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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, 


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).

Some of our past posts published here on This Day in Presbyterian History have given us portions on the life and ministry of Francis McKemie, in the context of the beginnings of the Presbyterian church in America.  What informed Presbyterians know is that this founder of American Presbyterianism was ordained in Ireland as a Presbyterian minister, which itself was formed in 1642.  But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Under King James I, large numbers—literally tens of thousands—of Scottish Presbyterians emigrated in 1610 to the region now known as Northern Ireland. What they found was a barren land, laid waste by the Irish wars in the late 1500’s. These Scottish immigrants must have taken a deep breadth as they viewed their new surroundings, and wondered what they had gotten themselves into when they decided to leave Scotland.  But James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery, the two founding fathers of the Ulster Scot movement, knew that these Scot immigrants were just what was necessary to populate and transform the land. With courage and determination, they plowed, planted, and eventually built the region into an agricultural and industrial nation. They also rebuilt some 15 churches which had been destroyed in previous decades. These were a people who lived out their biblical faith; they were a people whose convictions equipped them to meet great challenges.

The first Presbyterian minister to Ulster was the Rev. Edward Brice who came over in 1613.  Others would join him, even as the early church in Ireland would be more Prescopalian, to coin a word, than Presbyterian.  Presbyterian ministers labored within the confines of Episcopal churches at first.  Such a combination could not continue forever however, which was made clear on August 4, 1621, when the Five Articles of Perth were passed in the old country, and applied there and in Ulster.  It was simply an attempt to conform Scottish worship to the Anglican pattern of worship.  The attempt did not go well!

God’s Spirit was also at work during these times.  There were three religious revivals which renewed the graces of Christ in believers, thus bringing God’s elect into the kingdom. These three revivals were known as the Stewarton Revival, the Six Mile Water Revival, and the Kirk O’Shotts Revival. Each in turn served to prepare Church members for some hard trials in later decades.

The first time of trial took place in 1639.  The Black Oath was introduced in Ulster on May 21.  It specifically rejected the National Covenant of Scotland, which had been signed in 1638. Those who were asked to sign the Black Oath were to reject the National Covenant, and swear loyalty to King Charles I.  Some of the Ulster Scots signed the Black Oath, but most refused.

That trial continued on until October 23, 1641 when there was literally an “open season” for the persecution of Irish Protestants and Presbyterians carried out by Roman Catholics.  This author chose not to amplify the gross details of the massacre, but it is horrible to the extreme.  Estimates of those murdered were from 40,000 to 300,000.  Finally, someone thought it best to call for military help from Scotland.  Major General Robert Monro came with a Scottish army of 2500 soldiers to defend the harried residents of the Kirk.

But our post ends on a positive note, for from this Scottish army came the beginnings of the Presbyterian Church.  Each Scottish regiment had a Presbyterian chaplain.  Further, in each regiment, could be found what we would today call ruling elders. Then on Friday, June 10, 1642, in Carrisckfergus, Ireland, a meeting was held to constitute this Presbytery.  Present were Presbyterian chaplains Hugh Cunningham, Thomas Peeples, John Baird, John Scott, and John Aird.   Four other elders joined them to establish Sessions of Elders.

Rev. John Baird preached the first Presbytery sermon from Psalm 51:18, “By your favor do good to Zion, Build the walls of Jerusalem.”  Rev. Thomas Peeples was elected as Stated Clerk, a position he held for the next 30 years.   A flood of applications came from all of Ulster to join the Presbytery.  By 1660, there would be 80 congregations, 70 ministers, 5 Presbyteries, and 100,000 members.  And from them would come countless people immigrating to the land in which you and I live today.

Words to Live By: What stands out to this author is how the Lord prepared His people by not only heaven-sent revivals of the church,  but also through His preserving and sustaining care, in raising up His church despite terrible persecution of it.  How we can be thankful that this same God is still the God of providence, who guides and guards His people today.

God’s Gifts Recognized by God’s People

There are three dates in the life of Archibald Alexander, the first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary, which stand out in importance to this stalwart for the faith.

