Francis Makemie

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Our post today comes from guest author and good friend, Barry Waugh, who has recently begun his own blog, PRESBYTERIANS OF THE PAST. Where THIS DAY IN PRESBYTERIAN HISTORY has always been intended as a brief devotional based on Presbyterian history, Barry will in contrast be posting just a few times a month but with fuller treatment of the subjects he takes up. The following is one of his most recent posts, this on the New School Presbyterians and the availability of some rather rare Minutes of their Synod of Philadelphia:—

PhilaSynodNSMinutesDuring the course of your web-surfing or reading about Presbyterian history you may have run across the terms, “Old School” and “New School,” or their abbreviations, “OS” and “NS.” Before getting to the purpose of this post, which is the PDF download of the minutes of the Synod of Pennsylvania, New School, a brief explanation of the terms “New School” and “Old School” may be beneficial.

Old School—Generally speaking, the Old School believed—in a stricter or fuller subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith and its associated standards; that the issue of slavery was a political and not a church issue; that missionary work should be under the direct oversight of the Presbyterian Church and not through independent mission organizations; and that the Plan of Union of 1801 affiliating the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) and the Congregational Church had been detrimental to the Presbyterians because of some of the theological views and practices from New England. These are not all the points of disagreement but they cover most of the issues. It could be said that the Old School believed—the church should be directly ruled in all its ministries by elders connectionally associated through its sessions, presbyteries, synods, and general assembly, with its interpretation of the Word of God governed by a conservative use of the Westminster Standards, and it believed that the church’s ministry is exclusively spiritual and not political. Thus, the Old School had a strong sense of the Word’s warrant for presbyterian government as the church government and it held to the necessity of confessional standards for proper interpretation of the Bible and governing the church rightly in its spiritual ministry.

New School—Generally speaking, the New School believed that—a considerably lesser adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith and its associated standards was acceptable, even necessary; the issue of slavery was within the bounds of the spiritual ministry of the church and many believed that immediate abolition was the best solution; the use of what might be called today interdenominational mission organizations was beneficial and more efficient for missionary work and church extension than committees overseen directly by the presbyters; the Plan of Union had not only benefitted the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians, particularly in terms of the growth of both denominations in the western frontier (i.e. New York, Ohio, etc.), but the New England theology influenced the PCUSA to be less rigorous and more open to differing doctrinal ideas.  The New School views could be summarized—the Presbyterian Church is governed by elders locally and connectionally but other polities, including congregational, are scriptural as well; the Presbyterians should participate in missionary organizations that are not under direct control of the denomination for more efficient evangelism; the interpretation of the Word of God by the Westminster Confession is of lesser or no importance for church doctrine and practice; and the church’s ministry is spiritual, but the spiritual work does not exclude political activism for what the church sees as pervasive sins in society.  Thus, the New School had a lesser sense of the uniqueness of presbyterian church government and a more inclusive idea of denominational ministry; a liberal, or nonexistent, adherence to the confessional standards for doctrine; and an expanded idea of what the spiritual ministry of the church looks like.

If you have never read anything about the Old School and the New School you are probably thinking that the two could not continue to exist together because it was a disaster from day one. You would be correct. The point for the beginning of trouble was seen by the Old School to be 1801 when the Plan of Union was accomplished. There were those who opposed the Plan of Union, but their appeals were not heeded. As the years passed, the members of the respective schools found their points of difference more polarizing, especially as the issue of slavery sectionalized both the nation and the churches. At the 1837 General Assembly of the PCUSA, the Old School had the majority and was able to undo some of the affects of the Plan of Union, the plan itself, and eject the New School. Obviously, it was not a happy situation following the 1837 General Assembly. The press, both private and religious, reported some of the unseemly moments on the floor of the assembly as commissioners railed and argued. Following the division, both sides claimed to be the true PCUSA.

Title Page, NS PCUSA Synod of PA, Minutes 1865, 11-11-2015When the Synod of Pennsylvania, New School, convened in the evening of Tuesday, October 17, 1865, in the Third Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, the retiring moderator, B. B. Hotchkin, the pastor of the Marple Church, passed the gavel to Rev. Thomas J. Shepherd of First Church in the Northern Liberties, Philadelphia. The meeting was particularly significant because it was the first annual meeting following the Civil War, the assassination of President Lincoln, and the inauguration of Vice President Andrew Johnson to the presidency. Since the previous synod meeting there were many things that had changed. For the New School, one of, if not the key issue for its identity, abolition of slavery, had been achieved. There was some optimism in the land about the future, especially if one lived north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but the optimism was tenuously mixed with different ideas about how the post-war situation with the Southern states should be handled. In the North, many adamantly contended that the former Confederacy should pay a heavy price, but on the other end were others desiring to see all the states working together as a reunified nation. In the South, there were many fearing retribution, wondering if they would have food, and apprehensive of finding work in the devastated economy, however, there were also numerous others consumed with anger against the North. Between the two poles of ideas in both North and South were a myriad of other perspectives.

The tension in the nation carried over into the meeting of the synod. The presbyters tended towards the heavy-price-to-be-paid view regarding the South’s future. The synod was meeting just a few months after the North and South had ceased killing each other and there was much mourning, ire, and bitterness. A series of six resolutions regarding “the State of the Country” were passed unanimously with a seventh added later, which was also passed unanimously. On the final day of the sessions as the business was coming to an end, a resolution was adopted regarding the health of Rev. Albert Barnes, who was a key figure of the New School and had been tried for heresy with the impetus provided by the Old School. Other resolutions regarding the usual house cleaning at the end of a synod were accomplished including the resolution of thanks to the host church. The synod adjourned to meet in the First Church, Carlisle, October 16, 1866, per the minute taking of Stated Clerk William E. Moore.

Please, download the free PDF of these minutes at the link below. The digital minutes were scanned from a copy owned by the author of this site. The minutes have an appendix that includes the synod’s standing rules; a directory of the presbyteries, churches, ministers, and elders; and there is a list of synod and presbytery officers.

BY BARRY WAUGH

To download these Minutes, click on the link below:
Minutes, New School Synod of Pennsylvania, Oct. 17, 1865, 10-1

 

 

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Today’s post was written for the PCA Historical Center in 2006 by Dr. Barry Waughand is reproduced here, substantially edited for length.

MakemieStatueThree hundred years ago this year the first meeting of the General Presbytery was convened in Philadelphia.  A specific date in 1706 cannot be pinpointed due to the loss of the first leaf of the minutes, but a letter of Rev. Francis Makemie provides the basis for assigning the year.  The letter was written by Rev. Makemie from Philadelphia, to Benjamin Colman on March 28, 1707.  After relating the story of his imprisonment with some other ministers for their preaching the Gospel as dissenting, non-Church of England ministers, he mentioned that he and six other ministers had met in Philadelphia earlier that month to consult regarding the best way to advance the Gospel.

Pictured at right, a statue erected in memory of the Rev. Francis Makemie, located at Holden’s Creek, Accomack County, Virginia.

This meeting is the first convening of the General Presbytery with a complete set of minutes in the manuscript record book, and these minutes are preceded by a partial and brief section of minutes recorded in 1706.  From this small and unfortunately imprecisely dated beginning, the Presbyterian Church grew to organize its first meeting of the General Synod in 1717, then its first General Assembly in 1789.  During these years the Presbyterian Church formally adopted the Westminster Standards in 1729, and then saw a division between the Old and New Sides in 1744 that was reconciled with a reunion in 1758.  The Presbyterian Church’s ministry increased through the years so that by the end of the eighteenth century it enjoyed a substantial flock distributed throughout the young nation for the purpose of glorifying and enjoying God.

The six oldest congregations in the Presbyterian Church in America can trace their ministries to the early years leading up to and following the first presbytery meeting.  Each of these congregations was organized before the first General Assembly in 1789 and its associated publication of the first edition of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church, which contained the Westminster Standards and associated church government documents.  Through the colonial period and into the early years of America, the Presbyterian Church ministered through local congregations as America grew and prospered, and these six PCA churches can trace their ancestry directly to the foundational work of the Presbyterian Church in the eighteenth century.

