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Ashbel Green’s Editor and Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Parting Words from the Rev. John A. Van Lear

On a grassy knoll in Virginia, surrounded by scenes of surpassing beauty, stands the Mossy Creek Church. The first settled pastor in the region of the Triple Forks, which included Mossy Creek, was the Rev. John Craig, who was born in August of 1709, in Antrim, Ireland.

Some years later, when the church called the Rev. John A. Van Lear in 1837, the church had by that time grown to be an independent, self-sustaining church. Moreover, the Rev. Van Lear proved to be a faithful pastor, and the people grew under his preaching. He was active in the work of Presbytery as well, serving as Stated Clerk for fourteen years. He even oversaw the construction of a new house of worship for the church.

Born in 1797, by the time Rev. Van Lear reached his fifty-second year, his health began to decline. He had spent himself for the sake of the Gospel. On August 14, 1850, just four days before his death, the Rev. John A. Van Lear wrote the following letter to his brethren of Lexington Presbytery:

Dear Brethren:—I have indeed greatly desired that it might be permitted me to meet once more upon earth a body of which I have been for so many years a member, in whose society I have enjoyed so much happiness, and for which I cherish the strongest affection. But such is not the will of God, and I am content. My days are nearly numbered, and my last remove is directly before me. I record it to the praise of the glory of His grace that God ‘hath counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.’ I have loved the work. I have preached, as I believe, in sincerity and truth, His gospel of salvation. I have tried to bring others to a like precious faith. I rejoice that I have been enabled to do this. But this is not the foundation of my hope. I trust in no labor of my hands. I fly to the cross and the covenant. There is my only hope. There I rest my soul, and my heart has peace. This is my testimony.

“It would give me please to send kind messages to you all by name, but I have not strength. I have come down now quite to the banks of the Jordan of death; but He who has passed through it for sinners has met me on this side of its dark waves, and all is well. My flesh and my heart faileth me, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. I leave you, hoping for a happy and eternal reunion in that heaven to which we have pointed so many of our fellow men.

“It is my parting prayer, that our faithful, covenant-keeping God may ever be with you, bless you, keep you in peace and love among one another, and send down His Holy Spirit upon all our churches, and fill the earth with His glory.

“Accept, dear brethren, my final farewell.

“Yours in the gospel of Christ, our Saviour.”

John A. Van Lear.

He died on the 18th of August, four days after writing his farewell words, in great peace of mind. On the 22d of August, at Goshen Church, nestled away among the hills of Highland county, this letter was read. Many were the tears its sweet and loving words called forth. His memory was duly honored by Session and Presbytery, with resolutions of respect well befitting the memory of this good man, who was a model character in all the relations of life.

[Slightly edited from The Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church, by Alfred Nevin (1884), p. 553-554.]

Words to Live By:
There are perhaps no more challenging and appropriate words for pastors than what we find from the pen of the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, withgreat patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
(2 Timothy 4:1-8, NASB)

Preaching upon that same text, the Rev. J. R. Miller observed, “Life is very serious. We are always standing before God who is our Judge. Our commonest days—are judgment days. We should learn to do everything ‘in the presence of God.’ This makes every word and act serious. If only we were more conscious of God and of eternity—we would live better!

Rev. Van Lear’s gravestone is pictured here.

Viewing that photograph of the gravestone, Rev. James T. O’Brien has previously noted that “On the page with his grave marker, we learn that four of his children died within 5 years of his death. One child lived another 31 years. His wife lived 36 years beyond him and buried five of her children. There is no mention of her sixth child. The Lord’s paths are through the sea, who can follow them?”

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Eighteen Twelve was a Very Good Year

It was clear that something had to be done.  Princeton College was not being the source any longer for Presbyterian ministers, and for that matter, any ministers.  The school had turned into a secular school for careers, like law, politics, and education.

The reason for this was varied,  Some saw the problem in the new president, Samuel Stanhope Smith.  It wasn’t that he had no qualifications for the presidency.  He himself was a graduate of the college.  He had started what later became Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.  He had tutored under his father-in-law John Witherspoon as the Vice-President of Princeton, when the latter was unable physically to do it.  So he had all the academic qualifications.

