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The Roman Catholic Church is Arminian; the Episcopal Church is Calvinistic in its creed and Arminian in its clergy; the Methodist Church is Arminian in its clergy and creed. The Episcopal Church has a formula, called the “Thirty-nine Articles,” which is Calvinistic, but the greater part of the Church has grown away from it, and Arminianism is preached from nearly all its pulpits. In churches organized on the monarchical or oligarchical principle the doctrines of Calvinism cannot live. In proportion as the rulers absorb power into themselves the Church becomes Arminian. The greater the authority of the clergy, the deeper the shade of this doctrine. Consequently, the Roman Catholic Church is the most Arminian of all, because it is the most thoroughly monarchical. Albert Barnes, a great American writer, says, “There are no permanent Arminian Presbyteries, Synods, General Assemblies, on earth. There ii< no instance where this belief takes on the Presbyterian form. There are no Presbyterian forms of ecclesiastical administration where it would be long retained.”   On the other hand, it is a conspicuous fact that the Churches in which the principle of self-government is maintained are all Calvinistic. It is also to be noted that those Churches which are most nearly approximating toward ecclesiastical republicanism are becoming more Calvinistic in their theology. The two great distinctive features of the Presbyterian or Reformed Church are Calvinism, and self-government. Wherever the Church is established, these are its peculiarities.

The connection of these two principles of government and theology is by no means accidental. There is a strong moral twinship between them. One cannot long exist without the other, and minds which are constructed to believe one almost uniformly accept both. After a man has contemplated the Calvinistic conception of God—a Being absolutely supreme over all creation, everywhere present and everywhere almighty, one who decrees alike the death of a sparrow and the downfall of an empire—he turns a wearied gaze on human grandeur. What are earthly potentates compared to his God! All human distinctions sink to a level before this awful majesty, and he feels “the rich and the poor meet together: the Lord is the Maker of them all” (Prov. xxii. 2).

The history of Calvinism is the history of self- government. Beginning with Geneva in the sixteenth century, trace the progress of this great institution of human liberty through the changes of three hundred years. Says Renan, the unbelieving French author, “ Paul begat Augustine, and Augustine begat Calvin.” He meant it as sarcasm, but it is a splendid compliment to the last two names; and it is true. Calvin discovered in the Bible the great foundation of all theology—God’s absolute supremacy ; he found it where Augustine found it —where it had been since Paul by inspiration wrote it; and he built upon it the most powerful system of theology ever constructed. Froude, the historian, says, “Calvinism is the spirit which rises in revolt against all untruth. It is but the inflashing upon the conscience of the laws by which mankind are governed—laws which exist whether we acknowledge them or deny them, and will have their way to our own weal or woe according to the attitude in which we place ourselves toward them; inherent, like the laws of gravity, in the nature of things; not made by us, not to be altered by us, but to be discerned by us and obeyed by us at our everlasting peril.” Calvin felt the power of this colossal truth in his soul, and it became the inspiration of his life; he never flinched before tyranny, but continually waged war against it, and in Geneva developed a republic in Church and in State which has been the model of all similar institutions since.

Holland was liberated by Calvinism. Never until these doctrines took possession did that country prevail against Spain. William the Silent became a strong Calvinist. Then he conquered, because Calvinism allied him, as he believed, with the Almighty. “ If God be for us, who can be against us ?” Motley writes: “ It would certainly be unjust and futile to detract from the vast debt which the Dutch republic owed to the Genevan Church. The earliest and most eloquent preachers, the most impassioned converts, the sublimest martyrs, had lived, preached, fought, suffered and died with the precepts of Calvin in their hearts. The fire which had consumed the last vestige of royal and sacerdotal despotism throughout the independent republic had been lighted by the hands of Calvinists.

“Throughout the blood-stained soil of France, too,” writes this historian, “the men who were fighting the same great battles as were the Netherlanders against Philip II. and the Inquisition, the valiant cavaliers of Dauphiny and Provence, knelt on the ground before the battle, smote their iron breasts with mailed hands, uttered a Calvinistic prayer, sang a song of Marot, and then charged upon Guise and upon Joyeuse under the white plume of the Bearnese. And it was upon the Calvinistic weavers and clothiers of Rochelle the great prince relied in the hour of danger, as much as on his mounted chivalry.

“In England, too,” continues Motley, “ the seeds of liberty, wrapped up in Calvinism and hoarded through many trying years, were at last destined to float over land and sea, and to bear the largest harvests of temperate freedom for the great commonwealths that were still unborn.” Henry VIII. did not reform the English Church: he merely cut it off from Rome. The Reformation of that Church was done by Calvinists. “ The Lambeth Articles,” drawn up under the authority of Elizabeth, “ affirm the Calvinistic doctrines with a distinctness which would shock many in our age who are reputed Calvinists.” But England was still under a despotism. With difficulty, a body of Calvinists called Puritans were preparing, in the providence of God, for the liberation of the people. Cromwell with the Puritans destroyed the despotism of centuries. True, after Cromwell passed away, the horrid spectre again made its appearance; but it was too late: the people had seen liberty, and under the guiding genius of William III., the Calvinist, the “divine right of kings ” met its final overthrow, and the grand principle of self-government was for ever fixed in the British constitution.

Turning to Scotland, we discover a great personality towering above all others—John Knox, the greatest benefactor that country ever had. He had learned theology under Calvin in Geneva, and he had tasted Romanism as a galley-slave in France. Froude says of him, “No grander figure can be found in the entire history of the Reformation in this island than John Knox. The time has come when English history must do justice to one but for whom, the Reformation would have been overthrown among ourselves, for the spirit which Knox created 6aved Scotland; and if Scotland had been Catholic again, neither the wisdom of Elizabeth’s ministers, nor the teaching of her bishops, nor her own chicaneries, would have preserved England from revolution. lie was the voice which taught the peasant of the Lothians that he was a free man—the equal, in the sight of God, of the proudest peer or prelate that had trampled on his forefathers.”

Thomas Carlyle writes: “This that John Knox did for his nation, I say, we may really call a resurrection as from death. . . . He is the one Scotchman to whom, of all others, his country and the world owe a debt.”

Thus it is seen by the testimony of men who were not Presbyterians that those who fought the great battles of human liberty were inspired by the doctrines of Calvinism.

These principles of self-government having beer, worked out in Geneva, France, Holland, England and Scotland, the time came for their establishment in other lands. There was a new world in the West to be colonized and developed. The Catholics took the southern part, and the Calvinists the northern. South America, Central America and the West Indies have stagnated under Catholic influence, while the United States and Canada have continually gone forward in progress. The free institutions of this country have been an asylum for the oppressed of all nations. Coming to North America, they have found liberty to think and to act according to the dictates of their own consciences. Free from cramping influences, they have developed in all departments. No country on earth ever before made such progress as that which has been seen in the short history of the American republic. To what principles are we indebted for the conditions which made this wonderful advancement possible? To those of Calvinism.

