September 2013

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All of life is cumulative. Great men do not arrive on the scene in full measure. Rather, every step along the way builds to the later result. The following account is interesting as it shows Archibald Alexander in his youth, full of self-doubt, hesitant, and unsure of himself. Nonetheless, his heart was set upon serving the Lord, and he persisted in faithfully following after his Master, obedient to His leading. The following account is drawn from The Life of Archibald Alexander, D.D., LL.D. (1856):

alexanderArchibald01In September the [Lexington] Presbytery met at the Stone Meeting-House in Augusta. He had at this time gone through all his trials, except the examination in theology and the “popular sermon.” He was however very reluctant to be licensed, on account of an abiding sense of unfitness. On this subject he had many conversations with Mr. Graham, in which he strongly and repeatedly stated his objections. But his pastor and teacher disregarded the scruples, and urged him to enter on the work of preaching, for this among other reasons that his health might be confirmed by travelling; adding that he might continue his studies as usual and make excursions among the destitute, as he felt inclined.

At this time his stature was small and his whole appearance was strikingly boyish. “The Presbytery,” we use his own words, “had given me a text for a popular sermon which I disliked exceedingly, as it brought to my mind the circumstance which distressed me in the view of entering the ministry, namely my youth and boyish appearance. The day was September 20, 1791, and the text was Jeremiah i. 7, ‘But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child, for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.’ I read the sermon from the pulpit, but with very little satisfaction to myself. As the ministers were on their way to the Synod, they had not time to examine me on theology, and so adjourned to meet at Winchester.

When we arrived there a meeting was held in the house of James Holliday, where I was examined, principally by the Rev. John Blair Smith; but as he was taken suddenly ill before it was concluded, the examination was continued by Mr. Hoge. It was then determined that I should be licensed in the public congregation, on Saturday morning, October the first, 1791. This was indeed a solemn day. During the service I was almost overwhelmed with an awful feeling of responsibility and unfitness for the sacred office. That afternoon I spent in the fields, in very solemn reflection and earnest prayer. My feelings were awful, and far from being comfortable. I seemed to think, however, that the solemn impressions of that day would never leave me. O deceitful heart!”

In regard to the text abovementioned, it is said in another manuscript; “It was assigned to me by the Rev. Samuel Houston, not only because of my youth, but because I had strongly remonstrated against having my trials hurried to a conclusion, as I did not wish to be licensed for several years. The house was full of people, and the whole Synod was present. When I stood up to answer the questions,” which were proposed by Dr. Smith, though only a corresponding member, “I felt as if I could have sunk into the earth.”

Having now been licensed as a probationer, it was his intention to return home and devote himself to study; but the purpose was overruled by a clear providence. Tidings came that the Rev. William Hill was prevented by a fever from continuing his labours in Berkeley, now Jefferson County. Some religious awakening had taken place in that region, and the neighboring ministers urged Mr. Alexander to come to their aid. Mr. LeGrand also was desirous of making an excursion, and offered an inviting field of labour in his congregations of Opekan and Cedar Creek, including Winchester. A revival had been in progress among his people for some months. The following is an abridged record of some of these earliest labours.

After the Synod adjourned, I went with Mr. LeGrand to an appointment which he had at old Mr. Feely’s, some fifteen miles from Winchester. He told me that I must preach, but I positively refused. He said nothing at the time, but when the congregation was assembled, he arose and said, ‘Mr. Alexander, please come forward to the table, and take the books and preach.’ I knew not what to do, but rather than make a disturbance I went forward and preached my first sermon after licensure, from Galatians 3:24, ‘Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.’

Words to live by:
Every decision, every action in life matters. The choices we make today lead inevitably to what we will encounter tomorrow. The great giants of the Christian faith have been those who, one step after another, followed the will of God. More or less consistently, they lived their lives according to the Scriptures. But for the rest of us, in the midst of our failings, God gives a great promise: It’s never too late to start. Where we have turned aside from His will, we have missed His blessing. But for those who will return and repent, the Lord has promised, “And I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten…” (Joel 2:25). God can use us still—often in some very powerful ways—if we will but humble ourselves, and seek His will, and turn from our sin.

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The Westminster Standards are the Standards of the Presbyterian Church

We have already considered the meeting which took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which stopped an impending schism in the infant Presbyterian Church by The Adopting Act of 1729, as was presented on September 17. But there was another important commitment made by the infant church as part of this multi-day meeting on this day, September 19, 1729.  And it was the adoption by the presbyters of this American Presbyterian Church of the Westminster Standards (together, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism) as their subordinate standard, behind that of Scripture itself, as their required standard for ordination.

The exact words as taken from the Minutes of that Presbytery meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were the following:  “we are undoubtedly obliged to take care that the faith once delivered to the saints be kept pure and uncorrupt among us, and so handed down to our posterity; and do therefore agree that all the ministers of this Synod, or that shall hereafter be admitted into this Synod, shall declare their agreement in, and approbation of, the Confession of Faith, with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, as being in all the essential and necessary articles, good forms of sound words and systems of Christian doctrine, and so also adopt the said Confession and Catechisms as the confession of our faith. And we do also agree, that all the Presbyteries within our bounds shall always take care not to admit any candidate of the ministry into the exercise of the sacred function but what declares his agreement in opinion with all the essential and necessary articles of said Confession, either by subscribing the said Confession of Faith and Catechisms, or by a verbal declaration of their assent thereto, as such minister or candidate shall think best.”

