May 2015

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When Dr. John B. Adger returned for physical recuperation from the mission field in Smyrna [part of Turkey], he soon began to preach to a congregation of blacks whom he gathered in the basement of the Second Presbyterian church of Charleston, South Carolina, where his brother-in-law Dr. Thomas Smyth was pastor. With appeal to the city and to the Presbytery on behalf of the newly gathered congregation, Dr. Adger delivered a sermon before the Presbytery on May 9, 1847. His text was “the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” (Matthew 11:5). Without delay, Dr. James H. Thornwell prepared a review of the sermon, which appeared on the pages of The Southern Presbyterian Review, giving support to Adger’s plan, as unveiled in the sermon. Dr. Adger had argued that blacks ought to have their own congregations, a full-time white minister, and the Gospel preached in terms that they could understand. While this plan certainly encountered opposition, nonetheless the leading citizens of Charleston and particularly those of Second Presbyterian gave enthusiastic support to the idea.

It was with this support that a chapel was built for the fledgling congregation on Anson Street in Charleston, at a cost of $7,700, and the building was dedicated on this day, May 26th, in 1850.

Dr. John L. Girardeau succeeded Adger as pastor of the congregation, and the Anson Street chapel soon became too small. Expansion required a move to Calhoun Street, where the largest church building in Charleston. Dr. Girardeau noted that he was only kept from going to the foreign field by the call to preach to the mass of slaves on the seacoast. The church records for Zion Presbyterian Church give evidence of Girardeau’s diligence in caring for his flock and how often he was called upon to minister to them in their dying hours.

But Girardeau had stiff opposition from many of the citizens of Charleston, including the mayor. In a 2005 essay titled “A Lost Moment in Time”, (now Dr.) Otis W. Pickett observed that

Girardeau had become so unpopular that he was almost lynched by a crowd of angry as well as nervous CharlzionPC_CharlestonSCestonians in 1859. However in the midst of all this Girardeau press on with his ministry and it continued to prosper. Many African Americans flocked to his church because he acknowledged the need of the African American community to have an identity independent of the white congregations in Charleston. He acknowledged that the African Americans needed to be religiously empowered; by providing this in a limited way at Zion Church, he endeared himself to his flock. Distinct from all other churches of the time, Girardeau’s church allowed African Americans to sit in the pews while the white families were made to sit in the balcony. The environment that Girardeau created for African Americans in his church has been described as “their church, as no other church in Charleston has been theirs since Morris Brown and the African Methodist Church. It was a building, a place, that had been built for them. Here they could gather, could claim a community and thus a humanity in the very midst of an alienating and dehumanizing bondage.”

However, his most revolutionary act was allowing the slaves in his church to have surnames. For hundreds of years, slave owners throughout the south had denied their slaves surnames in order to show that slaves had no lasting family connections because of their status as property. Hence, claiming surnames was a bold display of independence for slaves. By allowing this, Girardeau made Zion Presbyterian Church a place where slaves could publicly declare they had a family history and they had an allegiance to people other than their owners. As a result of this training and ministry experience, unlike many of his contemporaries, Girardeau was more than adequately prepared to extend greater racial equality after the Civil War was over.

After the War and before Girareau could return to Charleston, a number of freedmen of Zion Presbyterian Church beckoned Girardeau to return to “the Holy City” and resume his work with them. They desired to have their white pastor whom they knew, loved, and respected, rather than a black missionary from the North. Throughout the post-War and Reconstruction years, Girardeau worked arduously among both black and white in Charleston. He labored within the Southern Presbyterian Church to see that the freedmen were included in the Church and in 1869 he nominated seven freedmen for the office of ruling elder in Zion Presbyterian Church, preached the ordination service, and with the white members of his Session, laid hands on his black brothers.

Unfortunately, the pressures of Reconstruction and the Freedmen’s Bureau, and the hardened positions of notables like B. M. Palmer and R. L. Dabney brought the church to a pivotal moment. The weight of political and social issues eventuated in “organic separation” of white membership and black membership and the formation of churches along the color line. Girardeau alone dissented against the resolution at the 1874 General Assembly in Columbus, Mississippi, for which he served as Moderator.

By 1959, the historic building of the Zion Presbyterian Church was demolished to make room for the expansion of two insurance companies. The building had been sold to Public Savings Life Insurance Company for $70,000, after the congregation made the decision that the building was larger than needed and began seeking a smaller, more modern building to better suit the needs of the congregation. The church continues to this day, having merged with another to become the Zion-Olivet Presbyterian Church.

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Words to Live By:

As Dr. Pickett observed at the opening of his essay,

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s observation that eleven o’clock Sunday morning is America’s most segregated hour still rings true today. As sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith have noted, American Christians are “divided by faith” along racial lines. While a number of factors—social, economic, educational—have contributed to this segregation, the most significant determining factor continues to be historical.
In the early days of Reconstruction, American evangelicals in the south missed an opportunity to break down racial barriers by fostering interracial congregations. Instead of seizing the moment, evangelical Christians buttressed the dividing walls of hostility, failing to live out the reality of the Gospel. While each mainline denomination in the south had its own way of proliferating racial separatism, none provided a more heart-breaking example of this than the Southern Presbyterians.

The challenges that confront our culture today present Bible-believing Christians with a great opportunity, one in which we truly can, if we will rise to the occasion, show that the Gospel cuts across all dividing lines. As the wider culture is increasingly fractured, the Church is afforded an opportunity for witness. How can you pray? How can you support new works like Crown & Joy Presbyterian Church, or older works like New City Fellowship? How can you strengthen men in their preparation for the ministry? How can you extend a hand of fellowship? Will you?

 

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The Great Secret of True Comfort

It was on this day, May 25th, in 1823, that Dr. Archibald Alexander wrote to his ailing mother, rejoicing in her recent recovery, yet seeking also to console and comfort her in the last days of her old age. The language of his letter may seem rather formal—we attribute that to the times. That he loved his mother dearly is no less certain. But his counsel here is so apt and useful for all to profit from. Take it to heart!  

Dr. Alexander to his Mother

Princeton, May 25, 1823.

My Dear Mother:—

“When I last saw you, it was very doubtful whether you would ever rise again from the bed to which you were confined. Indeed, considering your great age, it was not to be expected that you should entirely recover your usual health. I was much gratified to find that in the near prospect of eternity, your faith did not fail, but that you could look death in the face without dismay, and felt willing, if it were the will of God, to depart from this world of sorrow and disappointment. But it has pleased your Heavenly Father to continue you a little longer in the world. I regret to learn that you have endured much pain from a disease of your eyes, and that you have been less comfortable than formerly. Bodily affliction you must expect to endure as long as you continue in the world. ‘The days of our years are three-score and ten, and if by reason of strength they be four-score years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.’ But while your Heavenly Father continues you in this troublesome world, He will, I trust, enable you to be resigned and contented and patient under the manifold afflictions which are incident to old age.

“The great secret of true comfort lies in a single word, TRUST. Cast your burdens on the Lord, and He will sustain them. If your evidences of being in the favour of God are obscured, if you are doubtful of your acceptance with Him, still go directly to Him by faith; that is, trust in His mercy and in Christ’s merits. Rely simply on His word of promise. But not afraid to exercise confidence. There can be no deception in depending entirely on the Word of God. It is not presumption to trust in Him when He has commanded us to do so. We dishonour Him by our fearfulness and want of confidence. We thus call in question His faithfulness and His goodness. Whether your mind is comfortable or distressed, flee for refuge to the outstretched wings of his protection and mercy. There is all fulness in Him; there is all willingness to bestow what we need. He says, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in weakness. As thy day is so shall thy strength be. I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.’ Be not afraid of the pangs of death. Be not afraid that your Redeemer will then be afar off. Grace to die comfortably is not commonly given until the trial comes. Listen not to the tempter, when he endeavours to shake your faith, and destroy your comfort. Resist him, and he will flee from you. If you feel that you can trust your soul willingly and wholly to the hands of Christ, relying entirely on His merits; if you feel that you hate sin, and earnestly long to be delivered from its defilement; if you are willing to submit to the will of God, however much He may afflict you; then be not discouraged. These are not the marks of an enemy, but of a friend. My sincere prayer is, that your sun may set in serenity; that your latter end may be like that of the righteous; and that your remaining days, by the blessing of God’s providence and grace, may be rendered tolerable and even comfortable.

“It is not probable that we shall ever meet again in this world; and yet, as you have already seen one of your children go before you, you may possibly live to witness the departure of more of us. I feel that old age is creeping upon me. Whoever goes first, the rest must soon follow. May we all be ready! And may we all meet around the throne of God, where there is no separation for ever and ever! Amen!

“I remain your affectionate son,

“A.A.”

Note: Dr. Alexander was born on April 17, 1772, and was 51 years old when he wrote this letter. He was the third of nine children born to his parents. Of those children, his sister Nancy died in childhood and seven of the siblings were still living in 1839. Dr. Alexander’s declining years began about 1840 and he died on October 22, 1851 at the age of 79. His mother died October 11, 1825.

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STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 20. — Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A. — God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into the estate of salvation, by a Redeemer.

Scripture References: Eph. 1:4-7; Titus 3:4-7; Titus 1:2; Gal. 3:21; Rom. 3:20-22.

Questions:

1. Whom does God bring into a state of salvation?

God brings all his elect people into an estate of salvation to which he has chosen them.

2. Who are the elect people of God?

The elect people of God are those whom He has chosen to eternal life, chosen from all eternity out of His good pleasure.

3. What do we mean when we use the term “out of His good pleasure?”

We mean that even though man is lost and fallen, deserving nothing from God, it was God’s good pleasure to make provision for some men in what is called the covenant of grace.

4. How does God bring His elect into an estate of salvation?

God brings His elect to salvation by a Redeemer, (Act. 4:12)

5. What is the covenant of grace?

It is a covenant of eternal life and salvation to sinners, to be given them in a way of free grace and mercy. It is an arrangement between God and his elect.

6. Are there conditions to the covenant of grace?

Yes, there is a condition. The condition is faith, by which the elect have an active interest in Jesus Christ, (John 3:16. Act. 16:31)

7. What is the promise inferred in the covenant of Grace?

The promise is that God will cause His Holy Spirit to dwell in the elect and to work in them, creating the faith and virtue that He desires. In other words, what God requires, He gives. (J. B. Green)

A COVENANT WITH A CONDITION

The covenant of grace is that which heals and comforts a wounded soul, it is a covenant that shows an open door of escape to the sinner. The promises of this covenant are absolutely free as they concern us. And yet the covenant of grace is a covenant with a condition.

A. A. Hodge puts it very well when he states, “Here is a covenant with a condition—whosoever believes shall be saved, whosoever believeth not shall be damned. The Lord Jesus Christ comes to view and is represented as the Mediator of the covenant, because it all depends upon his mediatorial work, and, above all, he is represented as the Surety. You promise faith upon your knees, and the Lord Jesus Christ endorses for you.”

It is true that the covenant of grace, taken by itself, is pure grace and excludes all works. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is Good Tidings and it is simply a gift from God. But this Gospel comes to us within the framework of a condition, the condition being none other than that of our willingly accepting in faith what God wants to give us. The will of God in this regard realizes itself in no other way than through our reason and our will.

This all puts upon us as Christians a great responsibility to preach the Gospel to everyone with whom we come in contact. For indeed whosoever believes shall be saved and whosoever believeth not shall be damned, such is the condition involved with the covenant of grace. It can be rightly said, theologically speaking, “that a person, by the grace he receives, himself believes and him s elf turns from sin to God.” (Bavinck). This means that evangelism according to the Westminster Standards is something that should be carried out by every born again believer. There is no place in the Reformed Faith for the mistaken notion held by many that there is no place for personal work within the framework of the Westminster Standards.

It behooves all of us who hold to the Standards to remember our responsibility as so aptly stated by Paul, “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (I Cor. 9:22). The Covenant of Grace, with its condition, should motivate us to personal evangelism.

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He Wrote for the Ages
His name was John Ross Macduff. Born this day, May 23, 1818, in Bonhard, near Perth, Scotland, John received all his education in Edinburgh. Ordained into the Church of Scotland, he went on to serve in three Presbyterian churches, including one fifteen year ministry in Glasgow, Scotland. And while he was faithful in the pulpit to proclaim God’s Word, yet he also had a further ministry through the writing of devotional and practical books, many of which are still available by means of the Internet. And we are talking here around 200 years later. As my title puts it, he wrote for the ages.
It was in 1857 that his fellow elders in the Church of Scotland appointed him to the Hymnal Committee of the Church. He went on to write 31 hymns, all of which were then widely used in the Church of Scotland. While his hymn on the Second Advent of Christ was not republished in the Red Trinity Hymnal, it was found in the old Blue Trinity Hymnal on page 238.  Read its words found in the four stanza hymn:
Christ is coming! Let creation from her groans and travail cease;
Let the glorious proclamation Hope restore and faith increase;
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Come, thou blessed Prince of Peace.
Earth can now but tell the story Of thy bitter cross and pain;
She shall yet behold thy glory, When thou comest back to reign;
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Let each heart repeat the strain.
Long thine exiles have been pining, Far from rest, and home, and thee:
But, in heav’nly vestures shining, They their loving Christ shall see;
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Haste the joyous jubilee.
With that blessed hope before us, Let no harp remain unstrung;
Let the mighty advent chorus; Onward roll from tongue to tongue;
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come!” Amen.
Unlike ancient hymns of the second advent, this one by John Macduff focused in on the Second Coming as an occasion of triumph and joy. It was based on Scriptures like Romans 18:18-25; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Titus 2:13; Revelation 1:7; and Revelation 22:20.
John Macduff would retire from the ministry of the preached Word in 1871 and lived until 1895.
Words to Live By:
To still have sermons and devotional classics available to read is a remarkable testimony for our instruction from his heart and lips.  He truly wrote for the ages.  And of course, it is as we faithful pastors preach the inexhaustible riches of God’s Word that our sermons become timeless in their comfort and instruction.  Lay people! Treasure  pastors who are faithful to proclaim the whole counsel of God to you.  They are few and far between in our generation.

