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He Seemed But a Little Boy

It was only a year before that Archibald Alexander had been taken under care of the Presbytery of Lexington, Virginia.  He was young and extremely small in stature.  In our day, such a move of spiritual oversight is usually granted by a Presbytery after it has heard your personal testimony, what God has done for you in Christ in your spiritual life, and an expression of your call to the ministry.  In the eighteenth century however, it included all  that, no doubt, and also a sermon preached over the presbytery.

On that occasion in 1890, the month of October, Archibald Alexander stood before the esteemed member of this presbytery.  The fact that a candidate before him had utterly failed to utter anything approaching a sermon, much less give any orderly address, didn’t seem to faze him.  He stood up, without any idea of what he was going to say, and delivered an exhortation which astonished everyone present.    In fact, after that occasion, he delivered “exhortation” after “exhortation” several times a week.

In the spring of 1791, Alexander was examined by the Presbytery of Lexington in his Latin and Greek knowledge.  He had prepared an exegesis upon an assigned topic, and read it to the brethren.  He delivered a speech to the Presbytery as well.  It was then moved that he be assigned a text to preach at the next meeting of the Lexington Presbytery.

At that time, on September 20, 1791, the time had arrived for his proclamation before his elders, both in age and office, on the assigned theme, which was Jeremiah 1:7, “Say not, I am a child.”   And indeed, he seemed but a little boy, but the effect of his trial sermon, quickly put that to rest.  There was authority in the proclamation of the Word of God.  It was no wonder then that at the next presbytery meeting in Winchester, he was licensed to preach the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Words to live by:  If you have an opportunity, attend a Presbytery meeting as a visitor soon, especially one in which a candidate is brought under care, or licensed for the gospel ministry, or ordained by one of our conservative presbyteries.  You will see the care which the church gives to its candidates, that they be sound in doctrine, proficient in the Westminster Standards, and practical in their understanding of their calling.  It will be a day well spent.

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Similarities and Differences in the Two Sacraments

Last year, we would occasionally defer to a short study of one of the catechisms when otherwise lacking something to write about. Better equipped this year, that is rarely the problem now, but, full of turkey left-overs, and needing a break, for this November 30, we go back to a post where we considered two questions and answers from the Larger Catechism, on the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Question and answer 176 reads: “Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper agree?
Answer: The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper agree, in that the author of both is God; the spiritual part of both is Christ and his benefits; both are seals of the same covenant, are to be dispensed by ministers of the gospel, and by none other; and to be continued in the church of Christ until his second coming.”

Question and answer 177 reads: “Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ?
Answer: The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ, in that baptism is to be administered but once, with water, to be a sign and seal of our regeneration and ingrafting into Christ, and that even to infants; whereas the Lord’s supper is to be administered often, in the elements of bread and wine, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment to the soul, and to confirm our continuance and growth in  him, and that only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.”

Both of these questions would be great questions to ask potential officers of our churches, including those who would seek to be pastors in our presbyteries, for they require an overall understanding of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, they are an excellent teaching tool for the Christian parent to prepare the children for church membership.

There are five areas of agreement between the two sacraments. For both, the author is God.  Christ and His benefits are represented as being instituted. Both are seals of the covenant of grace. Both are church sacraments.  And both are to be practiced until we see Christ in the flesh at His second coming.

The differences are simple and understandable. The outward elements are water, in the one, contrasted with bread and wine in the other sacrament. Then too, the timing of Christ’s benefits to the believer differ, in that baptism speaks of the beginning of the Christian life, while Communion speaks of its continuance. Baptism is to be done once and not repeated. The Communion is to be done often. Baptism includes infants while the Lord’s Supper implies the ability to discern the elements.

Words to live by:  Our two catechisms considered today are definitely doctrinal in scope. Yet at the same time, they presuppose a basic understanding of the two sacraments which will enable God’s people to participate in them with a greater  understanding.  Let us make sure that their spiritual experience describe us, not just their outward and external experience. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?. . . .” (ESV – 2 Corinthians 13:5c)

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Martyr in His Missionary Zeal to Evangelize Blacks

We hear much in this twenty-first century about the treatment of blacks before the Civil War.  And the fact that slavery was even allowed in any of the parts of this blessed nation is to be abhorred.  But in the midst of this condition, there were  Southerners who sought to recognize the mission field to the blacks working on the plantations.

