August 2019

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Gordon Haddon Clark was born on this day, August 31st, in 1902. We have written of him previously, but today present a sermon delivered by Dr. Clark in 1947. This message was delivered over WLW, Cincinnati, on the “Church by the Side of the Road” program, Sunday, November 2, 1947. It was subsequently published in THE WITNESS, a magazine published by the Rev. Richard Gray. [Note: If you have old issues of this magazine, I’d love to hear from you!]

Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit|
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the world, and all our woe,
Sing heavenly Muse 
. . .”

Hath God Said?

WITH these sonorous phrases, the immortal poet Milton began his great work, Paradise Lost. It was from the opening chapters of the Bible that Milton took his theme.

God had created Adam and Eve perfectly righteous and had given them the well-watered garden of Eden for their enjoyment. The delicious fruits of all the trees were theirs to eat, with but one exception. God commanded them not to eat of that one tree.

Then Satan in the form of a serpent came to tempt Eve. He began by asking her this question: “Hath God said?”

Of course if God had not said, if God had given no commandment to Adam and Eve, then there would have been no reason to abstain from eating of that tree. What Adam and Eve were to do and what they were not to do, depended on what God had said.

Later on in the Bible we read how God spoke to the children of Israel from the thundering crags of Mount Sinai. There God said: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain . . . Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy . Thou shalt not steal . . .”

Considering the disobedience of the Israelites on many occasions, we may imagine that Satan came to them also and asked, “Hath God said?” Of course, if God had not said, Remember the Sabbath day; if God had not commanded, Thou shalt not steal; there would have been no reason to obey. What the Israelites were to do and what they were not to do, depended on what God said.

Today there are multitudes of people who care nothing for these commandments. During the war the armed forces were incredibly profane. In this era of so-called peace, few people remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Juvenile delinquency shows that one, or more likely two, generations have not honored their fathers and mothers. The world has seen not only murders but massacres. Unfortunately, adultery and divorce are so common as to have eaten away the moral fiber of our nation. And stealing goes on, if not in one form, then in another.

But, after all, why should one keep the Sabbath? Why shouldn’t one enjoy adultery and profanity on occasion? Why not get what you can while the getting is good? Hath God said?

Our conduct, so many people affirm, is not to be hampered by ancient traditions. The Ten Commandments may have been good enough for a bygone age; but today we have evolved a new code of ethics and we must conform to the morals of our age and our society.

Maybe there is a God, and maybe there isn’t. It is hard to say. But even if there is a God, he is not the tribal deity of the ancient Jews. The Old Testament is folk lore and superstition. We live today and we must follow the ways of the society in which we live.

This is the teaching that has permeated the educated classes of our country. The sociology departments in our colleges, the psychologists, the philosophers, and the schools of education insist that it is the society in which one Jives that sets the standards of conduct.

The aborigines of Australia have their code of ethics. The tribes of central Africa have another code. American society requires its type of conduct and Chinese society sets different norms. No society can impose its mores on another. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The particular society is the supreme judge.

Now, it happens that society changes, in fact, American society has changed considerably in the last century.

When our grandparents were alive, an accusation of immorality was a serious charge. Later on it became smart to be immoral. Today, however, immorality is too common even to be smart. People no longer use the idea of immorality to indicate blame or the idea of morality to indicate praise. Morality is old fashioned. Instead of these ideas, if a serious accusation is to be made against someone, he is called anti-social. The worst thing to say of a man today is to say that he is anti-social. We no longer listen for the voice of God; we pay attention to the demands of society. Society, the society in which we live, is the supreme judge of our conduct.

But if this modern humanistic theory is true, several interesting conclusions follow. When in Rome do as the Romans do, they say. Conform to the society in which you live. If this be good advice, then was it not right and good for Germans under Hitler to massacre the Jews? If society establishes the rules of conduct, an anti-semitic society justifies anti-semitic conduct. It was not Hitler’s lieutenants, it was not Goering and Goebels who were anti-social; it was Pastor Niemoeller who was anti-social. That was why he was put into a concentration camp. He did not conform to the code of society. Similarly, just before the Protestant Reformation the city of Florence was licentious and gay. Savonarola appeared and rebuked them for their sins. Savonarola was anti-social, and they burned him at the stake. Society was the judge.

And why should not society be the judge, if God has not spoken? Why isn’t anti-semitism right and good, if God has not siad, Thou shalt not kill? If God has not spoken, why should not society murder those who disagree with it?

Niemoeller was anti-social because he believed God had commanded. The Apostle Paul was killed because he believed that God was superior to society. And Jesus Christ was perhaps the most anti-social person who ever lived.

Hath God said? If God has not said, then profanity, murdcr, adultery, theft are all right wherever these actions are customary.

But as for me, 1 do not believe this godless humanism; I do not approve the conduct it produces. I believe that God has spoken. Only on the basis of what God has said can morality be justified. Only on this basis can individual murderers and political massacres be condemned. Only if God has spoken can the old fashioned American principles of freedom challenge the modern forces of a tyrannical society. Only if God has spoken can we have hope in this life and eternal joy in the life to come.

Has God spoken? Yes, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son,” the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever, world without end. Amen.

Hewn Stones and Dornacks.

Our post today is drawn from the History of the Presbyterian Church in America, by Richard Webster (1857) and edited for length.

John Craig was born in Ireland (though most likely Scots-Irish, perhaps from Ulster) on September 21, 1710, but educated in America. He appeared before Donegal Presbytery in the fall of 1736, and was taken on trial the next spring, and licensed, August 30, 1738. He was sent to Deer Creek (now Churchville, Maryland) and to West Conecocheague. He spent the summer in those places, and Conewago and Opequhon. West Conecocheague called him in the fall of 1739; but he declined a settlement in that charge.

In 1737, the new-settled inhabitants of Beverly’s Manor applied for supplies; and Anderson visited them, and settled the bounds of the congregations “in an orderly manner, by the voice of the people.” Craig was sent, at the close of 1739, to Opequhon, Irish Tract, and other places in Western Virginia. He was “the commencer of the Presbyterian service in Augusta.” He gathered two congregations in the south part of the Manor, now Augusta county, and, in April, 1740, received a call from Shanadore and South River. It is described in the call as the congregation of the Triple Forks of Shenandoah, but long since known as Augusta and Tinkling Spring. On the 2d of September, 1740, Robert Poag and Daniel Denniston appeared as representatives, and took on them the engagements made by the people at installations. On the next day, after Sanckey had preached from Jer. iii. 15, Craig was ordained and installed.

“Going down from the splendid prospect of the Rockfish Gap, you enter the bounds of the oldest congregation in Virginia, Tinkling Spring, with its old stone church. Here, in a wooden building finished by the widow of John Preston, Craig preached. He was greatly opposed to the location of the meeting, wishing it more central.” The people chose it, among other reasons, for the convenience of the spring; and, it is said, “he never suffered its water to cool his thirst.”

He resigned the pastoral care of Tinkling Spring in November, 1754; and the sermon which he preached on that occasion, from 2 Sam. xxiii. 5, is the only one of his discourses that can be found. It was printed, for the first time, in the “Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine,” in December, 1760.

“In this short discourse,” he says,

“I have collected together the sum and substance of those doctrines I have declared to you these twenty-five years past. . . . .

“I have long, often, and sincerely exhorted, entreated, invited, and besought you, in public, in private, in secret, to come and take hold of God’s covenant and Christ the Mediator thereof. I hope some among you have sincerely complied: I wish I could say all that I have been so nearly concerned for or related to. But now our near and dear pastoral relation is dissolved. And, oh, how does my heart tremble to think and fear that too, too many among you have not sincerely accepted of and embraced Christ on gospel terms! Oh, how can I leave you at a distance from Christ, and strangers to the God that made you? I cannot leave you till I give you another offer of Christ and the covenant of grace. Let me beg of you, for your souls’ sake, for Christ’s sake, to leave all your sins, and come, come speedily, and lay hold on the covenant and the Mediator; never, never let him go till he bless you.

“Few and poor, and without order, were you when I accepted your call; but now I leave you a numerous, wealthy congregation, able to support the gospel, and of credit and reputation in the church.

“For coming into the bond of this covenant of grace; it is by faith we take hold of it. This we do when we are thoroughly, clearly convinced of our sin, and misery, and undone state under the covenant of works; and do hence betake ourselves to the new covenant, to the gracious method of salvation proposed to us in the gospel through Jesus Christ and his righteousness, and do cordially approve of, and acquiesce in this noble contrivance, and accept of Jesus Christ as our only Mediator, Surety, and Peacemaker with God, and in him do sincerely make choice of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—to be our God and portion. On our part, giving ourselves soul and body to be the Lord’s; engaging, in the strength of our great surety, Jesus Christ, to abandon all sin, live for his glory, and walk with him in newness of life, as becomes God’s covenanted people. This great work is carried on in all its parts by God’s Holy Spirit, helping and determining our souls to do all these things heartily, cheerfully, and sincerely.”

In parting, he makes no complaints of them, and no boasting of himself.

He remained as pastor over the smaller charge or congregation of Augusta till his death, April 21, 1774, dying “after fifteen hours’ affliction,” at the age of sixty-three years and four months.

“The old people in Augusta county have learned from their fathers that he was a man mighty in the Scriptures,—‘in perils oft, in labours abundant,’ for the gospel; and they hold his memory in the highest veneration.”

An anecdote is told of his having been sent by Hanover Presbytery to organize churches and ordain elders, among the settlements of New River to Holstein. On his return he reported a surprising number of elders whom he had ordained; and on being questioned how he found suitable materials for so many, he replied, in his rich Scottish brogue,“Where I cudna get hewn stanes, I tuk dornacks.” [a dornack is a small unhewn stone normally rejected by builders]

Words to Live By:
“The saying is trustworthy:If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober- minded, self- controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
“not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
“He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,
“for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
“Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
—1 Timothy 3:1-7, ESV.

What a Novel Idea!
by Rev. David T. Myers

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.

“Reformed Presbyterians claim the name Presbyterian, because they believe Presbyterianism to be the only divinely instituted form of Government in the Christian Church; and they accept the Westminster form of Church Government as justly setting forth in substance and outline the system of order appointed by Christ for His own house. They use the term, Reformed, to express their adherence to the principles and practices of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland in the purest times of the Second Reformation between the years 1648 and 1649.”

The above useful definition, narrow as it may seem to some, comes from the pen of the Rev. Robert Shields, whom I can safely bet is a man unknown to most, if not all, of our readers. Continuing our tendency to be fairly ecumenical here at This Day in Presbyterian History, touching as we do on many of the different strands of Presbyterianism, today we want to tell something of the story of the Rev. Robert Shields, a Canadian pastor of Reformed Presbyterian convictions.

Rev. Robert Shields, pastor of the the Reformed Presbyterian congregation of Ramsay, Canada, departed this life on Tuesday, August 28, 1883. Mr. Shields was born in 1828, in Craftsbury, Vermont, of Scotch Covenanter parents. He attended the Academy in his native town and graduated from Geneva College back when it was still located at Northwood, Ohio. Here at the College he remained for a time, laboring as an diligent teacher.

