General Assembly

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Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D., by Richard H. Collins, LL.D., LOUISVILLE, Ky.

Rev. Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D., pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Louisville, Ky., was born January 17th, 1886, in the village of Greensboro, Hale County, Alabama. He is now forty-nine years of age, just in the maturity of his powers.

His was a godly family; for his father and his father’s fathers for six generations were elders of the Presbyterian Church. And away back yonder, in the never dim but ever brightening distance, some of the gentle blood that now courses in his veins gave life and zeal and boldness and energy and vehemence and power unwonted to John Knox, the great leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, 1505-1372, more than three hundred years ago.

John Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D.. President of Princeton College, New Jersey, 1788-1788, a sturdy Scotch minister, theologian and statesman, whom readers of American history remember as a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a leader in the dark days of the American Revolution, was also in the line of direct ancestry: and a man of whom his children’s children to the latest generation may speak with honest pride. This pride of illustrious descent is with many people an excuse for lack of energy and personal excellence and success; but all those who have the root of the matter in them may well be thankful for God-fearing ancestors, who in their day and time were men of great excellence and boldness in the faith.

Robert Franklin Witherspoon and Sarah Agnes, his wife, were Presbyterians from principle, Christians of ardent piety. They were Bible readers and Bible scholars, and fond of theological inquiry; and in their admiration of the writings of the great theologian, Timothy Dwight, deemed it a graceful acknowledgment of the great things constantly found therein to name their boy Thomas Dwight—indulging a presentiment that the babe would some day grow to the stature of a theologian and leader in the Church. The training of the boy by the death of the father when he was only four years old, devolved upon the mother, and right bravely did she stand up to the responsibility thus cast upon her. At the early age of ten, her little boy gave beautiful proof of pious training, by publicly confessing Christ, one of a number brought into the fold under the preaching of Rev. Robert Nall, D.D., the evangelist of the Synod of Alabama.

In 1853, when seventeen years old, young Witherspoon entered upon his college course in the sophomore class of the University of Alabama; but in 1854 transferred his connection to the University of Mississippi, where he graduated in 1856 with the highest honors of his class. The same fall he entered the Theological Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina, where under the professorships of Doctors James H. Thornwell, Aaron W. Leland, George Howe, and John H. Adger, he completed the course, and in May, 1859, received his theological certificate or diploma.

The Presbytery of Chickasaw, of the Synod of Memphis, on June 6th, 1859, licensed him as a probationer for the Gospel ministry; and the same Presbytery on May 13th, 1860, ordained him to the full work of the ministry, and installed him as pastor of the Presbyterian church at Oxford, Mississippi.

This call to the church (his first church) in the town of the University from which he graduated with high honor in 1856, less than four years before, was a high compliment to him personally, and practically a high eulogy upon the character of his preaching—-its warmth and earnestness, and attractiveness to the young, of whom so many were gathered in the university and female schools of the town. His labors here were owned of God, in abundant blessing.

But in a twelvemonth a great change came over this quiet scene of peace and love between pastor and young people. The young men of his congregation and neighborhood, with the deep courage of their convictions, hesitated not for an hour when the tocsin of war—the War of the Rebellion—was sounded all over the land. The young preacher, no longer only their friend and pastor and spiritual adviser, became their fellow-soldier, enlisting as a private in the Lamar Rifles of the Eleventh Mississippi Volunteers. Thus the first year of the war passed; and thenceforward to the final surrender at Appomattox Court House, he was their chaplain, sharing in their hardships, nursing them in sickness, administering the consolations of the Gospel to the dying, and sending to the loved ones at home the messages entrusted to him at the last and painful parting.

The war was over at last, and the scene changed again. Laying aside the soldier and the chaplain, he entered upon another field, to preach again the Gospel of peace and love and mediatorial sacrifice, In August, he became pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church at Memphis, where he labored with marked success and blessing for five years—until August, 1870, when his health broke down under excessive exertion in a malarial climate, and forced him to resign a pastorate which had shown the ripe fruit of growth from 160 to 410 in membership, and became the strongest and most influential of that denomination in the city. And this, too, through epidemics of both cholera and yellow fever!

In the mountains of Virginia, as supply to the church at Christiansburg. Dr. Witherspoon spent the next years; and during the succeeding two years was chaplain of the University of Virginia, near Charlottesville.

In the summer of 1873, as a further means of restoring his impaired health, Dr. Witherspoon crossed the ocean, and travelled extensively in Europe. On his return, in October, 1873, he accepted the pastorate of Tabb Street Presbyterian Church, in Petersburg, Va., one of the largest in the South. After nine years of marked usefulness here, a unanimous call to the old First Presbyterian Church of Louisville, Ky., opened up a wider field, and which he felt it duty to accept.

Since settling there in the fall of 1882, as if the labor of that important church were not enough to tax his superabundant energy, he has been chairman of the Committee of Evangelistic Labor of the Synod of Kentucky—having the oversight of some twenty evangelists, as a result of whose labors over four thousand communicants have been added to the roll of the Synod!

In 1874, at the age of thirty-eight, Dr. Witherspoon took his seat for the first time in the General Assembly, at Columbus, Mississippi, only about one hundred miles east of where he began his ministerial life; and in 1884, just ten years later, at the age of forty-eight, he was elected Moderator of and presided over the General Assembly at Vicksburg, Mississippi, just two hundred miles southwest of the same beginning point, Oxford, Mississippi. And the same University that graduated him with high honor in 1858, at the age of twenty, conferred upon him in 1867, at the age of thirty-one, the distinguished honor of D.D., and in 1884, at the age of forty-eight, the more distinguished honor of LL.D. Such a succession of honors is almost unparalleled; and the State of Mississippi, while witnessing within her borders this high appreciation by the Presbyterian Church in the South of one of her favorite sons, has borne a beautiful testimony to his great energy, consecrated talent, and noble character.

