June 2017

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Just a few days ago, we looked briefly at the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Francis Herron, and so today we present the sermon delivered by the Rev. William M. Paxton, in 1861, on the occasion of Dr. Herron’s death. In good 19th-century fashion, the sermon is in places somewhat flowery to modern sensibilities. Still, it  provides a good example of an appropriate sermon for a significant pastor, one who was greatly used of the Lord.

My Father, My Father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof.“–2 Kings 2:12.

Never, perhaps, had the name Father been uttered in deeper grief, or with warmer affection.

Elijah, the Prophet Father and Elisha, the Prophet Son, were bound together  by no ordinary ties of endearment. When it became manifest to the old Prophet that he must ere long retire from his sacred office, and i was indicated as the will of God that Elisha should fill his place, Elijah sought him, and, throwing his own mantle upon him, indicated and installed him as his successor. Accordingly, Elisha bade farewell to the home of his youth, and crossed the mountains of Gilead to take part in the ministry of the old Prophet, and to comfort and cheer him with the ready offices of kindness and affection. From that time they lived and labored together in the intimacy of a harmonious fellowship and reciprocated attachment. It was no ordinary friendship that bound them to each other. They had one interest, one aim, one motive, one sphere of blessed, holy, consecrated action; but deeper than this was the affinity of congenial temperament, the unity of kindred sympathies, the harmony of feeling strung to the same key; and deeper still, the affiance of grace, the common experience of the love of God, and the endearing intimacy of spiritual fellowship and communion which bound them together, heart and soul–wedding age and youth with a bond of perfectness.

The life of Elijah was spared longer than he seemed at first to anticipate. It was doubtless so ordered in mercy to Elisha. He needed the experience of age to direct him, and the wisdom and instructions of the old Prophet to prepare and mature him for his future responsibilities. For a period of about ten years this happy association and co-operation in the work of God continued; but now at last the time arrived when they must part, Elijah to ascend into glory, and Elisha to bear the responsibilities of the sacred office alone.

When it became known in the school of the Prophets at Jericho, that Elijah was about to finish his earthly course, it awakened such a painful interest among the young men in training there for the work of God, that a band of fifty followed after the two Prophets, as they took their course toward the Jordan, and ascending an eminence that overlooked the Valley, witnessed the sublime scene that followed. The Jordan parts before the stroke of Elijah’s mantle, and now they stand upon the opposite shore–the Prophet Father and the Prophet Son in their last act of earthly communion. Elijah with an overflowing heart, tells Elisha to present now his last request: “Ask what I shall do for thee before I am taken away from thee.” Elisha had no difficulty in fixing upon his request. One great thought now filled his mind–anxiety about the cause of God after Elijah was gone. Hence he instantly replies: “I pray thee let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.” But whilst they were talking, “behold there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses o fire, and parted them both asunder, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”

And now, Elisha stands alone. Oh, who can tell the solitary desolation of his spirit at that moment? The Friend, the Father, the Counsellor to whom he had always looked, is gone. He had never before been left to himself. Elijah had always been at his side. Did he need direction? Elijah was there. Had he a sorrow? Elijah’s heart was full of sympathy. Had he a joy? it was repeated in the joy of Elijah. But now, alas! he is alone, without his helper; solitary, without his comforter. With streaming eyes he follows the receding chariot, till his grief bursting into language he exclaims: “My Father, My Father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!” It was the expression of his own personal grief. It was the deep outgushing of a stricken heart–the sorrow of one who felt that his earthly comforts, stays and supports had all been severed in one sad blow. “The mantle of the ascending Prophet, loosed by an invisible hand, had fallen from his shoulders, and it floated down before him heavy laden with an official appointment, cast to him as it were out of the open heavens.” He felt, therefore, that he was not only alone, but alone under the weight of accumulated responsibilities. He was now to carry on the work of God single handed, to bear the burden of the sacred office without a helper, and added to all this, he had to assume the cares and responsibilities of instruction and government in the schools of the Prophets.

