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When Millennial Issues Came to the Fore
by Rev. David T. Myers

The noble infant seem to be coming apart at the seams. Its “father,” Dr. J. Gresham Machen had been taken to heaven on the first day of the new year of 1937.  His “warrior children,” as they were described once, were not in agreement over a number of issues.  The first theological battle in the Presbyterian Church of America was over the “last things,” or eschatology (study of the last things).

Was the new denomination going to be  classic or historic pre-millennialist, that is, Christ would return, then reign on earth for a literal one thousand years?  Was it going to be a dispensational premillennial return, where Christ’s return is divided into a two-step process: first a secret rapture, with countless people left behind?  Second, a public event, with seven years of tribulation at the hands of the anti-christ, then a one thousand year reign by King Jesus, at which time Israel will receive all the promises made down through the years?  This latter view was that taught by the Schofield Reference Bible.  Or was it to be a-millennialist, in which the one thousand years is a figurative number describing the whole period between the resurrection of God and His return? During this time, Christ rules from heaven, and peace comes through the proclamation of the gospel message.  Which viewpoint will characterize this new Presbyterian denomination?

Professor John Murray, of Westminster Seminary, beginning in December of 1935, wrote a whole series of articles on “the Reformed faith and Modern Substitutes.”  He attacked vigorously Modernism, Arminianism, and dispensational pre-millennialism.  Many were offended by his articles.

In 1937, already a new seminary had been begun over the issue of the last things, when Professor Allan A MacRae left Westminster to begin Faith Theological Seminary.  These same issues of the last days also came publicly to the floor of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America on August 13, 1937.  Eventually they, along with other issues such as Christian liberty, would lead to the beginning of the Bible Presbyterian Church.

Words to live by:
In hindsight, this surely was one of the least reasons to separate from brothers and sisters in Christ.   We need to believe that Christ Jesus will return in power and great glory. That is fundamental.  But to quibble over the events surrounding his return, and worse yet, to separate from other Christians, is questionable, to say the least.  Let us instead resolve to share the gospel with every creature, and then rejoice as Christ  comes back to this earth.

Words to Live By:
The following article, though written from the perspective of a concern within Congregational churches in the early 19th century, has much that is applicable for us today.  One key point is made in the statement that “Doctrinal  standards give stability, and secure uniformity of sentiment and discipline.”

Dr. John Leith made this same point, though more extensively, some years ago in his Warfield Lecture, “Reformed Preaching Today.” Among other points, Leith stressed that the recovery of great preaching requires a well-educated congregation that can track with the pastor’s sermons:

The recovery of great preaching calls for the revival of the Christian community as a disciplined, knowledgeable, worshiping community of people. The recovery of preaching and the recovery of the community will have to take place together, because there can be no recovery of a vital Christian community, well informed, apart from the recovery of great preaching. And on the other hand, a great congregation makes a great preacher.

And catechesis is the indisputable foundation of a great congregation!

The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism

            In this age of change and boasted improvement, we have witnessed with regret, the increasing disposition of Christians to depart from ancient standards and formularies of doctrines. How far the love of novelty has influence in producing this state of things, we are not prepared to say. The fact is that innovations and changes are easily effected, and the old paths are forsaken; often, seemly because they are old and have been trodden by men of other ages, and new ones are chosen, seemingly because they are new and without examination, whether they will conduct safely or not.

            Perhaps in no portion of the Christian church has the change been greater, than in the congregational churches of Connecticut; ancient standards of doctrine in these churches, have been suffered to pass away, not by a public and formal objection, but by silent neglect on the part of individual churches in order to accommodate and receive to their communion such as would dissent from doctrines contained in their old standards. To this as one cause silently operating, may be traced as we believe the gradual decrease of the congregational churches in Connecticut, and the increase of other denominations. Doctrinal standards give stability, and secure uniformity of sentiment and discipline, and then adhered in the denominations embracing them, they serve to strengthen and increase that denomination but when such standards are trodden down or thrown aside, the denomination is changed in its distinctive character, notwithstanding the name should be still retained.

