February 2013

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One Pastor’s Account of the Civil War

Thomas Bloomer Balch was the son of the Rev. Stephen Bloomer Balch and his wife Elizabeth (Beall) Balch. He was born at Georgetown, District of Columbia, on February 28, 1793. He graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1813, studied theology at Princeton Seminary under Archibald Alexander and Samuel Miller, and was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Baltimore on October 31, 1816.

From the Spring of 1817 to the Fall of 1819 he preached as assistant to his father, who was at that time the pastor of the church in Georgetown. Thomas then left that post to serve as pastor of churches in Snow Hill, Rehoboth and Pitt’s Creek, Maryland. He lived for some years in Fairfax county, Virginia, preaching as he had opportunity, and later supplied the pulpit for churches in Warrenton and Greenwich, later serving other churches in the Fredericksburg area. Rev. Balch died on February 14, 1878. To the last his mind was clear, and he uttered many expressions of hope and faith up to his parting breath.

Thus the short account of a man’s life, as recorded in Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church, pp. 52-53.  But every life is intensely interesting, if you just search. Beyond the brief account above, you first find there was an epic poem, Ringwood Manse, written by E. P. Miller and based upon the life and ministry of Thomas B. Balch. Digging a bit further, you might also find a compilation of Rev. Balch’s letters My Manse During the War: A Decade of Letters to the Rev. J. Thomas Murray. The University of North Carolina has digitized this latter work, and to encourage further reading, a sample paragraph follows:

Letter No. VIII.

The famine had become grievous in the land, and there was no Egypt into which we could send for supplies; nor any balm which could be presented to those who held the keys that were locking up oats, corn and wheat. How often had the writer doubted whether a dearth of provisions would ever reach that portion of Virginia in which his lot had been cast. Little do we know of the future. It became clear that my pictures of continued plenty had been penciled on green leaves which were destined to fade, or on clouds subject to evaporation. My services, as a minister, began to take their complexion from the circumstances in which we were placed. One of my discourses, or rather one of my talks, was from the text, “The Lord will provide.” Habakkuk says that the Christian has a dependence on something higher than the buds of the fig-tree, or the blossoms of the vine. The Idumean believer went living on, after his olives had perished and his fields were smitten. His flocks were killed, and his stalls were empty; and the Idumean eagle could plume his wings from a warmer nest than the one occupied by the Patriarch. Our Lord assures us that man liveth not by bread alone. Even at such a time we thought it right to celebrate at the Manse the supper which our Lord had instituted on the night before his crucifixion. We had no wine, however, on our premises, and it was a rare element throughout the neighborhood. But Charles Green, member of the Independent Church of Savannah, being apprised of my wishes, sent me enough to supply the communicants, for which my sincere thanks were returned. Two silver goblets belonging to Mrs. Jones of Sharon, had been left at my house, and they were used on the solemn occasion. The day was bright, and the congregation crowded. Some were under the trees of the yard, some on the steps of the stairs, and others in the rooms of the Manse. Several ministers were present who gave me help in the service, and seldom has it been my lot to attend on communicants more apparently devout. May they advance in grace. The Divine Life has in it both an upward and downward tendency. The Japanese permit their trees to attain their full growth: but then dwarf them down to the smallest possible dimensions, and carry them about in diminutive vases. So with the great Husbandman. The more his people tower on high, the more does he reduce them into lowly violets. And here, allow me to ask, why may not the Lord’s Supper be administered in a lower as well as an upper room – in a Manse – a grove, or on the slope of a hill, as well is in a Church? When were the Covenanters more happy than when they sung among the braes and kneeled on Scottish heather! or when were Whitfield and Wesley more successful than when they stormed the air circulating on the open fields and sequestered downs of England?

Words to Live By:
It is a constant theme of Scripture, that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The Lord provides for His children, encourages and sustains them. God cares for His children in times of trouble. John Flavel wrote, “Jesus Christ has solemnly recommended all the people of God to His particular care. It was one of the last expressions of Christ’s love to them at the parting hour — John 17:11. ‘And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world; and I come to thee, Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me.’ ” [The Righteous Man’s Refuge, by John Flavel, Works, iii.386.]

