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By the 1940s, efforts by modernists were well underway to effect a union between the PCUSA and the PCUS. As conservatives in the PCUS (aka Southern Presbyterian Church) began to fight against these efforts, with the formation of The Southern Presbyterian Journal as one major arm of that effort, the Auburn Affirmation came to summarize all that was wrong with the PCUSA and so criticism of the Affirmation was a key way of opposing the merger. Here, from an early issue of The Journal, the Rev. Daniel S. Gage, a professor at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, offered his critique of the Auburn Affirmation which had been issued in its final form on this day, May 5th, in 1924. 

The Auburn Affirmation
By Rev. Daniel S. Gage, D.D.
Professor of Philosophy and Bible,
Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri.

[excerpted from The Southern Presbyterian Journal, 1.5 (August 1942) 16-19.]

This document is one of the most important ecclesiastical papers ever issued. It deserves the most careful study, and this must of necessity be rather lengthy if studied in an article such as this.

It is thought by some that it merely raised some constitutional questions as to the powers of the General Assembly. It is true that this was raised by it, but only as the basis for a far more important “affirmation”. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., in reply to an overture from the Presbytery of Baltimore, in 1910, calling attention to the existence of doubts and denials of the faith of the Church, pronounced certain doctrines “essential”. The Assembly of 1916 repeated them and in 1923 the Assembly again declared them to be “essential” doctrines of the Word of God and of the Standards. We quote them from the actions of that Assembly as its deliverance was followed by the Auburn Affirmation.

1. It is an essential doctrine of the Word and of our Standards that the Holy Spirit did so inspire, guide and move the writers of Holy Scripture as to keep them from error.

2. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards that the Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.

3. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards that Christ offered up “Himself a sacrifice to satisfy Divine justice and to reconcile us to God.”

4. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards concerning the Lord Jesus Christ that on the third day he arose again from the dead, with the same body with which He suffered, with which He also ascended to heaven and there sitteth at the right hand of His Father, making intercession for us.

5. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God as the supreme standard of our faith that our Lord Jesus showed His power and love by working mighty miracles. This working was not contrary to nature but superior to it. An affirmation which, on the title page, declares that it is designed to safe-guard the unity and liberty of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., was issued on May 5, 1924. It was signed by 1,283 ministers.

In some preliminary notes the “Conference Committee” says that through their correspondence they had certain knowledge that there were hundreds of ministers agreeing with the approving of the Affirmation who had refrained from signing it. They also in these notes declared that among the signers were conservatives and liberals.

“Differing as to certain theological interpretations, they are one in loyalty to our Church, to the Kingdom of God and in faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” They said that these signatures constitute an appeal to the church “for a general adoption of this same spirit of mutual confidence and unity, for a recognition of the fact that our church is broad enough to include men honestly different in their interpretations of our common standards and yet loyal, servants of Jesus, and for a new consecration of the whole church to work for the world, in obedience to our Lord.” In the Affirmation, itself, it is, stated at the beginning that the signers “feel bound in view of certain actions of the General Assembly of 1923 and of persistent attempts to divide the church and abridge its freedom, to express our convictions in matters pertaining thereto.” They asserted that they accepted the Westminster Confession of Faith “as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures”. Also, that they sincerely held and earnestly preached the doctrines of evangelical Christianity in agreement with the historic testimony of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, “of which we are loyal members”. “For the maintenance of the faith of our church, the preservation of its unity and the protection of the liberties of its ministers and people, we offer this Affirmation.”

Let us first note the constitutional questions raised by the Affirmation. It was a matter of wide report that there was being preached in the First Presbyterian Church of New York, doctrines quite contrary to the Standards. The Assembly ordered the Presbytery of New York to take steps to end this situation. The Affirmation holds that in so doing the Assembly went beyond its powers and handled the case unlawfully. But that by itself would not have made the Affirmation very important. But, more important, they held that the Assembly by declaring the above named Doctrines “essential parts” of the Word of God and of the Standards and in enjoining Presbyteries not to ordain candidates who did not subscribe to all of them in the form in which the Assembly had stated them, was, in effect, creating a new Confession of Faith. That, also it had altered the Ordination vows of a minister which had asked that he accept the Standards as “containing the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures” and that this vow did not compel a minister to put on that system the interpretation which the Assembly had so specifically expressed. They held that if these doctrines in this form were to be made essential and belief in all of them required, it should have been done by action of the Presbyteries in the constitutional manner prescribed for alteration of the Constitution and Standards of the Church. This was, of course an important problem. It was never settled but, as the sequence shows, went by default. These are the constitutional questions raised by the Affirmation. The remainder and by far the most important part, is devoted to a different problem.

It will have been noted that the signers declared that among their reasons for issuing the document, was “the protection of the liberties of its ministers and people”. Also, that there had been persistent attempts made “to bridge its (the church’s) freedom.” Of course this freedom was freedom of belief for no other kind of freedom is assailed by a Protestant Church, whose sanctions are limited to those of spiritual nature. And, it would be manifest without further study, that the signers believed their freedom of belief had been assailed by the deliverances of the Assembly in declaring certain doctrines “essential.” And, without further study it would be clear that the signers did not believe these doctrines to be essential. But further study will be made.

The Document begins by saying: “By its laws and history, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. safe-guards the liberty of thought and teaching of its ministers. At ordination they receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scripture. This the Church has always esteemed a sufficient subscription. Manifestly, it does not require their assent to the very words of the Confession or to all its teachings or to interpretations of the Confession by individuals or church courts.” “The Confession also expressly asserts the liberty of Christian believers and condemns the submission of the mind or conscience to any human authority.” Here they refer to the Conf. XX, ii.

The Affirmation then proceeds to state parts of the history of the Church in which this freedom was asserted. In the act of adopting the Westminster Confession in 1729, the church stated, “there are truths and forms with respect to which men of good character and principles may differ. And in all these they think it the duty both of private Christians and Societies, to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.”

In the last century there arose in New England a theology widely different from the theology of the Puritans and from the Westminster Standards. Mighty men on both sides entered into the debates which then were held on the problems of the theology then discussed. The New School Theology was never formulated in a definite Creed but its essential difference concerned the relation of mankind to Adam:—the imputation of his sin to man, the imputation of his guilt, being both denied by the New School. Different members of this school held different views on some matters,—especially as to why all men are sinful if no sin was inherited and if there is no “original sin”. Still the leaders of that day on both sides evidently did not take the words of the original Act of Adoption of 1729 as understood by the Affirmation for they did not feel that these profound differences could be harmonized by “mutual forebearance” and in 1837 and 1838 the Church divided into the Old and New School Assemblies. Four ninths of the Church went into the New School. And preceding this division, there had been several trials for heresy.

Here, it should be said that the New School doctrines were almost if not wholly in the Northern Synods. When the Southern Church withdrew it was from the Old School. The official theology of the Southern has been and is, Old School. But the affirmation goes on to say that after 33 years of separation, the theological debates having died down, these two Assemblies, differing so profoundly in interpretation of the Scriptures and the Standards, re-union,—on the basis of the Standards, each recognizing the other as a sound and orthodox body. No attempt was made to harmonize their different theologies. Both could be freely preached in the re-united body. New theories are rarely thought to their ultimate conclusion when first formulated. As far as I am aware, none of the New School at first denied the divinity of Jesus, the Vicarious Atonement, or the accuracy of the Bible. But, it should have been plain from the start, that the less man is a sinner, the less he needs a Saviour. And it should have been plain that if New School doctrines as to the original innocence of man,—the absence of original sin, that there was no imputation to man of either the sin or the guilt of Adam, were correct, then man could save himself, and the inevitable conclusion would be the loss of belief in the divinity of Christ, the Vicarious Atonement, and Humanism, in general.

And the Affirmationists were undoubtedly right in asserting that the history of the Church U.S.A. does show that what is said in one of the introductory paragraphs is correct,—that they were appealing to the Church “for a recognition of the fact that our Church is broad enough to include men honestly differing in their interpretation of our common standards, and yet loyal servants of Jesus Christ.” For since that union of 1870, there has been two wholly different theologies preached in the Church U. S. A., so different that it is impossible to reconcile them, and those differences do not concern minor matters, but are at the very foundation of the whole system of doctrine. That the Church, U.S.A. has been an “inclusive” church since then cannot be doubted.

