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Rev. Henry Barrington Pratt [26 May 1832 – 11 December 1912]Henry Barrington Pratt, Presbyterian missionary and teacher, son of Rev. Nathaniel A. and Catherine Barrington (King) Pratt, was born near Darien, Georgia, on May 26, 1832. He attended Oglethorpe University, graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1855, and was ordained by the Cherokee Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the United States on September 27, 1855. On November 7, 1860, he married Joanna Frances Gildersleeve, with whom he had three children. He served for ten years as a missionary in Bogotá, Colombia, and had other brief assignments in Mexico, Cuba, and the United States. He translated religious materials into Spanish for the American Tract Society and the American Bible Society, including the Versión Moderna, published in 1893, a Bible still widely used by Hispanic Protestants.

In 1896 Pratt settled in Laredo, Texas, as an “evangelist to Mexicans” for the Presbyterian Executive Committee of Home Missions. With other missionaries, he conducted numerous revivals throughout South Texas that produced several hundred converts to the Presbyterian Church. Pratt’s major contribution to Presbyterianism in Texas, however, derived from his Bible Training School for Christian Workers, which he conducted in Laredo between 1896 and 1899. The school, designed to train converts to become effective evangelists, combined intensive Bible study and preaching lessons with such practical and physical chores as housecleaning and gardening. Pratt based his educational theory on economic as well as theological and pedagogical grounds. He thought that to give “native workers” a general education in addition to simple biblical training was self-defeating. Because they were to work primarily with impoverished and uneducated people, Pratt believed that Bible Training School graduates should not have a broad general education lest they become disaffected with their congregations or be lured into secular vocations by the temptation of high salaries and good working conditions. Pratt considered the students sufficiently trained after a two-year course to serve small Spanish-speaking congregations in Texas. Although his program produced a number of successful evangelists, such as Reynaldo Ávila, Abraham Fernández, and Elías Treviño, it also established the pattern for the typical Presbyterian Hispanic pastor of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-underpaid, poorly trained, and dependent on denominational financial support. A smallpox epidemic forced the Bible Training School to close in 1899, and Pratt left Laredo to become pastor of a Hispanic congregation in Brooklyn, New York. He resigned that position in 1902 and retired to Hackensack, New Jersey, where he continued to write biblical commentaries and to translate theological works until his death, on December 11, 1912.

pratt_MrsHB_ladies_album_and_family_manual_1852Pictured at right: The February 1852 issue of The Ladies’ Album and Family Manual. Henry Barrington Pratt was but one member of an accomplished and distinguished family. His father, the Rev. Nathanael Alpheus Pratt, came from good circumstances, and had as well married into some measure of wealth. His father-in-law was the founder of the town of Roswell, Georgia and brought Rev. N.A. Pratt there to pastor the Roswell Presbyterian Church; he served there from 1840 until his death in 1879. It was apparently when Henry was approaching adulthood that his mother, Catherine Barrington Pratt, began to serve as the lead editor of The Ladies’ Album and Family Manual. Following is an article excerpted from the February 1852 issue of this magazine:—


The importance of family government is seen in its relations to domestic happiness, to common schools, to civil government, and to the Divine government.

It is essential to the peace and happiness of a home, that children be kept under proper restraint. One child, ungoverned, often disturbs the tranquility of an entire household. We are told that among the Hindoos, in the houses of some of the rich, having several apartments, one room is called the room of anger, or of the angry ; and when any members of the family are angry, they shut themselves up in this room. Perhaps it would be well for us to imitate the Hindoos in this respect; at all events, one angry or unruly member of the family ought not to be allowed to destroy the peace and comfort of all. We are wont to sing —

“ Home, sweet home,
There’s no place like home.”

And this sentiment is fully true of every home worthy of the name. But the sweet may be made bitter, yea, so bitter, by the want of parental government, that, in a melancholy sense, there shall be no place like home. What can be more offensive than a household in disorder ?• Each member, instead of laboring to promote the comfort of all, seeking, at the expense of others, his own gratification, and none happy !

The family relation is sometimes spoken of as a relic which has survived the ruin of the Fall. To prove this representation true, there must be, now, in the family, that same observance of law, and that same love which prevailed in Eden. If the husband would find his wife happy when he goes home,— if the wife would have her husband love his home,— if they would have their children grow up as olive plants around their table, to beautify their home and render it blessed,— they will sustain family government in the fear of the Lord.

