October 2017

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Our pardon, as this is not tied to today’s date, but it seemed too important to set aside. Definitely something to take seriously—to take to heart:

An uncovered jewel, something I came across while working on an unrelated project. This short article reminds me that the works of the Rev. John Witherspoon really do need to be dusted off and brought to greater public attention. Sprinkle Publications did a few years ago reprint Witherspoon’s Works, but I think those volumes haven’t gathered too much attention. We’re the poorer for that neglect.

THE DOWNWARD COURSE OF SIN.

1. Men enter and initiate themselves in a vicious practice by smaller sins. Heinous sins are too alarming for the conscience of a young sinner; and therefore he only ventures upon such as are smaller, at first. Every particular kind of vice creeps in this gradual manner.

2. Having once begun in the ways of sin, he ventures upon something greater and more daring. His courage grows with his experience. Now, sins of a deeper die do not look so frightful as before. Custom makes everything familiar. No person who once breaks over the limits of a clear conscience knows where he shall stop.

3. Open sins soon throw a man into the hands of ungodly companions. Open sins determine his character, and give him a place with the ungodly. He shuns the society of good men, because their presence is a restraint, and their example a reproof to him. There are none with whom he can associate but the ungodly.

4. In the next stage, the sinner begins to feel the force of habit and inveterate custom; he becomes rooted and settled in an evil way.—Those who have been long habituated to any sin, how hopeless is their reform! One single act of sin seems nothing; but one after another imperceptibly strengthens the disposition, and enslaves the unhappy criminal beyond the hope of recovery.

5. The next stage in a sinner’s course is to lose the sense of shame, and sin boldly and openly. So long as shame remains, it is a great drawback. But it is an evidence of an uncommon height of impiety, when natural shame is gone.

6. Another stage in the sinner’s progress is to harden himself so far as to sin without remorse of conscience. The frequent repetition of sins stupefies the conscience. They, as it were, weary it out, and drive it to despair. It ceases all its reproofs, and, like a frequently discouraged friend, suffers the infatuated sinner to take his course. And hence,

7. Hardened sinners often come to boast and glory in their wickedness. It is something to be beyond shame; but it is still more to glory in wickedness, and esteem it honorable. Glorious ambition indeed!

8. Not content with being wicked themselves, they use all their arts and influence to make others wicked also. They are zealous in sinning, and industrious in the promotion of the infernal cause.—They extinguish the fear of God in others, and laugh down their own conscientious scruples. And now,

  1. To close the scene, those who have thus far hardened themselves, are given up by God to judicial blindness of mind and hardness of heart. They are marked out as vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. This is the consequence of their obstinacy. They are devoted the judgment they deserve.

Reader! view it with terror. — Dr. Witherspoon.

[excerpted from The Evangelical Guardian, 4.10 (February 1847): 461-462.]

Our Sovereign God is in Control of Life
by Rev. David T Myers

Continuing in our series on Presbyterian ministers who were Army Chaplains during the American Revolution, the name of Philip Vickers Fithian comes to the forefront.

Born the oldest of seven children to Joseph and Mary Fithian on December 29, 1747 in Greenwich, Cumberland County, New Jersey, Philip Fithian was baptized by his Presbyterian parents. We know little of his early life. Expected to enter into farming on the family farm, this oldest son soon showed other inclinations. Maybe it was his conversion to Christ which started it at age 17, at any rate, he soon began to wonder whether God was calling him to the ministry of his new found Lord and Savior. Whatever was the cause, he enrolled into the new church academy of the Rev. Enoch Green at Deerfield Presbyterian Church, New Jersey. So thorough was this beginning education, Philip was enabled to enter the Junior class of the College of New Jersey, graduating in 1772..

During these training years, his parents both died, leaving him the responsibility to care for his six siblings. But with the help of various relatives, who took over the oversight of the siblings, Philip was able to continue his training for the pastorate at Rev. Green’s Academy.

An opportunity for further service interrupted this formal schooling. He was asked and encouraged by John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey, to became a tutor of the large family of Robert Carter the Third in Virginia. Hesitant to go at first, he finally decided to take the opportunity and traveled south to this new ministry.

Chief also in his thoughts at this time was a young lady back home, the daughter of Rev. Charles Beatty, Elizabeth Beatty. His attempts of devotion and love toward her was met with silence or opposition. Even when he proposed to her, she rejected his proposal. All during the one year of tutorship, he wrote often to her.

Upon returning to New Jersey, he was licensed to preach the gospel. His ministry involved preaching to the vacant pulpits of Southern New Jersey. After a while, he transferred to the Donegal Presbytery in Pennsylvania, and was sent on two tours to western Pennsylvania and Virginia. In the middle of these tours, on this day, October 25, 1775, he was united in marriage with his long term sweetheart, Elizabeth Beatty.

With the Revolutionary War begun, and after his return of his second evangelistic tour, he joined the military brigade of General Nathaniel Heard as a chaplain. Accompanying the military unit on its way to New York, he preached weekly the Word of God and ministered personally to the spiritual and temporal needs of the troops. On October 8, 1776, exactly one year after his marriage, camp fever took its toll on the troops of the brigade, including Philip Fithian. He went to be with God.

Words to Live By:
The New Testament writer James put it best when in James 4:14, he wrote “. . . yet you do not know what your life will be tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” But the Sovereign God is in control of all things, including our life and times. So first, dear reader, make sure that you are saved for time and eternity. Second, make sure that you acknowledge that your times are in His hands, and plan everything in the light of that biblical truth. And yes, last, be busy with the Lord’s work wherever He has called you – in your family, in your church, and as the light and salt of the world.

CONSERVATIVE PRESBYTERIAN RESPONSE TO THE AUBURN AFFIRMATION

While the brunt of this article appears to concern the removal of H.E. Fosdick from the pulpit of First Presbyterian church in New York City, Dr. Machen also makes clear reference to those men who signed the Auburn Affirmation, and so we include it here in this series.  In point of fact, Machen is actually more concerned in this article with larger principles in application to the Presbyterian Church, while Fosdick becomes simply an example to prove his point.  Fosdick and the Affirmation were closely linked in other ways as well, and perhaps more on that later, but for the Machen, the crux of the matter is this:  “Are we going to be content with the dishonest situation which now prevails in many sections of the church and in many parts of its organized work — a situation the existence of which is so definitely attested by Dr. Fosdick?”

“Dr. Fosdick’s Letter,” by Professor J. Gresham Machen.
[excerpted from THE PRESBYTERIAN 94.43 (23 October 1924): 6.] 

DR. FOSDICK’S recent letter in reply to the communication from the Presbytery of New York, amply confirms the contention of those who have insisted upon his withdrawal from a Presbyterian pulpit.

In the first place, this letter makes particularly plain the writer’s hostility to the whole factual basis of the Christian religion.  The Westminster Confession is here objected to not on the ground that it is false and some other creed true, but on the ground that no creed can be true.  Creeds, according to Dr. Fosdick, are simply the necessarily changing intellectual expressions of an inner experience ; they are useful, in other words, but can never by any possibility be permanently true.  A more complete skepticism would be difficult to find — or a more complete opposition to a religion, like the Christian religion, which is founded upon facts.

But so much is really obvious and has been made abundantly plain by all of Dr. Fosdick’s utterances.  What is far more important is the assertion of this letter to the effect that the writer holds “the opinions which hundreds of Presbyterian ministers hold.”  These hundreds of ministers have entered upon a course which Dr. Fosdick, for his part, vehemently repudiates — they have subscribed to a creed with the mental reservations and “interpretations” which Dr. Fosdick quite correctly regards, for himself, as ethically unjustifiable.  In view of the presence of these men in the Presbyterian ministry, no doubt the writer of this letter is correct in finding “no reason to suppose” that the Presbytery of New York  would fail to receive him.  The Presbytery of New York would probably receive Dr. Fosdick into its membership, if it has received many of those hundreds of ministers who are just as hostile to the Christian faith as is Dr. Fosdick himself.

It is the presence of such ministers in the Presbyterian Church, and particularly their presence in positions of ecclesiastical trust, which gives rise to the most immediate duty of the hour.  That duty is the duty of honesty — the duty of so purifying the church that what Dr. Fosdick quite correctly designates as “a definite creedal subscription, a solemn assumption of theological vows,” shall cease to be the miserable farce which in many quarters it has now become.