As a writer in the Church newspapers, Dr. Witherspoon has written frequently, judiciously, and effectively. The following are among the larger and more important publications from his pen, in book form; “The Appeal of the South to its Educated Men” (1866);  “Children of the Covenant” (1873); “Materialism in its Relations  to Modem Civilization” (1878); and “Letters on Romanism” (1882).

Among the most decided evidences of the high appreciation of Dr. Witherspoon’s practical talents by the Presbyterian Church and people of the South, is the great number of calls he has had to prominent churches, his election to chairs in or the presidency of colleges and universities, and the professorships in theological seminaries that have been offered him. The latest distinction of this kind of which we have heard is his election as president of Davidson College, at Charlotte, North Carolina. This, and all others, he promptly declined; because he felt that the great mission of his life is to preach the Gospel. In the pulpit and on the platform he is emphatically extemporaneous; always trusting to the inspiration of the moment for words to clothe the ideas and emphasize the thoughts he has diligently studied out in his room.

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Beginnings can be Interesting

Beginnings of anything can be interesting. This author once planted a mission church in  a sizeable Midwest city. He had done all the preliminary preparation for the mission. Several families committed themselves to the endeavor. The first worship service was planned in a spacious worship center of an evangelical church, rented for the occasion. We all went with expectations of a good beginning, but only one family showed up for the beginning worship time.  It is true that God did some extraordinary things in the first six years of our ministry there. I rejoice that this established church is progressing ahead by means of being a mother church to several congregations.  But it was anything but encouraging in the early years, especially that first Lord’s Day.

In 1560, a Scottish Reformation Parliament abrogated and annulled the papal jurisdiction for Scottish churches, ending all the authority flowing from Rome.

This set the grounds for the establishment of the Church of Scotland that same year. Let W. M. Hetherington in his book “History of the Church of Scotland” pick up the account. He writes on page 53, “They (the Reformation Parliament) enacted no ecclesiastical jurisdiction whatever in its stead. This it left the reformed Church to determine upon and effect by its own intrinsic powers. And this is a fact of the utmost  cannot be too well known and kept in remembrance. It is, indeed, on e of the distinctive characteristics of the Church of Scotland, that it owes its origin, its form, its jurisdiction, and its discipline, to no earthly power. And when the ministers and elders of the church of Scotland resolved to meet in a General Assembly, to deliberate on matters, which might tend to the promotion of God’s glory and the welfare of the Church, they did so in  virtue of the authority which they believed the Lord Jesus Christ had given to the Church. The parliament which abolished the papal jurisdiction made not the slightest mention of  General Assembly. In that time of comparatively simple and honest faith, even statesmen seem instinctively to have perceived, that to interfere in matters of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, so as to appoint ecclesiastical tribunals, specify  their nature, and assign their limits, was not within their province. It had been well for the kingdom if statesmen of succeeding times, certainly not their superiors in talent and in judgment, had been wise enough to follow their example.”

The first meeting of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was held on this day, December 20, 1560. Forty delegates were in attendance. For that number, only six were ministers. They were John Knox (Edinburgh), Christophere Gudman (St. Andrews), John Row (Perth), David Lindesay (Leith), William Harlaw (St. Cuthberts), and William Christesone (Dundee). While their names with the exception of Knox and possible Row are unknown to many of our readers, Hetherington remarks that “they were men of great abilities, of deep piety, fitted and qualified by their Creator for the work which he had given them to do.” (p. 53)

Words to Live By:
Not only had the Creator fitted and qualified them, but so had their Great Redeemer fitted and acquired them to raise up a Church faithful and true to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. It may have been small in man’s estimation at the beginning, but the Spirit of God judged it otherwise. He would bring the increase in His time. So be faithful, dear reader, to where God has planted you. He will accomplish His will through you to the area where you have been planted to serve our Lord and Savior.

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Our post today focuses on the life and ministry of the Rev. Francis McFarland, with an obituary published on the pages of THE CHRISTIAN OBSERVER late in 1871.

The Christian Observer, 50.46 (15 November 1871), p. 2, columns 5-6.

THE LATE F. McFARLAND, D.D.

mcfarland_francisThe life, labors and character of this eminently useful servant of Christ, whose death was briefly noticed in our columns three weeks since, are worthy of a memorial which will long be cherished as a rich legacy to the Church. The sketch presented in the following paragraphs contains the principal incidents of his life, given by the editor of the Central Presbyterian:

“He was born in the south of Ireland, in the province of Ulster, in January, 1788. When he was five years old, in 1793, his parents emigrated to this country and settled in Western Pennsylvania. He was graduated at Jefferson and Washington College in 1818, and shortly after entered Princeton Theological Seminary, where he was a fellow-student with Rev. Drs. Charles Hodge, Wm. B. Sprague, Joseph Smith and Bishop Johns. In a communication written when he was more than eighty years of age, he says:

‘I regard it as one of the kindest dispensations of Divine Providence towards me, that I was led to that institution where I enjoyed the esteem of those wise and holy men, Dr. Archibald Alexander and Dr. Samuel Miller, then the only Professors in the institution, and who honored me with their friendship as long as they lived.’

He was licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of New Brunswick in October, 1819; and in 1829 he was appointed a missionary by the Assembly’s Board to labor in Indiana and Missouri. He then spent three months preaching to the First Presbyterian church, Brooklyn, N.Y., then recently organized. While laboring there, he was (August 1, 1822) ordained sine titulo, by the Presbytery of New Brunswick. In the fall of that year he had a severe attack of typhus fever accompanied with hemorrhage from the lungs, in consequence of which, as soon as partially recovered, he was advised by his physician to travel to the South on horseback.

