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SIX INTERCHURCH GROUPS MEET

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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Try to Say Something Nice, and See What You Get

Through much of the later half of the 20th century, evangelical and conservative Presbyterians were almost constantly taken up with efforts at merger. By contrast, the 21st century has thus far seen an almost total absence of such efforts. In the closing of the 20th century, Dr. Robert Godfrey’s brief article, “A Reformed Dream,” seemed a last grasp at the goal of a more united Church.

mcleod01Reading in Samuel Brown Wylie’s Memoir of the Rev. Alexander McLeod last evening, I learned something. I did not previously know that in 1825 the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. resolved to confer through committee with the Reformed Presbyterian Church. This was a hand of fellowship extended to open up fraternal correspondence between the two denominations. Today the NAPARC denominations widely practice similar fraternal correspondence, but apparently it was a rare thing in that era. Still, what might we learn from this early effort at ecumenical unity?

When the Reformed Presbyterian Synod met later that same summer, they readily took up the proposal and adopted a favorable response, with the Rev. McLeod and Rev. John Gibson appointed to the committee to draft a reply. McLeod’s biographer comments on this effort:

This synodical tranaction might, indeed, be considered as a new era in our ecclesiastical concerns in this country. By the maxims of common sense, by our Covenant engagements, and by the obligations of the sacred oracles, we were bound to use all lawful endeavors to promote uniformity in the doctrine, worship, discipline and government of the church of our Redeemer. That church we found divided into various sections, cherishing prejudices, too often indulging animosities subversive of the interests of true godliness; and, although members of the same body—the body of Christ—laboring under alienation of affection from each other yet all holding the same head, and all acknowledging one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. How shall all these be brought to that uniformity requisite for organic communion and demanded by the unity of the truth? Will it not be by the cultivation of social communion and friendly correspondence? Does not a repulsive distance, on the part of brethren, promote alienation of affection, foment jealousies, rivet prejudices, and cherish unfriendly feelings? Shall we stand aloof, and with sanctimonious air, like the proud Pharisee, say, “Stand by, we are holier than you!” No; God forbid! such was not the conduct of our reforming ancestors. With other sentiments, they formed and swore the Covenant in 1648, by the spirit of which we still hold ourselves bound. But this subject will again present itself, when the report of the committee shall come under discussion.

It need scarcely be remarked here, that Dr. McLeod cordially concurred in the project of the contemplated correspondence between the General Assembly and our Synod. The current year had not come to a close before he had attended to and finished the business assigned to the committee of which he was appointed chairman. Doctor McLeod, in a letter, dated New York, January 2, 1826, says, “we met on Friday, and finished the business unanimously, ere we separated.”

The articles drafted by the Reformed Presbyterian committee were in substance as follows:

1. Maintaining the proper unity of the visible church, and lamenting its divisions, we mutually covenant to employ our exertions patiently and prudently to bring our respective churches together, to a uniformity in doctrine, worship, and order, according to the Word of God.

2. In the meantime, we covenant that ministries, elders, and people shall treat each other with Christian respect, that the validity of ecclesiastical acts shall be reciprocally admitted; and each of the contracting parties may, without offence, examine persons, and review cases of discipline, on points distinctive to the respective denominations.

3. That the superior judicatories shall appoint two members, as commissioners, to attend the meetings of the other, not as members of that other, but with liberty to deliver opinions on any subject of interest, whether in discussion, or otherwise, but in no case to vote on a question.

4. That the General Assembly shall, on ratifying, appoint their delegates, to meet General Synod, so soon as they [the General Synod] shall have ratified this covenant.

Wylie relates how McLeod summarized his own view of the matter:

“Thus,” continues the Doctor, “so far as I perceive, we give nothing up; we forego no privilege we now have, and we gain a public admission of truth in a respectable connection with a sister church, and a covenant with them for future reform, or, at least, for the use of lawful means to lead thereto. . . . I hope little more will be said upon this subject, until it rises up to view in the [PCUSA] Assembly.

“Yours sincerely,
“A. McL.”

And then Wylie adds the sad summary put upon the matter by Reformed Presbyterians in general:

The good Doctor’s hopes in this case were disappointed. It was spoken against, written against, decried from pulpit, press, and by private denunciation, as a violation of our covenants, long before it rose to view in the General Assembly. Every prejudice that could be excited was enlisted against it, and the tocsin [i.e., an alarm bell or signal] of incipient apostasy was rung over the length and breadth of the land.

Words to Live By:
It is interesting to compare Dr. McLeod’s earlier 1802 stand against slavery, a resolve which led his entire denomination to that same conviction, often at great cost. But nearly 25 years later, the seemingly simple effort to open up fraternal correspondence between denominations met with stiff opposition. How very curious. And sad. Perhaps the seeds of the 1833 RP split began in some respect with that widespread rejection in 1826.

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”—Romans 14:19, ESV.

But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”—1 Corinthians 12:24-26, NASB.

Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”—Ephesians 4:3-6, KJV

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Many 19th-century Presbyterians opposed the practice of slavery. Reformed Presbyterians, while comparatively small in number as a denomination, were notable for being uniformly and resolutely opposed to it.  

The Reformed Presbyterian Argument Against Slavery

Bring up the name of Henry Van Dyke and some might remember the “moderate liberal” who left the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton, New Jersey rather than sit under the preaching of J. Gresham Machen. Some might also know this same Henry Van Dyke as a noted author in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an author whose books were also beautifully bound works of art.

vandykeHJSrBut that was the son, Henry Jackson Van Dyke, Jr. [1852-1933]. Today we start by looking at Henry’s father, Henry Jackson Van Dyke, Sr. [1822-1891, pictured at right]. He was an otherwise orthodox man who served for many years as pastor of the Presbyterian church in Brooklyn, New York. While the son was a prolific author, the father’s published works were primarily sermons and addresses.

