May 2018

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Speak of His glory and talk of His power

Psalm 145:10-12
10.  All Your works shall give thanks to You, O Lord, and Your godly ones shall bless You.
11.  They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and talk of Your power.
12.  To make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts and the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom.

Transcribed below is an important document from the latter years of the First Great Awakening. THE TESTIMONY AND ADVICE is not otherwise easily found on the Internet at this time, other than in short quotations, and so it seemed good to reproduce it here.

In that era of the First Great Awakening, Presbyterian and Congregationalist pastors worked readily with one another in the proclamation of the Gospel, both groups being strongly Calvinistic in their theology. As you read through this document, you will see mentioned several of the concerns which figured prominently in the Old Side/New Side split of the Presbyterian Church, 1741-1758. The issues prompting that split included itinerant preaching and ministerial authority, and both of these concerns are discussed in THE TESTIMONY AND ADVICE.

[Originally published Boston : Printed, and sold by S. Kneeland and T. Green, 1743, and here excerpted from THE CHARLESTON OBSERVER, Vol. XII, No. 38 (22 September 1838): 149, columns 4-5.]

From the Pastor’s Journal.

After the remarkable work of God in New England in the beginning of the last century, it was suggested by a writer in the Boston Gazette of May 31st, 1743, that a Convention of Ministers should be held to “consider whether they are not called upon to give an open, conjunct testimony, to an event so surprising and gracious, as well as against those errors in doctrine and disorders in practice, which through the permitted agency of Satan have attended it, and in some measure blemished its glory and hindered its advancement.” Accordingly, on the 7th July of the same year, about ninety Ministers met at Boston for the above purposes. After a sermon, they proceeded to confer together, and to hear the letters of such as desired but were not able to attend the meeting. As the result of their deliberations they drew up and published the following document, which was signed by sixty-eight Ministers—the number of those who remained, the others having left.


Of an Assembly of Pastors of Churches in New England, at a meeting in Boston, July 7th, 1743, occasioned by the late happy Revival of Religion in many parts of the land.

If it is the duty of every one capable of observation and reflection, to take a constant religious notice of what occurs in the daily course of common providence; how much more is it expected that those events in the divine, wherein there is a signal display of the power, grace, and mercy of God in behalf of the Church, should be observed with sacred wonder, pleasure, and gratitude?—Nor should the people of God content themselves with a silent notice, but publish with the voice of thanks, and tell of all his wondrous works. More particularly, when Christ is pleased to come into his Church in a plentiful effusion of his Holy Spirit, by whose powerful influences the ministration of the word is attended with uncommon success, salvation-work carried in an eminent manner, and his kingdom which is within men, and consists in righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, is notably advanced. This is an event which above all others invites the notice and bespeaks the praises of the Lord’s people, and should be declared abroad for a memorial of the divine grace; as it tends to confirm the divinity of a despised Gospel, and manifests the work of the Holy Spirit in the application of redemption, which too many are ready to reproach; as it may have a happy effect, by the divine blessing, for the revival of religion in other places, and the enlargement of the kingdom of Christ in the world; and as it tends to enliven the prayers, strengthen the faith, and raise the hopes of such as are waiting for the kingdom of God, and the coming on of the glory of the latter days.—But if it is justly expected of all who profess themselves the disciples of Christ, that they should openly acknowledge and rejoice in a work of this nature, wherein the honor of their Divine Master is so much concerned; how much more is it to be looked for from those who are employed in the ministry of the Lord Jesus, and so stand in a special relation to him, as servants of his household and officers in his kingdom? These stand as watchmen upon the walls of Jerusalem; and it is their business not only to give the alarm of war when the enemy is approaching, but to sound the trumpet of praise when the king of Zion cometh, in a meek triumph, having salvation.

For these and other reasons, we whose names are hereunto annexed, pastors of Churches in New England, met together in Boston, July 7th, 1743, think it our indispensable duty, (without judging or censuring such of our brethren as cannot at present see things in the same light with us) in this open and conjunct manner to declare, to the glory of sovereign grace, our full persuasion, either from what we have seen ourselves, or received upon credible testimony, that there has been a happy and remarkable revival of religion in many parts of this land, through an uncommon divine influence; after a long time of great decay and deadness, and a sensible and very awful withdrawal of the Holy Spirit from his sanctuary among us. Though the work of grace wrought on the hearts of men by the word and Spirit of God, and which has been more or less carried on in the Church from the beginning, is always the same for substance, and agrees, at one time and another, in one place or person and another, as to the main strokes and lineaments of it, yet the present work appears to be remarkable and extraordinary, on account of the numbers wrought upon. We never before saw so many brought under soul-concern, and with distress making the inquiry, “What must we do to be saved?” and these persons of all characters and ages. With regard to the suddenness and quick progress of it, many persons and places were surprised with the gracious visit together, or near about the same time; and the heavenly influence diffused itself far and wide like the light of the morning. Also in respect of the degree of operation, both in a way of terror and in a way of consolation; attended in many with unusually bodily effects. Not that all who are accounted the subjects of the present work, have had these extraordinary degrees of previous distress and subsequent joy.—But many, and we suppose the greater number have been wrought on in a more gentle and silent way, and without any other appearances than are common and usual at other times, when persons have been awakened to a solemn concern about salvation, and have been thought to have passed out of a state of nature into a state of grace. As to those whose inward concern has occasioned extraordinary outward distress, the most of them, when we came to converse with them, were able to give, what appeared to us a rational account of what so affected their minds, viz. a quick sense of their guilt, misery, and danger; and they would often mention the passages in the sermons they heard, or particular texts of Scripture, which were sent home upon them with such a powerful impression. And as to such whose joys have carried them in transports and ecstacies, [sic] they in like manner have accounted for them, from a lively sense of the danger they hoped they were freed from, and the happiness they were now possessed of; such clear views of divine and heavenly things, and particularly of the excellencies and loveliness of Jesus Christ, and such sweet tastes of redeeming love, as they never had before. The instances were very few in which we had reason to think these affections were produced by visionary or sensible representations, or by any other images than such as the Scripture itself presents unto us.

And here we think it not amiss to declare that in dealing with these persons, we have been careful to inform them, that the nature of conversion does not consist in these passionate feelings; and to warn them not to look upon their state as safe, because they have passed out of deep distress into high joys, unless they experience a renovation of nature, followed with a change of life, and a course of vital holiness. Nor have we gone into such an opinion of the bodily effects with which this work has been attended in some of its subjects, as to judge them any signs that persons who have been so affected, were then under a saving work of the Spirit of God. No; we never so much as called these bodily seizures, convictions; or spake of them as the immediate work of the Holy Spirit. Yet we do not think them inconsistent with a work of God upon the soul at that very time; but judge that those inward impressions which come from the Spirit of God, those terrors and consolations of which he is the author, may, according to the natural frame and constitution which some persons are of, occasion such bodily effects. And therefore that those extraordinary outward symptoms are not an argument that the work is delusive, or from the influence and agency of the evil spirit.

With respect to numbers of those who have been under the impressions of the present day, we must declare there is good ground to conclude they are become real Christians; the account they give of their consolation and conviction agreeing with the standard of the Holy Scriptures, corresponding with the experiences of the saints, and evidenced by the external fruits of holiness in their lives; so that they appear to those who have the nearest access to them, as so many epistles of Christ, written, not with ink, but by the spirit of the living God, attesting to the genuineness of the present operation, and representing the excellency of it. Indeed, many who appeared to be under convictions, and were much altered in their external behavior, when this work began, and while it was most flourishing, have lost their impressions, and are relapsing into their former manner of life; yet of those who were judged hopefully converted, and made a public profession of religion, there have been fewer instances of scandal and apostacy [sic] than might be expected. So that, as far as we are able to form a judgment, the face of religion is lately changed much for the better in many of our towns and congregations; and together with a reformation observable in divers instances, appears to be more experimental godliness, and lively Christianity, than the most of us can remember we have ever seen before.

Thus we have freely declared our thoughts as to the work of God so remarkably revived in many parts of this land. And now, we desire to bow the knee in thanksgiving to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that our eyes have seen and our ears heard such things. And whilst these are our sentiments, we must necessarily be grieved at any accounts sent abroad, representing this work as all enthusiasm, delusion, and disorder.—Indeed it is not to be denied, that in some places many irregularities and extravagances have been permitted to accompany it, which we would deeply lament and bewail before God, and look upon ourselves obliged, for the honor of the Holy Spirit, and of his blessed operations on the souls of men, to bear a public and faithful testimony against; though at the same time it is to be acknowledged with much thankfulness, that in other places, where the work has greatly flourished, there have been few if any of these disorders and excesses. But who can wonder, if at such a time as this, Satan should intermingle himself, to hinder and blemish a work so directly contrary to the interests of his own kingdom? Or if, while so much good seed is sowing, the enemy should be busy to sow tares? We would, therefore, in the bowels of Jesus, beseech men as have been partakers of this work, or are zealous to promote it, that they be not ignorant of Satan’s devices; that they watch and pray against errors and misconduct of every kind, lest they blemish and hinder that which they desire to honor and advance. Particularly, that they do not make secret impulses on their minds, without a due regard to the written word, the rule of their duty; a very dangerous mistake which we apprehend some in these times have gone into. That laymen do not invade the ministerial office, and under a pretence [sic] of exhorting, set up preaching; which is very contrary to Gospel order, and tends to introduce errors and confusion into the Church. That Ministers do not invade the province of others, and in ordinary cases preach in another’s parish, without his knowledge, and against his consent; nor encourage raw and indiscreet young candidates, in rushing into particular places, and preaching publicly or privately, as some have done to the no small disrepute and damage of the work in places where it once promised to flourish. Though at the same time we would have Ministers show their regard to the spiritual welfare of their people, by suffering them to partake of the gifts and graces of able, sound, and zealous preachers of the word, as God in his providence may give opportunity therefore; being persuaded that God has in this day remarkably blest [sic] the labors of his servants who have travelled [sic] in preaching the Gospel of Christ. That people beware of entertaining prejudices against their own pastors, and do not run into unscriptural separations. That they do not indulge a disputatious spirit, which has been attended with mischievous effects; nor discover a spirit of censoriousness, uncharitableness, and rash judging the state of others; than which scarce any thing has more blemished the work of God amongst us. And while we would meekly exhort both Ministers and Christians, so far as is consistent with truth and holiness, to follow the things that make for peace; we would most earnestly warn all sorts of persons not to despise these outpourings of the Spirit, lest a holy God be provoked to withhold them, and instead thereof to pour out upon this people the vials of his wrath, in temporal judgments and spiritual plagues; and would call upon every one to improve the remarkable season of grace, and put in for a share of the heavenly blessings so liberally dispensed.

Finally, we exhort the children of God to continue instant in prayer, that He, with whom is the residue of the Spirit, would grant us fresh, more plentiful and extensive effusions, that so this wilderness, in all the parts of it, may become a fruitful field; that the present appearances may be an earnest of the glorious things promised to the Church in the latter days; when she shall shine with the glory of the Lord arisen upon her, so as to dazzle the eyes of beholders, confound and put to shame all her enemies, rejoice the hearts of her solicitous and now saddened friends, and have a strong influence and resplendency throughout the earth. Amen!—Even so, come Lord Jesus; come quickly!”

The above was signed by sixty-eight Ministers, fifteen of whom, however, added the following exception:

“We concur with the testimony, for the substance of it, excepting that article of itinerancy, or ministers and others intruding into other Minister’s parishes without their consent; which great disorder we apprehend not; sufficiently testified against therein.”

[Note: In his reprinting of this document, the editor of THE CHARLESTON OBSERVERdid not see fit to provide the names of those signing THE TESTIMONY AND ADVICE, and so those names cannot be provided here.]

A Foundation Often Overlooked

As noted in an early printing of the Form of Government for the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., the “Preliminary Principles,” with the exception of the first sentence, were originally composed by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, and prefixed to their Form of Government, as published by that body in 1788, “In that year, after arranging the plan on which the Presbyterian Church is now governed, the Synod was divided into four Synods, and gave place to the General Assembly, which met for the first time in 1789.” These principles are generally recognized as having been authored by the Rev. John Witherspoon.

At its formation, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was careful to institute these same Principles at the forefront of its Book of Church Order. As noted in one recent PCA study:

“Since the 16th Century Protestant Reformation, there have been numerous Reformed denominations with varying forms of church polity — some more hierarchical and others more democratic. These eight principles were originally adopted by the first American General Assembly in 1789. Our American Presbyterian forefathers had come to America with fresh memories of the persecutions under the Act of Supremacy fostered by Henry VIII in England. They did not want to form a denomination that was governed “from the top down” but “from the bottom up.”

“In 1787, when the original four Synods agreed to have a General Assembly, they appointed a Committee to first draft a series of Preliminary Principles to be approved before the Book of Church Order was written. This Committee worked for a year and presented these eight Preliminary Principles to the meeting of the Synods in 1788. These Preliminary Principles were approved so that the denomination would not be hierarchical in its polity. They then appointed a committee to draft a Book of Church Order based on these eight Preliminary Principles. This Book of Church Order was adopted at the first American Presbyterian General Assembly in 1789.

“It is interesting to note that by 1973 …. after we had decided to separate from the PCUS and before the PCA was actually formed, we called our group THE CONTINUING CHURCH, meaning that we intended to organize a denomination continuing the polity that our American forefathers adopted in 1789 based on these eight principles.”
[excerpted from the Minutes of the 30th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, page 111.]

It is also worth noting that the Presbyterian Church, U.S. [aka, Southern Presbyterian Church] did not incorporate the Preliminary Principles into itsConstitution. Technically, the Principles were part of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America [1861-1865] and again, technically the Principles remained a part of the PCUS Constitution up until 1879, when the PCUS finally adopted the first edition of its own Book of Church Order. But as the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. moved slowly over the next fourteen years towards the approval of its first official Book of Church Order, the Preliminary Principles were excised, and were clearly not part of the PCUS Constitution after 1879. This fact is evidenced by the total absence of the Principles from any published edition of the PCUS Book of Church.

Thus, when the PCA was formed, it is striking to realize that the new Church was in effect reaching outside of its immediate tradition of the PCUS and by the incorporation of the Preliminary Principles was thereby claiming the larger tradition of American Presbyterianism. Or as the above statement indicated, “we intended to organize a denomination continuing the polity that our American forefathers adopted in 1789 based on these eight principles.”

Not surprisingly, both the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Bible Presbyterian Church retained the Preliminary Principles in their Constitutions, each denomination being comprised of pastors and congregations that had originally been a part of the old Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. As well, the Preliminary Principles remain a part of the PC(USA) Constitution to this day.  A chart comparing the various editions of the Preliminary Principles can be viewed here.

Among those Presbyterian denominations which do not have the Preliminary Principles as part of their legacy are those more closely part of the Scottish Covenanter heritage, namely the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA). Beyond that, to my knowledge neither are the Principles found among any of the so-called micro-denominations.

The Text of the Preliminary Principles (PCA edition, 2008):—

The Presbyterian Church in America, in setting forth the form of government founded upon and agreeable to the Word of God, reiterates the following great principles which have governed the formation of the plan:

1. God alone is Lord of the conscience and has left it free from any doctrines or commandments of men (a) which are in any respect contrary to the Word of God, or (b) which, in regard to matters of faith and worship, are not governed by the Word of God. Therefore, the rights of private judgment in all matters that respect religion are universal and inalienable. No religious constitution should be supported by the civil power further than may be necessary for protection and security equal and common to all others.

2. In perfect consistency with the above principle, every Christian Church, or union or association of particular churches, is entitled to declare the terms of admission into its communion and the qualifications of its ministers and members, as well as the whole system of its internal government which Christ has appointed. In the exercise of this right it may, notwithstanding, err in making the terms of communion either too lax or too narrow; yet even in this case, it does not infringe upon the liberty or the rights of others, but only makes an improper use of its own.

3. Our blessed Saviour, for the edification of the visible Church, which is His body, has appointed officers not only to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments, but also to exercise discipline for the preservation both of truth and duty. It is incumbent upon these officers and upon the whole Church in whose name they act, to censure or cast out the erroneous and scandalous, observing in all cases the rules contained in the Word of God.

4. Godliness is founded on truth. A test of truth is its power to promote holiness according to our Saviour’s rule, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). No opinion can be more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon the same level. On the contrary, there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.

5. While, under the conviction of the above principle, it is necessary to make effective provision that all who are admitted as teachers be sound in the faith, there are truths and forms with respect to which men of good character and principles may differ. In all these it is the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.

6. Though the character, qualifications and authority of church officers are laid down in the Holy Scriptures, as well as the proper method of officer investiture, the power to elect persons to the exercise of authority in any particular society resides in that society.

7. All church power, whether exercised by the body in general, or by representation, is only ministerial and declarative since the Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith and practice. No church judicatory may make laws to bind the conscience. All church courts may err through human frailty, yet it rests upon them to uphold the laws of Scripture though this obligation be lodged with fallible men.

8. If the preceding scriptural principles be steadfastly adhered to, the vigor and strictness of disciplines will contribute to the glory and well-being of the Church. Since ecclesiastical discipline derives its force only from the power and authority of Christ, the great Head of the Church Universal, it must be purely moral and spiritual in its nature.

The Rev. J. J. Janeway’s Review of The Divine Appointment, the Duties and the Qualifications of Ruling Elders; a Sermon preached in the First Presbyterian Church, in the City of New York, May 28, 1819, by Samuel Miller, D.D., in The Presbyterian Magazine, 1.4 (April 1821) 170-177.

[Rev. Janeway is pictured at left; Rev. Miller, at right]

The Church of God is that holy society established by Himself on earth for the maintenance of His worship, and the promotion of His glory, in the midst of a race of rebellious creatures. It is styled His house or family; and it ought not to be doubted, that this house of the living God, like that of every wise man, is subject to wholesome regulations.

Under the former dispensation it was governed by laws delivered with great solemnity, and placed under the ministry of men, whose offices and duties were defined with great precision. As government is as necessary to the welfare and prosperity of the church under the present, as under the preceding economy, it were marvelous indeed, if, at a period when God has blessed His people with the clearest light and the greatest privileges, he should have deprived them of the benefit of a government framed by His own wisdom, and committed to their interests to one devised by the wisdom and prudence of fallible men. We believe that He has provided a constitution, and appointed officers for the government of the Christian, as He had done before for the Jewish church.

Great diversity, it is true, does exist in the views of Christians in regard to the plan prescribed in the New Testament for ordering the affairs of this heavenly society; but this diversity of sentiment no more proves that no such plan is to be found in the inspired writings, than the discordance in the views which Christians of different denominations entertain in regard to revealed truths, proves that the particular doctrines in dispute are not taught by the sacred writers. That some doctrines are not revealed with such clearness as to secure uniformity of faith among all the pious disciples of Christ, is manifest; and therefore, while we deplore this want of unity of judgment, and pray for the arrival of that time when all shall be of one mind, we ought to bear with the infirmities and errors of others, and cordially love all who hold the head, Jesus Christ, how much soever they may differ from us in points not essential to the existence of unfeigned piety.

From the fact, that men of great learning and acknowledged godliness have differed widely from each other in regard to church government, it is equally manifest, that the principles of it laid down in the New Testament, are not stated with sufficient clearness to harmonize the views of all Christians on this important subject, in the present state of the world, liable as men are to have their sentiments affected by education and a thousand different circumstances. Whether one and the same ecclesiastical polity will prevail over the whole church, in that day of light and glory, to which the finger of prophecy directs the eye of faith, we shall not undertake to assert. But this we venture to affirm, that, although diversity of sentiment has sadly cut up the church into many sects, yet Christians, by whatever name called, are bound to love one another; and we see no reason why pious Episcopalians, and Presbyterians, and Methodists, and Baptists, &c. might not, in proper circumstances, hold occasional communion with each other at the table of our common Lord and Saviour.

Principles of ecclesiastical government, however, are not to be regarded as matters of indifference. They are important; and it is the duty of every church, to endeavour to discover those which have been laid down in the records of divine truth, and to adopt them in the management of its affairs. A greater degree of harmony of views on this subject existed among the reformers, than exists among ministers at present. Archibishop Cranmer, and many bishops and learned divines of the Episcopal Church of England, so far from advancing the exclusive notions embraced by some of their successors in that church, and elsewhere, entertained the same opinions on church government as the Helvetic churches. (See note N., p. 427, in Mr. McCrie’s Life of John Knox). As Presbyterians, we are sincerely attached to that form of ecclesiastical government which was adopted by the wisdom and piety of our forefathers; and we believe that it approaches nearer to the Scriptural plan than that of any other church.

The Christian public are indebted to the pen of the author of this sermon for an able and temperate vindication of the great doctrine of ministerial parity, in opposition to diocesan Episcopacy. In this discourse he has selected as the subject of discussion the office of ruling elders. It was preached in May, 1809, when several individuals were ordained to that office in the First Presbyterian Church in the city of New York, of which he was at that time one of the pastors; but owing to the delicate state of his health, and unavoidable engagements, he was prevented from complying with his promise to his friends, who had requested its publication, till January, 1811.

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Q. 73.
Which is the eighth commandment?

A. The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal.

Q. 74.
What is required in the eighth commandment?

A. The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.

Scripture References: Exodus 20:15; II Thess. 3:10-12; Rom. 12:17; Prov. 27:23; Prov. 13:4; 20:4. Phil. 2:4.


1. What is the main subject matter of this commandment?

The main subject matter of this commandment is the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.

May we use any means to acquire our wealth and outward estate?

No, our means must be consistent with the Word of God, our means must be lawful in the sight of God.

What means would we consider to be consistent with the Word of God?

Means that are consistent with the Word would be labor and industry in some honest calling in the sight of God (Eph. 4:28).

4. Could you name some lawful means that would be consistent with the Word of God?

Some lawful means would be:
(1) Asking God to lead us to a calling that would be His will for us (1 Cor. 7:20, 24);
(2) Praying that we will do our task in a way that is well-pleasing in His sight, in an honest and decent way (Rom. 12: 17);
(3) Endeavoring to live in a sober way before the Lord, not wasteful (Titus 2:12);
(4) Being always diligent in our work (Prov. 13:11);
(5) Remembering always that we have a duty towards others, a duty to have a public spirit (l Cor. 10:24).

What would be a good rule to remember when we are dealing with the wealth and outward estate of others?

A good rule to remember is found in Matt. 7:12.

What is our duty toward the poor in this commandment?

Our duty toward the poor is to relieve them whenever possible for such is the way of charity and is to the glory of God (Prov. 19:17).

Whenever we consider what is required in the eighth commandment and pray for the ability to fulfill it to the glory of God, we are brought face to face with the whole concept of contentment. To fulfill the requirement of this commandment and to avoid the sin of the commandment, the believer must learn to be content with the estate that God has given him. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 13:5: ” … and be content with such things as ye have … ” It is indeed good advice for us and will help us to avoid the breaking of the eighth commandment. John Owen tells us that this “contentment is a gracious frame or disposition of mind, quiet and composed; without
(1) Complaining or repining at God’s providential disposals of our outward concerns;
(2) All envy at the more prosperous conditions of others;
(3) Fears and anxious cares about future supplies; and,
(4) Desires and designs of those things which a more plentiful condition than what we are in would supply us withal.”

As believers we should make a real study of contentment. And when we think of contentment, we should remember that all we really need is what God would have us have in order to reach heaven in His time. This does not mean that we should not show forth all effort in what we have to do in fulfilling our responsibilities on this earth. God has given us six days out of seven in which to do this and we should make full use of our time. The difficulty with many believers is that they want too much. They want to go beyond what is good for them. There is an amazing verse in I Tim. 6:8 – “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” And the Apostle goes on and points out the dangers facing the rich, those who are captured by the love of money. The believer is told to flee such things and to follow after the way of righteousness.

The question was once asked a group of doctors and ministers, “From where does much of the despondency, depression arise in your opinion?” Their answer was that much of it came from a desire after worldly things that are not good for a person to have. Indeed it is not for the believer, such is very plain in the Word of God. Paul’s secret of happiness is very obvious in Phil. 4: 11.

Dedicated to instruction in the Westminster Standards for use as a bulletin insert or other methods of distribution in Presbyterian churches

The Shield and Sword, Inc.
Vol. 5 No.5 (May 1966)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

Today we conclude our post on John Calvin, in observation of his death on May 27, in 1564. 

John Calvin, the World Reconstructionist
(part 2)

By the Late Rev. James Mitchell Foster, D.D.
(Revised and Edited by his Daughter)

[Christianity Today 6.8 (January 1936): 173-178.]

[Reverend James Mitchell Foster, D.D., was pastor of the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church of Boston, Massachusetts, for 37 years exactly, from his ordination, a Sabbath afternoon, November 11, 1891, to the day of his death, a Sabbath afternoon, November 11, 1928. He was killed almost instantly by an automobile soon after he had left his church, so that it was said of him at his funeral service, “He stepped from the pulpit into Heaven.”]

The Providential Preparation of John Calvin for Geneva

It was at this stage that Calvin appeared on the scene. He had made a visit to Italy with a view of aiding the reformers in France from abroad. Visiting Ferrara, Florence and Naples, he seemed to have been disappointed in his hopes. He purposed returning to Basle to pursue his studies in seclusion. On the way he passed through Geneva, July, 1536, intending to tarry only for a night. But some one recognized him and informed Farel. The preacher visited Calvin at the inn and asked him to remain and help him. Calvin shrank from such an undertaking. Farel plead the interests of the true religion and that of the people. Calvin protested that he must be at his books. Then Farel became indignant and charged him with refusing to come up to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty and declared that he would be obnoxious to the judgments of God if he refused this call to duty. “I denounce you in the name of Almighty God and declare that if you pretend the love of study in such a case, you are seeking your own things and not the things of Christ unless you become our fellow laborer in this cause,” were the impetuous words of Farel.

Calvin was struck with terror by Farel’s formidable obtestation and felt as if the hand of Almighty God had been stretched out from heaven and laid upon him and he was powerless to resist. And so the place, the hour and the man are brought together by the foreknowledge and predestination of God through the instrumentality of human agency. Calvin had been prepared for the place.

John Calvin was born in Noyon, Picardy, 67 miles northeast of Paris, July 10, 1509. He was a French Roman Catholic. His grandfather was a cooper and his father was secretary to the bishop and provost of the country. His mother was a beautiful and cultured woman, the mother of six children—John being the second of four sons. She died while John was young and he was placed in a noble family where he shared with the sons the lessons of an able tutor, DeMommor. When he was twelve years old his father procured for him the revenue of the Chapel de la Gesire, and when he was eighteen the revenue of another ecclesiastical benefice, although he was never ordained a priest according to the rites of the Roman Church. These benefices afforded an ample income to meet the expense of education.

“In regard to these early benefices two things are noticeable as indicating the clear integrity and crystalline firmness of character. One is, that being educated thus with abundance of worldly resources at his command, placed in entire dependence at 13 years of age, he did not become soft and effeminate; that his energies did not evaporate in indolence and self-indulgence; that his moral fibre did not become flaccid; that his mental power maintained from first to last its fine, hard grain and temper. And the other notable thing is that when the definite course of his life was settled in his own mind, he resigned his benefices, though the resignation left him poor, and poor he remained to the end of his life.”*
[* Rev. S. E. Herrick, D.D.—lecture on John Calvin]

He went to the University of Paris and won the favor of the learned Spaniard Cordevuis, the instructor of Ignatius Loyola. He was so out of harmony with the frivolities of the students and so devoted to his studies that he was nicknamed the “Accusative Case.” He often took only one meal a day and studied more than half the night. High thinking and meagre living wasted his physical frame and made his nerves so sensitive and intolerant that he was reputed censorious. Ten years were devoted to languages and logic and philosophy, “a severe and unsparing discipline, which made him the prince of reasoners and the perfect master of Latin elegance and terseness that he was. Never was man clearer in the apprehension of his own thought or more precise in its expression. One of his chapters is like a web of chain-mail. He saw through things from their roots to the ramifications without effort, a very incarnation of logic.”†
[† Dr. Herrick]

His father intended him for the priesthood, but his studies of the Latin turned his attention to law. His father about this time had a quarrel with the church authorities at Noyon and readily agreed that his son go to Orleans University. John Calvin devoted himself to this new line of study with his same ardor and success and he showed every promise of standing at the head of the legal profession. In 1530, when twenty-one years of age, he wrote a letter upon the royal divorce of Henry VIII from Catherine, giving his opinion in favor of it on the ground that the marriage was illegal as being within the degrees prohibited by the Scriptures. The fact that such a young man was consulted along with other Continental scholars on such matters indicates the altitude he had already reached. When twenty-four the University conferred upon him the title of LL.D. without the ordinary fee, as a compliment to his legal acquirements.

Two events seem to have changed the course of his whole life, although he had had many misgivings and deep spiritual convictions of sin. In the year 1527 Nicholas Doullon, aged 36, a priest, prothonotary, and holding several benefices, was accused of uttering blasphemy against the Virgin Mary and of denying that the Host was the very Christ. In the absence of the King four days sufficed the clergy for his condemnation. He was led, stripped of his official robes, with a rope about his neck and a taper in his hand, to apologize to the Virgin before an immense concourse in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. He remained firm in his faith and was burnt alive at the Gieve. The execution made a sensation and many disciples were made for the reformed faith. The scene affected Calvin deeply. He said: “The kingdom of Christ is strengthened and established more by the blood of martyrs than by force of arms.” This was the first providence. Up to this time he had been more concerned about classical scholarship than about religion.

The second was the death of his father—an event which determined him to give up the law as a profession. He went to the University of Bourges, where he met a relative, Olivetan, a scholar of Latin, Greek and Hebrew, who was engaged in translating the Bible into French. Calvin joined him in this and was led to the study of Hebrew. He became a thorough reformer. In his “Introduction to his Commentary on the Psalms” he holds up the mirror and lets us have a glimpse into his soul at this time.

He was asked to expound the Scriptures to those who were seeking light. Modest and retiring he repaired to Paris, where he hoped to hide himself and study the Bible alone. But his attainments and personal character made him the natural guide and counselor of the inquirers in their thought and study. They crowded upon him in his retirement, so that, as he said, “My solitary place became like a public school.” What he calls his “sudden conversion” took place here.

Calvin’s friend, Nicolas Cop, was made rector of the University of Paris. Calvin urged him to improve the opportunity of declaring the reformed faith boldly in his inaugural address in Latin on All Saints Day. The oration was, in effect, a defense of the reformed opinions, especially of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and showed the tremendous influence of Calvin. It praised the Christian philosophy which taught the will of God.

The address observed an admirable proportion. It was academical and yet evangelical. The monks were amazed. The Sorbonne was filled with anger and alarm. The rector essayed to defend his address. He convoked the four faculties, November 19,1533, pointed out its scripturalness and complained that he had been denounced in the Parlement at the instance of the monks. Great confusion followed. The faculties of letters and medicine were for Cop’s proposition, while the law and divinity faculties were against it. Cop would not cast the deciding vote.

Cop was summoned to Parlement. He essayed to go in his academic robes but, on the way, advised that a band of soldiers had been stationed to arrest him, he fled the city. Then Calvin was sought. He let himself down by sheets tied together from his window and escaped. Dressed as a peasant, he traveled to Angouleme. Here he enjoyed the hospitality of the rector of the Cathedral who had imbibed reformation principles and here he had the use of the rector’s great library. This was just what Calvin wished for and for a whole year he studied here. He prepared the first draft of his “Christian Institutes” here. It was in the form of a catechism.

Then came the Year of the Placards—1534. It was a decisive year for Calvin. From this time forward his influence became supreme and all who had accepted the reformed doctrines in France turned to him for counsel and instruction. Francis I, who was at this time persecuting violently the Reformers of France, but who was desirous while crushing the new doctrines to keep on good terms with the reforming princes of Germany, gave out that his endeavors were directed against certain fanatics and subverters of social order, like the Anabaptists. And Calvin simply undertook to repel the mean aspersion. He had not thought of writing anything new or strange, anything original even. He simply undertook to tell what the true Christian faith is now, what it was in the beginning, what it always has been—gathering up the truths which Christians of all ages had held—Augustine, Bemigius, Anselm, Luther. He bound them together in the adamantine chain of his logic, showed their consistency and co-relation and then dedicated it to His Majesty, Francis I. “This, Tour Majesty, is what the reformers believe, whom you are persecuting and we leave it now to your Majesty and to all the world to say whether we are Anabaptists and communists and rioters or whether we are members of the true Church, catholic of all time, and if you seek to drive us from this, the true faith, ply your fagots.”

He went from here to Saint Onge, where he had a final interview with Queen Margaret of Navarre. Thence he went to Noyon, where he settled his father’s estate, and with a brother and sister went to Basle. Here he published the first edition of the “Christian Institutes,” 1535, in Latin. It seems he also made a French translation which appeared about the same time. It was revised and a new edition published in 1539. In 1559, with great pains, Calvin made a final revision of the work which is without parallel in the history of Christian doctrine, which is necessarily the basis of study in all the reformed theological seminaries, which to the end will regulate the thoughtful study of God’s Holy Word.

The book at first appeared anonymously, the author having, as he himself says, nothing in view beyond furnishing a statement of the faith of the persecuted Protestants. In this work, written at the age of 26, we find a complete outline of the Calvinistic theological system. Nor is there any reason to believe that he ever changed his views on any essential point from what they were at the period of its first publication. It exercised a prodigious influence upon the opinions and practices both of contemporaries and of posterity.

Calvin’s Great Work in Geneva

John Calvin was in his 28th year when he settled in Geneva and in this city the rest of his life, with the exception of a brief interval, was spent. His services at first were rendered gratuitously. He preached in the Church of St. Pierre and after about a year he was elected preacher by the magistrates with the consent of the people. The post to which he was called was not an easy one. Though the people of Geneva had cast off the obedience of Some, it was largely a political revolt against the Dukes of Savoy, and they were still (says Beza) “but very imperfectly enlightened in divine knowledge.” He was a prodigious worker. Besides preaching every day and sometimes two or three times, he published more commentaries than any of the reformers. His correspondence was immense. He often spent the whole night keeping it up. Add to this his duties as a member of the city executive council and the care of the municipal commonwealth and one wonders how the man was able to live even fifty-five, years.

So far as it was possible for him to get a controlling hand upon the affairs of the church and state in Geneva, he meant to govern both by principles laid down in the Bible as he, Calvin, understood those principles. But Geneva was not yet ready for his system. Calvin and Farel were banished by order of the Council in 1538.

He went to Berne, then to Zurich and thence to Basle. He became pastor in Strassbourg, purposing to remain there. Here he married a widow, Idellette de Bure, with whom he lived happily for 9 years. But Geneva fared badly, anarchy prevailed. Cardinal Sadolet wrote a letter to the German Senate, calculated to mislead. That stirred Calvin and he answered the Cardinal so effectively that he retired in confusion. This warmed the hearts of the Genevese towards him and in September, 1541, after a banishment of three and one-half years, he returned in triumph to Geneva. Now his work began in earnest.

Concerning Calvin’s plan of operation in Geneva, the French philosopher, M. Guizot, remarks:

“He desired (1) to establish and promote Christian faith in accordance with his own views; (2) to secure to the religious society which had been founded in virtue of that faith on the one hand religious independence of state control, and on the other authority and power in matters of religion over its members and faithful adherents; (3) to reform public and private morality both in civil and religious society in the name of the allied powers of the church, and state and by their mutual help. Such was the three-fold design which Calvin hoped to accomplish. No doubt, he had not set it very distinctly before him, nor had he fully realized all that it involved and all its difficulties, but he commenced the struggle with a stout heart and a resolute mind.”

D’Aubigny remarks: “The people of Geneva and their great doctor have each left their stamp on the Reformation, which issued from their walls: Calvin’s was truth, the people’s liberty.” Another more potent and supreme principle that Calvin diffused is the sovereignty of God. He enjoined the people to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s but, he has added, “God must always retain the sovereign empire and all that may belong to man remains subordinate. Obedience towards princes accords with God’s service; but if princes usurp any portion of the authority of God, we must obey them only so far as may be done without offending God.”

In establishing the state in Geneva Calvin recognized Almighty God as the Source of all authority, to know whom is man’s supreme end; the Lord Jesus Christ as the divinely appointed ruler of nations; and the Bible whose writers were “sure and authentic amanuenses of the Holy Spirit,” as the fountain of all law.

He maintained that civil government should restrain vice and encourage virtue, making doing wrong as difficult as possible and doing right as easy as possible. To obviate the evils, he drew up in union with Farel a statement of Christian doctrine consisting of 21 articles. This the citizens were summoned to profess and swear to as the confession of their faith. But the severity, both of ritual and of living, enjoined by Calvin and his endeavour to affect the complete freedom of the Church from State control was deeply resented.

