April 2012

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This Day in Presbyterian History:   The Man Who Looked Back

I was frozen in place that day behind the front desk of the Christian conference center in New Jersey.  The distinguished man had walked up to me to ask whether the Director of the Conference was on site.  I replied that he was away at the time. Whereupon the man gave me his business card, and walked out of the hotel that summer afternoon in 1965.  Looking  down, I read the name of “Edwin Rian, Assistant to the President, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.” I wish that I could say to our readers that this young seminarian had then rushed out of the hotel to ask the writer of the historic book The Presbyterian Conflict to stop and talk.  I wish that I could say to our readers that I stopped him and discussed with him as to why he left the infant Orthodox Presbyterian Church after such a valiant stand against the apostasy of the Presbyterian Church, USA. I could have asked him whether he remembered my father, who stood with him in the nineteen thirties for the faith, by faith. But I did none of these things. I was frozen in time.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Edwin  Rian came to Princeton Theological Seminary to study Semitics at the prestigious school., as part of the Seminary’s class of 1927.  Ordained in 1930 in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, he advanced his scholarship by studying as a Princeton Fellow at the Universities of Berlin and Marburg in Germany.  Returning to the States, he saw clearly the issues which led his mentor J. Gresham Machen to organize Westminster Theological Seminary.  He took his stand on those same issues, and like Machen and a number of other ministers, was censured by the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  As a founding member of the Presbyterian Church of America (1936), he stayed with that church when the Bible Presbyterians left it in 1938.  The former was later renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. (1938).  It was in 1940 that Rian crystallized the issues by writing the important book, “The Presbyterian Conflict.”  It still can be found in print or online, and is quoted often by those who seek to understand this period in American Presbyterian history.

Something happened to Edwin Rian himself, though, in the latter part of the 1940’s.  The fact that he left in 1946 to join the Christian University Association as its General Secretary was not unusual.  What was unusual was that on April 25, 1947, he left the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to reenter the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., from which he had been suspended over ten years before.

Various reasons had been suggested for this, sea change. One theory was that Rian was disappointed that a Christian University had not been started in Reformed circles.  And certainly, the rest of his life and ministry was taken up in educational circles.  But that reason doesn’t ring true to this contributor.  The reasons, however,  were never revealed.

He went on to serve in a variety of administrative posts in colleges and universities like Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, Beaver College in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, Jamestown College in Jamestown, North Dakota, Biblical Seminary in New York City, New York, and the American Bible Society in New York City. His last ministry and one in which he  came full circle, was  the position of Assistant to the President of Princeton Theological Seminary, Dr. James I. McCord, where he served for 15 years until his retirement.  He departed this life in 1995 at age 95 in San Diego, California.

Words to Live By: Jesus said in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 6:62, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  The commentator writes that there are some whose hearts are in the past. They walk forever looking backwards and thinking wistfully of the good old days.  The watchword of the Kingdom servants  is always “forward,” never “backward.”  Let us be not be content with lukewarm service.

Through the Scriptures: Psalms 43 – 45

Through the Standards:  Once justified, always justified

WCF 11:5
“God does continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and, although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.”

This Day in Presbyterian History:

Joseph Addison Alexander was the third son of the Rev. Archibald Alexander and his wife Janetta (Waddel) Alexander. In modern terms, Joseph was home schooled, and he developed an insatiable thirst for knowledge, pursuing one subject after another as it caught his attention. Eventually he grew to become another of that esteemed early faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary.

His biographer says of J.A. Alexander that

“…in the midst of all his laborious and diversified pursuits he saved time for the most heart-searching exercises in his closet. He gave himself up to daily communion with his God. He might neglect everything else, but he could not neglect his private devotions. In point of fact he neglected nothing. He moved as by clockwork. The cultivation of personal piety, in the light of the inspired word, was now with him the main object that he had in life. The next most prominent goal that he set before himself was the interpretation of the original scriptures; for their own sake, and for the benefit of a rising ministry, as well as for the gratification he took in the work. The Bible was to him the most profoundly interesting book in the world. It was in his eyes not merely the only source of true and undefiled religion, but also the very paragon among all remains of human genius. He knew great portions of it by heart….But more than this, the Bible was the chief object of his personal enthusiasm; he was fond of it; he was proud of it; he exulted in it. It occupied his best thoughts by day and by night. It was his meat and drink. It was his delectable reward. There were times when he might say with the Psalmist, “Mine eyes prevent the night watches that I might meditate in thy word, I have rejoiced in the way of thy precepts more than in great riches.” He succeeded perfectly in communicating this delightful zeal to others. His pupils all concur in saying that “he made the Bible glorious” to them. 

Words to Live By: The Bible is the very Word of God—His self-revelation to His people. J.A. Alexander seems to have made Psalm 1 the model and guide for his life. If you have never memorized a portion of Scripture, this Psalm is short and is a great place to start. Setting it to memory, such that you can think on it at various times, will bring real profit.

1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Additional Notes for this day:
Professor J.G. Machen, lecturer, author and Bible scholar, delivered two addresses on Christianity at the dedication of the new home of the New York Bible Society in East Forty-eighth Street. [The Continent 53.17 (27 April 1922): 529.]

Through the Scriptures: Psalms 40 – 42

Through the Standards:  Act of justification is from the Triune God

WCF 11:4
“God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did, in the fulness of time, die for their sins, and rise for their justification: nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit does, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.”

This Day in Presbyterian History:  

The Earliest  Protestant Missionary to Korea

It wasn’t luck.  It wasn’t chance.  It wasn’t good fortune.  It was plainly providential.

Sent to Korea as a physician, Horace Newton Allen was in Seoul in 1884 when a royal relative of the governing family was stabbed and left badly injured.  A German diplomat called for Dr. Allen to treat the young man with Western style medicine practices with the result that the young member of  the royal family recovered in three months.  Obviously pleased with the results, the royal family was grateful beyond words and ready to do any thing and everything the physician desired.  He promptly went about to establish a hospital which sought to train native Koreans in Western style medicine practices.  But Allen also sought to open up the vast land to American evangelists and missionaries, for that was what Dr. Allen was himself.

Born April 23, 1858 in Delaware, Ohio, Horace Newton Allen studied at Ohio Wesleyan University.  Graduating from there, he went on to get his medical credentials from Miami Medical School in Ohio.  Sent out first by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions to China, he stayed but a year as a result of less than welcome from the Chinese people.  So he went to Korea and had the above experience.

This wide and effective door occurred when Korea was still anti-Christian in its attitude and actions toward Christians.  A little before this, over 10,000 Koreans who had converted to Christianity had been beheaded.  But his example as a Christian doctor enabled the opening of the door to Christians evangelists and missionaries from other lands, including the United States,  to enter the land and minister there in complete freedom.

In fact, so much did he identify with the Korean people, that the United States in 1897 appointed him as a diplomatic minister and consul general to that land.  He stayed there in this government position until 1905 when President Teddy Roosevelt recalled  him.   He returned to the United States and died in 1932.

The medical facility which he began was called in Korean, “The House of Extended Grace.”  And that is what Dr. Horace Allen brought to  Korea as he evangelized the souls of people in that Asian nation and healed the bodies of Korean people.

Words to Live By:   When God opens up a wide and effective door, God’s people need to be ready to enter through it for the work of Christ’s kingdom.

Through the Scriptures: Psalm 37 – 39

Through the Standards:  Justification is free to us, but not to Christ who paid for it

WCF 11:3
“Christ, by His obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to His Father’s justice in their behalf.  Yet, in as much as He was given by the Father for them; and His obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead; and both, freely, not for anything in them; their justification is only of free grace; that both the exact justice, and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.”

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A Man Fit for the Times

Jonathan Dickinson shares a lot of credit in the shaping of the early Presbyterian Church in the American colonies.  Born on April 22, 1688 in Hatfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Yale in 1706.  Two years later, he was installed as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, where he remained for the next forty years.

In 1722, with respect to the issue of creedal subscription, a schism began to develop in the infant Presbyterian church.  The question was simple.  Should a church officer — elder or deacon — be required to subscribe to everything in the Westminster Standards, or would it be sufficient for that officer to simply subscribe to the more basic truths of historic Christianity, as expressed, for instance, in the Nicene Creed?  Dickinson took the latter position and became the chief proponent of it in the infant church.  The fact that the same issue was raging in the mother countries among the immigrants from England, Scotland, and Ireland only heightened the controversy in the colonies.  Eventually, the approaching storm of schism was stopped by the Adopting Act of 1729.  Written by Jonathan Dickinson, it solidly placed the church as believing in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the only infallible rule of faith and life, while receiving an adoption the Confessional standards of the Westminster Assembly as subordinate standards of the church.  Each court of the latter, whether Session, Presbytery, Synod, and General Assembly would decide what exceptions to the latter would be allowed, and which exceptions would not be tolerated to the Westminster Standards.

In addition to his pastoral leadership in the church courts, the fourth college to be established in the colonies was the College of New Jersey in October of 1742.  It began in the manse of the first president, namely, Jonathan Dickinson.  The handful of students in what later on become Princeton Theological Seminary and Princeton University studied books which were a part of Dickinson’s pastoral library, and ate their meals with his family.  He would pass on to glory four months after the beginning of this school.

His last words were symbolic of his place in the history of the Presbyterian church.  He said, “Many years passed between God and my soul, in which I have solemnly dedicated myself to Him, and I trust what I have committed unto Him, He is able to keep until that day.”

Words to Live By:  Is this your testimony?  Paul writes in his last letter to the first century church, “. . . for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” (KJV – 2 Timothy 1:12)

Through the Scriptures: Psalm 34 – 36

Through the Standards: Faith alone justifies, but  never stands alone

WCF 11:2
“Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Maryland Toleration Law Opens up Colony for Reformed Preaching

April 21 was an important date in 1649 for the Reformed faith in the colony of Maryland.  Originally, Maryland was a colony established as a refuge for English Catholics.  But as more non-Catholics came into the colony, and indeed it became a Protestant colony, the Maryland Assembly on this date established the Maryland Toleration Law, or as it is sometimes known as The Act Concerning Religion.

What it did was to mandate religious tolerance for trinitarian Christians.  That adjective “trinitarian” is important.  If a citizen of the colony denied the deity of Jesus Christ, for example, then the punishment was seizure of their land, and even death.  Thus Unitarians, or Jews, or atheists were threatened by this law.   It was meant more so as a protection for the Roman Catholics as it was for the Protestants, and specifically the Reformed faith.

It wouldn’t last long on the books, being repealed in 1654 by Oliver Cromwell’s influence upon the colony, and specifically the Anglican Church.  It would be returned to the law books, but then repealed forever in 1692.  It is interesting though that a part of it was found in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the rights of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  The phrase “the free exercise thereof,” comes from the Maryland Act of Toleration.

What interests us in this Act of Toleration is that it allowed “the father of Presbyterianism” in the colonies, Francis Makemie, the freedom to preach in Maryland. Arriving in the Maryland colony in 1683, he didn’t have to seek permission from the governor of the colony to proclaim the richness of free grace.  Further, those of the Reformed faith who were driven out from the Virginia Colony’s control by the Anglicans, could come to Maryland to practice their Reformed faith. Makemie went on to establish several Presbyterian churches in Maryland.

Words to Live By:  This same Francis Makemie didn’t let state laws prohibit him from preaching the gospel.  (See January 21 historical devotional)  He was willing to go where the Holy Spirit led him to proclaim the unsearchable riches of God’s grace, regardless of the state law.  But when the liberty of the state enabled him to go, he didn’t “let the grass grow under his feet” in  sharing the good news of Christ, and Him crucified.  Let us not let the fear of man’s face  hinder us in sharing what Christ has done for us.

Through the Scriptures: Psalm 31 – 33

Through the Standards:  Justification, according to the catechisms

WLC 70 — “What is justification?
A.  Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.”

WSC 33 “What is justification?
A.  Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

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