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“To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

wsc1647_title_pageThe Christian Faith According to the Shorter Catechism is the title of a small booklet published in 1950. Authored by Dr. William Childs Robinson, the work had first appeared in serial fashion on the pages of The Southern Presbyterian Journal. Reproduced here is Dr. Robinson’s short but eloquent introduction to his subject :—

The Shorter Catechism is the work of the Westminster Assembly of Divines which [initially] met at the call of Parliament in Westminster Abbey, London, on July 1, 1643, and continued in session for six years. The Assembly was composed of about a hundred and fifty English ministers and lay assessors and eight Scottish ministers and elders. They met to bring the worship, the doctrine, the government and the discipline of the Churches of Great Britain into closer conformity with the Word of God.

The Shorter Catechism is the final and finest work of that great Assembly. The work on the Catechism was undertaken early but in its final form was approved last. All the fine Lutheran and Reformed Catechisms from the days of the Reformation were at hand to draw upon. In the Assembly itself there were at least a dozen members who had written catechisms. Calvin’s Catechism, one by Herbert Palmer, a member of the Assembly, and a Manual by Archbishop Ussher influenced the work. In addition to Palmer, “the best catechist in England,” Dr. John Wallis, the mathematician, and Rev. Samuel Rutherford of Scotland seem to have shared in the preparation of this work. Our Shorter Catechism ranks with Luther’s Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism and is described as “one of the three typical Catechisms of Protestantism which are likely to last to the end of time.”

The purpose of the authors of the Catechism was to frame the answer, not according to the model of the knowledge the child has, but according to what the child ought to have. Thus it is a pre-eminently instructive work. It places thoughts in the mind and heart of the child which grow with him, which indeed help the child to grow in wisdom and in grace. Thomas Carlyle, the great Scottish thinker, said: “The older I grow, and I now stand on the brink of eternity—the more comes back to me the first sentence in the Catechism which I learned when a child, and the fuller and deeper its meaning becomes: ‘What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.’ ”

Words to Live By:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.—Matthew 6:33, KJV.

Image source: Title page of a facsimile of the first edition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, as ordered by the House of Commons on November 25th, 1647 to be printed for their use. This facsimile was published in London by the Publication office of the Presbyterian Church of England, in 1897. A copy of this work is preserved at the PCA Historical Center. To view this book online, click here.

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An Odd Juxtaposition of Dates

The First General Assembly Held in America:

To Presbyterians, the American Revolution had been a holy war.  And now with its winning, Christian Presbyterians could get back to growing the church.  And that growth took place in a period of spiritual progress.  From New York all the way south to the Carolinas, new settlements were begun, with Presbyterian missionaries and ministers being sent throughout the whole length of the land.

But as the churches and  the presbyters  became more and more distant from one another, there was a concern about attendance.  In all the synods put together, over one hundred ministers were absent in any given year with only six of the churches presented by elders.  In one synod, a new moderator was elected, and then excused when it became known that he had not been present for the previous eleven years.  Clearly something had to be done.

The sixteen Presbyteries were organized into four separate synods in 1785.  They were: Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey, Virginia, and the Carolinas.  Numerically, this meant that there were four synods, sixteen presbyteries, 177 ministers, 111 licentiates, and 419 churches.

It was on May 21, 1789, that the first General Assembly was held in the original city of Presbyterianism, Philadelphia.  John Witherspoon was chosen to preach the first sermon of that assembly.  The delegates chose the Rev. John Rodgers to be the first moderator.  He had been trained back in the Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church under New Side Minister Samuel Blair.

Some housekeeping had to be done in light of the separation from England.  No longer could the civil magistrate be considered to be the head of the church.  So chapters in the Westminster Standards which put him as the head of the church were re-written in the light of the American victory in the American Revolution.  No one denomination would any longer be considered a state church, whether it was Anglican, Roman Catholic, or Presbyterian.  There was a separation of church from state.

