November 2017

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2017.

“The ripest fruit of the Assembly’s thought and experience.”

wsc_londonIt was on this day, November 25th, a Thursday in 1647, that the British House of Commons ordered the printing of the Shorter Catechism, composed by the Westminster Assembly.

The Westminster Assembly of Divines had first met on July 1, 1643, having been summoned by the two Houses of the British Parliament to advise as to a further and more perfect reformation in the liturgy, discipline, and government of the Church of England. They immediately set about working on a revision of the Thirty-nine Articles. When the Commissioners sent by the Church of Scotland arrived to be seated as part of the Assembly, the work then began to take on a wider scope. The Assembly was now required to prepare creeds and directories, not for the Church of England alone, but for the Churches of Christ in the three kingdoms, so as to bring all of them into the nearest possible uniformity in doctrine and practice.

The documents which are today the authoritative secondary standards of so many Presbyterian Churches throughout the world (and not just English-speaking churches), were prepared by an Assembly of English Divines, men who were episcopally ordained clergymen of the Church of England. That Church was as yet undivided at that time. The members of the Assembly represented the different views of doctrine and order that were entertained within it. Many of the prelatic party who were nominated by Parliament declined to attend the Assembly, but others of them took the required oath, and assisted in the deliberations of the Assembly, at least for a time. The Independents [or Congregationalists, by another term] were represented by seven men who came to be known as the “dissenting brethren” in the Assembly.

The great majority of the members of this Assembly held Presbyterian views of Church polity, and were the successors of the Puritans, who formed a considerable body in the Church of England from the time of the Reformation. They had all along been working for a more primitive organization of the Church, and a freedom from the practices and priestly robes borrowed from the corrupt Roman Church. In the days of Elizabeth they had instituted a voluntary Presbyterian organization of the Church, and they had often suffered in her days, and during the reigns of James and Charles, for refusing to carry out the practices or wear the robes enjoined by the prelates [or high-Church Anglicans].

To this Assembly were added three ministers of the Reformed Church of France, and four learned divines of the Church of Scotland, who were seated as non-voting members, but whose voice carried great weight in the deliberations of the Assembly.

The committee first charged with the work of preparing a Catechism never managed to complete its work. Some time later, the Assembly directed that both larger and a briefer catechisms should be produced, both works keeping an eye to the content of the Confession of Faith. Work then proceeded, first on the Larger Catechism, and only as that work was nearing completion did the Assembly turn its attention again to a Shorter Catechism. A new committee was named and by most accounts, the successful completion of the work is due to the efforts of just four men, and in particular the work of Antony Tuckney, Minister of St. Michael’s, London, and Master of Emanuel College, Cambridge.

Completing their work, the committee presented its report to the Assembly. After some revision of the Catechism, the addition of the Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed were considered. A vocal minority opposed the addition of the Apostles’ Creed, and to settle the matter, the Assembly determined that an explanation of the words “he descended into hell” would be added as a marginal notation. That postscript is typically not found in the American editions.

The work now finished, a message was prepared by a committee to be addressed to the Houses of Parliament when the Catechism was carried up. On Thursday, 25th of November, 1647, the House of Commons was informed that divers divines of the Assembly were at the door. They were called in, and the Prolocutor [moderator of the Assembly] delivered the Catechism and addressed the House. On the following day (November 26th) the Catechism was carried to the Lords. Each House thanked the Assembly for its care and pains in this matter. It was ordered that 600 copies be printed under the care of Mr. Byfield, for the use of the Members of Parliament and of Assembly, and that Scripture proofs be affixed in the margin of the Catechism.

Words to Live By:

One characteristic of the Shorter Catechism has not been sufficiently recognized in the past. It is a statement of personal religion. It appeals to the individual sinner, and helps the individual believer.

One anecdote serves to illustrate:

The Rev. Thomas Doolittle, a famous catechist, took great delight in catechizing and urged ministers to that work, as an effective way of establishing young people in the truth, and preparing them to read and hear sermons with advantage. Accordingly, every Lord’s day, he catechized the youth and adults of his congregation, and this part of his work bore great fruit. Once, when he had come to the question “What is effectual calling,” after some explanation, Rev. Doolittle proposed that the question should be answered by changing the words us and our to me and my. The congregation, hearing this suggestion, a long and solemn silence followed. Many felt the weight of the idea, but none had the courage to answer. At length, one young man stood up, and with every mark of a broken and contrite heart, was able to say, “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing me of my sin and misery, enlightening my mind to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to me in the Gospel.”

The scene was truly affecting. The proposal of the question had commanded unusual solemnity. The rising up of the young man had created high expectations; and, the answer being accompanied with proofs of sincere piety and modesty, the congregation was bathed in tears. This young man had been converted by being catechized, and, to his honor, Rev. Doolittle says, “Of an ignorant and wicked youth, he had become a knowing and serious believer to God’s glory and my much comfort.”

There was an old expression, particularly among the Scottish Presbyterians, who would say, “I own the Confession.” By that, they meant that they had made its doctrine their own; they had taken the content to heart, and saw that indeed it was an accurate reflection of the teaching of Scripture. So too the Catechism, though briefer.

Reader, do you own the Catechism? Have you made it your own? Clearly it is not Scripture; no such claim is made, and that is why we speak of it as part of the secondary standards of the Church. But it is worthwhile reading, and a great help in understanding what the Bible teaches.

[The bulk of the above was based on and freely edited from an historical account written by William Carruthers [1830-1922], which is found bound with a facsimile reproduction of an original printing of the Shorter Catechism. A digital edition of that work is available here.

Image source: Pictured is a later edition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, not the original first printing.

An Endeavor for the Brave of Heart

Assuming our readers are probably all off enjoying the extended weekend, here is a bit of post-Thanksgiving humor, for a change of pace. I could not locate a source in order to give proper attribution, but did enjoy this cartoon:


Time and again, the Lord has shown Himself faithful.

You would do well to take your Bible this Thanksgiving weekend and begin a study on how often throughout the Scriptures the Lord instructs us to remember His works. And why is that? Obviously, that we should not forget Him, that we should be conscious of His faithfulness, that we should be thankful for His daily providences, and all to the end that we should glorify Him and worship Him, as the Lord alone deserves.

The Psalms are, as we might expect, full of such instruction. To give but a few examples:

We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old. (Ps. 44:1)

The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein . . . He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered;… (Ps. 111:2a, 4a)

One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts. (Ps. 145:4)

Indeed, this is one of those themes of Scripture, which, once your eyes are opened to it, you begin to see it everywhere. Presbyterian history will take a break today, that you might reflect on your own history, and so praise God for all that He is to you.

John Flavel, in his Mystery of Providence, speaks to our point:

Search backward into all the performances of Providence throughout your lives. So did Asaph: ‘I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings’ (Psalm 77:11, 12). He laboured to recover and revive the ancient providences of God’s mercies many years past, and suck a fresh sweetness out of them by new reviews of them.
Ah, sirs, let me tell you, there is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would but sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what signal manifestations and outbreakings of His mercy, faithfulness and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. If your hearts do not melt before you have gone half through that history, they are hard hearts indeed.

JOINT PUBLICATIONS VENTURE UNDERWAY

Representatives of the Christian Education committees of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America met in Philadelphia, Penna. on November 22, 1974 to inaugurate a joint publication enterprise to serve both denominations.

To be called Great Commission Publications, lnc., the new corporation will acquire the assets of the OPC’s similarly named agency. Operation of the new agency will formally begin on July 1, 1975 for an initial period of five years. (Either church may cancel its participation on eighteen months notice.)

Temporary officers of the new corporation are the Rev. Messrs. Robert Nicholas (OPC), chairman; Harold Borchert (PCA), vice-chairman; Kenneth Meilahn (OPC), secretary. The group also named the Rev. Robley J. Johnston, long-time generaI secretary for the O. P. committee, to be executive director.

A tentative schedule of production calls for a new Adult Sunday School series to be ready in the Fall of 1976; a new VBS curriculum for Summer 1977; a new Senior High Sunday school course for Fall 1978; and a Pre-school curriculum for Fall of 1979.

A spirit of confidence and unanimity has permeated discussions leading up to this joint endeavor. Problems for the future success of the venture are mainly in the area of securing needed and competent personnel for the proposed schedule of publications.

The Presbyterian Guardian, December 43.10 (December 1974), p. 167.

Words to Live By:
That the brethren can work together has been proven quite well in this venture, now some forty-two years later. Great Commission Publications does a wonderful job of fulfilling many of the Sunday School curriculum and other literature needs of the OPC and PCA. Other churches besides these two also utilize the services of GCP on occasion. The entire venture has been a good success, to the praise of our Lord and Savior.

Tags: , , ,

Four Presbyterian Chaplains Who Stayed Behind With the Wounded
by Rev. David T Myers

The army was moving, actually fleeing from the blood-soaked fields of Gettysburg on July 4, 1863. Three terrible days of battle had been fought there in this battle of the War Between the States. The Union forces had been victorious. The Rebel forces were in defeat, fleeing south as the vanquished army. Staying behind were countless Confederate soldiers too wounded to move with their regiments. Also staying behind were over one hundred surgeons and doctors to help with their physical needs, and sixteen Confederate Army chaplains to minister to their spiritual needs. Of those immortal sixteen chaplains were four Presbyterian chaplains, all captured on this day, July 5, 1863 by the Union forces.

The most familiar Rebel chaplain to our readers is Chaplain Thomas D. Witherspoon, of the Forty-second Mississippi Regiment, of whom we have written before in This Day. In the Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 8, number 2, (and on line) Chaplain Witherspoon writes “I was captured in the afternoon of a beautiful Sabbath day, the 5th of July, 1863 in a hospital tent in the midst of a religious service surrounded by the wounded on every hand to whom I was ministering and at whose urgent solicitation I had voluntarily remained within the enemy’s lines.”

Considered a non-combatant, as were all chaplains, Chaplain Witherspoon traveled to Baltimore, Maryland on a special mission. He planned to take the body of Col. Hugh Miller, commander of the 42nd Mississippi, his son Edwin Miller, under a flag of truce, back home to Richmond, Virginia, hoping to make the Confederate capitol in a couple of days. A very determined Union General in Baltimore wouldn’t let the small party proceed, even though they had a Union officer with their little party, and imprisoned Chaplain Witherspoon in Fort McHenry, Baltimore.

The other three Presbyterian chaplains who stayed with their wounded at Gettysburg, included Chaplain James H. Colton, of the Fifty Third North Carolina, Chaplain Paul Morton, of the Twenty Third Virginia, and Chaplain James H Gilmore of the Twenty-first Virginia Regiment. Along with seven Methodist chaplains, three Baptist Chaplains and two Episcopalian Chaplains, these faithful Presbyterian chaplains were allowed by the victorious Union Army to continue to minister to their wounded at Camp Letterman in Gettysburg, until August 7 of 1863, when they left for Baltimore.

Arriving in Baltimore, Maryland by train, the chaplains and the medical doctors stayed there until August 9th when they were moved to Fort Monroe, Virginia, then on to Fort Norfolk, Virginia, and finally back to Fort McHenry, outside of Baltimore. Maryland. They all were exchanged on this day, November 21, 1863 and sent on the steamer “Swan,” to City Point, Virginia.

After the Civil War, our four Presbyterian chaplains continued their ministries in civilian Presbyterian missions and churches, being faithful to the Captain of their salvation until their deaths.

Words to Live By:
Like civilian ministries, the biblical chaplain in our Armed Services, in peacetime and war, seeks to be faithful to the God of the Bible, earnestly proclaim the Lord Jesus and Him crucified, buried, and risen again, and proclaim the principles and practices of true Christianity. Here’s the question? Are you, our readers, earnestly praying for our Presbyterian and Reformed chaplains? Do you belong to a congregation which has chosen a chaplain and his work as your church chaplain. If not, contact the Presbyterian and Reformed Commission on Chaplains and Military Personal, Chaplain (Lt Col) Jim Carter, Director, to be a part of this Chaplain Sponsorship Program.

« Older entries § Newer entries »

%d bloggers like this: