April 2017

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

Q. 7. — What are the decrees of God?

A. — The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained what­soever comes to pass.

Scripture References: Eph. 1:4,11. Rom. 9:23. Acts 4:27,28. Ps. 33:11

Questions:

1. What is the nature of God’s decrees?

God’s decrees are unchangeable; they cannot be changed, therefore they are certain to be fulfilled. His decrees are eternal, being settled by God in eternity.

2. Are there more than one decree?

No, there is only one single decree. However, this decree includes many particulars and therefore we speak of it in the plural.

3. When one uses the word “decree” is it not usually synonymous with an arbitrariness?

When man uses the word such may be true but not when God uses it. God’s decrees should not be classed in this way since they were framed by Him according to the counsel of his will. You must look behind the decree and see there the love of an infinite, personal God, whose all comprehensive plan is also all wise.

4. What is the purpose of God’s decrees?

The purpose is His own glory first and through this, the good of the elect.

5. Who are the special objects of God’s decrees and what is His decree toward them?

Angels and men are the special objects and His decree toward them is predestination.

6. What is meant by predestination?

Predestination is the plan or purpose of God respecting His moral creatures. It is divided into election and reprobation.

7. What is the definition of election and reprobation?

Election is God’s eternal purpose to save some of the human race in and by Jesus Christ. Reprobation is God’s eternal purpose to pass some men by with the operation of His special grace and to punish them for their sin.

8. If reprobation be true, how can God be just?

God would be just in condemning all to eternal punishment since all have sinned. He is in charge; He is the potter and our attitude should be one of thankfulness if we are of the elect by His grace. Man has no claim on God and God does not owe man eternal salvation or anything else.

LOOK TO THE THRONE OF GOD!

Very few today doubt that men are living in an age fraught with the feelings of frustration, failure, inadequacy, anxiety, fear and guilt. In an effort to hide such feelings men are pursuing a variety of temporary goals. For som®, it is business success; some crave social life; some feel that drinking will solve the problem; and for some it is just the pride of life. But whatever the earthly goal, there is always a “tomorrow”, when men wake up again to the knowledge that no method is lasting. No method provides enduring peace. To all men comes the challenge, “Look to the Throne of God!”

The study of this Catechism Question should enable any sinner saved by grace to see something of the nature of God on His throne, and should enable any man to recognize that his life is in the Hands of the Almighty, Sovereign God. So many times men forget. They for­get that God who framed His decrees according to the counsel of His will, is our Heavenly Father who is personal and has infinite love for us, and that He can and does take care of the comparatively minor ills and problems of men.

In this troubled world of today there is a need that the God of eternal purpose, that God who has the world in His hands, be pro­claimed by those who are His children by faith through Jesus Christ. But the difficulty today is that so many who proclaim Him as their Saviour, want to usurp so much of His efficacy. They desire the comfort and sustenance of the Sovereign God but want to exalt man and his powers and abilities even to the point of suggesting that man can work independently of God. Or, they seem to insert into the decree of God that He chooses certain men because He foresees certain capabilities of re­pentance and belief in them. Or even worse, they want to choose what to believe regarding predestination, often leaving out part of the teach­ing of the Word of God.

It is ever good for Christians to remember that He elected some men simply for reasons of His own and not because there was any de­serving thing in them. Further, it is good for Christians to remember that they dare not meddle with the Word of God. True, there is much that finite minds can not understand. True, there is much against which our sinful minds rebel. But the Word stands in the midst of His eternal purpose. It is only as the Written Word is accepted as it is, as the Scriptures are proclaimed in all fulness, that the challenge can be issued to the world; “Look to the Throne of God!’’ for there sits the infinite, holy, sovereign God, the One who elects and keeps eternally.

Published By:

THE SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Dedicated to instruction in the Westminster Standards for use as a bulletin insert or other methods of distribution in Presbyterian churches.
Vol. 1 No. 7 (July, 1861)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor.