1. The oldest organized church in the PCA is the Fairfield Presbyterian Church of New Jersey, which traces its beginning in New Jersey to 1680.

2. Manor Presbyterian Church, Cochranville, PA (org. 1730). The Rev. Samuel Blair was pastor here, briefly.

3. First Presbyterian Church, Waynesboro, GA (org. 1760). The earliest body associated with what became the Waynesboro Church was the Briar Creek Church, which petitioned the Synod of New York and Philadelphia for supply ministers.  In 1770 the synod, through the Presbytery of New Castle, sent Josiah Lewis, Princeton class of 1766, to serve as a supply pastor for sixth months in Long Cane, South Carolina, and then for three additional months at Briar Creek.  His few months at Briar Creek must have endeared him to the congregation because he continued serving both Briar Creek and an additional charge at Queensboro for a few years.  At some point, the Briar Creek Church became known as Old Church and continued to use that name until it merged with the Walnut Branch Church and eventually became what is presently the First Presbyterian Church of Waynesboro.

4. First Presbyterian Church, Schenectady, NY (org. 1760). The Schenectady church initially worshipped in the building used by the Episcopalians until in 1769 eight Presbyterians purposed to build a wooden place of worship for themselves, which was not completed until after the arrival of the first minister, Rev. Alexander Miller, in 1771.

5. Goshen Presbyterian Church, Belmont, NC (org. 1764). Early oral history traces the Goshen Church’s beginnings to a stranger who died and was buried on the knoll that became the cemetery for the congregation.  Near this cemetery, the congregation began to meet and eventually constructed a log worship building.  Through the missionary work of Elihu Spencer, a Yale graduate, and Alexander McWhorter, a College of New Jersey man, Goshen and other churches were able to worship and receive pastoral care.  In 1796, the Goshen congregation called its first minister, Humphrey Hunter, for a shared ministry with another local church.

6. Bethel Presbyterian Church, Clover, SC (org. 1764). As Goshen struggled in its early years, across the Carolina frontier in South Carolina, Bethel Presbyterian Church also struggled with the challenges and vicissitudes of frontier living.  The Bethel Church heard the first sermon in its frontier home from William Richardson, a missionary of the Charleston Presbytery, and just as Rev. Humphrey Hunter had provided ministerial stability for the Goshen Church, so he ministered for a few years at Bethel in the beginning of the nineteenth century.

For Further Study:
Only eight letters written by Francis Makemie are known to have survived to the modern era. Five of these letters, including the one mentioned above, were reproduced in the appendix to American Presbyterianism, by Charles A. Briggs, available in digital format, here.

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William Buell Sprague makes the notation in his Annals of the American Pulpit, that Richard Webster in his History of the Presbyterian Church in America, has this to say relative to Makemie’s trial—

Rev. Francis Makemie on Trial before Lord Cornbury“The Supreme Court met on Tuesday, March 11 [1707], at which time Makemie was present. The grand jury examined four witnesses, who testified that Makemie preached no false doctrine. His trial was set down for the June term; and Makemie, on his own bonds and those previously given, was allowed to depart. The law of the Province was, that all persons professing faith in God by Jesus Christ His only Son, may freely meet at convenient places and worship according to their respective persuasions. It will be seen from this that Makemie, in preaching in New York, was acting well within his legal rights. Notwithstanding his acquittal, his bail was not discharged until he had paid the whole cost of the prosecution, amounting to the sum of eighty-three pounds, seven shillings and six pence.”

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With the settling of the American colonies, scattered congregations and groups of people ready to be gathered into churches, together with the small number of ministers anxious for mutual encouragement and guidance, inevitably brought about the need and occasion for the formation of the first Presbytery on these shores. The specific occasion came in due season, with the call for the ordination of Mr. John Boyd to become pastor of the church of Freehold, New Jersey.

John Boyd, a native of Scotland, came as a probationer [i.e., a man licensed to preach though not yet ordained], probably at the solicitation of his countrymen, who, fleeing from persecution, had settled in Monmouth between 1680 and 1690.

