by David T. Myers
The title of this post came from a remark made in the latter part of the eighteen hundreds describing the Cemetery of Princeton, New Jersey. And that description is justified by the saints who make up the “inhabitants” of this historic cemetery.
This author has chosen the birthday of March 18, 1837 of the twenty-second and twenty-fourth president of the United States, Grover Cleveland, as our introduction to our post today. The son of a Presbyterian minister, he was the only President from New Jersey And while he was a Presbyterian during his time in the White House, by his own admission he did not focus on that religious affiliation, like Benjamin Harrison did when he was the president between Cleveland’s terms. After his role as the chief executive in our nation’s capitol, Grover Cleveland returned to New Jersey, and specifically Princeton, New Jersey for eleven years until his death. The White House still sends a wreath and a military escort to place on his grave on this day of his birth.
But he is just one of the many notable persons who are buried in this “Westminster Abbey”. For our purposes, we are much more interested in the spiritual “greats” of Princeton Theological Seminary, that great school of the prophets, from its beginning in 1812 up until 1929, when it was still the bastion of Biblical and Reformed theology in the Presbyterian church.
Think about these theological giants of the faith who are buried in this cemetery which began in 1757. To name just a few, they are Archibald Alexander (1772 – 1851), James Waddel Alexander (1804 – 1859), and Joseph Addison Alexander (1808 – 1860).
Of this one great family, A. A. Hodge once said, “I never go to Princeton without visiting the graves of the Alexanders – father and sons – and I never think of them without having my poor staggering faith in God and in regenerated humanity strengthened. Let us uncover our heads and thank God for them.”
Continuing the Presbyterian notables, Aaron Burr, Sr. (1716 – 1757), who was the first to be buried in the cemetery, Samuel Davies (1723 – 1761), Jonathan Edwards (1703 –1758), Charles Hodge (1797 – 1878), Archibald Alexander Hodge (1823 – 1886), Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851 – 1921) [that’s Warfield’s grave pictured above], and John Witherspoon (1723 – 1794).
The cemetery, which is still receiving burials, is under the oversight of Nassau Presbyterian Church, PCUSA, in Princeton, NJ.
Here is a quiz for our readers: J Gresham Machen and Geerhardus Vos are NOT buried in this Westminster Abby of the United States. Where are they buried? (And you cannot Google it!)
Words to Live By:
Countless newer churches in our Presbyterian and Reformed denominations do not set aside land for a cemetery. Of this omission, we are sad, for church cemeteries are spiritually uplifting sites. Yes, there are humorous stones, like one on a tombstone in Princeton’s Cemetery, “I told you I was sick!” But primarily, Christian memorials are witnesses to the grace and glory of God. As we read them, our poor staggering faith in God and in regenerated humanity is strengthened. Yes, we can have monuments of grace in city cemeteries, like that of Edward and Eleanor Kellogg’s monument in Leesburg, Virginia, which states at its bottom, “Saved by Grace.” That is a continuing witness to all who pass by. But so are those monuments in church cemeteries. Press for a cemetery for your church.
On Sunday evening, March 17, 1935, Dr. J. Gresham Machen filled the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This time period was in the framework of being under indictment for refusing to cease and desist from the support of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Mission, as the Mandate from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, had stated in 1934. His ordination was thus at stake. His standing in that denomination was at stake. Listen to his profession of faith given on that evening.
“My profession of faith is simply that I know nothing of the Christ proclaimed, through the Auburn Affirmation. I know nothing of a Christ who is presented to us in a human book containing errors, but know only a Christ presented in a divine book, the Bible which is true from beginning to end. I know nothing of a Christ who possibly was and possibly was not born of a virgin, but know only a Christ who was truly conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. I know nothing of a Christ who possibly did and possibly did not work miracles, but know only a Christ who said to the winds and the waves, with the sovereign voice of the Maker and Ruler of all nature, ‘Peace be still.’ I know nothing of a Christ who possible did and possibly did not come out of the tomb on the first Easter morning, but know only a Christ who triumphed over sin and the grave and is living now in His glorified body until He shall come again and I shall see Him with my very eyes. I know nothing of a Christ who possibly did and possibly did not die as my substitute on the cross, but know only a Christ who took upon Himself the just punishment of my sins and died there in my stead to make it right with the holy God.”
Despite what the ecclesiastical machinery of the Presbyterian Church would do, Dr. Machen’s conviction was settled. He ended it all by stating that he would “rather be condemned for an honest adherence to the Bible and to my solemn ordination pledge than enjoy the highest ecclesiastical honors and emoluments as the reward of dishonesty.”
Words to Live By: Can you echo the words of J. Gresham Machen today? Today the attacks continue upon both the written and living Word. Let us affirm this confession today—for the Word of God is true, though all men stand in error—until God takes us home.
For further study:
To read the full message delivered by Dr. J. Gresham Machen that Sunday evening, March 17, 1935, click here.
News coverage of the above event:
PASTOR SCORES MODERNISM AS CAUSE OF TRIAL.
Dr. J. Gresham Machen Defends Beliefs in Sermon At Church Here.
Philadelphia Minister Will Face Presbyterian Court at Trenton.
Dr. J. Gresham Machen of Philadelphia, president of the Independent Board of [sic] Presbyterian Foreign Missions, who goes on trial before a special court of the church tomorrow at Trenton, N.J., declared last night: “The Presbyterian Church is in the midst of a conflict between two irreconcilable adversaries–Christianity and Modernism.”
Speaking at the First Presbyterian Church here, Dr. Machen defended his fundamentalist beliefs and accused the Presbyterian Church of spreading “anti-Christian” propaganda.
“I cannot support this anti-Christian propaganda now being furthered by the official board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States,” he said. “I cannot place the shifting votes of general assemblies or any other human councils in place of an authority which rightly belongs only to the Word of God.
Refused to Quit Board
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church last year outlawed the Independent Board of Missions and ordered all ministers to resign from it within 90 days. Dr. Machen refused and was ordered to stand trial before the New Brunswick presbytery. Two hearings have been held and the third and final one is scheduled tomorrow.
Dr. Machen last night laid his troubles to “modernists” and asserted: “Christianity is taught in the Bible and the Constitution of the Church; but modernism has grown to dominate the ecclesiastical machine.”
Attacks Auburn Affirmation
Citing the Auburn Affirmation, which he said sets forth the modernist argument and is signed by 1923 ministers, Dr. Machen declared:
“The Auburn Affirmation directly attacks the doctrines of the full truthfulness of the Bible and declares that some of its basic teachings are merely theories among other possible theories and are non-essential.
“It is typical of the conditions in the church that Dr. Cordie J. Culp of New Brunswick, the presiding officer of the commission now trying me in Trenton, is a signer of the modernist document,” he said. “It is also typical that John E. Kuizenga of Princeton Seminary took the lead in the unanimous vote of the commission that all efforts of my counsel to refer to the modernist doument be barred.”
Professor at Seminary
Dr. Machen further declared he is prepared to prove that the board’s orders for him to resign are “contrary to the constitution of the church.”
“I have also offered to prove,” he said, “the Board of Foreign Missions is unfaithful to its great trust. The commission has refused to listen to my evidence or to the arguments of my counsel. Of course, I will be condemned, but I should far rather be condemned for an honest adherence to the Bible and to my solemn ordination pledge than enjoy even the highest ecclesiastical honors and emoulments [sic] as the rewards of dishonesty.”
Dr. Machen, who spoke in the absence of Dr. C. E. Macartney, is a profess of New Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.
[excerpted from The Pittsburgh Press, 18 March 1935, page 11.]
[Note: The correction name of the organization is the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. Too often in news coverage and elsewhere, the name was shown in error, substituting “of” in place of “for”]
And as many of our readers may be unexpectedly finding themselves at home today (pray that these times of isolation will be brief!), I thought we might run a longer post today. This has to do with the origin of the term “TR” or “truly Reformed, and I hope you will find it interesting, as it gives some background to our history in the last fifty years.
