February 2020

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In the Minutes of the Thirty-third General Assembly (2005) of the Presbyterian Church in America, pp. 56-58, we find this tribute to the life and ministry of Alta Woods Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi, which was organized on this day, February 29th, in 1948, and which was merged with the Pearl Presbyterian Church of Pearl, Mississippi in 2005:—

COMMUNICATION 3 from Mississippi Valley Presbytery

Recognition of the Alta Woods Presbyterian Church 1948 – 2005

Whereas, Alta Woods Presbyterian Church was established as a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in the United States on Daniel Loop in South Jackson by Central Mississippi Presbytery on February 29, 1948 unto the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, and

Whereas, Alta Woods sought to uphold the inerrancy and sufficiency of Holy Scripture in a time when both have been seriously challenged and she held forth freely the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ as the only way of
salvation, and

Whereas, Alta Woods under the leadership of Rev. B. I. Anderson was instrumental in the formation of the Presbytery of the Mississippi Valley in 1973 for the preservation of a Biblical church through a well trained and Bible believing ministry, being a charter church, and

Whereas, the pastor and ruling elders of Alta Woods Presbyterian were actively engaged in the formation and establishment of the Presbyterian Church in America in 1973, being represented at the convocation of sessions on May 18, 1973 and at subsequent General Assemblies of the PCA, and

Whereas, Alta Woods directly encouraged men to pursue the gospel ministry through generous support of students, sending out many sons into the ministry of the PCA and impacting our community, country and world
with gospel zeal, and

Whereas, Alta Woods was directly responsible for the support of Rev. Al LaValley with his planting of the West Springfield Covenant Community Church in West Springfield, Massachusetts, for the support of Rev. Rodney Collins for his planting of the Grace Presbyterian Church in Laconia, New Hampshire, for the sending of Rev. Bill Inman to Crystal, New Mexico to pastor the Navajo Indigenous Church, and for the establishment of South India Reformed Theological Institute through the work of Dr. Tom Cherian, and

Whereas, Alta Woods nurtured a missionary vision that supported and sent missionaries who served around the world, as well as mission groups to Columbia, South America; Crystal, New Mexico and West Springfield, Massachusetts, and

Whereas, Alta Woods grew to become the second largest Presbyterian Church in Jackson under the able leadership of pastors: Rev. A. N. Moffett (1948-55), Rev. B. I. Anderson (1955-85), Dr. Steve Jussely (1989-96), and Dr. Merle Messer (1996-present). She further enjoyed the dedicated leadership of associate pastors: Rev. Bill Bratley and Rev. Roger Collins, and assistant pastors: Rev. Don Craft, Rev. John Keubler, Rev. Timothy Meyer, and Rev. Judson Davis as well as many notable youth ministers and interns. Moreover Alta Woods has been blessed with many dedicated ruling elders who have guided the church and participated in presbytery and the PCA with sacrificial service and devotion, and

Whereas, under the faithful leadership of Dr. Merle Messer, Alta Woods desires to continue her ministry in union with the Pearl Presbyterian Church, of Pearl, Mississippi,

Therefore, be it resolved that the Presbytery of the Mississippi Valley give all praise to Jesus Christ as the head of the church for his mighty work in and through the Alta Woods Presbyterian congregation over the last fifty seven years and that we offer thanksgiving for her valuable role in the establishment of our presbytery and her faithful work among us for the building up of the church. Moreover, let us express our joy and extend our deepest desires for the successful union of the Alta Woods Presbyterian congregation into the Pearl Presbyterian congregation that together they might know the continued blessing of our sovereign God upon their ministry and outreach. May this united work serve to bring greater glory to Jesus Christ.

Let it further be resolved that this resolution be signed by the clerk of Mississippi Valley Presbytery and spread upon the minutes of this presbytery, and

Let it further be resolved that an official copy of this resolution be sent to the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to be included in the official minutes of the PCA General Assembly that all might marvel at the great work of Christ as the head of the church and might pray for his greater blessing upon the union of the Pearl and Alta Woods congregations.

To God alone be all the glory given!

Adopted by The Presbytery of the Mississippi Valley on June 7, 2005.
/s/ Roger G. Collins
Stated Clerk
One Pastor’s Account of the Civil War

Thomas Bloomer Balch was the son of the Rev. Stephen Bloomer Balch and his wife Elizabeth (Beall) Balch. He was born at Georgetown, District of Columbia, on February 28, 1793. He graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1813, studied theology at Princeton Seminary under Archibald Alexander and Samuel Miller, and was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Baltimore on October 31, 1816.

From the Spring of 1817 to the Fall of 1819 he preached as assistant to his father, who was at that time the pastor of the church in Georgetown. Thomas then left that post to serve as pastor of churches in Snow Hill, Rehoboth and Pitt’s Creek, Maryland. He lived for some years in Fairfax county, Virginia, preaching as he had opportunity, and later supplied the pulpit for churches in Warrenton and Greenwich, later serving other churches in the Fredericksburg area. Rev. Balch died on February 14, 1878. To the last his mind was clear, and he uttered many expressions of hope and faith up to his parting breath.

Thus the short account of a man’s life, as recorded in Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church, pp. 52-53.  But every life is intensely interesting, if you just search. Beyond the brief account above, you first find there was an epic poem, Ringwood Manse, written by E. P. Miller and based upon the life and ministry of Thomas B. Balch. Digging a bit further, you might also find a compilation of Rev. Balch’s letters My Manse During the War: A Decade of Letters to the Rev. J. Thomas Murray. The University of North Carolina has digitized this latter work, and to encourage further reading, a sample paragraph follows:

Letter No. VIII.

The famine had become grievous in the land, and there was no Egypt into which we could send for supplies; nor any balm which could be presented to those who held the keys that were locking up oats, corn and wheat. How often had the writer doubted whether a dearth of provisions would ever reach that portion of Virginia in which his lot had been cast. Little do we know of the future. It became clear that my pictures of continued plenty had been penciled on green leaves which were destined to fade, or on clouds subject to evaporation. My services, as a minister, began to take their complexion from the circumstances in which we were placed. One of my discourses, or rather one of my talks, was from the text, “The Lord will provide.” Habakkuk says that the Christian has a dependence on something higher than the buds of the fig-tree, or the blossoms of the vine. The Idumean believer went living on, after his olives had perished and his fields were smitten. His flocks were killed, and his stalls were empty; and the Idumean eagle could plume his wings from a warmer nest than the one occupied by the Patriarch. Our Lord assures us that man liveth not by bread alone. Even at such a time we thought it right to celebrate at the Manse the supper which our Lord had instituted on the night before his crucifixion. We had no wine, however, on our premises, and it was a rare element throughout the neighborhood. But Charles Green, member of the Independent Church of Savannah, being apprised of my wishes, sent me enough to supply the communicants, for which my sincere thanks were returned. Two silver goblets belonging to Mrs. Jones of Sharon, had been left at my house, and they were used on the solemn occasion. The day was bright, and the congregation crowded. Some were under the trees of the yard, some on the steps of the stairs, and others in the rooms of the Manse. Several ministers were present who gave me help in the service, and seldom has it been my lot to attend on communicants more apparently devout. May they advance in grace. The Divine Life has in it both an upward and downward tendency. The Japanese permit their trees to attain their full growth: but then dwarf them down to the smallest possible dimensions, and carry them about in diminutive vases. So with the great Husbandman. The more his people tower on high, the more does he reduce them into lowly violets. And here, allow me to ask, why may not the Lord’s Supper be administered in a lower as well as an upper room – in a Manse – a grove, or on the slope of a hill, as well is in a Church? When were the Covenanters more happy than when they sung among the braes and kneeled on Scottish heather! or when were Whitfield and Wesley more successful than when they stormed the air circulating on the open fields and sequestered downs of England?

Words to Live By:
It is a constant theme of Scripture, that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The Lord provides for His children, encourages and sustains them. God cares for His children in times of trouble. John Flavel wrote, “Jesus Christ has solemnly recommended all the people of God to His particular care. It was one of the last expressions of Christ’s love to them at the parting hour — John 17:11. ‘And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world; and I come to thee, Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me.’ ” [The Righteous Man’s Refuge, by John Flavel, Works, iii.386.]

As the Schaeffers were preparing to move to Europe, the following article was published in BIBLICAL MISSIONS, the newsletter of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, under whose auspices the Schaeffers initially moved onto the European field, with the intent of planting theologically sound churches. The picture shown here is from the January 1949 issue of that same newsletter.

Some will remember that this same title “Revolutionary Christianity” appears as the title of the last chapter of Schaeffer’s book, 
THE CHURCH AT THE END OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. The content of the 1948 article is entirely different, though it would be an interesting exercise to compare the two messages. Great minds are always building on prior accomplishments and advances, and I have to think that Schaeffer hadn’t forgotten this 1948 article when he so titled that last chapter of his book in 1970. For instance, does the latter contain an outworking of ideas first formulated in the earlier article.

REVOLUTIONARY CHRISTIANITY
Rev. Francis A. Schaeffer
[Biblical Missions 14.2 (February 1948): 27-31.]

The International Missionary Council met at Whitby, Ontario, in the summer of 1947. In reporting on that meeting, Reinhold Niebuhr’s paper, “Christianity and Crisis,” in its issue of November 10, 1947, gave an account of one of the speeches in which account it stated: “Bishop Neill, successful Oxford missioner, warned lest the church cease to be revolutionary and identify itself with the status quo, the powers that be. ‘Then,’ he said, ‘the revolution goes forward under demonic powers, which God uses to discipline the Church.’ The church losing its mission becomes irrelevant.”

This is a highly significant statement, for it is an illustration of the type of thinking that dominates the modernistic missionary movements, including those that are Barthian and neo-Barthian. Insofar as this statement was presented at this un-Biblical, but influential missionary conference, it is well to analyze carefully this problem in a Bible-believing missionary magazine.

What is meant by “revolutionary Christianity” is that we now need a socialized gospel. To these men the revolutionary concept of Christianity is a part of world betterment through a revolution in the economic field; to them, socialization is the next upward step for Christianity to take. When therefore these men speak of “irrelevant Christianity” they mean Bible-believing Christianity. To them, our historic emphasis that the church’s task is to preach Christ crucified and raised from the dead that men might accept Christ as their personal Saviour and be justified by faith alone, is irrelevant and little more than magic.

The sad thing is that there are some Bible-believing Christians who find excuses for such charges. Orthodoxy is in a constant danger of allowing that orthodoxy to ossify so that it has no impact on life. Historic, Bible-believing Christianity believes that the task of the church is to preach Christ and Him crucified and that men are justified by faith alone; but this does not mean that after a man has accepted Christ as his Saviour his Christianity should not show, or need not show, in every aspect of his life. In spite of the minority of Bible-believing Christians who are irrelevant, historic Bible-believing Christianity has been and is the true revolutionary Christianity. We have the revolutionary Christianity, not the Modernists and neo-Barthians.

Spiritually

Historic Christianity is revolutionary Spiritually. By revolutionary, I mean that it is totally contrary to all the other religions of the world. Consider the prophets. They were the revolutionists, and they stood alone against their day. Christ, God the Son, when He was on earth, was revolutionary in that He stood alone against His day. Paul was revolutionary, and wherever he went, both Jews and pagans felt the clash of his message against the established religious order. In church history, the outstanding leaders have always been considered revolutionary. Who could be more I revolutionary than Luther standing against the established order of the I Catholic Church? The Reformation Monument in Geneva has carved in stone, “After the darkness came forth light.” Let us never forget that Calvin and those who were with him were revolutionists of the first order in spiritual things. Whitefield and Wesley preached in the fields because the churches were shut to them. The churches were shut to them because these men were spiritual revolutionists against the whole trend of the dead orthodoxy of their day. In our day, has the matter changed? Not a bit. We are the spiritual revolutionists of our hour. All else are agreed against us. The message of the cross is always against the whole world concept around about us. It is against the prince of this world. In spiritual matters, we have the revolutionary message, because the Biblical message in our age, as in every age, is totally contrary to all the religions of the world.

The Christian Century in reporting our attempt, by the grace of God, to form an International Council of Bible-believing Christians, said this attempt was of the Devil. Why have these men resurrected the Devil for us? It has been years since we have heard them mention the Devil. They do not say that the Roman Catholics are motivated by the Devil. At times, it is true, because of growing Roman Catholic political power, we hear them say that Rome is wrong politically, but in religious matters they hold out the hand of fellowship to Rome. They do not say that the Unitarians are of the Devil. In the leadership of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America and in the World Council there are men who individually hold the Unitarian position. They do not even say that the Hindu and the Mohammedan, or the Shintoist is of the Devil. In the Religious Congress that is being called in Boston for the United Nations, the modernistic leaders are calling to these primitive paganisms that they should labor together for world fellowship and brotherhood. However, when it comes to the Bible-believing Christian, then it is a different matter. Why is it that we are the only group they will fight religiously? Because we are the revolutionary group. The simple fact is, that religiously Modernism (including Barthianism and neo-Barthianism). Romanism, Greek Orthodoxy, and the rest, while having differences among themselves, are one in their basic errors.

There are too many who call themselves Bible-believing Christians who are only so because this has been the established position in their youth, not because they are convinced that it is right. They find it rather comfortable to say the old phrases without doing anything about them. Thus, Christianity loses its dynamic power, and dead orthodoxy comes in like a flood. Study what period of church history you will, the first step to heterodoxy has always been a dead orthodoxy.

Such an attitude is not Christian. It is old, but all old things are not good. Christianity is the snatching of brands from the burning. It is the shouting aloud from the pulpit or the stake: “You cannot call Jesus Christ your Lord until you call Him first God and then your personal Saviour.” The Christianity that has moved ahead through the centuries is the Bible-believing Christianity that stands completely against all the other religions of the world. This is true whether they are primitive paganisms, Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, old-fashioned Modernism, or neo-Barthianism. True Bible-believing Christianity is never comfortable and it is never fossilized. Christians should know these facts and act upon them. We know that the world will never be normal until Christ comes back and supernaturally makes it so.


Materially

Bible-believing Christianity is also revolutionary in its relationships to the external world. This is what I mean by materially. As the religions of the world are not in line with Christianity, so also the civilizations that are built upon them are not in line with Christianity.

The Bible’s position is that you can only understand a civilization if you see the religion or religions upon which it is built or which are dominantly behind it. This is a part of the complete world-view of Christianity. The true Bible-believing Christian in faith knows that he can in general tell what the civilization of the next generation will be because its basis is found in the religion of this generation.

Now let us ask ourselves. Who are the liberals and who are the reactionaries in our own day? I want to say it very carefully, the Bible-believing Christians arc the true liberals. The modernists, including the Barthians and neo-Barthians, are the reactionaries. What do I mean by this? Bible-believing Christianity, wherever it has gone preaching Christ and Him crucified and raised from the dead and keeping as its primary message justification by faith, has always been followed by certain peripheral and secondary blessings. These blessings have not followed in a day, but they have always come. What are these peripheral blessings—the emancipation of women, the freeing of slaves, the increase of education, and, in general, a rise in the level of civilization, including the material benefits of a high standard of living. There are many others, but the greatest of the peripheral blessings that have followed historic Bible-believing Christianity has always been an increase in individual liberties. Remember, this is not the primary message of Christianity. It is a purely secondary result of the preaching of the cross.

In the light of this, who is the liberal today and who is the reactionary? Who is continuing the message of individual freedom, and who is leading us back to slavery? It is the Bible-believing Christian who is continuing to insist upon individual freedom all over the world, and equally all over the world it is the modernists and the Barthians and neo-Barthians who are casting away our freedom and leading us back to slavery. In whatever country you read the writings of these men, you find that they believe it is now the Christian’s duty to give up his individual freedom to the state, so that their socialistically-planned economy can come into effect.

In a press release at the Oslo Young People’s Conference, Reinhold Niebuhr said that all laws are under the judgment of Christ, and that this includes those from Scripture and those that were enacted by states and communities. He says that among the laws that we must refashion is the law of property rights, and also the law of individual liberties. What does this mean? It means, these men tell us, that it is our Christian duty to give up our individual liberties to the Socialistic State. They couch their teaching in religious language, but that does not change it.

Who then is the reactionary? The so-called “liberal” is the reactionary, for he would squander all those individual freedoms which our Bible-believing forefathers have won. He decks this road to the slaughter-house of our freedoms with Christian signs and symbols, but it is the road to the death of our freedoms, nevertheless.

Should individual Christians and Bible-believing mission boards be interested in this? I believe they should, for the loss of our freedoms will eventually lead to the loss of the freedom of the preaching of the Gospel.

This totalitarian trend among the modernists is clearly demonstrated in the churches themselves. In the recent church unions in India and Ceylon, the church governments have been led back to the more totalitarian forms.

Thus, it is our message that is truly revolutionary spiritually and in the external world, because our primary message and its secondary results are totally contrary to all the religions of the world and to the civilizations built upon them.

Challenge

However, it would be wrong to finish this article without saying that if we intend to stand in the historic stream of Christianity, we must never close our eyes to the wrongs that do exist in our own external world. The reason the secondary blessings of Christianity have followed the preaching of the Cross is that the true preachers of the Cross have always been willing to point out the evils of their own day. Thus, we should raise our voices against not only the theological “liberal” and the totalitarian trends of our day, but we must be especially careful to point out the weaknesses of our own churches and of our civilization. When we find a Bible-believing Christian who, for example, would turn his back on the cry of the world in its present need for food, we should be the ones to tell him that his Christianity is irrelevant. When our nation would break its solemn promises, we should be the ones to speak most loudly for national integrity. If the church in its time of power prior to 1900 had been faithful in pointing out the abuses of our economic system, I seriously doubt if Communism and near-Communism could have gotten such a hold upon us. It is imperative that we should be the ones to take the lead, especially when it is uncomfortable, in pointing out the evils round about us. Being in the “old paths” does not mean keeping on in things that are wrong. Worldliness is more than smoking, drinking and card playing. A far worse worldliness is keeping quiet when our nation breaks its promises; or sharing, through silence, in murder through mob violence; or by driving men to communism by squeezing them in any of the economic processes.

If the church had not lost its revolutionary message through dead orthodoxy and laziness, modernism could never have come in as it has.

Christianity will always be revolutionary until Christ comes back. We should teach our young people carefully that not only all the false religions are against us, but the civilizations built upon them as well. We should present this to them as a challenge. We have the greatest marching orders that men have ever been given, and when we allow our young people to go on the defensive rather than to march straight forward, it means that we have failed to get across the perennial challenge of our calling.
Some eighty-six years ago, the Rev. David S. Kennedy, editor of THE PRESBYTERIAN wrote this assessment of the battle already then underway for the heart and soul of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.


The Crisis in the Presbyterian Church
Rev. David S. Kennedy, Editor
[excerpted from THE PRESBYTERIAN 95.9 (26 February 1925): 4-5.]

THE individual, the family, the state and the church pass through crisis hours. These crises determine the whole course of human history. There is locked up within them the unseen of the future. The whole church of God is now facing one of the most intense crises in its history. We do not now attempt to present all the elements of this crisis of the church general, but restrict what we have to say to that crisis as it appears in the Presbyterian Church, U. S. A. Let us consider some of the elements involved.

THE VITAL ISSUE.

Impending crises are sometimes indefinite, but the present church crisis has reached a point where the vital issue is fully revealed. This is true of the present crisis in the church in general, and in the Presbyterian Church in particular, and it is the same in both. The Presbyterian Church is a constitutional body, and its Constitution covers both doctrine and government. The final authority upon which this Constitution, both for its doctrine and government, rests is “the Word of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.” “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.” This is the authority of the Constitution, as stated in that Constitution itself. Here is the point of the vital issue in this crisis, because this constitutional statement is opposed by another now openly announced and vigorously, yes, violently, pressed. It is this: “The final authority in all questions of doctrine and life is found in the reason of the individual.” It has been publicly and repeatedly announced in pulpit, press and college and seminary chairs, that “No intelligent man to-day believes in any external authority, the only authority is in the man himself.” The debate, the disorder, and the ecclesiastical violence centering in New York City all go back to this issue. The Bible has been ridiculed in some of its most sacred utterances by Presbyterian ministers and preachers in Presbyterian pulpits. It has been boldly declared by Presbyterian theological professors and others that the Scriptures are only a record of traditional literature experience, Such teachings as this are designed to absolutely destroy the Presbyterian testimony and Constitution and to break down the Presbyterian Church. This putting the final authority in the individual breaks down all law and order in church and state, and is the very essence of anarchy and bolshevism, and the cause of lawlessness which is now threatening the civil, moral and religious life of man. Let it be well understood and remembered that the issue does not deal with minor questions of interpretation, but with the center of authority in the whole life of man. If the Presbyterian Church yields here and becomes non-resistant, her Constitution is destroyed, and her existence is at an end. “To be or not to be” is the question.

SOME DEVELOPMENTS LEADING UP TO THE ISSUE.

The serious crisis has not arisen in a day. It has come up in a process developing through years. A part of this process was the Interchurch World Movement, projected by a company of self-appointed men, accepted in the spirit of acquiescence. It involved the evangelical church in general in a loss of eight million dollars, and the Presbyterian Church in one million dollars. In the Presbyterian Church, this million was paid by assessment on the benevolent offerings of generous moneyed people, of poor working women who consecrated a portion of their hard-earned money to the worship of God, and of the offerings of many other servants of God. There never has been a word of regret, confession or repentance on the part of the self-authorized men who imposed this big sum of money and wild folly upon the Presbyterian Church. This movement was followed by the attempt to impose on the Presbyterian Church an anti-theistic, anti-Christian, anti-Scriptural, and anti-evangelical creed, or basis of union. It passed the Assembly, but when it came to the presbyteries it met overwhelming defeat. Again, this was followed by the New Era Movement, which was lately discontinued and which involved the church in something like another million dollars. Now a similar or the same company of men, with the same spirit of acquiescence, propose to place all authority in the individual reason, so that every one may think as he pleases, speak as he pleases, and do as he pleases. This is not a question of interpretation, but a question of standard, final authority. This culminates for the Presbyterian Church at the next Assembly.

THE PARTIES INVOLVED IN THIS ISSUE.

Three parties will meet in conflict at the next Assembly: (1) The rationalists, who are determined to destroy the final authority of the Bible and the Standards of the church as expressing Presbyterian interpretation. (2) The loyal Presbyterians, who will resist to the utmost this destructive purpose and effort, and will maintain the final authority of the Scriptures for all Christians, and the Standards as interpreting authority for the Presbyterian Church. (3) A party of indifferentists, who say that they accept the Bible as the Standard, but insist that ministers and officers who do not accept the Bible and the Standards should be tolerated. They are like shepherds who feed their sheep and gather them into the fold, but when they hear the hungry wolves howling for admission, in the interest of tolerance, they open the door and let them in. This may be nice for the wolves, but what does it mean for the shepherd and sheep? These indifferentists and tolerationists are more dangerous than the rationalists. The rationalists give fair warning. The indifferentists betray, and their toleration becomes treason. These three parties will be in the issue before the next General Assembly, and they should be clearly distinguished and fully kept in view. The loyal Presbyterians are led by a strong, faithful company of men centering in New York, where the present conflict has also centered. These faithful men are seeking by regular and honorable means to arouse their faithful brethren throughout the church to prepare for the crisis in the General Assembly meeting in May at Columbus, Ohio, and to be prepared to maintain the Constitution and enforce it in the interest of the people and a loyal testimony to the cause of Christ. They have received a response of a thousand voices ready for action. The tolerant people or indifferentists are opposing the efforts of these loyalists, and in a few presbyteries and by a few private letters they are expressing and planning opposition to the efforts of the loyal Presbyterians. So far we have noted this in but three presbyteries who have taken action opposing the course of these faithful men. They should be noted, and the course of their representatives should be observed. The rationalists will not attempt much outwardly, but they will be ready to join with their kind friends, the indifferentists.  The old affirmationists, the leaders of the rationalists last year, have re-appeared in a small way in the press, seeking to help as they can.

We believe the church as a whole is sound and true, and if thoroughly aroused, the victory at the next Assembly for the Word of God, the Constitution, and the rights of the church and her missionary and other enterprises will be maintained.

THE RELATION OF THE MINISTER, ELDER AND LAITY TO THIS CONFLICT.