            The Saybrook Platform, on whose doctrinal basis, the Congregational churches of Connecticut are organized, and on whose articles of agreement in discipline, they have been consociated, have become an obsolete book—it is but little known—and scarcely to be found in a bookstore for sale. By many of the younger members of these churches, it is doubtful whether it has ever been read. It is not long since that a proposition was made in the General Association of Connecticut that a new edition should be printed, and that it should be recommended to some booksellers to undertake the work.—But the proposition was opposed on the ground that some Congregational pastors could not subscribe to the Platform without reservations in regard to particular doctrines; and after some discussion it was indefinitely postponed. It was apparent, that most of the younger pastors chose to have the Platform lie forgotten and die a natural death if it would. It is well known also, that some of our theological professors cannot subscribe to this manual of doctrine without written reservations. The creed also of individual churches, originally in substance in strict uniformity to the doctrines of the Platform, and of the shorter Catechism, are now subject to frequent alterations. In some, one doctrine is omitted—in others more, and the language throughout changed for the purpose of rendering the doctrines retained more palatable.—Frequent changes of pastors also greatly contribute to changes in the creeds of individual churches; old creeds are thrown by, and new ones substituted to be more accordant with the taste of the age and the supposed improvements in theology.—In this manner, old standards of doctrine are lost sight of, and many of the congregational churches embrace a mixture of Calvinism, Arminianism, and nothingism, and in this state are in danger of crumbling to pieces.

            The loss of the Shorter Catechism to the congregational churches is very great.—When that catechism was taught regularly in our schools and in our families and on the Sabbath it laid a good foundation in the minds of children for religious improvement, a foundation which contributed to consistency and stability in after life. Though children have greater advantages for gaining religious knowledge by means of Sabbath schools and Sabbath school libraries, still, in point of doctrinal stability and knowledge of religious truth, it is questionable whether they are to be compared with what their parents were when they were children. The catechism has gone from families as well as from schools and parents are in danger of leaving their own duty to be performed by Sabbath school teachers and of acting as if the responsibility were taken off from them. Parents should not feel that their own obligations are lessened, while they have the co-operation of Sabbath school teachers. They can do that which no other class of teachers can do in the religious education of children, and all teachers need their co-operation and support. Religious education should be commenced in families and by parents, and it should be conducted under their watchful eye.

            The Assembly’s shorter catechism is a standard manual, which will never wear out. Religious parents have no occasion to be afraid of this, nor to lay it aside as an obsolete catechism, though the phraseology in some trifling particulars might be changed for the better, still as a whole, this catechism is sound—we shall find no better catechism; it has been fully proved, and it will be found safe for the rising generation.—We will remember the time when this catechism was regularly taught in common schools, and under what circumstances it was excluded. We have been associated with school visitors who denounced it and who declared that they would prefer Paine’s Age of Reason to be taught to the children. The fact is the great and essential truths of the Bible are embodied in this catechism, and these truths have always been opposed to the natural heart in man, and infidels and men of loose sentiments have scouted them in past ages, and in the present age they continue to do this.

            We should rejoice to have Christian parents bring back this manual into their families, and to have them teach it to their children and to expound it to them as they are able, and we should also rejoice to see it revived in our Sabbath schools, and adapted as a text book in Bible classes. We have no doubt that the effect would be salutary in forming the character of the rising generation.

            We acknowledge our attachments to this catechism and we view it as a favorable indication, that some pastors of congregational churches are reviving the good old custom of catechising the children of their congregations from this manual and that others are introducing it into their Sabbath schools.—The bringing back of the catechism will be attended with more established views of doctrines in our churches and will have an important influence in guarding the minds of the young from the dangers to which they are exposed, from the cavils of infidels, and the lax sentiments of the age.—[Hartford Watchman.]

[excerpted from The Charleston Observer, Vol. X, no. 29 (16 July 1836): 113, columns 2-3.