The Affirmation then goes on to cite in support of their contention as to the fact that the whole history of the church is one of recognition of differing interpretations, the fact that in 1906, the church united with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. “The union was opposed on the ground that the two churches were not one in doctrine, yet it was consummated. Thus did our church once more exemplify its historical policy of accepting theological differences within its bounds and subordinating them to recognized loyalty to Jesus Christ and united work for the kingdom of God.”

Next, the Affirmation definitely denies that any Council has power to settle any controversies of religion. It quotes the words of the Confession that “the Supreme Guide …. can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture”. “Accordingly our Church has held that the supreme guide in the interpretation of the Scriptures is … the Spirit of God speaking to the Christian believer.” The omitted words refer to the contrary doctrine of the Roman Catholics, and do not in any way alter the meaning of the Affirmation as the Supreme Guide and Judge.

But the Affirmation next challenges the declaration of the Assembly in its first “essential doctrine” that the writers of the Scriptures were kept free from error. It asserts that the Confession does not make this statement,—that it is not to be found in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds, nor in any of the great Reformation Confessions, and hold that the General Assembly of 1923 in so asserting, “spoke without warrant of the Scriptures or the Confession of Faith. We hold rather to the words of the Confession of Faith, that the Scriptures ‘are given by inspiration of God to be the whole rule of faith and life”.

Next, the Affirmation refers to the expression of the General Assembly of 1923, that five doctrinal statements were “essential doctrines of the Word of God and our Standards.” It declares that on the constitutional grounds they have before described, “we are opposed to any and all attempts to elevate these five doctrinal statements or any of them, to the position of tests for ordination or good standing in our church”. The plain meaning of this is that a minister may deny any or all of them and still be in good standing in the church. He may deny the inerrancy of Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the Vicarious Atonement, the Bodily Resurrection and the working of Miracles and be in good standing as to his faith and preaching.

Next, the Affirmation adds:—“Furthermore, this opinion of the General Assembly tends to commit our church to certain theories concerning the inspiration of the Bible, and the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection and the Continuing Life and Supernatural Power of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It will have been noted that in making the declaration that these doctrines were essential, the Assembly used the verbatim words of the Standards except as to the Miracles. But the Affirmation holds that these words merely express certain theories as to these five doctrines. In their place, the signers next say—and this is important, “We all hold most earnestly to these great facts and doctrines”, (here we call careful attention to the following quotation as it contains the heart of the Affirmation)—”we all believe from our hearts that the writers of the Bible were inspired of God: that Jesus Christ was God manifest in the flesh; that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself and through Him we have our redemption; that having died for our sins He rose from the dead and is our ever-living Saviour; that in His earthly ministry He wrought many mighty works and by His vicarious death and unfailing presence He is able to save to the uttermost.” The above is printed with emphasis, heavy type, in the Affirmation. It would sound well if it were not for what follows. “Some of us regard the particular theories contained in the deliverance of the General Assembly of 1923 as satisfactory explanations of these facts and doctrines. But we are united in believing that these are not the only theories allowed by the Scriptures and Standards as explanations of these facts and doctrines of our religion and that all who hold to these facts and doctrines, whatever theories they may employ to explain them are worthy of all confidence and fellowship”.

Next is added: “We do not desire liberty to go beyond the teachings of evangelical Christianity. But we maintain that it is our constitutional right and Christian duty within these limits to exercise liberty of thought and teaching that we may more effectively preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.” The Affirmation closes with a paragraph which deplores the evidence of division in the church, and appeals to all to preserve the unity and freedom of the Church.

It will be noted that in the above statement of the facts and doctrines which all hold, it is admitted that the Biblical writers were inspired but they decline to believe that they were kept by the Spirit free from error. They believe God was in Christ, but not by the Virgin Birth. Nor was Jesus Christ necessarily then truly God and Man with two distinct natures and one person. That Jesus did rise from the dead but they decline to hold that it must have been by the resurrection of the body with which he was buried. That He did many mighty works but they decline to hold that they must have been genuine miracles. That His death was vicarious and yet the Atonement was not necessarily of such nature. In other words, all these views in the Confession reasserted by the Assembly are but theories for explanation of the above facts. Other theories are possible according to the Affirmation. One who denies all the above theories as expressed in the Confession could hold other theories and still be in good and regular standing and worthy of all confidence and fellowship.

How different might be the theologies preached in church in which all these theories might be believed by some and denied by others would be hard to say. Is it unfair to say that almost any doctrine short of denial of Jesus as Lord and Saviour could be preached? Almost any doctrine as to the reliability of Scripture, as to the person and nature of Christ,—as to the nature of His atonement,—as to His resurrection,—as to his life on earth as far as miracles are concerned. Could not ALL miracles be denied? Could it not be held that Jesus was but a man in whom God manifested Himself? Could not one hold other theories as to the appearance of Christ in the upper room than that He actually appeared in the Body? And so with other appearances? Of course he could,—if the statements of the Assembly which quotes the words of the Confession are but theories and other theories are possible.

The singers of the Affirmation declared that they had the constitutional right to preach other theories. And this was granted by the fact that the Committee of the Assembly of 1924 to which the Affirmation was referred recommended that no action be taken. Therefore, men of liberal views, of conservative views,—holding the Old School doctrines as to the sinfulness of man and those of the New School denying it, and therefore not so needing a Saviour as if he were “dead in trespasses and sin”,—those of Arminian theology as found in the Cumberland Church, and those of strict Calvinism; and other views which may be held are all in the one Church. The constitutional power of the Assembly to declare certain “theories” as the Affirmationists called them, of the Facts of Christianity to be essential, was never brought to the test. It was never sent to the Presbyteries. The Church decided to preserve outward ecclesiastical unity by permitting any private interpretation to be put on all the facts of Christianity. In their statement as to the Supreme Guide of doctrine these words are used, “accordingly our church has held that the supreme guide in the interpretations of the Scriptures is not, as with Roman Catholics, ecclesiastical authority, but the Spirit of God speaking to the Christian believer”. Any believer therefore has the right to hold his interpretations of all the facts of the Christian life. Certainly, this is true. But whether any believer has the right to preach his private interpretations and remain in a particular church, is not necessarily the case. Two courses are manifestly open to all organized churches. They may decide to permit any and all interpretations and thus preserve outward unity by permitting inward diversity.

The Affirmationists declared that they did not desire to go beyond the bounds of evangelical Christianity. But any one could freely determine for himself what these bounds were, decide for himself what evangelical Christianity is, and they claimed and received this right. On the other hand, any Church can, if it choose, decide that it wishes real unity of belief, and a consistent unified message in its bounds,—it may if it choose, decide what is the “Gospel” and what as Paul says, are “not even other gospels for they are no Gospel at all”. Outward unity at the price of inward diversity,—or real unity both outward and inward,—a declaration as to what is the true “Gospel” and the permission of any doctrine as to the Gospel,—these are apparently the lines which Churches must choose. Our Church so far has chosen to try to preserve both inward and outward unity. We must pay the price if we give up our real inward unity.

This study is written to call the attention of our Southern Church to the situation should there come organic union between the two Assemblies. We would enter a body far larger than ours in which all the above doctrines could be preached, and, of course, then, they could be preached in any part of our now Southern Church. That this amounts to removing almost all doctrinal standards needs for proof only that the Affirmation be studied. For note the paragraph introductory of the Affirmation to which reference was made near the beginning of this article,—that the Affirmation is an appeal for the recognition of the fact that our church is broad enough to include men differing in their interpretation of our common Standards.” It is the Interpretation which a man puts on words,—not the words, themselves, which determines his beliefs. Differing interpretations may mean differing and even mutually exclusive theologies. Organic union would be but outward, while there would not and could not be any real inner unity.


 

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The Rev. Robert W. Childress passed into glory on this day, January 16, 1956.

childressRobertWhen the Master has a big work to do, He raises up a big man to do it. The Lord does not always choose a man from places such as those where men would look. Such a man, from a most unlikely place, is the subject of this story. This man of God’s choosing was born in the mountains of Patrick County, Virginia, not far from the present Blue Ridge Parkway. He was born in a one-room mountain cabin, born into a large family, his people the direct descendants of Scots-Irish immigrants, and born into deep poverty and ignorance.

Robert W. Childress once said that he did not know when he was given his first drink of liquor. Sundays were spent in gambling, shooting and drinking parties. Schools were little thought of. A church was seldom visited, and the thought of Sunday school was anathema to the people of his community.

But out of this lawless backwater, God saved Robert. He used a young lady who later became his wife, but who died not long after two children were born to this couple. Even in death, his wife continued to live as a powerful influence. Childress said the devil threw him sixteen times, but Christ triumphed in the end, and Robert began to look to how the Lord might use him. Against all odds, he began to pursue an education and before long, now married again and in his thirties, the Lord at last brought him to seminary to prepare for the ministry.

childress_biographyA bunch of the boys dropped in with guns at one of Preacher Childress’ first services in the Virginia mountains. They told him to leave the country, or else.

“They were a little wrought up,” Childress explained. “I’d said something about their making whiskey and naturally it insulted them. They’d wanted me to apologize, and I hadn’t. I’d told them I could be just as crazy as they were.”

“So of course they were upset. They were drinking when they came to the service, and they didn’t know what they were doing. We had a little prayer,” he smiled, “and they let me off.”

“Some folks were a little rough,” he admitted, when he started work in the stretch of rugged country in Floyd, Carroll, and Patrick counties in Virginia.

“They were the best-hearted people in the world, but they just didn’t behave. There was a lot of killing, a lot of drinking, a lot of feuding. But they’ve changed.”

Time was, he recalled, when they said the politicians were afraid to come through the section, “even to solicit votes.” But no more. “There’s hardly any fighting now. There’s less drinking. The homes are better. People are happier.”

Words to Live By:
The Lord raised up Robert Childress to do a big work. He lifted him up out of incredible poverty and spiritual depravity and made him a useful vessel for His service. The faithful preaching of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ brings real change to the hearts and lives of an otherwise lawless people, the world over.

Dust jacket of the biography, The Man Who Moved a Mountain, by Richard C. Davids :

 

Note:

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As most of our readers know, it was on this day, January 1st, in 1937 that the Rev. J. Gresham Machen died from complications of pneumonia, during a speaking tour in North Dakota. We have written before of his death, but seeking to bring something new to the table, here is a tribute which appeared on the pages of The Evangelical Student, a publication of The League of Evangelical Students:—


On January 1, 1937, God called from our midst and unto Himself the Rev. J. Gresham Machen, D.D., Litt.D., Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary and a Trustee of the League of Evangelical Students. In the passing of Dr. Machen the whole Christian world has sustained an irreparable loss. Nowhere will the loss of this great leader and friend be felt more keenly than in the student-world. It was in the student-world that Dr. Machen’s heart lay; it was there that he gave his life in utter abandonment to the cause of Christ. Dr. Machen loved students. This is seen with particular clearness in Dr. Machen’s devotion to the League of Evangelical Students. From its very inception the League of Evangelical Students was close to his heart. To the very end he remained one of the League’s most helpful and faithful friends.

Twelve years ago some students of the old Princeton Seminary returned from a meeting of a students’ association now popularly known as The Interseminary Movement. At this meeting of theological students a spiritual state was disclosed which resulted in the open denial of Jesus Christ as God’s only begotten Son and man’s only Saviour. The Deity of Jesus and John 3 :16 were rejected as a doctrinal basis of that association. It was even declared by one of the students that “Buddha could save us as well as Christ.” There were Christian leaders then as there are now who counseled these students to stay within this blasphemous movement and to try to “leaven the loaf,” as if by staying in a movement that denied our Lord we could ever raise a testimony to our Lord. In loyalty to Christ these students and many others formed a separate movement on an evangelical basis and named it The League of Evangelical Students. Several of the Professors of this seminary bitterly opposed the League. One Professor even refused to permit the use of student body stationery bearing his name for purposes of furthering this League of Evangelical Students. What did Dr. Machen do at a time like this? Though to befriend these loyal students meant enmity in high places, Dr. Machen stood openly with these students. Their reproach he made his reproach. Under the hostility of personal attack which became cruel and bitter he did not for one moment forsake these students who were standing for the Lord Jesus Christ. He befriended them; he encouraged them; he counseled them; he defended them in high places. He loved them.

Throughout the twelve years of the League’s existence Dr. Machen continued one of its most faithful and interested friends. Exceedingly busy man that he was, he was always willing and anxious to minister to the needs of students. When he was needed as a speaker at League Conventions he would give liberally of his time and means to make that possible. Pressed with the duties of a teacher and a church leader, he would travel hundreds of miles to speak to a humble group of students. To those in doubt and in need of Christian edification he generously offered his monumental books. Never was an inquiring student neglected.
 One of the last acts of Dr. Machen in connection with the League was a lengthy correspondence with a Christian student attending a pagan university. This correspondence culminated in his sending to the student a copy of each of the books he had written. This is but one of a countless number of such incidents. Only the students who have been touched by the warmth of his spirit and the depth of his mind can begin to appreciate just what Dr. Machen’s friendship among students meant.

Dr. Machen is no longer with the League of Evangelical Students. But let it not be thought for a moment that Dr. Machen’s death is a blow of defeat. Quite the contrary, there has already been manifest among the students and the Trustees of the League a spirit of renewed zeal for the cause. Each one of us, by the grace of God, must assume an added responsibility. Relying on the strength of our omnipotent God, we believe the future of the League will be far more glorious than its not inglorious past. The Lord God of J. Gresham Machen is with us yet.

Words to Live By:
Someone once said of J. Gresham Machen, “We loved him because of the enemies he made.” To put it another way, “We loved him because regardless of the consequences, regardless of the opposition, he stood for the truth of God’s Word,”

It is the Lord God who prepares leaders for His Church. We cannot claim that place for ourselves, nor would we want to, if we knew all it entails. Our only duty is to obey His will, regardless of whether we are ordained to leadership or whether we are ordained to mop the floors. The Lord will raise up those whom He will, where He will, and when He will. Pray for those in authority over you, that they would be steadfast in His covenant. Pray and trust the Lord that He would keep you steadfast, and see where He will take you in the coming year.

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The following discourse on baptism is from the Rev. John Black [1768-1849], of whom we spoke earlier in the weekRev. Black was a contemporary and close associate of the Rev. Alexander MacLeod, and would as well have known and been conversant with many other notable Presbyterians such as Samuel Miller, Jacob J. Janeway, and Ashbel Green. Rev. Black served as the first Stated Clerk of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (New Light). As that body, through a series of mergers, eventually became part of the PCA, I suppose we could with a bit of stretching say that Rev. Black was the first Stated Clerk of the PCA. Or maybe not.

The opening portion only of this discourse is presented below. To read the full treatise, click the embedded link in the title:

THE SUBSTANCE OF SOME DISCOURSES ON BAPTISM;
delivered in the
First Reformed Presbyterian Church, in Pittsburgh.
By JOHN BLACK, D. D.
(1846.)

DISCOURSE.

Black_John_1768-1849Then Peter said unto them. Repent, and be baptized every one of yon in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Acts ii. 38, 39.

The feast of Pentecost was one of the three solemn feasts, in which all the males in Israel were commanded to appear before the Lord, in the course of the year, in the place which he should choose. Deut. xvi. 16. It is also called the feast of weeks, because forty-nine days, or a week of weeks, must be complete after the passover, and on the fiftieth day it was celebrated; hence called Pentecost, or the fiftieth day. It was also called the feast of harvest, because, at that time, the wheat harvest was ripe, and the first fruits were to be offered to the Lord. The object appears to have been, to render thanks to God for his mercies, and to commemorate the giving of the law from Mount Sinai. Did it not also prefigure the descent of the Holy Ghost in such plentiful effusion upon the disciples of Christ on the day of Pentecost, and how plentifully the first fruits of the Gentiles should give themselves unto the Lord? It is worthy of observation, that it was on the day of Pentecost—the fiftieth day from the Israelites’ departure from Egypt—that God gave the law from Sinai, and on that very day—the day of Pentecost, he caused the gospel law to be promulgated.

