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Death of Joseph A. Alexander

Joseph Addison Alexander, third son of the Rev. Archibald and Janetta (Waddel) Alexander, was born in Philadelphia on 24 April 1809. His early education was obtained under the immediate supervision of his parents, and owing to an intellectual vigor rare indeed, his powers of acquiring knowledge were amazing, especially in the department of languages. In 1825 he graduated at the College of New Jersey (since 1896, Princeton University), with the highest honors of his class. He was elected Tutor, but declined the appointment, and, with Mr. Patton, founded Edgehill School at Princeton. He studied theology at home and at the University of Halle and Berlin, in Europe. He was licensed and ordained by the Presbytery of New Brunswick in 1832, and became assistant instructor of the Hebrew and Greek text of the Bible, in the Princeton Theological Seminary; in 1835 he was appointed Associate Professor, and in 1840 sole Professor of Biblical and Oriental Literature; in 1851 he was transferred to the chair of Biblical and Ecclesiastical History; and in 1859, at his own request, he was assigned the department of Hellenistic Greek and New Testament Literature. The main business of his life was with the Holy Bible, giving to theological research and instruction all the energies of his massive intellect.

[At right: The Edgehill School, Princeton, New Jersey, co-founded by J.A. Alexander & R.B. Patton]

Dr. Alexander’s gigantic mind was in full vigor until the day before his death. On the morning of that day he was occupied with his usual course of polyglot reading in the Bible, being accustomed to read the Scriptures in some six different languages, as part of his daily devotions. He seems also to have entertained himself, during some part of the day, with one of the Greek classics, Herodotus, as a pencil mark on the margin, “January 27th, 1860.” is said to show. In the afternoon of that day, he rode out in the open air for the first time since his attack of hemorrhage. During that ride, however, which was not continued more than forty-five minutes, a sudden sinking of life came on him, so much so that he was borne almost entirely by the help of others from the carriage. The sinking continued all Friday night, and on Saturday he was hardly conscious of anything until he died. His death was perfectly calm, without a struggle, without one heaving breath. His death occurred in his study, January 28th, 1860.

[Wilson’s Presbyterian Almanac for 1861 (p. 71) notes that his death, at the age of 51, was caused by diabetes. Alexander’s brother, James Waddel Alexander, had died of dysentery not six months earlier, in 1859, at the age of 55.]

Dr. Alexander’s sermons were sure to be original, evangelical, forcible, elegant and tending to practical effect upon the conscience. He was a frequent contributor to The Princeton Review, and for a time served with Professor Dod as its editor. As an author he took high rank. A volume of his fragmentary “Notes on New Testament Literature and Ecclesiastical History” was posthumously published in 1861. In 1851 his “Psalms Translated and Explained” appeared in three volumes. In 1857 “The Acts of the Apostles Explained,” in two volumes. In 1858 “The Gospel, According to Mark, Explained,” in one volume. the Commentary on Matthew was unfinished at his death, but so much as he had prepared was published in 1861, as the last work on which his pen was engaged.

Words to Live By:  A man of great gifts, Dr. Alexander was well used of the Lord in the advancement of His kingdom. Yet for all this, we must not covet. The Lord has a place and a role for each of His children, and it is not unusual to find that “the least of these” are often enabled to bear great witness to the glory of God in the Gospel.

Biographical sketch and portrait image from Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church (1884), pp. 21-22. Image of the Edgehill campus from The Presbyterian Historical Almanac and Annual Remembrancer of the Church, for 1861 (Philadelphia: Joseph M. Wilson), page 341. All scans performed by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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Ashbel Green’s Editor and Friend

Joseph Huntington Jones, D. D., the brother of Judge Joel Jones, was born in Coventry, Connecticut, on August 24th, 1797. He graduated at Harvard University, in 1817. For a time he was employed as Tutor in Bowdoin College, Maine. He completed his theological studies at the Princeton Theological Semi­nary; was licensed as a probationer, September 19th, 1822, by the Presbytery of Susquehanna, and was, by the same Presbytery, ordained as an evangelist, April 29th, 1824.

On June 1st, 1824, he began his labors in the Presbyterian Church at Woodbury, New Jersey, and was soon installed as pastor of that church. Here he labored with very great success. At the same time he also supplied the feeble church at nearby Blackwoodtown, which shared the blessing enjoyed by that of Woodbury. In 1825 he was installed as pastor of the Presbyterian Church at New Brunswick, New Jersey. Here he remained for thirteen years, proving himself to be “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” His ministry was honored of God by at least three seasons of religious awakening.

In 1838 he became the pastor of the Sixth Presbyterian Church, in Phila­delphia, and continued so for twenty-three years, his efforts being crowned with a manifest blessing. From 1861 to 1868 he was Secretary of the Relief Fund for Disabled Ministers, in which capacity he did a noble work, for which he deserves the lasting gratitude of the Church. He died on December 22d of 1868.

Dr. Jones was an exemplary Christian, an in­structive preacher, a faithful pastor, an interesting writer, and a gentleman of great urbanity of manner and suavity of disposition.

Of his principal work, often referred to as The Effects of Physical Causes on Christian Experience,’’ Dr. J. W. Alexander wrote, “It is a valuable and entertaining book.” Rev. Jones must have been a close friend and associate of the Rev. Ashbel Green, for it was to Jones that Green turned for the task of bringing Green’s autobiography to the press. Rev. Jones also wrote a history of the 1837 revival at New Brunswick, and several sermons of his were published as well. These are his works found on the Internet:

Something to Ponder:
The great Princeton professor, Samuel Miller, wrote a brief introduction or testimonial for that earliest work of Rev. Jones, Outline of a Work of Grace. In addition to our interest in Miller’s basis thesis here unveiled, it is also important to note the honesty of his method, with an expressed readiness to receive evidence “either for or against the affirmative of this question.”

“There is one question which you may, possibly be better able to answer now, than you were during the delightful excitement of that memorable scene. And that is, whether the solemn dispensations of Providence, experienced by the inhabitants of New Brunswick some time before, had any perceptible connexion with the spiritual benefit then enjoyed? I refer to the severe visit of cholera which you suffered in 1832, and the tremendous tornado, which did no much mischief in 1835. I have for many years taken much interest in the inquiry, whether seasons of great sickness and mortality, and other extraordinary and overwhelming seasons of temporal calamity, are ordinarily employed by a sovereign God as a means of reviving religion. Every new fact, either for or against the affirmative of this question, is highly interesting to me.”

What do you think of Dr. Miller’s question, whether God ordinarily uses seasons of great sickness and mortality as a means of reviving religion? Have you seen evidence of this, or have you seen evidence to the contrary? Answers may well hinge on Miller’s use of that word, “ordinarily.”

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A Heart for Missions

Elisha Pope Swift was born in Williamstown, Massachusetts on August 12, 1792. His parents were the Rev. Seth and Lucy Elliot Swift. His father was pastor of the Congregational Church of Williamstown. Through his mother he was descended from Rev. John Elliot, the Apostle to the Indians. Elisha received his collegiate education at Williams College, in Massachusetts, and his theological education at Princeton Seminary.

swiftEPHe was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of New Brunswick, on April 24, 1816 and was ordained by a Congregational council in Boston on September 3, 1817, with a view to setting out for foreign missionary work. However, the American Board of Foreign Missions was compelled to delay his departure and so employed him for a time as an agent in the raising of funds. In 1818, Rev. Swift served as pulpit supply for several Presbyterian churches in Dover and Milford, Delaware, and then in 1819 he answered a call to serve as the pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. Here he continued to serve for thirteen years.

From 1831 to 1835, he served as Secretary of the Western Foreign Missionary Society, which was at that time located in Pittsburgh, and it was only in 1833 that he resigned his charge as pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, in order to more fully devote himself to the work of missions. Rev. Swift had been the leading force in organizing this Society, and it was greatly shaped by his character and ministerial gifts.  By its location, the Society was fathered along by the Synod of Pittsburgh, and after several changes, both in title and in location, the Society eventually became the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

In the summer of 1835, Dr. Swift resigned his position as Secretary of the Missionary Society and became the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. He then served this church for twenty-nine and a half years. In the last five years of his life, with his strength beginning to fail, the congregation called Dr. Swift’s son, Elliott E. Swift, to serve alongside his father. This arrangement allowed Dr. Swift to preach as he was able, up until about six months before his death. At last, on April 3, 1865, the Rev. Elisha P. Swift passed from his earthly labors and entered his eternal rest.

“Dr. Swift was an unusually eloquent and impressive preacher. His large, penetrating eye, when fixed upon the hearer, gave to some of his searching addresses an almost irresistible power. In the commencement of his morning discourses he was usually deliberate, occasionally hesitating, as the result would show, for the most suitable and expressive words at his command. As he advanced, however, his delivery would become more rapid, and for fifteen minutes before he closed he would hold the listener in the most fixed and solemn attention. The conclusions of many of his sermons were among the grandest specimens of effective pulpit oratory to which the people in the region where he lived had ever listened. His public prayers were remarkable for fluency of utterance, comprehensiveness of petition, elegance of style and fervor of feeling. This, no doubt, has its explanation in his habits of private devotion. For many years he had four seasons of secret prayer, which he sacredly observed each day. Often, on Sabbath evenings, after his labors were completed, he would spend long periods in the retirement of his study, in audible intercession for his people. Dr. Swift belonged to a race of men now seldom found, but sometimes read about in the annals of the past.”

