May 17: When Synod Stood with the Congress

A Presbyterian Synod Stands for American Liberty
by Rev. David T. Myers

In the past four years of this web magazine, the authors have made use of the many manuscripts on line on the History of the Presbyterian Church. Today’s post is no different, as we turn to the History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, by Ezra Gillett, found on line. (Vol 1, pp 169 – 173)

The date is 1775. Just four weeks after the first bloodshed in the Revolutionary War at Lexington, Massachusetts, a Presbyterian regional meeting met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on this day, May 17, 1775. The American congress has gathered in the same city one week before this Synod meeting. The citizens of the city were talking about the approaching conflict on the streets of Philadelphia and in their meeting houses. So it was a pivotal time for these biblical and Presbyterian elders to meet in this regional meeting.

Present were twenty-four teaching elders and five ruling elders, representing nine presbyteries. The majority of the presbyteries didn’t sent any representatives to the meeting. Yet the smallness of their number was compensated by the vigor of their spirit. It was summed up by Gillett that they “calmly attended to their proper business and when the fitting time arrived, they gave appropriate expression to their patriotic sympathies and religious conviction on the subject of colonial rights.”

Present were some names which long time readers will recognize, like the Rev. John Witherspoon, Dr. John Rodgers, and the Rev. James Caldwell. We have written posts on all these Presbyterian ministers.

The primary action of this Synod is what concerns us here. They, in the words of Ezra Gillett, “appointed a day of solemn fasting, humiliation, and prayer to be carefully and religiously observed by the congregations of the Presbyterian church.” The motion was adopted and Witherspoon, Rodgers, and Caldwell were appointed to draw it up. Gillett says that “it bore throughout the stamp of their deep feeling and patriotic as well as religious zeal.” Such a call to this day underscored “the great truths of God’s sovereignty and providence, and personal duty in relation to the claims of gospel repentance, fasting, and obedience.” Five hundred copies were printed for all the Presbyterian congregations.

Gillett sums up that the Presbyterian church by the act of this “General Synod took its stand at Philadelphia by the side of the American Congress, then in session and its influence was felt in a most decisive manner through out the Church.”

Words to Live By:
At any critical time in our nation’s existence, such a call is needed for God to reveal Himself by divine providence in giving us His will in the situation at hand. For example, we Reformed and Presbyterian Christians need to pray corporately and individually for the election soon upon us. We need to pray for righteousness to exalt our nation and for our citizens to recognize that sin is a disgrace to any people. (Proverbs 14:34 NASB) We need to pray for revival in our Presbyterian churches and a spiritual awakening in the nation. Reader, will you pray for these in your personal devotions, your family devotions, and in your church family? Each of these petitions are needed . . . right now!

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