March 2014

You are currently browsing the archive for the March 2014 category.

He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord. (Proverbs 18:22, ESV)

knoxJohnIt isn’t often that someone in the rough and tumble of ministry in Reformation Scotland would even think of finding a  wife. But our Presbyterian founder, John Knox himself, found in God’s providence, two wives who were willing to take his life as their own.

His first wife was Marjorie Bowes. We don’t know much about her history, and no date on which to place down a separate post on her. She is mentioned twice in “The Reformation in Scotland.” The first reference is on page 119 where it states that John Calvin invited him to Geneva. Knox sent on his wife and her mother there, and followed them after a time. Then on page 240, it is stated that Knox “was in no small heaviness by reason of the late death of “his dear bed-fellow”, Marjorie Bowes. A footnote mentions John Calvin writing to a Christopher Goodman on 23rd April, 1564, “I am not a little grieved that our brother Knox has been deprived of the most delightful of wives.” This note spoke of the grief of our Reformer, for his wife had died four years earlier in 1560. This first marriage union brought into the family two sons, who were both youngsters at the time of her death, namely Nathaniel and Eleazer. Both would grow up, but  not leave any heirs due to their singleness.

Four years after the death of his first wife, John Knox met his second soon-to-be wife, Elizabeth Stewart, youngest daughter of Andrew Stewart. Their family was staunchly Protestant, though related to Queen Mary at the time. And indeed, she was taken in marriage on March 26, 1564, when she was but 19 years of age, by the Reformer when he was in his late fifties. Their “courtship” was interesting to say the least.

In the Introduction of the “Ladies of the Covenant.” it was described by Mr. Robert Millar, minister of Paisley, to the historian of “The Sufferings of the Church of Scotland,” Mr. Wodrow, on November 15, 1722. It follows:

“John Knox, before the light of the Reformation broke up, traveled among several honest families in the West of Scotland, who were converts to the Protestant religion. Particularly he visited often Steward, Lord Ochiltree’s family, preaching the gospel privately to those who were willing to receive it. The Lady and some of the family were converts.

“Her ladyship had a chamber, table, stool, and a candlestick for the prophet, and one night about supper, says to him, ‘Mr Knox, I think that you are at a loss by want of a wife,’ to which he said, ‘Madam, I think nobody will take such a wanderer as I;’ to which she replied, ‘Sire, if that be your objection, I’ll make inquiry to find an answer, ‘gainst our next meeting.’

“The Lady accordingly addressed herself to her eldest daughter, telling her she might be very happy if she could marry Mr. Knox, who would be a great Reformer, and a credit to the church; but she despised the proposal, hoping that her ladyship wished her better than to marry a poor wanderer.

“The Lady addressed herself to her second daughter, who answered as the eldest.

“Then the Lady spoke to her third daughter, Elizabeth, about nineteen years of age, who very frankly said, ‘Madam, I’ll be very willing to marry him, but I fear that he’ll not take me,’ to which the Lady replied, ‘If that be all your objection, I’ll soon get an answer.’

“Next night, at supper, the Lady said to Mr. Knox, ‘Sir, I have been considering upon a wife for you, and find one very willing.’ To which Knox said, ‘Who is it Madam?’

She answered, ‘My younger daughter sitting by you at the table.’

“Addressing himself to the young lady, he said ‘My bird, are you willing to marry me?’ She answered, “Yes, Sir, only I fear you’ll not be willing  to take me.’ He said, ‘My bird, if you be willing to take me, you must take your venture of God’s providence, as I do. I go through the country sometimes on my foot, with a wallet on my arm, a shirt, a clean band, and a Bible in it; you may put some things in it for yourself, and if I bid  you take the wallet, you must do it, and go where I go, and lodge where I lodge.’ ‘Sir,’ says she, ‘I’ll do all this.’  ‘Will you be as good as your word?’ ‘Yes, I will.’

Upon which, the marriage talk was concluded, and she lived happily with him, and had three daughters from him. She afterward lived with him when he was minister at Edinburgh.”

Now this marriage does not resonate with twenty-first century standards of American Christians, nor did their age difference resonate with seventeenth century Scottish Christians. But she lived as his wife, with a family of five, three daughters and two adopted sons, for the next eight years. All three daughters married and brought forth children of their own to continue the line of John Knox. After his death, the General Assembly granted  her his pension for a year. She married again and went to be with the Lord in 1612.

Words to Live By:  God often works by mysterious providence to accomplish His sovereign purposes, including that of the bond of marriage.

Tags:

A Story in Short Compass

Often it is helpful to have a brief overview, to get the lay of the land and so to gain some orientation of a matter to be further studied. The Rev. George P. Hays provides us with one such overview—a history in short order—of the Westminster Assembly and its work. The following is from Presbyterians: A Popular Narrative of their Origin, Progress, Doctrines and Achievements, published in 1892, quoting from pages 49-51 of that work. Details are skimmed over; many features are not explained, but the broad strokes of the story are here:—

westminsterabbey1647

James died in 1625 and left all his British dominions in a state of religious ferment to his unfortunate son, Charles I. Charles inherited the self-sufficiency of the Tudors through his mother, and the blind egotism of the Stuarts through his father, and illustrated in himself the vices of both. He early fell under the influence of William Laud, and finally made Laud the Archbishop of Canterbury, and so Primate of all England.

James I., in his very earliest dealings with the English Parliament, intimated that the duty of Parliament was to register his will, and was told by Parliament that the rights of the people represented therein was quite as sacred as the rights of the king. Charles followed his father’s policy, only pushing it to the extent of undertaking to do without any Parliament whatever. Archbishop Laud was essentially a Roman Catholic, and with this dictatorialness on the part of the king in civil matters, and Laud’s dictatorialness in religious matters, affairs swiftly came to a struggle for life.

The people would not pay taxes which Parliament had not voted. Parliament would not vote supplies for the king until he had redressed their grievances. The king insisted “supplies first and redress afterward.” The lines were soon drawn throughout the kingdom. One Parliament would be dissolved and another elected, until in the struggle the people grew weary of Episcopacy and finally elected the Long Parliament. It originally had in it a majority favorable to Presbyterianism as against Episcopacy. It was the project of that Parliament to call in Westminster an Assembly “for settling the government and liturgy of the Church of England, and for vindicating and clearing of the doctrines of said Church from false aspersions and interpretations as should be found most agreeable to the Word of God, and most apt to procure and preserve the peace of the Church at home and near agreement with the Church of Scotland and other reformed churches abroad.” This ordinance was entered at full length on the journals of the House of Lords, June 12, 11643.

King Charles, two days before the meeting, prohibited by royal proclamation the Assembly to proceed under the bill. He had already revived the “Book of Sports,” and otherwise outraged the moral sentiments of his people. Under the influence of Laud, he had undertaken to re-establish Episcopacy in Scotland, and on the 23d of July, 1637, the Archbishop of St. Andrews and the Bishop of Edinburgh assembled an audience in St. Giles Church to introduce the new liturgy. When the famous Jennie Geddes started the riot that day, by throwing her stool at the reader, Scotland had already organized its form of church government and was anxious for a common system with England.

The English Parliament had invited the General Assembly of Scotland to send delegates to this Westminster Assembly and so Commissioners arrived from Scotland, at the head of whom was the notable Alexander Henderson. In this Westminster Assembly, sitting in defiance of the king, were thus gathered the chief representatives of the British Presbyterians. Close correspondence was maintained with the Reformed Church on the Continent. While the Long Parliament was in session in their House, this Assembly was in session in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey.

The first meeting of the Westminster Assembly was held Saturday, July 1, 1643; its last numbered meeting was held on the 22d of February, 1649, and is marked “Session 1163.” One hundred and twenty ministers, ten lords and twenty commoners were chosen to membership in it by Parliament. Of those thus elected many declined, but at different times ninety-six of them sat as members. Two months after it first met the commissioners from Scotland, four ministers and two laymen, took their seats, yet without the right to vote. On December 6, 1648, Parliament was purged of its Presbyterian membership, leaving just 140 members and the constitution of England was virtually overthrown by Oliver Cromwell and his army. The Assembly was never officially dissolved. Its power waned with that of Parliament, and so vanished. The last pretense of a meeting of the Assembly took place on March 25, 1652.

Words to Live By:
Creeds and confessions, documents such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, serve to provide unity among Christians. They are in effect a commentary on the Bible, a succinct statement of what we believe the Bible teaches. As we jointly hold this Confession, affirming it together as a faithful representation of what the Scriptures teach on these matters, so we have unity and we uphold the truths of the Scriptures, insofar as we best understand them.  

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.” — (2 Timothy 1:13-14, KJV)

Tags: , , ,

One of our more popular posts, presented here again with a sample of Dr. Gerstner’s writing appended:—

Pastor, Professor, and Theologian Cum Laude   

Gerstner01It was a great honor.  Your author was asked to preach the Presbytery sermon at the installation of the Rev. Dr. John Gerstner as an Associate Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The veteran pastor and theologian had just that year of 1990 joined the Presbyterian Church in America as well as the particular presbytery of which I was a member minister. I can remember entering with the other Presbytery ministers into the sanctuary, and there sitting in the front row, in the center seat, was Dr. Gerstner.  A quick thought went through my mind as to what could I say which would edify the people of God, and Dr. Gerstner that evening? But just as quickly came the answer of which Dr. Gerstner in all his ministerial life had exhibited, namely, to preach the Word of God in all of its fullness.

Born in Tampa, Florida in 1914, John Gerstner’s life and ministry would be spent in the northern states.  Graduating from Westminster College, he followed that up with his Master of Divinity degree at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1940. Five years later, he would earn from Harvard University his Ph.D. degree.  Overseas studies in England, Spain, and Switzerland would round out his education for the ministry.

Gerstner02Ordained in the largest Scot-Irish denomination in America, the United Presbyterian Church, he served several churches in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. But he would make his mark upon the Christian world and especially through those students who were privileged to sit under him at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary for more than 30 years. As an evangelical and Reformed professor in that UPCUSA graduate school, he provided a solid course of instruction for those evangelical and Reformed students who sat under him. One such student was R.C. Sproul.

A careful look into the published works of the Ligionier Study Center will reward you with books and videos all written and spoken by John Gerstner. His primary work would be his three volume book on “The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards.” He became the authority on the life and ministry of this greatest of all American theologians.

This author in two of his five pastorates had Dr. Gerstner as a special weekend speaker. On both occasions, he along with the people of God enjoyed a guest pastor who had an incredible intellect, a great wit, and always a pastoral heart. He entered heaven’s glory on this day, March 24, 1996.

Words to Live By: The apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2 states, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (ESV)  There are four generations mentioned in this verse: Paul, those who heard him, faithful men, and others also.  It presents the goal of transmitting God’s Word to succeeding generations. John Gerstner accomplished this, as all those given the spiritual gift of teaching, are to aim for it.  Pray for them to faithfully accomplish it.

A Sample from among Dr. Gerstner’s writings:

“The trouble with secularism is the world itself. It always proves to be a mere shadow. Those who are most successful in acquiring it suffer the greatest disillusionment. It is a notorious fact that the wealthiest persons, unless they be truly religious persons, are the most bored, the least happy. They are always piling up but never possessing anything. Their experiences, like the Preacher’s, lead to the dirge: “All is vanity and vexation of spirit under the sun.” Secularists are bent on pleasure, but ‘she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.’ Animals can eat, drink, and be contented, but man cannot. He cannot be contented without these physical gratifications because he has his animal appetites, but being more than an animal he cannot be content with only them. He cannot live without bread, but neither can he live by bread alone.

“The second cardinal defect in secularism is the loss of the other world which it spurns. Man cannot be happy with this world, nor can he be happy without the other. Even if he disbelieves the other world he cannot escape it. He cannot escape it even now. He cannot be sure that there is not an eternal world. He may disbelieve it, but he cannot, try as he will, disprove it. As Shakespeare has said, he is afraid to ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’ with all its griefs because he does not know what lies ahead. He may have doubts about God, but who has ever demonstrated His nonexistence? How can man satisfy himself that there is no heaven which he may miss nor any hell which he may enter? The slightest possibility of these things—and who can deny their possibility?—utterly unnerves the secularist.

“If there were any satisfaction in the possession of the whole world for a lifetime, how would that compensate for one moment out of heaven or one moment in hell? The merest possibility of the eternal world completely outweighs the utmost certainty of this one. What answer, therefore, can a worldling give to Jesus’ question, ‘What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’ It will not comfort him to reply, ‘But I do not believe you. I do not believe that I, in gaining the whole world, will forfeit my own soul.’ It will not comfort him because he is not sure that he is right, nor certain that Christ is wrong. The mere possibility that Christ’s question about the future is valid ruins his present. ‘To him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath’—from him that has not the world to come shall be taken away even this one which he has.”

[excerpted from Reasons for Faith (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960), pp. 13-14.]

Tags: , , ,

She is not lost to you, who is found to Christ.

Earlier this week we wrote briefly of the life and ministry of the Rev. Samuel Rutherford, one of the Scottish commissioners to the Westminster Assembly. From among his letters, the following letter to Lady Kenmure, upon the death of her infant child, is perhaps one of the better examples of Rutherford’s pastoral quality, which at heart, boils down to pointing his flock to Christ in all of life. What better counsel could he give?

II. To LADY KENMURE, on the occasion of the death of her infant daughter

MADAM, — Saluting your Ladyship with grace and mercy from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. I was sorry, at my departure, leaving your Ladyship in grief, and would be still grieved at it if I were not assured that ye have one with you in the furnace whose visage is like unto the Son of God. I am glad that ye have been acquainted from your youth with the wrestlings of God, knowing that if ye were not dear to God, and if your health did not require so much of Him, He would not spend so much physic upon you. All the brethren and sisters of Christ must be conformed to His image and copy in suffering (Rom. 8.29). And some do more vividly resemble the copy than others. Think, Madam, that it is a part of your glory to be enrolled among those whom one of the elders pointed out to John, These are they which came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’ Ye have lost a child: nay she is not lost to you who is found to Christ. She is not sent away, but only sent before, like unto a star, which going out of our sight doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere. We see her not, yet she doth shine in another country. If her glass was but a short hour, what she wanteth of time that she hath gotten of eternity; and ye have to rejoice that ye have now some plenishing up in heaven. Build your nest upon no tree here; for ye see God hath sold the forest to death; and every tree whereupon we would rest is ready to be cut down, to the end we may fly and mount up, and build upon the Rock, and dwell in the holes of the Rock. What ye love besides Jesus, your husband, is an adulterous lover.

Now it is God’s special blessing to Judah, that He will not let her find her paths in following her strange lovers. Therefore, behold I will hedge up thy way with thorns and make a wall that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them’ (Hos. 2.6-7). O thrice happy Judas, when God buildeth a double stone wall betwixt her and the fire of hell! The world, and the things of the world, Madam, is the lover ye naturally affect beside your own husband Christ. The hedge of thorns and the wall which God buildeth in your way, to hinder you from this lover, is the thorny hedge of daily grief, loss of children, weakness of body, iniquity of the time, uncertainty of estate, lack of worldly comfort, fear of God’s anger for old unrepented-of sins. What lose ye, if God twist and plait the hedge daily thicker? God be blessed, the Lord will not let you find your paths. Return to your first husband. Do not weary, neither think that death walketh towards you with a slow pace.

Ye must be riper ere ye be shaken. Your days are no longer than Job’s, that were ‘swifter than a post, and passed away as the ships of desire, and as the eagle that hasteth for the prey’ (9. 25, 26, margin). There is less sand in your glass now than there was yesternight. This span-length of ever-posting time will soon be ended. But the greater is the mercy of God, the more years ye get to advise, upon what terms, and upon what conditions, ye cast your soul in the huge gulf of never-ending eternity. The Lord hath told you what ye should be doing till He come; wait and hasten (saith Peter,) for the coming of the Lord’; all is night that is here, in respect of ignorance and daily ensuing troubles, one always making way to another, as the ninth wave of the sea to the tenth; therefore sigh and long for the dawning of that morning, and the breaking of that day of the coming of the Son of man, when the shadows shall flee away. Persuade yourself the King is coming; read His letter sent before Him, Behold, I come quickly.’ Wait with the wearied night-watch for the breaking of the eastern sky, and think that you have not a morrow. I am loath to weary you; show yourself a Christian, by suffering without murmuring; — in patience possess your soul: they lose nothing who gain Christ. I commend you to the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus.

ANWOTH, Jan, 15, 1629

[excerpted from The Letters of Samuel Rutherford.]

Tags: , , ,

At last! Minutes of the Second Presbytery

RehobothFour days ago, you read the historical devotional on March 18, where we noted that the stated clerk of the first presbytery held in this country lost all but a short paragraph of the minutes of that meeting. In 1707, beginning on March 22, the second presbytery was held in Philadelphia. George McNish, one of the seven ministers present at this second meeting, was chosen Clerk of the Presbytery, while John Wilson was chosen the Moderator.   Present also were teaching elders Jedidiah Andrews and  Nathaniel Taylor. Francis Makemie would show up on the 25th of March. Ruling elders Joseph Yard, William Smith, John Gardener, and James Stoddard were present from several churches within the bounds of the Philadelphia Presbytery.

» At Right: Old Rehoboth Presbyterian Church, Rehoboth, Maryland (1683), which competes with Fairfield Presbyterian Church, Fairton, New Jersey (1680) in the claim for the oldest Presbyterian church in America »

Samuel Davis sent in his excuse as to why he missed the last Presbytery and would not be present at this meeting either. The presbyters did not sustain his reasons for his absence, and sent a letter to teaching elder Davis requiring him to be present at the 1708 presbytery meeting. He did, and they immediately elected him the moderator of the next Presbytery.

The church at Snow Hill, Maryland, had called Mr. John Hampton to be their pastor, but the latter had declined their call.  He gave several satisfactory reasons to the presbytery as to why he was not in favor of going there as pastor. They nevertheless moved that the call be left in his hand until the next presbytery in 1708, hoping that the call would be finally accepted by Mr. Hampton. In the meanwhile, they sent a letter of encouragement to the church to continue in their endeavors for a settled pastor among their ranks.

It was on the 25th of March, 1708, that two biblical sermons were given onHebrews 1:1 and Hebrews 1:2 by teaching elders Francis Makemie and teaching elder John Wilson, which messages had been approved at the last Presbytery meeting.  These texts were no doubt taken from the Genevan Bible, as that was the version carried over to these shores by the early Presbyterian pilgrims. And given the practice of early Scottish ministers, the length of the sermons easily could have been two hours long.  We are told  that both sermons were approved by the Presbytery.

Since Francis Makemie had been successful in convincing two ministers to come over and help the infant Presbyterian church previously, the Presbytery urged Makemie again to write to Scotland and a certain minister by the name of Alexander Coldin. He was to give an account of the state and circumstances of the dissenting Presbyterian interest in and among the people, especially in and about Lewistown, and signify the earnest desires of those members that Mr. Coldin travel over to these shores and become their minister.

We conclude that their meeting was not unlike the gathering of Presbyterians in presbyteries across the modern world now.  Sermons are preached, though not as long as these early expositions of the Word. Elections are held for presbyterial office.  Excuses are considered as to absences, and approved or disapproved. Pastors without call are considered for vacant pulpits. Overtures are recommended, discussed, and voted upon by the presbyters. All in all, the work of the Lord began in Philadelphia, 1706, and continues today in hundreds of presbyteries across the world.

Words to Live By:  Speaking to elders, be faithful to your presbytery meetings, for there the work of the Lord is initiated, issues of interest to the church are discussed by and for elders, warnings are heeded, encouragements are given, and support is given to the kingdom of grace.

Tags: , , ,

« Older entries § Newer entries »

%d bloggers like this: