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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Keeping the Sabbath Holy

Countless Americans applaud General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson’s  abilities on the battlefield in America’s Civil War, or War Between the States. But many of those same Americans ridicule the spiritual side of this much admired military man.

Nowhere is this seen better than in his views on observing the Sabbath day, or Lord’s Day.  It is here that words like “fanatic” come to the fore in books and media reports of his character and conduct. Indeed at one point, his own wife, Mary Anna Jackson, a Presbyterian minister’s daughter, wrote him a letter which expressed concern that he had attacked Union troops at the battle of Kernstown, Virginia in April 1862, in violation of the Sabbath.  Jackson answered his wife with the following words:

“You appear much concerned at my attacking on Sunday. I was greatly concerned too;   but I felt it my duty to do it, in consideration of the ruinous effects that might result from postponing the battle until the morning. So far as I can see, my cause was a wise one; the best that I could do under the circumstances, though very distasteful to my feelings; and I hope and pray to our Heavenly Father that I may never be circumstanced as on that day.  I believed that so far as our troops were concerned, necessity and mercy both called for the battle.  Had I fought the battle on Monday instead of Sunday, I fear our cause would have suffered; whereas, as things turned out, I considered our cause gained much from the engagement.”

In the above letter, and I have underlined the important phrase, you read the words “necessity and mercy.”  Any one who knows the sixtieth answer in the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Standards will remember that “necessity and mercy” were two divine exceptions in the observance of the fourth commandment, given by Jesus Himself.  But, it may be asked, did Gen. Jackson know of these two exceptions in the catechism?  The answer is in the affirmative, because he had memorized the Shorter Catechism in his pre-war days in Lexington, Virginia with his wife, and he was a deacon in the Presbyterian Church of that city, which office required his acceptance of the Westminster Standards.

So under no circumstances did the military officer violate the spiritual standards of his convictions and religion. Necessity and mercy dictated his military moves on that day, the Lord’s Day, or the Sabbath.

Words to Live By: The world is always ready to condemn the actions of true Christians, if only to get the attention off of themselves and their sinful ways.  We must be sure to have solid biblical evidence to back everything we say and do, so as to not place a stumbling block before unbelievers.

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 49 – 51

Through the Standards: The requirements of superiors to inferiors

WLC 129 — “What is required of superiors towards their inferiors?
A.  It is required of superiors, according to that power they receive from God, and that relation wherein they stand, to love, pray for, and bless their inferiors; to instruct, counsel, and admonish them; countenancing, commending, and rewarding such as do well; and discountenancing, reproving, and chastising such as do ill; protecting, and providing for them all things necessary for soul and body; and by grave, wise, holy, and exemplary carriage, to procure glory to God, honor to themselves, and so to preserve that authority which God has put upon them.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

What More can God Do than Give Himself as a Ransom?

We turn once again to our favorite Presbyterian deacon who was also held the rank of General in the Confederate Army during the War Between the States.  Thomas Jonathan Jackson, or as he was known from the battle of Bull Run, Stonewall Jackson wrote a letter to his wife Anna on October 13, 1862.

He says, “I heard an excellent sermon from the Rev. Dr. Stiles.  His text was 1 Timothy, chapter 2, 5th and 6th verses.  (“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”)  It was a powerful exposition of the Word of God; and when he came to the word ‘himself’ he placed an emphasis upon it, and gave it a force which I had never felt before, and I realized that, truly, the sinner who does not, under Gospel privileges, turn to God, deserves the agonies of perdition.  The doctor (Stiles) several times, in appealing to the sinner, repeated the sixth verse—’Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.’  What more could God do than to give himself a ransom?  Dr. Stiles is a great revivalist, and is laboring in a work of grace in General Ewell’s division.”

It is clear that this response in the form of a letter he wrote to his beloved wife was not simply a nominal Christian answer.  It is evident from the language used, such as even the phrase “the work of grace,” that General Jackson knew what it was to be a recipient of God’s costly grace, in the perfect life and sacrificial death of His Son, the Lord Jesus. Indeed, what more could God do than to give Himself a ransom for us all?

Words to live by:  Despite what the anti-religionist Civil War authors state with regards to Stonewall Jackson, claiming he was a hypocrite because he often slept through the church worship services, the General was an attentive listener whenever the gospel was preached and the Word of God held forth in all its fullness.  He could listen and give an outline of the sermon.  Well might we who listen regularly to the Word of God be able to not only listen to it, but take down notes for ourselves and others of the content of the sermon.  Then, and only then, can we be more than mere hearers of the Word, but doers of it as well.