Things For All Men To Do.

green_beriahThe following few paragraphs, below, form the opening portion of a discourse by Beriah Green, Jr. [1795-1874]. A graduate of Middlebury College, in Vermont, Green studied for the ministry at Andover Seminary. After a dozen years as professor at Western Reserve College, Hudson, Ohio, Green became the president of the Oneida Institute in Whitesboro, New York, a manual labor college founded in 1829 by Presbyterians. Rev. Green accepted that post on condition that he could advocate for the immediate end of slavery and could also accept African Americans as students at the school. A number of prominent black leaders, men such as Henry Highland Garnet, were educated at Oneida during Green’s tenure.

In the following address, delivered on a Sunday evening, July 17, 1836, in the Presbyterian church at Whitesboro, New York, Rev. Green delivered a powerful call to end the institution of slavery, under the title of “Things for Northern Men to Do.” Since that time, the intervening years have seen a great deal of turmoil and change in our nation. Yet Green’s message from the text of Jeremiah 7 remains disturbingly appropriate even today. Where he railed against racial slavery, we now see abortion, pornography, sexual slavery, and all manner of addictions running rampant across our nation. “Crimes of all sorts and sizes we are in the habit of committing.” The sins of a former era and those of our own time are linked by a common thread, one which treats men and women made in the image of God as mere objects to satisfy our lusts. What can we as Christians do? Are we powerless?

Rev. Green offers his understanding of the Scriptural imperative:—

“Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these. For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. — Jeremiah 7:3-7, KJV.

“The general sentiment among the Hebrews, with which Jeremiah had almost alone to content, is clearly indicated by a shocking assertion, which they were wont to throw into the face of Jeremiah. Crimes of all sorts and sizes they were in the habit of committing; and then, reeking with corruption and red with blood, of coming and standing before God in His temple, to insult Him with the declaration, that they “were delivered to do all such abominations.” Things had taken such a shape and posture, that they could do no better than to violate the most sacred relations, and break the strongest ties which bound them to heaven and earth. They were connected with a system of abominations which they could not dissolve, and from which they could not break away. With the different parts of this system, the fibres of society had been intertwisted. It was supported by confirmed usages and venerated institutions. What hazards must they not encounter, what risks must they not run, in opposing the sentiment which generally prevailed around them! They thought it better to go with the multitude to do evil, than incur popular odium in resisting it. They could not keep their character and retain their influence, without taking a share in popular iniquity. Their wickedness was a matter of necessity. Still they could not refuse to see that it was driving their country to fearful extremities. Ruin stared them in the face. What could they do? On the one hand, driven by such strong necessities to sin; and on the other, exposed to such exterminating judgments for their iniquities!

“Just here the prophet met them. The difficulties in which they were involved, and the dangers to which they were exposed, they owed to themselves. And if they stoutly persevered in the crooked ways they had so rashly trodden, they were undone. Nothing would then save them from the dishonored graves, which their own hands had been so long employed in digging. Yet they need not perish. If they would avoid presumption, they might escape despair. They might not charge the blame of their iniquities on God. They might not allege, that “they were delivered to do the abominations” they were guilty of. So long as they did so, their repentance and salvation were impossible. The work, which demanded their attention, lay directly before them. This done, and all their perplexities, and difficulties, and embarrassments would instantly vanish. This done, destruction, with its open jaws now ready to devour them, would at once flee away. This done, and benignant heaven would pour upon them the choicest, most enduring benefits. . . .”

To read the remainder of Rev. Green’s discourse, click here.

Words to Live By:
Salvation belongs to the Lord (Ps. 3:8). The gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful, even to the bringing down of kingdoms and powers raised against it. May the Lord’s people first repent of their sins, and then, humbled, may we come before the throne of grace night and day, seeking the Lord’s mercy and grace upon a people rushing headlong into destruction.

From Prisoner of War to Professor of Bible
by Rev. David T. Myers

Clyde Wayne Field was his name. College students at the now closed Highland College in Pasadena, California had him teach classes for the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, as well as English Bible. He was an able teacher, instructing those who sat in the daily sessions at the small Presbyterian College week after week. But his experiences in life prior to this was anything but orderly.

Born in Braymer, Missouri, when he came of age, he joined the Army Air Corps of the United States. As our country had entered World War 2, First Lieutenant Clyde Field began to fly in heavy bombers over Germany, seeking to defeat the Nazi’s in their global plans for world domination.

