March 2015

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America’s National Thanksgiving Hymn Two Centuries Ago

We start out this post with the words of a patriotic hymn.  Granted, it will not be found in the Trinity Hymnal, but it was found in the official hymnbook of the Presbyterian Psalms and Hymns, published in  Princeton, New Jersey in 1829.  The author of it was not a minister, but a physician.  Alfred Woodhull was his name and he was born on this day, March 25, 1810.  But back to the hymn.  Consider these majestic words:

          Great God of nations, now to Thee Our hymn of gratitude we raise; With humble heart and bending knee We offer Thee our songs of praise.

          Thy Name we bless, Almighty God, For all the kindness Thou hast shown To this fair land the Pilgrims trod, This land we fondly call our own.

          Here freedom spreads her banner wide And casts her soft and hallowed ray; Here Thou our father’s steps didst guide In safety through their dangerous way.

          We praise Thee that the gospel’s life Through all our land its radiance shed, Dispel the shades of error’s night, And heav’nly blessings round us spread.

          Great God, preserve us in Thy fear; In danger still our Guardian be; O spread Thy truth’s bright concepts here; Let all the people worship Thee.  Amen.

Alfred Alexander Woodhull had the benefit of a godly father who was himself a Presbyterian minister, George Woodhull.  The father’s first church was the Presbyterian church in Cranbury, New Jersey.  In 1820, the whole family moved to Princeton, New Jersey and stayed the next twelve years ministering to the people of God in that college and seminary town. The late William O. Harris, former archivist at the Princeton Theological Seminary, wrote something of the Woodhull family, focusing on young Alfred’s grandfather, the Rev. John Woodhull :—

“One of the founders of Princeton Seminary, the Reverend John Woodhull, while pastor of a Presbyterian church in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1776, advocated from his pulpit so eloquently the cause of American independence that every male member of his congregation capable of bearing arms enlisted in the Continental Army. He went with them as their chaplain. During the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, he looked up and saw the Old Tennent Church high on a hill above the battlefield. He felt strongly that he would be called to that church, and he was. He continued as pastor there until his death in 1824. He helped to found Princeton Seminary in 1812, assisting in teaching practical theology and serving as vice president of the Board of Trustees from 1812 until his death in 1824. His son, George Woodhull, was a longtime pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton. His son, General Alfred A. Woodhull, served in the Army Medical Corps throughout his career, rising to be surgeon general. In retirement, he lived in Princeton and was a great friend to the Seminary.”

Meanwhile, Alfred, through independent study, was able to enter the  university as a second year student.  After graduating from it, he went to the Pennsylvania to study medicine, and after graduation and residency, became a medical doctor.  Eventually moving back to Princeton in 1835, he began a practice there.  Loved as a sincere, devout, and humble Christian Presbyterian, he contracted a fever and tragically died on October 5, 1836.  His death was greatly lamented by the citizens of the town and area.

Words to Live By:
James reminds us in chapter 4, verse 15 of his New Testament letter that we “are just like a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”  All of our lives are that fragile, unless the Lord determines to keep us on this earth for a time.  Let us remember that and buy up every opportunity for worship and work in God’s kingdom.  And let us pray and work for our beloved country so that God would have his church “spread God’s  truth’s bright concepts  here” so that our citizens “would worship the God” of the Bible.

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The ecumenical body known as the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Conference (NAPARC) held its constituting meeting on October 31-November 1, 1975.  The PCA, OPC, and RPCNA were among its founding Churches. Significant of the importance placed upon the matter, one of the early actions taken by this group was the 1977 Conference on Race Relations, held on March 24 and 25, with the following Statement issued upon conclusion of the Conference.

STATEMENT OF NAPARC CONFERENCE ON RACE RELATIONS

Preface

As participants in the NAPARC conference on Race Relations held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, March 24 and 25, 1977, we have entered in two days of discussion and self‑examination regarding the relationships of the conservative Reformed community to the struggle for racial justice. We have arrived at a consensus on a number of crucial issues and we offer our concerns to the larger NAPARC fellowship for deliberation and action.

None of the NAPARC churches can adopt a position of superiority over the other NAPARC churches in respect to its record on race. Nor can the NAPARC churches in general claim superiority to other churches in respect to problems of race.

We are convinced that we, as Reformed Christians, have failed to speak and act boldly in the area of race relations. Our denominational profiles reveal patterns of ethnic and racial homogeneity. We believe that this situation fails to give adequate expression to the saving purposes of our sovereign God, whose covenant extends to all peoples and races.

We are convinced that our record in this crucial area is one of racial brokenness and disobedience. In such a situation the credibility of our Reformed witness, piety and doctrinal confession is at stake. We have not lived out the implications of that biblical and confessional heritage which we hold in common with each other, with its emphasis on the sovereignty and freedom of grace, on the absence of human merit in gaining salvation, and on the responsibility to subject all of life to the Lordship of Christ.

I. The Unity Of Man With Respect To Creation, Sin, And Redemption

Although there are marked distinctions and even divisions among men, including those of race, mankind, according to the teaching of the Bible, has a single origin. Later distinctions and divisions are indeed significant and may not simply be pushed aside; nevertheless, the Bible clearly teaches that the gospel is universal in its offer and its call. All men are created in the image of God and have fallen into sin, and are in need of redemption. All those who are in Christ are united together with Him as their Head in a new humanity, in which the distinctions and divisions that otherwise separate men are transcended in a new unity. True, the distinctions mentioned in the Bible as having been overcome in Christ are not primarily those of race, nor does the Bible think along lines that correspond with the distinctions of race as we understand them today; nevertheless, racial distinctions and divisions as we know and understand them today certainly fall under those things that have been transcended in Christ. How, then, is the new unity in Christ to be expressed in the communion of the church today as it bears on the question of race?

The description of God’s people in I Peter 2:9, 10, as a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, reveals the church’s visible oneness as the community of those separated unto the Lord. It is a oneness on the order of the racial, cultic, and national unity of Israel (Exodus 19:6), and it has as its purpose the declaration of the wonderful works of God. Therefore, the church’s identity transcends and makes of secondary importance the racial, national and cultic identities of the world.

We see in Revelation 7:9, 10, the chosen race worshipping the Lamb in heaven. They come from different backgrounds, yet worship with one voice. Is not the unity of our worship here on earth to be a copy of that which takes place within the heavenly sanctuary? Should not all those washed in the blood of the Lamb joyously worship together?

II. On Confession

In repentance we acknowledge and confess that we have failed effectively to recognize the full humanity of other races and the similarity of their needs, desires, and hopes to ours; and thus we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves.

We see this failure on three levels:

A. Individual church members.

Within the church, our members have exhibited such attitudes and actions as discourage membership or participation by minority groups.

In the broader community our members have shared in attitudes and actions that exhibit hostility and alienation against minority groups, e. g. in housing and job discrimination.

We have thus been guilty of the sins of selfishness in refusing to share material things, of coveting, and in general of failure to love the neighbor as ourselves.

B. Churches

Our churches have not been free from such formal actions as discourage membership or participation by minority groups.

They have been guilty of a lack of positive action concerning mission to ethnic groups in their own neighborhoods and to ethnic groups at large.

They have practiced a kind of cultural exclusivism, thinking of the church as “our church” rather than Christ’s.

This involves the sins of pride and idolatry.

C. Social structures

The communities which we reflect and represent have supported or failed to protest against those industrial and economic policies and institutions which are advantageous to our own persons and institutions, but which accentuate the plight of the disadvantaged. In this we have been conformed to the world rather than transformed to the will of God (Romans 12:1, 2).

III. On South Africa

The NAPARC Conference on Race Relations calls to the attention of the NAPARC churches the turmoil confronting our Christian brothers in the nation of South Africa.

The Conference requests NAPARC to encourage member churches to study the charges that the laws of the South African government deny to God’s people of every race the opportunity to fulfill God’s cultural mandate and covenant responsibility, to wit:

A. Certain laws encourage, if not necessitate, the separation of husbands from wives and parents from children, and, therefore, lead to the disintegration of God’s institution, the family.

B. Certain laws make it difficult for Christians to practice the Biblical principle that the laborer is worthy of his hire.

C. Certain laws requiring separate development of the nations lead to serious conditions of malnutrition especially where there is a large population resettled in lands of minimal productivity.

The Conference also encourages the NAPARC churches which are not members of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod to respond to the request of the RES meeting in Capetown on August 20, 1976, to wit:

1. “To request member churches to give early and serious attention to those problems involved in creating an atmosphere of dissatisfaction and unrest which led to the present riots as matters of great urgency.”

2. “To urge all Christians to reach out to each other in a demonstration of love, thus promoting peace in South Africa.”

The Message of Capetown, p. 5

IV. On Seminaries

We commend the Calvin Theological Seminary faculty for its decision to implement policies calculated to improve preparation for ministry in multi‑racial areas; and Westminster Theological Seminary for its ministerial institute which intends to assist inner-city pastors in their continued training in ministry and Covenant Theological Seminary for its Urban Ministers’ Institute; and request these institutions to communicate to the other NAPARC‑related seminaries both their understandings of the biblical basis for those programs, and also progress reports concerning the accomplishment of the goals of those programs, with practical advice for the seminaries.

V. On Changing Communities

A. We encourage congregations to reach out to the entire community around them.

B. We encourage congregations to rise to meet the challenge of racial diversity in changing neighborhoods.

C. We encourage members of our congregations to remain in those communities where there are racially changing patterns.

D. We acknowledge that in order to change our unbiblical profile, we should urge churches in NAPARC to give priority to a vigorous pursuit of evangelism and church planting in racially, economically, and ethnically diverse communities.

E. We encourage NAPARC to sponsor seminars and workshops toward implementing church growth along racially, ethnically, and economically diverse lines.

F. We call upon NAPARC churches to define and incorporate new, small congregations and that provision be made for financial viability.

VI. On Missions And Evangelism

A. That the grace and righteousness of Christ may be demonstrated by loving, visible, cross‑cultural and multi‑class relationships; it is recommended that creative, vigorous and sacrificial diaconal ministries be developed in the local church, meeting common human need as close to home as is possible, enlarging the opportunities of the less fortunate socially in terms of physical, social, economic, educational, and spiritual needs.

B. We recommend that the fall NAPARC conference on the diaconate take into account the effects of ecclesiastical and institutional racism, so that renewal of the diaconates in our various churches may reflect a consciousness of this specific evil in their efforts to administer mercy in the name of Christ.

C. In reaffirming the great commission, we recommend that:

Cross‑cultural evangelism be encouraged in our churches through preaching, modeling, and discipling, through the elders and pastors, beginning with the use of our covenant families and homes, and house‑to‑house neighborhood outreach;

And that NAPARC form a task force to prepare seminars and institutes for pastors and elders, churches, and seminary professors and students in cross‑cultural evangelism;

And that resource teams be developed to serve NAPARC churches and groups of churches.

VII. General Recommendations

Our present discussions have been only a small beginning in considering more faithful paths of obedience in the area of race relations. Therefore, we call upon NAPARC and its member denominations to:

A. Convene a conference at which minority brothers and sisters from the other evangelical fellowships meet with NAPARC members for mutual conversation and edification;

B. Appoint a committee to study the feasibility of a NAPARC Institute on Justice and Human Relations;

C. Encourage NAPARC denominations to send representatives to the NBEA conference in San Francisco.

We commit ourselves to working locally and denominationally for these goals.

Further thought and action in these areas is necessary for such reasons as:

1. Scriptural data on the unity of the church and the plan of God to restore the unity of the human race;

2. The need for our Reformed fellowships to avail ourselves of the gifts of members of the Body in minority communions;

3. The need for our denominations, congregationally and corporately, to promote justice for the oppressed, to uphold the cause of the poor. For Christ will not ask us about doctrinal purity or ecclesiastical fellowship; He will ask us about the people who are hungry, thirsty, naked, in jail, and without family.

(End, Statement of NAPARC Conference on Race Relations)

Words to Live By:
We are, in Jesus Christ our Lord, one Body. There is no room for attitudes of superiority one over another. Thinking like that is entirely contrary to the Gospel. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ came to serve, not to be served, and such service and humility should be true of all who call themselves Christians.

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A Life of Sacrifice for the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The Rev. Robert Waldo Chesnut was a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod (RPC,GS). This was the body which later merged with the larger side of the Bible Presbyterian Synod split in 1965 to create the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. Dr. Chesnut served in the lean years of the denomination when, at its low point, there were just nine churches left on the roster. Eventually the Lord brought renewed vigor and growth, such that by the time of the merger in 1965, there were some 25 churches in the RPC,GS. No doubt the Lord used Chesnut’s sacrificial love for the Church as a great instrument in bringing about some of that later growth.

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p style=”text-align: justify;”>Reprinted here is a brief biography which originally appeared in The Reformed
 Presbyterian Advocate, 87.4 (April, 1953): 40-42.

chesnutrwOn March 23, 1953 at 8:35 P.M. our Church was deprived of its Pastor Emeritus by the death of Rev. Robert W. Chesnut, Ph.D. He was 94 years, 6 months, 8 days old when he passed on to be with his Lord. Dr. Chesnut had been Pastor Emeritus since his retirement from the active ministry in 1942 after 55 years as a minister. In 1950 he attended his last meeting of General Synod, at the Houston Mission [in Tennessee]. In November of 1952 he reported to work on the new church [in Duanesburg, NY], bringing his hammer and lunch pail. He worked from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M. He later said: “I guess I pounded two or three pounds of nails and it helped some.” He was constantly interested in the new church and did all he could to advance its construction.

Robert Chesnut was born on a farm near Morning Sun, Iowa, on September 15, 1858. His parents had emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland. His father was a boilermaker.”

“He had very little formal education in elementary or high schools. He never attended school during his early years for more than three months at a time. Until his entrance into college he had attended school only a total of twenty months.

In 1869 his family emigrated, by covered wagon, to Kansas and settled in Clay Center. There Dr. Chesnut, his father, and his brothers engaged in farming.

chesnut45yrsHe did not want to enter college or the ministry and, he has reported, fought the call of God to the ministry for some time. Finally one day, plowing in the fields (and he had not enjoyed good health for many months) he stopped his horses, sat down on a plowbeam and settled the matter with God. He said: “Lord, if you will give me health and see me through my education I will serve you in the ministry.” He finished the day’s plowing without being fatigued and God has kept His part of the covenant by blessing His servant with good health and length of days. Anyone who knew Dr. Chesnut knows that he kept his part of the covenant too, serving his God and his beloved Reformed Presbyterian church for sixty or more years.

He entered the Agricultural College of Kansas, at Manhattan, with a trunk containing a few clothes, his Psalm book, his Bible, and his Catechism, and $45 cash to see him through. He paid his way through school by raising a crop of wheat each Summer and selling it in the Fall. He also earned a little extra by tutoring his fellow students in Greek.

His college training was continued and completed at the University of Kansas, at Lawrence.

For theological training he spent a summer studying under his pastor, Rev. James S. Scott and entered the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in Philadelphia the following term as a second year student.

He completed the course and was licensed to preach on March 22, 1887 in the First Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

He was ordained on May 10, 1888 and installed the same day as pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church at Marissa, Illinois. The church is no longer in existence. Dr. Chestnut had been called to a church in New York City, but declined the call because he thought that he, a farm boy from Iowa and Kansas, would not be suited to a city pastorate. After sixteen years in Marissa he went to the church in Cutler, Illinois. In 1910 he accepted a call to the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Duanesburg. Here he served as pastor and worked the parsonage farm until 1917. He then moved to the Seventh Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and remained two and one-half years. He then returned to Duanesburg, to save the congregation from disbanding. It was, at that time, a small and discouraged flock in need of a shepherd. From 1919 until his retirement in 1942 Dr. Chesnut served here as Stated Supply, worked the parsonage farm (and another larger farm which he purchased from his meager earnings) and ran a printing plant.

Robert Waldo Chesnut was pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Duanesburg (NY) from 1910-1917, and for forty years he served as Editor and Publisher of theReformed Presbyterian Advocate (although it was not always known by that name). He also served as Moderator of the Philadelphia Presbytery and he served the General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, as Assistant Clerk, as Clerk, and as Moderator in both 1903 and 1943.

Dr. Chesnut was survived by his widow, Mrs. Anna Heim Chesnut, who is his third wife. In 1885 he was married to Jennie Hulick, who died in 1896. Their daughter and son died while in their youth. His second wife and an infant also died–the wife just five weeks after they moved to Duanesburg in 1910. Dr. Chesnut was survived by three children, thirteen grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

The Duanesburg congregation, and the whole of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, has suffered a loss by the passing of our friend. But we can have no regrets, for he lived a long and full life and we are assured that he has gone to glory to be forever with his Lord, where there is no more pain, no sorrow, no struggle with sin, no more death, where death is swallowed up in victory.

“Truly a Prince has fallen in Israel. How he did love to come to General Synod and we have missed him these last few years. He really loved to preach the Gospel. Many lives have been touched by his long years of service.” [Rev. Robert W. Stewart]

Words to Live By:
“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,”—
Philippians 3:8, KJV

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

Q. 11. — What are God’s works of providence?

A. — God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

Scripture References: Ps. 145:17; Ps. 104:24; Heb. 1:3; Ps. 103:19; Matt. 10:29, 30.

Questions:

1.
What is the meaning of the word “providence?”

The meaning of the word providence is that of care, the ability to foresee what is coming and to make provision for it.

2. What are the parts of God’s providence?

The parts of God’s providence are: 1. His preservation of things (Ps. 36:6). 2. His government of things (Ps. 67:4).

3. How does creation and providence differ?

Dr. Charles Hodge states, “Creation, preservation, and government are in fact different, and to identify them leads not only to confusion but to error. Creation and preservation differ – first, as the former is the calling into existence of what did not exist, and the latter is continuing, or causing to continue, what already has a being; and secondly, in creation there is and can be no cooperation, but in preservation there is a concursus (harmonious cooperation) of the first, with second causes. In the Bible, therefore, the two things are never confounded. God created all things, and by Him all things consist.” (Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Pg. 578)

4. To what does God’s providence extend?

a. All His creatures, especially His children.
b. The actions of His creatures.

