John Cuthbertson

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Our post today is drawn from Richard Webster’s History of the Presbyterian Church in America (1857).

He was full of prayers.

Alexander Cumming was born at Freehold, New Jersey, in 1726.  His father, Robert Cumming, from Montrose, Scotland, was an elder, and often sat in synod.

He was educated under his maternal uncle, Samuel Blair, and studied theology with his pastor, William Tennent.  Licensed by the New-Side Presbytery of Newcastle, in 1746 or ‘’47, he was sent by the synod, in compliance with pressing supplications, and spent some time in Augusta county, Virginia.  He was the first Presbyterian minister that preached within the bounds of Ten-nessee.  Remaining some time in North Carolina, he married Eunice, daughter of Colonel Thomas Polk, the President (in May, 1775) of the Mecklenburg Convention.

He was a stated supply in Pennsylvania for some time.  Though not ordained, he opened the Synod of New York with a sermon, in September, 1750.  In the following month he was ordained, by New York Presbytery, and installed collegiate pastor with Pemberton, in New York.

Unanimously called, his clear, discriminating mind, his habits of close study, his instructive and excellent preaching, his happy faculty of disentangling and exhibiting difficult and abstruse subjects, peculiarly attracted and delighted his more cultivated hearers.  The Hon. William Smith, in writing to Bellamy, says, “His defect in delivery was not natural, but the effect of bad example:  his elocution, however, is not, and cannot ever be, as prompt as yours.”  But before the second year of his ministry closed, the presbytery was called to consider the difficulties which had arisen, and, in 1752, referred the case to the synod.  The complaints against him were, that, when disabled by sickness, he did not invite Pemberton to preach; that he insisted on his right as pastor to sit with the trustees, and manage the temporalities; for encouraging the introduction of Watts’s Psalms, and for insisting on family prayer as a necessary prerequisite in every one to whose child he administered baptism.

He requested to be dismissed, October 25, 1753, because his low state of health would not allow him to go on with his work in the divided, confused state of the congregation.  No opposition was made, and he was dismissed.

Cumming joined with his parishioners, Livingston, Smith, and Scott, in publishing the “Watch-Tower,” the “Reflector,” the “Independent Whig,”—spirited, patriotic appeals against the steady encroachments of the royal prerogative on our constitutional liberties.

In feeble health, and with little prospect of usefulness, he remained without charge till February 25, 1761, when he was in-stalled pastor of the Old South Church in Boston.  He preached on that occasion, and Pemberton gave the charge, and welcomed him.  “I do it with the greater pleasure, being persuaded, from a long and intimate acquaintance, that you are animated by the spirit of Christ in taking this office upon you, and that you desire no greater honour or happiness than to be an humble instrument to promote the kingdom of our adorable Redeemer.”

William Allen,[1] of Philadelphia, Chief-Justice of Pennsylvania, wrote to Dr. Mayhew, of Boston, in 1763, and thanked him for the gift of two sermons, “which, you hint, were preached on ac-count of Mr. Cumming’s reveries; for I can call nothing that comes from him by a better name, nor ought I, if he continues to be the same man he was with us.  He offered himself to the congregation here, of which I am a member:  though the greater part are moderate Calvinists, they could not relish his doctrines.” After charging Cumming with teaching that works are dangerous to the soul, faith being every thing, he adds, “He may be a pious, well-disposed man, but I believe he is a gloomy, dark enthusiast, and a great perverter of the religion of Jesus Christ as taught in the gospel.”

To Allen and Mayhew, Cumming seemed “an extravagant fanatic.”  It was a wonder how he could have been admitted a minister in Boston.  Yet he was condemned as a Legalist by the favourers of the other extreme.

Andrew Croswell, a zealous follower of Davenport, had settled in Boston.  He published a sermon, with the title, “What is Christ to me if he is not mine?” presenting the view—perhaps distorted—of Marshall, in his “Gospel Mystery of Sanctification,” and Hervey, in his “Theron and Aspasio.”  Cumming replied, taking the ground of Bellamy.  It was perhaps his earnestness on this point that arrayed his Scottish hearers against him in New York.  They had the Erskines in great reverence:  they loved the doctrines which rallied Scotland’s best men against the Assembly’s decision in the Marrow controversy.  Smith speaks, in his history, contemptuously of the opposition, as of the lower class; and Robert Philip brands it as a cabal of ignorance and bigotry.[2]  The fact that these persons called the Rev. John Mason from Scotland, and that they and their children constituted the congregation of Dr. John M. Mason, is a sufficient refutation of these charges.

Cumming died August 23, 1763.  “He was full of prayers, with a lively, active soul in a feeble body.”  This was the testimony of the excellent Dr. Sewall, with whom he was joined as colleague in Boston.

[1] Bradford’s Life of Mayhew.

[2] Nothing of this sort is intimated in the private correspondence of the leading members of the congregation.

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Reprise:

A Communion for American Covenanters

The entire service of Communion that Sabbath day on August 23, 1752 lasted nine hours.  But for some two hundred and fifty Covenanters gathered on that spot, it was the first communion outside the British Isles.