It might surprise our readers to think that a full twenty-two years after the first Presbytery in 1707, finally such a doctrinal commitment was made by the infant Presbyterian church.  But this is not to say that the ministers who made up this church did not automatically confess this subscription. Remember, the first page of the 1707 minutes were lost to history.  It well might have been part and parcel of that document.  Further, while not found in subsequent recorded minutes, all of the ministers had confessed their faith in the mother countries by subscription to the Westminster Standards. Up to this time in the colonies, their attention was taken up with church extension and government.  But finally, the historic creed which had fed the faith of the Presbyterian Church for three hundred years is made the foundation of the infant Presbyterian church in America.                                                                                      


Words to live by:
A historic document is made the subordinate standard of an infant church.  All ministers, past, present, and future, are to receive and adopt it before they can be ordained.  The young church is placed on a Reformed foundation.  While members must hold to a credible profession of faith, they know  that the preaching and teaching will be the depth and historical content of  the greatest theological statement ever produced by godly men. This is why we have included the Confession and catechisms in this historical devotional guide.  Read and ponder its words. Memorize its shorter catechism answers.  This writer has done so, and it has enabled him to stand in the test of perilous times.

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machen_ShallWeObeyIt was yesterday actually—September 17th, 1936—and not today’s date of September 18th, when Dr. J. Gresham Machen spoke in Westfield, New Jersey on the subject “Shall We Obey God, or Man?”. But as we didn’t want to pass up mention of this occasion, so you will please forgive a bit of backtracking.

This appears to be one of Machen’s messages which is now lost. I did not find any title close to “Shall We Obey God, or Man?” among Dr. Machen’s published works, but if I missed something, please bring it to my attention. Like so much of Machen’s writings, this too would have remained a timely message for our own day. Perhaps there are still some notes, an outline, or even a transcript preserved among the Machen Papers at Westminster Theological Seminary?


“Shall We Obey God, or Man?” is the subject to be discussed by Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen of Philadelphia on Sunday at 8 p.m. in the Masonic Temple. This meeting, the last in the series of three sponsored by a local committee interested in the newly organized Presbyterian Church of America, has been planned to bring before the public some of the outstanding issues before the Presbyterian Church today.

Dr. Machen, who is Professor of New Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and long identified with the fundamentalist group in the Presbyterian Church, today is a national figure. IN 1928 he headed a group of men that left Princeton Seminary and about four years later was instrumental in the founding of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. It was the establishment of this board that brought to a head the fast growing differences between the two groups, for from this board, termed illegal by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., Dr. Machen and others were ordered to resign. Their refusal to do so lead finally this year to their withdrawal from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the formation of the Presbyterian Church of America.

Why the matter has been doctrinal rather than administration as claimed by the General Assembly that met in Syracuse last May, in what way the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. has placed the word of man above the word of God and why Conservatives cannot expect to purify the church from within are among the things which will be explained by Dr. Machen.

Acclaimed by his friends and foes alike as the outstanding Greek scholar of the world today, known as an ardent defender of Fundamentalism and the author of numerous well-known books, Dr. Machen will come prepared to state authoritatively the position of the new Presbyterian Church of America.

This same news clipping, pictured at right, can be found in context on the front page of The Westfield, New Jersey Leader, here : . Our copy of this clipping is from the scrapbook collection gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon.

Words to Live By:
In every age and era, there are challenges that confront the Christian. There is always the contest, whether to obey God or man. Strive to obey God daily, moment by moment, while the challenges may still be simpler and less painful. Set the habit now. Walk in the light of His Word and make a practice of remembering God’s faithfulness. For one, make a habit of noting His answers to your prayers. Then, when real challenges to obedience come, you should be able to say, “How can I deny Him now, when He has been faithful to me all these years?”

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McCookJohnJamesBorn on May 25th, 1845 in Carrollton, Ohio, John James McCook was one of “the Fighting McCooks”, a family that had seventeen from its clan who fought for the Union. It was while  John was at Kenyon College in 1862 that he attempted to enlist, but was turned away because he was underage. So he accompanied the 52nd Ohio Infantry as a volunteer aide, and was later commissioned a Lieutenant on the XXI Corps staff, Army of the Cumberland. Promoted to Captain in 1863, he transferred to the Army of the Potomac, was wounded at Spotsylvania, and received brevet promotions for heroism to Major, Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel, at age 19 one of the youngest Civil War soldiers to attain such distinction. After the war he returned to Kenyon College, there to earn the bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He next graduated from Harvard Law School, and became a New York City attorney. He rose to become senior partner at one of the nation’s most prominent firms, was a Director of banks and railroads, and a Kenyon College and Princeton Theological Seminary Trustee, serving the latter institution from 1897 until his death in 1911. In 1892 he funded a new stadium at the University of Kansas. When his friend William McKinley became President, McCook declined appointment as Attorney General or Interior Secretary. In 1897 he led a syndicate that nearly annexed Cuba by paying its debt to Spain, an action that might have averted the Spanish-American War. Active in the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), during that war he was Chairman of the Army and Navy Christian Commission. The village of McCook, Illinois, and McCook Street at the University of Kansas are named for him. His death came on September 17, 1911, while residing at his summer home, Sea Bright, in Monmouth county, New Jersey.


One of Mr. McCook’s greatest services to the Church may have been his work in conjunction with the heresy trial of the Rev. Dr. Charles Briggs.

Among the several published works in conjunction with that trial, the PCA Historical Center recently acquired a copy of The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, against The Rev. Charles A. Briggs, D.D. — Argument of John J. McCook, A Member of the Prosecuting Committee. New York: John C. Rankin Co., Printers, 34 Cortlandt St., NY, 1891. Pb, 49 p.; 23 cm.

