February 2012

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Calvary was his hiding place

It must be some sort of record. Think of it! The pastor ministered all sixty-three years in the same church. And those six decades were through some of the momentous years in our nation, to say nothing, of the history of the Presbyterian church.

Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts on February 24, 1785, Gardiner Spring attended Berwick Academy in Maine. He then went to and graduated from Yale University in 1805. Married the following year, he and his new bride Susan moved to Bermuda where Gardiner Spring taught the classics and mathematics. This was only for some income, as his real purpose was to study law. And he was admitted to the bar in New Haven, Connecticut in 1808. Receiving a call to the ministry, he went to Andover Theological Seminary for one year and was called to the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City in 1810, never to leave its pulpit.

It was an active pulpit for the minister. After 40 years of ministry, it was said that he had preached 6000 sermons, received 2092 into the membership roll, baptized 1361 infants and adults, and married 875 couples. Along the way, he had written also 14 books, at least one of which is still being printed today. If the reader doesn’t posses “The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character,” he is urged to buy one immediately. It answers the question as to how do we know we have eternal life.

Many Christians, and especially those in our Southern states are aware that it was Gardiner Spring who authored the resolutions in 1861 to place the Presbyterian Church (Old School) solidly behind the Republican administration of Abraham Lincoln. That action split the Presbyterian Church into two — North and South Old School. We will consider on May 16 the pros and cons of that resolution.

For now, consider the following words in a letter of Gardiner Spring, just nine years after he had begun his ministry at Brick Presbyterian. On occasion of his birthday, he wrote:

“Still in this world of hope! In defiance of all sins of the past years, and a guilty life, I am permitted to see another birthday. I have been often surprised that I am suffered to live. Blessed be God, I am not afraid to die, and often more afraid to live. I am an abject sinner, and it will indeed be wonderful grace if I ever sit down with Christ at the Supper of the Lamb. That grace is my strong refuge; Calvary is my hiding place. I hope in the grace and guardianship and faithfulness of that omnipotent Redeemer, to be kept from falling and presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. This text has often comforted me, when I have been afraid of trusting in the divine mercy. ‘The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.’ It affords me unutterable pleasure to feel that I am not denied the privilege of laying my own soul beneath the droppings of the same blood I have for nine years recommended to my dying and guilty men.”

Words to Live By: We should take the opportunity which a birthday gives to us, as well as other proverbial milestones in our lives, to meditate on the grace of God in Christ in our lives, as well as the work of sanctification which the Holy Spirit is doing within those lives.

Through the Scriptures: Numbers 25 – 27

Through the Standards: Original sin conveyed

WLC 26 — “How is original sin conveyed from our first parents unto their posterity?
A. Original sin is conveyed from our first parents unto their posterity by natural generation, so as all that proceed from them in that way are conceived and born in sin.”

For further reading:
“Something Must Be Done” — Must reading! A sermon on the subject of revival, delivered by Rev. Spring in 1816, six years into his ministry at the Brick Church [PDF file].
The Gardiner Spring Resolutions of 1861.

Image source: The Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church, by Alfred Nevin (1884).
Sermon text : The digital format of the sermon “Something Must Be Done” was prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center, working from an original copy preserved at the Center.

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Trust in God, and you shall not fear

The subject of today’s historical devotional was not a Presbyterian, but in the closing days of his life and ministry on earth, he was the president of the foremost Presbyterian college in America. Jonathan Edwards was born into a ministerial families in 1703. Trained in the home, he entered into scholarly pursuits by attending Yale College at age 13. In the latter portion of his collegiate training, the Holy Spirit convicted his heart and convinced him of his need of Jesus Christ. He received Jesus as Lord and Savior at that pivotal time. Graduating from Yale in 1720, he continued his studies for the gospel ministry. When a congregation in what is now the New England area of our country became vacant, he went as the pastor in 1729, following his father-in-law as the minister. It was there under the preaching of the Word, including the famous sermon “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God,” that the Great Awakening movement came to the church and area. Over three hundred souls were awakened to their sinfulness and brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Jonathan Edwards was not only effective as an awakening pastor, but through his writings, the then known world of Christendom was challenged as to the authority of God’s Word in the life of the church and the sphere of culture. He was America’s foremost apologist, or defender of the faith. Even in the midst of church controversy, such as developed in that Northampton congregation over the issue of qualified participants of the Lord’s Supper, he did not allow his departure to stop him in his ministry. He evangelized among the native Americans for six years in the Stockton, Massachusetts area.

It was in 1758, that a delegation came from the College of New Jersey, with an offer to become the president of that Presbyterian school of the prophets. After some objections were answered satisfactorily, he did accept the offer in January of 1758 and became associated with what would later become Princeton University. As smallpox was present in the area, a noted physician came down from Philadelphia on February 23, 1758 to inoculate President Edwards and two of his daughters. Edwards had never been in the best of health and as the effects of the inoculation were subsiding, a secondary fever took hold and Jonathan Edwards died of small pox approximately one month later, March 22, 1758.

Just before his death, some people were attending him on his death-bed, and remarked about the approaching effect of this certain demise on the Christian church. Jonathan Edwards, hearing those remarks, spoke to those attending him with his dying words “Trust in God, and ye need not fear.”

Words to Live By: Let us ever and always trust in God, indeed the God of providence, with whom there is no mistake in life or death.

Through the Scriptures: Numbers 21 – 24

Through the Standards:  Total inability in the Catechisms

WLC 23 — “Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.”

WLC 25 “Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually; which is commonly called Original sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions.”

WSC 17 “Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.”

WSC 18 “Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereunto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consist in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness,and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called Original Sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.”

Image source : Frontispiece portrait from Volume 1 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards, A.M. London: William Tegg, 1860.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Augusta County Presbyterians call for independence

It was simple and direct. The mass meeting of people from the Virginia county of Augusta in Stanton chose two delegates to represent them in Richmond, Virginia in the Virginia Convention. One was Thomas Lewis and the other one was Samuel McDowell. That these delegates would faithfully be the representatives of them, the following written instructions were given to them: “Many of us and our forefathers left our native land, and explored this once savage wilderness to enjoy the free exercise of the rights of conscience and of human nature. Those rights we are fully resolved with our lives and our fortunes inviolably to preserve; nor will we surrender such inestimable blessings, the purchase of toil and danger, to any ministry, to any Parliament, or to any body of men upon earth by whom we are not represented and in whose decision, therefore, we have no voice.” These people and delegates were almost all adherents of the Presbyterian faith. How had they come upon it? The only answer is that men of God of Presbyterian convictions were sent by the Holy Spirit of God to teach and train them in the principles of liberty, both spiritually and temporally.

The name which comes to our mind and hearts is that of John Craig. He is described as the first permanent pastor in this county of Augusta, Virgina. Consider the challenges of being an under-shepherd during the years of 1740 and afterwards. Every Lord’s day morning, Pastor Craig would walk five miles to the place of worship. In one hand, he would carry his Bible. In the other hand would be a rifle, for protection against the Indians of that territory. All the men of the congregation brought the same two objects to the worship – a Bible and a rifle. At ten o’clock in the morning, they would be seated to hear the sermon, on rude benches, which would last two hours til the noon time. A break for lunch would then be held, with each family sitting under the trees to partake of their meals. After this break, at one o’clock, the worship would begin again with the same sermon, and continue until sunset.

One of Pastor Craig’s sermon has been kept in written form. It had, for the readers who are pastors, fifty-five divisions in it. No wonder this was a sermon for a day, instead of just an hour. We might wonder whether there was any spiritual fruit to his labors, yet the truth is that multitudes were brought into the kingdom of God. He is described as a man whose heart was always full of tenderness.

John Craig would live until 1774, just two years shy of the American Revolution. Yet his proclamations of the gospel and presentation of the Word was to bear fruit in the call for Independence by the descendants of his congregations in Augusta County, Virginia. The Augusta County Presbyterians voted for independence from England on February 22, 1775.

Words to Live By: The faithful preaching of the whole counsel of God will eventually bring spiritual fruit in the hearts and lives of those who receive it.

Through the Scriptures: Numbers 18 – 20

Through the Standards: Total inability in the Confession

WCF 6:4
“From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.”

For further study: The grave marker for Rev. John Craig is pictured here [scroll to the end of the page] and here. Additional biographical and genealogical information about Rev. Craig can be found here.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:   February 21, 1830 marks the birth of Caspar Wistar Hodge, youngest son of Dr. Charles Hodge, named after the eminent physician Caspar Wistar [1761-1818]. Another of Dr. Hodge’s sons, Archibald Alexander Hodge, also taught at Princeton Theological Seminary.  The Rev. Dr. Caspar Wistar Hodge died on 27 September 1891.

The following is excerpted from Francis Landey Patton’s memorial tribute to his close friend and colleague. And not surprisingly, given self-effacing portrait that Patton paints of his friend, we were unable to locate a photograph of C.W. Hodge. If you know of a good portrait photography in the public domain, we would like to know of it.

He was my most intimate friend. I have come to-day to place a wreath of affection upon his grave. My text [“He opened to us the Scriptures.”–Luke 24:32] is taken from the floral tribute which you who were his pupils placed upon his bier. This is your answer to the question, What did he do? It is a sufficient answer. He wrote no books, his voice was seldom heard beyond his native town, he took no active part in public affairs, and he shrank from the public gaze; but he opened to us the Scriptures. To more than thirty classes he unfolded the truths of the New Testament. He led them reverently over the ground that had been hallowed by the Saviour’s feet, and traced the history of the Apostolic Church from Peter on the day of Pentecost to John in Patmos. Year by year he sent his pupils forth into the world laden with material for use in the service of the gospel, filled with quickening thoughts, and ready to testify that the reverent spirit can handle the subtle questions of criticism without suggesting doubt or lessening zeal.

Dr. Caspar Wistar Hodge was born in Princeton, 21 February 1830. He grew up in Princeton; and, with the exception of the short period covered by his two pastorates, he spent his life there. We can see, then, why he loved Princeton. Others love it; even those who have spent only three or four years of academic residence here speak of it in enthusiastic terms. We who have come here to live, and who expect to die here, love it with an affection that grows deeper even if it grows sadder every year. But we are only adopted children after all. We love sometimes with a divided heart. It was not so with Dr. Hodge. He loved it as one loves the home of his childhood. He loved it with an unfaltering and an unwandering affection. Its rough streets and crooked lanes and weather-beaten houses had tender associations for him. The bridge we crossed and the brook we would sometimes pensively look into in our summer rambles would often suggest an anecdote that showed how the neighborhood was haunted by the ghosts of memory.

Besides, the theology of this seminary was to him a precious heritage. He was in intellectual sympathy with it to be sure; but his hereditary relations to Princeton theology gave an emotional warmth to his convictions. He believed that Princeton had performed a mission in the past, and he believed that in the maintenance of the same truth she had a mission just as great to perform to-day.

He had no love for novelties; and he regarded all schemes that fettered the individual conscience by man-made regulations as new modes of returning unto the weak and beggarly elements, where unto so many still love to be in bondage. . .

. . . The worst heresy is a half-truth, because it is so hard to deal with it. There are so many reasons that can be given for this bad influence in the class-room. Men are ambitious and seek notoriety. They love to be thought original, and they step out of the beaten path. Men raise the cry of progress, and think what is new is an improvement. Men find themselves in unstable equilibrium between the old and the new modes of thinking, and they adopt a paradoxical and inconsistent style of utterance. They try to pour the new wine into the old bottles. They teach orthodoxy with the voice, and suggest heresy with a shrug of the shoulders. But there was nothing of all this in Dr. Hodge. He was a reverent believer in the Bible as the Word of God, and in the doctrines of the Bible as they are formulated in the creed of his church. He was honest, fair-minded, and firm. When he saw difficulties and it was necessary, he held his judgment in suspense. He knew the resources of the enemy, and did not underrate them. But he also knew the argumentative resources of Christianity. The consequence was that his lectures strengthened faith and deepened conviction; and men who had no great critical sagacity themselves felt that they had been reinforced immensely by the fact that they had a man of Dr. Hodge’s scholarship and judgment on the side of the theology of the catechism.

Words to Live By:  It is often true that some of the greatest and most abiding work in God’s kingdom is accomplished by dear saints whose names you may never know, those men and women who work faithfully in the work that God gives them, yet without drawing attention to themselves. Do your work faithfully, as unto the Lord, for this is His calling and purpose for your life. And if God should later bring you into wider fields of service and usefulness in His kingdom, then praise Him for that as well.

Through the Scriptures:Numbers 15 – 17

Through the Standards: Sinfulness of sin in the catechisms

WLC 22 — “Did all mankind fall in that first transgression?
A. The covenant being made with Adam as a public person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him in that first transgression.”

WSC 16 — “Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?
A. The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.”

Text source : Patton, Francis L., Caspar Wistar Hodge : A Memorial Address. New York: Anson D.F. Randolph and Co., 1891.

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

A Comforting Truth for all Christians

With no Presbyterian person, place, or event on this twentieth of February available from our circles, we return to our magnificent shorter catechism to a question and answer which provide unspeakable comfort to the people of God. It is question and answer 7 which deals with the decrees of God. Our Confessional fathers wrote, “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”

We should not stumble at the word “decrees.” Oftentimes it has evil associations when used for or by mankind, but never when used of God. The decrees of God are defined as “His eternal purpose.” We speak here about the plan of God for both eternity and time. When we understood this is what is intended, the idea of a divine decree becomes, as one commentator put it, “less contested and detested.”

It is interesting that there is some difference between the Shorter and Larger Catechisms. The former, which is our emphasis on this day, would speak of “purpose” in a singular sense. It is “purpose,” not “purposes.” The decrees of God in the Shorter Catechism are represented in their unity. But when we move to the Larger Catechism, we see the decrees of God being spoken of in their plurality, as the fathers speak of “the acts of the counsel of his will.” There is no contradiction here. God’s decrees are one and also many, or one whole of many parts which are involved in the eternal plan.

Then we come to the heart of the matter, namely, that which is most comforting to believers, is that “God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass for His own glory.” And He has done this not only in creation and providence, but also in redemption. Future studies during this historical devotional will be found on these aspects of the decrees of God.

For now, we receive comfort that this catechism is true. Proverbs 16:9 has been the life text of many a believer that “the heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” We are to use our God-given sanctified minds to plan our ways on this earth. And so we set down our yearly and monthly and daily goals, according to the best wisdom which we have. But then we set them apart for God’s will, knowing and trusting that Jehovah God will establish our steps, either by the closing of doors or the opening of other doors. How many times have believers looked back on their lives and seen these divine steps which could only have come from the God of all grace! Especially is this true in the matter of our salvation. Salvation is of the LORD!

Words to Live By: Praise God today, and always, that God is in control of all persons, places, and things. We may not always see it with our eyes, but our hearts can rejoice that what the Bible declares about His sovereignty is true.  Indeed you can look back and see that God’s Word was best with respect to you and your family.  Take one or two of these backward looks, and give thanks to God for it.

Through the Scriptures: Numbers 11 – 14

Through the Standards: The Sinfulness of Mankind, as seen by the Confession

WCF 6:3
“They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.”

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