And Denominational Deathknell:

Then, moving into a later century, we note that in “1918 three churches united to form First Presbyterian Church, New York City. They called as pastor Rev. Mr. George Alexander, D.D., and as associate pastor, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Baptist. On Sunday morning May 21, 1922, Dr. Fosdick preached a famous sermon titled: “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” In this he contrasts the conservative and liberal views on the Virgin Birth, the inspiration of Scripture, the Atonement and the Second Advent of Christ and pleads for tolerance of both views within the church. In 1923 Dr. Fosdick gave the Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching before the Yale Divinity School, which were later published under the title: “The Modern Use of the Bible.” This material clearly sets forth the liberal beliefs of Dr. Fosdick which are at complete variance with clear Scriptural teaching.”  [Historical Background and Development of the RPCES, by Thomas G. Cross, 1968]

Words to Live By:
We may never know whether Fosdick chose that specific date for the delivery of his infamous sermon, whether he intended with some note of irony, but clearly that sermon serves as a marker for all the many changes that have come since. As it is true for denominations and for local churches, so too every Christian is each day faced with decisions that may steer us in one direction or another. A decision to follow Christ or to follow self and its desires, which will it be?

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law doth he meditate.”—Psalm 1:1-2, KJV.

 

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A Long Name, With an Influential Theology System

William Greenough Thayer Shedd was born in June of 1820 of a distinguished New England lineage. His father was a minister, though it is not clear whether he was a Congregationalist or a Presbyterian pastor. (In early years, both groups were closely aligned in that region.) When William Shedd was eleven years old in 1831, his family moved to Lake Champlain, New York. This enabled William to later attend the University of Vermont, where a teacher introduced him to philosophy and literature. Graduating in 1839, he began to teach in New York City. It was here that William made a public profession of faith and began to attend a Presbyterian Church.

Sensing the call to the ministry, he attended Andover Theological Seminary. There he met and was influenced by Prof. Leonard Woods, who was a solid Old School Calvinist, albeit a Congregationalist. Graduating from Andover, Shedd became a pastor in the Congregational denomination in Vermont. Even though he was Old School Reformed in his thinking, he taught briefly at the New School Presbyterian institution of Auburn Theological Seminary, from 1852-1854.

When Unitarianism made such inroads among the Congregationalists, decimating the integrity of that association, Pastor and Professor Shedd made his switch to the Presbyterian distinctives of his younger years. Leaving Auburn, he was professor of church history at Andover from 1853-1862, and then for two years labored as co-pastor at the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City. His life’s primary work occurred while teaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he was to teach for eleven years, 1874-1892. Just before the end of his teaching ministry,  he wrote his most famous book on “Dogmatic Theology.”

And yes, he took a strong stand against the unbelief of his fellow teacher, Charles Briggs, and Shedd also argued against the revision of the Westminster Standards, which was also being suggested in those days. He died on November 17, 1894.

Words to live by:  When a pastor or professor has something truly substantive to say, and can summarize his thoughts on paper and in published works, that expression of the Gospel message can continue to serve as an influence for righteousness, well beyond the pastor’s immediate sphere and life. Some churches and educational institutions (may their tribe increase) are offering sabbaticals to their pastors and professors for exactly that reason, that is, that they may examine themselves pastorally or professionally in their calling, and set down in writing some lessons for the benefit of the church at large. Support such efforts, if you are a member of a church, or on a board for higher education. They are that beneficial to the wider church.

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Strongly Inclined to Be Devoted to the Ministry

Samuel Miller was born in Dover, Delaware on October 30, 1769. As was typical for his day, he studied theology privately in preparation for the ministry. Upon completion of his examinations he was ordained by the Presbytery of New York on June 5, 1793 and installed as pastor of the First Presbyterian church of New York City, where he then served from 1793-1801. He next served the Wall Street church from 1801-1813, before answering the call of General Assembly to serve as professor of ecclesiastical history and church government at the Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey. As the second professor at the Seminary after Archibald Alexander, Miller served the Seminary from 1813-1849, finally taking emeritus status at the age of 80. He died less than a year later, on January 7, 1850.

Resting behind the simple facts of our first paragraph is the spiritual depth of this man of God.  Upon taking the new ministry at Princeton, he sat down and wrote out seven resolutions.  We don’t have space for all seven of them, but the first one stands out and indeed sums up all the rest.  It reads, “I will endeavor hereafter, by God’s help, to remember more deeply and solemnly than I have ever yet done, that I am not my own, but Christ’s servant; and, of course, bound to seek, not my own things, but the things which are Jesus Christ’s”  That says it all with respect to the character and conduct of this seminary professor.

Words to Live By: Samuel Miller’s first resolution is but a summary of those words written down by the Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, when he stated in the context of the need to live a moral life, the following: “Do you not known that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (NIV)  Whether soul or body, each of us should make Samuel Miller’s resolution our own resolution, and indeed recommit ourselves to it at pivotal points of our life, such as our birthday. It would be exciting to see what God would do with such a committed Christian if this is true of you and me.

