Organized, September 19, 1781.
Daily devotional readings in Scripture, the Westminster Standards, & Presbyterian history.
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Organized, September 19, 1781.
A Heart Firmly Attached in the Interest of His Country.
Abraham Keteltas was born in New York City on December 26, 1732. His father, Abraham Keteltas, Sr., was a merchant who had immigrated to the American colonies in 1720. The family had settled in New Rochelle, New York, which was at the time heavily populated with Huguenots. Young Abraham’s friendships among the Huguenots allowed him to become fluent in French. He later studied theology at Yale, graduating there in 1752, and was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of New York in 1756.
Installed as pastor in Elizabethtown, New Jersey in 1757, he remained there but a year. Rev. Keteltas married about this time and resided at Jamaica, Long Island, yet without pastoral charge. Still, as he was fluent in the three languages dominant in the region and was a masterful preacher, he frequently was called to the pulpits of the Dutch and French churches, as well as the Presbyterian, and during this time his reputation grew among that population.
His reputation and stature apparently extended well beyond the Long Island community, for it is recorded that his advice was held in high esteem by many, George Washington being among that number and known to have frequently consulted him on various matters. Rev. Keteltas readily became a strong advocate in the struggle for independence, so public in his declarations that his personal safety required him to flee Long Island for the relative safety of New England. He was elected in 1777 to serve as a delegate to the New York State constitutional convention, though he did not attend.
Four of Rev. Keteltas’s sermons are extant, preserved in a small number of libraries. These are:
The Religious Soldier: or, The Military Character of King David, display’d and enforced in a sermon, preached March 8, 1759, to the regular officers and soldiers in Elizabeth-Town.
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, in becoming poor for men displayed and enforced in a charity sermon preached in the French Protestant Church, in New-York, December 27, 1773.
Reflections on Extortion shewing the Nature, Malignity, and Fatal Tendency of that Sin to Individuals and Communities, displayed and enforced in a sermon preached at Newbury-port, on Lord’s Day February 15th, 1778.
God Arising and Pleading His People’s Cause: or, The American War in Favor of Liberty, Against the Measures and Arms of Great Britain, Shewn to Be the Cause of God.
The last mentioned of these, delivered in 1777, is perhaps the best known of his sermons. It is a bold and patriotic record of his support for the American cause. Reiner Smolinki, of George State University, has skillfully made this sermon available in digital edition (see the above link). Of this sermon, Mr. Smolinski states:
In the former sermon . . . Keteltas enlists Jehovah of Armies in defense of America’s rights. Drawing on typological parallels from both Testaments, Keteltas demonstrates that God always supports the cause of righteousness, liberty, and self-government, especially where His people are concerned. If God is on the side of His American Israel, Kelteltas prophecies, the British enemy cannot succeed for long. Religion and politics are joined in a bed of patriotism.
During the war years, Rev. Keteltas supplied the pulpits of many churches in Connecticut and Massachusetts, continuing in that capacity until declining health forced his retirement in 1782. He died while residing in Jamaica, Queens County, New York, on this day, September 30, in 1798, at the age of 65 years, 9 months and 4 days. The New York Historical Society has preserved a portrait of Rev. Keteltas, which can be viewed here. His gravestone, which can be viewed here, reads as follows:
“He possessed unusual talents which were improved by profound erudition & a heart firmly attached in the interest of his Country. His mind was early impressed with a sense of religion, which fully manifested itself by his choice of the sacred office, in which he shone as the able & faithful Divine. It may not perhaps be unworthy of record in this inscription, that he had frequently officiated in three different languages, having preached in the Dutch & French Churches in his native City of New York.”
Something to Consider:
The question is still with us to this day, whether Christians, as Christians, should be involved in politics. Without voting here on the matter, we only make an historical observation of the strong involvement of the clergy in favor of the American Revolution, so much so that the War was sometimes called the Presbyterian Rebellion. To discover how these pastors came to their convictions, it is necessary to take into account the wider context of, first, the English Civil War (1642-51), and second, the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary (1688). The American Revolutionary War was very clearly at the time seen as a continuation of these earlier conflicts. For a Presbyterian defense of the struggle for liberty, see particularly Samuel Rutherford’s Lex, Rex: The Law and the Prince, A Dispute for the Just Prerogative of King and People (1644).