The early settlers of North America were largely Calvinists. The Huguenots from France, the Dutch from Holland, the Scotch and the Scotch-Irish, the Puritans from England, were the real pioneers of Western civilization, and they were all disciples of Calvin. These distinguished colonists came to the New World because, being Calvinists, they were not tolerated at home. They sought for liberty to worship God. They had tasted the bitterness of royal and ecclesiastical tyranny in Europe, and the high Calvinism with which they were imbued inspired them with an unconquerable desire for self- government. When the great conflict arose between the colonies and England, the Episcopalians generally sided with the mother-country; the Calvinists were for independence. They had their Church established by law, and before the Revolution the Presbyterians were denied a charter in New York. They were not allowed “ a legal title to a spot to bury their dead.”

But this was not to continue. They had left Europe to escape tyranny, and were not willing to submit to it in America. The feelings which inspired the break with England were as much religious as political, though a political act was the occasion of the rupture. A historian quotes an article published in a weekly journal of that day: “ This country will shortly become a great and flourishing empire, independent of Great Britain, enjoying its civil and religious liberty uncontaminated, and deserted of all control of bishops, . . . and from the subjection of all earthly kings.” Monarchy and Episcopacy stood together. The clergymen of that faith belonged to a State-Church and had sworn to support the authority of England. The king was the head of the Church, and they were bound by their allegiance to him.

But the Puritans, the Scotch, the Scotch-Irish, the Huguenots and the Dutch rallied under the banner of revolution. They fought for the right of self-government in Church and in State; God was on their side, and they won it. They framed their government according to the principles for which they had so long contended. They were building for the future, and were divinely guided in laying the foundation of a structure which is still rising before the nations, the inspiration of freedom in other lands and the admiration of mankind. Who were the men that did this work ? Calvinists—men who derived their principles, strong as granite, from the quarries of God’s eternal decree, “ according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”

Ranke says, “John Calvin was virtually the founder of America,” and Renan said, “Paul begat Augustine, and Augustine begat Calvin.” But who, we ask, begat Paul ? Who was the author of that system of truth which has been the mainspring of civilization and the bulwark of human liberty? We answer, It was born in heaven, and claims paternity from God.

“ Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage ” (Gal. v. 1).

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Finally, on the back cover of the tract entitled Ten Reasons for Being a Presbyterian, there is this last essay, also drawn from THE PRESBYTERIAN ADVOCATE.


tendencies_of_presbyterianismALL the tendencies of the Presbyterian system of doctrines and government have been often demonstrated to be good, adapted in the highest degree to promote the temporal and spiritual welfare of individuals, families, communities, and nations. The evidence of this fact is found in its effects in all parts of its history, in ancient and in modern times. Wherever Presbyterianism unadulterated by foreign influences has prevailed, there have morality, purity, industry, intelligence, virtue, and piety been found shedding a hallowing and purifying efficacy upon the people. For the correctness of this statement we appeal to the earliest days of the church, to the churches of the valleys of Piedmont, to the Reformed churches of France and Switzerland, and to the churches of Scotland. It is true that most of the governments under which these saints lived, recognized not their character, and desired to exterminate their teachers. Against them were arrayed power, prejudice, fraud, craft, the sword, the faggot, and red-hot chain. But in spite of all these, their characters came forth only the more eminently precious for their trials, and more clearly vindicated from all charge of wrong. Their virtue, faith, patience, and love of freedom were too precious to be consumed by the fire of persecution, and their history stands a blessed illustration of the influence and tendency of our religion.—Presbyterian Advocate.

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Perhaps one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read from the pen of J. Gresham Machen, not widely known, written during World War I. Here he dissects his times, of which ours are just a continuation. Machen again proves himself profoundly prescient, a keen observer grounded in and speaking from the vantage point of the Scriptures:—

“During the past century a profound spiritual change has been produced in the whole thought and life of the world — no less a change than the substitution of paganism for Christianity as the dominant principle of life.” 


The Church in the War

In many cases the church has done nobly in the war. There have no doubt been many chaplains, many Y.M.C.A. secretaries, and many soldiers in the ranks who have proclaimed the gospel of Christ faithfully and humbly and effectively to dying men. Any discouraging estimate of the situation is subject to many noble exceptions. But, in general, in view of the manifest estrangement between the church and large bodies of men, there is at least some plausibility for the common opinion that the church has failed.

Fortunately, if the church has failed, it is at least perfectly clear why she has failed. She has failed because men have been unwilling to receive, and the church has been unwilling to preach, the gospel of Christ crucified. Men have trusted for their own salvation and for the hope of the world in the merit of their own self-sacrifice rather than in the one act of sacrifice which was accomplished some nineteen hundred years ago by Jesus Christ. That does not mean that men are opposed to Jesus. On the contrary, they are perfectly ready to admit Him into the noble company of those who have sacrificed themselves in a righteous cause. But such condescension is as far removed as possible from the Christian attitude. People used to say, “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin.” They say so no longer. On the contrary, any man, if only he goes bravely over the top, is now regarded as plenty good enough to pay the price of sin.

Obviously this modern attitude is possible only because men have lost sight of the majesty of Jesus’ person. It is because they regard Him as a being altogether like themselves that they can compare their sacrifice with his. It never seems to dawn upon them that this was no sinful man, but the Lord of glory who died on Calvary. If it did dawn upon them, they would gladly confess, as men used to confess, that one drop of the precious blood of Jesus is worth more, as a ground for the hope of the world, than all the rivers of blood which have flowed upon the battlefields of France.

But how may this Christian conception of the majesty of Jesus’ person be regained?

Some people think it may be regained simply by more knowledge. If people would only read the gospels more, we are told, they would come to know Jesus, and, knowing him, they would revere him. But knowledge, important though it is, is not sufficient. Many men knew Jesus in the days of his flesh — intelligent men, too — who never became His disciples. Who then were those who did come to reverence Him? The answer is plain. During the earthly life-time of Jesus and all through the centuries the men who really understood the majesty of Jesus’ person were the men who were convicted of their sin. Peter was one — who said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The dying thief was another; he knows more about Jesus to-day than many a modem preacher who has the name of Jesus forever on his lips. Paul was another — a brave, clean man he was, too, as the world looks on it, even before he found forgiveness in Christ. The real reason why men no longer understand the majesty of Jesus’ person is that they do not contrast his holiness with their own sinfulness; they are without the conviction of sin.

The leading characteristic of the present age is a profound satisfaction with human goodness. The popular war-literature, for example, is redolent of such satisfaction. Get beneath the rough exterior of men, we are told, and you find sufficient self- sacrifice in order to found upon that self-sacrifice the hope of the world.

What has produced such a spirit of self-satisfaction?

In the first place, the war has provided us with a convenient scapegoat. In war-time, men have been interested in the sins of others; they have been called upon to fight in hot indignation against injustice and oppression on the part of the Germans. Such indignation has been necessary. But it has not been without its moral dangers. In attending to the sins of others, men have sometimes lost sight of their own sins.

In the second place, the sense of sin has sometimes been blunted by the consciousness of a great achievement. Certainly the achievement is very great; the men who march in triumph up Fifth Avenue deserve not less but more of honor than they are receiving from their fellow-citizens. But honor from men can be received with perfect satisfaction only where it is joined, as it is joined in the case of many and many a Christian soldier, with utter humility in the presence of God.

But the roots of modern self-satisfaction lie far deeper than the war. During the past century a profound spiritual change has been produced in the whole thought and life of the world — no less a change than the substitution of paganism for Christianity as the dominant principle of life. We are not here using “paganism” as a term of reproach; ancient Greece was pagan, but it was glorious. What we mean by “paganism” is a view of life which finds its ideal simply in a healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties. Such an ideal is the exact opposite of Christianity, which is the religion of the broken heart.

We would not be misunderstood. In saying that Christianity is the religion of the broken heart, we do not mean that Christianity ends in the broken heart; we do not mean that the characteristic Christian attitude is a continual beating of the breast and a continual crying of “Woe is me.” On the contrary, the Christian should not be always “laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works”; sin is dealt with once for all, and then a new and joyous life follows. There is thus in Christianity a higher humanism. The trouble with the humanism of ancient Greece, as with the humanism of modem times, lay not in the superstructure, which was glorious, but in the foundation, which was rotten. Sin was never really dealt with and removed; there was always something to cover up. In the higher Christian humanism there is nothing to cover up; the guilt has been removed once for all by God, and the Christian may now proceed without fear to develop every faculty which God has given him.

But if Christianity does not end with the broken heart, it does begin with it. The way to Christ lies through the conviction of sin.

Unfortunately, the fact is not always recognized. Modern preachers are inclined to suggest some easier way. They are saying to men in effect this: “You men are very good and very self- sacrificing, and we take pleasure in revealing your goodness to you. Now, since you are so good, you will probably be interested in Christianity, especially in the life of Jesus, which we believe is good enough even for you.” Such preaching is very attractive — much more attractive than the preaching of the cross. But it is quite useless. It is useless to try to call the righteous to repentance.

But it is hard for men to give up their pride. How shall we find the courage to require it of them? How shall we preachers find courage to say, for example, to the returning soldiers, rightly conscious as they are of a magnificent achievement: “You are sinners like all other men, and like all other men you need a Saviour.” It looks to the world like a colossal piece of impertinence. Certainly we cannot find the courage in any superior goodness of our own. But we can find the courage in the good¬ness and in the greatness of Christ.

Certainly the gospel does put a tremendous strain upon Jesus of Nazareth. The gospel means that instead of seeking the hope of the world in the added deeds of goodness of the millions of the human race throughout the centuries, we seek it in one act of one Man of long ago. Such a message has always seemed foolish to the wise men of this world. But there is no real reason to be ashamed of it. We may feel quite safe in relinquishing every prop of human goodness in order to trust ourselves simply and solely to Christ. The achievements of men are very imposing. But not in comparison with the Lord of glory.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

[The above message by Dr. Machen was delivered before Princeton alumni on 6 May 1919 and subsequently published in The Presbyterian, 29 May 1919.]

Words to Live By:
“The way to Christ lies through the conviction of sin.”

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knoxJohn04Were you, the reader, aware that the man of the hour in Scotland, John Knox, once rowed a galley ship? No, it wasn’t for exercise. No, it wasn’t for some national pride of the fastest galley ship in a sailing contest. Simply put, John Knox was enslaved on that ship.
Earlier, Knox had entered St. Andrews Castle with three young children in tow. Their parents had entrusted him as a tutor. When events following the murder of a Roman Catholic cardinal went badly for anyone suspected of being part of that deed, they urged him to flee to that Protestant bastion for safety purposes. Know was not one of the individuals who killed the cardinal. But he did go there for safety. While present, the chaplain to the soldiers at the chapel was urged by the congregation to extend a pastoral call to Knox, recognizing his spiritual gifts. At first, Knox resisted, but finally gave in to the invitation. He began to preach boldly on themes familiar to the Protestant reformation then beginning in the land of Scotland.
At the end of June in 1547, the French fleet besieged St Andrews Castle. On this day, July 31, 1547, victory was gained over the defenders inside its walls.  Surrendering were every one in the castle, with promises of lives spared, transportation to France, the opportunity to enter the service of the French king, but if not, then to be conveyed to any country they wished, provided it not be Scotland again.  Upon arrival in France, immediately the terms of surrender were annulled, and they became prisoners of war. John Knox became a galley slave for nineteen months.
While there were months in which the slave ship did not sail due to weather and cold conditions, in warmer months Knox labored under cruel conditions, of which he writes in many a book and sermon afterwards. He was loaded with chains.  He spoke of the sobs of his heart during the imprisonment. It was in anguish of mind and vehement affliction. There were torments sustained in the galleys.
Amidst all of the physical treatments came the attacks upon their faith. Daily, the Romanist mass was offered, with expected reverence by the prisoners.  As soon as it began however, the galley slaves would cover their heads so they wouldn’t hear the words of the service.  Daily, there were efforts to get the prisoners to confess the Romanist faith. Once, a figure representing the Virgin Mary, was pressed between the chained hands of a slave, with a command to kiss the figure. The slave, who many believer to be John Knox himself, threw the figure overboard into the sea, loudly proclaiming the Virgin to save herself by swimming! After this, there were no more attempts to convert the prisoners.
John Knox gradually wore down physically from this experience, with a fever near the end of it.  Rowing close to the Scottish coast, they raised the feverish Reformer up when the spires of St. Andrews came into view, asking him if he recognized it. He answered, “I know it well; for I see the steeple of that place where God first opened my mouth in public to  his glory; and I am fully persuaded, now weak I now appear, that I shall not depart this life, til my tongue shall glorify His godly name in that same place.”
Whatever means was used (and even Thomas M’Crie was not sure what it was),  after 19 months in harsh conditions, John Knox was freed to continue his ministry in England and Scotland.
Words to Live By: It wasn’t God’s will that Knox should be kept forever as a galley slave. It was God’s will to free him so as to allow him to continue his ministry in the Reformation. All of us ever live within the scope of God’s will all of our lives. Let us submit to that will, in large areas as well as small areas.

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For our Sunday Sermon, what follows is, I dare say, a funeral sermon unlike any you are ever likely to encounter. Moreover, it is profound,  and it is, I think, a funeral sermon well suited to our time.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Smith Candlish [1806-1873] was one of the founding members of the Free Church of Scotland and a noted pastor and expositor of the Scriptures. Our sermon today is taken from the first portion of the sermon offered up by the Rev. Dr. Buchanan in memory of Dr. Candlish, preached in Free St. George’s, Edinburgh, on Sabbath, November 2, 1873. To read the full text of this sermon, click here.

Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Robert Buchanan.

“The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart; and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.–Isaiah 57:1.

There could hardly be a more fatal sign of the condition and prospects of any community than the existence in it of such a state of things as our text describes. When a people cease to cherish and venerate moral and religious worth; when the death of eminently good and holy men hardly attracts notice and awakens no regret, and when the solemn lessons which so great a public calamity is fitted to teach are totally disregarded, the fact is ominous of coming wrath and ruin. It painfully indicates that the cement which binds human society together is undergoing a process of dissolution.

In the course of its eventful history, our fallen world has often exemplified this truth. In the days that were before the flood the righteous perished, and no man laid it to heart. The sons of God—those who had the spirit of an Abel, a Seth, or an Enoch, disrelished and opposed by the ungodly spirit of the age in which they lived—were at length, in God’s divine displeasure, taken, one after another away. And what was the terrible consequence? The earth became corrupt and was filled with violence. Engrossed with their eating and drinking, their planting and building, their marrying and giving in marriage, the men of that sensual, antediluvian world considered not that the righteous, in whose gradual disappearance they rather rejoiced than grieved, had been taken away from the evil to come. But their reckless levity and selfish unconcern did not hinder the evil, from which the righteous were being removed, from overtaking themselves. The heavens grew dark with judgment, when the despised lights that once shone in it, had all sunk back into the depths of the sky. The vengeance of the Almighty was let loose, and the flood came and took them all away!

The same truth was illustrated, in a hardly less terrible form, subsequently to the coming and the crucifixion of our Lord, in the case of Jerusalem and the Jews. Piety had long been upon the decline among God’s ancient people. The men who sat in Moses’ seat, and who ought to have been the guides and guardians of the nation’s moral and spiritual life, had become the chief transgressors. Even that partial awakening to a sense of sin, and that temporary revival of religious thought, which attended the solemn preaching of John the Baptist, and which spread still wider abroad under the ministry of our Lord, served only, in the long run, to rouse into intenser activity the ungodly spirit of the time, and to turn it with a fiercer enmity against the cause and kingdom of God. The righteous and merciful One HImself, after being publicly disowned and rejected, was, by a national act, put to a cruel and ignominious death, and neither princes, nor priests, nor people laid it to heart. Loving and God-fearing men, like Stephen, were stoned and slain; and none considered that, by such savage deeds, they were only taking these righteous and merciful men away from the evil to come. Piety and purity, goodness and holiness, systematically discouraged in the midst of this abounding wickedness, fled up to Heaven. And the salt being thus withdrawn from the increasingly corrupt mass of Jewish society, its crimes, ere long, rendered it intolerable alike to God and man. The measure of the nation’s iniquity had come to the full. He who is slow to wrath, but who is also of great power, and who will not at all acquit the wicked, uplifted His avenging arm, and their city, their temple, and their nation perished.

Nor is it only in the records of Scripture that we can trace the fatal influences of such a state of things as that to which our text refers. The thoughtful student of history will not fail to recognize that state of things as the sure precursor of disaster and overthrow wherever it has appeared. In his great work on the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, its author, sceptic though he was, and little either disposed or qualified to mark the operations of God’s mighty hand, is, nevertheless, constrained to acknowledge that not the power of Rome’s external foes, but the canker of her own internal corruptions, brought on her ruin. Such virtues as even Pagan Rome once knew,—severe simplicity of manners—patient industry—indomitable hardihood and courage—a proud sense of honour and truth—stern, self-sacrificing devotion to the interests of the state,—were no longer held in esteem. The few who retained and cherished such virtues, perished; and no man laid it to heart. The very soldiers, enervated by luxury and ease, pusillanimously abandoned both the nation’s defence and their own. The material prosperity of the empire died out with the virtues of its citizens. Want and misery grew apace. And yet at the very time when destitution and disease and death were at the height in one class of the population, the wildest excess and extravagance were running riot in another. “The mad prodigality,” the historian says, when speaking of this unnatural and revolting spectacle, “which prevails in the confusion of a shipwreck or of a siege, may serve to explain the progress of luxury amid the misfortunes and terrors of a sinking nation.”

It needs not to say, that examples of the same thing have not been awanting in more modern times. I shall content myself with singling out and specifying only one. It belongs to the history of a neighbouring kingdom, and may be said, without a particle of exaggeration, to have been written again and again, in characters of fire upon its palace walls. For two centuries France had not only seen the righteous perish, without laying it to heart; but during that long period it had done its very utmost to cause them to perish. By a series of remorseless persecutions, it had dyed its hands deep in their blood. The pure faith of the gospel, in which these righteous men had found life and peace, and from which they had derived all those Christian graces by which their character was adorned, France spared no pains to eradicate from its soil. The adherents of that faith it chased, at one time, by hundreds of thousands into exile; while, at other times, it slew them in numbers as great with the sword, or drowned them in its rivers, or burned them at the stake. And while men, full of that loving and merciful spirit which the gospel inspires, were being thus rapidly thinned out of the land, none considered that they were being taken away from the evil to come. But it not more true of individuals than it is of nations, that what men sow, that shall they also reap. By its ceaseless oppression of God’s cause and people, France had been sowing the wind,—sowing, that is, the seed of social storms and political convulsions. And, in the due time, it reaped the fitting harvest in the whirlwind of its terrific revolution : a revolution in which the whole social fabric was loosened from its foundations; and out of which a state of anarchy arose in which law was dethroned; in which all authority, human and divine, was trampled under foot; in which religion was abolished, the very name and being of God were disowned; in which atheism was adopted and proclaimed as the nation’s creed, death pronounced to be an eternal sleep, and the day of judgment to be a delusion and a dream; and when, as the fruit of these fiend-like enormities, human blood was shed like water, and no man could call his life his own.

Events like these—and all history is full of them—present a truly startling commentary on the words of our text, and may well stir us up to give to them the most earnest and prayerful consideration. They are fitted to remind us of what, perhaps, we had not before sufficiently adverted to,—that a great depth and force of meaning lies in the statement our text contains; and that it is no common danger and no common sin against which God is here putting us on our guard. When we proceed to look at the text more closely, there are two things that cannot fail to suggest themselves as plainly implied in it, and as constituting the chief lessons it is fitted, and no doubt intended, to convey. (1.) That the righteous and the merciful are among the most precious of God’s gifts to a community and to a Church. And, (2.) That to depreciate or despise these gifts is to provoke the Giver of them to take them away, and to visit with some signal token of His divine displeasure the people who are chargeable with this heinous sin.

1. First, then, let us for a little turn our attention to the fact, so plainly taught in the text, that the kind and class of men there spoken of are among the most precious of God’s gifts to a community and to a Church. By the men in question, we are evidently to understand the people of God. “The righteous,” is the most common and characteristic title by which, in Holy Scripture, God’s people are named and known. When God would single our Noah as the last remaining representative of true godliness, it was by this very word his character was summarily described. Thee, said the Lord, addressing him, “Thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation” (Gen. 7:1). Again, when God would hold up His own people, in contrast with those by whom He is dishonoured and disowned, He thus speaks: “The Lord will not suffer the righteous to famish; but he casteth away the substance of the wicked.” And, again, “The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life : but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked.” And, once more, when He would tell who those are who shall enter into His glory in the world to come, it is still the same distinctive term He employs : “The righteous shall go away into life eternal.” (Matt. 25:46).

It is hardly necessary to observe that the other descriptive expression, “merciful men,” is not intended to represent a class additional to, and different from, the righteous. It is meant simply to present another aspect of the character of the righteous. That this is so, is made conclusively manifest by the fact that, in this very text itself, the word merciful is used interchangeably with the word righteous. “Merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.”

Thus understood, it can need no argument to prove how inestimable a blessing such men are to a community or a Church. Had even ten such men been found in Sodom, their presence would have saved it from destruction. For their sakes the sword of Divine vengeance, though already unsheathed, would have been returned to its scabbard without striking the fatal blow. They are the salt of the earth : they are the light of the world. It is on their account that the whole existing order of things is upheld. For no sooner shall God have gathered His elect, His righteous seed, from the four winds, than the heavens and the earth which are now shall be dissolved.

