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First General Assembly Writes George Washington

witherspoonJ_03Back on May 21, we wrote about the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church which met in Philadelphia in 1789.  It is interesting that part of their corporate decisions as a church was to send a letter on May 26, 1789 to President George Washington.  Its author of Dr. John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

After referring to President’s Washington military career and his unselfish surrender to the popular will of the people, it reads, “But we desire a presage even more flattering from the piety of your character. Public virtue is the most certain means of public felicity, and religion is the surest basis of virtue.  We therefore esteem it a peculiar happiness to behold in our chief magistrate a steady, uniform, avowed friend of the Christian religion; who has commenced his administration in rational and exalted sentiments of piety, and who in his private conduct adorns the doctrines of the gospel of Christ, and, on the most public and solemn occasions, devoutly acknowledges the government of Divine providence.

WashingtonGeorgeIt goes on to say “the example of distinguished characters will ever possess a powerful and extensive influence on the public mind; and when we see in such a conspicuous station the amiable example of piety to God, of benevolence to men, and of a pure and virtuous patriotism, we naturally hope that it will diffuse its influence, and that, eventually, the most happy consequences will result from it.  To the force of imitation we will  endeavor to add the wholesome instructions of religion.  We shall consider ourselves as doing an acceptable service to God, in our profession, when we contribute to render men sober, honest, and industrious citizens and the obedient subjects of a lawful government.  In these pious labors we hope to imitate the most worthy of our brethren from other Christian denominations, and to be imitated by them; assured that if we can, by mutual and generous emulation, promote truth and virtue, we shall render a great and important service to the republic, shall receive encouragement from every wise and good citizen, and above all, meet the approbation of our Divine Master.

In conclusion, the Assembly said, “we pray Almighty God to have you always in His holy keeping. May He prolong your valuable life, an ornament and a blessing to your country, and at last bestow on you the glorious reward of a faithful servant.”

The teaching and ruling elders of this first general assembly saw in the first president of this country a Christian president. And so they wrote him on this day at the same time the first Federal Congress was meeting.

Also on this date:
26 May 1858 — The United Presbyterian Church of North America(UPCNA) was formed by union of the northern aspect of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church with the Associate Presbyterian Church. Their union was formalized in an assembly held in the Old City Hall in Pittsburgh, 26 May 1858. A century later, the denomination concluded its existence in 1958 when it merged with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to form the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., on 28 May 1958.

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First General Assembly Writes George Washington

witherspoonJ_03Back on May 21, we wrote about the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church which met in Philadelphia in 1789.  It is interesting that part of their corporate decisions as a church was to send a letter on May 26, 1789 to President George Washington.  Its author of Dr. John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

After referring to President’s Washington military career and his unselfish surrender to the popular will of the people, it reads, “But we desire a presage even more flattering from the piety of your character.  Public virtue is the most certain means of public felicity, and religion is the surest basis of virtue.  We therefore esteem it a peculiar happiness to behold in our chief magistrate a steady, uniform, avowed friend of the Christian religion; who has commenced his administration in rational and exalted sentiments of piety, and who in his private conduct adorns the doctrines of the gospel of Christ, and, on the most public and solemn occasions, devoutly acknowledges the government of Divine providence.

WashingtonGeorgeIt goes on to say “the example of distinguished characters will ever possess a powerful and extensive influence on the public mind; and when we see in such a conspicuous station the amiable example of piety to God, of benevolence to men, and of a pure and virtuous patriotism, we naturally hope that it will diffuse its influence, and that, eventually, the most happy consequences will result from it.  To the force of imitation we will  endeavor to add the wholesome instructions of religion.  We shall consider ourselves as doing an acceptable service to God, in our profession, when we contribute to render men sober, honest, and industrious citizens and the obedient subjects of a lawful government.  In these pious labors we hope to imitate the most worthy of our brethren from other Christian denominations, and to be imitated by them; assured that if we can, by mutual and generous emulation, promote truth and virtue, we shall render a great and important service to the republic, shall receive encouragement from every wise and good citizen, and above all, meet the approbation of our Divine Master.

In conclusion, the Assembly said, “we pray Almighty God to have you always in His holy keeping.  May He prolong your valuable life, an ornament and a blessing to your country, and at last bestow on you the glorious reward of a faithful servant.”

The teaching and ruling elders of this first general assembly saw in the first president of this country a Christian president.  And so they wrote him on this day at the same time the first Federal Congress was meeting.

Also on this date:
26 May 1858 — The United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA) was formed by union of the northern aspect of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church with the Associate Presbyterian Church. Their union was formalized in an assembly held in the Old City Hall in Pittsburgh, 26 May 1858. A century later, the denomination concluded its existence in 1958 when it merged with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to form the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., on 28 May 1958.

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A Father’s Instruction, and A Son’s Rejection

The Rev. William Hamilton Jeffers, D.D., LL.D., was born at Cadiz, Ohio, on May 1, 1838. His parents were members of the Covenanter Church (i.e., the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America], and Dr. Jeffers received the strict religious training which was customary in this communion. He took his college course at Geneva College and graduated in 1855. For his theological training he attended Xenia Theological Seminary, which became one of the leading institutions of the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA), completing his ministerial training in the year 1859.

At the time of graduation from the Seminary, he left the church of his fathers and became a member of the United Presbyterian body, and began his career as a preacher by spending one year in the West in home missionary work, but hardship and exposure broke his health. He then began his pastoral work at Bellfontaine, Ohio, serving the United Presbyterian church there from 1862-1866. These years included some of the most stirring days of our national history, when the scourge of civil war threatened the Union and the foundations of our government. Like many of the young ministers of that day, he heard his country’s call, not to take up arms in her defense, but to minister to the soldiers in the camp and on the battle field by bringing to them the comforts of the Christian faith. Within the circle of his family he spoke of these days with satisfaction. As a chaplain he had more than average success.

During his college and seminary days Dr. Jeffers had shown a special aptitude for the study of languages, and had made himself a proficient scholar not only in the classical tongues, but also in Hebrew. When he was just twenty-eight years old, he was appointed a member of the committee charged with revision of the Psalter for the UPCNA. In many cases he found it impossible to make a mere revision, and so was compelled to produce an entirely new version.

While Dr. Jeffers served notably as a pastor, his chief work was as a teacher. Beginning in 1877, he taught for twenty-six years at the Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh. In his prime he was considered one of the ablest instructors in the institution. The students recognized that he was a clear thinker, not only conversant with the details of his own department, but more or less familiar with the chief results of investigation in other fields of theological scholarship. With his career there beginning in 1877, Dr. Jeffers would have been one of Robert Dick Wilson’s professors, though Wilson already excelled in his Hebrew studies by the time he attended Seminary.

Investigation reveals that Dr. Jeffers published very little, and only three pieces have been discovered. His inaugural address, when he was inducted into the chair as professor of Old Testament Literature and Exegesis, in 1877, was titled The Importance of the Study of the Old Testament Scriptures. Besides a single lecture published in the Western Seminary’s Bulletin, the only work from his pen was a Memoir on the life of the Rev. Samuel Jennings Wilson, published as an introduction to the latter’s posthumously published Occasional Addresses and Sermons (1895). Apparently Jeffers was reluctant to put anything into print, partly because of his high ideals of scholarship, and partly because of an great sensitivity to criticism.

Sincere adherence to his convictions and a loyalty to his friends were marked characteristics of this humble man of God. As might be expected of a man of his temperament, he was very devoted to his family, and lavished his love and care on his wife and children.

As true as that must have been, however, the story becomes both confusing and painfully interesting when we begin to look at the lives of his two sons. The younger son, Hamilton [1893-1978], became a noted astronomer, and I could not discover anything as to whether he was or was not a Christian. The other son, John Robinson Jeffers [1887-1962], grew up to become a renowned poet of the American West, but was, at the same time, a deeply troubled and profligate son who, so far as we can see, never repented. His works were full of biblical imagery, but Robinson Jeffers, for all appearances, rejected the Christian faith of his father.

Words to Live By:
Certainly from this distance we cannot say what went wrong, nor can we understand why Robinson Jeffers rejected the gospel, given his father’s testimony and example. It is curious to find that while the biblical scholar is largely forgotten today, there is an artistic community that keeps alive the works of the poet son. Parenting is an act of faith, lived out in full dependence upon the only God who saves to the uttermost. As PCA pastor Bill Iverson is fond of saying, “God has no grandchildren,” — meaning that the work of evangelism must be done afresh in every generation. Or as T. D. Witherspoon urged parents, “Don’t think that you have to wait to talk to your children about spiritual matters.” This is where the Catechism is so helpful, because it brings these issues up for discussion around the family table. Catechize your children; pray with your children; pray for your children!

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Union of  Presbyterians

Ordinarily when you read of an event which brought together two separate bodies of Presbyterians, you would rejoice over the union.  But when you read of a conservative body of Presbyterians uniting with a liberal body of Presbyterians, one tends to be sad.  And yet the latter is what happened on this day, May 28, 1958 when the United Presbyterians Church of North America united with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

We have in these historical devotionals spent enough time on the decline of testimony of the historic Christian faith which the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. has had since the early part of the last century.  What you may not know is the history and  testimony of the United Presbyterian Church of North America.

It was almost to the day of this union in 1958 that two Scotch-Irish Presbyterians joined together in 1858 to make up the United Presbyterian Church of North America.  Those two bodies which made up that union were the Seceders or Associate Presbyterians and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  They had in the old country of Scotland left the Church of Scotland, and then immigrated over to what later became America.  The latter Associate Reformed Presbyterians had come from a union of the Associate Presbytery and Reformed Presbytery in Pequea, Pennsylvania, on June 13, 1782 (see historical devotional for that date). The primary strength of membership lay in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.

What is even more important than these facts is to sum up their faith and life.  With their Scotch-Irish roots, they held to the Westminster Confession of Faith and catechisms as their subordinate standards, exclusive psalmody, Sabbatarianism, being a part of the abolitionist movement, and strong Protestantism.  While the psalmody was abandoned in 1925, this church still held to a conservative Calvinism.

All this is then perplexing as to why they voted to merge into the liberal Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. almost one hundred years later in 1958.  In less than ten years, the wider body would replace the historic Westminster Standards with the Confession of 1967, relegating the former to a book of confessions.

Words to Live By: All of us need to carefully examine what we will gain and what will be lost in uniting together with others. Our associations matter. Not just who our friends are, but what we read, watch, and listen to, not to mention all the many social, religious and political groupings that we may be involved with, all these things bring influences that affect us far more than we may realize. Which is why prayerful, consistent time in the Word of God is so important, as a anchor against anything that might seek to sway and divert us away from honoring our Lord and Creator in all that we say and do.

Through the Scriptures: Psalms 142 – 144

Through the Standards:  Our persons and works acceptable to God through Christ

WCF 16:6
“Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in Him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreproveable in God’s sight; but that He, looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.”

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