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A Great Loss for Westminster Seminary

The new orthodox seminary, Westminster, had only been open for two weeks on October 11, 1930, when one of the premier faculty members of that theological institution, and before that, Princeton Theological Seminary,  Dr. Robert Dick Wilson, died suddenly. He had been blessed with excellent health for most of his teaching career. But after a brief week of illness, he went into the presence of the Lord.

This writer’s father, who studied under Dr. Wilson at Princeton from 1927 to 1929, told me that Robert Dick Wilson planned his life in three phases. Phase one was to learn all the extant languages of, or related to, the Scriptures. And he did have a working knowledge of somewhere between twenty-five and forty-five languages (accounts vary). The second phase was to study all the higher critical attacks upon the Bible. And the last phase was to publish in defending the Scriptures against all of those higher critical attacks upon the sacred Word. It was with regards to this last phase that he commented that he had come to the conviction that no man knows enough to attack the veracity of the Old Testament.

One humorous incident in his teaching career at Princeton was the time that a woman had enrolled in his class. One day, as was usually the case, he was disheveled in his attire when he came to class. Often the suspenders which held up his pants would be pinned by two safety pins. Teaching animatedly, the two pins became undone with the result that his pants slid to the floor. Embarrassed immensely, and sliding down to raise his pants again,  he could only cry out “Where is Mrs. Jennings? Where is she?,” fearing she was in class in the back row. When told that the lone woman in question had cut his class to study in the library, Dr. Wilson responded, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.”

Words to live by:  Why would an accomplished scholar like Dr. Robert Dick Wilson leave his life’s calling at Princeton Seminary in 1929 to go to a brand new theological institution where there was no guarantee of funds for either teaching or retirement? The answer is that Dr. Wilson knew that a person cannot have God’s richest blessings, even in teaching the truth, when the opportunity to teach that truth is gained by corruption of principles. And the reorganization of Princeton’s Board of Trustees, with the resulting addition of two members who had signed the Auburn Affirmation, was just that—a corruption of principles.  May we take a similar stand for righteousness, regardless of the outcome to our lives. May we always stand for the infallible truth of God’s Word.

For further study: The PCA Historical Center, which hosts This Day in Presbyterian History, houses among its many collections the Papers of Dr. Robert Dick Wilson. As one means of promoting that collection, the Historical Center has posted a number of articles about Dr. Wilson on its web site, and these can be found here.

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American on the Outside, but Japanese on the Inside

Reginald Heber McIlwaine [1906-1998]Born Reginald Heber McIlwaine on July 7, 1906 of Southern Presbyterian missionary parents in Kobe, Japan. Heber, as he was known to family and friends, was a natural for missionary service.  Coming to a knowledge of Christ as Lord and Savior in his younger years, he learned about Japan and the language of Japan early.  In fact, so accustomed was he to this foreign land that one said of him that he may have been an American on the outside, but he was a Japanese on the inside.  Graduating from Westminster Theological Seminary in the early years of that historic theological school, he first became an assistant to the Rev. Clarence Macartney at  First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh.  But the missionary call was too strong in his  nature to remain there more than two years.

He was appointed by the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions to serve in Japan, and did so from 1934 – 1936.  Joining the new Presbyterian Church of America in 1936, and was sent next to Harbin, Manchoukuo.  Choosing to remain with the PCofA in 1937, he became one of the first foreign missionaries appointed by their Committee on Foreign Missions.  In 1938, he was sent to Japan, but the rising war clouds forced him to return back to the States, where he served as a pastor and Army chaplain.  From 1947 to 1950, he ministered to Japanese aborigines in a mountainous area of Taiwan.  Finally, in 1951, he returned “home” to serve full-time as a missionary in Japan, and did so until his retirement in 1976.

After friends had thought he would remain a bachelor the rest of his life, R. Heber McIlwaine surprised everyone and married Eugenia Cochran on March 4, 1947.  It was said of her that she was almost as “Japanese” as he was.  At any rate, they would serve together for twenty-five years in Japan.

Most of their service was at their home in Fukushima, north of Tokyo, Japan.  For those who judge success by numbers, their ministry was not successful.  The average number of worshipers was under twenty.  But many of those converts from paganism to Christianity moved elsewhere for employment or service, taking their Christian commitment with them.  The Reformed Church of Japan was, in the words of John Galbraith, “greatly enriched by” their ministry.

Both were to be translated to heaven in the latter years of the twentieth century.  Certainly it can be said that their works continue to follow them in the faith and life of Japanese Christianity.

The R. Heber McIlwaine Manuscript Collection is preserved at the PCA Historical Center.
See also these related collections at the Historical Center:
• James A. & Pauline S. McAlpine Manuscript Collection
• William A. McIlwaine Manuscript Collection
• John M.L. Young Manuscript Collection
• Japan Missions Library

Words to Live By:  Faithfulness to the gospel is the only rule of success in the kingdom of God.  It is the world which measures success by numbers, by growth, and by economics.  When that formula is brought into the church, not only does God withhold His blessings, but many faithful men and women are marginalized from the service of the Lord Jesus.  Let kingdom work be measured by kingdom standards, that is, those of the Bible.

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The following is a transcript from a news clipping preserved among the Papers of the Rev. Henry G. Welbon, at the PCA Historical Center. [Scrapbook #5, p. 503]. The Rev. Emo F. J. Van Halsema writes in reply to a prior editorial [not available in Welbon’s collection], and the Editor then makes a final comment. Time has proven the Editor wrong, as you will see, and has only confirmed Rev. Van Halsema’s estimations. This is the last of the Machen tributes recently located among the Welbon Papers.

An Appreciation of Dr. Machen.

[from the People’s Forum of The Passaic New Jersey News, 8 January 1937]:—

Editor, Herald-News: — Kindly permit me making a few remarks anent your editorial on the late Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen in late Monday’s issue.

When you say that he was a very able, a wholly sincere man, a man of deepest convictions, whose conscience would not allow him to temporize with views he opposed, those who have known him will readily endorse these words. But what you add comes obviously from an unsympathetic pen. The general impression left with the reader is that though Dr. Machen was a capable leader, he was a sadly mistaken one, whose work will now, after his sudden and unexpected demise, come to naught.

This, Mr. Editor, is an attitude which fails to take into consideration the true significance of the movement in which Dr. Machen had so prominent a place up to the day of his death. The point which Dr. Machen for more than a decade tried to emphasize was that the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America should be loyal to its Westminster Confession as long as this Confession had not been officially repudiated. He was, for that reason, hostile to the Auburn Affirmation and consistently pointed out numerous deviations from the official Standards of the Church in publications which appeared under Presbyterian name. All that he persistently asked was that the Church uphold its Confessional Standards. That is the fight he fought. The trials instituted against him sidetracked the main issue. The ecclesiastical authorities frowned upon him for sowing the seeds of suspicion, for opposing the official church boards, for disturbing the peace of the church and finally unfrocked him. Ecclesiastical machinery won a questionable victory. The lonely man of Philadelphia met a glorious defeat.

It has been said by men prominent in the ecclesiastical trial that doctrinal issues had no bearing on the case, that Dr. Machen was free to think about theological matters as he pleased. The truth, however, is that doctrinal matters did enter in. In fact, loyalty to the Westminster Confession has been Dr. Machen’s plea from the beginning. A minister in the Presbyterian Church is not free to teach what he pleases. Dr. Machen held that he was bound by the Standards and that the Church was too. His many attempts at reform were of no avail. The doctrinal issue loomed up everywhere. It was the heart of the entire controversy, yet, it was consistently and conveniently sidetracked.

In June, 1936, the Presbyterian Church of America was organized to continue “true Presbyterianism.” This was a bold act. It was an act born of need. Dr. Machen did not seek his own martyrdom. The Assembly at Syracuse force it upon him. Said the Doctor, “We have made every effort, in accordance with our solemn ordination pledge, to bring about a return from modernism and indifferentism to the Bible and to the Church’s constitution. Those efforts having proved unavailing, we now are continuing true Presbyterianism in the Presbyterian Church of America. We are not ready to take the Bible off our pulpits and put the last minutes of the Assembly in its stead.” Organizing the new Church was an act of faith.

Your prophecy, Mr. Editor, that what you choose to call “the off-shoot sect” has reached its zenith and will now decline, is but a mortal man’s prediction. You spoke of Dr. Machen’s martyrdom. The Church willingly acted as executioner. We recall that the blood of martyrs has been before this, the seed of the church. Concluding your article you quote the words, “Man proposes, God disposes” in application to Dr. Machen and his movement. Does this not also hold true with uncomfortable consistency of the Church who tried to silence the voice of one of its “terrible meek”? I do not possess the gift of prediction, but the facts are that in the last five months the young sister church gained 69 ministers , making a total of 103, who are working in 23 States and five foreign Countries. The young church today is sad but does not despair. We read, “The cause which he espoused has suffered a terrific blow. But let no one assume that it is a blow of defeat. Those who are left must carry on the tremendous task, as he would have wished them to do. The road will be lonely and the burden of grief heavy, but the work will go on.”

