August 2016

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The Gospel to New Orleans

LarnedSylvester02The Rev. Sylvester Larned, the subject of our post today, was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on August 31st, 1796. He was the son Col. Simon Larned, a high-ranking officer in the American army who had served during the Revolutionary War. Of young Sylvester, it was said that in early childhood he gave good indications of future promise, and that the commanding eloquence for which he was so much distinguished in later life, began to be developed in his earliest years. He had a remarkable, upbeat temper, and other indications of a superior mind. One story that is famously told of young Sylvester–that while not even yet in his teens, he made a wager with his brother that he could make him weep just by talking to him. Now there was nothing solemn or painful ongoing in their lives at that time. But Sylvester began to ply his brother with words, and such was the force of those words, that in a very short time he actually melted down his brother into unwilling tears; whereupon, with a playful jab, he claimed his prize.

At the age of fourteen he began attending college, and in his senior year, God’s hand rested on him, bringing him to a conviction of his sins. Soon after, he decided it was his life’s purpose to serve the Lord in pulpit ministry. So, in the autumn of 1813, he began his preparations at Andover Seminary. However, he left after only a semester and returned home to teach for a year. Then in 1815, he renewed his studies, this time at Princeton Theological Seminary. He grew in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ particularly in his final year, graduating in 1817, and was licensed to preach the Gospel by the Presbytery of New York. Wherever he preached, crowds would gather, “overflowing congregations hung in rapture on his lips, and were melted down under the power of his eloquence.” Not since Whitefield had one so young made such an impression in this country.

It was at about this time that the Church began to sense the strong need of the Gospel in Louisiana. The claims of Christ Jesus had barely ever been proclaimed in New Orleans. One stalwart pioneer, a Rev. Cornelius, had done spade work, preparing the way, but he had no fixed connection with the city. For the true advance of the Gospel there, the work required someone committed to the people of the city. Larned was selected for that work. Ordained as an evangelist, he began his journey south.

“On his first arrival in that city, a general and unprecedented interest was awakened by his preaching; and everything seemed to indicate that Providence had sent him there to produce a great revolution in the character of New Orleans. The uncommon majesty with which he exhibited the truths of the Gospel, the almost magic power by which he entranced and rivetted his hearers, drew after him a multitude composed of all classes, from the highest to the lowest in society.” Soon influential people stepped forward to call him as their pastor, to commit to his support and to the building of a home for the new church.

In those years, the summers were known as the sickly season; those who could afford to, would vacate the city for healthier regions. But in 1820, Rev. Larned resolved to stay with the poor among his people, those who could not afford to flee the city. He resolved to die on the field of service if God so willed. Well into August of that year, Larned remained healthy, ministering to the sick and dying throughout the city. Then, on the last Sunday of that month, a day of public humiliation and prayer, Larned met with his people in the morning, and again in the afternoon, but by the close of the day, he had been laid low by the fever. It broke his strength, and on August 31st, 1820, the Rev. Sylvester Larned breathed his last. “When the delirium of death was not on him, he was firm and collected. When most aware of his danger, he was most assured of his Saviour’s presence and power…”

Words to Live By:
As we read through some of the accounts of the life of Sylvester Larned, his tremendous powers of persuasion are a common focal point of these accounts. That can be quite troubling, for we know that true spirituality depends not on clever words, but upon spiritual reality. So it is reassuring to read in one account that “When he first appeared as a Minister of the Gospel, he was led to bestow too much attention on what he thought most likely to attract the mass of men; we allude to his style of writing, and mode of illustrating divine truth. But when he became a settled pastor, he found that eloquence would not feed his people. A great revolution immediately took place in his style of instruction. He became more plain, more didactic, and evangelical; and the consequence was, that while they who had been attracted by human power, were displeased, the sheep of the fold found more of that food which came down from above.”

Trivia: Did you note that the Rev. Sylester Larned was born and died on the same calendar day? That sort of thing is actually a rather rare occurrence.

A Great Blessing of the Great Awakening

In these devotionals before, we have written several times on the ministry of David Brainerd to the native Americans in the land.  Some of you may be familiar with the work of John Eliott among the same people in pre-Revolutionary days.  Others of early Christianity, including many Presbyterian clergy, saw in their existence an opportunity to spread the gospel.  But no where was there such a ray of hope than in the person and work of the Rev. Samuel Occom, a native American himself.

Born in 1743, of the Mohegan tribe, he was one of the first converts from among the native American tribes during the First Great Awakening.  It was said that his mother had first come to knowledge of Christ herself after contact with the revivalist preachers of the New Side Presbyterians.  Then Samuel Occom himself, at age 16, came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through the ministry of a Great Awakening preacher named Davenport.

Samuel sought out a Congregational minister  by the name of Eleazar Wheelock for the purpose of being discipled by him.  The latter had an Indian classical school in his own home.  Samuel entered Wheelock’s school and stayed there four years, studying the biblical languages as well as theology.  He began to minister to his own people in New England and Long Island.  While in Long Island, he married a Christian Indian, and to this couple, ten children were born.

On August 30, 1759, Samuel Occom was ordained to the gospel ministry by the Presbytery of Long Island.  His trial sermon was given on Psalm 72:9, “They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.”   It was received and  he was received as a Presbyterian minister.

With the purpose of raising support for Rev. Wheelock’s Indian charity school, Samuel Occom went to England, where he took the nation by storm.  Thousands came to hear this converted Indian minister, with the result that 12,000 pounds were raised for the Indian school. Even the king of England gave a large amount of funds.  Samuel Occum preached over 300 sermons while in England.

Upon arriving back in the colonies, events began to sour considerably.  Promises of support for Samuel’s family while he was absent from them were not fulfilled. Further, plans to establish an Indian school were dropped, with the money raised from the trip going to support an all-white school.  That later school is known today as the Ivy League educational institution, Dartmouth College.  It is said, given the circumstances, that Samuel could be listed as a co-founder of Dartmouth.  Samuel Occom, however,  was decidedly against the beginning of this ninth educational facility in the colonies, as it was taking money away from the strengthening of an all-Indian school.

Samuel Occom went up to New York and established the first Christian Indian settlement known as Brothertown, New York.  It later was moved to Wisconsin.  Samuel Occom went to be with the Lord on July 14, 1792.

Words to live by:  The early Presbyterians in our country had a desire to see the first inhabitants of America become Christians and reach their own people with the gospel.  The fruition of this desire was seen in Samuel Occom.  However, they could have treated their new converts is a better way. Certainly, what the Rev. Wheelock did to Occam was born out of sinful covetousness and theft, both directly forbidden in the tenth and eight commandments of the moral law.  The latter should have been disciplined by his church for those sins.  That Samuel Occom continued to minister after that in evangelism, is remarkable and a testament to the saving grace which was in his life.

What a Novel Idea!

This contributor has been involved in several church plants himself as well as participating in Presbytery church planting efforts in the Presbyterian Church in America.  So when a mission church, or for that matter, an organized church begins anew in a new building, there can be no better beginning service than that of a prayer meeting.   And yet that is exactly what happened in West Chester, Pennsylvania on August 29, 1956.  Moving into a new structure for their smaller congregation, the first service was a prayer meeting.

And to be sure, united prayer before the Sovereign God was needed for that Pennsylvania congregation. For that very same year, the national denomination of the Bible Presbyterian Church had a sizeable schism which could very easily have weakened what God’s Spirit  had already been accomplished in this city and church.  But God was faithful in giving wisdom to the congregation, enabling them to stay independent of the whole issue for a while.

The church had begun in 1938 as a core group of faithful and committed Christians left the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. over the apostasy in that once great church.  Beginning with just a nucleus of Christians, they were able to begin a church role of thirteen members, with help from pulpit supplies from Faith Theological Seminary.  They began as the Independent Church of West Chester.  One year later, they affiliated with the Bible Presbyterian Church.  Faithful pastors proclaimed the whole counsel of God and the church grew.  Evangelistic outreach was begun in the town, and people began to respond to the gospel.

Eventually, they affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which became the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. Since 1982, they became a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

Their allegiance to the Bible as God’s Word, inspired, inerrant, and infallible, remains the same since they began as a local church of Jesus Christ.

Words to live by:
There is a slogan which American business have often used, sometimes even painted  on the shell of a building, which said, “Build it, and they will come.”  That probably isn’t always the case, so it is more of a hope than anything else.  But in the framework of God’s church,  with the faithful proclamation of the Scriptures, the everlasting gospel, coupled with the sovereign God,  it is true, as this local church in West Chester Pennsylvania has experienced in the almost 75 years of its witness.  Praise  God for faithful churches, true to the faith once delivered unto the saints.

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

Q. 100. What doth the preface of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?

A. The preface of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, “Our Father which is in heaven,” teacheth us to draw near to God, with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us and that we should pray with and for others.

Scripture References: Isa. 64:9; Luke 11:13; Rom. 8:15; Eph. 6:1; Acts 12:5; Zech. 8:21.

Questions:

1. When we say “Our Father” in the prayer, are we speaking of one God the Father?

No, we are speaking of the triune God. The Father is mentioned but the Son and the Holy Spirit are included because they are the same in essence.

2. Is it possible for everyone to pray this prayer?

No, it is a prayer that only those who are believers are able to pray. It is only those who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them because of their relationship to Jesus Christ that can call out “Our Father” and sincerely mean it.

3. What can we be taught from the words “Our Father” in the prayer?

We can be taught that we can address our Lord with an attitude that is likened (though deeper) to the attitude of a child towards his earthly father. It is an attitude of love, adoration, and delight.

4. Why is it important for us to know God is in heaven?

It is important for us as by this we can direct our prayers to Him away from the cares of this world and to expect our blessings from above. It should also teach us to be careful of our attitude toward God that it is a holy attitude and an attitude of carefulness of our words directed toward Him. (Ecclesiastes 5:2).

5. Should we not remember that the preface contains the word “Our” as we pray?

Yes, we should remember this constantly. This should teach us to pray with and for others. It should remind us that we are “one in Christ Jesus” and that we are not alone no matter what our trouble or difficulty might be here on earth.

ELEMENTARY PRAYER

One of the difficulties of the prayer life on the part of many is that they attempt some of the more advanced patterns of prayer before becoming well-versed in elementary prayer. What is elementary prayer? The simple procedure of making of requests and giving thanks.

There are higher patterns of prayer. There are such things as adoration, communion, spiritual warfare, intercession and contemplation. But so many times the young believer–and many times the believer of many years–will attempt some of these higher patterns, become discouraged, and the prayer life will continue to suffer. How can we train ourselves to reach the higher patterns some day?

One of the simple methods is to keep a “Prayer Card” in your pocket or in your Bible or in your purse and keep an orderly list of things for which you can pray. As new things come to your attention, add them and you will be amazed at how your list will grow. You will also be amazed at the increases in urgency in prayer on your part.

This urgency in prayer is one of our greatest needs. So many times we seem to feel we can only pray when we are in the right mood. We should remember that our Sovereign God knows all about our moods and will give us the grace, as we cast ourselves on Him, to rise above our moods and be regular and urgent in our prayer lives.

Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman tells the story of Praying Hyde (John Nelson Hyde) coming to his room for prayer. Dr. Chapman stated, “He came up to my room, turned the key in the door, dropped on his knees, waited five minutes without a single syllable coming from his lips. I could hear my own heart thumping and his beating. I knew I was with God. Then with upturned face, down which tears streamed, he broke out with, ‘O, God!’ For five minutes he was still again. When he knew that he was talking with God, there came from the depths of his heart such petitions for men as I have never heard before. I rose from my knees knowing what real prayer is.”

We need more Praying Hydes today. Will you join with me with some elementary prayer? (Luke 18:1).

Published by The Shield and Sword, Inc.
Dedicated to instruction in the Westminster Standards for use as a bulletin insert or other methods of distribution in Presbyterian churches.

Vol. 7, No. 4 (April 1968)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor.

A Sermon Containing Scriptural Instructions to Civil Rulers …”
by Samuel Sherwood (Aug 31, 1774)                     

Samuel Sherwood (1730-1783) was a graduate of Yale and Princeton (at the time led by his uncle Aaron Burr), who pastored in Weston (CT) from 1757 to his death in 1783. Next to this sermon, his other published sermon (also of political import) was his sermon, “The Church’s Flight into the Wilderness” (see the earlier sermon in this series here).

Delivered on a Connecticut Fast Day in 1774, the full title of this sermon flies the flag: “A sermon, containing Scriptural instructions to civil rulers, and all free-born subjects. In which the principles of sound policy and good government are established and vindicated; and some doctrines advanced and zealously propagated by New-England Tories, are considered and refuted.” It also includes “an appendix, stating the heavy grievances the colonies labour under from several late acts of the British Parliament, and shewing what we have just reason to expect the consequences of these measures will be” by the Rev. Ebenezer Baldwin, of Danbury.

Sherwood’s text was Acts 22:28 (followed by two quotes from Cicero), and he humbly considered his work a “poor mite” in the public discourse. His initial hope was that “our charter and birth right privileges may be taken from us; that we may be ruled by the iron rod of oppression, and chained down to eternal slavery and bondage.” He cheers on the patriots and others who were recently awakened by tragic events in Boston (and elsewhere). This burgeoning patriotism “if duly regulated by Christian principles and rules, ensure success to American liberty and freedom,” he thought, would deliver the colony. He thought, “No free state was ever yet enslaved and brought into bondage, where the people were incessantly vigilant and watchful; and instantly took the alarm at the first addition made to the power exercised over them.—They are those only of the tribes of Issachar, who keep in profound sleep; and like strong and stupid asses, couch down between heavy burdens; that insensibly sink into abject slavery and bondage. It is a duty incumbent upon us at all times, to keep a watchful attention to our interests; (especially in seasons of peril and danger,) to watch and pray that we fall not.” At the same time, he called for good order and for men to work within “their own proper spheres,” eschewing anarchy.

While his listeners had been well-steeped in apostolic doctrine (to fear God and honor the King, 1 Peter 2:16), Sherwood also warned against being deceived by corrupt leaders. Some, he warned, “may have the advantage of others, in their tendency to promote these Christian and political virtues; yet I believe there may be mean, base and mercenary wretches in every profession, who for one sweet delicious morsel to themselves, might be tempted to sell their country with all its liberties and privileges, as profane Esau sold his birth-right.”

Appealing to 2 Samuel 23:3 (perhaps the most cited political text of the era), Sherwood rejected jure divino political governance. Since human societies, he suggested, were based on voluntary compacts, those same societies were free to form their own laws. While God’s government is fixed, various nations were free to design their own political forms. Notwithstanding, those same societies also had the right to expect their rulers to live up to certain standards (as per 2 Sam. 23:3). Specifically, he announced his outline as:

  1. Consider[ing] the necessity and importance of justice in civil rulers.
  2. Show[ing] that the fear of the Lord is the proper, effectual principle, to influence such to the observation and practice of justice.

On that first heading, Sherwood argued: “Was the doctrine true, That all property is vested in the king, or chief rulers; and that they can do no wrong to their subjects: Such scripture precepts and directions from the sovereign Ruler of the world as that in my text, would be entirely needless and impertinent; and seem, on this supposition, to argue his want of wisdom and knowledge, on this important subject.” THAT rulers could err and become corrupt—call it the fallibility of governors—Sherwood thought, called for a distributed government that would maintain some accountability. Public character standards were thought to be appropriate. Eternal standards of justice and righteousness were applicable to rulers, who were “the ministers of God, instituted and ordained to attend continually unto this very thing; and in both these capacities, they must be just.”