Accordingly, he proceeded to Staunton, Va., “where he was the guest of that noble Christian gentleman, and eminent physician, Dr. Addison Waddell, for whom he ever cherished the highest regard.” His health being greatly improved, he was invited to preach in the church of Bethel, then vacant. After supplying the pulpit for three Sabbaths, he received a unanimous call from that congregation to become their pastor. This call he accepted, and in the year following was duly installed, the Rev. Dr. Ruffner preaching the sermon, and Rev. Dr. Speece delivering the “charge.”

He resigned his pastoral office to enter upon the duties of Secretary of Education, in March, 1836, to which he was apppointed the preceding year. He continued in the services of this Board, which were highly appreciated, till August, 1841, when, having been called to his old charge, he returned to his home among the people of the Bethel congregation. As the Presbyterian remarks, “He was for many years a man of very infirm health. His afflictions from asthma was t times very distressing. He seldom knew the luxury of uninterrupted sleep, the only posture of rest was in a chair. It was a constant wonder to his friends that long ago both body and mind did not sink under the pressure of disease. But in the midst of growing infirmities his labors were continued till about five years ago, they were relieved by the settlement of the Rev. Jas. Murray as collegiate pastor. Having lived to welcome this brother (between whom and himself there was a relation of constant harmony and affection) his pastoral work ceased. He was almost constantly confined to his home for years past, and much of the time to his couch. About a year ago, Mrs. McFarland was called to the heavenly home before him. He most patiently waited all his appointed days tills his own change should come.

“His end, which he had been long expecting, was in ‘perfect peace,’ and was announced by the Rev. Mr. Murray in a brief note written on October 10, 1871. ‘He breathed his last this morning about five o’clock, in his sleep, in the 84th year of his age. Thus, he was spared all consciousness of the death struggle, and indeed all pain in the act of dying. For the last few weeks his decline has been more marked and rapid, and was attended with much suffering; but in all of it he was not only sustained by the grace of God, so as to endure it without murmuring, but was enabled to rejoice in God his Saviour, with a full assurance of a blessed immortality beyond the grave.’

“The sketch of Dr. McFarland’s life here given, is of necessity very imperfect. Having known him for nearly fifty years, and an intimate friendship for about thirty, our feelings plead for a much fuller expression than the space suitable for it permits. The aged and good minister of Jesus Christ was no common man. He was a man of great worth, and has been so esteemed wherever known. His long life was not only without a stain, but was adorned with gifts and graces which mark it as one to be had in everlasting remembrance.

“In the councils of the Church it would not be easy to point out his superior. His eminent piety, the uncommon soundness of his judgment, his remarkable prudence, and conciliatory spirit—though none more inflexibly firm and true to principle—gave his opinions great weight from the Church Session up to the General Assembly. To this last judicatory he was more frequently sent than any other member of Lexington Presbytery; and in the Assembly of 1856, having been chosen as the Moderator, he presided over its deliberations with a dignity and skill not only satisfactory to all, but which excited general admiration.

Words to Live By:
Noting that Rev. McFarland was born in Ireland in 1788 and emigrated to the United States in 1793, his life at that point makes for an interesting comparison with that of the Rev. Alexander McLeod who was born in Ireland in 1774 and who emigrated here in the 1790s. McLeod being a bit older, remembered the bitter lessons of Irishmen being enslaved by the English, and so as a young pastor, spoke out against the enslavement of blacks. In contrast, McFarland, coming to this country as a child, may not have been raised with that historical awareness of his Irish heritage, and later taking up a pastorate in Virginia, he became a committed advocate of the Southern Confederate cause. We can only assume his views on slavery followed suit. Had he remained in the north, would he have had those same views? Perhaps, for  we readily admit that sin knows no geographical boundaries. Moreover, we know that even true Christians can be decidedly wrong about things, be they political, social, economic, or other. Most people, Christians included, tend to mirror the views of friends and close associates. The man or woman who can stand against the overwhelming sympathies of the crowd is a rare individual indeed. Don’t be so brazen as to think you can be that rare person, but do make every effort to be rooted and grounded in the Scriptures. With fear and trembling, make every effort to live out the Scriptures and to live above the prevailing winds of culture and the times, with your eyes fixed on Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord. May God grant you the mercy and strength to live out His will, regardless of what society may bring your way.

Some Scripture References on Choosing Your Friends Wisely: Psalm 1:1 and 26:4-5; Proverbs 11:14; 12:26; 13:20; 16:29; 22:24-25; 24:6; 27:6; 28:23; I Cor. 5:11 and 15:33.

Image source: Portrait as found in The Presbyterian Magazine, 1856.

For Further Study:
Papers of Francis McFarland, 1815-1871, Archival Material – 2 reels : microfilm; 35mm.

Abstract: Collection contains 23 diaries and account books and 25 manuscripts, 1821-1864. With these are an analytical outline by W. Edwin Hemphill and two brief biographies of McFarland. The collection contains student writings; notebooks from lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary; diaries of missionary trips into “the pines” of Southeasern N.J. and the midwest, including contacts with the Cherokee Indians; attendance at General Assemblies; expense accounts; politics in Washington, D.C. (1832); Philadelphia; meteorological observations; his church and life in Augusta County, Va., the Civil War including the splitting of the Presbyterian Church, deaths of his sons, and religion in the Confederate camps.

The collection contains student writings; notebooks from lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary; diaries of missionary trips into “the pines” of Southeasern N.J. and the midwest, including contacts with the Cherokee Indians; attendance at General Assemblies; expense accounts; politics in Washington, D.C…

See http://vshadow.vcdh.virginia.edu/personalpapers/collections/augusta/mcfarland.html for more information.

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The 100th General Assembly of the PCUSA was notable as the first time in which the disrupted Church, North and South, met fraternally. The Southern Presbyterian Church, while meeting in Assembly in Baltimore, came to meet with the Northern Presbyterians during their Assembly in Philadelphia. Discusssions of a permanent reunion were on the table, but nothing came of it. News of that event, as reported in a denominational magazine of the day, follows:

THE PRESBYTERIAN CONGRESS.

