March 2015

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In a substantial resource written by Dr. Clifford M. Drury under the title Presbyterian Panorama, we read on p. 4:— 

“At a meeting of the Standing Committee held March 31, 1903, a circular letter was approved to be sent to the various “missionary associations in Europe and America” to inquire into “the measures and success of others engaged in Missionary undertakings.” The letter carried the following paragraph:

‘From the time the Presbyterian Church was organized in this country, which was at the commencement of the last century, the practice has existed among us, of sending ministers of the gospel to preach to those who had not its institutions regularly established among them.’

The six simple words, “The practice has existed among us,” emphasize the continuance of the missionary spirit in the Presbyterian Church from the time of the organization of the first presbytery in 1706. Indeed, Presbyterians were carrying on missionary work in the colonies before that date. In 1649 the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England received its charter from the the English Parliament. Shortly after its organization, the Society took over the support of Rev. John Elliot, who had begun his ministry with the Indians of Massachusetts in 1646. This Society had the loyal support of Presbyterians throughout all England.”

Words to Live By:
Of course, the problem is that if you don’t believe the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, then there really is no reason for going to the mission field, for you have no message. That hard reality was what was behind the reassessment issued in 1932 in the report known as Rethinking Missions. By the beginning of the twentieth century, modernism had made heavy inroads into the mainline Presbyterian Church, undercutting the cause of missions. Fewer missionaries were sent out as a result, and of those who did go, fewer still took the Gospel message with them. This was the problem pointed out by J. Gresham Machen that in turn led to the formation of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM).

Today the PCA alone fields over 600 full-time missionaries, along with thousands of part-time and occasional missionaries. The OPC, ARP, RPCNA, and other conservative Presbyterian denominations do their part as well and with equal vigor, each in accord with their respective size and strength. And in all this, we all seek to lift of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, that God alone might be glorified and that He might sovereignly build His kingdom. Let this be a reminder to pray for your missionaries and to pray for those who train them, that by God’s grace all might remain true to the Word of God.

 

 

 

 

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Church government, or polity, is one of my continuing interests, particularly in relation to the historical background of the PCA’s BOOK OF CHURCH ORDER.

As explained below, the following article by Franklin Pierce Ramsay appeared posthumously in the July 1930 issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY [the original series of this title, not the one you know today]. Ramsay had written a commentary on the Southern Presbyterian BOOK OF CHURCH ORDER, which was published in 1898 and so the article below can be seen both as an appendix to that volume and as a charge to a ruling elder. Much of the content of Ramsay’s commentaryremains pertinent for the PCA’s BCO, since in many cases the text of the modern edition is still unchanged some 113 years later. Even where the comparable paragraph has changed, Ramsay’s comments still offer good insights into the underlying principles which remain.

The Rev. Franklin Pierce Ramsay was born on March 30, 1856. He was educated at Davidson College, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Chicago (Ph.D.) and Columbia Theological Seminary. In his forty-five year career, he served as pastor of at least six Presbyterian congregations and also as president of several colleges, including King College, Bristol, Tennessee. The Rev. F. P. Ramsay died on September 30, 1926. Thus far I have not been able to locate a photograph of him.

The Office of Ruling Elder : Its Obligations and Responsibilities
By the Rev. F.P. Ramsay, Ph.D.
[Christianity Today 1.3 (July 1930): 5-6.]

The following address was made by the late Dr. Ramsay on the occasion of the installation of his son, R.L. Ramsay, Ph.D., professor of English in the University of Missouri, as an elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, Mo., on March 25, 1925. It came into our hands through another son, the Rev. Mebane Ramsay of Staten Island, N.Y., who found it among the papers left by his lamented father.

As one is to be here inducted into the office of Ruling Elder of the Presbyterian Church, my remarks will seek to be appropriate to the occasion.

At this induction into office the elder makes a declaration of his doctrinal belief, that the Scriptures are the Word of God, and that the Confession of Faith (and Catechisms) contain the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures; and he promises to study the (doctrinal) purity of the Church. This is the covenant that he enters into with the Church when inducted into this office. Here is the difference between an unofficial member and an officer in the Presbyterian Church : the member simply professes his personal faith in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ ; the officer professes his belief in the Church’s doctrinal system. One may become a member who does not believe that the Confession of Faith contains the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures, or even that the Scriptures are the Word of God, if only he trusts in Jesus Christ and means to obey Him ; but one cannot become an officer in the Presbyterian Church without accepting its doctrinal system and intending to strive for the Church’s doctrinal purity—unless he is willing to come into his office on a false profession.

