Rome

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Our candidates for this date are few, and information is sparse. Today’s entry comes largely from Alfred Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church, with some additional details provided by the Biographical Catalogue of the Princeton Theological Seminary.

George Smith Boardman was born at Albany, New York on December 28, 1796. He graduated at Union College in 1816, and entered Princeton Seminary that same year, later graduating there in 1819. His time at Princeton Seminary would have been during those years when Dr. Archibald Alexander and Dr. Samuel Miller were the only professors serving at the young Seminary; Dr. Alexander being the first professor in 1812 and Dr. Miller joining him a year later in 1813. Charles Hodge did not join the faculty until 1822.

Third Presbyterian Church (Old Pine Street)After receiving license to preach the gospel, George Boardman spent about two years preaching from place to place in Ohio and Kentucky, which was then the “Far West.” He was ordained by the Presbytery of St. Lawrence on July 26, 1821 and was installed as pastor of the Presbyterian church at Watertown, New York, where he served for sixteen years. In 1837 he accepted a call to the Bethel Presbyterian church of Rochester, New York, where he remained six years, excepting a period of six months in 1842, when he labored at Columbus, Ohio in connection with a revival, and then supplied for a while the Third (or Pine Street) Church in Philadelphia.

Pictured at right, Third Presbyterian church, Philadelphia, PA.

In 1843 he took charge of the Second Presbyterian Church at Rome, New York, which he left in 1847, to enter upon a short pastorate at Cherry Valley, New York. At the latter place he remained until 1850, when he accepted a call to the Church at Cazenovia, New York.  This pastorate extended to 1865, a period of nearly fifteen years. At the end of this time impaired health required his release. After his health was restored he eagerly engaged in preaching, either as an occasional or stated supply. For longer or shorter periods he filled the pulpits of the First Presbyterian Church of Rome, as well as the Presbyterian churches in Ogdensburg and Little Falls, all in New York. He died in Cazenovia, New York, on February 7, 1877.

In 1858, during the time that he was serving as the pastor of the Presbyterian church at Cazenovia, the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred on Rev. Boardman by Madison University in New York (now Colgate University).

Words to Live By:
Just the facts, ma’am. Looking over what is known of Rev. Boardman’s life, we don’t have available the usual details that would add life and vibrancy to the story. Just the bare details.  Most of us seemingly just plug away at our calling in life, with little hoopla or ceremony. Occasionally we might enjoy an honor or two in life. But for the most part, we simply do our part and trust the Lord that our lives will matter, for His glory and for the good of others. And God has given us this confidence, that our lives do matter: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).

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Stepping outside of American Presbyterian history for a moment, here is an interesting interpretation as to how persecution worked to the advance of the Church in at least one chapter of church history. This particular passage is also a masterful summary of early Presbyterian history, drawn from the late 19th-century volume, Presbyterians, by George P. Hays (1892), pp. 42-44 :

Through the sixteenth century a few adventurers were settling in America, and stable institutions came with the seventeenth to attract the attention of European Protestants as they searched for some refuge from the persecuting power which they could not resist in France, could not fight in Spain, played see-saw with in England, overthrew in Germany, and displaced in Holland and Scotland.

France
Theodore BezaIf there had been no persecution in Europe, and the Protestant Church could have had freedom from state interference to fight its own battle before the general reason and conscience, the emigrants to America would perhaps have been more like the first settlers in California, or the first inhabitants in a new oil town. As it was, the intellectual conflict and the physical struggle came on together and intensified each other. Huguenot Synods were held in France, and then suppressed, and then re-allowed. The first regularly organized [Protestant] church [in France] was that of Paris, whose people elected John le Macon pastor, and had a board of elders and deacons, in 1555. In 1559 the first National Synod was held, and according to Calvin’s advice a regular system of Appellate Courts was organized. In September, 1561, Theodore Beza at the head of twelve Protestant ministers made their plea before royalty. It was claimed that there were then more than two thousand churches and stations. The origin of the name “Huguenot” is not known, but it is believed to have been at first a nickname which grew to honor by the character and conduct of its wearers. They had a stormy history. Francis I. was their enemy. Charles IX. (an effeminate boy in the hands of the Medicis) massacred them at St. Bartholomew. Henry IV., at heart a Huguenot, was a brave soldier and a brilliant man, but he turned Catholic for policy’s sake, and yet protected the Huguenots by issuing the Edict of Nantes. then followed Louis XIII. and Richelieu and Louis XIV. and the revocation of the edict of toleration in 1685. These last events came in the seventeenth century. The sixteenth century had demonstrated the advantage of Protestant emigration, and the seventeenth made it compulsory.

dortHolland
In Holland the struggle was between Protestantism and Phillip II. of Spain. These were the days of the Duke of Alva and William the Silent. To save their religion and their homes and drive out the Spaniards, the Dutch cut the dykes and submerged their farms beneath the sea. But through all this suffering they were organizing a people and defending a country that should, in time, give to the world the Protestant and Presbyterian results of the Synod of Dort. That Synod was the nearest to an interdenominational and ecumenical Synod of any held for the forming of Reformation creeds. It was called to decide the controversy between Arminianism and Calvinism; but the selection of the members made it a foregone conclusion that it would condemn Arminius and support the doctrine of Calvin. As a result the “Canons of Dort” are accepted everywhere as good Augustinian theology, and the Reformed Dutch Church of America, both in the earliest time and in the modern, is thoroughly and soundly Presbyterian. The early Dutch immigrants to this country brought with them their names of Consistory, Classis and Synod, with both ministerial and lay delegates, and between them and the Presbyterians there have never been any controversies in either theology or church government.

England
But the main center of American interest in European Presbyterians is found in England. Henry VIII. had married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon. She was a kinswoman of Philip II. of Spain, and Philip and his nation were close friends of the Pope. When, then, the fickle, handsome, headstrong, and licentious Henry wanted to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn, he easily found his English bishops and universities ready to declare his marriage to his brother’s widow unlawful, but he found it very difficult, for political reasons, to get the Pope so to declare against that marriage that he might thereafter have a non-Catholic wife, and that Mary, his daughter by Catherine, should be an illegitimate child.

Henry cut the knot by declaring himself the head of the Church of England, and the English Church in no possible way subject to Rome. During all this time Protestant doctrines were spreading among the people, and this seemed to open an easy solution. But pure religion in England was not what Henry wanted. He and all the Tudors wanted to have their own way, without interference from parliament or the Church or the people. After the birth of Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn was beheaded to make way for the third of Henry’s six wives. The king now had two female children, one a Romanist and the other a Protestant. When he died, in 1547, he left Edward VI. by Jane Seymour, only nine years old, but an astonishingly precocious Protestant king.

knox_card03Under Edward the effort to reform the Church went on vigorously, but everybody was debating, as the chief point of controversy, “What is the scriptural form of government?” John Knox had been a private tutor for Hugh Douglas of Longniddry. The excitement occasioned by the martyrdom of Hamilton and Wishart turned his attention to Protestantism. St. Andrews is a picturesque city, rich in traditions from the Culdee period. At the call of the congregation of that city, Knox began preaching. With the capture of the castle of St. Andrews, Knox was sent a prisoner to the French galleys. After his release he, at one time, became Court preacher for Edward VI.

Romanism, Episcopacy, Presbyterianism, and Independency were now up for discussion. The controversy between Protestantism and Catholicism, under Bloody Mary, made all England a charnel house. Mary [Henry VIII.’s first daughter] was a Tudor and a Spaniard and a Roman Catholic; and the task of bringing back the British Islands under the control of the Pope of Rome was the one religious ambition of her life. How far her relentless persecutions [thus her nickname] were made more relentless by the sadness of her natural disposition, the want of an heir to the throne by her Spanish husband, her residence in England while her alienated husband lived in Spain, and her final loss of Calais, that last remnant of English territory on the Continent, may be hard to decide; but her persecutions filled Geneva, and all European Protestant cities, with English refugees and raised everywhere the question of some land where Protestants could have freedom. Just as she was moving, apparently, toward the destruction of her Protestant sister Elizabeth, Mary died.

[more from Dr. Hays next week!]

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ClarkGHGordon Haddon Clark was born on this day, August 31st, in 1902. We have written of him previously, but today present a sermon delivered by Dr. Clark in 1947. This message was delivered over WLW, Cincinnati, on the “Church by the Side of the Road” program, Sunday, November 2, 1947. It was subsequently published in THE WITNESS, a magazine published by the Rev. Richard Gray. [Note: If you have old issues of this magazine, I’d love to hear from you!]

Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit|
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the world, and all our woe,
Sing heavenly Muse
. . .”

Hath God Said?

WITH these sonorous phrases, the immortal poet Milton began his great work, Paradise Lost. It was from the opening chapters of the Bible that Milton took his theme.

God had created Adam and Eve perfectly righteous and had given them the well-watered garden of Eden for their enjoyment. The delicious fruits of all the trees were theirs to eat, with but one exception. God commanded them not to eat of that one tree.

Then Satan in the form of a serpent came to tempt Eve. He began by asking her this question: “Hath God said?”

Of course if God had not said, if God had given no commandment to Adam and Eve, then there would have been no reason to abstain from eating of that tree. What Adam and Eve were to do and what they were not to do, depended on what God had said.