5. Does His providence extend to all the actions of His creatures?

Yes, it extends to all actions. To hold otherwise would be to say that the creatures would be independent in their actions and then God would not be the first cause of all things.

6. If providence includes all actions of men, does this mean the sinful actions as well as the good actions?

Yes, even the sinful actions of men are controlled by God’s providence but this does not make Him responsible for their actions. God permits men to sin (Acts 14:16). God limits and restrains men in their sins (Ps. 76:10). God directs and disposes men’s sins to good ends. beyond their own intentions (Isa. 10:5,6,7)

7. What is the purpose of God’s providence?

The purpose of God’s providence is the manifesting of God’s own glory.

THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD AND THE WORD
In Article 13 of the Belgic Confession, its section on Divine Providence, there appears the following words, ” … to learn only those things which He has revealed to us in His Word, without transgressing these limits.”

There has always been a danger in the church of Jesus Christ to become confused as to the doctrine of providence. Some believers in Christ, recognizing that God is Sovereign and convinced of His preserving and governing powers, take it to mean that they should wait on the providence of God to discover their duty. They forget that the providence of God shows us the path of God and does not point out our path. They forget that our rule of faith and practice is the Word of God, not His purpose fulfilled in a providence. Goodwin stated it this way: “We are not to go in businesses merely by providences, for we shall find that oftentimes providences do lay fair occasions for sinning. When Jonah was to go to Tarshlsh, he had the fairest providences that could be; he found a ship all ready; ay, but he went against the word of God. Never be ruled by providences, they may be temptations and probations; be ruled by The Word of God alone.”

Indeed we are “to learn only those things which He has revealed to us in His Word.” We are not to get involved in the non-Christian conceptions of chance. It should be quite significant to the Christian that even Hitler mouthed the word “providence” many times. We recognize though with Berkouwer that “no one can believe in the Providence of God without knowing the way to God through Jesus Christ.” But we are to further recognize that the ways in which we walk will be ways that must be consistent with The Word of God. We must not wait on providence to lead us but recognize that God’s revelation has come to us through His Word.

The Providence of God affords us great comfort. It tells us that God directs us. It tells us that He watches over us. It tells us that He restrains us. But all these things are done within the limits of The Word of God and are not the ruling factors in our lives but the great thought behind our actions, actions taken according to His Word – i.e. that God is always in control of His world.

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This past Tuesday we wrote of the life and ministry of the Rev. Thomas Boston [1676-1732]. Today, through an address delivered by Dr. Alexander Whyte in 1902, we will examine closer a pivotal moment in the life of Boston, and by his actions, a moment of immense importance that has rippled down through the centuries. Dr. Whyte provides a wonderful introduction to the subject, and I think you will profit from the reading.

THE “MARROW MEN”

A sermon preached before the Baptist Union on Wednesday, October 9th, at St. George’s United Free Church, Edinburgh (1902).

By Dr. Alexander Whyte.

My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness.”—Psalm lxiii. 5.

Thomas Boston [1676-1732]When Thomas Boston, our Scottish Father-in-God, was still in a half-converted state, and when he was still on the scent for salvation—to employ his own graphic expression about himself —in the course of his pastoral visitation, he made a call one day at the house of an old soldier, who had served in the great Civil War in England. The old Covenanter-soldier had brought home with him a little book that was an immense favourite with the puritan people of England at that period; and the little book lay on the old soldier’s window-sill when Boston made his visit that day. Boston was a great lover of books—he had very few of them—and he instinctively took up the little volume to see what it was.  “The Marrow of Modern Divinity,” by Edward Fisher, M.A., of Oxford.  Boston had never seen the little book before, nor so much as heard the name of its author, but the striking title-page, and the glance that Boston took at the contents of the book, led him to ask for a loan of the little volume, and for weeks and months to come the “Marrow” was never out of Boston’s hands till he had the  great evangelical classic by heart, and till, by the grace of God to Boston, Edward. Fisher had finished what Henry Erskine had long ago begun. Boston’s best people soon began to see that some great change had come over their minister. Boston had always been a powerful and a pungent preacher. Like John Bunyan, in his early ministry also, Boston had always preached sin with great “sense.” Boston’s early preaching, he tells us in his “Autobiography,” had “terrified the godly,” but that had been nearly all it had hitherto done. But, after the “Marrow” had done its work in Boston, his preaching began to take an entirely new character. He did not preach sin with any less “sense”—with any less passion, that is—but

HE NOW PREACHED SIN, AND EVERYTHING ELSE, WITH FAR MORE SOLEMNITY, AND TENDERNESS, AND LOVE.

His whole pulpit and pastoral work took on from that time an entirely new earnestness, an entirely new scripturalness, richness, inwardness, and depth, all of which was as new and as sweet to Boston himself as it was to his spiritually-minded people. Wherever Boston went to preach, and he was now more than ever sought after for communion seasons all over the south of Scotland, a special blessing went everywhere with him. And when any of his brethren ventured to remark on the new power of his preaching, Boston immediately attributed it all to the Marrow.

Having prevailed on its owner to part with the little book for its price, Boston lent the volume to friend after friend, till, at last, it fell into the hands of James Hog, of Carnock. James Hog of Carnock was one of the ablest divines, and one of the best preachers of his day, in Scotland, and, on reading the “Marrow,” the saintly scholar thought he saw his opportunity. Hog sat down and wrote a strongly-worded introduction to the hitherto unknown little book, and an enterprising and sympathising Edinburgh publisher put a Scottish edition of the “Marrow” upon the northern market; and the venture at once repaid both its editor and its publisher, for the “Marrow” was soon as well known in Scotland as the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and the “Saint’s Rest,” and “Rutherford’s Letters”—and what more can be said about the best success of any book?

THEN AROSE THE GREAT “MARROW CONTROVERSY,”

as it was called, a controversy in which the leaders of the General Assembly played such a deplorable part, and a controversy in which Thomas Boston and James Hog and Gabriel Wilson and Ralf and Ebenezer Erskine bore such a noble and ever-honourable part. That was a great day for the Gospel of the Grace of God in Scotland, when the “Twelve Marrow Men,” as they were called, stood at the bar of the General Assembly, and when Boston, as their spokesman, addressed the Moderator of the hostile house and said: ‘“Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” And from that notable day the doctrines of Grace took root again in the pulpits of Scotland, as those doctrines had first taken root two centuries before in the pulpits of Knox and Brown, and Balloch, and Welsh, and as those same doctrines again took foot during the “ten years’ conflict” of our fathers’ day, and during the memorable years that followed that conflict, and which are still following it down to this day. That great conflict is already arising in its deepest springs when we read in Thomas Chalmers’s diary such entries as these:

“I am reading the ‘Marrow,’ and I am deriving from it great light and satisfaction. It is a masterly performance.”

“August the 24th. Finished the Marrow. I feel a growing delight in the fulness and all-sufficiency of Christ. O, my God! Bring me nearer and nearer to Thy Son!”

And Chalmers’s reading of the Marrow was blessed to him, and his prayer was answered in the creation of the Free Church of Scotland, and in many other things that we see around us and before us in Scotland to-day. Read Dr. Chalmers’s Life by Dr. Hanna, and get your children to read it. The book is a masterpiece in literature, and its noble evangelical lessons cannot fail to impress, and quicken, and strengthen both the mind, and the heart, and the character of everyone who reads it. All ministers especially should have Chalmers’s Life by heart.

It was

THE FASHION OF THE DAY

to cast the teaching of the day into the form of a dialogue. William Law, among others, has made splendid use of that literary device. Law has immortalised that literary device in more than one of his immortal works. And Edward Fisher, being a man of letters as well as of religion, determined to cast his apostolical doctrine into the same dialogue device. And he accordingly makes his dialogue to be carried on between Evangelista, a minister of the Gospel; Nomista, a legalist; Antinomista, an anti-nomian, and Neophitus, a young and, as yet, an uninstructed Christian. If you can lay your hands on a copy of Edward Fisher’s Marrow, edited by Thomas Boston and enriched with his notes, you will have in your possession a very complete and a very ably-reasoned-out statement of apostolical, evangelical, and experimental truth. And if you add to Boston’s edition of the Marrow John Brown of Whitburn’s most valuable book, entitled, Gospel Truth Accurately Stated and Illustrated, you will possess in those two treatises, taken together, very masterly and a conclusive discussion of the whole “Marrow Controversy.” The exact scholarship, the wide reading, the intellectual power, and the spiritual fervour of both these books will be a great surprise and a great delight to everyone who has the mind and the heart to master them. I open the Marrow anywhere and I immediately come on something like this :

“ But, sir,” says the neophyte to his minister, “Has such an one as I am any title, or invitation, or warrant to come to Christ, and to claim him as my Redeemer?” “Your warrant to claim Christ as your Redeemer,” says Evangelista, “is just God’s call on you to do so. For this is His commandment that I we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, as He gave us commandment. And, furthermore, we have God’s sure and infallible promise that whosoever believeth on His Son shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life.” “Listen to Luther,” says the minister : “ ‘He saw in me,’ says Luther, ‘nothing but wickedness, nothing but a lost sheep going astray. Yet the good Shepherd had mercy on me ; and of His pure and undeserved grace He loved me, and gave Himself for me. But who is this me?’ exclaims Luther. ‘Even Martin Luther, a wretched and already condemned sinner, was so dearly loved by the Son of God, that He gave Himself for me! O!’ cries Luther in every Reformation sermon of his, ‘O, print this word ME in your heart, and apply it to yourself, not doubting but that you are one of those to whom this ME belongs.’ ” “Indeed, sir,” replies the neophyte, “if I were as good as some men are, then I could easily believe what you say. But, alas, sir, I am such a sinful wretch, that I cannot believe that Christ will accept of me till I am much better than I am.” “Alas, man!” the minister replies, “in thus speaking, you take it upon you to correct and contradict, not Paul and Luther only, but Christ Himself. For, whereas Paul says that Christ Jesus came into the world to save the chief of sinners,

YOU SEEM TO HOLD THAT HE CAME TO SAVE SUCH AS WERE NOT REALLY LOST.

And whereas Christ Himself says that the whole need not a physician, you hold that a sinner must be well on the way to .recovery before he need call for Christ to come and heal him. You seem to think that the spouse of Christ must be adorned and perfumed with robes and ointments of her own providing before her husband will receive her. Whereas He Himself says to her, ‘No eye pitied thee to do any of these things unto thee. But when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold! thy time was a time of love. And I spread my spirit over thee: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a sure covenant with thee, and thou becamest Mine. And I will marry thee to Me in righteousness and in mercy and in everlasting faithfulness, and thou shalt be Mine.’” “Why, sir, then, it seems that the vilest sinner in this whole world ought not to be discouraged in coming to Christ.” “Surely not!” replies the minister. “Nay, let me say one word more : the greater, the more awful any man’s sins have been and still are, either in their nature or their number, the more haste that man should make to say with David, ‘for Thy Name’s sake, O, Lord, pardon mine iniquity, for it is great.’”

There was nothing that the Reformers in Germany and in Switzerland and the Marrow men in Scotland preached with more ability and eloquence and success, than just the particular and personal offer of Christ to every individual sinner. The Marrow men were very bold in this matter. They possessed a free and a full salvation in their own souls, and, in the name of God, they held out the offer of that same salvation to every man. Who are you? and what is your name? they demanded as they preached. Because we have a message from God immediately and personally to you. Is your name David in the matter of Uriah? Or Peter after his fall? Or Mary Magdalene, and she still possessed with seven devils? Or Saul still breathing out threatenings and slaughter? Is your name Luther the monk? or Bunyan the tinker? or Boston still in a half- converted state? You! they cried, singling out each individual hearer.

You! and you! and you!

TO YOU IS THE WORD OF THIS SALVATION SENT.

Here is a sample of their fine pulpit work taken out of Walter Marshall, that great master in Israel, that perfect Euclid of evangelical sanctification, as I am wont to call him to myself. Oh! where are such masterly books as the Marrow? Is the Gospel mystery to be found again on every window-sill in Scotland and England as was once the case? “You are to be fully persuaded,” says Marshall, “and in your own particular case, that if you trust in Christ sincerely and perseveringly you shall have eternal life in Him, as well as the greatest saint in all the world. For the promise is universal, that whosoever believeth on Him shall not be put to shame. Conclude within yourself, then, that, howsoever vile and wicked and unworthy you may be, yet, if you come, you also shall be accepted. It is this that hinders so many wounded consciences and broken hearts from coming to the Great Physician. They are so dead in sin, they are so corrupt in heart, they are so without the least spark of any grace or goodness in themselves, that they think it to be nothing short of sheer presumption in them to expect to be saved. But why so? They can be but the chief of sinners; and is this not a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save the chief of sinners? If they that are dead in sin cannot be saved, then all men must despair and perish; for no man has one spark of spiritual life in him till he comes for it, and receives it from Christ. Others think that they have outstayed their time, till there is no place of repentance left for them. But, behold, to every sinner still out of hell, now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” And as Marshall and Fisher, following Luther and Knox, preached that personal, and individualising, and immediate Gospel of free grace, a great multitude of our own forefathers believed unto everlasting life.

But to my mind,

THE MARROW MEN EXCELLED THEMSELVES IN THE WAY THEY PREACHED THE ASSURANCE OF FAITH.