We hold, therefore, that the removal of Dr. Fosdick does not in itself determine whether the Presbyterian Church is to continue to be Christian or not.  It is indeed an important step, and it was not taken because of the ecclesiastical irregularity involved in having a Baptist in a Presbyterian pulpit.  No doubt that situation was irregular ; very likely it was unwise.  But that was not the real reason why Dr. Fosdick was removed.  The real reason was not that he was a Baptist, but that, in the opinion of the main body of the church, he was attacking the very foundations of the Christian Faith.  Despite the unsatisfactory form in which the Assembly of 1924 continued the action of the Assembly of 1923 — a form which almost seemed like reversal of the previous action — it does remain true, we believe, when the movement is viewed in its entirety, that an important step has been taken in the pathway of honesty and truth.

But important as is this step, it is, after all, only a step, and if the church stops here, it would perhaps almost have been better if no step had been taken at all.  What is going to be the result of the great moral awakening which was begun two years ago?  Are we going to say in effect, as the church apparently did in the case of Dr. Briggs, that the victory now has been won and that peace may now be enjoyed?  Are we going to be content with the dishonest situation which now prevails in many sections of the church and in many parts of its organized work — a situation the existence of which is so definitely attested by Dr. Fosdick’s letter?  If such is our attitude, then the same thing will happen as that which happened after the case of Dr. Briggs — the one test case will have settled nothing, the destructive elements will continue to labor on in secret, and the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America will continue on a path which if followed to the end will make it cease to form a part of the true church of God.

God grant that we may not grieve his Spirit!  God grant that we may walk forward in the pathway of honesty, and that there may come a time when the holiest and dearest things of our faith shall no longer be pushed into the background or debarred from mention at the council-tables of our church, and when we shall go forth in the unity of the Spirit to proclaim that word of the cross which now, as always, is to them that perish foolishness, but to them that are saved Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

The Presbyterian Church has taken an important step.  But far more than one step is needed.  The unfortunate compromising action at the last General Assembly shows clearly — what should already have been abundantly plain — that the clear witness-bearing of our church cannot be restored in one year or in two years.  It will take far longer than that to place what may be called the “machinery” of the church in the hands of evangelical men, so that the machinery may become an effective instrument in the propagation of truth.  If the present movement springs from the surface of our lives, then it will quickly run its force, and the church will settle back into the deadly lethargy which is falsely called “peace.” But if the movement is of God, then it will continue through the years ; the vital task of placing the affairs of the church in the hands of men who are full of love for the gospel of Christ will be continued with patience as well as with zeal ; and we shall then have within the church the true unity that is founded upon the authority of the Word of God.

Old Memories, Faded but True

macrae05Today, we’ll take the liberty of cutting ourselves free from the moorings of the calendar, to look a bit closer at one of the collections here at the PCA Historical Center. The Rev. John MacRae, son of Dr. Allan A. MacRae, a few years ago now, moved to a new field of ministry in Australia. As he prepared for that move, he understandably cleared out some files and donated some materials of his father’s. The PCA Historical Center already had received the bulk of the Allan A. MacRae Manuscript Collection several years ago, but these several files were an important addition to that collection.

Among those documents, one in particular caught my eye. The following is the larger part of that document, in which Dr. Allan A. MacRae recounts his memories of Dr. J. Gresham Machen. MacRae first knew Machen as a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, and later as both men were part of the founding faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary. We trust you will enjoy the telling of the story:—

 

machen03I never had beginning Greek from Machen but I used to hear about his beginning Greek class, how he would make it easy for students by doing all kind of silly pranks, like standing with a book on his head, balanced on his head; standing on a chair and marking something on the blackboard….

During my second and third years I saw a good deal of Machen and got to know him rather well. I believe it was during my first year that I took his very famous course on the book of Galatians, in which he went through the book showing how strongly Paul felt about the importance of redemption through Christ being at the very center of Christianity, and how opposed [Paul was] to anything that would give to anything else a priority [over] our relation to the Lord. It was a very famous course and I enjoyed it very much. Unfortunately Machen’s time was largely taken up with beginning work as he had to give all the elementary courses in Greek and he did not give many advanced courses, so I did not have many courses from him. However, I got to know him very well.

I remember very vividly, after my second year, at the meeting of the General Assembly in Baltimore. There the action of the Board of Directors of Princeton electing him to be professor of apologetics was presented and turned down by the assembly. Union Seminary [New York] could appoint who they wanted, but Princeton Seminary was under control of the General Assembly, and no one could be appointed to a professorship in it without action of the General Assembly. When I came across Henry Sloane Coffin, who had recently become president of Union Seminary, I asked him, when will your election as president of Union be considered by the General Assembly? In answer, he declared, “Union Seminary is not subject to any ecclesiastical denomination.” Dr. Machen used to say, that Union had twenty years before thrown off all control of the General Assembly, and declared itself independent, but having done so, for Union Seminary men to work hard in the General Assembly to prevent his [Machen’s] election as professor of apologetics and to vote against it seemed to him to be utterly wrong.

When I came to Westminster to teach, naturally I had considerable contact with Dr. Machen. At that time Dr. Machen had an apartment high up in a building on 13th Street in Philadelphia, and there he used to hold his checker club, which was really an evening of being at home as he used to have at Princeton Seminary when he would have lots of candy and soft drinks around and boards for chess and checkers and other games. Once I played chess with him and he was thinking of something else, I guess, and I beat him. When I check-mated him, he was quite shocked and immediately said, “We must play again,” and now he beat me completely. I never claimed to be much of a chess player. A short term memory is very important for chess and mine has never been at all good. Machen was certainly far out of my class as a player. I remember Bob Marsden once telling me how he went to see Machen one afternoon in his apartment and Machen talked very cordially to him and seemed perfectly peaceful and at rest and relaxed in every way, and then he looked at his watch and said, “Oh my, I have to go now, I have to catch the train for Chicago.” Marsden was greatly impressed that a man would be so relaxed when he was actually ready to head for a long trip.

In the summer of 1936, I went to the Canadian Rockies and while there, Dr. Machen arrived. I was staying at a little inn a short distance from Lake Louise and he was staying at the Chateau. Dr. Machen was there for vacation, being very busy, but he spent most of his time there working and trying to write and answer for the Christian Reformed paper to a professor in the Seminary of the Dutch Reformed Church, who had criticized Machen’s statement that he was not for prohibition because he did not figure that such practices and habits were the proper area of government to enter into.

Later on Dr. Machen went to South Dakota at the request of one of the ministers of one of the little churches in South Dakota, to speak. It was winter and freezing cold. He had these tiny churches that were maybe fifty miles apart and this man took him in his car and Machen got a bad cold which went into his chest and somebody said you should stop and recover from this. He said, “No, I must meet my appointments.” So he kept going. The result was he got pneumonia and died from it. It seemed to me that his death at that time was really the result of a false conscientiousness that refused to take care of himself when he had made an appointment that would have to be broken otherwise. Actually it meant that many occasions later when he could have given great Christian messages that would have been greatly blessed of the Lord, were lost because of his giving his life at that time for what seems to me to be an insufficient cause.

We used to remember that sermon that Machen gave frequently on the hymn, “There is a Green Hill Far Away.” It was a wonderful presentation of the atonement of Christ and we loved it.

Machen had been a member of the Benham Club. In this Club at the Seminary, which claimed to be the finest social club in the Seminary (they had four eating clubs by the way), in that club everybody had to do stunts. Machen had stunts he made, and whenever there was any gathering where Machen was present, he was always asked for a stunt. He would make those funny faces and say things so interestingly. His great thing they used to ask for was how Bill Adams won the battle of Waterloo. Then he had another one on eloqution in which he made fun of the pronunciation of certain sounds. There was one he gave once which impressed me greatly about the tiger that ate up every member of the family one by one and the father could not bear to kill the tiger because when he saw its fine mild eyes he was just unable to hurt it. I used to love him give this. He gave it only rarely, but after Westminster was founded, when he would give a stunt and the opportunity came to ask for one, I asked for this. Though I had heard it comparatively seldom, while I was in Seminary, we began to hear it rather frequently. Then one time Dr. Dodd was present and Dr. Dodd spoke about the tiger which was the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission. It was very effective the way Dr. Dodd used it. I have not known anybody since who could give stunts the way Dr. Machen could.

Dr. Machen gave talks on radio and used to work all week over these talks. Then he said to me once, “I have been working over these for colloquial language and it is a tremendous job to work over them for a book.” Of course, they published the series in a book, called The Christian Faith and the Modern World. He said, “I have decided to write them as if they were for a book.” Actually they were every bit as effective then as before. They were wonderful talks and his series on that subject was very excellent.

Dr. Machen was a very fine Christian, a lover of the Lord and a lover of the great doctrines of salvation. He had been conditioned by his training and he did not have the realization of the centrality of the Word of God that I wished he might have, though he thoroughly believed in its inerrancy. I remember one time he told me of a minster who had left the denomination he belonged to, and had because he was irritated at their creedal statements and wanted to build his ideas already from the Bible. He was rather amused at this, but he said, “It really is strange what fine theology this man had derived simply from the Bible.”

