December 2012

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For today’s post, we have the Rev. Caleb Cangelosi, associate pastor at the Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland, MS, as our guest author, writing on one of the most renowned men of the old Southern Presbyterian Church.

It is a great honor to be elected as Moderator of the General Assembly of a Presbyterian denomination. Yet one man was given this honor twice. His name was William Swan Plumer, and though he has fallen out of general knowledge in our days, he was a titan of the nineteenth century Presbyterian church. Moses Drury Hoge, who served under Dr. Plumer for several years in Richmond, Virginia, had this to say about his mentor:

plumerws02Probably no man in our time was more widely known in these United States than Dr. Plumer. His reputation as a preacher secured for him great audiences wherever he went. Those who did not care for the ordinances of God’s house, and who rarely attended any place of worship, would flock to any church where it was known that he would officiate. He touched society at so many points and had so many ways of impressing himself on the public that his reputation extended far and wide. As an editor; as a contributor to the periodical press; writing for reviews, for magazines, for the publication boards of all denominations; as the author of commentaries on the Scriptures, and many religious books, some of which were republished in Europe, and others translated into German, French and Modern Greek; as a professor in two theological seminaries, which have sent forth hundreds of ministers, with his impress upon them, to labor in every part of the world; as a lecturer before literary institutions and benevolent associations; as a correspondent, writing innumerable letters, especially to those whom he knew to be afflicted and bereaved, letters full of sympathy and consolation; in all these and many other ways, he gained the eye, the ear and heart of the great public, by availing himself of every channel of communication and every avenue of usefulness.

Born on this day in 1802, Dr. Plumer passed into glory on October 22, 1880. Thus his life spanned nearly the entire nineteenth century, and his ministry traversed the high points of that century’s controversies. He was born in Greersburg, Pennsylvania, a small town northwest of Pittsburgh, to Presbyterian parents. His family eventually settled in Washington County, Ohio, along the banks of the Ohio River outside present day Marietta. His father was a river trader, and as he grew up he desired to obtain a liberal education and one day become a doctor.

Though he had grown up in a Presbyterian home, hearing the gospel from his earliest days, yet it was not until the age of 17 that the Lord saw fit to convert him, through the ministry of a Congregationalist minister serving in a Presbyterian Church under the 1801 Plan of Union. In Plumer’s own words, “I surrendered to God’s will & ways. I saw a beauty & fitness in the plan of salvation. I saw it was right that God should rule everywhere, in particular in me & over me. I at once desired to honor him in every possible way, &, in particular, if he would open the way, I desired to serve him in the ministry of the gospel. For my idol, medicine, I now cared nothing. I was not ashamed to let all the world know that I loved Christ.” His sense of call to the ministry accompanied his conversion, and he moved to Lewisburg, Virginia, to study at the classical school of Dr. John McElhenny. In 1822 he began attending Washington College, in Lexington, Virginia, and in 1825 he enrolled at Princeton Seminary. He completed his studies in September 1826, and was ordained as an evangelist in May 1827.

His ministry was primarily in the South. He planted several churches across Virginia and North Carolina, and after marrying in 1829 he became the Stated Supply of Briery Church in Prince Edward County, Virginia. In October 1830 he was, for the first time, installed as pastor of Tabb Street Presbyterian Church in Petersburg, Virginia. In 1834, he moved to First Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, where he labored until 1846. It was during this pastorate that he cemented his reputation as a preacher, presbyter, and theologian. He was present as a commissioner at the 1837 General Assembly that saw the Plan of Union abrogated, and the Old School and New School split. In fact, though only 34 years old, he was one of the primary advocates for abrogation; William Henry Foote states that Plumer’s speech “changed the fate of the question,” swaying those on the fringe to vote against the Plan of Union. Upon returning home, and discovering that Amasa Converse and his Southern Religion Telegraph supported the New School, Plumer began the Watchman of the South, an Old School newspaper he edited until 1845. Due to Plumer’s sound theology and wide influence, the 1838 General Assembly elected him as Moderator at the young age of 35.

In 1847, Plumer was called to Franklin Street Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland. Here he began writing in earnest, and became what Moses Drury Hoge alluded to, one of the most prolific authors the Presbyterian Church in America has known. His writings were of a practical nature, yet they were filled with theological meat as well, as evidenced by his election in 1854 to the chair of Didactic and Pastoral Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. His Christ-centered and experientially-oriented piety is clearly seen in his Inaugural Address to the Seminary:

In proportion as men are truly pious, they make [Christ] the foundation and top-stone, the sum and substance and centre of all their hopes and rejoicings. He is believed on in the world, not merely because there is no other way of salvation, but because this way is so admirably adapted to all the necessities of sinners, and because it brings glory to God in the highest. The true believer not only trusts in Christ; he glories in him. He not only makes mention of him; he admits none into comparison with him…We sadly err, when we begin in the spirit, and end in the flesh; when we regard Christ as the author but not the finisher of faith. A legal spirit is the bane of piety. It is as great a foe to comfort as it is to gospel grace. Through the law believers are dead to the law that they might live unto God. This is the gospel plan. Here is the secret of growing conformity to God. Here is power, here is wisdom, here is life. We are complete in him.

Though nineteenth century Presbyterians, especially in the South, are well known for their reflection on ecclesiology, Plumer’s writings demonstrate that there was a breadth and depth to their theologizing that we often fail to see in them.

Plumer’s time at Western Seminary came to an end in 1862, as members of the Central Presbyterian Church (which he had pastored since 1855) became upset that he would not during corporate worship ask “God’s blessing upon the Government of our country in its efforts to suppress rebellion,” nor would he “give thanks to God for the victories which God has granted our armies.” Some have interpreted his inaction as due to pacifism. It is more likely that he was motivated by a conviction that the question of the war was a political question with which God’s ministers had nothing to do as such, coupled perhaps with Southern sympathies. Further research would be needed to discover the truth, but in any event, he resigned both pulpit and seminary chair, and five years later the Southern Presbyterian Church elected him to fill Dr. Thornwell’s chair of Didactic and Polemic Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary. During those intervening years, Dr. Plumer continued to write. Some of his most familiar books, including treatises on the law of God, experimental piety, and a commentary on the Psalms, were produced during this time.

Till his final months he was actively involved in preaching, teaching, writing, pastoring God’s people, and participating in church courts. In 1871 he was elected for a second time as Moderator of the General Assembly, this time of the Southern Presbyterian Church. Commentaries on Romans and Hebrews, as his Helps and Hints in Pastoral Theology, came out during the last years of his life. Unfortunately, though, his time at Columbia ended on a low note, as he was embroiled in disputes with other seminary professors, and many became disillusioned with his pedagogical effectiveness. At the 1880 General Assembly he was, against his wishes, made Professor Emeritus. A few months later, following complications from kidney stone surgery, he died.

To our loss, no Life and Letters was ever written of Dr. Plumer, perhaps in part because he had only two daughters and no sons (though one of his grandsons was a minister in the Southern Presbyterian Church). Yet his life was full and useful, and his writings call for our perusal and digestion. Several of his last words close this brief survey of his life and work. Upon being asked, “Do you suffer much, Doctor?” he replied, “Not nearly as much as my Saviour did.” When a visitor exclaimed, “I am sorry to see you suffer so, Doctor!” he responded, “One who loves me better than you do put me here.” When the word submit was used, he said, “Perhaps acquiesce is a better word for the Christian to use. We may submit, because we are obligated to – but the Christian cheerfully, joyfully yields all to his Lord’s will.” These sayings show the heart of this servant of Christ, devoted in every way to our reigning King who suffered for our salvation.

Goodby  2012; Hello 2013


First of all, let this writer commend you if you have reached this day after having begun on January 1. You have read through the history of Presbyterianism and hopefully gained a better understanding of the Reformed church of which you are a member. You have seen the wrong decisions reached by men and churches which have led to disastrous results in the testimony of the faith. You have seen sacrificial actions which men and churches have taken which didn’t improve their lot any better on earth, but did give them God’s blessing in heaven. If we don’t learn from the past actions of this church history, we will often repeat the errors in the present and the future. That is one of the purposes of this year-long study.