The first is October 1790.  That was the month and year when young Alexander was placed under care by the Lexington, Virginia Presbytery.  How different is this proceeding than what takes place today in being brought under care.  A candidate bring an endorsement from the Session of Elders of which he is a member.  That endorsement includes his Christian character and promise of usefulness in the ministry.  It should also speak of the activities of ministry that the candidate  has involved himself in within the church at large or a local church in particular.  An examination is made concerning his experimental religion and his motives for seeking the ministry.  Two questions of personal promises regarding both his relation to his Session and the Presbytery in Christian experience and education are then made.  A brief charge is brought from the Bible and then his name is on the role of Presbytery as a man under care.

In  eighteenth century  America, the prospective candidate. was assigned a paper in Latin on a doctrinal subject along with a sermon to be proclaimed.  Alexander was assigned justification by faith alone and a sermon subject of the difference between a dead and living faith.  Further, he was to lecture on Hebrews 6:1-6 and assigned Jeremiah 1:7 as his sermon.

The next step was licensure, which took place on October 1, 1791.  What is remarkable here is that his ministry under licensure was away from the Presbytery rather than being immediately and directly within the bounds of the Presbytery.  Archibald Alexander would travel on horseback to various communities for the next thirty-six  months, preaching 132 sermons during that three plus months.  And these sermons were not the introduction, three points, and a poem for application type sermons.   They were two hours or more in length.  And they were proclaimed without notes on the pulpit desk.

Then Hanover Presbytery ordained Archibald Alexander on June 7, 1794.  Upon that event in his spiritual life, he began the preaching, teaching, administering, and studying the Word of God for which he was recognized by all believers in all centuries.

Words to Live By: Normally, all we must do is to please God by our plans and activities.  Yet when God’s people confirm our Lord’s calling to His service, we are encouraged to proceed ahead in our efforts to study, serve, and/or sacrifice.  Let us pray fervently for God’s people to be thrust out into His harvest field, for the harvest is great, but the laborers are so very few to take advantage of that spiritual harvest.  Will you pray specifically today for someone you know (or don’t know) to discovered his calling to do God’s work?

Working through some pamphlets and other materials donated by Dr. Will Barker, I came across this little tract, which may be of interest. It is a reprint of an article that first appeared in THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL, on 30 January 1963.  Irrespective of the calendar date, this remains very much in the news these days:

Examining the idea that teachers are above the rules
ordinary mortals go by—

by G. Aiken Taylor, Ph.D.

The issue of “academic freedom” is rapidly becoming a major one. In some denominations there is no greater. A poll of 30 Baptist editors—for instance—placed the dismissal of Dr. Ralph Elliott from Midwestern Baptist Seminary, and the appointment of a special committee by the 1962 Southern Baptist Convention to re-study its statement of faith, as the two top news stories of 1962. Both stories had to do with the issue of academic freedom.

Dr. Elliott was dismissed from the seminary on account of his book, The Message of Genesis, which allegedly treats Biblical history lightly. His dismissal was hailed as a victory by conservative forces in the never-ending struggle between liberal and conservative elements which is going on in all Churches today.

Unfortunately, the outcome of the incident is not yet clear. Although the action against Dr. Elliott was supported by most state conventions we heard from, the liberals—mostly the academic community in this case—have shown no intention of letting it go at that. While the conservatives rest on their oars, confident in victory, the campaign to discredit them gradually increases in vigor and will probably win out in the end.

Conservatives are notoriously like the hare in the fable of the tortoise and the hare. They get excited but tend to relax again just as easily. The liberals, on the other hand, patiently keep up their subtle pressures until the resistance is overcome.

Latest development in the Elliott case is a paper signed by 37 religious professors in eight Southern Baptist colleges, condemning the seminary for “sacrificing” its “integrity in Biblical scholarship” and “denying” the “seminary’s freedom to interpret Scripture under the authority of Christ in Scripture” (which usually means, “the right to teach students to mistrust people who take the Bible to mean what it says.”)