This is, therefore, the language of a heart greatly burdened, and pouring out in this single exclamation its great surge of responsibility and grief.

But to this language of personal sorrow, he adds also that of religious and patriotic lamentation: “THE CHARIOT OF ISRAEL AND THE HORSEMENT THEREOF.” The thought was evidently caught from the scene before him; and the idea is, that whilst Elijah had been to him a father, he had been to Israel, to the Church and the Nation, a chariot and a horseman. His labors and prayers had been of more value than military defences. He had done more by his counsels and intercessions for the protection and security of his country than chariots and horsemen. Whilst he had lost a Father, Israel had been bereaved of its strength and security. Hence he combines the expression of personal sorrow, with that of religious and national lamentation. He was bereft of a Father, the Church of a Prophet, and the nation of a Defender.

Now, my dear friends, all this is only too vividly realized in the bereavement that hangs this pulpit in mourning, and fills this church and community with sorrow.

This language of Elisha is only too apposite to the occasion. Whilst it describes by a remarkable coincidence, and with a striking minuteness of detail, the relation of the speaker to his departed Father and Counsellor, it is almost equally applicable to this whole assembly. He was the Father of this congregation—indeed of a whole family of congregations in and around these cities. The spiritual Father of multitudes here assembled, and perhaps the Father’s Father of many. The Father who witnessed your Father’s vows, and sprinkled upon you the water of baptism. The Father who instructed your childhood; solemnized your marriage covenant; received you into the family of Jesus; counseled at your fire-side; prayed with you in sickness, and brought comfort and tranquility amid the storms of affliction and bereavement. He was the aged Patriarch to whom this whole community did obeisance, and before whose venerable and majestic form even the stranger was ready to pause and say in Eastern phrase, “O King, live forever!” We may, therefore, adopt this language as the expression of our common sorrow, and as we look upward and trace the radiant pathway along which he passed to glory, exclaim, “My Father, My Father!

But we may also add, this expression of religious and patriotic grief: “THE CHARIOT OF ISRAEL AND THE HORSEMEN THEREOF!” for whilst we have lost a Father, the Church has lost an able Minister, a wise and influential Presbyter, venerable for character and office, well known in all Israel; and the nation a patriot citizen, who had caught the spirit of liberty fresh from his Revolutionary Sire, whose heart was true to the union of these States, and whose counsels and prayers in this day of our country’s danger would have been of more value than chariots and horsemen. We may all, therefore, like Elisha, mingling together our personal, our religious and patriotic lamentation, exclaim: “MY FATHER, MY FATHER, THE CHARIOT OF ISRAEL, AND THE HORSEMEN THEREOF!”

It may gratify our feelings of personal sorrow to recount the events of his life, and deepen our conviction of the loss which the Church and the Nation has sustained, to estimate his character and worth.

From here, Rev. Paxton turned to a narrative of the life of the Rev. Dr. Francis Herron.  Click here to continue reading his sermon. The remainder of the sermon continues from page 23 of the memorial.

Two Discourses upon The Life and Character of the Rev. Francis Herron, D.D., by the Rev. William M. Paxton, D.D., Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh. Preached and Published at the Request of the Board of Trustees and the Session of the Church. Pittsburgh: Robert S. Davis, No. 93 Wood Street, 1861. Press of W. G. Johnston & Co.

With a strong sense that this message might be a blessing today, we’re setting the calendar aside and presenting this message by the Rev. Harold Samuel Laird. Click the embedded link below to learn more about Rev. Laird, a Delaware pastor who was one of the stalwart confessional Presbyterians during the modernist controversy of the 1920s and 30s.

MAKING THE LORD OUR TRUST

Rev. Dr. Harold Samuel Laird

[The Independent Board Bulletin 7.6 (June-July 1941): 3-4.]

Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust.Psalm 40:4.

How many of us can honestly say “Amen” to the great truth set forth in this verse! We have tasted of the blessedness promised those who honestly make the Lord their trust. This blessedness is to many of us the more pronounced because it is in contrast to the anxiety and fear experienced before we learned to make Him our trust, and while we were making someone else or something else our trust.

It is quite possible that many have not yet made the Lord their trust simply because it is not clear to them just what this means. This word “trust” is the characteristic Old Testament word for the New Testament words “faith” and “belief,” being found more than one hundred and fifty times in our English Bibles, and many more times in its Hebrew forms throughout the Old Testament. A careful study of these Hebrew forms of the word “trust” will disclose that in their literal sense there are three which cover the entire period of the soul’s experience—past, present, and future.

There is the Hebrew word frequently rendered “trust” which literally translated means “to cast upon.” The very first picture that comes to one’s mind in connection with this thought is that of one weighed down with a heavy burden which is too much for him to bear. The heaviest burden mankind bears is the burden of sins unconfessed and unforgiven. There are other burdens such as poor health, financial troubles, or family difficulties, but none of these can compare in weight with the burden of sins unconfessed and unforgiven when conviction of sin is wrought in the soul by the Holy Ghost. It was unquestionably of this burden that the Lord Jesus was speaking when He extended His gracious invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This, is a call to discipleship, and discipleship involves first of all acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Saviour, the One who on Calvary’s tree bore in His own body our sins. Because He actually bore our sins there, He now is able graciously to invite us to cast the burden of them, however many or great they have been, upon Him. Thus we may trust Him for the past. The Word of God says, “Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust” in this sense. We have the same thought in Psalm 32:1: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”

Then there is the Hebrew word frequently rendered “trust” which literally translated means “to take refuge,” this with respect to the present. In this sense the word is used as a picture of one who in the hour of present trouble finds a refuge in the Lord. Such was David’s testimony in the forty-sixth Psalm, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” This was also the testimony of the man Moses at the very close of his long life of fellowship with God. Indeed it was almost the last word he spake, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

The third Hebrew word which is frequently rendered “trust” when literally translated means “to lean on,” this with respect to the future. This word we find used by the Psalmist in Psalm 56:3, as he looks to the future with its almost certain fearful experiences, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee,” or “I will lean upon thee.” Again in Psalm 37:5, “Trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” In Proverbs 29:25 we read, “Whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.” In Isaiah 26:3 we read, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee; because he trusteth in thee.” These are but a very few of the many passages where this word is thus used. In all of these we will note that the thought is directed toward the future.

“Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust,” simply because when one thus leans upon the Lord, anxiety and fear flee away. Some lean upon their possessions, others upon earthly friends, but only those who learn to lean upon the Lord experience the blessedness of peace which is freedom from anxiety.

Standing Against Conformity to the World

FRANCIS HERRON:
Born, in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, June 28, 1774.
Graduated, at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, May 5, 1794.
LIcensed to Preach, by the Presbytery of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, October 4, 1797.
Ordained to the ministry and Installed as Pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Rocky Spring, Franklin County, PA, April 9, 1809.
Removed to Pittsburgh, and Settled as Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, May, 1811.
Resigned his Pastoral Charge, December 1850.
Died, December 6, 1860.

So in short compass the life of a venerable Presbyterian divine, as it is summarized at the head of a slim volume issued in his memory. Rev. Herron’s life, it was said, was “a life of more than usual historic importance.”

herronFrancis_portrait1862Francis Herron was born near Shippensburg, Cumberland county, Pennsylvania, on June 28, 1774. He belonged to that honored and honorable race, the Scotch-Irish, memorable in the history of the world, but especially in our country, for a thorough devotion to evangelical truth and constitutional liberty. The training of his early years bore rich fruit at a subsequent period of his life, making him so eminent among his brethren as an effective preacher and an orthodox divine.

Receiving the careful training indicative of his parents high regard for knowledge, he entered Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA, then under the care of that distinguished Presbyterian, Rev. Dr. Nesbitt. Here he completed his classical course, and graduated May 5, 1794. The prayers of his pious parents were answered by the influence of grace upon his heart, and he was led to study for the ministry of reconciliation. He studied Theology under Robert Cooper, D.D., his pastor, and was licensed by Carlisle Presbytery, October 4, 1797.

He entered upon his Lord’s service as a missionary, going out into the backwoods, as it was then called, passing through Pittsburgh, Pa., then a small village, and extending his tour as far west as Chillicothe, Ohio. Stopping for the night at a tavern at Six Mile Run, near Wilkinsburg, Pa., the people prevailed upon him to stay till the following Sabbath, which he did, and under the shade of an apple tree this young disciple broke the bread of life to the people.

His journey resumed the next day, and with a frontier settler for his guide, he pushed on to his destination through an almost unbroken wilderness, his course often guided by the “blazes” upon the trees. Two nights he encamped with the Indians, who were quite numerous near what is now the town of Marietta, Ohio.

On his return from Chillicothe, Ohio, he visited Pittsburgh. The keeper of the tavern where he lodged, proved to be an old acquaintance, and at his request, he consented to preach. Notice was sent, and in the evening a small congregation of about eighteen persons assembled. The house he preached in was a rude structure, built of logs, occupying the site of the present First Presbyterian church. And such was the primitive style of that day, that during the services the swallows, who had their nests in the eaves, flew among the congregation.

At this time the churches in that portion of our country were visited with a season of refreshing grace, and Mr. Herron entered into the revival with all the ardor of youth filled with hopefulness and zeal. He preached for Rev. Dr. John McMillan at the Chartiers church, during a revival season. He also preached at the Buffalo church, where his fervid eloquence made a deep impression and the people presented him a call, and strongly urged it upon his attention. He however concluded to return to the vicinity of his home, especially, as a call from Rocky Spring church was awaiting him. This call he accepted, and he was ordained and installed as pastor of that church, by Carlisle Presbytery, April 9, 1800.

Some ten years later, he was invited to occupy the pulpit of the First Presbyterian church, then vacant by the recent death of Rev. Robert Steele.

The people were charmed with his discourse, his ripening intellect modified by that refined spirituality, which was a prominent element in his ministrations, had a powerful effect upon his audience. They urged him to preach for them a second time, which he did, the result was a unanimous call was made out and presented to him in the usual manner.

The Presbytery of Carlisle dissolved the relation that existed between Rocky Spring church and Mr. Herron, and he was dismissed to Redstone Presbytery, April 3, 1811, and he was installed pastor of the First Presbyterian church, Pittsburgh, PA, the following June. In a few weeks he removed with his family to his new home, travelling in a large wagon, with his wife, children, and all his household goods.

Francis Herron, D.D.He joined Redstone Presbytery June 18, 1811. The importance of his new position was fully and truly felt, the commercial importance of Pittsburgh had given all kinds of business an impetus, and prosperity was advancing rapidly; but this outward show referred only to worldly affairs, the religious condition of the people was cold and almost lifeless. The church to which he was called was embarrassed with debt, and the piety of the people manifested a degree of conformity to the world, which nearly appalled the preacher’s heart. But the experience of his ten years pastorate was to him invaluable, and girding himself, he entered upon his duties with a true heart and an earnest purpose. His preaching was the simple exposition of the truth as it is in Jesus, pointed, clear, and unwavering, revealing the enormity of sin and pleading with the fidelity of one who loved their souls. This style of preaching was sustained by his efforts to establish the prayer-meeting, which, strange as it now appears, met with much opposition, even among professors of religion; but this young pastor knew the holy influence of communion with God, and that God favored a praying people, he therefore went forward, and, in connexion with Rev. Thomas Hunt, who was pastor of the Second church, they persisted, and though to avoid a collision with the people the meetings were not held in the church, a small room was used for that purpose, in which Mr. Hunt taught a day-school. The first meeting consisted of the two pastors, one man, and six women, and thus for eighteen months did this meeting continue without adding a single person to their number.

The chilling indifference of the people soon grew into downright hostility, and husbands and fathers prohibited their wives and daughters from attending, and, finally, when the continued efforts of these pious people could be no longer borne, they waited upon Mr. Herron and told him that it must be stopped, his reply was the turning point in the spiritual condition of that people. He said, “Gentlemen, these meetings will not stop, you are at liberty to do as you please; but I also have the liberty to worship God according to the dictates of my conscience, none daring to molest or make me afraid.” From that time a spirit of piety manifested itself among the members of the church, several gay and fashionable persons were hopefully converted, and an impression was made upon the whole community, at once hopeful and healthful.

Words to Live By:
Do not expect courage of conviction from men who have no convictions, from those who have no anchor in the Word of God. The Scriptures must be drilled down deep into our souls if we are to stand against temptations and testings. May God give us pastors who will set an example, who will faithfully stand against the assaults of the world, the flesh and the devil.

A Plan of Action for Revival

If you look at some of the early Presbyterian Guardian issues on-line, you will notice on the masthead the name of the Constitutional Covenant Union.  What was this organization?

The Covenant Union was an independent agency organized after the 1935 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  That national meeting brought some powerful indications that the conservative Presbyterians days were numbered in the visible church.  So there went out a call to the supporters of the true Presbyterians to come to Philadelphia for a meeting on June 27, 1935.  Over one hundred people answered the call.  The Constitutional Covenant Union was organized, with officers elected, an executive committee named, and a constitution adopted.  Chapters were to be organized, and a program of reform of the Presbyterian Church USA promoted.

That program was set introduced by an opening statement.  The purposes were two-fold.  It said, “we, the members of this Covenant Union are resolved, in accordance with God’s Word and in humble reliance upon His grace, to maintain the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, (1) making every effort  to bring about a reform of the existing church organization and to restore the church’s clear and glorious Christian testimony, which modernism and indifferentism have now so grievously silenced, but (2) if such efforts fail, and in  particular, if the tyrannical policy of the present majority triumphs, holding ourselves ready to perpetuate the true Presbyterian Church, USA, regardless of cost.”

The meeting in Philadelphia would last from June 11 to June 14.  It was upon its closing promptly attacked by not only the church machine of the denomination, but also from a surprising corner in the Rev. Samuel Craig, editor of Christianity Today.  Remember, the latter magazine had been set up by Samuel Craig to expose the apostasy of the Presbyterian Church USA.  But there were changes being made in his purposes around this time.  Instead of supporting the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, he had resigned from both it, and the Board of Trustees of Westminster Seminary.  Now Craig was advocating the support of sound missionaries of the official Board of Foreign Missions.  When that became known, the Rev. McAllister Griffiths resigned as managing editor of Christianity Today, and became the editor of the Presbyterian Guardian.

Rallies began to be held in all parts of the country sponsored by this Covenant Union, with chapters formed in those areas.  However, even with this remnant meeting, it was obvious that the second purpose of the Covenant Union would be realized.  When the 1936 General Assembly met, and the supporters of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions were disciplined with expulsion, there was a call for another meeting.  Taking place on June 11 – 14 in Philadelphia, the Covenant Union was dissolved and the Presbyterian Church of America came into being.   (See June 11)

Words to Live By: J. Gresham Machen said on this occasion that we cannot trust the world.  We cannot trust civilization.  We cannot trust the visible church.  When God speaks through His Word, we can trust only Him.  His words are still true today.  Make the blessed Book of books your guide this day.

