February 2019

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Trust in God, and you shall not fear

The subject of today’s historical devotional was not a Presbyterian, but in the closing days of his life and ministry on earth, he was the president of the foremost Presbyterian college in America. Jonathan Edwards was born into a ministerial families in 1703. Trained in the home, he entered into scholarly pursuits by attending Yale College at age 13. In the latter portion of his collegiate training, the Holy Spirit convicted his heart and convinced him of his need of Jesus Christ. He received Jesus as Lord and Savior at that pivotal time. Graduating from Yale in 1720, he continued his studies for the gospel ministry. When a congregation in what is now the New England area of our country became vacant, he went as the pastor in 1729, following his father-in-law as the minister. It was there under the preaching of the Word, including the famous sermon “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God,” that the Great Awakening movement came to the church and area. Over three hundred souls were awakened to their sinfulness and brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Jonathan Edwards was not only effective as an awakening pastor, but through his writings, the then known world of Christendom was challenged as to the authority of God’s Word in the life of the church and the sphere of culture. He was America’s foremost apologist, or defender of the faith. Even in the midst of church controversy, such as developed in that Northampton congregation over the issue of qualified participants of the Lord’s Supper, he did not allow his departure to stop him in his ministry. He evangelized among the native Americans for six years in the Stockton, Massachusetts area.

It was in 1758, that a delegation came from the College of New Jersey, with an offer to become the president of that Presbyterian school of the prophets. After some objections were answered satisfactorily, he did accept the offer in January of 1758 and became associated with what would later become Princeton University. As smallpox was present in the area, a noted physician came down from Philadelphia on February 23, 1758 to inoculate President Edwards and two of his daughters. Edwards had never been in the best of health and as the effects of the inoculation were subsiding, a secondary fever took hold and Jonathan Edwards died of small pox approximately one month later, March 22, 1758.

Just before his death, some people were attending him on his death-bed, and remarked about the approaching effect of this certain demise on the Christian church. Jonathan Edwards, hearing those remarks, spoke to those attending him with his dying words “Trust in God, and ye need not fear.”

Words to Live By: Let us ever and always trust in God, indeed the God of providence, with whom there is no mistake in life or death.

The Love of Christ Constrains Us

The First Presbyterian Church of Schenectady, New York was organized in 1760, and is now a part of the Presbyterian Church in America. But according to one account, were it not for the ministry of Rev. John B. Romeyn, the church might not exist today. In late 1803, when Rev. Romeyn accepted a call to serve the church, he found the church deeply divided. The only thing the factions could agree on was that they all wanted him for their pastor. Though he was only there for a year, by the time he left, the church had become harmonious once more, and the problems that once faced the church had faded into the past.

John Brodhead Romeyn was the son of a Dutch Reformed pastor, and he himself pastored several Dutch Reformed churches. John was born in 1777, educated at the Academy that later became Union College and placed into the senior class at Columbia College. Skipping over some of his career, he arrived at the Cedar Street Presbyterian church in New York in 1809, and this was his last church. Declining health later forced a year’s respite on the Continent, but he returned in 1814 and continued to serve that church until his death on February 22, 1825, at the age of 47.

John Romeyn grew up in a godly home, and he obviously had great advantages and learned well at his father’s side. He must have been quite mature for his age, to take a troubled church and turn it around in a year’s time. Two volumes of his sermons were published posthumously, and I can think of no better way to gain some insight into a pastor and his theology than by looking at his sermons. What follows is from the opening few pages of one of Rev. Romeyn’s sermons, this one on the text of 2 Cor. 5:14-17 [you can read more of his sermons here. Regrettably I did not find volume 2 available at that site.]

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Cor. 5:14-17, KJV)

“Festus, the Roman governor, when Paul defended himself against the charges of his enemies, said unto him “And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” (Acts 26:24-25, KJV). The great apostle of the Gentiles spake what he knew, and testified what he had seen. Because he was not deceived himself, he could not deceive others. His testimony, however, though it could not be disproved, was rejected. The Roman governor descended to the use of invective—of calumny—of ridicule. Similar views and feelings influenced certain persons in the Corinthian Church, to exhibit Paul as a weak zealot. His spotless integrity, his disinterested activity, repelled the suspicion of fraud. They therefore charged him with being “beside himself.” He acted so contrary to the principles of worldly wisdom, that there appeared some plausibility in the charge. But the moment he speaks and unfolds the motives of his conduct, that plausibility vanishes. We look for it, and wonder what it was, that for a moment made it in the least credible amongst professors of Jesus. “The love of Christ,” saith he meekly, in answer to the malice of his foes, “constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead : and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh : yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we hiim no more. Therefore is any man be in Christ, he is a new creature : old things are become new.” Thus, by manifestation of the truth, he commended himself, not only to the understanding, but to the conscience of every man in the sight of God. The appeal which he makes is irresistible, for the reason which he offers is irrefutable.

“The love of Christ was the spring which set in motion all his affections, and gave rise to those astonishing displays which he exhibited of almost every virtue. This spring operated in the hearts of the other apostles, and still operates in the heart of every sincere minister. The love of Christ is the burden of his exhortations, as well as the principle motive which he offers for holy living. Every Christian feels this motive; it destroys selfishness; it produces holiness. It is the grand principle of a new life; of a life of religion, and of the purest morals.

“The Gospel ministry which dwells much on this love, is not unfrequently blamed, as tending to loosen our obligations to morality. So far is this from the fact, that, on the contrary, a Gospel ministry, which loses sight of this love, or does not enlarge on it, and often bring it into view, really injures the interests of morality. The love of Christ is the great and truly constraining motive to the exercise of all those virtues which, whilst they meliorate the state of man, adorn and dignify his character.…”

February 21, 1830 marks the birth of Caspar Wistar Hodge, youngest son of Dr. Charles Hodge, named after the eminent physician Caspar Wistar [1761-1818]. Another of Dr. Hodge’s sons, Archibald Alexander Hodge, also taught at Princeton Theological Seminary.  The Rev. Dr. Caspar Wistar Hodge died on 27 September 1891.

The following is excerpted from Francis Landey Patton’s memorial tribute to his close friend and colleague. And not surprisingly, given self-effacing portrait that Patton paints of his friend, we were unable to locate a photograph of C.W. Hodge. If you know of a good portrait photography in the public domain, we would like to know of it.

“He was my most intimate friend. I have come to-day to place a wreath of affection upon his grave. My text [“He opened to us the Scriptures.”—Luke 24:32] is taken from the floral tribute which you who were his pupils placed upon his bier. This is your answer to the question, What did he do? It is a sufficient answer. He wrote no books, his voice was seldom heard beyond his native town, he took no active part in public affairs, and he shrank from the public gaze; but he opened to us the Scriptures. To more than thirty classes he unfolded the truths of the New Testament. He led them reverently over the ground that had been hallowed by the Saviour’s feet, and traced the history of the Apostolic Church from Peter on the day of Pentecost to John in Patmos. Year by year he sent his pupils forth into the world laden with material for use in the service of the gospel, filled with quickening thoughts, and ready to testify that the reverent spirit can handle the subtle questions of criticism without suggesting doubt or lessening zeal.

“Dr. Caspar Wistar Hodge was born in Princeton, 21 February 1830. He grew up in Princeton; and, with the exception of the short period covered by his two pastorates, he spent his life there. We can see, then, why he loved Princeton. Others love it; even those who have spent only three or four years of academic residence here speak of it in enthusiastic terms. We who have come here to live, and who expect to die here, love it with an affection that grows deeper even if it grows sadder every year. But we are only adopted children after all. We love sometimes with a divided heart. It was not so with Dr. Hodge. He loved it as one loves the home of his childhood. He loved it with an unfaltering and an unwandering affection. Its rough streets and crooked lanes and weather-beaten houses had tender associations for him. The bridge we crossed and the brook we would sometimes pensively look into in our summer rambles would often suggest an anecdote that showed how the neighborhood was haunted by the ghosts of memory.

“Besides, the theology of this seminary was to him a precious heritage. He was in intellectual sympathy with it to be sure; but his hereditary relations to Princeton theology gave an emotional warmth to his convictions. He believed that Princeton had performed a mission in the past, and he believed that in the maintenance of the same truth she had a mission just as great to perform to-day.

“He had no love for novelties; and he regarded all schemes that fettered the individual conscience by man-made regulations as new modes of returning unto the weak and beggarly elements, where unto so many still love to be in bondage. . .

“. . . The worst heresy is a half-truth, because it is so hard to deal with it. There are so many reasons that can be given for this bad influence in the class-room. Men are ambitious and seek notoriety. They love to be thought original, and they step out of the beaten path. Men raise the cry of progress, and think what is new is an improvement. Men find themselves in unstable equilibrium between the old and the new modes of thinking, and they adopt a paradoxical and inconsistent style of utterance. They try to pour the new wine into the old bottles. They teach orthodoxy with the voice, and suggest heresy with a shrug of the shoulders. But there was nothing of all this in Dr. Hodge. He was a reverent believer in the Bible as the Word of God, and in the doctrines of the Bible as they are formulated in the creed of his church. He was honest, fair-minded, and firm. When he saw difficulties and it was necessary, he held his judgment in suspense. He knew the resources of the enemy, and did not underrate them. But he also knew the argumentative resources of Christianity. The consequence was that his lectures strengthened faith and deepened conviction; and men who had no great critical sagacity themselves felt that they had been reinforced immensely by the fact that they had a man of Dr. Hodge’s scholarship and judgment on the side of the theology of the catechism.”

Words to Live By:  It is often true that some of the greatest and most abiding work in God’s kingdom is accomplished by dear saints whose names you may never know, those men and women who work faithfully in the work that God gives them, yet without drawing attention to themselves. Do your work faithfully, as unto the Lord, for this is His calling and purpose for your life. And if God should later bring you into wider fields of service and usefulness in His kingdom, then praise Him for that as well.

For a fuller biography of Dr. Caspar Wistar Hodge, see Dr. Barry Waugh’s post at Presbyterians of the Past.

 

A Presbyterian Remnant Remains True to the Gospel
by Rev. David T. Myers

The story line was surprising and sorrowful at the same time. Written just last year, it told the story of the dying Presbyterian Church of New Zealand which had decided to attract new members with an approach  of “drinking  to the Gospel,” as they called it. Many churches of this main line Presbyterian Church down under were adding outreaches entitled “wine  and theology” and “beer and barbecue” to their schedules. It wasn’t always this way in this Presbyterian church.

The beginning of the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand began on February 20, 1840 when the Rev. John Macfarlane of the Church of Scotland arrived in Port Nicholson, Wellington. The Scottish minister became the church planter of the first Scots church four years later in the area.  Even when the disruption occurred in during this same time period, it took a little time for that to reach the new country. Eventually it did however, and ministers from the Free Church of Scotland arrived to minister to the Scottish people residing in the land. In fact, whole groups of families from the Free Presbyterian church began to arrive in country, along with their pastors. A Presbyterian Church true to the gospel was being established in  New Zealand.

Fast forward to the mid-sixties. The Presbyterian Church had grown strong and numerous. Twenty four Presbyteries dotted the land, with 446 parishes, 806 church buildings, ninety thousand plus members, over 70,000 Sunday school pupils, and 20,000 Bible class students. But numbers can be deceiving as well, so it was in this decade that the church was falling into apostasy.  Individual churches began to “come out and be separate,” until 2000, a fully fledged denomination started called Grace Presbyterian Church of New Zealand was organized.

According to its web page, it describes itself as “Presbyterian in government, Reformed in theology, and Evangelical in spirit.”  It states fully that it is a “national Presbyterian Church that holds strongly to the Bible as its rule of faith and life,” with a passion for God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and a passion for people.”  That means, the web site says, “that we seek to bring glory to God and be aware of where  he is leading through His Word and Holy Spirit.”  Further, it translates out as being “dedicated to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are lost, both here in New Zealand and elsewhere.” In addition, they as a church are “fully committed to the Reformed faith as the most consistent presentation and outworking of Biblical Christianity.” They take their stand for life in the womb and for marriage between a man and a woman.

Words to Live By:
If you are like this author, you must acknowledge that you had no idea that a faithful Presbyterian remnant for the gospel was existing in this South Pacific nation. At the same time, you are thankful for even small beginnings which seeks to be faithful to the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Why not pray today, and if you are a pastor, pray from the pulpit and/or Sunday School desk for Grace Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, that they will remain faithful to the Scriptures, the Reformed Faith, and the Great Commission?

The Early History of Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church, Sparta, IL

wylieSamuelThe history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Randolph County, Illinois, goes back to the year 1818.  To the Rev. Samuel Wylie belongs the credit of the planting of the church.  He was born in County Antrim, Ireland, February 19, 1790; came to the United States in 1807; entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated in the class of 1811; prepared for the ministry in the Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, under the care of his uncle, Dr. Samuel Brown Wylie, and was licensed to preach in May, 1815, at Philadelphia, by the Middle Presbytery.

In the summer of 1817 he visited various places in the West, passing through Illinois and continuing his travels as far as Boonville, Missouri.  One his return he again passed through Illinois and spent the winter in supplying the vacancies in Tennessee and South Carolina.

At the meeting of the Synod in Pittsburgh in the latter part of May, 1818, he reported his travels and the prospect for church extension in the West.  Synod ordered the Middle Presbytery to take him on trial for ordination, and he was accordingly ordained in Pittsburgh, PA, on the 2nd of June, 1818, and sent as a missionary to Southern Illinois.  Mr. Wylie reached Kaskaskia the last day of July following and immediately entered upon his work.

The field of operation at first was Randolph county, though it afterward embraced parts of Perry, Washington and St. Clair.  A number of families belonging to the Associate Reformed church in South Carolina had moved into the county early in the [1800’s], and made a settlement near the present town of Preston.  They had been organized into a congregation by Rev. S. Brown, of Kentucky, a number of years before Mr. Wylie’s arrival, and being without preaching from their own ministers, by request, Mr. Wylie made his principal preaching place with them.  Members of the Reformed Presbyterian church began to come in.  James M. Gray was the first to arrive.  He came in October, and was followed immediately by his father-in-law, James Wilson, and family.  They came from near Vincennes, Indiana, where they had lived a number of years after leaving South Carolina.  They first settled near Kaskaskia, but finally located about three miles south of Sparta.

John McDill, Sr., and Hugh McKelvey, from South Carolina, came out in the summer of 1818, and bought land in Township 4—5.  One their way home they stopped in Tennessee with William Edgar, Samuel Nisbet and Samuel Little, who had removed from South Carolina a number of years before, and informed them of the mission begun in Illinois.  They immediately set out for Kaskaskia and purchased land, and Messrs. Edgar and Little moved out in the spring of 1819.  Mr. Nisbet, however, was detained and did not arrive until September.

Mr. McDill did not move out until November, 1819, though his son, John, came in the spring of that year, and began to improve his father’s place.  Mr. McKelvey did not come until 1820.  Mrs. Elizabeth Ritchie came in 1818; John McMillan and family, from Princeton, Indiana, arrived about the close of 1818 or the beginning of 1819, and settled on Plum Creek, near the present town of Houston.  David Cathcart and his son-in-law, William Campbell, from South Carolina, came in the spring of 1819, and settled in the lower end of Grand Cote Prairie.  Alexander Alexander arrived in the spring of 1819, and bought land near the old grave-yard, and after improving his place, returned to South Carolina and brought out his family in the latter part of 1819.  His father-in-law, John McDill, Sr., James Munford and John Dickey, with their families came at the same time.  John McMillan, of the Associate church, also came with them and settled between Eden and Sparta, and Munford and Dickey settled northeast of Eden.  James Strahan, from western Pennsylvania, came in the spring of 1819, and settled first down toward Kaskaskia, but finally in the west end of Grand Cote.

Mr. Wylie continued to preach in Kaskaskia and in the Irish settlement and among the Covenanters, until the arrival of William Edgar and Samuel Little, when the first session was constituted, May 24, 1819, at James McClurken’s, about six miles southwest of Sparta.  William Edgar had been ordained to the eldership in the Rocky Creek congregation, South Carolina, in 1801, and Samuel Little in Hephzibah congregation, Tennessee, at its organization in the spring of 1815.

This may be reckoned the formal organization of Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church.  It is thought by some that the first communion was held at that time.

A call was made soon after for Rev. J. Wylie and forwarded to Synod to meet in Conococheague on August, 1819.  The call itself bears not date, but the letter accompanying it bears date June 7, 1819, and is signed on behalf of the meeting by James Wilson and Samuel Little.

The letter urges the acceptance of the call strongly and skillfully.  Synod referred the call to the Western Presbytery, and at a meeting of that court held in Hartford, Indiana, October 11, 1819, it was presented and accepted, and the Rev. John Kell appointed to install Mr. Wylie as pastor.  For some reason the installation did not take place.

Presbytery met in Bethel congregation in the spring of 1820.  The question of Mr. Wylie’s settlement was again brought up, but it was deemed best to wait another year.  At this time a communion was held at Samuel Little’s, and James Munford and James McClurken were added to the session; the former had been an elder in South Carolina; the latter was formerly a member of the Associate Reformed church, and having joined the Covenanters in 18109, was chosen and ordained to the fellowship at this time.

A second call was made out for Mr. Wylie, May 22, 1821.  It was signed by thirty-five members, who subscribed $208 for his support.  The names on the call show the financial but not the numerical strength of the congregation.  It is probably that the number of the membership at this time was about seventy.  The call was presented to Presbytery on the 24th of May, and at length accepted, Mr. Wylie agreeing to give the congregation half his time, leaving the other half to be employed in mission work.  He was installed pastor on the 28th of May, 1821, over the congregation which he had gathered in the field where he had labored nearly three years as a missionary.

At the division of the Church in August, 1833, he became identified with the New School branch of the Covenanter Church, and many of his former flock remained with him, over whom he exercised pastoral charge until his resignation, on account of the infirmities of age, February 20, 1870. He died at his home in Sparta, Illinois, March 20, 1872. He married twice. First to Miss Margaret Millikin, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; second, to Mrs. Margaret (Black) Ewing, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was a faithful soldier of the Cross, and did much service for his Master in establishing His kingdom upon earth. He was a very acceptable preacher, and, in early times, large audiences of people waited upon his ministrations. He was not a bitter partisan, but always recognized the step which the body had taken with which he was connected. He was a fearless advocate for the cause of the slave, and enlisted the powers of his voice and pen in their emancipation. He served his Church in many important relations, and was recognized as a man of influence, and an able divine.  He published a “History of the Reformed Presbyterian Churches in Southern Illinois,” in the Presbyterian Historical Almanac, 1859. He was honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Washington and Jefferson College in 1868. Rev. Wylie served as Moderator of the 14th Synod in 1830, and later as Moderator of the General Synod in 1850.

Words to Live By:
Reading such accounts, one is struck by the level of hardship and willing sacrifice routinely exhibited by dear saints of a century or two ago. Where is our sacrifice today? What hardships are we willing to bear for the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ? I’m not suggesting that we impose some artificial hardship upon ourselves. That would be a form of asceticism. But I am suggesting that we discipline ourselves to be alert to the needs around us. Learn the discipline of looking to serve others, to be sacrificial of our time, and if needed, of our physical resources as well. But the greatest need is often met by simply being willing to give of ourselves.

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