Old School

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A SMALL FUNERAL

On April 23, I attended a funeral of a member of my local congregation. She had been a founding member, attending a Bible study before a pastor even showed up to start a church. Virginia Tidball was a lifelong resident of Fayetteville, Arkansas.

She was among the very last of an old tradition: a staunch Southern Presbyterian of the old school. By that, I mean the Old School. That was what her wing was called. It was the Scottish Calvinist wing of the American church. Its last institutional traces disappeared in the 1940’s in the South. In the North, the last of the Old School ministers had been forced out in 1936. On June 15, for the last time, an article on the Presbyterian theological conflict appeared on the front page of the New York Times. The headline announced: “Barring of 3 Philadelphia Pastors Brings Walkout by Presbyterians.” The same page announced: “G. K. Chesterton, Noted Author, Dies.”

When I say she was the last, I mean it. She was like a thread across time to an ancient past. Her father had been a Southern Presbyterian minister. He in turn had studied theology under Robert L. Dabney. For most people, the name “Dabney” does not ring a bell. The textbook writers have done their work well. Robert L. Dabney was the South’s most respected Protestant theologian and the co-founder of the Southern Presbyterian Church in 1861. (The founding meeting took place in the home of Rev. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, who oversaw the Southern Presbyterian Church, 1865-98, as Stated Clerk, and whose son Woodrow went first into the field of higher education, then politics.) During the war, Dabney served as both chaplain and aide de camp for Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. He later wrote a biography of Jackson. He was so completely unreconstructed that in 1867, he allowed to be published his book, written during the war, A Defence of Virginia [And Through Her, of the South]. It included a vigorous defense of slavery, which by 1867 was politically incorrect in the South. He ended his career on the original faculty of the University of Texas, teaching free market economics (still called political economy), blind when he retired in 1894, and also teaching at a Presbyterian seminary in Austin. He died in 1898.

Virginia Tidball was born in 1904, the same year that the last major party candidate for President openly supported the gold standard, the long-forgotten Alton B. Parker, whose defeat by Teddy Roosevelt ended the Old Democracy, seemingly forever. But there were remnants, and Virginia Tidball was one of them.

They still tell the story of the time that John Duncan, the mathematics teacher from Scotland, ended the music portion of the worship service by having the congregation sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” After the service, Miss Tidball told him: “I forgive you, for you are not a native of this country.” Whether or not she was speaking of the United States, no one had the courage to ask.

The world she left behind is a very different world from the one she was born into. In the South, Dabney’s name is forgotten. The textbook story of the late unpleasantness, 1861-65, is the victors’ story. The South adopted tax-funded education with a vengeance, thereby turning the region’s children over to the New York textbook publishers long before World War I. A New York-published and edited U.S. history textbook provides a view of Southern history that is as faithful to the facts as Joseph Ruggles’ son was faithful to the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), which he swore before God that he believed when he became a ruling elder in the Northern Presbyterian Church.

Biographical Sketch, by Gary North [online at http://www.lewrockwell.com/north/north100.html; used by permission]

The Papers of Virginia Tidball have been preserved at the PCA Historical Center.

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A Young Pastor Caught in the Middle

boardman01The Old School/New School division of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  officially took place in 1837. But the controversy had been roiling along for many years prior, and by the time that  Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia was organized, in 1829, the controversy was really coming to the fore. The first pastor of the church was Thomas A. McAuley, a New School man who managed to steer the new church into the only New School Presbytery within the Synod of Philadelphia, all to the dismay of the Rev. Ashbel Green and the other Old School men in Philadelphia, who had such hopes for the new church.

But Rev. McAuley only stayed for four years before leaving for greener fields (he went on to found Union Theological Seminary in New York). And in God’s providence, Henry Augustus Boardman was graduating from Princeton right about that same time. Boardman had been born in Troy, New York on January 9, 1808, graduated from Yale and then Princeton, but thought he would prefer being the pastor of a rural church. Instead, he was urged to supply the vacant pulpit at Tenth, and despite some misgivings on his part, finally accepted the call to serve there as pastor.

In a published history of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Allen Guelzo tells the story of the challenges that immediately confronted Boardman as he became the new pastor of the church :


Not that all the qualms in Boardman’s stomach were thereby stilled. There remained the unsettling business of Tenth’s attachment to the New School Second Presbytery. That business was made even more unsettling when on the eve of his ordination and installation the Synod of Philadelphia finally lost its patience with the New Schoolers and ordered the Second Presbytery dissolved. Since this drastic action could not be made final until the General Assembly met the following May, the New Schoolers held onto a brief stay of execution. But that left Boardman in the unhappy predicament of having to seek ordination at the hands of a presbytery that was virtually an outlaw organization; nor could he wait until the following May to see where the chips would fall, since his ordination and installation had been set for November 8, 1833.

Once again, he began to question whether he ought to join a presbytery under such suspicion and when he had such little sympathy with its tenets. “Unquestionably,” wrote Boardman, “it was a controversy which involved both the purity of our faith and the integrity of our ecclesiastical polity. Two incompatible systems of doctrine and two no less irreconcilable theories of ecclesiastical authority and policy” were at stake. In Boardman’s mind, there was no hope of compromise “between those who training had made them decided and earnest Presbyterians and others who had adopted our standards in a loose and general way.” Nor was it, he observed, “a mere war of words, It took hold upon the central truths of the Gospel, such as original sin, the atonement, regeneration and justification.”[1]  Nevertheless, Boardman decided to go ahead with the ordination, a move that was to set a precedent for later pastors of Tenth Church who found themselves with similarly difficult choices. In time, his decision proved wise. Boardman was able to sever Tenth’s connections with the New School Presbytery, and in 1837 the General Assembly removed the thorn of New School Presbyterianism from Boardman’s side by moving to lop all New School Presbyteries off its rolls. Not until 1869 were Old School and New School Presbyterians reunited.

[1] Boardman, Henry A., Two Sermons Preached on the Twenty-fifth and Fortieth Anniversaries of the Author’s Pastorate. Philadelphia: Inquirer Book and Job Print, 1873, p. 31.

[Excerpted from Making God’s Word Plain: Tenth Presbyterian Church, 150 Years (1829-1979).   Philadelphia, PA: Tenth Presbyterian Church, 1979, pp. 45-46.]


Words to Live By:
 Scripture does not promise an easy path in life for the Christian. If anything, we are promised conflict (2 Tim. 3:12). But we also have clear promises of God’s wisdom, as well as the charge to be at peace with all men, so far as we are able. (Rom. 12:18). Through diligent study of the Bible, godly counsel, and prayerful trust in God, we can find our way through life’s challenges.

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The following is a newspaper account of the proceedings of the PCUSA General Assembly of 1837, in which the Old School men effectively excised four New School synods from the denomination. Here in this account is a record of the debate over that action. A Convention of Old School men met in Philadelphia in May, prior to the Assembly, and a Memorial rising from that Convention was presented at the Assembly. The Memorial sought the dissolution of the 1801 Plan of Union, a reinvigoration of sound Presbyterian principles throughout the denomination, and immediate disciplinary measures directed at both men and the inferior courts (presbyteries and synods) charged with holding specified theological errors.

I realize this may be more than some will want to read, but as a record of the history of that event, this account is quite interesting on a number of levels.

The Charleston Observer, Vol. XI, No. 24 (June 17, 1837), pages 93 and 96:—

Page 93

GENERAL ASSEMBLY.

Debate on the Memorial of the Convention, touching the citation of Inferior Judicatories—as reported by the Editor of the Presbyterian.

Mr. Plumer moved to bring up this business under the following resolutions :

1.  That the proper steps be now taken to cite to the bar of the next Assembly such inferior judicatories as are charged by common fame with irregularities.

2.  That a special committee be now appointed to ascertain what inferior judicatures are thus charged by common fame, prepare charges and specifications against them, and to digest a suitable plan of procedure in the matter, and that said committee be requested to report as soon as, practicable.

3.  That as citation on the foregoing plan is the commencement of a process involving the right of membership in the Assembly :

Therefore,

Resolved, That agreeably to a principle laid down, Chap. V. Sec. 9th, of the Form of Government, the members of said judicatories be excluded from a seat in the next Assembly, until their case shall be decided.

He then read from Book of Discipline, Chap. V. 9, on the discretionary right of a church judicatory to exclude one under process from the privilege of deliberating and voting.  Also, from Form of Government, Chap. XII. 5, on the powers of the General Assembly in relation to controversies and errors. Also, from the Book of Discipline, Chap. VII. Sec. 1, sub. Sec. 5 and 6, in relation to powers of review and control.—These quotations went directly to the proof that the Assembly had all the powers of interference contemplated in the resolutions before the house.  When common fame alleged the existence of grievance in inferior judicatories, they had the right of citation and trial, and until this was done, the persons charged might be denied their seat in the Assembly.

Mr. Jessup rose to oppose the adopt of the resolutions, on the ground that they infringed the constitution.  The language of the instrument has not left it to implication, what are the precise powers of the Assembly—they are all specified.  He had no doubt that it had the power to cite Synods to its bar.  This has been exercised ; one Synod (Western Reserve) had thus been cited, had appeared, and had answered satisfactorily.  But Synods, as such, cannot be excluded from this floor ; Presbyteries are represented here, and we cannot reach Presbyteries except by a constructive power.  It is not competent to the Assembly to carry on an impeachment against a Presbytery, for this is the province of a Synod.  The doctrine is advanced that the right of reproving, implies right to cite and try, for how can they be reproved before trial.  When, however, gross irregularities or erroneous doctrines prevail in a Presbytery, a testimony may be borne against them, and they may be reproved.—It is not necessary to this, that a citation should be issued ; this is a power which does not belong to the Assembly, in relation to a Presbytery,as it is expressly delegated to another body.  It is not implied in “suppressing schismatical contentions” that we may arraign Presbyteries or individuals, and try them as if it were for their lives.  Consult your book on actual process, and see to whom is intrusted the power of commencing it. . . .

Mr. Breckinridge regarded the subject as one of great importance, as well as of difficulty.  The speaker who preceded him, had probably given the strongest views which could be given on that side of the question.—What is contemplated in the resolutions, is entirely within the jurisdiction of the Assembly ; nay, they could do much more than this. . . . .

Mr. White.  He admired the talent of the last speaker, but he had, as he himself had acknowledged assumed unconstitutional grounds.  . . . .

Friday Morning, May 25.

Dr. Beman.  In remarking on this subject he noticed the opposite grounds assumed by gentlemen.  One (Mr. Plumer) says, the measure proposed carries out the constitution, and another (Dr. Breckinridge) says, we should proceed on the ground, that necessity knows no law.  He would be led to notice both positions.  The first point he would insist on, was in reference to the power of the Assembly in relation to inferior judicatories.  The question was, had the General Assembly any right to originate process, involving deposition ; he contended that it had not, and he appealed to the Book. . . . .

Page 96

GENERAL ASSEMBLY.

[Debate—Continued from first page]

Mr. Plumer. He differed from Mr. Jessup on the extent of authority vested in the General Assembly.  The 5th sub. sec. of 1st sec. chap. vii. in the Book of Discipline, gives the Assembly ample control over Synods which fail to perform their duty, and the interference is not only justified by the case of the Synod of Kentucky already quoted, but by the settled practices of the Scottish Church, to which we are so greatly indebted for our present Constitution.  [Mr. Plumer here quoted largely from Steuart’s Collections in proof, that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, directly and through their commissions, exercised authority in the suppression of error, by the citation of refractory Presbyteries and Ministers.]  This he deemed very high authority.  He was amused and surprised to hear one gentleman (Dr. Beman) so eloquently contend for the eternal rights of Presbyteries, and he was led to think what could be the meaning of the gentleman.  Were the rights of which he spoke eternal a parte ante, or a parte post?  If it was the former, then the Presbyterian form of government was much more ancient than he had ever imagined, for he had never dreamed of tracing it further back than to the time that Ezra arranged the Synagogue worship ; if it were the latter, that Presbyterianism was to be perpetuated in heaven, then it was singular enough considering the quarter from which it came that we should have the eternally divine right of Presbyterianism so strongly maintained—it was high-churchism of a truth. The gentleman’s metaphors were also remarkable ; first we had a big trumpet emptying its sounds into another trumpet, and it in its turn emptying itself into a dish, and then the dish filled with northern gales and southern breezes, presented to regale the General Assembly.  Such a dish reminded him of an anecdote of a Minister’s servant who was very clever in making inferences ; on one occasion he was asked what inference he would draw from this text, “a wild Ass that snuffeth up the wind at pleasure,” and his answer was, that he would infer that he might snuff a good while before he would grow fat on it.  So he would say of this dish which the gentleman had prepared for the Assembly, in all likelihood they would never grow fat on it.  Having thus disposed of the salmagundi dishes, he would turn to other matters.  It was indeed pleasant to hear it acknowledged by gentlemen on the other side, that there were in the Church two systems of theological views, [Mr. Dickinson explained that he meant two systems of explaining doctrines.]  Well, that is even plainer ; there are two distinct and different systems of explaining the doctrines of religion ; that point is now settled, and it is fully conceded.  Then again he was surprised that the same gentleman from Lane Seminary, should undertake to compare the differences which existed in the Presbyterian Church in 1820, with those now existing.  The subjects of difference were totally different as he should have known, and the points now in dispute were not agitated then.  It was laid down as a principle by all writers on the laws of nations, that when a privilege was granted by one nation to another, every thing was included, which was necessary to the enjoyment of the privilege.  Thus, if an army had permission to pass through a certain territory, it was certainly implied that they might cut down trees to make bridges, if it should be necessary on their march.  So, if the right of citation is given to the Assembly, it includes the right of calling for persons and papers.  They may appoint a commission to carry their citation into effect, and this commission may send for men and papers ; they may require the records of Presbyteries and Sessions.  Mr. Jessup had said, that no power of the Assembly could reach the records of his Presbytery ; but if refused, it would be under the penalty of contumacy, and if this were not so, the whole thing would be no better than a consummate farce ; if testimony could not be demanded, then we might as well go home at once.  It had been acknowledged, that we had the power to reprove, but how could this be done, unless there was some way of getting at the proof?  The changes had been rung on “trampling the constitution under our feet ;” but there were two senses in which the constitution might be brought under our feet.  We might place our feet on it as we would on the rock of Gilbraltar, as a secure foundation, and in this way the brethren who acted with him had it under their feet ; and in another sense, it might be trampled under foot with scorn, the way in which it was treated by some others.  One gentleman had solemnly averred, that the constitution had provided only for process against an individual, and yet there was the Book expressly providing for the citation of judicatories!  It was rendered incumbent on the superior judicatory to take this course, and if it had power to call for records.  He was glad to hear the gentleman from Lane Seminary acknowledge, that reform was necessary, but the remedy he proposed was inefficient : mere advice and exhortation would not do ; the stronger measure which was now proposed, was the only one that was adequate.  Two things he would now state as a tribute to charity; and the first was, that there was no contention between old-school men and Congregationalists as such.  There was no war on New England and its old theology.  When the late Dr. Porter was spending a winter to the south, he was invited to deliver a course of lectures in an old-school Theological Seminary : that was no proof of hostility to New England; and the name of Nettleton and others of similar stamp, was held in reverence by old-school men.  It should be known then, that we wage no war against the Congregationalism of New England or the theology of Edwards. And again, he would say, that we have no contest with other denominations ; we cherish for them the most fraternal feelings, and extend to them our Christian regards.  On the contrary, it is for the orer, the constitution, the doctrines of the Presbyterian Church, that we contend.

