Abraham Lincoln

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The following editorial by Dr. J. Gresham Machen appeared in the November 4, 1935 issue of The Presbyterian Guardian (vol. 1, no. 3). Machen’s editorials appeared under the title of “The Changing Scene and the Unchanging Word,” with Isaiah 40:8 as a referenced Scripture text.  The Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union (PCCU) was organized by Machen and others on June 27, 1935 in part as a means of preparing for an eventual separation from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. For slightly less than two years, The Presbyterian Guardian was the official magazine of the PCCU, with its first issue appearing on October 7, 1935. Then, upon the formation of the Presbyterian Church of America (later the Orthodox Presbyterian Church), in June of 1936, the PCCU was dissolved and the magazine continued publication under the auspices of the Presbyterian Guardian Publishing Company. It was never an official publication of the OPC, though was always closely associated with that denomination, and publication continued until the October 1979 issue, when the magazine’s list of subscribers was turned over to The Presbyterian Journal.   


What Is “Orthodoxy?”

by the Rev. J. Gresham Machen, D.D., Litt.D.
[Note: Oddly, in what follows, Dr. Machen never stops to explain that “doxy” means “teaching”.]

Many years ago, in that ancient time when jokes now hoary with age had the blush of early youth upon their cheeks, when a man first asked, “When is a door not a door?” and when the answer seemed to be a marvelously fresh and brilliant thing—at some happy moment in that ancient time, some brilliant person said: “Orthodoxy means ‘my doxy’ and heterodoxy means ‘the other man’s doxy.’ “

The unknown author of that famous definition—unknown to me at least—may have thought that he was being very learned. Knowing that the Greek word “heteros,” which forms a part of the English word “heterodoxy,” means “other,” he built his famous definition around that one word, and “heterodoxy” became to him “the other man’s doxy.”

Possibly, however, he knew perfectly well that he was not being learned, and merely desired to have his little joke. As a matter of fact, the Greek word “heteros” in “heterodoxy” does not just mean “other” in the ordinary sense of that word, as when we speak of “one” man and “another” man, but it usually means “other” with an added idea of “different.”

So if we are really going to indulge in a little etymology, if we are really going to analyze the words and have recourse to the origin of them in the Greek language from which they have come, we shall arrive at a very different result from the result which was arrived at by the author of the facetious definition mentioned above. The word “orthos” in “orthodoxy” means “straight,” and the word “heteros” in “heterodoxy” means “other” with an implication of “different.” Accordingly, the real state of the case is that “orthodoxy” means “straight doxy” and “heterodoxy” means “something different from straight doxy”; or, in other words, it means “crooked doxy.”

Now I am not inclined to recommend etymology indiscriminately to preachers in their treatment of their texts. It has its uses, but it also has its abuses. Very often it leads those who indulge in it very far astray indeed. The meanings of words change in the course of centuries, and so the actual use of a word often differs widely from what one would suppose from an examination of the original uses of its component parts. Etymology has spoiled many a good sermon.

In this case, however, etymology does not lead us astray at all. Orthodoxy does mean “straight doxy,” and it is a good old word which I think we might well revive. What term shall we who stand for the Bible in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. use to designate our position? For my part, I cannot say that I like the term “Fundamentalism.” I am not inclined, indeed, to quibble about these important matters. If an inquirer asks me whether I am a Fundamentalist or a Modernist, I do not say, “Neither.” Instead, I say: “Well, you are using terminology that I do not like, but if I may for the moment use your terminology, in order that you may get plainly what I mean, I just want to say, when you ask me whether I am a Fundamentalist or a Modernist, that I am a Fundamentalist from the word go!”

However, it is a different matter when we are choosing terminology that we shall actually use about ourselves. When we are doing that, I think we ought to be just as careful as we possibly can be.

The term Fundamentalism seems to represent the Christian religion as though it had suddenly become an “ism” and needed to be called by some strange new name. I cannot see why that should be done. The term seems to me to be particularly inadequate as applied to us conservative Presbyterians. We have a great heritage. We are standing in what we hold to be the great central current of the Church’s life—the great tradition that comes down through Augustine and Calvin to the Westminster Confession of Faith. That we hold to be the high straight road of truth as opposed to vagaries on one side or on the other. Why then should we be so prone to adopt some strange new term?

Well, then, if we do not altogether like the term “Fundamentalism”close though our fellowship is with those who do like that term—what term shall we actually choose?

“Conservative” does seem to be rather too cold. It is apt to create the impression that we are holding desperately to something that is old just because it is old, and that we are not eager for new and glorious manifestations of the Spirit of God.

“Evangelical,” on the other hand, although it is a fine term, does not quite seem to designate clearly enough the position of those who hold specifically to the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith, as distinguished from other systems which are near enough to the truth in order that they may be called “evangelical” but which yet fall short of being the system that is contained in God’s Word.

Therefore, in view of the objections that face the use of other terminology, I think we might do far worse than revive the good old word “orthodoxy” as a designation of our position.

“Orthodoxy” means, as we have seen, “straight doxy” [or “straight teaching, straight doctrine”]. Well, how do we tell whether a thing is straight or not? The answer is plain. By comparing it with a rule or plumb line. Our rule or plumb line is the Bible. A thing is “orthodox” if it is in accordance with the Bible. I think we might well revive the word. But whether we revive the word or not, we certainly ought to hold to the thing that is designated by the word.

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A  Funeral in the White House

Phineas Dinsmore Gurley, D.D.The memorial service in the East Room of the White House began with the solemn reading of Holy Scripture by the Presbyterian clergyman. Dr. Phineas Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. obviously wished to set the tone of God’s place in this whole tragedy. What was that tragedy which prompted their gathering onApril 19, 1865? Nothing less than the assassination of the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

Dr. Gurley was the pastor of the church where the President and his family attended while they lived in Washington, D.C. He became a close friend as well as a spiritual advisor. He had often been a counselor to the President in the dark days of the Civil War. Moreover, when the Lincoln’s son Willie died in 1862, it was Dr. Gurley who ministered to the family and he delivered the funeral sermon for their son. Now in 1865, he was again present at the death-bed, giving counsel to Mrs. Lincoln. And again he was asked by Mrs. Lincoln to give yet another funeral sermon, this time for her deceased husband.

Readers can “google” the entire sermon on-line. And I urge everyone who reads this devotional to read that sermon. You will find it a wealth of comfort for any kind of “dark providence” in your life.

Dr. Gurley, who was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and a committed member of  Old School Presbyterianism, says right at the beginning of the memorial service that “we recognize and adore the sovereignty of God.”  He quoted the old hymn’s words “Blind unbelief is prone to err and scan his work in vain; God is his own interpreter. And He will make it plain.”   To all his quotations of Scripture, like Psalm 97:2  “Clouds and darkness are round him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.” and Job 11:7, 8 “Canst thou by searching find out God?  canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?  It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?” — to all of these high and holy theological points, Gurley answers that his intent at that memorial service should be to ”bow before His infinite mystery.” Indeed all the grieving citizens should respond to his words to “bow, weep, and worship.”

And then, Dr. Gurley spoke of the character of the president, and how often he told those of his family, his cabinet, and any other people he would meet, to have faith in God. That was the only response they should give in that hour of sadness. To Dr. Gurley, there was no doubt in the minister’s mind that Abraham Lincoln was a firm believer in the Lord Jesus and thus a Christian.

It would be doubtful today that even such a religious service complete with a Biblical message could take place today in the White House.  But it did back then, and it was a message which could only be characterized as the Reformed faith in the Sovereignty of God.

The Presbyterian minister traveled on the funeral train to Springfield, Illinois, and gave the final prayer at the service beside the grave site. He stayed at the church until his death of 1868. While he was in the pulpit, traditional Calvinism was the underpinning of the message of the church in the pulpit.

Words to Live By: God’s sovereignty is never a mere doctrinal truth for believers. It is also a tremendous comfort for Christians when unexplained things occur in our lives. If you haven’t done so already, commit to memory some texts like Romans 8:28 or Daniel 4:35 or Psalm 55:22, along with a host of others. Traditional Calvinism must always lead to a practical Calvinism, or it isn’t Calvinism at all.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  A  Funeral in the White House

The memorial service in the East Room of the White House began with the solemn reading of Holy Scripture by the Presbyterian clergyman.  Dr. Phineas Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. obviously wished to set the tone of God’s place in this whole tragedy.  What was that tragedy which prompted their gathering on April 19, 1865?  Nothing less than the assassination of the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

Dr. Gurley was the pastor of the church where the President and his family attended while they lived in Washington, D.C. He became a close friend as well as a spiritual advisor. He had often been a counselor to the President in the dark days of the Civil War. Moreover, when the Lincoln’s son Willie died in 1862, it was Dr. Gurley who ministered to the family and he delivered the funeral sermon for their son. Now in 1865, he was again present at the death-bed, giving counsel to Mrs. Lincoln. And again he was asked by Mrs. Lincoln to give yet another funeral sermon, this time for her deceased husband.

Readers can “google” the entire sermon on-line.  And I urge everyone who reads this devotional to read that sermon.  You will find it a wealth of comfort for any kind of “dark providence” in your life.

Dr. Gurley, who was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and a committed member of  Old School Presbyterianism, says right at the beginning of the memorial service that “we recognize and adore the sovereignty of God.”   He quoted the old hymn’s words “Blind unbelief is prone to err and scan his work in vain; God is his own interpreter.  And He will make it plain.”   To all his quotations of Scripture, like Psalm 97:2  “Clouds and darkness are round him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.” and Job 11:7, 8 “Canst thou by searching find out God?  canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?  It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do?  deeper than hell; what canst thou know?” — to all of these high and holy theological points, Gurley answers that his intent  at that memorial service should be to “bow  before His infinite mystery.” Indeed  all the grieving citizens should respond to his words to “bow,  weep, and worship.”

And then, Dr. Gurley spoke of the character of the president, and how often he told those of his family, his cabinet, and any other people he would meet, to have faith in God.  That was the only response they should give in that hour of sadness.  To Dr. Gurley, there was no doubt in the minister’s mind that Abraham Lincoln was a firm believer in the Lord Jesus and thus a Christian.

It would be doubtful today that even such a religious service complete with a Biblical message could take place today in the White House.  But it did back then, and it was a message which could only be characterized as the Reformed faith in the Sovereignty of God.

The Presbyterian minister traveled on the funeral train to Springfield, Illinois, and gave the final prayer at the service beside the grave site.  He stayed at the church until his death of 1868.  While he was in the pulpit, traditional Calvinism was the underpinning of the message of the church in the pulpit.

Words to Live By: God’s sovereignty is never a mere doctrinal truth for believers.  It is also a tremendous comfort for Christians when unexplained things occur in our lives.  If you haven’t done so already, commit to memory some texts like Romans 8:28 or Daniel 4:35 or Psalm 55:22, along with a host of others.  Traditional Calvinism must always lead to a practical Calvinism, or it isn’t Calvinism at all.

Through the Scriptures: Psalm 25 – 27

Through the Standards: Proof texts for effectual grace:

John 1:12, 13
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (KJV)

Acts 13:48
“And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (ESV)

2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14
“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first-fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in  the truth.  To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

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