Early in 1944, his plane was hit by aircraft fire, forcing Lt. Clyde Field to jump out of the burning plane. Seeking to steer himself by the rip cords to miss the population center beneath him, he tried everything within his power to accomplish that. But he landed in the middle of the German town. He was a prisoner of war.

Clyde was sent to a Gestapo-run prisoner of war camp for the next year. One of six thousand Allied prisoners, he suffered emotionally and physically. His daily food was cabbage soup and bread made from flour and sawdust. Once, he was given a small portion of food and realized that if he didn’t add to it, it would be gone in a day or so. So he went around the prison camp, adding grass, and leaves, anything, to make it stretch longer. However, it tasted terrible, so he had to throw the whole concoction out.

As Russian forces closed in from the east on the prison camp, the whole contingent of captured Allied troops were forced to walk in their weakened conditions one hundred miles. Desperate times called for desperate measures. As Clyde Field engaged a German farmer in his best high school German, he knew that his fellow prisoners were in the rear raiding the farm animals. Eventually, Allied forces came and rescued the prisoners of war. He was released on this day, May 29, 1945, and returned to the United States.

He attended and graduated from Wheaton College and Faith Theological Seminary. Further Master of Theology studies were done at Grace Theological Seminary. Ordained in the Bible Presbyterian Church, he served two BP churches in California and Montana. But his main teaching ministry was at Highland College, where this author studied under him from 1959 to 1963.

Clyde Field went to be with his Lord and Savior on December 24, 2007.

Words to Live By:
One of his Highland College students, Shirley Larsen, of the state of Washington, commented to this author in an email that (Clyde Field) “really helped me form a strong basis for my view of Scripture as God-breathed, authoritative, and reliable. His emphasis on who Jesus was from John chapter 1, because of the language structure of the text, gave me a life long foundation for belief and trust in our Triune God.” Would it be the same for all of us, as we communicate the Reformed faith to our families and the church family, the result will be a stronger faith in Christian doctrine and life in them.

A Pastoral Letter on the Eve of the American Revolution
by Rev. David T Myers

There was no turning back in one sense. American militia men in the province of Massachusetts under Captain John Parker had stood up militarily, at least for a awhile, against the British regulars at Lexington. The proverbial die was cast. So on May 17, 1775, Presbyterian elders gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, representing the churches of the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, for an important pastoral letter to their Presbyterian churches and members.

Under the address of “Very dear Brethren,” these Synodical members representing the Presbyterian congregations of the two colonies of New York and Pennsylvania wrote six propositions to their brethren.

First, in the upcoming struggle, they urged their congregations in the pews to express their attachment and respect to their sovereign King George! They wanted everyone to know that lawlessness was not to be the cause of the future national struggle. (This author of this post wonders how many Scotch-Irish presbyters were present in this Synod, given their anti-British sentiments from past years in the old country!) But his first point was written to earnestly desire the preservation and security of those rights which belonged to them as freemen and Britons.”

Second, there was a plea to support the delegates and any future actions of the Continental Congress then meeting in Philadelphia. The presbyters were urged to treat them in respect and encourage them in their difficult service.

It is interesting that this second proposition included a mutual feeling of respect be given to other denominations and their people. If it came to war, and certainly the first battle had already taken place, a mutual support was desirable toward the final end of victory.

Third, the morals of the members in their respective congregations were to be watched over by the spiritual leaders of the church. A denial of this principle would make any people ripe for Divine judgment. Reformation of manners was of utmost necessity. Thus, maintenance of biblical church discipline was called for by these overseers of the congregations.

Next, ordinary duties to God and man, especially those of the household of faith, were called upon by the Synod. “Wantonness and irregularity” were warned against in the struggle.

Fifth, a “spirit of humanity and mercy” was recommended to all those who were called upon as soldiers in the present struggle. “Meekness and gentleness of spirit” were called upon by those in the ranks, rather then rancor and a spirit of revenge.

And then this sentence stands out in this fifth point in the pastoral letter. “Man will fight most bravely, who never fights til it is necessary, and who ceases to fight as soon as the necessity is over.” How important was this sentence, especially considering the Tories who would fight with the British in their battles with their patriot neighbors.

Lastly, a spiritual point of recommendation closed out the pastoral address, urging the members to attend to general fasts, with continual attendance in the exercise of prayers, and to join with others in the aforementioned duties.

The Pastoral Letter was approved, with only one dissenting vote, by the elders, both teaching and ruling elders, and sent to the churchesii.

Words to Live By:

Our Confession of Faith has in chapter 31 a statement of justification of today’s post which states “Synods and councils . . . are not to inter meddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by humble petition in cases extraordinary . . . . Obviously, this 1775 Synod believed this matter was an extraordinary case. And so they sent it to the churches of the Synod. When that happens in the churches of our subscribers, be much in prayer in the preparation of the pastoral letter, under gird it with more prayer upon its sending out to the churches and members, and pray for a biblical response to its contents, that God would be glorified and the membership would be edified.

Salvation for American Boys and Girls
by Johannes G. Vos
[excerpted from The Presbyterian, 97.4 (27 January 1927): 17, 27.

In 1925, the son of Princeton professor Geerhardus Vos, Johannes G. Vos, enrolled at the Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating there in 1928. He continued his preparation for the ministry with a year at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, 1928-1929. Some of his classmates included Loraine Boettner, Wick Broomall, Jr., David Freeman, and Paul Woolley. But with good indication of both his ministerial aptitude and his scholastic ability, on top of his school work, Johannes was actively engaged in evangelistic ministry. Here in this article from 1927, we read of the child evangelism work that he was involved with. In the first photo shown below, Johannes Vos can be seen standing behind the gathered children.

The School Bag Gospel League is a spiritual movement with a spiritual end. Its aim is the salvation of America’s boys and girls, by placing in their hands the sacred Scriptures which are able to make wise unto salvation. It distributes free of charge to school children from nine to seventeen years of age, Gospels and Testaments under a simple membership plan. The work is dependent on the voluntary offerings of the Lord’s people for its support. It originated in the Autumn of 1922, in New York City. Since that time it has spread to 210 centers in thirty-four States and the Dominion of Canada. No appeals for money are made. Many thousands of Gospels and Testaments have been issued, and hundreds of conversions have been reported. Where possible, the work of Scripture distribution is followed up by evangelistic services and Bible study classes. A few reports from different centers of the League will show the progress of the work.

From the League secretary at Indiana, Pa.: “I have about 600 members altogether, and have given out about 300 Testaments. There have been 29 children who have accepted Christ as their Saviour….

From a boy, age 12, in Trenton, N.J.: “I said not to leave too many Testaments, but, as it looks, I need more, because I got fourteen members to-day at school…(This boy, during the school year 1925-26, enlisted eighty-seven other children in the League, gave them the different Gospels as these were needed, and was able to issue School-Bag Testaments to seventy-two who completed the reading of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—surely a remarkable record!)

In one New Jersey public school, in a rural section, seventy-five children completed the reading of the four Gospels and received Testaments. The principal of the school was deeply and favorably impressed… In another New Jersey community, where about half of the children in the school are foreign and many of them Roman Catholic, two boys enrolled about forty members and issued Testaments to thirty-five who completed the reading of the four Gospels. A dozen or more of these accepted Christ as their personal Saviour at an outdoor evangelistic service held by the League in the summer of 1925.

From the secretary at Milwaukee, Wisconsin: “We have about sixty enrolled, and ten have already received their Testaments. They love the Gospels. It is a wonderful plan, and God is surely blessing our part of it.”

For young and old, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. This gospel is contained in the Holy Scriptures. What a precious treasure Christ has committed to His Church! Surely God’s people should ever be eager to spread the glad news to young and old that Christ’s kingdom may be extended  and His people united to Him. The children of America are eager for the gospel. They are ready to receive it. When it is presented to them in its simplicity and fullness, it bears its precious fruit. God has set before His people an open door, and (for the time being, at least) no man can shut it. How long the door will remain open, no one can predict. The people of God must come to realize their responsibility to place God’s Word in the hands of the multitudes of un-evangelized American youth.