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A Life of Sacrifice for the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The Rev. Robert Waldo Chesnut was a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod (RPC,GS). This was the body which later merged with the larger side of the Bible Presbyterian Synod split in 1965 to create the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. Dr. Chesnut served in the lean years of the denomination when, at its low point, there were just nine churches left on the roster. Eventually the Lord brought renewed vigor and growth, such that by the time of the merger in 1965, there were some 25 churches in the RPC,GS. No doubt the Lord used Chesnut’s sacrificial love for the Church as a great instrument in bringing about some of that later growth.

Reprinted here is a brief biography which originally appeared in The Reformed
 Presbyterian Advocate, 87.4 (April, 1953): 40-42.

chesnutrwOn March 23, 1953 at 8:35 P.M. our Church was deprived of its Pastor Emeritus by the death of Rev. Robert W. Chesnut, Ph.D. He was 94 years, 6 months, 8 days old when he passed on to be with his Lord. Dr. Chesnut had been Pastor Emeritus since his retirement from the active ministry in 1942 after 55 years as a minister. In 1950 he attended his last meeting of General Synod, at the Houston Mission [in Tennessee]. In November of 1952 he reported to work on the new church [in Duanesburg, NY], bringing his hammer and lunch pail. He worked from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M. He later said: “I guess I pounded two or three pounds of nails and it helped some.” He was constantly interested in the new church and did all he could to advance its construction. 

Robert Chesnut was born on a farm near Morning Sun, Iowa, on September 15, 1858. His parents had emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland. His father was a boilermaker.”

“He had very little formal education in elementary or high schools. He never attended school during his early years for more than three months at a time. Until his entrance into college he had attended school only a total of twenty months.

In 1869 his family emigrated, by covered wagon, to Kansas and settled in Clay Center. There Dr. Chesnut, his father, and his brothers engaged in farming.

chesnut45yrsHe did not want to enter college or the ministry and, he has reported, fought the call of God to the ministry for some time. Finally one day, plowing in the fields (and he had not enjoyed good health for many months) he stopped his horses, sat down on a plowbeam and settled the matter with God. He said: “Lord, if you will give me health and see me through my education I will serve you in the ministry.” He finished the day’s plowing without being fatigued and God has kept His part of the covenant by blessing His servant with good health and length of days. Anyone who knew Dr. Chesnut knows that he kept his part of the covenant too, serving his God and his beloved Reformed Presbyterian church for sixty or more years.

He entered the Agricultural College of Kansas, at Manhattan, with a trunk containing a few clothes, his Psalm book, his Bible, and his Catechism, and $45 cash to see him through. He paid his way through school by raising a crop of wheat each Summer and selling it in the Fall. He also earned a little extra by tutoring his fellow students in Greek.

His college training was continued and completed at the University of Kansas, at Lawrence.

For theological training he spent a summer studying under his pastor, Rev. James S. Scott and entered the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in Philadelphia the following term as a second year student.

He completed the course and was licensed to preach on March 22, 1887 in the First Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

He was ordained on May 10, 1888 and installed the same day as pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church at Marissa, Illinois. The church is no longer in existence. Dr. Chestnut had been called to a church in New York City, but declined the call because he thought that he, a farm boy from Iowa and Kansas, would not be suited to a city pastorate. After sixteen years in Marissa he went to the church in Cutler, Illinois. In 1910 he accepted a call to the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Duanesburg. Here he served as pastor and worked the parsonage farm until 1917. He then moved to the Seventh Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and remained two and one-half years. He then returned to Duanesburg, to save the congregation from disbanding. It was, at that time, a small and discouraged flock in need of a shepherd. From 1919 until his retirement in 1942 Dr. Chesnut served here as Stated Supply, worked the parsonage farm (and another larger farm which he purchased from his meager earnings) and ran a printing plant.

Robert Waldo Chesnut was pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Duanesburg (NY) from 1910-1917, and for forty years he served as Editor and Publisher of the Reformed Presbyterian Advocate (although it was not always known by that name). He also served as Moderator of the Philadelphia Presbytery and he served the General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, as Assistant Clerk, as Clerk, and as Moderator in both 1903 and 1943.

Dr. Chesnut was survived by his widow, Mrs. Anna Heim Chesnut, who is his third wife. In 1885 he was married to Jennie Hulick, who died in 1896. Their daughter and son died while in their youth. His second wife and an infant also died–the wife just five weeks after they moved to Duanesburg in 1910. Dr. Chesnut was survived by three children, thirteen grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

The Duanesburg congregation, and the whole of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, has suffered a loss by the passing of our friend. But we can have no regrets, for he lived a long and full life and we are assured that he has gone to glory to be forever with his Lord, where there is no more pain, no sorrow, no struggle with sin, no more death, where death is swallowed up in victory.

“Truly a Prince has fallen in Israel. How he did love to come to General Synod and we have missed him these last few years. He really loved to preach the Gospel. Many lives have been touched by his long years of service.” [Rev. Robert W. Stewart]

Words to Live By:
“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,”—
Philippians 3:8, KJV.

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Back When Presbyterians Seemed to Run Everything

Dartmouth College, located in Hanover, New Hampshire, was founded in December of 1769 (We will mention in passing that Samuel Miller was born that same year, less than two months earlier). Eleazar Wheelock served as the first president of the school and when he died in 1779, his son John Wheelock took up the mantle and served as the second president of Dartmouth. From there, the succeeding list of presidents came to be known as the “Wheelock Succession.”

Francis Brown was next called from his church in North Yarmouth, Maine, serving as the third president (1815-1820), during a particularly interesting crisis for the school. It was at this time that a legal challenge to the school arose, eventually coming before the Supreme Court. This was the famous Dartmouth College Case:

“The contest was a pivotal one for Dartmouth and for the newly independent nation. It tested the contract clause of the Constitution and arose from an 1816 controversy involving the legislature of the state of New Hampshire, which amended the 1769 charter granted to Eleazar Wheelock, making Dartmouth a public institution and changing its name to Dartmouth University. Under the leadership of President Brown, the Trustees resisted the effort and the case for Dartmouth was argued by Daniel Webster before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the historic decision in favor of Dartmouth College, thereby paving the way for all American private institutions to conduct their affairs in accordance with their charters and without interference from the state.”

But the whole affair was taxing and Rev. Brown died at the young age of 35. His successor, the Rev. Daniel Dana, lasted just one year before he too was worn out and resigned the post. Bennet Tyler and Nathan Lord, the next two presidents, faired better. While Tyler served just four years, Nathan Lord’s term as president ran from 1828 to 1863. His term might have run longer, but as events unfolded in the 1860’s, the Trustees of Dartmouth were forced to finally deal with the fact that the school’s president was a strong pro-slavery advocate.

smith_asa_dodgeSo it was that in 1863, the Rev. Asa Dodge Smith became the seventh president of Dartmouth College. Inaugurated in 1863, he served as president until his death on August 16, 1877, at the age of 73.

Asa Dodge Smith was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on September 21, 1804, the son of Dr. Roger and Sally (Hodge) Smith. He was himself a graduate of Dartmouth College (1830), and in the year or so following graduation he worked as the principal of an academy in Limerick, Maine. Preparing to enter the ministry, he studied at Andover Theological Seminary and graduated there in 1834. He was then ordained and installed as pastor of what was then the Brainerd Presbyterian church (later renamed as the 14th Street Presbyterian church) in New York City. Rev. Smith also served as a professor of pastoral theology at the Union Theological Seminary, NY, 1843-1844.

From here, the history states that,

“After the forced resignation of Nathan Lord in 1863 over his support for slavery, the Trustees wanted a more conservative president to take his place. As a preacher for 29 years at the 14th Street Presbyterian Church in New York City, Asa Dodge had developed a reputation as a religious man with abolitionist beliefs.

“Smith’s presidency was a period of great growth for the College, including the establishment of two new schools within Dartmouth. The New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts, later moved to Durham, New Hampshire and renamed the University of New Hampshire, was originally founded in Hanover in 1866. One year later, the Thayer School of Engineering was founded. Over the course of his presidency, enrollment at the College was more than doubled, the number of scholarships increased from 42 to 103, and Dartmouth benefitted from several important bequests.”

Some of the honors conferred on the Rev. Asa Dodge Smith during his lifetime included the Doctor of Divinity degree, awarded by Williams College in 1849, and from the University of New York he received the Doctor of Letters degree in 1854. It was also during his tenure that the school celebrated its centennial anniversary, a momentous time nearly ruined by an unexpected thunderstorm. But ultimately the affair was not ruined for the participants, with attendees including Supreme Court Justice Salmon P. Chase, from the Class of 1826, and U.S. General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Words to Live By:
Perhaps covenant faithfulness is the lesson to take away from this account. A life lived apparently without amazing exploits or heart-rending stories, but lived faithfully before the Lord, using his God-given gifts and talents to the best of his ability, and all for the glory of God. So too most Christians live fairly average lives, undistinguished except for this one vital thing: Because of the finished cross-work of Jesus Christ, each one of His blood-bought children stands in a living, vital relationship with the God of creation, the Lord of all glory. On the surface, our lives may seem quite average, but the reality is far more exciting, far more glorious than even we can imagine.

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.—1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV.

For Further Study:
To view the gravesite of Rev. Smith, click here.

A Partial Bibliography—
[a number of these works can be found online at either Archive.org or HathiTrust.org]

1832
Letters to a young student, in the first stage of a liberal education.

1847
Dancing as an amusement for Christians. : a sermon, delivered in the Brainerd Presbyterian Church, New York, Feb. 14, 1847, and repeated, by request, Feb. 28.

1848
Importance of a scriptural ministry : a sermon delivered before the Synod of New York and New Jersey, at Newark, October 18, 1848.

1851
The guileless Israelite : a sermon on occasion of the Death of Mr. Joseph Breuster, delivered in the Fourteenth Street Presbyterian Church. New York, June 29, 1851.

Obedience to human law : a discourse delivered on the day of public thanksgiving, December 12, 1850, in the Brainerd Presbyterian Church, New York.

1852
Personal piety as related to the missionary work. A sermon delivered before the Foreign Missionary Society, of New-York and Brooklyn, April 4 and 11, 1852.

God’s word magnified and illustrated. A sermon on occasion of the death of Mr. David L. Dodge, delivered in the Fourteenth street Presbyterian church, New York, May 9, 1852.

1853
An address, delivered at a re-union of the sons of Weston, July 4, 1853.

1854
A discourse on the life and character of Rev. Charles Hall, D.D., delivered in the city of New York, Sabbath evening, January 1, 1854.

Memorial of Mr. David L. Dodge, consisting of an autobiography. [David Low Dodge, 1774-1852]

1857
Home missions and slavery: a reprint of several articles, recently pub. in the religious journals; with an appendix.

1863
An address delivered at the inauguration of the author as president of Dartmouth college, November 18, 1863.

Christian stewardship : a farewell sermon delivered in the Fourteenth Street Presbyterian Church, New York, Sabbath morning, Nov. 15, 1863.

1865
Beneficence our life-work. A baccalaureate discourse, delivered at Dartmouth college, July 16, 1865.

1866
Abuses of the imagination. A baccalaureate discourse, delivered at Dartmouth college, July 15, 1866. 

1867
Christian magnanimity; a baccalaureate discourse, delivered at Dartmouth College, July 14, 1867.

1868
Gradualism in God’s working; a baccalaureate discourse, delivered at Dartmouth College, July 19, 1868.

1871
Liberty as related to law; a baccalaureate discourse delivered at Dartmouth College, July 16, 1871.

1874
The creed as related to the life; a baccalaureate discourse, delivered at Dartmouth College, June 21, 1874.

1876
Sources of infidelity; a baccalaureate discourse, delivered at Dartmouth College, June 25, 1876.

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A Political Issue Divides the Old School General Assembly

With the Old School General Assembly meeting on May 16, 1861, the unity of the nation was at stake.  Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina has been attacked and captured.  Southern states had already seceded from the Union.  The slavery issue, which had been debated in previous assemblies, became secondary to the important matter of preserving the union.  Thus, Rev. Gardiner Spring,  the pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, New York suggested that a committee be formed to consider the following resolutions before the assembled elders.

          “Resolved, 1.  That in view of the present agitated and unhappy condition of this country, the first day of July next be hereby set apart as a day of prayer throughout our bounds; and that on this day ministers and people are called on humbly to confess our national sins; to offer our thanks to the Father of light for his abundant and undeserved goodness towards us as a nation; to seek his guidance and blessing upon our rulers, and their counsels, as well as on the Congress of the United States about to assembly; and to implore him, in the name of Jesus Christ, the great High Priest of the Christian profession, to turn away his anger from us, and speedily restore to us the blessings of an honorable peace.

