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Resolute in the Face of Obstacle and Opposition.

cornish_samuelThe nation’s first Presbyterian church, organized specifically for African Americans, was located in Philadelphia and it was organized in 1807. But it was on this day, January 13th, in 1822, that what was sometimes labled the First Colored Presbyterian Church of New York City, or officially the New Demeter Street Presbyterian Church, was organized, with an initial congregation of twenty four members. The Rev. Samuel E. Cornish served as the organizing pastor, though despite his earnest efforts, the congregation’s early years were fraught with setbacks. First they lost their building, that had been built at a cost of $14,000, and then they lost their pastor in 1828, due to his declining health.

Samuel Eli Cornish [1795-1858], (pictured above), labored as a Presbyterian pastor, was an ardent opponent of slavery, and in 1827 became one of the two editors of Freedom’s Journal, the nation’s first newspaper owned and operated by African Americans. He also served as a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society (established in 1833), and held important positions within the American Bible Society and the American Missionary Association.

wrightTS_1797-1847The next man called by the congregation in 1829 was the Rev. Theodore S. Wright (pictured at right), trained in part at Princeton Seminary and licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Albany. Under his leadership the congregation was able to obtain the former German Lutheran church at Frankfort and William Streets and from that time forward, until Rev. Wright’s death in 1847, the congregation prospered.

Together with Samuel Cornish, Rev. Wright was in 1833 one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and served on its executive committee until 1840. Leaving that post, he next worked with fellow abolitionists to begin the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and also served to chair the New York Vigilance Committee which worked to prevent the kidnapping of free blacks who were then being sold into slavery. In conjunction with these efforts, he opened his home as a station on the Underground Railroad.

Of the Rev. Wright, one of his closest friends said of him,

“This devout man of God, ever in the service of his Divine Master, the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, of humble yet unyielding faith, full of the Holy Ghost, both as a preacher and a doer of the word, always interested, in season and out of season, in the religious state of his friends and parishioners, whose kindly voice would break in upon, no matter what discussion, with the inquiry, ‘Brother, do you enjoy religion?’ ‘Do you love Jesus Christ?’ An abolitionist of the purest water and most devoted zeal, this worthy minister cherished a warm interest in the necessity for educating to the fullest extent capable colored youth as a means of elevating his people.”

Words To Live By:
Time does not permit us here to tell at length their full stories, and I hope you will search out the matter further and read more about Rev. Cornish and Rev. Wright. There is much that we can learn from their ministries, and I don’t pretend that we have done them justice with the above brief account, other than to make you aware of them.
Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? Is there a more important question? It is only when we are drawn to Christ and find forgiveness of our own sin that we can then offer hope and resolution to a sin-sick world. But lest those words become glib, remember that the Christian life is a sacrificial life, meant to be expended on behalf of others as we point a dying world to the only true Savior. The cost is real, but so is the Life.

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schaeffer02On December 5, 1973, the second day of the first General Assembly was underway for the National Presbyterian Church. In fact, it was on this second day of that General Assembly that the original name of the denomination was chosen. A year later the young denomination voted to change its name, choosing the name Presbyterian Church in America.

Shortly after the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America, Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer composed the following thoughts in observance of that event. Notable in his mind was the contrast between the divisions of the 1930’s and the 1970’s and the manner in which each of these divisions had been conducted. Dr. Schaeffer’s message, titled “A Step Forward”, was subsequently published in THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL, 6 March 1974, pages 7-8.

Photo source: Picture taken from the February 1973 issue of One in Christ, the Bulletin of the National Presbyterian and Reformed Fellowship.


The formation of the National Presbyterian Church is a step forward in the Lord’s work in our chaotic age!

As a life-long Presbyterian and now a minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod, I have had a deep interest in the Presbyterian Church US since my days at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, from which I graduated in 1935.

Even at that time it was evident that Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va., was a source of liberalism in the pulpits of the PCUS. Through the years I have seen no sign that the situation is improving.

To me, practicing the principle of the purity of the visible Church is a part of the command of the word of God. In the PCUS, good men have tried unsuccessfully to practice this principle by combating clearly false teachings at the center of Christian truth. These include the older rationalistic liberalism and the new neo-orthodox, existential liberalism. After having failed to bring purity into the Church, they chose the only way to be obedient–they practiced the principle in reverse and withdrew.

Thirty-eight years ago such a division occurred in the Northern Presbyterian Church. Those in the Presbyterian Church US have showed more than long patience in their efforts to bring improvements in their Church from within. However, the formation of the National Presbyterian Church should not be seen as the ending but a beginning.

It would be tragic if the National Presbyterian Church made the same mistakes which were made in the Presbyterian Church in the North. True brethren who have not felt led by the Lord to leave the PCUS should be treated with dignity and a loving beauty. There are two reasons for this:

Observable Love

First, Jesus taught that the mark of the Christian is the observable love shown among all true believers. Second, by keeping the lines open to these men–not as a stratagem but as loving obedience to Christ’s commands–the National Presbyterian Church will continue to offer a viable alternative. In the days ahead, the pressures will increase through the further growth of liberal control and the almost certain coming union with the United Presbyterian Church USA. I pray that mistakes made years ago in the North will not be repeated today.

The vision of the National Presbyterian Church should not end here. We must keep our distinctives as to the Reformed position, which we believe are true to the Scripture, and it should be natural to have close contacts with other true Presbyterian bodies. The chasm should not be at the point of our distinctives; it should be between Bible-believing Christians and those who have given up loyalty to the Scripture.

Two things are happening simultaneously now: The first is a resurgency for Christian truth. Going back to the 1930’s in the United States, the larger historic denominations were largely lost to the liberals, but three were not: The Lutheran Church-Missiouri Synod, the Christian Reformed Church, and the Southern Baptists. Thirty-five years later, these three denominations are now grappling with the same issues, all of which are rooted in the question of the authority of Scripture.

The Missouri Synod under the leadership of courageous men seems to have won its battle. The Southern Baptist Church now finds itself in the same position as the Presbyterian Church US in the 1930’s. That is, the churchmen are largely faithful, but the seminaries are infiltrated with liberalism.

One may hope and pray that the Baptists will stir themselves before it is too late. If the Baptists practice the principle of the purity of the visible Church in the direction the Missouri Synod has gone, then they may not have to travel the unhappy route of withdrawal as had to be done in the Southern Presbyterian Church.

Doors and Bridges

The National Presbyterian Church stands at a place of significance if the doors are kept open on one side to the true believers in the Presbyterian Church, and bridges are built toward those struggling for the same cause in other groups. However, at this time the question is not the formation merely of an organization; it is the establishment of a true Church.

The failure of those who separated from the Presbyterian Church USA during the 1930’s extended beyond the loss of contact with those true Christians who stayed in the Church; it extended to the attempted organizational expression. The International Council of Christian Churches gave such hope in its beginning, failed because of its harshness; it did not express or practice that mark of the Christian, the observable love among all true Christians.

There the question now is whether 35 years are enough to expunge this mistake so that another organization is viable at this time. The leaders in the National Presbyterian Church should consciously try to establish contacts with those who are true to the Scripture and committed to the practice of the purity of the visible Church in whatever groups they may be. Certainly groups in other countries would be interested in such contacts.

The second important occurrence now is the obverse, unhappy side of the first. At the same time we take heart from the formation of the National Presbyterian Church and events in the Lutheran Church-Missiouri Synod, we recognize a most distressing trend is developing: In much of evangelicalism regard for Scripture is weakening.

It is my observation that ecclesiastical latitudinarianism leads to cooperative latitudinarianism, and this tends to lead to doctrinal deviation, especially in regard to Scripture.

For example, think of the change at Fuller Theological Seminary. In a paper read at Wheaton College a few years ago, Professor Daniel Fuller defined “non-revelational matters” in the Scripture as those which are “capable of being checked out by human investigation, that is, knowable by what eye can see and ear can hear.” He added that the Bible contains “the non-revelational areas of science and history.”

This kind of thinking is not limited to one seminary. The battleground on the modern scene is whether the Bible is completely authoritative where it touches history and the cosmos, or only where it touches religious matters. It is difficult to see any basic difference between this and neo-orthodox existential theology.

The divergence in evangelical groups centers especially in the first half of Genesis, which is often considered to be parable rather than space-time history. The weakening among evangelicals is not limited to the United States; it is present in other parts of the world as well.

In England, preference tends to be given for general revelation over special revelation, so that science has the last voice. This is different in expression, but not in position, from that being developed theologically by Professor Fuller and those in the United States who are one with him.

If Christ does not come back within the next few years, I could visualize the possibility of a new alignment. Those standing for the total authority of all Scripture and for the principle of the practice of the purity of the visible Church would draw together and away from relativism, which surrounds us in the total culture and which has infiltrated the Church.

In such a setting, the National Presbyterian Church may in God’s providence be a central factor if it exhibits and practices God’s holiness in life and doctrine, and simultaneously exhibits and practices God’s love toward all true Christians in whatever groups they are.

I am thankful for the formation of the National Presbyterian Church and I pray no small or provincial vision for it.


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“The Right Way to Hold Your Noses”

Our post today is drawn from the Minutes of the 156th General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (1978), pp. 122-123, and from the BULLETIN of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, vol. 6, nos. 3-5 (March-May 1940), page 26.

