Holy Scriptures

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WTJ1938v1The PCA Historical Center was recently blessed with accession of the first four issues of THE WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL (1938-1940). As you might imagine, these issues are rather scarce, and we’re pleased to be able to add them to our research library. Still missing from our collection are Volumes 3 through 17 (1940-1954), but Lord willing, in time we hope to find these as well. 

That accession prompts our post today, and lacking a specific date in this instance, let’s just say that it was probably in that first week of the month, maybe around November 6, in 1938, when pastors, elders and interested laymen would have gone to their mailboxes and found waiting for them the first issue of THE WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL. That first issue—Volume 1, number 1—bears the date of November 1938. Seventy-seven years later, the JOURNAL continues in its mission. That mission was clearly stated on the opening pages of that first issue, and as both the Seminary and its JOURNAL have played an important part in the conservative Presbyterian movement of the 20th and 21st centuries, it seems relevant to present our readers with the commitments, hopes and intentions laid out by the editors at that time :

TO OUR READERS

If we are not mistaken (and editors, like others, sometimes make mistakes), more periodicals are dying than are being born at the present time. The Westminster Theological Journal in sending out its first issue is, therefore, going against the current of the times. It is doing that in a more important sense, however, than merely by the fact of publication. The Journal is founded upon the conviction that the Holy Scriptures are the word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and of practice, and that the system of belief commonly designated the Reformed Faith is the purest and most consistent formulation and expression of the system of truth set forth in the Holy Scriptures.

This position is the position of the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, and the Journal is edited by two members of that Faculty on behalf of the entire body.

We stand today in the Christian Church as debtors to nineteen centuries of Christian history, thought, and experience. It would not only be futile but wrong to try to dissociate ourselves from the great stream of Christian tradition. Other men laboured and we have entered into their labours. It is only by thorough acquaintance with and appreciation of the labours of God’s servants in the centuries that have passed that we can intelligently and adequately present the Christian Faith in the present.

But while we cling tenaciously to the heritage that comes to us from the past we must ever remember that it is our responsibility to present the Christian Faith in the context of the present. The position we maintain, therefore, necessarily involves the bringing of every form of thought that may reasonably come within the purview of a theological acuity to the touchstone of Holy Scripture and the defining of its relations to our Christian Faith.

The need for a scholarly theological journal in this country to uphold historic Christianity is very great. Certain periodicals that at one time supplied this need have ceased to exist. Into the breach The Westminster Theological Journal aims to enter.

The policy of the Journal will be:
1. To maintain the highest standard of scholarship;
2. To publish contributions which will promote the study of theology and the interests of the Reformed Faith;
3. To publish reviews of current literature of importance to the Christian Church and to theological study.

The Faculty is undertaking this task with humility and confidence. They do so with humility because they are aware of the responsibility and of their own insufficiency. Yet they do it with confidence because they believe they are on the side of the truth, and in reliance upon divine grace and power. The battle is the Lord’s, and as His is the wisdom and strength so to Him shall be all the glory.

THE EDITORS

[Note: Professors Paul Woolley and John Murray served as editors of the JOURNAL from 1938 until May 1953, at which time Murray resigned. Woolley continued, first as editor and later as managing editor, until May 1967.]

Pictured below: The inside of the front cover, showing the contents of Volume 1, number 1 (November 1938). The Stonehouse article was a print version of his inaugural lecture, upon installation as Professor of New Testament. —

WTJ1938_inside

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While still searching for some suitable material for our Saturday tutorials, we offer the following lecture, originally delivered on this day, October 24, in 1949, by the Rev. Dr. Allan A. MacRae, who was then serving as the president of Faith Theological Seminary in Wilmington, Delaware. Dr. MacRae held that post until 1971 when he became president of Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, PA. The text is was offered as part of a short-lived series intended for laymen, with Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. presenting the second lecture. We have thus far never seen any other lectures from this series and conclude that something must have preempted the planned series. MacRae’s lecture is a bit long for one of our posts, but since its Saturday, hopefully you can pour a second cup of coffee and enjoy the lecture.

LECTURES ON THE

WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH FOR LAYMEN

FIRST IN SERIES : THE HOLY SCRIPTURES

by

ALLAN A. MacRae, Ph.D.
President, Faith Theological Seminary
Wilmington, Delaware.

COPYRIGHT, 1950, by
THE EVANGELICAL PRESBYTERIAN TRAINING ASSOCIATION

A lecture given before the Bible Presbyterian Elders’ Association on October 24, 1949.

 

As we look at the table of contents of the Confession of Faith; we note that it contains more than thirty chapters. It is interesting to see which chapter comes first.

Does the Confession start with a discussion of human needs? There is much in it about human need and its satisfaction, but that is not where the Confession begins.

Does the Confession begin with a statement about God and His attributes? Does it lay a foundation for belief in a certain type of God and then deduce everything else from that as a starting point? No; it does not start with God.

The Confession does not start with human need; it does not start with the presupposition of a certain theory or viewpoint about God; it starts with the Holy Scriptures. This was no accident, it was, instead, a clear expression of the viewpoint of the men who wrote the Confession of Faith of our church. They believed that there is one way) and only one way, in which we can learn what is vital about God and what is vital about the satisfaction of human need. They believed that God has given us a book which provides the knowledge that He desires us to have about sacred things, about Himself; and about the satisfaction of our needs, If we are going to find satisfactory answers to any of these questions, the place to start is with the Book which God has given us; this is the foundation viewpoint of the Westminster Confession,

There are men who think that a person can think and ponder and meditate, and can find within himself the answers to all the problems of the universe. That is not the view of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Still others make a beginning, not, like the Westminster Confession, with the Bible, but rather with a particular idea of God, and maintain that from a correct idea of God all else will necessarily follow This is very different from the approach of the Westminster Confession. There is, of course, a logical coherence in the universe.  After we learn correct views about God from the Bible we can see how these views fit together with other Biblical teachings and with the observed facts of life. But it is questionable how much coherence can safely be worked out by the human minds without first gaining the facts from divine revelation. Sin has darkened the human intellect and it is dangerous to build our views on human reason. We must not think we can safely start with a particular idea of God. We must start where the Westminster Confession starts; with the Bible and then get our ideas about God directly from that source.

The view of the Westminster Confession is:  we have just one source of truth in religious matters, and that is the Bible In other words, all knowledge of religious truth must come through revelation. This view has been characteristic of the Presbyterian Churches right from their foundations.

WHAT IS REVELATION?

What do we mean by revelation? Is it some sort of old fashioned out-of-date idea? Is revelation a medieval concept which science has now displaced?

Such questions illustrate the present wide-spread ignorance of what revelation really is, It is not some bizarre or fantastic notion but one of the commonest facts of daily lifeRevelation is merely communication from one personality to another. Divine revelation differs from ordinary revelation in that it comes from God rather than from another human being.

So far from being displaced by science; revelation is absolutely necessary to the progress of science. Science consists in gathering data, classifying them, building hypotheses, and then checking these hypotheses by further data. No man has ever been able to gather enough data in any field to build up a science all by himself. Each scientist must use many facts which others have observed. Knowledge of these facts reaches
him through revelation from other personalities.

Every worker in science is constantly studying the results of the work of others. Data inaccessible to him are made available through communications from others Thus revelation is one of the most vital factors in the increase of scientific knowledge. Without it no one man would have access to a large enough body of data to make a great advance in any science.

Personally I believe that our great progress in material things in modern days is largely the result of application of the scientific method. And I believe that progress in religious understanding must also be based on the scientific method. The method is exactly the same, whether you are dealing with religion or with science. There is only one vital difference, That difference relates to the accessibility of the data. In every science much of the data is inaccessible to an individual student, and must be learned through revelation. In religion all the vital data must be learned in this way. No man has direct access to the data from which he can learn about eternal things. What sort of a being is God, and what are His plans and purposes? Answers to such questions as these can be found in only one way. You must use exactly the same method as in any field of earthly knowledge that is not accessible to you. You must find someone who possesses this knowledge and get a communication from him—in other words, a revelation. Only in this way can you secure dependable knowledge about these matters. This was the belief of the framers of the Westminster Confession; and it was the belief of the founders of the Reformed churches throughout the world. To get knowledge of religion we must secure data from One who knows facts inaccessible to us. Then we study these facts and build up our conclusions on a basis of careful analysis of the data.

We cannot get the facts out of our imagination, nor can we simply infer them by a logical process from a few ideas and presuppositions. We must learn the facts from One who knows- This is why the Confession of Faith begins with the chapter on the Holy Scriptures.

Thus a correct attitude toward the Bible is the very foundation of our knowledge of religious matters. Please do not misunderstand me. I said that a correct attitude toward the Bible is the very foundation of all dependable knowledge in the sphere of religion. I did not say that a belief in the verbal inspiration of the Bible is the beginning of the Christian life. Your Christian life is founded on your relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. Your salvation depends on a personal relationship to Him. Faith in Christ, and nothing else, is the basis of personal salvation.

You can be saved and know very little of the Bible, but without knowledge of the Bible you will not be an effective Christian worker. You will not be a Christian who is growing in grace. You will not be one who is going forward in the Christian life as God wants you to go forward if you lack a clear understanding of the place that the Bible should have in the Christian life. It is the foundation of Christian knowledge and true knowledge is vital to progress in any one of these phases of Christian life.

Therefore it is from a viewpoint, not of the beginning of the Christian life, but of that Christian knowledge which is so vital to progress in the Christian life, that the Westminster Confession begins with this chapter on the Holy Scriptures, and puts right at the start the fact that it is necessary to have revelation (communication) from someone who knows the facts and data in this field. You have to get God’s revelation.

You don’t have to know a great many facts about God to start getting religious knowledge. You don’t have to know a great deal about what kind of a God He is; all you have to know is that He is, that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him (Heb, 11:6), and that He has given you a way to seek Him. He has given His revelation in which you may study what He has revealed about Himself. The way to learn about Him is to go to the revelation He has given. Naturally then, the Confession of Faith places the chapter on the Holy Scriptures at the very beginning,

GENERAL REVELATION

There has been much discussion by theologians of this question: Is there such a thing as general revelation? Some people say we cannot know anything about God except what we learn from the Bible. Others would say that we can know nothing about God except what He has directly revealed to some individual. They assert that we cannot learn about God from nature that we cannot start with the facts of nature and reach the knowledge that God exists. When men make statements like this they are sharply contradicting the Westminster Confession of Faith,

The Confession begins with the statement of a fact. It introduces this fact with the word “although”, thus indicating that its importance should not be exaggerated, but nevertheless recognizing it as a fact.