But not only,—as thus serving to throw a shield of protection over the cities and nations to which they belong,—is the presence of these men an inestimable blessing; it is still further a blessing, whose value is unspeakably great, in respect of the numberless beneficent influences which they exert—influences which purity and sweeten and elevate the whole condition of the society in which they mingle, and stamp it, often, with a nobler character and destiny for ages to come. Take, for example, such a man as Abraham, who commanded his children, and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, and to do justice and judgment; who, wherever he came, builded an altar to the only living and true God,—and by his consistent piety, and undeviating integrity and enlightened wisdom, restrained vice and wickedness on every side; and by his holy life and conversation diffused an atmosphere of goodness all around him, so that he became, by way of eminence, the father of the faithful, and friend of God. Or take such a man as Samuel, whose early devotedness to God, whose zeal for the divine glory, whose high integrity and commanding energy, rescued his country from disgrace and ruin, and raised it, for a long season, to dignity and honour. Or take such a man as the Son of Jesse, whose deep communings with God have fed the spiritual life of tens of thousands of God’s children in every succeeding age. Or, once more, take such a man as Paul, overflowing with love to the Lord that brought him, consumed with burning zeal for the conversion of perishing sinners, and counting not even his life dear unto himself, that he might finish his course and the ministry he had received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God, and to extend and establish that blessed kingdom, which is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Take, I repeat, such examples as these, and say if it be possible sufficiently to estimate the amount of blessing which the presence of such men—even of a handful of such men—may, under God, be the means of bringing down upon this world.

At the same time, let me here take occasion to say that, in singling out such illustrious names as those now adduced, it is not at all intended to imply that, in this firmament of gracious and benignant influences, only stars of the first magnitude can be of any avail. Not so. Of the righteous there are tens of thousands who, in the deep obscurity of private and humble life, are, like their blessed Master, going about daily doing good. There are righteous mothers and grandmothers, like Lois and Eunice, who. by their godly lessons and holy example to their children, are training up future Timothys to minister to the Church and people of God. There are merciful disciples, like Tabitha, whose kindly services and sympathies are making the heart of many a poor widow, or fatherless child, to rejoice. There are righteous maidens, like her who served in the house of Naaman the Syrian, who know how to speak a word in season for Israel’s God. There are merciful widows who, out of their deep poverty, are casting in their little all into the Lord’s treasury, and helping forward His cause and kingdom by their believing prayers. And as there is not one of these whose presence in society or in the Church of God is not a precious boon, so, assuredly, there is not one of their number who shall lose his or her reward.

In a word, if we would desire to know how great a blessing the righteous are to this fallen world, we have but to think of the good which, collectively, they have wrought. The righteous are, in other words, the living members of Christ’s Church; and to them, instrumentally, it is due that pure Christianity has maintained its footing, and is still extending its humanizing, enlightening, sanctifying, and saving power among the inhabitants of this guilty and perishing world. But if, on the one hand, this fact abundantly proves how immense is the blessing the righteous are dispensing to their fellow-men, it goes, on the other, not less clearly to prove that the righteous are the gift of God. They are not the natural growth of fallen humanity. These trees of righteousness,—these plants of renown,—are plants of the Lord’s planting. They are the products of His own heavenly grace and truth. They are righteous, because God has made them so; because He has clothed them in the justifying righteousness of His blessed Son; and because He has wrought in them a personal righteousness by the regenerating and sanctifying grace of His Holy Spirit. They are merciful, because, in being born again, and in being made one with Christ, they have become, by adoption, sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty; and, as such, have learned to be merciful as their Father who is in heaven is merciful. And, accordingly, instead of taking praise to themselves for any services they may have been privileged to render to the cause of humanity and godliness, they are ever ready to say : “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us; but unto thy name give we glory for thy mercy and for thy truth’s sake.”

To continue reading, click here: In Memoriam: R. S. Candlish, D.D., died October 19, 1873. Sermons preached in Free St. George’s, Edinburgh, on Sabbath, November 2, 1873, by the Rev. Dr. Buchanan, Glasgow; and Rev. Dr. Rainy, Edinburgh. Edinburgh: T. Nelson and Sons, 1873.

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When Madness Rules the Streets

Samuel Clark Aiken (1791-1879) was born in Windham, Vermont on the 21st day of September, 1791. Educated at Middlebury College and Andover Theological Seminary, he served the First Presbyterian Church of Utica, New York for seventeen years before answering a call to serve the only Presbyterian church in Cleveland, Ohio. The remainder of his years were spent serving the Old Stone Church, from 1835 until his retirement in 1861. He died in the first hour of the first day of the first month of 1879, at the age of 88. While serving faithfully and efficiently as the pastor of the church, Rev. Aiken was also quite active in civic affairs, while also addressing a number of societal issues.

Here today we present the opening portion of one of Rev. Aiken’s sermons. In this sermon, he addresses the growing problem of prostitution in America in the 1830’s. As then, so today it seems we think that such things cannot be spoken of in polite society, and that in turns becomes a shielding cover for the problem. His description of Paris in the early nineteenth-century sounds all too familiar. Rev. Aiken’s sermon is wrapped in some of the typically elaborate nineteenth-century style, but cut past that to read the crux of what he is saying. That encumbrance aside, you don’t hear sermons on such subjects today. Why is that?

Moral Reform: A Sermon delivered at Utica, on Sabbath evening, February 16, 1834.

Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death.” – Proverbs 7:27.

What a picture this book gives of the crime of lewdness! The painter threw upon canvas the reality as it existed three thousand years ago, and it worthy of notice, that since that period it has undergone no essential change. I question, whether in the infancy of the world, and in the days of ignorance that followed, this vice was generally more prominent or prevalent, even among gentiles, than it is at present moment, in some towns and cities in these United States.

I make no apology for bringing this subject before a Christian congregation. I give no pledge to hold my peace, even after speaking once, unless the friends of virtue pledge themselves to act.

As one set for the defence of religion and public morals, I acknowledge my error in having remained silent so long. I am happy to make the confession; for, with my present convictions of duty, whatever may be the views of my respected fellow-laborers in the ministry, until I expose the nakedness of this vice, and sound a note of alarm in this community, I can never say with the apostle, that “I am pure from the blood of all men,” and, that “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.”

My office out of the question, I hold no parley with that morbid fastidiousness which trembles and shrinks from any open and manly effort to cure the evil. Nor have I the least regard or veneration for that artificial and sickly delicacy, which, for ages, has bound the friends of virtue in fetters of iron, and charmed them into a most fatal silence and apathy. I believe it to be in part the creature of a false education, and in part the wily policy of the devil, to maintain his empire of pollution, by assuming so great and over-weening a regard for purity, as to be unable to endure the disclosures of vice. To cover up, to cover up, is the master policy of the prince of darkness. “He that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” Well fitted to sustain and advance his nefarious purposes, is the doctrine, coolly and deliberately advocated by the friends of virtue, yes, and by the pimps of vice also, that here is an immorality not to be spoken of in public. We may contemplate it in pictures, in books, in caricatures, as drawn by the moralist, the satirist, and the artist; we may see innocence seduced and ruined, and the villain walking the street and receiving the courtesies of the virtuous; we may know that haunts of crime are standing by day and night under the shade of our church-steeples; we may see our sons and daughters entering them, never to return, and in secret lamentation spend the residue of life, and finally sink in sorrow to our graves; we may see that cloud of wrath gathering over our land, which overthrew Sodom, the nations of Canaan, Babylon, and Nineveh; we may hear the dark waters rumbling beneath our feet, and breaking up the foundations of personal, domestic, and civil happiness; in short, we may see the monster invade the sanctity of the church, and plant his foot upon the very altar of God; but we must say nothing; we must do nothing. The habits of society–the claims of modesty demand silence, forbid action. Our lips are hermetically sealed, while the heart is bursting with anguish! The principle is absurd and cruel; unnatural, irrational, and anti-Christian. True virtue spurns its aid. Unaffected, native, heaven-born delicacy contemns the simpering smiles of the serpent, which, under the pretence of great regard for virtue’s cause, allows the young and beautiful of our land to rush in untold numbers, unheeded and unwarned, down to the bottomless pit.

I have not come here to portray the evils of lewdess as they exist in our cities. Were it proper or practicable, I have not the vanity to believe it to be within the compass of my talent to do it. Nor is the genius of Milton, or the pencil of Raphael competent to the task. It is a mystery of iniquity that must, to a great degree, remain hidden till the judgment, because it beggars description.

These remarks are not made on the strength of report. The Providence of God once placed me as a missionary in the city of New York. In company with the friends of humanity, I have visited the abodes of abandonment to attend upon the dead, and to preach the gospel to the living; and I should as soon think of drawing a picture of hell itself, as giving a complete view of one of its outer courts.

Were it my object to depict the demoralising influence of the crime of lewdness upon society, perhaps it could not be done better than by holding up the history of France, in the days of her pollution and blood. “In that reign of infidelity and terror,” says an eloquent writer, “it should never be forgotten, that contempt for the laws of chastity, and breaking loose from the legalized restraints of virtue, were the order of the day, and of the night. A republican or infidel marriage was in derision, and, by the vile themselves, denominated the sacrament of adultery! Prostitutes were enthroned–borne in triumph–and even worshipped as the goddesses of reason and the guardians of public morals and happiness. Lust and rapine, hand in hand, waded through clotted blood in the streets of Paris. Thus, when the ten commandments, and especially the fourth and seventh, were publicly abrogated in France, the mighty God stood aloof, and a scene of proscription, of assassination and woe ensued, unparalleled in the annals of the civilized world. In the city of Paris, there were, in 1803, eight hundred and seven suicides and murders. Among the criminals executed, there were seven fathers who had poisoned their children–ten husbands who had murdered their wives–six wives who had poisoned their husbands, and fifteen children who had assassinated their parents! Within eighteen months after the abrogation of the marriage covenant, in that reprobate kingdom, twenty thousand divorces were effected. In the space of ten years, three millions of human beings, as is computed, perished by violence, in that land of infidelity and lust.” [Waterman’s Address to the friends of moral reform in Providence.]

France discarded the Bible. The Almighty withdrew His restraining hand, and permitted a nation to try the experiment of living without religion. Human passions broke loose from moral responsibility, and flowed in torrents of pollution and blood. The world stood aghast, and trembled at the spectacle, and the result stands out in bold relief upon the records of that ill-fated kingdom. Let us mark it well, and remember the fearfl denunciation of Jehovah: “Ye shall not commit any of these abominations, that the land spew not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spewed out the nations which were before you.”

The whole tribe of libertines are so many vultures upon the body politic. Religion, patriotism, domestic peace, and public tranquility, are strangers to their bosoms. There is nothing lovely, nothing valuable on earth with which they are not at war. Beauty, health, reputation. The marriage covenant–that strong defence and glory of society–and all the tender sympathies and relations of social life, wither and die under their blighting touch. One house of abandonment in a community, is worse than the cholera. The noxious miasma perpetually issuing from it, poisons all the fountains and streams of life. It is impossible to estimate its baneful influence upon private and public morals. If the fire consumes your dwelling or merchandise, it is a loss which industry and economy will restore. If the pestilence removes our friends to another world, it permits them to leave behind a good name. If the pirate seizes upon his victim, he either kills or sends him adrift upon the high seas. If the robber or assassin enters a shop or family, they can at the most only take a little property, or the lives of a few individuals; and when the deed is committed, public indignation stands ready to burst upon them, and to hand them over to justice. But the libertine–more horrible than the pestilence, the pirate, the robber, or the boa-constrictor–rushes from his ambush, throws his deadly coils around his victim, not to give repose in death, but to bury alive in the grave of infamy. In what a fearful condition must be that town or city, where such demons in human shape collect and roam at large! Where is safety or happiness in the midst of such prowling wolves, and especially, when the public mind is overawed by their number and reputed respectability, and no voice dares utter a complaint . . .?

To read the entire sermon, click here.

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Stepping outside of American Presbyterian history for a moment, here is an interesting interpretation as to how persecution worked to the advance of the Church in at least one chapter of church history. This particular passage is also a masterful summary of early Presbyterian history, drawn from the late 19th-century volume, Presbyterians, by George P. Hays (1892), pp. 42-44 :

Through the sixteenth century a few adventurers were settling in America, and stable institutions came with the seventeenth to attract the attention of European Protestants as they searched for some refuge from the persecuting power which they could not resist in France, could not fight in Spain, played see-saw with in England, overthrew in Germany, and displaced in Holland and Scotland.

Theodore BezaIf there had been no persecution in Europe, and the Protestant Church could have had freedom from state interference to fight its own battle before the general reason and conscience, the emigrants to America would perhaps have been more like the first settlers in California, or the first inhabitants in a new oil town. As it was, the intellectual conflict and the physical struggle came on together and intensified each other. Huguenot Synods were held in France, and then suppressed, and then re-allowed. The first regularly organized [Protestant] church [in France] was that of Paris, whose people elected John le Macon pastor, and had a board of elders and deacons, in 1555. In 1559 the first National Synod was held, and according to Calvin’s advice a regular system of Appellate Courts was organized. In September, 1561, Theodore Beza at the head of twelve Protestant ministers made their plea before royalty. It was claimed that there were then more than two thousand churches and stations. The origin of the name “Huguenot” is not known, but it is believed to have been at first a nickname which grew to honor by the character and conduct of its wearers. They had a stormy history. Francis I. was their enemy. Charles IX. (an effeminate boy in the hands of the Medicis) massacred them at St. Bartholomew. Henry IV., at heart a Huguenot, was a brave soldier and a brilliant man, but he turned Catholic for policy’s sake, and yet protected the Huguenots by issuing the Edict of Nantes. then followed Louis XIII. and Richelieu and Louis XIV. and the revocation of the edict of toleration in 1685. These last events came in the seventeenth century. The sixteenth century had demonstrated the advantage of Protestant emigration, and the seventeenth made it compulsory.

In Holland the struggle was between Protestantism and Phillip II. of Spain. These were the days of the Duke of Alva and William the Silent. To save their religion and their homes and drive out the Spaniards, the Dutch cut the dykes and submerged their farms beneath the sea. But through all this suffering they were organizing a people and defending a country that should, in time, give to the world the Protestant and Presbyterian results of the Synod of Dort. That Synod was the nearest to an interdenominational and ecumenical Synod of any held for the forming of Reformation creeds. It was called to decide the controversy between Arminianism and Calvinism; but the selection of the members made it a foregone conclusion that it would condemn Arminius and support the doctrine of Calvin. As a result the “Canons of Dort” are accepted everywhere as good Augustinian theology, and the Reformed Dutch Church of America, both in the earliest time and in the modern, is thoroughly and soundly Presbyterian. The early Dutch immigrants to this country brought with them their names of Consistory, Classis and Synod, with both ministerial and lay delegates, and between them and the Presbyterians there have never been any controversies in either theology or church government.

But the main center of American interest in European Presbyterians is found in England. Henry VIII. had married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon. She was a kinswoman of Philip II. of Spain, and Philip and his nation were close friends of the Pope. When, then, the fickle, handsome, headstrong, and licentious Henry wanted to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn, he easily found his English bishops and universities ready to declare his marriage to his brother’s widow unlawful, but he found it very difficult, for political reasons, to get the Pope so to declare against that marriage that he might thereafter have a non-Catholic wife, and that Mary, his daughter by Catherine, should be an illegitimate child.

Henry cut the knot by declaring himself the head of the Church of England, and the English Church in no possible way subject to Rome. During all this time Protestant doctrines were spreading among the people, and this seemed to open an easy solution. But pure religion in England was not what Henry wanted. He and all the Tudors wanted to have their own way, without interference from parliament or the Church or the people. After the birth of Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn was beheaded to make way for the third of Henry’s six wives. The king now had two female children, one a Romanist and the other a Protestant. When he died, in 1547, he left Edward VI. by Jane Seymour, only nine years old, but an astonishingly precocious Protestant king.

knox_card03Under Edward the effort to reform the Church went on vigorously, but everybody was debating, as the chief point of controversy, “What is the scriptural form of government?” John Knox had been a private tutor for Hugh Douglas of Longniddry. The excitement occasioned by the martyrdom of Hamilton and Wishart turned his attention to Protestantism. St. Andrews is a picturesque city, rich in traditions from the Culdee period. At the call of the congregation of that city, Knox began preaching. With the capture of the castle of St. Andrews, Knox was sent a prisoner to the French galleys. After his release he, at one time, became Court preacher for Edward VI.

Romanism, Episcopacy, Presbyterianism, and Independency were now up for discussion. The controversy between Protestantism and Catholicism, under Bloody Mary, made all England a charnel house. Mary [Henry VIII.’s first daughter] was a Tudor and a Spaniard and a Roman Catholic; and the task of bringing back the British Islands under the control of the Pope of Rome was the one religious ambition of her life. How far her relentless persecutions [thus her nickname] were made more relentless by the sadness of her natural disposition, the want of an heir to the throne by her Spanish husband, her residence in England while her alienated husband lived in Spain, and her final loss of Calais, that last remnant of English territory on the Continent, may be hard to decide; but her persecutions filled Geneva, and all European Protestant cities, with English refugees and raised everywhere the question of some land where Protestants could have freedom. Just as she was moving, apparently, toward the destruction of her Protestant sister Elizabeth, Mary died.

[more from Dr. Hays next week!]

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It was on this day, September 15, in 1748, that a petition was brought before the Presbytery of Boston, seek to organize a church in Newburyport, Massachusetts, “after the manner of the Kirk of Scotland,” meaning, in other words, a Presbyterian church. One hundred years later, the Rev. Jonathan F. Stearns brought an historical discourse in connection with the centennial anniversary of the First Presbyterian church of Newburyport. The first portion of his discourse forms a convenient overview, in broad strokes, of what has been termed the First Great Awakening. I hope you will find this useful.


Psalm 78:2-7

I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known and our fathers have told us; we will not hide them from their children, showing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord and His strength and the wonderful works that He hath done; for He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children; that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.”

The passage of Scripture just recited, no less than the present occasion, invites us to review and remember, that we may transmit to those who come after us, the history of God’s goodness to us as a people.

The planting of a Church and the gathering of a religious society, are among the most important events in the history of any community. What influences for good or for evil, will be shed abroad from the fruit and leaves of that tree! If a true Church, established upon true principles, maintaining the faith of the Lord Jesus, and built on Him, as its chief cornerstone, how salutary will be the effects of its existence. If a false or corrupt Church–a Church designed to inculcate false doctrine, or maintain the forms without the substance of the Gospel, how deplorable will be the consequences to multitudes! Such as the Churches are, in a given community, such, as a general rule, will be the character of the people at large.

The Church, whose first centennial anniversary we now celebrate, had its origin at a period of no common interest. The “Great Awakening,” which commenced about the year seventeen hundred and forty, is deservedly regarded as an era in the history of the Churches in New England. Then a change was begun in their character which is felt, far and wide, to this day,–a change which, we trust in God, will not cease to be admired and honored, till the dawning of the glory of the latter day shall dim, by its excess of brightness, all former communications of the light of heaven. As this Church was emphatically, and perhaps beyond almost any other in this region, the child of that remarkable impulse, it seems proper before proceeding to its own particular history, to take a hasty glance at the general features of the crisis at which it originated.

The first Churches of New England were established on the most strictly evangelical foundation. They believed and professed the great principles of the protestant reformation, with remarkable affection and strictness. Their corner-stone was the doctrine of justification by faith only, good works being the necessary fruits of faith, and thereby its evidence, but by no means the meritorious cause of salvation. They believed, as fully, in the necessity of a renovation of the sinner’s heart, by which its whole character and tendencies might be changed, the dominion of sin broken, the life of God in the soul enkindled, and the whole spiritual man created anew in God’s likeness. This change, ordinarily, not without means, but at the same time so employing these, as to impart to them no share in the glory of the great result. True piety, in their estimation, was a product of regeneration, and consisted, not in any outward performances, nor even in the most blameless outward morality, but in that inward conformity of the heart to God, that love to Him and communion with Him, of which outward goodness is but the necessary manifestation. Under the influence of these doctrines, preached earnestly by such men as Shepard, and Cotton, and Norton, and Mitchell, and Hooker, and Stone, “the word of God grew and multiplied;” and the preachers, themselves, full of the spirit of their divine message, could rejoice that they seldom preached, without some visibly good effect upon the hearts and consciences of their hearers, and without finding some, who had before been careless, beginning to inquire, “What shall I do to be saved?”

But this happy and very promising commencement was not destined to perpetuate its influence. The spirituality of the Churches began at an early day visibly to decline, and when the first century closed, there was great occasion, as the eye of Christian love looked abroad over the land, to exclaim, “How has the gold become dim and the most fine gold changed.” First, there was manifested a great decline of spiritual vitality. Religion became more a matter of profession, and form, and less an experience of the heart. Then the boundaries between the Church and the world became less distinct. Multitudes became members of the Church, who gave no evidence that they were truly regenerate. Church discipline was neglected. Immorality invaded the sacred enclosure. The preaching became less discriminating and pungent. The doctrines of the ancient faith, long neglected, and reduced in the minds of the people to a dead letter, were fast gliding away from the popular creed, and were on the eve of being displaced for another system.

