March 2012

You are currently browsing the archive for the March 2012 category.

This Day in Presbyterian History: 

First overtures from a presbytery

At the second meeting of the first presbytery in the American colonies, meeting on March 11 – March 26, 1707, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the teaching and ruling elders proposed and voted in the affirmative on a series of overtures designed to propagate Christianity.  They were presented by Jedediah Andrews, one of the original seven presbyters, and John Boyd, the first ordained minister in the Presbytery of Philadelphia.

The first overture  instructed each minister in their respective congregations to read and comment upon a chapter of the Bible each Lord’s day, as discretion and circumstances of time and place would admit them.   It is obvious from this first overture that the presbytery believed that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were inspired of God, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.  The Bible, and the Bible alone, would be the guide for its ministers and laypeople in their respective churches.

The second overture  is interesting because the ministers were recommended to begin and encourage private societies.  In other words, they were to organize and encourage Christians to gather together for various Christian endeavors.  An example of this was the organization of the Fund for Pious Uses, which was the subject of the devotional described  on January 11.  It is clear that they believed that Christianity should set the standard in every sphere of life.   Therefore the Christian faith inside and outside the church needed to be encouraged.

The third and last overture stated that every  minister in the Presbytery was to supply neighboring towns with ministers, especially in desolate places where ministers would be lacking.  They were to take the opportunities granted them to be home missionaries, in other words.

These first overtures of this small but soon to be active Presbytery stated clearly that the message of biblical Christianity was to propagated throughout the new world in obedience to the Word of God.  At subsequent meetings of the Philadelphia Presbytery, it was noted that these first three overtures were being accomplished.

Words to Live By:   Until Jesus comes the second time, all believers are to buy up every opportunity to share His love in word and deed.

Through the Scriptures:  1 Samuel 1 – 3

Through the Standards: Christ’s Exaltation in His Ascension

 WLC 53 — “How was Christ exalted in his ascension?
A. Christ was exalted in his ascension, in that having after his resurrection often appeared  and conversed with his apostles, speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, and giving them commission to preach the gospel to all nations, forty days after his resurrection, he, in our nature, and as our head, triumphing over enemies, visibly went up into the highest heaven, there to receive gifts for men, to raise up our affections thither, and to prepare a place of us, where he himself is, and shall continue til his second coming at the end of the world.”

Image source: Opening page of Records of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1841. Scan prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

Tags: , , ,

This Day in Presbyterian History:

 A Joshua to the Southern Presbyterians

To many Christians, the name of John Leighton Wilson might be a common name of no real significance.  But to Southern Presbyterian Christians, he stands out as a spiritual giant of the faith.

Born on March 25, 1809 to Scot-Irish parents who had come to South Carolina in 1734, John Wilson grew up in a Christian home.  Reared in the Bible and the Westminster Shorter Catechism, he attended Union College in New York, graduating in 1829.  Two-thirds of his class from that college entered the ministry, and John Wilson was no different.  Entering Columbia Seminary in 1830, he began to sense a call to be a missionary in Africa.  One reason for that call was that he believed the South as a people owed it to Africa to send the gospel there as so many of her black children were in bondage in the south.  That inherent hatred of slavery would be proven in his later years in Africa.

Marrying in 1834 Miss Mary Elizabeth Bayard, who was also committed to the missionary call, they were the first American missionaries sent to Africa.  They were to labor there in two locations for eighteen years, learning the language, translating the Bible into it, wondrously proclaiming the gospel, and writing about the land for future missionaries to follow their labors.

Two major accomplishments in addition characterized his work there.  While there, he noticed the slave ships carrying their human cargo away from the shores of their homeland.  Wilson wrote a friend in England concerning the situation and by God’s providence, the Prime Minister of England came into possession of a copy of Wilson’s letter and subsequently had printed ten thousand copies in pamphlet form.  As a result, English war vessels were sent, forcing slave traders to give up their business of buying and selling slaves.

The other accomplishment was his discovery of the existence of the  “gorilla,” a name which was given by John Wilson to this animal.

After eighteen years in Africa, Mr and Mrs Wilson came home to the Board of Foreign Missions to superintend the work of missions through the world.  That happy association was interrupted by the War Between the States in 1861.  Though John Wilson had worked for the abolition of slavery in Africa, he cast in his lot with his southern brothers.  Immediately, he was placed in charge of missions for the Presbyterian Church of the Confederacy.  His spiritual vision, even in the midst of a war footing, and especially after that civil war,  went out to many nations, including the Indian tribes of the west.  The gospel was not limited in any way by what transpired on earth.

Around 1885, both he and his faithful wife entered the gates of heaven.  On his tombstone in South Carolina where he grew up, there is one phrase which stands out.  It says simply “The Foreign Missionary.”

Words to Live By:  John Wilson once wrote, “I would rather live in the lowliest hut with  the enjoyment of God than in the most resplendent palace on earth without a hope of heaven.” He fulfilled that desire by his life.  What are your desires for your life?  Have you considered in whatever sphere of life He calls you, to be among those who are used by Him for His glory and the good of others?

Through the Scriptures:  Ruth 1 – 4

Through the Standards: Christ’s Exaltation in His resurrection

WLC 52 — “How was Christ exalted in his resurrection?
A. Christ was exalted in his resurrection, in that, not having seen corruption in death, (of which it was not possible for him to be held,) and having the very same body in which he suffered, with the essential properties thereof, (but without mortality, and other common infirmities belonging to this life,) really united to his soul, he rose again from the dead the third day by his own power; whereby he declared himself to be the Son of God, to have satisfied divine justice, to have vanquished death, and him that had the power of it, and to be Lord of quick and dead; all which he did as a public person, the head of his church, for their justification, quickening in grace, support against enemies, and to assure them of their resurrection from the dead at the last day.”

Image source : The Missionary, vol. 19, no. 8 (August 1886). Scan prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

Tags:

This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Pastor, Professor, and Theologian Cum Laud   

It was a great honor.  Your author was asked to preach the Presbytery sermon at the installation of the Rev. Dr. John Gerstner as an Associate Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  The veteran pastor and theologian had just that year of 1990 joined the Presbyterian Church in America as well as the particular presbytery of which I was a member minister.  I can remember entering with the other Presbytery ministers into the sanctuary, and there sitting in the front row, in the center seat, was Dr. Gerstner.  A quick thought went through my mind as to what could I say which would edify the people of God, and Dr. Gerstner that evening?  But just as quickly came the answer of which Dr. Gerstner in all his ministerial life had exhibited, namely, to preach the Word of God in all of its fullness.

Born in Tampa, Florida in 1914, John Gerstner’s life and ministry would be spent in the northern states.  Graduating from Westminster College, he followed that up with his Master of Divinity degree at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1940.  Five years later, he would earn from Harvard University his Ph.D. degree.  Overseas studies in England, Spain, and Switzerland would round out his education for the ministry.

Ordained in the largest Scot-Irish denomination in America, the United Presbyterian Church, he served several churches in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.  But he would make his mark upon the Christian world and especially through those students who were privileged to sit under him at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary for more than 30 years.  As an evangelical and Reformed professor in that UPCUSA graduate school, he provided a solid course of instruction for those evangelical and Reformed students who sat under him. One such student was R.C. Sproul.

A careful look into the published works of the Ligionier Study Center will reward you with books and videos all written and spoken by John Gerstner.  His primary work would be his three volume book on “The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards.”  He became the authority on the life and ministry of this greatest of all American theologian.

This author in two of his five pastorates had Dr. Gerstner as a special weekend speaker.  On both occasions, he along with the people of God enjoyed a guest pastor who had an incredible intellect, a great wit, and always a pastoral heart.  He entered heaven’s glory on this day, March 24, 1996.

Words to Live By: The apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2 states, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (ESV)  There are four generations mentioned in this verse: Paul, those who heard him, faithful men, and others also.  It presents the goal of transmitting God’s Word to succeeding generations.  John Gerstner accomplished this, as all those given the spiritual gift of teaching, are to aim for it.   Pray for them to faithfully accomplish it.

Through the Scriptures:  Judges 19 – 21

Through the Standards: Christ’s Exaltation according to the Catechisms

WLC 51  — “What is the estate of Christ’s exaltation?
A. The estate of Christ’s exaltation comprehends his resurrection, ascension, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and his coming again to judge the world.”

WSC 28 —  “Wherein consists Christ’s exaltation?
A.  Christ’s exaltation consists in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and in coming to judge the world at the last day.”

Image sources: Records of The Presbyterian Journal, Photo Collection, Box 246, folder 6. Scans prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

Tags:

This Day in Presbyterian History: 

God Preserves and Governs Us

With scant information available for some historical Presbyterian person, place, or event, we turn our attention back to the historic Westminster Shorter Catechism.  Today, March 23, we look at one of the most comforting catechetical answers which is found in the whole catechism, namely, question and answer 11.  It reads, “What are God’s works of providence? Answer: God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions.”

The heart of God’s providence is found in those two verbs “preserving” and “governing.”  The first activity of providence is found in the truth that our Creator God “preserves” His creatures.  The writer to the book of Hebrews tell us in chapter 1:verse 3 that “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (ESV)  Paul told us in Acts 17:28 that “in him (God) we live and move and have our being.” (ESV)  The prayer of Nehemiah 9;6 which records the Levites prayer, acknowledged “You are the LORD, you alone.  You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them: and you preserve all of them.” (ESV)  We may not always understand how this happens, but the Bible declares that it does happen, and for that we can be at rest.

Further, the second activity of providence is that he “governs” us.  A reflection on that well-known text, which every Christian should have memorized, Romans 8:28, is good here.   Paul  writes that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  The “all things”  of the context include the sufferings of this present life.   We simply need to be patient and discover the “good” which is coming to us.

The character of such providence as is described above, is “holy, wise, and powerful.”  Here are the attributes of God with relation to both his person as well as  his preservation and governing of His creatures and their actions.  Knowing this, we can be at peace because we know that his preserving and governing will not be contrary to holiness, wisdom, or divine power.

The subjects of providence are “his creatures and all their actions.”  We ourselves might have questions about how God’s providence relates to moral evil in the world, but both Scripture and the Westminster Standards teach that the sinfulness of any action proceeds from the one who is doing it, never from God.  In purposes far beyond our understanding, God has permitted, limited, and overruled all of these evil actions for the accomplishment of her holy ends.  A good example is Peter’s conclusion regarding Christ’s sacrifice in Acts 2:23 when he said, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”  It is clear. Lawless men crucified Jesus on the cross.  Yet all of it was by the ordering of the sovereign God.

Words to Live By: A firm belief in this doctrine of God’s providence will comfort the true saint of God to live and act in full assurance that he is always in God’s hands.

Through the Scriptures: Judges 16 – 18

Through the Standards: Christ’s Exaltation according to the Confession

WCF 8:4k – end:
“On the third day He arose from the dead, with the same body in which He suffered, with which also He ascended into heaven, and there sits at the right hand of His Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world.”

Tags: ,

This Day in Presbyterian History :

At last! Minutes of the Second Presbytery

Four days ago, you read the historical devotional on March 18 that the stated clerk of the first presbytery held in this country lost all but a short paragraph of the meeting.  In 1707, beginning on March 22, the second presbytery was held in Philadelphia.  George McNish, one of the seven ministers, was chosen Clerk of the Presbytery, while John Wilson was chosen the Moderator.   Present also were teaching elders Jedidiah Andrews and  Nathaniel Taylor.  Francis Makemie would show up on the 25th of March.  Ruling elders Joseph Yard, William Smith, John Gardener, and James Stoddard were present from several churches within the bounds of the Philadelphia Presbytery.

» Old Rehoboth Presbyterian Church, Rehoboth, Maryland (1683), which competes with Fairfield Presbyterian Church, Fairton, New Jersey (1680) in the claim for the oldest Presbyterian church in America »

Samuel Davis sent in his excuse as to why he missed the last Presbytery and would not be present at this meeting either. The presbyters did not sustain his reasons for his absence, and sent  a letter to teaching elder Davis requiring him  to be present at the 1708 presbytery meeting.  He did, and they immediately elected him the moderator of the next Presbytery!

The church at Snow Hill, Maryland, had called Mr. John Hampton to be their pastor, but the latter had declined their call.  He gave several satisfactory reasons to the presbytery as to why he was not in favor of going there as pastor.  They nevertheless moved that the call be left in his  hand until the next presbytery in 1708, hoping that the call would be finally accepted by Mr. Hampton.  In the meanwhile, they sent a letter of encouragement to the church to continue in their endeavors for a settled pastor among their ranks.

It was on the 25th of March, 1708, that two biblical sermons were given on Hebrews 1:1 and Hebrews 1:2 by teaching elders Francis Makemie and teaching elder John Wilson, which messages had been approved at the last Presbytery meeting.  These texts were no doubt taken from the Genevan Bible, as that was the version carried over to these shores by the early Presbyterian pilgrims.  And given the practice of early Scottish ministers, the length of the sermons easily could have been two hours long.  We are told  that both sermons were approved by the Presbytery.

Since Francis Makemie had been successful in convincing two ministers to come over and help the infant Presbyterian church previously, the Presbytery urged Makemie again to write to Scotland and a certain minister by the name of Alexander Coldin.   He was to give an account of the state and circumstances of the dissenting Presbyterian interest in and among the people, especially in and about Lewistown, and signify the earnest desires of those members that Mr. Coldin travel over to these shores and become their minister.

We conclude that their meeting was not unlike the gathering of Presbyterians in presbyteries across the modern world now.  Sermons are preached, though not as long as these early expositions of the Word.  Elections are held for presbyterial office.  Excuses are considered as to absences, and approved or disapproved.   Pastors without call are considered for vacant pulpits.  Overtures are recommended, discussed, and voted upon by the presbyters.  (See March 26)  All in all, the work of the Lord began in Philadelphia, 1706,  and continues today in hundreds of presbyteries across the world.

Words to Live By:  Speaking to elders, be faithful to your presbytery meetings, for there the work of the Lord is initiated, issues of interest to the church are  discussed by and for elders, warnings are heeded, encouragements are given, and support is given to the kingdom of grace.

Through the Scriptures: Judges 9 – 12

Through the Standards:Christ’s Humiliation after His Death

WLC 50 — “Wherein consisted Christ’s humiliation after his death?
A. Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which has been otherwise expressed in these words, ‘He descended into hell.’ “

Tags: , ,

« Older entries § Newer entries »

%d bloggers like this: