February 2017

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A Voice from the Past on a Present Issue

The Psalmist David in Psalm 11:3 asks the haunting question, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” That is the same question many evangelical Presbyterians are asking in the light of the Presbyterian Church, USA, having opened the door to gay and lesbian ministers last year. Yet if the truth be told, this sad decision was the natural outcome of an attack upon the authority of the Word of God some 88 years ago, when the infamous Auburn Affirmation was signed, sealed, and delivered to the Northern Presbyterian Church. A past devotional on January 9 spoke of it. We refer to it again, because on this date, February 28, 1935, Dr. Gordon H. Clark addresses a group of Presbyterian laymen in Philadelphia on the significance of the Auburn Affirmation. Remember, he was writing a mere eleven years after its presence in the church. Note the following words of Dr. Clark on it.

“The reason the Auburn Affirmation is so important is that it constitutes a major offensive against the Word of God. It, or at least its theology, is the root of Presbyterian apostasy. The five doctrines involved are the truth of Holy Scripture, the factuality of the Virgin Birth, His miracles, His sacrifice on Calvary to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to Christ, and His resurrection.”

Dr. Clark would deal with each of these five doctrines one by one, pointing out how some 1250 signers of the Affirmation [over 10% of the ministers in the denomination at that time!] went on to use familiar language with respect to them, but denying their importance in historic Christianity. They were, in their words, just theories, and denials of them were acceptable to them and should be acceptable by the church at large.

Gordon Clark set the matter to the laymen long ago by stating “This is not a trivial matter; it is rather a life and death struggle between two mutually exclusive religions. One religion can without harm to its integrity reject the infallible Word of God, deny the Virgin Birth, repudiate Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice, and deny the resurrection. That religion will remain complete, even if all these things are eliminated; but that religion is not Christianity. The other religion is Christianity, because it accepts the Bible as the very Word of God, who cannot lie, because it makes Christ’s sacrifice to satisfy divine justice the only basis of salvation, and because it glories in the historical fact of the resurrection.”

The entire article can be found at the PCA Historical Center, which we recommend the reader to reference. But what can the righteous do, when the very foundation of historic Christianity is being destroyed? Our Presbyterian fathers fought that destruction from 1923 to 1936 to reclaim the church from the inside. Failing that, they voted with their feet and sought to form a more perfect union with a separate Bible-believing, gospel-preaching denomination.

Also on this date:
In 1638, Scottish Presbyterians signed the National Covenant on the grounds of Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh.

Words to Live By: There is always a call for the righteous to uphold the foundation of biblical Christianity. Are you among the righteous heeding that call?

Presbyterian denominations in the United States no doubt do some things differently from what is described in the following article, but by comparing we can sometimes learn some important lessons about our own practice. 

The First Institution of Elders and Deacons in the Church of Scotland, the Qualifications of these Office-bearers, and their Proper Functions, according to a Form of Church Policy submitted to the Convention of Edinburgh, 1560. From Spottiswood’s History, Edition of 1655. Published by the Evangelist.
[excerpted from The Central Presbyterian 31.34 (19 February 1896): 2. Spelling has been modernized.]

The eighth head concerning Elders and Deacons.

Men of best knowledge, of purest life, and most honest conversation that can be found in every Church, must be nominated for these offices, and their names publicly read unto the congregation, that from amongst those some may be chosen to serve as Elders and Deacons. If any be nominated, who is noted with public infamy, he must be repelled; for it is not seemly that the servant of corruption should have authority to judge in the Church of God: or if any man know others that are of better qualities within the Church, then those who are nominated, the same shall be joined to the others, that the Church may have the choice. If the Churches be few in number, so as Elders and Deacons cannot conveniently be had, the same Church may be joined to the next adjacent; for the plurality of Churches without Ministers and order doth rather hurt, than edify.

The election of Elders and Deacons ought to be made every year once, which we judge most convenient to be done the first of August yearly, lest men by long continuance in those Offices presume upon the liberty of the Church. And yet it hurts not, if a man be retained in office more years then one, so as he be appointed yearly thereto by common and free election: Providing always that the Deacons, and Treasurers of the Church be not compelled to receive again the same Office for the space of 2 years. How the suffrages shall be given and received, every several Church may take the order that seems best to them.

