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The interchurch relations committees of six denominations met together on October 25 -26 [1974] in Pittsburgh, Penna. Represented were the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Christian Reformed Church, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America, Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, and Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America. The joint group also invited the Reformed Church, U.S. (Eureka Classis) to participate in later such meetings.

A sub-committee was established to prepare a plan for cooperation among the respective churches, drawn from proposals suggested in the joint meeting. Such a plan would be presented to the full body for possible recommendation to the denominations themselves.

Among the proposals made was one urging the various churches to cooperate in world-wide relief services; the Christian Reformed Church has the most extensive such service now. Another proposal recommended publication of a directory of all the co-operating churches.

It was also proposed that there be a federation of Presbyterian and Reformed churches that would include coordination of agencies and the holding of consultative assemblies. The ultimate goal of union into one church was urged.

The Presbyterian Guardian, 43:10 (December 1974): 167.

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Our post today focuses on the life and ministry of the Rev. Francis McFarland, with an obituary published on the pages of THE CHRISTIAN OBSERVER late in 1871.

The Christian Observer, 50.46 (15 November 1871), p. 2, columns 5-6.


mcfarland_francisThe life, labors and character of this eminently useful servant of Christ, whose death was briefly noticed in our columns three weeks since, are worthy of a memorial which will long be cherished as a rich legacy to the Church. The sketch presented in the following paragraphs contains the principal incidents of his life, given by the editor of the Central Presbyterian:

“He was born in the south of Ireland, in the province of Ulster, in January, 1788. When he was five years old, in 1793, his parents emigrated to this country and settled in Western Pennsylvania. He was graduated at Jefferson and Washington College in 1818, and shortly after entered Princeton Theological Seminary, where he was a fellow-student with Rev. Drs. Charles Hodge, Wm. B. Sprague, Joseph Smith and Bishop Johns. In a communication written when he was more than eighty years of age, he says:

‘I regard it as one of the kindest dispensations of Divine Providence towards me, that I was led to that institution where I enjoyed the esteem of those wise and holy men, Dr. Archibald Alexander and Dr. Samuel Miller, then the only Professors in the institution, and who honored me with their friendship as long as they lived.’

He was licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of New Brunswick in October, 1819; and in 1829 he was appointed a missionary by the Assembly’s Board to labor in Indiana and Missouri. He then spent three months preaching to the First Presbyterian church, Brooklyn, N.Y., then recently organized. While laboring there, he was (August 1, 1822) ordained sine titulo, by the Presbytery of New Brunswick. In the fall of that year he had a severe attack of typhus fever accompanied with hemorrhage from the lungs, in consequence of which, as soon as partially recovered, he was advised by his physician to travel to the South on horseback.

Accordingly, he proceeded to Staunton, Va., “where he was the guest of that noble Christian gentleman, and eminent physician, Dr. Addison Waddell, for whom he ever cherished the highest regard.” His health being greatly improved, he was invited to preach in the church of Bethel, then vacant. After supplying the pulpit for three Sabbaths, he received a unanimous call from that congregation to become their pastor. This call he accepted, and in the year following was duly installed, the Rev. Dr. Ruffner preaching the sermon, and Rev. Dr. Speece delivering the “charge.”

He resigned his pastoral office to enter upon the duties of Secretary of Education, in March, 1836, to which he was apppointed the preceding year. He continued in the services of this Board, which were highly appreciated, till August, 1841, when, having been called to his old charge, he returned to his home among the people of the Bethel congregation. As the Presbyterian remarks, “He was for many years a man of very infirm health. His afflictions from asthma was t times very distressing. He seldom knew the luxury of uninterrupted sleep, the only posture of rest was in a chair. It was a constant wonder to his friends that long ago both body and mind did not sink under the pressure of disease. But in the midst of growing infirmities his labors were continued till about five years ago, they were relieved by the settlement of the Rev. Jas. Murray as collegiate pastor. Having lived to welcome this brother (between whom and himself there was a relation of constant harmony and affection) his pastoral work ceased. He was almost constantly confined to his home for years past, and much of the time to his couch. About a year ago, Mrs. McFarland was called to the heavenly home before him. He most patiently waited all his appointed days tills his own change should come.

“His end, which he had been long expecting, was in ‘perfect peace,’ and was announced by the Rev. Mr. Murray in a brief note written on October 10, 1871. ‘He breathed his last this morning about five o’clock, in his sleep, in the 84th year of his age. Thus, he was spared all consciousness of the death struggle, and indeed all pain in the act of dying. For the last few weeks his decline has been more marked and rapid, and was attended with much suffering; but in all of it he was not only sustained by the grace of God, so as to endure it without murmuring, but was enabled to rejoice in God his Saviour, with a full assurance of a blessed immortality beyond the grave.’

