Second General Assembly

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Today we are pleased to have as our guest author the Rev. Dr. David W. Hall, pastor of the Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) of Powder Springs, GA. It was Dr. Hall who so competently headed up the Calvin 500 celebration just a few years back, a celebration which included the publication of almost a shelf of new works on the life and ministry of John Calvin, with several of those works written by Dr. Hall himself. He has also been our guest author on most Saturdays this year, with a series on Election Day Sermons.

Calvin’s Death

calvinJohn02On April 25, 1564, sensing the nearness of death, Calvin filed his final will. In it he pled his unworthiness (“Woe is me; my ardor and zeal have been so careless and languid, that I confess I have failed innumerable times”1) and thanked God for mercy. He appointed his brother, Anthony (whose reputation for divorcing an earlier wife due to adultery had been maliciously used to malign Calvin himself), to be his heir, and in his will he bequeathed equal amounts to the Boys’ School, the poor refugees, and his stepdaughters. He also left part of his meager estate to his nephews and their children. To vindicate Calvin against charges of greed, Beza reiterated what Calvin had stated earlier: “If some will not be persuaded while I am alive, my death, at all events will show that I have not been a money-making man.”2 When his will was notarized and brought to the attention of the Senate,3 members of that council visited the declining Calvin to hear his final farewell personally.

Calvin’s importance and relationship to the city leaders may be gleaned from his Farewell Address to the Members of the Little Council.4 The members of this council had gone to his home to hear his advice and to express their appreciation for the “services he has performed for the Seigneurie and for that of which he has faithfully acquitted himself in his duty.” A contemporary recorded his sentiments from April 27, 1564. In that chronicle, the dying Calvin first thanked these leaders for their support, cooperation, and friendship. Although they had engaged in numerous struggles, still their relationship was cordial. Even though he wished to accomplish more, Calvin humbly suggested that God might have “used him in the little he did.” He urged the senators to honor God and to keep “hidden under the wings of God in whom all our confidence must be. And as much as we are hanging by a thread, nevertheless he will continue, as in the past, to keep us as we have already experienced that he saved us in several ways.”

He concluded by encouraging each one to “walk according to his station and use faithfully that which God gave him in order to uphold this Republic. Regarding civil or criminal trials, one should reject all favor, hate, errors, commendations.” He also advised leaders not to aspire to privilege as if rank was a benefit for governors. “And if one is tempted to deviate from this,” Calvin added, “one should resist and be constant, considering the One who established us, asking him to conduct us by his Holy Spirit, and he will not desert us.”

Calvin’s farewell to these political leaders was followed by his Farewell Address to the Ministers on April 28, 1564. From his chamber, Calvin reminded them poignantly: “When I first came to this Church there was almost nothing. We preached and that was all. We searched out idols and burned them, but there was no reformation. Everything was in tumult. . . . I lived here through marvelous battles. I was welcomed with mockery one evening in front of my door by 50 or 60 rifle shots. Do you think that that could disturb a poor, timid student as I am, and as I have always been, I confess?” The farewell address continued to review his Strasbourg exile, the tensions he faced upon return, and some of his experiences with various councils. Calvin concluded by predicting that the battles would not lessen in the days ahead, warning, “You will be busy after God takes me, even though I am nothing, still I know I prevented three thousand uproars that there might have been in Geneva. But take courage and strengthen yourselves, for God will use this Church and will maintain her, and be sure that God will keep her.”

Calvin humbly confessed: “I say again that all that I did has no value, and that I am a miserable creature. But if I could say what I truly wanted to, that my vices always displeased me, and that the root of the fear of God was in my heart, and you can say that what I was subjected to was good, and I pray that you would forgive me of the bad, but if there is anything good, that you conform yourselves to it and follow it.”

He denied that he had written hateful things about others, and he confirmed that the pastors had elected Beza to be his successor. “Watch that you help him [Beza],” exhorted the dying Calvin, “for the duty is large and troublesome, of such a sort that he may be overwhelmed under the burden. . . . As for him, I know that he has a good will and will do what he can.” Further, he requested that senators not change anything in Geneva’s structures and urged them “not to innovate—we often ask for novelties—not that I desire for myself by ambition what mine remains, and that we retain it without wanting better, but because all change is hazardous, and sometimes harmful.” The advice from this leader is filled with layer upon layer of wisdom.

Always sensitive to the calling to lead in many sectors of public life, he concluded with a plea for his fellow ministers to recall how they would affect matters outside the walls of the church, too: “Let each one consider the obligation he has, not only to this Church, but to the city, which has promised to serve in adversity as well as in prosperity, and likewise each one should continue in his vocation and not try to leave it or not practice it. For when one hides to escape the duty, he will say that he has neither thought about it nor sought this or that. But one should consider the obligation he has here before God.”

calvin_deathbedWhen Calvin passed away almost a month after making these comments on May 27, 1564, “the whole State regretted” the death of “its wisest citizen . . . a common parent.” He was interred in a common cemetery at Plein Palais, finally finding the anonymity he craved. That, one historian wrote, was characteristic of Calvin in life as in death.5 The widespread notice and sadness at his death should serve to correct any faulty view that his contemporaries either despised him or underestimated his importance. He was mourned, and his large number of friends would keep his memory alive far more than some contemporaries would have predicted.

 

Source: David W. Hall, The Genevan Reformation and the American Founding(Lexington Books, 2003).

1 Theodore Beza, Life of John Calvin (contained in John Calvin, Tracts and Treatises on the Reformation of the Church [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1958], vol. 1), cxxv.

2 Theodore Beza, Life of John Calvin, cxxxviii.

3 Beza refers to this Little Council as the “senate.” See Theodore Beza, Life of John Calvin, cxxii.

4 This translation is from an unpublished translation of Calvin’s “Farewell Address,” trans. Kim McMahan of Oak Ridge, TN; originally published in 1999 at: http://capo.org/premise/99/jan/p990110.html.

5 Emile Doumergue, The Character of Calvin (Neuilly, La Cause, 1931), 173.

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An Assembly of Great Blessings

With over four hundred attendees, the Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America met in the large auditorium of the Manufacturers’ and Bankers’ Club in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, beginning on Thursday,November 12, 1936.  Present were 64 teaching elders and 26 ruling elders, with numerous guests. The photograph below serves to document that occasion. To my knowledge, no photograph has been discovered of their first General Assembly, which met in June of 1936.

The first Moderator of the new denomination, J. Gresham Machen, preached from2 Corinthians 5:14, 15.  The text reads, “for the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”  Speaking on the love of Christ being a constraining force, Dr. Machen, in a message not soon forgotten by those who heard him, stated that Christians should not live to themselves but live unto Christ.

Taking the position of Moderator was the Rev. J. Oliver Buswell, D.D., president of Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.  He was to moderate the meeting in good fashion as a moderator should do, without fear of discipline or the ridicule of biblical positions.

This General Assembly adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as they stood before the 1903 additions enacted by the P.C.U.S.A. general assemblies.  Thus the Presbyterian Church of America put itself on record as being a truly Reformed church.

Various reports came on this day and over the next two days, from committees set up by the previous Assembly in June of 1936. These included Home Missions and Church Extension, with report of 13 home missionaries already at work in the field.  Present among them was one home missionary to South Dakota, the Rev. David K. Myers, this writer’s father. The Committee on Foreign Missions also reported, encouraging support for the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. However, it also spoke about the establishment of an official  Board  of  Foreign  Missions  from the denomination at the next General Assembly.

Westminster Seminary was recommended to the pastors and congregations as worthy of their prayers and financial support. Held over to the next General Assembly was the adoption of a Form of Government, Book of Discipline, and Directory for Worship. The assembly was dissolved on Saturday evening, November 14, 1936

Also on this day, November 12, in 1886, Archibald Alexander Hodge died in Princeton, New Jersey.

PCofA_2dGA_MinutesWords to live by:  This writer can read the minutes of the Second General Assembly, as he has a copy of them before him, but the spirit of the meeting was only to be enjoyed by those who were actually present.  It must have been a joyous meeting to realize that since just that previous June of 1936, the number of ministers had increased from 35 pastors to 107 ministers in the Presbyterian Church of America.  God was doing a great work in this spiritual successor to the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  Take time to look at your church choice, and if it is an Evangelical and Reformed Church, rejoice in what is happening in it as a sign of God’s blessings.  Indeed, support it with your tithes and offerings.  It probably is not perfect.  No church this side of glory is perfect. But if it is committed to the Scriptures, the Reformed faith, and the Great Commission, then give thanks for it, pray for it, and support it.

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Day Two of their Second General Assembly The following materials are drawn from the scrapbooks gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon. Initially organized as the Presbyterian Church of America, the denomination we now know as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church met in its second General Assembly, beginning on Thursday, November 12 and adjourned on Saturday, November 14, 1936. As the retiring moderator of the first Assembly, the Rev. J. Gresham Machen had opened the proceedings with a sermon on 2 Cor. 5:14-15, and the assembled delegates then celebrated the Lord’s Supper. The Rev. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. and the Rev. J. Burton Thwing were nominated for Moderator of the Second General Assembly, and Rev. Buswell was elected to serve, the Rev. Cornelius Van Til and the Rev. Carl McIntire escorting Rev. Buswell to the platform. The election of Rev. Buswell as Moderator was, for one, seen as a way to minimize the possibility of friction over the issue of pre-millennialism, Buswell himself being a pre-millennialist. Ultimately that gambit did not succeed, and the young denomination suffered a split in 1938, with the formation of the overtly pre-millennial Bible Presbyterian Synod.

PCofA_2dGA_Buswell Caption for the news clipping photo at right: At the left is Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., president of Wheaton College, who was elected at the opening business session of the second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America here yesterday. he succeeds Dr. J. Gresham Machen, of Philadelphia, show at the right, who was one of the leaders in the revolt of Fundamentalists from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The revolt let to the formation of the new church at the first General Assembly, June 11.

PCofA_2dGA_05NEW CHURCH ACTS FOR POPULAR RULE

Presbyterian of America Goes on Record Against Interlocking Committees.

OPPOSE OFFICIAL CLIQUE

Resolutions placing the second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America on record as against “interlocking committees and putting power into the hands of a few men” were adopted today. [i.e., Friday, Nov. 13th]

This action was taken at sessions in the Manufacturers and Bankers’ Club, Broad and Walnut Streets. The Rev. Martin Luther Thomas, of California, in proposing the resolution said such precautions would prevent the church being controlled by a few men at headquarters and guard against “maladministration.”

Members of the new denomination before its formation constantly asserted that the parent Church, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., was controlled by an official clique.

Several commissioners opposed the resolution on the ground that it would create suspicion, but Mr. Thomas said: “It is better to avoid the abuse of power int he beginning than have trouble stemming it later.”

The resolutions were carried by a large majority.

Another resolution calling for a staggering of appointments to committees so as to prevent self-perpetuation of the governing heads, was defeated, when it was pointed out that the organizers of the new church should be given a free hand to carry out their work without interruption.

Wording of the actual resolution:  “In order to avoid interlocking committees, it is the desire of this General Assembly that no man be allowed to serve at the same time on more than one standing committee, board, or agency, except where an emergency exists.” [Minutes, pp. 12]

Words to Live By:
I recall that at a certain meeting of my presbytery, a candidate for the ministry was asked what he liked about the Presbyterian Church in America. With this candidate having grown up in an independent church fellowship, his reply shocked all of us elders at its first sound when he replied, “our Book of Church Order!” What we groaned at, with its very specific ways of doing things, was the very thing he rejoiced in, finding a supply of godly guidelines with which to “do church.” Elder representatives at the above described General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America wanted to profit from the past, especially even from the negative examples of those liberal churchmen and apostate churches where biblical input had been strangled in past PCUSA church assemblies. So important rules were added to the constitution of their newly formed church. Once adopted into practice, the more important outreach of the church could be accomplished with God’s blessing.

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An Assembly of Great Blessings

With over four hundred attendees, the Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America met in the large auditorium of the Manufacturers’ and Bankers’ Club in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, beginning on Thursday, November 12, 1936.  Present were 64 teaching elders and 26 ruling elders, with numerous guests. [It was in 1938 that the Presbyterian Church of America changed its name to The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.]

PCofA_2ndGAThe first Moderator of the new denomination, J. Gresham Machen, preached from 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15.  The text reads, “for the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”  Speaking on the love of Christ being a constraining force, Dr. Machen, in a message not soon forgotten by those who heard him, stated that Christians should not live to themselves but live unto Christ.

Taking the position of Moderator was the Rev. J. Oliver Buswell, D.D., president of Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.  He was to moderate the meeting in good fashion as a moderator should do, without fear of discipline or the ridicule of biblical positions.

This General Assembly adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as they stood before the 1903 additions enacted by the P.C.U.S.A. general assemblies.  Thus the Presbyterian Church of America put itself on record as being a truly Reformed church.

Various reports came on this day and over the next two days, from committees set up by the previous Assembly in June of 1936. These included Home Missions and Church Extension, with report of 13 home missionaries already at work in the field.  Present among them was one home missionary to South Dakota, the Rev. David K. Myers, this writer’s father. The Committee on Foreign Missions also reported, encouraging support for the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. However, it also spoke about the establishment of an official  Board  of  Foreign  Missions  from the denomination at the next General Assembly.

Westminster Seminary was recommended to the pastors and congregations as worthy of their prayers and financial support. Held over to the next General Assembly was the adoption of a Form of Government, Book of Discipline, and Directory for Worship. The assembly was dissolved on Saturday evening, November 14, 1936

Words to live by:  This writer can read the minutes of the Second General Assembly, as he has a copy of them before him, but the spirit of the meeting was only to be enjoyed by those who were actually present.  It must have been a joyous meeting to realize that since just that previous June of 1936, the number of ministers had increased from 35 pastors to 107 ministers in the Presbyterian Church of America.  God was doing a great work in this spiritual successor to the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  Take time to look at your church choice, and if it is an Evangelical and Reformed Church, rejoice in what is happening in it as a sign of God’s blessings.  Indeed, support it with your tithes and offerings.  It probably is not perfect.  No church this side of glory is perfect. But if it is committed to the Scriptures, the Reformed faith, and the Great Commission, then give thanks for it, pray for it, and support it.

Also on this day, November 12, in 1886,
Archibald Alexander Hodge died in Princeton, New Jersey.

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