Through the Scriptures: Nehemiah 10 – 13

Through the Standards:  The Tasks of the Visible Church

WCF 25:3
“Unto this catholic visible Church, Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto.”

WLC 63 — “What are the special privileges of the visible church?
A. The visible church has the privilege of being  under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come  unto him.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Soldier Remembers a Sermon

To countless secular Civil War authors, they  seem to take delight in ridiculing the spiritual side of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, better known as “Stonewall” Jackson on the battlefield.  Not knowing or caring that this Presbyterian church deacon was not a mere Christian in name only, but a genuine born-again Christian, some of these authors are embarrassed by his Christian conversation and conduct. Especially do they take delight to record the number of times in which General Jackson fell asleep in a worship service!  And while that happened, there are of course many occasions when he was not only awake, but also took notes in his heart and mind of the sermon preached on that Lord’s Day.  One such occasion was a sermon preached by the Rev. Robert L. Dabney, a Presbyterian chaplain,  on September 26, 1861.   Listen to Jackson’s words, written to his wife Anna Jackson:

“I did not have room enough in my last letter, to write as much as I desired about Dr. Dabney’s sermon yesterday.  His text was from Acts, seventh chapter, and fifty-ninth verse.  [Note: And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” — Acts 7:59, King James version; compare the ESV translation: “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”]

He stated that the word “God” being in italics indicated that it was not in the original, and he thought it would have been better not to have been in the translation.  It would then have read, ‘calling upon and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’  He spoke of Stephen, the first martyr  under the new dispensation, and  like Abel, the first under the old, dying by the hand of violence, and then drew a graphic picture of his probably broken limbs, mangled flesh and features, conspiring to heighten his agonizing sufferings.

“But in the midst of this intense pain, God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, permitted him to see the heavens opened, so that he might behold the glory of God, and of Jesus, of whom he was speaking, standing on the right hand of God.  Was not such a heavenly vision enough to make him forgetful of his sufferings?  He beautifully and forcibly described the death of the righteous, and as forcibly that of the wicked.”

That was on this occasion an understanding of both the sermon and the sermon’s application.  For believers who may possibly suffer the loss of their lives, or various limbs of their bodies, as Jackson did later in 1863 regarding both of these cases, that heavenly vision was sufficient to make him forget his earthly sufferings.

Further, another application was that of the blessed gospel, preaching the death of the righteous in contrast to the death of the wicked.  Civil War chaplains always included sincere invitations to believe the gospel and return in commitment to the Lord.  That is why there was such a mighty spiritual awakening of sinners and revival of believers during this years of the War Between the States.

Despite all secular commentators to the contrary, it is obvious on this occasion that we had a close listening to the preached Word with an understanding of the two-fold application of that sermon.  Divine worship was alive and well in Jackson’s heart and life.

Words to live by: It was said of our Lord Jesus, that his custom or habit was always to be found in the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath.  And the writer to the Book of the Hebrews enjoined believers to not forsake their assembling together as some were already doing in his day and age.   We must be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, worshiping in His house the Triune God

Through the Scriptures:  Daniel 1 – 3

Through the Standards: Interpretation and Obligation of Oaths

WCF 22:4
“An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation, or mental reservation.  It cannot oblige to sin; but in anything not sinful, being taken, it binds to performance, although to a man’s hurt.  Nor is it to be violated, although made to heretics, or infidels.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Never Felt Such Love to God

The mighty Stonewall, that is, Thomas Jonathan Jackson, was married to Mary Anna Jackson for just a few years before God took him home in 1863. But during  that brief time together, we have many letters which passed between the two Christians which illuminate our understanding of  the Presbyterian general.

On August 15, 1859, he wrote the following letter to his wife.  It follows here:

“Last night I enjoyed what I have long desired — listening to a sermon from the Rev. Dr. Thornwell, of South Carolina.  He opened with an introduction, setting forth the encouragements and discouragements under which he spoke.  Among the encouragements, he stated that the good effected here would be widely disseminated, as there were visitors from every Southern state.  Following the example of the apostle Paul,  he observed that whilst he felt an interest in all, yet he felt a special interest in those from his own state.  He spoke of the educated and accomplished audience it was his privilege to address.   After concluding his introductory remarks, he took his text from Genesis, seventeenth chapter, seventh verse, which he presented in a bold, profound, and to me original manner.  I felt what a privilege it was to listen to such an exposition  of God’s truth.  He showed that in Adam’s fall we had been raised from the position of servants to that of children of God. He gave a brief account of his own difficulties when a college student, in comprehending his relation  to God.  He represented man as a redeemed being at the day of judgment, standing nearest to the throne, the angels being farther removed.  And why?  Because his Brother is sitting upon  the throne he is a nearer relation to Christ than the angels.  And his being the righteousness of God himself.  I don’t recollect having ever before felt such love to God.  I was rather surprised at seeing so much grace and gesture in Dr. Thornwell.  I hope and pray that much good will result from this great exposition of Bible truth.”

Obviously Major Jackson was hanging on every word of Dr. Thornwell.  This is especially noteworthy because in future years, he would often fall asleep in religious services.  Whether it was the nature of his bodily constitution, or the tiring rigors of military leadership, or perhaps because of a boring preacher, we don’t know.  But Thomas Jackson did not fall asleep under the preaching of Dr. Thornwell.  He heard and responded by being able to adequately recount the sermon to his wife


Words to live by: 
One interesting answer in the Larger Catechism speaks to the requirement of hearing the Word preached.  It says in WLC 160 “It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.”  This contributor has written this answer on the fly-leaf of his Bible so that I am able to review it frequently in church attendance.   It is a good reminder.

Through the Scriptures:  Jeremiah 33 – 36

Through the Standards:The true doctrine of Christian liberty

WCF 20:2
“God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, in matters of faith, or worship.  So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Being Content in God’s Will

In what was General Robert E. Lee’s greatest campaign victory, that of Chancellorsville, Virginia, in the spring of 1863, was also his greatest loss, for it was in that battle that he lost the services of General Thomas Jonathan Jackson, better known as Stonewall Jackson.

Wounded several times in the early hours of May 2, Jackson was shot by his own men who thought that the small group on horseback were Federal cavalry. His arm was amputated back at the field hospital. Taken by wagon to Guinea Station, he was to eventually contract pneumonia and die.  But before he died, he had this conversation with his Presbyterian chaplain, Rev. Lacy:

“You see me severely wounded, but not depressed, not unhappy.  I believe it has been done according to God’s holy will, and I acquiesce entirely in it.  You may think it strange, but you never saw me more perfectly contented than I am today; for I am sure that my Heavenly Father designs this affliction for my good.  I am perfectly satisfied that, either in this life, or in that which is to come, I shall discover that what is now regarded as a calamity is a blessing. And if it appears a great calamity, as it sure will be a great inconvenience, to be deprived of my arm, it will result in a greater blessing.  I can wait until God, in his own time, shall make known to me the object He has in thus afflicting me.  But why should I not rather rejoice in it as a blessing, and not look on it as a calamity at all?  If it were in my power to replace my arm, I would not dare to do it, unless I know it was the will of my Heavenly Father.”

Stonewall Jackson was a Christian Presbyterian, a deacon in the Presbyterian church back in Lexington, Virginia.  He had learned the Shorter Catechism in his married life, repeating it word for word to his beloved wife, one Sabbath afternoon.  And, he lived an outstanding  Christian life in peace and in war.

It was said that just before his death on Sunday,  May 10, 1863, he uttered the last  sentence on this side of glory, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”   His wife, Mary Anna, said, knowing him intimately, “Was he reaching forward across the river of death, to the golden streets of the Celestial City, and the trees whose leaves are for the healing of the nations?  It was to these that God was bringing him, through his last battle and victory; and under their shade he walks, with the blessed company of the redeemed.”

[Editor : Our readers might want to know of a well-received study guide on the spiritual life of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, written by Dr. David T. Myers and titled Stonewall Jackson: The Spiritual Side. The cover of this 93 page book is shown above. Published by Sprinkle Publications in 2003, copies may be obtained from either Sprinkle or from the Cumberland Valley Book Service.]

Words to Live By:  To live entirely in the sense of the Lord’s will, brings a contentment which is beyond words. You are at peace with your life. You sense that God is in control of your life. You have complete trust in  whatever your Heavenly Father appoints or allows for your life. Think where you are now. God knows all about it, for He is praying for you right now at the Father’s right hand. In that light, pray for a complete and full submission to live in God’s will in your situation.

Through the Scriptures: Psalms 88 – 90

Through the Standards:  Justifying faith in the catechisms

WLC 72 — “What is justifying faith?
A.  Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but received and rested upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.”

WSC 86 “What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation as he is offered to us in the gospel.”

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