July 2012

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

An Apostle Becomes a President

We cannot say enough about Samuel Davies, the apostle to Virginia in the colony of Virginia since 1747.   Establishing preaching points with permission from the Anglican governor, Davies had preached with boldness God’s salvation through Christ alone to the people around each of these points.  Often, he had to take journeys of five hundred miles on horseback to minister to his many parishioners.  By 1755, churches had been established for a Hanover Presbytery to be organized.  This was the first Presbytery outside the northeast part of the colonies.  It was under the oversight of the New Side Presbyterians of New York!

In 1758, the third president of the College of New Jersey, Jonathan Edwards, died from smallpox.  The trustees asked Samuel Davies to assume his office.  The minister was not unknown by the college, since he had raised funds for it earlier in England.   But Davies refused the offer, citing his open door for effective service in Virginia.  They offered him the position a second, and third, and fourth time.  Finally, he yielded to the request, and in July 26, 1759, Samuel Davies was inaugurated as President of the College of New Jersey.  He was described by one trustee as a man, upon whom the Spirit of God had given uncommon gifts.

At the College, which later on became both Princeton Seminary and Princeton University, Samuel Davies worked with the same zeal which had characterized him in Virginia.  At age 38 however, he died of pneumonia in 1761.  His aged mother said of  him at his burial, citing the sovereign providence of God, “There is the will of God, and I am satisfied.”

Words to Live By: 
God makes no mistakes.  The Spirit of God led him to Virginia, to enter the open door of evangelism and church planting which was necessary for that future state.  (The site of his congregation, north of Richmond, Virginia,  burned during one of the battles of the War Between the States, and is now marked as a historical spot.)  Then God led him to the College of New Jersey.  Historic Biblical Presbyterianism was established in the hearts and minds of many Virginia’s spiritual sons and daughters, as well in the students of the College.  Pray for your faith, that it may be established in hearts and minds today, starting with yourself, your family, your neighbors, your work associates, and your church.

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 58 – 60

Through the Standards:    The sins of equals

WLC 132  — “What are the sins of equals?
A.  The sins of equals are, besides the neglect of the duties required, the undervaluing of the worth, envying the gifts, grieving at the advancement or prosperity one of another; and usurping pre-eminence one over another.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

War Sermons of Samuel Davies

Samuel Davies was known as the apostle to Virginia, so effective was he in being the instrument to call a people out of darkness into light.  Beyond the evangelistic emphasis of his ministry there, he also often  had to challenge  his people to stand up and defend themselves against the Indians of that area.  This was especially needful as countless settlers were withdrawing to safer areas of the colonies, thus reducing the number of parishioners of the Presbyterian churches in the area.

On the Sabbath day of  July 25, 1755, in his home parish of Hanover, Virginia, the Rev. Samuel Davies spoke on this theme of standing up and fighting for your family, your church, and your country.  Listen to his words:

“Let me earnestly recommend to you to furnish yourselves with arms and put yourselves in a position of defense.  What is that religion good for that leaves men cowards on the appearance of danger?

“I am particularly solicitous of you that you should act with honor and spirit in this, as it becomes loyal subjects, lovers of your country, and courageous Christians.  I am determined to not leave my country while there is any prospect of defending it.  Certainly he does not deserve a place in any country who is ready to run from it upon every appearance of danger.

“Let us determine that if the cause should require it, we will courageously leave house and home and take the field.”

A voluntary company of riflemen was immediately formed as a result of this sermon by Samuel Davies.  In fact, during the progress of what later on became known as the French and Indian War, the war sermons of Samuel Davies persuaded more men to enter the field of battle as soldiers than any other means used.

Words to Live By: Samuel Davies was resolute about this issue.  His point was that the church of the Lord was being devastated by this danger, as more and more colonists returned closer to the safety of larger towns in the east.  Stand up and defend your home, your church, and your country, was his watchword.  There is a sacred right to defend oneself and the country to which you belong.  Let there be careful study that the cause is just, according to the Scripture.  Then with that basis, stand strong in the Lord.

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 55 – 57

Through the Standards: The duties of equals

WLC 131 — “What are the duties of equals?
A.  The duties of equals are, to regard the dignity and worth of each other, in giving honor to go one before another; and to rejoice in each others’ gifts and advancement, as their own.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Benefits claimed at death

The Christian, having received a diagnosis of a disease in the hospital, replied to her pastor that she was not afraid of death, but was afraid of dying. I believe that all of us Christians could echo her words.

Finding no Presbyterian event on this day of July 24, we turn to the benefits of our effectual calling, in question and answer 37 of the Shorter Catechism, which deals with the benefits we believers receive from Christ at death. It states, “The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves, til the resurrection.” You see the immediate division between the soul and the body in this catechetical answer.

With respect to the Christian’s soul, there is no intermediate state between earth and heaven. Paul clearly taught this when he spoke of his desire in his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5, where he said in verse 8 “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (ESV)  Earlier, in verse 6, he spoke of being at home in the body and away from the Lord.  There are two certain states for believers. Either they are alive on this earth or they are alive in  heaven.  There is no soul-sleep as some of the cults believe.  It is here, or it is hereafter.  Immediately after death, we are made perfect in  holiness and immediately pass into the glories of heaven.

What about our bodies then? Since Christ redeemed our whole being, body and soul, then those bodies are still united to Christ.  They might be lost to man, but they are never lost to Christ.  Death cannot separate Christ from those bodies.  They rest in their graves until the resurrection.  Jesus put it plainly in John 5:28, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life . . .” (ESV)  “The dead in Christ will rise first,” Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 4. (ESV)

No Christian should be afraid of death, either for ourselves or our loved ones in Christ.  We may be afraid for the process, but even there the Psalmist promised us His presence when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (See Psalm 23).

Words to Live By:  
The saints of God should not fear death.  It is coming sooner or later for all believers.  “So then,  as we have divine opportunities, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  (ESV – Galatians 6:10)  Let its certainty be a impetus to serve Christ faithfully now, in our families, at our work, and out into the world.

Through the Scriptures:  Isaiah 52 – 54

Through the Standards: Sins of superiors

WLC 130 — “What are the sins of superiors?
A.  The sins of superiors are, besides the neglect of the duties required of them, and inordinate seeking of themselves, their own glory, ease, profit, or pleasure; commanding things unlawful, or not in the power of inferiors to perform; counseling, encouraging, or favoring them in that which is evil; dissuading, discouraging, or discountenancing them in that which is good; correcting them unduly; careless exposing, or leaving them to wrong, temptation, and danger; provoking them to wrath; or any way dishonoring themselves, or lessening their authority, by an unjust, indiscreet, rigorous, or remiss behavior.”

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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:  

A Pure Ministry was His Concern

Born in what is today Northern Ireland, or Ulster, in 1703, Gilbert Tennent, the oldest son of William Tennent, was the first of five sons of the Tennent family to train for, and minister in, the Presbyterian Church in America.  Emigrating to the colonies in 1717 to Pennsylvania, he studied under his father William, the elements of  Scriptural languages and theology.  His training must have been the equivalent of a bachelor of arts degree, because when he entered Yale College, he completed a masters of arts degree.  He then helped his father build the Log College, as it was derisively known, which was the forerunner of the College of New Jersey, which turned into Princeton Seminary and University.

Licensed and ordained in the Presbyterian church, Gilbert Tennent, after a brief ministry in Newcastle, Delaware, moved in 1726 to New Brunswick Presbyterian Church, in New Jersey.  It was there that he came into contact with a Dutch Reformed pastor, Theodorus Frelinghausen, who regularly preached revivalist messages to his congregation and surrounding congregations.  Tennent, whose ministry up to this point, was failing as far as converts were concerned, and deathly ill on top of it, made a pact with God.  Promising to press for the souls of his people, he asked God to give  him another six months of life.  God gave him that, and more.  He began to preach evangelistically to his own people.

Heard one day by English evangelist George Whitefield, who described his sermon as “a searching sermon,” Tennent immediately began to feel the effects of criticism to his ministry as well as the educational quality of the teaching at his father’s Log College.  It was then in March 8, 1740 that he preached that stern message entitled “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry,” comparing those who opposed the revival methods to Pharisees who were unsaved. (See March 8)  One year later, the first schism occurred in the Presbyterian Church between the Old Side Presbyterians and the New Side Presbyterians.  (See May 27, 1741)  This schism was to last until 1758, when the reunion came with the aid of a now repentant Gilbert Tennent.  (See May 25)

Gilbert Tennent’s third congregation was at the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, in 1743.  This congregation was a New Side Presbyterian congregation, formed exclusively of converts to the Whitefield’s strong preaching.  He pastored that church until his death on July 22, 1764.

Gilbert Tennent had a decided care and concern for the purity of Christ’s church.

Words to Live By: Despite an unwise harsh message at an earlier point in his ministry which brought a schism in the church at large,  his later ministry at Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia was in the midst of a turn-around, or repentant spirit in him.    We may not want to  copy his methods to bring revival to God’s people and repentance to the lost, but the purity of Christ’s church is still an important care and concern for all ministers and members of His church.

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 46 – 48

Through the Standards: The sins of inferiors against superiors

WLC 128 — “What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors?
A.  The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against, their persons, and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonor to them and their government.”

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