The great Presbyterian Congress—its General Assembly—begins its sessions in Philadelphia to-day. As our Philadelphia dispatches showed yesterday, it is a body notable for the number of distinguished divines and laymen who are to lead its deliberations. Of the 500 delegates in attendance a large majority are prominent in the States from which they come, and there are scores of men who are known and honored all over the country, while some of them are recognized by Protestants the world over, as leaders of the religious thought and action of the age.

The great gathering suggests more than ecclesiastical or denominational considerations and reminiscences. It reminds intelligent students of the history of this country of the intimate relations between Presbyterianism in its various forms with the history of the struggles for religious and political freedom, in the old world and in the new. It was the love of freedom of the Presbyterians in Great Britain that brought on them the persecutions and trials that drove here hundreds of thousands of Presbyterians, who became the staunchest and most intelligent supporters of American independence. The same causes gave to the American colonies the splendid qualities for citizenship that were possessed by the exiled Huguenots and by the Dutch Presbyterians. It was a natural and most vitally important result that during the whole period of the Revolutionary war the Presbyterian churches were unanimously for American independence and furnished a large proportion of the ablest civil and military leaders who conducted the war and founded the Union.

One of the most notable  concessions as to the harmony between Presbyterianism and our peculiar form of government was made by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, John Hughes, when he wrote these words:

“Though it is my privilege to regard the authority exercised by the General Assembly as usurpation, still I must say with every man acquainted with the mode in which it is organized, that for the purpose of popular and political government, its organization is little inferior to that of Congress itself. It acts on the principle of a radiating centre, and is without equal or rival among the other denominations of the country.”

[excerpted from The Church at Work, 2.34 (31 May 1888): 3.]

President Grover Cleveland’s Address to the Members of the General Assemblies.
[The Church at Work, 2.34 (31 May 1888): 4]

I am very much gratified by the opportunity here afforded me to meet the representatives of the Presbyterian Church. Surely, a man never should lose his interest in the welfare of the church in which he was reared. Those of us who inherit fealty to our church as I do, begin early to learn those things which make us Presbyterians all the days of our lives, and thus it is that the rigors of our early teaching, by which we are grounded, in our lasting allegiance, are especially vivid, and perhaps, the best remembered. The attendance upon church service three times each Sunday, and upon Sabbath school during the noon intermission, may be irksome enough to a boy of ten or twelve years of age to be well fixed in his memory, but I have never known a man who regretted these things in the years of his maturity. The Shorter Catechism, though thoroughly studied and learned, was not, perhaps, at the time, perfectly understood, and yet in the stern labors and duties of after life those are not apt to be the worst citizens who were taught “What is the chief end of man.”

Speaking of these things, and in the presence of those here assembled, I may say the most tender thoughts crowd upon my mind—all connected with Presbyterianism, and its teachings. There are present with me now memories of a kind and affectionate father, consecrated to the cause and called to his rest and his reward, in the mid-day of his usefulness; a sacred recollection of the prayers and pious love of a sainted mother, and a family circle hallowed and sanctified by the spirit of Presbyterianism. I cannot but express the wish and the hope that the Presbyterian church will always be at the front in every movement which promises the temporal as well as the spiritual advancement of mankind.

In the turmoil and bustle of every day life few men are foolish enough to ignore the practical value to our people and our country of the church organization established among us, and the advantage of Christian example and teaching. While we may be pardoned for insisting that our denomination is the best, we may, I think, safely concede much that is good to all other churches that seek to make men better.

I am here to greet the delegates of two General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church. One is called “North” and the other “South.” The subject is too deep and intricate for me, but I cannot help wondering why this should be. These words, so far as they denote separation and estrangement, should be obsolete. In the councils of the Nation and in the business of the country they no longer mean reproach and antagonism. Even the soldiers who fought for the “North” and for the “South” are restored to fraternity and unity. This fraternity and unity is taught and enjoined by our church. When she shall herself be united, with all the added strength and usefulness, then harmony and union ensue.

Words to Live By:
How the mighty have fallen. How some have departed over these many years from the clear proclamation of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. We take no pride in making such an observation. If anything, we should be immensely humbled, knowing our own sinful hearts. Indeed, we should fear the Lord and daily strive to draw near to Him. May the Lord by His Holy Spirit bring repentance. May He revive His Church in these latter days.

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.—I Corinthians 10:12, NASB.

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“I am killed; but don’t tell your mother.”

His epitaph, composed by the Rev. William Arthur of Pequea, read as follows:

In memory of
THE REV. DR. JAMES LATTA,
Who died 29th January, 1801, in the 68th year of his age.
By his death, society has lost an invaluable member;
Religion one of its brightest ornaments, and most amiable examples.
His genius was masterly, and his literature extensive.
As a classical scholar, he was excelled by few.
His taste correct, his style nervous and elegant.
In the pulpit he was a model.
In the judicatures of the Church, distinguished by his accuracy and precision.
After a life devoted to his Master’s service,
He rested from his labours, lamented most by those who knew his words.
Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth;
Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours,
And their works do follow them.”

lattaJamesHaving read that assessment of the man, it might easily be said, “There were giants in those days.” James Latta was born in Ireland in the winter of 1732, migrating to this country when he was just six or seven years old. Ordained an evangelist by the Presbytery of Philadelphia in the fall of 1759, he was later installed as pastor of the Deep Run church in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1761. He remained in this pulpit until 1770. resigning there to answer a call to serve the congregation of Chestnut Level, in Lancaster county, PA. One account notes that “the congregation at that time was widely scattered and weak. The salary promised in the call was only one hundred pounds, Pennsylvania currency, which was never increased, and rarely all paid.” Friends prevailed upon him to educate their sons, and the school he reluctantly started prospered, until the Revolutionary war brought things to a close, with many of the older students joining the army.