For Further Study:
E.P. Swift on the Call to Missions—

Among his several published efforts, Dr. Swift wrote an introduction to a Memoir of Mrs. Louisa A. Lowrie, of the Northern India Mission (1837), which is available online, here. The first several paragraphs of that introduction make for interesting reading, though the nineteenth-century prose may take some getting used to.—

“Man is, in himself, a lost, ruined and perishing sinner. Of this fact, the world is full of the most convincing evidence. The Bible professes to reveal to us God’s true and only system of salvation. This is a dispensation of life to guilty man through a Mediator, and it is also a distinct practical principle of the heart and life, developing itself by the production of a free self-consecration of its recipients to the glory of God and the well-being of mankind. Its vital power–its ascendancy over the inner man, in the production of pure and holy principles and actions, is an essential evidence of one’s interest in its blessings, while the most abundant and convincing manifestations of it to others becomes the surest way by which its great Author is honored and the world improved. Hence the lives of devoted Christians become useful and instructive, just in proportion as they are truly and wisely conformed to the great pattern, and the examples and biographies of eminent believers stimulate the pious in the path of duty, and impress the consciences of the wicked with a sense of their criminality.

“Periods of great trial and persecution in the world; and seasons in which God has, by His providence, especially called forth the visible power of religion, or remarkably poured out His Spirit upon the earth, for its increase, have been most distinguished for the development of the Christian principle. The present state of the world is peculiarly favorable to its useful display in judicious and disinterested efforts to bring millions of benighted and perishing sinners into the kingdom of God. The temporal and eternal benefits which the gospel can impart to the heathen are beyond all computation; and the Bible, while it urges the duty of its immediate dissemination, pledges its own veracity for the certainty that it shall eventually overspread the world. The events of providence are now more and more distinctly every year indicating the near approach of that joyful consummation.

“The labor and the self-denial, however, which a personal engagement in the missionary service in foreign lands requires, is so great, and the zeal of the disciples to spread the triumphs of the cross among remote and barbarous tribes of men is so small, that it must be long indeed before such a result can be anticipated, unless there is a very great increase of the true heroic and enterprising spirit of primitive times. Whatever tends to promote this, and to deepen the longing-desires of the visible family of God that His “kingdom may come” and His “will be done” in the “dark places” of the earth, should be earnestly encouraged. There are therefore three ends which may be proposed in the act of consecration to the work of Foreign Missions. This may be chosen like any other form of Christian action, to exemplify the practical influence of real piety—or, from a desire by a sincere and cordial and self-denied example of this sort, to aid and countenance the important and too much neglected duty of carrying the gospel to the heathen, or finally from the hope of a direct and immediate usefulness to the heathen themselves. The two former of these objects will be attained wherever love to Christ and holy principle is the moving cause, however brief or disastrous may be the effort itself. It is a great mistake therefore to suppose that the great moral ends of the undertaking are defeated, when the heralds of Christianity are cut down by the stroke of death before they enter upon the work; or where no actual conversions have been made. This would be to make the value of every effort to glorify the Redeemer to depend upon the measure of success which attended it, and imply a course of reasoning manifestly incompatible with fact.

Image source: The photograph, above right, is scanned from an original preserved at the PCA Historical Center. It was found tucked inside an 1858 pamphlet which had been purchased from a bookseller in Philadelphia.

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Keeping in mind that newspapers were little different then than now, subject to the same human foibles*, nonetheless the following coverage of the modernist controversy and the resulting denominational split is interesting, as it offers some different perspectives on what a division means to those involved.

[*There are two errors mainly in the text below, both of which will be noted in brackets in their first appearance.]

This article is from a Wilmington, DE newspaper, dated June 29, 1936, and is found preserved in one of seven scrapbooks gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon, covering the modernist controversy in the years 1935-1939. The photographs have been added and were not part of the original article.

familiesdivided

Dissension with all the heartaches and strained loyalties that civil war brings, is definitely wedged in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

Where it will lead and the effect of the wedge, no one knows.

But this much is already evident in the Presbytery of New Castle, which embraced Delaware and parts of Maryland: families are divided, parents against children, husbands against wives, and friend with friend.

This is a time when members of congregations are torn between loyalty to their established church, when men are being accused of dogmatism, heresy, apostasy and free will.

