s controversies. He was born in Greersburg, Pennsylvania, a small town northwest of Pittsburgh, to Presbyterian parents. His family eventually settled in Washington County, Ohio, along the banks of the Ohio River outside present day Marietta. His father was a river trader, and as he grew up he desired to obtain a liberal education and one day become a doctor.

Though he had grown up in a Presbyterian home, hearing the gospel from his earliest days, yet it was not until the age of 17 that the Lord saw fit to convert him, through the ministry of a Congregationalist minister serving in a Presbyterian Church under the 1801 Plan of Union. In Plumer’s own words, “I surrendered to God’s will & ways. I saw a beauty & fitness in the plan of salvation. I saw it was right that God should rule everywhere, in particular in me & over me. I at once desired to honor him in every possible way, &, in particular, if he would open the way, I desired to serve him in the ministry of the gospel. For my idol, medicine, I now cared nothing. I was not ashamed to let all the world know that I loved Christ.” His sense of call to the ministry accompanied his conversion, and he moved to Lewisburg, Virginia, to study at the classical school of Dr. John McElhenny. In 1822 he began attending Washington College, in Lexington, Virginia, and in 1825 he enrolled at Princeton Seminary. He completed his studies in September 1826, and was ordained as an evangelist in May 1827.

His ministry was primarily in the South. He planted several churches across Virginia and North Carolina, and after marrying in 1829 he became the Stated Supply of Briery Church in Prince Edward County, Virginia. In October 1830 he was, for the first time, installed as pastor of Tabb Street Presbyterian Church in Petersburg, Virginia. In 1834, he moved to First Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, where he labored until 1846. It was during this pastorate that he cemented his reputation as a preacher, presbyter, and theologian. He was present as a commissioner at the 1837 General Assembly that saw the Plan of Union abrogated, and the Old School and New School split. In fact, though only 34 years old, he was one of the primary advocates for abrogation; William Henry Foote states that Plumer’s speech “changed the fate of the question,” swaying those on the fringe to vote against the Plan of Union. Upon returning home, and discovering that Amasa Converse and his Southern Religion Telegraph supported the New School, Plumer began the Watchman of the South, an Old School newspaper he edited until 1845. Due to Plumer’s sound theology and wide influence, the 1838 General Assembly elected him as Moderator at the young age of 35.

In 1847, Plumer was called to Franklin Street Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland. Here he began writing in earnest, and became what Moses Drury Hoge alluded to, one of the most prolific authors the Presbyterian Church in America has known. His writings were of a practical nature, yet they were filled with theological meat as well, as evidenced by his election in 1854 to the chair of Didactic and Pastoral Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. His Christ-centered and experientially-oriented piety is clearly seen in his Inaugural Address to the Seminary:

In proportion as men are truly pious, they make [Christ] the foundation and top-stone, the sum and substance and centre of all their hopes and rejoicings. He is believed on in the world, not merely because there is no other way of salvation, but because this way is so admirably adapted to all the necessities of sinners, and because it brings glory to God in the highest. The true believer not only trusts in Christ; he glories in him. He not only makes mention of him; he admits none into comparison with him…We sadly err, when we begin in the spirit, and end in the flesh; when we regard Christ as the author but not the finisher of faith. A legal spirit is the bane of piety. It is as great a foe to comfort as it is to gospel grace. Through the law believers are dead to the law that they might live unto God. This is the gospel plan. Here is the secret of growing conformity to God. Here is power, here is wisdom, here is life. We are complete in him.

Though nineteenth century Presbyterians, especially in the South, are well known for their reflection on ecclesiology, Plumer’s writings demonstrate that there was a breadth and depth to their theologizing that we often fail to see in them.

Plumer’s time at Western Seminary came to an end in 1862, as members of the Central Presbyterian Church (which he had pastored since 1855) became upset that he would not during corporate worship ask “God’s blessing upon the Government of our country in its efforts to suppress rebellion,” nor would he “give thanks to God for the victories which God has granted our armies.” Some have interpreted his inaction as due to pacifism. It is more likely that he was motivated by a conviction that the question of the war was a political question with which God’s ministers had nothing to do as such, coupled perhaps with Southern sympathies. Further research would be needed to discover the truth, but in any event, he resigned both pulpit and seminary chair, and five years later the Southern Presbyterian Church elected him to fill Dr. Thornwell’s chair of Didactic and Polemic Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary. During those intervening years, Dr. Plumer continued to write. Some of his most familiar books, including treatises on the law of God, experimental piety, and a commentary on the Psalms, were produced during this time.

Till his final months he was actively involved in preaching, teaching, writing, pastoring God’s people, and participating in church courts. In 1871 he was elected for a second time as Moderator of the General Assembly, this time of the Southern Presbyterian Church. Commentaries on Romans and Hebrews, as his Helps and Hints in Pastoral Theology, came out during the last years of his life. Unfortunately, though, his time at Columbia ended on a low note, as he was embroiled in disputes with other seminary professors, and many became disillusioned with his pedagogical effectiveness. At the 1880 General Assembly he was, against his wishes, made Professor Emeritus. A few months later, following complications from kidney stone surgery, he died.

To our loss, no Life and Letters was ever written of Dr. Plumer, perhaps in part because he had only two daughters and no sons (though one of his grandsons was a minister in the Southern Presbyterian Church). Yet his life was full and useful, and his writings call for our perusal and digestion. Several of his last words close this brief survey of his life and work. Upon being asked, “Do you suffer much, Doctor?” he replied, “Not nearly as much as my Saviour did.” When a visitor exclaimed, “I am sorry to see you suffer so, Doctor!” he responded, “One who loves me better than you do put me here.” When the word submit was used, he said, “Perhaps acquiesce is a better word for the Christian to use. We may submit, because we are obligated to – but the Christian cheerfully, joyfully yields all to his Lord’s will.” These sayings show the heart of this servant of Christ, devoted in every way to our reigning King who suffered for our salvation.

Goodby  2012; Hello 2013


First of all, let this writer commend you if you have reached this day after having begun on January 1. You have read through the history of Presbyterianism and hopefully gained a better understanding of the Reformed church of which you are a member. You have seen the wrong decisions reached by men and churches which have led to disastrous results in the testimony of the faith. You have seen sacrificial actions which men and churches have taken which didn’t improve their lot any better on earth, but did give them God’s blessing in heaven. If we don’t learn from the past actions of this church history, we will often repeat the errors in the present and the future. That is one of the purposes of this year-long study.

Second, it was our aim that you have read through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in this chronological manner which was placed down as a guide for you. I believe it was Ruth Graham, a Presbyterian missionary daughter and the late wife of evangelist Billy Graham, who once suggested that Christians should use different colored pencils or pens in their reading of Scripture for each year. That way, they will be able to follow their thoughts and feelings year by year and profit from their reading the next time they go through the Word of God in a year. Try that as you read the Bible in the new year upon us.

Third, this writer is also hopeful that this review of the Westminster Standards was helpful to review the great doctrines of the Reformed faith. I know that this writer found it most refreshing to type out each section of those biblical truths which he has read from his earliest years in a Presbyterian manse and church, and then a Reformed college and seminary. Added to that would be a forty-year ministry in five evangelical and Presbyterian churches.

We hope you will stay with us in the coming year. Tomorrow, January 1, 2013, we will pick up a new author, and take on a new look. For the most part, we will try to forge new ground and present new entries each day. So come back tomorrow and see what you think.

Words to live by: Keep on keeping on in the Word of God and the testimony of His church.

Through the Scriptures:  Revelation 19 – 22

Through the Standards:  Proof texts of the last judgment.

John 3:36
“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

2 Corinthians 5:10
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

Romans 14:12
“So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.”

2 Peter 3:11 – 14
“Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heart!  But according  to His promise, we are looking for news heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”

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The Conclusion of our Prayers

Remember when this writer said that many Presbyterian people must  have been taking a sabbatical in December?  Well, on this day of December 30, we conclude our substitute study  on The Lord’s Prayer with the last phrase of this prayer.   The last Shorter Catechism question asks, “What doth the conclusion of the Lord’s prayer teach us?” And the answer given is “The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. teaches us to take our encouragement in prayer from God only, and in  our prayers to praise him, ascribing kingdom, power, and glory to him; and in testimony of our desire and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen.”

We may have a problem here. And it is this—The ending found in most of our versions usually has a footnote attached to it which indicates that it is not found in the earliest manuscripts. In fact, many Bible scholars think that some scribe who was copying a Greek manuscript simply decided that the Lord’s Prayer cut off too abruptly, so he added this phrase.

If you are one of those Christians who believe that the closest manuscript to the original is the most reliable reading, then this would be a phrase which you would not have to say, because Christ did not say it.  Why didn’t our Confessional Fathers see that?  Because, in writing in the mid sixteen hundreds, many of the more ancient Greek manuscripts were not yet discovered, such as the fourth century Sinaiticus. But having said all that, and pardon the Greek study, what was said was still biblical.

David in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 prayed, “So David blessed the LORD in the sight of all the assembly, and David said, ‘Blessed are You, O LORD God of Israel our father, forever and forever.  Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.  Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your Hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. Now therefore, our God, we think You, and praise Your glorious name.'”

All these are arguments to enforce our petitions.  And please notice that they are all based on God, on His works of creation and redemption, on Him alone. You will find no man-made encouragements in this Old Testament text. The conclusion, whether if was truly there originally or not, is God-centered, and whether we use the specific words, or simply other words in our pleading with God, it is a right and noble conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer.

Words to live by:  Our pleading with God must never be based upon our merit, of which we don’t have any in the first place anyhow, but only on the mercy of God. He and He along must receive the praise, and truly His is the kingdom or dominion. His is the power or authority.  His is the glory and majesty.  Amen, and amen.

Through the Scriptures:  Revelation 16 – 18

Through the Standards:  The certainty of judgment

WCF 33:3
“As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: so will  He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen”

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First Ordination of a Presbyterian in the American Colonies

From the spring meeting of the first Presbytery in 1706 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, three of the seven ministers in attendance — Francis Makemie, John Hampton, and Frederick Andrews — traveled to Freehold, New Jersey during the Christmas holidays to examine and ordain John Boyd

Gathering in the church known as “The Scotch Meetinghouse,” these three ministers proceeded to examine the young Scotsman, John Boyd.  The Scriptural text given to the latter to preach was John 1:12, which declares, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (KJV)

His assigned topic was “the government of the church,” which was an apt topic given the nature of the early Presbyterian church in the colonies at this time.  He defended his thesis before the three ministers in the afternoon of that day.  He was then examined on the languages of Hebrew and Greek.  Following that was questions in general by the three-man team of Presbyters.

All the parts of the theological trial were sustained.  The time of his formal ordination was appointed for the following Sabbath on December 29, 1706.   So the year of 1706 closed out with the first purely Presbyterian ordination in the new world.

Words to live by:  It is good to know that then, and now, there is a proper examination of those who would occupy the pulpits of Presbyterian churches.  There must be qualified men in place for the church to continue to be orthodox, as they deal with the souls of men, women, and children.  Often Presbyteries are looked upon as so much administration, but in reality, they are spiritual courts for the improvement of the church.  Why not plan to attend one of the Presbyteries in your area as a guest, going with your representative elders one time.  You will be able to pray better for your pastors and elders if you do this.

Through the Scriptures:  Revelation 13 – 15

Through the Standards:  Detailed description of the end of the righteous

WSC 38 — “What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?
A.  At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.”

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A Perplexing Yet Pressing Petition for All of God’s People

Having arrived at the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, since there are no events of Presbyterianism available, we are confronted by a perplexing yet pressing petition for God’s people.   The Shorter Catechism’s question and answer which illustrates it says in number 106, “In the sixth petition, which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” we pray, that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support us and deliver us when we are tempted.”  Each one of these explanations are tied to the parts of the petition itself.

The perplexing part of the petition is obvious.  Does God lead His people into temptation?  That’s the natural conclusion which comes to our mind when we read the first part of this petition. We answer by pointing out first that the word “temptation” is used in Scripture in one of two ways. We always think of it in an evil sense, and indeed that is possible from one of the ways. But the other way is to think of it in a testing sense, in that God tests us in a variety of ways for our good and His glory.  So the context is necessary before we look into its meaning. Second, God does not tempt anyone to sin.  He is holy and just and righteous. Scripture plainly declares this in James 1:13, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” (NASB)  No one can blame God for his or her temptation into sin.

But having said that, God can and has permitted us to fall into a time of testing for His sovereign purposes, as well as our good.  Think of Job in the Old Testament.  Now that was a time of testing! Would the patriarch blame and blaspheme God if all he possesses, including his very children, were taken away? For the record, he did not blame God, and the Lord blessed him mightily at the end of it all. Or think of Peter at the time of our Lord’s trial and crucifixion. He had an overconfidence, even an arrogance, in his own self, and needed to be cleansed of it.  His sinful pride led him to deny the Lord three times; God’s grace overcame his sin and he was forgiven and drawn back to the Lord in love and mercy.

James says again, that “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust, Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15, NASB)

So the first part of this prayer is us praying that “God would keep us from being tempted to sin.”

The second part is that Our God and Savior would support and deliver us when we are tempted.  The appointed means for our sanctification are the Word of God, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and prayer.  All of these are in sum the God-ordained means of grace for helping us to resist the temptations which come from that unholy trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  We can trust our God to support and deliver us when we are tempted by the evil one, or from the realm of evil itself.

Words to live by:  Who does not need to pray this petition daily, or even more than once when we are faced in the ordinary occasions of life in our family, work, church, and society in general?  The answer is simple.  No one.  So this last petition has a pressing nature about it which all of God’s people can resort to in their daily need.  Pray it, and pray it often.

Through the Scriptures:   Revelation 10 – 12

Through the Standards:  Detailed description of righteousness

WLC 90 — “What shall be done to the righteous in the day of judgment?
A.  At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with  him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity.  And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.”

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A Son of Presbyterians and Patriots

There is some dispute as to exactly on what date in December Charles Hodge was born.  Several sources, one of them  a Presbyterian one, states that he was born on December 28, 1797.  Dr. David Calhoun, author of the celebrated book on Princeton Seminary, states that he was born on December 27, 1797.  That is the date we will use for this historical devotional.

There is no doubt that his ancestors were, as our title puts it, “Presbyterians and Patriots.” His grandfather, Andrew Hodge, had, like so many others, emigrated from Ireland in the decade of 1730’s, settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When the Great Awakening occurred all over the colonies, the Presbyterian church which he attended, resisted that spiritual work, so the grandfather withdrew from First Presbyterian and helped to organize Second Presbyterian Church in the same city. The new congregation called the Rev. Gilbert Tennent, who was the chief proponent of the New Side Presbyterians.

Charles’s father, Hugh Hodge, a graduate of the College of New Jersey, became a successful surgeon in the city.  He married Mary Blanchard of Boston in 1790, who was of French Huguenot stock. Thus, Calvinism was alive and well in his parents.  Unhappily, life expectancy was not high in those early years of our country, and with the advent of yellow fever in the city, it was even lower. Three of their children succumbed to the disease, along with their father after Charles was born in 1797. That left the mother with two infants with very little income to rear them.

Mary Hodge, however, made their upbringing her whole life work.  Putting boarders in his home for financial aid, she continued to rear her two sons, including Charles, in the things of the Lord.  Primary among them was the learning of the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Standards. Their pastor, now Asabel Green, complemented this home training by teaching out of that historic catechism to the children of the church.

In 1812, after other training, the whole family moved to Princeton, New Jersey.  It would be a town which Charles Hodge would forever be identified with in his life and ministry.

Words to live by:  This writer cannot stress enough the valued practice of both home and church cooperating together in the memorization of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.    It will produce a solid foundation for Christian faith and life in the heart of the young man or woman who learns it, and then applies it to all of life. This writer had that privilege, and has enabled me to stand the challenges of time with it. If you church does not have such a practice, ask the Session of Elders to institute it. It will make the difference in your church testimony and life.

Through the Scriptures: 
Revelation 6 – 9

Through the Standards:  Detailed description of the end of the wicked

WLC 89 — “What shall be done to the wicked at the day of judgment?
A.  At the day of judgment, the wicked shall be set on Christ’s left hand, and, upon clear evidence, and full conviction of their own consciences, shall have the fearful but just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them; and thereupon shall be cast out from the favorable presence of God, and the glorious fellowship with Christ, his saints, and all his holy angels, into hell, to be punished with unspeakable torments, both of body and soul, with the devil and his angels forever.

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A  Church Planter One Year, A Country Politician the Next Year

Born  on February 12, 1721, in Millington, Connecticut, Elihu Spencer studied at Yale College, graduating in 1746.  Ordained two years later into the Presbyterian Church in America,  he was called to minister with David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards to the Iroquois Six Nation tribes of native Americans.  After doing that for a number of year, he was called to the First Presbyterian Church of Trenton, New Jersey in 1750.  He believed that wherever  he was needed, there he would go.  And so when the French and Indian War broke out, he was appointed a chaplain to the troops in that conflict.  After that war, he would pastor five Presbyterian Churches in New Jersey for the next 15 years.

In 1764, he and the Rev. Alexander McWhorter was sent to North Carolina by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia to rally the scattered Presbyterians in that colony to begin congregations.  They were successful in planting many Presbyterian churches in the colony.

On December 26, 1775, the provincial congress of North Carolina petitioned the Presbytery of New Brunswick in New Jersey to send the Rev. Dr. Elihu Spencer back down to North Carolina for the purpose of “uniting the people in the cause of independence.”  Evidently, some of the Presbyterians were loyalist or Tories, resisting the patriot cause.  Who better to convince you that your path should be with the American independence movement than the one used by the Lord to organize your scattered groups of Scot-Irish believers!

Nine years later, on also December 27, 1784, Elihu Spencer would go to meet his Maker and Redeemer, with a life and ministry full of deeds for God and country.

Words to live by:  Today, Christian Presbyterians might be hesitant to stand so boldly in the political world, using their religious ministry as a basis for their actions.  But the day of our American revolution was a challenging one.  Certainly, there is nothing changed in the Proverb which states that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”  We who are ministers of the gospel must seek to hold God’s Word before the people so that they can vote and act responsibly as Christian citizens.

Through the Scriptures:  Revelation 2 – 6

Through the Standards:  Object and end of the final judgment

WCF 33:2
“The end of God’s appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient.  For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.”

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Tell Me the Old, Old Story

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.

This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David.

In order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

While they were there the days were completed for her to give birth.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

But  the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;

for today in the city of David there  has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

This will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased:

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this things that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”

So they came in a hurry and found their way  to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.

When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.

And all who hear it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.

The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Luke 2:1 – 21

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A Presbyterian Physician Who Signed

He has a number of “firsts” associated with signers of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th.  He was the only physician who signed that historic document.  He was the only Presbyterian signer who was born in America. He was the first professor of Chemistry in America at the Philadelphia College. Who else can claim to have cured an epidemic of yellow fever in Philadelphia? He was considered the father of American Psychiatry.  He was a founder of the Philadelphia Bible Society. Who was he? If you answered Benjamin Rush, pat yourself on the back.

Born December 24, 1745 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this fourth of seven children into an Episcopal home, he often went with his mother after the death of his father to Rev. Gilbert Tennent’s congregation in that eastern Pennsylvania city. Benjamin’s mother, under the latter’s influence, reared her son in Calvinistic principles. He memorized the Westminster Shorter Catechism in his youth.

Early education was provided by Rev. Samuel Finney, later a president of  the College of New Jersey.  Indeed, after training at West Nottingham Academy, Benjamin studies and graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1760.

On January 2, 1776, Rush married Julia Stockton, the youngest daughter of Richard Stockton, a fellow signer of the Declaration. They were married by the Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey and a fellow signer of the Declaration as well. On July 4, 1776, Benjamin Rush placed his signature on the Declaration of Independence. Indeed, he followed up that action by serving as a physician with the Continental Army, and in combat at  Trenton and Princeton.

Later in the 1780’s, the good doctor and patriot persuaded his fellow Presbyterians to establish Dickinson College, in Carlisle Pennsylvania.

We must acknowledge in this essay that while he received much training in both youth and adulthood, his convictions about Presbyterians were more passive  than an active following. That  would explain how he later on in life transferred his membership to the Episcopalian faith and even some branches of the Universalist church before finally coming back to the Presbyterian faith. Still in all of these moves, there was a love for the Bible, which he read daily, an esteem for Christ, to say nothing of Christian conduct. He would often mention the name of Jesus Christ in his writings, lectures, and letters.

He passed away in 1813 and buried in Christ church cemetery.

Words to live by:  There seems to be no doubt that Benjamin Rush was a consecrated Christian, albeit there were times when he disagreed with denominational figures.  Still the training he received as a youth had a way of coming back into his life and making an impression there for true doctrine. This should encourage all Christian parents to both teach and live Christ, and Hims crucified, before their families. God is faithful, and will bring fruit, although it may be long in coming to our children.  See Proverbs 22:6.

Through the Scriptures:  2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation 1

Through the Standards:   Times of judgment

WLC 88 — “What shall immediately follow after the resurrection?
A.  Immediately after the resurrection shall follow the general and final judgment of angels and men; the day and hour whereof no man knows, that all may watch and pray, and be ever ready for the coming of the Lord.”

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A Plea for Forgiveness

Following right along in the Lord’s Prayer, with no historical reference of Presbyterianism we can find,  we come to the fifth petition on this day of December 23.  It is, “In the fifth petition, which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, we pray, that God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.”

The word “debts” brings to mind immediately some aspect of commercial debt owed to another. But this idea must be put out of your mind and heart in this petition.  In reality, the word “debt”  is one of a “mournfully numerous group” of names, according to Trench, which is applied to human sin and guilt in the word of God.  In this case, what we owe is obedience and in failing that by either commission of sin or omission of sin, we are liable for God’s justice.

Then, getting to the heart of the petition, we ask that God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins. Having no merits of ourselves, we come to God for forgiveness only on account of the merits of Christ’s sake. Paul in Ephesians 1:7 said it plainly, “In Whom, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” (NASB)

The pardoning of our sins are illustrated for us by some rich figures in Scripture.  In Psalm 103:12, we are told that “as far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgression from us.” (NASB)

Micah takes the figure even further when he writes in chapter 7, verse 19b that “Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” (NASB)

Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 43:25 speaks “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.” (NASB)  Man might remember our sins, but God said that He will not, once they are pardoned and forgiven.

And then the most familiar of these pardoning texts is 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  The word “cleanse” is the present tense, which means that He will keep on cleansing our sins upon our confession of them.

Now we arrive at the forgotten word in this petition. It is that little word “as.”  Forgive us our debts, our sins AS we forgive our debtors.  This little word prompted the fourth century church father Augustine to conclude this is a terrible petition.  Why?  Because we are asking God to pardon us as we pardon our debtors.

It is interesting to me that this is the only petition on which our Lord gave us a comment, as Matthew records it in Matthew 6:14, 15. It reads, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (NASB) No wonder that Augustine called it a terrible petition.  Deal with us, Lord, as we have dealt with others.

On the other hand, we are encouraged to pray this petition because we  have forgiven and forgotten the sins of others who have sinned against us.

Words to live by:  What a joy it is to know that Christ paid the punishment for our sins.  And even with those sins which we do  each day, upon our repentance and confession of them, He will pardon our sins and leave a clean slate before the holy God.  Try a little spiritual exercise.  Write down all the sins which so easily entangle you on a piece of paper.  Then confess each of them to God, and pray that you will get the victory over them.  Claim 1 John 1:9 or Psalm 103:12 and destroy the paper.

Through the Scriptures:  1 John 3 – 5

Through the Standards: God  has appointed a day

WCF 33:1 — “God has appointed a day, wherein He will judge the world, in righteousness, by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father.  In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.”

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