March 2016

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Home Religion was an Important Part of Colonial Presbyterianism

With tens of thousands of Scots–Irish Presbyterians coming to Cumberland County of Pennsylvania, various Presbyterian churches were organized in the seventeen-hundreds through0out central Pennsylvania.  One such congregation was Big Spring Presbyterian Church in Newville, just west of Carlisle.

After several pastors filled the pulpit at Big Spring on a temporary basis, a call was finally extended on March 21, 1787 to the Samuel Wilson, with the prayer that he would serve as their full-time pastor.  The young man must have shown great promise, for he was not yet even ordained! But after passing his ordination exams at the Presbytery of Donegal, Rev. Wilson was installed as pastor on June 20, 1787.  It was said that his pastorate was one of activity and prosperity for the congregation. He labored there at Big Spring for thirteen years—until 1799.

Evidently, Rev. Wilson possessed the gift of administration. He composed long lists, providing the ages of all members and adherents. Dividing them into districts, Samuel Wilson assigned a ruling elder over each district. These elders, among other duties, had the ministry of visiting each family and adherent on an annual basis. These were no social times.  Pastor Wilson had given to each elder, and those family members underneath their oversight, various questions of understanding, complete with catechisms to memorize from the Westminster Standards.  We have two samples of questions upon which the annual visits would ask and expect answers.

In Ruling Elder John Carson’s district, the first book of the Bible was the focus. His questions were:
1. Who was the penman of Genesis? When was it written? What length of time does its history contain?;
2. What are the principal doctrines and events?;
3. What do you understand by creation, and is it a work peculiar to God only?;
4. What seems to be the order of creation and what is the work of each day?;
5. What are those called who do not acknowledge divine revelation?  What objections do they offer against Moses and how are their writing confuted?;
6. What rational arguments can be offered in favor of Moses, that his mission was from God and his writings were of divine inspiration?;
7. What Scriptural prophecies have been fulfilled, and what at present is fulfilling or yet to be fulfilled?
After these questions had been discussed with each family, there was then an examination upon the ninth chapter of the Confession of Faith! Elder Carlson was a busy man, for he had 24 families in his district!

Elder William Lindsay had seven questions given by Pastor Wilson to his flock of members.  They were:
1.  What are the different kinds of faith in Scripture?;
2. What are the marks of true faith?;
3. Where does saving faith lie in assent or consent?;
4. What reason would you assign why no actions are acceptable to God, but such as flow from faith?;
5. Will it then follow, that wicked and unregenerate persons may as well transgress the law, as endeavor the observance of it?
6. Must we turn from sin in order to come to Christ by faith?
7. Seeing faith is the act of a believing soul, in what sense is it said to be the gift of God?
After these questions were asked and answered, Chapter 8 of the Confession of Faith was discussed.

Biblical Christianity was to be practiced not only within the four walls of the Church, but also inside the houses which made up the homes of Presbyterian families. And spiritually minded elders were to serve as true spiritual overseers of each family.

Words to Live By:
Pray for the elders of your church, that they might shepherd aright the church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood. How comfortable would you be if similar type questions were asked of your family in an elder’s visitation? Do you feel that such Scriptural exams would be profitable to your family? The local church specifically? What might you do to suggest such an approach to the people of God?

by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 70. Which is the seventh commandment?

A. The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Q. 71. What is required in the seventh commandment?

A. The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.

Scripture References: Exodus 20:14; I Thessalonians 4:4-5; I Corinthians 7:2; Matthew 5:28; Ephesians 4:29.


1. What is meant by the word “chastity”?

The word “chastity” means a hatred of all uncleanness, no matter whether it be in the body or in the mind and affections (Job 31:1),

2. What is the two-fold duty involved in the keeping of this commandment?

The two-fold duty involves both ourselves and others, there is an equal responsibility here.

3. How can the seventh commandment be broken?

It can be broken by an act, but also by impure thoughts; and it should be recognized that it is from within the heart of a man that sin comes. Therefore the real source of violations of this commandment is the sinful heart.

4. How can we preserve both our own and our neighbor’s chastity?

We can best preserve it by keeping in the right relationship with our Lord. If we do that, then there will be certain characteristics about us such as: loving with a pure heart (I Pet. 1:22); speaking in a way that will only edify ourselves and our neighbor (Eph. 4:29); behaving in such a way that we are always a testimony for Jesus Christ, never giving any cause for criticism in this area (I Pet. 3:1, 2).

5. How can we best keep in that right relationship with the Lord in this regard?

We must be watchful over our hearts and spirits, over our eyes and ears. We must be diligent in our walk with the Lord remembering we can never take even “minute vacations” from our watchfulness. We must follow after temperance in all things. We must be careful of the company we keep, the marriages we contract. We must seek the mind of Christ with regard to things sinful and unclean. We must study the Word and pray daily.

6. Why must we be careful to keep this commanment?

We must be careful to keep it because it is a command or God, but one which in this age is bypassed time and time again by society.


Our Lord well knew the dangers to which we would be subjected when He had His servant pray: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” He knew that our only method of living was by His grace. He knew that His Word dare not be left out of our approach to life.

When we ask the question as to why there are so many divorces, wrecked homes, broken hearts, and all kinds of vice and immorality in the world of today, we must remember that the difficulty lies in ignorance of, or rebellion against, God’s will. People have lost knowledge that the married state in God’s sight is holy—holy in origin, in essence, and in purpose. It is holy in origin because God Himself instituted it. It is holy in essence because God intends that it shall be a life-long covenant between one man and one woman. It is holy in purpose because it is God’s institution for the propagation of the human race, the living together of two people, all to the glory of God.

Today we must be on guard, especially against the false ideas about marriage, about morality. The “New Morality” is one of the worst lies of Satan ever to be spread in this country. And to think it is being spread by the church itself! Actually it is nothing new. It is nothing but a rejection of the Ten Commandments and this is what the true church of God has been living with for years—the rejection of the Word of God. The difference today is that the proponents of immorality are becoming bolder, for they realize now there are few who will stand against them. How deplorable it is to think they are playing right into the hands of the Communists whose first rule has always been: “Corrupt the youngl”

As believers we need to be on our guard in two ways. FIrst, that none of these so-called new rules creep in unawares into our lives and we begin to excuse wrong behaviour with the old “everybody is doing it” sort of approach. Second, that we might raise up the standard of the Word against them. We must declare the Word of God against all unchastity. We must remind people again and again that our Lord puts His finger on the difficulty: “For out of the heart proceed evU thoughts…” We must preach Jesus Christ to a dying world! There is no other method of dealing with the problem. The “New Morality” is taking hold because people do not know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Such should be our constant messagel

“Divine Judgments upon Tyrants” by Jacob Cushing  (April 20, 1778)

What is God’s view on certain political matters or events? That is a question often asked . . . and often mocked. Centuries earlier, however, preachers and their audiences were more sympathetic with the notion that God might actually have moral opinions on the acts of human beings. Earlier preachers like Jacob Cushing were not as timid as some today.

Jacob Cushing (1730-1809) was a graduate of Harvard in the mid-18th century, and he served as a pastor in Waltham, Massachusetts, nearly a half century, from 1752 on. He had 15 sermons published and kept a full diary that supplements his sermons. This was his only political treatise that was published and it was in commemoration of the tyrannical acts at Lexington on April 19, 1775—the first day in America military history that would live in infamy.

In this sermon (based on Dt. 32:43)—his only political sermon published—Cushing begins with a sound foundation, i. e., that God is not the deity of Deism; rather, he is the God who is quite involved in his creation and is neither so distant nor impotent as to carry moral suasion.

His sermon commences with the words “That there is a God” is not only the “prime foundation of all religion,” but if he is a particular type of God, his omnipotent actions will be flow into human events in public squares as well. A God devoid of providence, thought Cushing, was a solitary fiction who would yield little but “gloomy apprehensions.” Instead, God’s providence excites our gratitude and comforts during affliction. He is the sovereign God who “interests himself in the affairs of mankind,” and rational beings should consider how is providence is meted out.

He urged his audience to reflect on “the murderous war, rapine, and devastation” three years earlier on April 19, 1775. From the outset his purpose was practical, urging: “Under this visitation, or the greatest trials imaginable, we have abundant consolation, that God rules in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of this earth.” Specifically, that God would avenge the blood of his servants—the concluding words of Moses’ song in Deuteronomy 32—is designed to assure his people and to fortify them in resisting tyrants. This Deuteronomy prophecy is not limited to Israel, he preached, but applies to all God’s “chosen, though oppressed and injured people in all generations, that he will recompense their wrongs”—plead their cause—and do justice upon their enemies.

His subheadings, then, are:

  1. That in his righteous providence, God sometimes allows “the sons of violence to oppress his saints and people.” God over-rules all things and at times chastises or reforms his imperfect church and people with oppressors. God’s variety of workings includes even the use of “revolting, sinful people.” These conditions should be met with humility and prayers for God’s mercies.
  2. God will avenge his people, eventually and particularly, against tyrants. God’s adversaries will not escape his providential vengeance. One method of confirming this is to review the biblical record to ascertain where and how God has overthrown a variety of enemies and tyrants “through the powerful influence of a wise providence.” Here Cushing cites the examples of Edom, Haman, Babylon, and times of persecution.
  3. Next, Cushing reminds his listeners of the promise in Deuteronomy 32, namely, that God will also show kindness and compassion to the penitent—in stark contrast to his providential judgment against tyrants. Again, he cites numerous biblical instances of this, and assures his readers that “the intention of God’s severe dispensations” is “not the destruction of his people but their amendment.”