This “TR” phrase has been controversial most of its life, and it may surprise some to find out that this all goes back over forty years and more. For some it has been a term of pride and arrogance (“I am and you’re not”). For others it has been a handy derogatory expression (“You are and I’m glad I’m not”). By several accounts, “TR” was an expression coined in the early 1970’s on the campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, in Jackson, MS. Initially it was more an aspiration–a goal–we want to be thoroughly Reformed. But it quickly became a label, and as with most labels, there was little good that came from use of the stereotypes that attached on either side of the expression.
First up was Dr. Jack Scott, a much-loved Old Testament professor at RTS, whose chapel talk was transcribed and published. Dr. Scott was seeing a problem on the RTS campus, and he spoke to the matter. Next, The Presbyterian Journal published articles by David R. Gillespie, a student at RTS, and by William E. Hill, Jr., founder of the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, an organization that was important to the subsequent formation of the PCA. The last article on this topic was by the editor of The Presbyterian Journal, Dr. G. Aiken Taylor, who wrote an editorial titled “Lo, the TR”, but we will skip that article as unnecessary for our purposes.
And without further explanation, here are the first of several discussions from the pages of THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL in 1977, with two that appeared in the March 16th issue.
THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL, 35.45 (9 MARCH 1977): 9-10.
Is the truth of the Reformed faith still true when it is not loving?—
Paragon of Orthodoxyby JACK B. SCOTT
The author, professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Miss., is author of the Journal’s Sunday school lessons. This message originally was given as a seminary chapel talk.
The portion of Scripture taken from the first speech of Eliphaz to Job surely commends itself as a paragon of orthodoxy:
“But as for me, I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause: Who doeth great things and unsearchable; marvelous things without number: Who giveth rain upon the earth, and sendeth waters upon the fields: So that He setteth up on high those that are low; and those that mourn are exalted to safety.
“He frustrateth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise. He taketh the wise in their own craftiness: and the counsel of the cunning is carried headlong. They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope at noonday as in the night.
“But He saveth from the sword of their mouth, even the needy from the hand of the mighty. So the poor hath hope, and iniquity stoppeth her mouth. Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty” (Job 5:8-17). First comes a clear call to seek God: “As for me, I would seek God” (v. 8). The prophets also called for men to seek God while He may be found. In the New Testament, our Lord likewise taught that we are to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and seeking, we shall find.
Eliphaz praised God in clear, certain terms, speaking of the marvelous deeds of God, the unsearchable quality of God (vv. 9-16). Paul also concluded a part of his letter to the Romans with a clear statement of the unsearchable knowledge and wisdom of God (Rom. 11). Then Eliphaz spoke of the providence of God, of a God who gives rain on the earth and sends water upon the fields.
Next, he told of the exaltation of the lowly (v. 11), in words much like those of Hannah. When she received the answer to her earlier prayer for a son, Hannah praised God who exalts the lowly.
Eliphaz declared that God will and surely does oppose His enemies. He frustrates the devices of the crafty. Again, he declared that God overturns the wisdom of this world; Paul’s words in I Corinthians are not unlike these.
Eliphaz showed something of God’s love and concern for the needy: “Even the needy, He saves from the hand of the mighty, so the poor hath hope and iniquity stops her mouth” (w. 15-16).
He concluded this portion by exhorting Job and those listening to him to accept the correction of God: “Happy is the man whom God corrects, therefore, despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty.” These words, very much like those of Proverbs 3:11, are echoed in the New Testament. The author of Hebrews exhorts us all to accept the chastening of God, declaring that whom the Lord loves, He chastens (Heb. 12).
Thus it is with Eliphaz’ speech—sound, orthodox, solid theology! Right? Wrong!
Before this speech he heaped ridicule upon Job, “Now it is come unto thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled” (Job 4:5). He also was guilty of judging Job: “Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? Or where were the upright cut off? According as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow trouble, reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of His anger are they consumed” (Job 4:7-9).
Here Eliphaz put himself in the place of God and made a judgment about Job, not understanding at all the real problem which Job faced. Looking at external circumstances, he immediately came to certain conclusions. He presumed that because Job was suffering—as he surely was suffering because of his circumstances—he was clearly displeasing God.
Taking the same truth which Paul later declared, “Whatsoever a man sows, that he will also reap,” Eliphaz reversed it and made of it something which cannot be upheld. He was saying, in effect, “When we see trouble in a man’s life, we can know that he’s getting what he justly deserves from God.” However, Eliphaz indicated that this wisdom had a source other than the Lord: “Now a thing was secretly brought to me, and my ears received the whisper thereof, and thoughts from the visions of the night” (Job 4:12-13). What he pronounced so eloquently was based on his visions, the whisperings, the secretly brought things. He also showed a facility for speaking to that which was not at issue: “Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?” (Job 4:17). He spoke as though Job had affirmed this; of course Job had not. Eliphaz simply put up a straw man he could easily knock down.
Later Eliphaz’ speech moved into the realm of cruelty. “I have seen the foolish taking root: but suddenly I cursed his habitation. His children are far from safety, they are crushed in the gate, neither is there any to deliver them” (Job 5:3-4). “Job,” he was saying, “you just lost your children because of your sin. Because you sinned against God and displeased Him, you have been crushed and destroyed.” What a thing to say to a man who endured the great hardship and suffering of Job!
Finally, Eliphaz came to an arrogant, dogmatic conclusion: “Lo this, we have searched it, so it is; hear it, and know thou it for thy good”—as if to say, the last word has been said, the book is closed, this is it!
Elsewhere in the book of Job, God made His own assessment of these words: “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2), and He said to Eliphaz, “My wrath is kindled against thee and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath” (Job 42:7).
Eliphaz and his friends may have known many truths, but they did not know how to speak the truth in love, as Scripture requires of those called to speak the Word of God. Paul exhorted us to speak the truth in love, reminding us that we are about the business of building up the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in love (Eph. 4:15).
Now it pains me to say this, but I almost have come to the point where the term “TR” makes me sick! I don’t mean the concept. I believe that the concept of being thoroughly Reformed is a commitment everyone of us should have. I believe every seminary should stand for doctrines that are thoroughly Reformed. But that term “TR” has become heinous to those out in the Church. The two basic reactions to it are fear and laughter. In one week in two states, I have heard the term joked about and laughed at. I have talked to people who are filled with fear because of associations they have with that expression. And whether we like it or not, we have made it so. Shame on us! There’s nothing wrong with the term, but truth can never be honored when it is not spoken in love. You might even ask if it can still really be called truth.
James had a lot to say about the use of the tongue. “Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive the heavier judgment. For in many things we all stumble. If any man stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body, also” (Jas. 3:1-2).
James was awed by his responsibility, and his “we” included himself. We who are called to the heavy responsibility of teaching the Word of God stand under a heavier judgment.
We are always in danger of stumbling in the Word, of bringing dishonor to God where we would bring honor, of bringing confusion in the minds and hearts of men where we would clarify, of bringing laughter and jokes when we would instead bring serious contemplation of the truth.
Eliphaz is a very good example of James’ illustration, “Doth the fountain send forth from the same opening sweet water and bitter?” (Jas. 3:11). Eliphaz did just that, praising God eloquently but condemning Job wrongly, speaking, as it were, the truth without love. This is not acceptable in the sight of God. Watch out, brethren! God’s Word admonishes us!
Moreover, in Churches and our congregations many people are grieved and fearful and hurt, although we did not intend it so. I stand second to no man in my devotion to orthodoxy and to the Reformed faith, like Paul who was not ashamed to call himself a Pharisee of the Pharisees.
Yet our Lord reserved some of the sharpest words of His earthly ministry for just such people. Because they did not know how to handle the truth, they did great damage to the Word of God and to the people of God.