Boyd was ordained by the Presbytery of Philadelphia on this day, December 29, in 1706, at the public meeting-house, before a numerous assembly. The original minute book of the Presbytery is preserved at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia. Regrettably though, the first leaf of that book, comprising the first two pages of the Minutes, was lost long ago. We can only speculate as to the content of those first two pages, but we can try to speculate intelligently. Page 3 of the Minutes begins with the end of a sentence which appears to be concerned with the subjects of Mr. Boyd’s trial for ordination. The last half of this broken sentence is as follows: “‘De regimine ecclesiae’ which being heard was approved of and sustained, and his ordination took place on the next Lord’s day, December 29, 1706.”

Of course, we will always wonder what else we could now know if we only had those first two pages. At whose call and by whose authority was this Presbytery convened? Did they consider and adopt the Westminster Standards as their system of faith and government? The best supported opinion is that by this time Francis Makemie’s leadership had become obvious. For one, his trip to the old country for the purpose of bringing additional ministers back to the colonial churches, and the success of that trip, was probably well known. So it seems likely that it was Makemie who convened the meeting.

The Freehold congregation had apparently written asking how Mr. Boyd should be ordained, and so it was Mr. Makemie who arranged for a meeting in the spring of 1706 for the purpose of making the necessary arrangements for his ordination, with Boyd’s ordination trials to take place at what became the inaugural meeting of the new Presbytery in December. The record is somewhat unclear, particularly as to why the delay in settling Rev. Boyd. That took place in May of 1708, with the presbytery requesting the congregation to consent to his preaching every third Sabbath at Woodbridge. But he died later in 1708, and while his tomb remains to this day, Makemie—who also died that same year—and other ministers, most of them, lie in unknown graves.

Of the new Presbytery, George Hays observed in his work Presbyterians (1892):

“Presbyterianism thus grew out of the soil and of the necessities of the case. It did not begin at the top as it had done in France and Scotland, but began at the bottom and by degrees rose to strength. Now Synods are constituted by the act of the General Assembly, and Presbyteries are organized by act of Synod. Then Presbyteries were by the necessity of the situation. In 1717, the Presbytery divided itself and constituted a Synod above it; and in 1788 the Synod divided itself into subordinate Synods and created itself a General Assembly. There is no good reason to believe that this first Presbytery adopted any standards for their own guidance. It looks as though they came together assuming the Westminster Standards as authoritative without any special adoption in this country. They adopted the ordinary parliamentary law as their method of action. They did not even adopt a name, as Presbyteries now have names. It was simply “The Presbytery”; not of Philadelphia, nor of New Jersey, nor of Maryland. There was no other, and when it was spoken of there was no ambiguity. When, in 1716, the Synod was constituted by dividing the General Presbytery into four, these were simply named First, Second, Third, and so on. It was a day of great demands for activity, and of small resources of men and means to meet the requirements. This first meeting at Freehold was the only meeting which was had outside of Philadelphia. That city was so central and so accessible that the early Presbyteries always met there. So, with three exceptions, did succeeding Synods and General Assemblies, all the way down to 1834. The three men who were present at this ordination of Mr. Boyd were Francis Makemie, Jedediah Andrews, and John Hampton. The original members of the first Presbytery included these three, with George Macnish, John Wilson, and Nathaniel Taylor.”

Words to Live By:
Jesus promised that He will build His church. The promise is sure. And it is the Lord our God who sovereignly draws His people into the Kingdom as Christ is lifted up by the faithful preaching of the Word of God. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.—Ps. 127:1, ESV.

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The First Presbyterian Congregation in America?

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

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

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

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

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

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Maryland Toleration Law Opens up Colony for Reformed Preaching

Francis Makemie on trial before Lord CornburyApril 21 was an important date in 1649 for the Reformed faith in the colony of Maryland.  Originally, Maryland was a colony established as a refuge for English Catholics. But as more non-Catholics came into the colony, and indeed it became a Protestant colony, the Maryland Assembly on this date established the Maryland Toleration Law, or as it is sometimes known as The Act Concerning Religion.