We can predict the outcome of this controversy with a fair degree of assurance. Dr. Elliott will be reinstated—or elevated to something better—the book will be brought out by another publisher and will become an approved text in schools and colleges. The whole Baptist denomination, which supported his dismissal, but which ran out of steam as soon as he had left the seminary, will stand by helplessly wringing its collective hands.


Down in Florida another example of controversy over academic freedom has been unfolding, this time in the world of secular education. The whole state has been in an uproar over something which developed at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, where the atmosphere in some classes was alleged to have attained almost incredible depths of depravity and irreverence. One professor was dismissed. A legislative investigation of the whole state university system was held, resulting in some new statements of policy by the Board of Control. But after the dust had settled the professor was reinstated and business has continued pretty much as usual in Florida.

In the world of religion the issue of academic freedom appears as “freedom of conscience” or “freedom to interpret the Scriptures according to conscience.” The intensity of concern which some feel is reflected in that “message” recently issued by the Division of Higher Education of the Presbyterian Church US wherein it was urged that “the whole enterprise of higher education should be free from social, political, ecclesiastical and economic reprisals against academic freedom.”

The issue also rears its head in such controversies as that one which attended the Fifth World Order Study Conference of the National Council of Churches with its famous recommendation that Red China be admitted to the United Nations (“The Conference certainly had a right to speak its mind to the Churches”); and the Winston-Salem General Assembly hassle over the Layman’s Bible Commentary (“Writers have a right to follow the leading of responsible scholarship”).


What about it? The governor of Florida, at the height of the controversy in that state, offered some informal remarks at a news conference which constitute a sort of classic answer to the labored quibbles of those liberals who really want license to subvert when they demand “freedom.” Said the governor:

“Academic freedom is, of course, a part of freedom. It doesn’t rise to any higher levels or sink to any lower depths than other elements of freedom. It is like freedom of the press—it is bound by certain limitations. It’s necessary—and with it go certain privileges and certain responsibilities . . . (there is) a distinction between academic freedom and academic license . . . Obviously, unless each man is to be a law unto himself, there must be someone to say what the law is relative to that man; or somebody, or some means . . .

“I am concerned, on the one hand, that we do nothing to limit a proper exercise of academic freedom. On the other hand, I am equally concerned that we do nothing to restrict the power of the people to express themselves in all areas of government. And there is no area excluded.

“The people have a right to restrict the governor — they do so. They have a right to restrict the courts—I think—historically they have done so. And I think they have a right to restrict the Legislature, and they do so. And therefore I don’t want to see us get ourselves in a situation where we set one group aside and say: ‘But you are a law unto yourselves.’ I don’t think it is enough to say: ‘Well, we are gentlemen and we are patriots and we are intellectuals, and therefore we do not need to be restrained at all,’ because in an ordered society there must be restraints on everyone, or else there is no law and if there is no law there is nothing to protect academic freedom or any other freedom. . .” The governor was speaking about the “right” of professors in a state university to teach atheism and to bring open obscenity and pornography into their classes. His remarks apply equally well to the “right” of professors of Bible and religion to teach anything they please about Bible and religion.


We know one professor of Bible in a Presbyterian college who interprets the “freedom to interpret Scripture according to conscience” to mean that he is free to teach his students that the Bible is an utterly relative book, that even the Ten Commandments have no lasting validity. This professor caused a great uproar in a US synod last year. Then the uproar died down and he is still doing business at the same stand. But does “academic freedom” give him the right to teach in a Presbyterian institution that the Bible is not to be considered a final authority even in matters of religion?

In the case of Dr. Elliott our Baptist brethren have been concerned that professors in their institutions shall teach accepted Baptist interpretations of the Bible. Has the denomination the right to expect this?

May a man accept ordination in a Baptist church and then proceed to teach and practice Infant Baptism? Has he the right to accept a teaching position in a Baptist seminary and teach his students that without the episcopate and apostolic succession there can be no true Church?

What if a theologian in a Methodist institution tried to inculcate his students in Double Predestination? Or a Presbyterian professor began advocating prayers on behalf of the dead? Would such departures from denominational doctrine be right?

What of the Presbyterian who vows that he accepts the Confession of Faith, then manages to make it appear ridiculous every time he mentions it?

What of the teacher who denies the Virgin Birth or the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ? Has he the right in the name of academic freedom?

In other words, at what point does academic “freedom” cross the line of propriety and become irresponsible license? And who is to determine that point? The teacher himself?

It is quite possible that Presbyterian Church courts—presbytery, synod and General Assembly—have been hypnotized by the ecclesiastical eggheads waving that club of academic freedom. If so, one or two considerations may help bring things back into proper focus:


For one thing, a distinction should be made between the freedom to inquire and the freedom to teach. The human spirit may certainly roam freely in its search for truth but that freedom to roam is not to be equated with any alleged right on the part of one spirit to drag another spirit along with it on an excursion into error.

A science professor invites his students to enter the laboratory and by means of experiments find out for themselves what is true in the fields of physics, chemistry and biology. And when the student curiously begins to mix certain chemicals to see what will happen he is exercising a very necessary “freedom” to inquire and discover.

But the teacher who stands by encouraging this “freedom” on the part of his students has no right to tell them that if they mix chemicals “A” and “B” something predictable will happen—if he doesn’t really know what will happen by mixing chemicals “A” and “B”.

In like manner, the teacher of Bible or of religion may certainly encourage his students to pursue after truth with an unfettered spirit. But it can be said on the highest possible authority that no teacher of Bible or of religion has the slightest freedom to teach uncertain conclusions for truth.

Obviously, then, the question prior to that of academic freedom is the oldest of them all : What is truth?

If it be accepted as an axiom that one may not deliberately inculcate error or false conclusions—not even in the name of academic freedom—then it becomes important to determine how one arrives at the truth.

The freedom every spirit has to search for himself means that every spirit may determine what is true for himself, if he wishes. But every other man also has the right to determine what is true for himself. Does this mean that there will be as many different varieties of truth as there are men? Possibly—if every man is the sole judge of what is true.

But an infinite variety of opinions as to the truth of things would lead only to social chaos. Consequently men persuade each other to accept specific definitions of truth and they band themselves together on the basis of their agreement upon the truth.

This principle applies to religion.

Moreover the Christian religion begins by affirming that this truth has not simply been determined by some men and agreed upon by others, it is from God. This is where revelation comes in. And the Scriptures. And confessions of faith. And confessional bodies that hold to specific confessions of faith.

Christian people band themselves together on the basis of their agreement as to the nature of the truth of God. Confessional Churches, especially, are founded upon specific statements of faith upon which their members are bound to agree. Within the areas of agreement other areas of freedom may be agreed upon. But the very nature of the confessional Church means that the whole Church agrees to the limits both of the restrictions and of the freedoms. There is no such thing as being (honestly) a member of a confessional Church and believing as one pleases. One may try to influence changes in the bases of agreement but one may not conscientiously violate them. That is what Church vows are for.

Any member of a confessional Church who does not subscribe to the agreement as to the nature of truth upon which the Church is established, or who teaches others to have disrespect for the Church’s Confession—as is done in some Presbyterian circles—is a person with little honor: in the words of the Scripture, worse than an infidel.

[Reprinted from THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL, January  30, 1963.]

I find E.H. Gillett to be an engaging writer. Copies of his History of the Presbyterian Church are almost impossible to find, but it is at least available in digital form on archive.org. Browsing a bit further in this volume today, I came across the following account of a series of revivals that took place in North Carolina in 1802. 

Presbyterians don’t generally know what to do with such accounts. We like to keep our hands at our sides. Still, I think there is a place in our theology for reformation and revival, to admit there are exceptional times of harvest, when God’s people are particularly conscious of sin and turn from it, and when the Lord brings in great harvests of souls. 