When you state, Mr. Editor, that all Presbyterians wish to forget about the Machen episode, your wish is evidently the father of the thought. Thousands of Presbyterians and other Christians will never forget the sad proceedings of a Church against one of her truest servants who rose to the defense of a Constitution which was slowly being undermined. The Presbyterian Church of America will be a constant reminder to the mother Church of the sad breach among her children in 1936.

The following words written a few days before his death do more justice to Dr. Machen than your editorial. : “He has been bitterly reviled by enemies of the gospel and by many who pretend to love the gospel, but those who know him well and love the gospel dearly regard him as a profound scholar, a veritable Greatheart, a Christian gentleman, a devout child of God, a convincing teacher and preacher, a man with convictions strong as Gibraltar and courage indomitable as Luther’s at the Diet of Worms. It may be said without fear of contradiction that today there is no more scholarly and militant defender of the historic Christian faith against the onslaughts of liberalism than Dr. Machen.”

His voice is now silenced.
His work will go on.
The hammers break, the anvil stands.”

Rev. Emo F. J. Van Halsema
Pastor, Northside Christian Reformed Church
Passaic, January 6.

[With all respect, may we reply to the Rev. Mr. Van Halsema that our feeling was one of sympathy and our desire was to express it. We can express here no opinion as to the doctrinal questions which undoubtedly did enter, and which are not now ended because he has died. The contest between what is called Fundamentalism and what is called Modernism will continue unabated, and it is of course our opinion only that the particular movement, headed by Dr. Machen has reached its zenith and now will decline. We have many examples in history, but do not wish to insist upon it. In justice to the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (of which we are not a member) it should be pointed out that its proper jurisdiction held officially that there was no rampant Modernism in the Church as charged by Dr. Machen, and that his official condemnation rests almost entirely upon the fact that without authorization he organized an Independent Board of Missions, which appealed for Presbyterian funds, and refused to disband it or dissociate himself from it when commanded so to do by the General Assembly. — Editor Herald-News.]

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A Great Loss for Westminster Seminary

wilsonrw02The new orthodox seminary, Westminster, had only been open for two weeks on October 11, 1930, when one of the premier faculty members of that theological institution, and before that, Princeton Theological Seminary,  Dr. Robert Dick Wilson, died suddenly.  He had been blessed with excellent health most of his teaching career.  But after a brief week of illness, he went into the presence of the Lord.

This writer’s father, who studied under Dr. Wilson at Princeton from 1927 to 1929, told me that Robert Dick Wilson planned his life in three phases. Phase one was to learn all the extant languages of, or related to, the Scriptures. And he did have a working knowledge somewhere between twenty-five and forty-five languages (accounts vary). The second phase was to study all the higher critical attacks upon the Bible. And the last phase was publish in defending the Scriptures against all of those higher critical attacks upon the sacred Word. It was with regards to this last phase that he commented that he had come to the conviction that no man knows enough to attack the veracity of the Old Testament.

One humorous incident in his teaching career at Princeton was the time that a woman had enrolled in his class. One day, as was usually the case, he was disheveled in his attire when he came to class. Often the suspenders which held up his pants would be pinned by two safety pins. Teaching animatedly, the two pins became undone with the result that his pants slid to the floor. Embarrassed immensely, and sliding down to raise his pants again,  he could only cry out “Where is Mrs. Jennings? Where is she?,” fearing she was in class in the back row. When told that the lone woman in question had cut his class to study in the library, Dr. Wilson responded, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.”

Words to live by:  Why would an accomplished scholar like Dr. Robert Dick Wilson leave his life calling at Princeton Seminary in 1929 to go to a brand new theological institution where there was no guarantee of funds for either teaching or retirement?  The answer is that Dr. Wilson knew that a person cannot have God’s richest blessings, even in teaching the truth, when the opportunity to teach that truth is gained by corruption of principles.  And the reorganization of Princeton’s Board of Trustees with two members who had signed the Auburn Affirmation was just that, a corruption of principles.  May we take a similar stand for righteousness, regardless of the outcome to our lives.

For further study: The PCA Historical Center, which hosts This Day in Presbyterian History, houses among its many collections the Papers of Dr. Robert Dick Wilson. As one means of promoting that collection, the Historical Center has posted a number of articles about Dr. Wilson on its web site, and these can be found here.

