July 2012

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A Model Preacher and a Faithful Pastor

How does one live in the shadow of a man, albeit your father, who was the leading theologian of the day?  The answer is simple enough really.  You engage in your calling faithfully and fully.  Such a man was James Waddell Alexander.

Born the eldest son of Archibald Alexander near Gordonsville, Virginia, in 1804, James was in a household filled with theological giants of the faith.  His father was the president of the Presbyterian  Hampden-Sydney College at that time.  But when schooling began for the son, his father had taken the pulpit of the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1807.  In 1812, the new seminary called Princeton began in New Jersey, and the family of the Alexanders moved there, so Archibald  Alexander could become the first professor of that new divinity school.

Young James graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1820.  And while he studied theology at Princeton Seminary from 1822 – 1824, he would not be ordained by the historic Hanover Presbytery until 1827, having first served about three years as a tutor. (This seems to have been a common practice in the 19th-century, where men would first serve as a tutor for several years before seeking ordination.). He began his pastoral ministry as stated supply of the Presbyterian church in Charlotte Court House, Virginia for a year, and was then pastor of that church for another year. The rest of his life and ministry had him in the college and seminary field of teaching at Princeton Seminary, interspersed with pastoral ministry in Trenton, New Jersey and New York City Presbyterian churches.

He was involved in some of the biggest seasons of revival and reformation during those middle decades of the eighteen hundreds.  The New York City prayer revival took place in his church in 1857, which then spread through the noon prayer meetings among many denominations and around the country.  In the midst of his ministry, the Old School New School division took place in the denomination. Through it all, James Alexander proclaimed Christ to the masses.

One of the highlights of his ministry was his hymn writing and translations. The most famous translation was the familiar words to “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” His translation from 1830 from Bernard of Clairvaux in the eleventh century, is the version most used by our churches today.

James in 1859 went with his wife back to his home state of Virginia to recover from a serious illness. On July 31, 1859, he went to Red Sweet Springs, Virginia, where he succumbed from his illness.  Before his death, he made the following comment:

“If the curtain should drop at his moment and I were ushered into the presence of my Maker, what would be my feelings?  They would be these. First, I would prostrate myself in the dust in an unutterable sense of my nothingness and guilt.  Secondly, I would look up to my Redeemer with an inexpressible assurance of faith and love.  There is a passage of Scripture which best expresses my present feeling: I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”

Words to Live By: As we contemplate that last comment of James Alexander on his death-bed, who among believers could not echo these words and thoughts?  We have no right from ourselves to gain heaven.  It is only through Christ’s love and forgiveness that we have been given the key to heaven’s door.  Christ Jesus is the object of our faith, and the only object.  Let that be your assurance both here, and hereafter.

Through the Scriptures: Nahum 1 – 3

Through the Standards:  The Sixth commandment: Sins forbidden

WLC 136 — “What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A.  The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defence; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.”

WSC 69 — “What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A.  The sixth commandment forbids the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tends thereunto.”

Image source : Frontispiece portrait in Forty Years’ Familiar Letters of James W. Alexander, D.D. New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1870.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Disabled in Body, But Not in Spirit

The teenager had gathered that Sunday, July 30, 1967 with some friends and sisters to swim in the Chesapeake Bay waters.  Diving into the bay seemed like a safe thing to do, but Joni Erickson was not aware of the shallowness of that water.  As she struggled to rise to the surface, her sister had to assist  her because she had no feeling in her arms.  Indeed, after an emergency vehicle had taken her to the emergency room was it discovered that she  had broken her neck.  She was paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Understandably, she went through a horror of emotions in the first two years.  The “why” answers were not being given by God or anyone else.  She immersed herself in the Bible and there in that inspired book found both the strength to continue on  and a purpose to continue living.

With her loving husband, Ken Tada by her side, whom she married in 1982, they began a ministry for the disabled called Joni and Friends.  It is a world-wide organization which seeks to minister to those  disabled to conquer life’s challenges, and especially to find the love of God through Christ.

Joni has had an autobiography in her book (“Joni”) , then in movie form, several musical albums, books galore, etchings — all to show that disabled people can have a ministry  in the church and in the world.  And as a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, she has had extraordinary opportunities to share her saving faith in all sorts of forums.

Even in her recent challenge of breast cancer, which she successfully endured, she is hopeful of a positive prognosis.  God has not abandoned those with disabilities.  All kinds of sufferings will “work together and  will fit into a plan for good and for those who love God and are called according to His design and purpose.” (Amplified, Romans 8:28)

Words to Live By: Jesus, in one of the dinners he had been invited to while on earth, gave some instructions to his host.  He, in Luke 14, told him “to invite the poor, the disabled, the lame, and the blind.” (v. 13)  We have a ministry to these ones who are in desperate need of acceptance by the believers of today.  Let’s plan on ways we can minister in word and deed to these ones, especially the disabled in our churches and neighborhoods.  What can you do to show them hospitality?

Through the Scriptures: Micah 5 – 7

Through the Standards: The Sixth commandment: Required duties

WLC 134 & WSC 67 — “What is the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment is “Thou shalt not kill (murder).”

WLC 135 — “What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?
A.  The duties required in the sixth commandment are all careful studies and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thought and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defence thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physical, sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness, peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed and protecting the defending the innocent.”

WSC 68 — “What is required in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment requires all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

A Day of Fasting and Humiliation

It is unheard of in our times, but back in the early part of our nation’s history, when a man was ordained to the gospel ministry, a day of fasting and humiliation took place on account of his calling as a minister of the gospel.  Such was the case with William Hollingshead.

Born in Philadelphia in 1748, William Hollingshead joined the communion of the church in his young years.  Attending the University of Pennsylvania, he began preparation for the ministry.  Licensed in 1772, he was ordained to the gospel ministry on July 29, 1773.  It was said that a day of fasting and humiliation accompanied that solemn ordination.

Having been called by the Fairfield Presbyterian Church in New Jersey, Rev. Hollingshead began his ministry in difficult times.  Not only was there a need for a new church building, but there was the national need for a new nation.  This was the time period of the American Revolution.

A log cabin had been the site of the original church.  Then a frame building had been in use since 1717.  Now replacing them both was a stone building, which was finally completed in 1780.  They had met under an oak tree for six years in the New England Towne Cemetery, near the site of the old church building.  What rejoicing there must have been when on September 7, 1780, they were able to move into the new structure of the church.

This whole time had also been the time of conflict during the War for Independence from England.  Even Rev. Hollingshead had been given leave to become a chaplain for the Continental Army.  Many members of the church had given their lives and limbs for the struggle for liberty.  The cemetery gives mute evidence to that fact.

Rev. Hollingshead left the pulpit in Fairfield in 1783 for Charleston, South Carolina.  He labored there until January 16, 1817 when he died in the pulpit

Fairfield Presbyterian Church today is the oldest church in the Presbyterian Church in America, dating from 1680.

Words to Live By: There is something very solemn about a day of fasting and humiliation when a minister is set apart for the gospel ministry.   It encourages the entire congregation and Presbytery to treat the occasion in an attitude of prayer.  It sanctifies the whole process in a holy manner.  Let this be an apt suggestion to the Session of Elders when a new pastor is called to your congregation.

Through the Scriptures: Micah 1 – 4

Through the Standards: Proof texts for the fifth commandment:

Deuteronomy 5:16
“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” (Amplified)

Proverbs 10:1
“The PROVERBS of Solomon: A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish and self-confident is the grief of his mother.” (Amplified)

Ephesians 6:1 – 4
“CHILDREN, OBEY your parents in the Lord, [as His representatives], for this is just and right.  Honor (esteem and value as precious) your father and your mother — this is the first commandment with a promise — That all may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.  Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to resentment], but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord.” (Amplified)

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

A Leader is Born

During the course of this historic Presbyterian blog, there have been seven references to the life and times of J. Gresham Machen. This is no surprise, because he was God’s choice to lead His true church in tumultuous days of the early twentieth century. This event recognized today begins the whole story  on July 28, 1881, J. Gresham Machen was born in Baltimore, Maryland.

On both sides of his family, there was a firm commitment to the Calvinistic truths of the Westminster Standards.  His grandfather, on his father’s side, was a ruling elder of Old School Presbyterianism. His father, Arthur Machen, was a well-known attorney, and member of the Presbyterian church. Marrying Mary Gresham in 1872, a home was divinely ordered together.

[at right, Arthur W. Machen, father of J. Gresham Machen, pictured at about 75 years of age.]

His mother came from the southern Presbyterian tradition resident in Macon, Georgia.  While we do not know much of her early life, after her marriage to Machen’s father, she exhibited an influence upon young J. Gresham Machen’s life which could not be rivaled.  The whole family was influential members of the  Presbyterian Church in Baltimore.  Machen’s father served as an elder for many years.

When J. Gresham Machen was born, and here we simply quote Ned Stonehouse’s book on J. Gresham Machen, “he entered a home of devout Christian faith, of a high level of culture and social standing, and of a considerable degree of prosperity.  Both parents were persons of strong character and extraordinary intellectual and spiritual endowments, and our understanding of J. Gresham Machen is illumined as we observe how various qualities and interests of his ancestors were blended in generous portions in his own personality. . . the intense affection and loyalty that distinguished the Machen home were to prove one of the most influential and fascinating factors in shaping the course of things to come.” (p. 39, J. Gresham Machen, by Ned Stonehouse, Eerdmans)  Some of the “things to come” are treated on January 1, March 13, 17, 29, April 1, 11, and May 14 of this  historical blog.

Words to Live By: Certainly God’s sovereign grace can change an individual’s life for the better, but also God’s grace can use the faithful upbringing of a Christian family into even greater outreach of service.  And the latter was evidenced in the home religion of Dr. J. Gresham Machen.  We simply cannot stress too much the vital principles and practices of a godly home on a child’s life and life work. Parents! Labor hard in prayer and perseverance to make your home a godly one, leading by example and exhortation the faith of your children in the things of the Lord.

To read more of Dr. Machen’s reflections on his own parents and their home, click here.

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 64 – 66

Through the Standards: The fifth commandment: Reasons annexed

WLC 133 — “What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment, the more to enforce it?
A.  The reason annexed to the fifth commandment, in these words, That thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God gives thee, is an express promise of long life and prosperity, as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good, to all such as keep this commandment.”

WSC 66  — “What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment?
A. The reason annexed to the fifth commandment, is a promise of long life and prosperity (as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good) to all such as keep this commandment.”

Image source : Frontispiece portrait, Stories and Articles by Arthur W. Machen. Collected by Arthur W. Machen, Jr. Baltimore: Privately printed, 1917. Volume 1.

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Father of Arkansas Presbyterianism

It is hard to believe that at one time in this country, Arkansas was considered to be mission territory.  But that was exactly the way that it was, when James Wilson Moore was appointed after his studies at Princeton Theological Seminary to go there as a Presbyterian missionary.  It was still not a state, but a territory.  Moore, who had been born in 1797, was sent there by the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions, to develop the church in that territory.  In the whole town of Little Rock, with a population of 150 people, there were only three whites and three blacks professing Christ as Savior.

It was on July 27, 1828, that he organized the First Presbyterian Church of Little Rock, with two males and five females. In so doing, this congregation was the only active congregation and he was the only ordained minister when the territory became a state. This church became the “mother church” of all Presbyterian churches in the state.  Thus, the James Wilson Moore was properly called the  “father of Presbyterianism in Arkansas.”

In 1830, Moore returned to New Jersey so he could marry his wife, Elizabeth Green.  Soon afterwards, he organized the Arkansas Presbytery, and was the only commissioner of it back at the General Assembly in 1846. Moving thirty miles west of Little Rock, Arkansas in 1840, he established a church in Sylvania as well as a school for boys. He taught at the latter educational facility for the next 30 years. He died in 1873, having successfully by God’s grace brought Arkansas the gospel and the Presbyterian church to worship and serve God.

Words to Live By: Home missions has as much of a call to it as does Foreign Missions. After all, the disciples just before the ascension of our Lord Jesus into heaven, were told to be witnesses of His life, death, burial, and ascension, first in Jerusalem, then Judea, next Samaria, and finally to the whole earth.  Your Jerusalem is where God has placed you right now.  It is there that we need the filling of the Spirit upon us to go and witness of Jesus.  Think again of your witness by your life and lips in this first place.  Until you have been faithful here, you cannot be an effective witness in your county, state, region of the United States, the whole country, and finally the world.  Serve God where you are first!

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 61 – 63

Through the Standards: The Fifth commandments: Sins forbidden

WSC 65 — “What is forbidden in the fifth commandment?
A.  The fifth commandment forbids the neglecting of, or doing any thing against, the honor and duty which belongs to every one in their several places and relations.”

Image source : Frontispiece portrait in The History of Presbyterianism in Arkansas, 1828-1902.

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