The teaching elder on that Lord’s Day was the Rev. John Cuthbertson, who was the first Reformed Presbyterian minister in the colonies.  As the only one, he had logged nearly 70,000 miles in the wilds of Colonial America, ministering to scattered Covenanters.  Often, there was no church building.  So they worshiped at various sites called “tents.”  It consisted of a large tree, with a wooden stand for the minister, and another for a Bible, with rough pews for the people, and nothing but the open sky for the roof.  On this occasion, they met at the Junkin Tent, just north of present day New Kingstown, Pennsylvania.

The communion at this first meeting in America lasted five days, with worship times on three of the five days.  The first day, which was Thursday, was a day of fasting, with a sermon by Rev. Cuthbertson.  Tokens of admission were given to those qualified spiritually to partake, after an exhortation for that purpose.  Prospective members were examined and received into the congregation.  On Friday and Saturday, no public worship was conducted.

In the services on the Sabbath, Rev. Cuthbertson paraphrased the 15th Psalm and preached from John 3:35: “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things in his hand.”  After the sermon, there was prayer and singing from the psalter.  Then the pastor spoke again about the sacrament, debarring some from the table while inviting others to the table of the Lord.  The communicants came, singing the Twenty-fourth Psalm, to sit at four tables as was the custom, to receive the elements of the sacred supper.  After the table services were concluded, he exhorted the communicants and led in prayer.  A part of the 103rd Psalm was sung.  Then after an interval of thirty minutes, another sermon was preached.  The entire service of that Communion day worship lasted nine hours.

Before the worshipers started home on Monday, another sermon was proclaimed as a departing reminder from the Word of God.

Words to live by:
   We might well wonder whether God’s people today would sit through such protracted services.  As one minister commented, there would not be many left but the preacher, and most probably he too would feel like departing!   But let it be said that these early American Christians did not have all the privileges of weekly services nor access to countless Christian books and media outlets.  What they had, they treasured, and exhibited a spiritual fervor which, with all our spiritual privileges, too many professing Christians and churches lack that same spiritual fervor.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

A Union of Scottish Presbyterians

A noted Reformed Presbyterian theologian was once asked in the early eighteen hundreds in this country to identify his branch of the Presbyterian Church.  He replied that he belonged to no branch of Presbyterians, only to the root of Presbyterianism.  This answer revealed the deep view of history which Covenanter Presbyterians have of their church.

Any article on Scottish Presbyterians must really have an understanding first of the religious  situation  in  Scotland,   to say nothing   of the   Church of Scotland coming out of Romanism in the Protestant Reformation under reformer John Knox.  We don’t have room enough to enter into that topic on this site, but a good perusal or even a scan of any of the books which deal with that history will bring you up to speed on this.   Suffice to say that the American colonies were the happy recipients of countless Scot-Irish immigrants from Scotland through Ireland to this land.  They brought with them their distinctives which were (1)  a perpetual obligation to the Scottish covenants which their spiritual forefathers had signed, many with their blood, (2)  the sole headship of Christ over all, and last, (3) the concept of Christian civil government, where the new nation would be recognized as a Christian nation under King Jesus.

In their Scottish history, there had been many breakaways from the Church of Scotland for alleged errors in doctrine and practice.  One was called the Associate Presbytery, while another breakaway was called the Reformed Presbytery.

The latter was organized in the American colonies on March 9, 1774 as the first Reformed Presbyterian Presbytery of Pennsylvania.  In fact, there is a blue historical sign by the state of Pennsylvania which recognizes this religious event beside one of the roads in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  It was composed of three ministers: John Cuthbertson, William Lind, and Alexander Dobbins.

The first, John Cuthbertson,  was a missionary who traveled all throughout Pennsylvania, visiting the scattered societies, as they were known, ministering to them by the Word and Sacrament.  Often, their place of worship was under the sky and known as a Tent, such as the Junkin Tent in New Kingston, Pennsylvania.  Rev.  William Lind ministered in Paxton, outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in a church.  And  the third minister from Ireland, Rev, Alexander Dobbins, was ministering outside of Gettysburg, Pa.  Thousands eat today as the Dobbins House Restaurant near the 1863 Gettsyburg Battlefield, not realizing that Rev. Dobbins had a pivotal part in the establishment of Presbyterianism in Pennsylvania.

That union of three ministers in the Reformed Presbytery lasted about eight years as another union took place in Pequea, Pennsylvania, on June 13, 1782 between  the Associate Presbytery and the Reformed Presbytery.  Somehow the Scottish distinctions between the two presbyteries were not as relevant in this new land.  This produced the Associate Reformed Presbytery.

Words to Live By:  Their current membership in the various Scottish Presbyterian Covenanter churches might be small in comparison with other Presbyterian churches, but in their minds and hearts, they are the root of Presbyterianism, never just another branch.  It is good to have a clear sense of history of your church.  In fact, this yearly historical devotional has that as one of its purposes.  This contributor desires that you, the reader,  know from where you have come in the past, so you won’t make the mistakes of the past, but labor effectively in the presence and future for King Jesus.

Through the Scriptures: Ecclesiastes 10 – 12

Through the Standards: The moral law after the fall into sin

W.C.F. 19:2

“This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.”

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