What it did was to mandate religious tolerance for trinitarian Christians. That adjective “trinitarian” is important. If a citizen of the colony denied the deity of Jesus Christ, for example, then the punishment was seizure of their land, and even death.  Thus Unitarians, or Jews, or atheists were threatened by this law. It was meant more so as a protection for the Roman Catholics as it was for the Protestants, and specifically the Reformed faith.

It wouldn’t last long on the books, being repealed in 1654 by Oliver Cromwell’s influence upon the colony, and specifically the Anglican Church. It would be returned to the law books, but then repealed forever in 1692. It is interesting though that a part of it was found in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the rights of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The phrase “the free exercise thereof,” comes from the Maryland Act of Toleration.

What interests us in this Act of Toleration is that it allowed “the father of Presbyterianism” in the colonies, Francis Makemie, the freedom to preach in Maryland. Arriving in the Maryland colony in 1683, he didn’t have to seek permission from the governor of the colony to proclaim the richness of free grace. Further, those of the Reformed faith who were driven out from the Virginia Colony’s control by the Anglicans, could come to Maryland to practice their Reformed faith. Makemie went on to establish several Presbyterian churches in Maryland.

Words to Live By:  This same Francis Makemie didn’t let state laws prohibit him from preaching the gospel. (See January 21 historical devotional) He was willing to go where the Holy Spirit led him to proclaim the unsearchable riches of God’s grace, regardless of the state law. But when the liberty of the state enabled him to go, he didn’t “let the grass grow under his feet” in  sharing the good news of Christ, and Him crucified. Let us not let the fear of man’s face hinder us in sharing what Christ has done for us.

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At last! Minutes of the Second Presbytery

RehobothFour days ago, you read the historical devotional on March 18, where we noted that the stated clerk of the first presbytery held in this country lost all but a short paragraph of the minutes of that meeting. In 1707, beginning on March 22, the second presbytery was held in Philadelphia. George McNish, one of the seven ministers present at this second meeting, was chosen Clerk of the Presbytery, while John Wilson was chosen the Moderator.   Present also were teaching elders Jedidiah Andrews and  Nathaniel Taylor. Francis Makemie would show up on the 25th of March. Ruling elders Joseph Yard, William Smith, John Gardener, and James Stoddard were present from several churches within the bounds of the Philadelphia Presbytery.

» At Right: Old Rehoboth Presbyterian Church, Rehoboth, Maryland (1683), which competes with Fairfield Presbyterian Church, Fairton, New Jersey (1680) in the claim for the oldest Presbyterian church in America »

Samuel Davis sent in his excuse as to why he missed the last Presbytery and would not be present at this meeting either. The presbyters did not sustain his reasons for his absence, and sent a letter to teaching elder Davis requiring him to be present at the 1708 presbytery meeting. He did, and they immediately elected him the moderator of the next Presbytery.

The church at Snow Hill, Maryland, had called Mr. John Hampton to be their pastor, but the latter had declined their call.  He gave several satisfactory reasons to the presbytery as to why he was not in favor of going there as pastor. They nevertheless moved that the call be left in his hand until the next presbytery in 1708, hoping that the call would be finally accepted by Mr. Hampton. In the meanwhile, they sent a letter of encouragement to the church to continue in their endeavors for a settled pastor among their ranks.

It was on the 25th of March, 1708, that two biblical sermons were given onHebrews 1:1 and Hebrews 1:2 by teaching elders Francis Makemie and teaching elder John Wilson, which messages had been approved at the last Presbytery meeting.  These texts were no doubt taken from the Genevan Bible, as that was the version carried over to these shores by the early Presbyterian pilgrims. And given the practice of early Scottish ministers, the length of the sermons easily could have been two hours long.  We are told  that both sermons were approved by the Presbytery.

Since Francis Makemie had been successful in convincing two ministers to come over and help the infant Presbyterian church previously, the Presbytery urged Makemie again to write to Scotland and a certain minister by the name of Alexander Coldin. He was to give an account of the state and circumstances of the dissenting Presbyterian interest in and among the people, especially in and about Lewistown, and signify the earnest desires of those members that Mr. Coldin travel over to these shores and become their minister.