Later on in the Bible we read how God spoke to the children of Israel from the thundering crags of Mount Sinai. There God said: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain . . . Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy . Thou shalt not steal . . .”

Considering the disobedience of the Israelites on many occasions, we may imagine that Satan came to them also and asked, “Hath God said?” Of course, if God had not said, Remember the Sabbath day; if God had not commanded, Thou shalt not steal; there would have been no reason to obey. What the Israelites were to do and what they were not to do, depended on what God said.

Today there are multitudes of people who care nothing for these commandments. During the war the armed forces were incredibly profane. In this era of so-called peace, few people remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Juvenile delinquency shows that one, or more likely two, generations have not honored their fathers and mothers. The world has seen not only murders but massacres. Unfortunately, adultery and divorce are so common as to have eaten away the moral fiber of our nation. And stealing goes on, if not in one form, then in another.

But, after all, why should one keep the Sabbath? Why shouldn’t one enjoy adultery and profanity on occasion? Why not get what you can while the getting is good? Hath God said?

Our conduct, so many people affirm, is not to be hampered by ancient traditions. The Ten Commandments may have been good enough for a bygone age; but today we have evolved a new code of ethics and we must conform to the morals of our age and our society.

Maybe there is a God, and maybe there isn’t. It is hard to say. But even if there is a God, he is not the tribal deity of the ancient Jews. The Old Testament is folk lore and superstition. We live today and we must follow the ways of the society in which we live.

This is the teaching that has permeated the educated classes of our country. The sociology departments in our colleges, the psychologists, the philosophers, and the schools of education insist that it is the society in which one Jives that sets the standards of conduct.

The aborigines of Australia have their code of ethics. The tribes of central Africa have another code. American society requires its type of conduct and Chinese society sets different norms. No society can impose its mores on another. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The particular society is the supreme judge.

Now, it happens that society changes, in fact, American society has changed considerably in the last century.

When our grandparents were alive, an accusation of immorality was a serious charge. Later on it became smart to be immoral. Today, however, immorality is too common even to be smart. People no longer use the idea of immorality to indicate blame or the idea of morality to indicate praise. Morality is old fashioned. Instead of these ideas, if a serious accusation is to be made against someone, he is called anti-social. The worst thing to say of a man today is to say that he is anti-social. We no longer listen for the voice of God; we pay attention to the demands of society. Society, the society in which we live, is the supreme judge of our conduct.

But if this modern humanistic theory is true, several interesting conclusions follow. When in Rome do as the Romans do, they say. Conform to the society in which you live. If this be good advice, then was it not right and good for Germans under Hitler to massacre the Jews? If society establishes the rules of conduct, an anti-semitic society justifies anti-semitic conduct. It was not Hitler’s lieutenants, it was not Goering and Goebels who were anti-social; it was Pastor Niemoeller who was anti-social. That was why he was put into a concentration camp. He did not conform to the code of society. Similarly, just before the Protestant Reformation the city of Florence was licentious and gay. Savonarola appeared and rebuked them for their sins. Savonarola was anti-social, and they burned him at the stake. Society was the judge.

And why should not society be the judge, if God has not spoken? Why isn’t anti-semitism right and good, if God has not siad, Thou shalt not kill? If God has not spoken, why should not society murder those who disagree with it?

Niemoeller was anti-social because he believed God had commanded. The Apostle Paul was killed because he believed that God was superior to society. And Jesus Christ was perhaps the most anti-social person who ever lived.

Hath God said? If God has not said, then profanity, murdcr, adultery, theft are all right wherever these actions are customary.

But as for me, 1 do not believe this godless humanism; I do not approve the conduct it produces. I believe that God has spoken. Only on the basis of what God has said can morality be justified. Only on this basis can individual murderers and political massacres be condemned. Only if God has spoken can the old fashioned American principles of freedom challenge the modern forces of a tyrannical society. Only if God has spoken can we have hope in this life and eternal joy in the life to come.

Has God spoken? Yes, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son,” the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever, world without end. Amen.

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Do you own the Sanquhar Declaration?  That question would be asked again and again by the authorities in the land of Scotland in the latter part of the seventeenth century against Presbyterians in the kingdom.  If it was answered in the affirmative, then your very life was in danger, either at that very time or later.

The name of the declaration was in reference to a small town in the southwest part of Scotland.  It was the very center of persecution.  Fugitives from the east or west naturally passed through it for passage to safer areas.  On one of its streets was a village cross to which people would affix various messages to the outside world.

It was on this day, June 22, 1680, that a band of horsemen who were heavily armed with swords and pistols rode into the town early in the morning.  Led by a Presbyterian minister by the name of Richard Cameron, the group stopped, sand a psalm, prayed, and then publicly read the following declaration.  It is found at the bottom of this post.  There was  no doubt as to what it maintained, namely, a declaration of war against the present king in London, England.

Consider its chief sentence: “Therefore, although we be for government and governors, such as the Word of God and our covenant allows; yet we, for ourselves, and all that will adhere to us as the representative of the true Presbyterian Kirk and covenanted nation of Scotland, considering the great hazard of lying under such a sin any longer, do, by these presents, disown Charles Stuart, that has been reigning, or rather tyrannizing, as we may say, on the throne of Britain these years begone, as having any right, title to, or interest in the said crown of Scotland for government.”

And further, “As also we being under the standard of our Lord Jesus Christ, Captain of salvation, and his cause and covenants, do declare war with such a tyrant and usurper, and all the men of his practices, as enemies to our Lord Jesus Christ, and his cause and covenants . . . .”

There was no doubt as to the intention of this declaration.  The sword was to be taken up from its sheath and used to bring about the Presbyterian cause once and for all.  There was equally no doubt as to what it proclaimed from the Crown.  They, in a Proclamation on June 30, 1680 that Richard Cameron and his followers were Rebels and Traitors.  Large rewards were offered for them dead or alive.

Words to Live By: Alexander Smellie in his book “Men of the Covenant” says regarding this declaration, “What had they done?  They had cast off the authority of their monarch.  But they had not done it in mischievous anarchy and blatant revolt.  They made their adjuration a religious act.  They prefaced and followed the oath of insurrection by the worship of God.  Moreover, they had disavowed King Charles in the interest of King Jesus.  They disobeyed the unworthy ruler, that they might obey the Ruler who is incomparable…We may not approve every phrase in their Declaration…It contends for the essentials, for a free Parliament and an unshackled Church…Its principles triumphed in 1688 (the arrival of William and Mary.


The text of The Sanquhar Declaration:—

“The Declaration and Testimony of the True Presbyterian, Anti-prelatic, Anti-erastian, persecuted party in Scotland, published at Sanquhar, 22 June 1680. 

It is not amongst the smallest of the Lord’s mercies to this poor land, that there have been always some who have given their testimony against every cause of defection that many are guilty of; which is a token for good, that he doth not, as yet, intend to cast us off altogether, but that he will leave a remnant in whom lie will be glorious, if they. through his grace, keep themselves clean still, and walk in his way and method as it has been walked in, and owned by him in our predecessors of truly worthy memory; in their carrying on of our noble work of reformation, in the several steps thereof, from Popery, Prelacy, and likewise Erastian supremacy—so much usurped by him who, it is true, so far as we know, is descended from the race of our kings; yet he hath so far debased from what he ought to have been, by his perjury and usurpation in Church matters, and tyranny in matters civil, as is known by the whole land, that we have just reason to account it one of the Lord’s great controversies against us, that we have not disowned him, and the men of his practices, whether inferior magistrates or any other, as enemies to our Lord and his crown, and the true Protestant and Presbyterian interest in this land—our Lord’s espoused bride and Church. Therefore, although we be for government and governors, such as the Word of God and our covenant allows; yet we, for ourselves, and all that will adhere to us as the representative of the true Presbyterian Kirk and covenanted nation of Scotland, considering the great hazard of lying under such a sin any longer, do, by these presents, disown Charles Stuart, that has been reigning, or rather tyrannizing, as we may say, on the throne of Britain these years bygone, as having any right, title to, or interest in, the said crown of Scotland for government, as forfeited, several years since, by his perjury and breach of covenant both to God and his Kirk, and usurpation of his crown and royal prerogative therein, and many other breaches in matters eccelesiastic and by his tyranny and breach of the very reges regnandi in matters civil. For which reason we declare, that several years since he should have been denuded of being king, ruler, or magistrate, or of having any power to act or to be obeyed as such. As also we’ being under the standard of our Lord Jesus Christ, Captain of Salvation, do declare a war with such a tyrant and usurper, and all the men of his practices, as enemies to our Lord Jesus Christ, and his cause and covenants; and against all such as have strengthened him, sided with, or anywise acknowledged him in his tyranny, civil or ecclesiastic; yea, against all such as shall strengthen, side with, or anywise acknowledge any other in like usurpation and tyranny-far more against such as would betray or deliver up our free reformed mother Kirkunto the bondage of Antichrist, the Pope of Rome. And, by this, we homologate that testimony given at Rutherglen, the 29th of May 1679, and all the faithful testimonies of those who have gone before, as also of those who have suffered of late, and we do disclaim that Declaration published at Hamilton, June 1679, chiefly because it takes in the king’s interest, which we are several years since loosed from, because of the aforesaid reasons, and others which may, after this, if the Lord will, be published. As also, we disown and by this resent the reception of the Duke of York, that professed Papist, as repugnant to our principles and vows to the Most High God, and as that which is the great, though not alone, just reproach of our Kirk and nation. We also, by this, protest against his succeeding to the crown, and whatever has been done, or any are essaying to do in this land, given to the Lord, in prejudice to our work of reformation. And to conclude, we hope. after this, none will blame us for, or offend at, our rewarding those that are against as they have done to us, as the Lord gives opportunity. This is not to exclude any that have declined, if they be willing to give satisfaction according to the degree of their offence.

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Come Before Winter

by Clarence Macartney
[1879–1957]

Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me…. Do thy diligence to come before winter” (2 Timothy 4:9, 21)

Napoleon Bonaparte and the Apostle Paul are the most renowned prisoners of history. One was in prison because the peace of the world demanded it; the other because he sought to give to men that peace which the world cannot give and which the world cannot take away. One had the recollection of cities and homes which he had wasted and devastated; the other had the recollection of homes and cities and nations which had been blessed by his presence and cheered by his message. One had shed rivers of blood upon which to float his ambitions. The only blood the other had shed was that which had flowed from his own wounds for Christ’s sake. One could trace his path to glory by ghastly trails of the dead which stretched from the Pyrenees to Moscow and from the Pyramids to Mount Tabor. The other could trace his path to prison, death, and immortal glory by the hearts that he had loved and the souls that he had gathered into the Kingdom of God.

Napoleon once said,

I love nobody, not even my own brothers.” It is not strange, therefore, that at the end of his life, on his rock prison in the South Atlantic, he said, “I wonder if there is anyone in the world who really loves me.”

But Paul loved all men. His heart was the heart of the world, and from his lonely prison at Rome he sent out messages which glow with love unquenchable and throb with fadeless hope.

When a man enters the straits of life, he is fortunate if he has a few friends upon whom he can count to the uttermost. Paul had three such friends. The first of these three, whose name needs no mention, was that One who would be the friend of every man, the friend who laid down his life for us all. The second was that man whose face is almost the first, and almost the last, we see in life — the physician. This friend Paul handed down to immortality with that imperishable encomium, “Luke, the beloved physician,” and again, “Only Luke is with me.” The third of these friends was the Lycaonian youth Timothy, half Hebrew and half Greek, whom Paul affectionately called “My son in the faith.” When Paul had been stoned by the mob at Lystra in the highlands of Asia Minor and was dragged out of the city gates and left for dead, perhaps it was Timothy who, when the night had come down, and the passions of the mob had subsided, went out of the city gates to search amid stones and rubbish until he found the wounded, bleeding body of Paul and, putting his arm about the Apostle’s neck, wiped the blood stains from his face, poured the cordial down his lips and then took him home to the house of his godly grandmother Lois and his pious mother Eunice. If you form a friendship in a shipwreck, you never forget the friend. The hammer of adversity welds human hearts into an indissoluble amalgamation. Paul and Timothy each had in the other a friend who was born for adversity.

Paul’s last letter is to this dearest of his friends, Timothy, whom he has left in charge of the church at far-off Ephesus. He tells Timothy that he wants him to come and be with him at Rome. He is to stop at Troas on the way and pick up his books, for Paul is a scholar even to the end. Make friends with good books. They will never leave you nor forsake you. He is to bring the cloak, too, which Paul had left at the house of Carpus in Troas. What a robe the Church would weave for Paul today if it had that opportunity! But this is the only robe that Paul possesses. It has been wet with the brine of the Mediterranean, white with the snows of Galatia, yellow with the dust of the Egnatian Way and crimson with the blood of his wounds for the sake of Christ. It is getting cold at Rome, for the summer is waning, and Paul wants his robe to keep him warm. But most of all Paul wants Timothy to bring himself. “Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me,” he writes; and then, just before the close of the letter, he says, “Do thy diligence to come before winter.”

Why “before winter”? Because when winter set in the season for navigation closed in the Mediterranean and it was dangerous for ships to venture out to sea. How dangerous it was, the story of Paul’s last shipwreck tells us. If Timothy waits until winter, he will have to wait until spring; and Paul has a premonition that he will not last out the winter, for he says, “The time of my departure is at hand.” We like to think that Timothy did not wait a single day after that letter from Paul reached him at Ephesus, but started at once to Troas, where he picked up the books and the old cloak in the house of Carpus, then sailed past Samothrace to Neapolis, and thence traveled by the Egnatian Way across the plains of Philippi and through Macedonia to the Adriatic, where he took ship to Brundisium, and then went up the Appian Way to Rome, where he found Paul in his prison, read to him from the Old Testament, wrote his last letters, walked with him to the place of execution near the Pyramid of Cestius, and saw him receive the crown of glory.

Before winter or never! There are some things which will never be done unless they are done “before winter.” The winter will come and the winter will pass, and the flowers of the springtime will deck the breast of the earth, and the graves of some of our opportunities, perhaps the grave of our dearest friend. There are golden gates wide open on this autumn day, but next October they will be forever shut. There are tides of opportunity running now at the flood. Next October they will be at the ebb. There are voices speaking today which a year from today will be silent. Before winter or never!

I like all seasons. I like winter with its clear, cold nights and the stars like silver-headed nails driven into the vault of heaven. I like spring with its green growth, its flowing streams, its revirescent hope. I like summer with the litany of gentle winds in the tops of the trees, its long evenings and the songs of its birds. But best of all I like autumn. I like its mist and haze, its cool morning air, its field strewn with the blue aster and the goldenrod; the radiant livery of the forests — “yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red.” But how quickly the autumn passes! It is the perfect parable of all that fades. Yesterday I saw the forests in all their splendor, and Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

But tomorrow the rain will fall, the winds will blow, and the trees will be stripped and barren. Therefore, every returning autumn brings home to me the sense of the preciousness of life’s opportunities — their beauty, but also their brevity. It fills me with the desire to say not merely something about the way that leads to life eternal but, with the help of God, something which shall move men to take the way of life now, today. Taking our suggestion, then, from this message of Paul in the prison at Rome to Timothy in far-off Ephesus — “Come before winter” — let us listen to some of those voices which now are speaking so earnestly to us, and which a year from today may be forever silent.

I. The Voice Which Calls for Reformation

Your character can be amended and improved, but not at just any time. There are favorable seasons. In the town of my boyhood I delighted to watch on a winter’s night the streams of molten metal writhing and twisting like lost spirits as they poured from the furnaces of the wire mill. Before the furnace doors stood men in leathern aprons, with iron tongs in their hands, ready to seize the fiery coils and direct them to the molds. But if the iron was permitted to cool below a certain temperature, it refused the mold. There are times when life’s metal is, as it were, molten, and can be worked into any design that is desired. But if it is permitted to cool, it tends toward a state of fixation, in which it is possible neither to do nor even to plan a good work. When the angel came down to trouble the pool at Jerusalem, then was the time for the sick to step in and be healed. There are moments when the pool of life is troubled by the angel of opportunity. Then a man, if he will, can go down and be made whole; but if he waits until the waters are still, it is too late.

A man who had been under the bondage of an evil habit relates how one night, sitting in his room in a hotel, he was assailed by his old enemy, his besetting sin, and was about to yield to it. He was reaching out his hand to ring the bell for a waiter, when suddenly, as if an angel stood before him, a voice seemed to say, “This is your hour. If you yield to this temptation now, it will destroy you. If you conquer it now, you are its master forever.” He obeyed the angel’s voice, refused the tempter and came off victorious over his enemy.

That man was not unique in his experience, for to many a man there comes the hour when destiny knocks at his door and the angel waits to see whether he will obey him or reject him. These are precious and critical moments in the history of the soul. In your life there may be that which you know to be wrong and sinful. In his mercy God has awakened conscience, or has flooded your heart with a sudden wave of contrition and sorrow. This is the hour of opportunity, for now chains of evil habit can be broken, which, if not broken, will bind us forever. Now golden goals can be chosen and decisions made which shall affect our destiny forever.

We like to quote those fine lines from the pen of the late Senator John J. Ingalls:

Master of human destinies am I!
Fame, love, and fortune on my footsteps wait.
Cities and fields I walk; I penetrate
Deserts and fields remote, and, passing by
Hovel and mart and palace, soon or late,
I knock unbidden once at every gate!
If sleeping, wake; if feasting, rise before
I turn away. It is the hour of fate,
And they who follow me reach every state
Mortals desire, and conquer every foe
Save death; but those who doubt or hesitate,
Condemned to failure, penury or woe,
Seek me in vain and uselessly implore —
I answer not, and I return no more.

We all recognize the truth of this in the things of this world, but in a far more solemn way it is true of the opportunities of our spiritual life. You can build a bonfire any time you please; but the fine fire of the Spirit, that is a different thing. God has his Moment!

We cannot kindle when we will
The fire that in the heart resides.
The Spirit bloweth and is still;
In mystery the soul abides.

II. The Voice of Friendship and Affection

Suppose that Timothy, when he received that letter from Paul asking him to come before winter, had said to himself: “Yes, I shall start for Rome; but first of all I must clear up some matters here at Ephesus, and then go down to Miletus to ordain elders there, and thence over to Colossae to celebrate the Communion there.” When he has attended to these matters, he starts for Troas, and there inquires when he can get a ship which will carry him across to Macedonia, and thence to Italy, or one that is sailing around Greece into the Mediterranean. He is told that the season for navigation is over and that no vessels will sail till springtime. “No ships for Italy till April!”

All through that anxious winter we can imagine Timothy reproaching himself that he did not go at once when he received Paul’s letter, and wondering how it fares with the Apostle. When the first vessel sails in the springtime, Timothy is a passenger on it. I can see him landing at Neapolis, or Brundisium, and hurrying up to Rome. There he seeks out Paul’s prison, only to be cursed and repulsed by the guard. Then he goes to the house of Claudia, or Pudens, or Narcissus, or Mary, or Ampliatus, and asks where he can find Paul. I can hear them say: “And are you Timothy? Don’t you know that Paul was beheaded last December? Every time the jailer put the key in the door of his cell, Paul thought you were coming. His last message was for you, ‘Give my love to Timothy, my beloved son in the faith, when he comes.’” How Timothy then must have wished that he had come before winter!

Before winter or never! “The poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always,” said Jesus when the disciples complained that Mary’s costly and beautiful gift of ointment might have been expended in behalf of the poor. “Me ye have not always.” That is true of all the friends we love. We cannot name them now, but next winter we shall know their names. With them, as far as our ministry is concerned, it is before winter or never.

In the Old Abbey Kirk at Haddington one can read over the grave of Jane Welsh the first of many pathetic and regretful tributes paid by Thomas Carlyle to his neglected wife: “For forty years she was a true and loving helpmate of her husband, and by act and word worthily forwarded him as none else could in all worthy he did or attempted. She died at London the 21st of April, 1866, suddenly snatched from him, and the light of his life as if gone out.” It has been said that the saddest sentence in English literature is that sentence written by Carlyle in his diary, “Oh, that I had you yet for five minutes by my side, that I might tell you all.” Hear, then, careless soul, who art dealing with loved ones as if thou wouldst have them always with thee, these solemn words of warning from Carlyle: “Cherish what is dearest while you have it near you, and wait not till it is far away. Blind and deaf that we are, O think, if thou yet love anybody living, wait not till death sweep down the paltry little dust clouds and dissonances of the moment, and all be made at last so mournfully clear and beautiful, when it is too late.”

On one of the early occasions when I preached on this text in Philadelphia, there was present at the service a student in the Jefferson Medical College (Dr. Arnot Walker, New Galilee, Pennsylvania). When the service was over he went back to his room on Arch Street, where the text kept repeating itself in his mind, “Come before winter.” “Perhaps,” he thought to himself, “I had better write a letter to my mother.” He sat down and wrote a letter such as a mother delights to receive from her son. He took the letter down the street, dropped it in a mailbox, and returned to his room. The next day in the midst of his studies a telegram was placed in his hand. Tearing it open, he read these words: “Come home at once. Your mother is dying.” He took the train that night for Pittsburgh, and then another train to the town near the farm where his home was. Arriving at the town, he was driven to the farm and, hurrying up the stairs, found his mother still living, with a smile of recognition and satisfaction on her face — the smile which, if a man has once seen, he can never forget.

Under her pillow was the letter he had written her after the Sunday night service, her viaticum and heartease as she went down into the River. The next time he met me in Philadelphia he said, “I am glad you preached that sermon, ‘Come Before Winter.’” Not a few have been glad because this sermon was preached. Let us pray that the preaching of it tonight shall move others to do that which shall make their hearts glad in the years to come.

Twice coming to the sleeping disciples whom he had asked to watch with him in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ awakened them and said with sad surprise, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour?” When he came the third time and found them sleeping, he looked sadly down upon them and said, “Sleep on now, and take your rest.” One of those three, James, was the first of the twelve apostles to die for Christ and seal his faith with his heart’s blood. Another, John, was to suffer imprisonment for the sake of Christ on the isle that is called Patmos. And Peter was to be crucified for his sake. But never again could those three sleeping disciples ever watch with Jesus in his hour of agony. That opportunity was gone forever! You say, when you hear that a friend has gone, “Why, it cannot be possible! I saw him only yesterday on the corner of Smithfield and Sixth Avenue!” Yes, you saw him there yesterday, but you will never see him there again. You say you intended to do this thing, to speak this word of appreciation or amendment, or show this act of kindness; but now the vacant chair, the unlifted book, the empty place will speak to you with a reproach which your heart can hardly endure, “Sleep on now, and take your rest! Sleep! Sleep! Sleep forever!”

III. The Voice of Christ
More eager, more wistful, more tender than any other voice is the voice of Christ which now I hear calling men to come to him, and to come before winter. I wish I had been there when Christ called his disciples, Andrew and Peter, and James and John, by the Sea of Galilee, or Matthew as he was sitting at the receipt of custom. There must have been a note not only of love and authority but of immediacy and urgency in his voice, for we read that they “left all and followed him.”

The greatest subject which can engage the mind and attention of man is eternal life. Hence the Holy Spirit, when he invites men to come to Christ, never says “Tomorrow” but always “Today.” If you can find me one place in the Bible where the Holy Spirit says, “Believe in Christ tomorrow,” or “Repent and be saved tomorrow,” I will come down out of the pulpit and stay out of it — for I would have no Gospel to preach. But the Spirit always says, “Today,” never “Tomorrow.” “Now is the accepted time.” “Now is the day of salvation.” “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” “While it is called Today.”

The reason for this urgency is twofold. First, the uncertainty of human life. A long time ago, David, in his last interview with Jonathan, said, “As thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death.” That is true of every one of us. But a step! What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue!

An old rabbi used to say to his people, “Repent the day before you die.”

But,” they said to him, “Rabbi, we know not the day of our death.”

Then,” he answered, “repent today.

Come before winter!

The second reason why Christ, when he calls a man, always says “Today, and never Tomorrow“, is that tomorrow the disposition of a man’s heart may have changed. There is a time to plant, and a time to reap. The heart, like the soil, has its favorable seasons. “Speak to my brother now! His heart is tender now!” a man once said to me concerning his brother, who was not a believer. Today a man may hear this sermon and be interested, impressed, almost persuaded, ready to take his stand for Christ and enter into eternal life. But he postpones his decision and says, “Not tonight, but tomorrow.” A week hence, a month hence, a year hence, he may come back and hear the same call to repentance and to faith. But it has absolutely no effect upon him, for his heart is as cold as marble and the preacher might as well preach to a stone or scatter seed on the marble pavement below this pulpit. Oh, if the story of this one church could be told, if the stone should cry out of the wall and the beam out of the timber should answer, what a story they could tell of those who once were almost persuaded but who now are far from the Kingdom of God. Christ said, Today! They answered, Tomorrow!

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

Once again, then, I repeat these words of the Apostle, “Come before winter”; and as I pronounce them, common sense, experience, conscience, Scripture, the Holy Spirit, the souls of just men made perfect, and the Lord Jesus Christ all repeat with me, “Come before winter!” Come before the haze of Indian summer has faded from the fields! Come before the November wind strips the leaves from the trees and sends them whirling over the fields! Come before the snow lies on the uplands and the meadow brook is turned to ice! Come before the heart is cold! Come before desire has failed! Come before life is over and your probation ended, and you stand before God to give an account of the use you have made of the opportunities which in his grace he has granted to you! Come before winter!

Come to thy God in time,
Youth, manhood, old age past;
Come to thy God at last.

 

 

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Come Before Winter

Macartney, Clarence EdwardHave you ever had the experience of  having your pastor preach the same sermon to your congregation of which you are a member, every fall of the year, for 37 years? And here’s the second part of the equation—was this request to the pastor eagerly given by your fellow members to do this very thing? Or Pastors, have you ever had your congregation vote to have you preach the same sermon every fall for as long as you were in the church? It must have been a dynamite sermon in every case.

And yet, that was exactly the case with Dr Clarence Edward McCartney, senior pastor of a Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On October 18, 1915, he preached a famous sermon entitled “Come Before Winter” from the text in 2 Timothy 4:21. It reads in the King James Version, “Do thy diligence to come before winter.”

Paul was in prison. He was on the eve of his life and ministry. The great apostle was giving his last report to the church through his disciple Timothy.   He urges Timothy to capture the moment and take the opportunity presented, to come to  him. Listen to his words:

“Before winter or never. There are some things which will never be done unless they are done ‘before winter.’  The winter will come and the winter will pass. The flowers of the springtime will deck the heart of the earth and the graves of some of our poor families, perhaps the grave of a dearest friend.  There are golden opportunities on this autumn day and next October, they will be forever shut.”

The emphasis of the celebrated Presbyterian pastor was to make haste when you consider the work of the Lord.  The word “diligence” speaks of being especially conscientious in discharging an obligation.  It is to be zealous, eager, take pains, make every effort, and doing your best.  In short, do what you need to do without delay.

Perhaps now we can see why the congregation asked him to preach this every fall.  They saw that their spirits needed to be reminded to not be procrastinators in the things of life, to say nothing of the work of the Lord.  And so, the pastor had the urging by the congregation to preach the same message every year. And he did so, for forty consecutive years!

Words to live by: There are some things which we can put off without a great deal of problems.  But  procrastination  has  painful effects for God’s kingdom.  Satan and his host are going full speed to tear down God’s kingdom and hinder His work. There is no delay in  his evil designs. But some of God’s people believe that they have all the time in the world to put off the doing of God’s work.  They are wrong.  Don’t be one of them.  Many of the commands in the Bible are set in a tense which speaks of doing something and doing it now.  We are not to put off to tomorrow what must be done today.  One day we will give an account of our times to the Lord.  Let us be busy in the work of the Lord.

Sermon Portion:
To give a fuller sample of the sermon, here are the opening paragraphs. The sermon can otherwise be easily found on the Internet:—

Come Before Winter
by Clarence Macartney
[18 September 1879 – 20 February 1957]

“Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me…. Do thy diligence to come before winter” (2 Timothy 4:9, 21)

Napoleon Bonaparte and the Apostle Paul are the most renowned prisoners of history. One was in prison because the peace of the world demanded it; the other because he sought to give to men that peace which the world cannot give and which the world cannot take away. One had the recollection of cities and homes which he had wasted and devastated; the other had the recollection of homes and cities and nations which had been blessed by his presence and cheered by his message. One had shed rivers of blood upon which to float his ambitions. The only blood the other had shed was that which had flowed from his own wounds for Christ’s sake. One could trace his path to glory by ghastly trails of the dead which stretched from the Pyrenees to Moscow and from the Pyramids to Mount Tabor. The other could trace his path to prison, death, and immortal glory by the hearts that he had loved and the souls that he had gathered into the Kingdom of God.

Napoleon once said, “I love nobody, not even my own brothers.” It is not strange, therefore, that at the end of his life, on his rock prison in the South Atlantic, he said, “I wonder if there is anyone in the world who really loves me.”

But Paul loved all men. His heart was the heart of the world, and from his lonely prison at Rome he sent out messages which glow with love unquenchable and throb with fadeless hope.

When a man enters the straits of life, he is fortunate if he has a few friends upon whom he can count to the uttermost. Paul had three such friends. The first of these three, whose name needs no mention, was that One who would be the friend of every man, the friend who laid down his life for us all. The second was that man whose face is almost the first, and almost the last, we see in life — the physician. This friend Paul handed down to immortality with that imperishable encomium, “Luke, the beloved physician,” and again, “Only Luke is with me.” The third of these friends was the Lycaonian youth Timothy, half Hebrew and half Greek, whom Paul affectionately called “My son in the faith.” When Paul had been stoned by the mob at Lystra in the highlands of Asia Minor and was dragged out of the city gates and left for dead, perhaps it was Timothy who, when the night had come down, and the passions of the mob had subsided, went out of the city gates to search amid stones and rubbish until he found the wounded, bleeding body of Paul and, putting his arm about the Apostle’s neck, wiped the blood stains from his face, poured the cordial down his lips and then took him home to the house of his godly grandmother Lois and his pious mother Eunice. If you form a friendship in a shipwreck, you never forget the friend. The hammer of adversity welds human hearts into an indissoluble amalgamation. Paul and Timothy each had in the other a friend who was born for adversity.

Paul’s last letter is to this dearest of his friends, Timothy, whom he has left in charge of the church at far-off Ephesus. He tells Timothy that he wants him to come and be with him at Rome. He is to stop at Troas on the way and pick up his books, for Paul is a scholar even to the end. Make friends with good books. They will never leave you nor forsake you. He is to bring the cloak, too, which Paul had left at the house of Carpus in Troas. What a robe the Church would weave for Paul today if it had that opportunity! But this is the only robe that Paul possesses. It has been wet with the brine of the Mediterranean, white with the snows of Galatia, yellow with the dust of the Egnatian Way and crimson with the blood of his wounds for the sake of Christ. It is getting cold at Rome, for the summer is waning, and Paul wants his robe to keep him warm. But most of all Paul wants Timothy to bring himself. “Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me,” he writes; and then, just before the close of the letter, he says, “Do thy diligence to come before winter.”

Why “before winter”? Because when winter set in the season for navigation closed in the Mediterranean and it was dangerous for ships to venture out to sea. How dangerous it was, the story of Paul’s last shipwreck tells us. If Timothy waits until winter, he will have to wait until spring; and Paul has a premonition that he will not last out the winter, for he says, “The time of my departure is at hand.” We like to think that Timothy did not wait a single day after that letter from Paul reached him at Ephesus, but started at once to Troas, where he picked up the books and the old cloak in the house of Carpus, then sailed past Samothrace to Neapolis, and thence traveled by the Egnatian Way across the plains of Philippi and through Macedonia to the Adriatic, where he took ship to Brundisium, and then went up the Appian Way to Rome, where he found Paul in his prison, read to him from the Old Testament, wrote his last letters, walked with him to the place of execution near the Pyramid of Cestius, and saw him receive the crown of glory.

Before winter or never! There are some things which will never be done unless they are done “before winter.” The winter will come and the winter will pass, and the flowers of the springtime will deck the breast of the earth, and the graves of some of our opportunities, perhaps the grave of our dearest friend. There are golden gates wide open on this autumn day, but next October they will be forever shut. There are tides of opportunity running now at the flood. Next October they will be at the ebb. There are voices speaking today which a year from today will be silent. Before winter or never!

I like all seasons. I like winter with its clear, cold nights and the stars like silver-headed nails driven into the vault of heaven. I like spring with its green growth, its flowing streams, its revirescent hope. I like summer with the litany of gentle winds in the tops of the trees, its long evenings and the songs of its birds. But best of all I like autumn. I like its mist and haze, its cool morning air, its field strewn with the blue aster and the goldenrod; the radiant livery of the forests — “yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red.” But how quickly the autumn passes! It is the perfect parable of all that fades. Yesterday I saw the forests in all their splendor, and Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

But tomorrow the rain will fall, the winds will blow, and the trees will be stripped and barren. Therefore, every returning autumn brings home to me the sense of the preciousness of life’s opportunities — their beauty, but also their brevity. It fills me with the desire to say not merely something about the way that leads to life eternal but, with the help of God, something which shall move men to take the way of life now, today. Taking our suggestion, then, from this message of Paul in the prison at Rome to Timothy in far-off Ephesus — “Come before winter” — let us listen to some of those voices which now are speaking so earnestly to us, and which a year from today may be forever silent.

[the sermon continues on from there. Again, it should be easy to locate the full text on the Web. If you need a link, please write to us and we will provide that on request.]

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Stepping outside of American Presbyterian history for a moment, here is an interesting interpretation as to how persecution worked to the advance of the Church in at least one chapter of church history. This particular passage is also a masterful summary of early Presbyterian history, drawn from the late 19th-century volume, Presbyterians, by George P. Hays (1892), pp. 42-44 :

Through the sixteenth century a few adventurers were settling in America, and stable institutions came with the seventeenth to attract the attention of European Protestants as they searched for some refuge from the persecuting power which they could not resist in France, could not fight in Spain, played see-saw with in England, overthrew in Germany, and displaced in Holland and Scotland.

France
Theodore BezaIf there had been no persecution in Europe, and the Protestant Church could have had freedom from state interference to fight its own battle before the general reason and conscience, the emigrants to America would perhaps have been more like the first settlers in California, or the first inhabitants in a new oil town. As it was, the intellectual conflict and the physical struggle came on together and intensified each other. Huguenot Synods were held in France, and then suppressed, and then re-allowed. The first regularly organized [Protestant] church [in France] was that of Paris, whose people elected John le Macon pastor, and had a board of elders and deacons, in 1555. In 1559 the first National Synod was held, and according to Calvin’s advice a regular system of Appellate Courts was organized. In September, 1561, Theodore Beza at the head of twelve Protestant ministers made their plea before royalty. It was claimed that there were then more than two thousand churches and stations. The origin of the name “Huguenot” is not known, but it is believed to have been at first a nickname which grew to honor by the character and conduct of its wearers. They had a stormy history. Francis I. was their enemy. Charles IX. (an effeminate boy in the hands of the Medicis) massacred them at St. Bartholomew. Henry IV., at heart a Huguenot, was a brave soldier and a brilliant man, but he turned Catholic for policy’s sake, and yet protected the Huguenots by issuing the Edict of Nantes. then followed Louis XIII. and Richelieu and Louis XIV. and the revocation of the edict of toleration in 1685. These last events came in the seventeenth century. The sixteenth century had demonstrated the advantage of Protestant emigration, and the seventeenth made it compulsory.

dortHolland
In Holland the struggle was between Protestantism and Phillip II. of Spain. These were the days of the Duke of Alva and William the Silent. To save their religion and their homes and drive out the Spaniards, the Dutch cut the dykes and submerged their farms beneath the sea. But through all this suffering they were organizing a people and defending a country that should, in time, give to the world the Protestant and Presbyterian results of the Synod of Dort. That Synod was the nearest to an interdenominational and ecumenical Synod of any held for the forming of Reformation creeds. It was called to decide the controversy between Arminianism and Calvinism; but the selection of the members made it a foregone conclusion that it would condemn Arminius and support the doctrine of Calvin. As a result the “Canons of Dort” are accepted everywhere as good Augustinian theology, and the Reformed Dutch Church of America, both in the earliest time and in the modern, is thoroughly and soundly Presbyterian. The early Dutch immigrants to this country brought with them their names of Consistory, Classis and Synod, with both ministerial and lay delegates, and between them and the Presbyterians there have never been any controversies in either theology or church government.

England
But the main center of American interest in European Presbyterians is found in England. Henry VIII. had married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon. She was a kinswoman of Philip II. of Spain, and Philip and his nation were close friends of the Pope. When, then, the fickle, handsome, headstrong, and licentious Henry wanted to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn, he easily found his English bishops and universities ready to declare his marriage to his brother’s widow unlawful, but he found it very difficult, for political reasons, to get the Pope so to declare against that marriage that he might thereafter have a non-Catholic wife, and that Mary, his daughter by Catherine, should be an illegitimate child.

Henry cut the knot by declaring himself the head of the Church of England, and the English Church in no possible way subject to Rome. During all this time Protestant doctrines were spreading among the people, and this seemed to open an easy solution. But pure religion in England was not what Henry wanted. He and all the Tudors wanted to have their own way, without interference from parliament or the Church or the people. After the birth of Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn was beheaded to make way for the third of Henry’s six wives. The king now had two female children, one a Romanist and the other a Protestant. When he died, in 1547, he left Edward VI. by Jane Seymour, only nine years old, but an astonishingly precocious Protestant king.

knox_card03Under Edward the effort to reform the Church went on vigorously, but everybody was debating, as the chief point of controversy, “What is the scriptural form of government?” John Knox had been a private tutor for Hugh Douglas of Longniddry. The excitement occasioned by the martyrdom of Hamilton and Wishart turned his attention to Protestantism. St. Andrews is a picturesque city, rich in traditions from the Culdee period. At the call of the congregation of that city, Knox began preaching. With the capture of the castle of St. Andrews, Knox was sent a prisoner to the French galleys. After his release he, at one time, became Court preacher for Edward VI.

Romanism, Episcopacy, Presbyterianism, and Independency were now up for discussion. The controversy between Protestantism and Catholicism, under Bloody Mary, made all England a charnel house. Mary [Henry VIII.’s first daughter] was a Tudor and a Spaniard and a Roman Catholic; and the task of bringing back the British Islands under the control of the Pope of Rome was the one religious ambition of her life. How far her relentless persecutions [thus her nickname] were made more relentless by the sadness of her natural disposition, the want of an heir to the throne by her Spanish husband, her residence in England while her alienated husband lived in Spain, and her final loss of Calais, that last remnant of English territory on the Continent, may be hard to decide; but her persecutions filled Geneva, and all European Protestant cities, with English refugees and raised everywhere the question of some land where Protestants could have freedom. Just as she was moving, apparently, toward the destruction of her Protestant sister Elizabeth, Mary died.

[more from Dr. Hays next week!]

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It was on this day, September 15, in 1748, that a petition was brought before the Presbytery of Boston, seek to organize a church in Newburyport, Massachusetts, “after the manner of the Kirk of Scotland,” meaning, in other words, a Presbyterian church. One hundred years later, the Rev. Jonathan F. Stearns brought an historical discourse in connection with the centennial anniversary of the First Presbyterian church of Newburyport. The first portion of his discourse forms a convenient overview, in broad strokes, of what has been termed the First Great Awakening. I hope you will find this useful.


DISCOURSE.

Psalm 78:2-7

I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known and our fathers have told us; we will not hide them from their children, showing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord and His strength and the wonderful works that He hath done; for He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children; that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.”

The passage of Scripture just recited, no less than the present occasion, invites us to review and remember, that we may transmit to those who come after us, the history of God’s goodness to us as a people.

The planting of a Church and the gathering of a religious society, are among the most important events in the history of any community. What influences for good or for evil, will be shed abroad from the fruit and leaves of that tree! If a true Church, established upon true principles, maintaining the faith of the Lord Jesus, and built on Him, as its chief cornerstone, how salutary will be the effects of its existence. If a false or corrupt Church–a Church designed to inculcate false doctrine, or maintain the forms without the substance of the Gospel, how deplorable will be the consequences to multitudes! Such as the Churches are, in a given community, such, as a general rule, will be the character of the people at large.

The Church, whose first centennial anniversary we now celebrate, had its origin at a period of no common interest. The “Great Awakening,” which commenced about the year seventeen hundred and forty, is deservedly regarded as an era in the history of the Churches in New England. Then a change was begun in their character which is felt, far and wide, to this day,–a change which, we trust in God, will not cease to be admired and honored, till the dawning of the glory of the latter day shall dim, by its excess of brightness, all former communications of the light of heaven. As this Church was emphatically, and perhaps beyond almost any other in this region, the child of that remarkable impulse, it seems proper before proceeding to its own particular history, to take a hasty glance at the general features of the crisis at which it originated.

The first Churches of New England were established on the most strictly evangelical foundation. They believed and professed the great principles of the protestant reformation, with remarkable affection and strictness. Their corner-stone was the doctrine of justification by faith only, good works being the necessary fruits of faith, and thereby its evidence, but by no means the meritorious cause of salvation. They believed, as fully, in the necessity of a renovation of the sinner’s heart, by which its whole character and tendencies might be changed, the dominion of sin broken, the life of God in the soul enkindled, and the whole spiritual man created anew in God’s likeness. This change, ordinarily, not without means, but at the same time so employing these, as to impart to them no share in the glory of the great result. True piety, in their estimation, was a product of regeneration, and consisted, not in any outward performances, nor even in the most blameless outward morality, but in that inward conformity of the heart to God, that love to Him and communion with Him, of which outward goodness is but the necessary manifestation. Under the influence of these doctrines, preached earnestly by such men as Shepard, and Cotton, and Norton, and Mitchell, and Hooker, and Stone, “the word of God grew and multiplied;” and the preachers, themselves, full of the spirit of their divine message, could rejoice that they seldom preached, without some visibly good effect upon the hearts and consciences of their hearers, and without finding some, who had before been careless, beginning to inquire, “What shall I do to be saved?”

But this happy and very promising commencement was not destined to perpetuate its influence. The spirituality of the Churches began at an early day visibly to decline, and when the first century closed, there was great occasion, as the eye of Christian love looked abroad over the land, to exclaim, “How has the gold become dim and the most fine gold changed.” First, there was manifested a great decline of spiritual vitality. Religion became more a matter of profession, and form, and less an experience of the heart. Then the boundaries between the Church and the world became less distinct. Multitudes became members of the Church, who gave no evidence that they were truly regenerate. Church discipline was neglected. Immorality invaded the sacred enclosure. The preaching became less discriminating and pungent. The doctrines of the ancient faith, long neglected, and reduced in the minds of the people to a dead letter, were fast gliding away from the popular creed, and were on the eve of being displaced for another system.

Such was the condition of a large portion of the Churches of New England, when the great change to which I have alluded broke upon them in its power. Already had the morning star shone forth, in the great revival at Northampton, five years previous, under the faithful preaching of the old doctrines by the celebrated Jonathan Edwards. [*It is a fact worthy of special attention, that the same doctrine of justification by faith only, which in the hands of Luther was the life and soul of the Protestant Reformation, was, in the hands of Edwards, the means of imparting the first impulse to that great awakening, which revived to new life the decayed and slumbering Churches of this Country.] But the whole horizon began now to be illuminated. The whole land soon glowed beneath the brightness of the risen sun. Under the preaching of such men as Whitefield and Tennent, men evidently raised up to perform a special work, the impulse spread like electric flame. It stirred to its inmost depths the compact population of the larger commercial towns. It penetrated the interior villages. Churches which had long since “settled upon their lees” now began to feel within them a strange fermentation. Old respectability, proud of its decent forms, began to find the sceptre of its influence loosening in its grasp, and the legitimacy of its long dominion boldly questioned, by a race, professing to have been just now turned from darkness unto marvellous light.

The effect of this new impulse fell, as might have been expected, most heavily on the pastors of the churches. Secure of their support by the aid of the civil law, pledging all the real and personal estate, within certain geographical limits, for the fulfillment of their pecuniary contracts; and ministering to a people, not desirous of great pastoral fidelity, to the disturbance of their slumbering consciences, a large part of them had settled down into a dull routine of Sabbath day performances, and were spending their week day hours, when not employed in the preparation of their hasty discourses, in the improvement of their parsonage lands, the indulgence of their literary tastes, or in friendly correspondence and social intercourse with each other, and with those distinguished men in civil life who courted their society and respected their respectability, or sought to avail themselves, for their own purposes, of their unbounded influence. Many of the ministers of that day, it is supposed, were men who had never experienced, in their own hearts, the power of the faith which they professed to teach. Many had become very sceptical in regard to its fundamental doctrines. And even those who were at heart faithful men, and desired sincerely the spiritual welfare of their flocks, infected to a great extent with the surrounding atmosphere, had become over cautious, in regard to every thing like excitement in religion, and, to avoid offence, dwelt chiefly on those vague generalities, which at best play round the head but come not near the heart.

Upon a clergy so secure and slumberous, the great awakening burst forth like the shock of an earthquake. Some aroused themselves, like the five wiser virgins when the bridegroom came, and made haste to welcome the wonderful guest. Some at first acted the prudent part of bending to the storm, thinking to let it pass over them unresisted, and blow by. Others, really friendly to whatever was good and genuine in the work of grace, were yet alarmed by the evils which attended it, and, perhaps too much influenced by the opinion of some whom they deemed wise and judicious, run well for a little season and then were hindered.

It was not long, however, before the party lines among the pastors of the Churches became quite prominent. When the famous Whitefield first came to Boston, all the clergy there, and in the neighboring towns, with scarce an exception, welcomed him with open arms. A few years passed, and a considerable party among them had taken an entirely different view of his character and influence. His faults were magnified, his good depreciated. Pulpits were shut against him, and pamphlets warned the public to beware of his fanatical influence.

But it is not easy to stop an earthquake when it has commenced its motion, nor to stay the progress of a hurricane by the rebuke of human authority. The popular mind had been aroused, and the excitement could be quelled only by the voice of truth. Unfortunately for those who would restore the calm, truth was mainly on the side of their opponents. The people saw that the new doctrines, were, after all, only those which the fathers of New England taught, which were acknowledged in the confessions of faith of their own Churches, and in which, in childhood, they themselves had been instructed from the Assembly’s Catechism. They saw, too, that the effects produced by them, were, in the main, the legitimate results of those principles. And why then should the respected pastors of the churches wish to oppose the preaching of those doctrines, and the production of those effects?

The result was such as might have easily been anticipated. The coldness, which so many Christian ministers exhibited amidst the general fervor, led many to doubt the reality of their own conversion, and the sincerity of their professed attachment to the ancient faith; and what was doubtless true of many, soon began to be asserted boldly of the whole. The cord that bound the religious community together was now broken. The old decencies were despised as sheer hypocrisy. The influence of the pastors was no longer heeded, because the people had lost confidence in their sincere attachment to the cause of piety. Men of more zeal than knowledge now became, in many instances, the leaders of public opinion, and in the anarchy which must necessarily have ensued, all sorts of wild fire, mingling with the flame of newly kindled piety, burned unchecked till it became uncontrollable.

[The evils likely to result from the encouragement of ignorant laymen and youth destitute of all proper experience, to usurp the functions of the Christian ministry, were early foreseen and predicted by some of the most eminent promoters of the revival. But they had greater evils of an opposite character to contend with, and this fact neutralized, in a great degree, the influence of their admonitions. It is well known to all who are familiar with those times, that a prominent subject of controversy was the necessity of an educated ministry. The revival party insisted that grace in the hearts is of more importance than learning in the head; and their opposers, on the other hand, so magnified the importance of human learning, as to cast into the shade that of personal piety. Both were partly right and partly wrong. It must be said, however, in favor of those who seemed to despise education in their zeal for personal religion, that, of the two, they were contending for by far the more important point. It was the point likewise which, for a considerable time previous, had been most neglected. Had all the educated ministers of the community possessed the spirit of Colman, and Edwards, and Sewall, and Prince, no outcry would have been made, we may be sure, against human learning in the ministry–certainly no disposition would have been manifested to undervalue it, as an important collateral qualification. But the great dearth of such men at that important crisis, and on the other hand the violent opposition which the revival encountered from some, eminent for their intellectual attainments, produced, in many hasty minds, the impression, that great learning is unfavorable to ardent piety. Hence their confidence was transferred to another class, and the unskilfulness of their guides often led them lamentably astray.]

Far be it from me to approve the disorders and irregularities which attended that wonderful excitement. There was unquestionably much everywhere which the serious Christian must and ought to deplore. But what is the chaff to the wheat? The legitimate leaders in the sacramental host of God’s elect had declined their trust. The battle was for the inheritance, transmitted from the worthiest of fathers,–the inheritance of puritan faith, dearest of all others to the genuine New Englander. It was not so much a revolution, as a restoration, that they were now to contend for, not a conquest, but a recovery, of what had been insidiously stolen away, in an hour of forgetfulness. And should the people hesitate? In the absence of their regular leaders, they must lead themselves. In all their ignorance, they must march on, with such a degree of regularity as mere soldiers of the rank and file were able to secure. Who can wonder that there was little discipline among them? Who can wonder that the lawless mingled in their ranks, and obtained at times a temporary ascendancy? Who can wonder that the best disposed among them were chargeable with many things, which their posterity must censure, and which they themselves, when they had time for calm review, had occasion to deplore?

The prevailing spirit of that movement, was, we may not doubt, that of living Christianity. There was, truly, as those engaged in it believed, a glorious work of divine grace upon the hearts of individuals, and a glorious reformation accomplished in the Church at large. Great principles, long withdrawn from notice, and almost sunk into oblivion, were restored to their ancient supremacy. The faith, practice and experience of the puritans was revived. Religion flourished again. And as for the disorders, which unhappily attended its resuscitation, these were soon made to disappear before the power of intelligent and sober piety.

Words to Live By:
As the Rev. Bill Iverson is fond of saying, “God has no grandchildren.” By that he means that the work of evangelism must be done afresh in every generation. The Church can never afford to rest or to grow complacent. May we rise to the work that the Lord has given us to do; may the Lord of the harvest send out laborers into His harvest; and may we faithfully proclaim the saving Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ alone.

To read the whole of A Historical Discourse commemorative of the Organization of the First Presbyterian Church, in Newburyport, delivered at the first Centennial celebration, January 7, 1846, click here.

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LarnedSylvester02On August 27th, 1820, the Rev. Sylvester Larned appeared for the last time before the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans. He had remained in the city during the summer’s “sickly season.” Death from fever was everywhere, and Rev. Larned has spent those weeks and months ministering to the city’s poor who could not afford to flee the city. It was in that context that “The whole of his discourse was solemn, and he himself was unusually affected by the considerations he presented to his hearers; and as he concluded, he wept.”

To me to live is Christ; and to die is gain.’ — Philippians 1:21.

“To a sentiment like this, my hearers, what can we conceive superior in dignity of thought, or loftiness of feeling? How majestic does he appear who can look with so triumphant an emotion upon the grave,and that too, not in the sternness of philosophy, nor the torpor of fatalism, but simply in the meek and confiding hope of salvation in Jesus Christ! In the present case, also, there are some facts which render the spectacle still more illustrious. When St. Paul uttered the language of our text, he was a prisoner at Rome. The terrible Nero had hunted long and eagerly for the aged saint, till at last the apostle was seized and conducted to that imperial monster, who had so often feasted on the blood and tears of the Church. Here it was that the godly old man—chained to a soldier, to prevent his escape, uncertain what day might prove his last, and listening, at every sound, for the fearful tread of the executioner,—here it was, under circumstances which might have appalled the stoutest heart, that he exclaimed, more like a conquerer than a captive,

To me to live is Christ; and to die is gain.’

Now what, my hearers, is life? It comprises, you well know, two leading ideas—activity and enjoyment. Every man has some great object upon which his activities are more awake than upon any other. Wealth to one, Beauty to a second, Fame to a third, and so on; and, I trust, experimental religion to a few, calls forth that paramount solicitude and exertion which show most decisively in what direction the main current of the feelings is set. By this rule, if you look at the apostle Paul, you may find out, at a glance, the real spring of his movements. His whole efforts were bent to the single aim of promoting Christianity, not only abroad, but in his own bosom—not alone in the display of its external embellishments, but in the urgency of its work upon the affections and thoughts.

The same is true in regard to the idea of enjoyment. There is scarcely a man in a thousand who does not show to the eye of his acquaintances, and indeed to his own eye, if he be candid and impartial, the actual feelings by which he loves chiefly to be engrossed. The secret will come out. The votary of pleasure, of fashion, of gold, and, may I add, of the Saviour, are sure to betray the supremacy of their attachment to their separate objects of pursuit.

By this rule, too, St. Paul appears in a character the most unequivocal. His enjoyments were in Christ. All his views of happiness appear to have centered on the one absorbing principle of union with Him, ‘in whom,’ to use his own words, ‘tho’ now we see Him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.’ Well then did the great apostle of the Gentiles say, that ‘To him to live was Christ.’ But, my brethren, does not his language convey a sentiment of conviction and reproof to you? Could you adopt it, and assert that the Lord Jesus constitutes the primary object of your lives, either by making you supremely active in His service, or by making you supremely happy in His promises?

These are inquiries which lie, depend upon it, at the very basis of personal religion. Easy as it may be to carry about us the semblance of a hope for eternity, the Bible declares that God looketh at the life, not simply in its visible conformities and observances, but in the entireness of its dedication to Jesus Christ. But the venerable Paul goes on to say, that ‘to him to die was gain.‘ How is this? How should a poor frail mortal, who had known only one world, feel a confidence so strong in approaching the untried scenes of another? The reason, my hearers, plainly was, that he had an interest in the Saviour’s blood.

This inspired his triumph, and having this, Death, was to him, as it is to every believer, a subject of thanksgiving and praise. It released him from all his sorrows; and many a one have the children of God in walking through this vale of tears. The hand of God’s bereavement, or the reverses of His Providence, break in upon their happiness so often, that, ‘if , in this life only, they had hope in Christ, they were, of all men, most miserable.’

And besides, in entering the grave, the Christian leaves his sins behind him; and I know of no one consideration more glorious or more animating to a renovated heart. Certain it is, that by just how much we are assimilated to the Redeemer, by just so much will the bare danger of violating his commandments, or incurring his displeasure, be to us a source of the most lively uneasiness and anxiety.

And then, more than every thing else, the hour of death, however shrouded for the time in gloom, ushers the experimental believer into a better and a brighter world. To him it is that God has promised ‘an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.’ The very moment life is gone, the certainty of Heaven comes home to him; and thus it happens that every one, rich or poor, bond or free, who can truly say, with the apostle, that ‘to him to live is Christ’, may say also with the same assurance, that ‘to die is gain.’

And here, my brethren, let me again inquire, if the sentiment of our text do not tacitly imply a reproach—or an expostulation to yourselves? In what sense is it that death, to you, would be ‘gain’?—Death, which will stop you short in your pursuits, and lay you motionless and cold, beneath the lids of the coffin—death, which will put forever beyond your reach the offers of mercy—which will cut short the busy activities of the world, and dismiss you at once to the tribunal bar of the Omnipotent God. Justly indeed might St. Paul contemplate these things with joy; for he was prepared to put off his clayey tabernacle. But, to us, the question comes most impressively up, whether we have any evangelical and well-grounded reason to believe that Christ has been formed in us the hope of glory?

“Now, my hearers, in looking at the subject which has been briefly examined, I cannot repress a remark, adapted, I think, to the serious reality of our present circumstances. It is this: At all times a becoming preparation for eternity presents itself to us as a most desirable attainment—but now more than ever, for the simple reason that now the distance between time and eternity seems to be most solemnly short. You can all attest how suddenly a few weeks past have hurried some of our fellow-beings from health to the tomb. Do not, however, mistake my meaning,—do not think I say this with a design to alarm. By no means. Your own good sense will teach you, that at a moment like the present, composure and tranquility, even without religion, ought carefully to be sought. But what I say is, have an interest in Jesus Christ. Then death will have no terrors, and the grave no victory.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for you is, that you may be saved. Why will you put off the business of your immortal souls? Why will you rush forward with the infatuation of madness and the rashness of despair, when the arms of a compassionate Saviour are thrown open to welcome you with all your sins and all your fears? I entreat, and God grant you may remember the appeal—I entreat you to be up and doing—to work while it is called today, because the night cometh,—and how soon or suddenly we know not,—wherein no man can work.”

———

By the exertions of this Sabbath he appeared to be much overcome, but complained of no indisposition until early the next morning, when he was seized with fever, which no medical skill or appliances could subdue; and on Thursday evening, the 31st of August, the very day on which he completed his twenty-fourth year, he resigned, in the full confidence of a blessed immortality, his soul to God.

To read more of the life of the Rev. Sylvester Larned, along with a small collection of his sermons, click here:
Life and Eloquence of the Rev. Sylvester Larned; first pastor of the First Presbyterian church in New Orleans, by Ralph Randolph Gurley (1844).

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singer01

I never had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Gregg Singer, but he will always hold a special place in my life. His papers were the first collection that I ever attempted to process. As I confidently opened the box and opened one large envelope, the first thing I saw read:

I might as that I amtill mysitifed ax  p why you noukdfinnd my feeble efforts and writig of value to the Church But I wllstill try to coopeate as be t Ican. I may be able to sendyou a copy of over ure whichIhave drfated for a commite of Central CArolina Presbyery for the BCO.

Dismayed and defeated, I put Singer’s papers back on the shelf for some braver day.

But where I thought it was because of his age, it turns out his foibles in typing were a life-long affliction. His friends would tease him about it. Aiken Taylor once replied, “I was able to read your last letter with the help of a ouija board and a crystal ball.”

Charles Gregg Singer was born in Philadelphia on June 3, 1910. His parents were Arthur Gregg and Edith Elizabeth Singer. He graduated magna cum laude from Haverford College in 1933 and received his Masters (1935) and Doctorate (1940) from the University of Pennsylvania. At one point during his years at the University, he served as chauffeur for Dr. J. Gresham Machen, when Machen was speaking on campus.

During World War II, Dr. Singer was the director of the War Manpower Commission in Illinois, and later was appointed to serve on the staff of the US Senate Commission investigating the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Dr. Singer was a highly skilled historian and an excellent teacher. His academic career included posts at Wheaton College, Salem College, the University of Pennsylvania, Belhaven College, Montreat-Anderson, Catawba College, Furman University, and the Atlanta School of Biblical Studies. He was also among the founding faculty at the Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and he was teaching there at the time of his death, on March 22, 1999.

Dr. Morton H. Smith, first Stated Clerk of the PCA, said of Dr. C. Gregg Singer, that he “was committed to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. He sought to live his faith as well as to teach it. He was a loving and faithful husband, and a loving father to his children. …[H]e was always a warm friend, and an example of what a teacher should be. He was the dean of church historians. His loss will be greatly felt by all who knew him.”

Dr. Singer taught history with a moral purpose. Another account of his life remembers that he would typically lecture using a tall stack of 3 x 5 cards, supplying students with lengthy quotations, often involving original languages, all touching on the major themes and personalities of church history. Whether he was covering Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther or Calvin, it was clear that he had a close familiarity with the works of each of his subjects. More than simply relating dates and events, Singer’s teaching culminated with interpretation. On that note, it should be mentioned that Dr. Singer’s book, A Theological Interpretation of American History remains in print to this day. [http://www.solid-ground-books.com/detail_1362.asp?flag=1]

It should also be noted that Dr. Singer had long been active as a ruling elder in the context of the old Southern Presbyterian denomination. Singer was also active in the renewal groups which worked to stem the tide of modernism in that denomination and he was the last president of the Concerned Presbyterians organization, staying to man the ship after most left with the formation of the PCA. He was himself received into the PCA in 1987, with ordination as a teaching elder under the authority of Central Carolina Presbytery.

A Sample of his Writing:

A Cultural Intrusion
by C. Gregg Singer

The intrusion into Christian life and thought of cultural influences originating in a non-Christian environment has been a continuous factor in the history of the Church. At no time in its history has the Church been free from the effects of its necessary contact with various forms of pagan culture, and the more highly civilized the paganism, the more insidious have been the results of these contacts.

The Church was brought face to face with the almost overpowering influences of Greece and Rome when it was most zealous for the purity of the Gospel message and when it was most acutely aware of the great chasm between the message of the Scriptures and Greek-Roman thought.

…Today in the contemporary Church modern paganism may well be invading Christian thought and practice in much the same way as its ancient counterpart infiltrated the early Church. The ecumenical movement stands in relation to Christian orthodoxy today in many respects as cultured paganism in its Greek trappings stood to the Church of the first four centuries. This movement represents a kind of synthesis between Christian and non-Christian thought.

The ecumenical attack on the pure Gospel is much more dangerous because it is more subtle. Although some who are active in the movement would openly sacrifice the supernaturalism of the Gospel in the interests of religious inclusiveness, they are in the minority.

The great majority would prefer a blend of Christian and humanistic elements with a synergistic conception of redemption exalting the value of human effort. In either case they resort to Christian verbiage, thus concealing from the unwary the non-Christian elements in their thinking.

The contemporary invasion of paganism into the Church is not confined to doctrine, it includes government and polity. In fact, there is a curious and remarkably close similarity between the rise of the papacy as the embodiment of absolutism within the Christian community during the Middle Ages and the increasing interest in the ecumenical movement of the present day.

Both developments are but the lengthened shadow of the theory of the corporate state and society over the life of the Church. It was against this heresy that the Reformers brought forth the Biblical doctrine of the priesthood of the believer.

The ecumenical movement reflects the dual trend in modern society toward a consolidation and centralization of power. No sphere of American life has been immune to this disease.

In the area of politics it has taken the form of the constant attempts of the federal government to claim for itself those powers reserved to the states by the Constitution. In the realms of business and commerce it is seen in the continuing trend toward mergers and combination. In the field of labor it has been signaled by the emergence of huge organizations which claim jurisdiction over large numbers of trade unions.

In this country there is an inclination toward bigness for its own sake, to look upon bigness in government, industry, labor and the Church with awe and to regard it as necessarily more efficient. Whether arising in the state, the labor unions, business or education, corporations must inevitably snuff out liberty in the interests of some form of absolutism.

However disastrous its appearance in government may be, its entrance into the life of the Church must be regarded as even more dangerous. The intrusion of absolutism into the Christian community under the guise and cloak of the ecumenical movement is not only the entrance of an essentially pagan political philosophy into the government of the Church but also of paganism itself into the Church’s doctrine and practice.

[excerpted from The Presbyterian Journal, 32.5 (30 May 1973): 7-8. There is more to this article, but it is too lengthy to reproduce here.]

Words to Live By:
Dr. Singer knew the value of history for the Christian. The Christian faith is historically based, being particularly founded on the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is eternally the Second Person of the one Triune God. History matters, as it is the unveiling of God’s redemptive and providential plan.

For Further Study:
I did in fact get back to the arrangement and description [aka, processing] of Dr. Singer’s papers. There are still some items to add to that collection, but the bulk of it is described here.

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