Beginning his special work as spiritual shepherd to the blacks of Liberty County, Georgia on December 2, 1832 was the Rev. Dr. Charles Colcock Jones, a member of the Midway Congregational Church.  Born on his father’s plantation in 1804, Charles Jones received his theological training under both Archibald Alexander and Samuel Miller at Princeton Seminary.  Though he began as a pastor in Savannah, he soon returned to minister to the blacks as far as their souls were concerned.  His congregation upon his start around the Midway Presbyterian Church some 4500 slaves. It was an organized ministry he had among them.

Three separate places of worship were built in convenient places solely for their use. Each Sabbath, Dr. Jones would travel by horseback to one of the three worship buildings.  First, a prayer meeting would ensue, led by chosen blacks themselves.  Then the sermon with hymns would be led and preached by Dr. Jones.  In the afternoon, a Sunday School with catechetical instruction was instituted. Following that was a personal inquiry regarding their spiritual condition. Then blacks chosen for their gifts would make reports to the pastor regarding the weekly spiritual conduct of the workers.  And finally, Dr. Jones would speak to the chosen leaders of their race regarding their encouragement and counsel.  During the week, other meetings would be held at the plantations themselves, with whites and blacks together listening to the proclaimed Word of God.

Concerned about this system, Dr. Jones wrote an exhortation which addressed this area.  The Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina and Georgia adopted it for their rules of all their churches and families in 1833. It stated: “Religion will tell the master that his servants are his fellow creatures, and that he has a Master in heaven to whom he shall give an account for his treatment of them. The master will be led to inquiries of this sort: In what kind of houses do I permit them to live?  What clothes do I give them to wear?  What food to eat? What privileges to enjoy? In what temper and manner and proportion to their crimes are they punished?”

With his health breaking from twenty-four, seven work on their behalf, Dr. Jones spent two years teaching Church History and Polity at Columbia Seminary.  But after that time, he returned to his spiritual work among the blacks for ten more years.  In 1863, he went to his heavenly home, where color lines do not count among the saints.

Words to live by:  Our Lord said once during His earthly ministry, “What will it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (KJV – Mark 8:36)  The welfare of the soul comes first in the eyes of the consecrated Christian. Charles Jones recognized this.  And to that, even at the detriment of his own health, he worked himself to death on their behalf.  When the Christian church, even the Presbyterian church, is ready to do everything it can do to reach the souls of the people in the neighborhood of their congregations, then we will have that spiritual awakening which is so desperately needed in our blessed land.  O Lord, give us consecrated workers for the soul of America.


Through the Scriptures: 
Romans 9 – 11

Through the Standards:  After we have partaken of the Lord’s Supper

WLC 175 — “What is the duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord’s supper?
A.  The duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, is seriously to consider how they have behaved themselves therein, and with what success; if they find quickening and comfort, to bless God for it, beg the continuance of it, watch against relapses, fulfill their vows, and encourage themselves to a frequent attendance on that ordinance:  but if they find no present benefit, more exactly to review their preparation to, and carriage at, the sacrament; in both which, if they can approve themselves to God and their own consciences, they are to wait for the fruit of it in due time: but, if they see they have failed in either, they are to be humbled, and to attend upon it afterwards with more care and diligence.”

Image sources :
1. Frontispiece portrait of Charles Colcock Jones, from Montevideo-Maybank, by R.Q. Mallard. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1898.
2. Title page to A Catechism of Scripture Doctrine and Practice for Families and Sabbath-Schools designed also for the Oral Instruction of Coloured Persons. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1852.
3. Page 25 from the above Catechism.
All scans prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center, working from copies of the above titles preserved at the Historical Center.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Missionaries Among the Nez Perce in the Northwest

This nineteenth century missionary couple has been mentioned before in these pages in connection with Marcus Whitman on February 29 and August 18.  They were Henry Harmon Spalding and his wife Eliza Hart Spalding.  There were a number of “firsts” connected with both of them.  Along with Mrs. Marcus Whitman, they were the first white women to travel on the Oregon Trail. Indeed, they were part of the first wagon train to travel on that famous trail. In the case of Henry and Eliza, theirs was the first white home in what is now Idaho. They brought the first printing press to the Northwest. But our interest in them was of far more importance than simply their being the “first” this or “first” that. They had a heart for the Nez Perce Indian people and their eternal souls.

So after a very long and difficult trip by steamer, horse back, and wagon train, Henry and Eliza arrived at their place of work, settling in a house which they built, on November 29, 1836.  Henry Spalding had unusual success in reaching this Indian tribe. He was able to give them a written script of their language, which enabled him to teach their tribal members. Spalding then translated parts of the Bible, including the entire gospel of Matthew. Leaders of the tribe were baptized, including the father of Chief Joseph, the brilliant military leader of the Nez Perce.

When the Whitmans and twelve of their followers were massacred in 1847, Henry was at that time on his way to meet them. He narrowly escaped in the five days journey back to his home, and eventually took his wife to Oregon City, Oregon to wait for the situation to simmer down. The Board of Missions which had sponsored them, however, decided to abandon the Mission Station.

Eliza would never see the region of the Nez Perce again, except after her death. Sixty years after her death, her body was interred on their land again beside that of her husband.  Henry had ministered in various areas in the “civilized” northwest as a pastor and a commissioner of schools in what later became Oregon, until finally in 1859, he returned with delight back to his beloved Nez Perce. He would stay only a few years before difficulties arrived, and he died in 1874.  He was buried on their land.

Words to live by:  To go into uncharted territory with the Gospel is a worthy goal and takes an unusual kind of Christian. Henry Spalding was just such an individual. He knew his calling and wanted to waste no time in fulfilling it. And fulfill it he did. Along with the Gospel, caring for the souls of the Nez Perce, this missionary couple taught the tribe irrigation laws and the cultivation of the . . . potato!  The next time you go to the store and buy some Idaho potatoes, think of Presbyterian missionary Henry Spalding!

Through the Scriptures:  2 Corinthians 10 – 13

Through the Standards:  Instruction for participation in the Lord’s Supper

WLC 172 — “May one who doubts of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation, come to the Lord’s Supper?
A.  One who doubts of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, may have true interest in Christ, through he be not yet assured thereof; and in God’s account has it, if he be duly affected with the apprehension of the want of it, and unfeignedly desires to be found in Christ, and to depart from iniquity: in which case (because promises are made, and this sacrament is appointed, for the relief even of weak and doubting Christians) he is to bewail his unbelief, and labor to have his doubts resolved, and, so doing, he may and ought to come to the Lord’s supper, that he may be further strengthened.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Should Spiritual Hindrances Preclude You From Partaking of Communion? 

Presbyterians must have taken November 20 in history as a day off, because this contributor can find nothing significant on this particular day.  So we turn to the Larger Catechism questions and answers as they deal with the sacrament of  the Lord’s Supper.

On November 14 (read), we saw the important requirement of self-examination with respect to partaking of the Lord’s Supper.  Christian Presbyterians cannot state that they don’t know how to prepare for the Lord’s Supper, since this catechism answer tells them all they might wish to know with respect to this preparation.

But the question arises about Christians who have doubts about their spiritual state.  Should they refrain from partaking of Communion? That is a question which has perplexed many a church member, and one which teaching or ruling elders have to answer all the time in counseling or home visitations.  Larger Catechism No. 172 has the answer.

It reads, “One who doubts of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, may have true interest in Christ, though he be not yet assured thereof;  and in God’s account has it, if he be duly affected with the apprehension of the want (lack) of it, and unfeignedly desires to be found in Christ, and to depart from iniquity: in which case (because promises are made, and this sacrament is appointed, for the relief even of weak and doubting Christians)  he is to bewail  his unbelief, and labor to have his doubts resolved; and, in so doing, he may and ought to come to the Lord’s Supper, that he may be further strengthened.”

Two types of Christians are spoken of in this catechism of worthiness to partake of the Lord’s Supper.  There may be those in our churches who doubt the fact that they know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  This doubt may exist for a variety of reasons, but it is present in their spiritual lives.  And as important as the need to find assurance is in a Christian’s life, yet we are not saved by this assurance.  We are saved because we  have repented of our sins and put our trust alone in Christ alone.

The second type of Christian with whom our catechism answer deals,  is the one who has not followed in time spent in spiritual preparation or with sincerity of heart the self-examination proscribed in Larger Catechism Number 171. Should that individual come and partake?

In both cases, our Confessional fathers answer in the affirmative.  And the reason being, is that the Supper is designed “for the relief of weak and doubting Christians.” It is a spiritual meal which is appointed just for them.  Yes, the doubting believer and ill prepared communicant should “bewail his unbelief.”  The word “bewail” is an old English word which speaks of sorrowing over sins of omission and commission. We should put some effort into resolving whatever doubts we have of our personal salvation. Let the Word of God, prayer, the regular worship of God, and fellowship be the channel of blessings which will help us to know with certainty that we are born again.

But, in this matter of the Lord’s Table, we should come expecting the benefit from the Lord Himself, that a reminder of His death, burial, and resurrection will have its proper effect in our hearts, leading us in the work of sanctification.

Words to live by: With monthly or quarterly observances of the Lord’s Supper in our Presbyterian and Reformed churches, there really should be no excuse in being present and accounted for in these observances of the Lord’s Supper. This question and answer however deals with continuing doubts about our salvation in Christ and for one reason or another, failure to properly prepare for the Lord’s Supper. Now that we know that our Confessional fathers have sought to prepare for those two cases of  hesitation in partaking of the Lord’s Supper, we can proceed in a more biblical way in dealing with these two cases. Let us respond with the proper spirit of preparation for, and participation in, the Lord’s Supper.

Through the Scriptures:  1 Thessalonians 1 – 5

Through the Standards:  Definition of the Lord’s Table, from the Catechisms

WLC 168 — “What is the Lord’s Supper?
A. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, his death is shewed forth; and they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace; have their union and communion with him confirmed; testify and renew their thankfulness, and engagement to God, and their mutual love and fellowship each with the other, as members of the same mystical body.:

WSC 96 “What is the Lord’s Supper?
A.  The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Presbyterian Martyr in the Abolitionist Cause

This Presbyterian minister was called by some the first casualty of the Civil War. Certainly, his death on November 7, 1837 was over the primary issue of that War Between the States, namely, that of slavery. With the intriguing name of Elijah Lovejoy, the pastor of Des Peres Presbyterian Church and later, the College Avenue Presbyterian Church, was well-known in the twin states of Missouri and Illinois in the early part of the nineteenth century.

He was the son of a Congregationalist minister, but Elijah only came to faith in Christ as a young adult, while sitting under the preaching of a Presbyterian preacher. No long after, he made the decision to attend Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1833, shortly after graduation. (See April 18th historical devotional). It wasn’t his ministry in the pulpit which was so controversial. Nor was it his service as the Stated Clerk of the local Presbytery. Both of these positions were acceptable to the church world, and unexceptional in the world at large. What set him up in notoriety was that he had organized the American Anti-Slavery Society in the area. He then backed up that organization as a newspaper editor of an abolitionist paper in both St. Louis, Missouri and Alton, Illinois.

Both of these places were on the front line of this issue. Missouri was a slave state, even though all around her were free states. It was also the focal point of slave catchers who would enter into their confines to hunt down slaves who had escaped their plantations. In short, it was the center of both pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the population. And Elijah Lovejoy became the voice of the latter faction.

Initially, reactions against Rev. Lovejoy’s work were aimed solely at the tools of his publishing trade. The pro-slavery citizens of the area simply responded to the good Presbyterian minister by destroying the printing press of his abolitionist newspaper, which effectively stopped him from printing either the St. Louis Observer or the Alton Times. Three times, his printing press was destroyed and its parts were scattered into the Missouri River. Each time, another press was located and the abolitionist newspaper continued to be published.

As Rev. Lovejoy sought to prevent yet another attempt to hinder his work, his next printing press was moved to a warehouse building near the waterfront. This time a dozen or so law enforcement men were organized to guard it, assisted by Rev. Lovejoy, and his supporters. But the people who were determined to stop him were larger in number. There are varying reports of the ensuing skirmish. Some say that when Rev. Lovejoy tried to shove a ladder, placed there for the purposes of burning the two-story building, away from the structure, he was killed by a shotgun slug fired from the front of the building. Others say that he tried to reason with the mob on the ground floor before being shot. In either case, he was killed instantly in the ensuing gun battle. The printing press was again destroyed after his killing, and with his death, tensions continued to be inflamed. A later attempted prosecution in the courts failed to find anyone guilty.

A monument was erected in 1897 in his memory, at a cemetery in Alton, Illinois. But in the ensuing years, and particularly with the heat of national crisis in 1861–1865, in many ways Lovejoy became little more than a footnote in the nation’s history. To this day there are certainly those who work to keep alive the memory of his work, but for most, it seems he is largely forgotten.

Words to live by:  Elijah Lovejoy had a firm conviction that the righteous God would overrule the sin of slavery, for the good of black and whites alike, to say nothing of His own glory. With firm conviction, this Presbyterian clergyman became a catalyst in print for efforts to put an end to the terrible institution. He paid the ultimate price for his stand against slavery. The church today needs godly men and women to take stands against the evils of our day. Will you be one who will answer that call for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ?

Through the Scriptures:  John 11 – 13

Through the Standards: Definition of baptism in the Larger Catechism

WLC 165 — “What is Baptism?
A. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ has ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of the ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection and everlasting life; and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Pastor in  a Period of Deep Anxiety

Readers of this historical devotional may remember that there was a schism in American Presbyterianism in 1741 between what was called the New Side and the Old Side Presbyterians. With such bright ministers as Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Blair, George Whitefield, Samuel Davies, to mention a few, we might suppose that evangelistic activities only was found among the New Side Presbyterians. But this would be a wrong conclusion.  Consider the ministry of Rev. Alexander McDowell.

Ordained on October 29, 1741, the very year of the schism, Alexander McDowell was sent by the Old Side Presbytery of New Castle,  to Virginia as an evangelist that same year.  He was eminently qualified for this missionary effort.  Born in Ireland and educated at the University of Edinburgh, he came to the American colonies in 1737.

Following his evangelistic tour, he took the pulpit of two Old Side Presbyterian congregations in Elk Church, Lewisville, Pennsylvania and White Clay Creek Church in Newark, Delaware.  Remaining in them for seventeen years, he was said to be a man of more than ordinary mental abilities, an excellent scholar, and a laborious educator.  He was faithful to the higher courts of Presbytery and Synod.  What we might call para-church activities today, he earnestly sought to raise financial support for the widows of ministers.  He even served as a chaplain during the French and Indian War.

Following his faithful ministry as a pastor, he took over the education responsibilities of the Rev. Francis Allison in his free classical school.  When Rev. McDowell oversaw its pupils, it was known at the Newark Academy.  Teaching Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Philosophy, he sought to train the students under his care. This institution went through several changes of names, until it became the University of Delaware in 1921.

Words to live by:  That which produced the First Great Awakening in our land is often lauded, and it should be. But there were those who objected to the emotionalism displayed in those services. They should not be labeled as liberals in any sense of the word.  We are dealing here with different methods of doing God’s work.  There can be as much of God’s Spirit advancing the kingdom of grace with men like Alexander McDowell as there was with a Rev. Gilbert Tennent.  As long as the gospel is proclaimed faithfully, and God’s Word is upheld strongly, let us pray for the advance of the dominion of grace in the hearts of men and women.