The Savior, before he ascended, commanded his apostles to remain at Jerusalem, until they should obtain the promise of the Father, and be baptized with the Holy Ghost; for which, he assured them, they would not have to wait many days. This promise was fulfilled ten days after his departure. Then was displayed a remarkable manifestation of the divine power. A sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, is suddenly heard, which filled the whole house where the disciples were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, one of which sat down upon the head of each of them—an emblem of the diversified languages which they were now to speak. At the building of Babel, the language of the people was confounded and divided, and thereby the builders were scattered; but here the gift of various languages was given, that the scattered nations might be gathered to Jesus Christ, the shepherd and bishop of souls. The solemn occasion had gathered to Jerusalem strangers in multitudes, who, it appears, spoke fifteen different languages, all of which the disciples now perfectly understood, and distinctly and fluently spoke, as if they had been their mother tongue, although they had never learned them. This filled all with amazement; but some mocked, and ridiculed the whole transaction, ascribing it to inebriation. The apostles resented this invidious reproach, and Peter, who was the chief speaker, shewed plainly, that this was the fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel, ii. 28—31, and preached unto them Jesus whom they had crucified, in such a powerful, moving, and effectual manner, the Holy Spirit setting it home upon their hearts, that they said unto Peter, and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? To which Peter answered, “ Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” In considering these words, we propose the following method:

1. Offer some remarks on the nature of baptism. 2. Inquire who are its proper subjects? 3. The Scripture mode of baptism.

I. THE NATURE OF BAPTISM.

1. Baptism is a washing with water as a sacramental act. It had been long in use by the Jews in receiving their proselytes, but not by divine institution. Baptism supposes impurity in the subject. Indeed, all washing necessarily supposes this. That which is clean may be wet, but can- not properly be washed. But baptism is called washing. Eph. v. 26, “ That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” The symbol is water only. It represents the blood of Christ applied by the Holy Spirit, Rev. i. 5: “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” The application of that blood is by the Spirit of Christ, Titus iii. 5: “ According to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” The blood of Christ cleanses meritoriously, 1 John i. 7: “The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” The Spirit of Christ cleanseth us from all sin, by the effi- cacious application of the blood of Christ to the conscience. By the blood of Christ the guilt of sin is, at once, taken away in justification. The Spirit of Christ removes the blot and stain of sin gradually in sanctification. As water, free to all by the gift of heaven, when applied, washes and makes clean that which before was physically foul and unclean; so the blood of Christ, freely offered to all who hear the gospel, when applied by the Spirit, purifies from the guilt and pollution of sin, those who are morally defiled, and spiritually unclean. The instrumental administrators of baptism must be ministers of the gospel lawfully ordained, and no others. None have a right to act as commissioners, but such as have received a commission. The steward of a family is appointed by the head of the family. Jesus Christ, who alone is Lord in his own house, made all its laws, appointed all its offices and officers, and commissioned those whom he authorized to preach and baptize Before he ascended into heaven, he enlarged the commission of his apostles, which before his death had been restricted to the Jews: but now he authorizes them to go into all nations, whether Jews or Gentiles, and convert them to the faith of Christ, and promises to be with them always, even to the end of the world. The apostles were not to live to the end of the world. It could not, therefore, mean the apostles personally. Yet he says you. It must there- fore mean the officers, and that too, without the possibility of suffering the office to die, or the officers to become extinct to the end of time. The limit is the end of the world- the intermediate time, always. There never shall be an interregnum, or the office without an occupant, while the world stands. The apostles, as such, had no successors. The office, like that of the prophets, was altogether ex- traordinary. The claims of the Pope, and the no less groundless claims of diocesan bishops, to be the successors of the apostles, spring from ignorance of the gospel, and the government of the Church of God, as established by the Redeemer. The apostles possessed the ministerial, as well as the apostolical character; the ordinary office of the ministry, along with the apostolate. This is evident from the declaration of Peter in his 1st Epistle, v. 1: “The elders which are among you, I exhort, who am also an elder”—presbyter, or minister of the gospel. Now, to such characters, Christ gave the commission to preach and baptize. How daring, then, must it be for any who have not this commission, to undertake to preach and baptize. In 1 Cor. iv. 1, the ministers of Christ are called “stewards of the mysteries of God.” Are stewards self-appointed?

Or may they who are not appointed, act the part of stewards, as well as those who are? Since the extraordi- nary granting of commissions, in the days of the apostles, has ceased, the Scripture speaks of no way by which a commission is given, but by “the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” 1 Tim. iv. 14. As a blessing was prayed for by our Lord, to attend the administration of the sacramental supper, so, by parity of reason, a blessing is to be prayed for, to attend the administration of the sacrament of baptism. This prayer sets apart the “sensible sign” in the sacrament, from a common to a sacred use. The water in baptism should, in this way, be blessed, as the bread and wine in the Lord’s supper, by praying for a blessing thereon.

2. Baptism is to be administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to whom the baptized person is dedicated as covenant property. But as to immediate authority, like all other Church ordinances, it is administered in the name of Jesus Christ. Many mistakes have been made about baptizing in the name of Christ, and baptizing in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as if they were different modes of baptizing. The truth is, both apply to every baptism. The mistake is in applying the same meaning to the word name, in both cases. Sometimes the word name means authority; thus a civil Court is opened in the name, that is, by the authority of the Commonwealth; and an ecclesiastical Court is opened in the name, by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, name sometimes means property, or pos- session; thus a deed is made out in the name, or for the use, and as the property of some one. In the first sense, no ordinance is administered in the name of the Trinity. No ecclesiastical Court is opened in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. True it is, that all power, and authority originally belong to God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost; but there is, by the God-head, a delegated authority and headship committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, that the preaching of the gospel, the administration of sacraments, and all church ordinances, shall be done in his name, and by virtue of his authority. Thus all who are baptized, are baptized in the name of Jesus. They are also baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, solemnly dedicated, and devoted, to be the covenant property of a three one God, to be for him soul and body, wholly and forever. Their engagement is to be the Lord’s and to take him as their portion forever.

3. Teaching must precede and accompany baptism. If the persons to be baptized were heathens, they must first be proselyted, and instructed in the faith. Mat. xxviii. 19: and all adults should be so indoctrinated, and instructed in the knowledge of Christ, and of the system of grace, that they shall be able to give a reason of the hope that is in them. It is the doctrine of Anti-Christ, that ignorance is the mother of devotion, while the Bible plainly declares, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hos. iv. 6. An ignorant man is represented as more stupid than the ox, or the ass. Is. i. 3: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib, but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.” Unless the person be previously instructed, he cannot have a firm persuasion that it is an ordinance of God. He cannot have a serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the end for which Christ instituted it. Every sacrament must be received by faith. But faith supposes knowledge. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed, and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher?” Rom. x. 14.

4. As baptism is an enrolment of a new member of the church—an initiating into the visible society of the worshippers of the Lord Jesus Christ, it ought to be done publicly, in the face of the congregation. It is a declaration of visible membership, a distinguishing badge of discipleship, a sign whereby the followers of Christ are distinguished from pagans, or heathens, as the Israelites of old were distinguished from the uncircumcised nations around them. Private baptism is therefore contrary to the nature of the ordinance, a mean, and clandestine intruding of members into visible communion, as if by stealth. There is something in the very nature of the ordinance, that requires its public administration. The body of Christ is one, and the members of that body are also, “members, one of another.” Rom. xii. 5. And the apostle says, 1 Cor. xii. 13: “By one spirit are we all baptized into one body.” Baptism, therefore, presents to the body, another member initiated into their fellowship, and having a claim upon their prayers, their brotherly affection, their sympathy, and all good offices. Besides, the solemn ordinance, the vows and engagements of the person baptized, while calling for the accompanying prayers of the congregation, will also remind them of their own vows and engagements, and thereby excite to the improving their own baptism, and thus promoting their sanctification. Baptism, while in a certain sense, it is an initiating ordinance, yet does not originate the fact of church membership. Baptism supposes church membership, and yet it confers a membership which the unbaptized member did not enjoy. The fact of membership abstractly, is obtained, by making a profession of the faith of the gospel, or by being the infant seed of church members. This entitles to being recognized as a member of the organized visible church, to which the person is initiated by baptism. If attention is paid to the distinction between the kind of membership which is required to entitle to baptism, and the membership which baptism confers, it will refute the charge which is sometimes brought, of arguing in a circle, making membership the cause of baptism, and baptism the cause of membership. The distinction is obvious.

5. Baptism is not only a sign of church membership, as well as of Christ and his benefits; it is also a seal of the covenant of grace. A seal is used as a confirmation of bonds or deeds. Such was circumcision in the covenant made with Abraham, a “seal of the righteousness of faith.” Rom. iv. 11; and such is the seal of baptism, which comes in the room of circumcision, to all belivers, who are the spiritual seed of Abraham. By this seal Christ and his benefits are confirmed to the believer. These benefits are all the blessings contained in the promises of the new covenant, all embraced in grace here, and glory hereafter; Ps. lxxxiv. 11: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield, the Lord will give grace and glory.” A seal to a deed, covenant, or agreement, supposes the agreement made, the seal is a ratification of what the parties have agreed upon. A seal would be of no use without this agreement. None are agreed to God’s covenant but believers. I speak now of adults. Therefore, baptism seals nothing to any but believers. God promises every blessing to believers, and baptism is a seal of the covenant on God’s part, not to make the promise of the covenant more sure, for it is impossible for God to lie, his faithfulness is inviolable, and unchangeable; but to make the faith of the believer stronger. It is God’s ratifying to believers their right to covenant blessings with infallible certainty. And thus God, for the strengthening the faith, and removing the doubts of believers, condescends to bind himself in the most solemn manner, by bond and seal. Like as in Heb. vi. 18, where accommodating himself to the weakness of his people, he seals his promise with the solemnity of an oath. The blessings that are sealed to believers in baptism, are “remission of sins by the blood of Christ, regeneration by his spirit, adoption, and resurrection to everlasting life.” In baptism there is, as in every sacrament, an engagement to be the Lord’s—a renouncing the devil, the world, and the flesh, and an engagement to devote all that we are, soul and body, and all that we have, our gifts, graces, time, talents, com- forts and joys, to the glory of God. And this requires, to “deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” In baptism the believer “sets to his seal that God is true,” John iii. 33, by believing his promises, receiving his testimony, and taking his law in the hand of the Mediator, as the rule of his faith, and obedience in all things. Adults in baptism, take these vows directly, and in their own persons. Children impliedly, through the representation of their parents. Parents are the natural guardians of their children. They are the most suitable persons to be their moral guardians, and representatives. Children are bound by the act of their representatives in civil things, and why not in the vows of baptism, if these vows are right—what the law of God requires? None can be bound by what is morally wrong, for all obligation is founded in the moral law, and what it forbids, can have in it no obligation—nothing binding on the conscience. Parents, in the baptism of their children, do not promise what their children will do, but what they themselves will do, in the discharge of the duties incumbent upon them, as Christian parents to their Christian offspring. Through their representation, the child receives the sacrament of baptism, and in that sacrament is contained the engagement to be the Lord’s, which, as we have seen, binds to all the duties which God’s law makes incumbent as a rule of life, to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors or equals.

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The bicentennial observation of the founding of the Fairfield Presbyterian Church, of Fairton, New Jersey, commonly known as the Old Stone Church, was observed on September 29, 1880, the church having been organized in 1680. That congregation continues on to the present day and is a member church of the Presbyterian Church in America.

osbornEthanEasily the most distinguished pastor in the history of the Old Stone Church was the Rev. Ethan Osborn.

For our Lord’s day sermon, the following is a transcript of the aged pastor’s last words to his congregation,

“the aged preacher, in all the faithfulness of his still loving heart, and under circumstances which could not fail to awaken for him the sympathy of his audience. He is now in his ninety-second year. The place where he stands was he scene of his eventful ministrations for more than half a century, and he does not expect ever to preach from that pulpit again. After referring to the ministry of his predecessor, who in 1780 preached the first sermon in the house, to his own labors there, and to those of the writer of this memorial, then the pastor of the congregation, he proceeds—”

“I may safely say that by the preaching of these three ministers, in this house, the doctrines and all things essential to duty and salvation, have been clearly explained and faithfully urged upon the people. The doctrine of human depravity has been explained and proved from Scripture and common observation. Here also the doctrine of regeneration has been repeatedly set forth, and the absolute necessity of it urged upon the people. It has been shown that we must be new created in Christ Jesus, must have the love of God ruling in our hearts, or we can never be admitted into his kingdom.

“Also the doctrines of repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, have been faithfully preached in this house, and their absolute necessity in order to obtain pardon and heavenly felicity. Likewise the duties prescribed in the gospel have been explained and insisted on. The people have been informed that supreme love to God is their indispensable duty. Here also they have been taught the duties we owe, one to another, to do good to all according to our abilities and opportunities; and to ourselves, to live sober and religious lives in the world. Here also, that the law forbids every sin, whether in action, word or heart, and pronounces a curse on every transgression of it. For ‘cursed is every one that continueth not in all the things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’ And as all have sinned, therefore no human being can be justified before God by the deeds of the law, or by meritorious obedience. The law requires perfect and perpetual obedience. But as no man has yielded such obedience, or possessed sinless perfection, therefore in vain do you now look to the law for justification.

‘Since to convince and to condemn,
Is all the law can do.’

“But, thanks to God : the gospel reveals a way of justification, how we may obtain forgiveness and the favor of God. And this blessed gospel has often been preached in this house, the gospel which offers a free pardon to every humble penitent. ‘This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ The blessed Saviour invites the weary and heavy laden sinner to come to him, assuring him that he will raise him up at the last day to eternal life. Such is the inviting and beneficent language of the gospel. But at the same time, both law and gospel denounce everlasting punishment on such as reject the Saviour and die impenitent.

“Now the interesting question is, How have the people improved the preaching of the law and the gospel? Most of those who lived under the ministry of my predecessor have gone to the grave. But to you who are yet living and hearing the gospel, the question is solemn and important. Have you so improved the preaching of God’s word as to become wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus?

“To those who are pious believers, I would say, you have chosen the good part, and God has begun a gracious work in you which he will carry on until it terminates in glory. So that by faith in Christ, shaving laid hold on the hope set before us, you may have a strong consolation, and go on your Christian course rejoicing. Be not satisfied with your present relative attainments, but press forward to the work of perfection, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Use the appointed means of reading and hearing the word of God, not forsaking the assembling of yourselves for public worship, as many do, and by no means neglect the privilege and duty of prayer. Ask and receive, not only that you may have grace to serve God, but that you may also grow in grace and in the knowledge of your Lord Jesus Christ. In this way religion will become more pleasant. The nearer you advance toward heavenly perfection, the more delighted you will be with heavenly enjoyment. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.’

‘Come leave his pleasant ways,
And let us taste his grace.’

“Never be weary in well doing, for in perseverance, you shall in due time reap a glorious harvest. As an inducement thus to live and spend your remaining days, remember your judge and mind will ere long call us to answer, how I have preached the gospel and how you have improved it.

“I now turn to those of you whose future happiness is not yet secured by faith in the Mediator. Your situation is awfully dangerous. You are now suspended between the possibility of eternal happiness or eternal misery. You are now between the two vast extremes, or if I may more plainly express it between heaven and hell. Either celestial happiness or infernal misery must in a short time be your everlasting portion. How solemn is the prospect before you—the joys of heaven or the sorrows of hell, one of which must be your everlasting portion,—the latter except ye turn at God’s reproof. ‘As though God did beseech you, by us, we pray you, in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.’ Believe me when I say it is my heart’s desire and prayer to God, that you and I may have a joyful meeting at the judgment, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“As we expect this to be the last Sabbath on which I shall speak to you from this pulpit, let me say, in the presence of God who knows my heart, that I have endeavored and prayed that I might faithfully perform my ministerial duties. Though I am conscious of much imperfection, God is my witness, that I have ever preached such doctrine and precepts as I verily believe are agreeable to his word. I have repeatedly said, ‘the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.’ With gratitude to God, I look back upon the religious revivals with which he has blessed us and the friendly relations which have subsisted between us. It is no small satisfaction that as pastor and people we separated as friends, and that a pleasant intercourse subsists between myself and my successor, your present pastor. Never were the people more dear to me, I shall love them as long as I live.

“Excuse my plainness, and permit me once more to say in the fullness of my feelings, that my heart’s desire and prayer to God for you all is, that you may be saved. As it will not be long before we must each answer to God—I for my ministry, and you for your improvement of it, let us be diligent in what duty remains and in advancing toward heaven. Let brotherly love continue and abound, until it shall be perfected in the heavenly kingdom. And may God prepare us all to meet in heaven! I now bid you a cordial farewell, praying that it may fare well with you in this world, in blessings of health and prosperity, as far as shall be for God’s glory and your own good, and that in the future world, entered with your blessed Saviour into the joy of your Lord, you may FARE WELL.”

[excerpted from The Pastor of the Old Stone Church (1858), pp. 52-56. To read this work online, click here.]

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A Final Covenant

Twenty-eight Presbyterians signed a final covenant on the eve of their departure from Leith, Scotland in early September, 1685. It said in part,

“That, now to leave their own native and Covenanted land by an unjust sentence of banishment for owning truth and standing by duty, studying to keep their Covenantal engagements and baptismal vows, whereby they stand obliged to resist and testify against all that is contrary to the Word of God and their Covenants; and that their sentence of banishment ran chiefly because they refused the oath of allegiance which in conscience they could not take, because in so doing they thought utterly declined the Lord Jesus Christ from having any power in His own house, and practically would by taking it, say, ‘He is not King and Head of His Church and over their consciences.’ And, on the contrary, this was to take and put in His room a man whose breadth was in his nostrils; yea, a man who is a sworn enemy to religion; an avowed papist, whom, by our Covenants; we are bound to withstand and disown, and that agreeable to Scripture: ‘When thou art come unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shall possess it and shall dwell therein, and shalt say, I will see a King over me, like as all the nations that are about me, thou shalt  in any wise set him King over thee, whom the Lord thy God shalt choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set King over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.  Deut. 17:14, 15.”

To this final covenant, they signed their names.

It is not known to countless Christians today that many Presbyterians were carried from their beloved land of Scotland to the shores of this America, not as free immigrants, but as slaves. Slaves? Yes, slaves! The black African was not the only race to be transported to the new world as slaves. Joining them in that cruel trade were white Covenanters, who were removed from prisons all over the British isles, all for the sole reason that they refused to take an oath of allegiance to the King and failed to recognize the King’s authority over the church of Scotland.

On this occasion, the twenty-eight who signed the last covenant and another ninety seven Covenanters left on September 5, 1685 on the war ship “Henry and Frances” for landfall at Perth Amboy New Jersey. It was a terrible journey with the  ship carrying leaks, shortages of food and water, fever among the prisoners, resulting in 31 of the number dying and buried at sea. The captain of the ship was very cruel. When worship services were attempted to be held in the hold, the captain would throw wooden planks down to disrupt the services and injure the worshipers.

When they arrived at their destination in New Jersey, the inhabitants of Perth Amboy were inhospitable to them. However inhabitants of a further town inland, thought to be Woodbridge, received them and cared for their needs. Eventually they were able to find employment according to their gifts, not as slaves, but as free people.

Words to Live By:
Still other Covenanters continued to serve as slaves in places like South Carolina and the Barbados, which raises an interesting question. From where did the African slaves hear the Gospel of the Lord Jesus? Certainly their home land did not have it. Many believe, and studies have been made on the question, that they heard it from their fellow slaves, the Covenanters. May we who live in increasingly difficult days in these United States, with biblical Christianity under attack from all directions, remember the example of the early Covenanters, and be faithful to stand up for the gospel by our lips and lives, wherever the Lord may take us. Moreover, should the Lord take us into difficult places, may we remember that He has us there for a great purpose.

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Let Everything Be Done Decently and In Order.

When some 260 churches decided to leave the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (aka, Southern Presbyterian Church), to form the Presbyterian Church in America, that move was not simply formed on a whim or at a moment’s notice. For nearly thirty years, beginning in 1942, efforts by theological conservatives were unrelenting in trying to turn the mother Church back to unswerving orthodoxy.

At last, with the PCUS about to merge with the UPCUSA, it was clear that the time had come to leave. Committees were formed and plans were laid for the establishment of the new denomination. A “Convocation of Sessions” gathered in May of 1973, and this convention in turn authorized the meeting of an “Advisory Convention,” whose purpose was to finalize plans for the meeting of the first General Assembly.

The following letter, under the signature of founding father W. Jack Williamson, explains the process and the thinking behind these plans.

June 15, 1973

Beloved,

We salute you in the precious Name of Jesus Christ and invite you to attend the Advisory Convention for the Continuing Presbyterian Church, Asheville, N. C., August 7-9, 1973.

The Advisory Convention was called by a Convocation of Sessions, assembled in Atlanta, on May 19, 1973. The brethren there officially represented over 260 local congregations and more than 70,000 Southern Presbyterians. In an adopted statement, entitled “The Reaffirmations of 1973,” the Convocation committed itself to the rebirth and continuation of a Presbyterian Church, true to the Scriptures, to the Reformed Faith, and obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

The Advisory Convention is expected to call for a General Assembly which will formally organize a reborn Presbyterian Church.

It now is clear that a large number of Christians in our Southland sincerely believe that God has called them to form such a continuing church in 1973. They believe that there is an irreconcilable separation between those who hold different idealogies within the Presbyterian Church in the United States. They are convinced that unless two be agreed they cannot walk together. Because God has led them to move, they do so with determination and resolve, but with many tears and profound sorrow for the necessity that is laid upon them.

We honor and respect those who, in good conscience differ with us. We pledge our love as brothers in Christ to all those who know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, but who in this present situation follow a different course of action. We thus commit ourselves to continued fellowship with all men of good will and like conviction of the truth — all for the Glory of God and the unity of the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We enclose an information sheet concerning credentials and registration procedures for the Advisory Convention. If you desire to walk with us into the reborn Church, we invite you to be present.

Please join with us in fervent prayer for the universal Church which consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion and is the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ and the house and family of God.

Yours in His service,

The Organizing Committee for a Continuing Church

W. Jack Williamson  Chairman, Pro Tem

 

AdvisoryConventionLetter1973

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Behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ! —

Hear Him!

clowneyEPThe author is president of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pa. This is the substance of his message on Journal Day.

Smog has become a national hazard in industrial America. The evening news report includes a pollution index, made graphic by a gray veil drawn halfway across the city pictured on the television screen. Smog is the more dangerous, of course, because we take for granted the smoke of the city along with its noise and dirt. In the grayness we have forgotten the glory of sparkling sunlight.

A more deadly smog pollutes the atmosphere in America’s Churches, a noxious miasma that is the more lethal when we take it for granted. It is the smog that obscures the difference between truth and error, between the faithfulness of God and the wiles of the devil. The light of glory has departed from contemporary theology, and the experts warn against its return. Doctors of theology tell us that final answers spell disaster, because they close our minds to the changing shapes of truth for today.

Half a century ago controversy raged in the major American denominations as those dubbed “fundamentalists” contended for the faith against the ecclesiastical power of theological liberalism. Today we are assured that this struggle was not only hopeless but meaningless. Imagine the naivete of arguing about whether the virgin birth of Jesus is essential to Christian faith!

Did Jesus have a human father, or was He conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary? Both the old-fashioned liberal and his contemporary successor seek to avoid that question. An unequivocal answer would make all too clear who confesses the historic Christian faith and who denies it. Liberalism old and new has therefore sought to make the question irrelevant. Religious truth, we are told, does not communicate objective matters of fact. It is a structure of symbolism, “a human expression in propositional language of some deeper pre-positional or not-yet-thematized level of experience . .

The older liberalism rather baldly found the meaning of the symbols in religious consciousness. The newer liberalism seeks a more ambiguous point of reference in the existential encounter of the individual (or, perhaps, of society) with the “ground of being.”

Modern Ambiguity

Inhaling this new formula of truth, the contemporary liberal both affirms and denies the virgin birth. As religious symbolism it is “true.” In the Hellenistic age it was understood literally, for such things could happen in the ancient world. In the modern age it is a myth which must be translated if its religious meaning is to be interpreted. There is no need to deny that it could have occurred; after all, anything can happen in an open universe. But there is also no need at all to affirm that it did happen, since its meaning is religious, not scientific.

In the darkening twilight of our age it is easy to be persuaded that the old antitheses are gone, that truth changes with the times, and that we should be grateful to those who offer a believable version of the Gospel to modern man.

Then we turn to Scripture and our dimmed eyes are dazzled by the glory. Neither poets nor philosophers, the apostles were eyewitnesses to glorious events. On the mount of transfiguration Jesus was praying while Peter, James and John kept watch. The scene was monotonously familiar to the disciples, and mystic ecstacy was far from the experience of these fishermen. No existential angst troubled their hearts. In fact, they were almost asleep.

Peter’s Confession

Suddenly their heavy eyes were wide with amazement. Jesus stood before them as they had never seen Him before, His robe white with unearthly brilliance and His face shining with the glory of God. They saw His glory, and the light of that cloud of glory still dispels the smoke of our doubts. In this day when the glory has departed from the Church of Christ, the command comes again: “Arise, shine, for thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is upon thee” (Isa. 60:1). To see the glory now we must behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The mount of transfiguration stands in the midpoint of Christ’s ministry. Jesus had refused to lead Israel’s revolution and the crowds were leaving Him. Peter confessed the distinctive faith of the Christian Church in sharp contrast to the flattering unbelief of the crowds. The people called our Lord a prophet, Peter called Him the Christ; the people hailed Him as the greatest of God’s servants, Peter worshiped Him as the Son of the living God. When the Church says of Jesus what all men will say of Jesus, it denies Him. When it says what flesh and blood cannot conceive, then it confesses Him whom only the Father in heaven can reveal.

The disciples who confessed the divine Sonship of Jesus Christ were thereby prepared to hear the heavy tidings of His sufferings and death. Here was the acid test of the obedience of their faith. Jesus was not to be the political messiah of worldly hope. Instead, He was the suffering servant of Old Testament prophecy. Whoever would follow Him must take the path to the cross. Peter promptly failed the test. He dared to rebuke Christ for taking the cross. Peter, who had been taught by the Father in heaven, became the mouthpiece of the devil. Called to be an apostolic rock of foundation, he became a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.

But what the Father had revealed in illumining Peter’s mind had to be manifested before the apostle’s eyes. The glory of heaven shone from the Saviour as He turned to the cross. A week after Peter confessed Christ by revelation of the Father, the Father himself confessed His Son before the three apostles. The glory of the mount calls us to worshiping faith, to receive the Lord on His terms, not ours, to confess Jesus Christ as the divine Son fulfilling in His life the will of the Father, displaying in His person the nature of the Father. From the cloud of glory came the voice of God, “This is my Son, my chosen: hear ye Him.”

Hear Him! This command must pierce our ears and our hearts and shape our obedience to Jesus Christ. We must hear Him who is the prophet of glory, the priest of glory, the king of glory.

The Prophet of Glory

The scene on this mount of revelation attests the glory of the prophetic authority of Jesus Christ. True faith in Christ cannot reject the revelation on the mount. One of the confusions of contemporary theology is to set Jesus Christ as the living Word against the Bible as the written Word. However, no such contrast is possible when the real Jesus of the Bible is taken seriously. He is not an enigmatic Christ-event to which various witnesses point with fallible and conflicting utter-ances.

No, He is the living Son of God and He speaks the words given Him by the Father. No man receives Christ the living Word who does not receive His spoken words. Hear ye

Him! God who spoke of old by the prophets has now spoken by His Son, and that which was spoken by the Lord was confirmed to us by them that heard, God bearing witness with them (Heb. 1:1-2; 2:3-4).

The mount of transfiguration revealed Christ as the final prophet. Moses and Elijah, the two pivotal prophets of the Old Testament history of redemption, appeared with Him in glory. The great model of God’s revelation was the giving of His covenant on Mount Sinai. The living God kept His promise to Abraham when He redeemed Israel from Egypt and assembled the people before Him to hear all the words of His gracious covenant.

When the people could not bear to hear the voice of God, the Lord called Moses alone up into the mountain to receive the words of God’s covenant, spoken in His ears and written on tablets of stone by the finger of God (Exo. 24:18; 31: 18).

Moses, the mediator, receiving the words spoken and written by God, provided the pattern for the office of the prophet. When the prophets said, “Thus saith the Lord . . . they were doing what Moses had done: receiving the words of God and giving them to the people. Moses, with whom God spoke “mouth to mouth” (Num. 12:8), towered above all the prophets who were like him — until the promised prophet came.

Warning, Loving

With Moses was Elijah. He, too, had heard God speaking on Mount Horeb. Jealous for God’s holy name, Elijah was bitter because the fire that fell at Carmel did not consume all the idolaters. But God revealed Himself to the prophet, not in the fire or the storm, but in the whispered word of His counsel. God’s Word appointed Jehu, Hazael and Elisha as instruments to destroy the worship of Baal.

Moses and Elijah on the mount with Jesus again heard the word from the cloud, but God did not speak ten words nor promise the coming of other prophets. Rather, He said: “This is my Son, my chosen: hear ye Him.”

Hear Him, for the Word of the Father is spoken by the beloved Son in glory and in grace.

Hear Him as He declares the holy will of His Father: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven . . Hear Him, too, as He warns, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my sayings, hath one that judgeth him; the word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).

Hear Him, for “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? Which having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard . . . See that ye refuse not him that speaketh” (Heb. 2:3, 12:25).

Hear Him as He calls “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Hear Him, for the words that He has spoken are spirit and are life (John 6:63).

The wind and the sea hear Him: “Peace be still!” The deaf hear him: “Ephphatha” “Be opened!” (Mark 7:34). The dead hear Him: “Lazarus, come forth!” Whoever has ears to hear must hear Him, for He who speaks is the Word of God alive.

Do not divide between Christ and the Bible. He who turns from the words of Christ turns from Christ the Word. See Him in His glory, standing between the prophets and the apostles, and you see the speaking Lord who unites the apostles and the prophets in the Amen of His mighty word. The Bible is one because Christ is one, and He fulfills all things that are written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms concerning Him (Luke 24:44). Whoever does not believe Moses’ writings will not believe Christ’s words (John 5:47).

No Choice

The Bible is not primarily a human witness to God’s redemptive acts. It is God’s own witness, God who spoke from the cloud, from the lips of prophets and apostles through the Spirit of His Son, and from the lips of the Lord of glory. It is true that prophets and apostles bear witness to what they have seen and heard, but they do so as they are borne along by the Holy Ghost. Even the prayers and praises given by the Spirit are part of God’s testimonies, given as His witness to His people (Deut. 31:19; II Sam. 23: 1-2).

To describe Scripture as the product of the reflection of the “faith-community” evolving from its experience and approved in its use is to substitute reflection for revelation, the word of man for the word of God, the faith of the community for the authority of the Son of God. Between the apostles and the prophets stands Jesus Christ, and God says, “Hear HimI”

To suggest that after God’s final word in Christ we are to hear as God’s word the sentences of Chairman Mao or the ancient darkness of the Bhagavad Gita is to reject the voice of the living God. God is jealous for His name. He will not give His glory to another, and there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

No doubt much more than we imagine is at stake when men refuse to believe that God can speak words to men. We begin to see the corrosion in our literature when words are cut off from ultimate meaning. Fabricated truth, formed for the day, cannot undergird the mind of man or establish his heart. But we are not adrift in empty galaxies babbling verbal signs without meaning. We are God’s creatures, lost in our rebellion, vain in our thoughts, but to us God says, “This is my Son, hear Him!”

Priest of Glory

Yes, hear Him, for the Son of God is the priest of glory. Moses on the mountain was the great mediator between God and the people. When Israel sinned, Moses stood before God to intercede for a rebellious nation. Elijah built an altar on Carmel, and after the fire fell kept vigil in prayer until the promised rain came. These great servants of God fulfilled priestly roles as they stood between God and the people.

When Jesus was transfigured He was praying. He who is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek poured out the agony of His soul as He looked from the mount of transfiguration to the mount of Calvary. Made like His brethren, Jesus prayed then as He prays now, the representative priest. What Moses and Elijah prefigured, Christ fulfilled.

The glory was given not only for the disciples’ sake, but as part of Christ’s strengthening for the conflict. As angels ministered to Him after the temptation in the wilderness and later in Gethsemane, so the heavenly glory came to refresh His human nature on the way to the cross.