From the Introduction to McCook’s Argument:

“Before bringing charges of heresy against a minister of the Presbyterian Church, it is necessary to determine, first of all, whether his doctrines diverge from those of the Standards within legitimate limits, and do not affect the system of doctrine in which belief is required; or whether the error of his doctrines is vital and essential. While it is true that many ministers do not subscribe to the ippissima verba of the Confession, readers of ordinary intelligence can have no difficulty in determining whether their divergence from the doctrine of the Standards is vital or not. A trial for heresy is not in its essence a trial of a man, but a trial of a doctrine or of doctrines. It becomes the trial of a man only when he, with full knowledge of the divergence of his views from the Standards of the Church, still remains in the ministry, and thus violates his ordination vows.”

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Stepping outside of American Presbyterian history for a moment, here is an interesting interpretation as to how persecution worked to the advance of the Church in at least one chapter of church history. This particular passage is also a masterful summary of early Presbyterian history, drawn from the late 19th-century volume, Presbyterians, by George P. Hays (1892), pp. 42-44 :

Through the sixteenth century a few adventurers were settling in America, and stable institutions came with the seventeenth to attract the attention of European Protestants as they searched for some refuge from the persecuting power which they could not resist in France, could not fight in Spain, played see-saw with in England, overthrew in Germany, and displaced in Holland and Scotland.

Theodore BezaIf there had been no persecution in Europe, and the Protestant Church could have had freedom from state interference to fight its own battle before the general reason and conscience, the emigrants to America would perhaps have been more like the first settlers in California, or the first inhabitants in a new oil town. As it was, the intellectual conflict and the physical struggle came on together and intensified each other. Huguenot Synods were held in France, and then suppressed, and then re-allowed. The first regularly organized [Protestant] church [in France] was that of Paris, whose people elected John le Macon pastor, and had a board of elders and deacons, in 1555. In 1559 the first National Synod was held, and according to Calvin’s advice a regular system of Appellate Courts was organized. In September, 1561, Theodore Beza at the head of twelve Protestant ministers made their plea before royalty. It was claimed that there were then more than two thousand churches and stations. The origin of the name “Huguenot” is not known, but it is believed to have been at first a nickname which grew to honor by the character and conduct of its wearers. They had a stormy history. Francis I. was their enemy. Charles IX. (an effeminate boy in the hands of the Medicis) massacred them at St. Bartholomew. Henry IV., at heart a Huguenot, was a brave soldier and a brilliant man, but he turned Catholic for policy’s sake, and yet protected the Huguenots by issuing the Edict of Nantes. then followed Louis XIII. and Richelieu and Louis XIV. and the revocation of the edict of toleration in 1685. These last events came in the seventeenth century. The sixteenth century had demonstrated the advantage of Protestant emigration, and the seventeenth made it compulsory.

In Holland the struggle was between Protestantism and Phillip II. of Spain. These were the days of the Duke of Alva and William the Silent. To save their religion and their homes and drive out the Spaniards, the Dutch cut the dykes and submerged their farms beneath the sea. But through all this suffering they were organizing a people and defending a country that should, in time, give to the world the Protestant and Presbyterian results of the Synod of Dort. That Synod was the nearest to an interdenominational and ecumenical Synod of any held for the forming of Reformation creeds. It was called to decide the controversy between Arminianism and Calvinism; but the selection of the members made it a foregone conclusion that it would condemn Arminius and support the doctrine of Calvin. As a result the “Canons of Dort” are accepted everywhere as good Augustinian theology, and the Reformed Dutch Church of America, both in the earliest time and in the modern, is thoroughly and soundly Presbyterian. The early Dutch immigrants to this country brought with them their names of Consistory, Classis and Synod, with both ministerial and lay delegates, and between them and the Presbyterians there have never been any controversies in either theology or church government.

But the main center of American interest in European Presbyterians is found in England. Henry VIII. had married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon. She was a kinswoman of Philip II. of Spain, and Philip and his nation were close friends of the Pope. When, then, the fickle, handsome, headstrong, and licentious Henry wanted to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn, he easily found his English bishops and universities ready to declare his marriage to his brother’s widow unlawful, but he found it very difficult, for political reasons, to get the Pope so to declare against that marriage that he might thereafter have a non-Catholic wife, and that Mary, his daughter by Catherine, should be an illegitimate child.

Henry cut the knot by declaring himself the head of the Church of England, and the English Church in no possible way subject to Rome. During all this time Protestant doctrines were spreading among the people, and this seemed to open an easy solution. But pure religion in England was not what Henry wanted. He and all the Tudors wanted to have their own way, without interference from parliament or the Church or the people. After the birth of Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn was beheaded to make way for the third of Henry’s six wives. The king now had two female children, one a Romanist and the other a Protestant. When he died, in 1547, he left Edward VI. by Jane Seymour, only nine years old, but an astonishingly precocious Protestant king.

knox_card03Under Edward the effort to reform the Church went on vigorously, but everybody was debating, as the chief point of controversy, “What is the scriptural form of government?” John Knox had been a private tutor for Hugh Douglas of Longniddry. The excitement occasioned by the martyrdom of Hamilton and Wishart turned his attention to Protestantism. St. Andrews is a picturesque city, rich in traditions from the Culdee period. At the call of the congregation of that city, Knox began preaching. With the capture of the castle of St. Andrews, Knox was sent a prisoner to the French galleys. After his release he, at one time, became Court preacher for Edward VI.

