March 2021

You are currently browsing the archive for the March 2021 category.

In a substantial resource written by Dr. Clifford M. Drury under the title Presbyterian Panorama, we read on p. 4:— 

“At a meeting of the Standing Committee held March 31, 1903, a circular letter was approved to be sent to the various “missionary associations in Europe and America” to inquire into “the measures and success of others engaged in Missionary undertakings.” The letter carried the following paragraph:

‘From the time the Presbyterian Church was organized in this country, which was at the commencement of the last century, the practice has existed among us, of sending ministers of the gospel to preach to those who had not its institutions regularly established among them.’

The six simple words, “The practice has existed among us,” emphasize the continuance of the missionary spirit in the Presbyterian Church from the time of the organization of the first presbytery in 1706. Indeed, Presbyterians were carrying on missionary work in the colonies before that date. In 1649 the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England received its charter from the the English Parliament. Shortly after its organization, the Society took over the support of Rev. John Elliot, who had begun his ministry with the Indians of Massachusetts in 1646. This Society had the loyal support of Presbyterians throughout all England.”

Words to Live By:
Of course, the problem is that if you don’t believe the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, then there really is no reason for going to the mission field, for you have no message. That hard reality was what was behind the reassessment issued in 1932 in the report known as Rethinking Missions. By the beginning of the twentieth century, modernism had made heavy inroads into the mainline Presbyterian Church, undercutting the cause of missions. Fewer missionaries were sent out as a result, and of those who did go, fewer still took the Gospel message with them. This was the problem pointed out by J. Gresham Machen that in turn led to the formation of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM).

Today the PCA alone fields over 600 full-time missionaries, along with thousands of part-time and occasional missionaries. The OPC, ARP, RPCNA, and other conservative Presbyterian denominations do their part as well and with equal vigor, each in accord with their respective size and strength. And in all this, we all seek to lift of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, that God alone might be glorified and that He might sovereignly build His kingdom. Let this be a reminder to pray for your missionaries and to pray for those who train them, that by God’s grace all might remain true to the Word of God.

The Rev. Franklin Pierce Ramsay was born on March 30, 1856. He was educated at Davidson College, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Chicago (Ph.D.) and Columbia Theological Seminary. In his forty-five year career, he served as pastor of at least six Presbyterian congregations and also as president of several colleges, including King College, Bristol, Tennessee. The Rev. F. P. Ramsay died on September 30, 1926. Thus far I have not been able to locate a photograph of him. For those who would like to browse some more of his writings, click here.

The Office of Ruling Elder : Its Obligations and Responsibilities
By the Rev. F.P. Ramsay, Ph.D.
[Christianity Today 1.3 (July 1930): 5-6.]

The following address was made by the late Dr. Ramsay on the occasion of the installation of his son, R.L. Ramsay, Ph.D., professor of English in the University of Missouri, as an elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, Mo., on March 25, 1925. It came into our hands through another son, the Rev. Mebane Ramsay of Staten Island, N.Y., who found it among the papers left by his lamented father.

As one is to be here inducted into the office of Ruling Elder of the Presbyterian Church, my remarks will seek to be appropriate to the occasion.

At this induction into office the elder makes a declaration of his doctrinal belief, that the Scriptures are the Word of God, and that the Confession of Faith (and Catechisms) contain the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures; and he promises to study the (doctrinal) purity of the Church. This is the covenant that he enters into with the Church when inducted into this office. Here is the difference between an unofficial member and an officer in the Presbyterian Church : the member simply professes his personal faith in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ ; the officer professes his belief in the Church’s doctrinal system. One may become a member who does not believe that the Confession of Faith contains the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures, or even that the Scriptures are the Word of God, if only he trusts in Jesus Christ and means to obey Him ; but one cannot become an officer in the Presbyterian Church without accepting its doctrinal system and intending to strive for the Church’s doctrinal purity—unless he is willing to come into his office on a false profession.

Let me stress this a little. Note the difference between the unofficial members, who are required only to profess faith in Christ, and the officers, who are required to profess acceptance of a body of doctrine. Thus the Presbyterian Church is both liberal and intolerant.

Note that it is intolerant of disbelief in its system of doctrine on the part of its officers. Why? The Church is a propagandist institution, an organization for the purpose of advocating and propagating certain beliefs. It is true that the Church’s end is to produce and nourish a certain life ; but belief is an inseparable element of that life and necessary to it. Or be that as it may, the Church is organized and works upon that assumption, and so sets itself to propagate certain beliefs. This system of beliefs its officers are required to accept and maintain and propagate.

Here is a striking difference between the Church and the University. The University is organized to search for truth ; the Church, to propagate the truth. The University, assuming that there is truth still hidden, sets itself to investigate and discover new truth ; but the Church, assuming that certain truths have been given to it by revelation from God, sets itself to teach and disseminate that truth. The University asks questions, the Church answers questions.

The candidate on this occasion is a University man, filled with the University spirit ; and I therefore say to him that the Church is organized on the assumption that it already has the truth and exists for the purpose of disseminating and propagating this truth. If a society were organized for the purpose of propagating Socialism, a man might conceivably belong to that society, and yet be a professor in the University. If in the University he were teaching social science, he would endeavor to lead his students in investigations that would enable them to judge for themselves between Socialism and Individualism, seemingly indifferent whether they became Socialists or Individualists, but only concerned that they became capable of weighing the claims of both. But if this same man joins the Socialistic society, and is sent out as one of its speakers to expound and advocate its system of beliefs, and make converts to it, and ground them in it; he is then a propagandist of Socialism, and will endeavor to gain adherents to the system. He is then at work on the assumption that Socialism is true and established, and now needs to be propagated. So the Church is a propagandist society; and its officers, and especially its elders and ministers, are its agents to disseminate its system.

Now, one may not believe that the system of beliefs held by the Presbyterian Church is truth, or that it is wise to have an organization for advocacy and propagation of this system ; but if he becomes an officer in this Church, pledged to promote its system  and  propagate its beliefs, then he professes himself to receive this system and covenants to cooperate with others in disseminating it. He is not obliged to assume this obligation; he is not obliged to make this profession and pledge, any more than he is obliged to become a lecturer for the Socialistic society. But if he does make this profession and pledge, and does become an officer in the Presbyterian Church, he must be loyal to this profession and pledge, or disloyal. If a man should join the Socialistic society, not believing in Socialism, or not believing in its type of Socialism, and should accept a commission from it to go out as one of its speakers, and as such should really oppose its type of Socialism; we and other honest men would accuse him of borrowing from within, of betraying his trust, and of paltry dishonesty. I trust that the man to be now ordained will never sink so low.

Now the Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church is not indeed a lecturer to advocate its principles to the same extent as the Minister is ; but he is, all the same, the conserver and guardian of its doctrinal purity. The eldership has equal voice with the Ministers in the Presbyteries and higher courts of the Church, which judge its Ministers and administer its whole government and discipline, and control its administration ; and the eldership in the local Church, always more numerous than the ministry, have the control. And it lies as a special obligation on the elders to see that the teaching in their church is loyal to the Confession of Faith of the Church. If the pastor should be somewhat erratic, and yet in life and spirit is loyal to the system of truth, the elders should bear with him, and cooperate with him on the whole ; but if at any time the pastor departs from the system and becomes disloyal to the system, the elders are there to protect the Church against his false teaching. So I say that the elders are the conservers of our system of doctrine.

Nor need we be ashamed of being members and agents of a propagandist society. True, there is such a thing as progress in understanding religious truth; and the Presbyterian Church makes provision for this progress. It provides for amending its doctrinal standards; and it has amended them again and again. We do not say that we believe them to be errorless, but to contain the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures;  and any elder or minister may propose amendments. So new truth may be discovered, or better statements of truth may be invented ; but this improvement of the system is to be made by those who believe in the system, and by methods that insure full discussion.

But while there is this provision for progress and change, the very nature of Christianity makes it a stable thing. The process of revelation runs through many generations, a growth from its germinal beginning in the beginning of human history up to its fruitage in Jesus Christ. This revelation of truth through the ages has reached its consummation in the Perfect Word. We cannot now go back and make the history different. We cannot go back now, and prevent the entrance of sin into the world. We cannot change or improve the covenants with Abraham. We cannot make the redemption from Egypt, and the Mosaic legislation, and the settlement in Canaan, throw any finer light on the teachings of Christ. We cannot build the tabernacle or the temple, or fashion the priesthood and sacrifices, or turn the music of the temple, to clearer significance on what the Christ was to be. We cannot alter the development of the Messianic monarchy, so that the Son of David shall mean more than it does. We cannot adjust the birth of Jesus, or His miracles, or His resurrection, more in accordance with modern skepticism, or make His bloody death more aesthetic. We cannot call Him down from heaven and instruct Him how to guide His Church and to apply His religion. There are the facts, and we cannot now change them ; there is the Christ that God has given us, and we cannot modernize Him ; there is the unalterable revelation shining in the heaven of history, and we cannot remake it.

We can only accept Him as He is, and enthrone Him in our hearts and lives. Let us be loyal to Him, and loyal to His Church.

And especially may educated men, men whose very occupations require them to push on the frontiers of inquiry in science and philosophy and literature, render this service to their Lord : they can be loyal to Him, and loyal to His revelation made once for all, and thus testify that progress in investigation does not mean putting out the light of the past ; and can show that humble faith in Christ is consistent with the scientific humility of willingness to learn.

Christianity as a system of truth is a great building. Its foundations have been laid, and even its walls have already risen into the skies. It rises like the Memorial Tower yonder on the campus. We may come and build upon this building ; but we will not wreck its walls nor raze its foundations. We will build ourselves and our lives into the rising structure, sure that we shall be safe on its walls that waver not, and on its foundations that tremble not. For here is Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever.

At 11:15 AM on Saturday, January 24, 1981, the Permanent Judicial Commission of the United Presbyterian Church of the United States of America concluded its hearing of Remedial Case No. 193-10, “The Rev. Stewart J. Rankin et al, vs. The Presbytery of the National Capital Union.”  This hearing opened at 9:30 AM the same day at the Sheraton Airport Hotel in Philadelphia. This case addressed earlier determinations of our church courts which affirmed the action of the National Capital Union Presbytery in receiving into its membership the Rev. Mansfield Kaseman.  It also appealed a determination of the Synod of the Piedmont which was believed to have deemphasized the doctrinal position of our church.
On Monday, January 26, 1981, Mr. Robert F. Stevenson, Associate Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, released the following statement regarding the decision:
“The Permanent Judicial Commission affirmed the decision of the Piedmont. The Judicial Commission urges everyone to read the whole decision before discussing the determination of the Permanent Judicial Commission.  The heart of the issue is not to be found in the determination. The decision strongly affirms the traditional doctrines of the church and the inherent powers of the presbytery.”
The details of this final decision, which, like a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, cannot be appealed, are given later in this review.
How It All Started
On March 20, 1979 the Rev. Mansfield Kaseman, an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, was presented to the National Capital Union Presbytery for examination for acceptance into its membership. Mr. Kaseman was asked the question, “Is Jesus God?” His response was “No, God is God.” Following the examination he was received into membership of the Presbytery. In a letter dated March 29, 1979, Rev. Glen Knecht, pastor of Wallace Memorial Church, filed a Remedial Complaint with the Synod of the Piedmont against the National Capital Union Presbytery. On April 16, 1979 a similar complaint was filed by Mr. Verl A. Currence and Mr. Robert F. Bain, elders of the Wallace Memorial Church. The substance of the complaint was that our Presbytery committed an irregularity in receiving the Rev. Kaseman into membership in the National Capital Union Presbytery after his denial that Christ was God.
The Synod Hears The Complaint
The Synod of the Piedmont, meeting in Baltimore on Saturday, June 16, 1979, after hearing the Complaint, issued the following decision:  It is the decision of the Commission not to sustain the request of the complainants because it lies with the Presbytery to “receive, dismiss, ordain, install, remove and judge ministers.”  The Constitution of the church is very clear that it is the duty of the Presbytery to establish the legitimacy of the membership of the ministers on all points including doctrine.
The Synod’s Decision Is Appealed
Rev. Knecht, Mr. Bains and Mr. Currence then appealed this decision to the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly, a commission authorized to act for the General Assembly in matters involving the interpretation of the Constitution.  The decision of this body is final and without appeal.
The Permanent Judicial Commission met on Saturday, January 19, 1980 and after hearing the appeal rendered a decision which first reprimanded the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Piedmont for improper procedures and remanded the case back to the National Capital Union Presbytery for the purpose of re-examining Mr. Mansfield M. Kaseman in theology and doctrine.
Examination No. 2
The re-examination of Mr. Kaseman took place at the regular meeting of the Presbytery on Tuesday, March 18, 1980 at the Little Falls United Presbyterian Church in Arlington, Virginia.
In the examination Mr. Kaseman was asked questions about the person and work of Jesus Christ. A few of the questions and answers follow:
Mr. Kaseman was asked the question, “Do you believe in the sinlessness of Jesus and if you do, would you please tell us what bearing do you feel that his sinlessness has upon his atoning work?”
Mr. Kaseman responded:  “The question is, Do I believe he was sinless? That is an affirmation of faith. What I think we may end up quibbling over perhaps is the definition of sin. As I understand sin it represents separateness, a separation from God, from ourselves in terms of being out of communion with the Spirit within us and there were times in Christ’s life when he gave evidence of feeling alienated, alone, separate; and that gave his life and ministry great meaning to me because I have felt that way and . . . So in that sense I have problems with the idea that he was sinless. But in terms of doing violence to persons, violence to the nature of God; no. He was sinless.”
Mr. Kaseman was asked:  “Do you believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave?”
He responded:  “I believe in the resurrection without necessarily believing in the bodily resurrection though in my ministry I would not be talking about that; that is why I am reluctant to give any more exact answer right now. We all have our own way of understanding that and it is most important that we respect and affirm people where they are with that.”
Mr. Kaseman was asked:  “What does the substitute sacrifice mean to you?”
He responded: “I think there is a better way, at least for me, to appreciate God’s love in Christ and for me there does not need to be the old, the duplication of the old covenant with the sacrificial blood.  What is more significant to me is that Christ would love us enough that he would trust in God who he knew as his Father enough to go as far as the cross.  That to me is much more dynamic.  I can identify more with that and I believe that something of that is expected of me. In other words, I don’t believe that salvation . . . Well, if you will, I guess I don’t believe in the vicarious atonement in the sense that it was done once and for all. I believe that as disciples of Christ we are called to pick up our cross and to follow and be willing to make some sacrifices ourselves.”
Mr. Kaseman was asked:  “I would like to know why you equivocate between saying that Jesus is God and that he is one with God.”
He replied:  “I think that saying Jesus is one with God is a better way of saying it.  It avoids the implication that God is synonymous with Jesus Christ.  It avoids what to me was a ridiculous, notion held by the death of God theologians that God was in Christ of being, you see, totally present and so on the cross died and that was it.  It avoids the ridiculous question of where, you know, who was minding the universe while God was Christ.  So I prefer to use the language of the Trinity.  It is as simple as that.”
This question was then addressed to Mr. Kaseman:  “Would it be incorrect to say that Jesus is God?”
He replied:  “It is my sense that many of you are used to that language and it is pretty clear to me that what you mean by that is what I mean when I say God is one with Christ.  What I would ask for at this point is respect for, you know, if not a pluralistic, you know, theology being acceptable to the Presbytery, at least a difference in language which is saying essentially the same thing.”
Reference may be made to the transcript of the re-examination for further details of the examination.
After the examination was closed, Mr. Kaseman was accepted into membership by a vote of 165 to 58.
Complaint No. 2 To The Synod
On April 16, 1980 Rev. Stewart J. Rankin of the Church of the Atonement, along with Ruling Elders Raymond F. Langille, Alcott J. Larsson, Lee M. Mace, J. William McNamara, Robert R. Stadelhofer, all of Fourth, and James W. Reid, of the Fairlington Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Virginia, filed a Remedial Complaint against the National Capital Union Presbytery.  This complaint was placed with the Synod of the Piedmont. The Presbytery named as its respondents:  The Reverends Margaret Adams, Lance Brown, Madeline Foulkes, Arthur McKay and Mr. John C. Smith.  The complaint included six charges of error on the part, of the Presbytery in accepting a candidate who
(1) demonstrated an unacceptable knowledge of the Presbyterian Confessional Standards; (2) failed to be instructed by our standards that there would be no further additions to the Holy Scriptures;
(3) failed to demonstrate an understanding of the sinlessness of Jesus
(4) failed to affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ;
(5) rejected the claims that Christ’s atonement was a once-and-for-all event;
(6) failed to rescind his earlier negative answer to the question, “Is Jesus God?”
The Second Hearing of the Synod Of The Piedmont
On June 13 and 14, 1980 the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod heard the case, allowing a generous armount of time to both parties to present the case. The decision of the Piedmont stated:
(1) “ . . it is an inherent right of Presbytery . . . to determine whether or not a particular candidate is qualified to be ordained and/or installed into the ministry of the Presbyterian Church . . . Most extraordinary reasons do not exist for review of Presbytery’s actions.”
(2) “We find for the respondents (the Presbytery) on all specifications.” (Therefore allegations regarding Mr. Kaseman’s competence, his failure to be instructed by the Confessional Standards concerning the closed canon, the sinlessness of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the atonement of Jesus Christ as a once and for all event, and the deity of Jesus Christ were not sustained.)
(3) “In adopting both the Book of Confessions, containing the Confession of 1967, and the revised questions, the church moved from expecting a candidate to vow a subscription to a system of doctrine which was a collection of statements about an indefinite number of theological truths.  Now the church expects an obligation personally to accept and obey Jesus Christ, to accept the Scripture as unique and authoritative witness, and to agree to be instructed and guided by the confessions . . . Each person is expected to continue reforming his/her personal faith in obedience to Jesus Christ, just as the church continually reforms itself in life and in doctrine.”
The Second Appeal To The General Assembly’s Commission
Those who originated the complaint, appealed the decision of the Synod to the General Assembly on July 17, 1980.  Ten specifications of error were listed, including the six previously stated in the complaint addressed to the Synod.  The remaining four errors dealt with the following:
(1) Failure of the Synod to consider certain cases which were applicable to this situation.
(2) Failure of the Synod to recognize that this is “an extraordinary case.”
(3) Erroneous interpretation of the significance of the Book of Confessions and the ordination vows.
(4) Acceptance of a statement that expounds positions which have not been established as doctrine by the General Assembly.
The Decision Of The Permanent Judicial Commission Of The General Assembly
On January 26, 1981 the Permanent Judicial Commission announced its decision.  The pertinent parts of that decision are quoted below:
“Authority within the church, ‘derives from Christ through the membership, and then moves upward, according to the constitutional provisions until it reaches the highest tribunal. ..’ ”
It is the “continued commitment of the church to jealously guard the original inherent powers of the Presbytery.”
“The United Presbyterian Church is a Confessional Church that takes its doctrines seriously.”
“Formerly the candidate’s examination sought to determine if the candidate could subscribe to the system of doctrine and the propositional statements that were a part of the Westminster Confession and catechisms, now the focus of the examination is on the candidate’s ability to use a number of confessional formulations to learn from, be guided by, and to lead the People of God.”  “The Presbytery is ‘the only body whose members see the candidate and hear him officially.  It is the body qualified and constitutionally appointed to judge at first hand concern¬ing his spirit and bearing, and his general attitude toward the service of Christ.’ ”
“It is not the case which must be extraordinary, but rather the concept of ‘extraordinary reasons’ must be viewed in the context of the historical development of the Presbytery’s constitutional power and responsibility to examine candidates . . . the higher judicatories (which derive their specific powers from the Presbyteries) ought not to interfere with Presbytery’s exercise of its discretion unless the most extraordinary circumstances compelling such a review exist.”
“The doctrines of . . . the Trinity, the Person of Jesus Christ as Son of God and second person of the Trinity, the Atonement and Saving Death of Jesus Christ as Son of God and the Bible as the Word of God are not at issue here so far as the church and its confessional stance are concerned.  These doctrines are clearly set forth in the Book of Confessions.  The Church has included then in its faith and continues to affirm then including the full deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ in a full confessional context.”
“The Presbytery determined that Mr. Kaseman affirms the doctrines about which questions are raised in this case and that differences apparent in his personal wording of his answer were not denials of the doctrines.  This is a judgment the Presbytery was best qualified to make.  While answers to some questions may appear to be weak or less than wholly adequate, we reaffirm the principle that we are not to substitute our own judgment for that of the lower judicatory which is best able to judge.”
“The Appellants’ ten specifications of error are not sustained.  The appeal is denied and the decision of the Synod is affirmed.”

Our post today is taken from the introductory remarks found in a work titled Historical Discourse, Commemorative of the Presbyterian Church of Upper Ten-Mile, Pa., delivered March 29, 1859. Having set out his text, Luke 1:1-4, the Rev. E.C. (Enoch Cobb) Wines [1809-1879], begins his discourse before the congregation of this old historic church, by setting out the doctrine of God’s sovereign providence, how our Lord rules over all of creation with a particular view to the preservation and promotion of His church, guiding it faithfully to its intended culmination. Reader, if you are united by faith to Christ, then you are part of this Church, which is the body of Christ, and together we are part of this wonderful saga. His providential care reaches down into your life and mine, and we too are part of this amazing display of His love and His glory as it unfolds over the centuries.

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word. It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.”—Luke 1: 1-4.

The Son of God, incarnate in our nature, having been exalted by the Father to be head over all things to the church, sits upon the throne of universal empire, the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He holds in His hand all hearts, all kingdoms, all events. His providence, which is administered wholly for His church, and with a view to its ultimate triumph over all enemies, is universal, infallible and irresistible. At one time, He curbs the passions of men, producing a comparative calm in the nations; at another, He lays the bridle on their neck, permitting them to embroil and agitate the world. Sometimes His purposes are best subserved by mighty conquerors; at others, by wise lawgivers. When He needs the former, He inspires them and their armies with invincible courage; when He requires the latter, He breathes into their minds wisdom and sagacity, He gives and He takes away power, transferring it, by a sovereign degree, from one man to another, from one house to another, from one people to another. Thus does our God, sovereign in purpose, infinite in greatness, supreme in power, and incomprehensible in wisdom, govern all the tribes and kingdoms of earth. Let us talk not of chance; or, if we use the term at all, let it be as a cover to our ignorance. That which is chance to our fallible and uncertain counsels, is an established purpose in that eternal counsel which sees and arranges the end from the beginning; which prepares effects in causes the most remote: and which embraces, in one harmonious order, however disjointed that order may appear to us, the entire sequence of events, from the birth to the consummation of all things.

All this expenditure of divine wisdom and power is for the welfare, increase and perfection of the church. The whole administration of providence has no other end than this. The revolution of empires, the rise and fall of states, the change of dynasties, the succession of governments, and all the vast flow of human affairs, symbolized by the mystic wheels of Ezekiel’s vision, are directed, in the midst of seeming confusion, by infinite wisdom and goodness, with a view to the growth, prosperity, and ultimate universal prevalence of the kingdom of Christ, This view of the nature and scope of God’s providential government, as it is clearly in harmony with the teachings of Holy Scripture, so does it invest the history of our race with a dignity and a sacredness, which no other view of it could impart.

While this remark is true in reference to all of history, it has a special pertinency to the history of the church. The importance which the Holy Ghost attaches to a knowledge of God’s providential government of the world, and especially of His providential dealings with His own people, is seen in the fact, that more than half the Bible, in both its great divisions, is historical in its character. We have therein a summary history of the church, from the creation of the world to the introduction and establishment of Christianity; for the most part, in mere outline, but expanding into a fuller detail of events at certain more important points — as at the introduction of the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Christian dispensations. Luke, the most learned of the evangelists, has declared his sense of the value of such inquiries in the introduction to his Gospel; a passage which, on that account, I have selected as an appropriate motto for a brief historical review of God’s providential and gracious dealings with this church. He informs us that he had carefully traced everything in the gospel history from the very first, that he might write an exact and methodical account of the same. Nothing can be more venerable, nothing more instructive, nothing more interesting, than the record of the battles and the victories, the trials and the triumphs of the Christian church. The idea prevails that church history belongs to the theologian and can have but little importance or interest for common Christians. But so far is this from being the case, that few departments of study are, to a just and enlightened taste, more entertaining or more profitable. Certainly, no other more abounds with affecting and thrilling incidents. The most fertile and brilliant imagination has never invested romance itself with an interest more potent, a charm more fascinating, than that which belongs to various portions of the history of the church.

As this is true of the history of the church of Christ in general, so it is no less true of the history of individual churches. As the church universal has a memory, whereby she holds in everlasting remembrance the just, the wise and the good—the noble spirits devoted to truth, to virtue and to God, who have contributed to the progress of religion and the happiness of man—a long and illustrious line of benefactors, stretching from righteous Abel through every succeeding age of her history, whose fame has spread over every region of the globe; so each particular church has its own cherished memories of wise, holy and faithful men, who have adorned its annals and contributed to its welfare, and whose fame, though not worldwide, is deservedly pure and lasting in the place where their lives were passed, and their virtues shone…”

[To read the full discourse by the Rev. E.C. Wines, click here.]

He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord. (Proverbs 18:22, ESV)


It isn’t often that someone in the rough and tumble of ministry in Reformation Scotland would even think of finding a  wife. But our Presbyterian founder, John Knox himself, found in God’s providence, two wives who were willing to take his life as their own.

His first wife was Marjorie Bowes. We don’t know much about her history, and no date on which to place down a separate post on her. She is mentioned twice in “The Reformation in Scotland.” The first reference is on page 119 where it states that John Calvin invited him to Geneva. Knox sent on his wife and her mother there, and followed them after a time. Then on page 240, it is stated that Knox “was in no small heaviness by reason of the late death of “his dear bed-fellow”, Marjorie Bowes. A footnote mentions John Calvin writing to a Christopher Goodman on 23rd April, 1564, “I am not a little grieved that our brother Knox has been deprived of the most delightful of wives.” This note spoke of the grief of our Reformer, for his wife had died four years earlier in 1560. This first marriage union brought into the family two sons, who were both youngsters at the time of her death, namely Nathaniel and Eleazer. Both would grow up, but  not leave any heirs due to their singleness.

Four years after the death of his first wife, John Knox met his second soon-to-be wife, Elizabeth Stewart, youngest daughter of Andrew Stewart. Their family was staunchly Protestant, though related to Queen Mary at the time. And indeed, she was taken in marriage on March 26, 1564, when she was but 19 years of age, by the Reformer when he was in his late fifties. Their “courtship” was interesting to say the least.

In the Introduction of the “Ladies of the Covenant.” it was described by Mr. Robert Millar, minister of Paisley, to the historian of “The Sufferings of the Church of Scotland,” Mr. Wodrow, on November 15, 1722. It follows:

“John Knox, before the light of the Reformation broke up, traveled among several honest families in the West of Scotland, who were converts to the Protestant religion. Particularly he visited often Steward, Lord Ochiltree’s family, preaching the gospel privately to those who were willing to receive it. The Lady and some of the family were converts.

“Her ladyship had a chamber, table, stool, and a candlestick for the prophet, and one night about supper, says to him, ‘Mr Knox, I think that you are at a loss by want of a wife,’ to which he said, ‘Madam, I think nobody will take such a wanderer as I;’ to which she replied, ‘Sire, if that be your objection, I’ll make inquiry to find an answer, ‘gainst our next meeting.’

“The Lady accordingly addressed herself to her eldest daughter, telling her she might be very happy if she could marry Mr. Knox, who would be a great Reformer, and a credit to the church; but she despised the proposal, hoping that her ladyship wished her better than to marry a poor wanderer.

“The Lady addressed herself to her second daughter, who answered as the eldest.

“Then the Lady spoke to her third daughter, Elizabeth, about nineteen years of age, who very frankly said, ‘Madam, I’ll be very willing to marry him, but I fear that he’ll not take me,’ to which the Lady replied, ‘If that be all your objection, I’ll soon get an answer.’

“Next night, at supper, the Lady said to Mr. Knox, ‘Sir, I have been considering upon a wife for you, and find one very willing.’ To which Knox said, ‘Who is it Madam?’

She answered, ‘My younger daughter sitting by you at the table.’

“Addressing himself to the young lady, he said ‘My bird, are you willing to marry me?’ She answered, “Yes, Sir, only I fear you’ll not be willing  to take me.’ He said, ‘My bird, if you be willing to take me, you must take your venture of God’s providence, as I do. I go through the country sometimes on my foot, with a wallet on my arm, a shirt, a clean band, and a Bible in it; you may put some things in it for yourself, and if I bid  you take the wallet, you must do it, and go where I go, and lodge where I lodge.’ ‘Sir,’ says she, ‘I’ll do all this.’  ‘Will you be as good as your word?’ ‘Yes, I will.’

Upon which, the marriage talk was concluded, and she lived happily with him, and had three daughters from him. She afterward lived with him when he was minister at Edinburgh.”

Now this marriage does not resonate with twenty-first century standards of American Christians, nor did their age difference resonate with seventeenth century Scottish Christians. But she lived as his wife, with a family of five, three daughters and two adopted sons, for the next eight years. All three daughters married and brought forth children of their own to continue the line of John Knox. After his death, the General Assembly granted  her his pension for a year. She married again and went to be with the Lord in 1612.

Words to Live By:  God often works by mysterious providence to accomplish His sovereign purposes, including that of the bond of marriage.

« Older entries