May 2019

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First in Declaring Independence
by Rev. David T. Myers

All Americans are familiar with the Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776. But precious few are familiar with the truth that in Mecklenburg, North Carolina, a declaration of independence from Great Britain was signed and sealed under the leadership of Presbyterians a full thirteen months before July 4, on May 31, 1775.

Assembled in Charlotte, North Carolina on May 19, 1775 were 27 citizens, many of them members of the Presbyterian churches in the area. The chairman of the committee was Abraham Alexander, who was an elder of the Sugar Creek Presbyterian Church. John Alexander, secretary of the committee, was an elder from Hopewell Presbyterian Church. So was Hezekiah Alexander. Rev. Hezekiah Balch was the pastor of Poplar Creek Presbyterian Church. David Reese was also on the committee and a ruling elder from Poplar Creek. Adam Alexander and Robert Queary were elders from Rocky River Presbyterian Church, with Robert Irwin an elder from Steele Creek Presbyterian Church.

The proposed declaration, which was written by Ephraim Brevard, a members of the committee, was read before the assembly of the county in front of the courthouse in Charlotte, North Carolina. It said:

I. That all commissions, civil and military, heretofore granted by the crown to be exercised in these colonies, are null and void, and the constitution of each particular colony wholly suspended.
II. That the Provincial Congress of each Province, under the direction of the great Continental Congress, is invested with all legislative and executive powers within their respective providences, and that no other legislative  or executive power does or can exist at this time in any of these colonies.

The assembly cried out with a loud voice their desire to be independent of Great Britain, and to defend that freedom with their lives and fortunes. And many a life and fortune would be sacrificed before gaining that freedom. The first voice to be a free and independent people in favor of American freedom, came from the Presbyterians in North Carolina. Scotch-Irish Presbyterians justly have the honor of recognition in speaking first for liberty.

Words to Live By:
True God-fearing people recognize that there is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations. In that trust, we can go forth and stand for liberty for all.  And let us stand for that liberty in a day when challenges to that freedom of religion are being made each and every day. Pray today, brothers and sisters,  for America.

This is one of those days where few Presbyterian events seem to have happened. In a previous year we wrote of how John and Louisa Lowrie set sail for the mission field in India on this date. Today, we would like to discuss something more of Rev. Lowrie’s wife, Louisa. The following brief account is drawn from the Centenary Memorial of the Planting and Growth of Presbyterianism in Western Pennsylvania and Parts Adjacent (1876), p. 194:—

Louisa A. Lowrie, wife of the Rev. John C. Lowrie, D.D. was a daughter of Thomas and Mary Wilson, of Morgantown, Virginia [later of West Virginia, which became a state in 1863], and sister of the late Hon. Edgar C. Wilson, of the same place. She belonged to the first band of missionaries sent by the Pittsburgh Society to India, and sailed from Philadelphia on May 30, 1833. She died in Calcutta, November 21, of the same year, in the twenty-fourth year of her age.

The annual report of 1834 says of her : “Her desires to devote herself to the spiritual good of the heathen were fervent, and her qualifications for the work were, to human view, uncommon; but He for whose glory she left her native land and bore her feeble exhausted frame half round the globe, was pleased, doubtless for wise reasons, to disappoint her earthly hopes, and require her associates, a few short weeks after their arrival, to consign her to the dust, there to proclaim, as she sleeps in Jesus on India’s distant shores, the compassion of American Christians for its millions of degraded idolaters, and to invite others from her native land to come and prosecute the noble undertaking in which she fell.”

Her pastor at Morgantown, Rev. Ashbel G. Fairchild, D.D., prepared a memoir, soon after her death; and few who have seen in it the excellent likeness of that lovely face will ever forget it. Her memory was still affectionately cherished in Western Pennsylvania for many years after. The Women’s Missionary Society of the Presbyteries of Pittsburgh and Allegheny eventually built a house at Mynpurie, India, naming it her memory, “The Louisa Lowrie Home.” It’s purpose was to serve as a dwelling for unmarried women laboring as missionaries at that particular station.

A few years before her death, Louisa Lowrie wrote the following in her journal:—

Saturday, June 11th. (1831).—In reviewing my life for a year past, I find so much for which to praise the Lord, that I feel oppressed with a sense of my ingratitude. Mercies unnumbered have crowned this year, the most blessed of my life. In it, the Lord has changed my heart; and given me to feel that Jesus is my friend; and, as often as I have wandered from Him, He has drawn me back by mercies or chastisements. During the last autumn my way was so clear, the current of my life so smooth, and my path so strewed with flowers, that I almost feared I was not one of those who should “come out of great tribulation.”

In examining my views and feelings, I find that I am very much changed. I can scarcely recognize my former self. Added to a disposition naturally cheerful, I possessed an intense desire for happiness; and perhaps enjoyed as much as was ever felt by an unregenerate heart. But, in the midst of all, I found there was something wanting, without which I could not rest. The Lord gave me to see that this was religion. I sought religion–I tasted of his love; and found that all I had hitherto enjoyed was nothing;—mere negative happiness. I desired to love the Lord with my whole soul. I cared not what should befall me; I only asked holiness of heart. Oh, my God! thou knowest I was sincere; and if I have since murmured against thee, on account of the means thou hast employed to subdue me, forgive I beseech thee—pity my feeble frame! I do not ask thee to lessen my sufferings; I only ask suffering grace.

The Ends Don’t Justify the Means
by Rev. David T. Myers

The desire to see the Church grow and to increase the number of members on the rolls can be a dangerous aspiration, in that questionable methods may be proposed to accomplish that end.  From the year of the first General Assembly in 1789, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. slowly grew from 419 churches to 511 in 1803. It is important to note that these increases did not come from proselytizing the members of other denominations.  As late as 1794, the General Assembly had approved a circular which discouraged “sheep stealing” from other denominations.

But there was still a problem. As the population shift in people continued to the west and south, there was a scarcity of pastors and congregations to reach the expanding westward growth. Thus, the idea of some type of cooperation between churches was suggested at the General Assembly in 1800. By the next year, and specifically on this day, May 29, 1801, this cooperation was given a name, that of the Plan of Union. This was a plan of cooperation between the Presbyterians and the Congregationalist denominations. (We won’t go into all the features of that Plan here today).

The goal was admirable. For the purposes of not duplicating the work of either Presbyterian or Congregational ministers, Congregational mission churches or established churches could call a Presbyterian minister, and Presbyterian mission churches or established churches could call a Congregational minister. Each could interchange to the other church with no problem.

As far as numerical growth was concerned, the Plan of Union worked admirably. For thirty-five years, until 1837, the best statistics show that the numbers of churches went from 511 to 2,965 churches. The number of ministers grew from 180 in number to 2,140 clergy in 1837. The church had increased eleven-fold in barely four decades.

But at what cost doctrinally, was the question? While there were some Congregational ministers who were Calvinistic in theology, others were influenced by liberal beliefs from New England with respect to sin and salvation. Original sin was denied as well as the substitutionary satisfaction of Christ’s death on the cross for sinners. Something had to be done if Presbyterian government and doctrine was to continue.

In 1837, the Plan of Union was dissolved by the General Assembly, having been declared an “unnatural and unconstitutional” arrangement. In what opponents considered extreme and even illegal, entire synods, presbyteries, ministers, churches, and members were cut off from the Presbyterian church. The Assembly had determined that purity came before growth in the order of importance.

Words to Live By:
The ends, especially evangelistic ends, do not justify the means to those ends. Rather, both ends and means must glorify God and be according to the Word of God.  Biblical ends must be justified by biblical means.

Our post today comes from a biographical sketch written for the PCA Historical Center by Barry Waugh. Our thanks to him for permission to use this portion for today’s blog post. Click here to read the full article.

He Sold the Books!

As with many ministers and theologians, Thomas Smyth was afflicted with bibliomania. His symptoms appeared early in his life. As a young child, he was a voracious reader and while at Belfast College he worked as the librarian. Reading and cataloging were not sufficient to alleviate his love for books; he had to own them as well. He wrote in 1829, “My thirst for books, in London became rapacious. I overspent my supplies in procuring them, at the cheap repositories and left myself in the cold winter for two or three months without a cent …” (Autobiography, 39). Dr. Smyth’s comments on his developing bibliomania are reminiscent of Erasmus and his practice of buying books first, and then, if any money was left, he bought food. A few years later as he entered his ministerial service in Charleston, he specifically purposed to develop a theological and literary library similar to Dr. Williams’s Library in London. Over the years, he accumulated about 20,000 volumes. One unusual book in his possession was a Hebrew Psalter with the autographs of Jonathan Edwards, Edwards’s son, and Rev. Tryan Edwards, who gave it to Dr. Smyth. The Grand Debate and other original documents of the Westminster Assembly were procured at great cost, as well as forty works by members of the Assembly along with ten quarto volumes of their discourses. Dr. Smyth’s compulsive, though purposeful, book buying may have been a point of tension for he and his wife. In a letter written by Margaret to him in the summer of 1846 she informed him of the expenses they were incurring due to the addition of three rooms to their home:

“I tell you all this now as a preface to a caution, not to involve yourself too deeply or inextricably in debt by the purchase of books & pictures; of the last, with the maps, we have enough now to cover all the walls, even of the new rooms; & the books are already too numerous for comfort in the Study & Library. … But I would enter a protest not only against books & pictures, but all other things not necessary & which can come under the charge of extravagance. Do be admonished & study to be economical.” (Autobiography, 384f).

It should be noted that one of the reasons the three rooms were built was to accommodate Dr. Smyth’s ever-growing library; one of the new rooms was thirty feet long and intended for his use. As Dr. Smyth’s health continued to deteriorate, he made the difficult decision to sell over half of the volumes of his library to Columbia Theological Seminary. He was concerned that since he could not take full advantage of his magnificent library it would be best that ministerial students have access to the books. The actual sale was dated May 28, 1856and the seminary contracted to pay the Smyths $14,400 for the volumes. The seminary organized the collection in a special area designated the Smyth Library. Dr. Smyth continued to add to the collection by donating other books so that by May of 1863, the special collection contained 11,845 volumes, and by the time a posthumous inventory was taken in November of 1912, the number was over 15,000. Even though he had sold and donated thousands of volumes to Columbia Seminary, his remaining library was still large, but it was reduced once again when a fire, in 1870, burned about 3,000 books. Though the affliction of bibliomania can become all-consuming, it is certain that many Presbyterian ministers trained at Columbia Seminary benefited from the collection gathered by Thomas Smyth.

Words to Live By:
Suffering a similar affliction (though my own library paled in comparison), I found some years ago that the best way to temper the disease was to realize that I was responsible before the Lord for each volume I purchased. Was it a truly necessary purchase? Would I in fact read it, or at least use it in a way that would justify the expense? Pastors typically need the resources of a good many books and so it is never a foolish expenditure when they are first wisely chosen and then wisely and well-used. Software programs for the study of the Bible add new abilities for search and access, and even make it possible to carry an entire library on a single laptop, tablet, or even a phone.

Samuel Davies

“The venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals.”—Samuel Davies

 

“When I look for the acquaintances of my youth, alas! they are almost all gone. I have been led, for the most part, along a smooth path.

Browsing through an old issue of THE ST. LOUIS EVANGELIST, I spotted the following brief article reporting on a letter from Dr. Archibald Alexander, dated 1822. Dr. Alexander was born in 1772 and would have been fifty years old when he wrote this letter. Given his age at that writing, his opening sentence is particularly striking, from a modern perspective. Equally intriguing are the biographical insights provided in this letter and the view expressed by Dr. Alexander on providing for one’s family and later years.

INTERESTING RELIC

Rev. Dr. Archibald Alexander [1772-1851]We have in our possession a long and interesting letter written by Rev. Dr. Archibald Alexander, from Philadelphia, while attending the meeting of the General Assembly, dated May 27, 1822, addressed to “Rev. Robert Marshall, near Lexington, Ky.,” sent by his son, Rev. James Marshall, upon his leaving Princeton Theological Seminary for his home and a field of labor in Kentucky. Most of it is in reference to his “unexceptionable conduct,” his “strength and originality of mind,” and the prospect that “he will be a forcible speaker, a useful man, and become an important member of the Church in the Western country.” We give an extract of general interest:

When I look for the acquaintances of my youth, alas! they are almost all gone. I have been led, for the most part, along a smooth path. External circumstances have been favorable, but I have been subjected often and long to severe conflicts. Perhaps in prosperity I have endured as much pain as those who have passed through many external afflictions. I have now a large family, and have made scarcely any provision for their subsistence when I shall be taken from them; but I am not troubled on this account. “The Lord will provide.” I have seen in so many cases the little benefit which has resulted from the fruit of anxious toil for posterity, that I feel content with my situation and prospects.

Such views from one so revered, so wise and so spiritual as was Dr. Archibald Alexander, we doubt not will be read with interest and profit by all. If we are in moderate circumstances, and our children promise to be upright, useful, respectable in life, we should be more than content; we should be joyful and grateful. People in affluent circumstances have more to fear than others for their descendants. “The lust of the world, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life” accomplish their slaughter chiefly among the rich. This is plain to all who are old enough to have observed the histories of households for forty years; and it is not surprising when we remember that evils in the heart are not so ruinous as when both in the heart and the life.–Herald and Presbyter.

[excerpted from The St. Louis Evangelist, Vol. 1, no. 3 (March 1875): 19, columns 3-4. Reprinted from The Herald and Presbyter]

Words to Live By:
Truly the Lord watches over His people, and the above post is yet another evidence of that truth. As you look back over your own life, begin to list the many ways in which you can add your own testimony to God’s goodness, care and mercy. It will make for a most enjoyable and encouraging exercise.

“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. ‘My Father, thou art the guide of my youth’ (Jeremiah 3:4).”—John Flavel, The Mystery of Providence, chapter 9. 

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