January 2012

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

 A Man Called Peter

The young man was returning from work one starless night in Scotland.  Figuring he could save time by cutting across one of the moors, the twenty-one year old began to walk through the field and was startled when he heard his name “Peter” called by someone.   Inquiring as to who it was who called him, all he heard was the howling of the wind.  He took up his pace again, only to hear an urgent voice again, “Peter!.”  He stopped, trying to figure out who was calling him.  Suddenly, he stumbled, and in reaching out his hand, found an empty space ahead of him.  Not able to see any more clearly, he felt around the edge of the ground and realized that he was on the edge of an abandoned stone quarry.  One more step would have resulted in him falling to a certain death in that quarry.  The near accident made a powerful impression on Peter Marshall.  He had no doubt that the voice was that of God, and that the latter must have a special purpose in his life in sparing him.

Peter Marshall was born in Coatbridge, Scotland, near Glasglow in 1902.  His father had died when he was four years of age, but a godly mother brought him up in the faith.  He first wished to go to sea but God said “no” to that dream.  Then it was to become a missionary in China, but that door was also closed.  The door opened was a job in  America, to which his widowed mother reluctantly packed  his suitcase,  commending him to the Lord.  After a brief stay in New Jersey, he traveled to Atlanta, George where he took a job at the Birmingham News.  It was there that he joined the First Presbyterian Church.  Soon, he was busy in the Sunday School, the youth activities, and other ministries.  The Presbytery of Birmingham took him under his care, with plans to send him to seminary.

The school of choice was Columbia Theological Seminary, right in a suburb of Atlanta.  Wondering how he would afford it, the Men’s class which he was teaching at First Presbyterian, pledged to him that they would financially undergird him in his classes at this historic seminary.  He commented, “I feel that my every action is guided by Him who ordains all things for His servants.”  He would graduated magna cum laud from Columbia, and be ordained in 1931.  Called to a rural church in Covington Presbyterian in Georgia, he stayed there for three years.  Then God’s call brought him to Westminster Presbyterian in Atlanta in 1933.  There he was known as the “charming young Scotsman with the silver tongue.”  He  transferred to his last congregation in Washington, D.C. at New York Avenue Presbyterian in 1937.   It was there that a door right into the halls of the federal government was opened to him, in that twice he was chosen to be the Chaplain to Congress in 1947 – 1949.

It was in this calling that he was to bear an influence for Christ far beyond any ministry he had up to this time.  The post ceased to be mere formality and became a powerful and effective reminder of the truth that God is in control of all things, from the greatest to the least.  He believed God was not a Republican nor a Democrat, but that God did want to influence legislation passed by that political body.  He became the conscience of the Senate.

After an earlier brush with death from an apparent heart attack, the final summons came on January 26, 1949.    Two years later, his wife Catherine would write the award-winning book, A Man Called Peter, which would be made into an Oscar-winning movie.

Words to Live By:  Can we say along with Peter Marshall that we are “determined to give our life to God for Him to use us wherever He wants us?”  Such a commitment is necessary for all Christians in their lives here on earth.

Through the Scriptures: Job 35 – 37

Through the Standards: Divine justice praised

W.C. F. 3:7
“The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extends or withholds mercy, as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

The Pastor to the Confederate States of America

The guest preacher in the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee, was closing out his prayer when the cannon shot hit outside the window of the church.  Union forces of the Northern states were known to be advancing, but it was thought that Confederate forces were blocking their entrance to the city.  They were wrong, as the cannon shot proved.  But the Rev. Benjamin Morgan Palmer was not about to let anything hinder his prayer to the God of providence, But when he finally finished that long prayer and looked up, he found the pews empty with the congregation fleeing to safer places.

We could describe Benjamin Palmer in countless ways during his lifetime of 84 years.  He was a faithful pastor,  powerful preacher, theological professor, a Presbyterian of the Presbyterians, and a symbol of the immutability of the great essentials of the Christian religion.  Let’s take just three of these descriptions.

Palmer was the teaching elder at three Presbyterian churches during his pastoral ministry.  It was at this last one — the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans, Louisiana — that he would reach the zenith of his influence.  The congregation increased in size under his ministry until it became the third largest Presbyterian church in the South.  He feared no one or nothing.  Once when a yellow fever epidemic hit the town, and most of the other pastors fled, he stayed on to minister in home and hospital to  those stricken with the disease.

Palmer’s preaching stirred many a soul.  Here were the fruits seen of his mother’s home-school training.  He could quote Biblical passages and Shakespeare with equal ease.  In fact, it was his Thanksgiving message in 1860 on secession and slavery which stirred the southern states to rise up and defend their homes against the threat of Northern aggression.  That one message caused him to become the pastor of the Confederacy. It convinced Louisiana to join the other seceding states.  And when after four hard fought years ended in defeat, he became the high priest of the Lost Cause.