Let us read the first words of the Confession; “Although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God as to leave men inexcusable.” This opening statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith asserts that God has revealed His goodness, His wisdom, and His power through the light of nature and the works of creation and providence.

Many editions of the Confession have a footnote here, giving references to such passages as Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:19-20. These verses make it clear that the Confession is standing squarely on the teaching of the Bible, when it says that God is revealed in nature The Confession declares that “the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God as to leave men inexcusable.” It thus asserts that a man can know from nature that there is a God—that there is a good God; that there is a wise God; that there is a powerful God.

Here we see the reason why the Confession does not begin with God, Its writers believed that the basic facts about God were visible to all men; and that knowledge of additional facts about Him required special revelation, Therefore the Confession made the Bible the subject of its first chapter, as the only source from which knowledge about God can be obtained; beyond what is readily gleaned from general  revelation,

THE  EXISTENCE OF GOD

There are many today who profess to doubt the existence of God, According to the Westminster Confession such doubts are without excuse. It is possible to see in nature sufficient evidence of the existence of God to compel the honest seeker to admit this vital fact. If he leaves it out of his thinking; he is building on a foundation which omits data that are readily accessible to him. Such an attitude is not worthy of any true scientist. The whole universe speaks of God: the whole creation declares the goodness; wisdom; and power of God. The Christian has important common ground with every human being in this world. We don’t have to start by saying, “You are over there and we are over here, and there is an impassable gulf between us.” That is not true as far as knowledge is concerned. As far as knowledge is concerned the Christian and the unbeliever have vital common ground.

You remember the story of the Arab and the scientist in the desert. The scientist was making fun of the Arab for his simple faith in God. The scientist said: “How do you know there is a God? You’ve never seen Him; you’ve never touched Him; you’ve never talked with Him.” Night came and the two men retired to their beds. The next morning when they looked out from the tent they noticed footprints which had not been there the night before. The scientist said; “Someone must have passed by in the night.” The Arab replied: “Did you see anybody?” “No.” “Did you hear anybody?” “No. I slept right through “ “Well, what makes you think that there was anybody here in the night?” The scientist answered: “Look at the footprints,” Just then the sun came up coloring all the sky with lavender and purple. The Arab pointed to it and said, “Behold, the footprints of God!” The footprints of God are plainly visible in nature, if we but look for them. The Psalmist was right when he said:  “The heavens declare the glory of God,”  (Ps. 19:1)

Suppose that two men came to a great railroad station, and saw trains coming in and going out, and all according to schedule. They observed the signs put up for a train, the people filling it, the train pulling out, and another soon coming in on the same track. Suppose one of them were to declare to the other that all this was pure accident! If he were serious people would soon begin to question his sanity, Anyone with any sense at all knows that someone must have established such an organization, and that someone must still be directing it

A man walking through a mountain area observes three or four stones piled neatly one upon the other, in the form of a little tower. Twenty or thirty feet away he sees another similar pile of stones. A short distance beyond this second pile he finds a third, and so on; indicating a wavy line that extends for miles and guides him to his destination. Anyone who ever walked in the mountains is familiar with this type of trail markers. If you should tell him that their presence was purely accidental, he would surely laugh at you. He has no doubt that a human being has put these stones in this arrangement as a means of conveying directions. They show the activity of human beings. A mind has been at work.

It is the viewpoint of the Westminster Confession that anyone with intelligence enough to make reasonable decisions on the practical matters involved in ordinary living is intelligent enough to see that this earth is not a mere heap of dirt, but a set-up—an organism. It could not have come into existence by accident. There is an intelligence back of it, controlling it. There is a God who created it and who continues to direct its destiny. In this knowledge of God we have common ground with every human being on this earth. According to the Westminster Confession the fact that there is a God who is good, wise, and powerful is clearly seen in nature and in providence. When someone tells you that he does not believe there is a God, you can know that he is only kidding himself. If he has intelligence at all he knows deep down in his heart that there must be a God.

This does not, of course, mean that a man is lying when he says he is an atheist. It is possible to kid oneself to the point where one actually believes with his mind what he knows in his heart to be false.

A young woman told me of an interesting observation along this line. For a time she worked as a secretary in one of the offices of the DuPont Company. As the work involved the use of many chemical terms, she told the man for whom she was working that she would like to learn a little about these things. He suggested a certain book, which she found to be fascinating reading. It told about the various chemical elements, described their wonderful mathematical arrangement, and told how each was discovered. Chapter after chapter ended with words of praise for the wonderful brain of the particular scientist who had discovered a certain element. Yet there was no mention of the far greater Mind which originated these elements. She could not but be amazed! How stupid to be so entranced with the brilliance of a mind that could discover one of the wonders of nature, and yet to say nothing of the far greater Mind which originated all of them!

Personally I am convinced that people are not really quite as stupid as they pretend to be. Down underneath they know that God is revealing Himself in nature, and they know that they are inexcusable; they turn their face another way and pretend that they don’t see it. Actually they are merely kidding themselves.

All of us kid ourselves at times in one way or another. We know what we ought to do but we just look the other way and try to forget it. We know at point after point what the Lord requires of us, or what a situation requires of us. We know what we ought to do but we look the other way and go straight on and hope that people will think that we are just stupid enough not to see what we should do. At length we cease to think about the matter at all.

SPECIAL REVELATION

The statement about general revelation with which the Confession begins is introduced by the word “although”. The fact that all men can see proof of God in nature is taken as a starting point, but it is stressed that this is not sufficient for salvation. Much more must be known. And it can be learned only through a special   revelation from God Himself. The Westminster Confession of Faith begins with the claim that we have such a revelation in the Bible. The Scripture is the foundation of our knowledge in the field of religion.

Enemies of Christianity often speak of us as Bible-worshippers. The term is utterly wrong: nobody actually worships the Bible. But it is almost impossible to overstate the importance of the Bible in religion, for it is our one and only means of learning religious things beyond the bare fundamentals which are displayed in nature. It is our means of access to the vital facts. It is the foundation of our knowledge. Without it we are blind in this field, because we have no access to its data.

Recently I played a mean trick on my little boy. Though he is less than a year old he has learned how to turn on the radio and make it start playing. Time after time he would hit it just right, but one day I played a mean trick on him, I pulled out the cord. He did this and that, twisting first one dial and then another. That is exactly the religious situation in the world today. People are twisting this dial and that, but they have lost the connection. If you dont have the connection you will get nowhere: and the connection is the Word of God, We have to have God’s Word if we are to learn facts in the religious field. As the Confession says, general revelation is not “sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of His will,   which is necessary unto salvation”.

So the section goes on, and says that “therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary: those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased”.

In the section which we have just read we notice that two aspects of the giving of the Bible are described. First; it is stated that God revealed His truth in various ways in the past, and second, that He chose “to commit the same wholly unto writing.”

It is rather important to distinguish these two aspects. We call them revelation and inspiration. Revelation is communication from one personality to another. Inspiration is not, like revelation, a common occurrence in daily life. Just as divine revelation, in the sense of direct special revelation from God to an individual has now ceased, so has inspiration ceased in the sense in which it is applied to Scripture.

Inspiration is a special act of the Holy Spirit whereby He guided the writers of the books which were to be a part of His holy Scripture, so that their words should convey the thoughts He wished conveyed and should be free from errors of fact, of doctrine or of judgment.

Thus parts of the Bible came as a direct revelation from God to the writer. All of it, however, is inspired, and kept from error. All of it; as a result of inspiration, becomes a revelation from God to us.

Let us never get these two aspects confused, because they are entirely different. Revelation is God giving truth, but inspiration is God guarding the writers from error in what they wrote.

Some people say that they believe in inspiration but not in verbal inspiration, you might just as well say that you believe in food but not in meat, vegetables, fruit or grain–it would make just as much sense. Inspiration does not mean getting an idea. Inspiration, in the theological sense, means writing thoughts down in words which are free from error. If you don’t have verbal inspiration you don’t have inspiration at all—it is the only inspiration there is. Revelation deals with ideas, but inspiration deals with words. When one says that he believes in inspiration but not in verbal inspiration, he is like the man who said to me—“I believe in the resurrection of Christ. That is just the great principle of the permanence of personality.” He should rather have said that he didn’t believe in the resurrection of Christ at all! When

Christians have expressed belief in the resurrection of Christ they have meant an actual resurrection. We should use words in their historic sense, and not try to twist them into something else, Historically the theological term inspiration has referred to words. If we believe in inspiration we believe in verbal inspiration. If we do not believe in inspiration we ought to say so.

Of course sometimes people mistakenly think that verbal inspiration means that God has dictated the Bible to the various writers. Such an idea is not involved in the phrase at all. Men wrote what God had revealed to them, or what they had observed. Inspiration means that they were kept from error in their choice of words to express the ideas they wished to convey.

“TO COMMIT THE SAME WHOLLY UNTO WRITING.”

The Confession says that God led the writers “to commit the same wholly unto writing”. The word “wholly” requires examination. It does not mean that everything God ever revealed to the prophets was necessarily written in the Scripture, God led them to write such things as He desired to have preserved for the guidance of His people in future ages. It does mean that everything which God wished preserved as His revelation for His people was included in the Scripture. All the facts which God has revealed about that area of knowledge which is otherwise inaccessible to us are included in the Bible

The Roman Catholic church claims to possess tradition passed on by word of mouth, just as vital as the revelation contained in the Bible itself. This claim the Westminster Confession denies, by using this word, “wholly”. It leaves no room for tradition, According to the Westminster Confession, nothing that has come down by word of mouth has any standing in the Christian Church.

SECTIONS TWO AND THREE — WHAT BOOKS ARE INSPIRED?

Thus the first section of this first chapter of the Confession of Faith explains the vital principles and declares the importance of divine revelation and inspiration.