Hear Him as He talked with Moses and Elijah. They spoke of His death and resurrection, for toward this their ministries had pointed. They could not join in His priesthood. Theirs was a passing ministry and it was over. Christ is the abiding priest who ever lives to make intercession for them who come unto God by Him. Priest and sacrifice, He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. There is one God and one mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus.

King of Glory

When He had made purification of sins, He sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high (Heb. 13). Hear Him, for He is the king of glory.

The radiance of the Saviour’s face was not like the luster of Moses’ countenance when he came down from Mount Sinai. That glory had so dazzled the people that Moses had put a veil over his face. Yet for all of its brilliance it was reflected glory, the afterglow of encounter with the glory of the Lord. The glory of Christ on the mount was His own glory, a bursting forth of the glory that He had with the Father before the world was. The glory of God did not first appear in the cloud, as on Sinai, and then by reflection on the Saviour’s face. Instead, it shone forth like the sun from Christ himself, the true light who came into the world.

God’s glory came down in the cloud to rest upon the tabernacle in the wilderness. Glory dwelt among the people, but Israel rebelled in the land of the promise, and Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord departing from the temple. Yet the glory dawned again with the coming of the Lord, and the disciples were witnesses of the presence of the Lord of glory. Who is the king of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the king of glory.

Moses had prayed on Mount Sinai “Show me, I pray thee, thy glory.” He knew that when God’s glory was manifested all the blessings of the covenant were secure. On Sinai God passed by Moses, covering him in the cleft of the rock, but Moses who once saw the glory of God’s back in the theophany later saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus

Christ. The glory of the true tabernacle streamed forth from the light of the world.

Reflecting on Christ’s kingship, we better understand the tabernacles Peter proposed to build. The feast of booths or of tabernacles was the last great feast of the sacred year, the harvest-home of God’s salvation. Peter may have concluded that the time for the feast of the kingdom of God had come.

The king had come in His glory, but it was not time for the feast of glory. From the mount of transfiguration Jesus went to the cross. Have you reflected on the testing of Christ on this mountain? It was completely different from the temptation, when Satan had taken Christ into a high mountain to show Him the glory of the kingdoms of this world. Yet in another way, Christ’s dedication to the path of His kingship was searched out more deeply. Christ was tasting the glory of heaven. How He must have yearned to return with Moses and Elijah to the glory of the Father! Chariots of fire had carried Elijah to heaven.

Could not the Son of God have ascended from the mount of transfiguration rather than from the Mount of Olives? We catch something of Christ’s yearning when He came down from the mount to confront His disciples who could not perform a healing because of their little faith. “O faithless and perverse generation,” said Christ, echoing the words of Moses, “how long shall I be with you, and bear with you?”

Peter Knew

Jesus might have returned to heaven from the mount, but not with Moses and Elijah. Christ is the way to heaven for Moses and Elijah, as well as Peter, James and John. Only because the king of glory went willingly to the cross is there salvation for any man. Moses and Elijah departed, but the king remained. He descended the mount of transfiguration and climbed the mount of Calvary where the superscription on the cross read, “This is the king of the Jews.”

Only after Calvary’s conquest did the cloud again appear. Christ was lifted up on the cross before He was lifted up to the throne of heaven. Yet the glory of His transfiguration is a pledge of the glory that will be revealed when Christ comes again as He promised.

Listen to the witness of Peter as he knows his death is near: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming (that word is “presence” — parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory, when there was borne such a voice to Him by the majestic glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: and this voice we ourselves heard borne out of heaven, when we were with Him in the holy mount” (II Pet. 1:16-18).

No, these are not fables. God speaks to us and we have the word of prophecy made more sure. He says concerning His Son: “Hear ye Him!”

Have you heard and heeded the Word of Christ? Have you heard Him as He speaks of His death and the glory to follow? Will you hear Jesus, Jesus only, forever? For your life, for your Church there is one Lord who rules by His revealed Word in the power of His present Spirit.

His Word is not gray, not a yes and no. His Word is truth and glory, the light of heaven to our path. “For how many soever be the promises of God, in Him is the yea: wherefore also through Him is the Amen, unto the glory of God through us” (II Cor. 1:20).

Presbyterians may have been too restrained to say, “Amen” in the past. But the time has come when we must confess Christ by saying, “Amen” to His revealed Word. In our lives and in our Church, we must hear and obey Him who is the Lord of the Word and who speaks to us the Word of the Lord. Not counting the cost, we must obey God rather than men, and hear Him, the final prophet, the eternal priest, the returning king of glory!

[excerpted from The Presbyterian Journal, 31.19 (6 September 1972): 7-10.]

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LAYMEN, BEWARE !

hollondMemorialPC_PhilaThe persecution of the Independent Board goes on apace.

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

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

This action has evoked great interest.

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

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

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

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

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

THE TRIAL ITSELF

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

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

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

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

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The Lion of the Covenant

To our readers who have been ordained into a church office, or who have had the privilege of attending the ordination of someone else who has been set apart to the biblical office in a local church, I dare say none of us have ever had the following experience happen to us. But in the Presbyterian history of ages past, it did happen to one young man, who was at that time living in Holland. After the laying on of the hands, setting him apart for the office of minister, all but one of the Dutch ministers took their hands off of his head. That sole minister who kept his hands on Richard Cameron’s head, uttered a prophetic sentence, saying, “here is the head of a faithful minister and servant of Jesus Christ, who shall lose the same for his Master’s interest, and it shall be set up before sun and moon in the public view of the world.”

Our focus today in Presbyterian history is Richard Cameron. Born in 1647 in Scotland to a Christian merchant by the name of Alan Cameron, Richard was the oldest of four children. After his university exercises at St. Andrews, he still was not a Christian. Attending a service held by one of the field preachers, he heard the blessed gospel and regeneration occurred in his heart and mind. One year later, he was licensed to preach the Word with strong evidence of his calling beginning to manifest itself in his gifts. Jock Purves in his book Fair Sunshine, said that his sermons “were full of the warm welcoming love of the Lord Jesus Christ for poor helpless sinners.” (p. 44) But in addition to the proclamation of the blessed gospel, there were also strong denunciations of the persecuting government authorities which made such field preaching necessary. Despite the danger to both himself and his gathered congregation, Cameron continued to faithfully, fearlessly proclaim the Word of God.

airds_moss_memorialJust a month before his demise at the hands of the authorities, Richard Cameron had set the issue plain before the whole nation by the posting of the Sanquhar Declaration on June 22, 1680. Now a month after that bold challenge to the government of the kingdom, the latter’s military forces caught up with Richard Cameron and his followers at Ayrsmoss on July 22, 1680.

The battle was preceded by Cameron three times praying “spare the green, and take the ripe.” Looking to his younger brother Michael, who was with him on that occasion, Richard said “Come Michael, let us fight it out to the last; for this is the day that I have longed for, to die fighting against our Lord’s avowed enemies; and this is the day that we shall get the crown.” And he did, along with many others. The monument to their sacrifice is pictured at right.

Oh yes, Richard Cameron’s head and hands were cut off by the British dragoons, to be taken to the city of Edinburgh. But before they were placed on stakes in front of the prison, they were taken to his father Alan who was in prison. He kissed them, saying, “I know them, I know them. They are my son’s, my own dear son. It is the Lord. Good is the will of the Lord, Who cannot wrong me nor mine, but has made goodness and mercy to follow us all our days.”

Words to Live By:
When all your mercies, O my God, my rising soul surveys,
transported with the view, I’m lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Unnumbered comforts to my soul your tender care bestowed,
before my infant heart conceived from whom those comforts flowed.

When worn with sickness, oft have you with health renewed my face;
and when in sins and sorrows sunk, revived my soul with grace.

Ten thousand thousand precious gifts my daily thanks employ;
nor is the least a cheerful heart that tastes those gifts with joy.

Through every period of my life your goodness I’ll pursue;
and after death, in distant worlds, the glorious theme renew.

Through all eternity to you a joyful song I’ll raise;
for oh, eternity’s too short to utter all your praise.

(Trinity Hymnal (revised edition), No. 56, “When All Your Mercies, O My God,” on Psalm 23:6)

Image source: Photograph courtesy of the Scottish Covenanter’s Memorial Association

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