Benjamin Palmer was born on January 25, 1818 in a family of ministers, including his own father.  In schools and congregations, in seminary as a student and professor, as the first moderator of the Presbyterian Church of the Confederate States of  America, as the chaplain to the Army of the Tennessee (C.S.A.), as the spiritual comforter of the defeated South, Palmer served God and his generation as a symbol of the immutability of the great essentials of the historic Christian faith.  He possessed a life-long commitment to Reformed theology.

Words to Live By: Can it be said of you that you are known by your unswerving commitment to the essentials of historic Christianity? If you can, give praise to God for it, and if not, resolve to have it be your testimony from this day forward.

Through the Scriptures: Job 32 – 34

Through the Standards: Foreordination of all the means to save the elect

WCF 3:6
“As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto.  Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation.  Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.”

For some additional information about Rev. Palmer, including a bibliography of his published works, click here.

A sampling of some of Dr. Palmer’s published articles:
“The Relation between the Work of Christ and the Condition of the Angelic World” (1847)
A Plea for Doctrine as the Instrument of Santification (1849)
“Life, Character, and Genius of the Late Rev. James H. Thornwell” (1862)
“The Art of Conversation” (1862)
“The Tribunal of History” (1872) – [pdf image scan]

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Christian of Exceptional Personality and Evangelistic Appeal

Picture the scene in your mind’s eye. Thirty-five hundred naked natives have gathered together at one site that summer of 1933. Missionary evangelist Charles J. Woodbridge no doubt had something to do with that great gathering in the French Cameroons. He was the sole evangelist for a five thousand mile mission station in that African country. These natives were in great need of hearing the plain and simple gospel message from the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission executive from America. What they heard in reality was an hour message on, (are you ready for this?), “the Power of Personality.” There was no greater proof to young Charles Woodbridge of the deepening apostasy of the official missions board of the Presbyterian Church.

When he heard that he himself had been singled out to serve as the General Secretary of the newly formed Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions in June of 1933, he gathered his wife and two daughters and returned immediately to America to take up his new post. In less than four years, he would be censured by the highest court of the Presbyterian church for accepting this new ministry.

Charles Woodbridge, born January 24, 1902, was described by his fellow Reformed Christians as being no ordinary General Secretary. From his heritage as the fifteenth generation minister of his family line, dating back to 1493, from his own father who had been a missionary in China, from the fact that he married the daughter of a missionary, Charles Woodbridge would be known as “a man of exceptional personality and evangelistic appeal.” His spiritual gifts made him the perfect architect of a new mission strategy in reaching the world for Christ.

Yet the main line denomination of which he was a part, did not take kindly to this new mission upstart. Within a year, steps were taken to force him to abandon this new missions work, and when he chose not to follow their directives, Charles Woodbridge was censured by the church. He left in 1937 to become a pastor of the Presbyterian Church in North Carolina for several years.

Eventually, he served as a theological seminary professor and author, always seeking to warn Christians of the danger of compromising the Word of God. He died on 16 July 1995, at the age of 93.

Words to Live By: Committed to the Scriptures, the Reformed faith, and the Great Commission of Jesus Christ is a great goal for everyday life and service.

Through the Scriptures: Job 28 – 31

Through the Standards:  Unconditional election

WCF 3:5
“Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto: and all to the praise of His glorious grace.”

Dr. Woodbridge served as General Secretary of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions and also as the editor of the Independent Board Bulletin, from March 1935-June 1937. Some of his more important publications included the following:
1935 – “The Social Gospel: A Review of the Current Mission Study Text Books Recommended for Adults by the Board of Foreign Missions, Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.,” Christianity Today 5.9 (February 1935): 209-211.
1937 – “Why I Have Resigned as General Secretary of the Independent Board,” The Presbyterian Guardian 4.5 (12 June 1937): 69-71. Available here.
1945
The Chronicle of Salimbene of Parma: A Thirteenth Century Christian Synthesis.
Durham, NC: Duke University, Ph.D. dissertation. 305 p.
1947Standing on the Promises: Rich Truths from the Book of Acts.
1953A Handbook of Christian Truth, co-authored with Harold Lindsell.
1953Romans: The Epistle of Grace.
1962Bible Prophecy.
1969The New Evangelicalism.

Image source: News clipping [publisher not known] from the Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection, Scrapbook no. 1, page 34.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Our Ability is Ever from God, Not from Ourselves.

The apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:14 – 3:5 (read please) spoke for every Christian when he acknowledged that, regardless of the effect of the gospel on people’s hearts, we in spreading that good news, are “a sweet fragrance to God.” He goes on to spell out that our spiritual aroma is a “smell of doom” to those who are lost, but a “vital fragrance, living and fresh” to those who are found in Christ. And then, in the latter part of verse 16 of 2 Corinthians 2, he asks the question which all soul-winners have asked of themselves, “And who is qualified, fit and sufficient, for these things? (Who is able for such a ministry? We?” (Amplified Bible)

David Brainerd, missionary to the Indians in the middle part of the seventeen hundreds, asked the same question on June 23, 1743 in his diary. Listen to his words:

“I scarce ever felt myself so unfit to exist as now: saw I was not worthy of a place among the Indians, where I am going, if God permit. Thought I should be ashamed to look them in the face, and much more to have my respect shown me there. Indeed I felt myself banished from the earth, as if all places were too good for such a wretch. I thought I should be ashamed to go among the very savages of Africa. I appeared to myself a creature fit for nothing, neither heaven nor earth. None know but those who feel it, what the soul endures that is sensibly shut out from the presence of God. Alas! It is more bitter than death.”