Of more troublesome however were questions about his lack of Calvinistic distinctives.  It seemed that they were in word only as there were suggestions of an emphasis on free will in man plus scientific suggestions in place of supernatural miracles.  Add to that a student rebellion, the trustees were beginning to have questions on his ability to solve these challenges in the right way.

With 400 vacant pulpits in the Presbyterian Church, the sentiment began to build for a separate theological seminary separate from Princeton College as early as 1800.  By 1805 and 1808, each General Assembly was being besieged with calls for more ministers, on the mission field and in the congregations of the land.  An overture to decide what kind of school was sent to the presbyteries.  While hardly overwhelming for any one choice, by 1811, over $14,000 had been raised for the prospective seminary.  Any professor would have to subscribe to the Westminster Standards, and the Form of Government of Presbyterianism.

On August 12, 1812, while the nation was already at war against Great Britain, people packed the town’s Presbyterian Church for the inauguration of Dr. Archibald Alexander as the first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary.   He had been chosen by the General Assembly.  He preached his inaugural sermon for the worshipers, including taking his vows regarding the confessional standards and the Presbyterian form of Government.  The seminary had begun, with three students.  It would soon pick up and begin to send out laborers into the fields, which were white unto harvest.

Words to live by:  Every reader of this historical blog should read the fine summary of Dr. David Calhoun’s two-volume work on Princeton Seminary, published by the Banner of Truth Trust in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Filled with persons, places, and events from the founding of the school in 1812 to 1929, this school was the pillar of orthodoxy for the Presbyterian Church.  Thereafter, by the testimony of J. Gresham Machen and other stalwarts, it ceased to be a Reformed and confessionally Biblical seminary. When we forget the past, we lose hope for the present and the future.  When we study the past, we learn how to live in the present and the future.  You will not be able to put down the two books. We promise you that!

Faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary, 1896: G.T. Purves, J.D. Davis, G. Vos, B.B. Warfield, W.B. Greene, Jr., J.H. Dulles, H.W. Smith, F.L. Patton, W.M. Paxton, C. Martin, W.H. Green, J. De Witt.

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Continuing today with our journey through the Rev. R.P. Kerr’s little book, PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE, we come today to chapter 7. [erroneously labeled as Chapter VI. in our print copy.].

CHAPTER VII.

THE ASSEMBLIES OF THE CHURCH.

The great principle of government by representative assemblies may be applied under many different forms and names, but still remain the same. Indeed, this is the advantage which a government of principle has over one of form, allowing elasticity and adaptability to the various conditions of mankind. Neither the number nor the names of the assemblies which govern a Church are essential to its Presbyterianism.

A body of Christians isolated from the Church by any cause might organize themselves under the Presbyterian principle and elect an assembly of elders. They might call it a Session or a Consistory—which is the name used in some branches of the Presbyterian Church—or they might invent some other designation for it. They might have no other assembly; a small body would need but one. If they grew, they must have higher assemblies; continuing to increase, they would organize higher ones still, until at last they would arrive at the order of assemblies which obtains in most Presbyterian bodies, and which is as follows:

I. The SESSION, or CONSISTORY;

II. The PRESBYTERY, or CLASSIS;

III. The SYNOD, or PARTICULAR SYNOD;

IV. The GENERAL ASSEMBLY, or GENERAL SYNOD.

All these are Presbyteries, of different names, rank and powers, arranged in an ascending scale. First comes the church Session, Consistory or lowest Presbytery.

I. THE SESSION.

This body is composed of not less than two ruling elders, if there be so many, and the pastor. The number of elders is not limited, and in some congregations it is very large. The duties of the Session, in common with all other assemblies of the Church, are administrative and judicial. In spiritual things no body of men on earth have any legislative power, in the strict meaning of that term. The Bible is the only law-book of the Church. Our Books of Order and Deliverances are but interpretations of divine law, entitled to respect and obedience so long as they conform to the inspired word, and liable to change whenever change may seem best to the Church. These interpretations ought to be observed by all, unless they violate an important principle; then it is the duty of those who differ to endeavor by lawful means to have them changed.

The Session adminsters for the congregation in spiritual things, and the deacons administer in temporal affairs, subject to the review of the Session. The Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church in the United States [the body embracing mainly the Presbyterian churches in the Southern States.] gives the following summary of the duties of this body.

“The church Session is charged with maintaining the spiritual government of the church, for which purpose it has power to inquire into the knowledge, principles and Christian conduct of the church-members under its care; to censure those found delinquent; to see that parents do not neglect to present their children for baptism; to receive members into the communion of the church; to grant letters of dismission to other churches, which, when given to parents, shall always include the names of their baptized children; to ordain and install ruling elders and deacons on their election by the church, and to require these officers to devote themselves to their work; to examine the records of the proceedings of the deacons; to establish and control Sabbath-schools and Bible classes, with especial reference to the children of the church; to order collections for pious uses; to take oversight of the singing in the public worship of God; to assemble the people for worship when there is no minister; to concert the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the church and congregation; to observe and carry out the lawful injunctions of the higher courts; and to apppoint representatives to the Presbytery and the Synod, who shall on their return make report of their diligence.”

The church Session is required annually to send its record to the Presbytery for review.

We will visit these sections of this longish chapter next Saturday:

II. THE PRESBYTERY.

III. THE SYNOD.

IV. THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY.

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Morris’ Reading House

Looking over the early spiritual history of this country, this author came across an incident from Virginia which is found in E.H. Gillet’s book “History of the Presbyterian Church in the USA.” Written in 1864, it sheds light upon early Presbyterianism in the United States and how it developed by means of a most unusual means of advancing the Gospel. Found in pp 111 – 114, I quote the following words:

“The rise of Presbyterianism in Hanover (Virginia) is inseparably connected with what is known by tradition as Morris’ Reading House. This was the first of several buildings in that region, erected to accommodate those who were dissatisfied with the preaching of the parish incumbents, and anxious to enjoy the privilege of listening on the Sabbath to the reading of instructive and devotional works on religion.

“The origin of this movement was somewhat singular. The people had, for the most part, never heard or seen a Presbyterian minister. But reports had reached them of revivals in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New England. A few leaves of Boston’s Fourfold State, in the possession of a Scotch woman, fell into the hands of a gentleman who was so affected by their perusal that he sent to England by the next ship to procure the entire work. The result of its perusal was his conversion. Another obtained possession of Luther on Galatians; he in like manner, was deeply affected, and ceased not to read and pray til he found his peace in Christ.

“These persons, with two or three others—all heads of families—without previous counsel or conference, absented themselves at the same time from the worship of the Parish (e.g. Church of England) church. They were convinced that the gospel was not preached by the parish minister, and they deemed it inconsistent with their duty to attend upon his ministrations. Four of them were summoned on the same day and at the same place, to answer as to the proper offices for their delinquency. For the first time they here learned of their common views. Confronted in them by this unexpected coincidence, they thenceforth chose to subject themselves to the payment of the fines imposed by law rather than attend church where they felt that they could not profit.

“They agreed at first to meet every Sabbath alternately at each other’s houses to read and pray. Soon their numbers increased. Curiosity attracted some, and religious anxiety affected others. The Scriptures, and Luther on Galatians were read. Afterward, a volume of Whitfield’s sermons fell into their hands. (Eventually since Morris’s home became too small for the attendance, a meeting house was built merely for the readings.) The result was that several were awakened and gave proof of genuine conversion. Mr Morris was invited to several houses, some of them at considerable distance, to read the sermons which had been so effective in his own neighborhood. Thus the interest that had been awakened spread abroad.

“The dignitaries of the Established Church (of England) saw the parish churches deserted and took the alarm. . . . They invoked the strong arm of the law to restrain it. . . . The (leaders of the reading houses) were cited to appear before the Governor and Council.

“Startled by the criminal accusation which was now directed toward them, . . . they had not even the name of a religious denomination under which to shelter their dissent. At length, recollecting that Luther, whose work occupied so much space in their public religious reading, was a noted Reformer, they declared themselves Lutherans.

“But so it happened that, on the way to Williamsburg (Va.), one of the company, detained by a violent storm at a house on the road, fell in with an old volume on a dust covered shelf. Reading it to wile away the time, he took it with him with the owner’s permission. At Williamsburg, he and the others agreed that it expressed their own views. When they appeared before the Governor, they presented the volume to him. (A Scotsman), the Governor found it to be the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. He then designated the men before him as Presbyterians, and dismissed them with the gentle caution not to excite disturbances.

