Westminster Confession

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The following is a transcript from a news clipping preserved among the Papers of the Rev. Henry G. Welbon, at the PCA Historical Center. [Scrapbook #5, p. 503]. The Rev. Emo F. J. Van Halsema writes in reply to a prior editorial [not available in Welbon’s collection], and the Editor then makes a final comment. Time has proven the Editor wrong, as you will see, and has only confirmed Rev. Van Halsema’s estimations.

An Appreciation of Dr. Machen.

Editor, Herald-News: — Kindly permit me making a few remarks anent your editorial on the late Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen in late Monday’s issue.

When you say that he was a very able, a wholly sincere man, a man of deepest convictions, whose conscience would not allow him to temporize with views he opposed, those who have known him will readily endorse these words. But what you add comes obviously from an unsympathetic pen. The general impression left with the reader is that though Dr. Machen was a capable leader, he was a sadly mistaken one, whose work will now, after his sudden and unexpected demise, come to naught.

This, Mr. Editor, is an attitude which fails to take into consideration the true significance of the movement in which Dr. Machen had so prominent a place up to the day of his death. The point which Dr. Machen for more than a decade tried to emphasize was that the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America should be loyal to its Westminster Confession as long as this Confession had not been officially repudiated. He was, for that reason, hostile to the Auburn Affirmation and consistently pointed out numerous deviations from the official Standards of the Church in publications which appeared under Presbyterian name. All that he persistently asked was that the Church uphold its Confessional Standards. That is the fight he fought. The trials instituted against him sidetracked the main issue. The ecclesiastical authorities frowned upon him for sowing the seeds of suspicion, for opposing the official church boards, for disturbing the peace of the church and finally unfrocked him. Ecclesiastical machinery won a questionable victory. The lonely man of Philadelphia met a glorious defeat.

It has been said by men prominent in the ecclesiastical trial that doctrinal issues had no bearing on the case, that Dr. Machen was free to think about theological matters as he pleased. The truth, however, is that doctrinal matters did enter in. In fact, loyalty to the Westminster Confession has been Dr. Machen’s plea from the beginning. A minister in the Presbyterian Church is not free to teach what he pleases. Dr. Machen held that he was bound by the Standards and that the Church was too. His many attempts at reform were of no avail. The doctrinal issue loomed up everywhere. It was the heart of the entire controversy, yet, it was consistently and conveniently sidetracked.

In June, 1936, the Presbyterian Church of America was organized to continue “true Presbyterianism.” This was a bold act. It was an act born of need. Dr. Machen did not seek his own martyrdom. The Assembly at Syracuse force it upon him. Said the Doctor, “We have made every effort, in accordance with our solemn ordination pledge, to bring about a return from modernism and indifferentism to the Bible and to the Church’s constitution. Those efforts having proved unavailing, we now are continuing true Presbyterianism in the Presbyterian Church of America. We are not ready to take the Bible off our pulpits and put the last minutes of the Assembly in its stead.” Organizing the new Church was an act of faith.

Your prophecy, Mr. Editor, that what you choose to call “the off-shoot sect” has reached its zenith and will now decline, is but a mortal man’s prediction. You spoke of Dr. Machen’s martyrdom. The Church willingly acted as executioner. We recall that the blood of martyrs has been before this, the seed of the church. Concluding your article you quote the words, “Man proposes, God disposes” in application to Dr. Machen and his movement. Does this not also hold true with uncomfortable consistency of the Church who tried to silence the voice of one of its “terrible meek”? I do not possess the gift of prediction, but the facts are that in the last five months the young sister church gained 69 ministers , making a total of 103, who are working in 23 States and five foreign Countries. The young church today is sad but does not despair. We read, “The cause which he espoused has suffered a terrific blow. But let no one assume that it is a blow of defeat. Those who are left must carry on the tremendous task, as he would have wished them to do. The road will be lonely and the burden of grief heavy, but the work will go on.”

When you state, Mr. Editor, that all Presbyterians wish to forget about the Machen episode, your wish is evidently the father of the thought. Thousands of Presbyterians and other Christians will never forget the sad proceedings of a Church against one of her truest servants who rose to the defense of a Constitution which was slowly being undermined. The Presbyterian Church of America will be a constant reminder to the mother Church of the sad breach among her children in 1936.

The following words written a few days before his death do more justice to Dr. Machen than your editorial. : “He has been bitterly reviled by enemies of the gospel and by many who pretend to love the gospel, but those who know him well and love the gospel dearly regard him as a profound scholar, a veritable Greatheart, a Christian gentleman, a devout child of God, a convincing teacher and preacher, a man with convictions strong as Gibraltar and courage indomitable as Luther’s at the Diet of Worms. It may be said without fear of contradiction that today there is no more scholarly and militant defender of the historic Christian faith against the onslaughts of liberalism than Dr. Machen.”

His voice is now silenced.
His work will go on.
The hammers break, the anvil stands.”

Rev. Emo F. J. Van Halsema
Pastor, Northside Christian Reformed Church
Passaic, January 6.

[With all respect, may we reply to the Rev. Mr. Van Halsema that our feeling was one of sympathy and our desire was to express it. We can express here no opinion as to the doctrinal questions which undoubtedly did enter, and which are not now ended because he has died. The contest between what is called Fundamentalism and what is called Modernism will continue unabated, and it is of course our opinion only that the particular movement, headed by Dr. Machen has reached its zenith and now will decline. We have many examples in history, but do not wish to insist upon it. In justice to the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (of which we are not a member) it should be pointed out that its proper jurisdiction held officially that there was no rampant Modernism in the Church as charged by Dr. Machen, and that his official condemnation rests almost entirely upon the fact that without authorization he organized an Independent Board of Missions, which appealed for Presbyterian funds, and refused to disband it or dissociate himself from it when commanded so to do by the General Assembly. — Editor Herald-News.]

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While still searching for some suitable material for our Saturday tutorials, we offer the following lecture, originally delivered on this day, October 24, in 1949, by the Rev. Dr. Allan A. MacRae, who was then serving as the president of Faith Theological Seminary in Wilmington, Delaware. Dr. MacRae held that post until 1971 when he became president of Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, PA. The text is was offered as part of a short-lived series intended for laymen, with Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. presenting the second lecture. We have thus far never seen any other lectures from this series and conclude that something must have preempted the planned series. MacRae’s lecture is a bit long for one of our posts, but since its Saturday, hopefully you can pour a second cup of coffee and enjoy the lecture.

LECTURES ON THE

WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH FOR LAYMEN

FIRST IN SERIES : THE HOLY SCRIPTURES

by

ALLAN A. MacRae, Ph.D.
President, Faith Theological Seminary
Wilmington, Delaware.

COPYRIGHT, 1950, by
THE EVANGELICAL PRESBYTERIAN TRAINING ASSOCIATION

A lecture given before the Bible Presbyterian Elders’ Association on October 24, 1949.

 

As we look at the table of contents of the Confession of Faith; we note that it contains more than thirty chapters. It is interesting to see which chapter comes first.

Does the Confession start with a discussion of human needs? There is much in it about human need and its satisfaction, but that is not where the Confession begins.

Does the Confession begin with a statement about God and His attributes? Does it lay a foundation for belief in a certain type of God and then deduce everything else from that as a starting point? No; it does not start with God.

The Confession does not start with human need; it does not start with the presupposition of a certain theory or viewpoint about God; it starts with the Holy Scriptures. This was no accident, it was, instead, a clear expression of the viewpoint of the men who wrote the Confession of Faith of our church. They believed that there is one way) and only one way, in which we can learn what is vital about God and what is vital about the satisfaction of human need. They believed that God has given us a book which provides the knowledge that He desires us to have about sacred things, about Himself; and about the satisfaction of our needs, If we are going to find satisfactory answers to any of these questions, the place to start is with the Book which God has given us; this is the foundation viewpoint of the Westminster Confession,

There are men who think that a person can think and ponder and meditate, and can find within himself the answers to all the problems of the universe. That is not the view of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Still others make a beginning, not, like the Westminster Confession, with the Bible, but rather with a particular idea of God, and maintain that from a correct idea of God all else will necessarily follow This is very different from the approach of the Westminster Confession. There is, of course, a logical coherence in the universe.  After we learn correct views about God from the Bible we can see how these views fit together with other Biblical teachings and with the observed facts of life. But it is questionable how much coherence can safely be worked out by the human minds without first gaining the facts from divine revelation. Sin has darkened the human intellect and it is dangerous to build our views on human reason. We must not think we can safely start with a particular idea of God. We must start where the Westminster Confession starts; with the Bible and then get our ideas about God directly from that source.

The view of the Westminster Confession is:  we have just one source of truth in religious matters, and that is the Bible In other words, all knowledge of religious truth must come through revelation. This view has been characteristic of the Presbyterian Churches right from their foundations.

WHAT IS REVELATION?

What do we mean by revelation? Is it some sort of old fashioned out-of-date idea? Is revelation a medieval concept which science has now displaced?

Such questions illustrate the present wide-spread ignorance of what revelation really is, It is not some bizarre or fantastic notion but one of the commonest facts of daily lifeRevelation is merely communication from one personality to another. Divine revelation differs from ordinary revelation in that it comes from God rather than from another human being.

So far from being displaced by science; revelation is absolutely necessary to the progress of science. Science consists in gathering data, classifying them, building hypotheses, and then checking these hypotheses by further data. No man has ever been able to gather enough data in any field to build up a science all by himself. Each scientist must use many facts which others have observed. Knowledge of these facts reaches
him through revelation from other personalities.

Every worker in science is constantly studying the results of the work of others. Data inaccessible to him are made available through communications from others Thus revelation is one of the most vital factors in the increase of scientific knowledge. Without it no one man would have access to a large enough body of data to make a great advance in any science.

Personally I believe that our great progress in material things in modern days is largely the result of application of the scientific method. And I believe that progress in religious understanding must also be based on the scientific method. The method is exactly the same, whether you are dealing with religion or with science. There is only one vital difference, That difference relates to the accessibility of the data. In every science much of the data is inaccessible to an individual student, and must be learned through revelation. In religion all the vital data must be learned in this way. No man has direct access to the data from which he can learn about eternal things. What sort of a being is God, and what are His plans and purposes? Answers to such questions as these can be found in only one way. You must use exactly the same method as in any field of earthly knowledge that is not accessible to you. You must find someone who possesses this knowledge and get a communication from him—in other words, a revelation. Only in this way can you secure dependable knowledge about these matters. This was the belief of the framers of the Westminster Confession; and it was the belief of the founders of the Reformed churches throughout the world. To get knowledge of religion we must secure data from One who knows facts inaccessible to us. Then we study these facts and build up our conclusions on a basis of careful analysis of the data.

We cannot get the facts out of our imagination, nor can we simply infer them by a logical process from a few ideas and presuppositions. We must learn the facts from One who knows- This is why the Confession of Faith begins with the chapter on the Holy Scriptures.

Thus a correct attitude toward the Bible is the very foundation of our knowledge of religious matters. Please do not misunderstand me. I said that a correct attitude toward the Bible is the very foundation of all dependable knowledge in the sphere of religion. I did not say that a belief in the verbal inspiration of the Bible is the beginning of the Christian life. Your Christian life is founded on your relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. Your salvation depends on a personal relationship to Him. Faith in Christ, and nothing else, is the basis of personal salvation.

You can be saved and know very little of the Bible, but without knowledge of the Bible you will not be an effective Christian worker. You will not be a Christian who is growing in grace. You will not be one who is going forward in the Christian life as God wants you to go forward if you lack a clear understanding of the place that the Bible should have in the Christian life. It is the foundation of Christian knowledge and true knowledge is vital to progress in any one of these phases of Christian life.

Therefore it is from a viewpoint, not of the beginning of the Christian life, but of that Christian knowledge which is so vital to progress in the Christian life, that the Westminster Confession begins with this chapter on the Holy Scriptures, and puts right at the start the fact that it is necessary to have revelation (communication) from someone who knows the facts and data in this field. You have to get God’s revelation.

You don’t have to know a great many facts about God to start getting religious knowledge. You don’t have to know a great deal about what kind of a God He is; all you have to know is that He is, that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him (Heb, 11:6), and that He has given you a way to seek Him. He has given His revelation in which you may study what He has revealed about Himself. The way to learn about Him is to go to the revelation He has given. Naturally then, the Confession of Faith places the chapter on the Holy Scriptures at the very beginning,

GENERAL REVELATION

There has been much discussion by theologians of this question: Is there such a thing as general revelation? Some people say we cannot know anything about God except what we learn from the Bible. Others would say that we can know nothing about God except what He has directly revealed to some individual. They assert that we cannot learn about God from nature that we cannot start with the facts of nature and reach the knowledge that God exists. When men make statements like this they are sharply contradicting the Westminster Confession of Faith,

The Confession begins with the statement of a fact. It introduces this fact with the word “although”, thus indicating that its importance should not be exaggerated, but nevertheless recognizing it as a fact.

Let us read the first words of the Confession; “Although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God as to leave men inexcusable.” This opening statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith asserts that God has revealed His goodness, His wisdom, and His power through the light of nature and the works of creation and providence.

Many editions of the Confession have a footnote here, giving references to such passages as Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:19-20. These verses make it clear that the Confession is standing squarely on the teaching of the Bible, when it says that God is revealed in nature The Confession declares that “the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God as to leave men inexcusable.” It thus asserts that a man can know from nature that there is a God—that there is a good God; that there is a wise God; that there is a powerful God.

Here we see the reason why the Confession does not begin with God, Its writers believed that the basic facts about God were visible to all men; and that knowledge of additional facts about Him required special revelation, Therefore the Confession made the Bible the subject of its first chapter, as the only source from which knowledge about God can be obtained; beyond what is readily gleaned from general  revelation,

THE  EXISTENCE OF GOD

There are many today who profess to doubt the existence of God, According to the Westminster Confession such doubts are without excuse. It is possible to see in nature sufficient evidence of the existence of God to compel the honest seeker to admit this vital fact. If he leaves it out of his thinking; he is building on a foundation which omits data that are readily accessible to him. Such an attitude is not worthy of any true scientist. The whole universe speaks of God: the whole creation declares the goodness; wisdom; and power of God. The Christian has important common ground with every human being in this world. We don’t have to start by saying, “You are over there and we are over here, and there is an impassable gulf between us.” That is not true as far as knowledge is concerned. As far as knowledge is concerned the Christian and the unbeliever have vital common ground.

You remember the story of the Arab and the scientist in the desert. The scientist was making fun of the Arab for his simple faith in God. The scientist said: “How do you know there is a God? You’ve never seen Him; you’ve never touched Him; you’ve never talked with Him.” Night came and the two men retired to their beds. The next morning when they looked out from the tent they noticed footprints which had not been there the night before. The scientist said; “Someone must have passed by in the night.” The Arab replied: “Did you see anybody?” “No.” “Did you hear anybody?” “No. I slept right through “ “Well, what makes you think that there was anybody here in the night?” The scientist answered: “Look at the footprints,” Just then the sun came up coloring all the sky with lavender and purple. The Arab pointed to it and said, “Behold, the footprints of God!” The footprints of God are plainly visible in nature, if we but look for them. The Psalmist was right when he said:  “The heavens declare the glory of God,”  (Ps. 19:1)

Suppose that two men came to a great railroad station, and saw trains coming in and going out, and all according to schedule. They observed the signs put up for a train, the people filling it, the train pulling out, and another soon coming in on the same track. Suppose one of them were to declare to the other that all this was pure accident! If he were serious people would soon begin to question his sanity, Anyone with any sense at all knows that someone must have established such an organization, and that someone must still be directing it

A man walking through a mountain area observes three or four stones piled neatly one upon the other, in the form of a little tower. Twenty or thirty feet away he sees another similar pile of stones. A short distance beyond this second pile he finds a third, and so on; indicating a wavy line that extends for miles and guides him to his destination. Anyone who ever walked in the mountains is familiar with this type of trail markers. If you should tell him that their presence was purely accidental, he would surely laugh at you. He has no doubt that a human being has put these stones in this arrangement as a means of conveying directions. They show the activity of human beings. A mind has been at work.