Romanism, Episcopacy, Presbyterianism, and Independency were now up for discussion. The controversy between Protestantism and Catholicism, under Bloody Mary, made all England a charnel house. Mary [Henry VIII.’s first daughter] was a Tudor and a Spaniard and a Roman Catholic; and the task of bringing back the British Islands under the control of the Pope of Rome was the one religious ambition of her life. How far her relentless persecutions [thus her nickname] were made more relentless by the sadness of her natural disposition, the want of an heir to the throne by her Spanish husband, her residence in England while her alienated husband lived in Spain, and her final loss of Calais, that last remnant of English territory on the Continent, may be hard to decide; but her persecutions filled Geneva, and all European Protestant cities, with English refugees and raised everywhere the question of some land where Protestants could have freedom. Just as she was moving, apparently, toward the destruction of her Protestant sister Elizabeth, Mary died.

[more from Dr. Hays next week!]

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It was on this day, September 15, in 1748, that a petition was brought before the Presbytery of Boston, seek to organize a church in Newburyport, Massachusetts, “after the manner of the Kirk of Scotland,” meaning, in other words, a Presbyterian church. One hundred years later, the Rev. Jonathan F. Stearns brought an historical discourse in connection with the centennial anniversary of the First Presbyterian church of Newburyport. The first portion of his discourse forms a convenient overview, in broad strokes, of what has been termed the First Great Awakening. I hope you will find this useful.


Psalm 78:2-7

I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known and our fathers have told us; we will not hide them from their children, showing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord and His strength and the wonderful works that He hath done; for He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children; that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.”

The passage of Scripture just recited, no less than the present occasion, invites us to review and remember, that we may transmit to those who come after us, the history of God’s goodness to us as a people.

The planting of a Church and the gathering of a religious society, are among the most important events in the history of any community. What influences for good or for evil, will be shed abroad from the fruit and leaves of that tree! If a true Church, established upon true principles, maintaining the faith of the Lord Jesus, and built on Him, as its chief cornerstone, how salutary will be the effects of its existence. If a false or corrupt Church–a Church designed to inculcate false doctrine, or maintain the forms without the substance of the Gospel, how deplorable will be the consequences to multitudes! Such as the Churches are, in a given community, such, as a general rule, will be the character of the people at large.

The Church, whose first centennial anniversary we now celebrate, had its origin at a period of no common interest. The “Great Awakening,” which commenced about the year seventeen hundred and forty, is deservedly regarded as an era in the history of the Churches in New England. Then a change was begun in their character which is felt, far and wide, to this day,–a change which, we trust in God, will not cease to be admired and honored, till the dawning of the glory of the latter day shall dim, by its excess of brightness, all former communications of the light of heaven. As this Church was emphatically, and perhaps beyond almost any other in this region, the child of that remarkable impulse, it seems proper before proceeding to its own particular history, to take a hasty glance at the general features of the crisis at which it originated.

The first Churches of New England were established on the most strictly evangelical foundation. They believed and professed the great principles of the protestant reformation, with remarkable affection and strictness. Their corner-stone was the doctrine of justification by faith only, good works being the necessary fruits of faith, and thereby its evidence, but by no means the meritorious cause of salvation. They believed, as fully, in the necessity of a renovation of the sinner’s heart, by which its whole character and tendencies might be changed, the dominion of sin broken, the life of God in the soul enkindled, and the whole spiritual man created anew in God’s likeness. This change, ordinarily, not without means, but at the same time so employing these, as to impart to them no share in the glory of the great result. True piety, in their estimation, was a product of regeneration, and consisted, not in any outward performances, nor even in the most blameless outward morality, but in that inward conformity of the heart to God, that love to Him and communion with Him, of which outward goodness is but the necessary manifestation. Under the influence of these doctrines, preached earnestly by such men as Shepard, and Cotton, and Norton, and Mitchell, and Hooker, and Stone, “the word of God grew and multiplied;” and the preachers, themselves, full of the spirit of their divine message, could rejoice that they seldom preached, without some visibly good effect upon the hearts and consciences of their hearers, and without finding some, who had before been careless, beginning to inquire, “What shall I do to be saved?”

But this happy and very promising commencement was not destined to perpetuate its influence. The spirituality of the Churches began at an early day visibly to decline, and when the first century closed, there was great occasion, as the eye of Christian love looked abroad over the land, to exclaim, “How has the gold become dim and the most fine gold changed.” First, there was manifested a great decline of spiritual vitality. Religion became more a matter of profession, and form, and less an experience of the heart. Then the boundaries between the Church and the world became less distinct. Multitudes became members of the Church, who gave no evidence that they were truly regenerate. Church discipline was neglected. Immorality invaded the sacred enclosure. The preaching became less discriminating and pungent. The doctrines of the ancient faith, long neglected, and reduced in the minds of the people to a dead letter, were fast gliding away from the popular creed, and were on the eve of being displaced for another system.

Such was the condition of a large portion of the Churches of New England, when the great change to which I have alluded broke upon them in its power. Already had the morning star shone forth, in the great revival at Northampton, five years previous, under the faithful preaching of the old doctrines by the celebrated Jonathan Edwards. [*It is a fact worthy of special attention, that the same doctrine of justification by faith only, which in the hands of Luther was the life and soul of the Protestant Reformation, was, in the hands of Edwards, the means of imparting the first impulse to that great awakening, which revived to new life the decayed and slumbering Churches of this Country.] But the whole horizon began now to be illuminated. The whole land soon glowed beneath the brightness of the risen sun. Under the preaching of such men as Whitefield and Tennent, men evidently raised up to perform a special work, the impulse spread like electric flame. It stirred to its inmost depths the compact population of the larger commercial towns. It penetrated the interior villages. Churches which had long since “settled upon their lees” now began to feel within them a strange fermentation. Old respectability, proud of its decent forms, began to find the sceptre of its influence loosening in its grasp, and the legitimacy of its long dominion boldly questioned, by a race, professing to have been just now turned from darkness unto marvellous light.

