March 26: First Overtures

It was on this day, March 26, 1707 that the first overture was presented before the first American Presbyterian presbytery. More on that in a minute. But on that same idea, I just had to go look to see what was the first overture brought before the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. I was pleasantly surprised to see a thoroughly evangelistic message and one brought by one of the PCA’s founding fathers, a man who loved the Lord and who also loved capital letters. The Rev. Bill Rose often composed his messages in all caps, a practice now frowned upon in our computer age. But we reproduce below his overture as written.

First Overture presented before the PCA

Overture 1. From Rev. William Rose.

FATHERS AND BRETHREN: To the General Assembly meeting in Macon, Ga., September 17, 1974.

Whereas: One of the greatest needs facing the National Presbyterian Church [ed: the PCA’s original name] is the need for laborers for the great white harvest field of over 3 billion people in the world. THE majority of whom do not know CHRIST, and multitudes have never heard HIS name:

Whereas: CHRIST said in Luke 10:2 THEREFORE SAID HE UNTO THEM, THE HARVEST TRULY IS GREAT, BUT THE LABOURERS ARE FEW; PRAY YE THEREFORE THE LORD OF THE HARVEST THAT HE WOULD SEND FORTH LABOURERS INTO HIS HARVEST.

Clearly letting us know that the way for believers to secure the necessary laborers is to PRAY TO THE LORD OF THE HARVEST TO SEND FORTH LABOURERS INTO HIS HARVEST.

Therefore: The General Assembly is overtured to:

1. Call to the attention of every session this great need of our fellowship.
2. Set aside a day, when the Sessions can bring Luke 10:2 before their people in any way that HE should lead them, the end result being that our people would begin to pray for Labourers, and GOD would call out labourers to work for CHRIST in the harvest field of the world.

William H. Rose, Jr.

And now as to that first overture brought before the first presbytery, on March 26, 1707:

First overtures from an American presbytery
At the second meeting of the first presbytery in the American colonies, meeting on March 11 – March 26, 1707, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the teaching and ruling elders proposed and voted in the affirmative on a series of overtures designed to propagate Christianity.  They were presented by Jedediah Andrews, one of the original seven presbyters, and John Boyd, the first ordained minister in the Presbytery of Philadelphia.

The first overture  instructed each minister in their respective congregations to read and comment upon a chapter of the Bible each Lord’s day, as discretion and circumstances of time and place would admit them.   It is obvious from this first overture that the presbytery believed that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were inspired of God, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.  The Bible, and the Bible alone, would be the guide for its ministers and laypeople in their respective churches.

The second overture  is interesting because the ministers were recommended to begin and encourage private societies.  In other words, they were to organize and encourage Christians to gather together for various Christian endeavors.  An example of this was the organization of the Fund for Pious Uses, which was the subject of the devotional described  on January 11.  It is clear that they believed that Christianity should set the standard in every sphere of life.   Therefore the Christian faith inside and outside the church needed to be encouraged.

The third and last overture stated that every  minister in the Presbytery was to supply neighboring towns with ministers, especially in desolate places where ministers would be lacking.  They were to take the opportunities granted them to be home missionaries, in other words.

These first overtures of this small but soon to be active Presbytery stated clearly that the message of biblical Christianity was to propagated throughout the new world in obedience to the Word of God.  At subsequent meetings of the Philadelphia Presbytery, it was noted that these first three overtures were being accomplished.

Words to Live By:   Until Jesus comes the second time, all believers are to buy up every opportunity to share His love in word and deed.

Image source: Opening page of Records of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1841. Scan prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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