I remember once hearing of Dr. Machen’s telling of his crossing of the ocean in which Shailer Matthews of the University of Chicago Divinity School was also there. He had many talks with him and said, “We came to the conclusion in the end that there was one point on which we agreed, that both of us liked Boston Baked Beans.” Actually this illustrates Machen’s clear vision of the errors of modernism.

My introduction to Machen came when I came across his book Christianity and Liberalism. I started to read it and could not let it down till I finished it. It was surely a clear presentation of the fact that liberalism belongs not to another religion than Christianity, but to an entirely different type of religion. Machen was a very fine Christian, a fine gentleman, a lover of the Lord, a man with fine personal qualities, but a man who was ridiculed and criticized by those who hated what he stood for and some of their criticisms and attitudes were passed, taken up unthinkingly by other people. It was a great privilege to have had the association that I had with Dr. Machen.

Words to Live By:
J. Gresham Machen is yet another of those who finished the race well. As such, he is a part of that cloud of witnesses, examples to us of those who held fast to the promise of the Gospel. They persevered in looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. May we follow in their example. May our eyes be kept fast upon Jesus Christ our Lord.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – (Hebrews 12:1-2, KJV).

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

Q. 32. — What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?

A.
— They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, sanctification, and the several benefits which, in this life, do either accompany or flow from them.

Scripture References: Rom. 8:30; Eph. 1:5; I Cor. 1:30.

Questions:

1. What should we note about these benefits?

We should note that these benefits are absolutely tied up with effectual calling. It should be further noted by us that “calling”, in the Bible sense of the word, cannot fail or remain ineffectual. Effectual calling has the power to produce the intended effect, that of enabling us to embrace Christ Jesus. It also has the same power to grant us certain benefits.

2. What are these benefits granted to us as those effectually called?

These benefits are justification, adoption and sanctification.

3. What connection is there between effectual calling and justification?

The sinner has communion in the righteousness of God.

4. What connection is there between adoption and effectual calling?

The sinner has a spiritual Father, God, through his relationship to Jesus Christ.

5. What connection is there between effectual calling and sanctification?

The sinner has a relationship to Christ regarding their ability to live as Christians should live. He is the Christian’s strength.

6. What should be the attitude of the Christian towards these benefits?

Regarding these benefits the Christian should:

A. Give all diligence to make his calling and election sure (2 Peter 1: 10).
B. Be thankful that he is justified, adopted and is in the process of sanctification and show his thankfulness by praising the Lord and by serving Him.
C. Be looking forward to the day when, by His grace, He will be glorified knowing that such is the hope of those who have been predestinated, called, and justified.

HONEY OUT OF THE ROCK

In Psalm 81 there appears the following verse: “He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.” Secular history teaches us that there were in the area of Palestine many wild bees who made their abode in the crevices of rocks. The rock here, spiritually speaking, represents Jesus Christ and the honey represents the fulness of grace in Him.

Indeed the believer has many benefits in Him, as our Catechism Question teaches us. The effectually called believer partakes of justification, adoption, sanctification and the other benefits. However, some of these benefits come only to His obedient children. Spurgeon states, “When his people walk in the light of his countenance, and maintain unsullied holiness, the joy and consolation which he yields them are beyond conception. To them the joys of heaven have begun even upon earth. They can Sing in the ways of the Lord. The Spring of the eternal summer has commenced with them; they are already blest, and they look for brighter things. This shows us by contrast how sad a thing it is for a child of God to sell himself into captivity to sin, and bring his soul into a state of famine by following after another god. 0 Lord, for ever bind us to thyself alone, and keep us faithful to the end.”

Christian, even as you have read the above, is such a description of your relationship with Him? Our Catechism teaches us that we certainly can enjoy the “showers of blessing” from above”, for these are the heritage of the Christian. But so many times we are not making use of them, we lose them because we do not walk with Him “in the light of His way.” The way of obedience to His Word is not our way and our testimony for Him and our joy in Him is not what it should be.

Someone once prayed: “Lord of every thought and action. Lord to send and Lord to stay. Lord in speaking, writing, giving Lord in all things to obey. Lord of all there is of me, now and evermore to be.” Indeed He will feed us with “honey out of the rock” if we will but commit ourselves to Him, all to His glory.

Published By: THE SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol. 3 No. 32 (August 1963)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

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