“The sketch of Dr. McFarland’s life here given, is of necessity very imperfect. Having known him for nearly fifty years, and an intimate friendship for about thirty, our feelings plead for a much fuller expression than the space suitable for it permits. The aged and good minister of Jesus Christ was no common man. He was a man of great worth, and has been so esteemed wherever known. His long life was not only without a stain, but was adorned with gifts and graces which mark it as one to be had in everlasting remembrance.

“In the councils of the Church it would not be easy to point out his superior. His eminent piety, the uncommon soundness of his judgment, his remarkable prudence, and conciliatory spirit—though none more inflexibly firm and true to principle—gave his opinions great weight from the Church Session up to the General Assembly. To this last judicatory he was more frequently sent than any other member of Lexington Presbytery; and in the Assembly of 1856, having been chosen as the Moderator, he presided over its deliberations with a dignity and skill not only satisfactory to all, but which excited general admiration.

Words to Live By:
Noting that Rev. McFarland was born in Ireland in 1788 and emigrated to the United States in 1793, his life at that point makes for an interesting comparison with that of the Rev. Alexander McLeod who was born in Ireland in 1774 and who emigrated here in the 1790s. McLeod being a bit older, remembered the bitter lessons of Irishmen being enslaved by the English, and so as a young pastor, spoke out against the enslavement of blacks. In contrast, McFarland, coming to this country as a child, may not have been raised with that historical awareness of his Irish heritage, and later taking up a pastorate in Virginia, he became a committed advocate of the Southern Confederate cause. We can only assume his views on slavery followed suit. Had he remained in the north, would he have had those same views? Perhaps, for  we readily admit that sin knows no geographical boundaries. Moreover, we know that even true Christians can be decidedly wrong about things, be they political, social, economic, or other. Most people, Christians included, tend to mirror the views of friends and close associates. The man or woman who can stand against the overwhelming sympathies of the crowd is a rare individual indeed. Don’t be so brazen as to think you can be that rare person, but do make every effort to be rooted and grounded in the Scriptures. With fear and trembling, make every effort to live out the Scriptures and to live above the prevailing winds of culture and the times, with your eyes fixed on Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord. May God grant you the mercy and strength to live out His will, regardless of what society may bring your way.

Some Scripture References on Choosing Your Friends Wisely: Psalm 1:1 and 26:4-5; Proverbs 11:14; 12:26; 13:20; 16:29; 22:24-25; 24:6; 27:6; 28:23; I Cor. 5:11 and 15:33.

Image source: Portrait as found in The Presbyterian Magazine, 1856.

For Further Study:
Papers of Francis McFarland, 1815-1871, Archival Material – 2 reels : microfilm; 35mm.

Abstract: Collection contains 23 diaries and account books and 25 manuscripts, 1821-1864. With these are an analytical outline by W. Edwin Hemphill and two brief biographies of McFarland. The collection contains student writings; notebooks from lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary; diaries of missionary trips into “the pines” of Southeasern N.J. and the midwest, including contacts with the Cherokee Indians; attendance at General Assemblies; expense accounts; politics in Washington, D.C. (1832); Philadelphia; meteorological observations; his church and life in Augusta County, Va., the Civil War including the splitting of the Presbyterian Church, deaths of his sons, and religion in the Confederate camps.

The collection contains student writings; notebooks from lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary; diaries of missionary trips into “the pines” of Southeasern N.J. and the midwest, including contacts with the Cherokee Indians; attendance at General Assemblies; expense accounts; politics in Washington, D.C…

See for more information.

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Wise Words from the Past

It was at about this time–one date should suffice as well as another in this case–that on or about January 4, 1818 the first issue of the Virginia Evangelical and Literary Magazine made its appearance. Designed as a monthly periodical and with the Rev. Dr. John Holt Rice [1777-1831] serving as its editor, the magazine sought to address a wide range of material, religious, literary and scientific. Rice was not alone in the effort, having the assistance of Moses Hoge, president of Hampden-Sydney College; the Rev. John D. Blair of Richmond; and George A. Baxter, president of Washington College, Lexington, VA. As was so typical of the first half of the nineteenth century, the authors of the various articles typically wrote anonymously and often under pseudonyms. Dr. Conrad Speece, for instance, employed the name Melancthon, and Dr. John Matthews used the initials N.S. But the bulk of the work rested on the shoulders of Dr. Rice, and so the credit for this now great resource on the religious history of Virginia is largely his. The final issue of the periodical was in December of 1828, and Dr. Rice died just a few years later.