There is nothing wrong with being thoroughly Reformed, but perhaps we need to keep in mind some other words of James. “Thou believest that God is one” (now, nothing is more orthodox than that!) “thou doest well: the demons also believe, and shudder” (Jas. 2:19).
There’s more to orthodoxy than technically correct words. Sound orthodoxy and thoroughly Reformed faith have to do with the life we live and the manner in which we teach the Word of God, and with the love in our hearts as we deal with people, speaking to them of the great mysteries of God’s revelation.
And it is incumbent upon us to do this in the way God’s Word says it must be done. When “TR” becomes synonymous in the minds of people with factious, cruel, arrogant, judgmental, abusive, overbearing, it’s time for us to take note and do something about it.
This is a call for all of us to search our souls, to repent if need be. We can do something; nobody else but us can do anything about this. We can make the term “thoroughly Reformed” a beautiful concept again among the people of God. I will even say, indeed we must do so.
THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL, 35.46 (16 MARCH 1977): 7.
If you want your people genuinely Reformed, deal gently and in the Spirit—
How To Reform the Churchby DAVID R. GILLESPIE
The author is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Miss.
Nearly everywhere in the South in the two main Presbyterian denominations can be found many men whose chief desire is to reform their denominations and their individual congregations. They want the Presbyterian Church US or the Presbyterian Church in America to be confessional Churches, subscribing to the Reformed faith as it is presented in the Confession and Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly. More than they want a “broadly evangelical” or “conservative” Church, they want a Church which strives for purity in doctrine and practice—the Reformed faith.
The desire itself is to be heartily commended; in fact, the wish is entirely Biblical. How this can be accomplished, however, is a question which demands careful thought and close attention. Viewpoints vary, and much damage can be done in and to congregations and denominations if care is not used.
I think the Church can be reformed without needless division and hurt if we avoid two extreme positions in approaching the problem.
Certainly we cannot demand and should not expect immediate reformation, separating ourselves from all who fail to heed the call to reform. Many times in youthful zealousness, young pastors see their task to be the overnight transformation of their congregation from “conservative” to “Reformed” Christians.
The change would be a good one, of course, but no one should expect the transformation immediately. Just as people cannot be forced into receiving the Christian faith, they cannot be forced into embracing the Reformed faith or be given the ultimatum, “Shape up or ship out.”
On the other hand, a person true to the Reformed faith cannot be content to sit back and not seek the reformation of the Church, content merely with a congregation of “evangelical” members. If the Reformed faith is the purest form of Christianity, then all of us must seek its infusion into the people of God.
A study of Church history and the Scripture suggests two basic ways a reformation of the Church can be accomplished.
First, the reforming of the Church must be done by a gradual process of education. For example, let’s say most PCA members are very conservative but not Reformed in theology and practice. This was characteristic of these members long before they left the PCUS. On the whole, these people were not concerned with gaining an understanding of the Reformed faith; they were caught up in the battle in which lines were clearly and easily drawn: conservative versus liberal.
To put it as some see it, the situation is this: As a result of the theological climate during past generations, many Presbyterians just do not know the teaching and practice of the Reformed faith. They must be taught. But they must be taught slowly. One does not stuff a 12-ounce sirloin down the throat of a babe, and many members are babes regarding the Reformed faith. Some may even be hostile at first, choking on the Reformed teachings. Yet this is no reason to separate from them or to write them off as wild-eyed Arminians.
Hence I would plead with those who are and will be in teaching positions to learn to be patient, to be gentle, to love as you have been loved. Teach the congregations the Reformed faith; they need it, but give them a spoonful at a time.
Second, we who claim to follow men like Calvin and Kuyper have too often forgotten their great emphasis upon the work of the Holy Spirit. To reform the Church, we must pray that the eyes, ears and minds of our people will be opened so that God might convince them of the truth of the Reformed faith. To use Kuyper’s example, we must pray that the Spirit of God would produce that beautiful music upon the harp of the Reformed faith.
We must pray for ourselves, that God would grant us patience, love and concern, that He would teach us to lead our people gently, that He would grant us discernment as to where our people are and how we should lead them.
With these two thoughts in mind, the Church may indeed be reformed.
There is no need for bitterness, hatred and distrust to arise in the Church. PCUS and PCA congregations can become Reformed congregations in doctrine and practice. This will not happen if the babes are forced or ignored. They must be nurtured and taught slowly, with love. We must pray for and with them that the Holy Spirit will bring about this transformation which is reformation.
THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL, 35.46 (16 MARCH 1977): 8-9.
A distinguished Presbyterian minister appraises the care and use of Reformed distinctives—
The Faith in Perspective
by WILLIAM E. HILL JR.
The author served as pastor in the Presbyterian Church US and founder of the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship. He is now retired and a member of the Presbyterian Church in America.
A noted Southern Presbyterian theologian of a bygone generation has given a clear and cogent description of the Reformed faith, and the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism in a little book entitled The Gospel as Taught by Calvin. Dr. R. C. Reed wrote briefly but to the point, and he also sounded a note of warning and caution:
“After all, it is largely a difference touching words and names. Arminians believe that the atonement is limited in its application to those who believe; Calvinists believe nothing more and nothing less.
“Inasmuch, however, as Calvinists believe that God makes the application, they say the atonement is limited in design as well as application. But there is nothing in their view to prevent their offering Christ to every sinner and assuring him, on the authority of God, that if he will accept, he shall be saved. ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.’
“This is good Calvinism; and if anyone holds to a Calvinism that does not square with the widest offers of God’s mercy, then he has gotten hold of a spurious article, and the sooner he flings it away the better. ‘Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.’ Any so-called Calvinism that does not chime with this sweet Gospel bell deserves to ‘be cast out, and to be trodden under the foot of men.’
“We ask for no leniency of judgment on any argument or inference that would tend to make the strait gate straiter, or the narrow way more narrow. Above all things, let us believe that ‘Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners,’ and that ‘him that cometh to him He will in nowise cast out.’ ”
My father, grandfather and great-grandfather, ministers in the Presbyterian Church, warmly embraced the Reformed faith and I fully concur with Dr. Reed’s thesis and warnings as they did.
Like them, I hold firmly to the Reformed faith by heritage, education and conviction. I learned the Shorter Catechism as a lad; in seminary I rememorized it as a part of a required course on the Westminster Standards, taught by a professor who had spent a lifetime teaching theology with emphasis upon the Reformed faith. Later I spent more than five years studying the Scriptures and teaching the Westminster documents to Sunday school teachers and officers. Thus I became a hearty advocate of the Reformed faith by conviction as well as by heritage and education.
Today we hear much discussion about the Reformed faith. Some of it comes from seminaries like Westminster, Reformed and Covenant. Good! But we ought to be very careful when we hear such talk to keep our views in proper perspective.
The term “Reformed faith” is not definitive. It has many variations in its use and meaning, running all the way from the form held by the Primitive Baptists, to the Dutch form with the famous five points of Calvinism, to the Scottish form which is distinctly Presbyterian.
Presbyterians in America, both North and South, held strongly to the last mentioned form until the Northern Church began to slip in the late twenties and thirties. The Southern Church soon followed, although it had held to a moderate Calvinism from its beginning through its first 75 years of life.
We find many variations of the meaning of “Reformed faith,” not only in denominations but also in great theologians. The two Hodges at Princeton disagreed between themselves on certain points, and also with Warfield, with Kuyper and the Dutch Reformed group. All these differed somewhat from the early Southern Presbyterian theologians, such as Dabney, Peck, R. C. Reed, J. B. Green and others.
None of these looked at the “Reformed faith” in exactly the same way. Indeed, the discussion about the proposed Book of Confessions—recently rejected by the Presbyterian Church US but already adopted in another form by the United Presbyterian Church USA—brings to light vast differences between the confessional statements of Reformed groups, the Dutch, the Scots, Huguenots and others.
The Westminster documents, embodying the Reformed faith, present the best summary ever written of the teachings of Scripture. Yet even the Westminster documents do not cover the whole teaching of the whole Scripture. In at least two important points, very vital teachings of Scripture are neglected. Although the Confession of Faith contains one chapter on God the Father and one on Christ the Redeemer, it has none on the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
The Westminster documents do say much about the Holy Spirit, His work in salvation and in Christian growth. But there is no complete chapter in these documents where the person and work of the Holy Spirit, as presented in the whole Scripture, are brought together to form a complete picture—and this despite what they teach (and we believe) about the Trinity, “these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”
In a second vital omission, the Confession of Faith does not include the whole teaching of the whole Scripture about missions and evangelism.
Furthermore, adherents to the Reformed faith appropriately base some doctrines upon what they call “necessary, logical implications of the Scripture.” But the moment when we start talking about “logical implications,” we enter the human realm where the remnants of our fleshly natures can corrupt our thinking. That which is based on the clear teaching of the Scripture is divinely inspired; but anything based on man’s concept of “logical implications” is open to question.
Sometimes our Reformed faith loses its Biblical perspective. It does so if it opposes foreign missions and Sunday schools, as does the Primitive Baptist doctrine, or when it says, “I cannot tell a man God loves him because I don’t know if he is elect.”
Hair-splitting and quarreling are prevalent in Reformed circles. A casual glance at the history of Reformed Churches will show that the reputation they have gained through the years for being overly contentious is, sadly, all too well justified. This kind of faith fits rather well the old cliche, “. . . rather argue than eat.”
Biblical perspective is lacking when the Reformed faith lays almost exclusive preaching emphasis on teaching the Reformed faith but uses the Scripture only as a sort of proof text to support the main subject. If a seminary graduate conceives the major purpose of his ministry to be getting all the members of his church to understand and embrace the Reformed faith, he has somehow gotten off center. He is ignoring a higher priority—to teach the members of his congregation the Scriptures.
Students from some seminaries are thoroughly indoctrinated in the Reformed faith, and this is good. But many do not know the Scriptures nor how to apply them. People need to know Scripture before they can begin to understand the Reformed faith.
Being Reformed does not necessarily mean being a mature Christian, as some seem to imply. If the Reformed faith has value—and it does—all of that value is derived from the Scriptures and the place to start preaching and teaching is with the Scriptures, not with a system derived from them.
Recently, two young ministers whom I know personally have said to me, “I am starting to preach a sermon series on Sunday mornings on the five points of Calvinism. My new congregation does not seem to know too much about the Reformed faith.”
To both these ministers I replied, “Brother, you have gotten hold of the wrong end of things. What your people need to know is Scripture, and you should press diligently toward training your people in the Scriptures. Important though it may be, the Reformed faith is a derivative.”
The Reformed faith has lost its Biblical perspective when a church or a denomination becomes sterile. Strangely enough, extreme emphasis on the Reformed faith—without putting it into proper perspective—can and too often does result in spiritual sterility. Statistics on professions of faith can reveal a very sad picture. True, there are other causes of Church and congregational sterility, but failing to keep the Reformed faith in perspective can be and often is a major factor.
It is also possible for an adherent of the Reformed faith to use the term too often, like the very “Baptistic” Baptist who can hardly open his mouth without saying Baptist. We who know and love the Reformed faith should remember that this term is not used in the Bible. Any people we seek to influence can get to the place where they say, as one member said to me not long ago, “I am sick and tired of hearing about the Reformed faith. I am fed up to the ears with it.”
Thus we can tend to judge everything by how “Reformed” it is, rather than by Christ’s standards. By such an approach we can leave the impression that doctrinism is more important than Christ Himself. If we are not careful, we can glorify a theological system above the Head. When that happens, our interpretation of the system is out of focus.
Moreover, preoccupation with Reformed theology makes theological snobs of us and creates pressure groups within a denomination. We who hold the Reformed faith should do so with humility instead of being lifted up with pride, arrogance and bigotry. We need to humble ourselves, get down on our faces before God and mourn because of our own sins. The Reformed faith is out of perspective when pride takes over, when it becomes a point of contention which splits churches and denominations because of an arrogant and “holier than thou” attitude.
Finally, the Reformed faith has lost its Biblical perspective when it tends to rule out all whom we consider to be not truly Reformed. Many of our churches today are being split on this account, torn apart by ministers or elders who push the “Reformed” approach out of perspective. For instance, in two recent papers, the authors seemed to look upon the Reformed faith as representing some kind of perfectionism, and they opposed or pitied people who did not measure up to their idea of perfectionism.
Some try to rule out what God is doing through Billy Graham and Campus Crusade, saying they make salvation “too simplistic.” But we should beware lest our presentation becomes too complicated. It may not even touch base with the ordinary fellow, and even dedicated Christians are alienated as well, because they do not understand what the preacher is talking about.
Disagreements between those espousing the Reformed faith and other evangelical conservatives weaken the testimony of the Gospel. Such polarizations are unnecessary. “Reformed” and “evangelical” are not mutually exclusive nor should they be made so.
If we begin to think that our major mission in life is to “convert” sincere Christians of differing persuasions to the Reformed faith, we are out of perspective. Those who know the Reformed faith well can and do have deep convictions. We also need to have a becoming humility, not looking with pity or scorn upon Christian brethren who are not Reformed.
To keep our Reformed faith in perspective, we should remember that He who said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” also said, “Ye should go and bring forth fruit” (John 15:16). Some suggest this fruit is the “fruit of the Spirit” mentioned in Galatians 5. If that were all, why did our Lord give us the word “go”? Polarization often occurs when one person does not understand another.
The evangelical should be willing to give close attention to the study of the Reformed faith. Likewise, the Reformed minister should try to understand evangelicals. The evangelical should be more evangelical because he is also Reformed. The Reformed man should also be more evangelical because he is Reformed. Too often, however, it does not seem to work this way. May God help us!
The Reformed faith is in proper Biblical perspective when it:
—Evangelizes vigorously, weeping over lost souls of men as did our Saviour over Jerusalem and is moved with compassion, as was our Lord when He saw the multitudes.
—Demonstrates becoming humility, “esteeming another better than self,” as the Apostle Paul said. Surely Reformed people ought to be more humble than people holding any other system of doctrine.
—Talks more of Christ than of the Reformed faith, and more of the Scripture than of doctrinal distinctives.
—Is more concerned for the salvation of a man’s soul than for teaching him the intricacies and details of what is “truly Reformed.”
—Brings forth much fruit. We who are Reformed should not forget that He who said, “I came to save the lost” also said, “I came to seek the lost.” We must follow the example of the Apostle Paul who said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men, for the love of Christ constraineth us, as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ’s stead, be reconciled to God” (II Cor. 5:11, 14, 20).
Our Lord also said, “Herein is my father glorified, in that ye bring forth much fruit and that your fruit should remain.” We who make much of the sovereignty of God and declare the chief end of man is to glorify God must never forget that God is most glorified by our bringing forth “much fruit.” Our Lord, remember, cursed the barren fig tree.
—Preaches the Gospel in simplicity and in the Spirit as our Lord did, not as a demonstration of our scholarship or intellect. The seminaries should turn out men with burning hearts, not men educated away from the people; men with a passion for souls, not just intellectuals.
Brethren, let us glory not so much in the Reformed faith as in the cross of Christ by which we are crucified to the world and the world to us (Gal. 6:14).
The Christian faith is balanced in every respect. Every passage of Scripture has its balance. Error in interpretation occurs when we lose sight of that balance. God is one and yet three persons. Christ our redeemer has two natures, but one in person. Salvation comes by faith but faith is dead if works do not follow.
God’s sovereignty in election is balanced by man’s responsibility. When things get out of balance in any one of these paradoxes, they are out of perspective and error results. The same is true of the Reformed faith. It is good, but when it gets out of perspective, it can work much mischief.
Brethren, let us keep our Reformed faith in perspective, just as we claim to do carefully in interpretation of the Scriptures.
