October 2012

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Remembering October 31

It is my earnest hope that no reader is going to wonder why this writer wants them to remember Halloween!  October 31st, and specifically October 31, 1517, is the date of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  On this date, an obscure Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenburg, because that was the usual custom of advertisement for the people’s attention.  It was the twenty-first century bulletin board.   Luther nailed them up at noon sharp because it was the time of the most frequent feasts.  Professors, students, and the common people would be coming from all four corners to the church, which was filled up with relics for transfers of credit.

A lot of Protestants, while  hearing of this incident of the nailing of ninety-five theses, think that they were ringing endorsements of Protestant theology.  In reality, they were more Roman  Catholic than Protestant.  There is no protest against the Pope and the Roman Catholic church, or any of  her doctrines, not even against indulgences.  They were silent about justification by faith alone.   They were primarily opposed to the abuse of indulgences.

But while the form is Romish, the spirit and aim is Protestant.  They represent a state of transition between twilight and daylight.  We must read between the lines, as the leaders of the Roman Catholic church did in the sixteenth century.  As they did, they saw a logical drift which sought to undermine the whole fabric of Romanism.

Luther hoped that there would be a scholarly debate of the abuse of indulgences.  But no one came to debate him.  Instead, with the recent invention of the printing press, the copies of the ninety-five theses were sent all over the empire.  The pope  had a copy within two weeks.  The common people read them and rejoiced over them.  Luther was the talk of Germany.  There was a trumpet call being sounded for what later on became   the Protestant Reformation.

Words to live by: In less than five years, in 2017,  we will celebrate the five-hundredeth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Will there be a revival of its themes in your church and more important, in your heart, such as  Scripture alone, Christ alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and Only to the Glory of God?  That sums up what Luther, and Calvin, and Knox thundered to the masses and the visible  church.  Reflect on  the story of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in your heart, home, and  church.

Through the Scriptures:  Luke 10 – 13

Through the Standards:  The definition of a sacrament in confession and catechisms.

WCF 27:1
“Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word.”

WLC 162 “What is a sacrament?
A. A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation; to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces; to oblige them to obedience; to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another; and to distinguish them from those that are without.”

WSC 92 “What is a sacrament?
A.  A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Strongly Inclined to Be Devoted to the Ministry

Samuel Miller was born in Dover, Delaware on October 30, 1769. As was typical for his day, he studied theology privately in preparation for the ministry. Upon completion of his examinations he was ordained by the Presbytery of New York on June 5, 1793 and installed as pastor of the First Presbyterian church of New York City, where he then served from 1793-1801. He next served the Wall Street church from 1801-1813, before answering the call of General Assembly to serve as professor of ecclesiastical history and church government at the Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey. As the second professor at the Seminary after Archibald Alexander, Miller served the Seminary from 1813-1849, finally taking emeritus status at the age of 80. He died less than a year later, on January 7, 1850.

Resting behind the simple facts of our first paragraph is the spiritual depth of this man of God.  Upon taking the new ministry at Princeton, he sat down and wrote out seven resolutions.  We don’t have space for all seven of them, but the first one stands out and indeed sums up all the rest.  It reads, “I will endeavor hereafter, by God’s help, to remember more deeply and solemnly than I have ever yet done, that I am not my own, but Christ’s servant; and, of course, bound to seek, not my own things, but the things which are Jesus Christ’s”  That says it all with respect to the character and conduct of this seminary professor.

Words to Live By: Samuel Miller’s first resolution is but a summary of those words written down by the Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, when he stated in the context of the need to live a moral life, the following: “Do you not known that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (NIV)  Whether soul or body, each of us should make Samuel Miller’s resolution our own resolution, and indeed recommit ourselves to it at pivotal points of our life, such as our birthday. It would be exciting to see what God would do with such a committed Christian if this is true of you and me.

Through the Scriptures: Luke 7 – 9

Through the Standards: Preaching and hearing the Word of God

WLC 158 “By whom is the word of God to be preached?
A.  The word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office.”

WLC 159 “How is the word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?
A. They that are called to labor in the minister of the word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, and fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.”

WLC 160 “What is required of those that hear the word preached?
A.  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 Day in Presbyterian History:

A Pastor in  a Period of Deep Anxiety

Readers of this historical devotional may remember that there was a schism in American Presbyterianism in 1741 between what was called the New Side and the Old Side Presbyterians. With such bright ministers as Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Blair, George Whitefield, Samuel Davies, to mention a few, we might suppose that evangelistic activities only was found among the New Side Presbyterians. But this would be a wrong conclusion.  Consider the ministry of Rev. Alexander McDowell.

Ordained on October 29, 1741, the very year of the schism, Alexander McDowell was sent by the Old Side Presbytery of New Castle,  to Virginia as an evangelist that same year.  He was eminently qualified for this missionary effort.  Born in Ireland and educated at the University of Edinburgh, he came to the American colonies in 1737.

Following his evangelistic tour, he took the pulpit of two Old Side Presbyterian congregations in Elk Church, Lewisville, Pennsylvania and White Clay Creek Church in Newark, Delaware.  Remaining in them for seventeen years, he was said to be a man of more than ordinary mental abilities, an excellent scholar, and a laborious educator.  He was faithful to the higher courts of Presbytery and Synod.  What we might call para-church activities today, he earnestly sought to raise financial support for the widows of ministers.  He even served as a chaplain during the French and Indian War.

Following his faithful ministry as a pastor, he took over the education responsibilities of the Rev. Francis Allison in his free classical school.  When Rev. McDowell oversaw its pupils, it was known at the Newark Academy.  Teaching Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Philosophy, he sought to train the students under his care. This institution went through several changes of names, until it became the University of Delaware in 1921.

Words to live by:  That which produced the First Great Awakening in our land is often lauded, and it should be. But there were those who objected to the emotionalism displayed in those services. They should not be labeled as liberals in any sense of the word.  We are dealing here with different methods of doing God’s work.  There can be as much of God’s Spirit advancing the kingdom of grace with men like Alexander McDowell as there was with a Rev. Gilbert Tennent.  As long as the gospel is proclaimed faithfully, and God’s Word is upheld strongly, let us pray for the advance of the dominion of grace in the hearts of men and women.

Through the Scriptures:  Luke 4 – 6

Through the Standards:  The manner of reading the Word of God

WLC 157 “How is the word of God to be read?
A.  The holy scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believed, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayers.”

WSC 90 How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
A.  That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

An Unusual Name No Hindrance to God’s Working

This writer has to acknowledge that I was curious regarding the name of this Presbyterian minister for this day of October 28, 1871.  It was on this day that he went home to be with his Lord and Savior. His name was Septimus Tustin.

My first thought upon seeing that name “Septimus” was what parent would possibly bestow upon their son such a name. But then, I noted that his father’s name was “Septimus,” so I understood that it was a case of “like father, like son.” He was the son of Septimus and Elizabeth Tustin, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and his father died when he was quite young. Septimus was reared by his mother, and she is described as a pious woman and a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. With such a home and church like that, it is no great surprise that he went into the pastoral ministry. Ordained by the Presbytery of the District of Columbia (the first such from that new Presbytery), he began his pastoral ministry in Leesburg, Virginia in 1825.

Between the years of 1826 and 1861, he ministered to six more Presbyterian churches, five of them in the Northern states and one in the South.  The latter was in Mississippi, and his time there came quickly to an end when that Southern state joined the Confederacy. After the Civil War, Rev. Tustin worked hard to unify the two sectional Presbyterian churches, but without success.

What is interesting about this minister is that on two occasions, he was called to the halls of Congress as a chaplain.  First, he was the House of Representatives Chaplain for two years, and following up that ministry with the United States Senate Chaplaincy for five years.  He also served as a trustee of Lafayette College, in Pennsylvania.

Words to live by: What might be seen as a hindrance to effective work in God’s kingdom, as in this case a name, is proven to be the opposite when God’s Spirit is  in control.  Indeed, as Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, this is the norm rather than the exception.  From the Amplified, it reads, “For [simply] consider your own call, brethren: not many [of you were considered to be] wise according to human estimates and standards, not many influential and powerful, not many of high and noble birth.  [No] for God selected (deliberately chose) what is the world is foolish to put the wise to shame, and what the world calls weak to put the strong to shame.  And God also selected (deliberately  chose) what in the world is low-born and insignificant and branded and treated with contempt, even the things that are nothing, that He might depose and bring to nothing the things that are, So that no mortal man should [have pretense for glorying and] boast in the presence of God.

Through the Scriptures: 
Luke 1 – 3

Through the Standards:  Everyone is to read the word of God

WLC 156 “Is the word of God to be read by all?
A. Although all are not to be permitted to read the word publicly to the congregation, yet all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves, and with their families; to which end, the holy scriptures are to be translated out of the original into vulgar (e.g. common) languages.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Victory Over England Brings Celebration in a Presbyterian Church

Granted!  After the final victory over the British military forces at Yorktown, Virginia, there were celebrations being held everywhere in 1781 in the United States. But one of those celebrations took place in the First Presbyterian Church of Trenton, New Jersey on October 27, 1791. And this was no sparsely attending worship service. The Revolutionary War Governor, William Livingston, the Council of the state of New Jersey, the entire Assembly of Representatives, and citizens of the town came together to hear the Rev. Dr. Elihu Spencer delivered a discourse adapted to the occasion.

The pastor of this church, Elihu Spencer, was no stranger to the vicissitudes of the Revolutionary struggle. Indeed, he was the chaplain to colonial troops in the long battle for liberty.  As such, he was a marked man by the British and his parsonage suffered damage as a result of his affiliation with the Continental army. Two revolutionary battles were fought in Trenton, including the famous midnight crossing of the river to do battle with the German mercenaries, or Hessians, in the town, which battle Gen George Washington and his troops won, bringing new morale to the American citizenry.

This celebratory day began with the beating of drums. The American flag was displayed throughout the town.  At eleven o’clock, this worship service was held.  In the afternoon, after artillery discharges, there came a series of toasts to everybody and anybody by the assembled political and general citizenry. In fact, it was good that they began with a worship hour, because had they done it after these toasts, none of them would have been able to stand up and sing praises to the Lord!  There were many, many toasts of gratitude to those who brought about this victory. The night of celebration was over by 7 p.m. and the whole town was illuminated by candles in the evening.

Words to live by:  Today in our secular culture, post-Christian era, the idea that you mention that God is the God of war, or the God of battles, or the One who brings victory over your enemies, is considered anathema. Yet our forefathers did not think so, and frequently mentioned the God of providence in the events which made up our country.  We need to return to the God of our Fathers, in conversation, in conduct, in celebrations of liberty by our people, in concerns of patriotism in our assembly halls — in all of life.  Without Him, we would be a defeated people long ago.

Through the Scriptures:  Mark 14 – 16

Through the Standards: The Word is Effectual Unto Salvation

WLC 155  “How is the word made effectual unto salvation?
A.  The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and  humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ, of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.”

WSC 89 “How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
A.  The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.”

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