“It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matt. 18: 14). Can it conceivably be God’s will that many millions of children in our country should grow to maturity without God, without the Saviour, without the Bible? Can it be His will that His people should be too busy with other things to give these little ones the bread of life?

The School-Bag Gospel League plan is a new thing, and for that very reason many hesitate to adopt it. Consider, however, that the old plans and methods are not meeting the need. It is a rare Sabbath-school that has more children than it had twenty years ago, unless it be a new school. It is a rare church that has as many children in attendance at the services of the Lord’s house as it had twenty years ago. Meantime, millions of American children are growing up without the gospel. The easy thing is to be satisfied with the old methods, to do the old things in the old way. But, remember, that sometimes the hard thing is the thing God would have us do; sometimes the new thing is the thing God has raised up to meet the need of His kingdom; sometimes the man who receives God’s richest blessings is the one who is not afraid to take up a new thing. Consider also that this movement has upon it the seal of four years of divine blessing. If God were not in it, how could it spread as it has, making no appeals for funds?

Words to Live By:
Further information about the School Bag Gospel League is difficult to find. There was a book authored by Thomas Mitchell Chalmers, The School Bag Gospel League : What It Is, which consisted of three articles or chapters. The Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary has the only copy that I could locate. The author, Thomas M. Chalmers was connected with an evangelistic work called the Jewish Missionary and served as editor of that work’s magazine. As to what became of this ministry, perhaps it was a victim of the Great Depression. We simply don’t know at this point. Johannes G. Vos [1903-1983] completed his additional training at RPTS and became a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, pastoring a congregation in Kansas and for many years producing a magazine called The Blue Banner. More recently, articles from The Blue Banner were extracted and published as a commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism. For more on the life and ministry of Johannes G. Vos, click here.

“From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”—I Timothy 3:15.

 

Having previously reminded our readers of H.L. Mencken’s eulogy for Dr. J. Gresham Machen, here is another, from an opponent, as printed on the pages of THE PRESBYTERIAN, vol. 107, no. 3 (January 1937), page 4—published not long after Dr. Machen’s unexpected death on 1 January 1937, 

PEARL BUCK ON DR. MACHEN

In the last issue of The New Republic, Pearl S. Buck has an editorial article, entitled “A Tribute to Dr. Machen.” She says of him : “In the days when he was hot upon the trail of my own too liberal soul, I received from him, in the midst of his public protestations, a private letter saying that he hoped I would not misunderstand his denunciations or in any way interpret them as being at all personal to me. He had, he said, the utmost respect for me as a person, but no respect at all for my views. I replied that I perfectly understood, inasmuch as this was exactly the way I felt about him, the only difference being that he had the same right to his views that I had to my own. He wrote again to say very courteously that I was completely mistaken, since views were either right or wrong, and his were right.” This testimony draws attention to the great courtesy which marked Dr. Machen’s attitude towards those who were at opposite poles from him. It is to be seen in his books when he crossed swords with some destructive critic.

[The Presbyterian 107.3 (21 January 1937): 4.]

Words to Live By:
Note Dr. Machen’s gracious note, sent privately. No Christian should ever strike out in anger against another human being. We can and must oppose all that error which is contrary to the Scriptures, but our criticisms need not be personal. We have every reason to extend a hand of grace and mercy, even while standing firmly for the truth.

 

A Way-station for the Progress of the Gospel
by Rev. David T. Myers

Up to the middle of the eighteenth century, what presbyteries existed were all in the northern part of the American colonies. But after the division of the New Side – Old Side Presbyterians in 1741 (see May 17, 1741), the New Side evangelists set their spiritual eyes on advancing the gospel both south and west of Philadelphia. Especially was there an encouragement due to the expansion of the Scot-Irish Presbyterians in those  directions who still worshiped in the manner of their Scotch forefathers.

