February 2012

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Alone on the Oregon Trail

Oh no!  When Wayne Sparkman, the  director of the PCA History Center agreed with my suggestion  that I write a year’s worth of Presbyterian people, places, and events, the year of 2012 became the goal for the finished series of historical devotionals.  I readily agreed to the proposal, but then I discovered that 2012 was a leap year, with its corresponding extra day.  Where could I possibly find something associated with Presbyterianism which occurred on February 29?

God is so good!  For it was on February 29, 1836, Rev Henry Spalding and his wife Eliza  boarded a steamer to Ohio to wait for the other Presbyterian missionary couple, the Whitman’s, who would be accompanying them as they traveled to minister to the Nez Pierce Indian tribe in the northwest. The trip in itself would be historic in that Eliza Spalding and Narcissa Whitman would be the first white women to travel on the historic Oregon Trail. They would be the first women to cross the Continental Divide.

The first leg of the travels were on the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers. When they reached present day Kansas, the party of missionaries traveled on by horseback, making 15 miles on a good day, and camping each night. A company of fur traders shot buffalo which they feasted on night after night. The trip from Kansas to Washington was approximately 2100 miles, and crossed the present day states of Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.  US 26 later was constructed on this historic path.  They would arrive in what is today Walla Walla, Washington on September 1, 1835, a trip of six months.

Henry Spalding, as a Presbyterian minister, dearly loved his wife Eliza.  As they had sadly lost their first child, being stillborn, Henry was at first hesitant for his wife to travel on such a taxing journey.  Eliza answered her caring husband by saying, “I like the command just as it stands, ‘Go ye into all the world,’ and no exceptions for poor health.”  And so they went on this historic journey to evangelize the native tribes of that northwest part of the country.

Words to Live By: Each Christian should  like the command just as it stands, “Go into all the world to proclaim the good news of eternal life,” without any exceptions to the duty.  God gives strength to do what He commands.

Through the Scriptures: Deuteronomy 3

Through the Standards: Proof texts on the fall of man into sin:

Read Genesis 3; Romans 5:12 – 21; Romans 3:10 – 19;

1 John 3:4
“Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (NASB);

James 4:17
“Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (NASB)

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Voice from the Past on a Present Issue

The Psalmist David in Psalm 11:3 asks the haunting question, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” That is the same question many evangelical Presbyterians are asking in the light of the Presbyterian Church, USA, having opened the door to gay and lesbian ministers last year. Yet if the truth be told, this sad decision was the natural outcome of an attack upon the authority of the Word of God some 88 years ago, when the infamous Auburn Affirmation was signed, sealed, and delivered to the Northern Presbyterian Church. A past devotional on January 9 spoke of it. We refer to it again, because on this date, February 28, 1935, Dr. Gordon H. Clark addresses a group of Presbyterian laymen in Philadelphia on the significance of the Auburn Affirmation. Remember, he was writing a mere eleven years after its presence in the church. Note the following words of Dr. Clark on it.

“The reason the Auburn Affirmation is so important is that it constitutes a major offensive against the Word of God. It, or at least its theology, is the root of Presbyterian apostasy. The five doctrines involved are the truth of Holy Scripture, the factuality of the Virgin Birth, His miracles, His sacrifice on Calvary to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to Christ, and His resurrection.”

Dr. Clark would deal with each of these five doctrines one by one, pointing out how some 1250 signers of the Affirmation [over 10% of the ministers in the denomination at that time!] went on to use familiar language with respect to them, but denying their importance in historic Christianity. They were, in their words, just theories, and denials of them were acceptable to them and should be acceptable by the church at large.

Gordon Clark set the matter to the laymen long ago by stating “This is not a trivial matter; it is rather a life and death struggle between two mutually exclusive religions. One religion can without harm to its integrity reject the infallible Word of God, deny the Virgin Birth, repudiate Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice, and deny the resurrection. That religion will remain complete, even if all these things are eliminated; but that religion is not Christianity. The other religion is Christianity, because it accepts the Bible as the very Word of God, who cannot lie, because it makes Christ’s sacrifice to satisfy divine justice the only basis of salvation, and because it glories in the historical fact of the resurrection.”