Afflicted from early life with a severe heart problem, which also affected his lungs and general health, his studies were pushed under great disadvantages; yet naturally gifted and a conscientious student, he became a thorough and accurate scholar, taking special interest in natural science. He was an intellectual man with a strong mind and a weak body. In addition to his labors as a pastor, he was a reputable botonist, having turned his attention somewhat to geology, and was at home among the flowers and rocks. He was so conscious of his entire dependence upon the God of all mercies, that he gave every fifth dollar he possessed to the Lord. He published some historical articles in the magazines of the Church, and printed a few pamphlets, among which are: “The Watchman’s Word,” 1873. “Tribute to Caesar,” 1874.

He was licensed by the Lakes Presbytery of the RPCNA, May 17, 1855, and for ten years served the Church in that region with fidelity and devotion in supplying vacant congregations, but much of the time laboring among the Freedmen in the South during the war of the rebellion. He was called by the Ramsay congregation, and being ordained and installed on July 13, 1865, was their accepted and beloved pastor until his death. It was noted of him that his sermons were carefully prepared, always clear and concise, and delivered with earnestness and spiritual unction. He was a wise and faithful pastor, a modest and pious Christian.

Words to Live By:
In the death of beloved friends and family, we note that these providences are calls to those of us who are still alive to be diligent “while it is day; for the night cometh when no man can work.” — “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”–Psalm 90:12, KJV.

“Philip, unless Christ be in you, you are a dead man,”

Our post today is an anecdote told by the esteemed pastor, Rev. Ezra Stiles Ely. Here he speaks of the American Indian, Philip, and the life-changing challenge presented to him by the legendary William Tennent, Sr., founder of the Log College, that great predecessor to Princeton University.

William Tennent, Sr.’s Abrupt Challenge

Extract from II Letter addressed to James Stuart, esq. of Philadelphia, dated Lebonon (Con.), August 27, 1821.

My dear Elder—It will give you joy to learn, that in Exeter, a small and poor parish in the township of Lebanon, which is without a stated pastor, such a revival of religion has been experienced, that yesterday fifty persons were received to full communion. The Domestic Missionary Society of Connecticut has sent them Supplies for a time, and this seems to be in part the fruit of their labours, in conjunction with those of a pious deacon, and a few other aged Christians. What encouragement does this present for Christians to persevere in prayer and pious exertions for the salvation of their fellow sinners!

I pray you and the other members of our particular church not to be weary in well doing. My heart’s desire and prayer to God is, that every one of the people of my charge may be brought to a religious experience similar to that of Indian Philip of Connecticut. You may rely on the truth of what I shall now state concerning him, for my grandfather knew him well. That aboriginal lived in the time of the great revival in this state, in 1740, and was thought by himself, and others, to be a renewed man. But the renowned Mr. Tennent, of our city, came this way, and after conversing with Philip, feared that he put his trust in the pious frames of his own mind, made a Christ of them, and so was deceived. Mr. Tennent therefore said to him, “Philip, unless Christ be in you, you are a dead man,” and then abruptly turned away. This was the means of Philip’s experiencing renewed and very pungent convictions of sin; which finally terminated well. In relating his own views of his past experience, subsequently to this, he said, that when he found comfort it was in this manner. He seemed to himself to be clinging to a pole with both his hands, and thus to be suspended over the bottomless pit. He was keeping himself out of hell by his own exertions. He tried to sustain himself, but soon one hand, from exhaustion of nature, let go its hold; and he hung fast by the other. Then, after a little, one finger of that hand relinquished its grasp, and then another, until he hung, for a second, by one finger alone. That failing, he seemed to be falling, falling down, down to hell; but the first he knew, he was caught in the arms of Jesus. So may my people despair of every thing in the matter of salvation but Christ; and when they seem to be sinking to endless ruin find, that the Redeemer folds them to His arms.

Yours, affectionately,

Ezra Stiles Ely.

Words to Live By:
“Unless Christ be in you, you are a dead man.” In too many Christian circles, there is far too much of what is known as “easy believe-ism”—the idea that just because I’ve prayed the sinner’s prayer, that all is now well and right with God.

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