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Father of Arkansas Presbyterianism

It is hard to believe that at one time in this country, Arkansas was considered to be mission territory.  But that was exactly the way that it was, when James Wilson Moore was appointed after his studies at Princeton Theological Seminary to go there as a Presbyterian missionary.  It was still not a state, but a territory.  Moore, who had been born in 1797, was sent there by the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions, to develop the church in that territory.  In the whole town of Little Rock, with a population of 150 people, there were only three whites and three blacks professing Christ as Savior.

It was on July 27, 1828, that he organized the First Presbyterian Church of Little Rock, with two males and five females. In so doing, this congregation was the only active congregation and he was the only ordained minister when the territory became a state. This church became the “mother church” of all Presbyterian churches in the state.  Thus, the James Wilson Moore was properly called the  “father of Presbyterianism in Arkansas.”

In 1830, Moore returned to New Jersey so he could marry his wife, Elizabeth Green.  Soon afterwards, he organized the Arkansas Presbytery, and was the only commissioner of it back at the General Assembly in 1846. Moving thirty miles west of Little Rock, Arkansas in 1840, he established a church in Sylvania as well as a school for boys. He taught at the latter educational facility for the next 30 years. He died in 1873, having successfully by God’s grace brought Arkansas the gospel and the Presbyterian church to worship and serve God.

Words to Live By: Home missions has as much of a call to it as does Foreign Missions. After all, the disciples just before the ascension of our Lord Jesus into heaven, were told to be witnesses of His life, death, burial, and ascension, first in Jerusalem, then Judea, next Samaria, and finally to the whole earth.  Your Jerusalem is where God has placed you right now.  It is there that we need the filling of the Spirit upon us to go and witness of Jesus.  Think again of your witness by your life and lips in this first place.  Until you have been faithful here, you cannot be an effective witness in your county, state, region of the United States, the whole country, and finally the world.  Serve God where you are first!

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 61 – 63

Through the Standards: The Fifth commandments: Sins forbidden

WSC 65 — “What is forbidden in the fifth commandment?
A.  The fifth commandment forbids the neglecting of, or doing any thing against, the honor and duty which belongs to every one in their several places and relations.”

Image source : Frontispiece portrait in The History of Presbyterianism in Arkansas, 1828-1902.

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

War Sermons of Samuel Davies

Samuel Davies was known as the apostle to Virginia, so effective was he in being the instrument to call a people out of darkness into light.  Beyond the evangelistic emphasis of his ministry there, he also often  had to challenge  his people to stand up and defend themselves against the Indians of that area.  This was especially needful as countless settlers were withdrawing to safer areas of the colonies, thus reducing the number of parishioners of the Presbyterian churches in the area.

On the Sabbath day of  July 25, 1755, in his home parish of Hanover, Virginia, the Rev. Samuel Davies spoke on this theme of standing up and fighting for your family, your church, and your country.  Listen to his words:

“Let me earnestly recommend to you to furnish yourselves with arms and put yourselves in a position of defense.  What is that religion good for that leaves men cowards on the appearance of danger?

“I am particularly solicitous of you that you should act with honor and spirit in this, as it becomes loyal subjects, lovers of your country, and courageous Christians.  I am determined to not leave my country while there is any prospect of defending it.  Certainly he does not deserve a place in any country who is ready to run from it upon every appearance of danger.

“Let us determine that if the cause should require it, we will courageously leave house and home and take the field.”

A voluntary company of riflemen was immediately formed as a result of this sermon by Samuel Davies.  In fact, during the progress of what later on became known as the French and Indian War, the war sermons of Samuel Davies persuaded more men to enter the field of battle as soldiers than any other means used.

Words to Live By: Samuel Davies was resolute about this issue.  His point was that the church of the Lord was being devastated by this danger, as more and more colonists returned closer to the safety of larger towns in the east.  Stand up and defend your home, your church, and your country, was his watchword.  There is a sacred right to defend oneself and the country to which you belong.  Let there be careful study that the cause is just, according to the Scripture.  Then with that basis, stand strong in the Lord.

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 55 – 57

Through the Standards: The duties of equals

WLC 131 — “What are the duties of equals?
A.  The duties of equals are, to regard the dignity and worth of each other, in giving honor to go one before another; and to rejoice in each others’ gifts and advancement, as their own.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Benefits claimed at death

The Christian, having received a diagnosis of a disease in the hospital, replied to her pastor that she was not afraid of death, but was afraid of dying. I believe that all of us Christians could echo her words.

Finding no Presbyterian event on this day of July 24, we turn to the benefits of our effectual calling, in question and answer 37 of the Shorter Catechism, which deals with the benefits we believers receive from Christ at death. It states, “The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves, til the resurrection.” You see the immediate division between the soul and the body in this catechetical answer.

With respect to the Christian’s soul, there is no intermediate state between earth and heaven. Paul clearly taught this when he spoke of his desire in his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5, where he said in verse 8 “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (ESV)  Earlier, in verse 6, he spoke of being at home in the body and away from the Lord.  There are two certain states for believers. Either they are alive on this earth or they are alive in  heaven.  There is no soul-sleep as some of the cults believe.  It is here, or it is hereafter.  Immediately after death, we are made perfect in  holiness and immediately pass into the glories of heaven.

What about our bodies then? Since Christ redeemed our whole being, body and soul, then those bodies are still united to Christ.  They might be lost to man, but they are never lost to Christ.  Death cannot separate Christ from those bodies.  They rest in their graves until the resurrection.  Jesus put it plainly in John 5:28, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life . . .” (ESV)  “The dead in Christ will rise first,” Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 4. (ESV)

No Christian should be afraid of death, either for ourselves or our loved ones in Christ.  We may be afraid for the process, but even there the Psalmist promised us His presence when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (See Psalm 23).

Words to Live By:  
The saints of God should not fear death.  It is coming sooner or later for all believers.  “So then,  as we have divine opportunities, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  (ESV – Galatians 6:10)  Let its certainty be a impetus to serve Christ faithfully now, in our families, at our work, and out into the world.

Through the Scriptures:  Isaiah 52 – 54

Through the Standards: Sins of superiors

WLC 130 — “What are the sins of superiors?
A.  The sins of superiors are, besides the neglect of the duties required of them, and inordinate seeking of themselves, their own glory, ease, profit, or pleasure; commanding things unlawful, or not in the power of inferiors to perform; counseling, encouraging, or favoring them in that which is evil; dissuading, discouraging, or discountenancing them in that which is good; correcting them unduly; careless exposing, or leaving them to wrong, temptation, and danger; provoking them to wrath; or any way dishonoring themselves, or lessening their authority, by an unjust, indiscreet, rigorous, or remiss behavior.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Benefits of God’s Grace

Without any historical person, place, or thing found  in Presbyterian history, we turn back to one of the more comforting Shorter Catechisms in our Westminster Standards. Question and answer 36 speaks of those benefits which flow during our lifetime from justification and adoption and sanctification. These latter benefits are the three great foundational benefits.   But God has also given us from them five other benefits in this life. They are: assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance unto the end.  Let’s briefly look at each one.

Assurance of God’s love is promised to believers. All through Scripture we have many precious promises that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Romans chapter 8 is filled with such promises, especially verses 28 – 39. He assures us of His love by His written word and His wonderful providence in our life. No believer should be content to go through life without the assurance of God’s love.

Peace of conscience is closely associated with the last benefit.  Being assured of God’s love, we know that we are the son or daughter of God, that all judgment against us has been paid by Christ’s own death, burial, and resurrection, that nothing can accuse us successfully, our sins are under the blood of Christ, and we have the promise of eternal life.  If God can be for us, who then can be against us? Answer: No one!  That produces peace of conscience.

Joy in the Holy Ghost or Spirit is the third benefit in this life.  All of the above which is written about the three foundational benefits plus the two above which flow from them causes us to rejoice in the Holy Ghost.  This is a Scriptural expression, found in Romans 14:17, where we read of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (KJV)  It is true that being still sinners, though not under its power any more, we still sin.  And that causes sorrow to us.  But the joy of our salvation can be restored to us.  David prayed that in Psalm 51.  And the entire book of First John is to cause us to have joy in the Holy Spirit.

Increase of grace is to be our daily experience.  We are to be growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus.  It is true that on some days we may be advancing in grace and other days declining in grace.  It may be one step forward and two steps backwards. But this increase in grace is to be our disposition always.

Last, we are to persevere to the end.  We are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.  But at the same time, we as believers must  persevere in holiness.  We must press on to the prize of the high calling of God in salvation.

All these are benefits in this life.

Words to Live By: 
What a great catechism for self-examination.  Which of these benefits do we enjoy in this life?  What has occurred in our life that has caused us to lose any of them?  How must we re-possess them?  These questions cannot be answered by anyone else except you?  Pastors may help.  Parents may be a guide.  Close personal friends can encourage.  But essentially it comes down to you, your Bible, prayer, and other means of grace which will help you.  What are you waiting for?

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 37 – 39

Through the Standards: The significance of father and mothers of the fifth commandment

WLC 124 — “Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?  A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts, and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

A Plea for Tolerance or a Plan for Liberal Takeover—Which?

That was the fundamental question which was being debated in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., in the early decades of the twentieth century in the United States.  Should this historic church be allowed to have all sorts of opinions accepted within the church, or should the principles and practices of the  historic Christian faith be demanded by all those who are ordained into the church leadership?  This issue was brought to a head by two opposing sermons, both of which were printed and sent to the nation’s spiritual leaders.

“Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” was the sermon which started the battle over which brand of Christianity should be accepted by the leadership of the Presbyterian Church.  Preached by Harry Emerson Fosdick at the First Presbyterian Church of New York City on May 21, 1922, this Baptist Associate Pastor  pleaded for tolerance of more liberal views of Christianity.  In reality, he affirmed that it was not necessary to believe in the sovereignty of God in history, or the inerrant Bible, or special creation.  The virgin birth could be denied by pastors and those in the pew without having to leave their churches and positions.  The Bible is not to be thought of as being without error and the supreme judge of all controversies of religion. Evolutionary science could be received by the visible church without harm. Negative sanctions should be placed in the past without hurting the gospel.  And ecumenism is the best way to go, as far as the end times are concerned.

This message, with printing financed by John D. Rockefeller, was sent out to 130,000 pastors and leaders. Its title was changed to “The New Knowledge and the Christian Faith.”

Answering the sermon was the Rev. Clarence Macartney of Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 13, 1922 with a sermon entitled “Shall Unbelief Win?”  If all those points raised by Fosdick were valid, then Christianity would be a Christianity of opinions and principles and good purposes leading to a Christianity without worship, a Christianity without God , and a Christianity without Jesus Christ.  Liberalism was progressively making the church secular, according to Clarence Macartney.  This sermon was published and sent to the nation’s religious leaders as well.

These two questions, and their sermons, were the opening salvos in the modernist-fundamentalist battles of the twenties and the thirties in American Presbyterianism.

Also this day :
The Rev. John Leighton Wilson died on this day, 13 July 1886.

Words to Live By:
   Tolerance was pleaded by liberals.  But when they became in control of the church machinery, there was no tolerance for Reformed Christendom.  The latter ministers and elders were thrown out of the church.  Remember dear reader – once the essentials of Christianity are thrown out, then there is no real Christianity, no worship of the Triune God, no evangelistic efforts, and no hope for heaven’s shores left.  Always be ready to give an answer, or a defense, of the historic Christian faith.  Fight the good fight of faith.

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 19 – 21

Through the Standards: The Fourth commandment : Sins forbidden

WLC 119 “What are the sins forbidden in the fourth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the fourth commandment are, all omissions of the duties required, all careless, negligent, and unprofitable performing of them, and being weary of them; all profaning the day by idleness, and doing that which is in itself sinful; and by all needless works, words, and thoughts, about our worldly employments and recreations.”

WSC 61 “What is forbidden in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment forbids the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, and works, about our worldly employments or recreations.”

Image sources:
1. Cover image of the sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” by Harry Emerson Fosdick. From an original copy located among the Fosdick miscellany collection at the PCA Historical Center.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Not Works But Christ’s Merits Alone

From day one of this historical devotional, we have recorded several experiences of David Brainerd, the Presbyterian evangelist to the Indians in the early part of the eighteenth century in America. What made this young man go so courageously to their villages  and witness to the sovereign and saving grace of God in Christ? The only answer, beyond his call to do just that, was his own experience of saving grace and a desire to spread that message of eternal life.

David Brainerd was born on  April 20, 1718 to a religious family. Yet while ministers were among his relatives, he didn’t receive or respect the true way of eternal life. He thought almost all of his young life that salvation was through a life of good works. And he did live such a life.  Prayer, fasting, personal duties to God and man, all were his to show to God.  When he still couldn’t get any real peace with God,  he went to a spirit of real antagonism with this God of the Bible.

As he tells in his diary, he was irritated with the strictness of the divine law against sin. Then the condition of salvation by faith alone bothered him.  Couldn’t there be another way, he thought?  Then, just how does one find saving faith? He didn’t know, nor could he find faith at all.  Last, the sovereignty of God was a troubling idea to him.

All of these questions were answered on this day July 12, 1739 when God’s convicting Spirit fell upon him powerfully  and saved his soul.  Listen to his words in his celebrated diary: “By this time the sun was scarce half an hour high, as I remember, as I was walking in a dark thick grove, ‘unspeakable glory’ seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul.  By the glory I saw I don’t mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing, nor do I intend any imagination of a body of light or splendor somewhere away in the third heaven, or anything of that nature. But it was a new inward apprehension or view that I  had of God; such as I never had before, nor anything that I had the least remembrance of it.  I stood still and wondered and admired.”

Now David Brainerd was qualified to take the unsearchable riches of the gospel to the tribes of hostile Indians.  Commissioned by the Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, he served his blessed Lord and Savior for three years until on October 9, 1747, he went to glory.  But his diary has remained in print and has effectively influenced countless people with missionary zeal to spend and be spent with the call of the Lord to reach the unsaved people of the world with Christ and Him crucified.

Words to Live By: 
It may be that some of you readers have never responded to the gospel call of the Spirit of God.  It may be that some of you are still trying to claim that your religious works will save your soul.  Learn from the experience of David Brainerd of old that all the testimony of Scripture is that eternal life is only by Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone.  Repent, and believe the blessed gospel.

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 16 – 18

Through the Standards: Leaders in families and business must set the example

WLC 118 — “Why is the charge of keeping the sabbath more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors?
A. The charge of keeping the sabbath is more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors, because they are bound not only to keep it themselves, but to see that it be observed by all those that are under their charge; and because they are prone ofttimes to hinder them by employments of their own.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

The Virtual Founder of America

The German historian, Leopold von Ranke, was the one who declared that John Calvin was the virtual founder of America.

Today, July 10, 1504, is the birth of this Swiss Reformer, John Calvin.  And yes, this is the first time we honor one in these historical devotions who is not an American, or for that matter, a Presbyterian.  But his influence pervades all of our history and our culture, so we briefly look at the man and his message.

Do we have any idea of how many Calvinists there were in our country up to the time of the American Revolution in 1776?  Loraine Boettner states that out of the three million citizens of the colonies at this pivotal time in our history, 900,000 were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, 600,600 were Puritan English, 400,000 were German or Dutch Reformed, and there were a lot of French Huguenots, who were Calvinists.  Two-thirds of our citizens had been trained in the school of Calvin.

Calvin was the first Reformer  to demand a complete separation between the church and the state. Note carefully what I  have just said.  It wasn’t a separation between God and the state, which is the commonly held interpretation today, but between the church and state. No one denomination was going to be the favored church of the government, as it was the case back in England. There would be freedom of religion. And that unique idea could be laid at the feet of John Calvin.

Next, our republic was to be looked upon as a representative republic.  In fact, if you look at the Presbyterian form of government, with its representative elders in the  congregation, we can see how our founding fathers simply took a leaf out of the Presbyterian form of government.

Let’s enter next,  what has been called the Protestant work-ethic in this whole discussion. Calvin held to the idea that every person’s calling can be characterized as a Christian calling, enabling them to serve God in every area of life. That has certainly helped  our people work hard in their respective jobs, knowing that they are serving God in those jobs as well as that one who has been called to the pulpit to serve God.

Further, the Geneva Bible came to these shores by the pilgrim forefathers. This was the version whose footnotes were decidedly Calvinist.

For all these reasons, we honor John Calvin today.

Words to Live By: 
Today Calvinism is almost a dirty word. We need to reclaim its force in people’s lives and equally in our national life, if we desire to return to the greatness of our land. If you, reader, are largely ignorant of this Reformer and his place of influence in the early days of our people, make sure that you are not neglecting the Westminster Confession of Faith and catechism readings, which are a part of Calvin’s legacy. And delve into his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which will more than repay you in bringing Biblical theology into your faith and life.

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 10 – 12

Through the Standards: The manner of sanctifying the Lord’s Day according to the Confession

WCF 21:8 — “This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe a holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.”

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