August 2018

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This Is How You Say Goodbye : Paying Due Respect to a Beloved Pastor.

When the War ended in 1865, the Rev. Thomas D. Witherspoon answered a call to serve the Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis, Tennessee. That historic church, founded in 1844, continues to this day and since 1989 has been affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian denomination. Rev. Witherspoon’s ministry there began on September 3, 1865 and lasted but five years, ending early in October of 1870, when ill health forced him to retire from that pulpit to seek a less demanding post. Some of those years in Memphis had been tumultuous and challenging for a young pastor. Memphis suffered its worst race riot in 1867 and Witherspoon’s sermon logbook records something of his ministry on several occasions at the Fort Pickering mission, where the riot began.

He found that quieter pulpit as the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Christiansburg, Virginia church, though he remained in this post for only one year while restoring his health, taking on subsequent duties as chaplain at the University of Virginia from 1871-1873.

The following resolutions, offered up by his congregation in Memphis and published in The Christian Observer on this day, August 31, 1870, serve as a model of how the Lord’s people might express their love and esteem for a faithful pastor. For a closer look at Rev. Witherspoon’s ministry there at Second Presbyterian, our readers can view an annotated transcription of his sermon logbook by clicking here.

witherspoon04Resignation of Rev. T.D. Witherspoon, D.D.

Copy of Resolutions introduced in the Congregational Meeting of the Second Presbyterian Church, Memphis, by B.M. Estes, Esq., and unanimously adopted.

The congregation of the Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis, assembled to take action upon the letter of resignation of their beloved pastor, do unanimously agree to adopt the following resolutions, viz:

  1. That in uniting with T.D. Witherspoon, D.D., in his application to the Presbytery of Memphis to dissolve the pastoral relation existing between him and this church, we have discharged a sad and painful duty, and that we have taken such action only at his earnest request, and because we are constrained to concur with him and his physicians in the belief, that on account of impaired health it is necessary that he should remove to a more invigorating and healthful climate and assume ministerial duties less onerous.
  2. Resolved, That we greatly deplore the necessity which compels us to agree to a severance of the tender ties which have bound our beloved pastor to us for nearly five years, and while with bruised and sorrowful hearts we give him up, we tender to him the assurance of profound sympathy for him in his affliction, and of our ardent affection for him personally, of our admiration and reverence for him as a minister of the Cross of Christ, and of our deep concern and interest in his future welfare and career.
  3. Resolved, That to the faithful, loving ministry and labors of Dr. Witherspoon as an instrument in the hands of the Great Head of the Church, we attribute the present peaceful harmonious and prosperous condition of this church and while we collectively and as individuals recall the multiplied instances of his love for us, of his deep sympathy and tender offices in times of bereavement and sorrow, our hearts overflow with emotions of gratitude and affection to him, and of sorrow that we must be separated from him.
  4. Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be furnished to Dr. Witherspoon as a testimonial of the appreciation and affection which the Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis entertain for him, and while our earnest prayers for the restoration of his health, and for his future welfare and usefulness will follow him wherever he may go—we beg that his prayers may ascend daily to our Heavenly Father for the peacefulness and prosperity of this church, and especially that the Master will provide for us another faithful minister to watch over the spiritual interests of this church.

Excerpted from The Christian Observer and Commonwealth, August 31, 1870, page 4, column 2. [Readers can view this page of the above newspaper at http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7gxd0qs68k_4]

Rev. Witherspoon remained at Second Presbyterian until early October 1870. His final sermon there was on Act 20:32, delivered on 9 October (No. 1106 in his Register)

Words to Live By:
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
—I Timothy 5:17.

Note: This year’s issue of The Confessional Presbyterian Journal will focus in part on the life and work of the Rev. Thomas Dwight Witherspoon. Some of the contents of this 2018 issue will include: 

(1) The cover theme will be Witherspoon’s book, Children of the Covenant, with extracts from that work and comments by Dr. C.N. Willborn.
(2) “Images of Christ and the Vitals of the Reformed System,” by Harrison Perkins
(3) “Antiquary: A Transcription from Manuscript of a Sermon on Psalm 2:10–12 by George Gillespie,” with Introduction by W.D.J. Mckay and background and transcription by Chris Coldwell.
(4) “In Translatiōne: Johannes Hornbeeck (1617–1666), Disputation Piety at Leiden, and a Translation of De desiderio animae erga Christum,” by Ryan M. Hurd.
Additional contents will be announced as this issue finalizes for publication.

To learn more about this issue, including how to order your copy, click here.

The Presbyterian Pastor was an American Indian
by Rev. David T Myers

His name was Samson Occom. He was an American Indian, a member of the Mohegan nation, and a direct descendant of Uncas, the notable Mohegan chief. In 1743 at the age of sixteen, and some say twenty, he heard evangelists in the Great Awakening in the American Colonies, and was saved. Immediately, he began to witness to his fellow native Americans with the life changing message of the gospel. He became a teacher, preacher, and judge to the Long Island New York Pequot tribe of Indians. So successful was he in evangelizing these native Americans, that on this day August 30, 1759, the Presbytery of Suffolk on Long Island ordained him to the gospel ministry, though he had no theological training.

Samson began his education training under a Congregational minister by the name of Eleazar Wheelock. Convinced that under special oversight by himself, converted Indians like Samson Occom could be trained to evangelize their own race. So he opened up his school to them, but very few American Indians responded. Further, many of his fellow Americans Christians were in opposition to the idea.

Wheelock transferred the educational opportunity to New Hampshire, hoping to draw in more supporters. But that idea backfired, so the Congregational minister appealed to the mother country of England for their support. In 1765, he sent Samson Occom, and an American minister by the name of Daniel Whitaker, to the mother country. They, and especially Samson Occom, took England by storm! Preaching some 400 sermons, and collecting some twelve thousand pounds of offerings, Rev. Occom more than fulfilled the purpose of the trip.

Unhappily, despite the promise to use the funds raised for the training of native Americans, Rev. Wheelock diverted the monies to educate “English” or “white” youths, beginning what is now Dartmouth College. A quick look at that present New England School website, however, shows that the spirit of Samson Occom has not been forgotten in its desire to train native Americans.

Samson Occom could have abandoned Christianity for this “double-cross,” but he continued on to reach his fellow native Americans with the gospel. Christian Indian towns in New York, Michigan, and Wisconsin began under his leadership and example. He would go to be with the Lord on July 14, 1792.

Words to Live By:
We can be thankful that the Presbyterian Church in America has under the auspices of Mission to North America (MNA) a Native American/First Nation Ministry outreach under the leadership of Ruling Elder Jeb Bland. Its website can be found here at https://pcamna.org/church-planting/church-planting-ministries/nativeamerican/. Yes, we need to reach the world for Christ and support Bible-believing missionaries to those far-off shores. But let our subscribers remember that in Acts 1:8, “Jerusalem,” “Judea,” and “Samaria” (in other words, “home” was mentioned before “the world” in witnessing for Christ.) Let us not forget native Americans in the Great Commission mandate. What are you doing, or your church, to reach your “native Americans” for the Lord Jesus, and His church?

Missionary to Syria

A timely reminder to pray for the Christians in Syria

Robert James Dodds was born near Freeport, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, on August 29, 1824. His parents were Archibald and Margaret (Davidson) Dodds. Possessed from his youth with integrity of character and amiability of disposition he was dedicated to God for the work of the ministry. At an early age he began his classical studies under the direction of his pastor, the Rev. Hugh Walkinshaw, and made such rapid progress and proficiency in all the departments of literature taught in a College, that he was recommended as sufficiently advanced to begin the study of theology in the spring of 1844. He studied theology in the Allegheny and Cincinnati Seminaries, and was licensed by the Pittsburgh Presbytery, June 21, 1848.

At the meeting of the Reformed Presbyterian (Old Light) Synod in 1847, the Mission of Hayti [i.e., Haiti] was organized, and Dodds was chosen as a missionary for that foreign field, for which purpose he was ordained sine titulo [i.e., “without title,” – typically, without call to a specific congregation] by the Pittsburgh Presbytery, on November 24, 1848. The Mission, however, was soon afterwards abandoned, and as he was not sent out, he used his time to good advantage by supplying the pulpit for churches lacking a pastor. Rev. Dodds was at last installed as pastor of the Rehoboth congregation in Stanton, Jefferson county, Pennsylvania, on June 18, 1852. He traveled widely throughout the region around the church and was exposed to many dangers, but by his missionary spirit and zeal for the cause, was blessed to build up a flourishing congregation with many branches.

At the meeting of the RP Synod in 1856, the Syrian Mission was established and Rev. Dodds was chosen as one of the missionaries for this new field. Accepting the appointment, he was released from his charge over the Rehoboth congregation on May 24, 1856. Then with the Rev. Joseph Beattie, their families and some others, set sail for Syria on October 16, 1856. He first settled in Damascus, where he learned the Arabic language, and in October of 1857, relocated to Zahleh, a town at the foot of Mount Lebanon. In May of 1858 he was compelled to abandon the work in this town due to threats and persecution from the priesthood. Making a tour of exploration through Northern Syria, as far as Antioch, he passed through Latakia, and, being favorably impressed with its location, began to make arrangement for occupying this new location. In the autumn of 1859, he, Dr. Beattie, and the others moved to Latakia. Suitable buildings were located and Dodds worked here for some eight years with good success.

When an unexpected opening occurred in Aleppo, and the Mission decided it was advisable to seize the opportunity, Dr. Dodds was appointed to this field in May of 1867. Here he remained, constantly busy with the work of the Mission, until his death. During the summer of 1870, he visited the Mission in Latakia, and while there suffered an attack of fever. During a subsequent journey to Idlib, he contracted a severe cold which he could not shake off. In the beginning of December, he next suffered from a small hemorrhage of the lungs, which was made worse when he contracted typhoid fever. The Rev. Robert James Dodds died at his home in Aleppo, Syria, on December 11, 1870.

As a preacher, his sermons were rich in Scriptural truth and illustration. He was not a popular orator owing to a hesitancy in his speech, and he was more spiritual than ornate; more thoughtful than rhetorical; more anxious about conviction than elegance of style. He was admirably adapted with every qualification for a successful missionary. He was a good classical scholar, and made such proficiency in the study of the Arabic tongue that he was able to preach a sermon in that language in eighteen months after beginning the study of it. He was a remarkably cheerful man, uniform in his feelings and sympathetic in his disposition. His intellectual character was marked with keen and vigorous reasoning powers, a retentive memory, and the ability to concentrate his ideas. Among his earlier publications is, “A Reply to Morton on Psalmody,” (1851). His writings are principally letters to the Foreign Mission Board and were published in the denominational magazines of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. He translated the Shorter Catechism into the Arabic language, and was engaged in writing and translating other works for the use of the Mission. He was honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Monmouth College in 1870. He was Moderator of the RP Synod of 1866.

[excerpted from History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of America, by William Melanchthon Glasgow (1888, reprinted 2007), p. 484-487.

Dodds’ work “A Reply to Morton on Psalmody can be found at archive.org, here. No other works by Rev. Dodds have been discovered on the Web at this time.

For Further Study:
The early days of the RP Syria Mission are recorded in letters from the Rev. J. Beattie, published in volume 4 (1866) of The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter. On pages 8-9 of the January 1866 issue (4.1), we read in part:

Letter from Rev. J. Beattie.
Latakiyeh, October 31, 1865.

Dear Brethren–Ere this reaches you, you will, in all human probability, have seen and conversed with Mr. Dodds, and have learned from him particulars in reference to the Mission, up to the time he left. He and family, in company with Mr. Morgan and family, a missionary of the American Board, occupying the nearest station to the north of us, set sail from Latakiyeh in the beginning of August last, at the close of our summer term, and just after one of the most interesting events in all the past history of our mission—our first communion in Arabic. We had the pleasure of admitting five native brethren to our fellowship on that occasion, and while it was with no little hesitation and anxiety that we concluded to receive them, I am happy to say that their general deportment since the time of their public connection with us has been such on all occasions as to justify our actions. May God add to this little number daily of such as he will have to be saved. . . “

At the PCA Historical Center, we’ve been preparing an author-title index to the THE INDEPENDENT BOARD BULLETIN, the official publication of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, an organization formed by Dr. J. Gresham Machen and others in 1933. THE BULLETIN was first issued in January of 1936 and continues to this day as the primary newsletter of that organization. Moving through the early issues of THE BULLETIN, I was particularly struck with the thought expressed by the editor in the opening comments for this article (in bold type).

GOD’S KEY-MEN IN WORLD SITUATIONS
His Provisions and Equipment
Isaiah 44:1-8
by Miss Frances Brook 

…In this article Miss Brook emphasizes the thought that God’s key-men are “even His witnesses that He is God.” It was precisely because missionaries failed to realize that it is a greater privilege, and a greater obligation, to witness to God than to lead a soul to Christ, that there was so much evasion of that primary obligation in the Japanese Empire. Missionaries and Christians alike failed to realize that in trial comes priceless opportunity, and therefore, save for a very few, missed a glorious opportunity to testify to the very highest officials in Japan that Jehovah alone is God.

How intimately God speaks in all these passages to His prostrate servant, the captive people in Babylon, the one who is heir to this situation, the people for whom it has been created. What loving personal words, to rouse him from his indifference and apathy! “But thou, Israel,” 41:8. “But now, saith the Lord” 43:1. “Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant,” 44:1. And is He any less intimate with us? True power of intercession lies in such close heart intercourse with God!

These verses, Isa. 44:1-8 bring the promise of Pentecost, but not without the foundation of Calvary. How consistent God’s Word is in its oft-repeated revelation. Gal. 3:13 and 14 is the New Testament counterpart, Calvary, thence Pentecost. We must look back at chapter 43:22-28 to get the background of this love appeal, this promise. Verses 18-21 have preceded with their gracious foreshadowing of Pentecost, “a new thing,” a spontaneous, God-given outburst of new life; refreshment and satisfaction just where it might least be expected—”in the wilderness.” Is there anything as “new” as a Pentecostal manifestation of the Spirit? Verses 22-28 describe the spiritual wilderness in which this Pentecostal change is to be enacted. “Things as they are!” A God-weary, God-wearying people. “But thou hast been weary of me, O Israel.” No wonder then they had not called, vs. 22.

What a heart-breaking statement for God to make, God the Eternal Lover! Has He never had to say it of us, as He looks down upon our prayerlessness, our apathy? The heart-broken appeal of these verses reminds us of Jer. 2:31. “Have I been a wilderness unto Israel?. . . Wherefore say my people . . . we will come no more unto Thee?” Is it really God speaking? And how tenderly He adds in Isaiah, “I have not wearied thee.”  Prayerlessness, lack of devotion, lack of love, how these things go to God’s heart. Verses 23 and 24 bring this out. God misses our love-tokens. “No water. No kiss. No ointment.” This is its New Testament counterpart, Luke 7:44-46. And from whence did the love gifts come that gladdened our Lord? From the woman whose sins were many and were forgiven. We turn back to Isaiah 43. “But thou has wearied Me with thine iniquities.

God’s love cannot stay on that dismal, heart-breaking scene, it goes on, it must go on to Calvary. “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake and will not remember thy sins.” Sin that has been borne by the broken-hearted sinless One can be blotted out, no more remembered. God invites us to meet Him there. Verse 26 speaks of this. We can put Him in remembrance of the Sacrifice, acknowledge our transgression and be justified. The curse, the reproaches, the devastated Sanctuary, vs. 27-28, all point to a heart condition that has left God out! Sins, sins, sins! No love, no prayer, “Yet now, hear, O Jacob.” Into this dismal scene God sends the promise of Pentecost, but Pentecost based on Calvary. The outpoured Sacrifice is complemented by the outpoured Spirit. To those who have received the first, the second comes as God’s own answer to the one perfect and sufficient Sacrifice for the sin of the whole world. Calvary looks toward Pentecost. And Pentecost alone can heal God’s heart-break over your sin and mine. “Yet now.” God goes back in these verses, 1 and 2, to His original purpose for His people. It can be attained, it shall be attained. “Fear not, I will pour my Spirit.”

For uttermost need, uttermost dryness of soul—Pentecost! God will pour Himself out. The curse absorbed in Calvary’s love-transaction, what is left to give but blessing? Gal. 3:13 and 14. Thus verses 4 and 5 picture the spontaneity of Holy Ghost life to the soul that listens. They picture Spring as it breaks forth from Winter barrenness and hopelessness. And now (contrast 43:22-24) there is deliberate response to the Divine Giver. Can any response be more simple, more safe, more satisfying than the one for which He has so long waited, “I am the Lord’s!” All Heaven is waiting for the soul that is the Lord’s. I Cor. 3:21-23. But why call himself by the name of Jacob? Can any good thing belong there? No, it is the heart confession of failure, utter failure. “What is thy name?” said the Divine Angel to Jacob at his life crisis when God wrestled with him to change him. “And he said, Jacob,” and God said, “Thou shalt no more be called Jacob, but Israel.” Israel could not be super-imposed on Jacob. Jacob could not grow into Israel. It is necessary to be perfectly honest in our dealings with God. “I am Jacob” with all it stands for—all the weary plotting and maneuvering to outwit and outreach another—all the failure to attain the thing for which I was made and which God was waiting to bestow—I am Jacob. “Thy name shall be called . . . Israel.” “One with whom God has power.” This is the true interpretation of the Hebrew. Hence Jacob’s power with God and men.

Here we come upon the secret by which prayerless self-lovers can be made into “the new sharp threshing instrument having teeth,” into God-lovers who can turn other  men’s failures into victory. No real change is possible in the situation till there is this change in us. How quickly it followed in Jacob’s case when God had His way with him. Gen. 32:26-28 and 33:1-4. Is not this “subscribing with his hand unto the Lord?” I expect from God what heretofore I have looked for from myself. I sign my checks in His name, I am the Lord’s and have the Bride’s privilege to draw on all that is His. So I use it now, and over against Jacob, my heart confession of failure, I dare to write Israel, my new name, the man who at last has room for God, and expects all from Him. Paul says the same in Phil. 3:3, “rejoice in Christ Jesus . . . no confidence in the flesh.” This fits the Divine assurance of 44:6 aas an empty socket gives play to the joint, fulness working in emptiness. John saw the same at Patmos and fell at His feet as dead, and He said, “Fear not; I am the first and the last.”

And so the God-appointed people come at last to their God-appointed end, verse 7. They are even His witnesses that He is God, verse 8. They live to show forth His praisem, 43:21. They are formed for Himself and in no other way can they reach their End. In all helplessness and utter weakness we receive Him. This is Pentecost. And it means a changed people.

“I take the promised Holy Ghost
I take the power of Pentecost
To fill me to the uttermost
I take, He undertakes.”

Pentecost is God’s cure for prayerlessness; God’s answer to Calvary; the place where God meets the man who is resting in the Sacrifice, and life is changed.

Quite a Remarkable Man, Spent for the Gospel.

Drawing again from Alfred Nevin’s Presbyterian Encyclopedia (p. 75), we read of the Rev. Gideon Blackburn:

blackburnGideonGideon Blackburn was born in Augusta county, Virginia on August 27th, 1772. In his boyhood his parents removed to Tennessee. He pursued his literary course of studies under the direction of the Rev. Samuel Doak [1749-1830] and his theological studies under the instruction of Dr. Robert Henderson [1764-1834]. Blackburn was then licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Abingdon, in 1792.

Mr. Blackburn was the organizing pastor of the New Providence Church in Maryville, Virginia, and also took charge of another church called Eusebia, which lay about ten miles distant. Besides his stated labors on behalf of these two congregations, Blackburn frequently preached throughout the surrounding region, and was instrumental in organizing several other churches.

During the early part of his ministry here, his life was frequently in danger, given the possibility of attacks by Indians. In 1803, he began a mission to the Cherokees, and his sacrificial efforts on their behalf produced remarkable results. In 1811 he removed again to West Tennessee, settling at Franklin, where he took charge of Harpeth Academy, while also preaching on a rotating schedule at five different outposts that fell within a fifty mile wide circuit. Within just a few months of this work, he was blessed of God to organize churches in each of those locations.

On November 12, 1823, Dr. Blackburn was installed as pastor of the Presbyterian church in Louisville, Kentucky, and here again, his labors were greatly blessed. He was later made President of Centre College, in Danville, Kentucky, and served there from 1827 to 1830. He then removed to Versailles, KY, where he spent part of his time as pastor of the Presbyterian church there, and the rest of his time as an agent of the Kentucky State Temperance Society.

In 1833, Blackburn moved on to Illinois, serving in 1835 as an agent raising funds for Illinois College. It was while traveling in the eastern states engaged in this work, that he conceived the idea of a theological seminary in Illinois. Eventually that school was established in Carlinsville, Illinois, though Blackburn died, on August 23, 1838, before seeing the culmination of his plan.

Dr. Blackburn was much above the ordinary stature, being about six feet one or two inches high. In his manner he was easy, gentle, mild, courteous, affable, but always dignified. “He was,” said one who knew him well, “not only an eloquent, but laborious and successful preacher. Like Whitefield, he loved ‘to range,’ and besides many extensive tours of preaching through various portions of the United States, his vacations in the academy and college were uniformly spent in traveling from place to place, often preaching night and day, and uniformly followed by weeping, wondering, admiring, audiences wherever he went; and even during the sessions of the academy and college, often have I known him, mounted on horseback on Friday afternoon, to dash off ten, twenty and even thirty miles, preach four or five times, administer the communion on Sabbath, and return on Monday morning in time to be in his chair in the lecture-room at nine o’clock. Very many were converted under his ministry, and many churches planted and watered by his indefatigable labors.”

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