August 2019

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Today’s post is drawn from Alfred Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church (1884), p. 850:

The Long Pastorate of a Great Pastor and Biographer

SpragueWBWilliam Buell Sprague was born in Andover, Tolland county, Connecticut, on October 16, 1795. He graduated at Yale College in 1815, and in 1816 entered Princeton Theological Seminary, just four years after the start of that institution. After studying there over two years, Sprague was licensed to preach by the Association of Ministers in the county of Tolland, on August 29th, 1818. As pastor of the Congregational Church of West Springfield, Massachusetts, he labored with great assiduity and success from August 25th, 1819, until July 21st, 1829, when he accepted a call to the Second Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York, over which he was installed on August 26th, 1829.

In Albany, he had a pastorate of forty years’ duration, remarkable for the extraordinary steadfastness and warmth of attachment existing through all that protracted period between himself and his large and intelligent congregation, and even more remarkable for the vast and varied labors performed by him. He has been well and truly described as “an illustrious man, a cultivated, elegant, voluminous, usefull and popular preacher; an indefatigable and successful pastor; an unselfish and devoted friend; loving, genial, pure, noble; an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile; one of the most child-like, unsophisticated and charitable of men.”

While Dr. Sprague never relaxed his pulpit and pastoral duties, his added literary labors were prodigious and their fruits exceedingly great. He preached nearly two hundred sermons on special public occasions, the most of which were published. He also produced a large number of biographies and other volumes on practical religious subjects. But the great literary work of his life was his Annals of the American Pulpitundertaken when he was fifty-seven years old, and finished in ten large octavo volumes.

On December 20th, 1869, Dr. Sprague was released at his own request, from his pastoral charge in Albany, and retired to Flushing, Long Island, where he passed his later years, which were a serene and beautiful evening to his industrious, useful and eminent life. Here he enjoyed the sunshine of the divine favor, and looked upon the approach of death with a strong and placid faith. He gently and peacefully passed away, May 7th, 1876, and his remains were taken to Albany for interment, the funeral services being held in the church of which he had been so long the beloved and honored pastor.

A number of Sprague’s works can be found in digital format, here.

If I may select one for you, The Claims of Past and Future Generations on Civil Leaders, looks interesting, judging by its title.

From Sprague’s Historical Introduction to The Annals of the Presbyterian Pulpit:
“…
The early history of the Presbyterian Church in this country is involved in no little obscurity,—owing principally to the fact that those who originally composed it, instead of forming a compact community, were widely scattered throughout the different Colonies. It is evident, however, that several churches were established some time before the close of the seventeenth century. In Maryland there were the Churches of Rehoboth, Snow Hill, Marlborough, Monokin, and Wicomin,—the first mentioned of which is commonly considered the oldest, and was probably formed several years before 1690. The Church on Elizabeth River, in Virginia, is supposed by some to date back to nearly the same period, but the exact time of its origin cannot be ascertained. The Churches in Freehold, and Woodbridge, New Jersey were constituted in 1692 [Note: there is good evidence that Fairfield Presbyterian Church, in Fairton, NJ, was established in 1680.]; and the First Church in Philadelphia, as nearly as can be ascertained, in 1698. In Newcastle, Delaware, in Charleston, South Carolina, and in some other places, Presbyterian Churches were planted at a very early period. In the latter part of 1705, or early in 1706, a Presbytery was formed under the title of the Presbytery of Philadelphia,—all whose members were from Scotland or Ireland, except the Rev. Jedediah Andrews, who was born and educated in New England.”

THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST
by Rev. William Smith

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 38.

Q. 38. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?

A. At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged, and acquitted, in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.

EXPLICATION.

Raised up in glory. –That is, they shall be called forth from their graves, free from every stain of sin, possessing immortality, or an endless life, powerful and beautiful, like unto the glorious body of Christ himself.

Openly acknowledged. –Publicly owned by God as his people.

Acquitted. –Declared to be guiltless, or freed from all charges of sin.

Perfectly blessed. –Completely happy.

Full enjoying of God. –Living in the midst of that fulness of joy that is only to be found in God’s immediate presence, and of those pleasures which are at his right hand.

To all eternity. –For evermore.

ANALYSIS.

The doctrines of this answer are five :

  1. That believers shall, at the resurrection, be raised up in glory. –Philip. iii. 21. Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his (Christ’s) glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
  2. That they shall be openly acknowledged at the day of judgment. –Luke xii. 8. Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God.
  3. That they shall likewise be acquitted at that day. –Matt. xxv. 23. Well done, good and faithful servant.
  4. That believers shall also be made perfectly blessed in the full enjoyment of God. –1 John iii. 2. When he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
  5. That this blessedness, or this happy state, shall continue to all eternity. –1 Thess . iv. 17. So shall we ever be with the Lord.