          Resolved, 2  That this General Assembly, in the spirit of that Christian patriotism . . . do hereby acknowledge and declare our obligations to promote and perpetuate . . . the integrity of the United States, and to strengthen, uphold, and encourage the Federal Government in the exercise of all its functions  under our noble Constitution: and to this Constitution, . . . we profess our unabated loyalty.”

Interestingly, some of the main opposition to this resolution came from Dr. Charles Hodge, of Princeton Theological Seminary.  He protested that the General Assembly had no right to decide to what government the allegiance of Presbyterians is due, that it was neither North nor South. His alternate resolutions lost before the assembly.  When the issue came to a vote, with an amendment offered by John Witherspoon II,  the Spring Resolutions, as they were known in church history, passed by 156 to 66. Tragically, they also brought about the schism between Old School Presbyterians, dividing North and South.

To read a full account of what came to be called the Gardiner Spring Resolutions,click here.

Words to Live By: There is a reason why the Confessional Fathers in chapter 31:3 specifically stated that “Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical; and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.”

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The Life of a Christian Minister Can Never Be Written.

Erskine Mason was born in New York City on April 16, 1805. He was the youngest child of the Rev. John M. and Anna L. Mason, D.D. As a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary in 1825, Erskine was ordained on October 20, 1826 and installed as pastor of the Scotch Presbyterian Church on Cedar Street in the City. Almost a year later he married, and this at roughly the same time that he was installed as pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Schenectady. Then, with but three years experience, he was called to serve the prestigious Bleeker Street Presbyterian Church in New York City. Another six years later, he accepted a position as professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary, while retaining his post as pastor of the Bleeker Street Church. By 1846, his congregation could see that he needed a time of rest and relaxation, and so enabled him to spend several months in Europe. He returned refreshed and it appeared that he had many years of ministry ahead of him. Yet surprisingly, his life proved short. Returning from an annual outing in the country in August of 1850, he soon felt weak and his health began to decline. When his last moments came, he declared, “It is all bright and clear.” Seated in his chair, he breathed his last, and died on May 14, 1851.

That too brief survey of his life will have to suffice this day, if we are to leave room for the wonderful opening words spoken in memory of Rev. Mason. The following, though admittedly a bit flowery (in good nineteenth-century fashion), was composed by the Rev. William Adams. Given the focus of our blog, I thought it appropriate to reproduce his words here:—

“The life of a Christian minister never can be written. Its incidents may be easily mentioned, for they are few. His parentage, birth, education, conversion, ordination, preaching, illness and death, comprise the whole. The whole? His real life consists not in striking and startling events. When the streams are flushed with the spring-freshet, overflowing the banks and sweeping away the dams and the bridges, the marvel is heralded in every newspaper; but when the same streams flow quietly along their ordinary channels, making the meadows to smile with verdure, refreshing the roots of the trees and turning the wheels of the mill, they excite no remark, even though their tranquil flow awakens a grateful admiration. Sum up the professional labors of a minister, and give the product in so many sermons, written and delivered!

“As well to attempt to gather up the rain, measure and weigh it. A certain amount of water you may show, but what of the moisture which has been absorbed by the tender vegetable, and the leaves of the trees? The life of a preacher is spent in addressing the intellect and conscience of his fellow-men. Ten, twenty, thirty years has he preached. How many thoughts, in how many minds has he suggested during such a period! What manifold judgments and purposes, what great hopes and wise fears have had their origin in his own thoughts and words! What sayings of his have been lodged in men’s minds, which have worked in secret about the roots of character! Even while despondent himself, because so few visible results of his toil are revealed, his opinions by insensible degrees are growing into the convictions of others, and his own life is infused into the life of a whole generation.

“It is a peculiarity of his position that he touches the life of his people at those points which are the most memorable and important in their existence. He unites them in marriage, baptizes their children, and buries their dead. He dies, and is soon forgotten by the world. The sable drapery which was hung about his pulpit on his funeral day is taken down; his successor is chosen and installed, and the tide of life rolls on as before. But he is not forgotten by all. His life is not all lost and dissipated. As the manners of a father are acted over in his son, and the smile of a mother will brighten again, after she is dead, on the face of her daughter, so will the sentiments of a minister be transmitted after his ministry is closed, his words be repeated after he has ceased to speak, and all his hopes and wishes live again in other hearts, long after his own beats no more. His biography will not be finished nor disclosed till that day when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed; and the seals of his ministry will be set, like stars in the firmament for ever and ever.

