October 2018

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Moment by moment, we must train our hearts and minds to depend upon the Lord, for we can so easily be rendered powerless and all our own efforts are found insufficient to deal with what comes against us. The Lord is our strength and our strong tower. In a word, humility is the lesson that should be learned. 

On the Utter Necessity of Humility in Theological Studies

plumerws02“It therefore becomes a matter of great practical importance how we shall treat the mysteries of the religion we profess to embrace. The errors on this subject are two. Some give up all that is mysterious as untrue, or at least doubtful. Others pretend to explain every thing so as to make it comprehensible. The former go in the open road to infidelity. The latter travel the parallel road of rationalism. If God teaches a truth either by nature or revelation, we err, just so far as we hesitate to receive it. There is hardly any better test of humility of mind than our treatment of inscrutable things in religion. Pride of intellect is very turbulent & delights in the persuasion that it is as God knowing all things. He, whose reason is never surpassed, whose reasonings are never confounded, whose philosophy is never nonplussed, is a poor self-conceited creature, who will in the end be found to possess only the folly of fools. Let every man love whatever his Creator teaches. If he cannot measure the azure vault above him, he may still perceive that it is there. If Jehovah hides himself, he is still Jehovah. If salvation is wonderful, God so revealed it from the first. Therefore, beware lest you come boasting rather than praying, lest you use great swelling words of vanity, rather than the fitting petition, ‘Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.’ (Ps. 119:18).”

Something for all of us to consider. And on that same subject, our readers may want to consult a new book by Christopher Hutchinson, Senior pastor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA), in Blackburg, Virginia. The book is titled Rediscovering Humility: Why the Way Up Is Down. The publisher’s advertisement describes the book as:

A systematic and comprehensive treatment of this core tenant of Christianity, Rediscovering Humility is structured around the three times Jesus addresses the topic in Scripture—how it is found, embraced and applied. This insightful resource should be required reading for all seminary students so they can understand the pitfalls of leadership before they begin to pastor. Current pastors and church leaders will find Hutchinson’s critiques and suggestions helpful as they seek to create humble and healthy churches. Individuals who have lost an appreciation for humility as a central Christian virtue will be reminded of its value as the best way to grow closer to and more like Jesus.

The moderator of the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America was a ruling elder–the Hon. W. Jack Williamson. Since that time, the PCA has established a tradition of alternating between ruling elders and teaching elders in its nomination and election of moderators for the General Assembly. But this practice remains unusual among Presbyterian denominations. In the OPC, for instance, the moderator of their General Assembly is almost always a minister; only on a few occasions have they elected a ruling elder to serve as moderator, presumably as a way of conferring a special honor. And even within our own ecclesiastical heritage—looking back to the old Southern Presbyterian Church—it wasn’t always so, as Rev. R.C. Reed explains in this review of the PCUS General Assembly of 1914 :

“The Assembly elected a ruling elder to preside over its sessions. The law which makes the ruling elder eligible to the moderatorship of all our church courts is but a corollary of a fundamental principle of Presbyterianism–the parity in authority of all Presbyters. Our church did right to put this corollary into the form of law, and it ought not to suffer the law to lapse into a condition of innocuous desuetude. We cannot be accused of working it overtime. The law was enacted in 1886. It was seven years after that date before it received its first practical recognition in the election of Hon. J.W. Lapsley. Only four ruling elders have presided over our Assemblies in the twenty-eight years since the way was open for them to be honored with this responsibility. Always there is good material among the ministerial members to fill the office, as there was in the last Assembly, and there is never any reluctance on their part to serve, but they, as well as others, allow the propriety of occasionally electing a ruling elder in order to do justice to the principle of parity.”

[excerpted from “The General Assembly of 1914” by R.C. Reed, in Union Seminary Review 26.1 (October 1914): 4.]

This change to the constitution of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. was enacted in 1886, as Rev. Reed notes. The overture to enact this change first came from the Synod of Virginia and from the Presbytery of Chickasaw, in 1884. The Minutes of the 1885 Assembly (p. 432) note that:

The Committee on Bills and Overtures reported on the overtures from the Synod of Virginia and from the Presbytery of Chickasaw, which were sent to the last Assembly and referred by it to this (see Minutes of 1884, pages 249 and 250), asking an amendment of the Form of Government in reference to the duties of ruling elders when elected moderators of church courts. Pending the discussion, a substitute was offered by the Rev. P.T. Penick, which was adopted, and is as follows:

That the request contained in these overtures be granted and that the Assembly hereby recommends and sends down to the Presbyteries for their advice and consent thereunto the following:

That to the clause in the Form of Government, Chapter IV., Section 3, Paragraph 2, stating that ruling elders “possess the same authority in the courts of the Church as the ministers of the word,” shall be added this sentence, “When, however, a ruling elder is moderator of a Presbytery, Synod, or General Assembly, any official duty devolving upon him the performance of which requires the exercise of functions pertaining only to the teaching elder, shall be remitted by him for execution to such minister of the word, being a member of the court, as he may select.

In the PCA’s Book of Church Order, parity among elders is noted in BCO 8.9 :

Elders being of one class of office, ruling elders possess the same authority and eligibility to office in the courts of the Church as teaching elders. They should, moreover, cultivate zealously their own aptness to teach the Bible and should improve every opportunity of doing so.

Comparing that present text with an overview of how this paragraph has changed over the years. First, the PCA text as it currently reads:

Elders being of one class of office, ruling elders possess the same authority and eligibility to office in the courts of the Church as teaching elders. They should, moreover, cultivate zealously their own aptness to teach the Bible and should improve every opportunity of doing so.

Then the text we had in 1973 and where that text came from out of the Presbyterian Church, US (aka Southern), dating back to 1888:

These Ruling Elders possess the same authority and eligibility to office in the courts of the Church as the Ministers of the Word. They should, moreover, cultivate zealously their aptness to teach the Bible and should improve every opportunity of doing so, to the end that destitute places, mission points, and churches without Pastors may be supplied with religious services.
1. PCA 1973, 9-2, Adopted text, M1GA, Appendix, p. 131
2. Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 9-2, Proposed text, p. 9
3. PCUS 1933, X-§41
4. PCUS 1925, X-§41
and
5. PCUS 1888 (cf. PCUS Minutes, p. 424)

These Ruling Elders do not labour in the Word and doctrine, but possess the same authority in the courts of the Church as the Ministers of the Word.
[PCUS 1879, IV-3-2]

These Presbyters, as ecclesiastical rulers, possess the same authority with the Teaching Elder.
[PCUS 1869 draft, IV-3-2]

These presbyters, as ecclesiastical rulers, are of the same rank, and possess the same authority with the teaching elder. And while the titles of bishop, pastor, and minister, belong to the teaching elder by way of eminency, because he excels by reason of his entire consecration to the work, as well as by the superiority of his functions, they also belong to the office of the ruling elder, seeing that, in order to rule with diligence, he must take the oversight of the flock; in order to its protection he must guard and guide it; and in order to discharge the chief duty of his office, he must serve Christ diligently in the exercise of government.
[PCUS 1867 draft, IV-3-2]

It becomes clear that the provision or recognition for having ruling elders serve as moderators of the higher courts was something which was from the start embedded in the Book of Church Order, even though that field of service was not always recognized or practiced by the Church.

And here concluding, the commentary of F.P. Ramsay (1898), though written in reference to the PCUS BCO, still pertains :

43.–II. These Ruling Elders do not labour in the Word and doctrine, but possess the same authority in the courts of the Church as the Ministers of the Word.

officially (for nothing is here decided as to what others than Ministers of the Word may do unofficially in the Word and doctrine),

but possess he same authority in the courts of the Church as the Ministers of the Word.

May he then be Moderator of a court, and of the higher courts as well as of a Session, seeing that to Moderators are assigned certain duties that only Ministers can perform?
Yes.

When, however, a Ruling Elder is Moderator of a Presbytery, Synod, or General Assembly, any official duty devolving on him, the performance of which requires the exercise of functions pertaining only to the teaching Elder, shall be remitted by him for execution to such Minister of the Word, being a member of the court, as he may select.

The Minister must be a member of the same court, so that he may be under the control of the court. It is to be observed that by a court consisting of the Word, men may be appointed to ministerial functions, and are subject to the control of the court, the power of government extending over the Church and its officers in all their functions. It is also to be observed that the Moderator is appointed to a special work by a court, and is answerable to the court appointing him. It is further to be observed that there is no fundamental principle requiring that the Moderator shall be of this or that class of Elders; but, since, as a matter of conveniency and prudence, certain ministerial functions are, in the detailed regulations of the Form of Government, assigned to the Moderator, the principles of the system do require either that these regulations should be abolished, or that Ruling Elders be kept out of the position of Moderator, or that a special provision, such as this, determine the assignment of ministerial functions. Provision is made elsewhere as to the Moderator of the Session.
[F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order(1898, p. 55-56), on IV-3-2 :]

Words to Live By:
All in all, prayer not just for your pastors, but for all the elders in your church. Pray that the Lord would enable and sustain them in their duties on behalf of your congregation. And encourage them in their work when you can.

The True Meaning of Separation of Church and State
by Rev. David T. Myers

Four months after the Declaration  of Independence was presented to the fledgling country, Hanover Presbytery in Virginia presented a memorial on October 24, 1776 on the subject of the free exercise of religion.

On the one hand, there was stated in the memorial the realization that “the gospel does not need any such civil aid.” These Presbyterian teaching and ruling elders recognized that the Savior declared that His kingdom was not of this world, and therefore renounced “all dependence upon state power.” Our Lord’s weapons, this mother of all southern presbyteries, stated, “are spiritual and were only designed to have influence on the judgment and heart of man.” Biblical Christianity will continue to prevail and flourish in the greatest purity by its own native excellence and under the all-disposing providence of God, as it was the case in the days of the apostles.

Then, they humbly petitioned their civil counterparts by saying, “we ask no ecclesiastical establishments for ourselves, nor can we approve of them when granted to others.” In other words, let there be no state or national church in this new republic, such was the case in England, and for that matter, in Virginia up to this time, where Anglicanism was the religion of the state. “Let all laws,” they said in their appeal to the General Assembly as it met for the first time, “which countenance religious domination be speedily repealed, that all of every religious sect may be protected in the full exercise of their several modes of worship.” Every church then “will be left to stand or fall according to merit, which can never be the case so long as any one denomination is established in preference to others.”

This was the full meaning of the separation of church and state in the early days of our country. These early Presbyterians did not desire that Presbyterianism be the religion of the new land.  But neither did they desire that any other denomination have the priority in America. Let there be a separation of church and state.

Words to live by:
In our day and age, this separation of church and state has been misinterpreted to mean the separation of God and state. So there is a constant effort to erase any mention of the God of the Bible from our local, state, and national arenas of life.  From the removal of the Ten Commandments in monuments to the hindrance of placing cradles of the baby Jesus at Christmas time on courtyards to religious jewelry like crosses being forbidden by workers — all this is being done supposedly on the basis of the separation of church and state. Christians must be vocal in denouncing such opposition and correcting the misinterpreting of the slogan in the minds and hearts of America. Let us not be silent in this. We must be more theologically correct than politically correct.

Massacre in Ulster
by Rev. David T. Myers

Some of our readers may be acquainted with the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France when Romanism decided to rid their nation of the Huguenots, or French Calvinists in the land. Well, did you know that a similar massacre occurred in Ulster, or Northern Ireland in the mid seventeen hundreds?

The atrocities were so horrible during this massacre that some historians try to downplay the whole scene. It was to them purely a nationalistic issue in that the Irish wished to reclaim their ancient lands from the Scotchmen who had occupied them. Yet Sir Phelim O’Neill, one of the leaders of this movement, stated that he would never leave off the work he had begun until Mass should be sung and said in every church in Ireland, and that a Protestant should not live in Ireland, be he of what nation he would. Certain elements of the Roman Catholic clergy recommended that a general massacre was the safest and most effectual method of putting down the Protestant ascendancy. Immediate entrance into heaven, without stopping in purgatory, was promised to the assailants. And so on this day, October 23, 1641, the initial outbreak of this cruel rebellion took place. It would not end fully until eleven years had passed.

This author does not wish to describe in detail the atrocities which transpired upon Protestant men, women, and children. After all, these posts are devotionals. Yet certainly the events of those days rival and even surpass the terrible times of the early church under persecution, as described in Hebrews 11:32-40. Thousands of Irish Presbyterians, along with their pastors, were slaughtered by their Roman Catholic neighbors.

The mass killings were stopped by the arrival of Major General Munro and ten thousand Scottish troops, who arrived in February of 1642. Partial order was restored, even though it was the beginnings of a decade of war in the land.

Words to Live By:
Incidents like this are hard to understand for God’s people, whether then or now. What purpose did God have in allowing His people to be removed from France or Ulster? It is a question which no one but God can fully answer. This is why theologians have spoken of “hard or dark providences” on earth. Moses answers under the Holy Spirit a biblical answer in Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”

Confessions of a Dying Man
by Rev. David Myers

This author will never forget the words of the Christian woman in the hospital bed that afternoon. A fellow PCA pastor had asked me to visit her in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania hospital as she was facing a serious illness. So I went to see this stranger and we talked of her life and testimony in my ministerial friend’s church. She assured me that she was not afraid to die, as her hope in Christ was a strong conviction in her life. But then she said that she wasn’t so confident of the means to arrive in heaven for her. And I acknowledged that this was the feelings of any Christian man or woman. We know heaven is waiting for us because of our firm faith in the Son of God as personal Lord and Savior. But the means of leaving this earth and gaining eternal life might be a scary proposition. One Christian gentleman named Archibald Alexander showed by his comments in 1851 that this was true.

Dr. Alexander was the first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary, in Princeton, New Jersey, after a lifetime of ministry as a pastor, college president, and scholar. Other professors were to join him, and indeed his long ministry to this Presbyterian Seminary came to an end in 1851. Both of your authors to this website have written on him in those active years in other posts. (See here) But I would like of focus on his thoughts and words as he realized the nearness to his departure from, this earth.

To his son, Dr. Alexander said “I have this morning been reviewing the plan of salvation, and assuring myself of my acceptance of it. I am in peace. The transition from this world to another, so utterly unknown, is certainly awful, and would be destructive, were it not guarded by Christ. I know he will do all well.”

A few days later, he spoke with another, saying that “if such be the Lord’s will, he was ready” and even preferred to “go now.”

To Charles Hodge, he stated that his peace in departing this earth was due to the ministry of angelic hosts, saying “that they are always around the dying beds of God’s people.”

And finally, his last confession of faith spoke of “all his theology is reduced to a moral compass, Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”

His transition to heaven took place on this day, October 22. 1851.

Words to Live By:
Surely these thoughts and words should give each Christian reader much comfort as we confront our departure from this earth in His timing. In this author’s case, I am in my late seventies on this earth. Yet, as Dr Alexander acknowledged that while the transition from this world would be certainly awful, praise God, it is guarded by Christ who does all things well. He is around the dying beds of God’s people! And with that, we can rest assured in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, in both life and death.

Lastly, a small advertisement, if you will. We recently mentioned the Log College Press, and have learned they have a forthcoming publication, very timely in view of our post today. Aging In Grace: Letters to Those in the Autumn of Life, by Archibald Alexander, looks to be a great resource and one worth your consideration. To order, or to find out more, click here. For more on Dr. Alexander, including the transcription of his sermon on our Lord’s incarnation, see the post at Presbyterians of the Past.

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