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Lacking a sermon for our Sunday post, the following seemed an acceptable substitute, since the subject of revivals has been making the rounds among some of the blogs. This is from an issue of a venerable old newspaper, The Charleston Observer, which we are blessed and honored to be able to preserve at the Historical Center. And as we have said before, a longer post seems allowable on Sundays.

From the Boston Recorder.

REVIVALS.

The subject incidentally fell in our way; and we ventured week before last a remark or two, as we were then aware, not altogether coincident with the current of public opinion. But public opinion is not our acknowledged guide. What will the Lord have us believe, and say, and do, is the question.–That we mean to do; and that we beg all our readers to do.

Protracted and elaborate discussion is not our design. Our columns are out of the appropriate place for it, had we full confidence in our own ability to conduct it. A few desultory thoughts are all we promise. Connected or unconnected, popular or unpopular, true or untrue, they are the result of our own judgment, untrammeled by any of the course or fine spun theories of the day.

1. All pure religion among men, in its first inception, is the result of special divine operations alone.

2. God is guided in these operations, only by the counsels of his own infinite and benevolent mind.

3. The instrumentalities he employs; the seasons of his operations; and the individuals or communities he favors, are selected and ordained by Him, without taking counsel of any.

4. While TRUTH, in various aspects and measures is the grand means of his appointment for the conversion of men, he may, and sometimes does employ other subsidiary means in the same work.

5. Whatever truth he employs in this work is brought forth from the treasures of his WORD, and applied to the conscience through the ministry of men whom he has chosen, called and sanctified for the purpose.

6. Men who are thus called to “preach the word,” are bound, beyond men of any other calling, to be “instant in season and out of season” in the discharge of their duty; to expend all their strength judiciously in this service, “whether men will hear or forbear,” to do it, not once in a year, or once in five years, but at all times; and to do it, under a lively and ever growing sense of responsibility to God, and in simple reliance on the Holy Spirit.

7. Those who thus “preach the Word,” may not live long enough to see Israel gathered; but their labors shall not be in vain, and they will have glory in the eyes of the LORD, if not in the eyes of men. “Well done,” will fall gratefully on their ears, from the lips of their final Judge.

8. The most useful minister, is the man who labors diligently according to his strength, in his closet; in his study; in his pulpit; and at the fireside; looking to God as his only resource for wisdom and power; aiming at the conversion of individuals, rather than of the whole community in the gross; at solid conversions rather than showy ones; or, at permanent efforts, rather than those which are temporary.

9. When revivals attend the labors of such a man, they will be productive of rich and valuable accessions to the church.

10. Ministers, who study little, preach loosely, pray loudly, aim at immediate and dazzling effects; talk flippantly about revivals; think nothing of one or two conversions; in the spirit of John say, “Come see my zeal for the Lord,” and enumerate converts by hundreds and thousands, are much to be feared. Revivals under their ministry are unworthy of confidence. Such men there have also been in Zion; and the earthquake and the fire and the thunder have attended their movements, and the mountains have been rent in twain; but THE LORD WAS NOT THERE!

11. No heavier curse can fall upon a community, than a spurious revival. Stupidity is dreadful; but it is mercy compared with false excitement. Lukewarmness is deplorable; but it leaves room for repentance. Infidelity is horrible; but it may yield to conviction. Hypocrisy and self deception are worse than all. The fire of God’s wrath only can remove them. They are the offspring of spurious revivals and combine in their character all, and more than all that is fearful in stupidity, lukewarmness and infidelity together.

12. A genuine revival is noiseless, orderly, solemn and even awful. God is in the midst of it. And his presence carries death to levity, presumption, arrogance and proud display. It inspires an awe like that felt at the foot of Sinai. It creates a trembling throughout the whole camp. It is marked by deep and often long continued conviction of sin; overwhelming sorrow for the hardness of the heart; earnest pleadings with a holy and just God for light and direction; a disposition to retire from observation, and vent the souls anguish in the closet; love for the Bible; abhorrence of all lightness of speech and behavior; clear apprehension of the law of God, in its purity, spirituality, compass and ends; great fears of self deception; thorough searchings of the heart; many, many tears and heart-breakings, in view of past offenses; and many strong fears that the day of mercy may have gone by forever.–Where religious excitement is not attended by marks like those both among Christians and sinners, we have no confidence in it.–Some souls may be converted; but more are likely to be ruined, beyond all hope of recovery.

13. The spirit of a genuine revival repudiates all excesses of feeling, speech, and action. It abhors all irregularities; all eccentricities in the manner of the preacher; all wild incoherent ravings; all personalities of address; praying for individuals by name in public assemblies, irreverent familiarity with the name of God; and calling on individuals in promiscuous meetings, to tell what God hath done for their souls. It rejects whatever is theatrical in gesture, pompous or vulgar in expression, and offensive to a cool dispassionate judgment, in stories and anecdotes. It demands solemnity; deep, heartfelt, all pervading solemnity in the preacher, the church and the congregation.

14. Great good has sometimes resulted from protracted meetings. This has been uniformly true, when they have been attempted in the spirit of a genuine revival; a spirit of humility, faith, prayer, and confidence in God alone. They have sometimes resulted in great evils. This has been uniformly true, when they have been attempted in the spirit of pride and self-sufficiency; with a determination to “get up a revival” at all events. Then, God has righteously blown upon them.

15. If there be a revival in progress, a protracted meeting is not often needed to sustain it; the ordinary means of grace are sufficient; and the introduction of other and singular means is adapted to deliver the public mind from the TRUTH, and engross it with what is foreign to the “great concern.” If there be no revival, and a protracted meeting is resorted to to produce one, it will either be followed, ordinarily, by no marked effect, or by a spurious excitement, which will prove fatally destructive to multitudes.

16. It is deserving of serious consideration that excitements which are preceded or accompanied by protracted meetings are usually of very short continuance. They are rather like the wind from the wilderness, that cometh suddenly, and uproots or breaks down every thing in its track, than like the north wind that awakes, and the South wind that blows upon the garden of the Lord, till the spices thereof flow forth in sweet perfume. It is a matter of alarming notoriety, that modern revivals, to a great extent, unlike those which blessed our land forty and eighty years ago, are got up and put down in a month; we hear of them to day as all glorious and wonderful; we inquire after them tomorrow; and lo! they are not!–Are they the work of the wise Master builder?

17. We are sick of every day’s report of “revivals” resulting from protracted meetings, (and we hear of few others) without any notice of the doctrines preached; of the nature of conviction that preceded the indulgence of hope; or the peculiar exercise of the converts; and without any other detail of “fruits,” than, so many have been added to the church, and, so many will be added at a subsequent communion. We refer not here to any particular case, but to a general fact in the report of modern revivals.

18. It is a fact, not to be disguised, that there is a vast difference between the revivals which blessed the Church in the days of Edwards, Strong, Griffin and Payson, and the revivals of the past ten or fifteen years. They are not to be named together. There are individual exceptions, no doubt. But we speak of them as classes. And in the first class, the whole truth of God was declared plainly, pungently, argumentatively, and without compromise. The whole reliance of Ministers and Churches was on the Holy Spirit. They stood still, and saw the salvation of the Lord. When the pillar of fire moved before them, they moved. When it passed behind them they passed in holy awe. And long did those revivals continue; deep and all penetrating was their influence; lasting as time and eternity were their visible and happy effects. In the second class, the truth of God is half wrapt up; doctrines offensive to the carnal heart may not be preached, lest the revival stop; total depravity; the sinner’s utter helplessness; eternal election; God’s absolute sovereignty; the resistless agency of the Holy Spirit, must all yield to the doctrine of the sinner’s ability; this is the grand fulcrum on which rests the whole moral machinery, by which he is to be renewed, and sanctified and transferred to heaven! And then, in order to complete success, protracted meetings of various kinds, extending from four to forty days must be maintained, and the most popular, not the most spiritual preachers in all the country must be called in, to give repeated and powerful impulses to the work. And when these means are exhausted, and the excitement once begins to flag, the Minister loses his order, the Church remits her prayer meetings; and the mass of community move on as if nothing had happened.

In such revivals we have little confidence. “Except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”

With all our hearts we love the revival that is pure and un-defiled. Give us such as are described in “Edwards’ Narrative;” in the first volumes of the “Connecticut Evangelical Magazine,” and such as have been witnessed in many of our Churches in earlier days, and we will call on all that is within us and on all around us, to bless the name of the Lord.

We believe that the Spirit of God is now in many of our Churches, and that he is ready to do a great work for the “American Zion”; nay, that he will do it, unless prevented by the spirit that is “wise above what is written.” But if the great doctrines of the Gospel are to be held back, or adulterated with impure mixtures; if we are to be taught reliance on protracted meetings, anxious seats, note for prayers, public female cooperation, &c., &c.; though there may be great excitement, there will be no such revival as carries joy through all the courts of God above. The Church will weep and clothe herself in sackcloth; and angels will turn away from the distressing scene, to regain composure from the unruffled face of man’s dishonored Saviour.

[excerpted from The Charleston Observer, Vol. XII, No. 15 (14 April 1838): 58, columns 2-4.]

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