In the introduction to that first issue in 1818, Dr. Rice set down the high Christian standard which would guide all discussion on the pages of his journal. His words set a goal we would do well to imulate even now in our own discussions:—

The exposition which we shall give, in the course of the work, of these doctrines, and of others intimately connected with them, will be modified by our peculiar views; yet it will be our constant endeavor not to overrate any thing unessential to salvation; and to set up no tests of piety, which are not established in the holy scriptures. We have been taught to call no man master upon earth. Fathers and Reformers are esteemed by us as pious, and sometimes able men—but after all, mere men, whose opinions may be freely questoned, and ought always to be tried by the standard of revealed truth. The Bible is the only inspired book in the world, and to its authority alone do we pay implicit submission. Nevertheless, we do not depreciate creeds and confessions of faith; and, although we do not consider ourselves as pledged to vindicate every expression to be found in any thing of man’s devising; yet we do believe that the system of doctrine taught in the holy scriptures, is contained in the Confession of Faith of that Church to which we have the happiness to belong. Yet, while we firmly maintain that “form of sound words” which we have adopted, we shall, as conductors of a religious work, endeavor continually to imitate that example of liberality, and brotherly kindness, which has been displayed by our predecessors, and especially by those who, under God, were the founders of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

In illustration of this last remark, we shall offer a few quotations from the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the U. States:—“All saints that are united to Jesus Christ, their head, by his spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory : and being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.—Saints, by profession, are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.”–chap. xxvi. sec. 1, 2. The persons designated in this place, as saints by profession, it may be remarked, are elsewhere described as “those who profess the true religion.” In another part of the same work, we are taught to believe “that there are truths and forms, with respect to which men of good characters and principles may differ; and in all these, it is the duty of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance towards each other.” (See par. 342, Introduction to Form of Government, sec. 5.) It is in this spirit that we purpose to conduct all discussions concerning doctrine and discipline in our Magazine.

It is not, and we wish it to be distinctly understood, our object to attack others; but as we can, to explain to our readers the doctrines held, and the discipline maintained by us. And this for two purposes, both, as we think, laudable. The one to afford instruction to the members of the society to which we belong; the other to let the pious of different communions see how nearly we agree with them in fundamental doctrines. It is not truth of vital importance which, for the most part divides Christians; but questions about modes and forms. In the beginning of the Reformation, the Lutherans and the Reformed Churches differed as they differ now, yet they held communion with each other. And even among the Reformed Churches, there were diversities of discipline and mode of worship, yet no breach of brotherly kindness. Calvin and Knox, Cranmer and Ridley, and others of the same stamp, acknowledged each other as brethren, and employed their talents and zeal in defence of the common faith. So ought it to be now. So may it be soon!

[emphasis added]

Words to Live By:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.—Ephesians 4:11-16, NIV.

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.—2 Timothy 1:13-14, NASB.

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Earliest Inklings of a Long Discussion

It was on this day, December 17th, in 1840, that James Henley Thornwell wrote of his intention to address an issue which would then be debated in the Presbyterian Church for the next twenty years.

Readers will please consider the following as an initial dipping of the toe in some very deep waters. Students of American Presbyterian history will (or should) know something of the famous “Board Debates” of the 19th-century. All others will no doubt be suitably bored to tears. 😉

The Board Debates began in earnest in 1841 and continued on until their culmination in the famous debate between Thornwell and Hodge on the floor of the General Assembly in 1860. By some accounts, the debate continued on for another few decades at least. These Debates were essentially a leftover or unaddressed issue that resulted from the 1837 split of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. into Old School and New School factions. That split had occurred for a number of reasons, but the heart of the matter lay in the 1801 Plan of Union, whereby Congregationalists and Presbyterians worked in concert to plant churches throughout the rapidly expanding western territories. That association between the two denominations soured when the heterodox New Haven Theology began to spread first among Congregationalists and subsequently among Presbyterians.

To see the Board Debates sketched out, click here. For a thorough examination of the Board Debates, see Kenneth J. Foreman, Jr.’s doctoral dissertation
, The Debate on the Administration of Missions Led by James Henley Thornwell in the Presbyterian Church, 1839-1861.