Through the Scriptures:  Luke 4 – 6

Through the Standards:  The manner of reading the Word of God

WLC 157 “How is the word of God to be read?
A.  The holy scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believed, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayers.”

WSC 90 How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
A.  That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

An Unusual Name No Hindrance to God’s Working

This writer has to acknowledge that I was curious regarding the name of this Presbyterian minister for this day of October 28, 1871.  It was on this day that he went home to be with his Lord and Savior. His name was Septimus Tustin.

My first thought upon seeing that name “Septimus” was what parent would possibly bestow upon their son such a name. But then, I noted that his father’s name was “Septimus,” so I understood that it was a case of “like father, like son.” He was the son of Septimus and Elizabeth Tustin, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and his father died when he was quite young. Septimus was reared by his mother, and she is described as a pious woman and a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. With such a home and church like that, it is no great surprise that he went into the pastoral ministry. Ordained by the Presbytery of the District of Columbia (the first such from that new Presbytery), he began his pastoral ministry in Leesburg, Virginia in 1825.

Between the years of 1826 and 1861, he ministered to six more Presbyterian churches, five of them in the Northern states and one in the South.  The latter was in Mississippi, and his time there came quickly to an end when that Southern state joined the Confederacy. After the Civil War, Rev. Tustin worked hard to unify the two sectional Presbyterian churches, but without success.

What is interesting about this minister is that on two occasions, he was called to the halls of Congress as a chaplain.  First, he was the House of Representatives Chaplain for two years, and following up that ministry with the United States Senate Chaplaincy for five years.  He also served as a trustee of Lafayette College, in Pennsylvania.

Words to live by: What might be seen as a hindrance to effective work in God’s kingdom, as in this case a name, is proven to be the opposite when God’s Spirit is  in control.  Indeed, as Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, this is the norm rather than the exception.  From the Amplified, it reads, “For [simply] consider your own call, brethren: not many [of you were considered to be] wise according to human estimates and standards, not many influential and powerful, not many of high and noble birth.  [No] for God selected (deliberately chose) what is the world is foolish to put the wise to shame, and what the world calls weak to put the strong to shame.  And God also selected (deliberately  chose) what in the world is low-born and insignificant and branded and treated with contempt, even the things that are nothing, that He might depose and bring to nothing the things that are, So that no mortal man should [have pretense for glorying and] boast in the presence of God.

Through the Scriptures: 
Luke 1 – 3

Through the Standards:  Everyone is to read the word of God

WLC 156 “Is the word of God to be read by all?
A. Although all are not to be permitted to read the word publicly to the congregation, yet all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves, and with their families; to which end, the holy scriptures are to be translated out of the original into vulgar (e.g. common) languages.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Victory Over England Brings Celebration in a Presbyterian Church

Granted!  After the final victory over the British military forces at Yorktown, Virginia, there were celebrations being held everywhere in 1781 in the United States. But one of those celebrations took place in the First Presbyterian Church of Trenton, New Jersey on October 27, 1791. And this was no sparsely attending worship service. The Revolutionary War Governor, William Livingston, the Council of the state of New Jersey, the entire Assembly of Representatives, and citizens of the town came together to hear the Rev. Dr. Elihu Spencer delivered a discourse adapted to the occasion.

The pastor of this church, Elihu Spencer, was no stranger to the vicissitudes of the Revolutionary struggle. Indeed, he was the chaplain to colonial troops in the long battle for liberty.  As such, he was a marked man by the British and his parsonage suffered damage as a result of his affiliation with the Continental army. Two revolutionary battles were fought in Trenton, including the famous midnight crossing of the river to do battle with the German mercenaries, or Hessians, in the town, which battle Gen George Washington and his troops won, bringing new morale to the American citizenry.

This celebratory day began with the beating of drums. The American flag was displayed throughout the town.  At eleven o’clock, this worship service was held.  In the afternoon, after artillery discharges, there came a series of toasts to everybody and anybody by the assembled political and general citizenry. In fact, it was good that they began with a worship hour, because had they done it after these toasts, none of them would have been able to stand up and sing praises to the Lord!  There were many, many toasts of gratitude to those who brought about this victory. The night of celebration was over by 7 p.m. and the whole town was illuminated by candles in the evening.