An important waystation for the progress of the gospel was the establishment of Hanover Presbytery in Virginia on October 3, 1775. Constituting this regional church governing unit were the following: Samuel Davies, of Hanover Presbyterian Church, of Hanover County; Robert Henry, pastor of Cub Creek Church in Charlotte County and Briery Church in Prince Edward County; John Brown, of Timber Ridge and New Providence Presbyterian churches in Rockbridge County; and John Todd, assistant to Samuel Davies and pastor of Louisa County. Various ruling elders also attended, such as Samuel Morris, Alexander Joice, and John Molley. Also part of the presbytery but unable to attend were Alexander Craighead, pastor of Windy Cove Church in Augusta County, and John Wright, pastor of the church in Cumberland County, near Farmville, Virginia.

At the first meeting of the Presbytery, after the sermon by John Todd, the first action taken was to appoint a day of fasting and prayer on January 1, 1777.  The last act was to repeat the fasting and prayer on June of the same year.  In both cases, the purpose was to ask God for His help against the physical dangers occasioned by the war in their land as well as to ask God to bless the preaching of the Word of God in the area.

Words to live by:  Lest we respond with a yawn about the topic of today’s devotional, let us remember that to attend church in these early days was to put your life and that of your family in danger. First, there was the distance travelled to the meeting-house, usually a log building, or sometimes outside  under a huge tree. Transportation there was by horseback, or in buggies pulled by horses. The worshiping family carried their Bibles, hymns, and rifles with power horns, for protection. The services themselves lasted for two hours. And at the end, there would be communal meals, with another worship hour before they left for their homes. Colonial worship was not for the lukewarm, but for the God-fearing, Bible-believing men and women of the Presbyterian faith.

Charles Hodge enters into eternity

Early in July of 1878, on the pages of The Christian Observer, this brief note appeared under the title, “Calvinism and Piety,” :

The Christian Union, which has no friendship for Calvinism, closes its article on the death of Dr. Hodge, as follows:

Dr. Hodge, who was the foremost of the old Calvinists in this country, was, in character, one of the sweetest, gentlest and most lovable of men. His face was itself a benediction. We doubt whether he had any other than a theological enemy in the world. Curiously too, the peculiar tenets of his theology were reserved for the class-room and for philosophical writings. In the pulpit he preached a simple and unsectarian gospel; his favorite texts were such as “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved;” and his sermons were such as the most successful missionaries delight to preach in foreign lands. In Princeton he is regarded as without peer in the conduct of the prayer meeting. His piety was as deep and as genuine as his learning was varied and profound. The system of theology of which he was the ablest American representative seems to us, in some points, foreign to the teaching of the New Testament, but the life and personality of the man were luminous with the spirit of an indwelling Christ.

Words to Live By: May we all—those of us who name the name of Christ and who also claim that same biblical faith commonly called Calvinism—so find our maturity in Christ as to live in a similar way, luminous with the spirit of the indwelling Christ, pointing all men and women to the only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

An Exceptional Overcoming, in Difficult Times
by Rev. David T. Myers

John Chavis was born in 1763 (or possibly 1762) in Granville County, North Carolina—a sparsely populated area north of Raleigh bordering Mecklenburg County, Virginia. While the details surrounding his early life and ancestry can be hazy, we know that members of the Chavis family were, along with one other family (the Harrises), the first people of African descent to be recognized as free persons in Granville County. John Chavis—whose lineage was a mix of African, American Indian, and Caucasian—came from a distinguished line of free Blacks who owned property and were committed to educating themselves as best they could. A descendant of Chavis later recalled, “My grandmother, mother, and great grandmother were all free people and Presbyterians.”

As a young man, Chavis received an excellent education, likely under the tutelage of the Rev. Henry Pattillo, who would have instructed him in Greek and Latin. Around 1780, Chavis enlisted in the Fifth Virginia Regiment, fighting for the Patriot cause, as many of his relatives did, in the Revolutionary War. In 1792, as an older “non-traditional” student, Chavis was admitted to Princeton using scholarship money from something called the Leslie Fund. In order to be admitted to Princeton, a student had to be tested in English grammar, orthography, punctuation, composition, geography, United States history, Latin grammar, Greek grammar, and mathematics. Chavis was well educated and a quick learner. While at Princeton, he received private instruction from John Witherspoon (which is why I first became interested in Chavis). In 1793 or 1794 Chavis left Princeton (because of Witherspoon’s death?) and later finished his academic studies at Washington College (Virginia) in 1802.

