December 2012

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A  Church Planter One Year, A Country Politician the Next Year

Born  on February 12, 1721, in Millington, Connecticut, Elihu Spencer studied at Yale College, graduating in 1746.  Ordained two years later into the Presbyterian Church in America,  he was called to minister with David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards to the Iroquois Six Nation tribes of native Americans.  After doing that for a number of year, he was called to the First Presbyterian Church of Trenton, New Jersey in 1750.  He believed that wherever  he was needed, there he would go.  And so when the French and Indian War broke out, he was appointed a chaplain to the troops in that conflict.  After that war, he would pastor five Presbyterian Churches in New Jersey for the next 15 years.

In 1764, he and the Rev. Alexander McWhorter was sent to North Carolina by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia to rally the scattered Presbyterians in that colony to begin congregations.  They were successful in planting many Presbyterian churches in the colony.

On December 26, 1775, the provincial congress of North Carolina petitioned the Presbytery of New Brunswick in New Jersey to send the Rev. Dr. Elihu Spencer back down to North Carolina for the purpose of “uniting the people in the cause of independence.”  Evidently, some of the Presbyterians were loyalist or Tories, resisting the patriot cause.  Who better to convince you that your path should be with the American independence movement than the one used by the Lord to organize your scattered groups of Scot-Irish believers!

Nine years later, on also December 27, 1784, Elihu Spencer would go to meet his Maker and Redeemer, with a life and ministry full of deeds for God and country.

Words to live by:  Today, Christian Presbyterians might be hesitant to stand so boldly in the political world, using their religious ministry as a basis for their actions.  But the day of our American revolution was a challenging one.  Certainly, there is nothing changed in the Proverb which states that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”  We who are ministers of the gospel must seek to hold God’s Word before the people so that they can vote and act responsibly as Christian citizens.

Through the Scriptures:  Revelation 2 – 6

Through the Standards:  Object and end of the final judgment

WCF 33:2
“The end of God’s appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient.  For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.”


Tell Me the Old, Old Story

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.

This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David.

In order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

While they were there the days were completed for her to give birth.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

But  the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;

for today in the city of David there  has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

This will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased:

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this things that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”

So they came in a hurry and found their way  to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.

When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.

And all who hear it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.

The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Luke 2:1 – 21


A Presbyterian Physician Who Signed

He has a number of “firsts” associated with signers of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th.  He was the only physician who signed that historic document.  He was the only Presbyterian signer who was born in America. He was the first professor of Chemistry in America at the Philadelphia College. Who else can claim to have cured an epidemic of yellow fever in Philadelphia? He was considered the father of American Psychiatry.  He was a founder of the Philadelphia Bible Society. Who was he? If you answered Benjamin Rush, pat yourself on the back.

Born December 24, 1745 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this fourth of seven children into an Episcopal home, he often went with his mother after the death of his father to Rev. Gilbert Tennent’s congregation in that eastern Pennsylvania city. Benjamin’s mother, under the latter’s influence, reared her son in Calvinistic principles. He memorized the Westminster Shorter Catechism in his youth.

Early education was provided by Rev. Samuel Finney, later a president of  the College of New Jersey.  Indeed, after training at West Nottingham Academy, Benjamin studies and graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1760.

On January 2, 1776, Rush married Julia Stockton, the youngest daughter of Richard Stockton, a fellow signer of the Declaration. They were married by the Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey and a fellow signer of the Declaration as well. On July 4, 1776, Benjamin Rush placed his signature on the Declaration of Independence. Indeed, he followed up that action by serving as a physician with the Continental Army, and in combat at  Trenton and Princeton.

Later in the 1780’s, the good doctor and patriot persuaded his fellow Presbyterians to establish Dickinson College, in Carlisle Pennsylvania.

We must acknowledge in this essay that while he received much training in both youth and adulthood, his convictions about Presbyterians were more passive  than an active following. That  would explain how he later on in life transferred his membership to the Episcopalian faith and even some branches of the Universalist church before finally coming back to the Presbyterian faith. Still in all of these moves, there was a love for the Bible, which he read daily, an esteem for Christ, to say nothing of Christian conduct. He would often mention the name of Jesus Christ in his writings, lectures, and letters.

He passed away in 1813 and buried in Christ church cemetery.

Words to live by:  There seems to be no doubt that Benjamin Rush was a consecrated Christian, albeit there were times when he disagreed with denominational figures.  Still the training he received as a youth had a way of coming back into his life and making an impression there for true doctrine. This should encourage all Christian parents to both teach and live Christ, and Hims crucified, before their families. God is faithful, and will bring fruit, although it may be long in coming to our children.  See Proverbs 22:6.

Through the Scriptures:  2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation 1

Through the Standards:   Times of judgment

WLC 88 — “What shall immediately follow after the resurrection?
A.  Immediately after the resurrection shall follow the general and final judgment of angels and men; the day and hour whereof no man knows, that all may watch and pray, and be ever ready for the coming of the Lord.”

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A Plea for Forgiveness

Following right along in the Lord’s Prayer, with no historical reference of Presbyterianism we can find,  we come to the fifth petition on this day of December 23.  It is, “In the fifth petition, which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, we pray, that God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.”

The word “debts” brings to mind immediately some aspect of commercial debt owed to another. But this idea must be put out of your mind and heart in this petition.  In reality, the word “debt”  is one of a “mournfully numerous group” of names, according to Trench, which is applied to human sin and guilt in the word of God.  In this case, what we owe is obedience and in failing that by either commission of sin or omission of sin, we are liable for God’s justice.

Then, getting to the heart of the petition, we ask that God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins. Having no merits of ourselves, we come to God for forgiveness only on account of the merits of Christ’s sake. Paul in Ephesians 1:7 said it plainly, “In Whom, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” (NASB)

The pardoning of our sins are illustrated for us by some rich figures in Scripture.  In Psalm 103:12, we are told that “as far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgression from us.” (NASB)

Micah takes the figure even further when he writes in chapter 7, verse 19b that “Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” (NASB)

Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 43:25 speaks “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.” (NASB)  Man might remember our sins, but God said that He will not, once they are pardoned and forgiven.

And then the most familiar of these pardoning texts is 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  The word “cleanse” is the present tense, which means that He will keep on cleansing our sins upon our confession of them.

Now we arrive at the forgotten word in this petition. It is that little word “as.”  Forgive us our debts, our sins AS we forgive our debtors.  This little word prompted the fourth century church father Augustine to conclude this is a terrible petition.  Why?  Because we are asking God to pardon us as we pardon our debtors.

It is interesting to me that this is the only petition on which our Lord gave us a comment, as Matthew records it in Matthew 6:14, 15. It reads, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (NASB) No wonder that Augustine called it a terrible petition.  Deal with us, Lord, as we have dealt with others.

On the other hand, we are encouraged to pray this petition because we  have forgiven and forgotten the sins of others who have sinned against us.

Words to live by:  What a joy it is to know that Christ paid the punishment for our sins.  And even with those sins which we do  each day, upon our repentance and confession of them, He will pardon our sins and leave a clean slate before the holy God.  Try a little spiritual exercise.  Write down all the sins which so easily entangle you on a piece of paper.  Then confess each of them to God, and pray that you will get the victory over them.  Claim 1 John 1:9 or Psalm 103:12 and destroy the paper.

Through the Scriptures:  1 John 3 – 5

Through the Standards: God  has appointed a day

WCF 33:1 — “God has appointed a day, wherein He will judge the world, in righteousness, by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father.  In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.”


Praying for Present Provisions

When this writer spoke about historical Presbyterians going on Sabbatical in the month of December with a resultant scarcity of  their history, we meant what we said.  Nowhere is that statement clearer than for us having to follow up one catechism study with another one, because of nothing being found of any historical significance in Presbyterianism on December 22.

The fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is expounded for us in Shorter Catechism answer number 104.  It says, “In the fourth petition, which is, Give us this day our daily bread, we pray, that of God’s free gift, we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life, and enjoy his blessing with them.”

The first three petitions were all upward in scope. We prayed, according to our Lord’s example, for God’s Name to be hallowed, His kingdom to arrive, and God’s will to be done on earth as the angels do that divine will in  heaven. The focus was all on God — His Name, His kingdom, and His will. With the last three petitions, we see the horizontal scope of prayer as they deal with the saints.  The fourth petition deals with our body and the next two deal with our soul.

When we pray this fourth petition, we give an acknowledge first that everything belongs to God.  James understood this when he wrote in James 1:17 that “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is not variation or shifting shadow.” (NASB)  What he defined as God-given was also acknowledged by the Psalmist David in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.” (NASB)  So God is the owner of all things in this earth and world.

As such, each of us saints, including unbelievers, need to depend upon God for that which is sufficient for our daily needs.  This writer used to proclaim to his middle-class members that they had a perfect aim given to them in God’s Word.  It is Proverbs 30:8,9, which states, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, Feed me with the food that is my portion, That I not be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or that I not be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God.”  We could paraphrase and say, “make me a middle class citizen, Lord.”  We depend upon God for needs, this day, daily.  As the Larger Catechism states, we wait upon God’s providence through lawful means, such as work, in supplying our daily needs.

Upon all of God’s competent portions, we seek to enjoy His blessing with them.  “Bless this food,” we pray before our meals.  We then partake, to enjoy His blessing of them.

Words to live by:  All of these blessings are God’s free gift to us.  We don’t deserve them.  We are not to trust in them.  That would be substituting the things of this earth for the Person of the God who bestowed them upon us. That is idolatry, and ought to be forsaken by the believer.  Let us live instead in the light that all that we need comes to us through God’s providence, and bless Him alone for giving them to us to enjoy.

Through the Scriptures:  1 John 1, 2

Through the Standards:  Proof texts of the state of man after death

Genesis 3:19
“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (ESV)

Job 19:26
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin  has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (ESV)

2 Corinthians 5:6 – 9
“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”  (ESV)


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