Ruling Elder Jim Stewart has long served as both Stated Clerk and as historian for the historic First Presbyterian Church of Schenectady, New York. Recently he was kind to provide us with a short account of the history of the church. There is much here that we may follow up on in months to come!
A Brief History of First Presbyterian Church Schenectady
According to a local history, Presbyterians began meeting in Schenectady as early as 1735. In 1759, the Episcopalians and Presbyterians bought land and began constructing a building for their joint use. This did not work out, and in 1769, a lot was purchased and a new church building was built. The early congregation was a mixture of Ulster/Scots immigrants and English Puritans who came via New England. These two groups did not mix very well, and tensions between them were not resolved until the 1820s.
Multiple revivals strengthened the church, especially the 1819-1820 revival under the ministry of the Rev. Asahel Nettleton. FPC was involved in the formation of Union College (Schenectady), and its first president, the widely respected the Rev. John Blair Smith, served as FPC pastor. Jonathan Edwards the younger was Union’s second president and is buried in the FPC churchyard. Other early ministers achieved wide renown in their subsequent pastorates. FPC elders, Alexander Kelly and Nehemiah Bassett, participated in General Assemblies and served in committee. New churches were planted and benevolence ministries started. The wooden building was replaced by a brick one in 1809 that was subsequently enlarged and is still in use today. Three godly ministers, whose pastorates together spanned from 1832 to 1921, brought blessing and advance to the church. But theological liberalism swept Presbyterian churches in upstate New York in the early 1900s, and two liberal ministers served FPC in the 1920s and 30s. God answered the prayers of faithful church members and brought Dr. Herbert Mekeel to minister in 1937. With considerable difficulty, God used him to turn the church back to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The following years brought advancement to the church at home and wide outreach to the world. Many men entered the ministry; missionaries were sent out; churches were planted; a Christian camp and a Christian school were started; and the evangelical cause was advanced during Mekeel’s 42 years’ pastorate. In May 1975, FPC petitioned Presbytery to be transferred to another denomination. That request having failed, the congregation voted in January 1977 to dissolve all relationships with the Presbytery of Albany. God provided the means of securing the property through an 1828 provision in the New York State Religious Corporation Law. It was not until December 1984 when the Supreme Court settled the matter. FPC joined the PCA on Sept. 29th, 1989.
The bicentennial observation of the founding of the Fairfield Presbyterian Church, of Fairton, New Jersey, commonly known as the Old Stone Church, was observed on September 29, 1880, the church having been organized in 1680. That congregation continues on to the present day and is a member church of the Presbyterian Church in America.
Easily the most distinguished pastor in the history of the Old Stone Church was the Rev. Ethan Osborn.
For our Lord’s day sermon, the following is a transcript of the aged pastor’s last words to his congregation,
“. . . the aged preacher, in all the faithfulness of his still loving heart, and under circumstances which could not fail to awaken for him the sympathy of his audience. He is now in his ninety-second year. The place where he stands was the scene of his eventful ministrations for more than half a century, and he does not expect ever to preach from that pulpit again. After referring to the ministry of his predecessor, who in 1780 preached the first sermon in the house, to his own labors there, and to those of the writer of this memorial, then the pastor of the congregation, he proceeds—”
“I may safely say that by the preaching of these three ministers, in this house, the doctrines and all things essential to duty and salvation, have been clearly explained and faithfully urged upon the people. The doctrine of human depravity has been explained and proved from Scripture and common observation. Here also the doctrine of regeneration has been repeatedly set forth, and the absolute necessity of it urged upon the people. It has been shown that we must be new created in Christ Jesus, must have the love of God ruling in our hearts, or we can never be admitted into his kingdom.
“Also the doctrines of repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, have been faithfully preached in this house, and their absolute necessity in order to obtain pardon and heavenly felicity. Likewise the duties prescribed in the gospel have been explained and insisted on. The people have been informed that supreme love to God is their indispensable duty. Here also they have been taught the duties we owe, one to another, to do good to all according to our abilities and opportunities; and to ourselves, to live sober and religious lives in the world. Here also, that the law forbids every sin, whether in action, word or heart, and pronounces a curse on every transgression of it. For ‘cursed is every one that continueth not in all the things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’ And as all have sinned, therefore no human being can be justified before God by the deeds of the law, or by meritorious obedience. The law requires perfect and perpetual obedience. But as no man has yielded such obedience, or possessed sinless perfection, therefore in vain do you now look to the law for justification.
‘Since to convince and to condemn,
Is all the law can do.’
“But, thanks to God : the gospel reveals a way of justification, how we may obtain forgiveness and the favor of God. And this blessed gospel has often been preached in this house, the gospel which offers a free pardon to every humble penitent. ‘This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ The blessed Saviour invites the weary and heavy laden sinner to come to him, assuring him that he will raise him up at the last day to eternal life. Such is the inviting and beneficent language of the gospel. But at the same time, both law and gospel denounce everlasting punishment on such as reject the Saviour and die impenitent.
“Now the interesting question is, How have the people improved the preaching of the law and the gospel? Most of those who lived under the ministry of my predecessor have gone to the grave. But to you who are yet living and hearing the gospel, the question is solemn and important. Have you so improved the preaching of God’s word as to become wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus?
“To those who are pious believers, I would say, you have chosen the good part, and God has begun a gracious work in you which he will carry on until it terminates in glory. So that by faith in Christ, shaving laid hold on the hope set before us, you may have a strong consolation, and go on your Christian course rejoicing. Be not satisfied with your present relative attainments, but press forward to the work of perfection, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Use the appointed means of reading and hearing the word of God, not forsaking the assembling of yourselves for public worship, as many do, and by no means neglect the privilege and duty of prayer. Ask and receive, not only that you may have grace to serve God, but that you may also grow in grace and in the knowledge of your Lord Jesus Christ. In this way religion will become more pleasant. The nearer you advance toward heavenly perfection, the more delighted you will be with heavenly enjoyment. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.’
‘Come leave his pleasant ways,
And let us taste his grace.’
“Never be weary in well doing, for in perseverance, you shall in due time reap a glorious harvest. As an inducement thus to live and spend your remaining days, remember your judge and mind will ere long call us to answer, how I have preached the gospel and how you have improved it.
“I now turn to those of you whose future happiness is not yet secured by faith in the Mediator. Your situation is awfully dangerous. You are now suspended between the possibility of eternal happiness or eternal misery. You are now between the two vast extremes, or if I may more plainly express it between heaven and hell. Either celestial happiness or infernal misery must in a short time be your everlasting portion. How solemn is the prospect before you—the joys of heaven or the sorrows of hell, one of which must be your everlasting portion,—the latter except ye turn at God’s reproof. ‘As though God did beseech you, by us, we pray you, in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.’ Believe me when I say it is my heart’s desire and prayer to God, that you and I may have a joyful meeting at the judgment, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“As we expect this to be the last Sabbath on which I shall speak to you from this pulpit, let me say, in the presence of God who knows my heart, that I have endeavored and prayed that I might faithfully perform my ministerial duties. Though I am conscious of much imperfection, God is my witness, that I have ever preached such doctrine and precepts as I verily believe are agreeable to his word. I have repeatedly said, ‘the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.’ With gratitude to God, I look back upon the religious revivals with which he has blessed us and the friendly relations which have subsisted between us. It is no small satisfaction that as pastor and people we separated as friends, and that a pleasant intercourse subsists between myself and my successor, your present pastor. Never were the people more dear to me, I shall love them as long as I live.