When Two Thousand Obeyed God, Rather Than Man
by Rev. David T. Myers

Suppose . . . just suppose now . . . that you as a minister had a requirement set upon you—a certain time period in which to decide whether to renounce the ordination vows made at ordination, subscribe to a different set of doctrinal standards, promise to arrange the worship according to a different standard of worship, agree to be re-ordained by another ecclesiastical body, and do all this by a certain day, or else be deposed by the spiritual authorities which had been approved by the government. Talk about change! And yet this was the way it was on this day in Presbyterian history, August 24, 1662 in the British Isles.

It was officially called The Act of Uniformity, and it was enacted in England in 1662. Its longer title was “An Act for the Uniformity of Public Prayers and Administration of Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies and for the Establishing the Form of making, ordaining, and consecrating Bishops, Priests, and Deacons in the Church of England.”

It was broken up into five actions:
(1) to give a complete and unqualified assent to the newly published Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England.  (Keep in mind that, at this point, most preachers and people had not even seen this newly published book.)
(2) to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine articles of the Church of England;
(3) to renounce the Solemn League and Covenant;
(4) To renounce any attempt to alter the government of the church or state;
(5) to receive ordination at the hands of a bishop in the Church of England.

Combined with other acts of this Church, it excluded anyone who was not in compliance with the above from holding civil or military office. Students at Cambridge or Oxford would not receive any degrees from these schools, if they refused this act.

And all this was to take place before August 24, which date was the celebration of St. Bartholomew Day. Students of church history remember, as they did then, that this was the day of the massacre in France when Huguenots were slaughtered by the Roman Catholics. So, this was a day remembered as “Black” St. Bartholomew”s Day.

It is estimated that some 2000 ministers were ejected from their pulpits and parishes, including their manses, with Anglican priests put in their place. The majority were Presbyterian (1,816), along with Independents (194), and Baptists (19). A similar procedure was enacted in Scotland, with 400 ministers ejected from their pulpits and parishes.

Words to Live By:
True adherence to the gospel requires sacrifice. That is why all of us as believing Presbyterians need to be more in watchful prayer for our respective Presbyterian denominations and local churches. What has been faithful and true in the past may not be the case for the present and future witness of your church, if church officers and members grow careless about the faith once delivered unto the saints. As Paul put it, “the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

Sunday Sermon
Two volumes, Sermons of The Great Ejection (Banner of Truth, 1962) and Farewell Sermons (Soli Deo Gloria, 1992), provide some of the gathered sermons preached by these pastors when torn from their congregations by the Act of Uniformity. The following words are a portion of the sermon brought by the  Rev. John Whitlock on that fateful day. (time and space do not permit the full text)

REMEMBER, HOLD FAST, AND REPENT.

Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.—Rev. 3:3.

Beloved, when I entered on this verse in the course of my Friday Lecture, I little thought that I had so short a time to preach among you. I hoped I should have enjoyed some further opportunities for some few weeks, at least as long as the Act of Uniformity allows. But it has pleased God by His wise and holy providence to order it otherwise. I being suspended from preaching here from this day forward, for nonconformity. How far rightly or legally on man’s part, I shall not dispute, but leave to the righteous God to determine. I desire that both you and I may not eye man, but God, in this dispensation. I did not think to have preached my Farewell Sermon to you from these words, but having begun this text, and finding the matter of it so seasonable and suitable to this sad occasion, I shall by God’s assistance proceed in the handling of it.

Since it is probable that I shall preach no more to you, I judge it very seasonable to leave the exhortation in the text with you, to call upon you to remember what and how you have received and heard, and to hold fast those wholesome truths you have heard, and those precious ordinances (at least the remembrance, impressions, and gracious effects of them) that you have enjoyed and been privileged with. Also, to repent of those sins, which have provoked, and may further provoke God to come on us as a thief, to take away many of His ministers from among us. . .

. . . The silence of ministers calls aloud on us all to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. It bids us to repent of our sins, the causes of God’s judgments. It calls on you to prize and improve ministers and ordinances, better, if God shall continue, restore or further afford them to you. Yes, ministers’ silence should cause people to speak the more and louder to God in prayer for the continuance and restoring of ministers and ordinances to them. When you do not hear so much and so often from God in preaching, let God hear the more and oftener from you in prayer. Ply the throne of grace. Give God no rest till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. And as our silence should make you speak the more to God, so also the more and oftener one unto another in holy conference, to provoke to love and to good works. And I beseech you, brethren, pray for us. Whatever God may do with us, or whithersoever we may be driven, we shall carry you in our hearts; and when and while we remember ourselves to God, we shall never forget you, but present you and your souls’ concerns daily unto God at the throne of grace in our prayers. And we earnestly beg this of you, as you would remember what we have spoken to you in the name of the Lord, so you would remember us to God, and let us have a room and share in your hearts and prayers. When you get into a corner to pour out your hearts before God, carry us to God upon your hearts. Do not forget us, but lift up a prayer to God for us, your (we hope we may say) faithful, though weak, unworthy ministers, who have laboured among you in the Word and doctrine.

I shall say no more, but conclude with these two Scriptures: ‘And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified,’ Acts 20.32. The other Scripture is that request of Paul to, and prayer for, the Hebrews in Chapter 13.18-21: ‘Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.’

Our post today is drawn from Richard Webster’s History of the Presbyterian Church in America (1857).

ALEXANDER CUMMING
He was full of prayers.

WAS born at Freehold, New Jersey, in 1726.  His father, Robert Cumming, from Montrose, Scotland, was an elder, and often sat in synod.

He was educated under his maternal uncle, Samuel Blair, and studied theology with his pastor, William Tennent.  Licensed by the New-Side Presbytery of Newcastle, in 1746 or ‘’47, he was sent by the synod, in compliance with pressing supplications, and spent some time in Augusta county, Virginia.  He was the first Presbyterian minister that preached within the bounds of Tennessee.  Remaining some time in North Carolina, he married Eunice, daughter of Colonel Thomas Polk, the President (in May, 1775) of the Mecklenburg Convention.

He was a stated supply in Pennsylvania for some time.  Though not ordained, he opened the Synod of New York with a sermon, in September, 1750.  In the following month he was ordained, by New York Presbytery, and installed collegiate pastor with Pemberton, in New York.

Unanimously called, his clear, discriminating mind, his habits of close study, his instructive and excellent preaching, his happy faculty of disentangling and exhibiting difficult and abstruse subjects, peculiarly attracted and delighted his more cultivated hearers.  The Hon. William Smith, in writing to Bellamy, says, “His defect in delivery was not natural, but the effect of bad example:  his elocution, however, is not, and cannot ever be, as prompt as yours.”  But before the second year of his ministry closed, the presbytery was called to consider the difficulties which had arisen, and, in 1752, referred the case to the synod.  The complaints against him were, that, when disabled by sickness, he did not invite Pemberton to preach; that he insisted on his right as pastor to sit with the trustees, and manage the temporalities; for encouraging the introduction of Watts’s Psalms, and for insisting on family prayer as a necessary prerequisite in every one to whose child he administered baptism.

He requested to be dismissed, October 25, 1753, because his low state of health would not allow him to go on with his work in the divided, confused state of the congregation.  No opposition was made, and he was dismissed.

Cumming joined with his parishioners, Livingston, Smith, and Scott, in publishing the “Watch-Tower,” the “Reflector,” the “Independent Whig,”—spirited, patriotic appeals against the steady encroachments of the royal prerogative on our constitutional liberties.

In feeble health, and with little prospect of usefulness, he remained without charge till February 25, 1761, when he was installed pastor of the Old South Church in Boston.  He preached on that occasion, and Pemberton gave the charge, and welcomed him.  “I do it with the greater pleasure, being persuaded, from a long and intimate acquaintance, that you are animated by the spirit of Christ in taking this office upon you, and that you desire no greater honour or happiness than to be an humble instrument to promote the kingdom of our adorable Redeemer.”

William Allen,[1] of Philadelphia, Chief-Justice of Pennsylvania, wrote to Dr. Mayhew, of Boston, in 1763, and thanked him for the gift of two sermons, “which, you hint, were preached on account of Mr. Cumming’s reveries; for I can call nothing that comes from him by a better name, nor ought I, if he continues to be the same man he was with us.  He offered himself to the congregation here, of which I am a member:  though the greater part are moderate Calvinists, they could not relish his doctrines.” After charging Cumming with teaching that works are dangerous to the soul, faith being every thing, he adds, “He may be a pious, well-disposed man, but I believe he is a gloomy, dark enthusiast, and a great perverter of the religion of Jesus Christ as taught in the gospel.”

To Allen and Mayhew, Cumming seemed “an extravagant fanatic.”  It was a wonder how he could have been admitted a minister in Boston.  Yet he was condemned as a Legalist by the favourers of the other extreme.

