With this post, we’re “a day late, and the dollar doesn’t buy what it used to.”

According to this account by Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., there was apparently some confusion during the Second General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church [nee Presbyterian Church of America], over the matter of how exactly to dispose of the 1903 PCUSA amendments to the Westminster Confession. Buswell writes here in THE CHRISTIAN BEACON, 17.17 (5  June 1952): 2, 4.


We who are Calvinists are such not because we admire the work of a man, but because we admire the work of a man who clearly expounded the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures. When we speak of great historical Calvinistic documents the word “Calvinistic” signifies the preservation in sharp and clear outline of what the Bible teaches. The Westminster Confession of Faith, for example, is a basic document for all English-speaking Presbyterian, Reformed, Congregational, and Baptist churches. The Savoy Confession of the historical Congregational Churches (Congregationalism before the apostasy of that denomination) is The Westminster Confession with a change in one chapter only. The Philadelphia Confession, which is a basic document for large groups of Baptist churches in the Southern states and in England, is The Westminster Confession with changes in two chapters only. The New Hampshire Confession, which is accepted by many Baptist churches in the Northern states is largely adapted from The Westminster Confession. It is therefore an interdenominational document in the truest sense. It is a rich deposit of treasure in the common heritage of Bible-believing Christians. We Calvinists accept The Westminster Confession not as being an infallible document, not as being verbally inerrant, but as being thoroughly based upon the Scriptures, and as setting forth in clear and positive language the integrated system of doctrine which the Scriptures teach.

In 1903 the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. adopted certain amendments in order to please groups which were doctrinally weak and poorly instructed. Dr. Benjamin Warfield, one of the greatest Calvinistic teachers of the past generation, strongly protested against the adoption of these amendments, but when they were adopted, Dr. Warfield declared (as Dr. J. Gresham Machen related the matter to me) that these amendments, weak and misleading as they were, did not actually change “the system of doctrine.”

In the months preceding May, 1936, Dr. Machen explained to me that he did not wish to take his stand as contending for any change in the constitution of the Church (Presbyterian, U.S.A.) as it then existed, though he hoped that the amendments of 1903 might sometime be eliminated. His great fight at that time was that the Foreign Mission Board (and other agencies of the Church) might at least be true to the simple elementary principles of the Gospel. He could be loyal to the constitution as it was then, since, as Dr. Warfield had said, the constitution, in spite of the weak and misleading character of the 1903 amendments, still set forth the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures.

I understood Dr. Machen to advocate that if we should be compelled to form a new church, it would be wise to start with the doctrinal constitution just as it had been in the U.S.A. Church at the time the controversy arose. It was on this basis that Dr. Machen organized the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

In May, 1936, Dr. Machen and the rest of us were unfrocked and put out of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. An incident took place in the fall of 1936 at the Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America which, I have recently learned, has caused confusion in the minds of some of our friends. I am glad to take this occasion to make a correction. The incident was as follows : When the proposal to adopt the Westminster Standards came before the Assembly, as moderator, I suggested that it would expedite matters if we adopted the Standards as they then existed in the U.S.A. Church, and then proceeded with deliberation to remove the 1903 amendments and make such a declaratory statement as might seem appropriate. At this point Dr. Machen gained the impression that I had somehow changed my convictions, and that I wished the amendments of 1903 to be retained, which certainly was not the case. He made a forceful address urging the adoption the Confession without the 1903 amendments. I could readily see that either I had misunderstood his former opinions, or he had changed his mind. I did not consider the matter worth a reply, since we were all agreed that the 1903 amendments should ultimately be eliminated.

I should never had referred to the matter again had I not been informed rather recently that some sound Calvinistic bodies overseas have been told that “the Bible Presbyterian Church is un-Calvinistic, since one of the leaders of the Bible Presbyterian Church, moderator of the Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America, actually spoke in defense of the weak and misleading 1903 amendments of the Westminster Confession.”! I did not at any time speak in defense of the 1903 amendments. When the Bible Presbyterian Church was formed, it adopted The Westminster Confession, without the objectionable 1903 amendments.

