Scriptures Psalm

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

The Ends Don’t Justify the Means

The desires to grow increased members on the rolls can be dangerous in that questionable methods can be used to accomplish that end.   From the year of the first General Assembly in 1789, the church slowly grew from 419 churches to 511 in 1803. It is important to note that these increases did not come from proselytizing of members in other denominations.  As late as 1794, the General Assembly had approved a circular which discouraged “sheep stealing” from other denominations.:

But there was still a problem.  As the population shift in people continued to the west and south, there was a scarcity of pastors and congregations to reach the expanding growth.  Thus, the idea of some type of cooperation between churches was suggested at the General Assembly in 1800.  By the next year, and specifically on this day, May 29, 1801, this cooperation was given a name, that of the Plan of Union.  And it was to take place between the Presbyterians and the Congregationalist denominations.

The goal was admirable. For the purposes of not duplicating the work of either Presbyterian or Congregational ministers, Congregational mission churches or established churches could call a Presbyterian minister, and Presbyterian mission churches or established churches could call a Congregational minister.  Each could interchange to the other church with no problem.

As far as numerical growth was concerned, the Plan of Union worked admirably.  For thirty-five years, until 1837, the best statistics show that the numbers of churches went from 511 to 2,965 churches.  The number of ministers grew from 180 in number to 2, 140 clergy in 1837.  The church had increased eleven fold in barely four decades.

But at what cost doctrinally, was the question?  While there were some Congregational ministers who were Calvinistic in theology, others were influenced by liberal beliefs from New England with respect to sin and salvation.  Original sin was denied as well as the substitutionary satisfaction of Christ’s death on the cross for sinners.  Something had to be done if  Presbyterian government and doctrine was to continue.

In 1837, the Plan of Union was dissolved by the General Assembly, and particularly the Old School General Assembly,  having been declared “unnatural and unconstitutional.”  Entire synods, presbyteries, ministers, churches, and members were cut off from the Presbyterian church.  The Assembly was determined that purity came before growth in the order of importance.

Words to Live By: The ends, especially evangelistic ends, do not justify the means to those ends.  Rather, both ends and means must glorify God and be according to the Word of God.  Biblical ends must be justified by biblical means.

Through the Scriptures: Psalm 145 – 147

Through the Standards: Works of the unrepentant

WCF 17:7
“Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God: and yet, their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing to God.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Glorifying God by Education

Quiz time! What Christian college today came about as the result of the sharing of ideas in a general store by Scots-Irish bargain hunters? Or what sports team logo came from a tornado which swept the campus in the early part of the twentieth century? If you answered  Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, give yourself a hand.

The year was 1836. The place was Northwood, Ohio.  James Stewart Johnston was the keeper of a general store in that small town which did business with many Scots-Irish customers. Besides shopping, it was also the place to share ideas, one of which was the starting of an educational institution for the second generation. And the one who seemed best to do it was the Rev. James Black Johnston, the pastor of the Miami (of Ohio) Reformed Presbyterian church, and brother to James Steward Johnston. So on April 20,  1848, Rev. Johnston began to teach Latin to a group of seven male students. He called it Geneva Hall, so named after the city of John Calvin in Switzerland. The class became so popular at Geneva Hall that women were added to the mix shortly. Pastor Johnston had to move the location to a log house in the village of Northwood, Ohio.

Before long, the Civil War between 1861 – 1865 caused the school to close, at least briefly. But after that national struggle, some say that the school opened as a Freedman institution, in which freed blacks began to study. The very fact that the Underground Railroad operated nearby makes that story a possible reality. Soon white students were included in the mix of education.

Seeing the need to be closer to an urban center caused the school to move to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania in 1880, close to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The land was given by a German society in that area. The school’s sport teams were known, understandably as the Covenanters. The first basketball game in the country was held by Geneva College  and  New Brighton YMCA in 1893. It wasn’t until early in the new century that the school’s sport team names was changed to the Golden Tornado after a literal tornado swept through the campus buildings, taking the golden dome of the oldest building off with it.

What is more important than these traditional facts which every college had to one degree or another, is that this college is a Christian college, both in name as well as in reality. All of the faculty must profess that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior. All of the professors and lecturers of the Department of Biblical Studies must adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is the only college of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.  Its purpose succinctly is “to glorify God by educating and ministering to a diverse community of students for the purpose of developing servant leaders, transforming society for the kingdom of Christ.”

Words to Live By:   Their stated aim in education should be the stated aim of all Christians, that is, of seeking by their words and works to transform society for the kingdom of Christ. In what way will you be accomplishing that this week? Month? Year?

Through the Scriptures: Psalm 28 – 30

Through the Standards: Justification, according to the confession of faith

WCF 11:1
“Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Where Would We Be Without Christ being a Prophet

With an absence of Presbyterian historical dates for April 16, we return to the marvelous answers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism and specifically the doctrinal and experiential statement of Christ executing the office of a prophet to His people.  Answer 24 states, “Christ executes the office of a prophet, in revealing to us, by his Word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation.”

In defining the term “prophet,” we see someone who is qualified and authorized to speak for another.”  Immediately, we see  Jesus is  a “spokesman” or “mouthpiece” for the Father.  The writer to the Hebrews hits us right at the first in chapter 1, verse 1 and 2 of this office.  He writes, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son . . .” (ESV)  God the Father has spoken to us by His Son, the Lord Jesus.

The instrument and agent of Jesus as the prophet of His Father are specified as “his Word and Spirit.”  Notice the conjunction “and.”  Both God’s  written Word, the Bible, first spoken, and then written,  and God’s Spirit are necessary for the effectiveness of the  prophetic message.  Both were promised, and both were given to the church of the ages for their salvation and sanctification.

Revealed to the church as the subject of His prophetic words, our Confessional fathers tell us that it was “the will of God for our salvation.”  Jesus did not come to earth to answer every question upon the mind of man.  He didn’t come to speak of art and science and history and math, etc.   On one occasion, many of his professed followers left Him, because they had a false idea of His coming, believing it to be a political redemption from the empire of Rome.  So great was the exodus, that perhaps not many more than that original twelve apostles now reminded with Jesus.  Asking whether they would also leave, Peter sums up the convictions of those remaining when he replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (ESV – John 6:66 – 68).  Jesus did then, and does now, and ever will possess those words of the good news of eternal life.    We are all under a death sentence, for the wages of sin is death.  But God’s Son fulfilled that sentence of death on our behalf, giving those who repent of their sins and  trust in Him, eternal life instead.

Words to Live By: Summing up Christ’s prophetic office, as Prophet, his mediatorship is downward from God to us.  As a prophet, as the Prophet, He meets the problems of man’s spiritual ignorance, supplying us with spiritual knowledge of the most important kind, that which affects eternity, and where we will spend it.  Are you still ignorant, or have you been brought to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?

Through the Scriptures: Psalm 16 – 18

Through the Standards:  The subjects of the effective call

WCF 10:2, 3
“This effective call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from any thing at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.  Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases: so also are all other elect persons who are uncapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.”;

WLC 68 — “Are the elect only effectually called?
A.  All the elect, and they only, are effectually called . . . .”

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