Friday Morning, May 26.

Dr. Peters. Tlie first resolution under consideration, proposes the citation of inferior judicatories ; and the proceeding is extraordinary ; it should not be entered on, unless the common fame is definite and attaches to persons.  If the individuals were named who are charge, then we would go the work.  It is most extraordinary that this great court of errors, should lay aside its regular judicial business, to hunt after a criminal ; there is no provision in the book for this.  He would again call attention to the powers of the Assembly as laid down in the form of Government, Chap. XII. sec. 5. and here there was not a word said as to the mode of exercising the power.  Mr. Plumer goes for authority to the Scotch Church, but he would go to the book of Discipline, Chap. VII, 1,2, for the mode.  There it is provided that cases must go from lower to higher judicatories, and the process must be against individuals.  The power of citation is admitted, but it is not for trial, as as you do not know that there will be ground for trial, but merely that the matter may be remitted.  It is for a mere inquiry, to know what they have done or left undone ; then you may issue an order, and if they refuse obedience, then you may cite again for trial, and although the old Book does not exactly specify what is to be done, yet you unquestionably have the right of trial.  There is another way of testifying against errors, if we could only get them within the rules of this house.  He could not consent to cite, because he did not know what judicatories were to be cited, and it was to him an unparalled departure from dignity in this house to go out to hunt for criminals.—As to excluding members from their seats, he thought we were legislating beyond our bounds, when we legislated for another Assembly.  Dr. Baxter has taken the position that the ministers of Congregational churches have no right to seats in this house, and that the measures now before you are a continuation of the work already accomplished ; but he would reply, that the churches formed under the union were lawfully formed agreeably to the stipulations between the Presbyterian Church and the association of Connecticut.  Can we now say that the union was unconstitutional? One half hour before its abrogation, these churches were regular, but now it is said they are irregular ; if so, why not now discipline them and they may yet become regular.  He felt no alarm at the abrogation of the resolutions as they could not affect the churches, which had been formed under the Assembly’s rule.  Your abrogation is a nullity ; it only prevents other churches from being formed on this principle.  You are bound to protect these churches and not rashly and rudely to break up their foundations.  Are you going to exclude ministers because they are pastors of Congregational Churches?  Why a Presbytery consists of all the ministers within a certain district, with a ruling elder from each church, and although one may be a tobacconist, another a book merchant, and a third a seller of cotton and purple, yet you do not interfere or vitiate their standing.  To cut off immediately has been the doctrine avowed on this floor and in the Convention, and it is certainly very convenient to say that because there is a common fame against them, they should be excluded ; this is the shortest way, and therefore, said to be the best.  Mr. Plumer quotes Scotch authority for this, although he has no idea of the rule applying to the South.  We were told yesterday, very logically, that as no system provides for its own dissolution, that therefore, we must adopt unconstitutional measures, lest the Assembly should stultify itself.  He had pleasure in referring to the mere pacific remarks of Dr. Baxter, who supposed that two families under the same roof would come into collision, and that peace would be promoted by a separation.  But divisions cannot be ; the constitution binds us together ; and if any are dissatisfied, they can retire and plant their flag outside.  If, however, a proposition to this effect were kindly made, it would be received in the same spirit ; an amicable division might take place, but we are not to be driven from this blessed constitution.  We have no proposition for division to make, but if it should come from another quarter, he would promote it by any proper means ; for he was persuaded, that the sooner the parties were apart, the sooner the atmosphere between them would be clarified, and they be prepared to unite on higher grounds.

Dr. McAuley, would not commence by stating, as many had, that he had but “a word” to say, and then speak half an hour, which time, however he certainly would not speak.  He was unwell ; and desired only to administer a corrective to some of his friends who quoted authorities from the church of Scotland.  He would read from the “Compend” of the Laws of that Church, to show what was the power of the commissions which are integral parts of the constitution of the Scotch Church.

[Dr. McAuley then read, and commented on various parts of the book for the space of half an hour, to show that the Church of Scotland was in union with the state, and of course, that the acts of that Church were of no authority in interpreting our constitution.]

Dr. McAuley then alluded to the constitution of the Church which, he contended, did not authorize the General Assembly to institute these proceedings.  He went on further to argue, that if this Assembly could exclude members from the next house by these resolutions, the Presbyteries to which they belonged could not even elect Commissioners to the Assembly,—nor perform any of the acts appropriate to the offices of the ministry and eldership.  He hoped there was good sense and loyalty enough to prevent the passages of these resolutions ; which, while he would condemn heresy, he considered an unlawful method of attaining a right end.  That end would be obtained at the proper time, if we adhered to the constitution.  God is long suffering to usward, and he would be so to erring brethren.  Bear with them, and you may reclaim them.

In allusion to Presbyterian Ministers preaching to Congregational Churches, he contended, that this was as proper, as for such ministers to abandon the preaching of the Gospel, to engage in merchandise, or edit mis-called religious newspapers—but who were nevertheless allowed to sit in our judicatories.  Every minister who has taken our Book,—not “for substance of doctrine,” but sincerely and fully, is a duly qualified minister, and may sit in the General Assembly.  I believe, that we may reach errorists another way than by these resolutions.  Every man, who is not a sound Presbyterian, ought to go out from us, or to be turned out.

He did not know, that any of the doctrines specified in the list presented by the Committee on the Memorial, existed in the Church ; and until it was proved, that the ministers who were to be excluded really did hold these or similar errors, they must be allowed all their constitutional rights.

A few words as to common fame.  I am incredulous as to the existence of any common fame.  But, I am asked, “What, have you not read the religious newspapers?”, I look at my book, which defines common fame, and it says, that rashness, censoriousness or malice, in the individual raising a general rumour invalidates it.  It is not common fame at all.  A man may get the control of a religious paper, and use it for the purpose of attacking the character of ministers, and then call this common fame.  But this is nothing but common fame against the propagator.  Such men ought to be censured for publishing such a dreadful common fame.  Before we go forward in this business let us see who common fame is, and what it says.

There is but a paltry gain, as three years will show, to be made by pursuing the plan of these resolutions.  Let us not, for such an end, incur the great expense, which it involves.

There was then a call for the previous question, which was agreed to ; the main question was then put, and the ayes and noes being called, the question was carried in the affirmative, as follows :

Yeas—Platt, Leggett, J.R. Johnson, R. J. Crawford, Wilkin, Frame, Owen, Edwards, Sturges, Goldsmith, Potts, S. Boyd, Lenox, Murray, McDowell, Ogilvie, Dr. A. Alexander, Yeomans, W. Wilson, Woodhull, Junkin, Lowe, King, J. Wilson, Dorrance, Harris, Green, Latta, Fahnestock, Symington, Cuyler, Darrach, Davie, Hamilton, Penny, Breckinridge, Hickson, M.B. Patterson, Creigh, McKeenan, Fullerton, Williamson, Long, J.H. Crier, J.B. Boyd, Hughes, Cook, Annan, Ewing, Slagle, Baird,, Kiddoo, Gladden, J.W. Johnston, Lowrie, Mitchel, Hannah, Stratton, Adair, Tait, McCrackin, Van Deman, W. Patterson, S. Wilson, R. Miller, Beer, McCombs, Torrance, Turner, Crane, Osburn, Golladay, James Coe, Marquis, H. Patton, M.J. Smith, Blythe, Marshal, McKennan, Stafford, J.H. Rice, W.K. Stewart, Bailey, Hopkins, C.S. Todd, C. Stuart, Irwin, A. Todd, Hendren, Morrison, Moore, J. Alexander, W.H. Foote, Baxter, Hart, Anderson, Plumer, Dunn, Graham, Caruthers, McQueen, Potter, Pharr, Andrews, Watts, Dr. Brown, Conkey, Galbraith, Patton, Sloss, Leatch, Hodge, J. Greer, Ross, Simpson, J. Witherspoon, Coit, Leland, Pratt, Howard, Goulding, J.S. Witherspoon, Morgan, D. Johnson, Van Court, Banks, J. Smylie, N. Smylie—128.

Nays—C. Cutler, Southworth, Holt, Burnap, Beman, Hayden, Wickware, Rand, Wood, Griswold, Macgoffin, Porter, Cone, etc.—122.

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Calvary was his hiding place

It must be some sort of record. Think of it! The pastor ministered all sixty-three years in the same church. And those six decades were through some of the momentous years in our nation, to say nothing, of the history of the Presbyterian church.

Gardiner SpringBorn in Newburyport, Massachusetts on February 24, 1785, Gardiner Spring attended Berwick Academy in Maine. He then went to and graduated from Yale University in 1805. Married the following year, he and his new bride Susan moved to Bermuda where Gardiner Spring taught the classics and mathematics. This was only for some income, as his real purpose was to study law. And he was admitted to the bar in New Haven, Connecticut in 1808. Receiving a call to the ministry, he went to Andover Theological Seminary for one year and was called to the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City in 1810, never to leave its pulpit.

It was an active pulpit for the minister. After 40 years of ministry, it was said that he had preached 6000 sermons, received 2092 into the membership roll, baptized 1361 infants and adults, and married 875 couples. Along the way, he had written also 14 books, at least one of which is still being printed today. If the reader doesn’t posses “The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character,” he is urged to buy one immediately. It answers the question as to how do we know we have eternal life.

Many Christians, and especially those in our Southern states are aware that it was Gardiner Spring who authored the resolutions in 1861 to place the Presbyterian Church (Old School) solidly behind the Republican administration of Abraham Lincoln. That action split the Presbyterian Church into two — North and South Old School. We will consider on May 16 the pros and cons of that resolution.

For now, consider the following words in a letter of Gardiner Spring, just nine years after he had begun his ministry at Brick Presbyterian. On occasion of his birthday, he wrote:

gspring02“Still in this world of hope! In defiance of all sins of the past years, and a guilty life, I am permitted to see another birthday. I have been often surprised that I am suffered to live. Blessed be God, I am not afraid to die, and often more afraid to live. I am an abject sinner, and it will indeed be wonderful grace if I ever sit down with Christ at the Supper of the Lamb. That grace is my strong refuge; Calvary is my hiding place. I hope in the grace and guardianship and faithfulness of that omnipotent Redeemer, to be kept from falling and presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. This text has often comforted me, when I have been afraid of trusting in the divine mercy. ‘The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.’ It affords me unutterable pleasure to feel that I am not denied the privilege of laying my own soul beneath the droppings of the same blood I have for nine years recommended to my dying and guilty men.”

Words to Live By: We should take the opportunity which a birthday gives to us, as well as other proverbial milestones in our lives, to meditate on the grace of God in Christ in our lives, as well as the work of sanctification which the Holy Spirit is doing within those lives. You might even keep a notebook or journal in which you write down your observation of God’s many providences and blessings. Such a journal can be a great blessing when faith may falter, and it can be a wonderful testimony to your children and your children’s children.

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Despite Your Weaknesses—Often Because of Your Weaknesses—God Can Use You.  

It has always been an issue with some of the covenant people of God that they often cannot relate a particular time when they came to a saving relationship with Christ.  Such was the case with a young man by the name of Eleazer Whittlesey, who moved from Bethlem, Connecticut, to Pennsylvania in the mid 1700’s.

We don’t know much about his background, either his parents or what spiritual influences he had from any church.  He showed up to meet Aaron Burr in Newark, New Jersey by a recommendation from a man named Ballamy.  The infant and later Princeton Seminary was located there, with Pastor Burr as its second president.  The latter clergyman noted that he was “not converted in the way” that many of the Presbyterian clergy of his day thought was necessary.  In fact, President Burr spoke of  having “some doubt” of  his spiritual experience.  He went on to state that “he has met with others of God’s dear people, who cannot tell of such a particular submission as we have insisted on, though the substance of the thing may be found in all.”  However, Rev. Burr placed Eleazar under his pastoral care and believed that he was making good progress in learning.  He ended his thoughts by stating that “I trust the Lord has work for him to do.”

Seven years later, Eleazer would graduate from Nassau Hall in Princeton, New Jersey, to which the new college has moved.  He was licensed by the New Castle Presbytery soon afterwards.  We could find no record of his ordination however.  In 1750, he began to supply vacancies, of which there were many at this time in American Presbytery history.  Yet while  doing that “with zeal and integrity,” Eleazer complained of “melancholy”  which kept  him from being able to study or make preparation for sermons in the pulpit.  His days, he acknowledged, were often spent in “painful idleness.”

