Wise Words

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Wise Words from the Past

It was at about this time–one date should suffice as well as another in this case–that on or about January 4, 1818 the first issue of the Virginia Evangelical and Literary Magazine made its appearance. Designed as a monthly periodical and with the Rev. Dr. John Holt Rice [1777-1831] serving as its editor, the magazine sought to address a wide range of material, religious, literary and scientific. Rice was not alone in the effort, having the assistance of Moses Hoge, president of Hampden-Sydney College; the Rev. John D. Blair of Richmond; and George A. Baxter, president of Washington College, Lexington, VA. As was so typical of the first half of the nineteenth century, the authors of the various articles typically wrote anonymously and often under pseudonyms. Dr. Conrad Speece, for instance, employed the name Melancthon, and Dr. John Matthews used the initials N.S. But the bulk of the work rested on the shoulders of Dr. Rice, and so the credit for this now great resource on the religious history of Virginia is largely his. The final issue of the periodical was in December of 1828, and Dr. Rice died just a few years later.

In the introduction to that first issue in 1818, Dr. Rice set down the high Christian standard which would guide all discussion on the pages of his journal. His words set a goal we would do well to imulate even now in our own discussions:—

The exposition which we shall give, in the course of the work, of these doctrines, and of others intimately connected with them, will be modified by our peculiar views; yet it will be our constant endeavor not to overrate any thing unessential to salvation; and to set up no tests of piety, which are not established in the holy scriptures. We have been taught to call no man master upon earth. Fathers and Reformers are esteemed by us as pious, and sometimes able men—but after all, mere men, whose opinions may be freely questoned, and ought always to be tried by the standard of revealed truth. The Bible is the only inspired book in the world, and to its authority alone do we pay implicit submission. Nevertheless, we do not depreciate creeds and confessions of faith; and, although we do not consider ourselves as pledged to vindicate every expression to be found in any thing of man’s devising; yet we do believe that the system of doctrine taught in the holy scriptures, is contained in the Confession of Faith of that Church to which we have the happiness to belong. Yet, while we firmly maintain that “form of sound words” which we have adopted, we shall, as conductors of a religious work, endeavor continually to imitate that example of liberality, and brotherly kindness, which has been displayed by our predecessors, and especially by those who, under God, were the founders of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

In illustration of this last remark, we shall offer a few quotations from the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the U. States:—“All saints that are united to Jesus Christ, their head, by his spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory : and being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.—Saints, by profession, are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.”–chap. xxvi. sec. 1, 2. The persons designated in this place, as saints by profession, it may be remarked, are elsewhere described as “those who profess the true religion.” In another part of the same work, we are taught to believe “that there are truths and forms, with respect to which men of good characters and principles may differ; and in all these, it is the duty of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance towards each other.” (See par. 342, Introduction to Form of Government, sec. 5.) It is in this spirit that we purpose to conduct all discussions concerning doctrine and discipline in our Magazine.

It is not, and we wish it to be distinctly understood, our object to attack others; but as we can, to explain to our readers the doctrines held, and the discipline maintained by us. And this for two purposes, both, as we think, laudable. The one to afford instruction to the members of the society to which we belong; the other to let the pious of different communions see how nearly we agree with them in fundamental doctrines. It is not truth of vital importance which, for the most part divides Christians; but questions about modes and forms. In the beginning of the Reformation, the Lutherans and the Reformed Churches differed as they differ now, yet they held communion with each other. And even among the Reformed Churches, there were diversities of discipline and mode of worship, yet no breach of brotherly kindness. Calvin and Knox, Cranmer and Ridley, and others of the same stamp, acknowledged each other as brethren, and employed their talents and zeal in defence of the common faith. So ought it to be now. So may it be soon!

[emphasis added]

Words to Live By:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.—Ephesians 4:11-16, NIV.

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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Wise Words

In his eulogy for Professor George Howe, the Rev. John L. Girardeau prefaced his comments with this fitting summary on the subject of Christian biography and eulogy:

“In doing honor to those who have attained to eminence, there is a tendency unduly to exalt the perfection of human nature, from the indulgence of which we are restrained by the principles of Christianity. It can never be forgotten by those who are imbued with its instructions and possessed of a consciousness illuminated by its light, that all men, even the greatest and best, are sinners; and that, whatever advancement in mere moral culture may be effected by the force of natural resolution, neither the beginning nor the development of holiness is possible without the application of the blood of atonement, and the operation of supernatural grace. To signalise, therefore, the virtues of a departed Christian is to celebrate the provisions of redemption, and to magnify the graces of the Holy Ghost.”