The chief attack upon the Bible and the Constitution will be from the rationalist ministers and their friends, the liberal indifferentists. The loyal ministers still hold the majority. The great body of elders are true. In our large correspondence, we know of but one outspoken elder in our church who boasts of his affiliation with the rationalistic destructionists. We do not say there are no more, but if so, they remain silent. This great body of elders must become active. Beginning with the sessions, they should use their best efforts to elect and send up to the next Assembly a body of loyal ministers and elders who will stand unflinchingly in this serious crisis. The laity is large, noble and true, but they act and speak only through their representatives, and they will do well to tell these representatives what they expect. One thing they can do, and that is to be constant in prayer for the blessing and leadership of the great Captain of the Lord’s Hosts. The crisis is at hand. It is grave; let every true presbyter be at the front.
Old Mortality: Robert Patterson [ca. 1713-1801]
The purpose of this blog is to remind us of those saints who have gone before, and to recall something of our common history as Presbyterians, for regardless of our denomination, we are all connected, one with another. We learn from one another, are encouraged by one another, and are reminded to pray for one another.
dewittWmR

And so it seemed very fitting when I stumbled across the content chosen for today’s post. Our entry for the day was to focus on the Rev. William Radcliffe DeWitt, (pictured in the photo at the right), who was born on this day, February 25, 1792, and who was for forty years the pastor of the English Presbyterian Church of Harrisburg, PA. Looking for more about his ministry, I was pleased to find among our church history collection a copy of The Centennial Memorial of the English Presbyterian Church, 1794-1894, with a section on DeWitt’s ministry at that church. That in turn led to the serendipitous discovery of the following poignant words which serve as the opening paragraphs for the chapter on that church’s history:

Now go write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come forever and ever.”–Isaiah 30:6.

“Walter Scott has very touchingly told us of Old Mortality, a religious itinerant of his times. He was first discovered in the burial ground of the Parish of Gaudercleugh. It was his custom to pass from one graveyard to another, and with the patient chisel of the engraver clear away the moss from the grey tombstones, and restore the names and the lines that Time’s finger had well nigh effaced. It mattered little to him whether it was the headstone of some early martyr to the faith, or only love’s memorial to some little child. It was his joy to do the quiet and unbidden work of bringing again to the notice of men the history and the heroism of some of God’s nobility of whom the world was not worthy, nor less to honor the unknown ones who were laid to rest with unseen tears.
abeel_grave
Our work to-day bears something of the same character. Like Old Mortality, we step softly and reverently among the graves of the past. Chisel in hand we pass from memory to memory. We clear away the gathered moss. We refurnish the ancient stones and read again the names of the departed, dropping here and there a tear as precious memories are awakened, and reminding ourselves anew of a fellowship that is only interrupted for a little time. The past is ours. We are its heirs. Its good comes down to us in an apostolic succession of benedictions. The links that bind us to past days and years are golden links. It is one of the choicest gifts of grace, that we may at the same time live three lives in one. Past memories and present experiences and future hopes do blend to make human life noble and attractive. Our holy faith commemorates the past, gladdens the present and brightens the future.”

[excerpted from “A Century Plant,” by Rev. Thomas A. Robinson, in The Centennial Memorial of the English Presbyterian Congregation of Harrisburg, PA, 1794-1894, George B. Stewart, editor. Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1894, pp. 192-193. This book is available on the Internet, here.

And as it turns out, there was a real person behind the Walter Scott’s character of Old Mortality.


“Robert Patterson was born circa 1713 on the farm of Haggis Ha, in the parish of Hawick and as a married man moved to the village of Balmaclellan. A stonemason by trade and owner of a small quarry, he spent most of his life touring the lowlands of Scotland visiting and maintaining Covenanter grave sites. His method of cutting or incising letters and the ability to get so much into a limited space makes his work very distinctive. He gained some fame as ‘Old Mortality,’ the character in the book of the same name by Sir Walter Scott.”

To read more of that account, click here.

Words to Live By: Perhaps it is by divine design, but no monument lasts forever. Our worship is not for the saints or for their graves, but for the Lord of glory, whose love moved their hearts to serve Him. We remember them because of their testimony to the truth of the Gospel.

“And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.’ ”
[Exodus 13:14, NASB]

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