[excerpted from The Christian Beacon, vol. 17, no. 17 (5 June 1952), pages 2, 4.]

At the forefront of today’s article, for balance, we would also point readers to The Presbyterian Creed, by Dr. Donald Fortson, which offers a contrasting analysis of the 1837 schism, concluding that it was not about the fundamentals of the faith, and was in fact a great mistake that should have been avoided. Much of the debate centers around the question of subscription to the Standards, a question dating back to the Adopting Act of 1729.

The Mother of All Schisms in Presbyterianism
by Rev. David T. Myers.

Old School Presbyterians . . . New School Presbyterians.  You were either one or the other in the early to mid-nineteenth century in the Presbyterian Church in the United States.  And the issue was not at all a light one.  The fundamentals of the faith were at stake.

First, the Old School Presbyterians held to strict subscription to the church standards, such as the Westminster Standards, with church discipline for any dissenters.  The New School Presbyterians were willing to tolerate lack of subscription if evangelism was being accomplished.

Second, the Old School Presbyterians were opposed to the 1801 Plan of Union with the Congregational church, while New School Presbyterians were committed to it.

Next, the Old School Presbyterians were opposed to the false gospel methodology of a Charles Finney, for example, while the New School Presbyterians did not wish to hinder revival, regardless of a less than theological basis for revivals.

Last, there was the matter of theology.  Influencing the New School Presbyterians were two “isms” like Hopkinism and Taylorism from New England, which denied original sin and gospel redemption.  Old School Presbyterianism held to the Westminster Standards on both of these essentials of the faith.

For several General Assemblies, there were more New School Presbyterian delegates than Old School Presbyterian delegates.  But on June 5, 1837, that majority was reversed, with the Old School Presbyterians in strength.   In the assembly that week, the Assembly was able to abrogate the 1801 Plan of Union with the Congregationalists.  They then proceeded to expel four largely New School synods from the church, composed of 28 Presbyteries, 509 ministers, and 60,000 members!  In one swift vote, they were no longer members of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

But Presbyterian polity demanded that two General meetings approve of an action like this.  And here the operation took on more of a shady spirit to it than would otherwise be proper for any Christian group.  At the 1838 assembly in Philadelphia, Old School Presbyterian delegates arrived early and took every seat in the convention hall of Seventh Presbyterian Church.  When the New School Presbyterian elders arrived, the Moderator, who was an Old School elder, simply wouldn’t recognize them as legitimate delegates.  The “we don’t know you” phrase was used a lot.  When attempts were made to appeal his ruling, the appeal was put out-of-order by the moderator.

Soon the New School Assembly of Presbyterians were meeting at the back of the church, setting up their own assembly.  Eventually they went down to the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia for a separate assembly. An appeal by the New School Presbyterian Church was eventually made to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which declared the abrogation by the Old School Presbyterians as “certainly constitutional and strictly just.”

Presbyterian churches all over the land were in schisms.  One Presbyterian church in Carlisle Pennsylvania  epitomized the false principle of “the ends justifies the means.”  The session of First Presbyterian Church (Old School)  voted out of love to give $10,000 to the departing New School Presbyterians of the new Second Presbyterian Church in the same town.  When the check had cleared the bank, the Session of Elders of First Presbyterian who had voted to give the money, promptly went over to the New School Presbyterian session!  Another church literally cut in two the building between the Old and New School sides.  All over the land, churches were being divided or left over these important issues.

Words to Live By: Scripture commands us to use biblical means to accomplish His will.  Certainly, in hindsight, there was a real apostasy in the Presbyterian church in the early nineteenth century.  But Bible believers should have dealt with it according to Scriptural principles, not man’s principles.

The Most Advanced of All the Covenanting Manifestos
by Rev. David T. Myers.