The second section of the chapter names the books which are included in the Bible, We need not read the names now, but it is very important that we know what they are. Everyone of the sixty-six books of our Protestant Bible is declared to be equally inspired

It has been the view of the Christian church since its foundation that God’s revelation is definitely limited in extent, These particular books reveal God’s will for us. These are the books from which we get our knowledge of religious truth and we do not get it in any infallible way from any other books. No other books are inspired of God, in the historic theological sense of the word. From these sixty-six books, and only from these sixty-six books; can we secure the data on which religious ideas can safely be based.

We should note that the Confession lists all sixty-six books as equally inspired and authoritative. It does not select certain books as more important than others. If one is to speak conclusively regarding any aspect of God’s rule of faith and life., the Confession requires him to be familiar with every one of the books of the Bible,- for it declares that all of them are “given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life,”

THE APOCRYPHA

The third section of the chapter deals with those books which only the Roman Catholic church takes as authoritative. It is a brief statement but an important one. It says: “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.”

It is noteworthy that the Confession does not say that the books commonly called the Apocrypha are bad books, I think this is important to keep in mind, because it is so easy when you are opposing error to say: “That is what they believe, therefore the opposite must be true”—it is very easy to say that. Some people even think they can find truth that way. I have heard it said that if you want to know about God, there are two ways to find out about Him. One is to name all the good qualities you can think of, and multiply each one thousands of times and this will give an idea of the good qualities of God The other is to name all the bad qualities you can think of, and then think of these as entirely absent from God. Well, you can’t decide what God is like by working anything out of your head like that.   If you want to find out what God is like, study the Bible. You can’t work out a theory or a presupposition or an idea that will tell you what God is like—the Word of God gives the data, and it is our only source for knowledge in this field

It is easy to think that we can learn what is right by simply taking the opposite of that which is wrong, but it does not work out that way. There is not a cult or a movement, that does not contain some truth Its principal teachings may be wicked and wrong, but if everything it teaches were false it would immediately fall of its own weight. Very often the reason cults and false movements thrive is because they have gained hold on some great Scriptural truth which Christians are neglecting. Often it is so mixed with error as to be useless, but some truth is there. In our opposition to falsehood we must not go to an extreme, and oppose elements of the truth.

This chapter nowhere says that the Apocrypha are bad books; it says that they are not inspired books: They are not to be used in any way different from other human books. There is much that is good in them, but they are not authoritative. In opposing Roman Catholic error the Confession does not go to the other extreme: it seeks instead to find exactly what the truth is.

SECTIONS FOUR AND FIVE

The fourth section of the Confession says; “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God, (who is truth itself,) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God.”

You would almost think this had been written quite recently, wouldn’t you? How timely it is! You would think the framers of the Confession had picked up our newspapers and seen big advertisements stating that the Bible is the Creation of the Church—alleging that for three hundred years there was no Bible, but that the church had brought the Bible into existence How flatly the Confession denies such unhistorical claims! The Bible’s authority does not come from any church, nor does it rest on the word of any man It derives its authority wholly from God.

This is a very important section.  It is dealing with one of the most central problems of our religion.

The fifth section continues the theme of the fourth. It is a wonderfully balanced section Three-fourths of it is devoted to assuring us that reasonable arguments are valid as evidence of the fact that the Bible is God’s Word. The last fourth of the section assures us that complete certainty does not come from reason alone; but “from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts”.

The fourth section declared that our acceptance of the Bible as God’s Word does not depend upon the authority of any man or church. This fifth section declares that the testimony of the church may induce us to a high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. The church does have its place. The Bible as we have it did not just drop from heaven—there has been a church on the earth all through the ages. That church has passed on the Bible from generation to generation. God has used the efforts of Christian people as a means of calling attention to the truth of His Word. The testimony of the church through the ages has a real importance in the evidence of the Bible but the authority of the Bible does not rest upon any man but upon its Author, who is God Himself,

This section declares the validity and importance of various arguments and evidences of the truth of the Bible. It says that by these facts “it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God.” Despite these statements of the Confession there are people who try to tell us that we have no common ground for discussion with the unbeliever. They say in effect: “Don’t try to bring various arguments before the unbeliever to show him that the Bible is true. You have no common ground with him. All you can do is to tell him that he is over there and we are over here and he must give up all the bases of his viewpoint and adopt those of ours.” Such an attitude is utterly contrary to that of the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Confession clearly teaches that there are many facts by which the Bible “doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God.”

We do not need to take a presupposition or adopt a particular basis of thought before we can examine the evidence that the Bible is God’s Word. This section of the Westminster Confession lists various types of evidence and then says that the facts which it has stated “are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God”.

Yet arguments alone do not win men to Christ. People come face to face with the clear evidence and then turn and go the other way. This is because the truth contained in the Bible is so contrary to all the impulses of the sinful fallen human heart. It requires the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit to induce sinful man to accept the conclusions to which the evidence clearly leads. In spite of the validity of these arguments, as declared by the Confession, the Confession goes on to say that full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority of the Scripture “is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts”.

Since the time is going rapidly we shall not be able to examine all the remaining sections of the chapter in detail. We must, however, briefly note their principal features.

SECTIONS SIX TO EIGHT

The sixth section has three main thoughts. First, it stresses the completeness and sufficiency of the Bible for revelation of those religious truths which God desires us to know. Second, it states that “the inward illumination of the Spirit of God is necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word”. Third, it points out that it is not to be expected that precise instructions for all acts of religion will be contained in the Bible. God expects His people to use the brains He has given them in working out satisfactory means of accomplishing desired ends, always keeping, of course, within the area of action circumscribed by “the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed”.

The seventh section opposes the idea that simple people must abstain from seeking to interpret the Word of God themselves, or that they must uncritically accept any view that learned men or church leaders claim to derive from it. Words of Scripture are clear enough that a simple Christian can judge as to the correctness of interpretations which may be presented. The necessary truths of salvation are so clearly stated “that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them”

I like the eighth section very much. It declares that the Bible in the original languages is the final authority in all controversies of religion. But it balances this by a declaration that people who do not know the original languages are also commanded to read and search the Scriptures, and that therefore the Scriptures “are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come”.

It is to be feared that this declaration of the Westminster Confession is not sufficiently followed today. We have a wonderful translation of the Bible into the English language as it was spoken more than three hundred years ago. No one speaks it that way today. The King James version is not in “the vulgar language” of our nation; it is in a dialect which is rapidly becoming unintelligible to our people. Word after word phrase after phrase expression after expression in it is meaningless to the unlearned people of our day. The Confession declares that it is the duty of the learned to study the Bible in the original, which is the only final court of appeal in all controversies. The unlearned are to search through it in a good translation in their common speech. It would be absurd to call the King James version a translation into the common speech of America today

It is the glory of the King James version that it is the climax of a century of constant effort by many men to discover the best way to translate the Bible into the language of their day. Unless we make similar efforts to attain a thoroughly satisfactory translation into the language of our day, we are failing in one of the great obligations stressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

THE GREAT INTERPRETER OF THE BIBLE

The ninth section names the great interpreter of the Scripture. This is not a pope, nor a professor. It is not Luther or Calvin or Wesley. It is not even the Westminster Confession of Faith. Nor is it our idea of what is coherent, or what may seem to us logically to belong to a proper system. It is the Scripture itself.

The Westminster Confession is one of the great Calvinistic creeds. Naturally it follows the view of Calvin himself, who put the Bible high above all creeds. Truth is coherent with itself, and all truths together form a system of truth. But Calvin insisted that each element must be gained directly from the Scripture. The human mind is too prone to error to permit it to build its system apart from dependence on the Bible at every point.

According to the Westminster Confession the sole infallible rule of interpretation of a passage of Scripture is other passages of Scripture. Plainly it upholds the scientific method of approach to the data of the Word. We must gather all the data on a given subject. If we leave out any passage that, deals with the particular subject, we are in danger of making a false interpretation. We must interpret difficult passages in the light of plain ones. We must go from the simple to the complex. We must use exactly the same method of gaining truth in religion as we would in any other field of science. The Scripture itself is the only infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture

It is worthy of note, also that all Scripture is included in this authority Our knowledge must not come from human speculation or logic, but from God’s Word We must be constantly alert to gain new insights into every part of the Bible, All of it is important No one book or section is singled out Sometimes I hear a book of the Bible cast aside with the statement: “Oh that is a symbolic book. We must base our doctrine upon the didactic portions of the New Testament. Such an attitude is in direct opposition to the views of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which insists that all Scripture is authoritative.

Every book of the Bible contains plain passages and every book contains passages that are less plain. We must gather the simple passages from all parts of the Bible, study them, and build our views upon what they seem to teach. Then we must check these interpretations by other passages; constantly increasing our knowledge of Scripture, and standing ready at all times to alter our formulations as better understanding gives us more light on the full meaning of Scripture “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself.”

The tenth section sums up the authority of Scripture in the strongest possible terms. It puts it above all gatherings of Christians, all human creeds all opinions of ancient writers. It declares that the Supreme Judge in all matters of religion “can be none other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture”.

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Exchanging a Cross for a Crown

Do you realize that, to the surprise of countless Christians, Presbyterianism has produced some of the most noteworthy evangelists in history, especially in the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds?   We say “surprise to countless Christians” because it is wrongly thought that our understanding of Calvinism would prohibit us from being evangelists.  But it is rather a case of because we are convinced of Calvinist truth in the Holy Scriptures, that we are zealous of winning souls to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The inspired writer Luke sums up our confidence, when in Acts 13:48, he described the gospel’s effect being preached by Paul “as  many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (ESV)

One of the greatest Presbyterian evangelists of that time period was William Edward Biederwolf.  Born in 1867, he was the seventh child of two German Presbyterians, Michael and Abolana Biederwolf of Monticello, Indiana.  After schooling in the area, he taught school for a while.  Attending Wabash College in Indiana, a Sunday School class began to pray for his conversion.  In fact, each of them wrote a letter, urging him to receive Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.  At age 20, he did just that, becoming a Christian.

He then went to Princeton University, and Princeton Seminary, graduating in 1895.  Marrying a hometown gal the next year, he studied overseas in Germany at the University of Berlin and the Sorbonne.  Well educated for his life’s calling then, he returned to the United States where he was called to the pulpit of Broadway Presbyterian Church in Loganport, Indiana in 1897.  It was a short ministry as the war clouds of the Spanish-American War loomed on the horizon. He enlisted as a chaplain of the 131st Second Voluntary Regiment  of the 13th Calvary, serving six months in Cuba.  He would write  on his experience and the regiment he served afterwards,  as a spiritual servant of Christ.

Beginning the new year and millennium of 1900, he entered evangelism as a full-time preacher of the gospel.  For the next 39 years before he passed away on September 3, 1939, he made three world tours of evangelism.  And yet the most dramatic evangelistic ministry he engaged in was in a town in Pennsylvania, called Oil City.  In the winter of 1914 on the eve of World War I, he had thousands attending in the bitter cold of north-west Pennsylvania, with the result that the whole town from the mayor down to the ordinary citizen, was stirred in  deep concern about the things of God and their place in it.

His closing years was spent associated with the Winona Lake Bible Conference and School of Theology.  After a long illness, he spoke the title of this devotional about his exchange of a cross of a crown to his wife, and died the next day.

Words to live by:  Christian reader, you can go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit, sharing by life and lips, to your unsaved loved ones, neighbors, school friends, fellow workers at your jobs, and even strangers whom you meet in divine appointments, the unsearchable riches of Christ and Him crucified, knowing that those who are ordained to eternal life, will believe the gospel and be saved.  Claim this text of Acts 13:48 as your confidence, and go, be witnesses of Christ.

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If you find this a bit long for your available time today, I would at least urge you to read the first four paragraphs. Forty-eight years earlier, A.A. Hodge’s father, Charles Hodge had delivered his inaugural address [see yesterday’s post, with a link to the full address by Dr. Charles Hodge]. What an interesting study it would be, to compare the two addresses.

The Inaugural Address of Archibald Alexander Hodge,
HodgeAAupon his installation as Associate Professor of Dogmatic and Polemic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary,
November 8, 1877.

FATHERS AND BRETHREN OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS:

In obedience to your call, I am here to assume the solemn trust involved in teaching Christian theology in this Seminary. Doubtless the design of associating an inaugural address with the induction of a new professor into such a charge is to afford him an opportunity of satisfying you, as the responsible guardians of the institution, with respect to his theological convictions and method.

I therefore affirm my belief that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in their integrity are the Word of God, as a whole and in every part infallible and binding the conscience, and the only divinely authentic informant and rule of faith in matters of religion. Christian theology is wholly in the Scriptures, and is to be drawn from them only by legitimate interpretation. This is true of systematic as absolutely as of exegetical or of Biblical theology. The system lies in the relations of the facts, and their relations are deteremined by their nature, as that is disclosed by the words of the Holy Ghost. The systematic theologian as well as the exegete is only an interpreter; the one interprets the words and develops the revealed truths; the other interprets these separate lessons in their mutual light and reciprocal relations, and develops the revealed system.

More definitely I affirm, not as a professional propriety, but as a personal conviction, that the Confession and Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly contain the system taught in the Holy Scriptures. Or rather, in the more absolute terms of subscription imposed upon intrants by the Scottish Presbyterian Churches, “I do sincerely own and believe the WHOLE DOCTRINE contained in the Confession of Faith, approved by former General Assemblies of this Church, to be founded upon the Word of God, and do acknowledge the same as the confession of my personal faith, and will firmly and constantly adhere thereunto, and to the utmost of my power will assert, maintain, and defend the same.” This is affirmed, not only because I believe this “whole doctrine” to be true, but because I also believe this “system of doctrine” to be the most complete and adequate presentation as yet attained by the Church of that truth revealed in the Holy Scriptures, which the Holy Ghost has declared to be “the power of God unto salvation.” For therein Christ and His work is exhibited in their relation to human needs, experiences, duties, and destinies, and it is, therefore, the efficient instrument of forming character, of ruling action, and of effecting salvation.

It is precisely this last position which in the present day is so earnestly and in such various quarters denied. Besides the numerous classes of professed unbelievers, who positively reject Christianity, or the integrity and authority of its records, or at least some of its essential doctrines, there are many more, because of their position of professed friendliness, doing incalculably more harm, who, expressing no opinion as to the objective truthfulness of the church system of doctrines, maintain that it is at any rate unessential because impractical and unprofitable. Hence, they insist that the careful elaboration, and the prominent and ceaseless emphasis which the Church gives to doctrine imperils the interests of religion, by dividing those otherwise agreed, by rendering the candid examination of new truth impossible through the bias of foregone conclusions, and by diverting the attention of Christian people from the great practical and moral interests of life to matters of barren speculation. They charge the Church with exalting creed above morals, and faith above character. They insist upon it, that the norm of Christianity is to be found in the Sermon on the Mount, and as such it is proved to be a religion of character, not of creed; and hence, that it is the duty of the Church to regard immoral action as the only heresy.

This tendency to depreciate the importance of clearly discriminated views of religious truth, rests in the case of different objectors upon very different grounds, and is carried to very different degrees. But against this entire tendency, which opposes creed and morals, faith and character, in all its forms and intensities, we protest, and proclaim the opposite principle as fundamental,–that truth is in order to holiness, and that knowledge of the truth is an essential prerequisite to right character and action.

The force of the objections against the importance of clearly discriminated truth in the sphere of religion is mainly the result of the vagueness with which the objections are stated. When it is charged against the Church, as its record stands in history, that it has subordinated moral and practical interests to those of scholastic specualtion and party contests, there is a coloring of truth in the charge which commands attention, and disguises the real animus and ultimate aim of the objectors.

In order to clear the question of accidental complications, which constantly confuse the current discussions of it, we make the following admissions and distinctions:

1st. We concede that one of the sins most easily besetting theologians has been a tendency to over-refinement in speculation, over-formality of definition, and an excess of rigidity of system. Logical notions, creatures of the understanding, have too often been substituted for the concrete form of spiritual truth presented by the Holy Ghost to faith. Theologians have often practiced a rationalism as real as that of their modern opponents, when their ambition to be wise beyond what is written has urged them to explore and explain divine mysteries, to philosphize on the basis of scriptural facts, and to form rational theories, as, for instance, of the relation of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, and of the concursus of the first with the second causes in Providence.

2d. We admit also that zeal for doctrine has in too many instances been narrow and prejudiced, mingled with the infirmities of personal pride and party spirit, and has hence led to the unnecessary divisions and alienations of those who were in reality one in faith, and to the conditioning of communion, and even of salvation, upon unessential points. Human nature has operated among earnest theological advocates with the uniformity and blindness of a physical law, leading each to choose a position as far as possible from his opponent–to unduly emphasize some Scriptures and depreciate others–to confine his attention to the fragment of truth he champions, exaggerating its proportions, and denying or minimizing the qualifying truths represented by his antagonist. This law has led to the multiplying of special theological tendencies, and to their development in all possible directions and to every possible extent, and has thus been providentially overruled to the extension of our knowledge, and to the ultimate establishment of the truth in wider relations. but the habit is in itself obviously evil, since for the individuals immediately concerned it sacrifices the truth as a whole to special elements, which by exaggeration or dissociation from their natural relations become virtually untruths. This is illustrated in the whole history of controversies, e.g., between Nestorians and Monophysites, Lutherans and Reformed as to the person of Christ, between Supralapsarian Calvinists and Arminians, Churchmen and Puritans, Mystics and Formalists. It is plainly the duty of the individual to understand, as fully as possible the position of his respondent, and to incorporate the other’s fragment of truth with his own into the catholic whole.

3d. We must admit also that some advocates of theological dogma have lacked the courage of their convictions, and have betrayed their want of perfect confidence in the foundations on which they have builded by a disposition to discourage the fearless investigations of new truth in all directions, and to put an ungenerous interpretation upon all opinions to which their own minds were unaccustomed.

We claim to be sincere advocates of free investigation, in the true sense of that word, in every direction open to man. The believer in the supernatural revelation contained in God’s Word is place on a higher and more central point of vision than that of the mere naturalist, and he is thus rendered free of the whole sphere of truth. The true relation of the successive realms of the universe of being and knowledge can be read by one looking upon them from within outward and not from without inward, from above downward and in the direction in which the supreme light of revelation radiates, and not from below upward upon the side on which the shadows fall.

But it is absurd to suppose that true intellectual progress consists in a mere change of opinions, or that it is consistent with the destruction of the foundations which have been laid in the verified knowledge of the past. Truth once adequately established must be held fast forever, while we stand prepared to add to it all new truth substantiated by equal evidence. And it is a law which all educated men should be ready to acknowledge as axiomatic, that truth in any department once established must ever after hold the place of valid presumptions, influencing the course of new investigations in every department. Ruskin well testifies, “It is the law of progressive human life that we shall not build in the air, but in the already high-storied temple of the thoughts of our ancestors,” and that any addition successfully made can “never be without modest submission to the Eternal Wisdom, nor ever in any great degree except by persons trained reverently in some large portion of the wisdom of the past.”

It cannot be doubted that what is held by men as truth in any one department of knowledge must, in the long run, be brought into conscious adjustment with all that they hold as truth in every other department. That which is false in philosophy cannot long be believed to be true in religion, and conversely, that which is false in religion can never be rightly regarded true in philosophy. Consequently, in the rapid development of the physical sciences which characterizes the present age, it is inevitable that there should be serious difficulty in so adjusting all the elements as to allow us to become clearly conscious of the congruity in all respects of the new knowledge with the old. It is not to be wondered at even that at several points there is an apparently irreconcilable antagonism. But when we recall the obvious distinction between facts and theories, between established knowledge and provisional hypothesis, we are readily reassured by the recollection it suggests that the historic track of human thought is strewn with the wrecks of systems, of cosmogonies, and anthropologies, as certainly believed and as influential in their day as any of the anti-theological systems of the present day.

We should unquestionably open our doors wide, with a joy equal to her own, for all the facts which science gathers in her harvest-time. But is it not absurd to ask the believers in the great Church Creeds of Christendom to abandon, to modify, or to mask that ancient and coherent mass of knowledge which roots itself in the profoundest depths of human nature, and in all human history, which has verified itself to reason and every phase of experience for two thousand years, which has moulded the noblest charcters, inspired the most exalted lives, and inaugurated the very conditions which made modern science and civilization possible–to modify or abandon all this in deference to one or the other of the variant and transient speculations which each in his little day claims to speak in the venerable name of science?

We admit also that all Christian doctrine, like all other truth, rests on evidence appropriate in kind and adequate in degree. Nor is it denied that human reason legitimately exercised is the organ by which alone this divine truth is to be apprehended and its credentials examined and verified. These evidences ought to be subjected to the most thorough legitimate examination. He is a false or a mistaken advocate of the truth who would impede such investigation or who fears the result. Most of those who depreciate Christian dogma as incapable of certain verification, or as impractical and unprofitable, simply beg the question as to these evidences. All such we refer to the Christian Apologist, who is fully prepared to meet all reasonable demands. At present we assume the truth of our dogma and claim, that being true, every fragment of it is of transcendcent importance as to the God-appointed means of effecting the moral and spiritual regeneration of human character and life.

4th. We moreover admit without hesitation that theologians must themselves be held to their own principle that truth is in order to holiness; that the great end of dogma is not the gratification of the taste for speculation, but the formation of character and the determination of the activities of our inward and outward life in relation to God and our fellow-men. There is a patent distinction between the logical and the moral aspects of truth, between that manner of conceiving and stating it which satisfies the understanding and that which affects the moral nature and determines experience. Neither can be neglected without injury to the other. For if the laws of the understanding are essentially outraged, the moral nature cannot be either healthfully or permanently affected; that which is apprehended as logically incongruous by the understanding, cannot be rested in as certainly true and trusthworthy by the heart and conscience and will. But all the great doctrines of the Scriptures may be apprehended on the side and in the relations which immediately determine the moral attitude of the soul in relation to God. It is possible, for instance, to treat the Biblical teaching as to the sinful estate into which man has fallen and from which he has been redeemed by Christ, as a metaphysical or a psychological problem, in which its reality and bearings, as a matter of experience, may be to a great degree disguised. On the other hand, it may be set forth, as it always is in Scripture, as it is realized in consciousness, and as it enters into all religious experience. If, as is asserted, religious experience is only the personal experience of the truth of the great doctrines of Christianity, as we are personally concerned with them, it follows that they must be conceived and stated in a form in which they admit of being realized in the experience. Any theological method which sacrifices the moral and experiential aspects of the truth to a metaphysical and speculative interest will soon lose its hold upon the consciences of men, and itself experience that law of change which determines the fluctuations of all mere speculative systems.

With these admissions and distinctions, we return to our theme, that the truth revealed in the Scriptures, and embraced in what evangelical Christians style Christian dogma, is the great God-appointed means of producing in men a holy character and life. at present neither the general truth of Christianity nor that of any particular system of theology claiming to represent it, is the question. but the truth of Christianity being assumed, we affirm that the truths set forth in the Word of God in their mutual relations, are necessary means of promoting holiness of heart and life. That is, that dogmatic Christianity is the essential ground of practical Christianity.

1st. This will be made evident when we consider what Christianity really is and what is the essence of Christian doctrine. Unlike all philosophies, it is not a speculative system built up on certain principles or seminal ideas. It is, on the contrary, a divinely authenticated statement of certain facts concerning God, His nature, His attitude towards man as fallen, His purpose with regard to man’s redemption from sin, and several stages of His actual intervention to effect that end. This redemptive work Christ has been, and is now engaged in accomplishing by several actions in chronological succession. The revelation of these purposes and redemptive actions has been evolved through an historic process, the separate facts of which are as definitely ascertainable as those which constitute any other history. Christian doctrine, therefore, is just God’s testimony with regard to certain matters of fact, with which the religious life of the race is bound up. A distinction has been pressed, beyond all reason, between the matter of fact taught in Scripture and doctrines which, it is asserted, men have inferred from or have superadded to the facts, as hypothetical explanations of them. By matters of fact the liberal school means the external events of Christ’s history as these were observed by the bodily senses of human witnesses, and assured to us by their testimony; and these external facts of sense, perception, and nothing more, they admit to be valid objects of faith, forgetful that a more advanced and consistent school of their fellow-rationalists overset these external facts just as confidently as they themselves flippantly relegate dogma to the religion of the unknowable. These men admit, for instance, that we know, as a matter of “fact,” that Christ died on the cross, and rose from the dead the third day; but they hold that the design with which he died or that the relation which His death sustains to man’s restoration to the divine favor are matters of speculative opinion, but no matter of “fact.”

The word “fact” in universal usage signifies not merely an action, a thing done, but as well any objective reality, and by way of eminence, a reality of which we have adequate certainty, in distinction from a matter of opinion or probably reality. Now that Christ died and rose again as our representative, that His death was a vicariously endured penalty, is plainly as purely a matter of fact, i.e., objective reality, as definitely and certainly verifiable on the direct testimony of God, as the dying and rising again themselves. All that a witness in the Hall of Independence on the 4th of July, 1776, would have seen with his bodily eyes would have been the physical acts of certain men subscribing their names to a written paper; that was the optical perception, and nothing more. But no man would be absurd enough to deny that it is just as much a “fact,” and just as certain a “fact,” that they subscribed their names as the representatives of certain political communities, with the design and effect of changing their political constitutions and relations. The sensible transaction, and its legal intent and effect were equally matters of “fact” and ascertainable with equal precision and certainty upon adequate evidence. Now the matter of fact of which Christian dogmas are the revealed expression and attestation are those which more than any other conceivable facts are of transcendent importance and of immediate practical interest to mankind. The tri-personal constitution of the Godhead, and His essential attributes and eternal purposes–His relation to the world as Creator, providential Ruler, and moral Governor–His judgment of man’s present guilt, corruption, and impotence as a sinner–His purposes of grace, and the provision made for their execution, in the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, and in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension to universal dominion of the God-man–the resurrection of the body, the judgment and eternal condemnation of the finally impenitent and glorification of believers–these are the FACTS.

In every department of life all practical experience and activity is constantly determined by the external facts into relation to which we are brought, and upon our knowledge of and voluntary conformity to these facts. All modern life, personal, social, and political, is notoriously being changed through the influence of the facts brought to our knowledge in the advances of the physical sciences. All moral duties spring out of relations, as those of husband and wife, parent and child, citizen and community. All religion is morality lifted up to the sphere of our relations to God, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as Creator, Moral Governor, Redeemer, Sanctifier, and Father. Our question, at present, is not whether our theological dogmas are true, but whether, being true, they are of practical importance. Much of the cavil against their use is only a disingenuous begging the question as to their truth. We prove them to be true in the department of Apologetics, which draws upon all the resources of philosophy and historical criticism. And having proved them to be true, we now assert, in advance, that morality and religion are possible only so far as these facts are recognized, and our inward and outward life adjusted to them. It would be incomparably more reasonable to attempt to accomplish all the offices pertaining to the departments of agriculture, navigation, and manufactures, while ignoring all the ascertained facts of the natural world, than it would be to attempt to accomplish the offices of morality and religion while ignoring the facts of the spiritual world signified and attested to us in Christian dogma.

2d. Again, our proposition that knowledge and belief of scriptural truth is the essential means of the production of holiness in heart and life, may be demonstrated upon universally admitted psychological principles. Knowledge is the act of the subject knowing, apprehending the truth. Truth is the object apprehended and recognized in the act of knowledge. In every act of apprehension there is required the object to be apprehended, and the apprehensive power upon the part of the agent apprehending. “The eye sees only that which it brings with it the power of seeing.” All truth of every kind stands related to the human mind, and the mind is endowed with constitutional faculties adjusted to it, and effecting its apprehension. As an actual fact, however, in the present state of the race, many individuals are found incapable of apprehending and recognizing some kinds of truth. for the apprehension of some truth a special endowment and cultivation of the understanding is necessary; for the recognition of other truth a special temperment and cultivation of tast is requisite, and for the apprehension of other truth again a special condition and habit of the moral and spiritual nature. In the actual condition of human nature the truths revealed in the Scriptures cannot be discerned in their spiritual quality as the things of God. But when the sould is quickened to a new form of spiritual life by the baptism of the Holy Ghost, this very truth, now discerned, becomes the insturment whereby the new spiritual life is sustained and developed. This accords with the analogy of the constitutional action of the soul in every sphere of its activity. The perception of beauty depends upon the possession of the aesthetic faculty. But that being possessed, the aesthetic culture of the soul depends upon the contemplation of beautiful objects, and the knowledge of the law of beauty in the endless variety of its forms. It is a law having no exception that the exercise of the perceptive faculty necessarily precedes and conditions the exercise of the affections and the will. Beauty must be apprehended before it can be appreciated and loved. Moral truth must be apprehended before it can be loved or chosen, and only thus can the moral affections be trained and strengthened. Mere feeling and mere willing without knowledge are absolutely impossible experiences, and if possible, they would be irrational and immoral. It is the grand distinction of Christianity that it is ethical and not magical in all its processes and spirit. It rests on facts. It moves in the sphere of personal relations. It is a spiritual power acting through the instrumentality of truth addressed to the reason, and made effectual upon the soul by the power of the Divine Spirit. And the truth, through the medium of knowledge spiritualized, acts on the emotions and will, and transforms character and governs life.

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Called to an Uncompromising Stand

One reward that comes from researching and writing these posts is the discovery of details previously unknown to the writer. Plus, with having to find something attached to a given date, we are often prompted to address people or events that we might have otherwise overlooked. Today we have one such example.

The name of George S. Christian shows up a few times among the collections preserved at the PCA Historical Center, and I’ve often thought of trying to find out a bit more about him. We have no known photographs of him, and from the few writings and items of correspondence that we have, there is enough to spark some interest and make us wish we knew more about the man. George Spaulding Christian was born in Philadelphia, PA, on April 16, 1917. He completed his undergraduate education at both Lehigh University and the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1941. From there, he next attended the Princeton Theological Seminary, 1941-43, and completed his seminary education at Faith Theological Seminary, graduating with the Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1947. A gap in the biographical record may indicate a term of military service during the years 1943-1945. Further work was completed at Westminster Theological Seminary, where he earned the Th.M. degree in 1951.