Odd Now to Consider:
On the 28th day of May, 1762, the Second Presbytery of Philadelphia was set off by the Synod from the Presbytery of Philadelphia. This consisted of five ministers, of whom Mr. Latta was one; and they were all strenuous advocates of what was called the Old Side. It appears from certain dissents and protests, in 1766, when an ineffectual attempt was made in Synod to reunite the two Presbyteries, that this Second Presbytery had been formed on the elective affinity principle, as its members professed to be conscientiously opposed to the practice of examining candidates for the ministry on their experimental acquaintance with religion, which the Synod had approved of; and had declared that sooner than remain in a Presbytery which pursued that practice, they would break off from all connection with the Synod.

During the war, Rev. Latta served as a private and a chaplain in the Pennsylvania Militia, and after the war, he returned to his pulpit in Chestnut Level. The first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. convened in 1789. Two years later, Rev. Latta was honored to serve as the Moderator of the third General Assembly, in 1791. Latta continued as the pastor of the Chestnut Level congregation until the time of his death, in 1801.

More on his Death:
Dr. Latta laboured on in the ministry, until very near the close of life. In December, a month before his decease, he attended a meeting of his Presbytery at New London, twenty miles from home. The circumstances of his death, as related by one of his daughters, were as follows:—Riding to church one Sabbath with his daughter Mary, he was thrown from the carriage, and falling on his head, he was somewhat stunned. He observed to her,—-“I am killed; but do not tell your mother.” He proceeded to church, preached with some difficulty, and returned home. He soon after fell into a sleepy, comatose state, until his daughter, the next day, alarmed, related to her mother what had happened. Help was immediately called in, but in vain. He continued a few days, almost insensible, and then died.

Words to Live By: Rev. Latta’s biographer says of him, that as a preacher, he was faithful to declare the whole counsel of God. While he comforted and encouraged true Christians, he held up to sinners a glass in which they might see themselves; but, in addressing them, he always spoke as with the compassion of a father. The doctrines of Grace were the burden of his preaching.”  God give us faithful pastors who will minister the Word of God in Spirit and in truth.

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Gerstner01Dr. John Gerstner, the esteemed Professor of Church History at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, for many years persisted in his allegiance to his denomination. Despite the urgings of friends, he continued to hope for better days for his Church. But finally when one matter in particular came to the fore, the conclusion was inescapable, and Dr. Gerstner drafted the following statement [emphasis added to highlight the noted date]:—

THE APOSTASY OF THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
by Dr. John Gerstner

The United Presbyterian Church in The United States of America became apostate, officially on January 26, 1981 turning away from adherence to the Lord Jesus Christ by permitting in its ministry a denier of that same Lord Jesus Christ.  This was done by the decision of the Permanent Judicial Commission of The General Assembly of The United Presbyterian Church in The United States of America.  It upheld National Capital Union Presbytery’s approval of Mansfield Kaseman for ministry.  The Synod of The Piedmont had become apostate for the same reason, July 8, 1980.  At Presbytery, Synod, and General Assembly levels, Mr. Kaseman had been shown to be guilty of denying or refusing to affirm at least four essentials of the Christian religion:  the sinlessness, bodily resurrection, vicarious atonement, and deity of Jesus Christ.

Documents of the six trials, two each by Presbytery and the Permanent Judicial Commissions of Synod and General Assembly (1979 and 1980) are available for those who would inform themselves in depth. This paper concentrates on the 1981 decision of The Permanent Judicial Commission of The General Assembly which finally, officially, produced the legal and constitutional apostasy of The United Presbyterian Church denomination.  First, after brief statement of the evidence and argument that Mr. Kaseman did indeed deny or refuse to affirm indispensable Christian doctrine, we present second, a somewhat longer critique of The Permanent Judicial Commission decision of January 26, 1981 substantiating our grave charges that in defending apostasy it made The General Assembly apostate. We then third, explain why this apostate action makes the whole denomination apostate and why, fourth, if The General Assembly does not effectively repudiate this apostasy or begin the process of repudiation, every Christian is obliged to separate from the non-Christian denomination. We conclude with an appendix in the form of a proposal for action at The 193rd General Assembly meeting at Houston, Texas, May 19-27, 1981 which may be taken if apostasy is not there repudiated.

I.  The Case Against Kaseman

The substance of the complainants’ case against the National Capital Union Presbytery can be briefly stated.  First, the complainants charged that Mr. Kaseman denied or would not affirm the sinlessness of Christ.  If Christ was not sinless He could not be the Savior of the world.  He would need a Savior Himself.  The only response from Kaseman’s defenders was that he was thinking of sinlessness in the sense of frustration.  There was no denial that Mr. Kaseman would not affirm Christ’s freedom from all sin.

Second, Mr. Kaseman refused to affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. The complainants pointed out that according to I Cor. 15:17, “… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” (NASV)  Paul was speaking in that chapter about the bodily resurrection of Christ.  There is no other kind of resurrection than bodily because the soul never does die. The only response ever received was that Kaseman did affirm the “resurrection” (not bodily resurrection). The complainants never denied that Mr. Kaseman affirmed a non-bodily resurrection whatever that may mean.

Third, Mr. Kaseman specifically denied the doctrine of the “vicarious atonement”. No one can question that without Christ’s atonement for our sins there is no possible salvation. The only response that came from the defenders of Mr. Kaseman was that there are other metaphors beside the concept of substitution that describe the death of our Lord.  That never was at issue either. The defenders never questioned the allegation that Mr. Kaseman did deny the “vicarious atonement” which is absolutely essential whatever else may also be essential to the doctrine of the atonement.