We conclude that their meeting was not unlike the gathering of Presbyterians in presbyteries across the modern world now.  Sermons are preached, though not as long as these early expositions of the Word. Elections are held for presbyterial office.  Excuses are considered as to absences, and approved or disapproved. Pastors without call are considered for vacant pulpits. Overtures are recommended, discussed, and voted upon by the presbyters. All in all, the work of the Lord began in Philadelphia, 1706, and continues today in hundreds of presbyteries across the world.

Words to Live By:  Speaking to elders, be faithful to your presbytery meetings, for there the work of the Lord is initiated, issues of interest to the church are discussed by and for elders, warnings are heeded, encouragements are given, and support is given to the kingdom of grace.

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The Stated Clerk was the Culprit

MakemieStatueThe Presbyterian clergymen had been identified as either ministers and waiting to be called to place of ministry. Through informal talks, it was agreed by these seven ministers to gather for a presbytery meeting, the first to be held in the colonies of America. They did gather in the month of March, 1706 in Philadelphia. We know that it happened before the 28th of that month. But the exact date of this first presbytery is unknown to us because the stated clerk lost all but two paragraphs of the meeting. The stated clerk, unknown in name, was the culprit. Judging however from the date of  later meetings  in the following years, we can estimate that this meeting was held on March 18, 1706, with the Rev. Francis Makemie as the first moderator.

A review of the historic seven names of this original Presbytery might be profitable.  Even before you read the rest of this paragraph, close your eyes and see if you can name any of the seven clergy? They were: Francis Makemie, John Hampton, George MacNish, Samuel Davis, John Wilson, Jedediah Andrews, and Nathaniel Taylor. Their backgrounds show a wide divergence of  traditions. Makemie was Scot-Irish with strong ties to those mother countries of Presbyterian pilgrims.  Samuel Davis came from Ireland and pastored a church in Lewes, Delaware. Three of the ministers were from New England. Jedediah Andrews was a graduate of Harvard.  John Wilson was pastor at New Castle. Nathaniel Taylor was also from New England. The other two, George McNish and John Hampton, had just come over from England in answer to the call of Makemie.  Of the original seven, only three were pastors and the rest were missionaries.

» Statue in Accomack County, Virginia marking the grave of Frances Makemie, unveiled in 1908. »

Now Samuel Davis had sent an excuse to this first meeting. It evidently had something to do with travel time to get to Presbytery.   However the excuse was not sustained by the brethren. They were not going to allow for any variance with what they considered to be both a privilege as well as a duty in attendance at Presbytery.

The purpose of the Presbytery was described later as a meeting of ministers for consultation as to the most proper measures for advancing religion and propagating Christianity in the colonies. A second purpose was listed as furthering and promoting the true interests of religion and godliness. The last reason was for the improvement of the ministerial abilities of teaching elders, which improvement was to be tested by prescribing text to be preached upon by two ministers at every Presbytery meeting.  That performance was subject to the criticism, positive and negative, of the rest of the elders.

Hebrews 1:1-2 was the assigned text for the 1707 presbytery, to be preached  by Francis Makemie and John Wilson.

Philadelphia was the chosen site because it was central to the scattered bodies of Presbyterians which were meeting in churches in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Long Island, and  New England.  Perfect religious freedom was enjoyed in this eastern city of Pennsylvania.

The organization of Presbyterians thus gave them an early advantage over other religious traditions in the colonies. They were ready to press on the inhabitants of this new land the value of holding true to the Scriptures, the Reformed faith, and the Great Commission.

Words to Live By: In faith and life, let everything be done decently and in order. Especially is this a good rule for the planting of a church. What you do in the beginning days will be central in building the church in succeeding days. So start the church well, according to Biblical principles and practices, and that rule will continue in later years, receiving the blessing of the Lord.