Q. 89. How is the word made effectual to salvation?
A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up, in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.
The word. –The whole of Divine revelation, contained in the Scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments.
An effectual means. –An instrument powerful enough to do what is intended by it.
Convincing sinners. –Removing all doubt or uncertainty from their minds, respecting the very great evil of sin, and its awful consequences after death, and making them to know and believe in the way of salvation through Christ.
Converting sinners. –Causing a change in their minds, turning them from their sinful ways, and making them live a holy life in the fear of God, by keeping his commandments.
Building them up. –Carrying on the work of sanctification in their souls, which, like a building not yet finished, is gradually advancing to perfection; settling firmly their religious principles, and causing believers to rest all their hopes of salvation on CHRIST, as on a sure foundation.
In this answer, there are five points of doctrine taught :
1. That the Spirit of God makes the READING of the word an effectual means of salvation. -1 Tim. iv. 13. Give attendance to reading.
2. That he renders the PREACHING of the word particularly, an effectual mean of salvation. –Rom. x. 11. How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
3. That the word read and preached, is, for this end, by the power of the Spirit, made a mean of convincing and converting sinners. –Psal. xix. 7. The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
4. That with the same view, he also makes it a mean of building them up in holiness and comfort. –Eph. iv. 11, 12. And He (the Spirit) gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
5. That it is only through faith, that the word thus becomes an effectual mean of salvation. –Rom. i. 16. I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth.
by Rev. David T. Myers
When the author of these historical vignettes was studying for his Doctorate of Ministry degree at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, one of the assignments was to read the first seventy-five pages of Geerhardus Vos’s book on Biblical Theology. This should be a snap, I thought. Only seventy-five pages of a large treatise. It was one of my most difficult assignments ever, as Dr. Vos used complex theological words which only a theological dictionary, my constant companion, would define. So it was slow going all the way through. In frustration I called my father, who had studied under Dr. Vos at Princeton Seminary in 1929, hoping to receive some comfort about this assigned book. I received none from my dad. His response was that I didn’t have to sit under Dr. Vos and interpret his “thick Dutch accent” while taking notes, so be thankful for small blessings!
Born this day, March 14, 1862, in Heerenveen, The Netherlands, Geerhardus Vos grew to become one of the finest and yet one of the last examples of the old Princeton theology. Immigrating to the United States in 1881 when his father answered a call to serve as pastor of a church in Grand Rapids, young Vos prepared for the ministry first at the Christian Reformed Seminary in Grand Rapids and then at the Princeton Theological Seminary, before taking his doctoral studies in Berlin and Strassburg. After about five years teaching at the Seminary in Grand Rapids, he was named as the first Professor of Biblical Theology at the Princeton Theological Seminary, taking that post in 1893 and serving there until retirement at the age of 70, in 1932.
When Princeton Seminary was reorganized and modernists put in positions of authority over the Seminary, Vos was within three years of retirement. He chose to remain rather than follow Robert Dick Wilson and J. Gresham Machen as they founded Westminster Theological Seminary. Nonetheless, his convictions were with those faithful men, and upon his retirement in 1932, he left an impressive portion of his library to Westminster.
His theological works were numerous and interest in his work has only grown through the years. Sadly, few publications noted his death in August of 1949, one notable exception being the September 1949 issue of The Presbyterian Guardian (see page 164). James T. Dennison, Jr. has written a brief biography of Dr. Vos, originally published in Kerux and made available here. Dr. Richard Gaffin has judged that Vos made his greatest contributions with his work on the kingdom teaching of Jesus [The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (1903)] and the theology of Paul [The Pauline Eschatology (1930)]. Just remember, that thick Dutch accent went down on paper (so to speak), and his writings are often challenging to read, but always worth the time.
His wife, Catherine Vos, was notable in her own right, particularly as the author of The Child’s Story Bible. She preceded him in death by some twelve years.
Words to Live By: An excerpt from “Jeremiah’s Plaint and Its Answer,” by Dr. Geerhardus Vos (1928)
“In taking the comfort of the prophetic promises to our hearts we do not, perhaps, always realize what after the tempests and tumults, in the brief seasons of clear shining which God interposed, such relief must have meant to the prophets themselves. For they had not merely to pass through the distress of the present; besides this they were not allowed to avert their eyes from the terrifying vision of the latter days. In anticipation they drank from the cup “with wine of reeling” filled by Jehovah’s hand. Nor did the prophets see only the turbulent surface, the foaming upper waves of the inrushing flood, their eyes were opened to the religious and moral terrors underneath. The prophetic agony was no less spiritual than physical; it battled with the sin of Israel and the wrath of God, and these were even more dreadful realities than hostile invasion or collapse of the state or captivity for the remnant. In a sense which made them true types of Christ the prophets bore the unfaithfulness of the people on their hearts. As Jesus had a sorrowful acquaintance with the spirit no less than the body of the cross, so they were led to explore the deeper meaning of the judgment to enter recesses of its pain undreamt of by the sinners in Israel themselves.”
Like the prophets, God calls us to weep over the sins of our times. We are not prophets—their time and place has gone—but God calls us still to take up the mind of Christ in this, to pray for His mercy upon a sinful people, to pray our Lord would rain down repentance and bring reformation.
The value and help of a Presbytery full of godly men—men who truly fear the Lord and who seek His will in all things—cannot be overestimated. The whole point of the Presbyterian system is that we should be connected, one to another, in the Body of Christ. Our Lord intends that we should be about the work of building up one another, each of us consistently working at pointing the other to Christ as our only Savior and Lord.
On pages 254-255 of Richard Webster’s work, A History of the Presbyterian Church in America (1857), we read this account which serves to make our point:
The Rev. Eleazer Wheelock, afterwards President of Dartmouth College, wrote from Lebanon, Connecticut, March 13, 1749, to Dr. Bellamy :—
” There are many things that have a threatening aspect on our religious interests in these parts: Antinomian principles, and the Korah-like claims which are the usual concomitants of them; prevailing worldliness and coldness which has become a common distemper among us; growing immorality, justified by the wildness and errors of many high professors; a want of promising candidates for the ministry, and the great difficulty that commonly attends the settling of any, chiefly through the strait-handedness of parishes toward the support of the gospel; the want of a good discipline in our churches, and the difficulty upon many accounts of reviving it, &c. &c. I am fully of the opinion that it is time for ministers to wake up for a redress of these evils; and I can think of no way more likely, than for those, who are in the same way of thinking about the most important things in religion, to join in a presbytery. Don’t you see that Arminian candidates can’t settle in the ministry? Don’t you see how much those want the patronage of a godly presbytery, who do settle? For want of it, they get broken bones, which will pain them all their days. Would not such a presbytery soon have all the candidates of worth under them, and, consequently, presently most of the vacant churches? Our wild people are not half so much prejudiced against the Scottish constitution as against our own. Many churches in these parts might easily be brought into it, and my soul longs for it. . . . For my part, I think it high time that men who have been treated as Mr. Robbins (of Branford) was, should have some way of relief, which I am informed was the view of that honest Calvinist who first moved in that proposal. . . . Is there not some reason to hope that hereby there will be a door opened for bringing things into a better posture among the Calvinist party? You know how God has overruled things in the Jerseys.”
Words to Live By:
Now, there is much in that letter that would take more time to explain than we have here today. But reading the broader strokes of Rev. Wheelock’s letter, the lesson to take away concerns the value of a godly presbytery. A good presbytery is first of all a guard against error, setting a biblical standard for who can serve in the pulpit, and so protecting the churches of the presbytery. Moreover, in a godly presbytery, we can expect to find a continued exhortation, one to another, to maintain that high standard.
A good presbytery is a home and refuge to the men who make up the presbytery. Much more than offering mere fellowship, it should be a place to find encouragement, exhortation, and challenge in our high calling as Christians and as under-shepherds of the Lord’s people.
A good presbytery seeks to advance the Kingdom of God, and so seeks to plant new churches, while also building up and encouraging its existing churches. The work of planting new churches is guided by men who have themselves done that same work. They know the pitfalls and errors to avoid. They know the strengths and abilities that will be needed if the work is to prosper.
A godly presbytery will also keep an eye on its established churches, not wanting that any should suffer. I’ve long thought that presbyteries should encourage small and struggling churches by choosing to meet at those locations, with the presbytery covering all the expenses of their time there. Why meet in the prosperous churches when there is opportunity to build up the weaker ones? By meeting in our weaker churches we come to know the people in that church and so are reminded to pray regularly for them. By meeting there we offer a testimony to the watching world, and particularly in a small town, that can be a powerful testimony. Extending the opportunity, the men of presbytery might arrive early to do the work of evangelism in the community. A small conference, open to the public, might be offered on some suitable subject. The presbytery should also strive to include the host congregation in times of worship, fellowship, and prayer.
What else should we find among the qualities of a godly presbytery? And what can you do to bring that about? How can we be actively engaged, day by day, in building up one another in Christ?
“And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.”—Ephesians 4:11-16, ASV
by Rev. David T. Myers
Beginning this post with an old line from a television detective drama back in the day, the bare facts are indeed about all we have for today’s post about the Rev. Dr. Henry Mills. Born this day on March 12, 1786 in Morristown, New Jersey, information about that birth, his parents, and the circumstances of his growing up days are absent. The only bit of information next is that he was a student at the College of New Jersey in Princeton, New Jersey, graduating in 1802. [The College was renamed Princeton University in 1896].
So it was that Henry Mills graduated from the College just ten years before the Princeton Theological Seminary was established. The president of the College of New Jersey at that time was Samuel Stanhope Smith. The school’s first president had been John Witherspoon, with Samuel S. Smith among the first graduating class when Witherspoon was president. Further, Samuel Smith married John Witherspoon’s daughter. Smith’s ministry after that graduation and marriage was that of being a missionary, a pastor, and the first president of what is today Hampden-Sydney College. With this background, he returned to the College of New Jersey in Princeton in 1779. He is particularly noted for having strengthened the academic life of the college with the appointment of qualified men as professors. Thus in his own training, Henry Mills had the great benefit of well-established professors at the College.
Following graduation, Mills taught and tutored for a number of years before being called into the ministry. In that era, men often prepared for the ministry under the tutelage of a single pastor. Mill’s choice of mentor was that of the Rev. James Richards, who had just left his pastorate at the First Presbyterian Church in Morristown, New Jersey. Evidently he chose well and his training was to good effect, for in 1816 the Presbytery of New Jersey ordained Henry Mills and installed him as pastor of the Woodbridge Presbyterian Church, and there he remained for the next six years.
Another feature of that era, you will almost consistently find that men who were called to the ministry would wait until they were ordained and installed as the pastor of a church before they would consider taking a wife. And if the situation at that first church was at all tenuous, they might wait even longer. And so we find that Rev. Mills was married in 1821 precisely at the point when he left the pastorate and was appointed to be the Professor of Biblical Criticism and Oriental Languages at a new seminary called Auburn Theological Seminary. He taught there for thirty-one years. Retiring from his teaching position in 1854, he was accorded standing as professor emeritus up until his death on June 10, 1867.
Besides being a theological professor, he was also a hymn writer. Most of his hymns were taken from German hymns, which he thought the American church needed to hear and sing. One volume was published from his pen, titled Hymns from the German (1845).However, though the book did see a second edition in 1856, still none of these hymns appear to have remained in use, and so these have passed from the church scene today.
Words to Live By:
If we were to list the number of ministers who have come and gone without any great notice by the visible church except to note their birth dates, years and place of training, some bare record of what churches or schools they were at, and the date of their death, the list would be unending. The great majority of God’s servants fall into this category. Perhaps you, reader, fall into this listing. Unnoticed by the world, not mentioned by denominational magazines, your name would be one such pastor or teacher. But . . . but, there is another record being written which is of greater importance. Found in Malachi 3:16 – 17, the prophet writes, “Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. They shall be mind, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.” Faithful Christian: be glad that you are found in His heavenly book of remembrance rather than simply in some earthly book. His book is what matters in the long run, indeed for eternity.
Image source: Photograph facing page 24 in A History of Auburn Theological Seminary, 1818-1918, by John Quincy Adams. Auburn, NY: Auburn Seminary Press, 1918.
A More Personal Insight to the man:
In the above referenced history of the seminary, there is this interesting comment on Dr. Mills’ character:
It is said that cases of discipline of the students were generally referred to him for settlement, and there came a time when the other members of the Faculty felt that he did not deal seriously enough with them so that again and again they took him to task for too great frivolity or leniency in his relations with them. It had no effect, however, for he could quickly turn the edge of his colleagues’ criticisms with a humorous reply, and serious dealing with him became increasingly difficult. He was greatly beloved by his colleagues and many friends and his students.—A History of Auburn Theological Seminary, p. 77.
Isaac G. Burnet was born in Newark, New Jersey, on July 17, 1784. He was the son of Dr. William. Burnet, of Newark, New Jersey, who was Surgeon-general in the Army of the Revolution. Isaac prepared for his life’s work with education at the College of New Jersey, and after studying law, moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1804. After working in his brother Jacob’s law office for a time, Isaac was admitted to the Ohio bar. With gainful employment in hand, he turned his mind to other matters and was married to Kitty Gordon, daughter of Captain George Gordon, on October 8, 1807. The young couple soon relocated to Dayton, Ohio, where Isaac worked in earnest at developing his legal practice. Then in 1816, he moved his family back to Cincinnati, partnering there with Nicholas Longworth. His connections and abilities led in turn to his being elected mayor of Cincinnati in 1819. Burnet was re-elected to this office five times, holding the office until 1831, at which time he decided not to stand for re-election.
Prior to his retirement from that office, Burnet had become one of the owners of The Cincinnati Gazette, in 1817. His interest in that firm did not last long, but for many years he continued to write, both for the secular and the religious press. In 1833 he was appointed Clerk of the Supreme Court of Hamilton County, and he continued to hold that office until such time as that Court was superseded by the District Court, under a revision of the Ohio constitution in 1851.
Apparently Isaac Burnet made his public profession of faith somewhat later in life, since he was baptized by the Rev. John Boyd, pastor of the Enon Baptist Church, in Cincinnati, sometime around 1826. Then in about 1831 or 1832, he became a member of the Second Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati. In 1834, Judge Burnet was elected to serve as a ruling elder in this church, and he remained active in this office for almost twenty years.
Two years before his death, he moved to Walnut Hills, Ohio and joined the Lane Seminary Church, and was immediately elected to serve there as an elder. He died on March 11, 1856.
Judge Burnet was eminently exemplary as a Christian, and faithful as an officer of the Church. He was a man of great decision and earnestness. During the time that he was mayor of Cincinnati, he stood alone against a mob “in the flush of their riotous and revengeful triumph” and with a few short words, brought them to their senses. In a similar way, in all his dealings within the Church, no one who ever came into contact with him ever doubted where he stood on a matter. He died as he lived. For years, he had suffered from a mounting disease, but looking to the Lord, had no fear of death, for Christ had already given him the victory.
Words to Live By:
“But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but [a]your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.”—(James 5:12, NASB)
“Stand to your word, and be true to it, so as to give no occasion for your being suspected of falsehood; and then you will be kept from the condemnation of backing what you say or promise by rash oaths, and from profaning the name of God to justify yourselves. It is being suspected of falsehood that leads men to swearing. Let it be known that you keep to truth, and are firm to your word, and by this means you will find there is no need to swear to what you say.”–Matthew Henry.
[excerpted from The Charleston Observer, Vol. XII, No. 15 (14 April 1838): 58, columns 2-4.]