In the preceding pages, the author has described three previous occasions of revival that took place in the first three months of 1802. The author opens this account with these striking words: “There had been already–subsequent to the close of the war–two marked seasons of revival in this region. The first began in Iredell county; the second commenced at a period when the prospects of religion were exceedingly dark, and when immorality and vice had come in like a flood.” Also noteworthy is how, in each of the first three accounts, he enumerates the number of Presbyterian pastors who were present on each occasion, numbering from six to fourteen, along with a few Baptist and Methodist ministers.

Now he comes to this last account of the revival in North Carolina:

The fourth general meeting was appointed on Friday, March 27, and was held at New Providence Church, under the charge of Mr. Wallis, in Mecklenburg county, about twelve miles southeast of Charlotte, and somewhat more than seventy miles north of Camden. The encampment was on a beautiful mount, easy of ascent from every direction, and more than half surrounded by a little crystal stream, which afforded water sufficient for the people and horses. It was clothed with a thick growth of giant oaks, with very little undergrowth. By three o’clock in the afternoon it was swept clear of timber, the tents were pitched, the fuel was gathered, and thousands, with their covered wagons and stretched canvas arranged in regular lines of encampment, covered the summit.

The services then commenced. A holy fervor glowed on the faces of the ministers, and a grave solemnity rested on the countenances of the people. A loud and lofty song of praise,—like “the sound of many waters,”—swelled by the united voices of the great assembly, and waking the echoes of the neighboring hills, rose to heaven. Prayer was then offered; and as the words of the text, “This is the house of God, this is the gate of heaven,” were uttered, it seemed but the instinctive expression of the feelings of every heart.

During the evening, and throughout the greater part of the night, there were exercises of singing, prayer, and exhortation in the several tents. The novelty of the scene, the fervor of devotion, and the depth of feeling so affected the multitude that few closed their eyes in sleep to the dawn of day. Before the services commenced on Saturday morning, three persons were struck down. At the close of the forenoon sermons several more were similarly affected; and the number continued to increase until the close of the meetings. Seventeen ministers were present, and about five hundred communicants participated in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, which was administered in the midst of the camp without noise or disturbance. At the same time preaching was going forward at three different stations. At the close of the services on Monday, continuing as they did till midnight, there were about one hundred persons prostrate on the ground, the greater part of whom were shouting aloud, and many of them in the most earnest manner entreating for mercy. While Dr. Hall was at prayer, about forty fell at the same instant. It was estimated that the whole assemblage amounted to at least five thousand persons. How large a number were “stricken” could not be ascertained. Besides those affected at the preaching-stations, many were taken in their tents, many more in their wagons, and a great many in the woods while at prayer or on their return to their homes.

Still other meetings were held; but their general features were substantially the same with those already described. The scenes they presented were pronounced “truly august and solemn,” especially in the night-season. When the fires were lighted up, the whole camp was illuminated, and revealed the canvas tents, the overhanging boughs of the trees left for shelter, and the eager listening groups, while the air was laden with solemn sounds which seemed more impressive amid the strangeness of the scene. Lofty songs of praise, pathetic prayers, thrilling appeals, stirring exhortations, groans or sighs of keen mental anguish, loud cries for mercy, or rapturous shouts of “glory” and thanksgiving from those who had found relief, were heard from every quarter of the encampment, and yet “with as little confusion and disturbance as the people of a city pursue their various occupations in the busy scenes of life.”  Every object, every utterance, seemed to conspire to deepen the solemnity. All that might interfere to distract attention was shrouded in darkness. The devout spirit seemed to realize the immediate presence of Jehovah, the presence of Him whose temple is all space, and beneath its dome of stars, with fellow-worshippers around him, bowed with reverence and awe appropriate to a “house not made with hands.”

The impression made upon those who had been drawn thither by curiosity was one which they could not shake off. It was almost impossible for them to sneer at what they witnessed. Those who came to mock often “remained to pray.” The most hardened cases were the very ones whose “exercises” were the most marked. In some instances not more than one in five, in others not more than one in ten, of those who were supposed to have been converted, were in the least physically affected. But where a person had been noted for his opposition or his incredulity, he was one of the most probable candidates for the “exercises.”