Dancing and card playing were put under the ban and made penal offenses; all holidays were abolished except Sabbath. “These things are not wrong in themselves,” said Calvin, “but they have been so abused that it is the wisest way to abrogate them altogether.” There was to be no more feasting and revellings at weddings. All the lighter follies and amusements of society were to be abolished and all the darker vices of licentiousness and debauchery and drunkenness and profanity were summarily dealt with. Penalties were severe. Parental authority was defended with exceeding vigor. A girl was beheaded for striking her mother, a boy who threatened the same unfilial act was condemned to die. A young child was ordered whipped who sang some silly words to a Psalm time; and a man hearing an ass bray and said, “What a fine Psalm he chants, to be sure,” was banished. Parents were held responsible for the training of their children and all were compelled to cease work on the Sabbath Day.

He recodifled the Genevan laws and constitution. His system of church polity assumed that every member of the State was also under discipline of the Church; and he asserted that the right of exercising this discipline was vested exclusively in the body of preachers and elders.

His views on Church discipline naturally brought him into conflict with the civil authority and with the people. But his courage, his perseverance, and his earnestness at length prevailed and before he died his system of Church polity was firmly established, not only at Geneva, but in other parts of Switzerland, and was adopted substantially by the Reformers in France and in Scotland.

Calvin was consulted on every affair that came before the Council—on questions of law, police, economy, trade, and manufactures. To him the city owed her trade in cloths and velvets, from which so much wealth accrued to her “citizens; sanitary regulations were introduced by him which made Geneva the admiration of all visitors; and Calvin was the founder of Geneva’s University. He believed that a free city and a free government could not exist except by educating the people in morals and religion, and so he instituted a system of free public schools.

But the University was in a sense his crowning work there, for it added religious education to the evangelical preaching and the thorough discipline already established and so completed the reformer’s ideal of a Christian commonwealth. The men whom he trained at Geneva carried his principles, civil and religious, into almost every country of Europe.

For Calvin the Decalogue was both a civil code and a spiritual rule of life. The state was its keeper in the former sense; the church in the latter sense—each separate in its sphere of action. The state forbade idolatry, the church promoted the pure worship of God. The state forbade profanity and blasphemy, the church taught reverence for God’s holy name. The state forbade public Sabbath desecration, the church kept the day holy unto the Lord. The state required obedience to just and legal authority, the church required preserving the honor and performing the duty belonging to every one in their several places and relations as superiors, inferiors and equals. The state executed the criminal, the church taught that hating a brother without cause was murder. The state punished adultery and fornication, the church called for purity in thought, word and deed.

Professor George P. Fisher, in his analysis of John Calvin’s System in “The Reformation,” assigns three reasons for the triumph of Calvinism in Geneva.

1. It separated church and state.

2. Its church government was republican.

3. Its Scripturalness throughout in doctrine, order and administration.

Professor Fisher also makes clear two objections to the Geneva system.

1. The church discipline was too severe.

2. The penalties of the state were too drastic and out of proportion to the offenses.

But are we sure that lawless human nature can be held in check without such stringent laws as Calvin had? Are we sure that we shall not be compelled to adopt Calvin’s way yet to stamp out the lawless spirit of crime prevalent in our country? Remember he was dealing with a people demoralized by civil disturbances, an impetuous and impulsive people, impatient of restraint. The city had gone wild and needed a strong, severe and powerful hand to bring order out of confusion.

One act of extreme severity—the burning of Michael Servetus—-sullied the cause he had so greatly at heart. After the decision of the Council, Calvin did all in his power to have the decision changed, but the Council, backed by the Swiss authorities and some of the more famous reformers like Melancthon, would not yield and Calvin cannot be held guiltless of this untowardly extreme severity.

Calvin took nothing but his Latin Bible with him into the pulpit. He used no notes. He was of medium height, pale, sharp-featured, physically weak. He was a sensitive man, but so modest that he did not make it known. In his “Introduction to his Commentary on the Psalms,” he compares himself with David, who was pierced by the calumnies of his enemies, but more deeply wounded by the reproaches of his professed friends. And, he remarks, that in describing David’s heartaches in his annotations he is depicting his own. Though he lived for 30 years at the foot of the Jura Mountains and in the shadow of the Alps and beside the beautiful Lake Leman he never referred to these in his writings. The truth of the unseen kingdom was his all absorbing theme. “We look not on the things that are seen, but on the things that are not seen.” And so he did not carry his heart on his sleeve and bring his own feelings into the arena. He was simply the voice of God crying in the wilderness. His marvelous modesty made him hide himself that the truth of the kingdom might be clearly seen. “I preach not myself, but Christ the Lord.”

“His system has had and still has great value in the history of Christian thought. It appealed to and evoked a high order of intelligence and its insistence on personal individual salvation has borne worthy fruit. So, also, its insistence on the chief end of man, ‘to know and to do the will of God’ has made for strenuous morality. Its effects have been most clearly seen in Scotland, in Puritan England, and in the New England States, but its influence was and is felt among peoples that have little desire or claim to be called Calvinist.”* [*Encyclopedia Brittanica]

In a word, Calvin’s system is the affirmation of God’s sovereign government of the world and of the universe. Calvin had no dependence on standing armies or body guards or the rule of might—his dependence was wholly upon the sovereign Word of God. As a little leaven leaveneth the whole, one such Christian city would seal the redemption of the world. John Calvin produced that city in Geneva.

Is such a city possible in this day and age in our land? However small, a sincere group of Calvinists can keep alive Calvinism and save Presbyterianism from disasters and pitfalls which are besetting our church and our nation and the world.

[Note: This paper was read before the Presbyterian Ministers Association of Greater Boston (Massachusetts), October 16, 1922, by Rev. James M. Foster, D.D.]

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