Dr. T. Norton Sterrett was born in Persia of missionary parents, November 10, 1912. After the age of two, he grew up in the United States. He received the B.A. from Columbia Bible College and from Wheaton College, and the Th.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary.

sterretTNorton_and_wifeHe was married in 1938 to Eloise Fain and two children were born to this marriage, Eloise Anne and Gerald Fain. He and his family went to India as mis­sionaries under the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Mis­sions in 1939. In the initial work in India, he engaged in general village and city evangelism and Bible teaching.

Following the year of 1949, Dr. Sterrett worked among the college students of India under the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Since 1954 he has carried on similar work under the Union of Evangelical Students of India. He was the Director of the Asian Bible Study Center of South India from 1967 through 1972. One of his fellow workers in India says:

“Dr. Sterrett had a commitment to India as a servant of the Indian people in true humility. He never tried to impose foreign structures or cultural values on the Indian Church or Indian people. … He had a con­sistent and steady burden for Bible teaching which would generate Bible students who could teach others. . . . Their interest was further than the students of India. The Indian church at large and other evangelical bodies were within their concern. . . . Let me thank IFES for sending such a faithful ambassador of the Gospel. . .

After 36 years of service in India, the Sterretts returned to the United States (1975) and he worked on the staff of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Nyack, N.Y., from July, 1975, until his death. A host of Indian Christians, as well as members of the body of Christ around the world, thank God for the faithfulness of His servant, T. Norton Sterrett.

The following is a portion of a letter sent back from the mission field by Rev. Sterrett:—

Cawnpore, U. P., India.
Feb. 24, 1940.

Dear Friends:

“We come to tell you the right way to hold your noses.” This may seem queer sort of language to use in preaching the Gospel, and yet those are nearly the exact words used by our language teacher, Mr. Das, not long ago, when speaking to a group of Indian villagers. Why? Well when we had talked to them of the way of salvation through Christ one of them spoke up to say that what we said might be true but it didn’t make much difference; one could hold his nose by reaching from the front with one hand or else by reaching around his head with the other; it is the same nose. That is to say, perhaps one can have salvation through Christ, but we can also reach God through Hinduism, through Islam, or anything else. This is an all too prevalent idea, for Hinduism seems able to absorb nearly anything else and still call it Hinduism. But oh, the solemnity of the words, “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

[emphasis added]

Words to Live By:
Indeed, there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Salvation belongs to the Lord. It is His alone to bestow, and He has declared that His only provision is through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus our Messiah. We believe this, but are we living accordingly? Are we living out our remaining days in such a way that we declare, both in word and deed, the truth of these words?

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A Marked Influence in Ecclesiastical Matters
by David T. Myers

breckinridge_SamuelFor the next two years, your two authors will feature a number of posts about the remarkable Breckinridge family, a family which, for our purposes, began with Alexander Breckinridge who had moved to Philadelphia around 1728, eventually relocating to the colony of Virginia. Members of the Breckinridge family were prominent as ministers and theologians and church leaders and politicians in nation and state, and soldiers and businessmen and women, and more often than not, they were Presbyterians in conviction and practice. Today, on the date of his birthday, November 3, 1828, we focus in on Samuel Miller Breckinridge.

Son of John Breckinridge, who was a Presbyterian minister, young Samuel had as his mother that of Margaret Miller, the daughter of the Rev. Samuel Miller, yes, that Samuel Miller, who was an early professor of the Princeton Theological Seminary. So it is no wonder that her maiden name became his middle name, as in Samuel Miller Breckinridge.

Samuel was educated at Union College, New York and Centre College, Kentucky, and finally at the College of New Jersey at Princeton, New Jersey [later renamed Princeton University in 1896]. He completed his studies at the graduate law school at Transylvania University at Lexington Kentucky.

Settling in St. Louis, Missouri, he represented the city and county in the Missouri Legislature for one year in 1854 – 55. He continued to move up in important positions in the state as he was elected the judge of Circuit Court in 1863. In the same year, he was chosen a member of the State Convention.

We might be tempted to think that he only had an influence in political matters, but his membership in the Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri was recognized when that local church elected him to serve as a ruling elder in 1871. Three years later, he served as a commissioner to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church when it met in the city. He became a member of the Committee of Fraternal Relations, and was appointed to try and meet with the elders in the Presbyterian Church in the United States, formerly the Presbyterian Church of the Confederacy.

His church position continued to give him opportunities within that denomination as he was a member of the General Assembly’s Committee on Revision of the Book of Discipline in 1878, and he continued to serve as a commissioner at the General Assembly as it met in 1881 and 1883.

A description of him was that he was a model Christian gentleman, wise in counsel, with a marked influence in ecclesiastical matters. He died in 1891.

Words to Live By:
May it be said of all of us that we either are having or will have a marked influence in ecclesiastical matters. Your local church may indeed need that at this time in her history. As the post Christian century continues in our land, we will certainly need that characteristic more and more in the local and national areas. Pray for it if you don’t have it now, or pray for an increase of that character. The Holy Spirit will bless you in it, and give you many opportunities to use it in the days in which we live.

Image source: Page 97 in the Encyclopædia of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, including the Northern and Southern Assemblies, by Alfred Nevin. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Encyclopedia Publishing Co., 1884.

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First Martyr of the Modernist Controversy

perkins03So claimed Rev. Harry Rimmer. In his book Crossed Fingers, Dr. Gary North notes that on the day J. Gresham Machen died, the funeral for Rev. Arthur Perkins was held in Wisconsin. Perkins had died just three days prior to Machen’s passing. A year prior he had been in good health.

The Rev. Leslie A. Dunn, converted under the ministry of Rev. Perkins, paid tribute to him and told the story of his ministry, his conflict, and his death:

One who has for many years taken an uncompromising stand for the truths of the Gospel has gone to his reward. The Rev. Arthur F. Perkins did not enter the ministry until he was almost thirty years of age. Following conversion, he immediately gave up his former occupation and entered Christian service, witnessing to the saving and keeping power of the Lord Jesus Christ in out-of-the-way places in Central Wisconsin, where many found Jesus Christ as personal Savior through his tireless efforts and challenging messages.

[Following a first pastorate in Milwaukee], Mr. Perkins was called by the largest Presbytery in Wisconsin to become Field Director of that Presbytery, ministering to pastorless churches and working among unordained missionaries in twenty-one counties of central and northern Wisconsin. Hundreds found in Christ their salvation through Mr. Perkins, and many struggling churches under his supervision took on new life and became independent of Presbytery for their financial support.

Because Mr. Perkins always vigorously opposed Modernism and any kind of compromise with error or worldliness, he had much opposition. Because he encouraged young people to attend Wheaton College instead of the Presbyterian College nearby, he was criticized severely by the powers that be.

Because of his faithfulness to his Lord in these stewardship matters, there were those who sought to oust Mr. Perkins from his field directorship, even though it had never thrived as it had under his leadership. When Mr. Perkins opposed the ordination of two men who denied the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, he made his enemies more determined to oust him.

That he was not a seminary trained man was one pretext given for seeking his release from the responsible position he held. Other pretexts failed until he organized the Crescent Lake Bible Fellowship, where young people were enabled to attend a strictly sound summer conference at less than half the cost advertised by the other two conferences in the state. Although there was no Presbyterian conference in his Presbytery, still they insisted he disorganize this independent camp and disown it altogether. He refused to do so and brought much opposition against himself, resulting in his trial for insubordination. Presbytery’s judicial commission suspended him from the ministry for two years. Although he appealed the case to Synod and to General Assembly, he observed his suspension, and for months refrained from preaching and exercising the prerogatives of a minister. It was a long, hard strain, with added financial burdens because of the ecclesiastical trials. Dr. Harry Rimmer was his counsel and labored much for him. His people in the Merrill, Wisconsin congregation stood by him courageously with their sympathy, prayers and financial help.

When the General Assembly ousted him, with others, from the ministry last June (1936), he came back to Philadelphia and was one among thirty-five ministers who organized the Presbyterian Church of America [later renamed Orthodox Presbyterian Church]. He then returned to Wisconsin, and in Merrill a large number of people renounced the jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and asked him to minister to them. The work in Merrill progressed; and Mr. Perkins spoke in many surrounding towns on the doctrinal crisis in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. It was then that he had a nervous breakdown that resulted finally in his death on December 29.

The Lord has wonderfully used this man of God who refused to compromise with worldliness or error, or to soften his message to please men, and refused to listen to the counsels of men in order to win their votes in the councils of the Church, when it meant a denial of his Lord. May God’s sustaining grace be with his widow and three children surviving him!

Words to Live By:

The Rev. John J. DeWaard, of Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, brought the sermon at the funeral of Rev. Perkins. His concluding words drove home the abiding heart concern of Perkins’s ministry:

To be saved is so great a thing that no man can earn it whatever he might do, and certainly no sinner could earn it. For the sinner by nature cannot do anything well pleasing unto God. I need only remind you that the word “save” means healing. It is a healing of body and soul alike. To be saved is to be delivered from this world of sin; to be saved is to be translated into our Father’s House with its many mansions. Salvation is the redemption of soul and body from the guilt and power of sin. The saved soul rejoices in the blessed assurance that all sin is forgiven for the Saviour’s sake, and the saved body, “being still united to Christ does rest in the grave until the resurrection.” Comprehensively, but simply, the Bible defines salvation in the terms, “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” God is not a God of the dead but of the living. Such is the promise of the Bible, and God’s Word cannot be broken. Such is the promise of our Lord who died on the cross that this promise might become a reality to those who trust only in His name.
Mr. Perkins would want me to ask you a serious question: Are you saved? Will you by the strength of the Lord endure to the end, and keep the faith?

Of Archival Interest:

Through the generous donation of Rev. Robert Smallman, former pastor of the Bible Presbyterian Church, Merrill, Wisconsin, where Rev. Perkins was the organizing pastor, the PCA Historical Center holds what constitutes the papers of the Rev. Arthur Perkins. The collection is small, consisting of 27 folders, with about half the materials concerning the ecclesiastical trial brought against Perkins by the Winnebago Presbytery.

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A short entry this day, with the hope that you would reflect on this through the day, and take it to heart. We find in the diary of the Rev. Jacob Jones Janeway on this day, September 8, 1808, the following entry, well worth pondering :

“This day, agreeably to the recommendation of the General Assembly, has been observed as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, by the churches under their care. The reason of the recommendation was the aspect of our national affairs. Alas, that so few attend public worship! But God will hear, I hope, the prayers of the pious few. In other churches, perhaps the day was more generally observed. The Lord lend a listening ear, and in mercy spare our guilty land. My devotions in private were comfortable. I had liberty to mourn with grief over the sins of my country, this city, my family, my own, and to ask forgiveness. I concluded the whole by renewing my covenant. The Lord accept of my devotions, and pardon the sins of my holy things.”

[emphasis added]

Words to Live By:
In his sermon on Psalm 119:136, Thomas Manton concludes this doctrine from the text, “That it is the duty and property of a godly man to mourn bitterly, even for other men’s sins.” I dare say the times now demand such prayer. More than ever, this old doctrine of the Scripture must be revived and returned to practice. It is a duty resting upon all Christians, Manton says. God calls His people to grieve over the sins of those around them. Our prayers must be so focused and intentional.
There is more here than can be unfolded in short order, so with your indulgence, I present you with a reading list. You may have some of these works in your own library. If not, many are readily available on the Internet with a little searching. All are well worth your time to read, though the sermons by Thomas Manton are among the clearest in pressing home this vital doctrine.

Adams, Thomas, on the text of 2 Peter 2:7-10 in his commentary on 2 Peter.

Baynes, “A Caveat for Cold Christians,” in Naphtali Press Anthology, vol. 4, pp. 199-206. [text: Rev. 2:4-5]

Bridge, William, “Comfort to Mourners for the Loss of Solemn Assemblies,” Sermon 7 of “Seasonable Truths in Evil Times,” Works, 3. 407-426.

Bunyan, John, The Excellency of a Broken Heart, esp. pp. 42-43, 76.

Burroughs, Jeremiah, Gospel Fear (SDG, 1992), pp. 75-166, on 2 Kings 22:19.

Burroughs, Jeremiah, Sermons VI-XI, The Saints Happiness. Ligonier, PA: SDG, 1992, pp. 36-74.

Henry, Matthew, see his comments on Jer. 13:17; Ezek. 9:4; and 2 Peter 2:7-8.

Howe, John, “The Redeemer’s Tears Wept Over Lost Souls,” in Works, pp. 316-389.

Jenkin, William, “How Ought We to Bewail the Sins of the Places Where We Live?,” in The Morning Exercises at Cripplegate [aka Puritan Sermons], vol. 3, pp. 110-128. 

Kitchen, John, “How Must We Reprove, That We May Not Partake of Other Men’s Sins?,” in The Morning Exercises at Cripplegate [aka Puritan Sermons], vol. 1, pp. 121-142.

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn, “Blessed Are They That Mourn,” in Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, vol. 1, pp. 53-62.

Manton, Thomas, on 2 Peter 2:8, Works, pp. 183-184 and 423-426.

*Manton, Thomas, on Psalm 119:137, Vol. 3 of the 1990 Banner of Truth reprint set, pp. 139-154.

McCrie, Thomas, “Sermon on Psalm 119:136: Grief for the Sins of Men” in Naphtali Press Anthology, 2.2: 42-47.

Roberts, Maurice, “The Remembrance of Old Sins,” in The Banner of Truth, October 1994, pp. 1-5.

Sibbes, Richard, “The Art of Mourning,” in Josiah’s Reformation, Works, vol. 6, pp. 59-75.

____________ , “Spiritual Mourning, Works, vol. 6, pp. 265-292.

Spurgeon, Charles H., Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 51, pp. 485b-486.

Watson, Thomas, The Godly Man’s Picture (Banner of Truth, 1992), pp. 55-60; 77-96; etc.

Welsh, John, Sermons on Repentance, in Naphtali Press Anthology, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 33-49 and 1.4, pp. 42-55.

Williams, Daniel, “What Repentance of National Sins Doth God Require, as ever we expect National Mercies?” in The Morning Exercises at Cripplegate [aka Puritan Sermons], vol. 4, pp. 585-616.



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Westminster Confession Approved by Church of Scotland

You may ask upon reading the title of this contribution, why are we thinking about adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith, when the whole This Day in Presbyterian History blog deals with Presbyterian history in the United States?  And that is a fair question.  But it is quickly answered by two considerations. First, this Reformed standard—The Westminster Confession of Faith—was, with few changes, the subordinate standard of all the Presbyterian denominations in the United States.  And second, the Scots-Irish immigrants who came over to this country in its earliest days held strongly to this Reformed creedal statement.

The Westminster Confession of Faith was formulated by the Westminster Assembly of divines (i.e, pastors and theologians) in the mid-seventeenth century, meeting at Westminster Abby in London, England.  To the one hundred and twenty divines, primarily from the Church of England, were added nine Scottish divines from the Church of Scotland.  While the latter were seated as non-voting members of that Assembly, still their presence was felt in very effective ways during the six-year study that produced this confessional standard.

When it was adopted by the Parliament in England, it then went to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, where it was adopted without amendment onAugust 29, 1647.  It then became the summary of the teachings of the Old and New Testaments which was adopted by both the teaching and ruling elders, as well as the diaconate in each local church, in every Presbyterian and Reformed church deriving from that tradition. Small changes have been made by conservative Presbyterian bodies in our United States which do not affect the overall doctrinal contents of the Confession. The majority of those changes were made in 1789. You can ask your pastor for more information about those changes.

The historic importance of this document is one reason why we have daily reference to it in this devotional guide, as we seek to make our friends more knowledgeable of its magnificent statements.

Words to live by: Most of the Presbyterian denominations do not require their lay members to take vows which speak of their adoption of these historical creedal standards in order to join the church.  Yet a careful study of, and acceptance of this Confession of Westminster will give you a solid foundation for understanding the doctrine and life of the Word of God.  We urge you to do so, perhaps asking for a class in your church on it, or just studying it yourself for your personal and family benefit.

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Continuing today with our journey through the Rev. R.P. Kerr’s little book, PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE, we come today to chapter 7. [erroneously labeled as Chapter VI. in our print copy.].



The great principle of government by representative assemblies may be applied under many different forms and names, but still remain the same. Indeed, this is the advantage which a government of principle has over one of form, allowing elasticity and adaptability to the various conditions of mankind. Neither the number nor the names of the assemblies which govern a Church are essential to its Presbyterianism.

A body of Christians isolated from the Church by any cause might organize themselves under the Presbyterian principle and elect an assembly of elders. They might call it a Session or a Consistory—which is the name used in some branches of the Presbyterian Church—or they might invent some other designation for it. They might have no other assembly; a small body would need but one. If they grew, they must have higher assemblies; continuing to increase, they would organize higher ones still, until at last they would arrive at the order of assemblies which obtains in most Presbyterian bodies, and which is as follows:





All these are Presbyteries, of different names, rank and powers, arranged in an ascending scale. First comes the church Session, Consistory or lowest Presbytery.


This body is composed of not less than two ruling elders, if there be so many, and the pastor. The number of elders is not limited, and in some congregations it is very large. The duties of the Session, in common with all other assemblies of the Church, are administrative and judicial. In spiritual things no body of men on earth have any legislative power, in the strict meaning of that term. The Bible is the only law-book of the Church. Our Books of Order and Deliverances are but interpretations of divine law, entitled to respect and obedience so long as they conform to the inspired word, and liable to change whenever change may seem best to the Church. These interpretations ought to be observed by all, unless they violate an important principle; then it is the duty of those who differ to endeavor by lawful means to have them changed.

The Session adminsters for the congregation in spiritual things, and the deacons administer in temporal affairs, subject to the review of the Session. The Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church in the United States [the body embracing mainly the Presbyterian churches in the Southern States.] gives the following summary of the duties of this body.

“The church Session is charged with maintaining the spiritual government of the church, for which purpose it has power to inquire into the knowledge, principles and Christian conduct of the church-members under its care; to censure those found delinquent; to see that parents do not neglect to present their children for baptism; to receive members into the communion of the church; to grant letters of dismission to other churches, which, when given to parents, shall always include the names of their baptized children; to ordain and install ruling elders and deacons on their election by the church, and to require these officers to devote themselves to their work; to examine the records of the proceedings of the deacons; to establish and control Sabbath-schools and Bible classes, with especial reference to the children of the church; to order collections for pious uses; to take oversight of the singing in the public worship of God; to assemble the people for worship when there is no minister; to concert the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the church and congregation; to observe and carry out the lawful injunctions of the higher courts; and to apppoint representatives to the Presbytery and the Synod, who shall on their return make report of their diligence.”

The church Session is required annually to send its record to the Presbytery for review.

We will visit these sections of this longish chapter next Saturday:




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reedrcOn this day, January 24, in 1851, the Rev. James Landrum Reed and his wife Elizabeth became the proud parents of a baby boy whom they named Richard Clark Reed. Richard was later educated at King College and prepared for the ministry at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. Graduating from Union in 1876, he was ordained by Memphis Presbytery and went on to pastor churches in Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee before being called to serve as a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in 1898. A true pastor-scholar, he was well suited to this post, and the remainder of his years were spent teaching at Columbia, until his death in July of 1925.

In 1914, Dr. Reed had returned from attending the General Assembly of his denomination. What follows is a portion of his review of that Assembly, and it is interesting for dating a change in the conduct of the Southern Presbyterian Assembly, from that of a more deliberative body to something more akin to a business model. The Assembly had been in the habit of meeting for nine days, and now had, since 1912, been meeting for only six. Here Rev. Reed complains of the hurried nature of the Assembly and the resulting lack of patient, reasoned debate. Elsewhere we have noted that on one occasion, in 1880, the Rev. John L. Girardeau spoke at length for two hours on the floor of the Assembly. More remarkable still, the Assembly paid attention to his every word!

The General Assembly, reviewed by Rev. Professor R.C. Reed, Columbia, SC.

The fifty-fourth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, met in the Central Church, Kansas City, Mo., May 21, 1914, and was dissolved at 3:30 P.M., Thursday, May 28th. This is the third Assembly in succession which has limited the span of its life to six working days. These precedents will probably have the force of law for the future. Time was when the Assembly had to rush its business toward the close, in order to dissolution by the end of the ninth day from date of organization. The volume of business has increased rather than diminished. The recent Assemblies have shortened the time not by covering less ground, but by increasing the speed. The liberty of speech has been abridged. it has come to pass that by the time a speaker gets fairly launched, the cry of “question,” “question,” warns the speaker that further effort to get a hearing for his views will be useless. Age and distinguished services do not secure immunity from such discourtesy. The Assembly is ceasing to be a deliberative body, and coming to be an organization merely for business routine.

Obviously, our Assemblies are inoculated with the speed-madness of the age. It could hardly be otherwise. The members, who compose the Assembly, are accustomed by the use of the telephone, rapid transit, and other time-saving devices, to dispatch business at a rate that would have made a former generation dizzy. The speed at which we live is constantly increasing, with the result that we are growing more and more restless. The slightest delay is irksome. The train that pulls into the station ten minutes late creates almost a mob-spirit in those who have been constrained to lose so much of their precious time. When men, who live and move and have their being in an atmosphere charged with the frenzy of hurry, come together in a General Assembly, it is not surprising that they should begrudge every minute that does not show a decided progress in the calendar of business. They are not in the habit of having time to spare. Speech-making is not business, rather it is a clog on the machinery, and the less of it the sooner the members can record their votes and get at something else. The moderator is a good moderator in proportion as he rushes the grist through the mill.

Click here to read the remainder of this excerpt.

Words to Live By:
If only Dr. Reed could have seen the breakneck speed of our lives! Some people seem to thrive on it, but I think we all need times of peaceful quiet, though it can be very hard to come by. Why not begin to carve out a time each day when you will turn off the TV, the radio and all the many devices, and set your priorities for the day? And what better way to set the standard for the day than by getting alone with God in His Word and in prayer? Notice how often Jesus went out early in the morning, by Himself, to pray. Could we have any better example?  I admit it is a discipline, but rising a bit earlier to have that time alone with God is worth it. “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” (Psalm 5:3)

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Two Cases that Came Before the Supreme Court.

When the Presbyterian Church in America was formed in 1973, most of the churches leaving the old denomination were able to keep their property. Off-hand, I know of only one church that lost its property. Moreover, these churches did not have to pay exit fees. This was a great providence of God in allowing the faster initial growth of the new denomination, and the legal basis for this provision came as a result of the  work of two churches in Georgia. Savannah, GA pastors Clifford Brewton and Todd Allen, together with their respective Sessions and congregations, had the decade before fought the matter through the civil courts, all the way to the Supreme Court, and so paved the way for the 274 churches that would later form the PCA. 


Reprinted from Contact: Newsletter of the Presbyterian Churchmen United, Number 6 (January 1971)

(NOTE: The following address by Judge Leon F. Hendricks was delivered at a rally sponsored by the Presbyterian Churchmen United, and held at the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi.)

The question is simple. The answer is difficult and complicated.

Before an answer is attempted there are other questions that arise.

Is a congregation of the Presbyterian Church, U. S. in reality the true legal owners of the church property or does it legally belong to Presbytery, Synod, or to the General Assembly of the denomination known as the Presbytenan Church in the United States?

Ultimately, the question is whether a majority of the members of a local Presbytenan church may withdraw from the Presbyterian Church in the United States and take wIth them the title, use and control of the church property.

The United States Supreme Court in the case of Watson vs. Jones, 13 Wall 679, 20 L Ed. 666, decided in the year 1871, classified the questions concerning the right of property held by religious bodies under three headings.

Most of our local Presbyterian churches would fall in the third category, to-wit:

“Where the property is not subject to any expressed trust and is held by a congregation, whose church government is hierarchIal or connectional in nature.”

The Presbyterian Church, U. S. is representative in government. Some of our civil courts have put our Church in the same class as Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist, whose government is hierarchial or connectional in nature. For this reason these civil courts have held that the property of a congregation is subject to an implied trust in favor of the General Church. The Supreme Court of Florida and South Carolina have so held and one or two local congregations in these states lost their property when they withdrew from the General Church.

The Supreme Court of Mississippi has never had before it a case involving a congregatIon of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.

Prior to January 19, 1970 it would have been the opinion of many lawyers:

(1) “That if a Presbyterian Church is incorporated under the laws of Mississippi, as some churches now are, legal ownershIp is in the entity known as the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, for an example;

(2) “That the legal title is in the Corporation but the Corporation holds title in trust for and on behalf of the Congregation which may be identified in case of division, by the governing body of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. The trust extends to an implied prohibition against diversion to uses not approved by the Presbyterian Church or foreign to its doctrines;

(3) “That ownership is in the Corporation. Control is in the Congregation, but identity is not determined by a majority of the members and the control is limited by and subject to the government of the Presbyterian Church in the United Church in the United States;

(4) “That a majority of the members of the local church cannot withdraw from the Presbyterian Church in the United States and take with the church properties without the consent of the general Church.” In my opinion the Presbytery could give that consent under the provisions of our Book of Church Order.

Now, what happened on January 19, 1970? The two Savannah Presbyterian Churches finally won the legal battle for their local church property. The Supreme Court of the United States refused by a vote to again hear the appeal of Presbyterian Church in the United States against the Savannah churches on the ground that no substantial federal question had been raised by the parent Church’s appeal. By this action the decision of the Supreme Court of Georgia, rendered on April 14, 1969, became final. Thus, The Hull Memorial and the Eastern Heights Churches of Savannah were awarded their property and the legal title was declared to be in the local congregations.

In 1966 two churches withdrew from the Presterian Church, U. S. The Presbytery of Savannah and the general church intervened and attempted to take the property of each of the churches. The trial court of Georgia decided in favor of the local churches and on appeal the Supreme Court of Georgia affrmed. On petition the Supreme Court of the U. S. took jurisdiction and reversed on the grounds that the Georgia Courts decided the controversy on ecclesiastical law which the Civil Courts could not do under the first and fourteenth amendments, and sent the cases back to the Supreme Court of Georgia for further proceeding not inconsistent with the decision of the U. S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Georgia then adopted the “Neutral principle” approach and found the legal title in the local churches and awarded them their respective properties. So this ended the matter.

Hence, it is the judgment of many that in any future case involving local property of a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in the United States, a State Civil Court cannot apply the implied trust theory. This would violate the decision in the Savannah cases, and also the holding in the Maryland Church of God case.

This conclusion is reached because there is no ecclesistical law in the Presbyterian Church, U. S., which binds the local church property to any superior tribunal. Our Book of Church Order gives the control of local church property to the local congregation. It can buy, sell and mortgage such property. The only case where a superior ecclesiastical tribunal has anything to do with local church property is when a church ceases to exist and no disposition has been made of its property. Then and only then the property shall be transferred to The Presbytery. This has always been the historic position of The Presbyterian Church, U. S. This position may now be enforced in a civil court.

It is hoped and believed that the other states, as Georgia did, will adopt the “Neutral principles of law” approach; which means legal and equitable principles of ownership are studied and applied to a factual sItuation, such as, Where is the title vested? Who paid for the property? Who has the use and control since the church was built? Who controls the membership? Who has the authority to buy, sell or mortgage the property?

The State Courts will find that for most local Presbyterian Churches the answer will be the local congregations.

The State Courts may also now consider special state statutes govern:ng church property. We have a good one in Mississippi. which is Section 5350 of the Code of 1942.

When a church is organized under it the section provides that the church “shall be a distinct and independent society” and that its property “shall not be divested out of the same, or encumbered, except by a deed, deed of trust, or mortgage, duly executed under the authority of a resolution adopted by a majority vote of the members present at a meeting duly called by that purpose, at which meeting at least twenty percent (20%) of the members in good standing of such organized society must be present.” If your church is not incorporated under the provisions of that section I suggest that it be done. The procedure is simple.

Who Owns Your Church Property? At this time, it is my opinion that the local congregation does. The General Church recognizes this. Because it intervened in the Savannah cases, and one or two overtures were offered at the Memphis, 1970, General Assembly to change the Book of Church Order as to property so as to give control to The Presbytery. Thus our Higher Court realizes the force of the Georgia cases and the Maryland case. Careful watch will have to be made of the aforesaid overtures.

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