It is the viewpoint of the Westminster Confession that anyone with intelligence enough to make reasonable decisions on the practical matters involved in ordinary living is intelligent enough to see that this earth is not a mere heap of dirt, but a set-up—an organism. It could not have come into existence by accident. There is an intelligence back of it, controlling it. There is a God who created it and who continues to direct its destiny. In this knowledge of God we have common ground with every human being on this earth. According to the Westminster Confession the fact that there is a God who is good, wise, and powerful is clearly seen in nature and in providence. When someone tells you that he does not believe there is a God, you can know that he is only kidding himself. If he has intelligence at all he knows deep down in his heart that there must be a God.

This does not, of course, mean that a man is lying when he says he is an atheist. It is possible to kid oneself to the point where one actually believes with his mind what he knows in his heart to be false.

A young woman told me of an interesting observation along this line. For a time she worked as a secretary in one of the offices of the DuPont Company. As the work involved the use of many chemical terms, she told the man for whom she was working that she would like to learn a little about these things. He suggested a certain book, which she found to be fascinating reading. It told about the various chemical elements, described their wonderful mathematical arrangement, and told how each was discovered. Chapter after chapter ended with words of praise for the wonderful brain of the particular scientist who had discovered a certain element. Yet there was no mention of the far greater Mind which originated these elements. She could not but be amazed! How stupid to be so entranced with the brilliance of a mind that could discover one of the wonders of nature, and yet to say nothing of the far greater Mind which originated all of them!

Personally I am convinced that people are not really quite as stupid as they pretend to be. Down underneath they know that God is revealing Himself in nature, and they know that they are inexcusable; they turn their face another way and pretend that they don’t see it. Actually they are merely kidding themselves.

All of us kid ourselves at times in one way or another. We know what we ought to do but we just look the other way and try to forget it. We know at point after point what the Lord requires of us, or what a situation requires of us. We know what we ought to do but we look the other way and go straight on and hope that people will think that we are just stupid enough not to see what we should do. At length we cease to think about the matter at all.

SPECIAL REVELATION

The statement about general revelation with which the Confession begins is introduced by the word “although”. The fact that all men can see proof of God in nature is taken as a starting point, but it is stressed that this is not sufficient for salvation. Much more must be known. And it can be learned only through a special   revelation from God Himself. The Westminster Confession of Faith begins with the claim that we have such a revelation in the Bible. The Scripture is the foundation of our knowledge in the field of religion.

Enemies of Christianity often speak of us as Bible-worshippers. The term is utterly wrong: nobody actually worships the Bible. But it is almost impossible to overstate the importance of the Bible in religion, for it is our one and only means of learning religious things beyond the bare fundamentals which are displayed in nature. It is our means of access to the vital facts. It is the foundation of our knowledge. Without it we are blind in this field, because we have no access to its data.

Recently I played a mean trick on my little boy. Though he is less than a year old he has learned how to turn on the radio and make it start playing. Time after time he would hit it just right, but one day I played a mean trick on him, I pulled out the cord. He did this and that, twisting first one dial and then another. That is exactly the religious situation in the world today. People are twisting this dial and that, but they have lost the connection. If you dont have the connection you will get nowhere: and the connection is the Word of God, We have to have God’s Word if we are to learn facts in the religious field. As the Confession says, general revelation is not “sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of His will,   which is necessary unto salvation”.

So the section goes on, and says that “therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary: those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased”.

In the section which we have just read we notice that two aspects of the giving of the Bible are described. First; it is stated that God revealed His truth in various ways in the past, and second, that He chose “to commit the same wholly unto writing.”

It is rather important to distinguish these two aspects. We call them revelation and inspiration. Revelation is communication from one personality to another. Inspiration is not, like revelation, a common occurrence in daily life. Just as divine revelation, in the sense of direct special revelation from God to an individual has now ceased, so has inspiration ceased in the sense in which it is applied to Scripture.

Inspiration is a special act of the Holy Spirit whereby He guided the writers of the books which were to be a part of His holy Scripture, so that their words should convey the thoughts He wished conveyed and should be free from errors of fact, of doctrine or of judgment.

Thus parts of the Bible came as a direct revelation from God to the writer. All of it, however, is inspired, and kept from error. All of it; as a result of inspiration, becomes a revelation from God to us.

Let us never get these two aspects confused, because they are entirely different. Revelation is God giving truth, but inspiration is God guarding the writers from error in what they wrote.

Some people say that they believe in inspiration but not in verbal inspiration, you might just as well say that you believe in food but not in meat, vegetables, fruit or grain–it would make just as much sense. Inspiration does not mean getting an idea. Inspiration, in the theological sense, means writing thoughts down in words which are free from error. If you don’t have verbal inspiration you don’t have inspiration at all—it is the only inspiration there is. Revelation deals with ideas, but inspiration deals with words. When one says that he believes in inspiration but not in verbal inspiration, he is like the man who said to me—“I believe in the resurrection of Christ. That is just the great principle of the permanence of personality.” He should rather have said that he didn’t believe in the resurrection of Christ at all! When

Christians have expressed belief in the resurrection of Christ they have meant an actual resurrection. We should use words in their historic sense, and not try to twist them into something else, Historically the theological term inspiration has referred to words. If we believe in inspiration we believe in verbal inspiration. If we do not believe in inspiration we ought to say so.

Of course sometimes people mistakenly think that verbal inspiration means that God has dictated the Bible to the various writers. Such an idea is not involved in the phrase at all. Men wrote what God had revealed to them, or what they had observed. Inspiration means that they were kept from error in their choice of words to express the ideas they wished to convey.

“TO COMMIT THE SAME WHOLLY UNTO WRITING.”

The Confession says that God led the writers “to commit the same wholly unto writing”. The word “wholly” requires examination. It does not mean that everything God ever revealed to the prophets was necessarily written in the Scripture, God led them to write such things as He desired to have preserved for the guidance of His people in future ages. It does mean that everything which God wished preserved as His revelation for His people was included in the Scripture. All the facts which God has revealed about that area of knowledge which is otherwise inaccessible to us are included in the Bible

The Roman Catholic church claims to possess tradition passed on by word of mouth, just as vital as the revelation contained in the Bible itself. This claim the Westminster Confession denies, by using this word, “wholly”. It leaves no room for tradition, According to the Westminster Confession, nothing that has come down by word of mouth has any standing in the Christian Church.

SECTIONS TWO AND THREE — WHAT BOOKS ARE INSPIRED?

Thus the first section of this first chapter of the Confession of Faith explains the vital principles and declares the importance of divine revelation and inspiration.

The second section of the chapter names the books which are included in the Bible, We need not read the names now, but it is very important that we know what they are. Everyone of the sixty-six books of our Protestant Bible is declared to be equally inspired

It has been the view of the Christian church since its foundation that God’s revelation is definitely limited in extent, These particular books reveal God’s will for us. These are the books from which we get our knowledge of religious truth and we do not get it in any infallible way from any other books. No other books are inspired of God, in the historic theological sense of the word. From these sixty-six books, and only from these sixty-six books; can we secure the data on which religious ideas can safely be based.

We should note that the Confession lists all sixty-six books as equally inspired and authoritative. It does not select certain books as more important than others. If one is to speak conclusively regarding any aspect of God’s rule of faith and life., the Confession requires him to be familiar with every one of the books of the Bible,- for it declares that all of them are “given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life,”

THE APOCRYPHA

The third section of the chapter deals with those books which only the Roman Catholic church takes as authoritative. It is a brief statement but an important one. It says: “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.”

It is noteworthy that the Confession does not say that the books commonly called the Apocrypha are bad books, I think this is important to keep in mind, because it is so easy when you are opposing error to say: “That is what they believe, therefore the opposite must be true”—it is very easy to say that. Some people even think they can find truth that way. I have heard it said that if you want to know about God, there are two ways to find out about Him. One is to name all the good qualities you can think of, and multiply each one thousands of times and this will give an idea of the good qualities of God The other is to name all the bad qualities you can think of, and then think of these as entirely absent from God. Well, you can’t decide what God is like by working anything out of your head like that.   If you want to find out what God is like, study the Bible. You can’t work out a theory or a presupposition or an idea that will tell you what God is like—the Word of God gives the data, and it is our only source for knowledge in this field

It is easy to think that we can learn what is right by simply taking the opposite of that which is wrong, but it does not work out that way. There is not a cult or a movement, that does not contain some truth Its principal teachings may be wicked and wrong, but if everything it teaches were false it would immediately fall of its own weight. Very often the reason cults and false movements thrive is because they have gained hold on some great Scriptural truth which Christians are neglecting. Often it is so mixed with error as to be useless, but some truth is there. In our opposition to falsehood we must not go to an extreme, and oppose elements of the truth.

This chapter nowhere says that the Apocrypha are bad books; it says that they are not inspired books: They are not to be used in any way different from other human books. There is much that is good in them, but they are not authoritative. In opposing Roman Catholic error the Confession does not go to the other extreme: it seeks instead to find exactly what the truth is.

SECTIONS FOUR AND FIVE

The fourth section of the Confession says; “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God, (who is truth itself,) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God.”

You would almost think this had been written quite recently, wouldn’t you? How timely it is! You would think the framers of the Confession had picked up our newspapers and seen big advertisements stating that the Bible is the Creation of the Church—alleging that for three hundred years there was no Bible, but that the church had brought the Bible into existence How flatly the Confession denies such unhistorical claims! The Bible’s authority does not come from any church, nor does it rest on the word of any man It derives its authority wholly from God.

This is a very important section.  It is dealing with one of the most central problems of our religion.

The fifth section continues the theme of the fourth. It is a wonderfully balanced section Three-fourths of it is devoted to assuring us that reasonable arguments are valid as evidence of the fact that the Bible is God’s Word. The last fourth of the section assures us that complete certainty does not come from reason alone; but “from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts”.

The fourth section declared that our acceptance of the Bible as God’s Word does not depend upon the authority of any man or church. This fifth section declares that the testimony of the church may induce us to a high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. The church does have its place. The Bible as we have it did not just drop from heaven—there has been a church on the earth all through the ages. That church has passed on the Bible from generation to generation. God has used the efforts of Christian people as a means of calling attention to the truth of His Word. The testimony of the church through the ages has a real importance in the evidence of the Bible but the authority of the Bible does not rest upon any man but upon its Author, who is God Himself,

This section declares the validity and importance of various arguments and evidences of the truth of the Bible. It says that by these facts “it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God.” Despite these statements of the Confession there are people who try to tell us that we have no common ground for discussion with the unbeliever. They say in effect: “Don’t try to bring various arguments before the unbeliever to show him that the Bible is true. You have no common ground with him. All you can do is to tell him that he is over there and we are over here and he must give up all the bases of his viewpoint and adopt those of ours.” Such an attitude is utterly contrary to that of the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Confession clearly teaches that there are many facts by which the Bible “doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God.”

We do not need to take a presupposition or adopt a particular basis of thought before we can examine the evidence that the Bible is God’s Word. This section of the Westminster Confession lists various types of evidence and then says that the facts which it has stated “are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God”.

Yet arguments alone do not win men to Christ. People come face to face with the clear evidence and then turn and go the other way. This is because the truth contained in the Bible is so contrary to all the impulses of the sinful fallen human heart. It requires the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit to induce sinful man to accept the conclusions to which the evidence clearly leads. In spite of the validity of these arguments, as declared by the Confession, the Confession goes on to say that full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority of the Scripture “is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts”.

Since the time is going rapidly we shall not be able to examine all the remaining sections of the chapter in detail. We must, however, briefly note their principal features.

SECTIONS SIX TO EIGHT

The sixth section has three main thoughts. First, it stresses the completeness and sufficiency of the Bible for revelation of those religious truths which God desires us to know. Second, it states that “the inward illumination of the Spirit of God is necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word”. Third, it points out that it is not to be expected that precise instructions for all acts of religion will be contained in the Bible. God expects His people to use the brains He has given them in working out satisfactory means of accomplishing desired ends, always keeping, of course, within the area of action circumscribed by “the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed”.

The seventh section opposes the idea that simple people must abstain from seeking to interpret the Word of God themselves, or that they must uncritically accept any view that learned men or church leaders claim to derive from it. Words of Scripture are clear enough that a simple Christian can judge as to the correctness of interpretations which may be presented. The necessary truths of salvation are so clearly stated “that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them”

I like the eighth section very much. It declares that the Bible in the original languages is the final authority in all controversies of religion. But it balances this by a declaration that people who do not know the original languages are also commanded to read and search the Scriptures, and that therefore the Scriptures “are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come”.

It is to be feared that this declaration of the Westminster Confession is not sufficiently followed today. We have a wonderful translation of the Bible into the English language as it was spoken more than three hundred years ago. No one speaks it that way today. The King James version is not in “the vulgar language” of our nation; it is in a dialect which is rapidly becoming unintelligible to our people. Word after word phrase after phrase expression after expression in it is meaningless to the unlearned people of our day. The Confession declares that it is the duty of the learned to study the Bible in the original, which is the only final court of appeal in all controversies. The unlearned are to search through it in a good translation in their common speech. It would be absurd to call the King James version a translation into the common speech of America today

It is the glory of the King James version that it is the climax of a century of constant effort by many men to discover the best way to translate the Bible into the language of their day. Unless we make similar efforts to attain a thoroughly satisfactory translation into the language of our day, we are failing in one of the great obligations stressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

THE GREAT INTERPRETER OF THE BIBLE

The ninth section names the great interpreter of the Scripture. This is not a pope, nor a professor. It is not Luther or Calvin or Wesley. It is not even the Westminster Confession of Faith. Nor is it our idea of what is coherent, or what may seem to us logically to belong to a proper system. It is the Scripture itself.

The Westminster Confession is one of the great Calvinistic creeds. Naturally it follows the view of Calvin himself, who put the Bible high above all creeds. Truth is coherent with itself, and all truths together form a system of truth. But Calvin insisted that each element must be gained directly from the Scripture. The human mind is too prone to error to permit it to build its system apart from dependence on the Bible at every point.

According to the Westminster Confession the sole infallible rule of interpretation of a passage of Scripture is other passages of Scripture. Plainly it upholds the scientific method of approach to the data of the Word. We must gather all the data on a given subject. If we leave out any passage that, deals with the particular subject, we are in danger of making a false interpretation. We must interpret difficult passages in the light of plain ones. We must go from the simple to the complex. We must use exactly the same method of gaining truth in religion as we would in any other field of science. The Scripture itself is the only infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture

It is worthy of note, also that all Scripture is included in this authority Our knowledge must not come from human speculation or logic, but from God’s Word We must be constantly alert to gain new insights into every part of the Bible, All of it is important No one book or section is singled out Sometimes I hear a book of the Bible cast aside with the statement: “Oh that is a symbolic book. We must base our doctrine upon the didactic portions of the New Testament. Such an attitude is in direct opposition to the views of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which insists that all Scripture is authoritative.

Every book of the Bible contains plain passages and every book contains passages that are less plain. We must gather the simple passages from all parts of the Bible, study them, and build our views upon what they seem to teach. Then we must check these interpretations by other passages; constantly increasing our knowledge of Scripture, and standing ready at all times to alter our formulations as better understanding gives us more light on the full meaning of Scripture “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself.”

The tenth section sums up the authority of Scripture in the strongest possible terms. It puts it above all gatherings of Christians, all human creeds all opinions of ancient writers. It declares that the Supreme Judge in all matters of religion “can be none other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture”.

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In the final years of the 19th-century, a push began in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to revise the Westminster Standards. That effort eventually won out in 1903, incorporating changes which in turn allowed for a merger or reception of the larger portion of the Cumberland Presbyterians, a denomination which was historically anti-Calvinistic.

Benjamin B. Warfield opposed any talk of revision and in one of his lesser known works, presented his reasons at some length. From an address delivered by Dr. Warfield before the Presbytery of New Brunswick, at Dutch Neck, New Jersey, on June 25, 1889, the following five points summarize his arguments against revision:

REASONS FOR NOT REVISING THE CONFESSION.

  1. Our free but safe formula of acceptance of the Confession of Faith, by which we “receive and adopt it” as “containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures” (Form of Government, XV., xii.), relieves us of all necessity for seeking, each one to conform the Confession in all its propositions to his individual preferences, and enables us to treat the Confession as a public document, designed, not to bring each of our idiosyncrasies to expression, but to express the general and common faith of the whole body—which it adequately and admirably does.
  2. Enjoying this free yet hearty relation to the Confession, we consider that our situation toward our standards is incapable of improvement. However much or little the Confession were altered, we could not, as a body, accept the altered Confession in a closer sense than for system of doctrine; and the alterations could not better it as a public Confession, however much it might be made a closer expression of the faith of some individuals among us. In any case, it could not be made, in all its propositions and forms of statement, the exact expression of the personal faith of each one of our thousands of office-bearers.
  1. In these circumstances we are unwilling to mar the integrity of so venerable and admirable a document, in the mere license of change, without prospect of substantially bettering our relation to it, or its fitness to serve as an adequate statement of the system of doctrine which we all heartily believe. The historical character and the hereditary value of the creed should, in such a case, be preserved.
  2. We have little hope of substantially bettering the Confession, either in the doctrines it states or in the manner in which they are stated. When we consider the guardedness, moderation, fullness, lucidity, and catholicity of its statement of the Augustinian system of truth, and of the several doctrines which enter into it, we are convinced that the Westminster Confession is the best, safest, and most acceptable statement of the truths and the system which we most surely believe that has ever been formulated; and we despair of making any substantial improvements upon its form of sound words. On this account we not only do not desire changes on our own account, but should look with doubt and apprehension upon any efforts to improve upon it by the Church.
  3. The moderate, catholic, and irenical character of the Westminster Confession has always made it a unifying document. Framed as an irenicon, it bound at once the Scotch and English Churches together; it was adopted and continues to be used by many Congregational and Baptist churches as the confession of their faith; with its accompanying Catechisms it has lately been made the basis of union between the two great Presbyterian bodies which united to constitute our Church; and we are convinced that if Presbyterian union is to go further, it must be on the basis of the Westminster Standards, pure and simple. In the interests of Church union, therefore, as in the interests of a broad and irenical, moderate and catholic Calvinism, we deprecate any changes in our historical standards, to the system of doctrine contained in which we unabatedly adhere, and with the forms of statement of which we find ourselves in hearty accord.

Words to Live By:
Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”—2 Timothy 1:13-14, NASB.

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A Casualty of D-Day

The following account comes from THE INDEPENDENT BOARD BULLETIN, Vol. 10, no. 10 (October 1944): 4-7. This was (and is) the newsletter of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH

dieffenbacherAJIn the falling of the Reverend Arthur Johnston Dieffenbacher on the battlefields of Normandy, July 5, 1944, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions has lost its first and one of its best missionaries by death. Few details are known even at this writing but in Arthur Dieffenbacher’s passing his family, the Board, China and a host of friends have sustained a very great loss; yet we know that God’s people should view all things from the standpoint of eternity and therefore we can rest assured that God Who knows all things “doeth all things well.”

Arthur Dieffenbacher was born in Titusville, Pa., April 29, 1909; and thus was but a little over thirty-five years of age when the Lord called him home. His early years were spent at Erie, Pa. where he was graduated from high school at the early age of fifteen. Two years of college work at Erie followed, and two years later in 1927 he was graduated from Grove City College. In 1931 he finished his theological education at Dallas Theological Seminary, with a Master’s degree in his possession and also credit toward a post-graduate Doctor’s degree. He had proved himself precocious during his school days, but he was also in advance of his years in the things of the Lord, his deep interest in these things showing itself, for instance, in his spending the first night of his college life away from home in a prayer meeting with a group which was destined to aid him greatly to the clear insight into God’s word which his later years so fully exhibited.

In September, 1932, Mr. Dieffenbacher was appointed a missionary of the China Inland Mission and in company with his intimate friend John Stam, who himself was destined to become a martyr, soon left for China. There, after language study and a brief period of work in Changteh, Hunan Province, he met in 1934 Miss Junia White, daughter of Dr. Hugh W. White, editor of The China Fundamentalist. Miss White and he were soon engaged, but because of illness and other causes they were not married until June 1938, joining at about the same time also and with the good wishes of the China Inland Mission, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions with the principles and purposes of which both were in full sympathy.

dieffenbacherMrMrs_1940All the years spent in China were filled with adventure which included a flight from Chinese communists in 1935; and the summer of 1938 saw battles raging all around Kuling where Miss White and Mr. Dieffenbacher had been married. Indeed China had been engaged for a whole year then in the war which was to engulf eventually so many lands and was, for Arthur Dieffenbacher, to end so tragically upon the battlefields of Nor­mandy. On their way from Kuling this young bride and groom had to pass through the battle zone, just behind the fighting lines, but God gave them protection and enabled Arthur even then to point a sore-wounded and dying Chinese lad, a soldier, to Christ as the Lamb of God who was slain for our sins.

This trip led to Harbin, Manchuria, the “Manchukuo” of the Japa­nese, where two years of happy, fruitful work ensued, years which saw the beginning of what despite the hardness of the soil of that great cos­mopolitan city might have developed into a much greater work had it not been for the tyranny of Japan and the war which was so soon to bring to an end so much Christian work both in the Japanese empire and in China. In the testings of those years in regard to Shinto and the Japanese demands upon Christians Arthur and his wife remained faithful.

In the summer of 1940, after eight years in China, Mr. Dieffenbacher returned to America with his wife on furlough. There on June 19, 1941, a little daughter, Sara Junia, was born. As war conditions were gradually spreading it was thought that Mr. Dieffenbacher ought to return alone to Manchuria and so passport and passage were obtained but ere he could sail the events of December 7, 1941, compelled all such plans to be abandoned for the time being, and as it proved in Arthur’s case, forever.

In America Mr. Dieffenbacher proved to be a good and effective mis­sionary speaker. He also rendered efficient aid at his Board’s headquarters in Philadelphia. Later he held a brief pastorate in the Bible Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati, Ohio. But when the American Council of Christian Churches obtained for its member Churches a quota of Army chaplaincies, Mr. Dieffenbacher applied for a chaplaincy and was appointed and joined the Army on July 18, 1943.

In the Army Arthur Dieffenbacher won recognition for two things. For one, he took with his men, for example, the whole system of training including the dangerous and difficult “infiltration” course and other things which were not required of chaplains, but which he did that by all means he might win some. This ambition to win men to Christ was the second notable trait of which we speak. Indeed it showed itself not alone while he was in the Army but also throughout all his life. He always preached to convince, convert and win. On his way to England with his unit he with two other God-fearing chaplains, won eighty-four men to Christ. A brief letter home, mentioning this asked, “Isn’t that great?” Truly it was great and not merely in the opinion of his friends, we believe, but also in the sight of the Lord. Some of his friends are praying that from among those eighty-four after the war some may volunteer to take Arthur Dieffenbacher’s place in China. God is able to bring such things to pass.