The Elders being elected must be admonished of their Office, which is to assist the Minister in all public affairs of the Church; to wit, in judging and discerning of cases, in giving admonition to licentious livers, and having an eye upon the manners and conversation of all men within their charge: for by the gravity of the Elders the loose and dissolute manners of other men ought to be restrained and corrected. The Elders ought also to take heed to the life, manners, diligence and study of their Ministers; And if he be worthy of admonition, they must admonish him; if of correction, they must correct him; and if he be worthy of deposition, they with the consent of the Church and Superintendent may depose him.

The Office of Deacons is to receive the rents, and gather the Alms of the Church, to keep and distribute the same as they shall be appointed by the Ministry and the Church; yet they may also assist in judgment the Minister and Elders, and be admitted to read in public Assemblies, if they be called, required and found able thereto.

The Elders and Deacons, with their wives and families, must be subject to the same censure, that Ministers are subject unto; for they are Judges to the manners of others, and therefore they must be sober, humble, entertainers of concord and peace amongst neighbours; and finally, an ensample of godliness to the rest of the flock: whereof if the contrary appear, they must be admonished by the Minister or some of their brethren, if the fault be secret; but if it be open and known, they must be openly rebuked, and the same order kept with them that is prescribed against Ministers offending. We think it not necessary that any public stipend be appointed either to the Elders or Deacons, because their travel continues but for a year; as also because they are not so occupied with the affairs of the Church, but that they may have leisure to attend their private business.

“To God’s Glory” : A Practical Study of a Doctrine of the Westminster Standards.
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

THE SUBJECT : God’s Work of Grace.

THE BIBLE VERSES TO READ : Eph. 2:8; John 15:5; I Cor. 6:17; I Cor. 1:9; I Pet. 5:10.

REFERENCE TO THE STANDARDS : Confession of Faith, chap. X; Larger Catechism, Q. 67; Shorter Catechism, Q. 29 and 30.

God’s Word states, “for it is God which works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). This is a very necessary teaching today. There is too much preaching and teaching that contradict the Biblical view of man’s utter and complete dependence on God for saving faith.

It is true that in the midst of being saved by God it is sometimes difficult for man to understand the working of God. But the hymn writer was correct when he said : 

“I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me; 
It was not I that found, O Savior true; 
No, I was found of Thee.” (George Chadwick)

Calvin’s definition of faith is found in his Institutes (III.2.7) : 

“Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”

The difficulty in the minds of many people regarding how God saves sinners is understandable. There are two strong pressures in the evangelical world that cause many to become confused. The first is the overwhelming practice of putting pressure on people to “accept Christ.” The second is the excessive importance placed on success and popularity. A church is not a success unless it attracts people by much that is subjective experience rather than the teaching and preaching of the authoritative Word of God. The latter does turn some people away.

Certainly, those who follow the pressures will charge those who insist on direct adherence to the teaching of the Standards with lack of evangelistic zeal. But the question must be : Are the Standards correct when they teach it is God who draws His people by the irresistible regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit? What does the Bible teach? The following outline might be of help in thinking through how God saves sinners.

Repent (turn from) your sins in sorrow (2 Cor. 7:9-10).

Appropriate (take possession of) the righteousness of Christ (John 6:29).

Cast yourself on My mercy, the God who justified and adopted you (Matt. 11:28; 2 Cor. 5:21).

Submit yourself to the Bible which is the sum of the moral standard God requires of you (I Pet. 1:22).

Remember, the Bible is your only rule of faith and practice (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Now : 

Christ is your Teacher (through His Word) – (John 5:24-25).

Christ is your Savior and Intercessor (John 14:6; Rom. 8:34).

Christ is your King in all areas of your life (Eph. 1:22).

Your responsibility and privilege now is to live to the glory of your God (Rom. 15:6).

This does not relieve the believer from evangelistic zeal. Biblical evangelistic zeal is for every believer to make known the Christ of the Scripture. This is the Christ that sinners need and the One who is sufficient for the salvation of all who will turn to Him, by His grace, as they repent, appropriate, cast themselves on Him, and submit to the Word of God.

The proclaiming of this Gospel is the responsibility and privilege of every believer. But our knowledge of what the Sovereign God has proclaimed should control our methodology. And the results are not up to man, nor are the results the measure of success or failure. The results are up to the Sovereign God!

Some ninety-two years later, it is remarkable how pertinent these articles remain.

