September 2013

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Two Documents and a Digression

Today’s post is something of a modest exercise in exploring the archives, with two documents—both having the same date—drawn from two separate manuscript collections preserved at the PCA Historical Center. Nothing earth-shattering here, though there is some discovery along the way. In this case, the documents connect only in a minor way, though sometimes such connections can shed valuable light.

The first is the bulletin from the 1936 convocation service at Westminster Theological Seminary. Our copy of this bulletin is part of scrapbook no. 4 in the Henry G. Welbon Collection. The second item is a copy of a letter from J. Gresham Machen, found in the J. Oliver Buswell Manuscript Collection.

Pictured below is the service bulletin from the Eighth Annual Opening Exercises of the Westminster Theological Seminary, held on Wednesday, September 30, 1936 in Witherspoon Auditorium. This auditorium was capable of seating one thousand people, and was part of the Witherspoon Building, home of the PCUSA’s Presbyterian Board of Publications. 

To digress a bit, the Witherspoon Building was named for the Rev. John Witherspoon [1723-1794], and is located at 1319-1323 Walnut Street in Philadelphia’s Market East neighborhood. It was designed by architect Joseph M. Huston [1866-1940] and the work was commissioned by the Presbyterian Board of Publications and Sabbath School Work. An eleven-story, steel frame “E”-shaped building, faced with brick and granite, the structure was built between 1895 and 1897. Exterior features include Corinthian and Ionic columns, and terra cotta decorations of statues, medallions, and seals of various boards and agencies of the Presbyterian Church as well as those of related Reformed churches. The famous sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder [1870-1945] designed six of the statues and some of the medallions that graced the building. An additional ten statues of various Biblical figures, were later cast by Samuel Murray and Thomas Eakins and installed in the exterior arches on the eighth floor. All of the statues were removed in the early 1960’s for fear of deterioration and were relocated to the courtyard of the Presbyterian Historical Society. The Witherspoon Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

For the commencement exercises that year, the Seminary had invited Professor H. Henry Meeter of Calvin College, His message, “Thank God and Take Courage,” was subsequently published on the pages of The Presbyterian Guardian, and can be read here (part 1), pp. 6-8 and here (part 2), pp. 27-29.  [It should also be noted that The Meeter Center for Calvin Studies is named in honor of Dr. Meeter.]

WTS_1936_convocation
A Second Document: Machen’s Advice on Deciding Moral and Ethical Conflicts

At some point on that same day, Dr. Machen set to answering some of his mail. How it was that Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. came to have a copy of this letter, is something that will have to remain a mystery. In the letter, Dr. Machen replies to an inquiry from a young woman, giving his advice on how to decide moral and ethical conflicts:

[From the J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. Papers, Box 286, File 16, file copy on green paper, 8.5” x 11”]

J. Gresham Machen
Westminster Theological Seminary
206 S. 13th St., Philadelphia, Pa

September 30, 1936

TO:
Miss Mary J. Gushard
1220 Lincoln Ave.
Prospect Park, Pa

Dear Miss Gushard:

Your letter of Sept. 24th, addressed to me at the Seminary, which I do not visit very often in vacation time, did not come into my hands until yesterday evening. In reply to your inquiry, please let me say that I do not think it to be wrong to attend the theatre. My position regarding these matters is rather c1ear, and. I have held. it for a great many years. It may be set forth in part briefly as follows:

1. It is wrong to do things that are expressly forbidden in the Bible.
2. Where things are not expressly forbidden in the Bible, the individual Christian must determine, in the light of the Bible, whether they are wrong or not, and must act accordingly.
3. It is wrong for one Christian to tyrannize over the conscience of another in these matters.