The subject incidentally fell in our way; and we ventured week before last a remark or two, as we were then aware, not altogether coincident with the current of public opinion. But public opinion is not our acknowledged guide. What will the Lord have us believe, and say, and do, is the question.–That we mean to do; and that we beg all our readers to do.
Protracted and elaborate discussion is not our design. Our columns are out of the appropriate place for it, had we full confidence in our own ability to conduct it. A few desultory thoughts are all we promise. Connected or unconnected, popular or unpopular, true or untrue, they are the result of our own judgment, untrammeled by any of the course or fine spun theories of the day.
1. All pure religion among men, in its first inception, is the result of special divine operations alone.
2. God is guided in these operations, only by the counsels of His own infinite and benevolent mind.
3. The instrumentalities Hemploys; the seasons of His operations; and the individuals or communities He favors, are selected and ordained by Him, without taking counsel of any.
4. While TRUTH, in various aspects and measures is the grand means of His appointment for the conversion of men, He may, and sometimes does employ other subsidiary means in the same work.
5. Whatever truth He employs in this work is brought forth from the treasures of His WORD, and applied to the conscience through the ministry of men whom He has chosen, called and sanctified for the purpose.
6. Men who are thus called to “preach the word,” are bound, beyond men of any other calling, to be “instant in season and out of season” in the discharge of their duty; to expend all their strength judiciously in this service, “whether men will hear or forbear,” to do it, not once in a year, or once in five years, but at all times; and to do it, under a lively and ever growing sense of responsibility to God, and in simple reliance on the Holy Spirit.
7. Those who thus “preach the Word,” may not live long enough to see Israel gathered; but their labors shall not be in vain, and they will have glory in the eyes of the LORD, if not in the eyes of men. “Well done,” will fall gratefully on their ears, from the lips of their final Judge.
8. The most useful minister, is the man who labors diligently according to his strength, in his closet; in his study; in his pulpit; and at the fireside; looking to God as his only resource for wisdom and power; aiming at the conversion of individuals, rather than of the whole community in the gross; at solid conversions rather than showy ones; or, at permanent efforts, rather than those which are temporary.
9. When revivals attend the labors of such a man, they will be productive of rich and valuable accessions to the church.
10. Ministers, who study little, preach loosely, pray loudly, aim at immediate and dazzling effects; talk flippantly about revivals; think nothing of one or two conversions; in the spirit of John say, “Come see my zeal for the Lord,” and enumerate converts by hundreds and thousands, are much to be feared. Revivals under their ministry are unworthy of confidence. Such men there have also been in Zion; and the earthquake and the fire and the thunder have attended their movements, and the mountains have been rent in twain; but THE LORD WAS NOT THERE!
11. No heavier curse can fall upon a community, than a spurious revival. Stupidity is dreadful; but it is mercy compared with false excitement. Lukewarmness is deplorable; but it leaves room for repentance. Infidelity is horrible; but it may yield to conviction. Hypocrisy and self deception are worse than all. The fire of God’s wrath only can remove them. They are the offspring of spurious revivals and combine in their character all, and more than all that is fearful in stupidity, lukewarmness and infidelity together.
12. A genuine revival is noiseless, orderly, solemn and even awful. God is in the midst of it. And his presence carries death to levity, presumption, arrogance and proud display. It inspires an awe like that felt at the foot of Sinai. It creates a trembling throughout the whole camp. It is marked by deep and often long continued conviction of sin; overwhelming sorrow for the hardness of the heart; earnest pleadings with a holy and just God for light and direction; a disposition to retire from observation, and vent the souls anguish in the closet; love for the Bible; abhorrence of all lightness of speech and behavior; clear apprehension of the law of God, in its purity, spirituality, compass and ends; great fears of self deception; thorough searchings of the heart; many, many tears and heart-breakings, in view of past offenses; and many strong fears that the day of mercy may have gone by forever.–Where religious excitement is not attended by marks like those both among Christians and sinners, we have no confidence in it.–Some souls may be converted; but more are likely to be ruined, beyond all hope of recovery.
13. The spirit of a genuine revival repudiates all excesses of feeling, speech, and action. It abhors all irregularities; all eccentricities in the manner of the preacher; all wild incoherent ravings; all personalities of address; praying for individuals by name in public assemblies, irreverent familiarity with the name of God; and calling on individuals in promiscuous meetings, to tell what God hath done for their souls. It rejects whatever is theatrical in gesture, pompous or vulgar in expression, and offensive to a cool dispassionate judgment, in stories and anecdotes. It demands solemnity; deep, heartfelt, all pervading solemnity in the preacher, the church and the congregation.
14. Great good has sometimes resulted from protracted meetings. This has been uniformly true, when they have been attempted in the spirit of a genuine revival; a spirit of humility, faith, prayer, and confidence in God alone. They have sometimes resulted in great evils. This has been uniformly true, when they have been attempted in the spirit of pride and self-sufficiency; with a determination to “get up a revival” at all events. Then, God has righteously blown upon them.
15. If there be a revival in progress, a protracted meeting is not often needed to sustain it; the ordinary means of grace are sufficient; and the introduction of other and singular means is adapted to deliver the public mind from the TRUTH, and engross it with what is foreign to the “great concern.” If there be no revival, and a protracted meeting is resorted to to produce one, it will either be followed, ordinarily, by no marked effect, or by a spurious excitement, which will prove fatally destructive to multitudes.
16. It is deserving of serious consideration that excitements which are preceded or accompanied by protracted meetings are usually of very short continuance. They are rather like the wind from the wilderness, that cometh suddenly, and uproots or breaks down every thing in its track, than like the north wind that awakes, and the South wind that blows upon the garden of the Lord, till the spices thereof flow forth in sweet perfume. It is a matter of alarming notoriety, that modern revivals, to a great extent, unlike those which blessed our land forty and eighty years ago, are got up and put down in a month; we hear of them to day as all glorious and wonderful; we inquire after them tomorrow; and lo! they are not!–Are they the work of the wise Master builder?
17. We are sick of every day’s report of “revivals” resulting from protracted meetings, (and we hear of few others) without any notice of the doctrines preached; of the nature of conviction that preceded the indulgence of hope; or the peculiar exercise of the converts; and without any other detail of “fruits,” than, so many have been added to the church, and, so many will be added at a subsequent communion. We refer not here to any particular case, but to a general fact in the report of modern revivals.
18. It is a fact, not to be disguised, that there is a vast difference between the revivals which blessed the Church in the days of Edwards, Strong, Griffin and Payson, and the revivals of the past ten or fifteen years. They are not to be named together. There are individual exceptions, no doubt. But we speak of them as classes. And in the first class, the whole truth of God was declared plainly, pungently, argumentatively, and without compromise. The whole reliance of Ministers and Churches was on the Holy Spirit. They stood still, and saw the salvation of the Lord. When the pillar of fire moved before them, they moved. When it passed behind them they passed in holy awe. And long did those revivals continue; deep and all penetrating was their influence; lasting as time and eternity were their visible and happy effects. In the second class, the truth of God is half wrapt up; doctrines offensive to the carnal heart may not be preached, lest the revival stop; total depravity; the sinner’s utter helplessness; eternal election; God’s absolute sovereignty; the resistless agency of the Holy Spirit, must all yield to the doctrine of the sinner’s ability; this is the grand fulcrum on which rests the whole moral machinery, by which he is to be renewed, and sanctified and transferred to heaven! And then, in order to complete success, protracted meetings of various kinds, extending from four to forty days must be maintained, and the most popular, not the most spiritual preachers in all the country must be called in, to give repeated and powerful impulses to the work. And when these means are exhausted, and the excitement once begins to flag, the Minister loses his order, the Church remits her prayer meetings; and the mass of community move on as if nothing had happened.
In such revivals we have little confidence. “Except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”
With all our hearts we love the revival that is pure and un-defiled. Give us such as are described in “Edwards’ Narrative;” in the first volumes of the “Connecticut Evangelical Magazine,” and such as have been witnessed in many of our Churches in earlier days, and we will call on all that is within us and on all around us, to bless the name of the Lord.
We believe that the Spirit of God is now in many of our Churches, and that he is ready to do a great work for the “American Zion”; nay, that he will do it, unless prevented by the spirit that is “wise above what is written.” But if the great doctrines of the Gospel are to be held back, or adulterated with impure mixtures; if we are to be taught reliance on protracted meetings, anxious seats, note for prayers, public female cooperation, &c., &c.; though there may be great excitement, there will be no such revival as carries joy through all the courts of God above. The Church will weep and clothe herself in sackcloth; and angels will turn away from the distressing scene, to regain composure from the unruffled face of man’s dishonored Saviour.
Our post today is drawn from Dr. George P. Hutchinson’s work, The History Behind the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. This is a great history of not just the RPCES, but it actually covers much of American Presbyterianism and should not be overlooked. Well-researched and footnoted, it is also quite accessible for the average person who simply wants to know more about our common Presbyterian heritage. A few years ago with some work I managed to put the entire book up on the PCA Historical Center’s web site, and I invite you to download it and read at your convenience. Just click the link above. I have edited Dr. Hutchinson’s narrative a bit to make better sense of this limited excerpt from chapter 2 of his book.
That sect or division of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland known as Reformed Presbyterians were never large in numbers, even in Scotland, and accordingly they had a difficult time getting established in the American colonies. As the constituting principles of the U.S. government were established, particularly with the principle of the separation of Church and State, Reformed Presbyterians in America found themselves at odds with their government, given their conviction that all earthly governments should bow the knee to King Jesus. For this and perhaps for reason of some of their other convictions, their numbers were never large. But they remain an important part of the American Presbyterian story and there is much that we can learn from them.
“The Presbyterians in Scotland learned from their Bibles that the system of grace is the chief of God’s works; that the saints are the salt of the earth, and Jesus is King of kings, and Lord of lords. Having organized the Church as the peculiar kingdom of the Redeemer, upon principles which maintained the exclusive headship of Christ, they demanded that the crown of the nation should be laid at the feet of Messiah. They required that the Church should not only be tolerated to establish her distinct ecclesiastical organization, but that she should hereafter be supported by the civil power of the nation in the enjoyment of her established rights.”
—Reformation Principles Exhibited (1807)
Since the Reformed Presbyterian pastor Alexander Craighead could not himself constitute a presbytery, he asked ministerial assistance from the recently constituted Reformed Presbytery in Scotland, and when such was not immediately forthcoming, he became discouraged, and took up his former ecclesiastical connections. One historians said of him that
“He did not, however, possess stability. Over-strained zeal is seldom permanent. This man, after having cooperated with the Covenanters, with an ardor which appeared to some of them enthusiastic, left his profession and vows, and turned to the flocks of his former companions.”
The Reformed Presbytery of Scotland did, however, send in 1751 the Rev. John Cuthbertson, who ministered in America for 40 years until his death in 1791. On Cuthbertson’s first Sabbath in America he lectured on the passage in Luke (6:22-31) which begins, “Take no thought for your life,” and ends, “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God.” The words symbolized a ministry full of faith, labor, and sacrifice. Cuthbertson made his headquarters at Middle Octorara from which he served the Societies scattered throughout the Colonies. His travels and ministry are recorded in the diary which includes entries in both English and Latin. Perhaps the most familiar entries in the diary are: “Fessus, fessus valde—tired, very tired,” and “Give all praise to my gracious God.” Such an attitude of praise was necessary when, for instance, he wrote, after staying overnight with a parishioner: “Slept none. Bugs.” Cuthbertson did much to make the organization of the scattered Societies of Reformed Presbyterians more formal by ordaining elders and establishing sessions. He was a hard worker, preaching as many as eleven times in one week and never using the same sermon twice. Every Sabbath he would explain a Psalm, give a detailed lecture on a passage of Scripture, and preach a more popular sermon on the great themes of the Gospel. Communion was held once a year among the Societies, and strict discipline was observed with regard to who was allowed to partake.
Cuthbertson sent repeated calls to Scotland for help, but it was not until 1773 that he was joined by Matthew Lind and Alexander Dobbin, of whom we spoke recently. On March 9, 1774, these three pastors constituted the first Reformed Presbytery in America. The entry in the frontier preacher’s diary simply reads: ‘After more consultation and prayer, Presbytery.’
[It is interesting to discover that in this same year  William McGuffey and his family emigrated from Wigtown, Scotland and arrived in Philadelphia in August. . . . William McGuffey was a Reformed Presbyterian of sturdy stock…. It was his grandsons, William Homes McGuffey and Alexander Hamilton McGuffey, who were the authors of the famous McGuffey Readers that were used for seventy-five years or more all over America.]
However, the first Reformed Presbytery was only destined to last eight years until 1782. In the meantime, the American Revolution! The Covenanters in America had no more use for George III than their ancestors had for Charles II. As Glasgow remarks: ‘To a man the Covenanters were Whigs. An unsound Whig made a poor Covenanter, and a good Covenanter made a loyal Whig.’ On July 2, 1777, Cuthbertson led some of his followers in taking an oath of fidelity to the cause of the Colonies and their revolution.
In 1782 the three ministers of the Reformed Presbytery, under Cuthbertson’s leadership, joined with the Associate Presbytery to form the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Most of the Society People followed their leadership. This was what seemed to happen time and again, as Reformed Presbyterians would leave to other associations. As a strict Covenanter later remarked: “The great majority of the Covenanters in the North followed their misguided pastor into the union.” What is the explanation of this union? The position of the Covenanters in Scotland was that Christians should refuse “all voluntary subjection for conscience sake” to the British Crown in protest against a Covenant-breaking government’s right to rule; whereas the Scottish Seceders had maintained that the Christian ought to acknowledge the civil authority of the Crown “in lawful commands.’”The Associate Presbytery in America had accordingly opposed the Reformed Presbytery’s position on the American Revolution. However, now that the Colonies were no longer under the British Crown, the opinions of the American Covenanters and Seceders on the new civil government were in a state of flux, and could be more easily coalesced—especially in a time when the spirit of confederation was in the air.
Another apparent explanation is that the principle of the descending obligation of the Covenants, a central conviction among Reformed Presbyterians, seems to have come into question among some of the early American Covenanters. This began to occur as early as 1760 according to Findley, an ex-Covenanter who found his way into the Associate Reformed Church. He further maintains that the Reformed Presbytery agreed in 1774 or 1775 that “while the presbytery still continued to hold the covenants, testimonies, and sufferings of Scotland . . . in respectful remembrance,” the only terms of communion insisted on by presbytery would be allegiance to the Scriptures and the doctrines of the Westminster Standards as agreeable to the Scriptures. Cuthbertson himself is purported to have taught the personal rather than the national obligation to the Covenants.
There were, however, several individuals and Societies who refused to enter into the Union of 1782. These were scattered through the several states like sheep without a shepherd, choosing not to abandon their Covenanted testimony. ‘They disapproved of the union, and considered their former ministers as guilty of apostasy. The Reformed Presbytery in Scotland also disapproved of the union, but for some reason their missionaries to America after 1782 did not take a strong enough stand against it, and were unacceptable to the Society People. It was not until the arrival of the Rev. James McKinney that they found a champion. McKinney’s attitude toward the former Reformed Presbytery of America is expressed in simple terms: “Her transatlantic sons soon wearied of the cross. The late revolution seems to have afforded a desirable pretext for casting it away.”
Words to Live By:
“Take no thought for your life,’ . . . ‘But rather seek ye the kingdom of God.”
These are words we may well have read a hundred times but never really applied. Yet as we come to the end of our days, what words of consolation and grace. To give ourselves in pursuit of righteousness and the kingdom of God. To be consumed with seeking our Lord and nothing else. What a clarifying privilege the believer has in this heavenly duty!