The effect of this new impulse fell, as might have been expected, most heavily on the pastors of the churches. Secure of their support by the aid of the civil law, pledging all the real and personal estate, within certain geographical limits, for the fulfillment of their pecuniary contracts; and ministering to a people, not desirous of great pastoral fidelity, to the disturbance of their slumbering consciences, a large part of them had settled down into a dull routine of Sabbath day performances, and were spending their week day hours, when not employed in the preparation of their hasty discourses, in the improvement of their parsonage lands, the indulgence of their literary tastes, or in friendly correspondence and social intercourse with each other, and with those distinguished men in civil life who courted their society and respected their respectability, or sought to avail themselves, for their own purposes, of their unbounded influence. Many of the ministers of that day, it is supposed, were men who had never experienced, in their own hearts, the power of the faith which they professed to teach. Many had become very sceptical in regard to its fundamental doctrines. And even those who were at heart faithful men, and desired sincerely the spiritual welfare of their flocks, infected to a great extent with the surrounding atmosphere, had become over cautious, in regard to every thing like excitement in religion, and, to avoid offence, dwelt chiefly on those vague generalities, which at best play round the head but come not near the heart.

Upon a clergy so secure and slumberous, the great awakening burst forth like the shock of an earthquake. Some aroused themselves, like the five wiser virgins when the bridegroom came, and made haste to welcome the wonderful guest. Some at first acted the prudent part of bending to the storm, thinking to let it pass over them unresisted, and blow by. Others, really friendly to whatever was good and genuine in the work of grace, were yet alarmed by the evils which attended it, and, perhaps too much influenced by the opinion of some whom they deemed wise and judicious, run well for a little season and then were hindered.

It was not long, however, before the party lines among the pastors of the Churches became quite prominent. When the famous Whitefield first came to Boston, all the clergy there, and in the neighboring towns, with scarce an exception, welcomed him with open arms. A few years passed, and a considerable party among them had taken an entirely different view of his character and influence. His faults were magnified, his good depreciated. Pulpits were shut against him, and pamphlets warned the public to beware of his fanatical influence.

But it is not easy to stop an earthquake when it has commenced its motion, nor to stay the progress of a hurricane by the rebuke of human authority. The popular mind had been aroused, and the excitement could be quelled only by the voice of truth. Unfortunately for those who would restore the calm, truth was mainly on the side of their opponents. The people saw that the new doctrines, were, after all, only those which the fathers of New England taught, which were acknowledged in the confessions of faith of their own Churches, and in which, in childhood, they themselves had been instructed from the Assembly’s Catechism. They saw, too, that the effects produced by them, were, in the main, the legitimate results of those principles. And why then should the respected pastors of the churches wish to oppose the preaching of those doctrines, and the production of those effects?

The result was such as might have easily been anticipated. The coldness, which so many Christian ministers exhibited amidst the general fervor, led many to doubt the reality of their own conversion, and the sincerity of their professed attachment to the ancient faith; and what was doubtless true of many, soon began to be asserted boldly of the whole. The cord that bound the religious community together was now broken. The old decencies were despised as sheer hypocrisy. The influence of the pastors was no longer heeded, because the people had lost confidence in their sincere attachment to the cause of piety. Men of more zeal than knowledge now became, in many instances, the leaders of public opinion, and in the anarchy which must necessarily have ensued, all sorts of wild fire, mingling with the flame of newly kindled piety, burned unchecked till it became uncontrollable.

[The evils likely to result from the encouragement of ignorant laymen and youth destitute of all proper experience, to usurp the functions of the Christian ministry, were early foreseen and predicted by some of the most eminent promoters of the revival. But they had greater evils of an opposite character to contend with, and this fact neutralized, in a great degree, the influence of their admonitions. It is well known to all who are familiar with those times, that a prominent subject of controversy was the necessity of an educated ministry. The revival party insisted that grace in the hearts is of more importance than learning in the head; and their opposers, on the other hand, so magnified the importance of human learning, as to cast into the shade that of personal piety. Both were partly right and partly wrong. It must be said, however, in favor of those who seemed to despise education in their zeal for personal religion, that, of the two, they were contending for by far the more important point. It was the point likewise which, for a considerable time previous, had been most neglected. Had all the educated ministers of the community possessed the spirit of Colman, and Edwards, and Sewall, and Prince, no outcry would have been made, we may be sure, against human learning in the ministry–certainly no disposition would have been manifested to undervalue it, as an important collateral qualification. But the great dearth of such men at that important crisis, and on the other hand the violent opposition which the revival encountered from some, eminent for their intellectual attainments, produced, in many hasty minds, the impression, that great learning is unfavorable to ardent piety. Hence their confidence was transferred to another class, and the unskilfulness of their guides often led them lamentably astray.]

Far be it from me to approve the disorders and irregularities which attended that wonderful excitement. There was unquestionably much everywhere which the serious Christian must and ought to deplore. But what is the chaff to the wheat? The legitimate leaders in the sacramental host of God’s elect had declined their trust. The battle was for the inheritance, transmitted from the worthiest of fathers,–the inheritance of puritan faith, dearest of all others to the genuine New Englander. It was not so much a revolution, as a restoration, that they were now to contend for, not a conquest, but a recovery, of what had been insidiously stolen away, in an hour of forgetfulness. And should the people hesitate? In the absence of their regular leaders, they must lead themselves. In all their ignorance, they must march on, with such a degree of regularity as mere soldiers of the rank and file were able to secure. Who can wonder that there was little discipline among them? Who can wonder that the lawless mingled in their ranks, and obtained at times a temporary ascendancy? Who can wonder that the best disposed among them were chargeable with many things, which their posterity must censure, and which they themselves, when they had time for calm review, had occasion to deplore?

