September 2016

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2016.

As explained below, the following article by Franklin Pierce Ramsay appeared posthumously in the July 1930 issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY [the original series of this title, not the one you know today]. Ramsay had written a commentary on the Southern Presbyterian BOOK OF CHURCH ORDER, which was published in 1898 and so the article below can be seen both as an appendix to that volume and as a charge to a ruling elder. Much of the content of Ramsay’s commentary remains pertinent for the PCA’s BCO, since in many cases the text of the modern edition is still unchanged some 113 years later. Even where the comparable paragraph has changed, Ramsay’s comments still offer good insights into the underlying principles which remain.

The Rev. Franklin Pierce Ramsay was born on March 30, 1856. He was educated at Davidson College, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Chicago (Ph.D.) and Columbia Theological Seminary. In his forty-five year career, he served as pastor of at least six Presbyterian congregations and also as president of several colleges, including King College, Bristol, Tennessee. The Rev. F. P. Ramsay died on September 30, 1926. Thus far I have not been able to locate a photograph of him. Note: Some portions of the following were apparently illegible or otherwise marred.]

The Office of Ruling Elder: Its Obligations and Responsibilities
by the Rev. F.P. Ramsay, Ph.D.

[The following address was made by the late Dr. Ramsay on the occasion of the installation of his son, R.L. Ramsay, Ph.D., professor of English in the University of Missouri, as an elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, Mo., on March 25, 1925.  It came into our hands through another son, the Rev. Mebane Ramsay of Staten Island, N.Y., who found it among the papers left by his lamented father.]

As one is to be here inducted into the office of Ruling Elder of the Presbyterian Church, my remarks will seek to be appropriate to the occasion.

At this induction into office the elder makes a declaration of his doctrinal belief, that the Scriptures are the Word of God, and that the Confession of Faith (and Catechisms) contain the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures ; and he promises to study the (doctrinal) purity of the Church.  This is the covenant that he enters into with the Church when inducted into this office.  Here is the difference between an unofficial member and an officer in the Presbyterian Church : the member simply professes his personal faith in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ ; the officer professes his belief in the Church’s doctrinal system.  One may become a member who does not believe that the Confession of Faith contains the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures or even that the Scriptures are the Word of God, if only he trusts in Jesus Christ and means to obey Him ; but one cannot become an officer in the Presbyterian Church without accepting its doctrinal system and intending to strive for the Church’s doctrinal purity—unless he is willing to come into his office on a false profession.

Let me stress this a little.  Note the difference between the unofficial members, who are required only to profess faith in Christ, and the officers, who are required to profess acceptance of a body of doctrine.  Thus the Presbyterian Church is both liberal and intolerant.

Note that it is intolerant of disbelief in its system of doctrine on the part of its officers.  Why?  The Church is a propagandist institution, an organization for the purpose of advocating and propagating certain beliefs.  It is true that the Church’s end is to produce and nourish a certain life ; but belief is an inseparable element of that life and necessary to it.  Or be that as it may, the Church is organized and works upon that assumption, and so sets itself to propagate certain beliefs.  This system of beliefs its officers are required to accept and maintain and propagate.

Here is a striking difference between the Church and the University.  The University is organized to search for truth ; the Church to propagate the truth.  The University, assuming that there is truth still hidden, sets itself to investigate and discover new truth ; but the Church, assuming that certain truths have been given to it by revelation from God, sets itself to teach and disseminate that truth.  The University asks questions, the Church answers questions.

The candidate on this occasion is a University man, filled with the University spirit ; and I therefore say to him that the Church is organized on the assumption that it already has the truth and exists for the purpose of disseminating and propagating this truth.  If a society were organized for the purpose of propagating Socialism, a man might conceivably belong to that society, and yet be a professor in the University.  If in the University he were teaching social science, he would endeavor to lead his students in investigations that would enable them to judge for themselves between Socialism and Individualism, seemingly indifferent whether they became Socialists or Individualists, but only concerned that they became capable of weighing the claims of both.  But if this same man joins the Socialist society, and is sent out as one of its speakers to expound and advocate its system of beliefs and make converts to it, and ground them in it ; he is then a propagandist of Socialism and will endeavor to gain adherents to the system.  He is then at work on the assumption that Socialism is true and established, and now needs to be propagated.  So the Church is a propagandist society ; and its officers, and especially its elders and ministers, are its agents to disseminate its system.

Now one may not believe that the system of beliefs held by the Presbyterian Church is truth, or that it is wise to have an organization for advocacy and propagation of this system ; but if he becomes an officer in this Church, pledged to promote its system and propagate its beliefs, then he professes himself to receive this system and covenants to cooperate with others in disseminating it.  He is not obliged to assume this obligation ; he is not obliged to make this profession and pledge, any more than he is obliged to become a lecturer for the Socialistic society.  But if he does make this profession and pledge, and does become an officer in the Presbyterian Church, he must be loyal to this profession and pledge, or disloyal.  If a man should join the Socialist society, not believing in Socialism, or not believing in its type of Socialism, and should accept a commission from it to go out as one of its speakers, and as such should really oppose its type of Socialism ; we and other honest men would accuse him of boring from within, of betraying his trust, and of paltry dishonesty.  I trust that the man to be now ordained will never sink so low.

Now the Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church is not indeed a lecturer to advocate its principles to the same extent as the Minister is ; but he is, all the same, the conserver and guardian of its doctrinal purity.  The eldership has equal voice with the Ministers in the Presbyteries and higher courts of the Church, which judge its Ministers and administer its whole government and discipline, and control its administration ; and the eldership in the local Church, always more numerous than the ministry, have the control.  And it lies as a special obligation on the elders to see that the teaching in their church is loyal to the Confession of Faith of the Church.  If the pastor should be somewhat erratic, and yet in life and spirit is loyal to the system of truth, the elders should bear with him, and cooperate with him on the whole ; but if at any time the pastor departs from the system and becomes disloyal to the system, the elders are there to protect the Church against his false teaching.  So I say that the elders are the conservers of our system of doctrine.

Nor need we be ashamed of being members and agents of a propagandist society.  True, there is such a thing as progress in understanding religious truth ; and the Presbyterian Church makes provision for this progress.  It provides for amending its doctrinal standards ; and it has amended them again and again.  We do not say that we believe them to be errorless, but to contain the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures ; and any elder or minister may be discovered, or better statements of truth may be invented ; but this improvement of the system is to be made by those who believe in the system, and by methods that insure full discussion.

But while there is this provision for progress and change, the very nature of Christianity makes it a stable thing.  The process of revelation runs through many generations, a growth from its germinal beginning in the beginning of human history up to its fruitage in Jesus Christ.  This revelation of truth through the ages has reached its consummation in the Perfect Word.  We cannot now go back and make ____ history different.  We cannot go back now, _____ prevent the entrance of sin into the world.  ____ cannot change or improve the covenants with Abraham.  We cannot make the redemption from Egypt, and the Mosaic legislation, ____ the settlement in Canaan, throw any finer ____ on the teachings of Christ.  We cannot ____ the tabernacle or the temple, or fashion ____ priesthood and sacrifices, or turn the music ____ the temple, to clearer significance on what ____ Christ was to be.  We cannot alter the development of the Messianic monarchy, so that the Son of David shall mean more than it does.  We cannot adjust the birth of Jesus, His miracles, or His resurrection, more in accordance with modern skepticism, or make His bloody death more esthetic.  We cannot call Him down from heaven and instruct Him how to guide His Church and to apply His religion.  There are the facts, and we cannot now change them ; there is the Christ that God has given us, and we cannot modernize Him ; there is the unalterable revelation shining in the heaven of history, and we cannot remake it.

We can only accept Him as He is, and enthrone Him in our hearts and lives.  Let us be loyal to Him, and loyal to His Church.

And especially may educated men, men whose very occupations require them to push on the frontiers of inquiry in science and philosophy and literature, render this service to their Lord : they can be loyal to Him, and loyal to His revelation made once for all, and thus testify that progress in investigation does not mean putting out the light of the past ; and can show that humble faith in Christ is consistent with the scientific humility of willingness to learn.

Christianity as a system of truth is a great building.  Its foundation have been laid, and even its walls have already risen into the skies.  It rises like the Memorial Tower yonder on the campus.  We may come and build upon this building ; but we will not wreck its walls nor raze its foundation.  We will build ourselves and our lives into the rising structure, sure that we shall be safe on its walls that waver not, and on its foundations that tremble not.  For here is Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever.