“The first Presbyterian minister who visited Hanover (Virginia) was William Robinson. On this day, July 6, 1743, they listened to the first sermon ever preached by a Presbyterian minister in Hanover, Virginia.”

Words to Live By:
Who can deny that when the Spirit of God wishes to raise up a church for Himself, any means—even the mere reading of Scriptural sermons—will accomplish His ends? Of course in our day many might argue that we are past reading sermons or commentaries. But this author knows of one group of Christians who have together taken up the challenge to read Calvin’s Institutes, and meet weekly to discuss what they have read. Whether it is on electronic tablets or the taking up of books, profitable ends might be served by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of His people, much like this eighteenth century reading club which resulted in regeneration and sanctification for the early Presbyterians of Virginia. They didn’t even know what they were! It was the Governor of Virginia who designated them Presbyterians!

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Eighty years ago, on June 30, 1934, there was an observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Korean mission started by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Other denominations had their own missions in that land. The Southern Presbyterian Church (properly, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.) had a substantial mission there as well, one which was greatly blessed of the Lord, and we may speak of the PCUS mission later.

But for today, reading briefly in The fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Korea Mission of the Presbyterian church in the U.S.A., June 30-July 3, 1934 by the Rev. Harry A. Rhodes, we come to what is for us the heart of the subject, a paper presented by the Rev. Herbert E. Blair, under the title of “Fifty Years of Development of the Korean Church.”

The Role of Missionaries
According to the Rev. Herbert E. Blair, three main principles undergirded the PCUSA mission to Korea in the period between 1884-1934. These were: (1) the supreme place given the Bible, with its simple Gospel message as the inspired, authoritative Word of God. (2) the common determination to make the Korean Church an indigenous church from the beginning, self-propagating, self-instructing, and self-governing. And (3) a spirit of comity and cooperation.

Persecution
But Blair also notes that there was great opposition to the gospel ministry in Korea in those days. “Men were imprisoned and flogged and threatened with death for helping the foreigners bring in the Gospel. Terrible persecutions were inflicted by hostile communities or privately by families or by fathers and husbands. Young widows of the Church were snatched and sold by heathen relatives and terribly abused. Wives were beaten, dragged out of churches and through the streets by their hair and cursed, and their clothes hidden so that they could not go to church again. Some were locked up and food denied them. They were cast off for Christ’s sake. Young boys suffered terrible beatings at the hands of brothers and fathers and were driven from home. Young girls were dragged away to heathen marriages and tortured if they protested. If they fled they were arrested and forced back into weddings they could not escape.”

The Bible and the Korean Church
Rev. Blair continues: “But by God’s grace, the Korean Church grew and became established—established upon the very best and only true Foundation. Writing from his vantage point in 1934, Dr. Blair states, “Bible study has been magnified in the Korean Church. The Bible has been ever at the side of leaders and followers alike. The Bible has been a passion with many pastors and teachers. Rev. Kil Sun-chu [or, Kil Son-ju, 1869-1935], the blind preacher of Pyongyang, has been first of all a diligent Bible student. He had studied all the old cults, but nothing brought peace till his soul began to feed on the Word of God. Pastor Kil has been an inspiring model before the eyes of the whole Church. His sight failed him but Dr. H.C. Whiting operated and enabled him to read again. This past generation pictures Pastor Kil always standing in the midst of great Bible classes, holding up his Bible close to his big, round, radiant face so that through his immense lenses he could himself read the Scriptures and then pour out his great soul in vision and plea. He has so studied and taught the Bible that he can repeat whole books. He has repeated the Revelation hundreds of times. Similarly, most of the leaders of the Church have been good Bible students. Their Bibles are filled with notes, worn and black from Genesis to Revelation. Some of them know their Bibles so well that they are veritable concordances. Such examples have helped the whole church to become a Bible-studying, Bible-loving church. Even old grandmothers and ignorant farmers have been inspired to learn to read so they too could know God’s Word.”

“One can tell a Christian home by the Bible on the floor or on the box at the window or the little table. In their homes family prayers have not only been for daily devotion but they have also been the family schools where the fathers and mothers, aged parents and little children, have gathered in circles about the little oil lamps on the floors, with their Bibles open before them, reading around, verse after verse, the fathers often pronouncing syllable after syllable for the little children to repeat till all have learned to read. Probably all who have spent any length of time in Syen-chun, have been impressed when late at night or earlyt in the morning, while going through the street, passing house after house, they have heard the sound of family prayers or the muffled tone of song. The open Bible is the family altar. All over Korea for years, in multitudes of homes, they have had such family prayers.”

Words to Live By:
Much of this account seems so similar to accounts of other times of God’s great blessing upon His Church. And consistently in each case, a faithful devotion to the Word of God and to prayer undergirds each of those times of blessing. Christian, where is your Bible? Is it gathering dust? Or is it your daily companion? And are you constant in prayer, seeking your Father’s face, drawing near not just with your daily burdens, but also with groanings and petitions for the Church at large, that the Lord would be glorified before a watching world? Be constant in God’s Word and in prayer, and watch expectantly to see how the Lord will work. Pray that once great denominations in the U.S.A. would again be seized with the truth of the Bible and return to a faithful proclamation of the Gospel. Pray too that we who consider ourselves orthodox would indeed maintain our first love in all humility and obedience.

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Rev. Jonathan Dickinson, First President of Princeton CollegeBack in 2012, this author on this day of April 22, posted an article on Jonathan Dickinson, the first president of Princeton. More than any other man, this Presbyterian pastor was responsible for arranging the plan and formation of this college which came to be so near and dear to the hearts of American Presbyterians. When I wrote that post, I had however little information on his family background and early years. I remember that I wrote the sentence, “Born on April 22, 1688 in Hatfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Yale in 1706.” Talk about a jump in years.  From birth to Yale, eighteen years just passed by in a sentence!  But that much was missing in sources available to me.  And evidently, that much was missing in many a record of his early life. Part of it was due to a terrible fire which devastated his congregation and church  building in New Jersey, including his valuable diary and many personal records. But with this post, and the kind help of Wayne Sparkman, my co-author and archivist of the PCA History Center, more information has come to light. So this post is “the rest of the story” of Jonathan Dickinson, to be read prior to the post of April 22, 2012.

The first four generations of the Dickinson family came from Billingborough, Lincolnshire, England. Other than the listing of the names of the family, with their spouses and children, we are introduced to the fourth generation of Nathaniel Dickinson, who came with his wife and family to Connecticut in 1637. He was wealthy and a mainstay in that town. Out of twelve children, the eleventh child was Hezekiah Dickinson, who was the father of our subject today.

Hezekiah was a merchant by trade. With his spouse Abigail, they would have six children. The second child and oldest son was Jonathan, who was born on this day in Hatfield, Massachusetts. According to a law on the books of this town, he started school at age 6. It was believed that the next year he moved to Springfield, Massachusetts to finish his primary education and grammar school. Later in his teens, he spent time with his maternal grandparents in Stratford, Connecticut, where he would have had contact with the Rev. Israel Chauncy, the founder of what later on became Yale. It wasn’t surprising that then he entered that school for his college education. And the rest, as they say, is history, and specifically Presbyterian history.

Words to Live By:
It has always been interesting to this author, who has served his Lord and Savior for 40 years as a Presbyterian pastor, that nothing in life can be considered as chance, or luck, or fortune. This doesn’t mean that he hasn’t heard many people, and even a few misguided Christians, exclaim “how lucky,” or “by chance,” or “fortunately,” this or that has occurred. Solomon reminds us all in Proverbs 16:9 that “the mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” All these former familiar expression such as “chance, luck, or fortune” mean “without absence or cause.” Yet the inspired writer in Proverbs 16:9 tells us that while we may plan this or that, God is the direct cause of everything.  He decrees what will either happen or what that what He will permit to happen to you today. In fact, be ever ready to pray for your life today, “Direct my steps, O God.” And then at the end of the day, review that life and give thanks for what God has either given or allowed to occur, for His glory and your ultimate good.

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With sincere apologies, I must record a correction. The fact is that the local court case was ruled unanimously in favor of the Hull Memorial and Eastern Heights churches. My thanks to Rev. Todd Allen for his gracious correction.

 

On April 17, 1966, because of extreme liberal trends in their parent church, two Savannah Presbyterian churches, Hull Memorial and Eastern Heights, led by their pastors Clifford Brewton and Todd Allen, voted to sever all ties with the Presbyterian Church U. S. denomination. This Action resulted in the Presbytery attempting to take control of the property, and a court case, settled first by a local jury that ruled unanimously in favor of the two congregations. Rev. Todd Allen comments that:

“Savannah Presbytery then appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court who approved the Jury decision unanimously in favor of the two congregations. The case was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court who remanded the case back to the Georgia Supreme Court giving neutral principles of law for that court to use in adjudicating the case. The Georgia Supreme applied the neutral principle enunciated by the United States Supreme Court and by a  unanimous  decision awarded the two local churches their church properties. The presbytery again appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case and that ended litigation after 3 ½ years of litigation in January of 1970. It should be noted that all court decisions were unanimous.”

The Savannah court case was an unprecedented, history-making event that overturned nearly 100 years of inequitable law practices in the United States and changed the way the civil courts in the future could deal with church property disputes. The case caused major church denominations to study their administration, relations, and rules relating to their connection with local church congregations. The specific and immediate effect of the case was a means for a somewhat peaceful withdrawal in 1973—with their properties—of some 250 churches from the Presbyterian Church U. S.  The case was a crucial element in the success of the Continuing Church movement that resulted in the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

The significance of the historic event was, at least in that immediate historical context, that no longer could church tribunals exercise property takeover tactics to force compliance to certain disputed doctrines, or for any other reason the denomination may choose: Ended was the practice of stealing church property in the name of organized religion. This case liberated those local churches in the PCUS from denominational tyranny.

The heart of the Supreme Court ruling in the Savannah case was in favor of what are termed neutral principles of law, as opposed to the civil court being guided or even ruled by the doctrines (including bylaws and constitution) of the denomination.

During the time that the property issue continued to be debated and was sent to the Georgia Supreme Court, Pastor Brewton accepted an appointment as an aide to Governor Lester Maddox, resigned the pastorate at Hull Memorial, and moved to Atlanta. Meanwhile Pastor Todd Allen was at the forefront in the property struggle through the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled for the local churches, and the case then went onward to the U. S. Supreme Court. Allen also was a leader in organizing Vanguard Presbytery in 1972, a new presbytery established for churches withdrawing from the PCUS, thus providing them a Presbytery to join while awaiting the formation of the new denomination.

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In a substantial resource written by Dr. Clifford M. Drury under the title Presbyterian Panorama, we read on p. 4:— 

“At a meeting of the Standing Committee held March 31, 1903, a circular letter was approved to be sent to the various “missionary associations in Europe and America” to inquire into “the measures and success of others engaged in Missionary undertakings.” The letter carried the following paragraph:

‘From the time the Presbyterian Church was organized in this country, which was at the commencement of the last century, the practice has existed among us, of sending ministers of the gospel to preach to those who had not its institutions regularly established among them.’

The six simple words, “The practice has existed among us,” emphasize the continuance of the missionary spirit in the Presbyterian Church from the time of the organization of the first presbytery in 1706. Indeed, Presbyterians were carrying on missionary work in the colonies before that date. In 1649 the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England received its charter from the the English Parliament. Shortly after its organization, the Society took over the support of Rev. John Elliot, who had begun his ministry with the Indians of Massachusetts in 1646. This Society had the loyal support of Presbyterians throughout all England.”

Words to Live By:
Of course, the problem is that if you don’t believe the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, then there really is no reason for going to the mission field, for you have no message. That hard reality was what was behind the reassessment issued in 1932 in the report known as Rethinking Missions. By the beginning of the twentieth century, modernism had made heavy inroads into the mainline Presbyterian Church, undercutting the cause of missions. Fewer missionaries were sent out as a result, and of those who did go, fewer still took the Gospel message with them. This was the problem pointed out by J. Gresham Machen that in turn led to the formation of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM).