While in Virginia, Chavis was picked out as a suitable candidate for the ministry. In particular, many Southern whites were eager to see Chavis evangelize other Blacks. On October 19, 1799, Chavis was received under the care of Lexington Presbytery. A year later, one of the elders of the presbytery argued that the work of evangelization was too important to prolong Chavis’s trials any further. After a unanimous vote to sustain his exams, Chavis was granted a license to preach. By some accounts, he was the first Black in America ordained by the Presbyterian Church, though technically he only received his licensure, never final ordination.

Chavis was commissioned as a “riding missionary under the direction of the General Assembly,” first under Lexington Presbytery, then Hanover Presbytery, and finally Orange Presbytery. Although his mission was to preach to other Blacks, records indicate that he preached to more whites, up to 800 at a time. Chavis desired to preach to “his own people,” but slaves were often not allowed to worship in white churches. Chavis’s missionary trips were mostly preaching tours, but he also assisted with the Lord’s Supper and performed some pastoral duties.

In addition to a well-received preaching ministry, Chavis was an exceptionally gifted educator, opening a classical school in Raleigh in 1805. At first, the school was integrated, but later white parents insisted that Chavis instruct Blacks and whites separately. At full strength—Chavis was often sick and suffered from debilitating arthritis—the school in Raleigh was home to many of North Carolina’s leading families. Chavis taught a future governor, future lawyers, future pastors, and was especially close throughout his life to the future U.S. Senator Willie Mangum.

After three decades of successful teaching and preaching—and, it seems, a measure of prosperity from dabbling in real estate—Chavis saw his ministry (and his money) dry up in the 1830s. In 1832, in response to Nat Turner’s Rebellion of August 1831, the North Carolina legislature made it unlawful for any free person of color to preach or exhort in public or to officiate as a preacher. Chavis pleaded with the Presbytery for financial support, but the collection they took was little more than $50. In an effort to pay his bills and provide for his wife and children (about whom we know next to nothing), he requested in 1832 that the Presbytery publish his Letter Upon the Doctrine of the Extent of the Atonement of Christ. The Presbytery denied the request, arguing that the subject had already been dealt with by others and there was little chance the short pamphlet would produce much income. No doubt, the Presbytery also demurred because Chavis had drifted from confessional Reformed orthodoxy. In the Letter, Chavis argued that the free offer of the gospel was inconsistent with limited atonement and that the eternal decrees of God were based on “nothing more nor less than his foreknowledge.” Judging by his Letter, Chavis was a passionate gospel preacher who aligned with the New School wing of the Presbyterian controversies of the 1830s.

During his lifetime, Chavis remained a committed Presbyterian, an ardent Federalist, and a critic of racism and slavery. Though these criticisms were, by necessity, often more private than public, he did not hesitate to implore his friend and one-time student Willie Mangum to stand against the tyrant Andrew Jackson. He also informed Mangum that though the insurrection was abominable, he thought Nat Turner was an innocent man.

On June 15, 1838, John Chavis passed from this world into the next, his obituary noting that “his christian character gave comfort to his friends.” Later that fall, the Orange Presbytery resolved to provide Chavis’s widow with a lifelong pension of $40 a year.

Although I wish his theological thoughts were more in line with the Old School side of things, my greater wish—if that’s the right word—is to wonder how much more his ministry might have been had it not be hampered, and then silenced, by the growing rumbles of racial animus and fear. I doubt many of us have heard of John Chavis, but his impressive learning, his itinerant preaching, and his successful teaching mark him out as an important leader in the Old South, particularly among Presbyterians.

Information for this post was taken from Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Volume One (1607-1861), and especially from Helen Chavis Othow, John Chavis: African American Patriot, Preacher, Teacher, and Mentor (1763-1838).

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