The time from April to June 24, 1944, was spent in England. There, too, Arthur Dieffenbacher was constantly on the search for souls and also for that which would bring inspiration to his men and to his family and friends at home. Some of the poems he found and sent home testify at once to his love for good poetry and for the things of the spirit, especially for the things of the Lord. He believed thoroughly that he was in God’s will. He longed to see his wife and child and mother again but assured them that “no good thing would the Lord withhold from them that walk uprightly.” He rejoiced in full houses of soldiers to whom to preach the Gospel of salvation. He was often tired after a long day of duties done, but preached and lived that we are “More than Conquerors” through Christ. With it all he learned to sew on buttons and patches and to wash his own clothes and his good humor bubbled over into his letters when he said, “Oh, boy, you should see the result!” Up at the front large at­tendances at services were the rule, men searching for help, for strength, for God, as they faced the foe. Perhaps a premonition was felt of what was to come. He wrote, “There are so many chances of getting hurt in war or in peace that which one affects you is by God’s permission. Hence I don’t worry, but take all reasonable precautions and trust the rest to God. His will is best and His protection sufficient.” On July 3, he wondered how they would celebrate the Fourth, and knew not that on the morrow of that day he would celebrate humbly but joyfully in the Presence of God. When killed by German artillery fire his body was recovered by his senior chaplain, Chaplain Blitch, and later an impressive funeral service was held.

“Faithful unto death” are words which characterized the whole life of Arthur Dieffenbacher. The realization of that fact brings an added meas­ure of consolation to his mother, Mrs. Mildred J. Dieffenbacher, to his wife and will, in time, to his little three-year-old daughter as she comes to understand what her father was and what he did. It brings consolation also to The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions and to all his friends. But as Arthur Dieffenbacher himself would have been the first to say, all he was and did he owed to Christ in whom he was called, chosen and empowered and made faithful till that day when surely he heard the welcome “well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

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A Consistent Christian Life

Pastor Ken McHeard is the current pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Duanesburg, New York. He follows a long and eminent lineage of pastors at that church. The organizing pastor was the Rev. James McKinney, who served the church from 1797-1802. The second pastor and the subject of our post today, the Rev. Gilbert McMaster, served the Duanesburg congregation in a lengthy pastorate, from 1808-1840.

Gilbert was born near Belfast, Ireland, on February 13, 1778. Of his parents, it was said that “his father was a man of intelligent and earnest piety,” and that his mother “was very respectably connected, was a person of superior intellect and great force of character.” Gilbert enjoyed the advantages of a faithful Christian education and at the age of eighteen came to a public profession of his faith in Christ as his Savior. This was some five years after the family had immigrated to the United States and settled in Franklin county, Pennsylvania.  Gilbert continued his education at the Franklin Academy and Jefferson College before beginning medical studies, and was admitted to the medical practice in 1805, becoming a physician in the borough of Mercer, PA.

But it was not even three years, in 1807, when Dr. Alexander McLeod and Dr. Samuel B. Wylie sought him out, urging him to consider his calling to the ministry. McMaster had a high view of the ministry and shrank from thinking that he could himself be so called. But McLeod and Wylie prevailed, and as Gilbert’s studies had always included theological education, he was found ready in late October of that year to pass his examinations before the Presbytery. On August 8, 1808, he was installed as the pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Duanesburg, New York.

Rev. McMaster served the Duanesburg congregation for thirty-two years before answering a call to serve another church, this time in Princeton, Indiana. Here again, his labors were blessed of the Lord, though his years were cut short, with failing health compelling him to surrender the pulpit in 1846. He died, after a brief but painful illness, on March 17, 1854, “closing a consistent Christian life with Christian dignity and composure.”

Rev. McMaster’s son, Erasmus, provided an interesting glimpse of his father’s ministry:

“The ordinary course of Dr. McMaster’s pastoral ministration was in conformity with the customary order of many of the Scottish Presbyterian Churches. Usually the Sabbath morning service was an exposition of some Book of Scripture inn course, with doctrinal and practical observations, accompanied by the ordinary devotional exercises. The subject of the afternoon’s discourse was either some branch of the morning’s exposition, selected for fuller development, elucidation and application; some head of Christian doctrine, or some theme suggested by the various circumstances and occasions of his congregation or of the times. These services of the Sabbath he supplemented, during the week, by regular pastoral visitation and by biblical and catechetical instruction of the young at stated times. His usual written preparation for the pulpit consisted only of short notes, filling from two to four pages of a small duodecimo volume [a book about 5 x 7.5 in.], and briefly marking the heads of his discussion, and the more important particulars, with references to apposite Scriptures for illustration, confirmation and enforcement. His subject, thus briefly noted, he carefully thought out in its matter, relying on the occasion of the delivery for the language.”

The son of one of McMaster’s closest friends gave this report of Rev. McMaster’s final days:

“Dr. McMaster’s last days were spent in delightful serenity in the house of his accomplished son, the Rev. E. D. McMaster, brightened by the companionship of the wife of his youth, one of the kindest and purest of Christian women, and sustained by the respectful love of his sons, and the soothing attention of his two amiable daughters. The habitual modesty and reserve of his character continued unaltered to the last, but his long, self-sacrificing, useful and holy life was his best testimony for God.

Words to Live By:
If you are known as a Christian, whether in your work place or elsewhere, know that people do watch you. They watch your words, but more importantly, they watch to see if your character backs up your words. A strong Christian testimony rests on first on the Word of God, but the world looks to see God’s Word reflected in your life.  “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ ” (James 2:18, NASB)

McMaster_1852_Great_Subject_of_the_Christian_MinistrySome of the works authored by Rev. McMaster include:
The Duty of Nations: A Sermon on a Day of Public Thanksgiving.
The Embassy of Reconciliation: An Ordination Sermon.
An Essay in Defence of Some Fundamental Doctrines of Christianity.
The Shorter Catechism Analyzed.
An Apology for the Book of Psalms.
Ministerial Work and Sufficiency: An Ordination Sermon.
The Moral Character of Civil Government.
The Obligations of the American Scholar to his Country and the World.
Speech in Defence of the Westminster Confession of Faith against the Charge of Erastianism.

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“It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion.” — Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 23, paragraph 2.

Did you know that one of the matters seriously considered by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1937 was an overture which would have, had it been approved, changed the above text of the Westminster Confession of Faith in such a way as to eliminate the concept of a just war? The overture argued that Christians must oppose all war. That debate aside, the timing of the matter is intriguing, both as it followed the departure of conservatives in 1936 and as it preceded the onset of World War II. How might things have been different?

The following transcription is from an article published in a Philadelphia newspaper on January 15, 1937. The clipping is preserved in  Scrapbook #6 in the Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection.

WAR IS DEBATED BY PRESBYTERY.
North Phila. Body Votes Against Changing Confession to Ban All Conflict.
VETERANS DISCUSS ISSUE.

The Presbytery of Philadelphia North by a vote of 42 to 31 has rejected a proposal to change the Confession of Faith of the Church that would have placed it on record as against all wars.

The Confession of Faith urges the promotion of peace, but at the present time allows “lawful and just war” by Christian magistrates. The overture to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. would have eliminated these phrases on the basis that there is “no lawful or just war.”

Several ministers, many of whom had served in the last World War, participated in the discussion before the vote.

“If the time comes when the law of my country conflicts with the law of God, I shall obey the law of God,” said the Rev. George Edgar, pastor of the Ashbourne Church.

“It is our duty as ministers to teach youth that war sanctioned by a country can be wrong. As a church we should be more forward in condemning war. Let us take the first step by approving this overture.”

“Modern war involves bombing women and children,” said the Rev. Dr. Ernest Vanden Bosch, pastor of the Neshaminy Warwick Presbyterian Church, Bristol road, near Hartsville, a veteran who lost an arm and a leg in the World War. “Europe is concerned right now over getting gas masks they can put on babies. The church should not allow itself to be placed in the position of condemning a man because he says, “I will not kill babies.”

