October 2019

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A Christian Patriot Who Suffered During the American Revolution
by Rev. David T. Myers

We are more apt to recognize the New Jersey delegates like the Rev. John Witherspoon, or maybe Richard Stockton, as signers of the Declaration of Independence.  But joining them was one Abraham Clark.

Born February 15, 1726 in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, his family was solid Presbyterians in their denominational affiliation.  Baptized as an infant by the Rev. Jonathan Dickinson, first professor of the College of New Jersey, he grew up in the thrilling but dangerous days of increasing agitation of separation from England.  With his inclination to  study civil law and mathematics, he became known to his neighbors. Popular as “the poor man’s counselor,” he refused to accept any pay for his helpfulness to his neighbors. He further served them as High Sheriff of Essex County.

But it was as a member of the Continental Congress on June 21, 1776, that he became interested in the issues of liberty and justice. Penning his name to the Declaration of Independence, representing New Jersey, he states that he and his fellow signers knew that “nothing short of Almighty God can save us.”

He knew full well the cost of liberty. To a friend serving as an officer in the Jersey contingent of troops, “this seems now to be a trying season, but  that indulgent Father who has hitherto preserved us will I trust appear for our help and prevent our being crushed. If otherwise, his will be done.” There is no doubt with convictions like this that he saw himself and his country safely within the sovereign providence of God.

His two sons were captured by the British and put into the prison hold of a notorious prison ship called “Jersey.”  Fellow prisoners fed one of the sons by squeezing food through a key hole.  Abraham Clark did not wish to make his personal suffering public, so he told no one about his family stress.  When they found out about it from other sources, the American authorities contacted the British and told them that as they were treating prisoner of war Clark, so they were going to retaliate against a British officers in captivity.  Only then did the brutal treatment of Clark’s sons ease up.

Abraham Clark was recognized as the member of Congress who moved that a chaplain be appointed for the Congress of the  United States. And ever since then, a chaplain has been elected for that spiritual position.

But there were religious responsibilities which Abraham Clark also kept. From October 26, 1786 to 1790, Abraham Clark was a trustee for the Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church of which Pastor Caldwell was the minister. Abraham Clark died in his sixty-ninth year on September 15, 1794.

Words to live by:  It was said that Abraham Clark was a Christian, a family man, a patriot, a public servant, and a gentleman. That about covers the sphere of influence which all Christians are to serve both God, the church, and our country. Once, he was offered freedom for his sons from their British captivity if . . . if he turned colors and became a Tory, or become loyal to England.  He responded “no.” He was convinced, as he said to a friend in a letter in 1776, “Our fate is in the hands of an Almighty God to whom I can with pleasure confide my own. He can save  us or destroy us. His counsels are fixed and cannot be disappointed and all his designs will be accomplished.” Amen, and Praise God!

SIX INTERCHURCH GROUPS MEET

The interchurch relations committees of six denominations met together on October 25 -26 [1974] in Pittsburgh, Penna. Represented were the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Christian Reformed Church, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America, Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, and Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America. The joint group also invited the Reformed Church, U.S. (Eureka Classis) to participate in later such meetings.

A sub-committee was established to prepare a plan for cooperation among the respective churches, drawn from proposals suggested in the joint meeting. Such a plan would be presented to the full body for possible recommendation to the denominations themselves.

Among the proposals made was one urging the various churches to cooperate in world-wide relief services; the Christian Reformed Church has the most extensive such service now. Another proposal recommended publication of a directory of all the co-operating churches.

It was also proposed that there be a federation of Presbyterian and Reformed churches that would include coordination of agencies and the holding of consultative assemblies. The ultimate goal of union into one church was urged.

The Presbyterian Guardian, 43:10 (December 1974): 167.

Courage in the Cause of Mission
by Rev. David T. Myers

The young seminary graduate traveled with his bride to a two year foreign mission stint in Alberta, Canada. Settling in the apartment underneath the church sanctuary, the newly ordained minister on Reformation day in 1966 began his first pastorate to the small Canadian mission church. Sometime during the first few months, he discovered in a used book store the two volume set of John G Paton, missionary to the New Hebrides. That stirring mission account became the Lord’s Day reading for the young couple all during their stay and ministry in the capital city of the province.

Yet the author of this post in Presbyterian history did not have to worry about his physical safety, or that of his bride during our time there. Being eaten by cannibals was never on our minds and hearts. But to the Rev. John G. Paton and his wife, this was a constant danger in a society utterly depraved in word and deed. Indeed the lives of some earlier missionaries to those islands did end in that terrible way, while attempting to minister the Word of Grace to these same inhabitants. Yet still these Presbyterian missionaries in the mid-eighteen hundreds went courageously to these islands with a firm belief in the sovereignty of God and a loving desire to see the natives converted to Christ.

Paton believed in the power of the gospel. Yes, there were difficulties. His first wife and child both perished in childbirth. He was subject to threats of life and limb on a day by day basis. More than once, he had to flee for his life to a tree limb or to a ship which came providentially off the coast. But with the provision of a second wife, he was blessed with a quiver full of children. In God’s timing, he was also blessed with a quiver full of spiritual children, as the entire island of Aniwa inhabitants came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. And it was on this day October 24, 1869, that he was able to offer the Sacrament of Communion, in the Presbyterian manner, as he was apt at saying in his ministrations on that island.

He would go to be with the Lord on January 28, 1907, with his wife proceeding him by two years. Both are buried in Australia.

Words to Live By:
There is a notable quotation which was given to a Scotsman who, upon hearing of John Paton’s desire to minister in the islands of the South Pacific, said to him, “Cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals.” Paton replied to the old saint, “You are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.” May you and I, dear Reader, have a similar desire to go and minister for the Savior, come what may, knowing . . . knowing that our lives are sure and firm in the Savior’s plan for our lives.

James William Charles Pennington, who was born in 1807 and who died on this day, October 22, in the year 1870, was perhaps the first African American minister to receive a doctorate of divinity – by the University of Heidelberg, Germany (1849). And he was so honored while still legally a fugitive slave. He also attempted to desegregate streetcars in New York City (1855), one hundred years before Martin Luther King, Jr. attempted the same with public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama (1955-1956). His sermon on Covenants Involving Moral Wrong Are Not Obligatory Upon Man (1842) in which he affirmed that unjust laws have no moral force at all predates King’s same argument (citing Augustine) in the Letter From a Birmingham Jail by over 120 years.

The fact that this escaped slave became a Presbyterian minister is remarkable. But in 1843 he gave a speech in which he shared his experience of racism within the church. It is painful to read, but reading it serves as a reminder that the church is not immune to prejudice. And there are many different types of prejudice – the Apostle James spoke of one kind involving favoritism to the rich to the detriment of the poor, James 2:3. But those who are so judged based on the color of their skin or other factors can be deeply hurt, as Pennington here testifies.

For the last ten years, since I have been a Christian − seven or eight years of which I have been a minister, I have thought much on this subject, and have come to the conclusion that I am an excommunicated man. I have tried to avoid the conclusion, to think it was not so, but, like other people, find I cannot believe without evidence. I have tried to command my mind from this subject, but could not. To say that our condition is not an enviable one − that it is not a pleasant one, does not express the whole truth. I have labored hard to inform myself − I have tried to make myself useful and agreeable as a Christian − have tried to avoid everything wrong. A great question of orthodoxy is concerned here. Though we have felt ourselves abused, we have not dared to indulge unkind feelings toward our brethren. You have helped us to build small school-houses and churches, or rather helped us to shoulder a debt, many times − but I forbear − and yet I may as well speak out my convictions − it is done in the spirit of colonization, to get us out of the way. How often, in coming into a congregation like this, have I been treated with indignity. A man accidentally takes his seat by my side − he discovers that I have a dark face − he rises in contempt and leaves the slip. It is said colored people are fond of sitting together. It is such treatment as this which drives them together. They take the Jim Crow seat to escape ill treatment and abuse. And here let me say, the necessity for separate schools and churches has not grown out of the wishes of the colored people, but from the spirit of caste in the church. We do not desire separate churches. They have not bettered our condition, but only made it WORSE. Many of our churches have not competent religious teachers − they have had to hasten through their course so fast, in order to supply the destitute fields, that they have come into the ministry illy prepared. The treatment of the colored people has put back Africa’s redemption fifty years.

This testimony is nearly 200 years old, but it is to be feared that today’s church also is not color blind or free from all forms of prejudice, Elsewhere (in an 1844 letter appended to his autobiography), Pennington explains what is needed to combat this prejudice – something that is, it should be noted, to be found within the church.

Let me urge upon you the fundamental truths of the Gospel of the Son of God. Let repentance to- wards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ have their perfect work in you, I beseech you. Do not be prejudiced against the gospel because it may be seemingly twisted into a support of slavery. The gospel rightly understood, taught, received, felt and practised, is anti-slavery as it is anti-sin. Just so far and so fast as the true spirit of the gospel obtains in the land, and especially in the lives of the oppressed, will the spirit of slavery sicken and become powerless like the serpent with his head pressed beneath the fresh leaves of the prickly ash of the forest.

The troubles and sorrows of those who have been hurt are real, but Pennington urged his hearers to bring them to the Lord Jesus Christ. In another speech given in England in 1843 he reminded his hearers that the whole human race is laboring under sin, but redemption is found only in Jesus Christ, in whom all are one:

Though I have a country that has never done me justice, yet I must return to it, and I shall not therefore recriminate. It has pleased God to make me black and you white, but let us remember, that whatever be our complexion, we are all by nature labouring under the degradation of sin, and without the grace of God are black at heart. I know of no difference between the depraved heart of a Briton, an American, or an African. There is no difference between its colour, its disposition, and its self-will. There is only one mode of emancipation from the slavery of sin, from the blackness of heart, and that is by the blood of the Son of God. Whatever be our complexion, whatever our kindred and people, we need to be emancipated from sin, and to be cleansed from our pollution by the all-prevailing grace of God. I bless his name, that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, but all are one.

The sermons, speeches and writings of James W.C. Pennington reflect the heart of a man who was deeply wounded and hurt by prejudice but who found redemption in Jesus Christ and preached the healing and uniting gospel of grace to others. And that is a message that is timeless.

THE SCRIPTURAL METHOD OF BIBLE STUDY
by Professor O. T. Allis, Ph.D.

[The Evangelical Student 1.2 (October 1926): 3-6]

THERE are certain things essential to the truly scriptural study of the Bible which need to be emphasized today in view of the insistent claims which are so often made by the advocates of the so-called “modern” or “critical” method of Bible study.

The first of these is the unity and harmony of the Bible.
This characteristic has impressed believing scholars in all ages as a signal proof of its divine origin. The fact that so many different writers, so widely separated in time, wrote a collection of many books which are in the truest sense one book, the Bible, is a strong evidence of its unique inspiration.

Yet one of the outstanding characteristics of the “modern” method is the way in which it exhibits, and the importance which it attaches to, the alleged disharmonies of the Bible. We cannot read beyond the first chapter of Genesis without being confronted with this cardinal doctrine of the critics; for the “second” account of creation (Gen. ii) contradicts, we are told, the “first.” And this is but a sample. We have, they tell us, two accounts of the Creation and the Flood; three accounts of the Plagues and of the Crossing of the Red Sea; four of the Crossing of the Jordan. Furthermore, these accounts disagree and contradict one another. The theoretical Jehovist differs from the hypothetical Elohist; and the alleged Priestly writer contradicts them both. Judges discredits the account of the Conquest given in Joshua; Chronicles is proved unreliable by Samuel-Kings. The “great” prophets are represented as the opponents of the priests and as the more or less uncompromising foes of the ritual sacrifice. Micah and Zechariah are divided between at least two authors, Isaiah is given to three; and many of these documents are declared to be composite and to have been edited, or revised, by a later compiler or “redactor.” All this partitioning and analyzing is made necessary, it is argued, by differences in language, style, ideas and manner of presentation, differences which not seldom amount to contradictions. The result is that for the “modern” student the Bible, especially the O.T., is characterized not by harmony and unity, but by discord and contradiction. How disastrous this is should be apparent to everyone, for nothing is more certain to discredit a book and destroy its influence with thinking people than to find that it does not contain a consistent and harmonious presentation of the matters which it aims to set forth.

Consequently the reverent Bible student will be very slow to accept these alleged contradictions. He will scrutinize them with the utmost care. If he does so, he will find that many of them are purely imaginary. There is nothing inconsistent about the statement in Num. xvi. that (1) a Levite and (2) three Reubenites were leaders in a rebellion against Moses, nothing to indicate that we have here two conflicting accounts of the same event The mention of two parties simply shows that the revolt was widespread and serious enough to require drastic measures. There is nothing contradictory about the statement that (1) the Lord told Moses to lift up his rod and (2) to stretch forth his hand and that then (3) the Lord caused a strong east wind to blow, in order that the Red Sea might be divided before Israel (Ex. xiv. 16,21). Such statements are different only in the sense that they record distinct features of the story, all of which are needed to complete the record. They become contradictory only when each statement is treated as complete in itself and placed in opposition to others which are designated to supplement it. Most events, especially if they be great ones, are complex; there are many factors which enter into them. Were the modern method of source analysis applied to almost any historical narrative which dealt at all adequately with an intricate situation it could easily be reduced to a mass of contradictions.

There are other alleged contradictions which are due either to a failure to recognize, or to ignorance of, all necessary facts. Thus, Hosea in pronouncing vengeance on the House of Jehu (i. 4), is not denouncing Jehu for obeying the command of Elijah as conveyed by Elisha. The explanation is given in II King x. 30 f. where the willfulness of Jehu is exposed. And it is made still clearer by the prophetic denunciation of Baasha who provoked the Lord “in being like the house of Jeroboam; and because he slew him.” By following in the sins of the House of Omri, Jehu’s House merited the same punishment. Yet Hosea is cited as an instance of a later prophet denouncing what an earlier prophet had expressly commanded!

The second essential of which we would speak, is that the Bible student should understand and accept the viewpoint of the Bible.
Many of the difficulties which the “modern” student finds with the Bible are the direct result of failure to do this, or, to put it more strongly, of the determination to judge and interpret the Bible by standards which are contrary to its whole teaching.

The oft-repeated reference in the first chapter of Genesis to God and to His sovereign acts is tremendously impressive: He spake and it was done. The Bible is a record of Goel’s wonderful works for the children of men. No one can understand it who does not accept its great major premise Goel or who seeks to set limits to His power. The O.T. purports to be primarily the record of God’s special dealings with a peculiar people to the end that through that people all the nations might be blessed. The uniqueness of the religion of Israel, of the Covenant with Abraham, of the Law given through Moses, is affirmed again and again: “God hath not dealt so with any nation.” To study the religion of Israel in the light of comparative religion as though it were similar in kind to the ethnic faiths, is to reject its most insistent ‘Claim-“All the gods of the nations are idols (worthless things), but the Lord made the heavens.”

The religion of Israel is represented as the religion of revelation. God has revealed Himself in word and in deed. He has made known what man could not discover; He has wrought wonders beyond the power of man. Miracle and prophecy are, according to the Bible, signal proofs that God has manifested Himself. The supernatural is of its very essence. A student who rejects the supernaturalism of the Bible, treats its miracles as legend, and post-dates its prophecies or reduces them to shrewd conjecture, is taking offense at what the Bible declares to be, and what the Church in all ages has regarded as, a unique and convincing proof that God has indeed revealed Himself.

Finally the Bible is the story of redemption, of salvation from sin.
John the Baptist sums up the Gospel and also shows it to be the fulfillment of O.T. religion with the words, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” The Old Testament plainly teaches that the priestly sacrifices of the Law were divinely ordained; and the New Testament as plainly interprets them as prophetic of and fulfilled in the Cross of Calvary. To treat the priestly ritual as a survival of paganism and to affirm that it was repudiated by the “great” prophets of Israel leads logically to the rejection of the Cross which is the central fact of Christianity, God’s sovereign remedy for sin.

In one of our great historic creeds the statement is made: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself.” We need to remember this. “God is His own interpreter.” If the Bible is the Word of God, it must be our final authority; it cannot be correctly interpreted by any standards but its own. If its human authors were inspired of God, God’s Spirit will enable us to understand it aright, if we seek His guidance. To the wise of this world the Bible is a book of riddles, sealed with seven seals. It tells of a divine revelation, miraculously conveyed; they would have it speak of man’s eager quest of truth and of his wonderful discoveries. It tells of God’s great salvation for lost sinners; they would have it describe the development of man’s religious nature and its limitless possibilities. In short the “modern” student is trying to restate in terms of a more or less frankly naturalistic evolution what the Bible states in terms of supernatural redemption. No wonder the “modern” student finds contradictions in the Bible and has to tear it chapter from chapter, verse from verse, and line from line, since he would so completely change its message. But those who study it reverently as the Word of God and seek the guidance of His Spirit will be more and more impressed with the harmony and the heavenliness of its glorious message of redeeming love in Jesus Christ our Lord.

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