In other words, we write biographies of leading Christians and seek to preserve their papers—their writings and their correspondence—not to emulate them, but to praise the God who worked through them, that future generations of believers might profit from their walk with the Lord.

howeGeorge Howe was born at Dedham, Massachusetts on November 6, 1802. His father was William Howe, whose lineage ran back to one of the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock. His mother was Mary (Gould) Howe, daughter of Major George and Rachel (Dwight) Gould.

When he was still quite young, George came across a copy of Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana (The Glorious Works of Christ in America — vol. 1 of which can be read here.) among his father’s books. There he encountered Latin sentences peppered throughout the text, and so began his study of the Latin language. He pursued that study formally at Mr. Ford’s school in Dedham, and, as he later related, “said his hic, haec, hoc in his trundle-bed.”

At the age of twelve the family relocated to a town near Philadelphia. As a young teenager, he was able to attend First Presbyterian Church in the Northern Liberties of Philadelphia, where the Rev. Dr. James Patterson was pastor. It was Patterson’s habit to speak with every member of the family when he visited, and on one such occasion, he turned to George and asked George whether he had come to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for his salvation. The question caused George a great deal of discomfort, but this brought him under conviction of his sin, and not long after he made a public profession of his faith there at First Presbyterian.

Graduating with first honors from Middlebury College, in Vermont, in 1822, George then entered Andover Theological Seminary, taking the full three year course of studies. Upon graduation, he was awarded the Abbott scholarship, which afforded him another year and half of study, after which he was appointed, at the age of twenty-seven, as Phillips Professor of Sacred Theology at Dartmouth College. This was during the presidency of the Rev. Dr. Bennett Tyler, who was closely tied with the troublesome New Haven Theology. At about the same time as Howe’s appointment, he was also ordained, on August 7, 1827.

For three years he served at this post, when his health was threatened with consumption (tuberculosis), and medical advice urged him to remove to the South. Rev. Howe soon sailed from Boston in a ship bound for Charleston, South Carolina, and he spent the month of December, 1830 in that city.

Providentially, it was about this same time that the Synod of South Carolina and Georgia met and took up a request from Dr. Thomas Goulding, asking for the appointment of a teacher of Greek and Hebrew. Dr. Goulding had only recently been appointed head of a new seminary in South Caroliina, and already the school needed another teacher. Rev. Howe’s reputation with the languages preceding him, he was elected to the post. Thus began Dr. Howe’s lengthy career of fifty-two years at the Columbia Theological Seminary. When the Seminary’s semi-centennial was observed at the end of 1881, Dr. Howe was there to celebrate the occasion, with many congratulations focused on his own central role in the establishment of the school. A year and a half later, he was gone, passed to his eternal reward, on April 15, 1883.

Dr. Howe did not write many books, but of the less than ten, several remain monumental works, to this day.  In particular, his two volume magnum opus on The History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina is still required reading for anyone interested in the subject of religion in the Southern states. Print copies are rare, but the text can be found on the Web here [vol. 1] and here [vol. 2].

Words to Live By:
As George Howe lay near death, he expressed his desire to receive visits (despite his doctor’s wishes) from the other faculty of Columbia Seminary. One colleague asked him, “My dear brother, do you trust in Jesus?,” to which Dr. Howe readily answered, “Yes; what would I do, did I not trust in Him?”

What will you do, if you do not trust in the only Savior appointed for our salvation?

And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, NASB)

For Further Study:
Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana (The Glorious Works of Christ in America), can be read here. (vol. 1) and here (vol. 2)

A Further Historical Note:
One issue in the Old Side/New Side split of the PCUSA in 1741 was the matter of educating candidates for the ministry. The New Side thought themselves competent to train pastors on American soil. Thus William Tennent’s Log College. The Old Side maintained that candidates had to secure their training back in the old country. After that split was mended in 1758, the way was cleared to establish American schools for the training of ministerial candidates—seminaries, so called—seedbeds or nurseries for prospective pastors. It took some time to get the ball rolling, but soon a number of Presbyterian seminaries were established:
1806 — Andover Theological Seminary, in Massachusetts.
1810 — New Brunswick Seminary, in New Jersey.
1812 — Princeton Theological Seminary, in Princeton, New Jersey.
[Also in 1812, the Rev. Moses Hoge was appointed to serve as professor of theology at the Hampden-Sydney College.]
1821 — Auburn Theological Seminary, Auburn, New York.
1824 — Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia.
1830 — Columbia Theological Seminary [technically the school began a year earlier in another location]

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