Rev. Christian was ordained by the Presbytery of New Jersey (BPC) in June of 1948, but there is no record at hand as to where he might have served from 1948 until 1951, when he was called to serve as pastor of the Faith Presbyterian Church of Fawn Grove, Pennsylvania. This was an unaffiliated church, one of many which seemed to hover in the Bible Presbyterian orbit, but which never formally became part of the Bible Presbyterian Church. George served this church from 1951 until 1957. Then on April 23 of 1957, he transferred his credentials into the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, being received by their Presbytery of New Jersey.

Again, the available record has a gap from 1957 to 1959. Leaving pulpit ministry for a time, he worked as an instructor at the Bell Telephone Laboratories from 1959 to 1965. The time from 1966 to 1983 is also lost to our record, but in 1984 Rev. Christian returned to pulpit ministry with a call to serve as teaching minister at the Emmanual Presbyterian church (OPC) in Morristown, New Jersey. He remained at this point until 1991, at which time we presume he retired. George breathed his last and entered glory on February 26, 2008, at the age of 90.

To give a sample of Rev. Christian’s writing, here below is the first chapter from his work, Dispensationalism, Arminianism, Lutheranism and the Reformed Standards of the Bible Presbyterian Church, in which Rev. Christian wrestled with a problem facing the BPC at the time, whether to receive and ordain men who did not whole-heartedly agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.

For context, the Table of Contents from this work is as follows:

Chapter I — The Bible Presbyterian Church Is Facing One of Her Greatest Crises

Chapter II — Hodge’s Statement On The Seriousness of The Ordination Vow: and His Statement On Zeal For Orthodoxy

Chapter III — There Have Been Three Historical Views as to The Terms of Subscription to The Westminster Confession

Chapter IV — Subscription “Ipsissima Verba” Has Never Been Historically Acceptable

Chapter V — Subscription to The “Substance of Doctrine” Has Never Been Historically Acceptable

Chapter VI — Subscription to The “System of Doctrine” Has Alone Been Historically Acceptable

Chapter VII — Arminianism Is Excluded

Chapter VIII — Lutheranism Is Excluded

Chapter IX — The Great Turning Point Between The Systems

Chapter X — Dispensationalism Is Excluded

Chapter XI — Is The Bible Presbyterian Church Going to Depart From Presbyterianism? If So A Change In Standards Is Nevertheless Better Than Dishonesty

Chapter XII — The Synod of The Bible Presbyterian Church Can Prove The Bible Presbyterian Church True to Her Standards.


Chapter I — The Bible Presbyterian Church Is Facing One of Her Greatest Crises:

Every Bible Presbyterian minister and elder at the time of his ordination was asked the following question: “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church?” It was a solemn occasion, one of life’s most sacred moments. Surely no Bible Presbyterian minister or elder would consider himself worthy of the name if he did not take this solemn public vow with all the seriousness of which his soul was capable.

Since it is such an important matter, an occasional reminder as to the meaning of the vow is highly in order. And it is especially in order at the present juncture of the history of our church.

At the meeting of the Philadelphia Presbytery this year, the chairman of the National Missions Committee of our church brought to the attention of Presbytery a letter received from a minister of another denomination. The letter, it seems, bean by the writer’s announcement that he was a Dispensationalist. The writer then asked if he would have liberty to preach his beliefs in the Bible Presbyterian Church should he join. In view of the fact that an increasing number of such requests are anticipated, the National Missions Chairman felt that the Bible Presbyterian Church should adopt a definite, standard policy on the matter. A committee to study the matter to prepare an overture to Synod was accordingly appointed.

What is the Bible Presbyterian Church going to do?

Is the Bible Presbyterian Church going to change her present standards to suit the beliefs of the clamoring outsiders or with all diplomacy, self-sacrifice, and love will she stick to her precious Presbyterian heritage and endeavor to bring the outsiders to her doctrinal position?

Will the Bible Presbyterian Church be as valiant and as uncompromising in clinging to her Scriptural doctrine position as she has clung in the past to her Scriptural ecclesiastical position? God has blessed our church in the past for clinging to Scriptural separation: will He not bless her in the future for clinging to Scriptural doctrine? She has suffered for the one:  will she be willing to suffer for the other? She has already confessed that her doctrinal position is the Scriptural position: she can not go back on her word. This decision she made at her founding after full deliberation and public profession. “The Westminster Confession of Faith as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures” has been her proud doctrinal statement all down through the years, just as separation from apostate denominations and all entangling alliances has been her proud position on separation all down through the years.

When a large Presbyterian denomination by changing the terms of subscription shamefully set aside her Confession some years ago that she might let down the bars to Modernism she deceived no one. That whole world knew. Everyone knew what her terms of subscription had been historically.

Our own historic terms of subscription have been the same every since 1729. We in the Bible Presbyterian Church, the true Presbyterian Church we claim, will likewise deceive no one if we should change our terms of subscription. There is no question as to Bible Presbyterian terms of subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith. It has been the same for over two centuries. When a Bible Presbyterian elder or minister under oath and by solemn vow before God today says “I do” during his ordination service in answer to the question: “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?” he is subscribing to just that. He is not subscribing to every word, nor is he subscribing to “the substance of the doctrine,” but he is subscribing to “the system of doctrine.”

What is the Bible Presbyterian Church going to do? Is she under the present pressure going to change her terms of subscription letting down the bars to let in the Dispensationalists, or is she going to stand fast in love?

“In love” we say, Yes! There are many ways of winning outsiders to our doctrinal as well as to our separated position. Why should we not have a fund, for instance, to assist earnest inquirers? Why could we not help them to look over our doctrines for a semester at our seminary? With a strong desire to come our way doctrinally, we may be sure that we would win most of them and bless their souls at the same time in getting them to see that the Augustinian plan of salvation actually & really is the plan of salvation of Scriptures. They would bless us throughout eternity for bringing them to this light.

This is the question of the year before the Bible Presbyterians.

From the writings of Charles Hodge, revered spiritual father of us all, let us see the significance of subscribing to the Westminster Confession of Faith “as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.” Let us see reflected herein the answer which centuries of Presbyterian history gave to this question. Let us look into a matter settled long ago, a matter which admits of no question, of no doubt.

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HodgeAA

It was on this day, November 8th, in 1877, that the Rev. Dr. Archibald Alexander Hodge was inaugurated as Associate Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology at the Princeton Theological Seminary. With an eye to the value of the tradition, some schools, like Westminster Theological Seminary, continue the practice of the inaugural address. As Dr. Hodge notes in his opening paragraph, the address makes for an opportunity to display both theological convictions and theological method of the teacher.

While perhaps a bit long for a weekday post, hopefully the busy reader will at least bookmark the page and return over the weekend. As one could only expect from A.A. Hodge, this is an excellent composition, worthy of serious, careful consideration.

Dogmatic Christianity, the Essential Ground of Practical Christianity

The Inaugural Address of Archibald Alexander Hodge,
upon his installation as Associate Professor of Dogmatic and Polemic Theology
at Princeton Theological Seminary, November 8, 1877.

FATHERS AND BRETHREN OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS:

In obedience to your call, I am here to assume the solemn trust involved in teaching Christian theology in this Seminary. Doubtless the design of associating an inaugural address with the induction of a new professor into such a charge is to afford him an opportunity of satisfying you, as the responsible guardians of the institution, with respect to his theological convictions and method.

I therefore affirm my belief that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in their integrity are the Word of God, as a whole and in every part infallible and binding the conscience, and the only divinely authentic informant and rule of faith in matters of religion. Christian theology is wholly in the Scriptures, and is to be drawn from them only by legitimate interpretation. This is true of systematic as absolutely as of exegetical or of Biblical theology. The system lies in the relations of the facts, and their relations are deteremined by their nature, as that is disclosed by the words of the Holy Ghost. The systematic theologian as well as the exegete is only an interpreter; the one interprets the words and develops the revealed truths; the other interprets these separate lessons in their mutual light and reciprocal relations, and develops the revealed system.

More definitely I affirm, not as a professional propriety, but as a personal conviction, that the Confession and Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly contain the system taught in the Holy Scriptures. Or rather, in the more absolute terms of subscription imposed upon intrants by the Scottish Presbyterian Churches, “I do sincerely own and believe the WHOLE DOCTRINE contained in the Confession of Faith, approved by former General Assemblies of this Church, to be founded upon the Word of God, and do acknowledge the same as the confession of my personal faith, and will firmly and constantly adhere thereunto, and to the utmost of my power will assert, maintain, and defend the same.” This is affirmed, not only because I believe this “whole doctrine” to be true, but because I also believe this “system of doctrine” to be the most complete and adequate presentation as yet attained by the Church of that truth revealed in the Holy Scriptures, which the Holy Ghost has declared to be “the power of God unto salvation.” For therein Christ and His work is exhibited in their relation to human needs, experiences, duties, and destinies, and it is, therefore, the efficient instrument of forming character, of ruling action, and of effecting salvation.

It is precisely this last position which in the present day is so earnestly and in such various quarters denied. Besides the numerous classes of professed unbelievers, who positively reject Christianity, or the integrity and authority of its records, or at least some of its essential doctrines, there are many more, because of their position of professed friendliness, doing incalculably more harm, who, expressing no opinion as to the objective truthfulness of the church system of doctrines, maintain that it is at any rate unessential because impractical and unprofitable. Hence, they insist that the careful elaboration, and the prominent and ceaseless emphasis which the Church gives to doctrine imperils the interests of religion, by dividing those otherwise agreed, by rendering the candid examination of new truth impossible through the bias of foregone conclusions, and by diverting the attention of Christian people from the great practical and moral interests of life to matters of barren speculation. They charge the Church with exalting creed above morals, and faith above character. They insist upon it, that the norm of Christianity is to be found in the Sermon on the Mount, and as such it is proved to be a religion of character, not of creed; and hence, that it is the duty of the Church to regard immoral action as the only heresy.