The Presbyterian Church at the Cross Roads
Address Delivered at the Meeting of Princeton Theological Seminary Alumni, in New York City.

By Rev. Clarence Edward Macartney, D.D.

[Excerpted from THE PRESBYTERIAN 95.8 (19 February 1925): 6-7]

BOTH the historic polity and the blood-bought doctrines of the Presbyterian Church are in danger. Christianity is never in danger, for it is the will of God for the world’s redemption, and our faith standeth not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. But churches are always subject to error and declension from the truth of the gospel. It is that danger which now confronts the Presbyterian Church.

The Form of Government of the church declares that in perfect consistency with the principle of freedom and private judgment, Christian people have a right to associate themselves in groups or churches and to declare what the terms of admission to that church shall be, and what the qualifications of its ministers. The Presbyterian Church does not seize and press men into its ministry. On the contrary, it bids them search their hearts, and carefully examines them as to their acceptance of the doctrines which the church declares all her ministers must hold.

The purpose of such association into a church on the part of men holding the same views of the Bible and of the way of salvation is two-fold: first, to make a corporate witness to the world concerning Jesus Christ; and, second, to strengthen and encourage one another. But both of these purposes are now seriously threatened, for it is clear that with one part of the Presbyterian Church witnessing to certain facts and truths concerning Christ and another part of the church ignoring or denying those facts and truths, the corporate witness of the church is broken, and the peace and mutual fellowship of the communion are destroyed.

The Presbyterian Church has ever been the fearless friend of religious liberty; and tyranny in every form, ecclesiastical or political, has had no more dreaded foes than the Presbyterians. But it is an outrage on liberty to confuse that historic witness of our church with acquiescence with unbelief, or to say that protest and discipline in the case of the violation of our doctrines and our polity are inconsistent with the Presbyterian principle of religious freedom.

The Presbyterian Church believes that men should be as free to teach and to preach as the winds out of the four heavens are to blow. But it also believes that it has the right to say what doctrines must be taught and preached and believed by ministers who stand in Presbyterian pulpits and under Presbyterian orders. There are many theories and guesses and ventures of opinions on the great matters of Christianity, but the Presbyterian Church has its own carefully articulated and logically defined views, and these views it declares must be held and taught by its ministers. That is what a creed and a constitution mean. Throughout the Presbyterian Church, and by even non-religious men outside of the church, there is an increasing feeling that men who cannot in good conscience receive and defend and declare the doctrines of the church should take off the Presbyterian uniform and withdraw from the fortress.

If men can be received into the presbyteries of the church and installed in the pulpits of our congregations without accepting whole-heartedly doctrines which the church has repeatedly declared must be held by all its ministers, then the Creed has become a scrap of paper. Or, if the interpretation of the Creed be left so wide and vague that men can deny or “refuse to affirm” many portions of it, in other words, if the Creed is so stretched that it will take in almost any kind of religious view, then the Creed becomes an absurdity.

The friends of modernism, within and without the evangelical churches, would like nothing better than to see the Creed of the Presbyterian Church stripped of its meaning and its restraining power. In the whole tattle fine of the evangelical churches, the creedal position of the Presbyterian Church has ever been a source of strength and hope to evangelical Christians and a sore distress to those of radical and rationalistic opinions. They realize that they must capture this Presbyterian salient in the battle line of New Testament churches; before they can hope to effect much in the way of turning the whole position. Hence the eagerness to press into our church, and when once in to declare doctrines which are more like those of the Reformed Synagogue than those of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

To receive men into the ministry of the church who disavow doctrines of the church, is to defy the government of the church. The instances where this has been done are not lacking, and protests and complaints against such action will be made to the highest court, the General Assembly. The question now before the Presbyterian Church is “whether or not it has the intention and the courage to enforce its own mandates. Nothing would please destructive liberalism and modernism so much as to see the Presbyterian Church tamely submit to affront or disobedience on the part of any one of its constituent presbyteries or congregations, for such acquiescence would mean that he Presbyterian Church had hung out the banner, “All welcome,” to every kind of religious adventurer and theological freebooter.