In a familiar catechism, justice was to be seen:

  • In the making of laws (here and elsewhere Sherwood called for non-sectarian legislation), and;
  • In how they perform their office—not only were laws to be theoretically just, but the implementation of the laws was to be just.

Notwithstanding, “the fear of the Lord,” he preached, “is the proper, effectual principle to influence civil rulers to the exact observance of justice.” After these principles were addressed, Sherwood included an extended set of applications or “improvements,” which included:

  • A thankful praise for God’s providence—“The bigger part of the world have had their liberties wrested out of their hands; been opprest and enslaved by lawless and cruel tyrants: while we are yet in the possession of freedom.”
  • As a correlate of public happiness, he stressed the “importance is it, that civil rulers be men of uprightness and integrity; men of real piety and religion; who fear the Lord, and keep up a proper awe and reverence of him upon their minds.”
  • A reminder that the Glorious Revolution supported the principle of governmental fallibility.
  • Sherwood identified a major “disadvantage” and sign of tyranny that “commerce, and the means of increasing our wealth and riches, are obstructed and great loss and damages sustained; and at the same time, public charges increased, in supporting agents, and commissioners to consult, and look out a way of safety and deliverance for us.” Further, he lamented:

WE are further threatened with being deprived of all our civil privileges, and brought under a most cruel, arbitrary and tyrannical kind of government. The scheme of government planned out for Boston, is in its whole frame and constitution, completely despotic and arbitrary. The will of the chief ruler is law; and the subject holds his estate, and even life, only during his pleasure. This arbitrary government will, no doubt, be carried to its greatest extent through all the American colonies, and exercised in all its terrors and cruelties upon them, if the present ministry are permitted to carry the point they are contending for, in such a sanguine manner.

Several of his thoughts are worth heeding. He appealed for a Protestant unity in view of the present state, “notwithstanding lesser differences among them; that we may stand or fall together: and not be devoured one of another; nor become an easy prey to foreign enemies who may seek our ruin.” He further asked for perspective: “What are those things worth, that alienate people’s affections, and cause divisions; in comparison to our dear liberties and privileges that are endangered hereby?” He cautioned again a “party-spirit” that would weaken the nation or lead to an infatuation that might “blind [us] to our own interest, and that of our children’s, as to pursue measures that are destructive of it?”

Accordingly, he urged his listeners to set aside their passion and prejudice in favor of the common welfare, not meddling with any distractions that carried “the rankest poison.” “Let our country’s interest, glory and prosperity,” he cheered, “be uppermost in our hearts, and use our best endeavours for the advancement of it. Let all strength center and unite in this grand point. Let us remember, this in the common interest of all the colonies; and that each particular inhabitant is concerned herein and must expect to share the fate, in some degree, of the body he is connected with. If the foundation of our public liberties and privileges be overturned, all will be affected, and must expect to suffer in the sad ruin. . . .” He concluded with this stirring rhetoric:

Let us act on principles of moderation, candor and charity; and endeavour in meekness of wisdom to instruct those that oppose themselves, and their country’s good; and recover them to the paths of truth. Let us prize and well improve our privileges, and use our influence to promote the public good. . . . We want wise, steady, judicious rulers in such a day as this; men of sterling integrity and real religion. It is of importance that all orders of men be faithful in their several departments, for defending and promoting the public good. Let us keep stedfastly fixed in the good old principles of our fathers, and cheerfully take our lot and portion one with another; saying as Ruth to Naomi, Whether thou goest, I will go; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. The Lord’s hand has been very conspicuous in the first settlement, and past preservation of these plantations: He will take care of the generation of the righteous; and break the yoke of their oppressors; and give them peace and happiness. Blessed are the people that are under his care and conduct; yea, blessed are the people whose God is the Lord. AMEN.

This sermon is posted on line at: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N10741.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext. It is also available in Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998) and in my 2012 Election Sermons.

By Dr. David W. Hall, Pastor
Midway Presbyterian Church

For others like this order a copy of Twenty Messages to Consider Before Voting from Reformation Heritage Books.

 

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