The entire article can be found at the PCA Historical Center, to which we recommend the reader to reference. But what can the righteous do, when the very foundation of historic Christianity is being destroyed? Our Presbyterian fathers fought that destruction from 1923 to 1936 to reclaim the church from the inside. Failing that, they voted with their feet and sought to form a more perfect union with a separate Bible-believing, gospel-preaching denomination.

Also on this date:
In 1638, Scottish Presbyterians signed the National Covenant on the grounds of Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh.

Words to Live By: There is always a call for the righteous to uphold the foundation of biblical Christianity. Are you among the righteous heeding that call?

Through the Scriptures: Deuteronomy 1 – 2

Through the Standards: Punishment of sin here and hereafter.

WLC 28
“What are the punishments of sin in this world?
A. The punishments of sin in this world are either inward, as blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong delusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections; or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes, and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments; together with death itself.”

WLC 29
“What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?
A. The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire for ever.”

Additional responses to the Auburn Affirmation :

Image sources:
1. Dr. Clark’s message, “The Auburn Heresy,” was originally delivered on 28 February 1935 before a meeting of Presbyterian laymen in Philadelphia. It was subsequently then published in Christianity Today [original series], 5.11 (April 1935): 259-261. Pictured above is the cover of a tract form of the address issued by The Southern Presbyterian Journal which itself went through at least three printings.
2. Photograph of Dr. Clark from the back cover of his work, Lord God of Truth. The Trinity Foundation, Hobbes NM, 1994.

Remembering Our Fathers and Brothers:
The Rev. Alan David Mohrenweiser died on this day in 1970, at the age of 37 years. A graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, he was ordained in 1958. Though he suffered severely from arthritis, his love of the Lord and His people led him to pastor the Bible Presbyterian Church in Cambridge, Iowa for three years, until that affliction forced him to step down from that pulpit. Dr. Robert Rayburn delivered the sermon at Rev. Mohrenweiser’s funeral.

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

The Work of Creation

With nothing of note in Presbyterian circles with which we could identify, the ninth Shorter Catechism question and answer forms a worthy devotional for our readers today on February 27. It reads, “What is the work of creation? A. The work of creation is, God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good.”

The Larger Catechism which deals with the same question and answer, is number 15. It adds to the work of creation, the time as indicated by the phrase “in the beginning,” and also makes explicit that it is “the world” which God made. It states the purpose of creative power to be “for himself.”

What is remarkable about both catechetical answers is the Scriptural basis. There is not a phrase given which is not specifically mentioned in Holy Scripture.

Creation is first of all spoken as a divine making all things of nothing. The author of the Book of Hebrews wrote in chapter 12:verse 3 “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” (NASV) The creator God did it ex nihilo – out of nothing.

Further, the world was prepared by “the word of his power.” The Psalmist exclaims in Psalm 33:6 – 9 “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And by the breadth of His mouth, all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him, For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” (NASV) Our God did not need a rabbit or a hat. He simply spoke and it was accomplished. Only faith will allow us to believe this. Only praise will echo forth from our mouths and hearts because of it.

This occurred in “space of six days.” Now mortal man has argued indefinitely whether this has reference to six days of twenty-four hours, or indefinite periods of time in the sense of ages, or simply providing a framework of creation, or describing a beautiful poem of creation. And in so doing, how easy it is to forget in all the spoken and printed words seeking to justify one position or the other, “the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness.” (WCF 4:1) Readers, we need you and God’s people everywhere, to keep God in the picture, even within this picture of creation.

Finally, it was all “very good.” That was the divine assessment the Creator God made continually in the creation story in Genesis. And how could it be otherwise, when Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:16, “for by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him.” (NASV)

Words to Live By: Through God and for God – that is the slogan worth remembering when we meditate on God’s world.

Through the Scriptures: Numbers 34 – 36

Through the Standards: Misery of sin in the catechisms

WLC 27 “What misery did the fall bring mankind?
A. The fall brought mankind the loss of communion with God, his displeasure and curse; so as we are by nature children of wrath, bond slaves to Satan, and justly liable to all punishments in this world, and that which is to come.”

WSC 19 “What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

An absent without leave minister

One of the original seven ministers of the infant Philadelphia presbytery was Samuel Davis. We don’t know a lot about his background. He was believed to be born in Ireland. We are not sure when he immigrated to America, but we do find recorded in the records in Somerset County, Maryland, that he performed a marriage ceremony on February 26, 1684. He is listed as being the minister of Snow Hill, Maryland seven years later in August 1691. We do know that he had “a tent making” ministry besides his pastoral duties to add to his pastoral income. That business venture, whatever it was, might have been the reason for his sketchy attendance at Presbytery.

Though he was the fourth member of seven member ministers on the roll of the first Presbytery in 1706, he was not physically present on that historic first meeting. At the next meeting in 1707, his written excuse to be absent was not sustained, nor was his first absence in 1706. In fact, there was an order by the small group of presbyters to be present at the 1708 meeting in the same city. He did show up, and was promptly elected moderator! He did present his reason for being absent the previous two meetings, and his excuses were sustained by the others present.

Samuel Davis, as the moderator of the Philadelphia Presbytery, was sent to participate in the installation of Rev. John Hampton in the church of Snow Hill, Maryland. However, Davis did not show up for the installation of Rev. Hampton. He was asked to preach at another way station of early Presbyterianism, but was absent on that occasion as well. A letter was sent to him with a complaint for not only these absences, but other delinquencies as well. He was ordered to prepare a sermon on Hebrews 1:4
for the next presbytery meeting.

In the Presbytery of 1712, there is the note in the minutes that, after inquiry, his fellow ministers were satisfied that their fellow pastor Samuel Davis was necessarily absent for the past three years. Two ministers were instructed to write him and exhort him to be present for future meetings, or failing that, to send a justified excuse if he couldn’t be present. He wasn’t present in 1712, nor did he sent an excuse for the meeting in 1713, but did send one in 1714. However, he did arrive later in at the meeting in 1714 and was part of an ordination for the new Presbyterian pastor of Cape May, New Jersey.

He was excused from attending the 1715 and 1716 meetings. At the 1716 meeting of the Philadelphia presbytery, he was transferred to the Snow Hill Presbytery, which was composed of him and two other ministers. It is not known if he was any more faithful in these new parts of the Presbyterian church. He died in 1725.

Words to Live By: Faithfulness in God’s work is the essential ingredient of a successful ministry. Let us pray for those who preach the Word of God and encourage them in that work.

Through the Scriptures: Numbers 21 – 24

Through the Standards:  Misery of sin in the Confession

WCF 6:6
“Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.”

Remembering Our Fathers and Brothers:

Charles Campbell Cox, Jr., pastor of First Presbyterian church, Taylorsville, MS, 1975-1985 and member of Grace Presbytery, died on 26 February 1990.

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Congo’s African-American Livingstone

Born March 8, 1865 in Waynesboro, Virginia, William Henry Sheppard, a black man, was never a slave. His mother was of mixed-race background, which status made him a free black. His father was an employee of the local all-white Presbyterian church, serving as janitor. Growing up, he was enrolled in the local school for blacks. Showing great resolve, he next enrolled at the Hampton Institute in 1880 in Hampton, Virginia, where Booker T. Washington was one of his instructors. Then graduating from Hampton in 1883, he moved on to the Tuscaloosa Theological Seminary (now Stillman College). After graduation in 1886, he became an ordained Presbyterian minister in the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

Dr. William H. & Lucy G. Sheppard.
Charcoal portrait by Greg MacNair, 2005. Used by permission.
[This portrait hangs just outside the reading room of the PCA Historical Center.]

Becoming a pastor at Zion Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Shepherd found himself restless and applied with the PCUS Mission board to go to the Congo as a missionary. When several applications received only vague rejections, Rev. Sheppard finally traveled to the headquarters and applied in person. Prejudices died hard in the former Confederacy, and this was evident by their initial refusal and final acceptance. He could go to the Congo as a foreign missionary, but only if a white missionary would supervise him. To his surprise, a young white minister by the name of Samuel Lapsley, volunteered to go with him in that position. They sailed to the Congo on February 25, 1890. Despite what the mission board stated at home, these two missionaries soon were treating each other as equals. Arriving at what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they set about founding a mission in a village known as Luebo. Despite contracting malaria numerous times, Shepherd  managed to adapt to the African climate and setting far better than did Lapsley, who died of a fever after only two years on the field, in 1892.