That being so, I respect very greatly the conscience of a fellow-Christian who cannot conscientiously go to the theatre. I should hate to see him do what he thinks is wrong. I certainly cannot ask him to submit his conscience to mine. On the other hand, he ought not to ask me to submit my conscience to his. With re: to the “separated” life, I should just like to say two things. In the first place, worldliness is a great danger to the Church and consecration is the thing for which we ought to strive with all our might. No mere man, since the Fall, has ever in this life been perfectly consecrated to God; but we ought to strive always to be more and. more consecrated to Him. In the second place, however, there is also an opposite danger. It is the danger of a false asceticism. It is the danger into which those persons in Colosse fell, when thoy said in a way which the Apostle rebukes: “Touch not, taste not, handle not.” We ought to strive against that danger also. Particularly ought we to avoid subjecting our fellow-Christians to rules of our own choosing that go beyond what the Word of God contains.

Such are my principles. I do not claim to have followed them perfectly. Far from it. There have been times beyond number when I have fallen short of them. certainly need to ask God daily to forgive me for my sins. But the principles that I have set forth do seem to me to be in accordance with God’s holy Word, and they are principles which I think we ought to keep before our eyes.

Very sincerely yours, (Signed) J. Gresham Machen

Image source: Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection, Scrapbook number 4, p. 412.

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Have You Improved the Sermon?

The bicentennial observation of the founding of the Fairfield Presbyterian Church, of Fairton, New Jersey, commonly known as the Old Stone Church, was observed on September 29, 1880, the church having been organized in 1680. That congregation continues on to the present day and is a member church of the Presbyterian Church in America.

osbornEthanEasily the most distinguished pastor in the history of the Old Stone Church was the Rev. Ethan Osborn.

For our Lord’s day sermon, the following is a transcript of the aged pastor’s last words to his congregation,

“the aged preacher, in all the faithfulness of his still loving heart, and under circumstances which could not fail to awaken for him the sympathy of his audience. He is now in his ninety-second year. The place where he stands was he scene of his eventful ministrations for more than half a century, and he does not expect ever to preach from that pulpit again. After referring to the ministry of his predecessor, who in 1780 preached the first sermon in the house, to his own labors there, and to those of the writer of this memorial, then the pastor of the congregation, he proceeds—”

“I may safely say that by the preaching of these three ministers, in this house, the doctrines and all things essential to duty and salvation, have been clearly explained and faithfully urged upon the people. The doctrine of human depravity has been explained and proved from Scripture and common observation. Here also the doctrine of regeneration has been repeatedly set forth, and the absolute necessity of it urged upon the people. It has been shown that we must be new created in Christ Jesus, must have the love of God ruling in our hearts, or we can never be admitted into his kingdom.

“Also the doctrines of repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, have been faithfully preached in this house, and their absolute necessity in order to obtain pardon and heavenly felicity. Likewise the duties prescribed in the gospel have been explained and insisted on. The people have been informed that supreme love to God is their indispensable duty. Here also they have been taught the duties we owe, one to another, to do good to all according to our abilities and opportunities; and to ourselves, to live sober and religious lives in the world. Here also, that the law forbids every sin, whether in action, word or heart, and pronounces a curse on every transgression of it. For ‘cursed is every one that continueth not in all the things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’ And as all have sinned, therefore no human being can be justified before God by the deeds of the law, or by meritorious obedience. The law requires perfect and perpetual obedience. But as no man has yielded such obedience, or possessed sinless perfection, therefore in vain do you now look to the law for justification.

‘Since to convince and to condemn,
Is all the law can do.’

“But, thanks to God : the gospel reveals a way of justification, how we may obtain forgiveness and the favor of God. And this blessed gospel has often been preached in this house, the gospel which offers a free pardon to every humble penitent. ‘This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ The blessed Saviour invites the weary and heavy laden sinner to come to him, assuring him that he will raise him up at the last day to eternal life. Such is the inviting and beneficent language of the gospel. But at the same time, both law and gospel denounce everlasting punishment on such as reject the Saviour and die impenitent.

“Now the interesting question is, How have the people improved the preaching of the law and the gospel? Most of those who lived under the ministry of my predecessor have gone to the grave. But to you who are yet living and hearing the gospel, the question is solemn and important. Have you so improved the preaching of God’s word as to become wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus?

