December 2016

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“Remember, it is not hasty reading, but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul…It is not he that reads most , but he that meditates most, that will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.”

 

The daily reading of the Bible should be the regular, consistent practice of every Christian. The Bible is the very Word of God to His children and it is essential for our growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ our Savior.

We know this, and yet the reading of the Bible seems to be a great difficulty for many Christians. Various plans have been developed over the years to accomplish an annual reading through the whole Bible. Robert Murray McCheyne’s plan is perhaps the most famous of these, though there are many others. For years now here at This Day in Presbyterian History we have had links to McCheyne’s plan and others posted on a page of this blog (see “Reading Plans” in the masthead).

But too often it proves difficult to stick with these plans. For one, you have to keep track of the reading guide itself. A printed guide tends to get lost somewhere around the time we’re moving into Exodus and Mark in our reading and so we never get beyond Genesis and Matthew. Web-based reading plans eliminate that excuse of course, until a computer isn’t available.

But the bigger problem is that our reading can become perfunctory—something we labor to check off our daily “To Do” list. That seems to be what really kills our heart to keep after a regular reading through the Bible. We’ve moved from reading because we want to, over to reading because we have to.

As you look ahead to 2017 and consider again how you will approach your reading of the Bible, I’d like to suggest a different way to go about it : 

(1) The 260 Plan — Rather than have a plan guide that you have to consult every day to keep your place, this approach takes advantage of the fact that there are 260 chapters in the New Testament and that there are 260 weekdays in a year. So under this plan, you simply read one chapter of the New Testament each day of the year.

You might bolster this reading by following the instruction of Deuteronomy 11:19 : “when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” In other words, read the day’s chapter when you rise in the morning, when you sit down for a meals, and at the end of the day before bedtime. This way, the repeated exposure to the same content throughout the day gets us closer to the goal expressed by Thomas Brooks, when he said:

“Remember, it is not hasty reading, but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul…It is not he that reads most , but he that meditates most, that will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.”

That’s my hope, that with a smaller chunk of reading—a single chapter per weekday—that we will take more time to think about what we’re reading, meditating on those “holy and heavenly truths.”

Then, to complete your reading of the entire Bible, on the weekends read 8 or 9 chapters from the Old Testament on Saturdays and Sundays. You will typically have more time available for reading on the weekends, and it doesn’t take all that long to read that amount.

The only other suggestion that I would have would be to discipline yourself to start your day in the Word of God and in prayer. Do it before the other duties of the day intrude. Your email will wait thirty minutes; it simply isn’t that urgent. What is urgent is that you draw near to the Lord.

Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee. – Psalm 119:11

O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. – Psalm 119:97

God’s provision : The promised Messiah, the sovereign Savior of a chosen people. 

Luke 2:1-20

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

The Lady Who Saved Christmas
by David T. Myers

For our post today, we go away from the remembrance of some Presbyterian and Reformed person, place, and event to think on The Lady Who Saved Christmas. This title was taken from a commentary of the Rev. Dale Ralph Davis on the Old Testament History book, Second Kings, published by Christian Focus, of Ross-shire, Scotland, United Kingdom. And yes, permission was sought and given by both the author and the publisher to quote portions for this day’s post.

Dale Ralph Davis writes on page 159 that “God made the coming of his kingdom – and therefore of Christmas – depend on a promise he made, and he placed that promise, openly exposed, in all the turbulence and upheaval of human history. Sometimes we call that promise the Davidic covenant, as when Yahweh assured David ‘Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.’ (2 Samuel 7:16) Hence David’s line of kings, the ‘Davidic pipeline’, would never bite the dust, and, eventually, the future David, the messianic King, would bring this line to its awesome climax. The kingdom of Israel divided, however, and David’s line reigned over a postage-stamp sized kingdom called Judah, and there the days came about 840 BC when it looked like there wouldn’t ever be any Christmas and history would be Messiah-less.”

The author goes on in this chapter to describe the rampage of Queen Athaliah’s mystery of murder on Judah’s royal family, seeking to destroy all the royal seed of David’s line. She was successful with the exception of a baby named Joash, who with his caregiver, was rescued by the wife of the high priest, a courageous woman named Jehosheba. It is all recorded in 2 Kings 11:1 – 3 (read). The high priest’s stole the infant out of the palace and relocated him in a bedroom in the house of the Lord, thus preserving this last remaining royal seed. Seven years later, he was placed on the throne of Judah to reign with the help of a godly counselor. Here truly is the Lady Who Saved Christmas.

We learn first, The Huge Significance of Unsung Servants. I mean, who has ever heard of Jehosheba before? She is not mentioned again in Scripture. The promise of God to keep David’s line is hanging by a thread, and up steps this priest’s wife. The LORD could have sent twelve legions of angels to save the royal line, but He had Jehosheba in place at the right time and the right place.

Maybe no one has heard of you, dear reader. You, as a Christian, are in a small town, or small church. There may not be many who cheer you on in the Lord’s work. But God takes notice. As a Christian parent, Dale Ralph Davis noted on page 173, “you have responsibility over the church in your house, where you are meant to serve as prophet, priest, and king. As prophet you teach the word of God to your children, as priest you intercede and wrestle in prayer for t hem, and as king you rule over them with proper discipline and protection. . . . Don’t tell me your kingdom service doesn’t matter.”

In addition, Dale Ralph Davis sees The Subversive Presence of Yahweh’s Kingdom in verse 3 of Second Kings 11, which tells us that Joash was with Jehosheba for six years when the wicked queen was ruling over the land. There is the illegitimate kingdom of Athaliah and the secret existence of the true king, Joash, in God’s kingdom with Jehosheba. Queen Athaliah never even imagines that there is a potential king hidden away in the temple.

We have another instance of this same situation in Philippians 4:22. Paul is giving his greetings and mentions that even the saints of “Caesar’s household” greets the readers of the inspired letter. Saints in Caesar’s household? We are not given their names by the apostle for wise reasons, but God, the true emperor, has his servants even at this pivotal location. As Dale Davis comments, “in one sense, Caesar is the lord, but actually they have begun to serve a different Lord.” (p. 175)

Last, we must try to See God’s Hand at Work Long Before Luke 2. If Athaliah had had her way, as Dr. Davis comments on pg 180, “there would’ve been no angels or shepherds or swaddling clothes or good news of great joy.” As a result of Johosheba’s intervention, David’s line continued through Joash, and 850 years later, Jesus was born in Bethlehem as a descendant of David and yes, Joash, after the flesh, to save His people from their sins.

Words to Live By:
On this evening, some, if not many of you, will attend a Christmas eve celebration at your Presbyterian church. It is a traditional service, with the singing of Christmas carols and the simple retelling of the Christmas story. Some congregations will light candles at the close, and sing Silent Night. Others may sing enthusiastically “Go, Tell it on the Mountain, that Jesus Christ is born,” by the lights of the many candles filling the church sanctuary. It will be a joyous time of worship.

Dear Reader: With Christmas falling on the Lord’s Day, resist the temptation to stay home with your family from your church worship, but instead make it a part of your Christmas Day. Keep Christ in Christmas is more than a slogan. Make it a practical part of your Christmas holiday!

Many 19th-century Presbyterians opposed the practice of slavery. Reformed Presbyterians, while comparatively small in number as a denomination, were notable for being uniformly and resolutely opposed to it.  

The Reformed Presbyterian Argument Against Slavery

Bring up the name of Henry Van Dyke and some might remember the “moderate liberal” who left the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton, New Jersey rather than sit under the preaching of J. Gresham Machen. Some might also know this same Henry Van Dyke as a noted author in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an author whose books were also beautifully bound works of art.

vandykeHJSrBut that was the son, Henry Jackson Van Dyke, Jr. [1852-1933]. Today we start by looking at Henry’s father, Henry Jackson Van Dyke, Sr. [1822-1891, pictured at right]. He was an otherwise orthodox man who served for many years as pastor of the Presbyterian church in Brooklyn, New York. While the son was a prolific author, the father’s published works were primarily sermons and addresses.

Regrettably, Rev. Van Dyke is remembered today, if he is remembered at all, for an infamous sermon in which he attempted to defend the practice of slavery. That sermon was delivered on December 9, 1860, and it was titled “The Character and Influence of Abolitionism.” Perhaps it was the shock of a Northern pastor saying such things, but the sermon gained instant notoriety. Van Dyke’s sermon reduces to four main points: 

1. Abolitionism has no foundation in the Scriptures.
2. Its principles have been promulgated by misrepresentation and abuse.
3. It leads, in multitudes of cases, and by a logical process, to utter infidelity.
4. It is the chief cause of the strife that agitates and the danger that threatens our country.”

sloaneJRWSo much for Rev. Van Dyke’s sermon. It serves to introduce you today to the review and rebuttal delivered just a few weeks later, on this day, December 23d, in 1860, by the Rev. J.R.W. Sloane, D.D., [pictured here on the left], who was at that time pastor of the Third Reformed Presbyterian church of New York City. Rev. Sloane later served as professor of theology in the Reformed Presbyterian seminary at Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, from 1868-1886.

The full discourse by Rev. Sloane is too long to reproduce here. But to focus on just the first portion of his review, here is the heart of his reply to Van Dykes first contention, edited for length. He begins: 

1. There is no word in the Hebrew language for slave, none for slavery. There is a word for servant, and one for servitude, but no word like our word slavery, denoting a condition of involuntary servitude; no specific term that expresses that form of relation between man and man. Had slavery been a divine institution, as Mr. Van Dyke argues, surely there would have been a word to express the idea specifically. The fact that there is no such word is a strong presumption that there was no such thing.

2. There is no account in the Old Testament of any permission for the sale by one person to another, of a third who was allowed no voice nor will in the transaction; no such transaction is recorded; on the contrary, all such traffic in human flesh, in “slaves and souls of men,” was absolutely prohibited; it never was attempted except in direct violation of the law, and never failed to bring down upon the people the withering curse of Heaven. There was no purchase of men, except from themselves, by voluntary contract for a specified sum, for a definite time, known and agreed upon by the parties; there were no slave-hunts in other countries for a supply of servants; there was not a single barracoon on the borders; there were no slave-pens in the cities –no auction blocks, upon which men, women, and children might be placed and sold to the highest bidder in all the land. You might have passed through all the tribes from Dan to Beersheba, without ever meeting a coffle of slaves!

3. The special statute designed to prevent this crime, “He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death,” (Exod. 21:16) forever brands with the stamp of God’s reprobation and curse American slavery, and rendered the practice of such an iniquity in the Jewish Commonwealtth impossible.

4. The law for the fugitive rendered involuntary servitude in the Hebrew Commonwealth impossible–“Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee; he shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best; thou shalt not oppress him.” (Deut. 23:15)

5. The law of Jubilee rendered slavery impossible among the chosen people. “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” No limitation, no restriction; the Jubilee was glorious, because it was a proclamation of liberty to all without distinction; but if it had no reference to the foreign-born servant, it would have been a farce, a mockery, for all Hebrew servants went out at any rate by the law of their service. Mr. Van Dyke affirms that there was no jubilee for the heathen servant, nor for the Hebrew whose ear was bored. The idea, as it relates to the latter, is too absurd to be tolerated for a moment. Is it to be supposed that any man who possessed common sense would, merely because he loved his master, consign himself, wife, children, and children’s children, to the latest generation, to a hopeless bondage?–or, that God would have enacted a law which would have permitted such injustice to arise from such folly? The truth is, that the term forever, in this connection, is idiomatic, and means only to the year of jubilee. The very nature of the regulations as to land and property make this certain. The argument is fully elaborated in the larger works upon this subject. If any thing can be made clear, this has been, that the jubilee was a proclamation throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof; and that the first notes which pealed form every hill-top of Judea, on the first morning of this auspicious year, proclaimed to all servants the termination of their servitude. What a moral obliquity does it argue to find a man desirous to construe every passage in which there is room for a doubt, in favor of this atrocity! I do not wonder that a distinguished man said of such characters, that their god was hisdevil.

6. The whole nature of the covenant which God made with Israel was for the security of freedom and justice to all, not for the establishment of a hateful tyranny . . .  “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” “Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger, for ye know the heart of a stranger seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” “Thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger. For I am the Lord thy God.” “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, thou shalt love him as thyself, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Lev. 19:33). 

7. I do assert, notwithstanding Mr. Van Dyke’s disclaimer, that the argument for polygamy, the twin sister of slavery, is stronger than for slavery. I can assure him that the day is not far distant when his arguments for oppression will be as abhorrent to all right-thinking men, as those of Brigham Young for the accursed system which he has established in Utah. Polygamy was tolerated, slavery was not.

8. Were we to grant all that these men claim for the system which prevailed in the Jewish Commonwealth, they would be as far from having found any justification of American slavery as ever. They must needs show the same divine warrant as they suppose the Jews to have possessed. They must take all the laws and regulations with it; for in cases of divine authority it will not do to select; all must go together. But how long would American slavery last under those laws?

They would pierce it through and through in a thousand directions. Their enactment would be equivalent to immediate emancipation. American slavery could not live a day under single enactments relating to Hebrew servitude. Give the American slave about three-sevenths or one-half of his time, as was given to the servants among God’s people, and how much would slave property be worth in the South?

But what sort of slavery is it for which Mr. Van Dyke pleads? He can not in accordance with his Presbyterian principles (belief in the unity of the race, descent from Adam, and representation through him,) put it on the ground of diversity of color and inferiority of race. Either of these positions would overthrow his entire system of belief–he knows that God hath made of one blood all nations of men. The logical consequence of his plea then is for the enslaving of the white, as much as the black; but would he dare to say this? What is the ground of right on which he plants himself? This he has not told us. [We?] would be curious to hear an explanation of this point.

Some thirty pages later Rev. Sloane concludes his review with these words, wise words for any time:

This is my answer to the charges, arguments, statements, and perversions of this remarkable discourse, a discourse which marks the lowest point that the northern pulpit has ever reached. Yet I rejoice that it has been preached. It will open blind eyes, and carry its own refutation where my words can never reach. Moreover, I am relieved at the thought that we have touched bottom–there is surely no lower deep.

But, I am asked, what is my remedy for present evils? . . . My remedy is, to stand firm, refuse all compromise, do our whole duty, think, speak, act, just as at other times, and leave the men who make the trouble to furnish the remedy; timidity, not firmness, has been the curse of every great and good cause in which it has been permitted to enter.

Be patient, forbearing, forgiving, kind, this is Christ-like, is divine; seek the best interests–the highest good–of all; but do not swerve a hair’s breadth from the path of duty, for the sake of averting evils which, like the stone of Sisyphus, must evermore return to plague and molest us. . .  This is the hour in which God and Liberty expect every man to do his duty, assured that, as always under the Divine guidance and protection, the path of duty will be found to be the path of safetyAmen.

[emphasis added]

For Further Study:

Review of Rev. Henry J. Van Dyke’s discourse on “The character and influence of abolitionism,” a sermon preached in the Third Reformed Presbyterian Church, Twenty-third Street, New York, on Sabbath evening, December 23, 1860

Life and work of JRWSloane, D. D., professor of theology in the Reformed Presbyterian seminary at Allegheny City, Penn. 1868-1886 and pastor of the Third Reformed Presbyterian church, New York, 1856-1868

The character and influence of abolitionism. A sermon preached in the First Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, on Sabbath evening, Dec. 9th, 1860. by Henry Jackson Van Dyke [1822-1891].

Your life preaches all the week. What do others hear?

He Gained the Martyr’s Crown
by David T. Myers

The enemies of the Covenanters had very long memories. Long after sermons were preached or actions taken, the authorities in Scotland remembered words and actions against them. Such was the case with a young minister by the name of Hugh McKail.

A child of the manse, from Bothwell, Scotland, his pastor father was one of those forced out of his pulpit and parish when he refused to conform to Prelacy.  Little is known of young Hugh’s early days, but he did go to Edinburgh for education. There he was soon marked out as a young man of exceptional ability. For that, upon graduation, he was chosen to be a chaplain and tutor of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir James Stewart. In that Covenanter home, he would sit at the feet of those in leadership positions in the church and learn of the dire situation facing both the church and the state.

In 1661, he applied to the Presbytery for licensure in the ministry. Preaching in a variety of situations, he was quickly recognized by his hearers for his great ability in the Word of God. However, his ministry soon came to an end as it became obvious that he wouldn’t compromise his convictions, just as his father before him.  Preaching his last sermon in a church in Edinburgh, he had a sentence in it which marked him for remembrance by the Prelate forces of his day. He said, “the Church is persecuted by a Pharaoh on the throne, a Haman in the State, and a Judas in the Church.” The identification was obvious to all in the pews that day.

Forced to leave his beloved Scotland, the young twenty-six year old would spend the next three years in Holland. On his return to Scotland, the situation had not improved any and there was a spark of rebellion in the air. That spark was ignited, as a prior post here, one November 28th indicated, at the Battle of Rullion Green. Hugh McKail was among the nine hundred in the Covenanter ranks that day. But his own physical weakness removed him before that great battle arrived, and he traveled to Edinburgh instead. There he was arrested by the authorities, not so much for his Covenanter attachments as for his statement made in that Edinburgh church some years before.

Interrogated in prison, he was placed in the Boot, a fearful torture device which all but crushed his leg while he remained silent in voice. He was ordered to die by hanging on December 22, 1666. His exact words that day of death have been preserved through the ages. They were:

Farewell father, mother, friends, and relations; Farewell the world and its delights; farewell meat and drink; farewell sun, moon, and starts; Welcome God and Father; welcome sweet Jesus Christ the mediator of the New Covenant; welcome blessed Spirit of grace, the God of all consolation; welcome glory, welcome eternal life; welcome death!  Into Thy Hands I commit my spirit.”

Words to Live By:
Could Hugh McKail have compromised his convictions and avoided suffering and death? Certainly, and many did. But this young man  was reared by a parent who by his example remained steadfast to the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. With such an example like that, it is no wonder the young minister was given over to sacrifice, in loyalty to both the Living and Written Word, come what may to his physical body. Addressing all parents reading these posts on Presbyterian history: Your life preaches all the week. Are those in your family being helped or hindered to follow the Living and Written Word?

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