Sad to realize that the League of Evangelical Students, an early forerunner of later evangelical campus ministries, has largely been forgotten now.  The League’s modest quarterly, The Evangelical Student, produced some great articles and on its pages appeared some of the first published works of men like John Murray, R. Laird Harris and Ned Stonehouse.  More on them later, no doubt.  But for now. . .

Appearing in the April 1929 issue (vol. 3, no. 3), was the article, “The Mistakes of Modernism” by A.Z. Conrad, pastor of the Park Street church in Boston.  Here below are the main points of the article in summation, with the full text following.

I. The first mistake of Modernism is this, that Modernism is new in its teachings and representations. Truth is timeless.  It has nothing to do with remoteness or recentness as such.  Reality is independent of all time relations.  It is eternal.  It is changeless save in application.

II. A second mistake of Modernism is the claim that it is synonymous with value and progress.  Mere modernity does not give value to anything.

III. The third mistake of Modernism is the claim that the unaided human intellect can deal effectively with the great problems of the soul.

IV. The fourth mistake of Modernism is this,–that the Bible is man’s best word about himself and God, rather than God’s best word about Himself and man.  Modernism declares the Bible to be a distinctively human document and nothing more.

V. The fifth mistake of Modernism is that Divine Revelation is uncertain, untrustworthy and superfluous.

VI. The sixth mistake of Modernism is that sociological relations are more important than theological principles.

VII. A further mistake is, that sin is disease and misfortune to be dealt with pathologically and not evil to be eradicated and dealt with redemptively.

VIII. The eighth mistake of Modernism is that culture and not rebirth can eliminate the destructive influence of transgression and can put man into right relations with God.

IX. Modernism makes the mistake of assuming that Calvary represents man doing his utmost for God and not God doing His utmost for man. In the thought of Modernism Christ suffered martyrdom just as many others have done.

X. What greater mistake could Modernism make than its continuous assumption that a creedless Church and a creedless personality make for liberty and self-expression?

XI. Another mistake: that prayer is a wholesome exercise in meditation, but has no procuring power.

XII. Another mistake of Modernism: that sincerity independent of reality is a sufficient ground to secure divine approval.  “No matter what you believe just so you are honest,” we often hear.

XIII. That man can deal adequately with sin, sickness, sorrow and death without Jesus Christ is another mistake of Modernism.

XIV. Modernism declares that the teachings of Jesus are subject to human revision and correction and hence are not final and authoritative.

XV. Modernism assumes that traditional Christian beliefs are discredited by the discoveries of modern science and the revelations of archeology.

XVI. The sixteenth mistake of Modernism is that accepted Christian beliefs are obstructional and non-progressive.

XVII. Another mistake of Modernism is that all scholarship of the highest order is sceptical with respect to long-accepted beliefs of the Christian Church and hence radical.  There is no phrase with which Modernism is more familiar than “All scholars.”

THE MISTAKES OF MODERNISM

by A. Z. CONRAD

MODERNISM is an elastic term. There is a sense in which all believers are Modernists. No one is so thoroughly up to date as the evangelical Christian who is making constant application of the truths of Christianity to the needs of the present hour. Later than the last dispatch is the divine message which comes to the soul through the Spirit. In point of recentness, there is nothing more truly up to the last minute than the teachings of Jesus. Modernism, however, is a term which has come to have a very particular significance in religious relations. It stands for a certain type of thought and for a certain group of individuals whose assumptions and presumptions are very conspicuous. Modernists are accustomed to throw into the scrap heap the lines of thinking represented by the advocates of evangelical Christianity.

Fundamentalism is also a term elastic and variously interpreted. It may represent a small fanatical group who overemphasize certain features of the Christian faith and insist on interpretations of the Bible which may very properly be called fanciful and irrational. On the other hand, Fundamentalism in its broader aspects, as representing evangelical Christianity, definitely means those who accept the Bible at its face value, the Gospel of Christ as a blessed reality, Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the atoning work of our Saviour as indispensable to eternal life. Let us now turn our attention to a few of the multitudinous mistakes of Modernism.

