March 2019

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 A Joshua to the Southern Presbyterians

To many Christians, the name of John Leighton Wilson might be a common name of no real significance.  But to Southern Presbyterian Christians, he stands out as a spiritual giant of the faith.

Born on March 25, 1809 to Scot-Irish parents who had come to South Carolina in 1734, John Wilson grew up in a Christian home.  Reared in the Bible and the Westminster Shorter Catechism, he attended Union College in New York, graduating in 1829.  Two-thirds of his class from that college entered the ministry, and John Wilson was no different.  Entering Columbia Seminary in 1830, he began to sense a call to be a missionary in Africa.  One reason for that call was that he believed the South as a people owed it to Africa to send the gospel there as so many of her black children were in bondage in the south.  That inherent hatred of slavery would be proven in his later years in Africa.

Marrying in 1834 Miss Mary Elizabeth Bayard, who was also committed to the missionary call, they were the first American missionaries sent to Africa.  They were to labor there in two locations for eighteen years, learning the language, translating the Bible into it, wondrously proclaiming the gospel, and writing about the land for future missionaries to follow their labors.

Two major accomplishments in addition characterized his work there.  While there, he noticed the slave ships carrying their human cargo away from the shores of their homeland.  Wilson wrote a friend in England concerning the situation and by God’s providence, the Prime Minister of England came into possession of a copy of Wilson’s letter and subsequently had printed ten thousand copies in pamphlet form.  As a result, English war vessels were sent, forcing slave traders to give up their business of buying and selling slaves.

The other accomplishment was his discovery of the existence of the  “gorilla,” a name which was given by John Wilson to this animal.

After eighteen years in Africa, Mr and Mrs Wilson came home to the Board of Foreign Missions to superintend the work of missions through the world.  That happy association was interrupted by the War Between the States in 1861.  Though John Wilson had worked for the abolition of slavery in Africa, he cast in his lot with his southern brothers.  Immediately, he was placed in charge of missions for the Presbyterian Church of the Confederacy.  His spiritual vision, even in the midst of a war footing, and especially after that civil war,  went out to many nations, including the Indian tribes of the west.  The gospel was not limited in any way by what transpired on earth.

Around 1886, both he and his faithful wife entered the gates of heaven.  On his tombstone in South Carolina where he grew up, there is one phrase which stands out.  It says simply “The Foreign Missionary.” [John Leighton Wilson died on July 13, 1886; we do not yet have record of the exact date of his wife’s passing.]

Words to Live By:  John LeightonWilson once wrote, “I would rather live in the lowliest hut with  the enjoyment of God than in the most resplendent palace on earth without a hope of heaven.” He fulfilled that desire by his life.  What are your desires for your life?  Have you considered in whatever sphere of life He calls you, to be among those who are used by Him for His glory and the good of others?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 11.

Q.11. What are God’s works of Providence?

  1. God’s works of Providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.


Preserving his creatures.—Keeping, by his mighty power, every living being from returning to nothing.

Governing all his creatures.—God’s keeping them in order, and making them obedient to his authority.

Governing all their actions.—Directing all the doings and motions of his creatures, so as to prevent them from running into confusion.


Here we are taught that God’s providence consists of two parts:

  1. The preservation of his creatures.—Heb. 1: 3. Upholding all things by the word of his power.
  2. His governing his creatures and their actions.—Psalm 103: 19. His kingdom ruleth over all.—Matt. 10: 29. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father

In answer to this question, too, Divine providence is shown, as to its properties, to be

  1. Most holy.—Psalm 145: 17. O Lord—holy in all his works
  2. Most wise.—Psalm 104: 24. O Lord, how manifold are they works! in wisdom hast thou made them all.
  3. Most powerful.—Dan. 4: 35. He doth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?

She is not lost to you, who is found to Christ.

We have in years past written of the life and ministry of the Rev. Samuel Rutherford, one of the Scottish commissioners to the Westminster Assembly. From among his letters, the following letter to Lady Kenmure, upon the death of her infant child, is perhaps one of the better examples of Rutherford’s pastoral quality, which at heart, boils down to pointing his flock to Christ in all of life. What better counsel could he give?

II. To LADY KENMURE, on the occasion of the death of her infant daughter

MADAM, — Saluting your Ladyship with grace and mercy from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. I was sorry, at my departure, leaving your Ladyship in grief, and would be still grieved at it if I were not assured that ye have one with you in the furnace whose visage is like unto the Son of God. I am glad that ye have been acquainted from your youth with the wrestlings of God, knowing that if ye were not dear to God, and if your health did not require so much of Him, He would not spend so much physic upon you. All the brethren and sisters of Christ must be conformed to His image and copy in suffering (Rom. 8.29). And some do more vividly resemble the copy than others. Think, Madam, that it is a part of your glory to be enrolled among those whom one of the elders pointed out to John, These are they which came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’ Ye have lost a child: nay she is not lost to you who is found to Christ. She is not sent away, but only sent before, like unto a star, which going out of our sight doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere. We see her not, yet she doth shine in another country. If her glass was but a short hour, what she wanteth of time that she hath gotten of eternity; and ye have to rejoice that ye have now some plenishing up in heaven. Build your nest upon no tree here; for ye see God hath sold the forest to death; and every tree whereupon we would rest is ready to be cut down, to the end we may fly and mount up, and build upon the Rock, and dwell in the holes of the Rock. What ye love besides Jesus, your husband, is an adulterous lover.

Now it is God’s special blessing to Judah, that He will not let her find her paths in following her strange lovers. Therefore, behold I will hedge up thy way with thorns and make a wall that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them’ (Hos. 2.6-7). O thrice happy Judas, when God buildeth a double stone wall betwixt her and the fire of hell! The world, and the things of the world, Madam, is the lover ye naturally affect beside your own husband Christ. The hedge of thorns and the wall which God buildeth in your way, to hinder you from this lover, is the thorny hedge of daily grief, loss of children, weakness of body, iniquity of the time, uncertainty of estate, lack of worldly comfort, fear of God’s anger for old unrepented-of sins. What lose ye, if God twist and plait the hedge daily thicker? God be blessed, the Lord will not let you find your paths. Return to your first husband. Do not weary, neither think that death walketh towards you with a slow pace.

Ye must be riper ere ye be shaken. Your days are no longer than Job’s, that were ‘swifter than a post, and passed away as the ships of desire, and as the eagle that hasteth for the prey’ (9. 25, 26, margin). There is less sand in your glass now than there was yesternight. This span-length of ever-posting time will soon be ended. But the greater is the mercy of God, the more years ye get to advise, upon what terms, and upon what conditions, ye cast your soul in the huge gulf of never-ending eternity. The Lord hath told you what ye should be doing till He come; wait and hasten (saith Peter,) for the coming of the Lord’; all is night that is here, in respect of ignorance and daily ensuing troubles, one always making way to another, as the ninth wave of the sea to the tenth; therefore sigh and long for the dawning of that morning, and the breaking of that day of the coming of the Son of man, when the shadows shall flee away. Persuade yourself the King is coming; read His letter sent before Him, Behold, I come quickly.’ Wait with the wearied night-watch for the breaking of the eastern sky, and think that you have not a morrow. I am loath to weary you; show yourself a Christian, by suffering without murmuring; — in patience possess your soul: they lose nothing who gain Christ. I commend you to the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus.

ANWOTH, Jan, 15, 1629

[excerpted from The Letters of Samuel Rutherford.]

Among the many oral history interviews preserved at the PCA Historical Center in St. Louis, there is one interview with the Rev. Paul Settle, dated March 22, 1972, which stands out among the rest for several reasons. As I read through this interview, there were several portions which could have been used to comprise our post for today, portions which would have told something of what the PCA’s founding fathers were up against as they fought for years to turn the mother denomination away from error and back to faithfully preaching the Word of God. But it was the closing section of this interview that probably best conveys the heart of those men who became the founding fathers of the Presbyterian Church in America. In his closing summary, Rev. Settle reviews the Scripture text of his message and reinforces the powerful message that God’s truth, faithfully proclaimed, will prevail:—

As we come to a close, let’s think again about Jehoshaphat. In the 15th chapter of II Chronicles, we’re told that people were having a time of adversity, that there was no peace in the land. We’re told in that first verse that there was no teaching priest in Israel; the people were without the law, without the book of the law of the Lord. And this is how we find ourselves pretty much today, isn’t it? For a long time in our denomination, we have had no teaching priests as such. Our official literature, our official programs and policies have not been through and through Biblical; they’ve become increasingly radical, socialistic, activistic, neo-orthodox. There’s no question about this. There is no peace in the land in our denomination; the people are vexed, and God is sending us strong adversity. Simply as already has been pointed out, many of us have actually abdicated our responsibility in leadership roles down through the years. But God, in the 20th chapter of II Chronicles, tells us that all of Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the Lord. And that’s a fantastic difference between chapter 15 and chapter 20. What happened?

We’re told that God raised up Jehoshaphat, who did a number of things. First of all, we’re told that he sought to walk in the ways of the fathers. And that’s what we’re calling God’s people to do in these days. We’re calling them to walk in the ways of the fathers. We’re calling them to walk again in those ways that are the ways of our Lord Himself, and of the Apostle Paul, and of the early church fathers, and of Calvin and Luther and Knox and Edwards. We’re calling God’s people to walk again in the ways of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. But we’re not calling God’s people just to be conservative in that sense; we’re not calling them just to give their allegiance to a creed in that sense, for we have too many dead orthodox churches in our denomination today.

But Jehoshaphat did another thing; Jehoshaphat not only walked in the ways of his fathers and of David, but Jehoshaphat also sought the face of the Lord God, and that’s what we call God’s people to do. We call them not just to be conservative, but we call them to be conservative because they know the Lord, to be conservative because they believe that God is and that God has spoken, that God has revealed Himself in Holy Scripture, and that’s why they walk in those ways, because those are the ways of the Lord God Himself, who has spoken once and for all for all men of all ages. We’re calling God’s people to look to the Lord, person to person.

You know, we talk a lot about a true church, and we realize that no church is ever perfectly true, for we’re all sinners. But you know, that true church we talk about and pray for is going to be true only to the extent that you and I are true. That true church is going to walk in the ways of the fathers and seek the face of the Lord God only to the extent that you and I walk in those ways and seek His face today. How many in this sanctuary tonight, for instance, every day, have a time on their knees with the Lord with the book open before them? How many in the sanctuary tonight have a close, intimate, thrilling, exciting walk with Jesus Christ moment by moment, day by day? How many here have known the thrill and know that thrill daily of sharing the good news with precious souls? It’s awfully easy for us at Granada and Trinity and Coral Ridge and in churches all across this land to stand up for the faith, but does it really get down into our lives? That true church is going to be true only to the extent that you and I are true today. We need to walk in the ways of the fathers because we have sought the face of the Lord God. These are times for prayer, on our knees, earnest prayer, fervent prayer, prayer with tears and weeping and contrition and broken hearts. This is a time not just for the reading, but for the meditation in the Word of God, a time for the living of the Word.

Jehoshaphat did something else; Jehoshaphat also went up on the hillside and tore down the groves and the idols, those groves under which people committed awful orgies in the names of their gods. And we’re doing that, too, these days, hopefully in love. We’re tearing down idols and groves. We’re not calling people apostate or heretics; we’re just saying a man is what he is. We’re not saying he is a heretic, but we’re saying that what he has written is false. It’s impossible to be positive without also being negative. It’s impossible to say “thus saith the Lord” without also saying “thou shalt not.” And so, as we exalt the Lord Jesus, we must also do battle with the devil.

And in these days, we seek to point out to God’s people that there’s much that’s wrong with our denomination. All of our leaders are not apostate; many of our leaders are men who love the Lord Jesus, but who have blind spots ecclesiastically and theologically in many places. Some of them are dear friends. But they’re wrong, and we would be unfaithful to the Lord if we refused to point out wherein they’re wrong and to take our stand for the truth.

And then Jehoshaphat sent out men, just with book of the law of the Lord in their hands, to teach in those days. That’s what we’re trying to do, just to get out to as many people as possible and to say “here are the issues as we see them.” Now the decision’s yours. If there is an escape clause [i.e, a way for churches to leave with their property], and that’s the only way that the congregations will have a chance to vote, then the decision’s going to be yours. I’ve already made mine. But you’re going to have to decide. And so we’re not saying sign anything; we’re not asking you to follow us. We’re just saying: “Here it is as we see it.” Now the decision’s yours. And we pray for that day, down the road, when we shall all be together before the Lord with our little ones, our wives and our children. That’s going to be a great day. But only if we walk in those ways and seek His face, only then will it be great. God help us all. God help us to be true to Him. Let us pray.

[Words to Live By:]
Dear Father in Heaven, we pray that Thou wouldst forgive us if tonight we have spoken in malice or with anger or with hatred. We pray that Thou wouldst forgive us even for frustration in the deepest sense, for we realize, Lord, that Thou art in control, that Thou art sovereign. And we trust Thee; we do trust Thee. And we trust Thee to bless Thy people in these days as they seek Thy truth, and as they prepare for that which is being done to them by men, who, for whatever reason, have departed from the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Lord, we pray for those men—in a very real sense our enemies—but we pray for them. We pray Thy blessing upon them. We pray health and safety for them. But we pray that Thou wouldst dissemble them, that Thou wouldst frustrate their intentions, that Thou wouldst scatter them, that Thou wouldst not allow Thy church to be destroyed. Lord, bless us as we seek to preserve Thy church, a continuing church that is true to Thee and Thy word. May everything we do be done in love. May everything we do be done only that the Lord Jesus would be magnified. Bless this congregation, these faithful people; Lord, lead them in these days. May they walk in those ways of old, hand in hand with Thee. Do thou bless now, and grant us even tonight to behold Thy glory. For we pray in Jesus’ name, whom we would pray would come even quickly, Amen.

Home Religion was an Important Part of Colonial Presbyterianism (and should be today, too!)
by Rev. David T. Myers

With tens of thousands of Scots–Irish Presbyterians coming to Cumberland County of Pennsylvania, various Presbyterian churches were organized in the seventeen hundreds in central Pennsylvania. One such congregation was Big Spring Presbyterian Church in Newville, just west of Carlisle.

After several pastors had come and gone, each filling the pulpit for a short while, a call was extended to the Rev. Samuel Wilson on March 21, 1787. After passing his ordination exams as given by the Presbytery of Donegal, Rev. Wilson was installed as pastor on June 20, 1787. It was said that his pastorate was one of activity and prosperity for the congregation. He would stay there for thirteen years until 1799.

Evidently, the gift of administration was possessed by Rev. Wilson. He composed long lists, listing the ages of all members and adherents. Dividing them into districts, Samuel Wilson assigned a ruling elder over each district. These elders, among other duties, had the ministry of visiting each family and adherent on an annual basis. These were  no social times. Pastor Wilson had given to each elder, and those family members underneath their oversight, various questions of understanding, complete with catechisms to memorize from the Westminster Standards.  We have two samples of questions upon which the annual visits would ask and expect answers.

In Ruling Elder John Carson’s district, the first book of the Bible was the focus. His questions were:

1. Who was the penman of Genesis? When was it written? What length of time does its history contain?;
2. What are the principal doctrines and events?;
3. What do you understand by creation, and is it a work peculiar to God only?;
4. What seems to be the order of creation and what is the work of each day?;
5. What are those called who do not acknowledge divine revelation? What objections do they offer against Moses and how are their writing confuted?;
6. What rational arguments can be offered in favor of Moses, that his mission was from God and his writings were of divine inspiration?;
7. What Scriptural prophecies have been fulfilled, and what at present is fulfilling or yet to be fulfilled?

After these questions were to be discussed by each family, there was to be an examination upon the ninth chapter of the Confession of Faith! Elder Carlson had 24 families in his district.

Elder William Lindsay had seven questions given by Pastor Wilson for his flock of members. They were:

1. What are the different kinds of faith are found in Scripture?;
2. What are the marks of true faith?;
3. Where does saving faith lie in assent or consent?;
4. What reason would you assign why no actions are acceptable to God, but such as flow from faith?;
5. Will it then follow, that wicked and unregenerate persons may as well transgress the law, as endeavor the observance of it?
6. Must we turn from sin in order to come to Christ by faith?
7. Seeing faith is the act of a believing soul, in what sense is it said to be the gift of God?

After these questions were asked and answered, Chapter 8 of the Confession of Faith was discussed.

Biblical Christianity was to be practiced not only within the four walls of the Church, but also inside the houses which made up the homes of Presbyterian families. And godly elders were to be the spiritual overseers of each family.

Words to Live By:
Pray for the elders of your church, that they might shepherd aright the church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood.  How comfortable would you be if similar type questions were asked of your family in an elder’s visitation? Do you feel that such Scriptural exams would be profitable to your family? The local church specifically? What might you do to suggest such an approach to the people of God?

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