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 16 of The Life & Letters of James H. Thornwell (1875), by Benjamin M. Palmer, pertaining to the Board DebatesNote too Dr. Palmer’s aside concerning both Thornwell’s temper and his prevailing humility:—

thornwell02It has been stated, in a preceding chapter, that most of the discussions in which Dr. Thornwell was engaged, were a sort of remainder from the original controversy by which the Church was rent, in 1837-1838. The first that emerged into view was the discussion about Boards. During the period when the Church was brought under a species of vassalage to Congregationalism, the great National Societies, which usurped her functions, conducted their operations by the agency of Boards. The Church had become familiar with that mode of action; and when the effectual blow was struck for her emancipation, this was supposed to be fully accomplished, when these national organizations were disowned. The great principle upon which the argument turned, that the Church, in her organized form, must do her own work, was supposed to be satisfied, when Boards exactly analogous were established by the Church herself, as the agents by whom her will was to be carried out. It could not be long, however, before it was perceived that the above-named cardinal principle must be extended further: that a Board, consisting of many members, distributed over a large territory, to whom her evangelistic functions were remitted, did not satisfy the idea of the Church acting in her own capacity, and under the rules which the Constitution prescribed for her guidance. Dr. Thornwell was one of those who planted themselves firmly against their continuance in the Church. It is not the business of the biographer to discuss his views, but only to afford him the opportunity of presenting them. It may be remarked, however, that he was not opposed to combined or united action on the part of the Church, but only insisted that the central agency should be simply executivethe mere instrument by which the Assembly acts, and not an agent standing in the place of the Assembly, and acting for it. The first occasion on which he publicly developed his views was at the meeting of the Synod of South Carolina and Georgia; where a stiff debate was held upon the principles involved, and in which the Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D., of Charleston, S. C, was his chief antagonist. An incident is related of this debate, so characteristic of the man, that it deserves to be recorded. In the heat of the discussion, he suffered himself to be borne beyond the bounds of strict propriety. The old spirit of invective and sarcasm, which later years so perfectly subdued, manifested itself in expressions a little too scornful of his opponent, and the impression was not pleasant upon the house. It so happened that his speech closed exactly at the hour of recess at noon, and there was no opportunity for rejoinder. Immediately upon re-assembling, he arose and apologised in handsome terms for the discourtesy into which he had been betrayed, and declared his profound esteem for the learning, ability, and piety of his adversary. It was done so spontaneously, and with such evident sincerity, that criticism was completely disarmed; and there was a universal feeling of admiration for the magnanimity and courage which could so fully redeem a fault.

Words to Live By:
Thornwell’s views derived from a core principle—the idea that God is sovereign over His Church. His sovereignty is manifest in doctrine, in worship, and in polity or governance. In each of these three aspects of the Church, God has, in the Scriptures, revealed His sovereign will for the Church. We have no right to invent doctrine, we have no right to invent ways to worship Him, and we have no right to introduce structures and practices for the operation of His Church, other than what is revealed in His Word. That in sum is, I think, a fairly accurate summary of the heart of Thornwell’s system of thought. Others may disagree with him, but you have to admire Thornwell for never having backed away from his convictions.

Never mock a man for his studied convictions. If someone has put a lot of time, study and thought into carefully weighing a matter, then they at least deserve your respect, even if you disagree with them. If you must mock anyone at all, reserve your mockery for those who give little thought to a matter yet come down hard on one side or the other of an issue. Rash conclusions deserve to be belittled. Careful students, on the other hand, are in short supply and should be valued, wherever we find them.

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pattonFLFrances Landey Patton [22 February 1843 – 25 November 1932] was certainly coming up in the world! This native of the Bermuda Island had pastored three churches, beginning in 1865, prior to his being installed in 1873 as professor of didactic and polemic theology at the Presbyterian Seminary of the Northwest [later renamed McCormick Theological Seminary]. Then in 1881, installed as professor of systematic theology at the Princeton Theological Seminary. Then, in 1888, he was installed as president of The College of New Jersey, and it was during his tenure that the school was renamed Princeton University, in 1896. He served as president of the school until 1902, when he was succeeded by Woodrow Wilson. Patton then became president of the Princeton Theological Seminary, and served in that capacity from 1902 until his retirement in 1913.

Patton was a thorough proponent of the historic Princeton position, which admitted no novelty in the sacred theology. He opposed modernism and the higher criticism. When in 1906 J. Gresham Machen began as an instructor at the Seminary, Dr. Patton proved to be a great influence on Machen. Later, in 1926, when Machen was nominated to take the chair of apologetics and ethics, Patton wrote in support of Machen’s bid for that position.

The following brief quote comes from Dr. Patton’s address on the occasion of his inauguration, on this day, October 27, 1881, as professor of systematic theology at the Princeton Theological Seminary. With these closing words, Patton presents a clear and summary analysis of the choice confronting the world in the modern era:—

patton_1881_inaugurationThe question of the hour is not whether God is the logical correlative of our consciousness of moral obligation; nor whether happiness or holiness is the end of life; nor whether conscience is intuitive or developed out of a “strong sense of avoidance.” It is not expressed in the utilitarianism of Mill, or the altruism of Spencer. It does not reveal itself in the paradoxes of Sidgwick, or the transcendentalism of Bradley.

It is the question whether there can be any guarantee for the purity of home, or the stability of the social organism under a philosophy that makes man an automaton. And if, as Mr. Frederick Harrison says, the present age is “ the great assize of all religion,” it looks as if the time had come for the trial of the issue. We have had enough of demurrers and continuances, enough of answers and replications, enough of rejoinders and surrejoinders. The time has come when men must face the question of the possibility of morals. They must decide between a metaphysic that leads to an absolute vacuum in knowledge, absolute irresponsibility in morals, absolute mechanism in life, and a metaphysic that will secure the separateness, the sovereignty, the morality, the immortality of the soul.

With the soul assured, the way to God is plain. And if God is a revelation of God may be. With the possibility of a revelation conceded, the proofs are sufficient, And with a proved revelation before us it is easy to understand that in God we live and move and have our being; that the truth of history has been,the unfolding of His purpose; that the order of nature is the movement of His mind; that the work of the philosopher is to rethink his thought; that Christianity is the solution of all problems ; that the blood of Christ removes the blot of sin; that the Church is the flower of humanity; that the incarnation of the Logos is God’s great achievement; that Jesus is the brightness of His Father’s glory, and the express image of His person; that in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and that by Him all things consist.

Quote Source: Van Dyke, Henry J. and Francis L. Patton, Addresses at the Inauguration of the Rev. Francis L. Patton, D.D., LL.D. at Princeton, N.J., October 27, 1881. 1. The Charge, by Dr. Van Dyke, pp. 5-20; 2. Inaugural Address, by Rev. Francis L. Patton, pp. 21-46.

Words to Live By:
“If God is, then a revelation of God may be.” [The quote above lacks the comma, which I think helps make better sense of the sentence.] If there is a sovereign, personal God, then He may reveal Himself in such a way that we can understand something of who He is and what He demands of us as His creatures. The choice confronting modern man is simple. Either believe in an impersonal universe in which there can be no purpose, a universe in which everything is irrational, OR know that there is a God who is, a God who has purposed, at His own expense, to remove that which divides us from fellowship with Him, a God who has said to all who call upon Him in faith, “I will be your God and you will be My people.”




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Machen’s article only becomes more relevant with the passing years.

What Should Be Done by Christian People Who are in a Modernist Church?
by Dr. J. Gresham Machen

[The following article was originally published in The Presbyterian Guardian, vol. 1, no. 2 (21 October 1935): 22.]

machen03What is the duty of Christian congregations or Christian individuals who find themselves in a church that is dominated by unbelief? Shall they remain in such a church, or shall they withdraw from it and become members of a consistently Christian Church?

That is certainly the question of the hour for the orthodox part of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Various attempts are being made to answer the question. Various considerations are being urged on one side or the other.

If we separate from the existing church organization, it is being said, shall we be able to retain any of our congregational property, or will that all have to be abandoned to the uses of the existing organization?

On the other hand, if we remain in a church that is dominated by unbelief, does that not mean that we are simply heaping up greater resources for the Modernists in future years to use? Will not every gift that we make, every church building that we put up, be turned over ultimately to the uses of unbelief?

No doubt such considerations on one side or the other of this question are very interesting. I am bound to say in passing that the considerations in favor of separation seem to me to be much stronger than the considerations on the other side.

But I propose to the readers of this page that we should now approach the question in an entirely different way. I propose that we should see what the Bible has to say about the matter. Does the Bible permit Christian people to live year after year, decade after decade, in a church that is so largely dominated by unbelief as is the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.?

The answer to that question is surely not difficult. I am not thinking just now so much of individual texts directly bearing on the question, though those texts are not difficult to find and though they are not really balanced by any texts on the other side; but I am thinking of the Bible’s whole teaching about the Church and what the Church ought to mean in the individual’s Christian life. If we read what the Bible says about the Church and then examine the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., can we really put our hands upon our hearts and say in the presence of God that the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. even approximates being what the Bible says a church of Jesus Christ must be or provides that nurture which the Bible says every Christian ought to have?

Now I know very well that we ought to be careful when interrogating the Bible on this point. Sometimes, when the Bible speaks about the Church, it is speaking about the Church as it will finally be when it appears without blemish before Christ. We have no right to demand of the Church militant a perfection that will belong only to the Church triumphant to the Church in its final, glorious state. When the Bible speaks of the Church militant, the Church as it actually appears upon this earth, it detects always the presence of error and sin in that Church, and it does not permit a Christian to withdraw from that Church or any branch of that Church just because that Church or that branch of it is not perfect.

All this is true. But it really does not apply to the situation in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The point is that that Church is very largely dominated by unbelief. It does not merely harbor unbelief here and there. No, it has made unbelief, in the form of a deadly Modernist vagueness, the determinative force in its central official life.