With the present extraordinary popularity of a misty agnosticism, the great need of the church ii for preachers who know what they believe and are able to give a reason for the faith that is in them. Preachers who are tossed about with every wind of doctrine may interest the people, but can lead them nowhere. When one reads some of the outputs of the popular teachers and preachers of Christianity to-day, their glib and facile comments remind one of the celebrated inventor and architect of Laputa, in “Gulliver’s Travels,” who had devised a scheme whereby houses could be built from the roof down, instead of beginning with the foundation. This plan might do for the gossamer fabric of the spider; but a church which is going to serve a lost humanity must be built upon the granite foundation of great convictions and beliefs, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Corner-stone.

Princeton Theological Seminary has long been the despair of the liberal theologians and all the sons of restatement and reinterpretation, which, being interpreted, means evacuating the New Testament doctrines of their Christian meaning. They would rend the heavens with a shout if they thought that Princeton Theological Seminary shook in a single stone of its ancient foundations. This noble nursery of faith and piety, and the other evangelical seminaries of the Presbyterian Church, are the hope of the church for to-morrow, if these foundations be destroyed, then woe to the church!

It may seem idle and beyond the mark to speak a word of warning and entreaty to our evangelical seminaries, Princeton, and the others. But who, fifty years ago, could have predicted the sad declension of Union Theological Seminary from the Presbyterian Standards? Let what has happened there serve as a warning to our other seminaries! In eternal vigilance is the price and the secret of loyalty to the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Any one who at this time shrinks from defending the doctrine and government of his church, lest he should become a target for ridicule, criticism and abuse, is not worthy of the great and glorious name, Presbyterian.

The eyes of the whole Christian world are on the Presbyterian Church in this, its struggle to make a great witness to the truth of Divine Revelation and to the honor of Jesus Christ as the only Redeemer from sin. We are not contending for Presbyterian peculiarities, but for the great facts of the Everlasting Gospel.

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Words to Live By:
Dr. Macartney might well have concluded by reminding his hearers of this verse from the prophet Jeremiah : 

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” — Jeremiah 6:16

Calvary was his hiding place

It must be some sort of record. Think of it! The pastor ministered all sixty-three years in the same church. And those six decades were through some of the momentous years in our nation, to say nothing, of the history of the Presbyterian church.

Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts on February 24, 1785, Gardiner Spring attended Berwick Academy in Maine. He then went to and graduated from Yale University in 1805. Married the following year, he and his new bride Susan moved to Bermuda where Gardiner Spring taught the classics and mathematics. This was only for some income, as his real purpose was to study law. And he was admitted to the bar in New Haven, Connecticut in 1808. Receiving a call to the ministry, he went to Andover Theological Seminary for one year and was called to the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City in 1810, never to leave its pulpit.

It was an active pulpit for the minister. After 40 years of ministry, it was said that he had preached 6000 sermons, received 2092 into the membership roll, baptized 1361 infants and adults, and married 875 couples. Along the way, he had written also 14 books, at least one of which is still being printed today. If the reader doesn’t posses “The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character,” he is urged to buy one immediately. It answers the question as to how do we know we have eternal life.

Many Christians, and especially those in our Southern states are aware that it was Gardiner Spring who authored the resolutions in 1861 to place the Presbyterian Church (Old School) solidly behind the Republican administration of Abraham Lincoln. That action split the Presbyterian Church into two — North and South Old School. We will consider on May 16 the pros and cons of that resolution.

For now, consider the following words in a letter of Gardiner Spring, just nine years after he had begun his ministry at Brick Presbyterian. On occasion of his birthday, he wrote:

“Still in this world of hope! In defiance of all sins of the past years, and a guilty life, I am permitted to see another birthday. I have been often surprised that I am suffered to live. Blessed be God, I am not afraid to die, and often more afraid to live. I am an abject sinner, and it will indeed be wonderful grace if I ever sit down with Christ at the Supper of the Lamb. That grace is my strong refuge; Calvary is my hiding place. I hope in the grace and guardianship and faithfulness of that omnipotent Redeemer, to be kept from falling and presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. This text has often comforted me, when I have been afraid of trusting in the divine mercy. ‘The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.’ It affords me unutterable pleasure to feel that I am not denied the privilege of laying my own soul beneath the droppings of the same blood I have for nine years recommended to my dying and guilty men.”

Words to Live By: We should take the opportunity which a birthday gives to us, as well as other proverbial milestones in our lives, to meditate on the grace of God in Christ in our lives, as well as the work of sanctification which the Holy Spirit is doing within those lives.

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