Andrew Croswell, a zealous follower of Davenport, had settled in Boston.  He published a sermon, with the title, “What is Christ to me if he is not mine?” presenting the view—perhaps distorted—of Marshall, in his “Gospel Mystery of Sanctification,” and Hervey, in his “Theron and Aspasio.”  Cumming replied, taking the ground of Bellamy.  It was perhaps his earnestness on this point that arrayed his Scottish hearers against him in New York. They had the Erskines in great reverence:  they loved the doctrines which rallied Scotland’s best men against the Assembly’s decision in the Marrow controversy. Smith speaks, in his history, contemptuously of the opposition, as of the lower class; and Robert Philip brands it as a cabal of ignorance and bigotry. The fact that these persons called the Rev. John Mason from Scotland, and that they and their children constituted the congregation of Dr. John M. Mason, is a sufficient refutation of these charges.

Cumming died on this day, August 23, in 1763.  “He was full of prayers, with a lively, active soul in a feeble body.”  This was the testimony of the excellent Dr. Sewall, with whom he was joined as colleague in Boston.

Words to Live By:
We pray this can be said of you as well, that you are “full of prayers.” It is the mark of a true Christian and the blessing of a Christian who is being used in the Lord’s kingdom, seeking His will upon earth.

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One of the PCA”s Founding Fathers

Remember that “One Way” symbol back in the Jesus People era? It showed up on posters, on T-shirts, and just about everywhere. Well, it turns out that symbol, with the index finger pointing heavenward, wasn’t original to those times. It actually dates back to around the 1830s, when Horatio Nelson Spencer, a South Carolina native and a graduate of Yale Law School, had moved to Port Gibson, Mississippi to establish his law practice and to raise a family. He also associated with the Port Gibson Presbyterian Church, and somewhere along the way he was the one who thought up the idea of having a hand with the index finger pointing to heaven, the hand firmly fixed atop the church’s steeple. The original hand was carved out of wood, though later it was replaced with a metal hand, measuring twelve feet high, from wrist to finger tip.

Spencer_James_GraftonHoratio’s idea, with that silent finger faithfully pointing the way to heaven, could also be taken as expressive of the life and ministry of one of his descendants. James Grafton Spencer was born on August 22, 1904. James would grow to become a fine scholar who eventually studied for the ministry at Columbia Theological Seminary, graduating in 1933. While still in Seminary, he was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Mississippi, and then ordained by Paris Presbytery and installed as pastor of the PCUS church in Gladewater, Texas. Between 1933 and 1942, he served six Presbyterian churches in Texas, while also  earning the Master of Theology degree at Dallas Theological Seminary, in 1939.

From 1942 to 1948, Rev. Spencer was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Fordyce, Arkansas. Then early in January of 1949, Rev. Spencer transferred his credentials into the Orthodox Presbyterian denomination. Here his call took him to Cincinnati, Ohio, but that association was apparently short-lived, for on November 27th of 1950, he was received back into the Presbyterian Church, U.S., as a member of the Presbytery of Mississippi. My guess is that he was just homesick! With that move he answered a call to serve as the pastor of the Thomson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Centreville, Mississippi. Then in 1959, the First Presbyterian Church in Crystal Spring, MS called him as their pastor, and he remained in that pulpit for fifteen years. This was his final pastorate, and he was entered on the rolls of Grace Presbytery (PCA) as honorably retired in 1974.

But for a man who is truly called of the Lord to preach the Gospel, there is no such thing as retirement. Rev. Spencer immediately took up a post as associate evangelist with the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship (PEF). This organization was one of four groups that were highly instrumental in the formation of the PCA back in the 1960′s. The other three groups were The Concerned Presbyterians, The Presbyterian Journal, and Presbyterian Churchmen United. Rev. Spencer had organized seven new churches in the first nine years of his ministry. Now he desired to turn his attention entirely to the work of evangelism. He said, “Having begun in evangelism, I plan to complete my ministry as an evangelist.” And a good number of years were spent in this work, until at last the Lord called this faithful servant home, on January 27, 1998.

Words to Live By:
To read over the comments of some of the many people who were blessed by Rev. Spencer’s ministry, their words form an outline of what you would want and expect in a godly pastor:

“He was both theologically and practically sound. His presentation was never dull and his illustrations were to the point.”
“High moral integrity, deep Christian convictions.”
“He loves the Lord and the Book.”
“A man of prayer and his messages have been used of the Spirit to move and stir the hearts of men.”
“His friendliness, goodwill and love create an atmosphere that extends to the congregation.”
“His dedication to his Lord and his high regard for God’s Word were obvious.”
“Mr. Spencer held Christ before us at all times.”

Did you know Rev. Spencer? We’d love to hear from you here at the PCA Historical Center.

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