“Excuse my plainness, and permit me once more to say in the fullness of my feelings, that my heart’s desire and prayer to God for you all is, that you may be saved. As it will not be long before we must each answer to God—I for my ministry, and you for your improvement of it, let us be diligent in what duty remains and in advancing toward heaven. Let brotherly love continue and abound, until it shall be perfected in the heavenly kingdom. And may God prepare us all to meet in heaven! I now bid you a cordial farewell, praying that it may fare well with you in this world, in blessings of health and prosperity, as far as shall be for God’s glory and your own good, and that in the future world, entered with your blessed Saviour into the joy of your Lord, you may FARE WELL.”
[excerpted from The Pastor of the Old Stone Church (1858), pp. 52-56. To read this work online, click here.]
Cunningly Devised Fables
By Rev. Lardner W. Moore
[THE SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL 8.24 (15 April 1950): 8-9.]
(Sermon preached by Rev. L. W. Moore, retiring chairman, at the opening of the Annual Meeting of the Japan Mission in January.)
II Peter 1:16, 19:
“For we have not followed cunningly devised fables (myths) when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well to take heed.”
Attention is called to the words “cunningly devised fables.” The King James and the American Standard Versions translate the word “fables.” The Revised Standard Version translates it “myth”, which is no doubt closer to the original. Fables have to do with stories of animals which speak and talk like men, such as in Aesop’s Fables. But according to Webster a myth is “a story the origin of which is forgotten, ostensibly historical but usually such as to explain some practice, belief, institution, or natural phenomenon.” “A person or thing existing only in the imagination.” “Myths are especially associated with religious rites and beliefs.” A myth is a story “ostensibly historical” which explains a belief or institution associated with religion.
It is very interesting that both Peter and Paul, at the close of their ministries warn the believers against myths. Paul says in 1 Tim. 1:3 “Neither give heed to fables (myths) and endless genealogies” and again in 4:7 “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables (myths) and exercise thyself rather to godliness.” In 2 Tim. 4:4 “And they shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables (myths).” And in Titus 1:13, 14 “Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; not giving heed to Jewish fables (myths) and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.”
The contrast is brought out clearly in the two verses of our text. Peter and the apostles knew that the religions of their day not only were based on myths but that the great majority of the people knew nothing of any other form of religion. So he says, “Yea, I will give diligence that at every time ye may be able after my departure to call these things to remembrance.” “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables—but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” The religions of his day were recognized as being cunningly devised but Peter claimed the authority of one who with his own eyes had beheld the glory of Jesus or as we find it in John, “we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” It will not be necessary to remind you that Paul bases his authority as an apostle on the fact that he had seen the Lord Jesus.
And yet Peter goes on to say in the 19th verse “and we have a more sure word of prophecy.” We need not go into the discussion as to whether Peter meant to speak of the written word of the Old Testament as on a par with or above the testimony of the apostles; it is sufficient that Peter says we have a surer word since they had seen the Christ and his works, they had been given the Holy Spirit and even the Old Testament prophesies bore the sign and seal of the word of God spoken through holy men who so recorded it. The contrast between the myths that formed the basis of the other religions of his day and the “surer word” which was the possession of the Christians of that day.
How the church has been cursed with myths in spite of the warning and assurance of these apostles! We can only refer to some of the myths which grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, many of them still cherished. The myths of the childhood of Jesus; how he and his friends made clay pigeons and when he commanded, they actually came to life and flew away. Or the myth of the Immaculate Conception; that is, that the Virgin Mary was born sinless. Or the myth that the Virgin Mary has special access to Jesus in Heaven and our prayers will be answered more readily if made through her. Or the assumption of pontifical authority by the Apostle Peter. All of these things are held as historical and much of the life of that church is built on the assumptions associated with them.
As for us here in Japan, we blushed with shame as we read of the ceremonies throughout the land and the world as the arm of Xavier was carried from city to city. We grieved to hear the Japanese Buddhists referring to those performances as being very similar to Buddhist practice. It would seem to insult the reason of man, to say nothing of the power of our Lord, and yet the whole mythical ritual was carried out by a world church.