Fourth, this whole trial first came about in National Capital Union Presbytery when in March of 1979 Mr. Kaseman was asked if he believed that Jesus Christ was God and he answered, “No, obviously No.  God is God.” Much discussion followed and much was said and reported in the secular and religious press during the following two years but never did Kaseman ever deny this apostate statement.  The Presbytery’s Committee of Representation never said anything to justify Mr. Kaseman.  It was once irrelevantly contended that he merely meant to say that Christ was more than God, being man also, but Christ’s humanity was never an issue either.  Kaseman denied that Jesus Christ was God. He has never denied the denial.  In the second trial before the National Capital Union Presbytery when the same question was put to Mr. Kaseman he refused to answer with a categorical negative as he had before. He also refused to take back his previous statement so that it still stands on the record. He did say at the second interrogation that Jesus Christ is one with God and affirmed belief in the Trinity.

The affirmation (which apparently satisfied the majority of Presbytery) that Christ was one with the deity did not amount to an affirmation of the deity of Jesus Christ.  The proof of that is the explanation which Mr. Kaseman offered for denying that Jesus Christ is God.  If Jesus Christ were God, he asked, how would he answer the death of God theologians: Who was then minding the universe? This only served to show that Mr. Kaseman did not even understand the doctrine of the Incarnation, much less believe it. He apparently thinks that the doctrine of the incarnation means that God ceased being infinite and omnipresent and became finitized and temporalized in a human being! Having such a grotesque misconception, Mr. Kaseman could not possibly believe that Christ was or is God.

All of these most grave charges have been repeatedly proven by complainants as the documents of the various trials clearly illustrate. They have complained against the National Capital Union Presbytery for its approving Mr. Kaseman in spite of his demonstrated apostasy.  Neither the Committee of Representation of the Presbytery nor any of the higher courts that have heard the case have ever refuted these charges.  In some instances, including the final trial, there was no attempt to do so.  This refusal or inability was in spite of the fact that the complainants have charged apostasy and pled with the higher courts if they could not refute the charges, to set aside the Presbytery’s decision and discipline all courts which have approved it.

  1. The Permanent Judicial Commission of The General Assembly Decision of January 26, 1981

The final court at the final hearing, (the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly in the hearing January 24, 1981), falls far short of saving our Church from the apostasy charged. Actually it itself, by tacit compliance, became guilty of the same apostasy. All that the supreme court of our denomination did was affirm how orthodox our Confessions are, while at the same time upholding Presbytery and Synod in approving a man whose unorthodoxy, in at least four essentials of the Christian faith, had been demonstrated.

First of all, . . .

Those interested in reading the entirety of Dr. Gerstner’s treatment of this issue may write to the PCA Historical Center for a digital copy. Address your mail to [archivist (AT) pcahistory /DOT/ org]

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A Young Pastor Caught in the Middle

boardman01The Old School/New School division of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  officially took place in 1837. But the controversy had been roiling along for many years prior, and by the time that  Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia was organized, in 1829, the controversy was really coming to the fore. The first pastor of the church was Thomas A. McAuley, a New School man who managed to steer the new church into the only New School Presbytery within the Synod of Philadelphia, all to the dismay of the Rev. Ashbel Green and the other Old School men in Philadelphia, who had such hopes for the new church.

But Rev. McAuley only stayed for four years before leaving for greener fields (he went on to found Union Theological Seminary in New York). And in God’s providence, Henry Augustus Boardman was graduating from Princeton right about that same time. Boardman had been born in Troy, New York on January 9, 1808, graduated from Yale and then Princeton, but thought he would prefer being the pastor of a rural church. Instead, he was urged to supply the vacant pulpit at Tenth, and despite some misgivings on his part, finally accepted the call to serve there as pastor.

In a published history of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Allen Guelzo tells the story of the challenges that immediately confronted Boardman as he became the new pastor of the church :


Not that all the qualms in Boardman’s stomach were thereby stilled. There remained the unsettling business of Tenth’s attachment to the New School Second Presbytery. That business was made even more unsettling when on the eve of his ordination and installation the Synod of Philadelphia finally lost its patience with the New Schoolers and ordered the Second Presbytery dissolved. Since this drastic action could not be made final until the General Assembly met the following May, the New Schoolers held onto a brief stay of execution. But that left Boardman in the unhappy predicament of having to seek ordination at the hands of a presbytery that was virtually an outlaw organization; nor could he wait until the following May to see where the chips would fall, since his ordination and installation had been set for November 8, 1833.

Once again, he began to question whether he ought to join a presbytery under such suspicion and when he had such little sympathy with its tenets. “Unquestionably,” wrote Boardman, “it was a controversy which involved both the purity of our faith and the integrity of our ecclesiastical polity. Two incompatible systems of doctrine and two no less irreconcilable theories of ecclesiastical authority and policy” were at stake. In Boardman’s mind, there was no hope of compromise “between those who training had made them decided and earnest Presbyterians and others who had adopted our standards in a loose and general way.” Nor was it, he observed, “a mere war of words, It took hold upon the central truths of the Gospel, such as original sin, the atonement, regeneration and justification.”[1]  Nevertheless, Boardman decided to go ahead with the ordination, a move that was to set a precedent for later pastors of Tenth Church who found themselves with similarly difficult choices. In time, his decision proved wise. Boardman was able to sever Tenth’s connections with the New School Presbytery, and in 1837 the General Assembly removed the thorn of New School Presbyterianism from Boardman’s side by moving to lop all New School Presbyteries off its rolls. Not until 1869 were Old School and New School Presbyterians reunited.

[1] Boardman, Henry A., Two Sermons Preached on the Twenty-fifth and Fortieth Anniversaries of the Author’s Pastorate. Philadelphia: Inquirer Book and Job Print, 1873, p. 31.

[Excerpted from Making God’s Word Plain: Tenth Presbyterian Church, 150 Years (1829-1979).   Philadelphia, PA: Tenth Presbyterian Church, 1979, pp. 45-46.]


Words to Live By:
 Scripture does not promise an easy path in life for the Christian. If anything, we are promised conflict (2 Tim. 3:12). But we also have clear promises of God’s wisdom, as well as the charge to be at peace with all men, so far as we are able. (Rom. 12:18). Through diligent study of the Bible, godly counsel, and prayerful trust in God, we can find our way through life’s challenges.

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pcusa_publication_houseWhile THIS DAY IN PRESBYTERIAN HISTORY is sponsored by the PCA Historical Center, we have from the start taken a wider scope in the subjects covered here, not limiting ourselves to just the denomination known as the Presbyterian Church in America. The larger history of American Presbyterianism provides the context for our own specific story. Then too, while we could limit ourselves just to PCA subjects, our denomination is very much a conglomeration of churches drawn from nearly every other American Presbyterian denomination, and so it seems fitting to draw on the wider history of American Presbyterianism. Lastly, as Christians, it seems appropriate to lay claim to the history of other believers in our tradition—to find opportunities to praise God for the efforts of men and women of an earlier time who called Jesus their Lord and Savior, who faithfully served in His kingdom, and who were also known as Presbyterians.

In that light, we turn our attention to today’s story. Presbyterians have alway placed a high value on an educated ministry, and so too have placed great emphasis on education in the Church. In turn, this leads to the need for a means to publish, to provide the tools of education, not to mention literature for evangelism, the publication of confessional Standards and the various documents of church government.

In the early years of the United States, the American Tract Society fulfilled some of these needs for a number of Protestant denominations. But with a concern to maintain doctrinal standards, many in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America began to call for the Church to have its own means of publication. The first Board of Managers to oversee these publications met late in 1833, with the Reverends Ashbel Green, William M. Engles and Dr. A.W. Mitchell among those serving in this capacity.

Tracts formed the core of their early efforts, with the first four tracts (treatises, really) issued in 1835. Dr. Samuel Miller’s book-length work, Presbyterianism the Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Christ was issued as Tract no. 1. A printing of the Westminster Shorter Catechism was issued as the fifth “tract.” With further growth of the Board and its work, by 1838 the effort was expanded and the Board of Managers matured into the Board of Publication of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. In time, greater funding allowed further expansion of the work, until at last the ministry outgrew rented space and needed its own home.

In 1848, a property on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia was located and purchased at a good price. But their new home had only been occupried for just a few months when, on January 6, 1849, the entire building was destroyed by fire. Insurance covered some of the loss, with support from churches and generous donors making up the rest. The building was rebuilt both larger and better, and the work went on. In fact, other aspects of the young denomination’s work also found a home there—the newly founded Presbyterian Historical Society, organized in 1852, being one such tenant.

Words to Live By:
Our Lord has promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. But that truth does not mean that a given ministry or agency of a denomination is for all time. The Church of Jesus Christ will go on until His return, but denominations and their agencies change over time. Some become corrupt and hollow. Some disappear altogether, while still others by God’s grace continue to hold fast to the proclamation of the Gospel. Our faith rests not in any denomination, its agencies, or its ministers. Our faith and trust can only rest on the Person of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and His finished work upon the cross. To God, and to God alone be all glory.

Image source: Above right, an engraved rendering of the Presbyterian Board of Publication building at 821 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, as found facing page 20 in Willard M. Rice’s work, History of the Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work. (1888).

Where Are We Now?
To eliminate any confusion, we should note that the publication arm of the old Southern Presbyterian Church was known as the Presbyterian Committee of Publication. So, to distinguish the old North from the old South, it was “Board” for the Northern Presbyterians (PCUSA) and “Committee” for the Southern Presbyterians (PCUS).

Looking at some of the NAPARC denominations, the PCA’s primary publication agency was known as Christian Education and Publication, but has more recently been renamed as the Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM). Their stated mission is “to assist leaders in the local church as they make disciples (Matthew 28:19) among children, youth, and adults in the congregation. In 2014, the PCA General Assembly changed our name from Christian Education and Publications (CEP) to reflect better the broad nature of the ministry of discipleship in the local church. We seek to help by connecting people to people and people to resources. We do this through consultation, training events, conferences, and resources available on the website. Our hope is that God will use the ministry of CDM to help PCA members experience the great blessings of a connectional church as we seek to partner together to fulfill the Great Commission.”

[We note that the PCA Bookstore still retains the “cep” lettering in its URL address: https://www.cepbookstore.com]

In the OPC, it’s The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church that oversees publications, and their ministry statement is as follows: “The Committee on Christian Education seeks to encourage, equip and assist the OPC by providing Reformed resources and training to help OP members grow in grace, aid ministers in effectively fulfilling their calling, enable officers to wisely serve the church, aid in biblically Reformed evangelism, and instruct those in the broader church.” [The OPC’s Committee for the Historian also publishes a number of titles].

For the RPCNA, their Board of Education and Publication “uses the media of print and music to promote, encourage, and defend the Reformed faith and testimony of the denomination. Publications include the Reformed Presbyterian Witness, a monthly denominational magazine, and other praise and testimony materials, including The Book of Psalms for Singing, Bible studies, pamphlets, and recordings. The Board also provides resources to assist presbyteries and congregations in their educational, youth, and conference programs. The publishing and distribution arm of the Board is called Crown & Covenant Publications.”

In the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, their primary publications are handled as a ministry of their Central Services agency, while their Board of Christian Education Ministries operates the ARP Bookstore and publishes Adult Quarterly Sunday school curriculum materials, as well as sponsoring retreats and other activities.

And finally, we should also mention the joint effort of the OPC and PCA, known as Great Commission Publications, which is concerned with publishing curriculum and worship materials. GCP is perhaps best known as publisher of The Trinity Hymnal.

 

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A Marked Influence in Ecclesiastical Matters
by David T. Myers

breckinridge_SamuelFor the next two years, your two authors will feature a number of posts about the remarkable Breckinridge family, a family which, for our purposes, began with Alexander Breckinridge who had moved to Philadelphia around 1728, eventually relocating to the colony of Virginia. Members of the Breckinridge family were prominent as ministers and theologians and church leaders and politicians in nation and state, and soldiers and businessmen and women, and more often than not, they were Presbyterians in conviction and practice. Today, on the date of his birthday, November 3, 1828, we focus in on Samuel Miller Breckinridge.