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Back in the early years of the Internet, the Rev. David W. Hall was pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. David had a number of scientists and engineers in the congregation and so was able to make good advantage of the Web in those early days. Under the title of Premise, he initiated a web-based magazine. The content of that magazine is no longer online, but it is preserved at the PCA Historical Center. From one issue of Premise, we are reproducing here an article on Francis Makemie, “the father of American Presbyterianism.”:—

Francis Makemie and Freedom of Speech

Rev. Francis Makemie on Trial before Lord CornburyOne illustration of how religion and politics were interwoven, especially the religion and politics of strongly Scottish Calvinist sentiment, can be seen from the experience of Ulster Presbyterian missionary Francis Makemie (b. 1658). Makemie had been reared on tales of the Scottish rebellion that adopted the Solemn League and Covenant, and he was educated at the University of Glasgow one generation after Samuel Rutherford. Commissioned by the Presbytery of Laggan, a fiercely Calvinistic stronghold, the first Presbyterian minister on the North American continent landed on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay in 1683. Over time, he earned a reputation as a threat to the Anglicans in the area, and he was reported to the Bishop of London (who never had authority over Makemie) to be a pillar of the Presbyterian sect. His work was commended by Puritan giant Cotton Mather, and his correspondence with Increase Mather indicates considerable commonality of purpose among early American Calvinists. Cotton Mather would later recommend a Catechism composed by Makemie for his New England churches.

Makemie organized at least seven Presbyterian churches committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Scottish ecclesiastical order between 1683-1705. In between the organizing of churches along Scottish models—the Scottish League and Covenant seemed to be blossoming in America, perhaps more than in its native Scotland—Makemie served as a pastor in Barbados from 1696 to 1698. He also sheltered persecuted Irish Calvinist ministers from 1683-1688. Following the Glorious Revolution in 1688 the need for shelter in America diminished, and some of these religious refugees returned to Ireland and Scotland. Makemie, however, remained in America, found a wife, and continued organizing Presbyterian congregations throughout Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In a 1699 letter, Makemie still spoke reverentially of Geneva as a Calvinist center.

Ministers from the Church of England protested Makemie’s church planting, caricaturing his ministry as subversive and nonconformist. Eventually the Sheriff of Long Island at the behest of the British Governor of New York, Lord Cornbury arrested Makemie and another Presbyterian colleague, John Hampton, for preaching without a license by. On January 21, 1707, the warrant for their arrest charged them with spreading “their Pernicious Doctrine and Principles” in Long Island without “having obtained My License for so doing, which is directly contrary to the known laws of England.”

Cornbury’s oppressiveness was well known from several earlier cases, and Makemie realized that if freedom of religion were not granted in one colony, America would never have the kind of free expression needed. He may have viewed New York as a mission for religious freedom; en route to Boston from New Jersey, he could have simply avoided Cornbury’s territory. In what would become one of the earliest tests of freedom of speech in America, this Irish Calvinist was indicted by an Anglican authority (also exposing an early establishment of religion in New York) and held for two days prior to trial.

MakemieStatueMakemie appeared before Cornbury (who called the missionary “a Disturber of Governments”) in the council chamber at Fort Anne, New York, on the afternoon of January 23, 1707. Lord Cornbury (Edward Hyde) charged: “How dare you take upon you to preach in my Government without my License”! Makemie answered that Parliament had granted liberty to preach in 1688 under William and Mary. Cornbury contended that such laws did not extend to the American colonies. Makemie answered that the act of Parliament was not restricted to Great Britain alone, but applied to all her territories; Makemie also produced certificates from courts in Virginia and Maryland that had already recognized his work. When Cornbury argued that ‘all politics is local,’ including rights and penalties, Makemie reminded him and his attorneys that the Act of Toleration was applicable in Scotland, Wales, Barbados, Virginia, and Maryland, and that without express restriction it was also applicable in all “her Majesties Dominions”—unless, of course, New York was not considered under her dominion.

Notwithstanding, Cornbury did not want Makemie or other “Strolling” preachers in his territory. Makemie further argued that strolling Quakers were permitted religious liberty in the colonies, which brought Cornbury’s equal-opportunity-oppressor rejoinder: “I have troubled some of them, and will trouble them more.” When Cornbury revived his charge that Makemie was spreading “pernicious doctrines,” the Ulster missionary answered that the Westminster Confession of Faith was very similar to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England and challenged “all the Clergy of York to show us any false or pernicious doctrines therein.” Makemie even stated his willingness to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles should that satisfy the Governor.

Earlier Makemie had applied to the Governor to preach in a Dutch Reformed Church in New York and had been denied permission. His speaking in a private home gave rise to the charge of preaching unlawfully. Cornbury reiterated that Makemie was preaching without license, charging him to post bond for his good behavior and to promise not to preach again without licence. Although he disputed any charges against his behavior, Makemie consented to post bond for his good behavior (knowing there were no provable charges), but he refused to post bond to keep silence, promising in Lutheresque words that “if invited and desired by any people, we neither can, nor dare” refuse to preach. Like Luther, Makemie could do no other.

Cornbury then ruled, “Then you must go to Gaol?” Makemie’s answer is instructive.

[I]t will be unaccountable to England, to hear, that Jews, who openly blaspheme the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and disown the whole Christian religion; Quakers who disown the Fundamental Doctrines of the Church of England and both Sacraments; Lutherans, and all others, are tolerated in Your Lordships Government; and only we, who have complied, and who are still ready to comply with the Act of Toleration, and are nearest to, and likest the Church of England of any Dissenters, should be hindered, and that only the Government of New-York and the Jersies. This will appear strange indeed.

Cornbury responded that Makemie would have to blame the Queen, to which the defendant answered that he did not blame her Majesty, for she did not limit his speech or free religious expression. At last, Lord Cornbury relented and signed a release for the prisoners, charging both Makemie and John Hampton, however, with court costs. Before leaving, Makemie requested that the Governor’s attorneys produce the law that delimited the Act of Toleration from application in any particular American colony. The attorney for Cornbury produced a copy, and when Makemie offered to pay the attorney for a copy of the specific paragraph that limited the Act of Parliament, the attorney declined and the proceedings came to a close.

In a parting shot, Lord Cornbury confessed to Makemie, “You Sir, Know Law.” Makemie was later acquitted, and free speech and free expression of religion, apart from government’s approval, took a stride forward in the New World. Makemie pioneered religious liberty at great risk, and all who enjoy religious freedom remain in debt to this Scots-Irish son of Calvin.

Upon hearing of Makemie’s eventual (though delayed) release, the esteemed Cotton Mather wrote to his colleague the Rev. Samuel Penhallow on July 8, 1707:

“That Brave man, Mr. Makemie, has after a famous trial at N. York, bravely triumphed over the Act of Uniformity, and the other poenal laws for the Church of England, without permitting the matter to come so far as to pleading the act of toleration. He has compelled an acknowledgement that lawes aforesaid, are but local ones and have nothing to do with the Plantations. The Non-Conformist Religion and interest is . . . likely to prevail mightily in the Southern Colonies. I send you two or three of Mr. Makemie’s books to be dispersed. . . .”

In another blow for religious freedom, the next year a Somerset County, Maryland, court approved the certification for a Protestant Dissenter church to be established. By a narrow 3-2 vote of the court, Makemie secured liberty for Presbyterian churches under “an act of parliament made the first year of King William and Queen Mary establishing the liberty of Protestant Dissenters.”

Makemie was also instrumental in laying the groundwork for an Irish priest, William Tennent, to immigrate to America. Tennent would later establish the “Log College,” and one of its students, the Rev. Samuel Finley, started the West Nottingham Academy in 1741. These schools, much like Calvin’s Academy in Geneva, became the proving grounds of the American republic. From this one Academy came founders of four colleges, two U. S. representatives, one senator, two members of the Continental Congress, and two signatories of the Declaration of Independence (Benjamin Rush and Richard Stockton). Samuel Finley went on to become president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) in 1761.

This developing American Calvinism, far from the modern caricature as a narrow or severe sect, was a boost to personal freedom and civil discourse in its heyday. The first American Presbyterian pastor helped entrench the right to free expression and free worship by appealing to the principles of the Glorious Revolution. A tidal wave of Calvinistic thinking came to America through immigrants like Makemie and continued to radiate outward.

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Rehoboth_colorMakemie Planted Here

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

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

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

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

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

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