April 2013

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Edward Chaffin Davidson was born in Maury County, Tennessee, on February 17th, 1832, and died at Oxford, Mississippi, on April 25th, 1883, at the age of 51.

When he was only five or six years old, his father moved to LaFayette County, in Mississippi, and settled a few miles from Oxford. There he grew up, becoming a communicant of the College Hill church at an early age.

He was graduated at the University of Mississippi in 1854, entered Columbia Theological Seminary in 1857, and completed his course of study there in May, 1860, having taken the full three-year curriculum. He was received from the Chickasaw Presbytery as a licentiate in October of 1860 and ordained on April 19, 1861 by the Presbytery of North Mississippi. Rev. Davidson was the first pastor of the Sands Springs church, which had been organized by the Rev. Angus Johnson in the Fall of 1850 with 22 members. As was common in those days, Rev. Davidson served in what was termed a “yoked pastorate,” serving simultaneously as pastor of the larger Water Valley Presbyterian Church, 1861-1878. During this latter pastorate, he earned his Master of Arts degree from the University of Mississippi, in 1866. As an aside, in the sermon log book maintained by the Rev. Thomas D. Witherspoon, there is a notation of his having exchanged pulpits with Rev. Davidson on July 15th, 1860.

For several years before his death he resided near Oxford, where he taught in the preparatory department of the University of Mississippi, and was the superintendent of the public schools of the county. During this time he supplied the neighboring churches, including the Byhalia and Wall Hill Presbyterian churches; in 1882 he supplied the College Hill and Hopewell churches.

“He was one of the best of men and a most excellent preacher. He was much loved in a wide circle. He twice represented his Presbytery in the General Assembly, in 1867 and 1873, and was Moderator of the Synod of Memphis in 1880. From 1871-1882, Rev. Davidson served as the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of North Mississippi. He does not appear to have authored any published works. He had been ill for over two months prior to his death, and at last fell asleep in Jesus. His end was peaceful.”

Rev. Davidson left a widow, one daughter recently married, and four young children (two sons and two daughters)” to mourn his departure.

Graves, Fred R., North Mississippi Presbytery. Sardis, [MS]: Southern Reporter, 1942, pp. 21, 41, 45, 47.
Memorial Volume of the Semi-Centennial of the Theological Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina. Columbia, SC: Presbyterian Publishing House, 1884, pp. 252-253.
Winter, Robert Milton, Shadow of a Mighty Rock. Franklin, TN: Providence House Publishers, 1997, pp. 237, 244-245.

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Joseph Addison Alexander was the third son of the Rev. Archibald Alexander and his wife Janetta (Waddel) Alexander. In modern terms, Joseph was home schooled, and he developed an insatiable thirst for knowledge, pursuing one subject after another as it caught his attention. Eventually he grew to become another of that esteemed early faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary.

His biographer says of J.A. Alexander that

“…in the midst of all his laborious and diversified pursuits he saved time for the most heart-searching exercises in his closet. He gave himself up to daily communion with his God. He might neglect everything else, but he could not neglect his private devotions. In point of fact he neglected nothing. He moved as by clockwork. The cultivation of personal piety, in the light of the inspired word, was now with him the main object that he had in life. The next most prominent goal that he set before himself was the interpretation of the original scriptures; for their own sake, and for the benefit of a rising ministry, as well as for the gratification he took in the work. The Bible was to him the most profoundly interesting book in the world. It was in his eyes not merely the only source of true and un-defiled religion, but also the very paragon among all remains of human genius. He knew great portions of it by heart….But more than this, the Bible was the chief object of his personal enthusiasm; he was fond of it; he was proud of it; he exulted in it. It occupied his best thoughts by day and by night. It was his meat and drink. It was his delectable reward. There were times when he might say with the Psalmist, “Mine eyes prevent the night watches that I might meditate in thy word, I have rejoiced in the way of thy precepts more than in great riches.” He succeeded perfectly in communicating this delightful zeal to others. His pupils all concur in saying that “he made the Bible glorious” to them. 

Words to Live By: The Bible is the very Word of God—His self-revelation to His people. J.A. Alexander seems to have made Psalm 1 the model and guide for his life. If you have never memorized a portion of Scripture, this Psalm is short and is a great place to start. Setting it to memory, such that you can think on it at various times, will bring real profit.

1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

(Psalm 1, KJV)


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Regrettably a day late, but as we haven’t shared any Machen news lately, we’ll squeeze this one in. The following news item appeared in THE PHILADELPHIA BULLETIN on April 22, 1936. This news clipping is from the scrapbook collection gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon. When the General Assembly did meet, Machen and the others were suspended, as was expected, and so the split did occur, less than two months later, though admittedly the numbers that left the old denomination were surprisingly few by comparison. 

Machen_threatens_splitTHREATENS SPLIT

Dr. Machen Says It Will Come
If General Assembly Confirms
Suspension of Pastors.

5 Fundamentalists Out.

“If the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., at its meeting next month, confirms the suspension of five Philadelphia militant Fundamentalist clergymen from the ministry then there will be a split in the Church.

This assertion is made today by the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen, of Westminster Theological Seminary, 1528 Pine St., leader of the militant faction and one of those under suspension.

“If that action is taken by the General Assembly,” says Dr. Machen, “some earnest people, at very great sacrifice of worldly goods and with bleeding hearts, will leave church buildings, hallowed for them by many precious memories, and will sever their connections with a great church organization.

“The time for separation comes when the existing church organization ceases to heed the Word of God and follows some other authority instead. It is schism to leave a church if that church is true to the Bible, but it is not schism if that church is not true to the Bible.”

Further warning of a separation from the Presbyterian church is given in an editorial in the Presbyterian Guardian, official organ of the militant Fundamentalists, which, in the current issue, says:

“If the Church should say ‘No’ to reform, in such fashion as to demonstrate that reasonable hope of purification is impossible, true Christian men and women would, we believe, be obliged to separate themselves from an apostate organization.

“Who is there that can look forward with untroubled mind to an indefinite continuation of the unnatural union between belief and unbelief and unbelief that prevails in the church, and to all that accompanies such a union?”

The five local clergymen who have been ordered suspended from the ministry because of their refusal to obey the General Assembly Mandate and resign from the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, in addition to Dr. Machen, are: the Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths, editor of the Presbyterian Guardian; the Rev. Merril T. MacPherson, minister of Central North Broad Street Church; the Rev. Edwin H. Rian, of Westminster Theological Seminary, and the Rev. Paul Woolley, of the Independent Board and also of Westminster Seminary.

At Columbus, O., yesterday the Rev. Carl McIntire, youthful pastor of the Collingswood, N.J. Presbyterian Church, lodged three complaints against the Presbytery of West Jersey with the permanent judicial commission of the church.

The complaints resulted from McIntire’s conviction by the New Jersey Synod on charges similar to those against the Philadelphia minister.

The first complaint charged that the Presbytery erred in starting McIntire’s trial after a constitutional stay signed by more than one third of the members had been obtained.

The second charged that the Presbytery rescinded illegally an overture to the general assembly to “clean up” the regular board of foreign missions of the church, after it had been passed with only one dissenting vote, and the third charged the Presbytery with violation of the constitutional right of ministers to protest actions, and have their protests made a matter of record.

Words to Live By:
Some of the best treatments on the subject of schism were written by the old Scottish theologians, in particular, James Durham and James Wood. In short, they taught that it is only right to separate from a church when staying would mean having to sin. One quote from Rev. Wood will have to suffice here today:

“How often was it so with the ancient Church, that we may say, more than three parts of four were profane and naught? And yet did not the godly and the Prophets of the Lord continue in the exercise of the Ordinances and Worship of God in that Church? Was it not so in the Church of the Jews, in the time of Christ’s being amongst them upon earth? Did ever Christ for that require his disciples to depart and separate from that Church? Or did he not himself, never a whit the less, continue in the Church communion thereof? Yea when in glory writing a letter to the Church of Sardis, of whom he testifies, that they had a name that they were living, but yet were dead, and that there were but a few names there which had not defiled their garments: Yet his wise and meek zeal is not for pulling down and rooting up and separating from the Church Communion in his Ordinances and Worship. But that is his direction (vs 2, 3), Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain and are ready to die. — Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast and repent.

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Rev. Jonathan Dickinson, First President of Princeton CollegeA Man Fit for the Times

Jonathan Dickinson shares a lot of credit in the shaping of the early Presbyterian Church in the American colonies.  Born on April 22, 1688 in Hatfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Yale in 1706.  Two years later, he was installed as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, where he remained for the next forty years.

In 1722, with respect to the issue of creedal subscription, a schism began to develop in the infant Presbyterian church.  The question was simple.  Should a church officer — elder or deacon — be required to subscribe to everything in the Westminster Standards, or would it be sufficient for that officer to simply subscribe to the more basic truths of historic Christianity, as expressed, for instance, in the Nicene Creed?  Dickinson took the latter position and became the chief proponent of it in the infant church.  The fact that the same issue was raging in the mother countries among the immigrants from England, Scotland, and Ireland only heightened the controversy in the colonies.  Eventually, the approaching storm of schism was stopped by the Adopting Act of 1729.  Written by Jonathan Dickinson, it solidly placed the church as believing in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the only infallible rule of faith and life, while receiving an adoption the Confessional standards of the Westminster Assembly as subordinate standards of the church.  Each court of the latter, whether Session, Presbytery, Synod, and General Assembly would decide what exceptions to the latter would be allowed, and which exceptions would not be tolerated to the Westminster Standards.

In addition to his pastoral leadership in the church courts, the fourth college to be established in the colonies was the College of New Jersey in October of 1742.  It began in the manse of the first president, namely, Jonathan Dickinson.  The handful of students in what later on become Princeton Theological Seminary and Princeton University studied books which were a part of Dickinson’s pastoral library, and ate their meals with his family.  He would pass on to glory four months after the beginning of this school.

President Dickinson died on October 7th, 1747, of a pleuratic attack, at the age of 60. The Rev. Mr. Pierson, of Woodbridge, preached at his funeral. Dr. Johnes, of Morristown, New Jersey, who was with him in his last sickness, asked him just before his death concerning his prospects. He replied, “Many days have passed between God and my soul, in which I have solemnly dedicated myself to Him, and I trust, what I have committed unto him, he is able to keep until that day.” These were his last words. It is said that when tidings of Mr. Dickinson’s disease came to Mr. Vaughn, the Episcopal minister of Elizabethtown, who was then lying upon his own death-bed, that he exclaimed, “Oh, that I had hold of the skirts of brother Jonathan!” They entered upon their ministry in the town about the same time, and in their death they were not divided.

Words to Live By:  What is your testimony? Paul writes in his last letter to the first century church, “. . . for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” (KJV – 2 Timothy 1:12)

For Further Study:
Le Beau, Bryan F., Jonathan Dickinson and the Formative Years of American Presbyterianism. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1997.

Sloat, Leslie W., “Jonathan Dickinson and the Problem of Synodical Authority,” The Westminster Theological Journal, 8.2 (1946): 149-165.

To better draw your attention to Mr. Sloat’s excellent article, written while he was attending the University of Chicago, the conclusion to his article is as follows:—

“It should be noticed that the form of the original act of subscription differs from that in current use among Presbyterians. Originally ministers declared that they adopted the “said Confession and Catechisms as the confession” of their faith. The present form is that candidates “receive and adopt” the Confession “as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.” Hodge appears to argue that these two are substantially the same, and that what is involved is subscription to a system of doctrine, which system is Calvinism. The subscription, in other words, is not to the ipsissima verba [i.e, the very words] of the Confession, nor merely to the Confession “for substance of doctrine,” but to the system of Calvinism. While we are prepared to agree that that is the significance of the current formula of subscription, we are inclined to feel that the original form, in which the Westminster Standards were made “the confession of our faith,” suggests a much closer adherence to the words of those documents. Today a congregation which in public worship “makes confession of its faith” by repeating together the Apostles’ Creed, does not understand that it is asserting merely a system of doctrine, but rather adopts as its own the language of a document whereby it expresses its faith. So it seems to us that the Synod was originally not only adopting a system of doctrine, but was also adopting a form of language, for which reason it was necessary at the beginning to eliminate or interpret language concerning which some scrupled.

“But however that may be, the action of 1729 was intended to maintain the Church in the faith and yet keep the Church as a self-controlling institution, separate from the state. This is the position which has been accepted in American Presbyterianism. And to Jonathan Dickinson there certainly is to be attributed a large part of the credit for this becoming the policy of the Presbyterian Church in this hemisphere.”

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creighThomasA Pastor’s Covenant

One venerable Christian practice, now largely forgotten, is that of personal covenanting. You might think of this practice as akin to New Year’s resolutions, but that would slight the practice, for it is of course so much more. A personal covenant is a solemn vow before the Lord, and so it is nothing to lightly enter into. Personal covenanting typically addresses sins in one’s life, recognizes duties before the Lord, and aspires to greater service, to the glory of God. Today’s post is in effect a form of a personal covenant.

Thomas Creigh was born in Landisburg, PA, on September 9, 1808, the seventh child in a family of ten. He was later educated at Dickinson College, and came to faith in Christ at about the time he graduated, in 1828. Providentially hindered from attending seminary, he studied theology privately under the tutelage of Dr. George Duffield. It is noted in Rev. Creigh’s autobiography that the theological text-book used by Dr. Duffield was the Scriptures in the original tongues. “The recitations were always begun with prayer to God for the guidance of His Holy Spirit. Creigh was at last able to attend Princeton Seminary in the 1829-30 academic year, after which he returned to study yet another year with Dr. Duffield. He was ordained and installed as pastor of the Presbyterian church of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, on November 16, 1831. Rev. Creigh served this church nearly fifty years,until his death on April 21, 1880.

Too often, in our own times, the responsibilities of a Christian pastor are lightly assumed and as lightly cast aside. The spirit with which Thomas Creigh entered upon his ministry may be best seen in a paper which he wrote on the day preceding his ordination and installation. It is headed “Desires”


As a creature, I would desire to feel my entire dependence on God continually for life, health, food, raiment, friends, reason, and every other blessing. ‘In God we live and move and have our being.’

As a sinner, I would desire to feel that my salvation is freely of grace; that I have no righteousness of my own; that I have no other friend than Christ. And in view of these things, I desire ever to feel those sacred obligations pressing upon me that ‘being bought with a price, even the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ I am in duty bound to present myself, ‘body, soul, and spirit, a living sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable.’

As a minister of Jesus Christ, I would desire to feel how unworthy I am to be allowed to be put in trust with the Gospel; I would desire ever to look unto Thee for grace and strength to discharge its sacred functions; I would ever feel my entire dependence on the Spirit to own and apply my messages and my labors; I would desire to be faithful and to feel intensely for the souls of my fellow-beings, who are perishing around me and through the world; I would desire to have an eye single to Thy glory in their conversion; and I would desire to consecrate my time, my talents, and my abilities to the service of my Master; that His Kingdom may come with power among the children of men, and Thy Church, which Thou hast bought with Thy blood, may be universally established. And especially would I desire to be made instrumental in this congregation over which Thou hast called me to watch, in turning many sinners from death to life, and in building up Thy children in holiness.

“All these, O Lord, if my heart deceive me not, do I desire. All these do I seek for, and for all these things, through Thy grace, will I labor. Crown them with success, and ‘not unto me, not unto me, but unto Thy name,’ shall rebound all the honor and the glory. And now, Thou Great Head of the Church, I would pray, that on the coming day, Thou wouldst sustain and support me. O make ‘perfect Thy strength in my weakness.’ Give clear discoveries of the truth, and correct and proper views of the duties devolving upon me as a member of Christ. The Lord be with me according to His promise, ‘Lo, I am with you alway, even to the ends of the earth.’ And may these, my desires, be granted for Thy Son’s sake. And to Thy name, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, one God, my God in covenant, be ascribed eternal praise. Amen.

“November 16, 1831.”

Words to Live By:
Happy the people to whom God sends such a consecrated servant of His to be their minister. He is no heartless hireling bargaining for wages, for a comfortable living, for accumulating wealth, or for human applause. He is an ambassador of Christ, coming to deliver His message to do His work. It was with a true consecration of heart that Thomas Creigh entered upon the duties of his holy office. The sacredness and solemnity of the step most deeply impressed him. One desire filled his soul: To make Christ known, and promote Christ’s glory.

Today’s post is drawn from In Memoriam: Thomas Creigh, 1808-1880. (Harrisburg, PA: Lane S. Hart, Printer and Binder, 1880.), pp. 31-33.

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