This Presbyterian missionary was feeling what the apostle Paul was feeling as to his inadequacy of being a instrument of the gospel. Thankfully, he continued on his mission, even as Paul did, recognizing that “our power and ability and sufficiency are from God.” (Amplified)

Words to Live By: “It is God who has qualified us, making us to be fit and worthy and sufficient. . . .” Second Corinthians 3:5 (Amplified Version) Let us each one go forth in service to Christ in the knowledge of that truth.

Through the Scriptures: Job 25 – 27

Through the Standards: Predestined to life or death

WCF 3:3, 4
“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.”;

WLC 13 “What hath God especially decreed concerning angels and men?
A. God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, hath elected some angels to glory; and in Christ hath chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof; and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will, (whereby he extendeth or withholdeth favor as he pleaseth,) hath passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonor or wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Birth of Francis Landey Patton

Born in Warwick, Bermuda on January 22, 1843 to George John Patton and his wife, Mary A. Steele Patton, Francis L. Patton never became an American citizen, though most of his adult years were spent in the United States.

Nevin’s Presbyterian Encyclopedia indicates that he received his education at the University College in Toronto, followed by preparation for the ministry at both Knox College, Toronto and Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, graduating there in 1865. Rev. Patton was ordained by the Presbytery of New York on June 1st, 1865 and installed as pastor of the 84th Street Presbyterian Church, and then served two other Presbyterian churches in the New York City area before moving to Chicago in 1873 to pastor the Jefferson Park Presbyterian Church. Dr. Patton also served concurrently as editor of The Interior, 1873-76 and as professor at what is now McCormick Seminary, 1871-1881.  Capping his ministry in Chicago, he was honored to serve as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. in 1878.

During those busy years, Dr. Patton was engaged as the prosecutor in the heresy trial of the Rev. David Swing, in 1874. The national attention given to this trial may in part have led to the call issued by Princeton Theological Seminary, where Dr. Patton then served as professor of apologetics from 1881 until his retirement in 1913.

In 1932, Edith Bane, a Pittsburgh native, paid a visit to Dr. Patton at his home in Bermuda. She wrote of that visit :

“When I met him last August, he was in his 90th year, yet seemingly in good health, unbowed in stature and alert of mind. Although handicapped by loss of eyesight, years had not dimmed his spirit, his well-known keen sense of humor, or his interest in old friends, his beloved Princeton and the work of the Presbyterian Church. He and Mrs. Patton were living with their son and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. George S[tevenson] Patton, at “Carberry Hill,” the stately old mansion in Warwick, Bermuda, where Dr. Patton was born and where he has lived since his retirement . . .

“. . . he was presented by his parents in Christ Church, Bermuda. It is significant that this child destined to be the powerful supporter and valiant defender of the faith of his fathers, should have been dedicated to the Lord in this historic church—the oldest Presbyterian church in the British overseas empire. Who can doubt that this great life work was but an answer to the prayers offered by his godly parents on that day? . . .

” . . . In 1913, because of advancing years and failing eyesight, he resigned from the seminary and returned to his Bermuda home. It was surely the hand of Providence that led him back to these quiet coral gardens of the Atlantic to spend the evening of his life. As he looked out upon those cedar-covered hills and walked along the shores of the undescribable opalescent sea, he must often have repeated, with a thankful heart: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters . . . ”

“. . . November 25, 1932, after a short illness, he died, and the Presbyterian Church throughout the world faltered at the loss of its beloved patriarch.

Words to Live By:  Truly our lives are in the Lord’s hands. He guides and equips us to proclaim His glory in the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus alone. Our lives may have their disappointments, frustrations and failures, but God’s love for each of His children is unshakable and His plan is sure. What may seem an unprofitable failure will be used of the Lord as He refines us for greater service. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.” (Psalm 37:23, KJV).

Through the Scriptures: Job 21 – 24

Through the Standards: God’s Eternal Decrees in the Catechisms

WLC 12 — “What are the decrees of God?
A. God’s decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he has, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.”

WSC 7  “What are the decrees of God?
A. The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”

For further reading:
Patton, F.L., Thoughts on the Theistic Controversy, a sermon preached in the Jefferson Park Church, Chicago, July 5th, 1879.

Dr. Patton’s comments in support of J. Gresham Machen’s nomination to serve as professor of apologetics at Princeton, 1926.

Image sources: Alfred Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church (1884), p. 612 and The Presbyterian Banner 119.24 (15 December 1932): 10-11, as part of the article “A Bermuda Visit in Dr. Patton’s Home,” by Edith Bane. Photographs by Edith Bane.

 

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