Second, it was our aim that you have read through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in this chronological manner which was placed down as a guide for you. I believe it was Ruth Graham, a Presbyterian missionary daughter and the late wife of evangelist Billy Graham, who once suggested that Christians should use different colored pencils or pens in their reading of Scripture for each year. That way, they will be able to follow their thoughts and feelings year by year and profit from their reading the next time they go through the Word of God in a year. Try that as you read the Bible in the new year upon us.

Third, this writer is also hopeful that this review of the Westminster Standards was helpful to review the great doctrines of the Reformed faith. I know that this writer found it most refreshing to type out each section of those biblical truths which he has read from his earliest years in a Presbyterian manse and church, and then a Reformed college and seminary. Added to that would be a forty-year ministry in five evangelical and Presbyterian churches.

We hope you will stay with us in the coming year. Tomorrow, January 1, 2013, we will pick up a new author, and take on a new look. For the most part, we will try to forge new ground and present new entries each day. So come back tomorrow and see what you think.

Words to live by: Keep on keeping on in the Word of God and the testimony of His church.

Through the Scriptures:  Revelation 19 – 22

Through the Standards:  Proof texts of the last judgment.

John 3:36
“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

2 Corinthians 5:10
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

Romans 14:12
“So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.”

2 Peter 3:11 – 14
“Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heart!  But according  to His promise, we are looking for news heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”

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The Conclusion of our Prayers

Remember when this writer said that many Presbyterian people must  have been taking a sabbatical in December?  Well, on this day of December 30, we conclude our substitute study  on The Lord’s Prayer with the last phrase of this prayer.   The last Shorter Catechism question asks, “What doth the conclusion of the Lord’s prayer teach us?” And the answer given is “The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. teaches us to take our encouragement in prayer from God only, and in  our prayers to praise him, ascribing kingdom, power, and glory to him; and in testimony of our desire and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen.”

We may have a problem here. And it is this—The ending found in most of our versions usually has a footnote attached to it which indicates that it is not found in the earliest manuscripts. In fact, many Bible scholars think that some scribe who was copying a Greek manuscript simply decided that the Lord’s Prayer cut off too abruptly, so he added this phrase.

If you are one of those Christians who believe that the closest manuscript to the original is the most reliable reading, then this would be a phrase which you would not have to say, because Christ did not say it.  Why didn’t our Confessional Fathers see that?  Because, in writing in the mid sixteen hundreds, many of the more ancient Greek manuscripts were not yet discovered, such as the fourth century Sinaiticus. But having said all that, and pardon the Greek study, what was said was still biblical.

David in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 prayed, “So David blessed the LORD in the sight of all the assembly, and David said, ‘Blessed are You, O LORD God of Israel our father, forever and forever.  Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.  Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your Hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. Now therefore, our God, we think You, and praise Your glorious name.'”

All these are arguments to enforce our petitions.  And please notice that they are all based on God, on His works of creation and redemption, on Him alone. You will find no man-made encouragements in this Old Testament text. The conclusion, whether if was truly there originally or not, is God-centered, and whether we use the specific words, or simply other words in our pleading with God, it is a right and noble conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer.

Words to live by:  Our pleading with God must never be based upon our merit, of which we don’t have any in the first place anyhow, but only on the mercy of God. He and He along must receive the praise, and truly His is the kingdom or dominion. His is the power or authority.  His is the glory and majesty.  Amen, and amen.