Out of the seething cauldron has been born a new church, the Presbyterian Church in [sic; should be “of”] America, in contrast to the old Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

The nature of the wedge that is lodged in the church of the U.S.A. today is itself controversial.

Question Not Doctrinal

Those who are remaining loyal say the split is on a church constitutional question and among the loyalists are both fundamentalists and modernists.

“The matter now and never has been a controversy between ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘modernists’ the general council of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. states.

It is a question the general council states, of whether ministers shall disobey the established constitution of a church and agree to the will of the majority.

The secessionists–all fundamentalists–say the differences are based upon doctrinal questions and liberty of conscience.

In any case, the immediate cause of the secession and the controversy has been the Independent Board of [sic; should be “for”] Presbyterian Foreign Missions, a board with no official connection with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

The leading personality in the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions has been the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, N.J.

Four Judicatories in Church

For those not familiar with Presbyterian Church government, it should be explained that the judicatory and administrative bodies of the church are: First, the session, composed of representatives of a congregation, governing the church; second, the Presbytery governing a group of sessions in a district; third, the synod, a group of Presbyteries and fourth, the General Assembly which is the national ruling body of the Presbyterian Church which also is the supreme court and lawmaking body of the entire church.

Also as part of the story of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions is Pearl Buck, a missionary in China, whom it was charged was too much a modernist.

Dr. Machen Heads Movement

machen02Though she resigned, the charges persisted from the militant fundamentalists of the Presbyterian Church against the alleged modernism in the foreign mission groups. In 1933, Dr. Machen introduced into the Presbytery of New Brunswick a proposed resolution to be presented to General Assembly relating to what he called “modernism” in the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions.

A large majority of the Presbytery of New Brunswick refused to send this resolution to General Assembly but similar resolutions did reach General Assembly in 1933. The assembly received it and Dr. Machen was heard by the committee to which the resolutions had been presented for consideration.

By a vote of 43 to 2, the committee reported unfavorably and expressed its confidence in the Board of Foreign Missions and by a nearly unanimous vote, the General Assembly approved the report of this committee.

But Dr. Machen did not pause there. Accepting neither the views of the committee nor the “judgment of the General Assembly,” he was influential in the establishment of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions, incorporated in December of 1933, with Dr. Machen as president. It is not a recognized body of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., being just what its name indicates, “independent.”

H. S. Laird Member of Board

lairdhsTo this board came the Rev. Harold S. Laird, pastor of the First and Central Presbyterian Church of Wilmington, an ardent fundamentalist.

But before he joined the independent board, he consulted with his session. He did not join against their counsel.

Another point, not widely known, is that Mr. Laird during his pastorate at First and Central Presbyterian Church never solicited for the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

“It was only after much earnest prayer and careful consideration,” he said, “that I came to the conviction that this movement was of God, and being thus convinced, I agreed to throw what little influence I have in the church to the lifting high of this standard. This was my primary motive in allowing myself to be elected a member of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

“It is from this board that I was ordered to resign. I believe the board is of God and I also believe that my call to membership on that board was of God. Under such circumstances, how can I resign? Shall I obey man rather than God?”

Taking note of this independent board and that ministers and elders were prominent in its membership, the General Assembly directed that all ministers and laymen affiliated with the board sever their connections with the organization.

Those who declined to obey this direction were ordered tried by their Presbyteries. A number were found guilty and either rebuked or suspended.

Mr. Laird tried before the Presbytery of New Castle, protested that his affiliation with the independent board had been guided by his conscience and that in refusing to sever his connection, he was placing the word of God above the courts of man.

Rebuked, But Not Suspended.

Mr. Laird, however, was found guilty, with one dissenting vote in his favor. He was ordered rebuked but allowed to remain [in] his pulpit.

But Mr. Laird continued in the membership of the independent board. The Presbytery recently suspended him from the ministry–an act regarded as illegal by Mr. Laird who immediately renounced the authority of the Presbytery.

Words to Live By
Unity is a precious thing, to be cultivated and prized. But Christian unity must be centered on the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Where we have that unity, it is glorious. Without Jesus Christ as our Cornerstone, there can be no Church.

Luke 12:49-53 (ESV)
49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!
50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!
51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.
53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Psalm 133 (KJV)
1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
2 It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
3 As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.

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Be Ready Always

The day of the debate had brought a crowd of Presbyterian elders to the sanctuary of the Fourth Presbyterian Church on that day of April 11, 1933.  The topic was “Modernism on the Mission Field.”  And the two individuals engaging in the debate were two “heavies” on opposite sides of the issue.

machenJG_1934speerRobertEDr. J. Gresham Machen was the recognized leader of the conservatives in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  Founder and president of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he was still a member minister of the New Brunswick, New Jersey Presbytery, though he had tried unsuccessfully to transfer to the Philadelphia Presbytery.  Against him was Dr. Robert Speer, present head of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

Dr. Machen began his presentation with a proposed overture from the Presbytery of New Brunswick to the General Assembly of 1933.  The first two of four parts are the key ones, which I will quote word for word from the April 1933 Christianity Today article, and sum up the other two.

Point 1 of his overture was: “To take care to elect to positions of the Board of Foreign Missions only persons who are fully aware of the danger in which the Church stands and who are determined to insist on such verities as the full truthfulness of Scripture, the virgin birth of our Lord, His substitutionary death as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, His bodily resurrection and His miracles, as being essential to the Word of God and our Standards, as being necessary to the message which every missionary under our church shall proclaim.”

In essence, this first proposition simply summed up the Declarations of the General Assembly’s five fundamentals which were considered as essential for the Church, its boards, and its ministers.  It specifically repudiated the denials of the same by the Auburn Affirmation in 1924.

Proposition 2 of the proposed overture sought to “instruct the Board of Foreign Missions that no one who denies the absolute necessity of acceptance of such verities by every candidate for this ministry can possibly be regarded as a candidate to occupy the position of Candidate Secretary.”

This proposition addressed the important place which the Candidate Secretary has in ascertaining the theological convictions which each missionary candidate has to serve on the Foreign Field.  In other words, in people such as Pearl Buck, who was openly denying the exclusiveness of the gospel of Christ, it is obvious that the Candidate Secretary had “missed the boat” in approving her as being a missionary to China.

The third proposition summed up that those who held that the tolerance of opposing views was  more important than an unswerving faithfulness in the proclamation of the Gospel as it is contained in the Word of God, show themselves to be unworthy of being missionaries of the cross.

This proposition was aimed at those who had accepted the fundamental viewpoint of the book, “Rethinking Missions,” that denied the exclusivity of the gospel.

The last proposition sought to warn the Board of the great dangers lurking with union enterprises in view of wide-spread error.

Dr. Speer for his part of the “debate” simply dismissed each of the overture propositions.    When the vote was taken on Dr. Machen’s proposed overture, it was voted down by the Presbytery of New Brunswick, with a majority voting in favor of confidence in the Board of Foreign Missions.  Dr. Machen, Rev. Samuel Craig, and Dr. Casper Wistar Hodge asked that their names be recorded in  dissent of the motion.

For a fuller account of the debate, click here.

Words to Live By:  We are always called upon to stand faithfully for the gospel.  The results on this earth may be not what we have hoped for, but the results in the General Assembly of heaven are what counts for time and eternity.

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Ashbel Green’s Editor and Friend

Joseph Huntington Jones, D. D., the brother of Judge Joel Jones, was born in Coventry, Connecticut, on August 24th, 1797. He graduated at Harvard University, in 1817. For a time he was employed as Tutor in Bowdoin College, Maine. He completed his theological studies at the Princeton Theological Semi­nary; was licensed as a probationer, September 19th, 1822, by the Presbytery of Susquehanna, and was, by the same Presbytery, ordained as an evangelist, April 29th, 1824.

On June 1st, 1824, he began his labors in the Presbyterian Church at Woodbury, New Jersey, and was soon installed as pastor of that church. Here he labored with very great success. At the same time he also supplied the feeble church at nearby Blackwoodtown, which shared the blessing enjoyed by that of Woodbury. In 1825 he was installed as pastor of the Presbyterian Church at New Brunswick, New Jersey. Here he remained for thirteen years, proving himself to be “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” His ministry was honored of God by at least three seasons of religious awakening.

In 1838 he became the pastor of the Sixth Church, in Phila­delphia, and continued so for twenty-three years, his efforts being crowned with a manifest blessing. From 1861 to 1868 he was Secretary of the Relief Fund for Disabled Ministers, in which capacity he did a noble work, for which he deserves the lasting gratitude of the Church. He died on December 22d of 1868.

Dr. Jones was an exemplary Christian, an in­structive preacher, a faithful pastor, an interesting writer, and a gentleman of great urbanity of manner and suavity of disposition.

Of his principal work, often referred to as The Effects of Physical Causes on Christian Experience,’’ Dr. J. W. Alexander wrote, “It is a valuable and entertaining book.” Rev. Jones must have been a close friend and associate of the Rev. Ashbel Green, for it was to Jones that Green turned for the task of bringing Green’s autobiography to the press. Rev. Jones also wrote a history of the 1837 revival at New Brunswick, and several sermons of his were published as well.

 

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