I. The first mistake of Modernism is this, that Modernism is new in its teachings and representations. Truth is timeless. It has nothing to do with remoteness or recentness as such. Reality is independent of all time relations. It is eternal. It is changeless save in application. New cults are constantly appearing, which plead for the support of people on the ground that some new, striking or even startling discovery has been made with which the world has never been familiar. Furthermore, older organizations departing from the traditional conceptions of Christianity are calling the beliefs which have been entertained for centuries incapable of retention.  They assert that all these things were well enough in their day but that they have become antiquated and inapplicable to the present needs. With much sophistry and perversion of truth they lead people to feel that the fathers were ignorant or misinformed and that it is time to leave the old moorings under the direction of a new pilot and a new chart. It will invariably be discovered that what purports to be new is centuries old. There is not a single modern cult that is other than the expression and amplification of what has been repeatedly presented to the world before. There is no objection which Modernism makes to the Bible, to the Atonement or to any feature of Christianity which has not been made and perhaps better made by objectors who lived in the latter part of the first or in the second century. We all believe that new truth will ever break forth from the Word of God. But when it comes, it will not by any means be Modernism. Modernism is essentially destructive and not constructive, since it is ever attacking the positions maintained by the Church for generations.

II.  A second mistake of Modernism is the claim that it is synonymous with value and progress. Mere modernity does not give value to anything. Worth is determined by certain well-known criteria. We have the time test, the acid test, the fire test which we apply in determining the value of jewels. These same tests can be applied to truth. To run after some novelty that strikes hard blows at truth long accepted is to reveal a lack of mental poise such as should characterize a true student of Revelation. The very fact that a thing is modern is reason enough to wait, to weigh, to measure and to put it to the test. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Fruit is not the result of an overnight process. A thing may be very modern and very worthless. Modernism is very fond of employing epithets calculated to discredit long-accepted evangelical truths. We are told they are old-fashioned, out of date and irrational. What should concern us is not newness but trueness.

III.  The third mistake of Modernism is the claim that the unaided human intellect can deal effectively with the great problems of the soul. It is the assumption of Modernism that by mere intellection man may discover for himself all the truth essential to the perfection of character and the knowledge of God’s will. As a matter of fact, the deepest spiritual truths positively require revelation because they are entirely unknown to any save God Himself. The very implications of immortality are such as to demand the voice of divine authority if the soul is to have peace and true understanding. The question pressing hard on the human mind has been from time immemorial, “If a man die shall he live again?” No satisfactory answer has ever been or can ever be given to this question except as God breaks the great silence. The greatest intellectual giants of the world are absolutely helpless in the presence of profound spiritual questions. A man can talk eloquently about the laws of hydrostatics, but when he starts to wade out into the ocean he soon gets beyond his depth. No one has ever come back from the invisible world to answer any questions about the experience of the souls beyond the grave. Even those who were witness to the transfiguration made no declaration which would lead us to believe that Moses and Elijah told them anything about the spirit life. Do not deceive yourself with the belief that there is any authority relative to sin, salvation and eternity except a supernatural authority.

IV.  The fourth mistake of Modernism is this,—that the Bible is man’s best word about himself and God, rather than God’s best word about Himself and man. Modernism declares the Bible to be a distinctively human document and nothing more. To the Modernist the Bible is man’s best word about himself, his soul’s need, his aspirations, his outreach, his onlook regarding God. God thus becomes man’s creation, but the true view is definitely opposed to this conception of Modernism. The Bible is God’s best word about God and man. It is God’s declaration to man, revealing who he is and what He wants him to do; what God has done, is doing and is willing to do for man. We know that progress does not rest upon the shifting sands of error. We know further that the joy of the human heart and the growth of the human soul never come about by feeding upon ashes.  We know, furthermore, that in view of the truth that man intellectually is not able to deal with spiritual problems unaided, therefore, whatever meets these great problems must be from God. We know that the progress of the world has been paralleled by the distribution of the Bible. Before Christ came, the world’s progress rested largely with a group of people who were adherents to God’s Revelation made through theophanies, by poets and prophets and the great teachers whom God raised up. Since the coming of Christ, the Bible has furnished the basis for every great progressive movement.

V.  The fifth mistake of Modernism is that Divine Revelation is uncertain, untrustworthy and superfluous. Any unbiased student who turns to God’s Word and reads the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, then turns to the New and finds they are all fulfilled, must be convinced that God inspired the prophets and poets of Israel. The New Testament tested by results reveals the fact of a supernatural direction. We are told exactly what will happen through the acceptance or rejection of certain truths, and history and observation bear out the truthfulness of the statement. No individual has ever been able to say, “I trusted in Revelation and I have failed,” nor can anyone say, “Oh Lord, I have made Thy Word my counsel and it has misled and deceived me.” On the other hand, millions are prepared to testify that the Word of God has made them wise unto salvation and has been the man of their counsel and the guide of their lives.

VI.  The sixth mistake of Modernism is that sociological relations are more important than theological principles. This idea is very prevalent. “Do not bother about your soul. Tend to the ordinary duties and let the next world take care of itself. Engage yourself in providing for the material well-being of people and nothing else will matter.” As a matter of fact, there is no true service unless there is an abiding principle behind it. You must have a foundation before you can build. Spiritually there is no other foundation that can be laid than that which is laid in Jesus Christ our Lord. Never has there been greater interest shown in behalf of human liberty and human progress than that shown by people who trust in the ever-living Word of God. It was the belief “that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself” that laid the foundation for Harvard and Yale and Princeton. The recent apostasy has been very great. Nevertheless, the Christian Church has been throwing out a bright light and in proportion as the Church has exalted God’s Word it has been both a force and a fire. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” What shall it profit if you build splendid edifices? What shall it profit a man who accumulates a vast fortune and loses his own soul ?

VII.  A further mistake is, that sin is disease and misfortune to be dealt with pathologically and not evil to be eradicated and dealt with redemptively. The Bible declares, “The wages of sin is death.” If sin could be successfully dealt with pathologically, remorse would be impossible. We would say in view of any transgression, that we need not disturb ourselves since we are the victims of misfortune or temptation. Sin is a crime before God. You cannot eliminate that fact. Our very cry for forgiveness and the burden often carried upon the conscience is an indication that there is something evil within, which must be dealt with redemptively. There is no doubt but what improved surroundings and education retard the progress of evil. All the sophistry in the world will never do away with the fact that sin is sin and without salvation effected by Jesus Christ, the sinner is doomed.

VIII.  The eighth mistake of Modernism is that culture and not rebirth can eliminate the destructive influence of transgression and can put man into right relations with God. What does God say? “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Culture has never yet removed one single sin stain. It never will. Cosmetics cannot eliminate a deep-seated malady. Lady Macbeth was unable to wash the stains and remove the “damned spot” from her hands. A man cannot bring peace, contentment and rest by any merely educational process. The more culture the better but for purposes of salvation it is useless. Why discard the utterance of the greatest Teacher the world has ever known who said, “Ye must be born again” ?

IX.  Modernism makes the mistake of assuming that Calvary represents man doing his utmost for God and not God doing His utmost for man. In the thought of Modernism Christ suffered martyrdom just as many others have done. Jesus at Golgotha was not man doing his best for God. It was God, the Son, dying upon the Cross to save the world. The Scripture declaration was explicit, unequivocal. “I lay down my life for the sheep.”  “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” Modernism is definitely opposed to the Scripture when it rejects the Atonement. That changes no fact. The Atonement was accomplished by Christ on the Cross and is effectualized for the individual by the acceptance of Jesus.

X.  What greater mistake could Modernism make than its continuous assumption that a creedless Church and a creedless personality make for liberty and self-expression? They do not. Why this absurd inveighing against creed? We often hear, “Let no one expect me to attach my name to a creed.” But what is a creed? It is a statement of faith. If a true statement why oppose it? A true creed is simply a formulation of the truth of Revelation. The fact is, a creedless Church is a spineless Church. A creed-less individual is a jelly-fish personality. Your creed may be the New Testament  Scriptures, nevertheless it is a creed. A  Church without a creed never stands against the stream of adverse tendency. It never produces great missionaries.  In all the great missionary movements  and activities the leaders have been believers and if believers, believers in something. That something was their creed. Not only should we have a creed but it should be an expression of a belief and a conviction for which we should be willing to die.

XI.  Another mistake: that prayer is a wholesome exercise in meditation, but has no procuring power. No one questions that it is a wholesome exercise, but if people did not believe prayer had a procuring power they would soon cease to pray. As a matter of fact that is just what does happen in thousands of instances. Jesus said, “Ask and ye shall receive.” He said furthermore, Pray for the things ye need. Jesus’ idea of prayer was that it called in the activities of God to help meet earth’s needs and answer our personal problems.

XII.  Another mistake of Modernism: that sincerity independent of reality is a sufficient ground to secure divine approval. “No matter what you believe just so you are honest,” we often hear. God says, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” It makes all the difference in the world whether you are hugging a delusion, following an illusion, depending upon a mirage or relying on reality.

XIII.  That man can deal adequately with sin, sickness, sorrow and death without Jesus Christ is another mistake of Modernism. No religion has ever pretended to deal adequately with these things except Christianity.  Next to Jesus Christ, Paul was the great avenue of Divine Revelation. He declares that if Jesus did not rise from the dead we have no gospel and no hope. The whole fabric of the Christian Church is woven through and through with the truth that Jesus rose from the dead. It is this that guarantees the Atonement.  Christianity meets man’s need as a sinner and removes his guilt. It meets his deepest sorrow by the assurance of the future life. It meets his sickness by divine power. It meets his death with the guarantee of an endless life.

XIV.  Modernism declares that the teachings of Jesus are subject to human revision and correction and hence are not final and authoritative. One of our theological leaders has recently written, “Of course Jesus thought this was so. He was simply mistaken.” In other words, the wisdom of man is greater than that of Jesus and he may revise the findings of Jesus. Jesus said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” The final seat of authority lies in the experience of Jesus Christ with God the Father. The Gospels give us the record of this and hence become an authority to us.

XV.  Modernism assumes that traditional Christian beliefs are discredited by the discoveries of modern science and the revelations of archeology. The plain, unvarnished fact is this: not one, single statement of Holy Scripture from beginning to end has been successfully overthrown by any scientific truth or any archeological discovery. On the other hand, it is marvelous how God’s Word has been accredited by the revelations of the spade.

XVI.  The sixteenth mistake of Modernism is that accepted Christian beliefs  are obstructional and non-progressive.  This  is  stupidly untrue. Every great progressive cause has been led to success through the advocacy of Christian conservatives who accept the Word of God at its face value. Christianity is the most progressive and aggressive of all systems of truth.

XVII. Another mistake of Modernism is that all scholarship of the highest order is sceptical with respect to long-accepted beliefs of the Christian Church and hence radical. There is no phrase with which Modernism is more familiar than “All scholars.” The presumption and the conceit connected with that phrase are monumental. The truth is that the highest scholarship today which is under the direction of the Spirit of God receives the truth of the Virgin Birth, the Atonement, the Resurrection and Regeneration.

The final court of appeal in all matters of faith is the appeal to Jesus Christ in His life, His teachings and hence, His experience with God the Father. My experience is valuable only as accrediting that which is greater than any human experience. My experience corroborates what God has revealed in Jesus Christ. It is my business to lay my conclusions beside the teachings of Jesus and see whether or not they correspond and if not, to correct them. Personally, I am willing to rest my eternal destiny upon the fact that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and God the Son.

Conrad, A.Z., “The Mistakes of Modernism,” in The Evangelical Student (Princeton, NJ), 3.3 (April 1929): 5-10.

With few Presbyterian events tied to this date, let’s look back at yesterday’s post and the concluding point that our life is hid with Christ. To explore this great truth further, excerpted here is a portion of a work, The Hidden Life, by Richard Sibbes. An excerpt does not do justice to him, but perhaps this short portion will draw you to read more. A Kindle edition is available here. Otherwise, the full treatise appears in volume 5 of the Works of Richard Sibbes.

Our life is hid with Christ in God.

We are dead, and yet we have a life. A Christian is a strange person. He is both dead and alive, he is miserable and glorious. He consists of contraries. He is dead in regard of corruption and miseries, and such like, but he is alive in regard of his better part, and he grows two ways at once. It is a strange thing that a Christian does. He grows downwards and upwards at the same time; for as he dies in sin and misery, and natural death approaching, so he lives the life of grace, and grows more and more till he end in glory.

This life is said to be a hidden life, ‘It is hid wiht Christ in God.’

The life of a Christian, which is his glorious spiritual life, it is hid. Among other respects,

1. It is hid to the world, to worldly men, because a Christian is an unknown man to them. Because they know not the Father that begets, therefore they know not them that are begotten, as St. John says in 1 John 3:1. They know not the advancement of a Christian: he is raised into a higher rank than they. Therefore, as a beast knows not the things of a man, no more does a carnal man, in any excellency, know the things of the Spirit, ‘for they are spiritually discerne, 1 Cor. 2:14. Therefore it is a hidden life in the eyes of the world. A worldly man sees not this life in regard of the excellency. He passes scorns and contempts of it, of folly and the like. A Christian, in respect of his happy life, is a stranger here, and therefore he is willing to pass through the world, and to be used as a stranger.

It is [a life] hidden in heaven. No enemy can come there. The devil comes not there since he first lost it and was cast out. It is safe in regard of the place. It is hid in heaven.

And it is safe, because it is hid in Christ, who purchased it with his blood; who has trampled upon all opposite powers, over death, and hell itself. It is hid in heaven and in him who has overcome all opposite power. Therefore it is a safe life.

And it is hid with Christ in God. Christ is in the bosom of God, Christ mediator. ‘It is hid with Christ in God.’ He is the storehouse of this life. It is hid with him. If any can rob God, then they may rob our life from us; for it is hid with Christ in God. It is a sure life therefore.

It is likewise a peculiar life; only to God’s people. For they only have union and communion with Christ; and therefore he says here, ‘your life is hid with Christ in God.’

It is likewise a glorious life; for it is hid with Christ, who is the glory of God; and he says in the next verse, ‘When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, we shall appear with Him in glory.’ It is a glorious life.

It is a secret, sure, peculiar, glorious life. Alas! we are ready to judge of ourselves by the present, and not to think it a glorious life. But he says, it is hidden for us. ‘Light is sown for the righteous,’ Psalm 97:11. It does not appear for the present. A garden has seeds sown and herbs, but in the winter there is no difference between it and a common field; but when the sun shines and appears, then the herbs appear in their lustre. So it is with a Christian. There is light and immortality and happiness sown for him. When Christ, the ‘Sun of righteousness’ shall appear, ‘then we shall appear with him in glory,’ 1 John 3;2.

As we may say of all things below, they have a hidden life: the plants and the flowers in the winter, they live by the root; and when the sun appears, then they also appear with the sun in glory; and when the sun appears, then they also appear with the sun in glory. So it is with the righteous: they have a hidden life. It is hid now in the root, in their head, in this life. When Christ the Sun of righteousness shall appear; when the spring comes; when the resurrection comes: then we shall appear with Him in glory.

This Most Venerable But Perishing Pile of Stones

For whatever reason, the 200th anniversary of the Westminster Assembly, in 1843, did not garner all that much attention. The 250th anniversary, by comparison, was a much bigger event, widely observed by Presbyterians around the globe. So it was that on this day, April 27th in 1897 that Dr. William Wirt Henry [1831-1900] brought before the Presbytery of East Hanover, as it convened in the First Presbyterian church of Richmond, VA, a message titled “The Westminster Assembly: The Events Leading Up to It, Personnel of the Body, and Its Method of Work.” [Dr. Henry is noted as the grandson and biographer of that great American patriot, Patrick Henry]

From this address, we excerpt here an interesting bit of background on the historic room where the Westminster Assembly convened for most of its meetings:—

Dr. William Twisse was named as prolocutor, or moderator, and he opened the Assembly on the day appointed with a sermon on the text of John 14:18, “I will not leave you comfortless.” This sermon was delivered in the Abbey church in Westminster before a great congregation, in which sat the members of the two houses of Parliament and many of the divines named as members of the Assembly. The Assembly then went into the chapel of Henry VII., where the roll was called. The body continued to meet in this chapel until the approach of winter, when, finding it too cold a place, it adjourned to the Jerusalem Chamber, where the sessions were afterward held.

JerusalemChamber_interior_CRodriguez
It was most appropriate to connect the history of this memorable Assembly with the venerable Abbey, which is such a depository of all that is great in English history. The first church built upon the spot now occupied by the Abbey was the pious work of Sebert, king of the East Saxons, upon his conversion to Christianity in the sixth century, and is believed to have been intended as a memorial of the visit of Saint Augustine to England when he attacked and overthrew the Pelagian heresy in the native country of its author. The beautiful chapel of Henry VII. was built in 1502, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary by this last of the medieval kings of England. It has been the burial place of nearly every king since its erection, as the Abbey has been the place of their coronation. This has been beautifully expressed by the poet Waller in the lines,

“That antique pile behold,
Where royal heads receive the sacred gold;
It gives them crowns, and does their ashes keep;
These made like gods, there like mortals sleep,
Making the circle of their reign complete,
These suns of empire, where they rise they set.”

JerusalemChamber_exterior_CRodriguezThe Jerusalem Chamber was built by Abbot Littlington in the later part of the fourteenth century as a guest chamber for his house,and took its name from the tapestry pictures of the history of the seige of Jerusalem with which it was hung. It had been made memorable by the death of Henry IV. from apoplexy, March 20, 1413, while he was preparing for a visit to the holy land. Shakespeare thus describes the scene:

King Henry: “Doth any name particular belong
Unto the lodging where I first did swoon?”

Warwick:     “Tis called Jerusalem, my noble Lord.”

King Henry:  “Laud be to God! even there my life must end.
It hath been prophesied to me many years,
I should not die but in Jerusalem;
Which vainly I supposed the Holy Land;
But bear me to that chamber; there I’ll lie;
In that Jerusalem shall Henry die.”

Now a body of the most pious and learned men of English history were to occupy these venerable chambers, to restore the pure theology of Augustine; to teach a wicked king that resistance to tyrants is obedience to God; over the ashes of the greatest and the noblest of the English race, to proclaim the precious doctrines of the resurrection of the dead through a risen Saviour; to point from this most venerable but perishing pile to the new Jerusalem, not built with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Words to Live By:
We find ourselves now at a troubling point in history, where, because of long-standing unbelief and the subsequent advances of idolatry, that many of the great markers and memorials of the Reformed faith throughout England and Europe stand in danger of being overrun and may someday even be threatened with destruction. Should that day come, what will be our response? Nothing in this life is forever, even those things carved in granite. But praise God that we have a greater place to stand. The true Ebenezer of our faith—the very Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Rock of our salvation—can never be taken from us. Our faith rests not upon hallowed stones and hallways, but upon the living Lord of Glory who rose again from the dead to live and reign forever.

Image sources:
Rev. Charlie Rodriguez, pastor of Mount Carmel Presbyterian church, Clinton, MS, and owner of Fortress Book Service, has been gracious in granting permission to use these two photographs which he personally took, the first showing the inside the Jerusalem Chamber and the second that of the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, which also shows the outside window of the Jerusalem Chamber. The Great West Door would most likely have been the primary entry point for the Westminster Divines as they gathered for each day’s work. Our thanks to Pastor Rodriguez.

“Rise, George, and Defend the Blood-bought Church of Christ”

gillespieGeorgeSome thought that he was the one who framed that Shorter Catechism answer about God’s character. Other doubted that he was the author of it.  We may never know for sure, but it was stated that whoever framed the answer to the question, “What is God?” was the youngest minister present on the Assembly committee tasked with the question’s answer. And Rev. George Gillespie was the youngest minister present in that committee of the historic Westminster Assembly. Maybe only eternity will reveal for sure the real author of Shorter Catechism Number 4.

The issue came to the forefront on an important discussion on the attributes of God. Asked to help formulate an answer, Rev. Gillespie (if indeed it was he who was the author) asked first for divine help. And so he led with a prayer for wisdom, saying in his prayer, “O God, thou art a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in Thy being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” The whole prayer was eventually written down by the court recorder with the magnificent answer to the character of God set in place for us to adore, memorize, pray, and teach our covenant children and others of God’s  family.

Our Presbyterian character today is George Gillespie. Born to a clergyman father in Kirkcaldy, Scotland on January 21, 1613, little is known of his early life in the manse.  We do know that he had a brother named Patrick.  We know that his mother was inclined to favor that child and not George. We know that the father would often come to the aid of George, telling prophetically that George would one day be a mighty servant of the Lord in Scotland. But beyond those tidbits, his growing up days are scarce of events.

That he was a Presbyterians was a given, as he was supported by the Presbytery of Kirkcaldy financially to attend at age 16 the University of St. Andrews. While there at this school, it was said that he gave ample evidence of genius and industry, with a rapid growth of mental power, and extensive learning. What remained solid in his classes were his convictions regarding the biblical basis of Presbyterianism, including its government. It was expected that if he wanted to be ordained into the ministry in those days, it would be the ordination approved by the Church of England. This he refused to do, so he became a domestic chaplain ministering to three families in Scotland.

A year before he was ordained, at a critical time in the life of Scotland when the English Liturgy was going to be forced on the kingdom of Scotland, George Gillespie wrote a book entitled A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded upon the Church of Scotland. It plainly dealt with the purity of worship. It was so overwhelming in its thoroughness that no bishop ever attempted to refute it.

Eventually, when the Presbyteries of the land were recognized as being able to ordain individuals, George Gillespie was ordained to the gospel ministry on this day, April 26, 1638, by the Presbytery of Kirkcaldy. He became the pastor of a congregation in Wemyss, Scotland, for four years. Then he was called to High Kirk in Edinburgh, Scotland. However, in the same year, he was appointed with four other ministers of the Church of Scotland—Alexander Henderson, Robert Douglas, Robert Baillie, and Samuel Rutherford, along with some elders—to go to London as non-voting members of the Westminster Assembly. Not all of them went, but George Gillespie did attend and was a major participant for four years in the Assembly. He would deliver some 167 speeches to the assembly on a variety of issues.

Once, when a famous older proponent argued for a point contrary to Presbyterianism, Samuel Rutherford urged George to “rise, George, and defend the church for which Christ has purchased with his own blood.” After the proponent of the opposite side had finished his delivery, during which time George Gillespie was constantly writing in his notebook, the latter stood and absolutely demolished his opponent’s arguments. When they opened the notebook later, expecting to find the notes for his speech, they could only find short statements, such as “Give light, O Lord.”

At the Assembly was closed, Rev. Gillespie returned to his charge in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was soon elected Moderator of the General Assembly in 1648, even though he was obviously weakened in his physical condition. He would go to be with the Lord on December 17, 1648, with what we call now tuberculosis.  Truly, he was one of the leading divines of his day.

Words to Live By:
To our Christian readers who may be among the younger servants of the Lord Jesus, as was George Gillespie, Paul’s Word to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12 is, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example to those who believe.” (NAS)

For Further Study:
A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded upon the Church of Scotland has recently been reprinted in an improved edition. Click here for further details from the publisher.

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