Of Lapsley’s death, Rev. Shepherd wrote,

Before this time you will have learned of the Mission’s loss. My friend and brother left Luebo, Jan. 6th, 1892, for the Lower Congo to attend to some business about the transport, and our land. He thought also a change would be beneficial to him, expected to return by the next steamer. I went forth with the people to do some building that our home might be more comfortable. For those two years we have labored as one. We have loved and cared for each other as though we were brothers. We have never been separated only this once, and it grieves my heart that I was so far from him. Oh! that I could have kneeled by his side to catch the last whisper before he slept. [The Missionary, 25.10 (Oct. 1902): 415].

Shepherd learned the language of the natives, which in turn enabled him to discover parts of the Congo where no outsiders had visited. He even found himself in a village of King Luckenga, which presence was in itself equivalent to a death sentence. However, Shepherd’s fluency in the language persuaded the king’s family that he was a reincarnation of one of their dead relatives.

In 1893, Sheppard left Africa to travel to London, England. He met Queen Victoria and was inducted into England’s Royal Geographic Society. Back in the United States, he lectured all over the States. Marrying Lucy Gantt, whom he had met just after he had graduated from the theological institute, they started a family. Expanding the first mission, they started a second Congo mission. When two of their children succumbed in disease, Lucy in 1898 took their third baby back to the United States, where they remained for two years.

In the next year, there was a new challenge. Shepherd began to notice the exploitation of the black tribes under the colonial ruler, Belgium, and specifically King Leopold II of Belgium. In essence, it was slavery in all of its terrible forms, with atrocities right and left. The Presbyterian Church had a spiritual interest in that part of the world, but it also was concerned with these human rights issues. In fact, it sent over a new white missionary to replace Lapsley by the name of William Morrison. Together these two missionaries brought that national colonial government to task, with pressure through the media.

Things were not well spiritually with Shepherd however. With his wife absent from him, he yielded to temptation on a moral plane with three adulterous relationships. Due to his fame worldwide, Shepherd was allowed to return quietly to the United States. Following a period of repentance and restoration, he and his family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where for the next 27 years, William Shepherd served as pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church. He died on November 25, 1927 after a stroke.

Words to Live By: Our Savior wisely said it for all time in Matthew 26:41 “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (ESV)

Through the Scriptures: Numbers 28 – 30

Through the Standards: Continuing effect of the fall in the saved.

WCF 6:5
“This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.”

A final note, reflecting on Mrs. Sheppard’s role in the mission work. She wrote, in 1900 concerning the efforts at that time among the Bakuba people in the Congo:

Just now this people, the Bakuba, are experiencing some trouble. Very recently their king died, and while the people were in a state of mourning another tribe (we believe to have been sent by the State) invaded the capital, killed all of the royal family, and only one heir to the throne made his escape. these Bakuba are a very proud people, and while in a way they are glad for freedom (for their king was very exacting and cruel), they feel very keenly their loss, and feel that they have been very much degraded. They have known no other rule but that of a king for hundreds of years.

This king that had just died would allow neither missionary nor State officer to come to or near his place to settle, closed up all of the paths and prohibited a foreigner, or people working for foreigners, to pass near the place. Had he been less hostile, and showed a more friendly spirit, I’m sure this trouble would not have come upon this people. The king before him was very friendly, and was anxious that a mission should be opened at his place. But at that time the Committee felt that they could not see their way clear to have a work there. During his lifetime had the work been started, I believe all would have been calm and peaceful now. But it is not for us to see and know the future. Even now it is not too late to be of service. While many have been killed, there are thousands remaining. They feel helpless, lost, because their leader, their earthly king, is gone. But, oh, if some one would only come and tell them of the King of kings, and Lord of lords, who is a leader indeed!

[excerpted from a letter from Lucy G. Sheppard, dated 7 August 1900, Ibanj, Africa and published in The Missionary 33.12 (December 1900): 52.

For further study:
Primary sources:

William Henry Sheppard collection, 1971-1978, at Stillman College, Tuscaloosa, AL
Abstract: Materials consist mostly of biographical material on William Henry Sheppard, graduate of Tuscaloosa Institute and co-founder of the Presbyterian Congo Mission, and his wife, Lucy J. Gantt Sheppard. Also includes correspondence pertaining to the development of the Sheppard collection (1978), photos of the construction of Sheppard Library, correspondence and programs pertaining to the Sheppard Lecture Series (1971-1973), and list of materials in the college archives pertaining to Sheppard. Correspondents include A.R. Ware, Jr., Sheppard’s nephew, and Max W. Sheppard, Sheppard’s son.

William H. Sheppard papers, 1875-1933, 0.75 cubic feet (5 boxes), at the Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, PA.
Abstract: Collection consists primarily of photograph albums and photographs. Photographs document mission stations and churches at Luebo and Ibanche; the Sheppard family; other Presbyterian Church in the U.S. missionaries; and native people of the Bateke, Baluba, Bakuba, Zappo Zap, and other tribes. The collection includes a small number of papers, including correspondence; Sheppard’s reminiscences of his time at the Stillman Institute in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; a pamphlet entitled “How Sheppard Made His Way into Lukenga’s Kingdom”; printed materials about the Congo and King Leopold; hymnbooks in Tshiluba and an unidentified language; and glass and nitrate negatives.

See also reports of the African mission published in The Missionary [Richmond, VA: Whittet & Shepperson], vol. 23, no 2 (February 1890) and following. Copies of this periodical are available in the PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, MO.

Secondary sources:
• Kennedy, Pagan, Black Livingstone : A True Tale of Adventure in the Nineteenth-century Congo. New York: Viking, 2002. ISBN: 0670030368
• Phipps, William E., The Sheppards and Lapsley : Pioneer Presbyterians in the Congo. Louisville, KY: The Presbyterian Church (USA), 1991.
• Phipps, William E., William Sheppard : Congo’s African American Livingstone. Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2002. ISBN: 0664502032 (pbk.)
• Sheppard, William H. and S.H. Chester, Presbyterian Pioneers in Congo. Richmond, VA. : Published by Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1917. Note(s): In 1890, the Southern Presbyterian Church appointed William Sheppard, an Afro-American from Waynesboro, Va., and Samuel N. Lapsley, a white man from Anniston, Ala., as missionary companions to the Belgian Congo. Rev. Lapsley died of a “bilious hematuric fever” on March 26, 1892. This is Sheppard’s account of the mission, both before and after Lapsley’s death.
[Reprinted as Pioneers in Congo : An Autobiography. Wilmore, Ky.: Wood Hills Books, 2006. ISBN: 097716361X]

See also:
Lapsley, James W., Life and Letters of Samuel Norvell Lapsley : Missionary to the Congo Valley, West Africa. [Anniston, Ala. : First Presbyterian Church], 1965.

Dissertations and Theses:
• Roth, Donald Franklin, “Grace Not Race” : Southern Negro Church Leaders, Black Identity, and Missions to West Africa, 1865-1919. Austin, TX: University of Texas at Austin, 1976. Masters Thesis, xv, 402 p.
• Dworkin, Ira, American Hearts : African American Writing on the Congo, 1890-1915. New York: City University of New York, 2003. Ph.D. dissertation, viii, 243 p. Includes the chapter, “In the country of my forefathers”: William Henry Sheppard and African American missionaries in the Congo.
• Short, Wallace V., William Henry Sheppard : Pioneer African-American Presbyterian Missionary, Human Rights Defender, and Collector of African Art, 1865-1927. Washington, D.C.: Howard University, 2006. Ph.D. dissertation, xxi, 544 p.
• Smith, Alonzo Nelson, The 1909 Trial of William H. Sheppard : Human Rights, International Diplomacy, and African American Concerns in the Belgian Congo. [Washington, DC : s.n.], 1996.

Also on this day:
Hayes T. Henry, director of the Pearson Mission to the Cherokee Indians, 1955-1968, and founding pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church, Tulsa, OK, was born on this day in 1912.

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