In 1751, Whittlesey settled in what is now York County, Pennsylvania, where  he began to preach in a log church in Muddy Run.  Faithful in labor in all the neighboring settlements, it was said that he formed the Slate Ridge and Chanceford Presbyterian churches, composed of Scots-Irish  people.

In 1752, he left a pastor’s house one cold day to travel to the Muddy Run church.  On the way, he became ill with pleurisy, and died about a week later on December 21, 1752.  His last words were “O  Lord, leave me not.”

Words to Live By: We remember the apostle Paul who had “a thorn in the flesh,” and prayed earnestly that it might depart from him. ( 2 Corinthians 12:7, 8)  God answered his request with the word “My grace is sufficient for you, for power in perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor 12;9) God can use us for His kingdom despite our bodily and mental weaknesses.   Remember that, Christian.

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A Life of Selfless Service.

If you have any appreciation for Presbyterian works that came out of the nineteenth-century—works by men like Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller, Charles Hodge, and so many more—then you owe a debt of gratitude to the Rev. William M. Engles. From 1838 until 1863—key years in Presbyterian publishing—Rev. Engles selflessly served as the head of the Presbyterian Board of Publication, and it was under his leadership that this institution produced some of the very best works issued in that era. No rash claim, it was said at his funeral that, “So far, indeed, as any one man can deserve such preeminence, he might justly be called the founder of the Presbyterian literature of this country.”

William Morrison Engles was born in Philadelphia on October 12th, 1797. His father was Captain Silas Engles, of the Revolutionary Army; his mother was Anna (Patterson) Engles, a lady from a distinguished family. Both parents were noted for their intelligence and for their accomplishments. William graduated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1815, studied theology with Dr. Samuel Brown Wylie, of the Reformed Presbyterian denomination, and was licensed by the Presbytery of Philadelphia on October 18th, 1818. Then on July 6th, 1820, he was ordained and installed as pastor of the Seventh Presbyterian Church, also known as the Tabernacle Presbyterian Church. Here his ministry was faithful and successful, but in 1834 he was obliged to resign, on account of a diseased throat.

From the pulpit he stepped into the editorial chair, succeeding Dr. James W. Alexander as editor of The Presbyterian, in which post he continued, until the day of his death, for thirty-three years. Under his supervision this newspaper attained an increased circulation and a high reputation as the leading organ of the Old School party. Then in May of 1838, Rev. Engles was appointed editor of the Board of Publication for the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., which post he held for twenty-five years, while yet retaining the editorship of The Presbyterian. In 1840, he was chosen to serve as Moderator of the General Assembly for the Old School wing of the PCUSA, and then filled the office of Stated Clerk for six years. His death, from an obscure disease of the heart, occurred on November 27, 1867, passing into glory at the age of 71.

Dr. Engles owed his reputation more to his pen than to his pulpit. He was too quiet and didactic to be a popular preacher. But to say nothing of his editorial success, to him the Board of Publication was more indebted than to any other individual, according to its own acknowledgment. He took an active part in its inception and progress. He not only rescued from oblivion various valuable works, in danger of becoming obsolete, but added to the Board’s issues a number of treatises from his own prolific pen. As these were published anonymously, they cannot here be specified. Mention, however, may be made of the little volume, entitled Sick Room Devotions which has proved of inestimable service, and The Soldier’s Pocket Book, of which three hundred thousand copies were circulated during the war.

Words to Live By:
“And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” – 1 Peter 5:4.

Of Rev. Engles, it was noted that he “was exceedingly averse to anything that savored of mere eulogy or panegyric upon his own services”, so much so that even his own funeral service would not have been attempted but for the urgings of numerous friends.

Let your eye be fixed upon the heavenly goal; let your work here on earth, whatever that may be, be a work done as unto the Lord, and not with an eye to the applause of the world.

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An excerpt from The Brazen Serpent, by Joseph Huntington Jones provides our Lord’s Day sermon today. Rev. Jones, as you will remember from yesterday’s post, was a close friend of the Rev. Ashbel Green. Dr. Green entrusted his autobiography to Rev. Jones, that he would see it through to publication after Green’s death.

The Brazen Serpent is, as it turns out, a work addressed to children. As such it provides an excellent example of the quality and caliber of nineteenth-century Presbyterian literature for the juvenile audience. The book was published by the Presbyterian Board of Publication, an agency at that time of the Old School wing of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., being published in 1864, just five years before the reunion of the Old School and New School division. What follows is excerpted from the first chapter of the book. A link to the full work follows at this end of this post. Please consider reading this together with your own children.

THE BRAZEN SERPENT, by Joseph Huntington Jones.

We read in the twenty-first chapter of the book of Numbers, that when the Israelites had been bitten by fiery serpents, Moses made of brass an image of this serpent and put it on a pole, and then whoever looked to this brazen or dead serpent was cured of the bit of the living one. There is something very astonishing here. In the history of diseases and remedies there is nothing like it, and had it not been explained to us by him who appointed it, we should be just as much perplexed to understand it as the Jews are. They cannot imagine why Moses should have been instructed to cure his dying brethren by such a simple thing, which, if it affected them at all, would be presumed to make them worse. The very last object at which a man, mortally wounded by a poisonous serpent, would wish to look, or from which he would expect relief, would be an image of the creature that had bitten him. To explain this wonder, and help us to see the use of it to us as well as to them, I will first recount what Moses did to heal his suffering brethren, and then tell you why God directed him to do it, in this particular way.

Most of my young readers, I presume, are familiar with the remarkable history of the children of Israel in Egypt; of the way in which they were brought out of it; and of their wandering forty years in the wilderness. If those of you who understand geography, will take some good map of this region which has the way the people traveled marked out upon it, you will see that, although they traveled probably more than a thousand miles up and down in this desert country, yet the distance in a straight line is less than three hundred. They were now come to Mount Hor, and had they been permitted to go forward in a direct course, their way would have been short. But to this the king of Edom would not consent, as they would have gone across his territory. This was very provoking, because it compelled them to travel back the very way they had come several days, and through a country that was extremely rough and dreary. It is not at all surprising that the people should have been greatly vexed with this most perverse and disobliging king, who had given them so much needless trouble; but it was not to be helped. He had a right to forbid them, and it was their duty to submit. So they turned about and followed the pillar of cloud and fire; but with such an angry and rebellious temper, that they murmured not against Moses only, but against God. “Wherefore,” said they, “have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in this wilderness?”

. . . But some of my young readers will say, We do not understand it, after all. We cannot see any resemblance between those poor Hebrews in the wilderness, bitten by the fiery serpents, and ourselves. We have not been bitten, and have no disease in our bodies that should make us afraid, or that gives us any pain. And even if we had, we do not think that we could be cured by looking to Jesus Christ. That is very true, children, in one sense; and your bright eyes, red cheeks, and healthful looks are pleasant tokens that you are well and happy. But this is not all of the truth; you are in health and full of joy and hope now, but it will not be always so. Many of the children who read this little book have buried a beloved parent; some lost their mother, some have no father, and others have neither. In a few years, all of you, their children, will be called to follow them; and what is the cause of this? Why do not persons live for ever here, without becoming old, wrinkled, and gray-haired, and losing their strength, hearing, and eyesight? Why have people, in past ages, with but two exceptions, all gone out of the world by dying? Who do they, soon or late, as certainly die as all the Israelites did who were bitten, before the lifting up of the serpent? Let us go to the apostle Paul for an answer. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Here, then, my dear children, you will see that sin has done the same thing for us, that the fiery serpents did for the Hebrews. It has made us all liable to the death of our bodies, and what is infinitely worse, to the everlasting loss of our souls. This is one point of resemblance.

Another, not less obvious and striking, is the way of escape. As the Israelites could do nothing to save their bodies from death, neither can we do anything for the salvation of our souls. If left to ourselves, in spite of all our works, we shall as certainly lose our souls as the Hebrews would have lost their lives. And in this we notice a second point of resemblance. We are like them in being utterly helpless.

A third is, that as they obtained a cure by looking to the brazen image; so do we receive salvation by looking to Christ. The Saviour does not use the precise words of Moses, and tell us to look to him, but he says, Believe. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” We see, then, that the great design of God, in adopting this way of curing the bitten Hebrews, was to teach us faith in Christ. Now, a great many people suppose that this is a subject so obscure and hard to be understood, that it is never worth our while to say anything to children about it. But in this little story from the writings of Moses, as explained by the Saviour, it is made so plain that few, if any, children who are able to read, can fail to comprehend it as well as their parents.

And I would now ask my little readers three simple questions that I think they can nearly all answer, and which will show how far the story is understood. And first, What was there in the condition of the Israelites that made it necessary for Moses to lift the serpent on the pole? You tell me, at once, they were in such a dangerous state that multitudes would have died without it. This is correct; you have given the true answer; and this, let me tell you, is the first part of faith in Christ. It is to feel ourselves to be in such a deplorable state, on account of our sins, that we must perish without help.

My next question is, Why did these poor, suffering Israelites look to this brazen image on the pole? Why did they not apply to their physicians, or try to cure themselves? You tell me immediately, because they knew that they would die if they did, and that if they were healed at all, it must be done by turning their eyes to this brazen saviour. True, this is the very answer I wished you to give, and this is the second element of faith in Christ. It is a persuasion that if we are saved at all, our help must come from Christ; that “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” I think, then, you understood this part as well as you did the other.

My third question is, What were their feelings and thoughts when they first lifted their eyes to the image? They felt persuaded, you answer, that if they looked, they would certainly be relieved, no matter how badly they were bitten, or how desperate their bodily condition. Exactly so, children, and this very feeling makes up the remainder of saving faith. It is a conviction, that if we do rely on Christ to save us, he is able, and willing, and ready to do it, the very moment we believe. This is faith, all about it that any of you need know; it is what any of you can know; and, let me add, it is what you all must know, or you will as certainly perish as the Israelites would have died, but for looking to the brazen image.

The Brazen Serpent; or, Faith in Christ Illustrated, by Joseph Huntington Jones. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1864. To download this book in PDF or other digital formats, click here.

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Ideas & Actions Have Consequences

On this day, August 15th, in 1861, a group of pastors and ruling elders met in Atlanta to plan the division of a new denomination, splitting off from the Old School wing of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Strictly speaking, the Southern Old School men did not divide over the matter of slavery. Rather, their point of division was the Gardiner Spring Resolutions. What follows is an account of how that division came about, written by the Rev. Moses D. Hoge, and found as chapter 22 in the volume, Presbyterians: A Popular Narrative… (1892):—

In May, 1861, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Old School), which met in Philadelphia, adopted a paper in reference to the Civil War, which begun the month before. This paper became known as the Spring Resolutions, after the Rev. Gardiner Spring, pastor of the Brick Church in New York and the minister who brought these resolutions to the floor of that General Assembly. Three times these resolutions were put before the Assembly, and twice they failed of vote, but with some changes, passed on the third presentation. With the adoption of the Spring Resolutions, the Assembly undertook to decide for its whole constituency, North and South, a question upon which the most eminent statesmen had been divided in opinion from the time of the formation of the Constitution, namely, whether the ultimate sovereignty, the jus summi imperii, resided in the people as a mass, or in the people as they were originally formed into colonies and afterward into States.

Presbyterians in the South believed that this deliverance, whether true or otherwise, was one which the Church was not authorized to make, and that, in so doing, she had transcended her sphere and usurped the duties of the state. Their views upon this subject found expression in a quarter which relieves them of all suspicion of coming from an interested party. A protest against this action was presented by the venerable Charles Hodge, D.D., of Princeton Theological Seminary, and fifty-seven others who were members of that Assembly.

In this protest it was asserted, “that the paper adopted by the Assembly does decide the political question just stated, in our judgment, is undeniable. It not only asserts the loyalty of this body to the Constitution and the Union, but it promises in the name of all the churches and ministers whom it represents, to do all that in them lies to strengthen, uphold and encourage the Federal Government. It is, however, a notorious fact that many of our ministers and members conscientiously believe that the allegiance of the citizens of this country is primarily due to the States to which they respectively belong, and that, therefore, whenever any State renounces its connection with the United States, and its allegiance to the Constitution, the citizens of that State are bound by the laws of God to continue loyal to their State, and obedient to its laws. The paper adopted virtually declares, on the other hand, that the allegiance of the citizen is due to the United States, anything in the Constitution or laws of the several States to the contrary notwithstanding. The General Assembly in thus deciding a political question, and in making that decision practically a condition of Church membership, has, in our judgment, violated the Constitution of the Church, and usurped the prerogative of its Divine Master.”

Presbyterians in the South, coinciding in this view of the case, concluded that a separation from the General Assembly aforesaid was imperatively demanded, not in the spirit of schism, but for the sake of peace, and for the protection of the liberty with which Christ had made them free.

After the adoption of the Gardiner Spring Resolutions in May of 1861, Presbytery after Presbytery in the Southern States, feeling that by that act they had been exscinded, withdrew from the jurisdiction of the Assembly that had transcended its sphere and decided political questions. A conference of ministers and elders was held in Atlanta on August 15-17, 1861, and in response to a call thus issued the Assembly met.

Accordingly, ninety-three ministers and ruling elders, representing forty-seven Presbyteries, duly commissioned for that purpose, met in the city of Augusta, Georgia, on the 4th of December, 1861, and integrated in one body. The first act after the organization of that memorable Assembly was to designate a name for the now separated Church, and to declare its form and belief.

Something to Ponder:
The North/South division of the Old School Presbyterians did not happen in an historical vacuum. That brief comment above, “…feeling that by that act they had been exscinded,…” is an intriguing key. Could it be that the division of 1861 happened in part because of the division of 1837? In the division of 1837, the Old School Presbyterians unwittingly established a precedent when they exscinded four Synods which were predominantly New School. In making this observation, I am not arguing that they were right or wrong, but simply that ideas and actions have consequences. The overt exclusion of four Synods in 1837 was still a recent memory in 1861, and in that light it seems a more reasonable suspicion that now it was the Southern churches which were being excluded, whether overtly or not.

Our actions have consequences. Once you do something, it becomes easier to repeat that action. This is how habits are formed. This is how we learn. And this can be either good or bad. On the positive side of things, skills and abilities can be tuned to a fine pitch; all manner of tasks can be mastered. But, by allowing a first transgression, we can also become quite adept at sin. Instead, let us fear God and hate evil. Like Joseph, turn from sin at its first appearance, and run! Or, to return to our story, imagine how things might have turned out, had that first slave ship been refused access to our shores? What sort of nation would we be if a different precedent had been set from the start? We can’t undo history, but we can find forgiveness and mercy in Christ as our Lord and Savior.

[excerpted from Presbyterians: A Popular Narrative of their Origin, Progress, Doctrines, and Achievements, by Rev. Geo. P. Hays, D.D., LL.D. New York: J. A. Hill & Co., Publishers, 1892, pp. 483-486.]

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The Brief Life of a Denomination You Probably Never Heard Of.

It was on this day, April 1, in 1858, that the United Synod of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America was formally organized. (The United Synod is not to be confused with the United Presbyterian Church of North America, which was also organized in 1858, but that was on May 26th. We’ll come back to them in 56 days from now.) Right now we’re concerned with the United Synod of the Presbyterian Church.

“Who?,” you say.

Well, they were more commonly known as the United Synod of the South.

Still nothing, huh?

To get to the United Synod, and for a bit of background, yet without bogging down in detail, let’s quickly rehearse some of the significant Presbyterian schisms.

First, there was the Old Side-New Side split in what later became the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (1789). That split ran from 1741 to 1758, at which point the split was mended.

Next, there was the schism in 1810 that created the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Centered primarily in
Tennessee and Kentucky, they left because they came to reject certain key doctrines of Calvinism.

As an aside, we’ll also mention the 1833 split of the Reformed Presbyterian Church into Old Light (RPCNA) and New Light (RPCGS) factions.

Coming back to the PCUSA, there was the big split in 1837 which created the Old School and New School divisions. This split had been over serious matters. The Old School side wanted an end to the Plan of Union (a church-planting arrangement with Congregationalists). But the Old School men particularly wanted to rid the Church of doctrinal errors known as Hopkinsianism or New Haven Theology. Not all New School men held to those views, but many did.

After that split, Old School and New School went their separate ways. [This division was mended in 1869, but that’s another story.]

The Old School wing of the PCUSA split in 1861, a month after the Civil War began. It split north and south, and that’s what created the Southern Presbyterian Church. But to be accurate, this split was not over the issue of slavery, but over something called the Gardiner Spring resolution. The 1861 Old School General Assembly adopted this resolution, which in part required pastors to swear an oath of allegiance to the federal government. Many thought that was an inappropriate thing for a church to do, and obviously the Southern pastors, with the war already underway, decided not to go along with that idea, so they split.

But back to the United Synod, this is where it gets interesting. Particularly because most historians don’t give it much, if any, attention. The United Synod was a split from the New School wing of the PCUSA.

One noted historian, Kenneth J. Foreman, Jr., has argued convincingly that “although slavery was a pervasive issue touching everything in America in the 1830’s, it was not one of the issues on which the 1837-38 Old School Presbyterians divided from the New.” Basically, there were strong proslavery elements and strong abolition elements in both Old School and New School wings of the division.

But as the New School Presbyterians began their separate existence, the issue of slavery became more and more central, just as it did throughout the nation at large. Finally, things came to a head for the New School when its General Assembly met in Cleveland in 1857.

Historian Harold M. Parker, Jr. says “There can be no doubt that the momentous Dred Scott decision of 6 March 1857 played an influential role in the New School Assembly’s action of that year. Clifton E. Olmstead has commented that with the decision ‘moderate evangelists were convinced that the time for charity and patience was over.’ Even the opponents of radicalism found themselves in the camp of the advocates of immediate abolitionism. Such ‘came not to bring peace but a sword with which to amputate the gangrenous member of American Society and purify the nation for its divine mission to the world.’ “

The New School Assembly began on May 21st, but it wasn’t until Friday, May 29th that they began to consider an overture regarding slavery. For four days they wrestled with the matter. Finally, the Assembly managed to adopt a paper which began:

“The General Assembly, in view of the memorials before them and of the present relations of the Church to the subject of Slavery, feel called upon to make the following exposition of principle and duty. The Presbyterian Church in these United States has, from the beginning, maintained an attitude of decided opposition to the institution of Slavery.”

[the paper then began to detail the various examples of that opposition. on pages 401-404. Contact me at archivist {AT} pcahistory [dot] org, if you would like to have the full text of that amended overture].

Having marshalled its evidence, the adopted paper concluded:

“We do not indeed, pronounce a sentence of indiscriminate condemnation upon all our brethren who are unfortunately connected with the system of Slavery. We tenderly sympathize with all those who deplore the evil, and are honestly doing all in their power for the present well-being of their slaves, and for their complete emancipation. We would aid and not embarrass such brethren. And yet, in the language of the General Assembly of 1818, we would “earnestly warn them against unduly extending the plea of necessity; against making it a cover for the love and practice of Slavery, or a pretence for not using efforts that are lawful and practicable to extinguish this evil.”

Clearly the New School Assembly was trying to take a firm stand, yet still they were treating the Southern New Schoolers with “kid gloves.”  How much different was the action of the Reformed Presbyterian Church when it sat down to discuss slavery in 1802 and decided unanimously that slaveholders could not be members in good standing–that unrepentant slaveholders would be excommunicated!

Nonetheless, the Southern New School men saw the writing on the wall and decided to separate. And thus the division in 1857 of the New School Presbyterian Church over the issue of slavery, several years before the start of the Civil War.

atkinsonCMOn April 1, 1858, the United Synod of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. met in Knoxville, Tennessee to formally organize the new denomination. The Rev. C. M. Atkinson, pictured at right, served as moderator for their first meeting.  Still, it was a short-lived denomination, for in 1863 these Southern New Schoolers agreed to merge with the Old School Southerners who had by then established their own separate existence as the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka Southern Presbyterian Church). In fact, Harold Parker has noted that “between 1863 and 1874, the Southern Presbyterian Church participated in six successful organic unions with other Presbyterian bodies in the South and border-states.”

That’s quite enough history for now, don’t you think?

Words to Live By:
The nagging question remains: How could Christians in that era, Old School or New School, have supported an evil like slavery? The only thing I’ve really come up with thus far is that we are, all of us–Christians and non-Christians–far more blinded by our culture than we realize. Christians should find a way out of that cultural blindness, in that the Bible gives us a vantage point that rises above all cultures, all philosophies, all times and man-made religions. If we are truly and fully Biblical in our world-view, we should rise above, and stand against, the sins of our times. The nagging question remains, what sins are we blind to today? Or do we think we’re better than our forefathers in the faith?

For Further Study:
Harold M. Parker, Jr. wrote the book on this subject, titled The United Synod of the South: The Southern New School Presbyterian Church. The PCA Historical Center has preserved among its collections an original copy of the Minutes of the first meeting of the United Synod (1858), but I cannot locate a digitized version of these Minutes. There is a digital copy of their 1861 Minutes available, here.

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Dr. Charles A. Stillman and The Presbytery’s Right of Examination.

Today we are drawing from a short biographical sketch that Dr. Barry Waugh provided for a section of the PCA Historical Center’s web site. He is the author of these first three paragraphs. Then following the biography, something of an aside for the policy wonks out there, (which I hope will prove interesting), on the Presbytery’s right of examination.

stillmanCharles Allen Stillman was born in Charleston, South Carolina to James S. and Mary Stillman on March 14, 1819. He attended Oglethorpe University in Georgia and received his degree in 1841. He then received his divinity degree from Columbia Theological Seminary in 1844 and proceeded to be licensed by Charleston Presbytery later that year. The Second Presbyterian Church of Charleston provided the opportunity for Charles to exercise his ministerial gifts until 1845. In 1845 he was ordained by Tuscaloosa Presbytery to receive a call to the Presbyterian Church in Eutaw, Alabama where he served until 1853. Remaining in Alabama, Rev. Stillman received a call to be the pastor of the Gainesville church where he ministered until 1870. It was in 1863, while he was at Gainesville, that Charles received the Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Alabama. Dr. Stillman’s next call was to the Presbyterian Church at Tuscaloosa where he began his longest ministry in 1870 and continued there until his death on January 23, 1895.

Dr. Stillman’s non-pastoral ministerial efforts were many. He was the Chairman of Tuscaloosa Presbytery’s Home Missions Committee. From 1847 until 1884 he served as the Stated Clerk of Tuscaloosa Presbytery. One of his most significant achievements was when a group of Tuscaloosa Presbyterians, headed by Dr. Stillman, presented an overture to the 1875 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States concerning a training school for Black ministers. The 1876 General Assembly followed the recommendation of its specially appointed committee and authorized establishing the Institute for Training Colored Ministers at Tuscaloosa. In the fall of 1876 Charles Stillman taught its first classes. The Institute came to be named the Stillman Institute in honor of its devoted founder who served as its superintendent from its founding until his death. The curriculum and nature of its educational program has changed over the years and it is known today as Stillman College.

Charles Stillman was married three times. He married his first wife, Martha Hammond of Milledgeville, Georgia, on October 15, 1846. His second marriage was to the widow Fannie Collins of Shubuta, Mississippi, whom he married on April 17, 1866. Elfreda Walker of Clarksville, Tennessee was his third wife and they were married on April 17, 1872. At least two of Dr. Stillman’s descendants continued to serve the Presbyterian Church–his daughter, Anna M. Stillman, was a secretary for Rev. T. P. Mordecai at the First Presbyterian Church, in Birmingham, Alabama, and his grandson, Rev. Charles Sholl, was the pastor of the Avondale Presbyterian Church, another of the Presbyterian churches in Birmingham.

Now, on the thin ruse that it was Dr. Stillman who initiated the following discussion at the 1866 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern Presbyterian), we present the following narrative, which concerns the Presbytery’s right to examine men transferring into the Presbytery from elsewhere, whether from within the denomination or from without. To compare the PCA’s stance on such matters, click here.

THE EXAMINATION RULE.
[excerpted from The Christian Observer 45.1 (4 January 1866): 1.]

The Committee on Bills and Overtures reported adversely to an overture from the Presbytery of South Alabama, asking for the repeal of the rule requiring the examination of ministers coming into a Presbytery from another.

Rev. Dr. Stillman reported that there is a Presbytery in South Alabama prepared to unite with us—they are well known, and have the entire confidence of all the ministers of the Presbytery of South Alabama. They are thoroughly orthodox. The Presbytery has a delicacy in examining them. This rule requiring their examination is the only obstacle to the union. The request of the Presbytery is unanimously endorsed by the Synod of Alabama. We believe that the rule is unconstitutional as far as its action is concerned—the necessity for it has passed away—it has been abrogated by the Assembly in reference to one large body—the United Synod—and now it is hoped that there will not be no hesitation in abolishing a rule which excludes a Presbytery of another body ready to unite with us.

Rev. Dr. [Samuel J.] Baird sketched the history of the origin of the rule requiring the examination of ministers passing from Presbytery to Presbytery. Dr. Lyman Beecher came to a Presbytery in New York from some Congregational Association, and was admitted without examination, and immediately took a letter of dismission to an Ohio Presbytery, and was received, and subsequently stated that he had never signified his adoption of the Confession of Faith. The late Dr. Alexander therefore advocated the adoption of the examination rule, for without it a single Presbytery might deluge the church with heretical ministers. The rule was not directed especially against the New School Church, for at the time of its adoption that church had no existence. Nor had it been suspended in the case of the United Synod.—They had examined the Old School and the Old School had examined them, and it was not until they were thoroughly satisfied as to one another’s soundness that they came together. Nor could it be reasonably objected to. He was not ashamed to proclaim anywhere what he believed as to the great doctrines of religion, and he was not willing to alter our whole system to open the door to a few who were not willing to come in the same way that others had been received. The importance of it is increased at this time—it is more necessary than ever in these days of fanaticism that we should have such a rule. Even in the case of old ministers he thought it a good thing to talk over our views occasionally. When a venerable father in the church comes to be examined, if we cannot find any heresy in him, we can at least learn a great deal from him about the great doctrines of grace. The speaker continued that if the rule is absolute, nobody’s feelings can be hurt by it. He therefore saw no necessity for its repeal.

Rev. Dr. [Robert] Nall said these brethren have not even asked the repeal of this law — they do not make their coming to depend on the repeal of this law—they would, however, prefer to come in without an examination, and if we repeal the law the Presbytery still has the right to examine all who come to them.

The report was adopted, refusing to repeal the rule requiring the examination of all ministers entering a Presbytery. Rev. Dr. Brown proposed that a letter be addressed to the Presbytery of South Alabama, explanatory of the views of the Assembly, to be used by them as they see fit in communicating with these brethren. Dr. [George] Howe and Dr. Baird were appointed to that committee. On motion, adjourned.

Closed with prayer by Rev. Ed. P. Palmer.

Words to Live By:
One strength of the Presbyterian system is the safeguard provided for the congregations by the Presbytery, as they watch over who may lawfully enter the field to tend the sheep. When a church calls a man to be its pastor, that man must first be examined by the Presbytery before he will be allowed onto the field of service within that Presbytery. The Presbytery has ever right and every responsibility before God, to watch over and protect the congregations within their bounds. God help them if they take their duty lightly.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;
(1 John 4:1-2, NASB).

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