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Dr. John R. Richardson was pastor of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and he was quite well-known in his day. The following statement concerning the famous baseball player Ty Cobb was issued by him was prepared at the request of the Board of Directors of THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL, and it appeared in the October 4, 1961 issue, on page 6. Ty Cobb died on this day, July 17, 1961.

Dr. John R. Richardson at the Deathbed of Ty Cobb

During recent months sports writers have been reminding us of the peerless baseball record of Tyrus Raymond Cobb. Ty Cobb played in 3,033 games, a record no other player has ever approached – and it is considered unlikely that any ever will. Cobb set 13 batting records that have never been surpassed. Among them: highest lifetime batting average (.367), most bases hit (4,191), most bases (5,863), most singles (3,052), most years batting over .300 (23). He batted over .400 three times, led the American League in batting twelve times and nine years in a row.

During his early days Cobb was known as a rough and rugged character. During his latter years he mellowed and found much pleasure in doing for others.

About two months before his death Cobb became a patient at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital. He was afflicted with cancer of the bone as well as several other ailments.

During Cobb’s stay in the Hospital, Charles W. Outlaw suggested that we visit Ty in regard to the welfare of his soul. On our first visit, Ty said he had just been given sedation and would like for us to come back the next day when his mind was clearer. We read to him a passage of Scripture and offered a prayer. He was deeply appreciative and insisted we return at our earliest convenience.

Two days later we went for our second visit. . It was obvious that the Holy Spirit had been working in his heart. We explained to him God’s plan of salvation. He listened with perfect attention. As we told him how Christ came to save sinners and of His incomparable love for us, he was touched. Then we gave him the New Testament meaning of savjng faith, and spoke of the necessity for repentance. To these he responded earnestly. He said he wanted to put his complete trust in Christ to save him, and it was evident that he was sincere in this.

On subsequent occasions Ty was ready to tell us how comforting it was to rely on Christ. He loved to talk about how much Christ meant to him during his suffering and as he faced the future. The last visit was two days before his death. At this time he said, “I feel the strong arms of God underneath me. It is wonderful to be able to pray. I want you to tell others that they should not wait until a crisis comes to learn how to pray.”

Through the amazing grace of God, Ty Cobb was able to die peacefully in the Christian faith. If he could speak to us today I am sure it would be to urge us early to put our trust in Christ as Saviour. Since Ty’s death a number of people have called me to ask if he did not talk about some of his baseball experiences. The truth is he never once mentioned baseball, dear as it was to him. He became wholly occupied with the God who made him and redeemed him through His Son.


Words to Live By:
There’s a tremendous truth in the last biblical phrase of Acts 13:48.  It reads “. . . and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”  The context is that of the Apostle Paul turning from the Jews to the Gentiles in his quest for souls.  To either class, the proclamation of the gospel — the good news of eternal life  — will bring saving faith to those who have been appointed or ordained to eternal life from before the foundation of the earth.  Both parts of this simple sentence are true and faithful.  Who will believe the good news of eternal life?  Answer: Those appointed to eternal life.  How will we know of these chosen to salvation? Answer: When they believe the gospel.

In Ty Cobb’s life, near death on that hospital bed, it was just before he died that Cobb heard the faithful witness of the Gospel message from a Presbyterian minister, speaking to his soul, such that Cobb evidenced by believing the blessed Gospel.  This author used this text in his evangelistic efforts in three out of five congregations he pastored during his pastoral ministry.  It is a sure foundation for trusting the Holy Spirit to apply the word of life to those who would be saved.  And whether it is just before death or at the beginning of their life, God will save those whom He has chosen from eternity past.  Trust Him for that truth and share the gospel freely with all whom you come in contact, knowing . . . knowing . . . that as many as have been appointed to eternal life will believe and be saved.

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The Virtual Founder of America

The German historian, Leopold von Ranke, was the one who declared that John Calvin was the virtual founder of America.

calvinJohn02Today, July 10, marks the birth of this Swiss Reformer, John Calvin, in the year 1509.  And yes, the usual focus of this blog is on American Presbyterians.  But Calvin’s influence pervades all of our history and our culture, so it is entirely appropriate that we should look at the man and his message.

Do we have any idea of how many Calvinists there were in our country up to the time of the American Revolution in 1776?  Loraine Boettner states that out of the three million citizens of the colonies at this pivotal time in our history, 900,000 were Scots-Irish Presbyterians, 600,600 were Puritan English, 400,000 were German or Dutch Reformed, and there were a lot of French Huguenots, who were Calvinists. Two-thirds of our citizens had been trained in the school of Calvin.

Calvin was the first Reformer to demand a complete separation between the church and the state. Note carefully what I  have just said.  It wasn’t a separation between God and the state, which is the commonly held interpretation today, but between the church and state. No one denomination was going to be the favored church of the government, as it was the case back in England. There would be freedom of religion. And that unique idea could be laid at the feet of John Calvin.

Next, our republic was to be looked upon as a representative republic.  In fact, if you look at the Presbyterian form of government, with its representative elders in the  congregation, we can see how the founding fathers of our Republic simply took a leaf out of the Presbyterian form of government.

Let’s enter next what has been called the Protestant work-ethic. Calvin held to the idea that every person’s calling can be characterized as a Christian calling, enabling them to serve God in every area of life. That has certainly helped our people work hard in their respective jobs, knowing that they are serving God in those jobs as well as that one who has been called to the pulpit to serve God.

Further, the Geneva Bible came to these shores by the pilgrim forefathers. This was the version whose footnotes were decidedly Calvinist.

For all these reasons, we honor John Calvin today.

Words to Live By: 
Today Calvinism is almost a dirty word. We need to reclaim its force in people’s lives and equally in our national life, if we desire to return to the greatness of our land. If you, reader, are largely ignorant of this Reformer and his place of influence in the early days of our people, make sure that you are not neglecting the Westminster Confession of Faith and catechism readings, which are a part of Calvin’s legacy. And delve into his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which will more than repay you in bringing Biblical theology into your faith and life.

Today we will borrow a few paragraph from Men of the Covenant by Alexander Smellie in order to relate the story of the Third Indulgence of King James II of England.  Indulgences 1 and 2 were on February 12 and March 31 of 1687.  This Third Indulgence took place in London on June 28th, 1687 and then reissued on this day July 5, 1687.  Smellie writes:

“King James touched nothing which he did not mismanage and spoil. His policy was a curious mixture of tyranny and toleration.  A Romanist himself, he was resolved to grant new liberties to his Catholic subjects. But he dared not single them out alone for the enjoyment of favour; the country, he realized, was too fervently Protestant to permit such a preference.  Of necessity he embraced other excluded folk in the largesse he distributed. In Scotland, the year 1687 saw no less that three Indulgences issued under the royal seal.  These suspended ‘all penal and sanguinary laws made against any for nonconformity to the religion established by law,’ and gave sanction to His Majesty’s ‘loving subjects to meet and serve God after their own way and manner, be it in private homes, chapels, or places purposely hired or built for that use.’ Only against the Coventicler did the lightnings continue to flash forth; the Acts which Parliament had decreed for the suppression of the gatherings in the open fields were left in full force; for impenitent Cameronians it seem that there could be no whisper of mercy and no outgate into freedom.  Yet here were large measures of relief which might carry in them the promise of a hopefuller era. If the followers of Renwick denounced them, there were Presbyterian ministers, in prison or banishment  or hiding,  who welcomed James’s Indulgences, and returned to their homes under the shelter of their provisos. But even they, profiting although they did by the altered current of affairs, had no confidence in the man who brought it about.” (p. 411)

W. M. Hetherington, author of the History of the Church of Scotland to the Period of the Disruption in 1843, picks up the account of this Third Indulgence. He writes on pg. 286 – 287:  “Few were deceived by these hypocritical pretences (of the king). All true Protestants . . . perceived clearly enough, that direct favor of the Papists was intended; and it was not unfairly surmised that, by the universal toleration, the king hoped to throw the various denominations of Protestants into such a state of rivalry and collision, that they would weaken each other, and prepare for the establishment of Popery upon their ruins. There is little reason  to doubt that such as his majesty’s aim and expectation; but both the immediate and the ultimate consequences were very different from what he intended and hoped. . . . In Scotland, almost all the Presbyterian ministers in the kingdom availed themselves of the opportunity which it gave them of resuming public worship, and collecting again the scattered congregations. Many, both ministers and people, returned to their long-lost homes, and engaged with renewed fervor in the reconstruction of the Presbyterian Church by the revival of its unforgotten forms of government and discipline, the reunion of its scattered but still living members, and the resuscitation of its imperishable principles.”

Words to Live By: Let us always remember that “the king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He  turns it wherever His wishes.” (Proverbs 21:1 NAS).  Whether we live and move and have our being in a kingdom or a republic, the truth remains the same.  Let us beseech our sovereign Lord to move in the hearts of those who govern our times to recognize that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34 NASB.)

Happy Independence Day
by Rev. David T. Myers

On this Independence Day, we reflect on what freedom means to us as Christian Presbyterians.  Among all the benefits which we enjoy as Christian citizens, chief among which should be the freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our conscience as regulated by His Word, the Bible.  That didn’t happen by accident, of course.  We must thank at least in word the signers of the Declaration of Independence who were ready to sacrifice everything so that we might enjoy the blessings of this nation today.  And of the 56 signers of that historic document, 12 individuals,  or 21% of the fifty-six signers were Presbyterian in conviction, or in some way possessed close ties with the Presbyterian church.

While the Presbyterian Church was never thought of as being the state church of the new nation, still countless Presbyterian congregations were thought of as being the building blocks of the new nation. There was a reason why a member of the British Parliament commented during the American  Revolution that Cousin America has run away with a Presbyterian parson. Further, there was a particular hatred of the Presbyterianism by British officers and troops. They burned down countless Presbyterian churches, destroyed their Bibles and pastoral books, or used their buildings for hospitals, stables, and storage centers. During the years of the Revolution, presbyteries often met for business far from their normal locations during peace time.

So as I simply list the names of those twelve Presbyterian signers of the Declaration of Independence, how many had you heard of before, and what do you know of their lives?  They are: Benjamin Rush (of Pennsylvania), James Smith (of Pennsylvania), George Taylor (of Pennsylvania), James Wilson (of Pennsylvania), Abraham Clark (of New Jersey), Richard Stockton (of New Jersey), John Hart (of New Jersey), and John Witherspoon  (of New Jersey), Philip Livingston (of New York), William Floyd (of New York), Matthew Thornton (of New Hampshire), and Thomas McKean (of Delaware).

Some of these will be covered at relevant dates in this historical devotional. But all of them need to be remembered by you for their faithful commitment to God and country.

Words to Live By: 
It would be a great spiritual exercise for you or one of your family to study the background of each of these men for a daily or Sunday home devotional to share with the members of your family, or just for yourself, or for your congregation. Many of them shared great hardship due to their commitment to our nation. May we be just as eager to stand up for righteousness today, whether in our homes, or at our work places, or in society at large.

An Exceptional Overcoming, in Difficult Times
by Rev. David T. Myers

John Chavis was born in 1763 (or possibly 1762) in Granville County, North Carolina—a sparsely populated area north of Raleigh bordering Mecklenburg County, Virginia. While the details surrounding his early life and ancestry can be hazy, we know that members of the Chavis family were, along with one other family (the Harrises), the first people of African descent to be recognized as free persons in Granville County. John Chavis—whose lineage was a mix of African, American Indian, and Caucasian—came from a distinguished line of free Blacks who owned property and were committed to educating themselves as best they could. A descendant of Chavis later recalled, “My grandmother, mother, and great grandmother were all free people and Presbyterians.”

As a young man, Chavis received an excellent education, likely under the tutelage of the Rev. Henry Pattillo, who would have instructed him in Greek and Latin. Around 1780, Chavis enlisted in the Fifth Virginia Regiment, fighting for the Patriot cause, as many of his relatives did, in the Revolutionary War. In 1792, as an older “non-traditional” student, Chavis was admitted to Princeton using scholarship money from something called the Leslie Fund. In order to be admitted to Princeton, a student had to be tested in English grammar, orthography, punctuation, composition, geography, United States history, Latin grammar, Greek grammar, and mathematics. Chavis was well educated and a quick learner. While at Princeton, he received private instruction from John Witherspoon (which is why I first became interested in Chavis). In 1793 or 1794 Chavis left Princeton (because of Witherspoon’s death?) and later finished his academic studies at Washington College (Virginia) in 1802.

While in Virginia, Chavis was picked out as a suitable candidate for the ministry. In particular, many Southern whites were eager to see Chavis evangelize other Blacks. On October 19, 1799, Chavis was received under the care of Lexington Presbytery. A year later, one of the elders of the presbytery argued that the work of evangelization was too important to prolong Chavis’s trials any further. After a unanimous vote to sustain his exams, Chavis was granted a license to preach. By some accounts, he was the first Black in America ordained by the Presbyterian Church, though technically he only received his licensure, never final ordination.

Chavis was commissioned as a “riding missionary under the direction of the General Assembly,” first under Lexington Presbytery, then Hanover Presbytery, and finally Orange Presbytery. Although his mission was to preach to other Blacks, records indicate that he preached to more whites, up to 800 at a time. Chavis desired to preach to “his own people,” but slaves were often not allowed to worship in white churches. Chavis’s missionary trips were mostly preaching tours, but he also assisted with the Lord’s Supper and performed some pastoral duties.

In addition to a well-received preaching ministry, Chavis was an exceptionally gifted educator, opening a classical school in Raleigh in 1805. At first, the school was integrated, but later white parents insisted that Chavis instruct Blacks and whites separately. At full strength—Chavis was often sick and suffered from debilitating arthritis—the school in Raleigh was home to many of North Carolina’s leading families. Chavis taught a future governor, future lawyers, future pastors, and was especially close throughout his life to the future U.S. Senator Willie Mangum.

After three decades of successful teaching and preaching—and, it seems, a measure of prosperity from dabbling in real estate—Chavis saw his ministry (and his money) dry up in the 1830s. In 1832, in response to Nat Turner’s Rebellion of August 1831, the North Carolina legislature made it unlawful for any free person of color to preach or exhort in public or to officiate as a preacher. Chavis pleaded with the Presbytery for financial support, but the collection they took was little more than $50. In an effort to pay his bills and provide for his wife and children (about whom we know next to nothing), he requested in 1832 that the Presbytery publish his Letter Upon the Doctrine of the Extent of the Atonement of Christ. The Presbytery denied the request, arguing that the subject had already been dealt with by others and there was little chance the short pamphlet would produce much income. No doubt, the Presbytery also demurred because Chavis had drifted from confessional Reformed orthodoxy. In the Letter, Chavis argued that the free offer of the gospel was inconsistent with limited atonement and that the eternal decrees of God were based on “nothing more nor less than his foreknowledge.” Judging by his Letter, Chavis was a passionate gospel preacher who aligned with the New School wing of the Presbyterian controversies of the 1830s.

During his lifetime, Chavis remained a committed Presbyterian, an ardent Federalist, and a critic of racism and slavery. Though these criticisms were, by necessity, often more private than public, he did not hesitate to implore his friend and one-time student Willie Mangum to stand against the tyrant Andrew Jackson. He also informed Mangum that though the insurrection was abominable, he thought Nat Turner was an innocent man.

On June 15, 1838, John Chavis passed from this world into the next, his obituary noting that “his christian character gave comfort to his friends.” Later that fall, the Orange Presbytery resolved to provide Chavis’s widow with a lifelong pension of $40 a year.

Although I wish his theological thoughts were more in line with the Old School side of things, my greater wish—if that’s the right word—is to wonder how much more his ministry might have been had it not be hampered, and then silenced, by the growing rumbles of racial animus and fear. I doubt many of us have heard of John Chavis, but his impressive learning, his itinerant preaching, and his successful teaching mark him out as an important leader in the Old South, particularly among Presbyterians.

Information for this post was taken from Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Volume One (1607-1861), and especially from Helen Chavis Othow, John Chavis: African American Patriot, Preacher, Teacher, and Mentor (1763-1838).

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