Both in Germany, and in Switzerland, and in France, the full assurance of faith was splendidly preached in those first days of a recovered Gospel. And to acknowledge his sources, and to confess his indebtedness, and to assure his readers concerning his doctrine of the assurance of faith, the author of the Marrow actually gives his readers the names of some sixty-four theologians and preachers in all the Reformed Churches of Christendom, out of whose writings he had drawn this substance of his great evangelical dialogue. Now, what exactly is the assurance of faith? Well, it is, in short, just this—that all true faith has its witness in itself. All true faith is its own best evidence and surest proof. As thus—a minister preaches Jesus Christ and Him crucified to his people. He takes of the things of Christ and shows them to his people. And he pleads with them as an ambassador to be reconciled to God. The people listen; they attend; they begin to think; they begin to believe. One thing, another thing, many things, all work together to lead them to believe. A bad conscience, a bad heart, trials in life and losses, approaching old age, fear of death and judgment—all these things, under the hand of the Holy Ghost, work together till the people are led to rest all their trust and hope on the Lord Jesus Christ. And, already, as they begin to believe and trust and hope, the peace of God begins to be shed abroad in their hearts, and their minister’s Gospel preaching leads the people on from faith to faith, and from strength to strength, till they are able to certify and assure their own hearts, till the Holy Ghost is able to assure and seal their hearts, as He sealed and assured Paul’s heart, into this full assurance of faith. “I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him.” And as faith grows, its full assurance will grow till the true believer is able to say with the Apostle, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me.” It is something not unlike this. A man loves a woman. He has long loved her unknown to her, till one day he takes her and opens his heart to her. She listens to him. She believes him, till her heart is carried captive to him. And from that great espousal day she has his promise, and he has hers. And from that day she has an assurance of his truth and his love that nothing will shake. Absence, distance, land and sea between her and him—her assurance only the firmer holds her heart. No news, bad news even; other lovers approaching her lonely heart—No! In all these things her faith, her full assurance of faith in her espoused husband, conquers all. Now, the believing heart is just like that. Nothing can ever pluck the true believer out of Christ’s hands, nor Christ out of the true believer’s heart. He may not be always sensibly near you. He may be away in a far country. He is away, but, then, He is away preparing a place for you. Then He will come again, and receive you to Himself. Therefore make yourself ready. Keep yourself ready. Have your lamp burning. Have your heart waking. For, at any moment, the shout may be heard in heaven.

Boston, Thomas [1676-1732]_3d_imageI began with Boston, and I will end with him. Now, Boston was not a man of genius. He was not a Rutherford, nor a Bunyan, nor a Baxter, nor an Edwards, nor a Chalmers. Boston was

AN ORDINARY MAN LIKE ANY OF OURSELVES,

till his doctrine, and his life adorning his doctrine, made him what he became. For one thing, Boston was a true student all his days. He husbanded his time. He plied his books. He plied his pen. Like Goodwin, he studied down “his subjects, as a hunter starts and runs down his quarry.” My scarcity of books was a kind of providence to me, for it made me think out the thing.” “I plied my books” comes in continually. By plying his books he drove away headaches, and moroseness, and parish worries, and worse things, so he testifies. And both the substance and the style of his then classical, and still not unclassical, books was the reward of his incessant plying of his few great books and of his pen among them. In his pulpit “the salvation of the hearer was the one motive of the preacher. He always preached his sermon first to himself, and this made his preaching ever fresh, ever pungent, ever full of “sense.” As often as he got good in the preparation of his sermon, he argued from that that his people would get good next Sabbath. And all this made him feel keenly, as his preaching and pastoral life went on, “a preacher’s need of Christ’s imputed righteousness.” As to his pastoral work, he began it at home, and practised it every morning and every night upon his family. He prepared for the exercise, till this entry continually recurs in his diary, how he got this and that good this morning and this evening at the “exercise.” And then, on the same faithful principle, he catechised his parish twice in the year till “he found that he had enough to do among his handful.” “Yes, Simprin is small, but then it is mine.” And then, to seal all, Boston was a man of prayer, if ever there was one in a Scottish manse. “I consulted God.” He continually made that consultation, as a student, as a probationer, as a lover, as a husband, as a father, as a preacher, as an author, with the result that is to be read in his memoirs of himself and in all his works. And then, out of all that he became such a theologian also that Jonathan Edwards discovered him from New England and described him as “Thomas Boston of Scotland, that truly great divine.” As high a seal, surely, as this world could set, according to the Ciceronian principle, Laudari a viro laudato—to be so praised by a man whom everybody praises. Two truly great divines.

Image sources: 
Interestingly enough, both portraits are of the Rev. Thomas Boston. The latter looks nothing like the former, in my estimation. The first portrait is the frontispiece in A General Account of My Life, by Thomas Boston, A.M., Minister at Simprin, 1699-1707 and at Ettrick, 1707-1732 (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1908). The second portrait comes from The Life and Times of Thomas Boston of Ettrick, authored by Andrew Thomson (T. Nelson & Sons, 1895).

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