By way of application (“improvement”) he includes the following:

  • That God will render vengeance to his adversaries, and do justice to the enemies of his church.
  • That God will be merciful to his people, his humble, penitent, praying people, and will in his own way and time, avenge, the blood of his servants.
  • That therefore we have abundant cause to rejoice with his people; and to yield cheerful and constant obedience to him.

The sermon concludes with some graphic language that was, indeed, intended to “stir up minds.” It seemed clear to this 18th century preacher that the British marauders fulfilled this Deuteronomic passage and that little new could be added to inspire his listeners about that “awful day.” Here’s the word picture he drew: “. . . the enemy came upon us like a flood, stealing a march from Boston, through by-ways, under the darkness and silence of the night; and cowards and robbers, attacked us altogether defenceless; and cruelly murdered the innocent, the aged and helpless.” Accordingly they are described by the prophet, as persons whose hands are defiled with blood; adding, “their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, wasting and destruction are in their paths.”

Still, Cushing observed “the kindness of our almighty Preserver, that no more were slain by the hand of violence; and that . . . the hand of God was visible in these things; and power and goodness of God manifested in our deliverance, from the enraged, disappointed enemy, is to be devoutly retained in memory, and thankfully acknowledged.” He further appropriated the words of Psalm 124 to the American patriots, and applied the opening words of that psalm, “to ourselves and circumstances, with a little variation; ‘If it had not been the Lord, who was on our side, now may New England say: If it had not been the Lord, who was on our side, when men rose up against us; then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us,’ and began to break out in fierceness: In their furious rage they would have suddenly devoured us, and laid waste the country.”

God’s infinite mercy prevailed, and the “barbarous savage enemies were put into fear; they were made to flee before us, and hastily to retreat (as wild beast to their dens) before a few scattered, undisciplined freemen: Not to our courage or conduct, but to God’s name be all the praise and glory.” Toward the end, he exhorted:

If this war be just and necessary on our part, as past all doubt it is, then we are engaged in the work of the Lord, which obliges us (under God mighty in battle) to use our ‘swords as instruments of righteousness, and calls us to the shocking, but necessary, important duty of shedding human blood’; not only in defence of our property, life and religion, but in obedience to him who hath said, ‘Cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood.’

Moreover, he also addressed the militia and called on them to cultivate “a martial spirit, and to strive to excel in the art of war.” Most importantly, he called for “honorable and shining character,” befitting true Christians. He set in perspective the fleetingness of this life and called on his hearers to be willing to suffer. And he exhorted them to devoutly worship, honor, and fear the true Lord of all armies. While enemies had a temporary victory, ultimately the Lord of hose would honor all his promises—and his curses—and care for his people. Their calling was to faithful “duty, interest, liberty, religion and life, every thing worth enjoyment, [which] demand speedy and the utmost exertions.”

Cushing was quick to cite two previous anniversary sermons, one by Rev. Clark in 1776, and the other by Rev. Cooke, his spiritual father (see in these posts), from 1777. With this, and along with the previous post in this series by Henry Cumings, a homiletic tradition of commemorating certain providential days that will go down in history as infamy is being established.

The full sermon is posted at: It is also contained in Ellis Sandoz’s Political Sermons of the American Founding Era.

by Dr. David W. Hall, Pastor
Midway Presbyterian Church

The Westminster Abbey of the United States
by David T. Myers

The title of this post came from a remark made in the latter part of the eighteen hundreds describing the Cemetery of Princeton, New Jersey. And that description is justified by the saints who make up the “inhabitants” of this historic cemetery.

This author has chosen the birthday of March 18, 1837 of the twenty-second and twenty-fourth president of the United States, Grover Cleveland, as our introduction to our post today. The son of a Presbyterian minister, he was the only President from New Jersey And while he was a Presbyterian during his time in the White House, by his own admission he did not focus on that religious affiliation, like Benjamin Harrison did when he was the president between Cleveland’s terms. After his role as the chief executive in our nation’s capitol, Grover Cleveland returned to New Jersey, and specifically Princeton, New Jersey for eleven years until his death. The White House still sends a wreath and a military escort to place on his grave on this day of his birth.

But he is just one of the many notable persons who are buried in this “Westminster Abbey”. For our purposes, we are much more interested in the spiritual “greats” of Princeton Theological Seminary, that great school of the prophets, from its beginning in 1812 up until 1929, when it was still the bastion of Biblical and Reformed theology in the Presbyterian church.

warfieldbbgraveThink about these theological giants of the faith who are buried in this cemetery which began in 1757. To name just a few, they are Archibald Alexander (1772 – 1851), James Waddel Alexander (1804 – 1859), and Joseph Addison Alexander (1808 – 1860).

Of this one great family, A. A. Hodge once said, “I never go to Princeton without visiting the graves of the Alexanders – father and sons – and I never think of them without having my poor staggering faith in God and in regenerated humanity strengthened. Let us uncover our heads and thank God for them.”

Continuing the Presbyterian notables, Aaron Burr, Sr. (1716 – 1757), who was the first to be buried in the cemetery, Samuel Davies (1723 – 1761), Jonathan Edwards (1703 –1758), Charles Hodge (1797 – 1878), Archibald Alexander Hodge (1823 – 1886), Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851 – 1921) [that’s Warfield’s grave pictured  above], and John Witherspoon (1723 – 1794).

The cemetery, which is still receiving burials, is under the oversight of Nassau Presbyterian Church, PCUSA, in Princeton, NJ.

Here is a quiz for our readers: J Gresham Machen and Geerhardus Vos are NOT buried in this Westminster Abby of the United States. Where are they buried? (And you cannot Google it!)

Words to Live By:
Countless newer churches in our Presbyterian and Reformed denominations do not set aside land for a cemetery. Of this omission, we are sad, for church cemeteries are spiritually uplifting sites. Yes, there are humorous stones, like one on a tombstone in Princeton’s Cemetery, “I told you I was sick!” But primarily, Christian memorials are witnesses to the grace and glory of God. As we read them, our poor staggering faith in God and in regenerated humanity is strengthened. Yes, we can have monuments of grace in city cemeteries, like that of Edward and Eleanor Kellogg’s monument in Leesburg, Virginia, which states at its bottom, “Saved by Grace.” That is a continuing witness to all who pass by. But so are those monuments in church cemeteries. Press for a cemetery for your church.

A good reminder on our place in the Church, among the congregation, and before a watching world.

What Are My Duties?

[excerpted from THE CHARLESTON OBSERVER, 12.15 (14 April 1838) 58, col. 6.]


It is the duty of my pastor to “preach the Word”—to “watch for souls as they that must give account”—to “feed the flock over which the Holy Ghost has made him an overseer”—to “warn, reprove, and rebuke, with all long-suffering and doctrine”—to comfort the afflicted, support the weak, and be “all things to all men that he may win some” to Christ. But it is not my object to specify all the duties which devolve upon him in his relation as a Minister of the Gospel, and as the Shepherd of a flock. These duties are delineated on the sacred pages in scattered fragments, and may be collected at leisure by every diligent student of the Bible. They are laid down for the most part in general terms, and relate to the care which he is to take of his own heart, “lest after having preached the Gospel to others he himself should be a castaway.”—to the improvement of his own mind, so that his “lips should keep knowledge,” and impart it to others—to his own temper and spirit, that he may prove “an example to the flock—and to the Church in particular and society at large, that he may “edify the body of Christ,” and bring in to the fold those who are wandering from the great Shepherd of Israel. From this hasty and very imperfect sketch it will be seen that his calling has a responsibility which no mere mortal man can adequately perform. Like every redeemed sinner, he must throw himself upon the grace of God, and there must be his reliance.

And now I have a word to say as to myself. I have been one of those who have demanded that my Pastor should exhibit a perfect character. And my standard of perfection has been drawn more from my own state of feeling than from the Word of God. If he did not preach to suit me I felt a disposition to complain. If he reproved, I thought him personal. If in his public performances he exhorted to a duty, I inwardly said that I would act my own pleasure about it. If he did not visit me as often as I thought he might, I looked upon him as neglecting his charge.—And when he did visit me I was not in a suitable frame of mind to be profited by the interview. I talked about him and against him to others, and thus sowed the seeds of dissatisfaction among the members of the Church. But was I right in this course? Can I justify it? Is it consistent with my covenant vows? And how can I answer for it when he and I shall meet at the judgment bar? These and similar reflections begin to give me serious concern. If a pastor has duties to perform, there are correspondent duties that belong to his people, and I am free to acknowledge that mind have not been done, and I too must, if I am to be forgiven, take sanctuary in the grace and mercy of God.

[The author here takes the Latin word for “I confess” as his pseudonymn]

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