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Good Words on an Anniversary Occasion

The PCA Historical Center actively collects, funds permitting, published histories of Presbyterian churches. There is a great deal of history too often overlooked in these volumes. In particular, good and encouraging words are often to be found on the opening pages of these histories.

It was on this day, November 10th, in 1895, that the Rev. David O. Irving brought an historical discourse in observance of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Bethel Presbyterian Church of East Orange, New Jersey. His opening words in this discourse are a good example of the value of this otherwise overlooked literature:

Anniversary occasions should be times of great joy. Songs of praise and gratitude should be heard as we celebrate our religious birthdays. Although the sorrowful is mingled with the joyful, as we regret out mistakes and mourn over the beloved fellow-workers now gone to their reward, yet we can rejoice in the Lord as we meditate upon His loving kindness and tender mercies toward our Church. This retrospect should also strengthen our trust in God as we trace His leadings and blessings, for we become more assured that He who has guided us in the past will not neglect us in the coming days. Our history can also be read for encouragement and inspiration, as we trace the humble beginnings of religious work in this community up to our present attainments. Our eyes are so often turned to the future that we sometimes forget that much can be learned from the past. Every church ought to have its history clearly and fully written so that every member may make no mistake by overlooking certain well defined facts which enter into the individual character of that particular church. As we, therefore, glance over the past and trace God’s goodness in our Church’s growth, may this view increase our trust in God, our regard for each other and our zeal for the future.

But let us turn the pages of our history with a sense of humility rather than of self-glory. We are not to bring before us figures and comparisons to feed our pride and conceit, for our progress has been owing to Divine grace and goodness, and not wholly dependent upon our faithfulness and zeal. God often uses the weak things of this world to confound the mighty, so that there is no need of boasting. As we become somewhat encouraged over the retrospect and prospect, let us remember our own mistakes and neglects. If we, as members of this Church, had been more faithful, liberal, devout and earnest, would we not have accomplished greater results than we now behold? But we cannot alter the past. We can only read the facts as history–“time’s slavish scribe”—records them, and allow them to make their own impressions upon us.

Words to Live By:
“There are multitudes who go in and out, who count the Church as theirs, who gather from her thought, knowledge, the comfort of good company, the sense of safety; and then there are others who think they truly, as the light phrase so deeply means, ‘belong to the Church.’ They are given to it, and no compulsion could separate them from it. They are part of its structure. They are its pillars. Here and hereafter they can never go out of it. Life would mean nothing to them outside the Church of Christ.”
Rev. Phillips Brooks, D.D.

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
Psalm 84:10-11, ESV.

Ye are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.”
Ephesians 2:20-21, KJV

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An excerpt from Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, edited by Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet (Baker, 1983), vol. 7, p. 183.

“There exists but a small number of letters exchanged between Knox and Calvin. Those of the Scotch Reformer alluded to [earlier in this letter] in Calvin’s answer, have been lost and the letters of the Reformer of Geneva have not had a better fate. Dr. McCrie, the learned historian of Knox, affords no explanation of the loss of this precious correspondence, which leaves in history a void so much to be regretted.”

Geneva, 23d April 1561.

calvinJohn“. . . I come now to your letter, which was lately brought to me by a pious brother who has come here to pursue his studies. I rejoice exceedingly, as you may easily suppose, that the gospel has made such rapid and happy progress among you. That they should have stirred up violent opposition against you is nothing new. But the power of God is the more conspicuously displayed in this, that no attacks either of Satan or of the ungodly have hitherto prevented you from advancing with triumphant constancy in the right course, though you could never have been equal to the task of resistance, unless He who is superior to all the world had held out to you from heaven a helping hand. With regard to ceremonies, I trust, even should you displease many, that you will moderate your rigor. Of course it is your duty to see that the church be purged of all defilements which flow from error and superstition. For it behooves us to strive sedulously that the mysteries of God be not polluted by the admixture of ludicrous or disgusting rites. But with this exception, you are well aware that certain things should be tolerated even if you do not quite approve of them. I am deeply afflicted, as you may well believe, that the nobles of your nation are split into factions, and it is not without reason that you are more distressed and tormented, because Satan is now plotting in the bosom of your church, than you were formerly by the commotions stirred up by the French. But God is to be intreated that he may heal this evil also. Here we are exposed to many dangers. Nothing but our confidence in the divine protection exempts us from trepidation, though we are not free from fears.

knoxJohn04Farewell, distinguished sir and honored brother. May the Lord always stand by you, govern, protect, and sustain you by his power. Your distress for the loss of your wife justly commands my deepest sympathy. Persons of her merit are not often to be met with. But as you have well learned from what source consolation for your sorrow is to be sought, I doubt not but you endure with patience this calamity. You will salute very courteously all your pious brethren. My colleagues also beg me to present to you their best respects.”

Words to Live By:
In my younger years in the ministry, this verse never failed to temper my agitated feelings against those who were my opponents in doctrine and life:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness, God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” — (2 Timothy 2:24-26, ESV)

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Presbyterians in Southwest Virginia Declare Independence from England

In September of 1774, the first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to protest some British laws which were deemed to be injurious to the people of the American colonies. One of them had been to deem all territory north of the Ohio River to Quebec, a Roman Catholic province. With that protestation, these early risings of independence sent petitions to their British rulers, urging at the same time that the people of the colonies take action by boycotting certain British goods. All over the colonies, committees came together to discuss their collective responses to this call.

On January 20, 1775, a group of people representing southwest Virginia, met in the town of Abington, Virginia. A committee was formed, made up primarily of Presbyterians in two churches pastored by Charles Cummings. Their names deserve to be mentioned, as they were the key Presbyterian laymen of that area. They were, along with their rank, Colonel William Christian, Colonel William Preston, Captain Stephen Trigg, Major Arthur Campbell, John Montgomery, James McGavock. William Campbell, Thomas Madison, Daniel Smith, William Russell, Evan Shelby, and William Edmundson.

After discussion together, they as a body sent an address to the Second Continental Congress, soon to meet, which included the following words:

“We by no means desire to shake off our duty or allegiance to our lawful sovereign, but on the contrary, shall ever glory in being the loyal subjects of a Protestant prince descended from such illustrious progenitors, so long as we can enjoy the free exercise of our religion as Protestants and our liberties and properties as British subjects. But if no pacific measures shall be proposed or adopted by Great Britain, and our enemies will attempt to dragoon us out of those inestimable privileges which we are entitled to as subjects, and to reduce us to slavery, we declare that we are deliberately and resolutely determined never to surrender them to any power upon earth, but at the expense of our lives.”

Here was no wild-eyed statement of revolution, but rather a carefully formulated statement of subjection to lawful authority, as long as the latter did not seek to take away the rights and privileges of its citizens, and thereby make them little more than slaves. It was thought that the wording of this declaration was essentially that of Presbyterian pastor Charles Cummings.

They were sent to the Second Continental Congress as the spirit of southwest Virginia with regards to the important issues of liberty and justice for all.

Words to Live By: “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22 (ESV);

“For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.” Proverbs 24:6 (ESV)

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Similarities and Differences in the Two Sacraments

Last year, we would occasionally defer to a short study of one of the catechisms when otherwise lacking something to write about. Better equipped this year, that is rarely the problem now, but, full of turkey left-overs, and needing a break, for this November 30, we go back to a post where we considered two questions and answers from the Larger Catechism, on the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Question and answer 176 reads: “Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper agree?
Answer: The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper agree, in that the author of both is God; the spiritual part of both is Christ and his benefits; both are seals of the same covenant, are to be dispensed by ministers of the gospel, and by none other; and to be continued in the church of Christ until his second coming.”

Question and answer 177 reads: “Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ?
Answer: The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ, in that baptism is to be administered but once, with water, to be a sign and seal of our regeneration and ingrafting into Christ, and that even to infants; whereas the Lord’s supper is to be administered often, in the elements of bread and wine, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment to the soul, and to confirm our continuance and growth in  him, and that only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.”

Both of these questions would be great questions to ask potential officers of our churches, including those who would seek to be pastors in our presbyteries, for they require an overall understanding of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, they are an excellent teaching tool for the Christian parent to prepare the children for church membership.

There are five areas of agreement between the two sacraments. For both, the author is God.  Christ and His benefits are represented as being instituted. Both are seals of the covenant of grace. Both are church sacraments.  And both are to be practiced until we see Christ in the flesh at His second coming.

The differences are simple and understandable. The outward elements are water, in the one, contrasted with bread and wine in the other sacrament. Then too, the timing of Christ’s benefits to the believer differ, in that baptism speaks of the beginning of the Christian life, while Communion speaks of its continuance. Baptism is to be done once and not repeated. The Communion is to be done often. Baptism includes infants while the Lord’s Supper implies the ability to discern the elements.

Words to live by:  Our two catechisms considered today are definitely doctrinal in scope. Yet at the same time, they presuppose a basic understanding of the two sacraments which will enable God’s people to participate in them with a greater  understanding.  Let us make sure that their spiritual experience describe us, not just their outward and external experience. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?. . . .” (ESV – 2 Corinthians 13:5c)

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This Day in Presbyterian History:   

A Burden for the Care of the Churches

The assessment was made by a fellow minister that nothing would come from the beginning church, that it was not likely to increase in the city.  How that minister was wrong, for the Lord was behind this first church and He was also using the missions-pastor to grow the church.

Jedidiah Andrews was one of the seven Presbyterian ministers who began the first Presbytery in Philadelphia.  He was the only one who had been born in the future United States of America.  Born on July 7, 1674 in Higham, Massachusetts, Jedidiah went to Harvard College, and graduated in 1694.

Moving to Philadelphia three years later, and  already ordained in the gospel ministry, he began to preach in a building in cooperation with the Baptists in that city.  However, the arrangement did not last long, through an oversight of a meeting day by Mr. Andrews.  The Baptists were offended at that, with the result that the cooperation was hindered between the two churches.  That bought about the assessment by the Baptist minister which was found in the first sentence of this historical devotional.  But God was in the picture now, and the Presbyterians did grow after they built their own structure on Market Street between Second and Third Street in 1704. For years, in fact, it was the only Presbyterian church in Philadelphia.

In 1706, Jedidiah Andrews and six other ministers raised up the Presbytery of Philadelphia, the first such organization in the colonies.  From day one, Rev. Andrews was the recording clerk of the Presbytery, and later of the Synod, until his death in 1747.

Jedidiah Andrews had a missionary heart.  Frequently, he went on preaching tours in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  The nuclei of many a congregation was formed by him during those years.   He felt a burden for the care of the churches.

Words to Live By: 
Pray this day for your pastor.  Having been one for 38 years, this contributor knows something of the cares of the church which press upon your shepherd of the sheep.  Go to him and ask him to give you in general, the duties of his work week.  Then tell him that you will remember him regularly in those duties.  That will greatly encourage him to keep on keeping on in the work of the gospel, and the growth of the congregation, both in spiritual and temporal growth.

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 1 – 3

Through the Standards: Proof texts for the third commandment

Deuteronomy 5:11
“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes  his name in vain.” (ESV)

Matthew 6:9
“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name.” (ESV)

1 Peter 3:15a
“But in  your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy . . .” (ESV)

Malachi 3:16
“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 of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.” (ESV)

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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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