Let me stress this a little. Note the difference between the unofficial members, who are required only to profess faith in Christ, and the officers, who are required to profess acceptance of a body of doctrine. Thus the Presbyterian Church is both liberal and intolerant.

Note that it is intolerant of disbelief in its system of doctrine on the part of its officers. Why? The Church is a propagandist institution, an organization for the purpose of advocating and propagating certain beliefs. It is true that the Church’s end is to produce and nourish a certain life ; but belief is an inseparable element of that life and necessary to it. Or be that as it may, the Church is organized and works upon that assumption, and so sets itself to propagate certain beliefs. This system of beliefs its officers are required to accept and maintain and propagate.

Here is a striking difference between the Church and the University. The University is organized to search for truth ; the Church, to propagate the truth. The University, assuming that there is truth still hidden, sets itself to investigate and discover new truth ; but the Church, assuming that certain truths have been given to it by revelation from God, sets itself to teach and disseminate that truth. The University asks questions, the Church answers questions.

The candidate on this occasion is a University man, filled with the University spirit ; and I therefore say to him that the Church is organized on the assumption that it already has the truth and exists for the purpose of disseminating and propagating this truth. If a society were organized for the purpose of propagating Socialism, a man might conceivably belong to that society, and yet be a professor in the University. If in the University he were teaching social science, he would endeavor to lead his students in investigations that would enable them to judge for themselves between Socialism and Individualism, seemingly indifferent whether they became Socialists or Individualists, but only concerned that they became capable of weighing the claims of both. But if this same man joins the Socialistic society, and is sent out as one of its speakers to expound and advocate its system of beliefs, and make converts to it, and ground them in it; he is then a propagandist of Socialism, and will endeavor to gain adherents to the system. He is then at work on the assumption that Socialism is true and established, and now needs to be propagated. So the Church is a propagandist society; and its officers, and especially its elders and ministers, are its agents to disseminate its system.

Now, one may not believe that the system of beliefs held by the Presbyterian Church is truth, or that it is wise to have an organization for advocacy and propagation of this system ; but if he becomes an officer in this Church, pledged to promote its system  and  propagate its beliefs, then he professes himself to receive this system and covenants to cooperate with others in disseminating it. He is not obliged to assume this obligation; he is not obliged to make this profession and pledge, any more than he is obliged to become a lecturer for the Socialistic society. But if he does make this profession and pledge, and does become an officer in the Presbyterian Church, he must be loyal to this profession and pledge, or disloyal. If a man should join the Socialistic society, not believing in Socialism, or not believing in its type of Socialism, and should accept a commission from it to go out as one of its speakers, and as such should really oppose its type of Socialism; we and other honest men would accuse him of borrowing from within, of betraying his trust, and of paltry dishonesty. I trust that the man to be now ordained will never sink so low.

Now the Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church is not indeed a lecturer to advocate its principles to the same extent as the Minister is ; but he is, all the same, the conserver and guardian of its doctrinal purity. The eldership has equal voice with the Ministers in the Presbyteries and higher courts of the Church, which judge its Ministers and administer its whole government and discipline, and control its administration ; and the eldership in the local Church, always more numerous than the ministry, have the control. And it lies as a special obligation on the elders to see that the teaching in their church is loyal to the Confession of Faith of the Church. If the pastor should be somewhat erratic, and yet in life and spirit is loyal to the system of truth, the elders should bear with him, and cooperate with him on the whole ; but if at any time the pastor departs from the system and becomes disloyal to the system, the elders are there to protect the Church against his false teaching. So I say that the elders are the conservers of our system of doctrine.

Nor need we be ashamed of being members and agents of a propagandist society. True, there is such a thing as progress in understanding religious truth; and the Presbyterian Church makes provision for this progress. It provides for amending its doctrinal standards; and it has amended them again and again. We do not say that we believe them to be errorless, but to contain the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures;  and any elder or minister may propose amendments. So new truth may be discovered, or better statements of truth may be invented ; but this improvement of the system is to be made by those who believe in the system, and by methods that insure full discussion.

But while there is this provision for progress and change, the very nature of Christianity makes it a stable thing. The process of revelation runs through many generations, a growth from its germinal beginning in the beginning of human history up to its fruitage in Jesus Christ. This revelation of truth through the ages has reached its consummation in the Perfect Word. We cannot now go back and make the history different. We cannot go back now, and prevent the entrance of sin into the world. We cannot change or improve the covenants with Abraham. We cannot make the redemption from Egypt, and the Mosaic legislation, and the settlement in Canaan, throw any finer light on the teachings of Christ. We cannot build the tabernacle or the temple, or fashion the priesthood and sacrifices, or turn the music of the temple, to clearer significance on what the Christ was to be. We cannot alter the development of the Messianic monarchy, so that the Son of David shall mean more than it does. We cannot adjust the birth of Jesus, or His miracles, or His resurrection, more in accordance with modern skepticism, or make His bloody death more aesthetic. We cannot call Him down from heaven and instruct Him how to guide His Church and to apply His religion. There are the facts, and we cannot now change them ; there is the Christ that God has given us, and we cannot modernize Him ; there is the unalterable revelation shining in the heaven of history, and we cannot remake it.

We can only accept Him as He is, and enthrone Him in our hearts and lives. Let us be loyal to Him, and loyal to His Church.

And especially may educated men, men whose very occupations require them to push on the frontiers of inquiry in science and philosophy and literature, render this service to their Lord : they can be loyal to Him, and loyal to His revelation made once for all, and thus testify that progress in investigation does not mean putting out the light of the past ; and can show that humble faith in Christ is consistent with the scientific humility of willingness to learn.

Christianity as a system of truth is a great building. Its foundations have been laid, and even its walls have already risen into the skies. It rises like the Memorial Tower yonder on the campus. We may come and build upon this building ; but we will not wreck its walls nor raze its foundations. We will build ourselves and our lives into the rising structure, sure that we shall be safe on its walls that waver not, and on its foundations that tremble not. For here is Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever.

Words to Live By:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”—Hebrews 13:17, NASB

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STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 12. — What special act of providence did God exercise towards man, in the estate wherein he was created?

A. — When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death.

Scripture References:
Compare Gen. 2:16,17 with Rom. 5:12-14; Rom. 10:5; Luke 10:25-28, and with the covenants made with Noah and Abraham; Gen. 2:17.

Questions:

1. What is a covenant?

A covenant is a mutual agreement and arrangement between two or more parties to give or do something.

2. What is God’s covenant with man?

God’s covenant with man is his agreement to give something with a stipulation that man will do something on his part, or it may be entirely gracious as in Genesis 9.

3. How many covenants has God made with man?

God has made two primary covenants with man. The first was the Covenant of Works and the second was the Covenant of Grace.

4. Why was it called the Covenant of Works?

It was called the Covenant of Works because it was a plan by which the human race could achieve eternal life by works, that is, by perfect obedience to the will of God.

5. Who were the parties in the Covenant of Works?

The parties were God, who established the covenant, and Adam, the head and representative of the entire human race.

6. Why did God forbid Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree?

He forbade them because this was a test of obedience to the will of God. The fruit was good in itself but to partake of it was contrary to God’s commandment.

7. What was the promise and penalty attached to the Covenant of Works?

The promise was life everlasting and the penalty temporal, spiritual, and eternal death.

8. What may we learn from this doctrine of the Covenant of Works?

We are taught that eternal death came by the breaking of the Covenant of Works by the first Adam and that eternal life comes only by fulfilling the same covenant by the second Adam (Rom. 5:19). Adam was our representative in the Covenant of Works; Jesus Christ is our representative in the Covenant of Grace.

ADAM’S SCHOOLMASTER
In the Garden of Eden there was a tree. We do not know what sort of tree it was, the story that it was an apple tree has no proof from Scripture. But this tree was an important tree and it played an important part in a “special act of providence” of God. Adam was in the midst of many providential arrangements made for him by God. But even though things were good—even though he had abundance and comfort—God laid down a positive command to Adam: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2:17)

This special act of providence was Adam’s Schoolmaster. This was to teach Adam certain things he must know. It was to teach him self-restraint. It was to teach him that even though he was lord of the creatures, yet he was still a subject of God. It was to teach him that he was to obey God without question. The test of Goodness or Evil is simply obedience or disobedience of God’s will. After putting Adam in the Garden, and giving him all things, God (so states A. A. Hodge) “reduced the test to the simplest and easiest—the test simply of a personal violation of law, a test simply of loyal obedience.” Adam failed the test and Christ came later to do what Adam failed to do.

This test of loyal obedience is the test we are under today. If we are saved by grace, God’s word to us is: “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 7.21). It is true that our entrance into heaven is not by our merits but by God’s grace. But it is equally true that the person who is born again by the Spirit of God will be a person that loves God’s Word and seeks, by the help of God, to follow His commandments.

A good commandment for the Christian to follow is: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Cor. 10:31). Here is our test of loyal obedience, and it teaches us to restrain ourselves; that we are subjects of God and that we are to obey Him and do all to His glory. Whatever we are about to do we need to ask ourselves: “Can it be done in the name of the Lord Jesus?” “Can we do it thankfully, expressing gratitude to God for the privilege and asking His blessing upon it in prayer?” Are we seeking, as sinners saved by grace, to do God’s will in all things? (Philippians 4:8,9)

Addendum:
“After such a review of the first covenant, how welcome to us should be the language of God in the Gospel, “Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your souls shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” The blessings of that covenant are not suspended on our obedience, but secured by the perfect righteousness of the second Adam. Let us remember that perfection in holiness must still be our aim, and that to it we are called by every feeling of gratitude and duty. In this new covenant that God makes with us, he puts his laws in our minds, and writes them in our hearts; there are promises of aid and pardon which had no place in the first covenant, and of a light which its tree of knowledge could never have yielded, for wisdom is a tree of life to every one that lays hold on her, and happy is every one that retaineth her.”
—Henry Belfrage, A Practical Exposition of the Shorter Catechism (1832), p. 52.

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Today’s post was written for the PCA Historical Center in 2006 by Dr. Barry Waughand is reproduced here, substantially edited for length.

MakemieStatueThree hundred years ago this year the first meeting of the General Presbytery was convened in Philadelphia.  A specific date in 1706 cannot be pinpointed due to the loss of the first leaf of the minutes, but a letter of Rev. Francis Makemie provides the basis for assigning the year.  The letter was written by Rev. Makemie from Philadelphia, to Benjamin Colman on March 28, 1707.  After relating the story of his imprisonment with some other ministers for their preaching the Gospel as dissenting, non-Church of England ministers, he mentioned that he and six other ministers had met in Philadelphia earlier that month to consult regarding the best way to advance the Gospel.

Pictured at right, a statue erected in memory of the Rev. Francis Makemie, located at Holden’s Creek, Accomack County, Virginia.

This meeting is the first convening of the General Presbytery with a complete set of minutes in the manuscript record book, and these minutes are preceded by a partial and brief section of minutes recorded in 1706.  From this small and unfortunately imprecisely dated beginning, the Presbyterian Church grew to organize its first meeting of the General Synod in 1717, then its first General Assembly in 1789.  During these years the Presbyterian Church formally adopted the Westminster Standards in 1729, and then saw a division between the Old and New Sides in 1744 that was reconciled with a reunion in 1758.  The Presbyterian Church’s ministry increased through the years so that by the end of the eighteenth century it enjoyed a substantial flock distributed throughout the young nation for the purpose of glorifying and enjoying God.

The six oldest congregations in the Presbyterian Church in America can trace their ministries to the early years leading up to and following the first presbytery meeting.  Each of these congregations was organized before the first General Assembly in 1789 and its associated publication of the first edition of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church, which contained the Westminster Standards and associated church government documents.  Through the colonial period and into the early years of America, the Presbyterian Church ministered through local congregations as America grew and prospered, and these six PCA churches can trace their ancestry directly to the foundational work of the Presbyterian Church in the eighteenth century.

1. The oldest organized church in the PCA is the Fairfield Presbyterian Church of New Jersey, which traces its beginning in New Jersey to 1680.

2. Manor Presbyterian Church, Cochranville, PA (org. 1730). The Rev. Samuel Blair was pastor here, briefly.

3. First Presbyterian Church, Waynesboro, GA (org. 1760). The earliest body associated with what became the Waynesboro Church was the Briar Creek Church, which petitioned the Synod of New York and Philadelphia for supply ministers.  In 1770 the synod, through the Presbytery of New Castle, sent Josiah Lewis, Princeton class of 1766, to serve as a supply pastor for sixth months in Long Cane, South Carolina, and then for three additional months at Briar Creek.  His few months at Briar Creek must have endeared him to the congregation because he continued serving both Briar Creek and an additional charge at Queensboro for a few years.  At some point, the Briar Creek Church became known as Old Church and continued to use that name until it merged with the Walnut Branch Church and eventually became what is presently the First Presbyterian Church of Waynesboro.

4. First Presbyterian Church, Schenectady, NY (org. 1760). The Schenectady church initially worshipped in the building used by the Episcopalians until in 1769 eight Presbyterians purposed to build a wooden place of worship for themselves, which was not completed until after the arrival of the first minister, Rev. Alexander Miller, in 1771.

5. Goshen Presbyterian Church, Belmont, NC (org. 1764). Early oral history traces the Goshen Church’s beginnings to a stranger who died and was buried on the knoll that became the cemetery for the congregation.  Near this cemetery, the congregation began to meet and eventually constructed a log worship building.  Through the missionary work of Elihu Spencer, a Yale graduate, and Alexander McWhorter, a College of New Jersey man, Goshen and other churches were able to worship and receive pastoral care.  In 1796, the Goshen congregation called its first minister, Humphrey Hunter, for a shared ministry with another local church.

6. Bethel Presbyterian Church, Clover, SC (org. 1764). As Goshen struggled in its early years, across the Carolina frontier in South Carolina, Bethel Presbyterian Church also struggled with the challenges and vicissitudes of frontier living.  The Bethel Church heard the first sermon in its frontier home from William Richardson, a missionary of the Charleston Presbytery, and just as Rev. Humphrey Hunter had provided ministerial stability for the Goshen Church, so he ministered for a few years at Bethel in the beginning of the nineteenth century.

For Further Study:
Only eight letters written by Francis Makemie are known to have survived to the modern era. Five of these letters, including the one mentioned above, were reproduced in the appendix to American Presbyterianism, by Charles A. Briggs, available in digital format, here.

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The Hymn was a Fruit of Sufferings
We all experience it. Suffering, I mean. It can last a short time. It can last a long time. It might be a disappointment in life. We thought  that we had it all figured out, but then one of those “hard Providences” cames along, and we are in suffering on account of it. Perhaps it happened to ourselves, to a spouse, to a child, to a grown loved one, to a friend, and we are in extreme anguish as a result.
George Mattheson, the Scottish hymn writer, experienced it one day. It his case, it came to him on the day of his sister’s marriage in 1882. Everyone one of his family, including his beloved sister, was staying overnight in Glasgow, apart from  him. Something happened to him which he described as “a most severe mental suffering.” No one knows exactly what it was. He said that it was known only to himself, but whatever it was, it overwhelmed his soul.
Sitting down in a room of his manse, this single pastor, who was born this day on March 27, 1842, said that the words of this poem was “the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life.” Further, he acknowledged that “I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice than of working it out myself.” He added that the whole four verse poem was completed in five minutes! Never once did he retouch or correct the words.
And if that part of the story is remarkable, three years later, Albert Peace, a renowned organist, read it. He then sat down before his organ and wrote all the notes into a hymn. The ink of the first note was hardly dry when he finished it.
When we consider that Rev. Mattheson was a famous preacher in two cities of Scotland, one of them being a 2000 member congregation in the capital  city of the kingdom, we imagine that he had all things going for him. And he did, but he was also blind, beginning in his 18th year. His three sisters rose to the occasion, by tutoring him in his studies at the University of Glasgow. One even learned Hebrew, Greek, and Latin to help him, enabling him to complete his studies. It was on the occasion of this sister’s marriage that he wrote this hymn, celebrating the constancy of God’s love.
Found in the Trinity Hymnal (no. 708), read over its four stanza’s especially if you find yourself in a time of trouble. In fact, either turn to the number in the red hymnal or sing it with the familiar tune, as part of our Words to Live By section:
“O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, that in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.
“O Light that follow’st all my way, I yield my flick-“ing torch to thee; my heart restores its borrowed ray, that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day may be brighter, fairer be.
“O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not  vain that morn shall tearless be
“O Cross, that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee; I lay in dust life’s glory dead, and from the ground that blossoms red life that shall endless be.”

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