Such was the condition of a large portion of the Churches of New England, when the great change to which I have alluded broke upon them in its power. Already had the morning star shone forth, in the great revival at Northampton, five years previous, under the faithful preaching of the old doctrines by the celebrated Jonathan Edwards. [*It is a fact worthy of special attention, that the same doctrine of justification by faith only, which in the hands of Luther was the life and soul of the Protestant Reformation, was, in the hands of Edwards, the means of imparting the first impulse to that great awakening, which revived to new life the decayed and slumbering Churches of this Country.] But the whole horizon began now to be illuminated. The whole land soon glowed beneath the brightness of the risen sun. Under the preaching of such men as Whitefield and Tennent, men evidently raised up to perform a special work, the impulse spread like electric flame. It stirred to its inmost depths the compact population of the larger commercial towns. It penetrated the interior villages. Churches which had long since “settled upon their lees” now began to feel within them a strange fermentation. Old respectability, proud of its decent forms, began to find the sceptre of its influence loosening in its grasp, and the legitimacy of its long dominion boldly questioned, by a race, professing to have been just now turned from darkness unto marvellous light.

The effect of this new impulse fell, as might have been expected, most heavily on the pastors of the churches. Secure of their support by the aid of the civil law, pledging all the real and personal estate, within certain geographical limits, for the fulfillment of their pecuniary contracts; and ministering to a people, not desirous of great pastoral fidelity, to the disturbance of their slumbering consciences, a large part of them had settled down into a dull routine of Sabbath day performances, and were spending their week day hours, when not employed in the preparation of their hasty discourses, in the improvement of their parsonage lands, the indulgence of their literary tastes, or in friendly correspondence and social intercourse with each other, and with those distinguished men in civil life who courted their society and respected their respectability, or sought to avail themselves, for their own purposes, of their unbounded influence. Many of the ministers of that day, it is supposed, were men who had never experienced, in their own hearts, the power of the faith which they professed to teach. Many had become very sceptical in regard to its fundamental doctrines. And even those who were at heart faithful men, and desired sincerely the spiritual welfare of their flocks, infected to a great extent with the surrounding atmosphere, had become over cautious, in regard to every thing like excitement in religion, and, to avoid offence, dwelt chiefly on those vague generalities, which at best play round the head but come not near the heart.

Upon a clergy so secure and slumberous, the great awakening burst forth like the shock of an earthquake. Some aroused themselves, like the five wiser virgins when the bridegroom came, and made haste to welcome the wonderful guest. Some at first acted the prudent part of bending to the storm, thinking to let it pass over them unresisted, and blow by. Others, really friendly to whatever was good and genuine in the work of grace, were yet alarmed by the evils which attended it, and, perhaps too much influenced by the opinion of some whom they deemed wise and judicious, run well for a little season and then were hindered.

It was not long, however, before the party lines among the pastors of the Churches became quite prominent. When the famous Whitefield first came to Boston, all the clergy there, and in the neighboring towns, with scarce an exception, welcomed him with open arms. A few years passed, and a considerable party among them had taken an entirely different view of his character and influence. His faults were magnified, his good depreciated. Pulpits were shut against him, and pamphlets warned the public to beware of his fanatical influence.

But it is not easy to stop an earthquake when it has commenced its motion, nor to stay the progress of a hurricane by the rebuke of human authority. The popular mind had been aroused, and the excitement could be quelled only by the voice of truth. Unfortunately for those who would restore the calm, truth was mainly on the side of their opponents. The people saw that the new doctrines, were, after all, only those which the fathers of New England taught, which were acknowledged in the confessions of faith of their own Churches, and in which, in childhood, they themselves had been instructed from the Assembly’s Catechism. They saw, too, that the effects produced by them, were, in the main, the legitimate results of those principles. And why then should the respected pastors of the churches wish to oppose the preaching of those doctrines, and the production of those effects?

The result was such as might have easily been anticipated. The coldness, which so many Christian ministers exhibited amidst the general fervor, led many to doubt the reality of their own conversion, and the sincerity of their professed attachment to the ancient faith; and what was doubtless true of many, soon began to be asserted boldly of the whole. The cord that bound the religious community together was now broken. The old decencies were despised as sheer hypocrisy. The influence of the pastors was no longer heeded, because the people had lost confidence in their sincere attachment to the cause of piety. Men of more zeal than knowledge now became, in many instances, the leaders of public opinion, and in the anarchy which must necessarily have ensued, all sorts of wild fire, mingling with the flame of newly kindled piety, burned unchecked till it became uncontrollable.

[The evils likely to result from the encouragement of ignorant laymen and youth destitute of all proper experience, to usurp the functions of the Christian ministry, were early foreseen and predicted by some of the most eminent promoters of the revival. But they had greater evils of an opposite character to contend with, and this fact neutralized, in a great degree, the influence of their admonitions. It is well known to all who are familiar with those times, that a prominent subject of controversy was the necessity of an educated ministry. The revival party insisted that grace in the hearts is of more importance than learning in the head; and their opposers, on the other hand, so magnified the importance of human learning, as to cast into the shade that of personal piety. Both were partly right and partly wrong. It must be said, however, in favor of those who seemed to despise education in their zeal for personal religion, that, of the two, they were contending for by far the more important point. It was the point likewise which, for a considerable time previous, had been most neglected. Had all the educated ministers of the community possessed the spirit of Colman, and Edwards, and Sewall, and Prince, no outcry would have been made, we may be sure, against human learning in the ministry–certainly no disposition would have been manifested to undervalue it, as an important collateral qualification. But the great dearth of such men at that important crisis, and on the other hand the violent opposition which the revival encountered from some, eminent for their intellectual attainments, produced, in many hasty minds, the impression, that great learning is unfavorable to ardent piety. Hence their confidence was transferred to another class, and the unskilfulness of their guides often led them lamentably astray.]

Far be it from me to approve the disorders and irregularities which attended that wonderful excitement. There was unquestionably much everywhere which the serious Christian must and ought to deplore. But what is the chaff to the wheat? The legitimate leaders in the sacramental host of God’s elect had declined their trust. The battle was for the inheritance, transmitted from the worthiest of fathers,–the inheritance of puritan faith, dearest of all others to the genuine New Englander. It was not so much a revolution, as a restoration, that they were now to contend for, not a conquest, but a recovery, of what had been insidiously stolen away, in an hour of forgetfulness. And should the people hesitate? In the absence of their regular leaders, they must lead themselves. In all their ignorance, they must march on, with such a degree of regularity as mere soldiers of the rank and file were able to secure. Who can wonder that there was little discipline among them? Who can wonder that the lawless mingled in their ranks, and obtained at times a temporary ascendancy? Who can wonder that the best disposed among them were chargeable with many things, which their posterity must censure, and which they themselves, when they had time for calm review, had occasion to deplore?

The prevailing spirit of that movement, was, we may not doubt, that of living Christianity. There was, truly, as those engaged in it believed, a glorious work of divine grace upon the hearts of individuals, and a glorious reformation accomplished in the Church at large. Great principles, long withdrawn from notice, and almost sunk into oblivion, were restored to their ancient supremacy. The faith, practice and experience of the puritans was revived. Religion flourished again. And as for the disorders, which unhappily attended its resuscitation, these were soon made to disappear before the power of intelligent and sober piety.

Words to Live By:
As the Rev. Bill Iverson is fond of saying, “God has no grandchildren.” By that he means that the work of evangelism must be done afresh in every generation. The Church can never afford to rest or to grow complacent. May we rise to the work that the Lord has given us to do; may the Lord of the harvest send out laborers into His harvest; and may we faithfully proclaim the saving Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ alone.

To read the whole of A Historical Discourse commemorative of the Organization of the First Presbyterian Church, in Newburyport, delivered at the first Centennial celebration, January 7, 1846, click here.

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