Regrettably, Rev. Van Dyke is remembered today, if he is remembered at all, for an infamous sermon in which he attempted to defend the practice of slavery. That sermon was delivered on December 9, 1860, and it was titled “The Character and Influence of Abolitionism.” Perhaps it was the shock of a Northern pastor saying such things, but the sermon gained instant notoriety. Van Dyke’s sermon reduces to four main points:

1. Abolitionism has no foundation in the Scriptures.
2. Its principles have been promulgated by misrepresentation and abuse.
3. It leads, in multitudes of cases, and by a logical process, to utter infidelity.
4. It is the chief cause of the strife that agitates and the danger that threatens our country.”

sloaneJRWSo much for Rev. Van Dyke’s sermon. It serves to introduce you today to the review and rebuttal delivered just a few weeks later, on this day, December 23d, in 1860, by the Rev. J.R.W. Sloane, D.D., [pictured here on the left], who was at that time pastor of the Third Reformed Presbyterian church of New York City. Rev. Sloane later served as professor of theology in the Reformed Presbyterian seminary at Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, from 1868-1886.

The full discourse by Rev. Sloane is too long to reproduce here. But to focus on just the first portion of his review, here is the heart of his reply to Van Dykes first contention, edited for length. He begins:

1. There is no word in the Hebrew language for slave, none for slavery. There is a word for servant, and one for servitude, but no word like our word slavery, denoting a condition of involuntary servitude; no specific term that expresses that form of relation between man and man. Had slavery been a divine institution, as Mr. Van Dyke argues, surely there would have been a word to express the idea specifically. The fact that there is no such word is a strong presumption that there was no such thing.

2. There is no account in the Old Testament of any permission for the sale by one person to another, of a third who was allowed no voice nor will in the transaction; no such transaction is recorded; on the contrary, all such traffic in human flesh, in “slaves and souls of men,” was absolutely prohibited; it never was attempted except in direct violation of the law, and never failed to bring down upon the people the withering curse of Heaven. There was no purchase of men, except from themselves, by voluntary contract for a specified sum, for a definite time, known and agreed upon by the parties; there were no slave-hunts in other countries for a supply of servants; there was not a single barracoon on the borders; there were no slave-pens in the cities –no auction blocks, upon which men, women, and children might be placed and sold to the highest bidder in all the land. You might have passed through all the tribes from Dan to Beersheba, without ever meeting a coffle of slaves!

3. The special statute designed to prevent this crime, “He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death,” (Exod. 21:16) forever brands with the stamp of God’s reprobation and curse American slavery, and rendered the practice of such an iniquity in the Jewish Commonwealtth impossible.

4. The law for the fugitive rendered involuntary servitude in the Hebrew Commonwealth impossible–“Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee; he shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best; thou shalt not oppress him.” (Deut. 23:15)

5. The law of Jubilee rendered slavery impossible among the chosen people. “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” No limitation, no restriction; the Jubilee was glorious, because it was a proclamation of liberty to all without distinction; but if it had no reference to the foreign-born servant, it would have been a farce, a mockery, for all Hebrew servants went out at any rate by the law of their service. Mr. Van Dyke affirms that there was no jubilee for the heathen servant, nor for the Hebrew whose ear was bored. The idea, as it relates to the latter, is too absurd to be tolerated for a moment. Is it to be supposed that any man who possessed common sense would, merely because he loved his master, consign himself, wife, children, and children’s children, to the latest generation, to a hopeless bondage?–or, that God would have enacted a law which would have permitted such injustice to arise from such folly? The truth is, that the term forever, in this connection, is idiomatic, and means only to the year of jubilee. The very nature of the regulations as to land and property make this certain. The argument is fully elaborated in the larger works upon this subject. If any thing can be made clear, this has been, that the jubilee was a proclamation throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof; and that the first notes which pealed form every hill-top of Judea, on the first morning of this auspicious year, proclaimed to all servants the termination of their servitude. What a moral obliquity does it argue to find a man desirous to construe every passage in which there is room for a doubt, in favor of this atrocity! I do not wonder that a distinguished man said of such characters, that their god was his devil.

6. The whole nature of the covenant which God made with Israel was for the security of freedom and justice to all, not for the establishment of a hateful tyranny . . .  “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” “Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger, for ye know the heart of a stranger seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” “Thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger. For I am the Lord thy God.” “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, thou shalt love him as thyself, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Lev. 19:33). 

7. I do assert, notwithstanding Mr. Van Dyke’s disclaimer, that the argument for polygamy, the twin sister of slavery, is stronger than for slavery. I can assure him that the day is not far distant when his arguments for oppression will be as abhorrent to all right-thinking men, as those of Brigham Young for the accursed system which he has established in Utah. Polygamy was tolerated, slavery was not.

8. Were we to grant all that these men claim for the system which prevailed in the Jewish Commonwealth, they would be as far from having found any justification of American slavery as ever. They must needs show the same divine warrant as they suppose the Jews to have possessed. They must take all the laws and regulations with it; for in cases of divine authority it will not do to select; all must go together. But how long would American slavery last under those laws?

They would pierce it through and through in a thousand directions. Their enactment would be equivalent to immediate emancipation. American slavery could not live a day under single enactments relating to Hebrew servitude. Give the American slave about three-sevenths or one-half of his time, as was given to the servants among God’s people, and how much would slave property be worth in the South?

But what sort of slavery is it for which Mr. Van Dyke pleads? He can not in accordance with his Presbyterian principles (belief in the unity of the race, descent from Adam, and representation through him,) put it on the ground of diversity of color and inferiority of race. Either of these positions would overthrow his entire system of belief–he knows that God hath made of one blood all nations of men. The logical consequence of his plea then is for the enslaving of the white, as much as the black; but would he dare to say this? What is the ground of right on which he plants himself? This he has not told us. [We?] would be curious to hear an explanation of this point.

Some thirty pages later Rev. Sloane concludes his review with these words, wise words for any time:

This is my answer to the charges, arguments, statements, and perversions of this remarkable discourse, a discourse which marks the lowest point that the northern pulpit has ever reached. Yet I rejoice that it has been preached. It will open blind eyes, and carry its own refutation where my words can never reach. Moreover, I am relieved at the thought that we have touched bottom–there is surely no lower deep.

But, I am asked, what is my remedy for present evils? . . . My remedy is, to stand firm, refuse all compromise, do our whole duty, think, speak, act, just as at other times, and leave the men who make the trouble to furnish the remedy; timidity, not firmness, has been the curse of every great and good cause in which it has been permitted to enter.

Be patient, forbearing, forgiving, kind, this is Christ-like, is divine; seek the best interests–the highest good–of all; but do not swerve a hair’s breadth from the path of duty, for the sake of averting evils which, like the stone of Sisyphus, must evermore return to plague and molest us. . .  This is the hour in which God and Liberty expect every man to do his duty, assured that, as always under the Divine guidance and protection, the path of duty will be found to be the path of safety. Amen.

[emphasis added]

For Further Study:

Review of Rev. Henry J. Van Dyke’s discourse on “The character and influence of abolitionism,” a sermon preached in the Third Reformed Presbyterian Church, Twenty-third Street, New York, on Sabbath evening, December 23, 1860

Life and work of JRWSloane, D. D., professor of theology in the Reformed Presbyterian seminary at Allegheny City, Penn. 1868-1886 and pastor of the Third Reformed Presbyterian church, New York, 1856-1868

The character and influence of abolitionism. A sermon preached in the First Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, on Sabbath evening, Dec. 9th, 1860. by Henry Jackson Van Dyke [1822-1891].

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The Early History of Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church, Sparta, IL

wylieSamuelThe history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Randolph County, Illinois, goes back to the year 1818.  To the Rev. Samuel Wylie belongs the credit of the planting of the church.  He was born in County Antrim, Ireland, February 19, 1790; came to the United States in 1807; entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated in the class of 1811; prepared for the ministry in the Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, under the care of his uncle, Dr. Samuel Brown Wylie, and was licensed to preach in May, 1815, at Philadelphia, by the Middle Presbytery.

In the summer of 1817 he visited various places in the West, passing through Illinois and continuing his travels as far as Boonville, Missouri.  One his return he again passed through Illinois and spent the winter in supplying the vacancies in Tennessee and South Carolina.

At the meeting of the Synod in Pittsburgh in the latter part of May, 1818, he reported his travels and the prospect for church extension in the West.  Synod ordered the Middle Presbytery to take him on trial for ordination, and he was accordingly ordained in Pittsburgh, PA, on the 2nd of June, 1818, and sent as a missionary to Southern Illinois.  Mr. Wylie reached Kaskaskia the last day of July following and immediately entered upon his work.

The field of operation at first was Randolph county, though it afterward embraced parts of Perry, Washington and St. Clair.  A number of families belonging to the Associate Reformed church in South Carolina had moved into the county early in the [1800’s], and made a settlement near the present town of Preston.  They had been organized into a congregation by Rev. S. Brown, of Kentucky, a number of years before Mr. Wylie’s arrival, and being without preaching from their own ministers, by request, Mr. Wylie made his principal preaching place with them.  Members of the Reformed Presbyterian church began to come in.  James M. Gray was the first to arrive.  He came in October, and was followed immediately by his father-in-law, James Wilson, and family.  They came from near Vincennes, Indiana, where they had lived a number of years after leaving South Carolina.  They first settled near Kaskaskia, but finally located about three miles south of Sparta.

John McDill, Sr., and Hugh McKelvey, from South Carolina, came out in the summer of 1818, and bought land in Township 4—5.  One their way home they stopped in Tennessee with William Edgar, Samuel Nisbet and Samuel Little, who had removed from South Carolina a number of years before, and informed them of the mission begun in Illinois.  They immediately set out for Kaskaskia and purchased land, and Messrs. Edgar and Little moved out in the spring of 1819.  Mr. Nisbet, however, was detained and did not arrive until September.

Mr. McDill did not move out until November, 1819, though his son, John, came in the spring of that year, and began to improve his father’s place.  Mr. McKelvey did not come until 1820.  Mrs. Elizabeth Ritchie came in 1818; John McMillan and family, from Princeton, Indiana, arrived about the close of 1818 or the beginning of 1819, and settled on Plum Creek, near the present town of Houston.  David Cathcart and his son-in-law, William Campbell, from South Carolina, came in the spring of 1819, and settled in the lower end of Grand Cote Prairie.  Alexander Alexander arrived in the spring of 1819, and bought land near the old grave-yard, and after improving his place, returned to South Carolina and brought out his family in the latter part of 1819.  His father-in-law, John McDill, Sr., James Munford and John Dickey, with their families came at the same time.  John McMillan, of the Associate church, also came with them and settled between Eden and Sparta, and Munford and Dickey settled northeast of Eden.  James Strahan, from western Pennsylvania, came in the spring of 1819, and settled first down toward Kaskaskia, but finally in the west end of Grand Cote.

Mr. Wylie continued to preach in Kaskaskia and in the Irish settlement and among the Covenanters, until the arrival of William Edgar and Samuel Little, when the first session was constituted, May 24, 1819, at James McClurken’s, about six miles southwest of Sparta.  William Edgar had been ordained to the eldership in the Rocky Creek congregation, South Carolina, in 1801, and Samuel Little in Hephzibah congregation, Tennessee, at its organization in the spring of 1815.

This may be reckoned the formal organization of Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church.  It is thought by some that the first communion was held at that time.

A call was made soon after for Rev. J. Wylie and forwarded to Synod to meet in Conococheague on August, 1819.  The call itself bears not date, but the letter accompanying it bears date June 7, 1819, and is signed on behalf of the meeting by James Wilson and Samuel Little.

The letter urges the acceptance of the call strongly and skillfully.  Synod referred the call to the Western Presbytery, and at a meeting of that court held in Hartford, Indiana, October 11, 1819, it was presented and accepted, and the Rev. John Kell appointed to install Mr. Wylie as pastor.  For some reason the installation did not take place.

Presbytery met in Bethel congregation in the spring of 1820.  The question of Mr. Wylie’s settlement was again brought up, but it was deemed best to wait another year.  At this time a communion was held at Samuel Little’s, and James Munford and James McClurken were added to the session; the former had been an elder in South Carolina; the latter was formerly a member of the Associate Reformed church, and having joined the Covenanters in 18109, was chosen and ordained to the fellowship at this time.

A second call was made out for Mr. Wylie, May 22, 1821.  It was signed by thirty-five members, who subscribed $208 for his support.  The names on the call show the financial but not the numerical strength of the congregation.  It is probably that the number of the membership at this time was about seventy.  The call was presented to Presbytery on the 24th of May, and at length accepted, Mr. Wylie agreeing to give the congregation half his time, leaving the other half to be employed in mission work.  He was installed pastor on the 28th of May, 1821, over the congregation which he had gathered in the field where he had labored nearly three years as a missionary.

At the division of the Church in August, 1833, he became identified with the New School branch of the Covenanter Church, and many of his former flock remained with him, over whom he exercised pastoral charge until his resignation, on account of the infirmities of age, February 20, 1870. He died at his home in Sparta, Illinois, March 20, 1872. He married twice. First to Miss Margaret Millikin, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; second, to Mrs. Margaret (Black) Ewing, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was a faithful soldier of the Cross, and did much service for his Master in establishing His kingdom upon earth. He was a very acceptable preacher, and, in early times, large audiences of people waited upon his ministrations. He was not a bitter partisan, but always recognized the step which the body had taken with which he was connected. He was a fearless advocate for the cause of the slave, and enlisted the powers of his voice and pen in their emancipation. He served his Church in many important relations, and was recognized as a man of influence, and an able divine.  He published a “History of the Reformed Presbyterian Churches in Southern Illinois,” in the Presbyterian Historical Almanac, 1859. He was honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Washington and Jefferson College in 1868. Rev. Wylie served as Moderator of the 14th Synod in 1830, and later as Moderator of the General Synod in 1850.

Words to Live By:
Reading such accounts, one is struck by the level of hardship and willing sacrifice routinely exhibited by dear saints of a century or two ago. Where is our sacrifice today? What hardships are we willing to bear for the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ? I’m not suggesting that we impose some artifical hardship upon ourselves. That would be a form of asceticism. But I am suggesting that we discipline ourselves to be alert to the needs around us. Learn the discipline of looking to serve others, to be sacrificial of our time, and if needed, of our physical resources as well. But the greatest need is often met by simply being willing to give of ourselves.

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The Glory of Christian Fellowship

As the Rev. Dr. William Buell Sprague worked to compile biographies of American pastors, he solicited submissions from other pastors. The famous Princeton Seminary professor Samuel Miller submitted a number of such recollections and among them, this eulogy on the life of the Rev. Alexander McLeod, a most remarkable Reformed Presbyterian pastor. Dr. McLeod died in 1833, the year that the Reformed Presbyterian denomination split. In that division, McLeod’s son, John Niel McLeod, sided with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod, a denomination which later merged with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church [1956-1965] to form the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES), and the RPCES merged in with the PCA in 1982, thus making all of that history a part of the history of the PCA :—

Neagle-Sartain portraitFROM THE REV. SAMUEL MILLER, D.D.

Theological Seminary, Princeton. January 30,1849.

Rev. and dear Sir : In thinking of the appropriate subjects of the large work on Clerical Biography in  which you have  for some time been engaged, I of course expected you to include a notice of the life and character of the late Alexander McLeod, D.D., of the city of New York.  Few names among the departed have a higher claim to a place in your list, than the name of that distinguished divine.  When, therefore, I was requested, as one who had enjoyed the privilege of an early acquaintance and friendship with him, to make my humble contribution towards embalming his memory, I felt as if an honour had been conferred upon me, which I could not too promptly or cor­dially acknowledge.

You will no doubt be furnished from another source with all the desirable historical notices concerning his nativity, his education, and the leading events of his literary and ecclesiastical life. On these, therefore, I shall not dwell ; but shall content myself with merely stating my general impressions and esti­mate of his character, as a Man and as a Minister of the Gospel.

mcleod01My acquaintance with Dr. McLeod commenced in the year 1801, soon after he had accepted a pastoral charge in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the city of New York, where I then resided. I had never before heard of him; but my first interview with him gave him a place in my mind seldom assigned to one so youthful.  His countenance beaming at once with intelligence and benevolence, his attractive manners and his conversation, though marked with a modesty becoming his age, yet abounding in evidence of intellectual vigour and unusual literary culture, mature theological knowledge and decided piety, made an impression on me which I shall never forget. This impression was confirmed and deepened by all my subsequent intercourse with him.

At the period of which I speak, there was a Clerical Association in the city of New York, which was in the habit of meeting on Monday morning of each week. This Association comprehended most of the ministers of the different Presbyterian denominations in the city. The exercises consisted of prayer, conversation, both general and prescribed, and reading compositions on impor­tant subjects. In this delightful Association I was so happy as to enjoy, for ten or twelve years, the privilege of meeting with Dr. McLeod weekly, and seeing him in company and conversation with the Pastors venerable for their age and standing, in that day; and I must say that the longer I continued to make one of the attendants on those interviews, the higher became my esti­mate of his various accomplishments as a Scholar, a Christian, and a Divine.

Dr. McLeod had a remarkably clear, logical and comprehensive mind. As a Preacher, he greatly excelled.  For, although he seldom wrote his sermons, and never read them in public, yet they were uncommonly rich and instruc­tive, and at the same time animated, solemn, and touching, in their appeals to the conscience and the heart.  As a Writer, his printed works are no less honourable to his memory. His Lectures on the Prophecies, his Sermons on the War of 1812, and his Discourses on the Life and Power of true Godliness, to say nothing of other publications of real value, though of minor size, all evince the richly furnished Theologian, the sound Divine, and the experimen­tal Christian, as well as the polished and able Writer. So great indeed was his popularity in the city of New York, far beyond the bounds of his own ecclesiastical denomination, that several of the most wealthy and respectable churches in the city, in succession, invited him to take the pastoral office over them.  His attachment, however, to that branch of the Presbyterian Body in which he began his ministerial career, was so strong that he never could be persuaded to leave her communion.

After I left New York, on my removal to Princeton, in the year 1813, I rarely visited the city, and almost always in the most transient manner, so that, after that year, I seldom saw Dr. McLeod. I had only two or three short interviews with him at different and distant intervals. In a few years his health became impaired, and not long after so fatally undermined, that he exchanged his ministry on earth for the higher enjoyments and rewards of the sanctuary above.  In the retrospect of my life, I often call to mind the image of this beloved and cherished friend, and dwell upon his memory as that of a great and good man, from my intercourse with whom I am conscious of having derived solid advantage as well as much pleasure.  But I, too, must soon ” put off this tabernacle,” and then I trust we shall be re-united in a better world, and be permitted to study and to enjoy together, to all eternity, the wonders and the glories of that redeeming love, which I have so often heard him exhibit with feeling and with power while he was with us.

That  you  and I, my dear Sir, may be more and more prepared  for that blessedness, is the unfeigned prayer of your friend and brother in Christ,

SAMUEL

Words to Live By:
What a wonderful privilege and gift is the fellowship that Christians share with one another. Cultivate it wherever you can, and don’t neglect it. It is a beautiful fruit of our union with Christ, that in our belonging to the Savior, so we belong to one another and share with one another all the joys and all the trials of this life. More than that, we share in our common love of a Savior who first loved us and died for us, that we might have fellowship with Him throughout all eternity. Beloved, pray for one another. Pray particularly for your brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer daily because of the salvation which is found in Jesus Christ alone.

For Further Study:
One of Rev. McLeod’s more notable works, Negro Slavery Unjustifiable, is posted on the PCA Historical Center web site in PDF format. This same text is available elsewhere on the Internet, but this particular edition faithfully retains the pagination of the original 1802 printing line for line, and may be used for citations. Additionally, annotations have been added in a light gray text to illuminate some of Rev. McLeod’s references.

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Did you know, that in a manner of speaking, the official archives of the Presbyterian Church in America—the PCA Historical Center—began with a devastating fire?!

Let me explain. The PCA Historical Center began its existence in January of 1985. At that time the PCA did not have central offices for its agencies, so the president of Covenant Theological Seminary, Dr. Will Barker, offered to host the newly founded archives. The PCA had just a few years before received another denominationthe Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES)and with that merger, Covenant College and Covenant Seminary both became PCA schools. It made sense to put the Historical Center at the Seminary, too, because the RPCES archives were already there.

But back to that fire: The RPCES was itself a merger of two denominations, a merger which took place in April of 1965. One wing of that merger was the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, so named between 1961-1965. Prior to that it had been named the Bible Presbyterian Church, Columbus Synod [1956-1960]. This was the larger portion of a split of the old Bible Presbyterian Church [1938-1955]. The other side of the merger creating the RPCES was the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod [1833-1965]. This group was also one portion of a prior split, the other side being the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. That latter group is still with us, and they are the denomination that operates Geneva College.

“So where’s the fire?”

duanesburgNY_02I’m getting to that (It takes patience to be a Presbyterian!): The General Synod, or “New Light” RP’s were a denomination that began shrinking in numbers during the last part of the 19th-century and the first part of the 20th. At their low point, there were only nine General Synod churches. Then, around the 1940’s and 1950’s, with the addition of some new pastors, they began to plant new churches. By the time of that 1965 merger, there were twenty-eight RP, General Synod churches. One of their oldest churches was located in Duanesburg, New York. It had been founded in 1795 [and still exists today, as a member congregation of the PCA]. The pastor of the Duanesburg church was one of the older RP pastors. It was he who almost single-handedly held the little denomination together in the first half of the 20th-century, serving as Stated Clerk and editor of a small denominational magazine, The Reformed Presbyterian Advocate.

Rev. Chesnut finally retired as pastor in 1942, but he could already see the Lord’s blessing and that the little denomination was actually starting to grow again. That meant it was important that future generations should know their history; they needed to know where they came from as a denomination; they needed to be reminded of the convictions, hopes and prayers of their founding fathers. If these things were preserved, then they would have a guiding standard for the future. And so Rev. Chesnut devoted much of his retirement years to building an archives for the General Synod group. He put out a call to other members of the denomination, soliciting donations of various materials. Notices like this began to appear in their various publications:

We have added some more valuable material to our collection of books and other literature, and added more case room and are now ready to receive antiques or valuable historical matter for the benefit of the coming generation. Have you anything to spare that would soon be lost, or valuable to the church for future reference? It will be in safe keeping for years to come. What we want, may be of no value to you, but very valuable to others in later years.

Slowly the collection began to develop. As added materials arrived, they were carefully stored away at the Duanesburg church by Rev. Chesnut. Then it was all lost in one night, when fire destroyed the church building. Rev. Harry Meiners, pastor of the church at the time of the fire, gave this account:

It was early evening, December 16, 1951. We were just getting our Sabbath evening supper on the table when Miss Bertha Wilber and Miss Charlotte Knowles burst into our front door with the exclamation: “Did you hear the fire siren? Our church is afire!” I believe I made the fastest trip from home to church that I had ever made.
When I arrived the fire was just breaking through the west windows and the firemen were fighting the flames. My first thought was to save something, especially having in mind the Historical Repository. As I opened the front door and tried to go in, the smoke drove me back and made it impossible to go in to get anything. Two other men had previously tried to get in, but were prevented by smoke.
A few minutes later the fire company ran out of water. In the country the trucks carry a tank of water and whenever possible pump water from a well or fire-pond. Neither was available near the church, so after the water supply in the tanks was exhausted there was nothing more that could be done. Firemen, church members, neighbors could only stand helplessly watching it burn. Our church, built in 1837, which we loved so well and had started to redecorate, was burned to the ground. There was nothing left standing but the chimney we had erected a short time ago.
As I left the scene to break the news to Dr. Chesnut, I went with a heavy heart. I was afraid the news would be a very great blow for him. But I was wrong—he encouraged me and immediately began talking about building a new church. His words: “Don’t be discouraged, Mr. Meiners, and tell the people not to be discouraged. With God’s help we can do anything,” are still ringing in my ears.

So, those things that were lost in the Duanesburg fire, had they been saved, would eventually have come to be part of the RPCES archives, and then later, with the Joining and Receiving of the RPCES in 1982, would again have become part of the PCA archives in 1985.
And that’s why I said that, in a manner of speaking, the PCA archives began with a devastating fire.

Words to Live By:
On December 23, following the fire, Rev. Meiners preached before his congregation from the text of Philippians 1:12—”But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel.” And so he concluded, “This is our prayer, that our calamity will be a means in God’s hands to further the Gospel of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”

As Christians, we must pray in this way, even though we perhaps only rarely know why the Lord allowed somethings to happen they way they did. As to archival collections, we work to preserve these things for so long as the Lord will allow. They are not forever, but for so long as we have them, they stand as a testimony to how the Lord has been at work among this small portion of His Church. In all things, may God be glorified!

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An Abiding Testimony

What can one person do to stem the tide of evil? What effect can a solitary individual have upon those around them, upon the times and the reigning culture? A great effect, as it turns out, and an abiding testimony, as well, if the Lord is in it. As John Knox said, “A man with God is always in the majority.”

mcleod01Alexander McLeod was born on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, on June 12, 1774, to godly parents. His father, the Rev. Niel McLeod, was a noted pastor in the Church of Scotland, and his mother “a woman of fine mind, solid sense, and fervent piety.” Alexander was among the youngest of twelve children born to this family, eight of whom lived to adulthood.

Devoted to the ministry from his birth, he had already received a competent education by the time that he immigrated to America in the spring of 1792.  Arriving in New York, he moved up along the Hudson to settle in the area near Schenectady, and graduated from Union College in 1798. Here he also joined a Reformed Presbyterian congregation and studied theology under the tutelage of the Rev. James McKinney. He was licensed in 1799, and on the eve of his ordination a year later, was informed that he would be called to a yoked pastorate, to concurrently serve congregations in Coldenham and New York City. But upon hearing that there were slave-holders among the Coldenham congregation, McLeod declared that he would not serve that congregation.

With the matter now brought before the Presbytery, they quickly determined to purge the Reformed Presbyterian section of the Church of the evil of slavery, and enacted a declaration that no slaveholder could be a member in good standing of the denomination. When the Reformed Presbyterian congregation in Rocky Creek, South Carolina, was later informed of the decision, in stunning obedience, they freed their slaves at a cost of not less than three thousand guineas, an amount equal to perhaps $500,000 in today’s value of gold.

For his part, a year or so later, Rev. McLeod wrote an historic explanation and defense of his position in the treatise commonly known as Negro Slavery Unjustifiable.  And his stand against slavery continued to ripple down through history. While Rev. McLeod died in New York on February 17, 1833—the same year that the Reformed Presbyterians split into New Light and Old Light factions—both sides of the split continued to uphold his testimony. Reformed Presbyterians of both stripes were active in opposing slavery and both were active participants with the underground railroad before and during the War.

Some years later, the Old Light “Covenanters” (as they were also known), established a bi-racial church in Selma, Alabama, with an attached school for African Americans. Both the church and Knox Academy continue to this day. Lawrence Bottoms, a covenant child of this church, grew up to become the first African American moderator of General Assembly in the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern Presbyterian). More recently, a seminary extension work has also begun at this location.

Words to Live By:
In Christ alone, God has given His children everything they need to live lives of righteousness and courage (Romans 8:31-39). We are called to stand for the truth, and to stand against sin, regardless of the cost. We are called to trust God for the results. It is only as we live in this way that we can be assured of having an abiding testimony before all the world. Remember, “A man with God is always in the majority.”

For Further Reading:
Memoir of Alexander McLeod, by Samuel B. Wylie (1855). Chapter four of this work tells more of the story about Rev. McLeod’s stand against slavery.
The McLeod Family Papers are preserved at the University of Delaware.

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A Casualty of D-Day

The following account comes from THE INDEPENDENT BOARD BULLETIN, Vol. 10, no. 10 (October 1944): 4-7. This was (and is) the newsletter of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH

dieffenbacherAJIn the falling of the Reverend Arthur Johnston Dieffenbacher on the battlefields of Normandy, July 5, 1944, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions has lost its first and one of its best missionaries by death. Few details are known even at this writing but in Arthur Dieffenbacher’s passing his family, the Board, China and a host of friends have sustained a very great loss; yet we know that God’s people should view all things from the standpoint of eternity and therefore we can rest assured that God Who knows all things “doeth all things well.”

Arthur Dieffenbacher was born in Titusville, Pa., April 29, 1909; and thus was but a little over thirty-five years of age when the Lord called him home. His early years were spent at Erie, Pa. where he was graduated from high school at the early age of fifteen. Two years of college work at Erie followed, and two years later in 1927 he was graduated from Grove City College. In 1931 he finished his theological education at Dallas Theological Seminary, with a Master’s degree in his possession and also credit toward a post-graduate Doctor’s degree. He had proved himself precocious during his school days, but he was also in advance of his years in the things of the Lord, his deep interest in these things showing itself, for instance, in his spending the first night of his college life away from home in a prayer meeting with a group which was destined to aid him greatly to the clear insight into God’s word which his later years so fully exhibited.

In September, 1932, Mr. Dieffenbacher was appointed a missionary of the China Inland Mission and in company with his intimate friend John Stam, who himself was destined to become a martyr, soon left for China. There, after language study and a brief period of work in Changteh, Hunan Province, he met in 1934 Miss Junia White, daughter of Dr. Hugh W. White, editor of The China Fundamentalist. Miss White and he were soon engaged, but because of illness and other causes they were not married until June 1938, joining at about the same time also and with the good wishes of the China Inland Mission, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions with the principles and purposes of which both were in full sympathy.

dieffenbacherMrMrs_1940All the years spent in China were filled with adventure which included a flight from Chinese communists in 1935; and the summer of 1938 saw battles raging all around Kuling where Miss White and Mr. Dieffenbacher had been married. Indeed China had been engaged for a whole year then in the war which was to engulf eventually so many lands and was, for Arthur Dieffenbacher, to end so tragically upon the battlefields of Nor­mandy. On their way from Kuling this young bride and groom had to pass through the battle zone, just behind the fighting lines, but God gave them protection and enabled Arthur even then to point a sore-wounded and dying Chinese lad, a soldier, to Christ as the Lamb of God who was slain for our sins.

This trip led to Harbin, Manchuria, the “Manchukuo” of the Japa­nese, where two years of happy, fruitful work ensued, years which saw the beginning of what despite the hardness of the soil of that great cos­mopolitan city might have developed into a much greater work had it not been for the tyranny of Japan and the war which was so soon to bring to an end so much Christian work both in the Japanese empire and in China. In the testings of those years in regard to Shinto and the Japanese demands upon Christians Arthur and his wife remained faithful.

In the summer of 1940, after eight years in China, Mr. Dieffenbacher returned to America with his wife on furlough. There on June 19, 1941, a little daughter, Sara Junia, was born. As war conditions were gradually spreading it was thought that Mr. Dieffenbacher ought to return alone to Manchuria and so passport and passage were obtained but ere he could sail the events of December 7, 1941, compelled all such plans to be abandoned for the time being, and as it proved in Arthur’s case, forever.

In America Mr. Dieffenbacher proved to be a good and effective mis­sionary speaker. He also rendered efficient aid at his Board’s headquarters in Philadelphia. Later he held a brief pastorate in the Bible Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati, Ohio. But when the American Council of Christian Churches obtained for its member Churches a quota of Army chaplaincies, Mr. Dieffenbacher applied for a chaplaincy and was appointed and joined the Army on July 18, 1943.

In the Army Arthur Dieffenbacher won recognition for two things. For one, he took with his men, for example, the whole system of training including the dangerous and difficult “infiltration” course and other things which were not required of chaplains, but which he did that by all means he might win some. This ambition to win men to Christ was the second notable trait of which we speak. Indeed it showed itself not alone while he was in the Army but also throughout all his life. He always preached to convince, convert and win. On his way to England with his unit he with two other God-fearing chaplains, won eighty-four men to Christ. A brief letter home, mentioning this asked, “Isn’t that great?” Truly it was great and not merely in the opinion of his friends, we believe, but also in the sight of the Lord. Some of his friends are praying that from among those eighty-four after the war some may volunteer to take Arthur Dieffenbacher’s place in China. God is able to bring such things to pass.

The time from April to June 24, 1944, was spent in England. There, too, Arthur Dieffenbacher was constantly on the search for souls and also for that which would bring inspiration to his men and to his family and friends at home. Some of the poems he found and sent home testify at once to his love for good poetry and for the things of the spirit, especially for the things of the Lord. He believed thoroughly that he was in God’s will. He longed to see his wife and child and mother again but assured them that “no good thing would the Lord withhold from them that walk uprightly.” He rejoiced in full houses of soldiers to whom to preach the Gospel of salvation. He was often tired after a long day of duties done, but preached and lived that we are “More than Conquerors” through Christ. With it all he learned to sew on buttons and patches and to wash his own clothes and his good humor bubbled over into his letters when he said, “Oh, boy, you should see the result!” Up at the front large at­tendances at services were the rule, men searching for help, for strength, for God, as they faced the foe. Perhaps a premonition was felt of what was to come. He wrote, “There are so many chances of getting hurt in war or in peace that which one affects you is by God’s permission. Hence I don’t worry, but take all reasonable precautions and trust the rest to God. His will is best and His protection sufficient.” On July 3, he wondered how they would celebrate the Fourth, and knew not that on the morrow of that day he would celebrate humbly but joyfully in the Presence of God. When killed by German artillery fire his body was recovered by his senior chaplain, Chaplain Blitch, and later an impressive funeral service was held.

“Faithful unto death” are words which characterized the whole life of Arthur Dieffenbacher. The realization of that fact brings an added meas­ure of consolation to his mother, Mrs. Mildred J. Dieffenbacher, to his wife and will, in time, to his little three-year-old daughter as she comes to understand what her father was and what he did. It brings consolation also to The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions and to all his friends. But as Arthur Dieffenbacher himself would have been the first to say, all he was and did he owed to Christ in whom he was called, chosen and empowered and made faithful till that day when surely he heard the welcome “well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

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On the Value of History

stewartAMAt the time of his decease, the Rev. Alexander Morrison Stewart, D.D. was serving as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Chico, Butte county, California. He died in that town on Wednesday morning, February 24, 1875. Dr. Stewart was born in Lawrence county, Pennsylvania on January 22, 1814. He graduated at Franklin College, in New Athens, Ohio at an early age, and immediately commenced the study of theology under the Pittsburgh Reformed Presbytery, and was licensed to preach in December, 1841, after which he traveled extensively in the interests of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, through the Middle, Southern and Western States.

The winter of 1844-45 he spent in attending divinity lectures under the late Dr. Samuel Brown Wylie, and medical lectures at Jefferson College, in Philadelphia.  In 1845 he became pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Chicago, which charge he resigned in 1855 on account of ill health.  His next charge was the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, which he left at the breaking out of the war, to enter the army as chaplain. He remained in active service in the army of the Potomac until the war was over.  After the close of the war, he accepted the united charge of East Whiteland and Reeseville Churches, in Chester county, Pennsylvania, and, in 1869, with a transfer of his ministerial credentials, went to the Pacific coast as district secretary of the Board of Home Missions for the PCUSA.  In 1870 he became pastor of the Gilroy Presbyterian Church [PCUSA], from which, in June of 1874, he accepted a call to the First Presbyterian Church of Chico, which charge he held up to the time of his death.

Dr. Stewart was an impressive preacher, a patriotic citizen, and an earnest worker in the cause of Christ.

[Adapted from The Reformed Presbyterian Advocate, 9.4 (April 1875): 141.]

Elsewhere, Joel Beeke has stressed the value of reading sermons. The text presented below is from the opening of Rev. Stewart’s sermon titled simply Historical Sermon. This sermon was delivered in 1850 while he was the pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian church in Chicago, and his purpose in the sermon is to present a brief overview of the Reformed Presbyterian denomination. Perhaps we can present more of this sermon at another time; but for now, this is just the opening paragraph:

“Historical Sermon”

“History connects the present with the past, and enables us to profit by every advance man has made in his civil and ecclesiastical relations. No good accomplished has ever been finally lost. No right principle once developed has entirely disappeared. The province of history is to collect and arrange these; that, with the acquisitions of the past, joined to the energies of the present, civil society and especially the church of God may move confidently on to their high destiny. Nor is it without advantage to mark the errors and failures to which men have been subject, if by so doing we shall be better able to avoid the reefs on which they broke. Were history made more frequently the subject of pulpit exhibition, how different would be the interest and edification of the hearers to that produced by many of the shabby as well as tinselled modern productions. The most eloquent and instructive discourses on record consist of a simple narration of events. When Judah would interest the ruler of Egypt in behalf of the lad, his younger brother, his unvarnished rehearsal of facts has moved many an eye to tears. Paul’s masterly defence before Agrippa was a recital of God’s promises and dealings with His chosen Israel; and Stephen’s dying eloquence–an historical discourse–silenced every argument of his opponents save that of violence.”

[emphasis added]

Words to Live By:
It is a commonplace to acknowledge that Americans are a people with little regard or appreciation for history. I don’t think that was the case in the early years of this nation, and I wonder if the declining regard for history runs parallel with the declining influence of the Church in general. Rev. Stewart’s conclusion, shown above in bold, accords perfectly with the lesson of John Flavel’s book The Mystery of Providence, where he demonstrates how frequently the Scriptures call us to remember God’s works, both His work of redemption and His works of providence. Christians should be a history-minded people, and how different the Church would be, if only we made a practice of daily remembering what God has done for us in His Son.

Image source: Photo from A History of the Pittsburgh Washington Infantry, by John H. Niebaum. Pittsburgh: Burgum Printing Co., 1931, pg. 114.

A photo of the Rev. Stewart’s grave can be viewed here.

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