The prevailing spirit of that movement, was, we may not doubt, that of living Christianity. There was, truly, as those engaged in it believed, a glorious work of divine grace upon the hearts of individuals, and a glorious reformation accomplished in the Church at large. Great principles, long withdrawn from notice, and almost sunk into oblivion, were restored to their ancient supremacy. The faith, practice and experience of the puritans was revived. Religion flourished again. And as for the disorders, which unhappily attended its resuscitation, these were soon made to disappear before the power of intelligent and sober piety.

Words to Live By:
As the Rev. Bill Iverson is fond of saying, “God has no grandchildren.” By that he means that the work of evangelism must be done afresh in every generation. The Church can never afford to rest or to grow complacent. May we rise to the work that the Lord has given us to do; may the Lord of the harvest send out laborers into His harvest; and may we faithfully proclaim the saving Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ alone.

To read the whole of A Historical Discourse commemorative of the Organization of the First Presbyterian Church, in Newburyport, delivered at the first Centennial celebration, January 7, 1846, click here.

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From the Minutes of the Presbytery of Philadelphia (PCA), September 14-15, 1984:


schaeffer02The Rev. Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer, having successfully communicated the Gospel of Christ to the Christian world and to the world in general, and having stressed by his books and verbal proclamation the practical outworking of the Gospel in the daily life of man, is hereby memorialized by the Philadelphia Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America as a true and faithful servant of the Lord.

His recent departure from this life into the throne presence of our God reminds this Presbytery that at the outset of his ministry, after his seminary years, he originally came under care of the Philadelphia Presbytery of the Bible Presbyterian Church which by historic continuity contributed its record and its ordained men to the present Philadelphia Presbytery, PCA. He was licensed, ordained, and began his pastoral ministry in that Philadelphia Presbytery. he was a member of the St. Louis Presbytery, PCA, when he went to be with the Lord.

Dr. Schaeffer’s stand for the truth encourages us all, these years after his original commitment, to teach and preach the contents of the inspired and inerrant Word of God, to stand firmly for all our God has revealed to us, and to spread it through our society and our world effectively as He enables.

Mrs. Edith Schaeffer later wrote in reply, thanking the Presbytery for their formal statement on his life and work, and noting that she was keeping their letter with the many other letters, telegrams and documents received from all over the world, upon Dr. Schaeffer’s death.

Note: While the PCA Historical Center does have preserved among its collections the Minute Book of the Philadelphia Presbytery (BPC), those minutes only begin in 1939, and so we are lacking a copy of the minutes for the meeting at which Dr. Schaeffer was ordained..

Words to Live By:
This author [TE David Myers] can still remember, when as a young boy of eight or nine years of age, Francis Schaeffer and his wife Edith came to the Army installation at Dachau, Germany, where my father was the installation chaplain, for a series of evangelistic services.  (And yes, it was that Dachau which was infamous for a World War II concentration camp.)  In the shadows of that place of horrors in the little  chapel which had been built by SS soldiers after the close of the war, the good news of salvation was proclaimed by the fullness of the Spirit to a spiritually hungry body of American occupation troops, with souls and hearts being won to Christ and strengthened in the things of the Lord.  Written memorials are better than nothing, but living memorials which are found in the souls of men and women are the best memorials of Francis and Edith Schaeffer.  They will continue on the spiritual legacy which he so faithfully began in days gone by.  Praise the Lord for the ministry of Francis (and Edith) Schaeffer.

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Don’t understand the jargon in our title? Then read on:—

Two Organizations Provide Ways for the Denominations to Network
[an excerpt from a longer article by Rev. William Johnson]

When the future leaders of the PCA were still planning for their beginning, they often had contact with and encouragement from leaders in the RPCES, the OPC and the RPCNA. These contacts and continuing turmoil in the larger and liberal denominations lead to the founding of successive organizations which served all the conservative Presbyterians as ways to keep networking and building cooperation and unity. The first, the National Presbyterian and Reformed Fellowship (NPRF), was founded in 1971 and counted among its leaders Aiken Taylor of the Presbyterian Journal and Donald Graham, its first executive director. Membership was open to ministers, ruling elders, and other interested laymen. Then in 1975 NAPARC was formed, The North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council. It was a more formal organization than the NPRF in that denominations were members – initially, the RPCES, the OPC, the RPCNA, the PCA, and the CRC (Christian Reformed Church). The former group (NPRF) eventually disbanded in the early 1980’s; the latter group (NAPARC) continues still and has been joined by a few other denominations. [Note: The CRC is no longer a member denomination in NAPARC]

Representatives of the closest conservative Presbyterian Churches – the OPC, the RPCES, the RPCNA, and the PCA – continued formal and informal contacts in the later 1970s. Very few if any substantive differences separated them, although history and personality/style differences remained obstacles and all knew that with negotiated merger plans, “the devil was in the details.” A turning point was reached at Covenant College September 13-14, 1979, when representatives of the four churches’ ecumenical committees met. The PCA, being so young, had actually been urged by some at its General Assembly earlier that year not to consider any merger plan for at least five more years (1984!). When Dr. Edmund Clowney suggested on the first day that a way around this PCA reluctance would be for individual churches or even denominations to simply join the PCA, since it was by far the largest of the four bodies, the idea was seized on by Donald J. MacNair the next day and he made a proposal that the PCA consider extending such invitations in the future.