Today the PCA alone fields over 600 full-time missionaries, along with thousands of part-time and occasional missionaries. The OPC, ARP, RPCNA, and other conservative Presbyterian denominations do their part as well and with equal vigor, each in accord with their respective size and strength. And in all this, we all seek to lift of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, that God alone might be glorified and that He might sovereignly build His kingdom. Let this be a reminder to pray for your missionaries and to pray for those who train them, that by God’s grace all might remain true to the Word of God.

 

 

 

 

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You Can’t Keep a Good Presbytery Down

The value and help of a Presbytery full of godly men—men who truly fear the Lord and who seek His will in all things—cannot be overestimated. The whole point of the Presbyterian system is that we should be connected, one to another, in the Body of Christ. Our Lord intends that we should be about the work of building up one another, each of us consistently working at pointing the other to Christ as our only Savior and Lord.

On pages 254-255 of Richard Webster’s work, A History of the Presbyterian Church in America (1857), we read this account which serves to make our point:

The Rev. Eleazer Wheelock, afterwards President of Dartmouth College, wrote from Lebanon, Connecticut, March 13, 1749, to Dr. Bellamy :—

” There are many things that have a threatening aspect on our religious interests in these parts: Antinomian principles, and the Korah-like claims which are the usual concomitants of them; prevailing worldliness and coldness which has become a common distemper among us; growing immorality, justified by the wildness and errors of many high professors; a want of promising candidates for the ministry, and the great difficulty that commonly attends the settling of any, chiefly through the strait-handedness of parishes toward the support of the gospel; the want of a good discipline in our churches, and the difficulty upon many accounts of reviving it, &c. &c. I am fully of the opinion that it is time for ministers to wake up for a redress of these evils; and I can think of no way more likely, than for those, who are in the same way of thinking about the most important things in religion, to join in a presbytery. 

Don’t you see that Arminian candidates can’t settle in the ministry? Don’t you see how much those want the patronage of a godly presbytery, who do settle? For want of it, they get broken bones, which will pain them all their days. Would not such a presbytery soon have all the candidates of worth under them, and, consequently, presently most of the vacant churches? Our wild people are not half so much prejudiced against the Scottish constitution as against our own. Many churches in these parts might easily be brought into it, and my soul longs for it. . . . 

For my part, I think it high time that men who have been treated as Mr. Robbins (of Branford) was, should have some way of relief, which I am informed was the view of that honest Calvinist who first moved in that proposal. . . . Is there not some reason to hope that hereby there will be a door opened for bringing things into a better posture among the Calvinist party? You know how God has overruled things in the Jerseys.”

Words to Live By:
Now, there is much in that letter that would take more time to explain than we have here today. But reading the broader strokes of Rev. Wheelock’s letter, the lesson to take away concerns the value of a godly presbytery. A good presbytery is first of all a guard against error, setting a biblical standard for who can serve in the pulpit, and so protecting the churches of the presbytery. Moreover, in a godly presbytery, we can expect to find a continued exhortation, one to another, to maintain that high standard.

A good presbytery is a home and refuge to the men who make up the presbytery. Much more than offering mere fellowship, it should be a place to find encouragement, exhortation, and challenge in our high calling as Christians and as under-shepherds of the Lord’s people.

A good presbytery seeks to advance the Kingdom of God, and so seeks to plant new churches, while also building up and encouraging its existing churches. The work of planting new churches is guided by men who have themselves done that same work. They know the pitfalls and errors to avoid. They know the strengths and abilities that will be needed if the work is to prosper.

A godly presbytery will also keep an eye on its established churches, not wanting that any should suffer. I’ve long thought that presbyteries should encourage small and struggling churches by choosing to meet at those locations, with the presbytery covering all the expenses of their time there. Why meet in the prosperous churches when there is opportunity to build up the weaker ones? By meeting in our weaker churches we come to know the people in that church and so are reminded to pray regularly for them. By meeting there we offer a testimony to the watching world, and particularly in a small town, that can be a powerful testimony. Extending the opportunity, the men of presbytery might arrive early to do the work of evangelism in the community. A small conference, open to the public, might be offered on some suitable subject. The presbytery should also strive to include the host congregation in times of worship, fellowship, and prayer.

What else should we find among the qualities of a godly presbytery? And what can you do to bring that about? How can we be actively engaged, day by day, in building up one another in Christ?

And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.”—Ephesians 4:11-16, ASV

 

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