Government in the family is essential to proper discipline in the school. Great attention has been bestowed of late to the education of the young. While, through the influence of a board of education, normal schools, &c., there has been, in some respect, decided improvement in our common schools ; in one respect there is reason to fear that these schools have degenerated. They are not so well governed as formerly. This may be attributed, in part, to the to influence of a few prominent individuals, who have radically wrong to views of human nature and of moral government; but. to a great extent, it arises from the fact that children are not governed at home.

If a teacher is a good disciplinarian, much of his time, which ought to be spent in teaching, is consumed in direct efforts to sustain his authority; much of which effort would not be necessary, did the parents teach their children to obey at home ; and were their influence, at all times, in favor of good government in school. Thus, the community lose much of the advantage which they would gain, could the teacher devote himself, unreservedly, to teaching. If the teacher is not a good disciplinarian, the children, not being in the habit of obeying at home, will be sure not to obey at school; hence, but little advantage is gained to any one from the school. Parents ought to feel that a large part of the responsibility of this rests with themselves, and, for the sake of the rising generation, see that their children are taught at home to obey in school.

Family government derives importance from its relation to the State. When we inquire why it is so easy in this country to raise a mob, and why there is in our community so much violation of law, a satisfactory answer may be found by entering the family circle. The first lessons of disobedience and disloyalty are learned there. If a child does not learn to yield to the authority of his parents, when he becomes a man he will not be ready to regard the power of the civil authorities.

The cause of popular liberty is injured and retarded in the Old World by the want of loyalty in the New. Our faults are greatly exaggerated, but would we take away the occasion of the misrepresentations of royalists, and would we prove ourselves the true friends of good government, we must begin at home, and each one rule his own house well.

The importance of family government appears transcendently in its relation to the government of God. Children are committed to parents, not only to be trained for the home and the school, not only to be made good citizens, but also, and above all, to be made the loyal subjects of the King of kings. Yes, the child is to be trained for God and for heaven. But if he never learns to submit to the authority of his parents, what reason is there to hope that he will bow submissively to the authority of God 1 If, when he perceives the relation of the parent to himself, he does not regard that relation, when recognizing the Divine existence, he perceives the relation which God sustains to himself, why will he any more regard this higher relation 1 If, when his parents know more than he does, and are disposed to make a right use of their knowledge in training him, he will not heed their guiding hand,’ what will he care for the statutes of Him who is infinite in wisdom and love ? If his parents are able and disposed to govern him better than he can govern himself, and yet he is allowed to trample on their authority, the perfection of God’s government will not prevent his rebellion against it. Here is a relation of paramount importance, for it is endless. The rebellion of the child against God will, if persisted in during this life, fix his eternal destiny. This view should take the deepest hold upon the Christian parent. That children may be trained for heaven is the great end for which they are committed to the parent. Herein is involved a vast responsibility. It is not enough to minister to the physical wants of the child; indeed, this is but a small part. We are to consider his wants as an immortal being, and make the family government subservient to the Divine. It is a solemn fact, that it will be subservient to, or subversive of, the Divine government. The influence of the parent upon the child will be to make him submissive to God, or to strengthen him in his rebellion. And parents must render an account to God for this influence by which they indirectly sustain, or subvert his authority. Parents should feel that the relation of their children to themselves will have an important influence upon their relation to God.

The training of an immortal mind is a momentous work ! “When Bacon, the sculptor, was retouching the statue of Chatham, in Westminster Abbey, a divine, who was a stranger, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “ Take care what you are doing. You work for eternity.” To parents it may well be said, In family government, take care what you do. In the highest sense, you work for eternity. When the sculptured stone shall have crumbled into dust, the souls of your children will show the work of your hands.

[excerpted from The Ladies’ Album and Family Manual, 18.2 (February 1852): 58-60.]

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Though He was Bound, the Word of God was Not Bound

Bruce Hunt was not totally unprepared for the inevitable.  This Orthodox Presbyterian missionary had been ministering to the Korean Church in Manchuria since 1936.  With the imperial nation of Japan on the offensive, attempts had been made to control the church in lands under their control.  Specifically, the attempt was being made to force all people, including Christians, to engage in emperor worship.  To committed Christians, to those who confessed that Jesus is Lord alone with no other God beside Him, this was unthinkable.  Bruce Hunt not only believed this firmly, but he taught this truth to the church of Korea.  Twice he had been taken down to prison and warned that if he persisted in his teaching, judgment would be waiting.  On October 21, 1941, Bruce Hunt was arrested in Harbin, Manchuria.

For the next year, Rev. Hunt would be separated from his family,  his church family, and his freedom.  But he was not separated from his God and Savior.  In testimony of the gospel, like countless persecuted Christians before him, including the apostle Paul of New Testament times, he witnessed to his tormenting guards, evangelized his fellow inmates, and offered encouragement to others who were being tried for their Christian faith.

In one of the many cells into which he was thrown, he realized that a tiny metal tip on one of his shoe laces provided him with a writing tool.  In the darkness of his cell, he wrote in Korean on the soft walls of the cell the famous verse, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His own begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  You dear reader, surely recognize these words as coming from John 3:16.  It was just one of the many times that he left a witness to the next prisoner who would enter that cell.

Once, he decided to place all ten commandments of the Law of God upon the wall in Korean.  He made it to eight commandments, when a guard saw it and stopped him from completing it.

Another time, he found the time to write Romans 6:23 all the way through.  It said, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Finally, when all “tools” to write had been taken away, Scripture texts on  his lips provided divine opportunities to share his Christian faith with guards and fellow prisoners alike.  Quite clearly, while Rev. Hunt was imprisoned, the Word of God was not imprisoned.

Eventually he was exchanged and went back to the United States with his family.

Words to live by:  In our true story about Bruce Hunt writing Scripture texts on the wall of his cell, there is a very real presupposition which was necessary for him to witness in this way.  And it was this.  He had memorized certain portions of the Word of God so that he could write them without having his Bible as a guide.  Question?  If you did not have your Bible present with you to read and write verses of it, how many texts of Scripture have you memorized which could prove to be a comfort to you and a witness to others in prison with you?  Scripture memorization, even with a proliferation of Bible versions today, is a spiritual exercise of our parent’s generation.  Yet, we are closer than they are to difficult times.  Memorize the Word of God!  Begin today.  Start with the texts of salvation.  Ask your pastor what you should memorize.  Ask yourself the question, what verses would I want to know if I was arrested for the sake of the gospel?

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A Polymath of the First Order

miller01 copyThe following is Dr. Samuel Miller’s reply to William Buell Sprague’s request for a biographical account of the Rev. Dr. John Ewing, who had long served as the Provost of the University of Pennsylvania.

Rev. and dear Brother: It gives me pleasure to contribute the least effort toward the erection of an humble monument to the memory of the Rev. Dr. John Ewing, late Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, whom I knew well, and whom I have much reason, on a variety of accounts, to remember with veneration and love.

Rev. Dr. John Ewing, D.D.He was a native of Maryland, born in the town of Nottingham, in Cecil County, on the 22d of June, 1732. Of his ancestors, little is known. They emigrated from Ireland at an early period of the settlement of our country, and fixed themselves on the banks of the Susquehanna, near to the spot on which he was later born. His father was in circumstances which enabled him to give his five sons as good an education as the state of the Colonies with respect to schools could then well furnish. After the first elementary school to which he was sent, he was placed at the Academy of the Rev. Dr. Francis Alison, an eminent Presbyterian clergyman, who had emigrated from Ireland, and who was greatly distinguished for his classical literature, and who became instrumental in forming a number of excellent scholars in the Middle Colonies. His literary institution at New London, in Pennsylvania, was long celebrated. There young Ewing passed the usual course of study; and after completing it, remained three years longer in the Academy as a Tutor; directing special attention to the Latin and Greek language, and mathematics, in all which he was eminent through life.

In 1774 he became a member of the College of New Jersey, then located at Newark, under the Presidency of the Rev. Mr. Burr; and, as he was so far advanced and matured in the principal studies of the College, he was graduated at the annual Commencement of the same year. At the same time he was the principal instructor in the grammar school, which was connected with the College, and spent a portion of almost every day in instructing others in the languages and mathematics. In 1756, he was chosen Tutor in the College in which he had been graduated, and continued in that station two full years, enlarging and maturing his knowledge. During this course of service as a Tutor, he removed with the College from Newark to Princeton, which removal took place in 1757. In pursuing the study of Theology, he returned to his former teacher and friend, the Rev. Dr. Alison, and was subsequently licensed to preach the Gospel by the Presbytery of Newcastle. At the age of twenty-six, before he undertook the pastoral charge, he was selected to instruct the philosophical class in the College of Philadelphia, during the absence of the Provost, the Rev. Dr. Smith. While thus employed, he received, in the year 1759, a unanimous call from the First Presbyterian Church in the city of Philadelphia, to become their Pastor. This call he accepted, and was ordained to the work of the ministry, and installed as their Pastor, in the course of that year.

About this time, Mr. Ewing formed a matrimonial connection with Miss Hannah Sergeant, the eldest daughter of Jonathan Sergeant, Esq., of Princeton,–a lady of great beauty and domestic excellence, with whom he lived in happy union more than forty years, and who survived him a number of years.

In 1773, Mr. Ewing was commissioned, with the consent of his congregation, in company with Dr. Hugh Williamson, late a member of Congress from North Carolina, to solicit contributions in Great Britain for the support of the Academy of Newark, in Delaware. His high reputation in his own country, together with an ample supply of letters which he took with him, gave him access to a number of men eminent in Church and State, in Great Britain, and prepared the way for the formation of a number of acquaintances and friendships, which were highly interesting to him, and, in some cases, valuable, as long as he lived. He seems to have made a deep impression, especially in North Britain, in favour of American character. The cities of Glasgow, Montrose, Dundee, and Perth, presented to him their freedom; and from the University of Edinburgh, of which Dr. Robertson was then the Principal, he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity. Dr. Robertson, in presenting this diploma, declared that he had never before conferred a degree with greater pleasure. At this time the contest between the Colonies and the mother country was beginning to be serious. It was, of course, the theme of much conversation while he was in England. He had frequent interviews with the Prime Minister, Lord North, and with all the intelligence of one recently from the Colonies, and with all the firmness and zeal of an ardent Whig, he warned his Lordship against the prosecution of the contest, and confidently predicted its issue; but without effect.

But the narrative which Dr. Ewing, after his return to America, was wont to give with most graphic interest, was that of his first interview with the celebrated Dr. [Samuel] Johnson, at the table of Mr. Dilly, the wealthy and hospitable Bookseller of London. Dr. Johnson, it is well known, was violent against the Colonies; had written a popular pamphlet against their claims [The Patriot, (1774)] ; and heaped upon them and their advocates the coarsest abuse. Mr. Dilly, in inviting Dr. Ewing to dinner, apprized him that Dr. Johnson was to be of the party, and cautioned him against contradicting or opposing the great literary despot. During the dinner the contest with America became the subject of animated conversation. Dr. Ewing, the only American present, being appealed to, began, with his usual frankness, to defend the Colonies. Dr. Johnson, looking at him with sternness, said, “What doyou know, Sir, on that subject?” Dr. Ewing calmly replied that, having resided in America all his life, he thought himself qualified to form and to express opinions on the situation and claims of the country. Dr. Johnson’s feelings were roused. The epithets of rebels and scoundrels were pretty liberally applied to the population of the Colonies. At length Johnson rudely said, “Sir, what do you know in America? You never read. You have no books there.” “Pardon me, Sir,” replied Dr. Ewing, “we have read the Rambler.” [a periodical published by Dr. Johnson, 1750-1752]. This civility instantly pacified him; and, after the rest of the company had retired, he sat with Dr. Ewing until midnight, in amiable, eloquent, and highly interesting conversation.

In the summer of 1775, Dr. Ewing returned from Europe. War was soon commenced between the United States and Great Britain. And he adhered to the cause of his country with all the firmness and zeal of an ardent Whig. In 1779, the Legislature of Pennsylvania revoked the charter of the old College and Academy of Philadelphia, and gave a new one, creating the University of Pennsylvania. At the head of this new institution, Dr. Ewing was placed, under the title of Provost. In this station, united with that of pastor of a church, he continued to the end of life. Besides presiding over the whole University as its head, with dignity and commanding influence, he was Professor of Natural Philosophy, and every year delivered a course of lectures on that branch of science. But this was not all. Perhaps our country has never bred a man so deeply as well as extensively versed in every branch of knowledge commonly taught in our Colleges as was Dr. Ewing. Such was his familiarity with the Hebrew language, that I have been assured by those most intimately acquainted with his habits, that his Hebrew Bible was constantly by his side in his study, and that it was that which he used of choice, for devotional purposes. In Mathematics and Astronomy, in the Lating, Greek and Hebrew languages, in Logic, in Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy, he was probably more accomplished than any other man in the United States. When any other Professor in the University was absent, the Provost would take his place, at an hour’s warning, and conduct the instruction appropriate to that Professorship with more skill, taste, and advantage than the incumbent of the chair himself. His skill in mathematical science was so pre-eminent and acknowledged, that he was more than once employed with Dr. Rittenhouse, of Philadelphia, in running the boundary lines between several of the States, in which he acquitted himself in the most able and honourable manner. He was one of the Vice Presidents of the American Philosophical Society, and made a number of contributions to the volumes of their Transactions, which do honour his memory.

Dr. Ewing had a strong constitution, and for a long course of years enjoyed vigorous health; being very seldom kept either out of the pulpit or from the Professor’s chair by indisposition. In the early part of the year 1802, he was attacked with a chronic disease, which gradually undermined his health, and finally terminated his important and useful life on the 8th of September of that year, in the seventy-first year of his age.

Few preachers in his day were more popular than Dr. Ewing, especially with the more intelligent and cultivated classes of hearers. His merits were all of the solid, instructive, and dignified character. And as a Collegiate Instructor, I suspect he had no superior.

This venerable man had a large family of children, ten or eleven of whom survived him; a number of respectable grandchildren still sustain the name and the honours of the family.

I am, Reverend and dear Brother, with the best wishes for the success of your biographical enterprise,

Very sincerely and respectfully yours,


[excerpted from Annals of the American Presbyterian Pulpit, by William Buell Sprague. Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005. Volume One, pp. 216-219.]

Words to Live By:
When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you,
And put a knife to your throat, if you are a man of great appetite.
Do not desire his delicacies, For it is deceptive food.
[Proverbs 23:1-3, NASB]

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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 on August 29, 1647.  It then became the summary of the teachings of the Old and New Testaments which was “owned” by the officers of the Church—the teaching and ruling elders, as well as the diaconate—in every local congregation. Down through the centuries, some changes in the Confession were made, most notably in 1789, but these have not affected the overall doctrinal content 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 remains relevant to this day as a focal point of our unity as Presbyterians, and so 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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Ideas & Actions Have Consequences

On this day, August 15th, in 1861, a group of pastors and ruling elders met in Atlanta to plan the division of a new denomination, splitting off from the Old School wing of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Strictly speaking, the Southern Old School men did not divide over the matter of slavery. Rather, their point of division was the Gardiner Spring Resolutions. What follows is an account of how that division came about, written by the Rev. Moses D. Hoge, and found as chapter 22 in the volume, Presbyterians: A Popular Narrative… (1892):—

In May, 1861, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Old School), which met in Philadelphia, adopted a paper in reference to the Civil War, which begun the month before. This paper became known as the Spring Resolutions, after the Rev. Gardiner Spring, pastor of the Brick Church in New York and the minister who brought these resolutions to the floor of that General Assembly. Three times these resolutions were put before the Assembly, and twice they failed of vote, but with some changes, passed on the third presentation. With the adoption of the Spring Resolutions, the Assembly undertook to decide for its whole constituency, North and South, a question upon which the most eminent statesmen had been divided in opinion from the time of the formation of the Constitution, namely, whether the ultimate sovereignty, thejus summi imperii, resided in the people as a mass, or in the people as they were originally formed into colonies and afterward into States.

Presbyterians in the South believed that this deliverance, whether true or otherwise, was one which the Church was not authorized to make, and that, in so doing, she had transcended her sphere and usurped the duties of the state. Their views upon this subject found expression in a quarter which relieves them of all suspicion of coming from an interested party. A protest against this action was presented by the venerable Charles Hodge, D.D., of Princeton Theological Seminary, and fifty-seven others who were members of that Assembly.

In this protest it was asserted, “that the paper adopted by the Assembly does decide the political question just stated, in our judgment, is undeniable. It not only asserts the loyalty of this body to the Constitution and the Union, but it promises in the name of all the churches and ministers whom it represents, to do all that in them lies to strengthen, uphold and encourage the Federal Government. It is, however, a notorious fact that many of our ministers and members conscientiously believe that the allegiance of the citizens of this country is primarily due to the States to which they respectively belong, and that, therefore, whenever any State renounces its connection with the United States, and its allegiance to the Constitution, the citizens of that State are bound by the laws of God to continue loyal to their State, and obedient to its laws. The paper adopted virtually declares, on the other hand, that the allegiance of the citizen is due to the United States, anything in the Constitution or laws of the several States to the contrary notwithstanding. The General Assembly in thus deciding a political question, and in making that decision practically a condition of Church membership, has, in our judgment, violated the Constitution of the Church, and usurped the prerogative of its Divine Master.”

Presbyterians in the South, coinciding in this view of the case, concluded that a separation from the General Assembly aforesaid was imperatively demanded, not in the spirit of schism, but for the sake of peace, and for the protection of the liberty with which Christ had made them free.

After the adoption of the Gardiner Spring Resolutions in May of 1861, Presbytery after Presbytery in the Southern States, feeling that by that act they had been exscinded, withdrew from the jurisdiction of the Assembly that had transcended its sphere and decided political questions. A conference of ministers and elders was held in Atlanta on August 15-17, 1861, and in response to a call thus issued the Assembly met.

Accordingly, ninety-three ministers and ruling elders, representing forty-seven Presbyteries, duly commissioned for that purpose, met in the city of Augusta, Georgia, on the 4th of December, 1861, and integrated in one body. The first act after the organization of that memorable Assembly was to designate a name for the now separated Church, and to declare its form and belief.

Something to Ponder:
The North/South division of the Old School Presbyterians did not happen in an historical vacuum. That brief comment above, “…feeling that by that act they had been exscinded,…” is an intriguing key. Could it be that the division of 1861 happened in part because of the division of 1837? In the division of 1837, the Old School Presbyterians unwittingly established a precedent when they exscinded four Synods which were predominantly New School. In making this observation, I am not arguing that they were right or wrong, but simply that ideas and actions have consequences. The overt exclusion of four Synods in 1837 was still a recent memory in 1861, and in that light it seems a more reasonable suspicion that now it was the Southern churches which were being excluded, whether overtly or not.

Our actions have consequences. Once you do something, it becomes easier to repeat that action. This is how habits are formed. This is how we learn. And this can be either good or bad. On the positive side of things, skills and abilities can be tuned to a fine pitch; all manner of tasks can be mastered. But, by allowing a first transgression, we can also become quite adept at sin. Instead, let us fear God and hate evil. Like Joseph, turn from sin at its first appearance, and run! Or, to return to our story, imagine how things might have turned out, had that first slave ship been refused access to our shores? What sort of nation would we be if a different precedent had been set from the start? We can’t undo history, but we can find forgiveness and mercy in Christ as our Lord and Savior.

[excerpted from Presbyterians: A Popular Narrative of their Origin, Progress, Doctrines, and Achievements, by Rev. Geo. P. Hays, D.D., LL.D. New York: J. A. Hill & Co., Publishers, 1892, pp. 483-486.]

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Clarence Macartney’s Pulpit Comments upon Machen’s Suspension from the Ministry:

Comments by Dr. C.E. Macartney on the Suspension of Dr. J. Gresham Machen from the Ministry of the Presbyterian Church.  Made at the Morning Service at the First Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Sunday, June 7, 1936.

            The moderator elected this time at the General Assembly is Dr. Masters, an able moderator and the most conservative we have had since two moderators well known to this congregation.

            Dr. Machen seems to have a great many enemies.  When Senator _________ nominated Grover Cleveland the second time for the Presidency in the Democratic Convention at Chicago, he brought the throng to their feet with his historic utterance, “We love him for the enemies he has made,” so although Dr. Machen has a great many enemies he has not a few friends who love him and respect him for the kind of enemies he has made.

            The General Assembly suspended Dr. Machen from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church.  He is not suspended from the Communion of the Church but he is stripped of all the prerogatives of a minister.  He cannot perform any of the duties of his office within the Presbyterian Church until such time as he shall obey the mandate of the General Assembly of 1934.  Since he will never do that it means the withdrawal from the Church of Dr. Machen.

            Having been his classmate at Princeton and knowing him much better perhaps than some of his enemies, I am glad in this public way to testify my affection for him, my confidence in the purity of his character and the sincerity of his motives, my admiration for his pre-eminent scholarship, his superb intellect, and his clear discernment of the unbelief and apostasy which is spreading within the Christian Church, and my deep regret and sorrow that such a man should be lost to the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.  At other crises in the history of the Church notable figures have been suspended from the ministry or voluntarily have withdrawn from the Communion of the Church because they were charged with unbelief, but here we have a man suspended from the Ministry of the Presbyterian Church who is known throughout the world as a fearless and able defender of the Faith of the Gospel.  The suspension of Dr. Machen from the Ministry of our Church will do him no injury; it will only increase his influence and add to the far-flung echo of his voice.  He is suspended from the Ministry of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America but few if any will think of him as suspended from the Ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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There was No Ecclesiology 101 on How to Begin a Denomination

There wasn’t a manual on denomination beginnings. No teaching elder had ever taken seminary courses on it. No one on the steering committee had any experience in the process.  It was entirely new to everyone, and yet it was something which had to be done.

Much like the northern Presbyterian church, the seeds of apostasy had entered the Presbyterian Church in the United States in the nineteen thirties of the twentieth century. It was very small then, most often in the sense of shame of some of the language in the Confessional Standards. But then there came a decided effort to capture the Southern Presbyterian Church for the liberal agenda, led as usual by the seminaries of the church. Members would return from, for example, a war, and find that they no longer recognized the church of their fathers. Principles and practices began to be printed in the denominational agencies which were contrary to the essentials of the Presbyterian faith. And, like the Northern Presbyterian church experience, various conservative individuals and churches began to organize committees outside the church which would accomplish the work of the church.  So we read of the Southern Presbyterian Journal, Concerned Presbyterians, The Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Presbyterian Churchmen United. These organizations, and the joint meetings they held, galvanized the conservatives of the Southern Presbyterian Church. Eventually all of these joined forces and established a Steering Committee for a Continuing Presbyterian Church. Separation from unbelief would be demanded of them.

It was on May 19, 1973 in Atlanta Georgia in the sanctuary of Westminster Presbyterian Church that 450 ruling elders from 261 churches representing 70,800 members joined together in a convocation of presbyters or Sessions. They listened to stirring messages. They viewed slide presentations which shared the kinds of churches and ministries which would be a part of any continuing church. They reaffirmed their committment to the Scriptures, the Reformed faith, and the Great Commission. And when the pivotal time came for a vote as to whether to proceed ahead and actually begin a new denomination separate from the Presbyterian Church in the United States, the convocation voted 349 – 16.  Yet at the same time, they let it be clearly understood that there was love and respect toward any of their number, or within the church as a whole, who did not believe they should withdraw at this time. It would be seven more months that such a new denomination became a reality, but this was one of the important beginnings of what became known eventually as the Presbyterian Church in America. And this beginning came primarily from the ruling elders of the church.

Words to Live By: Pray much for your ruling elder in the congregation of which you are a part. They are men just like you who sit in the pews.  They have their fears and foibles just like you. Yet God has called them to be overseers of the flock, to pastor the flock of God whom the Son has redeemed with His own blood. Therefore, submit to them in the Lord, support them in the work, and be an encouragement to them in their work of shepherding the people of God. They are a vital part of the church.

For Further Study:
Three of the addresses presented at the Convocation of Sessions are available on the PCA Historical Center’s web site:

Law and Procedure, or, How and Why in 1973,” by RE W. Jack Williamson.

No Compromise Men and Church,” by Rev. William E. Hill, Jr. 

How Is the Gold Become Dim!,” by Rev. Morton H. Smith.


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A Political Issue Divides the Old School General Assembly

With the Old School General Assembly meeting on May 16, 1861, the unity of the nation was at stake.  Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina has been attacked and captured.  Southern states had already seceded from the Union.  The slavery issue, which had been debated in previous assemblies, became secondary to the important matter of preserving the union.  Thus, Rev. Gardiner Spring,  the pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, New York suggested that a committee be formed to consider the following resolutions before the assembled elders.

          “Resolved, 1.  That in view of the present agitated and unhappy condition of this country, the first day of July next be hereby set apart as a day of prayer throughout our bounds; and that on this day ministers and people are called on humbly to confess our national sins; to offer our thanks to the Father of light for his abundant and undeserved goodness towards us as a nation; to seek his guidance and blessing upon our rulers, and their counsels, as well as on the Congress of the United States about to assembly; and to implore him, in the name of Jesus Christ, the great High Priest of the Christian profession, to turn away his anger from us, and speedily restore to us the blessings of an honorable peace.

          Resolved, 2  That this General Assembly, in the spirit of that Christian patriotism . . . do hereby acknowledge and declare our obligations to promote and perpetuate . . . the integrity of the United States, and to strengthen, uphold, and encourage the Federal Government in the exercise of all its functions  under our noble Constitution: and to this Constitution, . . . we profess our unabated loyalty.”

Interestingly, some of the main opposition to this resolution came from Dr. Charles Hodge, of Princeton Theological Seminary.  He protested that the General Assembly had no right to decide to what government the allegiance of Presbyterians is due, that it was neither North nor South. His alternate resolutions lost before the assembly.  When the issue came to a vote, with an amendment offered by John Witherspoon II,  the Spring Resolutions, as they were known in church history, passed by 156 to 66. Tragically, they also brought about the schism between Old School Presbyterians, dividing North and South.

To read a full account of what came to be called the Gardiner Spring Resolutions,click here.

Words to Live By: There is a reason why the Confessional Fathers in chapter 31:3 specifically stated that “Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical; and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.”

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We Thank God  on Every Remembrance of You

MurrayJohnWhen Professor John Murray retired from Westminster to return to his beloved land of Scotland, he attended for the last time the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1966.  The delegates there gave a memorial to him which captured the man and his ministry perfectly when it simply quoted the Pauline expression, “We thank God on every remembrance of you.”  That said it all to their fellow minister.

Fast forward in your mind nine years to the Free Church of Creich in Scotland and its small cemetery where the remains of John Murray were being buried in 1975.  Five hundred people from all over the world had gathered to hear the memorial messages.  A prince of Israel  had indeed fallen on May 8, 1975.

Between these two events, John Murray had served his country in World War I,  where he had fought with the famous Black Watch regiment.  The loss of his eye came from that time of military service.

Education included the M.A. degree from Glasglow University in 1923.  Then his ministerial degree (the older ThB) and Th.M. came from Princeton Theological Seminary in the United States.  Returning to Scotland at New College at Edinburgh University, he returned to Princeton Seminary at a pivotal year, namely, 1929.   That year, Princeton’s Board of Trustees was reorganized and Westminster Theological Seminary was begun.  John Murray joined the faculty of Westminster Seminary.

From that time until his retirement in 1966, hundreds of students sat under this “saintly scholar.”  He really equipped the student saints to go forth and minister the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ on a sound foundation of Biblical truth.  John Murray also capsulized that same Biblical truth in several books he wrote.  It might be interesting to sum up those books, which this contributor used all during his pastoral ministry.

MurrayChurch officers in our Reformed churches  would do well to have a firm understanding of both Christian Baptism, and Divorce.   Both of course would be profitable to the Christian in the pew as well.   All those with the gift of evangelism, as well as Evangelism teams going out weekly, must have an understanding of the book Redemption Accomplish and Applied.  In fact, all Christians should read this book.  Then Principles of Conduct are a reminder of the Christian life.  If any book of the Bible is a “must” book to consider the themes of sin, salvation, sanctification, sovereign election, and service, the book of Romans fills those themes perfectly.  And Murray’s commentary on The Epistle to the Romans is just what is needed to comprehend the great apostle’s words and thoughts.

After John Murray retired in 1966, after having lived 68 years as a bachelor, he took a younger Scottish wife, Miss Valerie Knowlton on December 7, 1967.  Two children would be born to the union.

Words to Live By: John Murray had many “children of the faith” in his years in teaching in this Reformed school of the prophets.  Let them remember him in their current ministries as they pass on what they have heard to others also who will be able to teach still others in the history of the church.

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You Can’t Say That!

Talk about Goliath against David.  This was the case on this day April 28, 1937 when the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America went to court against the Presbyterian Church of America.  They had been successful in winning the church properties of those ministers who had been suspended from their ranks.  They had been successful in evicting them from the manse or parsonage.  They had been successful in removing their life insurance policies.  Now they wanted their name.

Their argument was simple.  Plans had been under way for some time for a proposed union of the United Presbyterian Church of North America with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.  And one of the names floated for that proposed union was the Presbyterian Church of America.

MudgeLSThe principal witness for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., was the denomination’s Stated Clerk, Lewis Seymour Mudge. Key to the whole case was the question of similarity of names as the sole basis for the suit against the Presbyterian Church of America.  Attempts by the latter group to show the doctrinal reasons for the new church were then met with objection after objection by the attorney for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

Witnesses for the P.C. of A. were a “who’s who” of its early leaders. Ministers Paul Woolley, Edwin Rian, and Charles Woodbridge all testified on April 28 and April 29. Professor John Murray tried to bear witness about the doctrinal differences between the two denominations, but was hindered by objections to his presence on the stand. He left, without testifying.

It took several months before the decision was handed down. But as the historical devotional for February 9, 1939 showed, the decision was made against the Presbyterian Church of America. Moderator R.B. Kuiper called for an earlier than usual General Assembly in that month of February, 1939, and the new name of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was chosen by the  church.

When the union between the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America and the United Presbyterian Church of North America took place in 1958, their new name was the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA). In God’s providence, this gave the opportunity for the southern Presbyterians who left the Presbyterian Church in the United States in 1973 to choose the name, The Presbyterian Church in America, as their new name during their second General Assembly.

PCofA_4thGA_1938OPC_5th_1939Presbyterian Guardian managing editor Thomas R. Birch remarked at the close of his report in the May 29th, 1937 issue, “And once more . . . Gideon’s band of true Christians, the Presbyterian Church of America, has publicly taken its unflinching stand on the side of historic Presbyterianism and the principles of religious liberty for which the fathers fought and died.” His entire article concerning the injunction can be read online in the May 29, 1937 issue of the Presbyterian Guardian. Yet through further legal appeal, it was not until March 15, 1939 that the denomination officially changed its name to The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  Mr. Birch wrote again at that time regarding the name change, “What’s In A Name?”, on page 47 of the March 1939 issue of The Presbyterian Guardian.

Words to Live By:  Jesus promised His followers that they would be brought up before the courts for the sake of their profession as Christianity.  This was one such example, and it will not be the last time in the history of the Christian church.  Yet God’s Word is sure.  Remain steadfast to the faith, and God’s reward will be ultimately yours in Christ.

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