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An Odd Juxtaposition of Dates

The First General Assembly Held in America:

To Presbyterians, the American Revolution had been a holy war.  And now with its winning, Christian Presbyterians could get back to growing the church.  And that growth took place in a period of spiritual progress.  From New York all the way south to the Carolinas, new settlements were begun, with Presbyterian missionaries and ministers being sent throughout the whole length of the land.

But as the churches and  the presbyters  became more and more distant from one another, there was a concern about attendance.  In all the synods put together, over one hundred ministers were absent in any given year with only six of the churches presented by elders.  In one synod, a new moderator was elected, and then excused when it became known that he had not been present for the previous eleven years.  Clearly something had to be done.

The sixteen Presbyteries were organized into four separate synods in 1785.  They were: Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey, Virginia, and the Carolinas.  Numerically, this meant that there were four synods, sixteen presbyteries, 177 ministers, 111 licentiates, and 419 churches.

It was on May 21, 1789, that the first General Assembly was held in the original city of Presbyterianism, Philadelphia.  John Witherspoon was chosen to preach the first sermon of that assembly.  The delegates chose the Rev. John Rodgers to be the first moderator.  He had been trained back in the Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church under New Side Minister Samuel Blair.

Some housekeeping had to be done in light of the separation from England.  No longer could the civil magistrate be considered to be the head of the church.  So chapters in the Westminster Standards which put him as the head of the church were re-written in the light of the American victory in the American Revolution.  No one denomination would any longer be considered a state church, whether it was Anglican, Roman Catholic, or Presbyterian.  There was a separation of church from state.

And Denominational Deathknell:

Then, moving into a later century, we note that in “1918 three churches united to form First Presbyterian Church, New York City. They called as pastor Rev. Mr. George Alexander, D.D., and as associate pastor, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Baptist. On Sunday morning May 21, 1922, Dr. Fosdick preached a famous sermon titled: “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” In this he contrasts the conservative and liberal views on the Virgin Birth, the inspiration of Scripture, the Atonement and the Second Advent of Christ and pleads for tolerance of both views within the church. In 1923 Dr. Fosdick gave the Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching before the Yale Divinity School, which were later published under the title: “The Modern Use of the Bible.” This material clearly sets forth the liberal beliefs of Dr. Fosdick which are at complete variance with clear Scriptural teaching.”  [Historical Background and Development of the RPCES, by Thomas G. Cross, 1968]

Words to Live By:
We may never know whether Fosdick chose that specific date for the delivery of his infamous sermon, whether he intended with some note of irony, but clearly that sermon serves as a marker for all the many changes that have come since. As it is true for denominations and for local churches, so too every Christian is each day faced with decisions that may steer us in one direction or another. A decision to follow Christ or to follow self and its desires, which will it be?

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law doth he meditate.”—Psalm 1:1-2, KJV.

 

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The First Presbyterian Congregation in America?

This writer puts a question mark in our title simply because there are several churches which claim to be the first Presbyterian Church in the colonies.  Each of them presents its claim with good evidence. Sometimes a claim is based on the existence of at least one elder. Or the stated date of organization might be based on when Bible studies first began in a given location, or when a building was first occupied by the congregation. Time and poorly kept records leave all of this unclear. But what is clear about Rehoboth Presbyterian Church in Rehoboth, Delaware is, that it is the first Presbyterian Church built by the Father of American Presbyterianism, namely, Francis Makemie.

“Our mission was from Jesus Christ, and warranted from the Scriptures.”—Makemie.

There are actually two dates of October 15 associated with Makemie.  The first one took place in 1699 when the Irish immigrant minister appeared before the County Court of Accomac to request permission to preach the gospel in Virginia.  Many Christians, and especially Christian Presbyterians do not realize that those minister/missionaries outside of the Anglican faith had to apply for licenses to preach the gospel.  Further, if you were not attending an Anglican, or we would say today, an Episcopal church, there could be civil penalties for not attending church.  He asked permission to preach at two homes.  It was on October 15, 1699 that permission was given to him.  Later on, an Act of Toleration was granted for all ministers to freely worship and proclaim Christ’s truth.  But before that, preachers could be arrested and held in jail for daring to preach without a license.  Francis Makemie himself was arrested in New York for doing just that.

The other date associated with this date of October 15, 1706 was when Rehoboth Presbyterian  Church of Maryland, was opened by the Rev. Francis Makemie.   Rehoboth meant “There is Room.”  Later in the eighteen hundreds, there was a great deal of physical construction done to the one floor church.  Today this church continues on and it is currently a congregation of the PC(USA) in Rehoboth, Delaware.

Words to live by:  Suppose the Rev. Francis Makemie had not come to the shores of the American colonies, saying that it was too far, too expensive, too dangerous, and whatever excuse might be offered?  Humanly speaking, we might not be writing a Presbyterian blog because there would have been no Presbyterian presence in the land.  But that is “humanly speaking.” The truth is that the sovereign God ordained in the colonies that there be Christian Presbyterians as one of the key ingredients of our forefather’s faith.  And did they ever come!  Thousands upon thousands came over the Atlantic Ocean.  And from our earliest days, the Bible of Presbyterianism was presented as the infallible Word of God, and God added to Himself a church, such as Rehoboth Presbyterian Church, in Delaware.

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Rehoboth_colorMakemie Planted Here

This writer puts a question mark in our title simply because there are several churches which claim to be the first Presbyterian Church in the colonies.  Each of them presents its claim with good evidence. Sometimes a claim is based on the existence of at least one elder. Or the stated date of organization might be based on when Bible studies first began in a given location, or when a building was first occupied by the congregation. Time and poorly kept records leave all of this unclear. But what is clear about Rehoboth Presbyterian Church in Rehoboth, Delaware is, that it is the first Presbyterian Church built by the Father of American Presbyterianism, namely, Francis Makemie.

“Our mission was from Jesus Christ, and warranted from the Scriptures.”—Makemie.

There are actually two dates of October 15 associated with Makemie.  The first one took place in 1699 when the Irish immigrant minister appeared before the County Court of Accomac to request permission to preach the gospel in Virginia.  Many Christians, and especially Christian Presbyterians do not realize that those minister/missionaries outside of the Anglican faith had to apply for licenses to preach the gospel.  Further, if you were not attending an Anglican, or we would say today, an Episcopal church, there could be civil penalties for not attending church.  He asked permission to preach at two homes.  It was on October 15, 1699 that permission was given to him.  Later on, an Act of Toleration was granted for all ministers to freely worship and proclaim Christ’s truth.  But before that, preachers could be arrested and held in jail for daring to preach without a license.  Francis Makemie himself was arrested in New York for doing just that.

rehobothbytheriverThe other date associated with this date of October 15, 1706 was when Rehoboth Presbyterian  Church of Maryland, was opened by the Rev. Francis Makemie.   Rehoboth meant “There is Room.”  Later in the eighteen hundreds, there was a great deal of physical construction done to the one floor church.  Today this church continues on and it is currently a congregation of the PC(USA) in Rehoboth, Delaware.

Words to live by:  Suppose the Rev. Francis Makemie had not come to the shores of the American colonies, saying that it was too far, too expensive, too dangerous, and whatever excuse might be offered?  Humanly speaking, we might not be writing a Presbyterian blog because there would have been no Presbyterian presence in the land.  But that is “humanly speaking.” The truth is that the sovereign God ordained in the colonies that there be Christian Presbyterians as one of the key ingredients of our forefather’s faith.  And did they ever come!  Thousands upon thousands came over the Atlantic Ocean.  And from our earliest days, the Bible of Presbyterianism was presented as the infallible Word of God, and God added to Himself a church, such as Rehoboth Presbyterian Church, in Delaware.

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The First General Assembly Held in America

To Presbyterians, the American Revolution had been a holy war.  And now with its winning, Christian Presbyterians could get back to growing the church.  And that growth took place in a period of spiritual progress.  From New York all the way south to the Carolinas, new settlements were begun, with Presbyterian missionaries and ministers being sent throughout the whole length of the land.

But as the churches and  the presbyters  became more and more distant from one another, there was a concern about attendance.  In all the synods put together, over one hundred ministers were absent in any given year with only six of the churches presented by elders.  In one synod, a new moderator was elected, and then excused when it became known that he had not been present for the previous eleven years.  Clearly something had to be done.

The sixteen Presbyteries were organized into four separate synods in 1785.  They were: Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey, Virginia, and the Carolinas.  Numerically, this meant that there were four synods, sixteen presbyteries, 177 ministers, 111 licentiates, and 419 churches.

It was on May 21, 1789, that the first General Assembly was held in the original city of Presbyterianism, Philadelphia.  John Witherspoon was chosen to preach the first sermon of that assembly.  The delegates chose the Rev. John Rodgers to be the first moderator.  He had been trained back in the Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church under New Side Minister Samuel Blair.

Some housekeeping had to be done in light of the separation from England.  No longer could the civil magistrate be considered to be the head of the church.  So chapters in the Westminster Standards which put him as the head of the church were re-written in the light of the American victory in the American Revolution.  No one denomination would any longer be considered a state church, whether it was Anglican, Roman Catholic, or Presbyterian.  There was a separation of church from state.

Words to Live By:
Names are important.  At this first Assembly, they called themselves “The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.”  Whatever your church is called and known in your locality, if it is an evangelical and Reformed church, live according to its biblical

testimony in the light of the Word of God.  Only then can you win to Christ the many who reside outside of the Savior.

The meeting of this first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. opened with a sermon by the Rev. John Witherspoon, on the text of 1 Corinthians 3:7, “So, then, neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God giveth the increase.”

The Church today needs to revisit Witherspoon’s writings, for those works even now address many “modern” problems. Thankfully, Witherspoon’s Works have been reprinted in recent years by Sprinkle Publications [and are also available in digital form at archive.org], and volume 4 of that set contains what is probably a later revision of the sermon that he preached before that first General Assembly. While there is not room here today to reproduce the entire sermon, perhaps a small portion will encourage you to take up and read it in full:—

“The Success of the Gospel Entirely of God.”

“The success of the gospel depends wholly upon God, and to Him alone must the glory of it be ascribed, as it is He, who not only sends and employs, but who furnishes and qualifies all, whom He employs for promoting His service. He not only gives the commission to undertake, but He imparts the ability to discharge the trust. This truth is manifestly included in the apostle’s words, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man.” He considers himself and others, only as ministers, that is, as servants subject to the direction and authority of Christ their Lord and master, unto whom they are to be instrumental in carrying on the conversion of sinners, and the edification and comfort of believers….

In the second place, the success of the gospel depends entirely on God, as it is He who gives efficacy to the instructions, even of the most eminent and best qualified ministers, by the immediate supernatural operation of His spirit and grace. Let us suppose a minister endued with the finest natural parts, and these improved and cultivated, by all the advantages of human learning. Let him have the most acute and penetrating genius, the most lively imagination, the most solid judgment, the most charming and persuasive eloquence; in fine let him have what alone is of more value than all these, an eminently pious and devout heart. With so many advantages he shall not be able to make one sincere convert, unless almighty God be pleased to open the way by His divine grace into the hearts and consciences of the sinner. It is not then merely by furnishing the proper means and by the disposition of His providence, giving them an opportunity of exerting their influence, that God promotes the success of the gospel, but by an immediate and powerful agency, distinct from, and superior to every second cause….

The third and last observation I am to make for the illustration of this truth is, that success in the gospel depends wholly upon God, as He exercises much of His own sovereignty in the manner of bestowing it. He takes care if I may speak so, to shew that it is from Himself by the measure in which He proportions the success to the nature and sufficiency of the means He sees proper to employ. All is from God, as you have already heard because the disposing and commissioning his ministers is originally His own work—again, because however well qualified they may be, His own almighty agency is necessary to give them success. But when there is a regular proportion always observed, between the means and the end, men are ready to overlook, or forget the great and first cause of all. For this reason He sees it often meet to manifest His sovereignty, in order to command our attention, by working without means, or by the weakest means, or even contrary to means, and blasting the effect of those that were most excellent and promising in human judgment….”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

The First Presbyterian Congregation in America?

This writer puts a question mark in our title simply because there are several churches which claim to be the first Presbyterian Church in the colonies.  Each of them presents its claim with good evidence. Sometimes a claim is based on the existence of at least one elder. Or the stated date of organization might be based on when Bible studies first began in a given location, or when a building was first occupied by the congregation. Time and poorly kept records leave all of this unclear. But what is clear about Rehoboth Presbyterian Church in Rehoboth, Delaware is, that it is the first Presbyterian Church built by the Father of American Presbyterianism, namely, Francis Makemie.

“Our mission was from Jesus Christ, and warranted from the Scriptures.”—Makemie.

There are actually two dates of October 15 associated with Makemie.  The first one took place in 1699 when the Irish immigrant minister appeared before the County Court of Accomac to request permission to preach the gospel in Virginia.  Many Christians, and especially Christian Presbyterians do not realize that those minister/missionaries outside of the Anglican faith had to apply for licenses to preach the gospel.  Further, if you were not attending an Anglican, or we would say today, an Episcopal church, there could be civil penalties for not attending church.  He asked permission to preach at two homes.  It was on October 15, 1699 that permission was given to him.  Later on, an Act of Toleration was granted for all ministers to freely worship and proclaim Christ’s truth.  But before that, preachers could be arrested and held in jail for daring to preach without a license.  Francis Makemie himself was arrested in New York for doing just that.

The other date associated with this date of October 15, 1706 was when Rehoboth Presbyterian  Church of Maryland, was opened by the Rev. Francis Makemie.   Rehoboth meant “There is Room.”  Later in the eighteen hundreds, there was a great deal of physical construction done to the one floor church.  Today this church continues on and it is currently a congregation of the PC(USA) in Rehoboth, Delaware.

Words to live by:  Suppose the Rev. Francis Makemie had not come to the shores of the American colonies, saying that it was too far, too expensive, too dangerous, and whatever excuse might be offered?  Humanly speaking, we might not be writing a Presbyterian blog because there would have been no Presbyterian presence in the land.  But that is “humanly speaking.” The truth is that the sovereign God ordained in the colonies that there be Christian Presbyterians as one of the key ingredients of our forefather’s faith.  And did they ever come!  Thousands upon thousands came over the Atlantic Ocean.  And from our earliest days, the Bible of Presbyterianism was presented as the infallible Word of God, and God added to Himself a church, such as Rehoboth Presbyterian Church, in Delaware.

Through the Scriptures:  Matthew 1 – 4

Through the Standards:  The mixed nature of the church and the only head of the church.

WCF 25:5
“The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan.  Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will.”

WLC 61 — “Are all they saved who hear  the gospel, and live in the church?
A.  All that hear the gospel, and live in the visible church, are not saved; but they only who are true members of the church invisible.”

WCF 25:6
“There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ.  Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof.”

Image sources :
1. “First Presbyterian Church in America at Rehoboth, near Pokomoke City, Md.” The church building shown in the photograph was built in 1706. Undated postcard published by the The Albertype Co. [1890-1952], Brooklyn, NY.
2.  Cover of Rehoboth by the River, by Hermann Bischof. Second edition, Princess Anne, MD, 1933. Pb, 24 p.
Both items preserved at the PCA Historical Center, as part of the R. Laird Harris Manuscript Collection, Box 444. All scans prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

 The First General Assembly Held in America

To Presbyterians, the American Revolution had been a holy war.  And now with its winning, Christian Presbyterians could get back to growing the church.  And that growth took place in a period of spiritual progress.  From New York all the way south to the Carolinas, new settlements were begun, with Presbyterian missionaries and ministers being sent throughout the whole length of the land.

But as the churches and  the presbyters  became more and more distant from one another, there was a concern about attendance.  In all the synods put together, over one hundred ministers were absent in any given year with only six of the churches presented by elders.  In one synod, a new moderator was elected, and then excused when it became known that he had not been present for the previous eleven years.  Clearly something had to be done.

The sixteen Presbyteries were organized into four separate synods in 1785.  They were: Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey, Virginia, and the Carolinas.  Numerically, this meant that there were four synods, sixteen presbyteries, 177 ministers, 111 licentiates, and 419 churches.

It was on May 21, 1789, that the first General Assembly was held in the original city of Presbyterianism, Philadelphia.  John Witherspoon was chosen to preach the first sermon of that assembly.  The delegates chose the Rev. John Rodgers to be the first moderator.  He had been trained back in the Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church under New Side Minister Samuel Blair.

Some housekeeping had to be done in light of the separation from England.  No longer could the civil magistrate be considered to be the head of the church.  So chapters in the Westminster Standards which put him as the head of the church were re-written in the light of the American victory in the American Revolution.  No one denomination would any longer be considered a state church, whether it was Anglican, Roman Catholic, or Presbyterian.  There was a separation of church from state.

Words to Live By: Names are important.  At this first Assembly, they called themselves “The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.”  Whatever your church is called and known in your locality, if it is an evangelical and Reformed church, live according to its biblical testimony in the light of the Word of God.  Only then can you win to Christ the many who reside outside of the Savior.

Through the Scriptures: Psalms 120 – 123

Through the Standards: Private and public confession of sin part of repentance

WCF 15:6
“As every man is bound to make private confession of his sins to God, praying for the pardon thereof; upon which, and the forsaking of them, he shall find mercy; so, he that scandalizes his brother, or the Church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private and public confession, and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended, who are thereupon to be reconciled to him, and in love to receive him.”

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