March 2012

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  Only Christ

One can sum up the Reformed faith by listing five “only’s” — only Scripture, only Christ, only grace, only faith, and only to the glory of God.   We look today at the second “only” in “Only Christ.”  The apostle Paul would remind us in 1 Timothy 2:5 that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (ESV)

With another date of only localized Presbyterian topics, we return on this last day of  March 31, to the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Standards.  In question and answer 21, we read the words “The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be God, and man, in two distinct natures, and one person, forever.”

We speak first about “the only Redeemer of God’s elect.”  The Lord Jesus Christ is the only Redeemer to  those whom the Father has given to the Son, as that phrase is continuously found in the high priestly prayer of Jesus in John chapter 17, or “the elect.”    Peter clearly preached in Acts 4:12, when declaring the good news of eternal life in the days following the Ascension of Christ, that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (ESV)

See the repetitive statements!  Despite what the Bahai religion states, despite what other religions claim, despite what your unbelieving neighbor believes, there is no one else!  There is no other name under heaven!  There is no other name given among men!    It is ONLY CHRIST.

We need to echo the testimony of the apostle Paul when he wrote, “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven and on earth — as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’ — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”  (1 Corinthians 8:5, 6 ESV)

Last, our Confessional fathers remind us that the Lord Jesus Christ is both God and man, in two distinct natures as eternal deity and  true humanity, yet only one person, forever.   Our finite minds may not be able to fully understand it.  But God’s Word, the Bible declares it, and on that Scriptural teaching we rest, firmly committed to it.

Words to Live By: Only Christ!  That is our watchword.  Only Christ! That is our confession.  Only Christ!  He is our hope.  Only Christ!  He is our sole foundation for faith and life.

Through the Scriptures:  1 Samuel 17 – 20

Through the Standards:  Proof Texts of Christ the Redeemer

John 1:1
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (ESV);

John 1:14
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (ESV);

Galatians 4:6
“But when the fulness of time had  come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (ESV);

1 Corinthians 15;3, 4
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (ESV)

Hebrews 13:8
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (ESV).

Read also Philippians 2:5 – 11.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  It Cannot Get any Simpler than This

Perhaps we missed something (please let us know!), but having found nothing significant on a national level with regards to Presbyterian persons, places, and events, we turn instead on this March 30 date to a succinct definition of sin in Shorter Catechism No. 14.  We are reminded that “Sin is any want (lack) of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”

First, we are reminded that sin is defined as being contrary to God’s law.  Indeed, unless we have a high and holy divine law which is the standard for our lives as created beings, and much higher, as redeemed individuals, we will not understand sin at all.  Adam and Eve, our first parents, had God’s law given to them in the covenant of works, to not partake of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  We have God’s law presented in a summary way in the Ten Commandments.  And certainly, in a wider sense, we have the law of God in the entire Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

Then, our Confessional fathers reveal two specific definitions of sin.  That consists of the phrases, “any want of conformity unto,” and “transgression of.”   It is interesting to me that the first part of the definition deals with that sin — the sin of omission — which is not recognized today by many people, even among the household of faith.  But Scripture is not silent about this sin of omission.  In James 4:17, we are told “So any person who knows what is right to do but does not do it, to him it is sin.” (Amplified)   Here is the sin of omission.

The second specification of sin is found in the phrase “or transgression of.”  This  word speaks of passing over the boundary of something.  And 1 John 3:4 in the Amplified Version reads “Everyone who commits (practices) sin is guilty of lawlessness; for [that is what] sin is, lawlessness (the breaking, violation of God’s law by transgression or neglect — being unrestrained and unregulated by His commands and His will). – (Amplified)

Now, when you come to the evening of any day, or during the day, you have a reminder of those sins of which you can claim the promise of God and receive forgiveness upon your repentance and confession.  Solomon in Proverbs 28:13 writes, “He who covers his transgressions will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes his sins will obtain mercy.” (Amplified)  And 1 John 1:9 agrees by stating “If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action]. (Amplified)

Words to Live By:  A powerful and effective means of repentance and confession is to get alone with God, write your sins on individual pieces of paper, repent and confess each one to God, and then tear them up and thrown them away.  As the Psalmist David says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Amplified)

Through the Scriptures: 1 Samuel 14 – 16

Through the Standards: Application of Redemption

WCF 8:6 
“Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ until after  His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world; being yesterday and today the same, and for ever.”

WCF 8:8
“To all those for whom Christ has purchased redemption, he does certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the word, the mysteries of salvation; effectively persuading them by his Spirit to believe and obey, and governing their hearts by his word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner, and ways, as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation.” 

WLC 57 — “What benefits has Christ procured by his mediation?
A. Christ, by his mediation, has procured redemption, with all other benefits of the covenant of grace.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  The Strange Church Trial of a Spiritual Giant.

It all happened around seventy-seven years ago.  Back in March of 1935, Dr. J. Gresham Machen was before a church court of his peers seeking to defend himself against the serious charges of denying his ordination vows, disapproval of the government and discipline of the church, advocating a rebellious defiance against the lawful authority of the church, and we could go on and on in the charges leveled against this spiritual giant.  You would think that he was guilty of the most aggravated doctrinal error or moral shortcomings.  But in reality, it came down to a single issue—that of refusing to obey the 1934 mandate of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to cease and desist from supporting an independent board of missionaries, of which board he was the president.

The trial itself was a farce in every sense of the word.  Machen’s defense first tried to challenge certain members of the judicial commission itself as biased, seeking to have them recuse themselves, since at least two of these men had signed the theologically liberal Auburn affirmation.  That was denied.  Then the question of jurisdiction was argued, but that also was not sustained.

At the third session, upon hearing Dr. Machen declare himself “not guilty,” the Commission ruled that certain matters were out-of-bounds in the arguments of the defense case.  Those included questions which surrounded the existence of the Auburn Affirmation, signed in 1924.  They next ruled out any question concerning the nature and conduct of the official Board of Foreign Missions, which had prompted much of the problem when it gave its endorsement to the book entitled Rethinking Missions.  Further, arguments stemming from the reorganization of Princeton Seminary and the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary were also outlawed by the commission.  All of these were part and parcel of Dr. Machen’s defense, since they provided the background of the origin of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

All these rulings paled into insignificance, so to speak, however, when we consider the last ruling of the judicial commission.  It stated that the legality of the Thirty-Fourth General Assembly’s Mandate for the ministers, members, and churches to cease supporting the Independent Board and only support the official Board of Foreign Missions could not be questioned.

It was obvious that with all of these rulings, that there was only one verdict which could come forth from this judicial commission, and that was guilty.  And so on this date, March 29, 1935, the judgment of “Guilty” was rendered by this seven member Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.   Appeals to the higher courts were in vain, and J. Gresham Machen was suspended by the church.

Words to Live By:  In whatever issue which confronts us inside or outside the church, we must remember that God is Lord alone of our conscience, with the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments the  only infallible guide of faith and life.   Let us hold to those, not fearing what man can do to us.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Samuel 11 – 13

Through the Standards: Christ’s Exaltation in the Second Coming

WLC 56 — “How is Christ to be exalted in his coming again to judge the world?
A. Christ is to be exalted in his coming to judge the world, in that he, who was unjustly judged and condemned by wicked men, shall come again at the last day in great power, and in the full manifestation of  his own glory, and of his Father’s, with all his holy angels, with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, to judge the world in righteousness.”

Image source : News clipping from one of seven scrapbooks gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon. Image scan prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

The Importance of a Christian Home

The father of five children—four girls and a boy—was a God-fearing man and a member of the Methodist church in Watsonville, California.  He was first a farmer, then a carpenter, and finally a builder.  He even built the house where his only son, Donald, was born on March 28, 1895.  In this home the Bible was read everyday for family devotions, and tithing—or keeping his “accounts with God”—was simply part of the family record.  The father made sure that the family was faithful in the services of church. In short, this head of the family had a simple faith in what the Bible said, and he raised his family accordingly.

His wife, Jane, had been raised a Roman Catholic.  Her brother even became a Jesuit priest, so it was surprising when Jane left the Roman Catholic church in her teens.  Apparently her reason was to preserve her virginity from a lecherous young priest, though sadly her parents sided with the church and abandoned her.  Finding her own way, she began to work in a dressmakers shop, and also began to attend a small Methodist church, where she met Theodore Barnhouse. They married and a strong Christian family began its existence.

Their only son, Donald, began his Christian service with the young people’s organization, Christian Endeavor.  There he was to be mentored by strong Christians who led him in the study of God’s Word.  That grounding in the Bible led him to the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola) and finally to Princeton Theological Seminary, where he would study under B.B. Warfield and William Benton Green.

As they say, “the rest is history.”  Donald Grey Barnhouse would spend the greater part of his 33 years ministry as pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.  What began as one family’s faith continued and grew in Donald’s life and ministry until the fruit of that ministry influenced thousands of others in their faith and life, down to this very day. But it all began with that one little Christian home and a father who was faithful in leading his wife and children.

Words to Live By: Looking at your home and its influence upon your children or future family, can it be said that Christ is at the center of the home, the Bible is the foundation of the home, and God’s glory is the goal of the home?

Through the Scriptures: 1 Samuel 8 – 10

Though the Standards: The Manner of Christ’s Intercession

WLC 55  — “How does Christ make intercession?
A. Christ makes intercession, by his appearing in our nature continually before the Father in heaven, in the merit of his obedience and sacrifice on earth, declaring his will to have it applied to all believers; answering all accusations against them, and procuring for them quiet of conscience, notwithstanding daily failings, access with boldness to the throne of grace, and acceptance of their persons and services.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:   

For the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ

The young Presbyterian minister had been called to candidate at Collingswood Presbyterian Church in the fall of 1933.  That he had been just a few years out of seminary, and Westminster Seminary at that, didn’t seem to matter to the congregation in that New Jersey town.  He had  a few years experience as a pastor in an Atlantic City, New Jersey Presbyterian Church.  But it was in Collingswood, New Jersey that Carl McIntire was to be a lighting rod during some very challenging years for that Presbyterian congregation. On September 28, 1933, he became the pastor of the Collingswood Presbyterian Church at Ferm Avenue in Collingswood, New Jersey.

Seeing his conservative leaning in regard to the great issues of the gospel, J. Gresham Machen invited him to join the board of the fledgling Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, which McIntire did in 1934.  That same year, the General Assembly of the denomination met and issued a directive or mandate to all ministers, churches, and presbyteries of the church.  In essence this mandate said that anyone who was affiliated with this independent agency had ninety days to desist from participation in or support of the agency, or face the consequences of discipline by their respective presbyteries.

Carl McIntire was charged with six counts of error by his Presbytery, but found guilty on only three of those charges.  These three were:  1. defiance of the government and discipline of the denomination, 2. unfaithful in maintaining the peace of the church, and 3. violation of his ordination vows.   He was convicted of sin and suspended from the ministry.  McIntire’s case was appealed to the PCUSA General Assembly of 1936, and that Assembly sustained the action of the Presbytery of West Jersey.

On March 27, 1938, after the Sunday evening service, the congregation stood on the front lawn of the church and sang two hymns of the faith. The first was “Faith of Our Fathers,” followed by “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us.”  And with that, they left the church, giving up the property, the memories, and all their associations with their former denomination. The very next Sunday, the newly formed Bible Presbyterian Church of Collingswood, New Jersey, met in a huge tent.  Present were 1200 people, with eighty-one new members joining the new church at that first Sunday’s worship.

Words to Live By:   From the hymn by Harry W. Veatch, “Looking unto Jesus,”  Copyright, 1939, by the Bible Presbyterian Church, Collingswood, New Jersey :

Verse 1:  “Look away from things that perish, Wood and stone will soon decay.    Fix your eyes on things eternal, God and heaven will stand for aye. He is able He is willing, He will guide you all the way.  Take your eyes off things that perish, Look to Him and trust and pray.”

Verse 2 states. “Look away from things that perish. Earthly treasures all are vain.  Cast your burden on the Saviour,  He who bore you sin and shame.  He is loving, He’s forgiving. Seeks His children when they stray;  Take your eyes off things that perish, Look to Him and trust and pray.”

Verse 3 closes out the thoughts, “Look away from things that perish, Trust in God, He will provide.  All you need in Earth and Heaven,  If you in His love abide.  He is reigning He is ruling, He’s the Victor in the fray.  Take your eyes off things that perish, Look to Him and watch and pray.”

Through the Scriptures: 1 Samuel 4 – 7

Through the Standards: Christ’s Exaltation in Sitting at God’s Right Hand

WLC 54 — “How is Christ exalted in his sitting at the right hand of God?
A. Christ is exalted in his sitting at the right  hand of God, in that as God-man he is advanced to the highest favor with God the  Father, with all fullness of joy, glory, and power over all things in heaven and earth; and does gather and defend his church, and subdue their enemies; furnishes his ministers and people with gifts and graces, and makes intercession for them.”

Image source: Christ and Him Crucified: Bible Messages Broadcast Over the Blue Network, February, March and April, 1944. New York: The American Council of Christian Churches, 1944. Photograph facing page 9. Scan prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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