January 2019

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“But honey!, these books are an investment!”

Today we will look briefly at the life and ministry of the Rev. John Dorrance. Recently I’ve come to the realization that if you dig deep enough, there is always an interesting story or two to be found in every life. That proved to be the case with Rev. Dorrance. To begin our account of Rev. Dorrance, we turn first to E.H. Gillett’s history of missions in Louisiana:—

“One of the first—if not the first—to labor as pastor at Baton Rouge, was Dr. John Dorrance, a native of Pennsylvania, and a graduate of Nassau Hall and of Princeton Seminary. On the completion of his studies, in 1826, he was sent to the South under a commission from the Board of Missions, and his field of labor was Baton Rouge and vicinity. This had been, and still was, a place of great immorality. Its population, numbering about twelve hundred, had been collected from every State of the Union and every part of Europe. It is not strange that infidelity should have been common and openly avowed. Yet, in view of the temporal benefits of Christian institutions, the people invited the missionary to remain, and contributed to his support. He was ordained and installed, by the Mississippi Presbytery, pastor of the church at Baton Rouge in 1827; and during a pastorate of four years his labors were eminently successful.”

“Although the future scene of his ministry was in a Northern State (Wilkes Barre, PA), he left behind him a testimony that he had not labored in vain. Possessed of rare intellectual endowments, his mind was not brilliant, but admirably balanced, and capable of a prodigious grasp. If he did not shine as a student, he was wise and prudent as a man. He died in the triumph of a Christian faith, April 18, 1861.”

The first known Presbyterian services in Baton Rouge were conducted by the Rev. William McCalla, while he was a chaplain stationed there with the U.S. Army. Then in 1822, the Presbytery of Mississippi sent a Rev. Savage, who preached for a short while at several locations in the area. Then in 1827, Rev. Dorrance was installed over the work. During his ministry the church was organized and left its mission status behind. At its organization, the church had only fifteen members, but just five years later it was strong enough to plant a daughter church in Zachary, Louisiana. The Zachary church, now known as Plains Presbyterian Church, was founded in 1832, and it became one of the strongest in the South. It later became one of the founding congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America, in 1973.

So there’s that interesting aspect to our story. The other interesting note comes from an unexpected angle. A little searching on the Internet turns up a bookseller who has a rare volume for sale, once owned by Rev. Dorrance. The work is titled Liber Psalmorum Hebraice, or The Book of Psalms, in Hebrew. It was published in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1809 as part of the first American printing of any part of the Hebrew Bible. It is a small book, about the size of a common paperback, and has almost 500 pages. Part of the leather cover is now detached and there are other signs of wear that you might expect for a book this old. The first book published on American soil was an edition of the Psalter, published in 1640 by Harvard College. This became known as the Bay Psalm Book. You may have seen in the news recently that an old historic church plans to sell one of their two copies of this rare book, which may bring as much as $30 million dollars at auction. By contrast, the asking price for this copy of the Hebrew Book of Psalms is a steal at a mere $20,000. To read the bookseller’s full description, click here.  So yes, those books you are buying could be an investment. The problem is waiting around 200 years to cash in.

Words to Live By:
Books are among a pastor’s best tools. Much thought goes into picking the best available. Many are used frequently. Some are constant companions. The best books are those worth reading more than once. That’s true for all of us, whether pastors or not. And with the best book of all, I urge you to turn to the Bible at the start of each day, before the press of life interrupts. And learn to read the Scriptures meditatively—slowly, thoughtfully, and with application.

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books, there is no end; and much study is a wearness of the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12, KJV)

For Further Study:
A small collection of Rev. Dorrance’s papers, consisting of ten sermon manuscripts, was preserved and is housed at the Special Collections Department of the Princeton Theological Seminary.  To see more about this collection, click here.

Sources: Gillett, Ezra Hall, History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, volume 2, 1864, pp. 379-380. (available on the Internet, here.

On the Death of a Christian.

Jacob Jones Janeway was a noted Philadelphia pastor in the first half of the nineteenth century, an author, and a close friend of the early Princeton Theological Seminary faculty (Alexander, Miller and Hodge). Here, from the closing pages of his biography, is an account of how he himself faced death, early in 1858:—

J.J. JanewayOn Sabbath, January 31, [1858] he was confined to that bed, from which he never arose. Five months of wearying sickness passed away till all was over. He never complained—always said he did not suffer, though it seemed to his attendants almost impossible that he did not. The coloured man who had long lived in his house nursed him faithfully. His children were much with him. At times his disease appeared so violent that it seemed impossible that he could survive. But he rallied again. He insisted that morning and evening worship should be performed in his chamber, and readily detected the absence of any of his servants. Worship was ordinarily performed by one of his sons. If at any time their own duties compelled them to be absent, he would be propped up in his bed, and utter his usual fervent prayers.

Disease obscured his mind, and caused confusion and wandering. But on the subject of religion, or any exposition of the Scripture, he was clear as ever. Not one syllable is he remembered to have uttered which betrayed confusion, where the interests of Christ’s kingdom were concerned. When any of his grandchildren approached him who were not in communion with the church, he faithfully conversed with them—bade them meet him at the judgment-seat, on the right hand. He was remarkably earnest in his appeals, and enforced them with urgency. The ruling passion was strong in death.

When he was told of the occurent revivals of the noon-day meetings for prayer, and of the general interest manifested everywhere in religion, his countenance beamed, and he said there were more glorious days at hand, and that the Redeemer’s kingdom would be ushered in by such displays of grace. Towards the close, he said to his eldest son : ” I am tired of eating—I want to go home!” But still the strong man of his constitution struggled with disease; pin after pin seemed loosening in the tabernacle; symptom after symptom developed unfavourably, but his frame did not succumb. The nature of his disease was such as to prevent such exhibitions as are often seen in God’s dying children. This was the appointment of God, and a life of such eminent holiness did not require any other illustration of the grace of God. At the close of June, he became unconscious, and lay for two or three days without any communion with the outer world. His children were with him, hourly waiting for his departure, and at last, on Sabbath, June 27th, just before the setting of the sun, he entered on his eternal Sabbath, and doubtless, as a good and faithful servant, was received by his Lord, whom he had served earnestly, in as far as the imperfection which cleaves to our nature permitted.

His funeral was attended in the First Presbyterian church, when the Rev. Dr. Hodge, who had been received by him, in the dew of his own youth, into the communion of the church, preached his funeral sermon, full of affection, and replete with memorials of his deceased  and venerable friend. Devout men carried him to his tomb—Christian ministers who had come at the summons, from their homes, to see the last of one whom they venerated when living, and mourned when removed. After the death of his wife, he had built for himself a family tomb, and was anxious that it should be of capacity sufficient to accommodate the remains of his family, and of his children to the fourth generation. He seemed to take pleasure in the thought that their dust should repose together till the morning of the resurrection, and rise, he trusted, an unbroken family, to the right hand of his Saviour.

[Excerpted from The Life of Dr. J. J. Janeway, pp. 260-261.]

Words to Live By:
May we all die well; which is to say, may we all die in Christ, our names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life; may we all, in this life and while there is life, seek Christ as our only Savior and Lord, for none of us know when we must answer that call to go Home.

The following account has been freely edited from Fowler’s History of the Synod of Central New York (1877) and from the funeral discourse delivered by J. Trumbull Backus.

At Home in the Joy of the Lord

Union College in Schenectady, New York, was chartered in 1795 and held its first commencement in 1797, with Dr. John Blair Smith serving as the school’s first president, 1795-99. The younger Jonathan Edwards followed as president of the school, but only lived a dozen months or so after taking the helm [1799-1801]. Dr. Jonathan Maxey followed him [1802-04], but retired in 1804, and then came Dr. Eliphalet Nott, who still holds the record as having served Union College longest in the post of President [1804-66]. Fifty years following his inauguration, he remarked, “Some forty students scattered over the then village of Schenectady, meeting for educational purposes in what was then a cabinet-maker’s shop, with a single Professor, was the whole of Union College,” and it may be added, only sixty-three had graduated from it at that time.

He addressed himself to the raising of needed funds and the erection of needed buildings, as well as the establishment and filling of new departments, and he wonderfully succeeded in this part of his work, while as President he attracted crowds of young men, four thousand of whom were graduated during his presidency.

nott_eliphaltet_graveThough incessantly occupied by his duties to the college, Dr. Nott was much engaged in outside preaching, and considerably in ecclesiastical affairs, and in 1811 was chosen Moderator of the General Assembly. He entered cordially into the temperance reform, and was the constant dependence and counsellor of Mr. Edward C. Delavan in his large and liberal enterprises for this cause. He published occasional addresses and sermons, and in 1810 his “Counsel to Young Men,” which passed through numerous editions, and in 1847, “Lectures on Temperance.” In 1860 he went for the last time to his lecture room, and presided at Commencement for the last time in 1862. Infirmities were gathering upon him for many years previously, and his decline ended in fatal paralysis, January 29, 1866. “His dying counsel to his nearest friend was, ‘Fear God and keep His commandments,’ and his last words were, ‘Jesus Christ, my covenant God.’ “

The immediate expectation of death is usually a severe test of man; and Dr. Nott had been conscious of that condition for years. Since 1860 he felt that he was within a momentary summons to go home to his Lord. During much of this protracted period of awaiting and expecting, he was enough of himself to discriminate clearly, and cautiously consider his prospects. Clouds and apprehensions would sometimes intervene; but always there was reverent, cordial submission to the Divine will, and for the most part a sweet, humble, child-like fearlessness of trust and hope. It was the manifestation of a true, soul-sustaining Christianity; and a demonstration of his sincerity, an interpretation of his life beyond all scope for cavil or doubt–a priceless testimony to the covenant faithfulness of God. . . He was ever to the end a little child before God, most pleased to sit at Jesus’ feet, and confiding firmly, gratefully, in the sovereignty and loving-kindness of his gracious Lord. He is now at home in the joy of his Lord.

Words to Live By:
We sometimes use that phrase, “at home in the joy of the Lord,” as a euphemism of death, though it does indeed express a reality for the departed Christian. But think about it—shouldn’t that be our goal even here and now, to be “at home in the joy of the Lord”? We can and should strive to be so daily conversant with our covenant God, in His Word and in prayer, that we can truly say that we are at home in the joy of the Lord, even now, and well before death’s inevitable call.

Historical Note: It was mildly interesting to note that there is some discrepancy regarding the death date for Dr. Nott. Some sources give January 25th as the date of his demise. Others state that he died on January 29th. Finally, a photograph of his gravestone was located and while grave markers have on occasion been chiseled with error, we will in this instance go with the date set down in stone.

THE SCHOOL & FAMILY CATECHIST.

Q.4. What is God?

  1. A. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

EXPLICATION.

A Spirit. —A living, thinking substance, without bodily parts, and which cannot be seen with the eyes.

Infinite. —Without bounds or limits.

Eternal.—Without beginning and without end.

Unchangeable. —Always the same, without any alteration.

ANALYSIS.

The knowledge which we here receive, concerning God, consists of ten particulars:

  1. 1. That God is a Spirit.—John iv. 24. God is a Spirit.—John i. 18. No man hath seen God at any time.
  2. That he is infinite.—Job. xi. 7. Canst thou by searching find out God?
  3. That he is eternal. —Psal. xc. 1, 2. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.
  4. That he is unchangeable.—Mal. iii. 6. I am the Lord, I change not. Psal. xxxiii. 11. The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever; the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
  5. That he is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his BEING or ESSENCE.Exod. iii. 14. God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM
  6. That he is so likewise in his WISDOM, or that attribute of his nature by which he knows and directs all things. — Ps. cxlvii. 5. His understanding is infinite.
  7. That he is the same also in his POWER, or that attribute of his nature, by which he can do everything, that is no sinful or dishonorable. —Jer. xxxii. 27. Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for me?Mark x. 27. With God all things are possible.
  8. That the same perfections extend also to the HOLINESS of God, or that attribute of his nature, which shows him to be perfectly free from all sin. Rev. xv. 4. O Lord— thou only art holy.—Psal. cxlv. 17. The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.
  9. That he is equally perfect in his JUSTICE, or that attribute of his nature, which he renders to every creature his due.—Psal. lxxxix. 14. Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne.— Rev. xv. 3. Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints!
  10. That this is also the case with his GOODNESS, and TRUTH, or those attributes of his nature, by which he is kind to his creatures, and by which he abhors everything like deceit and falsehood.— Exod. xxxiv. 6. The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.—1 John iv. 8. God is love.

Dr. J. Gresham Machen On Christianity And Modernism Or Liberalism

(“Exploring Avenues Of Acquaintance And Co-operation”)
By Chalmers W. Alexander
Jackson, Miss.
[THE SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL 8.15 (1 December 1949): 7-8.]

This is the tenth in the series of articles by Chalmers W. Alexander under the heading, “Exploring Avenues of Acquaintance And Co-operation.” This is an informative new series of articles written by one of the most able laymen in the Southern Presbyterian Church.

Modernism or Liberalism is not a present-day, up-to-date form of Christianity. It is not, in fact, a form of Christianity at all.

Modernism or Liberalism is a religion which is separate and distinct and different from Christianity, just as Mohammedanism and Buddhism are separate and distinct and different from Christianity.

Christian Terms Are Used

The Modernists or Liberals have borrowed many of the traditional words and terms and expressions which the historic Christian Church and the Bible-believing Christians have been using since the first century. Such words as “God,” “belief,” “faith,” “grace,” “atonement,” “redemption,” and “resurrection,” for instance, are examples.

Christian Ideas Are Not Conveyed

But the ideas and conceptions which the Modernists or Liberals intend to convey, when they use these traditional words and terms and expressions, are radically different from the ideas and conceptions which the Bible-beliving Christians have in mind when they use them.

As a simple illustration of what is meant by this, take the word “God.” The Modernists or Liberals use that term, and the Conservatives also use that term. Both state that they worship “God,” but the term does not mean the same thing to the two different groups. The extremely liberal Christian Century recognized this fact, and once stated that the Fundamentalists (or Conservatives) and the Liberals (or Modernists) do not worship the same god.

It was due to the fact that the Modernists or Liberals have borrowed so many of the traditional terms and expressions which the Bible-believing Christians have always used that the Christians were slow in recognizing that Christianity and Modernism or Liberalism are not one and the same religion at all.

Dr. Machen’s Achievement

The man who did the most in this century to show clearly that Modernism or Liberalism is not a form of Christianity, but is in reality a form of unbelief from the Christian viewpoint, was Dr. J. Gresham Machen, the world-famous New Testament scholar.

In this connection, that unusually able theologian with the razor-keen mind, Dr. William Childs Robinson, Th.D., of our Columbia Theological Seminary, once wrote: “For his uncompromising testimony that ‘Liberalism’ was radically different from Bible Christianity, Machen suffered.”

And Dr. Clarence E. Macartney, the great Conservative minister who is the Pastor of the famed First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburg, and who was once the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Northern Presbyterian denomination, remarked:

“More than any other man of our generation, Dr. Machen tore the mask from the face of unbelief which parades under the name of Modernism in the Christian church.”

The able Editor of Christianity Today, Dr. Samuel G. Craig, writing at the time of Dr. Machen’s death in 1937, stated:

“The greatest service that Dr. Machen has rendered the cause of Christ—and for which in our judgment he will longest be remembered — was due to the clarity with which he perceived and the vigor with which he unanswerably maintained that what passes under the name of Modernism or Liberalism is not Christianity at all but rather a religion of a radically different sort. He was not the first to perceive this—it found clear expression, for instance, in Abraham Kuyper’s lectures (the Stone Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary) on Calvinism delivered in 1898—but no one in the English speaking world has done as much as Dr. Machen to open the eyes of Christians to the fact that an enemy within the gates was commending to their attention a type of religious belief that is diametrically opposed to Christianity at all principal points and that is all the more dangerous because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. He gave fullest and most adequate expression to this basic conviction in Christianity and Liberalism — a book that has lost none of its significance since it was published in 1923.”

The Best Book On The Subject

And in commenting on this book by Dr. Machen, Walter Lippmann, one of the nation’s most respected commentators and critics, who is not himself a professing Christian, wrote:

“There is also a reasoned case against the Modernists. Fortunately, this case has been stated in a little book called Christianity and Liberalism by a man who is both a scholar and a gentleman. The author is Professor J. Gresham Machen of the Princeton Theological Seminary. It is an admirable book. For its acumen, for its saliency, and for its wit this cool and stringent defense of orthodox Protestantism is, I think, the best popular argument produced by either side in the current controversy. We shall do well to listen to Dr. Machen . . . The Liberals have yet to answer Dr. Machen when he says that ‘the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon a mere program of work, but on an account of facts.’ It was based on the story of the birth, the life, the ministry, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

A Book Every Christian Should Read

I personally know of no book, aside from the Holy Bible itself, that Southern Presbyterians need to read at the present time as much as they need to read Christianity and Liberalism, by Dr. Machen. The book costs $2.50 and it is only 189 pages in length. It can be ordered direct from the Southern Presbyterian Journal Company, Weaverville, N.C., postage free. I earnestly urge and implore, with all of the emphasis at my command, that every Christian who reads these lines immediately order this volume and read it carefully.

The fact that Dr. Machen, the great Bible-believing Christian scholar was kicked out of the ministry of the Northern Presbyterian Church in 1936 while Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin, one of America’s most noted Modernists, was honored by being elected Moderator of the General Assembly of that denomination in 1943, indicates, as nothing else could indicate, how firmly Modernism or Liberalism has become entrenched in high places in that church.

What shall every Southern Presbyterian, as a Bible-believing Christian who clings to historic Christianity as it is revealed in the Holy Bible and as it is summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith and in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, say with reference to the proposed union with the heresy-tainted Northern Presbyterian Church, which has permitted Modernism or Liberalism to flourish so vigorously in its very midst?

Thou Shalt Say, No!

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