But has Protestantism, or the Protestant Church, a better record? Since the name of Reinhold Niebuhr of Union Seminary, New York, has been in the religious news, Japanese ministers have asked me of his theological views. Being ashamed to say I had not read any of his books, I was compelled to buy his “The Nature and Destiny of Man.” In that book, he speaks not infrequently of “the myth of the fall” (of Adam). In other words here was a so-called leader of Protestantism who believes that some of the theories of Genesis are based on myth.
It has not been more than ten years ago that I sat in a church in New York and heard Dr. George Buttrick, also of Union Seminary, preach a sermon based on “that beautiful myth” of the raising to life of the man thrown on Elisha’s bones, found in 2 Kings 13. Now when I was in the Seminary in Richmond some thirty years ago, it was generally understood that Union New York had departed from the faith as to the authenticity of the Bible. This year I find Dr. Buttrick speaking at the Centennial of Austin College, and Dr. Coffin, of the same Seminary, invited to speak in Richmond. In other words, we find our own beloved church making common cause with men who believe that much of our Scripture and hence our religion originated in myth and legend.
Now if we are to follow the counsel of the apostles appointed by our Lord we must not “be given to Jewish myths” and Peter denies that the things he preached had anything to do with “cunningly devised myths.” If there are Jewish myths in the Old Testament they should be avoided and yet the leaders of Protestantism for the last half century have been more and more accepting, approving and proclaiming the mythological origin of much of our Bible or, what is worse, they tell us, as long as we follow Jesus, it makes no difference.
What of the effect of this teaching among the Japanese? Now it is readily admitted that the Shinto religion of the Japanese is based on myth. And there are among them stories which could not be published in the language of the people because of the actual filthiness of some of the deeds of the so-called gods. But they were “ostensibly historical” stories which were revered by hosts of people, old and young. What has modern Protestantism offered the Japanese in place of their own myths? We have witnessed the Christian Church trying to lead people to substitute “Jewish myths” for their own revered legends. It is easy to see how the mind of the modern Japanese refused to admit that “Jewish myths” were superior to Japanese myths. And yet we find modern Protestantism trying to do just that It is no wonder that there were and still are, many Japanese who felt that they could fit the moral precepts of the New Testament onto the mythological origins of Shinto. At this point, Protestantism has done, not only the cause of Christ, but the intellectual feelings of the Japanese people a deep injury; an injury which is more devastating than the atom bomb since the atom bomb had to do with physical death while belief in myths is equivalent to “turning away from the truth.”
But there is another myth which Protestantism is propagating to the injury of the cause of truth in Japan. It is that the defeat in war has wrought a miracle in the hearts of the Japanese people. Shinto is dead! The Japanese are turning to the church in crowds! If defeat in war can bring true repentance to the heart of the people, where is the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion? It is true that doors have been opened to the free course of the gospel but we also know that as far as the hearts of the people are concerned there is more knavery of every kind going on freely in Japan than was allowed under the regime of the Militarists. The doors have been opened both ways and it does no good to us nor to the work to preserve “cunningly devised myths.”
What can we as a Mission offer the Japanese? It is our glorious opportunity and duty to present the truth of God in contrast to myths, Jewish or otherwise. Luther and Calvin found the world of their day so burdened with myth and legend that it was impossible to tell what was Christian and what was not What did they do? They turned to “the surer word of prophecy” namely, the Old and New Testaments. They proclaimed the evil of myths on every hand as man made and as the work of the Devil. In contrast, they proclaimed God’s word from Genesis to Revelation as of God and true and for the edification of all, both Jew and Greek. If the Old Testament is myth, let us shun it as we would poison. If the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection are myth, let us face the facts and tear these legends out of our Bibles and be fair with our fellow workers, be they American or Japanese. But the testimony in our hearts bears witness with the testimony in the Scriptures that they are the word of God. We are a Mission which has taken its stand on the word of God as defined in our Confession of Faith. If we hold fast we will be able to repair a part of the breach in the wall in defense of our faith and with the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God, we can go forth to breach the gates of Hell. No, not with “cunningly devised myths” but by “a more sure word of prophecy.”