It was known simply as the Queensferry Paper, primarily because it was found on the body of a Covenanter in South Queensferry, Scotland on June 4, 1680.  Henry Hall was his name.  He had been traveling with another Covenanter by name of Donald Cargill.  Government officials had attempted to arrest both of them, but Cargill had been able to escape.  Hall was wounded and later died from his wounds.  Searching him, they found the six thousand word document known ever afterwards as the Queensferry Declaration.  It, as Alexander Smellie stated in  his book “Men of the Covenant,” was “the most advanced of all the covenanting manifestos.”

Summing it up by eight principles, number one covenanted with and acknowledgement was made of the Trinity and for the Bible as the rule of faith.  Consider the words!  “We acknowledge and vouch the only true and living God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be our God and that we close with his way of redemption by his Son Jesus Christ, and rely upon his righteousness, as that righteousness only  whereby a man can be justified before God.”  Any of our readers would easily say “Amen,” to these words.  It went on to speak of their conviction that the Bible was by divine revelation and the only object of our faith and the rule of our life in all things.

The second section spoke of advancing God’s kingdom and freeing the church from both prelacy and Erastianism.  The latter was removing the belief that the state was the ruler of the church in ecclesiastical matters.  They desired that the members of the church would be able to serve God in holy ways without fear and possess their civil rights peaceably without disturbance.

Number three covenanted to uphold the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, with her standards, government, worship — all independent of the state.  They boldly confessed with their mouths and believed with their hearts the teaching of the reformed churches, contained in Scripture and summed up in the confession of faith.  They pledged to persevere in them to the end.

The kingdom of darkness was to be overthrown, by their fourth declaration.  The aforementioned kingdom was Romanism, the Anglican church, and that system of Erastianism.   They spoke of being bound by the Solemn League and Covenant.

Next, and this was the primary part of the Queensferry document, they indicated their desire to discard the royal family and set up a republic in their stead.  Of the 6000 words in the paper, this point occupied about 2100 words.  This was revolutionary in the British Isles.  And it was sadly used to paint all Covenanters as being disloyal to the throne of England.  The writers of this covenant wrote that in the light of Exodus 18:21, they could rule themselves.

Sixth, the paper spoke to those who in their minds had compromised the Scottish covenant by receiving the various deals of the government of England.  They pledged not to listen to such any more in the pulpits of the kingdom.

Seventh, the covenant promised to refuse the ministerial function unless they were duly called and ordained.  Thus, there were not promises of a new church, but rather a return to the true church of the past.

And the last resolution was that its adherents will defend their God-given worship and liberty.  They who would assault them could be assaulted in return.  In short, this was the basis for the battles some of  the Covenanters fought in Scotland.

This declaration was never published by the Covenanters themselves.  It was stolen off Henry Hall’s body and passed off as the real purpose of all Presbyterians in the kingdom, who never signed it as they had signed previous Covenants.

Words to Live By: There is certainly nothing wrong with advocating positions for prayer and action.  But we must be careful to do so in the light of God’s Word always.  From Ephesians chapter 6, our weapons are to be spiritual, never carnal.  We will never know how many of Scottish Presbyterians would have signed this covenant, as in God’s permissive will, it was hindered from being presented to them nation wide.  But it is still part of the overall testimony of Scotland’s spiritual history, and so we include it in Today in Presbyterian History.

It is Simply Known as Old Tennent
by Rev. David T. Myers

Would you join a church congregation if the original members of the church were branded on their faces with a “T” for traitor?  Or had their ears “cropped” and disfigured as a permanent sign of their rebellion? I dare say most modern Christians might hesitate for a moment, wondering about the background of these members. But what if you discovered through investigation that these members had resisted the government’s attempting to overturn their Presbyterian convictions with those of the official state church?  I dare say that we who are true and faithful to the Word of God—the Bible—would quickly stand by their side and declare ourselves to be faithful adherents in such a church.

Such were the original members of what is simply known as Old Tennent Church, a  hardy group of Covenanters who came to these American shores in the late seventeenth century. More specifically, they came to Monmouth County, New Jersey, in 1685, where they had been sent by the Crown as indentured servants.  As they worked off their “punishment,” they established in 1692 on a small acre of ground, a tiny log church, about the size of a cabin, as their worship center.  They called it “Free Hill.”

Fast forward to when the small group of believers, under the spiritual oversight of Ruling Elder Walter Ker, aligned themselves with the newly begun Philadelphia Presbytery, of which we have written before in these posts. In fact, there is some discussion as to whether that Presbytery actually met at Old Tennent rather than in the Philadelphia area.  Elder Walter Ker, who was known as “the Father of Old Tennent”, believes it did meet at Old Tennent.

It was on this day, June 3, that the steadily growing church was organized as a particular church in the Philadelphia Presbytery. Its first pastor was the first Presbyterian pastor ordained in the colonies, namely, John Boyd. Later, two of the Tennent brothers, John and William Tennant filled the pulpit, with the latter occupying that pulpit for several decades.  Under the leadership of William Tennent the church was a central part of the Great Awakening, that wide-spread revival then filling the land. As a result, men like George Whitefield, Gilbert Tennent, and Jonathan Edwards were also there on occasion to fill the pulpit at Old Tennent. In one instance, the Presbyterian missionary David Brainerd administered the Sacrament to a number of Indian converts in its sanctuary.

The original structure has been restored at various times, but its sanctuary continues to be active with members, friends, and visitors, being a member congregation of the Presbyterian Church, USA.

Words to Live By:
Whether Old Tennent Church was the location where the Presbytery of Philadelphia began or not, we still can rejoice in this church’s founding and subsequent early history for the faith once delivered unto the saints. This author wishes he could state that this church is now part of the Presbyterian Church in America, but that is not the case. Let us however not simply rejoice in the early history of Presbyterian churches, but every day and with all our heart and mind, continue the Reformed faith—the clear proclamation of the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord—in our families, to our fellow members in evangelical and Reformed churches with which we are affiliated, and in the communities in which we live. Point them to Christ as our only Hope and our sure Salvation.

A rare historical event took place in Savannah, Ga., June 2 – 5, 1955 when the time-honored Independent Presbyterian Church held its Bicentennial celebration. The Journal has just received the elaborate printed program, beginning with a Watch Night Service at 11 P. M. Thursday,June 2nd. At midnight the bells pealed forth the beginning of a new century, the congregation standing to “All Hail The Power of Jesus’ Name,” followed by prayer and the benediction voiced by the present pastor. Rev. James English Cousar, Jr., D.D. Then followed three days of historic memorial exercises, including addresses by Rev. Daniel Iverson, D.D., Rev. Samuel McPheeters Glasgow, D.D., and Rev. William Childs Robinson, D.D.

The most attractive booklet giving an outline of the history of this famous old church, beginning with its organization in 1755, is illuminated by photographs of Dr. Cousar, the present pastor; Dr. Henry Kollock, pastor 1806-1819; Dr. Willard Preston, pastor, 1831-1856; Dr. I. S. K. Axson, pastor 1857-1891, father-in-law of Woodrow Wilson; Dr. Waddy H. Hudson, missionary to China, 1893-1941; Dr. (Mrs.) Nettie Grier, M.D., missionary to China, 1893-1940, and a drawing of the magnificent interior of the church, published in London, Nov. 1, 1831. This building was burned in 1889. The celebration was an epochal event in the life of this world-famous old church, as also for the city of Savannah.

The Southern Presbyterian Journal, 14.11 (13 July 1955): 12-13.

Pastor Terry Johnson has faithfully served the congregation of the Independent Presbyterian Church, Savannah, Georgia, since 1987. We invite you to visit the church’s web site by clicking the embedded link, tour their site and perhaps listen to a few of Rev. Johnson’s sermons. The history of this historic church is posted here.

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