Oliver Buswell

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Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.

buswellarmyJames Oliver Buswell, Jr. was born January 16, 1895, in Burlington Wisconsin. When he was four years old he moved with his family to Mellon, Wisconsin. Reflecting upon the example of his father, particularly as displayed during those years following 1899 in the home missions work in the north woods of Wisconsin, Dr. Buswell wrote in 1926: “I thank God for a father who was a perfectly fearless preacher of righteousness, a wonderfully persuasive preacher of grace, and above all, a clear-sighted and patient guide in all his sons’ perplexities.” (Bulletin of Wheaton College, III (May 1926), 2)

In the summer of 1919 just after returning from France Dr. Buswell wrote the following: “Just before the Meuse-Argonne offensive, we were billeted in Camp Marquette for about five days. Everyone knew that we were going into a drive; the spirit of soberness was in the air. We had a revival there…. About thirty-five presented themselves for baptism, and in two days about a hundred and fifty men came to one or the other of us, the two regimental chaplains, stating that they wanted to be known as Christian men. Some of these were already devout Christian characters, and others had just then found Christ as their Saviour…. They were men who had come to Christ as a result of the simple preaching of the old Gospel.” (Bibliotheca Sacra, LXXXII (October 1925), 405)

On the morning of September 26, 1918, the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne began. Dr. Buswell, armed with a 45 caliber automatic pistol and extra ammunition for the troops, went over Vouquois Hill that morning and into the bloody offensive. In the five days that followed nearly two-thirds of the regiment was either killed or wounded. Ninety percent of the men who had identified themselves as believers or who had just become Christians were either killed or wounded. Dr. Buswell ministered to the dead and dying with Bible and bandages. Bullets struck his canteen at his side and pierced his chest gas mask. For bravery and devotion to duty under heavy fire Dr. Buswell was cited in General Orders and eventually received the Purple Heart and the Silver Star, awarded years later in a special program in the Wheaton College chapel on March 17, 1934. Finally, Dr. Buswell himself was wounded in the leg by shrapnel about noon, on Sunday, September 29, 1918. Dr. Buswell spent about three months in a hospital. He returned to his regiment by Christmas, 1918,which was by then in northern France. The Armistice ending the War had been signed November 11, 1918, in Compiegne Forest.

buswellpresOn June 17, 1919, Dr. Buswell debarked in the United States and was discharged from the Army. While overseas, Buswell had developed the outline for his first published work, Problems in the Prayer Life, which was later published in 1927

Words to Live By: Suffering comes in many forms. There is the suffering that we bring upon ourselves and there is also the suffering caused by others. All of us live in relation to the rest of the world and we are increasingly affected by events far removed from our own immediate circumstances. War is one of the most horrific events which can engulf any people, yet every Christian can have the resolute assurance that God is sovereign over all of human history, that whatever may happen, the Christian rests securely in the Father’s hands. (Isaiah 45; Romans 8).

“Not only in our prayer life, but our whole status of being in grace, is dependent upon Christ. We were “far off,” but now we are “made nigh in the blood of Christ.” [Ephesians 2:13] He is the “great high priest,” “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” It is wholly due to Him that we have received the invitation to “draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need.” [Hebrews 4:14-16] The statement of the lost and hopeless condition of men without Christ is not popular in our day. Nevertheless, there is no access to God, hence no prayer, without Christ, “for there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all…” [I Timothy 2:56]
[Buswell, Problems in the Prayer Life, pp. 13-14.]

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Concluding our coverage of the second General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which was in the first several years of its existence known as the Presbyterian Church of America. That Assembly was in session from November 14-16, 1936. The news clipping transcribed below is from the Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection, preserved at the PCA Historical Center. At the end of this post, we have provided image scans of the program bulletin from that Assembly. The text of Dr. Machen’s sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 can be found here. For an interesting exercise, compare Dr. Machen’s sermon with that of Robert Murray McCheyne, on the same text. Click here for the McCheyne sermon.


Philadelphia Inquirer, November 16, 1936, page 2:

PCofA_2dGA_Buswell_farewellFAREWELL GIVEN BY DR. BUSWELL.

Places New Presbyterian Group in Van of Fight for Old Faith.

In a farewell message to members of the second General Assembly, Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., moderator for the duration of the sessions, last night placed the new Presbyterian Church of America in the forefront of the battle to preserve the ancient evangelical standards of the reformed faith.

Taking as his text a portion of an epistle to St. Paul to the Corinthians, Dr. Buswell declared “salvation of souls” to be the main business of the denomination and, among others, quoted a passage from the Apostle that “we are ambassadors for Christ.”

The sermon, delivered in the auditorium of the Manufacturers’ and Bankers’ Club, was the final event on a four-day program during which the assembly adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith as its doctrinal standard, elected committees and took steps toward acquiring a form of government.

It followed a series of devotional services at individual churches during the morning, when various visiting ministers addressed the congregations. The new Church was formed after a split from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. last June over the question of modernism.

Declaring that the Bible alone was recognized as ultimate authority in the present denomination, Dr. Buswell scored efforts to substitute for that authority the official interpretation of Church councils and of men.

Words to Live By:
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
(2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

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Day Two of their Second General Assembly The following materials are drawn from the scrapbooks gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon. Initially organized as the Presbyterian Church of America, the denomination we now know as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church met in its second General Assembly, beginning on Thursday, November 12 and adjourned on Saturday, November 14, 1936. As the retiring moderator of the first Assembly, the Rev. J. Gresham Machen had opened the proceedings with a sermon on 2 Cor. 5:14-15, and the assembled delegates then celebrated the Lord’s Supper. The Rev. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. and the Rev. J. Burton Thwing were nominated for Moderator of the Second General Assembly, and Rev. Buswell was elected to serve, the Rev. Cornelius Van Til and the Rev. Carl McIntire escorting Rev. Buswell to the platform. The election of Rev. Buswell as Moderator was, for one, seen as a way to minimize the possibility of friction over the issue of pre-millennialism, Buswell himself being a pre-millennialist. Ultimately that gambit did not succeed, and the young denomination suffered a split in 1938, with the formation of the overtly pre-millennial Bible Presbyterian Synod.

PCofA_2dGA_Buswell Caption for the news clipping photo at right: At the left is Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., president of Wheaton College, who was elected at the opening business session of the second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America here yesterday. he succeeds Dr. J. Gresham Machen, of Philadelphia, show at the right, who was one of the leaders in the revolt of Fundamentalists from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The revolt let to the formation of the new church at the first General Assembly, June 11.

PCofA_2dGA_05NEW CHURCH ACTS FOR POPULAR RULE

Presbyterian of America Goes on Record Against Interlocking Committees.

OPPOSE OFFICIAL CLIQUE

Resolutions placing the second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America on record as against “interlocking committees and putting power into the hands of a few men” were adopted today. [i.e., Friday, Nov. 13th]

This action was taken at sessions in the Manufacturers and Bankers’ Club, Broad and Walnut Streets. The Rev. Martin Luther Thomas, of California, in proposing the resolution said such precautions would prevent the church being controlled by a few men at headquarters and guard against “maladministration.”

Members of the new denomination before its formation constantly asserted that the parent Church, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., was controlled by an official clique.

Several commissioners opposed the resolution on the ground that it would create suspicion, but Mr. Thomas said: “It is better to avoid the abuse of power int he beginning than have trouble stemming it later.”

The resolutions were carried by a large majority.

Another resolution calling for a staggering of appointments to committees so as to prevent self-perpetuation of the governing heads, was defeated, when it was pointed out that the organizers of the new church should be given a free hand to carry out their work without interruption.

Wording of the actual resolution:  “In order to avoid interlocking committees, it is the desire of this General Assembly that no man be allowed to serve at the same time on more than one standing committee, board, or agency, except where an emergency exists.” [Minutes, pp. 12]

Words to Live By:
I recall that at a certain meeting of my presbytery, a candidate for the ministry was asked what he liked about the Presbyterian Church in America. With this candidate having grown up in an independent church fellowship, his reply shocked all of us elders at its first sound when he replied, “our Book of Church Order!” What we groaned at, with its very specific ways of doing things, was the very thing he rejoiced in, finding a supply of godly guidelines with which to “do church.” Elder representatives at the above described General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America wanted to profit from the past, especially even from the negative examples of those liberal churchmen and apostate churches where biblical input had been strangled in past PCUSA church assemblies. So important rules were added to the constitution of their newly formed church. Once adopted into practice, the more important outreach of the church could be accomplished with God’s blessing.

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Two Documents and a Digression

Today’s post is something of a modest exercise in exploring the archives, with two documents—both having the same date—drawn from two separate manuscript collections preserved at the PCA Historical Center. Nothing earth-shattering here, though there is some discovery along the way. In this case, the documents connect only in a minor way, though sometimes such connections can shed valuable light.

The first is the bulletin from the 1936 convocation service at Westminster Theological Seminary. Our copy of this bulletin is part of scrapbook no. 4 in the Henry G. Welbon Collection. The second item is a copy of a letter from J. Gresham Machen, found in the J. Oliver Buswell Manuscript Collection.

Pictured below is the service bulletin from the Eighth Annual Opening Exercises of the Westminster Theological Seminary, held on Wednesday, September 30, 1936 in Witherspoon Auditorium. This auditorium was capable of seating one thousand people, and was part of the Witherspoon Building, home of the PCUSA’s Presbyterian Board of Publications. 

To digress a bit, the Witherspoon Building was named for the Rev. John Witherspoon [1723-1794], and is located at 1319-1323 Walnut Street in Philadelphia’s Market East neighborhood. It was designed by architect Joseph M. Huston [1866-1940] and the work was commissioned by the Presbyterian Board of Publications and Sabbath School Work. An eleven-story, steel frame “E”-shaped building, faced with brick and granite, the structure was built between 1895 and 1897. Exterior features include Corinthian and Ionic columns, and terra cotta decorations of statues, medallions, and seals of various boards and agencies of the Presbyterian Church as well as those of related Reformed churches. The famous sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder [1870-1945] designed six of the statues and some of the medallions that graced the building. An additional ten statues of various Biblical figures, were later cast by Samuel Murray and Thomas Eakins and installed in the exterior arches on the eighth floor. All of the statues were removed in the early 1960’s for fear of deterioration and were relocated to the courtyard of the Presbyterian Historical Society. The Witherspoon Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

For the commencement exercises that year, the Seminary had invited Professor H. Henry Meeter of Calvin College, His message, “Thank God and Take Courage,” was subsequently published on the pages of The Presbyterian Guardian, and can be read here (part 1), pp. 6-8 and here (part 2), pp. 27-29.  [It should also be noted that The Meeter Center for Calvin Studies is named in honor of Dr. Meeter.]

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A Second Document: Machen’s Advice on Deciding Moral and Ethical Conflicts

At some point on that same day, Dr. Machen set to answering some of his mail. How it was that Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. came to have a copy of this letter, is something that will have to remain a mystery. In the letter, Dr. Machen replies to an inquiry from a young woman, giving his advice on how to decide moral and ethical conflicts:

[From the J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. Papers, Box 286, File 16, file copy on green paper, 8.5” x 11”]

J. Gresham Machen
Westminster Theological Seminary
206 S. 13th St., Philadelphia, Pa

September 30, 1936

TO:
Miss Mary J. Gushard
1220 Lincoln Ave.
Prospect Park, Pa

Dear Miss Gushard:

Your letter of Sept. 24th, addressed to me at the Seminary, which I do not visit very often in vacation time, did not come into my hands until yesterday evening. In reply to your inquiry, please let me say that I do not think it to be wrong to attend the theatre. My position regarding these matters is rather c1ear, and. I have held. it for a great many years. It may be set forth in part briefly as follows:

1. It is wrong to do things that are expressly forbidden in the Bible.
2. Where things are not expressly forbidden in the Bible, the individual Christian must determine, in the light of the Bible, whether they are wrong or not, and must act accordingly.
3. It is wrong for one Christian to tyrannize over the conscience of another in these matters.

That being so, I respect very greatly the conscience of a fellow-Christian who cannot conscientiously go to the theatre. I should hate to see him do what he thinks is wrong. I certainly cannot ask him to submit his conscience to mine. On the other hand, he ought not to ask me to submit my conscience to his. With re: to the “separated” life, I should just like to say two things. In the first place, worldliness is a great danger to the Church and consecration is the thing for which we ought to strive with all our might. No mere man, since the Fall, has ever in this life been perfectly consecrated to God; but we ought to strive always to be more and. more consecrated to Him. In the second place, however, there is also an opposite danger. It is the danger of a false asceticism. It is the danger into which those persons in Colosse fell, when thoy said in a way which the Apostle rebukes: “Touch not, taste not, handle not.” We ought to strive against that danger also. Particularly ought we to avoid subjecting our fellow-Christians to rules of our own choosing that go beyond what the Word of God contains.

Such are my principles. I do not claim to have followed them perfectly. Far from it. There have been times beyond number when I have fallen short of them. certainly need to ask God daily to forgive me for my sins. But the principles that I have set forth do seem to me to be in accordance with God’s holy Word, and they are principles which I think we ought to keep before our eyes.

Very sincerely yours, (Signed) J. Gresham Machen

Image source: Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection, Scrapbook number 4, p. 412.

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Just What Purpose Did They Serve, Really?

Recently in another post, mention was made of an organization called The League of Faith. This group seems largely forgotten now, some eighty years later, but it was a conservative renewal group established to work within the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.  The history of this organization was played out in two stages, as described in Chapter 14 of The Presbyterian Conflict.

League_1931_buswellThe League of Faith was originally organized in 1931, and was centered around the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Walter D. Buchanan, D.D. An initial membership of 150 included such prominent conservatives as J. Gresham Machen, Samuel G. Craig, Paul Woolley, Clarence E. Macartney, and many others. Judging from records preserved at the PCA Historical Center, the Rev. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. was another founding member of the League, at witnessed in the Certificate of Membership pictured at right.

The objects of the League, as listed in Article 2 of its Constitution, were as follows:

1. To maintain loyalty to the Bible as the Word of God in opposition to denials of its full truthfulness.
2. To maintain the Reformed or Calvinistic system of doctrine as it is set forth in the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. as it appears in 1931 in opposition to all plans of church union which would either break down that system or relegate it to a secondary place.
3. To oppose changes in the historic formula of creed subscription required of candidates for the ministry and the eldership.
4. To oppose the attack made by the document commonly called the “Auburn Affirmation” upon the doctrinal pronouncement of the General Assembly of 1923, and to insist, in opposition to that affirmation, that the full truth of the Scriptures, the Virgin Birth of Christ, the Substitutionary Atonement, the bodily Resurrection and Miracles of our Lord are essential doctrines of the Word of God and our Standards.
5. To warn men everywhere that salvation is to be obtained not by human merit or human effort to please God, but only through the redeeming work of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the Gospel.
6. To encourage the vigorous defense and joyous propagation of the Gospel in its fullness as it is set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith on the basis of Holy Scripture.

But apparently the organization never actually did anything. It met regularly, and its members talked, but no plan of action was ever adopted, much less acted upon.

Finally, as noted in The Presbyterian Conflict, “When the members of the Independent Board were suspended from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in the USA and the Presbyterian Church of America was organized in 1936, the League was reorganized and continued by a group of ministers led by Dr. C. E. Macartney, who were imbued with the idea that the Presbyterian Church in the USA was still fundamentally sound.”

It was this 1936 reorganization of the League that we find documented in a news clipping in one of the Rev. Henry Welbon’s scrapbooks. The newspaper was The Philadelphia Record, and the brief coverage of the League’s reorganization was described in this way:

CLERGYMEN FORM LEAGUE OF FAITH

Conservative clergymen within the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. have formed a league of Faith, with Dr. Clarence E. Macartney, of Pittsburgh, as their president.

More than 1000 attended recent organization meetings in New York. They declared that liberals and Modernists now dominate the Presbyterian Church although they represent but a small portion of its membership.

Dr. Macartney was elected Moderator of the Presbyterian Church more than a decade ago and was a leader in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy with Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, of New York. Dr. Macartney was then pastor of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia.

Dr. Samuel G. Craig, Dr. David DeForrest Burrell, and Rev. John H. McComb are vice presidents of the new league.

Then in 1937, just four short years before the United States entered the Second World War, the League subsequently led a successful fight in opposition to a proposed amendment to the 23d chapter of Westminster Confession of Faith, an amendment which would have put the Presbyterian Church on record as opposing all wars as sinful and unchristian. This appears to have been the League’s one victory, and eventually the organization simply disappeared off the pages of history.

We Might Wonder:
While the Presbyterian Church was but one of many denominations, what might have been the effect of such an amendment to the Confession, particularly at such a crucial moment in the nation’s history? Would other denominations have followed suite with similar pronouncements? Would the United States conceivably have then been kept out of the War, or perhaps delayed its involvement till some months or years later? Was the League of Faith a providence from God? Did their humble efforts leave this nation ready to enter the War at just the right time? This is all dangerous territory for any historian. Had that amendment been adopted, the rest of our national history might not have changed in the least. It is all too speculative, and we cannot read history in that way. In the end, we can only affirm with the Scriptures that God is indeed sovereign over human history. Nothing happens that is outside His plan, and everything is working toward the glorious culmination that He has in store for His elect children. But all too often . . . the Lord works in the most unexpected ways.

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