This tendency to depreciate the importance of clearly discriminated views of religious truth, rests in the case of different objectors upon very different grounds, and is carried to very different degrees. But against this entire tendency, which opposes creed and morals, faith and character, in all its forms and intensities, we protest, and proclaim the opposite principle as fundamental,–that truth is in order to holiness, and that knowledge of the truth is an essential prerequisite to right character and action.

The force of the objections against the importance of clearly discriminated truth in the sphere of religion is mainly the result of the vagueness with which the objections are stated. When it is charged against the Church, as its record stands in history, that it has subordinated moral and practical interests to those of scholastic specualtion and party contests, there is a coloring of truth in the charge which commands attention, and disguises the real animus and ultimate aim of the objectors.

In order to clear the question of accidental complications, which constantly confuse the current discussions of it, we make the following admissions and distinctions:

1st. We concede that one of the sins most easily besetting theologians has been a tendency to over-refinement in speculation, over-formality of definition, and an excess of rigidity of system. Logical notions, creatures of the understanding, have too often been substituted for the concrete form of spiritual truth presented by the Holy Ghost to faith. Theologians have often practiced a rationalism as real as that of their modern opponents, when their ambition to be wise beyond what is written has urged them to explore and explain divine mysteries, to philosphize on the basis of scriptural facts, and to form rational theories, as, for instance, of the relation of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, and of the concursus of the first with the second causes in Providence.

2d. We admit also that zeal for doctrine has in too many instances been narrow and prejudiced, mingled with the infirmities of personal pride and party spirit, and has hence led to the unnecessary divisions and alienations of those who were in reality one in faith, and to the conditioning of communion, and even of salvation, upon unessential points. Human nature has operated among earnest theological advocates with the uniformity and blindness of a physical law, leading each to choose a position as far as possible from his opponent–to unduly emphasize some Scriptures and depreciate others–to confine his attention to the fragment of truth he champions, exaggerating its proportions, and denying or minimizing the qualifying truths represented by his antagonist. This law has led to the multiplying of special theological tendencies, and to their development in all possible directions and to every possible extent, and has thus been providentially overruled to the extension of our knowledge, and to the ultimate establishment of the truth in wider relations. but the habit is in itself obviously evil, since for the individuals immediately concerned it sacrifices the truth as a whole to special elements, which by exaggeration or dissociation from their natural relations become virtually untruths. This is illustrated in the whole history of controversies, e.g., between Nestorians and Monophysites, Lutherans and Reformed as to the person of Christ, between Supralapsarian Calvinists and Arminians, Churchmen and Puritans, Mystics and Formalists. It is plainly the duty of the individual to understand, as fully as possible the position of his respondent, and to incorporate the other’s fragment of truth with his own into the catholic whole.

3d. We must admit also that some advocates of theological dogma have lacked the courage of their convictions, and have betrayed their want of perfect confidence in the foundations on which they have builded by a disposition to discourage the fearless investigations of new truth in all directions, and to put an ungenerous interpretation upon all opinions to which their own minds were unaccustomed.

We claim to be sincere advocates of free investigation, in the true sense of that word, in every direction open to man. The believer in the supernatural revelation contained in God’s Word is place on a higher and more central point of vision than that of the mere naturalist, and he is thus rendered free of the whole sphere of truth. The true relation of the successive realms of the universe of being and knowledge can be read by one looking upon them from within outward and not from without inward, from above downward and in the direction in which the supreme light of revelation radiates, and not from below upward upon the side on which the shadows fall.

But it is absurd to suppose that true intellectual progress consists in a mere change of opinions, or that it is consistent with the destruction of the foundations which have been laid in the verified knowledge of the past. Truth once adequately established must be held fast forever, while we stand prepared to add to it all new truth substantiated by equal evidence. And it is a law which all educated men should be ready to acknowledge as axiomatic, that truth in any department once established must ever after hold the place of valid presumptions, influencing the course of new investigations in every department. Ruskin well testifies, “It is the law of progressive human life that we shall not build in the air, but in the already high-storied temple of the thoughts of our ancestors,” and that any addition successfully made can “never be without modest submission to the Eternal Wisdom, nor ever in any great degree except by persons trained reverently in some large portion of the wisdom of the past.”

It cannot be doubted that what is held by men as truth in any one department of knowledge must, in the long run, be brought into conscious adjustment with all that they hold as truth in every other department. That which is false in philosophy cannot long be believed to be true in religion, and conversely, that which is false in religion can never be rightly regarded true in philosophy. Consequently, in the rapid development of the physical sciences which characterizes the present age, it is inevitable that there should be serious difficulty in so adjusting all the elements as to allow us to become clearly conscious of the congruity in all respects of the new knowledge with the old. It is not to be wondered at even that at several points there is an apparently irreconcilable antagonism. But when we recall the obvious distinction between facts and theories, between established knowledge and provisional hypothesis, we are readily reassured by the recollection it suggests that the historic track of human thought is strewn with the wrecks of systems, of cosmogonies, and anthropologies, as certainly believed and as influential in their day as any of the anti-theological systems of the present day.

We should unquestionably open our doors wide, with a joy equal to her own, for all the facts which science gathers in her harvest-time. But is it not absurd to ask the believers in the great Church Creeds of Christendom to abandon, to modify, or to mask that ancient and coherent mass of knowledge which roots itself in the profoundest depths of human nature, and in all human history, which has verified itself to reason and every phase of experience for two thousand years, which has moulded the noblest charcters, inspired the most exalted lives, and inaugurated the very conditions which made modern science and civilization possible–to modify or abandon all this in deference to one or the other of the variant and transient speculations which each in his little day claims to speak in the venerable name of science?

We admit also that all Christian doctrine, like all other truth, rests on evidence appropriate in kind and adequate in degree. Nor is it denied that human reason legitimately exercised is the organ by which alone this divine truth is to be apprehended and its credentials examined and verified. These evidences ought to be subjected to the most thorough legitimate examination. He is a false or a mistaken advocate of the truth who would impede such investigation or who fears the result. Most of those who depreciate Christian dogma as incapable of certain verification, or as impractical and unprofitable, simply beg the question as to these evidences. All such we refer to the Christian Apologist, who is fully prepared to meet all reasonable demands. At present we assume the truth of our dogma and claim, that being true, every fragment of it is of transcendcent importance as to the God-appointed means of effecting the moral and spiritual regeneration of human character and life.

4th. We moreover admit without hesitation that theologians must themselves be held to their own principle that truth is in order to holiness; that the great end of dogma is not the gratification of the taste for speculation, but the formation of character and the determination of the activities of our inward and outward life in relation to God and our fellow-men. There is a patent distinction between the logical and the moral aspects of truth, between that manner of conceiving and stating it which satisfies the understanding and that which affects the moral nature and determines experience. Neither can be neglected without injury to the other. For if the laws of the understanding are essentially outraged, the moral nature cannot be either healthfully or permanently affected; that which is apprehended as logically incongruous by the understanding, cannot be rested in as certainly true and trusthworthy by the heart and conscience and will. But all the great doctrines of the Scriptures may be apprehended on the side and in the relations which immediately determine the moral attitude of the soul in relation to God. It is possible, for instance, to treat the Biblical teaching as to the sinful estate into which man has fallen and from which he has been redeemed by Christ, as a metaphysical or a psychological problem, in which its reality and bearings, as a matter of experience, may be to a great degree disguised. On the other hand, it may be set forth, as it always is in Scripture, as it is realized in consciousness, and as it enters into all religious experience. If, as is asserted, religious experience is only the personal experience of the truth of the great doctrines of Christianity, as we are personally concerned with them, it follows that they must be conceived and stated in a form in which they admit of being realized in the experience. Any theological method which sacrifices the moral and experiential aspects of the truth to a metaphysical and speculative interest will soon lose its hold upon the consciences of men, and itself experience that law of change which determines the fluctuations of all mere speculative systems.

With these admissions and distinctions, we return to our theme, that the truth revealed in the Scriptures, and embraced in what evangelical Christians style Christian dogma, is the great God-appointed means of producing in men a holy character and life. at present neither the general truth of Christianity nor that of any particular system of theology claiming to represent it, is the question. but the truth of Christianity being assumed, we affirm that the truths set forth in the Word of God in their mutual relations, are necessary means of promoting holiness of heart and life. That is, that dogmatic Christianity is the essential ground of practical Christianity.

1st. This will be made evident when we consider what Christianity really is and what is the essence of Christian doctrine. Unlike all philosophies, it is not a speculative system built up on certain principles or seminal ideas. It is, on the contrary, a divinely authenticated statement of certain facts concerning God, His nature, His attitude towards man as fallen, His purpose with regard to man’s redemption from sin, and several stages of His actual intervention to effect that end. This redemptive work Christ has been, and is now engaged in accomplishing by several actions in chronological succession. The revelation of these purposes and redemptive actions has been evolved through an historic process, the separate facts of which are as definitely ascertainable as those which constitute any other history. Christian doctrine, therefore, is just God’s testimony with regard to certain matters of fact, with which the religious life of the race is bound up. A distinction has been pressed, beyond all reason, between the matter of fact taught in Scripture and doctrines which, it is asserted, men have inferred from or have superadded to the facts, as hypothetical explanations of them. By matters of fact the liberal school means the external events of Christ’s history as these were observed by the bodily senses of human witnesses, and assured to us by their testimony; and these external facts of sense, perception, and nothing more, they admit to be valid objects of faith, forgetful that a more advanced and consistent school of their fellow-rationalists overset these external facts just as confidently as they themselves flippantly relegate dogma to the religion of the unknowable. These men admit, for instance, that we know, as a matter of “fact,” that Christ died on the cross, and rose from the dead the third day; but they hold that the design with which he died or that the relation which His death sustains to man’s restoration to the divine favor are matters of speculative opinion, but no matter of “fact.”

The word “fact” in universal usage signifies not merely an action, a thing done, but as well any objective reality, and by way of eminence, a reality of which we have adequate certainty, in distinction from a matter of opinion or probably reality. Now that Christ died and rose again as our representative, that His death was a vicariously endured penalty, is plainly as purely a matter of fact, i.e., objective reality, as definitely and certainly verifiable on the direct testimony of God, as the dying and rising again themselves. All that a witness in the Hall of Independence on the 4th of July, 1776, would have seen with his bodily eyes would have been the physical acts of certain men subscribing their names to a written paper; that was the optical perception, and nothing more. But no man would be absurd enough to deny that it is just as much a “fact,” and just as certain a “fact,” that they subscribed their names as the representatives of certain political communities, with the design and effect of changing their political constitutions and relations. The sensible transaction, and its legal intent and effect were equally matters of “fact” and ascertainable with equal precision and certainty upon adequate evidence. Now the matter of fact of which Christian dogmas are the revealed expression and attestation are those which more than any other conceivable facts are of transcendent importance and of immediate practical interest to mankind. The tri-personal constitution of the Godhead, and His essential attributes and eternal purposes–His relation to the world as Creator, providential Ruler, and moral Governor–His judgment of man’s present guilt, corruption, and impotence as a sinner–His purposes of grace, and the provision made for their execution, in the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, and in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension to universal dominion of the God-man–the resurrection of the body, the judgment and eternal condemnation of the finally impenitent and glorification of believers–these are the FACTS.

In every department of life all practical experience and activity is constantly determined by the external facts into relation to which we are brought, and upon our knowledge of and voluntary conformity to these facts. All modern life, personal, social, and political, is notoriously being changed through the influence of the facts brought to our knowledge in the advances of the physical sciences. All moral duties spring out of relations, as those of husband and wife, parent and child, citizen and community. All religion is morality lifted up to the sphere of our relations to God, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as Creator, Moral Governor, Redeemer, Sanctifier, and Father. Our question, at present, is not whether our theological dogmas are true, but whether, being true, they are of practical importance. Much of the cavil against their use is only a disingenuous begging the question as to their truth. We prove them to be true in the department of Apologetics, which draws upon all the resources of philosophy and historical criticism. And having proved them to be true, we now assert, in advance, that morality and religion are possible only so far as these facts are recognized, and our inward and outward life adjusted to them. It would be incomparably more reasonable to attempt to accomplish all the offices pertaining to the departments of agriculture, navigation, and manufactures, while ignoring all the ascertained facts of the natural world, than it would be to attempt to accomplish the offices of morality and religion while ignoring the facts of the spiritual world signified and attested to us in Christian dogma.

2d. Again, our proposition that knowledge and belief of scriptural truth is the essential means of the production of holiness in heart and life, may be demonstrated upon universally admitted psychological principles. Knowledge is the act of the subject knowing, apprehending the truth. Truth is the object apprehended and recognized in the act of knowledge. In every act of apprehension there is required the object to be apprehended, and the apprehensive power upon the part of the agent apprehending. “The eye sees only that which it brings with it the power of seeing.” All truth of every kind stands related to the human mind, and the mind is endowed with constitutional faculties adjusted to it, and effecting its apprehension. As an actual fact, however, in the present state of the race, many individuals are found incapable of apprehending and recognizing some kinds of truth. for the apprehension of some truth a special endowment and cultivation of the understanding is necessary; for the recognition of other truth a special temperment and cultivation of tast is requisite, and for the apprehension of other truth again a special condition and habit of the moral and spiritual nature. In the actual condition of human nature the truths revealed in the Scriptures cannot be discerned in their spiritual quality as the things of God. But when the sould is quickened to a new form of spiritual life by the baptism of the Holy Ghost, this very truth, now discerned, becomes the insturment whereby the new spiritual life is sustained and developed. This accords with the analogy of the constitutional action of the soul in every sphere of its activity. The perception of beauty depends upon the possession of the aesthetic faculty. But that being possessed, the aesthetic culture of the soul depends upon the contemplation of beautiful objects, and the knowledge of the law of beauty in the endless variety of its forms. It is a law having no exception that the exercise of the perceptive faculty necessarily precedes and conditions the exercise of the affections and the will. Beauty must be apprehended before it can be appreciated and loved. Moral truth must be apprehended before it can be loved or chosen, and only thus can the moral affections be trained and strengthened. Mere feeling and mere willing without knowledge are absolutely impossible experiences, and if possible, they would be irrational and immoral. It is the grand distinction of Christianity that it is ethical and not magical in all its processes and spirit. It rests on facts. It moves in the sphere of personal relations. It is a spiritual power acting through the instrumentality of truth addressed to the reason, and made effectual upon the soul by the power of the Divine Spirit. And the truth, through the medium of knowledge spiritualized, acts on the emotions and will, and transforms character and governs life.

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Here We Stand

declarationOfCommitmentThere were four organizations that were formative of the Presbyterian Church in America. They were:
1. The Presbyterian Journal, which began in May of 1942. Founded by a group of conservative Presbyterians, including L. Nelson Bell, the Journal was founded to work against the liberalism infecting the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern Presbyterian Church).
2. The Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, founded by the Rev. William Hill, Jr., conducted revivals in PCUS churches.
3. Concerned Presbyterians, a laymen’s group
4. Presbyterian Churchmen United (PCU), an organization of conservative pastors in the PCUS.

Originally published on October 4, 1969 by the Presbyterian Churchmen United (PCU), the Declaration of Commitment was a clarion call issued to the ministers and people of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS)—a call for recommitment to the Word of God and to the Reformed Faith, signed by over 500 ministers and published in over 30 major newspapers.

DECLARATION OF COMMITMENT

To the membership of the Presbyterian Church, US, in light of the questions and concerns being expressed in the Church as to the nature of our faith and order, we, the undersigned ministers declare our conviction:

—That the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ turns men from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. By coming to faith in Him alone is there genuine reconciliation between man and God and man and man.

—That the Holy Scriptures are the infallible Word of God, and that these Scriptures commit the Church to a mission whose primary end is the salvation and nurture of souls.

—That Christian faith must bear fruit if it is to remain virile. These fruits vary from believer to believer. But common to them all are evidences of love, concern and neighborliness, toward all races of men without partiality and without prejudice, especially to the poor, the oppressed and the disadvantaged. The man of faith views all men as neighbors and himself as debtor, for Christ’s sake.

—That, for the implementation of the above principles, in obedience to our ordination vows, we must strive to preserve a confessional Church, thoroughly Reformed and Presbyterian. Thus, our support of or opposition to any proposed union will be determined by these considerations.

—That, being fully committed by our ordination vows to the system of doctrine set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, we must oppose all efforts to change in substance or otherwise debase our historic doctrinal commitment.

—That we are in the same context by vow committed to historic Presbyterian polity with its representative system and its parity among teaching and ruling elders. Thus, we are forced to oppose any efforts to take our Church into the massive organization envisioned by COCU [i.e., Consultation on Church Union.]

—That, should the basic theology or polity of the Church be altered or diluted, we shall be prepared to take such actions as may be necessary to fulfill the obligation imposed by our ordination vows, to maintain our Presbyterian faith.

Words to Live By:
In this clarion call, over 500 pastors called for the Church to remain true to the Reformed Faith, to remain a confessional and Presbyterian church, in doctrine and in polity. They staked out a position with this document, standing against a proposed ecumenical merger which would have taken their denomination into liberal and unbelieving waters. And they made it clear that they would not be party to such a merger but would honor their ordination vows.

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” – (2 Thess. 2:15)

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” – (2 Timothy 1:13)

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) – Hebrews 10:23)

Image source: News clipping from the Paul G. Settle Manuscript Collection, Box 256, file 27, at the PCA Historical Center. Date [circa 1969] and source of the clipping not known.

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Exchanging a Cross for a Crown

Do you realize that, to the surprise of countless Christians, Presbyterianism has produced some of the most noteworthy evangelists in history, especially in the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds?   We say “surprise to countless Christians” because it is wrongly thought that our understanding of Calvinism would prohibit us from being evangelists.  But it is rather a case of because we are convinced of Calvinist truth in the Holy Scriptures, that we are zealous of winning souls to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The inspired writer Luke sums up our confidence, when in Acts 13:48, he described the gospel’s effect being preached by Paul “as  many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (ESV)

One of the greatest Presbyterian evangelists of that time period was William Edward Biederwolf.  Born in 1867, he was the seventh child of two German Presbyterians, Michael and Abolana Biederwolf of Monticello, Indiana.  After schooling in the area, he taught school for a while.  Attending Wabash College in Indiana, a Sunday School class began to pray for his conversion.  In fact, each of them wrote a letter, urging him to receive Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.  At age 20, he did just that, becoming a Christian.

He then went to Princeton University, and Princeton Seminary, graduating in 1895.  Marrying a hometown gal the next year, he studied overseas in Germany at the University of Berlin and the Sorbonne.  Well educated for his life’s calling then, he returned to the United States where he was called to the pulpit of Broadway Presbyterian Church in Loganport, Indiana in 1897.  It was a short ministry as the war clouds of the Spanish-American War loomed on the horizon. He enlisted as a chaplain of the 131st Second Voluntary Regiment  of the 13th Calvary, serving six months in Cuba.  He would write  on his experience and the regiment he served afterwards,  as a spiritual servant of Christ.

Beginning the new year and millennium of 1900, he entered evangelism as a full-time preacher of the gospel.  For the next 39 years before he passed away on September 3, 1939, he made three world tours of evangelism.  And yet the most dramatic evangelistic ministry he engaged in was in a town in Pennsylvania, called Oil City.  In the winter of 1914 on the eve of World War I, he had thousands attending in the bitter cold of north-west Pennsylvania, with the result that the whole town from the mayor down to the ordinary citizen, was stirred in  deep concern about the things of God and their place in it.

His closing years was spent associated with the Winona Lake Bible Conference and School of Theology.  After a long illness, he spoke the title of this devotional about his exchange of a cross of a crown to his wife, and died the next day.

Words to live by:  Christian reader, you can go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit, sharing by life and lips, to your unsaved loved ones, neighbors, school friends, fellow workers at your jobs, and even strangers whom you meet in divine appointments, the unsearchable riches of Christ and Him crucified, knowing that those who are ordained to eternal life, will believe the gospel and be saved.  Claim this text of Acts 13:48 as your confidence, and go, be witnesses of Christ.

Through the Scriptures:  2 Chronicles 10 – 13

Through the Standards: The day of worship

W.C.F. 21:7
“As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him; which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.”

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