Son of John Breckinridge, who was a Presbyterian minister, young Samuel had as his mother that of Margaret Miller, the daughter of the Rev. Samuel Miller, yes, that Samuel Miller, who was an early professor of the Princeton Theological Seminary. So it is no wonder that her maiden name became his middle name, as in Samuel Miller Breckinridge.

Samuel was educated at Union College, New York and Centre College, Kentucky, and finally at the College of New Jersey at Princeton, New Jersey [later renamed Princeton University in 1896]. He completed his studies at the graduate law school at Transylvania University at Lexington Kentucky.

Settling in St. Louis, Missouri, he represented the city and county in the Missouri Legislature for one year in 1854 – 55. He continued to move up in important positions in the state as he was elected the judge of Circuit Court in 1863. In the same year, he was chosen a member of the State Convention.

We might be tempted to think that he only had an influence in political matters, but his membership in the Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri was recognized when that local church elected him to serve as a ruling elder in 1871. Three years later, he served as a commissioner to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church when it met in the city. He became a member of the Committee of Fraternal Relations, and was appointed to try and meet with the elders in the Presbyterian Church in the United States, formerly the Presbyterian Church of the Confederacy.

His church position continued to give him opportunities within that denomination as he was a member of the General Assembly’s Committee on Revision of the Book of Discipline in 1878, and he continued to serve as a commissioner at the General Assembly as it met in 1881 and 1883.

A description of him was that he was a model Christian gentleman, wise in counsel, with a marked influence in ecclesiastical matters. He died in 1891.

Words to Live By:
May it be said of all of us that we either are having or will have a marked influence in ecclesiastical matters. Your local church may indeed need that at this time in her history. As the post Christian century continues in our land, we will certainly need that characteristic more and more in the local and national areas. Pray for it if you don’t have it now, or pray for an increase of that character. The Holy Spirit will bless you in it, and give you many opportunities to use it in the days in which we live.

Image source: Page 97 in the Encyclopædia of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, including the Northern and Southern Assemblies, by Alfred Nevin. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Encyclopedia Publishing Co., 1884.

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Having determined that their denomination was fielding modernists on the mission field in China and elsewhere, the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen and others organized the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM), established to provide faithful conservatives with an alternative for their contributions and their service. But the denomination was in no mood to suffer any loss of funds to this rival mission board. The “Mandate of 1934” stipulated that members of the denomination must uphold the ministries of the denomination—that involvement with independent agencies was a chargeable offense. Machen, Buswell, McIntire, and others were defrocked for their refusal to dissociate themselves from the IBPFM. But two lay people also had charges brought against them, resulting in a trial by the Session of the Holland Memorial Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Here below is the story of that trial, as related on the pages of the IBPFM’s newsletter. The two news clippings shown here are from the collection gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon.


LAYMEN, BEWARE !

stewart-thompson_trial_1935The persecution of the Independent Board goes on apace.

On August 2, 1935, the session of Harriet Hollond Memorial Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, voted to place on trial two of its members, Miss Mary Weldon Stewart and Murray Forst Thompson, Esq., “because of their refusal to resign from the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.”

On September 9, at 8 o’clock P.M., the session met in the church “for the presentation and reading of the charges and specifications and to deliver a copy to the accused.”

This action has evoked great interest.

It marks the first time in many years that a woman has been brought to trial in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Furthermore, the defendants are only unordained communicant members of the church; and the nature of the charges filed against them is intensely interesting since neither Miss Stewart nor Mr. Thompson has taken any ordination vows which (however erroneously) could be made the basis of a charge of an offense.

When the Presbytery of Philadelphia referred their cases to the session of Holland Church, Miss Stewart and Mr. Thompson issued a joint statement in which they said:

“We desire to make plain our reasons for not obeying the mandate of the General Assembly. That mandate was unlawful and unconstitutional because the Assembly sought to bind men’s consciences in virtue of its own authority and because it sought to deal with an organization which is not within the church. That mandate was un-Presbyterian and un-Christian because it condemned members of the church without a hearing and without a trial.

“No real Christian could obey such a command, involving as it does implicit obedience to a human council and involving also the compulsory support of the Modernist propaganda of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. This whole issue involves the truth and liberty of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The question is whether members of a supposedly Christian church are going to recognize as supreme the authority of men or the authority of the Word of God, whether they are going to obey God rather than men. We refuse to obey men when we believe their commands are contrary to the Bible. We are thus taking our stand for the infallible Word of God, and in doing so, we plant ourselves squarely upon the Bible and the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.”

This proceeding against lay members of the Independent Board in obedience to the unconstitutional action of the General Assembly should make it perfectly plain that the liberty of the rank and file in the church is threatened just as much as that of ministers and other office-bearers.

THE TRIAL ITSELF

The first session of the Stewart-Thompson trial was characterized by a series of legal errors on the part of the session which was trying the case. For example, before the court was properly constituted it decided to go into executive (secret) session.

For a while it seemed that the entire procedure would end in confusion. It is rather difficult, you see, to try two lay members of the church whose sole “sin” is their refusal to compromise with Modernism!

But at last the charges and specifications were read, and the court adjourned to meet again on September 23.

[Biblical Missions, 1.9 (September 1935) 3-4.]

stewart-thompson_trial_1935_secrecyAs this second news clipping shows, the Session of the Holland church attempted to conduct the trial in secret.

Words to Live By:
There are always times and places where faithful Christians will find that there is a cost involved with living in accord with the Word of God. That cost may be small or it may be great, but our Lord has promised that He will be with His children when they rely upon Him in times of trial. God is faithful and cannot lie. His Word is sure. And He will use such trials to draw us nearer to Him.

Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”—2 Timothy 3:12, KJV

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