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John Gloucester [1776-1822] was the first African American to become an ordained Presbyterian minister in the United States. Born into slavery in Tennessee in the year 1776, he was able to relocate to Philadelphia in 1807. His preaching ministry began there in a house on Gaskill Street, and as his ministry bore fruit, the growing congregation later moved to the corner of 7th and Shippen [or what is now Bainbridge] Streets in Philadelphia. It was at this location that the First African Presbyterian Church was built and dedicated in May of 1811.

Our post today is drawn from the account provided by the Rev. William T. Catto, in his Semi-Centenary Discourse, delivered in The First African Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia… (1857).

How the Good Man Dies

Of Mr. Glouchester’s subsequent labors in the Church, I have not much to record. His failing health, which for some time gave unmistakable evidence that his day of pilgrimage was wellnigh spent, gave no small uneasiness to his flock and anxiety to friends. Consumption had settled fairly upon him, and making a wreck of the once strong man. It was a heart-rending sight to behold the faithful venerable pastor, wasting away gradually but surely for the tomb; it was crushing to behold him, in the strength of manhood, weakened and wasted away by the destroyer, and no possibility of escape.

To him, however, it was a very little matter to decay and die; but his anxiety lay in another direction—it was towards his Church—the people, the object of all his anxieties, these lay near his heart; to them, during the latter part of his life, he gave the remaining energies of his mind, without much regard to anything else; hence his petition to his presbytery on the 27th June, 1820, stating his weakened condition and failing health, and requesting supplies for the pulpit, and also, knowing that the day of his stay on earth was wellnigh over, why, one year before he died, he took the occasion to address a letter to presbytery, dated April 18, 1821, recommending his son Jeremiah as a candidate for the Gospel ministry.

Previous to this, however, Mr. Gloucester, through the concurrence of the Church, had brought forward Samuel Cornnish and Benjamin Hughes to presbytery, to be received under their care as candidates for the ministry; and, from what I have gathered from the Minutes of Presbytery, these young men sustained themselves creditably in the parts of trial assigned to them by presbytery, from time to time as they were examined. In this, also, Mr. Gloucester’s qualities for perception were conspicuous. It will be perceived that his vision was not circumscribed within the narrow limits of his own immediate wants or interests; he was, as I have once before stated, a man of extensive observation; he threw his furtive glance far away into the future, and contemplated the Presbyterian Church, in the States of the Union, rising in the distance as in miniature, and still later looming up in greater magnitude, until he fully recognized its swelling proportions, from every point of view, spreading out and extending itself far and wide. Hence, as can easily be perceived, he took the timely precaution to have prepared the proper material in these young candidates for the ministry, in due time to supply the growing wants of these rising churches; and it is mainly to him and to this First African Presbyterian Church that the now respectable number of Presbyterian church in this land are supplied with ministers.

It pleased the great Head of the Church to remove Mr. Gloucester from his earthly toils and labors, on the 2d day of May, 1822, in the 46th year of his age. This solemn even was expected, from the known nature of his disease, and though it shrouded the hearts of his people and friends in mourning and sorrow, still they were prepared for the sad announcement; in fact, he himself, though feeble and weak, daily exhorted them to resignation to the will of God. I need not inform the reader of the gloom that his death cast over the community where he was known, and he was extensively known to the religious community; they all felt that not  only a great man had fallen that day in Israel, but a father, a light in the church, a shining light was extinguished.

His death was a peaceful one, full of hope; it might, perhaps, more properly be said that he fell asleep in Jesus. Could it be otherwise? His life was Christ-like, that was his life to be like Christ; for this he lived, for this he labored. I close the life of this devoted servant of God by a remark or two. That there were other colored men in Philadelphia laboring for the religious elevation of their people, is known, but if there ever was a man in Philadelphia of Mr. Gloucester’s position, whose upright and Christian walk and general character, considered from every point of view, that won for him the respect and esteem of the great and good men of his day, that man was Mr. Gloucester.

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