The Rev. Dr. Lewis Cutler, pastor of Calvary Church, Wyncote, said: “I am tired of the church’s taking a stand one minute saying war is a dreadful thing and then turning ’round and compromising with war and all its evil. Let us show we believe in the efficacy of the Prince of Peace by approving this overture.”

Is the church going to continue to bless war?” demanded the Rev. Dr. John Harvey Lee, pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, Walnut lane and Greene st., Germantown. “In the last war I saw a Presbyterian prayer given the soldiers just before they went into the trenches. It read: ‘Oh, Lord, if the need be that I bring my brother to death may it be without needless cruelty.’ Did you ever try to write a prayer for a soldier who is about to kill?”

Among those who spoke against the overture were the Rev. Dr. Andrew Solla, pastor of the First Italian Presbyterian Church of Bristol, and the Rev. Dr. Harold Melchor, chairman of the Presbytery’s Committee on Christian Education.

——end of transcript—–

[The alert reader will note that only one side of the Presbytery’s debate was presented in the above article.]

Words to Live By:
From the Rev. J.J. Janeway’s diary on this day, January 15, in 1809.
“On Friday evening last, I seemed much engaged and affected in prayer, with respect to the shortness of time, and the necessity of preparing for eternity. My country appears to be in a very critical situation, on the eve of civil commotions. In this eventful crisis, I endeavour to put my trust in God, my Saviour, and rejoice that He reigneth. ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in Thee.’ I pray for my country, and say, Lord, spare a guilty people.”

For Further Reading:
See our previous post on The League of Faith, a conservative renewal group within the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. which successfully opposed adoption of the anti-war overture.

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Concluding our coverage of the second General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which was in the first several years of its existence known as the Presbyterian Church of America. That Assembly was in session from November 14-16, 1936. The news clipping transcribed below is from the Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection, preserved at the PCA Historical Center. At the end of this post, we have provided image scans of the program bulletin from that Assembly. The text of Dr. Machen’s sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 can be found here. For an interesting exercise, compare Dr. Machen’s sermon with that of Robert Murray McCheyne, on the same text. Click here for the McCheyne sermon.


Philadelphia Inquirer, November 16, 1936, page 2:

PCofA_2dGA_Buswell_farewellFAREWELL GIVEN BY DR. BUSWELL.

Places New Presbyterian Group in Van of Fight for Old Faith.

In a farewell message to members of the second General Assembly, Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., moderator for the duration of the sessions, last night placed the new Presbyterian Church of America in the forefront of the battle to preserve the ancient evangelical standards of the reformed faith.

Taking as his text a portion of an epistle to St. Paul to the Corinthians, Dr. Buswell declared “salvation of souls” to be the main business of the denomination and, among others, quoted a passage from the Apostle that “we are ambassadors for Christ.”

The sermon, delivered in the auditorium of the Manufacturers’ and Bankers’ Club, was the final event on a four-day program during which the assembly adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith as its doctrinal standard, elected committees and took steps toward acquiring a form of government.

It followed a series of devotional services at individual churches during the morning, when various visiting ministers addressed the congregations. The new Church was formed after a split from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. last June over the question of modernism.

Declaring that the Bible alone was recognized as ultimate authority in the present denomination, Dr. Buswell scored efforts to substitute for that authority the official interpretation of Church councils and of men.

Words to Live By:
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
(2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

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In the last years leading up to the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America, preparations were underway on several fronts, laying the groundwork for a new denomination. Providentially, two critical legal cases in the 1960’s had established the property rights of congregations. Then by the early 1970’s, churches that were leaving the PCUS knew that they could not properly leave to independency. Thus the need for a Presbytery structure led to the formation of Vanguard Presbytery. Vanguard began its existence some fifteen months before the organization of the PCA, and continued to serve as a Presbytery of the denomination until 1977, when its churches were received into more geographically proximate PCA Presbyteries.

The PCA’s First Presbytery, Before There Was a PCA.

On September 7, 1972, 16 persons representing 10 churches which had already withdrawn or were planning to sever their connection with the Presbyterian Church U.S. met at Eastern Heights Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia.

In a unanimous vote they adopted this resolution:
WHEREAS, We, the undersigned have met together to study the situation in the Church of Jesus Christ, and
WHEREAS, We are agreed that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and
WHEREAS, We are agreed that the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms set forth the system of Doctrine declared in the Scriptures, and
WHEREAS, The Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (1934 edition) sets forth a reasonable and practical formulary for church organization, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED,

1. That we the undersigned do covenant together to form an Association to be known as VANGUARD PRESBYTERY, INC., a provisional presbytery for Southern Presbyterian and Reformed Churches uniting, and
2. That this Association shall have as its purpose to perpetuate the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as it was proclaimed in the Southern Presbyterian Church prior to the year 1938.

Read at the meeting was a letter which the Rev. Arnie Maves, a Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship evangelist, wrote to the Rev. Todd Allen who convened the meeting:

” … This is to confirm our telephone conversation on Monday evening concerning the upcoming meeting in Savannah, Georgia. I want to say on paper what I said on the phone, that I stand ready and willing to become a part of the Vanguard Presbytery which hopefully will be formed very soon. I want to be counted as one of the charter members of that Presbytery as soon as it is officially formed.

“I am presently a member of Cherokee Presbytery of the P.C.U.S. and have never changed in my beliefs as first stated some years ago upon my ordination. I still believe the Bible to be the Word of God written, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and I still adhere to the Westminster Confession with the Shorter and Larger Catechisms as the best interpretation of the Scriptures that I know.

“I feel that my denomination has changed and left me. I have not changed my views … nor my vows. Therefore, I can no longer hold to nor adhere to what the PCUS is now doing. I am in disagreement with them in most points … although I love them and do pray for them.

“Therefore, as you gentlemen come to do an historic work … I simply want to say, I am with you … and I want to become a part of this continuing Presbyterian work called Vanguard Presbytery. I don’t know who chose that name . . . but it’s a good one. Praise the Lord.”

Vanguard Presbytery was formally organized at a meeting held in Tabb Street Presbyterian Church, Petersburg, Va., on November 14, 1972. It was reported that their plan was to adopt the Confession of Faith and Book of Church Order which were in effect in 1933 (before the liberals started tampering with them) except for one very significant change, namely that the Book of Church Order would provide explicitly that the local congregation has sole ownership and control of its own property.

The Rev. Todd Allen, who was elected Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery, also served on the Steering Committee for the Continuing Church. Chester B. Hall whose church, First Presbyterian Church of Louisville, Ky., had renounced the jurisdiction of Louisville-Union Presbytery earlier that same year, was elected Clerk and Treasurer.

Words to Live By:
More than anything else, unbelief was the reason these churches left their old denomination. The unbelief of modernism was not necessarily a problem in the pews, but among the prevailing leadership of the old denomination, it was a different story. The crux of the problem was, as the patriarch Abraham said, “There is no fear of God in this place.” (Gen. 20:11). And more than anything else, these churches left to protect and preserve their ability to faithfully preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their purpose was to remain, as the long-standing motto says, Loyal to the Scriptures; True to the Reformed Faith; Obedient to the Great Commission.

Trivia Question: Who did come up with that name for the Presbytery?

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It was on September 24th, in 1757, that Jonathan Edwards made his decision to accept the offer to become the third president of the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University). While the school was decidedly Presbyterian in its affiliation, Edwards was commonly known as a Congregationalist. But two separate accounts exist, contending that Edwards did in fact affirm the Presbyterian form of government.

The first of our articles appeared in an issue of the Philadelphia-based newspaper, The Presbyterian. In this letter, the Rev. Dr. Ashbel Green had originally written to R. J. Breckinridge, editor of the Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine. Our access to the letter comes from its republication on the pages of The Presbyterian. 

Ashbel Green, “President Edwards a Presbyterian,” The Presbyterian (12 January 1839): 201.