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chaferLS.Yep. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, was a Presbyterian. As was Chafer’s mentor, C. I. (Cyrus Ingerson) Scofield, and as was Scofield’s mentor, James H. Brookes. Presbyterians all. Perhaps that helps to explain how it was the dispensationalism made such inroads into Presbyterian circles in the era from the 1880’s to the 1930’s. That, and the fact that dispensationalists did a fair job of defending the Scriptures when few others. apart from the Princeton conservatives, would or could.

Lewis Sperry Chafer was born in Ashtabula county, Ohio, on February 27, 1871. His parents were the Rev. Thomas Franklin Chafer, a Congregationalist pastor, and Lois Lomira Sperry Chafer, the daughter of a Welsh Wesleyan lay preacher. When Lewis was just eleven, his father died of tuberculosis. Lewis developed an interest in music while attending the New Lyme Institute as he prepared for college. At Oberlin College, he majored in music and met his future wife, Ella Loraine Case. After their marriage in 1896, he began to serve as an evangelist.

An invitation to teach at the Northfield Boys School in turn led to a close friendship with C. I. Scofield, and as they say, the rest is history. Dallas Theological Seminary, founded in 1924 as the Evangelical Theological College, continues to this day. Its founder, Lewis Sperry Chafer, died on August 22, 1952.

In a prior post we talked about Milo Jamison’s role in the split that created the Bible Presbyterian Church. Jamison was a dispensationalist, while the recently formed denomination that was renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was quickly aligning itself against that system. In the last several decades, dispensationalism as a system has been going through a number of changes, but historically it has been anchored to three key tenets: (1) A “normal, literal” interpretation of Scripture; (2) A strict distinction between Israel and the Church; and (3) a scheme of dispensations or ages which divide up Biblical history. The latter two points are particularly where we find ourselves in disagreement with dispensationalism.

D. James Kennedy, when examining men for ordination, would routinely ask for the candidate’s views on dispensationalism, and whether the candidate approved or disapproved of the 1944 Southern Presbyterian report on dispensationalism. And Dr. Kennedy was right to use that Report in that way. However, the untold story behind that PCUS report is that in all likelihood, the Report was an attempt to split the conservatives in the Southern Presbyterian denomination, many of whom at that time were dispensationalists. As modernists were gaining power in the PCUS, the 1944 Report gave them an opportunity to set one camp of conservatives over against another and so dampen opposition to their own agenda.

In Sum:
Few conservative Presbyterians today consider themselves dispensationalists. The old Reformation doctrine—really the old Biblical doctrine—of covenant theology is being taught once again, and taught well in our seminaries and in our churches. How it came to be virtually ignored in the 19th-century is something of a mystery, but the general lack of such teaching in that era does help to explain the rise of dispensationalism during the same time period. Nature abhors a vacuum.

For Further Study:
One of the better popular-level works on covenant theology is O. Palmer Robertson’s Christ of the Covenants. Ask your pastor about other helpful materials on this important subject.

Image source: From a photograph on file at the PCA Historical Center, with the scan prepared by the staff of the Historical Center. The photograph lacks any indication as to who the photographer might have been.

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hodgeCasparJrDr. Caspar Wistar Hodge, Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology in Princeton Theological Seminary since 1921, died on Friday morning, February 26, 1937, in the Princeton Hospital, of pneumonia. He had been ill for about one week, and died at the age of sixty-six years.

Dr. Hodge was a member of a family closely connected with the Princeton Theological Seminary for more than 100 years. His father, Dr. Caspar Wistar Hodge and his grandfather, Dr. Charles Hodge, as well as his great-uncle, Dr. Archibald Alexander Hodge, had all been members, like himself, of the seminary faculty.

Dr. Hodge was born at Princeton on September 22, 1870. He graduated from Princeton University in 1892, and after further studies received from that school the degree of Ph.D. in 1894. After a year of study abroad at the Universities of Heidelberg and Berlin, he returned to Princeton in 1895, taking the post of instructor in Philosophy in the College. Dr. Hodge remained in that position for two years, going then to Lafayette College as associate professor of Ethics for one year. Thereafter he entered Princeton Seminary to study for the ministry.