Through the Scriptures:  Revelation 16 – 18

Through the Standards:  The certainty of judgment

WCF 33:3
“As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: so will  He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen”

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First Ordination of a Presbyterian in the American Colonies

From the spring meeting of the first Presbytery in 1706 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, three of the seven ministers in attendance — Francis Makemie, John Hampton, and Frederick Andrews — traveled to Freehold, New Jersey during the Christmas holidays to examine and ordain John Boyd

Gathering in the church known as “The Scotch Meetinghouse,” these three ministers proceeded to examine the young Scotsman, John Boyd.  The Scriptural text given to the latter to preach was John 1:12, which declares, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (KJV)

His assigned topic was “the government of the church,” which was an apt topic given the nature of the early Presbyterian church in the colonies at this time.  He defended his thesis before the three ministers in the afternoon of that day.  He was then examined on the languages of Hebrew and Greek.  Following that was questions in general by the three-man team of Presbyters.

All the parts of the theological trial were sustained.  The time of his formal ordination was appointed for the following Sabbath on December 29, 1706.   So the year of 1706 closed out with the first purely Presbyterian ordination in the new world.

Words to live by:  It is good to know that then, and now, there is a proper examination of those who would occupy the pulpits of Presbyterian churches.  There must be qualified men in place for the church to continue to be orthodox, as they deal with the souls of men, women, and children.  Often Presbyteries are looked upon as so much administration, but in reality, they are spiritual courts for the improvement of the church.  Why not plan to attend one of the Presbyteries in your area as a guest, going with your representative elders one time.  You will be able to pray better for your pastors and elders if you do this.

Through the Scriptures:  Revelation 13 – 15

Through the Standards:  Detailed description of the end of the righteous

WSC 38 — “What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?
A.  At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.”

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A Perplexing Yet Pressing Petition for All of God’s People

Having arrived at the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, since there are no events of Presbyterianism available, we are confronted by a perplexing yet pressing petition for God’s people.   The Shorter Catechism’s question and answer which illustrates it says in number 106, “In the sixth petition, which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” we pray, that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support us and deliver us when we are tempted.”  Each one of these explanations are tied to the parts of the petition itself.

The perplexing part of the petition is obvious.  Does God lead His people into temptation?  That’s the natural conclusion which comes to our mind when we read the first part of this petition. We answer by pointing out first that the word “temptation” is used in Scripture in one of two ways. We always think of it in an evil sense, and indeed that is possible from one of the ways. But the other way is to think of it in a testing sense, in that God tests us in a variety of ways for our good and His glory.  So the context is necessary before we look into its meaning. Second, God does not tempt anyone to sin.  He is holy and just and righteous. Scripture plainly declares this in James 1:13, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” (NASB)  No one can blame God for his or her temptation into sin.

But having said that, God can and has permitted us to fall into a time of testing for His sovereign purposes, as well as our good.  Think of Job in the Old Testament.  Now that was a time of testing! Would the patriarch blame and blaspheme God if all he possesses, including his very children, were taken away? For the record, he did not blame God, and the Lord blessed him mightily at the end of it all. Or think of Peter at the time of our Lord’s trial and crucifixion. He had an overconfidence, even an arrogance, in his own self, and needed to be cleansed of it.  His sinful pride led him to deny the Lord three times; God’s grace overcame his sin and he was forgiven and drawn back to the Lord in love and mercy.

James says again, that “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust, Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15, NASB)

So the first part of this prayer is us praying that “God would keep us from being tempted to sin.”

The second part is that Our God and Savior would support and deliver us when we are tempted.  The appointed means for our sanctification are the Word of God, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and prayer.  All of these are in sum the God-ordained means of grace for helping us to resist the temptations which come from that unholy trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  We can trust our God to support and deliver us when we are tempted by the evil one, or from the realm of evil itself.

Words to live by:  Who does not need to pray this petition daily, or even more than once when we are faced in the ordinary occasions of life in our family, work, church, and society in general?  The answer is simple.  No one.  So this last petition has a pressing nature about it which all of God’s people can resort to in their daily need.  Pray it, and pray it often.

Through the Scriptures:   Revelation 10 – 12

Through the Standards:  Detailed description of righteousness

WLC 90 — “What shall be done to the righteous in the day of judgment?
A.  At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with  him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity.  And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.”

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