Such a body is hardly what the Bible means by a church at all. The Bible commands Christian people to be members of a true church, even though it be an imperfect one. It represents the nurture provided by such a true church as a necessity, not a luxury, in the Christian life. There must therefore be a separation between the Christian and the Modernist elements in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. That is perfectly clear. The only question is how the separation shall be effected.

Unquestionably the best way would be the way of reform. If Modernism should be removed from the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., and that church should be brought back to conformity with its constitution and with the Word of God, all would be well.

The other way is the way of separation from the existing organization on the part of the loyal part of the church. Only, if the separation comes, it ought to come in such fashion as to make perfectly clear the fact that those who are separating from the present Modernist organization are not founding a “new church,” but are carrying on the true, spiritual succession of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A.

Something will no doubt be said regarding both of these possibilities on this page in future issues of The Presbyterian Guardian.

Words to Live By:
It should always be a fearsome thing to propose division or separation, even for reasons such as stated above. And I am quite certain that separation was never a light matter in Dr. Machen’s consideration. In our daily prayers, we ought to regularly pray for the unity of the Body of Christ, the Church. As long as we are in this sinful flesh, there will always be divisions, for our understanding of God’s Word is imperfect. But the way to greater unity rests not in pushing aside the truth of God’s Word, but rather, in pressing forward to know more and more of God’s will, as revealed in the Scriptures.

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kerr_robertPAnd so our Saturday tours through
PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE ended last week. Apparently that book proved popular enough that its author, the Rev. Robert P. Kerr, was encouraged to expand the work and just five years later he published THE PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF PRESBYTERIANISM THROUGH ALL THE AGES (1888). For its summary nature, and for the benefit of the time line presented here at the end, we present today the final chapter of the latter book.
Rev. Kerr was born in 1850, began his ministerial career in 1873 as pastor of a church in Lexington, Missouri, and served churches in both the old Southern Presbyterian denomination [1873-1903] and in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. [1903-23]. Honorably retired and in ill health in 1915, he died on March 25, 1923.


The Spirit of Presbyterianism.

We have followed the history of Presbyterianism through a course of many centuries; have looked upon its origin, development, sufferings, defeats and victories; and have taken a survey of its present condition and prospects. The attentive reader cannot fail to have seen that the spirit of Presbyterianism, as exemplified in its fruits, is that of the broadest catholicity as well as love of the truth.

Truth, and man, for God, is its motto. The tendency of its operations has been to liberate men from superstition, to give them a thirst for knowledge and for liberty. It is the mother of republicanism in church and state. America, and Great Britain with its world- encircling colonial system, would not have been what they are to-day but for Presbyterianism, in Italy, Switzerland, France, Holland and Scotland. Knowledge and liberty dwell together, and they have come largely from the influence in past ages, of that heaven- born principle of which this book is a history.

The world owes to Presbyterianism a debt it does not feel, and one it can never repay. Comparatively few of the millions of men who enjoy the inestimable blessings of civil and religious liberty care to inquire whence they came, or stop to think how different might have been their lot but for the sacrifices of those who lived long ago, and whose names are oft forgotten. But those who do study causes and effects in the affairs of men, and who follow trains of events back to their origin, will come to render honor where it is due. The philosophy of truth is written in the annals of mankind ; its principles are outlined forever in the profile of history; and there always will be seers who will interpret to men the lessons of the past. Therefore there is no danger that the great doctrines and polity that cluster around the Presbyterian name will ever be forgotten. We behold in the Presbyterian Church a glorious benefactor of mankind in all ages; but it is not enfeebled. It is stronger than ever. We believe that the future has for it as great a work as the past has had, and we sons of a noble church are proud of our mother.

Does the Presbyterian Church despise its sisters, or claim to be the only Church of Christ? No; if it did it would be a contradiction of its very genius and spirit. It acknowledges all God’s people as brothers, and all evangelical churches as equals, inviting their ministers into its pulpits, receiving them into our ministry without re-ordination, and welcoming their members to a communion table which it claims not as its own, but the sacred meeting place of all Christians for fellowship with one another, and with their common Lord. This book will have been written in vain if its perusal should foster a spirit of narrow sectarianism. But if it serve the purpose for which it is designed, it will tend to make Presbyterians who read it love their own church more, and at the same time look upon the world and all the church of God with a broader Christian sympathy.

“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three—but the greatest of these is Charity.”


A.D. 387. Augustine, pastor of Hippo, baptized.
1415.— John Huss burnt at Constance.
1536. — Calvin published his Institutes.
1560. — First General Assembly met at Edinburgh.
1564. — Death of John Calvin.
1572. — John Knox died.
1628. — First Reformed Church established in New Amsterdam (New York).
1638. — National Covenant signed in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh.
1643. — Westminster Assembly convened at the Abbey.
1648. — Confession of Faith and Catechisms sanctioned by Parliament.
1679. — Battle of Bothwell Bridge. Covenanters defeated.
1682. — Francis Makemie came to America, and settled in Maryland.
1685. — Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
1688. — Restoration of Episcopal Church of England and Ireland.
1705. — First Presbytery organized at Philadelphia.
1706. — First recorded ordination to the ministry in United States, at Freehold, New Jersey; John Boyd the candidate.
1717. — The Synod of Philadelphia organized.
1727. — Log College, the mother of Princeton, founded.
1734. — Great awakening under Jonathan Edwards.
1739. — Movement headed by Whitefield.
1745. — Synod divided.
1758. — Synods of New York and Philadelphia reunited. End of Old Side/New Side schism.
1775. — Mechlenberg resolutions adopted.
1776. — John Witherspoon in Congress.
1788. — General Assembly organized.
1837. — The Church divided into two parts, called Old School and New School.
1861. — Separation of the Old School Church into Northern and Southern Divisions.
1869. — Reunion of New School and (Northern) Old School, at Pittsburgh, November 10th.
1875. — Organization of the Alliance of Reformed Churches throughout the world holding the Presbyterian System.

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Home School Education in the Nineteenth Century

They are still being used today! McGuffey Readers, that is. But what an important force they have had from the early days of our land up to the present. In a day when modern textbooks are known to tear down what is right about America and Christian values, the McGuffey Readers would instead reflect the values of hard work, industry, honesty, loyalty, Sabbatarianism, and temperance, or in other words, exactly what is needed today in our modern society.

Their name comes from William Holmes McGuffey, who was born on September 23, 1800. From an early age, he demonstrated a prodigious command of both languages and literature.  Educated by his mother in their home and schooled in Latin, as was the practice then, by a Presbyterian minister, William committed large passages of the Bible to memory. Eventually he studied at Washington College in Lexington, Virginia (now Washington and Lee University) which was an early Presbyterian college. He graduated with honors from the college in 1826.

William McGuffey was licensed to preach by the Presbyterian Church, and although we cannot find his name associated with any local church, he preached regularly, delivering some 3000 messages by his own account.  His ministry was in education, serving as president and professor at five different colleges and universities.

He would be remembered primarily for his Eclectic Readers, though afterwards those readers were more commonly called by his name, and they had a profound influence on American public education for over two centuries. He died in 1873, but like the prophets of old, being dead, he yet speaks through these remarkable readers for young ages.

Words to live by:  The proverbs of old told us to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (KJV – Proverbs 22:6). That is as true today as it was when it was first written down in holy Scripture. The Hebrew word for “train up” speaks of “across the roof of.” It referred to the practice of birthing when the midwife would spread the olive juice across the roof of the mouth of the just born infant, teaching that infant how to draw milk from the mother’s breast. It therefore came to mean “create a desire for.” Christian dads and moms, you are to be the instrument of the Holy Spirit to create a desire for spiritual things in the hearts and minds of your children.  By being faithful to do this, you can then claim the general promise of this favorite text.

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The published histories of individual churches tend to be a very overlooked literary genre. Usually they are published in limited edition and purchased by church members, only to be shelved and perhaps never read. This is unfortunate, for some of these works have provided occasion for pastors and theologians to wax eloquent on various themes long pondered in their ministry.

What follows is excerpted from Historical Sketch of Rising Sun, Indiana, and the Presbyterian Church. A Fortieth Anniversary Discourse, delivered Sept. 15, 1856, by Rev. B.F. Morris, and is edited for length. In opening his discourse, Rev. Morris sets out to establish the value of historical annals. This is something of a digression from our normal fare here, I realize. Moreover, we may not agree with all of his statements. But consider this a “think piece,” designed to make us consider more fully the many aspects of the otherwise acknowledged value of historical accounts.


1. Historic annals are the way-marks of human progress.

The unfolding events which men and communities evolve need an imperishable record. This record is the embalming process that preserves the precious treasures of the past from oblivion, and transmits them, in their original freshness and form, to future ages.

2. They are “sunny memories” of scenes, fragrant with delightful and profitable remembrances to our personal experience.

Our elevated personal enjoyments flow, mainly, from two sources; one from the duties, activities and scenes of the present; the other from the fresh and vivid remembrance of the past. The past is a field through which all, in retrospection, love to roam, gathering in their own hearts, and reproducing in their own recollections, the scenes and stirring events in which they participated, and which, in remembrance, yield a rich harvest of personal enjoyment.

3. Past records and remembrances also have their genial and beneficent influences for the rising generation.

The solid texture in the life and character of each generation is woven mainly from the materials created and fashioned by the one preceding. The type of life, the ruling sentiments of the soul and whatever goes into the composite form of character, come mainly from influences that flow from the generations that have gone before.

4. They have a significant and important relation and use to the future.

Preparation for right action and a true course in life is one of the most commanding obligations of human existence. We must live right now, so that we may act right in the future. This consummation is greatly aided by the moral teachings of the past. The dividing line between right and wrong; the true principles and pathway of success; dangers to be avoided; wisdom and prudential sagacity, all that forewarns and forearms and qualifies for right action, may be derived from the facts and lessons of the past, communicated by oral experience, or through historic annals. “It is the capacity of looking back on past experiences, which gives us the power of foreseeing the future, and thus of looking both before and behind, for sources of enjoyment,” and for a true direction in the moral course of life. This fact, in God’s system of moral education, gives meaning and authority to the Divine injunction, “Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask thy father and he will shew thee; the elders and they shall tell thee.”—Deut. 32:7. “Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.”—Joel 1:3. In this light historic annals assume an importance equal to the value of the moral interests of men and society, as effected by the moral education of the rising generation.

5. They embalm the acts and memories of the dead.

The great forest of humanity, like a forest of oaks, falling before the march of civilization, is, one by one, leveled by the axe of time. The oak of human life, stately and strong though it be, has no perpetual charter. A century, at most, it must fall, and pass away. Shall it have no record in human remembrance, or on the historic page?

6. Historic annals are the means to measure social progress, as contrasted with after eras in the history of social civilization.

Society, as it circles outward from a common center, has a tendency to degenerate from its original and higher type, into one of a lower standard and tone.

7. Another special and important use of historic annals and personal remembrances is the exhibition of the nature, progress, and triumphs of Christian truth.

The structure of all human society must, if its foundation be solid and its superstructure symmetrical and safe, rest on Christian truth.

8. This suggests another great and valuable use of historic annals and personal remembrances, which is to demonstrate the active presence of God in human history and society.

“Historic truth,” says Bancroft, “may be established as a science; and the principles that govern human affairs, extending like a path of light from century to century, become the highest demonstration of the superintending providence of God. Universal history does but seek to restate “the sum of all God’s works of Providence.”

A devout and thoughtful mind will recognize and adore God, as He gives revelations of Himself in human history, and in every onward movement of the race.

Words to Live By:
Have you noticed, as you read through the Bible, how often God commands us to remember His works? To be actively engaged in that work of remembrance is key to keeping our hearts fresh before the Lord. Consider the words of John Flavel :

“Search backward into all the performances of Providence throughout your lives. So did Asaph: ‘I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings’ (Psalm 77:1112). He laboured to recover and revive the ancient providences of God’s mercies many years past, and suck a fresh sweetness out of them by new reviews of them. Ah, sirs, let me tell you, there is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would but sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what signal manifestations and outbreakings of His mercy, faithfulness and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. If your hearts do not melt before you have gone half through that history, they are hard hearts indeed. ‘My Father, thou art the guide of my youth’ (Jeremiah 3:4)”.—From The Mystery of Providence, chapter nine.

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We continue today with our Saturday excursions into the little book by the Rev. Robert P. Kerr titled PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE (1883). Today’s chapter concerns the office of the deacon in the Church.



These officers were unknown in the Church of God until the time of the apostles. In Acts vi. is given an account of the election of the first Deacons. Being elected by the people, they come under the definition of Presbyterianism.

The elders, having charge of the spiritual concerns of the Church, could not give to temporal matters the time and attention they deserved; so they called upon the people to select

“seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon and Parmenas and Nicholas, a proselyte of Antioch: whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.” (Acts 6:3-6)

The office thus instituted was extended over the whole Church, and has continued in the Presbyterian body unto this day.

The Deacons are subordinate to the Session, as the Session is subordinate to the Presbytery. Except the highest of all, there is no assembly which is not subject to the review of a higher body The work of the Deacons is to have care of the poor, the sick, prisoners, the property of the church and the money contributed for pious uses. This office has proved of immense benefit in the Church, and should be honored by those who occupy it, as well as by the people whom they serve.

In some branches of the Presbyterian Church godly women have been set apart to assist in the work of the Deacons, as among the sick and the poor there are many duties pertaining to this office which can be better discharged by females.

The divine authority for this office is derived principally from Romans xvi. 1, 2 : “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant” (a “ deacon ” in the original) “ of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you : for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also.”

Because this office was perverted and grievously abused by the Roman Church it was generally abandoned by Protestants at the Reformation, but it is now being slowly reinstated by the Church in various parts of the world.

For more resources on the diaconate, see

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