The PCA’s 8th Assembly, meeting in Savannah, GA, voted on June 17, 1980, 525 to 38, to issue those invitations. The RPCNA soon dropped out of consideration (their adherence to exclusive psalm-singing in public worship was still too much of an obstacle) and the PCA presbyteries voted by the spring of 1981 not to approve the invitation to the OPC [a narrow decision – 75% of the 25 presbyteries were needed to vote yes; only 18 approved; one of those PCA Presbyteries defeated the invitation by only 2 votes – so it could be said those 2 votes had effectively closed the door to the OPC]. The plan that came to be known as J&R [i.e., Joining & Receiving] was successfully used to enable the churches, leaders, and members of the RPCES to join and be received by the PCA during their overlapping annual meetings in June, 1982, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The final votes were taken with these results: on June 12th, the RPCES Synod approved J&R by a vote of 322 to 90 (78+% voting in favor). Meanwhile, at some point in the spring of 1982, the point was reached where 75% of the PCA presbyteries had approved the invitation to the RPCES, thus effectively approving the reception of the RPCES. All twenty-five PCA Presbyteries voted in favor of receiving the RPCES, though not unanimously in every case. J&R was officially consummated at the opening of the PCA Assembly in Grand Rapids, June 14, 1982.

Words to Live By: 
Someone in seminary once commented that if Presbyterians had a soup, it would be “Split Pea.”  That has been the sad commentary for far too long.  Of course, we are not talking about just occasions when, with respect to apostate Presbyterianism, it was better for the sake of the gospel and our children, to let our feet do the voting and leave.  But when Bible-believing Presbyterians cannot join together for reasons far inferior to the truths of the gospel, then there is an occasion to weep. Let us pray for biblical union of all far-flung Presbyterian bodies.  Let us work for biblical union of our “split peas.”   And then let us come with a united biblical witness before an increasing secular society.
Psalm 133:1 “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in  unity!” (ESV)

J&R01NPRF = National Presbyterian and Reformed Fellowship
NAPARC = North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council
OPC = Orthodox Presbyterian Church [1936-ongoing]
PCA = Presbyterian Church in America [1973-ongoing]
RPCES = Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod [1965-1982]
RPCNA = Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America [1833-ongoing]


Pictured at left, one of three booklets issued in conjunction with the Joining and Receiving effort.

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[excerpted from The Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church, by Alfred Nevin (1884), p. 930:

The First Bible Printed in New Jersey, by George S. Mott, D.D.

As early as the beginning of the last century [i.e., the early 1700s] laws existed in some of the colonies requiring every family to be furnished with a Bible. This supply continued to be kept up by individual exertion until the meeting of the first Congress in 1777. To that body a memorial was presented on the Bible destitution throughout the country. This memorial was answered by the appointment of a committee, to advise as to the printing of an edition of thirty thousand Bibles. The population of the colonies then was about three millions, and all the Bibles in the entire world at that time did not exceed four millions. This committee reported that the necessary materials, such as paper and types, were so difficult to obtain, that to print and bind thirty thousand copies would cost £10,272, 10s., and in their judgment was impracticable. But they recommended the following:

“The use of the Bible being so universal, and its importance so great, to direct the Committee on Commerce to import, at the expense of Congress, twenty thousand English Bibles from Holland, Scotland, or elsewhere, into the different ports of the States of the Union.” The report was adopted and the importation was ordered.

In 1781, when the continuance of the war prevented further importation, and there was no telling how long this obstruction might be protracted, the subject of printing the Bible was again urged on Congress, and the matter was referred to a committee of three. On their recommendation the following action was taken:–

Resolved, That the United States, in Congress assembled, highly approve the laudable and pious undertaking of Mr. Robert Aitken, of Philadelphia, as subservient of the interests of religion, and being satisfied of the care and accuracy of the execution of the work, recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States.”

This was on September 12th, 1782.

In 1788 Isaac Collins, a member of the Society of Friends, and an enterprising printer of Trenton, New Jersey, and who established the first newspaper in that State, issued proposals to print a quarto edition of the Bible in 984 pages, at a price of four Spanish dollars. The [Presbyterian] Synod of New York and New Jersey, the same year, recommended the undertaking. Dr. Witherspoon, of Princeton, Dr. Samuel Stanhope Smith, President of Nassau Hall, and Rev. Mr. Armstrong, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Trenton, were appointed a committee to concur with committees of any other Denominations, or of our own Synods, to revise the sheets, and, if necessary, to assist in selecting a standard edition. This committee was also authorized to agree with Mr. Collins to append Ostervald’s Notes, if not inconsistent with the wishes of other than Calvinistic subscribers.

In the Spring of 1789 the General Assembly, at its meeting, appointed a committee of sixteen (on which was Mr. Armstrong) to lay Mr. Collins’ proposal before their respective Presbyteries, and to recommend that subscriptions be solicited in each congregation. This recommendation was repeated in 1790 and in 1791. Mr. Collins, in 1788, issued an octavo New Testament. The quarto edition of the Bible, thus sustained, was issued in 1791. There were five thousand copies. Ostervald’s “Practical Observations,” of 170 pages, were furnished to special subscribers, and were bound between the Old and New Testaments. This Bible was so carefully revised that it is still a standard. He and his children read all the proofs. In a subsequent edition, 1793-4, he states in the preface, after mentioning several clergymen who assisted the publisher in 1791: “Some of these persons, James F. Armstrong in particular, being near the press, assisted also in reading and correcting the proof-sheets.” The above interesting facts on this Collins Bible are found in The History of the Presbyterian Church, Trenton, N.J., by Dr. John Hall, the pastor.

The copy before me was presented to the Presbyterian Church in Flemington, N. J., which was organized in 1791. It was used as the pulpit Bible for sixty-six years. It was the gift of Jasper Smith, one of the ruling elders and President of the Board of Trustees. He was an ardent patriot of the Revolution, a devoted Christian, and a strong Presbyterian. At the time he was one of the leading lawyers of the county. To his exertions and his generous contributions was mainly due the organization of the church, which is now approaching the close of its first century. About the beginning of this century Mr. Smith removed to Lawrenceville, N. J., where he died. In his will he bequeathed to the Presbyterian church there the large farm of over two hundred acres, that is now the manse farm. This Bible of Collins is not only the first, but so far as I know, the only edition of the Holy Scriptures printed in New Jersey.

[*According to this web page, only two copies of the 1782 Collins Bible are extant (while copies of the 1791 edition seem readily available, even showing up on eBay from time to time!). We also note that the first Bible produced on American soil was in the Algonquin language, produced by the missionary John Elliott.]

Words to Live By:
For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even o the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” — (Hebrews 4:12)

“That the Bible is a self-consistent, self-interpretive book has been the belief of Jews (as regards the Old Testament) and Christians alike throughout the centuries. It is clearly set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith in the following significant statement: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture in the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one,) it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” A distinguished theologian, Dr. Charles Hodge, has expressed it as follows: “If the Scriptures be what they claim to be, the word of God, they are the work of one mind, and that divine. From this it follows that Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. God cannot teach in one place any thing which is inconsistent with what He teaches in another. Hence Scripture must explain Scripture.”

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One of Thornwell’s Students.

A name not widely known today, but a man, a pastor, a servant of the Lord who was widely known in his day, to the point that parents named their children after him. That is a mark achieved by few in life or death. The life and ministry of the Rev. Edward Henry Buist should be particularly of interest as he was a close student of James Henley Thornwell. It was said of Buist that “As a theologian, he was indoctrinated by the living principles enunciated by the great Thornwell, at whose feet he sat, like Paul at the feet of Gamaliel, an enthusiastic pupil of an enthusiastic teacher.” For that reason, as the student here provides some reflection of the character of the teacher, so the qualities of Buist’s life and ministry are almost undoubtedly a reflection of Thornwell.

Rev. Edward Henry Buist was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on the 5th of October, 1837. He was the son of Rev. Arthur Buist, and the grandson of Rev. George Buist, D.D., the first pastor of the Scotch Church in Charleston, SC, and a minister of much celebrity in the Presbyterian Church.

Mr. Buist was graduated from the South Carolina College in 1858, taking the first honor in a large and talented class, and studied theology in the Presbyterian Theological Seminary at Columbia, SC.

Aveleigh Church was his first charge. While still a licentiate he began to supply the pulpit in 1861, and was ordained at Newberry in June of 1862.

He was married in 1864 to Miss Carrie Sebring of Charleston, SC, (formerly of Tarreytown, NY.) He left Newberry in the summer of 1865, and went to Tarrytown where he remained for sometime. He became the pastor of the church at Cheraw, SC, in 1869. His pastorate at Cheraw continued until his death which occurred on the 11th of September, 1882.

By reason of his talents, his scholarly attainments and his social qualities, Mr. Buist should be ranked among the foremost preachers who have filled the different pulpits in Newberry in the past. I prefer that those who were more intimately associated with him than myself should speak of his virtues, and it affords me pleasure to be permitted to present the following extract from a memorial adopted by the Session and read before the congregation of Aveleigh Church, on the 8th of October, 1882 :

‘Rev Edward Henry Buist was taken from us so suddenly, that it is hard for us as yet to appreciate the void his death has occasioned. It is proper that Aveleigh Church should offer some testimonial to his memory, as it was here that his ministerial life began. This was his first charge. While still a licentiate, he supplied this pulpit, beginning June, 1861, and it was not until June, 1862 that he was ordained pastor. It shows his great conscientiousness that he hesitated twelve months before he could be induced to accept the pastorate. This relation though practically severed the year previous–was not formally dissolved until the 15th of February, 1866–so great was the desire of this congregation to retain his services. His life during these years of civil strife is closely interwoven with that of the Church.

“Although young, his character even then had been sufficiently developed to enable us to give a proper estimate of it, and to judge from the fruits of his efforts at that time, what influence he must exert when his faculties were fully matured. He was scholarly in his manner, and in all his ways–as a pulpit orator and as a debator. He was a fine linguist, especially proficient in the ancient languages; learned in ecclesiastical history; a master of logic and a profound student of metaphysics. His natural talent for the last science and love of it, tinctured his whole line of thought and mode of expression. He greatly resembled in this respect his beloved teacher, Thornwell, with whom he had also in common that thorough earnestness which carries conviction to the mind of the hearer.

“As to his moral qualilties, what mainly distinguished him was his conscientiousness, his charity both in opinion and action, and his exceeding cheerfulness which so thoroughly imbued him, that he imparted it to all with whom he came in contact; it divested his religion of all gloom–although he was orthodox–invested it with a warmth to which may be ascribed a great share of his success.

“In the wider sphere of the Presbyterian Church as in the pulpit, he was distinguished by his clearness of thought and logical statement, which caused his opinions to be treated with great consideration. His loss will be felt, his memory cherished throughout our entire Church.”

[excerpted from Reminiscences of Newberry: Embracing Important Occurrences, Brief Biographies of Prominent Citizens and Historical Sketches of Churches;… by John Brown Carwile. Newberry, SC: Walker, Evans, Cogswell, 1890, pp. 132-134.

Words to Live By:
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

(Matthew 7:17-20, KJV)

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