Upon graduation from the Seminary in 1901, he was ordained a minister and remained at the Seminary as an instructor in Systematic Theology. After six years he was made assistant professor of Dogmatic Theology, and eight years later professor in the same department, from which he was transferred in 1921 to the Charles Hodge professorship.

Dr. Hodge was well known as a writer on Biblical and theological studies, as a contributor to religious periodicals in America and in Scotland, and as an editor and contributor for several published books.

In 1897, Dr. Hodge married Miss Sarah Henry, of Princeton. He was survived by one daughter, Mrs. Carl H. Ernlund, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a sister, Miss Madeline Hodge. Funeral services were held in the Miller Chapel of the Seminary at Princeton on Monday morning, March 1, 1937.

For Further Study:
The Significance of the Reformed Faith Today,” by C. W. Hodge, Jr., is a brilliant analysis of what is termed the new theology, in contrast with the old theology.
[This PDF is a close reproduction of a typescript found among the Papers of Dr. Robert Dick Wilson. The typescript is undated, but Dr. Hodge’s opening comments, particularly his reference to the recent death of Dr. B.B. Warfield, dates the paper to 1921 when Dr. Hodge was installed as Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology.

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Old Mortality: Robert Patterson [ca. 1713-1801]

The purpose of this blog is to remind us of those saints who have gone before, and to recall something of our common history as Presbyterians, for regardless of our denomination, we are all connected, one with another. We learn from one another, are encouraged by one another, and are reminded to pray for one another.

dewittWmRAnd so it seemed very fitting when I stumbled across the content chosen for today’s post. Our entry for the day was to focus on the Rev. William Radcliffe DeWitt, (pictured in the photo at the right), who was born on this day, February 25, 1792, and who was for forty years the pastor of the English Presbyterian Church of Harrisburg, PA. Looking for more about his ministry, I was pleased to find among our church history collection a copy of The Centennial Memorial of the English Presbyterian Church, 1794-1894, with a section on DeWitt’s ministry at that church. That in turn led to the serendipitous discovery of the following poignant words which serve as the opening paragraphs for the chapter on that church’s history:

Now go write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come forever and ever.”–Isaiah 30:6.

“Walter Scott has very touchingly told us of Old Mortality, a religious itinerant of his times. He was first discovered in the burial ground of the Parish of Gaudercleugh. It was his custom to pass from one graveyard to another, and with the patient chisel of the engraver clear away the moss from the grey tombstones, and restore the names and the lines that Time’s finger had well nigh effaced. It mattered little to him whether it was the headstone of some early martyr to the faith, or only love’s memorial to some little child. It was his joy to do the quiet and unbidden work of bringing again to the notice of men the history and the heroism of some of God’s nobility of whom the world was not worthy, nor less to honor the unknown ones who were laid to rest with unseen tears.

abeel_graveOur work to-day bears something of the same character. Like Old Mortality, we step softly and reverently among the graves of the past. Chisel in hand we pass from memory to memory. We clear away the gathered moss. We refurnish the ancient stones and read again the names of the departed, dropping here and there a tear as precious memories are awakened, and reminding ourselves anew of a fellowship that is only interrupted for a little time. The past is ours. We are its heirs. Its good comes down to us in an apostolic succession of benedictions. The links that bind us to past days and years are golden links. It is one of the choicest gifts of grace, that we may at the same time live three lives in one. Past memories and present experiences and future hopes do blend to make human life noble and attractive. Our holy faith commemorates the past, gladdens the present and brightens the future.”

[excerpted from “A Century Plant,” by Rev. Thomas A. Robinson, in The Centennial Memorial of the English Presbyterian Congregation of Harrisburg, PA, 1794-1894, George B. Stewart, editor. Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1894, pp. 192-193. This book is available on the Internet, here.

And as it turns out, there was a real person behind the Walter Scott’s character of Old Mortality.

oldMortality_lg“Robert Patterson was born circa 1713 on the farm of Haggis Ha, in the parish of Hawick and as a married man moved to the village of Balmaclellan. A stonemason by trade and owner of a small quarry, he spent most of his life touring the lowlands of Scotland visiting and maintaining Covenanter grave sites. His method of cutting or incising letters and the ability to get so much into a limited space makes his work very distinctive. He gained some fame as ‘Old Mortality,’ the character in the book of the same name by Sir Walter Scott.”