“To those who are pious believers, I would say, you have chosen the good part, and God has begun a gracious work in you which he will carry on until it terminates in glory. So that by faith in Christ, shaving laid hold on the hope set before us, you may have a strong consolation, and go on your Christian course rejoicing. Be not satisfied with your present relative attainments, but press forward to the work of perfection, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Use the appointed means of reading and hearing the word of God, not forsaking the assembling of yourselves for public worship, as many do, and by no means neglect the privilege and duty of prayer. Ask and receive, not only that you may have grace to serve God, but that you may also grow in grace and in the knowledge of your Lord Jesus Christ. In this way religion will become more pleasant. The nearer you advance toward heavenly perfection, the more delighted you will be with heavenly enjoyment. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.’

‘Come leave his pleasant ways,
And let us taste his grace.’

“Never be weary in well doing, for in perseverance, you shall in due time reap a glorious harvest. As an inducement thus to live and spend your remaining days, remember your judge and mind will ere long call us to answer, how I have preached the gospel and how you have improved it.

“I now turn to those of you whose future happiness is not yet secured by faith in the Mediator. Your situation is awfully dangerous. You are now suspended between the possibility of eternal happiness or eternal misery. You are now between the two vast extremes, or if I may more plainly express it between heaven and hell. Either celestial happiness or infernal misery must in a short time be your everlasting portion. How solemn is the prospect before you–the joys of heaven or the sorrows of hell, one of which must be your everlasting portion,–the latter except ye turn at God’s reproof. ‘As though God did beseech you, by us, we pray you, in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.’ Believe me when I say it is my heart’s desire and prayer to God, that you and I may have a joyful meeting at the judgment, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“As we expect this to be the last Sabbath on which I shall speak to you from this pulpit, let me say, in the presence of God who knows my heart, that I have endeavored and prayed that I might faithfully perform my ministerial duties. Though I am conscious of much imperfection, God is my witness, that I have ever preached such doctrine and precepts as I verily believe are agreeable to his word. I have repeatedly said, ‘the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.’ With gratitude to God, I look back upon the religious revivals with which he has blessed us and the friendly relations which have subsisted between us. It is no small satisfaction that as pastor and people we separated as friends, and that a pleasant intercourse subsists between myself and my successor, your present pastor. Never were the people more dear to me, I shall love them as long as I live.

“Excuse my plainness, and permit me once more to say in the fullness of my feelings, that my heart’s desire and prayer to God for you all is, that you may be saved. As it will not be long before we must each answer to God–I for my ministry, and you for your improvement of it, let us be diligent in what duty remains and in advancing toward heaven. Let brotherly love continue and abound, until it shall be perfected in the heavenly kingdom. And may God prepare us all to meet in heaven! I now bid you a cordial farewell, praying that it may fare well with you in this world, in blessings of health and prosperity, as far as shall be for God’s glory and your own good, and that in the future world, entered with your blessed Saviour into the joy of your Lord, you may FARE WELL.”

[excerpted from The Pastor of the Old Stone Church (1858), pp. 52-56. To read this work online, click here.]

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The Purpose of the Bible for Unbelievers and Believers

Today’s post is a reprise from last year and a post written by our first author, the Rev. David T. Myers. If you will permit me, I am led to repeat it here today. It concerns  that magnificent answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, at Question number 80, which asks and answers, “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.”

Here we arrive at the first outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, namely and especially ”the Word,” or the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

Focus in with me on the first five words of this answer,  “The Spirit of God makes.”  We must never limit the work of the Holy Spirit, for He is God.  Yet the means which the Triune God has appointed is the Holy Spirit working through and by the Word of God to make it effective for salvation. Thus, it behooves us to always pray that the Holy Spirit apply the reading and preaching of the Word to ourselves and others.

Our Confessional fathers then remind us of the two methods associated with the Bible, namely, that of reading and preaching. Every time we read and hear the Bible, we need to ask and answer three questions, namely, what does it say, what does it mean, and what does it mean to me?.

There are two ways in which we can speak of the Bible being effectual. First, the Word of God “convinces and converts sinners.”  It convinces us that we are sinners.  It humbles our proud thoughts with respect to ourselves.  It convinces us that we cannot save ourselves. It convinces us that Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life. In short, it drives sinners out of themselves and draw us and others irresistibly to the Redeemer.

The Word, through the Holy Spirit, then converts us.  We are changed from a child of the devil to a child of God.  We go from death to life, from a hater of the holy God to a lover of God.  We have a change of mind which leads to a change of action.

What this convincing and converting should produce in us at the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word of God, is a prayer for the effectiveness of the Bible in the lives and souls of the elect. Let us not simply sit at “zombies” in the chairs of our homes, or the pews of the church, when the Word of God is read in family devotions, or Sunday worship. Let us constantly be in prayer when the Bible is read, that it might bring forth spiritual fruit unto salvation, and holiness of life, and preparation for service.

Second, the Word also is an “effective means” of ”building us up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.”  There is a construction process going on around the Word of God. The Spirit of God is building spiritual stones in the temple of our hearts. The holiness of God is aimed at by the reading and hearing of the Word of God.  Comfort from the troubles of life is another profit achieved by the reading and hearing of God’s Word.  The Scriptures will expose the sins we should be putting to death. And it is in the Scriptures where we will find encouragement, not only for ourselves, but to others who need the comfort of God.

In summary, the reading of and listening to God’s Word, should never be a rote experience in our lives.  It is to be a living, changing progression in conversion and conduct.

Words to live by:  As a retired Presbyterian and Reformed  pastor, I once challenged the people of an evangelical and Reformed congregation by giving them a paper bag, so that they could smuggle their personal Bibles out of their homes on the Lord’s Day, use them in the church service, and then smuggle them back into their homes at the end of the Lord’s Day! It was an extreme suggestion (which no one did actually), and a humorous suggestion to get them to bring their Bibles to church.  I then followed it up with a Through the Bible reading plan in a year (the one I am using in this devotional guide) to make their Bibles a constant in their hearts and lives. It had its effect on the congregation, as some of them were saved, and others began to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Keep the Word of God before God’s people, by believing and living it yourselves, and encouraging others to be much in God’s Word, the Bible.

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He was a wanted man

George Tybout Purves [27 September 1852 - 24 September 1901]The Presbyterian pastor teacher was a wanted man, that is, wanted by theological seminaries to teach at their school.  Princeton Seminary wanted George T.  Purves to teach church history on their faculty.  Western Seminary wanted the scholar to teach theology.  McCormick Seminary in Chicago want the veteran pastor to teach theology on their faculty.  But the heart of this Princeton Seminary alumni was in New Testament, so when a vacancy opened up with the death of Caspar Wistar Hodge, he came to Princeton Seminary.

George Tybout Purves was born on September 27, 1852 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  His undergraduate studies were at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1872.  Immediately, he went to Princeton Seminary for the years of 1873 to 1877.  Becoming ordained by the Chester Presbytery, he served three Presbyterian churches in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and back in Pennsylvania at the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh.  With pastoral experience behind him then, he went back to Princeton where for the next eight years (1892 – 1900), he taught New Testament Literature and Exegesis.

In 1900, Rev. Purves resigned his professorship in New Testament at the seminary to return to the pastorate.  When he was a pastor Dr. Purves was sought by the seminaries, and when he became a professor he was besieged by the churches.  B. B. Warfield said of him, “He was never more the profoundly instructed scholar than when he stood in the pulpit: he was never more the preacher of righteousness than when he sat in the classroom.”  During his eight years at Princeton, Purves taught New Testament and preached regularly, serving for a time as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Princeton.  During 1897 the church experienced “a year of prosperity greater than at any previous time” in its history and credited this to “the very faithful and efficient labors of Dr. Purves.”  In 1899 Purves accepted a call to the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City (once served by J. W. Alexander).  After a short ministry there of eighteen months he died in 1901, at the age of forty-nine.

Not known for his authorship of volumes (though he wrote about twenty books), his spiritual legacy was found in the men who sat under him in classes and graduated to change the world for Christ.  That legacy continued in the pastoral field as during his teaching duties at the seminary, he also supplied the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton.

Words to live by:  What spiritual gifts this man of God possessed!  When he was in the pastorate, the theological schools wanted him. When he was in the sacred halls of seminaries, the churches wanted him. The point is this! Everyone, every Christian, has been given at least one, and no doubt many more Spirit-given abilities for service, or spiritual gifts.  In one sense, it doesn’t matter where you use them.  The important thing is that you use them somewhere. Do you know what your spiritual gift is?  Ask your spouse, or a close Christian friend, or your elder, or your pastor. Then finding it, use it for God’s glory and the good of His church.

For further study : Dr. Purves’s inaugural lecture at Princeton, “St. Paul and Inspiration,” can be read on the web here.
The George Tybout Purves Manuscript Collection is preserved at the Department of Special Collections at the Princeton Theological Seminary, and described in a finding aid, here. [I note that this finding aid was written by PCA pastor Ray Cannata, back when he was a student at PTS.]

Image source : Frontispiece portrait from Joy in Service, from a copy preserved in the PCA Historical Center. Scan prepared by the Center’s staff. This was Dr. Purves’s final work, published posthumously by the American Tract Society (New York, 1901).

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God Will Surely Provide

Rev. Samuel Davies [3 November 1723 - 4 February 1761]It was on this day, September 26th, in 1759, that the Rev. Samuel Davies was installed as President of the College of New Jersey. [It was upon the occasion of its sesquicentennial celebrations in 1896, that the school’s name was changed to Princeton University.]  How did the Lord prepare Samuel Davies for such an important position? One part of that story is told on the early pages of his Memoir:—

During the first part of the eighteenth century, religion was, perhaps, in a lower state of declension, throughout the British dominions, than at any other period since the reformation. The concurrent testimony of churchmen and dissenters establishes this fact. Many clergymen of various denominations had become very lukewarm, and in many instances exceedingly corrupt; and the people were ready enough to follow the steps of their spiritual guides. It was in this season of darkness that several men were born, who, afterwards, were burning and shining lights in the world. The names of Tennent, Blair, Edwards, Davies, and Whitefield, may suffice to illustrate this remark. Since their day, vital piety has gradually increased, and the spiritual condition of the church of Christ has become more prosperous. The subject of this memoir was powerfully instrumental in producing the happy change.

Samuel Davies was born in the county of Newcastle, Delaware, November 3, 1724. The Christian names of his parents are unknown to us; nor can we say anything of the origin of the family, or trace it beyond the immediate progenitors. The father is represented to have been a plain farmer, in very moderate circumstances; the mother a very sensible and judicious woman; both were pious. Their son was a child of prayer; and was from the birth devoted to God by the name of Samuel.

It is known that the religious declension, of which mention was made above, extended to Virginia. About the year 1740, some individuals in the county of Hanover were awakened to a deep concern for their eternal interests in a very extraordinary manner. A few leaves of Boston’s Fourfold State fell into the hands of a wealthy planter, and made so deep an impression on his mind, that he never rested until he procured a copy of the work. This book it is believed, was instrumental in affording light to his mind, and peace to his heart. Another gentleman, Mr. Samuel Morris, derived similar advantages from Luther on the Galatians. The books that had been so useful to these persons were read to others, and produced very great and happy effects. So deep was the sensation, that multitudes were accustomed to assemble for the purpose of hearing Morris read. His house was in a short time too small to contain them; and a meeting-house was built for the purpose, long known by the name of Morris’s reading room. In this state of things, the Rev. William Robinson, a member of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, was sent on a mission to the frontier settlements. On his tour, he entered Virginia, and preached with great acceptance among the Scotch and Irish, who had made settlements in the counties of Prince Edward, Charlotte, and Campbell.

At Cub Creek, in the county of Charlotte, he was heard by some of the young people from Hanover who had gone to visit their friends, and who soon sent back word what manner of man was among them. On receiving this intelligence, two messengers were immediately dispatched from Hanover for Mr. Robinson. He had left the place, but they followed in his tract and at length overtook him. He was prevailed on to consent to visit Hanover, and at the appointed time he came. For four days he continued among them, preaching to the crowds that had assembled at the reading room. This is described as a very remarkable season.

On Mr. Robinson’s taking leave, some of the gentlemen presented him with a considerable sum of money, not merely as a compensation for his faithful labors among them, but principally as an expression of that gratitude they felt towards Mr. Robinson, as the honored instrument of so much good to them. But he modestly declined their liberality, assigning for the reason of his refusal, not only the delicacy of his and their situation–that the enemies of the cause of religion might, should he receive it, endeavor to represent him as a mere mercenary, and thus wound and injure the infant flock; but chiefly because he did not need it, the Lord having blessed him with independence as to fortune; and being thus able, he wished to labor without being burdensome to those among whom he went preaching the gospel. These reasons, though strong and unanswerable, could not silence the pleadings of their heart-felt gratitude–a gratitude which found no other way of exercising itself towards its object but by some offering of this kind. They therefore repeatedly urged its acceptance, but he constantly and firmly declined the offer.

Seeing no hope of his receding from the determination he had taken not to receive their money, the committee entrusted with it put it into the hands of the gentleman with whom he was to lodge the last night of his stay in the county, with directions to convey it privately into his saddle-bags, not doubting but when, after his departure, he should find himself in possession of the money, he would appropriate it to his own use. This was accordingly done. And in the morning Mr. Robinson, having taken an affectionate leave of his kind friends, took his saddle-bags to depart; but he found them much more ponderous than when he came there. Searching for the cause, like Joseph’s brethren of old, he found the money in the sack’s mouth. Pleased with the benevolent artifice, he smiling said, “I see you are resolved I shall have your money. I will take it. But, as I have before told you, I do not need it. I have enough. Nor will I appropriate it to my own use. But there is a young man of my acquaintance, of promising talents and piety, who is now studying with a view to the ministry; but his circumstances are embarrassing; he has not funds to support and carry him on without much difficulty. This money will relieve him from his pecuniary difficulties. I will take charge of it and appropriate it to his use. And so soon as he is licensed, we will send him to visit you. And if you should be pleased with him, and he should be pleased with you, it may be that you may now, by your liberality, be educating a minister for yourselves.” The proposition was immediately accepted, and the money faithfully appropriated to the benefit of young Davies while pursuing his theological studies.

“And that is the reason,” said a pious old lady who communicated this, “that Mr. Davies came to Hanover; for he often used to say that he was inclined to settle in another place; but that he felt under obligation to the people of Hanover.” — This anecdote is not only told by aged persons who were cotemporary with Davies, but is handed down by tradition, and related in terms of the same import with those used above, by the grandchildren of some of Mr. Davies’s people.

Words to Live By:
It is delightful, from the present time, to look back to an occurrence apparently so trivial as the discovery of a few leaves in an old book, and trace the many important events connected with it; to see the workings of Providence accomplishing his purposes, and carrying on his great designs of mercy in our favored land. It is delightful to think on the ways of the Almighty, and contemplate the dealings and dispensations of the God of our Fathers.

“Search backward into all the performances of Providence throughout your lives. So did Asaph: ‘I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings’ (Psalm 77:11, 12). He laboured to recover and revive the ancient providences of God’s mercies many years past, and suck a fresh sweetness out of them by new reviews of them. Ah, sirs, let me tell you, there is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would but sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what signal manifestations and outbreakings of His mercy, faithfulness and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. If your hearts do not melt before you have gone half through that history, they are hard hearts indeed. ‘My Father, thou art the guide of my youth’ (Jeremiah 3:4).”—excerpted from chapter nine of The Mystery of Providence, by John Flavel.

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