Have You Improved the Sermon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Purpose of the Bible for Unbelievers and Believers

Our post today concerns  that magnificent answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, at Question number 80, which asks and answers, “How is the Word made effectual to salvation?  A.  The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our post today consists of an excerpt from an address delivered on this day, September 27, in 1874, by the Rev. Dr. Charles Hodge, on the occasion of the re-opening of the chapel at the Princeton Theological Seminary. This discourse was delivered in the same year that saw the publication of Dr. Hodge’s brief work, What is Darwinism?, and just two years after the appearance of his monumental three-volume Systematic Theology. The occasion was also less than four years before his death in June of 1878. We note too that almost certainly among the gathered students that day in the chapel was the young Benjamin B. Warfield, who had entered the Seminary the year before. In his wonderful history of the Princeton Theological Seminary, my dear friend and esteemed professor Dr. David Calhoun sets the scene:

hodgeCharles_grayIn 1874 the seminary chapel was remodeled—”Victorianized” with stained glass windows, carpeting, and upholstered pews—through the gift of trustee John C. Green, a generous benefactor of the seminary who died the following year. At the seminary’s opening in September Charles Hodge gave the sermon. Hodge noted that over 3,000 ministers of the gospel had been trained at Princeton. “With rare exceptions,” he said, “they have been faithful men. They have labored in every part of our own land and in almost every missionary field.” He told the present students that they had assumed “grave responsibilities in coming to this place,” “Your first duty,” he said, “is to make your calling and election sure.” It is important that you seek the ministry, he told them, with pure and honest motives—”love to Christ, zeal for his glory, and a desire to save your fellow men.” “Your second duty,” Hodge said, “is to throw your whole heart into the work and, while here, into the work of preparation and into the life of the Seminary, whether in the classroom, the chapel, the conference, or prayer meeting.” Finally, in the name of his colleagues Hodge made a request of everyone.

“It is a small matter to you, but a great matter to us. We beg that each of you, as long as he lives, would daily pray that the officers and students of this Seminary may be full of faith and of the Holy Ghost. Let others believe and say what they please, we believe and know that God is the hearer of prayer. If each of the two thousand surviving alumni of this Institution would daily offer that prayer, what a place Princeton would be!”
[Princeton Seminary: The Majestic Testimony, 1869-1929. Banner of Truth, 1996, p. 42.]

What a place any seminary would be, if so invested before the throne of Glory with such prayer! Let this be your exhortation to so pray!

The full text of Hodge’s discourse can be viewed by clicking here, but for our purposes today, we will limit our excerpt to his opening words which form at once a brilliant summary of the core of Christian theology and a beautiful presentation of the Gospel of saving grace. 

Princeton Theological Seminary. A Discourse delivered at the re-opening of the chapel, September 27, 1874, by Charles Hodge, the Senior Professor.

It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.—I Cor. 1:21.

The Bible assumes all primary truths—whether principles of reason or facts of consciousness—and by assuming, authenticates them.

It assumes
1. That man has a soul capable of conscious existence and activity without the body; and that the soul is the man—that in which his personality and identity reside. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive, and are now the same persons as when they dwelt on earth.

2. It assumes that man is a free moral agent; dependent, responsible and immortal.

3. It assumes that the well-being of all creatures depends on their preserving their normal relation to God.

4. It assumes that man has by sin lost his normal relation to God, and that by no effort of his own, and by no aid from any creature, can he be restored to the divine fellowship and favor.

These are among the assumptions of the Bible; and they are all self-evident truths. They enter into the convictions of all men in all ages of the world.

The Bible teaches concerning fallen men :
1. That it pleased God, out of His mere good mercy, to determine not to leave them in their estate of sin and misery but to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.

2. That the only Redeemer of men is the Lord Jesus Christ, who being the eternal Son of God became man, and so was, and continues to be both God and man, in two distinct natures, and one person forever.

3. That Christ effects our redemption by exercising in our behalf the offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. He is Prophet or teacher, not only as He is the Logos, the Word, the Revealer, the effulgent image of God, but specially as He reveals to us the will of God for our salvation. He is our Priest in that He offered Himself unto God as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and in that He ever lives to make intercession for us. He is our King because He subdues us unto Himself, rules in, and reigns over us, and conquers all His and our enemies.

4. The Bible further teaches that the divinely appointed means for applying to men the benefits of Christ’s redemption is “the foolishness of preaching.” It is so called because, so far as the method of salvation is concerned, the wisdom of men is foolishness with God; and the wisdom of God is foolishness with man. In the beginning the gospel was a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greek. We ought not, therefore, to be either surprised or concerned when, in our day, we hear the hierarchs of science proclaiming from their high places, that the supernatural is impossible, and that all faith is superstition. It has always been so and always will be so. Nevertheless in spite of the opposition of the Jews and of the contempt of the Greek, the gospel was, is, and will continue to be the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation.

To read the entire discourse, click here, It is well worth your time.

Sin and Penalty are Substance and Shadow.

On most Saturdays over the past several months, our guest author Dr. David Hall has explored some of what are known as “election day” sermons. A similar and interesting study might be made of “fast day” sermons, and the most important of these in our national history would be those brought by Presidential request prior to and at the start of the Civil War. One such sermon was delivered on this day, September 26, 1861, by the Rev. J.B. Bittinger [1823-1885]
. His sermon text was from Numbers 32:23, and he spoke before what was apparently a gathering of Presbyterian churches in Cleveland, Ohio. Our post today is heavily edited for length. To read the full text, click here: https://archive.org/details/ASPC0001905400


Numbers 32:23.
—But if ye will not do so, behold ye have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out.

In these words of Moses, we recognize a general principle; one that is applicable now as it was then, a principle that is fundamental to all government. It may be stated in these words:

LAW IS VINDICATIVE.

God has breathed a life into every statute that He has enacted, and whenever any of these laws are broken, they will certainly avenge themselves–the mode and time of vindication may differ, but the vindication is sure to come, and when it does come, is sure to be adequate. . . Sanctions are the crown and sceptre of law, not an incident but an element of its royalty,—and to send out His statutes without their penalties, would be to uncrown them, and to degrade them from the dignity of the law, to the humiliation of advice.

We may accept it therefore as a sound inference, that penalties are an essential part of all laws, and that whenever any law is violated, the offender must and will suffer. In the natural world, there is no escape from this irrevocable decree, except by a miracle—some sovereign act of suspension or repeal. In the moral world the same is true. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die;” is the inspired utterance of the law giver Himself, and unless repealed or suspended, the dishonored law will avenge itself.

Now the one great miracle in the moral world, is the death of Christ. It is the source of every arrest of judgment, of ever reprieve, of every acquittal. This is the law in respect to individuals. Of those aggregates of individuals, called nations, it is said, “the nation and kingdom that will not serve God shall perish.” This is a particular form of the text—”and be sure your sin will find you out.” Vengeance is on the track of guilty nations, no less than on that of guilty men—but there is this important difference, the nation must be overtaken in this world. Nations as such have no existence hereafter, and therefore, if their sins find them out, it must be here. If the nation that does not serve God shall perish, it must perish here.

The text suggests another principle—OFFENDERS ARE PUNISHED IN THE LINE OF THEIR TRANSGRESSIONS. Law is not merely vindicative, but it avenges itself in kind, “and be sure
your sin will find you out,”—not other sins, nor other people’s sins—but your sin. The drunkard is not punished for theft, nor the liar for gluttony; but each penalty moves on the track of its own sin. Perfidious nations are punished by perfidy, and for perfidy; covetous nations for covetousness, and by covetousness.

Summoned by the President of the United States, to observe a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, on account of our sins as a people, we must first know what those sins are, before we can rightly confess them, bewail them, and turn from them. Our sins will help us to understand our punishment, as also our punishment will help us to discover our sins—and both, I trust will teach us to abhor and forsake them.

In enquiring, what are national sins, we should make some distinctions. There are national sins, in which many individuals of the nation have no part, and to which they give no countenance. It is also true that there are many individual sins which are not national, and which do not affect the national welfare, nor provoke national judgment. National sins are those in which the great body of the people participate, eiher by committing them, or refusing to protest against their commission. National sins are embodied in the manners, customs and laws of a people; and especially are they such sins as are committed by our rules and approved of, or tolerated by the people. In a government where the subject can vote as well as pray against sin, corrupt rulers are the real and perhaps the truest exponents of national sins. In the light of these views, let us see what are some of our national sins.

It seems to me that, our first national sins is materialism. The habit of the national mind is to give undue prominence to material as opposed to moral interests.

Our next great national sin is licentiousness. The spurning of restraint. Making light of law. Despising authority. Exalting the individual above the state. The same causes which have exposed us to the temptations of materialism, have operated unfavorably on our sentiments of respect for authority and reverence for the law. Independence, amounting to arbitrariness, is the characteristic of the American mind.

From this radical sin have come three plagues to afflict this nation. The first of these is the so-called
freedom of speech and the press. The liberty to say any thing to any body. For fierceness of denunciation, for foulness of vituperation, for meanness of subserviency, and for unblushing mendacity; the campaign political party papers of this country, with few exceptions, have attained an unrivalled, and it is hoped, an unenvied “bad eminence.” So infectious is the malady that not a little of this moral unscrupulousness has trailed its slime even through some of our religious papers . . . If defamation and falsehood are sins, then we have grievously sinned through our freedom of speech and the press.

The next plague coming from our nations of independence, and must fostered by the free press spoken of, is the characteristic of our office-holders. We have for years exalted to office many of the vilest of men. We have made those our rulers whom we would be ashamed to introduce to our families. Self-seeking and unscrupulous men, flattering the people to blind them, have crept into place and power everywhere. Third-rate men intellectually, and men of no rate morally…

The third plague that has smitten us because of our materialism and arbitrary independence, is the kind of legislation we have had and have tolerated. The higher functions of government are seldom carried on on any principles higher than expediency—political expediency, or even partisan expediency . . . The morality of a statute is not its strong recommendation, for not claiming to derive our right to legislate from the divine nature and origin of government, we too generally assume the right to please our party, which is often only another name for benefitting ourselves. Our inalienable legislative rights seem to be: first, to do what we please; and second, to do what we can.

Our third great national sin is slavery. It is our greatest national sin, because it is infiltrated with materialism and licentiousness, and because it is the creature of law. It is an iniquity decreed by statute. American slavery is not merely the right of one man to another man’s services; but it is the right of one man to another man; not the right simply to work him, but to sell him. It is the right, by law, to erase the name of his Creator, and write upon him the name of his owner. This terrible forgery carries with it the slave’s wife and children, his limbs and senses, his faculties and earnings, and, if it should please God to convert him his gifts and graces. It takes him out of the category of man and puts him into the schedule of things.


But this is not all. Its power to beget sin has made it more formidable than its own iniquity. It is the snaky head of Medusa, poisoning all it touches, and petrifying all who look upon it. The materialism of our own country readily gathered about it.

But I will leave the sins to consider their visitation upon us. The text says: “be sure your sin will find you out.” The general principle asserted is that law is vindicative. This has been already considered. The special principle asserted is that the law vindicates itself in the line of its violation. This, too, has been partially unfolded, by showing what some of our national sins are. It only remains to show that we are now suffering the penalty of our sins; or, in the words of the text our sins have found us out. Sin and penalty are substance and shadow, each pointing to the other, and each helping to prove the other’s reality.

At length our sins have overtaken us. Our materialism blunted our moral sense so that we would not and could not see its benumbing touch, our fine spiritual discernment seemed gone. It defiled our newspapers, it poisoned our public charities, it infested our pulpits, and it depraved our politics. But we went to our farms, our merchandise, and our coarse pleasures. We grew rich and cared not, and only when taxes became too onerous or official misrule threatened our property, did safety committees spring from indignant communities, and execute a sort of wild justice upon official outlaws. Embezzlements, forgeries, defaultings, dishonest assignments, bankrupt laws, and city and State repudiation, are all proofs of our materialism, and in part the penalties of it. And now comes voracious war to glut itself on our gross wealth—to eat up our selfish gains, and, I trust, to deliver us from the thraldom of national covetousness. We can save our industry, our enterprise, our intelligence and our virtue. It is meant that we shall. We may learn economy, moderation, and trust in God; it is designed that we shall, but the price demanded is our money or our life.

But our sin has already found us out, and what shall we do to avert the full punishment? We must repent, and our repentance must be in line of our sins. If we have been guilty of covetousness, it will not do to confess something else; if we regard iniquity in our heart, the Lord will not hear. If we have worshipped mammon, let us repent of our covetousness. If the love of material interests has made us negligent of our liberty, and forgetful of the liberties of others, let us confess our sin, and be vigilant . . . If we have been faithless to our promises, let us henceforth begin and speak each man truth to his neighbor, and owe no man anything. Let us repent of our pride, our boasting, and our evil inventions. Let us repent of slavery and put it away from us, for “we are verily guilty concerning our brother in that, for centuries, we have seen the anguish of his soul when he besought us, and we would not hear, therefore is this distress come upon us. Let us accept the challenge. It is the crisis in our history—not commercial, nor industrial, but moral. We never had a grander opportunity, nor had any nation, to immortalize itself; to die nobly if die we must, to live nobly if live we may. Once and again this question has come before us. Will we write our name in the golden book of national glory?

One thought more and I have done. By our coming together this day; by our confessions and supplications we profess our faith in God, and the dominion of His justice. We shrink from that justice, and we have appointed a fast to avert our doom; or, if not avert, at least alleviate it. We afflict our souls, and bow down our heads, but shall we call these sorrowful words a fast? or these sings of mourning an acceptable day to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that He has chosen?

To loose the bands of wickedness;
To undo the heavy burdens;
To let the oppressed go free;
And to break every yoke?
Then shall we call, and the Lord will answer.
We shall cry, and He shall say: here I am.

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: