February 2019

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The Archives Helps Us Date a Photo.
by Wayne Sparkman

Here at the PCA Historical Center, I recently came across a letter among the correspondence of Dr. Allan A. MacRae, a letter which helps to explain a photograph well-known now in American Reformed circles. That’s Dr. MacRae in the back row of the photo below, on the viewer’s right and standing next to Professor John Murray, and in a letter to his parents dated February 28, 1931, MacRae makes this interesting comment:

“This morning a picture of our faculty was taken. We went to the photographer’s studio where they turned terrifically powerful lights on. I could not stand the glare on my eyes at all. Professor Murray said he would not go through such an experience again for one hundred dollars. I do not see the sense of such a method in taking pictures, for I feel sure that the strained effect that will be produced on every countenance will altogether destroy the value of the pictures. If the proofs are at all good I will be surprised.”

To our knowledge, there is no other photo of the Westminster Seminary faculty from that era and so I have to assume the quote is accurately paired with the photo shown below.

Westminster apparently first posted the above photo to the Internet as a publicity item, about 2002. The photo had previously been used on the cover of a Westminster Media catalog. But what may particularly have made this faculty photo famous was the improvement made to the photo not too many years ago. Justin Taylor, who was then in the employ of The Gospel Coalition, read of the work of a digital artist by the name of Marina Amaral. In a blog post, Taylor wrote:

Amaral is a 22-year-old Brazilian artist whose digital colourisations of iconic black-and-white images have become an internet sensation. Her work breathes new life into old pictures, stripping away the years and giving them an astonishing immediacy. . . .

Amaral, who lives in the city of Belo Horizonte, taught herself how to use Photoshop when she was 12 by watching tutorials on YouTube and experimenting.
For years it was simply a hobby, but in 2015 she came across some colourised photographs of the Second World War on the internet and felt she could create something similar.

She has now completed more than 300 pictures, including private work such as old wedding photographs and family portraits, and has left college, where she was studying international relations, to devote herself full-time to her work.

You can see samples of her work here.

Taylor enlisted Amaral to colorize the faculty photo and she did a great job! But it seems that whether you colorize the photo or leave it in its original sepia tone, what remains are the strained expressions on their faces, now explained in Dr. MacRae’s letter:

“This morning a picture of our faculty was taken. We went to the photographer’s studio where they turned terrifically powerful lights on. I could not stand the glare on my eyes at all. Professor Murray said he would not go through such an experience again for one hundred dollars. I do not see the sense of such a method in taking pictures, for I feel sure that the strained effect that will be produced on every countenance will altogether destroy the value of the pictures. If the proofs are at all good I will be surprised.”

And as you look at the photo, I have to think Dr. Machen held up best!

Pictured, left to right in the front row, are:
Ned B. Stonehouse; Oswald T. Allis; J. Gresham Machen; Paul Woolley; and Cornelius Van Til.
Then standing behind those seated, are John Murray (l) and Allan A. MacRae (r).
Thus the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary in 1931.

Presbyterian denominations in the United States no doubt do some things differently from what is described in the following article, but by comparing we can sometimes learn some important lessons about our own practice. 

The First Institution of Elders and Deacons in the Church of Scotland, the Qualifications of these Office-bearers, and their Proper Functions, according to a Form of Church Policy submitted to the Convention of Edinburgh, 1560. From Spottiswood’s History, Edition of 1655. Published by the Evangelist.
[excerpted from The Central Presbyterian 31.34 (19 February 1896): 2. Spelling has been modernized.]

The eighth head concerning Elders and Deacons.

Men of best knowledge, of purest life, and most honest conversation that can be found in every Church, must be nominated for these offices, and their names publicly read unto the congregation, that from amongst those some may be chosen to serve as Elders and Deacons. If any be nominated, who is noted with public infamy, he must be repelled; for it is not seemly that the servant of corruption should have authority to judge in the Church of God: or if any man know others that are of better qualities within the Church, then those who are nominated, the same shall be joined to the others, that the Church may have the choice. If the Churches be few in number, so as Elders and Deacons cannot conveniently be had, the same Church may be joined to the next adjacent; for the plurality of Churches without Ministers and order doth rather hurt, than edify.

The election of Elders and Deacons ought to be made every year once, which we judge most convenient to be done the first of August yearly, lest men by long continuance in those Offices presume upon the liberty of the Church. And yet it hurts not, if a man be retained in office more years then one, so as he be appointed yearly thereto by common and free election: Providing always that the Deacons, and Treasurers of the Church be not compelled to receive again the same Office for the space of 2 years. How the suffrages shall be given and received, every several Church may take the order that seems best to them.

The Elders being elected must be admonished of their Office, which is to assist the Minister in all public affairs of the Church; to wit, in judging and discerning of cases, in giving admonition to licentious livers, and having an eye upon the manners and conversation of all men within their charge: for by the gravity of the Elders the loose and dissolute manners of other men ought to be restrained and corrected. The Elders ought also to take heed to the life, manners, diligence and study of their Ministers; And if he be worthy of admonition, they must admonish him; if of correction, they must correct him; and if he be worthy of deposition, they with the consent of the Church and Superintendent may depose him.

The Office of Deacons is to receive the rents, and gather the Alms of the Church, to keep and distribute the same as they shall be appointed by the Ministry and the Church; yet they may also assist in judgment the Minister and Elders, and be admitted to read in public Assemblies, if they be called, required and found able thereto.

The Elders and Deacons, with their wives and families, must be subject to the same censure, that Ministers are subject unto; for they are Judges to the manners of others, and therefore they must be sober, humble, entertainers of concord and peace amongst neighbours; and finally, an ensample of godliness to the rest of the flock: whereof if the contrary appear, they must be admonished by the Minister or some of their brethren, if the fault be secret; but if it be open and known, they must be openly rebuked, and the same order kept with them that is prescribed against Ministers offending. We think it not necessary that any public stipend be appointed either to the Elders or Deacons, because their travel continues but for a year; as also because they are not so occupied with the affairs of the Church, but that they may have leisure to attend their private business.

An absent without leave minister
by Rev. David T. Myers

One of the original seven ministers of the infant Philadelphia presbytery was Samuel Davis. We don’t know a lot about his background. He was believed to be born in Ireland. We are not sure when he immigrated to America, but we do find recorded in the records in Somerset County, Maryland, that he performed a marriage ceremony on February 26, 1684. He is listed as being the minister of Snow Hill, Maryland seven years later in August 1691. We do know that he had “a tent making” ministry besides his pastoral duties to add to his pastoral income. That business venture, whatever it was, might have been the reason for his sketchy attendance at Presbytery.

Though he was the fourth member of seven member ministers on the roll of the first Presbytery in 1706, he was not physically present on that historic first meeting. At the next meeting in 1707, his written excuse to be absent was not sustained, nor was his first absence in 1706. In fact, there was an order by the small group of presbyters to be present at the 1708 meeting in the same city. He did show up, and was promptly elected moderator! He did present his reason for being absent the previous two meetings, and his excuses were sustained by the others present.

Samuel Davis, as the moderator of the Philadelphia Presbytery, was sent to participate in the installation of Rev. John Hampton in the church of Snow Hill, Maryland. However, Davis did not show up for the installation of Rev. Hampton. He was asked to preach at another way station of early Presbyterianism, but was absent on that occasion as well. A letter was sent to him with a complaint for not only these absences, but other delinquencies as well. He was ordered to prepare a sermon on Hebrews 1:4
for the next presbytery meeting.

In the Presbytery of 1712, there is the note in the minutes that, after inquiry, his fellow ministers were satisfied that their fellow pastor Samuel Davis was necessarily absent for the past three years. Two ministers were instructed to write him and exhort him to be present for future meetings, or failing that, to send a justified excuse if he couldn’t be present. He wasn’t present in 1712, nor did he sent an excuse for the meeting in 1713, but did send one in 1714. However, he did arrive later in at the meeting in 1714 and was part of an ordination for the new Presbyterian pastor of Cape May, New Jersey.

He was excused from attending the 1715 and 1716 meetings. At the 1716 meeting of the Philadelphia presbytery, he was transferred to the Snow Hill Presbytery, which was composed of him and two other ministers. It is not known if he was any more faithful in these new parts of the Presbyterian church. He died in 1725.

Words to Live By: Faithfulness in God’s work is the essential ingredient of a successful ministry. Let us pray for those who preach the Word of God and encourage them in that work.

Our post this Monday comes from the pages of Christianity Today [the original series by that name, not the one most folks know today]. It concerns a man who caused substantial concern for the Church by his less than orthodox views. The times were such that, thankfully, the Church was itself still found orthodox and so Dr. McGiffert was charged with error and dismissed from the Church. But note the problem that ensued, as he later became the president of a seminary that continued to send its graduates into the Presbyterian ministry. In this respect, his career very much mirrored that of Charles Augustus Briggs, who also was disciplined for unbiblical views and who took refuge in a non-Presbyterian denomination, yet maintained his professorship at Union Theological Seminary in New York and continued to teach young men who would graduate and seek ordination in the Presbyterian Church. 

Christianity Today, 3.11 (March 1933): 23-24.

Dr A. C. McGiffert Dies
ARTHUR CUSHMAN McGIFFERT, outstanding American Modernist scholar, died in Dobbs Ferry, New York, on the evening of February 25, 1933. Death was sudden, caused by cerebral hemorrhage. He was 71 years of age. Dr. McGiffert was a graduate of Western Reserve University in 1882, and of Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1885. In following years he studied in Europe. Returning, he became a Presbyterian minister in 1888. In 1899 the furore created by his book A History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age caused the General Assembly to refer an overture concerning Dr. McGiffert to the Presbytery of New York “for such disposition as in its judgment the peace of the Church and purity of doctrine may require.” Thereafter the Rev. G. W. F. Birch, D.D., then Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of New York filed heresy charges against Dr. McGiffert. The Presbytery voted, 77-39, not to bring the accused to trial. Thereupon Dr. Birch appealed to the Assembly of 1900. Foreseeing certain defeat in the Assembly, in those days controlled by those who voted as well as talked Conservative, Dr. McGiffert withdrew from the Presbyterian Church and became a Congregationalist. In view of this fact, Dr. Birch withdrew his appeal, the desired result having been accomplished.

In 1917 Dr. McGiffert was chosen President of Union Theological Seminary (N. Y.). He served in that capacity until 1926. He had been Professor of Church History in the Seminary since 1893. He was an instructor in Lane Theological Seminary from 1888 to 1893. Dr. McGiffert’s published writings included the following: “Dialogue Between a Christian and a Jew” 1888; “The Church History of Eusebius,” 1890; “A History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age,” 1897; “The Apostles’ Creed,” 1902; “Protestant Thought Before Kant,” 1911; “Martin Luther, the Man and His Work,” 1911; “The Rise of Modern Religious Ideas,” 1915; “The God of the Early Christians,” 1924; and “A History of
Christian Thought,” 2 Vols., 1932, 1933.

Dr. McGiffert married twice. His first wife, Eliza Isabelle King of Washington, died in 1887, two years after their marriage. Their daughter, Elizabeth, is the wife of the Rev. Dwight F. Mowery. In 1891 Dr. McGiffert married Gertrude Huntington Boyce of East Orange, N. J. They had a son, Arthur Cushman McGiffert, Jr., who is Professor of Christian Theology at Chicago
Theological Seminary, and a daughter, Mrs. John K. Wright.

Funeral services were held in the Union Seminary Chapel on February 28th. They were conducted by Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin, Dr. McGiffert’s successor as President, and Professor Frame. Interment followed at Beacon, N. Y.

Words to Live By:

“Do you mortify?; do you make it your daily work?; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

So said the famous Puritan, John Owen. How does someone like Dr. McGiffert seemingly begin well, yet end up in denial of basic truths of the Bible? The answer of course is sin, and there is good reason to conclude that doctrinal error always has behind it moral failure. Or to quote another Puritan, Jeremiah Burroughs:

“The reason why there are such errors among us about God and His ways, it comes from the uncleanness of men’s hearts. And mark it, either such men as heretofore have been professors of religion and fall off, and grow drossy and sensual and carnal, and give way to their lusts, they fall to strange opinions; or otherwise young ones, that have had very profane and unclean hearts, and as soon as ever their consciences begin to stir in tem, why, they will make a kind of profession of religion, but their hearts never emptied of their lusts, never humbled for their sins; yea, and the devil hath got a way not to keep men from that, to tell them it is but mere legal, and it will rather hinder them from Jesus Christ than further them, and so they fall upon profession of religion, and never know any work of humiliation, so that their hearts are as unclean as ever they were. And no marvel though these men have such misshapen thoughts of God and Christ, and the covenant of grace, and the things of eternal life; their hearts were never cleansed. Yet I say, mark it, your erroneous men that fall to so many vile and damnable errors, they are of one of those two sorts, either men that have been forward professors and beginning to be carnal and sensual and vain; or otherwise young ones that take upon them the profession of religion, yet never knew what the sight of sin meant.”—Jeremiah Burroughs, The Saints Happiness, p. 162.

So daily draw near to the Lord. Keep your heart fresh before Him. Confess your sins readily and turn from them. Remember His works and meditate on them, for their remembrance is the Lord’s provision to strengthen you in the love of our Savior.

by Rev. William Smith, of Glasgow (1836)

Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 8:

Q.8. How doth God execute his decrees?

  1. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence.


God executeth his decrees.—God fulfils, causes to happen, or brings to pass, his purposes, designs, or intentions.


This answer shows us that God performs his purposes in two ways:

  1. In the works of creation.—Rev. iv. 11. Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
  2. In his works of Providence.—Dan. iv. 35. He doth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.

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