“To accommodate to a Christian minister, the language employed by Mr. Coleridge, in reference to Bell, the founder of schools:—”Would I frame to myself the most inspirating representation of future bliss, which my mind is capable of comprehending, it would be embodied to me in the idea of such an one receiving at some distant period, the appropriate reward of his earthly labors, when thousands of glorified spirits, whose reason and conscience had, through his efforts, been unfolded, shall sing the song of their own redemption, and pouring forth praise to God and to their Saviour, shall repeat his ‘new name’ in heave, give thanks for his earthly virtues, as the chosen instrument of divine mercy to themselves, and not seldom, perhaps, turning their eyes toward him, as from the sun to its image in the fountain, with secondary gratitude and the permitted utterance of a human love.”

Words to Live By:
Rev. Adams concluded his memoir for Rev. Mason:—
“No one who goes hence returns to finish the work of life. But there is intensity of motive enough in the sober truth that every man is actually engaged day by day in writing that autobiography, which neither time nor eternity will efface. It may be written in high places or in low, in public remembrance or in the honest heart of domestic affection, but we are writing fast, we are writing sure, we are writing for eternity. Happy is he who, through the grace of God assisting him, like the subject of this memoir, records such lessons of kindness, truth and wisdom, that when he is gone, he will be held in grateful remembrance; happier still to have one’s name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that when every memorial and monument of his earthly history has perished, he may ascend with the Son of God, to Honour, Glory and Immortality.”

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The Man Who Looked Back

RianEH

Our post today is a repeat from 2012. Since that time, a very interesting article by James W. Scott has appeared in the Westminster Theological Journal. In this article, “Machen’s Lost Work on the Presbyterian Conflict,” Mr. Scott explores the possibility that J. Gresham Machen had been at work over the summer of 1936 writing a book on the Presbyterian conflict. Among Machen’s papers, the working notes and manuscript for that book were never found, and Mr. Scott builds his case for the theory that the work was removed from Machen’s estate after his decease by Edwin H. Rian and later used as the core of the book later published by Rian, titled The Presbyterian Conflict. Westminster Theological Seminary has graciously posted the first part of this article to the Seminary web site, here. I think you will enjoy reading the article.

I was frozen in place that day behind the front desk of the Christian conference center in New Jersey.  The distinguished man had walked up to me to ask whether the Director of the Conference was on site.  I replied that he was away at the time. Whereupon the man gave me his business card, and walked out of the hotel that summer afternoon in 1965.  Looking  down, I read the name of “Edwin Rian, Assistant to the President, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.” I wish that I could say to our readers that this young seminarian had then rushed out of the hotel to ask the writer of the historic book The Presbyterian Conflict to stop and talk.  I wish that I could say to our readers that I stopped him and discussed with him as to why he left the infant Orthodox Presbyterian Church after such a valiant stand against the apostasy of the Presbyterian Church, USA. I could have asked him whether he remembered my father, who stood with him in the nineteen thirties for the faith, by faith. But I did none of these things. I was frozen in time.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Edwin  Rian came to Princeton Theological Seminary to study Semitics at the prestigious school., as part of the Seminary’s class of 1927.  Ordained in 1930 in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, he advanced his scholarship by studying as a Princeton Fellow at the Universities of Berlin and Marburg in Germany.  Returning to the States, he saw clearly the issues which led his mentor J. Gresham Machen to organize Westminster Theological Seminary.  He took his stand on those same issues, and like Machen and a number of other ministers, was censured by the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  As a founding member of the Presbyterian Church of America (1936), he stayed with that church when the Bible Presbyterians left it in 1938.  The former was later renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. (1938).  It was in 1940 that Rian crystallized the issues by writing the important book, “The Presbyterian Conflict.”  It still can be found in print or online, and is quoted often by those who seek to understand this period in American Presbyterian history.

Something happened to Edwin Rian himself, though, in the latter part of the 1940′s.  The fact that he left in 1946 to join the Christian University Association as its General Secretary was not unusual.  What was unusual was that on April 25, 1947, he left the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to reenter the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., from which he had been suspended over ten years before.

Various reasons had been suggested for this, sea change. One theory was that Rian was disappointed that a Christian University had not been started in Reformed circles.  And certainly, the rest of his life and ministry was taken up in educational circles.  But that reason doesn’t ring true to this contributor.  The reasons, however,  were never revealed.

He went on to serve in a variety of administrative posts in colleges and universities like Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, Beaver College in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, Jamestown College in Jamestown, North Dakota, Biblical Seminary in New York City, New York, and the American Bible Society in New York City. His last ministry and one in which he  came full circle, was  the position of Assistant to the President of Princeton Theological Seminary, Dr. James I. McCord, where he served for 15 years until his retirement.  He departed this life in 1995 at age 95 in San Diego, California.

Words to Live By: Jesus said in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 6:62, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  The commentator writes that there are some whose hearts are in the past. They walk forever looking backwards and thinking wistfully of the good old days.  The watchword of the Kingdom servants  is always “forward,” never “backward.”  Let us be not be content with lukewarm service.

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This post from last year bears repeating.

A Biblical Stand in a Biblical Way

masonJMThe Rev. John Mitchell Mason [1770-1829] was an Associate Reformed pastor who served for many years in New York City. He was born in New York City on March 19, 1770, and was the son of the Rev. John Mason, D.D., who had emigrated to this country in 1761 to take the pastoral charge of the Cedar Street Presbyterian Church in the New York City. John Mason proved to be a faithful pastor and remained in that pulpit until his death in 1792. William Sprague notes that “one of the noblest tributes which a son ever paid to the memory of a father, is to be found in the Address which Dr. Mason (the son) delivered before the Presbytery, relative to the resignation of his pastoral charge;—a tribute which no one can read without feeling a sentiment of veneration for the parent, and of admiration for the intellectual greatness and filial sensibilities of the son.” [perhaps we can relate some of that Address on another occasion.]

Educated at home and prepared for college by his father, John displayed a brilliant intellect and graduated from Columbia College at the age of 19. More importantly, John had come to faith in Christ at an early age, God having blessed the faithful efforts of his parents. “His mind was imbued with a knowledge of the great truths of the Gospel, as soon as its faculties were sufficiently developed to admit of comprehending them; and these truths seem to have become very early, through the influence of the Holy Spirit, the commanding principles of his conduct.”

Stopping on that last note, we relate the following anecdote, in evidence of the point, that the character of a child, established early, often remains fixed through a lifetime. This story was originally published in The Evangelical Guardian in 1846, and it is told by the editor of that magazine, as he relates an account of his travels in New York City that year:—

On Sabbath evening before leaving the city, I paid a visit, in company with Mr. McLaren, to old Katherine Ferguson, a colored woman who became a member of Dr. Mason’s Church about 40 years ago. She is a remarkable woman. The most of what she made by keeping a confectioner’s shop (enough to have placed her now in independent circumstances) she spent in feeding, clothing, and educating destitute colored children. She is warmly attached to the Associate Reformed Church, and remembers Dr. Mason, and the ‘days of old.’ with peculiar delight. Two young persons, members of Mr. McLaren’s congregation, were in her house, being there, as I understood, to read the Bible, and converse with her. This would not fail to make on a mind at all accustomed to sober reflection, a favorable impression as to their piety.—One object of my visit, was to obtain from her lips an account of an occurrence which I had sometimes heard related. Her statement was as follows:

“After Dr. Mason commenced preaching in Murray Street, some ‘gay ladies’ from Pearl Street, said to him: ‘Doctor it will not do for those colored people (Katherine and a male relative of hers who had made a profession of religion) to sit at the same table with the white communicants.—They should be at a Table by themselves at the last.’ The Dr. simply replied, that he would think of it. When the day for the communion came round, and the people were about to take their seats at the Lord’s table, the Doctor came down from the pulpit, and taking the two colored persons by the hands, he said,’This is my brother, this is my sister. He that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister and mother. In Christ Jesus, there is neither Greek, nor Jew,—Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free,’ and then led them forward to the table and set them down ‘first of all.’ “

This was the result of the Doctor’s reflection on the subject, and it settled the question forever.

[excerpted from The Evangelical Guardian, vol. IV, no. 6 (November 1846): 285.]

Words to Live By:
Sin creeps into the Church in myriad ways. We are after all still in this sinful flesh. But racism has no place in the Church. It is at heart a way in which we put ourselves on a pedestal, thinking ourselves better than others. It is, if you will, a form of self-deification, with pride at its root, and as such, becomes a particularly destructive sin. The best stand against such sin, perhaps the only true stand against it, is to peaceably, lovingly demonstrate the objective truth of Scripture, as Dr. Mason did, by living in obedience to the Scriptures.

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism…For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all…For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:11013, NASB)

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