Philadelphia, Nov. 12th 1838

EdwardsJonathanRev. and Dear Sir:—I have recollected, since I last saw you, that the fact has already been published, which I then mentioned to you in conversation;—and in regard to which you requested me to furnish you with a written statement. In the Christian Advocate, the 10th volume–the volume for the year 1832, and in the No. for March of that year, page 128—after having mentioned a class of Congregationalists, who, in my estimation, were eminent for genuine piety, I added as follows:—”We should have put down here, the name of the great President Edwards; but he was, in sentiment, a decided Presbyterian, and left a manuscript in favor of Presbyterian church government; as his son, the second President Edwards, distinctly admitted to us not long before his death. Beside, the elder Edwards was either a member of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, at the time of his death, or would soon have been so, if his lamented decease, shortly after his becoming President off the College at Princeton, had not prevented.”

The admission referred to in the foregoing extract, was made in consequence of an inquiry put, by me, to Dr. Edwards, as he and I were walking together to the place of meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church, then in session in this city. I do not recollect the year. I had heard a report, which I think must have come either from my father or from my colleague Dr. Sproat,–both of whom were contemporaries and admirers of the first President Edwards–that he had written a tract, or an essay, in favor of Presbyterian church government; and I was glad to take the opportunity which at this time offered, to ascertain from his son the truth or fallacy of the report. The inquiry resulted in the distinct admission that the report which I had heard was true.

I spoke to Dr. Edwards, of printing the tract or essay, in question; but he did not seem to favor the idea, and I forbore to press it. He said, that the manuscript referred to, was among several other unpublished papers of his father, which, as I understood him, were then in his hands. Into whose hands they have passed, since the death of Dr. Edwards, is unknown to me.

Respectfully and affectionately, Yours,

Ashbel Green

*     *     *     *
The second item appeared on the pages of The Christian Observer, in 1850. It relates a letter that President Edwards wrote to Dr. Ebenezer Erskine, of Scotland and provides a quotation from that letter, thus: 
PRES. EDWARDS, A PRESBYTERIAN.

In a letter to the Rev. Dr. Erskine of Scotland, President Edwards , (whom Robert Hall calls, “the greatest of the sons of men,”) gives the following statement of his views in respect to Presbyterianism :—

“You are pleased, dear sir, very kindly to ask me, whether I could sign the Westminster Confession of Faith, and submit to the Presbyterian Form of Government. As to my subscribing to the substance of the Westminster Confession, there would be no difficulty; and as to Presbyterian Government, I have long been perfectly out of conceit of our unsettled, independent, confused way of Church government in this land, and the Presbyterian way has ever appeared to me most agreeable to the word of God, and the reason and nature of things.”

Such were the views of many pastors in New England, twenty-five years ago—and such we presume, are the views of many at this time, notwithstanding the efforts of Dr. Bacon, the Independent and others, to create and waken up prejudice against Presbyterianism.—It is very natural for an agitator, a man of progress, or of loose views in theology, to prefer some type of Independency. Without a Session to advise with him in the spiritual oversight of the Congregation, he can (if a manager) have his own way in controlling everything in his church. If a careful and discreet ruler, he may acquire more power in his charge as an Independent, than he could hope to gain as a Presbyterian minister.—Amenable to no permanent judicatory for the doctrines which he teaches, he can follow the impulses of his own nature, and teach all the contradictions and transcendentalism found in Dr. Bushnell’s book without losing his place or influence in his church and association.

But if it be desirable that the members of the Church should be duly represented in the administration of its spiritual government,—if the pastor should have responsible counselors, well acquainted with the Church, and all its interests and peculiarities, to aid him in this work, the Presbyterian form of government is to be preferred. It is equally important as a shield to the minister in many cases of discipline, as well as to render him duly responsible for his personal and official conduct, teaching, and character.

[excerpted from The Christian Observer, Vol. XXIX, No. 38 (21 September 1850): 150, columns 2-3.]

A Small Learning Opportunity:
On occasion you may hear the term jure divino Presbyterianism. That phrase is a short-hand for the idea—or better, the doctrinal conviction —that the Presbyterian form of church government is the only form of church government taught in the Scriptures.

In the history of the Christian Church, there have been basically only three forms of church government found, though with some variations within each form.
The Episcopal form of church government is hierarchical, and typically has one or more archbishops overseeing bishops, who in turn oversee rectors, who are placed over congregations. Some of the Episcopal variations include the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church and the Methodist Church
With the Congregational form of government, each congregation is autonomous. Though congregational churches often form associations, the local church always retains its autonomy. Variations on this type include Baptist, Congregational, Evangelical Free, and Mennonite.
And finally, the Presbyterian form of church government, which is distinguished by a series of courts, rising from the local level to the national level: Session – Presbytery – Synod – General Assembly. At each of these levels, both teaching elders (ministers) and ruling elders (non-ordained laity) sit as equal members.
Session: The pastor(s) and ruling elders of a congregation comprise the Session and govern an individual congregation.
Presbytery: Pastors and a representative number of ruling elders from each of the Presbyterian churches in a specified region comprise the Presbytery, and conduct the business of the Church on a regional level.
Synod: This court is comprised of several Presbyteries, and thus covers a larger region. Smaller Presbyterian denominations do not typically have the Synod structure, or may only meet nationally as a Synod, in which case they do not use the General Assembly structure.
General Assembly: The highest court of a Presbyterian denomination, this body meets as a national or trans-national court, with its members again consisting of elders, both ruling and teaching, sitting as representatives of the churches in the denomination.

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The Westminster Standards are the Standards of the Presbyterian Church

We have already considered the meeting which took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which stopped an impending schism in the infant Presbyterian Church by The Adopting Act of 1729, as was presented on September 17. But there was another important commitment made by the infant church as part of this multi-day meeting on this day, September 19, 1729.  And it was the adoption by the presbyters of this American Presbyterian Church of the Westminster Standards (together, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism) as their subordinate standard, behind that of Scripture itself, as their required standard for ordination.

The exact words as taken from the Minutes of that Presbytery meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were the following:  “we are undoubtedly obliged to take care that the faith once delivered to the saints be kept pure and uncorrupt among us, and so handed down to our posterity; and do therefore agree that all the ministers of this Synod, or that shall hereafter be admitted into this Synod, shall declare their agreement in, and approbation of, the Confession of Faith, with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, as being in all the essential and necessary articles, good forms of sound words and systems of Christian doctrine, and so also adopt the said Confession and Catechisms as the confession of our faith. And we do also agree, that all the Presbyteries within our bounds shall always take care not to admit any candidate of the ministry into the exercise of the sacred function but what declares his agreement in opinion with all the essential and necessary articles of said Confession, either by subscribing the said Confession of Faith and Catechisms, or by a verbal declaration of their assent thereto, as such minister or candidate shall think best.”

It might surprise our readers to think that a full twenty-two years after the first Presbytery in 1707, finally such a doctrinal commitment was made by the infant Presbyterian church.  But this is not to say that the ministers who made up this church did not automatically confess this subscription. Remember, the first page of the 1707 minutes were lost to history.  It well might have been part and parcel of that document.  Further, while not found in subsequent recorded minutes, all of the ministers had confessed their faith in the mother countries by subscription to the Westminster Standards. Up to this time in the colonies, their attention was taken up with church extension and government.  But finally, the historic creed which had fed the faith of the Presbyterian Church for three hundred years is made the foundation of the infant Presbyterian church in America.                                                                                      

WCF_adopted_1729

Words to live by:
A historic document is made the subordinate standard of an infant church.  All ministers, past, present, and future, are to receive and adopt it before they can be ordained.  The young church is placed on a Reformed foundation.  While members must hold to a credible profession of faith, they know  that the preaching and teaching will be the depth and historical content of  the greatest theological statement ever produced by godly men. This is why we have included the Confession and catechisms in this historical devotional guide.  Read and ponder its words. Memorize its shorter catechism answers.  This writer has done so, and it has enabled him to stand in the test of perilous times.

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