Words to Live By:
Revival depends upon God’s people coming to grips with their sin, repenting and turning from their wicked ways, humbling themselves and earnestly seeking the Lord. Then He will bless. It may not be in a way such as that described above. But He will bless, and His people will prosper spiritually.

For Further Study:
An old work well worth reading is John Preston’s set of six sermons on 2 Chronicles 7:14, titled The Golden Sceptre. You can find it on the web, here.

E. H. Gillett’s History of the Presbyterian Church was published in two volumes, available
here [vol. 1] and here [vol. 2]

“To God’s Glory” : A Practical Study of a Doctrine of the Westminster Standards.
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

THE SUBJECT : Church Discipline

THE BIBLE VERSES TO READ : Acts 2:41-47; Rom. 15:14; Gal. 6:1; I Cor. 5:1; I Thess. 5:14; I Tim. 5:20; Heb. 3:12-13; James 5:19-20; Matt. 5:23-24; 18:15-17.

REFERENCE TO THE STANDARDS : Confession, chap. XXX; Larger Catechism, Q. 63.

The Presbyterian and Reformed system has always held that the three marks of a true church are the proclamation of the Word, the correct administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of discipline. And yet in so many churches there seems to be a strange lack of discipline. Biblical discipline is sadly missing.

Note the terminology used above. Biblical discipline. Possibly this is why there is a lack of discipline. Whenever members of the church today think of discipline, they immediately think of punishment and want nothing to do with it. But discipline, Biblical discipline, is much more than punishment.

An excellent definition of church discipline is given by Johannes G. Vos :

“The exercise of the authority which Christ has committed to His Church for reclaiming members who fall into scandalous sin, and for guarding the purity of the Church by excluding those who cannot be brought to repentance.”

To help us in our consideration of church discipline, let us note two key words in the above definition : “reclaiming” and “purity.” Both of these words are so central to church discipline. These must always be involved. Discipline must be concerned about the purity of the church and discipline must be educative.

A basic principle regarding the work and worship of the church is that the Word of God is our only rule of faith and practice. Therefore, when we speak of church discipline we must be involved in both doctrine and life. The thinking and the doing of the believer must be consistent with the Word of God.

This can be seen in such passages as Acts 20 as Paul gives his charge to the elders. The elders are to exercise supervisory and disciplinary care toward the members of the church. Paul did not expect to do it all by himself. Each believer should really be involved in being concerned with the purity of the church and the reclaiming of those who have gone astray.

Let us see if we can establish some basic principles regarding discipline so that we might be faithful in our following God’s Word.

First, discipline is necessary. Too many churches today ignore discipline. The truth of God’s Word must be reflected in the church. The Bridegroom is jealous for the Bride He has purchased with His own blood. Therefore, God has established that discipline is necessary in the church. It can be a powerful source for good in the church as well as in the family.

God has made it plain in His Word that there should be discipline and even how it is to be carried out. As we read the messages to the seven churches in Revelation and as we read such passages as Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15-17 we can see how disagreements are to be handled. If such passages were followed immediately it would not be necessary for the more serious aspects of discipline to take place. 

Second, discipline must be motivated by concern for, and care of, the erring believer. If we have concern for our fellow believer there can be no attitudes of hate, or anger, or vengeance, or we will not be prompted by pride. Rather, our concern will show itself in love by the help of the Holy Spirit. If love is missing, discipline will not be educative.

Third, discipline should always be carried on within the framework of Ephesians 5:21. Submission one to another is a necessary part of correct discipline. This means that communication is important. As we are willing to submit one to another there will be a willingness to listen and to examine our own hearts regarding the matter involved.

Fourth, there should always be preventive discipline in action. That is, we should be careful regarding our acceptance of members, our calling of Pastors, our selection of church officers, and our attitudes toward each other. This will help to keep the purity of the church.

God’s Word teaches us that it is a responsibility of the church to exercise discipline. If the church is to be concerned over the spiritual state of its members, if the church members are to be shepherded and guarded, a certain amount of discipline must take place. Discipline is an integral part of church government. 

May we not ignore discipline. May we practice it because it is Biblical, all to the glory of God.

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