January 2018

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

Q. 48. — What are we especially taught by these words, “before me,” in the first commandment?

A. — These words, “before me,” in the first commandment, teach us that God, who seeth all things, taketh notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other god.

Scripture References: I Chron. 28:9; Ps. 44:20-21.

Questions:

1. How is it possible for God to see all things?

It is possible for God is every where present and has infinite understanding. The Bible says, “Can any hide himself in secret places, that I shall not see him? saith the Lord: do not I fill heaven and ,earth?” (Jer. 23:24) He is omniscient (knowing everything) as well as omnipresent (present every where at the same time) – Ps. 139. He knows us with perfect knowledge. o

2. How can Christians commit the sin of having other gods?

Christians can commit this sin by. allowing their interest and their affections to be set upon other things and by allowing those things to hold first place in their thoughts and activities.

3. Why is God so displeased with this sin?

God Is displeased with this sin because He is a jealous and a holy God. The Bible teaches,”I am the Lord, that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” (Isa.42:8)

4. Should not the fact that He is a jealous and a holy God influence our every action?

Yes, our every action should be influenced by this fact. It should keep us from sin; it should give us a hatred of the very thought of sin; it should quicken us moment by moment to make the prayer as stated in the hymn:

“I want a principle within Of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin, A pain to feel it near.
Help me the first approach to feel
Of pride or wrong desire;
To catch the wandering of my will,
And quench the kindling fire.”
—Charles Wesley.

THE GOD THAT REVEALETH SECRETS

The knowledge that God sees all things should always be recognized by the believer. It should always be held before him as a ·burning lamp. In Daniel 2:28 we read, “There is a God in heaven, that revealeth secrets.” Now the secrets He revealed in that particular case were for His glory. Many times He acts to His glory too in the revealing of the secrets of our hearts. We can not flee Him, we can not hide anything from Him .. There is certainly a good lesson for the believer in

Francis Thompson’s famous words:

“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.”

But all the fleeing did no good; God continued “with unhurrying chase, and unperturbed pace.” And God will always continue asking us to be honest with Him, to hide nothing from Him, to go all the way with Him. Through it all there is the knowledge, there should be the knowledge on our hearts, that He is in heaven and He revealeth secrets!

There is still another comfort in the fact that He revealeth secrets. This Is the comfort that some day we will understand His ways. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness. He will make us to understand why He permitted this or that misfortune to come into our ways. He will enable us to see why He delayed so long the coming of His Son, our Savior. He will show us why it was necessary for His true church to be persecuted. 0 blessed Day when the secrets are opened up to us!

The question we have before us is important: Can we be satisfied to live in these days ‘When the counsel of His will is secret? Can we go on day by day trusting Him even when we can not trace the way? Can we live on the one hand knowing that He knows the secrets of our hearts, and on the other hand knowing that there are many things He will not reveal to us? The secret of learning to be content, all to His glory, is found in being able to live ‘With both of these things. The Bible says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Tim. 6:8), May God, the God who revealeth secrets, give us this contentment as we are determined to live before Him with acts of godliness (2 Peter 3:11).

Published By: The SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol. 4 No. 46 (October 1964)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

An aside, though there was some discussion of honorary degrees recently among Presbyterians on the Internet.

THE ORIGIN OF LITERARY DEGREES.

The practice of conferring honors of literary institutions on individuals of distinguished erudition, commenced in the twelfth century, when the Emperor Lothaire, having found in Italy a copy of the Roman law, ordained that it should be publicly expounded in the schools; and that he might give encouragement to the study, he further ordered that the public professors of this law should be dignified with the title of Doctors. The first person created a doctor, after this ordinance of the Emperor, was Bulgarius Hugolinus, who was greatly distinguished for his learning and literary labors. Not long afterwards, the practice of creating doctors was borrowed from the lawyers by divines also, who in their schools publicly taught divinity, and conferred degrees upon those who had made great proficiency in science. The plan of conferring degrees in divinity, was first adopted in the Universities of Bologna, Oxford, and Paris. (See Mather’s Magnalia, Christi Americana, B, IV, p. 134.)

It is remarkable that the celebrated Dr. Samuel Johnson, when he had become eminent in literature, could not obtain the degree of Master of Arts, from Trinity College, Dublin, though powerful interests were made in his behalf for this purpose, by Mr. Pope, Lord Gower, and others.—Instances of the failure of similar applications, made in favor of characters still more distinguished than Johnson then was, are also on record. So cautious and reserved were literary institutions, a little more than half a century ago, in bestowing their honors.

Miller’s Life of John Rodgers.

[excerpted from The Christian Observer, vol. xxix, no. 3 (19 January 1850): page 1, column 4.]

Words to Live By:
Looking back, the nineteenth-century seems awash in honorary degrees. Much less so now, though not entirely unheard of.
It is one thing to be recognized by others, but we seek not our own honor; rather, in all things we seek to praise and glorify our Lord.

 

Testimony of
Excerpted from Annals of the Disruption, by Thomas Brown (Edinburgh: MacNiven & Wallace, 1884), p. 55:–

The remark of another country minister, the Rev. R. Inglis, of Edzell, attracted notice at that time: “Some of my brethren have a difficulty in pledging themselves to go out, because of their numerous families; I merely wish to say that that is one of my reasons for resolving to make the sacrifice. I am the father of a young family; I shall have little to leave them, more especially if we are forced to give up our livings. But I want, at least, to leave them a good name–I wish all my children, when I am gone, to be able to say that they are the children of an honest man.

Rev. Inglis died on this day, January 19th, in , 1876, and his co-presbyter, Mr. Nixon, of Montrose, after mentioning the difficulties which Mr. Inglis had in the education of his family, in consequence of the Disruption, adds:

“It says much for the nobleness with which difficulties can be overcome, and the blessing that rests on the right rearing of children, that the parents of the children in the Free Manse of Edzell so reared theirs, that nine sons have gone out into the world, some to the most distant regions, and are not only making for themselves good outward positions, but as regards the bulk, if not the whole of them, are remembering and exemplifying the lessons taught them under the parental roof.”–Free Church Monthly Record, 1st March 1876.

Include “Leaving the Manse” engraving, as shown facing page 257 of Annals of the Disruption.

Eulogy for Dr. J. Gresham Machen

Dr. Machen’s sudden death evoked comments by newspaper and church paper commentators all over America, and from Christians and non-Christians alike.

What Dr. Machen had fought for, and what his opponents had been doing in recent years in the Northern Presbyterian Church which had aroused his opposition, were very clearly summarized, strange to say, by H. L. Mencken. H. L. Mencken has never professed to be a Christian, and no one has ever accused him of being very reverent in matters of religion. But no one can deny that he has a keen, incisive mind, and that he is one of America’s best known critics. Writing in the January 18, 1937 issue of the Baltimore Evening Sun, of which he himself was at one time the Editor, he remarked (the emphasis in the quotation is added):

“The Rev. J. Gresham Machen, D.D., who died out in North Dakota on New Year’s Day, got, on the whole, a bad press while he lived, and even his obituaries did much less than justice to him. To newspaper reporters, as to other antinomians (those not binding themselves by any moral law), a combat between Christians over a matter of Dogma (or doctrine) is essentially a comic affair, and in consequence Dr. Machen’s heroic struggles to save Calvinism in the Republic were usually depicted in ribald, or, at all events, in somewhat skeptical terms . . . But he was actually a man of great learning and what is more, of sharp intelligence . . . He saw clearly that the only effects that could follow diluting and polluting Christianity in the modernist manner would be its complete abandonment and ruin. Either it was true or it was not true. If, as he believed, it was true, then there could be no compromise with persons who sought to whittle away its essential postulates, however respectable their motives.

“Thus he fell out with the reformers who have been trying, in late years, to convert the Presbyterian Church into a kind of literary and social club, devoted vaguely to good works . . . His one and only purpose was to hold it resolutely to what he conceived to be the true faith. When that enterprise met with opposition he fought vigorously, and though he lost in the end and was forced out of Princeton it must be manifest that he marched off to Philadelphia with all the honors of war.

“My interest in Dr. Machen while he lived, though it was large, was not personal, for I never had the honor of meeting him . . . Though I could not yield to his reasoning I could at least admire, and did greatly admire, his remarkable clarity and cogency as an apologist, allowing him his primary assumptions.

“These assumptions were also made, at least in theory, by his opponents, and thereby he had them by the ear. Claiming to be Christians as he was, and of Calvinish persuasion, they endeavored fatuously to get rid of all the inescapable implications of their position. On the one hand they sought to retain membership in the fellowship of the faithful, but on the other hand they presumed to repeal and re-enact with amendments the body of doctrine on which the fellowship rested. In particular, they essayed to overhaul the scriptural authority which lay at the bottom of the whole matter, retaining what coincided with their private notions and rejecting whatever upset them.

“Upon this contumacy Dr. Machen fell with loud shouts of alarm. He denied absolutely that anyone had a right to revise and sophisticate Holy Writ. Either it was the Word of God or it was not the Word of God, and if it was, then it was equally authoritative in all its details, and had to be accepted or rejected as a whole. Anyone was free to reject it, but no one was free to mutilate it or to read things into it that were not there. Thus the issue with the Modernists was clearly joined, and Dr. Machen argued them quite out of court, and sent them scurrying back to their literary and sociological ‘Kaffee-klatsche’ (Coffee-and-chatter gatherings) . . .

“It is my belief, as a friendly neutral in all such high and ghostly matters, that the body of doctrine known as Modernism is completely incompatible, not only with anything rationally describable as Christianity, but also with anything deserving to pass as religion in general. Religion, if it is to retain any genuine significance, can never be reduced to a series of sweet attitudes, possible to anyone not actually in jail for felony. It is, on the contrary, a corpus of powerful and profound convictions, many of them not open to logical analysis. Its inherent improbabilities are not sources of weakness to it, but of strength. It is potent in a man in proportion as he is willing to reject all overt evidences, and accept its fundamental postulates, however improvable they may be by secular means, as massive and incontrovertible facts.

These postulates, at least in the Western world, have been challenged in recent years on many grounds, and in consequence there has been a considerable decline in religious belief. There was a time, two or three centuries ago, when the overwhelming majority of educated men were believers, but that is apparently true no longer. Indeed, it is my impression that at least two-thirds of them are now frank skeptics. But it is one thing to reject religion altogether, and quite another thing to try to save it by pumping out of it all its essential substance, leaving it in the equivocal position of a sort of pseudo-science, comparable to graphology, ‘education,’ or osteopathy.

“That, it seems to me, is what the Modernists have done, no doubt with the best intentions in the world. They have tried to get rid of all the logical difficulties of religion, and yet preserve a generally pious cast of mind. It is a vain enterprise. What they have left, once they have achieved their imprudent scavenging, is hardly more than a row of hollow platitudes, as empty of psychological force and effect as so many nursery rhymes. They may be good people, and they may even be contented and happy, but they are no more religious than Dr. Einstein. Religion is something else again — in Henrik Ibsen’s phrase, something far more deep-down-diving and mud-upbringing. Dr. Machen tried to impress that obvious fact upon his fellow adherents of the Geneva Mohammed. He failed — but he was undoubtedly right.”

Words to Live By:
Live your life as unto the Lord. Be much in prayer before the throne of grace. Stay true to the Scriptures, daily relying upon the Holy Spirit to enable you. Be much in prayer before the throne of grace. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Rom. 12:18). And then let the opinions of the world fall where they may.

First Book of Discipline Approved by the General Assembly in Scotland
by Rev. David T. Myers

They had already proven their worth to the Scottish church. The infant Church of Scotland had a Confession of Faith summing up biblical doctrine, which had been authored by the famous “Six Johns” in Scotland.  Now these same “six Johns” of Presbyterianism had been called upon to undertake a new and scarcely less important task, namely, that of drawing up a book with a complete system of ecclesiastical government. Their names, for the record, were John Winram, John Spotswood, John Willock, John Douglas, John Row, and last, but not least, John Knox. Of these six, our readers should certainly recognize the last name, but the former are hardly household names to present-day Presbyterians.

In working out the necessity to do everything decently and in order, these six men clearly did not take their example from any Kirk (church) in the world, not even from John Calvin in Switzerland, but rather from the sacred Scriptures.  Arranging their subject of church government under nine different heads, they divided these among the six men, who studied them individually and then jointly as a solemn committee.  Much time in reading and meditation was done by them. Earnest prayers were offered up for Divine direction.  Finally their work was completed on May 20, 1560 and then approved by the General Assembly of Scotland on January 17, 1561.

While the whole First Book of Discipline can be found on line here, we can sum up some of its parts for your information.  The permanent office bearers of the visible church were of four kinds: the minister or pastor, to whom the ministry of the Word and Gospel were given, along with the administration of the Sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper; the Teacher, whose province included the interpretation of Scripture in churches and schools; the ruling elder who assisted the minister in governing the church, and last; the deacon, who had special charge of the monies of the church in assistance to the poor.

Now anyone who knows anything about the officers of your Presbyterian church will see in this establishment of officers a portrait of your church government. You might not think that church government is especially spiritual in name, but the pastors, teachers, ruling elders, and deacons beg to differ with you. To them, it was and is both biblical and practice in governing the visible church so that it can be a witness to the world at large.

In these beginning days of the Kirk in Scotland, two temporary office bearers were raised up in the position of Superintendents and Exhorters/Readers. They were what we would call “lay-preachers” who went through all the nation, reading, proclaiming, and planting churches. Regular meetings were held weekly, monthly, and yearly, depending on whether it was the local, regional, or national church.

The important matter of church discipline was included to purify the church and reclaim the repentant back to the fold.  In fact, there is a key phrase in this document which says that the Church was to “correct the faults which either the civil sword does neglect or may not punish.” They recognized that there may be times when the civil government is corrupt at the local, state, or national levels, but this does not excuse the church from exercising their God-given authority to suppress vice and immorality in the members which compose the local churches.

Words to Live By: Reader, pray much for the spiritual leaders in your local, regional, and national churches. If they are Reformed and Presbyterian in conviction and conduct, they often deal with hard matters of faith and conduct among the congregations under their spiritual care. Hold them up in prayer and encouragement. Submit to their biblical oversight, for one day they must make a report about you to the Chief Shepherd (Hebrews 13:17). They wish to do this in joy, not in grief. Be faithful to your covenant promises to support the church to the best of your ability. May your continual prayer be to revive Christ’s church and . . . begin that revival in you.

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