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As settlers moved ever westward in North America, the problem of planting churches in these new regions forced questions of Christian unity and cooperation. So it was that in 1801 that a Plan of Union was agreed to, first by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and a year later by the Congregational Association of Connecticut, which would allow a pastor of the one denomination to gather and serve a church of the other denomination. But within some thirty-odd years, the Plan was increasingly seem to be causing problems. For one, the Congregationalists who had been almost unanimously Calvinistic at the turn of the century, were now charged with being infected with elements of heterodoxy, and the influence of these elements was seen as making inroads among Presbyterians. There were other issues and problems, voiced from both sides, and for the Presbyterians, the matter came to a head at the General Assembly of 1837. In the weeks before the Assembly, those opposed to Plan of Union met in conference and drew up a fifteen point Memorial, citing their complaints with the Plan and other matters. These “memorialists” then arrived at the General Assembly, organized and prepared to take action. What follows is E.H. Gillett’s account of that Assembly and the action by the memorialists to bring the Plan to an end. This was the battle between the Old School (the memorialists) and the New School:—

Abrogation of the Plan of Union [1837]

The General Assembly of 1837 met in the Central Presbyterian Church, in Philadelphia, on the 18th of May, and was opened with a sermon by the Rev. John Witherspoon from the words (1 Cor. 1: 10-11), “Now, I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared to me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

The parties into which the Assembly was divided were ably represented. On one side were Rev. Messrs. Breckinridge, Plumer, Murray, and Drs. Green, Elliott, Alexander, Junkin, Baxter, Cuyler, Graham, and Witherspoon. On the other were Drs. Beman, Porter, of Catskill, McAuley, Peters, and Cleland, and Rev. Messrs. Duffield, Gilbert, Cleaveland, Dickinson, and Judge Jessup. The respective strength of the parties was declared in the vote for moderator, the candidate of the former receiving one hundred and thirty seven votes, while the other candidate, Baxter Dickinson, received but one hundred and six. Thus encouraged, the memorialists were confident that they should now be enabled to adopt decisive measures.

The Committee on Bills and Overtures consisted of Messrs. Witherspoon, Alexander, Beman, Cleland, Murray, Todd, and Latta, with four elders. To them along with overtures from Presbyteries on the same subject, the memorial was referred. The report of the committee recommended the adoption of the testimony of the memorialists concerning doctrines, as the testimony of the Assembly. Objection was made. The list of errors noted was fifteen in number. Some members thought that others should be added. One member proposed four others. Dr. Beman thought the list already too long. Of some mentioned in it he had never before heard. It was finally resolved to postpone the question for the present, and to take up the portion of the report bearing upon the Plan of Union.

This subject came before the Assembly on the afternoon of Monday, May 22. It was resolved, first, that between the two branches of the Church concerned in the Plan of Union, sentiments of mutual respect and esteen ought to be maintained, and that no reasonable effort should be spared to preserve a perfectly good understanding between them; secondly, that it was expedient to continue the plan of friendly communications between them as it then existed; but, thirdly, that as the Plan of Union adopted for the new settlements in 1801 was originally an unconstitutional act on the part of the Assembly,—these important rules having never been submitted to the Presbyteries,—and as they were totally destitute of authority as proceeding from the General Association of Connecticut, which is vested with no power to legislate in such cases, and especially to enact laws to regulate churches not within her limits, and as much confusion and irregularity have arisen from this unnatural and unconstitutional system of union, therefore it is resolved that “the act of the Assembly of 1801, entitled a ‘Plan of Union,’ be, and the same is hereby, abrogated.” The vote upon this important measure, which tested the relative strength of the parties in the Assembly, stood one hundred and forty-three to one hundred and ten.

So the Plan of Union was ended. Those interested in reading further in Gillett’s account may click here.

Words to Live By:
In retrospect, Rev. Witherspoon’s opening sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:10-11 was both plaintive and somewhat prophetic of events to follow that week in 1837. While he was a leading voice among the “memorialists,” John Knox Witherspoon [1791-1853] was also the grandson of Dr. John Witherspoon [1723-1794], a prominent founding father of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Perhaps it was in the light of that heritage and so as something of a statesman for the Church that John Knox Witherspoon delivered his sermon that day, knowing what was ahead, yet hoping for better things. Pray for the Church when self-seeking, bitterness and needless contention arise; stand peaceably for the truth of God’s Word and for the unity of the Body of Christ, remembering that the battle is the Lord’s.

Now, I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared to me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.”

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