Words to live by:  Today in our secular culture, post-Christian era, the idea that you mention that God is the God of war, or the God of battles, or the One who brings victory over your enemies, is considered anathema. Yet our forefathers did not think so, and frequently mentioned the God of providence in the events which made up our country.  We need to return to the God of our Fathers, in conversation, in conduct, in celebrations of liberty by our people, in concerns of patriotism in our assembly halls — in all of life.  Without Him, we would be a defeated people long ago.

Through the Scriptures:  Mark 14 – 16

Through the Standards: The Word is Effectual Unto Salvation

WLC 155  “How is the word made effectual unto salvation?
A.  The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and  humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ, of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.”

WSC 89 “How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
A.  The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A New Method of Missionary Work

For centuries, the work of foreign missions all over the world  had been done by faithful missionaries going from nations like England or America, serving the Lord in some field white unto harvest, and then going off the scene back to their sending agency.  That method was in need of changing, and the Rev. John Livingston Nevius would be the one who would change foreign mission methods forever.

Born on March 4, 1829 in western New York, John Nevius attended Princeton Theological Seminary in the 1850’s.  Called while in seminary to the foreign mission field, he found the perfect mate in Helen Coan in 1853. Marrying her, they set sail for China.

At first they traveled, setting up missions and schools. Then they settled down in one province of that vast land.  Observing the work of other missionaries in that nation, this Presbyterian missionary began to see the need to establish “self-propagating, self-supporting, and self-governing indigenous churches from the very beginning of a missionary’s work on the field.  Interesting, even though this approach, which was eventually crystallized in a book, was first developed in China, it never really matured into reality there. But when broaching the same method in the land of Korea, it was received completed by the Korean church. And today, that land and its churches have taken the three “self’s” and followed them religiously.

John Nevius also in his plan suggested that Christian missionaries should only begin programs which the national church desired and supported.  Further, the national church should call out and support their pastors.  Intensive beliefs and doctrinal instruction should be provided each year by the missionaries.  It is clear that the focus would not be on some Western culture and church, but rather on the mission field’s culture and church.  Indeed, the missionary’s “job” was to work themselves out of that “job,” and leave it to the Christian church people to win their nation to Christ.

Countless church bodies have followed the Nevius plan.  The Mission to the World agency of the Presbyterian Church in America employs this plan, often setting deadlines for establishing a Presbytery of pastors and churches, and then sending the missionary to some other field to continue the process.

John Livingstone Nevius died while in China on October 19, 1893 and is buried in China.

It is deeply interesting to ponder the Lord’s sovereign hand in the affairs of China, from that time until now, how the Lord has purified that Church. To read another missionary’s account, from 1927, click here.

Also this day:
Dr. Robert B. Tweed, former professor and chair of the Bible and philosophy department at Geneva College, went to be with the Lord on Monday, October 19, 2009.

Words to live by:  When I hear of a church which has closed down when a pastor has left by moving on or by death, I reflect that this John Nevius plan wouldn’t be a bad one for our local American church scene.  For reasons known only to the pastor and people, the work to equip the saints to do the work of service, as Ephesians 4:11, 12 states,  had been missing in that closed church.  Now it was the pastor’s fault.  He wanted to think that he was irreplaceable.  Or maybe the members resisted that Scriptural methodology.  But whatever the reason was, the work came to an end when the pastor was removed from the scene.  So here is my question?  Pastors, are you equipping the saints to do the work of ministry?  And members, are you zealous to be equipped to do the work of ministry?  It is important to ask and answer these questions.

Through the Scriptures: Matthew 16 – 19

Through the Standards: Benefits of communion with Christ in Grace

WLC 65 — “What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?
A.  The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.”

WLC 66 — “What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
A.  The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.”

WLC 69 — “What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?
A. The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.”

Image Source : Photo found on page 72 of The Church at Home and Abroad, Volume 23, no. 133 (January 1898). Scan prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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