October 2020

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IF America forgets the lessons of history, especially church history, she will cease to be the America that we love. The Presbyterian family of denominations have made great contributions to the kingdom of God for centuries. But if they forget the lessons of the past, they will cease to be Presbyterians, and will be like reprobate silver.

Who Were the Old School Presbyterians?

By Rev. Charles E. Edwards, D.D.

[The Presbyterian 99.44 (31 October 1929): 6-8.]

IF America forgets the lessons of history, especially church history, she will cease to be the America that we love. The Presbyterian family of denominations have made great contributions to the kingdom of God for centuries. But if they forget the lessons of the past, they will cease to be Presbyterians, and will be like reprobate silver. Even religious controversies have their lessons. Sweet are the uses of adversity. For various reasons it is advisable that the noble services of the Old School Presbyterians should be better known.

First of all, it is well to recall that the separation of Presbyterians in America into the two denominations, Old and New School, was not a sudden event, with no previous warnings. When the enemies of the Eighteenth Amendment raise the question whether it was adopted too hastily, those loyal to the Constitution have overwhelming proofs of the long period of which it was the culmination. And the Presbyterian Assembly of 1837 did not originate the discord which had grown in intensity from 1801 to 1837.

“The exigencies of church extension in the new settlements led to the ‘Plan of Union’ contracted between the General Assembly and the Congregational Association of Connecticut in 1801. Congregational ministers were to be pastors of Presbyterian churches, and Presbyterian ministers pastors of Congregational churches, and Presbyterian and Congregational communicants were to combine in one church, appointing a standing committee instead of a session to govern them and represent them in the Presbyterian ecclesiastical courts. The effect of this was at the same time to stop almost absolutely the multiplication of Congregational churches, and rapidly to extend the area of the Presbyterian Church, by the multiplication of presbyteries and synods, composed largely of imperfectly organized churches. In the meantime, the American Education Society, in Boston, and the American Home Missionary Society, in New York, sprang into the most active exercise of their functions, equally within the spheres of the Presbyterian and Congregational churches. They were both purely voluntary societies, subject to no ecclesiastical control.” These statements are taken from the biography of Dr. Charles Hodge by his son, Dr. A. A. Hodge. A saying of the time describes that “Plan” as one for “Yankee sheep to fatten on Presbyterian pastures.” They introduced several varieties of New England theology, or if we count the vagaries of individuals, we might almost say “57” varieties. Some of these were tolerated in Presbyterian churches, but a New Haven phase of it, known as “Taylorism,” as Dr. A. A. Hodge remarked, imperiled, if it did not destroy, the church doctrines of original sin and vicarious atonement; and it was resisted by the larger and sounder masses of Congregationalists as well as by Presbyterians. And he adds that an immense and effective machinery was in operation for the rapid destruction of the Presbyterian Church, alike in its organic form and in the system of doctrines professed and taught. The Old School party among the Presbyterians fought for all Presbyterians of all time, New as well as Old, and for pure Congregationalism as well. And he affirms that the event has vindicated them beyond question as to their original purpose.

Dr. Hodge quotes from his father, Dr. Charles Hodge, a discussion of events in the Assembly of 1837. There it was found that the “Old School had a decided and determined majority. The opportunity had occurred to rectify some of the abuses which had so long and so justly been matters of complaint. The admission of Congregationalists as constituent members of our church courts was as obviously unreasonable and unconstitutional as the admission of British subjects to sit as members of our State or National Legislature.” But Dr. Hodge and his associates objected to the abscinding acts of that Assembly, declaring that the Synods of Utica, Geneva and Genesee were out of connection with the Presbyterian Church, and objected to some other proposals of ardent Old School men. They did approve of the abrogation of the Plan of Union by that Assembly. In the Assembly of 1838, when the clerk omitted the names of all delegates from presbyteries in the exscinded synods, some leaders protested, and withdrew to form the New School Assembly.

We omit here a discussion of different opinions of Old School men, concerning the wisdom of some acts of the Assembly of 1837, for fear of obscuring the outstanding fact that the Old School people regarded this separation as expedient and inevitable, however much they had wished or hoped for a different conclusion. The most gentle, amiable, courteous spirits among them were as firm in their opinion as their leaders in polemic discussions. If any writers still think the conflict could have been averted, they might compare notes with the theorists who declare that the Civil War could have been avoided. An Englishman remarked that war cannot be prevented by objecting to it.

Two things confirmed this conviction of the Old School pecple. One was the profound, refreshing quiet enjoyed in all the Old School church courts, from the highest to the lowest. Nowhere were Presbyterian fundamentals called in question, so that they could give their undivided attention to church work, which they proceeded vigorously to do. Dr. James Wood says that for seven years or more previous to the division, the floor of the General Assembly had become an arena of strife and controversy. A saying that could be applied to the situation was that “a ten-rail fence is a great peace measure.”

Another thing that confirmed their views as to the separation was their observation that the New School brethren were following a Presbyterian course, making their separations from Congregationalism and correcting irregularities of a so-called “Presbygationalism.” Only fifteen years after the disruption, Dr. Wood published in his book, on “Old and New Theology,” that as to the difference concerning voluntary societies and ecclesiastical boards, the New School brethren had so nearly approximated to the Old School views, that if that were all, a union could very easily be effected. But he considered the doctrinal differences still too serious. Dr. Shedd’s History of Christian Doctrine was the first, or among the first, to be composed in the English language. And wherever the Old School differed from the New School, Dr. Shedd, a New School theologian, took the side of the Old School, and with distinguished literary ability.

It was said that the New School taught the Westminster Catechism in their theological seminaries. The pervasive influence of such a custom had its effect year by year. The opinion may have been general, that the eastern New School were more conservative than those of the west; and the delightful social contacts of eastern brethren helped to prepare for the reunion.

The literature of the disruption shows clearly that a problem of the Old School was the perennial one which is always with us, of finding, not men of theological subtleties, but men of ecclesiastical integrity; so that when a man in ordination vows, affirms that he sincerely receives and adopts the Westminster Confession as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures, he would mean what he said. This problem is not essential}’ different, in the history of political parties. While not abating a jot of zeal for Democratic doctrines, the question that often absorbs the Democratic mind, as to Smith or Jones (and it may be, especially Smith) concerns his regularity, his loyalty and reliability as of a true Democratic type. Old School men had to ponder some deep mysteries of a variable human nature, reminding us of the inspired proverb (Prov. 20: 6), “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” Let us make suppositions. Suppose two denominations, one small, the other large; the smaller, more homogeneous, compactly organized, the larger containing a mixture of elements. Further, suppose that the smaller denomination is the more successful one in finding or training men of ecclesiastical honesty and sincerity. Is it any wonder that the smaller denomination might shrink from a proposal to be merged with the larger one, though both profess the same creed ?

The doctrines of that period were often presented in polemic form, and as they had often been, for centuries. The congregations seemed to expect this; and laymen would contribute to the publication of such discourses or books. In our day, and it is a far-reaching distinction, the same doctrines are to be published experimentally, as foundations or inspirations of Christian experience. Yet it would be a gross injustice to the Old School people to say that doctrines to them were only partisan emblems or shibboleths; rather, they felt the eloquent appeal of Moses, “Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, for it is not a vain thing for you: because it is your life.”

And were the Old School right in contending for the faith as taught in the Westminster Standards? Or, was it much ado about nothing? This depends on the estimate of Calvinism, or even of the Bible itself, whether or not it is for an age, or whether it speaks eternal truth. Every true Calvinist will agree that they were eternally right. Take a closer look at the Westminster Standards. By a printer’s measurement, the space allotted to distinctively Calvinistic doctrines is relatively small, and much the greater part is also good Methodist, Baptist or Lutheran doctrine, including such topics as the Sabbath, marriage, the magistrate, the communion of saints, and so on. The text itself is accompanied with a series of Bible readings, connected with the most important topics of the Bible. Where would we find in the same compass a more masterly exposition of the moral law than that of the Westminster Larger Catechism? And with Scriptures that seem to contain all the important precepts of the Bible, arranged on the basis of the Ten Commandments? In the period of conflict, it was not an unheard-of thing, in Old School homes of poverty and obscurity, to find a copy of the Westminster Standards; and even women who knew by heart the Larger Catechism. It was a pardonable optimism in some of their leaders, to believe that the Old School Church became the best drilled body of Presbyterians in the world. When Presbyterians abandon the circulation and study of these Westminster Standards, and the reading of the Bible, they may become as unintelligent as a denomination that professes to have no .creed at all; or, like “children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” Missionaries may tremble, when an itinerant evangelist, trained in Mormon tenets, fluent in quoting Scriptures, engages in discussion with an untrained Presbyterian. Abandon our doctrinal standards, and our Presbyterian fleet scatters in many directions, with no desired haven in sight.

It will not seem strange to a consistent Presbyterian that the same men who were strenuous in debate, and with strong doctrinal convictions, were active in revivals, in education and in missions. Calvinism is at the very heart of the solemn and tender scenes of a revival. Observe the hymns of evangelical Christendom, in English and many other foreign languages, in countless editions, denominational and undenominational, and so saturated with the five points of Calvinism that it becomes a physical impossibility to eliminate that doctrine. Even preterition, the passing by of the non-elect, is fervently sung: for “Pass me not, O God, my Father,” may be classed as a hymn of preterition. If evangelical Christians sing Calvinistic hymns and object to Calvinism, it seems to argue against their mentality or their sincerity.

As to education, we mention only Princeton and Washington and Jefferson Colleges among Old School institutions, and they had famous academies. They did much pioneering work for Presbyterian missions in China and India. A group of Old School missionaries gave up their lives at Cawnpore, shot to death, with two of their children, by order of that polished, educated gentleman, Nana Sahib. Theyfounded the mission of Siam and Laos, whose importance was enhanced by the long journey of Dr. Dodd, who traced the language of the Laos or Lao up into China, and found that they belong to the millions of the Tai race. He announced to the Christian world that a Tai territory as great as from New York to St. Louis one way, and from Chicago to New Orleans the other way, is still practically unoccupied.

A Southern Presbyterian writer has said that the Old School party won the victory over the New School only by virtue of an almost solid South. Let us accept the statement, and compare some figures. The Southern adherents of the New School party separated from them before the Civil War, in 1857-58, and formed a synod that was ere long received into the Southern Presbyterian Church, adding to them over 11,000 communicants. It is rarely that we find in the South a community with New School traditions, for the Presbyterian Church, U. S., is one of substantially Old School antecedents. The early statistics are somewhat uncertain, but it was estimated that in 1839 the New School had 97,000 communicants, and in 1840, the Old School, 126,000, showing an Old School majority of over 25,000. The formation of the Presbyterian Church, U. S., in the Civil War occasioned a loss of over 75,000 to the Old School. The last statistics, the period of the Reunion, in 1869, report, of the Old School, 258,000 communicants; and New School, 172,000. And after all losses, we have again an Old School majority of 86,000. Considering such accessions, surely the Old School fathers must have had some glorious revivals; and would to God we might have a revival of their Scriptural piety! At the date of the Reunion, estimating both Northern Old School and those in the South of like antecedents, their aggregate may have been nearly or fully twice that of the New School. Future generations may trace names or dates on Old School Presbyterian sepulchres; but they will never know what they owe to the struggles and sacrifices, the wisdom and grace, the perseverance and prayers of those dear departed saints. The Saviour’s counsel to his disciples puts us under obligation: “Other men labored, and ye are entered into their labors.” “Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might; Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight; Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light. Alleluia!”

Ben Avon, Pa.

A Disagreement Offered in Christian Love


It was on this, October 19th, in 1936 that Dr. J. Gresham Machen composed a letter to the Rev. Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., then president of Wheaton College. Machen’s letter was in response to an article that Buswell had written and sent to Machen, requesting his comments. While we don’t have Buswell’s article at hand, it obviously had some discussion of the Scofield Bible, which in turn prompted this portion of Machen’s reply. At four pages in length, Machen’s letter is too long to present in full here, but an excerpt will suffice to present something of Dr. Machen’s views on the Mosaic Law, a subject which has been tossed around of late, as you may know.
We note too that both men in their correspondence with each other as well as with others, were models of Christian civility, even when they disagreed with one another. Our transcription is from the original letter by Dr. Machen, as preserved among the Papers of the Rev. Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.

“. . . on page 3, you differ from Charles Hodge, and you cite the Westminster Shorter Catechism. But is not the view of Charles Hodge plainly taught in the Confession of Faith, Chapter VII, Sections 1, 2 and 3? According to Section 2 of that chapter life was promised to Adam and in him to his posterity upon condition of perfect obedience. When Adam was placed upon probation, and when a federal relationship was established between him and his posterity, that was a gracious act of God. If Adam had successfully stood in the probation, then the possibility of sinning would have been removed and he would have received eternal life beyond the possibility of loss of it. In that blessed result all of his posterity would have shared. The probation for Adam and for all mankind would have been over.

God did not, in other words, place Adam in that probation with everything to lose and nothing to gain. Quite different was the nature of that Covenant of Works or Covenant of Life. I do think that is plainly brought out in the Confession of Faith as well as in Charles Hodge.

But what ought to be clearly observed is that that Covenant of Works or Covenant of Life did not offer “salvation.” The word “salvation” implies something from which one is saved. Adam was not lost when that Covenant of Life was given him. On the contrary he had knowledge, righteousness and holiness. The Covenant of Works was not given as a way by which a sinner might get rid of his sin and merit eternal life.

Neither was the Mosaic Law given for any such purpose. It was not given to present, even hypothetically, a way by which a sinner, already eternally under the condemnation of sin, could by future perfect obedience merit the favor of God. And Dr. Charles Hodge surely does not regard it as given for any such purpose.

The root error, or one of the many root errors of the Dispensationalism of the Scofield Bible seems to me to be the utter failure to recognize and make central the fact of the Fall of man. I know that there are salutary inconsistencies in the Scofield Bible. I know that in the notes on the fifth chapter of Romans there is taught, not indeed the orthodox doctrine of imputation, but still some recognition of the universal corruption that has come from Adam’s sin. But by what a back-door even that much of the central Biblical teaching is brought in! As one reads Dr. Scofield’s notes one does not for the most part get the slightest inkling of the fact that anything irrevocable took place when Adam fell. After his Fall man continued to be tested in successive dispensations. See for example the definition of a dispensation which Dr. Scofield gives at the beginning. That is one of the things that seems to me to be so profoundly heretical in this commentary.

It is contrary to the very heart of the Augustinian and Calvinistic view of sin. According to that view — and surely according to the Bible — the guilt of Adam’s first sin was imputed to his posterity. Adam being by divine appointment the representative or federal head of the race. Thus all descended from Adam by ordinary generation are guilty. They are guilty before they individually have done anything either good or bad. They are under the penalty of sin when they are born. Part of that penalty of sin is hopeless corruption, from which, if there is growth to years of discretion, individual transgressions spring. How utterly absurd would it have been therefore for God to offer the Mosaic Law, to such an already condemned and fallen race, as something which, if only obeyed by that already condemned and fallen race, would bring salvation and eternal life!

Thus Dr. Scofield’s view of the Mosaic Law is rooted in a wrong view of sin — a wrong view which is against the very heart and core of the Reformed Faith.

Blessed inconsistencies in some parts of the Scofield notes do not prevent the main impact of the Dispensational teaching from being extremely bad.

. . . My letter is a good deal longer than I started out to make it. I just feel that in you I have a really sympathetic correspondent. It is so refreshing to be able to differ from someone about some things and not have the differences made a matter of personal resentment. Still greater is my joy in the large measure of agreement in which I stand with you. I fully understand, even with regard to the Scofield Bible, that although you differ from me in your general estimate of the book, there are very important matters with regard to which you agree, against the Scofield Bible, with me.

Cordially yours,

J. Gresham Machen

Words To Live By: (for your review)
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 7 – Of God’s Covenant with Man.
Section 1.
The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.[1]
[1] I Samuel 2:25; Job 9:32-33; 22:2-3; and 35:7-8; Psalm 100:2-3; Psalm 113:5-6; Isaiah 40:13-17; Luke 17:10; Acts 17:24-25.

Section 2.
The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works,[1] wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity,[2] upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.[3]
[1] Galatians 3:12.
[2] Romans 5:12-20; Romans 10:5.
[3] Genesis 2:17; Galatians 3:10.

Section 3.
Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second,[1] commonly called the Covenant of Grace, whereby He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved;[2] and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.[3]
[1] Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 42:6; Romans 3:20-21; Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:21.
[2] Mark 16:15-16; John 3:16; Romans 10:6, 9; Galatians 3:11.
[3] Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 6:44-45.

I would like to share with you this Lord’s Day a small portion of a book I’ve been reading. The book is Gospel Conversation, by Jeremiah Burroughs. (Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995, pp. 16-17). This is a reprint of an older book, and we must remember how the word “conversation” was used centuries ago. Here it means conduct or behavior, and the message that Rev. Burroughs brings is that if we are truly Christians, our conduct should and must match our confession. In this section of his book, Burroughs shows how conduct in keeping with the gospel benefits other Christians:

Christians who profess the gospel must have a great care for their conversations [i.e., behavior], in respect of God and in respect of men, both unbelievers and believers.

In respect of the saints, we are to be very careful of our conversations.

1. By your conversation, you will rejoice the hearts of the saints. Oh, when those who are godly see others who profess godliness walking in a strict and hold conversation, how does it rejoice their hearts! It is the comfort of their lives.

2. Besides, they bless God for it. They not only rejoice over it, they bless God for it. When they get alone in secret they are blessing God for the gracious, holy, and convincing conversations of such and such men with whom they converse.

3. And by that means, the saints have a boldness before men. They can lift up their heads wherever they go when they know that all who make profession of religion in the places where they live walk unblameably. Upon that, godly men can hold up their heads with boldness whereas, otherwise, it makes such as are professors of religion ashamed when they see and hear of such and such who make profession of religion yet walk scandalously and loosely.

4. Then further, your holy conversations will establish the hearts of the saints; it will settle young believers. There are many who are giving up their names to Christ when they see the holy and gracious conversations of these who are ancient professors. O how they are established in the ways of godliness!

5. It will edify the saints. They will edify and grow up in holiness. They will imitate you, and you will find the graces of God not only strengthened, but increased in them by your conversations. Oh, the abundance of good that you may do! Therefore, Christians, have a care of your conversations.

By this means, you will have evidence to your souls of the truth of grace in your hearts which you cannot have if your conversations are not right. In 1 John 1:6, mark what the Apostle says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth.” And again, you have a notable Scripture in 1 John 3:7, “Little children, let no man deceive you; he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous.” It is as if he should say, “There are a company of deceivers in the world, and they think it enough to talk of righteousness. They say they believe in Jesus Christ, and it’s faith only that is required of them; and as for the other, that’s a mere legal thing for men to make conscience of duties and of their lives. This is only legal! Let them trust in Jesus Christ; Christ has done all. What, can we be saved by our lives? Has not Christ done all? Is righteousness not found in Him?

“Let no man deceive you,” said the Apostle. If there is not a “doing” righteousness, there is no righteousness in you. “He that doeth righteousness is righteous.” You have nothing to do with the righteousness of Christ as your own applied yet unto you unless you do righteousness. Therefore, have a care of your conversation that you may have evidence to your souls of the truth that there is in your hearts.

Have a care of your conversations that you may continue and increase that which is within you. Certainly those who make profession of religion and have no care of their conversations will never continue in their profession. Mark this, they may be as comets for awhile, blazing stars, but they will vanish and, within a little while, you shall find that their profession will wear away. Where there is not a godly life together with profession, profession will vanish and come to nothing. Their very common graces will be taken away from them if they do not have a care of their lives but, if they have a care of their lives, they will continue in the ways of godliness, and grow up, and increase more and more.

You Could Not Sit Under His Ministry Unaffected


Our title characterizes John Flavel (sometimes spelled Flavell). Born in 1628 in Bromsgrove, Worchestershire, he was a pastor’s son. His father educated him in biblical truths which stood him in good stead when he studied at University College, Oxford.  Ordained on October 17, 1650 by the Presbytery of Salisbury, he accepted a call six years later to the seacoast town of Dartmouth, where through his reading and close meditation upon the text of the Scriptures, self-examination, and prayer, his pastorate began to have a spiritual effect upon the people.

One of this flock wrote of him, “I could say much, though not enough of the excellency of his preaching, of his seasonable, suitable, and spiritual matter; of his plain expositions of Scripture, his talking method; his genuine and natural deductions, his convincing arguments, his clear and powerful demonstrations, his heart-searching applications, and his comfortable supports to those that were afflicted in conscience.  In short, that person must have a very soft head, or a very hard heart, or both, that could sit under his ministry unaffected.” (Erasmus Middleton, Evangelical Biography, 4:50 – 51). What a remarkable commendation of a man of God in any age, and one to be emulated by those called to the ministry of the Word among our readers.

Flavel was one of the 2000 plus ministers ejected from Anglican pulpits and parishes in 1662, but he didn’t stop ministering to his people by that act. He met them in homes, in secret places in the forest, really anywhere to continue his ministry of the Word.  Constantly under threat of arrest and imprisonment, more than once soldiers of the realm would interrupt the precious hours of prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and the preaching of the Word. Once, the only place of worship was an island, which at a certain hour of the day, would be submerged by high tide. Congregants hungry for the Word of God as preached by Flavel would keep their boats handy so as to jump into them at the last moment!

Taking two indulgences offered by King Charles II and King James, Flavel would part company with the Covenanter Presbyterians by accepting these opportunities to proclaim the unsearchable riches of God’s grace further. He continued that spoken ministry accompanied by the writing of numerous books, works which continue to minister today in both print and electronic editions. This author has had in his ministerial library during his forty years in the pulpit, the six volume “Works of John Flavel,” which includes an exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechisms. If you have not read any of Flavel’s works, you are missing a great treasure.

He departed this life in 1691. However, being dead, he continues to speak through his writing to countless churchmen and lay people today.

Words to Live By:
It was said of John Flavel that “He preached what he felt, and what he had handled, what he has seen and tasted of the Word of life, and they (his listeners) felt it also.”  Speaking to the readers of these posts, how faithful are you to pray for, encourage by your attendance and notes, those who minister to you the word of God?  Scripture says in Hebrews 13:7, “remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you, and considering the results of the conduct, imitate their faith.”

A few small samples of Flavel’s writing, first on the glories of Christ Jesus, then second on discerning divine providence:

“The whole world is not a theater large enough to display the glory of Christ upon or unfold even half of the unsearchable riches that lie hidden in Him. And such is the deliciousness of this subject, Christ, that were there ten thousand volumes written upon it, they would never become tiring to the heart. We used to say that any one thing can finally tire us and this is true, except about this one eminent thing, Christ, and then one can never tire, for such is the variety of sweetness in Christ.”

“Search backward into all the performances of Providence throughout your lives. So did Asaph: ‘I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings’ (Psalm 77:11, 12). He laboured to recover and revive the ancient providences of God’s mercies many years past, and suck a fresh sweetness out of them by new reviews of them. Ah, sirs, let me tell you, there is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would but sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what signal manifestations and outbreakings of His mercy, faithfulness and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. If your hearts do not melt before you have gone half through that history, they are hard hearts indeed. ‘My Father, thou art the guide of my youth’ (Jeremiah 3:4)”.—From The Mystery of Providence, chapter nine.

Those Quiet Ones Will Surprise You. 


Pastors and some others who read this blog may well have studied the work of the Rev. Dr. James W. Dale, on the subject of baptism. But who was this nineteenth-century author? Rev. James Roberts, author of a Memorial composed in memory of Dr. Dale, writes concerning his subject:

“…the story of such a life can never grow old, and can never cease to be instructive and helpful to others.

Yet Roberts also notes that “The written records from which to construct an adequate memorial [were] almost totally lacking. No diary was kept. No memoranda of personal experience remained. Only occasional dates of events, and a few letters to his family and friends, had been casually preserved.”

“Dr. Dale was a very reticent man and seldom spoke of himself or his personal affairs, except to his most intimate friends, and even to them with a lingering flavor of reserve. For instance, he carried on his remarkable researches on the subject of baptism, by day and by night, for twenty long years, without ever saying to a human being that he was making a book, until he had gone over the whole ground of the inquiry, and his first volume was ready for the press.”

James Wilkinson Dale was born October 16, 1812, at Cantwell’s Bridge (now Odessa) Delaware. He was the third son and the fourth child of Richard Colgate Dale, M.D. and Margaret (Fitzgerald) Dale. Following a term studying law, he turned to prepare for the ministry, initially at the Andover Theological Seminary. From his second year on, he continued his studies at Princeton, graduating there in 1835. He was appointed by the American Board to serve as a missionary in India, but could not gather the requisite financial support and had to withdraw. Undeterred, he next entered upon medical studies to further prepare for missions work, but upon graduation in 1838, entered into a term of service as an agent for the American Bible Society, 1838-1845. He later served as pastor of several churches near Philadelphia. It was during the time of these several pastorates that he wrote his famous works on the subject of baptism.


 Classic Baptism was published in 1867; Judaic Baptism in 1869; Johannic Baptism in 1871; Christic and Patristic Baptism, a volume approximately twice the length of the former works, was then published in 1874.

As these volumes were issued, one after another, from the press, they were noticed at considerable length in the editorial columns of many of the religious papers of the country. The foremost professors, pastors, teachers and preachers were strong in their commendation of the author and of the work which he had so well accomplished. Each volume as it came out increased, rather than diminished, the admiration of scholars for the author, and added fresh laurels

The publication of these scholarly volumes at once lifted their author out of the comparative obscurity in which he had lived. His company, his counsel, and his acquaintance, were sought by men eminent in the theological world, who had never seen or even heard of him before the appearance of his books. Other writers in the same field began to quote him as authority, and his works remain and authority on the subject to this day.

In recognition of his scholarship and of his ability as an author, Hampden Sidney College, in Virginia, conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity, as did also his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Dale received no profit from the sale of his books. Perhaps that is not unusual in itself, but he certainly did not publish with an intent to profit from them. In his retirement, he kept busy in part by working to condense and popularize his works on baptism. One friend expressed the wish that “out of this forest of philological learning [speaking of Dr. Dale’s prior works on baptism], there might be, in due time, a little grove selected for the security and comfort of the unlettered believer.” It was the intention of Dr. Dale to make such “a little grove,” in other words, to write a book on baptism which all Christian people could read with interest, pleasure and profit. He found that the books which he had already written and published could not well be abridged or condensed, without lessening their value to preachers and to theological students, for whom they were especially written. He, therefore, determined to prepare such a popular presentation of the subject as would put the valuable results of his studies within the reach of the masses of God’s people. This was the task which he had set for himself, and on which he was engaged when the Master called him to lay aside his pen and to enter upon his everlasting reward.

Words to Live By:
Most people, Christians included, live out their lives in relative obscurity. Few people, Christians included, achieve notoriety in any field. But every Christian has something of great worth that the world knows not. Regardless of our calling in life, we know that we have a purpose. We know that we serve the King of kings. And we know that God has declared that He will be our God, and we will be His people.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, KJV)

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