To read more of that account, click here.

Words to Live By: Perhaps it is by divine design, but no monument lasts forever. Our worship is not for the saints or for their graves, but for the Lord of glory, whose love moved their hearts to serve Him. We remember them because of their testimony to the truth of the Gospel.

“And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.’ ”
[Exodus 13:14, NASB]

 

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On the Value of History

stewartAMAt the time of his decease, the Rev. Alexander Morrison Stewart, D.D. was serving as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Chico, Butte county, California. He died in that town on Wednesday morning, February 24, 1875. Dr. Stewart was born in Lawrence county, Pennsylvania on January 22, 1814. He graduated at Franklin College, in New Athens, Ohio at an early age, and immediately commenced the study of theology under the Pittsburgh Reformed Presbytery, and was licensed to preach in December, 1841, after which he traveled extensively in the interests of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, through the Middle, Southern and Western States.

The winter of 1844-45 he spent in attending divinity lectures under the late Dr. Samuel Brown Wylie, and medical lectures at Jefferson College, in Philadelphia.  In 1845 he became pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Chicago, which charge he resigned in 1855 on account of ill health.  His next charge was the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, which he left at the breaking out of the war, to enter the army as chaplain. He remained in active service in the army of the Potomac until the war was over.  After the close of the war, he accepted the united charge of East Whiteland and Reeseville Churches, in Chester county, Pennsylvania, and, in 1869, with a transfer of his ministerial credentials, went to the Pacific coast as district secretary of the Board of Home Missions for the PCUSA.  In 1870 he became pastor of the Gilroy Presbyterian Church [PCUSA], from which, in June of 1874, he accepted a call to the First Presbyterian Church of Chico, which charge he held up to the time of his death.

Dr. Stewart was an impressive preacher, a patriotic citizen, and an earnest worker in the cause of Christ.

[Adapted from The Reformed Presbyterian Advocate, 9.4 (April 1875): 141.]

Elsewhere, Joel Beeke has stressed the value of reading sermons. The text presented below is from the opening of Rev. Stewart’s sermon titled simply Historical Sermon. This sermon was delivered in 1850 while he was the pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian church in Chicago, and his purpose in the sermon is to present a brief overview of the Reformed Presbyterian denomination. Perhaps we can present more of this sermon at another time; but for now, this is just the opening paragraph:

“Historical Sermon”

“History connects the present with the past, and enables us to profit by every advance man has made in his civil and ecclesiastical relations. No good accomplished has ever been finally lost. No right principle once developed has entirely disappeared. The province of history is to collect and arrange these; that, with the acquisitions of the past, joined to the energies of the present, civil society and especially the church of God may move confidently on to their high destiny. Nor is it without advantage to mark the errors and failures to which men have been subject, if by so doing we shall be better able to avoid the reefs on which they broke. Were history made more frequently the subject of pulpit exhibition, how different would be the interest and edification of the hearers to that produced by many of the shabby as well as tinselled modern productions. The most eloquent and instructive discourses on record consist of a simple narration of events. When Judah would interest the ruler of Egypt in behalf of the lad, his younger brother, his unvarnished rehearsal of facts has moved many an eye to tears. Paul’s masterly defence before Agrippa was a recital of God’s promises and dealings with His chosen Israel; and Stephen’s dying eloquence–an historical discourse–silenced every argument of his opponents save that of violence.”

[emphasis added]

Words to Live By:
It is a commonplace to acknowledge that Americans are a people with little regard or appreciation for history. I don’t think that was the case in the early years of this nation, and I wonder if the declining regard for history runs parallel with the declining influence of the Church in general. Rev. Stewart’s conclusion, shown above in bold, accords perfectly with the lesson of John Flavel’s book The Mystery of Providence, where he demonstrates how frequently the Scriptures call us to remember God’s works, both His work of redemption and His works of providence. Christians should be a history-minded people, and how different the Church would be, if only we made a practice of daily remembering what God has done for us in His Son.

Image source: Photo from A History of the Pittsburgh Washington Infantry, by John H. Niebaum. Pittsburgh: Burgum Printing Co., 1931, pg. 114.

A photo of the Rev. Stewart’s grave can be viewed here.

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